by Louisa Murray
What may this mean ....
So terribly to shake our dispositions
With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls.
--Hamlet, Act 1, Scene IV.
I am a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Canada,
fifty years old, in sound health of body and mind. I have
never had any belief in spiritualism, clairvoyance or any
similar psychical delusions. My favourite studies at college
were logic and mathematics, and no one who knew me could
suspect me of belonging to that class of enthusiasts in
which ghosts and other preternatural manifestations have
their origin. Yet I have had one strange experience in my
life which apparently contradicts all my theories of the
universe and its laws, nor have I ever been able to explain
it on any rational hypothesis. That there is some reasonable
explanation I believe, and as there is no one living now,
except myself, whom the facts concern, I have determined to
give them to the world for the benefit of those who are
interested in abnormal phenomena.
Twenty-five years ago I was minister of a
newly built church, in a village on the shore of Lake Erie.
The village had sprung up round the saw mills of Mason and
Company, lately erected to turn the giant pines that grew on
the sandy borders of the lake into lumber. When the pines
were all worked up, the great saw mills and lumber yards
sought another locality, and the village which had never had
any individuality of its own dropped out of existence.
There was no manse, and I boarded in the
house of the chief member of my congregation, Mr. Michael
Forrest, who owned a fine farm of four hundred acres dose to
The Red House Farm, as it was called from the
colour of the paint Michael Forrest liberally bestowed on
his buildings and fences, was in those days a pleasant
place. There peace and plenty reigned, and everything within
and without testified to good management, order and comfort.
My story opens in the parlour of the Red
House, where, in the early afternoon of a splendid Indian
summer day, a young man was writing at a desk placed under
an open window that looked into a spacious verandah enclosed
by cedar posts round which climbing plants were twined in
picturesque profusion. This "best room" was never
used by the family except on Sundays and festal occasions,
and at other times was given up to the minister, the Rev.
Gilbert Gray, who writes this narrative.
The hurry and bustle of dinner were over, the
dinner things cleared away and the kitchen and dining-room
made tidy. Mrs. Forrest was sitting in her rocking chair by
the sunny kitchen window, and, her knitting in her lap, was
taking her afternoon nap, her cat curled up at her feet. All
was quiet in the house till light steps came tripping down
stairs, and two pretty girls entered the verandah, sitting
down on the high-backed bench of rustic work, each holding
some bit of light needle-work in her hands. One was the only
child of Farmer Forrest and his wife; the other a niece,
brought up by Mrs. Forrest from infancy, and filling the
place of a second daughter.
I have said they were two pretty girls, but
Marjory Forrest was beautiful. She was a tall, graceful
blonde, fair and pale, with rose-red lips, violet eyes, and
hair the very colour of sun-light. She looked like the
heroine of some happy love poem--happy, I say, for there was
no hint of tragedy in her pure, serene face. Celia Morris
had a Hebe-like face and form, with bright chestnut hair,
merry brown eyes and a laughing mouth, showing two rows of
pearly teeth. She was just eighteen; two years younger than
They made a charming picture in their pretty
print dresses, fresh and spotless, their bright heads
bending over their work, and catching the changing lights
and shades coming in through the autumn-tinted leaves. But
the picture darkened and dissolved as a handsome young man
stood in the open arch of the doorway. The girls smiled a
welcome, and, taking off his hat, he stepped in and threw
himself down on a pile of mats made of the husks of Indian
corn. He was the son of the head of the great lumber firm of
Mason and Company. His father was a hard-working, self-made
man, but he prided himself on bringing up his son to be a
gentleman. Not an idle gentleman, however, and he had
lately sent the young man to the mills to gain some
practical knowledge of business before admitting him to a
junior partnership. As there had been many satisfactory
dealings between Mr. Mason and Farmer Forrest, Leonard Mason
was made welcome at the Red House, and speedily established
himself on a friendly footing. His frank, unaffected manner,
and freedom from what Mrs. Forrest called "city
airs," pleased the farmer and his wife; his knowledge
of music and light literature charmed Marjory and Celia. The
young people were on the most familiar and friendly terms,
but Leonard's attentions were so equally divided between
them that if he had a preference only a very close observer
could have discerned it.
