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_AND OTHER TALES_
DAVID POINDEXTER'S DISAPPEARANCE
"WHEN HALF-GODS GO, THE GODS ARRIVE"
"SET NOT THY FOOT ON GRAVES"
MY FRIEND PATON
DAVID POINDEXTER'S DISAPPEARANCE.
Among the records of the English state trials are to be found many
strange stories, which would, as the phrase is, make the fortune of a
modern novelist. But there are also numerous cases, not less
stimulating to imagination and curiosity, which never attained more
than local notoriety, of which the law was able to take but
comparatively small cognizance, although they became subjects of much
unofficial discussion and mystification. Among these cases none,
perhaps, is better worth recalling than that of David Poindexter. It
will be my aim here to tell the tale as simply and briefly as possible
--to repeat it, indeed, very much as it came to my ears while living,
several years ago, near the scene in which its events took place. There
is a temptation to amplify it, and to give it a more recent date and a
different setting; but (other considerations aside) the story might
lose in force and weight more than it would thereby gain in artistic
balance and smoothness.
David Poindexter was a younger son of an old and respected family in
Sussex, England. He was born in London in 1785. He was educated at
Oxford, with a view to his entering the clerical profession, and in the
year 1810 he obtained a living in the little town of Witton, near
Twickenham, known historically as the home of Sir John Suckling. The
Poindexters had been much impoverished by the excesses of David's
father and grandfather, and David seems to have had few or no resources
beyond the very modest stipend appertaining to his position. He was, at
all events, poor, though possessed of capacities which bade fair to
open to him some of the higher prizes of his calling; but, on the other
hand, there is evidence that he chafed at his poverty, and reason to
believe that he had inherited no small share of the ill-regulated
temperament which had proved so detrimental to the elder generations of
Personally he was a man of striking aspect, having long, dark hair,
heavily-marked eyebrows, and blue eyes; his mouth and chin were
graceful in contour, but wanting in resolution; his figure was tall,
well knit, and slender. He was an eloquent preacher, and capable, when
warmed by his subject, of powerfully affecting the emotions of his
congregation. He was a great favorite with women--whom, however, he
uniformly treated with coldness--and by no means unpopular with men,
toward some of whom he manifested much less reserve. Nevertheless,
before the close of the second year of his incumbency he was known to
be paying his addresses to a young lady of the neighborhood, Miss Edith
Saltine, the only child of an ex-army officer. The colonel was a
widower, and in poor health, and since he was living mainly on his
half-pay, and had very little to give his daughter, the affair was
looked upon as a love match, the rather since Edith was a handsome
young woman of charming character. The Reverend David Poindexter
certainly had every appearance of being deeply in love; and it is often
seen that the passions of reserved men, when once aroused, are stronger
than those of persons more generally demonstrative.
Colonel Saltine did not at first receive his proposed son-in-law with
favor. He was a valetudinarian, and accustomed to regard his daughter
as his nurse by right, and he resented the idea of her leaving him
forlorn for the sake of a good-looking parson. It is very likely that
his objections might have had the effect of breaking off the match, for
his daughter was devotedly attached to him, and hardly questioned his
right to dispose of her as he saw fit; but after a while the worthy
gentleman seems to have thought better of his contrariness. Poindexter
had strong persuasive powers, and no doubt made himself personally
agreeable to the colonel, and, moreover, it was arranged that the
latter should occupy the same house with Mr. and Mrs. Poindexter after
they were married. Nevertheless, the colonel was not a man to move
rapidly, and the engagement had worn along for nearly a year without
the wedding-day having been fixed. One winter evening in the early part
of December, Poindexter dined with the colonel and Edith, and as the
gentlemen were sitting over their wine the lover spoke on the topic
that was uppermost in his thoughts, and asked his host whether there
was any good reason why the marriage should not be consummated at once.
"Christmas is at hand," the young man remarked; "why should it not be
rendered doubly memorable by granting this great boon?"
"For a parson, David, you are a deuced impatient man," the colonel
"Parsons are human," the other exclaimed with warmth.
"Humph! I suppose some of them are. In fact, David, if I didn't believe
that there was something more in you than texts and litanies and the
Athanasian creed, I'll be hanged if I'd ever have let you look twice at
Edith. That girl has got blood in her veins, David; she's not to be
thrown away on any lantern-jawed, white-livered doctor of souls, I can
David held his head down, and seemed not to intend a reply; but he
suddenly raised his eyes, and fixed them upon the colonel's. "You know
what my father was," he said, in a low, distinct voice; "I am my
"That idea has occurred to me more than once, David, and to say the
truth, I've liked you none the less for it. But, then, what the deuce
should a fellow like you want to do in a pulpit? I respect the cloth as
much as any man, I hope, but leaving theory aside, and coming down to
practice, aren't there fools and knaves enough in the world to carry on
that business, without a fellow of heart and spirit like you going into
"Theory or no theory, there have been as great men in the pulpit as in
any other position," said David, gloomily.
"I don't say to the contrary: ecclesiastical history, and all that: but
what I do say is, if a man is great in the pulpit, it's a pity he isn't
somewhere else, where he could use his greatness to more advantage."
"Well," remarked David, in the same somber tone, "I am not contented:
so much I can admit to the father of the woman I love. But you know as
well as I do that men nowadays are called to my profession not so much
by the Divine summons as by the accident of birth. Were it not for the
law of primogeniture, Colonel Saltine, the Church of England would be,
for the most part, a congregation without a clergyman."
"Gad! I'm much of your opinion," returned the colonel, with a grin;
"but there are two doors, you know, for a second son to enter the world
by. If he doesn't fancy a cassock, he can put on His Majesty's
"Neither the discipline nor the activity of a soldier's life would suit
me," David answered. "So far as I know my own nature, what it craves is
freedom, and the enjoyment of its capacities. Only under such
conditions could I show what I am capable of. In other words," he
added, with a short laugh, "ten thousand a year is the profession I
"Ah," murmured the colonel, heaving a sigh, "I doubt that's a
profession we'd all of us like to practice as well as preach. What! no
more wine? Oh, ay, Edith, of course! Well, go to her, sir, if you must;
but when you come to my age you'll have found out which wears the best
--woman or the bottle. I'll join you presently, and maybe we'll see
what can be done about this marrying business."
So David went to Edith, and they had a clear hour together before they
heard the colonel's slippered tread hobbling through the hall. Just
before he opened the door, David had said: "I sometimes doubt whether
you wholly love me, after all." And she had answered:
"If I do not, it is because I sometimes feel as if you were not your
The colonel heard nothing of this odd bit of dialogue; but when he had
subsided, with his usual grunt, into his arm-chair beside the fire-
place, and Edith had brought him his foot-stool and his pipe, and pat
the velvet skull cap on his bald pate, he drew a long whiff of tobacco
smoke, and said:
"If you young folks want to set up housekeeping a month from to-day,
you can do it, for all I care."
Little did any one of the three suspect what that month was destined to
David Poindexter's father had been married twice, his second wife dying
within a year of her wedding-day, and two weeks after bringing David
into the world. This lady, whose maiden name was Lambert, had a brother
who was a gentleman farmer, and a tolerably successful one. His farm
was situated in the parish of Witton, and he owned a handsome house on
the outskirts of the town itself. He and David's father had been at one
time great friends, insomuch that David was named after him, and
Lambert, as his godfather as well as uncle, presented the child with
the usual silver mug. Lambert was never known to have married, but
there were rumors, dating as far as back David's earliest
recollections, to the effect that he had entertained a secret and
obscure passion for some foreign woman of great beauty, but of doubtful
character and antecedents. Nobody could be found who had ever seen this
woman, or would accept the responsibility of asserting that she
actually existed; but she afforded a convenient means of accounting for
many things that seemed mysterious in Mr. Lambert's conduct. At length,
when David was about eight years old, his godfather left England
abruptly, and without telling any one whither he was going or when he
would return. As a matter of fact he never did return, nor had any
certain news ever been heard of him since his departure. Neither his
house nor his farm was ever sold, however, though they were rented to
more than one tenant during a number of years. It was said, also, that
Lambert held possession of some valuable real estate in London.
Nevertheless, in process of time he was forgotten, or remembered only
as a name. And the new generation of men, though they might speak of
"the old Lambert House," neither knew nor cared how it happened to have
that title. For aught they could tell, it might have borne it ever
since Queen Elizabeth's time. Even David Poindexter had long ceased to
think of his uncle as anything much more substantial than a dream.
He was all the more surprised, therefore, when, on the day following
the interview just mentioned, he received a letter from the late David
Lambert's lawyers. It informed him in substance that his uncle had died
in Constantinople, unmarried (so far as could be ascertained),
intestate, and without blood-relations surviving him. Under these
circumstances, his property, amounting to one hundred and sixty
thousand pounds, the bulk of which was invested in land and houses in
the city of London, as well as the country-seat in Witton known as the
old Lambert House, and the farm lands thereto appertaining--all this
wealth, not to mention four or five thousand pounds in ready money,
came into possession of the late David Lambert's nearest of kin, who,
as it appeared, was none other than the Reverend David Poindexter.
"Would that gentleman, therefore be kind enough, at his convenience, to
advise his obedient servants as to what disposition he wished to make
of his inheritance?"
It was a Saturday morning, and the young clergyman was sitting at his
study table; the fire was burning in the grate at his right hand, and
his half-written sermon lay on the desk before him. After reading the
letter, at first hurriedly and amazedly, afterward more slowly, with
frequent pauses, he folded it up, and, still holding it in his hand,
leaned back in his chair, and remained for the better part of an hour
in a state of deep preoccupation. Many changing expressions passed
across his face, and glowed in his dark-blue eyes, and trembled on the
curves of his lips. At last he roused himself, sat erect, and smote the
table violently with his clinched hand. Yes, it was true it was real;
he, David Poindexter, an hour ago the poor imprisoned clergyman of the
Church of England--he, as by a stroke of magic, was free, powerful,
emancipated, the heir of seven thousand pounds a year! And what about
He rose up smiling, with a vivid color in his cheeks and a bright
sparkle in his eyes. He stretched himself to his full height, threw out
his arms, and smote his chest with both fists. What a load was gone
from his heart! What a new ardor of life was this that danced in his
veins! He walked with long strides to the window, and threw it wide
open, breathing in the rush of bright icy air with deep inhalations.
Freedom! emancipation! Yonder, above the dark, level boughs of the
cedar of Lebanon, rose the square, gray tower of the church. Yesterday
it was the incubus of his vain hopes; to-day it was the tomb of a dead
and despised past. What had David Poindexter to do with calling sinners
to repentance? Let him first find out for himself what sin was like.
Then he looked to the right, where between the leafless trees Colonel
Saltine's little dwelling raised its red-tile roof above the high
garden-wall. And so, Edith, you doubted whether I were at all times my
real self? You shall not need to make that complaint hereafter. As for
to-morrow's sermon--I am not he who wrote sermons, nor shall I ever
preach any. Away with it, therefore!
He strode back to the table, took up the sheets of manuscript from the
desk, tore them across, and laid them on the burning coals. They
smoldered for a moment, then blazed up, and the draught from the open
window whisked the blackened ashes up the chimney. David stood,
meanwhile, with his arms folded, smiling to himself, and repeating, in
a low voice:
"Never again--never again--never again."
