LORD ARTHUR SAVILE’S CRIME AND OTHER STORIES
It was Lady Windermere’s last reception before Easter, and Bentinck House was even more crowded than usual. Six Cabinet Ministers had come on from the Speaker’s Levée in their stars and ribands, all the pretty women wore their smartest dresses, and at the end of the picture-gallery stood the Princess Sophia of Carlsrühe, a heavy Tartar-looking lady, with tiny black eyes and wonderful emeralds, talking bad French at the top of her voice, and laughing immoderately at everything that was said to her. It was certainly a wonderful medley of people. Gorgeous peeresses chatted affably to violent Radicals, popular preachers brushed coat-tails with eminent sceptics, a perfect bevy of bishops kept following a stout prima-donna from room to room, on the staircase stood several Royal Academicians, disguised as artists, and it was said that at one time the supper-room was absolutely crammed with geniuses. In fact, it was one of Lady Windermere’s best nights, and the Princess stayed till nearly half-past eleven.
soon as she had gone, Lady Windermere returned to the picture-gallery, where a
celebrated political economist was solemnly explaining the scientific theory of
music to an indignant virtuoso from
Suddenly she looked eagerly round the room, and said, in her clear contralto voice, ‘Where is my cheiromantist?’
‘Your what, Gladys?’ exclaimed the Duchess, giving an involuntary start.
‘My cheiromantist, Duchess; I can’t live without him at present.’
‘Dear Gladys! you are always so original,’ murmured the Duchess, trying to remember what a cheiromantist really was, and hoping it was not the same as a cheiropodist.
‘He comes to see my hand twice a week regularly,’ continued Lady Windermere, ‘and is most interesting about it.’
‘Good heavens!’ said the Duchess to herself, ‘he is a sort of cheiropodist after all. How very dreadful. I hope he is a foreigner at any rate. It wouldn’t be quite so bad then.’
‘I must certainly introduce him to you.’
‘Introduce him!’ cried the Duchess; ‘you don’t mean to say he is here?’ and she began looking about for a small tortoise-shell fan and a very tattered lace shawl, so as to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.
‘Of course he is here; I would not dream of giving a party without him. He tells me I have a pure psychic hand, and that if my thumb had been the least little bit shorter, I should have been a confirmed pessimist, and gone into a convent.’
‘Oh, I see!’ said the Duchess, feeling very much relieved; ‘he tells fortunes, I suppose?’
‘And misfortunes, too,’ answered Lady Windermere, ‘any amount of them. Next year, for instance, I am in great danger, both by land and sea, so I am going to live in a balloon, and draw up my dinner in a basket every evening. It is all written down on my little finger, or on the palm of my hand, I forget which.’
surely that is tempting
dear Duchess, surely
‘Let me go, Lady Windermere,’ said a tall handsome young man, who was standing by, listening to the conversation with an amused smile.
‘Thanks so much, Lord Arthur; but I am afraid you wouldn’t recognise him.’
‘If he is as wonderful as you say, Lady Windermere, I couldn’t well miss him. Tell me what he is like, and I’ll bring him to you at once.’
he is not a bit like a cheiromantist. I mean he is not mysterious, or
esoteric, or romantic-looking. He is a little, stout man, with a funny,
bald head, and great gold-rimmed spectacles; something between a family doctor
and a country attorney. I’m really very sorry, but it is not my
fault. People are so annoying. All my pianists look exactly like
poets, and all my poets look exactly like pianists; and I remember last season
asking a most dreadful conspirator to dinner, a man who had blown up ever so
many people, and always wore a coat of mail, and carried a dagger up his
shirt-sleeve; and do you know that when he came he looked just like a nice old
clergyman, and cracked jokes all the evening? Of course, he was very
amusing, and all that, but I was awfully disappointed; and when I asked him
about the coat of mail, he only laughed, and said it was far too cold to wear
‘Dear Gladys, I really don’t think it is quite right,’ said the Duchess, feebly unbuttoning a rather soiled kid glove.
‘Nothing interesting ever is,’ said Lady Windermere: ‘on a fait le monde ainsi. But I must introduce you. Duchess, this is Mr. Podgers, my pet cheiromantist. Mr. Podgers, this is the Duchess of Paisley, and if you say that she has a larger mountain of the moon than I have, I will never believe in you again.’
‘I am sure, Gladys, there is nothing of the kind in my hand,’ said the Duchess gravely.
‘Your Grace is quite right,’ said Mr. Podgers, glancing at the little fat hand with its short square fingers, ‘the mountain of the moon is not developed. The line of life, however, is excellent. Kindly bend the wrist. Thank you. Three distinct lines on the rascette! You will live to a great age, Duchess, and be extremely happy. Ambition - very moderate, line of intellect not exaggerated, line of heart - ’
‘Now, do be indiscreet, Mr. Podgers,’ cried Lady Windermere.
‘Nothing would give me greater pleasure,’ said Mr. Podgers, bowing, ‘if the Duchess ever had been, but I am sorry to say that I see great permanence of affection, combined with a strong sense of duty.’
‘Pray go on, Mr. Podgers,’ said the Duchess, looking quite pleased.
‘Economy is not the least of your Grace’s virtues,’ continued Mr. Podgers, and Lady Windermere went off into fits of laughter.
is a very good thing,’ remarked the Duchess complacently; ‘when I married
‘And now he has twelve houses, and not a single castle,’ cried Lady Windermere.
‘Well, my dear,’ said the Duchess, ‘I like - ’
‘Comfort,’ said Mr. Podgers, ‘and modern improvements, and hot water laid on in every bedroom. Your Grace is quite right. Comfort is the only thing our civilisation can give us.
‘You have told the Duchess’s character admirably, Mr. Podgers, and now you must tell Lady Flora’s’; and in answer to a nod from the smiling hostess, a tall girl, with sandy Scotch hair, and high shoulder-blades, stepped awkwardly from behind the sofa, and held out a long, bony hand with spatulate fingers.
‘Ah, a pianist! I see,’ said Mr. Podgers, ‘an excellent pianist, but perhaps hardly a musician. Very reserved, very honest, and with a great love of animals.’
‘Quite true!’ exclaimed the Duchess, turning to Lady Windermere, ‘absolutely true! Flora keeps two dozen collie dogs at Macloskie, and would turn our town house into a menagerie if her father would let her.’
‘Well, that is just what I do with my house every Thursday evening,’ cried Lady Windermere, laughing, ‘only I like lions better than collie dogs.’
‘Your one mistake, Lady Windermere,’ said Mr. Podgers, with a pompous bow.
‘If a woman can’t make her mistakes charming, she is only a female,’ was the answer. ‘But you must read some more hands for us. Come, Sir Thomas, show Mr. Podgers yours’; and a genial-looking old gentleman, in a white waistcoat, came forward, and held out a thick rugged hand, with a very long third finger.
‘An adventurous nature; four long voyages in the past, and one to come. Been ship-wrecked three times. No, only twice, but in danger of a shipwreck your next journey. A strong Conservative, very punctual, and with a passion for collecting curiosities. Had a severe illness between the ages sixteen and eighteen. Was left a fortune when about thirty. Great aversion to cats and Radicals.’
‘Extraordinary!’ exclaimed Sir Thomas; ‘you must really tell my wife’s hand, too.’
‘Your second wife’s,’ said Mr. Podgers quietly, still keeping Sir Thomas’s hand in his. ‘Your second wife’s. I shall be charmed’; but Lady Marvel, a melancholy-looking woman, with brown hair and sentimental eyelashes, entirely declined to have her past or her future exposed; and nothing that Lady Windermere could do would induce Monsieur de Koloff, the Russian Ambassador, even to take his gloves off. In fact, many people seemed afraid to face the odd little man with his stereotyped smile, his gold spectacles, and his bright, beady eyes; and when he told poor Lady Fermor, right out before every one, that she did not care a bit for music, but was extremely fond of musicians, it was generally felt that cheiromancy was a most dangerous science, and one that ought not to be encouraged, except in a tête-à-tête.
Lord Arthur Savile, however, who did not know anything about Lady Fermor’s unfortunate story, and who had been watching Mr. Podgers with a great deal of interest, was filled with an immense curiosity to have his own hand read, and feeling somewhat shy about putting himself forward, crossed over the room to where Lady Windermere was sitting, and, with a charming blush, asked her if she thought Mr. Podgers would mind.
‘Of course, he won’t mind,’ said Lady Windermere, ‘that is what he is here for. All my lions, Lord Arthur, are performing lions, and jump through hoops whenever I ask them. But I must warn you beforehand that I shall tell Sybil everything. She is coming to lunch with me to-morrow, to talk about bonnets, and if Mr. Podgers finds out that you have a bad temper, or a tendency to gout, or a wife living in Bayswater, I shall certainly let her know all about it.’
Lord Arthur smiled, and shook his head. ‘I am not afraid,’ he answered. ‘Sybil knows me as well as I know her.’
I am a little sorry to hear you say that. The proper basis for marriage
is a mutual misunderstanding. No, I am not at all cynical, I have merely
got experience, which, however, is very much the same
thing. Mr. Podgers, Lord Arthur Savile is dying to have his hand
read. Don’t tell him that he is engaged to one of the most beautiful
‘Dear Lady Windermere,’ cried the Marchioness of Jedburgh, ‘do let Mr. Podgers stay here a little longer. He has just told me I should go on the stage, and I am so interested.’
‘If he has told you that, Lady Jedburgh, I shall certainly take him away. Come over at once, Mr. Podgers, and read Lord Arthur’s hand.’
‘Well,’ said Lady Jedburgh, making a little moue as she rose from the sofa, ‘if I am not to be allowed to go on the stage, I must be allowed to be part of the audience at any rate.’
‘Of course; we are all going to be part of the audience,’ said Lady Windermere; ‘and now, Mr. Podgers, be sure and tell us something nice. Lord Arthur is one of my special favourites.’
But when Mr. Podgers saw Lord Arthur’s hand he grew curiously pale, and said nothing. A shudder seemed to pass through him, and his great bushy eyebrows twitched convulsively, in an odd, irritating way they had when he was puzzled. Then some huge beads of perspiration broke out on his yellow forehead, like a poisonous dew, and his fat fingers grew cold and clammy.
Lord Arthur did not fail to notice these strange signs of agitation, and, for the first time in his life, he himself felt fear. His impulse was to rush from the room, but he restrained himself. It was better to know the worst, whatever it was, than to be left in this hideous uncertainty.
‘I am waiting, Mr. Podgers,’ he said.
‘We are all waiting,’ cried Lady Windermere, in her quick, impatient manner, but the cheiromantist made no reply.
‘I believe Arthur is going on the stage,’ said Lady Jedburgh, ‘and that, after your scolding, Mr. Podgers is afraid to tell him so.’
Suddenly Mr. Podgers dropped Lord Arthur’s right hand, and seized hold of his left, bending down so low to examine it that the gold rims of his spectacles seemed almost to touch the palm. For a moment his face became a white mask of horror, but he soon recovered his sang-froid, and looking up at Lady Windermere, said with a forced smile, ‘It is the hand of a charming young man.
‘Of course it is!’ answered Lady Windermere, ‘but will he be a charming husband? That is what I want to know.’
‘All charming young men are,’ said Mr. Podgers.
‘I don’t think a husband should be too fascinating,’ murmured Lady Jedburgh pensively, ‘it is so dangerous.’
‘My dear child, they never are too fascinating,’ cried Lady Windermere. ‘But what I want are details. Details are the only things that interest. What is going to happen to Lord Arthur?’
‘Well, within the next few months Lord Arthur will go a voyage - ’
‘Oh yes, his honeymoon, of course!’
‘And lose a relative.’
‘Not his sister, I hope?’ said Lady Jedburgh, in a piteous tone of voice.
‘Certainly not his sister,’ answered Mr. Podgers, with a deprecating wave of the hand, ‘a distant relative merely.’
‘Well, I am dreadfully disappointed,’ said Lady Windermere. ‘I have absolutely nothing to tell Sybil to-morrow. No one cares about distant relatives nowadays. They went out of fashion years ago. However, I suppose she had better have a black silk by her; it always does for church, you know. And now let us go to supper. They are sure to have eaten everything up, but we may find some hot soup. François used to make excellent soup once, but he is so agitated about politics at present, that I never feel quite certain about him. I do wish General Boulanger would keep quiet. Duchess, I am sure you are tired?’
‘Not at all, dear Gladys,’ answered the Duchess, waddling towards the door. ‘I have enjoyed myself immensely, and the cheiropodist, I mean the cheiromantist, is most interesting. Flora, where can my tortoise-shell fan be? Oh, thank you, Sir Thomas, so much. And my lace shawl, Flora? Oh, thank you, Sir Thomas, very kind, I’m sure’; and the worthy creature finally managed to get downstairs without dropping her scent-bottle more than twice.
All this time Lord Arthur Savile had remained standing by the fireplace, with the same feeling of dread over him, the same sickening sense of coming evil. He smiled sadly at his sister, as she swept past him on Lord Plymdale’s arm, looking lovely in her pink brocade and pearls, and he hardly heard Lady Windermere when she called to him to follow her. He thought of Sybil Merton, and the idea that anything could come between them made his eyes dim with tears.
Looking at him, one would have said that Nemesis had stolen the shield of Pallas, and shown him the Gorgon’s head. He seemed turned to stone, and his face was like marble in its melancholy. He had lived the delicate and luxurious life of a young man of birth and fortune, a life exquisite in its freedom from sordid care, its beautiful boyish insouciance; and now for the first time he became conscious of the terrible mystery of Destiny, of the awful meaning of Doom.
How mad and monstrous it all seemed! Could it be that written on his hand, in characters that he could not read himself, but that another could decipher, was some fearful secret of sin, some blood-red sign of crime? Was there no escape possible? Were we no better than chessmen, moved by an unseen power, vessels the potter fashions at his fancy, for honour or for shame? His reason revolted against it, and yet he felt that some tragedy was hanging over him, and that he had been suddenly called upon to bear an intolerable burden. Actors are so fortunate. They can choose whether they will appear in tragedy or in comedy, whether they will suffer or make merry, laugh or shed tears. But in real life it is different. Most men and women are forced to perform parts for which they have no qualifications. Our Guildensterns play Hamlet for us, and our Hamlets have to jest like Prince Hal. The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.
Suddenly Mr. Podgers entered the room. When he saw Lord Arthur he started, and his coarse, fat face became a sort of greenish-yellow colour. The two men’s eyes met, and for a moment there was silence.
‘The Duchess has left one of her gloves here, Lord Arthur, and has asked me to bring it to her,’ said Mr. Podgers finally. ‘Ah, I see it on the sofa! Good evening.’
‘Mr. Podgers, I must insist on your giving me a straightforward answer to a question I am going to put to you.’
‘Another time, Lord Arthur, but the Duchess is anxious. I am afraid I must go.’
‘You shall not go. The Duchess is in no hurry.’
‘Ladies should not be kept waiting, Lord Arthur,’ said Mr. Podgers, with his sickly smile. ‘The fair sex is apt to be impatient.’
Lord Arthur’s finely-chiselled lips curled in petulant disdain. The poor Duchess seemed to him of very little importance at that moment. He walked across the room to where Mr. Podgers was standing, and held his hand out.
‘Tell me what you saw there,’ he said. ‘Tell me the truth. I must know it. I am not a child.’
Mr. Podgers’s eyes blinked behind his gold-rimmed spectacles, and he moved uneasily from one foot to the other, while his fingers played nervously with a flash watch-chain.
‘What makes you think that I saw anything in your hand, Lord Arthur, more than I told you?’
‘I know you did, and I insist on your telling me what it was. I will pay you. I will give you a cheque for a hundred pounds.’
The green eyes flashed for a moment, and then became dull again.
‘Certainly. I will send you a cheque to-morrow. What is your club?’
‘I have no club. That is to say, not just at present. My address is -, but allow me to give you my card’; and producing a bit of gilt-edge pasteboard from his waistcoat pocket, Mr. Podgers handed it, with a low bow, to Lord Arthur, who read on it,
Mr. SEPTIMUS R. PODGERS
‘My hours are from ten to four,’ murmured Mr. Podgers mechanically, ‘and I make a reduction for families.’
‘Be quick,’ cried Lord Arthur, looking very pale, and holding his hand out.
Mr. Podgers glanced nervously round, and drew the heavy portière across the door.
‘It will take a little time, Lord Arthur, you had better sit down.’
‘Be quick, sir,’ cried Lord Arthur again, stamping his foot angrily on the polished floor.
Mr. Podgers smiled, drew from his breast-pocket a small magnifying glass, and wiped it carefully with his handkerchief
‘I am quite ready,’ he said.
