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Title: The Wreck of the South Pole Author: Charles Curtz Hahn * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1203671h.html Language: English Date first posted: September 2012 Date most recently updated: September 2012 Produced by: Maurie Mulcahy Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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|THE WRECK OF THE SOUTH
THE INDESTRUCTIBLE STORY.
THE BABY GHOST
WHY HE TOOK HIM ALONG.
WHAT SHALL SHE DO?
A MEDICAL STUDENT'S LOVE.
WRITTEN IN WATER.
THAT DECEPTIVE TELEGRAM.
THE LITTLE GIRL, NOW A WOMAN.
A CHICAGO ROMANCE.
THE BEACON SHIP OF HALF MOON BAY.
Readers may remember the story told by an ancient mariner which was published last November. This was an account of a cruise which Capt. Reynolds, of New London, Conn., made in the South Seas twenty-six years ago. This voyage, so far as the South Seas were concerned, ended at the South Georgia Islands, where the captain and his crew remained until driven out by the ice.
These islands are situated exactly 1,000 miles east of Cape Horn, with an oceanic current running directly from the southern end of the American Continent to them. Here is the most beautiful harbor in the world—the Cumberland. It is surrounded on three sides by lofty mountains which rear their heads straight upward 16,000 feet above the sea, and down whose sides five cataracts flow. But wild and rugged as are those mountain peaks and tempestuous as may be the ocean out beyond, no storms are ever felt within the harbor, although looking upward the sailor can see them raging around the mountain tops.
Resting on the bosom of the placid waters, his ship scarcely moving by the gentle waves, with golden sunshine falling all around, looking upward tornadoes, rain and snow will be seen raging among the upper cliffs.
But there is another harbor on this island of quite a different character.
Capt. Reynolds and his crew anchored in Frenchman's Bay and there found a house built of ship's cabin timber, every inch of which was carved with the history of four men, who had been lost off Cape Horn and their vessel carried by the current to this island. They had been lost twenty years before, and had lived in this house for seventeen years, according to the records which they carved upon its walls.
After the seal rookery had been visited, the captain organized a volunteer investigation party to explore the interior. Coming to the top of a mountain range, they let down John Sands, who was lost in the Arctic Ocean on the ill-fated Narvach, to find a path for them. He called back that he thought a way could be found, but they had better leave the rope hanging in case they were obliged to return by it. The whole party descended, but soon were obliged to repeat the performance, and when they reached the valley, half a dozen ropes were hanging down the mountain side.
It was well they left them, for on examining the valley into which they had descended, they found that it was walled in by precipitous mountains, and that this one point upon which they had stumbled by accident or by fate was the only place they could be crossed. And if those ropes had not been left, they probably would have died in that lonely place, for this cave was cut off from the ocean, as well as from the rest of the island. All along in front were breakers which rendered the approach of any boat impossible. The beach was thirty miles wide and was strewn with the wrecks of a thousand ships, which had been lost off Cape Horn and drifted to this place with the current. Once in this cove, it was impossible to leave it.
During the afternoon of the first day which the party passed in this place, one of those thrilling occurrences which sailors, in either the Arctic or Antarctic Oceans, are always on the lookout for, happened.
As the little party of adventurous men were exploring the valley, Capt. Reynolds saw in the distance what he thought was the work of human hands, but whether it was the portion of a ship which had escaped the anger of the breakers and been tossed up on the shore, or was really a human habitation, he could not say. But, approaching, they found that it was a hut, rudely and imperfectly yet warmly constructed out of ship's timber. Many a time, and in most unlikely places, had such habitations been found by the crew during this cruise. The first thought of every man was to examine and see if there was any one living in it, although with but little hope, for if the four men who had been cast in Frenchman's Valley could not survive, what chance could there be for any one in this deserted spot?
And yet it was inhabited. As they drew near the cabin, a man, bearing no evidence of starvation or of hardship, and with the manners of a refined gentleman, came out and addressed them. There was nothing in his conversation or his actions which would indicate a shipwrecked man, or one pining in loneliness in that solitary place.
On the contrary, he had the appearance of a man well satisfied with his surroundings, and he greeted the men politely and cheerily, but not with that joyous gratefulness which they were accustomed to find in men rescued from such a situation.
He received their salutations there as coolly as if the meeting had occurred in the center of civilization. They entered his hut and he entertained them frugally, of course, but as politely as if the meeting had been in New York.
Of course, their first inquiry was as to how he came there, and from what ship he was lost, and to these queries he replied briefly:
"My name is George Wilding. I was shipwrecked off Cape Horn a year ago. Our ship was a whaler, homeward bound. Ten of us escaped in the long boat, but I alone survived. After weeks of drifting, my boat was thrown upon the reefs in front of this cove, smashed to pieces, and I borne in to shore by the tide."
This was all he told them then, but he afterward left this record of strange adventure.
As to who I am, a very few words will be sufficient. Three years ago I left a seaport town on the Atlantic Coast for a whaling voyage in the South Seas. When in latitude 65, and almost directly south of Cape Horn, our ship was wrecked, and after various disasters I found myself alone in a boat drifting rapidly southward. Icebergs could be seen in every direction, and on the tenth day after the wreck I sighted one straight ahead which appeared immovable and extending to the horizon on the east and west. All day I floated in sight of this towering mass of ice, each hour some feature of it growing more and more distinct, until at last, as night came, I feared, with good reason, that my frail boat would be dashed against it and I lost.
All that night I remained awake, watching the great mass as it drew nearer and nearer, or rather as I drew nearer to it. But the contact did not come that night. When morning broke I was still at some distance from it, and could now see that instead of an iceberg floating in the sea, it was all one solid mass, its cold peaks of glittering ice towering mountain high before me.
In many places these peaks arose precipitously from the ocean, against which the long billows broke themselves with steady sweep. But here and there I could detect openings which had all the appearance of bays, or inlets, into a continent of ice.
I managed to row into one of these, and found that the ice sloped gradually down to the level of the water as on a beach. I landed, and drawing my boat up, fastened it to a jagged piece of ice, and started out upon an exploring expedition.
Climbing to the highest elevation, I found in front of me a long, level plain of ice, extending as far as the eye could reach, and I determined upon exploring it. So, returning to my boat, I managed by pushing and hauling, to draw it far enough up the sloping ice to be above the tide, and there left it in a sort of cove, which was so shaped as to block it from slipping back into the ocean and becoming lost. For I never dreamed but that I would soon return to the boat, possibly for the purpose of rowing out to some whaler which might drift into this latitude.
And yet I knew ours was the only ship which ever had come that far south, and it was driven there by the storm. However, living is hope in the human breast!
There was I, a thousand miles from any known land! Out of the track of vessels. All alone on a great continent of ice, with scarcely provision to last a week, and yet making fast my boat for a return to an unknown ship which common sense should have told me would never come.
Having then made my boat safe, I tied together a cask of water and some provisions and started on my exploration, dragging them over the slippery ice behind me. I chose my direction as nearly south as was possible, for what reason or why I was moved to do so I could not then have told, but I learned later. I had traveled probably five miles, and the polar sun was sinking down for a few hours, dip below the horizon, for this was the season of long days and short nights, when I was startled by seeing far ahead, in the dusky twilight, what appeared to be a rude hut.
Could it be that other unfortunates had been wrecked on this part of the great iceberg? flashed through my mind. Anyway, I resolved to push forward as rapidly as possible and see. Even should I find no inhabitant, the hut would at least provide me shelter and a chance for rest and sleep.
And here, the first of the strange happenings which occurred to me in this strange land, was brought to my attention. I plainly heard in my ears, as if some one standing close to me had spoken, the words:
"Courage. Seek the house and all will be well."
Those who have seen the great fur coats and caps which Arctic whalers wear, will readily understand how a person might slip up near another from behind, or the side, without being seen, and I turned around to look at the person who spoke. But, although I turned completely around and surveyed all points of the compass, I could see nothing but ice.
Not a living being of any kind was in sight.
At first I was overwhelmed with astonishment, then the astonishment turned into gray fear.
"The cold and the trials and the weariness of the journey had affected my brain," was the thought which came to me.
A few minutes came another shock which nearly completed the work of terror the first had begun.
Ahead of me, not more than fifty paces, I saw the figure of a man standing out clear and distinct against the boundless expanse of white snow and ice.
But the next instant it was gone! It did not move from the place it was standing, did not disappear behind a hillock of ice, for the great plain was as smooth as a floor. It simply disappeared.
I was so overcome with fear—not at any idea of ghost, although sailors are notoriously superstitious—but from fear that my mind was wandering. I was so overcome, I say, that I stood stock still, and this exhibition of terror, I afterward learned, was the means of saving me from seeing the apparition again—a sight which, I believe, would have completely crazed me. But although I saw nothing again, I heard the voice a second time bidding me press on to the hut with all haste, and at the same time, I cannot tell how, there came new strength in my body and new vigor in my brain. I walked rapidly on, and within half an hour reached the hut.
It was a veritable house that I saw as I drew nearer. But so strange had been my journey that at no time would I have been surprised to see it suddenly disappear from the icy plain and leave nothing but a mound of ice to mark the goal of my pilgrimage.
It was a small building, not more than 10x12 in dimensions, but strongly built of logs, a fact which surprised me greatly, as there certainly was no timber in that icy region.
The interior was comfortably fitted up with a bed, a table, some chairs and a stove, in which a hot fire was burning. To the latter I rushed and held my benumbed hands close to its comfortable sides.
I tell you, after days of drifting on a stormy polar sea, and a day's travel over frozen fields of ice, a fire is a rare comfort.
After getting the chill off the outside of me, and my joints loosened up a little, I took a more careful look at the cabin, and then noticed that the table was laid for supper and that there was only one plate. But this was no time for ceremony. The man for whom the meal was provided would well excuse a shipwrecked mariner for devouring it. I sat down with a clear conscience and did so.
After my hunger was satisfied I sat thinking. It is a true fact that a man seldom thinks until his animal wants are satisfied. I mean, think in the common use of the word, which is merely recalling memories. When he is in a tight place he reasons. I am using these words now in the vulgar, not the scientific sense.
So I sat thinking. The man whom I thought I saw must have been the owner of this place and no doubt he had stepped behind some icy hillock and so disappeared. But the words I heard? Well, I was too tired to speculate upon them, and after waiting a decent length of time for the owner of the hut to return, I threw myself upon the bed and fell asleep.
When I awoke, after ten hours of sleep, such as I had not enjoyed for many a day, the cabin was as I had left it when I turned in, except that the fire was burning low. Everything else remained the same. No one had entered while I slept. Food for breakfast I found in a cupboard behind the stove, and as I was preparing my meal I saw a placard on the wall which I was quite certain had not been there the night before. It read:
"This hut was erected for shipwrecked mariners. When you have rested, travel due south."
That was all, but the meaning was plain. There must be people living somewhere in this country. Hence I was on what many geographers had supposed this great mass of ice to be—a frozen continent.
But if there were people living on it, then some portion of it cannot be covered with ice.
After preparing and eating a hearty breakfast, I set out for the south, guided by my pocket compass, which, fortunately, I had placed in the boat before we left the ship. I traveled ten hours that day, and again came to a cabin which I entered and found provisions for a meal. No one met me, and a second time I lay down and slept. A similar placard was on the walls of this hut also, directing me to continue my journey southward.
After five days of travel over the snow, I thought I could notice a change in the atmosphere for the warmer, and in a couple of days more saw unmistakable evidences of a change of climate. By and by the snow and ice disappeared and bushes sprang up just as I had found them doing in going south when exploring the north polar zone, and coming down the shores of Alaska. And at regular intervals, during all this journey, I found huts furnished with a bed, a fire, provisions, and the usual placard.
One morning, after I had been traveling over ground, instead of ice, for several days, a startling thing happened to me. I had found my cabin, as usual, eaten and slept in it. But in the morning, after breakfast, I was astonished to see a small slip of paper lying on the table, where I had eaten a few minutes before. I was quite certain it was not there while I ate, as I had sat at the table for quite a while. Who, then, could have placed it there? So far in my journey I had met no one, neither had I seen any evidence of human beings. I opened the paper and found it was a note, saying:
"At your next station you will meet a guide who will conduct you to the city."
Very kind and hospitable of them, I thought to myself. And from the wording of the note and the placards on the cabin walls no doubt they are civilized.
The information that another day's journey would bring me, if not to the end of my travels, yet at least to the beginning of the end, and that I would meet with human beings, spurred me on and I walked more rapidly than any previous day.
Queer things had happened to me during my brief sojourn to this ice-bound continent, but a stranger event still was to happen this day, an event which, perhaps, had much to do with molding my life, perhaps the future of a great nation I was approaching. Indeed, I am almost inclined to believe its effects may possibly, as I was afterward told, be so far reaching as to include the whole globe.
It is thus that at every turn in life the little things bear in their turn incalculable results.
You will not have forgotten the man whom I saw for a moment that first day on the summit of the iceberg, but who disappeared so suddenly that I was feign to believe him an image of my demented brain. You may remember, also, the voices which I heard speaking to me in the awful silence of glittering ice and infinite depths of sky. And the cottages, or huts, strung at regular intervals in which I was fed by mysterious hands! But the most mysterious of all to me was the finding of the note upon the table, where, half an hour before, I knew it had not been. All these were full of mystery, but the crowning mystery and, I may add, crowning glory, came to me this last day of isolation.
When I had walked for probably five hours, and the landscape was growing more and more like that of an inhabitable country, with here and there struggling trees and shrubs, I saw in the distance a human being—a woman.
She was standing still, out on the plain, which was now no longer a field of ice, and looking toward the north. At first I stopped in amazement, and then quickening my pace, hurried on toward her. She remained motionless, as if awaiting my coming, and when I approached to within a few rods, so that her face could be distinguished, she smiled a welcome and lifted her hand, as if beckoning me to her.
Let me pause here and describe this image, which, from that moment, became my ideal of womanhood and which since then has ever been enshrined in my heart.
She was tall. Not the tallest woman in the world I had ever seen, but slightly above the common height. Her figure was compactly built, with hips slender as a boy's and as graceful, and with the bust rounded out in the curves of budding womanhood.
As to her face! It was long and oval, but not with a high brow. Her complexion clear pink and white, and her hair the softest of dark brown, fine spun and floating. And her eyes—not brown nor black nor blue, but of that clear gray which are the most beautiful God ever made. They are so beautiful that He entrusts them to but few, even of women.
I loved her from the first moment her face appeared to me on that barren plain.
As I drew nearer to her she smiled again and said in a sweet voice:
"Welcome to our land," and although it was the most commonplace phrase, no music ever sounded sweeter in my ears. For had her voice not been most musical and her face and form perfection of artistic grace, these were the first human words I had heard since the day of the shipwreck. The first human words, I say, because those I heard out on the ice fields, coming from no visible person, I could not reckon as human.
I never have been very forward with women—on the contrary, rather diffident—but I felt no bashfulness with her. Instead, I rapidly stepped up to her side and asked her one question after another as to where I was and what land I was approaching, all of which she answered, still smiling my heart into her own keeping.
"I am Winnifred, and you are approaching the city of Theon, the capital of the state, and will reach it to-night. You are now in the borderland between the state and the land of the ice. Follow me. I came to lead you."
We walked along after that side by side, she plying me with questions as to my journey across the ice, although even then I had an impression that she was doing so merely to hear me talk, rather than because she did not know every detail of it already. I noticed, also, that while she talked with me freely and with perfect ease, she kept, with what I considered needless prudery at the time, several feet away, and never allowed me to approach near enough to touch her.
After we had traveled together for an hour or more, we came to the summit of a range of mountains which sloped gently downward to a great, level plain, filled with luxuriant vegetation, and in the center of which stood as fair a city as ever I set eyes upon. This mountain range appeared circular in shape, surrounding the plain on all sides, except that far to the south there appeared on the horizon what looked like the ocean.
Noticing my expression of wonder, she explained:
"You are looking down into the land which surrounds the south pole, and which contains the oldest nation on the face of the earth. So old is it that all of art and science which man has ever been able to think out is there treasured. And it is as you suspect, surrounded by a wall of mountains, and then of eternal ice. And the water which you see in the distance is really a great inland sea, salt as the ocean, although seemingly entirely cut off from it. Yet it is not cut off. There is a small outlet, that is, small compared with the great ocean outside, where the water passes in and out underneath a glacier which towers miles high and from which are continually dropping the giant icebergs which float in the southern seas."
"Winnie, Winnie," I repeated half to myself, as we stood looking down upon the fair valley below. "What a pretty name. But it is so English that I am surprised. Are some of the inhabitants of this country of yours descended from the English?"
"Oh, no," she replied, looking at me with her gray eyes in a way which made my heart beat faster. "You will find all nationalities represented here in names, for, as I told you, we combine all of art and learning of all ages of the world. That surprises you, does it not? You will understand it when you have been with us a few days. My name was chosen for me by my mother because she fancied it as a quaint old-fashioned name in an English book she was reading when I was born."
At this moment I drew nearer and attempted to take her hand in mine. I did grasp it, but when I did so found I was clasping empty air.
I stepped back in horror. Was this a land of ghouls that I had come to? She stood for a moment looking at me at first in surprise and then in sorrow, and then faded quickly from my sight.
When the figure of the girl who had been walking and talking but a moment before disappeared, I will confess that I was afraid. Imagine a shipwrecked man who had drifted for days on an angry ocean, who had climbed icebergs and traveled over ice fields for days, who had heard mysterious voices, been mysteriously provided with food and shelter, seen that which he could explain in no other way than as spirit, who had received notes in places where no human hands could have placed them. A man alone in a mysterious land which civilized portions of the globe had not believed to exist.
What could the strongest man, under such circumstances, do but stand in fear and anguish? What was this strange land; was it the entrance to the infernal regions, or peopled with shades of the departed? Or was I losing my mind and imagining all these things?
The latter I rejected after the first thought, for the food and the lodging were too substantial for me to have dreamed them. And the first was almost as unreasonable, for with whatever this land was peopled they certainly had no evil intention toward me.
I stood there on the summit of the mountain range for half an hour meditating upon these strange things and turning over in my mind what to do. To turn back I was most strongly inclined, but there was something which drew me down the valley. What that was I could not say then, although I learned afterward. In spite of prospective dangers and mysteries, I felt impelled to proceed instead of going back.
Step by step I went down the valley, noting at almost every step new indications of a different clime. Vegetation began to spring up and the air assumed a softer temper. Animals and birds could be seen, flowers appeared, and as I descended farther I came to cattle grazing and fields of grain and corn.
As I reached the last descent before coming into the valley, or down to the plain, I saw a man approaching, a man who seemed in figure strangely like the one I saw for a brief time out on the ice fields, and I will confess to a feeling of fear again. But this time there was no disappearance. We gradually drew near each other until within hailing distance, when he called out in a cheery voice in English telling me to hasten and bidding me welcome. But while I did not stop, yet I did not hasten, and I viewed him with ill-concealed suspicion until he reached out and grasped my hand in a hearty handshake.
Then I realized that whatever mysterious experiences I had gone through I had met at last a human being, and then—all the strength which had held me up for days gave way and I sank down upon the ground and cried. Yes, cried. And any one else would have done the same thing under similar circumstances.
"Poor fellow," I heard the stranger saying in a sympathetic voice. "The strain has been too great upon him," and he walked a little ways from me until I recovered myself. Then he returned.
"Never mind, my friend. You have had a hard time of it, but we will soon be at home, where you can rest. You shall go direct to my house and remain in absolute seclusion until you are thoroughly yourself again, which I do not believe will be many days."
"But where am I? What is this country? We never believed there were human beings around the south pole."
"You are really in an inhabited country, and you will find it equally as attractive as your own, I hope. But it may be as well for us to talk of these things later. Come, let us go home."
I arose and with him continued my journey for half an hour more, when we came to a mansion in the center of a well-kept park. We entered the house and proceeded at once to a large, comfortable bed chamber, where he left me, saying:
"You had better lie down for a while. I will have some refreshments sent to you," and with these words withdrew.
That hour of rest I can never forget, although it was disturbed by many queries as to my surrounding. Have you ever gone through a long mental strain, of fear, of danger, of expectation? And then, when all was over, how peaceful was the relaxation! I gave myself up to the enjoyment of it; lay back upon the couch and rested, gazing idly out at the branches of the trees in the park gently swaying with the breeze.
A servant entered with a lunch and a strong cup of coffee, and after I had eaten and drank he returned again with a suit of clothes of American cut which fitted me very nicely. And again at the end of an hour, when my host supposed I was sufficiently rested, the same servant appeared and invited me to descend to the parlor, which I did.
It was a quietly, comfortably furnished room, with a curtain suspended across the entrance to another, and as I stood in the center surveying the apartment the curtains parted and Winnie, the beautiful figure I had seen that afternoon, appeared between them.
She was smiling as when I first saw her out on the barren plain, and came forward with hand extended to greet me. But noticing that I drew a step back and, as she afterward told me, that my face grew pale, she cried out in a cheery voice:
"Will you not allow me to welcome you to our home? I am Winnifred, your host's daughter," and coming close to me took my hand in hers.
I could say nothing, only looked at her in astonishment. There could be no doubt but this was the exact image of the girl I had seen on the barren mountain plain, and I defy any man not to have been completely nonplussed under the circumstances.
"Are you not satisfied that I am I? and that you see very flesh and blood?"
"But," I stammered, "this afternoon I saw some one so like you that I thought for a moment that you were she."
"Ah. You have been meeting ladies already, have you? Tell me who this one was. What was her name? Where did you meet her? And was she really anything like me?"
"The exact image, and she told me her name was Winnifred."
"That is strange. I must inquire who this double of mine is," and she laughed it off quite sweetly, although the laugh was the same as my Winnie's of the afternoon.
"But which of the two do you like the better?" she asked after a moment.
"My Winnie of the afternoon," I replied. "But you are so near alike that I will always confound you."
She looked thoughtful at this, but at the same time pleased, and said:
"I like your answer, and some day may tell you why."
And that also puzzled me.
Of course I was all on the qui vive until I could have a private talk with my host, whose name I had learned was Costa, and hear from him, if he would give it, an explanation of the mysterious country in which I had landed. For by this time I had given over all idea of fear. There was a soothing presence in the very atmosphere about me, and I could not believe that any harm was meant me. And yet all these mysterious events called for an explanation.
Consequently the next morning I took advantage of a quiet hour in which we were walking through the park, smelling the fragrance of the trees and flowers, that I asked him:
"Mr. Costa, will you please relieve me from this suspense which you must know is weighing upon me, and tell me where I am and who you are?"
He smiled at the question, but replied:
"Yes. I think you are so far recovered from your terrible experiences in shipwreck and crossing the ice land, that I may. To be brief and to the point, you are on the South Polar continent—a land I know your geographers have often conceived, but have believed uninhabited, even if it really existed, which the most learned of them doubted. What you want to know next, is how you were rescued. I will tell you.
"Every now and then ships have ventured or been blown by storm to our part of the world, and occasionally some of the mariners have ventured upon the icebergs. To save them we have established outposts along the edge of the icebergs, houses where men, such as you, may find shelter, till we can rescue them."
"But do you keep fires burning continually in them? If not, who lights them? And how is it that I never saw the attendant who looked after my wants?"
"I see, Mr. Wilding, that I must enter into my explanation more deeply than I had intended at first, hoping to wait a few days and let the information gradually sift into your mind, until you should learn more of us and our manners by observation.
"My daughter told you you were in a land where all art and science of the world was treasured. If you are a student your mind will at once revert to Egyptian and Assyrian learning, which is supposed to have been lost. It was lost to the outside world, but treasured up here. Your mind will dwell upon the ages when man, looking up into the deep, clear blue sky, studied God's work in them. You may think of Joseph, the dreamer. You may think of the stars and their influence upon man."
"I don't believe they have any," I replied.
