Part 5 out of 5
which he appeared, or in which, at least, he had it at his option to
appear. Lord Braithwaite might or might not know it already; but at all
events it was his duty to tell him, or to take his leave, having thus
far neither gained nor sought anything from their connection which
would tend to forward his pursuit--should he decide to undertake it.
When the cheerful fire, the rare wine, and the good fare had put them
both into a good physical state, Redclyffe said to Lord Braithwaite,--
"There is a matter upon which I have been some time intending to speak
"A subject," continued he, "of interest to both of us. Has it ever
occurred to you, from the identity of name, that I may be really, what
we have jokingly assumed me to be,--a relation?"
"It has," said Lord Braithwaite, readily enough. "The family would be
proud to acknowledge such a kinsman, whose abilities and political rank
would add a public lustre that it has long wanted."
Redclyffe bowed and smiled.
"You know, I suppose, the annals of your house," he continued, "and
have heard how, two centuries ago, or somewhat less, there was an
ancestor who mysteriously disappeared. He was never seen again. There
were tales of private murder, out of which a hundred legends have come
down to these days, as I have myself found, though most of them in so
strange a shape that I should hardly know them, had I not myself a
"I have heard some of these legends," said Lord Braithwaite.
"But did you ever hear, among them," asked Redclyffe, "that the lost
ancestor did not really die,--was not murdered,--but lived long, though
in another hemisphere,--lived long, and left heirs behind him?"
"There is such a legend," said Lord Braithwaite.
"Left posterity," continued Redclyffe,--"a representative of whom is
alive at this day."
"That I have not known, though I might conjecture something like it,"
The coolness with which he took this perplexed Redclyffe. He resolved
to make trial at once whether it were possible to move him.
"And I have reason to believe," he added, "that that representative is
"Should that prove to be the case, you are welcome back to your own,"
said Lord Braithwaite, quietly. "It will be a very remarkable case, if
the proofs for two hundred years, or thereabouts, can be so distinctly
made out as to nullify the claim of one whose descent is undoubted. Yet
it is certainly not impossible. I suppose it would hardly be fair in me
to ask what are your proofs, and whether I may see them."
"The documents are in the hands of my agents in London," replied
Redclyffe; "and seem to be ample, among them being a certified
genealogy from the first emigrant downward, without a break. A
declaration of two men of note among the first settlers, certifying
that they knew the first emigrant, under a change of name, to be the
eldest son of the house of Braithwaite; full proofs, at least on that
"You are a lawyer, I believe," said Braithwaite, "and know better than
I what may be necessary to prove your claim. I will frankly own to you,
that I have heard, long ago,--as long as when my connection with this
hereditary property first began,--that there was supposed to be an heir
extant for a long course of years, and that there, was no proof that
that main line of the descent had ever become extinct. If these things
had come fairly before me, and been represented to me with whatever
force belongs to them, before my accession to the estate,--these and
other facts which I have since become acquainted with,--I might have
deliberated on the expediency of coming to such a doubtful possession.
The property, I assure you, is not so desirable that, taking all things
into consideration, it has much increased my happiness. But, now, here
I am, having paid a price in a certain way,--which you will understand,
if you ever come into the property,--a price of a nature that cannot
possibly be refunded. It can hardly be presumed that I shall see your
right a moment sooner than you make it manifest by law."
"I neither expect nor wish it," replied Redclyffe, "nor, to speak
frankly, am I quite sure that you will ever have occasion to defend
your title, or to question mine. When I came hither, to be your guest,
it was almost with the settled purpose never to mention my proofs, nor
to seek to make them manifest. That purpose is not, I may say, yet
"Yet I am to infer from your words that it is shaken?" said
Braithwaite. "You find the estate, then, so delightful,--this life of
the old manor-house so exquisitely agreeable,--this air so cheering,--
this moral atmosphere so invigorating,--that your scruples are about
coming to an end. You think this life of an Englishman, this fair
prospect of a title, so irresistibly enticing as to be worth more than
your claim, in behalf of your American birthright, to a possible
There was a sort of sneer in this, which Redclyffe did not well know
how to understand; and there was a look on Braithwaite's face, as he
said it, that made him think of a condemned soul, who should be dressed
in magnificent robes, and surrounded with the mockery of state,
splendor, and happiness, who, if he should be congratulated on his
fortunate and blissful situation, would probably wear just such a look,
and speak in just that tone. He looked a moment in Braithwaite's face.
"No," he replied. "I do not think that there is much happiness in it. A
brighter, healthier, more useful, far more satisfactory, though
tumultuous life would await me in my own country. But there is about
this place a strange, deep, sad, brooding interest, which possesses me,
and draws me to it, and will not let me go. I feel as if, in spite of
myself and my most earnest efforts, I were fascinated by something in
the spot, and must needs linger here, and make it my home if I can."
"You shall be welcome; the old hereditary chair will be filled at
last," said Braithwaite, pointing to the vacant chair. "Come, we will
drink to you in a cup of welcome. Take the old chair now."
In half-frolic Redclyffe took the chair.
He called to Omskirk to bring a bottle of a particularly exquisite
Italian wine, known only to the most deeply skilled in the vintages of
that country, and which, he said, was oftener heard of than seen,--
oftener seen than tasted. Omskirk put it on the table in its original
glass, and Braithwaite filled Redclyffe's glass and his own, and raised
the latter to his lips, with a frank expression of his mobile
"May you have a secure possession of your estate," said he, "and live
long in the midst of your possessions. To me, on the whole, it seems
better than your American prospects."
Redclyffe thanked him, and drank off the glass of wine, which was not
very much to his taste; as new varieties of wine are apt not to be. All
the conversation that had passed had been in a free, careless sort of
way, without apparently much earnestness in it; for they were both men
who knew how to keep their more serious parts within them. But
Redclyffe was glad that the explanation was over, and that he might now
remain at Braithwaite's table, under his roof, without that uneasy
feeling of treachery which, whether rightly or not, had haunted him
hitherto. He felt joyous, and stretched his hand out for the bottle
which Braithwaite kept near himself, instead of passing it.
"You do not yourself do justice to your own favorite wine," observed
Redclyffe, seeing his host's full glass standing before him.
"I have filled again," said Braithwaite, carelessly; "but I know not
that I shall venture to drink a second glass. It is a wine that does
not bear mixture with other vintages, though of most genial and
admirable qualities when taken by itself. Drink your own, however, for
it will be a rare occasion indeed that would induce me to offer you
another bottle of this rare stock."
Redclyffe sipped his second glass, endeavoring to find out what was
this subtile and peculiar flavor that hid itself so, and yet seemed on
the point of revealing itself. It had, he thought, a singular effect
upon his faculties, quickening and making them active, and causing him
to feel as if he were on the point of penetrating rare mysteries, such
as men's thoughts are always hovering round, and always returning from.
Some strange, vast, sombre, mysterious truth, which he seemed to have
searched for long, appeared to be on the point of being revealed to
him; a sense of something to come; something to happen that had been
waiting long, long to happen; an opening of doors, a drawing away of
veils; a lifting of heavy, magnificent curtains, whose dark folds hung
before a spectacle of awe;--it was like the verge of the grave. Whether
it was the exquisite wine of Braithwaite, or whatever it might be, the
American felt a strange influence upon him, as if he were passing
through the gates of eternity, and finding on the other side the
revelation of some secret that had greatly perplexed him on this side.
He thought that Braithwaite's face assumed a strange, subtile smile,--
not malicious, yet crafty, triumphant, and at the same time terribly
sad, and with that perception his senses, his life, welled away; and
left him in the deep ancestral chair at the board of Braithwaite.
