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Gray Eyes by Ella Williams Thompson

I have always counted it among the larger blessings of Providence that a woman can bear up year after year under a weight of dullness which would drive a man of the same mental calibre to desperation in a month.

I had no idea what a heavy burden mine had been until one day my brother asked me to go to sea with him on his next voyage. He and his wife were at the farm on their wedding-tour, and only the happiness of a bridegroom could have led him to hold out to me this way of escape. Christian's heart when he dropped his pack was not lighter than mine. Butter and cheese are good things in their way—the world would miss them if all the farmers' daughters went suddenly down to the sea in ships—but it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and such had been my feeling for some years.

So suddenly and completely did my threadbare endurance give way that if Frank had revoked his words the next minute, I must have gone away at once to some crowded place and drawn a few deep breaths of excitement before I could have joined again the broken ends of my patience.

No bride-elect poor in this world's goods ever went about the preparations for her wedding with more delicious awe than I felt in turning one old gown upside down, and another inside out, for seafaring use. There was excitement enough in the departure, the inevitable sea-changes, and finally the memory of it all, to keep my mind busy for a few weeks, but when we settled into the grooves of a tropical voyage, wafted along as easily by the trade winds as if some gigantic hand, unseen and steady, had us in its grasp, my life was wholly changed, and yet it bore an odd family resemblance to the days at the farm. It was a pleasant dullness, because, in the nature of things, it must soon have an end.

I went on deck to look at a passing ship about as often as I used to run to the window at the sound of carriagewheels. One can't take a very intimate interest in whales and the other seamonsters unless one is scientific. Time died with me a slow but by no means a painful death. I used to fold my hands and look at them by the hour, internally rollicking over the idea that there was no milk to skim or dishes to wash, or any earthly wheel in motion that required my shoulder to turn it. I spent much time in a half-awake state in the long warm days, out of sheer delight in wasting time after saving it all my life.

So it came about that I slept lightly o' nights. Every morning the steward came into the cabin with the first dawn of day to scour his floors before the captain should appear. He had a habit of talking to himself over this early labor, and one morning, more awake than usual, I found that he was praying. "O Lord, be good to me! I wasn't to blame. I would have helped her if I could. O Lord, be good to me!" and other homely entreaties were repeated again and again.

He was a meek, bowed old negro, with snowy hair, and so many wrinkles that all expression was shrunk out of his face. He was an excellent cook, but he waited on table with a manner so utterly despairing that it took away one's appetite to look at him.

For many mornings after this I listened to his prayers, which grew more and more earnest and importunate. I could not think he had done any harm with his own will. He must have been more sinned against than sinning.

He brought me a shawl one cool evening as if it were my death-warrant, and I said, in the sepulchral tone that wins confidence, "Pedro, do you always say your prayers when you are alone?"

"Yes, miss, 'board this ship."

"What's the matter with, this ship?"

"I s'pose you don't have no faith in ghosts?"

"Not much."

"White folks mostly don't," said Pedro with aggravating meekness, and turned into his pantry.

I followed him to the door, and stood in it so that he had no escape: "What has that to do with your prayers?"

"This cabin has got a ghost in it."

I looked over my shoulder into the dusk, and shivered a little, which was not lost on Pedro. He grew more solemn if possible than before: "I see her 'most every morning, and if my back is to the door, I see her all the same. She don't never touch me, but I keep at the prayers for fear she will."

"Do you never see her except in the morning?"

"Once or twice she has just put her head out of the door of the middle state-room when I was waitin' on table."

"In broad daylight?"

"Sartin. Them as sees ghosts sees 'em any time. Every morning, just at peep o' day, she comes out of that door and makes a dive for the stairs. She just gives me one look, and holds up her hand, and I don't see no more of her till next time."

"How does she look?" I almost hoped he would not tell, but he did.

"She's got hair as black as a coal, kind o' pushed back, as if she'd been runnin' her hands through it; she has big shiny eyes, swelled up as she'd been cryin' a great while; and she's always got on a gray dress, silvery-like, with a tear in one sleeve. There ain't nothin' more, only a handkerchief tied round her wrist, as if it had been hurt."