By-and-by he reseated himself at his desk, and hurriedly wrote two or
three notes, one of which was directed to Miss Saltine. He gave them to
his servant with an injunction to deliver them at their addresses
during the afternoon. Looking at his watch, he was surprised to find
that it was already past twelve o'clock. He went up-stairs, packed a
small portmanteau, made some changes in his dress, and came down again
with a buoyant step. There was a decanter half full of sherry on the
sideboard in the dining-room; he poured out and drank two glasses in
succession. This done, he put on his hat, and left the house with his
portmanteau in his hand, and ten minutes later he had intercepted the
London coach, and was bowling along on his way to the city.
There was a dramatic instinct in David, as in many eloquent men of
impressionable temperament, which caused him every now and then to look
upon all that was occurring as a sort of play, and to resolve to act
his part in a telling and picturesque manner. On that Saturday
afternoon he had an interview with the late Mr. Lambert's lawyers, and
they were struck by his calm, lofty, and indifferent bearing. He seemed
to regard worldly prosperity as a thing beneath him, yet to feel in a
half-impatient way the responsibility which the control of wealth
forced upon him.
"It is my purpose not to allow this legacy to interfere permanently
with my devotion to my higher duties," he remarked, "but I have taken
measures to enable myself to place these affairs upon a fixed and
convenient footing. I presume," he added, fixing his eyes steadily upon
his interlocutor, "that you have thoroughly investigated the
possibility of there being any claimant nearer than myself?"
"No such claimant could exist," the lawyer replied, "unless the late
Mr. Lambert had married and had issue."
"Is there, then, any reason to suppose that he contemplated the
contingency that has happened?"
"If he bestowed any thought at all upon the subject, that contingency
could hardly have failed to present itself to his mind," the lawyer
David consented to receive the draft for a thousand pounds which was
tendered him, and took his leave. He returned to his rooms at the
Tavistock Hotel, Covent Garden. In the evening, after making some
changes in his costume, he went to the theatre, and saw Kean play
something of Shakespeare's. When the play was over, and he was out in
the frosty air again, he felt it impossible to sleep. It was after
midnight before he returned to his hotel, with flushed cheeks, and a
peculiar brilliance in his eyes. He slept heavily, but awoke early in
the morning with a slight feeling of feverishness. It was Sunday
morning. He thought of his study in the parsonage at Witton, with its
bright fire, its simplicity, its repose. He thought of the church, and
of the congregation which he would never face again. And Edith--what
had been her thoughts and dreams during the night? He got up, and went
to the window. It looked out upon a narrow, inclosed court. The sky was
dingy, the air was full of the muffled tumult of the city. His present
state, as to its merely external aspect, was certainly not so agreeable
as that of the morning before. Ay, but what a vista had opened now
which then was closed! David dressed himself, and went down to his
breakfast. While sitting at his table in the window, looking out upon
the market-place, and stirring his cup of Mocha, a gentleman came up
and accosted him.
"Am I mistaken, or is your name Poindexter?"
David looked up, and recognized Harwood Courtney, a son of Lord
Derwent. Courtney was a man of fashion, a member of the great clubs,
and a man, as they say, with a reputation. He was a good twenty years
older than David, and had been the companion of the latter's father in
some of his wildest escapades. To David, at this moment, he was the
representative and symbol of that great, splendid, unregenerate world,
with which it was his purpose to make acquaintance.
"You are not mistaken, Mr. Courtney," he said, quietly. "Have you
breakfasted? It is some time since we have met."
"Why, yes, egad! If I remember right, you were setting out on another
road than that which I was travelling. However, we sinners, you know,
depend upon you parsons to pull us up in time to prevent any--er--any
_very_ serious catastrophe! Ha! ha!"
"I understand you; but for my part I have left the pulpit," said David,
uttering the irrevocable words with a carelessness which he himself
"By Jove!" exclaimed Courtney, with a little intonation of surprise and
curiosity, which his good breeding prevented him from formulating more
explicitly. As David made no rejoinder, he presently continued: "Then--
er--perhaps you might find it in your way to dine with me this evening.
Only one or two friends--a very quiet Sunday party."
"Thank you," said David. "I had intended going to bed betimes to-night;
but it will give me pleasure to meet a quiet party."
"Then that's settled," exclaimed Courtney; "and meanwhile, if you've
finished your coffee, what do you say to a turn in the Row? I've got my
trap here, and a breath of air will freshen us up."
David and Courtney spent the day together, and by evening the young ex-
clergyman had made the acquaintance of many of the leading men about
town. He had also allowed the fact to transpire that his pecuniary
standing was of the soundest kind; but this was done so skillfully--
with such a lofty air--that even Courtney, who was as cynical as any
man, was by no means convinced that David's change of fortune had
anything to do with his relinquishing the pulpit.
"David Poindexter is no fool," he remarked, confidentially, to a
friend. "He has double the stuff in him that the old fellow had. You
must get up early to get the better of a man who has been a parson, and
seen through himself!"
David, in fact, felt himself the superior, intellectually and by
nature, of most of the men he saw. He penetrated and comprehended them,
but to them he was impenetrable; a certain air of authority rested upon
him; he had abandoned the service of God; but the training whereby he
had fitted himself for it stood him in good stead; it had developed his
insight, his subtlety, and, strange to say, his powers of
dissimulation. Contrary to what is popularly supposed, his study of the
affairs of the other world had enabled him to deal with this world's
affairs with a half-contemptuous facility. As for the minor
technicalities, the social pass-words, and so forth, to which much
importance is generally ascribed, David had nothing to fear from them;
first, because he was a man of noble manners, naturally as well as by
cultivation; and, secondly, because the fact that he had been a
clergyman acted as a sort of breastplate against criticism. It would be
thought that he chose to appear ignorant of that which he really knew.
As for Mr. Courtney's dinner, though it may doubtless have been a quiet
one from his point of view, it differed considerably from such Sunday
festivities as David had been accustomed to. A good deal of wine was
drunk, and the conversation (a little cautious at first, on David's
account) gradually thawed into freedom. It was late when they rose from
table; and then a proposition was made to go to a certain well-known
club in St. James's Street. David went with the rest, and, for the
first time in his life, played cards for money; he lost seven hundred
pounds--more money than he had handled during the last three years--but
he kept his head, and at three o'clock in the morning drove with
Courtney to the latter's lodgings, with five hundred pounds in his
pocket over and above the sum with which he had begun to play. Here was
a wonderful change in his existence; but it did not seem to him half so
wonderful as his reason told him it was. It seemed natural--as if,
after much wandering, he had at last found his way into the place where
he belonged. It is said that savages, educated from infancy amid
civilized surroundings, will, on breathing once more their native air,
tear off their clothes and become savages again. Somewhat similar may
have been David's case, who, inheriting in a vivid degree the manly
instincts of his forefathers, had forcibly and by constraint of
circumstances lived a life wholly opposed to these impulses--an
artificial life, therefore. But now at length he had come into his
birthright, and felt at home.
One episode of the previous evening remained in his memory: it had
produced an effect upon him out of proportion with its apparent
significance. A gentleman, a guest at the dinner, a small man with
sandy hair and keen gray eyes, on being presented to David had looked
at him with an expression of shrewd perplexity, and said:
"Have we not met before?"
"It is possible, but I confess I do not recollect it," replied David.
"The name was not Poindexter," continued the other, "but the face--
pardon me--I could have taken my oath to."
"Where did this meeting take place?" asked David, smiling.
"In Paris, at ----'s," said the gray-eyed gentleman (mentioning the
name of a well-known French nobleman).
"You are quite certain, of that?"
"Yes. It was but a month since."
"I was never in Paris. For three years I have hardly been out of sight
of London," David answered. "What was your friend's name?"
"It has slipped my memory," he replied. "An Italian name, I fancy. But
he was a man--pardon me--of very striking appearance, and I conversed
with him for more than an hour."
Now it is by no means an uncommon occurrence for two persons to bear a
close resemblance to each other, but (aside from the fact that David
was anything but an ordinary-looking man) this mistake of his new
acquaintance affected him oddly. He involuntarily associated it with
the internal and external transformation which had happened to him, and
said to himself:
"This counterpart of mine was prophetic: he was what I am to be--what I
am." And fantastic though the notion was, he could not rid himself of
David returned to Witton about the middle of the week. In the interval
he had taken measures to make known to those concerned the revolution
of his affairs, and to have the old Lambert mansion opened, and put in
some sort of condition for his reception. He had gone forth on foot, an
unknown, poor, and humble clergyman; he returned driving behind a pair
of horses, by far the most important personage in the town; and yet
this outward change was far less great than the change within. His
reception could scarcely be called cordial; though not wanting in the
technical respect and ceremony due to him as a gentleman of wealth and
influence, he could perceive a half concealed suspense and misgiving,
due unmistakably to his attitude as a recreant clergyman.
In fact, his worthy parishioners were in a terrible quandary how to
reconcile their desire to stand well with their richest fellow-
townsman, and their dismayed recognition of that townsman's scandalous
professional conduct. David smiled at this, but it made him bitter too.
He had intended once more to call the congregation together, and
frankly to explain to them the reasons, good or bad, which had induced
him to withdraw from active labor in the church. But now he determined
to preserve a proud and indifferent silence. There was only one person
who had a right to call him to account, and it was not without
fearfulness that he looked forward to his meeting with her. However,
the sooner such fears are put at rest the better, and he called upon
Edith on the evening of his arrival. Her father had been in bed for two
days with a cold, and she was sitting alone in the little parlor.
She rose at his entrance with a deep blush, and a look of mixed
gladness and anxiety. Her eyes swiftly noted the change in his dress,
for he had considerably modified, though not as yet wholly laid aside,
the external marks of his profession. She held back from him with a
certain strangeness and timidity, so that lie did not kiss her cheek,
but only her hand. The first words of greeting were constrained and
conventional, but at last he said:
"All is changed, Edith, except our love for each other."
"I do not hold you to that," she answered, quickly.
"But you can not turn me from it," he said, with a smile.
"I do not know you yet," said she, looking away.
"When I last saw you, you said you doubted whether I were my real self.
I have become my real self since then."
"Because you are not what you were, it does not follow that you are
what you should be."
"Surely, Edith, that is not reasonable. I was what circumstances forced
me to be, henceforth I shall be what God made me."
"Did God, then, have no hand in those circumstances?"
"Not more, at all events, than in these."
Edith shook her head. "God does not absolve us from holy vows."
"But how if I can not, with loyalty to my inner conscience, hold to
those vows?" exclaimed David, with more warmth. "I have long felt that
I was not fitted for this sacred calling. Before the secret tribunal of
my self-knowledge, I have stood charged with the sin of hypocrisy. It
has been God's will that I be delivered from that sin."
"Why did you not say that before, David?" she demanded, looking at him.
"Why did you remain a hypocrite until it was for your worldly benefit
to abandon your trust? Can you say, on your word of honor, that you
would stand where you do now if you were still poor instead of rich?"
"Men's eyes are to some extent opened and their views are confirmed by
events. They make our dreams and forebodings into realities. We
question in our minds, and events give us the answers."
"Such an argument might excuse any villainy," said Edith, lifting her
"Villainy! Do you use that word to me?" exclaimed David.
"Not unless your own heart bids me--and I do not know your heart."
"Because you do not love me?"
"You may be right," replied Edith, striving to steady her voice; "but
at least I believed I loved you."
"You are cured of that belief, it seems--as I am cured of many foolish
faiths," said David, with gloomy bitterness. "Well, so be it! The love
that waits upon a fastidious conscience is never the deepest love. My
love is not of that complexion. Were it possible that the shadow of
sin, or of crime itself, could descend upon you, it would but render
you dearer to me than before."
"You may break my heart, David, if you will," cried the girl,
tremulously, yet resolutely, "but I reverence love more than I love
David had turned away as if to leave the room, but he paused and
confronted her once more.
