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Title: Man Size In Marble
Author: Edith Nesbit
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Language: English
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Date first posted: July 2006
Date most recently updated: July 2006

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Man-size in Marble
E. Nesbit



Although every word of this story is as true as despair, I do not
expect people to believe it. Nowadays a "rational explanation" is
required before belief is possible. Let me then, at once, offer the
"rational explanation" which finds most favour among those who have
heard the tale of my life's tragedy. It is held that we were "under a
delusion," Laura and I, on that 31st of October; and that this
supposition places the whole matter on a satisfactory and believable
basis. The reader can judge, when he, too, has heard my story, how far
this is an "explanation," and in what sense it is "rational." There
were three who took part in this: Laura and I and another man. The
other man still lives, and can speak to the truth of the least
credible part of my story.

* * * * *

I never in my life knew what it was to have as much money as I
required to supply the most ordinary needs--good colours, books, and
cab-fares--and when we were married we knew quite well that we should
only be able to live at all by "strict punctuality and attention to
business." I used to paint in those days, and Laura used to write, and
we felt sure we could keep the pot at least simmering. Living in town
was out of the question, so we went to look for a cottage in the
country, which should be at once sanitary and picturesque. So rarely
do these two qualities meet in one cottage that our search was for
some time quite fruitless. We tried advertisements, but most of the
desirable rural residences which we did look at proved to be lacking
in both essentials, and when a cottage chanced to have drains it
always had stucco as well and was shaped like a tea-caddy. And if we
found a vine or rose-covered porch, corruption invariably lurked
within. Our minds got so befogged by the eloquence of house-agents and
the rival disadvantages of the fever-traps and outrages to beauty
which we had seen and scorned, that I very much doubt whether either
of us, on our wedding morning, knew the difference between a house and
a haystack. But when we got away from friends and house-agents, on our
honeymoon, our wits grew clear again, and we knew a pretty cottage
when at last we saw one. It was at Brenzett--a little village set on a
hill over against the southern marshes. We had gone there, from the
seaside village where we were staying, to see the church, and two
fields from the church we found this cottage. It stood quite by
itself, about two miles from the village. It was a long, low building,
with rooms sticking out in unexpected places. There was a bit of
stone-work--ivy-covered and moss-grown, just two old rooms, all that
was left of a big house that had once stood there--and round this
stone-work the house had grown up. Stripped of its roses and jasmine
it would have been hideous. As it stood it was charming, and after a
brief examination we took it. It was absurdly cheap. The rest of our
honeymoon we spent in grubbing about in second-hand shops in the
county town, picking up bits of old oak and Chippendale chairs for our
furnishing. We wound up with a run up to town and a visit to
Liberty's, and soon the low oak-beamed lattice-windowed rooms began to
be home. There was a jolly old-fashioned garden, with grass paths, and
no end of hollyhocks and sunflowers, and big lilies. From the window
you could see the marsh-pastures, and beyond them the blue, thin line
of the sea. We were as happy as the summer was glorious, and settled
down into work sooner than we ourselves expected. I was never tired of
sketching the view and the wonderful cloud effects from the open
lattice, and Laura would sit at the table and write verses about them,
in which I mostly played the part of foreground.

We got a tall old peasant woman to do for us. Her face and figure were
good, though her cooking was of the homeliest; but she understood all
about gardening, and told us all the old names of the coppices and
cornfields, and the stories of the smugglers and highwaymen, and,
better still, of the "things that walked," and of the "sights" which
met one in lonely glens of a starlight night. She was a great comfort
to us, because Laura hated housekeeping as much as I loved folklore,
and we soon came to leave all the domestic business to Mrs. Dorman,
and to use her legends in little magazine stories which brought in the
jingling guinea.

We had three months of married happiness, and did not have a single
quarrel. One October evening I had been down to smoke a pipe with the
doctor--our only neighbour--a pleasant young Irishman. Laura had
stayed at home to finish a comic sketch of a village episode for the
Monthly Marplot. I left her laughing over her own jokes, and came in
to find her a crumpled heap of pale muslin weeping on the window seat.