"We will let that pass," he said with a smile. "This is merely incidental anyway. I do not mean to tell you of a star gazing or a dream explaining people, only to remind you that there was a high civilization in the past which vanished from the knowledge of your races in other climes.
"Coming further down the history of nations you will recall the Hindoos, the people who 'think,' who withdraw themselves into themselves and spend long years in meditation. You have heard that they have power to do queer things—almost miracles.
"They can. This is nothing but the power of thought—of mind. The man who thinks is able to do all things. For mind is supreme. God is mind. The more freedom, the more power you develop in mind, and the nearer you are to God. That is——"
"That is?" I repeated.
He passed over my repetition and continued:
"If morality is considered also, soul power is developed by purity."
He said this as if he were reverently quoting from the Bible. And I afterward learned that this strange people considered purity as one of the essentials of man as well as woman, and practiced it.
"But," I exclaimed, "you tell me nothing of the strange things which have happened to me in this strange land. Pardon me, but I do not see the connection between your remarks on mind and morals and my being fed and warmed on an iceberg. It does not tell me where I am and who you are."
"You are in the land of Theos. In the suburbs of the capital city of Theon. I am the 'Costa.' There you have your answer." He stopped as if he proposed to leave me in darkness if he was not allowed his own way of explaining.
"But I heard voices."
"Yes, you heard voices, or rather one voice—mine.
"I was the guard, if so you choose to call it—I who was on guard watching for shipwrecked mariners from the ship which was storm tossed upon our shores.
"I saw you out on the ocean. I saw your boat driven toward a certain part of our coast and made ready for you. It was I who lighted the fires and who warned you which way to travel to reach the nearest hut."
"Why did you never appear to me?"
"I did once, and it caused such fright in you that I never did so again."
"But the voices, you seem to know I heard them, as you say the words were from you. How could you speak and I not see you? Were you hidden any place near? But the voices seemed at my very ear. You have not explained the mystery yet? How could you speak and I not see you? How could you attend to my wants, light my fires and cook my suppers and I not see you?"
"Yet I was ever close by your side. I spoke to you. I was your guard."
"Then you must be a spirit," I fairly shouted.
"Yes, I am," he calmly replied.
After a moment he continued, having seen the effect his remark that he was a spirit had made upon me.
"Every man is spiritual as well as physical. He has both the eternal and the mortal in him. Could the spirit but secure control over the mortal it would be free. By long years of study, of culture and privation, men in your lands have secured this freedom from the body. We, in a sense, inherit it. Have you never heard of those wise men of all ages, who, at the present time, so far as your people know, are confined to the thoughtful Hindoo race? Have you never heard of those inhabitants of India, who, after long study and privation, have been able to separate their souls from their bodies, and send them wheresoever they will?"
I had heard some such stories, although I never had believed them, and I told him so.
"What those few men can do," Costa replied, "we do. You have come to a nation of men and women, adepts in all the intricacies of the occult sciences. We have gained such power over our bodies that we can leave them at any time and in our astral bodies fly in an instant of time to any quarter of the globe. Many of those adepts of India visit us and are visited by us in return. It is as easy, nay easier, than a journey in one of your ships which any storm may wreck. No storm ever wrecks the soul of the mahatma in its flight.
"Are you not gaining any idea of the land to which you have come? It is a land of theosophists, a land in which each inhabitant possesses greater power than those few men we have spoken of. Why? Because we and our forefathers have been studying, learning, practicing for centuries, yea, for centuries before the present history of man evolved itself from Myth, according to your feeble reading of history. It is but the work of a moment to disconnect the soul from the body and allow it to wander at will through space. This is why we are able to watch over and save you.
"When in one of my astral flights I saw your ship beaten by the storm and drifting this way, I paused to watch your course, as in your small boat you drifted against the icy guardians of our land.
"We are a people of mercy, else we could not retain our power. A selfish man gives hostages to the flesh and loses in spiritual power. I saw you land upon the icy coast and at once, by the odylic force which each of us possesses, kindled the fires in the hut for you. Then, still in my astral body and invisible, I drew you toward it, whispering in your ear words of encouragement and advice. Then, when you were safe in the first hut and in condition to make your way unaided to our land, I left you and in an instant was in my home."
"And did you tell them of my coming?"
"Tell them of your coming? There was no need, for was I not in constant communication with them?"
"In communication with them? How could that be? There was no one to carry a message, and surely you have no telegraph across those icy fields?"
"Have I talked so vainly? Or is the thought so foreign to you that you cannot grasp it? What can fly swifter than thought? What is more powerful in the universe than mind? Then how could man have better means for communicating with another than when his soul, freed from his body, is left at liberty to exercise all its power untrammeled?"
"When I returned home we watched your course, and at the last hut in which you slept, projected a note which fell upon your table and told you that would be your last stopping place."
"And the placards?" I gasped.
"Projected in the same manner."
"Then my daughter, Winnifred, who had taken a great interest in your journey, wished to become your guide the rest of the way, to make your acquaintance as it were, and I consented that she should project her astral body to the borderland and conduct you to our home. But you, you touched her notwithstanding all her precaution, became frightened and she was obliged to leave you. Then, so great was your fear, I believe you would have turned back had I not exercised my will to draw you onward."
"That, then," I muttered, "was the force that drew me on."
"Yes. Then I met you in the flesh, reassured you and conducted you home."
"Then it was really your daughter who met me on the barren plain? But—but——"
"But what?" he asked smiling, as I hesitated.
"But I understood her to say it was not she who so met me."
"Did she really deny it?"
"No," I replied after considering. "She did not in so many words, but at least she gave me that impression."
"Sometimes it is necessary to veil the truth for a moment until the pupil is strong enough to bear it. Had she acknowledged her identity last night when you met at my house the effect upon you might have been disastrous. A falsehood is a great crime. But under the circumstances I connived at the concealment of the truth. It was nothing more."
During my visit I had noticed that every day we were bountifully supplied with fresh fish and game, and one day, commenting upon its excellent quality, asked my host if he never indulged in the fascinating sport of angling or hunting. The blank look of astonishment with which he received my question, and replied that such work was left to the servants, surprised me, and I changed the subject. However, a few days later I broached the subject to Manuel, the servant who supplied the table from the market, and stated that I would like to go out fishing some day, if he would tell me where would be a good place. He also looked astonished, but not so much from the fact that I wished to go fishing as that I should ask where a good place could be found.
"Any place where there is water," he replied, "but, of course, the work is more difficult where there are no fish than when you go to a place where they are plentiful." And he readily made arrangements for me to accompany a fisherman the next day.
We started with a fish basket, and I supposed my companion would secure lines and bait or a net as we went through the town, but he did not, and then I conjectured that there was some one on the seashore who made a business of providing them. But in this also I was mistaken.
At the seashore he sat down upon a rock and fell into what I took for a very peculiar fit of absent-mindedness, as he said not a word, neither did he make any attempt to begin fishing. In the meantime, I walked up and down the shore in some astonishment.
After sitting in this position for some time he arose, and, wading out into the water for a short distance, picked up a fine fish with his hand. It must have weighed about ten pounds, and was what I would have called a small-mouthed bass at home. Throwing it up on the bank, he picked up another, and still another, until he had enough to fill the basket. Then he waded out and announced that we would return.
So puzzling was his whole demeanor that when I reached home I sought my host and eagerly asked him for an explanation. He seemed surprised at first, but, smiling, replied:
"Your pardon, my friend. I forgot that you did not understand many of our ways. We are so accustomed to them that I forgot. When we need fish for food we send our servant to get them, because it is considered beneath us to do that kind of work."
"But I want to know why and how he picked up those fish with his hands, as if it was the most common thing in the world."
"He did as all do when fish is needed for food. He went out, sat down on the seashore and hypnotized the fish. When they are near it is an easy matter, but when they are at a distance the work is difficult, and sometimes he is away half a day before he can fill his basket."
"I do not understand."
"He hypnotizes them. Gets them under the influence of his will, compels them to come to shore, when he picks them up."
This was quite a puzzle to me for several days, but at last I began to understand both what my host told me and also how the fisherman caught his fish with neither net nor hook.
In connection with this I might mention a similar incident with regard to hunting. When at home I had been fond of this kind of sport, and whenever on land took a trip through the woods for squirrels and along the waterways for water fowl. This may seem a queer pastime for a sailor, but for thirty years I was a landsman and during that time acquired a love for sports which any number of years on the seas would never take away.
Consequently after being in Theon a few weeks and becoming fully rested and restored to health, my old longing returned. But by this time I knew that it would be accounted, if not sacrilege, at least a very low down enjoyment, to go out hunting with my guns, even if they would be of any use, so I decided merely to go along with a hunter of the country and watch his manner of taking game.
Arrangements were made this time by my host, who was thoughtful, and after the fishing episode, remembered that I was desirous of learning all the ways of the country. He even went a short distance with us and honored us by bringing down a fine partridge himself. I call it a partridge because that was what it looked most like, but the natives gave it an entirely different name.
As upon the fishing occasion, we took with us nothing but a bag for carrying the game, and as we went along my host explained to me as he did with regard to the fish, that none but the lower classes made a living in this manner. When they acquired a greater degree of will power they gave it up and entered upon a more honorable business. This, he explained, was because it was easier to work upon animals than intelligent human beings.
After walking out of the city about a mile we stopped and sat down under a tree bearing a resemblance to our oaks. Here my host and the hunter immediately fell into an abstracted condition and at the expiration of about five minutes I observed a well made hare approaching us. It stopped within a rod, and the hunter, after making a few passes with his hands, caught it. After killing it he placed it in the bag and sat down for more game.
At this point my host, who had in the meantime brought down a very fine specimen of wild turkey, asked me if there was any particular animal I would like to have caught. After thinking it over a little I expressed a desire to secure a specimen of native monkeys which I had seen springing from tree to tree over our heads. This desire, I explained, was not from a wish to taste monkey flesh, but to tame the animal. My host replied:
"You have asked me to do an almost impossible thing. The monkey is one of the most intelligent of the lower animals. At first, centuries ago, our records tell us many of them were caught, but after a time they began to combat our will power with their own, and now have become almost impervious to our efforts. However, I will make a trial. In fact, it would be quite a triumph over the lower animals if I could secure one, and so I am very glad to make the attempt, knowing there will be no disgrace in failure."
This speech greatly interested me, and I asked:
"Are there any other animals which thus combat your superior intelligence?"
"Yes," replied my host, "there are several. One species of bear has developed its will power until it is rare that we ever ensnare one. However, they have become so much under our influence that there is no danger from them. While we cannot compel one in the wild state to come to us, yet the mental force has proven so great that if one meets us face to face we are able to exert enough influence to keep it from harming us."
With this he stopped talking and concentrated all his efforts upon one sprightly little monkey which he pointed out skipping from branch to branch over our heads and chattering as if all the gossip of a sewing society had to be retailed before we got away.
"Please note that one," my host said, "for while I cannot say that I have much hope of bringing it down, yet I expect to exert some influence over it, and you may be interested in noting the effect."
We then remained silent, and I kept pretty close watch upon the animal. Soon its chatter grew less and it became more quiet in its movements.
"That," said my host, "is the first step in monkey hypnotism—to get it to stop talking. And I might observe it is the same in affecting the human mind. The first step with a chatterbox is to get it to stop its chatter. Just what connection there is between this and the intellect you may figure out yourself. But the conclusion is quite evident. Mesmerism works on the brain and you must get the brain to work on first."
Again he lapsed into silence and I watched the monkey. Its chatter ceased entirely and it became motionless. But at this stage the other monkeys to whom it had been talking noticed the change and gathered around it. At first they had paid no attention to its silence; for even a monkey does not talk all the time. But when it ceased talking entirely they knew something was wrong, and being aware, of course, of our presence, suspected that one of us was working upon their companion. At first they chattered to him and, gaining no answer, at length fell upon him tooth and nail and gave him such a pulling as no monkey could stand and not resist. He resisted. He fought. His friends made it a running fight, and in this way our victim was drawn away. My host's mind could have worked at any distance, he explained to me, and at another time he might continue the experiment even after his victim had disappeared, but just now he had an engagement in the city and was obliged to leave. He also explained that in such cases absence from sight was a disadvantage, as one was obliged to bring mesmerism into play also.
After my friend left I paid more attention to the hunter who already had his game bag half full. On our way home he told me that hunters were examined once a year as to their fitness for the work, and were appointed to the position by the government. They had rules and regulations as we have in our country and which we call game laws. Thus a hunter is obliged to hunt so many hours a day and so many days a week to supply the patrons who are allotted to him, the whole city being divided into districts. If he should fail to secure the required amount of game in that time he was known to be failing in power and was censured, and if his decline continued, was degraded to some more menial work. But this rarely happened, as the exercise of the will power, like the exercise of the muscle, causes it to grow so that hunters frequently graduate into higher trades. Fishermen were of a lower grade, as were some classes of shepherds. Those who had care of sheep were of the very lowest class, it requiring very little brain to control and keep them in bounds. On the other hand, a herder of cattle or hogs was of higher class, as requiring more brain power, and ranked next below the hunters in point of intelligence.
A few days after my fishing and hunting excursions some one spoke of a trip to an island about ten miles from Theon, which was described as very beautiful by a young man whom I had met several times, and I expressed a desire to visit it.
Or, no, was it I or the young man whom I just mentioned? Judging from what I learned afterward I am now half inclined to think it was his suggestion.
This young fellow, who was known by the euphonious name of Buda Earn, was a handsome fellow, clean built and pleasant in his manners. He had been extremely agreeable to me at all times and evinced a great interest in my welfare. Consequently I was surprised to see that both Costa and his daughter seemed at all times averse to our intercourse.
When the subject of visiting this island was broached I was eager to go, and at first it seemed as if my desire would be gratified. But after a moment's consideration Mr. Costa said:
"It would be a delightful trip, but really, we have no way, on the spur of the moment, of getting there, and will have to postpone the trip a few days."
"Will not your boat hold me as well as you?" I inquired.
"Not the boat we travel in," he replied with a smile. "Do you know, Mr. Wilding, that there is not a boat, a railroad or a carriage in this whole country?"
"Do you never travel about? But of course you do, for you have just been speaking of taking a trip to this island. Really, Mr. Costa, you talk in enigmas."
"After all I have explained to you!" he exclaimed in mild reproach. "Pause and think, my friend. What need have we of carriages or railroads? When we wish to take a journey, we step into our bed chamber, lock the door to prevent intrusion and possible disaster, lie down on our couch and project our astral body whithersoever we wish. Now, if it were not for you, we would each do this and, in a second of time, gather upon that delightful island where I and my family have passed many a happy day. By the way, Winnie, did you send that message to Ackra?"
"No, father, I was so busy that I did not get time to do so."
"Never mind now. I will send a letter instead. My agent must have it this morning."
Now I had heard that Ackra was fully sixty miles from Theon and was curious to know what my host meant by sending a letter, after telling me there was no such thing as railroads. Perhaps, however, he meant a telegram. So I asked:
"But you have the telegraph here, I suppose, or you could not communicate——"
He looked at me as a master might at a very dull pupil with whom he wished to be indulgent.
"Again, Mr. Wilding, again? Have you forgotten your experience on the ice fields and the messages sent to and from them? This is a land of no telegraph, for the simple reason that we need none. When we wish to communicate with friends or business connections in distant cities we merely fix our minds upon the message to be sent and it is at once transmitted and impressed upon the mind of the one for whom it is meant."
"But you spoke of a letter."
"Yes, and to explain to you our primitive postal system I will send one now. I wish to communicate with one of my agents in Ackra. If you will excuse me for a moment I will write it." And seating himself at a desk he wrote for a few minutes and then, turning to me, said:
"Here is a note I have just written to my agent asking him to come to Theon to-morrow on a matter of business. We will receive an answer in a few minutes, as I know he is always at his office at this time of day and will receive my note at once."
So saying, he arose and, holding the letter lightly in one hand above his head, stood in silence. I watched him closely out of curiosity, for I thought he was acting strangely. He stood there for a moment and then—the letter disappeared.
"There, it is gone," he said, sitting down. "In five minutes we should have an answer."
Then we chatted together about a variety of things and I had nearly let the incident slip from my mind when a note fluttered down from I know not where, and fell at his feet.
"Ah, there it is," he said, opening it. "Yes, he will be here to-morrow," and passed the note to me. It was not in Costa's handwriting.
The agent really did appear the next day and I met him, although Mr. Costa warned me not to approach near or attempt to touch him. From which I gathered that his visit to us was made in his astral body.
A land without railroad and without telegraph and yet where business was carried on as rapidly as in my own land. No conveyances because people had no need of them. Messages were sent swifter than by electricity, for what can fly faster than one's thoughts? Notes were projected by some mysterious force to their destination, even though it were miles away. I alone was isolated and cut off from communication with the rest of the world.
It was decided that by the third day a boat could be built to make the trip to the island, and that day being fixed upon for the excursion, Winnie asked the next morning before the agent arrived:
"Father, have you noticed what kind of weather we will have that day? It would never do to start out on a pleasure excursion and have it rain."
"Yes, dear," Costa replied, "I looked last night. It will be a fair day."
I smiled at their childlike trust in the weather prophet, and said:
"So you have almanacs and weather prophets in this country, too?"
"Yes," he replied. "We could do nothing without our weather bureau."
"Do you really believe that they can predict the kind of weather you will have on a certain day?" I asked.
"No, certainly not," Costa replied. "They do not predict. They make the weather."
"Make the weather?" and I laughed, thinking he meant his remark as a joke.
"Yes," he continued, quite seriously. "Our weather bureau has quite different duties from those in your country. There they study conditions and predict what may possibly come. Here the bureau is composed of the strongest minds in the nation, and their duty is to decide upon the proper kind of weather for certain seasons and days and then see that the country has it."
My smile at his speech was so pronounced that he could not help noticing my skepticism and entered into an explanation.
"The matter is quite simple and entirely in line with theosophy. The human mind can control the elements, bring storm or sunshine as it wills. Hence our bureau is chosen with direct reference to ability of mind. It decides upon the proper kind of weather for certain seasons, and all is worked out with mathematical precision. For instance, we have found that a certain amount of rain is necessary for growing crops. The ground should have sufficient moisture in it before planting and then at regular intervals thereafter rain should fall if the crop is to be a success. We have no droughts as in your land, where it may be a month or two before rain falls. Our bureau looks over the country, learns what kind of grain is to be grown in different sections, and decides upon the amount of rain needed for the sections. Another point in our favor. Sometimes your lands are swept by hot winds just as the grain is ripening. We never allow them here. You can see the benefit of such a system. We wish to go upon a pleasure excursion day after to-morrow, and I had but to look in the report of our weather bureau to learn whether the bureau had decided upon rain or sunshine for this part of the nation on that day."
The third day our boat was finished, and in it I made the journey with Costa and Winnie. At first Buda Earn had insisted that he and I go alone, but this proposal was rejected emphatically by both my host and his daughter. When we were on the water, I rowing, Costa said:
"My friend, I wish to warn you against that young man. He means to do you an injury. Avoid him as much as possible, and no account ever trust yourself with him alone."
I looked my surprise before I replied:
"You astonish me. He has been so pleasant and agreeable. He would be the last one I would suspect of doing or wishing me an injury. Are you sure you are not mistaken."
"As sure as fate. We have read his mind ever since you came to our home, and there is nothing but evil in it for you. But he is trying to deceive us. None but the Great Dissembler could do that."
"I have heard you mention that person several times and I am curious to know who he is and why he bears that name. You always speak of him in the highest terms as to ability, and yet with a tone in your voice as if he was not—what shall I call it—quite as you would like him to be."
"The Great Dissembler is the greatest man in the state, and if you ever have need of help in this country which I cannot give I advise you to go to him. At the earliest opportunity I will introduce you, for I fear you may have need of him before we are through with Earn. That fellow surely means you mischief. And the trouble is, he has ability."
Long I pondered over the reasons for this young man's enmity to me. That evening as Costa and I were walking upon the shore of the little island the mystery was partially explained. Borne to us on the evening breeze came the words:
"Winnifred, you cannot deny that you might have become my wife if this stranger had not come between us."
The words were Harn's. What her answer was I did not hear, for very promptly my host turned away, so that we heard no more.
Earn was jealous.
Had he any reason for it?
My heart beat a trifle faster as I meditated upon the supposition.
Next morning my host told me that a gang of robbers had been arrested the evening before, and if I cared to do so we would go to the police court to witness the trial.
"Whose house did they break into?" I cried.
He looked at me in astonishment for a moment, and then, remembering how ignorant I was of the customs of Theon very courteously concealed his astonishment and explained to me:
"There is seldom any crime committed in this country. The great mistake nations in other parts of the world make is in waiting until a crime is committed before steps are taken to prevent it. You have a proverb about it in your language—'Locking the stable after the horse is stolen.'"
"But how can you prevent it?"
"Have you been so long with us and not learned that we are all mind readers?"
"But," I queried, still far at sea, "you have police patrolling the streets. I have seen them, and a fine looking body of men they are."
"Yes, of course. We have our police system, and it is very nearly perfect. But policemen here are to prevent crime, not to catch the criminal after it is committed."
"I am sure I do not follow you."
"It is very simple. As I said, we are all mind readers. Now, if we always knew what man was inclined to rob us we could read his mind and learn when. But take my case. I cannot spend my time reading the minds of every person in the city to see if my property is safe. So we have police to do it for us. They constantly patrol the streets, reading the minds of those they meet, and a report is made of each suspect when guard is relieved, which occurs about every three hours. Of course they do not mentally interrogate every one they meet on the street, that would be impossible; but in the course of a month, with the help of the reserve guard, which is stationed in the inner court, every person in the city passes under their scrutiny.
"But this attention is centered chiefly upon the 'suspects.' When a person falls under suspicion he is kept under constant surveillance. To make it plain to you: While we are sitting here, suppose I read in your mind that you had a desire to steal my watch. (I beg your pardon for even hinting at it in way of illustration.) I would report the fact to the chief of police, and an officer would be detailed to take you under his surveillance. Not one thought of yours could be concealed from him, and if you determined upon the theft, you most likely would be arrested before you could commit the crime."
"But what would you do with me? I would have done nothing that a court could sentence me for!"
"You would not be punished. We seldom are called upon to do that, and when we are, the ceremony is made a very solemn one, indeed."
"But you have judges and courts equal to any I have ever seen in America."
"Yes, but not for the same purpose. Let us follow the illustration of yourself. When you were arrested you would be taken into the court and your record produced by the policeman who had been watching you. From this the judge would decide, not as to your guilt, but as to how far inclined towards crime your intellect had become, and would sentence you accordingly."
"Still I do not see how that would not be punishing me for something I had not done."
"Not at all, I assure you. If you were shown to be not really bad, you would be committed to reformatory No. I, as it is called. You would not be imprisoned. On the contrary, you would at once be set at liberty and no restrictions whatever placed upon you. But you would be under the tutelage of the reserve judges of the inner court. They are chosen from the purest men and most powerful minds in the country. In other words, they are the clergy of the land. To them your case would be made known and your record given. Each one would take you under his supervision for an hour a day and would, during that hour, direct the whole power of his mind upon yours to drive from it every evil thought. There would not be a moment of the day when their minds were not working upon yours. It is very seldom that this course does not succeed in reclaiming the suspect."
"But if it should not?"
"This is seldom the case. But when it does fail, if the man grows worse, he is committed to the mental hospital and there given a course of treatment."
"I am curious to hear more."
"He is committed to the hospital for a certain length of time which the judge determines upon, according to the violence of his disease. But he is not punished. On the contrary, his surroundings are the most pleasant. He has pure companions, and is treated according to his disease."
"His disease? May I ask what you mean?"
"Suppose his disease is drunkenness. The disgrace of it is placed before him by one physician for an hour. Then succeeds another who impresses upon his mind the respectability of sobriety. Other physicians give him general moral tone."
"O, you mean he must spend his time listening to lectures. I shouldn't think that would be a very good way of reforming a criminal."
