Secret of the Growing Gold
Coming of Abel Behenna
Burial of the Rats
Dream of Red Hands
A few months
before the lamented death of my husband—I might say even as the shadow of death
was over him—he planned three series of short stories for publication, and the
present volume is one of them. To his original list of stories in this book, I
have added an hitherto unpublished episode from
Dracula. It was originally excised owing to the length of the book, and may
prove of interest to the many readers of what is considered my husband's most
remarkable work. The other stories have already been published in English and
American periodicals. Had my husband lived longer, he might have seen fit to
revise this work, which is mainly from the earlier years of his strenuous life.
But, as fate has entrusted to me the issuing of it, I consider it fitting and
proper to let it go forth practically as it was left by him.
FLORENCE BRAM STOKER
When we started
for our drive the sun was shining brightly on Munich, and the air was full of the
joyousness of early summer. Just as we were about to depart, Herr Delbrück (the
maître d'hôtel of the Quatre Saisons, where I was staying) came down,
bareheaded, to the carriage and, after wishing me a pleasant drive, said to the
coachman, still holding his hand on the handle of the carriage door:
are back by nightfall. The sky looks bright but there is a shiver in the north
wind that says there may be a sudden storm. But I am sure you will not be
late.' Here he smiled, and added, 'for you know what night it is.'
with an emphatic, 'Ja, mein Herr,' and, touching his hat, drove off quickly.
When we had cleared the town, I said, after signalling to him to stop:
Johann, what is tonight?'
himself, as he answered laconically: 'Walpurgis nacht.' Then he took out his
watch, a great, old-fashioned German silver thing as big as a turnip, and
looked at it, with his eyebrows gathered together and a little impatient shrug
of his shoulders. I realised that this was his way of respectfully protesting
against the unnecessary delay, and sank back in the carriage, merely motioning
him to proceed. He started off rapidly, as if to make up for lost time. Every
now and then the horses seemed to throw up their heads and sniffed the air
suspiciously. On such occasions I often looked round in alarm. The road was
pretty bleak, for we were traversing a sort of high, wind-swept plateau. As we
drove, I saw a road that looked but little used, and which seemed to dip
through a little, winding valley. It looked so inviting that, even at the risk
of offending him, I called Johann to stop—and when he had pulled up, I told him I would like to drive down that road. He made all
sorts of excuses, and frequently crossed himself as he spoke. This somewhat
piqued my curiosity, so I asked him various questions. He answered fencingly,
and repeatedly looked at his watch in protest. Finally I said:
'Well, Johann, I
want to go down this road. I shall not ask you to come unless you like; but
tell me why you do not like to go, that is all I ask.' For answer he seemed to
throw himself off the box, so quickly did he reach the ground. Then he
stretched out his hands appealingly to me, and implored me not to go. There was
just enough of English mixed with the German for me to understand the drift of
his talk. He seemed always just about to tell me something—the very idea of
which evidently frightened him; but each time he pulled himself up, saying, as
he crossed himself: 'Walpurgis-Nacht!'
I tried to argue
with him, but it was difficult to argue with a man when I did not know his
language. The advantage certainly rested with him, for although he began to
speak in English, of a very crude and broken kind, he always got excited and
broke into his native tongue—and every time he did so, he looked at his watch.
Then the horses became restless and sniffed the air. At this he grew very pale,
and, looking around in a frightened way, he suddenly jumped forward, took them
by the bridles and led them on some twenty feet. I followed, and asked why he
had done this. For answer he crossed himself, pointed to the spot we had left
and drew his carriage in the direction of the other road, indicating a cross,
and said, first in German, then in English: 'Buried him—him what killed
I remembered the
old custom of burying suicides at cross-roads: 'Ah! I see,
a suicide. How interesting!' But for the life of me I
could not make out why the horses were frightened.
Whilst we were
talking, we heard a sort of sound between a yelp and a bark. It was far away;
but the horses got very restless, and it took Johann all his time to quiet
them. He was pale, and said, 'It sounds like a wolf—but yet there are no wolves
'No?' I said,
questioning him; 'isn't it long since the wolves were so near the city?'
'Long, long,' he
answered, 'in the spring and summer; but with the snow the wolves have been
here not so long.'
Whilst he was
petting the horses and trying to quiet them, dark clouds drifted rapidly across
the sky. The sunshine passed away, and a breath of cold wind seemed to drift
past us. It was only a breath, however, and more in the nature of a warning
than a fact, for the sun came out brightly again. Johann looked under his
lifted hand at the horizon and said:
'The storm of
snow, he comes before long time.' Then he looked at his watch again, and,
straightway holding his reins firmly—for the horses were still pawing the
ground restlessly and shaking their heads—he climbed to his box as though the
time had come for proceeding on our journey.
I felt a little
obstinate and did not at once get into the carriage.
'Tell me,' I
said, 'about this place where the road leads,' and I pointed down.
Again he crossed
himself and mumbled a prayer, before he answered, 'It is unholy.'
unholy?' I enquired.
'Then there is a
'No, no. No one
lives there hundreds of years.' My curiosity was piqued, 'But you said there
was a village.'
'Where is it
burst out into a long story in German and English, so mixed up that I could not
quite understand exactly what he said, but roughly I gathered that long ago,
hundreds of years, men had died there and been buried in their graves; and
sounds were heard under the clay, and when the graves were opened, men and
women were found rosy with life, and their mouths red with blood. And so, in
haste to save their lives (aye, and their souls!—and here he crossed himself)
those who were left fled away to other places, where the living lived, and the
dead were dead and not—not something. He was evidently afraid to speak the last
words. As he proceeded with his narration, he grew more and more excited. It
seemed as if his imagination had got hold of him, and he ended in a perfect
paroxysm of fear—white-faced, perspiring, trembling and looking round him, as
if expecting that some dreadful presence would manifest itself there in the
bright sunshine on the open plain. Finally, in an agony of desperation, he
nacht!' and pointed to the carriage for me to get in. All my English blood rose
at this, and, standing back, I said:
'You are afraid,
Johann—you are afraid. Go home; I shall return alone; the walk will do me
good.' The carriage door was open. I took from the seat my oak
walking-stick—which I always carry on my holiday excursions—and closed the
door, pointing back to Munich,
and said, 'Go home, Johann—Walpurgis-nacht doesn't concern Englishmen.'
The horses were
now more restive than ever, and Johann was trying to hold them in, while
excitedly imploring me not to do anything so foolish. I pitied the poor fellow,
he was deeply in earnest; but all the same I could not help laughing. His
English was quite gone now. In his anxiety he had forgotten that his only means
of making me understand was to talk my language, so he jabbered away in his
native German. It began to be a little tedious. After giving
the direction, 'Home!' I turned to go down the cross-road into the
despairing gesture, Johann turned his horses towards Munich. I leaned on my stick and looked after
him. He went slowly along the road for a while: then there came over the crest
of the hill a man tall and thin. I could see so much in the distance. When he
drew near the horses, they began to jump and kick about, then to scream with
terror. Johann could not hold them in; they bolted down the road, running away
madly. I watched them out of sight, then looked for
the stranger, but I found that he, too, was gone.
With a light
heart I turned down the side road through the deepening valley to which Johann
had objected. There was not the slightest reason, that I could see, for his
objection; and I daresay I tramped for a couple of hours without thinking of
time or distance, and certainly without seeing a person or a house. So far as
the place was concerned, it was desolation, itself. But I did not notice this
particularly till, on turning a bend in the road, I came upon a scattered
fringe of wood; then I recognised that I had been impressed unconsciously by
the desolation of the region through which I had passed.
I sat down to
rest myself, and began to look around. It struck me that it was considerably colder
than it had been at the commencement of my walk—a sort of sighing sound seemed
to be around me, with, now and then, high overhead, a
sort of muffled roar. Looking upwards I noticed that great thick clouds were
drifting rapidly across the sky from North to South at a great height. There
were signs of coming storm in some lofty stratum of the air. I was a little
chilly, and, thinking that it was the sitting still after the exercise of
walking, I resumed my journey.
The ground I
passed over was now much more picturesque. There were no striking objects that
the eye might single out; but in all there was a charm of beauty. I took little
heed of time and it was only when the deepening twilight forced itself upon me
that I began to think of how I should find my way home. The brightness of the
day had gone. The air was cold, and the drifting of clouds high overhead was
more marked. They were accompanied by a sort of far-away rushing sound, through
which seemed to come at intervals that mysterious cry which the driver had said
came from a wolf. For a while I hesitated. I had said I would see the deserted
village, so on I went, and presently came on a wide stretch of open country,
shut in by hills all around. Their sides were covered with trees which spread
down to the plain, dotting, in clumps, the gentler slopes and hollows which
showed here and there. I followed with my eye the winding of the road, and saw
that it curved close to one of the densest of these clumps and was lost behind
As I looked
there came a cold shiver in the air, and the snow began to fall. I thought of
the miles and miles of bleak country I had passed, and then hurried on to seek
the shelter of the wood in front. Darker and darker grew the sky, and faster
and heavier fell the snow, till the earth before and around me was a glistening
white carpet the further edge of which was lost in misty vagueness. The road
was here but crude, and when on the level its boundaries were not so marked, as
when it passed through the cuttings; and in a little while I found that I must
have strayed from it, for I missed underfoot the hard surface, and my feet sank
deeper in the grass and moss. Then the wind grew stronger and blew with ever
increasing force, till I was fain to run before it. The air became icy-cold,
and in spite of my exercise I began to suffer. The snow was now falling so
thickly and whirling around me in such rapid eddies that I could hardly keep my
eyes open. Every now and then the heavens were torn asunder by vivid lightning,
and in the flashes I could see ahead of me a great mass of trees, chiefly yew
and cypress all heavily coated with snow.
I was soon
amongst the shelter of the trees, and there, in comparative silence, I could
hear the rush of the wind high overhead. Presently the blackness of the storm
had become merged in the darkness of the night By-and-by the storm seemed to be
passing away: it now only came in fierce puffs or blasts. At such moments the
weird sound of the wolf appeared to be echoed by many similar sounds around me.
Now and again,
through the black mass of drifting cloud, came a straggling ray of moonlight,
which lit up the expanse, and showed me that I was at the edge of a dense mass
of cypress and yew trees. As the snow had ceased to fall, I walked out from the
shelter and began to investigate more closely. It appeared to me that, amongst
so many old foundations as I had passed, there might be still standing a house
in which, though in ruins, I could find some sort of shelter for a while. As I
skirted the edge of the copse, I found that a low wall encircled it, and
following this I presently found an opening. Here the cypresses formed an alley
leading up to a square mass of some kind of building. Just as I caught sight of
this, however, the drifting clouds obscured the moon, and I passed up the path
in darkness. The wind must have grown colder, for I felt myself shiver as I
walked; but there was hope of shelter, and I groped my way blindly on.
I stopped, for
there was a sudden stillness. The storm had passed; and, perhaps in sympathy
with nature's silence, my heart seemed to cease to beat. But this was only
momentarily; for suddenly the moonlight broke through the clouds, showing me
that I was in a graveyard, and that the square object before me was a great
massive tomb of marble, as white as the snow that lay on and all around it.
With the moonlight there came a fierce sigh of the storm, which appeared to
resume its course with a long, low howl, as of many dogs or wolves. I was awed
and shocked, and felt the cold perceptibly grow upon me till it seemed to grip
me by the heart. Then while the flood of moonlight still fell on the marble
tomb, the storm gave further evidence of renewing, as though it was returning
on its track. Impelled by some sort of fascination, I approached the sepulchre
to see what it was, and why such a thing stood alone in such a place. I walked
around it, and read, over the Doric door, in German:
COUNTESS DOLINGEN OF GRATZ IN STYRIA SOUGHT AND
FOUND DEATH 1801
On the top of
the tomb, seemingly driven through the solid marble—for the structure was
composed of a few vast blocks of stone—was a great iron spike or stake. On
going to the back I saw, graven in great Russian
'The dead travel fast.'
something so weird and uncanny about the whole thing that it gave me a turn and
made me feel quite faint. I began to wish, for the first time, that I had taken
Johann's advice. Here a thought struck me, which came under almost mysterious
circumstances and with a terrible shock. This was Walpurgis Night!
when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad—when
the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When
all evil things of earth and air and water held revel. This very place
the driver had specially shunned. This was the depopulated village of centuries
ago. This was where the suicide lay; and this was the place where I was
alone—unmanned, shivering with cold in a shroud of snow with a wild storm
gathering again upon me! It took all my philosophy, all the religion I had been
taught, all my courage, not to collapse in a paroxysm of fright.
And now a
perfect tornado burst upon me. The ground shook as though thousands of horses
thundered across it; and this time the storm bore on its icy wings, not snow,
but great hailstones which drove with such violence that they might have come
from the thongs of Balearic slingers—hailstones that beat down leaf and branch
and made the shelter of the cypresses of no more avail than though their stems
were standing-corn. At the first I had rushed to the nearest tree; but I was
soon fain to leave it and seek the only spot that seemed to afford refuge, the
deep Doric doorway of the marble tomb. There, crouching against the massive
bronze door, I gained a certain amount of protection from the beating of the
hailstones, for now they only drove against me as they ricocheted from the
ground and the side of the marble.
As I leaned
against the door, it moved slightly and opened inwards. The shelter of even a
tomb was welcome in that pitiless tempest, and I was
about to enter it when there came a flash of forked-lightning that lit up the
whole expanse of the heavens. In the instant, as I am a living man, I saw, as
my eyes were turned into the darkness of the tomb, a beautiful woman, with
rounded cheeks and red lips, seemingly sleeping on a bier. As the thunder broke
overhead, I was grasped as by the hand of a giant and hurled out into the
storm. The whole thing was so sudden that, before I could realise the shock,
moral as well as physical, I found the hailstones beating me down. At the same
time I had a strange, dominating feeling that I was not alone. I looked towards
the tomb. Just then there came another blinding flash, which seemed to strike
the iron stake that surmounted the tomb and to pour through to the earth,
blasting and crumbling the marble, as in a burst of flame. The dead woman rose
for a moment of agony, while she was lapped in the flame, and her bitter scream
of pain was drowned in the thundercrash. The last thing I heard was this
mingling of dreadful sound, as again I was seized in the giant-grasp and
dragged away, while the hailstones beat on me, and the air around seemed
reverberant with the howling of wolves. The last sight that I remembered was a
vague, white, moving mass, as if all the graves around me had sent out the
phantoms of their sheeted-dead, and that they were closing in on me through the
white cloudiness of the driving hail.
came a sort of vague beginning of consciousness; then a sense of weariness that
was dreadful. For a time I remembered nothing; but slowly my senses returned.
My feet seemed positively racked with pain, yet I could not move them. They
seemed to be numbed. There was an icy feeling at the back of my neck and all
down my spine, and my ears, like my feet, were dead, yet in torment; but there
was in my breast a sense of warmth which was, by comparison, delicious. It was
as a nightmare—a physical nightmare, if one may use such an expression; for
some heavy weight on my chest made it difficult for me to breathe.
This period of
semi-lethargy seemed to remain a long time, and as it faded away I must have
slept or swooned. Then came a sort of loathing, like the first stage of
sea-sickness, and a wild desire to be free from something—I knew not what. A
vast stillness enveloped me, as though all the world
were asleep or dead—only broken by the low panting as of some animal close to
me. I felt a warm rasping at my throat, then came a
consciousness of the awful truth, which chilled me to the heart and sent the
blood surging up through my brain. Some great animal was lying on me and now
licking my throat. I feared to stir, for some instinct of prudence bade me lie
still; but the brute seemed to realise that there was now some change in me,
for it raised its head. Through my eyelashes I saw above me the two great
flaming eyes of a gigantic wolf. Its sharp white teeth gleamed in the gaping
red mouth, and I could feel its hot breath fierce and acrid upon me.
spell of time I remembered no more. Then I became conscious of a low growl,
followed by a yelp, renewed again and again. Then, seemingly very far away, I
heard a 'Holloa! holloa!' as of many voices calling in
unison. Cautiously I raised my head and looked in the direction whence the
sound came; but the cemetery blocked my view. The wolf still continued to yelp
in a strange way, and a red glare began to move round the grove of cypresses,
as though following the sound. As the voices drew closer, the wolf yelped
faster and louder. I feared to make either sound or motion. Nearer
came the red glow, over the white pall which stretched into the darkness around
me. Then all at once from beyond the trees there came at a trot a troop
of horsemen bearing torches. The wolf rose from my breast and made for the
cemetery. I saw one of the horsemen (soldiers by their caps and their long
military cloaks) raise his carbine and take aim. A companion knocked up his
arm, and I heard the ball whizz over my head. He had evidently taken my body
for that of the wolf. Another sighted the animal as it slunk away, and a shot
followed. Then, at a gallop, the troop rode forward—some towards me, others
following the wolf as it disappeared amongst the snow-clad cypresses.
As they drew
nearer I tried to move, but was powerless, although I could see and hear all
that went on around me. Two or three of the soldiers jumped from their horses
and knelt beside me. One of them raised my head, and placed his hand over my
comrades!' he cried. 'His heart still beats!'
Then some brandy
was poured down my throat; it put vigour into me, and I was able to open my
eyes fully and look around. Lights and shadows were moving among the trees, and
I heard men call to one another. They drew together, uttering frightened
exclamations; and the lights flashed as the others came pouring out of the
cemetery pell-mell, like men possessed. When the further ones came close to us,
those who were around me asked them eagerly:
'Well, have you
The reply rang
'No! no! Come away quick—quick! This is no place to stay, and on
this of all nights!'
'What was it?'
was the question, asked in all manner of keys. The answer came variously and
all indefinitely as though the men were moved by some common impulse to speak,
yet were restrained by some common fear from giving their thoughts.
gibbered one, whose wits had plainly given out for the moment.
'A wolf—and yet
not a wolf!' another put in shudderingly.
'No use trying
for him without the sacred bullet,' a third remarked in a more ordinary manner.
'Serve us right
for coming out on this night! Truly we have earned our thousand marks!' were
the ejaculations of a fourth.
'There was blood
on the broken marble,' another said after a pause—'the lightning never brought
that there. And for him—is he safe? Look at his throat! See, comrades, the wolf
has been lying on him and keeping his blood warm.'
looked at my throat and replied:
'He is all
right; the skin is not pierced. What does it all mean? We should never have
found him but for the yelping of the wolf.'
'What became of
it?' asked the man who was holding up my head, and who seemed the least
panic-stricken of the party, for his hands were steady and without tremor. On
his sleeve was the chevron of a petty officer.
'It went to its
home,' answered the man, whose long face was pallid, and who actually shook
with terror as he glanced around him fearfully. 'There are graves enough there
in which it may lie. Come, comrades—come quickly! Let us leave this cursed
raised me to a sitting posture, as he uttered a word of command; then several
men placed me upon a horse. He sprang to the saddle behind me, took me in his
arms, gave the word to advance; and, turning our faces away from the cypresses,
we rode away in swift, military order.
As yet my tongue
refused its office, and I was perforce silent. I must have fallen asleep; for
the next thing I remembered was finding myself
standing up, supported by a soldier on each side of me. It was almost broad
daylight, and to the north a red streak of sunlight was reflected, like a path
of blood, over the waste of snow. The officer was telling the men to say
nothing of what they had seen, except that they found an English stranger,
guarded by a large dog.
'Dog! that was no dog,' cut in the man who had
exhibited such fear. 'I think I know a wolf when I see one.'
officer answered calmly: 'I said a dog.'
reiterated the other ironically. It was evident that his courage was rising
with the sun; and, pointing to me, he said, 'Look at his throat. Is that the
work of a dog, master?'
raised my hand to my throat, and as I touched it I cried out in pain. The men
crowded round to look, some stooping down from their saddles; and again there
came the calm voice of the young officer:
'A dog, as I
said. If aught else were said we should only be laughed at.'
I was then
mounted behind a trooper, and we rode on into the suburbs of Munich. Here we came across a stray carriage,
into which I was lifted, and it was driven off to the Quatre Saisons—the young
officer accompanying me, whilst a trooper followed with his horse,
and the others rode off to their barracks.
When we arrived,
Herr Delbrück rushed so quickly down the steps to meet me,
that it was apparent he had been watching within. Taking me by both
hands he solicitously led me in. The officer saluted me and was turning to
withdraw, when I recognised his purpose, and insisted that he should come to my
rooms. Over a glass of wine I warmly thanked him and his brave comrades for
saving me. He replied simply that he was more than glad, and that Herr Delbrück
had at the first taken steps to make all the searching party pleased; at which
ambiguous utterance the maître d'hôtel smiled, while the officer pleaded duty
Delbrück,' I enquired, 'how and why was it that the soldiers searched for me?'
He shrugged his
shoulders, as if in depreciation of his own deed, as he replied:
'I was so
fortunate as to obtain leave from the commander of the regiment in which I
served, to ask for volunteers.'
'But how did you
know I was lost?' I asked.
'The driver came
hither with the remains of his carriage, which had been upset when the horses
'But surely you
would not send a search-party of soldiers merely on this account?'
'Oh, no!' he
answered; 'but even before the coachman arrived, I had this telegram from the
Boyar whose guest you are,' and he took from his pocket a telegram which he
handed to me, and I read:
Be careful of my
guest—his safety is most precious to me. Should aught happen to him, or if he
be missed, spare nothing to find him and ensure his safety. He is English and
therefore adventurous. There are often dangers from snow and wolves and night.
Lose not a moment if you suspect harm to him. I answer your zeal with my
As I held the
telegram in my hand, the room seemed to whirl around me; and, if the attentive
maître d'hôtel had not caught me, I think I should have fallen. There was
something so strange in all this, something so weird and impossible to imagine,
that there grew on me a sense of my being in some way the sport of opposite
forces—the mere vague idea of which seemed in a way to paralyse me. I was
certainly under some form of mysterious protection. From a distant country had
come, in the very nick of time, a message that took me out of the danger of the
snow-sleep and the jaws of the wolf.
When the time
for his examination drew near Malcolm Malcolmson made up his mind to go
somewhere to read by himself. He feared the
attractions of the seaside, and also he feared completely rural isolation, for
of old he knew it charms, and so he determined to find some unpretentious
little town where there would be nothing to distract him. He refrained from
asking suggestions from any of his friends, for he argued that each would
recommend some place of which he had knowledge, and where he had already
acquaintances. As Malcolmson wished to avoid friends he had no wish to encumber
himself with the attention of friends' friends, and so he determined to look
out for a place for himself. He packed a portmanteau with some clothes and all
the books he required, and then took ticket for the first name on the local
time-table which he did not know.
When at the end
of three hours' journey he alighted at Benchurch, he felt satisfied that he had
so far obliterated his tracks as to be sure of having a peaceful opportunity of
pursuing his studies. He went straight to the one inn which the sleepy little
place contained, and put up for the night. Benchurch was a market town, and
once in three weeks was crowded to excess, but for the remainder of the
twenty-one days it was as attractive as a desert, Malcolmson looked around the
day after his arrival to try to find quarters more isolated than even so quiet
an inn as 'The Good Traveller' afforded. There was only one place which took
his fancy, and it certainly satisfied his wildest ideas regarding quiet; in
fact, quiet was not the proper word to apply to it—desolation was the only term
conveying any suitable idea of its isolation. It was an old rambling,
heavy-built house of the Jacobean style, with heavy gables and windows,
unusually small, and set higher than was customary in such houses, and was
surrounded with a high brick wall massively built. Indeed, on examination, it
looked more like a fortified house than an ordinary dwelling. But all these
things pleased Malcolmson. 'Here,' he thought, 'is the very spot I have been
looking for, and if I can get opportunity of using it I shall be happy.' His
joy was increased when he realised beyond doubt that it was not at present
post-office he got the name of the agent, who was rarely surprised at the
application to rent a part of the old house. Mr. Carnford, the local lawyer and
agent, was a genial old gentleman, and frankly confessed his delight at anyone
being willing to live in the house.
'To tell you the
truth,' said he, 'I should be only too happy, on behalf of the owners, to let
anyone have the house rent free for a term of years if only to accustom the
people here to see it inhabited. It has been so long empty that some kind of
absurd prejudice has grown up about it, and this can be best put down by its
occupation—if only,' he added with a sly glance at Malcolmson, 'by a scholar
like yourself, who wants its quiet for a time.'
thought it needless to ask the agent about the 'absurd prejudice'; he knew he
would get more information, if he should require it, on that subject from other
quarters. He paid his three months' rent, got a receipt, and the name of an old
woman who would probably undertake to 'do' for him, and came away with the keys
in his pocket. He then went to the landlady of the inn, who was a cheerful and
most kindly person, and asked her advice as to such stores and provisions as he
would be likely to require. She threw up her hands in amazement when he told
her where he was going to settle himself.
'Not in the
Judge's House!' she said, and grew pale as she spoke. He explained the locality
of the house, saying that he did not know its name. When he had finished she
'Aye, sure enough—sure enough the very place! It is the Judge's House
sure enough.' He asked her to tell him about the place, why so called, and what
there was against it. She told him that it was so called locally because it had
been many years before—how long she could not say, as she was herself from
another part of the country, but she thought it must have been a hundred years
or more—the abode of a judge who was held in great terror on account of his
harsh sentences and his hostility to prisoners at Assizes. As to what there was
against the house itself she could not tell. She had often asked, but no one
could inform her; but there was a general feeling that there was something, and
for her own part she would not take all the money in Drinkwater's Bank and stay
in the house an hour by herself. Then she apologised to Malcolmson for her
'It is too bad
of me, sir, and you—and a young gentlemen, too—if you
will pardon me saying it, going to live there all alone. If you were my boy—and
you'll excuse me for saying it—you wouldn't sleep there a night, not if I had
to go there myself and pull the big alarm bell that's on the roof!' The good creature
was so manifestly in earnest, and was so kindly in her intentions, that
Malcolmson, although amused, was touched. He told her kindly how much he
appreciated her interest in him, and added:
'But, my dear
Mrs. Witham, indeed you need not be concerned about me! A man who is reading
for the Mathematical Tripos has too much to think of to be disturbed by any of
these mysterious "somethings", and his work is of too exact and
prosaic a kind to allow of his having any corner in his mind for mysteries of
any kind. Harmonical Progression, Permutations and Combinations, and Elliptic
Functions have sufficient mysteries for me!' Mrs. Witham kindly undertook to
see after his commissions, and he went himself to look for the old woman who
had been recommended to him. When he returned to the Judge's House with her,
after an interval of a couple of hours, he found Mrs. Witham herself waiting
with several men and boys carrying parcels, and an upholsterer's man with a bed
in a car, for she said, though tables and chairs might be all very well, a bed
that hadn't been aired for mayhap fifty years was not proper for young bones to
lie on. She was evidently curious to see the inside of the house; and though
manifestly so afraid of the 'somethings' that at the slightest sound she
clutched on to Malcolmson, whom she never left for a moment, went over the
examination of the house, Malcolmson decided to take up his abode in the great
dining-room, which was big enough to serve for all his requirements; and Mrs.
Witham, with the aid of the charwoman, Mrs. Dempster, proceeded to arrange
matters. When the hampers were brought in and unpacked, Malcolmson saw that
with much kind forethought she had sent from her own kitchen sufficient
provisions to last for a few days. Before going she expressed all sorts of kind
wishes; and at the door turned and said:
sir, as the room is big and draughty it might be well to have one of those big
screens put round your bed at night—though, truth to tell, I would die myself
if I were to be so shut in with all kinds of—of "things", that put
their heads round the sides, or over the top, and look on me!' The image which
she had called up was too much for her nerves, and she fled incontinently.
sniffed in a superior manner as the landlady disappeared, and remarked that for
her own part she wasn't afraid of all the bogies in the kingdom.
'I'll tell you
what it is, sir,' she said; 'bogies is all kinds and sorts of things—except
bogies! Rats and mice, and beetles; and creaky doors, and loose slates, and
broken panes, and stiff drawer handles, that stay out when you pull them and
then fall down in the middle of the night. Look at the wainscot of the room! It
is old—hundreds of years old! Do you think there's no
rats and beetles there! And do you imagine, sir, that you won't see none of them? Rats is bogies, I
tell you, and bogies is rats; and don't you get to think anything else!'
said Malcolmson gravely, making her a polite bow, 'you know more than a Senior
Wrangler! And let me say, that, as a mark of esteem for your indubitable
soundness of head and heart, I shall, when I go, give you possession of this
house, and let you stay here by yourself for the last two months of my tenancy,
for four weeks will serve my purpose.'
kindly, sir!' she answered, 'but I couldn't sleep away from home a night. I am
in Greenhow's Charity, and if I slept a night away from my rooms I should lose
all I have got to live on. The rules is very strict;
and there's too many watching for a vacancy for me to run any risks in the
matter. Only for that, sir, I'd gladly come here and attend on you altogether
during your stay.'
'My good woman,'
said Malcolmson hastily, 'I have come here on purpose to obtain solitude; and believe
me that I am grateful to the late Greenhow for having so organised his
admirable charity—whatever it is—that I am perforce denied the opportunity of
suffering from such a form of temptation! Saint Anthony himself could not be
more rigid on the point!'
The old woman
laughed harshly. 'Ah, you young gentlemen,' she said, 'you don't fear for
naught; and belike you'll get all the solitude you want here.' She set to work
with her cleaning; and by nightfall, when Malcolmson returned from his walk—he
always had one of his books to study as he walked—he found the room swept and
tidied, a fire burning in the old hearth, the lamp lit, and the table spread
for supper with Mrs. Witham's excellent fare. 'This is comfort, indeed,' he
said, as he rubbed his hands.
When he had
finished his supper, and lifted the tray to the other end of the great oak
dining-table, he got out his books again, put fresh wood on the fire, trimmed
his lamp, and set himself down to a spell of real hard work. He went on without
pause till about eleven o'clock, when he knocked off for a bit to fix his fire
and lamp, and to make himself a cup of tea. He had always been a tea-drinker,
and during his college life had sat late at work and had taken tea late. The
rest was a great luxury to him, and he enjoyed it with a sense of delicious,
voluptuous ease. The renewed fire leaped and sparkled, and threw quaint shadows
through the great old room; and as he sipped his hot tea he revelled in the
sense of isolation from his kind. Then it was that he began to notice for the
first time what a noise the rats were making.
thought, 'they cannot have been at it all the time I was reading. Had they
been, I must have noticed it!' Presently, when the noise increased, he
satisfied himself that it was really new. It was evident that at first the rats
had been frightened at the presence of a stranger, and
the light of fire and lamp; but that as the time went on they had grown bolder
and were now disporting themselves as was their wont.
