Part 3 out of 3
to be sober fact?" said the doctor, sitting by the bedside, and actually
"I can't help believing it, because I can't distinguish in any way
between all that and everything else that actually happened, and which I
must believe. And, except that this is more wonderful, I can find no
reason to reject it, that does not as well apply to all the rest."
"Come, come, my dear sir, this will never do--nothing is more common.
These illusions accompanying fever frequently antedate the attack, and
the man is actually raving before he knows he is ill."
"But what do you make of that bag of gold?"
"Some one has lent it. You had better ask all about it of Feltram when
you can see him; for in speaking to me he seemed to know all about it,
and certainly did not seem to think the matter at all out of the
commonplace. It is just like that fisherman's story, about the hand that
drew Feltram into the water on the night that he was nearly drowned.
Every one can see what that was. Why of course it was simply the
reflection of his own hand in the water, in that vivid lightning. When
you have been out a little and have gained strength you will shake off
"I should not wonder," said Sir Bale.
It is not to be supposed that Sir Bale reported all that was in his
memory respecting his strange vision, if such it was, at Cloostedd. He
made a selection of the incidents, and threw over the whole adventure an
entirely accidental character, and described the money which the old man
had thrown to him as amounting to a purse of five guineas, and mentioned
nothing of the passages which bore on the coming race.
Good Doctor Torvey, therefore, reported only that Sir Bale's delirium
had left two or three illusions sticking in his memory.
But if they were illusions, they survived the event of his recovery, and
remained impressed on his memory with the sharpness of very recent and
accurately observed fact.
He was resolved on going to the races of Rindermere, where, having in
his possession so weighty a guarantee as the leather purse, he was
determined to stake it all boldly on Rainbow--against which horse he was
glad to hear there were very heavy odds.
The race came off. One horse was scratched, another bolted, the rider of
a third turned out to have lost a buckle and three half-pence and so was
an ounce and a half under weight, a fourth knocked down the post near
Rinderness churchyard, and was held to have done it with his left
instead of his right knee, and so had run at the wrong side. The result
was that Rainbow came in first, and I should be afraid to say how much
Sir Bale won. It was a sum that paid off a heavy debt, and left his
affairs in a much more manageable state.
From this time Sir Bale prospered. He visited Cloostedd no more; but
Feltram often crossed to that lonely shore as heretofore, and it is
believed conveyed to him messages which guided his betting. One thing is
certain, his luck never deserted him. His debts disappeared; and his
love of continental life seemed to have departed. He became content with
Mardykes Hall, laid out money on it, and although he never again cared
to cross the lake, he seemed to like the scenery.
In some respects, however, he lived exactly the same odd and unpopular
life. He saw no one at Mardykes Hall. He practised a very strict
reserve. The neighbours laughed at and disliked him, and he was voted,
whenever any accidental contact arose, a very disagreeable man; and he
had a shrewd and ready sarcasm that made them afraid of him, and himself
Odd rumours prevailed about his household. It was said that his old
relations with Philip Feltram had become reversed; and that he was as
meek as a mouse, and Feltram the bully now. It was also said that Mrs.
Julaper had one Sunday evening when she drank tea at the Vicar's, told
his good lady very mysteriously, and with many charges of secrecy, that
Sir Bale was none the better of his late-found wealth; that he had a
load upon his spirits, that he was afraid of Feltram, and so was every
one else, more or less, in the house; that he was either mad or worse;
and that it was an eerie dwelling, and strange company, and she should
be glad herself of a change.
Good Mrs. Bedel told her friend Mrs. Torvey; and all Golden Friars heard
all this, and a good deal more, in an incredibly short time.
All kinds of rumours now prevailed in Golden Friars, connecting Sir
Bale's successes on the turf with some mysterious doings in Cloostedd
Forest. Philip Feltram laughed when he heard these stories--especially
when he heard the story that a supernatural personage had lent the
Baronet a purse full of money.
"You should not talk to Doctor Torvey so, sir," said he grimly; "he's
the greatest tattler in the town. It was old Farmer Trebeck, who could
buy and sell us all down here, who lent that money. Partly from
good-will, but not without acknowledgment. He has my hand for the first,
not worth much, and yours to a bond for the two thousand guineas you
brought home with you. It seems strange you should not remember that
venerable and kind old farmer whom you talked with so long that day. His
grandson, who expects to stand well in his will, being a trainer in Lord
Varney's stables, has sometimes a tip to give, and he is the source of
"By Jove, I must be a bit mad, then, that's all," said Sir Bale, with a
smile and a shrug.
Philip Feltram moped about the house, and did precisely what he pleased.
The change which had taken place in him became more and more pronounced.
Dark and stern he always looked, and often malignant. He was like a man
possessed of one evil thought which never left him.
There was, besides, the good old Gothic superstition of a bargain or
sale of the Baronet's soul to the arch-fiend. This was, of course, very
cautiously whispered in a place where he had influence. It was only a
coarser and directer version of a suspicion, that in a more credulous
generation penetrated a level of society quite exempt from such follies
in our day.
One evening at dusk, Sir Bale, sitting after his dinner in his window,
saw the tall figure of Feltram, like a dark streak, standing movelessly
by the lake. An unpleasant feeling moved him, and then an impatience. He
got up, and having primed himself with two glasses of brandy, walked
down to the edge of the lake, and placed himself beside Feltram.
"Looking down from the window," said he, nerved with his Dutch courage,
"and seeing you standing like a post, do you know what I began to think
Feltram looked at him, but answered nothing.
"I began to think of taking a wife--_marrying_."
Feltram nodded. The announcement had not produced the least effect.
"Why the devil will you make me so uncomfortable! Can't you be like
yourself--what you _were_, I mean? I won't go on living here alone with
you. I'll take a wife, I tell you. I'll choose a good church-going
woman, that will have every man, woman, and child in the house on their
marrow-bones twice a day, morning and evening, and three times on
Sundays. How will you like that?"
"Yes, you will be married," said Feltram, with a quiet decision which
chilled Sir Bale, for he had by no means made up his mind to that
Feltram slowly walked away, and that conversation ended.
Now an odd thing happened about this time. There was a family of
Feltram--county genealogists could show how related to the vanished
family of Cloostedd--living at that time on their estate not far from
Carlisle. Three co-heiresses now represented it. They were great
beauties--the belles of their county in their day.
One was married to Sir Oliver Haworth of Haworth, a great family in
those times. He was a knight of the shire, and had refused a baronetage,
and, it was said, had his eye on a peerage. The other sister was married
to Sir William Walsingham, a wealthy baronet; and the third and
youngest, Miss Janet, was still unmarried, and at home at Cloudesly
Hall, where her aunt, Lady Harbottle, lived with her, and made a
Now it so fell out that Sir Bale, having business at Carlisle, and
knowing old Lady Harbottle, paid his respects at Cloudesly Hall; and
being no less than five-and-forty years of age, was for the first time
in his life, seriously in love.
Miss Janet was extremely pretty--a fair beauty with brilliant red lips
and large blue eyes, and ever so many pretty dimples when she talked and
smiled. It was odd, but not perhaps against the course of nature, that a
man, though so old as he, and quite _blase_, should fall at last under
But what are we to say of the strange infatuation of the young lady? No
one could tell why she liked him. It was a craze. Her family were
against it, her intimates, her old nurse--all would not do; and the
oddest thing was, that he seemed to take no pains to please her. The end
of this strange courtship was that he married her; and she came home to
Mardykes Hall, determined to please everybody, and to be the happiest
woman in England.
With her came a female cousin, a good deal her senior, past
thirty--Gertrude Mainyard, pale and sad, but very gentle, and with all
the prettiness that can belong to her years.
This young lady has a romance. Her hero is far away in India; and she,
content to await his uncertain return with means to accomplish the hope
of their lives, in that frail chance has long embarked all the purpose
and love of her life.
When Lady Mardykes came home, a new leaf was, as the phrase is, turned
over. The neighbours and all the country people were willing to give the
Hall a new trial. There was visiting and returning of visits; and young
Lady Mardykes was liked and admired. It could not indeed have been
otherwise. But here the improvement in the relations of Mardykes Hall
with other homes ceased. On one excuse or another Sir Bale postponed or
evaded the hospitalities which establish intimacies. Some people said he
was jealous of his young and beautiful wife. But for the most part his
reserve was set down to the old inhospitable cause, some ungenial defect
in his character; and in a little time the tramp of horses and roll of
carriage-wheels were seldom heard up or down the broad avenue of
Sir Bale liked this seclusion; and his wife, "so infatuated with her
idolatry of that graceless old man," as surrounding young ladies said,
that she was well content to forego the society of the county people for
a less interrupted enjoyment of that of her husband. "What she could see
in him" to interest or amuse her so, that for his sake she was willing
to be "buried alive in that lonely place," the same critics were
A year and more passed thus; for the young wife, happily--_very_ happily
indeed, had it not been for one topic on which she and her husband could
not agree. This was Philip Feltram; and an odd quarrel it was.