"Is she handsome?"

"Mebbe white folks'd think so."

"Why does she show herself to you and no one else, do you suppose?"

"Didn't I tell you the reason before?"

"Of course you didn't."

"Well, you see, she looked just so the last time I seen her alive. I must go and put in the biscuit now, miss."

I submitted, knowing that white folks may be hurried, but black ones never; and I could not but admire the natural talent which Pedro shared with the authors of continued stories, of always dropping the thread at the most thrilling moment.

"Who was she?" said I, lying in wait for him on his return.

"She was cap'n's wife, miss—a young woman, and the cap'n was old, with a blazing kind of temper. He was dreffle sweet on her for about a month, and mebbe she was happy, mebbe she wa'n't: how should I know about white folks' feelin's? All of a suddent he said she was sick and couldn't go out of the middle state-room. The old man took in plenty of stuff to eat, but he never let me go near her. We was on just such a v'y'ge as this, only hotter. The cap'n would come out of that room lookin' black as thunder, and everybody scudded out of his sight when he put his head out of the gangway.

"He was always bad enough, but he got wuss and wuss, and nothin' couldn't please him. Sometimes I'd hear the poor thing a-moaning to herself like a baby that's beat out with loud cryin' and hain't got no noise left. She was always cryin' in them days. Once the supercargo (he was a cool hand, any way) give me a bit of paper very private to give to her, and I slipped it under the door, but the old man had nailed somethin' down inside, an' he found it afore she did. Then there was a regular knockdown fight, and the supercargo was put in irons. The old man was in the middle room a long time that day, talkin' in a hissin' kind of a way, and the missus got a blow. Just after that a sort of a white squall struck the ship, and the old man give just the wrong orders. You see, he was clean out of his head. He got so worked up at last that he fell down in a fit, and they bundled him into his state-room and left him, 'cause nobody cared whether he was dead or alive. The mate took the irons off the supercargo first thing, and broke open the middle room. The supercargo went in there and stayed a long time, whispering to the missus, and she cried more'n ever, only it sounded different.

"Toward night the old man come to, and begun to ask questions—as ugly as ever, only as weak as a baby. 'Bout midnight I was comin' out of his room, and I seen the missus in a gray dress, with her eyes shinin' like coals of fire, dive out of her room and up the stairs, and nobody never seen her afterward. The next morning the supercargo was gone too, and I think they just drownded themselves, 'cause they couldn't bear to live any more without each other. Mebbe the mate knew somethin' about it, but he never let on, and I dunno no more about it; only the old man had another fit when he heard it, and died without no mourners."

"It might be she was saved, after all," I said, with true Yankee skepticism.

"Then why should I see her ghost, if she ain't dead-drownded?"

"Did you never find anything in the state-room that would explain?"

"Well, I did find some bits of paper, but I couldn't read writin'."

"Oh, what did you do with them?" I insisted, quivering with excitement.

"You won't tell the cap'n?"

"No, never."

"You'll give 'em back to me?"

"Yes, yes—of course."

"Here they be," he said, opening his shirt, and showing a little bag hung round his neck like an amulet. He took out a little wad of brown paper, and gave it jealously into my hand.

"I will give it back to you to-night," I said with the solemnity of an oath, and carried it to my room.

It proved to be a short and fragmentary account of the sufferings which the "missus" had endured in the middle room, written in pencil on coarse wrapping-paper, and bearing marks of trembling hands and frequent tears. I thought I might copy the papers without breaking faith with Pedro. The outside paper bore these words:

"Whoever finds this is besought for pity's sake, by its most unhappy writer, to send it as soon as possible to Mrs. Jane Atwood of Davidsville, Connecticut, United States of America."

