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Title: Collected Twilight Stories (A Project Gutenberg Australia Collection)
Author: Marjorie Bowen
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0900561.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2009
Date most recently updated: August 2009

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Title: Collected Twilight Stories (A Project Gutenberg Australia Collection)
Author: Marjorie Bowen


* * *


CONTENTS:


SCOURED SILK
THE BREAKDOWN
ONE REMAINED BEHIND - A ROMANCE A LA MODE GOTHIQUE
THE HOUSE BY THE POPPY FIELD
HALF-PAST TWO
ELSIE'S LONELY AFTERNOON
THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURE OF MR JOHN PROUDIE
ANN MELLOR'S LOVER


* * *



SCOURED SILK


This is a tale that might be told in many ways and from various points
of view; it has to be gathered from here and there--a letter, a report,
a diary, a casual reference; in its day the thing was more than a
passing wonder, and it left a mark of abiding horror on the
neighborhood.

The house in which Mr. Orford lived has finally been destroyed, the
mural tablet in St. Paul's, Covent Garden, may be sought for in vain by
the curious, but little remains of the old piazza where the quiet
scholar passed on his daily walks, the very records of what was once so
real have become blurred, almost incoherent in their pleadings with
things forgotten; but this thing happened to real people, in a real
London, not so long ago that the generation had not spoken with those
who remembered some of the actors in this terrible drama.

It is round the person of Humphrey Orford that this tale turns, as, at
the time, all the mystery and horror centered; yet until his personality
was brought thus tragically into fame, he had not been an object of much
interest to many; he had, perhaps, a mild reputation for eccentricity,
but this was founded merely on the fact that he refused to partake of
the amusements of his neighbors, and showed a dislike for much company.

But this was excused on the ground of his scholarly predilections; he
was known to be translating, in a leisurely fashion, as became a
gentleman, Ariosto's great romance into English couplets, and to be
writing essays on recondite subjects connected with grammar and
language, which were not the less esteemed because they had never been
published.

His most authentic portrait, taken in 1733 and intended for a
frontispiece for the Ariosto when this should come to print, shows a
slender man with reddish hair, rather severely clubbed, a brown coat,
and a muslin cravat; he looks straight out of the picture, and the face
is long, finely shaped, and refined, with eyebrows rather heavier than
one would expect from such delicacy of feature.

When this picture was painted Mr. Orford was living near Covent Garden,
close to the mansion once occupied by the famous Dr. Radcliffe, a
straight-fronted, dark house of obvious gentility, with a little
architrave portico over the door and a few steps leading up to it; a
house with neat windows and a gloomy air, like every other residence in
that street and most other streets of the same status in London.

And if there was nothing remarkable about Mr. Orford's dwelling place or
person there was nothing, as far as his neighbors knew, remarkable about
his history.

He came from a good Suffolk family, in which county he was believed to
have considerable estates (though it was a known fact that he never
visited them), and he had no relations, being the only child of an only
child, and his parents dead; his father had purchased this town house in
the reign of King William, when the neighborhood was very fashionable,
and up to it he had come, twenty years ago--nor had he left it since.

He had brought with him an ailing wife, a house-keeper, and a
man-servant, and to the few families of his acquaintance near, who
waited on him, he explained that he wished to give young Mrs. Orford,
who was of a mopish disposition, the diversion of a few months in town.

But soon there was no longer this motive for remaining in London, for
the wife, hardly seen by anyone, fell into a short illness and
died--just a few weeks after her husband had brought her up from
Suffolk. She was buried very simply in St. Paul's, and the mural tablet
set up with a draped urn in marble, and just her name and the date, ran
thus:

FLORA, WIFE OF HUMPHREY ORFORD, ESQ.,
          OF THIS PARISH,
DIED NOVEMBER, 1713, AGED 27 YEARS.

Mr. Orford made no effort to leave the house; he remained, people
thought, rather stunned by his loss, kept himself close in the house,
and for a considerable time wore deep mourning.

But this was twenty years ago, and all had forgotten the shadowy figure
of the young wife, whom so few had seen and whom no one had known
anything about or been interested in, and all trace of her seemed to
have passed out of the quiet, regular, and easy life of Mr. Orford, when
an event that gave rise to some gossip caused the one-time existence of
Flora Orford to be recalled and discussed among the curious. This event
was none other than the sudden betrothal of Mr. Orford and the
announcement of his almost immediate marriage.

The bride was one who had been a prattling child when the groom had
first come to London: one old lady who was forever at her window
watching the little humors of the street recollected and related how she
had seen Flora Orford, alighting from the coach that had brought her
from the country, turn to this child, who was gazing from the railing of
the neighboring house, and touch her bare curls lovingly and yet with a
sad gesture.

And that was about the only time anyone ever did see Flora Orford, she
so soon became ailing; and the next the inquisitive old lady saw of her
was the slender brown coffin being carried through the dusk towards St.
Paul's Church.

But that was twenty years ago, and here was the baby grown up into Miss
Elisa Minden, a very personable young woman, soon to be the second Mrs.
Humphrey Orford. Of course there was nothing very remarkable about the
match; Elisa's father, Dr. Minden, had been Mr. Orford's best friend (as
far as he could be said to have a best friend, or indeed any friend at
all) for many a long year, both belonged to the same quiet set, both
knew all about each other. Mr. Orford was not much above forty-five or
so, an elegant, well-looking man, wealthy, with no vices and a calm,
equable temper; while Miss Elisa, though pretty and well-mannered, had
an insufficient dowry, no mother to fend for her, and the younger
sisters to share her slender advantages. So what could anyone say save
that the good doctor had done very well for his daughter, and that Mr.
Orford had been fortunate enough to secure such a fresh, capable maiden
for his wife?

It was said that the scholar intended giving up his bookish ways--that
he even spoke of going abroad a while, to Italy, for preference; he was
of course, anxious to see Italy, as all his life had been devoted to
preparing the translation of an Italian classic.

The quiet betrothal was nearing its decorous conclusion when one day Mr.
Orford took Miss Minden for a walk and brought her home round the piazza
of Covent Garden, then took her across the cobbled street, past the
stalls banked up with the first spring flowers (it was the end of
March), under the portico built by the great Inigo Jones, and so into
the church.

"I want to show you where my wife Flora lies buried," said Mr. Orford.

And that is really the beginning of the story.

Now, Miss Minden had been in this church every Sunday of her life and
many weekdays, and had been used since a child to see that tablet to
Flora Orford; but when she heard these words in the quiet voice of her
lover and felt him draw her out of the sunlight into the darkness of the
church, she experienced a great distaste that was almost fear.

It seemed to her both a curious and a disagreeable thing for him to do,
and she slipped her arm out of his as she replied.

"Oh, please let us go home!" she said. "Father will be waiting for us,
and your good Mrs. Boyd vexed if the tea is over-brewed."

"But first I must show this," he insisted, and took her arm again and
led her down the church, past his seat, until they stood between his pew
end and the marble tablet in the wall which was just a hand's space
above their heads.

"That is to her memory," said Mr. Orford. "And you see there is nothing
said as to her virtues."

Now, Elisa Minden knew absolutely nothing of her predecessor, and could
not tell if these words were spoken in reverence or irony, so she said
nothing but looked up rather timidly from under the shade of her Leghorn
straw at the tall figure of her lover, who was staring sternly at the
square of marble.

"And what have you to say to Flora Orford?" he asked sharply, looking
down at her quickly.

"Why, sir, she was a stranger to me," replied Miss Minden. Mr. Orford
pressed her arm.

"But to me she was a wife," he said. "She is buried under your feet.
Quite close to where you are standing. Why, think of that, Lizzie, if
she could stand up and put out her hand she could catch hold of your
dress--she is as near as that!"

The words and his manner of saying them filled Miss Minden with
shuddering terror, for she was a sensitive and fanciful girl, and it
seemed to her a dreadful thing to be thus standing over the bones of the
poor creature who had loved the man who was now to be her husband, and
horrible to think that the handful of decay so near them had once clung
to this man and loved him.

"Do not tremble, my dear girl," said Mr. Orford. "She is dead."

Tears were in Elisa Minden's eyes, and she answered coldly:

"Sir, how can you speak so?"

"She was a wicked woman," he replied, "a very wicked woman."

The girl could not reply as to that; this sudden disclosing of a painful
secret abashed her simple mind.

"Need we talk of this?" she asked; then, under her breath--"Need we be
married in this church, sir?"

"Of course," he answered shortly, "everything is arranged. Tomorrow
week."

Miss Minden did not respond; hitherto she had been fond of the church,
now it seemed spoilt for her--tarnished by the thought of Flora Orford.

Her companion seemed to divine what reflection lay behind her silence.

"You need not be afraid," he said rather harshly. "She is dead. Dead."

And he reached out the light cane he wore and tapped on the stone above
his wife's grave, and slowly smiled as the sound rang hollow in the
vaults beneath.

Then he allowed Elisa to draw him away, and they returned to Mr.
Orford's comfortable house, where in the upper parlor Dr. Minden was
awaiting them together with his sister and her son, a soldier cousin
whom the quick perceptions of youthful friends had believed to be
devoted to Elisa Minden. They made a pleasant little party with the red
curtains drawn, and the fire burning up between the polished andirons
and all the service for tea laid out with scones and Naples cake, and
Mrs. Boyd coming to and fro with plates and dishes. And everyone was
cheerful and friendly and glad to be indoors together, with a snowstorm
coming up and people hurrying home with heads bent before a cutting
wind.

But to Elisa's mind had come an unbidden thought:

"I do not like this house--it is where Flora Orford died."

And she wondered in which room, and also why this had never occurred to
her before, and glanced rather thoughtfully at the fresh young face of
the soldier cousin as he stood by the fire in his scarlet and white,
with his glance on the flames.

But it was a cheerful party, and Elisa smiled and jested with the rest
as she reserved the dishes at tea.

There is a miniature of her painted about this time, and one may see how
she looked with her bright brown hair and bright brown eyes, rosy
complexion, pretty nose and mouth, and her best gown of lavender blue
tabinet with a lawn tucker and a lawn cap fastened under the chin with
frilled lappets, showing now the big Leghorn hat with the velvet strings
was put aside.

Mr. Orford also looked well tonight; he did not look his full age in the
ruddy candle glow, the grey did not show in his abundant hair nor the
lines in his fine face, but the elegance of his figure, the grace of his
bearing, the richness of his simple clothes, were displayed to full
advantage; Captain Hoare looked stiff and almost clumsy by contrast.

But now and then Elisa Minden's eyes would rest rather wistfully on the
fresh face of this young man who had no dead wife in his life. And
something was roused in her meek youth and passive innocence, and she
wondered why she had so quietly accepted her father's arrangement of a
marriage with this elderly scholar, and why Philip Hoare had let her do
it. Her thoughts were quite vague and amounted to no more than a
confused sense that something was wrong, but she lost her satisfaction
in the tea-drinking and the pleasant company, and the warm room with the
drawn curtains, and the bright fire, and rose up saying they must be
returning, as there was a great store of mending she had promised to
help her aunt with; but Mrs. Hoare would not help her out, but
protested, laughing, that there was time enough for that, and the good
doctor, who was in a fine humor and in no mood to go out into the bleak
streets even as far as his own door, declared that now was the time they
must be shown over the house.

"Do you know, Humphrey," he said, "you have often promised us this, but
never done it, and, all the years that I have known you, I have never
seen but this room and the dining-room below; and as to your own
particular cabinet--"

"Well," said Mr. Orford, interrupting in a leisurely fashion, "no one
has been in there, save Mrs. Boyd now and then, to announce a visitor."

"Oh, you scholars!" smiled the doctor. "A secretive tribe--and a
fortunate one; why, in my poor room I have had three girls running to
and fro!"

The soldier spoke, not so pleasantly as his uncle.

"What have you so mysterious, sir, in this same cabinet, that it must be
so jealously guarded?" he asked.

"Why, nothing mysterious," smiled the scholar; "only my books, and
papers, and pictures."

"You will show them to me?" asked Elisa Minden, and her lover gave
graceful consent; there was further amiable talk, and then the whole
party, guided by Mr. Orford holding a candle, made a tour of the house
and looked over the fine rooms.

Mrs. Hoare took occasion to whisper to the bride-to-be that there were
many alterations needed before the place was ready for a lady's use, and
that it was time these were put in hand--why, the wedding was less than
a fortnight off!

And Elisa Minden, who had not had a mother to advise her in these
matters, suddenly felt that the house was dreary and old-fashioned, and
an impossible place to live in; the very rooms that had so pleased her
good father--a set of apartments for a lady--were to her the most
hateful in the house, for they, her lover told her, had been furnished
and prepared for Flora Orford, twenty years ago.

She was telling herself that when she was married she must at once go
away and that the house must be altered before she could return to it,
when the party came crowding to the threshold of the library or private
cabinet, and Mr. Orford, holding the candle aloft, led them in. Then as
this illumination was not sufficient, he went very quickly and lit the
two candles on the mantelpiece.

It was a pleasant apartment, lined with books from floor to ceiling,
old, valuable, and richly bound books, save only in the space above the
chimney piece, which was occupied by a portrait of a lady and the panel
behind the desk; this was situated in a strange position, in the
farthest corner of the room fronting the wall, so that anyone seated
there would be facing the door with the space of the room between; the
desk was quite close to the wall, so that there was only just space for
the chair at which the writer would sit, and to accommodate this there
were no bookshelves behind it, but a smooth panel of wood on which hung
a small picture; this was a rough, dark painting, and represented a man
hanging on a gallows on a wild heath; it was a subject out of keeping
with the luxurious room with its air of ease and learning, and while Mr.
Orford was showing his first editions, his Elzevirs and Aldines, Elisa
Minden was staring at this ugly little picture.

As she looked she was conscious of such a chill of horror and dismay as
nearly caused her to shriek aloud. The room seemed to her to be full of
an atmosphere of terror and evil beyond expression. Never had such a
thing happened to her before; her visit to the tomb in the afternoon had
been as nothing to this. She moved away, barely able to disguise an open
panic. As she turned, she half-stumbled against a chair, caught at it,
and noticed, hanging over the back, a skirt of peach-colored silk.
Elisa, not being mistress of herself, caught at this garment.

"Why, sir," cried she hysterically, "what is this?"

All turned to look at her; her tone, her obvious fright, were out of
proportion to her discovery.

"Why, child," said Mrs. Hoare, "it is a silk petticoat, as all can see."

"A gift for you, my dear," said the cheerful doctor.

"A gift for me?" cried Elisa. "Why, this has been scoured, and turned,
and mended, and patched a hundred times!"

And she held up the skirt, which had indeed become like tinder and
seemed ready to drop to pieces.

The scholar now spoke.

"It belongs to Mrs. Boyd," he said quietly. "I suppose she had been in
here to clean up, and has left some of her mending."

Now, two things about this speech made a strange impression on everyone;
first, it was manifestly impossible that the good housekeeper would ever
have owned such a garment as this, that was a lady's dress and such as
would be worn for a ball; secondly, Mr. Orford had only a short while
before declared that Mrs. Boyd only entered his room when he was in it,
and then of a necessity and for a few minutes.

All had the same impression, that this was some garment belonging to his
dead wife and as such cherished by him; all, that is, but Elisa, who had
heard him call Flora Orford a wicked woman.

She put the silk down quickly (there was a needle sticking into it and a
spool of cotton lying on the chair beneath) and looked up at the
portrait above the mantelpiece.

"Is that Mrs. Orford?" she asked.

He gave her a queer look.

"Yes," he said.

In a strange silence all glanced up at the picture.

It showed a young woman in a white gown, holding a crystal heart that
hung round her neck; she had dark hair and a pretty face; as Elisa
looked at the pointed fingers holding the pretty toy, she thought of the
tablet in St. Paul's Church and Mr. Orford's words--"She is so near to
you that if she could stretch out her hand she could touch you," and
without any remark about the portrait or the sitter, she advised her
aunt that it was time to go home. So the four of them left, and Mr.
Orford saw them out, standing framed in the warm light of the corridor
and watching them disappear into the grey darkness of the street.

It was a little more than an hour afterwards when Elisa Minden came
creeping down the stairway of her home and accosted her cousin, who was
just leaving the house.

"Oh, Philip," said she, clasping her hands, "if your errand be not a
very important one, I beg you to give me an hour of your time. I have
been watching for you to go out, that I might follow and speak to you
privately."

The young soldier looked at her keenly as she stood in the light of the
hall lamp, and he saw that she was very agitated.

"Of course, Lizzie," he answered kindly, and led her into the little
parlor off the hall where there was neither candles or fire, but leisure
and quiet to talk.

Elisa, being a housekeeper, found a lamp and lit it, and apologized for
the cold, but she would not return upstairs, she said, for Mrs. Hoare
and the two girls and the doctor were all quiet in the great parlor, and
she had no mind to disturb them.

"You are in trouble," said Captain Hoare quietly.

"Yes," replied she in a frightened way, "I want you to come with me now
to Mr. Orford's house--I want to speak to his housekeeper."

"Why, what is this, Lizzie?"

She had no very good explanation; there was only the visit to the church
that afternoon, her impression of horror in the cabinet, the discovery
of the scoured silk.

"But I must know something of his first wife, Philip," she concluded. "I
could never go on with it--if I did not--something has happened today--I
hate that house, I almost hate--him."

"Why did you do it, Lizzie?" demanded the young soldier sternly. "This
was a nice homecoming for me...a man who might be your father...a
solitary...one who frightens you."

Miss Minden stared at her cousin; she did not know why she had done it;
the whole thing seemed suddenly impossible.

"Please, you must come with me now," she said.

So overwrought was she that he had no heart to refuse her, and they took
their warm cloaks from the hall and went out into the dark streets.

It was snowing now and the ground slippery under foot, and Elisa clung
to her cousin's arm. She did not want to see Mr. Orford or his house
ever again, and by the time they reached the doorstep she was in a
tremble; but she rang the bell boldly.

It was Mrs. Boyd herself who came to the door; she began explaining that
the master was shut up in his cabinet, but the soldier cut her short.

"Miss Minden wishes to see you," he said, "and I will wait in the hall
till she is ready."

So Elisa followed the housekeeper down to her basement sitting-room; the
man-servant was out, and the two maids were quickly dismissed to the
kitchen.

Mrs. Boyd, a placid soul, near seventy-years, waited for the young lady
to explain herself, and Elisa Minden, flushing and paling by turns, and
feeling foolish and timid, put forth the object of her coming.

She wanted to hear the story of Flora Orford--there was no one else whom
she could ask--and she thought that she had a right to know.

"And I suppose you have, my dear," said Mrs. Boyd, gazing into the fire,
"though it is not a pretty story for you to hear--and I never thought I
should be telling it to Mr. Orford's second wife!"

"Not his wife yet." said Miss Minden.

"There, there, you had better ask the master yourself," replied Mrs.
Boyd placidly; "not but that he would be fierce at your speaking of it,
for I do not think a mention of it has passed his lips, and it's twenty
years ago and best forgotten, my dear."

"Tell it me and then I will forget," begged Miss Minden.

So then Mrs. Boyd, who was a quiet, harmless soul with no dislike to
telling a tale (though no gossip, as events had proved, she having kept
her tongue still on this matter for so long), told her story of Humphrey
Orford's wife; it was told in very few words.

"She was the daughter of his gamekeeper, my dear, and he married her out
of hand, just for her pretty face. But they were not very happy together
that I could ever see; she was afraid of him and that made her cringe,
and he hated that, and she shamed him with her ignorant ways. And then
one day he found her with a lover, saving your presence, mistress, one
of her own people, just a common man. And he was just like a creature
possessed; he shut up the house and sent away all the servants but me,
and brought his lady up to town, to this house here. And what passed
between her and him no one will know, but she ever looked like one dying
of terror. And then the doctor began to come, Dr. Thursby, it was, that
is dead now, and then she died, and no one was able to see her even she
was in her coffin, nor to send a flower. 'Tis likely she died of grief,
poor, fond wretch. But, of course, she was a wicked woman, and there was
nothing to do but pity the master."

And this was the story of Flora Orford.

"And the man?" asked Miss Minden, after a little.

"The man she loved, my dear? Well, Mr. Orford had him arrested as a
thief for breaking into his house, he was wild, that fellow, with not
the best of characters--well, he would not say why he was in the house,
and Mr. Orford, being a Justice of the Peace, had some power, so he was
just condemned as a common thief. And there are few to this day know the
truth of the tale, for he kept his counsel to the last, and no one knew
from him why he had been found in the Squire's house."

"What was his end?" asked Miss Minden in a still voice.

"Well he was hanged," said Mrs. Boyd; "being caught red-handed, what
could he hope for?"

"Then that is a picture of him in the cabinet!" cried Elisa, shivering
for all the great fire; then she added desperately, "Tell me, did Flora
Orford die in that cabinet?"

"Oh, no, my dear, but in a great room at the back of the house that has
been shut up ever since."

"But the cabinet is horrible," said Elisa; "perhaps it is her portrait
and that picture."

"I have hardly been in there," admitted Mrs. Boyd, "but the master lives
there--he has always had his supper there, and he talks to that portrait
my dear--'Flora, Flora' he says, 'how are you tonight?' and then he
imitates her voice, answering."

Elisa Minden clapped her hand to her heart.

"Do not tell me these things or I shall think that you are hateful too,
to have stayed in this dreadful house and endured them!" Mrs. Boyd was
surprised.

"Now, my dear, do not be put out," she protested.

"They were wicked people both of them and got their deserts, and it is
an old story best forgotten; and as for the master, he has been just a
good creature ever since we have been here, and he will not go talking
to any picture when he has a sweet young wife to keep him company."

But Elisa Minden had risen and had her fingers on the handle of the
door.

"One thing more," said she breathlessly; "that scoured silk--of a peach
color--"

"Why, has he got that still? Mrs. Orford wore it the night he found her
with her sweetheart. I mind I was with her when she bought it--fine silk
at forty shillings the yard. If I were you, my dear, I should burn that
when I was mistress here."

But Miss Minden had run upstairs to the cold hall.

Her cousin was not there; she heard angry voices overhead and saw the
two maid-servants affrighted on the stairs; a disturbance was unknown
in this household.

While Elisa stood bewildered, a door banged, and Captain Hoare came down
red in the face and fuming; he caught his cousin's arm and hurried her
out of the house.

In an angry voice he told her of the unwarrantable behavior of Mr.
Orford, who had found him in the hall and called him "intruder" and
"spy" without waiting for an explanation; the soldier had followed the
scholar up to his cabinet and there had been an angry scene about
nothing at all, as Captain Hoare said.

"Oh, Philip," broke out poor Elisa as they hastened through the cold
darkness, "I can never, never marry him!"

And she told him the story of Flora Orford. The young man pressed her
arm through the heavy cloak.

"And how came such a one to entangle thee?" he asked tenderly. "Nay,
thou shalt not marry him."

They spoke no more, but Elisa, happy in the protecting and wholesome
presence of her kinsman, sobbed with a sense of relief and gratitude.
When they reached home they found they had been missed and there had to
be explanations; Elisa said there was something that she had wished to
say to Mrs. Boyd, and Philip told of Mr. Orford's rudeness and the
quarrel that had followed.

The two elder people were disturbed and considered Elisa's behavior
strange, but her manifest agitation caused them to forbear pressing her
for an explanation; nor was it any use addressing themselves to Philip,
for he went out to his delayed meeting with companions at a
coffee-house.

That night Elisa Minden went to bed feeling more emotion than she had
ever done in her life; fear and disgust of the man whom hitherto she had
placidly regarded as her future husband, and a yearning for the kindly
presence of her childhood's companion united in the resolute words she
whispered into her pillow during that bitter night.

"I can never marry him now!"

The next day it snowed heavily, yet a strange elation was in Elisa's
heart as she descended to the warm parlor, bright from the fire and
light from the glow of the snow without.

She was going to tell her father that she could not carry out her
engagement with Mr. Orford, and that she did not want ever to go into
his house again.

They were all gathered round the breakfast-table when Captain Hoare came
in late (he had been out to get a newsletter) and brought the news that
was the most unlooked for they could conceive, and that was soon to
startle all London.

Mr. Orford had been found murdered in his cabinet.

These tidings, though broken as carefully as possible, threw the little
household into the deepest consternation and agitation; there were
shrieks, and cryings, and running to and fro.

Only Miss Minden, though of a ghastly color, made no especial display of
grief; she was thinking of Flora Orford.

When the doctor could get away from his agitated womenkind, he went with
his nephew to the house of Mr. Orford.

The story of the murder was a mystery. The scholar had been found in his
chair in front of his desk with one of his own bread-knives sticking
through his shoulders; and there was nothing to throw any light as to
how or through whom he had met his death.

The story, sifted from the mazed incoherency of Mrs. Boyd, the hysterics
of the maids, the commentaries of the constables, and the chatter of the
neighbors, ran thus:

At half-past nine the night before, Mrs. Boyd had sent one of the maids
up with her master's supper; it was his whim to have it always thus,
served on a tray in the cabinet. There had been wine and meat, bread and
cheese, fruit and cakes--the usual plates and silver--among these the
knife that had killed Mr. Orford.

When the servant left, the scholar had followed her to the door and
locked it after her; this was also a common practice of his, a
precaution against any possible interruption, for, he said, he did the
best part of his work in the evening.

It was found next morning that his bed had not been slept in, and that
the library door was still locked; as the alarmed Mrs. Boyd could get no
answer to her knocks, the man-servant had sent for someone to force the
lock, and Humphrey Orford had been found in his chair, leaning forward
over his papers with the knife thrust up to the hilt between his
shoulders; he must have died instantly, for there was no sign of any
struggle, nor any disarrangement of his person or his papers. The first
doctor to see him, a passer-by, attracted by the commotion about the
house, said he must have been dead some hours--probably since the night
before; the candles had all burnt down to the socket, and there were
spillings of grease on the desk; the supper tray stood at the other end
of the room, most of the food had been eaten, most of the wine drunk,
the articles were all there in order excepting only the knife sticking
between Mr. Orford's shoulder-blades.