To-day he did not respond as readily as usual
to Celia's lively chatter, and he soon got up from his seat
on the mats, and, placing himself against one of the posts,
from which point of vantage he could better see Marjory's
face, said, "I am going to Hamilton."
Marjory looked up with a startled glance.
Celia laughed a quick little laugh as she asked, "not
this very minute, are you?"
"I am going to-morrow; my father wants
"Well, I suppose you mean to come back
again," said Celia lightly.
"Yes, but not for a week. Shall you miss
me very much while I am away?"
"Why, of course; there won't be any one
to sing 'Come into the garden, Maud.' Will there
"No, indeed," said Marjory.
"I wonder which of you will miss me
most. If I knew, I would ask her to give me a lock of her
hair to wear round my wrist as a keepsake."
Celia's eyes were fixed on Leonard with an
eager questioning expression, but he was looking at Marjory,
who kept her eyes steadily on her work, though a faint blush
was stealing over her face.
"I'll tell you what we must do,"
said Leonard. "I'll get two long and two short lots,
and you must both draw. Whoever draws two long lots loses a
lock of her hair to me.
"I know you won't refuse
me," he continued pleadingly, "because there may
be an accident to the train I am going on, and I may be
killed, and then you'd be sorry for having been so
"What nonsense," cried Celia.
"Not at all," said Leonard,
"wise men of old believed in the judgment of
lots." And breaking off a slender vine-tendril he
divided it into two long and two short lots, arranging them
with some mysterious manipulations between his fingers.
Then, kneeling on one knee, he held them to Marjory.
Slowly, with tremulous fingers and blushing
cheeks, Marjory drew a long lot. Leonard seemed going to say
something, but checking himself held out the lots to Celia.
Celia did not blush; she grew deathly pale as she drew out
her lot. It was a short one.
"I see you don't intend to lose, Miss
Celia," said Leonard.
I think I hear now the wild, hysterical laugh
with which she answered him. Then, I did not heed it.
"If you draw a short one this
time," said Leonard, as he again held the lots to
Marjory, "we shall have to try again," but as he
spoke the second long lot was in her hand.
"Oh, kind fortune!" cried Leonard.
He tried to make Marjory look at him, but she
would not meet his eyes. Still, those subtle signs that
lovers learn to read the flickering flame on her cheek, the
quivering of her lips and eyelids, who can say what--gave
him courage. Snatching up her scissors, he held them over
her head. "May I?" he asked beseechingly. With
shy, timid grace she bent her fair head still lower; he felt
the mute consent, and the next moment one long braid was
severed from the rest and lying in his hand.
"Fasten it round my wrist with a true
lover's knot," he whispered, softly touching her
fingers with the braid. She took it at once, and as he
pushed up his sleeve she wound it round his wrist, Leonard
helping her to tie the mystic knot. Holding her hand, which
did not try to escape, he drew her gently towards him and
kissed the virgin lips that confidingly met his.
At that moment a shadow, as if from the wild
flight of a bird, passed before the window at which I sat,
and swift as an arrow from a bow Celia darted out of the
verandah. Till then I had seen and heard all that passed in
a sort of stupor, like that which sometimes takes possession
of one who listens to his death sentence, though every word
is indelibly written on the tablets of his memory.
Unwittingly I had been playing the part of an eavesdropper.
Now consciousness returned, and, like a man coming out of a
trance, I got up and left the room and the house.
I had walked fast and far before I returned
to the Red House, and the moon, a brilliant hunter's moon,
was flooding earth and heaven with light as I came in sight
of the verandah. The inmates seemed all standing outside,
among them a tall, finely-made young man, whom I at once
recognized as Archie Jonson, farmer Forrest's nephew,
generally supposed to be the heir to the Red House Farm. A
marriage between him and Celia had been planned by the
farmer and his wife while the cousins were children. Archie
had always been devoted to Celia, and she had been fond of
him till he tried to win her for his wife. Then, either from
coyness or coquetry, she became cold and unresponsive. His
entreaties for an immediate marriage were indignantly
refused, and the utmost concession she would make was that
after she was one and twenty she might think about it. A
quarrel ensued, and, deeply wounded, Archie left his home.
