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Title: Wolverden Tower
Author: Grant Allen
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Language: English
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Wolverden Tower
Grant Allen



I

Maisie Llewellyn had never been asked to Wolverden before; therefore,
she was not a little elated at Mrs. West's invitation. For Wolverden
Hall, one of the loveliest Elizabethan manor-houses in the Weald of
Kent, had been bought and fitted up in appropriate style (the phrase
is the upholsterer's) by Colonel West, the famous millionaire from
South Australia. The Colonel had lavished upon it untold wealth,
fleeced from the backs of ten thousand sheep and an equal number of
his fellow-countrymen; and Wolverden was now, if not the most
beautiful, at least the most opulent country-house within easy reach
of London.

Mrs. West was waiting at the station to meet Maisie. The house was
full of Christmas guests already, it is true; but Mrs. West was a
model of stately, old-fashioned courtesy: she would not have omitted
meeting one among the number on any less excuse than a royal command
to appear at Windsor. She kissed Maisie on both cheeks--she had always
been fond of Maisie--and, leaving two haughty young aristocrats (in
powdered hair and blue-and-gold livery) to hunt up her luggage by the
light of nature, sailed forth with her through the door to the
obsequious carriage.

The drive up the avenue to Wolverden Hall Maisie found quite
delicious. Even in their leafless winter condition the great limes
looked so noble; and the ivy-covered hall at the end, with its
mullioned windows, its Inigo Jones porch, and its creeper-clad gables,
was as picturesque a building as the ideals one sees in Mr. Abbey's
sketches. If only Arthur Hume had been one of the party now, Maisie's
joy would have been complete. But what was the use of thinking so much
about Arthur Hume, when she didn't even know whether Arthur Hume cared
for her?

A tall, slim girl, Maisie Llewellyn, with rich black hair, and
ethereal features, as became a descendant of Llewellyn ap Iorwerth. The
sort of girl we none of us would have called anything more than
"interesting" till Rossetti and Burne-Jones found eyes for us to see
that the type is beautiful with a deeper beauty than that of your
obvious pink-and-white prettiness. Her eyes, in particular, had a
lustrous depth that was almost superhuman, and her fingers and nails
were strangely transparent in their waxen softness.

"You won't mind my having put you in a ground-floor room in the new
wing, my dear, will you?" Mrs West inquired, as she led Maisie
personally to the quarters chosen for her. "You see, we 're so
unusually full, because of these tableaux!"

Maisie gazed round the ground-floor room in the new wing with eyes of
mute wonder. If this was the kind of lodging for which Mrs. West
thought it necessary to apologise, Maisie wondered of what sort were
those better rooms which she gave to the guests she delighted to
honour. It was a large and exquisitely decorated chamber, with the
softest and deepest Oriental carpet Maisie's feet had ever felt, and
the daintiest curtains her eyes had ever lighted upon. True, it opened
by French windows on to what was nominally the ground in front; but as
the Italian terrace, with its formal balustrade and its great stone
balls, was raised several feet above the level of the sloping garden
below, the room was really on the first floor for all practical
purposes. Indeed, Maisie rather liked the unwonted sense of space and
freedom which was given by this easy access to the world without; and,
as the windows were secured by great shutters and fasteners, she had
no counterbalancing fear lest a nightly burglar should attempt to
carry off her little pearl necklet or her amethyst brooch, instead of
directing his whole attention to Mrs. West's famous diamond tiara.

She moved naturally to the window. She was fond of nature. The view
it disclosed over the Weald at her feet was wide and varied. Misty
range lay behind misty range, in a faint December haze, receding and
receding, till away to the south, half hidden by vapour, the Sussex
downs loomed vague in the distance. The village church, as happens so
often in the case of old lordly manors, stood within the grounds of
the Hall, and close by the house. It had been built, her hostess said,
in the days of the Edwards, but had portions of an older Saxon edifice
still enclosed in the chancel. The one eyesore in the view was its new
white tower, recently restored (or rather, rebuilt), which contrasted
most painfully with the mellow grey stone and mouldering corbels of
the nave and transept.

"What a pity it's been so spoiled!" Maisie exclaimed, looking across
at the tower. Coming straight as she did from a Merioneth rectory, she
took an ancestral interest in all that concerned churches.

"Oh, my dear!" Mrs. West cried, "please don't say that, I beg of you,
to the Colonel. If you were to murmur 'spoiled' to him you'd wreck his
digestion. He's spent ever so much money over securing the foundations
and reproducing the sculpture on the old tower we took down, and it
breaks his dear heart when anybody disapproves of it. For some people,
you know, are so absurdly opposed to reasonable restoration."

"Oh, but this isn't even restoration, you know," Maisie said, with
the frankness of twenty, and the specialist interest of an antiquary's
daughter. "This is pure reconstruction."

"Perhaps so," Mrs. West answered. "But if you think so, my dear,
don't breathe it at Wolverden."

A fire, of ostentatiously wealthy dimensions, and of the best glowing
coal burned bright on the hearth, but the day was mild, and hardly
more than autumnal. Maisie found the room quite unpleasantly hot. She
opened the windows and stepped out on the terrace. Mrs. West followed
her. They paced up and down the broad gravelled platform for a while--
Maisie had not yet taken off her travelling-cloak and hat--and then
strolled half unconsciously towards the gate of the church. The
churchyard, to hide the tombstones of which the parapet had been
erected, was full of quaint old monuments, with broken-nosed cherubs,
some of them dating from a comparatively early period. The porch, with
its sculptured niches deprived of their saints by puritan hands, was
still rich and beautiful in its carved detail. On the seat inside an
old woman was sitting. She did not rise as the lady of the manor
approached, but went on mumbling and muttering inarticulately to
herself in a sulky undertone. Still, Maisie was aware, none the less,
that the moment she came near a strange light gleamed suddenly in the
old woman's eyes, and that her glance was fixed upon her. A faint
thrill of recognition seemed to pass like a flash through her palsied
body. Maisie knew not why, but she was dimly afraid of the old woman's
gaze upon her.

"It's a lovely old church!" Maisie said, looking up at the trefoil
finials on the porch--"all, except the tower."

"We had to reconstruct it," Mrs. West answered apologetically. Mrs.
West's general attitude in life was apologetic, as though she felt she
had no right to so much more money than her fellow-creatures. "It
would have fallen if we hadn't done something to buttress it up. It
was really in a most dangerous and critical condition."

"Lies! lies! lies!" the old woman burst out suddenly, though in a
strange, low tone, as if speaking to herself. "It would not have
fallen--they knew it would not. It could not have fallen. It would
never have fallen if they had not destroyed it. And even then--I was
there when they pulled it down--each stone clung to each, with arms
and legs and hands and claws, till they burst them asunder by main
force with their new-fangled stuff--I don't know what they call it--dynamite, or something. It was all of it done for one man's
vainglory!"

"Come away, dear," Mrs. West whispered. But Maisie loitered.

