Most of all I hate the sun, loud human voices, and pounding. Rapid, rapid pounding. I am so afraid of people that if I hear someone else’s footsteps and the sound of voices in the corridor in the evening, I start to scream. Because of this I have a special room, the quietest and the best, No. 27, at the very end of the corridor. No one can get to me. But in order to protect myself further, I kept begging Ivan Vasilievich for a long time (actually, I cried in front of him), to give me an official typed authorization. He consented and wrote that I was under his protection and that no one had the right to take me away. But, to tell you the truth, I did not have much confidence in the weight of his signature. So he persuaded a professor to sign it too, and affixed a round blue seal to the paper. That made all the difference. I know of many instances where people have avoided death solely because they had a piece of paper with a round blue seal on it in their pockets. True, that worker in Berdyansk with the cheek smeared with soot was hung from a lamppost after they found a crumpled piece of paper with a stamp on it in his boot. But that was altogether different. He was a criminal Bolshevik and the blue seal was a criminal seal. It reserved him a place on that lamppost and the lamppost was the reason for my illness (don’t worry, I know perfectly well that I am ill).
In fact, something had happened to me even before Kolya. I walked away in order to avoid seeing a man being hanged, but fear walked with me in my trembling legs. At the time, of course, there was nothing I could do, but now I would boldly say, “General, you are an animal! How dare you hang people!”
This alone shows you that I’m no coward. I did not go on about the seal because I am afraid of death. Oh, no. I am not afraid of that. I am going to shoot myself, and it will be soon, because Kolya will drive me to despair. I will shoot myself so that I do not have to see or hear Kolya. As for the thought that other people might come… It is loathsome.
For days on end I have been lying on the couch and staring out the window. Above our green garden is an empty void. Beyond it the yellow bulk of a seven-story building turns its deaf, windowless wall to me, and right under the roof is a rusty square. A sign. Dental Laboratory. In white letters. At first I hated it. Then I got used to it and if it were gone I might even miss it. It can be seen clearly the whole day. I focus my attention on it and ponder many important things. But evening is falling. The cupola darkens, the white letters fade from view. I become gray and dissolve in the gloom just like my thoughts. Twilight. A frightening and portentous time of day. Everything fades, everything becomes indistinct. A pale ginger cat begins to slink along the corridor with velvety steps and from time to time I scream. But I will not allow a lamp to be lit because the glare of the lamp will cause me to wring my hands and sob all night. It is better to wait submissively for the moment when that most important last picture begins to burn in the quivering darkness.
My aged mother said to me: “I can’t go on like this much longer. All I see is madness. You are the oldest, and I know that you love him. Bring Kolya back. Bring him back. You are the oldest.”
I said nothing. ٠
So she put all of her yearning and all of her pain into her words.
“Find him. You pretend that nothing can be done. But I know you. You are intelligent, you have long understood that this is all madness. Bring him to me for a day. For just one day. I’ll let him go again.”
She was lying. Would she really let him go again?
I said nothing.
“I only want to kiss his eyes. I know he will be killed. Don’t you understand? He’s my baby. Who else can I ask? You are the oldest. Bring him.”
I could not stand it, so avoiding her eyes, I said, “Okay.”
But she grabbed my sleeve and turned me around so that she could look into my face.
“No, you will swear that you will bring him back alive.”
How could I swear any such thing?
But being the insane person that I am, I did it: “I swear.”
My mother is fainthearted. With that thought I left. But in Berdyansk I saw the crooked lamppost. General, Sir, I agree that I was no less criminal than you, I accept great responsibility for the man smeared with soot, but my brother does not have anything to do with it. He is nineteen years old.
After Berdyansk, I resolutely fulfilled my oath and found him by a small stream twenty versts away. The day was unusually bright. Along the road to the village, from which came the smell of ashes, a cavalry column moved slowly, stirring up clouds of white dust. He rode at the end of the first rank, with the visor of his cap pulled down over his eyes. I remember every detail. The right spur came all the way down to his heel. The strap of his cap stretched across his cheek and down under his chin.
“Kolya. Kolya!” I yelled, and ran down to the roadside ditch.
He started. Along the ranks the sullen, sweaty soldiers turned their heads.
“Ah… brother!” he cried in response. For some reason he never called me by my name, but always said brother. I am ten years older than he. And he always listened carefully to what I said. “Wait, wait here,” he continued, “by the little wood. We’ll be back right away I can’t leave the troop.”
At the edge of the wood, a little away from the dismounted troop, we smoked greedily I was calm and insistent. Everything was madness. Mother was absolutely right.
I whispered to him, “As soon as you return from the village, come with me into town. Then get out of here and never come back.”
“What are you saying, brother?”
“Be quiet,” I said, “Be quiet. I know what I’m saying.”
The troop had mounted. They were swaying, moving at a trot toward the billowing black smoke. In the distance a pounding began. Rapid, rapid pounding.
What could happen in just an hour? They would come back. I settled down to wait by the tent with the red cross on it.
An hour later I saw him. He also returned at a trot. But there was no troop. Only one horseman with a lance galloped on either side of him, and one of them, the one on the right, leaned towards my brother periodically, as if he were whispering something to him. Squinting into the sun, I watched the strange masquerade. He had left in a gray cap and was returning in a red one. The sun was setting. Only a black silhouette crowned with brightness remained. There was no hair and there was no forehead. Instead, there was a red crown with yellow spikes in clumps.
My brother, the horseman, wearing a ragged red crown, sat motionless on a lathered horse, and if the horseman on the right had not been carefully supporting him, he might have been on his way to a parade.
The horseman sat proud in the saddle, but he was blind and mute. There were two red blotches with streaks where an hour ago bright eyes had shone…
The horseman on the left dismounted, his left hand clutched the reins, but the one on the right very carefully led Kolya by the hand. Kolya swayed.
A voice said, “I’m afraid our volunteer… he’s been hit by a shell fragment. Orderly, call a doctor…”
The other sighed and said, “Sure… but why call a doctor, buddy? Better a priest.”
Then the black veil thickened and everything was obscured, even the head gear…
I have gotten used to everything. To this white building of ours, to the twilight, to the ginger cat who purrs at the door, but I cannot get used to his visits. The first time it happened, when I was still living downstairs in No. 63, he came out of the wall. He was wearing the red crown. There was nothing terrifying in that. I had seen him like that in dreams. But of course I knew that since he was wearing the crown he was dead. Then he spoke, moving his lips, which were caked with blood. He eased them apart, clicked his heels, put his hand to the crown in a salute, and said: “Brother, I can’t leave the troop.”
Since then it is always the same. He comes wearing his field shirt, with straps across his chest, with a curved saber and silent spurs, and says the same thing. Salute. Then: “Brother, I can’t leave the troop. “
You cannot imagine how it affected me the first time it happened! He gave the whole clinic a fright. Anyway, it is all over for me. It stands to reason that since he is wearing a halo, he has been killed, and if the dead come and talk to me, it means I have gone mad.
Yes. Now it’s twilight. It is the hour of reckoning. But once I dozed off and saw the living room with the worn red velvet furniture. The comfortable armchair with a cracked leg. The portrait in a dusty black frame on the wall. Flowers on stands. The piano was open and on it was the score from Faust. He stood in the doorway, and a wild happiness warmed my heart. He was not a horseman. He was as he had been before those accursed days. In a black double-breasted jacket with a smudge of chalk on the elbow. His lively eyes smiled playfully and a lock of hair hung down over his forehead. He was nodding to me.
“Brother, let’s go to my room. Do I have something to show you!… “
The rays from his eyes lit up the living room, and the burden of remorse melted inside me. That ill-fated day when I told him: “Go” had never existed, there was no pounding or acrid smoke. He had never gone away and had never been a horseman. He played the piano, the ivory keys tinkled, the golden rays of light touched everything, and his voice was expressive and he laughed.
Then I woke up. There was nothing. No light, no eyes. I never had that dream again. Then that very night, to compound my unbearable torture, he came anyway, stepping silently, the horseman in full military regalia, and he spoke to me the way he has decided to speak to me for eternity.
I decided to put an end to it. I said forcefully, “What are you, my eternal torturer? Why do you come? I admit everything. I take the blame for sending you on that doomed mission. I also take the blame for the hanging. Since I admit all this, forgive me and leave me alone.”
I tell you. General, Sir, he said nothing and left.
So I became bitter from this torment and wished with all my might that he would come to you just once and put his hand to the crown in a salute. I assure you, you would be finished, just like me. At one stroke. However, perhaps you, too, are not alone at night? Who knows, perhaps you are visited by that soot-smeared man from the lamppost in Berdyansk? If this is so, we suffer it as we must. I sent Kolya to help you carry out the hanging, but you were the one who actually did it. By verbal order.
So, he did not leave. Then I scared him away with a scream. Everyone woke up. The attendant came running, they woke Ivan Vasilievich. I could not face the next day, but they wouldn’t let me do myself in. They bound me with canvas straps, tore the glass from my hands, and bandaged me. Since then I have been in No. 27. After I was drugged I began to doze off, and heard the attendant talking in the corridor:
“A hopeless case. “
It’s true. I have no hope. Futilely, in burning anguish, I wait in the twilight for the dream to come – that old familiar room and the peaceful light from those radiant eyes. But all of that is gone forever.
The burden does not ease. And at night I wait submissively for the familiar horseman with the sightless eyes to come and say hoarsely: “I can’t leave the troop.”
Yes, I am hopeless. He will drive me to my grave.
It happened when I was about eighteen or nineteen years old (began Dr. Simsen). I was studying at the University, and being coached in anatomy by my old friend Solling. He was an amusing fellow, this Solling. Full of jokes and whimsical ideas, and equally merry, whether he was working at the dissecting table or brewing a punch for a jovial crowd.
He had but one fault—if one might call it so—and that was his exaggerated idea of punctuality. He grumbled if you were late two minutes; any longer delay would spoil the entire evening for him. He himself was never known to be late. At least not during the entire years of my studying.
One Wednesday evening our little circle of friends met as usual in my room at seven o’clock. I had made the customary preparations for the meeting, had borrowed three chairs—I had but one myself— had cleaned all my pipes, and had persuaded Hans to take the breakfast dishes from the sofa and carry them downstairs. One by one my friends arrived, the clock struck seven, and to our great astonishment, Solling had not yet appeared. One, two, even five minutes passed before we heard him run upstairs and knock at the door with his characteristic short blows.
When he entered the room he looked so angry and at the same time so upset that I cried out: “What’s the matter, Solling? You look as if you had been robbed.”
“That’s exactly what has happened,” replied Solling angrily. “But it was no ordinary sneak thief,” he added, hanging his overcoat behind the door.
“What have you lost?” asked my neighbor Nansen.
“Both arms from the new skeleton I’ve just recently received from the hospital,” said Solling with an expression as if his last cent had been taken from him. “It’s vandalism!”
We burst out into loud laughter at this remarkable answer, but Solling continued: “Can you imagine it? Both arms are gone, cut off at the shoulder joint;—and the strangest part of it is that the same thing has been done to my shabby old skeleton which stands in my bedroom. There wasn’t an arm on either of them.”
“That’s too bad,” I remarked. “For we were just going to study the
ANATOMY of the arm to-night.”
“Osteology,” corrected Solling gravely. “Get out your skeleton, little Simsen. It isn’t as good as mine, but it will do for this evening.”
I went to the corner where my anatomical treasures were hidden behind a green curtain—”the Museum,” was what Solling called it— but my astonishment was great when I found my skeleton in its accustomed place and wearing as usual my student’s uniform—but without arms.
“The devil!” cried Solling. “That was done by the same person who robbed me; the arms are taken off at the shoulder joint in exactly the same manner. You did it, Simsen!”
I declared my innocence, very angry at the abuse of my fine skeleton, while Nansen cried: “Wait a moment, I’ll bring in mine. There hasn’t been a soul in my room since this morning, I can swear to that. I’ll be back in an instant.”
He hurried into his room, but returned in a few moments greatly depressed and somewhat ashamed. The skeleton was in its usual place, but the arms were gone, cut off at the shoulder in exactly the same manner as mine.
The affair, mysterious in itself, had now come to be a serious matter. We lost ourselves in suggestions and explanations, none of which seemed to throw any light on the subject. Finally we sent a messenger to the other side of the house where, as I happened to know, was a new skeleton which the young student Ravn had recently received from the janitor of the hospital.
Ravn had gone out and taken the key with him. The messenger whom we had sent to the rooms of the Iceland students returned with the information that one of them had used the only skeleton they possessed to pummel the other with, and that consequently only the thigh bones were left unbroken.
What were we to do? We couldn’t understand the matter at all. Solling scolded and cursed and the company was about to break up when we heard some one coming noisily upstairs. The door was thrown open and a tall, thin figure appeared on the threshold—our good friend Niels Daae.
He was a strange chap, this Niels Daae, the true type of a species seldom found nowadays. He was no longer young, and by reason of a queer chain of circumstances, as he expressed it, he had been through nearly all the professions and could produce papers proving that he had been on the point of passing not one but three examinations.
He had begun with theology; but the story of the quarrel between Jacob and Esau had led him to take up the study of law. As a law student he had come across an interesting poisoning case, which had proved to him that a study of medicine was extremely necessary for lawyers; and he had taken up the study of medicine with such energy that he had forgotten all his law and was about to take his last examinations at the age of forty.
Niels Daae took the story of our troubles very seriously. “Every pot has two handles,” he began. “Every sausage two ends, every question two sides, except this one—this has three.” (Applause.) “When we look at it from the legal point of view there can be no doubt that it belongs in the category of ordinary theft. But from the fact that the thief took only the arms when he might have taken the entire skeleton, we must conclude that he is not in a responsible condition of mind, which therefore introduces a medical side to the affair. From a legal point of view, the thief must be convicted for robbery, or at least for the illegal appropriation of the property of others; but from the medical point of view, we must acquit him, because he is not responsible for his acts. Here we have two professions quarreling with one another, and who shall say which is right? But now I will introduce the theological point of view, and raise the entire affair up to a higher plane. Providence, in the material shape of a patron of mine in the country, whose children I have inoculated with the juice of wisdom, has sent me two fat geese and two first-class ducks. These animals are to be cooked and eaten this evening in Mathiesen’s establishment, and I invite this honored company to join me there. Personally I look upon the disappearance of these arms as an all- wise intervention of Providence, which sets its own inscrutable wisdom up against the wisdom which we would otherwise have heard from the lips of my venerable friend Solling.”
Daae’s confused speech was received with laughter and applause, and Solling’s weak protests were lost in the general delight at the invitation. I have often noticed that such improvised festivities are usually the most enjoyable, and so it was for us that evening. Niels Daae treated us to his ducks and to his most amusing jokes, Solling sang his best songs, our jovial host Mathiesen told his wittiest stories, and the merriment was in full swing when we heard cries in the street, and then a rush of confused noises broken by screams of pain.
“There’s been an accident,” cried Solling, running out to the door.
We all followed him and discovered that a pair of runaway horses had thrown a carriage against a tree, hurling the driver from his box, under the wheels. His right arm had been broken near the shoulder. In the twinkling of an eye the hall of festivities was transformed into an emergency hospital. Solling shook his head as he examined the injury, and ordered the transport of the patient to the city hospital. It was his belief that the arm would have to be amputated, cut off at the shoulder joint, just as had been the case with our skeleton. “Damned odd coincidence, isn’t it?” he remarked to me.
Our merry mood had vanished and we took our way, quiet and depressed, through the old avenues toward our home. For the first time in its existence possibly, our venerable “barracks,” as we called the dormitory, saw its occupants returning home from an evening’s bout just as the night watchman intoned his eleven o’clock verse.
“Just eleven,” exclaimed Solling. “It’s too early to go to bed, and too late to go anywhere else. We’ll go up to your room, little Simsen, and see if we can’t have some sort of a lesson this evening. You have your colored plates and we’ll try to get along with them. It’s a nuisance that we should have lost those arms just this evening.”
“The Doctor can have all the arms and legs he wants,” grinned Hans, who came out of the doorway just in time to hear Solling’s last word.
“What do you mean, Hans?” asked Solling in astonishment.
“It’ll be easy enough to get them,” said Hans. “They’ve torn down the planking around the Holy Trinity churchyard, and dug up the earth to build a new wall. I saw it myself, as I came past the church. Lord, what a lot of bones they’ve dug out there! There’s arms and legs and heads, many more than the Doctor could possibly need.”
“Much good that does us,” answered Solling. “They shut the gates at seven o’clock and it’s after eleven already.”
“Oh, yes, they shut them,” grinned Hans again. “But there’s another way to get in. If you go through the gate of the porcelain factory and over the courtyard, and through the mill in the fourth courtyard that leads out into Spring Street, there you will see where the planking is torn down, and you can get into the churchyard easily.”
“Hans, you’re a genius!” exclaimed Solling in delight. “Here, Simsen, you know that factory inside and out, you’re so friendly with that fellow Outzen who lives there. Run along to him and let him give you the key of the mill. It will be easy to find an arm that isn’t too much decayed. Hurry along, now; the rest of us will wait for you upstairs.”