He was passionately fond of the water, and being known as a
brave and skilful sailor he found no difficulty in obtaining
the place of mate on one of the best schooners on the lakes.
I was surprised at seeing him, as he was not
expected home until after the close of navigation, but still
more astonished when he came to meet me before I reached the
"Where's Celia?" he called out as
he came near.
"Celia?" I exclaimed, with a sudden
feeling of alarm, "Isn't she at home?"
"No; Marjory thought she went with you
to the village."
"She hasn't been with me. I haven't seen
"My God!" he burst out
passionately; "where can she be?"
"Perhaps she's hiding from you, for
fun," I said.
"No; they had missed her before I got
The farmer was calling us to come on, and, as
soon as we were near enough, he told us that shortly after
dinner he had seen Celia running down the road to the bush.
"But you see," he said, "I was so taken aback
by Leonard coming to ask me for Marjory, that I forgot I had
seen her till this minute."
"She must have gone to get maple leaves
for her Christmas wreath," said Marjory.
"But what keeps her so late?" said
"Why, you needn't be scared about
her," said the farmer; "there's nothing to harm
her. There hasn't been a bear or a wolf, or even a
rattlesnake, seen in these woods for forty years; nor no
such vermin as tramps, neither."
"There's that swamp," rejoined his
wife; "she's always hunting for some sort of weeds in
it, and I often think she'll fall in and get drowned."
"She couldn't be drowned if she didn't
walk into the middle of it on purpose," said the
farmer. "But where's Archie going?"
"To bring home Celia," Archie
called back, as he walked off at a pace that soon took him
out of sight.
"I'm sure I'm glad he's gone after
her," said Mrs. Forrest. "She might have hurt her
foot on a stub or a stone, and not be able to walk."
I suggested that Leonard and I had better
follow Archie, and Leonard said he was going to make the
"Archie won't want you," said the
farmer. "If Celia has hurt herself, he can carry her
home as easy as a baby; and like the job, too, I
"Oh, let them go, father!" said
Marjory. "You see how anxious mother is, and so am
"All right, let them go if they
like," said the farmer; adding in an irritable tone,
that showed he was himself getting uneasy, "women are
always making a fuss about nothing."
The moon was at the full, and the sky without
a cloud. Every cluster of golden rod and purple aster along
the fences, every stick and stone on the road were as dearly
seen as at noonday. Leonard and I hurried on filled with an
unspoken dread. The road was at first in a straight line,
but on coming to a piece of marshy land it turned away to
the bush; a path from this turning led to the swamp, a few
These swamps are often places of surpassing
beauty. There every species of wild fowl make their nests
and rear their young broods, and the brilliant flowers and
luxuriant leaves of all kinds of water plants form lovely
aquatic gardens, richly coloured with ever-varying tints
from April to December, and always the delight of an
artist's eye. Round the edges of the swamp the water is
usually shallow enough for the hunters to wade through in
pursuit of their game, but in the centre it is often
dangerously deep, and only to be crossed in a skiff or
Where the road divided, Leonard would have
kept a straight course to the bush, but a terrible fear
dragged me in the other direction. "No; come this
way!" I cried, and he turned and followed me in
silence. Faster and faster we hurried on till we reached the
swamp. There a heart-rending sight met our eyes. Archie
Jonson was struggling through the beds of water-lilies,
reeds and rushes that obstructed his way, clasping Celia in
his arms. Her long hair fell down dank and dripping, her
arms hung stiff and lifeless, her face gleamed ghastly white
under the strong moonlight. She was dead! "Drowned!
As he ran towards him, Archie laid her on a
grassy mound. Her limbs were not distorted and her face was
composed, except that her eyes were wide open as if in
startled surprise. "You are a doctor as well as a
minister," Archie said to me, hoarsely; "see if
there is any life left."
There was none. She had been dead for hours.
As I said so, Archie sprung up from his kneeling attitude
beside Celia, and turned to Leonard with a deadly rage and
hatred in his eyes.
"This is your doing," he said.
"Mine!" exclaimed Leonard.
"Are you mad?"