"Wolverden Tower was fasted thrice," the old woman continued, in a
sing-song quaver. "It was fasted thrice with souls of maids against
every assault of man or devil. It was fasted at the foundation against
earthquake and ruin. It was fasted at the top against thunder and
lightning. It was fasted in the middle against storm and battle. And
there it would have stood for a thousand years if a wicked man had not
raised a vainglorious hand against it. For that's what the rhyme says?

 "Fasted thrice with souls of men.
 Stands the tower of Wolverden;
 Fasted thrice with maidens' blood.
 A thousand years of fire and flood
 Shall see it stand as erst it stood."

She paused a moment, then, raising one skinny hand towards the brand-
new stone, she went on in the same voice, but with malignant fervour?

 "A thousand years the tower shall stand
 Till ill assailed by evil hand;
 By evil hand in evil hour.
 Fasted thrice with warlock's power.
 Shall fall the stanes of Wulfhere's tower."

She tottered off as she ended, and took her seat on the edge of a
depressed vault in the churchyard close by, still eyeing Maisie
LLewellyn with a weird and curious glance, almost like the look which a
famishing man casts upon the food in a shop-window.

"Who is she?" Maisie asked, shrinking away in undefined terror.

"Oh, old Bessie," Mrs. West answered, looking more apologetic (for
the parish) than ever. "She's always hanging about here. She has
nothing else to do, and she's an outdoor pauper. You see, that's the
worst of having the church in one's grounds, which is otherwise
picturesque and romantic and baronial; the road to it's public; you
must admit all the world; and old Bessie will come here. The servants
are afraid of her. They say she's a witch. She has the evil eye, and
she drives girls to suicide. But they cross her hand with silver all
the same, and she tells them their fortunes--gives them each a butler.
She's full of dreadful stories about Wolverden Church--stories to make
your blood run cold, my dear, compact with old superstitions and
murders, and so forth. And they're true, too, that's the worst of
them. She's quite a character. Mr. Blaydes, the antiquary, is really
attached to her; he says she's now the sole living repository of the
traditional folklore and history of the parish. But I don't care for
it myself. It 'gars one greet,' as we say in Scotland. Too much
burying alive in it, don't you know, my dear, to quite suit my fancy."

They turned back as she spoke towards the carved wooden lych-gate,
one of the oldest and most exquisite of its class in England. When
they reached the vault by whose doors old Bessie was seated, Maisie
turned once more to gaze at the pointed lancet windows of the Early
English choir, and the still more ancient dog-tooth ornament of the
ruined Norman Lady Chapel.

"How solidly it's built!" she exclaimed, looking up at the arches
which alone survived the fury of the Puritan. "It really looks as if
it would last for ever."

Old Bessie had bent her head, and seemed to be whispering something
at the door of the vault. But at the sound she raised her eyes, and,
turning her wizened face towards the lady of the manor, mumbled
through her few remaining fang-like teeth an old local saying,
"Bradbury for length, Wolverden for strength, and Church Hatton for
beauty!"

 "Three brothers builded churches three;
 And fasted thrice each church shall be:
 Fasted thrice with maidens' blood.
 To make them safe from fire and flood;
 Fasted thrice with souls of men.
 Hatton, Bradbury, Wolverden!"

"Come away," Maisie said, shuddering. "I'm afraid of that woman. Why
was she whispering at the doors of the vault down there? I don't like
the look of her."

"My dear," Mrs. West answered, in no less terrified a tone, "I will
confess I don't like the look of her myself. I wish she'd leave the
place. I've tried to make her. The Colonel offered her fifty pounds
down and a nice cottage in Surrey if only she'd go--she frightens me
so much; but she wouldn't hear of it. She said she must stop by the
bodies of her dead--that's her style, don't you see: a sort of modern
ghoul, a degenerate vampire--and from the bodies of her dead in
Wolverden Church no living soul should ever move her."



II

For dinner Maisie wore her white satin Empire dress, high-waisted,
low-necked, and cut in the bodice with a certain baby-like simplicity
of style which exactly suited her strange and uncanny type of beauty.
She was very much admired. She felt it, and it pleased her. The young
man who took her in, a subaltern of engineers, had no eyes for any one
else; while old Admiral Wade, who sat opposite her with a plain and
skinny dowager, made her positively uncomfortable by the persistent
way in which he stared at her simple pearl necklet.

After dinner, the tableaux. They had been designed and managed by a
famous Royal Academician, and were mostly got up by the members of the
house-party. But two or three actresses from London had been specially
invited to help in a few of the more mythological scenes; for, indeed,
Mrs. West had prepared the entire entertainment with that topsy-turvy
conscientiousness and scrupulous sense of responsibility to society
which pervaded her view of millionaire morality. Having once decided
to offer the county a set of tableaux, she felt that millionaire
morality absolutely demanded of her the sacrifice of three weeks' time
and several hundred pounds' money in order to discharge her obligations
to the county with becoming magnificence.

The first tableau, Maisie learned from the gorgeous programme, was
"Jephthah's Daughter." The subject was represented at the pathetic
moment when the doomed virgin goes forth from her father's house with
her attendant maidens to bewail her virginity for two months upon the
mountains, before the fulfilment of the awful vow which bound her
father to offer her up for a burnt offering. Maisie thought it too
solemn and tragic a scene for a festive occasion. But the famous R.A.
had a taste for such themes, and his grouping was certainly most
effectively dramatic.

"A perfect symphony in white and grey," said Mr. Wills, the art
critic.

"How awfully affecting!" said most of the young girls.

"Reminds me a little too much, my dear, of old Bessie's stories,"
Mrs. West whispered low, leaning from her seat across two rows to
Maisie.

A piano stood a little on one side of the platform, just in front of
the curtain. The intervals between the pieces were filled up with
songs, which, however, had been evidently arranged in keeping with the
solemn and half-mystical tone of the tableaux. It is the habit of
amateurs to take a long time in getting their scenes in order, so the
interposition of the music was a happy thought as far as its prime
intention went. But Maisie wondered they could not have chosen some
livelier song for Christmas Eve than "Oh, Mary, go and call the cattle
home, and call the cattle home, and call the cattle home, across the
sands of Dee." Her own name was Mary when she signed it officially,
and the sad lilt of the last line, "But never home came she," rang
unpleasantly in her ear through the rest of the evening.

The second tableau was the "Sacrifice of Iphigenia." It was admirably
rendered. The cold and dignified father, standing, apparently unmoved,
by the pyre; the cruel faces of the attendant priests; the shrinking
form of the immolated princess; the mere blank curiosity and inquiring
interest of the helmeted heroes looking on, to whom this slaughter of
a virgin victim was but an ordinary incident of the Achean religion.
All these had been arranged by the Academical director with consummate
skill and pictorial cleverness. But the group that attracted Maisie
most among the components of the scene was that of the attendant
maidens, more conspicuous here in their flowing white chitons than
even they had been when posed as companions of the beautiful and ill-
fated Hebrew victim. Two in particular excited her close attention--
two very graceful and spiritual-looking girls, in long white robes of
no particular age or country, who stood at the very end near the right
edge of the picture. "How lovely they are, the two last on the right!"
Maisie whispered to her neighbour--an Oxford undergraduate with a
budding moustache. "I do so admire them!"

