The Little Old Man's Story by Anna Kingsford
"O love, I have loved you! O my soul, I have lost you!"
"It is getting very dark now, and I have been sitting at my open
bay window ever since sundown. How fresh and sweet the evening air
is, as it comes up from my little flower garden below, laden with the
fragrance of June roses and almond blossom! Ah, by the way, I will
send over some more of those same roses to my opposite neighbor
tomorrow morning,—and there is a beautiful spray of white jasmin
nodding in at the casement now, and only waiting to be gathered for
him. Poor old man! He must be very lonely and quiet, lying there day
after day in his dark little bed-chamber, with no companions save his
books and his old housekeeper. But then Dr. Peyton is with him very
often, and Dr. Peyton is such a dear kind soul that he makes every one
cheerful! I think they have drawn down the blinds earlier than usual
tonight at the little old gentleman's. Dr. Peyton says he always
likes to sit up in his armchair when the day closes, and watch the
twilight gathering over the blue range of the Malvern hills in the
distance, and talk dreamy bits of poetry to himself the while, but
this evening I noticed the blinds were pulled down almost directly
after sunset. And such a lovely sunset as it was tonight! I never
beheld anything more glorious! What a wondrous glamour of molten
mellow light it threw over all the meadows and cottage gardens! It
seemed to me as though the gates of heaven itself were unfolded to
receive the returning sun into the golden land of the Hereafter!
Dear, dear, I shall get quite poetical in my old age! This is not
the first time I have caught myself stumbling unawares on the confines
of romance! Miss Lizzie, Miss Lizzie, you must not be fanciful! Do
you forget that you are an old maid! Yes, an old maid. Ah,
well-a-day, 'tis a very happy, contented, peaceful sound to me now;
but twenty years ago,—Here comes dear old Dr. Peyton himself up my
garden path! He does not seem to walk so blithely tonight as
usual,—surely nothing is the matter; I wish I could see his face, but
it is much too dark for that, so I'll go at once and let him in. Now
I shall hear news of my opposite neighbor! Ah, I hope he is no worse,
poor little old man!"
Gentle reader, I shall not trouble you much in the story I am going
to tell, with any personal experiences of my own. But you may as well
understand before we proceed farther, that I—Miss Elizabeth
Fairleigh—am a spinster on the shady side of forty-five, that I and
my two serving-maids occupy a tiny, green-latticed, porticoed,
one-storeyed cottage just outside a certain little country town, and
that Dr. Peyton, tile one "medical man" of the parish, is a
white-haired old gentleman of wondrous kindliness and goodness of
heart, who was Pythias to my father's Damon at college long, long ago,
and who is now my best friend and my most welcome and frequent
visitor. And on the particular evening in question, I had a special
interest in his visit, for I wanted very much to know what only he
could tell me,—how matters fared with my neighbor and his patient,
the little old man who lay sick over the way.
Now this little old man bore the name of Mr Stephen Gray, and he
was a bachelor, so Dr. Peyton said, a bachelor grown, from some cause
unknown to my friend, prematurely old, and wizened, and decrepit. It
was long since he had first come to reside in the small house opposite
mine, and from the very day of his arrival I had observed him with
singular interest, and conjectured variously in my idle moments about
his probable history and circumstances. For many months after his
establishment "over the way," this old gentleman used morning and
evening to perambulate the little country road which divided our
respective dwellings, supporting his feeble limbs with a
venerable-looking staff, silver-headed like himself; and on one
occasion, when my flower garden happened to look especially gay and
inviting, he paused by the gate and gazed so wistfully at its
beauties, that I ventured to invite him in, and presented him,
bashfully enough, with a posy of my choicest rarities. After this
unconventional introduction, many little courtesies passed between us,
other nosegays were culled from my small parterre to adorn the little
old gentleman's parlour, and more than once Miss Elizabeth Farleigh
received and accepted an invitation to tea with Mr Stephen Gray.
But by-and-by these invitations ceased, and my neighbor's
pedestrian excursions up and down our road became less and less
frequent. Yet when I sent my maid, as I often did, to inquire after
his health, the answer returned alternated only between two
inflections,—Mr Gray was always either "pretty well," or "a little
better today." But presently I noticed that my friend Dr. Peyton
began to pay visits at my opposite neighbor's, and of him I inquired
concerning the little old man's condition, and learned to my surprise
and sorrow that his health and strength were rapidly failing, and his
life surely and irrecoverably ebbing away. It might be many long
months, Dr. Peyton said, before the end, it might be only a few weeks,
but he had seen many such cases, and knew that no human skill or
tenderness had power to do more than to prolong the patient's days
upon earth by some brief space, and to make the weary hours of
feebleness and prostration as pleasant and calm as possible.
When Dr Peyton told me this, it was late autumn, and the little old
gentleman lived on in his weakness all through the snow-time and the
dim bleak winter days. But when the Spring came round once more, he
rallied, and I used often to see him sitting up in his armchair at the
open window, arrayed in his dressing-gown, and looking so cheerful and
placid, that I could not forbear to nod to him and smile hopefully, as
I stood by my garden gate in the soft warm sunshine, thinking that
after all my opposite neighbor would soon be able to take his daily
walks, and have tea with me again in his cosy little parlour. But
when I spoke of this to Dr. Peyton, he only shook his head
incredulously, and murmured something about the flame burning brighter
for a little while before going out altogether. So the old gentleman
lingered on until June, and still every time I sent to ask after his
health returned the same old reply,—his "kind regards to Miss
Fairleigh, and he was a little better today." And thus matters
remained on that identical evening of which I first spoke, when I sat
at the bay window in my tiny drawing- room, and saw Dr. Peyton coming
so soberly up the garden path.