"No, no. Lectures would be the last thing we would think of. The patient knows nothing of his treatment except that it is going on. He seldom, if ever, sees his physicians. They, as the judges in the first case, work upon his mind entirely and try to drive out the evil and fill it with good thoughts."
"And do they always succeed?"
"If a man sets his will against them he can combat the wills of his physicians and receive no benefit from their treatment—if his will is stronger than theirs. We have had a few such instances."
"They redouble the corps of physicians."
"You spoke of his pleasant surroundings."
"Yes. That is under the supervision of his nurses. Each nurse has one or more patients under his or her care. They look after the surroundings, the environments, see that they are proper and conducive to his reform. And to them a great deal is due. They become his friends, and attempt to lead him by moral suasion away from evil. They look after his books. They see to it that time does not drag or the life in the hospital prove irksome. They look after his amusement and see that his mind is kept in a healthy condition, so as to be receptive of good thoughts from his physicians."
"It all seems very strange to me."
"Yes, no doubt it must to one who has never been taught that all crime and all evil is a disease which must be treated as such as much as any ailment of the body."
During this conversation we had been preparing to leave the house, and at the conclusion of my host's last remark were walking down the broad path to the gate. As we pursued our way along the street my mind was busy revolving the things he had told me. One point seemed a little incongruous, where so much pains was taken to reform a criminal before he had committed a crime, it did not seem quite consistent that his case should be tried in open court and visitors allowed to be present to hear the evidence, for in my own land when we wish to save a young man who has been tempted we try most of all to keep his fault from becoming known. The more I thought of this the more inconsistent it became and my friend, no doubt reading my thoughts, said:
"Were these not old offenders who are to be tried to-day we would not be permitted to witness the examination, for when a man is first brought before the court and sent to reformatory No. I, the whole proceeding is managed so very quietly that few need know of it. But after a man has been under the supervision of the seven judges of the inner court and then turns out bad, we consider it for the best interests of society that the public at large know what disease he is inclined to in order to protect itself against him. The men whose trial we are about to witness have passed through this stage, and hence their trial will be public."
When we reached the temple of justice I found a large marble structure, the interior of which, while very simple in design, gave one the idea of loftiness and grandeur. At one end, upon a platform, stood the judge's desk, behind which sat one of the criminal judges, of which there were ten in the state.
The prisoners were seated in front of him, with no guards near, at which I expressed my surprise. But my host told me in a low tone that the odylic force which was being concentrated upon them was of such power that they could move only as the judge desired.
There was really little examination of the witnesses themselves, the principal part of the trial consisting of the policemen's testimony. As we entered, the sergeant of the platoon which had the burglars in surveillance was speaking.
"Six months ago," he said, "these men were brought into the inner court and the records read concerning them. Three at that time were friends and conspiring to rob. The minds of the others were tainted with the same disease, but as yet had formed no combination. Since then I and my division have been keeping them under constant surveillance. Each possesses a strong will, which he placed in opposition to that of the seven judges. Three months ago the whole band drew closer together. They had not at that time settled upon any particular house to rob, but frequently held communication with one another upon the injustice of some men being rich while others were poor, and some men honored with office while others were but common citizens in a land which teaches the equality of man. Gradually this idea grew in their minds until they determined upon an equal division of wealth, and to carry out this idea decided upon robbing the wealthiest man in the city. Every preparation had been made and the robbery would have occurred last night had we not arrested them."
"Is this true?" asked the judge of the prisoners.
"It is," they replied. For in court where there can be no deceit and where mind reads mind, there are no spoken lies.
Sentence was immediately passed by the judge. The three original conspirators were committed to ward I of the burglary hospital, two of the others to ward 2 of the same institution, and the rest, whose minds were not so badly diseased, to ward 3. As soon as sentence was passed the men arose and, without guards, marched directly to the hospital, the odylic force, my host explaining, compelling them to do so.
I had an illustration of how Buda Earn loved me before we left the island that day, but I did not realize it until we had returned home.
We four had been standing together upon a hill sloping down toward the sea when Earn turned the conversation toward the power of mind over nature. I was somewhat skeptical, although Costa had hinted at it several times.
"Do you mean to tell me or try to make me believe you have any power over that tree yonder, other than physical?"
"Certainly we do," replied Costa. "You shall see an exhibition of it at once. I shall not leave your side, and yet that tree shall fall to the earth. Be silent."
We all remained for the space of a couple of minutes, and I knew Costa was concentrating his mind upon something, and I imagined it was the work he had laid out. In a moment more the tree began to lean heavily toward the south, and then came down with a crash.
"You see," was all Costa said, and I was dumfounded.
Soon after that I strayed away from the others for a moment and stood alone a few rods from there and was gazing out over the water. Suddenly I heard a cry of warning, and was just in time to spring away from a giant boulder which was rolling down upon me.
"Whatever loosened that?" I asked in some surprise as it rolled by me and plunged into the sea.
The faces of both Costa and Winnie grew grave, and they looked at Earn suspiciously, but said nothing. Soon after they proposed that we start upon our return to Theon.
Nothing was said about the narrow escape I had from death during the journey, but after we had reached home Costa drew me into the parlor and said:
"Wilding, it is as I feared. Your life is in danger as long as you remain in this land."
"I see nothing in the rolling of a boulder more than I might expect in any land," I replied.
"And yet there was more. And sometimes I grow almost impatient with your obtuseness. After the exhibition I gave you of the power of mind over nature, has not the suspicion come to you that that rock was rolled downward on purpose to cause your death?"
"Well, no, I can't say that it has."
"Well, I am certain that it was. In fact, I have very good proof that it was."
"And, of course, you suspect Earn?"
"But if he was exerting his mind to encompass my death at that particular moment, why was it that you could not read it in his thoughts and so prevent it?"
"Because he was not the direct cause, which makes your danger all the greater."
"If he was not the direct cause, then who was? I confess my obtuseness allows me to be puzzled by your explanation."
"Either Winnie or I was reading his thoughts the whole day. Only once was there anything suspicious in it, and that was a moment before the rock fell. Then he sent a message to some one, I know not whom, which merely said:
"'Now is the time.'
"What those words meant we would have been unable to guess if it had not been that the rock came crashing down the instant after."
"My dear sir," I interrupted, "are you not too suspicious?"
Costa's face clouded.
"Really, you irritate me. Perhaps it would be as well to leave you alone to your destruction."
His manner was so pained that I at once was sorry to have offended so good a friend, and pleaded with him to bear with my stupidity and I would try not to offend him again.
"What we fear," he continued, "is that he is in collusion with a band of men which the police has had an inkling of for some time, a sort of revolutionary club which has sprung up during the last ten years. I have pretty good evidence that he is a leader in it, and we fear that he has enlisted it or some of its members to assist him in compassing your destruction. If this were the case it would have been easy for him to have arranged for several of them to be on the island that day waiting an opportunity to kill you in a manner which could not be laid upon him. As he was with us, he knew we would be upon the alert, and would know that he exerted no power himself. Then if his friends could accomplish his purpose no charge could be made against him."
"But if others were there on the island, how could they conceal themselves so effectually? You saw no one when the rock fell?"
"You forget that they were all in their astral bodies, and that the astral body is invisible at will."
"To-day I will make an investigation and learn if any of the people I suspect were away on a journey to-day, and if so, will consider my suspicions correct."
The next evening Costa came to my room and said:
"Mr. Wilding, six of the revolutionary society I spoke of were absent yesterday. This affair of yours has become so complicated that there is only one help for you. We must apply to the Great Dissembler. I will introduce you to him this evening."
Accordingly we sallied out and walked to a villa about a mile from the Costa residence. We found a man whose head and face denoted power more strongly than any head and face I had ever seen. And yet the face was a perfect blank, as to expression. It was a sphinx head. I could no more have told from it what the man was thinking of or whether we were welcome or the contrary than, to use a common expression, I could fly.
Costa stated the case to him and he said:
"I will take the matter under advisement and let you know from time to time what not to do."
"What not to do?" I exclaimed.
"Yes. In your case there is nothing to do. The thing is to avoid doing anything. There will be a pretty stiff fight, and just what the end will be I cannot tell. It may overturn the world."
This time it was Costa who was shocked.
"I mean it," the Great Dissembler reaffirmed. "This is not a little love affair between two men and a girl. We have the whole revolutionary society arrayed against the state for its overthrow. Your matter is but an incident in the war which is coming upon us as fast as mundane affairs can come. But I will keep an eye upon you, and I would recommend that you never venture out without my friend Costa or his daughter, for a time. You see, you cannot fight with the weapons of Theos, where 100 minds may be concentrated upon you, moving even the rocks and trees for your destruction. Why, man, those fellows could lure you to your destruction and you never realize it. Have you never had any longing to return to your boat on the icebergs?"
"Yes, strange to say, that has been in my mind almost continually for the past three days."
"I thought so. Well, forewarned is forearmed. They would entice you away to perish of cold in the ice fields. But we will see to that."
All this was Greek to me and I said so.
"Influence of mind upon mind, my child," the Great Dissembler replied. "With 100 minds willing you to go wandering out on the barren ice fields, how can your one poor, weak mind resist? Costa, you must help him counteract this force."
It will be needless to follow all the machinations of Earn and his friends against me, for they were, as the Great Dissembler said, but incidents in the great war which was gathering. It is enough to say that for weeks there was not an hour of the day in which some new danger did not menace me. And how nobly Costa and his daughter stood by me, words cannot express. It was after one of these trials that Winnie said to me:
"Do you remember the first conversation we had when you arrived at our home? You told me you liked the Winnie of the plains, the Winnie who faded away from you better than the one you saw before you in flesh and blood then. And I told you I was glad you did. You did not understand it then."
"It was because you loved my soul, as it was, free from the body, better than with its earthly casing. That meant that you cared more for me, myself, as I really am. For the soul without the body shows what one really is, better than when hidden by the body."
That night I wrote this:
SONG TO WINNIE.
Dear gracious hand I bend o'er thee
With reverence deep as ever knee
Was bent before the virgin's shrine
By devotee of her divine.
With reverent heart I bend over thee,
Dear gracious hand so kind to me,
And love's sweet kiss on the impress;
I dare no more, I can no less.
Dear gracious hand of fairest shape,
O dear, white hand, whose fingers tape;
May that day come, full soon, I pray,
When you may never slip away.
One day I called upon the Great Dissembler and in the course of our conversation asked him:
"How have you succeeded in eluding the surveillance of the police and the judges of the inner court?" I asked of the dissembler. He laughed lightly and replied:
"It is almost suicidal for me to tell you, for in order to do so it will be necessary for me to keep my mind on the business, in which case the officers who may have their minds directed to me may read the whole story. But I will chance it. I am known as the Great Dissembler because no one has ever yet been able to make out what I was thinking of or what I proposed doing. My plan is this: Early in life I saw that for a bright young man to succeed in this benighted country, it would be necessary for him to have his wits about him, and to be able to dissemble his thoughts. For, suppose I should invent a life-saving or a labor-saving machine, what was to keep some other fellow from stealing my idea before it was perfected? Or, suppose I should write a beautiful poem. There is no law in this country for copyrighting one's thoughts, and so any one who was keeping tab on me could write the same poem and either get it printed first or claim mine was a forgery. You see the difficulties which meet a talented young man in this country."
I intimated that I did.
"So, in early life, as I observed a few minutes ago, I decided to put my wits to work to outwit every other man in the land. It was a big undertaking, but I did it by concentrating my will and learning to think one thing when I meant something exactly opposite, and learning to think of half a dozen things at the same time. Thus, when I have been planning any particular work of devilment, I give it only a moment's thought at a time, and then let my mind wander off into the paths of virtue. Unless I happen to be under the surveillance of the police, the chances are one in a thousand that any one should be reading my mind at the exact time that thought flashes through it. And if they do, as it is succeeded almost immediately by the most beautiful and virtuous thoughts, they take it as merely a temptation of the evil one which I have nobly driven away. In this manner I have no doubt I have often won the respect and regard of those high up in morals and the state.
"Then I cultivated the habit of jumbling up my thoughts into the worst mess you could imagine, and would let them fly from philosophy to poetry and from morals to immortality and back again that no one could fasten upon them. One second I would be planning to stop the moon in her career, and the next formulating a new prayer for the temple or an ode to purity. In this way I secured the name of the Great Dissembler.
"You wonder that I did not go crazy. Well, an ordinary mind would. But I had so strengthened mine by every known means that it stood the strain, and now if any weak mortal has a bit of deviltry he wants done, he comes to me and I do it for him. But always with the understanding that he never thinks of me or it again. To insure this, I tell him I will have nothing to do with it.
"And I don't, unless it is something that will give me amusement.
"If, however, a person comes to me a second time and I know he cannot keep his mind off the subject, I put him into a hypnotic sleep until the business is over.
"It helped me in politics, too, as none of my opponents could ever tell what I was going to say or do. In this way I won my way to the leadership of politics and became a power in the state. It is true that many people have suspicions of me, and look upon me askance. But what of that? They never can catch me. For weeks at a stretch I have had officers on my trail and, well, I led them a merry dance. I believe their brains were somewhat jumbled up at the end of the week. Yes, I rather believe so. How I kept their poor brains on the rack! One minute it would be an abstract problem in mathematics, and the next one in philosophy. Then a line or so of poetry, and next a dip into morals and theology. They never could catch me. And then I had the pleasure of laughing at them the next time we met and pointing out a few mistakes they had made in their report to the chief. Oh, yes, this life of mine has had its relaxations, if it is a hard one.
"Then, too, I have a contrivance into which I can retire whenever it is necessary for any prolonged thinking. I will show it to you."
Opening a door, he conducted me into a small room, and closing the entrance, bid me sit down.
"This room," he explained, "is thought proof. As you must have learned by this time, thought messages travel through a thin, imponderable ether, which fills all space; travels as sound and light do through air. Now, if you can create a perfect vacuum, there could be no sound. So, if you could create a perfect vacuum as to this ether of which I speak—and which I call ether, because there is no other name by which you would understand me as well—if we could create such a vacuum, then no thought could pass through it. This is one of my early inventions. There is a perfect vacuum all around this room, which is built of glass. Whenever I have a particularly difficult problem to study out, I retire into this room. Then 'my friends' who are keeping tab on me to catch me, are dumfounded, for I have mysteriously disappeared!
"There have been many of these mysterious disappearances lately. When I retire into this room, not all the police and inner judges in the world can trace me. They do not know whether I am on the confines of the earth, floating through space, or down at the south pole. It always amuses me after one of these periods of retirement to pay a visit to the police court and have a chat with 'my friends' and ask them how things have been going while I was away. It amuses me and does no harm."
All this was so confusing, coming upon the heels of the display of power I had seen in arresting criminals before they committed the crime, that I asked the Great Dissembler:
"Why do not the police detect these fellows?"
"Because the police belong to their club. Half the judges are with them."
Then I realized that my case was precarious. The Great Dissembler said the state of the state was desperate.
But from that time on to the end events moved rapidly.
The revolutionary club gathered themselves for a grand, final effort, coming out from their secret working, if such a thing could be said to exist in that country, and plainly hurled defiance at the rest of the state. It was then found that they numbered, as was stated, many of the police force and several judges of the country.
But I can only describe the warfare as a gigantic battle of the elements, for not a sword was flashed, not a gun was fired, and there was no political wrangling. To a stranger visiting the country it would seem as if nothing was going on.
And yet there was a strange force at work throughout the whole state, mind working upon mind, all the rest and quiet overturned, and men's worst passions brought to the surface.
It was like the atmosphere, hot and oppressive, charged with electricity before a thunderstorm.
But after the battle had been waged for several days, whether by choice of force, the revolutionary club and its followers retired to the opposite side of the inland sea and encamped upon a charming plain directly across from Theon.
Then came the Great Dissembler's final move, a move worthy of a great general. One evening, when I called upon him, he said, with as much of a gleam in his eye as he would allow, that he had the enemy exactly where he wanted them.
"They are located exactly across from us, the South Pole being directly between us and them. Are you enough of an astronomer to know concerning the precession of the equinoxes as it is commonly called, by which the direction of the poles to the earth's plane is changed? This also causes a change in the zones of the earth. In the legends of the earth there have been one of these, at least. Ages ago the North Temperate zone was a barren ice field, and countries now covered with ice were inhabited. The change which is about to take place will bring back the old order of things. Climate will change all over the world.
"The wrench here at the pole will be sudden, but the changes in other parts of the world be more gradual. In your own home in the United States there will be cyclones and tornadoes and earthquakes. These will gradually increase in number and intensity until the climate becomes warmer and at last merges into the tropical.
"But all this has nothing to do with the state of affairs here. What it means is that by the position of the revolutionary force it will be utterly destroyed. They are on the side of the pole where the reaction will come when we jar the pole from its mooring.
"There will be a general breaking up of the ice barriers in that direction and a change in the surface of this inland sea, which will wash that shore with tidal waves against which none can stand."
"Not even a spirit?"
"Oh, yes, if those rascals wish to project their astral bodies out into space they can do so, but that will really mean passing into the spirit world. With life once gone from their bodies, they can never re-enter them."
"But will not they know of the change?"
"They know it may come soon, but not that it will come to-day. I alone of this whole people really know the exact hour in which this change will come, for the reason that during all these ages a discrepancy of several days has come in our method of keeping time. Neither do I think that those fellows have any idea of its suddenness. Few of us were living when the last one came!"
"When do you calculate it will occur?"
"In just one hour from now."
I was startled, but he assured me there was no need of fear. "I will look after you, but you may be obliged to leave here."
Winnie and I had been a little more confidential than usual the evening before, and in the course of the conversation she said:
"I feel as if I ought to warn you of the Great Dissembler. We really know not on which side he is."
"Have you any cause to doubt him?" I asked.
"No, that is just the trouble. No one ever has. But this we do know, that the revolutionary forces count him on their side. He is playing a deep game."
But we were wrong in our suspicion. The Great Dissembler was truly our friend, although he failed in his calculation, and the wreck of the South Pole did not come as he expected. The day passed and no change came. Then we found that those rascals on the other side had a purpose in going to the place they did. They proposed to keep the pole where it was! And were making a combined effort with the odylic force at the command of each to retain it in position. Whether they had any power, or whether the time had not yet come when the precession of the equinoxes should get down to work, I cannot say. But it was not until the next day that the change came, and then the Great Dissembler had his forces arranged in Theos and was fighting his great battle.
The wreck came, and with it the defeat of the revolutionists. They perished to a man. But in the great commotion of which was to change the climate of the whole world, turn ice fields into pastures and green fields into barren wastes, just as had been done ages ago, there was such a tremendous earthquake that a rift was made in the ice walls around us and after days of terror and suffering, I found myself once more near the place where I had first landed. There was a ship near, which had landed a boat and was exploring the bergs for seal. They were from New London, and took me aboard, much against my will. I protested that I wished to return to the city of Theos, but they took this merely as the ravings of a shipwrecked mariner who had been wandering upon the ice. And recent events had so dazed me that there was some excuse for their belief.
We sailed north at once, and after touching at a few islands between the great Antarctic continent and the Horn, met a severe storm which wrecked our ship. We put off in the boats, but for all I have ever heard they were wrecked also, except the one I was in. It carried me here to this harbor, my mates dying before we reached it.
You will wonder why I have been so resigned on this island.
I was right. They began their search almost as soon as I disappeared, and shortly after I arrived at this island the Great Dissembler located me and appeared in his astral body one afternoon.
"My boy," he said, and there was no coldness in his tones. "I am glad to see you. We have been hunting for you ever since you disappeared." And then he related to me in detail the story of Theon after the great revolution and of the daily solicitude of Winnie and Costa for my welfare.
"You have won the love of a noble woman, my boy, and we must get you back to us."
Some time later both Winnie and her father visited me, and their visits have been continued at frequent intervals, sometimes the Great Dissembler coming with them, and sometimes alone. They provided me with means of living and keeping warm, and with their frequent visits my sojourn in this place has not been lonely.
But when I will find means of joining them I cannot say, although the Great Dissembler bids me hope that it will not be long now until they will have built some kind of a ship or contrived some other means of getting me back to Theos.
"And when you are once there, a day shall not pass until Winnie is your wife."
And as both Costa and his daughter have intimated their full acquiescence in this proposition, I have no doubt but that it will be so.
Of course, these dear friends can visit me in their astral bodies, and, perhaps, in time, might teach me how to exercise the same freedom. But that would not bring us really any nearer together. For theosophists have no way of transporting the material body.
But, as I said, the Great Dissembler is confident that he will have me with them soon, and I have learned to have confidence in him.
And so, here's waiting for her, Winnie.
A party of five, all newspaper men, were seated in a small restaurant on Fifth avenue, Chicago, about 3 o'clock one morning. It was a dingy place, and the lunches served were not dainty ones, yet it was a favorite among night men because of its nearness to the three great dailies, the Times, the Herald and the News, while the Tribune was only a couple of blocks away.
The quintet consisted of Chase, of the News, Brown and Kent, of the Times, and Hanklin and Brandon, of the Herald, and they were seated at a little round table in the rear of the room finishing a plebeian lunch of switzer cheese, bread and beer, before going home.
"Did you ever hear of Landstreet's 'indestructible story?'" Chase asked, during a lull in the conversation.
"What was it?" This from Kent. "One that long-continued 'respectfully declined' had no effect upon?"
"No; not quite. And yet that had something to do with it, for Landstreet always had half a dozen MSS. out and never a one accepted. At last he went crazy on the subject; at least, that is what his friends thought, although I had an idea that perhaps the old fellow possessed a vein of humor we never suspected."
"What did he do?"
"He conceived the idea that if he couldn't get into print, he, at least, would write one story that would live forever, and the way he went about it showed unfailing symptoms of lunacy or—humor. I don't know which it was, and have long ago given up guessing. Sometimes I think he must have possessed a grim sense of humor, and was planning a stupendous joke on us; at other times I think he must have been stark, staring mad."
"Never mind going into the philosophy of the matter; what was his scheme, his little joke, or his particular form of lunacy?"
"I thought I said it was an indestructible story," Chase answered testily, for the question irritated him. "That is all. He determined to give the world one sketch which should live forever, and, as editors refused, with startling unanimity, to recognize his genius, he cast about for some other means of preserving his stuff. At length he hit upon the scheme of making a sheet of paper that no force could destroy, no fire burn. If he could just secure that, he would be able to produce something that would live in spite of his friends, the editors."
"By George! What an idea! Did he succeed? If he did there was a mint of money in it. How did he make it go?"
"I can't tell you exactly, but he went about it with a good deal of common sense, if common sense could be used in such a crazy scheme. He first looked for some substance that could not be destroyed by fire, and this he found in asbestos, but it would not do, as it could be pulled to pieces too easily. Still, Landstreet saw that it would make a good foundation to work upon, and began looking around for some ingredient to mix with it. The next I heard of him he had been consulting a chemist, and when we met he said he had found what he wanted. It was aluminum. At that time this substance was worth only about £10 a pound, and for a couple of dollars he secured enough for experimenting. It is the most indestructible thing in the world, as you all know. You can pull it and twist it, but it will not tear or break; and it requires great heat to melt it. Well, Landstreet melted it, mixed it with a lot of asbestos, and then rolled the mass out into a thin sheet. It was about as nearly indestructible as anything you could find. It would roll and bend, but the asbestos kept it from stretching and from melting, except under the hottest of fires.
"One would have thought that his work was done now, but Landstreet was not satisfied. The idea came to him, perhaps, that some villainous editor of the twentieth century, who might come across his indestructible story, could make short work of it with a pair of office shears; for, as yet, his paper could be cut. Oh, how he hated an editor and a pair of shears and a blue pencil! I don't know what he did, what he used, but he intimated that it was largely a composition of diamond dust. But, whatever he hit upon, it was a fine, shining powder, and, after heating his former composition, he sprinkled this powder over it. The result was a thin sheet which would not tear, break or melt to such a degree as to lose its shape. He had secured the material for his 'indestructible story.'"