Ten minutes later, with face blanched by terror, and eyes wild with grief, Lord Arthur Savile rushed from Bentinck House, crushing his way through the crowd of fur-coated footmen that stood round the large striped awning, and seeming not to see or hear anything. The night was bitter cold, and the gas-lamps round the square flared and flickered in the keen wind; but his hands were hot with fever, and his forehead burned like fire. On and on he went, almost with the gait of a drunken man. A policeman looked curiously at him as he passed, and a beggar, who slouched from an archway to ask for alms, grew frightened, seeing misery greater than his own. Once he stopped under a lamp, and looked at his hands. He thought he could detect the stain of blood already upon them, and a faint cry broke from his trembling lips.
Murder! that is what the cheiromantist had seen there. Murder! The very night seemed to know it, and the desolate wind to howl it in his ear. The dark corners of the streets were full of it. It grinned at him from the roofs of the houses.
First he came to the Park, whose sombre woodland seemed to fascinate him. He leaned wearily up against the railings, cooling his brow against the wet metal, and listening to the tremulous silence of the trees. ‘Murder! murder!’ he kept repeating, as though iteration could dim the horror of the word. The sound of his own voice made him shudder, yet he almost hoped that Echo might hear him, and wake the slumbering city from its dreams. He felt a mad desire to stop the casual passer-by, and tell him everything.
he wandered across
And yet it was not the mystery, but the comedy of suffering that struck him; its absolute uselessness, its grotesque want of meaning. How incoherent everything seemed! How lacking in all harmony! He was amazed at the discord between the shallow optimism of the day, and the real facts of existence. He was still very young.
a time he found himself in front of
The thought made him sick with horror. He turned on his heel, and hurried on into the night.
he went he hardly knew. He had a dim memory of wandering through a
labyrinth of sordid houses, of being lost in a giant web of sombre streets, and
it was bright dawn when he found himself at last in
the time he had reached
When Lord Arthur woke it was twelve o’clock, and the midday sun was streaming through the ivory-silk curtains of his room. He got up and looked out of the window. A dim haze of heat was hanging over the great city, and the roofs of the houses were like dull silver. In the flickering green of the square below some children were flitting about like white butterflies, and the pavement was crowded with people on their way to the Park. Never had life seemed lovelier to him, never had the things of evil seemed more remote.
Then his valet brought him a cup of chocolate on a tray. After he had drunk it, he drew aside a heavy portière of peach-coloured plush, and passed into the bathroom. The light stole softly from above, through thin slabs of transparent onyx, and the water in the marble tank glimmered like a moonstone. He plunged hastily in, till the cool ripples touched throat and hair, and then dipped his head right under, as though he would have wiped away the stain of some shameful memory. When he stepped out he felt almost at peace. The exquisite physical conditions of the moment had dominated him, as indeed often happens in the case of very finely-wrought natures, for the senses, like fire, can purify as well as destroy.
breakfast, he flung himself down on a divan, and lit a cigarette. On the mantel-shelf, framed in dainty old brocade, stood a large
photograph of Sybil Merton, as he had seen her first at Lady Noel’s ball.
The small, exquisitely-shaped head drooped slightly to one side, as though the
thin, reed-like throat could hardly bear the burden of so much beauty; the lips
were slightly parted, and seemed made for sweet music; and all the tender
purity of girlhood looked out in wonder from the dreaming eyes. With her
soft, clinging dress of crêpe-de-chine, and her large leaf-shaped
fan, she looked like one of those delicate little figures men find in the
Now as Lord Arthur looked at her, he was filled with the terrible pity that is born of love. He felt that to marry her, with the doom of murder hanging over his head, would be a betrayal like that of Judas, a sin worse than any the Borgia had ever dreamed of. What happiness could there be for them, when at any moment he might be called upon to carry out the awful prophecy written in his hand? What manner of life would be theirs while Fate still held this fearful fortune in the scales? The marriage must be postponed, at all costs. Of this he was quite resolved. Ardently though he loved the girl, and the mere touch of her fingers, when they sat together, made each nerve of his body thrill with exquisite joy, he recognised none the less clearly where his duty lay, and was fully conscious of the fact that he had no right to marry until he had committed the murder. This done, he could stand before the altar with Sybil Merton, and give his life into her hands without terror of wrongdoing. This done, he could take her to his arms, knowing that she would never have to blush for him, never have to hang her head in shame. But done it must be first; and the sooner the better for both.
Many men in his position would have preferred the primrose path of dalliance to the steep heights of duty; but Lord Arthur was too conscientious to set pleasure above principle. There was more than mere passion in his love; and Sybil was to him a symbol of all that is good and noble. For a moment he had a natural repugnance against what he was asked to do, but it soon passed away. His heart told him that it was not a sin, but a sacrifice; his reason reminded him that there was no other course open. He had to choose between living for himself and living for others, and terrible though the task laid upon him undoubtedly was, yet he knew that he must not suffer selfishness to triumph over love. Sooner or later we are all called upon to decide on the same issue - of us all, the same question is asked. To Lord Arthur it came early in life - before his nature had been spoiled by the calculating cynicism of middle-age, or his heart corroded by the shallow, fashionable egotism of our day, and he felt no hesitation about doing his duty. Fortunately also, for him, he was no mere dreamer, or idle dilettante. Had he been so, he would have hesitated, like Hamlet, and let irresolution mar his purpose. But he was essentially practical. Life to him meant action, rather than thought. He had that rarest of all things, common sense.
wild, turbid feelings of the previous night had by this time completely passed
away, and it was almost with a sense of shame that he looked back upon his mad
wanderings from street to street, his fierce emotional agony. The very
sincerity of his sufferings made them seem unreal to him now. He wondered
how he could have been so foolish as to rant and rave about the
inevitable. The only question that seemed to trouble him was, whom to make away with; for he was not blind to the fact
that murder, like the religions of the Pagan world, requires a victim as well
as a priest. Not being a genius, he had no enemies, and indeed he felt
that this was not the time for the gratification of any personal pique or
dislike, the mission in which he was engaged being one of great and grave
solemnity. He accordingly made out a list of his friends and relatives on
a sheet of notepaper, and after careful consideration, decided in favour of
Lady Clementina Beauchamp, a dear old lady who lived in
The first thing to be done was, of course, to settle with the cheiromantist; so he sat down at a small Sheraton writing-table that stood near the window, drew a cheque for £105, payable to the order of Mr. Septimus Podgers, and, enclosing it in an envelope, told his valet to take it to West Moon Street. He then telephoned to the stables for his hansom, and dressed to go out. As he was leaving the room he looked back at Sybil Merton’s photograph, and swore that, come what may, he would never let her know what he was doing for her sake, but would keep the secret of his self-sacrifice hidden always in his heart.
On his way to the Buckingham, he stopped at a florist’s, and sent Sybil a beautiful basket of narcissus, with lovely white petals and staring pheasants’ eyes, and on arriving at the club, went straight to the library, rang the bell, and ordered the waiter to bring him a lemon-and-soda, and a book on Toxicology. He had fully decided that poison was the best means to adopt in this troublesome business. Anything like personal violence was extremely distasteful to him, and besides, he was very anxious not to murder Lady Clementina in any way that might attract public attention, as he hated the idea of being lionised at Lady Windermere’s, or seeing his name figuring in the paragraphs of vulgar society - newspapers. He had also to think of Sybil’s father and mother, who were rather old-fashioned people, and might possibly object to the marriage if there was anything like a scandal, though he felt certain that if he told them the whole facts of the case they would be the very first to appreciate the motives that had actuated him. He had every reason, then, to decide in favour of poison. It was safe, sure, and quiet, and did away with any necessity for painful scenes, to which, like most Englishmen, he had a rooted objection.
Of the science of poisons, however, he knew absolutely nothing, and as the waiter seemed quite unable to find anything in the library but Ruff’s Guide and Bailey’s Magazine, he examined the book-shelves himself, and finally came across a handsomely-bound edition of the Pharmacopoeia, and a copy of Erskine’s Toxicology, edited by Sir Mathew Reid, the President of the Royal College of Physicians, and one of the oldest members of the Buckingham, having been elected in mistake for somebody else; a contretemps that so enraged the Committee, that when the real man came up they black-balled him unanimously. Lord Arthur was a good deal puzzled at the technical terms used in both books, and had begun to regret that he had not paid more attention to his classics at Oxford, when in the second volume of Erskine, he found a very interesting and complete account of the properties of aconitine, written in fairly clear English. It seemed to him to be exactly the poison he wanted. It was swift - indeed, almost immediate, in its effect - perfectly painless, and when taken in the form of a gelatine capsule, the mode recommended by Sir Mathew, not by any means unpalatable. He accordingly made a note, upon his shirt-cuff, of the amount necessary for a fatal dose, put the books back in their places, and strolled up St. James’s Street, to Pestle and Humbey’s, the great chemists. Mr. Pestle, who always attended personally on the aristocracy, was a good deal surprised at the order, and in a very deferential manner murmured something about a medical certificate being necessary. However, as soon as Lord Arthur explained to him that it was for a large Norwegian mastiff that he was obliged to get rid of, as it showed signs of incipient rabies, and had already bitten the coachman twice in the calf of the leg, he expressed himself as being perfectly satisfied, complimented Lord Arthur on his wonderful knowledge of Toxicology, and had the prescription made up immediately.
Arthur put the capsule into a pretty little silver bonbonnière that he
saw in a shop window in
‘Well, monsieur le mauvais sujet,’ cried the old lady, as he entered the room, ‘why haven’t you been to see me all this time?’
‘My dear Lady Clem, I never have a moment to myself,’ said Lord Arthur, smiling.
‘I suppose you mean that you go about all day long with Miss Sybil Merton, buying chiffons and talking nonsense? I cannot understand why people make such a fuss about being married. In my day we never dreamed of billing and cooing in public, or in private for that matter.’
‘I assure you I have not seen Sybil for twenty-four hours, Lady Clem. As far as I can make out, she belongs entirely to her milliners.’
‘Of course; that is the only reason you come to see an ugly old woman like myself. I wonder you men don’t take warning. On a fait des folies pour moi, and here I am, a poor rheumatic creature, with a false front and a bad temper. Why, if it were not for dear Lady Jansen, who sends me all the worst French novels she can find, I don’t think I could get through the day. Doctors are no use at all, except to get fees out of one. They can’t even cure my heartburn.’
‘I have brought you a cure for that, Lady Clem,’ said Lord Arthur gravely. ‘It is a wonderful thing, invented by an American.’
‘I don’t think I like American inventions, Arthur. I am quite sure I don’t. I read some American novels lately, and they were quite nonsensical.’
‘Oh, but there is no nonsense at all about this, Lady Clem! I assure you it is a perfect cure. You must promise to try it’; and Lord Arthur brought the little box out of his pocket, and handed it to her.
‘Well, the box is charming, Arthur. Is it really a present? That is very sweet of you. And is this the wonderful medicine? It looks like a bonbon. I’ll take it at once.’
‘Good heavens! Lady Clem,’ cried Lord Arthur, catching hold of her hand, ‘you mustn’t do anything of the kind. It is a homoeopathic medicine, and if you take it without having heartburn, it might do you no end of harm. Wait till you have an attack, and take it then. You will be astonished at the result.’
‘I should like to take it now,’ said Lady Clementina, holding up to the light the little transparent capsule, with its floating bubble of liquid aconitine. I am sure it is delicious. The fact is that, though I hate doctors, I love medicines. However, I’ll keep it till my next attack.’
‘And when will that be?’ asked Lord Arthur eagerly. ‘Will it be soon?’
‘I hope not for a week. I had a very bad time yesterday morning with it. But one never knows.’
‘You are sure to have one before the end of the month then, Lady Clem?’
‘I am afraid so. But how sympathetic you are to-day, Arthur! Really, Sybil has done you a great deal of good. And now you must run away, for I am dining with some very dull people, who won’t talk scandal, and I know that if I don’t get my sleep now I shall never be able to keep awake during dinner. Good-bye, Arthur, give my love to Sybil, and thank you so much for the American medicine.’
‘You won’t forget to take it, Lady Clem, will you?’ said Lord Arthur, rising from his seat.
‘Of course I won’t, you silly boy. I think it is most kind of you to think of me, and I shall write and tell you if I want any more.’
Lord Arthur left the house in high spirits, and with a feeling of immense relief.
That night he had an interview with Sybil Merton. He told her how he had been suddenly placed in a position of terrible difficulty, from which neither honour nor duty would allow him to recede. He told her that the marriage must be put off for the present, as until he had got rid of his fearful entanglements, he was not a free man. He implored her to trust him, and not to have any doubts about the future. Everything would come right, but patience was necessary.
scene took place in the conservatory of Mr. Merton’s house, in
stayed with Sybil till nearly midnight, comforting her and being comforted in
turn, and early the next morning he left for
a fortnight Lord Surbiton got bored with
As he stepped out of his gondola on to the hotel steps, the proprietor came forward to meet him with a sheaf of telegrams. Lord Arthur snatched them out of his hand, and tore them open. Everything had been successful. Lady Clementina had died quite suddenly on the night of the 17th!
first thought was for Sybil, and he sent her off a telegram announcing his
immediate return to
Arthur was very much touched by Lady Clementina’s kind remembrance of him, and
felt that Mr. Podgers had a great deal to answer for. His love of Sybil,
however, dominated every other emotion, and the consciousness that he had done
his duty gave him peace and comfort. When he arrived at
The Mertons received him very kindly. Sybil made him promise that he would never again allow anything to come between them, and the marriage was fixed for the 7th June. Life seemed to him once more bright and beautiful, and all his old gladness came back to him again.
day, however, as he was going over the house in
‘What have you found, Sybil?’ said Lord Arthur, looking up from his work, and smiling.
‘This lovely little silver bonbonnière, Arthur. Isn’t it quaint and Dutch? Do give it to me! I know amethysts won’t become me till I am over eighty.’
It was the box that had held the aconitine.
Lord Arthur started, and a faint blush came into his cheek. He had almost entirely forgotten what he had done, and it seemed to him a curious coincidence that Sybil, for whose sake he had gone through all that terrible anxiety, should have been the first to remind him of it.
‘Of course you can have it, Sybil. I gave it to poor Lady Clem myself.’
‘Oh! thank you, Arthur; and may I have the bonbon too? I had no notion that Lady Clementina liked sweets. I thought she was far too intellectual.’
Lord Arthur grew deadly pale, and a horrible idea crossed his mind.
‘Bonbon, Sybil? What do you mean?’ he said in a slow, hoarse voice.
‘There is one in it, that is all. It looks quite old and dusty, and I have not the slightest intention of eating it. What is the matter, Arthur? How white you look!’
Lord Arthur rushed across the room, and seized the box. Inside it was the amber-coloured capsule, with its poison-bubble. Lady Clementina had died a natural death after all!
The shock of the discovery was almost too much for him. He flung the capsule into the fire, and sank on the sofa with a cry of despair.
Mr. Merton was a good deal distressed at the second postponement of the marriage, and Lady Julia, who had already ordered her dress for the wedding, did all in her power to make Sybil break off the match. Dearly, however, as Sybil loved her mother, she had given her whole life into Lord Arthur’s hands, and nothing that Lady Julia could say could make her waver in her faith. As for Lord Arthur himself, it took him days to get over his terrible disappointment, and for a time his nerves were completely unstrung. His excellent common sense, however, soon asserted itself, and his sound, practical mind did not leave him long in doubt about what to do. Poison having proved a complete failure, dynamite, or some other form of explosive, was obviously the proper thing to try.
He accordingly looked again over the list of his friends and relatives, and, after careful consideration, determined to blow up his uncle, the Dean of Chichester. The Dean, who was a man of great culture and learning, was extremely fond of clocks, and had a wonderful collection of timepieces, ranging from the fifteenth century to the present day, and it seemed to Lord Arthur that this hobby of the good Dean’s offered him an excellent opportunity for carrying out his scheme. Where to procure an explosive machine was, of course, quite another matter. The London Directory gave him no information on the point, and he felt that there was very little use in going to Scotland Yard about it, as they never seemed to know anything about the movements of the dynamite faction till after an explosion had taken place, and not much even then.
he thought of his friend Rouvaloff, a young Russian of very revolutionary
tendencies, whom he had met at Lady Windermere’s in the winter. Count
Rouvaloff was supposed to be writing a life of Peter the Great, and to have
come over to England for the purpose of studying the documents relating to that
Tsar’s residence in this country as a ship carpenter; but it was generally
suspected that he was a Nihilist agent, and there was no doubt that the Russian
Embassy did not look with any favour upon his presence in London. Lord
Arthur felt that he was just the man for his purpose, and drove down one morning
to his lodgings in
‘So you are taking up politics seriously?’ said Count Rouvaloff, when Lord Arthur had told him the object of his mission; but Lord Arthur, who hated swagger of any kind, felt bound to admit to him that he had not the slightest interest in social questions, and simply wanted the explosive machine for a purely family matter, in which no one was concerned but himself.