"Dr Peyton," said I, as I placed my most comfortable chair for him
in the prettiest corner of the bay, "you are the very person I have
been longing to see for the last half-hour! I want to know how my
neighbor Mr Gray is tonight. I see his blinds are down, and I am
afraid he may be worse. Have you been there this evening?"
I paused abruptly, for my old friend looked very gravely at me, and
I thought as his eyes rested for a moment on my face, that
notwithstanding the twilight, I could discern traces of recent tears
"Lizzie," said he, very slowly, and his voice certainly trembled a
little as he spoke, "I don't think Mr Gray was ever so well in his
life as he is tonight. I have been with him for several hours. He is
"Dead!" I echoed faintly, for I almost doubted whether my ears
heard aright. "My little old gentleman dead? Oh, I am very, very
grieved indeed! I fancied he was getting so much stronger!"
Dr. Peyton smiled, one of his peculiar, sweet, grave smiles, such
as I had often seen on his kindly face at certain times and seasons
when other men would not have smiled at all.
"Lizzie," he answered, 'there are some deaths so beautiful and so
full of peace, that no one ought to grieve about them, for they bring
eternal rest after a life that has been only bitter disquiet and
heaviness. And such a death—aye, and such a life—were Mr Gray's."
He spoke so certainly and so calmly, that I felt comforted for the
little old man's sake, and longed to know,—woman-like, I
suppose,—what sad story of his this had been, to which Dr. Peyton's
words seemed to point.
"Then he had a romance after all!" I cried, "and you knew of it!
Poor old gentleman! I often wondered how he came to be so lonely.
May you tell me, as we sit here together? I should so like to hear
"Yes," said he, with that same peculiar smile, "I may tell you, for
it is no secret now. Indeed, I came here partly for that very
purpose, because I know well how much you were interested in your
opposite neighbor, and how you used to speculate about his antecedents
and associations. But I have not known this story long. He only told
it me this evening; just an hour or two before he died. Well, we all
have our little romances, as you are pleased to call them!"
"Yes, yes, all of us. Even I, unpretentious, plain Elizabeth
Fairleigh,—but no matter." I mind me, reader, that I promised not to
talk of my own experiences. Ah, there are no such phenomena in the
world really, as "commonplace" lives, and "commonplace" persons!
"Poor little old man!" I sighed again. "Did he tell you his story
then of his own accord, or"—And I paused in some embarrassment, for I
remembered that Dr. Peyton was a true gentleman, and possessed of far
too much delicacy of feeling to question anybody upon personal matters
or private concerns. But either he did not actually notice my
hesitation, or perhaps understood the cause of it well enough to
prevent him from appearing to notice it, for he resumed at once, as
though no interruption to his discourse had taken place.
"When I went this afternoon to visit your neighbor, Lizzie, I
perceived immediately from the change in him that the end was not far
off, though I did not think it would come today. But he did. He was
in bed when I entered his room, and as soon as he saw me, he looked up
and welcomed me with a pleasant smile and said, `Ah, Doctor, I am so
glad you are come! I was just going to send round for you! Not that
I think you can do me any more good upon earth, for I know that
tonight I shall go to my long rest. To my long rest.' He lingered so
strangely and so contentedly over these words, that I was singularly
touched, and I sat down by his bedside and took his thin white hand in
mine. 'Doctor,' said he, presently, `you have been very good and kind
to me now for more than ten months, and I have learned in that time to
trust and esteem you as though I had known you for many long years.
There are no friends of mine near me in the world now, for I am a
lonely old man, and before I came here I lived alone, and I have been
lonely almost all my life. But I cannot die tonight without telling
you the story of my past, and of the days when I used to be
young,—very long ago now,—that you may understand why I die here
alone, a white-haired old bachelor; and that I may be comforted in my
death by the knowledge that I leave at least one friend upon earth to
sympathise in my sorrow and to bless me in my solitary grave. 'It is
a long story, Doctor,' said the little old man, 'but I feel stronger
this afternoon than I have felt for weeks, and I am quite sure I can
tell it all from end to end. I have kept it many years in my heart, a
secret from every human soul; but now all is over with my sorrow and
with me for ever, and I care not who knows of it after I am gone.'
Then after a little pause he told me his story, while I sat beside
him holding his hand in mine, and I think I did not lose a word of all
he said, for he spoke very slowly and distinctly, and I listened with
all my heart. Shall I tell it to you, Lizzie? It is not one of those
stories that end happily; like the stories we read in children's fairy
books, nor is it exciting and sensational like the modern popular
novels. There are no dramatic situations in it, and no passionate
scenes of tragical love or remorse; 'tis a still, neutral-colored,
dreamy bit of pathos; the story of a lost life,—that it will make
you sad perhaps to hear, and maybe, a little graver than usual. Only
"Please tell it, Dr Peyton," I answered. "You know I have a
special liking for such sad histories. 'Tis one of my old-maidish
eccentricities I suppose; but somehow I always think sorrow more
musical than mirth, and I love the quiet of shadowy places better than
the brilliant glow of the open landscape."
