A Stranger Knocked by Marjorie Bowen
Published in The Fireside Book of Yuletide Stories, Bobbs-Merril
Co., Indianapolis, 1948
No one knew who had admitted the old man. He was suddenly there, in the
chimney corner, warming his hands before the glow of the Yule log. The guests
were a little weary with singing and laughing. They had fallen on a silence
disturbed only by the chatter of the children who sat on the floor playing
with tinsel ornaments.
The Yule wreath hung overhead, stuck with apples, holly and candles.
Everyone dreamed differently as they looked at it; some were too drowsy to
dream at all.
One asked his neighbour: 'Who is the old man?'
Another was curious enough to ask this question of the master of the
house. He sent for the porter, who knew nothing. But then, the gates had
stood wide all day; who could be refused admission during the Christmas
Festival? The master of the house agreed, adding, 'Perhaps he has come with
one of the children, there are so many, one invites another--'
It was a large house, justly famous for its hospitality. For weeks the
cooks had been baking biscuits, cakes and sweetmeats. The air was rich with
the scent of spices, from open fires, symbolic of the offerings of the
The musicians had just left the upper gallery. There were no lights save
the candles on the Yule wreath, whose flames tapered upwards into the
darkness of the large room. The brocade curtains had not been drawn across
the long oriel windows. Without could be seen the unceasing snow flakes.
The old man was handsome, upright and stately. Yet he continued to warm
his hands as if he had come a long way, on a far cold journey.
The Master of the house approached him, offering him a cup of wine, as if,
now he had perceived him, he welcomed him.
The old man declined, with a courteous inclination of his massive
Everyone was now looking at him, even the children who played on the
'I like to spend Christmas in company,' he said in a voice touched with a
strange, perhaps a foreign, accent. He glanced round the circle of faces. 'Do
you think of Christmas as merely a festival?' he asked.
No one answered the direct question.
'The twelve days of Christmas,' murmured a young girl, 'it is a merry
'Ah,' exclaimed the old man looking at her sharply. 'Those pretty flowers
you wear; it was I who brought them to England.'
The girl put her hands to the wreath as if she feared it would dissolve,
like fairy blooms, and the company, smiling, conceded the old man's whim, to
describe himself as a magician.
But he continued quietly: 'I am a botanist. Years ago, before you were
born, my dear young lady, I brought some roots of that little blossom from
Asia, and now it grows at Christmas in your stone houses.'
'You have earned your place at the fireside for that alone,' said the
master of the house, smiling.
'No,' replied the old man. 'I have my place out of charity.'
They all protested, languidly. He was harmless, perhaps distinguished. The
master of the house thought: 'Perhaps it was a stupid indiscretion not to
have invited him.'
'I must explain myself. I am a professor of natural history. I have
outlived all my friends, and I never married. Until last Christmas I found,
however, company. This year I was obliged to come among strangers.'
'You are truly welcome,' cried the master of the house, glancing at his
wife. And she half rose from her sofa and repeated, 'You are truly welcome,
but excuse me, sir, I do not remember seeing you in these parts.'
'I live the other side of the forest,' said the professor, 'and I seldom
go abroad. I amuse myself with writing, or with going over my collections. I
have travelled, of course, over the whole world.'
'Some old fellow,' whispered a youth, 'in his second childhood, and
already forgotten by everyone.'
Yet the company seemed to circle round him, as if he were the person
everyone had come to see. The snowflakes fell softly on the diamond panes of
the window; the night showed purple beyond the warm lit room.
The small children fell asleep on their mother's laps, and the older
children stared at the professor of natural history.
His clothes were very old-fashioned, but neat and fresh. The Yule log was
sinking into fiery particles; it had burnt for three days. The room was so
hot that the master of the house did not order any more wood to be piled on
the hearth. The steady glow filled the room, making warm shadows behind the
group of people, glinting in glasses and decanters, shining in brown and gold
locks and on the folds of silk and satin gowns.
They all wished that the old naturalist would go; he made them and their
merrymaking seem foolish.
'Yesterday,' he said, 'I was out alone, walking beyond the forest; all
seemed dark, dead, sombre, with the snow coming on, and one solitary jay
screaming, when I found some goldilocks moss, just at my feet. And it
'Ay, tell us a tale!' cried a boy looking up from a castle he was building
of toy bricks.