When Captain Hoare had passed the house on his return from buying the
newsletter he had seen the crowd and gone in and been able to say that
he had been the last person to see the murdered man alive, as he had had
his sharp encounter with Mr. Orford about ten o'clock, and he remembered
seeing the supper things in the room. The scholar had heard him below,
unlocked the door, and called out such impatient resentment of his
presence that Philip had come angrily up the stairs and followed him
into the cabinet; a few angry words had passed, when Mr. Orford had
practically pushed his visitor out, locking the door in his face and
bidding him take Miss Minden home.

This threw no light at all on the murder; it only went to prove that at
ten o'clock Mr. Orford had been alive in his cabinet.

Now here was the mystery; in the morning the door was still locked, on
the inside, the window was, as it had been since early evening,
shuttered and fastened across with an iron bar, on the inside, and, the
room being on an upper floor, access would have been in any case almost
impossible by the window which gave on to the smooth brickwork of the
front of the house.

Neither was there any possible place in the room where anyone might be
hidden--it was just the square lined with the shallow bookshelves, the
two pictures (that sombre little one looking strange now above the bent
back of the dead man), the desk, one or two chairs and side tables;
there was not so much as a cupboard or bureau--not a hiding-place for a
cat.

How, then, had the murderer entered and left the room?

Suicide, of course, was out of the question, owing to the nature of the
wound--but murder seemed equally out of the question; Mr. Orford sat so
close to the wall that the handle of the knife touched the panel behind
him. For anyone to have stood between him and the wall would have been
impossible; behind the back of his chair was not space enough to push a
walking-stick.

How, then, had the blow been delivered with such deadly precision and
force?

Not by anyone standing in front of Mr. Orford, first because he must
have seen him and sprung up; and secondly, because, even had he been
asleep with his head down, no one, not even a very tall man, could have
leaned over the top of the desk and driven in the knife, for experiment
was made, and it was found that no arm could possibly reach such a
distance.

The only theory that remained was that Mr. Orford had been murdered in
some other part of the room and afterwards dragged to his present
position.

But this seemed more than unlikely, as it would have meant moving the
desk, a heavy piece of furniture that did not look as if it had been
touched, and also became there was a paper under the dead man's hand, a
pen in his fingers, a splutter of ink where it had fallen, and a
sentence unfinished. The thing remained a complete and horrid mystery,
one that seized the imagination of men; the thing was the talk of all
the coffee-houses and clubs.

The murder seemed absolutely motiveless, the dead man was not known to
have an enemy in the world, yet robbery was out of the question, for
nothing had been even touched.

The early tragedy was opened out. Mrs. Boyd told all she knew, which was
just what she had told Elisa Minden--the affair was twenty years ago,
and the gallows bird had no kith or kin left.

Elisa Minden fell into a desperate state of agitation, a swift change
from her first stricken calm; she wanted Mr. Orford's house pulled
down--the library and all its contents burnt; her own wedding-dress did
she burn, in frenzied silence, and none dare stop her; she resisted her
father's entreaties that she should go away directly after the inquest;
she would stay on the spot, she said, until the mystery was solved.

Nothing would content her but a visit to Mr. Orford's cabinet; she was
resolved, she said wildly, to come to the bottom of this mystery and in
that room, which she had entered once and which had affected her so
terribly, she believed she might find some clue.

The doctor thought it best to allow her to go; he and her cousin
escorted her to the house that now no one passed without a shudder and
into the chamber that all dreaded to enter.

Good Mrs. Boyd was sobbing behind them; the poor soul was quite mated
with this sudden and ghastly ending to her orderly life; she spoke all
incoherently, explaining, excusing, and lamenting in a breath; yet
through all her trouble she showed plainly and artlessly that she had
had no affection for her master, and that it was custom and habit that
had been wounded, not love.

Indeed, it seemed that there was no one who did love Humphrey Orford;
the lawyers were already busy looking for a next-of-kin; it seemed
likely that this property and the estates in Suffolk would go into
Chancery.

"You should not go in, my dear, you should not go in," sobbed the old
woman, catching at Miss Minden's black gown (she was in mourning for the
murdered man) and yet peering with a fearful curiosity into the cabinet.

Elisa looked ill and distraught but also resolute.

"Tell me, Mrs. Boyd," said she, pausing on the threshold, "what became
of the scoured silk?"

The startled housekeeper protested that she had never seen it again; and
here was another touch of mystery--the old peach-colored silk skirt that
four persons had observed in Mr. Orford's cabinet the night of his
murder, had completely disappeared.

"He must have burnt it," said Captain Hoare, and though it seemed
unlikely that he could have consumed so many yards of stuff without
leaving traces in the grate, still it was the only possible solution.

"I cannot think why he kept it so long," murmured Mrs. Boyd, "for it
could have been no other than Mrs. Orford's best gown."

"A ghastly relic," remarked the young soldier grimly.

Elisa Minden went into the middle of the room and stared about her;
nothing in the place was changed, nothing disordered; the desk had been
moved round to allow of the scholar being carried away, his chair stood
back, so that the long panel on which hung the picture of the gallows,
was fuller exposed to view.

To Elisa's agitated imagination this portion of the wall sunk in the
surrounding bookshelves, long and narrow, looked like the lid of a
coffin.

"It is time that picture came down," she said; "it cannot interest
anyone any longer."

"Lizzie, dear," suggested her father gently, "had you not better come
away?--this is a sad and awful place."

"No," replied she. "I must find out about it--we must know."

And she turned about and stared at the portrait of Flora Orford.

"He hated her, Mrs. Boyd, did he not? And she must have died of
fear--think of that!--died of fear, thinking all the while of that poor
body on the gallows. He was a wicked man and whoever killed him must
have done it to revenge Flora Orford."

"My dear," said the doctor hastily, "all that was twenty years ago, and
the man was quite justified in what he did, though I cannot say I should
have been so pleased with the match if I had known this story."

"How did we ever like him?" muttered Elisa Minden. "If I had entered
this room before I should never have been promised to him--there is
something terrible in it."

"And what else can you look for, my dear," snivelled Mrs. Boyd, "in a
room where a man has been murdered."

"But it was like this before," replied Miss Minden; "it frightened me."

She looked round at her father and cousin, and her face quite distorted.

"There is something here now," she said, "something in this room."

They hastened towards her, thinking that her over-strained nerves had
given way; but she took a step forward.

Shriek after shriek left her lips.

With a quivering finger she pointed before her at the long panel behind
the desk.

At first they could not tell at what she pointed; then Captain Hoare saw
the cause of her desperate terror.

It was a small portion of faded, peach-colored silk showing above the
ribbed line of the wainscot, protruding from the wall, like a garment of
stuff shut in a door.

"She is in there!" cried Miss Minden. "In there!"

A certain frenzy fell on all of them; they were in a confusion, hardly
knowing what they said or did. Only Captain Hoare kept some presence of
mind and, going up to the panel, discerned a fine crack all round.

"I believe it is a door," he said, "and that explains how the murderer
must have struck--from the wall."

He lifted the picture of the hanged man and found a small knob or
button, which, as he expected, on being pressed sent the panel back into
the wall, disclosing a secret chamber no larger than a cupboard.

And directly inside this hidden room that was dark to the sight and
noisome to the nostrils, was the body of a woman, leaning against the
inner wall with a white kerchief knotted tightly round her throat,
showing how she had died; she wore the scoured silk skirt, the end of
which had been shut in the panel, and an old ragged bodice of linen that
was like a dirty parchment; her hair was grey and scanty, her face past
any likeness to humanity, her body thin and dry.

The room, which was lit only by a window a few inches square looking
onto the garden, was furnished with a filthy bed of rags and a stool
with a few tattered clothes; a basket of broken bits was on the floor.

Elisa Minden crept closer.

"It is Flora Orford," she said, speaking like one in a dream.

They brought the poor body down into the room, and then it was clear
that this faded and terrible creature had a likeness to the pictured
girl who smiled from the canvas over the mantelpiece.

And another thing was clear and, for a moment, they did not dare speak
to each other.

For twenty years this woman had endured her punishment in the wall
chamber in that library that no one but her husband entered; for twenty
years he had kept her there, behind the picture of her lover, feeding
her on scraps, letting her out only when the household was abed, amusing
himself with her torture--she mending the scoured silk she had worn for
twenty years, sitting there, cramped in the almost complete dark, a few
feet from where he wrote his elegant poetry.

"Of course she was crazy," said Captain Hoare at length, "but why did
she never cry out?"

"For a good reason," whispered Dr. Minden, when he had signed to Mrs.
Boyd to take his fainting daughter away. "He saw to that--she has got no
tongue."

The coffin bearing the nameplate "Flora Orford" was exhumed, and found
to contain only lead; it was substituted by another containing the
wasted body of a woman who died by her own hand twenty years after the
date on the mural tablet to her memory.

Why or how this creature, certainly become idiotic and dominated
entirely by the man who kept her prisoner, had suddenly found the
resolution and skill to slay her tyrant and afterwards take her own life
(a thing she might have done any time before) was a question never
solved.

It was supposed that he had formed the hideous scheme to complete his
revenge by leaving her in the wall to die of starvation while he left
with his new bride for abroad, and that she knew this and had
forestalled him; or else that her poor, lunatic brain had been roused by
the sound of a woman's voice as she handled the scoured silk which the
captive was allowed to creep out and mend when the library door was
locked. But over these matters and the details of her twenty years'
suffering, it is but decent to be silent.

Lizzie Minden married her cousin, but not at St. Paul's, Covent Garden.
Nor did they ever return to the neighborhood of Humphrey Orford's house.



THE BREAKDOWN


The local line had broken down, as it not infrequently did, and the
little group of people who had stepped out of the London express, and
hurried across the platform to make the connection were left stranded,
the half-dozen villages along the Somerset Marshland that were served by
the tiny railway were completely cut off; the stationmaster had no
consolation or even advice to offer, and it was a forlorn little group
that stood irresolute under the glare of the gas-lamp.

John Murdoch left the others and asked the way to Mutchley Towers--only
three miles along the high road, and he had an electric torch. The young
man at once decided to walk, and leaving his baggage at the station, he
struck out into the dark as the scanty conveyances of the village were
being mustered for the benefit of his fellow-travellers.

When you are young, robust, contented, and just off for your holidays
after a very prosperous year, it is not such a bad thing to step out
briskly on a frosty country road with the crystal facets of stars
sparkling overhead and a crisp north wind whipping the blood to your
face and emphasizing the warmth and comfort of a good overcoat.

It was Christmas Eve, and Murdoch was visiting an old college friend
whom, though he had not seen him for some time, he had been very
intimate with in his youth. Both the young men had been lucky; Murdoch
was a remarkably successful lawyer, and Blanchard had succeeded to an
ancient estate that had belonged to a distant kinsman; it was to view
this new kingdom that this Christmas gathering had been got together,
and Murdoch was looking forward to a really pleasant time in rather
novel surroundings, for the busy city man had little time for any but
the most conventional of holidays.

As he strode out along the hard road, leaving the lights of the village
behind him, he recalled, as he had often recalled during his journey,
the very charming association that he had with Blanchard. It was only a
portrait, a delicate pencil drawing, touched with color, of a girl's
head with black curls and a lace scarf with "Marie Blanchard" written
beneath; Murdoch's youthful fancy had been strangely enthralled by this
sketch--so much so that he had always been too self-conscious to ask
Blanchard who it was, but the style of the drawing had led him to infer
that it must be at least a hundred years old, and that Marie Blanchard
had long since been dust. This, however, had not prevented the peculiar
haunting loveliness of the pictured countenance from shining fitfully
through his secret dreams.

And it was with an instant recollection of his visionary fancy that
Murdoch had accepted this invitation.

And now, as he trudged through the star-spangled dark, he was thinking,
with a delightful thrill, that he might see again that enchanting
drawing or even another portrait or some delightful memorial of the
vanished lady.

It was very cold; the deep mid-winter chill began to penetrate even
Murdoch's fleecy coat. When he snapped on his torch the acrid sweep of
electric light showed only the frozen ridges of the road and the bleak
hedges, dry, hard, and lifeless as a bone.

Murdoch began to wonder how much further Mutchley Towers was and how he
should find it; as his quick walking brought him no nearer any sign of
human habitation. As the wild clouds began to roll over the stars he
regretted his impulse to walk and flashed the torch about to discover
any place or person where he could ask his way. None such appeared, and
when the stars were completely obscured and a bitter sleet was cast in
his face by the rising wind, the young man lost his cheerful confidence,
and thought with some sharpness of yearning of the car, waiting for him
at the station where he would never arrive, and the dinner preparing
that would very likely be spoiled before he could sit down in comfort
before it; he had not reckoned on the country being so desolate, and
surely the porter's two or three miles was five or six.

As he thought thus with some impatience an upward flash of his torch
clove the sleet and showed him, strangely close, a square white house,
with a sign hanging in front on which was written in bold characters:

THE WISHING INN.

Murdoch was almost startled to find that he had almost stumbled into a
house without being aware of it, but pleased, too, and he went up to the
flat home-painted door and knocked.

It was an old-fashioned inn, but rather dreary than picturesque; fluted
pilasters relieved the drab front, blinds were drawn in the upper
windows, and the only light was a faint glimmer behind the curtains of
what was obviously the bar-parlor; the hedge came either side, right up
to the house and the rough road directly to the one step. Murdoch was
mentally commenting on the cold and inhospitable look of the place when
the door was abruptly opened and a repulsive-looking man appeared dimly
outlined against a dark passage.

"Can you tell me the way to Mutchley Towers?" asked Murdoch briskly.

"No," replied the man sullenly, "it is a long weary road from here, and
no stranger could find it in the dark."

"But I must get there tonight," said Murdoch vexed. "Have you any
conveyance or even someone to guide me?"

"Neither one nor the other," replied the innkeeper.

"You've no telephone? Where is the nearest? There must be somewhere a
post office--a farm where I could get a trap, something--"

Murdoch looked at the forbidding inn, and then at the forlorn night.

The north wind was mounting higher with every blast, the sleet was
changing to icy flakes of snow, every star was now concealed behind the
oncoming storm-clouds. The young man considered that he might walk on
till he dropped with fatigue and never find his way; it was quite likely
that the information given at the station was wrong, or even that he had
taken the wrong direction; in either case, to continue to press
aimlessly through the darkness seemed foolish; better to trust till
daylight to the uninviting hospitality of "The Wishing Inn."

"Can you give me some food and a bed?" he asked dubiously.

"Come inside," was the man's noncommittal reply.

Murdoch stepped across the dingy threshold, glad to be out of the blast,
yet reluctant to enter the musty dusk of the passage.

"You have not many travellers here?" he suggested, "nor much custom,
perhaps? You seem to be a long way from the village."

"The place is lonely," was the reply.

"Will you wait in the parlor while your room is got ready for you?"

Murdoch followed him into the front room, where the light had glimmered
between the folds of the drab curtains; this proved to be a lamp set on
the center of a large table covered in dark green cloth that deadened
the already feeble illumination; the walls were dark and dirty, a few
obscure oiled prints and a case of lead-colored fish hung amongst this
background, a meagre fire burnt on the open hearth; there were a few
horse-hair chairs and a dull, locked cabinet.

"Good Lord," thought Murdoch, "who could have dreamt to find such an
out-of-the-way place--so near the railway?"

"Are you the landlord?" he asked aloud.

"Yes," replied the queer-looking individual who had opened the door,
"the place is mine."

Murdoch looked at him intently; he wore a soiled flowered dressing-gown
tied tightly round his lean figure, and carpet slippers that caused him
to shuffle; his head was bald, his face yellow and pinched, his look
both dejected and repellent.

Murdoch glanced round, not without a shudder.

"You have a curious name," he said. "The Wishing Inn."

"There are old stories about the place," replied the landlord with a
shifty glance. "It is said that those who pass Christmas Eve here are
allowed the fulfilment of one wish."

"Curious that this should be Christmas Eve!" exclaimed Murdoch. "Well,
can you bring me some supper, when perhaps I can think of a wish?"

The man shuffled to the door, paused there, and glanced back.

"There are other travellers here I must consider," he grumbled gruffly,
"a lady--a young lady--she must come down and warm herself here. There
is no fire in her bedroom."

Murdoch's curiosity was fully roused, a woman that this man called a
"young lady," staying in this wretched place on Christmas Eve!

"She is not alone?" he asked.

"She is alone, but she is waiting for someone," replied the man. "That
is her wish, that he may come quickly--"

Jarred by the leer in the man's sullen tones, Murdoch turned aside, and,
pulling off his dogskin gloves, busied himself warming his hands before
the thin blaze.

"Bring what you have to eat at once, please," he said, knowing that it
was hopeless to ask for any definite fare.

The door closed, and Murdoch tried to trim the lamp, and then with a
squeaking pair of bellows to urge the pale fire; both his efforts were
in vain, a cold dimness persisted in the dreary room, and neither fire
nor lamp seemed to give either warmth or light!

Murdoch turned up his coat collar and sat shivering on one of the shiny
horse-hair chairs. He wondered if the "young lady" upstairs was coming
down to warm herself, as the dismal landlord had suggested, and whatever
kind of romance it could be that chose such a place and time for its
setting! Where was the tardy "he" coming from, and where did he intend
to take the girl on such a night?

Christmas Eve, too, when all travel and conveniences would be suspended.
The morrow was one of the most impossible days in the year for any kind
of action, when the busiest cease their turmoil, and the most wretched
have some shelter and peace.

So complete was the silence in which the inn was wrapped that Murdoch
began to think that the landlord's tale was a mere fiction. Who would
linger mute in such an icy, bleak bedroom as this place afforded?

Murdoch began to feel drowsy. He had lost the keen appetite that had
urged him on the road, and regarded his ordered meal with repugnance.
Huddled in the worn horse-hair chair, his mind went idly over the
possible tale of the woman lurking upstairs, and then he dwelt,
dreamily, on the tale of the wish--the wish on Christmas Eve--Wishing
Inn!

"Now what could my wish be?" thought Murdoch, drowsily. "Supposing I was
to think of something quite fantastical and foolish? Supposing I was to
wish to see, to win, to love, Marie Blanchard!"

As he whispered the name, it seemed to him that a deeper chill took
possession of the room that the dreary fire could not warm or the dreary
lamp light; he turned round sharply, as if in apprehension.

The door was opened, though he had heard no sound, and a figure stood on
the threshold.

The breath of icy air was more penetrating now and Murdoch shivered as
he rose.

"Won't you come to the fire?" he said, "though I am afraid it does not
give out any heat."

The figure advanced from the shadows of the passage and came to the
hearth; it was Marie Blanchard as he had seen her in the delicate sketch
that had haunted his secret fancy.

Here was every feature on which his boy's caprice had so fondly dwelt,
the straight nose, the level brows, the dark liquid eyes, the fine black
ringlets loosely confined with a silver ribbon, the slender neck and
shoulders, the lace scarf and the clinging gown of fine floating muslin;
despite the attire and the bitterness of the season she looked as fresh
and blooming as if she wandered in a shadowed summer garden.

She looked at him with the petulant, wilful yet beseeching expression
that so well became her type of loveliness and that in her portrait had
so long haunted Murdoch.

"He has not come," she said, "he has not come--but you will, sir, help
me to find him?"

She bent towards him, clasping her hands, and a queer perfume, like the
last breath of dying flowers, was wafted to the young man.

"Who am I to find?" he stammered. "Are you not Marie Blanchard?"

"Yes, I am that unfortunate woman. And I am here to meet my lover. If he
does not come they will take me back--"

"They call this 'The Wishing Inn,'" said Murdoch. "I wished to see you
and you came."

She turned on him her sad, limpid gaze and Murdoch shuddered.

"I used to worship a little picture of you," he continued.

Unheeding she turned towards the door.

"Oh, come, will you not help me find my lover?" she entreated. Murdoch,
as if against her entreaties, he had not the full use and power of his
faculties, followed her to the door, out into the black passage and then
into the road, she gliding before him like a glimmer of white. Snow and
wind had alike ceased and the night was one of close darkness through
which faintly gleamed the dull light of two carriage lamps.

"See, my carriage is waiting!" cried Marie Blanchard. "Will you not
enter and help me find my lover?"

Murdoch, as his eyes became accustomed to the encompassing gloom,
discerned the dim outlines of a carriage.

"Perhaps you can put me on my way to Mutchley Towers," he said as he
stepped after the slight figure of Marie Blanchard into the cavernous
interior of the lumbering old-fashioned barouche, "for I," he added,
vaguely, "am going to see your brother--is he not your brother--young
Blanchard?"

The carriage was swinging forward now into the pitchy night; no ray of
light penetrated the darkness where Murdoch sat on the chill seat, and
where his companion was there was only the faintest blur of light where
her white garments showed through the inky blackness.

"Help me to find my lover!" came her voice in continued anguish. "Ah,
make haste to find him before it is too late!"

"Who is he, and how can I help you?" answered Murdoch, wildly, "and how
can we find him? And where are you driving in this haste?"

For the carriage was bumping and jolting over what appeared to be rough
heath strewn with boulders.

Murdoch pressed his face against the glass, and could just visualize
whitish objects picked out for a fleeting second by the ghastly chill
light of the carriage lamps.

"Where are we?" he cried. "Where are we going?"

And then he was overmastered by an overpowering desire to see his
companion, and, like a lightning inspiration from another world, he
thought of the electric torch lying in his overcoat pocket.

"Marie Blanchard!" he cried, as he fumbled with it, "Marie Blanchard!"
as he snapped on the powerful ray of light.

The moan, "Oh help me find my lover!" faded in his ear and the torch
showed an empty carriage; he saw frayed leather, worn velvet,
weather-stained glass, but nothing else; he was alone in the ancient
barouche.

With a feeling akin to panic he beat at the door, the crazy fastenings
gave way and he was precipitated violently into the darkness.

Again before him flitted the figure of Marie Blanchard; by a kind of
bluish glow that appeared to encircle her he could see her plainly; she
was moving rapidly and the sound of her lamentations fell sadly on his
ear as he followed her wildly, stumbling over hillocks and falling
against stones.

"See, I have found him," she cried, and stopped; Murdoch was almost
beside her; he could see her standing, smiling archly as in the portrait
sketch, fresh and merry and gay. "Through here," she added and struck on
what seemed a door. "Come, will you not see him, my dear delight?"

Murdoch hastened eagerly forward; the torch was still grasped in his
hand, and without knowing it he pressed the button. A flood of white
light spread in front of him, there was no woman, no door; only a heavy
stone with a railing round it and frail snow outlining the inscription:

MARIE BLANCHARD
     AND
TOBIAS GRIEVE.
    1823.

Murdoch wildly flashed the torch around the hillocks and graves, the
stones were graves; he was in a large churchyard and the snow was
falling noiselessly into the dark and silence.

With a shudder of deep and intense horror, Murdoch, keeping his torch
lit, fumbled his way towards the church; as he reached the porch he saw
a light, heard voices, and from a chaos of movement and darkness he
heard a friend speak his name.


"You were pretty well done," grinned young Blanchard the next morning as
Murdoch lingered over a late Christmas breakfast. "Why, you crept into
the church like a ghost."

"I felt like one," replied Murdoch briefly. "If you hadn't been there--"

"Well, it is just the one night in the year you would have found anyone,
and then it was only because we were late with decorations--but I say,
old chap, how did you get so far out of your way, and why were you in
such a state?"

"Oh, I don't know," replied Murdoch sheepishly. "I've been overworking
lately--the dark and the cold and no food--I say," he added abruptly,
"is there a place here called 'The Wishing Inn'?"

"Used to be--pulled down about a hundred years ago. Why?"

"Oh, I heard someone in the train mention it," said Murdoch. "Any
story?"

"Yes. An ancestress of mine, Marie Blanchard, ran away on Christmas Eve
to that inn to meet her lover--she chose that spot because a wish
uttered there on that evening was supposed to come true! You know the
usual tale."

"Well?"

"The poor lady wished that she might never be separated from her
lover--but he was found by her brothers on his way to the rendezvous and
killed in a scuffle. He was a certain Tobias Grieve, a farmer, much
beneath her, the good old days! She did the proper thing and died of a
broken heart and then they relented enough to put her in his grave, so
her wish came true after all."

Murdoch did not answer; he was looking intently out of the window.

"She isn't altogether a legend," continued Blanchard, "for you can still
see the grave with the two names on it--and there is a sketch of her by
Cosway; I liked it so I used to have it in my rooms. Do you remember?
But as for 'The Wishing Inn'--"

The door opened and a girl stood on the threshold, the exact counterpart
of Murdoch's vision of the night, except that she was dressed in furs
and a plumed hat.

"You haven't met my sister, Marie? The same name as the lady of the
adventure and rather like her, too--"

Murdoch thought of his last night's wish and his heart thrilled as he
looked into the fair girl's eyes--"To meet--to--love--to--win--Marie
Blanchard!"



ONE REMAINED BEHIND - A ROMANCE A LA MODE GOTHIQUE


Rudolph quarrelled fiercely with M. Dufours, the antique dealer, but in
low tones so as not to be overheard in the street.

"If you do not sell it to me--and cheaply--I shall report you to the
police," he whispered, firmly clasping the large book bound in wood and
brass that he had found on a top shelf in the little room at the back of
the shop.

"I do not think, M. Rudolph, that you would care to go to the police,"
retorted the old man, sucking in his toothless mouth with fury. "I would
not part with the _grimoire_, no, not for fifty thousand francs."

"You will, however," sneered Rudolph, "sell it to me for fifty francs. I
have no objection to informing the police that you are a receiver of
stolen goods, a moneylender at an exorbitant rate of interest, a dealer
in dangerous drugs, charms and black magic--"

"Ah, indeed," replied the shopkeeper, trying to be sarcastic but really
rather uneasy. "And pray what are _you_, M. Rudolph? Unless I am very much
mistaken _your_ reputation is none too pure."

"Bah! What does it matter about my reputation? The police have nothing
against me. I am a poor student, a poet, a philosopher, and I intend to
have this treasure that I have discovered on your shelf."

"You admit that it is a treasure!" raged the old man. "And yet you offer
me a miserable fifty francs for it!"

"It is no treasure for you," replied Rudolph scornfully. "You are a
pitiful dabbler in the black arts. You would never have the courage to
proceed far along this dangerous, fascinating road! You do not even
understand the secrets concealed here!" He tapped with elegant soiled
white fingers the cover of the disputed book. "I doubt if you can even
read the title."