How busy they
were! and hark to the strange noises! Up and down
behind the old wainscot, over the ceiling and under the floor they raced, and
gnawed, and scratched! Malcolmson smiled to himself as he recalled to mind the saying of Mrs. Dempster, 'Bogies is rats, and
rats is bogies!' The tea began to have its effect of intellectual and nervous
stimulus, he saw with joy another long spell of work to be done before the
night was past, and in the sense of security which it gave him, he allowed
himself the luxury of a good look round the room. He took his lamp in one hand,
and went all around, wondering that so quaint and beautiful an old house had
been so long neglected. The carving of the oak on the panels of the wainscot
was fine, and on and round the doors and windows it was beautiful and of rare
merit. There were some old pictures on the walls, but they were coated so thick
with dust and dirt that he could not distinguish any detail of them, though he
held his lamp as high as he could over his head. Here and there as he went round
he saw some crack or hole blocked for a moment by the face of a rat with its
bright eyes glittering in the light, but in an instant it was gone, and a
squeak and a scamper followed. The thing that most struck him, however, was the
rope of the great alarm bell on the roof, which hung down in a corner of the
room on the right-hand side of the fireplace. He pulled up close to the hearth
a great high-backed carved oak chair, and sat down to his last cup of tea. When
this was done he made up the fire, and went back to his work, sitting at the
corner of the table, having the fire to his left. For a little while the rats
disturbed him somewhat with their perpetual scampering, but he got accustomed
to the noise as one does to the ticking of a clock or to the roar of moving
water; and he became so immersed in his work that everything in the world,
except the problem which he was trying to solve, passed away from him.
looked up, his problem was still unsolved, and there was in the air that sense
of the hour before the dawn, which is so dread to
doubtful life. The noise of the rats had ceased. Indeed it seemed to him that
it must have ceased but lately and that it was the sudden cessation which had
disturbed him. The fire had fallen low, but still it threw out a deep red glow.
As he looked he started in spite of his sang froid.
There on the
great high-backed carved oak chair by the right side of the fireplace sat an
enormous rat, steadily glaring at him with baleful eyes. He made a motion to it
as though to hunt it away, but it did not stir. Then he made the motion of
throwing something. Still it did not stir, but showed its great white teeth
angrily, and its cruel eyes shone in the lamplight with an added
amazed, and seizing the poker from the hearth ran at it to kill it. Before,
however, he could strike it, the rat, with a squeak that sounded like the
concentration of hate, jumped upon the floor, and, running up the rope of the
alarm bell, disappeared in the darkness beyond the range of the green-shaded
lamp. Instantly, strange to say, the noisy scampering of the rats in the
wainscot began again.
By this time
Malcolmson's mind was quite off the problem; and as a shrill cock-crow outside
told him of the approach of morning, he went to bed and to sleep.
He slept so
sound that he was not even waked by Mrs. Dempster coming in to make up his
room. It was only when she had tidied up the place and got his breakfast ready
and tapped on the screen which closed in his bed that he woke. He was a little
tired still after his night's hard work, but a strong cup of tea soon freshened
him up and, taking his book, he went out for his morning walk, bringing with
him a few sandwiches lest he should not care to return till dinner time. He
found a quiet walk between high elms some way outside the town, and here he
spent the greater part of the day studying his Laplace.
On his return he looked in to see Mrs. Witham and to thank her for her
kindness. When she saw him coming through the diamond-paned bay window of her
sanctum she came out to meet him and asked him in. She looked at him
searchingly and shook her head as she said:
'You must not
overdo it, sir. You are paler this morning than you should be. Too late hours
and too hard work on the brain isn't good for any man! But tell me, sir, how
did you pass the night? Well, I hope? But my heart! sir,
I was glad when Mrs. Dempster told me this morning that you were all right and
sleeping sound when she went in.'
'Oh, I was all
right,' he answered smiling, 'the "somethings" didn't worry me, as
yet. Only the rats; and they had a circus, I tell you, all over the place.
There was one wicked looking old devil that sat up on my own chair by the fire,
and wouldn't go till I took the poker to him, and then he ran up the rope of
the alarm bell and got to somewhere up the wall or the ceiling—I couldn't see
where, it was so dark.'
'Mercy on us,'
said Mrs. Witham, 'an old devil, and sitting on a chair by the fireside! Take
care, sir! take care! There's many a true word spoken
'How do you
mean? Pon my word I don't understand.'
'An old devil! The old devil, perhaps. There! sir, you needn't laugh,' for Malcolmson had broken into a
hearty peal. 'You young folks thinks it easy to laugh
at things that makes older ones shudder. Never mind, sir! never
mind! Please God, you'll laugh all the time. It's what I wish you myself!' and
the good lady beamed all over in sympathy with his enjoyment, her fears gone
for a moment.
me!' said Malcolmson presently. 'Don't think me rude; but the idea was too much
for me—that the old devil himself was on the chair last night!' And at the
thought he laughed again. Then he went home to dinner.
This evening the
scampering of the rats began earlier; indeed it had been going on before his
arrival, and only ceased whilst his presence by its freshness disturbed them.
After dinner he sat by the fire for a while and had a smoke; and then, having
cleared his table, began to work as before. Tonight the rats disturbed him more
than they had done on the previous night. How they scampered up and down and
under and over! How they squeaked, and scratched, and gnawed! How they, getting
bolder by degrees, came to the mouths of their holes and to the chinks and
cracks and crannies in the wainscoting till their eyes shone like tiny lamps as
the firelight rose and fell. But to him, now doubtless accustomed to them,
their eyes were not wicked; only their playfulness touched him. Sometimes the
boldest of them made sallies out on the floor or along the mouldings of the
wainscot. Now and again as they disturbed him Malcolmson made a sound to
frighten them, smiting the table with his hand or giving a fierce 'Hsh, hsh,'
so that they fled straightway to their holes.
And so the early
part of the night wore on; and despite the noise Malcolmson got more and more
immersed in his work.
All at once he
stopped, as on the previous night, being overcome by a sudden sense of silence.
There was not the faintest sound of gnaw, or scratch, or squeak. The silence
was as of the grave. He remembered the odd occurrence of the previous night,
and instinctively he looked at the chair standing close by the fireside. And
then a very odd sensation thrilled through him.
There, on the
great old high-backed carved oak chair beside the fireplace sat the same
enormous rat, steadily glaring at him with baleful eyes.
took the nearest thing to his hand, a book of logarithms, and flung it at it.
The book was badly aimed and the rat did not stir, so again the poker performance
of the previous night was repeated; and again the rat, being closely pursued,
fled up the rope of the alarm bell. Strangely too, the departure of this rat
was instantly followed by the renewal of the noise made by the general rat
community. On this occasion, as on the previous one, Malcolmson could not see
at what part of the room the rat disappeared, for the green shade of his lamp
left the upper part of the room in darkness, and the fire had burned low.
On looking at
his watch he found it was close on midnight; and, not sorry for the
divertissement, he made up his fire and made himself his nightly pot of tea. He
had got through a good spell of work, and thought himself entitled to a
cigarette; and so he sat on the great oak chair before the fire and enjoyed it.
Whilst smoking he began to think that he would like to know where the rat
disappeared to, for he had certain ideas for the morrow not entirely
disconnected with a rat-trap. Accordingly he lit another lamp and placed it so
that it would shine well into the right-hand corner of the wall by the
fireplace. Then he got all the books he had with him, and placed them handy to
throw at the vermin. Finally he lifted the rope of the alarm bell and placed
the end of it on the table, fixing the extreme end under the lamp. As he
handled it he could not help noticing how pliable it was, especially for so
strong a rope, and one not in use. 'You could hang a man with it,' he thought
to himself. When his preparations were made he looked around, and said complacently:
'There now, my
friend, I think we shall learn something of you this time!' He began his work
again, and though as before somewhat disturbed at first by the noise of the
rats, soon lost himself in his propositions and problems.
Again he was
called to his immediate surroundings suddenly. This time it might not have been
the sudden silence only which took his attention; there was a slight movement
of the rope, and the lamp moved. Without stirring, he looked to see if his pile
of books was within range, and then cast his eye along the rope. As he looked
he saw the great rat drop from the rope on the oak arm-chair and sit there
glaring at him. He raised a book in his right hand, and taking careful aim,
flung it at the rat. The latter, with a quick movement, sprang aside and dodged
the missile. He then took another book, and a third, and flung them one after
another at the rat, but each time unsuccessfully. At last, as he stood with a
book poised in his hand to throw, the rat squeaked and seemed afraid. This made
Malcolmson more than ever eager to strike, and the book flew and struck the rat
a resounding blow. It gave a terrified squeak, and turning on his pursuer a
look of terrible malevolence, ran up the chair-back and made a great jump to
the rope of the alarm bell and ran up it like lightning. The lamp rocked under
the sudden strain, but it was a heavy one and did not topple over. Malcolmson
kept his eyes on the rat, and saw it by the light of the second lamp leap to a
moulding of the wainscot and disappear through a hole in one of the great
pictures which hung on the wall, obscured and invisible through its coating of
dirt and dust.
'I shall look up
my friend's habitation in the morning,' said the student, as he went over to
collect his books. 'The third picture from the fireplace; I shall not forget.'
He picked up the books one by one, commenting on them as he lifted them. 'Conic
Sections he does not mind, nor Cycloidal Oscillations, nor the Principia, nor
Quaternions, nor Thermodynamics. Now for the book that
fetched him!' Malcolmson took it up and looked at it. As he did so he
started, and a sudden pallor overspread his face. He looked round uneasily and
shivered slightly, as he murmured to himself:
'The Bible my
mother gave me! What an odd coincidence.' He sat down to work again, and the
rats in the wainscot renewed their gambols. They did not disturb him, however;
somehow their presence gave him a sense of companionship. But he could not
attend to his work, and after striving to master the subject on which he was
engaged gave it up in despair, and went to bed as the first streak of dawn
stole in through the eastern window.
He slept heavily
but uneasily, and dreamed much; and when Mrs. Dempster woke him late in the
morning he seemed ill at ease, and for a few minutes did not seem to realise
exactly where he was. His first request rather surprised the servant.
when I am out to-day I wish you would get the steps and dust or wash those
pictures—specially that one the third from the fireplace—I want to see what
Late in the
afternoon Malcolmson worked at his books in the shaded walk, and the
cheerfulness of the previous day came back to him as the day wore on, and he
found that his reading was progressing well. He had worked out to a satisfactory
conclusion all the problems which had as yet baffled him, and it was in a state
of jubilation that he paid a visit to Mrs. Witham at 'The Good Traveller'. He
found a stranger in the cosy sitting-room with the landlady, who was introduced
to him as Dr. Thornhill. She was not quite at ease, and this, combined with the
doctor's plunging at once into a series of questions, made Malcolmson come to
the conclusion that his presence was not an accident, so without preliminary he
I shall with pleasure answer you any question you may choose to ask me if you
will answer me one question first.'
seemed surprised, but he smiled and answered at once, 'Done! What is it?'
'Did Mrs. Witham
ask you to come here and see me and advise me?'
for a moment was taken aback, and Mrs. Witham got fiery red and turned away;
but the doctor was a frank and ready man, and he answered at once and openly.
'She did: but
she didn't intend you to know it. I suppose it was my clumsy haste that made
you suspect. She told me that she did not like the idea of your being in that
house all by yourself, and that she thought you took too much strong tea. In
fact, she wants me to advise you if possible to give up the tea and the very
late hours. I was a keen student in my time, so I suppose I may take the
liberty of a college man, and without offence, advise you not quite as a
a bright smile held out his hand. 'Shake! as they say
he said. 'I must thank you for your kindness and Mrs. Witham too, and your
kindness deserves a return on my part. I promise to take no more strong tea—no
tea at all till you let me—and I shall go to bed tonight at one o'clock at
latest. Will that do?'
the doctor. 'Now tell us all that you noticed in the old house,' and so
Malcolmson then and there told in minute detail all that had happened in the
last two nights. He was interrupted every now and then by some exclamation from
Mrs. Witham, till finally when he told of the episode of the Bible the
landlady's pent-up emotions found vent in a shriek; and it was not till a stiff
glass of brandy and water had been administered that she grew composed again.
Dr. Thornhill listened with a face of growing gravity, and when the narrative
was complete and Mrs. Witham had been restored he asked:
'The rat always
went up the rope of the alarm bell?'
'I suppose you
know,' said the Doctor after a pause, 'what the rope is?'
'It is,' said
the Doctor slowly, 'the very rope which the hangman used for all the victims of
the Judge's judicial rancour!' Here he was interrupted by another scream from
Mrs. Witham, and steps had to be taken for her recovery. Malcolmson having
looked at his watch, and found that it was close to his dinner hour, had gone home before her complete recovery.
When Mrs. Witham
was herself again she almost assailed the Doctor with angry questions as to
what he meant by putting such horrible ideas into the poor young man's mind.
'He has quite enough there already to upset him,' she added. Dr. Thornhill
'My dear madam,
I had a distinct purpose in it! I wanted to draw his attention to the bell
rope, and to fix it there. It may be that he is in a highly overwrought state,
and has been studying too much, although I am bound to say that he seems as
sound and healthy a young man, mentally and bodily, as ever I saw—but then the
rats—and that suggestion of the devil.' The doctor shook his head and went on.
'I would have offered to go and stay the first night with him but that I felt
sure it would have been a cause of offence. He may get in the night some
strange fright or hallucination; and if he does I want him to pull that rope.
All alone as he is it will give us warning, and we may reach him in time to be
of service. I shall be sitting up pretty late tonight and shall keep my ears
open. Do not be alarmed if Benchurch gets a surprise before morning.'
what do you mean? What do you mean?'
'I mean this;
that possibly—nay, more probably—we shall hear the great alarm bell from the
Judge's House tonight,' and the Doctor made about as effective an exit as could
be thought of.
arrived home he found that it was a little after his usual time, and Mrs.
Dempster had gone away—the rules of Greenhow's Charity were not to be
neglected. He was glad to see that the place was bright and tidy with a
cheerful fire and a well-trimmed lamp. The evening was colder than might have
been expected in April, and a heavy wind was blowing with such
rapidly-increasing strength that there was every promise of a storm during the
night. For a few minutes after his entrance the noise of the rats ceased; but so soon as they became accustomed to his presence they began
again. He was glad to hear them, for he felt once more the feeling of
companionship in their noise, and his mind ran back to the strange fact that
they only ceased to manifest themselves when that other—the great rat with the
baleful eyes—came upon the scene. The reading-lamp only was lit and its green
shade kept the ceiling and the upper part of the room in darkness, so that the
cheerful light from the hearth spreading over the floor and shining on the
white cloth laid over the end of the table was warm and cheery. Malcolmson sat
down to his dinner with a good appetite and a buoyant spirit. After his dinner
and a cigarette he sat steadily down to work, determined not to let anything
disturb him, for he remembered his promise to the doctor, and made up his mind
to make the best of the time at his disposal.
For an hour or
so he worked all right, and then his thoughts began to wander from his books.
The actual circumstances around him, the calls on his physical attention, and
his nervous susceptibility were not to be denied. By this time the wind had
become a gale, and the gale a storm. The old house, solid though it was, seemed
to shake to its foundations, and the storm roared and raged through its many
chimneys and its queer old gables, producing strange, unearthly sounds in the
empty rooms and corridors. Even the great alarm bell on the roof must have felt
the force of the wind, for the rope rose and fell slightly, as though the bell
were moved a little from time to time and the limber rope fell on the oak floor
with a hard and hollow sound.
listened to it he bethought himself of the doctor's words, 'It is the rope
which the hangman used for the victims of the Judge's judicial rancour,' and he
went over to the corner of the fireplace and took it in his hand to look at it.
There seemed a sort of deadly interest in it, and as he stood there he lost
himself for a moment in speculation as to who these victims were, and the grim
wish of the Judge to have such a ghastly relic ever under his eyes. As he stood
there the swaying of the bell on the roof still lifted the rope now and again;
but presently there came a new sensation—a sort of tremor in the rope, as
though something was moving along it.
instinctively Malcolmson saw the great rat coming slowly down towards him,
glaring at him steadily. He dropped the rope and started back with a muttered
curse, and the rat turning ran up the rope again and disappeared, and at the
same instant Malcolmson became conscious that the noise of the rats, which had
ceased for a while, began again.
All this set him
thinking, and it occurred to him that he had not investigated the lair of the
rat or looked at the pictures, as he had intended. He lit the other lamp
without the shade, and, holding it up went and stood opposite the third picture
from the fireplace on the right-hand side where he had seen the rat disappear
on the previous night.
At the first
glance he started back so suddenly that he almost dropped the lamp, and a
deadly pallor overspread his face. His knees shook, and heavy drops of sweat
came on his forehead, and he trembled like an aspen. But he was young and
plucky, and pulled himself together, and after the pause of a few seconds
stepped forward again, raised the lamp, and examined the picture which had been
dusted and washed, and now stood out clearly.
It was of a
judge dressed in his robes of scarlet and ermine. His face was strong and
merciless, evil, crafty, and vindictive, with a sensual mouth, hooked nose of
ruddy colour, and shaped like the beak of a bird of prey. The rest of the face
was of a cadaverous colour. The eyes were of peculiar brilliance and with a
terribly malignant expression. As he looked at them, Malcolmson grew cold, for
he saw there the very counterpart of the eyes of the great rat. The lamp almost
fell from his hand, he saw the rat with its baleful eyes peering out through
the hole in the corner of the picture, and noted the sudden cessation of the
noise of the other rats. However, he pulled himself together, and went on with
his examination of the picture.
The Judge was
seated in a great high-backed carved oak chair, on the right-hand side of a
great stone fireplace where, in the corner, a rope hung down from the ceiling,
its end lying coiled on the floor. With a feeling of something like horror,
Malcolmson recognised the scene of the room as it stood, and gazed around him
in an awestruck manner as though he expected to find some strange presence
behind him. Then he looked over to the corner of the fireplace—and with a loud
cry he let the lamp fall from his hand.
There, in the
Judge's arm-chair, with the rope hanging behind, sat the rat with the Judge's
baleful eyes, now intensified and with a fiendish leer. Save for the howling of
the storm without there was silence.
The fallen lamp
recalled Malcolmson to himself. Fortunately it was of metal, and so the oil was
not spilt. However, the practical need of attending to it settled at once his
nervous apprehensions. When he had turned it out, he wiped his brow and thought
for a moment.
'This will not
do,' he said to himself. 'If I go on like this I shall become a crazy fool.
This must stop! I promised the doctor I would not take tea. Faith, he was
pretty right! My nerves must have been getting into a queer state. Funny I did
not notice it. I never felt better in my life. However, it is all right now,
and I shall not be such a fool again.'
Then he mixed
himself a good stiff glass of brandy and water and resolutely sat down to his
It was nearly an
hour when he looked up from his book, disturbed by the sudden stillness.
Without, the wind howled and roared louder than ever, and the rain drove in
sheets against the windows, beating like hail on the glass; but within there
was no sound whatever save the echo of the wind as it roared in the great
chimney, and now and then a hiss as a few raindrops found their way down the
chimney in a lull of the storm. The fire had fallen low and had ceased to
flame, though it threw out a red glow. Malcolmson listened attentively, and
presently heard a thin, squeaking noise, very faint. It came from the corner of
the room where the rope hung down, and he thought it was the creaking of the
rope on the floor as the swaying of the bell raised and lowered it. Looking up,
however, he saw in the dim light the great rat clinging to the rope and gnawing
it. The rope was already nearly gnawed through—he could see the lighter colour
where the strands were laid bare. As he looked the job was completed, and the
severed end of the rope fell clattering on the oaken floor, whilst for an
instant the great rat remained like a knob or tassel at the end of the rope,
which now began to sway to and fro. Malcolmson felt for a moment another pang
of terror as he thought that now the possibility of calling the outer world to
his assistance was cut off, but an intense anger took its place, and seizing
the book he was reading he hurled it at the rat. The blow was well aimed, but
before the missile could reach him the rat dropped off and struck the floor
with a soft thud. Malcolmson instantly rushed over towards him, but it darted
away and disappeared in the darkness of the shadows of the room. Malcolmson
felt that his work was over for the night, and determined then and there to
vary the monotony of the proceedings by a hunt for the rat, and took off the
green shade of the lamp so as to insure a wider spreading light. As he did so
the gloom of the upper part of the room was relieved, and in the new flood of
light, great by comparison with the previous darkness, the pictures on the wall
stood out boldly. From where he stood, Malcolmson saw right opposite to him the
third picture on the wall from the right of the fireplace. He rubbed his eyes
in surprise, and then a great fear began to come upon him.
In the centre of
the picture was a great irregular patch of brown canvas, as fresh as when it
was stretched on the frame. The background was as before, with chair and
chimney-corner and rope, but the figure of the Judge had disappeared.
almost in a chill of horror, turned slowly round, and then he began to shake
and tremble like a man in a palsy. His strength seemed
to have left him, and he was incapable of action or movement, hardly even of
thought. He could only see and hear.
There, on the
great high-backed carved oak chair sat the Judge in his robes of scarlet and
ermine, with his baleful eyes glaring vindictively, and a smile of triumph on
the resolute, cruel mouth, as he lifted with his hands a black cap. Malcolmson
felt as if the blood was running from his heart, as one does in moments of
prolonged suspense. There was a singing in his ears. Without, he could hear the
roar and howl of the tempest, and through it, swept on the storm, came the
striking of midnight by the great chimes in the market place. He stood for a
space of time that seemed to him endless still as a statue, and with wide-open,
horror-struck eyes, breathless. As the clock struck, so the smile of triumph on
the Judge's face intensified, and at the last stroke of midnight he placed the
black cap on his head.
deliberately the Judge rose from his chair and picked up the piece of the rope
of the alarm bell which lay on the floor, drew it through his hands as if he
enjoyed its touch, and then deliberately began to knot one end of it,
fashioning it into a noose. This he tightened and tested with his foot, pulling
hard at it till he was satisfied and then making a running noose of it, which
he held in his hand. Then he began to move along the table on the opposite side
to Malcolmson keeping his eyes on him until he had passed him, when with a
quick movement he stood in front of the door. Malcolmson then began to feel
that he was trapped, and tried to think of what he should do. There was some
fascination in the Judge's eyes, which he never took off him, and he had,
perforce, to look. He saw the Judge approach—still keeping between him and the
door—and raise the noose and throw it towards him as if to entangle him. With a
great effort he made a quick movement to one side, and saw the rope fall beside
him, and heard it strike the oaken floor. Again the Judge raised the noose and
tried to ensnare him, ever keeping his baleful eyes fixed on him, and each time
by a mighty effort the student just managed to evade it. So this went on for
many times, the Judge seeming never discouraged nor
discomposed at failure, but playing as a cat does with a mouse. At last in
despair, which had reached its climax, Malcolmson cast a quick glance round
him. The lamp seemed to have blazed up, and there was a fairly good light in
the room. At the many rat-holes and in the chinks and crannies of the wainscot
he saw the rats' eyes; and this aspect, that was purely physical, gave him a
gleam of comfort. He looked around and saw that the rope of the great alarm
bell was laden with rats. Every inch of it was covered with them, and more and
more were pouring through the small circular hole in the ceiling whence it
emerged, so that with their weight the bell was beginning to sway.
Hark! it had swayed till the clapper had touched the bell. The
sound was but a tiny one, but the bell was only beginning to sway, and it would
At the sound the
Judge, who had been keeping his eyes fixed on Malcolmson, looked up, and a
scowl of diabolical anger overspread his face. His eyes fairly glowed like hot
coals, and he stamped his foot with a sound that seemed to make the house
shake. A dreadful peal of thunder broke overhead as he raised the rope again,
whilst the rats kept running up and down the rope as though working against
time. This time, instead of throwing it, he drew close to his victim, and held
open the noose as he approached. As he came closer there seemed something
paralysing in his very presence, and Malcolmson stood rigid as a corpse. He
felt the Judge's icy fingers touch his throat as he adjusted the rope. The
noose tightened—tightened. Then the Judge, taking the rigid form of the student
in his arms, carried him over and placed him standing in the oak chair, and
stepping up beside him, put his hand up and caught the end of the swaying rope
of the alarm bell. As he raised his hand the rats fled squeaking, and
disappeared through the hole in the ceiling. Taking the end of the noose which
was round Malcolmson's neck he tied it to the hanging-bell rope, and then
descending pulled away the chair.
When the alarm
bell of the Judge's House began to sound a crowd soon assembled. Lights and
torches of various kinds appeared, and soon a silent crowd was hurrying to the
spot. They knocked loudly at the door, but there was no reply. Then they burst
in the door, and poured into the great dining-room, the doctor at the head.
There at the end
of the rope of the great alarm bell hung the body of the student, and on the
face of the Judge in the picture was a malignant smile.
Nurnberg at the time was not so much exploited as it has been since then. Irving had not been
playing Faust, and the very name of the old town was hardly known to the great
bulk of the travelling public. My wife and I being in the second week of our
honeymoon, naturally wanted someone else to join our party, so that when the
cheery stranger, Elias P. Hutcheson, hailing from Isthmian City, Bleeding
Gulch, Maple Tree County, Neb. turned up at the station at Frankfort, and
casually remarked that he was going on to see the most all-fired old Methuselah
of a town in Yurrup, and that he guessed that so much travelling alone was
enough to send an intelligent, active citizen into the melancholy ward of a
daft house, we took the pretty broad hint and suggested that we should join
forces. We found, on comparing notes afterwards, that we had each intended to
speak with some diffidence or hesitation so as not to appear too eager, such
not being a good compliment to the success of our married life; but the effect
was entirely marred by our both beginning to speak at the same instant—stopping
simultaneously and then going on together again. Anyhow, no matter how, it was
done; and Elias P. Hutcheson became one of our party. Straightway Amelia and I
found the pleasant benefit; instead of quarrelling, as we had been doing, we
found that the restraining influence of a third party was such that we now took
every opportunity of spooning in odd corners. Amelia declares that ever since
she has, as the result of that experience, advised all her friends to take a
friend on the honeymoon. Well, we 'did' Nurnberg
together, and much enjoyed the racy remarks of our Transatlantic
friend, who, from his quaint speech and his wonderful stock of adventures,
might have stepped out of a novel. We kept for the last object of interest in
the city to be visited the Burg, and on the day appointed for the visit
strolled round the outer wall of the city by the eastern side.
The Burg is
seated on a rock dominating the town and an immensely deep fosse guards it on
the northern side. Nurnberg has been happy in
that it was never sacked; had it been it would certainly not be so spick and
span perfect as it is at present. The ditch has not been used for centuries,
and now its base is spread with tea-gardens and orchards, of which some of the
trees are of quite respectable growth. As we wandered round the wall, dawdling
in the hot July sunshine, we often paused to admire the views spread before us,
and in especial the great plain covered with towns and villages and bounded
with a blue line of hills, like a landscape of Claude Lorraine. From this we
always turned with new delight to the city itself, with its myriad of quaint
old gables and acre-wide red roofs dotted with dormer windows, tier upon tier.
A little to our right rose the towers of the Burg, and nearer still, standing
grim, the Torture Tower, which was, and is, perhaps, the most interesting place
in the city. For centuries the tradition of the Iron Virgin of Nurnberg has
been handed down as an instance of the horrors of cruelty of which man is
capable; we had long looked forward to seeing it; and here at last was its
In one of our
pauses we leaned over the wall of the moat and looked down. The garden seemed
quite fifty or sixty feet below us, and the sun pouring into it with an
intense, moveless heat like that of an oven. Beyond rose the grey, grim wall
seemingly of endless height, and losing itself right and left in the angles of
bastion and counterscarp. Trees and bushes crowned the wall, and above again
towered the lofty houses on whose massive beauty Time has only set the hand of approval.
The sun was hot and we were lazy; time was our own, and we lingered, leaning on
the wall. Just below us was a pretty sight—a great black cat lying stretched in
the sun, whilst round her gambolled prettily a tiny black kitten. The mother
would wave her tail for the kitten to play with, or would raise her feet and
push away the little one as an encouragement to further play. They were just at
the foot of the wall, and Elias P. Hutcheson, in order to help the play,
stooped and took from the walk a moderate sized pebble.
'See!' he said,
'I will drop it near the kitten, and they will both wonder where it came from.'
careful,' said my wife; 'you might hit the dear little thing!'
'Not me, ma'am,'
said Elias P. 'Why, I'm as tender as a Maine
cherry-tree. Lor, bless ye. I wouldn't hurt the poor pooty little critter
more'n I'd scalp a baby. An' you may bet your variegated socks on that! See,
I'll drop it fur away on the outside so's not to go near her!' Thus saying, he
leaned over and held his arm out at full length and dropped the stone. It may
be that there is some attractive force which draws lesser matters to greater;
or more probably that the wall was not plump but sloped to its base—we not
noticing the inclination from above; but the stone fell with a sickening thud
that came up to us through the hot air, right on the kitten's head, and
shattered out its little brains then and there. The black cat cast a swift
upward glance, and we saw her eyes like green fire fixed an instant on Elias P.
Hutcheson; and then her attention was given to the kitten, which lay still with
just a quiver of her tiny limbs, whilst a thin red stream trickled from a
gaping wound. With a muffled cry, such as a human being might give, she bent
over the kitten licking its wounds and moaning. Suddenly she seemed to realise
that it was dead, and again threw her eyes up at us. I shall never forget the
sight, for she looked the perfect incarnation of hate. Her green eyes blazed
with lurid fire, and the white, sharp teeth seemed to almost shine through the
blood which dabbled her mouth and whiskers. She
gnashed her teeth, and her claws stood out stark and at full length on every
paw. Then she made a wild rush up the wall as if to reach us, but when the
momentum ended fell back, and further added to her horrible appearance for she
fell on the kitten, and rose with her black fur smeared with its brains and
blood. Amelia turned quite faint, and I had to lift her back from the wall.
There was a seat close by in shade of a spreading plane-tree, and here I placed
her whilst she composed herself. Then I went back to Hutcheson, who stood
without moving, looking down on the angry cat below.
As I joined him,
'Wall, I guess
that air the savagest beast I ever see—'cept once when an Apache squaw had an
edge on a half-breed what they nicknamed "Splinters" 'cos of the way
he fixed up her papoose which he stole on a raid just to show that he
appreciated the way they had given his mother the fire torture. She got that
kinder look so set on her face that it jest seemed to
grow there. She followed Splinters mor'n three year till at last the braves got
him and handed him over to her. They did say that no man, white or Injun, had
ever been so long a-dying under the tortures of the Apaches. The only time I
ever see her smile was when I wiped her out. I kem on the camp just in time to
see Splinters pass in his checks, and he wasn't sorry to go either. He was a
hard citizen, and though I never could shake with him after that papoose
business—for it was bitter bad, and he should have been a white man, for he
looked like one—I see he had got paid out in full. Durn me, but I took a piece
of his hide from one of his skinnin' posts an' had it made into a pocket-book.
It's here now!' and he slapped the breast pocket of his coat.