'--how I nearly became a murderer on Christmas Day,' added the old
Everyone was now silent. The mimic tower fell over. Time seemed to glide
away swiftly as if all Christmas sports were now over. The mistress of the
house rose quietly and drew the curtains over the storm. The wind had risen
and a certain shudder was felt even in this serene room. The garlands of
mistletoe, ivy and holly shivered in their places.
'The weather was like this,' said the old man. 'A blustering storm rising,
everything frozen, and, as I recall, a giant yew cast down in the churchyard.
You know a fruit tree can be overthrown and then propped up, but a yew
tree--never. It dies at once.'
'Where was the place and when was the time?' asked the master of the
'Far, far from here,' was the reply, 'on the wild coast of Wales. And in
time, I do not know how long; I have ceased to count the years.'
He settled himself to his tale, that he gave as a gift or offering, and as
such they took it, while the gale increased and scattered the sparks on the
hearth and struggled at the firmly bolted door.
The house was believed to be haunted, though no one spoke of that. But
there were those in the group gathered round the fire who thought of this
now, of invisible beings who might be peering over their shoulders or
floating in the dark air above the circle of candles.
'I was coming home,' said the professor of natural history, 'after several
years of wandering. I had been in China and Tibet. There were some
curiosities I was resolved to have.'
'You must,' said the master of the house, 'have met with many
'By land and sea. One can become obsessed, of course, by such a quest. I
fell ill. I lost my basket of specimens. I was robbed.'
'All for a few flowers!' murmured the girl with the wreath. 'And we have
enough at home--'
'Who is ever content with what he has at home? Besides, I was not
searching for new ornaments, but for medicinal plants--some gallant and
universal balm.' He changed his tone abruptly, and added in a firm voice that
seemed that of a much younger man, 'But I always corresponded with Isabelle
'A love story,' said the mistress of the house with a little sigh. Her own
had been a very happy one but she was conscious of the passing of the
'We were betrothed.' The old man used the formal word with a flourish. 'I
had money and a fine house, and so had her brother; as children we played
together. It was early understood between us that we were to be married as
soon as my wanderings were over--'
'Ah, you were the tyrant and set the choice,' said one of the ladies
'Not at all--she was willing to wait. Even wishful to prolong her
childhood. At first there were her parents to be considered, then her
brother. It was something we looked forward to--our marriage--as a golden
'You must have been a sober pair,' said the master of the house.
'No,' said the old man distinctly, 'we were full of zest and enthusiasm. I
wished to fulfil my destiny as I was pleased to name it. Isabelle learned
every accomplishment. Ours was to be a planned, a leisured happiness. She
shared my interests. The stone house built for her was filled by the
treasures I had brought home. Every month she wrote me accounts of our native
flowers--even from the first of the year, the dark red nettle, the grass
groundsell, the daisy--all manner of little conceits and fancies we shared.
She would write to me of the prickly furze, glazed with the hoar frost, and I
of a valley filled with azaleas the colours of corals and shells.'
'And did you write of nothing else?' asked one of the listeners.
'We wrote of everything else,' replied the old man with dignity. 'Whatever
peril or discomfort I might be in, I kept calm by the remembrance of Isabelle
Blount. We intended to settle in our Welsh home and to live--'
'Happily ever after,' put in the boy with the bricks that he had now piled
into the semblance of a palace.
'Why not?' asked the old man patiently. 'There was no flaw in our scheme.
I encountered much weariness. I have rested, exhausted, by an abandoned gilt
pagoda in the jungle to think of Isabelle wandering among my native rocks to
pick the sea mallow.'
'Very poetic, sir, but I think the lady was left too much alone.'
The old man looked coolly at the speaker, a brisk youth helping himself to
'Isabelle was never alone. She had her family, her duties. I was
successful and not without honour. I received awards, gold and silver medals.
I lectured to distinguished audiences. She had reason to be proud of me, as
my reputation settled into a steady brilliance.'
'Come, sir!' cried the young man finishing his wine. 'This was to be a
The old man ignored this. He took a pair of spectacles from his forehead,
polished them and set them on his nose.
'It was a settled frost when I said goodbye to her. We walked along the
stream; the sedges sparkled with ice; the night before had been clear blue
weather with a missel thrush singing. Now the wind parted her hair as she
laid her hand in mine; mosses, such as I saw today, glowed on the twisted
trunks of the oak trees. We renewed our vows. One year more--and I should be
'It was a pretty picture,' said the mistress of the house.
And in truth the old man had that much art, that he could make them all,
idle as they were, see the young lovers by the wintry stream.
