The Father Confessor
by Dora Sigerson Shorter
Stories of Death and Danger
The Broken Heart
A Question of
All Souls' Eve
The Jealousy of
The Father Confessor
I had thought for a glad moment you loved me. A week ago I hoped for
a different answer. Will you tell me why this is?
A week ago; that is a long time.
I see; you had not then met him.
No, I had not met him; and yet I seem always to have known him.
You do not know him, you idealize. Your vivid imagination, your love
of romance and beauty, blind you. He is cruel and unscrupulous.
How dare you speak to me so?
I dare because I love. Oh, it is not jealousy. Only give him up, and
I will go away where you will see me no more. Can you not read his
eyes? They are so cruel. He would kill a person if he hated him.
His eyes, they are not cruel; they are full oflove, and he does
not hate me.
He would kill a woman if he grew tired of her.
Oh, you must not speak so. I love him, andhe has asked me to be
* * *
The priest stood at the bedside of the dying woman, he looked down
upon her and wondered at her face. Her hair had turned pure white, and
she so young. Her eyes were the eyes of a hare, full of watching,
always seeming to be expecting some sudden fright. Her nervous
hands, for ever twitching, kept pulling at the blankets and moving
I sent for you, she said, with a weak smile, to tell you how wrong
you were. He has been good to me, and loves me so. I pray God for his
sake not to let me die.
The door was flung open and a man staggered in. The woman stretched
out her thin arms to him, and then saw his face. She gave a shrill
death cry, and rising from her bed, fell towards him. The priest made a
step to raise her, but drew back, giving the man his place. Laying the
dead woman back on the bed, the man broke into loud sobs.
What has happened, said the stern priest, that you burst into a
sick-room with your face like that?
They said she was worse, and I rushed down afraid.
You have frightened her to death.
The man grew as white as she was.
Frightened her to death? he repeated. Look at your face, said the
priest. The man stood before the glass. Up the left side of his throat
and face there seemed to be a great red gash. The blood from it was on
his collar and shirt.
Oh, he said, I must have cut myself. I was shaving when the maid
rushed up to say my wife was worse, and had sent for a priest.
He drew a wet cloth across his face, and the crimson was gone; only a
little scratch to make all that blood!
The priest closed the door, and went out into the night.
* * *
For the second time that year the priest stood in the same house, and
this time, too, by the bedside of a dying person. Now it was the man
who lay there broken, where the wheels of a heavy van had crossed him.
The tortured creature cried to the priest, Confession! confession!
I am here, the priest answered. He bent his head nearer the pillow.
You see that bookthat book? whispered the man.
I see no book.
There, upon the tableDe Quincey's Essay.
Yes, Murder as One of the Fine Arts; what of it?
I read itand I thought of murder as a fine art. No poisons, or
knives, or stifling for me. I planned a murder that no one could hang
me for, or prove against me. A fine art! Oh, I had found the art! Hear
me! hear me!
I hear you. Shall I ever be forgiven? Nobody ever suspected me
she did not suspect.
A woman; I will tell you the story. Come nearer. Why do you look at
me like that? I do not know you. Do you hate me? Are you not a priest?
Yes, a priest; God forgive me! Continue in peace, I am listening.
Yes, yes. O heavens! what torture! My murder had no suffering like
this, like the death You give me, oh God!
Hush, hush; be patient. It is your punishment. Pray for
I will pray, yes, yes; but I must tell you first of my sin. I must
I am listening.
I will tell you a story; mind, it is a story. Oh! it could not have
been a murder. No one could say it was a murder. No jury could hang me,
even if they knew all. My excuse, youthand the indissolubility of the
marriage bond. I was very young when I married.
She. Oh, yes, she was very young, too; but I did not know my own
minddid not know that in a few years I should meet a woman who would
be all the world to me, and whom I could not have. I would have flown
to her, but she would not have me, and the dull tie that I hated bound
Why did you marry?
Why? Oh, I loved my wife oncein a way, with a boy's love. And
there was another man after her always. The rivalry made me more eager,
more blind to my true feelings. It was winning her from him I thought
of more than gaining her myself.
So lightly held, so bitterly deplored, the priest muttered.
You bless me, Father? the man continued; I want it. Pray for my
ease; I am in torture. My sin is great. Soon after I married my life
became unbearable. At first I did not notice how dull and uninteresting
my wife was, but when I saw the other woman my heart leaped out to her,
and I knew I had met my fate. Then my home life became more and more
dreary. The dull monotony of domesticity rose up around me, and chained
me down. I grew to hate my wife's face, with its never-varying
expression of sweetness and prettiness. She was always the same: she
met me with a smile every day I came home, and bid me good-bye with the
same smile at the gate in the morning. I knew it so well, and hated it
so. She had a mouth like a young child's, and when she smiled a dimple
Your crime, said the stern priest.
Yes, yes. I hated her when I compared her with the grand woman with
the changing soul of the seathe woman I wanted and could not get
because of this little foolish child I had married. And there was no
way to reach her except across the dead body of my wifeno way that
she would accept. So I thought and thought, until in my mind there grew
up a plan. I knew my wife's heart was not strong; she had a way of
putting her hand upon her breast when she got any sudden fright, and it
suggested an idea to me. It was then that I read De Quincey's Murder
as a Fine Art, and I knew I could do better than anything I read
there. I brought her away to a little watering- place, not far from the
city. The other woman was there. We went for long walks along the high
cliffs. Once I walked by the edge as close as I dared, watching the
effect on my wife. She grew white and nervous, begging me to come away.
But the other woman only laughed, and that made me mad. Trying to make
her fear for me also, I walked too near the edge, and the ground
crumbled beneath me. When next I knew anything I saw the other woman
bending over me and laughing. I rose to my feet and found I was not
'Come, come, you are all right,' the woman said; 'you only fell a
little way. I knew you could not be hurt.'
Vexed at her calmness, I looked round for my wife. She was walking
up and down behind me, holding her hands across her breast.
'Oh,' she said, 'you frightened me so. My heart beats so strangely.'
For some moments she could not calm herself, then she turned to me
with her smile, holding my hands.
'Did I frighten you?' she said; 'but my heart, I thought it would
not beat again. I thought you had fallen over the cliff into the sea. I
did not know there was a ledge only a few feet down.
That was my first trial, half accidental, but wholly successful.
What did you say, Father? I did not hear you. Your hand is hurting
mine; take it away.
From that time I followed out my idea; it was so easy. One day for
her a long run for a train, the next a climb over a steep hill. One
night a lamp overturned and the bed on fire; the next, a pretended
alarm of thieves. One evening when she was alone I dressed as a tramp
and threatened her till she swooned. One morning I purchased a savage
dog and let it run loose through the house. So things went on till the
constant wear on her nerves and heart began to tell, and all through
she never suspected; all through I never laid my hands upon her in
violence. I travelled with her in other countries when my opportunities
here were getting few, and the other woman came as her friend. All the
time the clever eyes of the other woman were upon me, and I did not
know if she knew or not. If I spoke of my love for her she drew herself
away, saying, 'Be silent; you are a married man.' But I felt that if it
were not for my wife she would have loved me, and the thought of it
made me savage. Think of itonly one life between you and the woman
you love. But you are a priest; what do you know of love? Oh, the grand
woman, with eyes changing as the heavens, and she as far from me as the
stars, parted by that other face which must be always with me, with its
baby mouth, and the dimples that came when she smiled
Your story, said the stern priest; proceed.
Pity me, Father; you cannot know the temptations of the world or the
pity of love. I had so long to wait, and I never touched her in
violence. She loved me always, and passed away in peace.
One day, in a foreign country, a servant killed a poisonous snake,
and drew it along the ground as he passed to burn it amongst the refuse
of the garden. I saw my wife come and set her chair across the track he
had left. I went out of the house, saying that it was fate; for I knew
the mate of the snake would follow the scent, seeking for its
companion, and would find my wife in its way. Do you pray for me,
Father? I cannot hear you, you speak so low. When I returned she was
sitting white and statuelike, without a movement, and round her ankle
was curled the body of a snake. I would have rushed to her, causing her
to rise, and thus have ended it all, for my heart was evil within me
that day. But the other woman came to the door that minute, and rested
her eyes upon me so that I stood transfixed, afraid to move. She bore
in her hands a saucer of milk, and laid it down as near the serpent as
she dared, thrusting it slowly forward with a stick, all the time
whispering to my wife, 'Don't move, don't speak, for your life.' The
snake uncurled and glided from her foot at the smell of the milk, and
the other woman with a blow of the stick broke its back.
God bless her! the priest said aloud; God bless her!
Ah, yes! said the dying man, she was good, she would have saved me
from murder if she could. Once it struck me that she only followed us
to protect my wife from me. But it was only for a moment. I would have
killed them both if it were so. Do you think it could have been so?
You, priest, tell me it was only because she loved me.
But the priest did not answer. He sat with his head upon his breast,
his hands clenched.
From the hot countries, continued the man, I went to the cold. I
took her upon the glaciers of Switzerland, and I vowed in my heart she
should not return from them. Once, in crossing a deep crevasse, my foot
slipped, and in saving myself I threw her over. But the other woman
turned and saw us; I replaced the knife I had taken from my pocket, and
drew my wife by the rope back to safety. After that the other woman
went behind, and with my wife between us I dared not try again, for the
rope would bear the love of my heart upon it then. But this is my
story, and what have I more to say? I came home, and my wife and the
woman I loved came too, the chain that kept me from her still unbroken.
My wife was then a shadow of her former self, shaken and frightened as
a hare. But I never ceased from my plan, and at last she broke down
beneath it, and illness came upon her. It was when she lay almost
without hope of recovery that I drew blood from my cheek, scattering it
over my face and neck, and staggered into her room, so that when she
saw me in her weakness she gave a great cry, and fell back dead. And
yet I swear to you I never laid my hand upon her in violence, nor did
she suspect. And I have written to the other woman many times, but she
comes not; nor when I wrote saying that my wife was dying did she
reply. But she will come now that I am free. Say it was not murder,
Father, for I never laid my hand upon my wife in violence, and death
may have been from natural causes. But I shall recover now that I am
free for the woman I love, free from the face of the woman I
marriedwith her baby mouth where the dimples came. Bless me, Father,
for I am weary.
The priest arose and bent over the bed. He laid his white hands
around the throat of the man, but the man smiled back on him in
victory. He was already dead.
The priest fell upon his knees by the bedside; he held a crucifix in
his hands. Laying his forehead upon it, he fought with his soul, and
when he arose in the pale morning light, upon his white brow the figure
of the crucified was seen, red in his blood.
The Three Travellers
They were three travellers sitting in the smoking-room of a country
inn, who had come together as strangers and grown companionable over
their pipes and wine. Two of them were young, the third was grey-haired
and wrinkle-faced. They were discussing women's love.
The youngest argued lightly, because he delighted in debate.
The second bitterly, because he had been jilted and fancied himself
still in love. The grey third without emotion, because he had known
For fairy gifts to win the heart of my fair lady, said the
youngest, were we in the magic days of old, I would ask nothing save a
light heart and a handsome face with few harsh years stamped upon it.
Nay, said the second youth; I would request nothing save a purse
of gold that never would grow empty, and were I ugly as sin, and wicked
as its originator, I could buy the heart of any damsel I longed for.
And you, said the first speaker, turning to the silent, grey man,
are you too old to remember women's hearts are worth the winning?
Old? said the grey man; how many years would you say that I
You look old for your days if you be under sixty?
Nay, then, said the man, I am forty-five at cockcrow to-morrow.
Good heavens! said the youth; what has aged you so?
If I, said the grey man, passing the question, had the goodwill of
the fairies, I would claim the old gift women have always lovedmore
than beauty, wealth, gentleness, or aught else.
And that? said the first youth eagerly. Courage, said the
manplain animal courage.
I don't agree, said the other. Where would he be with an ugly
face, beside the curled, beribboned, and handsome lover, the tender
glance from dream-loving eyes, the soft hand? No.
I don't agree, said the second youth. What! the courage of the
snarling hound, before silken gowns, horses, the envy of one's
neighbours? Gold it is, hard, yellow gold, that makes the ring.
Beauty wins the eyes, said the grey man softly, and gold is pretty
to the touch; both make marriage. But I spoke of loveand
courage wins the heart.
You have a story to tell, said one youth, filling his pipe; I see
by your face.
Go on, said the other, replenishing his glass.
I have a story, said the grey man hesitatingly, of a womanof
courageof a man who was a coward. It happened some ten or twelve
years ago, and I knew the man.
* * *
This is the story that he told, and as he talked the glasses of the
youths were unemptied and their pipes unfilled. But he had forgotten
them, for he spoke aloud the story that was seared upon his heart.
Ten or twelve years ago I knew the man. He lived in my village, but
where that is does not matter. He was a coward. No one knew he was a
coward, except himselfand a woman. In fact, to-day they speak of him
as a hero in my village.
When he was a child he was full of many terrorsafraid of robbers,
afraid of ghosts, afraid of the dark. Perhaps he had been frightened as
a baby by some nurse, and the terrors lingered. It sometimes happens
thus that a child is ruined. When he grew older he was afraid of pain,
afraid of blows. So he had few boyish rows, and joined in no rough
games. People thought him a quiet and gentle youth. Later he was afraid
of being afraidof the shame of it.
Then as his youth passed he grew out of this fear, or there were no
longer calls on his boyish courage. He passed to manhood, and then,
when he understood, he became afraid of death. Death was to him not
peace and rest, but darkness. He thought of strangers, creatures not
made as he was, there in the gloomhorrid faces, clutching hands,
shadows half seen. Something of all this death was to him, yet it was a
terror that he could not fully explain.
Once as a boy he fought another, but that was because the other was
bearing a story to the boy's father, and he was afraid of the father.
Once as a man he fought again, and that was because there was no
possible escape without deadly shame, and he fought like a child mad
with terror. This nobody knew, and he wonhis foe was the smaller.
Then he married the woman.
For three years they lived together, and nothing happened to try his
courage. Such is the cairn of life. The much-dreaded possible battles
of boyhood were now no more. He was a man.
But it happened he had to move from his quiet village into a
desolate part of the country. Why does not matter. His was the only
house for miles around, and it stood on the edge of a great cattle
ranch. Behind it, some distance off, was a railroad, and on one side a
strong river, often swollen to twice its natural size by heavy rains.
Over it was thrown the railway bridge, too light for it, many thought,
but the man laughed at the idea as he looked upon the great supports
which stemmed the full flow of the tide.
So for weeks their uneventful lives went on, nothing more exciting
happening in the day than the passing of the great traintearing by
like some screaming soul rushing from damnation; a black snake in the
daytime, one of fire by night. To the man and his wife it seemed the
one link that bound them to civilizationwhich spoke to them of the
great world that they might else well forget. Through the windows they
got many a lightning glance of that society they had left. Here was the
young bride alone in a carriage with her husband, speeding on her
honeymoon and regarding the world with a smile; here the weary city man
reading in a corner his everlasting papers; there the merry schoolboy
waving his hat and shouting his unheard jokes from the window; there
the hopeless woman mentally checking her household affairs. All were
there. In each numbered carriage, every one in his placefirst,
second, third, the division of the classes according to the purse.
Now the grim humour of circumstances willed it for the man that he
should not be among those people who whirled past him from city to
city, whose quiet, uneventful lives brought no strain upon their
physical courage, who went without danger from place to place protected
by civilization. Who knows but that among the crowd who looked from the
flashing windows of the train there might not have been many who chafed
the bit of social monotony and pined for this man's freedom?
Soon he saw in the eyes of his wife, as they bent upon him, looks of
unquiet, or was it of fear? Did she suspect his secret? Was she afraid
that he was afraid? Why should she suspect him? He had a retrospective
five minutes. Yes, once when they were walking across the fields a
great bull ran at the man; he had turned and fled, but the woman was
beside him. Had he not shown he knew this? Had he not looked to her
first and kept between her and the bull? He could not
remember. He never could remember after his fits of terror. When he
was a child they bore him along in one great gust, blinding, deafening,
maddening for the time. Now the years had hardly lessened their
strength. Again, he remembered a brawny villain who had leered at and
shouldered his wife as they walked through a neighbouring village. He
had turned on the fellow with stern anger, but the drunken bravado
would have nothing but blows, and before his clenched fist the man had
stepped aside. He knew, however, that his voice had changed as he said
he would have no brawling before a lady. He remembered again, when
driving across the country the horse had taken fright, and he sat pale
and trembling while the woman took the reins from his hands and guided
the animal into quiet. She had never reproached him for these things,
only her eyes seemed to speak; and then, how she loved courage! Once,
when a weakling lamb of hers fell into the swollen and rapid tide, she
stood knee-deep in the water weeping and calling to the man. When he
reached her she begged him to go in and save the little creature. She
could not swim, but he was a strong swimmer. Yet when he faced
the running water he dared not take the risk for the sake of an animal,
and said so. But a herdsman on the farm had also heard her calling and
had noted the bleating of the lamb. Running down the bank, he had flung
off his coat and leaped into the water. With a few strokes he had
reached the drowning beast. To get back was not an easy matter, and
twice the watchers thought the swimmer must fail, hampered as he was by
the struggling beast and with the strong tide against him. But he had
fought his way bravely, carrying the lamb, as a cat would her kitten,
in his mouth. When he at length reached the side the watchers ran to
meet him and helped him ashore. The woman said little, but thanked him
with shining and excited eyes. The herd was shamed by her gratitude. He
was a coward the minute he was out of dangerafraid of thanks. He
shuffled off, saying something about a flood in the river if the
heavy rains continued. When he had gone the woman turned to her
husband: 'Oh, if you had done that!' 'But dear,' he answered, 'is an
animal worth the risk of a human life?' 'Oh, it was not the lamb,' she
replied, with glowing eyesthen added thoughtfully, 'He was a
'I am not as fine a swimmer as he,' the man retorted, angry with
her and with himself. 'Perhaps you would have been sorry if I had gone
to save your lamb and had been drowned?'
In a moment she had turned and taken his hands in hers. 'Oh, dear
love, yes!' she said. 'I am glad you did not risk it. I did not think;
but I love courage so.'
She took the lamb in her arms and carried it into the house. As he
walked beside her, the man heard her whisper, as she kissed the wet,
woolly head, 'Yet it is but right that the strong should help the weak,
even if it be only a lamb.'
After that it seemed as though something had come between them,
something neither could define. True, she loved him even more than
before, it might be, but not in the same way. Now she seemed to add
pity to her love, and no pride. She did not look up to him, but down
upon him. Her love was like that of a mother for a crippled child. Yet,
after all, it was the greater love; for love of the weak and failing is
true love, while love of the strong and successful is selfish in a
degree when he who loves lives in the shadow of that strength.
One evening the man, sitting in the doorway with his beloved violin
at his shoulder, beheld the woman coming towards him in great haste,
her pretty curls behind her in the wind, her cloak blown back, her
little feet twinkling in their speed. At first he did not hear her
calling to him, for his soul was still with his music, and travelled
slowly from his dreams. Soon her frightened face became more distinct,
and he was conscious something disastrous had happened. He put down the
violin and went to meet her, the bow still in his hand. She turned back
the way she had come when she saw he was approaching her, and waved to
him to hasten.
'The bridge!' she cried'the bridge!'
He hurried after her, and they reached the bridge together. What a
sight there met his eyes! The river, turbulent, uncontrollable, mad,
swollen to twice its size by the heavy rains, rolled by in a current
too strong for waves to break upon. Heavy and dark it moved on, bearing
everything before ittrees, dead sheep, a struggling ox, and once a
white face with drowned, staring eyes all he saw in that moment go by
like chips of wood on the great river. But more than this he saw, and
most terriblethe long railway bridge had given way! The central
buttress had crumbled, and the iron rails trailed twisted to the water.
At the middle of the great bridge nothing remained to cover a gap of
over ninety feet but the handrail, which somehow had loosened from its
hold on the broken bridge and swung acrossno, not as a tight-rope,
but more like a ladder with rungs, which the stanchions made, half a
man's height apart. The second wire, one could see, had broken on the
further side, and this caused the whole fence to swing as if it might
give way at any moment. In one second the man had seen all this; in the
next he had remembered that the train would pass this way in an hour.
An hour! What a little time when there is much to do! What an eternity
when one waits!
'My God, the train!' he gasped. 'A hundred peoplea hundred'
He looked into the rushing torrent, black with its force.
The woman grasped his hand, and her nails pierced his skin. She was
gazing at the wire swaying across the gap.
'There is only one possible way. I have thought it all out. Only
one possible way.' 'And that?'
'To cross the wire.'
'The wire? My God! You are mad! Who would cross the wire?'
'You must. It is the only way to save them.'
'It is impossible; it might break under one's weight. It is
probably loose or rotten with time. It would be suicide to attempt it.'
'There is no other way, and it is like a ladderfirm enough to
bear a man. You are so swift and strongso strong, Alfred,' she said
slowly, turning and looking into his eyes. 'There is only one man to
whom the chance is given to save all these peopleonly one manand
only one way.'
The man looked around; nobody else, they were miles from every one,
from every helpone man; and he a coward.
'There is another bridge ten miles off. I could just do it on
Prince,' he whispered. 'Alfred,' she said, 'if this bridge has gone
beneath the flood, do you think that that other little bridge yet
stands? If you find it gone, and you leave no time to return and go
this way, many will die here by your doordrowned, mangled,
torturedwomen and little childrenlittle children. There will be
crying and screamingand you will hear themI shall hear them!O
God! O God!screaming down there in the dark.'
The man broke from her, the agony pouring down his forehead into his
eyes. He put his feet upon the lower wire, and, grasping the other in
his hands, shuffled a few feet from the land into the air. The woman
leaned to his sleeve and kissed it, her face white with anguish.
'The risk of one dear life, for a hundred lives; in your careO
The man went out further; he looked down; his brain sickened. The
wire swayed and creaked beneath his weight. The black, cruel water lay
beneath him, and under his feet only the thin support. And all the time
he was so near safety. He forgot the train and the peopleonly his own
dark danger was living. He sprang back to the firm land again.
The woman looked into his face; her eyes were on a level with his;
she was tall, but slight and weak. She looked at her own tremulous thin
hands, and at the long gap between her and the other side. The man saw
the glance, and it maddened him. It said: 'If these had your strength I
would not be as you. There is a weak coward in your strong body; how
did it get there?'
' It would be madness to attempt this,' he cried; 'I will go by the
'It is too late,' the woman said, in a dull voice; 'even if the
bridge were there you could not do it now.'
The gentle woman before him seemed to grow into a harsh monitress.
'I believe,' he muttered, 'that you would rather see me deadif a
hundred were saved over my body.'
'I would rather see you dead,' she said, like one repeating him.
'You would rather I were a dead hero than a live?
A word tripped on her tongue; he could see it. 'Why don't you say
coward?' he sneered.
'If I were dead in this cause, you would hear them call you the
widow of a hero.'
'And now,' the woman flashed up, 'they will say I am the wife of
aThey will say you were afraid.'
The man turned on her sadly. 'Oh, you woman,' he said, 'you should
have been the wife of a soldierthe mother of men-children; you would
have loved them, worshipped them, and harnessed on their armour and
sent them forth to die.'
He turned from her and ran to the stables; he flung a halter on the
black horse, and, leaping upon its back, galloped off in the direction
of the other bridge. The black horse covered the ground as it had never
done before, but as they sped by the side of the river the man heard a
faint voice shouting from the water. He looked and saw a drowning man
hanging to a beam of wood, his white, wet face glowing in the gathering
gloom. The pallid lips opened again.
'The bridge!' they said'the bridge is down!'
Yes! had he not known it all the time? The bridge was down, and he
had run away from the danger on the other bridge near which the woman
stood despising him.
He turned his horse and drove it into the water in the direction of
that white face. The swift current nearly took it off its feet. It
turned in its terror and ran, uncontrollable, towards its home. As the
horse raced the flood for a time, the two human beings gazed at one
another, the one powerless to help the other out in the darkness.
'Help! help! help!' How the horse's feet re- echoed that cry long after
the drowned lips had gone underneath.
The man swayed in his saddle. Between the light of the fading day
and the rising moon he saw plainly, as he came nearer home, the dark
bridge with the great gap in the middle of it, and across the gap, fine
as a spider-thread, the wire.
The swaying wirebut what was on it? Something small and black,
like a spider, was creeping across. When he got nearer he saw that it
was a man. There was someone braver than himself, then? Well, she had
got a hero at last. He drew nearer and watched. He saw the man crawl
along, stopping oftensometimes it seemed through fear, sometimes to
quiet the dangerous swaying of the wire, yet never looking back and
always going forwardslowly, slowly he went over the swollen, angry
torrent. The man thought of the white face he had seen go under, and
shuddered. He wondered if this other man had seen it as it passed. This
other manKatie's hero, he would call him! He was jealous. Where
should he be when this fellow returned full of glory? Katie's hero! Oh,
it was safe enough, after all, the wire, seeing that it bore this
fellow, who was as tall as he! Why had he not gone and been brave for
once? To stand before her eyes with a heart like a hare, and to fail
herto fail her!
Katie's hero had crossed; he had stopped for a moment on the other
side, where the lower wire had broken and there was no longer rest for
his feet. Then he held on with his hands, and swung himself across with
them alone. He sank on the ground on the other side for a minute, and
the man almost hoped for a jealous second that his rival had failed;
but when the man rose to his feet and ran down the line, he muttered
'God speed your feet!'
Then it struck him as strange that his wife was not there to see the
success or failure of her hero; he threw himself from his horse,
letting it go loose, and he ran towards the house calling. Through the
lower rooms he went, and round the small garden, but she was not there.
Frightened, he again searched the house, and, coming to his
dressing-room, he noticed the press standing open and all his clothes
tossed about. A black suit he often wore was gone. A light dawned upon
him. He rushed into her bedroom. Yes, there was the dress she had worn
that morning. What had she done? He flew down the stairs, calling her
name, and ran across the fields to the broken bridge again.
He saw it all now. She had dressed in his clothes and gone in his
place. All the manhood in him rose up; he would follow her. She had
made a path for him; he was no longer afraid. All along that low wire
her little feet had gone; all along the top one her pretty hands had
moved. The electricity of her courage must lie there still, and would
give him strength to follow. He put his feet on one wire and his hands
upon the other. He slowly slid along them into the air. He moved
bravely a few yards and then stopped. The wire bent and swayed beneath
him; he looked down. Below him the black river tumbled, bearing upon
its breast the triumphs of its robberies dead animals, hay, beams,
trees, even wooden furniture, stolen from some cottage, all jumbled
together and hurrying ever onward.
The man gazed down as he swayed above. He might yet be part of that
moving mass. He closed his eyes and started on. Again he stopped, his
face, wet with fear, turned to the heavens so fair beneath the rising
moon, so smiling in the face of all this horrorhe, the one lone,
living thing, swaying between earth and heaven, life and death.
He moved onward; he heard the cry of wild birds over the waters.
Once a wing against his face caused him to leave go a hand. He caught
again, trembling and moaning; he worked his way on with more speed.
Thus did her little feet go; here were laid the hands he loved. With a
cry he found the wire had failed his feet and he was swinging by his
hands alone. For a moment he swung so in terror before he realized that
he had just come to the end of his journey and was at the side where
the lower wire had snapped. He swung himself forward and with a great
effort landed on the bank. He sank on his knees an instant and then ran
down the line.
After running a few minutes he saw a man coming towards him; he
stopped and waited. He knew it must be she; and it gave him no surprise
to see her bright, dancing eyes and bonny face beneath the cap pulled
over her brows. When she saw him she started and laughed.
'You are late; it is all right. I was at the station before the
train arrived, and all are saved. I heard it come dashing into the
station soon after I left. They never realized that I was not you in
the failing light.'
The man took her two hands in his. 'My dear, why have you done
'I had to. You see, it was the only way. You were too late going by
the other bridgeas I said.'
'I did not go by the other bridgeI crossed the wire after you.
The other bridge is down too.'
She clapped her hands.
'Oh, you were brave. Now you will not be a hero for nothing, after
all, and you did cross the wire.'
'A hero for nothing?' the man questioned.
'Yes,' she said slowly; 'you see, it was the only wayI had to
pretend to be you. They did not see much in the moonlight; I just said
the bridge was down, and bade them see to it, then came away. They all
think it was you, and you will be a hero when they know how you
crossedand you did cross.
'But they must not think it was me; I will not'
'Oh, but you must.' Then she said softly, 'I would not let them
think you dared not come . . . and you are the only one who knows.'
'So you came in my place?' The man turned away in shame.
'Never mind,' she said brightly; 'the glory is mine. I am your
wife, and what you win I win. But let us go. They must not come here to
'But how can we return?' said the man.
'There is only the one way,' she answered; and seeing him draw
back, added eagerly, 'you must notyou dare notlet them find me here
In a few moments they had reached the bridge. She laid her hands
upon the wire rope.
'See,' she said, 'it is tough and thick; it is strong enough to
bear a dozen men. Let us tie ourselves together like the Alpine
climbers, and we shall feel more safe. See, I brought this in case I
should want it.'
She drew a rope out of her pocket and slipped a noose beneath his
arms, across his chest, and tied the other end around her waist. Then
she laughed. 'If I slip you can hold me, and if you lose your footing I
can help you.
'But the wire is not safe for the two together,' the man said,
though to him the mere contact of some one near, even thus united, made
him more courageous than when he went alone. He felt the wire rope; it
seemed firm and stout enough. It had not started or snapped a strand
when he came over, and surely there was not much danger if only they
'Quick! quick! they are coming; let us get on, let us get on.'
The man set his feet on the wire and started, the woman following
without hesitation. The wire creaked and swayed.
'Go back!' the man cried; 'go back! Take off the rope, or let me go
first alone.' But she pushed him forward, and with her sweet
companionship fear fled from him; he was anxious to get across only for
her sake, and all his thoughts were of her. Yes, we can get used to
everything, and the second crossing of the rope did not seem so bad as
the first. They had reached the middle, when the rope creaked again.
Then some of the old fear returned and his face grew white and wet.
'Hold tight, whatever happens!' he shouted above the roar of the
waters. At the horror in his voice fear seemed to come to her too. She
clenched her hands upon the wire and refused to move. Now that her mind
had nothing to think of but their danger, she realised for the first
time the risk they ran.
'Oh, I am afraidafraid!' she sobbed. 'A little further,' said
the man, the drops of agony blinding his eyes. They looked up at the
serene heavens and down at the sullen death that awaited them belowat
the dark figures coming along the linetoo far off to be any possible
'One more effort,' the man said ; 'come, dear.'
She closed her eyes and followed him. The rope swayed and creaked
ominously beneath them. He gave another movement forwardand the wire
broke. A moment of nothingness and they found themselves hanging in the
air a few feet from the rushing waters. The man clung fast to the wire,
but the woman's hands only held a minute and then let go. They swung
like a pendulum over the face of death. The man screamed in his agony.
The rope noosed around his chest, and, laden with the unconscious
woman's weight, cut into him and seemed to pinch his heart out. He
uttered cry after cry, and thenhe went mad. He was no longer a
reasoning human being, but an insane animal fighting for life. There
was somethinghe did not know what dragging him down to death;
something that bit like a wolf into his breast and choked like a
serpent. He strove to free himself. He tried to advance, but it drew
him back. He loosed one hand, and tried to push it from him in vain; he
thrust his hand into his pocketthe thing was tearing the flesh from
his ribs, it was pressing the breath from him, he was mad, dying. He
drew forth his penknife and hacked at it. He was free! In a moment he
had sealed the wire and stood in safety on the shore. What had he done
with his wife? The rope round his chest was cut, he looked into the
river, and his soul died within him.
That was shewhirling and turning, beaten by the passing timbers,
half drowned in the watersthe woman he loved. Her white face was
raised to his. He could hear her screaming down there in the shadows,
her pretty curls all gone, the red cheeks so pale, the parted lips
washed over by the tide. And he had done this thing to his beloved.
What had he donehe who would not have hurt her for all the stars
in the heavens? Did she know what he had done?
He was running along the bank nearest to the spot where the waters
had swept her. She had clung to a mass of wood that had got wedged in
the middle of the river.
Here there had been an island, now so flooded that nothing was seen
of it but the tops of a few rocks, and on these the woman clung, not
having a foothold.
The man plunged into the river above her and struck out for the
island. it was an almost impossible effort, but love bore him along.
The waters closed often over him. The drifting timbers struck him many
times as they passed, so that he was bleeding and exhausted when at
last he reached her.
She rested, half-fainting, clinging to the small foothold that the
rocks gave, and without strength to change her position. He drew her
upon it and clasped her in his tired arms.
'My dearest!' he wept over her.
'Save me!' she cried, clinging to him. 'Oh, do not let me drown!'
He held her to him without hope. Could he swim ashore with her, or
could they wait there long enough for help to arrive? Already the river
left them nothing dry to rest upon. They were standing on a ridge a few
feet wide and the waters washed over it. He shouted for help. Far away
he could see the black figures in the moonlight investigating the
broken bridge, but they did not hear his cries. He screamed to them,
but at last he saw them gather together and depart.
He turned to his wife and bade her be brave, saying,
'If anything happens to fling us off this, cling to me and I will
swim ashore with you. Put your hand upon me and you will float along by
my side quite easily, only do not fear.'
He saw a huge beam glide towards them, and repeated what he had
said. He saw the great mass come like a cork on the rising waters. It
was making straight for them.
The next moment he was in the water, with the senses half knocked out
of him. He went down, and felt he would never come to the top again.
Was he rising? The water looked green around him. There were black
things passing above him. His throat was bursting. He felt that in a
moment the blood must spring from his ears and eyes. Would he never get
to the surface?
It was clear, thank God, at last. He could see the blessed sky once
more and the green shore. How far away it seemed! Would he ever reach
it? There was something clinging to him, keeping him back. But he could
easily thrust it offa weak thing like a child's hand. But there was
no child therenothing there save death. The waters washed across his
eyes, blinding him. The floating timbers and refuse struck his white
face to red, but he fought with them all, flinging them from him.
Everything, even the child's hand, was gone now. Once a drowning cat
had reached him, caught his sleeve and tried to clamber on to his head.
For a moment they fought togethertwo animals mad with fear. Then the
man went on alone with blood upon his mouth.
The shore was growing green. He could surely see the trees now. One
effort more for dear life. He sank and rose again, and once more sank.
As he went down he stretched his hands over the waters in a death
clutch, and they clung to the overhanging branch of a tree by the
river. In a moment he hung so, getting back his strength. Then he drew
himself ashore. For an hour he lay there, half in and half out of the
water, and then he roseand lived.
* * *
And he never told the world that the woman had saved the train?
said one youth, after a long pause.
That was part of his punishment, said the grey man. It would have
undone what she had died for. She was always in terror lest people
should know that the man she loved was a coward.
If I, said the other young man, had left a woman to drown like
that in my madness, I would have returned to the river in my senses and
thrown myself in.
So would he have done, said the grey man; but when he looked into
the water it was full of faces and darknessa grave of horror. He was
afraid to die.
And how do you come to know the story? said one youth.
The grey man did not answer. He rose and went to the window. As he
drew aside the heavy curtain a fork of lightning flashed across his
eyes, followed by a loud crash of thunder.
My God! my God! he cried, falling upon a chair and covering his
The young men started to his side.
Are you hurt? blinded? they cried.
He drew his hands from his ghastly face looked towards the window.
Pull the curtains, he said. I am afraid.
Priscilla was dead, and all the women of the village had come to her
waking. They moved about the big house where she had lived so long and
so quietly as though they had never seen it before; and they never had,
They moved silently, or came together in little groups to talk about
her. They seemed as much amazed as sorry. Who could imagine Priscilla
dead? Surely she was the oldest woman in the village; and yet she
seemed not so very old; but no one remembered the village without her,
and no one remembered her young. Perhaps she had entered into their
lives unnoticed and only when she came to her womanhood had taken her
place in their sight, as a little unknown seedling will one day become
a tree and a landmark.
Perhaps in the great house she had passed her shadowy girlhood, and
only became a personage when her uncle died, leaving her his sole and
only heir. Then she crept forth, and her fading hands drew the hearts
of the people towards her.
Was she rich? Who can say? The black, barrack-like house, with its
neglected garden, had no air of wealth about it; but never a child or
woman came to Priscilla for help and went away empty-handed. Some said
that for this latter reason the house grew more desolate as it grew
old,that pictures and silver and ornaments vanished one by one.
But others would have it that Priscilla had a box of money in her
room, corded, sealed and locked. For true it was that such a box, to
all appearance, was there, as Ann O'Ruark, who nursed her once in an
illness, could tell.