"You are right, Lizzie," he returned. "That is the feeling of the
true poet in all ages, and the most poetical lives are always those in
which the melancholy element predominates. Yet it is contrast that
makes the beauty of things, and doubtless we should not fully
understand the sweetness of your grave harmonies, nor the loveliness
of your shadowy valleys, were all music grave and all places shadowy.
And inanimate nature is most assuredly the faithful type and mirror
of human life. But I must not waste our time any longer in such idle
prologues as these! You shall hear the little old man's story at
once, while it is still fresh in my memory, though for the matter of
that, I am not likely, I think, to forget it very easily." So Dr
Peyton told it me as we sat together there in the growing darkness of
the warm summer night, and this, reader mine, is the story he told.
Some forty years ago, there lived in one of the prettiest houses in
Kensington, a rich old wine-merchant, and his two only children.
These young men, Stephen and Maurice Grey, were twins, whose mother
had died at their birth, and all through their infancy and childhood
the old wine-merchant had been to them as father and mother in one,
and the brothers had grown up to manhood, loving him and each other as
dearly as heart could wish. Already Stephen, the firstborn of the
twins, had become partner in his father's flourishing business, and
Maurice was preparing at a military college for service in the army,
which he was shortly to join, when a certain event occurred at
Kensington, trifling enough in itself, but in the sequel pregnant with
bitter misfortune to at least two human souls.
There came to reside in the house adjoining old Mr Gray's, an
elderly widow lady and her orphan niece,—Mrs. Lamertine and Miss
Adelais Cameron. They came there principally for the sake of the
latter,—a pale consumptive girl of eighteen, whose delicate health
and constitution it was thought might be considerably benefited by the
mild soft air of that particular neighborhood. Soon after the arrival
of these ladies in their new abode, the old wine-merchant in his
courtesy and kindliness of heart saw fit to pay them a visit, and in
due time and form the visit was returned, and a friendly come-and-go
understanding established between the two houses. In this manner it
happened that Stephen, the elder son, by living always in his father's
house, from which he was absent only during the office-hours of the
day, saw a great deal of Adelais Cameron, and learnt before long to
love her with all the depth and yearning that a young man feels in his
first rapturous adoration of a beautiful woman.
For a beautiful woman Adelais certainly was. Very fair to look
upon was the pale, transparent face, and the plentiful braided hair,
golden and soft almost as undyed silk, that wreathed about the lovely
little head. Clear and sweet too were the eyes whence the soul of
Adelais looked forth, clear and brown and sweet; so that people who
beheld her fair countenance and heard her musical voice for the first
time, were fain to say in their hearts, "Such a face and such a voice
as these are not earthly things; Adelais Cameron is already far on
her road towards the land of the angels."
But at least Mrs Lamertine and her friendly neighbors the Grays
could perceive that the pale girl grew none the paler nor sicklier for
her residence at Kensington, and as days and weeks flew pleasantly by
in the long autumn season, the old lady talked more and more
confidently of her niece's complete restoration to health and youthful
vigour. Then by-and-by Christmas drew round, and with it Maurice Gray
came home to his father's house for his last vacation-time; Maurice,
with his frank handsome face and curly hair, always so cheerful,
always so good-humoured, always so unconscious of his own
attractiveness, that wherever he went, everybody was sure to trust and
to idolise him. Ay, and to love him too sometimes, but not as Adelais
Cameron did, when her full womanly soul awoke first to the living
intensity of passion, and she found in him the one god at whose feet
to cast all her new wealth of tenderness and homage. Never before had
Maurice Gray been so beloved, never before had his own love been so
desired and coveted by human soul. And now that the greatest blessing
of earth lay so ready to his grasp, Maurice neither perceived the
value of the gift, nor understood that it was offered to him. Such
was the position when Christmas Day arrived, and the widower begged
that Mrs Lamertine and her niece would do him the pleasure to dine in
his house and spend the evening there, that they might sing songs and
play forfeits together and keep up the ancient institutions of the
time, as well as so tiny and staid a party could manage to do; to
which sociable invitation, the old dame, nothing averse to pleasant
fellowship at any season, readily consented. But when Adelais Cameron
entered Mr Gray's drawing-room that Christmas evening with her soft
white dress floating about her like a hazy cloud, and a single bunch
of snowdrops in the coils of her golden hair, Stephen's heart leapt in
his throat, and he said to himself that never until now had he known
how exceeding perfect and sweet was the beautiful woman whom he loved
with so absorbing a tenderness. Alas, that life should be at times
such a terribly earnest game of cross purposes, such an intensely
bitter reality of mistakes and blunders! Alas, that men and women can
read so little of each other's heart, and yet can comprehend so well
the language of their own!
All the evening, throughout the conversation and the forfeits and
the merry-making, Stephen Gray spoke and moved and thought only for
Adelais, and she for Stephen's twin brother. It was for Maurice that
she sang, while Stephen stood beside her at the piano, drinking in the
tender passionate notes as though they were sweet wine for which all
his soul were athirst; it was at Maurice that she smiled, while
Stephen's eyes were on her face, and to Maurice that she prattled and
sported and made mirthful jests, while Stephen alone heeded all that
she said and did; for the younger brother was reflected in every
purpose and thought of hers, even as her own image lay mirrored
continually in the heart and thoughts of the elder.
