By the Waters of Paradise by F. Marion Crawford
I REMEMBER my childhood very distinctly. I do not think that the
fact argues a good memory, for I have never been clever at learning
words by heart, in prose or rhyme; so that I believe my remembrance
of events depends much more upon the events themselves than upon my
possessing any special facility for recalling them. Perhaps I am too
imaginative, and the earliest impressions I received were of a kind
to stimulate the imagination abnormally. Along series of little
misfortunes, connected with each other so as to suggest a sort of
weird fatality, so worked upon my melancholy temperament when I was a
boy that, before I was of age, I sincerely believed myself to be
under a curse, and not only myself, but my whole family, and every
individual who bore my name.
I was born in the old place where my father, and his father, and
all his predecessors had been born, beyond the memory of man. It is a
very old house, and the greater part of it was originally a castle,
strongly fortified, and surrounded by a deep moat supplied with
abundant water from the hills by a hidden aqueduct. Many of the
fortifications have been destroyed, and the moat has been filled up.
The water from the aqueduct supplies great fountains, and runs down
into huge oblong basins in the terraced gardens, one below the other,
each surrounded by a broad pavement of marble between the water and
the flower-beds. The waste surplus finally escapes through an
artificial grotto, some thirty yards long, into a stream, flowing
down through the park to the meadows beyond, and thence to the
distant river. The buildings were extended a little and greatly
altered more than two hundred years ago, in the time of Charles II.,
but since then little has been done to improve them, though they have
been kept in fairly good repair, according to our fortunes.
In the gardens there are terraces and huge hedges of box and
evergreen, some of which used to be clipped into shapes of animals,
in the Italian style. I can remember when I was a lad how I used to
try to make out what the trees were cut to represent, and how I used
to appeal for explanations to Judith, my Welsh nurse. She dealt in a
strange mythology of her own, and peopled the gardens with griffins,
dragons, good genii and bad, and filled my mind with them at the same
time. My nursery window afforded a view of the great fountains at the
head of the upper basin, and on moonlight nights the Welshwoman would
hold me up to the glass, and bid me look at the mist and spray rising
into mysterious shapes, moving mystically in the white light like
"It's the Woman of the Water," she used to say; and sometimes she
would threaten that, if I did not go to sleep, the Woman of the Water
would steal up to the high window end carry me away in her wet
The place was gloomy. The broad basins of water and the tall
evergreen hedges gave it a funereal look, and the damp-stained marble
causeways by the pools might have been made of tombstones. The grey
and weather-beaten walls and towers without, the dark and massively
furnished rooms within, the deep, mysterious recesses and the heavy
curtains, all affected my spirits. I was silent and sad from my
childhood. There was a great clock-tower above, from which the hours
rang dismally during the day and tolled like a knell in the dead of
night. There was no light nor life in the house, for my mother was a
helpless invalid, and my father had grown melancholy in his long task
of caring for her. He was a thin, dark man, with sad eyes; kind, I
think, but silent and unhappy. Next to my mother, I believe he loved
me better than anything on earth, for he took immense pains and
trouble in teaching me, and what he taught me I have never
Perhaps it was his only amusement, and that may be the reason why
I had no nursery governess or teacher of any kind while he lived.
I used to be taken to see my mother every day, and sometimes twice
a day, for an hour at a time. Then I sat upon a little stool near her
feet, and she would ask me what I had been doing, and what I wanted
to do. I dare say she saw already the seeds of a profound melancholy
in my nature, for she looked at me always with a sad smile, and
kissed me with a sigh when I was taken away.
One night, when I was just six years old, I lay awake in the
nursery. The door was not quite shut, and the Welsh nurse was sitting
sewing in the next room. Suddenly I heard her groan, and say in a
strange voice, "One--two--one--two!" I was frightened, and I jumped
up and ran to the door, barefooted as I was.
"What is it, Judith?" I cried, clinging to her skirts. I can
remember the look in her strange dark eyes as she answered.
"One--two leaden coffins, fallen from the ceiling!" she crooned,
working herself in her chair.
"One--two--a light coffin and a heavy coffin, failing to the
Then she seemed to notice me, and she took me back to bed and sang
me to sleep with a queer old Welsh song.
I do not know how it was, but the impression got hold of me that
she had meant that my father and mother were going to die very soon.
They died in the very room where she had been sitting that night. It
was a great room, my day nursery, full of sun when there was any; and
when the days were dark it was the most cheerful place in the house.
My mother grew rapidly worse, and I was transferred to another part
of the building to make place for her. They thought my nursery was
gayer for her, I suppose; but she could not live. She was beautiful
when she was dead, and I cried bitterly.
"The light one, the light one--the heavy one to come," crooned the
Welshwoman. And she was right. My father took the room after my
mother was gone, and day by day he grew thinner and paler and
"The heavy one, the heavy one--all of lead," moaned my nurse, one
night in December, standing still, just as she was going to take away
the light after putting me to bed. Then she took me up again, and
wrapped me in a little gown, and led me away to my father's room. She
knocked, but no one answered. She opened the door, and we found him
in his easy-chair before the fire, very white, quite dead.