Sir Bale is Frightened
To Feltram she had conceived, at first sight, a horror. It was not a
mere antipathy; fear mingled largely in it. Although she did not see him
often, this restless dread grew upon her so, that she urged his
dismissal upon Sir Bale, offering to provide, herself, for him a
handsome annuity, charged on that part of her property which, by her
marriage settlement, had remained in her power. There was a time when
Sir Bale was only too anxious to get rid of him. But that was changed
now. Nothing could now induce the Baronet to part with him. He at first
evaded and resisted quietly. But, urged with a perseverance to which he
was unused, he at last broke into fury that appalled her, and swore that
if he was worried more upon the subject, he would leave her and the
country, and see neither again. This exhibition of violence affrighted
her all the more by reason of the contrast; for up to this he had been
an uxorious husband. Lady Mardykes was in hysterics, and thoroughly
frightened, and remained in her room for two or three days. Sir Bale
went up to London about business, and was not home for more than a week.
This was the first little squall that disturbed the serenity of their
This point, therefore, was settled; but soon there came other things to
sadden Lady Mardykes. There occurred a little incident, soon after Sir
Bale's return from London, which recalled the topic on which they had so
Sir Bale had a dressing-room, remote from the bedrooms, in which he sat
and read and sometimes smoked. One night, after the house was all quiet,
the Baronet being still up, the bell of this dressing-room rang long and
furiously. It was such a peal as a person in extreme terror might ring.
Lady Mardykes, with her maid in her room, heard it; and in great alarm
she ran in her dressing-gown down the gallery to Sir Bale's room.
Mallard the butler had already arrived, and was striving to force the
door, which was secured. It gave way just as she reached it, and she
Sir Bale was standing with the bell-rope in his hand, in the extremest
agitation, looking like a ghost; and Philip Feltram was sitting in his
chair, with a dark smile fixed upon him. For a minute she thought he had
attempted to assassinate his master. She could not otherwise account for
There had been nothing of the kind, however; as her husband assured her
again and again, as she lay sobbing on his breast, with her arms about
"To her dying hour," she afterwards said to her cousin, "she never could
forget the dreadful look in Feltram's face."
No explanation of that scene did she ever obtain from Sir Bale, nor any
clue to the cause of the agony that was so powerfully expressed in his
countenance. Thus much only she learned from him, that Feltram had
sought that interview for the purpose of announcing his departure, which
was to take place within the year.
"You are not sorry to hear that. But if you knew all, you might. Let the
curse fly where it may, it will come back to roost. So, darling, let us
discuss him no more. Your wish is granted, _dis iratis_."
Some crisis, during this interview, seemed to have occurred in the
relations between Sir Bale and Feltram. Henceforward they seldom
exchanged a word; and when they did speak, it was coldly and shortly,
like men who were nearly strangers.
One day in the courtyard, Sir Bale seeing Feltram leaning upon the
parapet that overlooks the lake, approached him, and said in a low tone,
"I've been thinking if we--that is, I--do owe that money to old Trebeck,
it is high time I should pay it. I was ill, and had lost my head at the
time; but it turned out luckily, and it ought to be paid. I don't like
the idea of a bond turning up, and a lot of interest."
"The old fellow meant it for a present. He is richer than you are; he
wished to give the family a lift. He has destroyed the bond, I believe,
and in no case will he take payment."
"No fellow has a right to force his money on another," answered Sir
Bale. "I never asked him. Besides, as you know, I was not really myself,
and the whole thing seems to me quite different from what you say it
was; and, so far as my brain is concerned, it was all a phantasmagoria;
but, you say, it was he."
"Every man is accountable for what he intends and for what he _thinks_
he does," said Feltram cynically.
"Well, I'm accountable for dealing with that wicked old dicer I
_thought_ I saw--isn't that it? But I must pay old Trebeck all the same,
since the money was his. Can you manage a meeting?"
"Look down here. Old Trebeck has just landed; he will sleep to-night at
the George and Dragon, to meet his cattle in the morning at Golden
Friars fair. You can speak to him yourself."
So saying Feltram glided away, leaving Sir Bale the task of opening the
matter to the wealthy farmer of Cloostedd Fells.
A broad night of steps leads down from the courtyard to the level of the
jetty at the lake: and Sir Bale descended, and accosted the venerable
farmer, who was bluff, honest, and as frank as a man can be who speaks a
_patois_ which hardly a living man but himself can understand.
Sir Bale asked him to come to the Hall and take luncheon; but Trebeck
was in haste. Cattle had arrived which he wanted to look at, and a pony
awaited him on the road, hard by, to Golden Friars; and the old fellow
must mount and away.
Then Sir Bale, laying his hand upon his arm in a manner that was at once
lofty and affectionate, told in his ears the subject on which he wished
to be understood.
The old farmer looked hard at him, and shook his head and laughed in a
way that would have been insupportable in a house, and told him, "I hev
narra bond o' thoine, mon."
"I know how that is; so does Philip Feltram."
"Well, I must replace the money."
The old man laughed again, and in his outlandish dialect told him to
wait till he asked him. Sir Bale pressed it, but the old fellow put it
off with outlandish banter; and as the Baronet grew testy, the farmer
only waxed more and more hilarious, and at last, mounting his shaggy
pony, rode off, still laughing, at a canter to Golden Friars; and when
he reached Golden Friars, and got into the hall of the George and
Dragon, he asked Richard Turnbull with a chuckle if he ever knew a man
refuse an offer of money, or a man want to pay who did not owe; and
inquired whether the Squire down at Mardykes Hall mightn't be a bit
"wrang in t' garrets." All this, however, other people said, was
intended merely to conceal the fact that he really had, through sheer
loyalty, lent the money, or rather bestowed it, thinking the old family
in jeopardy, and meaning a gift, was determined to hear no more about
it. I can't say; I only know people held, some by one interpretation,
some by another.
As the caterpillar sickens and changes its hue when it is about to
undergo its transformation, so an odd change took place in Feltram. He
grew even more silent and morose; he seemed always in an agitation and a
secret rage. He used to walk through the woodlands on the slopes of the
fells above Mardykes, muttering to himself, picking up the rotten sticks
with which the ground was strewn, breaking them in his hands, and
hurling them from him, and stamping on the earth as he paced up and
One night a thunder-storm came on, the wind blowing gently up from
Golden Friars. It was a night black as pitch, illuminated only by the
intermittent glare of the lightning. At the foot of the stairs Sir Bale
met Feltram, whom he had not seen for some days. He had his cloak and
"I am going to Cloostedd to-night," he said, "and if all is as I expect,
I sha'n't return. We remember all, you and I." And he nodded and walked
down the passage.
Sir Bale knew that a crisis had happened in his own life. He felt faint
and ill, and returned to the room where he had been sitting. Throughout
that melancholy night he did not go to his bed.
In the morning he learned that Marlin, who had been out late, saw
Feltram get the boat off, and sail towards the other side. The night was
so dark that he could only see him start; but the wind was light and
coming up the lake, so that without a tack he could easily make the
other side. Feltram did not return. The boat was found fast to the ring
at Cloostedd landing-place.
Lady Mardykes was relieved, and for a time was happier than ever. It was
different with Sir Bale; and afterwards her sky grew dark also.
A Lady in Black
Shortly after this, there arrived at the George and Dragon a stranger.
He was a man somewhat past forty, embrowned by distant travel, and, his
years considered, wonderfully good-looking. He had good eyes; his
dark-brown hair had no sprinkling of gray in it; and his kindly smile
showed very white and even teeth. He made inquiries about neighbours,
especially respecting Mardykes Hall; and the answers seemed to interest
him profoundly. He inquired after Philip Feltram, and shed tears when he
heard that he was no longer at Mardykes Hall, and that Trebeck or other
friends could give him no tidings of him.
And then he asked Richard Turnbull to show him to a quiet room; and so,
taking the honest fellow by the hand, he said,
"Mr. Turnbull, don't you know me?"
"No, sir," said the host of the George and Dragon, after a puzzled
stare, "I can't say I do, sir."
The stranger smiled a little sadly, and shook his head: and with a
gentle laugh, still holding his hand in a very friendly way, he said, "I
should have known you anywhere, Mr. Turnbull--anywhere on earth or
water. Had you turned up on the Himalayas, or in a junk on the Canton
river, or as a dervish in the mosque of St. Sophia, I should have
recognised my old friend, and asked what news from Golden Friars. But of
course I'm changed. You were a little my senior; and one advantage among
many you have over your juniors is that you don't change as we do. I
have played many a game of hand-ball in the inn-yard of the George, Mr.
