Part 1 out of 10
[Italics are indicatedby underscores
James Rusk, email@example.com.]
by Wilkie Collins
MRS. ZANT AND THE GHOST.
THE course of this narrative describes the return of a
disembodied spirit to earth, and leads the reader on new and
Not in the obscurity of midnight, but in the searching light of
day, did the supernatural influence assert itself. Neither
revealed by a vision, nor announced by a voice, it reached mortal
knowledge through the sense which is least easily self-deceived:
the sense that feels.
The record of this event will of necessity produce conflicting
impressions. It will raise, in some minds, the doubt which reason
asserts; it will invigorate, in other minds, the hope which faith
justifies; and it will leave the terrible question of the
destinies of man, where centuries of vain investigation have left
it--in the dark.
Having only undertaken in the present narrative to lead the way
along a succession of events, the writer declines to follow
modern examples by thrusting himself and his opinions on the
public view. He returns to the shadow from which he has emerged,
and leaves the opposing forces of incredulity and belief to fight
the old battle over again, on the old ground.
THE events happened soon after the first thirty years of the
present century had come to an end.
On a fine morning, early in the month of April, a gentleman of
middle age (named Rayburn) took his little daughter Lucy out for
a walk in the woodland pleasure-ground of Western London, called
The few friends whom he possessed reported of Mr. Rayburn (not
unkindly) that he was a reserved and solitary man. He might have
been more accurately described as a widower devoted to his only
surviving child. Although he was not more than forty years of
age, the one pleasure which made life enjoyable to Lucy's father
was offered by Lucy herself.
Playing with her ball, the child ran on to the southern limit of
the Gardens, at that part of it which still remains nearest to
the old Palace of Kensington. Observing close at hand one of
those spacious covered seats, called in England "alcoves," Mr.
Rayburn was reminded that he had the morning's newspaper in his
pocket, and that he might do well to rest and read. At that early
hour the place was a solitude.
"Go on playing, my dear," he said; "but take care to keep where I
can see you."
Lucy tossed up her ball; and Lucy's father opened his newspaper.
He had not been reading for more than ten minutes, when he felt a
familiar little hand laid on his knee.
"Tired of playing?" he inquired--with his eyes still on the
"I'm frightened, papa."
He looked up directly. The child's pale face startled him. He
took her on his knee and kissed her.
"You oughtn't to be frightened, Lucy, when I am with you," he
said, gently. "What is it?" He looked out of the alcove as he
spoke, and saw a little dog among the trees. "Is it the dog?" he
"It's not the dog--it's the lady."
The lady was not visible from the alcove.
"Has she said anything to you?" Mr. Rayburn inquired.
"What has she done to frighten you?"
The child put her arms round her father's neck.
"Whisper, papa," she said; "I'm afraid of her hearing us. I think
"Why do you think so, Lucy?"
"She came near to me. I thought she was going to say something.
She seemed to be ill."
"Well? And what then?"
"She looked at me."
There, Lucy found herself at a loss how to express what she had
to say next--and took refuge in silence.
"Nothing very wonderful, so far," her father suggested.
"Yes, papa--but she didn't seem to see me when she looked."
"Well, and what happened then?"
"The lady was frightened--and that frightened me. I think," the
child repeated positively, "she's mad."
It occurred to Mr. Rayburn that the lady might be blind. He rose
at once to set the doubt at rest.
"Wait here," he said, "and I'll come back to you."
But Lucy clung to him with both hands; Lucy declared that she was
afraid to be by herself. They left the alcove together.
The new point of view at once revealed the stranger, leaning
against the trunk of a tree. She was dressed in the deep mourning
of a widow. The pallor of her face, the glassy stare in her eyes,
more than accounted for the child's terror--it excused the
alarming conclusion at which she had arrived.
"Go nearer to her," Lucy whispered.