"Good heavens, my darling, what's the matter?" I cried, taking her in
my arms. She leaned her little dark head against my shoulder and went
on crying. I had never seen her cry before--we had always been so
happy, you see--and I felt sure some frightful misfortune had
happened.

"What is the matter? Do speak."

"It's Mrs. Dorman," she sobbed.

"What has she done?" I inquired, immensely relieved.

"She says she must go before the end of the month, and she says her
niece is ill; she's gone down to see her now, but I don't believe
that's the reason, because her niece is always ill. I believe someone
has been setting her against us. Her manner was so queer---"

"Never mind, Pussy," I said; "whatever you do, don't cry, or I shall
have to cry too, to keep you in countenance, and then you'll never
respect your man again!"

She dried her eyes obediently on my handkerchief, and even smiled
faintly.

"But you see," she went on, "it is really serious, because these
village people are so sheepy, and if one won't do a thing you may be
quite sure none of the others will. And I shall have to cook the
dinners, and wash up the hateful greasy plates; and you'll have to
carry cans of water about, and clean the boots and knives--and we
shall never have any time for work, or earn any money, or anything. We
shall have to work all day, and only be able to rest when we are
waiting for the kettle to boil!"

I represented to her that even if we had to perform these duties, the
day would still present some margin for other toils and recreations.
But she refused to see the matter in any but the greyest light. She
was very unreasonable, my Laura, but I could not have loved her any
more if she had been as reasonable as Whately.

"I'll speak to Mrs. Dorman when she comes back, and see if I can't
come to terms with her," I said. "Perhaps she wants a rise in her
screw. It will be all right. Let's walk up to the church."

The church was a large and lonely one, and we loved to go there,
especially upon bright nights. The path skirted a wood, cut through it
once, and ran along the crest of the hill through two meadows, and
round the churchyard wall, over which the old yews loomed in black
masses of shadow. This path, which was partly paved, was called "the
bier-balk," for it had long been the way by which the corpses had been
carried to burial. The churchyard was richly treed, and was shaded by
great elms which stood just outside and stretched their majestic arms
in benediction over the happy dead. A large, low porch let one into
the building by a Norman doorway and a heavy oak door studded with
iron. Inside, the arches rose into darkness, and between them the
reticulated windows, which stood out white in the moonlight. In the
chancel, the windows were of rich glass, which showed in faint light
their noble colouring, and made the black oak of the choir pews hardly
more solid than the shadows. But on each side of the altar lay a grey
marble figure of a knight in full plate armour lying upon a low slab,
with hands held up in everlasting prayer, and these figures, oddly
enough, were always to be seen if there was any glimmer of light in
the church. Their names were lost, but the peasants told of them that
they had been fierce and wicked men, marauders by land and sea, who
had been the scourge of their time, and had been guilty of deeds so
foul that the house they had lived in--the big house, by the way, that
had stood on the site of our cottage--had been stricken by lightning
and the vengeance of Heaven. But for all that, the gold of their heirs
had bought them a place in the church. Looking at the bad hard faces
reproduced in the marble, this story was easily believed.

The church looked at its best and weirdest on that night, for the
shadows of the yew trees fell through the windows upon the floor of
the nave and touched the pillars with tattered shade. We sat down
together without speaking, and watched the solemn beauty of the old
church, with some of that awe which inspired its early builders. We
walked to the chancel and looked at the sleeping warriors. Then we
rested some time on the stone seat in the porch, looking out over the
stretch of quiet moonlit meadows, feeling in every fibre of our being
the peace of the night and of our happy love; and came away at last
with a sense that even scrubbing and blackleading were but small
troubles at their worst.

Mrs. Dorman had come back from the village, and I at once invited her
to a tête-à-tête.

"Now, Mrs. Dorman," I said, when I had got her into my painting room,
"what's all this about your not staying with us?"

"I should be glad to get away, sir, before the end of the month," she
answered, with her usual placid dignity.

"Have you any fault to find, Mrs. Dorman?"

"None at all, sir; you and your lady have always been most kind, I'm
sure---"

"Well, what is it? Are your wages not high enough?"

"No, sir, I gets quite enough."