To be quite candid I must confess that I was not particularly eager to fulfill Solling’s command. I was at an age to have still a sufficient amount of reverence for death and the grave, and the mysterious occurrence of the stolen arms still ran through my mind. But I was still more afraid of Solling’s irony and of the laughter of my comrades, so I trotted off as carelessly as if I had been sent to buy a package of cigarettes.
It was some time before I could arouse the old janitor of the factory from his peaceful slumbers. I told him that I had an important message for Outzen, and hurried upstairs to the latter’s room. Outzen was a strictly moral character; knowing this, I was prepared to have him refuse me the key which would let me into the fourth courtyard and from there into the cemetery. As I expected, Outzen took the matter very seriously. He closed the Hebrew Bible which he had been studying as I entered, turned up his lamp and looked at me in astonishment as I made my request.
“Why, my dear Simsen, it is a most sinful deed that you are about to do,” he said gravely. “Take my advice and desist. You will get no key from me for any such cause. The peace of the grave is sacred. No man dare disturb it.”
“And how about the gravedigger? He puts the newly dead down beside the old corpses, and lives as peacefully as anyone else.”
“He is doing his duty,” answered Outzen calmly. “But to disturb the peace of the grave from sheer daring, with the fumes of the punch still in your head,—that is a different matter,—that will surely be punished!”
His words irritated me. It is not very flattering, particularly if one is not yet twenty, to be told that you are about to perform a daring deed simply because you are drunk. Without any further reply to his protests I took the key from its place on the wall and ran downstairs two steps at a time, vowing to myself that I would take home an arm let cost what it would. I would show Outzen, and Solling, and all the rest, what a devil of a fellow I was.
My heart beat rapidly as I stole through the long dark corridor, past the ruins of the old convent of St. Clara, into the so-called third courtyard. Here I took a lantern from the hall, lit it and crossed to the mill where the clay was prepared for the factory. The tall wheels and cylinders, with their straps and bolts, looked like weird creatures of the night in the dim light of my tallow candle. I felt my courage sinking even here, but I pulled myself together, opened the last door with my key and stepped out into the fourth courtyard. A moment later I stood on the dividing line between the cemetery and the factory.
The entire length of the tall blackened planking had been torn down. The pieces of it lay about, and the earth had been dug up to considerable depth, to make a foundation for a new wall between Life and Death. The uncanny emptiness of the place seized upon me. I halted involuntarily as if to harden myself against it. It was a raw, cold, stormy evening. The clouds flew past the moon in jagged fragments, so that the churchyard, with its white crosses and stones, lay now in full light, now in dim shadow. Now and then a rush of wind rattled over the graves, roared through the leafless trees, bent the complaining bushes, and caught itself in the little eddy at the corner of the church, only to escape again over the roofs, turning the old weather vane with a sharp scream of the rusty iron.
I looked toward the left—there I saw several weird white shapes moving gently in the moonlight. “White sheets,” I said to myself, “it’s nothing but white sheets! This drying of linen in the churchyard ought to be stopped.”
I turned in the opposite direction and saw a heap of bones scarce two paces distant from me. Holding my lantern lower, I approached them and stretched out my hand—there was a rattling in the heap; something warm and soft touched my fingers.
I started and shivered. Then I exclaimed: “The rats! nothing but the rats in the churchyard! I must not get frightened. It will be so foolish—they would laugh at me. Where the devil is that arm? I can’t find one that isn’t broken!”
With trembling knees and in feverish haste I examined one heap after another. The light in my lantern flickered in the wind and suddenly went out. The foul smell of the smoking wick rose to my face and I felt as if I were about to faint, it took all my energy to recover my control. I walked two or three steps ahead, and saw at a little distance a coffin which had been still in good shape when taken out of the earth.
I approached it and saw that it was of old-fashioned shape, made of heavy oaken boards that were already rotting. On its cover was a metal plate with an illegible inscription. The old wood was so brittle that it would have been very easy for me to open the coffin with any sort of a tool. I looked about me and saw a hatchet and a couple of spades lying near the fence. I took one of the latter, put its flat end between the boards—the old coffin fell apart with a dull crackling protest.
I turned my head aside, put my hand in through the opening, felt about, and taking a firm hold on one arm of the skeleton, I loosened it from the body with a quick jerk. The movement loosened the head as well, and it rolled out through the opening right to my very feet. I took up the skull to lay it in the coffin again—and then I saw a greenish phosphorescent glimmer in its empty eye sockets, a glimmer which came and went. Mad terror shook me at the sight. I looked up at the houses in the distance, then back again to the skull; the empty sockets shone more brightly than before. I felt that I must have some natural explanation for this appearance or I would go mad. I took up the head again—and never in my life have I had so overpowering an impression of the might of death and decay than in this moment. Myriads of disgusting clammy insects poured out of every opening of the skull, and a couple of shining, wormlike centipedes—Geophiles, the scientists call them—crawled about in the eye sockets. I threw the skull back into the coffin, sprang over the heaps of bones without even taking time to pick up my lantern, and ran like a hunted thing through the dark mill, over the factory courtyards, until I reached the outer gate. Here I washed the arm at the fountain, and smoothed my disarranged clothing. I hid my booty under my overcoat, nodded to the sleepy old janitor as he opened the door to me, and a few moments later I entered my own room with an expression which I had attempted to make quite calm and careless.
“What the devil is the matter with you, Simsen?” cried Solling as he saw me. “Have you seen a ghost? Or is the punch wearing off already? We thought you’d never come; why, it’s nearly twelve o’clock!”
Without a word I drew back my overcoat and laid my booty on the table.
“By all the devils,” exclaimed Solling in anatomical enthusiasm, “where did you find that superb arm? Simsen knows what he’s about all right. It’s a girl’s arm; isn’t it beautiful? Just look at the hand—how fine and delicate it is! Must have worn a No. 6 glove. There’s a pretty hand to caress and kiss!”
The arm passed from one to the other amid general admiration. Every word that was said increased my disgust for myself and for what I had done. It was a woman’s arm, then—what sort of a woman might she have been? Young and beautiful possibly—her brothers’ pride, her parents’ joy. She had faded away in her youth, cared for by loving hands and tender thoughts. She had fallen asleep gently, and those who loved her had desired to give her in death the peace she had enjoyed throughout her lifetime. For this they had made her coffin of thick, heavy oaken boards. And this hand, loved and missed by so many—it lay there now on an anatomical table, encircled by clouds of tobacco smoke, stared at by curious glances, and made the object of coarse jokes. O God! how terrible it was!
“I must have that arm,” exclaimed Solling, when the first burst of admiration had passed. “When I bleach it and touch it up with varnish, it wild be a superb specimen. I’ll take it home with me.”
“No,” I exclaimed, “I can’t permit it. It was wrong of me to bring it away from the churchyard. I’m going right back to put the arm in its place.”
“Well, will you listen to that?” cried Solling, amid the hearty laughter of the others. “Simsen’s so lyric, he certainly must be drunk. I must have that arm at any cost.”
“Not much,” cut in Niels Daae; “you have no right to it. It was buried in the earth and dug out again; it is a find, and all the rest of us have just as much right to it as you have.”
“Yes, everyone of us has some share in it,” said some one else.
“But what are you going to do about it?” remarked Solling. “It would be vandalism to break up that arm. What God has joined together let no man put asunder,” he concluded with pathos.
“Let’s auction it off,” exclaimed Daae. “I will be the auctioneer, and this key to the graveyard will serve me for a hammer.”
The laughter broke out anew as Daae took his place solemnly at the head of the table and began to whine out the following announcement: “I hereby notify all present that on the 25th of November, at twelve o’clock at midnight, in corridor No. 5 of the student barracks, a lady’s arm in excellent condition, with all its appurtenances of wrist bones, joints, and finger tips, is to be offered at public auction. The buyer can have possession of his purchase immediately after the auction, and a credit of six weeks will be given to any reliable customer. I bid a Danish shilling.”
“One mark,” cried Solling mockingly.
“Two,” cried somebody else.
“Four,” exclaimed Solling. “It’s worth it. Why don’t you join in,
Simsen? You look as if you were sitting in a hornet’s nest.”
I bid one mark more, and Solling raised me a thaler. There were no more bids, the hammer fell, and the arm belonged to Solling.
“Here, take this,” he said, handing me a mark piece; “it’s part of your commission as grave robber. You shall have the rest later, unless you prefer that I should turn it over to the drinking fund.” With these words Solling wrapped the arm in a newspaper, and the gay crowd ran noisily down the stairs and through the streets, until their singing and laughter were lost in the distance.
I stood alone, still dazed and bewildered, staring at the piece of money in my hand. My thoughts were far too much excited that I should hope to sleep. I turned up my lamp and took out one of my books to try and study myself into a quieter mood. But without success.
Suddenly I heard a sound like that of a swinging pendulum. I raised my head and listened attentively. There was no clock either in my room or in the neighboring ones—but I could still hear the sound. At the same moment my lamp began to flicker. The oil was apparently exhausted. I was about to rise to fill it again, when my eyes fell upon the door, and I saw the graveyard key, which I had hung there, moving slowly back and forth with a rhythmic swing. Just as its motion seemed about to die away, it would receive a gentle push as from an unseen hand, and would swing back and forth more than ever. I stood there with open mouth and staring eyes, ice-cold chills ran down my back, and drops of perspiration stood out on my forehead. Finally, I could endure it no longer. I sprang to the door, seized the key with both hands and put it on my desk under a pile of heavy books. Then I breathed a sigh of relief.
My lamp was about to go out and I discovered that I had no more oil. With feverish haste I threw my clothes off, blew out the light and sprang into bed as if to smother my fears.
But once alone in the darkness the fears grew worse than ever. They grew into dreams and visions. It seemed to me as if I were out in the graveyard again, and heard the screaming of the rusty weather vane as the wind turned it. Then I was in the mill again; the wheels were turning and stretching out ghostly hands to draw me into the yawning maw of the machine. Then again, I found myself in a long, low, pitch-black corridor, followed by Something I could not see—Something that drove me to the mouth of a bottomless abyss. I would start up out of my half sleep, listen and look about me, then fall back again into an uneasy slumber.
Suddenly something fell from the ceiling onto the bed, and “buzz— buzz—buzz” sounded about my head. It was a huge fly which had been sleeping in a corner of my room and had been roused by the heat of the stove. It flew about in great circles, now around the bed, now in all four corners of the chamber—”buzz—buzz—buzz”—it was unendurable! At last I heard it creep into a bag of sugar which had been left on the window sill. I sprang up and closed the bag tight. The fly buzzed worse than ever, but I went back to bed and attempted to sleep again, feeling that I had conquered the enemy.
I began to count: I counted slowly to one hundred, two hundred, finally up to one thousand, and then at last I experienced that pleasant weakness which is the forerunner of true sleep. I seemed to be in a beautiful garden, bright with many flowers and odorous with all the perfumes of spring. At my side walked a beautiful young girl. I seemed to know her well, and yet it was not possible for me to remember her name, or even to know how we came to be wandering there together. As we walked slowly through the paths she would stop to pick a flower or to admire a brilliant butterfly swaying in the air. Suddenly a cold wind blew through the garden. The young girl trembled and her cheeks grew pale. “I am cold,” she said to me, “do you not see? It is Death who is approaching us.”
I would have answered, but in the same moment another stronger and still more icy gust roared through the garden. The leaves turned pale on the trees, the flowerets bent their heads, and the bees and butterflies fell lifeless to the earth. “That is Death,” whispered my companion, trembling.
A third icy gust blew the last leaves from the bushes, white crosses and gravestones appeared between the bare twigs—and I was in the churchyard again and heard the screaming of the rusty weather vane. Beside me stood a heavy brass-bound coffin with a metal plate on the cover. I bent down to read the inscription, the cover rolled off suddenly, and from out the coffin rose the form of the young girl who had been with me in the garden. I stretched out my arms to clasp her to my breast—then, oh horror! I saw the greenish-gleaming, empty eye sockets of the skull. I felt bony arms around me, dragging me back into the coffin. I screamed aloud for help and woke up.
My room seemed unusually light; but I remembered that it was a moonlight night and thought no more of it. I tried to explain the visions of my dream with various natural noises about me. The imprisoned fly buzzed as loudly as a whole swarm of bees; one half of my window had blown open, and the cold night air rushed in gusts into my room.
I sprang up to close the window, and then I saw that the strong white light that filled my room did not come from the moon, but seemed to shine out from the church opposite. I heard the chiming of the bells, soft at first, as if in far distance, then stronger and stronger until, mingled with the rolling notes of the organ, a mighty rush of sound struck against my windows. I stared out into the street and could scarcely believe my eyes. The houses in the market place just beyond were all little one-story buildings with bow windows and wooden eave troughs ending in carved dragon heads. Most of them had balconies of carved woodwork, and high stone stoops with gleaming brass rails.
But it was the church most of all that aroused my astonishment. Its position was completely changed. Its front turned toward our house where usually the side had stood. The church was brilliantly lighted, and now I perceived that it was this light which filled my room. I stood speechless amid the chiming of the bells and the roaring of the organ, and I saw a long wedding procession moving slowly up the center aisle of the church toward the altar. The light was so brilliant that I could distinguish each one of the figures. They were all in strange old-time costumes; the ladies in brocades and satins with strings of pearls in their powdered hair, the gentlemen in uniform with knee breeches, swords, and cocked hats held under their arms. But it was the bride who drew my attention most strongly. She was clothed in white satin, and a faded myrtle wreath was twisted through the powdered locks beneath her sweeping veil. The bridegroom at her side wore a red uniform and many decorations. Slowly they approached the altar, where an old man in black vestments and a heavy white wig was awaiting them. They stood before him, and I could see that he was reading the ritual from a gold-lettered book.
One of the train stepped forward and unbuckled the bridegroom’s sword, that his right hand might be free to take that of the bride. She seemed about to raise her own hand to his, when she suddenly sank fainting at his feet. The guests hurried toward the altar, the lights went out, the music stopped, and the figures floated together like pale white mists.
But outside in the square it was still brighter than before, and I suddenly saw the side portal of the church burst open and the wedding procession move out across the market place.
I turned as if to flee, but could not move a muscle. Quiet, as if turned to stone, I stood and watched the ghostly figures that came nearer and nearer. The clergyman led the train, then came the bridegroom and the bride, and as the latter raised her eyes to me I saw that it was the young girl of the garden. Her eyes were so full of pain, so full of sad entreaty that I could scarce endure them; but how shall I explain the feeling that shot through me as I suddenly discovered that the right sleeve of her white satin gown hung empty at her side? The train disappeared, and the tone of the church bells changed to a strange, dry, creaking sound, and the gate below me complained as it turned on its rusty hinges. I faced toward my own door. I knew that it was shut and locked, but I knew that the ghostly procession were coming to call me to account, and I felt that no walls could keep them out. My door flew open, there was a rustling as of silken gowns, but the figures seemed to float in in the changing forms of swaying white mists. Closer and closer they gathered around me, robbing me of breath, robbing me of the power to move. There was a silence as of the grave—and then I saw before me the old priest with his gold-lettered book. He raised his hand and spoke with a soft, deep voice: “The grave is sacred! Let no one dare to disturb the peace of the dead.”
“The grave is sacred!” an echo rolled through the room as the swaying figures moved like reeds in the wind.
“What do you want? What do you demand?” I gasped in the grip of a deathly fear.
“Give back to the grave that which belongs to it,” said the deep voice again.
“Give back to the grave that which belongs to it,” repeated the echo as the swaying forms pressed closer to me.
“But it’s impossible—I can’t—I have sold it—sold it at auction!” I screamed in despair. “It was buried and found in the earth—and sold for five marks eight shillings—”
A hideous scream came from the ghostly ranks. They threw themselves upon me as the white fog rolls in from the sea, they pressed upon me until I could no longer breathe. Beside myself, I threw open the window and attempted to spring out, screaming aloud: “Help! help! murder! they are murdering me!”
The sound of my own voice awoke me. I found myself in my night clothes on the window sill, one leg already out of the window and both hands clutching at the center post. On the street below me stood the night watchman, staring up at me in astonishment, while faint white clouds of mist rolled out of my window like smoke. All around outside lay the November fog, gray and moist, and as the fresh air of the early dawn blew cool on my face I felt my senses returning to me. I looked down at the night watch man—God bless him! He was a big, strong, comfortably fat fellow made of real flesh and blood, and no ghost shape of the night. I looked at the round tower of the church—how massive and venerable it stood there, gray in the gray of the morning mists. I looked over at the market place. There was a light in the baker shop and a farmer stood before it, tying his horse to a post. Back in my own room everything was in its usual place. Even the little paper bag with the sugar lay there on the window sill, and the imprisoned fly buzzed louder than ever. I knew that I was really awake and that the day was coming. I sprang back hastily from the window and was about to jump into bed, when my foot touched something hard and sharp.