Whilst he was
speaking the cat was continuing her frantic efforts to get up the wall. She
would take a run back and then charge up, sometimes reaching an incredible
height. She did not seem to mind the heavy fall which she get each time but
started with renewed vigour; and at every tumble her appearance became more
horrible. Hutcheson was a kind-hearted man—my wife and I had both noticed
little acts of kindness to animals as well as to persons—and he seemed
concerned at the state of fury to which the cat had wrought herself.
'Wall, now!' he
said, 'I du declare that that poor critter seems quite desperate. There! there! poor thing, it was all an
accident—though that won't bring back your little one to you. Say! I wouldn't
have had such a thing happen for a thousand! Just shows what a clumsy fool of a
man can do when he tries to play! Seems I'm too darned slipperhanded to even
play with a cat. Say Colonel!' it was a pleasant way he had to bestow titles
freely—'I hope your wife don't hold no grudge against me on account of this
unpleasantness? Why, I wouldn't have had it occur on no account.'
He came over to
Amelia and apologised profusely, and she with her usual kindness of heart
hastened to assure him that she quite understood that it was an accident. Then
we all went again to the wall and looked over.
The cat missing
Hutcheson's face had drawn back across the moat, and was sitting on her
haunches as though ready to spring. Indeed, the very instant she saw him she
did spring, and with a blind unreasoning fury, which would have been grotesque,
only that it was so frightfully real. She did not try to run up the wall, but
simply launched herself at him as though hate and fury could lend her wings to
pass straight through the great distance between them. Amelia, womanlike, got
quite concerned, and said to Elias P. in a warning voice:
'Oh! you must be very careful. That animal would try to kill you
if she were here; her eyes look like positive murder.'
He laughed out
jovially. 'Excuse me, ma'am,' he said, 'but I can't help laughin'. Fancy a man
that has fought grizzlies an' Injuns bein' careful of bein' murdered by a cat!'
When the cat
heard him laugh, her whole demeanour seemed to change. She no longer tried to
jump or run up the wall, but went quietly over, and sitting again beside the
dead kitten began to lick and fondle it as though it were alive.
'See!' said I,
'the effect of a really strong man. Even that animal in the midst of her fury
recognises the voice of a master, and bows to him!'
'Like a squaw!'
was the only comment of Elias P. Hutcheson, as we moved on our way round the
city fosse. Every now and then we looked over the wall and each time saw the
cat following us. At first she had kept going back to the dead kitten, and then
as the distance grew greater took it in her mouth and so followed. After a
while, however, she abandoned this, for we saw her following all alone; she had
evidently hidden the body somewhere. Amelia's alarm grew at the cat's
persistence, and more than once she repeated her warning; but the American
always laughed with amusement, till finally, seeing that she was beginning to
be worried, he said:
'I say, ma'am,
you needn't be skeered over that cat. I go heeled, I du!' Here he slapped his
pistol pocket at the back of his lumbar region. 'Why sooner'n have you worried,
I'll shoot the critter, right here, an' risk the police interferin' with a
citizen of the United States
for carryin' arms contrairy to reg'lations!' As he spoke he looked over the
wall, but the cat on seeing him, retreated, with a growl, into a bed of tall
flowers, and was hidden. He went on: 'Blest if that ar critter ain't got more
sense of what's good for her than most Christians. I guess we've seen the last
of her! You bet, she'll go back now to that busted kitten
and have a private funeral of it, all to herself!'
Amelia did not
like to say more, lest he might, in mistaken kindness to her, fulfil his threat
of shooting the cat: and so we went on and crossed the little wooden bridge
leading to the gateway whence ran the steep paved roadway between the Burg and
the pentagonal Torture Tower. As we crossed the bridge we saw the cat again
down below us. When she saw us her fury seemed to return, and she made frantic
efforts to get up the steep wall. Hutcheson laughed as he looked down at her,
girl. Sorry I injured your feelin's, but you'll get over it in time! So long!' And then we passed through the long, dim archway
and came to the gate of the Burg.
When we came out
again after our survey of this most beautiful old place which not even the
well-intentioned efforts of the Gothic restorers of forty years ago have been
able to spoil—though their restoration was then glaring white—we seemed to have
quite forgotten the unpleasant episode of the morning. The old lime tree with
its great trunk gnarled with the passing of nearly nine centuries, the deep
well cut through the heart of the rock by those captives of old, and the lovely
view from the city wall whence we heard, spread over almost a full quarter of
an hour, the multitudinous chimes of the city, had all helped to wipe out from
our minds the incident of the slain kitten.
We were the only
visitors who had entered the Torture
Tower that morning—so at
least said the old custodian—and as we had the place all to ourselves were able
to make a minute and more satisfactory survey than would have otherwise been
possible. The custodian, looking to us as the sole source of his gains for the
day, was willing to meet our wishes in any way. The Torture Tower
is truly a grim place, even now when many thousands of visitors have sent a
stream of life, and the joy that follows life, into
the place; but at the time I mention it wore its grimmest and most gruesome
aspect. The dust of ages seemed to have settled on it, and the darkness and the
horror of its memories seem to have become sentient in a way that would have
satisfied the Pantheistic souls of Philo or Spinoza. The lower chamber where we
entered was seemingly, in its normal state, filled with incarnate darkness;
even the hot sunlight streaming in through the door seemed to be lost in the
vast thickness of the walls, and only showed the masonry rough as when the
builder's scaffolding had come down, but coated with dust and marked here and
there with patches of dark stain which, if walls could speak, could have given
their own dread memories of fear and pain. We were glad to pass up the dusty
wooden staircase, the custodian leaving the outer door open to light us
somewhat on our way; for to our eyes the one long-wick'd, evil-smelling candle
stuck in a sconce on the wall gave an inadequate light. When we came up through
the open trap in the corner of the chamber overhead, Amelia held on to me so
tightly that I could actually feel her heart beat. I must say for my own part
that I was not surprised at her fear, for this room was even more gruesome than
that below. Here there was certainly more light, but only just sufficient to
realise the horrible surroundings of the place. The builders of the tower had
evidently intended that only they who should gain the top should have any of
the joys of light and prospect. There, as we had noticed from below, were
ranges of windows, albeit of mediaeval smallness, but elsewhere in the tower
were only a very few narrow slits such as were habitual in places of mediaeval
defence. A few of these only lit the chamber, and
these so high up in the wall that from no part could the sky be seen through
the thickness of the walls. In racks, and leaning in disorder against the
walls, were a number of headsmen's swords, great double-handed weapons with
broad blade and keen edge. Hard by were several blocks whereon the necks of the
victims had lain, with here and there deep notches where the steel had bitten
through the guard of flesh and shored into the wood. Round the chamber, placed
in all sorts of irregular ways, were many implements of torture which made
one's heart ache to see—chairs full of spikes which gave instant and
excruciating pain; chairs and couches with dull knobs whose torture was seemingly
less, but which, though slower, were equally efficacious; racks, belts, boots,
gloves, collars, all made for compressing at will; steel baskets in which the
head could be slowly crushed into a pulp if necessary; watchmen's hooks with
long handle and knife that cut at resistance—this a speciality of the old
Nurnberg police system; and many, many other devices for man's injury to man.
Amelia grew quite pale with the horror of the things, but fortunately did not
faint, for being a little overcome she sat down on a
torture chair, but jumped up again with a shriek, all tendency to faint gone.
We both pretended that it was the injury done to her dress by the dust of the
chair, and the rusty spikes which had upset her, and Mr. Hutcheson acquiesced
in accepting the explanation with a kind-hearted laugh.
But the central
object in the whole of this chamber of horrors was the engine known as the Iron
Virgin, which stood near the centre of the room. It was a rudely-shaped figure
of a woman, something of the bell order, or, to make a closer comparison, of
the figure of Mrs. Noah in the children's Ark, but without that slimness of waist and
perfect rondeur of hip which marks the aesthetic type of the Noah family. One
would hardly have recognised it as intended for a human figure at all had not
the founder shaped on the forehead a rude semblance of a woman's face. This
machine was coated with rust without, and covered with dust; a rope was
fastened to a ring in the front of the figure, about where the waist should have
been, and was drawn through a pulley, fastened on the wooden pillar which
sustained the flooring above. The custodian pulling this rope showed that a
section of the front was hinged like a door at one side; we then saw that the
engine was of considerable thickness, leaving just room enough inside for a man
to be placed. The door was of equal thickness and of great weight, for it took
the custodian all his strength, aided though he was by the contrivance of the
pulley, to open it. This weight was partly due to the fact that the door was of
manifest purpose hung so as to throw its weight downwards, so that it might
shut of its own accord when the strain was released. The inside was honeycombed
with rust—nay more, the rust alone that comes through time would hardly have
eaten so deep into the iron walls; the rust of the cruel stains was deep
indeed! It was only, however, when we came to look at the inside of the door
that the diabolical intention was manifest to the full. Here were several long
spikes, square and massive, broad at the base and sharp at the points, placed
in such a position that when the door should close the upper ones would pierce
the eyes of the victim, and the lower ones his heart and vitals. The sight was
too much for poor Amelia, and this time she fainted dead off, and I had to
carry her down the stairs, and place her on a bench outside till she recovered.
That she felt it to the quick was afterwards shown by the fact that my eldest
son bears to this day a rude birthmark on his breast, which has, by family
consent, been accepted as representing the Nurnberg Virgin.
When we got back
to the chamber we found Hutcheson still opposite the Iron Virgin; he had been
evidently philosophising, and now gave us the benefit of his thought in the
shape of a sort of exordium.
'Wall, I guess
I've been learnin' somethin' here while madam has been gettin' over her faint. 'Pears to me that we're a long way behind the times on our side of
the big drink. We uster think out on the plains that the Injun could
give us points in tryin' to make a man uncomfortable; but I guess your old
mediaeval law-and-order party could raise him every time. Splinters was pretty
good in his bluff on the squaw, but this here young miss held a straight flush
all high on him. The points of them spikes air sharp enough still, though even
the edges air eaten out by what uster be on them. It'd be a good thing for our
Indian section to get some specimens of this here play-toy to send round to the
Reservations jest to knock the stuffin' out of the bucks, and the squaws too,
by showing them as how old civilisation lays over them at their best. Guess but
I'll get in that box a minute jest to see how it feels!'
'Oh no! no!' said Amelia. 'It is too terrible!'
nothin's too terrible to the explorin' mind. I've been in some queer places in
my time. Spent a night inside a dead horse while a prairie fire swept over me
in Montana Territory—an' another time slept inside a dead buffler when the
Comanches was on the war path an' I didn't keer to leave my kyard on them. I've
been two days in a caved-in tunnel in the Billy Broncho gold mine in New
Mexico, an' was one of the four shut up for three parts of a day in the caisson
what slid over on her side when we was settin' the foundations of the Buffalo
Bridge. I've not funked an odd experience yet, an' I don't propose to begin
We saw that he
was set on the experiment, so I said: 'Well, hurry up, old man, and get through
General,' said he, 'but I calculate we ain't quite ready yet. The gentlemen, my
predecessors, what stood in that thar canister, didn't volunteer for the
office—not much! And I guess there was some ornamental tyin' up before the big
stroke was made. I want to go into this thing fair and square, so I must get
fixed up proper first. I dare say this old galoot can rise some string and tie
me up accordin' to sample?'
This was said
interrogatively to the old custodian, but the latter, who understood the drift
of his speech, though perhaps not appreciating to the full the niceties of
dialect and imagery, shook his head. His protest was, however, only formal and
made to be overcome. The American thrust a gold piece into his hand, saying:
'Take it, pard! it's your pot; and don't be skeer'd.
This ain't no necktie party that you're asked to
assist in!' He produced some thin frayed rope and proceeded to bind our
companion with sufficient strictness for the purpose. When the upper part of
his body was bound, Hutcheson said:
'Hold on a
moment, Judge. Guess I'm too heavy for you to tote into the canister. You jest
let me walk in, and then you can wash up regardin' my legs!'
he had backed himself into the opening which was just enough to hold him. It
was a close fit and no mistake. Amelia looked on with fear in her eyes, but she
evidently did not like to say anything. Then the custodian completed his task
by tying the American's feet together so that he was now absolutely helpless
and fixed in his voluntary prison. He seemed to really enjoy it, and the incipient
smile which was habitual to his face blossomed into actuality as he said:
'Guess this here
Eve was made out of the rib of a dwarf! There ain't much room for a full-grown
citizen of the United States
to hustle. We uster make our coffins more roomier in Idaho territory. Now,
Judge, you jest begin to let this door down, slow, on to me. I want to feel the
same pleasure as the other jays had when those spikes began to move toward
'Oh no! no! no!' broke in
Amelia hysterically. 'It is too terrible! I can't bear to see it!—I can't! I
can't!' But the American was obdurate. 'Say, Colonel,' said he, 'why not take
Madame for a little promenade? I wouldn't hurt her feelin's for the world; but
now that I am here, havin' kem eight thousand miles, wouldn't it be too hard to
give up the very experience I've been pinin' an' pantin' fur? A man can't get
to feel like canned goods every time! Me and the Judge
here'll fix up this thing in no time, an' then you'll come back, an' we'll all
Once more the
resolution that is born of curiosity triumphed, and Amelia stayed holding tight
to my arm and shivering whilst the custodian began to slacken slowly inch by
inch the rope that held back the iron door. Hutcheson's face was positively
radiant as his eyes followed the first movement of the spikes.
'Wall!' he said,
'I guess I've not had enjoyment like this since I left Noo York. Bar a scrap
with a French sailor at Wapping—an' that warn't much of a picnic neither—I've
not had a show fur real pleasure in this dod-rotted Continent, where there
ain't no b'ars nor no Injuns, an' wheer nary man goes heeled. Slow there,
Judge! Don't you rush this business! I want a show for my money this game—I
must have had in him some of the blood of his predecessors in that ghastly
tower, for he worked the engine with a deliberate and excruciating slowness
which after five minutes, in which the outer edge of the door had not moved
half as many inches, began to overcome Amelia. I saw her lips whiten, and felt her
hold upon my arm relax. I looked around an instant for a place whereon to lay
her, and when I looked at her again found that her eye had become fixed on the
side of the Virgin. Following its direction I saw the black cat crouching out
of sight. Her green eyes shone like danger lamps in the gloom of the place, and
their colour was heightened by the blood which still smeared her coat and
reddened her mouth. I cried out:
'The cat! look out for the cat!' for even then she sprang
out before the engine. At this moment she looked like a triumphant demon. Her
eyes blazed with ferocity, her hair bristled out till she seemed twice her
normal size, and her tail lashed about as does a tiger's when the quarry is
before it. Elias P. Hutcheson when he saw her was amused, and his eyes
positively sparkled with fun as he said:
'Darned if the squaw hain't got on all her war paint! Jest give her a shove off
if she comes any of her tricks on me, for I'm so fixed everlastingly by the
boss, that durn my skin if I can keep my eyes from her if she wants them! Easy
there, Judge! don't you slack that ar rope or I'm
At this moment
Amelia completed her faint, and I had to clutch hold of her round the waist or
she would have fallen to the floor. Whilst attending to her I saw the black cat
crouching for a spring, and jumped up to turn the creature out.
But at that
instant, with a sort of hellish scream, she hurled herself, not as we expected
at Hutcheson, but straight at the face of the custodian. Her claws seemed to be
tearing wildly as one sees in the Chinese drawings of the dragon rampant, and
as I looked I saw one of them light on the poor man's eye, and actually tear
through it and down his cheek, leaving a wide band of red where the blood
seemed to spurt from every vein.
With a yell of
sheer terror which came quicker than even his sense of pain, the man leaped
back, dropping as he did so the rope which held back the iron door. I jumped
for it, but was too late, for the cord ran like lightning through the
pulley-block, and the heavy mass fell forward from its own weight.
As the door
closed I caught a glimpse of our poor companion's face. He seemed frozen with
terror. His eyes stared with a horrible anguish as if dazed, and no sound came
from his lips.
And then the
spikes did their work. Happily the end was quick, for when I wrenched open the
door they had pierced so deep that they had locked in the bones of the skull
through which they had crushed, and actually tore him—it—out of his iron prison
till, bound as he was, he fell at full length with a sickly thud upon the
floor, the face turning upward as he fell.
I rushed to my
wife, lifted her up and carried her out, for I feared for her very reason if
she should wake from her faint to such a scene. I laid her on the bench outside
and ran back. Leaning against the wooden column was the custodian moaning in
pain whilst he held his reddening handkerchief to his eyes. And sitting on the
head of the poor American was the cat, purring loudly as she licked the blood
which trickled through the gashed socket of his eyes.
I think no one
will call me cruel because I seized one of the old executioner's swords and
shore her in two as she sat.
Delandre went to live at Brent's Rock the whole neighbourhood awoke to the
pleasure of an entirely new scandal. Scandals in connection with either the
Delandre family or the Brents of Brent's Rock, were not few; and if the secret
history of the county had been written in full both names would have been found
well represented. It is true that the status of each was so different that they
might have belonged to different continents—or to different worlds for the
matter of that—for hitherto their orbits had never crossed. The Brents were
accorded by the whole section of the country a unique social dominance, and had
ever held themselves as high above the yeoman class to which Margaret Delandre
belonged, as a blue-blooded Spanish hidalgo
out-tops his peasant tenantry.
had an ancient record and were proud of it in their way as the Brents were of
theirs. But the family had never risen above yeomanry; and although they had
been once well-to-do in the good old times of foreign wars and protection,
their fortunes had withered under the scorching of the free trade sun and the
'piping times of peace.' They had, as the elder members used to assert, 'stuck
to the land', with the result that they had taken root in it, body and soul. In
fact, they, having chosen the life of vegetables, had flourished as vegetation does—blossomed
and thrived in the good season and suffered in the bad. Their holding, Dander's
Croft, seemed to have been worked out, and to be typical of the family which
had inhabited it. The latter had declined generation after generation, sending
out now and again some abortive shoot of unsatisfied energy in the shape of a
soldier or sailor, who had worked his way to the minor grades of the services
and had there stopped, cut short either from unheeding gallantry in action or
from that destroying cause to men without breeding or youthful care—the
recognition of a position above them which they feel unfitted to fill. So,
little by little, the family dropped lower and lower, the men brooding and
dissatisfied, and drinking themselves into the grave, the women drudging at
home, or marrying beneath them—or worse. In process of time all disappeared,
leaving only two in the Croft, Wykham Delandre and his sister Margaret. The man
and woman seemed to have inherited in masculine and feminine form respectively
the evil tendency of their race, sharing in common the principles, though
manifesting them in different ways, of sullen passion, voluptuousness and
The history of
the Brents had been something similar, but showing the causes of decadence in
their aristocratic and not their plebeian forms. They, too, had sent their
shoots to the wars; but their positions had been different and they had often
attained honour—for without flaw they were gallant, and brave deeds were done
by them before the selfish dissipation which marked them had sapped their
The present head
of the family—if family it could now be called when one remained of the direct
line—was Geoffrey Brent. He was almost a type of worn out race, manifesting in
some ways its most brilliant qualities, and in others
its utter degradation. He might be fairly compared with some of those antique
Italian nobles whom the painters have preserved to us with their courage, their
unscrupulousness, their refinement of lust and cruelty—the voluptuary actual
with the fiend potential. He was certainly handsome, with that dark, aquiline,
commanding beauty which women so generally recognise as dominant. With men he
was distant and cold; but such a bearing never deters womankind. The
inscrutable laws of sex have so arranged that even a timid woman is not afraid
of a fierce and haughty man. And so it was that there was hardly a woman of any
kind or degree, who lived within view of Brent's Rock, who did not cherish some
form of secret admiration for the handsome wastrel. The category was a wide
one, for Brent's Rock rose up steeply from the midst of a level region and for
a circuit of a hundred miles it lay on the horizon, with its high old towers
and steep roofs cutting the level edge of wood and hamlet, and far-scattered
So long as
Geoffrey Brent confined his dissipations to London
and Paris and Vienna—anywhere out of sight and sound of his
home—opinion was silent. It is easy to listen to far off echoes unmoved, and we
can treat them with disbelief, or scorn, or disdain, or whatever attitude of
coldness may suit our purpose. But when the scandal came close home it was
another matter; and the feelings of independence and integrity which is in
people of every community which is not utterly spoiled, asserted itself and
demanded that condemnation should be expressed. Still there was a certain
reticence in all, and no more notice was taken of the existing facts than was
absolutely necessary. Margaret Delandre bore herself so fearlessly and so
openly—she accepted her position as the justified companion of Geoffrey Brent
so naturally that people came to believe that she was secretly married to him,
and therefore thought it wiser to hold their tongues lest time should justify
her and also make her an active enemy.
The one person
who, by his interference, could have settled all doubts was debarred by
circumstances from interfering in the matter. Wykham Delandre had quarrelled
with his sister—or perhaps it was that she had quarrelled with him—and they
were on terms not merely of armed neutrality but of bitter hatred. The quarrel
had been antecedent to Margaret going to Brent's Rock. She and Wykham had
almost come to blows. There had certainly been threats on one side and on the
other; and in the end Wykham, overcome with passion, had ordered his sister to
leave his house. She had risen straightway, and, without waiting to pack up
even her own personal belongings, had walked out of the house. On the threshold
she had paused for a moment to hurl a bitter threat at Wykham that he would rue
in shame and despair to the last hour of his life his act of that day. Some
weeks had since passed; and it was understood in the neighbourhood that
Margaret had gone to London,
when she suddenly appeared driving out with Geoffrey Brent, and the entire
neighbourhood knew before nightfall that she had taken up her abode at the
Rock. It was no subject of surprise that Brent had come back unexpectedly, for
such was his usual custom. Even his own servants never knew when to expect him,
for there was a private door, of which he alone had the key, by which he
sometimes entered without anyone in the house being aware of his coming. This
was his usual method of appearing after a long absence.
was furious at the news. He vowed vengeance—and to keep his mind level with his
passion drank deeper than ever. He tried several times to see his sister, but
she contemptuously refused to meet him. He tried to have an interview with
Brent and was refused by him also. Then he tried to stop him in the road, but
without avail, for Geoffrey was not a man to be stopped against his will.
Several actual encounters took place between the two men, and many more were
threatened and avoided. At last Wykham Delandre settled down to a morose,
vengeful acceptance of the situation.
nor Geoffrey was of a pacific temperament, and it was not long before there
began to be quarrels between them. One thing would lead to another, and wine
flowed freely at Brent's Rock. Now and again the quarrels would assume a bitter
aspect, and threats would be exchanged in uncompromising language that fairly
awed the listening servants. But such quarrels generally ended where domestic
altercations do, in reconciliation, and in a mutual respect for the fighting
qualities proportionate to their manifestation. Fighting for its own sake is
found by a certain class of persons, all the world over, to be a matter of
absorbing interest, and there is no reason to believe that domestic conditions
minimise its potency. Geoffrey and Margaret made occasional absences from
Brent's Rock, and on each of these occasions Wykham Delandre also absented
himself; but as he generally heard of the absence too late to be of any
service, he returned home each time in a more bitter and discontented frame of
mind than before.
At last there
came a time when the absence from Brent's Rock became longer than before. Only
a few days earlier there had been a quarrel, exceeding in bitterness anything
which had gone before; but this, too, had been made up, and a trip on the
Continent had been mentioned before the servants. After a few days Wykham
Delandre also went away, and it was some weeks before he returned. It was
noticed that he was full of some new importance—satisfaction, exaltation—they
hardly knew how to call it. He went straightway to Brent's Rock, and demanded
to see Geoffrey Brent, and on being told that he had not yet returned, said,
with a grim decision which the servants noted:
'I shall come
again. My news is solid—it can wait!' and turned away. Week after week went by,
and month after month; and then there came a rumour, certified later on, that
an accident had occurred in the Zermatt
valley. Whilst crossing a dangerous pass the carriage containing an English
lady and the driver had fallen over a precipice, the gentleman of the party,
Mr. Geoffrey Brent, having been fortunately saved as he had been walking up the
hill to ease the horses. He gave information, and search was made. The broken rail, the excoriated roadway, the marks where the horses
had struggled on the decline before finally pitching over into the torrent—all
told the sad tale. It was a wet season, and there had been much snow in
the winter, so that the river was swollen beyond its usual volume, and the eddies of the stream were packed with ice. All search was made, and finally the wreck of the carriage and
the body of one horse were found in an eddy of the river. Later on the body of
the driver was found on the sandy, torrent-swept waste near Täsch; but the body
of the lady, like that of the other horse, had quite disappeared, and was—what
was left of it by that time—whirling amongst the eddies of the Rhone on its way
down to the Lake of Geneva.
made all the enquiries possible, but could not find any trace of the missing
woman. He found, however, in the books of the various hotels the name of 'Mr.
and Mrs. Geoffrey Brent'. And he had a stone erected at Zermatt
to his sister's memory, under her married name, and a tablet put up in the
church at Bretten, the parish in which both Brent's Rock and Dander's Croft
There was a
lapse of nearly a year, after the excitement of the matter had worn away, and
the whole neighbourhood had gone on its accustomed way. Brent was still absent,
and Delandre more drunken, more morose, and more revengeful than before.
Then there was a
new excitement. Brent's Rock was being made ready for a new mistress. It was
officially announced by Geoffrey himself in a letter to the Vicar, that he had
been married some months before to an Italian lady, and that they were then on
their way home. Then a small army of workmen invaded the house; and hammer and
plane sounded, and a general air of size and paint pervaded the atmosphere. One
wing of the old house, the south, was entirely re-done; and then the great body
of the workmen departed, leaving only materials for the doing of the old hall
when Geoffrey Brent should have returned, for he had directed that the
decoration was only to be done under his own eyes. He had brought with him
accurate drawings of a hall in the house of his bride's father, for he wished
to reproduce for her the place to which she had been accustomed. As the
moulding had all to be re-done, some scaffolding poles and boards were brought
in and laid on one side of the great hall, and also a great wooden tank or box
for mixing the lime, which was laid in bags beside it.
When the new
mistress of Brent's Rock arrived the bells of the church rang out, and there
was a general jubilation. She was a beautiful creature, full of the poetry and
fire and passion of the South; and the few English words which she had learned
were spoken in such a sweet and pretty broken way that she won the hearts of
the people almost as much by the music of her voice as by the melting beauty of
her dark eyes.
seemed more happy than he had ever before appeared; but there was a dark,
anxious look on his face that was new to those who knew him of old, and he
started at times as though at some noise that was unheard by others.
And so months
passed and the whisper grew that at last Brent's Rock was to have an heir.
Geoffrey was very tender to his wife, and the new bond between them seemed to
soften him. He took more interest in his tenants and their needs than he had
ever done; and works of charity on his part as well as on his sweet young
wife's were not lacking. He seemed to have set all his hopes on the child that
was coming, and as he looked deeper into the future the dark shadow that had
come over his face seemed to die gradually away.
All the time
Wykham Delandre nursed his revenge. Deep in his heart had grown up a purpose of
vengeance which only waited an opportunity to crystallise and take a definite
shape. His vague idea was somehow centred in the wife of Brent, for he knew
that he could strike him best through those he loved, and the coming time
seemed to hold in its womb the opportunity for which he longed. One night he
sat alone in the living-room of his house. It had once been a handsome room in
its way, but time and neglect had done their work and it was now little better
than a ruin, without dignity or picturesqueness of any kind. He had been
drinking heavily for some time and was more than half stupefied. He thought he
heard a noise as of someone at the door and looked up. Then he called half
savagely to come in; but there was no response. With a muttered blasphemy he
renewed his potations. Presently he forgot all around him, sank into a daze,
but suddenly awoke to see standing before him someone or something like a
battered, ghostly edition of his sister. For a few moments there came upon him
a sort of fear. The woman before him, with distorted features and burning eyes
seemed hardly human, and the only thing that seemed a reality of his sister, as
she had been, was her wealth of golden hair, and this was now streaked with
grey. She eyed her brother with a long, cold stare; and he, too, as he looked
and began to realise the actuality of her presence, found the hatred of her
which he had had, once again surging up in his heart. All the brooding passion
of the past year seemed to find a voice at once as he asked her:
'Why are you
here? You're dead and buried.'
'I am here,
Wykham Delandre, for no love of you, but because I hate another even more than
I do you!' A great passion blazed in her eyes.
'Him?' he asked,
in so fierce a whisper that even the woman was for an instant startled till she
regained her calm.
'Yes, him!' she
answered. 'But make no mistake, my revenge is my own; and I merely use you to
help me to it.' Wykham asked suddenly:
'Did he marry
distorted face broadened out in a ghastly attempt at a smile. It was a hideous
mockery, for the broken features and seamed scars took strange shapes and
strange colours, and queer lines of white showed out as the straining muscles
pressed on the old cicatrices.
'So you would
like to know! It would please your pride to feel that your sister was truly
married! Well, you shall not know. That was my revenge on you, and I do not
mean to change it by a hair's breadth. I have come here tonight simply to let
you know that I am alive, so that if any violence be done me where I am going
there may be a witness.'
'Where are you
going?' demanded her brother.
'That is my
affair! and I have not the least intention of letting
you know!' Wykham stood up, but the drink was on him and he reeled and fell. As
he lay on the floor he announced his intention of following his sister; and
with an outburst of splenetic humour told her that he would follow her through
the darkness by the light of her hair, and of her beauty. At this she turned on
him, and said that there were others beside him that would rue her hair and her
beauty too. 'As he will,' she hissed; 'for the hair remains though the beauty be gone. When he withdrew the lynch-pin and sent us over the
precipice into the torrent, he had little thought of my beauty. Perhaps his
beauty would be scarred like mine were he whirled, as I was, among the rocks of
the Visp, and frozen on the ice pack in the drift of the river. But let him
beware! His time is coming!' and with a fierce gesture she flung open the door
and passed out into the night.
Later on that
night, Mrs. Brent, who was but half-asleep, became suddenly awake and spoke to
not that the click of a lock somewhere below our window?'
Geoffrey—though she thought that he, too, had started at the noise—seemed sound
asleep, and breathed heavily. Again Mrs. Brent dozed; but this time awoke to
the fact that her husband had arisen and was partially dressed. He was deadly
pale, and when the light of the lamp which he had in his hand fell on his face,
she was frightened at the look in his eyes.
'What is it,
Geoffrey? What dost thou?' she asked.
'Hush! little one,' he answered, in a strange, hoarse voice. 'Go to
sleep. I am restless, and wish to finish some work I left undone.'
'Bring it here,
my husband,' she said; 'I am lonely and I fear when thou art away.'
For reply he
merely kissed her and went out, closing the door behind him. She lay awake for
awhile, and then nature asserted itself, and she slept.
started broad awake with the memory in her ears of a smothered cry from
somewhere not far off. She jumped up and ran to the door and listened, but
there was no sound. She grew alarmed for her husband, and called out:
After a few
moments the door of the great hall opened, and Geoffrey appeared at it, but
without his lamp.
'Hush!' he said,
in a sort of whisper, and his voice was harsh and stern. 'Hush! Get to bed! I
am working, and must not be disturbed. Go to sleep, and do not wake the house!'
