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Title: The Last House in C-- Street
Author: Dinah Mulock
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0606231.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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The Last House in C---Street
Dinah Mulock




I am not a believer in ghosts in general; I see no good in them. They
come--that is, are reported to come--so irrelevantly, purposelessly--
so ridiculously, in short--that one's common sense as regards this
world, one's supernatural sense of the other, are alike revolted. Then
nine out of ten 'capital ghost stories' are so easily accounted for;
and in the tenth, when all natural explanation fails, one who has
discovered the extraordinary difficulty there is in all society in
getting hold of that very slippery article called a fact, is strongly
inclined to shake a dubious head, ejaculating, 'Evidence! it is all a
question of evidence!'

But my unbelief springs from no dogged or contemptuous scepticism as
to the possibility--however great the improbability--of that strange
impression upon, or communication to, spirit in matter, from spirit
wholly immaterialised, which is vulgarly called 'a ghost'. There is no
credulity more blind, no ignorance more childish, that that of the
sage who tries to measure 'heaven and earth and the things under the
earth', with the small two-foot rule of his own brains.

The presumption of mere folly alone would argue concerning any mystery
of the universe, 'It is inexplicable, and therefore impossible.'

Premising these opinions, though simply as opinions, I am about to
relate what I must confess seems to me a thorough ghost story; its
external and circumstantial evidence being indisputable, while its
psychological causes and results, though not easy of explanation, are
still more difficult to be explained away. The ghost, like Hamlet's,
was 'an honest ghost'. From her daughter--an old lady, who, bless her
good and gentle memory! has since learned the secrets of all things--I
heard this veritable tale.

'My dear,' said Mrs MacArthur to me--it was in the early days of
table-moving, when young folk ridiculed and elder folk were shocked at
the notion of calling up one's departed ancestors into one's dinner-
table, and learning the wonders of the angelic world by the bobbings
of a hat or the twirlings of a plate;--'My dear,' continued the old
lady, 'I do not like trifling with spirits.'

'Why not? Do you believe in them?'

'A little.'

'Did you ever see one?'

'Never. But once, I heard one.'

She looked serious, as if she hardly liked to speak about it, either
from a sense of awe or from fear of ridicule. But it was impossible to
laugh at any illusions of the gentle old lady, who never uttered a
harsh or satirical word to a living soul. Likewise the evident awe
with which she mentioned the circumstance was rather remarkable in one
who had a large stock of common sense, little wonder, and no ideality.

I was very curious to hear Mrs MacArthur's ghost story.

'My dear, it was a long time ago, so long that you may fancy I forget
and confuse the circumstances. But I do not. Sometimes I think one
recollects more clearly things that happened in one's teens--I was
eighteen that year--than a great many nearer events. And besides, I
had other reasons for remembering vividly everything belonging to this
time,--for I was in love, you must know.'

She looked at me with a mild deprecating smile, as if hoping my
youthfulness would not consider the thing so very impossible or
ridiculous. No; I was all interest at once.

'In love with Mr MacArthur,' I said, scarcely as a question, being at
that Arcadian time of life when one takes as a natural necessity, and
believes in as an undoubted truth, that all people, that is, good
people, marry their first love.

'No, my dear; not with Mr MacArthur.'

I was so astonished, so completely dumbfounded--for I had woven a sort
of ideal round my good old friend--that I suffered Mrs MacArthur to
knit in silence for full five minutes. My surprise was not lessened
when she said, with a gratified little smile---'He was a young
gentleman of good parts; and he was very fond of me. Proud, too,
rather. For though you might not think it, my dear, I was actually a
beauty in those days.'

I had very little doubt of it. The slight lithe figure, the tiny hands
and feet,--if you had walked behind Mrs MacArthur down the street you
might have taken her for a young woman still. Certainly, people lived
slower and easier in the last generation than in ours.

'Yes, I was the beauty of Bath. Mr Everest fell in love with me there.
I was much gratified; for I had just been reading Miss Burney's
Cecilia, and I thought him exactly like Mortimer Delvil. A very pretty
story, Cecilia; did you ever read it?'

'No.' And, to arrive quicker at her tale, I leaped to the only
conclusion which could reconcile the two facts of my good old friend
having had a lover named Everest, and being now Mrs MacArthur. 'Was it
his ghost you saw?'