Then followed a letter to her mother:

DEAREST MOTHER: If I never see your blessed face again, I know you will not believe me guilty of what my husband accuses me of. I married Captain Eliot for your sake, believing, since Herbert had proved faithless, that no comfort was left to me except in pleasing others. I meant to be a good wife to Captain Eliot, and I believe I should have kept my vow all my days if the most unfortunate thing had not wakened his jealousy. Since then he has been almost or quite crazed.

I knew we had a supercargo of whom Captain Eliot spoke highly. He kept his room for a month from sea-sickness, and when he came out it was Herbert. Of course I knew him, every line of his face had been so long written on my heart. I strove to treat him as if I had never seen him before, but the old familiar looks and tones were very hard to bear. If Herbert could only have submitted patiently to our fate! But it was not in him to be patient under anything, and one evening, when I was sitting alone on deck, he must needs pour out his soul in one great burst, trying to prove that he had never deserted me, but only circumstances had been cruel. I longed to believe him, but I could only keep repeating that it was too late.

When I went down, Captain Eliot dragged me into the middle state-room, and gave vent to his jealous feelings. He must have listened to all that Herbert had said. His last words were that I should never leave that room alive. I had a wretched night, and the first time I fell into an uneasy sleep I started suddenly up to find my husband flashing the light of a lantern across my eyes. "Handsome and wicked," he muttered—"they always go together."

I begged him to listen to the story of my engagement to Herbert, and he did listen, but it did not soften his heart. If he ever loved me, his jealousy has swallowed it up.

I have been in this room just a week. My husband does not starve or beat me, but his taunts and threats are fearful, and his eyes when he looks at me grow wild, as if he had the longing of a beast to tear me in pieces.

May 10. I placed a copy of the paper that is pinned to this letter in a little bottle that had escaped my husband's search, and threw it out of my window.

I am Waitstill Atwood Eliot, wife of Captain Eliot of the ship Sapphire. I have been kept in solitary confinement and threatened with death for four weeks, for no just cause. I believe him to be insane, as he constantly threatens to burn or sink the ship. I pray that this paper may be picked up by some one who will board this ship and bring me help.

Of course it is a most forlorn hope, but it keeps me from utter despair.

20. Herbert tried to communicate with me by slipping a paper under the door, but I did not get it, and he has been put in irons. Captain Eliot boasts of it. I wish he would bind us together and let us drown in one another's arms, as they did in the Huguenot persecution.

28. A little paper tied to a string hung in front of my bull's-eye window to-day: I took it in. The first officer had lowered it down: "Captain Eliot says you are ill, but I don't believe it. If he tries violence, scream, and I will break open the door. I am always on the watch. Keep your heart up."

This is a drop of comfort in my black cup, but my little window was screwed down within an hour after I had read the paper.

June 10. My spirit is worn out: I can endure no more. I have begged my husband to kill me and end my misery. I don't know why he hesitated. He means to do it some time, but perhaps he cannot think of torture exquisite enough for his purpose.

11. My husband came in about four in the afternoon, looking so vindictive that my heart stood still. He gradually worked himself into a frenzy, and aimed a blow at my head: instinct, rather than the love of life, made me parry it, and I got the stroke on my wrist.

I screamed, and at the same moment there was a tumult on deck, and the ship quivered as if she too had been violently struck. Captain Eliot rushed on deck, and began to give hurried orders. I could hear the first officer contradict them, and then there was a heavy fall, and two or three men stumbled down the cabin stairs, carrying some weight between them.

Later. My husband is helpless, and Herbert has been with me, urging me passionately to trust myself to him in a little boat at midnight. He says there are several ships in sight, and one of them will be almost sure to pick us up. He swears that he will leave me, and never see me again (if I say so), so soon as he has placed me in safety, but he will save me, by force if need be, from the brute into whose hands I fell so innocently. If the ship does not see us, it is but dying, after all.

Good-bye, mother! I pray that this paper will reach you before Captain Eliot can send you his own account, but if it does not, you will believe me innocent all the same.

This was the last, and I folded up the papers as they had come to me. That night I read them all to Pedro.

"They was drownded—I knew it," said Pedro; and nothing could remove that opinion. A ghost is more convincing than logic.