When awake [Endnote: 1], or beginning to awake, he lay for some time in
a maze; not a disagreeable one, but thoughts were running to and fro in
his mind, all mixed and jumbled together. Reminiscences of early days,
even those that were Preadamite; referring, we mean, to those times in
the almshouse, which he could not at ordinary times remember at all;
but now there seemed to be visions of old women and men, and pallid
girls, and little dirty boys, which could only be referred to that
epoch. Also, and most vividly, there was the old Doctor, with his
sternness, his fierceness, his mystery; and all that happened since,
playing phantasmagoria before his yet unclosed eyes; nor, so mysterious
was his state, did he know, when he should unclose those lids, where he
should find himself. He was content to let the world go on in this way,
as long as it would, and therefore did not hurry, but rather kept back
the proofs of awakening; willing to look at the scenes that were
unrolling for his amusement, as it seemed; and willing, too, to keep it
uncertain whether he were not back in America, and in his boyhood, and
all other subsequent impressions a dream or a prophetic vision. But at
length something stirring near him,--or whether it stirred, or whether
he dreamed it, he could not quite tell,--but the uncertainty impelled
him, at last, to open his eyes, and see whereabouts he was.
Even then he continued in as much uncertainty as he was before, and lay
with marvellous quietude in it, trying sluggishly to make the mystery
out. It was in a dim, twilight place, wherever it might be; a place of
half-awakeness, where the outlines of things were not well defined; but
it seemed to be a chamber, antique and vaulted, narrow and high, hung
round with old tapestry. Whether it were morning or midday he could not
tell, such was the character of the light, nor even where it came from;
for there appeared to be no windows, and yet it was not apparently
artificial light; nor light at all, indeed, but a gray dimness. It was
so like his own half-awake state that he lay in it a longer time, not
incited to finish his awaking, but in a languor, not disagreeable, yet
hanging heavily, heavily upon him, like a dark pall. It was, in fact,
as if he had been asleep for years, or centuries, or till the last day
was dawning, and then was collecting his thoughts in such slow fashion
as would then be likely.
Again that noise,--a little, low, quiet sound, as of one breathing
somewhere near him. The whole thing was very much like that incident
which introduced him to the Hospital, and his first coming to his
senses there; and he almost fancied that some such accident must again
have happened to him, and that when his sight cleared he should again
behold the venerable figure of the pensioner. With this idea he let his
head steady itself; and it seemed to him that its dizziness must needs
be the result of very long and deep sleep. What if it were the sleep of
a century? What if all things that were extant when he went to sleep
had passed away, and he was waking now in another epoch of time? Where
was America, and the republic in which he hoped for such great things?
Where England? had she stood it better than the republic? Was the old
Hospital still in being,--although the good Warden must long since have
passed out of his warm and pleasant life? And himself, how came he to
be preserved? In what musty old nook had he been put away, where Time
neglected and Death forgot him, until now he was to get up friendless,
helpless,--when new heirs had come to the estate he was on the point of
laying claim to,--and go onward through what remained of life? Would it
not have been better to have lived with his contemporaries, and to be
now dead and dust with them? Poor, petty interests of a day, how
Again the noise, a little stir, a sort of quiet moan, or something that
he could not quite define; but it seemed, whenever he heard it, as if
some fact thrust itself through the dream-work with which he was
circumfused; something alien to his fantasies, yet not powerful enough
to dispel them. It began to be irksome to him, this little sound of
something near him; and he thought, in the space of another hundred
years, if it continued, he should have to arouse himself and see what
it was. But, indeed, there was something so cheering in this long
repose,--this rest from all the troubles of earth, which it sometimes
seems as if only a churchyard bed would give us,--that he wished the
noise would let him alone. But his thoughts were gradually getting too
busy for this slumberous state. He begun, perforce, to come nearer
actuality. The strange question occurred to him, Had any time at all
passed? Was he not still sitting at Lord Braithwaite's table, having
just now quaffed a second glass of that rare and curious Italian wine?
Was it not affecting his head very strangely,--so that he was put out
of time as it were? He would rally himself, and try to set his head
right with another glass. He must be still at table, for now he
remembered he had not gone to bed at all. [Endnote: 2.]
Ah, the noise! He could not bear it, he would awake now, now!--silence
it, and then to sleep again. In fact, he started up; started to his
feet, in puzzle and perplexity, and stood gazing around him, with
swimming brain. It was an antique room, which he did not at all
recognize, and, indeed, in that dim twilight--which how it came he
could not tell--he could scarcely discern what were its distinguishing
marks. But he seemed to be sensible, that, in a high-backed chair, at a
little distance from him, sat a figure in a long robe; a figure of a
man with snow-white hair and a long beard, who seemed to be gazing at
him, quietly, as if he had been gazing a hundred years. I know not what
it was, but there was an influence as if this old man belonged to some
other age and category of man than he was now amongst. He remembered
the old family legend of the existence of an ancestor two or three
centuries in age.
"It is the old family personified," thought he.
The old figure made no sign, but continued to sit gazing at him in so
strangely still a manner that it made Redclyffe shiver with something
that seemed like affright. There was an aspect of long, long time about
him; as if he had never been young, or so long ago as when the world
was young along with him. He might be the demon of this old house; the
representative of all that happened in it, the grief, the long languor
and weariness of life, the deaths, gathering them all into himself, and
figuring them in furrows, wrinkles, and white hairs,--a being that
might have been young, when those old Saxon timbers were put together,
with the oaks that were saplings when Caesar landed, and was in his
maturity when the Conqueror came, and was now lapsing into extreme age
when the nineteenth century was elderly. His garb might have been of
any time, that long, loose robe that enveloped him. Redclyffe remained
in this way, gazing at this aged figure; at first without the least
wonder, but calmly, as we feel in dreams, when, being in a land of
enchantment, we take everything as if it were a matter of course, and
feel, by the right of our own marvellous nature, on terms of equal
kindred with all other marvels. So it was with him when he first became
aware of the old man, sitting there with that age-long regard directed
But, by degrees, a sense of wonder had its will, and grew, slowly at
first, in Redclyffe's mind; and almost twin-born with it, and growing
piece by piece, there was a sense of awful fear, as his waking senses
came slowly back to him. In the dreamy state, he had felt no fear; but,
as a waking man, it was fearful to discover that the shadowy forms did
not fly from his awaking eyes. He started at last to his feet from the
low couch on which he had all this time been lying.
"What are you?" he exclaimed. "Where am I?"
The old figure made no answer; nor could Redclyffe be quite sure that
his voice had any effect upon it, though he fancied that it was shaken
a little, as if his voice came to it from afar. But it continued to
gaze at him, or at least to have its aged face turned towards him in
the dim light; and this strange composure, and unapproachableness, were
very frightful. As his manhood gathered about his heart, however, the
American endeavored to shake off this besetting fear, or awe, or
whatever it was; and to bring himself to a sense of waking things,--to
burst through the mist and delusive shows that bewildered him, and
catch hold of a reality. He stamped upon the floor; it was solid stone,
the pavement, or oak so old and stanch that it resembled it. There was
one firm thing, therefore. But the contrast between this and the
slipperiness, the unaccountableness, of the rest of his position, made
him the more sensible of the latter. He made a step towards the old
figure; another; another. He was face to face with him, within a yard
of distance. He saw the faint movement of the old man's breath; he
sought, through the twilight of the room, some glimmer of perception in
"Are you a living man?" asked Redclyffe, faintly and doubtfully.