Turnbull. You often wagered a pot of ale on my play; you used to say I'd
make the best player of fives, and the best singer of a song, within ten
miles round the meer. You used to have me behind the bar when I was a
boy, with more of an appetite than I have now. I was then at Mardykes
Hall, and used to go back in old Marlin's boat. Is old Marlin still
"Ay, that--he--is," said Turnbull slowly, as he eyed the stranger again
carefully. "I don't know who you can be, sir, unless you are--the
boy--William Feltram. La! he was seven or eight years younger than
Philip. But, lawk!--Well--By Jen, and _be_ you Willie Feltram? But no,
"Ay, Mr. Turnbull, that very boy--Willie Feltram--even he, and no other;
and now you'll shake hands with me, not so formally, but like an old
"Ay, that I will," said honest Richard Turnbull, with a great smile, and
a hearty grasp of his guest's hand; and they both laughed together, and
the younger man's eyes, for he was an affectionate fool, filled up with
"And I want you to tell me this," said William, after they had talked a
little quietly, "now that there is no one to interrupt us, what has
become of my brother Philip? I heard from a friend an account of his
health that has caused me unspeakable anxiety."
"His health was not bad; no, he was a hardy lad, and liked a walk over
the fells, or a pull on the lake; but he was a bit daft, every one said,
and a changed man; and, in troth, they say the air o' Mardykes don't
agree with every one, no more than him. But that's a tale that's neither
here nor there."
"Yes," said William, "that was what they told me--his mind affected. God
help and guard us! I have been unhappy ever since; and if I only knew it
was well with poor Philip, I think I should be too happy. And where is
"He crossed the lake one night, having took leave of Sir Bale. They
thought he was going to old Trebeck's up the Fells. He likes the
Feltrams, and likes the folk at Mardykes Hall--though those two families
was not always o'er kind to one another. But Trebeck seed nowt o' him,
nor no one else; and what has gone wi' him no one can tell."
"_I_ heard that also," said William with a deep sigh. "But _I_ hoped it
had been cleared up by now, and something happier been known of the poor
fellow by this time. I'd give a great deal to know--I don't know what I
_would_ not give to know--I'm so unhappy about him. And now, my good old
friend, tell your people to get me a chaise, for I must go to Mardykes
Hall; and, first, let me have a room to dress in."
At Mardykes Hall a pale and pretty lady was looking out, alone, from the
stone-shafted drawing-room window across the courtyard and the
balustrade, on which stood many a great stone cup with flowers, whose
leaves were half shed and gone with the winds--emblem of her hopes. The
solemn melancholy of the towering fells, the ripple of the lonely lake,
deepened her sadness.
The unwonted sound of carriage-wheels awoke her from her reverie.
Before the chaise reached the steps, a hand from its window had seized
the handle, the door was thrown open, and William Feltram jumped out.
She was in the hall, she knew not how; and, with a wild scream and a
sob, she threw herself into his arms.
Here at last was an end of the long waiting, the dejection which had
reached almost the point of despair. And like two rescued from
shipwreck, they clung together in an agony of happiness.
William had come back with no very splendid fortune. It was enough, and
only enough, to enable them to marry. Prudent people would have thought
it, very likely, too little. But he was now home in England, with health
unimpaired by his long sojourn in the East, and with intelligence and
energies improved by the discipline of his arduous struggle with
fortune. He reckoned, therefore, upon one way or other adding something
to their income; and he knew that a few hundreds a year would make them
happier than hundreds of thousand could other people.
It was five years since they had parted in France, where a journey of
importance to the Indian firm, whose right hand he was, had brought him.
The refined tastes that are supposed to accompany gentle blood, his love
of art, his talent for music and drawing, had accidentally attracted the
attention of the little travelling-party which old Lady Harbottle
chaperoned. Miss Janet, now Lady Mardykes, learning that his name was
Feltram, made inquiry through a common friend, and learned what
interested her still more about him. It ended in an acquaintance, which
his manly and gentle nature and his entertaining qualities soon improved
into an intimacy.
Feltram had chosen to work his own way, being proud, and also prosperous
enough to prevent his pride, in this respect, from being placed under
too severe a pressure of temptation. He heard not from but of his
brother, through a friend in London, and more lately from Gertrude,
whose account of him was sad and even alarming.
When Lady Mardykes came in, her delight knew no bounds. She had already
formed a plan for their future, and was not to be put off--William
Feltram was to take the great grazing farm that belonged to the Mardykes
estate; or, if he preferred it, to farm it for her, sharing the profits.
She wanted something to interest her, and this was just the thing. It
was hardly half-a-mile away, up the lake, and there was such a
comfortable house and garden, and she and Gertrude could be as much
together as ever almost; and, in fact, Gertrude and her husband could be
nearly always at Mardykes Hall.
So eager and entreating was she, that there was no escape. The plan was
adopted immediately on their marriage, and no happier neighbours for a
time were ever known.
But was Lady Mardykes content? was she even exempt from the heartache
which each mortal thinks he has all to himself? The longing of her life
was for children; and again and again had her hopes been disappointed.
One tiny pretty little baby indeed was born, and lived for two years,
and then died; and none had come to supply its place and break the
childless silence in the great old nursery. That was her sorrow; a
greater one than men can understand.
Another source of grief was this: that Sir Bale Mardykes conceived a
dislike to William Feltram that was unaccountable. At first suppressed,
it betrayed itself negatively only; but with time it increased; and in
the end the Baronet made little secret of his wish to get rid of him.
Many and ingenious were the annoyances he contrived; and at last he told
his wife plainly that he wished William Feltram to find some other abode
Lady Mardykes pleaded earnestly, and even with tears; for if Gertrude
were to leave the neighbourhood, she well knew how utterly solitary her
own life would become.
Sir Bale at last vouchsafed some little light as to his motives. There
was an old story, he told her, that his estate would go to a Feltram. He
had an instinctive distrust of that family. It was a feeling not given
him for nothing; it might be the means of defeating their plotting and
strategy. Old Trebeck, he fancied, had a finger in it. Philip Feltram
had told him that Mardykes was to pass away to a Feltram. Well, they
might conspire; but he would take what care he could that the estate
should not be stolen from his family. He did not want his wife stript of
her jointure, or his children, if he had any, left without bread.
All this sounded very like madness; but the idea was propounded by
Philip Feltram. His own jealousy was at bottom founded on superstition
which he would not avow and could hardly define. He bitterly blamed
himself for having permitted William Feltram to place himself where he
In the midst of these annoyances William Feltram was seriously thinking
of throwing up the farm, and seeking similar occupation somewhere else.
One day, walking alone in the thick wood that skirts the lake near his
farm, he was discussing this problem with himself; and every now and
then he repeated his question, "Shall I throw it up, and give him the
lease back if he likes?" On a sudden he heard a voice near him say:
"Hold it, you fool!--hold hard, you fool!--hold it, you fool!"
The situation being lonely, he was utterly puzzled to account for the
interruption, until on a sudden a huge parrot, green, crimson, and
yellow, plunged from among the boughs over his head to the ground, and
partly flying, and partly hopping and tumbling along, got lamely, but
swiftly, out of sight among the thick underwood; and he could neither
start it nor hear it any more. The interruption reminded him of that
which befel Robinson Crusoe. It was more singular, however; for he owned
no such bird; and its strangeness impressed the omen all the more.
He related it when he got home to his wife; and as people when living a
solitary life, and also suffering, are prone to superstition, she did
not laugh at the adventure, as in a healthier state of spirits, I
suppose, she would.
They continued, however, to discuss the question together; and all the
more industriously as a farm of the same kind, only some fifteen miles
away, was now offered to all bidders, under another landlord. Gertrude,
who felt Sir Bale's unkindness all the more that she was a distant
cousin of his, as it had proved on comparing notes, was very strong in
favour of the change, and had been urging it with true feminine
ingenuity and persistence upon her husband. A very singular dream rather
damped her ardour, however, and it appeared thus:
She had gone to her bed full of this subject; and she thought, although
she could not remember having done so, had fallen asleep. She was still
thinking, as she had been all the day, about leaving the farm. It seemed
to her that she was quite awake, and a candle burning all the time in
the room, awaiting the return of her husband, who was away at the fair
near Haworth; she saw the interior of the room distinctly. It was a
sultry night, and a little bit of the window was raised. A very slight
sound in that direction attracted her attention; and to her surprise she
saw a jay hop upon the window-sill, and into the room.
Up sat Gertrude, surprised and a little startled at the visit of so
large a bird, without presence of mind for the moment even to frighten
it away, and staring at it, as they say, with all her eyes. A sofa stood
at the foot of the bed; and under this the bird swiftly hopped. She
extended her hand now to take the bell-rope at the left side of the bed,
and in doing so displaced the curtains, which were open only at the
foot. She was amazed there to see a lady dressed entirely in black, and
with the old-fashioned hood over her head. She was young and pretty, and
looked kindly at her, but with now and then a slight contraction of lips
and eyebrows that indicates pain. This little twitching was momentary,
and recurred, it seemed, about once or twice in a minute.
How it was that she was not frightened on seeing this lady, standing
like an old friend at her bedside, she could not afterwards understand.
Some influence besides the kindness of her look prevented any sensation
of terror at the time. With a very white hand the young lady in black
held a white handkerchief pressed to her bosom at the top of her bodice.
"Who are you?" asked Gertrude.
"I am a kinswoman, although you don't know me; and I have come to tell
you that you must not leave Faxwell" (the name of the place) "or Janet.