With a chill in
her heart—for the harshness of her husband's voice was new to her—she crept
back to bed and lay there trembling, too frightened to cry, and listened to
every sound. There was a long pause of silence, and then the sound of some iron
implement striking muffled blows! Then there came a clang of a heavy stone
falling, followed by a muffled curse. Then a dragging sound,
and then more noise of stone on stone. She lay all the while in an agony of fear,
and her heart beat dreadfully. She heard a curious sort of scraping sound; and
then there was silence. Presently the door opened gently, and Geoffrey
appeared. His wife pretended to be asleep; but through her eyelashes she saw
him wash from his hands something white that looked like lime.
In the morning
he made no allusion to the previous night, and she was afraid to ask any
From that day
there seemed some shadow over Geoffrey Brent. He neither ate nor slept as he
had been accustomed, and his former habit of turning suddenly as though someone
were speaking from behind him revived. The old hall seemed to have some kind of
fascination for him. He used to go there many times in the day, but grew
impatient if anyone, even his wife, entered it. When the builder's foreman came
to inquire about continuing his work Geoffrey was out driving; the man went
into the hall, and when Geoffrey returned the servant told him of his arrival
and where he was. With a frightful oath he pushed the servant aside and hurried
up to the old hall. The workman met him almost at the door; and as Geoffrey
burst into the room he ran against him. The man apologised:
sir, but I was just going out to make some enquiries. I directed twelve sacks
of lime to be sent here, but I see there are only ten.'
'Damn the ten
sacks and the twelve too!' was the ungracious and incomprehensible rejoinder.
looked surprised, and tried to turn the conversation.
'I see, sir,
there is a little matter which our people must have done; but the governor will
of course see it set right at his own cost.'
'What do you
'arth-stone, sir: Some idiot must have put a scaffold pole on it and cracked it
right down the middle, and it's thick enough you'd think to stand hanythink.'
Geoffrey was silent for quite a minute, and then said in a constrained voice
and with much gentler manner:
people that I am not going on with the work in the hall at present. I want to
leave it as it is for a while longer.'
'All right sir. I'll
send up a few of our chaps to take away these poles
and lime bags and tidy the place up a bit.'
'No! No!' said
Geoffrey, 'leave them where they are. I shall send and tell you when you are to
get on with the work.' So the foreman went away, and his comment to his master
'I'd send in the
bill, sir, for the work already done. 'Pears to me that money's
a little shaky in that quarter.'
Once or twice
Delandre tried to stop Brent on the road, and, at last, finding that he could
not attain his object rode after the carriage, calling out:
'What has become
of my sister, your wife?' Geoffrey lashed his horses into a gallop, and the
other, seeing from his white face and from his wife's collapse almost into a
faint that his object was attained, rode away with a scowl and a laugh.
That night when
Geoffrey went into the hall he passed over to the great fireplace, and all at
once started back with a smothered cry. Then with an effort he pulled himself
together and went away, returning with a light. He bent down over the broken
hearth-stone to see if the moonlight falling through the storied window had in
any way deceived him. Then with a groan of anguish he sank to his knees.
enough, through the crack in the broken stone were protruding a multitude of threads
of golden hair just tinged with grey!
He was disturbed
by a noise at the door, and looking round, saw his
wife standing in the doorway. In the desperation of the moment he took action
to prevent discovery, and lighting a match at the lamp, stooped down and burned
away the hair that rose through the broken stone. Then rising nonchalantly as
he could, he pretended surprise at seeing his wife beside him.
For the next
week he lived in an agony; for, whether by accident or design, he could not
find himself alone in the hall for any length of time. At each visit the hair
had grown afresh through the crack, and he had to watch it carefully lest his
terrible secret should be discovered. He tried to find a receptacle for the
body of the murdered woman outside the house, but someone always interrupted
him; and once, when he was coming out of the private doorway, he was met by his
wife, who began to question him about it, and manifested surprise that she
should not have before noticed the key which he now reluctantly showed her.
Geoffrey dearly and passionately loved his wife, so that any possibility of her
discovering his dread secrets, or even of doubting him, filled him with
anguish; and after a couple of days had passed, he could not help coming to the
conclusion that, at least, she suspected something.
evening she came into the hall after her drive and found him there sitting
moodily by the deserted fireplace. She spoke to him directly.
have been spoken to by that fellow Delandre, and he says horrible things. He
tells to me that a week ago his sister returned to his house, the wreck and
ruin of her former self, with only her golden hair as of old, and announced
some fell intention. He asked me where she is—and oh,
Geoffrey, she is dead, she is dead! So how can she have returned? Oh! I am in
dread, and I know not where to turn!'
Geoffrey burst into a torrent of blasphemy which made her shudder. He cursed
Delandre and his sister and all their kind, and in especial he hurled curse after
curse on her golden hair.
'Oh, hush! hush!' she said, and was then silent, for she feared her
husband when she saw the evil effect of his humour. Geoffrey in the torrent of
his anger stood up and moved away from the hearth; but suddenly stopped as he
saw a new look of terror in his wife's eyes. He followed their glance, and then
he too, shuddered—for there on the broken hearth-stone lay a golden streak as
the point of the hair rose though the crack.
she shrieked. 'Is it some ghost of the dead! Come
away—come away!' and seizing her husband by the wrist with the frenzy of
madness, she pulled him from the room.
That night she
was in a raging fever. The doctor of the district attended her at once, and
special aid was telegraphed for to London.
Geoffrey was in despair, and in his anguish at the danger of his young wife
almost forgot his own crime and its consequences. In the evening the doctor had
to leave to attend to others; but he left Geoffrey in charge of his wife. His
last words were:
must humour her till I come in the morning, or till some other doctor has her
case in hand. What you have to dread is another attack of emotion. See that she
is kept warm. Nothing more can be done.'
Late in the
evening, when the rest of the household had retired, Geoffrey's wife got up
from her bed and called to her husband.
said. 'Come to the old hall! I know where the gold comes from! I want to see it
fain have stopped her, but he feared for her life or reason on the one hand,
and lest in a paroxysm she should shriek out her terrible suspicion, and seeing
that it was useless to try to prevent her, wrapped a warm rug around her and
went with her to the old hall. When they entered, she turned and shut the door and
'We want no
strangers amongst us three tonight!' she whispered with a wan smile.
'We three! nay we are but two,' said Geoffrey with a
shudder; he feared to say more.
'Sit here,' said
his wife as she put out the light. 'Sit here by the hearth and watch the gold
growing. The silver moonlight is jealous! See, it steals along the floor
towards the gold—our gold!' Geoffrey looked with growing horror, and saw that
during the hours that had passed the golden hair had protruded further through
the broken hearth-stone. He tried to hide it by placing his feet over the
broken place; and his wife, drawing her chair beside him, leant over and laid
her head on his shoulder.
'Now do not
stir, dear,' she said; 'let us sit still and watch. We shall find the secret of
the growing gold!' He passed his arm round her and sat silent; and as the
moonlight stole along the floor she sank to sleep.
He feared to
wake her; and so sat silent and miserable as the hours stole away.
horror-struck eyes the golden-hair from the broken stone grew and grew; and as
it increased, so his heart got colder and colder, till at last he had not power
to stir, and sat with eyes full of terror watching his doom.
In the morning
when the London
doctor came, neither Geoffrey nor his wife could be found. Search was made in
all the rooms, but without avail. As a last resource the great door of the old
hall was broken open, and those who entered saw a grim and sorry sight.
There by the
deserted hearth Geoffrey Brent and his young wife sat cold and white and dead.
Her face was peaceful, and her eyes were closed in sleep; but his face was a
sight that made all who saw it shudder, for there was on it a look of
unutterable horror. The eyes were open and stared glassily at his feet, which
were twined with tresses of golden hair, streaked with grey, which came through
the broken hearth-stone.
think,' said the Doctor, 'that, at any rate, one of us should go and try
whether or not the thing is an imposture.'
Considine. 'After dinner we will take our cigars and stroll over to the camp.'
when the dinner was over, and the La Tour finished, Joshua Considine and his
friend, Dr Burleigh, went over to the east side of the moor, where the gipsy
encampment lay. As they were leaving, Mary Considine, who had walked as far as
the end of the garden where it opened into the laneway, called after her
you are to give them a fair chance, but don't give them any clue to a
fortune—and don't you get flirting with any of the gipsy maidens—and take care
to keep Gerald out of harm.'
Considine held up his hand, as if taking a stage oath, and whistled the air of
the old song, 'The Gipsy Countess.' Gerald joined in the strain, and then, breaking
into merry laughter, the two men passed along the laneway to the common,
turning now and then to wave their hands to Mary, who leaned over the gate, in
the twilight, looking after them.
It was a lovely
evening in the summer; the very air was full of rest and quiet happiness, as
though an outward type of the peacefulness and joy which made a heaven of the
home of the young married folk. Considine's life had not been an eventful one.
The only disturbing element which he had ever known was in his wooing of Mary
Winston, and the long-continued objection of her ambitious parents, who
expected a brilliant match for their only daughter. When Mr. and Mrs. Winston
had discovered the attachment of the young barrister, they had tried to keep
the young people apart by sending their daughter away for a long round of
visits, having made her promise not to correspond with her lover during her
absence. Love, however, had stood the test. Neither absence nor neglect seemed
to cool the passion of the young man, and jealousy seemed a thing unknown to
his sanguine nature; so, after a long period of waiting, the parents had given
in, and the young folk were married.
They had been
living in the cottage a few months, and were just beginning to feel at home.
Gerald Burleigh, Joshua's old college chum, and himself a sometime victim of
Mary's beauty, had arrived a week before, to stay with them for as long a time
as he could tear himself away from his work in London.
When her husband
had quite disappeared Mary went into the house, and, sitting down at the piano,
gave an hour to Mendelssohn.
It was but a
short walk across the common, and before the cigars
required renewing the two men had reached the gipsy camp. The place was as
picturesque as gipsy camps—when in villages and when business
is good—usually are. There were some few persons round the fire,
investing their money in prophecy, and a large number of others, poorer or more
parsimonious, who stayed just outside the bounds but near enough to see all
that went on.
As the two gentlemen
approached, the villagers, who knew Joshua, made way a little, and a pretty,
keen-eyed gipsy girl tripped up and asked to tell their fortunes. Joshua held
out his hand, but the girl, without seeming to see it, stared at his face in a
very odd manner. Gerald nudged him:
'You must cross
her hand with silver,' he said. 'It is one of the most important parts of the
mystery.' Joshua took from his pocket a half-crown and held it out to her, but,
without looking at it, she answered:
'You have to
cross the gipsy's hand with gold.'
'You are at a premium as a subject,' he said. Joshua was of the kind of man—the
universal kind—who can tolerate being stared at by a pretty girl; so, with some
little deliberation, he answered:
'All right; here
you are, my pretty girl; but you must give me a real good fortune for it,' and
he handed her a half sovereign, which she took, saying:
'It is not for
me to give good fortune or bad, but only to read what the Stars have said.' She
took his right hand and turned it palm upward; but the instant her eyes met it
she dropped it as though it had been red hot, and, with a startled look, glided
swiftly away. Lifting the curtain of the large tent, which occupied the centre
of the camp, she disappeared within.
said the cynical Gerald. Joshua stood a little amazed, and not altogether
satisfied. They both watched the large tent. In a few moments there emerged
from the opening not the young girl, but a stately looking woman of middle age
and commanding presence.
The instant she
appeared the whole camp seemed to stand still. The clamour of tongues, the
laughter and noise of the work were, for a second or two, arrested, and every
man or woman who sat, or crouched, or lay, stood up and faced the imperial
'The Queen, of
course,' murmured Gerald. 'We are in luck tonight.' The gipsy Queen threw a
searching glance around the camp, and then, without hesitating
an instant, came straight over and stood before Joshua.
'Hold out your
hand,' she said in a commanding tone.
spoke, sotto voce: 'I have not been spoken to in that way since I was at
'Your hand must
be crossed with gold.'
'A hundred per cent. at this game,' whispered
Gerald, as Joshua laid another half sovereign on his upturned palm.
The gipsy looked
at the hand with knitted brows; then suddenly looking up into his face, said:
'Have you a
strong will—have you a true heart that can be brave for one you love?'
'I hope so; but
I am afraid I have not vanity enough to say "yes".'
'Then I will
answer for you; for I read resolution in your face—resolution desperate and
determined if need be. You have a wife you love?'
'Then leave her
at once—never see her face again. Go from her now, while love is fresh and your
heart is free from wicked intent. Go quick—go far, and never see her face
Joshua drew away
his hand quickly, and said, 'Thank you!' stiffly but sarcastically, as he began
to move away.
'I say!' said
Gerald, 'you're not going like that, old man; no use in being indignant with
the Stars or their prophet—and, moreover, your
sovereign—what of it? At least, hear the matter out.'
ribald!' commanded the Queen, 'you know not what you do. Let him go—and go
ignorant, if he will not be warned.'
turned back. 'At all events, we will see this thing out,' he said. 'Now, madam,
you have given me advice, but I paid for a fortune.'
said the gipsy. 'The Stars have been silent for long; let the mystery still
wrap them round.'
'My dear madam,
I do not get within touch of a mystery every day, and I prefer for my money
knowledge rather than ignorance. I can get the latter commodity for nothing
when I want any of it.'
the sentiment. 'As for me I have a large and unsaleable stock on hand.'
The gipsy Queen
eyed the two men sternly, and then said: 'As you wish. You have chosen for
yourself, and have met warning with scorn, and appeal with levity. On your own
heads be the doom!'
imperious gesture the Queen took Joshua's hand again, and began to tell his
'I see here the
flowing of blood; it will flow before long; it is running in my sight. It flows
through the broken circle of a severed ring.'
'Go on!' said
Joshua, smiling. Gerald was silent.
'Must I speak
commonplace mortals want something definite. The Stars are a long way off, and
their words get somewhat dulled in the message.'
shuddered, and then spoke impressively. 'This is the hand of a murderer—the
murderer of his wife!' She dropped the hand and turned away.
'Do you know,' said he, 'I think if I were you I should prophesy some
jurisprudence into my system. For instance, you say "this hand is the hand
of a murderer." Well, whatever it may be in the future—or potentially—it
is at present not one. You ought to give your prophecy in such terms as
"the hand which will be a murderer's", or, rather, "the hand of
one who will be the murderer of his wife". The Stars are really not good
on technical questions.'
The gipsy made
no reply of any kind, but, with drooping head and despondent mien, walked
slowly to her tent, and, lifting the curtain, disappeared.
the two men turned homewards, and walked across the moor. Presently, after some
little hesitation, Gerald spoke.
'Of course, old
man, this is all a joke; a ghastly one, but still a joke. But would it not be
well to keep it to ourselves?'
'How do you
'Well, not tell
your wife. It might alarm her.'
'Alarm her! My
dear Gerald, what are you thinking of? Why, she would not be alarmed or afraid
of me if all the gipsies that ever didn't come from Bohemia agreed that I was
to murder her, or even to have a hard thought of her, whilst so long as she was
saying "Jack Robinson."'
'Old fellow, women are superstitious—far more than we men are; and, also they
are blessed—or cursed—with a nervous system to which we are strangers. I see
too much of it in my work not to realise it. Take my advice and do not let her
know, or you will frighten her.'
unconsciously hardened as he answered: 'My dear fellow, I would not have a
secret from my wife. Why, it would be the beginning of a new order of things
between us. We have no secrets from each other. If we ever have, then you may
begin to look out for something odd between us.'
Gerald, 'at the risk of unwelcome interference, I say again be warned in time.'
very words,' said Joshua. 'You and she seem quite of one accord. Tell me, old
man, is this a put-up thing? You told me of the gipsy camp—did you arrange it
all with Her Majesty?' This was said with an air of bantering earnestness.
Gerald assured him that he only heard of the camp that morning; but he made fun
of every answer of his friend, and, in the process of this raillery, the time
passed, and they entered the cottage.
Mary was sitting
at the piano but not playing. The dim twilight had waked some very tender
feelings in her breast, and her eyes were full of gentle tears. When the men
came in she stole over to her husband's side and kissed him. Joshua struck a
'Mary,' he said
in a deep voice, 'before you approach me, listen to
the words of Fate. The Stars have spoken and the doom is sealed.'
'What is it,
dear? Tell me the fortune, but do not frighten me.'
'Not at all, my dear; but there is a truth which it is well that you
should know. Nay, it is necessary so that all your arrangements can be made
beforehand, and everything be decently done and in order.'
'Go on, dear; I
your effigy may yet be seen at Madame Tussaud's. The juris-imprudent Stars have
announced their fell tidings that this hand is red with blood—your blood. Mary!
Mary! my God!' He sprang forward, but too late to
catch her as she fell fainting on the floor.
'I told you,'
said Gerald. 'You don't know them as well as I do.'
After a little
while Mary recovered from her swoon, but only to fall into strong hysterics, in
which she laughed and wept and raved and cried, 'Keep him from me—from me,
Joshua, my husband,' and many other words of entreaty and of fear.
was in a state of mind bordering on agony, and when at last Mary became calm he
knelt by her and kissed her feet and hands and hair and called her all the
sweet names and said all the tender things his lips could frame. All that night
he sat by her bedside and held her hand. Far through the night and up to the
early morning she kept waking from sleep and crying out as if in fear, till she was comforted by the consciousness that her husband
was watching beside her.
late the next morning, but during it Joshua received a telegram which required
him to drive over to Withering, nearly twenty miles. He was loth to go; but
Mary would not hear of his remaining, and so before noon he drove off in his
When he was gone
Mary retired to her room. She did not appear at lunch, but when afternoon tea
was served on the lawn under the great weeping willow, she came to join her
guest. She was looking quite recovered from her illness of the evening before.
After some casual remarks, she said to Gerald: 'Of course it was very silly
about last night, but I could not help feeling frightened. Indeed I would feel
so still if I let myself think of it. But, after all these people may only
imagine things, and I have got a test that can hardly fail to show that the
prediction is false—if indeed it be false,' she added sadly.
'What is your
plan?' asked Gerald.
'I shall go
myself to the gipsy camp, and have my fortune told by the Queen.'
'Capital. May I
go with you?'
'Oh, no! That would spoil it. She might know you and guess at me, and suit her
utterance accordingly. I shall go alone this afternoon.'
afternoon was gone Mary Considine took her way to the gipsy encampment. Gerald
went with her as far as the near edge of the common, and returned alone.
hardly elapsed when Mary entered the drawing-room, where he lay on a sofa
reading. She was ghastly pale and was in a state of extreme excitement. Hardly
had she passed over the threshold when she collapsed and sank moaning on the
carpet. Gerald rushed to aid her, but by a great effort she controlled herself
and motioned him to be silent. He waited, and his ready attention to her wish
seemed to be her best help, for, in a few minutes, she had somewhat recovered,
and was able to tell him what had passed.
'When I got to
the camp,' she said, 'there did not seem to be a soul about, I went into the
centre and stood there. Suddenly a tall woman stood beside me. "Something
told me I was wanted!" she said. I held out my hand and laid a piece of
silver on it. She took from her neck a small golden trinket and laid it there
also; and then, seizing the two, threw them into the stream that ran by. Then
she took my hand in hers and spoke: "Naught but blood in this guilty
place," and turned away. I caught hold of her and asked her to tell me
more. After some hesitation, she said: "Alas! alas!
I see you lying at your husband's feet, and his hands are red with
Gerald did not
feel at all at ease, and tried to laugh it off. 'Surely,' he said, 'this woman
has a craze about murder.'
'Do not laugh,'
said Mary, 'I cannot bear it,' and then, as if with a sudden impulse, she left
Not long after
Joshua returned, bright and cheery, and as hungry as a hunter after his long
drive. His presence cheered his wife, who seemed much brighter, but she did not
mention the episode of the visit to the gipsy camp, so Gerald did not mention
it either. As if by tacit consent the subject was not alluded to during the
evening. But there was a strange, settled look on Mary's face, which Gerald
could not but observe.
In the morning
Joshua came down to breakfast later than usual. Mary had been up and about the
house from an early hour; but as the time drew on she seemed to get a little
nervous and now and again threw around an anxious look.
Gerald could not
help noticing that none of those at breakfast could get on satisfactorily with
their food. It was not altogether that the chops were tough, but that the
knives were all so blunt. Being a guest, he, of course, made no sign; but
presently saw Joshua draw his thumb across the edge of his knife in an
unconscious sort of way. At the action Mary turned pale and almost fainted.
they all went out on the lawn. Mary was making up a bouquet, and said to her
husband, 'Get me a few of the tea-roses, dear.'
down a cluster from the front of the house. The stem bent, but was too tough to
break. He put his hand in his pocket to get his knife; but in vain. 'Lend me
your knife, Gerald,' he said. But Gerald had not got one, so he went into the
breakfast room and took one from the table. He came out feeling its edge and
grumbling. 'What on earth has happened to all the knives—the edges seem all
ground off?' Mary turned away hurriedly and entered the house.
Joshua tried to
sever the stalk with the blunt knife as country cooks sever the necks of
fowl—as schoolboys cut twine. With a little effort he finished the task. The
cluster of roses grew thick, so he determined to gather a great bunch.
He could not
find a single sharp knife in the sideboard where the cutlery was kept, so he
called Mary, and when she came, told her the state of things. She looked so
agitated and so miserable that he could not help knowing the truth, and, as if
astounded and hurt, asked her:
'Do you mean to
say that you have done it?'
She broke in,
'Oh, Joshua, I was so afraid.'
He paused, and a
set, white look came over his face. 'Mary!' said he,
'is this all the trust you have in me? I would not have believed it.'
'Oh, Joshua! Joshua!' she cried entreatingly, 'forgive me,'
and wept bitterly.
Joshua thought a
moment and then said: 'I see how it is. We shall better end this or we shall
all go mad.'
He ran into the
'Where are you
going?' almost screamed Mary.
Gerald saw what
he meant—that he would not be tied to blunt instruments by the force of a
superstition, and was not surprised when he saw him come out through the French
window, bearing in his hand a large Ghourka knife, which usually lay on the
centre table, and which his brother had sent him from Northern
India. It was one of those great hunting-knives which worked such
havoc, at close quarters with the enemies of the loyal Ghourkas during the
mutiny, of great weight but so evenly balanced in the hand as to seem light,
and with an edge like a razor. With one of these knives a Ghourka can cut a
sheep in two.
When Mary saw
him come out of the room with the weapon in his hand she screamed in an agony
of fright, and the hysterics of last night were promptly renewed.
toward her, and, seeing her falling, threw down the knife and tried to catch
However, he was
just a second too late, and the two men cried out in horror simultaneously as
they saw her fall upon the naked blade.
rushed over he found that in falling her left hand had
struck the blade, which lay partly upwards on the grass. Some of the small
veins were cut through, and the blood gushed freely from the wound. As he was
tying it up he pointed out to Joshua that the wedding ring was severed by the
They carried her
fainting to the house. When, after a while, she came out, with her arm in a
sling, she was peaceful in her mind and happy. She said to her husband:
'The gipsy was
wonderfully near the truth; too near for the real thing ever to occur now,
Joshua bent over
and kissed the wounded hand.
Cornish port of Pencastle was bright in the early April,
when the sun had seemingly come to stay after a long and bitter winter. Boldly
and blackly the rock stood out against a background of shaded blue, where the
sky fading into mist met the far horizon. The sea was of true Cornish
hue—sapphire, save where it became deep emerald green in the fathomless depths
under the cliffs, where the seal caves opened their grim jaws. On the slopes
the grass was parched and brown. The spikes of furze bushes were ashy grey, but
the golden yellow of their flowers streamed along the hillside, dipping out in
lines as the rock cropped up, and lessening into patches and dots till finally
it died away all together where the sea winds swept round the jutting cliffs
and cut short the vegetation as though with an ever-working aerial shears. The
whole hillside, with its body of brown and flashes of yellow, was just like a
harbour opened from the sea between towering cliffs, and behind a lonely rock,
pierced with many caves and blow-holes through which the sea in storm time sent
its thunderous voice, together with a fountain of drifting spume. Hence, it
wound westwards in a serpentine course, guarded at its entrance by two little
curving piers to left and right. These were roughly built of dark slates placed
endways and held together with great beams bound with iron bands. Thence, it
flowed up the rocky bed of the stream whose winter torrents had of old cut out
its way amongst the hills. This stream was deep at first, with here and there,
where it widened, patches of broken rock exposed at low water, full of holes
where crabs and lobsters were to be found at the ebb of the tide. From amongst
the rocks rose sturdy posts, used for warping in the little coasting vessels
which frequented the port. Higher up, the stream still flowed deeply, for the
tide ran far inland, but always calmly for all the force of the wildest storm
was broken below. Some quarter mile inland the stream was deep at high water,
but at low tide there were at each side patches of the same broken rock as
lower down, through the chinks of which the sweet water of the natural stream
trickled and murmured after the tide had ebbed away. Here, too, rose mooring
posts for the fishermen's boats. At either side of the river was a row of
cottages down almost on the level of high tide. They were pretty cottages,
strongly and snugly built, with trim narrow gardens in front, full of
old-fashioned plants, flowering currants, coloured primroses, wallflower, and
stonecrop. Over the fronts of many of them climbed clematis and wisteria. The
window sides and door posts of all were as white as snow, and the little
pathway to each was paved with light coloured stones. At some of the doors were
tiny porches, whilst at others were rustic seats cut from tree trunks or from
old barrels; in nearly every case the window ledges were filled with boxes or
pots of flowers or foliage plants.
Two men lived in
cottages exactly opposite each other across the stream. Two men, both young,
both good-looking, both prosperous, and who had been companions and rivals from
their boyhood. Abel Behenna was dark with the gypsy darkness which the
Phœnician mining wanderers left in their track; Eric Sanson—which the local
antiquarian said was a corruption of Sagamanson—was fair, with the ruddy hue
which marked the path of the wild Norseman. These two seemed to have singled
out each other from the very beginning to work and strive together, to fight
for each other and to stand back to back in all endeavours. They had now put
the coping-stone on their Temple
of Unity by falling in
love with the same girl. Sarah Trefusis was certainly the prettiest girl in
Pencastle, and there was many a young man who would gladly have tried his
fortune with her, but that there were two to contend against, and each of these
the strongest and most resolute man in the port—except the other. The average
young man thought that this was very hard, and on account of it bore no good
will to either of the three principals: whilst the average young woman who had,
lest worse should befall, to put up with the grumbling of her sweetheart, and
the sense of being only second best which it implied, did not either, be sure,
regard Sarah with friendly eye. Thus it came, in the course of a year or so,
for rustic courtship is a slow process, that the two
men and woman found themselves thrown much together. They were all satisfied,
so it did not matter, and Sarah, who was vain and something frivolous, took
care to have her revenge on both men and women in a quiet way. When a young
woman in her 'walking out' can only boast one not-quite-satisfied young man, it
is no particular pleasure to her to see her escort cast sheep's eyes at a
better-looking girl supported by two devoted swains.
At length there
came a time which Sarah dreaded, and which she had tried to keep distant—the
time when she had to make her choice between the two men. She liked them both,
and, indeed, either of them might have satisfied the ideas of even a more
exacting girl. But her mind was so constituted that she thought more of what
she might lose, than of what she might gain; and whenever she thought she had
made up her mind she became instantly assailed with doubts as to the wisdom of
her choice. Always the man whom she had presumably lost became endowed afresh
with a newer and more bountiful crop of advantages than had ever arisen from
the possibility of his acceptance. She promised each man that on her birthday
she would give him his answer, and that day, the 11th of April, had now
arrived. The promises had been given singly and confidentially, but each was
given to a man who was not likely to forget. Early in the morning she found
both men hovering round her door. Neither had taken the other into his
confidence, and each was simply seeking an early opportunity of getting his
answer, and advancing his suit if necessary. Damon, as a rule, does not take
Pythias with him when making a proposal; and in the heart of each man his own
affairs had a claim far above any requirements of friendship. So, throughout
the day, they kept seeing each other out. The position was doubtless somewhat
embarrassing to Sarah, and though the satisfaction of her vanity that she
should be thus adored was very pleasing, yet there were moments when she was
annoyed with both men for being so persistent. Her only consolation at such
moments was that she saw, through the elaborate smiles of the other girls when
in passing they noticed her door thus doubly guarded,
the jealousy which filled their hearts. Sarah's mother was a person of
commonplace and sordid ideas, and, seeing all along the state of affairs, her
one intention, persistently expressed to her daughter in the plainest words,
was to so arrange matters that Sarah should get all that was possible out of
both men. With this purpose she had cunningly kept herself as far as possible
in the background in the matter of her daughter's wooings, and watched in
silence. At first Sarah had been indignant with her for her sordid views; but,
as usual, her weak nature gave way before persistence, and she had now got to
the stage of acceptance. She was not surprised when her mother whispered to her
in the little yard behind the house:—
'Go up the
hillside for a while; I want to talk to these two. They're both red-hot for ye,
and now's the time to get things fixed!' Sarah began a feeble remonstrance, but
her mother cut her short.
'I tell ye, girl, that my mind is made up! Both these men want ye, and
only one can have ye, but before ye choose it'll be so arranged that ye'll have
all that both have got! Don't argy, child! Go up the hillside, and when ye come
back I'll have it fixed—I see a way quite easy!' So Sarah went up the hillside
through the narrow paths between the golden furze, and Mrs. Trefusis joined the
two men in the living-room of the little house.
She opened the
attack with the desperate courage which is in all mothers when they think for
their children, howsoever mean the thoughts may be.
'Ye two men,
ye're both in love with my Sarah!'
silence gave consent to the barefaced proposition. She went on.
'Neither of ye
has much!' Again they tacitly acquiesced in the soft impeachment.
'I don't know
that either of ye could keep a wife!' Though neither said a word their looks
and bearing expressed distinct dissent. Mrs. Trefusis went on:
'But if ye'd put
what ye both have together ye'd make a comfortable home for one of ye—and
Sarah!' She eyed the men keenly, with her cunning eyes half shut, as she spoke;
then satisfied from her scrutiny that the idea was accepted she went on
quickly, as if to prevent argument:
'The girl likes ye both, and mayhap it's hard for her to choose. Why don't
ye toss up for her? First put your money together—ye've each got a bit put by,
I know. Let the lucky man take the lot and trade with it a bit, and then come
home and marry her. Neither of ye's afraid, I suppose! And neither of ye'll say
that he won't do that much for the girl that ye both say ye love!'
Abel broke the
'It don't seem the square thing to toss for the girl! She
wouldn't like it herself, and it doesn't seem—seem respectful like to her—'
Eric interrupted. He was conscious that his chance was not so good as Abel's in
case Sarah should wish to choose between them:
'Are ye afraid
of the hazard?'
'Not me!' said
Abel, boldly. Mrs. Trefusis, seeing that her idea was beginning to work, followed
up the advantage.
'It is settled
that ye put yer money together to make a home for her, whether ye toss for her
or leave it for her to choose?'