So I was alone with the Welshwoman till strange people came, and
relations, whom I had never seen; and then I heard them saying that I
must be taken away to some more cheerful place. They were kind
people, and I will not believe that they were kind only because I was
to be very rich when I grew to be a man. The world never seemed to be
a very bad place to me, nor all the people to be miserable sinners,
even when I was most melancholy. I do not remember that any one ever
did me any great injustice, nor that I was ever oppressed or
ill-treated in any way, even by the boys at school. I was sad, I
suppose, because my childhood was so gloomy, and, later, because I
was unlucky in everything I undertook, till I finally believed I was
pursued by fate, and I used to dream that the old Welsh nurse and the
Woman of the Waters between them had vowed to pursue me to my end.
But my natural disposition should have been cheerful, as I have often
Among lads of my age I was never last, or even among the last, in
anything; but I was never first.
If I trained for a race, I was sure to sprain my ankle on the day
when I was to run. If I pulled an oar with others, my oar was sure to
break. If I competed for a prize, some unforeseen accident prevented
my winning it at the last moment. Nothing to which I put my hand
succeeded, and I got the reputation of being unlucky, until my
companions felt it was always safe to bet against me, no matter what
the appearances might be. I became discouraged and listless in
everything. I gave up the idea of competing for any distinction at
the University, comforting myself with the thought that I could not
fail in the examination for the ordinary degree. The day before the
examination began I fell ill; and when at last I recovered, after a
narrow escape from death, I turned my back upon Oxford, and went down
alone to visit the old place where I had been born, feeble in health
and profoundly disgusted and discouraged. I was twenty-one years of
age, master of myself and of my fortune; but so deeply had the long
chain of small unlucky circumstances affected me, that I thought
seriously of shutting myself up from the world to live the life of a
hermit, and to die as soon as possible. Death seemed the only
cheerful possibility in my existence, and my thoughts soon dwelt upon
I had never shown any wish to return to my own home since I had
been taken away as a little boy, and no one had ever pressed me to do
so. The place had been kept in order after a fashion, and did not
seem to have suffered during the fifteen years or more of my absence.
Nothing earthly could affect those odd grey walls that had fought the
elements for so many centuries. The garden was more wild than I
remembered it; the marble causeways about the pools looked more
yellow and damp than of old, and the whole place at first looked
smaller. It was not until I had wandered about the house and grounds
for many hours that I realised the huge size of the home where I was
to live in solitude. Then I began to delight in it, and my resolution
to live alone grew stronger.
The people had turned out to welcome me, of course, and I tried to
recognise the changed faces of the old gardener and the old
housekeeper, and to call them by name. My old nurse I knew at once.
She had grown very grey since she heard the coffin fall in the
nursery fifteen years before, but her strange eyes were the same, and
the look in them woke all my old memories. She went over the house
"And how is the Woman of the Water?" I asked, trying to laugh a
little. "Does she still play in the moonlight?"
"She is hungry," answered the Welshwoman, in a low voice.
"Hungry? Then we will feed her." I laughed. But old Judith turned
very pale, and looked at me strangely.
"Feed her? Ay--you will feed her well," she muttered, glancing
behind her at the ancient housekeeper, who tottered after us with
feeble steps through the halls and passages.
I did not think much of her words. She had always talked oddly, as
Welshwomen will, and though I was very melancholy I am sure I was not
superstitious, and I was certainly not timid. Only, as in a far-off
dream, I seemed to see her standing with the light in her hand and
muttering, "The heavy one--all of lead," and then leading a little
boy through the long corridors to see his father lying dead in a
great easy-chair before a smouldering fire. So we went over the
house, and I chose the rooms where I would live; and the servants I
had brought with me ordered and arranged everything, and I had no
more trouble. I did not care what they did, provided I was left in
peace, and was not expected to give directions; for I was more
listless than ever, owing to the effects of my illness at
I dined in solitary state, and the melancholy grandeur of the vast
old dining-room pleased me. Then I went to the room I had selected
for my study, and sat down in a deep chair, under a bright light, to
think, or to let my thoughts meander through labyrinths of their own
choosing, utterly indifferent to the course they might take.
The tall windows of the room opened to the level of the ground
upon the terrace at the head of the garden. It was in the end of
July, and everything was open, for the weather was warm. As I sat
alone I heard the unceasing plash of the great fountains, and I fell
to thinking of the Woman of the Water. I rose, and went out into the
still night and sat down upon a seat on the terrace, between two
gigantic Italian flower-pots. The air was deliciously soft and sweet
with the smell of the flowers, and the garden was more congenial to
me than the house. Sad people always like running water and the sound
of it at night, though I cannot tell why. I sat and listened in the
gloom, for it was dark below, and the pale moon had not yet climbed
over the hills in front of me, though all the air above was light
with her rising beams. Slowly the white halo in the eastern sky
ascended in an arch above the wooded crests, making the outline of
the mountains more intensely black by contrast, as though the head of
some great white saint were rising from behind a screen in a vast
cathedral, throwing misty glories from below. I longed to see the
moon herself, and I tried to reckon the seconds before she must
appear. Then she sprang up quickly, and in a moment more hung round
and perfect in the sky. I gazed at her, and then at the floating
spray of the tall fountains, and down at the pools, where the
water-lilies were rocking softly in their sleep on the velvet surface
of the moonlit water. Just then a great swan floated out silently
into the midst of the basin, and wreathed his long neck, catching the
water in his broad bill, and scattering showers of diamonds around
Suddenly, as I gazed, something came between me and the light. I
looked up instantly. Between me and the round disc of the moon rose a
luminous face of a woman, with great strange eyes, and a woman's
mouth, full and soft, but not smiling, hooded in black, staring at me
as I sat still upon my bench. She was close to me--so close that I
could have touched her with my hand. But I was transfixed and
helpless. She stood still for a moment, but her expression did not
change. Then she passed swiftly away, and my hair stood up on my
head, while the cold breeze from her white dress was wafted to my
temples as she moved. The moonlight, shining through the tossing
spray of the fountain, made traceries of shadow on the gleaming folds
of her garments. In an instant she was gone, and I was alone.