He mumbled, the old figure, some faint moaning sound, that, if it were
language at all, had all the edges and angles worn off it by decay,--
unintelligible, except that it seemed to signify a faint mournfulness
and complainingness of mood; and then held his peace, continuing to
gaze as before. Redclyffe could not bear the awe that filled him, while
he kept at a distance, and, coming desperately forward, he stood close
to the old figure; he touched his robe, to see if it were real; he laid
his hand upon the withered hand that held the staff, in which he now
recognized the very staff of the Doctor's legend. His fingers touched a
real hand, though, bony and dry, as if it had been in the grave.
"Then you are real?" said Redclyffe doubtfully.
The old figure seemed to have exhausted itself--its energies, what
there were of them--in the effort of making the unintelligible
communication already vouchsafed. Then he seemed to lapse out of
consciousness, and not to know what was passing, or to be sensible that
any person was near him. But Redclyffe was now resuming his firmness
and daylight consciousness even in the dimness. He ran over all that he
had heard of the legend of the old house, rapidly considering whether
there might not be something of fact in the legend of the undying old
man; whether, as told or whispered in the chimney-corners, it might not
be an instance of the mysterious, the half-spiritual mode, in which
actual truths communicate themselves imperfectly through a medium that
gives them the aspect of falsehood. Something in the atmosphere of the
house made its inhabitants and neighbors dimly aware that there was a
secret resident; it was by a language not audible, but of impression;
there could not be such a secret in its recesses, without making itself
sensible. This legend of the undying one translated it to vulgar
apprehension. He remembered those early legends, told by the Doctor, in
his childhood; he seemed imperfectly and doubtfully to see what was
their true meaning, and how, taken aright, they had a reality, and were
the craftily concealed history of his own wrongs, sufferings, and
revenge. And this old man! who was he? He joined the Warden's account
of the family to the Doctor's legends. He could not believe, or take
thoroughly in, the strange surmise to which they led him; but, by an
irresistible impulse, he acted on it.
"Sir Edward Redclyffe!" he exclaimed.
"Ha! who speaks to me?" exclaimed the old man, in a startled voice,
like one who hears himself called at an unexpected moment.
"Sir Edward Redclyffe," repeated Redclyffe, "I bring you news of Norman
Oglethorpe!" [Endnote: 3.]
"The villain! the tyrant! mercy! mercy! save me!" cried the old man, in
most violent emotion of terror and rage intermixed, that shook his old
frame as if it would be shaken asunder. He stood erect, the picture of
ghastly horror, as if he saw before him that stern face that had thrown
a blight over his life, and so fearfully avenged, from youth to age,
the crime that he had committed. The effect, the passion, was too
much,--the terror with which it smote, the rage that accompanied it,
blazed up for a moment with a fierce flame, then flickered and went
out. He stood tottering; Redclyffe put out his hand to support him; but
he sank down in a heap on the floor, as if a thing of dry bones had
been suddenly loosened at the joints, and fell in a rattling heap.
Redclyffe, apparently, had not communicated to his agent in London his
change of address, when he left the Warden's residence to avail himself
of the hospitality of Braithwaite Hall; for letters arrived for him,
from his own country, both private and with the seal of state upon
them; one among the rest that bore on the envelope the name of the
President of the United States. The good Warden was impressed with
great respect for so distinguished a signature, and, not knowing but
that the welfare of the Republic (for which he had an Englishman's
contemptuous interest) might be involved in its early delivery at its
destination, he determined to ride over to Braithwaite Hall, call on
his friend, and deliver it with his own hand. With this purpose, he
mounted his horse, at the hour of his usual morning ride, and set
forth; and, before reaching the village, saw a figure before him which
he recognized as that of the pensioner. [Endnote: 1.]
"Soho! whither go you, old friend?" said the Warden, drawing his bridle
as he came up with the old man.
"To Braithwaite Hall, sir," said the pensioner, who continued to walk
diligently on; "and I am glad to see your honor (if it be so) on the
"Why so?" asked the Warden. "You seem much in earnest. Why should my
visit to Braithwaite Hall be a special cause of rejoicing?"
"Nay," said the pensioner, "your honor is specially interested in this
young American, who has gone thither to abide; and when one is in a
strange country he needs some guidance. My mind is not easy about the
"Well," said the Warden, smiling to himself at the old gentleman's idle
and senile fears, "I commend your diligence on behalf of your friend."
He rode on as he spoke, and deep in one of the woodland paths he saw
the flutter of a woman's garment, and, greatly to his surprise,
overtook Elsie, who seemed to be walking along with great rapidity,
and, startled by the approach of hoofs behind her, looked up at him,
with a pale cheek.
"Good morning, Miss Elsie," said the Warden. "You are taking a long
walk this morning. I regret to see that I have frightened you."
"Pray, whither are you going?" said she.
"To the Hall," said the Warden, wondering at the abrupt question.
"Ah, sir," exclaimed Elsie, "for Heaven's sake, pray insist on seeing
Mr. Redclyffe,--take no excuse. There are reasons for it."
"Certainly, fair lady," responded the Warden, wondering more and more
at this injunction from such a source. "And when I see this fascinating
gentleman, pray what message am I to give him from Miss Elsie,--who,
moreover, seems to be on the eve of visiting him in person?"
"See him! see him! Only see him!" said Elsie, with passionate
earnestness, "and in haste! See him now!"
She waved him onward as she spoke; and the Warden, greatly commoted for
the nonce, complied with the maiden's fantasy so far as to ride on at a
quicker pace, uneasily marvelling at what could have aroused this
usually shy and reserved girl's nervousness to such a pitch. The
incident served at all events to titillate his English sluggishness; so
that he approached the avenue of the old Hall with a vague expectation
of something that had happened there, though he knew not of what nature
it could possibly be. However, he rode round to the side entrance, by
which horsemen generally entered the house, and, a groom approaching to
take his bridle, he alighted and approached the door. I know not
whether it were anything more than the glistening moisture common in an
English autumnal morning; but so it was, that the trace of the Bloody
Footstep seemed fresh, as if it had been that very night imprinted
anew, and the crime made all over again, with fresh guilt upon
When the footman came to the door, responsive to his ring, the Warden
inquired for Mr. Redclyffe, the American gentleman.
"The American gentleman left for London, early this morning," replied
the footman, in a matter-of-fact way.
"Gone!" exclaimed the Warden. "This is sudden; and strange that he
should go without saying good by. Gone," and then he remembered the old
pensioner's eagerness that the Warden should come here, and Elsie's
strange injunction that he should insist on seeing Redclyffe. "Pray, is
Lord Braithwaite at home?"
"I think, sir, he is in the library," said the servant, "but will see;
pray, sir, walk in."
He returned in a moment, and ushered the Warden through passages with
which he was familiar of old, to the library, where he found Lord
Braithwaite sitting with the London newspaper in his hand. He rose and
welcomed his guest with great equanimity.
To the Warden's inquiries after Redclyffe, Lord Braithwaite replied
that his guest had that morning left the house, being called to London
by letters from America; but of what nature Lord Braithwaite was unable
to say, except that they seemed to be of urgency and importance. The
Warden's further inquiries, which he pushed as far as was decorous,
elicited nothing more than this; and he was preparing to take his
leave,--not seeing any reason for insisting (according to Elsie's
desire) on the impossibility of seeing a man who was not there,--nor,
indeed, any reason for so doing. And yet it seemed very strange that
Redclyffe should have gone so unceremoniously; nor was he half
satisfied, though he knew not why he should be otherwise.