'No, my dear, no; thank goodness, he is alive still. He calls here
sometimes; he has been a faithful friend to our family. Ah!' with a
slow shake of the head, half pleased, half pensive, 'you would hardly
believe, my dear, what a very pretty fellow he was.'

One could scarcely smile at the odd phrase, pertaining to last-century
novels and to the loves of our great-grandmothers. I listened
patiently to the wandering reminiscences which still further delayed
the ghost story.

'But, Mrs MacArthur, was it in Bath that you saw or heard what I think
you were going to tell me? The ghost, you know?'

'Don't call it that; it sounds as if you were laughing at it. And you
must not, for it is really true; as true as that I sit here, an old
lady of seventy-five, and that then I was a young gentlewoman of
eighteen. Nay, my dear, I will tell you all about it.

'We had been staying in London, my father and mother, Mr Everest, and
I. He had persuaded them to take me; he wanted to show me a little of
the world, though even his world was but a narrow one, my dear,--for
he was a law student, living poorly and working hard.

'He took lodgings for us near the Temple; in C---street, the last
house there, looking on to the river. He was very fond of the river;
and often of evenings, when his work was too heavy to let him take us
to Ranelagh or to the play, he used to walk with my father and mother
and me up and down the Temple Gardens. Were you ever in the Temple
Gardens? It is a pretty place now--a quiet, grey nook in the midst of
noise and bustle; the stars look wonderful through those great trees;
but still it is not like what it was then, when I was a girl.'

Ah! no; impossible.

'It was in the Temple Gardens, my dear, that I remember we took our
last walk--my mother, Mr Everest, and I--before she went home to Bath.
She was very anxious and restless to go, being too delicate for London
gaieties. Besides, she had a large family at home, of which I was the
eldest; and we were anxiously expecting another baby in a month or
two. Nevertheless, my dear mother had gone about with me, taken me to
all the shows and sights that I, a hearty and happy girl, longed to
see, and entered into them with almost as great enjoyment as my own.

'But tonight she was pale, rather grave, and steadfastly bent on
returning home.

'We did all we could to persuade her to the contrary, for on the next
night but one was to have been the crowning treat of all our London
pleasures: we were to see Hamlet at Drury-lane, with John Kemble and
Sarah Siddons! Think of that, my dear. Ah! you have no such sights
now. Even my grave father longed to go, and urged in his mild way that
we should put off our departure.

But my mother was determined.

'At last Mr Everest said--I could show you the very spot where he
stood, with the river---it was high water---lapping against the wall,
and the evening sun shining on the Southwark houses opposite. He
said--it was very wrong, of course, my dear; but then he was in love,
and might be excused--' "Madam," said he, "it is the first time I ever
knew you think of yourself alone."

'"Myself, Edmond?"

'"Pardon me, but would it not be possible for you to return home,
leaving behind, for two days only, Dr Thwaite and Mistress Dorothy?"

'"Leave them behind--leave them behind!" She mused over the words.
"What say you, Dorothy?"

'I was silent. In very truth, I had never been parted from her in all
my life. It had never crossed my mind to wish to part from her, or to
enjoy any pleasure without her, till--till within the last three
months. "Mother, don't suppose I--"

'But here I caught sight of Mr Everest and stopped.

'"Pray continue, Mistress Dorothy."

'No, I could not. He looked so vexed, so hurt; and we had been so
happy together. Also, we might not meet again for years, for the
journey between London and Bath was then a serious one, even to
lovers; and he worked very hard--had few pleasures in his life. It did
indeed seem almost selfish of my mother.

'Though my lips said nothing, perhaps my sad eyes said only too much,
and my mother felt it.

'She walked with us a few yards, slowly and thoughtfully. I could see
her now, with her pale, tired face, under the cherry-coloured ribbons
of her hood. She had been very handsome as a young woman, and was most
sweet-looking still--my dear, good mother!

'"Dorothy, we will discuss this no more. I am very sorry, but I must
go home. However, I will persuade your father to remain with you till
the week's end. Are you satisfied!"'

'"No," was the first filial impulse of my heart; but Edmund pressed my
arm with such an entreating look, that almost against my will I
answered "Yes."

'Mr Everest overwhelmed my mother with his delight and gratitude. She
walked up and down for some time longer, leaning on his arm--she was
very fond of him; then stood looking on the river, upwards and
downwards.

'"I suppose this is my last walk in London. Thank you for all the care
you have taken of me. And when I am gone home--mind, oh, mind, Edmond,
that you take special care of Dorothy."'