'She went with me over my home, suggesting changes here and there, and
said that if she were not mistress there by next Christmas, she would be by
the Christmas after. She chose the room that should be hers, and I at once
planned how I would see that it was always filled by the choicest plants I
brought from the East. A kingfisher was startled from our path as we parted
by the stream, halfway between her house and mine. I took that blue-winged
flash to be an augury.
'I went to China and I found the plant for which I was searching.'
'Tell us what it was,' asked several idle voices.
'It has remained nameless and useless,' the old man replied.
'Because--cannot you have guessed? The name it should have had was her
name, and the benefits it should have conferred on mankind should have seemed
to come from her--'
'Do you want to tell this story?' asked the mistress of the house gently.
'Shall we not rather sing a hymn or a carol before we go in to dinner?'
'It is a tale that must be told,' insisted the old man. He folded his
hands in the bosom of his coat, as if they were sufficiently warmed, or
perhaps chilled beyond any hope of warmth.
The company was lulled; a servant appeared in the doorway with candles but
was waved aside by the master of the house.
The glow of the Yule log was sufficient for the telling of this tale.
'I was captured by some imperious mandarins who supposed I had gazed too
long at some rarities in their gardens. They enclosed me in a tower. From my
window I could see some misty peaks, broken by dark hollows that made me long
to set out on my explorations again.
'I was well fed, and, I suppose, discovered to be harmless, for after some
months I was released. And not without some words of wisdom as to limiting my
curiosity. And not without some reward for my patience under punishment. The
mandarins had been through my specimens and declared that I had loaded myself
up with trim weeds of no consequence. The package that they put into my hand
as they set me on my way contained the exquisite plant of almost magical
properties that I intended to name after my Isabelle.'
Each of the company sought to remember what this flower might be, but
their thoughts were sluggish.
The candles flickered out on the Yule wreath where the red apples bobbed,
and only the vast glow from the hearth lit the room.
The master of the house begged the old man to take a more comfortable
chair, but he had settled in his chimney comer and continued in his tale.
'My precious plants, like so many dried anatomies, were placed in a
sandalwood box, wrapped in mosses, and I set out for England.
'There were several delays in my journey. I cannot even call them to mind.
Indeed, from the moment I left the hands of my considerate captors, my
adventures took on a dream-like quality. I seemed to meet with some very
queer companions and to put up at some very odd places.'
'Do tell us!' cried one of the children, suddenly awaking.
The old man frowned.
'It was a long way and I lost count of time; there was winter, but no snow
fell. I lost my servant; he was bribed away, I think, by a wealthy nabob, but
of that I cannot be sure. Somehow there was always money in my pocket. I
found myself in London the day before Christmas Eve.
'I had my treasured plants with me safely and as I looked on the
magnificent array of jewels, laces, flowers and other costly gifts in the
merchants' displays, I was proud because I had something much rarer than
those to offer my Isabelle.
'Owing to my rapid moving about I had not heard from her for several
weeks. The greater surprise and delight should therefore mark our meeting.
This time it would be never to part again.
'I stayed at a hotel in a street off the Strand where I was not known, and
reposed myself after my fatigues and troubles. Snow fell in the evening, but
the morning shone clearly over the Thames, and the people hurried up and down
with their parcels, wreaths of holly and clusters of mistletoe.
'Imagination made my dried plants bloom. My musty chamber was filled with
the scent of a thousand silver stars. This peculiar flower was said by the
Chinese to be the flower of the dead that ghosts came to smell at. For the
living it has no perfume. Think of me then, as alone in London, secure in
this obscure hotel, with the great treasure in my possession, the wonderful
plant that should bear the name of my beloved and bring me the final glory of
my already honoured career.'
As he spoke these words the old man held up his head with an almost
infernal pride and his frame, still powerful in outline, trembled with
fatigue and passion. He seemed to observe the impression he made on his
listeners and that they shrank a little from him.
'What is a man,' he demanded, 'but a ruined archangel? I certainly felt
that I was possessed of supernatural powers, having in that humble box I kept
under lock and key, the powers of life and death.' Lowering his voice he
added in a confidential tone that yet carried to every corner of the room,
'But when I came to consult my calendar, I found I was out of my
calculations. Most abominably deceived! Where had I lost the time?'
'Can one lose time?' asked the master of the house thoughtfully.
'I had lost two years. In prison, in travel, in hallucinations. I was that
much out of my reckoning.'
