THE UPPER BERTH
F. MARION CRAWFORD
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
27 West Twenty-third St.
24 Bedford St., Strand
The Knickerbocker Press
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
The two stories by Mr. Crawford, presented in this volume, have been in
print before, having been originally written for two Christmas annuals
which were issued some years back. With the belief that the stories are,
however, still unknown to the larger portion of Mr. Crawford's public,
and in the opinion that they are well worthy of preservation in more
permanent form, the publishers have decided to reprint them as the
initial volume of the "Autonym" library.
THE AUTONYM LIBRARY.
Small works by representative writers, whose contributions will bear
32mo, limp cloth, each 50 cents.
The Autonym Library is published in co-operation with Mr. T. Fisher
Unwin, of London.
I. The Upper Berth, by F. Marion Crawford.
II. By Reef and Palm, by Louis Becke. With Introduction by the Earl of
This will be followed by volumes by S. R. Crockett, and others.
THE UPPER BERTH
The Upper Berth.
Somebody asked for the cigars. We had talked long, and the conversation
was beginning to languish; the tobacco smoke had got into the heavy
curtains, the wine had got into those brains which were liable to become
heavy, and it was already perfectly evident that, unless somebody did
something to rouse our oppressed spirits, the meeting would soon come to
its natural conclusion, and we, the guests, would speedily go home to
bed, and most certainly to sleep. No one had said anything very
remarkable; it may be that no one had anything very remarkable to say.
Jones had given us every particular of his last hunting adventure in
Yorkshire. Mr. Tompkins, of Boston, had explained at elaborate length
those working principles, by the due and careful maintenance of which
the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fé Railroad not only extended its
territory, increased its departmental influence, and transported live
stock without starving them to death before the day of actual delivery,
but, also, had for years succeeded in deceiving those passengers who
bought its tickets into the fallacious belief that the corporation
aforesaid was really able to transport human life without destroying it.
Signor Tombola had endeavoured to persuade us, by arguments which we
took no trouble to oppose, that the unity of his country in no way
resembled the average modern torpedo, carefully planned, constructed
with all the skill of the greatest European arsenals, but, when
constructed, destined to be directed by feeble hands into a region where
it must undoubtedly explode, unseen, unfeared, and unheard, into the
illimitable wastes of political chaos.
It is unnecessary to go into further details. The conversation had
assumed proportions which would have bored Prometheus on his rock, which
would have driven Tantalus to distraction, and which would have impelled
Ixion to seek relaxation in the simple but instructive dialogues of Herr
Ollendorff, rather than submit to the greater evil of listening to our
talk. We had sat at table for hours; we were bored, we were tired, and
nobody showed signs of moving.
Somebody called for cigars. We all instinctively looked towards the
speaker. Brisbane was a man of five-and-thirty years of age, and
remarkable for those gifts which chiefly attract the attention of men.
He was a strong man. The external proportions of his figure presented
nothing extraordinary to the common eye, though his size was above the
average. He was a little over six feet in height, and moderately broad
in the shoulder; he did not appear to be stout, but, on the other hand,
he was certainly not thin; his small head was supported by a strong and
sinewy neck; his broad muscular hands appeared to possess a peculiar
skill in breaking walnuts without the assistance of the ordinary
cracker, and, seeing him in profile, one could not help remarking the
extraordinary breadth of his sleeves, and the unusual thickness of his
chest. He was one of those men who are commonly spoken of among men as
deceptive; that is to say, that though he looked exceedingly strong he
was in reality very much stronger than he looked. Of his features I need
say little. His head is small, his hair is thin, his eyes are blue, his
nose is large, he has a small moustache, and a square jaw. Everybody
knows Brisbane, and when he asked for a cigar everybody looked at him.
"It is a very singular thing," said Brisbane.
Everybody stopped talking. Brisbane's voice was not loud, but possessed
a peculiar quality of penetrating general conversation, and cutting it
like a knife. Everybody listened. Brisbane, perceiving that he had
attracted their general attention, lit his cigar with great equanimity.
"It is very singular," he continued, "that thing about ghosts. People
are always asking whether anybody has seen a ghost. I have."
"Bosh! What, you? You don't mean to say so, Brisbane? Well, for a man of
A chorus of exclamations greeted Brisbane's remarkable statement.
Everybody called for cigars, and Stubbs the butler suddenly appeared
from the depths of nowhere with a fresh bottle of dry champagne. The
situation was saved; Brisbane was going to tell a story.
I am an old sailor, said Brisbane, and as I have to cross the Atlantic
pretty often, I have my favourites. Most men have their favourites. I
have seen a man wait in a Broadway bar for three-quarters of an hour for
a particular car which he liked. I believe the bar-keeper made at least
one-third of his living by that man's preference. I have a habit of
waiting for certain ships when I am obliged to cross that duck-pond. It
may be a prejudice, but I was never cheated out of a good passage but
once in my life. I remember it very well; it was a warm morning in June,
and the Custom House officials, who were hanging about waiting for a
steamer already on her way up from the Quarantine, presented a
peculiarly hazy and thoughtful appearance. I had not much luggage—I
never have. I mingled with the crowd of passengers, porters, and
officious individuals in blue coats and brass buttons, who seemed to
spring up like mushrooms from the deck of a moored steamer to obtrude
their unnecessary services upon the independent passenger. I have often
noticed with a certain interest the spontaneous evolution of these
fellows. They are not there when you arrive; five minutes after the
pilot has called "Go ahead!" they, or at least their blue coats and
brass buttons, have disappeared from deck and gangway as completely as
though they had been consigned to that locker which tradition
unanimously ascribes to Davy Jones. But, at the moment of starting,
they are there, clean-shaved, blue-coated, and ravenous for fees. I
hastened on board. The Kamtschatka was one of my favourite ships. I
say was, because she emphatically no longer is. I cannot conceive of any
inducement which could entice me to make another voyage in her. Yes, I
know what you are going to say. She is uncommonly clean in the run aft,
she has enough bluffing off in the bows to keep her dry, and the lower
berths are most of them double. She has a lot of advantages, but I won't
cross in her again. Excuse the digression. I got on board. I hailed a
steward, whose red nose and redder whiskers were equally familiar to me.
"One hundred and five, lower berth," said I, in the businesslike tone
peculiar to men who think no more of crossing the Atlantic than taking a
whisky cocktail at downtown Delmonico's.
The steward took my portmanteau, great coat, and rug. I shall never
forget the expression of his face. Not that he turned pale. It is
maintained by the most eminent divines that even miracles cannot change
the course of nature. I have no hesitation in saying that he did not
turn pale; but, from his expression, I judged that he was either about
to shed tears, to sneeze, or to drop my portmanteau. As the latter
contained two bottles of particularly fine old sherry presented to me
for my voyage by my old friend Snigginson van Pickyns, I felt extremely
nervous. But the steward did none of these things.
"Well, I'm d——d!" said he in a low voice, and led the way.
I supposed my Hermes, as he led me to the lower regions, had had a
little grog, but I said nothing, and followed him. One hundred and five
was on the port side, well aft. There was nothing remarkable about the
state-room. The lower berth, like most of those upon the Kamtschatka,
was double. There was plenty of room; there was the usual washing
apparatus, calculated to convey an idea of luxury to the mind of a
North-American Indian; there were the usual inefficient racks of brown
wood, in which it is more easy to hang a large-sized umbrella than the
common tooth-brush of commerce. Upon the uninviting mattresses were
carefully folded together those blankets which a great modern humorist
has aptly compared to cold buckwheat cakes. The question of towels was
left entirely to the imagination. The glass decanters were filled with a
transparent liquid faintly tinged with brown, but from which an odor
less faint, but not more pleasing, ascended to the nostrils, like a
far-off sea-sick reminiscence of oily machinery. Sad-coloured curtains
half-closed the upper berth. The hazy June daylight shed a faint
illumination upon the desolate little scene. Ugh! how I hate that
The steward deposited my traps and looked at me, as though he wanted to
get away—probably in search of more passengers and more fees. It is
always a good plan to start in favour with those functionaries, and I
accordingly gave him certain coins there and then.
"I'll try and make yer comfortable all I can," he remarked, as he put
the coins in his pocket. Nevertheless, there was a doubtful intonation
in his voice which surprised me. Possibly his scale of fees had gone up,
and he was not satisfied; but on the whole I was inclined to think that,
as he himself would have expressed it, he was "the better for a glass."
I was wrong, however, and did the man injustice.
Nothing especially worthy of mention occurred during that day. We left
the pier punctually, and it was very pleasant to be fairly under way,
for the weather was warm and sultry, and the motion of the steamer
produced a refreshing breeze. Everybody knows what the first day at sea
is like. People pace the decks and stare at each other, and occasionally
meet acquaintances whom they did not know to be on board. There is the
usual uncertainty as to whether the food will be good, bad, or
indifferent, until the first two meals have put the matter beyond a
doubt; there is the usual uncertainty about the weather, until the ship
is fairly off Fire Island. The tables are crowded at first, and then
suddenly thinned. Pale-faced people spring from their seats and
precipitate themselves towards the door, and each old sailor breathes
more freely as his sea-sick neighbour rushes from his side, leaving him
plenty of elbow room and an unlimited command over the mustard.
One passage across the Atlantic is very much like another, and we who
cross very often do not make the voyage for the sake of novelty. Whales
and icebergs are indeed always objects of interest, but, after all, one
whale is very much like another whale, and one rarely sees an iceberg at
close quarters. To the majority of us the most delightful moment of the
day on board an ocean steamer is when we have taken our last turn on
deck, have smoked our last cigar, and having succeeded in tiring
ourselves, feel at liberty to turn in with a clear conscience. On that
first night of the voyage I felt particularly lazy, and went to bed in
one hundred and five rather earlier than I usually do. As I turned in, I
was amazed to see that I was to have a companion. A portmanteau, very
like my own, lay in the opposite corner, and in the upper berth had been
deposited a neatly folded rug with a stick and umbrella. I had hoped to
be alone, and I was disappointed; but I wondered who my room-mate was to
be, and I determined to have a look at him.