'These words, and the tone in which they were spoken, fixed themselves
on my mind--first, from gratitude, not unmingled with regret, as if I
had not been so considerate to her as she to me; afterwards---But we
often err, my dear, in dwelling too much on that word. We finite
creatures have only to deal with "now"--nothing whatever to do with
"afterwards". In this case, I have ceased to blame myself or others.
Whatever was, being past, was right to be, and could not have been
otherwise.

'My mother went home next morning, alone. We were to follow in a few
days, though she would not allow us to fix any time. Her departure was
so hurried that I remember nothing about it, save her answer to my
father's urgent desire--almost command--that if anything went amiss
she would immediately let him know.

'"Under all circumstances, wife," he reiterated, "this you promise?"

'"I promise."

'Though when she was gone he declared she need not have said it so
earnestly, since we should be at home almost as soon as the slow Bath
coach could take her there and bring us back a letter.

And besides, there was nothing likely to happen. But he fidgeted a
good deal, being unused to her absence in their happy wedded life. He
was, like most men, glad to blame anybody but himself, and the whole
day, and the next, was cross at intervals with both Edmond and me; but
we bore it--and patiently.

'"It will be all right when we get him to the theatre. He has no real
cause for anxiety about her. What a dear woman she is, and a
precious---your mother, Dorothy!"'

'I rejoiced to hear my lover speak thus, and thought there hardly ever
was young gentlewoman so blessed as I.

'We went to the play. Ah, you know nothing of what a play is,
nowadays. You never saw John Kemble and Mrs Siddons. Though in dresses
and shows it was far inferior to the Hamlet you took me to see last
week, my dear--and though I perfectly well remember being on the point
of laughing when in the most solemn scene, it became clearly evident
that the Ghost had been drinking. Strangely enough, no after events
connected therewith ever were able to drive from my mind the vivid
impression of this my first play. Strange, also, that the play should
have been Hamlet. Do you think that Shakespeare believed in--in what
people call "ghosts?"'

I could not say; but I thought Mrs MacArthur's ghost very long in
coming.

'Don't, my dear--don't; do anything but laugh at it.'

She was visibly affected, and it was not without an effort that she
proceeded in her story.

'I wish you to understand exactly my position that night--a young
girl, her head full of the enchantment of the stage---her heart of
something not less engrossing. Mr Everest had supped with us, leaving
us both in the best of spirits; indeed my father had gone to bed,
laughing heartily at the remembrance of the antics of Mr Grimaldi,
which had almost obliterated the Queen and Hamlet from his memory, on
which the ridiculous always took a far stronger hold than the awful or
sublime.

'I was sitting--let me see--at the window, chatting with my maid
Patty, who was brushing the powder out of my hair. The window was open
half-way, and looking out on the Thames; and the summer night being
very warm and starry, made it almost like sitting out of doors. There
was none of the awe given by the solitude of a closed room, when every
sound is magnified, and every shadow seems alive.

'As I said, we had been chatting and laughing; for Patty and I were
both very young, and she had a sweetheart, too. She, like every one of
our household, was a warm admirer of Mr Everest. I had just been half
scolding, half smiling at her praises of him, when St Paul's great
clock came booming over the silent river.

'"Eleven," counted Patty. "Terrible late we be, Mistress Dorothy: not
like Bath hours, I reckon."

'"Mother will have been in bed an hour ago," said I, with a little
self-reproach at not having thought of her till now.

'The next minute my maid and I both started up with a simultaneous
exclamation.

'"Did you hear that?"

'"Yes, a bat flying against the window.".' "But the lattices are open,
Mistress Dorothy."

'So they were; and there was no bird or bat or living thing about--
only the quiet summer night, the river, and the stars.

I be certain sure I heard it. And I think it was like--just a bit
like---somebody tapping.

'"Nonsense, Patty!" But it had struck me thus--though I said it was a
bat. It was exactly like the sound of fingers against a pane--very
soft, gentle fingers, such as, in passing into her flower-garden, my
mother used often to tap outside the school-room casement at home.

'"I wonder, did father hear anything. It--the bird, you know, Patty---
might have flown at his window, too?"

'"Oh, Mistress Dorothy!" Patty would not be deceived. I gave her the
brush to finish my hair, but her hand shook too much. I shut the
window, and we both sat down facing it.

'At that minute, distinct, clear, and unmistakable, like a person
giving a summons in passing by, we heard once more the tapping on the
pane. But nothing was seen; not a single shadow came between us and
the open air; the bright starlight.