Now she lay dead, and it seemed to the women of the little village as
though something marvellous had happened,as though the old round
tower they looked upon every morning when they opened their doors had
crumbled in the night, or as though the church bell they depended upon
to awaken them at six had forgotten to ring, leaving them late and
bewildered. True, she might have been ill or gone away on a visit, or
vanished for a time. But to die! No one ever thought that of Priscilla
after all those years. Why, even now the children from the cottages
were running down the street on the stroke of five, to meet her coming
from her Saturday's marketing with something hidden for them in her
pocket. Yet they had been told she would come up the narrow street no
more. Yes, even now poor cripple Janie Doyle was turning her face to
the window to be ready for the smile and cheery word that always met
her. Yet she too knew Priscilla would never pass again.
All the women there sitting at her wake felt that to-morrow they
would put on their shawls and run to tell Priscilla their joys and
sorrows, or to ask her advice, as they had done all the time since they
became aware she was. And Priscilla would be lying with that strange
smile upon her face, so far removed from them.
Was she so very oldPriscilla? Hers was a face you could not imagine
had ever been young. Wrinkled and fallen away, you could not fix and
fill it with youth.
Once she had said to a child, I was light as a bird when I was young
as you; and the little one had gone away troubled at the lie. She
knew, as all the children did, that Priscilla had never, never been
Though Priscilla knew everything of everybody, nobody knew anything
of Priscilla, except, of course, that she was an old maidas any one
of the name of Priscilla must be. Why, the very
sound of it was enough to tell how prim, how neat, how old-maidish
she was. No one could have imagined her with a lover. Many a time the
village women had sat and talked of Priscilla, what she must have been
like as a girlif she ever had been a girl: the primmest of little
girls, who always had her hair smooth and lessons learnt: a girl with
large feet and high, buttoned boots, with every button fastened in its
place; thin legs, of course; a waist that had never known tight-lacing; straight hair, first in a plait, and later a tight coil at the
back of her smooth head; a high white forehead, intelligent grey eyes,
a rather large and rather pink nose, a pleasant mouth, thin neck and
breast, long arms, large nervous hands. Yes, that must have been
Priscilla, if ever she had been a girl. But there was no lover in the
setting of Priscilla's girlhood. No, she hated men, and rough boys the
natty Priscilla must have always shunned, nor could she, with her
cleverness, ever have admired the developing youth.
Yes, she hated men and all their sex; she was hardly kind to little
boysthey were cruel to her cats, she would say. But the girl babies,
how she loved them! There was never a birth in the village where she
was not first visitor to the new arrival. And if it was a boy, she
would look close into the little red face till he raised his voice and
howled. Then she would laugh. Shout for it and you will get it, my
lad; only shout long enough and you will get it. Then she would press
a golden pound into his little fist and leave him. But if it was a
girl, she would take it in her arms, and if it was crying it would stop
that minute. She would drop a tear upon it, perhaps, and whisper things
into its little unconscious ears. When she was leaving she would put a
guinea into its hands, with the words, For your sad heart, my girl,
for your sad heart. So the baby would be added to her list of loves.
But she liked best the lovelorn maidens who would come to her with
their stories. They were indeed for her heart of hearts. Many a
sorrowful soul that had forgotten how to be proud would after
consulting with her become strong again, and win the lover back by
flaunting who had grown weary of too patient a love.
The house was built like one that had never been intended to hold the
young: dark, gloomy, rambling. Priscilla was the only one to whom it
seemed a fitted background.
The little children who braved its awfulness would hasten, afraid of
its silence, from passage to passage till they reached Priscilla, every
minute expecting a horrible something belonging to the mould and age to
spring upon them from each dark place. Only the mysterious cupboards
with hidden sweets and jams, found nowhere else, could tempt them to
come. And it took three of them to do it, clinging together, and
stopping often with shrieks that were not all laughter, but served to
fill the dusty silence.
When Priscilla died there turned up from somewhere a far-removed
cousina stern, middle- aged woman, who looked at the world through
smoked glasses; and no doubt the world looked grey to her. She had no
tears, no smiles, no sentiments, only the hardness of middle life,
which has left the softness of youth behind it and not yet reached the
softness of age. She was a business-like person, and ordered everything
and everybody as if she had lived all her life in Priscilla's house.
The people wondered if she would get Priscilla's box of treasure; but,
of course, there was no one else. The cousin was making herself busy,
pretending to be concerned for Priscilla. Why had she not come before
to take care of hr? She wanted to blame somebody for not calling in a
doctor. But she ought to know Priscilla would not have the doctor. She
had a perfect horror of the doctor, and would never see him, or speak
of him. There was only one doctor in the villagean old man, as old
Priscilla, it might bea married man with grown-up sons and daughters,
now married themselves and doing well. Once a neighbour had spoken of
the doctor to Priscilla. It was to repeat a story of his past, a story
of a lonely girl he had jilted
almost on their wedding day; and how the girl had vanished and been
heard of no more; but that had not happened in the village, and so the
village was not interested in the particulars. When Priscilla heard the
story she rose from her seat and went to the window without a word. So
the neighbour thought she was weary, and changed the subject from men
and their misdeeds, but she did make a parting remark to the effect
that the doctor and his wife never got on together. She was surprised
when Priscilla said, in a voice so sweet and far-away she hardly heard
it, Poor lad! poor lad!
Priscilla would not have the doctor come near her when she lived, but
when she died he had to be called in. People who watched him coming
were surprised to see him falter, he ought to have been so used to
death. And yet he came like one most cruelly afraid. He stood at the
door of the room where she lay for a few moments, as though unable to
enter. Then he pushed the door open and went as if with an effort. When
he reached her bedside he stood silent, looking upon her face. And
there were those there who thought they had heard him whisper,
Priscilla! and then louder, as though she must hear, Priscilla!
But Priscilla was dead, and all the village had come to her wake; two
nights they had sat up, and this was the third. The will had been
readsuch as it was. For there was little to leave to anybody. Yet
every one had had a trifle, the house had gone to the cousin, but there
was no money to speak ofnothing more except the little wooden box,
corded, locked, and sealedthe box that must contain the body of the
fortune. The cousin's fingers had been on the cords, the eyes of the
village women had been turned to it, waiting for it to open, when they
were told it was to be buried with her. What an idea! Whoever heard of
a box being buried in a tomb? Who would ever have thought she would
have carried away what she could no longer want? Who would have
imagined Priscilla a miser?
The crowd had all gone to the dining-room at the end of the long
passage in the west wing, and the cousin was sitting alone in the room
with the box; upstairs Priscilla was lying, and she would never
knownever know the seals were broken and the knots undone. Surely, it
was no harm to open and look inno, not to touch a single penny, since
she was such a screwonly to open. No box was ever yet buried by a
woman unopened. The lid lay loose.
The cousin sat back a moment, then went upon her knees and raised the
cover. She saw the contents were wrapped in white paper. She pulled it
off and drew forth what came to her hand. Astonishment was upon her
face, for first there came a dress,a white satin dress,then a long
veil, then a wreath of orange blossoms. Shoes, gloves, and underwear,
all lace and ribbons, all sewn by hand in tiny stitches, surely
Priscilla's own. What was this the cousin had stumbled on unawares? A
wedding outfit, Priscilla's wedding outfit, breathing the breath of
years, lavender and age. How time had ruined all, as it had destroyed
Priscilla's love-story. How was it the cousin never knew of this
prepared wedding? Where or who was the man? She had known little of
Priscilla when she was young, only that she was fatherless and
motherless, and that an uncle had taken charge of her; that she had
grown up between the grey walls of her uncle's quiet, lonely house and
a convent school, where she had spent half her time. Always unnoticed,
silent, and companionless, was it because there was no one who cared
enough about her to draw her from her solitude. There was something,
the cousin fancied she half-remembered, something of a scandal of
Priscilla and a young doctor, something about love-letters and stolen
meetings discovered at the convent? Was it possible Priscilla had
returned home to work her wedding outfit, while the young doctor had
forgotten his promises and married money while she still was awaiting
him? But it was a vague memory, and might not have been her.
The cousin bent above the box. Nothing else; no moneynot a penny.
Ah! here was a key to the story, a bundle of old letterslove-letters,
for were they not tied by a silken bow? Poor Priscilla!
As she took them into her hands she fancied she heard the sound of a
woman sobbing far away; it might be upstairs with the dead. Some friend
of Priscilla's, no doubt. She turned the letters over in her hands. She
wished that wild crying would stop. It disturbed her. She laid her
fingers upon the beknotted strings, then hesitated. Should she dare spy
into the secrets of the helpless dead? But curiosity was strong; she
loosed the ribbons. At the same time a wild cry resounded through the
room. She sprang to her feet, the letters in her hands, and looked
fearfully around. There was no one there. It must have been outside.
Yes; it came from the floor abovefrom Priscilla's roomlong, sad,
and awful: the sound of a woman's wild grief.
The cousin thrust the letters into her pocket, and ran down the hall,
calling to the people to hurry to the room above. She called to them to
bring hot blankets and restoratives, that Priscilla was not dead, that
she had waked in terror, finding herself decked out for death. And all
the time she was shouting to them she was running up the long staircase
and down the corridors to the room where the crying came from. Then she
called, Priscilla, I am coming; don't be afraid; Priscilla, I am
coming. She imagined Priscilla sitting up in her grave-clothes, half
mad with terror at her position. When she touched the handle of the
door the crying ceased. She opened it, and stood half-fainting upon the
threshold. In her coffin lay Priscilla stiff and dead, her hands
clasped as they had been when she was laid there, her face unchanged,
the great room empty death everywhere.
The cousin stood dumb at the door, the women crowding about her with
hot blankets and restoratives. It was a mistake, she said; and
pushing them back, closed the door.
She went downstairs to the room where the trunk lay, and drawing the
letters from her pocket placed them back unopened where she had found
them. With reverent hands she laid the wedding things one by one in
their place, and when she had finished she sealed and corded the box.
Priscilla went to her sleeping-place the next day, there was borne by
her side a little trunk, and it was laid at her feet in the cold vault
that held so many dead.
By the side of a river near Dublin a little boy of twelve was
crouching. He was punching and rolling a handful of the sticky clay
from the banks into the shape of a man's head. Not far from him an
artist was sketching, and by the boy's side a small girl sat, her eyes
and mouth open in amazed admiration of her comrade's work. The call of
a woman's distant voice startled the three. And the boy sprang to his
feet, so that the clay he was modelling fell from him and rolled to the
artist's side. The man took up the work, and turning it in his hands,
found it bore a rough resemblance to himself.
Why, it is clever, he said. Where did you learn, boy? The child,
forgetting an angry woman was watching him from the distance, flushed
beneath the praise.
I didn't learn, he said.
Oh! an infant prodigy. The man smiled. A village genius and the
makings of a great artist. He put his hand in his pocket and drew
forth a shilling from the few coins there.
Your first payment, I expect. Go on and prosperbrother. The boy
took the coin shyly. His heart went out in a dream after the artist's
words. He was to be great, thenan artist too. The cry of the distant
woman to him tumbled him from his heights. He snatched his forgotten
basket and ran down the road towards the village to do the message he
had not thought of since he came upon the artist on his way. He ran
now, the little girl following more slowly.
The artist again turned the clay in his hands. Alas! he said. Here
is genius condemned to oblivion for want of a rich patron, and you must
fetch and carry because the harsh voice of poverty calls you, leaving
the dear delights and love of this behind.
He laid his brush upon the canvas with an infinite, caressing touch,
making it copy the glorious copper of the deep waters, and with his
movement the clay head rolled upon the ground. He stepped forward,
placing his foot upon it, so it fell to piecesthe boy was forgotten.
But the child ran to the village to make his purchases feeling like a
king. His work had been recognised as art for the first time. He
skipped and jumped as he went, he was so glad; his heart beat loud with
dreams. And everybody knows the song it sung, since everybody's heart
has beaten the same over its first success. But the angry woman who had
borne the boy turned into her house with a sigh.
I sent him an hour ago, she said, to fetch the meat. And he would
have been there still, fiddling in the mud, if I had not looked out and
seen him. He is no good, and he the eldest of them all. She looked
around her flock of chubby, commonplace children, and sighed again that
he was so unlike them.
When the boy had finished his shopping and was returning, he met the
little girl coming to meet him. He clasped her hand in his free one,
and swung it backwards and forwards as he walked. 'You will wait for me
till I grow up, he said; and we will marry. I will buy you dresses of
red silk, trimmed with gold, and you will have emeralds in your hair,
andand you will be grander than Cinderella when I am a great artist.
And I will buy you a blue velvet suit with a lace collar and emerald
rings on all your fingers.
Men don't wear rings, said the boy; but we shall have a gold
coach, like the Lord Mayor's, and six white horses, and a house of
Here he came to the door of his own humble home. Lady, he said,
with a remembrance of a beloved fairy story, bowing and extending his
hand, permit me to help you over this rugged and dangerous path.
The little lady in the blue cotton frock curtsied low, and with a
gracious smile, Thank you, my lord, held out her chubby,
weather-reddened hand. The young lord in corduroys kissed it, and led
her up the path to the door of the house.
I am your true knight, he said, and if in danger or deadly peril,
blow three blasts upon this horn. He held a battered dog-whistle
towards her. When I hear it I will go through fire and water
Here a strong arm took the luckless knight by the collar, and dragged
him not too gently into the house. His castles fell about his ears.
What's keeping you at all, Henry. I'd be quicker going myself than
sending you for anything, idling and streeling about all day. As for
you, Mollie Doherty, she said, turning to the child, who still stood
at the door, you better go home and get something to do; and I am sure
there's plenty there for you to be busy at.
I am going to be an artist, mother, the boy said hesitatinglyhe
felt some doubt of his glory before her angry faceand marry Mollie.
Going to be a fiddlestick! said his mother. Look at your brothers
and sisters all waiting for their dinner while you are messing about in
the mud. Go and get something to do.
The boy, robbed of his dreams, fell to worksuch work as was
unfortunately fated to be his: without time, without constancy, without
method, to-day to run messages, to-morrow to drive crows from the corn,
another day to hang about the office where his father was employed,
hoping to get a job; all the waiting, the idle hours, the uninteresting
toil, calculated to work ruin upon his already dreamy and
That night his mother, folding her sewing with a sigh, spoke to her
husband about her eldest son.
I can't think who that boy takes after, she said, with his
nonsense about being an artist. I would sooner see him an honest
workman in the position that Providence has given him than one of those
fellows, with their indecent models and mud rubbish. I can't bear to
hear him speak of such things. What is good enough for his father is
good enough for him, I hope.
The man did not reply, but got up from his chair by the fire and went
out into the night. There he came upon the boy, sitting on the grass,
his face upturned to the stars. The child sprang to his feet as his
father came towards him. He knew there was no mercy here for his
dreams. His father was harsher upon them than his mother. He felt
without a friend. The man did not reproach him, but took his hand with
a hard grasp.
Come here, he said; I want to speak to you. He drew the boy to
him out into the moonlight. They seated themselves upon a low wall. The
man took from his pocket a worn pocket-book.
There is no use forbidding you to dream or follow your inclination
to art, he said, but I will show you before you are too old to change
what it leads to. Your mother wonders where you get your love of art
from. Look here and here.
He drew from the book some old yellow pappers, and smoothed them upon
his knee caressingly.
I was for a few years an art student, and you see I won my passes in
all subjects I entered for. You are surprised, you never knew and
nobody at home suspects I ever learnt to draw. Well, as a lad I studied
in the evenings after my work. I had a clerkship which brought me in
enough to pay for my art classes. The masters were good to me, and said
I should be a great artist if I stuck to my work and studied hard. I
did till I was twenty-two; then I had to travel for my firm, and when I
was away met a girla pretty, attractive girl. Then it was all
romance, love, dreams; and I married her on my little income. She had
no money. I married her, and hoped after we had our little cottage
furnished to again return to my art. In a year we paid for enough
furniture to make it comfortable, but then there was a baby to be
considered, and I said, 'Well, in a year or so I shall go back to my
dreams; now I must work for my wife and child.' But the years passed,
and children came about me, one, two, three, four, every year fresh
expenses, less hope, till I am no more a man, only a machine for
money-makingkeeping the wolf away.
And the pretty lady, said the child, whose memory had lingered upon
the romantic part of his father's story, where is she?
Your mother. The man smiled unwillingly. A true woman, a good
woman, but without imagination or sympathy. She never knew I loved art,
I dared not tell her. She would have despised me. She would have
thought me selfish if I had turned even for a moment to it. She is not
selfish; she has devoted her life to her home and her children, washed,
sewn, stinted, toiled for us all; until she has grown hard and old.
Alas! my pretty sweetheart, poverty has broken us. As for me, I do not
care to live. Live! I do not liveonly when I sleep and dream. Then I
have conquered, then I am strong. I tell you all, my son, that you may
give up this dreaming; you must renounce your dreams, or they will
become an agony to you. Take your place beside me, become commonplace,
business-like, get on your office stool, marry a woman of your class,
and have no other aim than to fill the mouths of her children, and rear
them up to people the world. That is your lot.
But I am going to marry Mollie, the boy said, whispering; for he
did not understand.
Marry no one, said the man, rising, if you are a dreamer of
dreams; but shut yourself away with them, and they will be sweeter than
fame. The world cannot hurt you if you keep your dreams. But marry, and
poverty will have her foot upon your neck and crush you.
But I am going to be a great artist, the boy said, with the trill
of tears in his voice; and I will have lots of money. He held up to
his father as he spoke the model of a child's head, in clay.
Give it up! the man said passionately. I am jealous of youI envy
youwith your youth and hope and dreamsdreams! He snatched the clay
from the boy's hand, flung it upon the grass, and trampled upon it.
You must not show me these things; you must not touch the clay in my
sight: I cannot bear it. Look here! He lifted the soil and with a few
turns of his hands, infinitely caressing, held up a rough study of the
head and bust of a woman. Do you think I do not know? Put it away! put
it away! He flung the work into the darkness and strode back to his
The child, he said to his wife, is a dreamer of dreams. Hope is
his, youth is his, love is his at least, for a few yearsand he is
The wife looked up and laid her knitting in her lap.
I never understand you in your wild moods, Harry, she said. I am
sure you ought to be happy, if you are not. You have a quiet home and
good children, and I do my best; what more do you want to make you
content? Even if we are poor, money is not everything.
Yes, it is, the man said ; it is everything.
Harry, I am ashamed of you; and before the children. We have always
had enough to eat and to clothe ourselves. You ought to thank God
instead of grumbling; there are so many worse off than we are. Soon the
children will be earning for us. Of course, I don't say it is not a
fall for us both, living since we were married in a position neither of
us wereat least, I was notused to. But we can still be grateful,
even in a small house like this. And I wish you would not sit down to
the table with your hand all clay. What were you doing to get them so
soiled?such a bad example for the children.
Few years after this Henry's father died, and on the shoulders of the
eldest son fell his mantle of hopelessness. For a year he, lagging,
followed his father's steps in the deadly monotony of office work. And
then the mother was told to take him homethat he was a dreamer and
would not work.
The woman sat before him that night and wept more bitter tears than
she had at her husband's death.
I wonder, she sobbed, if children ever realize how much their
mothers sacrifice for their sakes? Can you not think of the long years
I have worked for my children? I was young when you came to me,
Henry,only a girl,but I had to give up pleasure and amusement, and
sew for you, and stint for you, and work so hard. I had to rise early
and sleep late; I had to wash, and scrub, and iron, till my hands grew
red and my hair white. Oh! I loved pleasure as much as you do, and
could have idled my time when I was young; but for your sake I did not.
And for me, now that I have reared you, you will do nothing to assist.
Your poor father was no help in rearing my children; he had no sympathy
with them, and thrust it all on me. He was always engrossed in his
business, as was right; but he might have seen how the burden of
poverty and children had aged and wearied me. My youth has gone
unsatisfied, and I am oldold, and tired of it all.
The boy, full of affection, wound his arms about her.
I shall work for you, mother. Indeed, indeed, I never mean to
neglect my work; and I will strive so hard, and in a few years I shall
have you dressed in silk, and none shall be as beautiful as my mother.
The woman dried her tears and kissed him on the forehead. You are a
dear fool, she said; I cannot help loving you.
When the lad rose in the morning he left his dreams upon his pillow.
By the post there came a letter offering him, for his father's sake, a
small clerkship. He bent the note and threw it so it flew like a bird
into his mother's lap.
Good fortune flies to you, he said; did I not tell you I should
succeed? He looked round the table at the rosy, fat faces of his
brothers and sisters. Ladies and gentlemen, please order your bonnets
and cigars, and money is no object.
As he went out towards the city he stood by the river where he had
played as a child years ago. For there, to his amazement, he saw the
same artist he remembered seeing then, working on the still unfinished
picture. He could not help going up and speaking.
Why, boy, the man said; you here still? I often thought of you,
and wondered what you had done with your life.
Why, nothingnothing yet, the lad answered.
Yet! yet! Is it the spirit of the everlasting hills or Time himself
who speaks to me? What frail possessor of uncertain years can afford to
say, 'Nothing yet'? It is the 'nothing yet' that kills
success. The other day, after all these years, I came upon this
unfinished canvas in my studio; I remembered how poor, how miserable I
had been when I began it, and I said I will finish it now I am
happyfor I have succeeded, boy, in the years you have done 'nothing
yet.' Still, to help you, for I know you have talent, I make this
proposal I shall take you for a year, pay your expenses, and see if you
really are the genius I think you. If you are, I shall educate you as
an artist; if not, why, you will be no worse off here than you have
The boy, stunned and dazzled at the prospect of so much happiness,
could answer nothing. The artist handed him a card and bid him go.
You can think it over, he said. Let me know; there is my address.
No thanksbe off. Remember Rome, Italy, and art. I leave to-morrow.
To Rome! to Rome! The lad went along the river bank and sank upon a
rock; hiding his face in his hands, he let loose his dreams. What a
prospect! What joy! He felt two soft hands upon his shoulders, and,
reaching up, he caught them.
O Mollie! Mollie! Mollie! he sang, drawing her down beside him,
did you see a golden bird flying towards me as you came?
Foolish boy! the girl smiled. What was the bird's name?
Good luck! Good fortune! he answered, laughing loud; and it flew
What is it, dear? The girl bent to him. Tell me the story.
And so he told her. She saddened at the thought of a parting, glad
for his delight, listened and followed him through his world of
dreamsalways a watcher, willing to live in the shine of his
successes. He held her hands and traced out their happy lives together.
And she leant towards him, already dwelling in those splendid years he
told her of.
A child's rough hand upon his shoulder startled both.
Mother wants to know what you are doing, sitting here, came the
shrill voice, full of reproach.
The lad started to his feet. What am I doingoh! I must tell
mother. Sit there, Mollie, till I come back and tell you what she
He took the child's hand, telling him that a fairy god-mother had
come for him to take him away to a beautiful city and make him a king.
But the child listened with a sulky face, and coming near the house,
loosed his brother's hand and ran crying indoors. When Henry followed
he found himself the centre of a depressing group. His brothers' and
sisters' reproachful faces stared silently from their various positions
about the room. His mother was seated, her hands, idle for the moment,
clasped hard together, her eyes shining with the gathering of a
I have had such luck, mother, he began, then stopped; the universal
sulky gloom on all faces repressed him.
The child who had preceded him cried out, He is going away to be a
rich man, and won't work for us any more.
The mother put him aside.
You must be lucky, indeed, she said bitterly, if you can afford to
sit idle by the river and throw away your chance of the office work you
have been offered.
The lad flushed, but told his story. The hope faded from his face as
he saw hers did not brighten in the hearing, but instead disappointment
settled upon it.
And what of us when you, the eldest, go to make your fortune?what
will become of us? I am getting too old, and cannot work much longer.
John won't be old enough to take your place for a couple of years, and
the girls will have to give up school and go out asas servants; and
all because you are training for what you never have talent to be. When
you playing in your
beautiful home, with plenty to eat and drink, think of your old
mother and your little sisters and brothers, who are, perhaps, turned
out from the only roof that can cover them. She bowed her head and
burst into tears. Henry saw the grey of her hair and the roughness of
her hands; every eye from the stern young faces around the room
denounced him. He stood like a thief in the dock. What! rob them of a
hundred a year, take the food from their mouths, and the clothes from
their backs! And that poor mother, how her sobs killed him! He put his
hand upon her shoulder. Don't cry, he said; of course, I never meant
He left the house hastily and strode with quick steps along the river
bank. He passed by Mollie as she sat waiting for him, but did not
speak. He bent his head upon his breast, and she saw how it was, and
wept for him when he had gone.
Yet he would have forgotten me, she said; and then, Oh, how
selfish I am! Poor fellow! how he will suffer!
But Henry did not suffer as keenly as she imagined; his was a nature
to dream, and not to do. He suffered less, after the first
disappointment, by being deprived of the action than if he had been
denied the right to dream of being famous. He felt he had made little
sacrifice when he wrote to the artist saying he could not take his
offer, but accepted his fate with scarcely a murmur.
We are like the leaves upon the river of he would saywe go with
For twelve years Henry plodded on slowly in his office. Not being
clever, he stayed but by his employer's indulgence, and at home he was
seldom recognised as one of themselves by his brothers and sisters. The
noisy, commonplace boys and girls let the dreamer pass amongst them
unnoticed. He kept the roof above them, but they gave him no credit for
that. He might have done so much more. He dwelt in the midst of them,
and never realized how bored he was by the commonplace. Two of the
girls married men with moderate means, and then the mother died. The
second son got a clerkship in a bank. And one day the youngest came to
Henry, and spoke to him in a manner so unusually kind that Henry
guessed he must have done him some injury. And then it came out that he
was to get the position at the office where Henry had been so long.
You see, you are so slow, he said; and now that I am grown they
think it would be all the same if I took your place.
And what is to become of me? Henry asked.
You? Oh, we were thinkingthe rest and myselfthe young fellow
hesitatednow that the girls are married and the boys all doing for
themselves, thatthat you might go and study your art. You always
wanted to, you know; and the house is so small for us boys, now that we
have grown up.
Henry looked about him. The first thought was of loss and
desolationhe was of no use in the world.
I might go to America, he said, thinking.
A grand idea! His brother was charmed. It's quite easy to make a
fortune there. You'd better go at once. You will be richer than us all,
old fellow. He patted him on the shoulder. He was delighted; he never
felt so kindly to his brother before. They would all love him so much
if he would take the gloom of his presence across the water. The girls
were so smart now, and Henry was such a shabby, slouching fellow, never
caring what he wore; they were all ashamed to be seen with him. He
would get on ever so much better in America.
Henry walked out of the house, going like a man who had lost his way.
He did not know where to turn; first he walked instinctively in the
direction of his office, then came back to the river-side and threw
himself upon the bank. He took a lump of wax from his pocket and
commenced moulding it unconsciously. While he worked at it his
depression fell from him. He realized with a shock that he was free,
quite free: no more little hands to keep pulling him back. He had
accepted them as fate then. His brothers and sisters, so unlike
himselfno, he did not love them. Only he would have died for them if
it had been demanded of him. His sense of duty was strong. Here by the
river he was conscious of missing some presence other than his brothers
and sisters. It came to him before he realized who it was he missed.
She was a woman now, sweet and slenderhis sweetheart all through
Mollie, he said, I am going away at last; I am going away to make
my fortune and come back to marry you.
She looked up with a white face. Where are you going, dear? she
asked. She had got used to waiting; it was not much when she could see
him every day and feel his affections surround her.
Willie has taken my place at the office, and nobody wants me at
home. I am going to America, to workwith my hands. Mollie dear, I am
going to be a man, and give up my dreamsat least, till I have earned
enough to keep you and them. You will not mind waiting a little longer,
The woman raised his hands in hers and laid her cheek upon them. She
remembered what he did not realizethat the years were passing so
We could not have married, the man continued, if I had remained
here. It was for the best my brother succeeded. While they wanted me
and the money I could not have been free; and on whatever income I make
now we shall have only our two selves to keep. Do you remember the
artist we met here who offered me such a glorious future? Ah! wish he
were here now.
The two started up at the voice and looked round. A little old man,
shabby, and bent, stood behind them, with a portfolio under his arm.
He looked at the wax head the younger man had been modelling.
Very little better than the head you showed me as a child. What have
you been doing all these years?
Nothing! nothing! nothing! Do the years not move for you, young sir.
Fortunes are made and lost, thrones are gained and lost, empires have
fallen, and all while you do nothing.
The young man hung his head.
Look at me, the artist continued. I painted a picture here that
won me a fortune, I became rich, I became famous. I had my day, I
lived, I lost my fortune, and was forgotten, and I am here again
selling from cottage to cottage the prints of my picture.
I am sorry, the young man answered. You need not be. The artist
laughed. For what is fame? The clatter of tongues, the buzzing of
flies. Bah! give me money to buy a brush and colours, and, sitting with
solitude, I paintI am happy.
The quaint old man passed on with a nod of farewell.
Henry was seated by the table in his little hut in California. Before
him lay a pile of letters, some of them faded, others stained
withperhaps tears, some with the outline of an enclosed flower or
leaf. He moved his hand and let it idly turn them, he read a bit of one
here and there.
It is good to feel you love my letters, he readthat they are a
strength to you. I think of you always and pray for your success. Oh!
may it be soon, so that I see you again. How long the years are!
Henry, things are happening with all the world except us. Your
brothers are all married, and Willie has made a name for himself in the
city. Indeed, we do not see much of one another, your family and
myself; I seldom even speak to your people. Alas! you do not realize
how old and dowdy I am, or perhaps you would be ashamed to love me too.
I almost dread, when I think of my changed face, the hour you return
and we meet after the long years, when you will at last realize I am
But the one his eyes dwelt upon longest was:
Can you not come home to me. My heart hungers for you. The years are
long for separation dearest; they are too long. Let us be poor
together. What does it matter? Nothing matters but the passing of time,
and you away from me. Let us be together. I see death cutting down
people all around me, and I am afraid. Life is passing, passing. All
the years of you that should be mine are passing. Come to me.
How dear these letters had been to him all the yearshe had
forgotten how long. They never missed a post, and he had grown so used
to these silent white messengers flying into his solitude, and breaking
it with sweet conversation hat he felt at times almost loth to put an
end to their coming by going home. He had grown content with his
surroundings; like a thistle seed that had been blown hither and
thither through the air is at last forced into the ground and rooted.
He had drifted about and settled at length in this little hut in
California. Here, undisturbed, he had dreamt his dreams and modelled
and remodelled his wax, always making shapes of some intended
masterpiece, and breaking it up as soon as finished in despair, only to
start as hopefully in a day or so again. So his evenings passed, and
with the long letters from Mollie he felt he had still the sweet
companionship he had never known what it was to have been without. The
daytime of the years he spent in fruit-gathering for any one who would
have his work. Thus he managed to save a little money, and, with luck
unusual to him, saved enough to buy a tiny farm for himself; and on it
was the little log hut he now sat in. He had almost made up his mind to
sell out again and start for home,the last letter of Mollie's filled
him with a vague fear,but another letter had come by the same post
from his sister, asking him to take charge of a ne'er-do-well son.
The boy, she wrote, wants the calm open-air life you can so easily
give him; his heart is the heart of a poet, and cannot bear to be tied
up with the conventuality of town life. His father is too harsh with
him, forgetting he was himself once young. Be kind to my poor boy; he
is not very strong.
When the young man arrived, Henry found him a worthless booridle
and a drunkard. The lout fastened upon him like a parasite, and the
little farm had to support two. Henry relinquished his immediate dreams
of returning home or sending for Mollie, and took upon himself the task
of earning for this young nephew, as he had done for his brothers and
At first he thought it possible to make a man of him, for the boy was
full of insincere sentimental effects, hard to see through; now
lamenting his mother's absence with tears, and
writing her long letters of affection, which he read to his uncle
with evident pride in their composition; now promising his uncle he
would never touch drink again, so fervently that it was impossible to
believe that he meant nothing.
For a year Henry wavered between the impulse to cast this worthless
boor from him and the pity of deserting so weak a creature entirely to
the power of his own passions. But at last the youth cut the bond
himself by tiring of the monotony of the farm life and leaving his
uncle one night, taking what money he could find along with him.
A month after Henry got a letter from his sister denouncing him for
his treatment of her boy.
He has told me how you made his life a misery, reproaching him for
his delicacy. And having the pride some of his family are
without, he could no longer bear it. Without money, hungry, and in
rags, he left you and came back to his mother.
By the same post he received a letter from Mollie. O Henry! the
years will be so very short when we meetso very few; come, come,
come! After that there was a silencea long silence of months. Henry
grew restless; every evening he sat at his table reading over the old
letters, wondering why Mollie never wrote. Had she grown tired of him?
had some one else come between them? His heart burned at the thought.
He strode up and down the room. She was so pretty, so pretty! He looked
at the little picture face he always carried in the locket she had
given him; and then for the first time he wondered if he had himself
changed. He looked over the walls for a glass, but remembered he had
never possessed one, or seen himself for years. He went into another
room, and there found a glass left by his nephew. He went up to it,
then fell back as if he had been struck. What! was this, then,
Henry?the great artist, the fond lovera poor white old manan old
man! He thought of all his dreams for the future. My God! there is no
future, he said. He sat down and laughed his foolish young heart away.
Then flung himself upon his bed and slept like a man who was broken
with much sorrow. He woke with the gloom of a great cloud overhanging
him, and lay long before he arose; he felt too weary to move. And
every morning, he said, when I felt so tired, I thought it laziness
that held me down, and it was ageold manage. In the evening he
went out to cut wood for firing, but he laid his chopper beside the
uncut logs after a few blows. I could fight against the languor of
youth, he said, but against age I cannot fight. I will go back to
Mollie; she will comfort me.
He sold his little holding, and set about returning. The movement let
his dreams loose again, and he forgot he was old; he walked the deck of
the steamer that brought him back, and all the time he dreamt of
Mollie. She would be changed, too, his Molliefaded, perhaps, with
time, like the little picture he carried, but with a sweet white
resemblance to the old love. All the great dreams were over for them
both, but she would be content with little where she had dreamt of
much. They would be just as happy, even if they were poor. Perhaps, who
knows, he thought, with her beside him to spur him on, he might begin
to work in earnest at last.
When he reached the bridge that led into the village where he was
born, he stood upon it, looking across the water. Impossible, he
thought, that he was oldthat any one was changed. Why, what was
different? There the old trees, no older than when he last saw them;
there the houses and their little gardensnot a new one added, not an
old one taken away. A little boy passed, looking up at him; he called
him towards him.
Tell me, he said, trembling, where is Mollie Doherty now?
I don't know any one of that name, answered the child. You must
know! Henry cried in anger. She lived in the little house yonder, by
the elm tree.
Oh! old Mother Mollie, the boy laughed; her we called four-legged
Molly, for she went lubbely, lubbely on crutches, and her face all one
side, like this.
Henry struck the grinning face of the boy sharply with his hand; and
the child, angry and revengeful, sprang back and commenced grinning
afresh. He perceived where the wound lay, and flicked it. He hobbled
slowly around the old man, grinning and shouting a tune to his steps
the same tune he had shouted after Mollie as she limped past. But as he
saw the old man no longer heeded him, he cried,
She is dead, old four-legged Mollie is dead. She died three months
ago, Father Christmas. But the old man on the bridge did not answer;
he stood while the last gleams of youth faded from him, and he was old
indeed, as the sun sets behind a hill, driving the warm purple shadows
away, leaving it cold and bleak. He went at last to his
brother's house, and there a kind young niece met him.
You would like to see poor Mollie's grave, she said, as she brought
him through the fields into the churchyard. That is it. When I have a
lover, she continued, as he sat with his head upon his hands, I will
not wait for him as she did for you, poor thing! Why did you not come
The old man beside the grave thought, but could not remember. After
all, why had he not returned? Now the difficulties which had parted
them did not seem difficulties at all. He bent over the grave, and the
young girl in her pity went wandering away. But Henry was not grieving,
as she imagined; he was wondering why he did not suffer more. After
all, he felt almost glad the agony of parting was over. We could have
had only a few years together, I am so old, he thought. And life or
death can do no more for us; the agony of parting is past, we shall
only meet for ever now. He fell to dreaming of their meeting, and what
she would sayhow they would look at each other and go hand in hand
amongst the strangers in the new world of everlasting time, she
pointing out the wonders he had not seen.
His niece came upon him and reproached his dry eyes. You did not
weep for her, she said.
Tell me about her; how did she look? he answered, holding her hand.
The girl turned her eyes aside.
Her face washer facewhen she died she looked beautiful; all
thethedeformity went, and her face fell back into its young lines.
It was like death triumphing over life, if you can understand.
The old man dropped her hand, and took from his pocket a lump of wax.
It will be my masterpiece, he saiddeath triumphing over life. He
The girl sprang to her feet. You do not care at all for her, she
said. I hate you, Uncle Henry; you did not cry a tear. The old man's
feeble fingers trembled so that he could not form the wax. The work
slipped from them and, falling upon the ground, rolled into a crevice
beneath the stone of Mollie's grave.