If you go, I will go with you; and I can make you fear me."
Her voice was very distinct, but also very faint, with something
undulatory in it, that seemed to enter Gertrude's head rather than her
Saying this she smiled horribly, and, lifting her handkerchief,
disclosed for a moment a great wound in her breast, deep in which
Gertrude saw darkly the head of a snake writhing.
Hereupon she uttered a wild scream of terror, and, diving under the
bed-clothes, remained more dead than alive there, until her maid,
alarmed by her cry, came in, and having searched the room, and shut the
window at her desire, did all in her power to comfort her.
If this was a nightmare and embodied only by a form of expression which
in some states belongs to the imagination, a leading idea in the
controversy in which her mind had long been employed, it had at least
the effect of deciding her against leaving Faxwell. And so that point
was settled; and unpleasant relations continued between the tenants of
the farm and the master of Mardykes Hall.
To Lady Mardykes all this was very painful, although Sir Bale did not
insist upon making a separation between his wife and her cousin. But to
Mardykes Hall that cousin came no more. Even Lady Mardykes thought it
better to see her at Faxwell than to risk a meeting in the temper in
which Sir Bale then was. And thus several years passed.
No tidings of Philip Feltram were heard; and, in fact, none ever reached
that part of the world; and if it had not been highly improbable that he
could have drowned himself in the lake without his body sooner or later
having risen to the surface, it would have been concluded that he had
either accidentally or by design made away with himself in its waters.
Over Mardykes Hall there was a gloom--no sound of children's voices was
heard there, and even the hope of that merry advent had died out.
This disappointment had no doubt helped to fix in Sir Bale's mind the
idea of the insecurity of his property, and the morbid fancy that
William Feltram and old Trebeck were conspiring to seize it; than which,
I need hardly say, no imagination more insane could have fixed itself in
In other things, however, Sir Bale was shrewd and sharp, a clear and
rapid man of business, and although this was a strange whim, it was not
so unnatural in a man who was by nature so prone to suspicion as Sir
During the years, now seven, that had elapsed since the marriage of Sir
Bale and Miss Janet Feltram, there had happened but one event, except
the death of their only child, to place them in mourning. That was the
decease of Sir William Walsingham, the husband of Lady Mardykes' sister.
She now lived in a handsome old dower-house at Islington, and being
wealthy, made now and then an excursion to Mardykes Hall, in which she
was sometimes accompanied by her sister Lady Haworth. Sir Oliver being a
Parliament-man was much in London and deep in politics and intrigue, and
subject, as convivial rogues are, to occasional hard hits from gout.
But change and separation had made no alteration in these ladies' mutual
affections, and no three sisters were ever more attached.
Was Lady Mardykes happy with her lord? A woman so gentle and loving as
she, is a happy wife with any husband who is not an absolute brute.
There must have been, I suppose, some good about Sir Bale. His wife was
certainly deeply attached to him. She admired his wisdom, and feared his
inflexible will, and altogether made of him a domestic idol. To acquire
this enviable position, I suspect there must be something not
essentially disagreeable about a man. At all events, what her neighbours
good-naturedly termed her infatuation continued, and indeed rather
improved by time.
An Old Portrait
Sir Bale--whom some remembered a gay and convivial man, not to say a
profligate one--had grown to be a very gloomy man indeed. There was
something weighing upon his mind; and I daresay some of the good gossips
of Golden Friars, had there been any materials for such a case, would
have believed that Sir Bale had murdered Philip Feltram, and was now the
victim of the worm and fire of remorse.
The gloom of the master of the house made his very servants gloomy, and
the house itself looked sombre, as if it had been startled with strange
and dismal sights.
Lady Mardykes was something of an artist. She had lighted lately, in an
out-of-the-way room, upon a dozen or more old portraits. Several of
these were full-lengths; and she was--with the help of her maid, both in
long aprons, amid sponges and basins, soft handkerchiefs and
varnish-pots and brushes--busy in removing the dust and smoke-stains,
and in laying-on the varnish, which brought out the colouring, and made
the transparent shadows yield up their long-buried treasures of finished
Against the wall stood a full-length portrait as Sir Bale entered the
room; having for a wonder, a word to say to his wife.
"O," said the pretty lady, turning to him in her apron, and with her
brush in her hand, "we are in such in pickle, Munnings and I have been
cleaning these old pictures. Mrs. Julaper says they are the pictures
that came from Cloostedd Hall long ago. They were buried in dust in the
dark room in the clock-tower. Here is such a characteristic one. It has
a long powdered wig--George the First or Second, I don't know which--and
such a combination of colours, and such a face. It seems starting out of
the canvas, and all but speaks. Do look; that is, I mean, Bale, if you
can spare time."
Sir Bale abstractedly drew near, and looked over his wife's shoulder on
the full-length portrait that stood before him; and as he did so a
strange expression for a moment passed over his face.
The picture represented a man of swarthy countenance, with signs of the
bottle glowing through the dark skin; small fierce pig eyes, a rather
flat pendulous nose, and a grim forbidding mouth, with a large wart a
little above it. On the head hung one of those full-bottomed powdered
wigs that look like a cloud of cotton-wadding; a lace cravat was about
his neck; he wore short black-velvet breeches with stockings rolled over
them, a bottle-green coat of cut velvet and a crimson waistcoat with
long flaps; coat and waistcoat both heavily laced with gold. He wore a
sword, and leaned upon a crutch-handled cane, and his figure and aspect
indicated a swollen and gouty state. He could not be far from sixty.
There was uncommon force in this fierce and forbidding-looking portrait.
Lady Mardykes said, "What wonderful dresses they wore! How like a fine
magic-lantern figure he looks! What gorgeous colouring! it looks like
the plumage of a mackaw; and what a claw his hand is! and that huge
broken beak of a nose! Isn't he like a wicked old mackaw?"
"Where did you find that?" asked Sir Bale.
Surprised at his tone, she looked round, and was still more surprised at
"I told you, dear Bale, I found them in the clock-tower. I hope I did
right; it was not wrong bringing them here? I ought to have asked. Are
you vexed, Bale?"
"Vexed! not I. I only wish it was in the fire. I must have seen that
picture when I was a child. I hate to look at it. I raved about it once,
when I was ill. I don't know who it is; I don't remember when I saw it.
I wish you'd tell them to burn it."
"It is one of the Feltrams," she answered. "'Sir Hugh Feltram' is on the
frame at the foot; and old Mrs. Julaper says he was the father of the
unhappy lady who was said to have been drowned near Snakes Island."
"Well, suppose he is; there's nothing interesting in that. It is a
disgusting picture. I connect it with my illness; and I think it is the
kind of thing that would make any one half mad, if they only looked at
it often enough. Tell them to burn it; and come away, come to the next
room; I can't say what I want here."
Sir Bale seemed to grow more and more agitated the longer he remained in
the room. He seemed to her both frightened and furious; and taking her a
little roughly by the wrist, he led her through the door.
When they were in another apartment alone, he again asked the affrighted
lady who had told her that picture was there, and who told her to clean
She had only the truth to plead. It was, from beginning to end, the
"If I thought, Janet, that you were taking counsel of others, talking me
over, and trying clever experiments--" he stopped short with his eyes
fixed on hers with black suspicion.
His wife's answer was one pleading look, and to burst into tears.
Sir Bale let-go her wrist, which he had held up to this; and placing his
hand gently on her shoulder, he said,
"You must not cry, Janet; I have given you no excuse for tears. I only
wished an answer to a very harmless question; and I am sure you would
tell me, if by any chance you have lately seen Philip Feltram; he is
capable of arranging all that. No one knows him as I do. There, you must
not cry any more; but tell me truly, has he turned up? is he at
She denied all this with perfect truth; and after a hesitation of some
time, the matter ended. And as soon as she and he were more themselves,
he had something quite different to tell her.
"Sit down, Janet; sit down, and forget that vile picture and all I have
been saying. What I came to tell you, I think you will like; I am sure
it will please you."
And with this little preface he placed his arm about her neck, and
kissed her tenderly. She certainly was pleased; and when his little
speech was over, she, smiling, with her tears still wet upon her cheeks,
put her arms round her husband's neck, and in turn kissed him with the
ardour of gratitude, kissed him affectionately; again and again thanking
him all the time.
It was no great matter, but from Sir Bale Mardykes it was something
Was it a sudden whim? What was it? Something had prompted Sir Bale,
early in that dark shrewd month of December, to tell his wife that he
wished to call together some of his county acquaintances, and to fill
his house for a week or so, as near Christmas as she could get them to
come. He wished her sisters--Lady Haworth (with her husband) and the
Dowager Lady Walsingham--to be invited for an early day, before the
coming of the other guests, so that she might enjoy their society for a
little time quietly to herself before the less intimate guests should
Glad was Lady Mardykes to hear the resolve of her husband, and prompt to
obey. She wrote to her sisters to beg them to arrange to come, together,
by the tenth or twelfth of the month, which they accordingly arranged to
do. Sir Oliver, it was true, could not be of the party. A minister of
state was drinking the waters at Bath; and Sir Oliver thought it would
do him no harm to sip a little also, and his fashionable doctor politely
agreed, and "ordered" to those therapeutic springs the knight of the
shire, who was "consumedly vexed" to lose the Christmas with that jolly
dog, Bale, down at Mardykes Hall. But a fellow must have a stomach for
his Christmas pudding, and politics takes it out of a poor gentleman
deucedly; and health's the first thing, egad!