"At any rate, we will understand each other," said he. "Do you make it
your condition that I should go back to the ministry?"
Edith was still seated, but the condition of the crisis compelled her
to rise. She stood before him, her dark eyes downcast, her lips
trembling, nervously drawing the fingers of one hand through the clasp
of the other. She was tempted to yield to him, for she could imagine no
happiness in life without him; but a rare sanity and integrity of mind
made her perceive that he had pushed the matter to a false alternative.
It was not a question of preaching or not preaching sermons, but of
sinful apostasy from an upright life. At last she raised her eyes,
which shone like dark jewels in her pale countenance, and said, slowly,
"We had better part."
"Then my sins be upon your head!" cried David, passionately.
The blood mounted to her cheeks at the injustice of this rejoinder, but
she either could not or would not answer again. She remained erect and
proud until the door had closed between them; what she did after that
neither David nor any one else knew.
The apostate David seems to have determined that, if she were to bear
the burden of his sins, they should be neither few nor light. His life
for many weeks after this interview was a scandal and a disgrace. The
old Lambert mansion was the scene of carousals and excesses such as
recalled the exploits of the monks of Medmenham. Harwood Courtney, and
a score of dissolute gentlemen like him, not to speak of other
visitors, thronged the old house day and night; drinking, gaming, and
yet wilder doings gave the sober little town no rest, till the Reverend
David Poindexter was commonly referred to as the Wicked Parson.
Meanwhile Edith Saltine bore herself with a grave, pale impassiveness,
which some admired, others wondered at, and others deemed an indication
that she had no heart. If she had not, so much the better for her; for
her father was almost as difficult to manage as David himself. The old
gentleman could neither comprehend nor forgive what seemed to him his
daughter's immeasurable perversity. One day she had been all for
marrying a poor, unknown preacher; and the next day, when to marry him
meant to be the foremost lady in the neighborhood, she dismissed him
without appeal. And the worst of it was that, much as the poor
colonel's mouth watered at the feasts and festivities of the Lambert
mansion, he was prevented by the fatality of his position from taking
any part in them. So Edith could find no peace either at home or
abroad; and if it dwelt not in her own heart, she was indeed forlorn.
What may have been the cost of all this dissipation it was difficult to
say, but several observant persons were of opinion that the parson's
income could not long stand it. There were rumors that he had heavy
bills owing in several quarters, which he could pay only by realizing
some of his investments. On the other hand, it was said that he played
high and constantly, and usually had the devil's luck. But it is
impossible to gauge the truth of such stories, and the Wicked Parson
himself took no pains either to deny or confirm them. He was always the
loudest, the gayest, and the most reckless of his company, and the
leader and inspirer of all their wild proceedings; but it was noticed
that, though he laughed often, he never smiled; and that his face, when
in repose, bore traces of anything but happiness. For some cause or
other, moreover--but whether maliciously or remorsefully was open to
question--he never entirely laid aside his clerical garb; he seemed
either to delight in profaning it, or to retain it as the reminder and
scourge of his own wickedness.
One night there was a great gathering up at the mansion, and the noise
and music were kept up till well past the small hours of the morning.
Gradually the guests departed, some going toward London, some
elsewhere. At last only Harwood Courtney remained, and he and David sat
down in the empty dining-room, disorderly with the remains of the
carousal, to play picquet. They played, with short intermissions, for
nearly twenty-four hours. At last David threw down his cards, and said,
"Well, that's all. Give me until to-morrow."
"With all the pleasure in life, my boy," replied the other; "and your
revenge, too, if you like. Meanwhile, the best thing we can do is to
take a nap."
"You may do so if you please," said David; "for my part, I must take a
turn on horseback first. I can never sleep till I have breathed fresh
They parted accordingly, Courtney going to his room, and David to the
stables, whence he presently issued, mounted on his bay mare, and rode
eastward. On his way he passed Colonel Saltine's house, and drew rein
for a moment beside it, looking up at Edith's window. It was between
four and five o'clock of a morning in early April; the sky was clear,
and all was still and peaceful. As he sat in the saddle looking up, the
blind of the window was raised and the sash itself opened, and Edith,
in her white night-dress, with her heavy brown hair falling round her
face and on her shoulders, gazed out. She regarded him with a half-
bewildered expression, as if doubting of his reality, For a moment they
remained thus; then he waved his hand to her with a wild gesture of
farewell, and rode on, passing immediately out of sight behind the dark
foliage of the cedar of Lebanon.
On reaching the London high-road the horseman paused once more, and
seemed to hesitate what course to pursue; but finally he turned to the
right, and rode in a southerly direction. The road wound gently, and
dipped and rose to cross low hills; trees bordered the way on each
side; and as the sun rose they threw long shadows westward, while the
birds warbled and twittered in the fields and hedges. By-and-by a clump
of woodland came into view about half a mile off, the road passing
through the midst of it. As David entered it at one end, he saw,
advancing toward him through the shade and sunlight, a rider mounted on
a black horse. The latter seemed to be a very spirited animal, and as
David drew near it suddenly shied and reared so violently that any but
a practiced horseman would have been unseated. No catastrophe occurred,
however, and a moment afterward the two cavaliers were face to face. No
sooner had their eyes met than, as if by a common impulse, they both
drew rein, and set staring at each other with a curiosity which merged
into astonishment. At length the stranger on the black horse gave a
short laugh, and said:
"I perceive that the same strange thing has struck us both, sir. If you
won't consider it uncivil, I should like to know who you are. My name
is Giovanni Lambert."
"Giovanni Lambert," repeated David, with a slight involuntary movement;
"unless I am mistaken, I have heard mention of you. But you are not
"Only on my mother's side. But you have the advantage of me."
"You will understand that I could not have heard of you without feeling
a strong desire to meet you," said David, dismounting as he spoke. "It
is, I think, the only desire left me in the world. I had marked this
wood, as I came along, as an inviting place to rest in. Would it suit
you to spend an hour here, where we can converse better at our ease
than in saddle; or does time press you? As for me, I have little more
to do with time."
"I am at your service, sir, with pleasure," returned the other, leaping
lightly to the ground, and revealing by the movement a pair of small
pistols attached to the belt beneath his blue riding surtout. "It was
in my mind, also, to stretch my legs and take a pull at my pipe, for,
early as it is, I have ridden far this morning."
At the point where they had halted a green lane branched off into the
depths of the wood, and down this they passed, leading their horses.
When they were out of sight of the road they made their animals fast in
such a way that they could crop the grass, and themselves reclined at
the foot of a broad-limbed oak, and they remained in converse there for
upward of an hour.
In fact, it must been several hours later (for the sun was high in the
heavens) when one of them issued from the wood. He was mounted on a
black horse, and wore a blue surtout and high boots. After looking up
and down the road, and assuring himself that no one was in sight, he
turned his horse's head toward London, and set off at a round canter.
Coming to a cross-road, he turned to the right, and rode for an hour in
that direction, crossing the Thames near Hampton Wick. In the afternoon
he entered London from the south, and put up at an obscure hostelry.
Having seen his horse attended to, and eaten something himself, he went
to bed and slept soundly for eighteen hours. On awaking, he ate
heartily again, and spent the rest of the day in writing and arranging
a quantity of documents that were packed in his saddle-bags. The next
morning early he paid his reckoning, rode across London Bridge, and
shaped his course toward the west.
Meanwhile the town of Witton was in vast perturbation. When Mr. Harwood
Courtney woke up late in the afternoon, and came yawning down-stairs to
get his breakfast, he learned, in answer to his inquiries, that nothing
had been seen of David Poindexter since he rode away thirteen hours
ago. Mr. Courtney expressed anxiety at this news, and dispatched his
own valet and one of David's grooms to make investigations in the
neighborhood. These two personages investigated to such good purpose
that before night the whole neighborhood was aware that David
Poindexter had disappeared. By the next morning it became evident that
something had happened to the Wicked Parson, and some people ventured
to opine that the thing which had happened to him was that he had run
away. And indeed it was astonishing to find to how many worthy people
this evil-minded parson was in debt. Every other man you met had a bill
against the Reverend David Poindexter in his pocket; and as the day
wore on, and still no tidings of the missing man were received,
individuals of the sheriff and bailiff species began to be
distinguishable amid the crowd. But the great sensation was yet to
come. How the report started no one knew, but toward supper-time it
passed from mouth to mouth that Mr. Harwood Courtney, in the course of
his twenty-four hours of picquet with Poindexter, had won from the
latter not his ready money alone, but the entire property and estates
that had accrued to him as nearest of kin to the late David Lambert.
And it was added that, as the debt was a gambling transaction, and
therefore not technically recoverable by process of law, Mr. Courtney
was naturally very anxious for his debtor to put in an appearance. Now
it so happened that this report, unlike many others ostensibly more
plausible, was true in every particular.
Probably there was more gossip at the supper-tables of Witton that
night than in any other town of ten times the size in the United
Kingdom; and it was formally agreed that Poindexter had escaped to the
Continent, and would either remain in hiding there, or take passage by
the first opportunity to the American colonies, or the United States,
as they had now been called for some years past. Nobody defended the
reverend apostate, but, on the other hand, nobody pretended to be sorry
for Mr. Harwood Courtney; it was generally agreed that they had both of
them got what they deserved. The only question was, What was to become
of the property? Some people said it ought to belong to Edith Saltine;
but of course poetical justice of that kind was not to be expected.
Edith, meanwhile, had kept herself strictly secluded. She was the last
person who had seen David Poindexter, but she had mentioned the fact to
no one. She was also the only person who did not believe that he had
escaped, but who felt convinced that he was dead, and that he had died
by his own hand. That gesture of farewell and of despair which he had
made to her as he vanished behind the cedar of Lebanon had for her a
significance capable of only one interpretation. Were he alive, he
would have returned.
On the evening of the day following the events just recorded, the
solitude of her room suddenly became terrible to Edith, and she was
irresistibly impelled to dress herself and go forth in the open air.
She wound a veil about her head, and, avoiding the main thoroughfare,
slipped out of the town unperceived, and gained the free country. After
a while she found herself approaching a large tree, which spread its
branches across a narrow lane that made a short-cut to the London
highway. Beneath the tree was a natural seat, formed of a fragment of
stone, and here David and she had often met and sat. It was a mild,
still evening; she sat down on the stone, and removed her veil. The
moon, then in its first quarter, was low in the west, and shone beneath
the branches of the tree.
Presently she was aware--though not by any sound--that some one was
approaching, and she drew back in the shadow of the tree. Down the lane
came a horseman, mounted on a tall, black horse. The outline of his
figure and the manner in which he rode fixed Edith's gaze as if by a
spell, and made the blood hum in her ears. Nearer he came, and now his
face was discernible in the level moonlight. It was impossible to
mistake that countenance: the horseman was David Poindexter. His
costume, however, was different from any he had ever before worn; there
was nothing clerical about it; nor was that black horse from the
Poindexter stables. Then, too, how noiselessly he rode!--as noiselessly
as a ghost. That, however, must have been because his horse's hoofs
fell on the soft turf. He rode slowly, and his head was bent as if in
thought; but almost before Edith could draw her breath, much less to
speak, he had passed beneath the boughs of the tree, and was riding on
toward the village. Now he had vanished in the vague light and shadow,
and a moment later Edith began to doubt whether her senses had not
played her a trick. A superstitious horror fell upon her; what she had
seen was a spirit, not living flesh and blood. She knelt down by the
stone, and remained for a long time with her face hidden upon her arms,
and her hands clasped, sometimes praying, sometimes wondering and
fearing. At last she rose to her feet, and hastened homeward through
the increasing darkness. But before she had reached her house she had
discovered that what she had seen was no ghost. The whole village was
in a fever of excitement.