Count Rouvaloff looked at him for some moments in amazement, and then seeing that he was quite serious, wrote an address on a piece of paper, initialled it, and handed it to him across the table.
‘Scotland Yard would give a good deal to know this address, my dear fellow.’
shan’t have it,’ cried Lord Arthur, laughing; and after shaking the young
Russian warmly by the hand he ran downstairs, examined the paper, and told the
coachman to drive to
he dismissed him, and strolled down
‘Count Rouvaloff has given me an introduction to you,’ said Lord Arthur, bowing, ‘and I am anxious to have a short interview with you on a matter of business. My name is Smith, Mr. Robert Smith, and I want you to supply me with an explosive clock.’
‘Charmed to meet you, Lord Arthur,’ said the genial little German, laughing. ‘Don’t look so alarmed, it is my duty to know everybody, and I remember seeing you one evening at Lady Windermere’s. I hope her ladyship is quite well. Do you mind sitting with me while I finish my breakfast? There is an excellent pâté, and my friends are kind enough to say that my Rhine wine is better than any they get at the German Embassy,’ and before Lord Arthur had got over his surprise at being recognised, he found himself seated in the back-room, sipping the most delicious Marcobrünner out of a pale yellow hock-glass marked with the Imperial monogram, and chatting in the friendliest manner possible to the famous conspirator.
‘Explosive clocks,’ said Herr Winckelkopf, ‘are not very good things for foreign exportation, as, even if they succeed in passing the Custom House, the train service is so irregular, that they usually go off before they have reached their proper destination. If, however, you want one for home use, I can supply you with an excellent article, and guarantee that you will he satisfied with the result. May I ask for whom it is intended? If it is for the police, or for any one connected with Scotland Yard, I am afraid I cannot do anything for you. The English detectives are really our best friends, and I have always found that by relying on their stupidity, we can do exactly what we like. I could not spare one of them.’
‘I assure you,’ said Lord Arthur, ‘that it has nothing to do with the police at all. In fact, the clock is intended for the Dean of Chichester.’
‘Dear me! I had no idea that you felt so strongly about religion, Lord Arthur. Few young men do nowadays.’
‘I am afraid you overrate me, Herr Winckelkopf,’ said Lord Arthur, blushing. ‘The fact is, I really know nothing about theology.’
‘It is a purely private matter then?’
Winckelkopf shrugged his shoulders, and left the room, returning in a few
minutes with a round cake of dynamite about the size of a penny, and a pretty
little French clock, surmounted by an ormolu figure of
Lord Arthur’s face brightened up when he saw it. ‘That is just what I want,’ he cried, ‘and now tell me how it goes off.’
‘Ah! there is my secret,’ answered Herr Winckelkopf, contemplating his invention with a justifiable look of pride; ‘let me know when you wish it to explode, and I will set the machine to the moment.’
‘Well, to-day is Tuesday, and if you could send it off at once - ’
is impossible; I have a great deal of important work on hand for some friends
of mine in
‘Oh, it will be quite time enough!’ said Lord Arthur politely, ‘if it is delivered to-morrow night or Thursday morning. For the moment of the explosion, say Friday at noon exactly. The Dean is always at home at that hour.’
‘Friday, at noon,’ repeated Herr Winckelkopf, and he made a note to that effect in a large ledger that was lying on a bureau near the fireplace.
‘And now,’ said Lord Arthur, rising from his seat, ‘pray let me know how much I am in your debt.’
‘It is such a small matter, Lord Arthur, that I do not care to make any charge. The dynamite comes to seven and sixpence, the clock will be three pounds ten, and the carriage about five shillings. I am only too pleased to oblige any friend of Count Rouvaloff’s.’
‘But your trouble, Herr Winckelkopf?’
‘Oh, that is nothing! It is a pleasure to me. I do not work for money; I live entirely for my art.’
Lord Arthur laid down £4, 2s. 6d. on the table, thanked the little German for his kindness, and, having succeeded in declining an invitation to meet some Anarchists at a meat-tea on the following Saturday, left the house and went off to the Park.
the next two days he was in a state of the greatest excitement, and on Friday
at twelve o’clock he drove down to the Buckingham to wait for news. All
the afternoon the stolid hall-porter kept posting up telegrams from various
parts of the country giving the results of horse-races, the verdicts in divorce
suits, the state of the weather, and the like, while the tape ticked out
wearisome details about an all-night sitting in the House of Commons, and a
small panic on the Stock Exchange. At four o’clock the evening papers
came in, and Lord Arthur disappeared into the library with the Pall Mall,
the St. James’s, the Globe, and the Echo, to the immense
indignation of Colonel Goodchild, who wanted to read the reports of a speech he
had delivered that morning at the Mansion House, on the subject of South
African Missions, and the advisability of having black Bishops in every
province, and for some reason or other had a strong prejudice against the Evening
News. None of the papers, however, contained even the slightest
‘Jane writes charming letters,’ said the Duchess; ‘you must really read her last. It is quite as good as the novels Mudie sends us.’
Lord Arthur seized the letter from her hand. It ran as follows:-
My Dearest Aunt,
Thank you so much for the flannel for the Dorcas Society, and also for the gingham. I quite agree with you that it is nonsense their wanting to wear pretty things, but everybody is so Radical and irreligious nowadays, that it is difficult to make them see that they should not try and dress like the upper classes. I am sure I don’t know what we are coming to. As papa has often said in his sermons, we live in an age of unbelief.
have had great fun over a clock that an unknown admirer sent papa last
Thursday. It arrived in a wooden box from London, carriage paid, and papa
feels it must have been sent by some one who had read his remarkable sermon,
‘Is Licence Liberty?’ for on the top of the clock was a figure of a woman, with
what papa said was the cap of Liberty on her head. I didn’t think it very
becoming myself, but papa said it was historical, so I suppose it is all
right. Parker unpacked it, and papa put it on the mantelpiece in the
library, and we were all sitting there on Friday morning, when just as the
clock struck twelve, we heard a whirring noise, a little puff of smoke came
from the pedestal of the figure, and the goddess of Liberty fell off, and broke
her nose on the fender! Maria was quite alarmed, but it looked so
ridiculous, that James and I went off into fits of laughter, and even papa was
amused. When we examined it, we found it was a sort of alarum clock, and
that, if you set it to a particular hour, and put some gunpowder and a cap
under a little hammer, it went off whenever you wanted. Papa said it must
not remain in the library, as it made a noise, so Reggie carried it away to the
schoolroom, and does nothing but have small explosions all day long. Do
you think Arthur would like one for a wedding present? I suppose they are
quite fashionable in
have now to go to the Dorcas, where I will read them your most instructive
letter. How true, dear aunt, your idea is, that in their rank of life
they should wear what is unbecoming. I must say it is absurd, their
anxiety about dress, when there are so many more important things in this
world, and in the next. I am so glad your flowered poplin turned out so
well, and that your lace was not torn. I am wearing my yellow satin, that you so kindly gave me, at the Bishop’s on
Wednesday, and think it will look all right. Would you
have bows or not?
Papa sends his love, in which James, and Reggie, and Maria all unite, and, hoping that Uncle Cecil’s gout is better, believe me, dear aunt, ever your affectionate niece,
- Do tell me about the bows.
Lord Arthur looked so serious and unhappy over the letter, that the Duchess went into fits of laughter.
‘My dear Arthur,’ she cried, ‘I shall never show you a young lady’s letter again! But what shall I say about the clock? I think it is a capital invention, and I should like to have one myself.’
‘I don’t think much of them,’ said Lord Arthur, with a sad smile, and, after kissing his mother, he left the room.
When he got upstairs, he flung himself on a sofa, and his eyes filled with tears. He had done his best to commit this murder, but on both occasions he had failed, and through no fault of his own. He had tried to do his duty, but it seemed as if Destiny herself had turned traitor. He was oppressed with the sense of the barrenness of good intentions, of the futility of trying to be fine. Perhaps, it would be better to break off the marriage altogether. Sybil would suffer, it is true, but suffering could not really mar a nature so noble as hers. As for himself, what did it matter? There is always some war in which a man can die, some cause to which a man can give his life, and as life had no pleasure for him, so death had no terror. Let Destiny work out his doom. He would not stir to help her.
half-past seven he dressed, and went down to the club. Surbiton was there
with a party of young men, and he was obliged to dine with them. Their
trivial conversation and idle jests did not interest him, and as soon as coffee
was brought he left them, inventing some engagement in order to get away.
As he was going out of the club, the hall-porter handed him a letter. It
was from Herr Winckelkopf, asking him to call down the next evening, and look
at an explosive umbrella, that went off as soon as it was opened. It was
the very latest invention, and had just arrived from
two o’clock he got up, and strolled towards Blackfriars. How unreal
everything looked! How like a strange dream! The houses on the
other side of the river seemed built out of darkness. One would have said
that silver and shadow had fashioned the world anew. The huge dome of
As he approached Cleopatra’s Needle he saw a man leaning over the parapet, and as he came nearer the man looked up, the gas-light falling full upon his face.
It was Mr. Podgers, the cheiromantist! No one could mistake the fat, flabby face, the gold-rimmed spectacles, the sickly feeble smile, the sensual mouth.
Arthur stopped. A brilliant idea flashed across him, and he stole softly
up behind. In a moment he had seized Mr. Podgers by the legs, and flung
him into the
‘Have you dropped anything, sir?’ said a voice behind him suddenly.
He turned round, and saw a policeman with a bull’s-eye lantern.
of importance, sergeant,’ he answered, smiling, and hailing a passing hansom, he jumped in, and told the man to drive to
the next few days he alternated between hope and fear. There were moments
when he almost expected Mr. Podgers to walk into the room, and yet at other
times he felt that Fate could not be so unjust to him. Twice he went to
the cheiromantist’s address in
Finally it came. He was sitting in the smoking-room of the club having tea, and listening rather wearily to Surbiton’s account of the last comic song at the Gaiety, when the waiter came in with the evening papers. He took up the St. James’s, and was listlessly turning over its pages, when this strange heading caught his eye:
SUICIDE OF A CHEIROMANTIST.
He turned pale with excitement, and began to read. The paragraph ran as follows:
morning, at seven o’clock, the body of Mr. Septimus R. Podgers, the eminent
cheiromantist, was washed on shore at
Arthur rushed out of the club with the paper still in his hand, to the immense
amazement of the hall-porter, who tried in vain to stop him, and drove at once
‘My dear Sybil,’ cried Lord Arthur, ‘let us be married to-morrow!’
‘You foolish boy! Why, the cake is not even ordered!’ said Sybil, laughing through her tears.
When the wedding took place, some three weeks later, St. Peter’s was crowded with a perfect mob of smart people. The service was read in the most impressive manner by the Dean of Chichester, and everybody agreed that they had never seen a handsomer couple than the bride and bridegroom. They were more than handsome, however - they were happy. Never for a single moment did Lord Arthur regret all that he had suffered for Sybil’s sake, while she, on her side, gave him the best things a woman can give to any man - worship, tenderness, and love. For them romance was not killed by reality. They always felt young.
Some years afterwards, when two beautiful children had been born to them, Lady Windermere came down on a visit to Alton Priory, a lovely old place, that had been the Duke’s wedding present to his son; and one afternoon as she was sitting with Lady Arthur under a lime-tree in the garden, watching the little boy and girl as they played up and down the rose-walk, like fitful sunbeams, she suddenly took her hostess’s hand in hers, and said, ‘Are you happy, Sybil?’
‘Dear Lady Windermere, of course I am happy. Aren’t you?’
‘I have no time to be happy, Sybil. I always like the last person who is introduced to me; but, as a rule, as soon as I know people I get tired of them.’
‘Don’t your lions satisfy you, Lady Windermere?’
‘Oh dear, no! lions are only good for one season. As soon as their manes are cut, they are the dullest creatures going. Besides, they behave very badly, if you are really nice to them. Do you remember that horrid Mr. Podgers? He was a dreadful impostor. Of course, I didn’t mind that at all, and even when he wanted to borrow money I forgave him, but I could not stand his making love to me. He has really made me hate cheiromancy. I go in for telepathy now. It is much more amusing.’
‘You mustn’t say anything against cheiromancy here, Lady Windermere; it is the only subject that Arthur does not like people to chaff about. I assure you he is quite serious over it.’
‘You don’t mean to say that he believes in it, Sybil?’
‘Ask him, Lady Windermere, here he is’; and Lord Arthur came up the garden with a large bunch of yellow roses in his hand, and his two children dancing round him.
‘Yes, Lady Windermere.’
‘You don’t mean to say that you believe in cheiromancy?’
‘Of course I do,’ said the young man, smiling.
‘Because I owe to it all the happiness of my life,’ he murmured, throwing himself into a wicker chair.
‘My dear Lord Arthur, what do you owe to it?’
‘Sybil,’ he answered, handing his wife the roses, and looking into her violet eyes.
‘What nonsense!’ cried Lady Windermere. ‘I never heard such nonsense in all my life.’
When Mr. Hiram B. Otis, the American Minister, bought Canterville Chase, every one told him he was doing a very foolish thing, as there was no doubt at all that the place was haunted. Indeed, Lord Canterville himself, who was a man of the most punctilious honour, had felt it his duty to mention the fact to Mr. Otis when they came to discuss terms.
‘We have not cared to live in the place ourselves,’ said Lord Canterville, ‘since my grandaunt, the Dowager Duchess of Bolton, was frightened into a fit, from which she never really recovered, by two skeleton hands being placed on her shoulders as she was dressing for dinner, and I feel bound to tell you, Mr. Otis, that the ghost has been seen by several living members of my family, as well as by the rector of the parish, the Rev. Augustus Dampier, who is a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. After the unfortunate accident to the Duchess, none of our younger servants would stay with us, and Lady Canterville often got very little sleep at night, in consequence of the mysterious noises that came from the corridor and the library.’
‘My Lord,’ answered the Minister, ‘I will take the furniture and the ghost at a valuation. I come from a modern country, where we have everything that money can buy; and with all our spry young fellows painting the Old World red, and carrying off your best actresses and prima-donnas, I reckon that if there were such a thing as a ghost in Europe, we’d have it at home in a very short time in one of our public museums, or on the road as a show.’
fear that the ghost exists,’ said Lord Canterville, smiling, ‘though it may
have resisted the overtures of your enterprising impresarios. It has been
well known for three centuries, since
‘Well, so does the family doctor for that matter, Lord Canterville. But there is no such thing, sir, as a ghost, and I guess the laws of Nature are not going to be suspended for the British aristocracy.’
are certainly very natural in
few weeks after this, the purchase was completed, and at the close of the
season the Minister and his family went down to Canterville Chase. Mrs.
Otis, who, as Miss Lucretia R. Tappan, of
Canterville Chase is seven miles from
Standing on the steps to receive them was an old woman, neatly dressed in black silk, with a white cap and apron. This was Mrs. Umney, the housekeeper, whom Mrs. Otis, at Lady Canterville’s earnest request, had consented to keep on in her former position. She made them each a low curtsey as they alighted, and said in a quaint, old-fashioned manner, ‘I bid you welcome to Canterville Chase.’ Following her, they passed through the fine Tudor hall into the library, a long, low room, panelled in black oak, at the end of which was a large stained-glass window. Here they found tea laid out for them, and, after taking off their wraps, they sat down and began to look round, while Mrs. Umney waited on them.
Suddenly Mrs. Otis caught sight of a dull red stain on the floor just by the fireplace and, quite unconscious of what it really signified, said to Mrs. Umney, ‘I am afraid something has been spilt there.’
‘Yes, madam,’ replied the old housekeeper in a low voice, ‘blood has been spilt on that spot.’
‘How horrid,’ cried Mrs. Otis; ‘I don’t at all care for blood-stains in a sitting-room. It must be removed at once.’
The old woman smiled, and answered in the same low, mysterious voice, ‘It is the blood of Lady Eleanore de Canterville, who was murdered on that very spot by her own husband, Sir Simon de Canterville, in 1575. Sir Simon survived her nine years, and disappeared suddenly under very mysterious circumstances. His body has never been discovered, but his guilty spirit still haunts the Chase. The blood-stain has been much admired by tourists and others, and cannot be removed.’
‘That is all nonsense,’ cried Washington Otis; ‘Pinkerton’s Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent will clean it up in no time,’ and before the terrified housekeeper could interfere he had fallen upon his knees, and was rapidly scouring the floor with a small stick of what looked like a black cosmetic. In a few moments no trace of the blood-stain could be seen.
‘I knew Pinkerton would do it,’ he exclaimed triumphantly, as he looked round at his admiring family; but no sooner had he said these words than a terrible flash of lightning lit up the sombre room, a fearful peal of thunder made them all start to their feet, and Mrs. Umney fainted.
a monstrous climate!’ said the American Minister calmly, as he lit a long cheroot. ‘I guess the old country is so overpopulated
that they have not enough decent weather for everybody. I have always
been of opinion that emigration is the only thing for
‘My dear Hiram,’ cried Mrs. Otis, ‘what can we do with a woman who faints?’