So Sir Oliver went down to Bath, and I don't know that he tippled much
of the waters, but he did drink the burgundy of that haunt of the
ailing; and he had the honour of making a fourth not unfrequently in the
secretary of state's whist-parties.
It was about the 8th of December when, in Lady Walsingham's carriage,
intending to post all the way, that lady, still young, and Lady Haworth,
with all the servants that were usual in such expeditions in those days,
started from the great Dower House at Islington in high spirits.
Lady Haworth had not been very well--low and nervous; but the clear
frosty sun, and the pleasant nature of the excursion, raised her spirits
to the point of enjoyment; and expecting nothing but happiness and
gaiety--for, after all, Sir Bale was but one of a large party, and even
he could make an effort and be agreeable as well as hospitable on
occasion--they set out on their northward expedition. The journey, which
is a long one, they had resolved to break into a four days' progress;
and the inns had been written to, bespeaking a comfortable reception.
Through the Wall
On the third night they put-up at the comfortable old inn called the
Three Nuns. With an effort they might easily have pushed on to Mardykes
Hall that night, for the distance is not more than five-and-thirty
miles. But, considering her sister's health, Lady Walsingham in planning
their route had resolved against anything like a forced march.
Here the ladies took possession of the best sitting-room; and,
notwithstanding the fatigue of the journey, Lady Haworth sat up with her
sister till near ten o'clock, chatting gaily about a thousand things.
Of the three sisters, Lady Walsingham was the eldest. She had been in
the habit of taking the command at home; and now, for advice and
decision, her younger sisters, less prompt and courageous than she, were
wont, whenever in her neighbourhood, to throw upon her all the cares and
agitations of determining what was best to be done in small things and
great. It is only fair to say, in addition, that this submission was not
by any means exacted; it was the deference of early habit and feebler
will, for she was neither officious nor imperious.
It was now time that Lady Haworth, a good deal more fatigued than her
sister, should take leave of her for the night.
Accordingly they kissed and bid each other good-night; and Lady
Walsingham, not yet disposed to sleep, sat for some time longer in the
comfortable room where they had taken tea, amusing the time with the
book that had, when conversation flagged, beguiled the weariness of the
journey. Her sister had been in her room nearly an hour, when she became
herself a little sleepy. She had lighted her candle, and was going to
ring for her maid, when, to her surprise, the door opened, and her
sister Lady Haworth entered in a dressing-gown, looking frightened.
"My darling Mary!" exclaimed Lady Walsingham, "what is the matter? Are
"Yes, darling," she answered, "quite well; that is, I don't know what is
the matter--I'm frightened." She paused, listening, with her eyes turned
towards the wall. "O, darling Maud, I am so frightened! I don't know
what it can be."
"You must not be agitated, darling; there's nothing. You have been
asleep, and I suppose you have had a dream. Were you asleep?"
Lady Haworth had caught her sister fast by the arm with both hands, and
was looking wildly in her face.
"Have _you_ heard nothing?" she asked, again looking towards the wall of
the room, as if she expected to hear a voice through it.
"Nonsense, darling; you are dreaming still. Nothing; there has been
nothing to hear. I have been awake ever since; if there had been
anything to hear, I could not have missed it. Come, sit down. Sip a
little of this water; you are nervous, and over-tired; and tell me
plainly, like a good little soul, what is the matter; for nothing has
happened here; and you ought to know that the Three Nuns is the quietest
house in England; and I'm no witch, and if you won't tell me what's the
matter, I can't divine it."
"Yes, of course," said Mary, sitting down, and glancing round her
wildly. "I don't hear it now; _you_ don't?"
"Do, my dear Mary, tell me what you mean," said Lady Walsingham kindly
Lady Haworth was holding the still untasted glass of water in her hand.
"Yes, I'll tell you; I have been so frightened! You are right; I had a
dream, but I can scarcely remember anything of it, except the very end,
when I wakened. But it was not the dream; only it was connected with
what terrified me so. I was so tired when I went to bed, I thought I
should have slept soundly; and indeed I fell asleep immediately; and I
must have slept quietly for a good while. How long is it since I left
"More than an hour."
"Yes, I must have slept a good while; for I don't think I have been ten
minutes awake. How my dream began I don't know. I remember only that
gradually it came to this: I was standing in a recess in a panelled
gallery; it was lofty, and, I thought, belonged to a handsome but
old-fashioned house. I was looking straight towards the head of a wide
staircase, with a great oak banister. At the top of the stairs, as near
to me, about, as that window there, was a thick short column of oak, on
top of which was a candlestick. There was no other light but from that
one candle; and there was a lady standing beside it, looking down the
stairs, with her back turned towards me; and from her gestures I should
have thought speaking to people on a lower lobby, but whom from my place
I could not see. I soon perceived that this lady was in great agony of
mind; for she beat her breast and wrung her hands every now and then,
and wagged her head slightly from side to side, like a person in great
distraction. But one word she said I could not hear. Nor when she struck
her hand on the banister, or stamped, as she seemed to do in her pain,
upon the floor, could I hear any sound. I found myself somehow waiting
upon this lady, and was watching her with awe and sympathy. But who she
was I knew not, until turning towards me I plainly saw Janet's face,
pale and covered with tears, and with such a look of agony as--O God!--I
can never forget."
"Pshaw! Mary darling, what is it but a dream! I have had a thousand more
startling; it is only that you are so nervous just now."
"But that is not all--nothing; what followed is so dreadful; for either
there is something very horrible going on at Mardykes, or else I am
losing my reason," said Lady Haworth in increasing agitation. "I wakened
instantly in great alarm, but I suppose no more than I have felt a
hundred times on awakening from a frightful dream. I sat up in my bed; I
was thinking of ringing for Winnefred, my heart was beating so, but
feeling better soon I changed my mind. All this time I heard a faint
sound of a voice, as if coming through a thick wall. It came from the
wall at the left side of my bed, and I fancied was that of some woman
lamenting in a room separated from me by that thick partition. I could
only perceive that it was a sound of crying mingled with ejaculations of
misery, or fear, or entreaty. I listened with a painful curiosity,
wondering who it could be, and what could have happened in the
neighbouring rooms of the house; and as I looked and listened, I could
distinguish my own name, but at first nothing more. That, of course,
might have been an accident; and I knew there were many Marys in the
world besides myself. But it made me more curious; and a strange thing
struck me, for I was now looking at that very wall through which the
sounds were coming. I saw that there was a window in it. Thinking that
the rest of the wall might nevertheless be covered by another room, I
drew the curtain of it and looked out. But there is no such thing. It is
the outer wall the entire way along. And it is equally impossible of the
other wall, for it is to the front of the house, and has two windows in
it; and the wall that the head of my bed stands against has the gallery
outside it all the way; for I remarked that as I came to you."
"Tut, tut, Mary darling, nothing on earth is so deceptive as sound; this
and fancy account for everything."
"But hear me out; I have not told you all. I began to hear the voice
more clearly, and at last quite distinctly. It was Janet's, and she was
conjuring you by name, as well as me, to come to her to Mardykes,
without delay, in her extremity; yes, _you_, just as vehemently as me.
It was Janet's voice. It still seemed separated by the wall, but I heard
every syllable now; and I never heard voice or words of such anguish.
She was imploring of us to come on, without a moment's delay, to
Mardykes; and crying that, if we were not with her, she should go mad."
"Well, darling," said Lady Walsingham, "you see I'm included in this
invitation as well as you, and should hate to disappoint Janet just as
much; and I do assure you, in the morning you will laugh over this fancy
with me; or rather, she will laugh over it with us, when we get to
Mardykes. What you do want is rest, and a little sal-volatile."
So saying she rang the bell for Lady Haworth's maid. Having comforted
her sister, and made her take the nervous specific she recommended, she
went with her to her room; and taking possession of the arm-chair by the
fire, she told her that she would keep her company until she was asleep,
and remain long enough to be sure that the sleep was not likely to be
interrupted. Lady Haworth had not been ten minutes in her bed, when she
raised herself with a start to her elbow, listening with parted lips and
wild eyes, her trembling fingers behind her ears. With an exclamation of
horror, she cried,
"There it is again, upbraiding us! I can't stay longer."
She sprang from the bed, and rang the bell violently.
"Maud," she cried in an ecstasy of horror, "nothing shall keep me here,
whether you go or not. I will set out the moment the horses are put to.
If you refuse to come, Maud, mind the responsibility is yours--listen!"
and with white face and starting eyes she pointed to the wall. "Have you
ears; don't you hear?"