'Startled I was, and awed, but I was not frightened. The sound gave me
even an inexplicable delight. But I had hardly time to recognise my
feelings, still less to analyse them, when a loud cry came from my
father's room.

'"Dolly,---Dolly!"

'Now my mother and I had both one name, but he always gave her the
old-fashioned pet name,--I was invariably Dorothy. Still I did not
pause to think, but ran to his locked door and answered.

'It was a long time before he took any notice, though I heard him
talking to himself, and moaning. He was subject to bad dreams,
especially before his attacks of gout. So my first alarm lightened. I
stood listening, knocking at intervals, until at last he replied.

'"What do 'ee want, child?"

'"Is anything the matter, father?"

'"Nothing. Go to thy bed, Dorothy."

'"Did you not call? Do you want any one?"

'"Not thee. O Dolly, my poor Dolly,"--and he seemed to be almost
sobbing, "why did I let thee leave me?"

'"Father, you are not going to be ill? It is not the gout, is it? (for
that was the time when he wanted my mother most, and, indeed, when he
was wholly unmanageable by any one but her.)"

'"Go away. Get to thy bed, girl; I don't want 'ee."

'I thought he was angry with me for having been in some sort the cause
of our delay, and retired very miserable. Patty and I sat up a good
while longer, discussing the dreary prospect of my father's having a
fit of the gout here in London lodgings, with only us to nurse him,
and my mother away. Our alarm was so great that we quite forgot the
curious circumstance which had first attracted us, till Patty spoke up
from her bed on the floor.

'"I hope master beant going to be very ill, and that noise--you
know---came for a warning. Do 'ee think it was a bird, Mistress
Dorothy?"

'"Very likely. Now, Patty, let us go to sleep."

'But I did not, for all night I heard my father groaning at intervals.
I was certain it was the gout, and wished from the bottom of my heart
that we had gone home with mother.

'What was my surprise when, quite early, I heard him rise and go down,
just as if nothing was ailing him! I found him sitting at the
breakfast-table in his travelling coat, looking very haggard and
miserable, but evidently bent on a journey.

'"Father, you are not going to Bath?"

'"Yes, I be."

'"Not till the evening coach starts," I cried, alarmed. "We can't, you
know?"

'"I'll take a post-chaise, then. We must be off in an hour."

'An hour! The cruel pain of parting--(my dear, I believe I used to
feel things keenly when I was young)--shot through me--through and
through. A single hour, and I should have said good-bye to Edmond---
one of those heart-breaking farewells when we seem to leave half of
our poor young life behind us, forgetting that the only real parting
is when there is no love left to part from. A few years, and I
wondered how I could have crept away and wept in such intolerable
agony at the mere bidding good-bye to Edmond--Edmond, who loved me!

'Every minute seemed a day till he came in, as usual, to breakfast. My
red eyes and my father's corded trunk explained all.

'"Dr Thwaite, you are not going?"

'"Yes, I am," repeated my father. He sat moodily leaning on the
table---would not taste his breakfast.

'"Not till the night coach, surely? I was to take you and Mistress
Dorothy to see Mr Benjamin West, the king's painter."

'"Let king and painters alone, lad; I am going home to my Dolly."

'Mr Everest used many arguments, gay and grave, upon which I hung with
earnest conviction and hope. He made things so clear always; he was a
man of much brighter parts than my father, and had great influence
over him.

'"Dorothy," he whispered, "help me to persuade the Doctor. It is so
little time I beg for, only a few hours; and before so long a
parting."--Ay, longer than he thought, or I.

'"Children," cried my father at last, "you are a couple of fools. Wait
till you have been married twenty years. I must go to my Dolly. I know
there is something amiss at home."

'I should have felt alarmed, but I saw Mr Everest smile; and besides,
I was yet glowing under his fond look, as my father spoke of our being
"married twenty years".

'"Father, you have surely no reason for thinking this? If you have,
tell us."

'My father just lifted his head, and looked at me woefully in the
face.

'"Dorothy, last night, as sure as I see you now, I saw your mother."

'"Is that all?" cried Mr Everest, laughing: "why, my good sir, very
likely you did; you were dreaming about her."

'"I had not gone to sleep."

'"How did you see her?"

'"Coming into my room, just as she used to do in our bedroom at home,
with the candle in her hand and the baby asleep on her arm."