"Then why not stay?"

"I'd rather not"--with some hesitation--"my niece is ill."

"But your niece has been ill ever since we came."

No answer. There was a long and awkward silence. I broke it.

"Can't you stay for another month?" I asked.

"No, sir. I'm bound to go by Thursday."

And this was Monday!

"Well, I must say, I think you might have let us know before. There's
no time now to get any one else, and your mistress is not fit to do
heavy housework. Can't you stay till next week?"

"I might be able to come back next week."

I was now convinced that all she wanted was a brief holiday, which we
should have been willing enough to let her have, as soon as we could
get a substitute.

"But why must you go this week?" I persisted. "Come, out with it."

Mrs. Dorman drew the little shawl, which she always wore, tightly
across her bosom, as though she were cold. Then she said, with a sort
of effort---

"They say, sir, as this was a big house in Catholic times, and there
was a many deeds done here."

The nature of the "deeds" might be vaguely inferred from the
inflection of Mrs. Dorman's voice--which was enough to make one's
blood run cold. I was glad that Laura was not in the room. She was
always nervous, as highly-strung natures are, and I felt that these
tales about our house, told by this old peasant woman, with her
impressive manner and contagious credulity, might have made our home
less dear to my wife.

"Tell me all about it, Mrs. Dorman," I said; "you needn't mind about
telling me. I'm not like the young people who make fun of such
things."

Which was partly true.

"Well, sir"--she sank her voice--"you may have seen in the church,
beside the altar, two shapes."

"You mean the effigies of the knights in armour," I said cheerfully.

"I mean them two bodies, drawed out man-size in marble," she returned,
and I had to admit that her description was a thousand times more
graphic than mine, to say nothing of a certain weird force and
uncanniness about the phrase "drawed out man-size in marble."

"They do say, as on All Saints' Eve them two bodies sits up on their
slabs, and gets off of them, and then walks down the aisle, in their
marble"--(another good phrase, Mrs. Dorman)--"and as the church clock
strikes eleven they walks out of the church door, and over the graves,
and along the bier-balk, and if it's a wet night there's the marks of
their feet in the morning."

"And where do they go?" I asked, rather fascinated.

"They comes back here to their home, sir, and if any one meets them---
"

"Well, what then?" I asked.

But no--not another word could I get from her, save that her niece was
ill and she must go. After what I had heard I scorned to discuss the
niece, and tried to get from Mrs. Dorman more details of the legend. I
could get nothing but warnings.

"Whatever you do, sir, lock the door early on All Saints' Eve, and
make the cross-sign over the doorstep and on the windows."

"But has any one ever seen these things?" I persisted.

"That's not for me to say. I know what I know, sir."

"Well, who was here last year?"

"No one, sir; the lady as owned the house only stayed here in summer,
and she always went to London a full month afore the night. And I'm
sorry to inconvenience you and your lady, but my niece is ill and I
must go on Thursday."

I could have shaken her for her absurd reiteration of that obvious
fiction, after she had told me her real reasons.

She was determined to go, nor could our united entreaties move her in
the least.

I did not tell Laura the legend of the shapes that "walked in their
marble," partly because a legend concerning our house might perhaps
trouble my wife, and partly, I think, from some more occult reason.
This was not quite the same to me as any other story, and I did not
want to talk about it till the day was over. I had very soon ceased to
think of the legend, however. I was painting a portrait of Laura,
against the lattice window, and I could not think of much else. I had
got a splendid background of yellow and grey sunset, and was working
away with enthusiasm at her lace. On Thursday Mrs. Dorman went. She
relented, at parting, so far as to say---

"Don't you put yourself about too much, ma'am, and if there's any
little thing I can do next week, I'm sure I shan't mind."

From which I inferred that she wished to come back to us after
Hallowe'en. Up to the last she adhered to the fiction of the niece
with touching fidelity.

Thursday passed off pretty well. Laura showed marked ability in the
matter of steak and potatoes, and I confess that my knives, and the
plates, which I insisted upon washing, were better done than I had
dared to expect.