'Yes,' said Eric
quickly, and Abel agreed with equal sturdiness. Mrs. Trefusis' little cunning
eyes twinkled. She heard Sarah's step in the yard, and said:
'Well! here she comes, and I leave it to her.' And she went out.
During her brief
walk on the hillside Sarah had been trying to make up her mind. She was feeling
almost angry with both men for being the cause of her difficulty, and as she
came into the room said shortly:
'I want to have
a word with you both—come to the Flagstaff Rock, where we can be alone.' She
took her hat and went out of the house up the winding path to the steep rock
crowned with a high flagstaff, where once the wreckers' fire basket used to
burn. This was the rock which formed the northern jaw of the little harbour.
There was only room on the path for two abreast, and it marked the state of
things pretty well when, by a sort of implied arrangement, Sarah went first,
and the two men followed, walking abreast and keeping step. By this time, each
man's heart was boiling with jealousy. When they came to the top of the rock,
Sarah stood against the flagstaff, and the two young men stood opposite her.
She had chosen her position with knowledge and intention, for there was no room
for anyone to stand beside her. They were all silent for a while; then Sarah
began to laugh and said:—
'I promised the
both of you to give you an answer to-day. I've been thinking and thinking and
thinking, till I began to get angry with you both for plaguing me so; and even
now I don't seem any nearer than ever I was to making up my mind.' Eric said
'Let us toss for
it, lass!' Sarah showed no indignation whatever at the proposition; her
mother's eternal suggestion had schooled her to the acceptance of something of
the kind, and her weak nature made it easy to her to grasp at any way out of
the difficulty. She stood with downcast eyes idly picking at the sleeve of her
dress, seeming to have tacitly acquiesced in the proposal. Both men
instinctively realising this pulled each a coin from his pocket, spun it in the
air, and dropped his other hand over the palm on which it lay. For a few
seconds they remained thus, all silent; then Abel, who was the more thoughtful
of the men, spoke:
'Sarah! is this good?' As he spoke he removed the upper hand from
the coin and placed the latter back in his pocket. Sarah was nettled.
'Good or bad,
it's good enough for me! Take it or leave it as you like,' she said, to which
he replied quickly:
'Nay lass! Aught that concerns you is good enow for me. I did but think of you lest
you might have pain or disappointment hereafter. If you love Eric
better nor me, in God's name say so, and I think I'm man enow to stand
aside. Likewise, if I'm the one, don't make us both miserable for life!' Face
to face with a difficulty, Sarah's weak nature proclaimed itself; she put her
hands before her face and began to cry, saying—
'It was my
mother. She keeps telling me!' The silence which followed was broken by Eric,
who said hotly to Abel:
'Let the lass
alone, can't you? If she wants to choose this way, let her. It's good enough
for me—and for you, too! She's said it now, and must abide by it!' Hereupon
Sarah turned upon him in sudden fury, and cried:
tongue! what is it to you, at any rate?' and she
resumed her crying. Eric was so flabbergasted that he had not a word to say,
but stood looking particularly foolish, with his mouth open and his hands held
out with the coin still between them. All were silent till Sarah, taking her
hands from her face laughed hysterically and said:
'As you two
can't make up your minds, I'm going home!' and she turned to go.
Abel, in an authoritative voice. 'Eric, you hold the coin, and I'll cry. Now,
before we settle it, let us clearly understand: the man who wins takes all the
money that we both have got, brings it to Bristol and ships on a
voyage and trades with it. Then he comes back and marries Sarah, and they two
keep all, whatever there may be, as the result of the trading. Is this what we
'I'll marry him
on my next birthday,' said Sarah. Having said it the intolerably mercenary
spirit of her action seemed to strike her, and impulsively she turned away with
a bright blush. Fire seemed to sparkle in the eyes of both men. Said Eric: 'A
year so be! The man that wins is to have one year.'
Abel, and the coin spun in the air. Eric caught it, and again held it between
his outstretched hands.
Abel, a pallor sweeping over his face as he spoke. As he leaned forward to look
Sarah leaned forward too, and their heads almost touched. He could feel her
hair blowing on his cheek, and it thrilled through him like fire. Eric lifted
his upper hand; the coin lay with its head up. Abel stepped forward and took
Sarah in his arms. With a curse Eric hurled the coin far into the sea. Then he
leaned against the flagstaff and scowled at the others with his hands thrust
deep into his pockets. Abel whispered wild words of passion and delight into
Sarah's ears, and as she listened she began to believe that fortune had rightly
interpreted the wishes of her secret heart, and that she loved Abel best.
looked up and caught sight of Eric's face as the last ray of sunset struck it.
The red light intensified the natural ruddiness of his complexion, and he
looked as though he were steeped in blood. Abel did not mind his scowl, for now
that his own heart was at rest he could feel unalloyed pity for his friend. He
stepped over meaning to comfort him, and held out his hand, saying:
'It was my
chance, old lad. Don't grudge it me. I'll try to make Sarah a happy woman, and
you shall be a brother to us both!'
'Brother be damned!' was all the answer Eric made, as he turned away.
When he had gone a few steps down the rocky path he turned and came back.
Standing before Abel and Sarah, who had their arms round each other, he said:
'You have a
year. Make the most of it! And be sure you're in time to claim your wife! Be
back to have your banns up in time to be married on the 11th April. If you're
not, I tell you I shall have my banns up, and you may get back too late.'
'What do you
mean, Eric? You are mad!'
'No more mad
than you are, Abel Behenna. You go, that's your chance! I stay, that's mine! I
don't mean to let the grass grow under my feet. Sarah cared no more for you
than for me five minutes ago, and she may come back to that five minutes after
you're gone! You won by a point only—the game may change.'
'The game won't
change!' said Abel shortly. 'Sarah, you'll be true to me? You won't marry till
'For a year!'
added Eric, quickly, 'that's the bargain.'
'I promise for
the year,' said Sarah. A dark look came over Abel's face, and he was about to
speak, but he mastered himself and smiled.
'I mustn't be
too hard or get angry tonight! Come, Eric! we played
and fought together. I won fairly. I played fairly all the game of our wooing!
You know that as well as I do; and now when I am going away, I shall look to my
old and true comrade to help me when I am gone!'
'I'll help you
none,' said Eric, 'so help me God!'
'It was God
helped me,' said Abel simply.
'Then let Him go
on helping you,' said Eric angrily. 'The Devil is good enough for me!' and
without another word he rushed down the steep path and disappeared behind the
When he had gone
Abel hoped for some tender passage with Sarah, but the first remark she made
'How lonely it
all seems without Eric!' and this note sounded till he had left her at home—and
Early on the
next morning Abel heard a noise at his door, and on
going out saw Eric walking rapidly away: a small canvas bag full of gold and
silver lay on the threshold; on a small slip of paper pinned to it was written:
'Take the money
and go. I stay. God for you! The Devil for me! Remember the 11th of April.—ERIC
SANSON.' That afternoon Abel went off to Bristol,
and a week later sailed on the Star of the Sea bound for Pahang. His
money—including that which had been Eric's—was on board in the shape of a
venture of cheap toys. He had been advised by a shrewd old mariner of Bristol whom he knew, and
who knew the ways of the Chersonese, who predicted that every penny invested
would be returned with a shilling to boot.
As the year wore
on Sarah became more and more disturbed in her mind. Eric was always at hand to
make love to her in his own persistent, masterful manner, and to this she did
not object. Only one letter came from Abel, to say that his venture had proved
successful, and that he had sent some two hundred pounds to the bank at
Bristol, and was trading with fifty pounds still remaining in goods for China,
whither the Star of the Sea was bound and whence she would return to Bristol.
He suggested that Eric's share of the venture should be returned to him with
his share of the profits. This proposition was treated with anger by Eric, and
as simply childish by Sarah's mother.
More than six
months had since then elapsed, but no other letter had come, and Eric's hopes
which had been dashed down by the letter from Pahang, began to rise again. He
perpetually assailed Sarah with an 'if!' If Abel did not return, would she then
marry him? If the 11th April went by without Abel being in the port, would she
give him over? If Abel had taken his fortune, and married another girl on the
head of it, would she marry him, Eric, as soon as the truth
were known? And so on in an endless variety of possibilities. The power
of the strong will and the determined purpose over the woman's weaker nature
became in time manifest. Sarah began to lose her faith in Abel and to regard
Eric as a possible husband; and a possible husband is in a woman's eye
different to all other men. A new affection for him began to arise in her
breast, and the daily familiarities of permitted courtship furthered the
growing affection. Sarah began to regard Abel as rather a rock in the road of
her life, and had it not been for her mother's constantly reminding her of the
good fortune already laid by in the Bristol Bank she would have tried to have
shut her eyes altogether to the fact of Abel's existence.
The 11th April
was Saturday, so that in order to have the marriage on that day it would be
necessary that the banns should be called on Sunday, 22nd March. From the
beginning of that month Eric kept perpetually on the subject of Abel's absence,
and his outspoken opinion that the latter was either dead or married began to
become a reality to the woman's mind. As the first half of the month wore on
Eric became more jubilant, and after church on the 15th he took Sarah for a
walk to the Flagstaff Rock. There he asserted himself strongly:
'I told Abel, and you too, that if he was not here to put up his
banns in time for the eleventh, I would put up mine for the twelfth. Now the
time has come when I mean to do it. He hasn't kept his word'—here Sarah struck
in out of her weakness and indecision:
broken it yet!' Eric ground his teeth with anger.
'If you mean to
stick up for him,' he said, as he smote his hands savagely on the flagstaff,
which sent forth a shivering murmur, 'well and good. I'll keep my part of the
bargain. On Sunday I shall give notice of the banns, and you can deny them in
the church if you will. If Abel is in Pencastle on the eleventh, he can have
them cancelled, and his own put up; but till then, I take my course, and woe to
anyone who stands in my way!' With that he flung himself down the rocky
pathway, and Sarah could not but admire his Viking strength and spirit, as,
crossing the hill, he strode away along the cliffs towards Bude.
During the week
no news was heard of Abel, and on Saturday Eric gave notice of the banns of
marriage between himself and Sarah Trefusis. The clergyman would have
remonstrated with him, for although nothing formal had been told to the
neighbours, it had been understood since Abel's departure that on his return he
was to marry Sarah; but Eric would not discuss the question.
'It is a painful
subject, sir,' he said with a firmness which the parson, who was a very young
man, could not but be swayed by. 'Surely there is nothing against Sarah or me.
Why should there be any bones made about the matter?' The parson said no more,
and on the next day he read out the banns for the first time amidst an audible
buzz from the congregation. Sarah was present, contrary to custom, and though
she blushed furiously enjoyed her triumph over the other girls whose banns had
not yet come. Before the week was over she began to make her wedding dress.
Eric used to come and look at her at work and the sight thrilled through him.
He used to say all sorts of pretty things to her at such times, and there were
to both delicious moments of love-making.
The banns were
read a second time on the 29th, and Eric's hope grew more and more fixed though
there were to him moments of acute despair when he realised that the cup of
happiness might be dashed from his lips at any moment, right up to the last. At
such times he was full of passion—desperate and remorseless—and he ground his
teeth and clenched his hands in a wild way as though some taint of the old
Berserker fury of his ancestors still lingered in his blood. On the Thursday of
that week he looked in on Sarah and found her, amid a flood of sunshine,
putting finishing touches to her white wedding gown. His own heart was full of
gaiety, and the sight of the woman who was so soon to be his own so occupied,
filled him with a joy unspeakable, and he felt faint with languorous ecstasy.
Bending over he kissed Sarah on the mouth, and then whispered in her rosy ear—
'Your wedding dress, Sarah! And for me!' As he drew
back to admire her she looked up saucily, and said to him—
'Perhaps not for you. There is more than a week yet for Abel!' and then
cried out in dismay, for with a wild gesture and a fierce oath Eric dashed out
of the house, banging the door behind him. The incident disturbed Sarah more
than she could have thought possible, for it awoke all her fears and doubts and
indecision afresh. She cried a little, and put by her dress, and to soothe herself went out to sit for a while on the summit of the
Flagstaff Rock. When she arrived she found there a little group anxiously
discussing the weather. The sea was calm and the sun bright, but across the sea
were strange lines of darkness and light, and close in to shore the rocks were
fringed with foam, which spread out in great white curves and circles as the
currents drifted. The wind had backed, and came in sharp, cold puffs. The
blow-hole, which ran under the Flagstaff Rock, from the rocky bay without to the
harbour within, was booming at intervals, and the seagulls were screaming
ceaselessly as they wheeled about the entrance of the port.
'It looks bad,'
she heard an old fisherman say to the coastguard. 'I seen it just like this once before, when the East Indiaman Coromandel
went to pieces in Dizzard
Bay!' Sarah did not wait
to hear more. She was of a timid nature where danger was concerned, and could
not bear to hear of wrecks and disasters. She went home and resumed the
completion of her dress, secretly determined to appease Eric when she should
meet him with a sweet apology—and to take the earliest opportunity of being
even with him after her marriage. The old fisherman's weather prophecy was
justified. That night at dusk a wild storm came on. The sea rose and lashed the
western coasts from Skye to Scilly and left a tale of disaster everywhere. The
sailors and fishermen of Pencastle all turned out on the rocks and cliffs and
watched eagerly. Presently, by a flash of lightning, a 'ketch' was seen
drifting under only a jib about half-a-mile outside the port. All eyes and all
glasses were concentrated on her, waiting for the next flash, and when it came
a chorus went up that it was the Lovely Alice, trading between Bristol
and Penzance, and touching at all the little
ports between. 'God help them!' said the harbour-master, 'for nothing in this
world can save them when they are between Bude and Tintagel and the wind on
shore!' The coastguards exerted themselves, and, aided by brave hearts and
willing hands, they brought the rocket apparatus up on the summit of the
Flagstaff Rock. Then they burned blue lights so that those on board might see
the harbour opening in case they could make any effort to reach it. They worked
gallantly enough on board; but no skill or strength of man could avail. Before
many minutes were over the Lovely Alice rushed to her doom on the great island
rock that guarded the mouth of the port. The screams of those on board were
faintly borne on the tempest as they flung themselves into the sea in a last
chance for life. The blue lights were kept burning, and eager eyes peered into
the depths of the waters in case any face could be seen; and ropes were held
ready to fling out in aid. But never a face was seen, and the willing arms
rested idle. Eric was there amongst his fellows. His old
Icelandic origin was never more apparent than in that wild hour. He took a
rope, and shouted in the ear of the harbour-master:
'I shall go down
on the rock over the seal cave. The tide is running up, and someone may drift
man!' came the answer. 'Are you mad? One slip on that
rock and you are lost: and no man could keep his feet in the dark on such a
place in such a tempest!'
'Not a bit,' came the reply. 'You remember how Abel Behenna saved me there
on a night like this when my boat went on the Gull Rock. He dragged me up from
the deep water in the seal cave, and now someone may drift in there again as I
did,' and he was gone into the darkness. The projecting rock hid the light on
the Flagstaff Rock, but he knew his way too well to miss it. His boldness and
sureness of foot standing to him, he shortly stood on the great round-topped
rock cut away beneath by the action of the waves over the entrance of the seal
cave, where the water was fathomless. There he stood in comparative safety, for
the concave shape of the rock beat back the waves with their own force, and
though the water below him seemed to boil like a seething cauldron, just beyond
the spot there was a space of almost calm. The rock, too, seemed here to shut
off the sound of the gale, and he listened as well as watched. As he stood
there ready, with his coil of rope poised to throw, he thought he heard below
him, just beyond the whirl of the water, a faint, despairing cry. He echoed it
with a shout that rang into the night Then he waited
for the flash of lightning, and as it passed flung his rope out into the
darkness where he had seen a face rising through the swirl of the foam. The
rope was caught, for he felt a pull on it, and he shouted again in his mighty
'Tie it round
your waist, and I shall pull you up.' Then when he felt that it was fast he
moved along the rock to the far side of the sea cave, where the deep water was
something stiller, and where he could get foothold secure enough to drag the
rescued man on the overhanging rock. He began to pull, and shortly he knew from
the rope taken in that the man he was now rescuing must soon be close to the
top of the rock. He steadied himself for a moment, and drew a long breath, that
he might at the next effort complete the rescue. He had just bent his back to
the work when a flash of lightning revealed to each other the two men—the
rescuer and the rescued.
Eric Sanson and
Abel Behenna were face to face—and none knew of the meeting save themselves;
On the instant a
wave of passion swept through Eric's heart. All his hopes were shattered, and
with the hatred of Cain his eyes looked out. He saw in the instant of
recognition the joy in Abel's face that his was the hand to succour him, and
this intensified his hate. Whilst the passion was on him he started back, and
the rope ran out between his hands. His moment of hate was followed by an
impulse of his better manhood, but it was too late.
Before he could
recover himself, Abel encumbered with the rope that should have aided him, was
plunged with a despairing cry back into the darkness of the devouring sea.
all the madness and the doom of Cain upon him, Eric rushed back over the rocks,
heedless of the danger and eager only for one thing—to be amongst other people
whose living noises would shut out that last cry which seemed to ring still in
his ears. When he regained the Flagstaff Rock the men surrounded him, and
through the fury of the storm he heard the harbour-master say:—
'We feared you
were lost when we heard a cry! How white you are! Where is your rope? Was there
anyone drifted in?'
'No one,' he
shouted in answer, for he felt that he could never explain that he had let his
old comrade slip back into the sea, and at the very place and under the very
circumstances in which that comrade had saved his own life. He hoped by one
bold lie to set the matter at rest for ever. There was no one to bear
witness—and if he should have to carry that still white face in his eyes and that
despairing cry in his ears for evermore—at least none should know of it. 'No
one,' he cried, more loudly still. 'I slipped on the rock, and the rope fell
into the sea!' So saying he left them, and, rushing down the steep path, gained
his own cottage and locked himself within.
The remainder of
that night he passed lying on his bed—dressed and motionless—staring upwards,
and seeming to see through the darkness a pale face gleaming wet in the
lightning, with its glad recognition turning to ghastly despair, and to hear a
cry which never ceased to echo in his soul.
In the morning
the storm was over and all was smiling again, except that the sea was still
boisterous with its unspent fury. Great pieces of wreck drifted into the port,
and the sea around the island rock was strewn with others. Two bodies also
drifted into the harbour—one the master of the wrecked ketch, the other a
strange seaman whom no one knew.
nothing of Eric till the evening, and then he only looked in for a minute. He
did not come into the house, but simply put his head in through the open
he called out in a loud voice, though to her it did not ring truly, 'is the
wedding dress done? Sunday week, mind! Sunday week!'
Sarah was glad
to have the reconciliation so easy; but, womanlike, when she saw the storm was
over and her own fears groundless, she at once repeated the cause of offence.
'Sunday so be
it,' she said without looking up, 'if Abel isn't there on Saturday!' Then she
looked up saucily, though her heart was full of fear of another outburst on the
part of her impetuous lover. But the window was empty; Eric had taken himself
off, and with a pout she resumed her work. She saw Eric no more till Sunday
afternoon, after the banns had been called the third time, when he came up to
her before all the people with an air of proprietorship which half-pleased and
mister!' she said, pushing him away, as the other girls giggled. 'Wait till
Sunday next, if you please—the day after Saturday!' she added, looking at him
saucily. The girls giggled again, and the young men guffawed. They thought it
was the snub that touched him so that he became as white as a sheet as he
turned away. But Sarah, who knew more than they did, laughed, for she saw triumph
through the spasm of pain that overspread his face.
The week passed
uneventfully; however, as Saturday drew nigh Sarah had occasional moments of
anxiety, and as to Eric he went about at night-time like a man possessed. He
restrained himself when others were by, but now and again he went down amongst
the rocks and caves and shouted aloud. This seemed to relieve him somewhat, and
he was better able to restrain himself for some time after. All Saturday he
stayed in his own house and never left it. As he was to be married on the
morrow, the neighbours thought it was shyness on his part, and did not trouble
or notice him. Only once was he disturbed, and that was when the chief boatman
came to him and sat down, and after a pause said:
'Eric, I was
over in Bristol
yesterday. I was in the ropemaker's getting a coil to replace the one you lost
the night of the storm, and there I saw Michael Heavens of this place, who is a
salesman there. He told me that Abel Behenna had come home the week ere last on
the Star of the Sea from Canton,
and that he had lodged a sight of money in the Bristol Bank in the name of
Sarah Behenna. He told Michael so himself—and that he
had taken passage on the Lovely Alice to Pencastle. 'Bear up, man,' for Eric
had with a groan dropped his head on his knees, with his face between his
hands. 'He was your old comrade, I know, but you couldn't help him. He must
have gone down with the rest that awful night. I thought I'd better tell you,
lest it might come some other way, and you might keep Sarah Trefusis from being
frightened. They were good friends once, and women take these things to heart.
It would not do to let her be pained with such a thing on her wedding day!'
Then he rose and went away, leaving Eric still sitting disconsolately with his head
on his knees.
murmured the chief boatman to himself; 'he takes it to heart. Well, well! right enough! They were true comrades once, and Abel saved
The afternoon of
that day, when the children had left school, they strayed as usual on
half-holidays along' the quay and the paths by the cliffs. Presently some of
them came running in a state of great excitement to the harbour, where a few
men were unloading a coal ketch, and a great many were superintending the
operation. One of the children called out:
'There is a
porpoise in the harbour mouth! We saw it come through the blow-hole! It had a
long tail, and was deep under the water!'
'It was no
porpoise,' said another; 'it was a seal; but it had a long tail! It came out of
the seal cave!' The other children bore various testimony, but on two points
they were unanimous—it, whatever 'it' was, had come through the blow-hole deep
under the water, and had a long, thin tail—a tail so long that they could not
see the end of it. There was much unmerciful chaffing of the children by the
men on this point, but as it was evident that they had seen something, quite a
number of persons, young and old, male and female, went along the high paths on
either side of the harbour mouth to catch a glimpse of this new addition to the
fauna of the sea, a long-tailed porpoise or seal. The tide was now coming in.
There was a slight breeze, and the surface of the water was rippled so that it
was only at moments that anyone could see clearly into the deep water. After a
spell of watching a woman called out that she saw something moving up the
channel, just below where she was standing. There was a stampede to the spot,
but by the time the crowd had gathered the breeze had freshened, and it was
impossible to see with any distinctness below the surface of the water. On
being questioned the woman described what she had seen, but in such an
incoherent way that the whole thing was put down as an effect of imagination;
had it not been for the children's report she would not have been credited at
all. Her semi-hysterical statement that what she saw was 'like a pig with the
entrails out' was only thought anything of by an old coastguard, who shook his
head but did not make any remark. For the remainder of the daylight this man was
seen always on the bank, looking into the water, but always with disappointment
manifest on his face.
Eric arose early
on the next morning—he had not slept all night, and it was a relief to him to
move about in the light. He shaved himself with a hand that did not tremble,
and dressed himself in his wedding clothes. There was a haggard look on his
face, and he seemed as though he had grown years older in the last few days.
Still there was a wild, uneasy light of triumph in his eyes, and he kept
murmuring to himself over and over again:
'This is my
wedding-day! Abel cannot claim her now—living or dead!—living or dead! Living or dead!' He sat in his arm-chair, waiting with an
uncanny quietness for the church hour to arrive. When the bell began to ring he
arose and passed out of his house, closing the door behind him. He looked at
the river and saw the tide had just turned. In the church he sat with Sarah and
her mother, holding Sarah's hand tightly in his all the time, as though he
feared to lose her. When the service was over they stood up together, and were
married in the presence of the entire congregation; for no one left the church.
Both made the responses clearly—Eric's being even on the defiant side. When the
wedding was over Sarah took her husband's arm, and they walked away together,
the boys and younger girls being cuffed by their elders into a decorous
behaviour, for they would fain have followed close behind their heels.
The way from the
church led down to the back of Eric's cottage, a narrow passage being between
it and that of his next neighbour. When the bridal couple had
passed through this the remainder of the congregation, who had followed them at
a little distance, were startled by a long, shrill scream from the bride.
They rushed through the passage and found her on the bank with wild eyes,
pointing to the river bed opposite Eric Sanson's door.
The falling tide
had deposited there the body of Abel Behenna stark upon the broken rocks. The
rope trailing from its waist had been twisted by the current round the mooring
post, and had held it back whilst the tide had ebbed away from it. The right
elbow had fallen in a chink in the rock, leaving the hand outstretched toward
Sarah, with the open palm upward as though it were extended to receive hers, the
pale drooping fingers open to the clasp.
happened afterwards was never quite known to Sarah Sanson. Whenever she would
try to recollect there would become a buzzing in her ears and a dimness in her eyes, and all would pass away. The only
thing that she could remember of it all—and this she never forgot—was Eric's
breathing heavily, with his face whiter than that of the dead man, as he
muttered under his breath:
'Devil's help! Devil's faith! Devil's price!'
Leaving Paris by the Orleans
road, cross the Enceinte, and, turning to the right, you find yourself in a
somewhat wild and not at all savoury district. Right and left, before and
behind, on every side rise great heaps of dust and waste accumulated by the
process of time.
Paris has its
night as well as its day life, and the sojourner who enters his hotel in the
Rue de Rivoli or the Rue St. Honore late at night or leaves it early in the
morning, can guess, in coming near Montrouge—if he has not done so already—the
purpose of those great waggons that look like boilers on wheels which he finds
halting everywhere as he passes.
Every city has
its peculiar institutions created out of its own needs; and one of the most
notable institutions of Paris
is its rag-picking population. In the early morning—and Parisian life commences
at an early hour—may be seen in most streets standing on the pathway opposite
every court and alley and between every few houses, as still in some American
cities, even in parts of New York, large wooden boxes into which the domestics
or tenement-holders empty the accumulated dust of the past day. Round these
boxes gather and pass on, when the work is done, to fresh fields of labour and
pastures new, squalid hungry-looking men and women, the implements of whose
craft consist of a coarse bag or basket slung over the shoulder and a little
rake with which they turn over and probe and examine in the minutest manner the
dustbins. They pick up and deposit in their baskets, by aid of their rakes,
whatever they may find, with the same facility as a Chinaman uses his
Paris is a city of
centralisation—and centralisation and classification are closely allied. In the
early times, when centralisation is becoming a fact, its forerunner is
classification. All things which are similar or analogous become grouped
together, and from the grouping of groups rises one whole or central point. We
see radiating many long arms with innumerable tentaculae, and in the centre
rises a gigantic head with a comprehensive brain and keen eyes to look on every
side and ears sensitive to hear—and a voracious mouth to swallow.
resemble all the birds and beasts and fishes whose appetites and digestions are
alone is the analogical apotheosis of the octopus. Product of centralisation
carried to an ad absurdum, it fairly represents the devil fish; and in no
respects is the resemblance more curious than in the similarity of the
intelligent tourists who, having surrendered their individuality into the hands
of Messrs. Cook or Gaze, 'do' Paris in three days, are often puzzled to know
how it is that the dinner which in London would cost about six shillings, can
be had for three francs in a café in the Palais Royal. They need have no more
wonder if they will but consider the classification which is a theoretic
speciality of Parisian life, and adopt all round the fact from which the
chiffonier has his genesis.
The Paris of 1850 was not like the Paris of to-day, and those who see the Paris
of Napoleon and Baron Hausseman can hardly realise the existence of the state
of things forty-five years ago.
things, however, which have not changed are those districts where the waste is
gathered. Dust is dust all the world over, in every age, and the family
likeness of dust-heaps is perfect. The traveller, therefore, who visits the
environs of Montrouge can go go back in fancy without
difficulty to the year 1850.
In this year I
was making a prolonged stay in Paris.
I was very much in love with a young lady who, though she returned my passion,
so far yielded to the wishes of her parents that she had promised not to see me
or to correspond with me for a year. I, too, had been compelled to accede to
these conditions under a vague hope of parental approval. During the term of
probation I had promised to remain out of the country and not to write to my
dear one until the expiration of the year.
time went heavily with me. There was not one of my own family
or circle who could tell me of Alice,
and none of her own folk had, I am sorry to say, sufficient generosity to send
me even an occasional word of comfort regarding her health and well-being. I
spent six months wandering about Europe, but as I could find no satisfactory
distraction in travel, I determined to come to Paris,
where, at least, I would be within easy hail of London in case any good fortune should call
me thither before the appointed time. That 'hope deferred maketh the heart
sick' was never better exemplified than in my case, for in addition to the
perpetual longing to see the face I loved there was always with me a harrowing
anxiety lest some accident should prevent me showing Alice in due time that I
had, throughout the long period of probation, been faithful to her trust and my
own love. Thus, every adventure which I undertook had a fierce pleasure of its
own, for it was fraught with possible consequences greater than it would have
travellers I exhausted the places of most interest in the first month of my
stay, and was driven in the second month to look for amusement whithersoever I
might. Having made sundry journeys to the better-known suburbs, I began to see
that there was a terra incognita, in so far as the guide book was concerned, in
the social wilderness lying between these attractive points. Accordingly I
began to systematise my researches, and each day took up the thread of my
exploration at the place where I had on the previous day dropped it.
In the process
of time my wanderings led me near Montrouge, and I saw that hereabouts lay the
Ultima Thule of social exploration—a country as little known as that round the
source of the White Nile. And
so I determined to investigate philosophically the chiffonier—his habitat, his
life, and his means of life.
The job was an
unsavoury one, difficult of accomplishment, and with little hope of adequate
reward. However, despite reason, obstinacy prevailed, and I entered into my new
investigation with a keener energy than I could have summoned to aid me in any
investigation leading to any end, valuable or worthy.
One day, late in
a fine afternoon, toward the end of September, I entered the holy of holies of
the city of dust. The place was evidently the recognised abode of a number of
chiffoniers, for some sort of arrangement was manifested in the formation of
the dust heaps near the road. I passed amongst these heaps, which stood like
orderly sentries, determined to penetrate further and trace dust to its
As I passed
along I saw behind the dust heaps a few forms that flitted to and fro,
evidently watching with interest the advent of any stranger to such a place.
The district was like a small Switzerland,
and as I went forward my tortuous course shut out the path behind me.