I was strangely shaken by the vision, and some time passed before
I could rise to my feet, for I was still weak from my illness, and
the sight I had seen would have startled any one. I did not reason
with myself, for I was certain that I had looked on the unearthly,
and no argument could have destroyed that belief. At last I got up
and stood unsteadily, gazing in the direction in which I thought the
face had gone; but there was nothing to be seen--nothing but the
broad paths, the tall, dark evergreen hedges, the tossing water of
the fountains and the smooth pool below. I fell back upon the seat
and recalled the face I had seen. Strange to say, now that the first
impression had passed, there was nothing startling in the
recollection; on the contrary, I felt that I was fascinated by the
face, and would give anything to see it again. I could retrace the
beautiful straight features, the long dark eyes and the wonderful
mouth, most exactly in my mind, and, when I had reconstructed every
detail from memory, I knew that the whole was beautiful, and that I
should love a woman with such a face.
"I wonder whether she is the Woman of the Water!" I said to
myself. Then rising once more I wandered down the garden, descending
one short flight of steps after another, from terrace to terrace by
the edge of the marble basins, through the shadow and through the
moonlight; and I crossed the water by the rustic bridge above the
artificial grotto, and climbed slowly up again to the highest terrace
by the other side. The air seemed sweeter, and I was very calm, so
that I think I smiled to myself as I walked, as though a new
happiness had come to me. The woman's face seemed always before me,
and the thought of it gave me an unwonted thrill of pleasure, unlike
anything I had ever felt before.
I turned, as I reached the house, and looked back upon the scene.
It had certainly changed in the short hour since I had come out, and
my mood had changed with it. Just like my luck, I thought, to fall in
love with a ghost! But in old times I would have sighed, and gone to
bed more sad than ever, at such a melancholy conclusion. Tonight I
felt happy, almost for the first time in my life. The gloomy old
study seemed cheerful when I went in. The old pictures on the walls
smiled at me, and I sat down in my deep chair with a new and
delightful sensation that I was not alone. The idea of having seen a
ghost, and of feeling much the better for it, was so absurd that I
laughed softly, as I took up one of the books I had brought with me
and began to read.
That impression did not wear off. I slept peacefully, and in the
morning I threw open my windows to the summer air, and looked down at
the garden, at the stretches of green and at the coloured flowerbeds,
at the circling swallows, and at the bright water.
"A man might make a paradise of this place," I exclaimed. "A man
and a woman together!"
From that day the old castle no longer seemed gloomy, and I think
I ceased to be sad; for some time, too, I began to take an interest
in the place, and to try and make it more alive. I avoided my old
Welsh nurse, lest she should damp my humour with some dismal
prophecy, and recall my old self by bringing back memories of my
dismal childhood. But what I thought of most was the ghostly figure I
had seen in the garden that first night after my arrival. I went out
every evening and wandered through the walks and paths; but, try as I
might, I did not see my vision again. At last, after many days, the
memory grew more faint, and my old moody nature gradually overcame
the temporary sense of lightness I had experienced.
The summer turned to autumn, and I grew restless. It began to
rain. The dampness pervaded the gardens, and the outer halls smelted
musty, like tombs; the grey sky oppressed me intolerably. I left the
place as it was and went abroad, determined to try anything which
might possibly make a second break in the monotonous melancholy from
which I suffered.
MOST people would be struck by the utter insignificance of the
small events which, after the death of my parents, influenced my life
and made me unhappy. The gruesome forebodings of a Welsh nurse, which
chanced to be realised by an odd coincidence of events, should not
seem enough to change the nature of a child, and to direct the bent
of his character in after years. The little disappointments of
schoolboy life, and the somewhat less childish ones of an uneventful
and undistinguished academic career, should not have sufficed to turn
me out at one-and-twenty years of age a melancholic, listless idler.