"Well," said Hanklin, after a pause, "what became of it? Where is his wonderful sheet? Who has it?"
"That's more than I know," Chase replied. "Landstreet showed it to me, but I never heard what he wrote or what he did with it. In fact, I haven't seen him for months."
"Probably I can finish your story." It was Kent who spoke.
"What! Do you know of it, too?"
"Yes. Landstreet and I have been friends for the last five years—were friends, I should say, for he is dead."
"Dead. Died three months ago. I met him when he first came to Chicago, and brought in his first 'special' article to the Times to sell. He didn't sell it, and I gave him some pointers. Whether they did him any good or not I cannot say, but it was the means of getting us acquainted. I pitied the poor fellow, he had such bad luck. Some of his work was better than any that ever appeared in our paper, and yet he never could sell it. Strange how some men never can succeed! We've had a hundred changes in our force since then, but Landstreet could never get on. Some green fellow who could not write a decent article, and who was certain to be 'fired' within three months would be preferred to Landstreet every time.
"He never told me about his 'indestructible story,' as you call it, until just a few nights before his death. He and his wife and two little girls lived over on the west side in a miserable little tenement-house—had only two rooms, I think. Anyway, they were in as hard luck as one could wish to see. I used to stop occasionally to cheer him up a little.
"A few nights before he died I stopped on my way down to the office, and he told me of his scheme; but from his manner I could not have understood, at first, whether he was concocting some practical joke, thought he could invent something that would be of value, or was really insane. He had succeeded, to all appearances at least, in producing a sheet of paper that would neither burn nor tear. We tested it as well as we could, that night. He also took up a knife and attempted to cut it, but that was impossible. He had invented a perpetual indelible ink, too, with which to write upon his paper. He did not explain its ingredients. Before I left he went to a table drawer and brought back a little roll, which he gave to me, saying: 'Don't open this till you hear I am dead.'
"I supposed it was some directions with regard to the poor fellow's wife and children, and so took it without much surprise. I knew he could not live long. After his death, I opened it. Here it is."
Kent pulled a small roll from his pocket and passed it over to Chase. It consisted of a number of lead-colored sheets of paper, which had the appearance of having been oiled. Upon it was written:
When this MS. is read its writer will be beyond the stars, in paradise, purgatory, or hell. Judging from my luck in this world, I consider my prospects brighter for the last-named place.
What I am about to relate is no carefully studied tale. Three months ago it was entirely unknown to me. As some of my friends—Kent, for instance, who is a great babbler—will no doubt publish it to the world, I have been working for months upon an indestructible sheet of paper, upon which I proposed writing an indestructible story—one which would live forever in spite of various editors of Chicago. I even had a dainty prose poem blocked out for it, when there came a revelation which turned the current of my thoughts in another direction and decided me to give this story to the world instead of one of more literary value, which I could have written myself.
I have always had bad luck from the time when a teething babe I got a canker in the mouth by biting on an old coin, down through the days when I was thrashed regularly by my school teacher for other boys' misdemeanors, down to the present time when, kicked by editors and spurned by 'devils,' I am about to bury myself in a country newspaper office in Southern Illinois.
Three months ago, lacking seven days, I learned the cause of all my ill-luck. You will laugh when you read what it was, but before you finish this story your laugh will change to astonishment.
Mention was just made of an old coin upon which I cut my first set of teeth, and got a canker in the mouth at the same time. That coin was the cause of all my misfortune. I have had it in my possession—much of the time in my pocket—for thirty-five years; but not until a few weeks ago did I learn its history, or the evil influence it has carried with it for centuries. I looked upon it only as an interesting relic of my distinguished babyhood, and—perhaps, one of value to be 'put up' on a rainy day. Many rainy days have come, but I have never parted with it. I wish I had; wish I had pawned it long ago, and lost the ticket. Or, rather, I wish I had made a present of it to one of those conceited editors.
The reader may trust the following as historically correct. It is history, all of it, and each statement can be substantiated by reference to well-known writers, of unimpeachable veracity. But in telling my story I shall reserve the right to tell it my own way; and the first part of the history of this miserable piece of silver will be omitted until I am ready to give it.
Last fall my eldest brother, who still lives at the old homestead, sent me a bundle of manuscript, accompanied by the following letter:
Rocky Fork, Sept. 3, 1889.—Dear Brother:
I found this bundle of papers stowed away in the attic, tied up in an oil cloth and sealed in a tin box. When I brought it down, father, although he is very forgetful, remembered it. He said it was left here nearly thirty-five years ago by a young man who stopped over night with us. He was a melancholy-looking fellow, and gave you a queer bit of silver to cut your teeth on. We kept the box for some time, thinking he would return. He never did, and it was laid away for safety. By and by it got hidden away in the attic, and has just come to light. I glanced over the papers, and finding them rather curious, will send them to you. They may make the foundation of a story for you. Your brother,
A foundation for a story! It proved the plot of a tragedy!
The papers were of all shapes and sizes, and in various handwritings. Some were of comparatively recent date, but others had been written centuries ago, and in a phraseology hard to decipher. I could make this story very effective—'artistic,' perhaps, were I to copy these records verbatim. But I have lost my desire to make a sensation. All I care for is to give the strange history to the world. Besides, the documents are lengthy, and my sheets of indestructible paper are numbered. I will merely give the young man's own manuscript and then weave the others into a connected story. The last owner of the accursed piece of silver wrote:
"I shall go mad if I do not get rid of this infamous Thing. It has brought ruin, desolation, disgrace upon me, and now I feel that my mind is giving way. I shall add my testimony to the ones already in the box, and then at the first opportunity leave both coin and records in some one's possession. Who am I that I alone should bear the burden? Whoever opens the box may rest assured of the truthfulness of every word contained in it. The damnable piece of silver * * * has been traced down from the day when * * * until it came into my hands. How this record was kept the inclosed papers will explain. In some cases they were made by the men and women who suffered; in others, by learned men, whose attention had been attracted to the fatal coin, and who took pains to search it out. Early in its existence it became a matter of history. Earlier still—aye, the very day it became infamous, it was marked, indelibly marked, in such a manner that none can mistake it."
Then followed explanations which were necessary to prove the authenticity of the manuscript, but which I will not give now. The records will be preserved carefully for any who may care to examine them.
And now, as I said, I propose to tell my story in my own way, and I will begin with this ill-gotten piece of silver at a time when its evil story had become well known in the world, reserving to the last my description of it, and my account of how and why it is possessed of such a curse.
The first scene opens in Rome—Christian Rome—in the days of Julian, the Apostate. But he was not always 'the apostate.' In early life he was a follower of the humble Nazarine, and not until his cousin Constantius died did he forsake the faith. Why did he take the course that branded him with infamy? The secret archives of Rome mention that in his possession was a curious coin with certain peculiar marks upon it. Those marks are upon the coin in my possession, and the curse fell upon him even more heavily than it did upon me. Within a year after Julian, the Christian, found that ancient piece in the catacombs of Rome he had become Julian, the Apostate.
From the time of Julian the records give a long list of names—some well known, others mere names; some Roman and Italian, others German, Spanish and French; showing that the coin had traveled much. In 1100 it found its way to England, and for years it remained in an abbey, until at last it came into the possession of Thomas a' Becket. History tells how the good man met his false charges, his imprisonment and death. Again the coin sinks into obscurity, to rise into greater disaster, after a silence of fifty years. In 1871 the records say it was given to Henry II. of England, and remained in his cabinet during those eighteen bitter years of his life—years marked by revolt after revolt of his own sons, until at last the rebellion of his youngest broke the father's heart. Again it is traced back to Italy; not only to Italy, but to Rome; not only to Rome, but to the Vatican itself. By some means it found its way to the library of Pope Boniface VIII. Is it needless to recount how he was imprisoned, insulted and killed by Philip the Fair, of France? And note how the curse rested upon his successors as long as it remained in their possession. Benedict IX. lived but a few months, Clement V. was obliged to remove to Avignon, and for seventy years the successors of St. Peter were exiles.
Back and forth, back and forth, from Rome to England, and from England to France, this piece of silver, with its flowering rod upon one side, and its pot of manna on the other, traveled. Driving a Christian ruler into apostasy; driving the popes from Rome to Avignon; bringing the saintly Becket to his death! Wherever it went its blighting effects were visible. And as the famous Archbishop of Canterbury could not escape its dark influence, neither could the great cardinal. All unconscious of its dreadful history, Wolsey also received it; received it from the hands of an enemy, who knew its evil power; received it while on the crest of popularity's wave. How quickly he sank, as a ball of fire glowing in the sky falls, and is extinguished in the depths of the sea.
Was it fate or merely God's hand molding the affairs of men, that the great cardinal's successor, Sir Thomas More, should meet with such reverses. He, too, held the accursed piece in his possession for one year—a year of imprisonment and trial ended with death.
Most tragic of all was the fate of Jacques Molay, the last grand master of the Templars. To him also the fatal coin descended and in its wake came ruin and banishment, torture and death for the greatest body of warriors which ever fought for Christendom. At last the ill-fated grand master, after seeing his army disbanded, was bound to the stake, and from the flames summoned his two enemies, the pope of Rome and the king of France, to meet him at the bar of God within a year. Before a twelve-month both were dead.
The reader would weary were I to enumerate each one who suffered. Let me but mention lovely Mary, queen of the Scots. Lady Jane Grey, Charles Edward, the 'Pretender,' Charles I., Joan of Arc. Each was in turn the possessor of this piece of silver, and each in turn suffered.
It is also said that Henry VIII. possessed the evil talisman, which accounted for his many wives, but there is little data for the belief.
The scene changes again—this time across the seas to the American shores. The war of the revolution was being fought and the evil talisman came across the ocean in a British man-of-war. It was in the possession of an English officer, the unfortunate Major Andre. He, too, met his fate. But before he died he was allowed to send a package to his family, and among other valuables it contained the fatal pocket piece. See how justice is sometimes meted out. Arnold had seen this strange piece of money in Andre's possession during one of their brief interviews. The piece was stolen from Andre's widow, and found its way to a London pawnshop. One day the man without friends or home—the traitor, Arnold—entered the shop and recognized it. With some feeling of remorse, and we know of not what other sentiments he purchased it. Cursed as his life had been, doubly cursed was it afterward.
One scene more. No one has ever really known the secret of Napoleon's fall. Remembering his triumphant march through France, gathering a regiment in every village as he returned from a previous captivity, it is hard to understand why, after Waterloo, he gave up so entirely. Once before he had not only been conquered, but had been a prisoner, yet he broke his prison chains and ascended even higher heights of glory. Why did he fail at Waterloo? You have all read of the 'red man'—the devil, some called him; others, the shadow—who visited Napoleon before each battle and dictated what he should do. On the eve of the battle of Waterloo he came as usual, and Napoleon bade him begone. The 'red man' replied: "I will give you the whole world but St. Helena. Thither I will retire. See that you follow me not. Take this talisman as a parting gift. It has shown power before; it will show power with you. Keep it near you." It was the accursed piece. Napoleon took the coin, Waterloo was lost, and Napoleon never lifted his head again.
And now we have reached the last generation, when the coin fell into the hands of the young man, who fled from its baneful influence and left it with me. Some time, if I live, I may write his life, but there is not time now. The question remains to be answered.
What was this coin, and why did it carry with it such a curse that centuries have been marked with it?
The piece was an uneven circle; on one side was a pot of manna, and on the reverse a flowering almond. Around the edge were Hebrew characters meaning "Holiness unto the Lord." It was an ancient Jewish shekel, coined by the Maccabees.
It is needless to write further. Every antiquarian, every numismatist, every student of history knows what that coin was. It was one of the thirty pieces for which Judas Iscariot betrayed his God.
He went out and slew himself. The high priest would not allow 'the price of blood' to return to the treasury, and marking each piece with a cross, purchased with them a potter's field. They paid the money to one Jabnael. Legend has it that before twelve months had passed he died a horrible death. To Simon Magus some of the money passed, and holy writ gives a succinct account of his tragic end. And so on, down to Julian, each man who held one of the fatal pieces was doomed. In time they became scattered, and it was impossible to trace them; but I have no doubt but that each one of those blood-stained thirty is still in the world, bearing with it the curse of God. I have traced but the one. Where are the twenty-nine?
Ever since there has been a ghost in the world, children have been interested in them, but the only chance the little things ever have of hearing about them is at night, when some kind-hearted servant girl takes pity on them during the absence of the old folk. Parents have frowned upon their children hearing about ghosts and this may be in part because no properly written ghost stories have ever been published for use in the nursery. This is a great oversight on the part of literary caterers to the children's page of the newspapers.
The following ghost story has been compiled for the purpose of filling this long felt want and providing the nursery with a genuine, simon-pure ghost story, to which no parent can object.
There was once a family that had a ghost, more correctly speaking, the house they lived in had one, for the family were renters and the ghost was entailed with the house.
The ghost gave the various tenants a great deal of trouble, and in consequence none of them had ever staid (stayed) very long in it. People who rent like all the modern conveniences and luxuries thrown in, but they do not like ghosts. They are airy and keep such late hours. Still, every one who saw this particular spirit had a sort of a kindly feeling for it, because it was a baby ghost. People would rent the house, stay a night or two, and see a baby in airy night clothes creeping about and moaning dismally. Then they would leave. They never got angry at the ghost, but they did at the landlord (who was an Irishman), for not telling them that the place was rented already. As to the spectral baby, they only felt sorry for it.
Still, they would not stay in the house.
The family under whose reign the ghost left the house was named Otto—a good old German name such as I love to hear. They had been in the house a week before they saw the ghost, for it had been ill with colic and had to stay in bed.
But when it did appear, it created a sensation.
Mrs. Otto was for leaving at once. She said that she was not a proud woman, but that she was exclusive. She did not mind treating even a beggar politely, but when it came to receiving people in her bed chamber she was compelled to be exclusive and she drew the line on ghosts. Besides, she added, she did not need a baby ghost, for she had several young infants already.
This caused a parley. The cook wept when she heard of the manifestation, and said that the poor thing ought to be treated kindly, for no doubt it had died unbaptized and so was compelled 'to walk.'
But then the ghost did not pass its nights in her bedroom.
But to the parley, which occurred at night, as all intelligent persons well know, for a ghost never appears in the day time. People could see through it too plainly then.
Well, the Otto family were all in bed, father and mother Otto side by side, and the three little Ottos ranged in a row in the trundle bed at the foot. All were asleep, and at 12 o'clock the clock struck and all awoke.
Mamma Otto turned over and asked what the children wanted, and father Otto turned over and asked why the little brats could not keep still. Mamma Otto then began a curtain lecture, but it was broken off suddenly and she cried:
"Oh, James, what is that?"
"By my soul," said James, "it is the baby ghost."
"Oh, mamma," screamed the three little Ottos, "see that baby all in white like me! But, oh!—I can see right through it, and it hasn't any insides. Who is it?"
Papa Otto looked out and saw the baby creeping around upon the floor and making a moaning noise. He was tenderhearted toward babies, but he did not feel particularly friendly toward their ghosts. So his speech proved a mixture of tenderness and roughness.
"Look here," he began quite fiercely—then: "Chick-a-biddie, what do you want?"
At the first word the spectre did not pay any attention to him, but at the magic baby words, "Chick-a-biddie," it looked up.
"Dear 'ittle baby," said Mrs. Otto, trying to pacify it, "'ot doo 'oo 'ont?"
"Shut up, you fool," exclaimed Mr. Otto. "Can't you talk sense even in the face of a spectre? Let me talk."
"I say," he said to the white gown, which was now trying to climb into bed with his children, "what do you want?"
"I 'ont a dwink."
"Good Lord! Have they nothing to drink where you live?"
"I 'ont to go to bed," continued the infant, not minding what he said.
"Well, go to bed then," said Mr. Otto. "Who is keeping you from it? Haven't you beds in your ghost world? Who are you, anyhow?"
"I'm a baby ghost."
"So I know you are. But what do you want to be one for? Out here in America we don't have ghosts unless there is some reason for them. But you are so young, you never did anything wrong. What reason have you for prowling around in this way?"
"I'm a baby ghost."
"A baby ghost!" repeated Mr. Otto, becoming excited. "What excuse is there in that? If you're a ghost, you're a ghost, and it don't make any difference what kind. One is as much a spirit as another, even if it isn't quite so big. You don't have to come here unless you want to."
"But where else can I go?"
"Where else can you go? Why, go home. Haven't you any friends or relatives in the other world to take care of you?"
"My father was murdered in India and has 'to walk' there; my mother was murdered in England, and has 'to walk' there; and I am left an orphan ghost in America. Please tell me where I am to walk and I will go there."
"Seems to me you talk pretty well for a baby. How comes it that you can talk so plain when you want to?"
"Ghost babies know more than other babies."
"So I should think, and I believe you are shamming."
Well, the end of the parley was that the Ottos felt downright sorry for the ghost, and would have done anything for it but let it live with them.
"Why," said Mrs. Otto, "the next thing it would be coming to me for its dinner."
As a compromise they at last agreed to let it crawl around on the floor if it would not bother the children, but the ghost said it liked babies above everything else, and would not live without them.
"Then why don't you die?" said Mr. Otto.
"Because I can't."
"Then if you can't die, I guess you can live without babies."
"Yes, I suppose I can; but I won't."
That ended the parley, and the Ottos decided to move, not because they disliked the ghost, but because the children did not like it for a bed-fellow. Besides, it had such a dismal way of moaning.
When the landlord, Mr. Mulligan, heard that his new tenants were about to leave, he said:
"Oi wish the divil would take the cursed ghost an' be done wid it. It's no good. It damages me property. It's bad. To h—l wid it, Oi say!"
The ghost heard him and went to his house to live.
About I o'clock that night he called to it and asked what it meant by coming over and bothering a decent man in that manner.
"Because you cursed me," said the baby ghost naively, and then fell to moaning and creeping about the floor again.
"Sure an' Oi did," said Mr. Mulligan. "But Oi'll fix ye to-morrow."
There was no more sleep in that house the rest of the night, but Mr. Mulligan did not pass his time parleying. A wise man was Mr. Mulligan, and he had his plan.
Early in the morning he put on his hat and went over to Mr. Otto's.
"Good-mornin' to yees," he said, quite politely. "Oi came to speak to yees about yer ghost. An' how did yees rest last noight?"
"Very well, indeed. Her babyship did not put in an appearance at all."
"No wonder, and Oi'll tell ye why and perhaps give ye a pointer that'll rid ye of it altogether. Ye know ghosts can be exorcised. Oi knew one to be laid by Father O'Neill, over in owld Ireland wonst. They can't stand a cursin'. Yesterday Oi got a bit angry and as landlord of th' house gave this bit o' a spectre a downright cursin' an' see, it did not appear to yees at all last noight. Oi thought likely an' so came over to see about it. Now, phat Oi would riccommind would be this—that yees do the same and curses all the curses ye can think of on th' poor thing's head."
That night Mr. Mulligan went to bed chuckling to himself over his scheme, and fell asleep with the conscience of a man who will see no ghosts. But not long did he sleep before he was awakened by a low cry.
"The divil take the brat. Phat does it want now? Pat, shut your noise."
But Pat did not shut his noise, and Mr. Mulligan rolled out of bed in a passion. There at his feet was the baby ghost crawling about and moaning in a most heartrending manner.
"Oi beg your pardon," Mr. Mulligan said; "Oi didn't know it was you. Oi thought it was that boy Pat and got up to give him a batin'. Phat can Oi do for me little leddy?"
But the 'little leddy' made no reply.
The next morning the first thing Mr. Mulligan did was to hurry over to Mr. Otto's a second time to inquire why he had not exorcised the ghost. When he learned that Mr. Otto had done his best at heaping curses upon the poor baby's head he was completely non-plussed.
"Phat was the matter with the scheme?" he said to himself. "It was a good one, Oi know. Something must hev gone wrong."
That night was a repetition of the two previous ones, with the exception that Mr. Mulligan, knowing what he might expect, decided to sit up and await the arrival of the new addition to his family. Promptly on time the 'little leddy' appeared.
"An' phat can Oi do for your leddyship this avenin'," said he very politely, hoping to get on the good side of the ghost.
"I 'on't to go out."
"Go out, is it?" said Mr. Mulligan, with alacrity. "Sure, then, ye can, me darlin', and welcome," and he opened wide the door. But the baby never moved an inch.
"It's cold out there," it moaned and started to creep under the bed clothes with the children.
"Howly Vargin presarve us," cried Mr. Mulligan. "It's going to scare the poor children to death. Get out of there, ye spalpeen. What are yees doing here anyhow? Why aren't ye over hantin' Mr. Otto. Indade he towld me this mornin' that he cursed ye royally."
"So he did," replied the baby ghost, as it crept from the trundle bed and lay down by the fire.
"Warmin's its shins, by the howly Moses!" ejaculated Mr. Mulligan, "though how it can do that same Oi can't see." Then to the baby:
"But how comes it that ye are here and not over there if Mr. Otto cursed ye?"
"You put him up to it."
"Oh, murder! Then Oi'm to have ye here in the house wid me until Oi die!"
"And maybe afterward."
"But suppose Oi move away?"
"I will go with you."
"St. Patrick an' all the sants, hear that, will ye! An' can Oi do nothing to get ye to lave?"
"No, I'm a baby ghost. My father was murdered in India and has 'to walk' there; my mother was murdered in England and has 'to walk' there, and I am left an orphan ghost in America with no one to take care of me," and the baby ghost began to cry.
"Whist! whist! Don't cry," said the kind-hearted man. "Don't cry, an' we will try to fix up something for ye. Can't ye sleep?"
"Ess," replied the ghost, calmed by his words and dropping back into baby language. "Ess, in the daytime."
"Well, suppose we fit up a noice little room wid a bed in it, couldn't ye git along doorin' th' noight alone?"
"No, no. I want to be with the babies. I'm a baby myself."
Well, they kept it up all night without coming to an agreement, Mr. Mulligan making offers and the baby ghost finding excuses, so that by morning the former was too tired to work and too nervous to sleep. As a final resort he called upon Mr. Otto. His manner was not quite so hilarious as usual, but he did not forget his customary politeness.
"An' how did ye rest, Mr. Otto?" he asked.
"Very well, indeed, Mr. Mulligan, and I must thank you for it. Your advice was good. The ghost hasn't been in the house for two days."
"Indade, an' Oi'm delighted to hear it. But O'im sorry, too."
"Why so?" asked Mr. Otto in surprise.
"Because that same ghost has come to live wid me. It doesn't cost much for board, but Oi wouldn't room it for a fortune, not if Oi had a palace an' rooms to throw away. Indeed an' Oi don't know phat to do."
"With you, is it? Well, well. What made it go to you?"
"Oi can't say, but Oi'm thinking it has a likin' for me youngest gurl, Maggie, (ah, she's a swate crature). But Oi can't stand it! And the thing has promised to sthay wid me all me life and go into th' spirit world wid me."
"You won't mind it so much, then."
"Thrue for you, Mr. Otto. But how'm Oi to git along in th' meantime?"
"I tell you what, I will go over to your house to-night, and we will try to induce the thing to go over to England to its mother."
"Oi always sed yer honor had a clear head. Oi'll be expectin's ye."
That night, according to promise, Mr. Otto passed at the Mulligan residence, and prompt on time the spectre appeared.
After a very polite salutation on the part of Mr. Mulligan, Mr. Otto asked the ghost if it did not think it would like to see its mother, and if so, how it would like a trip across the water to England.
The ghost said that was just what it would like to do.
"Then ye shall start to-morrow," cried Mr. Mulligan impetuously.
"Who will go with me?"
"Who will go wid you?" said the astonished man. "Why, you will go alone, of course."
"I'm afraid to go alone."
And there they had to leave it.
And did Mr. Mulligan have to be haunted all the rest of his life by the baby ghost?
Oh, no; he got rid of it.
He engaged steerage passage and took it over to England himself.
Thursday, June 1, 18——.