Presently I got
into what seemed a small city or community of chiffoniers. There were a number
of shanties or huts, such as may be met with in the remote parts of the Bog of
Allan—rude places with wattled walls, plastered with mud and roofs of rude
thatch made from stable refuse—such places as one would not like to enter for
any consideration, and which even in water-colour could only look picturesque
if judiciously treated. In the midst of these huts was one of the strangest
adaptations—I cannot say habitations—I had ever seen. An immense old wardrobe,
the colossal remnant of some boudoir of Charles VII, or Henry II, had been
converted into a dwelling-house. The double doors lay open, so that the entire
ménage was open to public view. In the open half of the wardrobe was a common sitting-room
of some four feet by six, in which sat, smoking their pipes round a charcoal
brazier, no fewer than six old soldiers of the First Republic, with their
uniforms torn and worn threadbare. Evidently they were of the mauvais sujet
class; their bleary eyes and limp jaws told plainly of a common love of
absinthe; and their eyes had that haggard, worn look of slumbering ferocity
which follows hard in the wake of drink. The other side stood as of old, with
its shelves intact, save that they were cut to half their depth, and in each
shelf of which there were six, was a bed made with rags and straw. The
half-dozen of worthies who inhabited this structure looked at me curiously as I
passed; and when I looked back after going a little way I saw their heads together
in a whispered conference. I did not like the look of this at all, for the
place was very lonely, and the men looked very, very villainous. However, I did
not see any cause for fear, and went on my way, penetrating further and further
into the Sahara. The way was tortuous to a
degree, and from going round in a series of semi-circles, as one goes in
skating with the Dutch roll, I got rather confused
with regard to the points of the compass.
When I had
penetrated a little way I saw, as I turned the corner of a half-made heap,
sitting on a heap of straw an old soldier with threadbare coat.
'Hallo!' said I
to myself; 'the First
Republic is well
represented here in its soldiery.'
As I passed him
the old man never even looked up at me, but gazed on the ground with stolid
persistency. Again I remarked to myself: 'See what a life of rude warfare can
do! This old man's curiosity is a thing of the past.'
When I had gone
a few steps, however, I looked back suddenly, and saw that curiosity was not
dead, for the veteran had raised his head and was regarding me with a very
queer expression. He seemed to me to look very like one of the six worthies in
the press. When he saw me looking he dropped his head; and without thinking
further of him I went on my way, satisfied that there was a strange likeness
between these old warriors.
Presently I met
another old soldier in a similar manner. He, too, did not notice me whilst I
By this time it
was getting late in the afternoon, and I began to think of retracing my steps.
Accordingly I turned to go back, but could see a number of tracks leading
between different mounds and could not ascertain which of them I should take.
In my perplexity I wanted to see someone of whom to ask the way, but could see
no one. I determined to go on a few mounds further and so try to see
someone—not a veteran.
I gained my
object, for after going a couple of hundred yards I saw before me a single
shanty such as I had seen before—with, however, the difference that this was
not one for living in, but merely a roof with three walls open in front. From
the evidences which the neighbourhood exhibited I took it to be a place for
sorting. Within it was an old woman wrinkled and bent with age; I approached
her to ask the way.
She rose as I
came close and I asked her my way. She immediately commenced a conversation;
and it occurred to me that here in the very centre of the Kingdom of Dust
was the place to gather details of the history of Parisian
rag-picking—particularly as I could do so from the lips of one who looked like
the oldest inhabitant.
I began my
inquiries, and the old woman gave me most interesting answers—she had been one
of the ceteuces who sat daily before the guillotine and had taken an active
part among the women who signalised themselves by their violence in the
revolution. While we were talking she said suddenly: 'But m'sieur must be tired
standing,' and dusted a rickety old stool for me to sit down. I hardly liked to
do so for many reasons; but the poor old woman was so civil that I did not like
to run the risk of hurting her by refusing, and moreover the conversation of
one who had been at the taking of the Bastille was so interesting that I sat
down and so our conversation went on.
While we were
talking an old man—older and more bent and wrinkled even than the
woman—appeared from behind the shanty. 'Here is Pierre,' said she. 'M'sieur can hear stories
now if he wishes, for Pierre was in everything,
from the Bastille to Waterloo.'
The old man took another stool at my request and we plunged into a sea of
revolutionary reminiscences. This old man, albeit clothed like a scarecrow, was
like any one of the six veterans.
I was now
sitting in the centre of the low hut with the woman on my left hand and the man
on my right, each of them being somewhat in front of me. The place was full of
all sorts of curious objects of lumber, and of many things that I wished far
away. In one corner was a heap of rags which seemed to move from the number of
vermin it contained, and in the other a heap of bones whose odour was something
shocking. Every now and then, glancing at the heaps, I could see the gleaming
eyes of some of the rats which infested the place. These loathsome objects were
bad enough, but what looked even more dreadful was an old butcher's axe with an
iron handle stained with clots of blood leaning up against the wall on the
right hand side. Still, these things did not give me much concern. The talk of
the two old people was so fascinating that I stayed on and on, till the evening
came and the dust heaps threw dark shadows over the vales between them.
After a time I
began to grow uneasy. I could not tell how or why, but somehow I did not feel
satisfied. Uneasiness is an instinct and means warning. The psychic faculties
are often the sentries of the intellect, and when they sound alarm the reason
begins to act, although perhaps not consciously.
This was so with
me. I began to bethink me where I was and by what surrounded, and to wonder how
I should fare in case I should be attacked; and then the thought suddenly burst
upon me, although without any overt cause, that I was in danger. Prudence
whispered: 'Be still and make no sign,' and so I was still and made no sign,
for I knew that four cunning eyes were on me. 'Four eyes—if not more.' My God,
what a horrible thought! The whole shanty might be surrounded on three sides
with villains! I might be in the midst of a band of such desperadoes as only
half a century of periodic revolution can produce.
With a sense of
danger my intellect and observation quickened, and I grew more watchful than
was my wont. I noticed that the old woman's eyes were constantly wandering
towards my hands. I looked at them too, and saw the cause—my rings. On my left
little finger I had a large signet and on the right a good diamond.
I thought that
if there was any danger my first care was to avert suspicion. Accordingly I
began to work the conversation round to rag-picking—to the drains—of the things
found there; and so by easy stages to jewels. Then, seizing a favourable opportunity,
I asked the old woman if she knew anything of such things. She answered that
she did, a little. I held out my right hand, and, showing her the diamond,
asked her what she thought of that. She answered that her eyes were bad, and
stooped over my hand. I said as nonchalantly as I could: 'Pardon me! You will
see better thus!' and taking it off handed it to her. An unholy light came into
her withered old face, as she touched it. She stole one glance at me swift and
keen as a flash of lightning.
She bent over
the ring for a moment, her face quite concealed as though examining it. The old
man looked straight out of the front of the shanty before him, at the same time
fumbling in his pockets and producing a screw of tobacco in a paper and a pipe,
which he proceeded to fill. I took advantage of the pause and the momentary
rest from the searching eyes on my face to look carefully round the place, now
dim and shadowy in the gloaming. There still lay all the heaps of varied
reeking foulness; there the terrible blood-stained axe leaning against the wall
in the right hand corner, and everywhere, despite the gloom, the baleful
glitter of the eyes of the rats. I could see them even through some of the
chinks of the boards at the back low down close to the ground. But stay! these latter eyes seemed more than usually large and bright
For an instant
my heart stood still, and I felt in that whirling condition of mind in which
one feels a sort of spiritual drunkenness, and as though the body is only
maintained erect in that there is no time for it to fall before recovery. Then,
in another second, I was calm—coldly calm, with all my energies in full vigour,
with a self-control which I felt to be perfect and with all my feeling and
Now I knew the
full extent of my danger: I was watched and surrounded by desperate people! I
could not even guess at how many of them were lying there on the ground behind
the shanty, waiting for the moment to strike. I knew that I was big and strong,
and they knew it, too. They knew also, as I did, that I was an Englishman and
would make a fight for it; and so we waited. I had, I felt, gained an advantage
in the last few seconds, for I knew my danger and understood the situation.
Now, I thought, is the test of my courage—the enduring test: the fighting test
may come later!
The old woman
raised her head and said to me in a satisfied kind of way:
'A very fine
ring, indeed—a beautiful ring! Oh, me! I once had such rings, plenty of them,
and bracelets and earrings! Oh! for in those fine days
I led the town a dance! But they've forgotten me now! They've forgotten me! They? Why they never heard of me! Perhaps their grandfathers
remember me, some of them!' and she laughed a harsh, croaking laugh. And then I
am bound to say that she astonished me, for she handed me back the ring with a
certain suggestion of old-fashioned grace which was not without its pathos.
The old man eyed
her with a sort of sudden ferocity, half rising from his stool, and said to me
suddenly and hoarsely:
'Let me see!'
I was about to
hand the ring when the old woman said:
'No! no, do not give it to Pierre!
eccentric. He loses things; and such a pretty ring!'
'Cat!' said the
old man, savagely. Suddenly the old woman said, rather more loudly than was necessary:
'Wait! I shall
tell you something about a ring.' There was something in the sound of her voice
that jarred upon me. Perhaps it was my hyper-sensitiveness, wrought up as I was
to such a pitch of nervous excitement, but I seemed to think that she was not
addressing me. As I stole a glance round the place I saw the eyes of the rats
in the bone heaps, but missed the eyes along the back. But even as I looked I
saw them again appear. The old woman's 'Wait!' had given me a respite from
attack, and the men had sunk back to their reclining posture.
'I once lost a
ring—a beautiful diamond hoop that had belonged to a queen, and which was given
to me by a farmer of the taxes, who afterwards cut his throat because I sent
him away. I thought it must have been stolen, and taxed my people; but I could
get no trace. The police came and suggested that it had found its way to the
drain. We descended—I in my fine clothes, for I would not trust them with my
beautiful ring! I know more of the drains since then, and of rats, too! but I shall never forget the horror of that place—alive with
blazing eyes, a wall of them just outside the light of our torches. Well, we
got beneath my house. We searched the outlet of the drain, and there in the
filth found my ring, and we came out.
'But we found
something else also before we came! As we were coming toward the opening a lot
of sewer rats—human ones this time—came towards us. They told the police that
one of their number had gone into the drain, but had
not returned. He had gone in only shortly before we had, and, if lost, could
hardly be far off. They asked help to seek him, so we turned back. They tried
to prevent me going, but I insisted. It was a new excitement, and had I not
recovered my ring? Not far did we go till we came on something. There was but
little water, and the bottom of the drain was raised with brick, rubbish, and
much matter of the kind. He had made a fight for it, even when his torch had
gone out. But they were too many for him! They had not been long about it! The
bones were still warm; but they were picked clean. They had even eaten their
own dead ones and there were bones of rats as well as of the man. They took it
cool enough those other—the human ones—and joked of their comrade when they
found him dead, though they would have helped him living. Bah! what matters it—life or death?'
'And had you no
fear?' I asked her.
'Fear!' she said
with a laugh. 'Me have fear? Ask Pierre!
But I was younger then, and, as I came through that horrible drain with its
wall of greedy eyes, always moving with the circle of the light from the
torches, I did not feel easy. I kept on before the men, though! It is a way I
have! I never let the men get it before me. All I want is a chance and a means!
And they ate him up—took every trace away except the bones; and no one knew it,
nor no sound of him was ever heard!' Here she broke
into a chuckling fit of the ghastliest merriment which it was ever my lot to
hear and see. A great poetess describes her heroine singing: 'Oh! to see or hear her singing! Scarce I know which is the
And I can apply
the same idea to the old crone—in all save the divinity, for I scarce could
tell which was the most hellish—the harsh, malicious, satisfied, cruel laugh,
or the leering grin, and the horrible square opening of the mouth like a tragic
mask, and the yellow gleam of the few discoloured teeth in the shapeless gums.
In that laugh and with that grin and the chuckling satisfaction I knew as well
as if it had been spoken to me in words of thunder that my murder was settled,
and the murderers only bided the proper time for its accomplishment. I could
read between the lines of her gruesome story the commands to her accomplices.
'Wait,' she seemed to say, 'bide your time. I shall strike the first blow. Find
the weapon for me, and I shall make the opportunity! He shall not escape! Keep
him quiet, and then no one will be wiser. There will be no outcry, and the rats
will do their work!'
It was growing
darker and darker; the night was coming. I stole a glance round the shanty,
still all the same! The bloody axe in the corner, the heaps of filth, and the
eyes on the bone heaps and in the crannies of the floor.
Pierre had been still ostensibly
filling his pipe; he now struck a light and began to puff away at it. The old
'Dear heart, how
dark it is! Pierre,
like a good lad, light the lamp!'
Pierre got up and with the
lighted match in his hand touched the wick of a lamp which hung at one side of
the entrance to the shanty, and which had a reflector that threw the light all
over the place. It was evidently that which was used for their sorting at
stupid! Not that! the lantern!' she called out to him.
blew it out, saying: 'All right, mother I'll find it,' and he hustled about the
left corner of the room—the old woman saying through the darkness:
The lantern! the lantern! Oh! That is the light that is most useful to us
poor folks. The lantern was the friend of the revolution! It is the friend of
the chiffonier! It helps us when all else fails.'
Hardly had she
said the word when there was a kind of creaking of the whole place, and
something was steadily dragged over the roof.
Again I seemed
to read between the lines of her words. I knew the lesson of the lantern.
'One of you get on the roof with a noose and strangle him as he passes
out if we fail within.'
As I looked out
of the opening I saw the loop of a rope outlined black against the lurid sky. I
was now, indeed, beset!
Pierre was not long in finding
the lantern. I kept my eyes fixed through the darkness on the old woman. Pierre
struck his light, and by its flash I saw the old woman raise from the ground
beside her where it had mysteriously appeared, and then hide in the folds of
her gown, a long sharp knife or dagger. It seemed to be like a butcher's
sharpening iron fined to a keen point.
The lantern was
'Bring it here, Pierre,' she said. 'Place
it in the doorway where we can see it. See how nice it is! It shuts out the
darkness from us; it is just right!'
Just right for her
and her purposes! It threw all its light on my face, leaving in gloom the faces
of both Pierre and the woman, who sat outside of me on each side.
I felt that the
time of action was approaching, but I knew now that the first signal and
movement would come from the woman, and so watched her.
I was all
unarmed, but I had made up my mind what to do. At the first movement I would
seize the butcher's axe in the right-hand corner and fight my way out. At
least, I would die hard. I stole a glance round to fix its exact locality so
that I could not fail to seize it at the first effort, for then, if ever, time
and accuracy would be precious.
Good God! It was
gone! All the horror of the situation burst upon me; but the bitterest thought
of all was that if the issue of the terrible position should be against me Alice would infallibly
suffer. Either she would believe me false—and any lover, or any one who has
ever been one, can imagine the bitterness of the thought—or else she would go
on loving long after I had been lost to her and to the world, so that her life
would be broken and embittered, shattered with disappointment and despair. The
very magnitude of the pain braced me up and nerved me to bear the dread
scrutiny of the plotters.
I think I did
not betray myself. The old woman was watching me as a cat does a mouse; she had
her right hand hidden in the folds of her gown, clutching, I knew, that long,
cruel-looking dagger. Had she seen any disappointment in my face she would, I
felt, have known that the moment had come, and would have sprung on me like a
tigress, certain of taking me unprepared.
I looked out
into the night, and there I saw new cause for danger. Before and around the hut
were at a little distance some shadowy forms; they were quite still, but I knew
that they were all alert and on guard. Small chance for me
now in that direction.
Again I stole a
glance round the place. In moments of great excitement and of great danger,
which is excitement, the mind works very quickly, and the keenness of the
faculties which depend on the mind grows in proportion. I now felt this. In an
instant I took in the whole situation. I saw that the axe had been taken
through a small hole made in one of the rotten boards. How rotten they must be
to allow of such a thing being done without a particle of noise.
The hut was a
regular murder-trap, and was guarded all around. A garroter lay on the roof
ready to entangle me with his noose if I should escape the dagger of the old
hag. In front the way was guarded by I know not how many watchers. And at the
back was a row of desperate men—I had seen their eyes still through the crack
in the boards of the floor, when last I looked—as they lay prone waiting for
the signal to start erect. If it was to be ever, now for it!
as I could I turned slightly on my stool so as to get my right leg well under
me. Then with a sudden jump, turning my head, and guarding it with my hands,
and with the fighting instinct of the knights of old, I breathed my lady's
name, and hurled myself against the back wall of the hut.
Watchful as they
were, the suddenness of my movement surprised both Pierre and the old woman. As
I crashed through the rotten timbers I saw the old woman rise with a leap like
a tiger and heard her low gasp of baffled rage. My feet lit on something that
moved, and as I jumped away I knew that I had stepped on the back of one of the
row of men lying on their faces outside the hut. I was torn with nails and
splinters, but otherwise unhurt. Breathless I rushed up the mound in front of
me, hearing as I went the dull crash of the shanty as it collapsed into a mass.
It was a
nightmare climb. The mound, though but low, was awfully steep, and with each
step I took the mass of dust and cinders tore down with me and gave way under
my feet. The dust rose and choked me; it was sickening, fœtid, awful; but my
climb was, I felt, for life or death, and I struggled on. The seconds seemed
hours; but the few moments I had in starting, combined with my youth and
strength, gave me a great advantage, and, though several forms struggled after
me in deadly silence which was more dreadful than any sound, I easily reached
the top. Since then I have climbed the cone of Vesuvius, and as I struggled up
that dreary steep amid the sulphurous fumes the memory of that awful night at
Montrouge came back to me so vividly that I almost grew faint.
The mound was
one of the tallest in the region of dust, and as I struggled to the top,
panting for breath and with my heart beating like a sledge-hammer, I saw away
to my left the dull red gleam of the sky, and nearer still the flashing of
lights. Thank God! I knew where I was now and where lay the road to Paris!
For two or three
seconds I paused and looked back. My pursuers were still well behind me, but
struggling up resolutely, and in deadly silence. Beyond, the shanty was a
wreck—a mass of timber and moving forms. I could see it well, for flames were
already bursting out; the rags and straw had evidently caught fire from the
lantern. Still silence there! Not a sound! These old wretches could die game,
I had no time
for more than a passing glance, for as I cast an eye round the mound
preparatory to making my descent I saw several dark forms rushing round on
either side to cut me off on my way. It was now a race for life. They were
trying to head me on my way to Paris,
and with the instinct of the moment I dashed down to the right-hand side. I was
just in time, for, though I came as it seemed to me down the steep in a few
steps, the wary old men who were watching me turned back, and one, as I rushed
by into the opening between the two mounds in front, almost struck me a blow
with that terrible butcher's axe. There could surely not be two such weapons
Then began a really horrible chase. I easily ran ahead of the old men, and even
when some younger ones and a few women joined in the hunt I easily distanced
them. But I did not know the way, and I could not even guide myself by the
light in the sky, for I was running away from it. I had heard that, unless of
conscious purpose, hunted men turn always to the left, and so I found it now;
and so, I suppose, knew also my pursuers, who were more animals than men, and
with cunning or instinct had found out such secrets for themselves: for on
finishing a quick spurt, after which I intended to take a moment's breathing
space, I suddenly saw ahead of me two or three forms swiftly passing behind a
mound to the right.
I was in the
spider's web now indeed! But with the thought of this new
danger came the resource of the hunted, and so I darted down the next turning
to the right. I continued in this direction for some hundred yards, and
then, making a turn to the left again, felt certain that I had, at any rate,
avoided the danger of being surrounded.
But not of
pursuit, for on came the rabble after me, steady, dogged, relentless, and still
in grim silence.
In the greater
darkness the mounds seemed now to be somewhat smaller than before, although—for
the night was closing—they looked bigger in proportion. I was now well ahead of
my pursuers, so I made a dart up the mound in front.
Oh joy of joys!
I was close to the edge of this inferno of dustheaps. Away behind me the red
light of Paris
was in the sky, and towering up behind rose the heights of Montmarte—a dim
light, with here and there brilliant points like stars.
vigour in a moment, I ran over the few remaining mounds of decreasing size, and
found myself on the level land beyond. Even then, however, the prospect was not
inviting. All before me was dark and dismal, and I had evidently come on one of
those dank, low-lying waste places which are found here and there in the
neighbourhood of great cities. Places of waste and
desolation, where the space is required for the ultimate agglomeration of all
that is noxious, and the ground is so poor as to create no desire of occupancy
even in the lowest squatter. With eyes accustomed to the gloom of the
evening, and away now from the shadows of those dreadful dustheaps, I could see
much more easily than I could a little while ago. It might have been, of
course, that the glare in the sky of the lights of Paris, though the city was some miles away,
was reflected here. Howsoever it was, I saw well
enough to take bearings for certainly some little distance around me.
In front was a
bleak, flat waste that seemed almost dead level, with here and there the dark
shimmering of stagnant pools. Seemingly far off on the right, amid a small
cluster of scattered lights, rose a dark mass of Fort Montrouge, and away to
the left in the dim distance, pointed with stray gleams from cottage windows,
the lights in the sky showed the locality of Bicêtre. A moment's thought
decided me to take to the right and try to reach Montrouge. There at least
would be some sort of safety, and I might possibly long before come on some of
the cross roads which I knew. Somewhere, not far off, must lie
the strategic road made to connect the outlying chain of forts circling the
Then I looked
back. Coming over the mounds, and outlined black against the glare of the
Parisian horizon, I saw several moving figures, and still a way to the right
several more deploying out between me and my destination. They evidently meant
to cut me off in this direction, and so my choice became constricted; it lay
now between going straight ahead or turning to the
left. Stooping to the ground, so as to get the advantage of the horizon as a
line of sight, I looked carefully in this direction, but could detect no sign
of my enemies. I argued that as they had not guarded or were not trying to
guard that point, there was evidently danger to me there already. So I made up
my mind to go straight on before me.
It was not an
inviting prospect, and as I went on the reality grew worse. The ground became
soft and oozy, and now and again gave way beneath me in a sickening kind of
way. I seemed somehow to be going down, for I saw round me places seemingly
more elevated than where I was, and this in a place which from a little way
back seemed dead level. I looked around, but could see none of my pursuers.
This was strange, for all along these birds of the night had followed me
through the darkness as well as though it was broad daylight. How I blamed
myself for coming out in my light-coloured tourist suit of tweed. The silence,
and my not being able to see my enemies, whilst I felt that they were watching
me, grew appalling, and in the hope of some one not of this ghastly crew
hearing me I raised my voice and shouted several times. There was not the
slightest response; not even an echo rewarded my efforts. For a while I stood
stock still and kept my eyes in one direction. On one of the rising places
around me I saw something dark move along, then another, and another. This was
to my left, and seemingly moving to head me off.
I thought that
again I might with my skill as a runner elude my enemies at this game, and so
with all my speed darted forward.
My feet had
given way in a mass of slimy rubbish, and I had fallen headlong into a reeking,
stagnant pool. The water and the mud in which my arms sank up to the elbows was
filthy and nauseous beyond description, and in the suddenness of my fall I had
actually swallowed some of the filthy stuff, which nearly choked me, and made
me gasp for breath. Never shall I forget the moments during which I stood
trying to recover myself almost fainting from the fœtid odour of the filthy
pool, whose white mist rose ghostlike around. Worst of all, with the acute
despair of the hunted animal when he sees the pursuing pack closing on him, I
saw before my eyes whilst I stood helpless the dark forms of my pursuers moving
swiftly to surround me.
It is curious
how our minds work on odd matters even when the energies of thought are
seemingly concentrated on some terrible and pressing need. I was in momentary
peril of my life: my safety depended on my action, and my choice of
alternatives coming now with almost every step I took, and yet I could not but
think of the strange dogged persistency of these old men. Their silent
resolution, their steadfast, grim, persistency even in such a cause commanded,
as well as fear, even a measure of respect. What must they have been in the
vigour of their youth. I could understand now that whirlwind rush on the bridge
of Arcola, that scornful exclamation
of the Old Guard at Waterloo!
Unconscious cerebration has its own pleasures, even at such moments; but
fortunately it does not in any way clash with the thought from which action
I realised at a
glance that so far I was defeated in my object, my
enemies as yet had won. They had succeeded in surrounding me on three sides,
and were bent on driving me off to the left-hand, where there was already some
danger for me, for they had left no guard. I accepted the alternative—it was a
case of Hobson's choice and run. I had to keep the lower ground, for my pursuers
were on the higher places. However, though the ooze and broken ground impeded
me my youth and training made me able to hold my ground, and by keeping a
diagonal line I not only kept them from gaining on me but even began to
distance them. This gave me new heart and strength, and by this time habitual
training was beginning to tell and my second wind had come. Before me the
ground rose slightly. I rushed up the slope and found before me a waste of
watery slime, with a low dyke or bank looking black and grim beyond. I felt
that if I could but reach that dyke in safety I could there, with solid ground
under my feet and some kind of path to guide me, find with comparative ease a
way out of my troubles. After a glance right and left and seeing no one near, I
kept my eyes for a few minutes to their rightful work of aiding my feet whilst
I crossed the swamp. It was rough, hard work, but there was little danger,
merely toil; and a short time took me to the dyke. I rushed up the slope
exulting; but here again I met a new shock. On either side of me rose a number
of crouching figures. From right and left they rushed at me. Each body held a
The cordon was
nearly complete. I could pass on neither side, and the end was near.
There was only
one chance, and I took it. I hurled myself across the dyke, and escaping out of
the very clutches of my foes threw myself into the
At any other
time I should have thought that water foul and filthy, but now it was as
welcome as the most crystal stream to the parched traveller. It was a highway
rushed after me. Had only one of them held the rope it would have been all up
with me, for he could have entangled me before I had time to swim a stroke; but
the many hands holding it embarrassed and delayed them, and when the rope
struck the water I heard the splash well behind me. A few minutes' hard
swimming took me across the stream. Refreshed with the immersion and encouraged
by the escape, I climbed the dyke in comparative gaiety of spirits.
From the top I
looked back. Through the darkness I saw my assailants scattering up and down
along the dyke. The pursuit was evidently not ended, and again I had to choose
my course. Beyond the dyke where I stood was a wild, swampy space very similar
to that which I had crossed. I determined to shun such a place, and thought for
a moment whether I would take up or down the dyke. I thought I heard a
sound—the muffled sound of oars, so I listened, and then shouted.
No response; but
the sound ceased. My enemies had evidently got a boat of some kind. As they
were on the up side of me I took the down path and began to run. As I passed to
the left of where I had entered the water I heard several splashes, soft and
stealthy, like the sound a rat makes as he plunges into the stream, but vastly
greater; and as I looked I saw the dark sheen of the water broken by the
ripples of several advancing heads. Some of my enemies were swimming the stream
And now behind
me, up the stream, the silence was broken by the quick rattle and creak of
oars; my enemies were in hot pursuit. I put my best leg foremost and ran on.
After a break of a couple of minutes I looked back, and by a gleam of light
through the ragged clouds I saw several dark forms climbing the bank behind me.
The wind had now begun to rise, and the water beside me was ruffled and
beginning to break in tiny waves on the bank. I had to keep my eyes pretty well
on the ground before me, lest I should stumble, for I knew that to stumble was
death. After a few minutes I looked back behind me. On the dyke were only a few
dark figures, but crossing the waste, swampy ground were many more. What new
danger this portended I did not know—could only guess. Then as I ran it seemed
to me that my track kept ever sloping away to the right. I looked up ahead and
saw that the river was much wider than before, and that the dyke on which I
stood fell quite away, and beyond it was another stream on whose near bank I
saw some of the dark forms now across the marsh. I was on an island of some kind.
My situation was
now indeed terrible, for my enemies had hemmed me in on every side. Behind came
the quickening roll of the oars, as though my pursuers knew that the end was
close. Around me on every side was desolation; there was not a roof or light,
as far as I could see. Far off to the right rose some
dark mass, but what it was I knew not. For a moment I paused to think what I
should do, not for more, for my pursuers were drawing closer. Then my mind was
made up. I slipped down the bank and took to the water. I struck out straight
ahead so as to gain the current by clearing the backwater of the island, for
such I presume it was, when I had passed into the stream. I waited till a cloud
came driving across the moon and leaving all in darkness. Then I took off my
hat and laid it softly on the water floating with the stream, and a second
after dived to the right and struck out under water with all my might. I was, I
suppose, half a minute under water, and when I rose came up as softly as I
could, and turning, looked back. There went my light brown hat floating merrily
away. Close behind it came a rickety old boat, driven
furiously by a pair of oars. The moon was still partly obscured by the drifting
clouds, but in the partial light I could see a man in the bows holding aloft
ready to strike what appeared to me to be that same dreadful pole-axe which I
had before escaped. As I looked the boat drew closer, closer, and the man
struck savagely. The hat disappeared. The man fell forward, almost out of the
boat. His comrades dragged him in but without the axe, and then as I turned
with all my energies bent on reaching the further bank, I heard the fierce
whirr of the muttered 'Sacre!' which marked the anger of my baffled pursuers.
That was the
first sound I had heard from human lips during all this
dreadful chase, and full as it was of menace and danger to me it was a welcome
sound for it broke that awful silence which shrouded and appalled me. It was as
though an overt sign that my opponents were men and not ghosts, and that with
them I had, at least; the chance of a man, though but one against many.
But now that the
spell of silence was broken the sounds came thick and fast. From boat to shore
and back from shore to boat came quick question and answer, all in the fiercest
whispers. I looked back—a fatal thing to do—for in the instant someone caught
sight of my face, which showed white on the dark water, and shouted. Hands
pointed to me, and in a moment or two the boat was under weigh, and following
hard after me. I had but a little way to go, but quicker and quicker came the
boat after me. A few more strokes and I would be on the shore, but I felt the
oncoming of the boat, and expected each second to feel the crash of an oar or
other weapon on my head. Had I not seen that dreadful axe disappear in the
water I do not think that I could have won the shore. I heard the muttered
curses of those not rowing and the laboured breath of the rowers. With one
supreme effort for life or liberty I touched the bank and sprang up it. There
was not a single second to spare, for hard behind me the boat grounded and
several dark forms sprang after me. I gained the top of the dyke, and keeping
to the left ran on again. The boat put off and followed down the stream. Seeing
this I feared danger in this direction, and quickly turning, ran down the dyke
on the other side, and after passing a short stretch of marshy ground gained a
wild, open flat country and sped on.
Still behind me came on my relentless pursuers. Far away, below me, I saw
the same dark mass as before, but now grown closer and greater. My heart gave a
great thrill of delight, for I knew that it must be the fortress of Bicêtre,
and with new courage I ran on. I had heard that between each and all of the
protecting forts of Paris
there are strategic ways, deep sunk roads where soldiers marching should be
sheltered from an enemy. I knew that if I could gain this road I would be safe,
but in the darkness I could not see any sign of it, so, in blind hope of
striking it, I ran on.
Presently I came
to the edge of a deep cut, and found that down below me ran a road guarded on
each side by a ditch of water fenced on either side by a straight, high wall.
and dizzier, I ran on; the ground got more broken—more and more still, till I
staggered and fell, and rose again, and ran on in the blind anguish of the
hunted. Again the thought of Alice
nerved me. I would not be lost and wreck her life: I would fight and struggle
for life to the bitter end. With a great effort I caught the top of the wall.
As, scrambling like a catamount, I drew myself up, I actually felt a hand touch
the sole of my foot. I was now on a sort of causeway, and before me I saw a dim
light. Blind and dizzy, I ran on, staggered, and fell, rising, covered with dust
sounded like a voice from heaven. A blaze of light seemed to enwrap me, and I
shouted with joy.