But before the hour of parting came that night, Stephen drew
Adelais aside from the others as they sat laughing and talking over
some long-winded story of the old wine-merchant's experiences, and
told her what she, in the blindness of her own wild love, had never
guessed nor dreamed of,—all the deep adoration and worship of his
soul. And when it was told, she said nothing for a few minutes, but
only stood motionless and surprised, without a blush or tremor or
sigh, and he, looking earnestly into her fair uplifted face, saw with
unutterable pain that there was no response there to the passionate
yearning of his own.
"Adelais," said he, presently, "you do not love me?"
"Yes, yes, Stephen," she answered, softly; "as a brother, as a
"No more?" he asked again.
She put her hand into his, and fixing the clear light of her brown
eyes full upon him: "Why," she said, hurriedly, "do you ask me this?
I cannot give you more, I cannot love you as a husband. Let no one
know what has passed between us tonight; forget it yourself as I
shall forget also, and we will always be brother and sister all our
Then she turned and glided away across the room into the warm
bright glow of the fireside, that lay brightest and warmest in the
corner where Maurice sat; but Stephen stood alone in the darkness and
hid his face in his hands and groaned. And after this there came a
changeover the fortunes of the two households. Day by day Adelais
faded and paled and saddened; none knew why. People said it was the
winter weather, and that when the springtime came the girl would be
herself again, and grow brisker and stronger than ever. But when
Maurice was gone back to his college, to fulfil his last term there
before leaving for India, the only brother of Adelais came up from his
home by the seaside, on a month's visit to his aunt and his sister at
Kensington. He was a man of middle age almost, this same Philip
Cameron, tall and handsome and fair-spoken, so that the old
wine-merchant, who dearly loved good looks and courteous breeding,
took to him mightily from the first, and made much of his company on
all occasions. But as he stayed on from week to week at Mrs
Lamertine's house, Philip saw that the pale lips and cheeks of Adelais
grew paler and thinner continually, that the brown eyes greatened in
the dark sockets, and that the fragile limbs weakened and sharpened
themselves more and more, as though some terrible blight, like the
curse of an old enchantment or of an evil eye, hung over the sweet
girl, withering and poisoning all the life and the youth in her veins.
She lay on a sofa one afternoon, leaning her golden head upon one
of her pale wan hands, and gazing dreamily through the open casement
into the depths of the broad April sky, over whose clear blue
firmament the drifting clouds came and went incessantly like
white-sailed ships at sea. And Adelais thought of the sea as she
watched them, and longed in her heart to be away and down by the
southern coast where her brother had made his home, with the free salt
breeze blowing in her face, and the free happy waves beating the shore
at her feet, and the sea-fowl dipping their great strong wings in the
leaping surge. Ah to be free,— to be away,—perhaps then she might
forget, forget and live down her old life, and bury it somewhere out
of sight in the sea-sand;—forget and grow blithe and happy and strong
once more, like the breeze and the waves and the wild birds, who have
no memory nor regret for the past, and no thought for any joy, save
the joy of their present being.
"Phil," she said, as her brother came softly into the room and sat
beside her, "take me back with you to the sea-side. I am weary of
living always here in Kensington. It is only London after all."
"My dearest," he answered, kindly, "if that is all you wish for, it
shall certainly be. But, Adelais, is there nothing more than this
that troubles you? There is a shadow in your eyes and on your lips
that used not to be there, and all day long you sit by yourself and
muse in silence; and you weep too at times, Adelais, when you fancy
none is by to see you. Tell me, sister mine, for the sake of the love
that is between us, and for the sake of our father and mother who are
dead, what cloud is this that overshadows you so?"
Long time he pressed and besought her, pleading by turns his power
to help, and her need of tenderness; but yet Adelais was afraid to
speak, for the love that was breaking her heart was unreturned. So
the next day he found her alone again, and prayed her to tell him her
sorrow, that even if he could not help nor comfort her, they might at
least lament together. Then at last she bowed her head upon his
breast, and told him of Maurice, and of his near departure for India,
and of her own disregarded love; but not a word she said of Stephen,
because she had promised him to hold her peace. And when she had told
her brother all, she laid her arms about his neck and cried, weeping,
"Now you know everything that is in my heart, Phil; speak to me no
more about it, but only promise to take me away with you when you go,
that I may the sooner forget this place and all the sorrow and the
pain I have suffered here."
And Philip Cameron kissed her very tenderly, and answered, "Be at
rest, sister, you shall have your will."
But when the evening came, he went over to the house of the
wine-merchant, and questioned him about Maurice, whether he cared for
Adelais or no, and whether he had ever said a word to his father or
brother of the matter.
"Ay, ay," quoth the old gentleman, musingly, when Philip had
ceased, " 'Tis like enough if there be anything of the sort that the
boys should talk of it between them, for, God be thanked, they were
always very fond of each other; yet I never heard it spoken about.
But then youth has little in common with age, and when young men make
confidences of this kind, it is to young men that they make them, and
not to grey-beards like me. But tell me, Cameron, for you know I must
needs divine something from all this; your sister loves my boy
"If you think so, sir," answered Philip, "you must keep her
"Cameron, Cameron," cried the wine-merchant, "Adelais is failing
and sickening every day. Every day she grows whiter and sadder and
more silent. Don't tell me it's for love of Maurice! It's not
possible such a woman as she is can love anybody in vain! She's an
angel on earth, your sister Adelais!"