"Do you?" he answered, fondling the moustache with one dubious
finger. "Well, now, do you know, I don't think I do. They're rather
coarse-looking. And besides, I don't quite like the way they've got
their hair done up in bunches; too fashionable, isn't it--too much of
the present day? I don't care to see a girl in a Greek costume, with
her coiffure so evidently turned out by Truefitt's!"

"Oh, I don't mean those two," Maisie answered, a little shocked he
should think she had picked out such meretricious faces; "I mean the
two beyond them again--the two with their hair so simply and sweetly
done--the ethereal-looking dark girls."

The undergraduate opened his mouth, and stared at her in blank
amazement for a moment. "Well, I don't see--?" he began, and broke off
suddenly. Something in Maisie's eye seemed to give him pause. He
fondled his moustache, hesitated and was silent.

"How nice to have read the Greek and know what it all means!" Maisie
went on, after a minute. "It's a human sacrifice, of course; but,
please, what is the story?"

The undergraduate hummed and hawed. "Well, it's in Euripides, you
know," he said, trying to look impressive, "and--er--and I haven't
taken up Euripides for my next examination. But I think it's like
this. Iphigenia was a daughter of Agamemnon's, don't you know, and he
had offended Artemis or somebody--some other Goddess; and he vowed to
offer up to her the most beautiful thing that should be born that
year, by way of reparation--just like Jephthah. Well, Iphigenia was
considered the most beautiful product of the particular twelvemonth?
don't look at me like that, please! you--you make me nervous--and so,
when the young woman grew up--well, I don't quite recollect the ins
and outs of the details, but it's a human sacrifice business, don't
you see; and they're just going to kill her, though I believe a hind
was finally substituted for the girl, like the ram for Isaac; but I
must confess I've a very vague recollection of it." He rose from his
seat uneasily. "I'm afraid," he went on, shuffling about for an excuse
to move, "these chairs are too close. I seem to be incommoding you."

He moved away with a furtive air. At the end of the tableau one or
two of the characters who were not needed in succeeding pieces came
down from the stage and joined the body of spectators, as they often
do, in their character-dresses--a good opportunity, in point of fact,
for retaining through the evening the advantages conferred by
theatrical costume, rouge, and pearl-powder. Among them the two girls
Maisie had admired so much glided quietly toward her and took the two
vacant seats on either side, one of which had just been quitted by the
awkward undergraduate. They were not only beautiful in face and
figure, on a closer view, but Maisie found them from the first
extremely sympathetic. They burst into talk with her, frankly and at
once, with charming ease and grace of manner. They were ladies in the
grain, in instinct and breeding. The taller of the two, whom the other
addressed as Yolande, seemed particularly pleasing. The very name
charmed Maisie. She was friends with them at once. They both possessed
a certain nameless attraction that constitutes in itself the best
possible introduction. Maisie hesitated to ask them whence they came,
but it was clear from their talk they knew Wolverden intimately.

After a minute the piano struck up once more. A famous Scotch
vocalist, in a diamond necklet and a dress to match, took her place on
the stage, just in front of the footlights. As chance would have it,
she began singing the song Maisie most of all hated. It was Scott's
ballad of "Proud Maisie," set to music by Carlo Ludovici?

   "Proud Maisie is in the wood.
    Walking so early;
   Sweet Robin sits on the bush.
    Singing so rarely.
   'Tell me, thou bonny bird.
    When shall I marry me?'
   'When six braw gentlemen
    Kirkward shall carry ye.'
   'Who makes the bridal bed.
    Birdie, say truly?'
   'The grey-headed sexton
    That delves the grave duly.
   'The glow-worm o'er grave and stone
    Shall light thee steady;
   'The owl from the steeple sing.
    Welcome, Proud lady."

Maisie listened to the song with grave discomfort. She had never
liked it, and to-night it appalled her. She did not know that just at
that moment Mrs. West was whispering in a perfect fever of apology to
a lady by her side, "Oh dear! oh dear! what a dreadful thing of me
ever to have permitted that song to be sung here to-night! It was
horribly thoughtless! Why, now I remember, Miss Llewellyn's name, you
know, is Maisie! And there she is listening to it with a face like a
sheet! I shall never forgive myself!"

The tall, dark girl by Maisie's side, whom the other called Yolande,
leaned across to her sympathetically. "You don't like that song?" she
said, with just a tinge of reproach in her voice as she said it.

"I hate it!" Maisie answered, trying hard to compose herself.

"Why so?" the tall, dark girl asked, in a tone of calm and singular
sweetness. "It is sad, perhaps; but it's lovely--and natural!"

"My own name is Maisie," her new friend replied, with an ill-
repressed shudder. "And somehow that song pursues me through life I
seem always to hear the horrid ring of the words, 'When six braw
gentlemen kirkward shall carry ye.' I wish to Heaven my people had
never called me Maisie!"

"And yet why?" the tall, dark girl asked again, with a sad,
mysterious air. "Why this clinging to life--this terror of death--this
inexplicable attachment to a world of misery? And with such eyes as
yours, too! Your eyes are like mine!" which was a compliment,
certainly, for the dark girl's own pair were strangely deep and
lustrous. "People with eyes such as those, that can look into
futurity, ought not surely to shrink from a mere gate like death! For
death is but a gate? the gate of life in its fullest beauty. It is
written over the door, 'Mors janua vit'."

"What door?" Maisie asked, for she remembered having read those
selfsame words, and tried in vain to translate them, that very day,
though the meaning was now clear to her.

The answer electrified her: "The gate of the vault in Wolverden
churchyard."

She said it very low, but with pregnant expression.

"Oh, how dreadful!" Maisie exclaimed, drawing back. The tall, dark
girl half frightened her.

"Not at all," the girl answered. "This life is so short, so vain, so
transitory! And beyond it is peace--eternal peace--the calm of rest--the joy of the spirit."

"You come to anchor at last," her companion added.

"But if--one has somebody one would not wish to leave behind?" Maisie
suggested timidly.

"He will follow before long," the dark girl replied with quiet
decision, interpreting rightly the sex of the indefinite substantive.
"Time passes so quickly. And if time passes quickly in time, how much
more, then, in eternity!"

"Hush, Yolande," the other dark girl put in, with a warning glance;
"there's a new tableau coming. Let me see, is this 'The Death of
Ophelia'? No, that's number four; this is number three, 'The Martyrdom
of St. Agnes.'"



III

"My dear," Mrs. West said, positively oozing apology, when she met
Maisie in the supper-room, "I'm afraid you've been left in a corner by
yourself almost all the evening!"