'We never have as much time as we hope,' said the master of the house.
'But who realises that?' asked his wife with a sad tenderness.
'None of us,' put in the old man. 'We play with delusions all the
One of his listeners, secure in youth and happiness, protested with a
smile. He was sure of himself, and the girl beside him and their future.
Ignoring this, the old man continued, with an increasing eagerness:
'Very few people make the miscalculations I did--I had lost two
'Still, in so long a life--' murmured one of the youths pertly.
The professor of natural history took up the challenge.
'I should not miss them you think? But they were those particular years,
you see, just those during which Isabelle was waiting for me.'
'Her letters?' asked the master of the house. 'There must have been some
They all felt a kindness for this Isabelle, as if they would have liked to
have asked her to join the circle, to draw up to the fire, and tell her side
of the tale of all the years when she was waiting in a lonely home for a man
greedy for wealth and honour.
'Yes, her letters,' agreed the old man slowly. 'I told you there was a gap
when I did not receive any at all. Then she had a habit of not putting
dates--only Monday or Tuesday. Some must have been very much delayed; some I
never got at all.'
He put aside this subject with impatience.
'I was talking of my stay in London. No one thought of anything but
Christmas. The manager of the hotel put a ticket into my hand and told me a
ball was being held in the house at the end of the street. I had a whim to go
to this. Of course there were many people in London who would have been glad
to receive me. But I felt shy. Perhaps I was changed. I did not know how to
adjust myself to those lost years. I sent a letter to Isabelle, saying I
would be with her on Christmas Day--'
'Did it not occur to you that she might be surprised, perhaps dismayed by
your long disappearances?' asked the master of the house.
'Sir, it did not. I thought I had explained that we loved one
'Oh,' cried a lady who had been half asleep, 'if you think that covers
'I thought so then.' He gave a stiff bow. 'I hope you think so now.' With
a brusque glance at his host he added, 'Perhaps you find my tale
But no, everyone wanted him to continue. The story was like a spell to
hold them together, an excuse rather for not moving, for not having the
candles in, for not calling for wraps and going home. The horses were warm in
the stables, the coachmen in the servants' hall; it seemed a pity to break up
So thought the visitors, while the host and his wife, who were childless,
had no wish to be left alone in the house that was supposed to be haunted. If
need be, everyone could be accommodated for the night. So the old man was
encouraged to tell them of the ball he had attended, during the festival, so
many years before.
'You can,' he said, 'imagine my feeling, filled for so many years with
Isabelle, rare plants, and the various incidents of my curious journeys. Who,
I asked myself, were all these people? The women had hot-house flowers, quite
dead, pinned with diamonds to their rich falls of laces; some of their little
slippers were quite worn out; as they rested, I saw the fine satin rubbed
through at the toes. The room had become overheated and someone had pulled
back the curtains to let in the icy light of dawn. The sheen from the river
was reflected in the mirrors, and in the drops from the candelabra, where the
last candles were guttering. The musicians drooped in their places, but
continued to scrape out waltzes, when they began on carols as a reminder that
the dance was at an end. I made my escape. No one had noticed me. What humbug
this festival is! I reflected. Of course I was soon proved wrong, and that is
why I am telling you this story.
'I secretly confounded all such gaiety where I had not been made welcome,
and dwelt with pleasure on the self-contained lives that I and Isabelle would
lead with our exclusive interests.
'It was late on Christmas Eve when I arrived at my house. I had not
remembered that it was in such a lonely situation. It had taken the contents
of my wallet to induce a coachman to take me from the railway station.
'There was no sign of welcome, but that was my own fault; I had sent no
letters in advance. Still I had always pictured the house as ready and
waiting for my return. Surely they could have, at least, kept a light in the
hall. The hackney soon departed, leaving me and my simple baggage on the
doorstep. I had to ring several times before a person unknown to me, with a
tallow dip in his hand, cautiously responded to my bell ringing. He explained
that he was the caretaker, I, that I was the master of the house.
'Dubiously, he at length admitted me. What he had to say was trivial, but
exasperating. My heirs-at-law, distant cousins whom I disliked, were claiming
my property. My lawyers were playing a delaying game and had searched for me
all over the world.