I stooped to see what it was, felt about on the floor in the half light, and touched a long, dry, skeleton arm which held a tiny roll of paper in its bony fingers. I felt about again, and found still another arm, also holding a roll of paper. Then I began to think that my reason must be going. What I had seen thus far was only an unusually vivid dream—a vision of my heated imagination. But I knew that I was awake now, and yet here lay two-no, three (for there was still another arm)—hard, undeniable, material proofs that what I had thought was hallucination, might have been reality. Trembling in the thought that madness was threatening me, I tore open the first roll of paper. On it was written the name: “Solling.” I caught at the second and opened it. There stood the word: “Nansen.” I had just strength enough left to catch the third paper and open it—there was my own name: “Simsen.”
Then I sank fainting to the floor.
When I came to myself again, Niels Daae stood beside me with an empty water bottle, the contents of which were dripping off my person and off the sofa upon which I was lying. “Here, drink this,” he said in a soothing tone. “It will make you feel better.”
I looked about me wildly, as I sipped at the glass of brandy which put new life into me once more. “What has happened?” I asked weakly.
“Oh, nothing of importance,” answered Niels. “You were just about to commit suicide by means of charcoal gas. Those are mighty bad ventilators on your old stove there. The wind must have blown them shut, unless you were fool enough to close them yourself before you went to bed. If you had not opened the window, you would have already been too far along the path to Paradise to be called back by a glass of brandy. Take another.”
“How did you get up here?” I asked, sitting upright on the sofa.
“Through the door in the usual simple manner,” answered Niels Daae. “I was on watch last night in the hospital; but Mathiesen’s punch is heavy and my watching was more like sleeping, so I thought it better to come away in the early morning. As I passed your barracks here, I saw you sitting in the window in your nightshirt and calling down to the night watchman that some one was murdering you. I managed to wake up Jansen down below you, and got into the house through his window. Do you usually sleep on the bare floor?”
“But where did the arms come from?” I asked, still half bewildered.
“Oh, the devil take those arms,” cried Niels. “Just see if you can stand up all right now. Oh, those arms there? Why, those are the arms I cut off your skeletons. Clever idea, wasn’t it? You know how grumpy Solling gets if anything interferes with his tutoring. You see, I’d had the geese sent me, and I wanted you to all come with me to Mathiesen’s place. I knew you were going to read the osteology of the arm, so I went up into Solling’s room, opened it with his own keys and took the arms from his skeleton. I did the same here while you were downstairs in the reading room. Have you been stupid enough to take them down off their frames, and take away their tickets? I had marked them so carefully, that each man should get his own again.”
I dressed hastily and went out with Niels into the fresh, cool morning air. A few minutes later we separated, and I turned toward the street where Solling lived. Without heeding the protest of his old landlady, I entered the room where he still slept the sleep of the just. The arm, still wrapped in newspaper, lay on his desk. I took it up, put the mark piece in its place and hastened with all speed to the churchyard.
How different it looked in the early dawn! The fog had risen and shining frost pearls hung in the bare twigs of the tall trees where the sparrows were already twittering their morning song. There was no one to be seen. The churchyard lay quiet and peaceful. I stepped over the heaps of bones to where the heavy oaken coffin lay under a tree. Cautiously I pushed the arm back into its interior, and hammered the rusty nails into their places again, just as the first rays of the pale November sun touched a gleam of light from the metal plate on the cover.—Then the weight was lifted from my soul.
*First published at “The Continental Classics, vol. 18, Mystery Tales, 1909.”
Well, as I was saying, the Emperor got into bed.
“Chevalier,” says he to his valet, “let down those window-curtains, and shut the casement before you leave the room.”
Chevalier did as he was told, and then, taking up his candlestick, departed.
In a few minutes the Emperor felt his pillow becoming rather hard, and he got up to shake it. As he did so a slight rustling noise was heard near the bed-head. His Majesty listened, but all was silent as he lay down again.
Scarcely had he settled into a peaceful attitude of repose, when he was disturbed by a sensation of thirst. Lifting himself on his elbow, he took a glass of lemonade from the small stand which was placed beside him. He refreshed himself by a deep draught. As he returned the goblet to its station a deep groan burst from a kind of closet in one corner of the apartment.
“Who’s there?” cried the Emperor, seizing his pistols. “Speak, or I’ll blow your brains out.”
This threat produced no other effect than a short, sharp laugh, and a dead silence followed.
The Emperor started from his couch, and, hastily throwing on a robe-de-chambre which hung over the back of a chair, stepped courageously to the haunted closet. As he opened the door something rustled. He sprang forward sword in hand. No soul or even substance appeared, and the rustling, it was evident, proceeded from the falling of a cloak, which had been suspended by a peg from the door.
Half ashamed of himself he returned to bed.
Just as he was about once more to close his eyes, the light of the three wax tapers, which burned in a silver branch over the mantlepiece, was suddenly darkened. He looked up. A black, opaque shadow obscured it. Sweating with terror, the Emperor put out his hand to seize the bell- rope, but some invisible being snatched it rudely from his grasp, and at the same instant the ominous shade vanished.
“Pooh!” exclaimed Napoleon, “it was but an ocular delusion.”
“Was it?” whispered a hollow voice, in deep mysterious tones, close to his ear. “Was it a delusion, Emperor of France? No! all thou hast heard and seen is sad forewarning reality. Rise, lifter of the Eagle Standard! Awake, swayer of the Lily Sceptre! Follow me, Napoleon, and thou shalt see more.”
As the voice ceased, a form dawned on his astonished sight. It was that of a tall, thin man, dressed in a blue surtout edged with gold lace. It wore a black cravat very tightly round its neck, and confined by two little sticks placed behind each ear. The countenance was livid; the tongue protruded from between the teeth, and the eyes all glazed and bloodshot started with frightful prominence from their sockets.
“Mon Dieu!” exclaimed the Emperor, “what do I see? Spectre, whence cometh thou?”
The apparition spoke not, but gliding forward beckoned Napoleon with uplifted finger to follow.
Controlled by a mysterious influence, which deprived him of the capability of either thinking or acting for himself, he obeyed in silence.
The solid wall of the apartment fell open as they approached, and, when both had passed through, it closed behind them with a noise like thunder.
They would now have been in total darkness had it not been for a dim light which shone round the ghost and revealed the damp walls of a long, vaulted passage. Down this they proceeded with mute rapidity. Ere long a cool, refreshing breeze, which rushed wailing up the vault and caused the Emperor to wrap his loose nightdress closer round, announced their approach to the open air.
This they soon reached, and Nap found himself in one of the principal streets of Paris.
“Worthy Spirit,” said he, shivering in the chill night air, “permit me to return and put on some additional clothing. I will be with you again presently.”
“Forward,” replied his companion sternly.
He felt compelled, in spite of the rising indignation which almost choked him, to obey.
On they went through the deserted streets till they arrived at a lofty house built on the banks of the Seine. Here the Spectre stopped, the gates rolled back to receive them, and they entered a large marble hall which was partly concealed by a curtain drawn across, through the half transparent folds of which a bright light might be seen burning with dazzling lustre. A row of fine female figures, richly attired, stood before this screen. They wore on their heads garlands of the most beautiful flowers, but their faces were concealed by ghastly masks representing death’s-heads.
“What is all this mummery?” cried the Emperor, making an effort to shake off the mental shackles by which he was so unwillingly restrained, “Where am I, and why have I been brought here?”
“Silence,” said the guide, lolling out still further his black and bloody tongue. “Silence, if thou wouldst escape instant death.”
The Emperor would have replied, his natural courage overcoming the temporary awe to which he had at first been subjected, but just then a strain of wild, supernatural music swelled behind the huge curtain, which waved to and fro, and bellied slowly out as if agitated by some internal commotion or battle of waving winds. At the same moment an overpowering mixture of the scents of mortal corruption, blent with the richest Eastern odours, stole through the haunted hall.
A murmur of many voices was now heard at a distance, and something grasped his arm eagerly from behind.
He turned hastily round. His eyes met the well-known countenance of Marie Louise.
“What! are you in this infernal place, too?” said he. “What has brought you here?”
“Will your Majesty permit me to ask the same question of yourself?” said the Empress, smiling.
He made no reply; astonishment prevented him.
No curtain now intervened between him and the light. It had been removed as if by magic, and a splendid chandelier appeared suspended over his head. Throngs of ladies, richly dressed, but without death’s-head masks, stood round, and a due proportion of gay cavaliers was mingled with them. Music was still sounding, but it was seen to proceed from a band of mortal musicians stationed in an orchestra near at hand. The air was yet redolent of incense, but it was incense unblended with stench.
“Mon dieu!” cried the Emperor, “how is all this come about? Where in the world is Piche?”
“Piche?” replied the Empress. “What does your Majesty mean? Had you not better leave the apartment and retire to rest?”
“Leave the apartment? Why, where am I?”
“In my private drawing-room, surrounded by a few particular persons of the Court whom I had invited this evening to a ball. You entered a few minutes since in your nightdress with your eyes fixed and wide open. I suppose from the astonishment you now testify that you were walking in your sleep.”
The Emperor immediately fell into a fit of catalepsy, in which he continued during the whole of that night and the greater part of the next day.
* Taken from the manuscript of the “Green Dwarf” dated July 10, 1833 – September 2, 1833, and republished in The Twelve Adventurers and other stories, London, 1925.
The first time I ever met Mr. Tallent was in the late summer of 1906, in a small, lonely inn on the top of a mountain. For natives, rainy days in these places are not very different from other days, since work fills them all, wet or fine. But for the tourist, rainy days are boring. I had been bored for nearly a week, and was thinking of returning to London, when Mr. Tallent came. And because I could not “place” Mr. Tallent, nor elucidate him to my satisfaction, he intrigued me. For a barrister should be able to sum up men in a few minutes.
I did not see Mr. Tallent arrive, nor did I observe him entering the room. I looked up, and he was there, in the small firelit parlour with its Bible, wool mats and copper preserving pan. He was reading a manuscript, slightly moving his lips as he read. He was a gentle, moth-like man, very lean and about six foot three or more. He had neutral-coloured hair and eyes, a nondescript suit, limp-looking hands and slightly turned-up toes. The most noticeable thing about him was an expression of passive and enduring obstinacy.
I wished him good evening, and asked if he had a paper, as he seemed to have come from civilization.
“No,” he said softly, “no. Only a little manuscript of my own.”
Now, as a rule I am as wary of manuscripts as a hare is of greyhounds. Having once been a critic, I am always liable to receive parcels of these for advice. So I might have saved myself and a dozen or so of other people from what turned out to be a terrible, an appalling, incubus. But the day had been so dull, and having exhausted Old Moore and sampled the Imprecatory Psalms, I had nothing else to read. So I said, “Your own?”
“Even so,” replied Mr. Tallent modestly.
“May I have the privilege?” I queried, knowing he intended me to have it.
“How kind!” he exclaimed. “A stranger, knowing nothing of my hopes and aims, yet willing to undertake so onerous a task.”
“Not at all!” I replied, with a nervous chuckle.
“I think,” he murmured, drawing near and, as it were, taking possession of me, looming above me with his great height, “it might be best for me to read it to you. I am considered to have rather a fine reading voice.”
I said I should be delighted, reflecting that supper could not very well be later than nine. I knew I should not like the reading.
He stood before the cloth-draped mantelpiece.
“This,” he said, “shall be my rostrum.” Then he read.
I wish I could describe to you that slow, expressionless, unstoppable voice. It was a voice for which at the time I could find no comparison. Now I know that it was like the voice of the loud speaker in a dull subject. At first one listened, taking in even the sense of the words. I took in all the first six chapters, which were unbelievably dull. I got all the scenery, characters, undramatic events clearly marshalled. I imagined that something would, in time, happen. I thought the characters were going to develop, do fearful things or great and holy deeds. But they did nothing. Nothing happened. The book was flat, formless, yet not vital enough to be inchoate. It was just a meandering expression of a negative personality, with a plethora of muted, borrowed, stale ideas. He always said what one expected him to say. One knew what all his people would do. One waited for the culminating platitude as for an expected twinge of toothache. I thought he would pause after a time, for even the most arrogant usually do that, apologising and at the same time obviously waiting for one to say, “Do go on, please.’’
This was not necessary in his case. In fact, it was impossible. The slow, monotonous voice went on without a pause, with the terrible tirelessness of a gramophone. I longed for him to whisper or shout— anything to relieve the tedium. I tried to think of other things, but he read too distinctly for that. I could neither listen to him nor ignore him. I have never spent such an evening. As luck would have it the little maidservant did not achieve our meal till nearly ten o’clock. The hours dragged on.
At last I said: “Could we have a pause, just for a few minutes?”
“Why?” he enquired.
“For… for discussion,” I weakly murmured.
“Not,” he replied, “at the most exciting moment. Don’t you realise that now, at last, I have worked up my plot to the most dramatic, moment? All the characters are waiting, attent, for the culminating tragedy.”
He went on reading. I went on awaiting the culminating tragedy. But there was no tragedy. My head ached abominably. The voice flowed on, over my senses, the room, the world. I felt as if it would wash me away into eternity. I found myself thinking, quite solemnly:
“If she doesn’t bring supper soon, I shall kill him.”
I thought it in the instinctive way in which one thinks it of an earwig or a midge. I took refuge in the consideration how to do it? This was absorbing. It enabled me to detach myself completely from the sense of what he read. I considered all the ways open to me. Strangling. The bread knife on the sideboard. Hanging. I gloated over them, I was beginning to be almost happy, when suddenly the reading stopped.
“She is bringing supper,” he said. “Now we can have a little discussion. Afterwards I will finish the manuscript.”
He did. And after that, he told me all about his will. He said he was leaving all his money for the posthumous publication of his manuscripts. He also said that he would like me to draw up this for him, and to be trustee of the manuscripts.
I said I was too busy. He replied that I could draw up the will to-morrow.
“I’m going to-morrow,” I interpolated passionately.
“You cannot go until the carrier goes in the afternoon,” he triumphed. “Meanwhile, you can draw up the will. After that you need do no more. You can pay a critic to read the manuscripts. You can pay a publisher to publish them. And I in them shall be remembered.”
He added that if I still had doubts as to their literary worth, he would read me another.
I gave in. Would anyone else have done differently? I drew up the will, left an address where he could send his stuff, and left the inn.
“Thank God!” I breathed devoutly, as the turn of the lane hid him from view. He was standing on the doorstep, beginning to read what he called a pastoral to a big cattle-dealer who had called for a pint of bitter. I smiled to think how much more he would get than he had bargained for.
After that, I forgot Mr. Tallent. I heard nothing more of him for some years. Occasionally I glanced down the lists of books to see if anybody else had relieved me of my task by publishing Mr. Tallent. But nobody had.
It was about ten years later, when I was in hospital with a “Blighty” wound, that I met Mr. Tallent again. I was convalescent, sitting in the sun with some other chaps, when the door opened softly, and Mr. Tallent stole in. He read to us for two hours. He remembered me, and had a good deal to say about coincidence. When he had gone, I said to the nurse, ‘’If you let that fellow in again while I’m here. I’ll kill him.”
She laughed a good deal, but the other chaps all agreed with me, and as a matter of fact, he never did come again.
Not long after this I saw the notice of his death in the paper.
“Poor chap!” I thought, “he’s been reading too much. Somebody’s patience has given out. Well, he won’t ever be able to read to me again.”
Then I remembered the manuscripts, realising that, if he had been as good as his word, my troubles had only just begun.
And it was so.
First came the usual kind of letter from a solicitor in the town where he had lived. Next I had a call from the said solicitor’s clerk, who brought a large tin box.
“The relations,” he said, “of the deceased are extremely angry. Nothing has been left to them. They say that the manuscripts are worthless, and that the living have rights.”
I asked how they knew that the manuscripts were worthless.
“It appears, sir, that Mr. Tallent has, from time to time, read these aloud –”
I managed to conceal a grin.
“And they claim, sir, to share equally with the—er – manuscripts. They threaten to take proceedings, and have been getting legal opinions as to the advisability of demanding an investigation of the material you have.”
I looked at the box. There was an air of Joanna Southcott about it.
I asked if it were full.
“Quite, sir. Typed MSS. Very neatly done.”
He produced the key, a copy of the will, and a sealed letter.
I took the box home with me that evening. Fortified by dinner, a cigar and a glass of port, I considered it. There is an extraordinary air of fatality about a box. For bane or for blessing, it has a perpetual fascination for mankind. A wizard’s coffer, a casket of jewels, the alabaster box of precious nard, a chest of bridal linen, a stone sarcophagus – what a strange mystery is about them all! So when I opened Mr. Tallent’s box, I felt like somebody letting loose a genie. And indeed I was. I had already perused the will and the letter, and discovered that the fortune was moderately large. The letter merely repeated what Mr. Tallent had told me. I glanced at some of the manuscripts. Immediately the room seemed full of Mr. Tallent’s presence and his voice. I looked towards the now dusky corners of the room as if he might be looming there. As I ran through more of the papers, I realised that what Mr. Tallent had chosen to read to me had been the best of them. I looked up Johnson’s telephone number and asked him to come round. He is the kind of chap who never makes any money. He is a freelance journalist with a conscience. I knew he would be glad of the job.