'"Did she speak?" asked Mr Everest, with another and rather satirical
smile; "remember, you saw Hamlet last night. Indeed, sir--indeed,
Dorothy--it was a mere dream. I do not believe in ghosts; it would be
an insult to common sense, to human wisdom--nay, even to Divinity
itself."

'Edmond spoke so earnestly, justly, and withal so affectionately, that
perforce I agreed; and even my father began to feel rather ashamed of
his own weakness. He, a sensible man and the head of a family, to
yield to a mere superstitious fancy, springing probably from a hot
supper and an over-excited brain! To the same cause Mr Everest
attributed the other incident, which somewhat hesitatingly I told him.

'"Dear, it was a bird; nothing but a bird. One flew in at my window
last spring; it had hurt itself, and I kept it, and nursed it, and
petted it. It was such a pretty gentle little thing, it put me in mind
of Dorothy."

'"Did it?" said I.

'"And at last it got well and flew away."

'"Ah! that was not like Dorothy."

'Thus, my father being persuaded, it was not hard to persuade me. We
settled to remain till evening. Edmond and I, with my maid Patty, went
about together chiefly in Mr West's Gallery, and in the quiet shade of
our favourite Temple Gardens. And if for those four stolen hours, and
the sweetness in them, I afterwards suffered untold remorse and
bitterness, I have entirely forgiven myself, as I know my dear mother
would have forgiven me, long ago.

Mrs MacArthur stopped, wiped her eyes, and then continued---speaking
more in the matter-of-fact way that old people speak in, than she had
been lately doing.

'Well, my dear, where was I?'

'In the Temple Gardens.'

'Yes, yes. Then we came home to dinner. My father always enjoyed his
dinner, and his nap afterwards; he had nearly recovered himself now:
only looked tired from loss of rest. Edmond and I sat in the window,
watching the barges and wherries down the Thames; there were no steam-
boats then, you know.

'Some one knocked at the door with a message for my father, but he
slept so heavily he did not hear. Mr Everest went to see what it was;
I stood at the window. I remember mechanically watching the red sail
of a Margate hoy that was going down the river, and thinking with a
sharp pang how dark the room seemed to grow, in a moment, with Edmond
not there.

'Re-entering, after a somewhat long absence, he never looked at me,
but went straight to my father.

'"Sir, it is almost time for you to start;" (oh! Edmond). "There is a
coach at the door; and, pardon me, but I think you should travel
quickly."

'My father sprang to his feet.

"Dear sir, wait one moment; I have received news from Bath. You have
another little daughter, sir, and--"

'"Dolly, my Dolly!" Without another word my father rushed away, leaped
into the post-chaise that was waiting and drove off.

'"Edmond!" I gasped.

'"My poor little girl---my own Dorothy!"

'By the tenderness of his embrace, less lover-like than brother-like--
by his tears, for I could feel them on my neck--I knew, as well as if
he had told me, that I should never see my dear mother any more.--'She
had died in childbirth' continued the old lady after a long pause---
'died at night, at the same hour and minute that I had heard the
tapping on the window-pane, and my father had thought he saw her
coming into his room with a baby on her arm.'

'Was the baby dead, too?'

'They thought so then, but it afterwards revived.'

'What a strange story!'

'I do not ask you to believe in it. How and why and what it was I
cannot tell; I only know that it assuredly was as I have told it.'

'And Mr Everest?' I inquired, after some hesitation.

The old lady shook her head. 'Ah, my dear, you may perhaps learn---
though I hope you will not--how very, very seldom things turn out as
one expects when one is young. After that day I did not see Mr Everest
for twenty years.

'How wrong of him--how--'

'Don't blame him; it was not his fault. You see, after that time my
father took a prejudice against him--not unnatural, perhaps; and she
was not there to make things straight. Besides, my own conscience was
very sore, and there were the six children at home, and the little
baby had no mother: so at last I made up my mind. I should have loved
him just the same if we had waited twenty years. I told him so: but he
could not see things in that light. Don't blame him, my dear, don't
blame him. It was as well, perhaps, as it happened.'

'Did he marry?'

'Yes, after a few years; and loved his wife dearly. When I was about
one-and-thirty, I married Mr MacArthur. So neither of us was unhappy,
you see--at least, not more so than most people; and we became sincere
friends afterwards. Mr and Mrs Everest come to see me still, almost
every Sunday. Why, you foolish child, you are not crying?'

Ay, I was--but scarcely at the ghost story.



THE END



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