Before I had been long in bed he entered. He was, as far as I could
see, a very tall man, very thin, very pale, with sandy hair and whiskers
and colourless grey eyes. He had about him, I thought, an air of rather
dubious fashion; the sort of man you might see in Wall Street, without
being able precisely to say what he was doing there—the sort of man who
frequents the Café Anglais, who always seems to be alone and who drinks
champagne; you might meet him on a race-course, but he would never
appear to be doing anything there either. A little over-dressed—a
little odd. There are three or four of his kind on every ocean steamer.
I made up my mind that I did not care to make his acquaintance, and I
went to sleep saying to myself that I would study his habits in order
to avoid him. If he rose early, I would rise late; if he went to bed
late, I would go to bed early. I did not care to know him. If you once
know people of that kind they are always turning up. Poor fellow! I need
not have taken the trouble to come to so many decisions about him, for I
never saw him again after that first night in one hundred and five.
I was sleeping soundly when I was suddenly waked by a loud noise. To
judge from the sound, my room-mate must have sprung with a single leap
from the upper berth to the floor. I heard him fumbling with the latch
and bolt of the door, which opened almost immediately, and then I heard
his footsteps as he ran at full speed down the passage, leaving the door
open behind him. The ship was rolling a little, and I expected to hear
him stumble or fall, but he ran as though he were running for his life.
The door swung on its hinges with the motion of the vessel, and the
sound annoyed me. I got up and shut it, and groped my way back to my
berth in the darkness. I went to sleep again; but I have no idea how
long I slept.
When I awoke it was still quite dark, but I felt a disagreeable
sensation of cold, and it seemed to me that the air was damp. You know
the peculiar smell of a cabin which has been wet with sea water. I
covered myself up as well as I could and dozed off again, framing
complaints to be made the next day, and selecting the most powerful
epithets in the language. I could hear my room-mate turn over in the
upper berth. He had probably returned while I was asleep. Once I
thought I heard him groan, and I argued that he was sea-sick. That is
particularly unpleasant when one is below. Nevertheless I dozed off and
slept till early daylight.
The ship was rolling heavily, much more than on the previous evening,
and the grey light which came in through the porthole changed in tint
with every movement according as the angle of the vessel's side turned
the glass seawards or skywards. It was very cold—unaccountably so for
the month of June. I turned my head and looked at the porthole, and saw
to my surprise that it was wide open and hooked back. I believe I swore
audibly. Then I got up and shut it. As I turned back I glanced at the
upper berth. The curtains were drawn close together; my companion had
probably felt cold as well as I. It struck me that I had slept enough.
The state-room was uncomfortable, though, strange to say, I could not
smell the dampness which had annoyed me in the night. My room-mate was
still asleep—excellent opportunity for avoiding him, so I dressed at
once and went on deck. The day was warm and cloudy, with an oily smell
on the water. It was seven o'clock as I came out—much later than I had
imagined. I came across the doctor, who was taking his first sniff of
the morning air. He was a young man from the West of Ireland—a
tremendous fellow, with black hair and blue eyes, already inclined to be
stout; he had a happy-go-lucky, healthy look about him which was rather
"Fine morning," I remarked, by way of introduction.
"Well," said he, eying me with an air of ready interest, "it's a fine
morning and it's not a fine morning. I don't think it's much of a
"Well, no—it is not so very fine," said I.
"It's just what I call fuggly weather," replied the doctor.
"It was very cold last night, I thought," I remarked. "However, when I
looked about, I found that the porthole was wide open. I had not noticed
it when I went to bed. And the state-room was damp, too."
"Damp!" said he. "Whereabouts are you?"
"One hundred and five——"
To my surprise the doctor started visibly, and stared at me.
"What is the matter?" I asked.
"Oh—nothing," he answered; "only everybody has complained of that
state-room for the last three trips."
"I shall complain too," I said. "It has certainly not been properly
aired. It is a shame!"
"I don't believe it can be helped," answered the doctor. "I believe
there is something—well, it is not my business to frighten passengers."
"You need not be afraid of frightening me," I replied. "I can stand any
amount of damp. If I should get a bad cold I will come to you."
I offered the doctor a cigar, which he took and examined very
"It is not so much the damp," he remarked. "However, I dare say you will
get on very well. Have you a room-mate?"
"Yes; a deuce of a fellow, who bolts out in the middle of the night and
leaves the door open."
Again the doctor glanced curiously at me. Then he lit the cigar and
"Did he come back?" he asked presently.
"Yes. I was asleep, but I waked up and heard him moving. Then I felt
cold and went to sleep again. This morning I found the porthole open."
"Look here," said the doctor, quietly, "I don't care much for this ship.
I don't care a rap for her reputation. I tell you what I will do. I have
a good-sized place up here. I will share it with you, though I don't
know you from Adam."
I was very much surprised at the proposition. I could not imagine why he
should take such a sudden interest in my welfare. However, his manner as
he spoke of the ship was peculiar.
"You are very good, doctor," I said. "But really, I believe even now the
cabin could be aired, or cleaned out, or something. Why do you not care
for the ship?"
"We are not superstitious in our profession, sir," replied the doctor.
"But the sea makes people so. I don't want to prejudice you, and I don't
want to frighten you, but if you will take my advice you will move in
here. I would as soon see you overboard," he added, "as know that you or
any other man was to sleep in one hundred and five."
"Good gracious! Why?" I asked.
"Just because on the last three trips the people who have slept there
actually have gone overboard," he answered, gravely.
The intelligence was startling and exceedingly unpleasant, I confess. I
looked hard at the doctor to see whether he was making game of me, but
he looked perfectly serious. I thanked him warmly for his offer, but
told him I intended to be the exception to the rule by which every one
who slept in that particular state-room went overboard. He did not say
much, but looked as grave as ever, and hinted that before we got across
I should probably reconsider his proposal. In the course of time we went
to breakfast, at which only an inconsiderable number of passengers
assembled. I noticed that one or two of the officers who breakfasted
with us looked grave. After breakfast I went into my state-room in order
to get a book. The curtains of the upper berth were still closely drawn.
Not a word was to be heard. My room-mate was probably still asleep.
As I came out I met the steward whose business it was to look after me.
He whispered that the captain wanted to see me, and then scuttled away
down the passage as if very anxious to avoid any questions. I went
toward the captain's cabin, and found him waiting for me.
"Sir," said he, "I want to ask a favour of you."
I answered that I would do anything to oblige him.
"Your room-mate has disappeared," he said. "He is known to have turned
in early last night. Did you notice anything extraordinary in his
The question coming, as it did, in exact confirmation of the fears the
doctor had expressed half an hour earlier, staggered me.
"You don't mean to say he has gone overboard?" I asked.
"I fear he has," answered the captain.
"This is the most extraordinary thing——" I began.
"Why?" he asked.
"He is the fourth, then?" I explained. In answer to another question
from the captain, I explained, without mentioning the doctor, that I had
heard the story concerning one hundred and five. He seemed very much
annoyed at hearing that I knew of it. I told him what had occurred in
"What you say," he replied, "coincides almost exactly with what was told
me by the room-mates of two of the other three. They bolt out of bed and
run down the passage. Two of them were seen to go overboard by the
watch; we stopped and lowered boats, but they were not found. Nobody,
however, saw or heard the man who was lost last night—if he is really
lost. The steward, who is a superstitious fellow, perhaps, and expected
something to go wrong, went to look for him this morning, and found his
berth empty, but his clothes lying about, just as he had left them. The
steward was the only man on board who knew him by sight, and he has been
searching everywhere for him. He has disappeared! Now, sir, I want to
beg you not to mention the circumstance to any of the passengers; I
don't want the ship to get a bad name, and nothing hangs about an
ocean-goer like stories of suicides. You shall have your choice of any
one of the officers' cabins you like, including my own, for the rest of
the passage. Is that a fair bargain?"
"Very," said I; "and I am much obliged to you. But since I am alone, and
have the state-room to myself, I would rather not move. If the steward
will take out that unfortunate man's things, I would as leave stay where
I am. I will not say anything about the matter, and I think I can
promise you that I will not follow my room-mate."
The captain tried to dissuade me from my intention, but I preferred
having a state-room alone to being the chum of any officer on board. I
do not know whether I acted foolishly, but if I had taken his advice I
should have had nothing more to tell. There would have remained the
disagreeable coincidence of several suicides occurring among men who had
slept in the same cabin, but that would have been all.
That was not the end of the matter, however, by any means. I obstinately
made up my mind that I would not be disturbed by such tales, and I even
went so far as to argue the question with the captain. There was
something wrong about the state-room, I said. It was rather damp. The
porthole had been left open last night. My room-mate might have been ill
when he came on board, and he might have become delirious after he went
to bed. He might even now be hiding somewhere on board, and might be
found later. The place ought to be aired and the fastening of the port
looked to. If the captain would give me leave, I would see that what I
thought necessary were done immediately.
"Of course you have a right to stay where you are if you please," he
replied, rather petulantly; "but I wish you would turn out and let me
lock the place up, and be done with it."
I did not see it in the same light, and left the captain, after
promising to be silent concerning the disappearance of my companion. The
latter had had no acquaintances on board, and was not missed in the
course of the day. Towards evening I met the doctor again, and he asked
me whether I had changed my mind. I told him I had not.
"Then you will before long," he said, very gravely.
We played whist in the evening, and I went to bed late. I will confess
now that I felt a disagreeable sensation when I entered my state-room. I
could not help thinking of the tall man I had seen on the previous
night, who was now dead, drowned, tossing about in the long swell, two
or three hundred miles astern. His face rose very distinctly before me
as I undressed, and I even went so far as to draw back the curtains of
the upper berth, as though to persuade myself that he was actually gone.
I also bolted the door of the state-room. Suddenly I became aware that
the porthole was open, and fastened back. This was more than I could
stand. I hastily threw on my dressing-gown and went in search of Robert,
the steward of my passage. I was very angry, I remember, and when I
found him I dragged him roughly to the door of one hundred and five, and
pushed him towards the open porthole.