Some weakness of my own character may have contributed to the result,
but in a greater degree it was due to my having a reputation for bad
luck. However, I will not try to analyse the causes of my state, for
I should satisfy nobody, least of all myself. Still less will I
attempt to explain why I felt a temporary revival of my spirits after
my adventure in the garden. It is certain that I was in love with the
face I had seen, and that I longed to see it again; that I gave up
all hope of a second visitation, grew more sad than ever, packed up
my traps, and finally went abroad. But in my dreams I went back to my
home, and it always appeared to me sunny and bright, as it had looked
on that summer's morning after I had seen the woman by the
I went to Paris. I went further, and wandered about Germany. I
tried to amuse myself, and I failed miserably. With the aimless whims
of an idle and useless man, came all sorts of suggestions for good
resolutions. One day I made up my mind that I would go and bury
myself in a German university for a time, and live simply like a poor
student. I started with the intention of going to Leipzic, determined
to stay there until some event should direct my life or change my
humour, or make an end of me altogether. The express train stopped at
some station of which I did not know the name. It was dusk on a
winter's afternoon, and I peered through the thick glass from my
Suddenly another train came gliding in from the opposite
direction, and stopped alongside of ours. I looked at the carriage
which chanced to be abreast of mine, and idly read the black letters
painted on a white board swinging from the brass handrail:
"BERLIN-COLOGNE-PARIS." Then I looked up at the window above. I
started violently and the cold perspiration broke out upon my
forehead, In the dim light, not six feet from where I sat, I saw the
face of a woman, the face I loved, the straight, fine features, the
strange eyes, the wonderful mouth, the pale skin. Her head-dress was
a dark veil which seemed to be tied about her head and passed over
the shoulders under her chin. As I threw down the window and knelt on
the cushioned seat, leaning far out to get a better view, a long
whistle screamed through the station, followed by a quick series of
dull, clanking sounds; then there was a slight jerk, and my train
moved on. Luckily the window was narrow, being the one over the seat,
beside the door, or I believe I would have jumped out of it then and
there. In an instant the speed increased, and I was being carried
swiftly away in the opposite direction from the thing I loved.
For a quarter of an hour I lay back in my place, stunned by the
suddenness of the apparition. At last one of the two other
passengers, a large and gorgeous captain of the White Konigsberg
Cuirassiers, civilly but firmly suggested that I might shut my
window, as the evening was cold. I did so, with an apology, and
relapsed into silence. The train ran swiftly on for a long time, and
it was already beginning to slacken speed before entering another
station when I roused myself, and made a sudden resolution. As the
carriage stopped before the brilliantly lighted platform, I seized my
belongings, saluted my fellow passengers, and got out, determined to
take the first express back to Paris.
This time the circumstances of the vision had been so natural that
it did not strike me that there was anything unreal about the face,
or about the woman to whom it belonged. I did not try to explain to
myself how the face, and the woman, could be travelling by a fast
train from Berlin to Paris on a winter's afternoon, when both were in
my mind indelibly associated with the moonlight and the fountains in
my own English home. I certainly would not have admitted that I had
been mistaken in the dusk, attributing to what I had seen a
resemblance to my former vision which did not really exist. There was
not the slightest doubt in my mind, and I was positively sure that I
had again seen the face I loved. I did not hesitate, and in a few
hours I was on my way back to Paris. I could not help reflecting on
my ill-luck. Wandering as I had been for many months, it might as
easily have chanced that I should be travelling in the same train
with that woman, instead of going the other way. But my luck was
destined to turn for a time.
I searched Paris for several days. I dined at the principal
hotels; I went to the theatres; I rode in the Bois de Boulogne in the
morning, and picked up an acquaintance, whom I forced to drive with
me in the afternoon. I went to mass at the Madeleine, and I attended
the services at the English Church. I hung about the Louvre and Notre
Dame. I went to Versailles. I spent hours in parading the Rue de
Rivoli, in the neighbourhood of Meurice's corner, where foreigners
pass and repass from morning till night. At last I received an
invitation to a reception at the English Embassy. I went, and I found
what I had sought so long.
There she was, sitting by an odd lady in grey satin and diamonds,
who had a wrinkled but kindly face and keen grey eyes that seemed to
take in everything they saw, with very little inclination to give
much in return. But I did not notice the chaperon. I saw only the
face that had haunted me for months, and in the excitement of the
moment I walked quickly towards the pair, forgetting such a trifle as
the necessity for an introduction.
She was far more beautiful than I had thought, but I never doubted
that it was she herself and no other. Vision or no vision before,
this was the reality, and I knew it. Twice her hair had been covered,
now at last I saw it, and the added beauty of its magnificence
glorified the whole woman. It was rich hair, fine and abundant,
golden, with deep ruddy tints in it like red bronze spun fine. There
was no ornament in it, not a rose, not a thread of 'gold, and I felt
that it needed nothing to enhance its splendour; no thing but her
pale face, her dark strange eyes, and her heavy eyebrows. I could see
that she was slender, too, but strong withal, as she sat there
quietly gazing at the moving scene in the midst of the brilliant
lights and the hum of perpetual conversation.
I recollected the detail of introduction in time, and turned aside
to look for my host. I found him at last. I begged him to present me
to the two ladies, pointing them out to him at the same time.
"Yes--uh--by all means--uh--" replied his Excellency, with a
pleasant smile. He evidently had no idea of my name, which was not to
be wondered at.
"I am Lord Cairngorm," I observed.
"Oh--by all means," answered the Ambassador, with the same
hospitable smile. "Yes--uh--the fact is, I must try and find out who
they are; such lots of people, you know."
"Oh, if you will present me, I will try and find out for you,"
said I, laughing.
"Ah, yes--so kind of you--come along," said my host.
We threaded the crowd, and in a few minutes we stood before the
"'Lowmintrduce L'd Cairngorm," he said; then, adding quickly to
me, "come and dine tomorrow, won't you?" he glided away with his
pleasant smile, and disappeared in the crowd.
I sat down beside the beautiful girl, conscious that the eyes of
the duenna were upon me.
"I think we have been very near meeting before," I remarked, byway
of opening the conversation.
My companion turned her eyes full upon me with an air of enquiry.
She evidently did not recall my face, if she had ever seen me.