Our voyage wore on, with one day just like another: my brother looked at the sun every day, and put down a few cabalistic figures on a slate, but his steady business was reading novels to his wife and drinking weak claret and water.

The sea was always the same, smiling and smooth, and the "man at the wheel" seemed to be always holding us back by main strength from the place where we wanted to go. I had a growing belief that we should sail for ever on this rippling mirror and never touch the frame of it. It struck me with a sense of intense surprise when a dark line loomed far ahead, and they told me quietly that that line meant Bombay.

It seemed a matter of course to my brother that the desired port should heave in sight just when he expected it, but to me the efforts that he had made to accomplish this tremendous result were ridiculously small.

"I have done more work in a week, and had nothing to show for it at last," said I, "than you have seemed to do in all this voyage."

"Poor sister! don't you wish you were a man?"

"Certainly, all women do who have any sense. I hold with that ancient Father of the Church who maintained that all women are changed into men on the judgment-day. The council said it was heresy, but that don't alter my faith."

"I shouldn't like you half as well if you had been born a boy," said Frank.

"But I should like myself vastly better," said I, clinging to the last word.

Bombay is a city by itself: there is none like it on earth, whatever there may be in the heaven above or in the waters under it. From Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy's hospital for sick animals to the Olympian conceit of the English residents, there are infinite variations of people and things that I am persuaded can be matched nowhere else. I felt myself living in a series of pictures, a sort of supernumerary in a theatre, where they changed the play every night.

One of the first who boarded our ship was Mr. Rayne, an old friend of Frank's. He insisted on our going to his house for a few days in a warm-hearted way that was irresistible.

"Are you quite sure you want me?" I said dubiously. "Young married people make a kind of heaven for themselves, and do not want old maids looking over the wall."

"But you must go with us," said Frank, man-like, never seeing anything but the uppermost surface of a question.

"Not at all. I'm quite strong-minded enough to stay on board ship; or, if that would not do in this heathen place, the missionaries are always ready to entertain strangers. A week in the missionhouse would make me for ever a shining light in the sewing circle at home.

"A woman of so many resources would be welcome anywhere. For my part, an old maid is a perfect Godsend. The genus is unknown here, and the loss to society immense," said Mr. Rayne.

"But what shall I do when Mrs. Rayne and my sister-in-law are comparing notes about the perfections of their husbands?"

"Walk on the verandah with me and convert me to woman suffrage."

Mr. Rayne had his barouche waiting on shore, and drove us first to the bandstand, where, in the coolness of sunset, all the Bombay world meet to see and to be seen. When the band paused, people drove slowly round the circle, seeking acquaintance. Among them one equipage was perfect—a small basket-phaeton, and two black ponies groomed within an inch of their lives. My eyes fell on the ponies first, but I saw them no more when the lady who drove them turned her face toward me.

She wore a close-fitting black velvet habit and a little round hat with long black feather. Her hair might have been black velvet, too, as it fell low on her forehead, and was fastened somehow behind in a heavy coil. Black brows and lashes shaded clear gray eyes—the softest gray, without the least tint of green in them—such eyes as Quaker maidens ought to have under their gray bonnets. Little rose colored flushes kept coming and going in her cheeks as she talked.

All at once I thought of Queen Guinevere,

As she fled fast thro' sun and shade,

With jingling bridle-reins.

"Mr. Rayne, do you see that lady in black, with the ponies?"


"If I were a man, that woman would be my Fate."

"I thought women never admired each other's beauty."

"You are mistaken. Heretofore I have met beautiful women only in poetry. Do you remember four lines about Queen Guinevere?—no, six lines, I mean:

"She looked so lovely as she swayed

The rein with dainty finger-tips,

A man had given all other bliss,

And all his worldly worth for this,

To waste his whole heart in one kiss

Upon her perfect lips.

"I always thought them overstrained till now."

"I perfectly agree with you," said Mr. Rayne: "I knew we were congenial spirits." Then he said a word or two in a diabolical language to his groom, who ran to the carriage which I had been watching and repeated it to the lady: she bowed and smiled to Mr. Rayne, and soon drew up her ponies beside us.