He came round at once. He eyed the manuscripts with rapture. For at heart he is a critic, and has the eternal hope of unearthing a masterpiece.
“You had better take a dozen at a time, and keep a record,” I said. “Verdict at the end.”
“Will it depend on me whether they are published?”
“Which are published,” I said. “Some will have to be. The will says so.”
“But if I found them all worthless, the poor beggars would get more of the cash? Damnable to be without cash.”
“I shall have to look into that. I am not sure if it is legally possible. What, for instance, is the standard?”
“I shall create the standard,” said Johnson rather haughtily. “Of course, if I find a masterpiece –”
“If you find a masterpiece, my dear chap,’’ I said, “I’ll give you a hundred pounds.”
He asked if I had thought of a publisher. I said I had decided on Jukes, since no book, however bad, could make his reputation worse than it was, and the money might save his credit.
“Is that quite fair to poor Tallent?” he asked. Mr. Tallent had already got hold of him.
“If,” I said as a parting benediction, “you wish you had never gone into it (as, when yon have put your hand to the plough, you will), remember that at least they were never read aloud to you, and be thankful.”
Nothing occurred for a week. Then letters began to come from Mr. Tallent’s relations. They were a prolific family. They were all very poor, very angry and intensely uninterested in literature. They wrote from all kinds of view-points, in all kinds of styles. They were, however, all alike in two things—the complete absence of literary excellence and legal exactitude.
It took an increasing time daily to read and answer these. If I gave them any hope, I at once felt Mr. Tallent’s hovering presence, mute, anxious, hurt. If I gave no hope, I got a solicitor’s letter by return of post. Nobody but myself seemed to feel the pathos of Mr. Tallent’s ambitions and dreams. I was notified that proceedings were going to be taken by firms all over England. Money was being recklessly spent to rob Mr. Tallent of his immortality, but it appeared, later, that Mr. Tallent could take care of himself.
When Johnson came for more of the contents of the box, he said that there was no sign of a masterpiece yet, and that they were as bad as they well could be.
“A pathetic chap, Tallent,” he said.
“Don’t, for God’s sake, my dear chap, let him get at you,” I implored him. “Don’t give way. He’ll haunt you, as he’s haunting me, with that abominable pathos of his. I think of him and his box continually just as one does of a life and death plea. If I sit by my own fireside, I can hear him reading. When I am just going to sleep, I dream that he is looming over me like an immense, wan moth. If I forget him for a little while, a letter comes from one of his unutterable relations and recalls me. Be wary of Tallent.”
Needless to tell you that he did not take my advice. By the time he had finished the box, he was as much under Tallent’s thumb as I was. Bitterly disappointed that there was no masterpiece, he was still loyal to the writer, yet he was emotionally harrowed by the pitiful letters that the relations were now sending to all the papers.
“I dreamed,” he said to me one day (Johnson always says “dreamed”, because he is a critic and considers it the elegant form of expression), “I dreamed that poor Tallent appeared to me in the watches of the night and told me exactly how each of his things came to him. He said they came like ‘Kubla Khan’.”
I said it must have taken all night.
“It did,” he replied. “And it has made me dislike a masterpiece.”
I asked him if he intended to be present at the general meeting.
“Yes. Things have got to such a pitch that we have had to call one. There will be about a hundred people. I shall have to entertain them to a meal afterwards. I can’t very well charge it up to the account of the deceased.”
“Gosh! It’ll cost a pretty penny.”
“It will. But perhaps we shall settle something. I shall be thankful.”
“You’re not looking well, old chap,” he said, “Worn, you seem.”
“I am,” I said. “Tallent is ever with me. Will you come?”
“Rather. But I don’t know what to say.”
“The truth, the Whole truth—”
“But it’s so awful to think of that poor soul spending his whole life on those damned… and then that they should never see the light of day.”
“Worse that they should. Much worse.”
“My dear chap, what a confounded position!”
“If I had foreseen how confounded,” I said, “I’d have strangled the fellow on the top of that mountain. I have had to get to clerks to deal with the correspondence. I get no rest. All night I dream of Tallent. And now I hear that a consumptive relation of his has died of disappointment at not getting any of the money, and his wife has written me a wild letter threatening to accuse me of manslaughter. Of course that’s all stuff, but it shows what a hysterical state everybody’s in. I feel pretty well done for.”
“You’d feel worse if you’d read the boxful.”
We had a stormy meeting. It was obvious that the people did need the money. They were the sort of struggling, under-vitalised folk who always do need it. Children were waiting for a chance in life, old people were waiting to be saved from death a little longer, middle-aged people were waiting to set themselves up in business or buy snug little houses. And there was Tallent, out of it all, in a spiritual existence, not needing beef and bread any more, deliberately keeping it from them.
As I thought this, I distinctly saw Tallent pass the window of the room I had hired for the occasion. I stood up; I pointed; I cried out to them to follow him. The very man himself.
Johnson came to me.
“Steady, old man,” he said. “You’re overstrained.”
“But I did see him,” I said. “The very man. The cause of all the mischief. If I could only get my hands on him!”
A medical man who had married one of Tallent’s sisters said that these hallucinations were very common, and that I was evidently not a fit person to have charge of the money. This brought me a ray of hope, till that ass Johnson contradicted him, saying foolish things about my career. And a diversion was caused by a tremulous old lady calling out, ‘’The Church! The Church! Consult the Church! There’s something in the Bible about it, only I can’t call it to mind at the moment. Has anybody got a Bible?”
A clerical nephew produced a pocket New Testament, and it transpired that what she had meant was, “Take ten talents.”
“If I could take one, madam,” I said, “it would be enough.’’
“It speaks of that too,” she replied triumphantly. “Listen! ‘If any man have one talent…’ Oh, there’s everything in the Bible!’’
“Let us,” remarked one of the thirteen solicitors, ‘’get to business. Whether it’s in the Bible or not, whether Mr. Tallent went past the window or not, the legality or illegality, of what we propose is not affected. Facts are facts. The deceased is dead. You’ve got the money. We want it.”
“I devoutly wish you’d got it,” I said, “and that Tallent was haunting you instead of me.”
The meeting lasted four hours. The wildest ideas were put forward. One or two sporting cousins of the deceased suggested a decision by games-representatives of the would-be beneficiaries and representatives of the manuscript. They were unable to see that this could not affect the legal aspect. Johnson was asked for his opinion. He said that from a critic’s point of view the MSS. were balderdash. Everybody looked kindly upon him. But just as he was sunning himself in this atmosphere, and trying to forget Tallent, an immense lady, like Boadicea, advanced upon him, towering over him in a hostile manner.
“I haven’t read the books, and I’m not going to,” she said, “but I take exception to that word balderdash, sir, and I consider it libellous. Let me tell you, I brought Mr. Tallent into the world!” I looked at her with awesome wonder. She had brought that portent into the world! But how… whom had she persuaded?… I pulled myself up. And as I turned away from the contemplation of Boadicea, I saw Tallent pass the window again.
I rushed forward and tried to push up the sash. But the place was built for meetings, not for humanity, and it would not open. I seized the poker, intending to smash the glass. I suppose I must have looked rather mad, and as everybody else had been too intent on business to look out of the window, nobody believed that I had seen anything.
“You might just go round to the nearest chemist’s and get some bromide,” said the doctor to Johnson. “He’s over-wrought.”
Johnson, who was thankful to escape Boadicea, went with alacrity.
The meeting was, however, over at last. A resolution was passed that we should try to arrange things out of court. We were to take the opinions of six eminent lawyers-judges preferably. We were also to submit what Johnson thought the best story to a distinguished critic. According to what they said we were to divide the money up or leave things as they were.
I felt very much discouraged as I walked home. All these opinions would entail much work and expense. There seemed no end to it.
“Damn the man!” I muttered, as I turned the corner into the square in which I live. And there, just the width of the square away from me, was the man himself. I could almost have wept. What had I done that the gods should play with me thus?
I hurried forward, but he was walking fast, and in a moment he turned down a side-street. When I got to the corner, the street was empty. After this, hardly a day passed without my seeing Tallent. It made me horribly jumpy and nervous, and the fear of madness began to prey on my mind. Meanwhile, the business went on. It was finally decided that half the money should be divided among the relations. Now I thought there would be peace, and for a time there was—comparatively.
But it was only about a month from this date that I heard from one of the solicitors to say that a strange and disquieting thing had happened – two of the beneficiaries were haunted by Mr. Tallent to such an extent that their reason was in danger. I wrote to ask what form the haunting took. He said they continually heard Mr. Tallent reading aloud from his works. Wherever they were in the house, they still heard him. I wondered if he would begin reading to me soon. So far it had only been visions. If he began to read…
In a few months I heard that both the relations who were haunted had been taken to an asylum. ־While they were in the asylum they heard nothing. But, some time after, on being certified as cured and released, they heard the reading again, and had to go back. Gradually the same thing happened to others, but only to one or two at a time.
During the long winter, two years after his death, it began to happen to me.
I immediately went to a specialist, who said there was acute nervous prostration, and recommended a “home־’. But I refused. I would fight Tallent to the last. Six of the beneficiaries were now in “homes”, and every penny of the money they had had was used up.
I considered things. “Bell, book and candle” seemed to be what was required. But how, when, where to find him? I consulted a spiritualist, a priest and a woman who has more intuitive perception than anyone I know. From their advice I made my plans. But it was Lesbia who saved me.
“Get a man who can run to go about with you,” she said. “The moment He appeal’s, let your companion rush round by a side-street and cut him off.”
“But how will that – ?”
“Never mind. I know what I think.”
She gave me a wise little smile.
I did what she advised, but it was not till my patience was nearly exhausted that I saw Tallent again. The reading went on, but only in the evenings when I was alone, and at night. I asked people in evening after evening. But when I got into bed, it began.
Johnson suggested that I should get married.
“What?” I said, ‘’offer a woman a ruined nervous system, a threatened home, and a possible end in an asylum?”
“There’s one woman who would jump at it. I love my love with an L.”
“Don’t be an ass,” I said. I felt in no mood for jokes. All I wanted was to get things cleared up.
About three years after Tallent’s death, my companion and I, going out rather earlier than usual, saw him hastening down a long road which had no side-streets leading out of it. As luck would have it, an empty taxi passed US. I shouted. We got in. Just in front of Tallent’s ghost we stopped, leapt out, and flung ourselves upon him.
“My God!” I cried. “He’s solid’:
He was perfectly solid, and not a little alarmed.
We put him into the taxi and took him to my house.
“Now, Tallent!’’ I said, “you will answer for what you have done.”
He looked scared, but dreamy.
“Why aren’t you dead?” was my next question.
He seemed hurt.
“I never died,” he replied softly.
”It was in the papers.”
“I put it in. I was in America. It was quite easy.”
“And that continual haunting of me, and the wicked driving of your unfortunate relations into asylums?” I was working myself into a rage. “Do you know how many of them are there now?”
“Yes. I know. Very interesting.”
“It was in a great cause,” he said. “Possibly you didn’t grasp that I was a progressive psycho-analyst, and that I did not take those novels of mine seriously. In fact, they were just part of the experiment.”
“In heaven’s name, what experiment?”
“The plural would be better, really,” he said, “for there were many experiments.”
“But what for, you damned old blackguard?” I shouted.
“For my magnum opus he said modestly.
“And what is your abominable magnum opus, you wicked old man?”
“It will be famous all over the world,” he said complacently. “All this has given me exceptional opportunities. It was so easy to get into my relations’ houses and experiment with them. It was regrettable, though, that I could not follow them to the asylum.”
This evidently worried him far more than the trouble he had caused. So it was you reading, every time?”
“And it was you who went past the window of that horrible room when we discussed your will?”
“Yes. A most gratifying spectacle!”
“And now, you old scoundrel, before I decide what to do with you,” I said, “what is the magnum opus?”
“It is a treatise,” he said, with the pleased expression that made me so wild. “A treatise that will eclipse all former work in that field, and its title is – ‘An Exhaustive Enquiry, with numerous Experiments, into the Power of Human Endurance’.”
Well now, esteemed readers, I am now in Ōsaka and shall therefore relate a local story.
Long ago there was a man who came to the city to seek a position as a menial. Ranking as he did among the kitchen help, he is known only by the generic name of Gonsuke.
Gonsuke passed through the entrance curtain of a servants’ registry agency and spoke to the head clerk, sitting atop the reception dais with a long-stemmed pipe in his mouth.
“Sir, I should very much like to become a wizard and so beseech you to place me with an employer suitable to that end.”
When the astonished clerk did not immediately reply, Gonsuke continued:
“Sir, have you not heard me? I wish to be sent out to become a wizard.”
“I am sorry to say, my good man,” replied the clerk at last, still puffing on his pipe, “that as we have no prior experience in mediating the apprenticeships of would-be wizards, I must humbly suggest that you look elsewhere.”
“Ah, but sir,” protested Gonsuke, looking most displeased, as he edged forward on the knees of his grey-blue trousers. “Is what you have said not contrary to what your esteemed establishment proclaims on its entrance curtain? ‘Introducing all manner of employment’…Is your claim valid? Or is it misleading and false?”
Gonsuke did indeed have reason to be angry.
“Oh no, what we say is quite true. If what you are seeking is a position whereby you may become wizard, I shall duly look into the matter this very day. Please return tomorrow to receive our reply.”
In this way the head clerk acceded to Gonsuke’s request, even as he sought to evade it. Yet how was he to know where he would send a man for such an apprenticeship or how anyone could be properly trained in such sorcery? Thus, as soon as Gonsuke was out of his sight, he set off to consult with a neighborhood physician.
“What then, Doctor?” he asked in a worried tone, having told him the story. “Where might we most easily send him for training as a wizard?”
The physician too must have been perplexed. For some time he sat with his arms crossed, merely staring at the pine tree in his garden. Listening in on it all was his cunning wife, whose nickname was appropriately the Old Vixen. And now she unhesitatingly intruded:
“Send him to us. Within two or three years in our care, he’ll surely be a wizard for all the world to see.”
“Ah, I am most happy to hear this and shall most gratefully entrust him to you. Intuition has somehow informed me of the karmic bond between physicians and aspiring wizards.
With ardent and repeated bows, the clerk in his ignorant bliss took his leave. The physician watched him go, then, still scowling, turned to his wife in exasperation:
“What utter nonsense! ” he chided her. “And what, pray tell, do you intend to do when in a few scant years this bumpkin complains that we have kept none of the promise you have now made to him?”
Far from accepting this rebuke, the woman scornfully replied:
“Hold your tongue! What chance would the likes of you, honest simpleton, have of keeping yourself fed in this merciless world of ours?”
And with that she silenced him.
The next day, as promised, the head clerk returned, this time with the rustic Gonsuke, who was now attired in a crested half-coat—well aware, it would seem, that he was making his debut, though, in fact, none would have mistaken him for anything but a peaant. He was a strange sight indeed: The physician stared at him quite as though the man were a musky beast from the Indies.
“So you wish to become a wizard,” said the physician with a skeptical air. “Whatever was it that induced this ambition of yours?”
“Well now, I am not sure that know myself. But as I beheld Ōsaka Castle, it occurred to me that even the Great Lord who first built and occupied it was doomed to die. And so I was reminded that the pomp and glory of all human striving must pass away.”
“So you will do anything in order to become a wizard?”
The doctor’s sly spouse had promptly intervened.
“Yes indeed, I am prepared to do whatever is required.”
“Then from this very moment and for the next twenty years you will serve us. And then we shall reveal to you the wizard’s art.”
“Ah, then I am most truly and humbly grateful.”
“And in that entire score of years you shall receive not a single farthing in recompense.”
“Yes, yes. You have my compliance.”
And so for the following twenty years, Gonsuke served in the physician’s house. He drew water; he chopped wood. He cooked and he cleaned. Moreover, when the doctor made his rounds, it was Gonsuke who bore the medicine chest. Not once did he ask for wages, not even a single coin, and thus made himself a laborer more precious than one could find in all of Japan.
And now the decades passed. Once again clad in a crested half-coat, Gonsuke presented himself to his master and mistress and courteously expressed his thanks.
“And now I would beseech you to fulfill your oft-repeated promise and reveal to me how I might learn the wizard’s art and thereby gain immortality.”
The physican listened to Gonsuke in glum silence. Having worked the man for so long without payment, he dared not confess that he was presently no more possesed of knowledge concerning wizardry than he had been all those years before.
His reply was brusque and dismissive: “It is my wife who can teach you.”
For her part, she now spoke to him with ruthless self-assurance:
“I shall teach you the art of wizardry, but in exchange you must do whatever I command, however difficult the task I shall give you may be. Otherwise, you will not only be denied what you seek. You will also be obliged to perform twenty more years of labor for no wages, with death as your punishment should you fail to comply.”