Then because the old man was kindly and wise and white-headed,
Philip told him all that Adelais had said, and how he had promised to
take her home with him, and had come unknown to any one to ask before
they went whether or not there was any hope for her of the love on
which she had so set her heart.
And when Philip was gone the old gentleman called his elder son,
Stephen, and asked him—but warily, lest he should betray Adelais—how
Maurice bore himself in Stephen's presence when they were alone
together and chanced to speak of her, and if Stephen knew or guessed
anything of what was in his mind towards her. Then the young man
understood for the first time all the blindness of his eyes and the
dulness of his heart; and the pain and the desolation and the
hopelessness of his life that was to be, rose up before him, and he
knew that from thenceforth the glory and the light of it were put out
"Father," he said, "I know nothing whatever of all this. Is it
your wish then that these two should marry?"
"It is my wish, Stephen, and the wish also of our friend Philip
himself. Maurice could not take with him to India a sweeter or a
worthier wife than Adelais Cameron."
"And does she wish it too?" he asked again. "Tell me, father, for
I have guessed already." He lifted his eyes to the old man's face as
he spoke, and perceived at once the sudden confusion arid surprise
that his words had caused there, yet he said no more, but waited still
for a reply.
"My dear boy," said the old gentleman at last, "if you have guessed
anything, that is enough; say no more about it, but let it rest with
yourself. I have never yet deceived either of my sons. But when
Maurice comes home again you can help us very much, for you can
question him on the matter more naturally than I could do, and no
doubt he will tell you his mind about it, as you say he always does
about everything, but with me he might be reserved and bewildered
perhaps. Ask him, my boy, but keep your guesses to yourself."
"Father," cried Stephen, pressing his hands together in agony as
though his heart were between them, and he would fain crush it into
dust and destroy it for ever; "tell me, if I am to do this, does
Adelais love my brother?"
"If I tell you at all, boy," said the wine-merchant, "I shall tell
you the truth; can you hold your peace like a man of discretion?"
"I have kept other secrets, father," he answered, "I can keep
Then his father told him.
Early in May, Adelais Cameron went to the Devonshire sea-coast with
her brother and her aunt, and they stayed there together a long while.
But the accounts that came from week to week to Kensington were none
of the best, for Adelais had borne the long journey but ill, and her
strength did not return. Then came the summer and the vacation-time,
and Maurice Gray was home again, full to the brim of schemes for his
future life, and busy all day with head and hands over his
preparations for leaving England in the autumn. But when Stephen
talked to him of Adelais, and told him she was gone to the sea-side,
Maurice only laughed and answered lightly, that she was a sweet
lovable girl, and that he grieved to hear of her illness; no doubt
the southern breezes would bring back the color to her cheeks, and he
should hear before he had been long gone that she was quite well and
strong again. At least he hoped so.
"Then, Maurice, you don't care to see her once more before you
sail? You don't want to say goodbye?"
"O well, if she's here, of course, but that's another thing; I
wouldn't for worlds have her come back to Kensington just to bid me
goodbye. And really you know, Steenie, I've too much to do just now
to be running about and saying farewells everywhere. The time that's
left me now to be at home with you and my father is none too long.
What is Adelais Cameron to me, when all my world is here?"
"Maurice," said Stephen again, in a voice that sounded strained and
hard, like the voice of an old man trying to be young; "you're a dear
affectionate fellow, and as things are, perhaps this is all very well.
But supposing Adelais loved you, and my father and—and—everybody
else you know, wished her to be your wife, how would you feel towards
her then? Supposing, Maurice—only for the sake of supposing, of
"What a strange fellow you are, Steenie! Why, supposing as you
say, such a very wild improbable circumstance were to occur, I should
be heartily sorry for poor Adelais! Only imagine me with such a wife
as she would make! Why I wouldn't have so transparent, white-skinned
a beauty about my house all day for a mine of gold! I should be
seized with lunacy before long, through mere contemplation of her very
unearthliness, and be goaded into fancying her a picture, and hanging
her up framed and glazed over my drawing-room mantelpiece! No, no,
I'll leave Miss Cameron for you, you're just her style, I take it;
but as for me, I never thought of marrying yet, Steenie, for I never
yet had the luck or ill-luck to fall in love, and certainly you'll
allow that nobody ought to think of marriage until he's really in
love. So I'll wish you all success, old boy, and mind you write and
tell me how the wooing gets on!"
O Maurice! Maurice!
Then, by-and-by, the young officer sailed, and Adelais heard of his
going, and her heart died within her for greatness of sorrow and pain,
yet still she held her peace, and lived her life in patience.