I never did fancy the idea of staying in the city until driven out by heat. I am going to Lake Superior next week. For June is the most delightful month in the year to spend in the country, so why wait until August, and exchange a month of pleasure for mere comfort? I prefer being sensible to being fashionable, and so go north by Tuesday.
Roy goes with me. It seems strange I should pick up a boy I have not known three months, and take him off as my companion for the summer. But then, if we are satisfied, I do not know as it concerns any one else; he was delighted with the idea, and his father gave consent—so we go. Roy is a little black eyed, black haired school boy I met here in Schenectady soon after, in my Bohemian wandering, I settled down in the place. A new fancy has taken me away now, and it takes Roy with me.
Thursday, June 8.
To-day we reached our camping ground, Roy and I. We left the train at the lazy little village of Chickar, and there chartered an old horse and spring wagon to bring us and our traps down to the lake. Our camp is in a beautiful place. The cool pine forest extends to the shore, which at the particular spot we have chosen to pitch our tent upon, slopes gently down to the water. Half a mile further on the banks are high and steep, and the pine trees are growing on top of the bluff fifty feet from the waves. To-morrow night I shall take the boat and ride out for a moonlight view of those sentinels.
I find a boy can be of considerable use, Roy especially. In fact, I fear he did more work to-day than I, peace to his tired limbs?
We reached the lake about noon, and, after eating a lunch, set out to look for a location. I should have chosen the bluffs, but Roy argued me into stopping here within easy reach of the water. Before we leave, however, I intend to have my own way about it, and go up and down those bluffs on a rope ladder. After lunch we put up our tent, and Roy carried rocks and built a fireplace, while I (having just resurrected 'Consolation' from the bottom of my trunk) sat under a pine tree and smoked. After the tent was up, and a small flag stuck on top by the boy, and our goods stored away, we took a stroll around the place and down to the water. While in Chickar I ordered a boat to be sent around to-morrow. It is late, and I will stop.
Friday, June 9.
The boat came to-day, and the man who came with it brought us some bread and our mail. The boat had no name, and (as I have found I shall be compelled to do in everything) I consulted the boy as to the one we should give it.
"Don't men sometimes name boats after women?" he asked, in reply to my inquiry.
"Yes," I said, wondering what he was driving at.
"Then I say, name it Daisy Dalrymple."
Daisy is a young girl friend of his. I met her while in Schenectady. She is a fairly good-looking girl, about 17 years old, has a good form, red lips and cheeks, smooth forehead, well shaped nose (I always look at the nose), and deep, girlish brown eyes and brown hair. Besides this, she wears a jaunty little hat that becomes her. I probably would not have noticed this last if she had not exchanged with another girl one day, and I wondered that I had bestowed a second glance upon a girl with no more taste, although why I should have given it a passing thought I don't know. The two went to school together and were great friends—Roy and her, I mean. I like to watch these boy and girl friendships, they are so free from suspicion and full of happiness. Let them enjoy themselves. After a year or so they will have enough of scheming and deceit. Let life have some of honest love for them.
But I'm straying from the boat. Of course I vetoed such a name. Not that I really object to it very much as a name, but how would it sound if that boy should write home (as he would be sure to do) and tell his father that the boat we sailed in every day had been christened 'Daisy,' after Daisy Dalrymple. Besides, come to think of it, I don't want to name a boat after her.
Tuesday, June 13.
The youngster has been swinging in his hammock between the two pines he chose as his own when we first pitched our tent here, and now that he has dropped off into sleep, I have lighted 'Consolation' anew and will write up the day. There isn't much worth chronicling. We botanized until evening, and then after supper went down to the shore and pushed out the 'Kelpie' for a float on the lake. It was the first ride we have taken together in the evening, except when fishing. But to-night we went out for pleasure, and so, after having rowed some distance from land, we leaned back and let the boat rock on the waves while we enjoyed the twilight. There is more in that boy than I thought. In fact, I am beginning to believe, that down deep in every boy there is hidden what we rarely consider him capable of possessing. Anyhow, Roy enjoyed that twilight on the lake more genuinely than any grown person of my acquaintance would. The moon rose while we were out, and, actually, as we rocked in the great, broad stream of light which fell upon the waves, that boy spoke of it as the golden ( I cannot say for certain whether it was golden or silver) road up to heaven, and suggested the idea of how beautiful it would be if the gates of heaven were really open out there at the horizon, and that flood of light flowing out of them, and we rowing up the road to the eternal gates. Now, I never would have thought of that! Why is it? Has his religious education been so much better than mine? Hardly. It must be that I have lived a worldly life so long these things have dropped out. But when I asked him if he was ready to row across and out into the infinite beyond, his boyish nature asserted itself over the spiritual, and he shook his head.
"No; not until our vacation is over." Alas? school is not paradise to boys!
The twilight and the moonlight made us confidential, and, while resting out there, I told him my story of Francesca. Not as having any connection with myself, though! I have too much desire to keep his respect to place myself before his eyes in the light of a deceived man. So I told him of my trust and her deceit as if it had been the story of some third party I had met in my wanderings. But I can't help feeling that those boyish eyes changed during the story, and that, if not fully confident, he has a pretty good idea of who the hero was. I must take steps to-morrow to relieve him of any such ideas. Oh, yes, one more item.
When I had finished I looked at him, lying back in the stern of the boat, and asked:
"Well, what do you think of her?" and that boy said:
"I think Daisy Dalrymple wouldn't have done so?"
Confound the boy! I believe he really loves that girl.
We have been here a week. Roy is developing a new trait. He is becoming affectionate! Actually he has laid his head upon my shoulder twice in the last two days. I like it. I am not very affectionate, but a boy I do like, and a boy's love I would rather have than anything else, for a boy's love is honest and genuine. You know just how far you can depend upon him. If he likes you, he will seek your company; if you lose your wealth or friends, it makes no difference to him; he will stick to you. What a pity it is there are no more boys in the world! For, take them as they are, rich or poor, dressed in broadcloth or rags, a genuine boy is something to tie to.
Saturday, June 17.
To-day the fisherman came around again with his bread and mail. Among the letters was one for Roy, and the writing I noticed looked very much like a note I saw once with 'Daisy' signed to it. Wonder if it is from her? We are living a very quiet life now. We hunt and fish and botanize. Roy is getting along famously at the latter. Besides, we do some reading, have finished 'Pickwick,' 'Ivanhoe' and 'Alhambra,' and are now half way through 'David Copperfield.' I, having read it before, prefer the character of David, but Roy is fascinated with J. Steerforth. Well, isn't it all right? Steerforth had many noble qualities. He sinned, it is true, but—let us do as he asked, and think of him at his best! I asked Roy if the character of Agnes reminded him of any one, and expected him as usual to bring up the name of that girl of his, Daisy. But he simply said "No!" And that reminds me, he hasn't mentioned her name since that night on the lake when I told him of Francesca and my wandering life on account of her. But he stares at me at times, with his wondering black eyes, in a way I don't like. I verily believe his boy wits have fathomed my story.
Tuesday, June 28.
To-day Roy asked me a question that has set me to wondering again. What a boy he is! We were out fishing, and he was silent almost the whole afternoon, but just as we were preparing to go back to shore, he burst out all of a sudden with:
"Say, Mr. Dallas, suppose a girl—who is a good girl—if a girl should love a man—a man who is good and noble also—and be true to him—and that man should know of it—what ought he to do?"
"Never suppose such a case, my boy," I calmly replied. "Girls don't love—they speculate. Everyone speculates. Men in stocks; girls in men. You don't know them!"
"But," he persisted, in his boyish way, "suppose she should love him—truly—all her life, and never give him up?"
"What has made you grow sentimental all at once, Bub? Has Daisy proposed to you? Don't trust them," I continued, in a fatherly way; "they are all frauds; she won't love you long. You are young now, and trustful, and I don't like to give the thing away to you, but you must learn it some time. Never think a girl will love you as you love her. It is simply absurd! She will only stand by you and fool you until she finds a richer man or—a bigger fool. There, don't be offended—no insult intended, my boy. Those books we have been reading have put too much nonsense in your head, I see, and we must stop them. Love your Daisy as much as you want to. You will get over it in time, and no harm will be done." This last I said as I saw the poor boy was actually feeling badly.
He did not say any more until we were near the shore. Then he took it up again in the same hesitating manner.
"Aren't men deceived by bad women sometimes, and don't that make them distrustful of others who may be good?"
"At that still, are you? What can be the matter with the boy! Love your Daisy if you want to," I said, sorry for the boy's feelings being so tender. "Love your Daisy. I will take it all back and swear by the sun, moon and stars that she will be true to you—as long as you want her to! There, does that not set your mind at rest?"
"I know it without your swearing," he quietly answered, as we pulled the boat up on the sand and started for camp.
Wednesday, July 6.
I have smoked three pipes and am now cool enough to write. To-day we were out in the boat, and by some blunder or other it upset. Before I could get the water out of my mouth and eyes and get my bearings, Roy was several rods away. I swam to him, got him on my back and swam to land. He had a good drenching, but that was all. He sat by the camp-fire drying his clothes. I noticed from my pine tree, where I sat smoking, that he carefuly held a sheet of paper near the flame. I watched the boy curiously, he seemed so very important. After it was dry, he got up, came over to me, and putting the paper in my hand, said:
"I wish you would read that, I think you ought to know what is in it," and went back to his place by the fire.
I opened the paper and found this letter, written in a round, girlish hand:
Your letter, telling me about your camp and how you live, came a few days ago, and I have brought some paper to school to write to you on, and will answer it before recess. I hope Miss Knapp won't see me, for if she does there will be another lecture, and lectures are tiresome in hot weather. But, then, school is out this week. Everything is quiet as usual. Jack was turned out of school the week after you left, and Harry has no recess the rest of the term, because they tied a cat up to the bell rope by the tail. I am glad you are enjoying yourself. I often think of what a happy time you must have, and, Roy, I wish you would tell me all about Mr. Dallas, for, Roy, I believe I love him, love him, love him better than my life. Do come back soon and—here comes Mrs. Knapp! Good-by.
That was the end of it all! I got up and went over to the boy, and put my arm around him, and he responded by putting his arm on my shoulder and laying his cheek against mine.
Tuesday, July 7.
We start for Schenectady to-morrow. The fact is, I don't like to run the risk of having Roy drowned, and so I have agreed to go to Chickar to-night, send a man for our tent, and take the early train for home in the morning. Think I will try one summer in the city for a change!
Extract from Schenectady Times:
"Married, October 7, 18——,
Miss Daisy Dalrymple to Mr. John Dallas," etc.
"Robert," said Aunt Christine to her brother, "I want to speak to you about that girl. I am all out of patience with her."
"What has poor Nell been doing now?"
"Nothing. That is the trouble. Nothing, when she ought to be getting married, or getting ready to do so."
"Perhaps she doesn't wish to," answered Uncle Rob, with a light laugh at his sister's vehemence.
"That's it! Here she is, rich, good-looking and intelligent, and at the age of 26 still unmarried; and when I spoke to her to-day about Senator Tredennis and Lord Richland, wanting to know which she intended to marry, she quietly informed me that she hadn't the slightest intention of marrying any one at present! Sometimes I wish that uncle of hers had not left her that money. I shouldn't have so much to worry over if she were the poor girl she was ten years ago."
"By the way, I wonder where she is?"
"In the parlor refusing Lord Richland very likely."
"Well, suppose I go and stop it?"
He smiled to himself as he walked down the piazza, at the novel idea of him preventing anything Helen wanted to do. Helen, who had been his pet from the time she had waded bare-footed in the surf and built mimic forts in the sand!
But Aunt Christine was wrong in her surmise this time, for when her brother entered the parlor he found it occupied by both the Senator and the Lord, as well as Helen. She was more beautiful than ever, thought Uncle Robert as he looked at her. And still it would be difficult to name in what her beauty consisted. Her face was fair, but no more. And yet there was something about her which compelled one to admire. Perhaps it was her uniform ladylike calmness and reserve. There are some women who can so hedge themselves in with pride that men will worship them as divine. Helen was busy with a mass of blue and white floss, deftly weaving them into some fancy work, and Mr. Alison, as he stood at the door, heard the Senator saying:
"We used to wonder in Washington what it was Miss Winter was knitting. Col. Monks once said it reminded him of Penelope's web; at least it was never finished."
Mr. Alison was surprised to see a delicate color spread over the girl's face as if the remark had touched her heart.
After a few minutes the two gentlemen stepped out upon the piazza and left Mr. Alison and his niece alone.
"Now," thought Mr. Alison, "is the time to have it over."
"Helen," he began solemnly, but Helen slipped her hand into his arm, and by a pleading look quite put to flight all ideas of rebuke he might have had.
"There, Uncle Robert, I know all you intend saying. Aunt has been talking to you. Are you going to turn against me, too?"
"Just as I knew it would be," said Mr. Alison. "I came in with all sorts of arguments ready——"
"For the California mansion or the English castle? Be at rest concerning the first; I do not fancy the land of oranges."
"And the castle? Do you mean——"
"Uncle," said Helen, quietly, "I do not love either of them. Would you have me marry them without love? I have a home; I need not marry for that." And to Mr. Alison's surprise again a tear fell upon his hand as she bent over and kissed him.
"Can it be Col. Monks," he wondered to himself, but only said aloud:
"Forgive me, dear, and we will drop the subject. And by the way, I have a new acquaintance for you. I used to know him years ago when you were a child, but for the last five years he has been in Australia. Lately he returned, and to-day I met him down at the Cliff House, he is boarding there for a few weeks while making some studies along the shore."
For the second time, that evening, the delicate color flushed over the girl's face, and her uncle went away deeply puzzled at such an unusual circumstance. Helen stood for a moment where he had left her and then walked across the room and looked at her image in the long mirror.
"Penelope's web!" she said, softly: "I wonder if she kept her beauty all those twenty years of waiting! Five years are not so long, and yet—and yet—I wonder if my web will ever be done. Am I giving up my life to a fancy? How aunt would cut me if she knew! Five years for a fancy." Then, as she turned to leave the room, "If five years, then it will be a life."
That night Judge Mammon gave a ball. Helen had just been dancing with one of her twenty suitors, and at her request had been led back to her aunt's chair. Mr. Alison was just presenting a friend to his sister, and then, turning suddenly, John Warrington looked into the face he had been dreaming of for years.
"Mr. Warrington and I hardly need an introduction," said Helen gracefuly, extending her hand as she spoke. Again Mr. Alison was nonplussed, and his faint suspicion vanished. How was he to know that every nerve in the girl's body was tingling, and that it required all the effort she could exert, in spite of her years of training in coldness, to make the greeting calmly.
Could it be that five long years had passed since she had gazed into those earnest eyes, or heard the quiet voice saying, precisely as so often long ago, "Are you happy to-night, Miss Winters?" Why had he chosen these words for his greeting? she found herself asking over and over. And as she stood silent for a moment, dimly conscious that her aunt was making one of her quaint speeches to the old friend, and that Lord Richland was at her side claiming her hand for the next waltz, a scene flashed before her eyes which carried her back to childhood.
There was a quiet stretch of beach and the ocean rolling up at her feet; in the background a tumbled-down house—her home—and she, herself, a bare-footed girl, playing with sand and waves, happy as the day was long. An artist, who consituted her world outside her home, sketching sea and land. She stopped to wonder if he remembered a certain picture he drew once of a little girl standing upon the shore and looking out over the sea. He had given it to her, and she had preserved it all these years.
The memory of happy days upon the sunny beach suddenly gave way to another. A room in the tumbled-down house, and in it a little girl tossing restlessly upon a bed and moaning in delirious fever. The village doctor standing helplessly by; her poor old father crying quietly to himself. The artist enters the room and kneels by her bed. She seems at once to realize his presence. He takes her hand and speaks to her, lowly but earnestly. His voice recalls her from her wondering, as it had called her to him so many times before when wandering upon the beach. To-night the music of the dream-waltz they were playing seemed a fitting accompaniment to those words which were still ringing in her ears—"Do not worry any more, Helen; rest and be happy." In all her life afterward she had never once thought of the words as being strange.
"Happy!" That seemed to be the burden of his wishes for her, and she, tired child, obeyed the call, and rested, happy, because he was with her.
And now she was a woman, and, thanks to an uncle she had never seen, the belle of the season. Ah, the belle of the season, thinking her wealth would be well spent could she but bring back that happy life!
It was only for a moment. Then she spoke to Warrington.
"Have you finished your picture?" she asked.
He smiled, as if it were the most commonplace remark, instead of one bridging over a gulf of five years.
"How quickly you go back to our old life, as if we had parted but yesterday. No, I have not finished it. As you know, I went to Australia soon after I saw you last, and there I did not use my brush much. Besides, I could not finish the picture," and he broke off abruptly.
"You will tell me why some time, perhaps," she said softly. "Tell me now what you have been doing."
Many times had John Warrington run over in his mind the manner in which he would meet this girl and tell her why his career as an artist had been broken so suddenly, and these years spent in business. It was one of the bright dreams of his Australian life. But fate had willed differently from what he hoped.
"My story is short, little Helen." He called her by her old name, placing them again in the position of child and man, and she liked it. "I went out to seek my fortune. Found it. Lost it. And have come back as poor as I went. Now I begin with my brush where I left off five years ago."
"Left off five years ago!" she repeated to herself. They stood silent for a moment, he thinking of the barrier between them which his five years had meant to break down, and she wondering if that old 'rest and happiness' was never to be realized again.
Then Aunt Christine claimed Warrington's attention, and they parted.
Warrington's success during the next six months made him often question whether it would not have been better had he remained at his studio instead of dropping five years of his life across the seas. The world needs but a little start to send it worshiping, and good Mr. Alison put it in motion toward Warrington—that is, the part of it represented by the city in which he had established his studio.
One day a party of friends visited him. Helen and Lord Richland were among the number, and the latter had determined to know his fate before he left the studio. The answer he received was the same that Penelope gave to all her suitors, but he was so thoroughly in earnest that Helen was sorry for him and gave him her hand. He stooped to kiss it, and then Helen saw that Warrington was standing in the entrance to the room. He turned away immediately, but Helen called to him.
"Mr. Warrington, will you show us the picture you have just completed?"
"Certainly," he answered. "It is in this room;" and, drawing aside a curtain, displayed a picture still resting upon the easel.
"It is called 'Penelope,'" he said, quietly.
Helen gave one look at the canvas and her face turned crimson.
Not the Queen herself could have been more lovely than the face portrayed upon the canvas, and yet, idealized through it all, she saw herself. Once, long ago, Warrington had spoken of her knitting as a perfect 'Penelope's web,' and had begun the picture which was unfinished when she received her fortune and he departed for Australia.
The painting came to her like a revelation, and as the party was about to leave she went up to Warrington and said:
"Mr. Warrington, will you please make no disposal of your last picture until you see me again? Will you call to-morrow?"
He looked surprised, but assented. Was it to tell him of her engagement, he wondered.
Helen was sitting in the library when he came the next afternoon, and he noticed that her work was in her hands. She was too deeply in earnest to talk of common topics, but went directly to her subject.
"Mr. Warrington, do you remember a little sketch you made nearly fifteen years ago? You gave it to me, and now I want your 'Penelope' to——"
"What picture?" he asked; "not the one I drew of you upon the beach?"
She handed it to him.
"And you have kept this all these years? Do you really care for it, little Helen? Do you ever think of those days now? You were but a child then, but I would give all my life to live that summer over again. I never thought I should be so mad as to say this. I have loved you ever since that happy summer when I brought you back to life. Then, when this fortune came to you, being proud, I went away. I could not bear the name of having been a fortune-hunter, and was afraid you would think, as others would, should I, a poor, penniless artist, ask you to be my wife—and I would not stand that! I went away hoping to be able to come to you without a shadow of doubt. I came back as poor as I went. I finished my picture, thinking it would be my renunciation, and when I saw you and Richland in the studio I knew it was so. But now I cannot help telling you I have loved you, and you will believe me now, will you not, little Helen?"
"You told me once to be happy, and I obeyed you, because you were with me. Why have you not trusted me long ago?"
"Trust you? You do not mean, Helen, that you have loved me all these years? I dare not believe it! Others have wooed you—others far better than I——"
"Yes, dear, but Penelope waited for Ulysses!"
I am a newspaper reporter and a poor one at that, I sometimes think as I examine my not very plethoric pocketbook.
A few years ago the Daily Capital, published in Topeka, changed management, and among other schemes of the newly organized company was one to establish a branch office in Kansas City. Being out of work, and having some influence with the business manager, I secured the position and was sent down to take charge of the new venture.
My office was in the Chamber of Commerce and I occupied a room with two grain men and a dealer in pork. Desk room had been secured for me, and a neat sign placed on the door beneath the others, calling the attention of visitors to the fact that within could be found the representative of the Topeka Capital, who was ready at all times to receive them in every capacity. My duties were various. Each morning I noted the various changes on 'Change, and each afternoon took a trip to the stockyards to note the state of the market there, all of which observations were duly telegraphed to the Topeka paper in the evening. In addition to this I was expected twice a week to write a commercial letter giving the exact state of the markets of the world and prognosticating the same for a week to come. Then there was a daily news letter, the use of the 'wire' in case of emergency (I was the Associated Press reporter), and the soliciting of advertisements.
With all this on my shoulders little else could be expected, and yet I found time for one little affair which came to my knowledge and which I now propose to give to the public. When I was installed in my office I was given an old, time stained desk which had once done duty in the editorial rooms of the Kansas City Times. There were a number of old papers in the drawers, and one day after returning to the office a little earlier than usual I began clearing them out. Among many worthless newspaper scraps (evidently laid away by some reporter for future use) I found the following manuscripts, which I sent to my chief for publication and which I here insert.
[Written for the Sunday Capital.]
It was under no ghostly circumstances that I first saw the place—that is, after it became haunted.
Fifteen years in India had made me feel almost like a stranger in my own land, and after a brief visit to the remnants that were left of my family, I took the first train for a little hamlet in Ohio whither I proposed bringing my household gods and settling down to pass the remainder of my life in peace.
It was a beautiful morning and I came upon the house in the early sunlight.
It was built upon the colonial plan, with a mixture of Swede and Norwegian; the founder evidently had first built a square house of four rooms, with an immense hall running through it, and afterward added a hen coop here and a dormer window there, a lean-to on the left and a "T" on the right, until he had but to slope the roof down to the hillside and the house was complete. It may have been a model of architecture once, but it most assuredly was a first-class model of inconvenience and uncleanness then. The whole place was sadly neglected. The gate was broken, the fence demoralized, and the garden grown up with weeds. The orchard was unpruned and the ground strewn with dead branches; the stable dilapidated and the fields barren. But none of these makes a house ghostly.
There are three circumstances under which a house will seem supernatural, but it must not be gone to ruin. On the contrary, a field of grain ready to cut, but with no reapers in it; a neat yard and a house in good order, with all the necessities of life in it, standing solitary and silent on a hot August day when the sunlight comes down in a shower of blinding rays—such a place will, in my opinion, make the most courageous speak in low and reverent tones. The family, one may know, have only gone to the village to lay in their week's supply of groceries, but the effect is the same.
The other hours are at night or early morning, when the house is full of loved ones. There is something awful in passing by the face of a sleeper, and, looking upon that quiet face which knows us not, to be conscious that our nearest and dearest is, though bodily present, far away, wandering in the realms of the unknown; entering the field of spirits, meeting, perhaps, with angels whom we know not. Added to this feeling of care, which steals over one as he contemplates the face of the sleeper, comes also a slight tinge of jealousy and of fear, lest when the sleeper does awaken the dream visitants may not leave the friend of yesterday exactly the same to-day; we are conscious also that the other part of our life, lying there so silent, is now in that oblivion, the type of the deeper one we all must enter later! For her lying there, the world is nothing. The book is finished, the music silent, the work done! It is as if she were not.