Overcome by curiosity, the old man asked:

"What is this volume that you think so highly of, M. Rudolph?"

"Ha! ha! And just now you said you wanted fifty thousand francs for it!"

"Well, I know that it is an ancient _grimoire_, and therefore valuable."

"It is," sneered the student. "The _Grimoriam Veram_, written by Alibeck
the Egyptian and printed at Memphis in 1517--together with this are
bound several other treatises exceedingly rare."

"What do you want with these things?" demanded the antique dealer
suspiciously. "You have no skill to interpret those signs and wonders--"

"Nor have you, or you would not be living here in this shabby shop,
existing by petty crimes!"

"I might say the same of you, M. Rudolph! It is obvious that the study
of black magic has not done you much good--your shirt is darned, your
coat shiny at the elbows, your trousers are ragged round the hems, and
one of your shoes is split!"

The student's eyes gleamed with malice.

"Nevertheless, perhaps I might surprise you, sordid old miser that you
are! Please have the goodness to look into this!"

Still retaining the _grimoire_ under his arm, the young man whipped out
a small mirror that seemed to be of polished metal from his breast and
flashed it in front of the reluctant gaze of M. Dufours.

He found, however, that it was impossible to avoid the metallic disc;
his bleary eyes, worn by age and counting over the contents of his
money-bags, stared, without his volition, into the magic mirror.

On the surface of this appeared a little cloudy figure, curled up like a
bird in the nest, that gazed back at the old man with small black eyes
that glittered vindictively.

"There is nothing in my shop," muttered the curio dealer drowsily, "like
that--what can it be a reflection of?"

The student laughed and the little figure flew out of the mirror and
hung between it and the frightened face of M. Dufours; then, with a buzz
like that of an angry insect, it rushed at the curio dealer's nose and
pinched it violently until the old man howled with fear and pain.
Rudolph laughed and returned the metal disc to his pocket, upon which
the spirit vanished.

"It was some wasp or bee flew in," muttered M. Dufours, rubbing his red,
smarting nose.

"Was it?" sneered the student. "Kindly look round your filthy shop."

The old man obeyed, fascinated by the brilliant black eyes, pallid face
and mocking lips of M. Rudolph.

His jaw dropped and a trembling ran through all his shrunken limbs at
what he saw--every object in his shop was transformed into something
devilish. The old coats on their pegs waved their sleeves at him, the
pawned trousers kicked as if prancing in a polka, grimacing faces peered
from the blotched, cracked mirrors, the cupidons on the tarnished
candelabra that hung from the cob-webbed rafters began to fly about like
pigeons, and a lady in a very bad portrait by Legros, the art student,
winked rudely at M. Dufours and shook at him her bouquet of miserably
drawn roses which really resembled pickled onions.

M. Dufours rubbed his eyes and when he looked round again everything was
normal.

"You see," remarked Rudolph, "that I know a few tricks. I shall keep the
_grimoire_ and owe you the fifty francs."

With an air of disdain he picked up his dusty, frayed beaver hat, that
he thrust on the side of his head jauntily above his long jet-black
locks, and strode into the street; M. Dufours shook a lean fist after
him, but dare not raise a hue and cry. There was really something
Satanic about M. Rudolph--that nip on the nose, now, surely he had not
imagined that!

The student went gloomily along the street, the _grimoire_ clasped tightly
under his arm; the sky was a pale violet color above the roofs that were
shining wet from a shower of rain, and a delicate breeze from the hills
beyond the town stirred the rubbish in the gutter.

Outside the wineshop several students were sitting over their pints of
claret, discussing their work and love affairs, joyously speculating as
to their chances of prizes, of kisses, of distinction, and of monies
that might be sent from their relatives.

As Rudolph strode past without taking any notice of them, they fell into
a silence and stared after him. How poor and proud he was! No one knew
much about him and everyone was slightly afraid of him; he was morose,
haughty and had no friends--how was it that he could afford to pay for
the courses at the University?

He was brilliant at his work, but was not likely, the professors said,
to be successful, for he attended so few of the lectures.

How did he spend his time?

The students often asked one another this question and were afraid to
answer it; the rumor was that Rudolph wasted his days and imperilled his
soul by studying the forbidden arts.

They craned their necks after him in awe and admiration; he was so
handsome with his high brow, black hair and cavernous eyes; every Fifi
and Mimi in the town was in love with him and he never as much as
glanced at any of them.

The other students admired his courage, too; he never concerned himself
with any kind of civility and they were envious of his top hat--that
_chapeau en haute forme_ that he wore instead of the usual college cap.

True, this fashionable headgear was old and had probably been bought
secondhand _chez Dufours_, but it had the address of a maker in the _rue
St. Honorè_ inside the brim and was undoubtedly elegant.

Sourly gratified by these admiring glances that he affected not to
notice, Rudolph proceeded to his poor lodgings, which were in an
inconvenient part of the town, a long way from the University.

Not only poverty, however, persuaded Rudolph to live in this remote
quarter; he liked the solitude of the deserted street where the
tumble-down houses huddled beneath the broken walls of the town, where
at night it was silent save for the hoot of an owl or so that strayed in
from the woods and brooded on the roof-tops, and dark save for the
yellow spurts of light from the few dirty street lamps.

Holding the _grimoire_ tightly, he mounted the twisting staircase to his
attic; he was the sole lodger in the ancient house. An old woman and her
grandchild owned the crazy building and dwelt on the ground floor.

Rudolph locked his door (he had fashioned the lock himself and carefully
fixed it in place of the rude latch), and seating himself by the window
in the lean-to roof, began to read his book eagerly.

There were many curious objects in the attic, stacked away in dark
corners and under the dusty chairs and truckle-bed; on a bare table
stood a lamp, a desk, on a shelf was a row of books; there were hanging
cupboards, pegs for clothes and a number of boxes.

Rudolph read long in the _grimoire_, until the sun declined behind the
roofs of the town, dusk filled his garret, and Jeanette, the landlady's
grandchild, knocked at the door, crying out, in her thin, piping voice,
that she had brought up the supper.

Rudolph, startled from his self-absorption, whispered a malediction,
tossed the tangled hair from his eyes, rose and unlocked the door.

The little tin lamp on the stairs had been lit; this feeble light showed
the broken banister rails, rotting floor boards and dust everywhere.

Jeanette, who looked like a white rat, hurried timidly into the room and
placed Rudolph's supper on the table--a pint of wine, two slices of
black bread, a dish of salted ham and pickled onions, and a withering
apple; she then lit his lamp.

"Ha, little misery!" exclaimed the student wildly. "How is it that thou
canst continue this wretched existence, unworthy of a human being who
owns a mortal soul?"

"Indeed, Monsieur, I don't know," stammered the girl, trying to drop a
curtsey; her skirts were so scanty that she could not achieve much
elegance, and when she bent her knee it stuck through a hole in her
rags. "Grandmother says that if you could pay the rent--"

"Begone," scowled Rudolph, waving his elegant hand. "I have my studies
awaiting me."

Jeanette hurried away, glad to escape, and Rudolph pondered deeply on
what he had read in the _grimoire_.

It certainly was a treasure, that book! It contained secrets that he had
long been seeking to discover and directions for conjurations and
divinations that he longed to try immediately. Unfortunately all these
required expensive materials, new-born infants, kids, black or white
cocks, costly drugs, shew stones, tables of sweet-wood and squares of
undyed wool taken from a spotless lamb and woven by a maiden.

Rudolph knew a great deal about black magic, but he had never made any
money from either that or the poetry which stood in dusty stacks against
the walls; indeed, most of his meagre substance had gone in buying
ingredients or articles for his forbidden studies.

He frowned gloomily, staring with disgust at the coarse food on the
table. How he longed for luxury, a splendid castle, troops of liveried
servants, a carriage with six white horses, a superb mistress clad in
Venetian velvet!

Again he opened the _grimoire_ and carefully re-read something that had
greatly taken his fancy; as he perused the badly printed page his pallid
face gradually assumed a diabolical expression, for Rudolph wished evil
to all mankind, and all his experiments--mostly taken from the _Clavicle
of King Ptolomeus_--had been of the following kinds: "Of hatred and
destruction"--"Of mocks and gainful seeking"--"Of experiments
extraordinary that be forbidden of good men."

What fascinated him now was the description of certain rites whereby
four strangers could be brought to the celebrant's room and one of them
forced to do his will--even to the revealing of hidden treasure, the
gift of luck at cards and success in a chosen career.

Rudolph nibbled an onion and brooded over this prospect; he decided at
once on three of the people whom he would summon in this manner, so
humiliating to them and so gratifying to himself.

First he would force Saint Luc, the arrogant young aristocrat who had so
often sneered at him and whom he so greatly detested, to appear in his
wretched garret; second he would bring the vicious old professor, Maître
Lachaud, who had so often told him, Rudolph, that he was idle, stubborn
and a disgrace to the University; and third he would drag along by his
magic spells M. Lecoine, the fat banker who had laughed in his,
Rudolph's face, when he had asked for a loan.

But here again expensive materials were required, and the experiment
might fail and all the money and effort be wasted.

Rudolph ate his bread and ham, then went to the window and glared out at
the sky from which all daylight had now receded. A full moon was
appearing above the house-tops and a few dark clouds that might have
been witches impatiently flying off for nocturnal delights showed
beneath it. As Rudolph gazed a great longing took possession of him to
make the experiment of which he had read in the _grimoire_; not only did
he earnestly desire to vex and terrify three people whom he detested, he
was dazzled by the hope of luck in cards, in his career, and the finding
of a hidden treasure.

"I shall be the greatest poet in the world and I shall have more money
than any man ever had before."

Such a prospect was worth a large sacrifice.

Rudolph turned back into the room and dragged an ancient carpetbag from
under his bed; he opened it, unfastening the cumbrous lock, while he
sighed deeply and from swathes of old silk rags he took out a large
golden ring set with a pale stone that gave out more light than the
dirty lamp fed by cheap oil.

This jewel had been given to Rudolph by his great-grandfather with
strict charges never to part with it--"except from the purest motives"
the old man had said. He had been a famous roué in his time and had
squandered all the family fortune on English jockeys, boxers and Italian
dancers.

Rudolph disliked the thought of parting with the ring because the
possession of such a gem increased his self-esteem and also because he
was afraid of his great-grandfather's curse; he decided, however, to do
so, and thrusting the ring in his bosom left the attic and turned to the
fashionable part of the town beyond the University buildings that,
rising directly in front of the moon, looked as if they were cut out of
black paper.

The shutters were just being put up in front of the shop of M.
Colcombet, the jeweller, but Rudolph dashed through the door and laid
his ring on the counter, on the length of black velvet that covered the
glass that contained flashing parures in heart-shaped boxes lined with
satin.

"This is a family piece," said the student haughtily. "It is worth a
good sum."

M. Colcombet was doubtful, however, both of the ring and the customer;
he peered suspiciously, first at the sardonic young man, then at the
white jewel which was brighter than any diamond in the shop.

"It is a beryl," he remarked.

"Not an ordinary beryl," replied Rudolph, contemptuously flashing the
ring about in his hand so that in the light of the well-trimmed silver
lamp the stone cast out flames of blue, green and crimson.

"Well," admitted M. Colcombet, who seemed fascinated by the stone, "I
daresay the Comtesse Louise would like it for her wedding _toilette_."

"Ha, is the Comtesse Louise to be married?" asked Rudolph, who
remembered with anger this haughty beauty who had stared through him
when her carriage has passed him in the street, covering him with mud.

"Yes, to the Prince de C----; it is to be a splendid affair," gossiped
the jeweller. "At her father's château, you know--the chapel is hung
with cloth of gold and there is to be a festival for all the
neighborhood. Many of the students have had cards of invitation, and
some of them have been in here to buy their presents--M. le Marquis de
Saint Luc, for instance. You perhaps yourself, Monsieur?" he added with
an inquisitive glance at Rudolph's shabby clothes.

"What do you offer for the ring?" demanded the student fiercely.

"It is white," said the jeweller, "but not, I am sure, a diamond--reset
it would look very handsome, perhaps in the center of a tiara or on a
corsage ornament--"

"How much? I am in a hurry."

M. Colcombet, who felt rather embarrassed and confused, stammered:

"Two thousand francs, Monsieur."

"It is worth far more, but I was not born to bargain--give me the
money."

As Rudolph flung down the ring he disarranged the black cloth over the
show case and revealed a set of pearl and diamond ornaments in cases of
pale blue satin.

"It is the wedding parure of the Comtesse Louise," said M. Colcombet as
he counted out the notes from his pocket-book; Rudolph took up the money
and passed out into the street that, when the shutters were all up in
front of the shops, was lit only by the light of the rising moon; the
small dark clouds had now disappeared and the sky was pale and pure.

The student returned in a melancholy, bitter mood to his lodgings;
although he had two thousand francs in his pocket he felt poorer than
when he had been in possession of the beryl ring.

The mention of the Comtesse Louise had considerably vexed him; how he
detested that proud girl with her little sneering mouth and large,
slightly prominent blue eyes! He had several times seen her driving in
the town, and once he had come face to face with her in a bookshop where
she was buying foolish novels and he was trying to sell some Aldine
volumes with superb sepia-colored initials; on that occasion he had held
open the door for her, and she had passed him with the most icy of
unspoken rebukes in her lofty carriage and set sweetness of glance.

He had, however, seen her leaning on the arm of Saint Luc, that
ostentatious dandy who spent more in a year on his trousers and _gilets_
than the whole of Rudolph's annual income.

Hatred and another dark emotion that was almost despair inspired the
student with a diabolic plan; absenting himself from all classes and
lectures he devoted all his time to carrying out precisely the
instructions in the _grimoire_ published at Memphis in 1517.

He made his plans carefully and arranged for his great experiment to
take place on the evening of the wedding day of the Comtesse Louise and
Prince de C----.

First he provided himself with a magic wand by going into the woods and
cutting two twigs, one of hazel and one of elder from trees that had
never borne fruit; at the end of these he placed steel caps magnetized
with a lodestone; then he took from the carpet-bag some ink made from
sprigs of fern gathered on St. John's Eve and vine twigs cut in the
March full moon which had been ground to powder and mingled with river
water in a fair glazed earthen pot; this mixture had been boiled up over
a fire of virgin paper.

Rudolph also possessed a phial of pigeon's blood and a male goose quill
and a bloodstone which possessed the virtue of protecting the wearer
from evil spirits; he had always found this a very necessary precaution.

On the third day of the new moon Rudolph purchased a black cock and a
white cock from the market place and kept them in his garret until
nightfall; he then put the birds in a wicker cage, his paraphernalia in
the carpet-bag, and set out beyond the town, beyond the woods until he
came to an open space that surrounded the ruins of an Abbey reputed to
be haunted by the spirits of monks who had been unfaithful to their
vows.

Here the grass was short and scarred by stones and rocks; an ancient
thorn tree, sacred to heathen deities, stood bleak and twisted by a
small pool. The Gothic windows of the Abbey showed a black framework
against the luminous sky; the bats flew in and out of the crisp, dark
ivy; several noxious fungi grew round the pool, which was covered by a
dull red floating weed so that it did not reflect any light.

Rudolph had often visited this place before; it was exactly what the
_grimoires_ said was required for infernal rites--"a desolate spot free
from interruptions."

With mutterings to himself, while the sweat gathered on his high, pallid
brow, the student made the grand Kabbalistic circle. From his carpet-bag
he took out his rods, a goatskin, two garlands of Vervain, two candles
of virgin wax made by a virgin--Jeanette whose meagre charms guaranteed
her chastity--a sword of blue steel, two candle-sticks of massive
silver, two flints, tinder, a flask of _eau-de-vie_, some camphor,
incense, and four nails from the coffin of a child--which last item
Rudolph had paid Pierre, the coffin-maker, very highly for, for it had
been necessary to go to the burial vaults of Saint Jean to obtain them.

With this material Rudolph made his grand circle of goatskin, sprinkling
the incense and camphor in a wheel shape and kindling his fire of wood
(that he fed with the cognac) in the center, then, with his right arm
bared to the shoulder, he sacrificed the two cocks, burning them on the
fire while he muttered his evocations.

The bats and owls fled from the ruins, the moon veiled in the sky, the
earth shook, the red scum of weeds on the lake became agitated; Rudolph
pressed the bloodstone to his cheek and muttered an even more powerful
spell.

The water was troubled furiously and a lovely boy rose to the surface of
the lake and in a pleasant voice demanded of the student what he wished.

Rudolph was not deceived by this civility; he knew that the apparition
was Lucifer himself, the most violent of the evil spirits who would tear
the celebrant to pieces if he were to step out of the circle or to drop
his bloodstone. Astaroth came, Rudolph was well aware, in the shape of a
black and white ass, Beelzebub in hideous disguises, Belial seated in a
flaming chariot, and Beleth on a white horse preceded by a company of
musicians.

"What is your will?" asked Lucifer gently, but puffing out his red
cheeks with rage.

"Monsieur," said the student respectfully, "I am about--at the end of
the month, to be exact--to make a great experiment, that described on
page twenty-three of the _Grimoire_ of Alibeck the magician, published at
Memphis in 1517."

"A rare edition," remarked Lucifer. "You were fortunate to find it."

While he spoke he was carefully watching to see if the student made the
least mistake, so that he might seize him and pull him to shreds, but
Rudolph was prudent and kept well within the center of the magic circle
with the bloodstone pressed to his cheek.

"I want to know, Monsieur, if you will assure me that the experiment
will be successful?"

"You seem to know a few tricks," smiled the fiend. "No doubt, if you
will fulfil all the requirements given in the _grimoire_, the experiment
will be successful. You will take the consequences, of course."

"If I can have four strangers in my room to do my bidding, discover a
hidden treasure, become a famous poet and lucky at cards, I shall
require nothing more," sneered Rudolph, who even when talking to a devil
could not for long maintain a submissive tone.

"All that you shall have," promised the lovely child in a sweet voice,
but his pretty little eyes were sparkling with fury at this insolence.

"I ask no more!" cried Rudolph, shaking his magic hazel wand at the
lake. "Foul fiend begone!"

With a dreadful hiss the boy sank into the lake, the red weed closed
over the place where he had been, the moon came to a standstill in the
sky, the bats and owls flew back to the ruins, and the student stepped
out of the magic circle and began to pack away his materials into the
carpet-bag.

When he returned through the town he heard the violinists above the
music shop of M. Kuhn practicing for the wedding festivities of the
Comtesse Louise.


As the time drew near for the great experiment Rudolph made his final
preparations; these had cost him nearly all the money he had received
for the beryl ring and the suspicious looks of his fellow students.

He had paid his rent and given Jeanette a present to bribe her to sweep
and clean out his chamber so that no dirt remained anywhere; he had then
perfumed it with mastic and aloes and hung clean white curtains at the
window, furnished the bed with fair linen, woollen coverlets and a
mattress of goose down.

He bought also a table and four chairs of plain white wood, four
platters of white damask. To rid himself of the curiosity of Jeanette he
declared that these preparations were for a visit from his mother and
two sisters that he was expecting.

For three days before the date fixed for the wedding of the Comtesse
Louise, Rudolph fasted and looked to his room, making sure that there
were no hangings, nor indeed any objects, set crosswise, that no clothes
were on pegs, that there was not a bird-cage in any corner of the room,
and that everything was scrupulously clean.

On the evening of the great day itself the student set his four chairs
round his table, placed out on the fair damask cloth the four platters
with a wheaten loaf on each, and the four glass beakers full of clear
water. Beside his bed he set his old armchair, and the windows he opened
wide onto the moonlit night.

In the center of the table he placed a shaker of goatskin, three black
and one white bean, then, everything being in readiness, he cast himself
on his knees and uttered the powerful conjuration given in page
twenty-three of the _grimoire_ of Alibeck. Then he lay down on his bed,
wearing a handsome chamber-robe that he had bought for the occasion.

He heard the church clock strike midnight, and then the moonlight in the
attic began to quiver a little and Professor Lachaud floated in through
the open window, not moving his feet nor looking to right nor left, but
stiffly passing along; taking no heed of Rudolph, the dry little _savant_
seated himself at the table and gazed in front of him through his
silver-rimmed spectacles.

The next arrival was the banker, M. Lecoine; with an expression of
surprise on his chubby face he floated in from the outer moonlight, a
table napkin tucked under his chin and a pen in his hand; without
speaking he seated himself opposite Lachaud. Almost at once the window
was darkened again as M. Saint Luc appeared wearing a fashionable
evening costume with a superb _gilet_ of sky-blue _moiré anglaise_, in
silence he occupied the third place at the table.

Rudolph felt ill with excitement; the white curtains blew out in the
moonlight and a lady all in white entered--the Comtesse Louise, or
rather the Princesse de C----, in her bridal gown of silver and satin
with her wreath of myrtle and her parure of diamonds and pearls; on the
thumb of her right hand was the beryl ring.

She took the fourth place at the table and the four strangers began to
eat and drink; their movements were stiff and jerky like those of
automata, and they were silent, without seeming to notice anything.

"One remains behind," whispered Rudolph from the bed. "One remains
behind."

The four strangers ate the wheaten loaves to the last crumb and drank
the crystal water to the last drop; then the professor took up the
goatskin shaker and put inside it the three black and one white bean, so
that they might draw lots as to who should stay behind.

It was the lady who took out the white bean; the three men then rose
and, still in silence, floated out of the window one after the other,
the professor's robe, the youth's frac coat and the banker's napkin
fluttering for a second in the night breeze as they disappeared into the
moonlight.

The Comtesse Louise then rose, and crossing the room without moving her
feet, seated herself in the armchair beside Rudolph's bed. There were
many things that the student would have liked to have asked the bride,
but he remembered the danger of deviating from the formula of Alibeck,
so he said:

"Confer on me luck at cards."

She slipped the beryl ring off her thumb, handed it to him and replied:

"As long as you wear this you shall have luck at cards."

"Confer on me the gift of fame."

"You shall be the most famous poet alive."

The lady answered clearly and promptly, but she ignored Rudolph as
utterly as she had ignored him when she had met him in the bookshop or
the street; this angered him and he made his third demand very
haughtily:

"Reveal to me some hidden treasure."

She rose.

"Come with me."

The student left his bed and followed her out of the window, walking on
the air as if it had been curdling foam with firm sand beneath it. They
passed over the house-tops, Rudolph in his bedgown that floated out
behind him and his pearl-grey trousers, the lady in her bridal dress and
the long veil that billowed into the moonlight until it seemed part of
the silver vapor of night.

When they reached the market square the lady descended like a ray of
light and paused before the great iron-studded door of the Church; when
she saw that Rudolph was behind her, she passed through the door, and
the student found no difficulty in doing the same.

The Church was cold and dim; as these two entered all the lamps before
the shrines burnt very low, but the spell held.

The Comtesse Louise paused on a gravestone in the chancel; it sunk
beneath her, and Rudolph, who was close behind, descended with her to
the vaults.

Here the only light was that which emanated from the brilliant figure of
the bride, who hovered over the rows of coffins like a will-o'-the-wisp.

Over one of these that was covered with a rotting pall cloth she hung
motionless, and her voice, hollow as an echo in a shell, broke the
silence of the vault.

"Here is your treasure."

Rudolph wrenched at the wooden wooden coffin lid, then at the leaden
shell beneath, and found that both came away like paper in his hands;
the supernatural light cast by the Comtesse Louise enabled him to see a
skeleton, livid with the hues of decay, lying in a tattered shroud;
under the skull was a cluster of diamonds and sapphires arranged like a
pillow; these had been enclosed in a silken case which had frayed to a
few faded threads.

The student despoiled the coffin, filling the pockets of his _robe de
chambre_, of his waistcoat and trousers with the gems. When he had
grubbed up the last of the jewels he harshly told the lady to lead him
back to his garret.

She instantly rose through the stone floor of the Church and passed down
the aisle, through the wooden door and into the public square; without
moving her feet, without speaking, without glancing to right or left,
she led him over the roofs to his garret.

Rudolph did not think of her at all until he had packed all the jewels
into his carpet-bag and hair-cord trunk; then he looked at her standing
immobile in her wedding splendor, gazing in front of her with her blue,
slightly prominent eyes, and he felt a twinge of compassion for her.

"You may return to your bridegroom," he said disdainfully.

She did not, however, move, and Rudolph could not recall what the
formula of dismissal was in this conjuration.

He searched in the _grimoire_ and could find nothing on this point: "One
remains behind" was all that was written in the instructions.

The student did not greatly concern himself about this, however; he felt
very drowsy and cast himself on his bed. "No doubt she will be gone in
the morning."


When Rudolph awoke the sun was bright in his room and Jeanette was at
his bedside with coffee and rolls; on the tray was a letter with the
Parisian postmark.

The student tore the envelope open and found inside an enthusiastic
letter from a publisher to whom he had submitted his poems a year ago.
This gentleman had, it seemed, printed the poems without telling the
author, and the thin volume had been a _succès fou_. "You are acclaimed
as the greatest poet of the century, far beyond Lamartine or Byron."

Rudolph sprang out of bed in an excess of joy, which was checked however
when he saw the bride still standing where he had left her last night,
erect by the table staring in front of her with her blue, slightly
prominent eyes.

He now perceived that she was as transparent as the lace that she wore
and that she looked as if sketched with white chalk on the dark
background of the room; he saw also that she was perceptible to himself
only, since Jeanette had not only taken no notice of her, but, in
leaving the room, had walked right through her. Rudolph then realized
that the four strangers had been spectres or phantoms, not, as he had
thought, the human beings themselves.

He felt that he had humiliated the lady sufficiently--besides, he was
becoming bored with her company; so he again commanded her to depart,
and, when she took no heed of him, he once more consulted the
_grimoire_. This authorative work, however, had one serious defect--it
offered no advice on how to be rid of spirits, ghosts, wraiths or
supernatural appearances that had outstayed their welcome.

Rudolph was however too excited and too anxious to put his good fortune
to the test to concern himself very much about the phantasm that had
already done him such good service.

"Pray please yourself, Madame la Princesse," he said with a sarcastic
bow, and hastened into the street, the lady floating behind him with
feet that were motionless and with a fixed gaze.