I am too old, he saidtoo old.
Many men have tasted Hell some moments of their livesa Hell of
their own making, perhaps; but I, oh God! I have been in the Hell of
I cannot remember my father or my mother; oh, wretched that I am! Had
I either to love one whom no man loves? No, I cannot remember. My
memory goes back three monthsno further. Every day I live those three
months over and over again.
I had too much money when I came of age. I knew not how to use it. I
threw it here and there, ever indulging in my own pleasure. Playing in
the world till the dust of it rose up and clouded my eyestill the
hand of innocence I held in mine was changed for the hand of sin.
Playing in a world that I was sent to work in, I forgot I had a soul
or that there was a God who had given it to me. I played until my
selfish indulgences brought upon me the sickness of death. And then my
three months of Hell commenced. Unloved, unfriended, I tossed upon my
bed, blaspheming a God I did not believe in, swearing I would not die.
Shrieking in my terror of that Hell, I felt myself approaching a Hell I
had so often scoffed at. I heard my screams re-echo through the empty
house, unreplied to, making my desolation complete. Then I lay still,
gasping on my bed; so would my prayers soar up to Heaven, I thought,
unanswered, unheard. But stay! a step on the stairsnearer, nearer;
the door has opened, and a man stands upon the threshold. Oh, eyes that
beamed peace and love, you saved me from Heaven's vengeance for the
momentat what a cost! He came forward into the room when he saw me,
and I thought for an instant it was an angel sent to comfort my misery.
I heard you call, he said; and, fearing you were ill, I entered. I
am your neighbour, my latch-key fits your door. You must pardon my
coming, but, thinking you were illand alone
I am alone, I saidalone, alone, deserted alike by God and man.
Body and soul I am alone, and sick unto death.
Despair not, my friend, said he. I will attend you; you are sick,
and morbid from being left alone. Rouse yourself, and I will try and
Help me! no man can help me; I have helped no man. Unless you can
give me another life to live with the knowledge I have of this.
My dear friend, God alone can do that, his voice went on
soothingly; but you are truly sorry for your past?
Man, I cried, there are no such things as death-bed repentances.
Death is ever beside us a yawning precipice; as we walk along its edge
we know that it is there. We look at the sky above it, at the
flowers by its brink, but we never look at it; we turn our heads away,
but we know that it is there. We feel the chill of it in the heat of
the sun. We see its shadow on the petals of the flowers. We know that a
false step, a stumble, and we are gone, plunged into Eternity in a
moment. We say that sometime this path must come to an end, as we but
follow it to our extermination, and when we see before us the black
doors of death, then will we lay aside our flowers, and still
our songs and laughter. And Heaven will pity our prayers and sighs.
Talk not to me of such repentances; I believe them not, nor you, nor
You are very ill, the stranger said, as I raved on.
I will not die, I must live, though Heaven itself has shut its gates
upon me. Hellif such is my destinationmust give me a year of life.
I say, I will not die. A strange strength seemed to flow through my
veins. I raised myself on my elbow. The stranger was standing at my
bedside looking with divine pity at my convulsed face.
You, I said. Oh, the horror of it! You must die, you with your
life of purity behind you; death should have no fears for you. The
gates of Heaven are open for you; give me your body, your life, and let
Friend, he said, as though humouring me, I cannot die; I have a
mother who is old and requires my care, and a child, a darling little
You must die! I cried again. I will care for your mother and
child. You must die and let me liveI say, I will not die.
You are very ill, was all he said, laying his hand upon my brow.
And then, I know not how it came to pass, whether my cry to Heaven or
Hell had been answered, or, whatever it was, by some great effort of my
will, but I stood by the bed looking down at my own sleeping body.
I dashed across the room to the glass. It was the stranger it reflected
backyes, the same high forehead, with fair, wavy hair, the same
large, dreamy eyes; but his soul, ah! his soul lay sleeping in that
motionless form upon the bed. I turned and left the haunted room,
living, living, living!
Living, livingoh, the joy of it! I had died and was born again. How
it came about, what cared I? Who, I thought, as I bounded down the
stairs, so fortunate as I? What man or woman thinking over the past
has not saidOh, could I but live my life over again, I would not
have done this thing or that? And I, with my evil past laid out before
me, could live it again, casting out the weeds and cultivating the
trodden flowers; with nothing to hinder me, not even the sensual flesh
that lay upstairs, a prison-house for the spirit of that good man whose
body I was inhabiting and whose life I proposed to live.
I closed the door of my own house and went up the tiny garden to the
next; as I did so, I heard the patter of little feet and a childish
voice calling, Here's papa! Here's papa!
I opened the door and took the little darling into my arms. Never had
I felt such happiness as when the innocent parted lips met mine and the
soft baby-hands went round my neck. I stood still to take in the joy of
it, but the child drew back in my arms and for a moment she sat quite
quiet, and then she struggled until I had to let her down.
It's not my papa! she sobbed, running into the little sitting-room.
Oh, gran'ma, 'tis not my own papa!
Mechanically I hung my hat upon the rack in the hall and followed the
child. The room was small, but very bright and cosy; an old lady was
seated in an arm-chair before the blazing fire; one withered hand was
laid caressingly upon the golden head of the little girl, the other
shaded her eyes as she anxiously watched the door. When I entered she
smiled and turned to the weeping child.
Why, what ailed you, darling? Look, Rosy, it is your own papa. Rosy
looked up through her tears, and, seeing me standing in the full glare
of the lamp and fire, ran to me again. I sat down in a low chair
opposite the old woman, and the little child climbed on to my knees.
It's my dood papa, she said, laying her wet cheek against mine.
For an hour I sat thus tasting for the first time the joy of a home,
and listening to the old woman as she told me tales of her son's
youthmy youth now.
For some time she rambled on, in the fashion of the old, and at last
for very joy I laughed aloud, waking the child, who had fallen asleep
in my arms.
Will you take her up to bed, Gilbert, said her grandmother; she
sat up for you that you might put her to sleep to-night.
I raised the child in my arms, the pretty little babe with her soft
curls falling across her face, and she laid her drowsy head upon my
shoulder. I pressed her with joy to my breast as I turned up the
narrow, dark stairs; at my movement she sat up suddenly and pushed me
from her with both her tiny hands. Oh, wonderful instinct of the child
that in the light beheld her father, but in darkness knew me for a
You're not my papa! Oh, I want papa!
Hush, hush! I whispered; I am your papa.
You're not, you're not! and she beat upon my breast with both her
tiny fists. Give me my own papa, you bad, bad man!
Then a great fury seized me, and I held her over the banisters. Call
me your father, or I let you go.
No, no; I want my own papa!
Call me your father, or I let you go.
I want my dood papa!
I did not mean it, Heaven knows I did not mean it, but my fingers
loosed their hold. I shook the little hands from their terrified grasp
upon my coat. The hall echoed the screams of a child and a sickening
thud on the flags beneath. A terrible laugh followed, a laugh that
might have come from the lowest pits of Hell. Was it I who uttered it?
I looked into the hall beneath me. A trembling old woman knelt there,
and, at her side, a servant with a lighted candle, but their white
faces were not turned to the motionless body at their feet, but towards
me, unspeaking, as though they were frozen by some terrible sight or
sound. Had a devil entered into the body Gilbert Graham during the time
my spirit was passing from my own to ita devil who, making me work
its will, thus laughed in its hideous triumph. Surely devils were many
round my bed when I lay dying. Its power had left me now, and I went,
in bitter remorse, to the little child.
She slipped from my arms, I whispered. She slipped, mother. She
answered me nothing; but, as I raised the senseless babe, the servant
sobbed, Oh, Master Gilbert, we thought the shock had sent you mad!
I laid the child upon the sofa, while the girl ran for a doctor. I
stood as though stunned until he came, watching him then in a dream as
he examined the soft limbs of the poor babe, and he shook his head as
I am sorry to have to tell you that if she lives she will be a
cripple all her life.
Tell my mother, I whispered. I was not the one to tell her this.
I am sorry, he said ; I am very sorry, Madam.
Hush! the old woman answered; hush! You will waken her.
She may never waken, he whispered. Bear up, dear Madam.
Hush! the old woman said again, touching the golden curls that were
stained with blood. Hush! The fairies have come to her and laid red
poppies in her hair.
And thus had I fulfilled my trust to care for his mother and
childone a cripple or dead, the other a muttering idiot.
I had launched my new life, and the waters that bore it were red
human blood; but who or what was the dread pilot that guided it?
I stole out into the dimly lighted street. Of what use was I at home?
The little child still lingered. The old woman was still happy in her
ignorance, babbling of fairies and red poppies. My hands were the
fairies that had laid those terrible flowers on her babe's fair head,
the sleep-giving poppies on her eyes.
The paper-boys were shouting in my ears as I passed, but I paid no
attention to them. Their terrible tragedies could not equal mine;
their cries of Murder! woke no horror in my heart; they only cried
aloud the word that echoed there. I dare not think of the imprisoned
soul that lay as dead in my roomthe only one who sought me out in my
hour of death's despair. My horrible cries, that had frightened the
very servants from my house, but hastened his feet to my side; and now
he slept, a thin wall between him and the reward I had given hima
Oh, how could I hear the city noises and a thousand cries within my
breasta thousand little hands beating upon my heart, Give back! give
And so I strode through the damp fog, caring not, thinking not where
I was going. At last a bright light flashed in my eyes, and I started
as though awaking. Before me was a lighted doorway, and above it, in
the light of the lamp, hung a board, and upon it in red letters the
word Billiards. The place was a gambling-hell. I had known it but too
well in the old days. I gazed about, half-hearing some one speaking,
and saw a young man before me, his face flushed and his eyelids
I could not help it, Graham; indeed I could not! I tried to keep
away because of my promise to you and for my mother's sake.
His promise to me! I almost laughed aloud. Yes, I knew that boyish,
effeminate face. It had been often opposite to me at the gambling-table
inside. I had seen it grow white and tortured as the game went on. I
had made its hairless lips grow sweet in a smile, or quiver
pathetically like a girl's, by the turn of my hand; I had lured him on
night after night with a hope I held between my fingers. His promise to
me! I had forgotten. Something evil was rising in my heart. I felt it
would claim my lips if I did not speak. I seized his arm.
Go home, I said; heed not what I may say to you after this, heed
not what I may seem to you. The most beautiful statue is but hollow and
moulded in common clay. The tiger's claws are soft as a lady's cheek,
but they will tear you to pieces if you trust them. The moth sees the
candle's flame, and, thinking it fair, he dies. I am not as you
I do not know what you mean, Graham. If you mean this den has any
fairness for me, it is not so, unless it be the fascination of the bird
to the serpent's eye.
Leave me! I cried despairingly, for devils' words were rising to my
lips; and as he did not heed me, I turned and spoke them.
Come in with me, I said, and laughed. Come in with me, and I shall
see fair play.
With you! He started. With you, Graham! you who have preached of
its dangers to me and its temptations and wickedness; you to whom I
looked to save me from where it will lead me. Oh, Graham! I could
laugh, 'tis so absurd!
I'll see fair play, I said again; besides, you could not break
yourself of the habit so easily and abruptlyI will wean you from it
I took his arm, and we passed inside. No one took any notice of me
when we entered, but they all gathered around my companion.
Why, Varen, we thought you were going to leave us?
Did you hear of the discovery in Harrington Street last night? Poor
Bulger! You remember Bulger, don't you? You lost a cool hundred to him
one night here over the cards, eh? Got a cataleptic fit, they say; most
interesting case. Went home in a most distressing state of mind the
other night, commenced shouting like the devil, frightened the servant
out of her wits and out of the housesays she hid in a doorway till
dawn, afraid to go back; then she screwed up her courage and stole to
the house; finding no answer to her knocks, and being unable to open
the door, became alarmed, started for the police-station, and returned
with some of the force. One got into the house by a low window and
opened the door to the rest; they found poor Bulger lying on his
bedthey thoughtdead as a herring, but the doctors say 'tis a most
interesting case of catalepsy.
I listened without speaking. What a queer old world it is! I
thought; we must have a name for everything, no matter how wonderful,
or where would our doctors and men of science be? Nothing is left to
the God who designed the whole. Our beliefs are superstitions, we laugh
them away; we would explain the very law of life itself.
A hand was laid upon my arm.
Play a game of cards, Graham? The fellows are asking me.
No, no; this is no place for youfor me. Come out of it quickly.
But the men surrounded us.
You are not going yet? just one game, then?
Fool that I was, I complied, and took my seat at the table. They
thought I was a green one, as was evident from their surprised looks
when I swept up their little pile of silver at the end of the first
You would think it was old Bulger himself, I heard one say; he
seems to have his accursed luck.
One game led to another; my companion's face grew pale; some demon
arose within me, and I took a pleasure in its paleness.
Why is it innocence attracts the guilty so? Behind the bar connected
with this card-room there was a young girl serving. I heard men make
rude jests that brought the colour to her cheeks; she would hang her
head if they called her endearing names, and the angry tears would
spring to her eyes: she would shake off their hands with passion. For
this girl they would leave their billiards and their cards to watch the
red and white fly to her face; and now, when they speak to her, she
answers their jests with similar ones; she answers their calls with a
simper; she courts their caresses and their company; she is no longer
attractive to themshe is one of themselves.
Why did I not pick out my prey among those evil, coarse faceswhy
did I seek to destroy the one exception? I know not; life preys upon
that which is weaker than itself, not that which is its equal.
I swept pile after pile of silver into my pockets, Varen's white face
growing whiter and whiter. At last he started to his feet
I'm cleared outI have only a shilling left; I'm going home.
Put it down, I said to him. Why, man, you may win a pile on it
yet. Finish this round, anyway.
Sullenly he sat down again and took up his cards.
I let him win game after game, and when he rose to depart he had won
back a third of his losses.
I'll come again to-morrow night and win the rest, he said, with a
smile. Why follow the downfall of that young life? Night after night we
met in the same place, I hastening away from the ceaseless crying of a
little, suffering child, calling for the father I had robbed her of; he
from the complaints of a broken-hearted mother, powerless to draw her
only son from the snare I had set for him. Night after night I robbed
him of his earnings, leaving him to win back a third, to lure him with
a hope, never to be fulfilled, that the next time he might win a
Paler each night grew the young face, shabbier the clothes, thinner
the hands that grasped the cards so eagerly. Now he spoke no word of
greeting to me; only his eyes revealed his thoughts: therein I could
see the light of hope gleam faintly each night, fading, fading to give
place to despair, returning again as the closing hours approached and
the waiter's voice warned us it was time to stop.
One night Varen came hastily in, staggering as though he were drunk.
Flinging himself down in a chair, he took his cards. There was no hope
in his eyes; I saw only terrible anguish and despair. On one sleeve of
his shabby coat I saw a broad band of crape.
He played wildlyand won. I had slain my devil; he won again; I was
glad. I saw his silver flow back to him; I was happy for the first time
in many a weary hour. I shall no longer be his curse, I thought;
through me he shall win back his fortune, his mother's blessing, his
lost youth. I shall restore all.
A cry recalled me. I had been dreaming. I gazed around bewildered;
the candles were spluttering in their sockets, and on the side of one
was a great roll of wax. It was turned towards VarenI had heard old
wives call it a winding-sheet. The dust of the day before lay white on
the sideboard and table, disturbed only where the cards fell and by the
track of our fingers. The dawn was creeping through the half-closed
shutters of the window, making our faces grey and ghastly in the two
Young Varen was staring at me with mad eyes, and on the table at my
side lay a heap of silver. It was I who had been winning.
Varen leaned across the table and gazed into my face. Are you a
man, he said, or are you a devil?
I did not answer, but that terrible thing within me broke into a
laugh. The men beside me started in horror as the sound came forth and
echoed round the room as though a demon were in each corner to repeat
Varen's hand went to his breast.
Devil in the shape of a man, he said, your work is done! Cruelest
of enemies in the guise of a friend! You won my trust and led me to
this. What is pure, since you I believed so pure are as you are? What
is the reward of love, since you I have loved reward me so? Through
your aid I was fighting the old life from me, and rising to honour and
esteem, to the knowledge of a mother's proud heart. And through your
aid I fell to meanness and disgrace, to see a mother robbed of her
necessaries, and worseto lose her son's love and care and to die
broken-hearted alone. Your hand had saved me from the precipice of
Hell, and your hand it is that flings me into its hottest fire. Finish,
then, your devil's work, for I dare not!
He drew a pistol from his breast and handed it to me. I felt the cold
steel in my hand, and saw the horrified looks of the men around us;
they seemed powerless to cry out or interrupt us; before me the ghastly
face of young Varen. A wild rage rose up in my heart; I panted like a
mad dog, and foam fell from my mouth. I tried to pray, but could not.
A pistol-shot rang through the room, and the white face before me
vanished. There was hot blood upon my hands; a terror seized mewhat
had I done? Hands were upon my shoulders. But I escaped them. I flew
down the creaking stairs. People were shouting. Steps were coming after
me. I flung wide the door and flew wildly, blindly, down the street.
Feet were repeating the echo of mine. People were calling Murder!
murder! Windows were flung open, men joined in the chase. People were
calling Murder!and my hands were red with blood. Ha! the well-known
doorit was my own; his latch-key opened it. I let myself in
and flew upstairs; there was a light in my old room; a nurse sat
nodding over the fire. I saw my old form lying motionless upon the bed.
I sprang to its side. Voices were calling at the hall-doormen were
breaking it in. They had tracked me.
I seized the hand that lay upon the counterpane; a shudder ran
through it. Steps were at the door, Murder ran through the house.
There was a moment of nothingness and I woke.
It was all a terrible dream; I lay upon my own bed. The kind
neighbour, hearing my cry, had called in to see if I needed anything;
he was looking down with pity in his eyes, his hands cooling minehe
had dipped them in water. No! it was blood, BLOOD! and the room rang
with the cries of MURDERER! I started up; they were putting manacles
on his wrists. He was stunned, he knew not what to say; he answered not
their insinuations, but passed his manacled hands now and again across
his eyes, like a man who had been long sleeping.
A terrible laugh sounded round the room; it seemed to float through
the doorway, and we heard it echo down the house, fading away into
stillness. I tried to rise and speak, but fell back unconscious.
I awoke to misery and despair. Lying still a moment, to gather my
thoughts together, I heard some persons talking at the head of my bed.
It was the nurse and a couple of men, doctors I soon knew them to be.
They were talking excitedly, but in subdued voices; I heard every word
distinctly: Graham is to be hanged for the murder of young Varen. I
started up, gazing at them in agony.
He did not do it. I, and I alone, am guilty.
They had started back when I moved, in astonishment; but when I spoke
they came beside me, trying to soothe me and make me lie down and rest
again. To rest! O Heaven! there was no more rest for me in this world.
I told them I would explain, but they would not let me speak. I heard
them whisper of my most extraordinary case. They thought I had gained
consciousness while they were speaking of Graham, and, hearing their
words at that critical moment, took the idea into my head that I had
committed the crime.
Let me go! I moaned; let me go!
But they held me down in their cruel kindness till I had to do their
bidding from very weakness.
But when the night came on, and when the old nurse was nodding in her
chair, I arose in the darkness and went from the house. Up and down the
streets I wandered till dawn grew grey, but no dawn arose in my heart,
only black night for ever. Through the streets, never stopping, I
walked till the sun grew hot and bright, and people crowded out into
the pathways. I bought a
paper from a newsvendor, and read the trial of Gilbert Graham. It was
nearly over; all the evidence was against him. He had nothing to say
for himself; once he spoke to ask if he might see his little child, and
he was told she was dead. They said he seemed stunned, or as though in
a dream. I read no more.
When the court was opened, and the trial came on again, I hid myself
among the crowd that attended it. I saw the prisoner at the bar; he was
not pale; a colour tinged his cheeks. He seemed as if he were asleep. I
do not think he heard anything of what was going on. Witness after
witness came to condemn him. I could not bear it. I put myself forward
as a witness for the defence. They allowed me into the box. I tried to
tell my story, but they would not listen to me; some laughed; some
pitied me; but they would not let me speak.
Will you not hear me? I cried. You cannot understand, but do not
laugh; there are so many things men know nothing of, but do not scorn
them because you do not understand them. Can you know what gives life
to the smallest insect living on this earth? Can you explore a step
beyond the grave? You cannot. I alone am guilty of this murder; by my
own act, or by the act of Heaven or Hell, I know not.
A gentleman rose in the court; he sent a message to the Judge,
whispered to a constable, and I was dragged out of the house. I heard a
murmur of excited voices and a whisper.
'Tis that poor fellow Bulger; they say his brain is turned since he
had his cataleptic attack. I was forced along by my doctor, his arm
linked in mine. Calling a cab, he put me inside, and was about to
follow, when a friend of his came up and spoke to him.
Oh, yes, he answered, I thought I'd find him there. He woke to
consciousness just as Dr. Gill and myself were speaking of young
Varen's death, and he seemed to get it into his head that he was the
murderer. He escaped from the house last night, but from his ravings I
thought it probable I should find him at court to-day.
I heard no more. Silently opening the door furthest from the speaker,
I slipped out, and in the dusk of the evening made my escape.
How the night passed I know not, but, when the light came, I had but
one thought: to seek out Graham and beg his forgiveness. Again I bought
a morning paper, and read the finish of the trial. Graham was condemned
After a day's wandering, or maybe moreI knew nothing of time in
those blank hoursI found out the prison where he lay awaiting his
doom, and craved admittance, saying I was a particular frienda
They let me see him for a moment, but he did not know me. He even
smiled when I asked his forgiveness; even he would not believe me.
I do not understand it at all, he said, laying his head on his hand
wearily. I cannot think, I cannot even feel these last few days, and
then raised his head and gazed at me eagerly. Do you know anything of
I did not know of her, and turned away my face.
I had a child! he cried. Oh, tell me of my little child!
Do you not remember?she is dead, I told him, weeping. He leaned
his head upon his hand again. I had forgotten. He spoke no more to
me, and I was taken out of the place. He will forgive me tomorrow, I
But, hidden away in a low lodging-house, I was too ill to stir for
many days; then early one morning I found myself at the prison door
again; it opened for me readily, and when it closed I found myself
confronted by my doctor and some of his friends.
I thought our patient would turn up sooner or later, he said. How
fortunate you should choose the time we are here!
I will go anywhere you will if you but let me see him once again, I
cried; only once till he forgives me. Let me go! I must! I cried,
fighting them. I cannot live unless I get his pardon.
You cannot see him, they said. But I willI must!
You cannothe was hanged this morning at seven.
The Broken Heart
Angelas's father had returned home. He had come upon her birthday;
she was twelve years old. She had almost forgotten her father, it was
so long since she had seen him. Not since she had left India herself,
seven years ago. And Angela's mother, she had not come. It was long
before Angela clearly understood why, and why there came no more the
beautiful letters she so loved, from that mother, who was named Angela
It was when Angela's father came home that her irresponsible, short
life changed to her. The first night of his arrival, she had awakened
to find him gazing down upon her with a look she could not understand,
so eager, so hungry, so despairing it was. He then sank upon his knees
by her cot, putting his arms about her, saying, as though speaking to a
woman, Comfort me, my daughter; comfort me. She put her little hands
about his neck, and, with the instinctive gesture of a mother hushing
her babe, pressed his face upon her tiny breast.
Poor father! she said; I will sing you to sleep.
She started a lullaby in a high, childish treble, which, after a few
spasmodic efforts to continue, wavered off into silence.
When she woke it was morning; she dressed with speed and impatience.
A new responsibility had dawned upon her. No doll had ever been added
to her over-numerous family that had given her thoughts so deep as
these. There had been a last letter from that dear dream-mother, and in
it she had written, I shall be always with you, though you will not
Always with her, Angela thought; she who had been so far away: she
who had been invisible for yearsnearer, though invisible still. Then
in the letter she had also read, Comfort your father; be good to him:
his is a deep and terrible trouble.
Yes! that was the sentence that thrilled her. Here was
responsibility! All the motherhood that lies in the breast of the
woman-child was awakened. All the care that bad gone to the large
family of wax images was withdrawn. Not without a struggle; not without
a tear; not without a last comforting mother-touch to the dresses and a
more easy placing of stuffed limbs when the babies were laid reverently
away in their box. Not without a lingering, backward look at
Alexander's wide, blue eyes, and Angel's bald though much-respected
Yes, she would comfort Father, though what was his great hidden
trouble she could not imagine. He never spoke to her of trouble. He was
quiet and grave. He seldom smiled, but he never cried. Most big people
were quietnot so quiet as Father, perhapsbut then, big people were
so hard to understand. Why, they laughed when Angel was run over, and
her beautiful china legs, with the blue boots on, cut right off. And
yet it seemed as though her own little heart must break when she saw
the dreadful accident. She remembered, too, how when little Charlie
from next door had come screaming into their hall, saying his father
was lying on the floor and would not waken; that he was deadshe
remembered how the old nurse, who had taken care of her since she came
from India, had rushed to the next house at the child's cries, to be
met by a smiling man-servant, who whispered something to her, and she
had gone back clicking her tongue against her palate, as she did when
Angela was naughty. Angela remembered how she and the little boy, being
told to run away and play, sat beneath a bush watching the house afraid
to move till the mystery was cleared up. How she imagined the
man-servant must have killed the boy's father; how the boy paled when
she told him so, yet showed the glimmer of an excitement at the
possession of a tragedy. How cruel they thought those grown-up people,
whose world was so much calmer than their own. How amazed they were,
and even disappointed, to see, after a couple of hours, the boy's
father walk out of the housea little unsteady, perhapswith a
flushed face and a dim eye. Not till she was grown up did she know that
there was a tragedy, after all.
When she had dressed and breakfasted, she ran to her father. She
found him in his study, walking up and down, up and down, as if he
could not tire. She slipped in and bid by the door, and, as he passed,
jumped out upon him. He did not start or laugh, as she had meant him
to, but the lines about his forehead deepened. He took her into his
arms, and, seating himself with her upon his lap, gazed into her little
Not a feature of hers, not a look! he said. O my God! He put her
down and forgot her, walking up and down the room without pause. The
child, hurt and frightened, commenced to cry. At the sound he stopped
and gathered her to him.
Poor little one! he soothed her; do not cry. Tears are not for the
young; and the old, he added pitifully, are denied them. Putting the
child down, he took her by the hand. Have you nothing pretty to show
me? he said.
The child skipped beside him like a young lamb.
There's a nest, she cried, in Donald's Field. But it is a long
way, a very long way, maybe a mile.
He smiled down upon her. I think I can manage it.
She got her hat, and they started together; her joy was high, and she
chatted to her father incessantly, only receiving incoherent answers
from him in return. She felt she was doing her duty nobly. After a time
she got weary, and stumbled often as she went. She asked her father
frequently, Was he tired? and looked doubtful when he answered, No.
The more exhausted she got the more she imagined he must be also. She
wished she could offer to carry him; her heart was full of tenderness
towards him. When they arrived at the field she ran forward. She
climbed the stile to reach to him her hand. He must have smiled had he
noticed her solicitude. She thought he must be getting blind, he was so
heedless as he walked; he would have stumbled over tufts of grass and
straying brambles, had she not been there to guide him. She thought he
could not see well, his gaze was so distant. The truth was he saw more
than the present. His eyes were dulled by the pressure of lost dreams
against them. H is ears filled with the notes of a lost voice. He went
half blind and half deaf.
She reached the bush where the nest was. She let go his hand, and,
springing forward, drew the branches asunder; but her face fell as she
looked. The nest was broken, and the young birds destroyed or stolen.
Oh! she cried, they are gone!
He stooped beside her.
Alas! the pretty home.
And my little birds, where are they, my father?
God knows, he answered bitterly. The birds are gone and the nest
broken; the destroyer has been here too. It is always so.
Does he come to all the nests? she said. And he answered, following
his own bitter thoughts,
The child was silent. They returned home. She clung to her father's
hand, too weary to speak. She was afraid to say how tired she was, for
fear he should offer to carry her. He strode on, with long, quick steps
that she found it difficult to keep up to. Her lips were quivering, and
the tears would keep rolling down her cheeks. She turned away her head
from him so that he could not know, for fear of troubling him. She was
full of weariness and grief. Had he not said all the nests were broken
in the world and the little birds within them dead? She ran by his
side, choking down her tears, for the young are very strong in their
When she at last reached home, and away from her father's eyes, she
ran into her nurse's arms and let her tears fall.
The good woman hushed her and understood.
He forgets you in his own trouble, she muttered. It is not right.
She smoothed the child's hair and looked into her face. What a pity
you are not like your mother, darling; it would have drawn him to you.
But, being like himself, he shuts you too away from happiness along
with his own heart.
The child dried her tears to listen to her nurse. Was she saying
something against her father?
I will ask him to let you go to your aunt's, the woman continued.
It's not right for a child to be in this sad house.
The child flung herself away. What! leave her father! Never! She was
going to live with him alwaysalwaysto mind him and comfort him.
The woman was aghast at her rage. But your pretty cousins. Think of
the games you can have with them.
I won't go! the child cried. I will stay with Father.
She ran downstairs and opened the door of his room. He was sitting at
the fire with a long tress of hair upon his hand. He was smoothing it
upon his fingers and curling it around them. She thought she heard him
sob. She ran to him and put her arms around his neck. He drew himself
away and hastily put the lock of hair into his pocket-book.
With the strange wisdom of a child, she knew she was not to ask what
he had been doing. She saw that his eyes were dry, and laughed. What
made her think he was crying? Grown-up people never cry. She laughed
I am not going awaynever, she said. I shall not go to my aunt's,
but will stay with you.
What you like, dearest, he answered.
When I am grown up, she continued, we will have a little cottage
all covered with roses, and I will do all the work for you; but it will
be long, long years before I am grown up.
She felt him sigh, Oh! the years, the lonely years.
But I will be with you, she said; you won't be lonely then. He
stroked her hair.
I love you, she whispered, nestling closer to him.
And I you, he answered. He kissed her, and then her nurse came to
take her away. She half hoped he would tell her not to go, but he did
not. Before she was at the door he had his head upon his hands, gazing
into the fire. Twice she called to him Good-night before he heard,
and turned to her with a start to answer,
Good-night, my darling.
While she was with him he never bid her go or stay, it seemed
indifferent to him which she did. She is nothing to him, the nurse
said to her fellow-servant. And the child heard and sobbed herself to
sleep. When the morning came she went to him.
You do love me, she said; and he answered that he did. And you
could not possibly do without me. He answered as she wished; and from
that day she was with him every minute she could be. She felt she was
indispensable to him, and that without her he would be wretched. From
being childish and backward for her age, she became precocious and
clever. From being
full of dreams and fond of playing, she became practical and busy.
She brought him his slippers, and knitted and sewed for him hideous
things that he never wore. She waited upon him like a slave, and he
took it all without notice. With all her efforts the child could not
break through the doors of knowledge and years, and so reach and
understand him. This in a vague way she was conscious of.
Often she played her silent games at his feet, hoping he would not
resist their pleasure and join her, but he never did. She played her
little tunes upon the piano, a performance the mistress in the school
was so proud of, and paused often for his approval; but it never came.
Only when she drew his head upon her shoulder, or was directly speaking
to him, did he seem to really know she was with him, and wake from his
dreaming. Yet she was full of her quaint conceit that he could not do
Every morning she arose, she counted another day off her yearsI
will be a woman soon. She plied herself to her tasks, and worked until
she grew pale and tired. She won prizes at school, and praise.
One night as she sat with her father in the garden, he spoke as he
had never done before in her presence. Perhaps it was the great sad
beauty of Nature in the night that beat upon his heart, till it broke
with a cry.
Where are you? he cried, in a voice of agony. Come to me.
The child was gathering roses in the dusk, some way from him. She was
startled by his passion, and kept still.
I cannot live without you, he continued. O God, the loneliness!
the loneliness! The child rose and threw herself into his outstretched
arms. I am here, she sobbed. I will not leave you again.
The man pulled himself together. It is you, poor child! poor child!
She never forgot that night in the following days. Not an hour was
she from him, that she could help. Even in the night she would often
awake, and fancying she heard that cry, Come to me, would creep to
his door to listen.
It was on one of these wanderings that a great fear came to her. As
she crouched listening by the door, she heard her father's voice speak
in a tone of deep agony.
O destroyer of the beautiful! he cried, why have you pursued me,
to rob me of my heart's treasure, and leave my home to me desolate?
He paused, and the child could hear him walking restlessly up and
down the room. Her heart beat in great blows. Who was with her father?
Who was this terrible destroyer who killed the young birds, and was now
inside with her father? Who was he who had robbed that dear father of
his heart's treasure. Would he open the door, and fall upon her, a
little girl, to devour her? She clutched the handle to prevent it from
turning. Her father, hearing the rattle, cried out, Come, and she
pushed the door and sprang to his side. She hid in his arms, and only
after a moment's comforting did she spy from his safe keeping to look
about the room. There was no one there. She sat up in her father's
Why are you here? he said. What has frightened you?
She did not answer. The warmth and light, the comfort of his presence
dispelled her alarm. She did not remember that she had been so afraid.
The man looked into her little face, so flushed with sleep and
excitement. His gaze dwelt upon the smooth brow that bore no wrinkle of
heavy thought, on the clear, innocent eyes that had not recognised sin,
on the round cheeks glowing with childhood, on the parted mouth that
was still bowed in its baby outline, with never a trace upon it yet to
show an evil hour.
Little soft face, he whispered, so precious with youth, must you
one day change like mine so old, so hard, so sorrowful? Will you,
too, shun the sunlight, and only cry in the shadow for the great
destroyer to come and give you oblivion?
The child pressed closer, and gazed about the room.
Do not let him have me! she cried in terror. Hold me tight! The
man at her movement awoke from his thoughts. Poor little one! he is
not here, he said; he will not get you. I will keep you from him. He
smiled bitterly. I will keep you from him.
He bore the child up to her room, and stayed beside her till she
After this he became the one thought of her days, and his love and
dependence upon her, as she imagined it, became alike her joy and
alarm. Nearly a year passed since his return, and she became old for
her short years. Already she had mapped out her future interwoven with
his. She had studied with one intent. Her reading was beyond her, but
she persevered. She frequented his room in his absence to read some of
the books he read, which she did without in the least understanding
them. She saw him grow more grey and weary, and thought he leant more
heavily upon her.
So the years began to roll past. The child became a girl, and the
girl a maiden. All these different periods were devoted to the same
idealto be her father's prop and comfort. In very truth she was the
foundation of his home. Her young shoulders took the responsibility of
life upon them early. With the little money he allowed her, she set the
domestic wheels in motion, and they never creaked. He stinted and
saved, keeping the house from every luxury, grudging himself, and
therefore her, everything save the barest necessities. And why? Because
he was laying by a fortune in her name.
He was her ideal; she worshipped him as only those who are young
enough to keep an ideal can. She would sit in the room watching him
work, never knowing his work was one that would leave him free, when
finished, to go from her for ever. Yet that was the day he longed and
prayed for over his papers. She thought him completely happy, in his
quiet way. And when a friend once said in her presence, Since he came
from India he has been a broken man, it came upon her with a shock.
Was there any side of him she did not knowsomething a stranger would
notice and not herself, she who had lived beside him for years? She
watched him closely, but could discover no difference from what he had
been since she had known him.
Just in this way do many go through life beside one constant
companion, in whose heart they dream themselves the sole beloved
tenant, whose every thought they fancy they can read. And all the time
the soul beside them, even while they stand cheek to cheek and lip to
lip, is shrieking, broken, bleeding, alone, so terribly alone, going
down, down, down to its destined end.
One day the man raised his head, and closed his books with a sigh of
It is done, he said, at last.
He became aware of eyes watching him, and turned to see a young man.
He was struck with the face, so fair was it with youth. It flashed upon
him that such was the boy in the poem, who started up the Alpine
heights with his bannerExcelsior! Hope! Onward! Life! All mottoes
written upon the bright brow, in the clear eyes, on the smiling,
nervous mouth. Under his gaze the youth flushed and stammered,
I want your help.
The man was surprised. What is it? he questioned. Your daughter,
the youth faltered; I love her; she will not marry mewill you help
My daughter! She is a little child, the father replied, smiling.
She is old enough to know love, the young man answered, smiling
too. But who are you?
My father was Gerald Donaldson.
A good fellow, a dear fellowand he is dead?
He died a month after you left Indiafive years ago.
Only five years, and they so long, so long!
I am not badly off, the young man pursued. I have two thousand a
yearhe smiledand expectations. I have plenty of friends who can
tell you all you wish to know about me personally.
Angela's father looked upon him. You have a good face. It is worth
all the credentials in the world. I could trust you. Where have I seen
I have been introduced to you four times, the young man said,
laughing. But you always forgot me the moment I was out of sight.
