Uncle Abraham's Romance
by Edith Nesbit
"No, my dear," my Uncle Abraham answered me, "no—nothing romantic ever
happened to me—unless—but no: that wasn't romantic either——"
I was. To me, I being eighteen, romance was the world. My Uncle Abraham
was old and lame. I followed the gaze of his faded eyes, and my own
rested on a miniature that hung at his elbow-chair's right hand, a
portrait of a woman, whose loveliness even the miniature-painter's art
had been powerless to disguise—a woman with large lustrous eyes and
perfect oval face.
I rose to look at it. I had looked at it a hundred times. Often enough
in my baby days I had asked, "Who's that, uncle?" always receiving the
same answer: "A lady who died long ago, my dear."
As I looked again at the picture, I asked, "Was she like this?"
Uncle Abraham looked hard at me. "Yes," he said at last. "Very—very
I sat down on the floor by him. "Won't you tell me about her?"
"There's nothing to tell," he said. "I think it was fancy, mostly, and
folly; but it's the realest thing in my long life, my dear."
A long pause. I kept silence. "Hurry no man's cattle" is a good motto,
especially with old people.
"I remember," he said in the dreamy tone always promising so well to the
ear that a story delighteth—"I remember, when I was a young man, I was
very lonely indeed. I never had a sweetheart. I was always lame, my
dear, from quite a boy; and the girls used to laugh at me."
He sighed. Presently he went on—
"And so I got into the way of mooning off by myself in lonely places,
and one of my favourite walks was up through our churchyard, which was
set high on a hill in the middle of the marsh country. I liked that
because I never met any one there. It's all over, years ago. I was a
silly lad; but I couldn't bear of a summer evening to hear a rustle and
a whisper from the other side of the hedge, or maybe a kiss as I went
"Well, I used to go and sit all by myself in the churchyard, which was
always sweet with thyme, and quite light (on account of its being so
high) long after the marshes were dark. I used to watch the bats
flitting about in the red light, and wonder why God didn't make every
one's legs straight and strong, and wicked follies like that. But by the
time the light was gone I had always worked it off, so to speak, and
could go home quietly and say my prayers without any bitterness.
"Well, one hot night in August, when I had watched the sunset fade and
the crescent moon grow golden, I was just stepping over the low stone
wall of the churchyard when I heard a rustle behind me. I turned round,
expecting it to be a rabbit or a bird. It was a woman."
He looked at the portrait. So did I.
"Yes," he said, "that was her very face. I was a bit scared and said
something—I don't know what—and she laughed and said, 'Did I think she
was a ghost?' and I answered back, and I stayed talking to her over the
churchyard wall till 'twas quite dark, and the glowworms were out in the
wet grass all along the way home.
"Next night I saw her again; and the next night and the next. Always at
twilight time; and if I passed any lovers leaning on the stiles in the
marshes it was nothing to me now."
Again my uncle paused. "It's very long ago," he said slowly, "and I'm an
old man; but I know what youth means, and happiness, though I was
always lame, and the girls used to laugh at me. I don't know how long it
went on—you don't measure time in dreams—but at last your grandfather
said I looked as if I had one foot in the grave, and he would be sending
me to stay with our kin at Bath and take the waters. I had to go. I
could not tell my father why I would rather had died than go."
"What was her name, uncle?" I asked.
"She never would tell me her name, and why should she? I had names
enough in my heart to call her by. Marriage? My dear, even then I knew
marriage was not for me. But I met her night after night, always in our
churchyard where the yew-trees were and the lichened gravestones. It was
there we always met and always parted. The last time was the night
before I went away. She was very sad, and dearer than life itself. And
"'If you come back before the new moon I shall meet you here just as
usual. But if the new moon shines on this grave and you are not
here—you will never see me again any more.'
"She laid her hand on the yellow lichened tomb against which we had been
leaning. It was an old weather-worn stone, and bore on it the
"'I shall be here.' I said.
"'I mean it,' she said, with deep and sudden seriousness, 'it is no
fancy. You will be here when the new moon shines?'"
"I promised, and after a while we parted.
"I had been with my kinsfolk at Bath nearly a month. I was to go home on
the next day, when, turning over a case in the parlour, I came upon that
miniature. I could not speak for a minute. At last I said, with dry
tongue, and heart beating to the tune of heaven and hell—
"'Who is this?'
"'That?' said my aunt. 'Oh! she was betrothed to one of our family many
years ago, but she died before the wedding. They say she was a bit of a
witch. A handsome one, wasn't she?'
"I looked again at the face, the lips, the eyes of my dear and lovely
love, whom I was to meet to-morrow night when the new moon shone on that
tomb in our churchyard.
"'Did you say she was dead?' I asked, and I hardly knew my own voice.
"'Years and years ago! Her name's on the back and her date——'
"I took the portrait from its faded red-velvet bed, and read on the
back—'Susannah Kingsnorth, Ob. 1713.'
"That was in 1813." My uncle stopped short.
"What happened?" I asked breathlessly.
"I believe I had a fit," my uncle answered slowly; "at any rate, I was
"And you missed the new moon on the grave?"
"I missed the new moon on the grave."
"And you never saw her again?"
"I never saw her again——"
"But, uncle, do you really believe?—Can the dead?—was she—did
My uncle took out his pipe and filled it.
"It's a long time ago," he said, "a many, many years. Old man's tales,
my dear! Old man's tales! Don't you take any notice of them."
He lighted the pipe, puffed silently a moment or two, and then added:
"But I know what youth means, and happiness, though I was lame, and the
girls used to laugh at me."