As he passed the University the student saw a knot of his fellows
gathered round the steps. One of them hailed him:

"Rudolph, have you heard the news?"

"About the success of my poems?" asked the student haughtily.

"Your poems? No, indeed--poor Professor Lachaud died suddenly last
night. He was shut up in his library to study as usual, and this morning
he was found stiff in his chair!"

Rudolph passed on in silence; he felt rather disturbed.

M. Colcombet and some friends were gossiping outside his shop.

"Oh, M. Rudolph, have you heard, what a dreadful tragedy? Last night,
just as the bride--the Comtesse Louise--was being conducted to the
bridal chamber, she fell down dead! Yes, dead as a stone! And what do
you think, at the same moment one of the guests, M. Saint Luc, had a
stroke of apoplexy, and he too fell dead, with a glass of champagne in
his hand!"

Rudolph looked over his shoulder at the phantom, that gazed ahead
serenely; he though--"the _grimoire_ did not state that the spell
would cause the death of the four strangers. But perhaps if it had I
should not have hesitated."

As he passed the Bank he saw the black shutters being put up; in the
doorway were clerks fastening black bands to their arms. "Someone dead?"
asked Rudolph drily.

"M. Lecoine himself! He retired to his counting-house, as he always does
on Friday evenings, at ten minutes to twelve--old Auguste took him in
his cup of soup, and he was alive then--this morning he was dead in his
chair, with his napkin under his chin and his empty cup on his desk!"

"What a number of deaths in this town!" remarked Rudolph sarcastically.
"I hope that it isn't the plague!"

Although at first he had been shocked to learn of the dreadful results
of his spell, he soon consoled himself; the four dead people were all
detestable--perhaps one might be a little sorry for the bride, until one
remembered how cold and haughty she had been, how insulting with her icy
looks.

No, everything was as it should be; the only difficulty was how to be
rid of this phantom that followed him so closely--"One remains behind."

"Eh, well," thought Rudolph, "no one can see her but myself, and no
doubt she will soon tire of following me about or I shall be able to
find a spell to dismiss her."

So, being strong-minded as well as hard-hearted, he contrived to forget
the filmy-white shape that was the dead bride, and that never left him,
day or night. Everywhere that he went she accompanied him, and when he
returned home in the evenings she seated herself by his bed in the worn
armchair.

The phantom was the last thing he saw at night, the first thing he saw
in the morning, and though he searched his whole library through he
could not discover any spell to be rid of her; he was also debarred from
any magical ceremonies, divinations or conjurations, for it is
well-known that the company of a ghost is fatal on these occasions.

His good fortune, however, prevented him from troubling much about this
inconvenience; not only had he the treasure taken from the vaults of
Saint Jean, but his fame as a poet spread over the entire country, and
he found that whenever he played at cards, when wearing the beryl ring
he was lucky, so that his winnings at play afforded him a considerable
income.

He soon moved to Paris, where he became the center of a crowd of
admirers; all the ladies were singing his verses to harps or guitars,
all the gentlemen copied his waistcoats and the manner in which he
tossed his long black hair off his pallid brow.

The student now enjoyed almost everything that he had ever wished for;
he had a handsome apartment, liveried servants, a smart _phaeton_--but
he had no mistress.

All the women adored him, but if he tried to make love to any one of
them, she seemed repelled, frightened, and always ended by running away.

Rudolph cursed and wished that he had asked for luck in love instead of
luck in cards, for the sale of the treasure trove would supply him with
all the money he needed. He knew why the women avoided even the
slightest intimacy with him--they could not perceive the ghost of the
bride, but they felt it, a miasma of death that killed their rising
passion, a bitter chill that cooled their warm hearts and withered the
kisses on their lips.

The student used all the arts at his command in the hope of destroying
the phantom, but nothing was of any avail; sometimes she was so pale as
to be scarcely visible, sometimes she was as solid as a living woman;
but she was always there and Rudolph's nerves began to quiver every time
he looked over his shoulder--"One remains behind" he would mutter,
gazing up into her glassy eyes. He tried to argue out the matter with
her, to appeal to her compassion, even to make love to her, but she
never took any more notice of him than she had taken when she had passed
him in the bookshop or in the streets of the University town.

There were other flaws in the student's good fortune; his publisher
continually implored him to write some more poems.

"You know there are only ten poems in that little volume, and everyone
in France knows them by heart! Soon people will begin to say that you
are incapable of writing anything else!"

This was precisely what had happened; whenever Rudolph sat down to
write, the spectre of the bride glided round to the other side of the
table, and seated there, stared at him with her blue, slightly prominent
eyes, and while she gazed at him he found it impossible to compose a
single line.

With relief he remembered the sheaves of paper, all covered by verses,
that he had, in his excitement, left behind in his garret, so he wrote
to Jeanette telling her to send them at once. The girl had, however,
used the papers to light the kitchen fire, and the student uttered a
bitter malediction when he received the ill-spelt letter in which she
gave him this news.

Gradually his popularity waned; the Parisians became tired of his ten
poems, of his gloomy, preoccupied airs, and began to laugh at his
failures in love. He was too successful at cards, and so found himself
avoided, not only at the gambling parties in private houses, but even at
the halls in the _Palais Royal_.

One morning he was seated over his coffee pondering how he should be rid
of the phantom when his eye caught a line in the _Gazette_ that his
English valet had left on the table beside his service of coffee, rolls
and fruit.

In the University town of S---- a horrible outrage had been discovered;
a sacrilegious robbery had been committed in the Church of Saint Jean--a
tomb had been broken open and a vast treasure was stolen.

The student read this account with a good deal of interest.

"I never heard any of this," he commented bitterly, "when I was in that
detestable town."

The ancient Church, it seemed, possessed a vast treasure, largely
consisting of offerings at the miraculous shrine of Ste. Pelagie, which
had been hidden in the coffin of that saint during the dangers of the
late revolutions; all record of this had been lost, and for a generation
people had searched in vain for the hidden treasure; then a paper found
in the sacristy had given them the clue and the coffin with the gems had
been discovered.

They had been left there while the Bishop was consulted as to the
propriety of moving them; His Grace had not only given his consent to
this, but had come in person to see this remarkable discovery--only to
learn that the jewels had been stolen by thieves who had broken into the
vault. At first the police had kept the matter hushed up in order that
they might pursue their investigations more at ease, now they decided to
make the matter public.

"Ah, Madame!" cried Rudolph, addressing the phantom that hovered over
his breakfast table. "You have deceived me grossly!"

He morosely decided to leave Paris. The jewels might be traced and he
did not dare to try to sell those that he had left; on consulting with
his major-domo he found that he was short of money--he had been living
most extravagantly, spending thousands of francs on horses, dogs,
furniture, pictures and other things that he did not care for in the
least.

So in order to raise the money for his travelling expenses, he put on
the beryl ring and went to one of the worst gambling dives in Paris
where accomplished gamblers nightly stripped newcomers to the capital.

Rudolph entered this den of vice. As he threw off his long black cloak
there was a murmur of admiration for his superb blue _gilet_ in _moiré
anglaise_.

He was not, however, very welcome even in that dreadful place, for even
these hardened gamblers, coarsened by debauchery, felt uneasy in his
presence; the phantom spread a chill about her that surrounded Rudolph
like a cold sea mist and caused those who came near him to shiver. These
scoundrels, however, could not for long resist the lure of the piles of
gold that the student flung down on the long green baize table--these
represented the last remnants of his ready money, the rest of his
fortune was contained in the stolen treasure that he dare not dispose of
in France.

When he had been playing and winning for an hour, a huge pile of gold
pieces was massed in front of him, and hellish looks of black hatred
were cast on him by the _habitués_ of the gambling dive.

Rudolph felt depressed and took little pleasure in his fortune, that was
more than sufficient to take him to Vienna or Rome or some other city
where he could sell the stolen gems; his head ached and the flames of
the ring of candles above the table seemed to penetrate his brain like
hot nails, all the vicious, greedy faces sneering about him seemed to
float detached from their bodies in the thick, foul air.

The phantom of the bride had become quite solid; it seemed impossible to
Rudolph that she was invisible to the company as she hovered over the
piles of dirty cards, her wedding splendor floating about her like a
cloud of moonshine.

"Madame," he said between his teeth, "have the goodness to leave
me--this is not a fit place for a gentlewoman. But, if you do not cease
plaguing me, I shall take you to worse--"

"What are you muttering?" asked his companion, a stout man whose face
was covered by carbuncles and whose breath was hot as flame.

"Oh, nothing, I was merely counting my winnings," sneered Rudolph with
his hands over the pile of gold.

"Pray," said he of the carbuncles, "have another cast of the dice with
this young gentleman," and he nudged the student in the ribs to let him
know that here was another pigeon to be plucked.

Rudolph saw a spruce youth with a baby face bowing before him, and he
thought: "This is a fool fresh from college, he reminds me of Saint Luc.
I may as well have his money."

So he agreed to play with the young stranger, who had a pleasant lisping
voice, a cheek as smooth as a girl's and slightly reddened eyes.

"Surely," thought the student, "I have seen him before." He was
tormented by this likeness to someone whom he had once known and so did
not observe that the bride had made a movement for the first time since
she had followed him; always she had moved through the air in one piece,
like a floating statue, now she leaned forward and drew from his finger
the beryl ring.

The student played carelessly, certain of his luck, and lost all his
winnings to the youth with the baby face.

"Ah!" he shrieked, "I have been deceived!"

He stared closer at the young man who was gathering up the gold; now he
recognized him--it was Lucifer who had appeared to him on the weed
covered pond outside the ruined abbey.

With a yell echoed in the mocking laughter of the gamblers, Rudolph
rushed into the street, the bride floating after him, the great beryl
glittering on her pale finger.

When the student reached his luxurious apartment he found that the
police were in possession; the stolen jewels had been traced to him. His
publisher was also waiting for him in the antechamber.

"You are a cheat as well as thief, M. Rudolph," he declared severely. "I
do not believe that you wrote those poems, or you would be able to write
others. Ah, he could rob a church, the dead, is capable of anything!
Tomorrow I shall publish a statement in the Gazette to the effect that
you are not the author of the poems, and you will be the laughing stock
of Paris!"

Rudolph did not stay to hear these indignant words; he fled out into the
night with the _agents de police_ lumbering after him, and reeling along
under the moon that shone above the house-tops, reached the river that
dark as ink flowed between houses white as paper.

The phantom pressed close to the student, like a cold fog in his lungs.
For the first time she spoke:

"You cannot complain. All the promises in the _grimoire_ have been
fulfilled."

"Do not let us, Madame, waste words," replied Rudolph. "Will you return
me my beryl ring?"

"Never!"

"Will you leave me?"

"Never! One remains behind!"

The student then perceived that he had come to the end of his story; he
jumped into the river. As he sank he raised his top hat and said
politely:

"Goodbye, Madame la Princesse de C----."

The phantom remained hovering over the spot where he had disappeared,
then slowly dissolved into air, her pearls and diamonds turning into
drops of rain, her veils and laces into wisps of vapor, the beryl ring
being caught up into a shaft of moonshine.

This romantic suicide made Rudolph very popular again in Paris; it was
believed that he had written the poems after all, and the fashionable
color for that season became a faded green named _vert Rudolph_. The
police became disliked for their hasty action in raiding the apartments
of the sensitive poet, for it was discovered that the so-called gems in
his possession were mere paste and had nothing to do with the treasure
trove in the vaults of Saint Jean.

M. Dufours travelled to Paris and bought back the _grimoire_ from the
sale of Rudolph's effects and returned it to the shelf at the back of
his shop where it soon became again covered with dust.



THE HOUSE BY THE POPPY FIELD


When Maitland first saw the house the poppies were in full bloom; he had
never before seen so many blooming together; the field was a sheet of
scarlet flecked with green, right up to the hedge of unclipped yew that
divided the garden from the pasture land; also large mauve poppies with
a deep stain at the base of each petal rose from the long parterres at
the side of the lawn; the property was in tolerable condition but had
the melancholy air of a place for long not lived in and only
superficially cared for by tired indifferent hands.

Maitland had inherited Bothal from a distant relative who for years had
left the estate in the charge of an estate agent and a caretaker, and
Maitland now past middle age had himself lived a wandering eccentric
life; a solitary man, therefore, gazed at a solitary house; a shade
passed over his lined face, cast by the cloud that sailed over the poppy
field and gave a darker hue to the waving flowers.

Bothal, built in a Jacobean Baroque style, had three ornate gables, in
each of which was set a classic bust of yellow stone; the windows were
handsomely finished with stone facings that showed richly against the
warm purplish pink of the bricks; round the lower windows and over the
white classic porch grew a tangle of small shell-tinted roses; the cloud
passed and the sun was brightly over the empty house, the poppy field,
the garden where Maitland stood alone.

As he gazed at the roses against the brick, the blank windows, the
closed door, an unutterable nostalgia shook him; what was he regretting,
what seeking?

He had pursued his chimera in many parts of the world and never felt so
near her hidden presence as now; he glanced at the keys in his hand; "Of
course I shall sell," he had told the agent, "the place is much too
large and uncouth for me."

And for most people, the agent had hinted; Bothal had been untouched for
a good many years, it was not, in any sense of the word, modernized--a
desirable, but not a saleable property, though a pretty piece of period
architecture, the man of business had said.

Maitland passed under the porch; again the shadow glided over the poppy
field, the house, again the cloud passed rapidly and the sun again drew
up the hot scent of the box hedge.

The new owner turned the key and entered his mansion; his ancestors had
lived there, generation after generation, long before, but Maitland had
no sense of coming home; everything seemed strange, yet he was filled by
an inexplicable yearning.

Everything within the house was swept and dusted, but this neatness
seemed only to accentuate the desolation; the place had not the air of
being left to gradual ruin, but rather appeared as if it were being kept
trim for someone who would never return, or was very long away. This sad
expectancy had to Maitland a deeper sadness than the utter abandonment
of hope. The walls of the first room that he entered were, in the
fashion of a bygone day, stretched with canvas that was painted with
sombre landscapes of purple rocks, shadowed streams, storms blowing up
against lonely places and plains strewn with broken pillars. Maitland
opened the shutters; as the sunshine streamed into the loneliness, he
winced.

"People should not leave houses standing when they no longer intend
living in them," he muttered to himself. "No, every house that is not
inhabited should be pulled down."

Yet he would not have said that the place was haunted; it seemed,
indeed, intolerably empty even of ghosts; it was that air of waiting
that Maitland found so unendurable--waiting for what, for whom?

He walked through all the rooms on the ground floor; they were clean and
the house had been kept well repaired; there were no marks of damp or
rats, of spiders or decay; the window panes were bright and here and
there were some pieces of furniture, a settee covered in red rep, a pair
of embroidered chairs protected by canvas covers, a glass-fronted case
in which stood rows of leather-backed, polished books, a table or two, a
couple of andirons in front of the marble mantlepiece--all as if someone
had moved out yesterday or was moving in tomorrow. Maitland went
upstairs to the top of the house; in the front was a long gallery, with
a sloping floor, and a dais for musicians; this was completely bare; the
walls had been painted, on the plaster, with an Italian scene, now
utterly faded; only here and there could be discerned the misty azure of
a mountain or a lake; the windows were those of the gables; they had
deep box seats of mellow colored wood and were unshuttered, through them
streamed the sunlight, yellow and rich as rum honey; Maitland felt that
if he put his fingers in it and then tasted them, he would savor the
sweetness of the entire summer; the back of the house was divided into
two large bedrooms; in each was an old-fashioned bed with mattress,
tester and coverlet in good repair; the curtains, of thick woollen
material strewn with balls of camphor, were lying on the beds.

Maitland opened the window in the slightly large room; he looked onto
the field of poppies that encircled the house at the back; here the
boundaries of the garden had been broken down and the wild flowers had
flowed into what had been the lawn; Maitland thought that he could
detect a perfume, like the acrid whiff of a narcotic, on the air.

He thought, "Why should I not stay here for a while? There is nothing
for me to do, no one waiting for me."

It seemed, as if a voice breathed over his shoulder--"no one?" with that
rise at the end of the sentence that means a question.

Maitland turned and looked about the room, so neat, so clean, so empty;
he felt a mingling of the eternal pangs that torment humanity--a
nostalgia for a lost childhood, a yearning to escape life through death,
the eager desire for the dreamless sleep.

"Why not stay?" he mused. "Here one could collect one's thoughts,
perhaps write some of them down,--perhaps--who knows?--find a clue to
the meaning of some of it."

He left the house doors and windows open to the sunlight and went to the
lodge at the other end of the park, where the caretaker and his wife
lived; after complimenting them on the good condition of Bothal, he told
them of his intention of staying there a few days and they came back
with him, bringing a few necessaries, bed linen, blankets, a lamp,
candles and cutlery; Maitland then asked the man to go down to the inn
and order his sparse luggage to be sent up to Bothal.

A few adjustments soon made the bedroom habitable; there was water to be
obtained by using a pump in the kitchen, for the rest Bothal was without
"conveniences."

"Old-fashioned, as you might say," apologized the caretaker; "but there,
no one has lived in the house for so long, and all say it would cost
more than the place is worth to put in improvements, though I say that
you'd hardly know it with electric light and steam heating, not to
mention bathrooms and a telephone."

"A wonder," remarked Maitland, "that it hasn't by now, got the
reputation of being haunted--but you have kept it very neat and clean
and let in the light every day."

"We've done our best, sir. I won't say but that the garden has got out
of hand--it would take more than the labor that we're allowed to keep
all that land in order."

"The poppies," smiled Maitland. "They have rather overrun the place."

"I've never seen so many of them as there are this year."

"And you've never heard of any ghost stories? They are usual in a place
like this."

The caretaker's wife answered cheerfully.

"There was an old man who used to work in the garden when we first came,
sir, he said there were tales of the shade of a little black boy that
used to haunt the long gallery--but we've never seen nor heard anything,
and I don't, for my part, think that the old fellow knew what he was
talking about."

"Quite likely. I see there are no portraits in the place--no personal
relics."

"No, sir, old Mr. Maitland used to come on rare occasions, sir, in a big
grey car, and take away all the pictures, and things like that."

"Do you remember any of them? The pictures I mean."

"No, sir," the caretaker replied, but his wife was more expansive, she
remembered and described vaguely a portrait that used to hang in the top
bedroom that Maitland had now chosen as his own--the likeness of a young
man she said it was, in old-fashioned clothes and holding a strange
instrument.


It was astonishing how little light either the candles or the lamp gave
in the large rooms; Maitland crossed the gallery carrying a single
candle and found that he lit only shadows; even in his own, smaller
room, the gentle flame was but a faint glow in the twilight. This did
not trouble him; it would be long before it was dark and he was quite
willing to sleep as soon as that came; the bed with the clean sheets and
blankets, and the thick woollen curtains hooked up to the tester, looked
comfortable; his own possessions, scattering out of the open valises,
gave the room a homely look; he extinguished the candle and sat in the
dusk, gazing out onto the field of poppies; when all color else had gone
from the scene, blended in one azure, the scarlet of these flowers
burned through the twilight; over the landscape brooded, Maitland
thought, an air of expectancy similar to that which filled the empty
house. Surely some narcotic was really rising now from the poppies, he
felt drowsy, as if with every breath he drew in oblivion.

At first the stillness was complete; Maitland considered with a quiet
pleasure how far he was from any other human being--the lodge must be a
quarter of a mile away; he was enclosed in the deserted park land and
fields that belonged to Bothal.

There was a faint disturbance of the silence, a sound familiar to
Maitland, yet one that at first he could not name, touched his ear--a
gentle swishing, to and fro--was it a trail of creeper, eglantine or
convolvulus tapping against a pane of glass?

No--Maitland listened and peered; ah, now he knew what the sound was,
someone cutting grass, a man with a scythe. The figure shaped itself out
of the formless shadows that were gathering over the poppy fields; a man
bending to a scythe cutting the thick, tall, flowered grass that grew at
the edge of the poppies, now moving to the slow regular strokes, now
pausing to draw the curved blade over the whetstone.

"How late he is," thought Maitland. "That must be the old gardener whom
the caretaker spoke of--after all I suppose it is light enough for
another hour--what a soothing sound it is--the swish of the scythe, how
drowsy the scent of the poppies."

Maitland sighed, left his window and went downstairs--"the old fellow
ought to be able to tell me quite a good deal about the place."

He left the house by one of the french windows that opened onto the back
and stepped directly into the tangle of sun-dried grass that grew
thickly round the brick wall; the sound of the scythe was louder in his
ears but at first he could not see the mower and when he did discern
him, on the verge of the poppy field, the old man seemed no more than
the thickening of the shadows into a vague shape.

The scene was intangible and dim to Maitland, as if he had, he thought,
returned from another world to visit this summer evening--a glimpse from
his youth, long since lost.

"That is it," he whispered with some satisfaction, "forward to escape by
death--backward to escape by dreams of a childhood that never was."

He approached the mower who did not look up from his task. "You work
very steadily," Maitland said to the stooping man. "It grows late."

The mower did not answer; the long swathes of grass fell at his feet and
their perfume was stronger than that of the poppies; an echo cast back
by the brick wall of the house gave the words--"it grows late."

Maitland turned away; feeling light-footed and drowsy, he passed round
the poppy field, wandered through a grove of trees beyond and found
himself in a meadow that dipped to a hollow.

In the hollow stood a small church surrounded by a graveyard; Maitland
supposed that it had once belonged to Bothal, but that now it served the
scattered parish.

The grass grew thick over the graves; some dark grey crosses slanted
forward and sideways; yew trees cast a dense shade; the moon floated
above the squat Norman tower to which dark trails of ivy clung. Maitland
stood in a vague meditation; he was thinking, not of his surrounding,
but of the room waiting for him, the window open on the poppy field
where the mower worked in silence, the bare neat house with its air of
expectancy, the clean bed clothes piled beneath the faded curtains. He
left the little graveyard and passed beyond the church where there was a
piece of ground surrounded by a low wall of roughly shaped stones; in
the far angle of this wall rose a tall, twisted thorn tree. The
moonlight cast its crooked shadow across a solitary stone grave.

"Why," mused Maitland, "does he lie so lonely--away from all the
others?" He vaulted the wall and stood by the long, worn stone, the
shadow of the thorn now lay over his own body.

There was no name on the grave; deep into the dark stone was cut the
rude semblance of a curious instrument, something like, Maitland
thought, a pair of compasses with an odd attachment, set in a pentacle.

As he gazed at this he was aware that someone was standing close beside
him, for he saw another shadow on the thick grass. He looked up and
beheld a shabby stranger with a book under his arm.

"I see that you take an interest in the antiquities of this
neighborhood, sir."

Maitland, annoyed at the intrusion, replied dryly:

"Not any particular interest."

"This grave is, at least, interesting. You know, of course, that this
ground is not consecrated?"

"I guessed it. This is a suicide?"

"I don't know. He was one of the owners of Bothal--in fact, the last
that lived there--they say--"

"Ah, the usual proviso!" smiled Maitland. "They say these old stories!"

"His name was John Maitland, you can see it in the church register."

Maitland still smiled; odd to stand over the grave of his namesake. "He
lived a hundred years ago and investigated the supernatural," said the
stranger, moving beside the grave with a noiseless step. "I see that
some weeds and thistles are growing here, a pity."

"Do you know any more of him?" asked Maitland; he too noticed tall
plants that at first he had not observed, flags and spikes that the
moonlight traced in dark shadows over the rough cutting of the
instrument.

"He frequently tried to raise spirits," said the stranger, "and one
night when he was drunk and goaded by a crowd of roisterers whom he had
up at Bothal, he came here--to the churchyard and set his spells to
raise the dead. He said he would have a bride from the grave. There was
a girl buried here, she died two hundred years before--one of his own
name, Joan Maitland. The fool said that he would have her or no other."

"Why fool?" asked Maitland. "It is delicious to be in love with the
dead--yes, of all the manner of loving open to mankind that is, perhaps,
the most beautiful."

"But the man was not content with dreams. He tried to bring back the
dead. He invited Death to his house--to share his bed and board."

"And the invitation was accepted?" asked Maitland, watching the crooked
shadow of a thorn that a light wind was waving to and fro across the
rough stone of the grave.

"They treated it as a jest, of course, and they laughed very loudly when
nothing happened after the incantation, but when they had returned to
Bothal and were at their drink again one came to the door and beckoned
Maitland away--they thought that she was one of his mortal fancies, for
she seemed no more in her cotton frock and chaplet of wild flowers--he
died that night and no one has since slept in Bothal and lived."

"So Death," smiled Maitland, "is the guest that the house is waiting
for? 'Swept and garnished,' eh?"

"You may," said the stranger, "believe what you like."

Maitland felt suddenly fatigued; he sat down on the flat stone, and
peering at it, perceived for the first time, that it bore his name along
the rude cut of the unholy instrument, "John Maitland"--there was
nothing else, not even a date.

Maitland looked up; the stranger had gone; had he ever been there?

"Where did I hear that story? In my own heart perhaps--yes, it seems to
me that I invented it and that the stranger was but my other self."

He looked round at the church; it seemed small and insignificant, like
an ancient shepherd, with his flock gathered around him--yes, the graves
huddled close to the holy protection; Maitland thought of the church as
full of prayers, hymns, tears and entreaties as a glass is filled with
wine; but all this spiritual comfort and nourishment was shut away from
him; he had seen the church doors, heavy, clamped with iron, barred
against him; he was alone, outside, in the square of unconsecrated
ground with the shadow of the cursed, crooked thorn tree over him; the
moon, rising higher, appeared smaller, like a ball of white fire thrown
into the air--like a silver balloon that Maitland remembered launching
into space when he was a child.

As he mused, gazing at the moon that reminded him of a childish toy, and
seated on the grave that bore his name, he felt that past and present
joined, and that escape by returning to his childhood and by death were
resolved into one deliverance.

When he had been a little boy he had tried to sail his balloon to the
moon that now itself seemed but a toy. The church, the tomb stones, the
low wall, the thorn tree, all appeared now to the brooding man like
phantoms evoked from his own brain, as if a sigh would demolish them, or
a turn of his head change his dream.