"Oh dear, no," Maisie answered with a quiet smile. "I had that Oxford
undergraduate at my elbow at first; and afterwards those two nice
girls, with the flowing white dresses and the beautiful eyes, came and
sat beside me. What's their name, I wonder?"

"Which girls?" Mrs. West asked, with a little surprise in her tone,
for her impression was rather that Maisie had been sitting between two
empty chairs for the greater part of the evening, muttering at times
to herself in the most uncanny way, but not talking to anybody.

Maisie glanced round the room in search of her new friends, and for
some time could not see them. At last, she observed them in a remote
alcove, drinking red wine by themselves out of Venetian-glass beakers.
"Those two," she said, pointing towards them. "They 're such charming
girls! Can you tell me who they are? I've quite taken a fancy to
them."

Mrs. West gazed at them for a second--or rather, at the recess
towards which Maisie pointed--and then turned to Maisie with much the
same oddly embarrassed look and manner as the undergraduate's. "Oh,
those!" she said slowly, peering through and through her, Maisie
thought. "Those must be some of the professionals from London. At any
rate--I'm not sure which you mean? over there by the curtain, in the
Moorish nook, you say--well, I can't tell you their names! So they
must be professionals."

She went off with a singularly frightened manner. Maisie noticed it
and wondered at it. But it made no great or lasting impression.

When the party broke up, about midnight or a little later, Maisie
went along the corridor to her own bedroom. At the end, by the door,
the two other girls happened to be standing, apparently gossiping.

"Oh, you've not gone home yet?" Maisie said, as she passed, to
Yolande.

"No, we're stopping here," the dark girl with the speaking eyes
answered.

Maisie paused for a second. Then an impulse burst over her. "Will you
come and see my room?" she asked, a little timidly.

"Shall we go, Hedda?" Yolande said, with an inquiring glance at her
companion.

Her friend nodded assent. Maisie opened the door, and ushered them
into her bedroom.

The ostentatiously opulent fire was still burning brightly, the
electric light flooded the room with its brilliancy, the curtains were
drawn, and the shutters fastened. For a while the three girls sat
together by the hearth and gossiped quietly. Maisie liked her new
friends--their voices were so gentle, soft, and sympathetic, while for
face and figure they might have sat as models to Burne-Jones or
Botticelli. Their dresses, too, took her delicate Welsh fancy; they
were so dainty, yet so simple. The soft silk fell in natural folds and
dimples. The only ornaments they wore were two curious brooches of
very antique workmanship--as Maisie supposed--somewhat Celtic in
design, and enamelled in blood-red on a gold background. Each carried
a flower laid loosely in her bosom. Yolande's was an orchid with long,
floating streamers, in colour and shape recalling some Southern
lizard; dark purple spots dappled its lip and petals. Hedda's was a
flower of a sort Maisie had never before seen? the stem spotted like a
viper's skin, green flecked with russet-brown, and uncanny to look
upon; on either side, great twisted spirals of red-and-blue blossoms,
each curled after the fashion of a scorpion's tail, very strange and
lurid. Something weird and witch-like about flowers and dresses rather
attracted Maisie; they affected her with the half-repellent
fascination of a snake for a bird; she felt such blossoms were fit for
incantations and sorceries. But a lily-of-the-valley in Yolande's dark
hair gave a sense of purity which assorted better with the girl's
exquisitely calm and nun-like beauty.

After a while Hedda rose. "This air is close," she said. "It ought to
be warm outside to-night, if one may judge by the sunset. May I open
the window?"

"Oh, certainly, if you like," Maisie answered, a vague foreboding now
struggling within her against innate politeness.

Hedda drew back the curtains and unfastened the shutters. It was a
moonlit evening. The breeze hardly stirred the bare boughs of the
silver birches. A sprinkling of soft snow on the terrace and the hills
just whitened the ground. The moon lighted it up, falling full upon the
Hall; the church and tower below stood silhouetted in dark against a
cloudless expanse of starry sky in the background. Hedda opened the
window. Cool, fresh air blew in, very soft and genial, in spite of the
snow and the lateness of the season. "What a glorious night!" she
said, looking up at Orion overhead. "Shall we stroll out for a while
in it?"

If the suggestion had not thus been thrust upon her from outside, it
would never have occurred to Maisie to walk abroad in a strange place,
in evening dress, on a winter's night, with snow whitening the ground;
but Hedda's voice sounded so sweetly persuasive, and the idea itself
seemed so natural now she had once proposed it, that Maisie followed
her two new friends on to the moonlit terrace without a moment's
hesitation.

They paced once or twice up and down the gravelled walks. Strange to
say, though a sprinkling of dry snow powdered the ground under foot,
the air itself was soft and balmy. Stranger still, Maisie noticed,
almost without noticing it, that though they walked three abreast,
only one pair of footprints--her own--lay impressed on the snow in a
long trail when they turned at either end and re-paced the platform.
Yolande and Hedda must step lightly indeed; or perhaps her own feet
might be warmer or thinner shod, so as to melt the light layer of snow
more readily.

The girls slipped their arms through hers. A little thrill coursed
through her. Then, after three or four turns up and down the terrace,
Yolande led the way quietly down the broad flight of steps in the
direction of the church on the lower level. In that bright, broad
moonlight Maisie went with them undeterred; the Hall was still alive
with the glare of electric lights in bedroom windows; and the presence
of the other girls, both wholly free from any signs of fear, took off
all sense of terror or loneliness. They strolled on into the
churchyard. Maisie's eyes were now fixed on the new white tower, which
merged in the silhouette against the starry sky into much the same
grey and indefinite hue as the older parts of the building. Before she
quite knew where she was, she found herself at the head of the worn
stone steps which led into the vault by whose doors she had seen old
Bessie sitting. In the pallid moonlight, with the aid of the greenish
reflection from the snow, she could just read the words inscribed over
the portal, the words that Yolande had repeated in the drawing-room,
'Mors janua vit.'"

Yolande moved down one step. Maisie drew back for the first time with
a faint access of alarm. "You're--you're not going down there!" she
exclaimed, catching her breath for a second.

"Yes, I am," her new friend answered in a calmly quiet voice. "Why
not? We live here."

"You live here?" Maisie echoed, freeing her arms by a sudden movement
and standing away from her mysterious friends with a tremulous
shudder.

"Yes, we live here," Hedda broke in, without the slightest emotion.
She said it in a voice of perfect calm, as one might say it of any
house in a street in London.

Maisie was far less terrified than she might have imagined beforehand
would be the case under such unexpected conditions. The two girls were
so simple, so natural, so strangely like herself, that she could not
say she was really afraid of them. She shrank, it is true, from the
nature of the door at which they stood, but she received the unearthly
announcement that they lived there with scarcely more than a slight
tremor of surprise and astonishment.

"You will come in with us?" Hedda said in a gently enticing tone. "We
went into your bedroom."

