Many Waters Cannot Quench Love by Louisa Baldwin
Did I not know my old friend John Horton to be as truthful as he
is devoid of imagination, I should have believed that he was
romancing or dreaming when he told me of a circumstance that happened
to him some thirty years ago. He was at that time a bachelor, living
in London and practising as a solicitor in Bedford Row. He was not a
strong man, though neither nervous nor excitable, and as I said
before singularly unimaginative.
If Horton told you a fact, you might be certain that it had
occurred in the precise manner he stated. If he told it you a hundred
times, he would not vary it in the repetition. This literal and
conscientious habit of mind, made his testimony of value, and when he
told me a fact that I should have disbelieved from any other man,
from my friend I was obliged to accept it as truth.
It was during the long vacation in the autumn of 1857, that Horton
determined to take a few weeks' holiday in the country. He was such
an inveterate Londoner he had not been able to tear himself away from
town for more than a few days at a time for many years past. But at
length he felt the necessity for quiet and pure air, only he would
not go far to seek them. It was easier then than it is now to find a
lodging that would meet his requirements, a place in the country yet
close to the town, and it was near Wandsworth that Horton found what
he sought, rooms for a single gentleman in an old farm-house. He read
the advertisement of the lodgings in the paper at luncheon, and went
that very afternoon to see if they answered to the tempting
He had some little difficulty in finding Maitland's Farm. It was
not easy to find his way through country lanes that to his town eyes
looked precisely alike, and with nothing to indicate whether he had
taken a right or wrong turning. The railway now runs shrieking over
what were then green fields, lanes have been transformed into
gas-lighted streets, and Maitland's Farm, the old red brick house
standing in its high walled garden, has been pulled down long ago.
The last time Horton went to look at the old place it was changed
beyond recognition, and the orchard in which he gathered pears and
apples during his stay at the farm, was now the site of a public
house and a dissenting chapel.
It was on a hot afternoon early in September when Horton opened
the big iron gates and walked up the path bordered with dahlias and
hollyhocks leading to the front door, and rang for admittance at
Maitland's Farm. The bell echoed in a distant part of the empty house
and died away into silence, but no one came to answer its summons. As
Horton stood waiting he took the opportunity of thoroughly examining
the outside of the house. Though it was called a farm it had not been
built for one originally. It was a substantial, four-storey brick
house of Queen Anne's period, with five tall sash windows on each
floor, and dormer windows in the tiled roof. The front door was
approached by a shallow flight of stone steps, and above the
fan-light projected a penthouse of solidly carved woodwork. On either
side were brackets of wrought iron, supporting extinguishers that had
quenched the torch of many a late returning reveller a century ago.
Only the windows to right and left of the door had blinds or
curtains, or betrayed any sign of habitation. 'Those are the rooms to
be let, I wonder which is the bedroom,' thought my friend as he rang
the bell for the second time. Presently he heard within the sound of
approaching footsteps, there was a great drawing of bolts and after a
final struggle with the rusty lock, the door was opened by an old
woman of severe and cheerless aspect. Horton was the first to
'I have called to see the rooms advertised to be let in this
house.' The old woman eyed him from head to foot without making any
reply, then opening the door wider, nodded to him to enter. He did so
and found himself in a large paved hall lighted from the fan-light
over the door, and by a high narrow window facing him at the top of a
short flight of oak stairs. The air was musty and damp as that of an
'A hall this size should have a fire in it,' said Horton, glancing
at the empty rusty grate.
'Farmers and folks that work out of doors keep themselves warm
without fires,' said the old woman sharply.
'This house was never built for a farm, why is it called one?'
inquired Horton of his taciturn guide as she opened the door of the
'Because it was one,' was the blunt reply. 'When I was a girl it
was the Manor House, and may be called that again for all I know, but
thirty years since, a man named Maitland took it on a lease and
farmed the land, and folks forgot the old name, and called it
'When did Maitland leave?'
'About two months ago.'
'Why did he go away from a nice place like this?'