The man apologized. I will forget the slight, the young man said,
smiling, if you will induce your daughter not to follow your example.
But, oh, sir, he added seriously, I love her dearly, and I beg you to
speak to her in my favour.
Angela will have money whether she marries or not, the father said,
as though thinking aloud. Only a little, but enough to keep her in
comfort. It took me five long years to make it, but at last I have done
it, thank God!
The youth said eagerly: I do not care for that. I have plenty for
both. Only tell her to be kind to me.
The older man looked at him. She is but a little girl, he said,
not old enough.
She is seventeen, the young man argued, and we can wait a couple
of years, if you wish.
Seventeen! The father looked into the garden, where his daughter
walked. Angela, come here, he called.
She came through the open window to his side. He looked at her little
slender figure. What was this? It had developed from childish angles
into soft curves and dimples. He looked into her face, and beheld there
upon her cheek the flush of womanhood. Her eyes no longer gazed upon
the world as though they were still new to it, but were deep with soft
emotions coming from within. Her lips had lost the baby roundness, and
had been modelled into sweet lines, that told of smiles, and power, and
gentleness. He felt shy of her, as though he did not know her.
You are a stranger, he said, dropping her hands.
The girl was wounded. Father! she said, and could say no more. She
could have told his every movementevery wrinkle that the years had
added, every new tress of white that came among his brown hair. She
knew his step along the road before she saw him. She could almost tell
how he looked at every hour of the day, what his rare smile was like,
and what the habitual frown that sorrow had laid upon his forehead.
Forgive me, dear, he said, drawing her to him.
The young man smiled nervously upon them. I shall leave you
together, he said anxiously; you will do the best you can for me,
When the door closed after him, the man turned to his daughter. So
you will not marry him? he said gently. Why?
I had not thought of marrying, the girl answered, looking into his
eyes with unfaltering gaze. Do you not love him?
I had not thought of loving, said the girl, flushing softly.
Why, what a hard heart! replied the father, smiling; and yet he is
handsome and honest.
It is not hard, the daughter replied; but it is already fullI
think there is no room for any one there but you. She wound her arms
round his neck, he took her upon his knees, as he used to do when she
was a child. He spoke to her of his property. He told her that
everything was straight now, and that she would have quite a little
For years, he said, I was afraid you would lose it; but it is safe
at last, little girl. She was glad for his sake, but she felt she did
not want more than she had. She was quite happy, quite content, as long
as he was with her.
You love me, too? she said, in a childlike way. I love you very
And you could not do without me? she questioned playfully.
I could not indeed, dear little comrade. Now go to bed and sleep
And you will sleep well, dear father, now your business worry is
Yes, to-night I shall sleep wellfor I am tired, so tired.
He kissed her upon the face and hair, and smiled upon her as she blew
a kiss to him from the door. She had never seen him so gay. She thought
what a lover he must have been when he was young, and how handsome. She
imagined a brideher motherbeautiful enough to be his mate; but
imagination failed. She marshalled several dream-mothers before her,
but none were lovely enough for him.
Oh, mother, she said, if I could only remember your face!
In truth her mother was not beautiful, but enough to drag a man's
soul through the gates of death with her, and not leave go her hold
upon him till he followed.
So Angela lay upon her bed quite happy.
Father's comrade, that was what she would be. She fell asleep to
dream of it, and then awoke with a start, as though something had
happened. What had she heard? She did not know; only something had
awakened hersome noise. She jumped from her bed, cast a wrapper about
her. There were confused voices in the nurse's roomthe old nurse and
the fellow-servant talking excitedly together. She heard them asking
each other, What did you hear? So they, too, did not know what had
happened. Her first thought was for her father. She must go to him, and
see if he was in danger. She ran downstairs upon her little bare feet,
and paused at the study door.
There was no sound. But at the hall door came a soft knocking. Could
this have been the noise that woke her? She opened it slightly, and
asked who was there.
It is I, Alfred Donaldson, the young man said, coming into the
hall. Angela, what is the matter? II was walking pastin truth he
had been standing beneath her window for an hourand I heard a shot.
I don't know; I was asleep, she said, as she crossed the hall to
the door of her father's room. She opened it softly, and heard her
father's voice, infinitely tender.
Angela, Angela, come to me, Angela.
I am here, father, she replied, as she sprang into the room. The
light was still burning. She could see her father in the arm-chair
before the fire. His head hung upon his breast. There was a strange red
upon his cheek. In the hand that lay upon his knees was a pistol, the
grey smoke still hovering about it.
The women came clattering down the stairs, excited and afraid. What
was the shot?
Where had it come from? They stood at the open door, and saw the
tragedythe dying man, with his great selfish love at peace at last.
And there was the little white daughter, standing in the middle of the
room, afraid to go nearer. She was nothing to himnothing at all! She
cried in a terrified voice, Father! father! and at the sound he moved
his arms towards her with a beautiful smile. Angela, Angela, after all
the yearsat last.
The girl clung to him, and the red stain came upon her hair from his
But even then his head turned away from her in the stillness of
death, and she rose and walked blindly into the loving arms that closed
around her and held her through her great sorrow.
The Other Woman's Child
Lady Osborne regarded the woman before her with contempt and anger.
I have told you before, she said haughtily, I did not wish you to
speak to the child again. The woman flushed, and spoke hotly.
It is hard, she muttered, not to be allowed to speak to him and to
see him for a little time, after all the months I had of him.
It is my wish, returned Lady Osborne; and that must be enough.
For his sake, the woman went on, I put my child aside; I gave him
what God had sent me for my own. My boy was weaned that yours might
have his nourishment. For months you cared nothing about him, and left
me to do for him what you could not. And now the woman who gave the
strength to his little body and started the growth in his limbs is
forbidden to see him or speak to him.
Lady Osborne rose from her seat, and motioned the woman out of the
room. Begone! she said; I have done with you. What you did you were
well paid for. I will not have you come about here again. I shall give
orders that you are not to be allowed inside the park gates.
The woman's face grew white with a great rage. She was silent for a
moment; then her expression changed.
You will not let me in to see my own child?
Your own child? What do you mean, woman? What do you mean?
Lady Osborne seized her arm with a hard grip.
Yes, my child, the woman said deliberately. One of the two
children who lay upon my breast died, but it was not mine. It was not
he that I put away from his home upon my heart that went, but yours.
And that child out thereLady Osborne dragged the woman to the
windowwhose child is that? Answer me whose child is that?
The woman looked out. Chasing the butterflies from rose to rose in
the garden went a little boy of seven, his fair hair like a halo in the
sun, his face like a flower. The woman looked a moment; her eyes
softened, and she was silent.
The other woman shook her roughly.
Answer me! she cried; and begone from this house, or I will have
you whipped out.: The woman dragged herself away from the hands that
held her; she raised her arm as if to strike, but did not.
It is my child, she whined; my child.
Take him away! Lady Osborne staggered as if about to fall. Take
your brat away with you at once.
The woman grew pale, and drew back. No; he will live with you, and
be a gentleman, she said, in a low voice.
Lady Osborne opened the French window and called the child from the
garden. He ran towards her, a rose crushed in his hand.
Frederick, she said in a hard voice, you must go at once with this
woman. Take her hand, and go away at once.
The child stood in the middle of the room, staring, till slowly he
realized what had been said to him. He dropped the crumpled rose-leaves
on the floor, and, with a shrill cry, ran to Lady Osborne's side. I
cannot go with her! Oh! mother, don't send me away. I will be good,
indeed, indeed! He hid his face in her dress, and sobbed bitterly.
Lady Osborne drew her gown from his hand. You must go, she said; but
the woman hurried to the door, as though she were frightened.
No, no! she said. And without another word, opened the door, and
was gone. Lady Osborne made a step to call her, then drew back, and
sank into a chair. The child asked leave to go back to his play. Now
that the woman had gone he felt no fear. The unusual occurrence meant
nothing; to a child nothing is unusual or wonderful. But Lady Osborne
lay back in her chair like one asleep, and did not heed him; so he went
out to the garden, and she did not know. She was thinking in a dazed
way that it was well the woman had left the child. She could not face
the world and tell it this child she so loved and was so proud of was
not her ownthat she had been fooled and robbed all this time; that a
dead child in some unknown grave was hers, and the interloper that for
seven years had taken his place in everythingeven in his mother's
heartwas the child of a nursea common peasant woman.
She got up from her chair, and went to the window, and again saw the
boy running amongst the roses. She called him, and he came smiling into
the room. Lady Osborne seated herself in a chair, and placed him before
her. He raised his arms to put them around her neck, but she caught his
hands and held him away from her. Her ghastly face was before him, hard
and cold, and he shrank from a gaze he had never beheld before.
That's it; shrink away from me. I have discovered you at last,
interloper, thief! The boy grew white and afraid.
I have discovered you, and I believe you know it, the woman said to
the innocent child who stood silent before her. Do you see these
rooms, she continued, in a dull voice, these beautiful rooms, full of
valuable things? She drew him to the window again. Do you see those
fields, stretching everywhere around the house? Whom do those belong
towhom do you imagine they belong to?
The child looked up to her, and answered as he had been taught so
All to mother's darling son, he said, smiling to think they were on
a subject they could both understand.
No, not to mother's darling son, lying so cold in his little baby
grave; but to you, a beggar's bratto youto you. She thrust him out
into the garden, and sank into her chair. There she remained, still and
cold, till the hours brought her back to consciousness, and it seemed
to her when she woke that all the time she lay there she would have
been at peace if it were not for the sobbing of a child that she could
not move to still.
In the morning she was awakened from a short troubled slumber by the
voice of the child in the room. He clambered upon the bed, laughing at
her eyes still blinking with sleep. But she awoke with the grief of
yesterday still upon her, and wondered that he had forgotten so soon.
Yesterday it was my child that woke me; to-day another woman's, she
thought, and hid her face in her hands. He stood at the window,
drumming upon it with his fingers. What! all this beauty was not hers.
The fine limbs, the proud head, those dear eyes. Not hers. She may not
look upon them with pride againrather with envy and hatred. She may
not lovingly trace in them
again a likeness to her dead husband. This child of the other woman.
What was it there for?to grow up in place of her own and come into
his inheritance. All the Osborne lands, the old mansions she was so
proud ofeverything to go to this nobody. Yes, now she realized it
all. Yesterday she had lost her son, the son who was so carefully
reared, the son who was to have made the proud old name continue. And
today her childless heart had turned to ashes. She bid the boy leave
the room, and he went, chilled by her voice. She could no longer be
loving to this child of a stranger, since her child had known no love.
She would not hold this boy to her heart, since her own would never lie
there. Yet as he passed to the door she caught him to her and kissed
his hair and face, as though she had been long parted from him.
But every day, from that forward, she kept the child in strict
surveyance. He grew timid under the reproachful eyes he always felt
were upon him. As the years passed they grew further apart; he
understood she could not love him, but did not know why, and he was
conscious that he was afraid of her. Often when she called him he would
come to her slowly, and hang back at the last, frightened beneath her
eyes. Then she would smile a bitter smile, thinking it was the spirit
of the menial coming out in him, and showing distress before its
superior. Once when he had given a false answer to her she laughed in
his face. How could she have thought him an Osborne, the cowardly,
lying, beggar's brat! Every day as she watched him she seemed to find
the defects in him she credited his class with. She had discovered him
picking the prettiest cakes from the plate at tea for himself. She had
found him beating a boy smaller than himself without a reason. The
reason was one the child would sooner have died than tell. The smaller
boy had called her an ugly name. She thought him without feeling when
one day he discovered her in tears, and did not speak to her; he had
stood before her in silence, then gone away. The truth was the boy was
too shocked to speak. Mother in tears! What sort of terrible trouble
was there to make a grown-up person weep? They did not cry for any of
the griefs he had. This was something he could not approach, comfort,
or understand. He stood terrified, dumb, before her, and left her, to
cry by himself for hours outside alone.
When he was seventeen he fell in love with the gate-keeper's
daughter, and he sought an interview with his mother. She listened with
impatience as he stammered the story. Kind seeks kind, she muttered.
It is all I expected. She did not reason or argue with him, but
simply sent the girl away. And the boy had to conquer his heart alone.
Only once had she spoken to him upon the subject; it was to say if he
wished to marry the girl when he was of age he could, that it probably
would be a suitable match for him then. The lad did not know how to
receive the speechwhether as a concession or as an insultbut he
vowed in his heart he should not forget the girl he loved.
In his nineteenth year a lady came to visit his mother, bringing her
daughter with her. He was struck with admiration for the girl's fair
face, and his heart went out of him in its first real love. His mother
noticed this, and to humiliate him brought the lodge girl back, and set
her as servant in the house. The trick was lost upon the lad. He passed
the girl upon the stairs, and did not know her. The poor thing had
never thought the heir to the Osborne estates had ever meant anything
by his passionate promises, and had long ago turned her eyes upon
another man; so she did her work with cheerfulness, and never said
anything to remind him that he had made her promise to wait till he was
of an age to marry.
On the eve of her son's twenty-first birthday Lady Osborne sat alone
in her boudoir. Her heart, feeding on its own bitterness for years, had
grown more cruel towards the boy every day. Tomorrow the village would
be in festive garb for the coming of age of her son. Her son!
Tomorrow she would dethrone him, cast him off. No longer could she bear
the thought of hima strangerpossessing the old landsthe noble
namethe ancient house. Better let the name die out in truth than have
it falsely carried on by one who had no claim upon it. She laid her
forehead upon her hands as a great wave of grief came over her.
Tomorrow her own little child, who lay so far away, should have been by
her side, to receive the congratulations of his people. Tomorrow the
one dear girl of her old friend should have plighted with him her
troth. How often when she and this friend sat together had they planned
the match between their children. And now all things had happened as
she might have wished. After her first brief visit this friend had come
often; she was staying now for the coming of age. The children had seen
much of each other, and were full of love. All was as it was planned,
only her boy lay dead in his baby grave, and his place was filled by a
servant's child. A servant's child was coming of age to-morrow, a
servant's child was to lead Enid Geraldine to the altar, a servant's
child was to carry on the two proudest names in the county. She dare
not let it be. In the midst of her brooding the door opened, and her
son entered. His face was flushed, and he had the consciousness of some
great exultation about him. He walked to the window, then turned and
faced his mother, breaking forth into sudden speech. In the glow of his
enthusiasm the frost of her unsympathetic attitude towards him was
forgotten; like a stream let loose by summer from the manacles of
winter, his voice rang forth.
To-morrow is the people's day, mother, not mine, he said, walking
up and down the room, gesticulating as he went. Have I ever told you
my plans, motherwhat I mean to do when I am of age? I have dreamt of
it so long. To-morrow I inherit all my grandfather's wealth; I shall be
richa millionaire. All this money that I have never earned, and that
I can never spend personally, I shall own, and those fields stretching
away from the window for miles and miles those empty fields that we
never use, those woods full of nests and rabbit-burrowsthe houses of
animals, while human beings lie to sleep in the streets of the
citiesthey are all mine, mother, all mine, mine! But I shall change
it. To-morrow is the people's day; I shall tell them so. Tomorrow!
to-morrow! All these useless fields shall be covered with little red
houses, and every house shall have its bit of ground and its garden
full of roses. Those useless woods shall be cut down to build the
housesthe useless money shall make this thing happenthe little
houses will be homes for happy people. There will be no angry voices
heard and no pale-faced children seen there. We shall call it The Happy
Valley. By the river we shall build a great factory, and there the men
shall work all day weaving cloth and manufacturing goods, in which they
too shall share some of the profits. And the women at home shall be
safe from the unsexing influence of city poverty; they shall make lace
and mind their children, and live the lives of women. And if the money
does not hold out, we must narrow in the boundaries of the parks, till
the house stands within its wide, beautiful garden alone!
Lady Osborne clenched her hands.
Not a branch shall be broken, not a stone turned to let a ragged
crowd of beggars upon the land. You talk like a fool!
I shall not do what you would not wish, mother; but come some way
with me. We are not people to spend the money that has been unspent and
growing for three generations. Our people were never reckless nor fond
of show; but what good is it lying always idle? I shall only build a
hundred cottages over by the river, and save a hundred families from
poverty and hunger.
I hate the people! Lady Osborne said; dirty, thieving, ungrateful
creatures. Let them wallow in their own mud!
It is the fault of circumstances if they have such faults. Oh,
mother! we must save them, I want to do so, when I see the men
shuffling from beershop to beershop; when I see the women dirty,
neglected, loud-voicedhardly women; when I see the little children
shrinking from blows, shouted at, cursed at, taught to see everything
wrong, sitting with poverty, playing with sin, cheek to cheek with
crime. What can they do, mother? what can they do to become men and
Let them go down, his mother said. It the survival of the fittest;
blow the seed, the chaff will fly in the wind. They are the drifts, the
unfitted, the people who had not the strength to keep strong; idleness,
weakness, disease, all have brought them to the earth. They are the
parasites of the world. Stamp them out if you can; keep them from
You are wrong, mother. Give them their chance, and they will show
you that you are wrong.
It's education, money, peace, beauty, they want to regain their
self-respect. They are human beings, people like you and me, with all
our emotions, only played upon by a rougher hand. Fate has been kind to
us. If I had been reared amongst their surroundings, I should have
shuffled, thieved, sinned too.
Lady Osborne rose with a low, bitter laugh. Most probably, most
probably. The young man's face flushed at her tone. You are cruel and
hard! he said excitedly. Yet I tell you this. It's the vulgarity
alone you notice, for in society I have met refined liars, immorality,
bitter cruelty, brutality, aye, even thieves too, for people who have
no temptation to steal a purse will rob men or women of their
character. We have all the same vices, mother,he smiled,but we do
not drop our h's. We drink champagne, they drink beer; we destroy
reputations, they burgle houses; we have gold, therefore we have water
to wash in; we are clean because we have amassed wealth, because we
have robbed them of true comfort, sweated them, starved them, so that
they built us our fortunes. Let me exchange my hard, cold money for
flesh and blood!
You can leave me, Lady Osborne answered coldly. I am tired of
argument. I shall speak to you to-morrow. When you know what I have to
say you will be better able to form your own speech. She turned from
him. How strange, she thought, that, in spite of education and
refined surroundings, his soul should be ever with the people he sprang
from! How impossible it is to stamp out heredity!
The young man, crestfallen, left the room. As the door closed after
him, Lady Osborne's friend entered the room by the open French window.
Lady Geraldine, a tall woman, who had no fault except pride of race,
was sweet to look upon even in the grey autumn of her life. She took a
chair by her old friend's side, and laid her hand upon her's.
You are sad, she said, and this should not be. To-morrow your son
will have reached that manhood for which he was born; he is like a
white rose that has unfolded from bud to flower. God grant that his
life may be as pure and sweet when the years drop from him like the
petals of the rose, leaving him to look back instead of forward.
Lady Osborne raised her head, but did not smile. She looked with a
hard, set face through the window into the gathering dusk.
You are poetical, dear friend, she said, and who can say your
white rose when it comes to bloom may not be a rose at all, but a weed,
blown by the winds of fate from some neighbour's garden into yours?
You joke, though you still look sad, said Lady Geraldine smiling.
Your rose is a cutting from an old, old tree; he is so like his
father, everyday I see it more plainlyhis walk, his voicecan you
not see the resemblance? But oh, she added enthusiastically, it is
fine to me alwaysa young man come to manhood, the long apprenticeship
to youth past, the world before him. Look at your boy with his mission
to fulfil, the grand old name to carry on, to keep proud and stainless
as it has ever been, to die with the knowledge that he has handed it on
to his sons unsullied in his turn, and to rest at last with those great
and brave men who gave it to him to pass on. Sometimes I almost wish my
dear girl had been a boysince I was to have but one, that it should
have been a man-child.
Hush! hush! You torture me.
Why, dear? I do not understand you to-day. Lady Geraldine looked
with surprise into her friend's white face.
I suppose there is one thing you could not forgiveLady Osborne
spoke slowlyif your girl married with my knowledge a servant's
Lady Geraldine, shocked and astonished, gazed at her friend for a
minute in silence, then she said,Why do you ask me such questions?
My daughter is going to marry into a family as good, as pure, as proud
as her own. She is hoing to marry your son.
She cannot marry my son.
Lady Geraldine rose to her feet, her face white and stricken as her
friend's. As she stood thus the door opened, and the two young people
came in. They did not notice the stern women who watched them from the
window. The girl passed with her hands full of roses, and the youth
with eyes for nothing else followed her, and sat by her side upon a
So you do not love me, after all, he said passionately, trying to
take her handsand the women at the window gave a start, the one with
hope, the other with disappointment. The girl laughed, and put her
hands behind her.
Look into my eyes and tell me you don't love me. He caught her
hands, but she would not face him, and all the roses tumbled to the
No, I won't look.
You are afraid, he said, laughing softly, to tell so big a
You make me ashamed, looking at me so, she said; your eyes seem to
say too many flattering things.
They only say what my lips dothat you are the most beautiful and
the dearest woman in the world. Let your lips only say, 'Frederick, I
Let us shut our eyes and imagine we are in the dark, then it will be
easier to say, she said. When the youth, at her bidding, closed his
eyes, she stole from his side and ran smiling towards the door. In a
moment he had followed her, and stood between her and it.
My answer first, dearest, he said.
In the playful struggle that the girl made to pass the answer came,
for when their hands touched they went into each other's arms, and at
that moment saw the two women at the window.
And why, said Lady Geraldine, moving a step towards her daughter,
cannot your son marry my child, since he loves her?
Because my son is dead!
Are you mad?what do you mean? Lady Geraldine grasped her friend's
hand in hers as though she feared her reason. What do you mean? Your
son is before you now.
But Lady Osborne spoke in a dull, slow voice, pointing to the youth
who stood looking her so bewildered.
My child has been dead, oh, so many years. He lies a baby's length
in his little, forgotten grave. That boy who stands therewho would
to-morrow possess the broad lands of the Osborne family as my heirwho
would then, also, be betrothed to your daughter Enid, only heir to your
proud name, is a servant's child.
Mother! the young man cried hoarsely. My God! What are you saying?
A servant's child! I am your son.
You are not my son. Lady Osborne faced him now, her eyes grown
hard, thinking of the day the truth was broken to her. A womanthe
woman who nursed my sonlet him die, and in his place she sent you
back. Oh! everyone shall know it. You are not an Osborne; how could I
ever have imagined it! Every year since she told the truth to me I have
seen your inheritances coming out in youyour love for the lower
Hush! The young man faced her. Since I am not your son, who is
I do not remember her nameyou are a servant's childa servant's
The young man staggered towards the door. Then he turned to the women
again, his arms outstretched.
But the girl had moved to her mother's side, and the mother had her
arms around her. A servant's child, they whispered, too stunned to
Then the boy turned, and without a word left the room. When the door
slammed the girl drew herself from her mother's side, as though waking
from a sleep.
Where is he? she cried. What have you done to him? Why did you not
give me time to think? I love him; I do not care what he is; I love
him! She staggered blindly across the room, calling to him to come
back, but before she could open the door she fell in a swoon before it.
Lady Osborne and her guests came white and weary from their rooms the
following morning. The glad village bells filled the parks with their
music. In a few hours the villagers would surround the house, happy in
their holiday dress, and eager to give their congratulations at the
coming of age of the young heir of the Osborne estate. The three women
sat silent around the breakfast-table, making a pretence of eating, but
eating nothing. The forth place at the table was still unfilledthe
seat placed to-day at the head for the heir. Some silly servant had
laid on his plate a white rose, and beside it were a heap of
congratulatory letters and telegrams.
The girl was the only one to call attention to the empty place. In a
firm voice she asked where the young heir was.
A servant answered that he had not been in his room all night; he
must have gone out at dawn, perhaps to shoot. Anyway, he had not been
After that there was no more said, and when the time had arrived for
the demonstration the three pale women went out upon the balcony, Lady
Osborne going first, the two others following.
What are you going to do? You are going to do something? the girl
whispered. I am going to tell the people the truth. The girl spoke
All these years he has not known a mother's love. What if he asks
you why you robbed him of that? Even if she was poor, she would have
held him to her, shielded him, loved him.
She deserted him, Lady Osborne sneered.
All the more reason for us women to love him; he is noble and good.
Did he not win your heart as a little, soft baby? Think of him as he
was, and love him.
I shall do my duty as I know it. I shall tell the people the truth.
The girl said no more, but stood aside. In her heart she thought, If
you cast him off, I will claim him here, in the face of them all.
The air was loud with the sound of glad voices, and soon the avenue
was gay with bright- coloured gowns and cheery faces. All the village,
old and young, had come to make a holiday within the park's hospitable
gates. The servants of the hall had laid, unchecked, great tables of
food and ale for the village guests. They came singing and laughing to
the front of the house, and, seeing the mistress Upon the balcony, they
called for cheers for her. She faced them, white and unsmiling. Some,
seeing her expression, remained silent. She raised her hand for quiet
as they crowded before her.
Before you go to your games and feasting, she said, there is
something I must say to you. The young heirthe people cheered at
the mention of him.
The young man whom you know as my son But she saw the crowd was
not listening. On the outskirts there was some disturbance, and those
nearer were asking what it was, and what was wrong. She thought she
heard some one beg her to go aside; then the crowd parted, making a
lane, through which she saw a crowd of men approaching.
The young heir, whom you knew as my son She raised her voice,
then saw what was coming. The men were carrying something; they were
bringing it to her. A friend tried to pull her away, but she would not
move. Then the men came to where she stood, and laid their burden down
before herdrowned, white, coldthe other woman's child! She started
forward, as though to take the body in her arms ; then with a strong
effort controlled herself She laid her hand instead upon his wet
forehead, and heard a girl's heart-broken scream behind her. Take Miss
Geraldine away, she said. What has happened?
The men told her they had found the body in the riverit must have
been there all night. They were honest fellows, and spoke with a sob in
their throats; but Lady Osborne did not cry. My child, she whispered,
had no mother to weep over him. Neither shall this. My child,
unhonoured, was buried away. So shall this one be. She bent, and took
one of the limp hands in hers.
You fought hard for your life, she said, looking at the torn and
blood-marked fingers; fought hard. You were a coward to go from your
troubles, and a coward to seek to get back from the death you feared
more. Never an Osborne!never an Osborne! She raised her eyes from
the still face, and there, in the gaping, horrified crowd, she saw the
face of the woman who had given her all her trouble.
Come here! she called; and the frightened woman came. I am in your
place, Lady Osborne said. Take back your son. The woman, with a
frightened cry, flung herself at the lady's feet.
You scorned me and maddened me till I spoke, she groaned.
Take away your son!
The woman, white as death, rose before her.
I lied to you, she said; it was my baby that died. This is your
A Question of Courage
We know who you are looking at, Miss Roche!
But Miss Roche only answered with a blush, and gazed through the
telescope more earnestly than before. Those who watched her suddenly
saw her stiffen, her face grow ghastly, and her hands clench together,
as though she were stricken with death. They sprang up and surrounded
her, as she rushed from her place screaming.
Help! help! she cried; and then, seeing nothing but the far-off
snow peaks before her, returned to her place, roughly pushing back the
gathering crowd. Those who had for the moment of her absence looked
through the telescope saw, on the far-away snow mountain, three
struggling human beings, sliding, sliding, sliding down to their death.
Along the icy slope they went, clutching the crumbling snow, gliding
ever downward to the mouth of a purple crevasse. The end of the tragedy
had not come before the girl was back at the glass. She put the others
who crowded around her, back with rough hands; they did not resent her
passage or dare usurp her place, for she was engaged to one of those
three men who they had for a moment seen so near, and yet were too far
off to help.
The girl never moved during the awful minutes of the tragedy which
she alone could see. She swayed, moaning and crying for some one to aid
the poor victims, and, at last, with a choking cry, fell to the ground,
from whence she was tenderly lifted and carried into the house. The
moment her eyes left the glass others had taken her place, as full of
pity as she, perhaps, yet anxious not to miss the morbid excitement of
looking at least upon the disaster, since they were too far away to be
The man who had taken the telescope in his hands, prepared as he was
for what he should see, started back at the first glance, then settled
to watch in pitiful uselessness.
They have slipped to the edge of a crevasse, he said. Three men.
My God! Two of them are over, the third man is trying to keep them up;
but he can't do ithe can't do it! He is slippingslippingno! he
has stopped; he has driven his axe into the groundit holds. One of
the fallen men is struggling to mount the rope, but cannot! The other
is stillperhaps unconscious, dead! The rope is twisting and turning
them round and round in the awful air. O God! the third man is giving
wayhis axe is broken, or has lost its hold. He is slipping towards
the edgehe is on the edge. Heaven help him! he is over. No! The rope
has broken; he saves himselfhe saves himself! He lies in the snow,
like one dead, poor chap!
Here the watcher was pushed aside by a frantic woman, who took his
place. She looked through the glass, trying to focus it to eyes dimmed
There is one safe, you say! she cried; it is my son! is it notmy
only son? The men draw her aside. No one could be sure at the
distance, they tell her, trying to calm her. Pray God it be her son.
Then, seeing the other woman near, pale and wild, repeat, No one can be
sure who it isbetter wait.
Ah! the suspense of waiting. The whole population of the vast hotel
were as anxiously watching for the return of the one survivor as though
they were related to him. Lunch was hastily eaten with little
conversation, and that little the one absorbing subject of the
accident. Telescopes and glasses were levelled for hours at the
snow-peak where the tragedy had been. But they saw nothing; after the
accident, the man remaining had crawled out of sight.
At dawn next morning the rescue party returned with the one living
creature they had found and the bodies of the mangled dead. Those who
had forgotten in sleep the tragedy of the day before were awakened by a
woman's cry, and sprang up alarmed. But one girl who had not lain down
to sleep, but trod the floor all night, pressed her hands above her
heart, hearing the scream. It is not her son! she said. Thank God!
* * *
Edward Rounds recovered slowly from the shock and exposure which he
had suffered, and when he came amongst his friends again they could see
lines of suffering upon his face that had never been there before.
He had gone amongst these companions for a few days before it became
evident to him that there was some coldness in their attitude towards
him since the accident. At first he could not believe that it was not
his imagination. He remembered the enthusiastic welcome they had given
him upon his appearance with the rescue party, how they had cheered him
from their windows, and hurried down in the dawn to congratulate him on
his escape. Thinking thus, he went amongst them as formerly, but soon
found he was firmly, though almost imperceptibly, snubbed, and set
aside. The dozen friends who had joined with him to spend their
holidays in Switzerland were avoiding him. His neighbours at the table
moved their places, one saying the draught was too much, the other, not
hearing the excuse, that the heat that end of the table was oppressive.
Before he realized it, Edward had strangers beside him when he ate.
After a week or so these strangers had forgotten their excitement in
his escape from death, or only remembered it if a son or a friend
begged to go on the same eventful climb. Then Edward was pointed out as
a warning of its danger, and was begged to tell his story over again.
How he shrank from the telling nobody knew, but the limpness and
coldness of his replies soon froze the friendliness of those beside
him. He was left to himself and silence. For some time Edward refused
to believe that his friends shunned him. Yet their awkwardness in
meeting him, their various excuses to get away, their refusal to walk
with him for many inadequate reasons, his difficulty in keeping up
conversation with them when he found them alone, his own very isolation
amongst the strangers at the hotel, could not but open his eyes to the
fact that, without a word of explanation, he was being put away from
the friendships he desired, and from the affection that had been his.
The bitterest drop in this cup of bitterness was the coldness of the
girl whom he had hoped to make his wife. He had known her a year, and
had prevailed on her fathershe was motherless to join the trip that
he and his friends were making to Switzerland. And the old man, one of
his dearest friends, had willingly consented. He smiled on the youth
when he asked for his company, and Edward answered the unspoken thought
: I hope to ask something from you before the holiday is through,
but I do not know if she cares for me yet.
The old General had wished him good luck, with a warm grasp of the
hand. Now he was one of those who seemed to Edward to avoid him most.
The girl appeared to share her father's dislike, or whatever it was,
and Edward could now never meet or speak with hr alonenever could
prevail on her to walk with him, or get her to converse.
She does not care for me, he thought; but the memory of certain
looks and words of hers came to him. She has grown tired, or loves
another. His hands clenched at the possibility. The shadow of his
friends' unkindness fell darkly upon him in his weakness. His strength
had not come back to him since his adventure in the snow, and the
short, severe fever that followed. The holidays were drawing to a
close; he dreaded to go back to the city with the consciousness of this
entanglement with his companions. He dreaded the desolation of his life
amongst the crowd, without love or friendship; he made friends so
slowly, and had always dreaded strangers. He dreaded most of all to go
back to the little house he had hoped to make a home with the woman he
On one day he would breakfast in his room, take his lunch out to eat
alone upon the hillside, dine in silence, without looking up from his
plate, and disappear to his room the moment he left the table. The next
morning he would wake with the strong conviction that he was imagining
grievances, and that it was his own folly that made his friends seem
heartless. So rising, he would go to them with the frankness and
affection with which he always met them, only to meet again the repulse
he could feel; though he neither heard nor saw any sign to mention,
even to himself.
One day he sat with his head upon his hands, alone in the wood. He
was so still that a girl half passed before she became aware of his
presence. At her start of surprise he woke from the sadness of his
dreaming, and looking into her face, saw her wish to pass unnoticed. A
sudden anger seized him; he sprang to his feet and stood in her path,
he caught her dress in his hands as she turned to go back.
You shall not go! he cried, half in anger, half in entreaty, not
till you tell me what all this coldness means.
I am not aware of any coldness, she said, her face flushed and half
turned away. It's later than I thought. I must go back; Father will
You will not go back, he answered, till you tell me what it all
means? Why have my friends turned from me? Why am I sent to Coventry?
What have I done? Alice, he continued, as she tried to face him with a
look of surprise, so badly feigned on her honest face that she blushed
at her own deception, don't pretend not to understand me; be true to
yourselfto me. Tell me what I have done.
Done! she echoed. I don't know that you have done anything wrong;
it's onlyonly it's a matter of feeling.
A matter of feeling! He caught her hands as she turned to go.
You must tell me, Alice! You know what I hopedyou know what I
meant to ask you. Is it thatthat is keeping you from me? Is it that
you do not care now? You did once, Alice; you did once.
Oh, let me go! she said, half crying. Perhaps that's it; I did
careand I do not care now. Let me go!
He loosed her hands at once, and she went sobbing homeward through
the woods; but he crouched there till darkness came, when he rose and
His friends were deep in a loud discussion when he entered the
smoking-room, which they had all to themselves that evening. They did
not hear the door open till his appearance chilled them all to silence.
It was unusual of late for him to come among them, and the look upon
his face was unusual too. One of the more merciful of them rose to
leave the room, saying he was tired. He knew the snubs that would
follow Edward's arrival, and dreaded having to contribute to them.
But Edward stood against the door and faced the room. There was a
stern purpose in his eyes as they dwelt upon his friends.
Before you go, gentlemen, he said, there is something I have to
say to yousomething you have to answer to me. I have known you all
for yearsyou have all known me. You owe me, I think, for the sake of
our friendshipour past friendship, I expect you would wish to sayan
explanation of your conduct to me lately. He paused. Only one man
Our conduct, Edward? he said awkwardly; what on earth is wrong
with our conduct to you lately?
Edward turned upon him bitterly.
Don't pretend you don't know what I mean, he said; out with it,
some of you! What have I done?
The men moved uneasily. Some one muttered, That is no way to speak.
Edward lowered his voice at the rebuke; he spoke more gently, but held
his position at the door.
No one leaves the room till I know my fault. Why have you thrust me
from you without even the justice of knowing what I have done? If I
cared for your friendship less, I would not trouble you to ask; but you
were my friends, my only companions: if I lose you I shall make no new
affections. Why have you turned against me? The loneliness is
There was silence for a moment, then one man leant forward to strike
a match, and, shielding it with his fingers to keep it alight, he
turned his shoulder to the young man. Edward thought he meant it as a
snub. The truth was, the man was trying to break an awkward silence,
and his movement was only to hide from the gaze he felt fasten on his
You, General! do not turn away from me. For God's sake, what have I
done? The old man knocked the dead ashes from his pipe.
What have you done? He looked round at his companions as if for an
answer. I don't know that you have exactly done anything.
Edward flushed with fresh anger. Out with it! What have I done? He
spoke roughly. Why have you all avoided me?
Have the others avoided you? man looked around him. I did not
know. If I avoided you it was unknown to myselfat least, I did not
know I put my feeling into any expression.
Your feelingwhat feeling?
A young man at the other end of the room leaned forward. He spoke as
though to put an end to the suspense.
If I have shown you any coldness, I apologize, he said slowly. If
I have avoided you, it has been because of a feeling that I I cannot
explainever since you returned from that terrible day on the ice.