Maisie hardly liked to say no. They seemed so anxious to show her
their home. With trembling feet she moved down the first step, and
then the second. Yolande kept ever one pace in front of her. As Maisie
reached the third step, the two girls, as if moved by one design, took
her wrists in their hands, not unkindly, but coaxingly. They reached
the actual doors of the vault itself--two heavy bronze valves, meeting
in the centre. Each bore a ring for a handle, pierced through a
Gorgon's head embossed upon the surface. Yolande pushed them with her
hand. They yielded instantly to her light touch, and opened inward.
Yolande, still in front, passed from the glow of the moon to the gloom
of the vault, which a ray of moonlight just descended obliquely. As
she passed, for a second, a weird sight met Maisie's eyes. Her face
and hands and dress became momentarily self-luminous--but through
them, as they glowed, she could descry within every bone and joint of
her living skeleton, dimly shadowed in dark through the luminous haze
that marked her body.

Maisie drew back once more, terrified. Yet her terror was not quite
what one could describe as fear: it was rather a vague sense of the
profoundly mystical. "I can't! I can't!" she cried, with an appealing
glance. "Hedda! Yolande! I cannot go with you."

Hedda held her hand tight, and almost seemed to force her. But
Yolande, in front, like a mother with her child, turned round with a
grave smile. "No, no," she said reprovingly. "Let her come if she
will, Hedda, of her own accord, not otherwise. The tower demands a
willing victim."

Her hand on Maisie's wrist was strong but persuasive. It drew her
without exercising the faintest compulsion. "Will you come with us,
dear?" she said, in that winning silvery tone which had captivated
Maisie's fancy from the very first moment they spoke together. Maisie
gazed into her eyes. They were deep and tender. A strange resolution
seemed to nerve her for the effort. "Yes, yes--I--will--come--with
you," she answered slowly.

Hedda on one side, Yolande on the other, now went before her, holding
her wrists in their grasp, but rather enticing than drawing her. As
each reached the gloom, the same luminous appearance which Maisie had
noticed before spread over their bodies, and the same weird skeleton
shape showed faintly through their limbs in darker shadow. Maisie
crossed the threshold with a convulsive gasp. As she crossed it she
looked down at her own dress and body. They were semi-transparent,
like the others', though not quite so self-luminous; the framework of
her limbs appeared within in less certain outline, yet quite dark and
distinguishable.

The doors swung to of themselves behind her. Those three stood alone
in the vault of Wolverden.

Alone, for a minute or two; and then, as her eyes grew accustomed to
the grey dusk of the interior, Maisie began to perceive that the vault
opened out into a large and beautiful hall or crypt, dimly lighted at
first, but becoming each moment more vaguely clear and more dreamily
definite. Gradually she could make out great rock-hewn pillars,
Romanesque in their outline or dimly Oriental, like the sculptured
columns in the caves of Ellora, supporting a roof of vague and
uncertain dimensions, more or less strangely dome-shaped. The effect
on the whole was like that of the second impression produced by some
dim cathedral, such as Chartres or Milan, after the eyes have grown
accustomed to the mellow light from the stained-glass windows, and
have recovered from the blinding glare of the outer sunlight. But the
architecture, if one may call it so, was more mosque-like and magical.
She turned to her companions. Yolande and Hedda stood still by her
side; their bodies were now self-luminous to a greater degree than
even at the threshold; but the terrible transparency had disappeared
altogether; they were once more but beautiful though strangely
transfigured and more than mortal women.

Then Maisie understood in her own soul, dimly, the meaning of those
mystic words written over the portal, "Mors janua vit." Death is the
gate of life; and also the interpretation of that awful vision of
death dwelling within them as they crossed the threshold; for through
that gate they had passed to this underground palace.

Her two guides still held her hands, one on either side. But they
seemed rather to lead her on now, seductively and resistlessly, than
to draw or compel her. As she moved in through the hall, with its
endless vistas of shadowy pillars, seen now behind, now in dim
perspective, she was gradually aware that many other people crowded
its aisles and corridors. Slowly they took shape as forms more or less
clad, mysterious, varied, and of many ages. Some of them wore flowing
robes, half mediaeval in shape, like the two friends who had brought
her there. They looked like the saints on a stained-glass window.
Others were girt merely with a light and floating Coan sash; while
some stood dimly nude in the darker recesses of the temple or palace.
All leaned eagerly forward with one mind as she approached, and
regarded her with deep and sympathetic interest. A few of them
murmured words--mere cabalistic sounds which at first she could not
understand; but as she moved further into the hall, and saw at each
step more clearly into the gloom, they began to have a meaning for
her. Before long, she was aware that she understood the mute tumult of
voices at once by some internal instinct. The Shades addressed her;
she answered them. She knew by intuition what tongue they spoke; it
was the Language of the Dead; and, by passing that portal with her two
companions, she had herself become enabled both to speak and
understand it.

A soft and flowing tongue, this speech of the Nether World--all
vowels it seemed, without distinguishable consonants; yet dimly
recalling every other tongue, and compounded, as it were, of what was
common to all of them. It flowed from those shadowy lips as clouds
issue inchoate from a mountain valley; it was formless, uncertain,
vague, but yet beautiful. She hardly knew, indeed, as it fell upon her
senses, if it were sound or perfume.

Through this tenuous world Maisie moved as in a dream, her two
companions still cheering and guiding her. When they reached an inner
shrine or chantry of the temple she was dimly conscious of more
terrible forms pervading the background than any of those that had yet
appeared to her. This was a more austere and antique apartment than
the rest; a shadowy cloister, prehistoric in its severity; it recalled
to her mind something indefinitely intermediate between the huge
unwrought trilithons of Stonehenge and the massive granite pillars of
Philaeand Luxor. At the further end of the sanctuary a sort of Sphinx
looked down on her, smiling mysteriously. At its base, on a rude
megalithic throne, in solitary state, a High Priest was seated. He
bore in his hand a wand or sceptre. All round, a strange court of
half-unseen acolytes and shadowy hierophants stood attentive They were
girt, as she fancied, in what looked like leopards' skins, or in the
fells of some earlier prehistoric lion. These wore sabre-shaped teeth
suspended by a string round their dusky necks; others had ornaments of
uncut amber, or hatchets of jade threaded as collars on a cord of
sinew. A few, more barbaric than savage in type, flaunted torques of
gold as armlets and necklets.

The High Priest rose slowly and held out his two hands, just level
with his head, the palms turned outward. "You have brought a willing
victim as Guardian of the Tower?" he asked, in that mystic tongue, of
Yolande and Hedda.

"We have brought a willing victim," the two girls answered.

The High Priest gazed at her. His glance was piercing. Maisie trembled
less with fear than with a sense of strangeness, such as a neophyte
might feel on being first presented at some courtly pageant. "You come
of your own accord?" the Priest inquired of her in solemn accents.

"I come of my own accord," Maisie answered, with an inner
consciousness that she was bearing her part in some immemorial ritual.
Ancestral memories seemed to stir within her.