This sensation will come at any time when we gaze upon the sleeping faces of a household, but more strongly does it come in the early hours of morning light. Coming into the room, ready for work, we feel the sleepers should be back in the world also, and are surprised that they are not; and because they do not respond to our silent presence by awakening we shudder and draw back.
A house with no one in it may be ghostly, but it must be as nearly human as possible. If there are no traces of human hands about, the spectres of the departed are not near so easily conjured up.
So, as I said, it was under no ghostly circumstances that I saw the house; in the cool autumn morning it seemed as commonplace as any other rickety shed. Yet I knew it was haunted!
I went on by to the next farm house. They, also, knew it was haunted. I did not need to ask the question from the farmer who was just coming from the barn, but I did. He looked at me, shook his head, leaned up against a convenient tree, and answered:
"I say nothing."
"Then you know it is?"
"Well, I wouldn't live in it."
In a slow, matter-of-fact manner he went on, without a particle of emotion, or a shade of emphasis, as if he were repeating a half-learned lesson.
"If I wanted all the doors opened with no one to open them, and tramping overhead and in the next room, and lights and white objects flitting around, why, then, I would!" From which I gathered that all these things were in the habit of occurring in the old place.
"Something is seen, then?" I said. "What is it? What causes the racket?"
"A woman in white."
"Have you seen her?"
The man crossed himself and said nothing, which imparted to me the information that he was a Roman Catholic, and superstitious. It also left me in doubt as to whether he had seen her, and crossed himself lest she should again appear, or whether he had not, but feared that on mention she might come up and stand between us to reprove me for my lightness.
But I took the house, or rather moved into it, for I already held the deed, and that week found us comfortably settled. Comfortably, did I say? In a manner.
It was late October. Already the leaves were putting on their dying colors of red and scarlet or turning into autumn brown. Besides the family (my aunt and myself) I brought with me a deaf man of all work (an Englishman), a cook, and a waiter girl. Together we went over the house, I taking the lead as lord and master, and John bringing up the rear. Into the parlor, with its faded grandeur, and into the sitting room, now bleak and bare as an old granary; into the bedrooms, with their torn paper and shaky windows, and into the long dining room, with its walnut casing and broken cement.
Mixed up with rooms and halls were queer little alcoves and closets and wardrobes, stairs and lofts, scattered about promiscuously and in the most unexpected places. Upstairs there was the same air of decay and loneliness. But I must confess that a different feeling came over me when I approached a little room at the rear of the house. It was an unseemly, uncomfortable looking place, with one window opening out upon the kitchen roof and making an easy escape to the hill back of the house. When I opened the door, the room was empty; yet even to my unimaginative mind came a dim feeling of awe, as if I were suddenly stepping back into the past. The thought of ghosts did not enter my head, yet I felt as if the room was not empty. It looked as if there was something in it. This was the room the lady in white visited. So, at least, said the farmer. I chose it for my bedroom.
For the better preservation of peace in the house we had agreed to say nothing to the servants about its ghosts. But before night we had got into a perfectly supernatural groove, in which we seemed very likely to run the rest of our sojourn.
I had an idea that I kept all outsiders away, but catching a glimpse of my Romish neighbor's wife slipping out of the shed and cautiously winding her way around the hill, I understood that all my precautions had been in vain. The cook and the waiter knew it! The house was haunted! By an hour after dark the latter had seen eyes gleaming at her out of the misty corner of the great hall, and she began developing strange physical faculties I had never dreamed one small woman could possess. Before supper was served the traces of a white robe fluttering from my bedroom window had been seen by the cook, though what possessed her to go out on the hill and gaze up over the kitchen roof at my window, I never could fathom. And our meal, which I always want to eat in peace, was twice broken in upon by the strange actions of the waiter, who suddenly became afflicted with a disagreeable habit of stiffening from her toes upward at the most unexpected moment, and remaining with eyes fixed upon me in the most deadly manner imaginable, until we resuscitated her. Both times, Jane, the cook, was called in to administer restoratives, and each time was found diluting herself with tears and murmuring about the ghost.
So we went on. "Woman in white!" According to the waiter and cook, there were fifty of them, and not confining themselves to their proper sporting place, my bedroom, they swarmed over and filled the whole house. The cook has seen her wandering around in the outhouse at the same instant that the waiter stiffened over her white robes in the dusky parlor.
Noises! I myself have sat in the parlor and heard such noises as nothing but Bedlam could have produced, I thought. The whole house would take a streak of groaning and creaking and I could have sworn that I heard steps overhead. So matters went on from bad to worse. The servants were continually going around ready primed for a swoon at any minute, and I can vouch for picking up the cook three times in one half hour as she made three unsuccessful attempts to get up into the second floor after dark.
It was in vain that I laughed at their fears or removed the cause. If I showed the white woman in the parlor to be a streak of moonlight once, I did so fifty times, and each time the cook only looked incredulous and said: "Yes, I see," and the 'Stiffner' glared at me more fiercely than ever. But when I suggested buying a few rat traps to settle the noises, the two arose at once and declared that it was flying in the face of Providence to suggest such a thing and that they would not stand it.
At last our little company became so completely demoralized that one morning after breakfast, at which the steak had come up burnt black and the coffee bitter and cold, I turned to my aunt and said:
"Aunt Chris, I begin to fear we will have to give it up." But my aunt, who is a woman of spirit, replied:
"No, James, we will not give it up. Turn off the women and we will run the house ourselves; or, rather, send them away, and we will have only ourselves to wait on."
Like many another innocent male victim, I had never thought of getting along without these faithful incumbrances. But, as I always do, I assented to my aunt's plan, and the servants departed.
It was now getting along toward the holidays. In the early autumn, when we first thought of this winter residence, we had rashly invited a company of friends to spend some time with us. They, not being aware of the supernatural visitants of our home, and the present defenseless condition of its inmates, we passed a day in writing to them and explaining the situation. Being of sound minds, they all came.
We drew lots for rooms, and each bound himself or herself to wage unceasing warfare upon all spiritual visitants, and in the last night of the holidays to gather in the great dining room, heap up the table with nuts and apples, build a roaring fire in the old-fashioned fireplace (which was one of the additions to the home, and entirely outside of the dining room), and there, under the mellowing influence of a jug of good cider, confess what we had seen. Until then, silence. Of course, as holding the white lady's chief camping ground, I stood the best chance of lifting the company's hair when 'twelfth night' came. And so the days passed on.
But the house was really haunted. I was soon as thoroughly convinced of the fact as I was skeptical of it at first.
The first change that I noticed in my room was on the 19th of December. I was standing before the mirror on my dressing table, brushing my hair before going down to breakfast. As I looked in the mirror, I was astonished to see that I was smoothing the hair, not of a staid gentleman of thirty-seven years, but the obstinate capillary adornment of a boy. I shut my eyes for a moment, and when I opened them found the boy gone and a young man looking straight into my face. His eyes had a faraway, familiar look about them, as the eyes of an old friend just called up from the past, half recognized, half strange. The apparition remained until I turned away and went down to the breakfast room.
That was the beginning of it. And after a beginning was once made I had not a night's peace. From that time I was led about into the wildest and most fantastic escapades imaginable. I remember that very same night I had blown out my lamp, gone to bed, and was lying, looking out at the hill, white with moonlight as if covered with snow. I had lain there but a few minutes when a lady in white came in and seated herself by the window.
With a motion hardly perceptible she indicated that she wished me to follow her, and no power on earth could have held me back. Out upon the old roof, down to the white hill, and through the ravine, we went at a rate defying competition. In an incredibly short time we were miles away and in a little white school-house.
When we left the school-house we were tramping through the woods, which were no longer bare and brown from autumn days, but green with spring, and our feet trod among violets and bluebells.
There was a large city which I traversed till I knew every street. There was a house and an office and a desk, and in and at these I was compelled to sit and add long columns of figures and post imaginary books.
So the week went by. One night, I remember, was passed in wandering over the fields and through the woods, which under this ghostly chaperonage was bright with flowers and green with leaves and grass. And I spoke in terms of love to the little lady in white who accompanied me.
The nights of the 22d and 23d were passed in the same manner, and we planned a life together as full of idyllic days as were these evenings. But the night of the 24th, Christmas eve, as the little princess came into my room and I was preparing to start upon another trip, I found other influences were at work. The more she entreated me to come, the less able was I to obey, until at length I saw reflected in the shaky looking glass at the foot of my bed, a strange shape that had not intruded upon us before.
I do not remember distinctly what happened then. But this I do know, that the second shape drew me away from her serene highness and out into the night. The next I knew I was crossing the ocean.
Then I found myself in a quaint old town, with queer houses, and still queerer people. In an hour more I was among the ruins of Rome, and then I scaled the Pyramids of Egypt; I talked tea to a Chinaman and coffee to a Java Islander. I was imprisoned in Siberia and ran a race with a Hottentot. It was wonderful what flights I took in an hour's time.
When I got back to my room the little princess was gone.
During the whole of the Christmas day I went around in a dazed manner—drawn into myself, as my friends said. That was another Christmas day which I did not enjoy. I looked forward to the night, although I knew the little woman would not appear to me again. She never did appear to any one in that room but myself, and she never came to me after that Christmas eve.
Ah! that haunted room! No phantom ever trod upon that floor or floated in the air but the fleeting phantom of my own early dreams. No ghost ever haunted that room overlooking the kitchen roof other than the ghost of my own childhood, the ghost of my early manhood, the ghost of my own airy dreams. Many a time have I pursued the phantom, always following, never reaching, never holding, never with these man's steps to overtake it, never with these man's hands to grasp it, never with this man's heart to inclose it. And for the ten nights I followed it, followed with more earnest desire, and with stronger outstretched hands than when a boy, yet only for a second time to find it as before in boyhood—only a shadow never to be realized.
Ah, well! How much is left after five years of love and ten of wandering—coming back to find love gone—for the man of forty to follow but phantoms.
My life has been somewhat of a bohemian one, I must confess, and consequently I have met a great many different classes of people. Just why it is that I never could remain long in a place has always been a mystery to me never fathomed. In the few years of my life (I do not want to make myself out an old man) the press from Maine to California has become familiar to me, and many are the offices which have known me for a day and forgotten me the next. But that has nothing to do with my story.
In all my wanderings I never met with but one woman who embodied all the graces which I had in my mind ascribed to the fictitious person who should at some time be my wife. But while in St. Louis on the Globe-Democrat I met a lady who interested me strangely. She was married, and that, of course, placed her beyond my reach, although she was such a one as I would have desired as a wife.
I was introduced to her three years before I went to Kansas City, and in these three years was so far favored as to become an adopted son in the family and to be allowed to call this woman mother. Yet she was scarce ten years older than myself.
I wish I could describe her better, for, as I have said, she was to me the embodiment of all that was womanly. Cold and reserved, she allowed no one to be familiar and she had no intimate friends, though many adored her. She was cold and reserved, and yet I have known her to be very tender to a poor sick person or one in distress. Then she was small, and had a face which once seen would be remembered by its proud, aristocratic look. She was a little autocrat. Perhaps that is why I, bohemian that I am, loved her.
One evening after my reports had been sent to Topeka, and I was busily engaged upon a news letter which was to be sent by the ten o'clock mail, a man nearly forty years of age entered my office and inquired if I was the Capital reporter. I replied in the affirmative, with my usual agreeable advertising smile, and asked what I could do for him. In reply he drew a chair up to my desk and asked:
"Are not you the gentleman who recently sent a paper headed 'The Haunted House' to the Capital?"
I answered in the affirmative.
"I am the writer of it, and for a year have been anxious to have it published in a Missouri paper. Six months ago I left it with the editor of the Kansas City Times, but by some strange fate it has fallen into your hands and you have done me the favor of publishing it. I now wish to ask an additional favor. If you ever hear any inquiries for the author will you please notify me." And he laid a card on the desk before me, and then after a few remarks and adieus departed. I looked at the card. It bore the commonplace name of John Warrington, with the address, Palmer House, Chicago.
A few weeks after John Warrington's visit I took a trip to St. Louis, and, of course, stopped with my little mother. She, too, had read the story of 'The Haunted House,' for I sent her the Capital daily, as became an affectionate son. To my surprise she was very curious about it and asked me innumerable questions, among them the author's name. And then she took me into her confidence and told me.
"Paul, did it ever occur to you that I did not love my husband?"
I confessed that, viewing her well ordered house, it never had.
"And yet it is true," she went on. "You think me cold, and I am, but you have never thought that it was studied coldness, a coldness which was not natural to me. And you think I am happy! Well, so I have been, in a measure. But what will it be now? You are my boy, and I can tell you what I am thinking to-night. I would give all my life for one day of fifteen years ago. When I was a girl I loved a young man, but he was wealthy and I poor, and his parents managed to separate us. We were engaged at the time. No harsh means were used—we were simply parted.
"I lived in the neighborhood for several years and then came West and married. Why did I marry? When you are older you will understand better, perhaps. It is woman's nature, her fate to marry. Some do not? Yes, I know it, but that very fact sets them up as guide boards pointing young girls to matrimony.
"When John did not return and I heard nothing from him, I at last began to think that he had forgotten me. That was a hard time, Paul. Life seemed worth very little. Then I met my husband, and he was kind and good, and I thought at last that I might grow to love him. At least there would be a deep respect which would make life bearable, and I wanted some one for my own. So we were married, and our life has been happy, or rather peaceful. But I have never loved him and he knows it. I am sorry, oh! so sorry for him. We have often talked it over, and, Paul, he is very good to me. I do love him in a manner.
"Now comes that story in the Capital. I knew it at once. The picture of the old house is perfect, and the story is quite like John. He never could be solemn for any length of time, but was always running off into some extravagance. But under all the lightness there is a sad strain, the sketch of his life and mine before we were separated. And do you know, Paul, I believe that he wrote that story for me, so that if I should read it, I should at least know that he loved me all these years. I wonder what he looks like now?"
And then I told her all about John Warrington's visit and his appearance.
And so the fantastic tale I had resurrected from my old desk in the branch office was the story of my little mother's love. And she was not happy! These two thoughts clung to me with persistence as I went my daily rounds. That there was a pain in them for me I cannot deny, but perhaps my story has been so poorly told already that there is no need of the confession.
What was best for me to do? The question bothered me for days, and then I wrote to John Warrington. It was not a week until he called upon me—at evening, when I always had the office to myself, and that night he, as had my little mother, told me the story of his life and hers.
Years before, when he was young, he had loved her, but they had separated. He was given an appointment the other side of the world, and although he wrote frequently he never heard again from his lady love. Years passed, and he had concluded that she had forgotten. Then he came back and visited the old home to find it gone to decay and rendered uncanny by the story that it was haunted. He fitted up the little back room that had once been his when a boy and there passed the winter holidays. During those weeks he was haunted, haunted by sad memories which clung to this room of his happy boyhood.
There he had lived and grown to manhood, and there, after the house was wrapped in slumber, he had tossed upon his bed, as most of us have done some time or other, and run over in his mind the day's work, how he had passed a sweet afternoon with his love, his visit to the little school-house, their rambles through the woods, and afterward of his days in the city counting room. Now that he had come back to the place after ten years exile, each night brought to him a review of those days.
The story of the house being haunted gave the idea for his story. Yet even here, where he should have been pathetic, he must needs be ridiculous. He himself told me that he knew that if 'Nellie' should see it she would understand, as for anyone else he did not care. There are such persons—I have often met them—who cannot speak of their private feelings in any other than a light manner for fear of ridicule, and can we blame an old bachelor for his little crochets? So he tried to make the story comic. Ah! well, old man, you may sneer, but I knew from the first that last paragraph came from the heart which treasured the love of that country school ma'am as sacredly then as it did ten years before.
And the little woman?
He returned, believing that she had forgotten and had learned to love another. He heard that she had gone West and had married, and he took this means of finding her, or at least letting her hear from him. He confessed to me that night that he had secretly hoped to find the report of her marriage untrue.
And now he had found her, and she loved him. But she was a wife. The wife of a man she had never loved, and the old love was tugging at her heart.
What were they to do?
That was the question he put to me that night. I went to a Catholic priest and laid the story before him, omitting the later developments since the lover's return. His answer came clear and decidedly.
"Marriage is a sacrament, not a legal contract, and if she did not love her husband the sacrament was void."
"What shall she do?"
"Renew her vows privately, or leave her husband."
"But she does not now love her husband! Shall she secure a divorce and marry her lover?"
Such was the decree of the church. I gave it to the lover.
To him and to you I leave it. "What shall she do?"
How Clarence Bradford ever came to win the wife he did had always been a mystery to me. He was a country boy of fair ability when he came to St. Louis to study medicine, but there was nothing brilliant to distinguish him from a score of other students. His wife, on the other hand, had been one of the society buds of the city, the daughter of one of the wealthiest and proudest men in St. Louis, and how Bradford ever had a chance to win her I could not understand.
When I first met him, however, they had been married several years, and he was on the road to a reputation as a physician. At first I did not know of his early poverty, but one evening after we had been acquainted for a year or more he told me something of his struggles to secure an education, and that set me to wondering about his wife.
But it was a long time before he spoke to me about her, and when he did it was while driving home from the medical college in which he had graduated and in which he was now delivering lectures.
He did not look or act like himself that day, and as we drove home he told me why. Strange as such a confession would seem, coming from such an experienced physician, he had been unnerved by the sight of the body of a young woman on the dissecting table.
"Come in to dinner," he said, as the carriage drew up at his home, "and afterward we will go into the office and I will tell you why no amount of experience can accustom me to the dissecting table when the subject is a young woman."
I accepted the invitation, and after a dinner served in irreproachable style we shut ourselves in his office, or rather his study, for he had a downtown office, and while smoking our after-dinner cigars he told me the story of his life. I say of his life because the winning of his wife was the turning point in it.
"I have no doubt but that you have often wondered how I, a poor medical student, came to marry the daughter of Henry Arnold," he began.
I nodded assent, and he continued:
"The story is a queer one, and if I were not able to give unimpeachable testimony to its truthfulness I would not dare tell it, even to you, so certain am I that most people would set me down as an Ananias.
"The first year that I was in the medical college I secured a position as nurse in one of the hospitals, both for the training it would give me and for the money it would bring in.
"It was there that I first saw Edith. She came regularly to bring flowers to the patients, and we always exchanged a few words. She was so kind, so sweet, so gentle with the sick, that no one seeing her going from cot to cot could help admiring her.
"I did more. I loved her.
"But, as you may imagine, any hope of making her my wife was out of the question. It was condescension enough for the daughter of the wealthy Arnold to visit the sick in a public hospital. It would have been madness to have thought for a moment that she would become the wife of a penniless medical student whom she found there."
"I am surprised that she did even that much," I remarked as he paused in his narrative, as if the recollection of those days was too pleasant to be passed over hastily. "Wealthy girls are not in the habit of carrying flowers to the hospitals."
"That is true," he replied, with a mingling of pride and love in his voice, "but my wife is an exceptional woman.
"After several months," he continued, "she failed one week to pay her customary visit, and I was wretched. The next week she did not appear, and then I made inquiries concerning her.
"She was very ill, and ten days later I heard that she was dead. The day after I attended her funeral, followed the body to the cemetery and saw it interred in the family vault.
"I should have told you that for several years I had been interested in telepathy and kindred subjects. You know I was quite old when I entered the medical school—was twenty-five during the first term. These studies had resulted in my becoming a firm believer in the theory that one mind can influence another, no matter how great the distance.
"The night after the funeral of Edith I went to my room and sat down to make an experiment wilder and weirder than any I had ever read.
"It was an attempt to bring to me, by the exercise of my will power, the spirit of my loved one, if such a thing were possible. In life we had been immeasurably divided, but in that new world to which she had gone the conditions which had bound us would no longer exist; she would know that I loved her, and, at least, would not be angry, even if she cared nothing for me. So I reasoned.
"Now you are thinking of me as a spiritualist, but I am not and never was. I am simply a firm believer in the power of mind over mind—and matter. And that night I merely desired to bring into play the principles that would have been used in working upon a living person. If I could influence one in the flesh, why could I not influence one who would be more sensitive because freed from the body?
"The first thing to be done in my experiment was to find my loved one's soul. I leaned back in my chair and began a mental search, but it seemed as if my mind was strangely refractory. I could not keep it from the sad events of the day. Again I saw the coffin in the church as the burial service was sung, and followed it step by step to the cemetery and the vault. I believe now that I must have been in some kind of a cataleptic state at the time, but I did not realize it then.
"The whole funeral passed before me in as vivid a manner as if I were witnessing it again.
"But I was not entirely discouraged with the experiment, for I thought perhaps to find the spirit of Edith, it might not be amiss to follow her dear body.
"For, who knows? It might be true, as ancient legends tell us, that the soul lingers around its cast-off tenement for a time. You know this belief was the origin of draping public buildings for thirty days, the length of time the Jews used to believe the spirit remained near its earthly home before taking its flight into the great unknown world of space.
"There is also another Jewish legend to the effect that the soul hovers near the grave in which its body is interred for a space of three days.
"I was conversant with all these old legends, and as no effort to turn my mind in another direction was effective, I let it go.
"If Edith were out somewhere in the wide universe, away from earth, but would in time prove susceptible to my call, it made no difference how far or how near she might be. If I kept my mind fixed on her I would find her. And if this should prove impossible, what was better than remaining in thought close to all that was left of her on the earth?
"I had been in this condition for several hours when suddenly the vault and the coffin burst open, as if a brilliant gleam of sunshine had broken the bars of death, and I saw her body as plainly as I now see you. Walls of rock and doors of iron were no barrier, and as I looked upon the form I loved, the realization came that this vision of my lost love was not a waking dream.
"And then a great hope flashed up.
"What if I had found Edith's soul, and it was still lingering around her body? Then I could draw her to me and tell her that I loved her.
"But that very moment the vision faded, and, try as I might, it was but groping in the dark to attempt to find her. I could not recall the vision. Happy even in its sadness, nevertheless it was gone! I confess that there was a loneliness about it that I never want to experience again.
"Still I could not resist the belief that for a few minutes I had established a communication with Edith. That seemed a fact not to be disputed. But—I had lost her.
"As you may imagine, I did not give up my search. What lover would?
"I continued to keep my mind fixed on her in the hope that she might again appear and that I might draw her spirit into converse with mine.
"And at last I succeeded. But where, and under what circumstances, do you suppose?
"I saw her body in a light covered wagon driven rapidly along the streets of the city. As I followed, the way became familiar and I saw that she was being taken to the college I was attending. And when the wagon stopped I saw her lifted from it and borne up to the dissecting room.
"Then it seemed as if she called my name.
"You can guess what I did. Within half an hour I was climbing the stairs to the dissecting room. A white-covered body was lying upon a table in the centre of the room, and the professor and one or two students were standing near.
"I hastened up to the silent figure and drew down the sheet from the face. It was Edith.
"I called the professor to one side and informed him whose body it was, and could see that he was not only surprised but shocked, as he had no idea where the men engaged for the purpose had secured his 'subject.'
"Very quickly I added that I had reason for believing that life had not yet left the body, and while confessing to be unable to give him any reason which might prove satisfactory, begged him to send the other students away and make an experiment. I was so much in earnest that he consented.
"When we were alone with 'my dead,' as I fondly thought of it in that moment, he said:
"'We will try blood letting. If there is any life in the body, as you think, she may regain consciousness—that is, if there is any blood to let,' he added, the professional side of his character coming uppermost.
"He took his dissecting knife and made an incision in the arm.
"Blood did flow and Edith returned to life and we took her home to her parents.
"But when she first regained consciousness she reached out her arms to me and said:
"'I knew you would come, for I saw you and called to you. I knew you were searching for me.'
"And after that there was no question but that she would be my wife."
Once upon a time, it may or may not have been a long time ago, a fair young girl came to an old country house in which dwelt a philosopher and author. Whether or no he could, as yet, lay just claims to the latter name there might be a difference of opinion, but he was most certainly the first, if conscientious study and a well balanced mind make one a philosopher. But, although a philosopher in the truest sense of the word, he was not an old man.