He rose and looked around, peering into the angles of the church that
were darkened by shadows.

No, there was nothing there; the place was not haunted--like Bothal--it
was empty, long since deserted.

He left the unhallowed ground and returned to the blessed plot where the
dead who had died in the Lord slept under holy sod; he left the
churchyard and came out into the meadow land; amid the grove of trees
there seemed to be a pale shape, like an altar; he passed between the
slim trunks, but there was nothing but a patch of moonlight in the
center of the trees; Maitland passed through to the meadow land beyond;
he came up out of the hollow and could see Bothal standing clear and
sharp in the moonlight, the gables distinct in every detail of bust and
florid ornament and sway of fruit; silver lay over the poppy field,
subduing the scarlet color to the hue of a faint stain of dried blood;
there were the dark outlines of the box hedges, the dense shape of the
yew tree; Maitland was glad that he was going to sleep in that lonely
house that night. He passed by the poppy field, he skirted the box
hedges, he entered the french windows, found the candle where he had
left it on the table by the bookcase and lit it with the matches in his
pocket.

The clean-swept, handsome room seemed to have lost its air of
expectancy, as if whoever the house had been waiting for had arrived;
Maitland felt satisfied, as if he, too, had come home--to sleep.

He went upstairs, carefully guarding his gentle light with outspread
hand; the paintings on the wall seemed to lengthen into vistas of scenes
that he had once known and was now about to visit again--these lakes,
these hills, these Woods--these roads winding to the horizon.

As he reached the top of the house his sense of expectancy satisfied,
increased; he was now sure that whoever the house was waiting for had
arrived; he looked into the long gallery where the moonlight lay in
squares on the sloping floor, then turned to his bedroom. "The mower has
gone," he thought. "I did not see him--yes, he has gone and no grass
seemed to be cut."

On the threshold of his room stood a shadowy figure with wild flowers in
her hair, a poppy coronal, surely, floating among her tresses. Maitland
blew out his human light, entered his room, moving delicately among the
shadows, lay down on his clean bed and slept.



HALF-PAST TWO


The light had been put out on the stairs. Usually, when he returned late
to spend the night in his rooms, he found it burning. Now he had to make
his way slowly, striking matches as he went up the old dingy enclosed
stairs.

It was a long time since he had spent a night in this house, and he did
not greatly care about doing so. It was an ancient, inconvenient
residence, hidden away in a small square which had been half demolished,
and was hemmed in on either side by massive modern buildings. Only when,
as now, the young man had been detained so late at a dance that he had
missed the last train to his home in the country did he resort to the
expedient of spending the night in this makeshift fashion.

Roger Hoby knew that he would be alone in the house, as he always was
when he spent the night there, with a great many other empty houses to
right and left of him, and there was something in this silence more
oppressive than the silence of the open country--so many buildings
around him, so busy and crowded in the day, at night so empty and
silent; and he blamed the caretaker who had not left the old-fashioned
gas (for there was no electric light in the house) burning on the
stairs. So heavy was the sense of oppression on him that he decided the
next night he had to pass in town would be in a hotel.

He found his own door, opened it, and entered the suite of chambers he
occupied on the second floor, lit the gas in the first room, and passed
into the second, which he used as his architect's office.

It was a hateful, raw, cold and foggy night, and Roger Hoby was
shuddering and shivering from having passed through the bitter, bleak
streets and the damp cold of the dark stairway. He was therefore
pleasantly amazed when he felt the genial warmth that met him as he
opened the second door and saw the room full of all his own familiar and
pleasant possessions, brightly illuminated by the glow of a large fire.

As he had not been there since the afternoon he wondered who could have
made up such a large fire to last until this late hour. The caretaker
was seldom in the building after six; even as Hoby wondered he noticed
that someone was sitting in the large armchair drawn up by the
fireplace--a man whose dark shape appeared to be one with that of the
chair and was outlined against the bright blaze of the coals.

"Hallo!" cried Hoby, considerably startled, and not without an odd creep
of fear in his blood, and more than ordinary amazement.

The figure did not move. One hand was hanging over the edge of the
armchair, and Hoby noticed that it was a peculiarly shaped hand, with
long splay-ended fingers. Roger Hoby, advancing with considerable effort
of will, almost laughed aloud with relief when he saw that the man whom
he had seen sitting before the fire was Durant Love-day, who occupied
the rooms above his own. He was a man with whom Hoby had no more than
the most casual acquaintance, and for whom he did not greatly care. It
was more than odd to find him sitting there at this hour.

"Oh, it's you," said Loveday, and he seemed as relieved to see Hoby as
Hoby had been to see him.

"What do you want?" asked Roger, briefly. "I didn't know you ever spent
the night here. How did you get in?"

"I don't ever spend the night here," replied Durant Loveday, quickly.
"This is the first time I have ever been here late. But then, you see, I
have an appointment."

"An appointment here at this hour?"

"Yes, it sounds peculiar, doesn't it?"

Roger Hoby thought it sounded very peculiar. He wondered that he had
never noticed before that Loveday had such ugly splayed fingers. But
then he had never given him more than the most cursory glance on the
stairs or in the street. He knew nothing at all about the fellow, and he
had never liked the thin dry face, the eyes that were too pale, too
deeply cut and deeply set. All he knew of Loveday was that he also was
an architect and appeared to have an income independent of his work,
which amounted to very little, as far as Hoby knew.

"Well, you didn't make an appointment here, I suppose?" said Hoby,
warming himself before the fire which his uninvited guest had kept so
generously piled with coal.

"No, it was because I decided not to keep my appointment that I came
here," replied the other. "Someone was coming back for me--but I didn't
want to see him."

"How did you get in?"

"I slipped in before your clerk went. I hid, and he went and left me
locked in."

"Did he?" thought Hoby.

"I'm glad you've come back," said Loveday in a confidential tone,
leaning forward from the armchair. "I've been here for hours. I am glad
of your company. I kept on piling up the fire to make a bright light,
but, still, I am glad of your company."

"Well, I can't keep you company," replied Hoby. "I want to go to bed. It
must be two o'clock."

Loveday put up his hand, his thick finger-ends travelled over his thin
lips, and those pale, deep-set eyes gazed at Hoby with an expression
that the young man had never seen in a human face before--one of
absolute terror.

"Why, you're afraid," cried Hoby, involuntarily.

"I've got an appointment," muttered Loveday, "at half-past two."

Hoby went to his cupboard and set out the whisky and soda. "Look here,"
he said, in a voice he tried to make as practical as possible, "you'd
better tell me what this is all about. You seem to have lost your nerve
a bit, haven't you? What are you doing here really--hiding?"

"There's someone coming back to see me at half-past two," cried Loveday;
"someone whom I have been avoiding for years."

"Then, why on earth," asked Hoby, "did you make an appointment with him
in such a place and at such an hour?"

"He forced me," said Loveday, his voice falling to a whimper; "he forced
me to it. You don't know what power he's got over me. I met him in the
street, and then in a restaurant, but that wouldn't do. He would come
here at half-past two. I didn't make the appointment; he did. He told
me, 'Half-past two today, and I'll be there.' He came and went, without
saying anything except, I'll be back at half-past two tonight.'"

"How is he going to get in?" asked Hoby. "I closed the door behind me."

"He forced me to give him the passkey," said Loveday. "He'll get in all
right. But--" his voice dropped to an accent of cunning--"he'll go
upstairs to the offices overhead. He won't think of looking for me here.
And I'm locked in, aren't I?"

"Yes, I shut the door," said Hoby doubtfully. He took a drink and gave
one to Loveday, who, however, refused it. "You had better tell me what
it's all about, hadn't you?"

"It would be a very long story," grinned Loveday. "There's a great deal
in it; in fact, there's everything in it." Then, seeing that Hoby had
taken up some matches, he cried out, "Don't light the gas; he'll know
there's somebody here, then, and he might try to get in."

"But he can't," replied Hoby briefly, "and we're two to one if he does."

"You don't know Stiffkey," said Loveday, still with a grin.

Hoby put down the box of matches. The room was really sufficiently
illuminated by the fire, and it occurred to him that if anyone did come
he would judge by firelight as easily as by gaslight that the room was
occupied. He did not, however, mention this to Loveday. He had come to
his own conclusions about him, the usual conclusions that the ordinary
man comes to when faced with anything peculiar or extraordinary--he
thought that Loveday was ill or out of his mind.

"Well," he remarked soothingly, "you can have a shakedown here all night
if you like. I sleep in the other room. There's a sofa there, too, if
you would like it."

But Loveday said no, he preferred to sit by the fire. He looked at the
clock on the mantelpiece, which now showed ten minutes past two.

No one will come, of course, thought Roger Hoby; the man's been badly
scared by something, and this is the way it's taken him. He imagines an
appointment with an enemy, but no one would come to such a place and at
such a time. Observing again that snarl of terror on Loveday's face, he
was, however, himself slightly affected by fear, and said, "You had
better really tell me something of what it's about if you want me to
stand by you in this you know."

"I robbed Stiffkey," confessed Loveday, "years ago when we were in
Africa. He entrusted me with something of his to sell--stones, and I
brought them over to England and gave them to a jeweller to value, and
then I told him that the jeweller had absconded with them. Of course, I
had sold them and kept the money. That was the beginning of better times
for me. I thought Stiffkey had died in Africa, I didn't hear from him
for years...Hush! What was that?" He paused to listen, and Hoby
listened, too, but there was no sound in the empty house.

"It sounds a pretty rotten sort of trick," said Hoby, drinking his
whisky and soda. "I wonder you care to talk about it."

"There are other things," said Loveday. "We were great enemies, but for
years I haven't seen him. I haven't thought about him until I met him
just the other day, and he insisted on this appointment--'to settle
scores,' he said. I offered him money--a great deal of money--but he
said money wouldn't pay for all those years. Hush! I do think that's his
step on the stairs."

"It isn't," said Hoby impatiently. "There is no sound of anything. It's
too silent." He went to the window. "The fog is quite thick," he added.

"He'll find his way through the fog all right," answered Loveday
faintly. "Fie means to have his vengeance."

"Vengeance?" repeated Hoby. "Do you think he'll come here to revenge
himself on you?"

"Of course," said Loveday, huddling himself together, "he always said
he'd get me in the end."

"Well, I shouldn't have met him in this place and at this time of
night," replied Hoby, trying to speak with more confidence than he felt.
He also found himself straining his ears to catch the possible sound of
a footstep on the stairs, a rap, or a voice at the door. "He would
come," whimpered Loveday. "It's his own fault, he would come. Nothing
else would do for him, and I was in his power, wasn't I? 'I'll be back,'
he said, 'at half-past two tonight.'" Roger Hoby shuddered and drew
nearer to the fire. He didn't want to go to bed, after all; he thought
he'd prefer to sit up with Loveday, not to leave him anyhow until after
half-past two. The clock now showed twenty minutes past that hour.

Hoby had no compassion for him. He had never liked the man, who, on his
own showing, deserved no friendship or respect from anyone--a thief, a
traitor, and a coward. No, Hoby had no compassion for him, but he was
drawn to him by a stronger link than compassion, that of terror. He was
infected by the fear that Loveday gave out--fear that was so definite
that it seemed another personality in the room, and one that had laid
its grip on Hoby, who was seized by this terror that had seized Loveday,
and shuddering and dreading--whoever it was--this Stiffkey, who was
coming at half-past two. So strongly and suddenly did this terror
overwhelm him that he made an impulsive movement towards the clock to
stop the hands. Loveday, watching him, grinned: "I thought of that," he
said, "but it's no use, there are other clocks outside."

"Look here," said Hoby roughly, trying to keep up his own courage, "this
is all nonsense, you know; you're imagining the whole thing; nobody's
coming, and even if they did--"

Loveday interrupted, more by his movement and his clutch on the arm of
the chair, and the look on his face, than by anything he said, though he
did mutter for the third time, "Hush!"

"It sounds like the front door," said Hoby, "opening and closing."

"Can't you hear?" whispered Loveday. "There's someone coming up the
stairs."

"No, I can't," said Hoby roughly.

The clock on the mantelpiece struck half-past two.

"Warmth, warmth!" cried Loveday. "I want to get warm." He pulled his
chair up to the fire, so closely it seemed that he must scorch.

Hoby went into the outer room and listened; that shivering man was
afraid of murder. There certainly was someone coming up the stairs,
slowly and deliberately, as if unhindered by the dark. Hoby, moved by
some unaccountable impulse of dread, saw that his own door was secure,
and then returned to where Loveday crouched lower and lower over the
fire. Hoby could still hear the footsteps, slow and deliberate. Had
Stiffkey come with the purpose of murder? Hoby looked around--he did not
know why--for a weapon, and picked up a heavy stone paperweight, which
had been laid carelessly on the chimney piece to hold down a few odd
papers beside the clock. He found it was wet. He dropped it, and holding
his fingers into the firelight, saw they were red.

"What's this--blood?" cried Hoby.

Loveday began to laugh. "Do you hear a footstep? Half-past two--exactly
to his appointment."

Hoby could hear the footsteps. They had passed the door now. He could
hear them overhead--tramping to and fro. He had struck a match and was
staring at the chimney piece. The papers underneath the paperweight were
splashed and spluttered with red. A thin dark line was running down the
wall. Hoby, looking up, saw that it was coming from a patch on the
plastered ceiling, exactly where it met the wall--a patch that seemed to
be spreading as he looked. Loveday's room was exactly overhead, by the
dark patch on the plaster.

"Up in your room," whispered Hoby, dropping the flaring match.

"Stiffkey," grinned Loveday, staring, "Stiffkey."

"And who else?" whispered Hoby.

"Only Stiffkey," said Loveday.

The steps were again crossing the room overhead, and coming down the
stairs. The two men listened, bending closer together, Loveday farther
and farther leaning towards the fire. The footsteps paused at the outer
door, and there was a sharp rap.

"I won 't let him in," whispered Hoby.

"It doesn't matter whether you do or not," whimpered Loveday. "The door
is open."

"No, I shut the door."

But, even as the young man spoke, he felt a draft of cold outer air.
Driven by panic he went into the outer room. The door, which he was
certain he had closed, stood open on the black staircase. The sound of
footsteps had departed in the direction of Loveday, but he saw no one.
Then he heard Loveday from behind him give a gurgle and a shriek of
incredible anguish, and he did not dare go back to the tire. He knew
that it was useless to do so, that Loveday was dead.


It was quite a long time before he was able to return to the room, light
the gas, and stare at Loveday, rigid in his chair, beneath that red
patch on the ceiling.

Hoby had known that he would be there alone.

The fog was now so thick that even with the gaslight everything looked
dim, monstrous, and misshapen.

Torn by a fearful curiosity, Roger Hoby went up into Loveday's chambers.
They were not locked. Hoby, striking matches, found what he had expected
to find--a dead man lying by the wainscot, who had been battered to
death by the poker which lay beside him. His watch was staring on the
floor beside him--it had stopped at half-past two, which must have been
the hour when Loveday murdered him.

The appointment was for half-past two, but in the afternoon--not in the
night--he had said he would return.

But, who was the other? For whom had Loveday waited all those
hours--first upstairs, and then hiding down in Hoby's room? Stiffkey,
returning to keep his second appointment again, the next time the clock
was at half-past two?



ELSIE'S LONELY AFTERNOON


Elsie was always lonely, but her desolation seemed more poignant when the
day was sunny.

Elsie lived with her grandmother in a large house at Hampstead. She
thought that there could not be, anywhere, a house with more rooms, more
stairs, more quiet and empty.

There were three servants. They lived in the day downstairs in a large
basement, and nightly slept in attics at the top of the house. Both
basement and attics were out of Elsie's reach; she was not allowed to
speak to the servants. There was not, to Elsie's mind, a single thing in
this great house that was cheerful or pleasant. A great many people must
have lived there once, there were so many empty rooms. There was an empty
schoolroom, the inky, tattered lesson-books still on the shelves round
the walls, a globe in one corner, and a tattered map hanging between the
windows, and worn cut desks and benches as if quite a number of children
had once learnt their lessons there.

There was also an empty study, with a huge bookcase with a glass front,
that was always locked; and there was a drawing-room in which no-one ever
sat. The shutters were always closed in this room into which Elsie had
only, just by chance, once peeped. It was full of mirrors with glass
frames and little cabinets lined with quilted silk in which stood china
figures.

Then there was the dining-room, so much too large for Elsie, who had her
dinner and tea there alone on a little cloth laid at one end of the long,
shining mahogany table.

But Grandmamma always had her meals in bed. She suffered from what Elsie
had been told was a 'stroke'. When Elsie asked what that was, her
grandmother replied, 'The hand of God'.

So Elsie thought of God's hand reaching out of heaven into Grandmamma's
large bedroom and stroking her down one side and leaving that dead.

Elsie did not find Grandmamma's bedroom a pleasant place, either. It was
very large and had two windows which looked on to the garden at the back.
Between the two windows was a dressing-table, covered in white spotted
muslin over stiff pink stuff.

There were a great many engravings on the walls. They seemed to be all
very much alike, with a smooth baby face, like a china doll, and each of
these pictures had a little story.

One was of a young prince: the Prince Imperial, Grandmamma said, who had
recently been killed by blackamoors. Another was of a girl, crying over a
dead bird which she held in her hand, and there was a little hole at her
feet where the bird was presently to be buried. And another was of a
woman tying a scarf on to a man's arm, and Grandmamma explained that if
he went out without the scarf he would be murdered.

Grandmamma's bed was very large. Grandpapa used to sleep there, too,
before he had died. It had curtains at the back which looped on to the
wall. Beside the curtain was Grandmamma's slipper-case and watch-case,
made of stiff, white, perforated cardboard, tied up with dark ribbon.
There were a great many objects in the room, but Elsie was forbidden to
touch any of them. Grandmamma sat up in bed in a little wool jacket and
knitted and crocheted all day long. She had on a lace cap with thick,
pale mauve, velvet ribbons on it. Sometimes she would be helped to a
chair and drawn to the window. The doctor used to come to see her every
day; sometimes another man, whom Elsie heard referred to as a lawyer; and
whenever these people were there, Elsie was sent out of the way.

Her grandmother used to tell her to 'efface herself', and Elsie soon
became aware that this word meant that she was to act as if she didn't
exist. She soon began to understand that she ought never to have existed.
Her father, Grandpapa's son, was dead and her mother was poor, therefore
neither of them were of any use to Elsie.

She was six years old and could neither read nor write, but she soon
understood quite plainly that she ought never to have been born. Indeed,
Mrs Parfitt, the cook, had once said as much in her hearing: 'Poor little
thing, it was a pity she was ever born.'

Elsie thought so too. She had never enjoyed a moment of her short life,
Father being dead and Mother being poor, and Elsie having to suffer for
something very wrong which they had evidently both done.

Everything that Elsie did was wrong too. She knew that, and was resigned
to the fact. Whenever her grandmother spoke to her it was nearly always
to say something beginning with 'don't'.

The few people who ever came to the house and who ever took any notice of
her nearly always also said something beginning with 'don't', or else
'run away'.

Elsie liked the servants, Grace and Sarah and Mrs Parfitt. Sometimes she
opened the swing door at the top of the basement stairs and sat there
listening to their talk and laughter; not that she could hear what they
said, but the sound of voices was comforting in the large, empty house,
with Grandmamma sleeping or dozing and no other company at all.

When Mrs Parfitt found Elsie one day at the top of the stairs, she too
began to talk of 'don't' and 'mustn't'. She said that Elsie was a
'telltale' and a 'spy' and a 'nuisance' and would lose them all their
places. Though Elsie did not understand what any of this meant, she
realised that she had again done something wrong.

But sometimes, even after that, the servants were kind. Mrs Parfitt once
brought her up an apple after her lunch, and on another occasion, in the
middle of a long afternoon, some sandwiches. Once, when there was a
thunderstorm and Grandmamma had had her sent to bed, the servants allowed
Elsie to come down and sit by the kitchen fire. There was a cat on the
hearth and a kettle, and rows of shining pots and plates on the walls and
red curtains at the windows, and for a little while Elsie felt almost
happy, though she shuddered whenever the door was opened to think of the
stone passage without, and all the vaults and cellars and closets and
presses, which, like the rest of the house, were disused.

But the moment came when Elsie had to go upstairs to her little bed in
the dressing-room which opened out of Grandmamma's great room. Cook said
it 'was a shame', but Elsie had to go just the same, and lie awake all
night in the dark room, listening to the thunder and watching the
lightning, her teeth chattering with terror, biting the pillow for fear
she cried out.

She lay awake the most part of every night. She had only cried out once.
That time she had disturbed Grandmamma and been punished, beaten very
hard on the backs of her hands with a hairbrush, by Mary, who looked
after Grandmamma, and made to stay in bed all the next day with nothing
but bread and water to eat and drink. This diet was no such very great
change for the little girl, for her fare was of the plainest and often
such as she could not stomach. She was fastidious and preferred to go
hungry rather than eat fat cold mutton, coarse boiled potatoes, stiff
rice-puddings, and Normandy pippins boiled into a pulp. She did not know
why she was living with Grandmamma, but she understood it was very kind
of Grandmamma to have her there. Indeed, it was very kind of anybody to
endure her at all; nobody wanted her, and of course she must be, she was
sure, quite useless and a nuisance.

Once she had contrived to creep into the wide hall when Sarah, who was
good-humoured, was washing the black and red tiles, and Sarah began to
talk to her. She was evidently smarting under some reprimand from
Grandmamma, and Elsie understood from what Sarah said in a low, careful
voice, that all Grandmamma's children had been useless and nuisances.

It seemed hard to believe that once that great house had been full of
people. Grandmamma had had quite a lot of children, boys and girls. They
were all dead or had gone away. None of them, so Elsie understood, was
any good. Only Grandmamma remained, powerful and, of course, virtuous,
always there and always right.

'Your poor papa was the favourite,' said Sarah. 'I shouldn't be surprised
if you was to get the money after all.'

'But Grandmamma hasn't got any money,' said Elsie. 'When she talks to me
she always says: "Mind, I haven't got a farthing!"'

At that Sarah laughed, and pushed back a lock of hair from her
forehead with her wet hand that still held the scrubbing brush. She said
that Grandmamma was very rich, but a miser; that no doubt there was gold
hidden all over the house if one only knew where to look for it.

Elsie asked what was the good of it? Sarah said that it was all the good
in the world. If you had gold you could do anything. She said that that
was what Master Tom used to come about. That's why the old lady had a
stroke, quarrelling with him.

Elsie asked who was Master Tom? Sarah said: Why, your uncle of course,
silly.' And then Mrs Parfitt called out to Sarah and Elsie had to go
away.

After that, she used to look for gold for something to do in the long
afternoons--she even ventured into those empty rooms which she held most
in horror. One had a large hole in the floor. She used to lean down and
bring her little face close to the hole and peer into the darkness and
think that she might see gold lying there among the dust. She knew what
gold was like--there was a gold clock in the drawing-room and her
grandmamma had a gold watch, and her wedding ring, which moved round on
her thin, knobby finger, was gold too. And on Grandmamma's kidney-shaped
dressing-table were boxes that Grandmamma kept locked. Once, on a wet
day, she had let Elsie bring them to the bed, and opened them, and there
was this gold too, brooches and chains and earrings, and Elsie had
played with them on the down coverlet.

Elsie never found any gold--gold which would do anything, even procure an
escape from this house. She frightened herself very much wandering in and
out of those empty rooms, some furnished, some unfurnished, but all
silent, dusty, and desolate. The whole street, which was full of large
houses with pillared porticoes like Grandmamma's, seemed to Elsie to be
always silent, desolate. Occasionally a carriage and pair passed, and
sometimes, peering from the window in the midst of an afternoon that
seemed endless, she would see some woman and child go by and her little
heart would be pinched with an odd nostalgia for a happiness she had
never known--no, not even the name of, and then for hours and hours the
wide street would seem as silent, as empty as the house. Even the
sunshine--and that summer there was a great deal of sunshine--could not
lighten the tedium of that street and house to Elsie.

Even the flowering trees, lilac, laburnum, and may (for every house had
before the basement a little square in which grew such trees and shrubs),
could not give an air of cheerfulness and joy to those dreary sunny
afternoons.

Every house had striped sunblinds out over the windows and striped
curtains hanging in front of the door. The very sight of these awnings,
mostly red and white, filled Elsie with an unutterable woe, born of
complete loneliness. She had nothing to do, neither work nor play. Mrs
Parfitt had said that she was getting a big girl and would soon be sent
to school, and Elsie had hoped that as she was such a nuisance and ought
to efface herself, she might indeed be sent away somewhere. She did not
know what 'school' was; it could not be worse than the great house in
Hampstead.

Once Mary turned her into the back garden, shut the door of the
schoolroom that gave on to it, and told her to stay there all the
afternoon. Elsie hated the garden almost as much as she hated the house.
It had a dirty, high brick wall all round it and at the bottom a sloping
bank on which were four tall poplar trees. The heart-shaped leaves
fluttered continually to the ground; they were dirty and had a
disagreeable smell and a harsh texture. The stems of the lilac bushes
were thick with soot and the flowers were tarnished and brown almost as
soon as they came out.

There were no other flowers in the garden. The square of grass in the
middle was rusty and dirty. Everything in the garden was dirty;
Elsie never played in it, but she often got a scolding when she came in
for having spoiled her pinafore. And this afternoon she began to amuse
herself by trying to make a mud pie. The first digging with her fingers
brought up some worms, and she left off, sick with disgust, that attempt
at diversion.

When at last she was allowed into the house Mary scolded her, as she had
expected to be scolded, as a naughty, naughty girl for getting herself
into a mess. The servants all seemed rather excited. She was given her
tea in the schoolroom, bread-and-butter and milk and a piece of seed
cake, and scolded again because she did not like the seeds and tried to
pull them out with her unskilful fingers.

When she had finished she tried to creep into the kitchen, with a hope of
a sight of the cat or the kettle. She heard the servants talking about
Master Tom and how he had been there that afternoon. There had been 'a
scene', and Elsie wondered what 'a scene' was. It all seemed even more
wrong and unhappy than before. It seemed to Elsie not only a pity that
she had ever been born, but that anyone else had.