‘Charge it to her like breakages,’ answered the Minister; ‘she won’t faint after that’; and in a few moments Mrs. Umney certainly came to. There was no doubt, however, that she was extremely upset, and she sternly warned Mr. Otis to beware of some trouble coming to the house.
have seen things with my own eyes, sir,’ she said, ‘that would make any Christian’s
hair stand on end, and many and many a night I have not closed my eyes in sleep
for the awful things that are done here.’ Mr. Otis, however, and his wife
warmly assured the honest soul that they were not afraid of ghosts, and, after
invoking the blessings of
storm raged fiercely all that night, but nothing of particular note
occurred. The next morning, however, when they came down to breakfast,
they found the terrible stain of blood once again on the floor. ‘I don’t
think it can be the fault of the Paragon Detergent,’ said
The day had been warm and sunny; and, in the cool of the evening, the whole family went out for a drive. They did not return home till nine o’clock, when they had a light supper. The conversation in no way turned upon ghosts, so there were not even those primary conditions of receptive expectation which so often precede the presentation of psychical phenomena. The subjects discussed, as I have since learned from Mr. Otis, were merely such as form the ordinary conversation of cultured Americans of the better class, such as the immense superiority of Miss Fanny Davenport over Sarah Bernhardt as an actress; the difficulty of obtaining green corn, buckwheat cakes, and hominy, even in the best English houses; the importance of Boston in the development of the world-soul; the advantages of the baggage check system in railway travelling; and the sweetness of the New York accent as compared to the London drawl. No mention at all was made of the supernatural, nor was Sir Simon de Canterville alluded to in any way. At eleven o’clock the family retired, and by half-past all the lights were out. Some time after, Mr. Otis was awakened by a curious noise in the corridor, outside his room. It sounded like the clank of metal, and seemed to be coming nearer every moment. He got up at once, struck a match, and looked at the time. It was exactly one o’clock. He was quite calm, and felt his pulse, which was not at all feverish. The strange noise still continued, and with it he heard distinctly the sound of footsteps. He put on his slippers, took a small oblong phial out of his dressing-case, and opened the door. Right in front of him he saw, in the wan moonlight, an old man of terrible aspect. His eyes were as red burning coals; long grey hair fell over his shoulders in matted coils; his garments, which were of antique cut, were soiled and ragged, and from his wrists and ankles hung heavy manacles and rusty gyves.
‘My dear sir,’ said Mr. Otis, ‘I really must insist on your oiling those chains, and have brought you for that purpose a small bottle of the Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator. It is said to be completely efficacious upon one application, and there are several testimonials to that effect on the wrapper from some of our most eminent native divines. I shall leave it here for you by the bedroom candles, and will be happy to supply you with more should you require it.’ With these words the United States Minister laid the bottle down on a marble table, and, closing his door, retired to rest.
For a moment the Canterville ghost stood quite motionless in natural indignation; then, dashing the bottle violently upon the polished floor, he fled down the corridor, uttering hollow groans, and emitting a ghastly green light. Just, however, as he reached the top of the great oak staircase, a door was flung open, two little white-robed figures appeared, and a large pillow whizzed past his head! There was evidently no time to be lost, so, hastily adopting the Fourth Dimension of Space as a means of escape, he vanished through the wainscoting, and the house became quite quiet.
On reaching a small secret chamber in the left wing, he leaned up against a moonbeam to recover his breath, and began to try and realise his position. Never, in a brilliant and uninterrupted career of three hundred years, had he been so grossly insulted. He thought of the Dowager Duchess, whom he had frightened into a fit as she stood before the glass in her lace and diamonds; of the four housemaids, who had gone off into hysterics when he merely grinned at them through the curtains of one of the spare bedrooms; of the rector of the parish, whose candle he had blown out as he was coming late one night from the library, and who had been under the care of Sir William Gull ever since, a perfect martyr to nervous disorders; and of old Madame de Tremouillac, who, having wakened up one morning early and seen a skeleton seated in an arm-chair by the fire reading her diary, had been confined to her bed for six weeks with an attack of brain fever, and, on her recovery, had become reconciled to the Church, and broken off her connection with that notorious sceptic Monsieur de Voltaire. He remembered the terrible night when the wicked Lord Canterville was found choking in his dressing-room, with the knave of diamonds half-way down his throat, and confessed, just before he died, that he had cheated Charles James Fox out of £50,000 at Crockford’s by means of that very card, and swore that the ghost had made him swallow it. All his great achievements came back to him again, from the butler who had shot himself in the pantry because he had seen a green hand tapping at the window pane, to the beautiful Lady Stutfield, who was always obliged to wear a black velvet band round her throat to hide the mark of five fingers burnt upon her white skin, and who drowned herself at last in the carp-pond at the end of the King’s Walk. With the enthusiastic egotism of the true artist he went over his most celebrated performances, and smiled bitterly to himself as he recalled to mind his last appearance as ‘Red Ruben, or the Strangled Babe,’ his début as ‘Gaunt Gibeon, the Blood-sucker of Bexley Moor,’ and the furore he had excited one lovely June evening by merely playing ninepins with his own bones upon the lawn-tennis ground. And after all this, some wretched modern Americans were to come and offer him the Rising Sun Lubricator, and throw pillows at his head! It was quite unbearable. Besides, no ghosts in history had ever been treated in this manner. Accordingly, he determined to have vengeance, and remained till daylight in an attitude of deep thought.
The next morning when the Otis family met at breakfast, they discussed the ghost at some length. The United States Minister was naturally a little annoyed to find that his present had not been accepted. ‘I have no wish,’ he said, ‘to do the ghost any personal injury, and I must say that, considering the length of time he has been in the house, I don’t think it is at all polite to throw pillows at him’ - a very just remark, at which, I am sorry to say, the twins burst into shouts of laughter. ‘Upon the other hand,’ he continued, ‘if he really declines to use the Rising Sun Lubricator, we shall have to take his chains from him. It would be quite impossible to sleep, with such a noise going on outside the bedrooms.’
For the rest of the week, however, they were undisturbed, the only thing that excited any attention being the continual renewal of the blood-stain on the library floor. This certainly was very strange, as the door was always locked at night by Mr. Otis, and the windows kept closely barred. The chameleon-like colour, also, of the stain excited a good deal of comment. Some mornings it was a dull (almost Indian) red, then it would be vermilion, then a rich purple, and once when they came down for family prayers, according to the simple rites of the Free American Reformed Episcopalian Church, they found it a bright emerald-green. These kaleidoscopic changes naturally amused the party very much, and bets on the subject were freely made every evening. The only person who did not enter into the joke was little Virginia, who, for some unexplained reason, was always a good deal distressed at the sight of the blood-stain, and very nearly cried the morning it was emerald-green.
The second appearance of the ghost was on Sunday night. Shortly after they had gone to bed they were suddenly alarmed by a fearful crash in the hall. Rushing downstairs, they found that a large suit of old armour had become detached from its stand, and had fallen on the stone floor, while, seated in a high-backed chair, was the Canterville ghost, rubbing his knees with an expression of acute agony on his face. The twins, having brought their pea-shooters with them, at once discharged two pellets on him, with that accuracy of aim which can only be attained by long and careful practice on a writing-master, while the United States Minister covered him with his revolver, and called upon him, in accordance with Californian etiquette, to hold up his hands! The ghost started up with a wild shriek of rage, and swept through them like a mist, extinguishing Washington Otis’s candle as he passed, and so leaving them all in total darkness. On reaching the top of the staircase he recovered himself, and determined to give his celebrated peal of demoniac laughter. This he had on more than one occasion found extremely useful. It was said to have turned Lord Raker’s wig grey in a single night, and had certainly made three of Lady Canterville’s French governesses give warning before their month was up. He accordingly laughed his most horrible laugh, till the old vaulted roof rang and rang again, but hardly had the fearful echo died away when a door opened, and Mrs. Otis came out in a light blue dressing-gown. ‘I am afraid you are far from well,’ she said, ‘and have brought you a bottle of Dr. Dobell’s tincture. If it is indigestion, you will find it a most excellent remedy.’ The ghost glared at her in fury, and began at once to make preparations for turning himself into a large black dog, an accomplishment for which he was justly renowned, and to which the family doctor always attributed the permanent idiocy of Lord Canterville’s uncle, the Hon. Thomas Horton. The sound of approaching footsteps, however, made him hesitate in his fell purpose, so he contented himself with becoming faintly phosphorescent, and vanished with a deep churchyard groan, just as the twins had come up to him.
reaching his room he entirely broke down, and became a prey to the most violent
agitation. The vulgarity of the twins, and the gross
materialism of Mrs. Otis, were naturally extremely annoying, but what
really distressed him most was, that he had been unable to wear the suit of
mail. He had hoped that even modern Americans would be thrilled by the
sight of a Spectre In Armour, if for no more sensible reason, at least out of
respect for their national poet Longfellow, over whose graceful and attractive
poetry he himself had whiled away many a weary hour when the Cantervilles were
up in town. Besides, it was his own suit.
He had worn it with great success at the
some days after this he was extremely ill, and hardly
stirred out of his room at all, except to keep the blood-stain in proper
repair. However, by taking great care of himself, he recovered, and
resolved to make a third attempt to frighten the United States Minister and his
family. He selected Friday, the 17th of August, for his appearance, and
spent most of that day in looking over his wardrobe, ultimately deciding in
favour of a large slouched hat with a red feather, a winding-sheet frilled at
the wrists and neck, and a rusty dagger. Towards evening a violent storm
of rain came on, and the wind was so high that all the windows and doors in the
old house shook and rattled. In fact, it was just such weather as he
loved. His plan of action was this. He was to make his way quietly
to Washington Otis’s room, gibber at him from the foot of the bed, and stab
himself three times in the throat to the sound of slow music. He bore
half-past ten he heard the family going to bed. For some time he was
disturbed by wild shrieks of laughter from the twins, who, with the
light-hearted gaiety of schoolboys, were evidently amusing themselves before
they retired to rest, but at a quarter past eleven all was still, and, as
midnight sounded, he sallied forth. The owl beat against the window
panes, the raven croaked from the old yew-tree, and the wind wandered moaning
round the house like a lost soul; but the Otis family slept unconscious of
their doom, and high above the rain and storm he could hear the steady snoring
of the Minister for the
Never having seen a ghost before, he naturally was terribly frightened, and, after a second hasty glance at the awful phantom, he fled back to his room, tripping up in his long winding-sheet as he sped down the corridor, and finally dropping the rusty dagger into the Minister’s jack-boots, where it was found in the morning by the butler. Once in the privacy of his own apartment, he flung himself down on a small pallet-bed, and hid his face under the clothes. After a time, however, the brave old Canterville spirit asserted itself, and he determined to go and speak to the other ghost as soon as it was daylight. Accordingly, just as the dawn was touching the hills with silver, he returned towards the spot where he had first laid eyes on the grisly phantom, feeling that, after all, two ghosts were better than one, and that, by the aid of his new friend, he might safely grapple with the twins. On reaching the spot, however, a terrible sight met his gaze. Something had evidently happened to the spectre, for the light had entirely faded from its hollow eyes, the gleaming falchion had fallen from its hand, and it was leaning up against the wall in a strained and uncomfortable attitude. He rushed forward and seized it in his arms, when, to his horror, the head slipped off and rolled on the floor, the body assumed a recumbent posture, and he found himself clasping a white dimity bed-curtain, with a sweeping-brush, a kitchen cleaver, and a hollow turnip lying at his feet! Unable to understand this curious transformation, he clutched the placard with feverish haste, and there, in the grey morning light, he read these fearful words:-
YE OLDE GHOSTE
Ye Onlie True and Originale Spook.
Beware of Ye Imitationes.
All others are Counterfeite.
The whole thing flashed across him. He had been tricked, foiled, and outwitted! The old Canterville look came into his eyes; he ground his toothless gums together; and, raising his withered hands high above his head, swore, according to the picturesque phraseology of the antique school, that when Chanticleer had sounded twice his merry horn, deeds of blood would be wrought, and Murder walk abroad with silent feet.
Hardly had he finished this awful oath when, from the red-tiled roof of a distant homestead, a cock crew. He laughed a long, low, bitter laugh, and waited. Hour after hour he waited, but the cock, for some strange reason, did not crow again. Finally, at half-past seven, the arrival of the housemaids made him give up his fearful vigil, and he stalked back to his room, thinking of his vain hope and baffled purpose. There he consulted several books of ancient chivalry, of which he was exceedingly fond, and found that, on every occasion on which his oath had been used, Chanticleer had always crowed a second time. ‘Perdition seize the naughty fowl,’ he muttered, ‘I have seen the day when, with my stout spear, I would have run him through the gorge, and made him crow for me an ’twere in death!’ He then retired to a comfortable lead coffin, and stayed there till evening.
The next day the ghost was very weak and tired. The terrible excitement of the last four weeks was beginning to have its effect. His nerves were completely shattered, and he started at the slightest noise. For five days he kept his room, and at last made up his mind to give up the point of the blood-stain on the library floor. If the Otis family did not want it, they clearly did not deserve it. They were evidently people on a low, material plane of existence, and quite incapable of appreciating the symbolic value of sensuous phenomena. The question of phantasmic apparitions, and the development of astral bodies, was of course quite a different matter, and really not under his control. It was his solemn duty to appear in the corridor once a week, and to gibber from the large oriel window on the first and third Wednesday in every month, and he did not see how he could honourably escape from his obligations. It is quite true that his life had been very evil, but, upon the other hand, he was most conscientious in all things connected with the supernatural. For the next three Saturdays, accordingly, he traversed the corridor as usual between midnight and three o’clock, taking every possible precaution against being either heard or seen. He removed his boots, trod as lightly as possible on the old worm-eaten boards, wore a large black velvet cloak, and was careful to use the Rising Sun Lubricator for oiling his chains. I am bound to acknowledge that it was with a good deal of difficulty that he brought himself to adopt this last mode of protection. However, one night, while the family were at dinner, he slipped into Mr. Otis’s bedroom and carried off the bottle. He felt a little humiliated at first, but afterwards was sensible enough to see that there was a great deal to be said for the invention, and, to a certain degree, it served his purpose. Still, in spite of everything, he was not left unmolested. Strings were continually being stretched across the corridor, over which he tripped in the dark, and on one occasion, while dressed for the part of ‘Black Isaac, or the Huntsman of Hogley Woods,’ he met with a severe fall, through treading on a butter-slide, which the twins had constructed from the entrance of the Tapestry Chamber to the top of the oak staircase. This last insult so enraged him, that he resolved to make one final effort to assert his dignity and social position, and determined to visit the insolent young Etonians the next night in his celebrated character of ‘Reckless Rupert, or the Headless Earl.’
He had not appeared in this disguise for more than seventy years; in fact, not since he had so frightened pretty Lady Barbara Modish by means of it, that she suddenly broke off her engagement with the present Lord Canterville’s grandfather, and ran away to Gretna Green with handsome Jack Castleton, declaring that nothing in the world would induce her to marry into a family that allowed such a horrible phantom to walk up and down the terrace at twilight. Poor Jack was afterwards shot in a duel by Lord Canterville on Wandsworth Common, and Lady Barbara died of a broken heart at Tunbridge Wells before the year was out, so, in every way, it had been a great success. It was, however, an extremely difficult ‘make-up,’ if I may use such a theatrical expression in connection with one of the greatest mysteries of the supernatural, or, to employ a more scientific term, the higher-natural world, and it took him fully three hours to make his preparations. At last everything was ready, and he was very pleased with his appearance. The big leather riding-boots that went with the dress were just a little too large for him, and he could only find one of the two horse-pistols, but, on the whole, he was quite satisfied, and at a quarter past one he glided out of the wainscoting and crept down the corridor. On reaching the room occupied by the twins, which I should mention was called the Blue Bed Chamber, on account of the colour of its hangings, he found the door just ajar. Wishing to make an effective entrance, he flung it wide open, when a heavy jug of water fell right down on him, wetting him to the skin, and just missing his left shoulder by a couple of inches. At the same moment he heard stifled shrieks of laughter proceeding from the four-post bed. The shock to his nervous system was so great that he fled back to his room as hard as he could go, and the next day he was laid up with a severe cold. The only thing that at all consoled him in the whole affair was the fact that he had not brought his head with him, for, had he done so, the consequences might have been very serious.