The sight of a person in extremity of terror so mysterious, might have
unnerved a ruder system than Lady Walsingham's. She was pale as she
replied; for under certain circumstances those terrors which deal with
the supernatural are more contagious than any others. Lady Walsingham
still, in terms, held to her opinion; but although she tried to smile,
her face showed that the panic had touched her.
"Well, dear Mary," she said, "as you will have it so, I see no good in
resisting you longer. Here, it is plain, your nerves will not suffer you
to rest. Let us go then, in heaven's name; and when you get to Mardykes
Hall you will be relieved."
All this time Lady Haworth was getting on her things, with the careless
hurry of a person about to fly for her life; and Lady Walsingham issued
her orders for horses, and the general preparations for resuming the
It was now between ten and eleven; but the servant who rode armed with
them, according to the not unnecessary usage of the times, thought that
with a little judicious bribing of postboys they might easily reach
Mardykes Hall before three o'clock in the morning.
When the party set forward again, Lady Haworth was comparatively
tranquil. She no longer heard the unearthly mimickry of her sister's
voice; there remained only the fear and suspense which that illusion or
visitation had produced.
Her sister, Lady Walsingham, after a brief effort to induce something
like conversation, became silent. A thin sheet of snow had covered the
darkened landscape, and some light flakes were still dropping. Lady
Walsingham struck her repeater often in the dark, and inquired the
distances frequently. She was anxious to get over the ground, though by
no means fatigued. Something of the anxiety that lay heavy at her
sister's heart had touched her own.
The roads even then were good, and very good horses the posting-houses
turned out; so that by dint of extra pay the rapid rate of travelling
undertaken by the servant was fully accomplished in the first two or
While Lady Walsingham was continually striking her repeater in her ear,
and as they neared their destination, growing in spite of herself more
anxious, her sister's uneasiness showed itself in a less reserved way;
for, cold as it was, with snowflakes actually dropping, Lady Haworth's
head was perpetually out at the window, and when she drew it up, sitting
again in her place, she would audibly express her alarms, and apply to
her sister for consolation and confidence in her suspense.
Under its thin carpet of snow, the pretty village of Golden Friars
looked strangely to their eyes. It had long been fast asleep, and both
ladies were excited as they drew up at the steps of the George and
Dragon, and with bell and knocker roused the slumbering household.
What tidings awaited them here? In a very few minutes the door was
opened, and the porter staggered down, after a word with the driver, to
the carriage-window, not half awake.
"Is Lady Mardykes well?" demanded Lady Walsingham.
"Is Sir Bale well?"
"Are all the people at Mardykes Hall quite well?"
With clasped hands Lady Haworth listened to the successive answers to
these questions which her sister hastily put. The answers were all
satisfactory. With a great sigh and a little laugh, Lady Walsingham
placed her hand affectionately on that of her sister; who, saying, "God
be thanked!" began to weep.
"When had you last news from Mardykes?" asked Lady Walsingham.
"A servant was down here about four o'clock."
"O! no one since?" said she in a disappointed tone.
No one had been from the great house since, but all were well then.
"They are early people, you know, dear; and it is dark at four, and that
is as late as they could well have heard, and nothing could have
happened since--very unlikely. We have come very fast; it is only a few
minutes past two, darling."
But each felt the chill and load of their returning anxiety.
While the people at the George were rapidly getting a team of horses to,
Lady Walsingham contrived a moment for an order from the other window to
her servant, who knew Golden Friars perfectly, to knock-up the people at
Doctor Torvey's, and to inquire whether all were well at Mardykes Hall.
There he learned that a messenger had come for Doctor Torvey at ten
o'clock, and that the Doctor had not returned since. There was no news,
however, of any one's being ill; and the Doctor himself did not know
what he was wanted about. While Lady Haworth was talking to her maid
from the window next the steps, Lady Walsingham was, unobserved,
receiving this information at the other.
It made her very uncomfortable.
In a few minutes more, however, with a team of fresh horses, they were
again rapidly passing the distance between them and Mardykes Hall.
About two miles on, their drivers pulled-up, and they heard a voice
talking with them from the roadside. A servant from the Hall had been
sent with a note for Lady Walsingham, and had been ordered, if
necessary, to ride the whole way to the Three Nuns to deliver it. The
note was already in Lady Walsingham's hand; her sister sat beside her,
and with the corner of the open note in her fingers, she read it
breathlessly at the same time by the light of a carriage-lamp which the
man held to the window. It said:
My dearest love--my darling sister--dear sisters both!--in God's name,
lose not a moment. I am so overpowered and _terrified_. I cannot
explain; I can only implore of you to come with all the haste you can
make. Waste no time, darlings. I hardly understand what I write. Only
this, dear sisters; I feel that my reason will desert me, unless you
come soon. You will not fail me now. Your poor distracted
The sisters exchanged a pale glance, and Lady Haworth grasped her
"Where is the messenger?" asked Lady Walsingham.
A mounted servant came to the window.
"Is any one ill at home?" she asked.
"No, all were well--my lady, and Sir Bale--no one sick."
"But the Doctor was sent for; what was that for?"
"I can't say, my lady."
"You are quite certain that no one--think--_no_ one is ill?"
"There is no one ill at the Hall, my lady, that I have heard of."
"Is Lady Mardykes, my sister, still up?"
"Yes, my lady; and her maid is with her."
"And Sir Bale, are you certain he is quite well?"
"Sir Bale is quite well, my lady; he has been busy settling papers
to-night, and was as well as usual."
"That will do, thanks," said the perplexed lady; and to her own servant
she added, "On to Mardykes Hall with all the speed they can make. I'll
pay them well, tell them."
And in another minute they were gliding along the road at a pace which
the muffled beating of the horses' hoofs on the thin sheet of snow that
covered the road showed to have broken out of the conventional trot, and
to resemble something more like a gallop.
And now they were under the huge trees, that looked black as
hearse-plumes in contrast with the snow. The cold gleam of the lake in
the moon which had begun to shine out now met their gaze; and the
familiar outline of Snakes Island, its solemn timber bleak and leafless,
standing in a group, seemed to watch Mardykes Hall with a dismal
observation across the water. Through the gate and between the huge
files of trees the carriage seemed to fly; and at last the steaming
horses stood panting, nodding and snorting, before the steps in the
There was a light in an upper window, and a faint light in the hall, the
door of which was opened; and an old servant came down and ushered the
ladies into the house.
Lightly they stepped over the snow that lay upon the broad steps, and
entering the door saw the dim figure of their sister, already in the
large and faintly-lighted hall. One candle in the hand of her scared
maid, and one burning on the table, leaving the distant parts of that
great apartment in total darkness, touched the figures with the odd
sharp lights in which Schalken delights; and a streak of chilly
moonlight, through the open door, fell upon the floor, and was stretched
like a white sheet at her feet. Lady Mardykes, with an exclamation of
agitated relief, threw her arms, in turn, round the necks of her
sisters, and hugging them, kissed them again and again, murmuring her
thanks, calling them her "blessed sisters," and praising God for his
mercy in having sent them to her in time, and altogether in a rapture of
agitation and gratitude.
Taking them each by a hand, she led them into a large room, on whose
panels they could see the faint twinkle of the tall gilded frames, and
the darker indication of the old portraits, in which that interesting
house abounds. The moonbeams, entering obliquely through the Tudor
stone-shafts of the window and thrown upon the floor, reflected an
imperfect light; and the candle which the maid who followed her mistress
held in her hand shone dimly from the sideboard, where she placed it.
Lady Mardykes told her that she need not wait.
"They don't know; they know only that we are in some great confusion;
but--God have mercy on me!--nothing of the reality. Sit down, darlings;
you are tired."
She sat down between them on a sofa, holding a hand of each. They sat
opposite the window, through which appeared the magnificent view
commanded from the front of the house: in the foreground the solemn
trees of Snakes Island, one great branch stretching upward, bare and
moveless, from the side, like an arm raised to heaven in wonder or in
menace towards the house; the lake, in part swept by the icy splendour
of the moon, trembling with a dazzling glimmer, and farther off lost in
blackness; the Fells rising from a base of gloom, into ribs and peaks
white with snow, and looking against the pale sky, thin and transparent
as a haze. Right across to the storied woods of Cloostedd, and the old
domains of the Feltrams, this view extended.
Thus alone, their mufflers still on, their hands clasped in hers, they
breathlessly listened to her strange tale.
Connectedly told it amounted to this: Sir Bale seemed to have been
relieved of some great anxiety about the time when, ten days before, he
had told her to invite her friends to Mardykes Hall. This morning he had
gone out for a walk with Trevor, his under-steward, to talk over some
plans about thinning the woods at this side; and also to discuss
practically a proposal, lately made by a wealthy merchant, to take a
very long lease, on advantageous terms to Sir Bale as he thought, of the
old park and chase of Cloostedd, with the intention of building there,
and making it once more a handsome residence.