'He's a regular scapegrace, and will come to a bad end, you mark my
words,' said Cook; and Elsie longed to ask what a bad end was, but she
did not dare to be seen. She was discovered just the same, and smacked
and turned out of the kitchen up into the lonely, empty passage, study,
and dining-room, where she roamed at will all day, when she was not
sitting by Grandmamma's bed or in her own room, which was quite bare,
save for a bed and a tin wash-hand stand. Everything had been taken out
of it when Elsie came to live there for fear she should touch something.
She quite accepted the justice of this, because everything she touched
was either spoilt or broken or soiled, for her hands were never clean and
she seemed incredibly clumsy.

Except on those rare trembling expeditions when she had been looking for
secret gold in a desperate hope that it might somehow procure her release
from her present predicament, Elsie had never ventured up above her
grandmother's bedroom, though there were three stories above that floor.
The servants slept up there, but that did not seem to give an air of
human habitation to those dreadful upper floors. One of them contained a
large black oil painting the sight of which had made Elsie sick with
terror. Some children, long ago, perhaps her own uncles and aunts, had
used the picture for a target, and filled it full of small holes from toy
arrows or darts.

It was the portrait of a dark man, and Elsie thought that he scowled in
agony from his many wounds and that he would leap from the canvas to
pursue her if she stared at him a second longer. Elsie had never looked
into that room again, and besides that there were ghosts upstairs. Mrs
Parfitt and Mary and Sarah had all said so.

Once, when she had lain awake listening to Grandmamma's snoring in the
other room, she had certainly heard footsteps overhead, and unable at
length to bear her torture any longer she had run downstairs in her
nightgown and screamed out at the top of the basement stairs that she had
heard steps overhead.

Mrs Parfitt had said good-humouredly: 'Nonsense! There's nobody up
there.' Words which had filled Elsie with complete terror.

Sarah had laughed and said: 'The ghosts, I dare say.'

Mary had added: 'Of course--the ghosts!'

Mrs Parfitt, meaning to console, had assured Elsie that if she was a good
girl and behaved herself and kept out of the way and didn't annoy
Grandmamma ghosts would leave her alone.

Elsie had not returned to her own bed that night. She had not enough
courage to do so. She had crept, instead, into her grandmother's room,
and lain awake, curled, cold and sweating, on the outside of the
coverlet, taking what comfort she could from the old lady's heavy
snoring. And in the morning, just before Mary came in to bring Grandmamma
her tea and wash her and comb her hair and put on her thick lace cap with
the heavy, pale-violet, velvet ribbons, Elsie had crept away into her own
bed and pretended to sleep.

All the next day she tried to make herself very agreeable to Grandmamma
because she wanted to ask her about the ghosts upstairs. She held her
wool for her and fetched her scissors and tried to remember to close the
door quietly and not to raise her voice nor to talk too loud nor too
fast.

Presently, in the afternoon, holding on her tiny hands the skein of
orange wool, she asked: 'Have you ever seen the ghost upstairs,
Grandmamma?'

Grandmamma was in a good humour that day. You would hardly have thought
she was ill at all. She had been a very handsome woman and she still had
an air of energy and vigour.

Propped up against her big pillows she laughed and said: 'I should think
there are a good many ghosts in this house, my dear. Think of all the
people who have been born and died here, even in my time, and only you
and I left, eh, little Elsie!'

'How many people were there, Grandmamma?'

'Eh, I couldn't remember now. You see, this was your grandfather's
father's house. He had it when it was first built and there were a lot of
children then. They died or scattered. Mostly died, I think. I remember
four of them went off in a week with typhus. Then there were my own.
Plenty of them, little Elsie. You wouldn't think now, would you, there
used to be such a noise here that I often didn't know what to do.
Children all over the place, boys and girls--in the schoolroom, running
up and down the stairs, playing in the garden--'

She stopped and dropped her knitting needles on to the sheets. 'Plenty of
noise then, little Elsie; quiet enough now, isn't it?'

'Are they all ghosts now?' asked Elsie, and she dropped the skein of
wool on to her lap.

'Ghosts--or worse,' said Grandmamma, with a sigh; 'most of them seemed to
go wrong somehow.'

'Were they nuisances, like I am?'

Grandmamma looked at her sharply, as if she suspected her of an
impertinence.

'Never mind what's become of them, Elsie, or whether they're ghosts or
not. Pick up that wool--it'll get tangled; and put the pillow straight
under my left arm. Mary knows I can't knit like this.'

Though Grandmamma was partially paralysed down one side, she could, by a
deft arrangement of pillows propping up one of her elbows, still knit and
crochet, which she did for hours every day with a certain ferocity,
making thick grey garments for the poor and the heathen and squares and
squares of crochet in bright colours, which were going to be sewn
together one day into a great quilt.

Elsie thought of the poor and the heathen with horror; she saw armies and
armies of them in grey woollen petticoats advancing on her with hostile
looks and menacing cries when she woke in the middle of the night.

Cunningly she tried to get more information about the ghosts. 'Are there
ghosts in the schoolroom, Grandmamma?'

'Aye, indeed, I should think there are ghosts in there. That's where they
learnt their lessons, all of them. Learnt no good, no, not one of them.
That's a strange thought, Elsie--all of them down there, learning lessons
year after year and not one of them learning anything good.'

'And the ghosts upstairs in the bedroom?' persisted Elsie.

'There'd be ghosts there. That's where a lot of them died. Your
grandfather died in this room, but I don't suppose you'll see his ghost.
Why are you so interested, little Elsie? It's a funny thing for a child
to talk about, isn't it? Have you been gossiping with the servants?'

Elsie shook her head. She was accustomed to the quick lying of utter
fear.

'I thought I heard one last night, Grandmamma. Walking about.' Her
child's vivid imagination forced her to add: 'When I got out of bed and
opened the door I thought I saw a ghost coming down the stairs and I
wondered who it was.'

'Who would you like it to be?' grinned the old lady. 'Who would you like
it to be out of all your uncles and aunts and great-uncles and aunts?
Well, they weren't any of them any good, as I told you. Except your
father, perhaps. Yes, that now, your father.'

'I'd like to see him,' said Elsie. 'Is he a ghost, too?'

Grandmamma was silent for a while. She seemed to be dozing, and Elsie
felt even more afraid than she usually did when the old lady went off
into one of her half-trances, half-sleeps, sitting propped up against
the pillows, with her sharp chin on the little jacket of white Iceland
wool she wore across her shoulder and breast.

Elsie began to whimper through fear of the ghosts and of Grandmamma and
of loneliness of the great empty house. But Grandmamma was not asleep
nor ill. She had only been thinking of the past.

'Your father would be a very pleasant sort of ghost. He was my
youngest--the flower of the flock. Yes, if you saw him, Elsie, you would
see a very handsome young man. Well, he wouldn't be so young now, I
suppose. He died soon after you were born. How old are you, Elsie?'

'Nearly seven years old, Grandmamma.'

'Yes, he wouldn't be such a very young man, but he was handsome. Oh yes,
my James was handsome. He had a mole on his left cheekbone.'

'I hope I won't see him,' said Elsie, shuddering, as she sat rigid on
her little stool. 'I hope he'll stay upstairs. I wonder where he lived.
I expect in that room with the big black picture all full of holes.'

'He used to amuse himself with that old canvas,' said Grandmamma,
smiling, as if at a pleasant recollection. 'He used to have his games
and sport there. He always was bold and spirited, and very loving to me,
whatever they say about him.'

'And Uncle Tom?' asked Elsie. Was he loving too?'

At that name a convulsive spasm passed over Grandmamma's face. She
struck out angrily with her strongest hand, missing Elsie, Who shrank
back from the bedside.

'You have been gossiping with the servants! You haven't got an Uncle
Tom! There's no such person! He doesn't exist! Who told you there was an
Uncle Tom?

'Nobody,' said Elsie, 'only you yourself, Grandmamma, the other day when
you seemed half asleep you said something about Uncle Tom coming.'

The old woman looked at her dubiously, but was not able to contradict
this, for she knew that she had not always full control over her senses.

'Well, perhaps I did, perhaps I did,' she grumbled. 'You shouldn't have
taken any notice. I didn't know what I was saying. I dare say I've been
dreaming about the ghosts upstairs, Elsie, just like you have--a lot of
nonsense! There's no Uncle Tom. If you ever meet one who says he's your
Uncle Tom or says he's any son of mine, you tell him that he's a
scoundrel and a liar, Elsie. I've no son, do you hear? Do you hear? All
my sons are dead--dead.'

Elsie said 'Yes' obediently and readily. Uncle Tom did not, after all,
matter much to her. It was the ghost upstairs who concerned her and
about whom she wanted to hear.

One afternoon in that odious June was more dreadful than any other
afternoon to Elsie, for she was left quite alone in the house with her
Grandmamma. Of course, this should never have happened and was not meant
to happen. It occurred like this.

Mary and Sarah were, it seemed, both nieces of Mrs Parfitt, and when an
uncle of theirs died all three wanted to go to the funeral. Grandmamma,
of course, could not be left alone. Mrs Parfitt said she could easily
arrange to send in a friend--a Mrs Skerrell--who would sit with
Grandmamma and give Elsie her tea and do anything that was wanted until
she, Mrs Parfitt, and the two girls came back about six o'clock, as they
easily could, for the funeral was at Highgate.

So Mrs Parfitt told Elsie to be a good girl and Mary said, 'Don't get
into mischief; Sarah said, 'Don't you go telling no tales to your
grandmother about what you haven't seen or heard'; and Elsie was left
alone with Grandmamma and Mrs Skerrell, who was a dreary widow woman in
a long black garment and a bonnet with jet flowers.

Elsie had taken advantage of this unusual confusion to get down into the
kitchen. She was staring at Mrs Skerrell just untying the strings of the
black bonnet when there was a sharp ring at the bell. Both the woman and
the child started. Nothing was, as Mrs Parfitt had put it to Mrs
Skerrell, 'expected'. All the tradespeople had called and visitors were
rare.

Mrs Skerrell said 'Drat it', retied the strings of her bonnet, and ran up
the stairs from the basement into the hall. Elsie remained alone in the
kitchen. She wished she had the strength to get down one of the jars full
of sultanas or sugar or motley biscuits and spice and eat large handfuls.
She was always hungry. She had neither the strength nor the courage, so
she remained standing beside the large, scrubbed, white-deal table, and
looking up through the kitchen window into the area, she could just see a
foot or so of the railings which divided the stone area, with its doors
into coal cellars, from the square of garden where grew the ragged
laburnum tree and the sooty lilac bushes.

Mrs Skerrell seemed to have been gone a very long time and loneliness
increased and crystallised on the small figure of Elsie. She was shut
into the desolation like a fly into a lump of amber, not daring to move
for fear of finding worse things than loneliness in the other parts of
the house. She peered up at the railings. Presently she saw the bottom of
Mrs Skerrell's beaded mantle and black skirt going past. Then Elsie ran
to the window and, pressing her face to the panes, looked up. Mrs
Skerrell was certainly leaving the house. Elsie listened and heard the
gate go 'click', the iron tongue of the lock into the iron socket. She
knew that sound so well; indeed, she knew every sound in the large empty
house in which she had spent her entire life.

She was, then, in the house alone with Grandmamma, who, about this time
in the early afternoon, was always asleep. Elsie's first sensation was
not one of added fear, but rather of deliverance. She now, given so much
time, might be able to climb up on to the dresser and get down some of
those canisters of things good to eat. She might be able to make a slow
and careful hunt right through the kitchen and find out where the
biscuits and the candied peel were kept; she might be able to tiptoe to
the pantry, discover if there was a slice of pie or a portion of cake or
a dish of fruit there. All things which she was not allowed and that were
not good for Grandmamma, and off which the servants freely feasted.

Then she thought of an even fiercer temptation--an even more resplendent
opportunity--the long, darkly gleaming sideboard in the dining-room.
There was no speculation about that--there would not need to be any
search. Elsie knew exactly where, on the top shelf when the large
folding doors underneath the drawers were open, was kept jam, marmalade,
and sugar. She was never allowed any of these delicacies. The marmalade
used to go on her Grandmamma's breakfast tray, the jam on her afternoon
tea tray. There were preserves, too, and cherry and quince, that were
brought out for the rare visitors.

It was true that this cupboard, which was large enough to have contained
a dozen Elsies, was usually locked, and Grandmamma had the keys. Elsie
had seen her take them out of a little box on the table by her bedside
and give them to Mary, and seen Mary give them back to her. And once
Elsie had found the cupboard open. It was true she had been discovered
before she had time to take anything, but perhaps, just perhaps, Mrs
Parfitt, in the excitement of her day's outing, had left it open again,
then Elsie would be able to help herself.

She would be discovered without doubt. She had little hope of being able
to conceal the crime, there would be horrid stickiness on her fingers.
When her fingers were sticky, she could, somehow, never get it off, even
though she held them under the tap or wiped them on the towels.

But to satisfy her hungry craving for something sweet and delicious and
delicate it would be worth enduring the punishment of being smacked on
the backs of both her hands with a hard hairbrush, sent to bed in the
daylight, or something worse if Grandmamma and Mrs Parfitt could think
of a more severe punishment.

So she crept quietly up the stairs into the large, empty house. It was
the very worst part of the afternoon, sunny, silent, with a feeling that
it would be hours and hours and hours before the dark fell, as if the
world had stopped and all life was in suspension and only she, Elsie,
was alive and miserable.

As cautious as if she were certain that she would be overheard, Elsie
went down the wide, black and red tiled corridor and into the
dining-room, which was shuttered against the sun and full of dusty
shadows, which lay in little straight lines of gold from the slats of
the Venetian blinds.

Elsie had no luck. She found the sideboard locked. She had become by now
reckless and daring; she would go upstairs, she decided, and take the
key from the little box beside Grandmamma's bed. Grandmamma would be
asleep, and she had heard Mrs Parfitt tell Mrs Skerrell the old lady
`had had her medicine and wouldn't give any trouble'.

The sunny, silent afternoon hung like a halter round Elsie's soul. She
thought that if she could get the keys and open the cupboard, a pot of
jam, yes, a whole pot of jam, eaten slowly and with relish, would do
something to mitigate the horrible loneliness of her imprisonment.

Grandmamma was, as she had thought she would be, asleep. The clothes
were drawn up over her face as usual, and only the top of her cap with
violet ribbons could be seen against the pillow. There were the slippers
in the slipper-case, the watch neatly in the watchcase, there was the
box standing beside the bottle of medicine with the glasses, the
spectacles in their case, the Bible with the bronze clasp, and the
different balls of wool, the various pieces of knitting.

The sunblinds were drawn over Grandmamma's window; the poplars in the
garden made a fluttering shadow on them. The little breeze lifted them
now and then so that a spurt of golden sunlight would fall into the
shadowed room. All the smooth-faced pictures on the wall seemed to be
watching Elsie--the girl with the dead bird, the girl tying the bandage
on the man's arm, the baby-faced boy who was called the `Prince
Imperial'; all these, in their pale, smooth, shining frames, seemed to
turn and stare at Elsie, but she did not falter.

She lifted the lid of the key-box and was putting in her hand to take
out the key when she heard, overhead, footsteps.

The ghost of course, undoubtedly the ghost, and she alone in the house
and at its mercy. On a frantic impulse of terror she turned and tried to
rouse her grandmother, even venturing, seldom as she dared to touch the
invalid, to shake the gaunt shoulder that heaved up the clothes.
Grandmamma was very soundly asleep and did not rouse. The steps came
nearer, unmistakably descending the stairs from the upper room. Elsie
thought only of hiding, of creeping under the bed or into the huge
cupboard where Grandmamma kept hanks and hanks of brightly-coloured wool
and skeins and skeins of grey wool. But before she had time to run
farther than the length of the bed, the door, which she had left ajar,
was pushed open and the ghost walked in.

It was a handsome man with red hair and a mole on the left cheekbone.
Elsie remembered what Grandmamma had said about her father and stood
still at the end of the bed, staring. The apparition gave her no special
feeling of terror; it was, indeed, far less terrible than she had
supposed it would be. She even thought that in the warm glint of the
eyes, the half curl of the lips, she detected promise of an ally. He
was, at least, younger and more attractive than any creature she had
seen for a long time, nay, than she had ever seen before.

'Hullo, little nipper,' said the ghost. 'What are you doing here?' And
as Elsie did not answer he advanced into the room and said in a low,
steady voice, 'Oh, you're Elsie, I suppose, James's child.'

'And you're James,' said Elsie. 'Grandmother told me about you.'

'James,' said the ghost, 'your father do you mean? He's dead.'

'Yes, I meant that. I meant that you are my father and dead and a ghost.
Isn't that right, please?'

The apparition seemed to reflect and gave a frown that made Elsie feel
as if she were dwindling away with terror, then he said shortly, in the
same low, cautious tone: 'Well, if you like. Come here and let me have a
look at you.'

Elsie stood mute, shaking her head in terror. The ghost became at once
angry.

'Don't be a little fool. I'm here for your good as well as my own. You
don't have much of a life, do you? They've always packed you out of the
way when I've been before.'

'Oh, you've been before?' whispered Elsie in a thin tone of curiosity.

'Yes, I don't suppose you heard anything about that. Well, I shan't come
again. Come outside, anyway, I might help you. How old are you?'

'Seven,' replied Elsie, who felt that the extra six months gave her
added importance. Not for anything would she have admitted to six and a
half.

'I see. Well, you're old enough to have some sense. I've come here
looking for something. Perhaps you could help me find it.'

'Grandmamma would know where it is,' said Elsie, pointing to the bed.

'I don't want to wake her,' said the man, with a queer look. 'She's
asleep. I think she's going to sleep for a long time.'

'Mrs Skerrell ought to be looking after her,' whispered Elsie. 'What
happened to Mrs Skerrell?'

'I sent her away with a cock-and-bull story. Never you mind that. I want
a little time in this house to myself. I've been looking out for an
opportunity for a long while. I had it today when the women went out.
Now look here, if you'll help me, I'll do something for you. Is there
anything you want?'

Elsie understood nothing of this except the last question. She did not
know to what sort of creature she spoke; she was quite bewildered. She
felt more confident than she had ever felt before, more happy than she
had been since she had been brought, so long ago that she could not
remember it, to this house.

'I came up for Grandmamma's keys.'

'Her keys?' asked the other sharply. 'Where are they?'

'In the little box by the bed.'

'What did you want with her keys?'

'I was going to take something out of the sideboard--jam.'

'I see.'

The man looked at her very shrewdly out of narrow eyes.

'I suppose the old miser--God forgive me--keeps you half-starved. Well,
you shall have some jam, Elsie, and something else too. What else would
you like?'

'Sixpence,' said Elsie, in wild bravado.

The stranger smiled sourly.

'I'll give you a gold sovereign. You could do a lot with that, couldn't
you, a child of your age?'

Elsie's senses reeled. On rare occasions Mary or Sarah had taken her for
short walks, but she had seen, oh, a long way off, shops in which, the
servants had told her, almost anything could be purchased for money.
There would not be any limit to what one could get with a golden
sovereign.

'What do you want me to do?' she asked. Then her small shrewd face
clouded. 'Have you come here looking for gold?'

He seemed startled.

'Gold! What made you think of that? I promised you a sovereign. I didn't
say I'd come here looking for gold.'

'I thought perhaps you had, because there isn't any. Grandmamma's only
got farthings, she told me so herself. Mrs Parfitt said something about
gold hidden in the house, but I looked, and there wasn't any.
Grandmamma,' she repeated, 'has only farthings. I think they're hidden
under her pillow.'

'No, I haven't come looking for gold. I want to know where your
grandmother keeps her writing-desk, her papers. Has she got them here?
Or does Furnival, that's the lawyer, have them all?'

Elsie shook head, not understanding.

'Don't be a stupid,' said the man keenly, and with a certain desperation
she had thought was impatience. 'How can I put it so that you'll
understand? I'm looking for a piece of paper, do you see? And it's very
important. It may not be here; but she used to, when I lived here, keep
all her papers under her own eye and look at them secretly. Now, have
you ever seen her sit up in bed and call for a little desk or a box and
turn it over and look at the papers?'

Elsie nodded.

'Yes, she does that sometimes. And I have to fetch them.'

'Good girl.' The man seemed with difficulty to control an intense
eagerness. 'Now, if you can find those papers and let me see them, I
suppose the key's on the same bunch where the key for your jam cupboard
is?'

Elsie nodded again. She began to feel herself important.

At least here was action, a chance to express oneself, to show one's
quickness and courage. She opened the box, put her hand in, and took out
the bunch of keys. She knew them all, through quick observation and a
keen memory.

'This opens the cupboard downstairs, the jam and sugar cupboard. This is
the key of the little box that Grandmamma keeps in her wool cupboard
underneath her grey wool, and I bring it to her sometimes, and there are
papers in it.'

'Give it to me.'

He held the keys in his hand, while Elsie went to the cupboard and
quickly found this box of inlaid wood.

'Aren't you afraid she'll wake?' she said, as she came back and laid
this on the quilted coverlet.

'No,' he said, tucking up his lips in a peculiar smile. 'I'm not afraid
she'll wake. I'm not afraid of her at all.'

He quickly found the right key. His deft, swift fingers turned over the
papers in the small box. The child stared at him, her peaked face taut
with interest.

'I don't believe you're a ghost,' she said at length. 'I think you're
Uncle Tom.'

At that he turned on her with a low snarl. 'Who told you there was an
Uncle Tom?'

'Mrs Parfitt talked about him.'

'And she...' The man pointed to the huddled outline of the sleeping
woman in the bed. Did she say anything about me?'

'No,' said Elsie; 'she said there was no such person as Uncle Tom.'

'Well, isn't that right? Wouldn't she know? There is no such person. I
am James, the ghost of James, your father, as you said just now when you
saw me. That's right, isn't it?'

'I suppose so,' said Elsie, 'but I don't seem to be afraid like I should
have been if you were a ghost.'

'You've forgotten your pot of jam, my dear,' he said, taking envelope,
after envelope out of the box and scanning them keenly. 'Yes, and the
golden sovereign I promised you. Ah, here we are. I knew she'd keep it.
She was always in two minds about everything.'

He had taken two documents that looked very dull to Elsie and laid them
on the bed.

'You can't read, I suppose, my little dear, can you?'

The child shook her head.

'Will you give me the other key and I'll run downstairs and get the
jam,' she said. 'If they punish me afterwards you might come back and
say you let me take it.'

'They won't punish you. They'll have something else to think about.' He
tossed her the keys. 'Bring them back here. You seem sharp and spry. You
ought to know your way about.'

'What are those two pieces of paper?'

'Never you mind. I've found what I want. I'll give you two sovereigns,
but you're not to tell anybody you saw me. You understand?'

'Oh, why mayn't I say I've seen a ghost? I said the other night I'd seen
one and I hadn't really and nobody minded.'

He laughed and the tension of his dark face relaxed.

'Oh, well, you can say you've seen a ghost if you like. That will do
very well. Why not?'

'Didn't Mrs Skerrell see you?' asked the child cunningly.

'No she didn't. What's that to you, anyway? Yet I ought to be grateful
to you for reminding me. I suppose the hag'll be back soon.'

He stood staring at the two papers in his hand, then put one paper
carefully back into the box, locked it, and watched Elsie while she
cunningly returned it underneath the piles of grey wool in the cupboard.
Then he tore the second piece of paper into small pieces and put them
carefully in the inner breast pocket of his coat and followed Elsie
downstairs and stood over her in a listening attitude while she unlocked
the cupboard and took out a pot of apricot jam.

Her eyes glistened and her mouth watered so at the sight of the jam that
she almost forgot about the two sovereigns and her bewilderment as to
whether or not the man was an apparition or flesh and blood. Whoever he
was, he took two sovereigns out of his pocket and placed them on the end
of the shining mahogany table.

'There you are, my dear; you can't say I haven't kept my bargain. Now
mind, I am a ghost. If you say anything about me I don't like, I shall
come in the middle of the night and give you a fright. Perhaps carry you
away to where it's all bogies and blue flames.'

'Oh, please,' said Elsie, nearly dropping the pot of jam in her terror,
'I'll do anything you like. What do you want me to say?'

'Nothing at all. Only that you've just seen a ghost. Better not mention
the jam or the keys or those papers I took. See--not a word.'

He frowned and thrust his head forward and made himself look so menacing
and hideous that Elsie began to weep.

'There, I know you're a good girl and won't say anything. Now take the
jam somewhere you're not likely to be found and remember you've simply
seen a ghost this afternoon--the ghost of your father, James.'

'Are you going away now? Where do you go? Through that stepladder up on
to the roof? .I think that's the way the ghosts come.'

'No, I shall go out the back. Do you know who lives next door? Anybody
likely to be about just now?'

'One house is empty,' said Elsie, 'there's only a caretaker there, and
they don't come until the evening. The other side the people are away.
There's never anyone there at all.'

'Good! My lucky day. Now remember what I told you about the ghost.'

Then he was gone.

When Elsie had finished her pot of jam she looked round for the
sovereigns, but they had gone too. This caused her to weep bitterly, for
it was the vanishing of the brightest dream of her life. Yet in her soul
she felt that it was logical. What could a ghost leave but fairy gold?
But she cried all the same in pure disappointment at the loss of the
golden visions that the two golden coins had conjured up.

Mrs Skerrell, coming back hurried and panting, and out of temper, found
her crying in the dining-room.

'Why aren't you up with your grandmother, you naughty girl? You're old
enough--you might have been watching of her. What'll happen to me if the
old lady's come to some harm while I was away?'

Mrs Skerrell, untying her bonnet and unfastening her cloak, began to
mutter about a queer business--a boy had come with a message to say she
was wanted at home, a matter of illness, serious and immediate. When
she'd rushed back there had been nothing at all. The boy had said that
it was a stranger whom he had never seen before had told him to give the
message. He thought the gentleman was a doctor, he was very civil and
had given him half a crown.

'All a lot of rubbish,' said Mrs Skerrell, going upstairs, considerably
ruffled and discomposed, with Elsie behind her for the sake of company.

'Grandmamma's asleep,' said Elsie, 'Better leave her alone.' Then,
because she could not keep her great secret any longer to herself: 'I've
seen a ghost. He gave me two sovereigns, and as soon as he went the
money went too.'