'When it came to it, I had no recollection of having written to them for
years. There was that unpleasant lapse of time, you see. My excellent
steward, my good servants had all left. My lawyers would not be at their
expense. As I passed from one room to another, partly dismantled, partly
neglected, followed by my grim unwilling guide, I became angry, mainly with
myself. Why had I not made a will, leaving everything to Isabelle? For the
first time in my life, I admitted that I was an eccentric fellow and managed
my affairs in a peculiar way.
'Still, that was all over now. The house and the estate would soon be set
to rights, and I should become a very decent member of the county.
My familiarity with the house had convinced the caretaker that I knew the
place; the sight of my name on some foreign passports and letters satisfied
him that I was indeed the owner. Or so he pretended, for I soon discovered
that he had a reason for this complacence. Some plan had fallen through at
the last moment whereby he had this charge alone, on Christmas Eve; high wage
and some sense of duty had obliged him to keep trust. Now he saw his chance.
He lived near--near to him who knew all the woodland paths--and as I had
returned to claim my property, could I not excuse his service?
'I at once granted this favour; before the man had spoken, I had resolved
to exchange my forlorn dwelling for that of Isabelle and her brother. There,
there would be warmth and light and probably merriment, for they must have
had my letter.
'So I gladly let the man go, and as he was eagerly lighting his storm
lantern, I mentioned, for the pleasure of hearing it, the name of my beloved.
The nature of our attachment had been kept secret, but I suppose there might
have been some talk. My caretaker looked at me a little oddly, and told me
that Isabelle had been married, for two years or more.
'I detained him, grasping his greatcoat with a strength that seemed other
than my own.
'But, though utterly alarmed by my demeanour, he had little more to tell
me. The brother was dead, the man she had married of a station below her own.
They were living in her old home.
'On hearing this, I at once knew what to do. Disguising my fury, I sent
the caretaker off with a gold piece and good wishes.
'The night was too wild for me to remain at the open door, but drawing
aside the slightly tattered curtains of an upper window, I watched the light
of the storm lantern disappear into the bare woods.
'Thus it came that I was alone in my deserted home on Christmas Eve,
determined on murder, and lit only by a rush light.
'I had at once decided to kill Isabelle's husband.'
'Being forsaken of God and man,' said the mistress of the house, glancing
about to see if the children were all asleep. And so they were, save those
who had crept away, and whose distant laughter could be faintly heard.
'Yes,' responded the old man vigorously. 'I believe I was thus forsaken.
Consider how many curious circumstances had led to my being there, alone, at
that precise hour, with that precise news. I was beyond reason. I merely
recalled to mind several incidents of my travels that would be considered
barbarous in England. I found I had become hardened to ideas of cruelty and
violence. I was no longer the civilised creature I had been when I left
Cambridge University. It seemed obvious that my supplanter was not fit to
live, and that it was I who must remove him from the earth. I went into one
of the kitchens, the place most likely to be furnished with what I needed.
And there, indeed, I found food and wine and a long, thin knife, such as
cooks use for the slicing of meat.
'It had recently been in use and was well sharpened. I regarded it as put
directly into my hand. My plan was simple. I would call on this faithless
couple, and keep this weapon hidden in my cloak. Then I would kill him, in
front of her. I had learned how such deeds were done. Indeed, although I had
always acted in self-defence, I was no novice in the use of steel.
'There was an oil lamp in the kitchen. I lit that, as the tallow candle
was sputtering out and took it up to the great library I knew so well, and
where some of my happiest hours had been passed.
'I was disgusted to see that the caretaker had used this noble apartment
as a sleeping place, for, in an alcove where I had kept an elegant Etruscan
vase, a rude bed, with heavy blankets, had been rigged up.
'I dropped the green moiré curtain, still in place though frayed, across
the unsightly couch, and sat down at my familiar desk. I wished to be
entirely cool, but really there was very little to think about. My victims
would, of course, admit me joyfully or with pretence of joy, and in a matter
of moments I should have my revenge. I recalled my letter, addressed to
Isabelle in her maiden name and in endearing terms. Would that put them to an
embarrassment? I doubted it. I doubted much, even if I had written that
letter. That lapse of time--which would be argued in their defence--tormented
me. I ran into the hall, half fearing I should find it empty, save for the
mouldering furniture. But there was my modest luggage and sandalwood box.
What was I to do with my precious plants? I took the box into the library and
set it on the desk. Brooding over it, I imagined the dry anatomies it
contained, spreading into a million stars or florets, like the glittering
sparkles, like the diamonds worn by tired dancers, like the reflection in the
mirrors in the riverside ballroom. Was there not a virtue in this plant that
made it almost a universal panacea?