Everybody was full of the story. An hour ago who should appear riding
quietly up the village street but David Poindexter himself--at least,
if it were not he, it was the devil. He seemed to take little notice of
the astonished glances that were thrown at him, or, at any rate, not to
understand them. Instead of going to the Lambert mansion, he had
alighted at the inn, and asked the innkeeper whether he might have
lodging there. But when the innkeeper, who had known the reverend
gentleman as well as he knew his own sign-board, had addressed him by
name, the other had shaken his head, seemed perplexed, and had affirmed
that his name was not Poindexter but Lambert; and had added, upon
further inquiry, that he was the only son of David Lambert, and was
come to claim that gentleman's property, to which he was by law
entitled; in proof whereof he had produced various documents, among
them the certificates of his mother's marriage and of his own birth. As
to David Poindexter, he declared that he knew not there was such a
person; and although no man in his senses could be made to believe that
David Poindexter and this so-called Lambert were twain, and not one and
the same individual, the latter stoutly maintained his story, and vowed
that the truth would sooner or later appear and confirm him. Meanwhile,
however, one of his creditors had had him arrested for a debt of eight
hundred pounds; and Harwood Courtney had seen him, and said that he was
ready to pledge his salvation that the man was Poindexter and nobody
else. So here the matter rested for the present. But who ever heard of
so strange and audacious an attempt at imposition? The man had not even
made any effort to disguise himself further than to put on a different
suit of clothes and get another horse; and why, in the name of all that
was inconceivable, had he come back to Witton, instead of going to any
other part of the earth's surface What could he expect here, except
immediate detection, imprisonment, and ruin? Was he insane? He did not
seem to be so; but that interpretation of his conduct was not only the
most charitable one, but no other could be imagined that would account
for the facts.
Witton slept but little that night; but who shall describe its
bewilderment when, early in the morning, a constable arrived in the
village with the news that the dead body of the Reverend David
Poindexter had been found in some woods about fifteen miles off, and
that his bay mare had been picked up grazing along the roadside not far
from home! Upon the heels of this intelligence came the corpse itself,
lying in a country wagon, and the bay mare trotting behind. It was
taken out and placed on the table in the inn parlor, where it
immediately became the center of a crowd half crazy with curiosity and
amazement. The cause of death was found to be the breaking of the
vertebral column just at the base of the neck. There was no other
injury on the body, and, allowing for the natural changes incident to
death, the face was in every particular the face of David Poindexter.
The man who called himself Lambert was now brought into the room, and
made to stand beside the corpse, which he regarded with a certain calm
interest. The resemblance between the two was minute and astonishing;
it was found to be impossible, upon that evidence alone, to decide
which was David Poindexter.
The matter was brought to trial as promptly as possible. A great number
of witnesses identified the prisoner as David Poindexter, but those who
had seen the corpse mostly gave their evidence an opposite inclination;
and four persons (one of them the gray-eyed gentleman who has been
already mentioned) swore positively that the prisoner was Giovanni
Lambert, the gray-eyed gentleman adding that he had once met
Poindexter, and had confidently taken him to be Lambert.
An attempt was then made to prove that Lambert had murdered Poindexter;
but it entirely failed, there being no evidence that the two men had
ever so much as met, and there being no conceivable motive for the
murder. Lambert, therefore, was permitted to enter undisturbed upon his
inheritance; for he had no difficulty in establishing the fact of the
elder Lambert's marriage to an Italian woman twenty-three years before.
The marriage had been a secret one, and soon after a violent quarrel
had taken place between the wife and husband, and they had separated.
The following month Giovanni was born prematurely. He had seen his
father but once. The quarrel was never made up, but Lambert sent his
wife, from time to time, money enough for her support. She had died
about ten years ago, and had given her son the papers to establish his
identity, telling him that the day would come to use them. Giovanni had
been a soldier, fighting against the French in Spain and elsewhere, and
had only heard of his father's death a few weeks ago. He had thereupon
come to claim his own, with the singular results that we have seen.
Here was the end of the case, so far as the law was concerned; but the
real end of it is worth noting. Lambert, by his own voluntary act, paid
all the legal debts contracted by Poindexter, and gave Courtney, in
settlement of the gambling transaction, a sum of fifty thousand pounds.
The remainder of his fortune, which was still considerable, he devoted
almost entirely to charitable purposes, doing so much genuine good, in
a manner so hearty and unassuming, that he became the object of more
personal affection than falls to the lot of most philanthropists. He
was of a quiet, sad, and retiring disposition, and uniformly very
sparing of words. After a year or so, circumstances brought it about
that he and Miss Saltine were associated in some benevolent enterprise,
and from that time forward they often consulted together in such
matters, Lambert making her the medium of many of his benefactions. Of
course the gossips were ready to predict that it would end with a
marriage; and indeed it was impossible to see the two together (though
both of them, and especially Edith, had altered somewhat with the
passage of years) without being reminded of the former love affair in
which Lambert's double had been the hero. Did this also occur to Edith?
It could hardly have been otherwise, and it would be interesting to
speculate on her feelings in the matter; but I have only the story to
tell. At all events, they never did marry, though they became very
tender friends. At the end of seven years Colonel Saltine died of
jaundice; he had been failing in his mind for some time previous, and
had always addressed Lambert as Poindexter, and spoken of him as his
son-in-law. The year following Lambert himself died, after a brief
illness. He left all his property to Edith. She survived to her
seventieth year, making it the business of her life to carry out his
philanthropic schemes, and she always dressed in widows' weeds. After
her death, the following passage was found in one of her private
journals. It refers to her last interview with Lambert, on his death-
".... He smiled, and said, 'You will believe, now, that I was sincere
in renouncing the ministry, though I have tried to serve the Lord in
other ways than from the pulpit.' I felt a shock in my heart, and could
hardly say, 'What do you mean, Mr. Lambert?' He replied, 'Surely,
Edith, your soul knows, if your reason does not, that I am David
Poindexter!' I could not speak. I hid my face in my hands. After a
while, in separate sentences, he told me the truth. When he rode forth
on that dreadful morning it was with the purpose to die. But he met on
the road this Giovanni Lambert, who so marvelously resembled him, and
they sat down together in the wood and talked, and Giovanni told him
all the story of his life.... As Giovanni was about to mount his horse,
which was very restive, he saw a violet in the grass, and stooped to
pick it. The horse lashed out with its heels, and struck him in the
back of the neck and killed him.... Then the idea came to David to
exchange clothes with the dead man, and to take his papers, and
personate him. Thus, he could escape from the individuality which was
his curse, and find his true self, as it were, in another person. He
said, too, that his greatest hope had been to win my love and make me
his wife; but he found that he could not bring himself to attempt that,
unless he confessed his falsehood to me, and he had feared that this
confession would turn me from him forever. I wept, and told him that my
heart had been his almost from the first, because I always thought of
him as David, and that I would have loved him through all things. He
said, 'Then God has been more merciful to me than I deserve; but,
doubtless, it is also of His mercy that we have remained unmarried.'
But I was in an agony, and could not yet be reconciled. At last he
said, 'Will you kiss me, Edith?' and afterward he said, 'My wife!' and
that was his last word. But we shall meet again!"
One cool October evening--it was the last day of the month, and
unusually cool for the time of year--I made up my mind to go and spend
an hour or two with my friend Keningale. Keningale was an artist (as
well as a musical amateur and poet), and had a very delightful studio
built onto his house, in which he was wont to sit of an evening. The
studio had a cavernous fire-place, designed in imitation of the old-
fashioned fire-places of Elizabethan manor-houses, and in it, when the
temperature out-doors warranted, he would build up a cheerful fire of
dry logs. It would suit me particularly well, I thought, to go and have
a quiet pipe and chat in front of that fire with my friend.
I had not had such a chat for a very long time--not, in fact, since
Keningale (or Ken, as his friends called him) had returned from his
visit to Europe the year before. He went abroad, as he affirmed at the
time, "for purposes of study," whereat we all smiled, for Ken, so far
as we knew him, was more likely to do anything else than to study. He
was a young fellow of buoyant temperament, lively and social in his
habits, of a brilliant and versatile mind, and possessing an income of
twelve or fifteen thousand dollars a year; he could sing, play,
scribble, and paint very cleverly, and some of his heads and figure-
pieces were really well done, considering that he never had any regular
training in art; but he was not a worker. Personally he was fine-
looking, of good height and figure, active, healthy, and with a
remarkably fine brow, and clear, full-gazing eye. Nobody was surprised
at his going to Europe, nobody expected him to do anything there except
amuse himself, and few anticipated that he would be soon again seen in
New York. He was one of the sort that find Europe agree with them. Off
he went, therefore; and in the course of a few months the rumor reached
us that he was engaged to a handsome and wealthy New York girl whom he
had met in London. This was nearly all we did hear of him until, not
very long afterward, he turned up again on Fifth Avenue, to every one's
astonishment; made no satisfactory answer to those who wanted to know
how he happened to tire so soon of the Old World; while, as to the
reported engagement, he cut short all allusion to that in so peremptory
a manner as to show that it was not a permissible topic of conversation
with him. It was surmised that the lady had jilted him; but, on the
other hand, she herself returned home not a great while after, and,
though she had plenty of opportunities, she has never married to this
Be the rights of that matter what they may, it was soon remarked that
Ken was no longer the careless and merry fellow he used to be; on the
contrary, he appeared grave, moody, averse from general society, and
habitually taciturn and undemonstrative even in the company of his most
intimate friends. Evidently something had happened to him, or he had
done something. What? Had he committed a murder? or joined the
Nihilists? or was his unsuccessful love affair at the bottom of it?
Some declared that the cloud was only temporary, and would soon pass
away. Nevertheless, up to the period of which I am writing, it had not
passed away, but had rather gathered additional gloom, and threatened
to become permanent.
Meanwhile I had met him twice or thrice at the club, at the opera, or
in the street, but had as yet had no opportunity of regularly renewing
my acquaintance with him. We had been on a footing of more than common
intimacy in the old days, and I was not disposed to think that he would
refuse to renew the former relations now. But what I had heard and
myself seen of his changed condition imparted a stimulating tinge of
suspense or curiosity to the pleasure with which I looked forward to
the prospects of this evening. His house stood at a distance of two or
three miles beyond the general range of habitations in New York at this
time, and as I walked briskly along in the clear twilight air I had
leisure to go over in my mind all that I had known of Ken and had
divined of his character. After all, had there not always been
something in his nature--deep down, and held in abeyance by the
activity of his animal spirits--but something strange and separate, and
capable of developing under suitable conditions into--into what? As I
asked myself this question I arrived at his door; and it was with a
feeling of relief that I felt the next moment the cordial grasp of his
hand, and his voice bidding me welcome in a tone that indicated
unaffected gratification at my presence. He drew me at once into the
studio, relieved me of my hat and cane, and then put his hand on my
"I am glad to see you," he repeated, with singular earnestness--"glad
to see you and to feel you; and to-night of all nights in the year."
"Why to-night especially?"
"Oh, never mind. It's just as well, too, you didn't let me know
beforehand you were coming; the unreadiness is all, to paraphrase the
poet. Now, with you to help me, I can drink a glass of whisky and water
and take a bit draw of the pipe. This would have been a grim night for
me if I'd been left to myself."