'Don't be a naughty wicked girl and tell a pack of lies,' scolded Mrs
Skerrell. The old lady seems asleep,' she added with a sigh of relief.
'Better leave her, she won't want her tea before five, and by that time
Mrs Parfitt will be home.'

Mrs Parfitt was punctual. At the usual appointed hour when she brought
up Grandmamma's tea Elsie was sitting on her little stool sobbing to
herself at the loss of the fairy gold, trying to wind the yellow wool.
When Mrs Parfitt and Mrs Skerrell endeavoured to rouse Grandmamma they
found they could not do so.

The old lady was dead.

When the doctor came he said she had been dead for some hours. Of
course, it was quite likely that she might have had a sudden stroke.
'She passed away,' as the phrase went on, in her sleep. It was really
not worth while making any question or raising any fuss. What else could
have happened?

Mrs Skerrell did not admit that she had been decoyed away from the house
and Elsie did not even mention the ghost. The doctor had thought that
there were queer marks round the old woman's throat, as if her frail
life had been impetuously shaken out of her, but of course, he assured
himself, this must have been a delusion.

The lawyer said that Grandmamma had left a recent will leaving
everything to Elsie, but as this could not be found he was quite
prepared to believe that the old lady, in a capricious mood, had
destroyed it. The earlier will, then, which was found quite readily in a
box where the old lady kept her important papers hidden under the pile
of grey wool which she knitted into petticoats for the poor, was proved.

Grandmamma's only surviving son, Mr Thomas, came into all her money and
into the big lonely house at Hampstead. Grandmamma was a much wealthier
woman than anyone had thought she was, and Mr Thomas behaved generously
towards Elsie.

He paid for her to go into an orphanage for the daughters of decayed
gentlefolk.

He did not come near the house at Hampstead himself, so Elsie never saw
him.

She left the house with a great feeling of relief. She did not, of
course, expect to be happy in the orphanage nor anywhere. She knew that
she was a nuisance and not wanted and must always efface herself, but
she was glad to get away from the house which was haunted by the ghost
of her father, James. Though she had loyally kept her word to him, and
never said a word about what he had done when he visited her the day
Grandmamma died, she was filled with fear that his angry apparition
might return one night under some hideous form.

And another reason for her relief at leaving the great house in
Hampstead was the fact that now there was hardly any possibility that
anyone would discover that she had stolen the pot of apricot jam.



THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURE OF MR JOHN PROUDIE


Mr John Proudie kept a chemist's shop in Soho Fields, Monmouth Square; it
was a very famous shop, situated at the corner, so that there were two
fine windows of leaded glass, one looking on Dean Street and one on the
Square, and at the corner the door, with a wooden portico by which two
steps descended into the shop.

A wooden counter, polished and old, ran round this shop, and was bare of
everything save a pair of gleaming brass scales; behind, the walls were
covered from floor to ceiling by shelves which held jars of Delft
pottery, blue and white, and Italian majolica, red and yellow, on which
were painted the names of the various drugs; in the centre the shelves
were broken by a door that led into an inner room.

On a certain night in November when the shop was shut, the old
housekeeper abed, and the fire burning brightly in the parlour, Mr John
Proudie was busy in his little laboratory compounding some medicines, in
particular a mixture of the milky juice of blue flag root and pepper
which he had found very popular for indigestion.

He was beginning to feel cold, and, not being a young man (at this time,
the year 1690, Mr Proudie was nearly sixty), a little tired, and to think
with pleasure of his easy chair, his hot drink of mulled wine on the
hearth, his _Gazette_ with its exciting news of the war and the Commons and
the plots, when a loud peal at the bell caused him to drop the strainer
he was holding--not that it was so unusual for Mr Proudie's bell to ring
after dark, but his thoughts had been full of these same troubles of
plots and counter-plots of the late Revolution, and the house seemed very
lonely and quiet.

'Fine times,' thought Mr Proudie indignantly, 'when an honest tradesman
feels uneasy in his own home!'

The bell went again, impatiently, and the apothecary wiped his hands,
took up a candle, and went through to the dark shop. As he passed
through the parlour he glanced up at the clock and was surprised to see
that it was nearly midnight. He set the candle in its great pewter stick
on the counter, whence the light threw glistening reflections on the
rows of jars and their riches, and opened the door. A gust of wind blew
thin cold sleet across the, polished floor, and the apothecary shivered
as he cried out: 'Who is there?'

Without replying a tall gentleman stepped down into the shop, closing the
door behind him.

'Well, sir?' asked Mr Proudie a little sharply.

'I want a doctor,' said the stranger, 'at once.'

He glanced round the shop impatiently, taking no more notice of Mr
Proudie than if he had been a servant.

'And why did you come here for a doctor?' demanded the apothecary, not
liking his manner and hurt at the insinuation that his own professional
services were not good enough.

'I was told,' replied the stranger, speaking in tolerable English, but
with a marked foreign accent, 'that a doctor lodged over your shop.'

'So he does,' admitted Mr Proudie grudgingly; 'but he is abed.'

The stranger approached the counter and leant against it in the attitude
of a man exhausted; the candlelight was now full on him, but revealed
nothing of his features, for he wore a black mask such as was used for
travelling on doubtful rendezvous; a black lace fringe concealed the
lower part of his face.

Mr Proudie did not like this; he scented mystery and underhand intrigue,
and he stared at the stranger very doubtfully.

He was a tall, graceful man, certainly young, wrapped in a dark blue
mantle lined with fur and wearing riding gloves and top boots; the skirts
of a blue velvet coat showed where the mantle was drawn up by. his sword,
and there was a great deal of fine lace and a diamond brooch at his
throat.

'Well,' he said impatiently, and his black eyes flashed through the mask
holes, 'how long are you going to keep me waiting? I want Dr Valletort at
once.'

'Oh, you know his name?'

'Yes, I was told his name. Now, for God's sake, sir, fetch him--tell him
it is a woman who requires his services!'

Mr Proudie turned reluctantly away and picked up the candle, leaving the
gentleman in the dark, mounted the stairs to the two rooms above the
shop, and roused his lodger.

'You are wanted, Dr Valletort,' he said through the door; 'there is a
man downstairs come to fetch you to a lady--a bitter night and he a
foreign creature in a mask,' finished the old apothecary in a grumble.

Dr Francis Valletort at once opened the door; he was not in bed, but had
been reading by the light of a small lamp. Tall and elegant, with the
pallor of a scholar and the grace of a gentleman, the young doctor stood
as if startled, holding his open book in his hand.

'Do not go,' said Mr Proudie on a sudden impulse; 'these are troubled
times and it is a bitter night to be abroad.'

The doctor smiled.

'I cannot afford to decline patients, Mr Proudie--remember how much I am
in your debt for food and lodging,' he added with some bitterness.

'Tut, tut!' replied Mr Proudie, who had a real affection for the young
man. 'But no doubt I am an old fool--come down and see this fellow.'

The doctor took up his shabby hat and cloak and followed the apothecary
down into the parlour and from there into the shop.

'I hope you are ready,' said the voice of the stranger from the dark;
'the patient may be dead through this delay.'

Mr Proudie again placed the candle on the counter; the red flame of it
illuminated the tall, dark figure of the stranger and the shabby figure
of the doctor against the background of the dark shop and the
jars--labelled 'Gum Camphor', 'Mandrake Root', 'Dogwood Bark', 'Blue
Vervain', 'Tansy', 'Hemlock', and many other drugs, written in blue and
red lettering under the glazing.

'Where am I to go and what is the case?' asked Francis Valletort, eyeing
the stranger intently.

'Sir, I will tell you all these questions on the way; the matter is
urgent.'

'What must I take with me?'

The stranger hesitated.

'First, Dr Valletort,' he said, 'are you skilled in the Italian?'

The young doctor looked at the stranger very steadily. 'I studied
medicine at the University of Padua,' he replied.

'Ah! Well, then, you will be able to talk to the patient, an Italian
lady who speaks no English. Bring your instruments and some antidotes
for poisoning, and make haste.'

The doctor caught the apothecary by the arm and drew him into the
parlour. He appeared in considerable agitation.

'Get me my sword and pistols,' he said swiftly, 'while I prepare my
case.'

He spoke in a whisper, for the door was open behind them into the shop,
and the apothecary, alarmed by his pale look, answered in the same
fashion: 'Why are you going? Do you know this man?'

'I cannot tell if I know him or not--what shall I do? God help me!'

He spoke in such a tone of despair and looked so white and ill that Mr
Proudie pushed him into a chair by the fire and bade him drink some of
the wine that was warming.

'You will not go out tonight,' he said firmly.

'No,' replied the doctor, wiping the damp from his brow, 'I cannot go.'

John Proudie returned to the shop to take this message to the stranger,
who, on hearing it, broke into a passionate ejaculation in a foreign
language, then thrust his hand into his coat pocket.

'Take this to Francis Valletort,' he answered, 'and then see if he will
come.'

He flung on the counter, between the scales and candle, a ring of white
enamel, curiously set with alternate pearls and diamonds very close
together, and having suspended from it a fine chain from which hung a
large and pure pearl.

Before the apothecary could reply Francis Valletort, who had heard the
stranger's words, came from the parlour and snatched at the ring. While
he was holding it under the candle flame and gazing at the whiteness of
diamond, pearl, and enamel, the masked man repeated his words.

'Now will you come?'

The doctor straightened his thin shoulders, his hollow face was flushed
into a strange beauty.

'I will come,' he said; he pushed back the brown locks that had slipped
from the black ribbon on to his cheek and turned to pick up his hat and
cloak, while he asked Mr Proudie to go up to his room and fetch his case
of instruments.

The apothecary obeyed; there was something in the manner of Francis
Valletort that told him that he was now as resolute in undertaking this
errand as hitherto he had been anxious to avoid it; but he did not care
for the adventure. When the stranger had thrust his hand into his pocket
to find the ring that had produced such an effect on the doctor, Mr
Proudie had noticed something that he considered very unpleasant. The
soft doeskin glove had fallen back, caught in the folds of the heavy
mantle as the hand was withdrawn, and Mr Proudie had observed a black
wrist through the lace ruffles: the masked cavalier was a negro. Mr
Proudie had seen few coloured men and regarded them with suspicion and
aversion; and what seemed to him so strange was that what he styled a
'blackamoor' should be thus habited in fashionable vestures and speaking
with an air of authority.

However, evidently Francis Valletort knew the man or at least his
errand--doubtless from some days of student adventure in Italy; and the
apothecary did not feel called upon to interfere. He returned with the
case of instruments to find the stranger and the doctor both gone, the
parlour and the shop both empty, and the candle on the counter guttering
furiously in the fierce draught from the half-open door.

Mr Proudie was angry; there had been no need to slip away like that,
sending him away by a trick, and still further no need to leave the door
open at the mercy of any passing vagabond.

The apothecary went and peered up and down the street; all was wet
darkness; a north wind flung the stinging rain in his face; a distant
street lamp cast a fluttering flame but no light on the blackness.

Mr Proudie closed the door with a shudder and went back to his fire and
his _Gazette_.

'Let him,' he said to himself, still vexed, 'go on his fool's errand.'

He knew very little of Francis Valletort, whose acquaintance he had made
a year ago when the young doctor had come to him to buy drugs. The
apothecary had found his customer earnest, intelligent, and learned, and
a friendship had sprung up between the two men which had ended in the
doctor renting the two rooms above the shop, and, under the wing of the
apothecary, picking up what he could of the crumbs let fall by the
fashionable physicians of this fashionable neighbourhood.

'I hope he will get his fee tonight,' thought Mr Proudie, as he stirred
the fire into a blaze; then, to satisfy his curiosity as to whether this
were really a medical case or only an excuse, he went to the dispensary
to see if the doctor had taken any drugs. He soon discovered that two
bottles, one containing an antidote against arsenic poisoning, composed
of oxide of iron and flax seed, the other a mixture for use against lead
poisoning, containing oak bark and green tea, were missing.

'So there was someone ill?' cried Mr Proudie aloud, and at that moment
the door bell rang again.

'He is soon back,' thought the apothecary, and hastened to undo the
door; 'perhaps le was really hurried away and forgot his case.' He
opened the door with some curiosity, being eager to question the doctor,
but it was another stranger who stumbled down the two steps into the
dark shop--a woman, whose head was wrapped in a cloudy black shawl.

The wind had blown out the candle on the counter and the shop was only
lit by the illumination, faint and dull, from the parlour; therefore, Mr
Proudie could not see his second visitor clearly, but only sufficiently
to observe that she was richly dressed and young; the door blew open, and
wind and rain were over both of them; Mr Proudie had to clap his hand to
his wig to keep it on his head.

'Heaven help us!' he exclaimed querulously. 'What do you want, madam?'

For answer she clasped his free hand with fingers so chill that they
struck a shudder to the apothecary's heart, and broke out into a torrent
of words in what was to Mr Proudie an incomprehensible language; she was
obviously in the wildest distress and grief, and perceiving that the
apothecary did not understand her, she flung herself on her knees,
wringing her hands and uttering exclamations of despair.

The disturbed Mr Proudie closed the door and drew the lady into the
parlour; she continued to speak, rapidly and with many gestures, but all
he could distinguish was the name of Francis Valletort.

She was a pretty creature, fair and slight, with braids of seed pearls in
her blonde hair showing through the dark net of her lace shawl, an
apple-green silk gown embroidered with multitudes of tiny roses, and over
all a black Venetian velvet mantle; long corals were in her ears, and a
chain of amber round her throat; her piteously gesticulating hands were
weighted with large and strange rings.

'If you cannot speak English, madam,' said Mr Proudie, who was sorry for
her distress, but disliked her for her outlandish appearance and because
he associated her with the blackamoor, 'I am afraid I cannot help you.'

While he spoke she searched his face with eager haggard brown eyes, and
when he finished she sadly shook her head to show that she did not
understand. She glanced round the homely room impatiently, then, with a
little cry of despair and almost stumbling in her long silken skirts,
which she was too absorbed in her secret passion to gather up, she
turned back into the shop, making a gesture that Mr Proudie took to mean
she wished to leave. The apothecary was not ill-pleased at this; since
they could not understand each other her presence was but an
embarrassment. He would have liked to have asked her to wait the
doctor's return, but saw that she understood no word of English; he
thought it was Italian she spoke, but he could not be even sure of that.

As swiftly as she had come she had gone, unbolting the door herself and
disappearing into the dark; as far as Mr Proudie could see, she had
neither chair nor coach; in which case she must have come from nearby,
for there was but little wet on her clothes.

Once more the apothecary returned to his fire, noticing the faint perfume
of iris the lady had left on the air to mingle with the odours of
Peruvian bark and camomile, rosemary and saffron, beeswax and turpentine,
myrrh and cinnamon that rendered heavy the air of the chemist's shop.

'Well, she knows her own business, I have no doubt,' thought Mr Proudie,
'and as I cannot help her I had better stay quietly here till Francis
Valletort returns and elucidates the mystery.'

But he found that he could not fix his thoughts on the _Gazette_, nor,
indeed, on anything whatever but the mysterious events of the evening.

He took up an old book of medicine and passed over the pages, trying to
interest himself in old prescriptions of blood root, mandrake and
valerian, gentian, flax seed and hyssop, alum, poke root and black
cherry, which he knew by heart, and which did not now distract him at all
from the thought of the woman in her rich foreign finery, her distress
and distraction, who had come so swiftly out of the night.

Now she had gone, uneasiness assailed him--where had she disappeared? Was
she safe? Ought he not forcibly to have kept her till the return of
Francis Valletort, who spoke both French and Italian? Certainly he had
been the cause of the lady's visit; she had said, again and again,
'Valletort--Francis Valletort.' The apothecary drank his spiced wine,
trimmed and snuffed his candles, warmed his feet on the hearth and his
hands over the blaze, and listened for the bell that should tell of the
doctor's return.

He began to get sleepy, almost dozed off in his chair, and was becoming
angry with these adventures that kept him out of his bed when the bell
rang a third time, and he sat up with that start that a bell rung
suddenly in the silence of the night never fails to give.

'Of course it will be Francis Valletort back again,' he said, rising and
taking up the candle that had now nearly burnt down to the socket; it was
half an hour since the doctor had left the house.

Once again the apothecary opened the door on to the wet, windy night; the
candle was blown out in his hand.

'You--must come,' said a woman's voice out of the darkness; he could just
distinguish the figure of his former visitor, standing in the doorway and
looking down on him; she spoke the three English words with care and
difficulty, and with such a foreign accent that the apothecary stared
stupidly, not understanding, at which she broke out into her foreign
ejaculations, caught at his coat, and dragged at him passionately.

Mr Proudie, quite bewildered, stepped into the street, and stood there
hatless and cloakless, the candlestick in his hand.

'If you could only explain yourself, madam!' he exclaimed in despair.

While he was protesting she drew the door to behind him and, seizing his
arm, hurried along down Dean Street.

Mr Proudie did not wish to refuse to accompany her, but the adventure was
not pleasing to him; he shivered in the night air and felt apprehensive
of the darkness; he wished he had had time to bring his hat and cloak.

'Madam,' he said, as he hurried along, 'unless you have someone who can
speak English, I fear I shall be no good at all, whatever your plight.'

She made no answer; he could hear her teeth chattering and feel her
shivering; now and then she stumbled over the rough stones of the
roadway. They had not gone far up the street when she stopped at the door
of one of the mansions and pushed it gently open, guiding Mr Proudie into
a hall in absolute silence and darkness. Mr Proudie thought that he knew
all the houses in Dean Street, but he could not place this; the darkness
had completely confused him.

The lady opened another door and pushed Mr Proudie into a chamber where a
faint light burned.

The room was unfurnished, covered with dust and in disrepair; only in
front of the shuttered windows hung long, dark blue silk curtains.
Against the wall was hung a silver lamp of beautiful workmanship, which
gave a gloomy glow over the desolate chamber.

The apothecary was about to speak when the lady, who had been standing in
an attitude of listening, suddenly put her hand over his mouth and pushed
him desperately behind the curtains. Mr Proudie would have protested, not
liking this false position, but there was no mistaking the terrified
entreaty in the foreign woman's blanched face, and the apothecary,
altogether unnerved, suffered himself to be concealed behind the flowing
folds of the voluminous curtains that showed so strangely in the
unfurnished room.

A firm step sounded outside and Mr Proudie, venturing in the shadow to
peer from behind the curtain, saw his first visitor of the evening enter
the room. He was now without mask, hat, or wig, and his appearance caused
Mr Proudie an inward shudder.

Tall and superb in carriage, graceful, and richly dressed, the face and
head were those of a full-blooded negro; his rolling eyes, his twitching
lips, and an extraordinary pallor that rendered greenish his dusky skin
showed him to be in some fierce passion. His powerful black hands grasped
a martingale of elegant leather, ornamented with silver studs.

With a fierce gesture he pointed to the lady's draggled skirts and wet
shawl, and in the foreign language that she had used questioned her with
a flood of invective--or such it seemed to the terrified ears of Mr
Proudie.

She seemed to plead, weep, lament, and defy all at once, sweeping up and
down the room and wringing her hands, and now and then, it seemed,
calling on God and his saints to help her, for she cast up her eyes and
pressed her palms together. To the amazed apothecary, to whom nothing
exciting had ever happened before, this was like a scene in a stage play;
the two brilliant, fantastic figures, the negro and the fair woman, going
through this scene of incomprehensible passion in the empty room, lit
only by the solitary lamp.

Mr Proudie hoped that there might be no violence in which he would be
called upon to interfere on behalf of the lady: neither his age nor his
strength would give him any chance with the terrible blackamoor--he was,
moreover, totally unarmed.

His anxieties on this score were ended; the drama being enacted before
his horrified yet fascinated gaze was suddenly cut short. The negro
seized the lady by the wrist and dragged her from the room.

Complete silence fell; the shivering apothecary was staining his ears for
some sound, perhaps some call for help, some shriek or cry.

But nothing broke the stillness of the mansion, and presently Mr Proudie
ventured forth from his hiding-place.

He left the room and proceeded cautiously to the foot of the stairs. Such
utter silence prevailed that he began to think he was alone in the house
and that anyhow he might now return--the front door was ajar, as his
conductress had left it; the way of escape was easy.

To the end of his days Mr Proudie regretted that he had not taken it; he
never could tell what motives induced him to return to the room, take
down the lamp, and begin exploring the house. He rather thought, he
would say afterwards, that he wanted to find Francis Valletort; he felt
sure that he must be in the house somewhere and he had a horrid
premonition of foul play; he was sure, in some way, that the house was
empty and the lady and the blackamoor had fled, and an intense curiosity
got the better of his fear, his bewilderment, and his fatigue.

He walked very softly, for he was startled by the creaking of the boards
beneath his feet; the lamp shook in his hand so that the fitful light ran
wavering over walls and ceiling; every moment he paused and listened,
fearful to hear the voice or step of the blackamoor.

On the first floor all the doors were open, the rooms all empty,
shuttered, desolate, covered with dust and damp.

'There is certainly no-one in the house,' thought Mr Proudie, with a
certain measure of comfort. 'Perhaps Valletort has gone home while I have
been here on this fool's errand.'

He remembered with satisfaction his fire and his bed, the safe,
comfortable shop with the rows of jars, the shining counter, and the
gleaming scales, and the snug little parlour beyond, with everything to
his hand, just as he liked to find it. Yet he went on up the stairs,
continuing to explore the desolate, empty house, the chill atmosphere of
which caused him to shiver as if he was cold to the marrow.

On the next landing he was brought up short by a gleam of light from one
of the back moms. In a panic of terror he put out his own lamp and stood
silent and motionless, staring at the long, faint ray of yellow that fell
through the door that was ajar.

'There is someone in the house, then,' thought Mr Proudie. 'I wonder if
it is the doctor.'

He crept close to the door, but dared not look in; yet could not go away.
The silence was complete; he could only hear the thump of his own heart.

Curiosity, a horrible, fated curiosity, urged him nearer, drove him to
put his eye to the crack. His gaze fell on a man leaning against the
wall; he was dressed in a rich travelling dress and wore neither peruke
nor hat; his superb head was bare to the throat, and he was so dark as to
appear almost of African blood; his features, however, were handsome and
regular, though pallid and distorted by an expression of despair and
ferocity.

A candle stuck into the neck of an empty bottle stood on the bare floor
beside him and illuminated his sombre and magnificent figure, casting a
grotesque shadow on the dark, panelled wall.

At his feet lay a heap of white linen and saffron-coloured brocade, with
here and there the gleam of a red jewel. Mr Proudie stared at this; as
his sight became accustomed to the waving lights and shades, he saw that
he was gazing at a woman.

A dead woman.

She lay all dishevelled, her clothes torn and her black hair fallen in a
tangle--the man had his foot on the end of it; her head was twisted to
one side and there were dreadful marks on her throat.

Mr John Proudie gave one sob and fled, with the swiftness and silence of
utter terror, down the stairs, out into the street, and never ceased
running until he reached home.

He had his key in his pocket, and let himself into his house, panting and
sighing, utterly spent. He lit every light in the place and sat down over
the dying fire, his teeth chattering and his knees knocking together.
Like a man bewitched he sat staring into the fire, raking the embers
together, rubbing his hands and shivering, with his mind a blank for
everything but that picture he had seen through the crack of the door in
the empty house in Dean Street.

When his lamp and candles burnt out he drew the curtains and let in the
colourless light of the November dawn; he began to move about the shop in
a dazed, aimless way, staring at his jars and scales and pestle and
mortar as if they were strange things he had never seen before.

Now came a young apprentice with a muffler round his neck, whistling and
red with the cold; and as he took down the shutters and opened the
dispensary, as the housekeeper came down and bustled about the breakfast
and there was a pleasant smell of coffee and bacon in the place, Mr
Proudie began to feel that the happenings of last night were a nightmare
indeed that had no place in reality; he felt a cowardly and strong desire
to say nothing about any of it, but to try to forget the blackamoor, the
foreign lady, and that horrible scene in the upper chamber as figments of
his imagination.

It was, however, useless for him to take cover in the refuge of
silence--old Emily's first remark went to the root of the matter. 'Why,
where is the doctor? He has never been out so late before.'

Where, indeed, was Francis Valletort?

With a groan Mr Proudie dragged himself together; his body was stiff with
fatigue, his mind amazed, and he wished that he could have got into bed
and slept off all memories of the previous night.

Bur he knew the thing must be faced and, snatching up his hat and coat,
staggered out into the air, looking by ten years an older man than the
comfortable, quiet tradesman of last night.

He went to the nearest magistrate and told his story; he could see that
he was scarcely believed, but a couple of watchmen were sent with him to
investigate the scene of last night's adventure, which, remarked the
magistrate, should be easily found, since there was, it seemed, but one
empty house in Dean Street.

The house was reached, the lock forced, and the place searched, room by
room.

To Mr Proudie's intense disappointment and amazement absolutely nothing
was found: the blue silk curtains had gone, as had the silver lamp the
apothecary had dropped on the stairs in his headlong flight; in the upper
chamber where he had stared through the crack of the door nothing was to
be found--not a stain on the boards, not a mark on the wall. Dusty,
neglected, desolate, the place seemed as if it had not been entered for
years.

Mr Proudie began to think that he had been the victim of a company of
ghosts or truly bewitched. Then, inside the door, was found the pewter
candlestick he had held mechanically in his hand when hurried from his
shop and as mechanically let fall here as he had afterwards let fall the
lamp.

This proved nothing beyond the fact that he had been in the house last
night; but it a little reassured him that he was not altogether losing
his wits.

The fullest inquiries were made in the neighbourhood, but without result.
No-one had seen the foreigners, no-one had heard any noise in the house,
and it would have been generally believed that Mr Proudie had really lost
his senses but for one fact--_Francis Valletort never returned_!

There was, then, some mystery, but the solving of it seemed hopeless, No
search or inquiries led to the discovery of the whereabouts of the young
doctor, and as he was of very little importance and had no friends but
the old apothecary, his disappearance was soon forgotten.

But Mr Proudie, who seemed very aged and, the neighbours said, strange
since that November night, was not satisfied with any such reasoning. Day
and night he brooded over the mystery, and hardly ever out of his mind
was the figure of the young scholar in his shabby clothes, with the
strange face of one doomed as he stood putting his heavy hair back from
his face and staring at the little white ring on the old, polished
counter.