"Do you happen to know Mr. Redclyffe's address in London," asked the
"Not at all," said Braithwaite. "But I presume there is courtesy enough
in the American character to impel him to write to me, or both of us,
within a day or two, telling us of his whereabouts and whatabouts.
Should you know, I beg you will let me know; for I have really been
pleased with this gentleman, and should have been glad could he have
favored me with a somewhat longer visit."
There was nothing more to be said; and the Warden took his leave, and
was about mounting his horse, when he beheld the pensioner approaching
the house, and he remained standing until he should come up.
"You are too late," said he, as the old man drew near. "Our friend has
taken French leave."
"Mr. Warden," said the old man solemnly, "let me pray you not to give
him up so easily. Come with me into the presence of Lord Braithwaite."
The Warden made some objections; but the pensioner's manner was so
earnest, that he soon consented; knowing that the strangeness of his
sudden return might well enough be put upon the eccentricities of the
pensioner, especially as he was so well known to Lord Braithwaite. He
accordingly again rang at the door, which being opened by the same
stolid footman, the Warden desired him to announce to Lord Braithwaite
that the Warden and a pensioner desired to see him. He soon returned,
with a request that they would walk in, and ushered them again to the
library, where they found the master of the house in conversation with
Omskirk at one end of the apartment,--a whispered conversation, which
detained him a moment, after their arrival. The Warden fancied that he
saw in old Omskirk's countenance a shade more of that mysterious horror
which made him such a bugbear to children; but when Braithwaite turned
from him and approached his visitor, there was no trace of any
disturbance, beyond a natural surprise to see his good friend the
Warden so soon after his taking leave. [Endnote: 2.]
"I see you are surprised," said the latter. "But you must lay the
blame, if any, on our good old friend here, who, for some reason, best
known to himself, insisted on having my company here."
Braithwaite looked to the old pensioner, with a questioning look, as if
good-humoredly (yet not as if he cared much about it) asking for an
explanation. As Omskirk was about leaving the room, having remained
till this time, with that nervous look which distinguished him gazing
towards the party, the pensioner made him a sign, which he obeyed as if
compelled to do so.
"Well, my friend," said the Warden, somewhat impatient of the aspect in
which he himself appeared, "I beg of you, explain at once to Lord
Braithwaite why you have brought me back in this strange way."
"It is," said the pensioner quietly, "that in your presence I request
him to allow me to see Mr. Redclyffe."
"Why, my friend," said Braithwaite, "how can I show you a man who has
left my house, and whom in the chances of this life, I am not very
likely to see again, though hospitably desirous of so doing?"
Here ensued a laughing sort of colloquy between the Warden and
Braithwaite, in which the former jocosely excused himself for having
yielded to the whim of the pensioner, and returned with him on an
errand which he well knew to be futile.
"I have long been aware," he said apart, in a confidential way, "of
something a little awry in our old friend's mental system. You will
excuse him, and me for humoring him."
"Of course, of course," said Braithwaite, in the same tone. "I shall
not be moved by anything the old fellow can say."
The old pensioner, meanwhile, had been as it were heating up, and
gathering himself into a mood of energy which those who saw him had
never before witnessed in his usually quiet person. He seemed somehow
to grow taller and larger, more impressive. At length, fixing his eyes
on Lord Braithwaite, he spoke again.
"Dark, murderous man," exclaimed he. "Your course has not been
unwatched; the secrets of this mansion are not unknown. For two
centuries back, they have been better known to them who dwell afar off
than to those resident within the mansion. The foot that made the
Bloody Footstep has returned from its long wanderings, and it passes
on, straight as destiny,--sure as an avenging Providence,--to the
punishment and destruction of those who incur retribution."
"Here is an odd kind of tragedy," said Lord Braithwaite, with a
scornful smile. "Come, my old friend, lay aside this vein and talk
"Not thus do you escape your penalty, hardened and crafty one!"
exclaimed the pensioner. "I demand of you, before this worthy Warden,
access to the secret ways of this mansion, of which thou dost unjustly
retain possession. I shall disclose what for centuries has remained
hidden,--the ghastly secrets that this house hides."
"Humor him," whispered the Warden, "and hereafter I will take care that
the exuberance of our old friend shall be duly restrained. He shall not
trouble you again."
Lord Braithwaite, to say the truth, appeared a little flabbergasted and
disturbed by these latter expressions of the old gentleman. He
hesitated, turned pale; but at last, recovering his momentary confusion
and irresolution, he replied, with apparent carelessness:--
"Go wherever you will, old gentleman. The house is open to you for this
time. If ever you have another opportunity to disturb it, the fault
will be mine."
"Follow, sir," said the pensioner, turning to the Warden; "follow,
maiden![Endnote: 3] Now shall a great mystery begin to be revealed."
So saying, he led the way before them, passing out of the hall, not by
the doorway, but through one of the oaken panels of the wall, which
admitted the party into a passage which seemed to pass through the
thickness of the wall, and was lighted by interstices through which
shone gleams of light. This led them into what looked like a little
vestibule, or circular room, which the Warden, though deeming himself
many years familiar with the old house, had never seen before, any more
than the passage which led to it. To his surprise, this room was not
vacant, for in it sat, in a large old chair, Omskirk, like a toad in
its hole, like some wild, fearful creature in its den, and it was now
partly understood how this man had the possibility of suddenly
disappearing, so inscrutably, and so in a moment; and, when all quest
for him was given up, of as suddenly appearing again.
"Ha!" said old Omskirk, slowly rising, as at the approach of some event
that he had long expected. "Is he coming at last?"
"Poor victim of another's iniquity," said the pensioner. "Thy release
The old man arose with a sort of trepidation and solemn joy intermixed
in his manner, and bowed reverently, as if there were in what he heard
more than other ears could understand in it.
"Yes; I have waited long," replied he. "Welcome; if my release is
"Well," said Lord Braithwaite, scornfully. "This secret retreat of my
house is known to many. It was the priest's secret chamber when it was
dangerous to be of the old and true religion, here in England. There is
no longer any use in concealing this place; and the Warden, or any man,
might have seen it, or any of the curiosities of the old hereditary
house, if desirous so to do."
"Aha! son of Belial!" quoth the pensioner. "And this, too!"
He took three pieces from a certain point of the wall, which he seemed
to know, and stooped to press upon the floor. The Warden looked at Lord
Braithwaite, and saw that he had grown deadly pale. What his change of
cheer might bode, he could not guess; but, at the pressure of the old
pensioner's finger, the floor, or a segment of it, rose like the lid of
a box, and discovered a small darksome pair of stairs, within which
burned a lamp, lighting it downward, like the steps that descend into a
"Follow," said he, to those who looked on, wondering.
And he began to descend. Lord Braithwaite saw him disappear, then
frantically followed, the Warden next, and old Omskirk took his place
in the rear, like a man following his inevitable destiny. At the bottom
of a winding descent, that seemed deep and remote, and far within, they
came to a door, which the pensioner pressed with a spring; and, passing
through the space that disclosed itself, the whole party followed, and
found themselves in a small, gloomy room. On one side of it was a
couch, on which sat Redclyffe; face to face with him was a white-haired
figure in a chair.
"You are come!" said Redclyffe, solemnly. "But too late!"
"And yonder is the coffer," said the pensioner. "Open but that; and our
quest is ended."
"That, if I mistake not, I can do," said Redclyffe.