Friday came. It is about what happened on that Friday that this is
written. I wonder if I should have believed it, if any one had told it
to me. I will write the story of it as quickly and plainly as I can.
Everything that happened on that day is burnt into my brain. I shall
not forget anything, nor leave anything out.

I got up early, I remember, and lighted the kitchen fire, and had just
achieved a smoky success, when my little wife came running down, as
sunny and sweet as the clear October morning itself. We prepared
breakfast together, and found it very good fun. The housework was soon
done, and when brushes and brooms and pails were quiet again, the
house was still indeed. It is wonderful what a difference one makes in
a house. We really missed Mrs. Dorman, quite apart from considerations
concerning pots and pans. We spent the day in dusting our books and
putting them straight, and dined gaily on cold steak and coffee. Laura
was, if possible, brighter and gayer and sweeter than usual, and I
began to think that a little domestic toil was really good for her. We
had never been so merry since we were married, and the walk we had
that afternoon was, I think, the happiest time of all my life. When we
had watched the deep scarlet clouds slowly pale into leaden grey
against a pale-green sky, and saw the white mists curl up along the
hedgerows in the distant marsh, we came back to the house, silently,
hand in hand.

"You are sad, my darling," I said, half-jestingly, as we sat down
together in our little parlour. I expected a disclaimer, for my own
silence had been the silence of complete happiness. To my surprise she
said---

"Yes. I think I am sad, or rather I am uneasy. I don't think I'm very
well. I have shivered three or four times since we came in, and it is
not cold, is it?"

"No," I said, and hoped it was not a chill caught from the treacherous
mists that roll up from the marshes in the dying light. No--she said,
she did not think so. Then, after a silence, she spoke suddenly---

"Do you ever have presentiments of evil?"

"No," I said, smiling, "and I shouldn't believe in them if I had."

"I do," she went on; "the night my father died I knew it, though he
was right away in the north of Scotland." I did not answer in words.

She sat looking at the fire for some time in silence, gently stroking
my hand. At last she sprang up, came behind me, and, drawing my head
back, kissed me.

"There, it's over now," she said. "What a baby I am! Come, light the
candles, and we'll have some of these new Rubinstein duets."

And we spent a happy hour or two at the piano.

At about half-past ten I began to long for the good-night pipe, but
Laura looked so white that I felt it would be brutal of me to fill our
sitting-room with the fumes of strong cavendish.

"I'll take my pipe outside," I said.

"Let me come, too."

"No, sweetheart, not to-night; you're much too tired. I shan't be
long. Get to bed, or I shall have an invalid to nurse to-morrow as
well as the boots to clean."

I kissed her and was turning to go, when she flung her arms round my
neck, and held me as if she would never let me go again. I stroked her
hair.

"Come, Pussy, you're over-tired. The housework has been too much for
you."

She loosened her clasp a little and drew a deep breath.

"No. We've been very happy to-day, Jack, haven't we? Don't stay out
too long."

"I won't, my dearie."

I strolled out of the front door, leaving it unlatched. What a night
it was! The jagged masses of heavy dark cloud were rolling at
intervals from horizon to horizon, and thin white wreaths covered the
stars. Through all the rush of the cloud river, the moon swam,
breasting the waves and disappearing again in the darkness. When now
and again her light reached the woodlands they seemed to be slowly and
noiselessly waving in time to the swing of the clouds above them.
There was a strange grey light over all the earth; the fields had that
shadowy bloom over them which only comes from the marriage of dew and
moonshine, or frost and starlight.

I walked up and down, drinking in the beauty of the quiet earth and
the changing sky. The night was absolutely silent. Nothing seemed to
be abroad. There was no skurrying of rabbits, or twitter of the half-
asleep birds. And though the clouds went sailing across the sky, the
wind that drove them never came low enough to rustle the dead leaves
in the woodland paths. Across the meadows I could see the church tower
standing out black and grey against the sky. I walked there thinking
over our three months of happiness--and of my wife, her dear eyes, her
loving ways. Oh, my little girl! my own little girl; what a vision
came then of a long, glad life for you and me together!