'Qui va la?' The rattle of musketry, the flash of steel before my
eyes. Instinctively I stopped, though close behind me came a rush of my
Another word or
two, and out from a gateway poured, as it seemed to me, a tide of red and blue,
as the guard turned out. All around seemed blazing with light, and the flash of
steel, the clink and rattle of arms, and the loud, harsh voices of command. As
I fell forward, utterly exhausted, a soldier caught me. I looked back in
dreadful expectation, and saw the mass of dark forms disappearing into the
night. Then I must have fainted. When I recovered my senses I was in the guard
room. They gave me brandy, and after a while I was able to tell them something
of what had passed. Then a commissary of police appeared, apparently out of the
empty air, as is the way of the Parisian police officer. He listened
attentively, and then had a moment's consultation with the officer in command.
Apparently they were agreed, for they asked me if I were ready now to come with
'Where to?' I asked, rising to go.
'Back to the
dust heaps. We shall, perhaps, catch them yet!'
'I shall try!'
He eyed me for a
moment keenly, and said suddenly:
'Would you like
to wait a while or till tomorrow, young Englishman?' This touched me to the
quick, as, perhaps, he intended, and I jumped to my feet.
'Come now!' I
said; 'now! now! An Englishman is always ready for his
was a good fellow, as well as a shrewd one; he slapped my shoulder kindly.
'Brave garçon!' he said. 'Forgive me, but I knew what would do you most good.
The guard is ready. Come!'
And so, passing
right through the guard room, and through a long vaulted passage, we were out
into the night. A few of the men in front had powerful lanterns. Through
courtyards and down a sloping way we passed out through a low archway to a
sunken road, the same that I had seen in my flight. The order was given to get
at the double, and with a quick, springing stride, half run, half walk, the
soldiers went swiftly along. I felt my strength renewed again—such is the
difference between hunter and hunted. A very short
distance took us to a low-lying pontoon bridge across the stream, and evidently
very little higher up than I had struck it. Some effort had evidently been made
to damage it, for the ropes had all been cut, and one of the chains had been
broken. I heard the officer say to the commissary:
'We are just in
time! A few more minutes, and they would have destroyed the bridge. Forward,
quicker still!' and on we went. Again we reached a pontoon on the winding
stream; as we came up we heard the hollow boom of the metal drums as the
efforts to destroy the bridge was again renewed. A word of command was given,
and several men raised their rifles.
'Fire!' A volley rang out. There was a muffled cry, and the dark forms
dispersed. But the evil was done, and we saw the far end of the pontoon swing
into the stream. This was a serious delay, and it was nearly an hour before we
had renewed ropes and restored the bridge sufficiently to allow us to cross.
We renewed the
chase. Quicker, quicker we went towards the dust heaps.
After a time we
came to a place that I knew. There were the remains of a fire—a few smouldering
wood ashes still cast a red glow, but the bulk of the ashes were cold. I knew
the site of the hut and the hill behind it up which I had rushed, and in the
flickering glow the eyes of the rats still shone with a sort of
phosphorescence. The commissary spoke a word to the officer, and he cried:
were ordered to spread around and watch, and then we commenced to examine the
ruins. The commissary himself began to lift away the charred boards and
rubbish. These the soldiers took and piled together.
Presently he started back, then bent down and rising beckoned me.
'See!' he said.
It was a
gruesome sight. There lay a skeleton face downwards, a woman by the lines—an
old woman by the coarse fibre of the bone. Between the ribs rose a long
spike-like dagger made from a butcher's sharpening knife, its keen point buried
in the spine.
observe,' said the commissary to the officer and to me as he took out his note
book, 'that the woman must have fallen on her dagger. The rats are many
here—see their eyes glistening among that heap of bones—and you will also
notice'—I shuddered as he placed his hand on the skeleton—'that but little time
was lost by them, for the bones are scarcely cold!'
There was no
other sign of any one near, living or dead; and so deploying again into line
the soldiers passed on. Presently we came to the hut made of the old wardrobe.
We approached. In five of the six compartments was an old man sleeping—sleeping
so soundly that even the glare of the lanterns did not wake them. Old and grim
and grizzled they looked, with their gaunt, wrinkled, bronzed faces and their
called out harshly and loudly a word of command, and in an instant each one of
them was on his feet before us and standing at 'attention!'
'What do you
'We sleep,' was
'Where are the
other chiffoniers?' asked the commissary.
'Gone to work.'
'We are on
the officer grimly, as he looked at the old men one after the other in the face
and added with cool deliberate cruelty: 'Asleep on duty! Is this the manner of
the Old Guard? No wonder, then, a Waterloo!'
By the gleam of
the lantern I saw the grim old faces grow deadly pale,
and almost shuddered at the look in the eyes of the old men as the laugh of the
soldiers echoed the grim pleasantry of the officer.
I felt in that
moment that I was in some measure avenged.
For a moment
they looked as if they would throw themselves on the taunter, but years of
their life had schooled them and they remained still.
'You are but
five,' said the commissary; 'where is the sixth?' The answer came with a grim
'He is there!'
and the speaker pointed to the bottom of the wardrobe. 'He died last night. You
won't find much of him. The burial of the rats is quick!'
stooped and looked in. Then he turned to the officer and said calmly:
'We may as well
go back. No trace here now; nothing to prove that man was the one wounded by
your soldiers' bullets! Probably they murdered him to cover up the trace. See!'
again he stooped and placed his hands on the skeleton. 'The rats work quickly
and they are many. These bones are warm!'
I shuddered, and
so did many more of those around me.
'Form!' said the
officer, and so in marching order, with the lanterns swinging in front and the
manacled veterans in the midst, with steady tramp we took ourselves out of the
dustheaps and turned backward to the fortress of Bicêtre.
My year of
probation has long since ended, and Alice
is my wife. But when I look back upon that trying twelvemonth one of the most
vivid incidents that memory recalls is that associated with my visit to the
City of Dust.
opinion given to me regarding Jacob Settle was a simple descriptive statement,
'He's a down-in-the-mouth chap': but I found that it embodied the thoughts and
ideas of all his fellow-workmen. There was in the phrase a certain easy
tolerance, an absence of positive feeling of any kind, rather than any complete
opinion, which marked pretty accurately the man's place in public esteem.
Still, there was some dissimilarity between this and his appearance which
unconsciously set me thinking, and by degrees, as I saw more of the place and
the workmen, I came to have a special interest in him.
He was, I found, for ever doing kindnesses, not involving money expenses beyond
his humble means, but in the manifold ways of forethought and forbearance and
self-repression which are of the truer charities of life. Women and children
trusted him implicitly, though, strangely enough, he rather shunned them,
except when anyone was sick, and then he made his appearance to help if he
could, timidly and awkwardly. He led a very solitary life, keeping house by
himself in a tiny cottage, or rather hut, of one room, far on the edge of the
moorland. His existence seemed so sad and solitary that I wished to cheer it
up, and for the purpose took the occasion when we had both been sitting up with
a child, injured by me through accident, to offer to lend him books. He gladly
accepted, and as we parted in the grey of the dawn I felt that something of
mutual confidence had been established between us.
The books were
always most carefully and punctually returned, and in time Jacob Settle and I
became quite friends. Once or twice as I crossed the moorland on Sundays I
looked in on him; but on such occasions he was shy and ill at ease so that I
felt diffident about calling to see him. He would never under any circumstances
come into my own lodgings.
afternoon, I was coming back from a long walk beyond the moor, and as I passed
Settle's cottage stopped at the door to say 'How do you do?' to him. As the
door was shut, I thought that he was out, and merely
knocked for form's sake, or through habit, not expecting to get any answer. To
my surprise, I heard a feeble voice from within, though what was said I could
not hear. I entered at once, and found Jacob lying half-dressed upon his bed.
He was as pale as death, and the sweat was simply rolling off his face. His
hands were unconsciously gripping the bedclothes as a drowning man holds on to
whatever he may grasp. As I came in he half arose, with a wild, hunted look in
his eyes, which were wide open and staring, as though something of horror had
come before him; but when he recognised me he sank back on the couch with a
smothered sob of relief and closed his eyes. I stood by him for a while, quite
a minute or two, while he gasped. Then he opened his eyes and looked at me, but
with such a despairing, woeful expression that, as I am a living man, I would
have rather seen that frozen look of horror. I sat down beside him and asked
after his health. For a while he would not answer me except to say that he was
not ill; but then, after scrutinising me closely, he half arose on his elbow
'I thank you
kindly, sir, but I'm simply telling you the truth. I am not ill, as men call
it, though God knows whether there be not worse
sicknesses than doctors know of. I'll tell you, as you are so kind, but I trust
that you won't even mention such a thing to a living soul, for it might work me
more and greater woe. I am suffering from a bad dream.'
'A bad dream!' I said, hoping to cheer him; 'but dreams pass away with the light—even
with waking.' There I stopped, for before he spoke I saw the answer in his
desolate look round the little place.
'No! no! that's all well for people that
live in comfort and with those they love around them. It is a thousand times
worse for those who live alone and have to do so. What cheer is there for me,
waking here in the silence of the night, with the wide moor around me full of
voices and full of faces that make my waking a worse dream than my sleep? Ah,
young sir, you have no past that can send its legions to people the darkness
and the empty space, and I pray the good God that you may never have!' As he
spoke, there was such an almost irresistible gravity of conviction in his
manner that I abandoned my remonstrance about his solitary life. I felt that I
was in the presence of some secret influence which I could not fathom. To my
relief, for I knew not what to say, he went on:
'Two nights past
have I dreamed it. It was hard enough the first night,
but I came through it. Last night the expectation was in itself almost worse
than the dream—until the dream came, and then it swept away every remembrance
of lesser pain. I stayed awake till just before the dawn, and then it came
again, and ever since I have been in such an agony as I am sure the dying feel,
and with it all the dread of tonight.' Before he had got to the end of the
sentence my mind was made up, and I felt that I could speak to him more
'Try and get to
sleep early tonight—in fact, before the evening has passed away. The sleep will
refresh you, and I promise you there will not be any bad dreams after tonight.'
He shook his head hopelessly, so I sat a little longer and then left him.
When I got home
I made my arrangements for the night, for I had made up my mind to share Jacob
Settle's lonely vigil in his cottage on the moor. I judged that if he got to
sleep before sunset he would wake well before midnight, and so, just as the
bells of the city were striking eleven, I stood opposite his door armed with a
bag, in which were my supper, an extra large flask, a couple of candles, and a
book. The moonlight was bright, and flooded the whole moor, till it was almost
as light as day; but ever and anon black clouds drove across the sky, and made
a darkness which by comparison seemed almost tangible. I opened the door softly,
and entered without waking Jacob, who lay asleep with his white face upward. He
was still, and again bathed in sweat. I tried to
imagine what visions were passing before those closed eyes which could bring
with them the misery and woe which were stamped on the face, but fancy failed
me, and I waited for the awakening. It came suddenly, and in a fashion which
touched me to the quick, for the hollow groan that broke from the man's white
lips as he half arose and sank back was manifestly the realisation or completion
of some train of thought which had gone before.
'If this be
dreaming,' said I to myself, 'then it must be based on
some very terrible reality. What can have been that unhappy fact that he spoke
While I thus
spoke, he realised that I was with him. It struck me as strange that he had no
period of that doubt as to whether dream or reality surrounded him which
commonly marks an expected environment of waking men. With a positive cry of
joy, he seized my hand and held it in his two wet, trembling hands, as a
frightened child clings on to someone whom it loves. I tried to soothe him:
'There, there! it is all right. I have come to stay with you tonight, and
together we will try to fight this evil dream.' He let go my hand suddenly, and
sank back on his bed and covered his eyes with his hands.
evil dream! Ah! no, sir, no! No mortal power can fight
that dream, for it comes from God—and is burned in here;' and he beat upon his
forehead. Then he went on:
'It is the same
dream, ever the same, and yet it grows in its power to torture me every time it
'What is the
dream?' I asked, thinking that the speaking of it might give him some relief,
but he shrank away from me, and after a long pause said:
'No, I had
better not tell it. It may not come again.'
manifestly something to conceal from me—something that lay behind the dream, so
'All right. I hope you have seen the last of it. But if it should come again, you
will tell me, will you not? I ask, not out of curiosity, but because I think it
may relieve you to speak.' He answered with what I thought was almost an undue
amount of solemnity:
'If it comes
again, I shall tell you all.'
Then I tried to
get his mind away from the subject to more mundane things, so I produced supper,
and made him share it with me, including the contents of the flask. After a
little he braced up, and when I lit my cigar, having given him another, we
smoked a full hour, and talked of many things. Little by little the comfort of
his body stole over his mind, and I could see sleep laying her gentle hands on
his eyelids. He felt it, too, and told me that now he felt all right, and I
might safely leave him; but I told him that, right or wrong, I was going to see
in the daylight. So I lit my other candle, and began to read as he fell asleep.
By degrees I got
interested in my book, so interested that presently I was startled by its
dropping out of my hands. I looked and saw that Jacob was still asleep, and I
was rejoiced to see that there was on his face a look of unwonted happiness,
while his lips seemed to move with unspoken words. Then I turned to my work
again, and again woke, but this time to feel chilled to my very marrow by
hearing the voice from the bed beside me:
'Not with those
red hands! Never! never!' On looking at him, I found
that he was still asleep. He woke, however, in an instant, and did not seem
surprised to see me; there was again that strange apathy as to his
surroundings. Then I said:
'Settle, tell me
your dream. You may speak freely, for I shall hold your confidence sacred.
While we both live I shall never mention what you may choose to tell me.'
'I said I would;
but I had better tell you first what goes before the dream, that you may
understand. I was a schoolmaster when I was a very young man; it was only a
parish school in a little village in the West Country. No need to mention any
names. Better not. I was engaged to be married to a young girl whom I loved and
almost reverenced. It was the old story. While we were waiting for the time
when we could afford to set up house together, another man came along. He was
nearly as young as I was, and handsome, and a gentleman, with all a gentleman's
attractive ways for a woman of our class. He would go fishing, and she would
meet him while I was at my work in school. I reasoned with her and implored her
to give him up. I offered to get married at once and go away and begin the
world in a strange country; but she would not listen to anything I could say,
and I could see that she was infatuated with him. Then I took it on myself to
meet the man and ask him to deal well with the girl, for I thought he might
mean honestly by her, so that there might be no talk or chance of talk on the
part of others. I went where I should meet him with none by, and we met!' Here
Jacob Settle had to pause, for something seemed to rise in his throat, and he
almost gasped for breath. Then he went on:
'Sir, as God is
above us, there was no selfish thought in my heart that day, I loved my pretty
Mabel too well to be content with a part of her love, and I had thought of my
own unhappiness too often not to have come to realise that, whatever might come
to her, my hope was gone. He was insolent to me—you, sir, who are a gentleman,
cannot know, perhaps, how galling can be the insolence of one who is above you
in station—but I bore with that. I implored him to deal well with the girl, for
what might be only a pastime of an idle hour with him might be the breaking of
her heart. For I never had a thought of her truth, or that the worst of harm
could come to her—it was only the unhappiness to her heart I feared. But when I
asked him when he intended to marry her his laughter
galled me so that I lost my temper and told him that I would not stand by and
see her life made unhappy. Then he grew angry too, and in his anger said such
cruel things of her that then and there I swore he should not live to do her
harm. God knows how it came about, for in such moments of passion it is hard to
remember the steps from a word to a blow, but I found myself standing over his
dead body, with my hands crimson with the blood that welled from his torn
throat. We were alone and he was a stranger, with none of his kin to seek for
him and murder does not always out—not all at once. His bones may be whitening
still, for all I know, in the pool of the river where I left him. No one
suspected his absence, or why it was, except my poor Mabel, and she dared not
speak. But it was all in vain, for when I came back again after an absence of
months—for I could not live in the place—I learned that her shame had come and
that she had died in it. Hitherto I had been borne up by the thought that my
ill deed had saved her future, but now, when I learned that I had been too
late, and that my poor love was smirched with that man's sin, I fled away with
the sense of my useless guilt upon me more heavily than I could bear. Ah! sir, you that have not done such a sin don't know what it is
to carry it with you. You may think that custom makes it easy to you, but it is
not so. It grows and grows with every hour, till it becomes intolerable, and
with it growing, too, the feeling that you must for ever stand outside Heaven.
You don't know what that means, and I pray God that you never may. Ordinary
men, to whom all things are possible, don't often, if ever, think of Heaven. It
is a name, and nothing more, and they are content to wait and let things be,
but to those who are doomed to be shut out for ever you cannot think what it
means, you cannot guess or measure the terrible endless longing to see the
gates opened, and to be able to join the white figures within.
'And this brings
me to my dream. It seemed that the portal was before me, with great gates of
massive steel with bars of the thickness of a mast, rising to the very clouds,
and so close that between them was just a glimpse of a crystal grotto, on whose
shining walls were figured many white-clad forms with faces radiant with joy.
When I stood before the gate my heart and my soul were so full of rapture and
longing that I forgot. And there stood at the gate two mighty angels with
sweeping wings, and, oh! so stern of countenance. They
held each in one hand a flaming sword, and in the other the latchet, which
moved to and fro at their lightest touch. Nearer were figures all draped in
black, with heads covered so that only the eyes were seen, and they handed to
each who came white garments such as the angels wear. A low murmur came that
told that all should put on their own robes, and without soil, or the angels
would not pass them in, but would smite them down with the flaming swords. I
was eager to don my own garment, and hurriedly threw it over me and stepped
swiftly to the gate; but it moved not, and the angels, loosing the latchet,
pointed to my dress, I looked down, and was aghast, for the whole robe was
smeared with blood. My hands were red; they glittered with the blood that
dripped from them as on that day by the river bank. And then the angels raised
their flaming swords to smite me down, and the horror was complete—I awoke.
Again, and again, and again, that awful dream comes to me. I never learn from
the experience, I never remember, but at the beginning the hope is ever there
to make the end more appalling; and I know that the dream does not come out of
the common darkness where the dreams abide, but that it is sent from God as a
punishment! Never, never shall I be able to pass the gate, for the soil on the
angel garments must ever come from these bloody hands!'
I listened as in
a spell as Jacob Settle spoke. There was something so far away in the tone of
his voice—something so dreamy and mystic in the eyes that looked as if through
me at some spirit beyond—something so lofty in his very diction and in such
marked contrast to his workworn clothes and his poor surroundings that I
wondered if the whole thing were not a dream.
We were both
silent for a long time. I kept looking at the man before me in growing
wonderment. Now that his confession had been made, his soul, which had been
crushed to the very earth, seemed to leap back again to uprightness with some
resilient force. I suppose I ought to have been horrified with his story, but,
strange to say, I was not. It certainly is not pleasant to be made the
recipient of the confidence of a murderer, but this poor fellow seemed to have
had, not only so much provocation, but so much self-denying purpose in his deed
of blood that I did not feel called upon to pass judgment upon him. My purpose
was to comfort, so I spoke out with what calmness I could, for my heart was
beating fast and heavily:
'You need not
despair, Jacob Settle. God is very good, and His mercy is great. Live on and
work on in the hope that some day you may feel that you have atoned for the
past.' Here I paused, for I could see that deep, natural sleep this time, was
creeping upon him. 'Go to sleep,' I said; 'I shall watch with you here and we
shall have no more evil dreams tonight.'
He made an
effort to pull himself together, and answered:
'I don't know
how to thank you for your goodness to me this night, but I think you had best
leave me now. I'll try and sleep this out; I feel a weight off my mind since I
have told you all. If there's anything of the man left in me, I must try and
fight out life alone.'
tonight, as you wish it,' I said; 'but take my advice, and do not live in such
a solitary way. Go among men and women; live among them. Share their joys and
sorrows, and it will help you to forget. This solitude will make you melancholy
'I will!' he
answered, half unconsciously, for sleep was overmastering him.
I turned to go,
and he looked after me. When I had touched the latch I dropped it, and, coming
back to the bed, held out my hand. He grasped it with both his as he rose to a
sitting posture, and I said my goodnight, trying to cheer him:
'Heart, man, heart! There is work in the world for you to do, Jacob
Settle. You can wear those white robes yet and pass through that gate of
Then I left him.
A week after I
found his cottage deserted, and on asking at the works was told that he had 'gone
north', no one exactly knew whither.
afterwards, I was staying for a few days with my friend Dr. Munro in Glasgow. He was a busy
man, and could not spare much time for going about with me, so I spent my days
in excursions to the Trossachs and Loch Katrine and down the Clyde.
On the second last evening of my stay I came back somewhat later than I had
arranged, but found that my host was late too. The maid told me that he had
been sent for to the hospital—a case of accident at the gas-works, and the
dinner was postponed an hour; so telling her I would stroll down to find her
master and walk back with him, I went out. At the hospital I found him washing
his hands preparatory to starting for home. Casually, I asked him what his case
'Oh, the usual thing! A rotten rope and men's lives of
no account. Two men were working in a gasometer, when the rope that held
their scaffolding broke. It must have occurred just before the dinner hour, for
no one noticed their absence till the men had returned. There was about seven
feet of water in the gasometer, so they had a hard fight for it, poor fellows.
However, one of them was alive, just alive, but we have had a hard job to pull
him through. It seems that he owes his life to his mate, for I have never heard
of greater heroism. They swam together while their strength lasted, but at the
end they were so done up that even the lights above, and the men slung with
ropes, coming down to help them, could not keep them up. But one of them stood
on the bottom and held up his comrade over his head, and those few breaths made
all the difference between life and death. They were a shocking sight when they
were taken out, for that water is like a purple dye with the gas and the tar.
The man upstairs looked as if he had been washed in blood. Ugh!'
'And the other?'
'Oh, he's worse
still. But he must have been a very noble fellow. That struggle under the water
must have been fearful; one can see that by the way the blood has been drawn
from the extremities. It makes the idea of the Stigmata possible to look at
him. Resolution like this could, you would think, do anything in the world. Ay!
it might almost unbar the gates of Heaven. Look here,
old man, it is not a very pleasant sight, especially just before dinner, but
you are a writer, and this is an odd case. Here is something you would not like
to miss, for in all human probability you will never see anything like it
again.' While he was speaking he had brought me into the mortuary of the
On the bier lay
a body covered with a white sheet, which was wrapped close round it.
'Looks like a
chrysalis, don't it? I say, Jack, if there be anything in the old myth that a
soul is typified by a butterfly, well, then the one that this chrysalis sent
forth was a very noble specimen and took all the sunlight on its wings. See
here!' He uncovered the face. Horrible, indeed, it looked, as though stained
with blood. But I knew him at once, Jacob Settle! My friend pulled the winding
sheet further down.
The hands were
crossed on the purple breast as they had been reverently placed by some
tender-hearted person. As I saw them my heart throbbed with a great exultation,
for the memory of his harrowing dream rushed across my mind. There was no stain
now on those poor, brave hands, for they were blanched white as snow.
And somehow as I
looked I felt that the evil dream was all over. That noble soul had won a way
through the gate at last. The white robe had now no stain from the hands that
had put it on.
Fernlee Markam, who took what was known as the Red House above the Mains of
Crooken, was a London merchant, and being essentially a cockney, thought it
necessary when he went for the summer holidays to Scotland to provide an entire
rig-out as a Highland chieftain, as manifested in chromolithographs and on the
music-hall stage. He had once seen in the Empire the Great Prince—'The Bounder
King'—bring down the house by appearing as 'The MacSlogan of that Ilk,' and
singing the celebrated Scotch song, 'There's naething like haggis to mak a mon
dry!' and he had ever since preserved in his mind a faithful image of the
picturesque and warlike appearance which he presented. Indeed, if the true
inwardness of Mr. Markam's mind on the subject of his selection of
Aberdeenshire as a summer resort were known, it would be found that in the
foreground of the holiday locality which his fancy painted stalked the many
hued figure of the MacSlogan of that Ilk. However, be this as it may, a very
kind fortune—certainly so far as external beauty was concerned—led him to the
choice of Crooken
Bay. It is a lovely spot,
between Aberdeen and Peterhead, just under the
rock-bound headland whence the long, dangerous reefs known as The Spurs run out
into the North Sea. Between this and the
'Mains of Crooken'—a village sheltered by the northern cliffs—lies the deep
bay, backed with a multitude of bent-grown dunes where the rabbits are to be
found in thousands. Thus at either end of the bay is a rocky
promontory, and when the dawn or the sunset falls on the rocks of red
syenite the effect is very lovely. The bay itself is floored with level sand
and the tide runs far out, leaving a smooth waste of hard sand on which are
dotted here and there the stake nets and bag nets of the salmon fishers. At one
end of the bay there is a little group or cluster of rocks whose heads are
raised something above high water, except when in rough weather the waves come
over them green. At low tide they are exposed down to sand level; and here is
perhaps the only little bit of dangerous sand on this part of the eastern
coast. Between the rocks, which are apart about some fifty feet, is a small
quicksand, which, like the Goodwins, is dangerous only with the incoming tide.
It extends outwards till it is lost in the sea, and
inwards till it fades away in the hard sand of the upper beach. On the slope of
the hill which rises beyond the dunes, midway between the Spurs and the Port of Crooken, is the Red House. It rises from
the midst of a clump of fir-trees which protect it on three sides, leaving the
whole sea front open. A trim old-fashioned garden stretches down to the
roadway, on crossing which a grassy path, which can be used for light vehicles,
threads a way to the shore, winding amongst the sand hills.
When the Markam
family arrived at the Red House after their thirty-six hours of pitching on the
steamer Ban Righ from Blackwall, with the subsequent train to Yellon and drive
of a dozen miles, they all agreed that they had never seen a more delightful
spot. The general satisfaction was more marked as at that very time none of the
family were, for several reasons, inclined to find
favourable anything or any place over the Scottish border. Though the family
was a large one, the prosperity of the business allowed them all sorts of
personal luxuries, amongst which was a wide latitude
in the way of dress. The frequency of the Markam girls' new frocks was a source
of envy to their bosom friends and of joy to themselves.
Markam had not taken his family into his confidence regarding his new costume.
He was not quite certain that he should be free from ridicule, or at least from
sarcasm, and as he was sensitive on the subject, he thought it better to be
actually in the suitable environment before he allowed the full splendour to
burst upon them. He had taken some pains, to insure the completeness of the Highland costume. For the purpose he had paid many visits
to 'The Scotch All-Wool Tartan Clothing Mart' which had been lately established
in Copthall-court by the Messrs. MacCallum More and
Roderick MacDhu. He had anxious consultations with the head of the
firm—MacCallum as he called himself, resenting any such additions as 'Mr.' or
'Esquire.' The known stock of buckles, buttons, straps, brooches and ornaments
of all kinds were examined in critical detail; and at last an eagle's feather
of sufficiently magnificent proportions was discovered, and the equipment was
complete. It was only when he saw the finished costume, with the vivid hues of
the tartan seemingly modified into comparative sobriety by the multitude of
silver fittings, the cairngorm brooches, the philibeg, dirk and sporran that he
was fully and absolutely satisfied with his choice. At first he had thought of
the Royal Stuart dress tartan, but abandoned it on the MacCallum pointing out
that if he should happen to be in the neighbourhood of Balmoral it might lead
to complications. The MacCallum, who, by the way, spoke with a remarkable
cockney accent, suggested other plaids in turn; but now that the other question
of accuracy had been raised, Mr. Markam foresaw difficulties if he should by
chance find himself in the locality of the clan whose colours he had usurped.
The MacCallum at last undertook to have, at Markam's expense, a special pattern
woven which would not be exactly the same as any existing tartan, though
partaking of the characteristics of many. It was based on the Royal Stuart, but
contained suggestions as to simplicity of pattern from the Macalister and
Ogilvie clans, and as to neutrality of colour from the clans of Buchanan,
Macbeth, Chief of Macintosh and Macleod. When the specimen had been shown to
Markam he had feared somewhat lest it should strike the eye of his domestic
circle as gaudy; but as Roderick MacDhu fell into perfect ecstasies over its
beauty he did not make any objection to the completion of the piece. He
thought, and wisely, that if a genuine Scotchman like MacDhu liked it, it must
be right—especially as the junior partner was a man very much of his own build
and appearance. When the MacCallum was receiving his cheque—which, by the way,
was a pretty stiff one—he remarked:
'I've taken the
liberty of having some more of the stuff woven in case you or any of your
friends should want it.' Markam was gratified, and told him that he should be
only too happy if the beautiful stuff which they had originated between them
should become a favourite, as he had no doubt it would in time. He might make
and sell as much as he would.
Markam tried the
dress on in his office one evening after the clerks had all gone home. He was
pleased, though a little frightened, at the result. The MacCallum had done his
work thoroughly, and there was nothing omitted that could add to the martial
dignity of the wearer.
'I shall not, of
course, take the claymore and the pistols with me on ordinary occasions,' said
Markam to himself as he began to undress. He determined that he would wear the
dress for the first time on landing in Scotland,
and accordingly on the morning when the Ban Righ was hanging off the Girdle
Ness lighthouse, waiting for the tide to enter the port of Aberdeen,
he emerged from his cabin in all the gaudy splendour of his new costume. The
first comment he heard was from one of his own sons, who did not recognise him
'Here's a guy!
Great Scott! It's the governor!' And the boy fled forthwith and tried to bury
his laughter under a cushion in the saloon. Markam was a good sailor and had
not suffered from the pitching of the boat, so that his naturally rubicund face
was even more rosy by the conscious blush which
suffused his cheeks when he had found himself at once the cynosure of all eyes.
He could have wished that he had not been so bold for he knew from the cold
that there was a big bare spot under one side of his jauntily worn Glengarry
cap. However, he faced the group of strangers boldly. He was not, outwardly,
upset even when some of the comments reached his ears.
'He's off his
bloomin' chump,' said a cockney in a suit of exaggerated plaid.
'There's flies on him,' said a tall thin Yankee, pale with sea-sickness, who was on his
way to take up his residence for a time as close as he could get to the gates
Let us fill our mulls; now's the chance!' said a young Oxford
man on his way home to Inverness. But
presently Mr. Markam heard the voice of his eldest daughter.
'Where is he?
Where is he?' and she came tearing along the deck with her hat blowing behind
her. Her face showed signs of agitation, for her mother had just been telling
her of her father's condition; but when she saw him she instantly burst into
laughter so violent that it ended in a fit of hysterics. Something of the same
kind happened to each of the other children. When they had all had their turn
Mr. Markam went to his cabin and sent his wife's maid to tell each member of
the family that he wanted to see them at once. They all made their appearance,
suppressing their feelings as well as they could. He said to them very quietly:
'My dears, don't
I provide you all with ample allowances?'
they all answered gravely, 'no one could be more generous!'
'Don't I let you
dress as you please?'
'Yes, father!'—this a little sheepishly.