He drew forth--what he had kept all this time, as something that might
yet reveal to him the mystery of his birth--the silver key that had
been found by the grave in far New England; and applying it to the
lock, he slowly turned it on the hinges, that had not been turned for
two hundred years. All--even Lord Braithwaite, guilty and shame-
stricken as he felt--pressed forward to look upon what was about to be
disclosed. What were the wondrous contents? The entire, mysterious
coffer was full of golden ringlets, abundant, clustering through the
whole coffer, and living with elasticity, so as immediately, as it
were, to flow over the sides of the coffer, and rise in large abundance
from the long compression. Into this--by a miracle of natural
production which was known likewise in other cases--into this had been
resolved the whole bodily substance of that fair and unfortunate being,
known so long in the legends of the family as the Beauty of the Golden
Locks. As the pensioner looked at this strange sight,--the lustre of
the precious and miraculous hair gleaming and glistening, and seeming
to add light to the gloomy room,--he took from his breast pocket
another lock of hair, in a locket, and compared it, before their faces,
with that which brimmed over from the coffer.
"It is the same!" said he.
"And who are you that know it?" asked Redclyffe, surprised.
"He whose ancestors taught him the secret,--who has had it handed down
to him these two centuries, and now only with regret yields to the
necessity of making it known."
"You are the heir!" said Redclyffe.
In that gloomy room, beside the dead old man, they looked at him, and
saw a dignity beaming on him, covering his whole figure, that broke out
like a lustre at the close of day.
_Note 1._ The MS. gives the following alternative openings: "Early
in the present century"; "Soon after the Revolution"; "Many years ago."
_Note 2._ Throughout the first four pages of the MS. the Doctor is
called "Ormskirk," and in an earlier draft of this portion of the
_Note 3. Author's note_.--"Crusty Hannah is a mixture of Indian
_Note 4. Author's note_.--"It is understood from the first that
the children are not brother and sister.--Describe the children with
really childish traits, quarrelling, being naughty, etc.--The Doctor
should occasionally beat Ned in course of instruction."
_Note 5._ In order to show the manner in which Hawthorne would
modify a passage, which was nevertheless to be left substantially the
same, I subjoin here a description of this graveyard as it appears in
the earlier draft: "The graveyard (we are sorry to have to treat of
such a disagreeable piece of ground, but everybody's business centres
there at one time or another) was the most ancient in the town. The
dust of the original Englishmen had become incorporated with the soil;
of those Englishmen whose immediate predecessors had been resolved into
the earth about the country churches,--the little Norman, square,
battlemented stone towers of the villages in the old land; so that in
this point of view, as holding bones and dust of the first ancestors,
this graveyard was more English than anything else in town. There had
been hidden from sight many a broad, bluff visage of husbandmen that
had ploughed the real English soil; there the faces of noted men, now
known in history; there many a personage whom tradition told about,
making wondrous qualities of strength and courage for him;--all these,
mingled with succeeding generations, turned up and battened down again
with the sexton's spade; until every blade of grass was human more than
vegetable,--for an hundred and fifty years will do this, and so much
time, at least, had elapsed since the first little mound was piled up
in the virgin soil. Old tombs there were too, with numerous sculptures
on them; and quaint, mossy gravestones; although all kinds of
monumental appendages were of a date more recent than the time of the
first settlers, who had been content with wooden memorials, if any, the
sculptor's art not having then reached New England. Thus rippled,
surged, broke almost against the house, this dreary graveyard, which
made the street gloomy, so that people did not like to pass the dark,
high wooden fence, with its closed gate, that separated it from the
street. And this old house was one that crowded upon it, and took up
the ground that would otherwise have been sown as thickly with dead as
the rest of the lot; so that it seemed hardly possible but that the
dead people should get up out of their graves, and come in there to
warm themselves. But in truth, I have never heard a whisper of its
_Note 6. Author's note_.--"The spiders are affected by the weather
and serve as barometers.--It shall always be a moot point whether the
Doctor really believed in cobwebs, or was laughing at the credulous."
_Note 7. Author's note_.--"The townspeople are at war with the
Doctor.--Introduce the Doctor early as a smoker, and describe.--The
result of Crusty Hannah's strangely mixed breed should be shown in some
strange way.--Give vivid pictures of the society of the day, symbolized
in the street scenes."
_Note 1. Author's note_.--"Read the whole paragraph before copying
any of it."
_Note 2. Author's note_.--"Crusty Hannah teaches Elsie curious
_Note 3._ These two children are described as follows in an early
note of the author's: "The boy had all the qualities fitted to excite
tenderness in those who had the care of him; in the first and most
evident place, on account of his personal beauty, which was very
remarkable,--the most intelligent and expressive face that can be
conceived, changing in those early years like an April day, and
beautiful in all its changes; dark, but of a soft expression, kindling,
melting, glowing, laughing; a varied intelligence, which it was as good
as a book to read. He was quick in all modes of mental exercise; quick
and strong, too, in sensibility; proud, and gifted (probably by the
circumstances in which he was placed) with an energy which the softness
and impressibility of his nature needed.--As for the little girl, all
the squalor of the abode served but to set off her lightsomeness and
brightsomeness. She was a pale, large-eyed little thing, and it might
have been supposed that the air of the house and the contiguity of the
burial-place had a bad effect upon her health. Yet I hardly think this
could have been the case, for she was of a very airy nature, dancing
and sporting through the house as if melancholy had never been made.
She took all kinds of childish liberties with the Doctor, and with his
pipe, and with everything appertaining to him except his spiders and
his cobwebs."--All of which goes to show that Hawthorne first conceived
his characters in the mood of the "Twice-Told Tales," and then by
meditation solidified them to the inimitable flesh-and-blood of "The
House of the Seven Gables" and "The Blithedale Romance."
_Note 1._ An English church spire, evidently the prototype of
this, and concerning which the same legend is told, is mentioned in the
author's "English Mote-Books."
_Note 2._ Leicester Hospital, in Warwick, described in "Our Old
Home," is the original of this charity.
_Note 3. Author's note_.--"The children find a gravestone with
something like a footprint on it."
_Note 4. Author's note_.--"Put into the Doctor's character a
continual enmity against somebody, breaking out in curses of which
nobody can understand the application."
_Note 1._ The Doctor's propensity for cobwebs is amplified in the
following note for an earlier and somewhat milder version of the
character: "According to him, all science was to be renewed and
established on a sure ground by no other means than cobwebs. The cobweb
was the magic clue by which mankind was to be rescued from all its
errors, and guided safely back to the right. And so he cherished
spiders above all things, and kept them spinning, spinning away; the
only textile factory that existed at that epoch in New England. He
distinguished the production of each of his ugly friends, and assigned
peculiar qualities to each; and he had been for years engaged in
writing a work on this new discovery, in reference to which he had
already compiled a great deal of folio manuscript, and had unguessed at
resources still to come. With this suggestive subject he interwove all
imaginable learning, collected from his own library, rich in works that
few others had read, and from that of his beloved University, crabbed
with Greek, rich with Latin, drawing into itself, like a whirlpool, all
that men had thought hitherto, and combining them anew in such a way
that it had all the charm of a racy originality. Then he had projects
for the cultivation of cobwebs, to which end, in the good Doctor's
opinion, it seemed desirable to devote a certain part of the national
income; and not content with this, all public-spirited citizens would
probably be induced to devote as much of their time and means as they
could to the same end. According to him, there was no such beautiful
festoon and drapery for the halls of princes as the spinning of this
heretofore despised and hated insect; and by due encouragement it might
be hoped that they would flourish, and hang and dangle and wave
triumphant in the breeze, to an extent as yet generally undreamed of.