'You are fond of asking questions,' remarked the old woman drily.
'He went for two good reasons, his lease was up, and his family was a
big one. Nine children he had, from a girl of two-and--twenty down to
a little lad of four years old. His wife and him thought it best to
take 'em out to Australia, where there's room for all. They were glad
to go, all but the eldest, Esther, and she nearly broke her heart
over it. But then she had to leave her sweetheart behind her. He's a
young man on a dairy farm near here, and though he's to follow her
out and marry her in twelve months, she did nothing but mourn, same
as if she was leaving him altogether.'
'Ah, indeed!' said Horton, who could not readily enter into
details about people whom he did not know. 'So this is the
sitting-room; it's large and airy, and has as much furniture in it as
a man needs by himself. Now show me the bedroom, if you please.'
'Follow me upstairs, sir,' and the old woman preceded him slowly
up the oak staircase, and opened the door of the back room on the
'Then the bedroom that you let is not over the sitting-room?'
'No, the front room is mine, and the room next to it is my son's.
He's out all day at his work, but he sleeps here, and mostly keeps me
company of an evening. I'm alone here all day looking after the
place, and if you take the rooms I shall cook for you and wait on you
Horton liked the look of the bedroom. It was large and airy, with
little furniture in it beyond a bed and a chest of drawers. But it
was delicately clean, and silent as the grave. How a tired man might
sleep here! The walls were decorated with old prints in black frames
of the 'Rake's Progress' and 'Marriage à la Mode', and above
the high carved mantelpiece hung an engraving of the famous portrait
of Charles the First, on a prancing brown horse.
'Those things were on the walls when the Maitlands took the place,
and they had to leave 'em where they found 'em,' said the old woman.
'And they found that sword too,' she added, pointing to a rusty
cutlass that hung from a nail by the head of the bed; 'but I think
they'd have done no great harm if they'd sold it for old iron.'
Horton took down the weapon and examined it. It was an ordinary
cutlass, such as was worn by the marines in George the Third's reign,
not old enough to be of antiquarian interest, nor of sufficient
beauty of workmanship to make it of artistic value. He replaced it,
and stepped to the windows and looked into the garden below. It was
bounded by a high wall enclosing a row of poplars, and beyond lay the
open country, visible for miles in the clear air, a sight to rest and
fascinate the eye of a Londoner.
Horton made his bargain with the old woman whom the landlord had
put into the house as caretaker, pending his decision about the
disposition of the property. She was allowed to take a lodger for her
own profit, and as soon as Mrs Belt found that the stranger agreed to
her terms, she assured him that everything should be comfortably
arranged for his reception by the following Wednesday.
Horton arrived at Maitland's Farm on the evening of the appointed
day. A stormy autumnal sunset was casting an angry glow on the
windows of the house, the rising wind filled the air with mournful
sounds, and the poplars swayed against a background of lurid sky.
Mrs Belt was expecting her lodger, and promptly opened the door,
candle in hand, when she heard the wheels stopping at the gate. The
driver of the fly carried Horton's portmanteau into the hall, was
paid his fare, and drove away thinking the darkening lanes more
cheerful than the glimpse he had had of the inside of Maitland's
Horton was thoroughly pleased with his country quarters. The
intense quiet of the almost empty house, that might have made another
man melancholy, soothed and rested him. In the day time he wandered
about the country, or amused himself in the garden and orchard, and
he spent the long evenings alone, reading and smoking in his
sitting-room. Mrs Belt brought in supper at nine o'clock, and usually
stayed to have a chat with her lodger, and many a long story she
related of her neighbours, and the Maitland family, while she waited
upon him at his evening meal.
On several occasions she told him that Esther Maitland's
sweetheart, Michael Winn, had come to talk with her about the
Maitlands, or to bring her a newspaper containing tidings that their
ship had reached some point on its long voyage in safety.