"What the deuce do you mean, you scoundrel, by leaving that port open
every night? Don't you know it is against the regulations? Don't you
know that if the ship heeled and the water began to come in, ten men
could not shut it? I will report you to the captain, you blackguard, for
endangering the ship!"
I was exceedingly wroth. The man trembled and turned pale, and then
began to shut the round glass plate with the heavy brass fittings.
"Why don't you answer me?" I said, roughly.
"If you please, sir," faltered Robert, "there's nobody on board as can
keep this 'ere port shut at night. You can try it yourself, sir. I ain't
a-going to stop hany longer on board o' this vessel, sir; I ain't,
indeed. But if I was you, sir, I'd just clear out and go and sleep with
the surgeon, or something, I would. Look 'ere, sir, is that fastened
what you may call securely, or not, sir? Try it, sir, see if it will
move a hinch."
I tried the port, and found it perfectly tight.
"Well, sir," continued Robert, triumphantly, "I wager my reputation as a
A1 steward, that in 'arf an hour it will be open again; fastened back,
too, sir, that's the horful thing—fastened back!"
I examined the great screw and the looped nut that ran on it.
"If I find it open in the night, Robert, I will give you a sovereign. It
is not possible. You may go."
"Soverin' did you say, sir? Very good, sir. Thank ye, sir. Good night,
sir. Pleasant reepose, sir, and all manner of hinchantin' dreams, sir."
Robert scuttled away, delighted at being released. Of course, I thought
he was trying to account for his negligence by a silly story, intended
to frighten me, and I disbelieved him. The consequence was that he got
his sovereign, and I spent a very peculiarly unpleasant night.
I went to bed, and five minutes after I had rolled myself up in my
blankets the inexorable Robert extinguished the light that burned
steadily behind the ground-glass pane near the door. I lay quite still
in the dark trying to go to sleep, but I soon found that impossible. It
had been some satisfaction to be angry with the steward, and the
diversion had banished that unpleasant sensation I had at first
experienced when I thought of the drowned man who had been my chum; but
I was no longer sleepy, and I lay awake for some time, occasionally
glancing at the porthole, which I could just see from where I lay, and
which, in the darkness, looked like a faintly-luminous soup-plate
suspended in blackness. I believe I must have lain there for an hour,
and, as I remember, I was just dozing into sleep when I was roused by a
draught of cold air and by distinctly feeling the spray of the sea blown
upon my face. I started to my feet, and not having allowed in the dark
for the motion of the ship, I was instantly thrown violently across the
state-room upon the couch which was placed beneath the porthole. I
recovered myself immediately, however, and climbed upon my knees. The
porthole was again wide open and fastened back!
Now these things are facts. I was wide awake when I got up, and I should
certainly have been waked by the fall had I still been dozing. Moreover,
I bruised my elbows and knees badly, and the bruises were there on the
following morning to testify to the fact, if I myself had doubted it.
The porthole was wide open and fastened back—a thing so unaccountable
that I remember very well feeling astonishment rather than fear when I
discovered it. I at once closed the plate again and screwed down the
loop nut with all my strength. It was very dark in the state-room. I
reflected that the port had certainly been opened within an hour after
Robert had at first shut it in my presence, and I determined to watch it
and see whether it would open again. Those brass fittings are very heavy
and by no means easy to move; I could not believe that the clump had
been turned by the shaking of the screw. I stood peering out through the
thick glass at the alternate white and grey streaks of the sea that
foamed beneath the ship's side. I must have remained there a quarter of
Suddenly, as I stood, I distinctly heard something moving behind me in
one of the berths, and a moment afterwards, just as I turned
instinctively to look—though I could, of course, see nothing in the
darkness—I heard a very faint groan. I sprang across the state-room,
and tore the curtains of the upper berth aside, thrusting in my hands to
discover if there were any one there. There was some one.
I remember that the sensation as I put my hands forward was as though I
were plunging them into the air of a damp cellar, and from behind the
curtain came a gust of wind that smelled horribly of stagnant sea-water.
I laid hold of something that had the shape of a man's arm, but was
smooth, and wet, and icy cold. But suddenly, as I pulled, the creature
sprang violently forward against me, a clammy, oozy mass, as it seemed
to me, heavy and wet, yet endowed with a sort of supernatural strength.
I reeled across the state-room, and in an instant the door opened and
the thing rushed out. I had not had time to be frightened, and quickly
recovering myself, I sprang through the door and gave chase at the top
of my speed, but I was too late. Ten yards before me I could see—I am
sure I saw it—a dark shadow moving in the dimly lighted passage,
quickly as the shadow of a fast horse thrown before a dog-cart by the
lamp on a dark night. But in a moment it had disappeared, and I found
myself holding on to the polished rail that ran along the bulkhead
where the passage turned towards the companion. My hair stood on end,
and the cold perspiration rolled down my face. I am not ashamed of it in
the least: I was very badly frightened.
Still I doubted my senses, and pulled myself together. It was absurd, I
thought. The Welsh rare-bit I had eaten had disagreed with me. I had
been in a nightmare. I made my way back to my state-room, and entered it
with an effort. The whole place smelled of stagnant sea-water, as it had
when I had waked on the previous evening. It required my utmost strength
to go in and grope among my things for a box of wax lights. As I lighted
a railway reading lantern which I always carry in case I want to read
after the lamps are out, I perceived that the porthole was again open,
and a sort of creeping horror began to take possession of me which I
never felt before, nor wish to feel again. But I got a light and
proceeded to examine the upper berth, expecting to find it drenched with
But I was disappointed. The bed had been slept in, and the smell of the
sea was strong; but the bedding was as dry as a bone. I fancied that
Robert had not had the courage to make the bed after the accident of the
previous night—it had all been a hideous dream. I drew the curtains
back as far as I could and examined the place very carefully. It was
perfectly dry. But the porthole was open again. With a sort of dull
bewilderment of horror, I closed it and screwed it down, and thrusting
my heavy stick through the brass loop, wrenched it with all my might,
till the thick metal began to bend under the pressure. Then I hooked my
reading lantern into the red velvet at the head of the couch, and sat
down to recover my senses if I could. I sat there all night, unable to
think of rest—hardly able to think at all. But the porthole remained
closed, and I did not believe it would now open again without the
application of a considerable force.
The morning dawned at last, and I dressed myself slowly, thinking over
all that had happened in the night. It was a beautiful day and I went on
deck, glad to get out in the early, pure sunshine, and to smell the
breeze from the blue water, so different from the noisome, stagnant
odour from my state-room. Instinctively I turned aft, towards the
surgeon's cabin. There he stood, with a pipe in his mouth, taking his
morning airing precisely as on the preceding day.
"Good-morning," said he, quietly, but looking at me with evident
"Doctor, you were quite right," said I. "There is something wrong about
"I thought you would change your mind," he answered, rather
triumphantly. "You have had a bad night, eh? Shall I make you a
pick-me-up? I have a capital recipe."
"No, thanks," I cried. "But I would like to tell you what happened."
I then tried to explain as clearly as possible precisely what had
occurred, not omitting to state that I had been scared as I had never
been scared in my whole life before. I dwelt particularly on the
phenomenon of the porthole, which was a fact to which I could testify,
even if the rest had been an illusion. I had closed it twice in the
night, and the second time I had actually bent the brass in wrenching it
with my stick. I believe I insisted a good deal on this point.
"You seem to think I am likely to doubt the story," said the doctor,
smiling at the detailed account of the state of the porthole. "I do not
doubt it in the least. I renew my invitation to you. Bring your traps
here, and take half my cabin."
"Come and take half of mine for one night," I said. "Help me to get at
the bottom of this thing."
"You will get to the bottom of something else if you try," answered the
"What?" I asked.
"The bottom of the sea. I am going to leave the ship. It is not canny."
"Then you will not help me to find out——"
"Not I," said the doctor, quickly. "It is my business to keep my wits
about me—not to go fiddling about with ghosts and things."
"Do you really believe it is a ghost?" I inquired, rather
contemptuously. But as I spoke I remembered very well the horrible
sensation of the supernatural which had got possession of me during the
night. The doctor turned sharply on me——
"Have you any reasonable explanation of these things to offer?" he
asked. "No; you have not. Well, you say you will find an explanation. I
say that you won't, sir, simply because there is not any."
"But, my dear sir," I retorted, "do you, a man of science, mean to tell
me that such things cannot be explained?"
"I do," he answered, stoutly. "And, if they could, I would not be
concerned in the explanation."
I did not care to spend another night alone in the state-room, and yet I
was obstinately determined to get at the root of the disturbances. I do
not believe there are many men who would have slept there alone, after
passing two such nights. But I made up my mind to try it, if I could not
get any one to share a watch with me. The doctor was evidently not
inclined for such an experiment. He said he was a surgeon, and that in
case any accident occurred on board he must always be in readiness. He
could not afford to have his nerves unsettled. Perhaps he was quite
right, but I am inclined to think that his precaution was prompted by
his inclination. On inquiry, he informed me that there was no one on
board who would be likely to join me in my investigations, and after a
little more conversation I left him. A little later I met the captain,
and told him my story. I said that if no one would spend the night with
me I would ask leave to have the light burning all night, and would try
"Look here," said he, "I will tell you what I will do. I will share your
watch myself, and we will see what happens. It is my belief that we can
find out between us. There may be some fellow skulking on board, who
steals a passage by frightening the passengers. It is just possible that
there may be something queer in the carpentering of that berth."
I suggested taking the ship's carpenter below and examining the place;
but I was overjoyed at the captain's offer to spend the night with me.
He accordingly sent for the workman and ordered him to do anything I
required. We went below at once. I had all the bedding cleared out of
the upper berth, and we examined the place thoroughly to see if there
was a board loose anywhere, or a panel which could be opened or pushed
aside. We tried the planks everywhere, tapped the flooring, unscrewed
the fittings of the lower berth and took it to pieces—in short, there
was not a square inch of the state-room which was not searched and
tested. Everything was in perfect order, and we put everything back in
its place. As we were finishing our work, Robert came to the door and
"Well, sir—find anything, sir?" he asked with a ghastly grin.