"I am not mad. There is Celia, the girl
I loved better than my life, lying dead before my eyes, and
you are her murderer!"
"Good Heavens!" cried Leonard,
"What do you mean?"
"The shock has been too much for
him," I said. "Archie, my poor fellow, you don't
know what you are saying."
"I know very well what I am saying.
he--that man there--fooled Celia, poor little innocent
child, with his fine flattering manners till she thought he
was making love to her, and when she found out he had only
been play-acting with her, she couldn't bear it. It made her
crazy, and she came down to the swamp and drowned herself.
Oh, my God, she drowned herself. But it was he made her do
"I never made love to Celia in my
life," said Leonard. "I loved Marjory from the
first hour I saw her."
"Oh, I dare say. You were only playing
with Celia, but she thought you were in earnest. Listen to
me, minister," he continued, controlling his passion
with wonderful self-command; "I had a warning, but I
was a blind idiot and did not take it. Three nights ago, I
dreamed that I saw Celia standing on a bank sloping down to
a big piece of water, and a man was standing beside her, and
while I was looking on in a stupid kind of wonder, I saw she
was slipping down towards the water and not able to stop
herself, and she held out her hand to the man and cried to
him to help her, but he turned right round and went up the
bank. Then I woke, and the dream seemed so real it made me
feel queer; but I never had any belief in dreams, and when I
got up and went out into the daylight, I laughed at myself
for being frightened at a night-mare and thought no more
about it. But the next night the dream came again; and this
time I saw Celia throw herself into the water; and the man
stood on the bank and looked on. Then I knew the dream was
sent to warn me of some danger to Celia, though I couldn't
tell what it meant, and I came home as quick as I could. And
the first person I saw was the man I had seen in my
dream--the man I am looking at now, and I heard he was going
to marry Marjory; and Celia could not be found. Then when
aunt Forrest mentioned the swamp, the meaning of the dream
came to me like a flash, and I made for the swamp, but I had
come too late--too late to save her, but not too late to
revenge her wrongs."
I attempted to reason with him as well as I
could, and tried to show him how wicked and absurd it was to
let a dream--a nightmare, as he had himself called it--put
such wild fancies into his head.
"And you cannot know that she drowned
herself; it may have been an accident," I said.
"It was no accident; she drowned herself
in her madness. When I got to the swamp I saw a bit of
ribbon hanging on the reeds, and I went on till I came to
the deep water; there I found her. She had not sunk very far
down because her skirt had caught on a stake that stood up
there, and I got her out easily enough. But she was dead;
and you, Leonard Mason, will have to answer to me for her
"I tell you I am innocent of her death
as you are!"
"Can you swear it?" cried Archie.
"Can you swear it while she lies there before your
"I can, I never had any love for Celia,
and I never tried to make her think I had. I swear it before
the God that hears me!"
As Leonard uttered this oath, Archie kept his
eyes fixed on him with piercing intensity; but Leonard met
the searching gaze without flinching.
"If you have sworn to a lie,"
Archie said, "your sin will find you out, and you will
have to answer to me for what you have done when you least
Then he wheeled round, and going to his dead
sweet-heart, took her in his arms. "Go before me,
minister," he said--"go before me, and tell them
what is coming."
He would not allow me to help him, so Leonard
and I walked on before, and Archie followed with his piteous
burden. He was a tall powerful young man, besides being
under such a strong excitement as gives threefold strength
to every nerve, and he carried poor Celia's death-weight, as
if she had been a living child.
But I can write no more of that night of
grief and anguish. When the dismal morning came, Archie had
Three days after her death Celia was laid in
the village graveyard; a peaceful spot away from all noise
or traffic, on the side of a gentle hill within site of the
Red House. No one but Archie Jonson, Leonard Mason and
myself ever suspected the manner of her death. It was
naturally supposed that while gathering flowers in the swamp
she had fallen into some hidden pool from which the water
plants that covered it would prevent her escape.