“Please put me to my duty, however daunting!” replied the overjoyed Gonsuke, as he awaited her orders.
“Then climb the pine tree in the garden!”
Having herself no knowledge of wizardry, the wife no doubt thought that in forcing Gonsuke to do the impossible she could extract another twenty years of service from him. And yet hearing of his assignment, he immediately went forth to carry it out.
“Go on!” she called out to him, looking up at the pine from where she stood at the edge of the veranda. “Higher, higher!” Gonsuke’s half-coat was now fluttering at the very top of the large garden’s towering tree.
“Now release your right hand!”
Gonsuke slowly and cautiously did as he was told, even as he kept his left hand tightly gripped to a thick bough.
“And now the other!”
But now the doctor had joined her on the veranda, exclaiming with a distraught look: “Stop, woman! If he releases both hands, the bumpkin will fall onto the rocks, and that will surely be the end of him.”
“This is not your turn on stage, my dear. Leave it to me…”
“Let your left hand go!”
Gonsuke did not wait for her to finish calling out to him. Resolutely, he pulled his hand away. From there amidst the the topmost boughs there was no reason for him not to plunge to the ground. Instantly, Gonsuke and his half-coat were separated from the tree.
And yet, wondrously enough, he did not fall but, like a marionette being held by invisible strings, remained suspended there in the bright air of day.
“Thank you! Thank you!” Gonsuke called out. “At last, and all because of you, I have now indeed become a wizard!”
Bowing ever so deferentially, he gently trod the azure sky and rose into the clouds above.
The subsequent fate of the physician and his wife is quite unknown, though the pine tree in the garden endured for years thereafter. It is said that though the trunk alone was four armspans in circumference, Yodoya Tatsugorō went to the trouble of having it moved to his own garden, so that in winter he might gaze upon its snow-covered branches.
Margaret Mahuntleth, in the corner of the big settle, basked in the hearth-glow like one newly come to heaven. Warm light reddened her knitted shawl, her white apron, and her face, worn and frail. It was as if the mortal part of it had been beaten thin by the rains and snows of long roads, baked, like fine enamel, by many suns, so that it had a concave look – as though hollowed out of mother o’ pearl. Some faces gather wrinkles with the years, like seamed rocks on mountains, others only become, like stones in a brook, smoother, though frailer, in the conflicting currents. Margaret’s was one of these. And though she was a bit of a has-been, yet her face, as it shone from the dark settle-back, seemed young and almost angelic in its irrefragable happiness. For Marg’ret had never dreamed (no, not for an instant!) as she fought her way to Thresholds Farm through weather that made her whole being seem a hollow shell, that she would be invited into the kitchen. Usually she did her work in the barn. For Marg’ret was a chair-mender.
She travelled, on her small birdlike feet, all over the county, carrying her long bundle of rushes. With these she mended chairs at farms and cottages and even in the kitchens of rectories and in parish rooms and at the backs of churches where the people from the almshouses sat. She mended chairs mostly for other people to draw up to glowing fires and well-spread tables. She made them very flawless for weddings. For funerals she made them strong, because the people who attend funerals are generally older than those who attend weddings, and the weight of years is on them, and they have gathered to themselves, like the caddis worm, a mass of extraneous substance.
For dances Marg’ret also made them strong, knowing that in the intervals young women of some twelve stone would subside upon the knees of stalwarts rising fifteen stone.
Marg’ret knew all about it. She had been to some of the dances years ago, but people forgot to ask her to dance. Her faint tints, her soft, sad, downcast eye, her sober dress, all combined with her personality to make her fade into any background. She was always conscious, too, of the disgrace of being only a chair-mender; of not being the gardener’s daughter at the Hall, or Rectory-Lucy. So people forgot she was there, and she even forgot she was there herself.
She worked hard. She could make butter-baskets and poultry-baskets through which not the most centrifugal half-dozen fowls could do more than insinuate anxious heads. She could make children’s ornamental basket-chairs, and she could do the close wicker-work of rocking-chairs for nursing-mothers. Winter and summer she tramped from place to place, over frozen roads and dusty roads and all the other kinds of roads, calling at farms with her timid knock and her faint, cry, plaintive and musical, soon lost on the wind – ‘Chairs to mend!’
Then she would take the chair or basket or mat into the orchard or the barn, and sit at her work through the long green day or the short grey day, plaiting with her pale, hollow hands. Within doors she never thought of going. She would have been the first to deprecate sheeding rushes all o’er. The warm kitchen was a Paradise to which she, a Peri, did not pretend. Its furnishings she knew intimately, but she knew them as a church-cleaner might know the altar and its chalices, being, if such a thing were possible, excommunicated. Under the bowl of the sky, across the valleys she came, did her work featly as an elf, and was gone, as if the swift airs had blown her away with the curled may-petals of spring, the curved leaves of autumn.
If night drew on before she had done her work, she would sleep in the hayloft. Nobody inquired where she usually slept, any more than they concerned themselves about the squirrel that ran along the fence and was away, or the thistledown that floated along the blue sky.
So Marg’ret had never dreamed of being invited to the hearth-place. It was the most wonderful thing. Outside, the wan snowflakes battered themselves upon the panes like birds, dying. The night had come, black, inevitable, long. And to those who have no house the night is a wild beast. In every chimney a hollow wind spoke its uncontent. There were many chimneys at Thresholds Farm. It was a great place, and the master was a man well-thought-of, rich.
Marg’ret trembled to think she was here in the same room with him. He might even speak to her. He sat on the other side of the hearth while the servant-girl laid tea – the knife-and-fork tea of farms, with beef and bacon and potatoes. A tea to remember.
He sat leaning forward, his broad, knotted hands on his knees, staring into the fire. The girl slammed the teapot down on the table and said–
‘Yer tea, master.’
Marg’ret got up. She supposed it was time now for her to creep to bed in the hospitable loft, after a kindly cup of tea in the back kitchen. It had been wonderful, sitting here – just sitting quietly enjoying the rest and the dignity of the solid furniture and the bright fingers of the firelight touching here a willow-pattern plate and there a piece of copper. It was one of those marvellous half-hours of a life-time, which blossom on even to the grave, and maybe afterwards. She had never dreamed–
She softly crept toward the door, but as she went the master lifted his gloomy, chestnut-coloured eyes under their thatch of grizzled hair, and so transfixed her. She could not move with that brown fire upon her, engulfing her. So he always looked when he was deeply stirred. So he had looked down at his father’s coffin long ago, at his mother’s last year. So he had looked into the eyes of his favourite dog, dying in his arms. The look was the realization of the infinite within the finite, altering all values. Never once in all fifteen years during which she had been calling here had he seemed to look at Marg’ret at all.
In the almost ferocious intensity of the look she felt faint. Her face seemed like a fragile cup made to hold an unexpressed passion which was within his soul, which must find room for itself somewhere, as the great bore of water that rushes up a river must find room, some valley, some dimple where it may rest, where it may spread its strangled magnificence. She stood. Firelight filled her hollow palms; her apron, gathered in nervous fingers, so that it looked like a gleaner’s ready to carry grain; the pale shell of her face.
The servant-girl, perturbed by some gathering emotion that had come upon the kitchen, remained with a hand on the teapot-handle, transfixed. Marg’ret trembled, saying no word. How shall a conch-shell make music unless one lends it a voice? She was of the many human beings that wait on the shores of life for the voice which so often never comes.
Suddenly the master of the house said loudly, with his eyes still hard upon her–
It was as if the word burst a dam within him.
Her being received it.
‘Bide the night over,’ he added, in the same strange thunderous voice.
She took that also into her soul.
‘And all the nights,’ he finished, and a great calm fell upon him. It had taken all the years of his life till now for the flood to find its valley.
Then seeing that she stood as mute and still as ever, he said–
‘Coom then, take bite and sup.’
And when she was seated, like a half-thawed winter dormouse at its first feast, he said to the servant-girl, who still remained holding the Britannia-metal teapot (which seemed to mock Marg’ret with its inordinate convexity)–
‘Make a bed for the Missus!’
He was determined that no misunderstanding should vex his new-found peace, and when the girl had gone, breathing hard like an exhausted swimmer, he remained staring at Marg’ret in a kind of hunger for giving. And she, perfectly receptive, empty-handed as a Peri, let his flaming eyes dwell on her face, let his fire and his food hearten her, and so gave him her charity. And this was how Marg’ret Mahuntleth, the poor chair-mender, without will of her own or desert of her own, as far as she could see, came to be the mistress of the house and lawful wife of the master of Thresholds.
Lately, on the night before Whit Sunday, I dreamed that I was standing before a mirror, occupying myself with my new summer suit, which my parents had had made against the approaching festival. The dress consisted, as you well know, of shoes of nice leather, with great silver buckles, fine cotton stockings, breeches of black serge, and a coat of green barracan, with gold buttons. The waistcoat, of gold-stuff, had been cut out of the one worn by my father on his wedding-day. My hair was dressed and powdered, my curls stood upon my head like little wings,—but I could not finish dressing myself; for I continually changed the articles of wearing apparel, and the first always dropped off when I was about to put on the second. While I was thus embarrassed, a handsome young man came up to me, and greeted me in the kindest manner. “Welcome,” said I, “it gives me great pleasure to see you here.”—”Do you know me then?” asked he, smiling. “Why not?” I replied, smiling in my turn. “You are Mercury, and I have often enough seen pictures of you.”—”I am, indeed,” said he, “and I have been sent to you by the gods on an important mission. Do you see these three apples?” stretching out his hand, he showed me three apples, which from their size he could scarcely hold, and which were as wonderfully beautiful as they were large. One was green, another yellow, and the third red, and they looked like precious stones, to which the shape of fruit had been given. I wished to take them, but he drew me back, saying, “You must first know, that they are not for you. You are to give them to the three handsomest young persons in the town, who will, every one according to his lot, find wives to their heart’s content. There, take them and manage the matter well,” he added, as he quitted me, and placed the apples in my open hand. They seemed to me to have become even larger than they were before. I held them against the light, and found they were quite transparent, but soon they grew taller, and at last became three pretty—very pretty little ladies, of the height of a moderate-sized doll, with dresses of the colours of the apples. In this form they glided softly up my fingers, and when I was about to make a catch at them, that I might secure one at least, they soared up far away, so that I could do nothing but look after them. There I stood quite astounded and petrified, with my hands high in the air, and still staring at my fingers, as if their was something to be seen upon them. All of a sudden I perceived upon the very tips a charming little girl, very pretty and lively, though smaller than the others. As she did not fly away, like them, but remained with me, and danced about, now on this finger, now on that, I looked at her for some time, in a state of astonishment. She pleased me so much, that I fancied I might catch her, and was just on the point of making a grasp—as I thought very cleverly—when I felt a blow on the head, that caused me to fall completely stunned, and did not awaken from the stupor it occasioned till it was time to dress and go to church.
I often recalled the images to my mind during divine service, and at my grandfather’s table where I dined. In the afternoon I went to visit some friends, both because such visits were due, and because I wished to show myself in my new clothes, with my hat under my arm and my sword by my side. Finding no one at home, and hearing that they were all gone to the gardens, I resolved to follow them, intending to pass a pleasant evening. My way led me along the town wall, and I soon came to the spot which is called the “evil wall,” and rightly enough, for there is reason to believe it is always haunted. Walking slowly along, I thought of my three goddesses, and still more of the little nymph, and often held my fingers up in the air in the hope that she would be kind enough to balance herself upon them once more. As I proceeded, occupied with these thoughts, I discerned in the wall, on my left hand, a little wicket which I did not remember to have perceived before. It appeared low, but the pointed arch was such as to afford room for the tallest man to enter. The arch and the wall on either side had been most richly carved by the mason and the sculptor, but my attention was most attracted by the door itself. The old brown wood of which it was made had been but little ornamented, but broad bands of brass were attached to it, worked both in relief and in intaglio. The foliage which was represented on this brass, and on which the most natural birds were sitting, I could not sufficiently admire. I was, however, most surprised at seeing no keyhole, no latch, no knocker, and from the absence of these I surmised that the door only opened from within. I was not mistaken, for when I went close to it, to feel the carved work, it opened inwards, and a man, whose dress was somewhat long, wide, and altogether singular, appeared before me. A venerable beard flowed about his chin, and I was, therefore, inclined to take him for a Jew. As if he had divined my thoughts he made the sign of the holy cross, thereby giving me to understand that he was a good Catholic Christian. “Young gentleman, how did you come here, and what are you doing?” said he, with friendly voice and gesture. “I am admiring the work of this door,” I replied, “for I have never seen any thing like it, except, perhaps, in small pieces, in the collection of amateurs.” “I am delighted,” said he, “that you take pleasure in such work. The door is still more beautiful on the inner side, pray walk in if you choose.” This affair made me feel somewhat uncomfortable. I felt embarrassed by the strange dress of the porter, by the retired situation of the place, and a certain indescribable something in the air. I paused, therefore, under the pretext of looking longer at the outside, and at the same time cast furtive glances at the garden—for a garden it was which had just been opened to me. Immediately behind the gate I saw a space completely shaded by the closely entwined branches of some old linden trees, which had been planted at regular intervals, so that the most numerous assembly might have rested there during the most intense heat of the day. I had already set my foot on the threshold, and the old man was well able to lure me on a step further. Indeed I made no resistance, for I had always heard that a prince or sultan, in such cases, must never ask whether there is any danger. Had I not my sword by my side, and could I not soon get the better of the old man if he took a hostile position? I therefore walked in with confidence, and the porter shut the gate so softly that I could hardly hear the sound. He then showed the work on the inside, which was certainly much superior to that without, and explained it, giving indications of the greatest kindness towards me. My mind being completely set at rest I allowed myself to be led further along the shady space by the wall which circled the garden, and found much to admire. Niches, artificially adorned with shells, coral, and pieces of ore, poured from Tritons’ mouths copious streams of water into marble basins. Between them were aviaries and other pieces of lattice-work, in which there were squirrels hopping about, guinea-pigs running backwards and forwards, and, in short, all the pretty little creatures that one could desire. The birds cried and sung to us as we went along; the starlings, in particular, prated after us the most absurd stuff, one always calling out “Paris, Paris,” and the other “Narcissus, Narcissus,” as plain as any schoolboy. The old man seemed to look at me more seriously whenever the birds uttered this, but I pretended not to mind it, and indeed had no time to attend to him, for I could clearly perceive that we were walking round and that this shady place was in fact a large circle, which inclosed another of far more importance. We had again come to the little door, and it seemed to me as if the old man wished to dismiss me; but my eyes remained fixed on a golden railing which seemed to inclose the middle of this wonderful garden, and which in my walk I had found an opportunity of observing sufficiently, although the old man always contrived to keep me close to the wall, and, therefore, pretty far from the centre. As he was going up to the gate I said to him, with a bow: “You have been so exceedingly civil to me that I can venture to make another request before I leave you. May I not look closer at that golden railing, which seems to encircle the inner part of the garden?” “Certainly,” said he, “but then you must submit to certain conditions.” “In what do they consist?” I asked, quickly. “You must leave your hat and sword here, and must not quit my hand as I accompany you.” “To that I consent readily enough,” said I, and I laid my hat and sword on the first stone bench that came in my way. Upon this he at once seized my left hand in his right, held it fast, and, with some degree of force, led me straight on. When we came to the railing, my surprise was increased to overwhelming astonishment; any thing like it I had never seen. On a high socle of marble countless spears and partisans stood in a row, and were joined together by their upper ends, which were singularly ornamented. Peeping through the interstices I saw behind this railing a piece of water which flowed gently along, with marble on each side of it, and in the clear depths of which a great number of gold and silver fish might be discovered, which now slowly, now swiftly, now singly, now in shoals, were swimming to and fro. I wished much to see the other side of the canal that I might learn how the interior part of the garden was fashioned; but, to my great annoyance, on the other side of the water stood a similar railing, which was so skilfully arranged that, opposite to every space on the side where I stood was placed a spear or a partisan on the other, and thus, with the additional impediment of the other ornaments, it was impossible for one to look through, whatever position one took. Besides, the old man, who kept a fast hold of me, hindered me from moving freely. My curiosity—after all that I had seen—increased more and more, and I plucked up courage to ask the old man whether it was not possible to cross over. “Why not?” said he, “only you must conform to new conditions.” When I asked him what these were, he told me that I must change my dress. I readily consented; he led me back towards the outer wall and into a neat little room, against the walls of which hung dresses of several kinds which seemed to approach the oriental style of costume. I changed my dress quickly, and he put my powdered locks into a many-coloured net, after finally dusting out the powder, to my great horror. Standing before a large mirror I thought I looked prettily enough in my disguise, and liked myself better than in my stiff Sunday clothes. I made gestures and leaps, in imitation of the dancers I had seen on the stage erected at the fair, and while I was doing this I perceived, by chance, the reflection in the glass of a niche that stood behind me. Against its white ground hung three green cords, each twined in a manner which was not very clear to me in the distance. I therefore turned round somewhat hastily and asked the old man about the niche and these cords also. Civilly enough he took one down and showed it to me. It was a cord of green silk of moderate thickness, the ends of which, fastened together by a piece of green leather, cut through in two places, gave it the appearance of being an instrument for no very agreeable purpose. The affair seemed to me somewhat equivocal, and I asked the old man for an explanation. He answered, very quietly and mildly, that the cord was intended for those who abused the confidence which was here readily placed in them. He hung the cord in its place again, and asked me to follow him at once. This time he did not take hold of me, but I walked freely by his side.