'But now that I had lost Isabelle, I cared nothing for humanity.
'At one time I had thought that the heavenly powers had directed me in my
perils and labours; now I was about to tear open the box and destroy the
contents, when a knock sounded through the house.
'Already guilty in intention, I started fearfully. But I soon reassured
myself. This could be no other than the stupid caretaker, who had lost his
way in the wood, or forgotten something. I should soon be rid of him. So I
went smoothly to the door, and there was an old fellow, a tramp or vagabond,
hardly to be seen in the starlight or the gleam of the lamp I held.
'"It is Christmas Eve," he said. "Can you give me a lodging?"
'I thought that I heard church bells in the distance, and this rather
confounded me. As I hesitated, the old fellow had slipped into the hall. He
looked so miserable that I said--what could the offer cost me?--"You may stay
here with what hospitality you can find. As for me, I have an errand, I must
'"First show me the bed that in your great kindness you offer," said he
with a beautiful courtesy.
'I led the way to the library. I thought it odd that a stranger knocked at
such an hour.
'I was a little jostled in my thoughts. Setting the lamp on the desk, I
regarded him closely. Not only was he poor, dejected and old, but he seemed
maimed as if beneath his ragged garments he was crushed or twisted. He
shuffled along with difficulty to the bed in the alcove that I exposed by
lifting the curtain. As he crept painfully under the coverlets, I said, "I
shall go down to the kitchen and heat you some wine."
"Can your errand wait, then?" he asked softly.
"As long as that," I replied.
'I took the lamp, leaving him in darkness, blew up the charcoal in the
grate, heated the wine, and took it upstairs with some biscuits I found.
'As soon as the lamp was replaced on the desk, I glanced at the alcove.
The curtain still hung in place. I forced myself to think of Isabelle and
what I intended to do. "How vexing," I thought, "that the coming of this
stranger should have diverted me, for one single instant, from what I had
planned so instantly and so positively."
'"Yes, I am right," I declared aloud. "I have been forsaken and
'"Peace on earth to men of good will," said my visitor.
"I thank you," I replied, and I was surprised that there was anyone to
give me this ancient greeting.
'"Come and fetch your wine--I'll not pamper you," I said toughly, in order
to harden myself against him. I began searching for the knife, but I could
not find it. Compelled to be quite composed, I sat down, took my head in my
hands and tried to think it all out.
'First, I must find the knife. Perhaps I had left it in the kitchen. How
foolish to allow myself to be disturbed by the fact that a stranger
'Perhaps it would be best to destroy the plants first. I could do that
with my bare hands.
'I opened the sandalwood box.
'How often I had gloated over those dry twig-like objects and the benefits
to humanity they contained. How often I had dwelt on Isabelle's rapture when
she should bestow her name on the marvellous plant!
'Now hatred should destroy what love had found.
'I voiced that sentiment to myself, thinking how fine it sounded and
seized the rootlets in their moss wrappings. They began to twist and swell in
my grasp, as if they had been so many snakes.
'I dropped them in a rage and heard myself crying out: "This is your
'There was no answer from the alcove, now lapped in shadow.
'Meanwhile the plants were becoming unmanageable. They twisted out of my
hands, and flew upwards like rockets, into a shower of stars. Or so I
thought--or so I thought! I retreated hastily from the desk, and pulled aside
the curtain of the alcove. And there, calmly watching me, was the most
beautiful, beautiful being--'
The old man shaded his eyes and whispered to himself: 'Such wings!'
'You think it was a dream?' asked the master of the house kindly.
The old man smiled to himself and shook his head.
'It was morning. I put my sandalwood box under my arm. It was Christmas
morning, and I called on my old friend with a present. She was pleased to see
me, for she had thought me dead long ago. She accepted the plants, now dry
again in their dry mosses--and with them some hope, for her husband was dying
of a lung disease.
'The chemists compounded the roots, and they cured my rival. I forgot that
I had ever hated either of them; we always used to spend Christmas Day
'But who reposed in your alcove?' asked the master of the house. 'It is he
to whom you owe everything.'
'I never saw him again,' said the old man. 'He might visit you any time.
Especially I think when you feel most forsaken.'
'He was also a dream,' said one of the youths.
'No, sir, for look what I found on that humble pillow.'
He pulled out his watch chain and they gathered round to see a feather
that seemed to be of the finest gold, but delicate beyond all mortal