Ten years at the university, three in Germany, two in travel and then five in study in his old home were all that had passed since Gerald Leslie first left that home, a bright, merry school-boy.
He owned houses and lands and bonds, and so he could afford to bury himself in the large old farm-house, there to pursue those studies in which he took greatest delight and labor, upon the great work that was to make his name famous through all time. Whether he was an author or not an author was to rest upon this work. For all these years he had thought of nothing else, written nothing else, save now and then a stray article for some review.
His life in the last five years had been a quiet one, for, besides a young giant who served him, his household was restricted to an elder sister and her little girl.
And now, this day of which I write, the quiet life was to be interrupted by the advent of the fair young girl. A month before, Gerald had received a letter from an elderly friend to whom he was bound by many ties, and in it were these words: "I am dying, Gerald, dying; but I know that you will give a home to my motherless Gracie."
For Victor Shirlaw to make this request was the same to Leslie as if he had promised to look after his friend's child, and he accepted the trust with a purpose which was as solemn as a vow, and would be as religiously fulfilled.
The day was wet and disagreeable, and as Leslie's servant entered to announce that it was time to drive to the station for Miss Shirlaw, the former shivered in the raw air that came in by the open door and looked with but ill-concealed envy at the burly form before him.
A man so strong and firm, so perfect in health, the embodiment of good nature, a man able to stem the storms and make his way in the world, while he, Gerald, shuddered at the faintest draught of chill air! And yet this man was unlettered, could read neither Greek nor Hebrew, knew nothing of philosophy, nay, even so little of his own language that he could not have legibly copied a page of the philosopher's researches. And yet Leslie looked upon him with ill-concealed jealousy.
"You must not go, Mr. Leslie, indeed, you must not," said the brawny man as Gerald made a feint of rising.
The latter again cast a jealous look at his servant. Was this man, who knew nothing of science, art or literature, his superior? A great soul had Gerald, but it was annoyed by having been cast in such a puny body, while this great hulk held only a common soul that knew nothing beyond the confines of the farm and the road to the station.
Gerald sank back in his chair and allowed the man to go upon his errand alone, and all during the time the latter was on his way to and from the little station, two miles away, Leslie remained where he had seated himself, indulging in a reverie.
"Is he greater than I?" he asked himself. "Pshaw! Why should I think of it. Is not the brain the ruler of the body? And he has no brain. Shall I, wealthy and educated, become jealous of a common farmer who happens to have muscle and health?"
The reader must not infer from this that Gerald was of an envious disposition. Among his equals he was ever genial and ready to applaud or help, and with his inferiors he was the most courteous of men. But of late he had become envious of this faithful John Brent's superior health. It was not a little hate, nor the jealousy of a small soul. It was rather the chafing of a strong spirit in a frail body, because a less learned soul possessed one capable of more endurance. He loved John.
"Good-evening, Mr. Leslie."
The voice startled him from his reverie. The early winter evening was approaching and the library was lighted only by the last rays of the autumn sun and by the fitful gleams of the fire in the grate. Turning his head, he saw, standing in the bright glow of the evening sun, the 'fair girl' who had come to interrupt his quiet life. He arose and offered his hand to Gracie, and after a few words of welcome seated her in an easy chair opposite the other side of the chimney. While listening to the story of her journey he watched her face closely.
"She is a fair girl," he said to himself. "A fair girl, and that is all."
He was right. Gracie was neither beautiful nor handsome—not even pretty. But she was fair to look upon, and a certain grace made her fascinating. And there was in her manner something that said in later years she would be very dignified.
The days passed quickly. Leslie was engaged upon his great work and Gracie was left much to herself. John Brent proved a good source of amusement, and the two were often seen together, now picking apples in the orchard, now hauling in great pumpkins and squashes and storing them away in the cellar. Later in the winter they sat before the great fireplace in the sitting-room, cracking nuts, roasting apples and drinking cider. In these bouts John told her many a queer story of country life she had been unused to.
Still, never a day passed but that she was with Gerald for an hour or so. She would have stayed longer had she not thought that he did not care for her company. She was attracted to the man who was so powerful in mind, and had he given her a little encouragement, shown her somewhat of his great heart, she would soon have loved him so passionately that she could have given up her life for him or for his love.
Women love strength, whether it be of body or intellect, passion or will. Gracie was attracted to Gerald on account of his strength in intellect and will. Had he only showed her how strong he could be in love, also, he might then have won the girl's heart, and the ending of this story might have been different. Poor man! that he did not know a woman's heart may be won in many ways, and that she quickly learns to reverence strength of mind as much as strength of body.
But he repulsed her.
Why, I cannot say. But my opinion is that he thought she could not love such a physical wreck as he. If he had only known that he might have won her, and that she would have followed him to the ends of the world and have been happy only to be with him! But he did not know it.
So, crossed and repelled by her guardian, she became the daily companion of John Brent. Let me correct a mistake which my use of the word servant has doubtless led the reader into. John Brent was not a servant, as we use the term in America. He was a man who belonged with the homestead. His father had been there before him, and his grandfather before his father. He had lived there all his life, and had known and expected to know no other home. He served, but not as a servant, a hostler, a gardener, or a man of all work. But during Leslie's absence he had managed the affairs of the estate, and since the student's return had scarcely given up the reins. He was Leslie's aide-de-camp and took his master's orders. He was his private secretary and assisted the philosopher in the library. He was such a man as Bunner depicts in Zadoc Pine, only with more refinement.
And so the winter months grew on apace. Each day Gracie passed a longer or shorter time with Gerald, and each day he repelled her more and more. Each day he loved her more, but each day he concealed his passion. And each day she left Gerald's coldness for John Brent's hearty kindliness and found—not what she sought—but warmth and home life.
And yet Gerald tried to win her, in his own way. But in this, as in many a case, the man's way was not the woman's way. He loved her. She wished to love him, but his own actions drove her away from him.
But John's courtship, if, indeed, he meant it to be courtship, was entirely different. He let the girl follow her own sweet will. She might drive to the station with him or help him in marking out the great snow paths from house to road; she might come to him when she chose or leave him when she was weary. He let her come and go, work or ride, as she pleased. Whatever she wished was hers, and in him she always found welcome and friendship.
At length, however, the passion in Gerald's heart became so strong that it could not be repressed, and he decided to at least try to win the girl for his wife. That was late in December.
On Christmas eve he looked out of his library window and saw Gracie, his Gracie, coming up the snow-banked walk with John Brent's arm around her.
I can conceive of but one worse agony to be felt, and that is for a husband to see his wife in another man's arms. Monasteries have been filled from these two causes.
What Leslie suffered that night no mortal ever knew. But the struggle with his own passions and sense of honor left him so haggard that faithful John Brent was moved to say when he saw him the next morning:
"Oh, Mr. Leslie, you must stop this late night work. It will kill you. Stop it. Go away for a rest, or stop work and let us nurse you back to health."
The words were kindly spoken, kindly meant, and Leslie knew it, but despite his night's struggle and his resolution to be honorable he could not help feeling that beneath the kindness there was a hidden comparison between the young giant's superior strength and his own weakness. So he answered, stiffly:
"When I have need of your advice I will ask for it. Please ask Mary to bring in my coffee."
The giant departed without a word.
Leslie had, in the lonely night watches, given up his love, but he was not yet ready to yield up that which had of late become his spectre, his mania. He saw, or believed, that the strength of body which he had so envied had won the woman whom he loved, and he did not like to acknowledge to the victor that he was weak. Why, was he not the superior of all whom he had met in the mental arena? Was not his intellect as keen as man's intellect ever becomes? And had he not nearly completed the great work which would move the whole thinking world? Was he to count himself inferior to a man who knew only how to manage a farm?
Filled with these moody thoughts, after breakfast he essayed to walk out into the cold but to a stronger man bracing air, and went out upon the porch, which ran the full length of the front of the mansion. From it he stepped cautiously to the walk which led down, between ice and snow laden pine trees, to the road. Faithful John followed, quietly and unseen, with Gracie by his side. A rod from the house there stood a great native elm tree, which had grown close to the walk and had never been removed, although all the other trees stood in straight rows, several feet farther back, on each side. It was the only obstruction in the great avenue from road to house. When Gerald reached this he felt his strength beginning to leave him and leaned against it to rest. A moment later, and a small drop of purple fell from his lips to his coat. He brushed it aside, but his limbs began to tremble.
John's love could no longer be restrained. He ran forward and placed his arm around his master. Gerald looked up and fiercely exclaimed:
"Will you leave me alone. Cannot I have a moment's peace? Can I not even take a walk without you dogging my steps? Stand back, I say."
But John did not step back.
"Mr. Leslie," he said, "you are ill. Let me help you to the house."
What reply might have been made cannot be known, for just then, as Gerald attempted to push him back, a gush of blood flowed from his lips, and together John and Gracie carried the student and recluse to his room.
One night—it was Twelfth night, I believe—Gerald was very ill and Gracie was attending him. He had been writing during the day upon his 'great work,' and had added a chapter to it. But toward night he had become restive, had walked to and fro across his library floor, and at length sank back exhausted into the depths of an easy chair beside his study table, upon which were ranged sinister looking volumes, note books, blocks of paper and the last pages of his manuscript.
As the early winter sunset sent its last tinted rays in at the western window and upon his writing table he said to himself:
"'Written in water!' One once told me, when I talked of high ambition, that men's names, who had such high desires, were often written in water. We were at the seashore then and were tracing our names in the sand. The tide washed them away half an hour later. He said that was fame; to write one's name upon the earth and have it erased before an hour had passed. 'But how many others,' he added, 'write their names in water, this is me,' and he went forward a rod and with his cane wrote his name in the rolling wave. It made no mark even for the instant. 'This,' he said, 'is what many of us will do.' But I replied:
"'A name may be writ in water, sand or granite, and I shall choose the granite.'
"'Do not be too sure,' he said.
"How true he foretold the future. In water it has been written, for I am the last of my family, and I, the last of the Leslies, have lost the woman I love. No son will ever be born to keep up the old name.
"And my book! Well, it is not finished, but my life nearly is. I shall never live to write the last page. As far as fame is concerned, my name has been written in water. It has left no mark even for the short instant of my own life."
At six o'clock John Brent brought in his dinner, but he could scarcely touch it. At seven, Gracie came to sit with him.
"Gracie," he said, "I do not wish to leave my workshop in disorder if—if—anything should happen. There are some papers upon that shelf—loose papers, you will see. Please bring them to me."
Gracie brought them to him.
"Yes, these are the ones—useless—I want them destroyed. Please put them in the grate."
Gracie did so.
"Now, these few I have been scribbling to-day. They are foolish, and I do not wish to leave them behind me. I may die, you know."
"Oh, Gerald, you must not, you shall not die. Send for a physician, or go south or to California. You are ill, but do not give up——"
But he interrupted her.
"Put them in the grate."
And Gracie obeyed him.
They were no sooner cast into the flames than John Brent entered. He glanced at the blazing fire and then the shelf where he knew the manuscript upon which Gerald had labored so long rested.
"Oh, Mr. Leslie! Oh, Gracie! What have you done?" he cried.
"We have burned some useless papers," Gerald answered.
"It was your great work—your book."
"My great work! It was never finished. But my life is. Both have been 'written in water.'"
I do not think, after Leslie died, that any one, save John, ever knew truly what he meant by those words.
At least, Gracie never did.
The Rev. Alfred Brown, rector of St. Mark's, Quincy, was a most exemplary man and husband. He did his duties as a priest, and loved his wife. This did not hinder Mrs. Brown from being insanely jealous. She was one of those uncomfortable women who are always trying to find trouble for themselves and others. As an article of the Athanasian creed she added what was not generally recited—a belief in the absolute depravity of mankind in general and of husbands in particular. The fact that Mrs. Brown never caught her husband sinning was only the more of an incentive for watching him closely. Because he was always good and open and loving, she put him down as artful, and, behind that, she had a shrewd tricky man to deal with. And this, not so much because she was spiteful or unhappy, but because she was jealous of him and of his reputation.
One reason for this jealousy may have been that she was eleven years older than her husband and of a plain complexion.
She would never allow any one else to doubt or speak ill of him, and she herself would not do the latter to his face. But she held it as her divine right to do the former and keep a watch over him on the quiet.
Only once had she ever been able to secure even a suspicion of her husband. He had once, several years before, shown great interest in a girl of his parish who had gone to the bad. No one else ever thought of the Rev. Alfred Brown in connection with her disappearance, but his wife decided that he needed watching.
There were certain seasons of the year when Mrs. Brown's jealousy became abnormally active. They were in the spring and fall, when the Bishop of Chicago summoned his clergy to meet him at St. Paul's Cathedral in solemn semi-annual conclave, and to these convocations the Rev. Alfred Brown was wont to go, although, not a member of the Chicago diocese. It was his one recreation, and they always asked him to address the meeting.
As a general thing, Mr. Brown took his wife with him on these occasions and the couple stopped with a friend on Cass street, near St. James. But in the spring of 1888 this friend was obliged to take a trip to California and Mr. Brown was obliged to seek quarters elsewhere. A bachelor friend hearing of his difficulty wrote asking him to put up at the North Side Clubhouse during his sojourn in Chicago. Mrs. Brown did not like to trust her husband among a lot of ungodly club men, but the spirit of economy was almost as strong in her breast as was the spirit of jealousy, and she at last allowed him to accept the invitation. Mr. Brown accepted her decision with a species of chastened, holy joy, which filled the good lady's soul with fears. He was up to something, she knew. An incident which occurred only a few days before he was to leave, heightened her suspicions. Her husband came in one morning with a long face and a solemn tone of voice, and said:
"My dear, I have just heard of a distressing affair. Mary Candee has run away, and it is feared that she has gone to marry that scapegrace John Smith, who is connected with a saloon in Chicago. I feel very sorry for her, and I hope that I may run across her while attending the spring convocation. If so, I may be of assistance to her or her husband."
"Alfred," replied Mrs. Brown, with a most austere look, "if you speak to the abandoned creature you will degrade yourself, and I forbid it."
"Why, my dear," the good rector replied, "you must be beside yourself. It is my duty as a priest of the church to help even the lowest. Of course I shall do all that I can to find the poor girl and help her in her trouble."
"Convocation, indeed," Mrs. Brown said to herself, when the rector had departed to his study. "A pretty convocation it will be. Why couldn't he take me with him instead of going to a disreputable bachelor clubhouse? He meant to meet that girl all the time, and I haven't a doubt but that he wrote to that old curmudgeon and asked for a room with him so that I could not go along."
On Monday of the next week the rector of St. Mark's departed for Chicago, sent on his way with the kindly wishes of the whole parish, and accompanied by his senior warden and a churchman of wealth and piety, who also wished to attend the ecclesiastical meeting.
No sooner was he gone than Mrs. Brown received the means of verifying her suspicions. Monday afternoon the carrier brought her a letter from an old school friend asking her to pass a week or so at her home in Chicago. The invitation was for herself and husband, but she knew she could give a good excuse for going alone, and accepted the invitation as a godsend. Besides, her friend was the wife of an old army officer, and would enjoy hearing of the matrimonial troubles of a friend. So she sent a friendly note Tuesday morning accepting the invitation. The letter reached Chicago at 2.30 in the afternoon, and just as Mrs. Brown was sitting down to tea a Western Union messenger brought her the following dispatch:
Charlie is away for months. Called suddenly. Come at once. Am dull. CARRIE BROPHY.
Mrs. Brown's arrangements were soon made, as they had to be of necessity, for the convocation was to last only from Wednesday till Thursday of the next week. She packed a small valise and took the night train for Chicago, arriving there Wednesday morning. She found her old friend a woman who troubled her husband with her sanctimonious airs. He was an easy-going Episcopalian, who believed that all he had to do was to attend church occasionally and talk back to the preacher according to book, while she was a Simon-pure Baptist, who believed in conversions, baptism, and a godly life.
Owing to the diversity in their ages, the wife had good reason for being jealous of him. So the two ladies enjoyed themselves all Wednesday afternoon and evening, the one telling of her husband's derelictions, and the other telling of her suspicions.
Meanwhile, all unconscious of his wife's close proximity, the Rev. Alfred Brown was enjoying himself immensely. His bachelor friend knew the north end, and was able to give him surprising knowledge with regard to that part of the city. They drove in a carriage to the principal points of interest, visited Lincoln Park and saw the bears in the bear pit. Only two things marred Mr. Brown's happiness. He thought of his wife, lonely in Quincy, and of Mary Candee's sad future. Before a day had passed he had another trouble. His former parishioner, the girl who had gone wrong, followed him. She had seen him in a cab, had followed and dogged him on every trip, begging for half-dollars. He wished to help her, but her persecutions almost made him decide to take his friend's advice and hand her over to the police. But Mr. Brown was soft-hearted.
Mrs. Brown inherited from her Puritan ancestors a horror of the theatre, but her old school friend overcame her scruples enough to induce her to go and see Irving in 'Faust.'
"It is improper," the rector's wife said.
"But the moral is good," her friend replied.
So she went, and saw her husband in a box on the opposite side of the theatre.
"Look at him!" she said.
"Look at who?" her friend said.
"At my husband! See him—the priest, the rector, who came up to attend a convocation of clergymen."
"My!" said her friend; "I did not know your husband was in the city."
"You didn't? Where did you suppose he would be when there was a church convocation in Chicago. You must know, Mrs. Brophy, that my husband has official duties which call him to church councils continually. Still, I will say to you that I don't quite like seeing him with a couple of ladies in a theatre box."
And she nursed her wrath in silence till the curtain fell.
"What are you doing?" her friend cried. "Where are you going?"
"I am going to follow my husband."
"But you can't."
"I can," replied Mrs. Brown, firmly. And she did.
She followed her reverend husband out of the theatre and saw him assisting two young ladies into a carriage. They were nieces of the Bishop, but of course she did not know it.
Just as he was turning away a young woman came up and evidently asked him for money. He gave her half a dollar and was turning away, but she clung to him with a persistency which was annoying, if not compromising.
"You ought to hand her over to the police," said the rector's bachelor friend. "The girl went to the bad long ago. I have seen her here, and know what she is. If she troubles you again forget that you are a clergyman and hand her over to an officer."
The Rev. Alfred agreed, and his friend engaged a Pinkerton detective to follow and protect him.
The next day the Bishop had decided that the afternoon should be passed in the different parks, and that at six o'clock the clergy should assemble at his home on Ontario street for dinner.
Mr. Brown's bachelor friend accompanied him, and, together with the Bishop's nieces, they went to Lincoln Park, visited the hothouses, viewed the gardens, rowed on the lake, and looked at the bears.
Expecting some disturbance, Mr. Brown had told his fair friends about his trouble and what might be expected.
Mrs. Brown was on his track.
For a few moments he left his company to look at the deer in a separate pen nearer the lake, and when he returned found the Bishop's nieces in a peculiar frame of mind.
"You may take us both to the Bishop," they said.
"What's the matter?" the clergyman asked.
"Nothing," one of them replied, "only the girl you told us about came up and denounced you as her husband."
"This is really too much to bear," Mr. Brown replied. "I wanted to help the poor girl, but if she cannot respect her friends I must give her over to the police."
Accordingly, after taking the young ladies to their uncle, the Bishop, he called the detective and gave him instructions to watch closely and arrest any woman who followed or annoyed him or his companions.
Soon after the detective whispered in one of the nieces' ears.
"Beg pardon, miss, but I am a detective. Is that woman yonder the one who annoyed you?"
"Yes, it is."
"All right. Hope you'll excuse me," and the detective went over and led the woman to the police station.
The Rev. Alfred Brown passed a pleasant afternoon after that and enjoyed himself at the Bishop's dinner, which was good and served in true Episcopal manner. After dinner there were speeches and a social, and it was not until nearly midnight that the convocation adjourned.
When the Rev. Alfred Brown reached the club-room he found a telegraphic message:
"Come at once. Am in trouble.
"Holy Chasuble! Something awful must have happened! I wonder if thieves have broken in."
The good father never stopped to look at the date, which was at the North Side police station, but prepared to go down to Quincy.
While he was eating salmon and enjoying ice cream at the Bishop's palace his wife had been enjoying the hospitalities of the police court. When the police magistrate loomed up before her on the morning after her brilliant debut in Lincoln Park, he said:
"What's she up for?"
"Trying to extort money from the Rev. Alfred Brown, of Quincy, Ill."
"You lie!" the reverend gentleman's wife forgot herself so much as to cry. "He is my husband."
"What, this detective?"
"No; the Rev. Alfred Brown."
How she managed to work her way out of it we need not inquire, as it is a delicate subject. But work out of it she did, and the next evening, while her husband was supping on a cold meal and wondering why none of the twenty telegrams he had sent that day had brought an answer from his wife, she walked in on him.
"Good heavens, Alfy! what are you doing here? I thought you were in Chicago!"
"I was, as you know, Theresa, but this dispatch called me back."
"This dispatch; why," and she read it over. "What could have been the matter with you? Couldn't you read? This is dated at the North Side police station in Chicago. Ah! I see, my dear, beloved husband; you got this the night of the banquet and you had taken a cup of wine too much to be able to read straight. Take my advice and don't go to any more of them."
Mr. Brown was mystified, and Mrs. Brown never troubles him with jealousy since. She does not care to watch him any more, and he has never learned who sent him that deceptive telegram.
I have been thinking for several years that some time I will get on the cars, and, after a ride across half a dozen States, stop at a large city on the borders of our great Western prairies; that there I will take the one daily train, which goes down a hundred miles across the prairies, until I come to a little Western town that I have not visited for years. There is nothing to draw me on such a long journey, except some sad recollections; but I feel that if I should walk along the banks of a little stream which flows south of the town, climb among the rocks and visit again a low-roofed farm-house just beyond, I would feel as if I were reading over again a sweet, sad poem which I had once read, long ago, and laid aside.
It is a busy little Western town. To the north the open prairie, but the other three sides are shut in by small streams, and a broad, smoothly flowing river. Across the little stream stood a low farm-house, with a long porch in front and tall shade trees around it. It was picturesque and gave a very comfortable feeling of relief after all the new, unpainted pine houses on the other side. It marked an old settler also, for on the frontier one desires first only to live; after a living is secured, and not till then, does the go-ahead Western man attempt to make his house homelike.
I liked this place from the first. Afterward I loved it for the sake of 'the little girl, now a woman,' who lived there.
Soon after moving to Winfield, father was taken ill, and for a week I watched by his bedside every night. Then one evening, in order to get some much needed rest, I laid down for a couple of hours, and had just dropped into a light sleep when mother came and asked me to get up again and give directions to a man who had come to nurse father.
"He is so deaf that I cannot make him hear, and so near-sighted that he cannot see anything. See if you can make him understand what is needed," she said.
So I got up and went into father's room, and there, for the first time, saw Tom Mell, about as queer a specimen of humanity as I ever met.
He was sitting in a low chair, rocking to and fro in an absent-minded sort of way, like one entirely cut off from the world. His forehead was flat and low, and his eyes had the peculiar squint common to near-sighted people. His nose looked as if it had a small bone in the end, and that the skin was drawn from it to the forehead, with a slight depression in the middle. I afterward learned that it was solid, but the thin, almost transparent cuticle never let me fully realize the fact. His hair was neatly oiled and polished, but it had a queer way of slanting backward on one side and forward on the other that no amount of oil or polishing could rectify. His whiskers consisted of a thin, wiry mustache and a moderately heavy crop under his chin, of which Tom was very proud.
Just awakened from sleep, I could not help smiling as I shouted the directions in his ear and in return received a low, thin answer that would have done credit to one in the last stages of consumption. He smiled, and seemed so completely taken with the idea that he smiled on all through the interview. And when he bent over me at three o'clock in the morning to wake me, he was smiling still.
This was our first meeting, and after the kindness shown us, I took pains to cultivate his acquaintance. At first he always touched his old straw hat when we met, and smiled that peculiar smile of his, but as we grew more intimate, he ceased the former and I forgot to notice the latter.