My greatest curiosity now was to know where the door could be to pass through the railing, and where the bridge could be to cross the canal, for I had been able to discern nothing of the sort hitherto. I therefore looked at the golden rails very closely, as we hastened close up to them,—when all of a sudden my sight failed me; for the spears, pikes, halberds, and partisans, began quite unexpectedly to rattle and to shake, and this curious movement ended with the points of all being inclined towards each other, just as if two ancient armies, armed with pikes, were preparing for the attack. The confusion before my eyes, the clatter in my ears, was almost insupportable; but the sight became infinitely astonishing, when the spears, laying themselves quite down, covered the whole circle of the canal, and formed the noblest bridge that one can imagine, while the most variegated garden was revealed to my view. It was divided into beds, which wound about one another, and, seen at once, formed a labyrinth of an ornament. All of these were encompassed by a green border, formed of a short woolly-looking plant, which I had never seen; all were adorned with flowers, every division being of a different colour, and as these likewise grew short, the ground plan was easily traced. This beautiful sight, which I enjoyed in the full sunshine, completely riveted my eyes; but I scarcely knew where I could set my foot, for the winding paths were neatly covered with a blue sand, which seemed to form upon earth a darker sky, or a sky in the water. Therefore, with my eyes fixed upon the ground, I went on for some time by the side of my conductor, until I at length perceived, that in the midst of the circle of beds and flowers, stood another large circle of cypresses, or trees of the poplar kind, through which it was impossible to see, as the lowest boughs seemed to be shooting up from the earth. My conductor, without forcing me straight into the nearest way, nevertheless led me immediately towards that centre; and how was I surprised, when entering the circle of the tall trees, I saw before me the portico of a magnificent summer-house, which seemed to have similar openings and entrances on every side! A heavenly music, which issued from the building, charmed me even more than this perfect specimen of architecture. Now I thought I heard a lute, now a harp, now a guitar, and now a tinkling sound, which was not like that of any of the three instruments. The door which we approached opened at a light touch from the old man, and my amazement was great, when the female porter, who came out, appeared exactly like the little maiden who had danced upon my fingers in my dream. She greeted me as if we were old acquaintances, and asked me to walk in. The old man remained behind, and I went with her along a short passage, which was arched over and beautifully ornamented, till I came to the central hall; the majestic and cathedral-seeming height of which arrested my sight and surprised me, immediately on my entrance. However, my eye could not long remain fixed upwards, as it was soon lured down by a most charming spectacle. On the carpet, immediately beneath the centre of the cupola, sat three ladies, each one forming the corner of a triangle, and each dressed in a different colour. One was in red, another in yellow, the third in green. Their seats were gilded, and the carpet was a perfect bed of flowers. In their arms lay the three instruments, the sounds of which I had distinguished from without, for they had left off playing, being disturbed by my entrance. “Welcome!” said the middle one, who sat with her face towards the door, was dressed in red, and had the harp. “Sit down by Alerte, and listen, if you are fond of music.” I now saw, for the first time, that a tolerably long bench, placed across, with a mandoline upon it, lay before me. The pretty little girl took up the mandoline, seated herself, and drew me to her side. Now I looked at the second lady, who was on my right. She wore the yellow dress, and had a guitar in her hand; and if the harp-player was imposing in her form, grand in her features, and majestic in her deportment, the guitar-player was distinguished by every grace and cheerfulness. She was a slender blonde, while the other was adorned with hair of a dark brown. The variety and accordance of their music did not prevent me from observing the third beauty in the green dress, the tones of whose lute were to me somewhat touching, and at the same time remarkably striking. She it was who seemed to take the greatest notice of me, and to direct her playing towards me. At the same time, I could not tell what to make of her, for she was now tender, now odd, now frank, now capricious, as she altered her gestures and the style of her playing. Sometimes she seemed anxious to move me, and sometimes anxious to tease me. No matter, however, what she did, she gained no advantage over me, for I was quite taken up by my little neighbour, to whom I sat close; and when I perceived plainly enough that the three ladies were the sylphides of my dream, and recognised the colours of the apples, I well understood that I had no reason to secure them. The pretty little creature I would much sooner have seized, had not the box on the ear which she gave me in my dream remained still fresh in my memory. Hitherto she had kept quiet with her mandoline; but when her mistresses had ceased, they ordered her to treat us with a few lively airs. Scarcely had she struck off some dancing melodies in a very exciting style, than she jumped up, and I did the same. She played and danced; I was forced to follow her steps, and we went through a kind of little ballet, at which the ladies seemed to be well pleased, for no sooner had we finished it, than they ordered the little girl to refresh me with something nice before supper. In truth, I had forgotten that there was any thing else in the world beyond this Paradise. Alerte led me back into the passage by which I had entered. On one side, she had two well-furnished apartments, in one of which—the one in which she lived—she served before me oranges, figs, peaches, and grapes, and I tasted the fruits both of foreign lands and of early months, with great appetite. Confectionary was in abundance, and she filled a goblet of polished crystal with sparkling wine; but I had no need of drinking, as I sufficiently refreshed myself with the fruits. “Now we will play,” said she, and took me into the other room. This had the appearance of a Christmas fair, except that such fine, precious things are never to be seen in a booth. There were all sorts of dolls, and dolls’ clothes, and utensils; little kitchens, parlours, and shops; besides single toys in abundance. She led me all round to the glass cases, in which these precious articles were preserved. The first case she soon closed again, saying: “There is nothing for you, I am sure, there,” added she, “we can find building materials, walls, and towers, houses, palaces, and churches to put together a large town. That, however, would be no amusement for me, so we will take something else, that may be equally amusing for both of us.” She then brought out some boxes, in which I saw some little soldiers placed in layers one over the other, and with respect to which I was forced to confess that I had never seen any thing so pretty in my life. She did not leave me time to look closer into particulars, but took one of the boxes under her arm, while I caught up the other. “We will go to the golden bridge,” said she, “for that’s the best place to play at soldiers. The spears point out the direction in which the armies should be placed.” We had now reached the shaking, golden bridge, and I could hear the water ripple, and the fish splash beneath me, as I knelt down to set up my rows of soldiers, which, as I now saw, were all on horseback. She gloried in being the queen of the Amazons, as the leader of her host; while I, on the other hand, found Achilles, and a very fine set of Greek cavalry. The armies stood face to face, and nothing prettier can be conceived. They were not flat leaden horsemen like ours, but man and horse were round and full-bodied, and very finely worked. It was difficult to see how they were able to balance themselves, for they kept up without having a stand.
We had both surveyed our armies with great complacency, when she announced the attack. Besides the soldiers, we had found artillery in our chests—namely, boxes filled with little balls of polished agate. With these we were to shoot at each other’s forces from a certain distance, on the express condition, however, that we were not to throw with greater force than was required to upset the figures, as they were on no account to be injured. The cannonading began from each side, and, at first, to the great delight of both of us. But when my adversary remarked that I took a better aim than she, and that I might end by winning the game, which depended on having the greatest number of men upright, she stepped closer, and her girlish manner of throwing proved successful. A number of my best troops were laid low, and the more I protested, with the greater zeal did she go on throwing. At last I became vexed, and told her that I would do the same. Accordingly, I not only came closer, but in my passion, I threw much harder, so that, in a short time, a couple of her little female centaurs were broken to pieces. Her zeal prevented her from noticing this at once, but I stood petrified with astonishment when the broken figures joined themselves together again, and the Amazon and her horse again became entire; nay, became perfectly alive at the same time, for they galloped from the bridge up to the linden-trees, and after running backwards and forwards, were lost—how I cannot tell—in the direction of the wall. My fair adversary had scarcely perceived this, than she sobbed aloud, and exclaimed that I had caused her an irreparable loss, which was far greater than words could express. I, who had grown enraged, was pleased at doing her an injury, and with blind fury, threw the few agate-balls I still had, among her forces. Unfortunately, I struck the queen, who had been excepted, as long as our game had proceeded in the regular way. She flew to pieces, and her nearest adjutants were shattered at the same time. Soon, however, they joined themselves together again, took their flight like the first, galloped merrily under the lindens, and were lost near the wall.
My adversary reproached and scolded me, but I, having once begun the work of destruction, stooped down to pick up some of the agate balls, which were rolling about the golden spears. My savage wish was to destroy her whole army; while she did not remain inactive, but darting at me gave me a box on the ear, that set my very head ringing. I, who had always heard that a hearty kiss is the proper return for a blow given by a girl, caught her by her ears and kissed her several times. At this she uttered such a piercing cry that I was absolutely terrified. I let her go, and it was fortunate that I did so, for at that moment I did not know what befel me. The ground beneath me began to shake and rattle, the rails, as I now observed, put themselves in motion, but I had no time for consideration, nor was I sufficient master of my feet to fly. Every moment I was afraid of being impaled, for the lances and partisans which began to stand upright, tore my clothes. Suffice it to say,—I do not know how it was,—that my sight and hearing failed me, and that I recovered from my terror and the stupor into which I had been thrown, at the foot of a linden tree, against which the railing, while raising itself, had thrown me. My malice returned with my senses, and increased still more, when from the other side I heard the jeers and laughter of my adversary, who had probably come to the ground somewhat more softly than myself. I therefore got up, and as saw scattered around me, my own little army with its leaden Achilles, which the rising rails had thrown off together with myself, I began by catching hold of the hero, and dashing him against a tree. His resuscitation and flight gave me double pleasure, for the prettiest sight in the world was associated with all the delight of gratified malice, and I was on the point of sending the rest of the Greeks after him, when all of a sudden water came hissing from every side, from the stones and walls, from the ground and branches; and wherever I turned it pelted me furiously. My light dress was soon completely wet through, and as it had been already torn, I lost no time in flinging it off altogether. My slippers I threw aside, and then one covering after the other, finding it very pleasant in the sultry day to take such a shower-bath. Stark naked, I walked gravely along between the welcome waters, and I thought I might thus go on pleasantly for some time. My rage had cooled, and I now desired nothing more than a reconciliation with my little adversary. All of a sudden the water stopped, and I now stood completely wet on ground that was soaked through. The presence of the old man, who unexpectedly came before me, was any thing but welcome. I should have wished, if not to hide myself, at any rate to put on some covering. Shame, cold, and an endeavour to cover myself in some measure, made me cut a very miserable figure, and the old man lost no time in loading me with the bitterest reproaches. “What hinders me,” he cried, “from taking one of the green cords, and fitting it to your back at any rate, if not to your neck!” This threat I took very ill. “Hark ye,” said I, “you had better take care of such words, or even such thoughts, or you and your mistresses will be lost!” “Who are you?” said he, in a tone of defiance, “that dare to talk in this way?” “A favourite of the gods,” I replied, “on whom it depends whether those ladies will find good husbands and live happily, or pine and grow old in their magic cloister.” The old man retreated some steps. “Who revealed that to you?” he asked with doubt and astonishment. “Three apples,” said I, “three jewels.” “And what reward do you desire?” he exclaimed. “Above all things,” I replied, “the little creature who brought me into this cursed condition.” The old man threw himself at my feet, without heeding the dampness and muddiness of the ground. He then arose, not in the least wetted, took me kindly by the hand, led me into the room, where I had been before, dressed me again quickly, and I soon found myself with my hair curled and my Sunday clothes on, as at first. The porter did not utter another word, but before he allowed me to cross the threshold, he detained me, and showed to me certain objects that were near the wall, and on the other side of the way, while at the same time he pointed to the door backwards. I understood him well. He wished me to impress the objects on my mind, that I might more readily find the door again, which unexpectedly closed behind me. I observed already what was opposite to me. The boughs of seven old nut-trees projected over a high wall, and partly covered the moulding with which it terminated. The branches reached to a stone tablet, the decorated border of which I could easily recognise, but the inscription on which I could not read. It rested on the jutting stone of a niche, in which a fountain artificially constructed, was throwing water from cup to cup into a large basin, which formed a kind of little pond, and was lost in the ground. Fountain, inscription, nut-trees, all stood, one directly over the other, and I could have painted it as I saw it.
It may be easily conceived how I passed the evening, and many a day afterwards, and how often I repeated these adventures, which I could hardly believe myself. As soon as I could, I went again to the “evil wall,” that I might at least refresh my memory by the sight of the objects, and look at the beautiful door. To my great astonishment all was changed. Nut-trees were, indeed, hanging over the wall, but they were not close together. A tablet was inserted, but it stood at some distance to the right of the trees, was without carving, and had a legible inscription. A niche with a fountain stood far to the left, and was not to be compared to the one I had before seen. Of the door not a trace was to be found, and I was, therefore, almost compelled to believe that my second adventure was a dream, as well as my first. My only consolation is, that the three objects always seem to change their situation, for, after repeated visits to the spot, I think I have observed, that the nut-trees are running towards each other, and that the tablet and fountain are approaching. Probably, when all has come together again, the door will once more be visible, and I will do all I can to fit on a sequel to the adventure. Whether I shall be able to tell what befalls me in future, or whether it will be expressly forbidden me, I cannot say.
For hours she had lain in a kind of gentle torpor, not unlike that sweet lassitude which masters one in the hush of a midsummer noon, when the heat seems to have silenced the very birds and insects, and, lying sunk in the tasselled meadow-grasses, one looks up through a level roofing of maple-leaves at the vast shadowless, and unsuggestive blue. Now and then, at ever-lengthening intervals, a flash of pain darted through her, like the ripple of sheet-lightning across such a midsummer sky; but it was too transitory to shake her stupor, that calm, delicious, bottomless stupor into which she felt herself sinking more and more deeply, without a disturbing impulse of resistance, an effort of reattachment to the vanishing edges of consciousness.
The resistance, the effort, had known their hour of violence; but now they were at an end. Through her mind, long harried by grotesque visions, fragmentary images of the life that she was leaving, tormenting lines of verse, obstinate presentments of pictures once beheld, indistinct impressions of rivers, towers, and cupolas, gathered in the length of journeys half forgotten-through her mind there now only moved a few primal sensations of colorless well-being; a vague satisfaction in the thought that she had swallowed her noxious last draught of medicine… and that she should never again hear the creaking of her husband’s boots – those horrible boots – and that no one would come to bother her about the next day’s dinner… or the butcher’s book…
At last even these dim sensations spent themselves in the thickening obscurity which enveloped her; a dusk now filled with pale geometric roses, circling softly, interminably before her, now darkened to a uniform blue-blackness, the hue of a summer night without stars. And into this darkness she felt herself sinking, sinking, with the gentle sense of security of one upheld from beneath. Like a tepid tide it rose around her, gliding ever higher and higher, folding in its velvety embrace her relaxed and tired body, now submerging her breast and shoulders, now creeping gradually, with soft inexorableness, over her throat to her chin, to her ears, to her mouth… Ah, now it was rising too high; the impulse to struggle was renewed;… her mouth was full;… she was choking… Help!
“It is all over,” said the nurse, drawing down the eyelids with official composure.
The clock struck three. They remembered it afterward. Someone opened the window and let in a blast of that strange, neutral air which walks the earth between darkness and dawn; someone else led the husband into another room. He walked vaguely, like a blind man, on his creaking boots.
She stood, as it seemed, on a threshold, yet no tangible gateway was in front of her. Only a wide vista of light, mild yet penetrating as the gathered glimmer of innumerable stars, expanded gradually before her eyes, in blissful contrast to the cavernous darkness from which she had of late emerged.
She stepped forward, not frightened, but hesitating, and as her eyes began to grow more familiar with the melting depths of light about her, she distinguished the outlines of a landscape, at first swimming in the opaline uncertainty of Shelley’s vaporous creations, then gradually resolved into distincter shape – the vast unrolling of a sunlit plain, aerial forms of mountains, and presently the silver crescent of a river in the valley, and a blue stencilling of trees along its curve – something suggestive in its ineffable hue of an azure background of Leonardo’s, strange, enchanting, mysterious, leading on the eye and the imagination into regions of fabulous delight. As she gazed, her heart beat with a soft and rapturous surprise; so exquisite a promise she read in the summons of that hyaline distance.
“And so death is not the end after all,” in sheer gladness she heard herself exclaiming aloud. “I always knew that it couldn’t be. I believed in Darwin, of course. I do still; but then Darwin himself said that he wasn’t sure about the soul – at least, I think he did – and Wallace was a spiritualist; and then there was St. George Mivart –”
Her gaze lost itself in the ethereal remoteness of the mountains.