As the years went by the rooms over the chemist's shop were occupied by
another lodger and Mr Proudie took possession of the poor effects of
Francis Valletort--a few shabby clothes, a few shabby books; nothing of
value or even of interest. But to the apothecary these insignificant
articles had an intense if horrid fascination.

He locked them away in his cabinet and when he was alone he would take
them out and turn them over. In between the thick, yellow leaves of a
Latin book on medicine he found the thin leaves of what seemed to be the
remains of a diary--fragments torn violently from the cover--mostly
half-effaced and one torn across and completely blotted with ink.

There was no name, but Mr Proudie recognised the handwriting of Francis
Valletort. With pain and difficulty the dim old eyes of the apothecary
made out the following entries:

July 15th, 1687--I saw her in the church today--Santa Maria Maggiore. He
is her husband, a Calabrere.' Several lines were blotted out, then came
these words--'a man of great power; some mystery--his half-brother is an
African...children of a slave...that such a woman...

July 27th--I cannot see how this is going to end; her sister is married
to the brother--Vittoria, the name--_hers_ Elena della Cxxxxxx.

August 3rd--She showed me the ring today. I think she has worn it since
she was a child; it only fits her little finger.'

Again the manuscript was indecipherable; then followed some words
scratched out, but readable--

As if I would not come to her without this token! But she is afraid of a
trick. _He_ is capable of anything--they, I mean; the brother is as his
shadow. I think she trusts her sister. My little love!

On another page were found further entries:

October 10th--She says that if he discovered us he would kill her--us
together. He told her he would kill her if she angered him; showed her a
martingale and said they would strangle her. My God, why do I not murder
him? Carlo Fxxxxxx warned me today.

October 29th--I must leave Padua. For her sake--while she is safe--if she
is in trouble she will send me the ring. I wonder why we go on living--it
is over, the farewells.

Mr Proudie could make out nothing more; he put down the pages with a
shudder. To what dark and secret tale of wrong and passion did they not
refer? Did they not hold the key to the events of that awful night?

Mr Proudie believed that he had seen the husband and brother-in-law of
some woman Francis Valletort had loved, who had followed him to England
after the lapse of years; having wrung the secret and the meaning of the
white ring from the wretched wife, the husband had used it to lure the
lover to his fate; in his other visitor the apothecary believed he had
seen the sister Vittoria, who, somehow, had escaped and endeavoured to
gain help from the house where she knew Francis Valletort lived, only to
be silenced again by her husband. And the other woman--and the
martingale?

'I saw her, too,' muttered Mr Proudie to himself, shivering over the
fire, '_but what did they do with Frank?_'

He never knew, and died a very old man with all the details of this
mystery unrevealed; the fragments of diary were burnt by some careless
hand for whom they had no interest; the adventure of Mr Proudie passed
into the realms of forgotten mystery, and there was no-one to tell of
them when, a century later, repairs to the foundations of an old house in
Dean Street revealed two skeletons buried deep beneath the bricks. One
was that of a man, the other that of a woman, round whose bones still
hung a few shreds of saffron-coloured brocade; and between them was a
little ring of white enamel and white stones.



ANN MELLOR'S LOVER


I have always been interested in clairvoyance--after all, I hardly know
anyone who isn't; but my interest has always been rather overwhelming--a
kind of haunting preoccupation, wholly pleasant but teasing, like
something you can't place or explain or reason about always must be.

I've never gone in for it scientifically, never had the time or the
money--or perhaps, the courage.

But I've studied--well, all that kind of thing, half-furtively, and
thought about it a great deal.

Of course, it hasn't helped really--I mean not in explaining the
queer things that have happened to me.

This is one of them.

I feel bound to put it down while it is clear in my mind. I find that
unless I put these things into words I lose them. They become faded, then
confused, and finally disappear altogether. It's a great diversion to me,
a great interest, and sometimes a queer sort of pain too.

I haven't very much else in my life. Just an old bookshop that I keep
myself and that keeps me quite comfortably. My father kept the shop
before me, and I've hardly ever left it--it was through the books that
the clairvoyance began, when I was quite a youth.

I say clairvoyance, but that is merely because I don't know the right
word or the exact word or a better word--I don't mean crystal-gazing or
raising spirits or anything of that kind.

I mean my peculiar affinity with the past. It is like a kind of second
sight; but instead of seeing into the future, I can see into the past.
Only now and then, of course, and fitfully and not at will.

Little glimpses are offered me now and then--tantalising, sometimes no
use at all, sometimes startlingly complete, as this was.

I can't explain it. I've heard it called race memory and cited as proof
of reincarnation. I don't know what to believe.

This is the tale.

One day I was undoing a parcel of secondhand books; they had lain in the
shop some time, and I rather forgot where they had come from. I buy a
great many books and from many strange places. There wasn't much in the
parcel, though some of the bindings were good--calf and vellum.

I picked up one of these--a fat volume of an enticing brown colour
faintly traced with gold--and was looking for the half-effaced title when
a loose sheet fluttered from between the covers on to the floor.

I picked it up and found it was a rubbed pencil drawing of a girl's head.
Nothing much in that, yet from that first second I set eyes on the thing
I knew it was significant and vital. I knew that it was a clue that I was
bound to follow through the labyrinth of the past. The feeling really was
that I knew all about it--the whole story, but could not for the moment
remember it.

Just a small pencil drawing on a neat square of yellowed paper; no
signature or initials or date.

No help in the book, which was merely a volume of outrageously dull
Nonconformist sermons printed a hundred and seventy years ago.

No help in the costume (I think I am an expert in that, and can place a
period by a bow or ringlet), for the girl's hair flowed unconfined in a
perfectly natural fashion, and the sketch stopped at the curve of the
bare throat.

She was dark and lively, looked at once wild and weak, and her eyes
sought mine with a direct appeal.

'Now who are you?' I asked myself. 'Who are you?'

I felt sure that I knew her and should soon know all about her--not at
once and suddenly, but slowly, by the following up of small clues, as had
happened to me before.

There was an old gilt frame in the shop among my lumber of fine old odds
and ends, and I put the sketch into this, adjusting it carefully behind
the glass, the frame being much too large, and then took it upstairs and
hung it in my little parlour.

I was filled with the greatest curiosity and excitement. I felt that what
I was going to find out affected me very closely and personally. I was
entirely absorbed by this thought as I went about my business that day,
and when evening came and the shop was shut I hastened upstairs to make
myself comfortable in my old leather chair, fill my pipe, and stare at
the pencilled head that hung above my mantelpiece.

I imagined that as I sat and gazed at her the whole thing would come back
to me--as it sometimes did, a clear glimpse, a scene flashing out of the
darkness of the past.

But this evening nothing came but two words that leapt into my mind and
would not go--one was 'Norway' and the other 'Nightingale'.

I was very disappointed, for the words meant nothing to me--no possible
clue whatever; I knew nothing of Norway and had never even been attracted
to the country; and 'Nightingale' was a mere word to me also, devoid of
every association.

Yet I knew they must be connected in some way with my pencil sketch--the
first feeble beginnings, as it were, of my fumblings into the past.

For two days nothing happened. For two days that face looked at me--no
pencil lines on a bit of yellow paper, but now a warm-coloured human
face; she lived before my inner eye, a complete creature. Her hair was
dark brown and it hung in rather fine curls; the carnation of her face
was glowing and warm; her expression flashed from resentment to appeal,
and was always, bewildered.

In my mind I could not quite see her dress--but I thought that she wore
something white, frilled, and that her background had water in it; that
is, that she moved or lived in some place where there was water.

On the third day after my discovery of the pencil sketch that had
affected me so powerfully, I attended a sale at an old house in rather on
out-of-the-way part of London.

There were some fine old books there that I bought very cheaply, and I
was quite pleased with my afternoon's work. This satisfaction did not,
however, interfere with my absorption in the unknown, dark, troubled
creature about whom I felt such excitement. I discovered no further clues
to her identity nor anything that explained the words, so persistently in
my mind, of 'Norway' and 'Nightingale.'

I turned for home very briskly. It was late December and brightly cold. I
took the shortest cut I could to the nearest Tube station, asking my
direction as I went, for I was not sure of my way in this neighbourhood,
which was one of those fallen from substantial splendour into a kind of
gloomy respectability. Heavy stone houses, built about fifty years ago,
darkened the streets, and, hemmed in by these, I suddenly came upon an
old church and churchyard, railed round neatly and divided by a paved
path, which I knew to be my short cut through. I saw at a glance that
the restored church was uninteresting and the rows of grey and white
tombstones affected me with a sense of mere futile ugliness. I was
hurrying on with a sense of the uncomfortable nip in the air and the
grey dullness of my surroundings when something brought me to a sudden
stop.

I found myself clinging to the railings of the churchyard, staring at a
heavy square stone tomb, which was again surrounded by an iron railing,
through which some patches of recent snow had drifted and now lay soiled
and frozen.

There was one simple inscription on the flat side of the tomb:

ANN MELLOR
Who died in the 23rd year of her age, 1750
'A broken and contrite heart, O Lord,
Thou wilt not despise.'

There was nothing strange in this, save that no names of relationship or
residence were given. The text I had seen before on gravestones, but not
often; it had always seemed to me too obvious an appeal to sentiment to
be taken quite seriously.

But now I trembled with excitement and curiosity. I knew and felt that
this was _she_.

I managed with some difficulty to mount the railings and examine the tomb
all round. There was no further inscription--nothing whatever.

Still, I now knew her name, her age, the year she died. Ann Mellor! It
was so familiar that I wondered how it was I had not recalled it before.
I made my way through the tombs and found a gate near the church door.

It took me very little time to get hold of the verger and receive
permission to look at the registers--but there was little reward for my
pains. The entry was there accurately enough: 'Ann Mellor, spinster, of
this parish, aged twenty-two years.'

The date of the entry was December 24th, 1750.

So she had died in December and been buried on Christmas Eve.

I knew this much more about her, and I went on my way quite elated and
shivering with a desperate kind of excitement.

In about another ten minutes in the colourless twilight I wandered round
the neighbourhood, knowing quite well how useless it was. How could there
be any relics of 1750--a hundred and seventy years ago--among these
massive Victorian houses, these wide modern streets?

'Why,' I reflected, 'the place must have been in the country then--that
church stood among fields--she used to come here by coach--yes, a small
yellow-and-black coach. I can see her in it, with a wide hat and a black
lace scarf tied under it, and--'

The picture was blurred again: I only knew that she used to come to this
church by coach, a small black-and-yellow coach.

I remembered that the book from which the pencil sketch had fallen had
borne the date 1749--probably it had been in Ann Mellor's possession
during the last year of her life.

The thought of this book allured me. I was about to decide to get home to
scrutinise it further when I found Myself almost running into a wooden
hoarding, which in my absorption and the now encroaching darkness I had
not noticed, stretched directly across the street, which was one of mean,
drab, low-windowed villas that appeared to be mostly untenanted. I
perceived that the fence enclosed a piece of waste ground; I placed my
eye to a knot-hole in the wood and saw by the dismal white of the
electric light given from the street lamp that the ground was covered
with builders' rubbish and the skeletons of half-demolished houses.

The sight was very dreary, yet as had the churchyard, it gave me no
effect of depression. I stood quite a long time, regardless of the cold,
staring at the heaps of fallen masonry, the scaffolding poles, the
patches of shadow, the splotches of bleached light from the electric
standard.

At last I turned and retraced my steps down the cul-de-sac.

At the corner I glanced up at the name of the street--'Palmyra Villas.'
There was a policeman passing, and I asked him if this atrocious name was
also that of the last portion of the street which was being demolished.

'No,' he said; 'they used to call that Nightingale Lane. A nice old slum
it was, too. Condemned it, they did, and time too.'

'It wasn't always a slum,' I said.

'Not likely. Fine old houses some of them was; quite a lot of chaps came
over here buying knockers and fanlights and other bits. All gone now,
though,' he replied.

He evidently took me for a prowling and mercenary antique dealer. I
fostered the idea and got from him the name of the firm doing the
housebreaking.

Nightingale Lane--_she_ had lived there--but not always, because she
used to come to church by coach. 'Of this parish'--not _lived_, but
_died_ there. Nightingale Lane--perhaps the nightingales had sung near
here in 1750--one hundred and seventy years ago.

After that I went home and wrote neatly on the edge of my pencil sketch:
'Ann Mellor, who died in Nightingale Lane on Christmas Eve, 1750.'

Though I had found out so much, there seemed no opening for further
investigation; yet I was not at all troubled--I knew that soon
everything would be made clear to me.

It was not, of course, a question of coincidence (personally I do believe
that there is such a thing), but of finding out, through this peculiar
faculty of mine, the story of Ann Mellor.

I knew that this story had something to do with me; I felt such an
extraordinary intimacy and interest, such an excitement, nay, palpitation
at the thought of Ann Mellor.

I was not in the least distracted by the fact that I had looked at her
tomb and read the entry of her death one hundred and seventy years ago.
This death seemed to me a mere incident that we, she and I, had long left
behind. A visit to the housebreakers of Nightingale Lane, a patient
research among the purchasers of the oddments from the old tenements
procured little result.

But there was a silver shoe-buckle found buried in the cellar of one of
the houses. That I bought at once.

'Why, that was her house, the house at the corner,' I said. 'And I
remember going down to the cellar, when...'

It was all blurred again--only just that glimpse when I recalled the
house, and going down to the cellar, and losing a shoe-buckle in the
dark, and searching a little for it, then giving it up impatiently. This
connected me personally with Ann Mellor. I began to feel that we had been
together in curious scenes--it was all blurred, dark, troubled, but I
knew that I should understand very soon.

The haunting of the word 'Norway' puzzled me very much--it did not seem
to fit into the story at all.

That evening I took the pencil sketch, the book from which it had fallen,
the silver buckle, and holding all of them tightly in my hand,
concentrated on an effort to find out more of the person or persons to
whom they had belonged.

Usually when I did this my second sight, or clairvoyance or whatever you
called the faculty I had, rewarded me with distinct visions or pictures.

This time there was nothing.

Instead, I felt there was somewhere I ought to go--impelled as it were,
to get up and walk to some given point.

I put on my hat and coat, placed my treasures in my pocket, and hurried
out. It was evening, wet and cold, and just at the hour when the
theatres are full and the streets empty. Quite automatically and without
knowing in the least where I was going, I walked rapidly to Oxford
Street, then turned sharply to the left in the direction of the Marble
Arch.

I was rather surprised and disappointed, for I thought I had been guided
in the direction of Ann Mellor's tomb and the ruins of Nightingale Lane.
This part of the world appeared to have no association whatever with the
story I was trying to discover.

The great closed opulent shops with the expanses of shining glass looked
blank and alien, as did the long glimmer of the polished road, along
which the huge and gaudy motorbuses rolled through the murky night
splashed with artificial light.

I crossed Park Lane to the Marble Arch, crossed again, and walked along
by the Park railings.

'My God!' I said suddenly, 'I've been here before.' A sudden pang of rage
and terror possessed me, and I had a distinct vision of _pine forests,
mountains, and a large lake or bay_--flashed, like a photo picture on the
screen, across the dark fronts of the heavy houses fronting me.

The road was empty, and I swung across impulsively. In the centre I
stopped and put my hand to my throat. I knew that I had reached the end
of my journey.

Under my feet was the metal triangle let into the pavement to mark the
site of Tyburn gallows.

I turned away very quickly, shuddering under the drizzling rain.

How did this sinister place enter into the story of Ann Mellor? And what
was the meaning of that clearcut little vision of pines and mountains and
lake?

I fell into an extreme agitation, and the material objects about me
became unreal; they seemed to wane and roll away as if they were painted
on a curtain that was being pulled aside.

I thought of what I had heard and read of the fourth dimension. That
night when I went to bed I put the book, the buckle and the sketch under
my pillow.

I knew what was going to happen and half dreaded it, yet deliberately
prepared for it.

I was going to meet Ann Mellor. As I closed my eyes and lost all
sensation of time and space, there seemed a second's black
unconsciousness. When I opened my eyes, I was standing at a little
window that looked down from some height on to the Thames. There were
ice-floes on the grey water, and the air was chill. By looking up the
river I could see a vast amount of shipping; great masted vessels
crowding together in the broad reach of the river.

A few seagulls swooped and swerved in front of me--gleaming, yet white
and grey, like the river and the ice-floes.

I turned to face the room, which was completely panelled in plain wood.
The floor sloped a little and the door was low; a tea equipage stood on
the table; the fireplace had Dutch tiles with little figures in blue.

The room affected me with a delicious sense of home, and yet--something
poignant and heart-searching.

The low door opened. And she entered.

She wore a white muslin dress all frilled, and carried a calf-bound book.

'You like to keep me waiting,' I said, speaking English awkwardly. Ann
Mellor went to the tea-table.

'Mrs Briscoe says you come too often,' she said. 'Do you come too often,
Eric--do you?'

I faced her. 'You are a hussy and lead me on. You will not let me stay
away.'

She gave me a looks half smile, half frown, of wayward passion. 'Ay,
bully me,' she said. 'That is my thanks and my reward. My aunt scolds
because you come--and this is your gratitude.'

'You'll marry me, you pretty little wretch, and then there will be an
end of these quarrels,' I said.

'God helping me, no,' she answered; 'I'll not marry you.'

'You will,' I swore.

I was close to her now, only the table between us, and her provoking face
was a short space from mine.

The delicious magic of that moment seemed intolerable; when I held and
kissed her, the joy of it seemed unbearable. It was supreme, but more a
supreme pain than a supreme satisfaction. She had played fast and loose
with me for so long--now yes, now no, denying, provoking--and I looked
back on a life that had held very little denial or provocation.

'You have got to marry me,' I said. 'You are nothing but a girl, and I'll
make you.'

'I'll not marry a foreigner,' she pouted.

'A penniless jade like you to choose! I am a rich man,' I boasted. 'I
could put three thousand pounds into your English bank tomorrow.'

An elderly woman joined us and my chance was over. She looked on me with
disfavour, and scolded Ann for trifles.

I was bored, but would not go for fear of missing another opportunity of
talking to Ann alone. I picked up the book she had brought in and took it
to the window. It was a dull volume of sermons, very new and stiff in the
binding.

I yawned.

I took out my pocket-book and pencil and under cover of the open book
made a pencil sketch of Ann as she sat at the tea-table bickering with
Mrs Briscoe. When I had finished the sketch I idly shut it up in the book
and put the book on the windowsill. For another half-hour I sat there
listening to the women gossiping and scolding, then I rose.

I looked at Ann insolently, tormented by the thought of her crushed in my
arms, angry with her for ignoring me.

'Will you come to church this Sunday, as usual, Ann?' I asked.

'Leave her at peace in church, do, Mr Ericson!' cried the aunt. 'And we
will not go to the Nightingale Lane Church tomorrow--it is too far.'

'Yes, we will go,' said Ann. 'Hike the preacher and the coach ride.'

She looked at me as she spoke, and I went straight up to her and took her
by the shoulders, regardless of the other woman.

'My little love,' I said, 'do not deny me any more. Have you ever thought
of death? We might be dead and cold--think how cold, these hearts of
ours--before the spring is in flower--'

'Dead,' she laughed--'dead!'

'Dead and love frustrate.'

Mrs Briscoe drew her away from me. 'God save us from these foreign
manners,' she shrilled. 'You are nothing but a North Sea rover--'

I laughed very heartily at this, for I was one of the richest timber
merchants in Kristiansund, and I swaggered away, fingering the sword on
my hip.

As I walked through the streets of Wapping I was making plans to abduct
the girl and marry her by force.

First I went to Nightingale Lane, looking for lodgings, and found them at
the house of Mrs Porter. Then I went to the Black Bull in Holborn and
picked up with some town bullies of my acquaintance, and arranged matters
with them over a bottle of Tokay.

Two sham bailiffs were to arrest her for an imaginary debt on her way to
church--to bring her to me at the Black Bull, where we should be married,
I having my clergyman ready, and then I would take her to Nightingale
Lane, near the church she so loved.

Here I cannot very well remember sequences--all is blurred, as by the
haste and excitement of violent action.

I knew that for several hours I was moving about hastily in great
agitation and temper from one place to another, chiefly between Wapping,
the Black Bull, and Nightingale Lane.

Always was the cold, the rain, the scatters of snow, the iron-coloured
river, the lead-coloured sky.

My schemes succeeded perfectly.

The sham bailiffs stopped the coach and forced out Ann Mellor, leaving
Mrs Briscoe shrieking vainly in the grey silence of the wet Sunday
morning, and brought her to me where I waited in the private room at the
Black Bull.

My darling was brought in, not without indignity. I did not wish to spare
her; I felt all the cruelty that passionate love will often show towards
the beloved object.

'I knew that it was you,' she said.

'Of course you knew it was I,' I replied--what other man was there who
would so dare to mishandle her?

I thought that she would appeal to my rascal clergyman or my ruffian
witnesses, but she did not.

And we were married and left alone.

'Take me away from here,' she said; 'anywhere from this vile tavern.'

'I've lodgings,' I said, 'in Nightingale Lane.'

She turned her head away when I came near her, only repeating, 'Take me
away.'

'You must watch your temper now, madam,' I smiled. 'You are my wife.'

At that she broke into violent weeping, like a little child, and gave me
a deal of trouble to get her away into the coach.

When we reached our lodgings, which seemed the dearest place in the world
to me, my wife fell from tears to abuse and railed incoherently. I tried
to humour her.

'Why, Ann,' I said, 'you know this is the best manner in which to deal
with your tiresome relatives--come, look up and kiss me. You know that
you love me.'

'And if I do,' she answered, with the foolish inconsistency of women,
'does not that make it worse?'

So we quarrelled, she tragic, I smiling, till the landlady brought up the
supper.

I asked her for some of the wine I had had sent in from the Black Bull
yesterday, and she, grumbling, said it was in the cellar and had no mind
to go there in the dark. So I took the key and the candle and went
myself.

One of the buckles was loose and slipped on my shoe. I smiled to see it,
thinking of Ann sewing it on for me, and laughing over the thread.

I stood awhile in the cellar, forgetful of my errand, thinking that this
was my wedding night and how I loved my darling.

I thought of my own home, and how I would take her there, and the great
joy and contentment we should have together.

When I had selected my wine, I noticed, in stooping, that the loose
buckle was lost. As I searched for it, a draught blew my candle out, and
being in the dark I gave up the business and went upstairs.

I found the house full of strangers; Mrs Briscoe was there with two of my
wife's uncles and four constables. I understood amid the noise and
confusion (I could not understand the English so very well) that I was to
be arrested on a charge of abduction.

I laughed in their faces. I was so sure of Ann. 'The lady will tell you
herself,' I said, 'that she is very willingly my wife.'

'Swagger away, my fine young man,' sneered Mrs Briscoe; 'you are nowt but
a foreign bully.'

'Ann will tell you what she thinks of me,' I answered.

We all went into the little room where she was. She must have heard us
coming, for she stood ready, against the table. She still wore her hat
with the black lace under it round her chin, and her dark cape over her
white dress.

When she saw her relatives and the constables crowding in, she crossed
instantly over to me and put her hand in mine.

I felt as if I should suffocate with the glad leap my heart gave. I
placed my bottle of wine on the table.

'You see,' I said, 'my wife stands by me.'

Ann took her hand away. They asked her formally if she was a willing
party to her elopement and marriage.

'Cannot you see,' she cried, 'by the way you find me that I am here by
outrage and deceit?'

'Girl,' I asked aghast, 'do you deny your husband?'

'Had I had my will you would have been no husband of mine,' she said
bitterly.

I could afford to laugh at this, knowing how she loved me, but the others
seized on her statement and made her swear to it, which the passionate
girl did.

'I'll hurt you as you hurt me,' she cried. 'This shall be a black day's
work for you.'

I let them disarm and arrest me; I did not know much of the English laws,
and I asked what my punishment would be.

One of the uncles answered me. 'The girl's an heiress. In stealing her
you've stolen property.'

'Twenty pounds a year and a thousand in the Government!' I answered.
'What is that to me? I am a rich man.'

'No matter. You've committed a felony. We look after property in this
country. If you are found guilty, it is the gallows.'

Ann and I looked at each other. 'See how you frustrate love,' I said. 'I
did not mean what I said,' she stammered; 'I married him willingly--'

'The girl speaks in pity,' said Mrs Briscoe; 'I can prove how she was
forced away--'

The girl tried to get at me now, but was forced back.

'This is a bitter marriage night,' I said. As they took me away, I heard
her laughing like a maniac.

So I last saw her, down on her knees, holding them all at bay, laughing
like a maniac.

I woke up in my little bedroom above the bookshop, and took from under
the pillow the pencil sketch I had made so long ago, the book Ann was
reading that day, and the buckle I had lost on my marriage day in the
cellar in Nightingale Lane. It was all absolutely clear now; I remembered
the trial, the walk to Tyburn, that devastating vision of my own land
that had come upon me as I reached the fatal spot.

Two sentences of my dying speech stuck in my mind. I said, 'I die for
transgressing a law I knew not or; and again, 'I am so much in charity
with my wife, that I believe she had no hand in this.'

I was rather curious to see what history had said of my case, so, that
day being a Saturday, I went to the British Museum as soon as the shop
was shut and looked up the trials for the year 1750. I could not find any
full report here, nor did I trouble to search for it. The brief record
was sufficient.

_At Tyburn, in December 1750, was hanged Eric Ericson, a wealthy young
Norwegian of good family, for the abduction and marriage of Ann Mellor,
heiress of the late William Mellor, a merchant, of Wapping. He pleaded
the complicity of the girl, but she denied him at first, retracting too
late. Her relatives obtained permission to annul the marriage and for the
girl to retain the name of Mellor._

I felt very exultant and triumphant.

'She died of it,' I said, as I closed the book, 'in Christmas week my
darling died. She went back to the lodgings I had taken for her. They
could not do anything with her. She turned away from them all and died.'

I hurried home through the iron December twilight as I had hurried before
to Nightingale Lane. At last I was going to be happy with Ann Mellor.



THE END



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