"It is well," the Priest murmured. Then he turned to her guides. "She
is of royal lineage?" he inquired, taking his wand in his hand again.

"She is a Llewellyn," Yolande answered, "of royal lineage, and of the
race that, after your own, earliest bore sway in this land of Britain.
She has in her veins the blood of Arthur, of Ambrosius, and of
Vortigern."

"It is well," the Priest said again. "I know these princes." Then he
turned to Maisie. "This is the ritual of those who build," he said, in
a very deep voice. "It has been the ritual of those who build from the
days of the builders of Lokmariaker and Avebury. Every building man
makes shall have its human soul, the soul of a virgin to guard and
protect it. Three souls it requires as a living talisman against
chance and change. One soul is the soul of the human victim slain
beneath the foundation-stone; she is the guardian spirit against
earthquake and ruin. One soul is the soul of the human victim slain
when the building is half built up; she is the guardian spirit against
battle and tempest. One soul is the soul of the human victim who
flings herself of her own free will off tower or gable when the
building is complete; she is the guardian spirit against thunder and
lightning. Unless a building be duly fasted with these three, how can
it hope to stand against the hostile powers of fire and flood and
storm and earthquake?"

An assessor at his side, unnoticed till then, took up the parable. He
had a stern Roman face, and bore a shadowy suit of Roman armour. "In
times of old," he said, with iron austerity, "all men knew well these
rules of building. They built in solid stone to endure for ever: the
works they erected have lasted to this day, in this land and others.
So built we the amphitheatres of Rome and Verona; so built we the
walls of Lincoln, York, and London. In the blood of a king's son laid
we the foundation-stone: in the blood of a king's son laid we the
coping-stone: in the blood of a maiden of royal line fasted we the
bastions against fire and lightning. But in these latter days, since
faith grows dim, men build with burnt brick and rubble of plaster; no
foundation spirit or guardian soul do they give to their bridges,
their walls, or their towers: so bridges break, and walls fall in, and
towers crumble, and the art and mystery of building aright have
perished from among you."

He ceased. The High Priest held out his wand and spoke again. "We are
the Assembly of Dead Builders and Dead Victims," he said, "for this
mark of Wolverden; all of whom have built or been built upon in this
holy site of immemorial sanctity. We are the stones of a living
fabric. Before this place was a Christian church, it was a temple of
Woden. And before it was a temple of Woden, it was a shrine of
Hercules. And before it was a shrine of Hercules, it was a grove of
Nodens. And before it was a grove of Nodens, it was a Stone Circle of
the Host of Heaven. And before it was a Stone Circle of the Host of
Heaven, it was the grave and tumulus and underground palace of Me, who
am the earliest builder of all in this place; and my name in my
ancient tongue is Wolf, and I laid and hallowed it. And after me,
Wolf, and my namesake Wulfhere, was this barrow called Ad Lupum and
Wolverden. And all these that are here with me have built and been
built upon in this holy site for all generations. And you are the last
who come to join us."

Maisie felt a cold thrill course down her spine as he spoke these
words; but courage did not fail her. She was dimly aware that those
who offer themselves as victims for service must offer themselves
willingly; for the gods demand a voluntary victim; no beast can be
slain unless it nod assent; and none can be made a guardian spirit who
takes not the post upon him of his own free will. She turned meekly to
Hedda. "Who are you?" she asked, trembling.

"I am Hedda," the girl answered, in the same soft sweet voice and
winning tone as before; "Hedda, the daughter of Gorm, the chief of the
Northmen who settled in East Anglia. And I was a worshipper of Thor
and Odin. And when my father, Gorm, fought against Alfred, King of
Wessex, was I taken prisoner. And Wulfhere, the Kenting, was then
building the first church and tower of Wolverden. And they baptized
me, and shrived me, and I consented of my own free will to be built
under the foundation-stone. And there my body lies built up to this
day; and I am the guardian spirit against earthquake and ruin."

"And who are you?" Maisie asked, turning again to Yolande.

"I am Yolande Fitz-Aylwin," the tall dark girl answered; "a royal
maiden too, sprung from the blood of Henry Plantagenet. And when
Roland Fitz-Stephen was building anew the choir and chancel of
Wulfhere's minster, I chose to be immured in the fabric of the wall,
for love of the Church and all holy saints; and there my body lies
built up to this day; and I am the guardian against battle and
tempest."

Maisie held her friend's hand tight. Her voice hardly trembled. "And
I?" she asked once more. "What fate for me? Tell me!"

"Your task is easier far," Yolande answered gently. "For you shall be
the guardian of the new tower against thunder and lightning. Now,
those who guard against earthquake and battle are buried alive under
the foundation-stone or in the wall of the building; there they die a
slow death of starvation and choking. But those who guard against
thunder and lightning cast themselves alive of their own free will
from the battlements of the tower, and die in the air before they
reach the ground; so their fate is the easiest and the lightest of all
who would serve mankind; and thenceforth they live with us here in our
palace."

Maisie clung to her hand still tighter. "Must I do it?" she asked,
pleading.

"It is not must," Yolande replied in the same caressing tone, yet
with a calmness as of one in whom earthly desires and earthly passions
are quenched for ever. "It is as you choose yourself. None but a
willing victim may be a guardian spirit. This glorious privilege comes
but to the purest and best amongst us. Yet what better end can you ask
for your soul than to dwell here in our midst as our comrade for ever,
where all is peace, and to preserve the tower whose guardian you are
from evil assaults of lightning and thunderbolt?"

Maisie flung her arms round her friend's neck. "But--I am afraid,"
she murmured. Why she should even wish to consent she knew not, yet
the strange serene peace in these strange girls' eyes made her
mysteriously in love with them and with the fate they offered her.
They seemed to move like the stars in their orbits. "How shall I leap
from the top?" she cried. "How shall I have courage to mount the
stairs alone, and fling myself off from the lonely battlement?"

Yolande unwound her arms with a gentle forbearance. She coaxed her as
one coaxes an unwilling child. "You will not be alone," she said, with
a tender pressure. "We will all go with you. We will help you and
encourage you. We will sing our sweet songs of life-in-death to you.
Why should you draw back? All we have faced it in ten thousand ages,
and we tell you with one voice, you need not fear it. 'Tis life you
should fear--life, with its dangers, its toils, its heartbreakings.
Here we dwell for ever in unbroken peace. Come, come, and join us!"

She held out her arms with an enticing gesture. Maisie sprang into
them, sobbing. "Yes, I will come," she cried in an access of
hysterical fervour. "These are the arms of Death? I embrace them.
These are the lips of Death? I kiss them. Yolande, Yolande, I will do
as you ask me!"

The tall dark girl in the luminous white robe stooped down and kissed
her twice on the forehead in return. Then she looked at the High
Priest. "We are ready," she murmured in a low, grave voice. "The
Victim consents. The Virgin will die. Lead on to the tower. We are
ready! We are ready!"