“How beautiful! How satisfying!” she murmured. “Perhaps now I shall really know what it is to live.”
As she spoke she felt a sudden thickening of her heart-beats, and looking up she was aware that before her stood the Spirit of Life.
“Have you never really known what it is to live?” the Spirit of Life asked her.
“I have never known,” she replied, “that fulness of life which we all feel ourselves capable of knowing; though my life has not been without scattered hints of it, like the scent of earth which comes to one sometimes far out at sea.”
“And what do you call the fulness of life?” the Spirit asked again.
“Oh, I can’t tell you, if you don’t know,” she said, almost reproachfully. “Many words are supposed to define it – love and sympathy are those in commonest use, but I am not even sure that they are the right ones, and so few people really know what they mean.”
“You were married,” said the Spirit, “yet you did not find the fulness of life in your marriage?”
“Oh, dear, no,” she replied, with an indulgent scorn, “my marriage was a very incomplete affair.”
“And yet you were fond of your husband?”
“You have hit upon the exact word; I was fond of him, yes, just as I was fond of my grandmother, and the house that I was born in, and my old nurse. Oh, I was fond of him, and we were counted a very happy couple. But I have sometimes thought that a woman’s nature is like a great house full of rooms: there is the hall, through which everyone passes in going in and out; the drawingroom, where one receives formal visits; the sitting-room, where the members of the family come and go as they list; but beyond that, far beyond, are other rooms, the handles of whose doors perhaps are never turned; no one knows the way to them, no one knows whither they lead; and in the innermost room, the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that never comes.”
“And your husband,” asked the Spirit, after a pause, “never got beyond the family sitting-room?”
“Never,” she returned, impatiently; “and the worst of it was that he was quite content to remain there. He thought it perfectly beautiful, and sometimes, when he was admiring its commonplace furniture, insignificant as the chairs and tables of a hotel parlor, I felt like crying out to him: ‘Fool, will you never guess that close at hand are rooms full of treasures and wonders, such as the eye of man hath not seen, rooms that no step has crossed, but that might be yours to live in, could you but find the handle of the door?'”
“Then,” the Spirit continued, “those moments of which you lately spoke, which seemed to come to you like scattered hints of the fulness of life, were not shared with your husband?”
“Oh, no – never. He was different. His boots creaked, and he always slammed the door when he went out, and he never read anything but railway novels and the sporting advertisements in the papers — and — and, in short, we never understood each other in the least.”
“To what influence, then, did you owe those exquisite sensations?”
“I can hardly tell. Sometimes to the perfume of a flower; sometimes to a verse of Dante or of Shakespeare; sometimes to a picture or a sunset, or to one of those calm days at sea, when one seems to be lying in the hollow of a blue pearl; sometimes, but rarely, to a word spoken by someone who chanced to give utterance, at the right moment, to what I felt but could not express.”
“Someone whom you loved?” asked the Spirit.
“I never loved anyone, in that way,” she said, rather sadly, “nor was I thinking of any one person when I spoke, but of two or three who, by touching for an instant upon a certain chord of my being, had called forth a single note of that strange melody which seemed sleeping in my soul. It has seldom happened, however, that I have owed such feelings to people; and no one ever gave me a moment of such happiness as it was my lot to feel one evening in the Church of Or San Michele, in Florence.”
“Tell me about it,” said the Spirit.
“It was near sunset on a rainy spring afternoon in Easter week. The clouds had vanished, dispersed by a sudden wind, and as we entered the church the fiery panes of the high windows shone out like lamps through the dusk. A priest was at the high altar, his white cope a livid spot in the incense-laden obscurity, the light of the candles flickering up and down like fireflies about his head; a few people knelt near by. We stole behind them and sat down on a bench close to the tabernacle of Orcagna.
“Strange to say, though Florence was not new to me, I had never been in the church before; and in that magical light I saw for the first time the inlaid steps, the fluted columns, the sculptured bas-reliefs and canopy of the marvellous shrine. The marble, worn and mellowed by the subtle hand of time, took on an unspeakable rosy hue, suggestive in some remote way of the honeycolored columns of the Parthenon, but more mystic, more complex, a color not born of the sun’s inveterate kiss, but made up of cryptal twilight, and the flame of candles upon martyrs’ tombs, and gleams of sunset through symbolic panes of chrysoprase and ruby; such a light as illumines the missals in the library of Siena, or burns like a hidden fire through the Madonna of Gian Bellini in the Church of the Redeemer, at Venice; the light of the Middle Ages, richer, more solemn, more significant than the limpid sunshine of Greece.
“The church was silent, but for the wail of the priest and the occasional scraping of a chair against the floor, and as I sat there, bathed in that light, absorbed in rapt contemplation of the marble miracle which rose before me, cunningly wrought as a casket of ivory and enriched with jewel-like incrustations and tarnished gleams of gold, I felt myself borne onward along a mighty current, whose source seemed to be in the very beginning of things, and whose tremendous waters gathered as they went all the mingled streams of human passion and endeavor. Life in all its varied manifestations of beauty and strangeness seemed weaving a rhythmical dance around me as I moved, and wherever the spirit of man had passed I knew that my foot had once been familiar.
“As I gazed the mediaeval bosses of the tabernacle of Orcagna seemed to melt and flow into their primal forms so that the folded lotus of the Nile and the Greek acanthus were braided with the runic knots and fish-tailed monsters of the North, and all the plastic terror and beauty born of man’s hand from the Ganges to the Baltic quivered and mingled in Orcagna’s apotheosis of Mary. And so the river bore me on, past the alien face of antique civilizations and the familiar wonders of Greece, till I swam upon the fiercely rushing tide of the Middle Ages, with its swirling eddies of passion, its heaven-reflecting pools of poetry and art; I heard the rhythmic blow of the craftsmen’s hammers in the goldsmiths’ workshops and on the walls of churches, the party-cries of armed factions in the narrow streets, the organroll of Dante’s verse, the crackle of the fagots around Arnold of Brescia, the twitter of the swallows to which St. Francis preached, the laughter of the ladies listening on the hillside to the quips of the Decameron, while plague-struck Florence howled beneath them — all this and much more I heard, joined in strange unison with voices earlier and more remote, fierce, passionate, or tender, yet subdued to such awful harmony that I thought of the song that the morning stars sang together and felt as though it were sounding in my ears. My heart beat to suffocation, the tears burned my lids, the joy, the mystery of it seemed too intolerable to be borne. I could not understand even then the words of the song; but I knew that if there had been someone at my side who could have heard it with me, we might have found the key to it together.
“I turned to my husband, who was sitting beside me in an attitude of patient dejection, gazing into the bottom of his hat; but at that moment he rose, and stretching his stiffened legs, said, mildly: ‘Hadn’t we better be going? There doesn’t seem to be much to see here, and you know the table d’hote dinner is at half-past six o’clock.”
Her recital ended, there was an interval of silence; then the Spirit of Life said: “There is a compensation in store for such needs as you have expressed.”
“Oh, then you do understand?” she exclaimed. “Tell me what compensation, I entreat you!”
“It is ordained,” the Spirit answered, “that every soul which seeks in vain on earth for a kindred soul to whom it can lay bare its inmost being shall find that soul here and be united to it for eternity.”
A glad cry broke from her lips. “Ah, shall I find him at last?” she cried, exultant.
“He is here,” said the Spirit of Life.
She looked up and saw that a man stood near whose soul (for in that unwonted light she seemed to see his soul more clearly than his face) drew her toward him with an invincible force.
“Are you really he?” she murmured.
“I am he,” he answered.
She laid her hand in his and drew him toward the parapet which overhung the valley.
“Shall we go down together,” she asked him, “into that marvellous country; shall we see it together, as if with the self-same eyes, and tell each other in the same words all that we think and feel?”
“So,” he replied, “have I hoped and dreamed.”
“What?” she asked, with rising joy. “Then you, too, have looked for me?”
“All my life.”
“How wonderful! And did you never, never find anyone in the other world who understood you?”
“Not wholly – not as you and I understand each other.”
“Then you feel it, too? Oh, I am happy,” she sighed.
They stood, hand in hand, looking down over the parapet upon the shimmering landscape which stretched forth beneath them into sapphirine space, and the Spirit of Life, who kept watch near the threshold, heard now and then a floating fragment of their talk blown backward like the stray swallows which the wind sometimes separates from their migratory tribe.
“Did you never feel at sunset –”
“Ah, yes; but I never heard anyone else say so. Did you?”
“Do you remember that line in the third canto of the ‘Inferno?'”
“Ah, that line – my favorite always. Is it possible –”
“You know the stooping Victory in the frieze of the Nike Apteros?”
“You mean the one who is tying her sandal? Then you have noticed, too, that all Botticelli and Mantegna are dormant in those flying folds of her drapery?”
“After a storm in autumn have you never seen –”
“Yes, it is curious how certain flowers suggest certain painters-the perfume of the incarnation, Leonardo; that of the rose, Titian; the tuberose, Crivelli –”
“I never supposed that anyone else had noticed it.”
“Have you never thought –”
“Oh, yes, often and often; but I never dreamed that anyone else had.”
“But surely you must have felt –”
“Oh, yes, yes; and you, too –”
“How beautiful! How strange –”
Their voices rose and fell, like the murmur of two fountains answering each other across a garden full of flowers. At length, with a certain tender impatience, he turned to her and said: “Love, why should we linger here? All eternity lies before us. Let us go down into that beautiful country together and make a home for ourselves on some blue hill above the shining river.”
As he spoke, the hand she had forgotten in his was suddenly withdrawn, and he felt that a cloud was passing over the radiance of her soul.
“A home,” she repeated, slowly, “a home for you and me to live in for all eternity?”
“Why not, love? Am I not the soul that yours has sought?”
“Y-yes – yes, I know – but, don’t you see, home would not be like home to me, unless –”
“Unless?” he wonderingly repeated.
She did not answer, but she thought to herself, with an impulse of whimsical inconsistency, “Unless you slammed the door and wore creaking boots.”
But he had recovered his hold upon her hand, and by imperceptible degrees was leading her toward the shining steps which descended to the valley.
“Come, O my soul’s soul,” he passionately implored; “why delay a moment? Surely you feel, as I do, that eternity itself is too short to hold such bliss as ours. It seems to me that I can see our home already. Have I not always seem it in my dreams? It is white, love, is it not, with polished columns, and a sculptured cornice against the blue? Groves of laurel and oleander and thickets of roses surround it; but from the terrace where we walk at sunset, the eye looks out over woodlands and cool meadows where, deep-bowered under ancient boughs, a stream goes delicately toward the river. Indoors our favorite pictures hang upon the walls and the rooms are lined with books. Think, dear, at last we shall have time to read them all. With which shall we begin? Come, help me to choose. Shall it be ‘Faust’ or the ‘Vita Nuova,’ the ‘Tempest’ or ‘Les Caprices de Marianne,’ or the thirty-first canto of the ‘Paradise,’ or ‘Epipsychidion’ or “Lycidas’? Tell me, dear, which one?”
As he spoke he saw the answer trembling joyously upon her lips; but it died in the ensuing silence, and she stood motionless, resisting the persuasion of his hand.
“What is it?” he entreated.
“Wait a moment,” she said, with a strange hesitation in her voice. “Tell me first, are you quite sure of yourself? Is there no one on earth whom you sometimes remember?”
“Not since I have seen you,” he replied; for, being a man, he had indeed forgotten.
Still she stood motionless, and he saw that the shadow deepened on her soul.
“Surely, love,” he rebuked her, “it was not that which troubled you? For my part I have walked through Lethe. The past has melted like a cloud before the moon. I never lived until I saw you.”
She made no answer to his pleadings, but at length, rousing herself with a visible effort, she turned away from him and moved toward the Spirit of Life, who still stood near the threshold.
“I want to ask you a question,” she said, in a troubled voice.
“Ask,” said the Spirit.
“A little while ago,” she began, slowly, “you told me that every soul which has not found a kindred soul on earth is destined to find one here.”
“And have you not found one?” asked the Spirit.
“Yes; but will it be so with my husband’s soul also?”
“No,” answered the Spirit of Life, “for your husband imagined that he had found his soul’s mate on earth in you; and for such delusions eternity itself contains no cure.”
She gave a little cry. Was it of disappointment or triumph?
“Then – then what will happen to him when he comes here?”
“That I cannot tell you. Some field of activity and happiness he will doubtless find, in due measure to his capacity for being active and happy.”
She interrupted, almost angrily: “He will never be happy without me.”
“Do not be too sure of that,” said the Spirit.
She took no notice of this, and the Spirit continued: “He will not understand you here any better than he did on earth.”
“No matter,” she said; “I shall be the only sufferer, for he always thought that he understood me.”
“His boots will creak just as much as ever –”
“And he will slam the door –”
“And continue to read railway novels –”
She interposed, impatiently: “Many men do worse than that.”
“But you said just now,” said the Spirit, “that you did not love him.”
“True,” she answered, simply; “but don’t you understand that I shouldn’t feel at home without him? It is all very well for a week or two – but for eternity! After all, I never minded the creaking of his boots, except when my head ached, and I don’t suppose it will ache here; and he was always so sorry when he had slammed the door, only he never could remember not to. Besides, no one else would know how to look after him, he is so helpless. His inkstand would never be filled, and he would always be out of stamps and visiting-cards. He would never remember to have his umbrella re-covered, or to ask the price of anything before he bought it. Why, he wouldn’t even know what novels to read. I always had to choose the kind he liked, with a murder or a forgery and a successful detective.”
She turned abruptly to her kindred soul, who stood listening with a mien of wonder and dismay.
“Don’t you see,” she said, “that I can’t possibly go with you?”
“But what do you intend to do?” asked the Spirit of Life.
“What do I intend to do?” she returned, indignantly. “Why, I mean to wait for my husband, of course. If he had come here first he would have waited for me for years and years; and it would break his heart not to find me here when he comes.” She pointed with a contemptuous gesture to the magic vision of hill and vale sloping away to the translucent mountains. “He wouldn’t give a fig for all that,” she said, “if he didn’t find me here.”
“But consider,” warned the Spirit, “that you are now choosing for eternity. It is a solemn moment.”
“Choosing!” she said, with a half-sad smile. “Do you still keep up here that old fiction about choosing? I should have thought that you knew better than that. How can I help myself? He will expect to find me here when he comes, and he would never believe you if you told him that I had gone away with someone else-never, never.”
“So be it,” said the Spirit. “Here, as on earth, each one must decide for himself.”
She turned to her kindred soul and looked at him gently, almost wistfully. “I am sorry,” she said. “I should have liked to talk with you again; but you will understand, I know, and I dare say you will find someone else a great deal cleverer –”
And without pausing to hear his answer she waved him a swift farewell and turned back toward the threshold.
“Will my husband come soon?” she asked the Spirit of Life.
“That you are not destined to know,” the Spirit replied.
“No matter,” she said, cheerfully; “I have all eternity to wait in.”
And still seated alone on the threshold, she listens for the creaking of his boots.
BY A PARTIAL, PREJUDICED, AND IGNORANT HISTORIAN.
To Miss Austen, eldest daughter of the Rev. George Austen, this work is inscribed with all due respect by THE AUTHOR.
N.B. There will be very few Dates in this History.
HENRY the 4th
Henry the 4th ascended the throne of England much to his own satisfaction in the year 1399, after having prevailed on his cousin and predecessor Richard the 2nd, to resign it to him, and to retire for the rest of his life to Pomfret Castle, where he happened to be murdered. It is to be supposed that Henry was married, since he had certainly four sons, but it is not in my power to inform the Reader who was his wife. Be this as it may, he did not live for ever, but falling ill, his son the Prince of Wales came and took away the crown; whereupon the King made a long speech, for which I must refer the Reader to Shakespear’s Plays, and the Prince made a still longer. Things being thus settled between them the King died, and was succeeded by his son Henry who had previously beat Sir William Gascoigne.
HENRY the 5th
This Prince after he succeeded to the throne grew quite reformed and amiable, forsaking all his dissipated companions, and never thrashing Sir William again. During his reign, Lord Cobham was burnt alive, but I forget what for. His Majesty then turned his thoughts to France, where he went and fought the famous Battle of Agincourt. He afterwards married the King’s daughter Catherine, a very agreable woman by Shakespear’s account. In spite of all this however he died, and was succeeded by his son Henry.
HENRY the 6th
I cannot say much for this Monarch’s sense. Nor would I if I could, for he was a Lancastrian. I suppose you know all about the Wars between him and the Duke of York who was of the right side; if you do not, you had better read some other History, for I shall not be very diffuse in this, meaning by it only to vent my spleen AGAINST, and shew my Hatred TO all those people whose parties or principles do not suit with mine, and not to give information. This King married Margaret of Anjou, a Woman whose distresses and misfortunes were so great as almost to make me who hate her, pity her. It was in this reign that Joan of Arc lived and made such a ROW among the English. They should not have burnt her—but they did. There were several Battles between the Yorkists and Lancastrians, in which the former (as they ought) usually conquered. At length they were entirely overcome; The King was murdered—The Queen was sent home—and Edward the 4th ascended the Throne.