They advanced a few steps. It was now easy to see that the lady
was young, and wasted by illness--but (arriving at a doubtful
conclusion perhaps under the present circumstances) apparently
possessed of rare personal attractions in happier days. As the
father and daughter advanced a little, she discovered them. After
some hesitation, she left the tree; approached with an evident
intention of speaking; and suddenly paused. A change to
astonishment and fear animated her vacant eyes. If it had not
been plain before, it was now beyond all doubt that she was not a
poor blind creature, deserted and helpless. At the same time, the
expression of her face was not easy to understand. She could
hardly have looked more amazed and bewildered, if the two
strangers who were observing her had suddenly vanished from the
place in which they stood.
Mr. Rayburn spoke to her with the utmost kindness of voice and
"I am afraid you are not well," he said. "Is there anything that
I can do--"
The next words were suspended on his lips. It was impossible to
realize such a state of things; but the strange impression that
she had already produced on him was now confirmed. If he could
believe his senses, her face did certainly tell him that he was
invisible and inaudible to the woman whom he had just addressed!
She moved slowly away with a heavy sigh, like a person
disappointed and distressed. Following her with his eyes, he saw
the dog once more--a little smooth-coated terrier of the ordinary
English breed. The dog showed none of the restless activity of
his race. With his head down and his tail depressed, he crouched
like a creature paralyzed by fear. His mistress roused him by a
call. He followed her listlessly as she turned away.
After walking a few paces only, she suddenly stood still.
Mr. Rayburn heard her talking to herself.
"Did I feel it again?" she said, as if perplexed by some doubt
that awed or grieved her. After a while her arms rose slowly, and
opened with a gentle caressing action--an embrace strangely
offered to the empty air! "No," she said to herself, sadly, after
waiting a moment. "More perhaps when to-morrow comes--no more
to-day." She looked up at the clear blue sky. "The beautiful
sunlight! the merciful sunlight!" she murmured. "I should have
died if it had happened in the dark."
Once more she called to the dog; and once more she walked slowly
"Is she going home, papa?' the child asked.
"We will try and find out," the father answered.
He was by this time convinced that the poor creature was in no
condition to be permitted to go out without some one to take care
of her. From motives of humanity, he was resolved on making the
attempt to communicate with her friends.
THE lady left the Gardens by the nearest gate; stopping to lower
her veil before she turned into the busy thoroughfare which leads
to Kensington. Advancing a little way along the High Street, she
entered a house of respectable appearance, with a card in one of
the windows which announced that apartments were to let.
Mr. Rayburn waited a minute--then knocked at the door, and asked
if he could see the mistress of the house. The servant showed him
into a room on the ground floor, neatly but scantily furnished.
One little white object varied the grim brown monotony of the
empty table. It was a visiting-card.
With a child's unceremonious curiosity Lucy pounced on the card,
and spelled the name, letter by letter: "Z, A, N, T," she
repeated. "What does that mean ?"
Her father looked at the card, as he took it away from her, and
put it back on the table. The name was printed, and the address
was added in pencil: "Mr. John Zant, Purley's Hotel."
The mistress made her appearance. Mr. Rayburn heartily wishe d
himself out of the house again, the moment he saw her. The ways
in which it is possible to cultivate the social virtues are more
numerous and more varied than is generally supposed. This lady's
way had apparently accustomed her to meet her fellow-creatures on
the hard ground of justice without mercy. Something in her eyes,
when she looked at Lucy, said: "I wonder whether that child gets
punished when she deserves it?"
"Do you wish to see the rooms which I have to let?" she began.
Mr. Rayburn at once stated the object of his visit--as clearly,
as civilly, and as concisely as a man could do it. He was
conscious (he added) that he had been guilty perhaps of an act of
The manner of the mistress of the house showed that she entirely
agreed with him. He suggested, however, that his motive might
excuse him. The mistress's manner changed, and asserted a
difference of opinion.
"I only know the lady whom you mention," she said, "as a person
of the highest respectability, in delicate health. She has taken
my first- floor apartments, with excellent references; and she
gives remarkably little trouble. I have no claim to interfere
with her proceedings, and no reason to doubt that she is capable
of taking care of herself."
Mr. Rayburn unwisely attempted to say a word in his own defense.
"Allow me to remind you--" he began.
"Of what, sir?"