'You see the Petrel is a sailing vessel, sir, and there's no
saying how long she'll take getting to Australia. The last news
Michael had, she'd got as far as some islands with an outlandish
name, and he's had a letter from Esther posted at a place called
Madeira. And now he gives himself no peace till he can hear that the
ship's safe as far as--somewhere, I think he said, in Africa.'
'It would be the Cape, Mrs Belt.'
'That's the name, sir, the Cape, and he werrits all the time for
fear of storms and shipwrecks.
But I tell him the world's a wide place, and the sea wider than
all, and very likely when the chimney pots is flying about our heads
in a gale here, the Petrel's lying becalmed somewhere.
And then he takes up my thought and turns it against me. "Yes," he
says, "and when it's a dead calm here on shore, the ship may be
sinking in a storm, and my Esther being drowned."'
'Michael Winn must be a very nervous young man.'
'That's where it is, sir, and I tell him when he follows the
Maitlands it's a good job that he leaves no one behind him that'll
werrit after him, the same as he's werrited after Esther.'
It was the middle of October, and Horton had been a month at the
farm. The weather was now cold and wet, and he began to think it was
time he returned to his snug London home, for the autumn rain made
everything at Maitland's Farm damp and mouldy. It had blown half a
gale all day, and the rain had fallen in torrents, keeping him a
prisoner indoors. But he occupied himself in writing letters, and
reading some legal documents his clerk had brought out to him, and
the time passed rapidly. Indeed the evening flew by so quickly he had
no idea it was nine o'clock, when Mrs Belt entered the room to lay
the cloth for supper.
'It's stopped raining now, sir,' she said, as she poked the fire
into a cheerful blaze, 'and a good job too, for Michael Winn brings
me word the Wandle's risen fearful since morning, and it's out in
places more than it's been for years. But there's a full moon
tonight, so no one need walk into the water unless they've a mind
Horton's head was too full of a knotty legal point to pay much
heed to Mrs Belt, and the old woman, seeing that he was not in a mood
for conversation, said nothing further. At half-past ten she brought
her lodger some spirits and hot water, and his bedroom candle, and
wished him good night. Horton sat reading for some time, and then
made an entry in his diary concerning a day of which there was
absolutely nothing to record, lighted his candle, and went upstairs.
I am familiar with the precise order of each trifling circumstance.
My friend has so often told me the events of that night, and never
with the slightest addition or omission in the telling. It was his
habit, the last thing at night, to draw up the blinds. He looked out
of the window, and though the moon was at the full, the clouds had
not yet dispersed, and her light was fitful and obscure. It was
twenty minutes to twelve as he extinguished the candle by his
bedside. Everything was propitious for rest. He was weary, and the
house profoundly silent. The rain had stopped, the wind fallen to a
sigh, and it seemed to him that as soon as his head pressed the
pillow he sank into a dreamless slumber.
Shortly after two o'clock Horton awoke suddenly, passing
instantaneously from deep sleep to the possession of every faculty in
a heightened degree, and with an insupportable sense of fear weighing
upon him like a thousand nightmares. He started up and looked around
him. The perspiration poured from his brow, and his heart beat to
suffocation. He was convinced that he had been waked by some strange
and terrible noise, that had thrilled through the depths of sleep,
and he dreaded the repetition of it inexpressibly. The room was
flooded with moonlight streaming through the narrow windows, lying
like sheets of molten silver on the floor, and the poplars in the
garden cast tremulous shadows on the ceiling.
Then Horton heard through the silence of the house a sound that
was not the moan of the wind, nor the rustling of trees, nor any
sound he had heard before. Clear and distinct, as though it were in
the room with him, he heard a voice of weeping and lamentation, with
more than human sorrow in the cry, so that it seemed to him as though
he listened to the mourning of a lost soul.
He leaped up, struck a match, and lighted the candle, and seizing
the cutlass that hung by the bed, unlocked the door, and opened it to
So far as all ordinary sounds were concerned, the house was silent
as death, and the moonlight streamed through the staircase window in
a flood of pale light. But the unearthly sound of weeping, thrilling
through heart and soul, came from the hall below, and Horton walked
downstairs to the landing at the top of the first flight. There, on
the lowest step, a woman was seated with bowed head, her face hidden
in her hands, rocking to and fro in extremity of grief.