"In such a lap of luxury as this, too!" said I, looking round at the
glowing fire-place, the low, luxurious chairs, and all the rich and
sumptuous fittings of the room. "I should have thought a condemned
murderer might make himself comfortable here."
"Perhaps; but that's not exactly my category at present. But have you
forgotten what night this is? This is November-eve, when, as tradition
asserts, the dead arise and walk about, and fairies, goblins, and
spiritual beings of all kinds have more freedom and power than on any
other day of the year. One can see you've never been in Ireland."
"I wasn't aware till now that you had been there, either."
"Yes, I have been in Ireland. Yes--" He paused, sighed, and fell into a
reverie, from which, however, he soon roused himself by an effort, and
went to a cabinet in a corner of the room for the liquor and tobacco.
While he was thus employed I sauntered about the studio, taking note of
the various beauties, grotesquenesses, and curiosities that it
contained. Many things were there to repay study and arouse admiration;
for Ken was a good collector, having excellent taste as well as means
to back it. But, upon the whole, nothing interested me more than some
studies of a female head, roughly done in oils, and, judging from the
sequestered positions in which I found them, not intended by the artist
for exhibition or criticism. There were three or four of these studies,
all of the same face, but in different poses and costumes. In one the
head was enveloped in a dark hood, overshadowing and partly concealing
the features; in another she seemed to be peering duskily through a
latticed casement, lit by a faint moonlight; a third showed her
splendidly attired in evening costume, with jewels in her hair and
cars, and sparkling on her snowy bosom. The expressions were as various
as the poses; now it was demure penetration, now a subtle inviting
glance, now burning passion, and again a look of elfish and elusive
mockery. In whatever phase, the countenance possessed a singular and
poignant fascination, not of beauty merely, though that was very
striking, but of character and quality likewise.
"Did you find this model abroad?" I inquired at length. "She has
evidently inspired yon, and I don't wonder at it."
Ken, who had been mixing the punch, and had not noticed my movements,
now looked up, and said: "I didn't mean those to be seen. They don't
satisfy me, and I am going to destroy them; but I couldn't rest till
I'd made some attempts to reproduce--What was it you asked? Abroad?
Yes--or no. They were all painted here within the last six weeks."
'"Whether they satisfy you or not, they are by far the best things of
yours I have ever seen."
'"Well, let them alone, and tell me what you think of this beverage. To
my thinking, it goes to the right spot. It owes its existence to your
coming here. I can't drink alone, and those portraits are not company,
though, for aught I know, she might have come out of the canvas to-
night and sat down in that chair." Then, seeing my inquiring look, he
added, with a hasty laugh, "It's November-eve, you know, when anything
may happen, provided its strange enough. Well, here's to ourselves."
We each swallowed a deep draught of the smoking and aromatic liquor,
and set down our glasses with approval. The punch was excellent. Ken
now opened a box of cigars, and we seated ourselves before the fire-
"All we need now," I remarked, after a short silence, "is a little
music. By-the-by, Ken, have you still got the banjo I gave you before
you went abroad?"
He paused so long before replying that I supposed he had not heard my
question. "I have got it," he said, at length, "but it will never make
any more music."
"Got broken, eh? Can't it be mended? It was a fine instrument."
"It's not broken, but it's past mending. You shall see for yourself."
He arose as he spoke, and going to another part of the studio, opened a
black oak coffer, and took out of it a long object wrapped up in a
piece of faded yellow silk. He handed it to me, and when I had
unwrapped it, there appeared a thing that might once have been a banjo,
but had little resemblance to one now. It bore every sign of extreme
age. The wood of the handle was honeycombed with the gnawings of worms,
and dusty with dry-rot. The parchment head was green with mold, and
hung in shriveled tatters. The hoop, which was of solid silver, was so
blackened and tarnished that it looked like dilapidated iron. The
strings were gone, and most of the tuning-screws had dropped out of
their decayed sockets. Altogether it had the appearance of having been
made before the Flood, and been forgotten in the forecastle of Noah's
Ark ever since.
"It is a curious relic, certainly," I said. "Where did you come across
it? I had no idea that the banjo was invented so long ago as this. It
certainly can't be less than two hundred years old, and may be much
older than that."
Ken smiled gloomily. "You are quite right," lie said; "it is at least
two hundred years old, and yet it is the very same banjo that you gave
me a year ago."
"Hardly," I returned, smiling in my turn, "since that was made to my
order with a view to presenting it to you."
"I know that; but the two hundred years have passed since then. Yes; it
is absurd and impossible, I know, but nothing is truer. That banjo,
which was made last year, existed in the sixteenth century, and has
been rotting ever since. Stay. Give it to me a moment, and I'll
convince you. You recollect that your name and mine, with the date,
were engraved on the silver hoop?"
"Yes; and there was a private mark of my own there, also."
"Very well," said Ken, who had been rubbing a place on the hoop with a
corner of the yellow silk wrapper; "look at that."
I took the decrepit instrument from him, and examined the spot which he
had rubbed. It was incredible, sure enough; but there were the names
and the date precisely as I had caused them to be engraved; and there,
moreover, was my own private mark, which I had idly made with an old
etching point not more than eighteen months before. After convincing
myself that there was no mistake, I laid the banjo across my knees, and
stared at my friend in bewilderment. He sat smoking with a kind of grim
composure, his eyes fixed upon the blazing logs.
"I'm mystified, I confess," said I. "Come; what is the joke? What
method have you discovered of producing the decay of centuries on this
unfortunate banjo in a few months? And why did you do it? I have heard
of an elixir to counteract the effects of time, but your recipe seems
to work the other way--to make time rush forward at two hundred times
his usual rate, in one place, while he jogs on at his usual gait
elsewhere. Unfold your mystery, magician. Seriously, Ken, how on earth
did the thing happen?"
"I know no more about it than you do," was his reply. "Either you and I
and all the rest of the living world are insane, or else there has been
wrought a miracle as strange as any in tradition. How can I explain it?
It is a common saying--a common experience, if you will--that we may,
on certain trying or tremendous occasions, live years in one moment.
But that's a mental experience, not a physical one, and one that
applies, at all events, only to human beings, not to senseless things
of wood and metal. You imagine the thing is some trick or jugglery. If
it be, I don't know the secret of it. There's no chemical appliance
that I ever heard of that will get a piece of solid wood into that
condition in a few months, or a few years. And it wasn't done in a few
years, or a few months either. A year ago today at this very hour that
banjo was as sound as when it left the maker's hands, and twenty-four
hours afterward--I'm telling you the simple truth--it was as you see it
The gravity and earnestness with which Ken made this astounding
statement were evidently not assumed, He believed every word that he
uttered. I knew not what to think. Of course my friend might be insane,
though he betrayed none of the ordinary symptoms of mania; but, however
that might be, there was the banjo, a witness whose silent testimony
there was no gainsaying. The more I meditated on the matter the more
inconceivable did it appear. Two hundred years--twenty-four hours;
these were the terms of the proposed equation. Ken and the banjo both
affirmed that the equation had been made; all worldly knowledge and
experience affirmed it to be impossible. "What was the explanation?
What is time? What is life? I felt myself beginning to doubt the
reality of all things. And so this was the mystery which my friend had
been brooding over since his return from abroad. No wonder it had
changed him. More to be wondered at was it that it had not changed him
"Can you tell me the whole story?" I demanded at length.
Ken quaffed another draught from his glass of whisky and water and
rubbed his hand through his thick brown beard. "I have never spoken to
any one of it heretofore," he said, "and I had never meant to speak of
it. But I'll try and give you some idea of what it was. You know me
better than any one else; you'll understand the thing as far as it can
ever be understood, and perhaps I may be relieved of some of the
oppression it has caused me. For it is rather a ghastly memory to
grapple with alone, I can tell you."
Hereupon, without further preface, Ken related the following tale. He
was, I may observe in passing, a naturally fine narrator. There were
deep, lingering tones in his voice, and he could strikingly enhance the
comic or pathetic effect of a sentence by dwelling here and there upon
some syllable. His features were equally susceptible of humorous and of
solemn expressions, and his eyes were in form and hue wonderfully
adapted to showing great varieties of emotion. Their mournful aspect
was extremely earnest and affecting; and when Ken was giving utterance
to some mysterious passage of the tale they had a doubtful, melancholy,
exploring look which appealed irresistibly to the imagination. But the
interest of his story was too pressing to allow of noticing these
incidental embellishments at the time, though they doubtless had their
influence upon me all the same.
"I left New York on an Inman Line steamer, you remember," began Ken,
"and landed at Havre. I went the usual round of sight-seeing on the
Continent, and got round to London in July, at the height of the
season. I had good introductions, and met any number of agreeable and
famous people. Among others was a young lady, a countrywoman of my own
--you know whom I mean--who interested me very much, and before her
family left London she and I were engaged. We parted there for the
time, because she had the Continental trip still to make, while I
wanted to take the opportunity to visit the north of England and
Ireland. I landed at Dublin about the 1st of October, and, zigzagging
about the country, I found myself in County Cork about two weeks later.
"There is in that region some of the most lovely scenery that human
eyes ever rested on, and it seems to be less known to tourists than
many places of infinitely less picturesque value. A lonely region too:
during my rambles I met not a single stranger like myself, and few
enough natives. It seems incredible that so beautiful a country should
be so deserted. After walking a dozen Irish miles you come across a
group of two or three one-roomed cottages, and, like as not, one or
more of those will have the roof off and the walls in ruins. The few
peasants whom one sees, however, are affable and hospitable, especially
when they hear you are from that terrestrial heaven whither most of
their friends and relatives have gone before them. They seem simple and
primitive enough at first sight, and yet they are as strange and
incomprehensible a race as any in the world. They are as superstitious,
as credulous of marvels, fairies, magicians, and omens, as the men whom
St. Patrick preached to, and at the same time they are shrewd,
skeptical, sensible, and bottomless liars. Upon the whole, I met with
no nation on my travels whose company I enjoyed so much, or who
inspired me with so much kindliness, curiosity, and repugnance.
"At length I got to a place on the sea-coast, which I will not further
specify than to say that it is not many miles from Ballymacheen, on the
south shore. I have seen Venice and Naples, I have driven along the
Cornice Road, I have spent a month at our own Mount Desert, and I say
that all of them together are not so beautiful as this glowing, deep-
hued, soft-gleaming, silvery-lighted, ancient harbor and town, with the
tall hills crowding round it and the black cliffs and headlands
planting their iron feet in the blue, transparent sea. It is a very old
place, and has had a history which it has outlived ages since. It may
once have had two or three thousand inhabitants; it has scarce five or
six hundred to day. Half the houses are in ruins or have disappeared;
many of the remainder are standing empty. All the people are poor, most
of them abjectly so; they saunter about with bare feet and uncovered
heads, the women in quaint black or dark-blue cloaks, the men in such
anomalous attire as only an Irishman knows how to get together, the
children half naked. The only comfortable-looking people are the monks
and the priests, and the soldiers in the fort. For there is a fort
there, constructed on the huge ruins of one which may have done duty in
the reign of Edward the Black Prince, or earlier, in whose mossy
embrasures are mounted a couple of cannon, which occasionally sent a
practice-shot or two at the cliff on the other side of the harbor. The
garrison consists of a dozen men and three or four officers and non-
commissioned officers. I suppose they are relieved occasionally, but
those I saw seemed to have become component parts of their
"I put up at a wonderful little old inn, the only one in the place, and
took my meals in a dining-saloon fifteen feet by nine, with a portrait
of George I (a print varnished to preserve it) hanging over the mantel-
piece. On the second evening after dinner a young gentleman came in--
the dining-saloon being public property of course--and ordered some
bread and cheese and a bottle of Dublin stout. We presently fell into
talk; he turned out to be an officer from the fort, Lieutenant
O'Connor, and a fine young specimen of the Irish soldier he was. After
telling me all he knew about the town, the surrounding country, his
friends, and himself, he intimated a readiness to sympathize with
whatever tale I might choose to pour into his ear; and I had pleasure
in trying to rival his own outspokenness. We became excellent friends;
we had up a half-pint of Kinahan's whisky, and the lieutenant expressed
himself in terms of high praise of my countrymen, my country, and my
own particular cigars. When it became time for him to depart I
accompanied him--for there was a splendid moon abroad--and bade him
farewell at the fort entrance, having promised to come over the next
day and make the acquaintance of the other fellows. 'And mind your eye,
now, going back, my dear boy,' he called out, as I turned my face
homeward. 'Faith, 'tis a spooky place, that graveyard, and you'll as
likely meet the black woman there as anywhere else!'