"Of what I observed, when I happened to see the lady in
"I am not responsible for what you observed in Kensington
Gardens. If your time is of any value, pray don't let me detain
Dismissed in those terms, Mr. Rayburn took Lucy's hand and
withdrew. He had just reached the door, when it was opened from
the outer side. The Lady of Kensington Gardens stood before him.
In the position which he and his daughter now occupied, their
backs were toward the window. Would she remember having seen them
for a moment in the Gardens?
"Excuse me for intruding on you," she said to the landlady. "Your
servant tells me my brother-in-law called while I was out. He
sometimes leaves a message on his card."
She looked for the message, and appeared to be disappointed:
there was no writing on the card.
Mr. Rayburn lingered a little in the doorway on the chance of
hearing something more. The landlady's vigilant eyes discovered
"Do you know this gentleman?" she said maliciously to her lodger.
"Not that I remember."
Replying in those words, the lady looked at Mr. Rayburn for the
first time; and suddenly drew back from him.
"Yes," she said, correcting herself; "I think we met--"
Her embarrassment overpowered her; she could say no more.
Mr. Rayburn compassionately finished the sentence for her.
"We met accidentally in Kensington Gardens," he said.
She seemed to be incapable of appreciating the kindness of his
motive. After hesitating a little she addressed a proposal to
him, which seemed to show distrust of the landlady.
"Will you let me speak to you upstairs in my own rooms?" she
Without waiting for a reply, she led the way to the stairs. Mr.
Rayburn and Lucy followed. They were just beginning the ascent to
the first floor, when the spiteful landlady left the lower room,
and called to her lodger over their heads: "Take care what you
say to this man, Mrs. Zant! He thinks you're mad."
Mrs. Zant turned round on the landing, and looked at him. Not a
word fell from her lips. She suffered, she feared, in silence.
Something in the sad submission of her face touched the springs
of innocent pity in Lucy's heart. The child burst out crying.
That artless expression of sympathy drew Mrs. Zant down the few
stairs which separated her from Lucy.
"May I kiss your dear little girl?" she said to Mr. Rayburn. The
landlady, standing on the mat below, expressed her opinion of the
value of caresses, as compared with a sounder method of treating
young persons in tears: "If that child was mine," she remarked,
"I would give her something to cry for."
In the meantime, Mrs. Zant led the way to her rooms.
The first words she spoke showed that the landlady had succeeded
but too well in prejudicing her against Mr. Rayburn.
"Will you let me ask your child," she said to him, "why you think
He met this strange request with a firm answer.
"You don't know yet what I really do think. Will you give me a
"No," she said positively. "The child pities me, I want to speak
to the child. What did you see me do in the Gardens, my dear,
that surprised you?" Lucy turned uneasily to her father; Mrs.
Zant persisted. "I first saw you by yourself, and then I saw you
with your father," she went on. "When I came nearer to you, did I
look very oddly--as if I didn't see you at all?"
Lucy hesitated again; and Mr. Rayburn interfered.
"You are confusing my little girl," he said. "Allow me to answer
your questions--or excuse me if I leave you."
There was something in his look, or in his tone, that mastered
her. She put her hand to her head.
"I don't think I'm fit for it," she answered vacantly. "My
courage has been sorely tried already. If I can get a little rest
and sleep, you may find me a different person. I am left a great
deal by myself; and I have reasons for trying to compose my mind.
Can I see you tomorrow? Or write to you? Where do you live?"
Mr. Rayburn laid his card on the table in silence. She had
strongly excited his interest. He honestly desired to be of some
service to this forlorn creature--abandoned so cruelly, as it
seemed, to her own guidance. But he had no authority to exercise,
no sort of claim to direct her actions, even if she consented to
accept his advice. As a last resource he ventured on an allusion
to the relative of whom she had spoken downstairs.
"When do you expect to see your brother-in-law again?" he said.
"I don't know," she answered. "I should like to see him--he is so
kind to me."
She turned aside to take leave of Lucy.
"Good-by, my little friend. If you live to grow up, I hope you
will never be such a miserable woman as I am." She suddenly
looked round at Mr. Rayburn. "Have you got a wife at home?" she
"My wife is dead."