He now gave up all hope of ever frightening this rude American family, and contented himself, as a rule, with creeping about the passages in list slippers, with a thick red muffler round his throat for fear of draughts, and a small arquebuse, in case he should be attacked by the twins. The final blow he received occurred on the 19th of September. He had gone downstairs to the great entrance-hall, feeling sure that there, at any rate, he would be quite unmolested, and was amusing himself by making satirical remarks on the large Saroni photographs of the United States Minister and his wife, which had now taken the place of the Canterville family pictures. He was simply but neatly clad in a long shroud, spotted with churchyard mould, had tied up his jaw with a strip of yellow linen, and carried a small lantern and a sexton’s spade. In fact, he was dressed for the character of ‘Jonas the Graveless, or the Corpse-Snatcher of Chertsey Barn,’ one of his most remarkable impersonations, and one which the Cantervilles had every reason to remember, as it was the real origin of their quarrel with their neighbour, Lord Rufford. It was about a quarter past two o’clock in the morning, and, as far as he could ascertain, no one was stirring. As he was strolling towards the library, however, to see if there were any traces left of the blood-stain, suddenly there leaped out on him from a dark corner two figures, who waved their arms wildly above their heads, and shrieked out ‘BOO!’ in his ear.
Seized with a panic, which, under the circumstances, was only natural, he rushed for the staircase, but found Washington Otis waiting for him there with the big garden-syringe; and being thus hemmed in by his enemies on every side, and driven almost to bay, he vanished into the great iron stove, which, fortunately for him, was not lit, and had to make his way home through the flues and chimneys, arriving at his own room in a terrible state of dirt, disorder, and despair.
After this he was not seen again on any nocturnal expedition. The twins lay in wait for him on several occasions, and strewed the passages with nutshells every night to the great annoyance of their parents and the servants, but it was of no avail. It was quite evident that his feelings were so wounded that he would not appear. Mr. Otis consequently resumed his great work on the history of the Democratic Party, on which he had been engaged for some years; Mrs. Otis organised a wonderful clam-bake, which amazed the whole county; the boys took to lacrosse, euchre, poker, and other American national games; and Virginia rode about the lanes on her pony, accompanied by the young Duke of Cheshire, who had come to spend the last week of his holidays at Canterville Chase. It was generally assumed that the ghost had gone away, and, in fact, Mr. Otis wrote a letter to that effect to Lord Canterville, who, in reply, expressed his great pleasure at the news, and sent his best congratulations to the Minister’s worthy wife.
Otises, however, were deceived, for the ghost was still in the house, and
though now almost an invalid, was by no means ready to let matters rest,
particularly as he heard that among the guests was the young Duke of Cheshire,
whose grand-uncle, Lord Francis Stilton, had once bet a hundred guineas with
Colonel Carbury that he would play dice with the Canterville ghost, and was
found the next morning lying on the floor of the card-room in such a helpless
paralytic state, that though he lived on to a great age, he was never able to
say anything again but ‘Double Sixes.’ The story was well known at the
time, though, of course, out of respect to the feelings of the two noble
families, every attempt was made to hush it up; and a full account of all the
circumstances connected with it will be found in the third volume of Lord
Tattle’s Recollections of the Prince Regent and his Friends.
The ghost, then, was naturally very anxious to show that he had not lost his
influence over the Stiltons, with whom, indeed, he was distantly connected, his
own first cousin having been married en secondes noces to the Sieur de
Bulkeley, from whom, as every one knows, the Dukes of Cheshire are lineally
descended. Accordingly, he made arrangements for appearing to Virginia’s
little lover in his celebrated impersonation of ‘The Vampire Monk, or, the
Bloodless Benedictine,’ a performance so horrible that when old Lady Startup
saw it, which she did on one fatal New Year’s Eve, in the year 1764, she went
off into the most piercing shrieks, which culminated in violent apoplexy, and
died in three days, after disinheriting the Cantervilles, who were her nearest
relations, and leaving all her money to her London apothecary. At the
last moment, however, his terror of the twins prevented his leaving his room,
and the little Duke slept in peace under the great feathered canopy in the
Royal Bedchamber, and dreamed of
A few days after this, Virginia and her curly-haired cavalier went out riding on Brockley meadows, where she tore her habit so badly in getting through a hedge, that, on her return home, she made up her mind to go up by the back staircase so as not to be seen. As she was running past the Tapestry Chamber, the door of which happened to be open, she fancied she saw some one inside, and thinking it was her mother’s maid, who sometimes used to bring her work there, looked in to ask her to mend her habit. To her immense surprise, however, it was the Canterville Ghost himself! He was sitting by the window, watching the ruined gold of the yellowing trees fly through the air, and the red leaves dancing madly down the long avenue. His head was leaning on his hand, and his whole attitude was one of extreme depression. Indeed, so forlorn, and so much out of repair did he look, that little Virginia, whose first idea had been to run away and lock herself in her room, was filled with pity, and determined to try and comfort him. So light was her footfall, and so deep his melancholy, that he was not aware of her presence till she spoke to him.
am so sorry for you,’ she said, ‘but my brothers are going back to
‘It is absurd asking me to behave myself,’ he answered, looking round in astonishment at the pretty little girl who had ventured to address him, ‘quite absurd. I must rattle my chains, and groan through keyholes, and walk about at night, if that is what you mean. It is my only reason for existing.’
‘It is no reason at all for existing, and you know you have been very wicked. Mrs. Umney told us, the first day we arrived here, that you had killed your wife.’
‘Well, I quite admit it,’ said the Ghost petulantly, ‘but it was a purely family matter, and concerned no one else.’
is very wrong to kill any one,’ said Virginia, who at times had a sweet Puritan
gravity, caught from some old
‘Oh, I hate the cheap severity of abstract ethics! My wife was very plain, never had my ruffs properly starched, and knew nothing about cookery. Why, there was a buck I had shot in Hogley Woods, a magnificent pricket, and do you know how she had it sent up to table? However, it is no matter now, for it is all over, and I don’t think it was very nice of her brothers to starve me to death, though I did kill her.’
‘Starve you to death? Oh, Mr. Ghost, I mean Sir Simon, are you hungry? I have a sandwich in my case. Would you like it?’
‘No, thank you, I never eat anything now; but it is very kind of you, all the same, and you are much nicer than the rest of your horrid, rude, vulgar, dishonest family.’
really,’ said the Ghost, rather meekly, ‘what was I to do? It is a very
difficult thing to get real blood nowadays, and, as your brother began it all
with his Paragon Detergent, I certainly saw no reason why I should not have
your paints. As for colour, that is always a matter of taste: the
Cantervilles have blue blood, for instance, the very bluest in
know nothing about it, and the best thing you can do is to emigrate and improve
your mind. My father will be only too happy to give you a free passage,
and though there is a heavy duty on spirits of every kind, there will be no
difficulty about the Custom House, as the officers are all Democrats.
don’t think I should like
suppose because we have no ruins and no curiosities,’ said
‘No ruins! no curiosities!’ answered the Ghost; ‘you have your navy and your manners.’
‘Good evening; I will go and ask papa to get the twins an extra week’s holiday.’
don’t go, Miss
‘That’s quite absurd! You have merely to go to bed and blow out the candle. It is very difficult sometimes to keep awake, especially at church, but there is no difficulty at all about sleeping. Why, even babies know how to do that, and they are not very clever.’
have not slept for three hundred years,’ he said sadly, and
‘Poor, poor Ghost,’ she murmured; ‘have you no place where you can sleep?’
‘Far away beyond the pine-woods,’ he answered, in a low dreamy voice, ‘there is a little garden. There the grass grows long and deep, there are the great white stars of the hemlock flower, there the nightingale sings all night long. All night long he sings, and the cold, crystal moon looks down, and the yew-tree spreads out its giant arms over the sleepers.’
‘Yes, Death. Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace. You can help me. You can open for me the portals of Death’s house, for Love is always with you, and Love is stronger than Death is.’
Then the Ghost spoke again, and his voice sounded like the sighing of the wind.
‘Have you ever read the old prophecy on the library window?’
‘Oh, often,’ cried the little girl, looking up; ‘I know it quite well. It is painted in curious black letters, and it is difficult to read. There are only six lines:
a golden girl can win
Prayer from out the lips of sin,
When the barren almond bears,
And a little child gives away its tears,
Then shall all the house be still
And peace come to Canterville.
But I don’t know what they mean.’
‘They mean,’ he said sadly, ‘that you must weep for me for my sins, because I have no tears, and pray with me for my soul, because I have no faith, and then, if you have always been sweet, and good, and gentle, the Angel of Death will have mercy on me. You will see fearful shapes in darkness, and wicked voices will whisper in your ear, but they will not harm you, for against the purity of a little child the powers of Hell cannot prevail.’
rose from his seat with a faint cry of joy, and taking her hand bent over it
with old-fashioned grace and kissed it. His fingers were as cold as ice,
and his lips burned like fire, but
ten minutes later, the bell rang for tea, and, as
The Minister could not help smiling at the handsome young scapegrace, and was a good deal touched at his devotion to Virginia, so leaning down from his horse, he patted him kindly on the shoulders, and said, ‘Well, Cecil, if you won’t go back I suppose you must come with me, but I must get you a hat at Ascot.’
bother my hat! I want
‘Good heavens! child, where have you been?’ said Mr. Otis, rather angrily, thinking that she had been playing some foolish trick on them. ‘Cecil and I have been riding all over the country looking for you, and your mother has been frightened to death. You must never play these practical jokes any more.’
‘Except on the Ghost! except on the Ghost!’ shrieked the twins, as they capered about.
‘My own darling, thank God you are found; you must never leave my side again,’ murmured Mrs. Otis, as she kissed the trembling child, and smoothed the tangled gold of her hair.
whole family gazed at her in mute amazement, but she was quite grave and
serious; and, turning round, she led them through the opening in the
wainscoting down a narrow secret corridor,
‘Hallo!’ suddenly exclaimed one of the twins, who had been looking out of the window to try and discover in what wing of the house the room was situated. ‘Hallo! the old withered almond-tree has blossomed. I can see the flowers quite plainly in the moonlight.’
has forgiven him,’ said
‘What an angel you are!’ cried the young Duke, and he put his arm round her neck and kissed her.
days after these curious incidents a funeral started from Canterville Chase at
about eleven o’clock at night. The hearse was drawn by eight black
horses, each of which carried on its head a great tuft of nodding
ostrich-plumes, and the leaden coffin was covered by a rich purple pall, on
which was embroidered in gold the Canterville coat-of-arms. By the side
of the hearse and the coaches walked the servants with lighted torches, and the
whole procession was wonderfully impressive. Lord Canterville was the
chief mourner, having come up specially from
next morning, before Lord Canterville went up to town, Mr. Otis had an
interview with him on the subject of the jewels the ghost had given to
lord,’ he said, ‘I know that in this country mortmain is held to apply to
trinkets as well as to land, and it is quite clear to me that these jewels are,
or should be, heirlooms in your family. I must beg you, accordingly, to
take them to
Canterville listened very gravely to the worthy Minister’s speech, pulling his
grey moustache now and then to hide an involuntary smile, and when Mr. Otis had
ended, he shook him cordially by the hand, and said, ‘My dear sir, your
charming little daughter rendered my unlucky ancestor, Sir Simon, a very
important service, and I and my family are much indebted to her for her
marvellous courage and pluck. The jewels are clearly hers, and, egad, I
believe that if I were heartless enough to take them from her, the wicked old
fellow would be out of his grave in a fortnight, leading me the devil of a
life. As for their being heirlooms, nothing is an heirloom that is not so
mentioned in a will or legal document, and the existence of these jewels has
been quite unknown. I assure you I have no more claim on them than your
butler, and when Miss
Otis was a good deal distressed at Lord Canterville’s refusal, and begged him
to reconsider his decision, but the good-natured peer was quite firm, and
finally induced the Minister to allow his daughter to retain the present the
ghost had given her, and when, in the spring of 1890, the young Duchess of
Cheshire was presented at the Queen’s first drawing-room on the occasion of her
marriage, her jewels were the universal theme of admiration. For
Duke and Duchess, after the honeymoon was over, went down to Canterville Chase,
and on the day after their arrival they walked over in the afternoon to the
lonely churchyard by the pine-woods. There had been a great deal of
difficulty at first about the inscription on Sir Simon’s tombstone, but finally
it had been decided to engrave on it simply the initials of the old gentleman’s
name, and the verse from the library window. The Duchess had brought with
her some lovely roses, which she strewed upon the grave, and after they had
stood by it for some time they strolled into the ruined chancel of the old
abbey. There the Duchess sat down on a fallen pillar, while her husband
lay at her feet smoking a cigarette and looking up at her beautiful eyes.
Suddenly he threw his cigarette away, took hold of her hand, and said to her, ‘
‘Dear Cecil! I have no secrets from you.’
‘Yes, you have,’ he answered, smiling, ‘you have never told me what happened to you when you were locked up with the ghost.’
have never told any one, Cecil,’ said
‘I know that, but you might tell me.’
‘Please don’t ask me, Cecil, I cannot tell you. Poor Sir Simon! I owe him a great deal. Yes, don’t laugh, Cecil, I really do. He made me see what Life is, and what Death signifies, and why Love is stronger than both.’
The Duke rose and kissed his wife lovingly.
‘You can have your secret as long as I have your heart,’ he murmured.
‘You have always had that, Cecil.’
‘And you will tell our children some day, won’t you?’
afternoon I was sitting outside the Café de la Paix, watching the splendour and
shabbiness of Parisian life, and wondering over my vermouth at the strange
panorama of pride and poverty that was passing before me, when I heard some one
call my name. I turned round, and saw Lord Murchison. We had not
met since we had been at college together, nearly ten years before, so I was
delighted to come across him again, and we shook hands warmly. At
‘I don’t understand women well enough,’ he answered.
‘My dear Gerald,’ I said, ‘women are meant to be loved, not to be understood.’
‘I cannot love where I cannot trust,’ he replied.
‘I believe you have a mystery in your life, Gerald,’ I exclaimed; ‘tell me about it.’
‘Let us go for a drive,’ he answered, ‘it is too crowded here. No, not a yellow carriage, any other colour - there, that dark green one will do’; and in a few moments we were trotting down the boulevard in the direction of the Madeleine.
‘Where shall we go to?’ I said.
‘Oh, anywhere you like!’ he answered - ‘to the restaurant in the Bois; we will dine there, and you shall tell me all about yourself.’
‘I want to hear about you first,’ I said. ‘Tell me your mystery.’
He took from his pocket a little silver-clasped morocco case, and handed it to me. I opened it. Inside there was the photograph of a woman. She was tall and slight, and strangely picturesque with her large vague eyes and loosened hair. She looked like a clairvoyante, and was wrapped in rich furs.
‘What do you think of that face?’ he said; ‘is it truthful?’
I examined it carefully. It seemed to me the face of some one who had a secret, but whether that secret was good or evil I could not say. Its beauty was a beauty moulded out of many mysteries - the beauty, in fact, which is psychological, not plastic - and the faint smile that just played across the lips was far too subtle to be really sweet.
‘Well,’ he cried impatiently, ‘what do you say?’
‘She is the Gioconda in sables,’ I answered. ‘Let me know all about her.’
‘Not now,’ he said; ‘after dinner,’ and began to talk of other things.
When the waiter brought us our coffee and cigarettes I reminded Gerald of his promise. He rose from his seat, walked two or three times up and down the room, and, sinking into an armchair, told me the following story:-
evening,’ he said, ‘I was walking down
next day I arrived at
‘All through the season I saw a great deal of her, and the atmosphere of mystery never left her. Sometimes I thought that she was in the power of some man, but she looked so unapproachable, that I could not believe it. It was really very difficult for me to come to any conclusion, for she was like one of those strange crystals that one sees in museums, which are at one moment clear, and at another clouded. At last I determined to ask her to be my wife: I was sick and tired of the incessant secrecy that she imposed on all my visits, and on the few letters I sent her. I wrote to her at the library to ask her if she could see me the following Monday at six. She answered yes, and I was in the seventh heaven of delight. I was infatuated with her: in spite of the mystery, I thought then - in consequence of it, I see now. No; it was the woman herself I loved. The mystery troubled me, maddened me. Why did chance put me in its track?’
‘You discovered it, then?’ I cried.
‘I fear so,’ he answered. ‘You can judge for yourself.’
Monday came round I went to lunch with my uncle, and about four o’clock found myself in the
‘You went to the street, to the house in it?’ I said.
‘Yes,’ he answered.
day I went to
‘Then why did Lady Alroy go there?’
‘My dear Gerald,’ I answered, ‘Lady Alroy was simply a woman with a mania for mystery. She took these rooms for the pleasure of going there with her veil down, and imagining she was a heroine. She had a passion for secrecy, but she herself was merely a Sphinx without a secret.’
‘Do you really think so?’
‘I am sure of it,’ I replied.
He took out the morocco case, opened it, and looked at the photograph. ‘I wonder?’ he said at last.
Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow. Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic. It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating. These are the great truths of modern life which Hughie Erskine never realised. Poor Hughie! Intellectually, we must admit, he was not of much importance. He never said a brilliant or even an ill-natured thing in his life. But then he was wonderfully good-looking, with his crisp brown hair, his clear-cut profile, and his grey eyes. He was as popular with men as he was with women and he had every accomplishment except that of making money. His father had bequeathed him his cavalry sword and a History of the Peninsular War in fifteen volumes. Hughie hung the first over his looking-glass, put the second on a shelf between Ruff’s Guide and Bailey’s Magazine, and lived on two hundred a year that an old aunt allowed him. He had tried everything. He had gone on the Stock Exchange for six months; but what was a butterfly to do among bulls and bears? He had been a tea-merchant for a little longer, but had soon tired of pekoe and souchong. Then he had tried selling dry sherry. That did not answer; the sherry was a little too dry. Ultimately he became nothing, a delightful, ineffectual young man with a perfect profile and no profession.
make matters worse, he was in love. The girl he loved was Laura Merton,
the daughter of a retired Colonel who had lost his temper and his digestion in
‘Come to me, my boy, when you have got ten thousand pounds of your own, and we will see about it,’ he used to say; and Hughie looked very glum in those days, and had to go to Laura for consolation.
morning, as he was on his way to
When Hughie came in he found Trevor putting the finishing touches to a wonderful life-size picture of a beggar-man. The beggar himself was standing on a raised platform in a corner of the studio. He was a wizened old man, with a face like wrinkled parchment, and a most piteous expression. Over his shoulders was flung a coarse brown cloak, all tears and tatters; his thick boots were patched and cobbled, and with one hand he leant on a rough stick, while with the other he held out his battered hat for alms.
‘What an amazing model!’ whispered Hughie, as he shook hands with his friend.
‘An amazing model?’ shouted Trevor at the top of his voice; ‘I should think so! Such beggars as he are not to be met with every day. A trouvaille, mon cher; a living Velasquez! My stars! what an etching Rembrandt would have made of him!’
‘Poor old chap!’ said Hughie, ‘how miserable he looks! But I suppose, to you painters, his face is his fortune?’
‘Certainly,’ replied Trevor, ‘you don’t want a beggar to look happy, do you?’
‘How much does a model get for sitting?’ asked Hughie, as he found himself a comfortable seat on a divan.
‘A shilling an hour.’
‘And how much do you get for your picture, Alan?’
‘Oh, for this I get two thousand!’
‘Well, I think the model should have a percentage,’ cried Hughie, laughing; ‘they work quite as hard as you do.’
‘Nonsense, nonsense! Why, look at the trouble of laying on the paint alone, and standing all day long at one’s easel! It’s all very well, Hughie, for you to talk, but I assure you that there are moments when Art almost attains to the dignity of manual labour. But you mustn’t chatter; I’m very busy. Smoke a cigarette, and keep quiet.’
After some time the servant came in, and told Trevor that the framemaker wanted to speak to him.
‘Don’t run away, Hughie,’ he said, as he went out, ‘I will be back in a moment.’
The old beggar-man took advantage of Trevor’s absence to rest for a moment on a wooden bench that was behind him. He looked so forlorn and wretched that Hughie could not help pitying him, and felt in his pockets to see what money he had. All he could find was a sovereign and some coppers. ‘Poor old fellow,’ he thought to himself, ‘he wants it more than I do, but it means no hansoms for a fortnight’; and he walked across the studio and slipped the sovereign into the beggar’s hand.
The old man started, and a faint smile flitted across his withered lips. ‘Thank you, sir,’ he said, ‘thank you.’
Then Trevor arrived, and Hughie took his leave, blushing a little at what he had done. He spent the day with Laura, got a charming scolding for his extravagance, and had to walk home.
That night he strolled into the Palette Club about eleven o’clock, and found Trevor sitting by himself in the smoking-room drinking hock and seltzer.
‘Well, Alan, did you get the picture finished all right?’ he said, as he lit his cigarette.
‘Finished and framed, my boy!’ answered Trevor; ‘and, by the bye, you have made a conquest. That old model you saw is quite devoted to you. I had to tell him all about you - who you are, where you live, what your income is, what prospects you have - ’
‘My dear Alan,’ cried Hughie, ‘I shall probably find him waiting for me when I go home. But of course you are only joking. Poor old wretch! I wish I could do something for him. I think it is dreadful that any one should be so miserable. I have got heaps of old clothes at home - do you think he would care for any of them? Why, his rags were falling to bits.’
‘But he looks splendid in them,’ said Trevor. ‘I wouldn’t paint him in a frock coat for anything. What you call rags I call romance. What seems poverty to you is picturesqueness to me. However, I’ll tell him of your offer.’
‘Alan,’ said Hughie seriously, ‘you painters are a heartless lot.’
‘An artist’s heart is his head,’ replied Trevor; ‘and besides, our business is to realise the world as we see it, not to reform it as we know it. À chacun son métier. And now tell me how Laura is. The old model was quite interested in her.’
‘You don’t mean to say you talked to him about her?’ said Hughie.
‘Certainly I did. He knows all about the relentless colonel, the lovely Laura, and the £10,000.’
‘You told that old beggar all my private affairs?’ cried Hughie, looking very red and angry.
dear boy,’ said Trevor, smiling, ‘that old beggar, as you call him, is one of
the richest men in
‘What on earth do you mean?’ exclaimed Hughie.
I say,’ said Trevor. ‘The old man you saw to-day in the studio was Baron
Hausberg. He is a great friend of mine, buys all my pictures and that
sort of thing, and gave me a commission a month ago to paint him as a
beggar. Que voulez-vous? La
fantaisie d’un millionnaire! And I must say he made a magnificent
figure in his rags, or perhaps I should say in my rags; they are an old suit I
‘Baron Hausberg!’ cried Hughie. ‘Good heavens! I gave him a sovereign!’ and he sank into an armchair the picture of dismay.
‘Gave him a sovereign!’ shouted Trevor, and he burst into a roar of laughter. ‘My dear boy, you’ll never see it again. Son affaire c’est l’argent des autres.’
‘I think you might have told me, Alan,’ said Hughie sulkily, ‘and not have let me make such a fool of myself.’
‘Well, to begin with, Hughie,’ said Trevor, ‘it never entered my mind that you went about distributing alms in that reckless way. I can understand your kissing a pretty model, but your giving a sovereign to an ugly one - by Jove, no! Besides, the fact is that I really was not at home to-day to any one; and when you came in I didn’t know whether Hausberg would like his name mentioned. You know he wasn’t in full dress.’
‘What a duffer he must think me!’ said Hughie.
‘Not at all. He was in the highest spirits after you left; kept chuckling to himself and rubbing his old wrinkled hands together. I couldn’t make out why he was so interested to know all about you; but I see it all now. He’ll invest your sovereign for you, Hughie, pay you the interest every six months, and have a capital story to tell after dinner.’
‘I am an unlucky devil,’ growled Hughie. ‘The best thing I can do is to go to bed; and, my dear Alan, you mustn’t tell any one. I shouldn’t dare show my face in the Row.’
‘Nonsense! It reflects the highest credit on your philanthropic spirit, Hughie. And don’t run away. Have another cigarette, and you can talk about Laura as much as you like.’
However, Hughie wouldn’t stop, but walked home, feeling very unhappy, and leaving Alan Trevor in fits of laughter.
The next morning, as he was at breakfast, the servant brought him up a card on which was written, ‘Monsieur Gustave Naudin, de la part de M. le Baron Hausberg.’ ‘I suppose he has come for an apology,’ said Hughie to himself; and he told the servant to show the visitor up.
An old gentleman with gold spectacles and grey hair came into the room, and said, in a slight French accent, ‘Have I the honour of addressing Monsieur Erskine?’
‘I have come from Baron Hausberg,’ he continued. ‘The Baron - ’
‘I beg, sir, that you will offer him my sincerest apologies,’ stammered Hughie.
‘The Baron,’ said the old gentleman with a smile, ‘has commissioned me to bring you this letter’; and he extended a sealed envelope.
On the outside was written, ‘A wedding present to Hugh Erskine and Laura Merton, from an old beggar,’ and inside was a cheque for £10,000.
When they were married Alan Trevor was the best man, and the Baron made a speech at the wedding breakfast.
‘Millionaire models,’ remarked Alan, ‘are rare enough; but, by Jove, model millionaires are rarer still!’
I had been dining with Erskine in his pretty little house in Birdcage Walk, and we were sitting in the library over our coffee and cigarettes, when the question of literary forgeries happened to turn up in conversation. I cannot at present remember how it was that we struck upon this somewhat curious topic, as it was at that time, but I know that we had a long discussion about Macpherson, Ireland, and Chatterton, and that with regard to the last I insisted that his so-called forgeries were merely the result of an artistic desire for perfect representation; that we had no right to quarrel with an artist for the conditions under which he chooses to present his work; and that all Art being to a certain degree a mode of acting, an attempt to realise one’s own personality on some imaginative plane out of reach of the trammelling accidents and limitations of real life, to censure an artist for a forgery was to confuse an ethical with an aesthetical problem.
Erskine, who was a good deal older than I was, and had been listening to me with the amused deference of a man of forty, suddenly put his hand upon my shoulder and said to me, ‘What would you say about a young man who had a strange theory about a certain work of art, believed in his theory, and committed a forgery in order to prove it?’
‘Ah! that is quite a different matter,’ I answered.
Erskine remained silent for a few moments, looking at the thin grey threads of smoke that were rising from his cigarette. ‘Yes,’ he said, after a pause, ‘quite different.’
There was something in the tone of his voice, a slight touch of bitterness perhaps, that excited my curiosity. ‘Did you ever know anybody who did that?’ I cried.
‘Yes,’ he answered, throwing his cigarette into the fire, - ‘a great friend of mine, Cyril Graham. He was very fascinating, and very foolish, and very heartless. However, he left me the only legacy I ever received in my life.’
‘What was that?’ I exclaimed. Erskine rose from his seat, and going over to a tall inlaid cabinet that stood between the two windows, unlocked it, and came back to where I was sitting, holding in his hand a small panel picture set in an old and somewhat tarnished Elizabethan frame.
It was a full-length portrait of a young man in late sixteenth-century costume, standing by a table, with his right hand resting on an open book. He seemed about seventeen years of age, and was of quite extraordinary personal beauty, though evidently somewhat effeminate. Indeed, had it not been for the dress and the closely cropped hair, one would have said that the face with its dreamy wistful eyes, and its delicate scarlet lips, was the face of a girl. In manner, and especially in the treatment of the hands, the picture reminded one of François Clouet’s later work. The black velvet doublet with its fantastically gilded points, and the peacock-blue background against which it showed up so pleasantly, and from which it gained such luminous value of colour, were quite in Clouet’s style; and the two masks of Tragedy and Comedy that hung somewhat formally from the marble pedestal had that hard severity of touch - so different from the facile grace of the Italians - which even at the Court of France the great Flemish master never completely lost, and which in itself has always been a characteristic of the northern temper.
‘It is a charming thing,’ I cried, ‘but who is this wonderful young man, whose beauty Art has so happily preserved for us?’
‘This is the portrait of Mr. W. H.,’ said Erskine, with a sad smile. It might have been a chance effect of light, but it seemed to me that his eyes were quite bright with tears.
‘Mr. W. H.!’ I exclaimed; ‘who was Mr. W. H.?’
‘Don’t you remember?’ he answered; ‘look at the book on which his hand is resting.’
‘I see there is some writing there, but I cannot make it out,’ I replied.
‘Take this magnifying-glass and try,’ said Erskine, with the same sad smile still playing about his mouth.
I took the glass, and moving the lamp a little nearer, I began to spell out the crabbed sixteenth-century handwriting. ‘To the onlie begetter of these insuing sonnets.’ . . . ‘Good heavens!’ I cried, ‘is this Shakespeare’s Mr. W. H.?’
‘Cyril Graham used to say so,’ muttered Erskine.
‘But it is not a bit like Lord Pembroke,’ I answered. ‘I know the Penshurst portraits very well. I was staying near there a few weeks ago.’
‘Do you really believe then that the sonnets are addressed to Lord Pembroke?’ he asked.
‘I am sure of it,’ I answered. ‘Pembroke, Shakespeare, and Mrs. Mary Fitton are the three personages of the Sonnets; there is no doubt at all about it.’
‘Well, I agree with you,’ said Erskine, ‘but I did not always think so. I used to believe - well, I suppose I used to believe in Cyril Graham and his theory.’
‘And what was that?’ I asked, looking at the wonderful portrait, which had already begun to have a strange fascination for me.
‘It is a long story,’ said Erskine, taking the picture away from me - rather abruptly I thought at the time - ‘a very long story; but if you care to hear it, I will tell it to you.’
‘I love theories about the Sonnets,’ I cried; ‘but I don’t think I am likely to be converted to any new idea. The matter has ceased to be a mystery to any one. Indeed, I wonder that it ever was a mystery.’
‘As I don’t believe in the theory, I am not likely to convert you to it,’ said Erskine, laughing; ‘but it may interest you.’
‘Tell it to me, of course,’ I answered. ‘If it is half as delightful as the picture, I shall be more than satisfied.’
said Erskine, lighting a cigarette, ‘I must begin by telling you about Cyril
Graham himself. He and I were at the same house at
I must tell you about Cyril’s acting. You know
that no actresses are allowed to play at the A.D.C. At least they were
not in my time. I don’t know how it is now. Well, of course, Cyril
was always cast for the girls’ parts, and when As You Like
It was produced he played Rosalind. It was a marvellous
performance. In fact, Cyril Graham was the only perfect Rosalind I have
ever seen. It would be impossible to describe to you the beauty, the
delicacy, the refinement of the whole thing. It made an immense
sensation, and the horrid little theatre, as it was then, was crowded every
night. Even when I read the play now I can’t help thinking of
Cyril. It might have been written for him. The next term he took
his degree, and came to
to come to the real point of the story, one day I got a letter from Cyril
asking me to come round to his rooms that evening. He had charming
chambers in Piccadilly overlooking the
‘He began by pointing out that the young man to whom Shakespeare addressed these strangely passionate poems must have been somebody who was a really vital factor in the development of his dramatic art, and that this could not be said either of Lord Pembroke or Lord Southampton. Indeed, whoever he was, he could not have been anybody of high birth, as was shown very clearly by the 25th Sonnet, in which Shakespeare contrasting himself with those who are “great princes’ favourites,” says quite frankly -
those who are in favour with their stars
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlook’d for joy in that I honour most.
And ends the sonnet by congratulating himself on the mean state of him he so adored.
happy I, that love and am beloved
Where I may not remove nor be removed.
sonnet Cyril declared would be quite unintelligible if we fancied that it was
addressed to either the Earl of Pembroke or the Earl of Southampton, both of
whom were men of the highest position in
‘Cyril pointed out also that Pembroke’s father did not die till 1601; whereas it was evident from the line,
You had a father; let your son say so,
that the father of Mr. W. H. was dead in 1598. Besides, it was absurd to imagine that any publisher of the time, and the preface is from the publisher’s hand, would have ventured to address William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, as Mr. W. H.; the case of Lord Buckhurst being spoken of as Mr. Sackville being not really a parallel instance, as Lord Buckhurst was not a peer, but merely the younger son of a peer, with a courtesy title, and the passage in England’s Parnassus, where he is so spoken of, is not a formal and stately dedication, but simply a casual allusion. So far for Lord Pembroke, whose supposed claims Cyril easily demolished while I sat by in wonder. With Lord Southampton Cyril had even less difficulty. Southampton became at a very early age the lover of Elizabeth Vernon, so he needed no entreaties to marry; he was not beautiful; he did not resemble his mother, as Mr. W. H. did -
art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
and, above all, his Christian name was Henry, whereas the punning sonnets (CXXXV. and CXLIII.) show that the Christian name of Shakespeare’s friend was the same as his own - Will.
for the other suggestions of unfortunate commentators, that Mr. W. H. is a
misprint for Mr. W. S., meaning Mr. William Shakespeare; that “Mr. W. H. all”
should be read “Mr. W. Hall”; that Mr. W. H. is Mr. William Hathaway; and that
a full stop should be placed after “wisheth,” making Mr. W. H. the writer and
not the subject of the dedication, - Cyril got rid of them in a very short
time; and it is not worth while to mention his reasons, though I remember he
sent me off into a fit of laughter by reading to me, I am glad to say not in
the original, some extracts from a German commentator called Barnstorff, who
insisted that Mr. W. H. was no less a person than “Mr. William Himself.”