"The graveyard was a forlorn and barren spot on the hill-side, just the
hither side of the fort: thirty or forty rough head-stones, few of
which retained any semblance of the perpendicular, while many were so
shattered and decayed as to seem nothing more than irregular natural
projections from the ground. Who the black woman might be I knew not,
and did not stay to inquire. I had never been subject to ghostly
apprehensions, and as a matter of fact, though the path I had to follow
was in places very bad going, not to mention a hap-hazard scramble over
a ruined bridge that covered a deep-lying brook, I reached my inn
without any adventure whatever.
"The next day I kept my appointment at the fort, and found no reason to
regret it; and my friendly sentiments were abundantly reciprocated,
thanks more especially, perhaps, to the success of my banjo, which I
carried with me, and which was as novel as it was popular with those
who listened to it. The chief personages in the social circle besides
my friend the lieutenant were Major Molloy, who was in command, a racy
and juicy old campaigner, with a face like a sunset, and the surgeon,
Dr. Dudeen, a long, dry, humorous genius, with a wealth of anecdotical
and traditional lore at his command that I have never seen surpassed.
We had a jolly time of it, and it was the precursor of many more like
it. The remains of October slipped away rapidly, and I was obliged to
remember that I was a traveler in Europe, and not a resident in
Ireland. The major, the surgeon, and the lieutenant all protested
cordially against my proposed departure, but, as there was no help for
it, they arranged a farewell dinner to take place in the fort on All-
"I wish you could have been at that dinner with me! It was the essence
of Irish good-fellowship. Dr. Dudeen was in great force; the major was
better than the best of Lever's novels; the lieutenant was overflowing
with hearty good-humor, merry chaff, and sentimental rhapsodies anent
this or the other pretty girl of the neighborhood. For my part I made
the banjo ring as it had never rung before, and the others joined in
the chorus with a mellow strength of lungs such as you don't often hear
outside of Ireland. Among the stories that Dr. Dudeen regaled us with
was one about the Kern of Querin and his wife, Ethelind Fionguala--
which being interpreted signifies 'the white-shouldered.' The lady, it
appears, was originally betrothed to one O'Connor (here the lieutenant
smacked his lips), but was stolen away on the wedding night by a party
of vampires, who, it would seem, were at that period a prominent
feature among the troubles of Ireland. But as they were bearing her
along--she being unconscious--to that supper where she was not to eat
but to be eaten, the young Kern of Querin, who happened to be out duck-
shooting, met the party, and emptied his gun at it. The vampires fled,
and the Kern carried the fair lady, still in a state of insensibility,
to his house. 'And by the same token, Mr. Keningale,' observed the
doctor, knocking the ashes out of his pipe, 'ye're after passing that
very house on your way here. The one with the dark archway underneath
it, and the big mullioned window at the corner, ye recollect, hanging
over the street as I might say--'
"'Go 'long wid the house, Dr. Dudeen, dear,' interrupted the
lieutenant; 'sure can't you see we're all dying to know what happened
to sweet Miss Fionguala, God be good to her, when I was after getting
her safe up-stairs--'
"'Faith, then, I can tell ye that myself, Mr. O'Connor,' exclaimed the
major, imparting a rotary motion to the remnants of whisky in his
tumbler. ''Tis a question to be solved on general principles, as
Colonel O'Halloran said that time he was asked what he'd do if he'd
been the Book o' Wellington, and the Prussians hadn't come up in the
nick o' time at Waterloo. 'Faith,' says the colonel, 'I'll tell ye--'
"'Arrah, then, major, why would ye be interruptin' the doctor, and Mr.
Keningale there lettin' his glass stay empty till he hears--The Lord
save us! the bottle's empty!'
"In the excitement consequent upon this discovery, the thread of the
doctor's story was lost; and before it could be recovered the evening
had advanced so far that I felt obliged to withdraw. It took some time
to make my proposition heard and comprehended; and a still longer time
to put it in execution; so that it was fully midnight before I found
myself standing in the cool pure air outside the fort, with the
farewells of my boon companions ringing in my ears.
"Considering that it had been rather a wet evening in-doors, I was in a
remarkably good state of preservation, and I therefore ascribed it
rather to the roughness of the road than to the smoothness of the
liquor, when, after advancing a few rods, I stumbled and fell. As I
picked myself up I fancied I had heard a laugh, and supposed that the
lieutenant, who had accompanied me to the gate, was making merry over
my mishap; but on looking round I saw that the gate was closed and no
one was visible. The laugh, moreover, had seemed to be close at hand,
and to be even pitched in a key that was rather feminine than
masculine. Of course I must have been deceived; nobody was near me: my
imagination had played me a trick, or else there was more truth than
poetry in the tradition that Halloween is the carnival-time of
disembodied spirits. It did not occur to me at the time that a stumble
is held by the superstitious Irish to be an evil omen, and had I
remembered it it would only have been to laugh at it. At all events, I
was physically none the worse for my fall, and I resumed my way
"But the path was singularly difficult to find, or rather the path I
was following did not seem to be the right one. I did not recognize it;
I could have sworn (except I knew the contrary) that I had never seen
it before. The moon had risen, though her light was as yet obscured by
clouds, but neither my immediate surroundings nor the general aspect of
the region appeared familiar. Dark, silent hill-sides mounted up on
either hand, and the road, for the most part, plunged downward, as if
to conduct me into the bowels of the earth. The place was alive with
strange echoes, so that at times I seemed to be walking through the
midst of muttering voices and mysterious whispers, and a wild, faint
sound of laughter seemed ever and anon to reverberate among the passes
of the hills. Currents of colder air sighing up through narrow defiles
and dark crevices touched my face as with airy fingers. A certain
feeling of anxiety and insecurity began to take possession of me,
though there was no definable cause for it, unless that I might be
belated in getting home. With the perverse instinct of those who are
lost I hastened my steps, but was impelled now and then to glance back
over my shoulder, with a sensation of being pursued. But no living
creature was in sight. The moon, however, had now risen higher, and the
clouds that were drifting slowly across the sky flung into the naked
valley dusky shadows, which occasionally assumed shapes that looked
like the vague semblance of gigantic human forms.
"How long I had been hurrying onward I know not, when, with a kind of
suddenness, I found myself approaching a graveyard. It was situated on
the spur of a hill, and there was no fence around it, nor anything to
protect it from the incursions of passers-by. There was something in
the general appearance of this spot that made me half fancy I had seen
it before; and I should have taken it to be the same that I had often
noticed on my way to the fort, but that the latter was only a few
hundred yards distant therefrom, whereas I must have traversed several
miles at least. As I drew near, moreover, I observed that the head-
stones did not appear so ancient and decayed as those of the other. But
what chiefly attracted my attention was the figure that was leaning or
half sitting upon one of the largest of the upright slabs near the
road. It was a female figure draped in black, and a closer inspection--
for I was soon within a few yards of her--showed that she wore the
calla, or long hooded cloak, the most common as well as the most
ancient garment of Irish women, and doubtless of Spanish origin.
"I was a trifle startled by this apparition, so unexpected as it was,
and so strange did it seem that any human creature should be at that
hour of the night in so desolate and sinister a place. Involuntarily I
paused as I came opposite her, and gazed at her intently. But the
moonlight fell behind her, and the deep hood of her cloak so completely
shadowed her face that I was unable to discern anything but the sparkle
of a pair of eyes, which appeared to be returning my gaze with much
"'You seem to be at home here,' I said, at length. 'Can you tell me
where I am?'
"Hereupon the mysterious personage broke into a light laugh, which,
though in itself musical and agreeable, was of a timbre and intonation
that caused my heart to beat rather faster than my late pedestrian
exertions warranted; for it was the identical laugh (or so my
imagination persuaded me) that had echoed in my ears as I arose from my
tumble an hour or two ago. For the rest, it was the laugh of a young
woman, and presumably of a pretty one; and yet it had a wild, airy,
mocking quality, that seemed hardly human at all, or not, at any rate,
characteristic of a being of affections and limitations like unto ours.
But this impression of mine was fostered, no doubt, by the unusual and
uncanny circumstances of the occasion.
"'Sure, sir,' said she, 'you're at the grave of Ethelind Fionguala.'
"As she spoke she rose to her feet, and pointed to the inscription on
the stone. I bent forward, and was able, without much difficulty, to
decipher the name, and a date which indicated that the occupant of the
grave must have entered the disembodied state between two and three
"'And who are you?' was my next question.
"'I'm called Elsie,' she replied. 'But where would your honor be going
"I mentioned my destination, and asked her whether she could direct me
"'Indeed, then, 'tis there I'm going myself,' Elsie replied; 'and if
your honor'll follow me, and play me a tune on the pretty instrument,
'tisn't long we'll be on the road.'
"She pointed to the banjo which I carried wrapped up under my arm. How
she knew that it was a musical instrument I could not imagine;
possibly, I thought, she may have seen me playing on it as I strolled
about the environs of the town. Be that as it may, I offered no
opposition to the bargain, and further intimated that I would reward
her more substantially on our arrival. At that she laughed again, and
made a peculiar gesture with her hand above her head. I uncovered my
banjo, swept my fingers across the strings, and struck into a fantastic
dance-measure, to the music of which we proceeded along the path, Elsie
slightly in advance, her feet keeping time to the airy measure. In
fact, she trod so lightly, with an elastic, undulating movement, that
with a little more it seemed as if she might float onward like a
spirit. The extreme whiteness of her feet attracted my eye, and I was
surprised to find that instead of being bare, as I had supposed, these
were incased in white satin slippers quaintly embroidered with gold
"'Elsie,' said I, lengthening my steps so as to come up with her,
'where do you live, and what do you do for a living?'
"'Sure, I live by myself,' she answered; 'and if you'd be after knowing
how, you must come and see for yourself.'
"'Are you in the habit of walking over the hills at night in shoes like
"'And why would I not?' she asked, in her turn. 'And where did your
honor get the pretty gold ring on your finger?'
"The ring, which was of no great intrinsic value, had struck my eye in
an old curiosity-shop in Cork. It was an antique of very old-fashioned
design, and might have belonged (as the vender assured me was the case)
to one of the early kings or queens of Ireland.
"'Do you like it?' said I.
"'Will your honor be after making a present of it to Elsie?' she
returned, with an insinuating tone and turn of the head.
"'Maybe I will, Elsie, on one condition. I am an artist; I make
pictures of people. If you will promise to come to my studio and let me
paint your portrait, I'll give you the ring, and some money besides.'
"'And will you give me the ring now?' said Elsie.
"'Yes, if you'll promise.'
"'And will you play the music to me?' she continued.