"Really--I cannot remember," she observed, in a low and musical
"In the first place, you came down from Berlin by the express, ten
days ago. I was going the other way, and our carriages stopped
opposite each other. I saw you at the window."
"Yes--we came that way, but I do not remember-" She hesitated.
"Secondly," I continued, "I was sitting alone in my garden last
summer--near the end of July-do you remember? You must have wandered
in there through the park; you came up to the house and looked at
"Was that you?" she asked, in evident surprise. Then she broke
into a laugh. "I told everybody I had seen a ghost; there had never
been any Cairngorms in the place since the memory of man. We left the
next day, and never heard that you had come there; indeed, I did not
know the castle belonged to you."
"Where were you staying?" I asked.
"Where? Why, with my aunt, where I always stay. She is your
neighbour, since it is you."
"I--beg your pardon--but then--is your aunt Lady Bluebell? I did
not quite catch--"
"Don't be afraid. She is amazingly deaf. Yes. She is the relict of
my beloved uncle, the sixteenth or seventeenth Baron Bluebell--I
forget exactly how many of them there have been. And I--do you know
who I am?" She laughed, well knowing that I did not.
"No," I answered frankly. "I have not the least idea. I asked to
be introduced because I recognised you. Perhaps--perhaps you are a
"Considering that you are a neighbour, I will tell you who I am,"
she answered. "No; I am of the tribe of Bluebells, but my name is
Lammas, and I have been given to understand that I was christened
Margaret. Being a floral family, they call me Daisy. A dreadful
American man once told me that my aunt was a Bluebell and that I was
a Harebell--with two l's and an e--because my hair is so thick. I
warn you, so that you may avoid making such a bad pun."
"Do I look like a man who makes puns?" I asked, being very
conscious of my melancholy face and sad looks.
Miss Lammas eyed me critically.
"No; you have a mournful temperament. I think I can trust you,"
she answered. "Do you think you could communicate to my aunt the fact
that you are a Cairngorm and a neighbour? I am sure she would like to
I leaned towards the old lady, inflating my lungs for a yell. But
Miss Lammas stopped me.
"That is not of the slightest use," she remarked. "You can write
it on a bit of paper. She is utterly deaf."
"I have a pencil," I answered, "but I have no paper. Would my cuff
do, do you think?"
"Oh yes!" replied Miss Lacunas, with alacrity; "men often do
I wrote on my cuff: "Miss Lammas wishes me to explain that I am
your neighbour, Cairngorm." Then I held out my arm before the old
lady's nose. She seemed perfectly accustomed to the proceeding, put
up her glasses, read the words, smiled, nodded, and addressed me in
the unearthly voice peculiar to people who hear nothing.
"I knew your grandfather very well," she said. Then she smiled and
nodded to me again, and to her niece, and relapsed into silence.
"It is all right," remarked Miss Lammas.
"Aunt Bluebell knows she is deaf, and does not say much, like the
parrot. You see, she knew your grandfather. How odd, that we should
be neighbours! Why have we never met before?"
"If you had told me you knew my grandfather when you appeared in
the garden, I should not have been in the least surprised," I
answered rather irrelevantly. "I really thought you were the ghost of
the old fountain. How in the world did you come there at that
"We were a large party, and we went out for a walk. Then we
thought we should like to see what your park was like in the
moonlight, and so we trespassed. I got separated from the rest, and
came upon you by accident, just as I was admiring the extremely
ghostly look of your house, and wondering whether anybody would ever
come and live there again. It looks like the castle of Macbeth, or a
scene from the opera. Do you know anybody here?"
"Hardly a soul. Do you?"
"No. Aunt Bluebell said it was our duty to come. It is easy for
her to go out; she does not bear the burden of the conversation."
"I am sorry you find it a burden," said I. "Shall I go away?"
Miss Lammas looked at me with a sudden gravity in her beautiful
eyes, and there was a sort of hesitation about the lines of her full,
"No," she said at last, quite simply, "don't go away. We may like
each other, if you stay a little longer--and we ought to because we
are neighbours in the country."
I suppose I ought to have thought Miss Lammas a very odd girl.
There is, indeed, a sort of freemasonry between people who discover
that they live near each other, and that they ought to have known
each other before. But there was a sort of unexpected frankness and
simplicity in the girl's amusing manner which would have struck any
one else as being singular, to say the least of it. To me, however,
it all seemed natural enough. I had dreamed of her face too long not
to be utterly happy when I met her at last, and could talk to her as
much as I pleased. To me, the man of ill luck in everything, the
whole meeting seemed too good to be true. I felt again that strange
sensation of lightness which I had experienced after I had seen her
face in the garden. The great rooms seemed brighter, life seemed
worth living; my sluggish, melancholy blood ran faster, and filled me
with a new sense of strength. I said to myself that without this
woman I was but an imperfect being, but that with her I could
accomplish everything to which I should set my hand. Like the great
Doctor, when he thought he had cheated Mephistopheles at last, I
could have cried aloud to the fleeting moment, Verweile dock du hist
"Are you always gay?" I asked suddenly. "How happy you must
"The days would sometimes seem very long if I were gloomy," she
answered thoughtfully. "Yes, I think I find life very pleasant, and I
tell it so."