"You were right about the porthole, Robert," I said, and I gave him the
promised sovereign. The carpenter did his work silently and skilfully,
following my directions. When he had done he spoke.
"I'm a plain man, sir," he said. "But it's my belief you had better just
turn out your things and let me run half a dozen four inch screws
through the door of this cabin. There's no good never came o' this cabin
yet, sir, and that's all about it. There's been four lives lost out o'
here to my own remembrance, and that in four trips. Better give it up,
sir—better give it up!"
"I will try it for one night more," I said.
"Better give it up, sir—better give it up! It's a precious bad job,"
repeated the workman, putting his tools in his bag and leaving the
But my spirits had risen considerably at the prospect of having the
captain's company, and I made up my mind not to be prevented from going
to the end of the strange business. I abstained from Welsh rare-bits and
grog that evening, and did not even join in the customary game of whist.
I wanted to be quite sure of my nerves, and my vanity made me anxious to
make a good figure in the captain's eyes.
The captain was one of those splendidly tough and cheerful specimens of
seafaring humanity whose combined courage, hardihood, and calmness in
difficulty leads them naturally into high positions of trust. He was not
the man to be led away by an idle tale, and the mere fact that he was
willing to join me in the investigation was proof that he thought there
was something seriously wrong, which could not be accounted for on
ordinary theories, nor laughed down as a common superstition. To some
extent, too, his reputation was at stake, as well as the reputation of
the ship. It is no light thing to lose passengers overboard, and he knew
About ten o'clock that evening, as I was smoking a last cigar, he came
up to me and drew me aside from the beat of the other passengers who
were patrolling the deck in the warm darkness.
"This is a serious matter, Mr. Brisbane," he said. "We must make up our
minds either way—to be disappointed or to have a pretty rough time of
it. You see, I cannot afford to laugh at the affair, and I will ask you
to sign your name to a statement of whatever occurs. If nothing happens
to-night we will try it again to-morrow and next day. Are you ready?"
So we went below, and entered the state-room. As we went in I could see
Robert the steward, who stood a little further down the passage,
watching us, with his usual grin, as though certain that something
dreadful was about to happen. The captain closed the door behind us and
"Supposing we put your portmanteau before the door," he suggested. "One
of us can sit on it. Nothing can get out then. Is the port screwed
I found it as I had left it in the morning. Indeed, without using a
lever, as I had done, no one could have opened it. I drew back the
curtains of the upper berth so that I could see well into it. By the
captain's advice I lighted my reading-lantern, and placed it so that it
shone upon the white sheets above. He insisted upon sitting on the
portmanteau, declaring that he wished to be able to swear that he had
sat before the door.
Then he requested me to search the state-room thoroughly, an operation
very soon accomplished, as it consisted merely in looking beneath the
lower berth and under the couch below the porthole. The spaces were
"It is impossible for any human being to get in," I said, "or for any
human being to open the port."
"Very good," said the captain, calmly. "If we see anything now, it must
be either imagination or something supernatural."
I sat down on the edge of the lower berth.
"The first time it happened," said the captain, crossing his legs and
leaning back against the door, "was in March. The passenger who slept
here, in the upper berth, turned out to have been a lunatic—at all
events, he was known to have been a little touched, and he had taken his
passage without the knowledge of his friends. He rushed out in the
middle of the night, and threw himself overboard, before the officer who
had the watch could stop him. We stopped and lowered a boat; it was a
quiet night, just before that heavy weather came on; but we could not
find him. Of course his suicide was afterwards accounted for on the
ground of his insanity."
"I suppose that often happens?" I remarked, rather absently.
"Not often—no," said the captain; "never before in my experience,
though I have heard of it happening on board of other ships. Well, as I
was saying, that occurred in March. On the very next trip—What are you
looking at?" he asked, stopping suddenly in his narration.
I believe I gave no answer. My eyes were riveted upon the porthole. It
seemed to me that the brass loop-nut was beginning to turn very slowly
upon the screw—so slowly, however, that I was not sure it moved at all.
I watched it intently, fixing its position in my mind, and trying to
ascertain whether it changed. Seeing where I was looking, the captain
"It moves!" he exclaimed, in a tone of conviction. "No, it does not," he
added, after a minute.
"If it were the jarring of the screw," said I, "it would have opened
during the day; but I found it this evening jammed tight as I left it
I rose and tried the nut. It was certainly loosened, for by an effort I
could move it with my hands.
"The queer thing," said the captain, "is that the second man who was
lost is supposed to have got through that very port. We had a terrible
time over it. It was in the middle of the night, and the weather was
very heavy; there was an alarm that one of the ports was open and the
sea running in. I came below and found everything flooded, the water
pouring in every time she rolled, and the whole port swinging from the
top bolts—not the porthole in the middle. Well, we managed to shut it,
but the water did some damage. Ever since that the place smells of
sea-water from time to time. We supposed the passenger had thrown
himself out, though the Lord only knows how he did it. The steward kept
telling me that he could not keep anything shut here. Upon my word—I
can smell it now, cannot you?" he inquired, sniffing the air
"Yes—distinctly," I said, and I shuddered as that same odour of
stagnant sea-water grew stronger in the cabin. "Now, to smell like this,
the place must be damp," I continued, "and yet when I examined it with
the carpenter this morning everything was perfectly dry. It is most
My reading-lantern, which had been placed in the upper berth, was
suddenly extinguished. There was still a good deal of light from the
pane of ground glass near the door, behind which loomed the regulation
lamp. The ship rolled heavily, and the curtain of the upper berth swung
far out into the state-room and back again. I rose quickly from my seat
on the edge of the bed, and the captain at the same moment started to
his feet with a loud cry of surprise. I had turned with the intention of
taking down the lantern to examine it, when I heard his exclamation, and
immediately afterwards his call for help. I sprang towards him. He was
wrestling with all his might, with the brass loop of the port. It seemed
to turn against his hands in spite of all his efforts. I caught up my
cane, a heavy oak stick I always used to carry, and thrust it through
the ring and bore on it with all my strength. But the strong wood
snapped suddenly, and I fell upon the couch. When I rose again the port
was wide open, and the captain was standing with his back against the
door, pale to the lips.
"There is something in that berth!" he cried, in a strange voice, his
eyes almost starting from his head. "Hold the door, while I look—it
shall not escape us, whatever it is!"
But instead of taking his place, I sprang upon the lower bed, and seized
something which lay in the upper berth.
It was something ghostly, horrible beyond words, and it moved in my
grip. It was like the body of a man long drowned, and yet it moved, and
had the strength of ten men living; but I gripped it with all my
might—the slippery, oozy, horrible thing. The dead white eyes seemed to
stare at me out of the dusk; the putrid odour of rank sea-water was
about it, and its shiny hair hung in foul wet curls over its dead face.
I wrestled with the dead thing; it thrust itself upon me and forced me
back and nearly broke my arms; it wound its corpse's arms about my neck,
the living death, and overpowered me, so that I, at last, cried aloud
and fell, and left my hold.
As I fell the thing sprang across me, and seemed to throw itself upon
the captain. When I last saw him on his feet his face was white and his
lips set. It seemed to me that he struck a violent blow at the dead
being, and then he, too, fell forward upon his face, with an
inarticulate cry of horror.
The thing paused an instant, seeming to hover over his prostrate body,
and I could have screamed again for very fright, but I had no voice
left. The thing vanished suddenly, and it seemed to my disturbed senses
that it made its exit through the open port, though how that was
possible, considering the smallness of the aperture, is more than any
one can tell. I lay a long time upon the floor, and the captain lay
beside me. At last I partially recovered my senses and moved, and I
instantly knew that my arm was broken—the small bone of the left
forearm near the wrist.
I got upon my feet somehow, and with my remaining hand I tried to raise
the captain. He groaned and moved, and at last came to himself. He was
not hurt, but he seemed badly stunned.
Well, do you want to hear any more? There is nothing more. That is the
end of my story. The carpenter carried out his scheme of running half a
dozen four-inch screws through the door of one hundred and five; and if
ever you take a passage in the Kamtschatka, you may ask for a berth in
that state-room. You will be told that it is engaged—yes—it is engaged
by that dead thing.
I finished the trip in the surgeon's cabin. He doctored my broken arm,
and advised me not to "fiddle about with ghosts and things" any more.
The captain was very silent, and never sailed again in that ship, though
it is still running. And I will not sail in her either. It was a very
disagreeable experience, and I was very badly frightened, which is a
thing I do not like. That is all. That is how I saw a ghost—if it was a
ghost. It was dead, anyhow.
BY THE WATERS OF PARADISE
By the Waters of Paradise.
I remember my childhood very distinctly. I do not think that the fact
argues a good memory, for I have never been clever at learning words by
heart, in prose or rhyme; so that I believe my remembrance of events
depends much more upon the events themselves than upon my possessing any
special facility for recalling them. Perhaps I am too imaginative, and
the earliest impressions I received were of a kind to stimulate the
imagination abnormally. A long series of little misfortunes, connected
with each other as to suggest a sort of weird fatality, so worked upon
my melancholy temperament when I was a boy that, before I was of age, I
sincerely believed myself to be under a curse, and not only myself, but
my whole family, and every individual who bore my name.
I was born in the old place where my father, and his father, and all his
predecessors had been born, beyond the memory of man. It is a very old
house, and the greater part of it was originally a castle, strongly
fortified, and surrounded by a deep moat supplied with abundant water
from the hills by a hidden aqueduct. Many of the fortifications have
been destroyed, and the moat has been filled up. The water from the
aqueduct supplies great fountains, and runs down into huge oblong basins
in the terraced gardens, one below the other, each surrounded by a broad
pavement of marble between the water and the flower-beds. The waste
surplus finally escapes through an artificial grotto, some thirty yards
long, into a stream, flowing down through the park to the meadows
beyond, and thence to the distant river. The buildings were extended a
little and greatly altered more than two hundred years ago, in the time
of Charles II., but since then little has been done to improve them,
though they have been kept in fairly good repair, according to our
In the gardens there are terraces and huge hedges of box and evergreen,
some of which used to be clipped into shapes of animals, in the Italian
style. I can remember when I was a lad how I used to try to make out
what the trees were cut to represent, and how I used to appeal for
explanations to Judith, my Welsh nurse. She dealt in a strange mythology
of her own, and peopled the gardens with griffins, dragons, good genii
and bad, and filled my mind with them at the same time. My nursery
window afforded a view of the great fountains at the head of the upper
basin, and on moonlight nights the Welshwoman would hold me up to the
glass and bid me look at the mist and spray rising into mysterious
shapes, moving mystically in the white light like living things.