"My wife," said Mr. Rayne with laughter in his eyes.

Mrs. Rayne talked much like other people, and her beauty ceased to dazzle me after a few minutes; not that it grew less on near view, but, being a woman, I could not fall in love with her in the nature of things.

When the music stopped we drove to Mr. Rayne's house, his wife keeping easily beside us. When she was occupied with the others Mr. Rayne whispered, "Her praises were so sweet in my ears that I would not own myself Sir Lancelot at once."

"If you are Sir Lancelot," I said, "where is King Arthur?"

"Forty fathoms deep, I hope," said Mr. Rayne with a sudden change in his voice and a darkening face. I had raised a ghost for him without knowing it, and he spoke no more till we reached the house.

It was a long, low, spreading structure with a thatched roof, and a verandah round it. A wilderness of tropical plants hemmed it in. But all appearance of simplicity vanished on our entrance. In the matted hall stood a tree to receive the light coverings we had worn; not a "hat tree," as we say at home by poetic license, but the counterfeit presentment of a real tree, carved in branches and delicate foliage out of black wood. The drawing-room was eight-sided, and would have held, with some margin, the gambrel-roofed house, chimneys and all, in which I had spent my life. Two sides were open into other rooms, with Corinthian pillars reaching to the roof. Carved screens a little higher than our heads filled the space between the pillars, and separated the drawing-room from Mrs. Rayne's boudoir on the side and the dining-room on the other.

The furniture of these rooms was like so many verses of a poem. Every chair and table had been designed by Mrs. Rayne, and then realized in black wood by the patient hands of natives.

Another side opened by three glass doors on a verandah, and only a few rods below the house the sea dashed against a beach.

After dinner I sat on the verandah drinking coffee and the sea-breeze by turns. The gentlemen walked up and down smoking the pipe of peace, while Mrs. Rayne sat within, talking with Rhoda in the candlelight. Opposite me, as I looked in at the open door, hung two Madonnas, the Sistine and the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. In front of each stood a tall flower-stand carved to imitate the leaves and blossoms of the calla lily. These black flowers held great bunches of the Annunciation lily, sacred to the Virgin through all the ages. Mrs. Rayne had taken off the close-buttoned jacket, and her dress was now open at the throat, with some rich old lace clinging about it and fastened with a pearl daisy.

"Have you forgiven me the minute's deception I put upon you?" said Mr. Rayne, pausing beside me. "If I had not read admiration in your face, I would have told you the truth at once."

"How could one help admiring her?"

"I don't know, I'm sure: I never could."

"She has the serenest face, like still, shaded water. I wonder how she would look in trouble?"

"It is not becoming to her."

"Are you sure?"


"Your way of life here seems so perfect! No hurry nor worry—nothing to make wrinkles."

"You like this smooth Indian living, then?"

"Like it! I hope you won't think me wholly given over to love of things that perish in the using, but if I could live this sort of life with the one I liked best, heaven would be a superfluity."

"It is heaven indeed when I think of the purgatory from which we came into it," said Mr. Rayne, throwing away his cigar and carrying off my coffee-cup.

"Do you know anything of Mrs. Rayne's history before her marriage?" I said to Frank as I joined him in his walk.

"Nothing to speak of—only she was a widow."

"Oh!" said I, feeling that a spot or two had suddenly appeared on the face of the sun.

"That's nothing against her, is it?"

"No, but I have no patience with second marriages."

"Nor first ones, either," said Frank wickedly.

"But seriously, Frank—would you like to have a wife so beautiful as Mrs. Rayne?"

"Yes, if she had Rhoda's soul inside of her," said Frank stoutly.

"I shouldn't."

"Why not?"

"Because all sorts of eyes gloat on her beauty and drink it in, and in one way appropriate it to themselves. Mr. Rayne is as proud of the admiration given to his wife as if it were a personal tribute to his own taste in selecting her. A beautiful woman never really and truly belongs to her husband unless he can keep a veil over her face, as the Turks do."