"How can you 'tell life' anything?" I enquired. "If I could catch
my life and talk to it, I would abuse it prodigiously, I assure
"I dare say. You have a melancholy temper. You ought to live out
of doors, dig potatoes, make hay, shoot, hunt, tumble into ditches,
and come home muddy and hungry for dinner. It would be much better
for you than moping in your rook tower, and hating everything."
"It is rather lonely down there," I murmured apologetically,
feeling that Miss Lammas was quite right.
"Then marry, and quarrel with your wife," she laughed. "Anything
is better than being alone."
"I am a very peaceable person. I never quarrel with anybody. You
can try it. You will find it quite impossible."
"Will you let me try?" she asked, still smiling.
"By all means-especially if it is to be only a preliminary
canter," I answered rashly.
"What do you mean?" she enquired, turning quickly upon me.
"Oh--nothing. You might try my paces with a view to quarrelling in
the future. I cannot imagine how you are going to do it. You will
have to resort to immediate and direct abuse."
"No. I will only say that if you do not like your life, it is your
own fault. How can a man of your age talk of being melancholy, or of
the hollowness of existence? Are you consumptive? Are you subject to
hereditary insanity? Are you deaf, like Aunt Bluebell? Are you poor,
like--lots of people? Have you been crossed in love? Have you lost
the world for a woman, or any particular woman for the sake of the
world? Are you feebleminded, a cripple, an outcast? Are
you--repulsively ugly?" She laughed again. "Is there any reason in
the world why you should not enjoy all you have got in life?"
"No. There is no reason whatever, except that I am dreadfully
unlucky, especially in small things."
"Then try big things, just for a change," suggested Miss Lammas.
"Try and get married, for instance, and see how it turns out."
"If it turned out badly, it would be rather serious."
"Not half so serious as it is to abuse everything unreasonably. If
abuse is your particular talent, abuse something that ought to be
abused. Abuse the Conservatives--or the Liberals--it does not matter
which, since they are always abusing each other. Make yourself felt
by other people. You will like it, if they don't. It will make a man
of you. Fill your mouth with pebbles, and howl at the sea, if you
cannot do anything else. It did Demosthenes no end of good, you know.
You will have the satisfaction of imitating a great man."
"Really, Miss Lammas, I think the list of innocent exercises you
"Very well--if you don't care for that sort of thing, care for
some other sort of thing. Care for something, or hate something.
Don't be idle. Life is short, and though art may be long, plenty of
noise answers nearly as well."
"I do care for something--I mean somebody," I said.
"A woman? Then marry her. Don't hesitate."
"I do not know whether she would marry me," I replied. "I have
never asked her."
"Then ask her at once," answered Miss Lammas. "I shall die happy
if I feel I have persuaded a melancholy fellow-creature to rouse
himself to action. Ask her, by all means, and see what she says. If
she does not accept you at once, she may take you the next time.
Meanwhile, you will have entered for the race. If you lose, there are
the 'All-aged Trial Stakes,' and the 'Consolation Race.'"
"And plenty of selling races into the bargain. Shall I take you at
your word, Miss Lammas?"
"I hope you will," she answered.
"Since you yourself advise me, I will. Miss Lammas, will you do me
the honour to marry me?"
For the first time in my life the blood rushed to my head and my
sight swam. I cannot tell why I said it. It would be useless to try
to explain the extraordinary fascination the girl exercised over me,
or the still more extraordinary feeling of intimacy with her which
had grown in me during that half-hour. Lonely, sad, unlucky as I had
been all my life, I was certainly not timid, nor even shy. But to
propose to marry a woman after half an hour's acquaintance was a
piece of madness of which I never believed myself capable, and of
which I should never be capable again, could I be placed in the same
situation. It was as though my whole being had been changed in a
moment by magic--by the white magic of her nature brought into
contact with mine. The blood sank back to my heart, and a moment
later I found myself staring at her with anxious eyes. To my
amazement she was as calm as ever, but her beautiful mouth smiled,
and there was a mischievous light in her dark-brown eyes.
"Fairly caught," she answered. "For an individual who pretends to
be listless and sad you are not lacking in humour. I had really not
the least idea what you were going to say. Wouldn't it be singularly
awkward for you if I had said 'Yes'? I never saw anybody begin to
practice so sharply what was preached to him--with so very little
loss of time!"
"You probably never met a man who had dreamed of you for seven
months before being introduced."
"No, I never did," she answered gaily. "It smacks of the romantic.
Perhaps you are a romantic character after all. I should think you
were, if I believed you. Very well; you have taken my advice, entered
for a Stranger's Race and lost it. Try the All-aged Trial Stakes. You
have another cuff, and a pencil. Propose to Aunt Bluebell; she would
dance with astonishment, and she might recover her hearing."
THAT was how I first asked Margaret Lammas to be my wife, and I
will agree with any one who says I behaved very foolishly. But I have
not repented of it, and I never shall. I have long ago understood
that I was out of my mind that evening, but I think my temporary
insanity on that occasion has had the effect of making me a saner man
ever since. Her manner turned my head, for it was so different from
what I had expected. To hear this lovely creature, who, in my
imagination, was a heroine of romance, if not of tragedy, talking
familiarly and laughing readily was more than my equanimity could
bear, and I lost my head as well as my heart. But when I went back to
England in the spring, I went to make certain arrangements at the
Castle--certain changes and improvements which would be absolutely
necessary. I had won the race for which I had entered myself so
rashly, and we were to be married in June.