And so for two whole years they kept her by the sea, hoping against
hope, and whispering those idle convictions that affection always
suggests, about the worst being over now, and the time of
convalescence being always tedious and unpromising. But in the third
year, when the autumn days grew darker, and the sun set redder in the
sea, and people began to talk again of Christmas, Adelais called her
brother one evening and said:—
"Philip, I have been here very long, and I know that nothing more
on earth can ever make me well again now. You will not refuse me the
last request I shall make you, Phil? Take me back to the old house at
Kensington, that I may see dear old Mr. Gray, and my friend Stephen,
once more; and you, Phil, stay with me and Auntie there until I die,
for it won't be very long now, and I want to see you near me to the
So they brought her back again to the old house, next door to the
wine merchant's, and they carried her over the threshold, because she
was too weak to walk now, and laid her on the old sofa in the old
place by the window, for she would have it, and Philip Cameron did her
bidding in everything. And that same evening, Stephen Gray came in to
see her, and they met as old friends meet who have been long parted,
and sat and talked together until past sunset. But at length Adelais
asked him for news of Maurice, what he was doing, and how he was, and
when they heard from him last, and what he thought of India and of the
new life there, and his companions, and the climate, and the customs
of the place; for she never guessed that Stephen knew of her hopeless
love. But Stephen turned away his face and answered her briefly, that
his brother was well and prosperous, and wrote home constantly. How
could he tell her that Maurice had already found himself a rich
handsome wife in India?
Soon after these things, old Mr Gray fell ill of a violent cold,
which attacked him suddenly one afternoon on his return from his
office. It was Christmas weather then, and the cold and the frost of
the season were unusually keen, so that the physician, whom Stephen
called in to see his father, looked very grave and dubious; and
before many days of his patient's illness were past, he asked the
young man whether there were any brothers or sisters of his, whom the
merchant might wish to see. Stephen's heart beat fast when he heard
the ominous question, for he understood what tidings the grave tone
and the strange inquiry were meant to break to him, and knew well that
the physician who spoke was one of the wisest and most skillful in
London. But he answered as calmly as he could, and talked of Maurice,
and of the boy's fondness for his father, and added, that if there
were really imminent danger, he should like his brother to be called
home, because he was sure Maurice would wish it; but that otherwise
the voyage was tedious and the need unimportant.
"Let him be sent for," said the physician. "There is just time."
So Stephen wrote to his brother, and bade him leave his wife with
her parents in India, and come home quickly, if he would see his
father again, for the time was short, and in those days the only way
open to Maurice was the long circuitous sea-route.
Maurice arrived only three days before the old man's death. He had
not left his wife behind him, as Stephen suggested, for she loved her
husband too dearly to be parted from him, and Maurice brought her with
him to his father's house.
From her place on the sofa by the window, Adelais Cameron looked
wearily out, watching for the coming of the one she loved most upon
earth. And at last the coach drew up at the old gentleman's gate, and
she saw Maurice dismount from the box-seat by the driver and open the
coach door to hand out a handsome lady, with dark hair and bright
"Who is that?" she asked of the maid, who was arranging the
tea-table beside her.
"Don't you know, Miss?" said the girl, surprised at the inquiry.
"That's Mrs Maurice, the rich young lady he married in India a year
ago; I was told all about it by the cook at Mr. Gray's, ever-so-long
But as the words were spoken, Stephen entered the room with a
message for Philip Cameron, and overheard both the question and the
answer. Adelais turned towards him and said, "Stephen, you never told
me that Maurice had a wife."
The next week they buried the old wine merchant very quietly and
simply. Only three mourners attended the funeral,—Stephen and
Maurice and Philip Cameron; but Adelais, looking down on them from her
casement corner, as the coffin was carried forth from the house, laid
her golden head on her aunt's bosom and cried, "Auntie, auntie, I
never thought to live so long as this! Why must those always die who
are needed most, while such as I live on from year to year? I fancied
I had only a few weeks left me upon earth when we came back to
Kensington, and yet here I am still!"
Then after a little while the brothers parted once more; Maurice
and his wife went back to India, and Stephen was left alone, sole
successor to his father's business, and master of the old house. But
Adelais Cameron still lived on, like the shadow of her former self,
fading in the sunset of her womanhood, the beauty sapped out from her
white death-like face, and the glitter of youth and the sweetness of
hope quenched for ever in the depths of her luminous eyes.
Then when the days of mourning were over, Stephen came again to
Adelais, to renew the wooing of old times; for he said to himself,
"Now that Maurice is married, and my father dead, she may pity me,
seeing me so lone and desolate; and I may comfort her for the past,
and make her amends with my love, for the pain and the bitterness that
are gone by."
But when he knelt alone by the couch whereon Adelais lay, and held
her white blue-veined hands in his and told his errand, she turned her
face from him and wept sore, as women weep over the dead.
"Adelais, O Adelais," he cried in his despair, "Why will you refuse
me always? Don't you see my heart is breaking for love of you? Come
home with me and be my wife at last!"
But she made answer very sadly and slowly:—
"Stephen, ought the living and the dead to wed with one another?
God forbid that you in your youth and manhood should take to wife
such a death-like thing as I! Four years I have lain like this
waiting for the messenger to fetch me away, and now that at last he is
near at hand, shall I array myself in a bridal veil for a face-cloth,
and trailing skirts of silk or satin for a shroud? Dear Stephen,
don't talk to me any more about this,—we are brother and sister
still,—let nothing on earth break the sweetness of the bond between
"Not so, Adelais," cried he, passionately; "you cannot, you must
not die yet! You do not know what love can do, you do not know that
love is stronger than death, and that where there is love like mine
death dare not come! There is nothing in all the world that I will
not do for your sake, nothing that I will leave undone to save you,
nothing that shall be too hard a condition for me to perform, so that
I may keep you with me still. Live, live my darling, my beloved, and
be my wife! Give me the right to take you with me, my sweet; let us
go together to Madeira, to Malta, to Sicily, where the land is full of
life, and the skies are warm, and the atmosphere clear and pure.