YesEdward turned to himit is since that day. What have I done
since that day? The young man flushed. It wasn't since that day, he
said; it was on that day.
He moved uneasily; some one else muttered Yes! on that day; and he
resumed, I don't know if it's the same thing that we all feel since
we heardsince we heard
Go on! Edward cried hoarsely, his face losing its red flush of
anger and growing pale. But I know that with me it's only a certain
feeling I have. I dare say that I am all wrongI dare say that we
should all have done what you did.
What did I do? Edward's voice came in a rough whisper. Well, they
say, you knowthe guides who found youthat the rope did not
breakwas cut, you know; and, I suppose, we all feelthe same about
it. We know you would not have done it, only there was no chance for
the others. But, all the same, we feel queer about it. Is that it, you
There was a movement of assent in the room.
Edward leaned against the door, his face ghastly. He spoke at last,
slowly and as if with difficulty.
Yes, he said, I cut the rope. It was to cut it or die; it made no
difference to them. It is only a matter of feeling, as you say. I
should have gone with them. Do you think, he cried, clenching his
hands together, do you think I do not know it now? Night after night I
lie awake, and go through the agony again: I feel the rope tighten on
my chest, and those dead men pulling me down. I was one of the three.
They have not forgiven me for leaving them; why should you? They haunt
meI hear their voices, I feel their hands. Did you know when you
banished me all that I was sufferinghow I have thought of it till it
almost maddened me? did you think I had forgotten the sound of their
cries, the tearing of their fingers upon the ice, the thud of their
falling bodies going down, down, down, the bite of the rope across my
chest, the slackening of it? Do you think I can forget? A matter of
feeling, it is nothing else. Was I bound to kill myself, when I had one
little chance of escape?hardly a chance I thought at the time.
Listen! Do you know how we fell? The guide went first,I think he was
ill; there was no reason for his fall,and he lay helpless when he was
down. Robertson went next, and I was drawn after them. We slid a man s
length and stopped. I had my axe in the ground. The guide never
stirred; he was a heavy man, and the strain was awful. Robertson tried
to get a hold, and his struggles loosened the axe; we slid again, and
again I got my blade in the ice. I held as long as I could, but, under
the weight, the handle of my axe broke; then we slid downward again. My
God! how awful it was! We clung to each other, we tore at the iron
ground with our naked hands; we tried to get our feet into the ice, to
fasten our teeth into the snow; but we rolled and slipped down, down,
the guide, helpless, dragging us the quicker to our death. I do not
know how long it was till we reached the end hours it seemedand
then the two went over into the horrible emptiness, and I alone
remained to save them. I tore with my nails, I thrust my teeth into the
ice; I had my feet on a tiny ridge, and for a moment I held them up. I
heard Robertson calling to me to hold on and he would climb the rope.
But he could not, he was in the middle. I heard the guide call out
feebly something I did not understand; then he was quiet. Robertson
could not move. There was no time to think before I began to slip
He stopped and thrust his hands out. The nails were half torn away,
and upon the hands were the signs of a cruel struggle.
Look here! See how I held! I was slipping again, and there was no
chance of recovery. Oh, you fellows, sitting there in judgment, I swear
before God if it had been a question of the faintestthe faintest
chance of saving them, I would have given my life upon that chance. I
would have died for them, if there was a possibility of their rescue by
doing so. But it is not asked of us to die with a comrade, though we
may give our lives for his rescue. If there had been no rope and they
had slipped over, would you have expected me to jump over after them?
No, you would not. My hands were powerless, the rope bit into my flesh.
I was half over the edge. I thought life was fairer than it is. I saved
myself by a miracleI cut the rope. I fought hard for them.
He dragged his shirt open at the breast as he spoke, showing them so
cruel a bruise that some of the men turned away in pity.
My wounds speak for me. Oh, he continued, with a sudden cry of
appeal, you are men with wives, sweethearts, sisters, mothers, homes;
I am a solitary man without a relative in the world, with loneliness
mistress in my home; I cannot make new friendshe looked towards the
GeneralI cannot make new loves. Do not turn your faces from me. You
see how weak I am to speak to you like thishow I value you all.
In the silence that followed the door opened and Alice entered,
followed by her dog, a pretty Russian poodle.
Is my father here? she said.
And the strain upon the nerves of the company was broken by her
voice. The men rose to their feet with a deep breath of relief, some
bidding her come in, others seizing the moment of disturbance to slip
out of the room, glad to escape the unusual atmosphere of awkwardness.
Edward stood beside the door and let them pass. They slunk by him as if
he were the judge and they the condemned. Some said, Good-night. One
muttered he would see him in the morning, with a secret resolution to
be up and catch an early train before any one was moving; another had
to give orders for an excursion next day; a couple, feeling indisposed,
went to order breakfast in their rooms. All passed without the offer of
a hand, till only Alice and her father were left.
The young man and the old faced each other. Well, sir, and you? The
young man spoke bitterly. The other moved towards the door.
I have to see a man about that drive to-morrow, or I shan't get a
carriage Then, seeing the look on the young man's face, he added: You
see, my boy, nothing you can say or do just now makes any difference.
It's a feeling one has about it all. I dare say we are wrong, and in
time it will wear away; but there's a feeling about these things one
can't get over just at first.
He hastily left the room, forgetting his daughter.
Edward turned to her.
I only came to ask Dr. Thornton how to use this; it's poison. She
held up a little bottle. I have such neuralgia, and I am so busy; we
leave in the morning. I have so many letters to write. Then she cried,
as if afraid, Oh, let me goI am so busy.
I am not detaining you, he said; and opened the door for her. He
sat down in the empty room and took up the phial she had dropped in her
haste. Life was so sweet, I was afraid to die. He held the bottle to
the lightit was quite full. Life was so sweet.
He laughed aloud, and the dog who lay upon the hearth rose and came
to him, laying its head upon his knees with a long, low whine.
The Strange Voice
Eileen sat very silent amongst the group that gathered around the
turf fire in the low thatched cottage.
What has come to your light heart? one said to her. You are that
quiet, I keep forgetting Eileen Murphy is with us at all.
But the head of the old grandmother nodded slowly, and it was she who
answered for Eileen.
I'm afeard, she said, the boy is gone. It is seven days since he
walked from that door, and not a word or sight of him since. I'm afeard
the boy is gone.
Eileen drew her bare feet from the fire, as though a spark had fallen
upon them. She shrank further into the shadow.
I met him that night outside your door, the neighbour said,
knocking the ashes from his pipe upon the stone hearth. He borrowed a
match from me, to light his pipe. He told me he was to be married as
soon as the banns were called. He seemed very light-hearted. The man
glanced pitifully at the girl's figure hiding in the shadow. I never
seen or heard of him since.
He said he had business to do when he left us, and that a lamb of
his had strayed, that he must look for before morning; but it was not
dark, and the lamb was there next day, but he had gone.
The girl's little sister drew her chair to the fire, looking
fearfully behind her. Maybe he walked on the sleeping grass, she
whispered, thinking of the fairies, but nobody heeded her.
Maybe he ran from the wedding, a bold young voice giggled from near
the door. Maybe he's off to Dublin, and some of the grand ladies have
caught hold of him.
Shame upon you! Kathleen O' Grady. The girl's mother spied into the
darkness where her daughter sat so quiet. Well you know he was after
Eileen since they were children together.
And he is going to give her the jackdaw you wanted, Kathleen, the
girl's sister said, with childish triumph. He said he was teaching it
I remember them well, the old grandmother said, the two children;
and with him it was, 'Follow me, Eileen,' and she was after him
wherever he went.
A faint giggle from Kathleen and a whispered She was drew the stern
eye of the neighbour upon her face. She flushed, and said I mean no
harm; sure the boy is all right.
'Follow me, Eileen, ' the old woman muttered. I seem to hear his
voice; only a few weeks ago he came to the door and cried to her, then
ran like a child, jumping the heather before her.
It was his way of getting her to himself, the mother said. God be
with him, wherever he is! The girl threw her chest out with a long
breath, but stifled the sob before it was heard.
He was for selling every stick and beast about his place, Kathleen
said in a hard voice. She once fancied that he cared for her, and the
mistake still stabbed her. Yesterday the bargain was to have come off.
Did he tell ye?
That's true, the neighbour said, filling his pipe and crushing the
tobacco in with his finger.
Mike Doherty told me he paid him good money that evening. He was
going to take his bride to America, and he was right; there is more
chance there for a man than here.
It's to Dublin he's gone, Kathleen muttered, and forgotten ye all;
he was always a rag on every bush.
The girl in the shadow clenched her hands, but did not speak.
He promised to send for me, the old grandmother muttered, in a
year; but I'll be buried by that, glory be to God!
I'm told America's a great place for the poor, the mother said,
looking round the dim cabin it would have broken her heart to leave; a
great place entirely.
And Eileen will be a grand lady there, the grandmother continued,
breaking into a cackle of laughter. For it's over the sea with
O'Rouark she is going. 'Follow me, Eileen, he said.
Kathleen sprang to her feet. My God! she cried; did you hear
There was a sudden rustling in the cabin of startled people settling
into silence, then the quiet of listening. Outside the door a voice was
heard, loud and distinct,
Follow me, Eileen.
Then came a burst of joyous clatter in the room. Open the door for
He's right welcome!
Eileen stood up in her corner, the hot blood rushing back to her
heart, suffocating her. Kathleen opened the door with a sullen face;
she would not be glad to see him. She opened the door wide, and all
faces were turned to the darkness outside; but no one entered.
There was a moment's silence, and then from a distance the voice
again, Follow me, Eileen.
Kathleen sprang towards the group at the fire, hiding her face
Lord have mercy upon us! It's his ghost I'm after seeing.
The little child began to scream, and the women made the sign of the
cross upon themselves. Holy Mother, protect us! they said; but the
neighbour shook the ashes from his pipe and stood up.
You're a fool, Kathleen O'Grady! he said, and he went outside.
Eileen laid her hands upon her heart. He wants me, she whispered,
but I cannot stir; I am too gladtoo glad!
The neighbour re-entered; he closed the door behind him, and, as
though unintentionally, slipped the bar across it.
There's nothing there, sure enough, he said, and pulled his chair
closer to the fire. Again came the cry, Follow me, Eileen, and the
bar fell with a clatter from the door. The women rose with a shriek,
which ended in a hysterical laugh.
It's only Eileen, Kathleen said; she slipped out.
Holy Mother and the saints, preserve her! the mother said. She put
a lighted candle in the window. She will see it when she is tired of
They sat down in silence and waited.
But Eileen ran out into the night, listening for the voice she loved,
for in the dark she heard it again,
Follow me, Eileen.
I am coming, she answered; wait for me: I cannot see you. She ran
fast along the rough mountain road, till her breath failed her.
Oh! wait for me! she gasped; it is so dark.
Follow me, Eileen. The voice was close beside heramongst the few
fir trees that clustered together beside a murmuring brook.
She sprang from the road with a laugh, and bounded amongst the deep
fern and pricking gorse. The briars caught her dress and tore it, they
clung about her ankles, leaving red marks of their caresses. She
stretched her arms wide, to hold the beloved. Follow me, Eileen. The
voice was far away. She struggled back to the road, sobbing and crying,
Ah, you are cruel; I will follow you no more.
Follow me, Eileen. The voice had a plaintive note now. She
stretched her hands towards it, but did not answer. She crouched by the
wayside, and hid her face. Surely he was playing with her, to treat her
so; and yetshe raised her head to listen.
Follow me, Eileen. The voice grew fainter, further off. She sprang
to her feet and ran, afraid to lose the sound. Once again she thought
she had come upon him. The Voice seemed only a few feet away from her.
She opened her arms with a glad cry:
Ah! I have found you at last.
Then a crushing blow upon the forehead knocked her to the earth. She
had run against a tree in the darkness. She drew herself up beneath it
and moaned. Far away she could hear the voice again, Follow me,
A great terror came to her; she shivered, and hid her bruised face in
her hands. He was dead oh, yes! dead; it was his ghost who was
calling to her, and flying before her like a false marsh- light. She
shuddered with the fear of death upon her. He was near, she felt him;
in a moment he would put his cold, dead hands upon her. She shrieked,
Don't touch me! and heard his voice far away calling to her
Follow me, Eileen.
She sprang up, all her love awake for him.
Living or dead, I will follow you. She cast her fear from her.
Where are you, Alanna?
All around her came the singing of grasshoppers amongst the rough
grass and heather. The sound seemed to her like the turning of fairy
spinning wheels. She imagined the tiny figures sitting there among the
ferns spinning. Whiz! whiz! whiz! What were they spinning? Over her
face came spiders' webs, blown by the wind,fine silk, floating from
place to place in the breezelying on her nervous, bruised forehead
like ropes. She brushed them aside.
You will not bind me, she said; spin as you may, I will follow him
for ever. She started running again; and ran gasping and stumbling
after the strange voice for hours. Her dress was torn half away, her
hands and feet red with her rough travelling, her brain was hot and mad
with weariness and despair, her breath came in harsh sobs through the
quiet of the night.
Now she would say, I hate you; you are cruel. And again, I love
you; wait for me; I love you.
Suddenly again, close beside her, came the Follow me, Eileen.
I follow you till death. She staggered off the little foot-track
across the bog. In a moment she felt herself caught; something cool,
and soft, and strong was dragging her down.
Is it you, Alanna? she gasped but got no answer, and was too tired
to wonder. She was benumbed and foolish with weariness, yet surely she
was in his arms.
You are so cold, she muttered, yet thought it should be so, seeing
he was dead. I do not care if you are living or dead, now I have found
you. She felt the cold chill of his soft clasp move upward, now to her
waist, now to her shoulders. She struggled a moment, then was
quietshe sank lower. I am in the bog, she shrieked. Then again, I
am so tired; kiss me, Alanna! And for a moment the kiss was bitter on
her lips, then the bog closed above her soft hair, and she slept.
* * *
But still in the little village they tell the story of Eileen and her
lover, and bar the door and draw near the fire in the telling; for
though one old man always believed it was the jackdaw's voice that
frightened them that night, calling as its lost master had taught it,
he was always a foolish old man, and he is dead now, and his story
forgotten. The others, and especially the young folk, will tell you it
was the ghost of Eileen's lover who called her forth, and Kathleen
O'Grady saw him with her two eyes standing before the door beckoning
The Twin Brothers
In a lone house in a northern county of Ireland the two brothers
dwelt together. Smoothly and quietly their two lives had run side by
side for nearly forty years. Bound together by natures modelled without
contradictions, with nothing to disturb the deep, and to them yet
unknown, emotions that slept in the heart of each, they were content to
let year after year pass by them and their solitary life, so that those
years left them peace. Their various visits to the big cities for
education, and later on for business purposes, had given them no desire
to leave the loneliness they loved. Twin brothers!their characters,
like their faces, seemed almost alike at first meeting them; after a
time the difference struck the observer more forcibly, the ruggedness
in the one brother being softened in the other. Where the blue eyes
would speak of possibilities, of fierceness and passion, the brown
would seem only waiting an opportunity to melt into tenderness and
affection. Yet neither character having that love of interference,
which makes for much of the unhappiness of the world, each was content
to live and let live without inflicting his conscience upon the other
or combating his ideals of life. Behind the house a clear mill-stream
ran, which, further on, turned two great wheels before it fell back
into the river from whence it came. Behind the river a wood stretched
into the purple distance; around the house fields of wheat and barley
flourished. The brothers from their great farm lands drew a small
competence, which they had no desire to spend, loving better to wander
apart into the solitude when the day's work was done, than to go among
their fellows: one to make with clever hands little models of the
inventions his brain was always suggesting,models he dreamt of
patenting in the future, that future which is always the dreamer's, and
which is too far off for life; the other to scribble verses and songs
that no one ever saw, and which even his brother only suspected he
Thus, though, because of their reserved natures, they were never
companions, yet their lives drifted pleasantly on side by side, up to
the time of their fortieth year. It was upon that day that their fate
overtook them and flung a stone into their life's river that destroyed
the flow for ever, and made turbulence and raging billows where once
the calm had been.
On the morning of the tenth in a spring month, the brothers rose with
a feeling of exhilaration. The glory of the day, the singing of the
mated birds, the gold of the new-born blossoms, all made them realize
the sweetness of life. They felt that spring was theirs too, as it
wasglory as fair as briefwith promise as a beginning and storm and
desolation as an ending; like two trees that put forth green leaves in
the sunshine, only later to have them torn and destroyed, and they
themselves fall stricken by the storm to earth.
With quiet feeling the brothers clasped hands on the morning of the
tenth. A happy birthday to you, brother.
And to you. They went their ways with no passing sorrow for the
years gone; forty to-day, and dreaming still of what fame would bring
them in the future. When the brothers had gone through their morning's
business, they withdrew with a sigh of relief to their favourite
pursuits: the one to the riverside, where he experimented with a
beautiful little model of a mill; the other seated higher up the banks
beside a steep waterfall. Here he drew a book from his pocket, and
commenced to write.
Ernest had been working his little mill for nearly an hour, when he
fancied he heard a cry. He looked towards where his brother was
sitting, but saw him deep in his book, evidently oblivious of
everything else. Another glance, and he saw a few yards beyond the
student, in the centre of the river, a young girl balancing dangerously
upon some stones above the waterfall. He gave a loud shout and
commenced running towards her. But at his call the poet, glancing from
his book, awoke to his surroundings and sprang to his feet. In a moment
he had seen the girl's danger and gone knee-deep into the river to her
side. Without a word he caught her in his arms and carried her to the
bank. Loosed from his hold, she stood confused. Ernest drew near,
panting with his run.
I was too late, he said. And then the three looked at each other
embarrassed and strange.
I was painting the falls, the girl explained, and I thought I
would see what they were like from this side. I did not mean to disturb
you. She smiled at the inconsequence of her remark.
You can still see, if you are not too wet, Ernest said.
I am not wet, she answered, thanks to this gentleman.
My brother, Ernest explained. Then, turning to where his brother
stood silent, remarked, You had better go home and change, Hugh, or
you will get cold.
The girl looked at his wet things. Her eyes filled with
consternation. Oh, do, she said, I am so very, very sorry you got
wet because of me.
Hugh hesitated a moment. He smiled. You would not like me to put you
back first? The girl refused with a merry laugh.
I will try the bridge this time, she said, then looked after him as
he went along the path to the house.
You are Miss FitzGerald, Ernest said, his eyes admiring the girl
before him. And you?
I am Ernest Kavanagh. My brother Hugh saved youat least, from
buying a new dress.
That would be no misfortune for a woman, she answered. How do you
know I am Maud FitzGerald?
Your father told me you were coming home from school, that you loved
painting, and would probably be charmed with my old mill-wheels, and
insist upon making a picture of them.
Will you show them to me? May I look at them now? the girl asked
eagerly. He turned at once and led the way down the path his brother
had gone; they crossed the bridge over the mill-stream and passed
behind the house.
I will show you the place if you care to see it. He brought her past
a long row of cottages, through the windows of which she saw men at
work. And again they came upon the mill-stream, where she saw the great
wheels turning under their weight of water.
Her excitement over its picturesqueness was pretty to the man. He
felt a keen pleasure in her presence, in her youth and freshness. It
struck him he had never before seen a lady lingering about the old
mill. The daughters of his workers had never given the strange beauty
to the picture that this girl didstanding beside the stream, her
pretty curls moving in the wind, and her face upturned to his for
sympathy with her mood. He was showing her around the old buildings,
pointing out bits he thought would make sketches, when his brother
joined them. For the first time in his life he felt that he resented
his presence, and relapsed into sullen silence, while Hugh carried on a
bright chatter with the girl. On her wish to return home, Hugh
immediately offered to show her the way to the bridge. Ernest turned to
walk with them, when the girl put out her hand to bid him good-bye. She
had no idea that he proposed to go with her too. But he fancied it a
snub in preference for his brother, and turned away with a flush of
When the brothers met in the evening to sit together in their study,
they were both ashamed of themselves, and the momentary sensations the
girl's sudden entry into their day had made. They became, in
consequence, more talkative than usual. Ernest over his model had
forgotten the glamour of the girl's presence, and only remembered that
he had felt a moment's bitterness to his brother. Hugh over his book
thought of the passing triumph he had felt in the girl's choosing him
to see her home. Both felt wonder that a woman could have had the power
to disturb them even for so short a time. They talked long into the
night, but neither mentioned the girl's name nor referred to her
The next day FitzGerald arrived with his daughter.
I came to thank you both, he said. My little girl tells me you
saved her from a wettingif not worse, she also says she has designs
upon your mill-wheels. You will let her paint them, if I vouch for her
good behaviour. She will be very quiet, and not disturb you.
The brothers laughed with a vague sensation that it was not
impossible she might disturb them very much indeed some day.
They both watched her as they talked with her father in the dingy
sitting-room. For the first time it struck them how old and faded
everything was in it. The contrast between the dull wall- paper, the
worn carpet, the stiff-backed, common-place chairs, and the bright
graceful moving bit of sunshine of a girl was so great.
Hugh went to her side impulsively.
Do you know what you are like? he said. A lovely bunch of red and
white roses, fresh from the morning, and set in our old dark, dusty
The girl blushed. And the thorns, she said. They are there, too.
The right protection of every rose from the rough hand that would
snatch her. A rose must be gently wooed and tenderly removed from the
parent stem. He laughed, and looked at her father.
I forgot you write poetryat least, I have heard you do, the girl
said, looking up at him. Of course you see fairies, and banshees, and
He smiled, but did not answer. You do see them, she
There may be such, he answered dreamily. I believeI almost
believeI have seen them.
Oh, how lovely! the girl cried, clapping her hands. Do tell me.
What do they wear The young man was chilled. The subject was serious to
him. He regarded her coldly, and she, seeing it, added in a coaxing
You will take me with you next time you go to see them? His gaze
fell upon her again. She was so gay, so young, so pretty. Dreams! They
are but dreams, he answered; but whether in answer to her question or
to the new whispering of his heart he himself did not know.
The same evening, as the brothers sat together, as was their wont,
Hugh noticed again how faded the room was.
We might have the house done up a bit, he remarked. It wants it.
His brother stopped his work, and looked keenly at him. The same
thought was in his mind, and the same reason had stirred it.
It has served us long enough, he said. I see no reason to change
it now. A few weeks after the meeting a neighbour passing FitzGerald's
house saw the old father the garden, and spoke to him across the gate.
I hear Ernest and Hugh Kavanagh are madly in love with your
daughter. The old man started; then smiled.
By Jove! he said. How these little ones grow up. In love with the
child, he laughed aloudthen turned serious. If it is true, it is no
bad news. They are good fellowsclean, straight men, and they are
rich. There are no hands I would more willingly place her in.
But she will have to choosehave to choose, the old neighbour
muttered. She can't have both, and neither will like to be left.
Whichever she choose, FitzGerald said, they are equally good. If
he be a bit older than her, well, all the better. It's the empty-headed
lads who don't know the worth of a woman's love. Better an old man's
darling than a young man's slave. Not that they are oldin their
prime, it is, they are.
The neighbour left them with a smile, but he muttered to himself as
he went, Better your daughter than mine. A queer pair they are, the
Kavanaghsclever and queer. God knows what will happen if they both
set their hearts upon the girl. What they see in her, a foolish, empty-headed chitthey that have travelled and seen so many noble womento
be caught at last, and by thatonly a silly child, only a beautiful
envelopeno brains, no brains. Lord! what a pretty face will do to
hide the deficiency! Why, my Susan is twice as clever.
So he hobbled on, muttering and laughing.
To the brothers was slowly coming the knowledge of their position,
their love for the girl, their coming battle to gain possession of her.
Mentally they stood eyeing one another like two duellists, each
calculating the other's chances, his strength, his constancy.
At first when the girl painted by the mill, they had been attracted
in their idle moments by the novelty of her beauty, glowing against
those grey walls of the old buildings, and passing with light feet up
and down the path where they frequented. Then they grew to talk to her
of themselves and their favourite pastimes.
And to both she would listen with sympathy, interest, and admiration.
It was enough to make her the ideal woman. She was not clever enough to
help them even with advice; but they were too strong to seek or need a
woman's help. As for her, she thought they were the most glorious men
she had ever seen. She felt it would be impossible to choose between
them. Indeed, she could not tell which she loved the most.
When Ernest spoke with her of his great inventions and hopes, she
would look into his deep eyes, and think it would be good to listen to
him for ever; but when he would reach for her hand and hold it, in
spite of her, between his own, her heart would struggle for its
freedom, and hasten after the absent brother, thinking it loved him
If it were Hugh who walked with her by the river, telling her
wonderful tales of his dream- world, and reading her poems he had
written to her loveliness and his devotion, she would feel it better to
love this brother, who was so tender and gentle, not daring to touch
her hand or speak out his love for fear of frightening her. She would
in pity half turn towards him, opening her lips to say she loved him.
But her inconstant heart at the movement would pine for the stronger
lover, who she felt would have her, even if both were broken in the
One day, as the brothers sat having tea with her father and herself
upon the lawn of her house, Hugh spoke of their first meeting.
I said you were like a rose, he pleaded to the girl, in a low tone.
And you spoke of thorns. I have found none.
There are many. Ask father.
She turned to include the old man in the conversation. She dreaded
sentiment from either brother when the other was there, so fierce and
jealous the outsider would become. Even now
their angry glances fenced across her. She felt ashamed and alarmed,
thus being the object of their silent combat.
I said, Hugh continued, not heeding her look at her old father, who
was talking with his brother, a rose must be sweetly wooed and
tenderly taken possession of.
Ernest heard him and smiled.
Ask the rose, Hugh, he said. And in spite of the angry little
thorns, it would prefer to be strongly taken by the hot hand of power
and burnt in a heart of passion and fire.
No, Hugh said coldly; for fear it might break and die, reverence
should gather the rose, and love be its slave.
Ernest fixed his eyes upon the face of the other.
Better burn than decay. Ask the rose, Hugh; ask the rose. The girl
felt compelled to meet his gaze; his eyes seemed to pierce into her
soul. She opened her lips and spoke without her will.
The rose would like the strong hand best, I think, she murmured.
Better the leaping fire than to wither and fall to dust.
Ernest laughed; his eyes turned from her face; he resumed his
conversation with her father, as though satisfied with her answer. Hugh
smiled, as though he had suffered no defeat.
Shall we ask the roses? he said, and put out his hand to her to
raise her from her seat. They strolled towards the garden of roses,
whose breath was in the air around them.
When the brothers were at home that evening, the silence for the
first time was broken between them upon the subject which was uppermost
in the minds of both.
Hugh was the first to speak. He laid the gun he was cleaning across
his knees, and looked across at his brother with glowing eyes.
Ernest, he said quietly, we have lived together for many years
without quarrelling or dissension. Now it would seem things are
changed; for days we have met with anger in our hearts because ofa
woman. It is not a thing I wish to speak ofbut I care for her very
much. You are using your strong will to draw her from me. But for you
she would love me. Will you cease persecuting her?
Ernest fixed his cold gaze upon his brother's face.
I do not persecute her, he said slowly; she cares for me. I read
it in her heart. Hugh drew the gun up in his hands.
You have read nothing I have not read. She is a child. She cannot
decide, but she shall. She is mine. I carried her in my arms away from
the danger of the river. I saved her; she is mine.
I saw her first, Ernest said softly; I called to you. Only for me
she would have fallen without help. She is mine; I shall marry her.
You shall not.
A shot rang through the room. Hugh flung the smoking gun from him,
his face white as death. My God, Ernest! he gasped.
Ernest fixed him with his eyes. Be more careful with loaded guns,
he smiled, or there may be an ugly accident some day, awkward for you
But Hugh had marched from the room. All that night he rode like a
madman over the countryside, and when he reached home at dawn his horse
staggered beneath him, covered with sweat. Before the sun was up, Hugh
was prowling about the house where his love slept. He watched the
silent building till it woke from its slumbering. One by one the blinds
were drawn up, like eyes
slowly opening to the light. The front door opened, and dogs rushed
forth, barking in their scramble of joyful liberty. He sat in the rose
garden and waited. He knew Maud loved the roses, and tended them every
day when she had breakfasted. After a time he heard her voice singing,
all so full of youth and untroubled by care, that his heart overflowed
with tenderness towards her. He rose and stretched out his hands, as
she raced with the dogs towards him. When she saw him she stopped
startled, so worn and woe-begone he was, his clothes tossed and stained
with his night's travel, his eyes wild and bloodshot, his hair untidy
and white with dust.
Has anything happened? she cried. What is it?
He caught her hand.
Maud, he said, you will marry me? Do not send me away unanswered
again; I cannot bear it. I am afraid of losing you. I have waited all
night, determined to get your answer. Speak to me.
The girl, red and agitated, drew back.
I cannot; why do you press me so? I don't want to marry any one. I
don't think I like any one well enough to marry him. She looked at his
flushed face and untidy clothes: he did not look attractive.
You like Ernest better, he said angrily; is that it?
I said I did not like any one well enough to marry.
He flung her hand from him.
You do, you do. You love him, you smile at him when you frown at me.
I have seen it. You are always ready to go where he asks you, to talk
and laugh with him. I see your face light up when he comes. It never
does for me.
The girl turned to go.
You are rude and horrible, she said petulantly. Anyway, I don't
like you. The poor fellow flung himself in her path, all the rage gone
Only stay, Maud. I am mad with jealousy, I am a brute. If you could
only care a little for me, even a little, I would be so gentle with
you, so tender. No one could love you as well as I do.
The girl burst into tears. I do not know who I care for, she
Come to me. The man stretched out his arms pleading. The girl
hesitated, looked around. Some one was coming amongst the roses
whistling. It was Ernest. He did not look at his brother's face, but at
the girl's. She felt her tears dry under his hot gaze.
We are early callers, my brother and I, he said. Can I see your
He is in his study, I think, she said, regaining her composure.
Will you not find him for me? Ernest smiled. I want to see him on
important business. He watched his brother stride away, and smiled
again. I was nearly too late, he thought. Maud noticed reluctantly
the contrast he was to his brother. So fresh, so strong, so neat, so
unlike and yet so like the broken weary man who had left her. Yet
Hugh's agony still wrung her heart; it swung like a pendulum between
Ernest looked at her. Give me your hand.
She gave it blushing.
Stay with me a moment, he said softly, I have something to say to
you. He led her to a little summer-house, and drew her to a seat. Her
heart beat wildly, she did not know what to do. She knew at last she
must make up her mind definitely beneath the power of this man's will.
You know I love you, he continued; I know you cannot make up your
mind to love me, but I am weary of waiting, and so you must speak now.
There is trouble in our house, things are going badly between my
brother and me on account of you. When we are married that will end.
What have you to say?
But the girl had nothing to answer, and only sat silent. Ernest felt
her hand quiver in his like a bird longing to fly.
I shall decide for you, he said. You will marry me. I was going to
speak to your father about it. We shall be married in a week.
The girl half rose, but he pulled her down again.
If I thought you really did not care, I should go away at once and
leave you, Ernest continued; but you do care.
The girl dropped her head. I do not know.
He suddenly folded his arms about her, and kissed her passionately.
But you do care, he whispered. Say you do not love me now! The girl
struggled a moment, then lay still upon his breast smiling. She loved
him: she knew it in the joy of that embrace.
When Ernest returned home that day he found his brother gone. A
telegram had come summoning one of the brothers away on business, and
Hugh had gone, half in the despair and depression that followed the
scene in the rose garden. He had left the field to his brother.
Well, what matter? If she cared for him, his absence would not make
her care less; if she loved his brother, he were better out of the way
till she knew her mind. When Hugh returned, he took a three-mile walk
from the station sooner than drive, because he feared to learn what had
happened in his absence. Yet his feet hurried him quicker than he knew.
At the bend of the lonely road near his home he saw two figures in the
dusk. The man's arm was about the woman: she leant towards him.
Hugh's heart stood still a moment, then nearly suffocated him with
its pulsations. He strode up to the woman, and laid a rough hand upon
her shoulder. She screamed, then recognised him.
It's Hugh! she cried, then grew white, and tried to slip from her
companion's clasp; but he held her close.
If Maud has not become engaged to you, Hugh said hoarsely to his
brother, I bid you take your arm from her shoulder.
Ernest returned the fierce gaze with interest. You are speaking of
my wife, he said. Hugh staggered, then drew himself up with an effort.
His face changed; it was as though his soul had been killed by the
You did not fight fair, he saidnot on open ground; but I shall
follow youfollow you: and she shall become mine at last. He turned
with a strange laugh, and disappeared into the growing darkness.
Maud burst into tears.
What does he mean to do? she cried. Oh, poor fellow! Ernest
Do! why like many anothergrin and bear it. Don't mind his
melodramatic rant. He writes poetry, remember. He cannot annoy you
long. We leave for Paris to-morrow. By the time we return we can make
some arrangements to divide our farm, and he will, of course, live
elsewhere. The house is mine.
For some weeks after they arrived in Paris Maud saw nothing of Hugh.
Often her mind would dwell upon him, in spite of her efforts to put him
away. His love, his despair, his gentleness to her! What were they to
her now? Yet thoughts forbidden would not let her cease remembering
him. Sometimes she fancied he was near her, and would suddenly turn to
meet a stranger's eyes. Often she thought she felt his gaze, only on
looking would find herself mistaken. Once she remarked to her husband
the feeling she had, and he laughed at her, and bid her speak and think
no more of his brother. Yet in spite of it she felt herself seeking
Hugh in every new place she went. At times the feeling that he was near
was so strong that it was with difficulty she could prevent herself
from crying out in terror. She began to think that he was dead, and
that his spirit was following her. At last one evening she saw his
living eyes resting upon her through the leaves of a little shrub. She
was dining in the open air with her husband when it happened. A great
wave of relief passed over her. It was only this then: he had really
been there, not his spiritnot that her brain was growing weak, as she
had lately sometimes thought. She was annoyed with him; why did he dare
follow them about like this! He was at a table not three feet from her.
He smiled when their glances met. She turned away at once. She was very
angry. Why did he not come up and speak? He must have been following
them all the time; hence her strange feelings. She would not pretend to
see him again.
Days passed. Then she saw him once more. This time she was alone,
coming out of a church. He looked into her face and smiled, but passed
without stopping or speaking. She felt that he had followed her to the
church door, and waited to meet her coming out. What did he mean? She
went home, but all day could think of little else. She felt it was
wrong to let her thoughts dwell so much upon him; yet she knew she did
not love him. Her husband seemed unconscious that anything worried her,
and she did not speak of his brother's presence for fear of angering
him. A few evenings after she saw Hugh facing her as she lunched. She
noticed that he drank deeply, that his face had changed terribly: that
he had grown thin and haggard, only the eyes remained as strong and
brilliant as ever.
He is drinking himself to death before my eyes; this is his
revenge, she thought, and wept for him in the night.
Another day, and for the first time since she married, she spoke to
Hugh. He was sitting alone, as usual, in the restaurant. When her
husband went to the door, she went back with an excuse of a dropped
She stopped by Hugh a moment.
Go home to Ireland, she said; for God's sake, Hugh, and drink no
more. He only laughed.
Look at the magician, he said, holding his glass against the light.
If you want to be king, this will put you on a throne. If you want to
love, this will bring you the woman of your desire. If you want to
forget, here is oblivion.
Go home, she answered. Hugh, you must not stay here following us
about. Why do you do it?
Hugh looked into her soul till it shrank back afraid.
I shall follow you no longer, he said slowly; but you shall follow
me. You shall come to me of your own free will. I shall follow you no
Maud flushed with anger. How dare you! she said. How dare you! I
shall not speak to you again.
She hurried after her husband, her face red with shame. She would
tell Ernest if his brother followed her any more. She did not know what
was right. Should she tell him nowtell him his brother was always
before her eyesthat he was drinking? Better not now; it would mean an
ugly scene; and their holiday was just at an end.
She saw no more of Hugh in the few days that followed. Had he taken
her advice and gone home, or was he only keeping out of the way for
some reason? She could not help looking for him wherever they went, but
never saw him. She thought he was gone at last, till one day, passing
Notre Dame, she stopped suddenly like one afraid.
What is the matter? Ernest said, as she paused and turned from him.
Some one called, she said, or something. She put her hand wearily
to her head.
There is no one here. Her husband took her arm. Do you care to
look into the church? She did not answer, staring before her like one
turned to stone.
Maud! Her husband took her hand in his. What is it? Are you ill?
What do you see? She drew her hand from his, and walked quickly away.
He followed, angry and puzzled.
Where are you going?
Hush! she said. Listen to him calling. She went before him
hastily round the church towards the Morgue. She went up the steps
before he had time to stop her. He had his hand upon her arm before she
reached the inner room.
Do not go there, he said; it is horrible! He heard some one, in
the crowd of people looking at the photographs of the dead, laughing.