And he lamented much the destruction that has heretofore been wrought
upon this precious fabric by the housemaid's broom, and insisted upon
by foolish women who claimed to be good housewives. Indeed, it was the
general opinion that the Doctor's celibacy was in great measure due to
the impossibility of finding a woman who would pledge herself to co-
operate with him in this great ambition of his life,--that of reducing
the world to a cobweb factory; or who would bind herself to let her own
drawing-room be ornamented with this kind of tapestry. But there never
was a wife precisely fitted for our friend the Doctor, unless it had
been Arachne herself, to whom, if she could again have been restored to
her female shape, he would doubtless have lost no time in paying his
addresses. It was doubtless the having dwelt too long among the musty
and dusty clutter and litter of things gone by, that made the Doctor
almost a monomaniac on this subject. There were cobwebs in his own
brain, and so he saw nothing valuable but cobwebs in the world around
him; and deemed that the march of created things, up to this time, had
been calculated by foreknowledge to produce them."
_Note 2. Author's note_.--"Ned must learn something of the
characteristics of the Catechism, and simple cottage devotion."
_Note 1. Author's note_.--"Make the following scene emblematic of
the world's treatment of a dissenter."
_Note 2. Author's note_.--"Yankee characteristics should be shown
in the schoolmaster's manners."
_Note 1. Author's note_.--"He had a sort of horror of violence,
and of the strangeness that it should be done to him; this affected him
more than the blow."
_Note 2. Author's note_.--"Jokes occasionally about the
schoolmaster's thinness and lightness,--how he might suspend himself
from the spider's web and swing, etc."
_Note 3. Author's note_.--"The Doctor and the Schoolmaster should
have much talk about England."
_Note 4. Author's note_.--"The children were at play in the
_Note 5. Author's note_.--"He mentions that he was probably buried
in the churchyard there."
_Note 1. Author's note_.--"Perhaps put this narratively, not as
_Note 2. Author's note_.--"He was privately married to the
heiress, if she were an heiress. They meant to kill him in the wood,
but, by contrivance, he was kidnapped."
_Note 3. Author's note_.--"They were privately married."
_Note 4. Author's note_.--"Old descriptive letters, referring to
localities as they existed."
_Note 5. Author's note_.--"There should be symbols and tokens,
hinting at the schoolmaster's disappearance, from the first opening of
_Note 1. Author's note_.--"They had got up in remarkably good case
_Note 2. Author's note_.--"The stranger may be the future master
of the Hospital.--Describe the winter day."
_Note 3. Author's note_.--"Describe him as clerical."
_Note 4. Author's note_.--"Represent him as a refined, agreeable,
genial young man, of frank, kindly, gentlemanly manners."
_Note 5._ Alternative reading: "A clergyman."
_Note 1. Author's note_.--"Make the old grave-digger a _laudator
temporis acti_,--especially as to burial customs."
_Note 2._ Instead of "written," as in the text, the author
probably meant to write "read."
_Note 3._ The MS. has "delight," but "a light" is evidently
_Note 4. Author's note_.--"He aims a blow, perhaps with his pipe,
at the boy, which Ned wards off."
_Note 1. Author's note_.--"No longer could play at quarter-staff
_Note 2. Author's note_.--"Referring to places and people in
England: the Bloody Footstep sometimes."
_Note 3._ In the original the following occurs, but marked to
indicate that it was to be omitted: "And kissed his hand to her, and
laughed feebly; and that was the last that she or anybody, the last
glimpse they had of Doctor Grimshawe alive."
_Note 4. Author's notes_.--"A great deal must he made out of the
spiders, and their gloomy, dusky, flaunting tapestry. A web across the
orifice of his inkstand every morning; everywhere, indeed, except
across the snout of his brandy-bottle.--Depict the Doctor in an old
dressing-gown, and a strange sort of a cap, like a wizard's.--The two
children are witnesses of many strange experiments in the study; they
see his moods, too.--The Doctor is supposed to be writing a work on the
Natural History of Spiders. Perhaps he used them as a blind for his
real project, and used to bamboozle the learned with pretending to read
them passages in which great learning seemed to be elaborately worked
up, crabbed with Greek and Latin, as if the topic drew into itself,
like a whirlpool, all that men thought and knew; plans to cultivate
cobwebs on a large scale. Sometimes, after overwhelming them with
astonishment in this way, he would burst into one of his laughs.
Schemes to make the world a cobweb-factory, etc., etc. Cobwebs in his
own brain. Crusty Hannah such a mixture of persons and races as could
be found only at a seaport. There was a rumor that the Doctor had
murdered a former maid, for having, with housewifely instinct, swept
away the cobwebs; some said that he had her skeleton in a closet. Some
said that he had strangled a wife with web of the great spider."
--"Read the description of Bolton Hall, the garden, lawn, etc., Aug. 8,
'53.--Bebbington church and churchyard, Aug. 29, '53.--The Doctor is
able to love,--able to hate; two great and rare abilities nowadays.--
Introduce two pine trees, ivy-grown, as at Lowwood Hotel, July 16,
'58.--The family name might be Redclyffe.--Thatched cottage, June 22,
'55.--Early introduce the mention of the cognizance of the family,--the
Leopard's Head, for instance, in the first part of the romance; the
Doctor may have possessed it engraved as coat of arms in a book.--The
Doctor shall show Ned, perhaps, a drawing or engraving of the Hospital,
with figures of the pensioners in the quadrangle, fitly dressed; and
this picture and the figures shall impress themselves strongly on his
The above dates and places refer to passages in the published "English
_Note 1. Author's note_.--"Compare it with Spenser's Cave of
Despair. Put instruments of suicide there."
_Note 2. Author's note_.--"Once, in looking at the mansion,
Redclyffe is struck by the appearance of a marble inserted into the
wall, and kept clear of lichens."
_Note 3. Author's note_.--"Describe, in rich poetry, all shapes of
_Note 1. Author's note_.--"Conferred their best qualities": an
alternative phrase for "done their utmost."
_Note 2. Author's note_.--"Let the old man have a beard as part of
_Note 1. Author's note_.--"Describe him as delirious, and the
scene as adopted into his delirium."
_Note 2. Author's note_.--"Make the whole scene very dreamlike and
_Note 3. Author's note_.--"There should be a slight wildness in
the patient's remark to the surgeon, which he cannot prevent, though he
is conscious of it."
_Note 4. Author's note_.--"Notice the peculiar depth and
intelligence of his eyes, on account of his pain and sickness."
_Note 5. Author's note_.--"Perhaps the recognition of the
pensioner should not be so decided. Redclyffe thinks it is he, but
thinks it as in a dream, without wonder or inquiry; and the pensioner
does not quite acknowledge it."
_Note 6._ The following dialogue is marked to be omitted or
modified in the original MS.; but it is retained here, in order that
the thread of the narrative may not be broken.
_Note 7. Author's note_.--"The patient, as he gets better, listens
to the feet of old people moving in corridors; to the ringing of a bell
at stated periods; to old, tremulous voices talking in the quadrangle;
_Note 8._ At this point the modification indicated in Note 5 seems
to have been made operative: and the recognition takes place in another
_Note 1._ This paragraph is left incomplete in the original MS.
_Note 2._ The words "Rich old bindings" are interlined here,
indicating, perhaps, a purpose to give a more detailed description of
the library and its contents.