There is health there, Adelais, and youth, and air to breathe such as
one cannot find in this dull, misty, heavy northern climate, and there
you will grow well again, and we will think no more about death and
sickness. O my darling, my darling, for God's sake refuse me no
She laid her thin transparent palm wearily over her left side, and
turned her calm eyes on the passionate straining face beside her.
"There is that here," she said, pressing her wounded heart more
tightly, "that I know already for the touch of the messenger's hand.
Already I count the time of my sojourn here, not by weeks nor even by
days,—the end has come so very, very near at last. How do I know but
that even now that messenger of whom I speak may be standing in our
presence,—even now, while you kneel here by my side and talk to me of
life and youth and health?"
"Adelais," pleaded the poor lover, hoarsely, "you deceive yourself,
my darling! Have you not often spoken before of dying, and yet have
lived on? O why should you die now and break my heart outright?"
"I feel a mist coming over me," she answered, "even as I speak with
you now. I hear a sound in my ears that is not of earth, the darkness
gathers before my face, the light quivers and fades, the night is
closing about me very fast. Stephen, Stephen, don't you see that I am
He bowed his head over the damp colorless brow, and whispered: "If
it be so, my beloved, be as my wife yet, and die in my arms."
But while he uttered the words there came a change over her,—a
shadow into the sweet eyes and a sudden spasm of pain across the white
parted lips. Feebly and uncertainly she put out her hands before her
face, like one groping in the darkness, her golden head drooped on his
shoulder, and her breath came sharp and thick, with the sound of
approaching death. Stephen folded his arms about her with a cry of
agony, and pressed the poor quivering hands wildly to his bosom, as
though he would fain have held them there for ever.
"O God!" he groaned in his unutterable despair; "is there no hope,
no redemption, no retrieving of the past? Is this the bitter end of
all, and must I lose my darling so? O Adelais, Adelais, my beloved!"
But even as he spoke, the gathering shadow broke softly over all her
face, the sobbing, gasping breath ceased in the stillness of the
darkened room, the golden head fell lower,—lower yet upon the
desolate heart whose love had been so steadfast and so true; and
Stephen covered his face with the hands of the dead, and wept such
tears as men can only weep once in a lifetime,—tears that make brown
hairs grey and young men old.
Philip Cameron and his aunt did not stay long at Kensington. They
gave up the house to strangers, and went away to the Continent for
awhile, where they traveled about together, until the old lady grew
tired of wandering, and settled down with her maid in a little villa
near Geneva; and after that, Stephen heard no more of her nor of
Philip. But Stephen himself stayed on in the old house until he grew
old too, for he loved the place where Adelais had lived, and could not
bear to leave it for another. And every evening when he came home
from his office, he would sit alone at the window of his study whence
he could see across the garden into the little chamber next door, the
little chintz-curtained old-fashioned chamber where she used to lie in
her weakness years and years ago, where they two had so often talked
and read together, and where she had died at last in his arms. But he
never wept, thinking of these things now, for he had grown into a
little withered dried-up old man, and his tears were dried up also,
and instead of his passionate despair and heart-breaking, had come the
calm bitterness of eternal regret, and a still voiceless longing for
the time that every day drew nearer and nearer, and for the coming of
the messenger from the land that is very far off.
But when Maurice came home once more to settle in England with his
handsome wife and his children, rich and happy and prosperous, he
would fain have taken some new house in London to share with his twin
brother, that they might live together; but Stephen would not. Then
when Maurice had reasoned and talked with him a long time in vain,
pleading by turns the love that had been between them long ago, the
loneliness of his brother's estate, and his own desire that they
should not separate now, he yielded the contest, and said
"Have your own way, Steenie, since you will make a solitary
bachelor of yourself, but at least give up your useless toiling at the
wine-office. To what end do you plod there every day,—you who are
wifeless and childless, and have no need of money for yourself? Give
me up this great house in which you live all alone, like an owl in an
oak-tree, and let me find you a cottage somewhere in the neighborhood,
where I can often come and see you, and where you may spend your days
in happiness and comfort."
And the little old man shook his head and answered, "Nay, brother
Maurice, but I will go away from here to some country village where I
am not known, for I have toiled long and wearily all my life, and I
cannot rest in peace beside the mill where I have ground down my life
so many years. Do not trouble yourself about me, Maurice, I shall
find a home for myself."
Then they parted. Maurice and his family came to live in the big
house at Kensington, for they liked to be near London, and Stephen
sold his father's business to another merchant, and went away, Maurice
knew not whither, to bury himself and his lost life in some far-off
village, until by-and-by the messenger for whom he had waited and
yearned so long should come also for him, and the day break and the
shadows flee away."
Such, reader mine, is in substance the story that Dr. Peyton told
me. The words in which he related it I cannot of course quite remember
now, so I have put it into words of my own, and here and there I have
added somewhat to the dialogue. But the facts and the pathos of the
romance are not mine, nor his; they are true, actual realities, such
as no dressing of fiction can make more poetical or complete in their
"It was a long history," said I, "for a dying man to tell."