Whether the change was due to the orders I had left with the
gardener and the rest of the servants, or to my own state of mind, I
cannot tell. At all events, the old place did not look the same to me
when I opened my window on the morning after my arrival. There were
the grey walls below me, and the grey turrets flanking the huge
building; there were the fountains, the marble causeways, the smooth
basins, the tall box hedges, the waterlilies and the swans, just as
of old. But there was something else there, too--something in the
air, in the water, and in the greenness that I did not recognise--a
light over everything by which everything was transfigured. The clock
in the tower struck seven, and the strokes of the ancient bell
sounded like a wedding chime. The air sang with the thrilling treble
of the song-birds, with the silvery music of the Flashing water, and
he softer harmony of the leaves stirred by the fresh morning wind.
There was a smell of new-mown hay from the distant meadows, and of
blooming roses from the beds below, wafted up together to my window.
I stood in the pure sunshine and drank the air and all the sounds and
the odours that were in it; and I looked down at my garden and said,
"It is Paradise, after all. I think the men of old were right when
they called heaven a garden, and Eden a garden inhabited by one man
and one woman, the Earthly Paradise."
I turned away, wondering what had become of the gloomy memories I
had always associated with my home. I tried to recall the impression
of my nurse's horrible prophecy before the death of my parents--an
impression which hitherto had been vivid enough. I tried to remember
my own self, my dejection, my listlessness, my bad luck, and my petty
disappointments. I endeavoured to force myself to think as I used to
think, if only to satisfy myself that I had not lost my
individuality. But I succeeded in none of these efforts. I was a
different man, a changed being, incapable of sorrow, of ill-luck, or
of sadness. My life had been a dream, not evil, but infinitely gloomy
and hopeless. It was now a reality, full of hope, gladness, and all
manner of good. My home had been like a tomb; to-day it was Paradise.
My heart had been as though it had not existed; to-day it beat with
strength and youth, and the certainty of realised happiness. I
revelled in the beauty of the world, and called loveliness out of the
future to enjoy it before time should bring it to me, as a traveller
in the plains looks up to the mountains, and already tastes the cool
air through the dust of the road.
Here, I thought, we will live and live for years. There we will
sit by the fountain towards evening and in the deep moonlight. Down
those paths we will wander together. On those benches we will rest
and talk. Among those eastern hills we will ride through the soft
twilight, and in the old house we will tell tales on winter nights,
when the logs burn high, and the holly berries are red, and the old
clock tolls out the dying year. On these old steps, in these dark
passages and stately rooms, there will one day be the sound of little
pattering feet, and laughing child-voices will ring up to the vaults
of the ancient hall. Those tiny footsteps shall not be slow and sad
as mine were, nor shall the childish words be spoken in an awed
whisper. No gloomy Welshwoman shall people the dusty corners with
weird horrors, nor utter horrid prophecies of death and ghastly
things. All shall be young, and fresh, and joyful, and happy, and we
will turn the old luck again, and forget that there was ever any
So I thought, as I looked out of my window that morning and for
many mornings after that, and every day it all seemed more real than
ever before, and much nearer. But the old nurse looked at me askance,
and muttered odd sayings about the Woman of the Water. I cared little
what she said, for I was far too happy.
At last the time came near for the wedding. Lady Bluebell and all
the tribe of Bluebells, as Margaret called them, were at Bluebell
Grange, for we had determined to be married in the country, and to
come straight to the Castle afterwards. We cared little for
travelling, and not at all for a crowded ceremony at St. George's in
Hanover Square, with all the tiresome formalities afterwards. I used
to ride over to the Grange every day, and very often Margaret would
come with her aunt and some of her cousins to the Castle. I was
suspicious of my own taste, and was only too glad to let her have her
way about the alterations and improvements in our home.
We were to be married on the thirtieth of July, and on the evening
of the twenty-eighth Margaret drove over with some of the Bluebell
party. In the long summer twilight we all went out into the garden.
Naturally enough, Margaret and I were left to ourselves, and we
wandered down by the marble basins.
"It is an odd coincidence," I said; "it was on this very night
last year that I first saw you."
"Considering that it is the month of July," answered Margaret,
with a laugh, "and that we have been here almost every day, I don't
think the coincidence is so extraordinary, after all."
"No, dear," said I, "I suppose not. I don't know why it struck me.
We shall very likely be here a year from to-day, and a year from
that. The odd thing, when I think of it, is that you should be here
at all. But my luck has turned. I ought not to think anything odd
that happens now that I have you. It is all sure to be good."
"A slight change in your ideas since that remarkable performance
of yours in Paris," said Margaret. "Do you know, I thought you were
the most extraordinary man I had ever met."
"I thought you were the most charming woman I have ever seen. I
naturally did not want to lose any time in frivolities. I took you at
your word, I followed your advice, I asked you to marry me, and this
is the delightful result--what's the matter?"
Margaret had started suddenly, and her hand tightened on my arm.
An old woman was coming up the path, and was close to us before we
saw her, for the moon had risen, and was shining full in our faces.
The woman turned out to be my old nurse.
"It's only old Judith, dear, don't be frightened," I said. Then I
spoke to the Welshwoman: "What are you about, Judith? Have you been
feeding the Woman of the Water?"
"Ay--when the clock strikes, Willie--my lord, I mean," muttered
the odd creature, drawing aside to let us pass, and fixing her
strange eyes on Margaret's face.