_Note 1. Author's note_.--"I think it shall be built of stone,
_Note 2._ This probably refers to some incident which the author
intended to incorporate in the former portion of the romance, on a
_Note 1._ Several passages, which are essentially reproductions of
what had been previously treated, are omitted from this chapter. It
belongs to an earlier version of the romance.
_Note 1. Author's note_.--"Redclyffe shows how to find, under the
surface of the village green, an old cross."
_Note 2. Author's note_.--"A circular seat around the tree."
_Note 3._ The reader now hears for the first time what Redclyffe
_Note 1. Author's note_.--"The dinner is given to the pensioners,
as well as to the gentry, I think."
_Note 2. Author's note_.--"For example, a story of three brothers,
who had a deadly quarrel among them more than two hundred years ago for
the affections of a young lady, their cousin, who gave her reciprocal
love to one of them, who immediately became the object of the deadly
hatred of the two others. There seemed to be madness in their love;
perhaps madness in the love of all three; for the result had been a
plot to kidnap this unfortunate young man and convey him to America,
where he was sold for a servant."
_Note 1._ The following passage, though it seems to fit in here
chronologically, is concerned with a side issue which was not followed
up. The author was experimenting for a character to act as the
accomplice of Lord Braithwaite at the Hall; and he makes trial of the
present personage, Mountford; of an Italian priest, Father Angelo; and
finally of the steward, Omskirk, who is adopted. It will be noticed
that Mountford is here endowed (for the moment) with the birthright of
good Doctor Hammond, the Warden. He is represented as having made the
journey to America in search of the grave. This alteration being
inconsistent with the true thread of the story, and being, moreover,
not continued, I have placed this passage in the Appendix, instead of
in the text.
Redclyffe often, in the dim weather, when the prophetic intimations of
rain were too strong to allow an American to walk abroad with peace of
mind, was in the habit of pacing this noble hall, and watching the
process of renewal and adornment; or, which suited him still better, of
enjoying its great, deep solitude when the workmen were away. Parties
of visitors, curious tourists, sometimes peeped in, took a cursory
glimpse at the old hall, and went away; these were the only ordinary
disturbances. But, one day, a person entered, looked carelessly round
the hall, as if its antiquity had no great charm to him; then he seemed
to approach Redclyffe, who stood far and dim in the remote distance of
the great room. The echoing of feet on the stone pavement of the hall
had always an impressive sound, and turning his head towards the
visitant Edward stood as if there were an expectance for him in this
approach. It was a middle-aged man--rather, a man towards fifty, with
an alert, capable air; a man evidently with something to do in life,
and not in the habit of throwing away his moments in looking at old
halls; a gentlemanly man enough, too. He approached Redclyffe without
hesitation, and, lifting his hat, addressed him in a way that made
Edward wonder whether he could be an Englishman. If so, he must have
known that Edward was an American, and have been trying to adapt his
manners to those of a democratic freedom.
"Mr. Redclyffe, I believe," said he.
Redclyffe bowed, with the stiff caution of an Englishman; for, with
American mobility, he had learned to be stiff.
"I think I have had the pleasure of knowing--at least of meeting--you
very long ago," said the gentleman. "But I see you do not recollect
Redclyffe confessed that the stranger had the advantage of him in his
recollection of a previous acquaintance.
"No wonder," said the other, "for, as I have already hinted, it was
many years ago."
"In my own country then, of course," said Redclyffe.
"In your own country certainly," said the stranger, "and when it would
have required a penetrating eye to see the distinguished Mr. Redclyffe.
the representative of American democracy abroad, in the little pale-
faced, intelligent boy, dwelling with an old humorist in the corner of
At these words Redclyffe sent back his recollections, and, though
doubtfully, began to be aware that this must needs be the young
Englishman who had come to his guardian on such a singular errand as to
search an old grave. It must be he, for it could be nobody else; and,
in truth, he had a sense of his identity,--which, however, did not
express itself by anything that he could confidently remember in his
looks, manner, or voice,--yet, if anything, it was most in the voice.
But the image which, on searching, he found in his mind of a fresh-
colored young Englishman, with light hair and a frank, pleasant face,
was terribly realized for the worse in this somewhat heavy figure, and
coarser face, and heavier eye. In fact, there is a terrible difference
between the mature Englishman and the young man who is not yet quite
out of his blossom. His hair, too, was getting streaked and sprinkled
with gray; and, in short, there were evident marks of his having
worked, and succeeded, and failed, and eaten and drunk, and being made
largely of beef, ale, port, and sherry, and all the solidities of
"I remember you now," said Redclyffe, extending his hand frankly; and
yet Mountford took it in so cold a way that he was immediately sorry
that he had done it, and called up an extra portion of reserve to
freeze the rest of the interview. He continued, coolly enough, "I
remember you, and something of your American errand,--which, indeed,
has frequently been in my mind since. I hope you found the results of
your voyage, in the way of discovery, sufficiently successful to
justify so much trouble."
"You will remember," said Mountford, "that the grave proved quite
unproductive. Yes, you will not have forgotten it; for I well recollect
how eagerly you listened, with that queer little girl, to my talk with
the old governor, and how disappointed you seemed when you found that
the grave was not to be opened. And yet, it is very odd. I failed in
that mission; and yet there are circumstances that have led me to think
that I ought to have succeeded better,--that some other person has
really succeeded better."
Redclyffe was silent; but he remembered the strange old silver key, and
how he had kept it secret, and the doubts that had troubled his mind
then and long afterwards, whether he ought not to have found means to
convey it to the stranger, and ask whether that was what he sought. And
now here was that same doubt and question coming up again, and he found
himself quite as little able to solve it as he had been twenty years
ago. Indeed, with the views that had come up since, it behooved him to
be cautious, until he knew both the man and the circumstances.
"You are probably aware," continued Mountford,--"for I understand you
have been some time in this neighborhood,--that there is a pretended
claim, a contesting claim, to the present possession of the estate of
Braithwaite, and a long dormant title. Possibly--who knows?--you
yourself might have a claim to one or the other. Would not that be a
singular coincidence? Have you ever had the curiosity to investigate
your parentage with a view to this point?"
"The title," replied Redclyffe, "ought not to be a very strong
consideration with an American. One of us would be ashamed, I verily
believe, to assume any distinction, except such as may be supposed to
indicate personal, not hereditary merit. We have in some measure, I
think, lost the feeling of the past, and even of the future, as regards
our own lines of descent; and even as to wealth, it seems to me that
the idea of heaping up a pile of gold, or accumulating a broad estate
for our children and remoter descendants, is dying out. We wish to
enjoy the fulness of our success in life ourselves, and leave to those
who descend from us the task of providing for themselves. This tendency
is seen in our lavish expenditure, and the whole arrangement of our
lives; and it is slowly--yet not very slowly, either--effecting a
change in the whole economy of American life."
"Still," rejoined Mr. Mountford, with a smile that Redclyffe fancied
was dark and subtle, "still, I should imagine that even an American
might recall so much of hereditary prejudice as to be sensible of some
earthly advantages in the possession of an ancient title and hereditary
estate like this. Personal distinction may suit you better,--to be an
Ambassador by your own talent; to have a future for yourself, involving
the possibility of ranking (though it were only for four years) among
the acknowledged sovereigns of the earth;--this is very good. But if
the silver key would open the shut up secret to-day, it might be
possible that you would relinquish these advantages."