Look at this one, said a girl. What a face!
And this fellow. God! what a grin he has! Ernest tried to draw his
wife away, but she drew herself roughly from him, and went inside as
though forced. When he followed she was standing gazing through the
partition at two corpses lying inside: one that of a young woman with a
cruel gash on her forehead, the other the body of his brother Hugh,
lying smiling at him through the glass.
From the first day after Ernest reached home he noticed a change in
his wife. She grew absentminded, and would spend long hours in the
woods and beside the river alone. When she met her husband at such
times, she would flush and seem confused. At first he was troubled,
thinking her ill. Then he became a prey to jealousy, and spied upon
her, but never saw her with any one. His brother was dead; he had no
other rival. What had he to fear? Yet he was disturbed. The continued
guilty look upon his wife's face, when he met her upon one of her
lonely walks, her confused answering to his questions as to what she
was doingeverything told him something was wrong, but what he could
not guess. Often after his day's work of weary business monotony, he
would long for his wife's company in the evening, and though she would
sit with him for a time, she would be sure to rise and leave him before
long, going out to wander by herself for hours in the dusk. If on her
return he reproached her, she would burst into tears, and endeavour by
her tenderness to make him forgive her absence.
One evening when she started up to go, he bid her remain, and she sat
down again reluctantly. He determined to speak to her about it.
I see you have grown tired of me, Maud, he said half playfully;
you cannot bear my corn pan y.
She flushed hotly, tears coming into her eyes, yet she did not deny
his half question.
Offended by her silence, he spoke no more, and turned to his paper.
The moment he did so she rose and softly left the room. In a few
seconds he followed her. He was angry, and determined to find some
meaning for her strangeness. He heard her light feet go across the
wooden bridge behind the house, and knew she had gone towards the falls
where he had first seen her. It was almost dark, and only now and then
her slight figure could be seen passing amongst the trees. She stopped
and seated herself as he came behind her. He saw the grey outline of
her girlish figure bend forward, and she laid her head upon her hands
with a heavy sigh. He stretched his arms out to reach and comfort
herhis anger forgotten at her grief. As he did so, she became aware
she was no longer alone.
You must come to me no more, oh, my love, she wept. You must not
compel me to meet you again.
Ernest caught her by the wrists in a mad grasp. She screamed, and
rose facing him. He dragged her home by her hands without a word, she
crying and moaning. He thrust her into the room she had left with more
force than he had ever used before to a woman, and entering locked the
door behind him.
He was livid with anger. She crouched on the floor afraid of him.
So this is it. He paced the floor like a tiger. A lover! This is
the meaning of the lonely evening walksthe repulse of your husband
and his caresses, the distaste for his company. He suddenly stopped
before her, dragging her to her feet.
Who is the man? Answer me. Who is the man?
She put out her hands as though to avoid a blow. There is no man, no
lover, I swear to you.
Who, then, were you bidding not come to you,who did you call your
love? She only cried without answering.
Who was it? he thundered at her.
I swear to you nobody; you must believe me.
You are lying to me.
She faced him proudly.
Prove it, she said. Have you heard a rumour of my being seen with
any one? Have you yourself cause to suspect me? It is I who ask you.
Who is it?
A flush of shame passed over him. He thought of how he had followed
and spied upon her. No, there was no one to suspect.
You have grown cold to me, you do not love me, he said sullenly.
Why is this?
I do care,
she said in a low, disturbed voice.
You lie to me, he said, maddened at her confusion.
She did not reply, but he read the truth upon her face. She did not
love him. Without a word he unlocked the door and let her go. She
passed him weeping, and he heard her go upstairs to her room. After
that night he had no peace. Sometimes he vowed to leave her to go as
she willed, after whatever strange motive she liked. At others, a great
rage seized him to solve the mystery of her behaviour, and end it. Now
she seldom went outside, but would sit alone in her room, and if he
went into her presence suddenly, he saw a holy light upon her face like
one who knew a great love.
At last the truth burst upon him, leaving him for the moment
stricken. One day he passed her door and heard her voice. Thinking she
called him, he stopped and listened, but it was not his name that came
to his ears.
Hugh, her voice said, low and tender, Hugh, are you not coming?
And then with infinite love and pity, Give me your cold, cold hands,
my love, till I warm them with my tears.
Ernest opened the door and stood for the moment dumb upon the
threshold. Only his wife was before him, but in a flash he realized she
was not alone. Hugh was there. The spirit of his dead brother had taken
his wife from his living arms. He closed the door, and staggered
Where is he? He looked around the room. His wife, white as snow,
started to her feet. Who? There is no one here except ourselves.
Where is the robber? Where is Hugh? her husband gasped. He felt as
if he were choking. He thought his brother was somewhere laughing at
his helplessness. He flung his hands around, grasping the air on all
sides. Where is he? My God! where is he? He was mad with rage.
The woman crouched in her chair, afraid to speak. She watched him
with terrified eyes as he staggered about beating the air, till at last
his helplessness came home to him, and he fell into a chair with his
face upon his clenched hands.
His wife knelt beside him, and tried to force his hands away.
Tell me what this is? he said, and thrust her from him.
Hugh is dead, she said; be pitiful.
I thought you loved me best, he answered; you swore it. The woman
stammered through her confession.
I did, she sobbed; I loved you best when I married you. Sometimes
when you were so fierce and wilful, I thought of Hugh, who was always
gentle to me; but I never loved him tilltill in Paris. He followed us
everywhere, so I was always thinking of him. So sure was I of seeing
him everywhere, that if he stayed away I kept wondering why till I saw
him again. I was angry with him and myself, but could not control my
thoughts. I dared not tell you, for you hated him, and I dreaded a
scene. And I did not think it mattered; I did not care for him.
Afterwards, when he died, I grieved for his broken life. and wept many
tears. I thought of him lying so stiff and cold he who had been so
strong and full of life. I wept for him. Then he came to me. No one
would have believed me if I said I saw him, so I did not speak. And
then I knew he had followed me to make me think of him always; and that
he died and came to me in spirit to possess my love. I could not
struggle against the dead; I am his,I love him. He wanders without
rest; I could not shut him from my heart. Every evening he comes to me
from that strange, unknown country of the shades. She hid her face in
her hands crying bitterly.
Ernest raised his clenched hand as though to strike her, but
something seemed to seize it and hold it back. For a moment he turned
as though to face an invisible foe; then rose and left the room, his
face set with a strange look.
For days they dwelt together like strangers; there was no word upon
his part to show he remembered the ugly scene they had passed through
together. The hope that he had half forgotten or pardoned his rival,
now that he knew he was no living man, came often to his wife. She
wondered at his devotion to his work, and was startled one day by a
friend asking if her husband was going away, as he was settling his
affairs, and asked her what it meant.
Perhaps he is going abroad, she said, but did not know. She felt
she would not care much; he was so fierce, so strange; his eyes glared
like a wolf's beneath his dark brows; she went in fear of him always.
She knew he was meditating something; it was like watching a tiger
crouched to spring. And yet she half realized his bestial rage was not
for her, that she was thrust aside while he stood to some stronger
foefor Hugh, perhaps, but how could he reach him?
When at last the blow fell, it almost killed her. She went up to his
room and found him lying upon the bed dead.
He lay there fully dressed, his clothes and the bed red with his
bloodhe had cut his throat from ear to ear. Her shrieks brought the
servants around her, a doctor was sent for, and her father, but nothing
could be done.
For three days they waked him, and she saw his face, white and cold
before her, with a triumphant smile upon its lipsthe same strange
smile his brother had upon his mouth, lying dead in Paris. She knelt by
the bed for three days, praying for forgiveness, and at last the face
was hidden away and was seen no more.
* * *
The night it went she crept weary into the room, weeping her heart
out on the bed where the corpse had lain; did she not love him best
after all! Poor weak creature! the wills of two strong men had governed
her heart, and torn it between them! In the midst of her crying, she
heard a noise in the passage outside the door, as of people running;
she started to her feet, her tortured nerves anticipating some new
shock; she heard a scuffle at the door, and the weight of a heavy body
thrown against it. Some one was fighting outside. Her heart swelled
with anger; what scandal was this, who was quarrelling, in the widowed
home, before the dead was cold in his grave? She went forward to open
the door, then shrank back as if afraid. There was murder being done
outside; she heard the frightful gasping of a deadly struggle. The door
shook beneath the shock of heavy bodies pressing against it; she could
hear the thud of limbs striking the floor, the hammering of fists, the
tearing of clutching hands. She shrieked as the door burst openno one
was there, yet something had entered fighting, snarling, gasping,
struggling. She stood in the centre of the room as though rooted to the
ground. She saw the tables overturned, the chairs fall and break, the
curtains torn from the windows, by invisible hands. And all the time
the terrible choking, gasping sound went on.
Who is it? she cried. Ernest! Hugh! O God!
Then she felt hands fall upon her, her clothes were torn, she was
dragged, now this way, now that, by violent, invisible fingers.
Shriek after shriek pierced through the house; the stairs became full
of people, they were hurrying to her assistance. Her father was first
to enter; he caught her in his arms. She has gone mad with sorrow, he
said, looking round the destroyed and littered room, and at her torn
clothes. Who left her alone at such a time? She has gone mad.
Then feeling her collapsed and heavy weight in his arms, he looked at
her more closely, clutching her to him. O Heaven, she is dead! he
cried, and bent over her in anguish.
The Fourth Generation
So Lucy Allison is going to be married, and to an AmericanGeorge
Trevelyan. I am surprised. Mrs. Donald lay back in her chair, and
gazed thoughtfully at the tips of her little shoes set cosily upon the
And why surprised? one of her companions said drowsily, shading her
face from the glow of the fire with her long thin hands. It's the lot
of most weak women.
Miss Anderson was not married, and her tone implied that it was her
own strength of will that had saved her.
Have you never seenanything strange about one of the Miss
Mrs. Donald looked around at the faces shining dimly in the half
light of the fire. There was a sudden movement of interest; chairs
moved forward. It was the start of the sleeping cat, who is awakened by
the flash of a mouse past her, and is all suspense lest it should
If you haven't heard anythingI shan't, of course, tell.
Mrs. Donald closed her eyes, as if the subject were finished. She was
at once overwhelmed by cries and appeals for mercy.
Mrs. Donald, you wouldn't be so mean; please tell. We have heard
nothing. Oh, I can't rest till I know.
Mrs. Donald looked at her friends through half-lifted lidsshe was
enjoying herself. I really can't; it's a sort of scandal, and I
promised our vicar I would talk no more about my friends' little
Miss Anderson drew herself up. Of course, if it's a secret, we must
think of something else. Miss Manfield, did you see the
extraordinary bonnet Mrs. Dunn had on at Church to-day.
But Miss Manfield was stroking Mrs. Donald's hand. You will
tell me all about it, won't you? I always thought there
was something funny about Virginia; but never knew what it was. Do
Mrs. Donald was adamant.
I'd love to, but it's rather a bad scandal; and a promise is a
promise. My conscience would not allow me.
There was a dead silence of bitter disappointment. It grew so long
that Mrs. Donald became uneasy for fear that interest in her secret was
Well, if you all promise not to breath a word to any living soul.
There was a deep sigh of relief, and a gasping, We promise.
You know the Allisons are Americans.
There was an impatient We know; go on as Mrs. Donald paused a
moment to argue with her conscience.
They came from the South, she, and her father and mother and sister,
a year ago; you remember? and settled in England. I don't think I ought
to tell you, any more, after all.
There was a shriek of dismay. But you have told us nothing, and it's
nearly bed-time. Mrs. Donald looked at the clock, which ticked
ominously upon the chimney shelf. She bent forward in her chair, and
spoke more quickly. They were all terrified lest the hostess should
come in and bid them good-night. They were stayingat Mrs. Allison's.
Well, they had a lot of land there, and for generations their
ancestors owned slaves. When their second child was born the Allisons
suddenly left the South; sold up everything, and went to live for some
time in New York; later in Washington. In both places they were rather
shunned by society. Then they came to London.
Miss Anderson drew back into the shadow. I do hope there is
nothing she began, but was silenced by a groan of Oh, do be quiet.
Go on, Mrs. Donald.
There is certainly nothing, or I should not be here,
said Mrs. Donald stiffly. In fact, there's little more to tell. You
know I have lived a long time in America. It was there I knew about the
Allisons. My little girl was at the same school the Allison girls went
toof course, years afterwards. She is still a childbut when there
she met pupils who remembered Virginia and Lucy, and they told her
strange things about one of the twohow different she was from other
girls, and, indeed, they inferred the feeling of the school was so much
against the Allison childrenor one of themthat they had to leave in
the end because of it.
The listening group around the fire became impatient.
Oh, do tell us what there is to tell about them, they cried.
Have none of you noticed anything curious about one of the Allison
girls? The listeners thought, anxious not to make a mistake.
I often thought Lucy a bit queer, some one said, and wild. Is
there insanity in the family? Every one laughed.
Lucy! Mrs. Donald shrugged her shoulders scornfully. Have none of
you really remarked that Virginia ishalf a negro?
There were cries of nonsense, and a ripple laughter.
In the midst of it Mrs. Allison entered the room.
You seem to be very merry in here, she said, smiling. I hope you
are enjoying yourselves.
Oh, very much, indeed, answered Mrs. Donald flushing, slightly. We
are having a good chat. Won't you sit down and join us?
But Mrs. Allison could not for the moment.
When the door closed after her a chorus of voices rung out. But the
father and mother are not negro.
There's not a trace in the family.
She's not a bit like one.
Mrs. Donald pounced on the last speaker.
Not a bit like! Look at her hair! Look at her faceher lips! Have
you no eyes?
We never noticed; but now that you draw our attention to it, one
said, perhaps there are some characteristics. But the father or
motherwhat do you insinuate?
Me! I insinuate nothing. Mrs. Donald was surprised. But, between
ourselves, she added confidentially, I fancy Virginia is not their
own child, but some half-caste negro they have adopted for some reason
which I should like to know.
What a name to call her byVirginia! Miss Anderson said, if they
did not want to attract attention to what they evidently wish to hide.
Well, there are two explanations of that.
Mrs. Donald answered. One American lady told me that she was
christened Virginia by Mr. Allison when she was a tiny baby. He was so
amused at her appearancelike a little picanniny, with her black
curlsbut he did not think she would grow up keeping the resemblance.
The other explanation is that she was called so before he adopted
herif she is not their ownby her real parents. Of course, in
America the race feeling is so strong against any coloured people that
the Allisons were treated rather coldly, I imagine.
What a shame, some one said. I'm sure I think Virginia more
Spanish-looking than negro, and we must take them as we find them. They
are kind, sweet people. I don't believe a word against them.
Have I said a word against them? Mrs. Donald said coldly. I am
sure I never meant to. I am very fond of them myself, and know nothing
of the truth about Virginia. She spoke regretfully. I have never even
hinted there was anything wrong in it allthough it was strange that
they were thrust out American society.
Thrust out? Miss Anderson questioned. Well, anyway, requested not
to call again.
Not to call again. What do you mean?
Didn't they leave New York and Washington, and now haven't they come
to London. You ask too many questions, said Mrs. Donald hotly. I must
go and write letters.
A silly woman, Miss Anderson said, as the door closed.
A cat! said some one else.
I met her the other day in the street, rushing along, said a quiet
voice, and she scarcely stopped to speak. Do you know where she was
going? To engage the Morrison's servant, who she had just heard was
dismissed without a character. I told her it was a risk, but she did
not care. She said there was always something mysterious about the
Morrisons, and she meant to find it out from the servant. I fancy the
chief mystery is that they are usually not at home when she calls.
I don't believe a word of her story, said Miss Anderson. Nor I,
said several voices.
Then the door opened, and Virginia and Lucy entered.
When the two girls seated themselves among the group by the fire, all
eyes were turned upon them curiously. Lucy was soon passed over. Small,
fair, the ordinary type of a pretty American woman, she attracted no
particular notice. But Virginia! For the first time her friends were
startled. They were bound to admit Mrs. Donald had some foundation for
her story. The beautiful eyes were too black, the nose a trifle broad;
the lips over full; the hairyes, there was no passing over the
hairit was the hair of a black woman, short, fine, curly, black as
night, though it set about a face as white as any round the fire.
Miss Anderson shaded her eyes from the fire and looked straight at
We were talking about blacks, she said. Isn't there a great
prejudice against the negroes in America?
Virginia turned towards her a bright face.
Well, yes, she admitted, I suppose you people over here think so;
but they are a low type of humanity, they will never have intelligence
enough to be anything but the slaves or servants of the white races.
Lucy turned upon her sister rather fiercely.
You are unfair, she said; give them timelet them be held equal,
men amongst men, and years will return to them that self-respect,
power, and intelligence that generations of slavery and oppression have
robbed them of.
They never had such gifts, so did not lose them, Virginia said
softly. I would not sit in the same room with a negro if he had
millions and had taken his university degree.
Virginia! Lucy cried excitedly, you are horribly unjust. As for
me, all men that God created are the same.
Miss Anderson thought to herself:
She knowsLucy knowsbut Virginia does not. How fine of the girl
to protect her sister. No American woman would stand up for the negroes
without some motive of the kind. She protects her sister, fancying we
suspect. She must be an adopted child, and Lucy knows.
Mrs. Allison and a young man came into the room at the moment. The
group laughingly attacked her.
We are quarrelling over black and white races, one explained. We
people over here have so little opportunity of seeing anything of our
dark brothers, that we want you to tell us about them.
Mrs. Allison grew white, and glanced at her daughters. They rose to
meet her, and went smiling towards the new-comer. She introduced the
young man as Mr. Furlong, then began to talk of the possibilities of a
drive next morning.
Mr. Furlong was enthusiastic over the idea. Let me drive some of
you he said. We could go to Burnham Beeches, and if I may bring my
friend, Washington Gibbs, I think you will be interested. He is a nice
fellow, so original, and a coming man.
An American, Miss Anderson questioned, by the name?
An American! Mr. Furlong laughed, and added, with the air of one
imparting a delightful surprise, a coloured gentleman.
The little group of women clapped their hands, all except Mrs.
Allison and Virginia.
He is writing a book, Mr. Furlong continued. Really, he is awfully
nice and clever, not a bit like we imagine the negroes to be.
Oh, you must bring him, Lucy cried, delighted. It's just what I
was sayinggive them education, and treat them as equals, and they can
do anything we white people can do. She looked around. Where is
George? I must tell him. She went out, but George Trevelyan was not to
be found. He was walking up and down the path furthest from the house,
in the shrubberyup and down in all the mist and fog, the pipe he
still held between his teeth long gone out, his clothes soaked through
When the guests were gone to bed, he came to the drawing-room window
and looked through. Mrs. Allison was seated before the fire, her head
in her hands. He heard her sigh deeply as he pushed the closed French
window open. She looked up as he entered, trying to smile.
Not in bed, she exclaimed, or even playing billiards with the men!
Where have you been? Lucy has just left for her room, disconsolate at
not bidding you good-night.
He came to the fireside looking sternly down at her, his hands
clenched behind him.
I stood outside the window there smoking this evening, he said
hoarsely, and I heard the women talk.
Mrs. Allison looked up like a hare that scents the hounds.
What did they say? Her heart sank. The old story, she whispered.
God pity me. They saidhe paused, it was hard to
repeatLucyhis voice brokeforgive me if I hurt you. Who is
Virginia is my child. Her voice was harsh and proud. She knew what
he meant; it was an old question she was used to answering, if not so
plainly put before. Virginia is my daughter, she said again. Her
voice changed, it yearned over the claim.
She is not like Lucy. The young man paused, then his words escaped
through his clenched teeth, They said Virginia had negro blood in her
veins, is it true? is it true?
Mrs. Allison drew herself up, white like the dead. I did not wish
your engagement to Lucy, she said coldly; you followed us over
America, and came to London after her.
The young man did not answer, he saw it all; he could never marry
Lucy, then, his pretty, wilful, dear Lucy. He, the son of an old proud
American family. He remembered how the Allisons had been shunned, the
hints he had heard but not heeded, the strong opposition of his friends
to his evident attraction for the younger Miss Allison. His parents
knew nothing yet. I can never marry Lucy. He drew his breath in as
though it were his last. I can never marry Lucy.
He looked hard into the thin refined face before him. He thought of
Lucy's father, the proud man with the face of a Washington. He fell on
his knees beside Mrs. Allison, laid his head in her lap.
Mother, he said softly, Virginia is very dear and very sweet, but
she is not Lucy's sister, not your child.
Mrs. Allison trembled from head to foot. A son's head upon her
laplittle Lucy's husband. Was Lucy's life to be spoiled for ever, was
scandal always to be busy at their doors? She was so tired of it. The
suspicions, questions, hints, could be ended so easily; it would leave
pretty Lucy free. If George married her, suspicions would cease.
Virginiait would be the same to Virginia; it would not hurt her. She
turned from the young man and spoke like one dying,
She is not my childVirginia. You will speak of it to no one. She
is very, very dear. She clutched her throat with her hand. She is
very, very dear.
The young man arose, his face alight with relief. God bless you! he
said, and was gone.
As he left by one door the other opened. Virginia entered slowly. She
stood behind Mrs. Allison's chair, so did not see her face.
Mother, she said softly, I won't go tomorrow; I don't care to meet
this negro. I dare say it is wrong: I hate them out of their position;
they are only fit for slaves. I won't go to-morrow.
Mrs. Allison half whispered, No, you must not go.
Something in her voice startled the girl; she bent over and raised
her mother's face to the light.
What is the matter, she cried, dearest? My own mother!
Mrs. Allison turned and caught her in her arms. She kissed her face
and hair and drew her to her breast, as if they had met after many
My own child! she whispered. Drawing her closer still, My dearest,
my best, my own little child! She burst into a torrent of heavy tears.
The morning crept into a splendid day. All the winged world seemed
mad with song when Mrs.
Allison's guests woke and dressed, eager to go out early into the
sunshine. Baskets were laden with good things for the picnic. Every one
was in gay spirits. Lucy and her sister were together, the one trying
to persuade the other to accompany the party.
Virginia, do come. It will be lovely; such a day. Look out at the
skyso blue, not a cloud. But Virginia would not listen.
Lucy, for goodness sake, don't put on that dress! Where did you get
it? It's hideous! Lucy pouted.
I like it best of all my things, she said. You never approve what
I like in clothes.
But you like such bright colours. Why, Lucy, what is this? I never
saw this collection before. Virginia drew from an open drawer a
handful of ribbons and beadsbright blue, green, red, yellow.
Lucy blushed slightly. I love them, she said. Look here. She
slipped a heavy pair of gold ear-rings in her ears and round her neck a
dozen strings of beads. I often dress up when I am alone. She drew
out a handful of ribbons and wound some of them through her hair. She
gestured before the glass, admiring herself.
Don't I look nice? she said.
So this is where your pocket-money goes. Where did you get your
taste for such brilliant colours? Do you remember the rows you used to
have at school over the wearing of them, long ago?how the girls
worried over you? But you are too old now to go about dressed in this.
She lifted a vivid scarlet dress up as she spoke. Lucy snatched it from
her in sudden rage.
I wish you would not come into my room criticising my things, she
said curtly. Virginia apologized, sorry for hurting her.
In a moment Lucy was gay again. She slipped a white frock over her
shoulders. I may wear this, I suppose?
Virginia laughed, but when Lucy insisted on finishing the effect, as
she called it, by a bright yellow and scarlet sash, she grew almost
It's all right when you are young, she thought, but if you keep
your love of colour when you get old She smiled over her fancy.
Lucy was sweet to look upon, with her bright hair and flower-like
face, as she stood amongst her father's guests, ready to drive away.
But her mother winced when she saw her mount the trap beside Washington
Gibbs. George, too, had a frown upon his face, for she had pretended
not to see his look of appeal as she passed.
I cannot always sit beside him, she excused herself; besides, I
want to see what an educated coloured person is like.
When they had all gone, Virginia turned to her mother, who claimed a
bad headache as her excuse for staying behind.
I lay awake last night, she said hesitatingly, and I asked myself,
why I had this hatred of those poor dark people; and, mother, I
remembered how the children used to call me a picanniny when I was
little. Wasn't it curious? I suppose it's my horrid, horrid hair. May
be that was the reason why I grew to hate the negroes even more than
most Americans doeven the black nurse I had. I remember dreading the
sight of her; but Lucy always loved her and her people. I suppose Lucy
got her love of finery and colour from that old woman. She was always
dressing the child up.
Mrs. Allison turned away.
I'm very weary, she said, and suffering. I will lie down and try
to sleep. Virginia led her to her room with great tenderness.
The party returned in the twilight, full of bright spirits, though
weary after much rambling in the wood. Lucy had evidently made a
conquest of Washington Gibbs; he was by her side all the evening. Once
Virginia passed them as they stood upon the verandah by themselves. She
noticed the sudden way that the man drew back when he saw her. He was
holding her hand, she thought indignantly, or going to.
Lucy is out there, she said George, when she met him. I think she
will get cold. He went out and took possession of her.
Washington Gibbs was leaving. He had to accompany his friend, he
said; but would call to see how they got over the fatigue of the day,
if he might.
Lucy beamed upon him. Come tomorrow, she murmured.
George took his place. I'm not jealous, he said. I know you are
only studying the colour; but you must not study too hard, you know.
You were with him nearly all day, and I don't like it, Lucy. A white
woman ought not to talk to such fellows.
Lucy laughed, and changed the subject. She was so sweet to him that
he forgot to reproach her further. But Virginia hardly said good-night
to her sister.
How could you, Lucy! You flirted with him; I saw you. How could
you! Mr. Allison, too, looked unkindly at his younger daughter.
You were too much with that fellow, he said crossly, to-day.
Furlong had no right to bring him about the place.
Lucy flushed hotly.
It's very mean of you all, she said. He is a perfect gentleman.
You are cruel and unjust to condemn people for the colour of their
Her father did not answer her, but when she had gone looked at his
wife. Their glances met and fell. They both sighed deeply.
The next day Washington Gibbs called, but only saw Mr. Allison, and
he did not come again. Lucy did not appear disappointed. She was gay
and full of plans to amuse the guests in the evening. She arranged the
tables for cards so that all had partners except herself. I will be
the orchestra, she said beaming, when I find my music. She
disappeared for over an hour. George thought it the dullest assembly he
had ever been at till she returned. She had found her music after much
seeking. Would they spare George to turn the leaves for her? George was
spared gladlyhe was playing vilely.
Washington Gibbs did not appear again, but one day Virginia came upon
an envelope directed to Miss Allison. The maid had laid it upon her
dressing-table, having found it in the shrubbery, she said. Virginia
opened it wonderingly. It contained nothing but a huge silk scarf of
brilliant colours, with Lucy in ugly blue letters in the corner. As
she was examining it her sister entered. She ran forward and claimed
it; then stopped, confused. Virginia's eyes were upon her.
Another purchase, Lucy? She smiled, then grew chill. Whose writing
is this? It's not yours, she said.
It's mine. Lucy snatched it from her. A present. Don't be silly.
Virginia grew more stern, but Lucy would not answer. I won't tell
you, you are so cross.
She pretended to be offended, and was glad to slip out of the room.
Virginia was anxious; she could not sleep. She knew by Lucy's confusion
she was hiding something. George was away, his brief holiday being
over; all the guests save Miss Anderson had gone. She felt she ought to
have more time with her sister. She remembered with a shock that there
were hours after dusk when Lucy vanished. Where had she gone?
One evening she returned with her mother from a drive and found a
suppressed excitement among the servants, the rest of the house
uneasily quiet. Her maid, bubbling over with the news, told her almost
before she had seated herself to have her hair arranged.
The nigger gentleman had been here, and the master had horsewhipped
him out of the house. Them niggers are always thieves, the girl added.
I suppose he wanted to steal? But Virginia could not gratify her
As soon as she could, she went to her father. He was stern and busy
when she saw him; she dared not interrupt his work. She flew to her
mother with a feeling as if something was going to separate them. Mrs.
Allison was troubled, but not so deeply as Virginia had feared.
He came to ask for Lucy. Mrs. Allison laughed bitterly. To marry
Lucy! Imagine it! she answered to her daughter's questioning.
So papa whipped him out, Virginia said excitedly, walking up and
down, her hands clenched. Quite right. The impertinence! thetheOh!
I hope father struck hard. What does Lucy say? Is she not angryvery,
Of course, Lucy never thought of it, Mrs. Allison said; I was
ashamed to have to tell her. But she was so excited at what she
considered your father's cruelty that I felt I ought to explain it. Of
course, she saw at once that he was justified.
I will go to her, Virginia said. How she must hate that black
beast! and she, engaged to George, to be insulted so!
She found her sister sitting looking out of the window, her face
flushed and her eyes shining. She flung her arms about her. Lucy,
dearest! I am so sorry. The beast! how dared he! Just because you were
a little kind to him.
Lucy put her aside. Don't crush me; it's too hot, she said calmly.
I do not wonder you are angry, Virginia cried. Isn't it well papa
was here to whip him out? Lucy sprang to her feet. She began walking
up and down. Of course, she said, he did not know that I was engaged
Engaged to George! Is that all! Virginia said indignantly. Are you
not insulted at him daring to think of you, even if he did not knowa
Of course, I'm insultedof course, of course. Do go away and let me
alone; I'm so tired. Virginia kissed her repentantly.
Indeed, you must be tired, dear, and worried; no wonder. But he
won't annoy you again, poor child. Lie down and sleep, and forget it
all by to-morrow.
Lucy lay down and let her sister tuck the clothes around her
comfortably. She did not appear again that evening, having a headache,
as Mrs. Allison explained to her guest. When the morning came, she did
not appear at breakfast.
Let her sleep, her mother said to Virginia, who proposed to go and
see how she was; she is tired.
But as the hours went by they grew anxious. At last Mrs. Allison,
after repeated knocking, opened the door of her daughter's room; but
Lucy was gone. They, still suspecting nothing, fancied she had slipped
out into the garden. Only when lunch was over and evening beginning
were questions asked and searchers sent out.
A day passed and Lucy did not return. Mrs. Allison was wild with
anxiety, Virginia was overwhelmed with grief. Mr. Allison was the only
one fit to read the letter which arrived that evening from his
I have married Washington Gibbs, it ran, and I suppose none of you
will forgive me. He came to you like an honest man to ask for me, and
you turned him into a thief. You have treated him like all white people
treat his race. Some day you will see clearer and forgive us.
Mrs. Allison came to her husband's side, When he crumpled the letter
in his hand, she put her arms around him, but he put her away.
It's from me it comes, from mein one child's face, in the other's
soul. He strode across the long gallery where they were together, and
looked along the faces of the painted ancestors, who were hanging upon
the walls. There were many beautiful works of art among these, but he
did not seem to be looking at these; he stopped at last before one
small canvas inscribedthe portrait of a coloured lady. He
gazed for a long time at the smiling dark face, then slowly drew a
penknife from his pocket and opened it.
To rise again in the fourth generation. Curse you! curse you! curse
you! he cried, and drew the blade across the laughing eyes and mouth
till the canvas fell apart in rags.
* * *
The Allisons' family packed up and disappeared. No one knew where
they had gone, few knew whyonly George, who died a soldier's death
soon afterwards, and Miss Anderson, who would never tell. Even Mrs.
Donald, who hired all the Allisons' servants, could never find out more
than that the black negro gentleman had been thrown out one day for
stealing; that Lucy Allison had run away one night with her lover,
George, who she heard was leaving for America and the war; that he was
killed soon after, poor gentleman! that it was a mercy she saw him
first; that the master was upset at hearing of the trouble his daughter
was in, in being left a widow; that they had all gone after her back to
But Mrs. Donald knew there was no truth in this muddled story, and
dismissed the servants in anger. She still spends hours in trying to
extract the truth. from Miss Anderson's shut lips, which never open
upon the subject save to rebuke her curiosity.
I first met Walter Barrington at a children's party, to which I had
taken my child. He was an insignificant-looking little man, and, as it
seemed to me at the time, after many efforts to converse with him,
despairingly dull. He sat in a corner, and when his eyes were not upon
his children, he closed them with a shading hand, as though they pained
him. A doleful figure for a children's party, I thought, and commenced
to talk to him. I tried many subjects, yet failed to awaken his
interest. It was a last effort that drew him out.
I had to bring my little girl myself, I said; my wife was not very
He awoke at once and looked around.
I have three little ones here, he answered eagerly. My eldest girl
would not come; she is fifteen, and thought herself too old, he added
smiling. I have a son a year older. Of course he would not think of
coming. He is just the age to be afraid of getting chaffed, you see,
and is very sensitive, poor lad! And I couldn't trust the little ones
No, I replied, remembering my wife's words. You cannot trust them
to be careful when the little ones come out of the hot rooms and into
the cold air. I dropped my voice and hesitated. You have no wife,
She is away just now. Yes, in the country for a time. He looked at
me rather sharply, I fancied; then turned to the children. That is my
Lily over there, seethe pretty little dark girl. Doesn't she dance
well? Look how light she is; you can hardly see her feet. And thatno,
not the girl with the red head
That's my little girl, I said, not offended, for Milly was
really the prettiest child in the room; but he did not seem to hear,
and took no notice.
You see that fine little chap leaning against the door, quite like a
man of many seasons, he continued, laughing. Isn't he a funny little
fellow? That's my Bobby. He raised his voice. Bobby, I want you.
Bobby did not pretend to hear till he was called three times, then he
sauntered over looking bored.
What is it? he demanded, looking me up and down.
I only want to introduce you to this gentleman; he has got a little
girl here for you to dance with.
But I don't want to dance with his little girl, Bobby cried,
dragging himself from his father's hands. Do let me go. You always
He is very shy, the father said; poor little chap!
But he did not attempt to retain his son. I saw Bobby a few minutes
after counting with his eyes the dishes upon the supper-table, which he
intended to raid as soon as he got an opportunity.
The little dull man and I continued a disjointed conversation for the
rest of the evening. I found he lived in the next house to my own.
I have often seen you passing, he said.
I wondered if I had ever seen him; but realized that if I had I must
have passed him unnoticedthe little grey, insignificant man.
A few days after this my wife gave a little party, when amongst those
invited I saw the names of Agnes and William Barrington. I asked,
thinking of the old man, who they were. My wife seemed to know all
Oh! they are the eldest children of that old man who lives next door
on the right. You may have seen him. It's an awfully dull home for the
children, poor things! He seldom goes anywhere with them, and never
entertains. He is always busy, or ill, or something.
I asked her if she had ever spoken to him; but she had notshe had
only met the children, who she was so sorry for.
The mother is away, I remarked. I suppose it's better when she is
at home? My wife laughed. She is never at home, she said. They are
separatedincompatibility of temper. One can hardly wonder when she
was married to that
You are uncharitable, dear, I said, smiling. One cannot always
help being dull, and he seemed, from the few minutes' talk I had with
him, to be kind, and fond of his children.
I have only heard the children's story, my wife said. And of
course it looks bad, the wife leaving him; he must have a bad temper.
Yes, I said. Yes, it's funny that a mother should leave all her
children behind. You have never met her?
No, my wife answered thoughtfully; but I respect her. It's better
if things are going badly between husband and wife that they should
separate. It's awful for the children when there is constant bickering
and quarrelling going on around them; but it would take a great deal to
make a mother leave her children.
My wife looked, with her heart in her eyes, towards the other end of
the room, where our one dear child was playing. I caught her in my
arms, and drew her down upon my knee.
And what do you know of bickering and quarrelling, uncharitable
little wife? I said; and Milly came like a small whirlwind upon us.
Let me come up, too, father! she cried in peals of laughter.
I was nearly smothered between them.
In the midst of the frolic Agnes Barrington was announced by the
smiling servant. Her face sobered us, so doleful was it.
I don't think I can come to your dance, Mrs. Bryson, she said at
once, ignoring me.
Oh, you must not disappoint us, I answered, holding out my hand.
She shook it languidly, and continued to my wife,
It's father, she said, on the verge of tears. He has another
attack, and I am afraid we can't leave.
Poor dear! My wife took her hands and stroked them. It's really
hard, she said, turning to me. Just imagine, this poor child and her
brother are the responsible people at home, like father and mother; are
you not, dear?
Of course, the girl said, when father is ill there's no one but us
to look after things; and, then, Herbert is very selfishall men are!
She looked at me defiantly, as my wife shook her head. He goes off to
clubs and places, leaving everything to me. She burst into tears. I
want to enjoy myself when I am young like other girls, and travel about
and see things; but I have to sit at home and nurse and look after the
You must be brave, my wife said sympathetically. Your father will
be better soon, and you can go about again.
Oh, but he won't, the girl flashed in. The last time there was an
operation it was weeks and months before he was better. We had an awful
time, stuck in the house in constant attendance upon him. My complexion
has never been the same since, with late hours and unhealthy invalid
atmosphere. She began to cry again.