In the improved state of his spirits, Sir Bale had taken a shrewd
interest in this negotiation; and was actually persuaded to cross the
lake that morning with his adviser, and to walk over the grounds with
Sir Bale had seemed unusually well, and talked with great animation. He
was more like a young man who had just attained his majority, and for
the first time grasped his estates, than the grim elderly Baronet who
had been moping about Mardykes, and as much afraid as a cat of the
water, for so many years.
As they were returning toward the boat, at the roots of that same
scathed elm whose barkless bough had seemed, in his former visit to this
old wood, to beckon him from a distance, like a skeleton arm, to enter
the forest, he and his companion on a sudden missed an old map of the
grounds which they had been consulting.
"We must have left it in the corner tower of Cloostedd House, which
commands that view of the grounds, you remember; it would not do to lose
it. It is the most accurate thing we have. I'll sit down here and rest a
little till you come back."
The man was absent little more than twenty minutes. When he returned, he
found that Sir Bale had changed his position, and was now walking to and
fro, around and about, in what, at a distance, he fancied was mere
impatience, on the open space a couple of hundred paces nearer to the
turn in the valley towards the boat. It was not impatience. He was
agitated. He looked pale, and he took his companion's arm--a thing he
had never thought of doing before--and said, "Let us away quickly. I've
something to tell at home,--and I forgot it."
Not another word did Sir Bale exchange with his companion. He sat in the
stern of the boat, gloomy as a man about to glide under traitor's-gate.
He entered his house in the same sombre and agitated state. He entered
his library, and sat for a long time as if stunned.
At last he seemed to have made-up his mind to something; and applied
himself quietly and diligently to arranging papers, and docketing some
and burning others. Dinner-time arrived. He sent to tell Lady Mardykes
that he should not join her at dinner, but would see her afterwards.
"It was between eight and nine," she continued, "I forget the exact
time, when he came to the tower drawing-room where I was. I did not hear
his approach. There is a stone stair, with a thick carpet on it. He told
me he wished to speak to me there. It is an out-of-the-way place--a
small old room with very thick walls, and there is a double door, the
inner one of oak--I suppose he wished to guard against being overheard.
"There was a look in his face that frightened me; I saw he had something
dreadful to tell. He looked like a man on whom a lot had fallen to put
some one to death," said Lady Mardykes. "O, my poor Bale! my husband, my
husband! he knew what it would be to me."
Here she broke into the wildest weeping, and it was some time before she
"He seemed very kind and very calm," she said at last; "he said but
little; and, I think, these were his words: 'I find, Janet, I have made
a great miscalculation--I thought my hour of danger had passed. We have
been many years together, but a parting must sooner or later be, and my
time has come.'
"I don't know what I said. I would not have so much minded--for I could
not have believed, if I had not seen him--but there was that in his look
and tone which no one could doubt.
"'I shall die before to-morrow morning,' he said. 'You must command
yourself, Janet; it can't be altered now.'
"'O, Bale,' I cried nearly distracted, 'you would not kill yourself!'
"'Kill myself! poor child! no, indeed,' he said; 'it is simply that I
shall die. No violent death--nothing but the common subsidence of
life--I have made up my mind; what happens to everybody can't be so very
bad; and millions of worse men than I die every year. You must not
follow me to my room, darling; I shall see you by and by.'
"His language was collected and even cold; but his face looked as if it
was cut in stone; you never saw, in a dream, a face like it."
Lady Walsingham here said, "I am certain he is ill; he's in a fever. You
must not distract and torture yourself about his predictions. You sent
for Doctor Torvey; what did he say?"
"I could not tell him all."
"O, no; I don't mean that; they'd only say he was mad, and we little
better for minding what he says. But did the Doctor see him? and what
did he say of his health?"
"Yes; he says there is nothing wrong--no fever--nothing whatever. Poor
Bale has been so kind; he saw him to please me," she sobbed again
wildly. "I wrote to implore of him. It was my last hope, strange as it
seems; and O, would to God I could think it! But there is nothing of
that kind. Wait till you have seen him. There is a frightful calmness
about all he says and does; and his directions are all so clear, and his
mind so perfectly collected, it is quite impossible."
And poor Lady Mardykes again burst into a frantic agony of tears.
Sir Bale in the Gallery
"Now, Janet darling, you are yourself low and nervous, and you treat
this fancy of Bale's as seriously as he does himself. The truth is, he
is a hypochondriac, as the doctors say; and you will find that I am
right; he will be quite well in the morning, and I daresay a little
ashamed of himself for having frightened his poor little wife as he has.
I will sit up with you. But our poor Mary is not, you know, very strong;
and she ought to lie down and rest a little. Suppose you give me a cup
of tea in the drawing-room. I will run up to my room and get these
things off, and meet you in the drawing-room; or, if you like it better,
you can sit with me in my own room; and for goodness' sake let us have
candles enough and a bright fire; and I promise you, if you will only
exert your own good sense, you shall be a great deal more cheerful in a
very little time."
Lady Walsingham's address was kind and cheery, and her air confident.
For a moment a ray of hope returned, and her sister Janet acknowledged
at least the possibility of her theory. But if confidence is contagious,
so also is panic; and Lady Walsingham experienced a sinking of the heart
which she dared not confess to her sister, and vainly strove to combat.
Lady Walsingham went up with her sister Mary, and having seen her in her
room, and spoken again to her in the same cheery tone in which she had
lectured her sister Lady Mardykes, she went on; and having taken
possession of her own room, and put off her cloaks and shawls, she was
going downstairs again, when she heard Sir Bale's voice, as he
approached along the gallery, issuing orders to a servant, as it seemed,
exactly in his usual tone.
She turned, with a strange throb at her heart, and met him.
A little sterner, a little paler than usual he looked; she could
perceive no other change. He took her hand kindly and held it, as with
dilated eyes he looked with a dark inquiry for a moment in her face. He
signed to the servant to go on, and said, "I'm glad you have come, Maud.
You have heard what is to happen; and I don't know how Janet could have
borne it without your support. You did right to come; and you'll stay
with her for a day or two, and take her away from this place as soon as
She looked at him with the embarrassment of fear. He was speaking to her
with the calmness of a leave-taking in the pressroom--the serenity that
overlies the greatest awe and agony of which human nature is capable.
"I am glad to see you, Bale," she began, hardly knowing what she said,
and she stopped short.
"You are come, it turns out, on a sad mission," he resumed; "you find
all about to change. Poor Janet! it is a blow to her. I shall not live
to see to-morrow's sun."
"Come," she said, startled, "you must not talk so. No, Bale, you have no
right to speak so; you can have no reason to justify it. It is cruel and
wicked to trifle with your wife's feelings. If you are under a delusion,
you must make an effort and shake it off, or, at least, cease to talk of
it. You are not well; I know by your looks you are ill; but I am very
certain we shall see you much better by tomorrow, and still better the
"No, I'm not ill, sister. Feel that pulse, if you doubt me; there is no
fever in it. I never was more perfectly in health; and yet I know that
before the clock, that has just struck three, shall have struck five, I,
who am talking to you, shall be dead."
Lady Walsingham was frightened, and her fear irritated her.
"I have told you what I think and believe," she said vehemently. "I
think it wrong and cowardly of you to torture my poor sister with your
whimsical predictions. Look into your own mind, and you will see you
have absolutely no reason to support what you say. How _can_ you inflict
all this agony upon a poor creature foolish enough to love you as she
does, and weak enough to believe in your idle dreams?"
"Stay, sister; it is not a matter to be debated so. If to-morrow I can
hear you, it will be time enough to upbraid me. Pray return now to your
sister; she needs all you can do for her. She is much to be pitied; her
sufferings afflict me. I shall see you and her again before my death. It
would have been more cruel to leave her unprepared. Do all in your power
to nerve and tranquillise her. What is past cannot now be helped."
He paused, looking hard at her, as if he had half made up his mind to
say something more. But if there was a question of the kind, it was
determined in favour of silence.
He dropped her hand, turned quickly, and left her.
Dr. Torvey's Opinion
When Lady Walsingham reached the head of the stairs, she met her maid,
and from her learned that her sister, Lady Mardykes, was downstairs in
the same room. On approaching, she heard her sister Mary's voice talking
with her, and found them together. Mary, finding that she could not
sleep, had put on her clothes again, and come down to keep her sister
company. The room looked more comfortable now. There were candles
lighted, and a good fire burnt in the grate; tea-things stood on a
little table near the fire, and the two sisters were talking, Lady
Mardykes appearing more collected, and only they two in the room.
"Have you seen him, Maud?" cried Lady Mardykes, rising and hastily
approaching her the moment she entered.
"Yes, dear; and talked with him, and----"
"And I think very much as I did before. I think he is nervous, he says
he is not ill; but he is nervous and whimsical, and as men always are
when they happen to be out of sorts, very positive; and of course the
only thing that can quite undeceive him is the lapse of the time he has
fixed for his prediction, as it is sure to pass without any tragic
result of any sort. We shall then all see alike the nature of his
"O, Maud, if I were only sure you thought so! if I were sure you really
had hopes! Tell me, Maud, for God's sake, what you really think."