"It's the Woman of the Water," she used to say; and sometimes she would
threaten that if I did not go to sleep the Woman of the Water would
steal up to the high window and carry me away in her wet arms.
The place was gloomy. The broad basins of water and the tall evergreen
hedges gave it a funereal look, and the damp-stained marble causeways by
the pools might have been made of tombstones. The gray and
weather-beaten walls and towers without, the dark and
massively-furnished rooms within, the deep, mysterious recesses and the
heavy curtains, all affected my spirits. I was silent and sad from my
childhood. There was a great clock tower above, from which the hours
rang dismally during the day, and tolled like a knell in the dead of
night. There was no light nor life in the house, for my mother was a
helpless invalid, and my father had grown melancholy in his long task of
caring for her. He was a thin, dark man, with sad eyes; kind, I think,
but silent and unhappy. Next to my mother, I believe he loved me better
than anything on earth, for he took immense pains and trouble in
teaching me, and what he taught me I have never forgotten. Perhaps it
was his only amusement, and that may be the reason why I had no nursery
governess or teacher of any kind while he lived.
I used to be taken to see my mother every day, and sometimes twice a
day, for an hour at a time. Then I sat upon a little stool near her
feet, and she would ask me what I had been doing, and what I wanted to
do. I daresay she saw already the seeds of a profound melancholy in my
nature, for she looked at me always with a sad smile, and kissed me with
a sigh when I was taken away.
One night, when I was just six years old, I lay awake in the nursery.
The door was not quite shut, and the Welsh nurse was sitting sewing in
the next room. Suddenly I heard her groan, and say in a strange voice,
"One—two—one—two!" I was frightened, and I jumped up and ran to the
door, barefooted as I was.
"What is it, Judith?" I cried, clinging to her skirts. I can remember
the look in her strange dark eyes as she answered.
"One—two leaden coffins, fallen from the ceiling!" she crooned, working
herself in her chair. "One—two—a light coffin and a heavy coffin,
falling to the floor!"
Then she seemed to notice me, and she took me back to bed and sang me to
sleep with a queer old Welsh song.
I do not know how it was, but the impression got hold of me that she had
meant that my father and mother were going to die very soon. They died
in the very room where she had been sitting that night. It was a great
room, my day nursery, full of sun when there was any: and when the days
were dark it was the most cheerful place in the house. My mother grew
rapidly worse, and I was transferred to another part of the building to
make place for her. They thought my nursery was gayer for her, I
suppose; but she could not live. She was beautiful when she was dead,
and I cried bitterly.
"The light one, the light one—the heavy one to come," crooned the
Welshwoman. And she was right. My father took the room after my mother
was gone, and day by day he grew thinner and paler and sadder.
"The heavy one, the heavy one—all of lead," moaned my nurse, one night
in December, standing still, just as she was going to take away the
light after putting me to bed. Then she took me up again and wrapped me
in a little gown, and led me away to my father's room. She knocked, but
no one answered. She opened the door, and we found him in his easy-chair
before the fire, very white, quite dead.
So I was alone with the Welshwoman till strange people came, and
relations whom I had never seen; and then I heard them saying that I
must be taken away to some more cheerful place. They were kind people,
and I will not believe that they were kind only because I was to be very
rich when I grew to be a man. The world never seemed to be a very bad
place to me, nor all the people to be miserable sinners, even when I was
most melancholy. I do not remember that any one ever did me any great
injustice, nor that I was ever oppressed or ill-treated in any way, even
by the boys at school. I was sad, I suppose, because my childhood was so
gloomy, and, later, because I was unlucky in everything I undertook,
till I finally believed I was pursued by fate, and I used to dream that
the old Welsh nurse and the Woman of the Water between them had vowed
to pursue me to my end. But my natural disposition should have been
cheerful, as I have often thought.
Among lads of my age I was never last, or even among the last, in
anything; but I was never first. If I trained for a race, I was sure to
sprain my ankle on the day when I was to run. If I pulled an oar with
others, my oar was sure to break. If I competed for a prize, some
unforeseen accident prevented my winning it at the last moment. Nothing
to which I put my hand succeeded, and I got the reputation of being
unlucky, until my companions felt it was always safe to bet against me,
no matter what the appearances might be. I became discouraged and
listless in everything. I gave up the idea of competing for any
distinction at the University, comforting myself with the thought that
I could not fail in the examination for the ordinary degree. The day
before the examination began I fell ill; and when at last I recovered,
after a narrow escape from death, I turned my back upon Oxford, and went
down alone to visit the old place where I had been born, feeble in
health and profoundly disgusted and discouraged. I was twenty-one years
of age, master of myself and of my fortune; but so deeply had the long
chain of small unlucky circumstances affected me that I thought
seriously of shutting myself up from the world to live the life of a
hermit, and to die as soon as possible. Death seemed the only cheerful
possibility in my existence, and my thoughts soon dwelt upon it
I had never shown any wish to return to my own home since I had been
taken away as a little boy, and no one had ever pressed me to do so. The
place had been kept in order after a fashion, and did not seem to have
suffered during the fifteen years or more of my absence. Nothing earthly
could affect those old grey walls that had fought the elements for so
many centuries. The garden was more wild than I remembered it; the
marble causeways about the pools looked more yellow and damp than of
old, and the whole place at first looked smaller. It was not until I had
wandered about the house and grounds for many hours that I realised the
huge size of the home where I was to live in solitude. Then I began to
delight in it, and my resolution to live alone grew stronger.
The people had turned out to welcome me, of course, and I tried to
recognise the changed faces of the old gardener and the old housekeeper,
and to call them by name. My old nurse I knew at once. She had grown
very grey since she heard the coffins fall in the nursery fifteen years
before, but her strange eyes were the same, and the look in them woke
all my old memories. She went over the house with me.
"And how is the Woman of the Water?" I asked, trying to laugh a little.
"Does she still play in the moonlight?"
"She is hungry," answered the Welshwoman, in a low voice.
"Hungry? Then we will feed her." I laughed. But old Judith turned very
pale, and looked at me strangely.
"Feed her? Ay—you will feed her well," she muttered, glancing behind
her at the ancient housekeeper, who tottered after us with feeble steps
through the halls and passages.
I did not think much of her words. She had always talked oddly, as
Welshwomen will, and though I was very melancholy I am sure I was not
superstitious, and I was certainly not timid. Only, as in a far-off
dream, I seemed to see her standing with the light in her hand and
muttering, "The heavy one—all of lead," and then leading a little boy
through the long corridors to see his father lying dead in a great
easy-chair before a smouldering fire. So we went over the house, and I
chose the rooms where I would live; and the servants I had brought with
me ordered and arranged everything, and I had no more trouble. I did not
care what they did provided I was left in peace, and was not expected to
give directions; for I was more listless than ever, owing to the effects
of my illness at college.
I dined in solitary state, and the melancholy grandeur of the vast old
dining-room pleased me. Then I went to the room I had selected for my
study, and sat down in a deep chair, under a bright light, to think, or
to let my thoughts meander through labyrinths of their own choosing,
utterly indifferent to the course they might take.
The tall windows of the room opened to the level of the ground upon the
terrace at the head of the garden. It was in the end of July, and
everything was open, for the weather was warm. As I sat alone I heard
the unceasing plash of the great fountains, and I fell to thinking of
the Woman of the Water. I rose, and went out into the still night, and
sat down upon a seat on the terrace, between two gigantic Italian
flower-pots. The air was deliciously soft and sweet with the smell of
the flowers, and the garden was more congenial to me than the house. Sad
people always like running water and the sound of it at night, though I
cannot tell why. I sat and listened in the gloom, for it was dark below,
and the pale moon had not yet climbed over the hills in front of me,
though all the air above was light with her rising beams. Slowly the
white halo in the eastern sky ascended in an arch above the wooded
crests, making the outlines of the mountains more intensely black by
contrast, as though the head of some great white saint were rising from
behind a screen in a vast cathedral, throwing misty glories from below.
I longed to see the moon herself, and I tried to reckon the seconds
before she must appear. Then she sprang up quickly, and in a moment more
hung round and perfect in the sky. I gazed at her, and then at the
floating spray of the tall fountains, and down at the pools, where the
water-lilies were rocking softly in their sleep on the velvet surface of
the moon-lit water. Just then a great swan floated out silently into
the midst of the basin, and wreathed his long neck, catching the water
in his broad bill, and scattering showers of diamonds around him.
Suddenly, as I gazed, something came between me and the light. I looked
up instantly. Between me and the round disk of the moon rose a luminous
face of a woman, with great strange eyes, and a woman's mouth, full and
soft, but not smiling, hooded in black, staring at me as I sat still
upon my bench. She was close to me—so close that I could have touched
her with my hand. But I was transfixed and helpless. She stood still for
a moment, but her expression did not change. Then she passed swiftly
away, and my hair stood up on my head, while the cold breeze from her
white dress was wafted to my temples as she moved. The moonlight,
shining through the tossing spray of the fountain, made traceries of
shadow on the gleaming folds of her garments. In an instant she was gone
and I was alone.
I was strangely shaken by the vision, and some time passed before I
could rise to my feet, for I was still weak from my illness, and the
sight I had seen would have startled any one. I did not reason with
myself, for I was certain that I had looked on the unearthly, and no
argument could have destroyed that belief. At last I got up and stood
unsteadily, gazing in the direction in which I thought the face had
gone; but there was nothing to be seen—nothing but the broad paths, the
tall, dark evergreen hedges, the tossing water of the fountains and the
smooth pool below. I fell back upon the seat and recalled the face I had
seen. Strange to say, now that the first impression had passed, there
was nothing startling in the recollection; on the contrary, I felt that
I was fascinated by the face, and would give anything to see it again. I
could retrace the beautiful straight features, the long dark eyes, and
the wonderful mouth most exactly in my mind, and when I had
reconstructed every detail from memory I knew that the whole was
beautiful, and that I should love a woman with such a face.