"'As much as you like.'
"'But maybe I'll not be handsome enough for ye,' said she, with a
glance of her eyes beneath the dark hood.
"'I'll take the risk of that,' I answered, laughing, 'though, all the
same, I don't mind taking a peep beforehand to remember you by.' So
saying, I put forth a hand to draw back the concealing hood. But Elsie
eluded me, I scarce know how, and laughed a third time, with the same
airy, mocking cadence.
"'Give me the ring first, and then you shall see me,' she said,
"'Stretch out your hand, then,' returned I, removing the ring from my
finger. 'When we are better acquainted, Elsie, you won't be so
"She held out a slender, delicate hand, on the forefinger of which I
slipped the ring. As I did so, the folds of her cloak fell a little
apart, affording me a glimpse of a white shoulder and of a dress that
seemed in that deceptive semi-darkness to be wrought of rich and costly
material; and I caught, too, or so I fancied, the frosty sparkle of
"'Arrah, mind where ye tread!' said Elsie, in a sudden, sharp tone.
"I looked round, and became aware for the first time that we were
standing near the middle of a ruined bridge which spanned a rapid
stream that flowed at a considerable depth below. The parapet of the
bridge on one side was broken down, and I must have been, in fact, in
imminent danger of stepping over into empty air. I made my way
cautiously across the decaying structure; but, when I turned to assist
Elsie, she was nowhere to be seen.
"What had become of the girl? I called, but no answer came. I gazed
about on every side, but no trace of her was visible. Unless she had
plunged into the narrow abyss at my feet, there was no place where she
could have concealed herself--none at least that I could discover. She
had vanished, nevertheless; and since her disappearance must have been
premeditated, I finally came to the conclusion that it was useless to
attempt to find her. She would present herself again in her own good
time, or not at all. She had given me the slip very cleverly, and I
must make the best of it. The adventure was perhaps worth the ring.
"On resuming my way, I was not a little relieved to find that I once
more knew where I was. The bridge that I had just crossed was none
other than the one I mentioned some time back; I was within a mile of
the town, and my way lay clear before me. The moon, moreover, had now
quite dispersed the clouds, and shone down with exquisite brilliance.
Whatever her other failings, Elsie had been a trustworthy guide; she
had brought me out of the depth of elf-land into the material world
again. It had been a singular adventure, certainly; and I mused over it
with a sense of mysterious pleasure as I sauntered along, humming
snatches of airs, and accompanying myself on the strings. Hark! what
light step was that behind me? It sounded like Elsie's; but no, Elsie
was not there. The same impression or hallucination, however, recurred
several times before I reached the outskirts of the town--the tread of
an airy foot behind or beside my own. The fancy did not make me
nervous; on the contrary, I was pleased with the notion of being thus
haunted, and gave myself up to a romantic and genial vein of reverie.
"After passing one or two roofless and moss-grown cottages, I entered
the narrow and rambling street which leads through the town. This
street a short distance down widens a little, as if to afford the
wayfarer space to observe a remarkable old house that stands on the
northern side. The house was built of stone, and in a noble style of
architecture; it reminded me somewhat of certain palaces of the old
Italian nobility that I had seen on the Continent, and it may very
probably have been built by one of the Italian or Spanish immigrants of
the sixteenth or seventeenth century. The molding of the projecting
windows and arched doorway was richly carved, and upon the front of the
building was an escutcheon wrought in high relief, though I could not
make out the purport of the device. The moonlight falling upon this
picturesque pile enhanced all its beauties, and at the same time made
it seem like a vision that might dissolve away when the light ceased to
shine. I must often have seen the house before, and yet I retained no
definite recollection of it; I had never until now examined it with my
eyes open, so to speak. Leaning against the wall on the opposite side
of the street, I contemplated it for a long while at my leisure. The
window at the corner was really a very fine and massive affair. It
projected over the pavement below, throwing a heavy shadow aslant; the
frames of the diamond-paned lattices were heavily mullioned. How often
in past ages had that lattice been pushed open by some fair hand,
revealing to a lover waiting beneath in the moonlight the charming
countenance of his high-born mistress! Those were brave days. They had
passed away long since. The great house had stood empty for who could
tell how many years; only bats and vermin were its inhabitants. Where
now were those who had built it? and who were they? Probably the very
name of them was forgotten.
"As I continued to stare upward, however, a conjecture presented itself
to my mind which rapidly ripened into a conviction. Was not this the
house that Dr. Dudeen had described that very evening as having been
formerly the abode of the Kern of Querin and his mysterious bride?
There was the projecting window, the arched doorway. Yes, beyond a
doubt this was the very house. I emitted a low exclamation of renewed
interest and pleasure, and my speculations took a still more
imaginative, but also a more definite turn.
"What had been the fate of that lovely lady after the Kern had brought
her home insensible in his arms? Did she recover, and were they married
and made happy ever after; or had the sequel been a tragic one? I
remembered to have read that the victims of vampires generally became
vampires themselves. Then my thoughts went back to that grave on the
hill-side. Surely that was unconsecrated ground. Why had they buried
her there? Ethelind of the white shoulder! Ah! why had not I lived in
those days; or why might not some magic cause them to live again for
me? Then would I seek this street at midnight, and standing here
beneath her window, I would lightly touch the strings of my bandore
until the casement opened cautiously and she looked down. A sweet
vision indeed! And what prevented my realizing it? Only a matter of a
couple of centuries or so. And was time, then, at which poets and
philosophers sneer, so rigid and real a matter that a little faith and
imagination might not overcome it? At all events, I had my banjo, the
bandore's legitimate and lineal descendant, and the memory of Fionguala
should have the love-ditty.
"Hereupon, having retuned the instrument, I launched forth into an old
Spanish love-song, which I had met with in some moldy library during my
travels, and had set to music of my own. I sang low, for the deserted
street re-echoed the lightest sound, and what I sang must reach only my
lady's ears. The words were warm with the fire of the ancient Spanish
chivalry, and I threw into their expression all the passion of the
lovers of romance. Surely Fionguala, the white-shouldered, would hear,
and awaken from her sleep of centuries, and come to the latticed
casement and look down! Hist! see yonder! What light--what shadow is
that that seems to flit from room to room within the abandoned house,
and now approaches the mullioned window? Are my eyes dazzled by the
play of the moonlight, or does the casement move--does it open? Nay,
this is no delusion; there is no error of the senses here. There is
simply a woman, young, beautiful, and richly attired, bending forward
from the window, and silently beckoning me to approach.
"Too much amazed to be conscious of amazement, I advanced until I stood
directly beneath the casement, and the lady's face, as she stooped
toward me, was not more than twice a man's height from my own. She
smiled and kissed her finger-tips; something white fluttered in her
hand, then fell through the air to the ground at my feet. The next
moment she had withdrawn, and I heard the lattice close. I picked up
what she had let fall; it was a delicate lace handkerchief,
tied to the handle of an elaborately wrought bronze key. It was
evidently the key of the house, and invited me to enter. I loosened it
from the handkerchief, which bore a faint, delicious perfume, like the
aroma of flowers in an ancient garden, and turned to the arched
doorway. I felt no misgiving, and scarcely any sense of strangeness.
All was as I had wished it to be, and as it should be; the mediaeval
age was alive once more, and as for myself, I almost felt the velvet
cloak hanging from my shoulder and the long rapier dangling at my belt.
Standing in front of the door I thrust the key into the lock, turned
it, and felt the bolt yield. The next instant the door was opened,
apparently from within; I stepped across the threshold, the door closed
again, and I was alone in the house, and in darkness.
"Not alone, however! As I extended my hand to grope my way it was met
by another hand, soft, slender, and cold, which insinuated itself
gently into mine and drew me forward. Forward I went, nothing loath;
the darkness was impenetrable, but I could hear the light rustle of a
dress close to me, and the same delicious perfume that had emanated
from the handkerchief enriched the air that I breathed, while the
little hand that clasped and was clasped by my own alternately
tightened and half relaxed the hold of its soft cold fingers. In this
manner, and treading lightly, we traversed what I presumed to be a
long, irregular passageway, and ascended a staircase. Then another
corridor, until finally we paused, a door opened, emitting a flood of
soft light, into which we entered, still hand in hand. The darkness and
the doubt were at an end.
"The room was of imposing dimensions, and was furnished and decorated
in a style of antique splendor. The walls were draped with mellow hues
of tapestry; clusters of candles burned in polished silver sconces, and
were reflected and multiplied in tall mirrors placed in the four
corners of the room. The heavy beams of the dark oaken ceiling crossed
each other in squares, and were laboriously carved; the curtains and
the drapery of the chairs were of heavy-figured damask. At one end of
the room was a broad ottoman, and in front of it a table, on which was
set forth, in massive silver dishes, a sumptuous repast, with wines in
crystal beakers. At the side was a vast and deep fire-place, with space
enough on the broad hearth to burn whole trunks of trees. No fire,
however, was there, but only a great heap of dead embers; and the room,
for all its magnificence, was cold--cold as a tomb, or as my lady's
hand--and it sent a subtle chill creeping to my heart.
"But my lady! how fair she was! I gave but a passing glance at the
room; my eyes and my thoughts were all for her. She was dressed in
white, like a bride; diamonds sparkled in her dark hair and on her
snowy bosom; her lovely face and slender lips were pale, and all the
paler for the dusky glow of her eyes. She gazed at me with a strange,
elusive smile; and yet there was, in her aspect and bearing, something
familiar in the midst of strangeness, like the burden of a song heard
long ago and recalled among other conditions and surroundings. It
seemed to me that something in me recognized her and knew her, had
known her always. She was the woman of whom I had dreamed, whom I had
beheld in visions, whose voice and face had haunted me from boyhood up.
Whether we had ever met before, as human beings meet, I knew not;
perhaps I had been blindly seeking her all over the world, and she had
been awaiting me in this splendid room, sitting by those dead embers
until all the warmth had gone out of her blood, only to be restored by
the heat with which my love might supply her.
"'I thought you had forgotten me,' she said, nodding as if in answer to
my thought. 'The night was so late--our one night of the year! How my
heart rejoiced when I heard your dear voice singing the song I know so
well! Kiss me--my lips are cold!'
"Cold indeed they were--cold as the lips of death. But the warmth of my
own seemed to revive them. They were now tinged with a faint color, and
in her cheeks also appeared a delicate shade of pink. She drew fuller
breath, as one who recovers from a long lethargy. Was it my life that
was feeding her? I was ready to give her all. She drew me to the table
and pointed to the viands and the wine.
"'Eat and drink,' she said. 'You have traveled far, and you need food.'
"'Will you eat and drink with me?' said I, pouring out the wine.
"'You are the only nourishment I want,' was her answer.' This wine is
thin and cold. Give me wine as red as your blood and as warm, and I
will drain a goblet to the dregs.'
"At these words, I know not why, a slight shiver passed through me. She
seemed to gain vitality and strength at every instant, but the chill of
the great room struck into me more and more.
"She broke into a fantastic flow of spirits, clapping her hands, and
dancing about me like a child. Who was she? And was I myself, or was
she mocking mo when she implied that we had belonged to each other of
old? At length she stood still before me, crossing her hands over her
breast. I saw upon the forefinger of her right hand the gleam of an
"'Where did you get that ring?' I demanded.
"She shook her head and laughed. 'Have you been faithful?' she asked.
'It is my ring; it is the ring that unites us; it is the ring you gave
me when you loved me first. It is the ring of the Kern--the fairy ring,
and I am your Ethelind--Ethelind Fionguala.'