IV

From the recesses of the temple--if temple it were--from the inmost
shrines of the shrouded cavern, unearthly music began to sound of
itself; with wild modulation, on strange reeds and tabors. It swept
through the aisles like a rushing wind on an aeolian harp; at times it
wailed with a voice like a woman's; at times it rose loud in an organ-
note of triumph; at times it sank low into a pensive and melancholy
flute-like symphony. It waxed and waned; it swelled and died away
again; but no man saw how or whence it proceeded. Wizard echoes issued
from the crannies and vents in the invisible walls; they sighed from
the ghostly interspaces of the pillars; they keened and moaned from
the vast overhanging dome of the palace. Gradually the song shaped
itself by weird stages into a processional measure. At its sound the
High Priest rose slowly from his immemorial seat on the mighty
cromlech which formed his throne. The Shades in leopards' skins ranged
themselves in bodiless rows on either hand; the ghostly wearers of the
sabre-toothed lions' fangs followed like ministrants in the footsteps
of their hierarch.

Hedda and Yolande took their places in the procession. Maisie stood
between the two, with hair floating on the air; she looked like a
novice who goes up to take the veil, accompanied and cheered by two
elder sisters.

The ghostly pageant began to move. Unseen music followed it with
fitful gusts of melody. They passed down the main corridor, between
shadowy Doric or Ionic pillars which grew dimmer and ever dimmer again
in the distance as they approached, with slow steps, the earthward
portal.

At the gate, the High Priest pushed against the valves with his hand.
They opened outward.

He passed into the moonlight. The attendants thronged after him. As
each wild figure crossed the threshold the same strange sight as
before met Maisie's eyes. For a second of time each ghostly body
became self-luminous, as with some curious phosphorescence; and
through each, at the moment of passing the portal, the dim outline of
a skeleton loomed briefly visible. Next instant it had clothed itself
as with earthly members.

Maisie reached the outer air. As she did so, she gasped. For a
second, its chilliness and freshness almost choked her. She was
conscious now that the atmosphere of the vault, though pleasant in its
way, and warm and dry, had been loaded with fumes as of burning
incense, and with somnolent vapours of poppy and mandragora. Its
drowsy ether had cast her into a lethargy. But after the first minute
in the outer world, the keen night air revived her. Snow lay still on
the ground a little deeper than when she first came out, and the moon
rode lower; otherwise, all was as before, save that only one or two
lights still burned here and there in the great house on the terrace.
Among them she could recognise her own room, on the ground floor in
the new wing, by its open window.

The procession made its way across the churchyard towards the tower.
As it wound among the graves an owl hooted. All at once Maisie
remembered the lines that had so chilled her a few short hours before
in the drawing-room--

  "The glow-worm o'er grave and stone
   Shall light thee steady;
  The owl from the steeple sing.
   'Welcome, proud lady!'"

But, marvellous to relate, they no longer alarmed her. She felt rather
that a friend was welcoming her home; she clung to Yolande's hand with
a gentle pressure.

As they passed in front of the porch, with its ancient yew-tree, a
stealthy figure glided out like a ghost from the darkling shadow. It
was a woman, bent and bowed, with quivering limbs that shook half
palsied. Maisie recognised old Bessie. "I knew she would come!" the
old hag muttered between her toothless jaws. "I knew Wolverden Tower
would yet be duly fasted!"

She put herself, as of right, at the head of the procession. They
moved on to the tower, rather gliding than walking. Old Bessie drew a
rusty key from her pocket, and fitted it with a twist into the brand-
new lock. "What turned the old will turn the new," she murmured,
looking round and grinning. Maisie shrank from her as she shrank from
not one of the Dead; but she followed on still into the ringers' room
at the base of the tower.

Thence a staircase in the corner led up to the summit. The High
Priest mounted the stair, chanting a mystic refrain, whose runic
sounds were no longer intelligible to Maisie. As she reached the outer
air, the Tongue of the Dead seemed to have become a mere blank of
mingled odours and murmurs to her. It was like a summer breeze,
sighing through warm and resinous pinewoods. But Yolande and Hedda
spoke to her yet, to cheer her, in the language of the living. She
recognised that as revenants they were still in touch with the upper
air and the world of the embodied.

They tempted her up the stair with encouraging fingers. Maisie
followed them like a child, in implicit confidence. The steps wound
round and round, spirally, and the staircase was dim; but a
supernatural light seemed to fill the tower, diffused from the bodies
or souls of its occupants. At the head of all, the High Priest still
chanted as he went his unearthly litany; magic sounds of chimes seemed
to swim in unison with his tune as they mounted. Were those floating
notes material or spiritual? They passed the belfry; no tongue of
metal wagged; but the rims of the great bells resounded and
reverberated to the ghostly symphony with sympathetic music. Still
they passed on and on, upward and upward. They reached the ladder that
alone gave access to the final story. Dust and cobwebs already clung
to it. Once more Maisie drew back. It was dark overhead and the
luminous haze began to fail them. Her friends held her hands with the
same kindly persuasive touch as ever. "I cannot!" she cried, shrinking
away from the tall, steep ladder. "Oh, Yolande, I cannot!"

"Yes, dear," Yolande whispered in a soothing voice. "You can. It is
but ten steps, and I will hold your hand tight. Be brave and mount
them!"

The sweet voice encouraged her. It was like heavenly music. She knew
not why she should submit, or, rather, consent; but none the less she
consented. Some spell seemed cast over her. With tremulous feet,
scarcely realising what she did, she mounted the ladder and went up
four steps of it.

Then she turned and looked down again. Old Bessie's wrinkled face met
her frightened eyes. It was smiling horribly. She shrank back once
more, terrified. "I can't do it," she cried, "if that woman comes up!
I'm not afraid of you, dear, she pressed Yolande's hand, but she, she
is too terrible!"

Hedda looked back and raised a warning finger. "Let the woman stop
below," she said; "she savours too much of the evil world. We must do
nothing to frighten the willing victim."

The High Priest by this time, with his ghostly fingers, had opened
the trap-door that gave access to the summit. A ray of moonlight
slanted through the aperture. The breeze blew down with it. Once more
Maisie felt the stimulating and reviving effect of the open air.
Vivified by its freshness, she struggled up to the top, passed out
through the trap, and found herself standing on the open platform at
the summit of the tower.