"I wonder whether she is the Woman of the Water!" I said to myself. Then
rising once more, I wandered down the garden, descending one short
flight of steps after another, from terrace to terrace by the edge of
the marble basins, through the shadow and through the moonlight; and I
crossed the water by the rustic bridge above the artificial grotto, and
climbed slowly up again to the highest terrace by the other side. The
air seemed sweeter, and I was very calm, so that I think I smiled to
myself as I walked, as though a new happiness had come to me. The
woman's face seemed always before me, and the thought of it gave me an
unwonted thrill of pleasure, unlike anything I had ever felt before.
I turned, as I reached the house, and looked back upon the scene. It had
certainly changed in the short hour since I had come out, and my mood
had changed with it. Just like my luck, I thought, to fall in love with
a ghost! But in old times I would have sighed, and gone to bed more sad
than ever, at such a melancholy conclusion. To-night I felt happy,
almost for the first time in my life. The gloomy old study seemed
cheerful when I went in. The old pictures on the walls smiled at me, and
I sat down in my deep chair with a new and delightful sensation that I
was not alone. The idea of having seen a ghost, and of feeling much the
better for it, was so absurd that I laughed softly, as I took up one of
the books I had brought with me and began to read.
That impression did not wear off. I slept peacefully, and in the morning
I threw open my windows to the summer air and looked down at the garden,
at the stretches of green and at the coloured flower-beds, at the
circling swallows and at the bright water.
"A man might make a paradise of this place," I exclaimed. "A man and a
From that day the old castle no longer seemed gloomy, and I think I
ceased to be sad; for some time, too, I began to take an interest in the
place, and to try and make it more alive. I avoided my old Welsh nurse,
lest she should damp my humour with some dismal prophecy, and recall my
old self by bringing back memories of my dismal childhood. But what I
thought of most was the ghostly figure I had seen in the garden that
first night after my arrival. I went out every evening and wandered
through the walks and paths; but, try as I might, I did not see my
vision again. At last, after many days, the memory grew more faint, and
my old moody nature gradually overcame the temporary sense of lightness
I had experienced. The summer turned to autumn, and I grew restless. It
began to rain. The dampness pervaded the gardens, and the outer halls
smelled musty, like tombs; the grey sky oppressed me intolerably. I left
the place as it was and went abroad, determined to try anything which
might possibly make a second break in the monotonous melancholy from
which I suffered.
Most people would be struck by the utter insignificance of the small
events which, after the death of my parents, influenced my life and made
me unhappy. The gruesome forebodings of a Welsh nurse, which chanced to
be realised by an odd coincidence of events, should not seem enough to
change the nature of a child, and to direct the bent of his character in
after years. The little disappointments of schoolboy life, and the
somewhat less childish ones of an uneventful and undistinguished
academic career, should not have sufficed to turn me out at
one-and-twenty years of age a melancholic, listless idler. Some weakness
of my own character may have contributed to the result, but in a greater
degree it was due to my having a reputation for bad luck. However, I
will not try to analyse the causes of my state, for I should satisfy
nobody, least of all myself. Still less will I attempt to explain why I
felt a temporary revival of my spirits after my adventure in the garden.
It is certain that I was in love with the face I had seen, and that I
longed to see it again; that I gave up all hope of a second visitation,
grew more sad than ever, packed up my traps, and finally went abroad.
But in my dreams I went back to my home, and it always appeared to me
sunny and bright, as it had looked on that summer's morning after I had
seen the woman by the fountain.
I went to Paris. I went further, and wandered about Germany. I tried to
amuse myself, and I failed miserably. With the aimless whims of an idle
and useless man, come all sorts of suggestions for good resolutions. One
day I made up my mind that I would go and bury myself in a German
university for a time, and live simply like a poor student. I started
with the intention of going to Leipsic, determined to stay there until
some event should direct my life or change my humour, or make an end of
me altogether. The express train stopped at some station of which I did
not know the name. It was dusk on a winter's afternoon, and I peered
through the thick glass from my seat. Suddenly another train came
gliding in from the opposite direction, and stopped alongside of ours. I
looked at the carriage which chanced to be abreast of mine, and idly
read the black letters painted on a white board swinging from the brass
handrail: Berlin—Cologne—Paris. Then I looked up at the window above.
I started violently, and the cold perspiration broke out upon my
forehead. In the dim light, not six feet from where I sat, I saw the
face of a woman, the face I loved, the straight, fine features, the
strange eyes, the wonderful mouth, the pale skin. Her head-dress was a
dark veil, which seemed to be tied about her head and passed over the
shoulders under her chin. As I threw down the window and knelt on the
cushioned seat, leaning far out to get a better view, a long whistle
screamed through the station, followed by a quick series of dull,
clanking sounds; then there was a slight jerk, and my train moved on.
Luckily the window was narrow, being the one over the seat, beside the
door, or I believe I would have jumped out of it then and there. In an
instant the speed increased, and I was being carried swiftly away in the
opposite direction from the thing I loved.
For a quarter of an hour I lay back in my place, stunned by the
suddenness of the apparition. At last one of the two other passengers, a
large and gorgeous captain of the White Konigsberg Cuirassiers, civilly
but firmly suggested that I might shut my window, as the evening was
cold. I did so, with an apology, and relapsed into silence. The train
ran swiftly on, for a long time, and it was already beginning to slacken
speed before entering another station, when I roused myself and made a
sudden resolution. As the carriage stopped before the brilliantly
lighted platform, I seized my belongings, saluted my fellow-passengers,
and got out, determined to take the first express back to Paris.
This time the circumstances of the vision had been so natural that it
did not strike me that there was anything unreal about the face, or
about the woman to whom it belonged. I did not try to explain to myself
how the face, and the woman, could be travelling by a fast train from
Berlin to Paris on a winter's afternoon, when both were in my mind
indelibly associated with the moonlight and the fountains in my own
English home. I certainly would not have admitted that I had been
mistaken in the dusk, attributing to what I had seen a resemblance to my
former vision which did not really exist. There was not the slightest
doubt in my mind, and I was positively sure that I had again seen the
face I loved. I did not hesitate, and in a few hours I was on my way
back to Paris. I could not help reflecting on my ill luck. Wandering as
I had been for many months, it might as easily have chanced that I
should be travelling in the same train with that woman, instead of going
the other way. But my luck was destined to turn for a time.
I searched Paris for several days. I dined at the principal hotels; I
went to the theatres; I rode in the Bois de Boulogne in the morning, and
picked up an acquaintance, whom I forced to drive with me in the
afternoon. I went to mass at the Madeleine, and I attended the services
at the English Church. I hung about the Louvre and Notre Dame. I went to
Versailles. I spent hours in parading the Rue de Rivoli, in the
neighbourhood of Meurice's corner, where foreigners pass and repass from
morning till night. At last I received an invitation to a reception at
the English Embassy. I went, and I found what I had sought so long.
There she was, sitting by an old lady in grey satin and diamonds, who
had a wrinkled but kindly face and keen grey eyes that seemed to take
in everything they saw, with very little inclination to give much in
return. But I did not notice the chaperon. I saw only the face that had
haunted me for months, and in the excitement of the moment I walked
quickly towards the pair, forgetting such a trifle as the necessity for
She was far more beautiful than I had thought, but I never doubted that
it was she herself and no other. Vision or no vision before, this was
the reality, and I knew it. Twice her hair had been covered, now at last
I saw it, and the added beauty of its magnificence glorified the whole
woman. It was rich hair, fine and abundant, golden, with deep ruddy
tints in it like red bronze spun fine. There was no ornament in it, not
a rose, not a thread of gold, and I felt that it needed nothing to
enhance its splendour; nothing but her pale face, her dark strange eyes,
and her heavy eyebrows. I could see that she was slender too, but strong
withal, as she sat there quietly gazing at the moving scene in the midst
of the brilliant lights and the hum of perpetual conversation.
I recollected the detail of introduction in time, and turned aside to
look for my host. I found him at last. I begged him to present me to the
two ladies, pointing them out to him at the same time.
"Yes—uh—by all means—uh—" replied his Excellency with a pleasant
smile. He evidently had no idea of my name, which was not to be wondered
"I am Lord Cairngorm," I observed.
"Oh—by all means," answered the Ambassador with the same hospitable
smile. "Yes—uh—the fact is, I must try and find out who they are; such
lots of people, you know."
"Oh, if you will present me, I will try and find out for you," said I,
"Ah, yes—so kind of you—come along," said my host. We threaded the
crowd, and in a few minutes we stood before the two ladies.
"'Lowmintrduce L'd Cairngorm," he said; then, adding quickly to me,
"Come and dine to-morrow, won't you?" he glided away with his pleasant
smile and disappeared in the crowd.
I sat down beside the beautiful girl, conscious that the eyes of the
duenna were upon me.
"I think we have been very near meeting before," I remarked, by way of
opening the conversation.
My companion turned her eyes full upon me with an air of inquiry. She
evidently did not recall my face, if she had ever seen me.
"Really—I cannot remember," she observed, in a low and musical voice.
"In the first place, you came down from Berlin by the express, ten days
ago. I was going the other way, and our carriages stopped opposite each
other. I saw you at the window."
"Yes—we came that way, but I do not remember——" She hesitated.
"Secondly," I continued, "I was sitting alone in my garden last
summer—near the end of July—do you remember? You must have wandered in
there through the park; you came up to the house and looked at me——"
"Was that you?" she asked, in evident surprise. Then she broke into a
laugh. "I told everybody I had seen a ghost; there had never been any
Cairngorms in the place since the memory of man. We left the next day,
and never heard that you had come there; indeed, I did not know the
castle belonged to you."
"Where were you staying?" I asked.
"Where? Why, with my aunt, where I always stay. She is your neighbour,
since it is you."