"Yes," answered he. "And several times it was evident enough from
his quick- drawn breath and sudden pauses, that the recital wearied
and pained him. But he was so set upon telling, and I, Lizzie, I
confess, so much interested in hearing it, that I did not absolutely
hinder his fancy, but contented myself with warning him from time to
time not to overtask his strength. He always answered me that he was
quite strong, and liked to go on, for that it made him happy even to
talk once more about Adelais, and to tell me how beautiful and sweet
and patient she had been. It was close upon sunset when he ended his
story, and he begged me, that as his fashion was, he might be lifted
out of bed and carried to his armchair by the window, to look, as he
said, for the last time, at the going down of the sun. So I called
the housekeeper, and we did what he desired together, and opened the
green Venetian blinds of the casement, which had been closed all the
afternoon because of the heat. You remember, Lizzie, what a
wonderfully bright and beautiful sunset it was this evening? Well, as
we threw back the outer shutters, the radiant glory of the sky poured
into the room like a flood of transparent gold and almost dazzled us,
so that I fancied the sudden brilliancy would be too much for his
feeble sight, and I leaned hastily forward with the intention of
partly reclosing the blinds. But he signed to me to let them be, so I
relinquished my design, and sent the housekeeper downstairs to prepare
him his tea, which I thought he might like to take sitting up in his
chair by the window. I had no idea—doctor though I am—that his end
was so near as it proved to be; for although certainly much exhausted
and agitated with the exertion of telling me his story, I did not then
perceive any immediate cause for apprehension. Still less did I
understand that he was then actually dying; on the contrary, I began
to think that my first impressions of his danger when I entered the
room that afternoon had been erroneous, and that the change I had
observed in him might possibly be an indication of temporary revival.
At all events, I fancied the cup of tea which was then being made
ready, would be of great use in stimulating and refreshing him after
the weariness caused by his long talk, and I promised myself that if I
could only persuade him to silence for the rest of the evening, he
would be none the worse for the recent gratification of his whim. We
sat some time by the open window, watching the sun as it sank lower
and lower into the golden-sheeted west, and some unconnected
speculations were straying through my mind about `the sea of glass
mingled with fire,' when the old man's words aroused me in the midst
of my dreaming, and the voice in which he spoke was so unusual and so
soft that it startled me.
"`Doctor,' he said, `I think I am dying.'
"I sprang from my seat and stood at his side in a moment, but
before the utterance had well passed from his lips, I perceived that
it was no mere invalid's fancy.
"'Thirty-five years ago,' he continued, speaking still in that new
unusual voice,— `thirty-five years ago this very selfsame day, my
Adelais died in my arms as the sun went down. Today, as the sun goes
down, I shall die also.'
"Surely," cried I, "this is a very singular incident! Does it not
seem so to you! This evening, then, was actually the anniversary of
poor Miss Cameron's death! How strange!"
"It certainly appeared so to me at first," he rejoined. "But when
my mind reverted to it afterwards, I thought it exceedingly probable
that his own knowledge of the fact had itself hastened his end, for he
had no doubt been long brooding over it, and maybe desired that his
death should occur that particular day and hour. In his enfeebled
condition, such a desire would have great physical effect; I have
known several similar cases. But however that may have been, I of
course have no certain means of deciding. I have already told you,
that immediately on my entering his chamber in the afternoon, he
expressed to me his conviction that tonight he should go to his `long
rest,' and in the certainty of that conviction, related to me the
story you have heard. But though it has been the necessary lot of my
calling to be present at so many deathbeds, I never before witnessed a
calmer or a more peaceful end than Stephen Gray's. In his changed
face, in his watchful eyes, in every placid feature of his
countenance, I beheld the quiet anticipation of that `long rest' about
which he had spoken so contentedly an hour or two since.
"He took no further heed of me whatever,—I doubt if he was even
aware of my presence. Wearily he laid his head back upon the white
pillows I had placed in the armchair behind him, folded his hands
together, and kept his eyes fixed steadfastly, and—I thought—even
reverently, upon the setting sun that was now fast sinking like a
globe of fire, towards the blue ridge of the Malvern hills, and my
heart beat violently as I saw it touch the topmost peak. While I
watched, there broke suddenly forth from between the low lines of
sunset cloud, a long ray of golden light, that fell full on the
uplifted face of the little old man. He did not turn his head, or
shrink from its intense brightness, but his lips moved, though the
utterance of the words he spoke was so broken and indistinct, that I
stooped to hear them.
"'Adelais,—O my lost darling,—my Adelais,—let me come to thee
and be beloved at last!'
" Then I looked again at the western sky, and saw that the sun had
Next morning I gathered my June roses and sweet jasmin, and took
them over to the house of the little old man. I went upstairs into
the darkened chamber where they had laid him, and bestowed the flowers
reverently about the white- draped bed. All the wrinkles were wiped
out of his pallid face now, and he looked so wondrously calm and
peaceful, lying there with his closed eyelids and crossed hands, in
the unbroken silence of the room, that the tears of pity I thought I
should have wept at the sight never rose in my eyes; but instead, as
I turned away, there came to my memory certain closing lines of a most
beautiful poem, written not very long ago by a master-hand that surely
held God's commission to write. It is a dead hand now, but the
written words remain, and the singer herself has gone to the land of
the Hereafter, where the souls of the poets float for ever in the full
light of their recovered Godhead, singing such songs as mortal ear
hath not yet heard, nor mortal heart conceived of. And the poem of
which I spoke, has this ending:—
"`Jasper first,' I said, `And second, sapphire; third,
chalcedony. The rest in order,—last, an amethyst."'