Nor would he allow for a moment that the Sonnets are mere satires on the work
of Drayton and John Davies of
‘Having in this manner cleared the way as it were, Cyril asked me to dismiss from my mind any preconceived ideas I might have formed on the subject, and to give a fair and unbiassed hearing to his own theory. The problem he pointed out was this: Who was that young man of Shakespeare’s day who, without being of noble birth or even of noble nature, was addressed by him in terms of such passionate adoration that we can but wonder at the strange worship, and are almost afraid to turn the key that unlocks the mystery of the poet’s heart? Who was he whose physical beauty was such that it became the very corner-stone of Shakespeare’s art; the very source of Shakespeare’s inspiration; the very incarnation of Shakespeare’s dreams? To look upon him as simply the object of certain love-poems is to miss the whole meaning of the poems: for the art of which Shakespeare talks in the Sonnets is not the art of the Sonnets themselves, which indeed were to him but slight and secret things - it is the art of the dramatist to which he is always alluding; and he to whom Shakespeare said -
art all my art, and dost advance
As high as learning my rude ignorance,
he to whom he promised immortality,
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men, -
was surely none other than the boy-actor for whom he created Viola and Imogen, Juliet and Rosalind, Portia and Desdemona, and Cleopatra herself. This was Cyril Graham’s theory, evolved as you see purely from the Sonnets themselves, and depending for its acceptance not so much on demonstrable proof or formal evidence, but on a kind of spiritual and artistic sense, by which alone he claimed could the true meaning of the poems be discerned. I remember his reading to me that fine sonnet -
can my Muse want subject to invent,
While thou dost breathe, that pour’st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
For every vulgar paper to rehearse?
O, give thyself the thanks, if aught in me
Worthy perusal stand against thy sight;
For who’s so dumb that cannot write to thee,
When thou thyself dost give invention light?
Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate;
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
Eternal numbers to outlive long date -
and pointing out how completely it corroborated his theory; and indeed he went through all the Sonnets carefully, and showed, or fancied that he showed, that, according to his new explanation of their meaning, things that had seemed obscure, or evil, or exaggerated, became clear and rational, and of high artistic import, illustrating Shakespeare’s conception of the true relations between the art of the actor and the art of the dramatist.
‘It is of course evident that there must have been in Shakespeare’s company some wonderful boy-actor of great beauty, to whom he intrusted the presentation of his noble heroines; for Shakespeare was a practical theatrical manager as well as an imaginative poet, and Cyril Graham had actually discovered the boy-actor’s name. He was Will, or, as he preferred to call him, Willie Hughes. The Christian name he found of course in the punning sonnets, CXXXV. and CXLIII.; the surname was, according to him, hidden in the seventh line of the 20th Sonnet, where Mr. W. H. is described as -
A man in hew, all Hews in his controwling.
‘In the original edition of the Sonnets “Hews” is printed with a capital letter and in italics, and this, he claimed, showed clearly that a play on words was intended, his view receiving a good deal of corroboration from those sonnets in which curious puns are made on the words “use” and “usury.” Of course I was converted at once, and Willie Hughes became to me as real a person as Shakespeare. The only objection I made to the theory was that the name of Willie Hughes does not occur in the list of the actors of Shakespeare’s company as it is printed in the first folio. Cyril, however, pointed out that the absence of Willie Hughes’s name from this list really corroborated the theory, as it was evident from Sonnet LXXXVI. that Willie Hughes had abandoned Shakespeare’s company to play at a rival theatre, probably in some of Chapman’s plays. It is in reference to this that in the great sonnet on Chapman, Shakespeare said to Willie Hughes -
when your countenance fill’d up his line,
Then lack’d I matter; that enfeebled mine -
the expression “when your countenance filled up his line” referring obviously to the beauty of the young actor giving life and reality and added charm to Chapman’s verse, the same idea being also put forward in the 79th Sonnet -
I alone did call upon thy aid,
My verse alone had all thy gentle grace;
But now my gracious numbers are decay’d,
And my sick Muse doth give another place;
and in the immediately preceding sonnet, where Shakespeare says -
alien pen has got my use
And under thee their poesy disperse,
the play upon words (use=Hughes) being of course obvious, and the phrase “under thee their poesy disperse,” meaning “by your assistance as an actor bring their plays before the people.”
‘It was a wonderful evening, and we sat up almost till dawn reading and re-reading the Sonnets. After some time, however, I began to see that before the theory could be placed before the world in a really perfected form, it was necessary to get some independent evidence about the existence of this young actor, Willie Hughes. If this could be once established, there could be no possible doubt about his identity with Mr. W. H.; but otherwise the theory would fall to the ground. I put this forward very strongly to Cyril, who was a good deal annoyed at what he called my Philistine tone of mind, and indeed was rather bitter upon the subject. However, I made him promise that in his own interest he would not publish his discovery till he had put the whole matter beyond the reach of doubt; and for weeks and weeks we searched the registers of City churches, the Alleyn MSS. at Dulwich, the Record Office, the papers of the Lord Chamberlain - everything, in fact, that we thought might contain some allusion to Willie Hughes. We discovered nothing, of course, and every day the existence of Willie Hughes seemed to me to become more problematical. Cyril was in a dreadful state, and used to go over the whole question day after day, entreating me to believe; but I saw the one flaw in the theory, and I refused to be convinced till the actual existence of Willie Hughes, a boy-actor of Elizabethan days, had been placed beyond the reach of doubt or cavil.
day Cyril left town to stay with his grandfather, I thought at the time, but I
afterwards heard from Lord Crediton that this was not the case; and about a
fortnight afterwards I received a telegram from him, handed in at Warwick,
asking me to be sure to come and dine with him that evening at eight o’clock.
When I arrived, he said to me, “The only apostle who did not deserve proof was
‘Well, what was I to say? It never occurred to me for a moment that Cyril Graham was playing a trick on me, or that he was trying to prove his theory by means of a forgery.’
‘But is it a forgery?’ I asked.
‘Of course it is,’ said Erskine. ‘It is a very good forgery; but it is a forgery none the less. I thought at the time that Cyril was rather calm about the whole matter; but I remember he more than once told me that he himself required no proof of the kind, and that he thought the theory complete without it. I laughed at him, and told him that without it the theory would fall to the ground, and I warmly congratulated him on the marvellous discovery. We then arranged that the picture should be etched or facsimiled, and placed as the frontispiece to Cyril’s edition of the Sonnets; and for three months we did nothing but go over each poem line by line, till we had settled every difficulty of text or meaning. One unlucky day I was in a print-shop in Holborn, when I saw upon the counter some extremely beautiful drawings in silver-point. I was so attracted by them that I bought them; and the proprietor of the place, a man called Rawlings, told me that they were done by a young painter of the name of Edward Merton, who was very clever, but as poor as a church mouse. I went to see Merton some days afterwards, having got his address from the printseller, and found a pale, interesting young man, with a rather common-looking wife - his model, as I subsequently learned. I told him how much I admired his drawings, at which he seemed very pleased, and I asked him if he would show me some of his other work. As we were looking over a portfolio, full of really very lovely things, - for Merton had a most delicate and delightful touch, - I suddenly caught sight of a drawing of the picture of Mr. W. H. There was no doubt whatever about it. It was almost a facsimile - the only difference being that the two masks of Tragedy and Comedy were not suspended from the marble table as they are in the picture, but were lying on the floor at the young man’s feet. “Where on earth did you get that?” I said. He grew rather confused, and said - “Oh, that is nothing. I did not know it was in this portfolio. It is not a thing of any value.” “It is what you did for Mr. Cyril Graham,” exclaimed his wife; “and if this gentleman wishes to buy it, let him have it.” “For Mr. Cyril Graham?” I repeated. “Did you paint the picture of Mr. W. H.?” “I don’t understand what you mean,” he answered, growing very red. Well, the whole thing was quite dreadful. The wife let it all out. I gave her five pounds when I was going away. I can’t bear to think of it now; but of course I was furious. I went off at once to Cyril’s chambers, waited there for three hours before he came in, with that horrid lie staring me in the face, and told him I had discovered his forgery. He grew very pale and said - “I did it purely for your sake. You would not be convinced in any other way. It does not affect the truth of the theory.” “The truth of the theory!” I exclaimed; “the less we talk about that the better. You never even believed in it yourself. If you had, you would not have committed a forgery to prove it.” High words passed between us; we had a fearful quarrel. I dare say I was unjust. The next morning he was dead.’
‘Dead!’ I cried,
‘Yes; he shot himself with a revolver. Some of the blood splashed upon the frame of the picture, just where the name had been painted. By the time I arrived - his servant had sent for me at once - the police were already there. He had left a letter for me, evidently written in the greatest agitation and distress of mind.’
‘What was in it?’ I asked.
‘Oh, that he believed absolutely in Willie Hughes; that the forgery of the picture had been done simply as a concession to me, and did not in the slightest degree invalidate the truth of the theory; and, that in order to show me how firm and flawless his faith in the whole thing was, he was going to offer his life as a sacrifice to the secret of the Sonnets. It was a foolish, mad letter. I remember he ended by saying that he intrusted to me the Willie Hughes theory, and that it was for me to present it to the world, and to unlock the secret of Shakespeare’s heart.’
‘It is a most tragic story,’ I cried; ‘but why have you not carried out his wishes?’
Erskine shrugged his shoulders. ‘Because it is a perfectly unsound theory from beginning to end,’ he answered.
‘My dear Erskine,’ I said, getting up from my seat, ‘you are entirely wrong about the whole matter. It is the only perfect key to Shakespeare’s Sonnets that has ever been made. It is complete in every detail. I believe in Willie Hughes.’
‘Don’t say that,’ said Erskine gravely; ‘I believe there is something fatal about the idea, and intellectually there is nothing to be said for it. I have gone into the whole matter, and I assure you the theory is entirely fallacious. It is plausible up to a certain point. Then it stops. For heaven’s sake, my dear boy, don’t take up the subject of Willie Hughes. You will break your heart over it.’
‘Erskine,’ I answered, ‘it is your duty to give this theory to the world. If you will not do it, I will. By keeping it back you wrong the memory of Cyril Graham, the youngest and the most splendid of all the martyrs of literature. I entreat you to do him justice. He died for this thing, - don’t let his death be in vain.’
Erskine looked at me in amazement. ‘You are carried away by the sentiment of the whole story,’ he said. ‘You forget that a thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it. I was devoted to Cyril Graham. His death was a horrible blow to me. I did not recover it for years. I don’t think I have ever recovered it. But Willie Hughes? There is nothing in the idea of Willie Hughes. No such person ever existed. As for bringing the whole thing before the world - the world thinks that Cyril Graham shot himself by accident. The only proof of his suicide was contained in the letter to me, and of this letter the public never heard anything. To the present day Lord Crediton thinks that the whole thing was accidental.’
‘Cyril Graham sacrificed his life to a great Idea,’ I answered; ‘and if you will not tell of his martyrdom, tell at least of his faith.’
‘His faith,’ said Erskine, ‘was fixed in a thing that was false, in a thing that was unsound, in a thing that no Shakespearean scholar would accept for a moment. The theory would be laughed at. Don’t make a fool of yourself, and don’t follow a trail that leads nowhere. You start by assuming the existence of the very person whose existence is the thing to be proved. Besides, everybody knows that the Sonnets were addressed to Lord Pembroke. The matter is settled once for all.’
‘The matter is not settled!’ I exclaimed. ‘I will take up the theory where Cyril Graham left it, and I will prove to the world that he was right.’
‘Silly boy!’ said Erskine. ‘Go home: it is after two, and don’t think about Willie Hughes any more. I am sorry I told you anything about it, and very sorry indeed that I should have converted you to a thing in which I don’t believe.’
‘You have given me the key to the greatest mystery of modern literature,’ I answered; ‘and I shall not rest till I have made you recognise, till I have made everybody recognise, that Cyril Graham was the most subtle Shakespearean critic of our day.’
I walked home through St. James’s Park the dawn was just breaking over
It was past twelve o’clock when I awoke, and the sun was streaming in through the curtains of my room in long slanting beams of dusty gold. I told my servant that I would be at home to no one; and after I had had a cup of chocolate and a petit-pain, I took down from the book-shelf my copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, and began to go carefully through them. Every poem seemed to me to corroborate Cyril Graham’s theory. I felt as if I had my hand upon Shakespeare’s heart, and was counting each separate throb and pulse of passion. I thought of the wonderful boy-actor, and saw his face in every line.
Two sonnets, I remember, struck me particularly: they were the 53rd and the 67th. In the first of these, Shakespeare, complimenting Willie Hughes on the versatility of his acting, on his wide range of parts, a range extending from Rosalind to Juliet, and from Beatrice to Ophelia, says to him -
is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
And you, but one, can every shadow lend -
lines that would be unintelligible if they were not addressed to an actor, for the word ‘shadow’ had in Shakespeare’s day a technical meaning connected with the stage. ‘The best in this kind are but shadows,’ says Theseus of the actors in the Midsummer Night’s Dream, and there are many similar allusions in the literature of the day. These sonnets evidently belonged to the series in which Shakespeare discusses the nature of the actor’s art, and of the strange and rare temperament that is essential to the perfect stage-player. ‘How is it,’ says Shakespeare to Willie Hughes, ‘that you have so many personalities?’ and then he goes on to point out that his beauty is such that it seems to realise every form and phase of fancy, to embody each dream of the creative imagination - an idea that is still further expanded in the sonnet that immediately follows, where, beginning with the fine thought,
how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
Shakespeare invites us to notice how the truth of acting, the truth of visible presentation on the stage, adds to the wonder of poetry, giving life to its loveliness, and actual reality to its ideal form. And yet, in the 67th Sonnet, Shakespeare calls upon Willie Hughes to abandon the stage with its artificiality, its false mimic life of painted face and unreal costume, its immoral influences and suggestions, its remoteness from the true world of noble action and sincere utterance.
wherefore with infection should he live
And with his presence grace impiety,
That sin by him advantage should achieve
And lace itself with his society?
Why should false painting imitate his cheek,
And steal dead seeming of his living hue?
Why should poor beauty indirectly seek
Roses of shadow, since his rose is true?
It may seem strange that so great a dramatist as Shakespeare, who realised his own perfection as an artist and his humanity as a man on the ideal plane of stage-writing and stage-playing, should have written in these terms about the theatre; but we must remember that in Sonnets CX. and CXI. Shakespeare shows us that he too was wearied of the world of puppets, and full of shame at having made himself ‘a motley to the view.’ The 111th Sonnet is especially bitter:-
for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand:
Pity me then and wish I were renew’d -
and there are many signs elsewhere of the same feeling, signs familiar to all real students of Shakespeare.
One point puzzled me immensely as I read the Sonnets, and it was days before I struck on the true interpretation, which indeed Cyril Graham himself seems to have missed. I could not understand how it was that Shakespeare set so high a value on his young friend marrying. He himself had married young, and the result had been unhappiness, and it was not likely that he would have asked Willie Hughes to commit the same error. The boy-player of Rosalind had nothing to gain from marriage, or from the passions of real life. The early sonnets, with their strange entreaties to have children, seemed to me a jarring note. The explanation of the mystery came on me quite suddenly, and I found it in the curious dedication. It will be remembered that the dedication runs as follows:-
TO THE ONLIE BEGETTER OF
THESE INSUING SONNETS
MR. W. H. ALL HAPPINESSE
AND THAT ETERNITIE
OUR EVER-LIVING POET
Some scholars have supposed that the word ‘begetter’ in this dedication means simply the procurer of the Sonnets for Thomas Thorpe the publisher; but this view is now generally abandoned, and the highest authorities are quite agreed that it is to be taken in the sense of inspirer, the metaphor being drawn from the analogy of physical life. Now I saw that the same metaphor was used by Shakespeare himself all through the poems, and this set me on the right track. Finally I made my great discovery. The marriage that Shakespeare proposes for Willie Hughes is the marriage with his Muse, an expression which is definitely put forward in the 82nd Sonnet, where, in the bitterness of his heart at the defection of the boy-actor for whom he had written his greatest parts, and whose beauty had indeed suggested them, he opens his complaint by saying -
I grant thou wert not married to my Muse.
The children he begs him to beget are no children of flesh and blood, but more immortal children of undying fame. The whole cycle of the early sonnets is simply Shakespeare’s invitation to Willie Hughes to go upon the stage and become a player. How barren and profitless a thing, he says, is this beauty of yours if it be not used:-
forty winters shall besiege thy brow
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask’d where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
You must create something in art: my verse ‘is thine, and born of thee’; only listen to me, and I will ‘bring forth eternal numbers to outlive long date,’ and you shall people with forms of your own image the imaginary world of the stage. These children that you beget, he continues, will not wither away, as mortal children do, but you shall live in them and in my plays: do but -
thee another self, for love of me,
That beauty still may live in thine or thee.