"I knew you had 'views,'" said Mr. Rayne behind me, "but I had no idea they were so heathenish. What is New England coming to under the new rule? Are the plain women going to shut up all the handsome ones?"

"I was only supposing a case."

"Suppositions are dangerous. You first endure, then dally with them, and finally embrace them as established facts."

"I was only saying that if I am a man when I come into the world next time (as the Hindoos say), I shall marry a plain woman with a charming disposition, and so, as it were, have my diamond all to myself by reason of its dull cover."

"Jealousy, thy name is woman!" said Mr. Rayne. "When the Woman's Republic is set up, how I shall pity the handsome ones!"

"They will all be banished to some desert island," said Frank.

"And draw all men after them, as the 'Pied Piper of Hamelin' did the rats," said Mr. Rayne.

"What are you talking about?" said Mrs. Rayne, joining us at this point.

"The pity of it," said her husband, "that beauty is only skin deep."

"That is deep enough," said Mrs. Rayne.

"Yes, if age and sickness and trouble did not make one shed it so soon," said I ungratefully.

"Don't mention it," said Mrs. Rayne—"'tis bad enough when it comes. Do you remember that Greek woman in Lothair, whose father was so fearfully rich that she seemed to be all crusted with precious stones?"


"To dance and sing was all she lived for, and Lothair must needs bring in the skeleton, as you did, by reminding her of the dolorous time when she would neither dance nor sing. You think she is crushed, to be sure, only Disraeli's characters never are crushed, any more than himself. 'Oh then,' she says, 'we will be part of the audience, and other people will dance and sing for us.' So beauty is always with us, though one person loses it."

She gave a little shrug of her shoulders, which made her pearls and velvet shimmer in the moonlight. She looked so white and cool and perfect, so apart from common clay, that all at once Queen Guinevere ceased to be my type of her, and I thought of "Lilith, first wife of Adam," as we see her in Rossetti's fanciful poem:

Not a drop of her blood was human,

But she was made like a soft, sweet woman.

We all went to our rooms after this, and in each of ours hung a full-length swinging mirror; I had never seen one before, except in a picture-shop or in a hotel.

"Truly this is 'richness'!" I said, walking up and down and sideways from one to the other.

"I had no idea you had so much vanity," said Frank, laughing at me, as he has done ever since he was born.

"Vanity! not a spark. I am only seeing myself as others see me, for the first time."

"I always had a glass like that in my room at home," said my sister-in-law, with the least morsel of disdain in her tone.

"Had you? Then you have lost a great deal by growing up to such things. A first sensation at my age is delightful."

Next day Rhoda and I were sitting with Mrs. Rayne in her dressing-room, with a great fan swinging overhead. We all had books in our hands, but I found more charming reading in my hostess, whose fascinations hourly grew upon me.

She wore a long loose wrapper, clear blue in color, with little silver stars on it. I don't know how much of my admiration sprang from her perfect taste in dress. Raiment has an extraordinary effect on the whole machinery of life. Most people think too lightly of it. Somebody says if Cleopatra's nose had been a quarter of an inch shorter, the history of the world would have been utterly changed; but Antony might equally have been proof against a robe with high neck and tight sleeves. Mrs. Rayne's face always seemed to crown her costume like a rose out of green leaves, yet I cannot but think that if I had seen her first in a calico gown and sitting on a three-legged stool milking a cow, I should still have thought her a queen among women.

While I sat like a lotos-eater, forgetful of home and butter-making, a servant brought in a parcel and a note. Mrs. Rayne tossed the note to me while she unfolded a roll of gray silk.

DEAR GUINEVERE: I send with this a bit of silk that old Fut'ali insisted on giving to me this morning. It is that horrid gray color which we both detest. I know you will never wear it, and you had better give it to Miss Blake to make a toga for her first appearance in the women's Senate.