'Then, my dears,
don't you think it would be nicer and kinder of you not to try and make me feel
uncomfortable, even if I do assume a dress which is ridiculous in your eyes,
though quite common enough in the country where we are about to sojourn?' There
was no answer except that which appeared in their hanging heads. He was a good
father and they all knew it. He was quite satisfied and went on:
'There, now, run
away and enjoy yourselves! We shan't have another word about it.' Then he went
on deck again and stood bravely the fire of ridicule which he recognised around
him, though nothing more was said within his hearing.
and the amusement which his get-up occasioned on the Ban Righ was, however,
nothing to that which it created in Aberdeen.
The boys and loafers, and women with babies, who waited at the landing shed,
followed en masse as the Markam party took their way to the railway station;
even the porters with their old-fashioned knots and their new-fashioned
barrows, who await the traveller at the foot of the gang-plank, followed in
wondering delight. Fortunately the Peterhead train was just about to start, so
that the martyrdom was not unnecessarily prolonged. In the carriage the
glorious Highland costume was unseen, and as
there were but few persons at the station at Yellon, all went well there. When,
however, the carriage drew near the Mains of Crooken and the fisher folk had
run to their doors to see who it was that was passing,
the excitement exceeded all bounds. The children with one impulse waved their
bonnets and ran shouting behind the carriage; the men forsook their nets and
their baiting and followed; the women clutched their babies, and followed also.
The horses were tired after their long journey to Yellon and back, and the hill
was steep, so that there was ample time for the crowd to gather and even to
pass on ahead.
Mrs. Markam and
the elder girls would have liked to make some protest or to do something to
relieve their feelings of chagrin at the ridicule which they saw on all faces,
but there was a look of fixed determination on the face of the seeming
Highlander which awed them a little, and they were silent. It might have been
that the eagle's feather, even when arising above the bald head, the cairngorm
brooch even on the fat shoulder, and the claymore, dirk and pistols, even when
belted round the extensive paunch and protruding from the stocking on the sturdy
calf, fulfilled their existence as symbols of martial and terrifying import!
When the party arrived at the gate of the Red House there awaited them a crowd
of Crooken inhabitants, hatless and respectfully silent; the remainder of the
population was painfully toiling up the hill. The silence was broken by only
one sound, that of a man with a deep voice.
'Man! but he's forgotten the pipes!'
The servants had
arrived some days before, and all things were in readiness. In the glow
consequent on a good lunch after a hard journey all the disagreeables of travel
and all the chagrin consequent on the adoption of the obnoxious costume were
Markam, still clad in full array, walked through the Mains of Crooken. He was
all alone, for, strange to say, his wife and both daughters had sick headaches,
and were, as he was told, lying down to rest after the fatigue of the journey.
His eldest son, who claimed to be a young man, had gone out by himself to
explore the surroundings of the place, and one of the boys could not be found.
The other boy, on being told that his father had sent for him to come for a
walk, had managed—by accident, of course—to fall into the water butt, and had
to be dried and rigged out afresh. His clothes not having been as yet unpacked
this was of course impossible without delay.
Mr. Markam was
not quite satisfied with his walk. He could not meet any of his neighbours. It
was not that there were not enough people about, for every house and cottage
seemed to be full; but the people when in the open were either in their
doorways some distance behind him, or on the roadway a long distance in front.
As he passed he could see the tops of heads and the whites of eyes in the
windows or round the corners of doors. The only interview which he had was
anything but a pleasant one. This was with an odd sort of old man who was
hardly ever heard to speak except to join in the 'Amens' in the meeting-house.
His sole occupation seemed to be to wait at the window of the post-office from
eight o'clock in the morning till the arrival of the mail at one, when he
carried the letter-bag to a neighbouring baronial castle. The remainder of his
day was spent on a seat in a draughty part of the port, where the offal of the
fish, the refuse of the bait, and the house rubbish was thrown, and where the
ducks were accustomed to hold high revel.
When Saft Tammie
beheld him coming he raised his eyes, which were generally fixed on the nothing
which lay on the roadway opposite his seat, and, seeming dazzled as if by a
burst of sunshine, rubbed them and shaded them with his hand. Then he started
up and raised his hand aloft in a denunciatory manner as he spoke:—
vanities, saith the preacher. All is vanity." Mon, be warned in time!
"Behold the lilies of the field, they toil not, neither do they spin, yet
Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Mon! Mon! Thy
vanity is as the quicksand which swallows up all which comes within its spell.
Beware vanity! Beware the quicksand, which yawneth for thee, and which will
swallow thee up! See thyself! Learn thine own vanity! Meet thyself face to
face, and then in that moment thou shalt learn the fatal force of thy vanity.
Learn it, know it, and repent ere the quicksand swallow
thee!' Then without another word he went back to his seat and sat there
immovable and expressionless as before.
Markam could not
but feel a little upset by this tirade. Only that it was spoken by a seeming
madman, he would have put it down to some eccentric exhibition of Scottish
humour or impudence; but the gravity of the message—for it seemed nothing
else—made such a reading impossible. He was, however, determined not to give in
to ridicule, and although he had not yet seen anything in Scotland to remind him even of a kilt, he
determined to wear his Highland dress. When he
returned home, in less than half-an-hour, he found that every member of the
family was, despite the headaches, out taking a walk. He took the opportunity
afforded by their absence of locking himself in his dressing-room, took off the
Highland dress, and,
putting on a suit of flannels, lit a cigar and had a snooze. He was awakened by
the noise of the family coming in, and at once donning his dress made his
appearance in the drawing-room for tea.
He did not go
out again that afternoon; but after dinner he put on his dress again—he had, of
course dressed for dinner as usual—and went by himself for a walk on the
sea-shore. He had by this time come to the conclusion that he would get by
degrees accustomed to the Highland dress
before making it his ordinary wear. The moon was up and he easily followed the
path through the sand-hills, and shortly struck the shore. The tide was out and
the beach firm as a rock, so he strolled southwards to nearly the end of the
bay. Here he was attracted by two isolated rocks some little way out from the
edge of the dunes, so he strolled towards them. When he reached the nearest one
he climbed it, and, sitting there elevated some fifteen or twenty feet over the
waste of sand, enjoyed the lovely, peaceful prospect. The moon was rising
behind the headland of Pennyfold, and its light was just touching the top of
the furthermost rock of the Spurs some three-quarters of a mile out; the rest
of the rocks were in dark shadow. As the moon rose over the headland, the rocks
of the Spurs and then the beach by degrees became flooded with light.
For a good while
Mr. Markam sat and looked at the rising moon and the growing area of light
which followed its rise. Then he turned and faced eastwards and sat with his
chin in his hand looking seawards, and revelling in the peace and beauty and
freedom of the scene. The roar of London—the
darkness and the strife and weariness of London
life—seemed to have passed quite away, and he lived at the moment a freer and
higher life. He looked at the glistening water as it stole its way over the
flat waste of sand, coming closer and closer insensibly—the tide had turned.
Presently he heard a distant shouting along the beach very far off.
calling to each other,' he said to himself and looked around. As he did so he
got a horrible shock, for though just then a cloud sailed across the moon he
saw, in spite of the sudden darkness around him, his own image. For an instant,
on the top of the opposite rock he could see the bald back of the head and the
Glengarry cap with the immense eagle's feather. As he staggered back his foot
slipped, and he began to slide down towards the sand between the two rocks. He
took no concern as to failing, for the sand was really only a few feet below
him, and his mind was occupied with the figure or simulacrum of himself, which
had already disappeared. As the easiest way of reaching terra firma he prepared
to jump the remainder of the distance. All this had taken but a second, but the
brain works quickly, and even as he gathered himself for the spring he saw the
sand below him lying so marbly level shake and shiver in an odd way. A sudden
fear overcame him; his knees failed, and instead of jumping he slid miserably
down the rock, scratching his bare legs as he went. His feet touched the
sand—went through it like water—and he was down below his knees before he
realised that he was in a quicksand. Wildly he grasped at the rock to keep
himself from sinking further, and fortunately there was a jutting spur or edge
which he was able to grasp instinctively. To this he clung in grim desperation.
He tried to shout, but his breath would not come, till after a great effort his
voice rang out. Again he shouted, and it seemed as if the sound of his own
voice gave him new courage, for he was able to hold on to the rock for a longer
time than he thought possible—though he held on only in blind desperation. He
was, however, beginning to find his grasp weakening, when, joy of joys! his shout was answered by a rough voice from just above him.
'God be thankit,
I'm nae too late!' and a fisherman with great thigh-boots came hurriedly
climbing over the rock. In an instant he recognised the gravity of the danger,
and with a cheering 'Haud fast, mon! I'm comin'!' scrambled down till he found
a firm foothold. Then with one strong hand holding the rock above, he leaned
down, and catching Markam's wrist, called out to him, 'Haud to me, mon! Haud to me wi' ither hond!'
Then he lent his
great strength, and with a steady, sturdy pull, dragged him out of the hungry
quicksand and placed him safe upon the rock. Hardly giving him time to draw
breath, he pulled and pushed him—never letting him go for an instant—over the
rock into the firm sand beyond it, and finally deposited him, still shaking
from the magnitude of his danger, high upon the beach. Then he began to speak:
'Mon! but I was just in time. If I had no laucht at
yon foolish lads and begun to rin at the first you'd a bin sinkin' doon to the bowels o' the airth be the noo! Wully Beagrie
thocht you was a ghaist, and Tom MacPhail swore ye was
only like a goblin on a puddick-steel! "Na!" said I.
"Yon's but the daft Englishman—the loony that had escapit frae the
waxwarks." I was thinkin' that bein' strange and silly—if not a whole-made
feel—ye'd no ken the ways o' the quicksan'! I shouted till warn ye, and then
ran to drag ye aff, if need be. But God be thankit, be ye fule or only
half-daft wi' yer vanity, that I was no that late!'
and he reverently lifted his cap as he spoke.
Mr. Markam was
deeply touched and thankful for his escape from a horrible death; but the sting
of the charge of vanity thus made once more against him came through his
humility. He was about to reply angrily, when suddenly a great awe fell upon
him as he remembered the warning words of the half-crazy letter-carrier: 'Meet
thyself face to face, and repent ere the quicksand shall swallow thee!'
Here, too, he
remembered the image of himself that he had seen and the sudden danger from the
deadly quicksand that had followed. He was silent a full minute, and then said:
'My good fellow,
I owe you my life!'
The answer came
with reverence from the hardy fisherman, 'Na! Na! Ye owe that to God; but, as
for me, I'm only too glad till be the humble instrument o' His mercy.'
'But you will
let me thank you,' said Mr. Markam, taking both the great hands of his
deliverer in his and holding them tight. 'My heart is too full as yet, and my
nerves are too much shaken to let me say much; but, believe me, I am very, very
grateful!' It was quite evident that the poor old fellow was deeply touched,
for the tears were running down his cheeks.
said, with a rough but true courtesy:
'Ay, sir! thank me and ye will—if it'll do yer poor heart good. An'
I'm thinking that if it were me I'd be thankful too. But, sir, as for me I need
no thanks. I am glad, so I am!'
Fernlee Markam was really thankful and grateful was shown practically later on.
Within a week's time there sailed into Port Crooken the finest fishing smack
that had ever been seen in the harbour
of Peterhead. She was
fully found with sails and gear of all kinds, and with nets of the best. Her
master and men went away by the coach, after having left with the
salmon-fisher's wife the papers which made her over to him.
As Mr. Markam
and the salmon-fisher walked together along the shore the former asked his
companion not to mention the fact that he had been in such imminent danger, for
that it would only distress his dear wife and children. He said that he would
warn them all of the quicksand, and for that purpose he, then and there, asked
questions about it till he felt that his information on the subject was
complete. Before they parted he asked his companion if he had happened to see a
second figure, dressed like himself on the other rock
as he had approached to succour him.
'Na! Na!' came the answer, 'there is nae sic another
fule in these parts. Nor has there been since the time o' Jamie Fleeman—him
that was fule to the Laird o' Udny. Why, mon! sic a heathenish dress as ye have on till ye has nae been
seen in these pairts within the memory o' mon. An' I'm thinkin' that sic a
dress never was for sittin' on the cauld rock, as ye done beyont. Mon! but do ye no fear the rheumatism or the lumbagy wi' floppin'
doon on to the cauld stanes wi' yer bare flesh? I was thinking that it was daft
ye waur when I see ye the mornin' doon be the port,
but it's fule or eediot ye maun be for the like o' thot!' Mr. Markam did not
care to argue the point, and as they were now close to his own home he asked
the salmon-fisher to have a glass of whisky—which he did—and they parted for
the night. He took good care to warn all his family of the quicksand, telling
them that he had himself been in some danger from it.
All that night he
never slept. He heard the hours strike one after the other; but try how he
would he could not get to sleep. Over and over again he went through the
horrible episode of the quicksand, from the time that
Saft Tammie had broken his habitual silence to preach to him of the sin of
vanity and to warn him. The question kept ever arising in his mind: 'Am I then
so vain as to be in the ranks of the foolish?' and the answer ever came in the
words of the crazy prophet: '"Vanity of vanities! All is vanity."
Meet thyself face to face, and repent ere the quicksand shall swallow thee!'
Somehow a feeling of doom began to shape itself in his mind that he would yet
perish in that same quicksand, for there he had already met himself face to
In the grey of
the morning he dozed off, but it was evident that he continued the subject in
his dreams, for he was fully awakened by his wife, who said:
quietly! That blessed Highland suit has got on
your brain. Don't talk in your sleep, if you can help it!' He was somehow
conscious of a glad feeling, as if some terrible weight had been lifted from
him, but he did not know any cause of it. He asked his wife what he had said in
his sleep, and she answered:
'You said it
often enough, goodness knows, for one to remember it—"Not face to face! I
saw the eagle plume over the bald head! There is hope yet! Not face to
face!" Go to sleep! Do!' And then he did go to sleep, for he seemed to
realise that the prophecy of the crazy man had not yet been fulfilled. He had
not met himself face to face—as yet at all events.
He was awakened
early by a maid who came to tell him that there was a fisherman at the door who
wanted to see him. He dressed himself as quickly as he could—for he was not yet
expert with the Highland dress—and hurried
down, not wishing to keep the salmon-fisher waiting. He was surprised and not
altogether pleased to find that his visitor was none other than Saft Tammie,
who at once opened fire on him:
'I maun gang awa' t' the post; but I thocht that I would waste an hour on
ye, and ca' roond just to see if ye waur still that fou wi' vanity as on the
nicht gane by. An I see that ye've no learned the
lesson. Well! the time is comin', sure eneucht!
However I have all the time i' the marnins to my ain sel', so I'll aye look
roond jist till see how ye gang yer ain gait to the quicksan', and then to the
de'il! I'm aff till ma wark the noo!' And he went straightway, leaving Mr.
Markam considerably vexed, for the maids within earshot were vainly trying to
conceal their giggles. He had fairly made up his mind to wear on that day
ordinary clothes, but the visit of Saft Tammie reversed his decision. He would
show them all that he was not a coward, and he would go on as he had begun—come what might. When he came to breakfast in full martial
panoply the children, one and all, held down their heads and the backs of their
necks became very red indeed. As, however, none of them laughed—except Titus,
the youngest boy, who was seized with a fit of hysterical choking and was
promptly banished from the room—he could not reprove them, but began to break
his egg with a sternly determined air. It was unfortunate that as his wife was
handing him a cup of tea one of the buttons of his sleeve caught in the lace of
her morning wrapper, with the result that the hot tea was spilt over his bare
knees. Not unnaturally, he made use of a swear word, whereupon his wife,
somewhat nettled, spoke out:
if you will make such an idiot of yourself with that ridiculous costume what
else can you expect? You are not accustomed to it—and
you never will be!' In answer he began an indignant speech with: 'Madam!' but
he got no further, for now that the subject was broached, Mrs. Markam intended
to have her say out. It was not a pleasant say, and, truth to tell, it was not
said in a pleasant manner. A wife's manner seldom is pleasant when she
undertakes to tell what she considers 'truths' to her husband. The result was
that Arthur Fernlee Markam undertook, then and there, that during his stay in Scotland he
would wear no other costume than the one she abused. Woman-like his wife had
the last word—given in this case with tears:
Arthur! Of course you will do as you choose. Make me as ridiculous as you can,
and spoil the poor girls' chances in life. Young men don't seem to care, as a
general rule, for an idiot father-in-law! But I must warn you that your vanity
will some day get a rude shock—if indeed you are not before then in an asylum
It was manifest
after a few days that Mr. Markam would have to take the major part of his
outdoor exercise by himself. The girls now and again took a walk with him,
chiefly in the early morning or late at night, or on a wet day when there would
be no one about; they professed to be willing to go out at all times, but
somehow something always seemed to occur to prevent it. The boys could never be
found at all on such occasions, and as to Mrs. Markam she sternly refused to go
out with him on any consideration so long as he should continue to make a fool
of himself. On the Sunday he dressed himself in his habitual broadcloth, for he
rightly felt that church was not a place for angry feelings; but on Monday
morning he resumed his Highland garb. By this
time he would have given a good deal if he had never thought of the dress, but
his British obstinacy was strong, and he would not give in. Saft Tammie called
at his house every morning, and, not being able to see him nor to have any
message taken to him, used to call back in the afternoon when the letter-bag
had been delivered and watched for his going out. On such occasions he never
failed to warn him against his vanity in the same words which he had used at
the first. Before many days were over Mr. Markam had come to look upon him as
little short of a scourge.
By the time the
week was out the enforced partial solitude, the constant chagrin, and the
never-ending brooding which was thus engendered, began to make Mr. Markam quite
ill. He was too proud to take any of his family into his confidence since they
had in his view treated him very badly. Then he did not sleep well at night,
and when he did sleep he had constantly bad dreams. Merely to assure himself
that his pluck was not failing him he made it a practice to visit the quicksand
at least once every day, he hardly ever failed to go there the last thing at
night. It was perhaps this habit that wrought the quicksand with its terrible
experience so perpetually into his dreams. More and more vivid these became,
till on waking at times he could hardly realise that he had not been actually
in the flesh to visit the fatal spot. He sometimes thought that he might have
been walking in his sleep.
One night his
dream was so vivid that when he awoke he could not believe that it had only
been a dream. He shut his eyes again and again, but each time the vision, if it
was a vision, or the reality, if it was a reality, would rise before him. The
moon was shining full and yellow over the quicksand as he approached it; he
could see the expanse of light shaken and disturbed and full of black shadows
as the liquid sand quivered and trembled and wrinkled and eddied as was its
wont between its pauses of marble calm. As he drew close to it another figure
came towards it from the opposite side with equal footsteps. He saw that it was
his own figure, his very self, and in silent terror, compelled by what force he
knew not, he advanced—charmed as the bird is by the snake, mesmerised or
hypnotised—to meet this other self. As he felt the yielding sand closing over
him he awoke in the agony of death, trembling with fear, and, strange to say,
with the silly man's prophecy seeming to sound in his ears: '"Vanity of
vanities! All is vanity!" See thyself and repent ere the quicksand swallow thee!'
So convinced was
he that this was no dream that he arose, early as it was, and dressing himself
without disturbing his wife took his way to the shore. His heart fell when he
came across a series of footsteps on the sands, which he at once recognised as
his own. There was the same wide heel, the same square toe; he had no doubt now
that he had actually been there, and half horrified, and half in a state of
dreamy stupor, he followed the footsteps, and found them lost in the edge of
the yielding quicksand. This gave him a terrible shock, for there were no
return steps marked on the sand, and he felt that there was some dread mystery
which he could not penetrate, and the penetration of which would, he feared,
In this state of
affairs he took two wrong courses. Firstly he kept his trouble to himself, and,
as none of his family had any clue to it, every innocent word or expression
which they used supplied fuel to the consuming fire of his imagination.
Secondly he began to read books professing to bear upon the mysteries of
dreaming and of mental phenomena generally, with the result that every wild
imagination of every crank or half-crazy philosopher became a living germ of
unrest in the fertilising soil of his disordered brain. Thus negatively and
positively all things began to work to a common end. Not the least of his
disturbing causes was Saft Tammie, who had now become at certain times of the
day a fixture at his gate. After a while, being interested in the previous
state of this individual, he made inquiries regarding his past with the
Saft Tammie was
popularly believed to be the son of a laird in one of the counties round the
Firth of Forth. He had been partially educated for the ministry, but for some
cause which no one ever knew threw up his prospects suddenly, and, going to
Peterhead in its days of whaling prosperity, had there taken service on a
whaler. Here off and on he had remained for some years, getting gradually more
and more silent in his habits, till finally his shipmates protested against so
taciturn a mate, and he had found service amongst the
fishing smacks of the northern fleet. He had worked for many years at the
fishing with always the reputation of being 'a wee bit daft,' till at length he
had gradually settled down at Crooken, where the laird, doubtless knowing
something of his family history, had given him a job which practically made him
a pensioner. The minister who gave the information finished thus:—
'It is a very
strange thing, but the man seems to have some odd kind of gift. Whether it be
that "second sight" which we Scotch people are so prone to believe
in, or some other occult form of knowledge, I know not, but nothing of a
disastrous tendency ever occurs in this place but the men with whom he lives
are able to quote after the event some saying of his which certainly appears to
have foretold it. He gets uneasy or excited—wakes up, in fact—when death is in
This did not in
any way tend to lessen Mr. Markam's concern, but on the contrary seemed to
impress the prophecy more deeply on his mind. Of all the books which he had
read on his new subject of study none interested him so much as a German one
Die Döppleganger, by Dr. Heinrich von Aschenberg, formerly of Bonn. Here he
learned for the first time of cases where men had led a double existence—each
nature being quite apart from the other—the body being always a reality with
one spirit, and a simulacrum with the other. Needless to say that Mr. Markam
realised this theory as exactly suiting his own case. The glimpse which he had
of his own back the night of his escape from the quicksand—his own footmarks
disappearing into the quicksand with no return steps visible—the prophecy of
Saft Tammie about his meeting himself and perishing in the quicksand—all lent
aid to the conviction that he was in his own person an instance of the
döppleganger. Being then conscious of a double life he took steps to prove its
existence to his own satisfaction. To this end on one night before going to bed
he wrote his name in chalk on the soles of his shoes. That night he dreamed of
the quicksand, and of his visiting it—dreamed so vividly that on walking in the
grey of the dawn he could not believe that he had not been there. Arising,
without disturbing his wife, he sought his shoes.
signatures were undisturbed! He dressed himself and stole out softly. This time
the tide was in, so he crossed the dunes and struck the shore on the further
side of the quicksand. There, oh, horror of horrors! he
saw his own footprints dying into the abyss!
He went home a
desperately sad man. It seemed incredible that he, an elderly commercial man,
who had passed a long and uneventful life in the pursuit of business in the
midst of roaring, practical London,
should thus find himself enmeshed in mystery and horror, and that he should
discover that he had two existences. He could not speak of his trouble even to
his own wife, for well he knew that she would at once require the fullest
particulars of that other life—the one which she did not know; and that she
would at the start not only imagine but charge him with all manner of
infidelities on the head of it. And so his brooding grew deeper and deeper
still. One evening—the tide then going out and the moon being at the full—he
was sitting waiting for dinner when the maid announced that Saft Tammie was
making a disturbance outside because he would not be let in to see him. He was
very indignant, but did not like the maid to think that he had any fear on the
subject, and so told her to bring him in. Tammie entered, walking more briskly
than ever with his head up and a look of vigorous decision in the eyes that
were so generally cast down. As soon as he entered he said:
'I have come to
see ye once again—once again; and there ye sit, still
just like a cockatoo on a pairch. Weel, mon, I forgie
ye! Mind ye that, I forgie ye!' And without a word more he turned and walked
out of the house, leaving the master in speechless indignation.
After dinner he
determined to pay another visit to the quicksand—he would not allow even to
himself that he was afraid to go. And so, about nine o'clock, in full array, he
marched to the beach, and passing over the sands sat on the skirt of the nearer
rock. The full moon was behind him and its light lit up the bay so that its
fringe of foam, the dark outline of the headland, and the stakes of the
salmon-nets were all emphasised. In the brilliant yellow glow the lights in the
windows of Port Crooken and in those of the distant castle of the laird
trembled like stars through the sky. For a long time he sat
and drank in the beauty of the scene, and his soul seemed to feel a peace that
it had not known for many days. All the pettiness and annoyance and
silly fears of the past weeks seemed blotted out, and a new holy calm took the
vacant place. In this sweet and solemn mood he reviewed his late action calmly,
and felt ashamed of himself for his vanity and for the obstinacy which had
followed it. And then and there he made up his mind that the present would be
the last time he would wear the costume which had estranged him from those whom
he loved, and which had caused him so many hours and days of chagrin, vexation,
But almost as
soon as he arrived at this conclusion another voice seemed to speak within him
and mockingly to ask him if he should ever get the chance to wear the suit
again—that it was too late—he had chosen his course and must now abide the
'It is not too
late,' came the quick answer of his better self; and full of the thought, he
rose up to go home and divest himself of the now hateful costume right away. He
paused for one look at the beautiful scene. The light lay pale and mellow,
softening every outline of rock and tree and house-top, and deepening the
shadows into velvety-black, and lighting, as with a pale flame, the incoming
tide, that now crept fringe-like across the flat waste of sand. Then he left
the rock and stepped out for the shore.
But as he did so
a frightful spasm of horror shook him, and for an instant the blood rushing to
his head shut out all the light of the full moon. Once more he saw that fatal
image of himself moving beyond the quicksand from the opposite rock to the
shore. The shock was all the greater for the contrast with the spell of peace
which he had just enjoyed; and, almost paralysed in every sense, he stood and
watched the fatal vision and the wrinkly, crawling quicksand that seemed to
writhe and yearn for something that lay between. There could be no mistake this
time, for though the moon behind threw the face into shadow he could see there
the same shaven cheeks as his own, and the small stubby moustache of a few
weeks' growth. The light shone on the brilliant tartan, and on the eagle's
plume. Even the bald space at one side of the Glengarry cap glistened, as did
the cairngorm brooch on the shoulder and the tops of the silver buttons. As he
looked he felt his feet slightly sinking, for he was still near the edge of the
belt of quicksand, and he stepped back. As he did so the other figure stepped
forward, so that the space between them was preserved.
So the two stood
facing each other, as though in some weird fascination; and in the rushing of
the blood through his brain Markam seemed to hear the words of the prophecy:
'See thyself face to face, and repent ere the quicksand
swallow thee.' He did stand face to face with himself, he had
repented—and now he was sinking in the quicksand! The warning and prophecy were
Above him the
seagulls screamed, circling round the fringe of the incoming tide, and the
sound being entirely mortal recalled him to himself. On the instant he stepped
back a few quick steps, for as yet only his feet were merged in the soft sand.
As he did so the other figure stepped forward, and coming within the deadly
grip of the quicksand began to sink. It seemed to Markam that he was looking at
himself going down to his doom, and on the instant the anguish of his soul
found vent in a terrible cry. There was at the same instant a terrible cry from
the other figure, and as Markam threw up his hands the figure did the same.
With horror-struck eyes he saw him sink deeper into the quicksand; and then,
impelled by what power he knew not, he advanced again towards the sand to meet
his fate. But as his more forward foot began to sink he heard again the cries
of the seagulls which seemed to restore his benumbed faculties. With a mighty
effort he drew his foot out of the sand which seemed to clutch it, leaving his
shoe behind, and then in sheer terror he turned and ran from the place, never
stopping till his breath and strength failed him, and he sank half swooning on
the grassy path through the sandhills.
made up his mind not to tell his family of his terrible adventure—until at
least such time as he should be complete master of himself. Now that the fatal
double—his other self—had been engulfed in the quicksand he felt something like
his old peace of mind.
That night he
slept soundly and did not dream at all; and in the morning was quite his old
self. It really seemed as though his newer and worser self had disappeared for
ever; and strangely enough Saft Tammie was absent from his post that morning
and never appeared there again, but sat in his old place watching nothing, as
of old, with lack-lustre eye. In accordance with his resolution he did not wear
his Highland suit again, but one evening tied
it up in a bundle, claymore, dirk and philibeg and all, and bringing it
secretly with him threw it into the quicksand. With a feeling of intense
pleasure he saw it sucked below the sand, which closed above it into marble
smoothness. Then he went home and announced cheerily to his family assembled
for evening prayers:
'Well! my dears, you will be glad to hear that I have abandoned my
idea of wearing the Highland dress. I see now
what a vain old fool I was and how ridiculous I made myself! You shall never
see it again!'
'Where is it,
father?' asked one of the girls, wishing to say something so that such a
self-sacrificing announcement as her father's should not be passed in absolute
silence. His answer was so sweetly given that the girl rose from her seat and
came and kissed him. It was:
'In the quicksand, my dear! and I hope that my worser
self is buried there along with it—for ever.'
The remainder of
the summer was passed at Crooken with delight by all the family, and on his
return to town Mr. Markam had almost forgotten the whole of the incident of the
quicksand, and all touching on it, when one day he got a letter from the
MacCallum More which caused him much thought, though he said nothing of it to
his family, and left it, for certain reasons, unanswered. It ran as follows:—
'The MacCallum More and Roderick MacDhu. 'The Scotch All-Wool Tartan Clothing Mart. Copthall Court,
E.C., 30th September, 1892.
trust you will pardon the liberty which I take in writing to you, but I am
desirous of making an inquiry, and I am informed that you have been sojourning
during the summer in Aberdeenshire (Scotland, N.B.). My partner, Mr. Roderick
MacDhu—as he appears for business reasons on our bill-heads and in our
advertisements, his real name being Emmanuel Moses Marks of London—went early
last month to Scotland (N.B.) for a tour, but as I have only once heard from
him, shortly after his departure, I am anxious lest any misfortune may have
befallen him. As I have been unable to obtain any news of him on making all
inquiries in my power, I venture to appeal to you. His letter was written in
deep dejection of spirit, and mentioned that he feared a judgment had come upon
him for wishing to appear as a Scotchman on Scottish soil, as he had one
moonlight night shortly after his arrival seen his 'wraith'. He evidently
alluded to the fact that before his departure he had procured for himself a
Highland costume similar to that which we had the honour to supply to you, with
which, as perhaps you will remember, he was much struck. He may, however, never
have worn it, as he was, to my own knowledge, diffident about putting it on,
and even went so far as to tell me that he would at first only venture to wear
it late at night or very early in the morning, and then only in remote places,
until such time as he should get accustomed to it. Unfortunately he did not
advise me of his route so that I am in complete ignorance of his whereabouts;
and I venture to ask if you may have seen or heard of a Highland costume
similar to your own having been seen anywhere in the neighbourhood in which I
am told you have recently purchased the estate which you temporarily occupied.
I shall not expect an answer to this letter unless you can give me some
information regarding my friend and partner, so pray do not trouble to reply
unless there be cause. I am encouraged to think that
he may have been in your neighbourhood as, though his letter is not dated, the
envelope is marked with the postmark of "Yellon" which I find is in
Aberdeenshire, and not far from the Mains of Crooken.
'I have the
honour to be, dear sir,
'(The MacCallum More.)'