I collected all the passages that seemed to me to corroborate this view, and they produced a strong impression on me, and showed me how complete Cyril Graham’s theory really was. I also saw that it was quite easy to separate those lines in which he speaks of the Sonnets themselves from those in which he speaks of his great dramatic work. This was a point that had been entirely overlooked by all critics up to Cyril Graham’s day. And yet it was one of the most important points in the whole series of poems. To the Sonnets Shakespeare was more or less indifferent. He did not wish to rest his fame on them. They were to him his ‘slight Muse,’ as he calls them, and intended, as Meres tells us, for private circulation only among a few, a very few, friends. Upon the other hand he was extremely conscious of the high artistic value of his plays, and shows a noble self-reliance upon his dramatic genius. When he says to Willie Hughes:
thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee; -
the expression ‘eternal lines’ clearly alludes to one of his plays that he was sending him at the time, just as the concluding couplet points to his confidence in the probability of his plays being always acted. In his address to the Dramatic Muse (Sonnets C. and CI.), we find the same feeling.
art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
Spend’st thou thy fury on some worthless song,
Darkening thy power to lend base subjects light?
he cries, and he then proceeds to reproach the Mistress of Tragedy and Comedy for her ‘neglect of Truth in Beauty dyed,’ and says -
he needs no praise, wilt thou be dumb?
Excuse not silence so, for ‘t lies in thee
To make him much outlive a gilded tomb
And to be praised of ages yet to be.
Then do thy office, Muse; I teach thee how
To make him seem long hence as he shows now.
It is, however, perhaps in the 55th Sonnet that Shakespeare gives to this idea its fullest expression. To imagine that the ‘powerful rhyme’ of the second line refers to the sonnet itself, is to mistake Shakespeare’s meaning entirely. It seemed to me that it was extremely likely, from the general character of the sonnet, that a particular play was meant, and that the play was none other but Romeo and Juliet.
marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmear’d with sluttish time.
When wasteful wars shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgement that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.
It was also extremely suggestive to note how here as elsewhere Shakespeare promised Willie Hughes immortality in a form that appealed to men’s eyes - that is to say, in a spectacular form, in a play that is to be looked at.
For two weeks I worked hard at the Sonnets, hardly ever going out, and refusing all invitations. Every day I seemed to be discovering something new, and Willie Hughes became to me a kind of spiritual presence, an ever-dominant personality. I could almost fancy that I saw him standing in the shadow of my room, so well had Shakespeare drawn him, with his golden hair, his tender flower-like grace, his dreamy deep-sunken eyes, his delicate mobile limbs, and his white lily hands. His very name fascinated me. Willie Hughes! Willie Hughes! How musically it sounded! Yes; who else but he could have been the master-mistress of Shakespeare’s passion,  the lord of his love to whom he was bound in vassalage,  the delicate minion of pleasure,  the rose of the whole world,  the herald of the spring  decked in the proud livery of youth,  the lovely boy whom it was sweet music to hear,  and whose beauty was the very raiment of Shakespeare’s heart,  as it was the keystone of his dramatic power? How bitter now seemed the whole tragedy of his desertion and his shame! - shame that he made sweet and lovely  by the mere magic of his personality, but that was none the less shame. Yet as Shakespeare forgave him, should not we forgive him also? I did not care to pry into the mystery of his sin.
His abandonment of Shakespeare’s theatre was a different matter, and I investigated it at great length. Finally I came to the conclusion that Cyril Graham had been wrong in regarding the rival dramatist of the 80th Sonnet as Chapman. It was obviously Marlowe who was alluded to. At the time the Sonnets were written, such an expression as ‘the proud full sail of his great verse’ could not have been used of Chapman’s work, however applicable it might have been to the style of his later Jacobean plays. No: Marlowe was clearly the rival dramatist of whom Shakespeare spoke in such laudatory terms; and that
Which nightly gulls him with intelligence,
was the Mephistopheles of his Doctor Faustus. No doubt, Marlowe was fascinated by the beauty and grace of the boy-actor, and lured him away from the Blackfriars Theatre, that he might play the Gaveston of his Edward II. That Shakespeare had the legal right to retain Willie Hughes in his own company is evident from Sonnet LXXXVII., where he says:-
thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou know’st thy estimate:
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thyself thou gayest, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me, to whom thou gavest it, else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgement making.
Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.
But him whom he could not hold by love, he would not hold by force. Willie Hughes became a member of Lord Pembroke’s company, and, perhaps in the open yard of the Red Bull Tavern, played the part of King Edward’s delicate minion. On Marlowe’s death, he seems to have returned to Shakespeare, who, whatever his fellow-partners may have thought of the matter, was not slow to forgive the wilfulness and treachery of the young actor.
How well, too, had Shakespeare drawn the temperament of the stage-player! Willie Hughes was one of those
do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone.
He could act love, but could not feel it, could mimic passion without realising it.
many’s looks the false heart’s history
Is writ in moods and frowns and wrinkles strange,
but with Willie Hughes it was not so. ‘Heaven,’ says Shakespeare, in a sonnet of mad idolatry -
in thy creation did decree
That in thy face sweet love should ever dwell;
Whate’er thy thoughts or thy heart’s workings be,
Thy looks should nothing thence but sweetness tell.
In his ‘inconstant mind’ and his ‘false heart,’ it was easy to recognise the insincerity and treachery that somehow seem inseparable from the artistic nature, as in his love of praise that desire for immediate recognition that characterises all actors. And yet, more fortunate in this than other actors, Willie Hughes was to know something of immortality. Inseparably connected with Shakespeare’s plays, he was to live in them.
name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead.
There were endless allusions, also, to Willie Hughes’s power over his audience - the ‘gazers,’ as Shakespeare calls them; but perhaps the most perfect description of his wonderful mastery over dramatic art was in A Lover’s Complaint, where Shakespeare says of him:-
him a plenitude of subtle matter,
Applied to cautels, all strange forms receives,
Of burning blushes, or of weeping water,
Or swooning paleness; and he takes and leaves,
In either’s aptness, as it best deceives,
To blush at speeches rank, to weep at woes,
Or to turn white and swoon at tragic shows.
* * * * * * * *
on the tip of his subduing tongue,
All kind of arguments and questions deep,
All replication prompt and reason strong,
For his advantage still did wake and sleep,
To make the weeper laugh, the laugher weep.
He had the dialect and the different skill,
Catching all passions in his craft of will.
I thought that I had really found Willie Hughes in Elizabethan
literature. In a wonderfully graphic account of the last days of the
great Earl of Essex, his chaplain, Thomas Knell, tells us that the night before
the Earl died, ‘he called William Hewes, which was his musician, to play upon
the virginals and to sing. “Play,” said he, “my song, Will Hewes, and I
will sing it to myself.” So he did it most joyfully, not as the howling
swan, which, still looking down, waileth her end, but as a sweet lark, lifting
up his hands and casting up his eyes to his God, with this mounted the crystal
skies, and reached with his unwearied tongue the top of highest heavens.’
Surely the boy who played on the virginals to the dying father of Sidney’s
Stella was none other but the Will Hews to whom Shakespeare dedicated the
Sonnets, and who he tells us was himself sweet ‘music to hear.’ Yet Lord
Essex died in 1576, when Shakespeare himself was but twelve years of age.
It was impossible that his musician could have been the Mr. W. H. of the
Sonnets. Perhaps Shakespeare’s young friend was the son of the player
upon the virginals? It was at least something to have discovered that
Will Hews was an Elizabethan name. Indeed the name Hews seemed to have
been closely connected with music and the stage. The first English
actress was the lovely Margaret Hews, whom
From Willie Hughes’s life I soon passed to thoughts of his death. I used to wonder what had been his end.
he had been one of those English actors who in 1604 went across sea to Germany
and played before the great Duke Henry Julius of Brunswick, himself a dramatist
of no mean order, and at the Court of that strange Elector of Brandenburg, who
was so enamoured of beauty that he was said to have bought for his weight in
amber the young son of a travelling Greek merchant, and to have given pageants
in honour of his slave all through that dreadful famine year of 1606-7, when
the people died of hunger in the very streets of the town, and for the space of
seven months there was no rain. We know at any rate that Romeo and
Juliet was brought out at Dresden in 1613, along with Hamlet and King
Lear, and it was surely to none other than Willie Hughes that in 1615 the
death-mask of Shakespeare was brought by the hand of one of the suite of the
English ambassador, pale token of the passing away of the great poet who had so
dearly loved him. Indeed there would have been something peculiarly
fitting in the idea that the boy-actor, whose beauty had been so vital an
element in the realism and romance of Shakespeare’s art, should have been the
first to have brought to Germany the seed of the new culture, and was in his
way the precursor of that Aufklärung or Illumination of the eighteenth
century, that splendid movement which, though begun by Lessing and Herder, and
brought to its full and perfect issue by Goethe, was in no small part helped on
by another actor - Friedrich Schroeder - who awoke the popular consciousness,
and by means of the feigned passions and mimetic methods of the stage showed
the intimate, the vital, connection between life and literature. If this
was so - and there was certainly no evidence against it - it was not improbable
that Willie Hughes was one of those English comedians (mimae quidam ex
Britannia, as the old chronicle calls them), who were slain at Nuremberg in
a sudden uprising of the people, and were secretly buried in a little vineyard
outside the city by some young men ‘who had found pleasure in their
performances, and of whom some had sought to be instructed in the mysteries of
the new art.’ Certainly no more fitting place could there be for him to
whom Shakespeare said, ‘thou art all my art,’ than this little vineyard outside
the city walls. For was it not from the sorrows of Dionysos that Tragedy
sprang? Was not the light laughter of Comedy, with its careless merriment
and quick replies, first heard on the lips of the Sicilian vine-dressers?
Nay, did not the purple and red stain of the wine-froth on face and limbs give
the first suggestion of the charm and fascination of disguise - the desire for
self-concealment, the sense of the value of objectivity thus showing itself in
the rude beginnings of the art? At any rate, wherever he lay - whether in
the little vineyard at the gate of the Gothic town, or in some dim
After three weeks had elapsed, I determined to make a strong appeal to Erskine to do justice to the memory of Cyril Graham, and to give to the world his marvellous interpretation of the Sonnets - the only interpretation that thoroughly explained the problem. I have not any copy of my letter, I regret to say, nor have I been able to lay my hand upon the original; but I remember that I went over the whole ground, and covered sheets of paper with passionate reiteration of the arguments and proofs that my study had suggested to me. It seemed to me that I was not merely restoring Cyril Graham to his proper place in literary history, but rescuing the honour of Shakespeare himself from the tedious memory of a commonplace intrigue. I put into the letter all my enthusiasm. I put into the letter all my faith.
No sooner, in fact, had I sent it off than a curious reaction came over me. It seemed to me that I had given away my capacity for belief in the Willie Hughes theory of the Sonnets, that something had gone out of me, as it were, and that I was perfectly indifferent to the whole subject. What was it that had happened? It is difficult to say. Perhaps, by finding perfect expression for a passion, I had exhausted the passion itself. Emotional forces, like the forces of physical life, have their positive limitations. Perhaps the mere effort to convert any one to a theory involves some form of renunciation of the power of credence. Perhaps I was simply tired of the whole thing, and, my enthusiasm having burnt out, my reason was left to its own unimpassioned judgment. However it came about, and I cannot pretend to explain it, there was no doubt that Willie Hughes suddenly became to me a mere myth, an idle dream, the boyish fancy of a young man who, like most ardent spirits, was more anxious to convince others than to be himself convinced.
As I had said some very unjust and bitter things to Erskine in my letter, I determined to go and see him at once, and to make my apologies to him for my behaviour. Accordingly, the next morning I drove down to Birdcage Walk, and found Erskine sitting in his library, with the forged picture of Willie Hughes in front of him.
‘My dear Erskine!’ I cried, ‘I have come to apologise to you.’
‘To apologise to me?’ he said. ‘What for?’
‘For my letter,’ I answered.
‘You have nothing to regret in your letter,’ he said. ‘On the contrary, you have done me the greatest service in your power. You have shown me that Cyril Graham’s theory is perfectly sound.’
‘You don’t mean to say that you believe in Willie Hughes?’ I exclaimed.
‘Why not?’ he rejoined. ‘You have proved the thing to me. Do you think I cannot estimate the value of evidence?’
‘But there is no evidence at all,’ I groaned, sinking into a chair. ‘When I wrote to you I was under the influence of a perfectly silly enthusiasm. I had been touched by the story of Cyril Graham’s death, fascinated by his romantic theory, enthralled by the wonder and novelty of the whole idea. I see now that the theory is based on a delusion. The only evidence for the existence of Willie Hughes is that picture in front of you, and the picture is a forgery. Don’t be carried away by mere sentiment in this matter. Whatever romance may have to say about the Willie Hughes theory, reason is dead against it.’
‘I don’t understand you,’ said Erskine, looking at me in amazement. ‘Why, you yourself have convinced me by your letter that Willie Hughes is an absolute reality. Why have you changed your mind? Or is all that you have been saying to me merely a joke?’
‘I cannot explain it to you,’ I rejoined, ‘but I see now that there is really nothing to be said in favour of Cyril Graham’s interpretation. The Sonnets are addressed to Lord Pembroke. For heaven’s sake don’t waste your time in a foolish attempt to discover a young Elizabethan actor who never existed, and to make a phantom puppet the centre of the great cycle of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.’
‘I see that you don’t understand the theory,’ he replied.
‘My dear Erskine,’ I cried, ‘not understand it! Why, I feel as if I had invented it. Surely my letter shows you that I not merely went into the whole matter, but that I contributed proofs of every kind. The one flaw in the theory is that it presupposes the existence of the person whose existence is the subject of dispute. If we grant that there was in Shakespeare’s company a young actor of the name of Willie Hughes, it is not difficult to make him the object of the Sonnets. But as we know that there was no actor of this name in the company of the Globe Theatre, it is idle to pursue the investigation further.’
‘But that is exactly what we don’t know,’ said Erskine. ‘It is quite true that his name does not occur in the list given in the first folio; but, as Cyril pointed out, that is rather a proof in favour of the existence of Willie Hughes than against it, if we remember his treacherous desertion of Shakespeare for a rival dramatist.’
argued the matter over for hours, but nothing that I could say could make
Erskine surrender his faith in Cyril Graham’s interpretation. He told me
that he intended to devote his life to proving the theory, and that he was
determined to do justice to Cyril Graham’s memory. I entreated him,
laughed at him, begged of him, but it was of no use. Finally we parted,
not exactly in anger, but certainly with a shadow between us. He thought
me shallow, I thought him foolish. When I called on him again his servant
told me that he had gone to
years afterwards, as I was going into my club, the hall-porter handed me a
letter with a foreign postmark. It was from Erskine, and written at the
It was a horrible moment. I felt sick with misery, and yet I could not believe it. To die for one’s theological beliefs is the worst use a man can make of his life, but to die for a literary theory! It seemed impossible.
looked at the date. The letter was a week old. Some unfortunate
chance had prevented my going to the club for several days, or I might have got
it in time to save him. Perhaps it was not too late. I drove off to
my rooms, packed up my things, and started by the night-mail from
Suddenly Lady Erskine, in deep mourning, passed across the vestibule. When she saw me she came up to me, murmured something about her poor son, and burst into tears. I led her into her sitting-room. An elderly gentleman was there waiting for her. It was the English doctor.
We talked a great deal about Erskine, but I said nothing about his motive for committing suicide. It was evident that he had not told his mother anything about the reason that had driven him to so fatal, so mad an act. Finally Lady Erskine rose and said, George left you something as a memento. It was a thing he prized very much. I will get it for you.
As soon as she had left the room I turned to the doctor and said, ‘What a dreadful shock it must have been to Lady Erskine! I wonder that she bears it as well as she does.’
‘Oh, she knew for months past that it was coming,’ he answered.
‘Knew it for months past!’ I cried. ‘But why didn’t she stop him? Why didn’t she have him watched? He must have been mad.’
The doctor stared at me. ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ he said.
‘Well,’ I cried, ‘if a mother knows that her son is going to commit suicide - ’
‘Suicide!’ he answered. ‘Poor Erskine did not commit suicide. He died of consumption. He came here to die. The moment I saw him I knew that there was no hope. One lung was almost gone, and the other was very much affected. Three days before he died he asked me was there any hope. I told him frankly that there was none, and that he had only a few days to live. He wrote some letters, and was quite resigned, retaining his senses to the last.’
At that moment Lady Erskine entered the room with the fatal picture of Willie Hughes in her hand. ‘When George was dying he begged me to give you this,’ she said. As I took it from her, her tears fell on my hand.
The picture hangs now in my library, where it is very much admired by my artistic friends. They have decided that it is not a Clouet, but an Oudry. I have never cared to tell them its true history. But sometimes, when I look at it, I think that there is really a great deal to be said for the Willie Hughes theory of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
 Sonnet xx. 2.
 Sonnet xxvi. 1.
 Sonnet cxxvi. 9.
 Sonnet cix. 14.
 Sonnet i. 10.
 Sonnet ii. 3.
 Sonnet viii. 1.
 Sonnet xxii. 6.
 Sonnet xcv. 1.