"'So be it,' I said, casting aside all doubt and fear, and yielding
myself wholly to the spell of her inscrutable eyes and wooing lips.
'You are mine, and I am yours, and let us be happy while the hours
"'You are mine, and I am yours,' she repeated, nodding her head with an
elfish smile. 'Come and sit beside me, and sing that sweet song again
that you sang to me so long ago. Ah, now I shall live a hundred years.'
"We seated ourselves on the ottoman, and while she nestled luxuriously
among the cushions, I took my banjo and sang to her. The song and the
music resounded through the lofty room, and came back in throbbing
echoes. And before me as I sang I saw the face and form of Ethelind
Fionguala, in her jeweled bridal dress, gazing at me with burning eyes.
She was pale no longer, but ruddy and warm, and life was like a flame
within her. It was I who had become cold and bloodless, yet with the
last life that was in me I would have sung to her of love that can
never die. But at length my eyes grew dim, the room seemed to darken,
the form of Ethelind alternately brightened and waxed indistinct, like
the last flickerings of a fire; I swayed toward her, and felt myself
lapsing into unconsciousness, with my head resting on her white
Here Keningale paused a few moments in his story, flung a fresh log
upon the fire, and then continued:
"I awoke, I know not how long afterward. I was in a vast, empty room in
a ruined building. Rotten shreds of drapery depended from the walls,
and heavy festoons of spiders' webs gray with dust covered the windows,
which were destitute of glass or sash; they had been boarded up with
rough planks which had themselves become rotten with age, and admitted
through their holes and crevices pallid rays of light and chilly
draughts of air. A bat, disturbed by these rays or by my own movement,
detached himself from his hold on a remnant of moldy tapestry near me,
and after circling dizzily around my head, wheeled the flickering
noiselessness of his flight into a darker corner. As I arose unsteadily
from the heap of miscellaneous rubbish on which I had been lying,
something which had been resting across my knees fell to the floor with
a rattle. I picked it up, and found it to be my banjo--as you see it
"Well, that is all I have to tell. My health was seriously impaired;
all the blood seemed to have been drawn out of my veins; I was pale and
haggard, and the chill--Ah, that chill," murmured Keningale, drawing
nearer to the fire, and spreading out his hands to catch the warmth--"
I shall never get over it; I shall carry it to my grave."
"WHEN HALF-GODS GO, THE GODS ARRIVE."
"What a beautiful girl!" said Mr. Ambrose Drayton to himself; "and how
much she looks like--" He cut the comparison short, and turned his eyes
seaward, pulling at his mustache meditatively the while.
"This American atmosphere, fresh and pure as it is in the nostrils, is
heavy-laden with reminiscences," his thoughts ran on. "Reminiscences,
but always with differences, the chief difference being, no doubt, in
myself. And no wonder. Nineteen years; yes, it's positively nineteen
years since I stood here and gazed out through yonder gap between the
headlands. Nineteen years of foreign lands, foreign men and manners,
the courts, the camps, the schools; adventure, business, and pleasure--
if I may lightly use so mysterious a word. Nineteen and twenty are
thirty-nine; in my case say sixty at least. Why, a girl like that
lovely young thing walking away there with her light step and her
innocent heart would take me to be sixty to a dead certainty. A rather
well-preserved man of sixty--that's how she'd describe me to the young
fellow she's given her heart to. Well, sixty or forty, what difference?
When a man has passed the age at which he falls in love, he is the peer
of Methuselah from that time forth. But what a fiery season that of
love is while it lasts! Ay, and it burns something out of the soul that
never grows again. And well that it should do so: a susceptible heart
is a troublesome burden to lug round the world. Curious that I should
be even thinking of such things: association, I suppose. Here it was
that we met and here we parted. But what a different place it was then!
A lovely cape, half bleak moorland and half shaggy wood, a few rocky
headlands and a great many coots and gulls, and one solitary old
farmhouse standing just where that spick-and-span summer hotel, with
its balconies and cupolas, stands now. So it was nineteen years ago,
and so it may be again, perhaps, nine hundred years hence; but
meanwhile, what a pretty array of modern aesthetic cottages, and plank
walks, and bridges, and bathing-houses, and pleasure-boats! And what an
admirable concourse of well-dressed and pleasurably inclined men and
women! After all, my countrymen are the finest-looking and most
prosperous-appearing people on the globe. They have traveled a little
faster than I have, and on a somewhat different track; but I would
rather be among them than anywhere else. Yes, I won't go back to
London, nor yet to Paris, or Calcutta, or Cairo. I'll buy a cottage
here at Squittig Point, and live and die here and in New York. I wonder
whether Mary is alive and mother of a dozen children, or--not!"
"Auntie," said Miss Leithe to her relative, as they regained the
veranda of their cottage after their morning stroll on the beach, "who
was that gentleman who looked at us?"
"Hey?--who?" inquired the widow of the late Mr. Corwin, absently.
"The one in the thin gray suit and Panama hat; you must have seen him.
A very distinguished-looking man and yet very simple and pleasant;
like some of those nice middle-aged men that you see in 'Punch,'
slenderly built, with handsome chin and eyes, and thick mustache and
whiskers. Oh, auntie, why do you never notice things? I think a man
between forty and fifty is ever so much nicer than when they're
younger. They know how to be courteous, and they're not afraid of being
natural. I mean this one looks as if he would. But he must be somebody
remarkable in some way--don't you think so? There's something about
him--something graceful and gentle and refined and manly--that makes
most other men seem common beside him. Who do you suppose he can be?"
"Who?--what have you been saying, my dear?" inquired Aunt Corwin,
rousing herself from the perusal of a letter. "Here's Sarah writes that
Frank Redmond was to sail from Havre the 20th; so he won't be here for
a week or ten days yet."
"Well, he might not have come at all," said the girl, coloring
slightly. "I'm sure I didn't think he would, when he went away."
"You are both of you a year older and wiser," said the widow,
meditatively; "and you have learned, I hope, not to irritate a man
needlessly. I never irritated Corwin in all my life. They don't
"Here comes Mr. Haymaker," observed Miss Leithe. "I shall ask him."
"Don't ask him in," said Mrs. Corwin, retiring; "he chatters like an
"Oh, good-morning, Miss Mary!" exclaimed Mr. Haymaker, as he mounted
the steps of the veranda, with his hands extended and his customary
effusion. "How charming you are looking after your bath and your walk
and all! Did you ever see such a charming morning? I never was at a
place I liked so much as Squittig Point; the new Newport, I call it--
eh? the new Newport. So fashionable already, and only been going, as
one might say, three or four years! Such charming people here! Oh, by-
the-way, whom do you think I ran across just now? You wouldn't know
him, though--been abroad since before you were born, I should think.
Most charming man I ever met, and awfully wealthy. Ran across him in
Europe--Paris, I think it was--stop! or was it Vienna? Well, never
mind. Drayton, that's his name; ever hear of him? Ambrose Drayton. Made
a great fortune in the tea-trade; or was it in the mines? I've
forgotten. Well, no matter. Great traveler, too--Africa and the Corea,
and all that sort of thing; and fought under Garibaldi, they say; and
he had the charge of some diplomatic affair at Pekin once. The
quietest, most gentlemanly fellow you ever saw. Oh, you must meet him.
He's come back to stay, and will probably spend the summer here. I'll
get him and introduce him. Oh, he'll be charmed--we all shall."
"What sort of a looking person is he?" Miss Leithe inquired.
"Oh, charming--just right! Trifle above medium height; rather lighter
weight than I am, but graceful; grayish hair, heavy mustache, blue
eyes; style of a retired English colonel, rather. You know what I mean
--trifle reticent, but charming manners. Stop! there he goes now--see
him? Just stopping to light a cigar--in a line with the light-house.
Now he's thrown away the match, and walking on again. That's Ambrose
Drayton. Introduce him on the sands this afternoon. How is your good
aunt to-day? So sorry not to have seen her! Well, I must be off;
awfully busy to-day. Good-by, my dear Miss Mary; see you this
afternoon. Good-by. Oh, make my compliments to your good aunt, won't
you? Thanks. So charmed! _Au revoir_."
"Has that fool gone?" demanded a voice from within.
"Yes, Auntie," the young lady answered.
"Then come in to your dinner," the voice rejoined, accompanied by the
sound of a chair being drawn up to a table and sat down upon. Mary
Leithe, after casting a glance after the retreating figure of Mr.
Haymaker and another toward the light-house, passed slowly through the
wire-net doors and disappeared.
Mr. Drayton had perforce engaged his accommodations at the hotel, all
the cottages being either private property or rented, and was likewise
constrained, therefore, to eat his dinner in public. But Mr. Drayton
was not a hater of his species, nor a fearer of it; and though he had
not acquired precisely our American habits and customs, he was disposed
to be as little strange to them as possible. Accordingly, when the gong
sounded, he entered the large dining-room with great intrepidity. The
arrangement of tables was not continuous, but many small tables,
capable of accommodating from two to six, were dotted about everywhere.
Mr. Drayton established himself at the smallest of them, situated in a
part of the room whence he had a view not only of the room itself, but
of the blue sea and yellow rocks on the other side. This preliminary
feat of generalship accomplished, he took a folded dollar bill from his
pocket and silently held it up in the air, the result being the speedy
capture of a waiter and the introduction of dinner.
But at this juncture Mr. Haymaker came pitching into the room, as his
nature was, and pinned himself to a standstill, as it were, with his
eyeglass, in the central aisle of tables. Drayton at once gave himself
up for lost, and therefore received Mr. Haymaker with kindness and
serenity when, a minute or two later, he came plunging up, in his usual
ecstasy of sputtering amiability, and seated himself in the chair at
the other side of the table with an air as if everything were charming
in the most charming of all possible worlds, and he himself the most
charming person in it.
"My dear Drayton, though," exclaimed Mr. Haymaker, in the interval
between the soup and the bluefish, "there is some one here you must
know--most charming girl you ever knew in your life, and has set her
heart on knowing you. We were talking about you this morning--Miss Mary
Leithe. Lovely name, too; pity ever to change it--he! he! he! Why, you
must have seen her about here; has an old aunt, widow of Jim Corwin,
who's dead and gone these five years. You recognize her, of course?"
"Not as you describe her," said Mr. Drayton, helping his friend to
"Oh, the handsomest girl about here; tallish, wavy brown hair, soft
brown eyes, the loveliest-shaped eyes in the world, my dear fellow;
complexion like a Titian, figure slender yet, but promising. A way of
giving you her hand that makes you wish she would take your heart,"
pursued Mr. Haymaker, impetuously filling his mouth with bluefish,
during the disposal of which he lost the thread of his harangue.
Drayton, however, seemed disposed to recover it for him.
"Is this young lady from New England?" he inquired.
"New-Yorker by birth," responded the ever-vivacious Haymaker; "father a
Southern man; mother a Bostonian. Father died eight or nine years after
marriage; mother survived him six years; girl left in care of old Mrs.
Corwin--good old creature, but vague--very vague. Don't fancy the
marriage was a very fortunate one; a little friction, more or less.
Leithe was rather a wild, unreliable sort of man; Mrs. Leithe a woman
not easily influenced--immensely charming, though, and all that, but a
trifle narrow and set. Well, you know, it was this way: Leithe was an
immensely wealthy man when she married him; lost his money, struggled
along, good deal of friction; Mrs. Leithe probably felt she had made a
mistake, and that sort of thing. But Miss Mary here, very different
style, looks like her mother, but softer; more in her, too. Very little
money, poor girl, but charming. Oh! you must know her."
"What did you say her mother's maiden name was?"