Before Redclyffe could reply, (and, indeed, there seemed to be an
allusion at the close of Mountford's speech which, whether intended or
not, he knew not how to reply to,) a young lady entered the hall, whom
he was at no loss, by the colored light of a painted window that fell
upon her, translating her out of the common daylight, to recognize as
the relative of the pensioner. She seemed to have come to give her
fanciful superintendence to some of the decorations of the hall; such
as required woman's taste, rather than the sturdy English judgment and
antiquarian knowledge of the Warden. Slowly following after her came
the pensioner himself, leaning on his staff and looking up at the old
roof and around him with a benign composure, and himself a fitting
figure by his antique and venerable appearance to walk in that old
"Ah!" said Mountford, to Redclyffe's surprise, "here is an
acquaintance--two acquaintances of mine."
He moved along the hall to accost them; and as he appeared to expect
that Redclyffe would still keep him company, and as the latter had no
reason for not doing so, they both advanced to the pensioner, who was
now leaning on the young woman's arm. The incident, too, was not
unacceptable to the American, as promising to bring him into a more
available relation with her--whom he half fancied to be his old
American acquaintance--than he had yet succeeded in obtaining.
"Well, my old friend," said Mountford, after bowing with a certain
measured respect to the young woman, "how wears life with you? Rather,
perhaps, it does not wear at all; you being so well suited to the life
around you, you grow by it like a lichen on a wall. I could fancy now
that you have walked here for three hundred years, and remember when
King James of blessed memory was entertained in this hall, and could
marshal out all the ceremonies just as they were then."
"An old man," said the pensioner, quietly, "grows dreamy as he wanes
away; and I, too, am sometimes at a loss to know whether I am living in
the past or the present, or whereabouts in time I am,--or whether there
is any time at all. But I should think it hardly worth while to call up
one of my shifting dreams more than another."
"I confess," said Redclyffe, "I shall find it impossible to call up
this scene--any of these scenes--hereafter, without the venerable
figure of this, whom I may truly call my benefactor, among them. I
fancy him among them from the foundation,--young then, but keeping just
the equal step with their age and decay,--and still doing good and
hospitable deeds to those who need them."
The old man seemed not to like to hear these remarks and expressions of
gratitude from Mountford and the American; at any rate, he moved away
with his slow and light motion of infirmity, but then came uneasily
back, displaying a certain quiet restlessness, which Redclyffe was
sympathetic enough to perceive. Not so the sturdier, more heavily
moulded Englishman, who continued to direct the conversation upon the
pensioner, or at least to make him a part of it, thereby bringing out
more of his strange characteristics. In truth, it is not quite easy for
an Englishman to know how to adapt himself to the line feelings of
those below him in point of station, whatever gentlemanly deference he
may have for his equals or superiors.
"I should like now, father pensioner," said he, "to know how many steps
you may have taken in life before your path led into this hole, and
whence your course started."
"Do not let him speak thus to the old man," said the young woman, in a
low, earnest tone, to Redclyffe. He was surprised and startled; it
seemed like a voice that has spoken to his boyhood.
_Note 2. Author's note_.--"Redclyffe's place is next to that of
the proprietor at table."
_Note 3. Author's note_.--"Dwell upon the antique liveried
_Note 4. Author's note_.--"The rose-water must precede the
_Note 5. Author's note_.--"The jollity of the Warden at the feast
to be noticed; and afterwards explain that he had drunk nothing."
_Note 6. Author's note_.--"Mention the old silver snuffbox which I
saw at the Liverpool Mayor's dinner."
_Note 1._ This is not the version of the story as indicated in the
earlier portion of the romance. It is there implied that Elsie is the
Doctor's granddaughter, her mother having been the Doctor's daughter,
who was ruined by the then possessor of the Braithwaite estates, and
who died in consequence. That the Doctor's scheme of revenge was far
deeper and more terrible than simply to oust the family from its
possessions, will appear further on.
_Note 2._ The foregoing passage was evidently experimental, and
the author expresses his estimate of its value in the following words,
--"What unimaginable nonsense!" He then goes on to make the following
memoranda as to the plot. It should be remembered, however, that all
this part of the romance was written before the American part.
"Half of a secret is preserved in England; that is to say, in the
particular part of the mansion in which an old coffer is hidden; the
other part is carried to America. One key of an elaborate lock is
retained in England, among some old curiosities of forgotten purpose;
the other is the silver key that Redclyffe found beside the grave. A
treasure of gold is what they expect; they find a treasure of golden
locks. This lady, the beloved of the Bloody Footstep, had been murdered
and hidden in the coffer on account of jealousy. Elsie must know the
baselessness of Redclyffe's claims, and be loath to tell him, because
she sees that he is so much interested in them. She has a paper of the
old Doctor's revealing the whole plot,--a death-bed confession;
Redclyffe having been absent at the time."
The reader will recollect that this latter suggestion was not adopted:
there was no death-bed confession. As regards the coffer full of golden
locks, it was suggested by an incident recorded in the "English Note-
Books," 1854. "The grandmother of Mrs. O'Sullivan died fifty years ago,
at the age of twenty-eight. She had great personal charms, and among
them a head of beautiful chestnut hair. After her burial in a family
tomb, the coffin of one of her children was laid on her own, so that
the lid seems to have decayed, or been broken from this cause; at any
rate, this was the case when the tomb was opened, about a year ago. The
grandmother's coffin was then found to be filled with beautiful,
glossy, living chestnut ringlets, into which her whole substance seems
to have been transformed, for there was nothing else but these shining
curls, the growth of half a century, in the tomb. An old man, with a
ringlet of his youthful mistress treasured in his heart, might be
supposed to witness this wonderful thing."
_Note 1._ In a study of the plot, too long to insert here, this
new character of the steward is introduced and described. It must
suffice to say, in this place, that he was intimately connected with
Dr. Grimshawe, who had resuscitated him after he had been hanged, and
had thus gained his gratitude and secured his implicit obedience to his
wishes, even twenty years after his (Grimshawe's) death. The use the
Doctor made of him was to establish him in Braithwaite Hall as the
perpetual confidential servant of the owners thereof. Of course, the
latter are not aware that the steward is acting in Grimshawe's
interest, and therefore in deadly opposition to their own. Precisely
what the steward's mission in life was, will appear here-after.
The study above alluded to, with others, amounting to about a hundred
pages, will be published as a supplement to a future edition of this
_Note 1. Author's note_.--"Redclyffe lies in a dreamy state,
thinking fantastically, as if he were one of the seven sleepers. He
does not yet open his eyes, but lies there in a maze."
_Note 2. Author's note_.--"Redclyffe must look at the old man
quietly and dreamily, and without surprise, for a long while."
_Note 3._ Presumably the true name of Doctor Grimshawe.
_Note 4._ This mysterious prisoner, Sir Edward Redclyffe, is not,
of course, the Sir Edward who founded the Hospital, but a descendant of
that man, who ruined Doctor Grimshawe's daughter, and is the father of
Elsie. He had been confined in this chamber, by the Doctor's
contrivance, ever since, Omskirk being his jailer, as is foreshadowed
in Chapter XL He has been kept in the belief that he killed Grimshawe,
in a struggle that took place between them; and that his confinement in
the secret chamber is voluntary on his own part,--a measure of
precaution to prevent arrest and execution for murder. In this
miserable delusion he has cowered there for five and thirty years.
This, and various other dusky points, are partly elucidated in the
notes hereafter to be appended to this volume.
_Note 1._ At this point, the author, for what reason I will not
venture to surmise, chooses to append this gloss: "Bubble-and-Squeak!"
_Note 2. Author's note_.--"They found him in the hall, about to go
_Note 3._ Elsie appears to have joined the party.