I heard a bell-beat from the church. Eleven already! I turned to go
in, but the night held me. I could not go back into our little warm
rooms yet. I would go up to the church. I felt vaguely that it would
be good to carry my love and thankfulness to the sanctuary whither so
many loads of sorrow and gladness had been borne by the men and women
of the dead years.

I looked in at the low window as I went by. Laura was half lying on
her chair in front of the fire. I could not see her face, only her
little head showed dark against the pale blue wall. She was quite
still. Asleep, no doubt. My heart reached out to her, as I went on.
There must be a God, I thought, and a God who was good. How otherwise
could anything so sweet and dear as she have ever been imagined?

I walked slowly along the edge of the wood. A sound broke the
stillness of the night, it was a rustling in the wood. I stopped and
listened. The sound stopped too. I went on, and now distinctly heard
another step than mine answer mine like an echo. It was a poacher or a
wood-stealer, most likely, for these were not unknown in our Arcadian
neighbourhood. But whoever it was, he was a fool not to step more
lightly. I turned into the wood, and now the footstep seemed to come
from the path I had just left. It must be an echo, I thought. The wood
looked perfect in the moonlight. The large dying ferns and the
brushwood showed where through thinning foliage the pale light came
down. The tree trunks stood up like Gothic columns all around me. They
reminded me of the church, and I turned into the bier-balk, and passed
through the corpse-gate between the graves to the low porch. I paused
for a moment on the stone seat where Laura and I had watched the
fading landscape. Then I noticed that the door of the church was open,
and I blamed myself for having left it unlatched the other night. We
were the only people who ever cared to come to the church except on
Sundays, and I was vexed to think that through our carelessness the
damp autumn airs had had a chance of getting in and injuring the old
fabric. I went in. It will seem strange, perhaps, that I should have
gone half-way up the aisle before I remembered--with a sudden chill,
followed by as sudden a rush of self-contempt--that this was the very
day and hour when, according to tradition, the "shapes drawed out man-
size in marble" began to walk.

Having thus remembered the legend, and remembered it with a shiver, of
which I was ashamed, I could not do otherwise than walk up towards the
altar, just to look at the figures--as I said to myself; really what I
wanted was to assure myself, first, that I did not believe the legend,
and, secondly, that it was not true. I was rather glad that I had
come. I thought now I could tell Mrs. Dorman how vain her fancies
were, and how peacefully the marble figures slept on through the
ghastly hour. With my hands in my pockets I passed up the aisle. In
the grey dim light the eastern end of the church looked larger than
usual, and the arches above the two tombs looked larger too. The moon
came out and showed me the reason. I stopped short, my heart gave a
leap that nearly choked me, and then sank sickeningly.

The "bodies drawed out man-size" were gone, and their marble slabs lay
wide and bare in the vague moonlight that slanted through the east
window.

Were they really gone? or was I mad? Clenching my nerves, I stooped
and passed my hand over the smooth slabs, and felt their flat unbroken
surface. Had some one taken the things away? Was it some vile
practical joke? I would make sure, anyway. In an instant I had made a
torch of a newspaper, which happened to be in my pocket, and lighting
it held it high above my head. Its yellow glare illumined the dark
arches and those slabs. The figures were gone. And I was alone in the
church; or was I alone?

And then a horror seized me, a horror indefinable and indescribable--
an overwhelming certainty of supreme and accomplished calamity. I
flung down the torch and tore along the aisle and out through the
porch, biting my lips as I ran to keep myself from shrieking aloud.
Oh, was I mad--or what was this that possessed me? I leaped the
churchyard wall and took the straight cut across the fields, led by
the light from our windows. Just as I got over the first stile, a dark
figure seemed to spring out of the ground. Mad still with that
certainty of misfortune, I made for the thing that stood in my path,
shouting, "Get out of the way, can't you!"

But my push met with a more vigorous resistance than I had expected.
My arms were caught just above the elbow and held as in a vice, and
the raw-boned Irish doctor actually shook me.

"Would ye?" he cried, in his own unmistakable accents--"would ye,
then?"

"Let me go, you fool," I gasped. "The marble figures have gone from
the church; I tell you they've gone."

He broke into a ringing laugh. "I'll have to give ye a draught to-
morrow, I see. Ye've bin smoking too much and listening to old wives'
tales."