Archie was not at her funeral, nor had he
returned to the farm, but, two days after she was buried, he
wrote to Mrs. Forrest telling her that he had rejoined his
vessel, the White Bird, which was going up Lake
Superior with a cargo, the last trip she intended to make
that season. The letter made no mention of Celia and was
very brief, but it was calmly and coherently written, and
the Forrests hoped he intended to come home when the
schooner was laid up. But this gleam of light was soon lost
in deeper darkness. In the middle of November a letter from
the owners of the White Bird came to Michael Forrest,
informing him that the vessel with all her crew had been
lost on Lake Superior in one of those sudden storms which,
after a long period of fine weather in the fall, sometimes
break over the lakes. Her figure head, on which her name and
that of the firm to which she belonged were carved, had been
found floating, and recognized by another vessel, confirming
the fears for her fate that had been felt. The bodies of the
crew were never found, for the ice-cold depths of Lake
Superior never give up their dead.
The winter passed slowly and sadly at the Red
House, but with the spring came the promise of new hope and
joy. Mr. Mason had built a pretty house for Leonard and his
bride near the Mills, of which Leonard was to be chief
manager. They were to be married in May, and the month
famous for its caprice wore its fairest aspect that year.
The sorrows which Marjory had gone through seemed only to
have deepened the tender sweetness of her delicate beauty,
and purified the happiness that illumined her lovely eyes.
Leonard, as handsome and charming as ever, had grown
more manly and thoughtful, and, if possible, was more in
love with Marjory than ever. The old people gained new life
from Marjory's happy prospects, and if I had not known
what depths of regret sad remembrance can lie silent and
secret in the human heart I might have thought that Celia
and Archie were forgotten.
The wedding day came in warm and bright, and
as full of opening buds and blossoms as if it had been
expressly made for the occasion. The ceremony was to take
place in the Red House parlour at six o'clock in the
evening. The supper was to follow immediately. The bride and
bride-groom were then to be driven to the nearest station to
meet the train for Hamilton where they were to stay a few
days and then go on to Niagara Falls to spend the remainder
of their honeymoon there.
It was a busy day at the Red House. Two or
three young girls from the village came to help in the
pleasant task of putting all the rooms in festal array, and
in preparing the dainties liberally provided for the wedding
As the time for the ceremony drew near, the
day's excitement rose higher and higher. The bridesmaids
were dressing the bride, Mrs. Forrest and two favourite
assistants were setting out the supper table. The farmer had
taken most of the guests to see his new peach orchard. Two
young men, one a cousin of Leonard's who had come from
Hamilton to be the best man, were chatting and laughing
through an open window with two pretty girls who were
decorating the wedding cake with dainty little flags bearing
embroidered mottos placed among loves and doves and
other appropriate devices in sugar. Leonard and I were
standing in the doorway of the verandah, and the eager
bridegroom was looking at his watch.
"It only wants twelve minutes to
six," he said, "I hope Marjory is ready."
"Your watch is too fast," I said,
laughing. "Mine wants fully a quarter."
As I spoke a boy employed to do
"chores" came round the barnyard and said,
"There's a man wants to see Mr. Leonard Mason."
"A man--what man?" asked Leonard
"Dun know. He says he must see you for a
"Oh, hang it!" said Leonard.
"Well, I suppose I can give him a minute," and he
stepped out of the verandah. Then, looking back at me, he
exclaimed, "I hope the day is not going to
It was already changing. Grey clouds coming
up from the lake were creeping over the sun. An icy wind
followed them, chilling me to the bone, and I heard a
distant peal of thunder. Farmer Forrest came hurrying his
guests into the verandah. "Is all ready,
minister?" he enquired. "Where's
"He went to the yard to speak to a man
that wanted to see him, I answered.
"Well, we'd best go into the parlour
now, and receive the bride and bridegroom in state,"
said the farmer leading the way.
As Leonard did not come at once, I went to
meet him, wondering at his delay. The clouds were growing
darker; there was a sharp gleam of lightning, and the
thunder that followed showed it was nearer. The storm was
certainly coming up, but it might be only a shower.