"I—beg your pardon—but then—is your aunt Lady Bluebell? I did not
"Don't be afraid. She is amazingly deaf. Yes. She is the relict of my
beloved uncle, the sixteenth or seventeenth Baron Bluebell—I forget
exactly how many of them there have been. And I—do you know who I am?"
She laughed, well knowing that I did not.
"No," I answered frankly. "I have not the least idea. I asked to be
introduced because I recognised you. Perhaps—perhaps you are a Miss
"Considering that you are a neighbour, I will tell you who I am," she
answered. "No; I am of the tribe of Bluebells, but my name is Lammas,
and I have been given to understand that I was christened Margaret.
Being a floral family, they call me Daisy. A dreadful American man once
told me that my aunt was a Bluebell and that I was a Harebell—with two
l's and an e—because my hair is so thick. I warn you, so that you may
avoid making such a bad pun."
"Do I look like a man who makes puns?" I asked, being very conscious of
my melancholy face and sad looks.
Miss Lammas eyed me critically.
"No; you have a mournful temperament. I think I can trust you," she
answered. "Do you think you could communicate to my aunt the fact that
you are a Cairngorm and a neighbour? I am sure she would like to know."
I leaned towards the old lady, inflating my lungs for a yell. But Miss
Lammas stopped me.
"That is not of the slightest use," she remarked. "You can write it on
a bit of paper. She is utterly deaf."
"I have a pencil," I answered; "but I have no paper. Would my cuff do,
do you think?"
"Oh, yes!" replied Miss Lammas, with alacrity; "men often do that."
I wrote on my cuff: "Miss Lammas wishes me to explain that I am your
neighbour, Cairngorm." Then I held out my arm before the old lady's
nose. She seemed perfectly accustomed to the proceeding, put up her
glasses, read the words, smiled, nodded, and addressed me in the
unearthly voice peculiar to people who hear nothing.
"I knew your grandfather very well," she said. Then she smiled and
nodded to me again, and to her niece, and relapsed into silence.
"It is all right," remarked Miss Lammas. "Aunt Bluebell knows she is
deaf, and does not say much, like the parrot. You see, she knew your
grandfather. How odd, that we should be neighbours! Why have we never
"If you had told me you knew my grandfather when you appeared in the
garden, I should not have been in the least surprised," I answered
rather irrelevantly. "I really thought you were the ghost of the old
fountain. How in the world did you come there at that hour?"
"We were a large party and we went out for a walk. Then we thought we
should like to see what your park was like in the moonlight, and so we
trespassed. I got separated from the rest, and came upon you by
accident, just as I was admiring the extremely ghostly look of your
house, and wondering whether anybody would ever come and live there
again. It looks like the castle of Macbeth, or a scene from the opera.
Do you know anybody here?"
"Hardly a soul! Do you?"
"No. Aunt Bluebell said it was our duty to come. It is easy for her to
go out; she does not bear the burden of the conversation."
"I am sorry you find it a burden," said I. "Shall I go away?"
Miss Lammas looked at me with a sudden gravity in her beautiful eyes,
and there was a sort of hesitation about the lines of her full, soft
"No," she said at last, quite simply, "don't go away. We may like each
other, if you stay a little longer—and we ought to, because we are
neighbours in the country."
I suppose I ought to have thought Miss Lammas a very odd girl. There is,
indeed, a sort of freemasonry between people who discover that they live
near each other, and that they ought to have known each other before.
But there was a sort of unexpected frankness and simplicity in the
girl's amusing manner which would have struck any one else as being
singular, to say the least of it. To me, however, it all seemed natural
enough. I had dreamed of her face too long not to be utterly happy when
I met her at last, and could talk to her as much as I pleased. To me,
the man of ill luck in everything, the whole meeting seemed too good to
be true. I felt again that strange sensation of lightness which I had
experienced after I had seen her face in the garden. The great rooms
seemed brighter, life seemed worth living; my sluggish, melancholy blood
ran faster, and filled me with a new sense of strength. I said to myself
that without this woman I was but an imperfect being, but that with her
I could accomplish everything to which I should set my hand. Like the
great Doctor, when he thought he had cheated Mephistopheles at last, I
could have cried aloud to the fleeting moment, Verweile doch, du bist
"Are you always gay?" I asked, suddenly. "How happy you must be!"
"The days would sometimes seem very long if I were gloomy," she
answered, thoughtfully. "Yes, I think I find life very pleasant, and I
tell it so."
"How can you 'tell life' anything?" I inquired. "If I could catch my
life and talk to it, I would abuse it prodigiously, I assure you."
"I daresay. You have a melancholy temper. You ought to live out of
doors, dig potatoes, make hay, shoot, hunt, tumble into ditches, and
come home muddy and hungry for dinner. It would be much better for you
than moping in your rook tower, and hating everything."
"It is rather lonely down there," I murmured, apologetically, feeling
that Miss Lammas was quite right.
"Then marry, and quarrel with your wife," she laughed. "Anything is
better than being alone."
"I am a very peaceable person. I never quarrel with anybody. You can try
it. You will find it quite impossible."
"Will you let me try?" she asked, still smiling.
"By all means—especially if it is to be only a preliminary canter," I
"What do you mean?" she inquired, turning quickly upon me.
"Oh—nothing. You might try my paces with a view to quarrelling in the
future. I cannot imagine how you are going to do it. You will have to
resort to immediate and direct abuse."
"No. I will only say that if you do not like your life, it is your own
fault. How can a man of your age talk of being melancholy, or of the
hollowness of existence? Are you consumptive? Are you subject to
hereditary insanity? Are you deaf, like Aunt Bluebell? Are you poor,
like—lots of people? Have you been crossed in love? Have you lost the
world for a woman, or any particular woman for the sake of the world?
Are you feeble-minded, a cripple, an outcast? Are you—repulsively
ugly?" She laughed again. "Is there any reason in the world why you
should not enjoy all you have got in life?"
"No. There is no reason whatever, except that I am dreadfully unlucky,
especially in small things."
"Then try big things, just for a change," suggested Miss Lammas. "Try
and get married, for instance, and see how it turns out."
"If it turned out badly it would be rather serious."
"Not half so serious as it is to abuse everything unreasonably. If abuse
is your particular talent, abuse something that ought to be abused.
Abuse the Conservatives—or the Liberals—it does not matter which,
since they are always abusing each other. Make yourself felt by other
people. You will like it, if they don't. It will make a man of you. Fill
your mouth with pebbles, and howl at the sea, if you cannot do anything
else. It did Demosthenes no end of good you know. You will have the
satisfaction of imitating a great man."
"Really, Miss Lammas, I think the list of innocent exercises you
"Very well—if you don't care for that sort of thing, care for some
other sort of thing. Care for something, or hate something. Don't be
idle. Life is short, and though art may be long, plenty of noise answers
nearly as well."
"I do care for something—I mean, somebody," I said.
"A woman? Then marry her. Don't hesitate."
"I do not know whether she would marry me," I replied. "I have never
"Then ask her at once," answered Miss Lammas. "I shall die happy if I
feel I have persuaded a melancholy fellow-creature to rouse himself to
action. Ask her, by all means, and see what she says. If she does not
accept you at once, she may take you the next time. Meanwhile, you will
have entered for the race. If you lose, there are the 'All-aged Trial
Stakes,' and the 'Consolation Race.'"
"And plenty of selling races into the bargain. Shall I take you at your
word, Miss Lammas?"
"I hope you will," she answered.
"Since you yourself advise me, I will. Miss Lammas, will you do me the
honour to marry me?"
For the first time in my life the blood rushed to my head and my sight
swam. I cannot tell why I said it. It would be useless to try to explain
the extraordinary fascination the girl exercised over me, nor the still
more extraordinary feeling of intimacy with her which had grown in me
during that half-hour. Lonely, sad, unlucky as I had been all my life, I
was certainly not timid, nor even shy. But to propose to marry a woman
after half an hour's acquaintance was a piece of madness of which I
never believed myself capable, and of which I should never be capable
again, could I be placed in the same situation. It was as though my
whole being had been changed in a moment by magic—by the white magic of
her nature brought into contact with mine. The blood sank back to my
heart, and a moment later I found myself staring at her with anxious
eyes. To my amazement she was as calm as ever, but her beautiful mouth
smiled, and there was a mischievous light in her dark-brown eyes.
"Fairly caught," she answered. "For an individual who pretends to be
listless and sad you are not lacking in humour. I had really not the
least idea what you were going to say. Wouldn't it be singularly
awkward for you if I had said 'Yes'? I never saw anybody begin to
practise so sharply what was preached to him—with so very little loss
"You probably never met a man who had dreamed of you for seven months
before being introduced."
"No, I never did," she answered, gaily. "It smacks of the romantic.
Perhaps you are a romantic character, after all. I should think you were
if I believed you. Very well; you have taken my advice, entered for a
Stranger's Race and lost it. Try the All-aged Trial Stakes. You have
another cuff, and a pencil. Propose to Aunt Bluebell; she would dance
with astonishment, and she might recover her hearing."
That was how I first asked Margaret Lammas to be my wife, and I will
agree with any one who says I behaved very foolishly. But I have not
repented of it, and I never shall. I have long ago understood that I was
out of my mind that evening, but I think my temporary insanity on that
occasion has had the effect of making me a saner man ever since. Her
manner turned my head, for it was so different from what I had expected.
To hear this lovely creature, who, in my imagination, was a heroine of
romance, if not of tragedy, talking familiarly and laughing readily was
more than my equanimity could bear, and I lost my head as well as my
heart. But when I went back to England in the spring, I went to make
certain arrangements at the Castle—certain changes and improvements
which would be absolutely necessary. I had won the race for which I had
entered myself so rashly, and we were to be married in June.
Whether the change was due to the orders I had left with the gardener
and the rest of the servants, or to my own state of mind, I cannot tell.