The moon had not yet quite set. The light on the snow shone pale
green and mysterious. For miles and miles around she could just make
out, by its aid, the dim contour of the downs, with their thin white
mantle, in the solemn silence. Range behind range rose faintly
shimmering. The chant had now ceased; the High Priest and his acolytes
were mingling strange herbs in a mazar-bowl or chalice. Stray perfumes
of myrrh and of cardamoms were wafted towards her. The men in
leopards' skins burnt smouldering sticks of spikenard. Then Yolande
led the postulant forward again, and placed her close up to the new
white parapet. Stone heads of virgins smiled on her from the angles.
"She must front the east," Hedda said in a tone of authority: and
Yolande turned her face towards the rising sun accordingly. Then she
opened her lips and spoke in a very solemn voice. "From this new-built
tower you fling yourself," she said, or rather intoned, "that you may
serve mankind, and all the powers that be, as its guardian spirit
against thunder and lightning. Judged a virgin, pure and unsullied in
deed and word and thought, of royal race and ancient lineage--a Cymry
of the Cymry--you are found worthy to be intrusted with this charge
and this honour. Take care that never shall dart or thunderbolt
assault this tower, as She that is below you takes care to preserve it
from earthquake and ruin, and She that is midway takes care to
preserve it from battle and tempest. This is your charge. See well
that you keep it."

She took her by both hands. "Mary Llewellyn," she said, "you willing
victim, step on to the battlement."

Maisie knew not why, but with very little shrinking she stepped as
she was told, by the aid of a wooden footstool, on to the eastward-
looking parapet. There, in her loose white robe, with her arms spread
abroad, and her hair flying free, she poised herself for a second, as
if about to shake out some unseen wings and throw herself on the air
like a swift or a swallow.

"Mary Llewellyn," Yolande said once more, in a still deeper tone, with
ineffable earnestness, "cast yourself down, a willing sacrifice, for
the service of man, and the security of this tower against thunderbolt
and lightning."

Maisie stretched her arms wider, and leaned forward in act to leap,
from the edge of the parapet, on to the snow-clad churchyard.



V

One second more and the sacrifice would have been complete. But
before she could launch herself from the tower, she felt suddenly a
hand laid upon her shoulder from behind to restrain her. Even in her
existing state of nervous exaltation she was aware at once that it was
the hand of a living and solid mortal, not that of a soul or guardian
spirit. It lay heavier upon her than Hedda's or Yolande's. It seemed
to clog and burden her. With a violent effort she strove to shake
herself free, and carry out her now fixed intention of self-
immolation, for the safety of the tower. But the hand was too strong
for her. She could not shake it off. It gripped and held her.

She yielded, and, reeling, fell back with a gasp on to the platform
of the tower. At the selfsame moment a strange terror and commotion
seemed to seize all at once on the assembled spirits. A weird cry rang
voiceless through the shadowy company. Maisie heard it as in a dream,
very dim and distant. It was thin as a bat's note; almost inaudible to
the ear, yet perceived by the brain or at least by the spirit. It was
a cry of alarm, of fright, of warning. With one accord, all the host
of phantoms rushed hurriedly forward to the battlements and pinnacles.
The ghostly High Priest went first, with his wand held downward; the
men in leopards' skins and other assistants followed in confusion.
Theirs was a reckless rout. They flung themselves from the top, like
fugitives from a cliff, and floated fast through the air on invisible
pinions. Hedda and Yolande, ambassadresses and intermediaries with the
upper air, were the last to fly from the living presence. They clasped
her hand silently, and looked deep into her eyes. There was something
in that calm yet regretful look that seemed to say, "Farewell! We have
tried in vain to save you, sister, from the terrors of living."

The horde of spirits floated away on the air, as in a witches'
Sabbath, to the vault whence it issued. The doors swung on their rusty
hinges, and closed behind them. Maisie stood alone with the hand that
grasped her on the tower.

The shock of the grasp, and the sudden departure of the ghostly band
in such wild dismay, threw Maisie for a while into a state of semi-
unconsciousness. Her head reeled round; her brain swam faintly. She
clutched for support at the parapet of the tower. But the hand that
held her sustained her still. She felt herself gently drawn down with
quiet mastery, and laid on the stone floor close by the trap-door that
led to the ladder.

The next thing of which she could feel sure was the voice of the
Oxford undergraduate. He was distinctly frightened and not a little
tremulous. "I think," he said very softly, laying her head on his lap,
"you had better rest a while, Miss Llewellyn, before you try to get
down again. I hope I didn't catch you and disturb you too hastily. But
one step more, and you would have been over the edge. I really
couldn't help it."

"Let me go," Maisie moaned, trying to raise herself again, but
feeling too faint and ill to make the necessary effort to recover the
power of motion. "I want to go with them! I want to join them!"

"Some of the others will be up before long," the undergraduate said,
supporting her head in his hands; "and they'll help me to get you down
again. Mr. Yates is in the belfry. Meanwhile, if I were you, I'd lie
quite still, and take a drop or two of this brandy."

He held it to her lips. Maisie drank a mouthful, hardly knowing what
she did. Then she lay quiet where he placed her for some minutes. How
they lifted her down and conveyed her to her bed she scarcely knew.
She was dazed and terrified. She could only remember afterward that
three or four gentlemen in roughly huddled clothes had carried or
handed her down the ladder between them. The spiral stair and all the
rest were a blank to her.



VI

When she next awoke she was lying in her bed in the same room at the
Hall, with Mrs. West by her side, leaning over her tenderly.

Maisie looked up through her closed eyes and just saw the motherly
face and grey hair bending above her. Then voices came to her from the
mist, vaguely: "Yesterday was so hot for the time of year, you see!"
"Very unusual weather, of course, for Christmas." "But a thunderstorm!
So strange! I put it down to that. The electrical disturbance must
have affected the poor child's head." Then it dawned upon her that the
conversation she heard was passing between Mrs. West and a doctor.

She raised herself suddenly and wildly on her arms. The bed faced the
windows. She looked out and beheld--the tower of Wolverden church,
rent from top to bottom with a mighty rent, while half its height lay
tossed in fragments on the ground in the churchyard.

"What is it?" she cried wildly, with a flush as of shame.
"Hush, hush!" the doctor said. "Don't trouble! Don't look at it!"
"Was it--after I came down?" Maisie moaned in vague terror.

The doctor nodded. "An hour after you were brought down," he said, "a
thunderstorm broke over it. The lightning struck and shattered the
tower. They had not yet put up the lightning-conductor. It was to have
been done on Boxing Day."

A weird remorse possessed Maisie's soul. "My fault!" she cried,
starting up. "My fault, my fault! I have neglected my duty!"

"Don't talk," the doctor answered, looking hard at her. "It is always
dangerous to be too suddenly aroused from these curious overwrought
sleeps and trances."

"And old Bessie?" Maisie exclaimed, trembling with an eerie
presentiment.

The doctor glanced at Mrs. West. "How did she know?" he whispered.
Then he turned to Maisie. "You may as well be told the truth as
suspect it," he said slowly. "Old Bessie must have been watching
there. She was crushed and half buried beneath the falling tower."

"One more question, Mrs. West," Maisie murmured, growing faint with
an access of supernatural fear. "Those two nice girls who sat on the
chairs at each side of me through the tableaux, are they hurt? Were
they in it?"

Mrs. West soothed her hand. "My dear child," she said gravely, with
quiet emphasis, "there were no other girls. This is mere
hallucination. You sat alone by yourself through the whole of the
evening."


THE END




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