I looked all round the horizon, and while I
was noting the darkening clouds, two men going up the road
to the graveyard came into my view; a gleam of the fading
sunlight making them distinctly visible. The one in front
was more than commonly tall, and led the way with swift,
vigorous strides. He was dressed in what seemed a sailor's
rough jacket and trousers, and a sailor's glazed hat with
floating ribbons. His companion followed him with curiously
unequal steps, as if dragged by some invisible chain. It was
easy to recognize in this last Leonard in his new wedding
suit; and as I gazed the conviction flashed upon me that the
man in front was Archie Jonson. After all, then, Archie had
not been drowned when the White Bird was lost. But by
what strange power had he compelled Leonard to leave his
waiting bride and follow him to the graveyard?
Such an extraordinary proceeding was both
mysterious and alarming, and might be dangerous for Leonard;
and on the impulse of the moment I followed them as fast as
I could. I was a rapid walker, but they had a start of some
minutes, and I could not overtake them.
When I entered the graveyard the whole sky
was wrapped in a black pall except a little space above the
plot of ground, bordered with periwinkles, in which Celia's
grave lay. The white stone at the head of the grave and the
figures of two men beside it stood vividly out under that
clear space, while the black cloud came swiftly on as if to
swallow them up. The tall man had his hand on the
gravestone, his face was turned towards me and I could see
every feature. It was Archie Jonson's face, lividly pale; or
it might have been the shadow of the thunder cloud that made
it appear so. Leonard's back was towards me, and he
confronted Archie--if Archie it was--in a fixed and moveless
attitude. I saw them distinctly for a moment; the next the
black cloud that seemed almost to touch the ground covered
them, and all was hidden from eyes. Then a bolt of blue
flame with a red light in its centre shot from the cloud,
and an awful crash seemed to rend the heavens. A blinding
torrent of rain succeeded, but it ceased in a minute or two;
the cloud passed on, and the sun, now near its setting,
shone clear in the western sky. Anxiously I looked round for
Leonard and his mysterious companion. Leonard was lying
stretched on Celia's grave; Archie, or his avenging ghost,
or whatever had assumed his likeness, had disappeared.
Going up to Leonard, I found him dead; killed
by the lightning I supposed, though I saw no sign of its
having touched him. As I was still stooping over, half
stunned by the shock, his cousin and two or three other
young men came round me. They had heard a confused account
of our having gone to the graveyard, and while others were
looking for us in the barns and out-houses, they had come to
see if it could be true. We made a rough litter of pine
boughs on which we laid poor Leonard, the young men carrying
the bier while I walked before, wondering how it would be
possible for me to tell the awful tidings it was my hard
fate to bring.
But it was not left to me. Marjory, who had
been waiting and watching in an agony of terror at Leonard's
absence, had seen the ominous procession coming down the
hill, and before anyone could prevent her she was flying
madly to meet it. Desperately I tried to stop her, but she
broke away from me, saw her lover's dead body lying on the
bier, and fell at the feet of the bearers in a death-like
swoon; her dainty wedding dress and fair hair wreathed with
flowers, lying in the muddy pools the thunder-rain had made.
It was long before she could be brought back
to life, and then her mind was gone. She remembered nothing
of the past, she had no recognition of the present; she knew
no more, not even her mother; she never spoke, and did not
seem conscious of anything said to her. She lingered a few
days in this state, and then died so quietly that the
watchers did not know when she passed away.
The poor old people did not long survive the
wreck of all their earthly hopes. The Red House farm was
sold, and Michael Forrest's property was divided among
relations he had never known.
Leonard Mason's death was, of course,
attributed to lightning. The "chore" boy's
description of the man with whom Leonard had gone to the
grave was so fanciful, and so mixed with improbable
incidents, that his tale was not credited by anyone. From
some dreamy, incoherent utterances of Mrs. Forrest's, it was
afterwards believed that Leonard had gone to the graveyard
at Marjory's desire to lay a wreath of flowers on Celia's
grave; and when the conjecture was added that the unknown
man must have been an express messenger from Hamilton,
bringing the wreath that had delayed by some mistake, the
mystery was supposed to be explained. As for the strange
things connected with this tragedy that had come to my
knowledge, I kept them hidden in my breast.
I have never seen or heard anything of Archie
Jonson since his inexplicable appearance on that fatal day;
and I have been informed that it was absolutely impossible
the best sailor that ever lived could have escaped in such a
storm as that in which the White Bird, with her crew,