EDWARD the 4th
This Monarch was famous only for his Beauty and his Courage, of which the Picture we have here given of him, and his undaunted Behaviour in marrying one Woman while he was engaged to another, are sufficient proofs. His Wife was Elizabeth Woodville, a Widow who, poor Woman! was afterwards confined in a Convent by that Monster of Iniquity and Avarice Henry the 7th. One of Edward’s Mistresses was Jane Shore, who has had a play written about her, but it is a tragedy and therefore not worth reading. Having performed all these noble actions, his Majesty died, and was succeeded by his son.
EDWARD the 5th
This unfortunate Prince lived so little a while that nobody had him to draw his picture. He was murdered by his Uncle’s Contrivance, whose name was Richard the 3rd.
RICHARD the 3rd
The Character of this Prince has been in general very severely treated by Historians, but as he was a YORK, I am rather inclined to suppose him a very respectable Man. It has indeed been confidently asserted that he killed his two Nephews and his Wife, but it has also been declared that he did not kill his two Nephews, which I am inclined to beleive true; and if this is the case, it may also be affirmed that he did not kill his Wife, for if Perkin Warbeck was really the Duke of York, why might not Lambert Simnel be the Widow of Richard. Whether innocent or guilty, he did not reign long in peace, for Henry Tudor E. of Richmond as great a villain as ever lived, made a great fuss about getting the Crown and having killed the King at the battle of Bosworth, he succeeded to it.
HENRY the 7th
This Monarch soon after his accession married the Princess Elizabeth of York, by which alliance he plainly proved that he thought his own right inferior to hers, tho’ he pretended to the contrary. By this Marriage he had two sons and two daughters, the elder of which Daughters was married to the King of Scotland and had the happiness of being grandmother to one of the first Characters in the World. But of HER, I shall have occasion to speak more at large in future. The youngest, Mary, married first the King of France and secondly the D. of Suffolk, by whom she had one daughter, afterwards the Mother of Lady Jane Grey, who tho’ inferior to her lovely Cousin the Queen of Scots, was yet an amiable young woman and famous for reading Greek while other people were hunting. It was in the reign of Henry the 7th that Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Simnel before mentioned made their appearance, the former of whom was set in the stocks, took shelter in Beaulieu Abbey, and was beheaded with the Earl of Warwick, and the latter was taken into the Kings kitchen. His Majesty died and was succeeded by his son Henry whose only merit was his not being quite so bad as his daughter Elizabeth.
HENRY the 8th
It would be an affront to my Readers were I to suppose that they were not as well acquainted with the particulars of this King’s reign as I am myself. It will therefore be saving THEM the task of reading again what they have read before, and MYSELF the trouble of writing what I do not perfectly recollect, by giving only a slight sketch of the principal Events which marked his reign. Among these may be ranked Cardinal Wolsey’s telling the father Abbott of Leicester Abbey that “he was come to lay his bones among them,” the reformation in Religion and the King’s riding through the streets of London with Anna Bullen. It is however but Justice, and my Duty to declare that this amiable Woman was entirely innocent of the Crimes with which she was accused, and of which her Beauty, her Elegance, and her Sprightliness were sufficient proofs, not to mention her solemn Protestations of Innocence, the weakness of the Charges against her, and the King’s Character; all of which add some confirmation, tho’ perhaps but slight ones when in comparison with those before alledged in her favour. Tho’ I do not profess giving many dates, yet as I think it proper to give some and shall of course make choice of those which it is most necessary for the Reader to know, I think it right to inform him that her letter to the King was dated on the 6th of May. The Crimes and Cruelties of this Prince, were too numerous to be mentioned, (as this history I trust has fully shown;) and nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses and leaving them to the ruinous depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general, which probably was a principal motive for his doing it, since otherwise why should a Man who was of no Religion himself be at so much trouble to abolish one which had for ages been established in the Kingdom. His Majesty’s 5th Wife was the Duke of Norfolk’s Neice who, tho’ universally acquitted of the crimes for which she was beheaded, has been by many people supposed to have led an abandoned life before her Marriage—of this however I have many doubts, since she was a relation of that noble Duke of Norfolk who was so warm in the Queen of Scotland’s cause, and who at last fell a victim to it. The Kings last wife contrived to survive him, but with difficulty effected it. He was succeeded by his only son Edward.
EDWARD the 6th
As this prince was only nine years old at the time of his Father’s death, he was considered by many people as too young to govern, and the late King happening to be of the same opinion, his mother’s Brother the Duke of Somerset was chosen Protector of the realm during his minority. This Man was on the whole of a very amiable Character, and is somewhat of a favourite with me, tho’ I would by no means pretend to affirm that he was equal to those first of Men Robert Earl of Essex, Delamere, or Gilpin. He was beheaded, of which he might with reason have been proud, had he known that such was the death of Mary Queen of Scotland; but as it was impossible that he should be conscious of what had never happened, it does not appear that he felt particularly delighted with the manner of it. After his decease the Duke of Northumberland had the care of the King and the Kingdom, and performed his trust of both so well that the King died and the Kingdom was left to his daughter in law the Lady Jane Grey, who has been already mentioned as reading Greek. Whether she really understood that language or whether such a study proceeded only from an excess of vanity for which I beleive she was always rather remarkable, is uncertain. Whatever might be the cause, she preserved the same appearance of knowledge, and contempt of what was generally esteemed pleasure, during the whole of her life, for she declared herself displeased with being appointed Queen, and while conducting to the scaffold, she wrote a sentence in Latin and another in Greek on seeing the dead Body of her Husband accidentally passing that way.
This woman had the good luck of being advanced to the throne of England, in spite of the superior pretensions, Merit, and Beauty of her Cousins Mary Queen of Scotland and Jane Grey. Nor can I pity the Kingdom for the misfortunes they experienced during her Reign, since they fully deserved them, for having allowed her to succeed her Brother—which was a double peice of folly, since they might have foreseen that as she died without children, she would be succeeded by that disgrace to humanity, that pest of society, Elizabeth. Many were the people who fell martyrs to the protestant Religion during her reign; I suppose not fewer than a dozen. She married Philip King of Spain who in her sister’s reign was famous for building Armadas. She died without issue, and then the dreadful moment came in which the destroyer of all comfort, the deceitful Betrayer of trust reposed in her, and the Murderess of her Cousin succeeded to the Throne.——
It was the peculiar misfortune of this Woman to have bad Ministers—-Since wicked as she herself was, she could not have committed such extensive mischeif, had not these vile and abandoned Men connived at, and encouraged her in her Crimes. I know that it has by many people been asserted and beleived that Lord Burleigh, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the rest of those who filled the cheif offices of State were deserving, experienced, and able Ministers. But oh! how blinded such writers and such Readers must be to true Merit, to Merit despised, neglected and defamed, if they can persist in such opinions when they reflect that these men, these boasted men were such scandals to their Country and their sex as to allow and assist their Queen in confining for the space of nineteen years, a WOMAN who if the claims of Relationship and Merit were of no avail, yet as a Queen and as one who condescended to place confidence in her, had every reason to expect assistance and protection; and at length in allowing Elizabeth to bring this amiable Woman to an untimely, unmerited, and scandalous Death. Can any one if he reflects but for a moment on this blot, this everlasting blot upon their understanding and their Character, allow any praise to Lord Burleigh or Sir Francis Walsingham? Oh! what must this bewitching Princess whose only freind was then the Duke of Norfolk, and whose only ones now Mr Whitaker, Mrs Lefroy, Mrs Knight and myself, who was abandoned by her son, confined by her Cousin, abused, reproached and vilified by all, what must not her most noble mind have suffered when informed that Elizabeth had given orders for her Death! Yet she bore it with a most unshaken fortitude, firm in her mind; constant in her Religion; and prepared herself to meet the cruel fate to which she was doomed, with a magnanimity that would alone proceed from conscious Innocence. And yet could you Reader have beleived it possible that some hardened and zealous Protestants have even abused her for that steadfastness in the Catholic Religion which reflected on her so much credit? But this is a striking proof of THEIR narrow souls and prejudiced Judgements who accuse her. She was executed in the Great Hall at Fortheringay Castle (sacred Place!) on Wednesday the 8th of February 1586—to the everlasting Reproach of Elizabeth, her Ministers, and of England in general. It may not be unnecessary before I entirely conclude my account of this ill-fated Queen, to observe that she had been accused of several crimes during the time of her reigning in Scotland, of which I now most seriously do assure my Reader that she was entirely innocent; having never been guilty of anything more than Imprudencies into which she was betrayed by the openness of her Heart, her Youth, and her Education. Having I trust by this assurance entirely done away every Suspicion and every doubt which might have arisen in the Reader’s mind, from what other Historians have written of her, I shall proceed to mention the remaining Events that marked Elizabeth’s reign. It was about this time that Sir Francis Drake the first English Navigator who sailed round the World, lived, to be the ornament of his Country and his profession. Yet great as he was, and justly celebrated as a sailor, I cannot help foreseeing that he will be equalled in this or the next Century by one who tho’ now but young, already promises to answer all the ardent and sanguine expectations of his Relations and Freinds, amongst whom I may class the amiable Lady to whom this work is dedicated, and my no less amiable self.
Though of a different profession, and shining in a different sphere of Life, yet equally conspicuous in the Character of an Earl, as Drake was in that of a Sailor, was Robert Devereux Lord Essex. This unfortunate young Man was not unlike in character to that equally unfortunate one FREDERIC DELAMERE. The simile may be carried still farther, and Elizabeth the torment of Essex may be compared to the Emmeline of Delamere. It would be endless to recount the misfortunes of this noble and gallant Earl. It is sufficient to say that he was beheaded on the 25th of Feb, after having been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, after having clapped his hand on his sword, and after performing many other services to his Country. Elizabeth did not long survive his loss, and died so miserable that were it not an injury to the memory of Mary I should pity her.
JAMES the 1st
Though this King had some faults, among which and as the most principal, was his allowing his Mother’s death, yet considered on the whole I cannot help liking him. He married Anne of Denmark, and had several Children; fortunately for him his eldest son Prince Henry died before his father or he might have experienced the evils which befell his unfortunate Brother.
As I am myself partial to the roman catholic religion, it is with infinite regret that I am obliged to blame the Behaviour of any Member of it: yet Truth being I think very excusable in an Historian, I am necessitated to say that in this reign the roman Catholics of England did not behave like Gentlemen to the protestants. Their Behaviour indeed to the Royal Family and both Houses of Parliament might justly be considered by them as very uncivil, and even Sir Henry Percy tho’ certainly the best bred man of the party, had none of that general politeness which is so universally pleasing, as his attentions were entirely confined to Lord Mounteagle.
Sir Walter Raleigh flourished in this and the preceeding reign, and is by many people held in great veneration and respect—But as he was an enemy of the noble Essex, I have nothing to say in praise of him, and must refer all those who may wish to be acquainted with the particulars of his life, to Mr Sheridan’s play of the Critic, where they will find many interesting anecdotes as well of him as of his friend Sir Christopher Hatton.—His Majesty was of that amiable disposition which inclines to Freindship, and in such points was possessed of a keener penetration in discovering Merit than many other people. I once heard an excellent Sharade on a Carpet, of which the subject I am now on reminds me, and as I think it may afford my Readers some amusement to FIND IT OUT, I shall here take the liberty of presenting it to them.
SHARADE My first is what my second was to King James the 1st, and you tread on my whole.
The principal favourites of his Majesty were Car, who was afterwards created Earl of Somerset and whose name perhaps may have some share in the above mentioned Sharade, and George Villiers afterwards Duke of Buckingham. On his Majesty’s death he was succeeded by his son Charles.
CHARLES the 1st
This amiable Monarch seems born to have suffered misfortunes equal to those of his lovely Grandmother; misfortunes which he could not deserve since he was her descendant. Never certainly were there before so many detestable Characters at one time in England as in this Period of its History; never were amiable men so scarce. The number of them throughout the whole Kingdom amounting only to FIVE, besides the inhabitants of Oxford who were always loyal to their King and faithful to his interests. The names of this noble five who never forgot the duty of the subject, or swerved from their attachment to his Majesty, were as follows—The King himself, ever stedfast in his own support—Archbishop Laud, Earl of Strafford, Viscount Faulkland and Duke of Ormond, who were scarcely less strenuous or zealous in the cause. While the VILLIANS of the time would make too long a list to be written or read; I shall therefore content myself with mentioning the leaders of the Gang. Cromwell, Fairfax, Hampden, and Pym may be considered as the original Causers of all the disturbances, Distresses, and Civil Wars in which England for many years was embroiled. In this reign as well as in that of Elizabeth, I am obliged in spite of my attachment to the Scotch, to consider them as equally guilty with the generality of the English, since they dared to think differently from their Sovereign, to forget the Adoration which as STUARTS it was their Duty to pay them, to rebel against, dethrone and imprison the unfortunate Mary; to oppose, to deceive, and to sell the no less unfortunate Charles. The Events of this Monarch’s reign are too numerous for my pen, and indeed the recital of any Events (except what I make myself) is uninteresting to me; my principal reason for undertaking the History of England being to Prove the innocence of the Queen of Scotland, which I flatter myself with having effectually done, and to abuse Elizabeth, tho’ I am rather fearful of having fallen short in the latter part of my scheme.—As therefore it is not my intention to give any particular account of the distresses into which this King was involved through the misconduct and Cruelty of his Parliament, I shall satisfy myself with vindicating him from the Reproach of Arbitrary and tyrannical Government with which he has often been charged. This, I feel, is not difficult to be done, for with one argument I am certain of satisfying every sensible and well disposed person whose opinions have been properly guided by a good Education—and this Argument is that he was a STUART.
Finis Saturday Nov: 26th 1791.
The Western train had just arrived at Redfern railway station with a lot of ordinary passengers and one swagman.
He was short, and stout, and bow-legged, and freckled, and sandy. He had red hair and small, twinkling, grey eyes, and — what often goes with such things — the expression of a born comedian. He was dressed in a ragged, well-washed print shirt, an old black waistcoat with a calico back, a pair of cloudy moleskins patched at the knees and held up by a plaited greenhide belt buckled loosely round his hips, a pair of well-worn, fuzzy blucher boots, and a soft felt hat, green with age, and with no brim worth mentioning, and no crown to speak of. He swung a swag on to the platform, shouldered it, pulled out a billy and water-bag, and then went to a dog-box in the brake van.
Five minutes later he appeared on the edge of the cab platform, with an anxious-looking cattle-dog crouching against his legs, and one end of the chain in his hand. He eased down the swag against a post, turned his face to the city, tilted his hat forward, and scratched the well-developed back of his head with a little finger. He seemed undecided what track to take.
The swagman turned slowly and regarded cabby with a quiet grin.
“Now, do I look as if I want a cab?”
“Well, why not? No harm, anyway — I thought you might want a cab.”
Swaggy scratched his head, reflectively.
“Well,” he said, “you’re the first man that has thought so these ten years. What do I want with a cab?”
“To go where you’re going, of course.”
“Do I look knocked up?”
“I didn’t say you did.”
“And I didn’t say you said I did… Now, I’ve been on the track this five years. I’ve tramped two thousan’ miles since last Chris’mas, and I don’t see why I can’t tramp the last mile. Do you think my old dog wants a cab?”
The dog shivered and whimpered; he seemed to want to get away from the crowd.
“But then, you see, you ain’t going to carry that swag through the streets, are you?” asked the cabman.
“Why not? Who’ll stop me! There ain’t no law agin it, I b’lieve?”
“But then, you see, it don’t look well, you know.”
“Ah! I thought we’d get to it at last.”
The traveller up-ended his bluey against his knee, gave it an affectionate pat, and then straightened himself up and looked fixedly at the cabman.
“Now, look here!” he said, sternly and impressively, “can you see anything wrong with that old swag o’ mine?”
It was a stout, dumpy swag, with a red blanket outside, patched with blue, and the edge of a blue blanket showing in the inner rings at the end. The swag might have been newer; it might have been cleaner; it might have been hooped with decent straps, instead of bits of clothes-line and greenhide — but otherwise there was nothing the matter with it, as swags go.
“I’ve humped that old swag for years,” continued the bushman; “I’ve carried that old swag thousands of miles — as that old dog knows — an’ no one ever bothered about the look of it, or of me, or of my old dog, neither; and do you think I’m going to be ashamed of that old swag, for a cabby or anyone else? Do you think I’m going to study anybody’s feelings? No one ever studied mine! I’m in two minds to summon you for using insulting language towards me!”
He lifted the swag by the twisted towel which served for a shoulder-strap, swung it into the cab, got in himself and hauled the dog after him.
“You can drive me somewhere where I can leave my swag and dog while I get some decent clothes to see a tailor in,” he said to the cabman. “My old dog ain’t used to cabs, you see.”
Then he added, reflectively: “I drove a cab myself, once, for five years in Sydney.”