An operation! What's the matter with your father? I said sharply.
Oh, I don't know; he is always complaining. She turned from me. And
it's to be on the night of your party, the doctor says. Of all the
nights, to pick out that one night; but it's just my fate, I had my
dress made and everything.
Never mind, Agnes, said my wife, comforting her. We will have
another party when your father is well again, especially for you.
Agnes smiled a wan smile. She was certainly a pretty girl, when the
habitual look of discontent left her face.
It's very well to joke, she said; but it is hard, when one
is young, not to be able to go about I know a house where there are
three old maids; all because they had to stay at home and nurse their
father and mother till they died. Then the girls were too old to get
married, or do anything for themselves. All their youth and freshness
had passed away by sick beds, and when they were free they were old
themselves. I suppose I shall be like them. She rose and began walking
up and down. I know another girl, too, who is beginning to look
fadedshe was so pretty. She has to stay at home and mind her
bedridden grandmother. The old woman is a bundle of nerves and temper,
and she won't let Annie have a friend in, because the talking worries
her. She may not even keep a bird, because the singing annoys her. And
there is the young girl fading, fading, fading all the time. I hate old
people, I hate illness. I want to be with young, healthy people; I want
My wife took the girl by her shoulder and drew her to a seat.
The poor old people, she said softly (I knew she was thinking of
her parents, whom she loved), who have taken care of us when we were
helpless and a burden to them. Agnes, I have known little ones who have
made men give up their dreams of fame and settle down to earning bread
and butter for the infant mouthsclever men who have given up studies
that they loved for their children's sake and women who have had to
stay at home, to sit up at night, to wear their hearts out with love
for their children. Cannot the children spare a little love in return?
I saw the girl was only half listening; her mind was on her own
troubles. The world should be for the young, she aid. All the things
that I want to do now I shall not want to do when I am old and free to
do them. Do you think I shall care to go to dances when I am fifty; or
where will my pretty dress be; and what will it matter what colour I
wear? She went to the door.
My wife laughed. Silly child! she said, bidding her good-bye. When
you are fifty you will have more sense. If your father is better, come
in to our dance; after all, it's only from door to door.
It is hard on the poor thing, she added as the door closed. You
see, she has plenty of brains, and is not domesticated.
She can think, but not feel, I said; then repented. Well, it is
hard, as you say, after all. So much beauty, life, movement shut away
from light and enjoyment in that dull house. Youth and crabbed age, my
Yes, she answered; perhaps things would be different if there was
not something missing in the house
Mother! mother! Milly called; I want you.
That's it, she smiled, catching the child in her arms.
When I passed Walter Barrington's house in the days that followed, I
always looked up at the windows, wondering if I should see the little
old man. It was curious that he had up to this been unnoticed by me,
or, if noticed, only as part of the moving traffic of the street. He
had been like the milkman's little pony which stopped by our gate each
day, or the dog which, every morning when the door of the house
opposite was opened, rushed forth in a volley of barks, or like the
lamplighter who lit up the street lamp by lamp. I suppose the old man
had closed his door behind him every morning about the time that I left
mine, and his bent shoulders and grey locks had passed before me
unnoticed. Now the little man had a personality for me; he became a
human being, an individual for the first time.
So every morning I looked up, but never saw him. Only once I saw
Agnes at the window, looking through the dirty glass, her face pale,
the picture of woe. I couldn't help pitying her, on these beautiful,
bright morningsshut in there. I wondered what was wrong with the old
man. Once, meeting the younger children, I stopped them and asked how
he was. Lily said he was all right. She didn't know what was the
matter with him. Bobby giggled, 'Spect he is shamming, and asked me
how Carrots was. I suppose he meant my daughter; the nickname
evidently slipped out, he got so furiously red. He certainly was one of
the ugliest little boys I have ever seen.
On the night of the party Agnes and her brother turned up, all
smiles. The girl was dressed in a pretty pink frock, and looked almost
beautiful. I was glad to see her with the frown off her face, and to
feel the poor thing was happy and in the enjoyment of her youth. She
was soon surrounded by an admiring crowd of young men, all begging for
Father insisted upon my coming, she whispered to my wife, who stood
looking on with tears not far from her eyes.
I do love to see her so, she murmured. Now, doesn't she seem in
her element? I declare when I look up at that dim house next door, and
see the young faces looking out into the world, like birds in a dark
cage, it almost makes me cry. I am sure I don't know what that old man
does with his money; he certainly does not spend it on taking his
children about, for he only takes them to museums and free
picture-galleries, zoological gardens and things like that. He never
has company for themonly such children as they ask in themselves.
Perhaps he is saving, I said; and a sick man can't do much in the
way of entertaining, especially if he has to work hard at the same
Ah, poor fellow! no, my wife answered. I suppose it's hard; only
it's worse for the children: and he is such a dull-looking old fellow
to be the father of these bright creatures.
She had hardly spoken when a servant whispered to mea woman wished
to speak to me in the hall. I had hardly got down the stairs when she
came quickly towards mea decent old woman, like a servant.
You are Mr. Bryson? she said. Will you come in next door? The
master is very bad; he wants to see you.
I will be with you at once, I said. Shall I call his son and
daughter to come with us?
I'll send for them later on, the old woman muttered. Let them
belet them be; the house is too full of noise as it is.
I followed the old woman to Walter Barrington's house. What first
struck me on entering, in contrast to mine, was its utter want of taste
in the little decoration I saw; the dinginess, the wear and tear upon
every thing; the worn stair-carpets, the dirty hall paper, the lack of
a woman's touch to make the home comfort I knew and loved.
Clean everything is, but what is done here is by the servant at my
side, I thought. All honour to her for her endeavours. Otherwise what
a house it would be for dirt! Agnes has no hand in this. Look at her
hat with torn ribbons upon the hall rack, and her little velvet jacket
flung upon the chair. Untidy Agnes!
As we reached the door of his room I heard the sound of squabbling
inside. At the noise the woman flung the door open and rushed in. I saw
her seize the two younger children by the arms and force them apart
Bobby and Lily were fighting over a toy.
I told you not to come in here, disturbing your father when he's
ill! the woman shouted; get out of here, both of you!
She pushed them roughly to the door, Lily scratching and Bobby
I want my train! he roared, escaping from her and running back for
his toy. He caught it by the leading string, and drew it out after him,
the iron wheels creaking and rattling over the wooden floor.
A low groan from the bed made me look round. Walter Barrington lay
there, older, more insignificant than ever, his face withered with
pain. I went to his side, full of pity; he motioned me to be seated.
For some minutes he could not speak, seeming to be in great agony. I
looked round the room, seeking something to ease him, but did not know
what to do. I was struck with the untidy, bare room, the uncarpeted
floor, the uncurtained windows, the medicine bottles and details of an
invalid chamber all about within sight of the sick man. Through the
walls came the sound of musicgiggiggig. It burst upon me with a
shock; it was from my own house.
I must stop that dancing, I said aloud; it's horrible!
Walter Barrington shook his head. No, no; I like it, he whispered.
Agnes is there; I made her go. Agnes is dancing.
She is there, I said, looking so pretty. He smiled feebly. But
you must not be worried with noises.
He shook his head again. It's nothing. I like it. Then he looked
pleadingly at me. I sent for you. You are kind to come.
I am glad to come, I said. What can I do for you?
I am dying, he said feebly. I want you to help me to die in peace.
I worry about my children. What is to become of them? who is to look
after them? Will you promise? Would you promise? It will be more
difficult than you think Will you be trustee for them? You are the only
one I can ask; the only one who has been kind to me.
I have done nothing for you, I said, ashamed. Anything I can do
now I will.
You and your wife have been so kind to my darlings, so very kind.
The door was opened with a kick. Bobby thrust his head in, laughing.
Walter Barrington gave a moan, his poor, thin hands raised to his head.
I felt I could strangle the little boy. My Hush! was so stern that he
came on tip-toe to the bed in his nailed boots.
Is father asleep? he questioned in a loud whisper.
Walter Barrington drew his hands from his face and turned upon his
son the loveliest smile I have ever seen.
He is so thoughtful, poor little child! Sit by me, my love.
The boy sat himself by his father's side, and commenced whittling a
bit of stick. I am making a whistle, he volunteered; but it won't
If it does, I said to myself, out you go.
I am doing a curious thing, the old man muttered; but it must be
done. If you will look after the interests of my children, my
housekeeper, whom you have seen, will keep the home together. He
hesitated. My wife he looked distressed.
I know, I hastened to tell him. I understand all about it; you
could not agree, so you separated. It was best for the children. But
now that you are so ill, could you not forget? A mother would be best
to look after her children, after all.
His face contracted in a terrible sorrow.
It is impossible, he said; then looked fiercely at me. We did not
agree. He spoke in a strong voice. Remember, incompatibility of
temper; make no mistake, incompatibility of temper. With a hoarse cry
he put his weak arms about the boy, as though to protect him from what
I might think.
Bobby peevishly put away his feeble clasp. Father, you are so
silly! he cried. Look! you nearly broke my whistle.
If she should come back, the old man continued, struggling with
shame and pain, and make any trouble about the will, remember, I was
quite sane when I spoke to you and named you as trustee.
Is mother coming back? Bobby asked, lifting his face and smiling.
She is so long away. Mother is so gay, he added, turning to me; she
was always laughing and playing with us. When will she come home?
Walter Barrington moved restlessly. Oh, my God! I heard him mutter,
my God! I thought he was in pain, but saw the agony was in his soul.
Bobby seemed to be remembering something; his face changed into
You would not let her in. He turned on his father. You would not
let her in when she came home last time.
Be silent! the dying man commanded sternly, his face already dead.
Then, his voice changing to infinite tenderness, Hush, darling, hush,
You did! the boy began to shout. When she came home last time,
long ago, you wouldn't let her in. It was in the middle of the night,
and she stood on the doorstep, and you wouldn't let her in.
I ran to put the boy from the room. He turned to me. As I came near
him and took his hand, he began to sob.
He did! he did! he wouldn't let her in; and she cried and cried.
You never heard it, Walter Barrington shouted, half raising
himself. Hush! hold your tongue!
I did! the boy screamed back. I was at the little window upstairs;
and she cried and cried, and I called, 'Mother! Mother! Mother!' but
she did not hear me.
It was a dream, I said pityingly, leading the boy to the door,
only a dream.
No, he sobbed, it wasn't, for I heard her singing in the darkness
as she went away, and I knew the song, and I went to bed and cried and
cried, and then I fell asleep and forgot; but I know it was she, for
she sang, 'Sleep, Little Baby,' and she always sang that to Lily. It is
like this He opened his mouth, but I bid him go and buy sweets,
giving him a shilling, I closed the door upon him.
When I turned to Walter Barrington, his face was hidden by his hands,
but through the fingers tears rolled glistening. Poor dying creature!
may I never behold such grief again! What would I not have given to
make peaceful the few hours that remained? I laid my hands across his
thin shoulders as a woman might, and he seemed to lean towards me as if
for comfort. Poor creature! so lonely, so deserted, so miserable in the
grasp of death!
Be at peace, I whispered earnestly. Trust your children to me. I
will see no one interferes, andI understand, my poor friend, I
He fell back half fainting, and I laid him upon his pillows. I sat
with him till he somewhat recovered, then rose to go. As I did so, the
door opened, and Agnes entered, a whirl of perfume and beauty.
Is father better? she said; then bent and gave him a peck of a
kiss. Oh, he is. See my card, father; I danced every dance. I'll read
you out all the names and tell you of all my conquests. She sat down,
a flutter of silk and laces, by his bed. Do I worry you? No. Well,
first, Mrs. Bryson is wondering where her husband is, so we shall say
goodnight, and thank you, Mr. Bryson.
You must not stay long with your father; he is very tired talking to
me, I said, smiling.
Oh, no. The sick man smiled, holding my hand in a long, grateful
clasp. I love to have her. Herbert will show you out. Thank you, my
friend, for the comfort you have given me.
Herbert came sauntering into the room at the moment, his pipe in his
mouth. Hope you don't object to smoke, he said, with a laugh. Hallo,
Governor, how are you?feeling fit?
* * *
The next time I entered the Barringtons' house Walter Barrington had
left it for ever. But a strange, loud woman was going from room to
room, evidently noting down the things.
Did you ever hear of such a thing? she raged, when I met her. I am
not to come near my own children, and am not mentioned in the will. The
housekeeper, if you please, is to have charge of them till they are
of age, and a trustee is to have all the money; but I shall dispute the
I turned from her in disgust, asking the maid where Agnes and the
others were. She pointed to a door, and resumed her work, staring open
eyes and mouth at the new arrival, and answering at random all the
questions that that individual was putting to her.
I opened the door she had directed me to and entered. Agnes was
standing before the mirror trying on a large red hat belonging, as I
guessed, to Walter Barrington's wife. As she turned and twisted before
the glass, the tears were running down her face.
Poor father! she sobbed, when she saw me; I did not know he was
really so ill and going to die.
Bobby and Lily came out of the corner where they had been playing
with a lot of chairs. Their faces were full of importance and gravity.
Father was put into a box, Lily whispered in my ear as I lifted her
in my arms, and taken away. There were four black horses to his
We are playing at funerals, Bobby said, pointing to the row of
chairs. These are the carriages.
All Souls' Eve
The darkness had come; the night she had prayed for so long was here
at last. With trembling hands she swept the hearth again and stirred
the fire to brightness. It was All Souls' Eve.
A year to-morrow the blow had fallen which had swept joy and hope
from her heart, and tonight happiness would be hers once more, for a
few brief hours at least. He would return with the darkness; he would
return whom the seas had drowned. The dead would rise again. Upon the
waters he had gone to seek a fortune, that it might be possible for
them to marry, for he was poor. But the waters had dragged him down.
What fortune had he foundthe best be-loved among the strange
She pulled the heavy curtains across the windows and put the door
upon the latch. She drew two chairs to the fire, and set a low table
between them. She spread the spotless table-cover with a feastthe
best the little cabin could affordand her eyes shone all the time in
her sad, worn face with the happiness of the blest.
She thought of his warm hand-clasp; of his bright gaze; his
beautiful, proud head; his strong limbs and their joy of living; the
hot blood that pulsed so red in his cheek. She forgot that he was now
so cold. Then she remembered that he was dead. Would she fear his
spiritthe ghost of her lover? She laughed at the thought. To see him
again! to see him again! Oh, the longing of the past year! the
passionate, hopeless, maddening longing to see him againonly once
Pulse of my heart, she whispered, hurry and come! She knelt by
the fire and cleared the white dust from each bar. She dusted the stove
and polished it till she could see her face in the shine. She rose and
drew the chairs closer together, and then stood on tip-toe to see
herself in the glass above the fire. She brushed the thick hair from
off her forehead, and, dissatisfied, drew it back again in heavy waves
about her face.
She could hear the boys and girls running to and fro from their
homes, loud in their laughter and fun. There was dancing at the
cross-roads to-night. The old piper was there with his pipes, the boys
and girls jigging before him. Last year she danced also with her lover,
and her heart was as light as a thistle-seed. And the next morning he
sailed away, and was drowned.
To-night no one spoke to her or came to her door, save one; for they
said, She is fretting, poor colleen, thinking of last year. Leave her
in peace. But one young girl, hearing them, in her pity pressed upon
the latch of the door and looked in. But, seeing the glory in the
woman's face, the girl fell back. She is not fretting, she told the
others; she is the gladdest of us all.
When the shadows advanced, and the evening grew late, the young
people gathered at their firesides to burn nuts and find their
fortunes. The woman in her lonely cottage seated herself upon one of
the chairs by the earth. She sat motionless, listening with her heart
in her eyes. But nothing came to her from the night but the call of
some far-off voice, or a closing door, and then all was silent. When
would the long-lost one be restored to her? When would the dead have
their hour? It was drawing late.
Hush! She heard a dog bark far out in the darkness. She listened.
Something was happeningsomething was coming. Who? What? There was no
sound of footsteps. Only she knew. Now the neighbour's dog was
pulling at his chain and howling. Her heart beat fast. She looked
around. Nothing was there! Was she afraid of what was comingher own
Pulse of my heart, come quickly! she said, and turned her face to
Now the dog next door whined as though in the near presence of
something he feared. She could hear his chain drag as he went moaning
into his kennel. Her heart beat until she could hardly breathe. And
then she heard a finger press upon the latch. She half rose, and,
looking behind her, saw the opening door and no hand upon it.
Pulse of my heart, come quickly! she said, and, crouching down, hid
her face in her bands. She knew something had enteredsomething eager
and swift. There was no sound of footsteps, but she heard the door
close softly, and then the chair beside her creaked. She shut her
hidden eyes and pressed her hands hard upon them. In the long silence
that followed she could hear her heart beating wildly. He was there,
sitting beside her, and she dared not open her eyes. The whole cabin
seemed full of his presence. She felt what she dared not see. She knew
that his eyes were upon her, his dear eyes. They were caressing her
bent head, that would not rise to welcome him. They were on her stiff,
hidden hands, that would not go to greet him, and on all the crouching
body that shrank away from him.
If he would only lay his hand upon her, he would seem more human, she
thought. Then she felt a faint breath upon her hair, and she crouched
lower and screamed,
If you touch me, I shall die! Why did he not speak? The sound of
his dear voice would shatter her fears. She heard his chair move
towards her, and she cried,
Do not speak to me, for God's sake! I could not bear it! Oh, her
coward flesh! What was it making her say to him? Could he read her
thoughtsthat silent and unusual visitor? Go, her body said; go
quickly. My mate was warm and living and lovely. You are not hecold,
stiff, and horribly strange being, whom I dare not see. Could he guess
that her thoughts were these? Where was her love that it could not cast
out fear? She heard a far cock-crow, and the clock behind the door
prepared to strike. There was a moment's silence, and then the chair
beside hers was pushed back. She heard a long-drawn sigh, that was half
a sob, echo through the room, and then the door opened and closed
againhe had gone.
She sprang up and looked around the warm, lighted room. What had she
feared? There was the fire leaping in the grate. There the familiar
face of the clock and the red curtains on the window. There was the
untasted food upon the table. The other chair was pushed back from the
hearth. He had come and gone; unwarmed, unwelcomed, and unfed. He had
come, the lonely ghost, for human sympathy and love, and he had gone
back to his cold grave without it. He had bent above her head, yet
never touched her, for fear of frightening her. She moved her hand upon
her hair, and found it dewed with his tears. She heard her neighbour's
dog drag on his chain and howl again. She ran to the door and flung it
wideonly the darkness. She would never see him again; she would never
have the courage, even if he came.
She flung herself, face downwards, in the grass before her doorand
the clock in the room behind her struck twelve.
Up! Hector, Brutus, Nero. The lion-tamer cracked his whip; he
strode smiling cruelly among the snarling animals; he knew no fear; his
pleasure was in the danger of his position. The strong, brutal natures
always on the look-out for a sign of weakness in him to attackhe
lashed them as he would disobedient curs if they did not obey him, and
they crouched to him. Sometimes one would face him for a moment, and
the two would look into each other's eyes, till the brave beast would
turn tail, subdued by the superior courage in the man's gaze. Often it
was but the weight of a straw in the balance who would have the
victory. But the man always came from the conquest with a smile upon
his lips, while the women in the audience would give little cries of
fear, and lean fainting upon their male companions, envying the woman
the while who might call such a man her master. Had they but known it,
she stood over there by the door in the gold and scarlet costume of a
lady gymnasta nobody to be the wife of such a man! Now she did not
even look as the lion-tamer strode amongst his animalsa figure that a
sculptor might copy for a god. All the women's eyes in the theatre
followed him except hers; hers were downcast and turned away.
Nora, a voice said low in her ear, he has beaten you again?
Her eyes flashed as she turned them upon the speaker, then fell; a
deep flush spread over her neck and face.
He has never beaten me, she said coldly; how dare you say so!
He has beaten you, the voice said, as he will beat you again, and
He has not beaten me. She spoke angrily, stamping her foot, her
fierce gaze even yet not meeting the eyes of her questioner.
Why are you wearing that silk scarf around your neck? It is not
Because I have a cold, Is it not enough? She looked him up and
down, challenging a denial, but he did not answer, gazing sadly before
him at the crowded benches of the applauding house. The lion-tamer,
astride a lion, was riding round the ring.
I hate the lifethe woman spoke after a pauseI hate the men's
eyes. I am not one to smile when my soul is full of bitterness, or to
dance lightly when my heart is heavy; neither can I uplift my face for
the admiration of men, nor do I care to twist and distort my body for
their amusement. Every night, as I swing above their heads and prepare
to launch myself into the air, I smile upon them, and hate them, hate
themthe cruel faces with their look of mock terror upon them, all
waiting for me to fall, to miss my mark, to become a crushed mass of
Nora,the man's voice was strained,don't.
I tell you, they are waiting for me to fall. What else do they come
for? What else are they watching for thereshe waved her hands
towards the cage of lionsbut the death that walks with the man
behind those bars? Sometimes I say to myself up there above their
heads: 'Look how they sit with their breaths indrawn with suspense!
Give them their sensationmiss this time.' And Iwhom no one loves,
who has no hope, no happinessI do not miss.
Whom no one loves? The man's voice rang eager and broken.
Whom no one has a right to love. She spoke hastily and coldly,
seeming to answer the question in his voice. The man turned away his
face from her.
What a handsome couple of gymnasts! some one said from the
audience. I wonder if they are married?
The man's hand clenched. The woman drew her scarf more tightly round
her. It is cold here, she said, as if she had not heard. I wish I
could go home. And again she repeated softly, full of yearning, O
God! I wish I could go home.
Home! the man echoed. The trees are well in leaf there now, and
the little birds are quarrelling over the placing of their nests; there
is peace in the valley, and the great hills are yellow with golden
The woman laid her hand upon his arm pleadingly. Be silent! she
whispered. Oh, be silent!
Far away from London, from its darkness, its weariness, its
soul-killing noise and crowding, the man continued, as though speaking
aloud to himself. There is silence from the crash of human tongues;
only God speaks in the moving of the leaves and the falling of the
And the countless eyes, Nora whispered, as though afraid of being
heard, the eyes always watching for me to fallthey are not there,
nor the ears always astrain to hear my dying cry.
The man shuddered. He drew nearer and, laying his hand upon her arm,
gazed intently into her eyes.
Wherever you go, eyes are watching you, he said, ears are listening
to you, tongues are ready to be busy with your misfortunes in this
great city. But at home there are no eyes to watch you save of those
who love you. There are no ears to listen save of those to whom your
voice is music. There are no tongues to speak of you except with
The woman, crying silently, drew back into the shadow of the passage.
The man followed, and, taking his place before her, gazed into her
eyes. From the theatre came the sound of clapping and bravos. The
attendants of the circus were busy; the two stood alone.
Beneath the moon the fair valley smileshe spoke low and distinct.
The peat smoke curls upward, half seen in the faint light; its perfume
is in the air. Here and there, among the purple gloom of fern and
little trees, the star of a cottage light is seen. The contented lowing
of lazy cattle, the bark of a watchful dog, or the chirp of some
awaking bird is all that breaks the silence. He made a downward motion
over her face with his hands. She lay back against the wall half in a
trance, his eyes seemed to command her soul, she was passing into his
power under the mesmeric influence of his voice. He continued softly,
The shadowy mountains encircle all. The light of the passing moon
moves like a benediction over the land. The scented breeze is warm, and
the cottage doors stand open. There is no enemy here to bar them
against, and the night is not yet begun. In one cottage alone there is
mourning, an old woman sitting in solitude by a hearth where the turf
lies grey, the fire in its heart.
Nora passed her hand across her eyes, as if to see clearer. She sank
upon a bench and spoke as in a dream.
I see her, she said. Her hand is to her side. No tears come from
her eyesshe is too old to weepbut her heart is crying always. She
is ill and miserable.
The man put his hand upon her forehead. What does she say? he said.
She is calling 'Nora, Nora, Nora,' nothing but 'Nora.'
Is there no reply?
There is a woman far away who is trying to reach her; but she
cannotshe is tied, she is held back by some one very strong and very
cruel. She is crying in her heart too, but she cannot go. She dare not
go. God and man have bound her, so she must not break loose and go.
And the old woman?
She is growing older and more weary. She is drifting away; she is
dying. She cries, 'Nora, come to me. Oh, my little Nora!' She moved
uneasily, as though in pain. The man passed his hand downward over her
Tell her, he said slowly, tell her you will come. Tell her you
will be strong and cast the chains from about you that are killing you.
Tell her you were young, and had no knowledge of what life was when you
left her. Tell her that as an inexperienced girl you thought all
nobleness dwelt in a body that God had made strong and beautiful above
other men, how you left everything you held dear for his sake. But now,
disillusioned, loveless, a woman who has suffered, you are going back
to her again. He paused a moment, and continued with an effort: Tell
her that there is one who loves you as his own soul, one who you could
not care for long ago. Tell her you love him now, and that he will
shield you from all misfortunes, and take you away from suffering. Tell
her, tell her.
Nora pressed her hands together, as though in great pain. I cannot
tell her that, she said, I cannot tell her that.
The man drew his breath in with a sob.
No, of course not; I was mad. Be calm. Tell her you will go home
alone. The woman opened her lips to speak, but the man passed his hand
upward over her face a moment and disappeared. A strong hand fell upon
Mother! she cried, with a breath of joy or relief, I have come
Asleep? a hard voice said in her ear. Why are you not outside in
your place, you lazy sloven?
She started to her feet, passing her hand across her eyes, staggering
into consciousness. Her husband seized her by the shoulder, shaking
her. By God! he growled, if I thought you were drunk I would lash
the hide off your bones.
Don't dare to speak to me like that!she faced him now like one of
his lionsand take your hand off me at once!
I'll speak to you as I like and use you as I like. He shook her to
and fro, then pushed her roughly from him. Don't give me any of your
infernal jaw, either.
She seized the loaded whip he had laid beside him when he came upon
her, and raised it above her head. Her hot Irish blood coursed madly
through her veins. In her passion she stood high as himself. Her
trained sinews stood out on her arms. She came upon him like a
thunderbolt, but he seized her by her wrists, as in a vice.
I am not afraid of you, he said, and laughed. I will tame you as I
tame my lions, in spite of your claws.
He twisted the whip from her hands, and for a moment held it over
her, as though to strike. She crouched for the blow, but met his eyes
with a gaze so like one of his beasts when he ill-treated it, that he
flung the whip aside. His fearless, cruel soul was momentarily ashamed
beneath eyes that reproached and condemned him. Sometimes in the arena
he had felt the same look bent upon him, and shame had turned him that
fear never stayed, and his lash would fall unsatisfied to the ground.
I have never struck a woman in my life, he said roughly, but you
are enough to make a man begin.
She laughed, and did not answer. The light shawl fell from about her
shoulders, and on the white of her skin he saw the black track of a
I have never struck a woman, he repeated, sauntering away.
She sank down on a bench, drawing the scarf about her again. She
could hear the rattle of ropes and pulleys. They were fixing the wires
for her performance. She stood up, waiting her turn, and looked from
her shadow into the theatre.
Oh, the eyes! the eyes! the eyes! she muttered, all waiting to see
me fall. Let the end come soon, God, if it be your will. I am weary,
weary, weary of being alive!
There had been serious trouble at the Imperial Circus a few nights
after this. The shooting star, the beautiful Madame Blumenthal, would
not go through her performance. The manager had spent his patience and
his time in remonstrating with her; her husband had argued with more
force than effect. For the first time in his life, as he said
himself, he had struck a woman; and the manager had looked on and not
interfered. He was only sorry that he had no legal right himself to
chastise her. He raved at her for a pig-headed coward.
A coward! And that was the reason the wonderful Madame Blumenthal was
afraid to go through her performance, afraid to do the amazing flight
through the air that all London was crowding to see. She sat and cried
and trembled till her eyes were swollen and the red mark of her
husband's blow became even more vivid on her pale face.
Oh, forgive me! she sobbed; let me off this one evening. I have
never felt like this before, never been afraid.
And the man who could not understand fear dragged her on to her
feet,If you are not ready in five minutes, God help you! he
They are all watching for me to fall, she whispered. There's a man
there that has followed us for the last six months, ever since I began
my dangerous leap. He has followed us to Paris, to Vienna, to
Londoneverywhere. He is a ghoul waiting for my blood; he gloats over
my danger. I see his eyes as I go out and bow. They follow me as I
climb the rope and mount into my seat. All the life in me trembles. I
am afraid of himafraid of all the eyes.
If you are afraid to go on you will be more afraid to stay away,
her husband said cruelly, his eyes on her. Do you think I will stand
being ruined by you? Here, enough of this fuss! he shouted; get
yourself ready! The trapeze is up, and everybody will soon be waiting.
She drew herself together and clenched her teeth. I will go, she
said hoarsely. After all, what does it matter?
When she came into the ring she was smiling as usual. No one noticed
that the beautiful Nora had rouged to simulate the natural roses that
had left her cheeks, or that a dark scar was hidden beneath the powder
on her face.
No one noticed she was troubled but Malachy O'Dermod, who loved her;
and he said nothing, but clenched his teeth so that the blood came upon
Hold my hand tight, Nora, he said, as they went through one of
their performances together. You are not as fit as usual.
The sound of his gentle, strong voice soothed her. She smiled,
feeling braver. Imagine I, was afraid! But I am not, now that you are
here to avert the evil eyes!
Trust me, he said, looking into her face, and seeing that she was
afraid. Nonsense! he laughed. After all this time! He spoke to her,
cheering her, to turn her thoughts from herself. He became nervous,
thinking of her great jump through the air.
I don't know what it is to-night, she said, smiling, I feel as if
something were going to happen.
The rope was lowered, and she clung to it till it left her almost out
of sight of the audience, up under the sparkling roof-lights.
Malachy O'Dermod swung in his place, his soul in his eyes. O little
figure, so lonely, he said through his teeth, God protect you! and
he kept clenching and unclenching his hands, while she prepared for her
spring into the air, saying all the time, as if he did not know he was
speaking aloud, God help me! God help me! God help me! He turned over
in his swing, holding on by his feet. He was to catch her. The terror
of his position overcame him as it never had before. In a minute he
would know if the precious weight hung upon him. If not, he resolved to
loose his feet and drop head foremost to the ground, avoiding the net.
His soul cried to her, Come to me straight, be strong, do not miss,
till he felt she must hear and obey. But she, far away, alone under the
roof, did not hear him, but, pale and trembling, prepared to gather
herself together to spring. For the first time she knew what intense
fear was and the facing of death.
It is my husband, she thought. His continual ill-treatment of me
is wearing me into a coward. Even the lions, who hate him, are afraid
to strike. I am not as brave, and my spirit, too, is broken. She saw
Malachy turn over on his swing and reach his hands out ready to catch
her. Far away she saw the crowd of white faces of the audience uplifted
and staring at her. The place is all eyes, she whispered, all eyes.
She groaned as she thought what she had to do to amuse them, and felt
more lonely than ever she had done in her life, standing up there with
the crowd of upturned faces and eager eyes demanding her, by their
gaze, and sayingCome we are waiting: do not keep us. She crouched
to spring, and, flinging herself into the air, opened her lips in a
low, terrified cry. She felt she had sprung short. No one heard it but
Malachy, and he hung upon his swing like one dead and blind. The next
second hands grasped hands, and he heard the loud applause of the
audience. Never had he enjoyed the agony of her weight as now, when it
fell upon him almost unprepared.
Why did you cry out? he moaned. You have almost killed me. They
swung hand from hand, recovering themselves. I thought I had missed,
she gasped. Then they dropped one after the other into the net. Hand in
hand they bowed before the audience, delighting in the light and gaiety
of the circus. In the memory of their terror they felt as though they
had gone through the horrors of death, and out of the darkness had
passed to the glory of day and living. Smiling, they went together out
of the arena. When they reached a quiet passage outside they could hear
the great cage rising round the ring in which her husband was to
perform with his lions.
She sank down upon a box with a laugh. I feel quite tired, like as
if I had walked for miles, she said, lifting her damp hair from her
forehead as she spoke.
Malachy leant forward. I feel as if you had been lost and I had just
found you, he whispered; then saw upon her browalmost across her
eyesthe vivid wound of a knotted whip lash. My God! he cried, his
face changing. Has he done that? Where is he?
Nora started to her feet. She had never seen him so angry. She put
her hand upon his arm to keep him. Let him be, she said; it is no
use worrying. I am all rightit does not hurt. He was very angry
because I would not go at once for my performance.
Nora! He grasped her hands in his. Nora, leave it all, leave it
all! It is no marriage of God's that keeps you tied to that brute. You
do not love or honour him; he does not love or cherish you. My little
Irish sweetheart, I have loved you beyond all telling since you were a
Nora drew her hands away. Do not dare to talk to me like that, or I
shall hate you, she said; and then some one spoke behind her
A pretty scene, indeed, to come upon.
They turned, and faced her husband. Malachy threw himself before the
lion-tamer and caught him by his coat. He was not a small man, yet did
not come much over the other's shoulder.
You have struck her, he said hoarsely, between his teeth. You
cowardly hound! you shall take the blow back from me.
The other forced him from him, and raised his whip. I shall cut you
in two if you lay a hand upon me.
Nora, without thinking of anything, only to separate them, flung
herself between them, and the blow fell across her shoulders, making
her cry out. Her husband laughed when he saw where the blow fell.
That comes of being in the wrong place, he said, striding out into
the circus. Nora heard the applause that greeted him, and missed
Malachy from her side. She sprang up, frightened. Where had he gone?
She suddenly came upon him in the shadow, an iron bar in his hands. He
was creeping towards the bowing figure in the ring. He made a spring as
she came up, but the lion-tamer saw him, and with a smile slipped into
the cage amongst his lions.
Nora caught the man by the arm, and pulled him roughly towards her.
What were you going to do? she cried. What were you going to do?
The bar dropped from Malachy's hands. Nothing, he said. I was mad
for the moment; I hate him. Would to God he were dead; but I shall not
be his slayer.
Nora let go his arm. Her heart echoed his words, then ran cold at its
What is he making of us both? she whispered; and thought of herself
as she was when a girlso innocent, so glad of the joy of living in
herself and everything else; how she had welcomed the young birds whose
nests she knew and would not harm; and the children, how they loved
her! Now she looked upon young things with pity, feeling that they
would come to misery with years, as she had done. Misery, aye, and even
crime; for in her heart now was the unspoken thought, As there is no
other way, O God, separate us by death. That glorious gift of life she
once so revelled in she was now ready to throw away; or was it possible
she thought of gaining her freedom by another's death? She hid her face
in her hands. How can I bear it? she thought. My life is embittered
and ruined, I am beaten and insulted at every turn, my love is cast
back upon me, my tenderness repulsed. How can I help but hate him, O
She looked up, and saw her husband smiling among his lions. The
beasts crouched and growled when even he approached. She saw the vast
audience staring at him with admiring eyesthe women, perhaps, envying
her for the possessionof his beauty, the little children applauding
with shrill voices every performance of the beasts, that had been
taught them with cruel tortures. If you only knew, she whispered to
the women and children, as her eyes set again upon her husband. The
great feat of the night was being prepared, lion after lion taking his
position in the ring. Two of them refused for a moment to go, and she
saw the smile come upon her husband's face that she knew so well. It
was his smile of power, of his superior strength and will over anything
that set itself against him. Now the lash fell upon the disobedient
beasts with a biting shriek through the air. One of the lions crouched
as if to spring upon him, and he smiled again and struck it across the
eyes. Half-blinded, it slunk away.
One after the other they mounted into their places upon the platform
prepared for them. Over the backs of these he was to climb, and
mounting the central lion, hold aloft the united flags of England and
America, the whole forming a tableau that he had done for many
seasons, under many flags. Nora watched him making his last bow to the
audience before he mounted into his place. The lions were ready in
position, some growling softly to themselves, others licking their
comrades, as they leaned towards each other.
These men always get killed in the end, she heard some one in the
audience say; and her companion tittered, I hope it won't be
Nora looked at her husband again. She saw him stand a moment and
brush the hair back from his forehead. What was the matter? Why did he
not move? He seemed to draw himself together, then make a step towards
the impatient beasts. Then he stopped again and looked around. Was he
afraid at last? No, there was no fear upon his faceonly bewilderment.
He brushed his hand again across his eyes and walked towards the lions.
One of them made a stroke with its paw towards him, snarling. He did
not seem to notice. Some of the attendants seemed to think something
wrong, and crowded to the bars, whispering together. One of them called
out, but the lion-tamer did not answer. He attempted to get upon the
back of the first lion, and slipped; the brute snarled and half turned,
but the cruel foot was again upon his back, and he fell into his
accustomed place. The man mounted and stepped on to the next beast,
then slipped again, and went down on his feet between them.