One evening I visited him in his room, which was up over a hardware store on Main street, and was approached by a dark entry with irregular steps, and boxes and boards in the passage, which rendered it a dangerous route for inexperienced travelers, even at midday. It was a regular bachelor's den, with a bed and cooking-stove and other necessary furniture for keeping house.
Tom was at supper when I entered, and after he had finished his solitary meal we drew our chairs close together and he told me the story of his life. It was sad, and yet it was lonelier than sad. At an early age he had been taken with a disease which had left him nearly deaf. No sooner had he recovered from his sickness than he began another fight with disease—consumption. In a comic manner that was pathetic, he told me that night of his illness and of the 'cheerful words' his friends gave him. His uncle especially amused him with the doleful remark:
"You may get well—in fact, I think you will; but you had better be a very good boy!" which he repeated at the close of every visit. And when he went on to relate how he left home, determined to support himself, how he lived his solitary life, although in the same village with his father and step-mother, of his struggles and failures, I felt something tugging in my breast, and grew ashamed of what I had considered trouble.
It is always so. There are in every village, no matter how small, characters whom God has made for daily lessons to the unsatisfied ones—persons bearing such heavy burdens so manfully that we grow ashamed of our own complaining and dare not speak of our own little crosses to them.
"I have always tried to get a little ahead," he said in his low, thin voice; "but it seems as though I cannot. I used to think I would some time go to college, and I worked hard to do so—but—I had to give it up."
I knew Tom was considered quite a genius in his own way, but I had not expected to hear this from him.
"That was the hardest cross of my life," he continued after a little pause. "No one, unless he has gone through it, knows how blank it leaves a life to strive for years after something that will elevate his condition, and then have his plans fail and know that his whole life must be passed in the same low position."
Coming home one stormy evening about a month after this, I passed the village church. The outer door was open a little way, and, hearing the organ, I went in; for I knew Tom's habit of passing his evenings alone in the church, sending out into the darkness as true hymns of praise as ever were heard.
I opened the inner door quietly and walked up the aisle unseen. I had often heard Tom play, but never as now when he thought himself alone—alone with God. The storm gathered and broke, and the thunder shook the windows of the church, but Tom was all unconscious. His heart was going out on the strains of a joyful Te Deum; as for the noise, I doubt if he even heard it, and as for the darkness, blind people do not mind that. Once a streak of lightning lighted up the church for several seconds, just as he came to the passage:
"Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ,
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father."
He was filling the whole church with the strain, and as the lightning came I saw his face was turned toward the cross in the chancel, and shone as if he was looking straight up into the eyes of God.
I bowed my head reverently, for I could feel that his soul was going out in every note, and that the truest of heart worship was ascending to the Eternal and Invisible King. A tender feeling stole over me, there in the darkness, listening to this one cut off from society by his infirmities, solacing himself by this communion with the Father. What heartaches, what burdens were here soothed and lifted and borne away.
The Te Deum died away, and then, without a pause, he commenced that grand evening hymn:
"Lead kindly light, amid the encircling gloom—
Lead Thou me on.
The night is dark and I am far from home—
Lead Thou me on."
I would like to have remained concealed longer; but, at the close of the hymn another bright flash of lightning illuminated the church for an instant, and Tom, seeing me, called out in a cheery voice:
"Why, hallo! You here? I didn't see you," and came down from the organ loft.
He would not play any more, so we sat together in the pew and talked until the storm was over. I had that day been across the little stream south of the village and met the daughter of the house. She had interested me greatly, and during one of the lulls of the conversation I asked Tom about her. Much to my surprise, for he was always courtly, he replied brusquely:
"I would rather not talk about her."
"That interests me, Tom. Go on."
"I might as well tell you, I suppose," he replied after thinking for a moment, "but you must not mention it. She has had a pretty hard time of it—was engaged, and the match broken off. It isn't talked about now, but I tell you, only you must keep it quiet. You see, there was something the matter—I don't know what—but the two were together for several years, and then her lover went away. All I know is that he loved her, and she loved him—but she can never marry."
"How do you know?" I asked abruptly, for I never liked these tragedies.
"The man was satisfied," Tom answered briefly.
"And she loves him?"
"Where is he now?"
"Who was he?"
I kept silent. How rude of me to draw him out in this manner when I had heard that his brother was now on the other side of the world! So, mortified at my careless stupidity, I leaned back in the pew and waited for Tom to break the silence.
But he did not say anything for some time, and when he did speak It was more to himself than to me.
"She loved him," I heard him saying. "She will never marry. ... A woman loves but once; a second love with them isn't real love . . . and Mamie is too much of a woman to give anything else to a man. . . . Neither one was to blame. They had to part, and so they did. ... She loved him!"
One night Tom was ill and I was by his bed. We had no light, and the twilight made him confidential; or, perhaps, it was his mind wandering.
"There was a little girl once, Paul," he said as he lay on his rough bed in that rough little room. "We used to play together; and one afternoon, I remember, we played keeping house, and I was the man and she was my wife. I often think of that afternoon—we talked then of living together when we got big! I wonder if she has forgotten it. She never speaks of it. But then, it never could be. This sickness came, and now I am nearly deaf and blind. No one wants to be with me. It's a lonely life, Paul! No one feels the want of a home more than I do. And I am entirely cut off from one. Sometimes I feel that if that little girl, now a woman, would only come into my room once—if she would sit down by my bed only once, as you are sitting—I would be more satisfied; my life would be happier. The old room wouldn't look so lonesome if she had been in it once. I have given her up, but—I love her still. It seems the wider apart we drift, the more my thoughts turn to her and that one summer afternoon."
I had never thought of Tom having any such sad memories in his breast. It was hard enough, God knows, to live his lonely life without any broken dreams to look back to. He did not tell me the name of the 'little girl, now a woman,' and I did not ask him. But I sat in the darkness and thought of poor Tom meeting her, perhaps, daily upon the streets of the little village; of his thoughts and repressed longings, as he did so; of the two now separated, going their own different ways, the one, perhaps, not dreaming of the care the other had for her—maybe courted now by another—at least, enjoying all the pleasures of society; all of which poor Tom must see and be pained by, having for himself only the bittersweet memory of a long faded dream.
I sat and watched by him in silence, and I knew that in my place by his side he was dreaming another one sat, who, if she only would come, but for a moment, would do more for him than all else in the world.
After a while he dropped asleep.
Poor Tom was dying. I had been with him for a week, doing what I could to make him comfortable. We were alone the most of the time, for he wished it.
One Sunday evening he was more restless than usual.
"Paul, I want to see her before I die. Can't you bring her to me?"
"Who is it, Tom?" I asked, thinking his mind was wandering.
"I've never told you. I didn't want to. But now I must see her. I haven't talked to her for eight years. It will do no good—we never could be more to one another, but I want that little hand in mine once again before I die. We have been apart so long—so long, Paul!"
"Is she good and kind? Will she come? You know this is hardly the place for a young lady."
"Yes, she will come if you ask her. She is good and true, or I would have forgotten her. But even if she were not, I should like to see the little girl—Mamie."
I put on my hat and prepared to go upon the errand.
"Who did you say it was, Tom?"
"Mamie Crowell. You know it all now. She loved my brother, but they were separated. I couldn't help loving her still, but I kept it a secret. Oh, Paul! you understand all of the loneliness of my life now!"
I went out and left him alone. I met Miss Crowell on her way to church and she came back with me. I opened the door of Tom's room and let her pass in; and then turned away.
At last, Tom's dream of happiness was realized. His loneliness was over. For a short time, as he had so often wished, his boyhood's love was with him. I knew she would sit down and lay her hand in his, although she might only dimly guess the truth. She did not love him as he wished, yet hers was also so sad a life that she could sympathize with him. And perhaps her woman's heart would fathom the truth—that, to him, this twilight hour was a repetition of that summer afternoon so long ago. And for him—to have her with him once again was enough.
I walked along the streets for half an hour, and then went back. Tom was lying on the bed with her hand in his. There was a sad look on Mamie's face, but Tom was smiling. He was dead. Another life had gone to God—a life dreary and sad and lonely. But the passing had been made happy by 'the little girl, now a woman,' and by the old dream lived over again for a brief half-hour.
The last man I expected to meet as I was going down State street was George Danvers, for the last time I had seen him was in Paris, and he had then informed me that he never expected to return to America. Ten years before we had both been residents of Chicago, and the greater part of these ten years had been passed by him in the Old World. He had a comfortable fortune and could indulge in whims. And one of his whims was travel, although I never could understand just why he wished to exile himself so much as he did.
There was a good deal of surprise in my greeting on State street, and I did not know but I had reason to be offended, as only a week before I had received a letter from him, in which he had made no mention of revisiting Chicago. Whether he detected this, he at once said:
"Well, old boy, you are surprised to see me, arn't you? I haven't time now to tell you why I am here, but I want to repose a bit of confidence in you. I never have had but one secret from you in my life, and if you will dine with me at the Palmer House to-night I would like to tell you that one."
His invitation was accepted, and at seven that evening we were seated at a table in a private room. Soup went the way of all the world, fish followed the soup, and a roast duck was on its way after the soup and fish, but George said nothing of his secret. Our talk was all commonplace, about men and women we had known, and as the dessert was served he said:
"Do you ever hear anything of Mrs. Archer?"
"Mrs. Archer! No, I do not remember her."
"Mrs. Fred Archer. Her maiden name was Lawson, Helen Lawson."
"Oh! that flirt. Yes, I remember her now. She jilted a dozen good men. She had no conscience, no principle, and I always disliked her."
"There, my boy, don't get excited," George replied. "For my secret is concerning her."
"Ah! then you were really smitten by the jade? I saw you were quite attentive, but I never believed that she had added your name to her list of victims. And is that the reason of your long exile in foreign lands?"
"Partly so, yes. But not just as you imagine. I did not love Helen Lawson, but I do love Mrs. Fred Archer."
"The—deuce! I did not know you had ever met the lady since her marriage."
"Neither have I."
"And yet you say you love her!"
"Shall I relate the story of my passion to you now? Do you think you are sufficiently cool to hear it? Shall I order a seltzer for you first?"
"If you wish any fire over the dead embers of that flame, my advice is to send for a bottle of cognac for both of us."
"I see you are cool enough and will proceed. You knew Tom Jones?"
"Yes. He was the poor fellow she treated so badly. He blew out his brains soon after she dismissed him. I never spoke to her after it happened."
"Well! You know Tom was my chum at college."
"I believe I do remember something about it."
"When she treated him so badly my curiosity was excited. I wished to see what power she had over men. Now that I am confiding in you, I might as well confess the whole truth—I thought I would test my flirting powers against hers!"
"You decided to make her love you, and ended in becoming an exile from unrequited love. George, forgive me for speaking so lightly. I am very sorry for you!"
"You forget," George interposed, "that I said I never loved Helen Lawson."
"I don't understand you. Go on."
"After poor Tom's death, I placed myself in her way. Did not seek her—paid her no attention. Only continued to meet her as if by accident. And when we did meet, I treated her coolly—as I would treat one in whom I could not possibly have any interest. She heard of my expressed dislike for her, and after a time began to draw me out. I would treat her courteously, but never allowed myself to become her wooer. She was always left to make the advances. I never acted as if I thought she was a flirt. Never mentioned poor Tom's name. Of course that worried her and one evening she lost her temper.
"'You are a heartless brute,' she said to me.
"I pleaded guilty to being an animal, insomuch as I was a man, and she laughed and then cried.
"It isn't pleasant to see a woman in tears. And—it isn't safe. You know what some old philosopher has said about a woman always having her way with a man when she begins to weep! So I thought I would better retire gracefully.
"I think I said a few farewell words courteously and was about to withdraw. But before I reached the door she had flung herself in front of me.
"'You shall not go,' she said. 'You are a brute.'
"'So you informed me before,' I replied, 'and I agreed with you.'
"Well, whatever was the cause, I do not know, but the next moment her arms were around my neck and her head on my bosom.
"'I love you,' she said. 'I cannot let you go. I know you despise me. But I love you. My pride is all gone. You have conquered me. I love you.'"
"Well?" I queried, as he stopped.
"Well? My curiosity and my desire for revenge were both satisfied and I left for Europe on the next steamer. In three months I heard of her marriage to Fred Archer. It seems that they had been secretly engaged for several years and Chicago society was very much astonished that she kept her word with him."
"Where were you?" I asked.
"Well, old boy," he replied. "As I am in the confessional box I may as well acknowledge that I believe she married Fred out of pique, in hopes of reinstating her pride and showing me she was trying to deceive me also."
"Slightly egotistic," I said, "but I can understand your feelings and pardon it."
"All right!" he answered. "For two years I thought of Helen Lawson in that way. The third I began to imagine her as really loving me—of the glorious possibilities in her—of what she might have developed into had she married the man she loved. Then I censured myself for my heartlessness (I was in India then), and during the seven years which have followed I have loved her."
"And you have never seen her?"
"No. A month ago I heard that Fred was dead, and I came back at once. To-morrow I call upon her and will ask her to be my wife. Dine with me here to-morrow night and we will drink to the health of the future Mrs. Danvers."
The next evening I kept my appointment with George. The dinner was more elaborate than the previous one, and I saw that my host had a superb bottle of wine at his right hand.
"This is to pledge the future Mrs. Danvers in," he remarked as we sat down.
The dinner passed and after dessert he poured a glass of choice wine for each.
"Let us drink to the health of the future Mrs. Danvers," he said. "And forgive me for keeping you so long in suspense. But she has never been born."
"Never been born?" I cried. "Have you been playing me another Marjorie Daw trick?"
"Not exactly. I called on Mrs. Archer this afternoon. She was so much changed that I did not recognize her. But she knew me at once, and assured me that she was Helen Lawson Archer.
"'It was very kind in you to make me this visit of condolence,' she said. 'You were quite fond of me once, were you not? But that was long ago, and early loves are not, as a usual thing, very lasting. I never realized that I could have any genuine affection until I married Fred.'"
"How does she look?"
"Matronly, and rather stout. She has five children."
"And you did not propose?"
"No. I had no chance."
Three years ago I was detained for several months along the Pacific coast near San Francisco. Business of the house I am connected with in New York sent me across the continent, and after visiting our correspondent in San Francisco I found that I would be obliged to remain some time in the State. I took advantage of this opportunity to make a run down the coast branch of the Central Pacific to San Mateo and visit an old friend. Down this road, between the bay and the sea, are a number of stations near which the millionaires of San Francisco reside. San Mateo is the first town of any importance, and it is made so only by the location there of a semi-military, semi-church school, St. Matthew's Hall.
But before going farther with my story I ought to go back and give a paragraph to my journey across the Rockies.
After leaving Omaha, in spite of Pullman palace cars and attentive porters, our journey was a dreary one. A party across the aisle engaged in daily games of euchre; the party in front of me struck up a flirtation with the young man opposite. In like manner all seemed to find companions in misery except myself and a boy who occupied a berth over the rear bumpers. My stock of books and magazines lasted me until we were approaching Ogden. On the last afternoon before we reached that city, at which we changed from the Union to the Central Pacific, they failed, and by a fortunate occurrence I fell in with my bumper companion. We were both braving one of the mountain outlaws, yclept innkeepers, and I was out of change. My traveling companion offered to make it and trust me to Ogden. So we became acquainted, and while waiting at Ogden took a stroll together through the town. On returning to the station we secured berths near each other and together sat upon the rear platform and watched the sunset on the salty sea. By the time we were ready to be ferried across the bay to San Francisco we had become good friends and had agreed to put up at the same hotel. He had also communicated to me the fact that he was the son of a professor in Cornell University, and was out hunting specimens for his father's museum.
A month afterward I returned from a short trip south, met him at the Brooklyn House, and together we went to see Barrett, in his alleged talented representation of Richelieu—a character which, in my opinion, he never could correctly impersonate should he study it until the craque o' doom. At midnight my friend's vessel was to sail northward with the tide, in search of sea lions, and we parted in the midst of the second act. So much for introduction.
One day my San Mateo friend informed me that a society of which he was a member had arranged for a day on the seashore, and invited me to go along, provided I would furnish a conveyance for myself. I accepted, and one cool June morning we started across the foothills to Spanishtown. Five miles from the shore we were three hundred feet above the level of the sea and saw below us a narrow trail across the sand and the ocean beyond. Upon the shore was a straggling village inhabited by 'greasers,' and, as we drew nearer we could detect several small cabins near the sea. These, we afterward found, were occupied by wreckers, who were then engaged in raising a vessel which had sunk half a mile off shore.
Spanishtown is situated at the southern extremity of Half Moon Bay, a peaceful bit of sea in calm weather. When there was no storm the waves rolled up with long graceful curves, but when storms swept over the bay it was a dangerous place for vessels, and the Government had stationed a light ship at the entrance to warn sailors of the rocky coast.
As we strolled upon the sand, gathering seaweed and starfish, the Pacific was very calm, indeed, but as the tide came in at close of day the waves rolled up against the rocks we climbed upon at midday in perfect security, we realized the terribleness of a calm body once moved to anger.
Toward evening a black cloud arose from the western horizon. The wind freshened and with it came tokens of a storm at sea.
Off a mile from the coast, where we could just see the top of her masts, was anchored the beacon ship, a goodly sized schooner, manned at that time by three persons, who nightly trimmed the lamps which no doubt kept many sailors from going down to 'Davy Jones' locker.' My San Mateo friend said that they had been there for years and during that time had been the means of saving many lives.
Before the tide turned four of our party had climbed to a shelf of the cliff, some twenty feet above the beach, and so occupied had we been in watching the waves lap up one after another of the rocks we had a few hours before been walking upon, that we did not notice that the tide had cut us off from our friends. There we were, half way up the cliff, and a storm rising in front of us. This bit of carelessness delayed our return home, and afterward I was glad of it.
Gradually the storm increased. Instead of the long majestic billows which characterize the Pacific, the waves, aided by the tide, became terrible in their proportions. The sky grew dark with dense clouds; the waves rolled in with what seemed an angry dash; they lapped up the sand foot by foot; they reached the rocks beyond, beat upon them, broke with fury against the barrier and returned frothing to tell the others of their unfriendly greeting.
In the midst of the storm a body was cast up by the waves and fell at our feet. A rope had been fastened to a stake on the top of the cliff and hung down to the ledge to assist adventurous climbers, but so far we had not cared to make use of it, although warned several times by the wreckers to do so.
We did an ungallant act. We sent a lady up the rope with instructions to cut it when she reached the top. She did so, and the rope fell at our feet. My friend seized it, tied one end about my waist and lowered me to the sea. Half blinded by the salt water, I managed to secure the body, tied it to my own by means of a few feet of rope left free for that purpose, and by the combined muscles of my friend and the lady with him we were drawn up to a place of safety.
Imagine my surprise on reaching the shelf to find the body we had rescued was the body of my overland companion, the young specimen hunter. By this time the lady who had ascended and cut the rope had brought several wreckers to our assistance, and we were, one by one, drawn up to the top of the cliff. There we brought my friend back to life and, partly in the wreckers' cabin and partly in a dingy little room in Spanishtown, that night he told me the following story, which he amplified the next day when he was stronger.
After leaving me the night of the opera he had found smooth sailing for twelve hours. Then a storm came up and he found that his crew was entirely useless. One man only, the one from whom he had engaged the sloop, understood anything about navigation. The rest of the crew were veritable landlubbers when it came to danger. When the storm struck them they were near the shore, and there being no harbor the captain gave orders to put to sea. The men refused to obey, and several entered a boat and rowed for shore. Their fate my friend never learned. The sloop, left half manned, blundered before the storm, drifted southward and at length lost her rudder. For days they drifted, now here, now there, at the mercy of the sea, now inward with the tide, now out to sea again. Gradually, however, they floated southward. Once or twice they sighted outgoing ships, but so far away that their signals were not seen.
On the sixth day the captain advised my friend to take one of the boats and, with two sailors, endeavor to reach land or some ship and send succor to the sloop.
This was done, but the first night out the wind freshened and the boat was swamped. From that time on until early in the morning my friend was unconscious. An hour before sunrise he found himself still in the boat, which was half full of water but still able to float. The oars were gone and neither of the sailors could be seen. On to the southeast he saw a dark line which he knew was the coast, and after bailing out the boat he took the helm and steered as well as he could for it.
Just before sunrise he was surprised and gladdened to see a schooner standing straight up out of the sea, half a mile to the south. He steered for it, and, the tide flowing in, was able to reach it.
But when directly under the vessel, which was strangely motionless, he saw no signs of life about it. He called and no one answered, but seeing a chain hanging down the side, he let his boat go and climbed by it to the deck.
He expected either to find the vessel deserted or the crew all below. On the contrary, he was met by a man in officer's dress the moment he stood upon the deck. This man's face was as emotionless as a Sphinx, and the greeting he gave my friend was as cold as a New Yorker could give a poor relation from the west. No one else appeared on deck, and without inquiring into the manner in which he had been shipwrecked, or evincing any interest in him, the officer led him to the cabin, where food and a change of clothes were given him. On board everything was supernaturally quiet. The waves lapped against the vessel's sides and that was all. No figures moved upon the deck, and the vessel itself was absolutely motionless.
Within a few hours the rescued man was able to move about, and he made an attempt to reach the upper deck.
He found his cabin door barred.
Calling for help, his call was answered by the man who met him on the deck of the mysterious vessel. His replies to my friend's questions were short and unsatisfactory, but this much the latter soon learned—that he was a prisoner. Why, he could not conjecture. Who his jailer was he could not imagine.
For two days he remained in his cabin and to him was given every necessary attention, although in a non-committal way, the reason for which he could not understand.
The third day his jailer announced that he was sufficiently recovered to go on deck, and after an hour in the sea air he was given another berth. This one, however, proved to be less securely fastened than his former one, and during the night he was able to open the door and pass out. Approaching the captain's cabin he heard voices, and stopping, listened.
"We worked it well again—the United States cove has made his inspection and learned nothing."
"Six months more of rest," responded a female voice.
"Yes, but what are we to do with this fellow we picked up?"
"Are you growing weak? Drownd him!" in the same cool female voice.
Silence followed, and after a time my friend knew that both speakers were asleep. Although the reason for his imprisonment was still as much a mystery as ever, the short conversation he had heard gave him to understand that foul play was to be expected, and he took advantage of his liberty to explore the vessel. After creeping about for half an hour he heard a man's voice, and approaching the place from which the sound came asked who was there. The reply nearly took my friend's breath away.
"I'm the captain of this vessel, and that she-devil's husband!"
A conversation in undertones ensued, and the following story was told by the man in prison in that strange ship.
"Ten years ago I came to this vessel, the Beacon Light of Half Moon Bay, as its captain. I brought with me my wife and my best friend. A year passed happily, and then I overheard a conversation between my wife and my friend. I heard that my wife loved him. Aye, worse, that he was her first lover, and that I had been duped into hiring him as my assistant.
"The next day I met the guilty pair and charged them with their sin. They said not a word, but that night I was drugged and caged.
"For a year I have been in this cage and they live as man and wife. Every six months the United States inspector comes to visit the ship and bring provisions, but by some means they have always been able to hide me from him.
"Go back to your berth, lock the door and appear ignorant of everything. But escape when you can and bring me help."
Such was the substance of the story told my friend. He crept back and managed to leave his door as he found it. The next night he left his berth again, secured a small boat and left for the shore. With what success, you know.
We stayed in Spanishtown the next day, and there was a terrible storm. An old greaser said it was the worst he had ever seen. The waves beat high and the wind blew a hurricane. At night we saw the beacon ship moving in a strange manner, and suddenly its light went out.
The next morning boats were sent out and they picked up two dead bodies. One was a woman and the other a man, but the vessel went down.
A month after, I visited Spanishtown and found the wreckers busy. They had been searching for the beacon ship and had found her, and in her they had found a cage, and a man's body in it.
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