"What does she mean?" asked Margaret, when we had gone by.
"Nothing, darling. The old thing is mildly crazy, but she is a
We went on in silence for a few moments, and came to the rustic
bridge just above the artificial grotto through which the water ran
out into the park, dark and swift in its narrow channel. We stopped,
and leaned on the wooden rail. The moon was now behind us, and shone
full upon the long vista of basins and on the huge walls and towers
of the Castle above.
"How proud you ought to be of such a grand old place!" said
"It is yours now, darling," I answered. "You have as good a right
to love it as I--but I only love it because you are to live in it,
Her hand stole out and lay on mine, and we were both silent. Just
then the clock began to strike far off in the tower. I counted the
strokes--eight-nine ten--eleven--I looked at my
watch--twelve--thirteen--I laughed. The bell went on striking.
"The old clock has gone crazy, like Judith," I exclaimed. Still it
went on, note after note ringing out monotonously through the still
air. We leaned over the rail, instinctively looking in the direction
whence the sound came. On and on it went. I counted nearly a hundred,
out of sheer curiosity, for I understood that something had broken
and that the thing was running itself down.
Suddenly there was a crack as of breaking wood, a cry and a heavy
splash, and I was alone, clinging to the broken end of the rail of
the rustic bridge.
I do not think I hesitated while my pulse beat twice. I sprang
clear of the bridge into the black rushing water, dived to the
bottom, came up again with empty hands, turned and swam downwards
through the grotto in the thick darkness, plunging and diving at
every stroke, striking my head and hands against jagged stones and
sharp corners, clutching at last something in my fingers, and
dragging it up with all my might. I spoke, I cried aloud, but there
was no answer. I was alone in the pitchy blackness with my burden,
and the house was five hundred yards away. Struggling still, I felt
the ground beneath my feet, I saw a ray of moonlight--the grotto
widened, and the deep water became a broad and shallow brook as I
stumbled over the stones and at last laid Margaret's body on the bank
in the park beyond.
"Ay, Willie, as the clock struck!" said the voice of Judith, the
Welsh nurse, as she bent down and looked at the white face. The old
woman must have turned back and followed us, seen the accident, and
slipped out by the lower gate of the garden. "Ay," she groaned, "you
have fed the Woman of the Water this night, Willie, while the clock
I scarcely heard her as I knelt beside the lifeless body of the
woman I loved, chafing the wet white temples, and gazing wildly into
the wide-staring eyes. I remember only the first returning look of
consciousness, the first heaving breath, the first movement of those
dear hands stretching out towards me.
That is not much of a story, you say. It is the story of my life.
That is all. It does not pretend to be anything else. Old Judith says
my luck turned on that summer's night, when I was struggling in the
water to save all that was worth living for. A month later there was
a stone bridge above the grotto, and Margaret and I stood on it, and
looked up at the moonlit Castle, as we had done once before, and as
we have done many times since. For all those things happened ten
years ago last summer, and this is the tenth Christmas Eve we have
spent together by the roaring logs in the old hall, talking of old
times; and every year there are more old times to talk of. There are
curly-headed boys, too, with red-gold hair and dark-brown eyes like
their mother's, and a little Margaret, with solemn black eyes like
mine. Why could she not look like her mother, too, as well as the
rest of them?
The world is very bright at this glorious Christmas time, and
perhaps there is little use in calling up the sadness of long ago,
unless it be to make the jolly firelight seem more cheerful, the good
wife's face look gladder, and to give the children's laughter a
merrier ring, by contrast with all that is gone. Perhaps, too, some
sad-faced, listless, melancholy youth, who feels that the world is
very hollow, and that life is like a perpetual funeral service, just
as I used to feel myself, may take courage from my example, and
having found the woman of his heart, ask her to marry him after half
an hour's acquaintance. But, on the whole, I would not advise any man
to marry, for the simple reason that no man will ever find a wife
like mine, and being obliged to go further, he will necessarily fare
worse. My wife has done miracles, but I will not assert that any
other woman is able to follow' her example.
Margaret always said that the odd place was beautiful, and that I
ought to be proud of it. I dare say she is right. She has even more
imagination than I. But I have a good answer and a plain one, which
is this--that all the beauty of the Castle comes from her. She has
breathed upon it all, as the children blow upon the cold glass
window-panes in winter; and as their warm breath crystallises into
landscapes from fairyland, full of exquisite shapes and traceries
upon the blank surface, so her spirit has transformed every grey
stone of the old towers, every ancient tree and hedge in the gardens,
every thought in my once melancholy self. All that was old is young,
and all that was sad is glad, and I am the gladdest of all. Whatever
heaven may be, there is no earthly paradise without woman, nor is
there anywhere a place so desolate, so dreary, so unutterably
miserable that a woman cannot make it seem heaven to the man she
loves, and who loves her.
I hear certain cynics laugh, and cry that all that has been said
before. Do not laugh, my good cynic. You are too small a man to laugh
at such a great thing as love. Prayers have been said before now by
many, and perhaps you say yours, too. I do not think they lose
anything by being repeated, nor you by repeating them. You say that
the world is bitter, and full of the Waters of Bitterness. Love, and
so live that you may be loved--the world will turn sweet for you, and
you shall rest like me by the Waters of Paradise.