She heard a voice in the audience mutter, This may be good for show,
but, by Heaven! I don't like it. And some one from the theatre pushed
by her, saying, My God! is the fellow drunk? If he had fallen he was a
dead man. Again she saw her husband mount the back of the next lion in
a bewildered way, as though he were half asleep. She saw the impatient
animals growing conscious of something amiss. The angry lashing of
their tails and the low, fierce growling was growing worse.
Even the audience became aware that all was not right, and relapsed
into horrified silence. Some one called to the lion-tamer to come back,
for God's sake, but he looked round with a cruel smile upon his face
and made a step forward; he prepared to mount the centre beast, and
drew the two flags from his breast. The lions were snarling and moving
impatiently from their positions. He shouted at them to go back; they
obeyed him reluctantly, and eyed him with hatred. He put his foot half
across the beast nearest him. Nora saw it was not the central lion, but
a vicious brute which he could never trust. Her face was like death as
she gazed round the audience. What in God's name was the matter with
her husband? She opened her mouth to scream, and her gaze fell upon
Malachy O'Dermod. He was standing in the passage, his eyes fastened
upon her husband like two burning torches, his face white and his thin
lips muttering. She stretched her hands towards him, and then suddenly
put them before her face. As she did so a great stricken cry arose from
the theatrewomen and children screaming and men shouting, the whole
place in a tumult. She was hustled and jostled amongst the
panic-stricken crowds and useless would-be helpers. She heard some one
saying, This is his wife, poor thing! and knew she had shrieked out
in horrible laughter before she fell under their feet unconscious.
A year after this, in a green valley in Ireland, a woman went alone
amongst the long fern and purple foxglove. Her face was raised from the
lovely things at her feet and fixed upon the blue distance before her.
Yet in her eyes, as she went thus, grew a great loneliness and longing.
She clenched her hands and held them across her brow, as if in pain. As
she passed, a man stepped out from a group of yellow furze straight in
her path. He held out his hands to her, calling upon her name,
Nora! my Nora! he cried.
With a great sob she turned, and held him as if he might slip away
into a dream. Malachy! oh, Malachy!
I have waited a year, he said, since I brought you home. You did
not know me then, Nora, when I took you from among their feet. Ah, my
love, it was hard to watch others nurse you and see you slowly coming
back from your fever and madness; but I knew it was right and best not
to let you know till now.
The woman drew herself back from him with an awful cry.
O God! I had forgotten, and only remembered the agony of having lost
you. Malachy, Malachy, we are outcasts from the happiness of God. Our
ways are separate; we must not meet again.
He took her by the two hands and looked into her eyes. He thought the
fever that had burnt in her poor brain was returning.
What do you mean? he said tenderly. We shall never part again.
She drew her hands from his and stood before him like one turned into
The mark of Cain is upon you and upon me, she said.
What do you mean? he stammered, a horror growing in his eyes.
I mean you drew the strength from my husband's limbs and the reason
from his brain. You made him fall amongst the lions; you mesmerized
him: and I knew, and could have stopped you, but I let him die.
The man grew white as death, and staggered from her. Yes, it is
true! he gasped. I did not know my own power, but I hated him and
wished him dead. I watched him that night, and my spirit went out and
encircled him in numbness and death. I knew it, I knew it but dared not
breathe it to myself.
We are murderers, the woman said, in a hard voice. There is a dead
man's body between us and happiness for ever. Bid me good-bye and leave
The man fell upon his knees before her, kissing her hands again and
Is there no escape? he groaned. Is there no pardon? Is there no
punishment less terrible than separation?
There is no punishment so just, she said; then fell upon his
shoulder weeping. But I have seen you once more. Oh, my love, I have
seen you once more!
Then they fell to tears and embraces and long good-byes; and she,
feeling him depart, slid upon the ground, her face amid the fern,
crying, Malachy! Malachy! Malachy! as one cries upon the dead.
The Women's Progress Club
I think it would be well if Miss Gillson called upon Mr. Westcliff;
he is an influential member of Parliament, and might be willing to help
our Progress Club.
A chorus of female voices interrupted, Oh, but we have called, and
he is impossible to move.
I think Miss Gillson is a friend of his, the president continued,
smiling upon the animated assembly of hats and bonnets, which might, at
first sight, have been taken for a crowd of birds, so variously and
wonderfully were they decorated by plumage; otherwise I know it would
be vain to send any one, even Miss Gillson, where so many charming
young ladies had failed.
He is not a friend of mine, Miss Gillson said; I knew him when I
was a young girl slightly.
So long ago as that, a member said absently. Then there is not
much use going to see him. Miss Gillson flushed. I have made up my
mind to go. I have often thought of that old man living there, with his
old-fashioned ideas and narrow-mindedness, and I confess it has worried
She rose and stood before the glass, then drew her veil down over her
face after a dissatisfied glance.
A member sitting near her was toying with a crimson rose. Miss
Gillson looked at her and their eyes met.
Don't break the pretty thing, she said. There was almost a request
in her voice, and the other smiled.
Do you care to take it? Miss Gillson blushed; she read meaning in
To save it from destruction, she said; and took the flower, fixing
it carefully in her bodice. She looked again at the glass and
rearranged the angle of her hat.
Until women cease to think of dress, the president of the Club said
pointedly, I shall not believe the old Adamor should I say the old
I never heard, said a gay voice from a corner, that Adam was much
troubled by his wife's dress accounts. It's the present-day husbands
that complain of that grievance.
The present-day husbands complain of a good many grievances, a
careworn woman sighed bitterly.
And why? said a stern-looking member in glasses. Because their
mothers spoil them first and their wives afterwards. Most of their
faults are to be traced to their great selfishnessthe selfishness
which is natural to their sex and carefully cultivated by mothers and
wives. It should be smacked out of them when babies, worked out of them
when boys, andand later, nagged out of them by wives. Mothers, in
particular, should not spare the rod. However, this is not what is
before the meeting. Mrs. Dickson will you read the reports.
Mrs. Dickson opened the book before her. You couldn't do it, she
said softly; it's quite impossible to refuse baby anything if he cries
for it. It's awful to hear a child crying when it's just at the
beginning of its life's journey. It's such a little thing it wants,
after all, to please it.
That's it, exactly as I say, said the member in glasses. The
mothers spoil them; it's so easy to give in: and I say it's equally
easy to hold out.
It's the hardest thing in the world, Mrs. Dickson replied as she
turned a page of her book.
What I really want to tell you ladies, she continued, is that I
have no time to continue a member of the Club. You see, it was
different before I married; but I find, what with baby and with my
husband being at home more than formerly, that I really must resign.
I am sure we shall all regret you very much, the president said. I
am especially sorry when married ladies leave us. They can be of so
much help by converting their husbands, and through them, perhaps,
other men, to a recognition of our grievances.
I don't know why women marry, remarked a lady of uncertain age to
her neighbour; it is such a drag on them, it puts an end to all their
I don't know, I'm sure, the other said snappishly. I suppose
because they get the chance. She looked her up and down. That's the
old maid that keeps the shop at the corner of our road, she thought;
how impertinent of her to address me!
The other returned the glance with interest. You are the person who
keeps a lodging-house down our street, she looked; then turned her
Excuse me. I didn't see whom I was addressing, she said.
It isn't a drag to have to care for a man who loves you or your own
child, Mrs. Dickson continued softly. You can't imagine what an
inexplicable feeling of happiness it gives you to even put on buttons
and fold away their things, and to feel that you are the person who
keeps warm and cheerful the little house that contains your treasures.
I can't, indeed, a member muttered sadly.
We are wandering from the subject of our meeting, the president
said, smiling. Mrs. Dickson, you will have a bad effect on our members
if you become sentimental. Remember all the women who have no husbands,
the widows who keep houses, and unmarried ladies who do their work side
by side with men, yet do not get their advantages; and, indeed, the
wives who keep their husbands, as often happens in the lower classes,
and sometimes in our own. Why are these not to have votes with the
menand equal chances? However, we really must get on with the
business of the meeting. Miss Gillson! where is Miss Gillson? Is it
possible you are still before the glass, Miss Gillson? I fear I shall
never make a new woman of you, my dear.
Miss Gillson turned smiling. It was a hook that would not hook, she
said, confused. I wasn't admiring myself, I assure you. I won't sit
down, but shall go right on and try to convert Mr. Westcliff. She
passed out, closing the door softly behind her.
It wasn't the hook that kept her, it was the baiting of it, said a
woman with a sour smile.
She is a dear creature, her neighbour answered. I should not
wonder if Mr. Westcliff were an old lover, she took such pains over her
She is, indeed, the other said, more heartily. I always love to
kiss herher make-up has such a lovely perfume.
But Miss Gillson, all unconscious of her critics, was walking smartly
along the country lane that led to George Westcliff's little house.
It's extraordinary how I dislike this man, she muttered. I can't
account for it. She rearranged the bow beneath her chin and tried to
see her face in a little stream that ran beside the road. I wonder if
I am much changed? I hope he won't think, to use a horridly feminine
expression, that I have 'gone off' much.
When she reached the door she hesitated for a few moments, overcome
with a sudden shyness she seldom experienced. How will he meet me
after all these years? What is the man like that I only knew as a lad?
A slatternly servant opened the door at her knock, then shuffled off,
down at the heel, to announce her. She heard the girl say, A Miss
Pilsoner to see you; and, looking through the opened door, caught a
sudden glimpse of George Westcliff. In the momentary glance she took in
the whole untidy room and the desolate figure of the man. He was
sitting staring through the dirty window at the grey sky beyond. The
remains of his lunch were still upon the table.
When the girl spoke he started as though from sleep and turned to his
visitor. When he saw her he rose quickly and gasped Barbara! but
recovered himself and advanced with outstretched hands.
You remember me? she said, pleased that the years had done so well
I could not forget you, he said lightly, and you have not changed.
His tone seemed a question as well as a statement.
My opinions haven't, she said, rather coldly, and it's about them
I have come to see you. He motioned her to be seated and seemed
What can I do for you, he said, Mrs.did the servant say 'Mrs.
She laughed. No; I am still Miss Gillson.
His face cleared. He moved a trifle nearer her. She thought to
herself, I am sure of his support, if he has so much sentiment left,
and turned to him smiling. I'm a member of the Women's League, and we
want your help in Parliament.
I have always been against allowing women out of their proper
placetheir home, he answered.
I thought with years you would have grown less narrow-minded, she
Is it a great injustice to your sex to wish them safe by their own
fireside, with some one to protect them from the rough winds of the
But every one hasn't her own fireside, or the somebody, she
answered, smiling. And these are the women one wants to help.
Yes, those are the women you want to help; and so wives neglect
their husbands and children, and daughters their fathers and mothers to
foster plans for those women who have no one belonging to them. I have
often met such women in the world pushing into men's departments and
getting hustled by men. Men can't help jostling them in the hurry of
life, but it hurts me to see it.
I think your argument very old-fashioned and stupid, Barbara said
calmly. There are so many women who have to work, widows, and girls
with, perhaps, old people depending on them. But men are so selfish
that they want all the good things for themselves, all their pursuits
to have few rivals, and the women to stay at home and make them
comfortable when they are tired of their ambitions outside.
It isn't that they are selfish. I thinkhe rose to his feet,
looking aroundit's that they are so helpless without women to look
after them. I am strong enough to work hard with my hands and brain all
day, yet when it comes to making a homethere's something terribly
wrong herehe waved his hands as though to take in the little
roomand I don't know what it is or what to dobut I hate it!
It's the dust and the remains of lunch, I think, she answered; and,
with a sudden rush of foolish feminity, longed to sweep and tidy. Did
you sew that button on yourself? She was staring at his coat, where a
loose button hung by a white thread.
A man is as helpless with a needle as a woman with a gun. He smiled
at her, but she had risen and was going round the room.
The poor thing! she laughed softly with tears in her eyes. She had
come upon a sock with a large hole in the heel; there had been an
attempt to draw it together by a bit of string. I have never seen
anything so pathetic.
You see what a man is without a woman. He was watching her, and she
What answer am I to take back to my president? she said.
I'll tell you, he answered, if you will come outside; it's so
untidy and dreary in here.
Why don't you discharge your servant? she said, with a laugh; it's
the woman at home who is the cause of your discomfort.
I daren't. He smiled. I am afraid; and if I were not I do not know
who I should get in her place.
She turned her face away from him. Why do you not capture one of
your ideal home women, and set her by your hearth?
I'll tell you. He looked keenly at her. Because you progress women
have claimed her and are too strong for me.
Barbara shivered as with a sudden chill. She did not answer and
hurried along by his side. He brought her away from the house into a
little wood, and, after some seeking, led the way to the trunk of a
We will sit down here, he said, and lean against this old oak; it
makes a wonderful seat for two.
Barbara sat beside him, her blood beginning to grow hot in her
cheeks. Does he forget this was where we used to meet long ago? She
looked around sadly, with a vague sense of something lost, Was it love
or years? She looked up at him. He was regarding her quietly.
This was once a bees' nest. He pointed to a deep hole in the trunk
of the tree. Does he not remember it was our pillar-box?
She turned away from him angrily. Oh, please, tell me why and how
you lost the ideal woman, and won't help us in consequence.
The ideal woman and I were engaged to be married, he said, seating
himself and looking away from her. It was long agofifteen years ago,
I think. Barbara started and her face changed. We used to come and
sit for hours in the woods talking over our plans; we were to have a
little cottage in the country with a garden full of hollyhocks.
Of lilies, I think, Barbara said; then stopped confused.
Perhaps it was lilies, he continued, without seeming to notice her
confusion. Anyway it does not matter; neither were planted. The little
cottage was built in the clouds only, and soon tumbled to ruin, leaving
the man homeless and loveless during the years that followed, and they
were such long years. He did not know where to go nor what to do. He
was like one who had been going singing along a happy road and suddenly
stumbled into night and weariness. It was like as though he had been
led by happiness, so that he was blind to misfortune, and suddenly
missed her hand. Then all the unseen things became visible, sorrow trod
beside him, solitude echoed his footsteps, age pushed him on the
shoulders, and whispered of the dreariness of his loveless years.
And the girl? said Barbara angrily, while she struggled to keep
back her tears; what did she do? did she suffer at all?
I don't imagine she suffered, he said, hesitating; no, not a
little bit. She was full of a great ambition to benefit her sex. She
told me that if she married she must still continue to serve this
ideal, and I was young and hot-headed then, and we quarrelled over it
It was a little thing for which to throw over a woman you loved,
Barbara said, her face crimson and her eyes studying the distance.
A little thing! he said hotly; it was no little thing, that cursed
'movement,' that took a soft, gentle, loving woman and changed her into
a hard, unforgiving, cruel one.
Barbara regarded him in angry surprise.
They both parted to go their own ways, she said, the man as well
as the woman.
But the man wrote a humble letter to the woman begging her
forgiveness, asking her to come back to him, that he was miserable and
wretched, that he was going abroad unless she told him to stay.
He rose to his feet and put his hand into the hollow of the tree.
He posted it here, and when he came for an answer the letter was
gone and there was no other. As he spoke he drew from the hole a
handful of moss and dead leaves, tossing them on the ground. From
amongst them a yellow piece of paper dropped. Barbara lifted it and
held it in her hands. She bent her head upon it, crying bitterly.
I never got it, she said; leaves must have fallen upon it. Oh,
poor little letter! all these years I have been longing for you.
George Westcliff took her hands in his; his face was the face of a
Barbara dear, Barbara, he said, and she looked up, smiling through
What a commonplace story after all! she said; I should have known
there was a lost letter in itthere always is when old lovers meet and
explanations follow. To think of it happening to us, though!
He drew her, unresisting, into his arms. What matter how commonplace
it is as long as it ends happily? Barbara, my Barbara, only love me and
you shall do as you like. I shall do all I can for your Women's
Progress Club, and you shall spare me only what time you choose.
I haven't the faintest interest in the Women's Progress Club, she
said, taking the lappet of his coat in her hand with a tremble that was
not all laughter in her voice. My only ambition is to sew this poor
button on your jacket with black thread.
When he rushed in to beat the child, I lied to him, saying the little
one had gone out with his nurse, though I felt the small hands
clutching at my feet from where I had hidden him behind my dress. I
cared little what he did to me, but when he touched my child I could
have killed him. He might have known I was hiding something from him, I
answered so gently; but he did not, and went away. I seldom speak
pleasantly to him now; why should I, when I hate him? Oh, I hate him! I
loathe his very mannerisms, his heavy step upon the stairs, the
habitual frown he has when sitting at his meals, the click-click of his
toothpick when he has finished, his personality, which seems to fill
the house the moment he comes into it. I loathe all. And yet, look
here! and here! These are letters I keep to laugh over, just these two.
This one, written upon the eve of our wedding:
My little Love,Even to-day, the last that separates us, must I
write to tell you of my love and longing for the morning that will make
you mine, as I am for ever yours.
And this! a whole month after our marriage
My darling Wife,When will this separation end? The week has seemed
an endless one to me. I long to hold you in my arms never to part
Never to part again till death comes to one of us now we have grown
weary of one another.
Never to part again. The little time granted us upon earth marked
from the altar to the grave with every year a new stone bearing the one
record, Thus far have you gone upon your way, engraved on allthe
dreary monotony of days alike. I could write almost word for word and
act for act my life from now until the end. Every day the same face
before me, the same grumble at every dish, the same hurry to catch the
train to town, the same slam of the door at parting, the rattle of the
latch-key at return, the crash of the closing door, the sullen face
againand then sleep. Thus every day for ever.
Which of us is the more weary of the other? And whose fault is it
that this is so. He says it is mine, and I retort that it is his. What
matter now whose was the failing if only the evil could be remedied? I
know he hates my face, that is growing old, my uninteresting efforts at
conversation, my want of dash. He has said so often enough, reproaching
me because I was not like Mrs. Lewis, or Mrs. Hunter, or any one but
myself. I might be upon their thousands a-year; who knows? One can only
afford to be commonplace upon a couple of hundred.
For him new faces meet him in his man's workif one can call it work
to follow out a trade one's heart lovesbut for me nothing save the
drudgery of tending on him, laying his clothes in order, marketing for
his appetite, doing the endless little domestic cares that leave no
mark upon the world's scroll of fame and get no recognition at home. I
too have had my ambitions and my dreams; but when a woman marries she
must give up self. Yet I would regret nothing if once he would take me
into his arms and say: I understand; for me you have left your dreams,
the name you thought to make in the world, preferring a dearer name in
one man's heart. The long hours that your art demanded from you, you
have spent doing the monotonous duties of my household;
but I appreciate and understand. Or if he would not speak at all,
but hold me to him, knowing my heart and comforting it without words.
But why dream of impossibilities when, after a day of labour, he tells
me I do nothing, that women but sit at home and amuse themselves while
men toil to support them? What amusement is it to me to plan meals each
day without the hope of an approving word? to turn and return old
gowns, or oversee servants? My friends I left far away when I came to
him, and with his I have little in sympathy; yet I am glad to see them
come to our house, since for a time, at least, they dispel the gloom of
our domestic life; for a time the skeleton is put into its cupboard,
our small cellar is robbed of its best wine, our wits are called upon
to produce our most brilliant conversation. We smile, we are merry;
then the guests depart, the skeleton stalks forth, the door slams. The
sullen face is here again, and the peevish voice points out this fault
and that, with never a word of praise. I retort. The voice grows in
passion. I feel a child's hand slipped into mine beneath the table in a
mute appeal for my silence, and at the touch I am speechless. And then
comes sleep. O blessed, blessed sleep! And this has been our life for
God forgive me! I have forgotten my child in this railing against
Fate. My darling, at once my dearest happiness and my keenest pain.
What ambition did I ever have for any art compared with the longing to
see the first intelligence and love wake in my baby's eyes? What name
upon the world's lips for me so sweet as Mother when first spoken by
my child. And yet my pain it is to see him grow up in fear of his
father, to watch his frightened eyes go from face to face at meals, now
pleading my silence, and again drooping before his father's gaze, or to
see him hiding in his terror of a blow as he does now.
Come forth, my darling. You are safe; your father will not return
till night. Come. I will put you to bed and lie beside you. What woman
had ever so beautiful a child as this? See the limbs, like a little
Cupid's, and the hair so curly that, when I draw it straight through my
fingers, it springs back into a hundred ringlets. Come, little feet,
till I unbutton each shoe, for your little master is my king, and I but
his willing slave. Now the dress goes off and the little white gown
goes on. Now we kneel together and pray, and then to sleep. A beautiful
fairy stands upon our pillow and waves her magic wand, so that our eyes
will not stay open. She will tell sweet dreams to my king, for I see
she whispers to him already: his eyes open once, and then shut in deep,
Who in the night has not woke with an exceedingly bitter cry for
something that they have not got? but who has cried as I have, breaking
the silence? Oh, little child of hate, sleeping beside me, why have I
borne you? Why have I cursed you with the heritage that must be yours?
Little bond of love that keeps together two hearts that else would
spring asunder, you must pay in sorrow for our sins! From hatred have
you sprung, and in the home of hatred have you been reared; harsh
tongues have clashed their discords around you, and hard glances fenced
above your head; we have fought over you as wolves quarrel over a bone.
What can save you from coming unhappiness? What disposition can you
bring into the future from this home that is killing your child soul?
What do you inherit from us to enable you to find joy? Your father's
evil passions, his love of wine, and my evil thoughts in you?
A man and his wife must be all to one another or nothingthere is no
middle course. Yet if I thought he loved me, I could bear so much from
him. If he would put his arms around me tonight, I could forget all my
hate, all the dreary years past, all the harsh words, even the cruel
grip of his hands. Oh, a woman's home is her castle if she holds her
husband's heart, and he stand by her; let the world storm her gates
with jeers and insults, she is sale and happy. But if her husband turn
against her and shut her from his heart, though all the world protect
her, she is alone indeed;
though all the world offer her shelter, she is without a home. So my
nights pass with such thoughts. Sometimes I sleep and dream, and my
dreams are terrible. I always dream that I am dead and watching my
child from another state. I see him thrust aside by his stronger
brethren, as the weak are always crushed; I see him sinking lower, his
timid soul trampled out of his body by the strong, brutal wills of the
base lot he has fallen among; so I cannot rest in heaven following his
troubled path. Sometimes it is my keenest torture to watch his degraded
life without the power to help. I see the little figure I loved to look
upon grow bowed and gaunt with years and misery. The pretty, soft hands
grow old and stretch for evil things. The pink feet I kissed so fondly
wander in the ways of sin, the frank eyes grow clouded and shifty. The
innocent soul I tried to keep pure becomes a thing forbidden in God's
sight. Later his children will grow and bear the curse that was sown
with his mother's unhappy union. Then I wake in tears.
And yet, though these things be dreams, I feel that they will come to
pass. To-day, when I coughed, blood came into my mouth, and this means
death, I know. What is there for the boy when I am gone? Perhaps some
other woman will be given my place. What love will she have for my
child? My child, who has been fed upon all the love of one woman's
heart, at least. Will she have sympathy enough to understand and train
his difficult nature? There is one way that I can save him, one way
that I can be sure of his happiness, but it is so terrible that I
cannot meet it. Oh, I am full of selfishness, for to me only can it
bring pain, and to him it means eternal joy. To him it means the
kingdom of heavento me it means hell, to be lost, tortured, damned,
forbidden to God's sight for ever and ever and ever. I have prayed for
some other solution to this question of the happiness of my child's
future, but nothing comes to me but thisI must kill him.
To-day I have made up my mind. A doctor has told me I may not live a
year: my disease has grown upon me; great pains shoot through my chest
and quantities of blood come from my lungs at times. I do not dread the
act of dying, only the parting from my child; but to-day I have made up
my mind that we must partnever to meet again, not even in eternity.
To-night I shall put it off no longer; my child shall suffer no more.
An hour ago his father came home savage with drink and found the child
had broken his favourite pipe during his absence. I would have saved
the little fellow by taking the blame; but, when he heard his father's
voice calling him downstairs, he went to his punishment like a hero.
But his father had no admiration for his truth or pluck, only harsh
words for the quaking child. I hurried downstairs when I heard my boy
scream, but when I reached the door of the room where they were it was
slammed and locked in my face. I heard the child call to me and the
sound of hard blows above his bitter crying; every lash cut into my
flesh and every blow was a knife thrust in my heart. I beat upon the
door till my hands left their bloody marks upon the panels. When the
door was opened at length, I bore the fainting child away. What was the
use of words with a man who could ill-use a thing so helpless, who
could treat a child in a way he dare not treat his dog, lest the world
should cry shame upon him? But a dog will not forget an injustice,
neither will a child; it is a wound that may heal, but always leaves a
I rock my darling upon my heart and pray; I fold his little hands and
make him repeat my words after me; then I sing him to sleep. Every
bruise upon the white body appears to me like a reproach; it was not
for this, my darling, that I brought you into the world. Yet nothing is
more sure than sorrow; why did I not think? The room is growing dark;
it seems to me as though phantoms wait in the shadows, watching my
every action. I feel the air move as though fanned by invisible wings.
Angels wait to bear my child to heaven; but for me dread ghosts are
lurking in the darkness, and I am afraid. I feel what I cannot see;
their blazing eyes burn into my soul. If I were sure that when among
the damned I should remember that my child was safe in heaven, I could
find the sacrifice of my eternal life more easy to bear; but perhaps I
may not remember. I do not think I shall, for then it would not be
hell. What if they torture me with false dreams, making me see him in
misery and misfortune? But what matter, when he shall be most blessed?
But no! it is too terrible! Can I part for ever from him? Shall I
meet no more all the friends of my childhood who have passed away? My
father and my mother? Shall I be shut out for ever from God's sight?
Shall I have no one to welcome me in that strange country, when I stand
there lone and new? Only jeering tongues and evil faces to greet me?
Will it be all darkness for me, who hate the gloom? no little child to
take my hand and lead me into safety and light? Yet I dare not
hesitate. Heaven is yours now, my child, but as the years go on you may
not be ready. Kiss me! kiss me! Good-bye, my love, my child; you shall
die within my arms and against my breast. ThusthusO GOD!
* * *
You who can pray, pray for me, who go forth into the darkness alone.
The Jealousy of Beatrix
Beatrix sat at the window alone, watching the couple who were
chatting at the fireside. She watched their faces keenly from the
shadow, and every expression that passed over them found an answer in
her eyes. Did they look glad, she was sullen; did they smile, she grew
more angry. Sometimes her hands clenched unconsciously; in another
moment her eyes filled with self- pitying tears. Once she raised her
fingers before her face, as though to shut out an unpleasant sight, but
again drew them quickly away, lest she should miss a glance or flush of
the faces she watched.
Beatrix, looking upon the group, felt herself forsaken and forgotten.
She watched the woman before her coquette and chatter with the man she
loved, and felt powerless to enter the lists with her. If she can take
him, he is not worth keeping, she thought; and again, What right have
I to him? He has never said he loved me. Yet he didhe did. She rose
from her place and slipped out into the garden through the open window.
She thought for a moment she would go to her room, then listened; maybe
he would follow her. She walked down the avenue full in the moonlight.
For a time hope and rest came to her heart; he was sure to come, and
all this horror of jealousy would be forgotten. She would know that he
left the shining city woman for her, a country maid. The noise of a
creaking window startled her. She sprang into the shadow and crouched.
No! he must not see her. Of course, he would guess that she intended
him to follow. What if he did? Oh, unmaidenly conduct! She would sink
into the ground with shame if she met him and read that he knew in his
She saw him saunter along the path towards her, and shrank back. If
he found her now, hiding, all was over. What a fool she was to hide at
all! How she wished she had never seen this man, who troubled her so;
yet how his nearness thrilled her! The sound of his breathing gave her
strange pleasure; to know he was so near seemed enough joy in the wide
world. When he had gone she flew to her room. Had he been to seek her,
or had he not? Still her heart was light that he had left that woman
even for the moment. She lit a candle and looked at herself in the
glass. The pretty picture did not please her. She opened a wardrobe and
drew out a blue robe that it held; she hesitated, then threw it back.
No, she dare not change now, every one would notice and guess what she
was dressing for. Yet why had she put on that pink dress she now wore,
to have it killed by the deeper rose of her rival's gown? She drew her
hair more softly about her face and left the room. At the top of the
stairs she listened for a while, then, hearing nothing, she tip-toed
into the visitor's room. With candle in hand she stole like a thief to
the dressing-table. There she lifted a powder-puff and passed it over
her face. The effect pleased her, and she followed it by adding a faint
rouge to her already burning cheeks.
I will use your weapons, she said smiling, and left the room. When
she entered the drawing- room she took a seat beside her rival as one
who would say: I am a worthy antagonist. My beauty is more young, more
fresh than yours.
But the other, looking towards her for a moment, bent forward and
whispered with a smile: You do not need it.
The girl, taking the compliment as a sneer, and abashed at being
discovered, drew back into the shadow and silence, rubbing the powder
angrily from her cheeks, her heart raging with fierce,
unreasonable jealousy. Her love making her self-conscious and
suspicious, she took every glance of the innocent guest to be fraught
with meaning, and the natural attention of the man she so loved to the
stranger to be admiration and attraction.
In the flash of her rage and during the conversation a wish to be
revenged on the woman grew within her. And soon a plan was suggested by
words let fall by her companions.
And so you are afraid of ghosts, Miss Marlow? the young man said,
I am truly, horribly afraid, she answered, glancing round half
fearfully. If I saw anything that represented one, I am sure I should
go raving mad.
This house is supposed to be haunted, said Beatrix from her corner.
Isn't that so, James? She turned to the young man.
It is, he answered, laughing; but no one has ever seen or heard
anything yet, though mother and I have lived here for years.
While he spoke his mother entered the room and begged for a song.
Miss Marlow was a brilliant pianist, and James leaned over her, turning
the leaves of her music. But all through the pauses of the tunes
Beatrix sat silent, thinking: I will frighten her to-night. How shall
I frighten her? She could hardly reply to the questions of the guest,
or the good-natured attempts of James to draw her into the
conversation. When Miss Marlow left the room to fetch some music she
had forgotten, James came to Beatrix's side, and spoke to her.
What do you think of our visitor? was the foolish question he
asked. Beatrix flashed an attempt at gaiety, but only succeeded in
being bitter. You seem to like her, she said, then flushed
under his amused gaze. She is painted and artificial, she added.
You are cross to-night, Trixy, James answered, looking kindly at
her. Not like yourself. What is the matter?
She did not answer, and the old lady looked at her inquiringly. She
loved this orphan girl as she would have loved her own daughterand,
indeed, one day she hoped she would be one in truth.
She is tired, she said. You must go to bed soon, dearie.
Miss Marlow has the haunted room, has she not? Beatrix said; and as
she spoke the door opened, and Miss Marlow entered. Beatrix felt glad
she had overheard her.
Oh, please, not the haunted room! the visitor cried; then, laughing
with them, continued, Of course, I do not really mind.
It is all nonsense about the haunted room, the old lady told her.
There was never heard nor seen such a thing as a ghost in the house.
After a few chaffing words on the subject of ghosts and their doings,
the little party broke up for the night, Beatrix going to her room
first. She was really ill and tired. She flung herself on the bed,
listening to the parting words and laughter of the others left below;
and the sounds made her believe she was forgotten by those she loved.
She rose and noisily shut the door, which she had only half-closed, and
walked up and down the room in despair.
She was still dressed and awake hours afterwards, when the house was
wrapped in sleep. Unable to rest, she looked from the open window into
the night. As she did so, a dark form sprang upon the sill where she
leaned. It was a huge black cat. Tom, she said, you frightened me; I
thought you were a ghost. She started at her own suggestion, and an
idea came to her. She tightened her hold on the cat, and with it in her
arms stole out of her room along the passage. At the door of the
haunted chamber she paused and listened. With one hand she softly
turned the handle, and again paused, but there was no sound. In a
moment she slipped the black cat inside the room, and, closing the door
softly, hurried back to her own apartment, her heart beating
wildly. She will think Tom is a ghost, she said, laughing. Then she
was disgusted with herself. How horrid I am! she said, and threw
herself on the bed, sobbing bitterly. After a short time she fell into
a troubled slumber. She awoke with a shock, as though something had
moved in the room. All her nerves in a strange quiver, she listened for
some sound or sign of what had awakened her. In the dead silence she
felt she must scream, such a terror surrounded and held her.
Who's there? she tried to cry, but her voice came in a husky
whisper. Her eyeballs rolled round in the darkness, not knowing where
to rest; her hands moved, not knowing on which side to repel the attack
she felt was coming.
The room was quite black; not even a glimpse of light came through
the heavy curtains she had drawn across the windows. One moment she
thought of springing from her bed and trying to reach the door; the
next that such a flight would bring the invisible horror upon her She
thought to put forth her hand to seek for a match-box on the table
beside the bed, but feared that something would grasp it if she did.
She heard a board creak in the floor, as though some foot had pressed
upon it. She drew the blankets over her head, and lay panting beneath
them, half- stifled. A cold sweat broke out over her; she shivered like
one caught naked in the snow. All her nerves were alert for the next
move of the unknown intruder; so she hardly could suffer more when it
came like a hand passing over her feet. She thrust them down from their
cramped position in a spasm of fear. For a moment there was stillness,
then again the soft pressure was repeated, and she lay like one dead,
bereft of movement. She felt the weight move upward, now on her knees,
now along her side. Her benumbed intelligence guessed it was a handof
what? of whom?stealing upward till it felt her head. Then, she
thought, it will pull back the clothes, and I shall seewhat?whom?
She tried to move, but could not stir a finger. She tried to scream,
but her voice would only whisper, James, help! For God's sake, help!
And the weight crept up to her shoulder. She knew when it reached her
head and drew back the clothes she would go mad, yes, raving mad. It
was coming! She felt the pressure of it upon her cheek, and with the
scream of a maniac thrust her arms out and caught at the horror. It was
a black cat, gigantic, mad, its green eyes glittering, its red tongue
hissing between its sharp white teeth. She could see it plainly, though
the room was dark. Its claws clung tearing at her. She struck it, but
it fell upon her, scratching, kicking, biting. To protect her eyes as
long as possible from its ferocious rage she flung her head back
sharply, striking it a terrible blow upon something that rendered her
unconscious. When she woke she was lying on the floor completely
dressed, the dawn shining in soft and fair through the open window, the
first song of the birds coming to her upon the sweet early breeze. She
sat up and gazed around, astonished and still terrified. My God! she
said, what a dream!what a dream! She went to the window trembling,
and leaned out into the light, and as she did so the memory of the
evening before came to her. She had put Tom into Miss Marlow's room.
Was this what her dream meant? Was this dream an acting reality in the
haunted room? What had happened there?
She rushed along the passage and stopped at the door. What would she
see or hear there? She listened for a moment, and heard no sound, and
then, with a beating heart, shook the handle. Millie, are you asleep?
Millie, it is I, Beatrix. Her voice came in a hoarse whisper, but
there was no answer or sound from within. She is mad, or dead, she
thought, with the calmness of despair, then turned the handle.
Millie, she said again, afraid to look in, Millie. The sound of an
animal jumping from the bed answered her, and Tom bounded from the
room, and commenced circling round her feet with glad caresses. She
thrust him away, and hurrying
downstairs, opened the hall-door and ran into the garden. Unable to
rest there, she went through the gates, out upon the moors that lay at
the back of the house.
I am a murderer, she said, and ran on. She wanted to hide, but
there was no shadow. The sun began to send his golden shafts over the
world. Don't rise, she wept, don't rise; give me darkness. Fear was
after her, and she ran like a hare before the hound. Why had such a
thing happened to her?she, who had been always gentle, kind, and
loving to all things. Was it love that had made a devil of her? Then
she hated love. What are you shining for, she shrieked at the sun,
now the world has come to an end? She hurried on stumbling, tripped,
and would have fallen, but stretching out her arms, she was caught.
Why, Beatrix, poor child, what has happened? What are you doing out
so early? What is the matter?
She looked up, her brain clearing at the sight of another human
being. James stood before her, his gun upon his shoulder, tall, strong,
She gasped out her story, hoping for help.
I put Tom into Miss Marlow's room last night to frighten her. I
think she is dead, for she did not answer my knocking.
The young man looked at her a moment, as if not quite understanding,
then laughed. Miss Marlow slept with mother last night, he said; she
was afraid of the visitors' room when she heard you say it was
Beatrix closed her eyes, and would have fallen, only he held her
hands. She opened them, and found him staring sternly at her.
It was a dangerous trick for you to play, he said, and unlike you.
Why did you do it? The girl looked at him a moment, and read the dawn
of a discovery in his eyes. She hid her face in her hands, and burst
into tears. I hate you! she said, as if answering a question, I hate
He took her quickly into his arms with a strong, passionate embrace.
You foolish child! he whispered; you foolish little child!