The moonlight fell full on her, and he saw that she was only
partly clothed, and her dark hair lay in confusion on her bare
'Who are you, and what is the matter with you?' said Horton, and
his trembling voice echoed in the silent house. But she neither
stirred nor spoke, nor abated her weeping. Slowly he descended the
moon-lit staircase till there were but four steps between him and the
woman. A mortal fear was growing upon him.
'Speak! if you are a living being!' he cried. The figure rose to
its full height, turned and faced him for a moment that seemed an
eternity, and rushed full on the point of the cutlass Horton
involuntarily presented. As the impalpable form glided up the blade
of the weapon, a cold wave seemed to break over him, and he fell in a
dead faint on the stairs.
How long he remained insensible he could not tell. When he came to
himself and opened his eyes, the moon had set, and he groped his way
in darkness to his room, where the candle had burnt itself out.
When Horton came down to breakfast, he looked as though he had
been ill for a month, and his hands trembled like a drunkard's. At
any other time Mrs Belt would have been struck by his appearance, but
this morning she was too much excited by some bad news she had heard,
to notice whether her lodger was looking well or ill. Horton asked
her how she had slept, for if she had not heard the terrible sounds
that waked him, it still seemed impossible she should not have heard
his heavy fall on the stairs. Mrs Belt replied, with some
astonishment at her lodger's concern for her welfare, that she had
never had a better night, it was so quiet after the wind fell.
'But did your son think the house was quiet, did he sleep too?'
asked Horton with feverish eagerness.
Mrs Belt was yearning to impart her bad news to her lodger, and
remarking that she had something else to do than ask folks how they
slept o' nights, she said a neighbour had just told her that Michael
Winn had fallen into the Wandle during the night--no one knew
how--and was drowned, and they were carrying his body home then.
'What a terrible blow for his sweetheart,' said Horton, greatly
'Aye! there's a pretty piece of news to send her, when she's
expecting to see poor Michael himself soon.'
'Mrs Belt, have you any portrait of Esther Maitland you could show
me? I've heard the girl's name so often I'm curious to know what she
is like.' And the old woman retired to hunt among her treasures for a
small photograph on glass, that Esther had given her before she went
Presently Mrs Belt returned, polishing the picture with her
'It's but a poor affair, sir, taken in a caravan on the Common,
yet it's like the girl, it's very like.'
It was a miserable production, a cheap and early effort in
photography, and Horton rose from the table with the picture in his
hand to examine it at the window. And there, surrounded by the thin
brass frame, he recognised the face of all faces that had dismayed
him, the face he beheld in the vision of the preceding night. He
suppressed a groan, and turned from the window with a face so white,
that, as he handed the picture back to Mrs Belt, she said, 'You're
not feeling well this morning, sir.'
'No, I'm feeling very ill. I must get back to town today to be
near to my own doctor. You shall be no loser by my leaving you so
suddenly, but if I am going to be ill, I am best in my own home.' For
Horton could not have stayed another night at Maitland's Farm to save
He was at his office in Bedford Row by noon, and his clerks
thought that he looked ten years older for his visit to the
A little more than three weeks after Horton returned to town, when
his nerves were beginning to recover their accustomed tone, his
attention was unexpectedly recalled to the abhorrent subject of the
apparition he had seen. He read in his daily paper that the mail from
the Cape had brought news of the wreck of the sailing vessel Petrel
bound for Australia, with loss of all on board, in a violent storm
off the coast, shortly before the steamer left for England. By a
careful comparison of dates, allowing for the variation of time, the
conviction was forced upon John Horton that the ill-fated ship
foundered at the very hour in which he beheld the wraith of Esther
Maitland. She and her lover, divided by thousands of miles, both
perished by drowning at the same time---Michael Winn in the little
river at home, and Esther Maitland in the depths of a distant