Lady Walsingham was a little disconcerted by the unexpected directness
of her appeal.
"Come, darling, you must not be foolish," she said; "we can only talk of
impressions, and we are imposed upon by the solemnity of his manner, and
the fact that he evidently believes in his own delusion; every one does
believe in his own delusion--there is nothing strange in that."
"O, Maud, I see you are not convinced; you are only trying to comfort
me. You have no hope--none, none, none!" and she covered her face with
her hands, and wept again convulsively.
Lady Walsingham was silent for a moment, and then with an effort said,
as she placed her hand on her sister's arm, "You see, dear Janet, there
is no use in my saying the same thing over and over again; an hour or
two will show who is right. Sit down again, and be like yourself. My
maid told me that you had sent to the parlour for Doctor Torvey; he must
not find you so. What would he think? Unless you mean to tell him of
Bale's strange fancy; and a pretty story that would be to set afloat in
Golden Friars. I think I hear him coming."
So, in effect, he was. Doctor Torvey--with the florid gravity of a man
who, having just swallowed a bottle of port, besides some glasses of
sherry, is admitted to the presence of ladies whom he respects--entered
the room, made what he called his "leg and his compliments," and awaited
the ladies' commands.
"Sit down, Doctor Torvey," said Lady Walsingham, who in the incapacity
of her sister undertook the doing of the honours. "My sister, Lady
Mardykes, has got it into her head somehow that Sir Bale is ill. I have
been speaking to him; he certainly does not look very well, but he says
he is quite well. Do you think him well?--that is, we know you don't
think there is anything of importance amiss--but she wishes to know
whether you think him _perfectly_ well."
The Doctor cleared his voice and delivered his lecture, a little thickly
at some words, upon Sir Bale's case; the result of which was that it was
no case at all; and that if he would only live something more of a
country gentleman's life, he would be as well as any man could
desire--as well as any man, gentle or simple, in the country.
"The utmost I should think of doing for him would be, perhaps, a little
quinine, nothing mo'--shurely--he is really and toory a very shoun'
shtay of health."
Lady Walsingham looked encouragingly at her sister and nodded.
"I've been shen' for, La'y Walsh--Walse--Walsing--_ham_; old Jack
Amerald--he likshe his glass o' port," he said roguishly, "and shuvversh
accord'n'ly," he continued, with a compassionating paddle of his right
hand; "one of thoshe aw--odd feels in his stomach; and as I have pretty
well done all I can man-n'ge down here, I must be off, ye shee. Wind up
from Golden Friars, and a little flutter ovv zhnow, thazh all;" and with
some remarks about the extreme cold of the weather, and the severity of
their night journey, and many respectful and polite parting speeches,
the Doctor took his leave; and they soon heard the wheels of his gig and
the tread of his horse, faint and muffled from the snow in the
court-yard, and the Doctor, who had connected that melancholy and
agitated household with the outer circle of humanity, was gone.
There was very little snow falling, half-a-dozen flakes now and again,
and their flight across the window showed, as the Doctor had in a manner
boasted, that the wind was in his face as he returned to Golden Friars.
Even these desultory snow-flakes ceased, at times, altogether; and
returning, as they say, "by fits and starts," left for long intervals
the landscape, under the brilliant light of the moon, in its wide white
shroud. The curtain of the great window had not been drawn. It seemed to
Lady Walsingham that the moonbeams had grown more dazzling, that Snakes
Island was nearer and more distinct, and the outstretched arm of the old
tree looked bigger and angrier, like the uplifted arm of an assassin,
who draws silently nearer as the catastrophe approaches.
Cold, dazzling, almost repulsive in this intense moonlight and white
sheeting, the familiar landscape looked in the eyes of Lady Walsingham.
The sisters gradually grew more and more silent, an unearthly suspense
overhung them all, and Lady Mardykes rose every now and then and
listened at the open door for step or voice in vain. They all were
overpowered by the intenser horror that seemed gathering around them.
And thus an hour or more passed.
Pale and silent those three beautiful sisters sat. The horrible quietude
of a suspense that had grown all but insupportable oppressed the guests
of Lady Mardykes, and something like the numbness of despair had reduced
her to silence, the dreadful counterfeit of peace.
Sir Bale Mardykes on a sudden softly entered the room. Reflected from
the floor near the window, the white moonlight somehow gave to his fixed
features the character of a smile. With a warning gesture, as he came
in, he placed his finger to his lips, as if to enjoin silence; and then,
having successively pressed the hands of his two sisters-in-law, he
stooped over his almost fainting wife, and twice pressed her cold
forehead with his lips; and so, without a word, he went softly from the
Some seconds elapsed before Lady Walsingham, recovering her presence of
mind, with one of the candlesticks from the table in her hand, opened
the door and followed.
She saw Sir Bale mount the last stair of the broad flight visible from
the hall, and candle in hand turn the corner of the massive banister,
and as the light thrown from his candle showed, he continued, without
hurry, to ascend the second flight.
With the irrepressible curiosity of horror she continued to follow him
at a distance.
She saw him enter his own private room, and close the door.
Continuing to follow she placed herself noiselessly at the door of the
apartment, and in breathless silence, with a throbbing heart, listened
for what should pass.
She distinctly heard Sir Bale pace the floor up and down for some time,
and then, after a pause, a sound as if some one had thrown himself
heavily on the bed. A silence followed, during which her sisters, who
had followed more timidly, joined her. She warned them with a look and
gesture to be silent.
Lady Haworth stood a little behind, her white lips moving, and her hands
clasped in a silent agony of prayer. Lady Mardykes leaned against the
massive oak door-case.
With her hand raised to her ear, and her lips parted, Lady Walsingham
listened for some seconds--for a minute, two minutes, three. At last,
losing heart, she seized the handle in her panic, and turned it sharply.
The door was locked on the inside, but some one close to it said from
within, "Hush, hush!"
Much alarmed now, the same lady knocked violently at the door. No answer
She knocked again more violently, and shook the door with all her
fragile force. It was something of horror in her countenance as she did
so, that, no doubt, terrified Lady Mardykes, who with a loud and long
scream sank in a swoon upon the floor.
The servants, alarmed by these sounds, were speedily in the gallery.
Lady Mardykes was carried to her room, and laid upon her bed; her
sister, Lady Haworth, accompanying her. In the meantime the door was
forced. Sir Bale Mardykes was found stretched upon his bed.
Those who have once seen it, will not mistake the aspect of death. Here,
in Sir Bale Mardykes' room, in his bed, in his clothes, is a stranger,
grim and awful; in a few days to be insupportable, and to pass alone
into the prison-house, and to be seen no more.
Where is Sir Bale Mardykes now, whose roof-tree and whose place at board
and bed will know him no more? Here lies a chap-fallen, fish-eyed image,
chilling already into clay, and stiffening in every joint.
There is a marble monument in the pretty church of Golden Friars. It
stands at the left side of what antiquarians call "the high altar." Two
pillars at each end support an arch with several armorial bearings on as
many shields sculptured above. Beneath, on a marble flooring raised some
four feet, with a cornice round, lies Sir Bale Mardykes, of Mardykes
Hall, ninth Baronet of that ancient family, chiseled in marble with
knee-breeches and buckled-shoes, and _ailes de pigeon_, and
single-breasted coat and long waist-coat, ruffles and sword, such as
gentlemen wore about the year 1770, and bearing a strong resemblance to
the features of the second Charles. On the broad marble which forms the
background is inscribed an epitaph, which has perpetuated to our times
the estimate formed by his "inconsolable widow," the Dowager Lady
Mardykes, of the virtues and accomplishments of her deceased lord.
Lady Walsingham would have qualified two or three of the more
highly-coloured hyperboles, at which the Golden Friars of those days
sniffed and tittered. They don't signify now; there is no contemporary
left to laugh or whisper. And if there be not much that is true in the
letter of that inscription, it at least perpetuates something that _is_
true--that wonderful glorificaion of partisanship, the affection of an
Lady Mardykes, a few days after the funeral, left Mardykes Hall for
ever. She lived a great deal with her sister, Lady Walsingham; and died,
as a line cut at the foot of Sir Bale Mardykes' epitaph records, in the
year 1790; her remains being laid beside those of her beloved husband in
The estates had come to Sir Bale Mardykes free of entail. He had been
pottering over a will, but it was never completed, nor even quite
planned; and after much doubt and scrutiny, it was at last ascertained
that, in default of a will and of issue, a clause in the
marriage-settlement gave the entire estates to the Dowager Lady
By her will she bequeathed the estates to "her cousin, also a kinsman of
the late Sir Bale Mardykes her husband," William Feltram, on condition
of his assuming the name and arms of Mardykes, the arms of Feltram being
quartered in the shield.
Thus was oddly fulfilled the prediction which Philip Feltram had
repeated, that the estates of Mardykes were to pass into the hands of a
About the year 1795 the baronetage was revived, and William Feltram
enjoyed the title for fifteen years, as Sir William Mardykes.