"I tell you, I've seen the bare slabs."

"Well, come back with me. I'm going up to old Palmer's--his daughter's
ill; we'll look in at the church and let me see the bare slabs."

"You go, if you like," I said, a little less frantic for his laughter;
"I'm going home to my wife."

"Rubbish, man," said he; "d'ye think I'll permit of that? Are ye to go
saying all yer life that ye've seen solid marble endowed with
vitality, and me to go all me life saying ye were a coward? No, sir--
ye shan't do ut."

The night air--a human voice--and I think also the physical contact
with this six feet of solid common sense, brought me back a little to
my ordinary self, and the word "coward" was a mental shower-bath.

"Come on, then," I said sullenly; "perhaps you're right."

He still held my arm tightly. We got over the stile and back to the
church. All was still as death. The place smelt very damp and earthy.
We walked up the aisle. I am not ashamed to confess that I shut my
eyes: I knew the figures would not be there. I heard Kelly strike a
match.

"Here they are, ye see, right enough; ye've been dreaming or drinking,
asking yer pardon for the imputation."

I opened my eyes. By Kelly's expiring vesta I saw two shapes lying "in
their marble" on their slabs. I drew a deep breath, and caught his
hand.

"I'm awfully indebted to you," I said. "It must have been some trick
of light, or I have been working rather hard, perhaps that's it. Do
you know, I was quite convinced they were gone."

"I'm aware of that," he answered rather grimly; "ye'll have to be
careful of that brain of yours, my friend, I assure ye."

He was leaning over and looking at the right-hand figure, whose stony
face was the most villainous and deadly in expression.

"By Jove," he said, "something has been afoot here--this hand is
broken."

And so it was. I was certain that it had been perfect the last time
Laura and I had been there.

"Perhaps some one has tried to remove them," said the young doctor.

"That won't account for my impression," I objected.

"Too much painting and tobacco will account for that, well enough."

"Come along," I said, "or my wife will be getting anxious. You'll come
in and have a drop of whisky and drink confusion to ghosts and better
sense to me."

"I ought to go up to Palmer's, but it's so late now I'd best leave it
till the morning," he replied. "I was kept late at the Union, and I've
had to see a lot of people since. All right, I'll come back with ye."

I think he fancied I needed him more than did Palmer's girl, so,
discussing how such an illusion could have been possible, and deducing
from this experience large generalities concerning ghostly
apparitions, we walked up to our cottage. We saw, as we walked up the
garden-path, that bright light streamed out of the front door, and
presently saw that the parlour door was open too. Had she gone out?

"Come in," I said, and Dr. Kelly followed me into the parlour. It was
all ablaze with candles, not only the wax ones, but at least a dozen
guttering, glaring tallow dips, stuck in vases and ornaments in
unlikely places. Light, I knew, was Laura's remedy for nervousness.
Poor child! Why had I left her? Brute that I was.

We glanced round the room, and at first we did not see her. The window
was open, and the draught set all the candles flaring one way. Her
chair was empty and her handkerchief and book lay on the floor. I
turned to the window. There, in the recess of the window, I saw her.
Oh, my child, my love, had she gone to that window to watch for me?
And what had come into the room behind her? To what had she turned
with that look of frantic fear and horror? Oh, my little one, had she
thought that it was I whose step she heard, and turned to meet--what?

She had fallen back across a table in the window, and her body lay
half on it and half on the window-seat, and her head hung down over
the table, the brown hair loosened and fallen to the carpet. Her lips
were drawn back, and her eyes wide, wide open. They saw nothing now.
What had they seen last?

The doctor moved towards her, but I pushed him aside and sprang to
her; caught her in my arms and cried---

"It's all right, Laura! I've got you safe, wifie."

She fell into my arms in a heap. I clasped her and kissed her, and
called her by all her pet names, but I think I knew all the time that
she was dead. Her hands were tightly clenched. In one of them she held
something fast. When I was quite sure that she was dead, and that
nothing mattered at all any more, I let him open her hand to see what
she held.

It was a grey marble finger.



THE END




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