At all events, the old place did not look the same to me when I opened
my window on the morning after my arrival. There were the grey walls
below me, and the grey turrets flanking the huge building; there were
the fountains, the marble causeways, the smooth basins, the tall box
hedges, the water-lilies and the swans, just as of old. But there was
something else there, too—something in the air, in the water, and in
the greenness that I did not recognise—a light over everything by which
everything was transfigured. The clock in the tower struck seven, and
the strokes of the ancient bell sounded like a wedding chime. The air
sang with the thrilling treble of the songbirds, with the silvery music
of the plashing water and the softer harmony of the leaves stirred by
the fresh morning wind. There was a smell of new-mown hay from the
distant meadows, and of blooming roses from the beds below, wafted up
together to my window. I stood in the pure sunshine and drank the air
and all the sounds and the odours that were in it; and I looked down at
my garden and said: "It is Paradise, after all." I think the men of old
were right when they called heaven a garden, and Eden, a garden
inhabited by one man and one woman, the Earthly Paradise.
I turned away, wondering what had become of the gloomy memories I had
always associated with my home. I tried to recall the impression of my
nurse's horrible prophecy before the death of my parents—an impression
which hitherto had been vivid enough. I tried to remember my old self,
my dejection, my listlessness, my bad luck, and my petty
disappointments. I endeavoured to force myself to think as I used to
think, if only to satisfy myself that I had not lost my individuality.
But I succeeded in none of these efforts. I was a different man, a
changed being, incapable of sorrow, of ill luck, or of sadness. My life
had been a dream, not evil, but infinitely gloomy and hopeless. It was
now a reality, full of hope, gladness, and all manner of good. My home
had been like a tomb; to-day it was paradise. My heart had been as
though it had not existed; to-day it beat with strength and youth, and
the certainty of realised happiness. I revelled in the beauty of the
world, and called loveliness out of the future to enjoy it before time
should bring it to me, as a traveller in the plains looks up to the
mountains, and already tastes the cool air through the dust of the
Here, I thought, we will live and live for years. There we will sit by
the fountain towards evening and in the deep moonlight. Down those paths
we will wander together. On those benches we will rest and talk. Among
those eastern hills we will ride through the soft twilight, and in the
old house we will tell tales on winter nights, when the logs burn high,
and the holly berries are red, and the old clock tolls out the dying
year. On these old steps, in these dark passages and stately rooms,
there will one day be the sound of little pattering feet, and laughing
child-voices will ring up to the vaults of the ancient hall. Those tiny
footsteps shall not be slow and sad as mine were, nor shall the
childish words be spoken in an awed whisper. No gloomy Welshwoman shall
people the dusky corners with weird horrors, nor utter horrid prophecies
of death and ghastly things. All shall be young, and fresh, and joyful,
and happy, and we will turn the old luck again, and forget that there
was ever any sadness.
So I thought, as I looked out of my window that morning and for many
mornings after that, and every day it all seemed more real than ever
before, and much nearer. But the old nurse looked at me askance, and
muttered odd sayings about the Woman of the Water. I cared little what
she said, for I was far too happy.
At last the time came near for the wedding. Lady Bluebell and all the
tribe of Bluebells, as Margaret called them, were at Bluebell Grange,
for we had determined to be married in the country, and to come straight
to the Castle afterwards. We cared little for travelling, and not at all
for a crowded ceremony at St. George's in Hanover Square, with all the
tiresome formalities afterwards. I used to ride over to the Grange every
day, and very often Margaret would come with her aunt and some of her
cousins to the Castle. I was suspicious of my own taste, and was only
too glad to let her have her way about the alterations and improvements
in our home.
We were to be married on the thirtieth of July, and on the evening of
the twenty-eighth Margaret drove over with some of the Bluebell party.
In the long summer twilight we all went out into the garden. Naturally
enough, Margaret and I were left to ourselves, and we wandered down by
the marble basins.
"It is an odd coincidence," I said; "it was on this very night last year
that I first saw you."
"Considering that it is the month of July," answered Margaret with a
laugh, "and that we have been here almost every day, I don't think the
coincidence is so extraordinary, after all."
"No, dear," said I, "I suppose not. I don't know why it struck me. We
shall very likely be here a year from to-day, and a year from that. The
odd thing, when I think of it, is that you should be here at all. But my
luck has turned. I ought not to think anything odd that happens now
that I have you. It is all sure to be good."
"A slight change in your ideas since that remarkable performance of
yours in Paris," said Margaret. "Do you know, I thought you were the
most extraordinary man I had ever met."
"I thought you were the most charming woman I had ever seen. I naturally
did not want to lose any time in frivolities. I took you at your word, I
followed your advice, I asked you to marry me, and this is the
delightful result—what's the matter?"
Margaret had started suddenly, and her hand tightened on my arm. An old
woman was coming up the path, and was close to us before we saw her, for
the moon had risen, and was shining full in our faces. The woman turned
out to be my old nurse.
"It's only old Judith, dear—don't be frightened," I said. Then I spoke
to the Welshwoman: "What are you about, Judith? Have you been feeding
the Woman of the Water?"
"Ay—when the clock strikes, Willie—my lord, I mean," muttered the old
creature, drawing aside to let us pass, and fixing her strange eyes on
"What does she mean?" asked Margaret, when we had gone by.
"Nothing, darling. The old thing is mildly crazy, but she is a good
We went on in silence for a few moments, and came to the rustic bridge
just above the artificial grotto through which the water ran out into
the park, dark and swift in its narrow channel. We stopped, and leaned
on the wooden rail. The moon was now behind us, and shone full upon the
long vista of basins and on the huge walls and towers of the Castle
"How proud you ought to be of such a grand old place!" said Margaret,
"It is yours now, darling," I answered. "You have as good a right to
love it as I—but I only love it because you are to live in it, dear."
Her hand stole out and lay on mine, and we were both silent. Just then
the clock began to strike far off in the tower. I
counted—eight—nine—ten—eleven—I looked at my
watch—twelve—thirteen—I laughed. The bell went on striking.
"The old clock has gone crazy, like Judith," I exclaimed. Still it went
on, note after note ringing out monotonously through the still air. We
leaned over the rail, instinctively looking in the direction whence the
sound came. On and on it went. I counted nearly a hundred, out of sheer
curiosity, for I understood that something had broken, and that the
thing was running itself down.
Suddenly there was a crack as of breaking wood, a cry and a heavy
splash, and I was alone, clinging to the broken end of the rail of the
I do not think I hesitated while my pulse beat twice. I sprang clear of
the bridge into the black rushing water, dived to the bottom, came up
again with empty hands, turned and swam downwards through the grotto in
the thick darkness, plunging and diving at every stroke, striking my
head and hands against jagged stones and sharp corners, clutching at
last something in my fingers, and dragging it up with all my might. I
spoke, I cried aloud, but there was no answer. I was alone in the pitchy
blackness with my burden, and the house was five hundred yards away.
Struggling still, I felt the ground beneath my feet, I saw a ray of
moonlight—the grotto widened, and the deep water became a broad and
shallow brook as I stumbled over the stones and at last laid Margaret's
body on the bank in the park beyond.
"Ay, Willie, as the clock struck!" said the voice of Judith, the Welsh
nurse, as she bent down and looked at the white face. The old woman
must have turned back and followed us, seen the accident, and slipped
out by the lower gate of the garden. "Ay," she groaned, "you have fed
the Woman of the Water this night, Willie, while the clock was
I scarcely heard her as I knelt beside the lifeless body of the woman I
loved, chafing the wet white temples, and gazing wildly into the
wide-staring eyes. I remember only the first returning look of
consciousness, the first heaving breath, the first movement of those
dear hands stretching out towards me.
That is not much of a story, you say. It is the story of my life. That
is all. It does not pretend to be anything else. Old Judith says my
luck turned on that summer's night, when I was struggling in the water
to save all that was worth living for. A month later there was a stone
bridge above the grotto, and Margaret and I stood on it and looked up at
the moonlit Castle, as we had done once before, and as we have done many
times since. For all those things happened ten years ago last summer,
and this is the tenth Christmas Eve we have spent together by the
roaring logs in the old hall, talking of old times; and every year there
are more old times to talk of. There are curly-headed boys, too, with
red-gold hair and dark-brown eyes like their mother's, and a little
Margaret, with solemn black eyes like mine. Why could not she look like
her mother, too, as well as the rest of them?
The world is very bright at this glorious Christmas time, and perhaps
there is little use in calling up the sadness of long ago, unless it be
to make the jolly firelight seem more cheerful, the good wife's face
look gladder, and to give the children's laughter a merrier ring, by
contrast with all that is gone. Perhaps, too, some sad-faced, listless,
melancholy youth, who feels that the world is very hollow, and that life
is like a perpetual funeral service, just as I used to feel myself, may
take courage from my example, and having found the woman of his heart,
ask her to marry him after half an hour's acquaintance. But, on the
whole, I would not advise any man to marry, for the simple reason that
no man will ever find a wife like mine, and being obliged to go further,
he will necessarily fare worse. My wife has done miracles, but I will
not assert that any other woman is able to follow her example.
Margaret always said that the old place was beautiful, and that I ought
to be proud of it. I daresay she is right. She has even more imagination
than I. But I have a good answer and a plain one, which is this—that
all the beauty of the Castle comes from her. She has breathed upon it
all, as the children blow upon the cold glass window-panes in winter;
and as their warm breath crystallises into landscapes from fairyland,
full of exquisite shapes and traceries upon the blank surface, so her
spirit has transformed every grey stone of the old towers, every
ancient tree and hedge in the gardens, every thought in my once
melancholy self. All that was old is young, and all that was sad is
glad, and I am the gladdest of all. Whatever heaven may be, there is no
earthly paradise without woman, nor is there anywhere a place so
desolate, so dreary, so unutterably miserable that a woman cannot make
it seem heaven to the man she loves and who loves her.
I hear certain cynics laugh, and cry that all that has been said before.
Do not laugh, my good cynic. You are too small a man to laugh at such a
great thing as love. Prayers have been said before now by many, and
perhaps you say yours, too. I do not think they lose anything by being
repeated, nor you by repeating them. You say that the world is bitter,
and full of the Waters of Bitterness. Love, and so live that you may be
loved—the world will turn sweet for you, and you shall rest like me by
the Waters of Paradise.