"With all my heart!" said Mrs. Rayne as I gave back the note. "You will please us both far more than you can please yourself by wearing the dress with a thought of us. I wonder why Mr. Rayne calls me 'Guinevere'? But he has a new name for me every day, because he does not like my own."

"What is it?"

"Waitstill. Did you ever hear it?"

"Never but once," I said with a sudden tightness in my throat. I could scarcely speak my thanks for the dress.

"I should never wear it," said Mrs. Rayne: "the color is associated with a very painful part of my life."

"Do you suppose water would spot it?" asked Rhoda, who is of a practical turn of mind.

"Take a bit and try it."

"Water spots some grays" said Mrs. Rayne with a strange sort of smile as Rhoda went out, "especially salt water. I spent one night at sea in an open boat, with a gray dress clinging wet and salt to my limbs. When I tore it off in rags I seemed to shed all the misery I had ever known. All my life since then has been bright as you see it now. It would be a bad omen to put on a gray gown again."

"Then you have made a sea-voyage, Mrs. Rayne?"

"Yes, such a long voyage!—worse than the 'Ancient Mariner's.' No words can tell how I hate the sea." She sighed deeply, with a sudden darkening of her gray eyes till they were almost black, and grasped one wrist hard with the other hand.

A sudden trembling seized me. I was almost as much agitated as Mrs. Rayne. I felt that I must clinch the matter somehow, but I took refuge in a platitude to gain time: "There is such a difference in ships, almost as much as in houses, and the comfort of the voyage depends greatly on that."

"It may be so," she said wearily.

"My brother's ship is old, but it has been refitted lately to something like comfort. It's old name was the Sapphire."

This was my shot, and it hit hard.

"The Sapphire! the Sapphire!" she whispered with dilated eyes. "Did you ever hear—did you ever find—But what nonsense! You must think me the absurdest of women."

The color came back to her face, and she laughed quite naturally.

"The fact is, Miss Blake, I was very ill and miserable when I was on shipboard, and to this day any sudden reminder of it gives me a shock.—Did water spot it?" she said to Rhoda, who came in at this point.

I thought over all the threads of the circumstance that had come into my hand, and like Mr. Browning's lover I found "a thing to do."

The next morning I made an excuse to go down to the ship with my brother, and there, by dint of pressure, I got those stained and dingy papers into my possession again. I had only that day before me, for we were going to a hotel the same evening, and the Raynes were to set out next day for their summer place among the hills, a long way back of Bombay. Our stay had already delayed their departure.

This was my plot: Mrs. Rayne had been reading a book that I had bought for the home-voyage, and was to finish it before evening. I selected the duplicate of the paper which "Waitstill Atwood Eliot" had put in a bottle and cast adrift when her case had been desperate, and laid it in the book a page or two beyond Mrs. Rayne's mark. It seemed impossible that she could miss it: I watched her as a chemist watches his first experiment.

Twice she took up the book, and was interrupted before she could open it: the third time she sat down so close to me that the folds of her dress touched mine. One page, two pages: in another instant she would have turned the leaf, and I held my breath, when a servant brought in a note. Her most intimate friend had been thrown from her carriage, and had sent for her. It was a matter of life and death, and brooked no delay. In ten minutes she had bidden us a cordial good-bye, and dropped out of my life for all time.

She never finished my book, nor I hers. I had had it in my heart, in return for her warm hospitality, to cast a great stone out of her past life into the still waters of her present, and her good angel had turned it aside just before it reached her. I might have asked Mr. Rayne in so many words if his wife's name had been Waitstill Atwood Eliot when he married her, but that would have savored of treachery to her, and I refrained.

Often in the long calm days of the home-voyage, and oftener still in the night-watches, I pondered in my heart the items of Mrs. Rayne's history, and pieced them together like bits of mosaic—the gray eyes and the gray dress, the identity of name, the indefinite terrors of her sea-voyage, the little touch concerning Lancelot and Guinevere, her emotion when I mentioned the Sapphire. If circumstantial evidence can be trusted, I feel certain that Pedro's ghost appeared to me in the flesh.