"And _you_ have a child to comfort you! Please leave me; you
harden my heart. Oh, sir, don't you understand? You make me envy
Mr. Rayburn was silent when he and his daughter were out in the
street again. Lucy, as became a dutiful child, was silent, too.
But there are limits to human endurance--and Lucy's capacity for
self-control gave way at last.
"Are you thinking of the lady, papa?" she said.
He only answered by nodding his head. His daughter had
interrupted him at that critical moment in a man's reflections,
when he is on the point of making up his mind. Before they were
at home again Mr. Rayburn had arrived at a decision. Mrs. Zant's
brother-in-law was evidently ignorant of any serious necessity
for his interference--or he would have made arrangements for
immediately repeating his visit. In this state of things, if any
evil happened to Mrs. Zant, silence on Mr. Rayburn's part might
be indirectly to blame for a serious misfortune. Arriving at that
conclusion, he decided upon running the risk of being rudely
received, for the second time, by another stranger.
Leaving Lucy under the care of her governess, he went at once to
the address that had been written on the visiting-card left at
the lodging-house, and sent in his name. A courteous message was
returned. Mr. John Zant was at home, and would be happy to see
MR. RAYBURN was shown into one of the private sitting-rooms of
He observed that the customary position of the furniture in a
room had been, in some respects, altered. An armchair, a
side-table, and a footstool had all been removed to one of the
windows, and had been placed as close as possible to the light.
On the table lay a large open roll of morocco leather, containing
rows of elegant little instruments in steel and ivory. Waiting by
the table, stood Mr. John Zant. He said "Good-morning" in a bass
voice, so profound and so melodious that those two commonplace
words assumed a new importance, coming from his lips. His
personal appearance was in harmony with his magnificent voice--
he was a tall, finely-made man of dark complexion; with big
brilliant black eyes, and a noble curling beard, which hid the
whole lower part of his face. Having bowed with a happy mingling
of dignity and politeness, the conventional side of this
gentleman's character suddenly vanished; and a crazy side, to all
appearance, took its place. He dropped on his knees in front of
the footstool. Had he forgotten to say his prayers that morning,
and was he in such a hurry to remedy the fault that he had no
time to spare for consulting appearances? The doubt had hardly
suggested itself, before it was set at rest in a most unexpected
manner. Mr. Zant looked at his visitor with a bland smile, and
"Please let me see your feet."
For the moment, Mr. Rayburn lost his presence of mind. He looked
at the instruments on the side-table.
"Are you a corn-cutter?" was all he could say.
"Excuse me, sir, " returned the polite operator, "the term you
use is quite obsolete in our profession." He rose from his knees,
and added modestly: "I am a Chiropodist."
"I beg your pardon."
"Don't mention it! You are not, I imagine, in want of my
professional services. To what motive may I attribute the honor
of your visit?"
By this time Mr. Rayburn had recovered himself.
"I have come here," he answered, "under circumstances which
require apology as well as explanation."
Mr. Zant's highly polished manner betrayed signs of alarm; his
suspicions pointed to a formidable conclusion--a conclusion that
shook him to the innermost recesses of the pocket in which he
kept his money.
"The numerous demands on me--" he began.
Mr. Rayburn smiled.
"Make your mind easy," he replied. "I don't want money. My object
is to speak with you on the subject of a lady who is a relation
"My sister-in-law!" Mr. Zant exclaimed. "Pray take a seat."
Doubting if he had chosen a convenient time for his visit, Mr.
"Am I likely to be in the way of persons who wish to consult
you?" he asked.
"Certainly not. My morning hours of attendance on my clients are
from eleven to one." The clock on the mantelpiece struck the
quarter-past one as he spoke. "I hope you don't bring me bad
news?" he said, very earnestly. "When I called on Mrs. Zant this
morning, I heard that she had gone out for a walk. Is it
indiscreet to ask how you became acquainted with her?"
Mr. Rayburn at once mentioned what he had seen and heard in
Kensington Gardens; not forgetting to add a few words, which
described his interview afterward with Mrs. Zant.
The lady's brother-in-law listened with an interest and sympathy,
which offered the strongest possible contrast to the unprovoked
rudeness of the mistress of the lodging-house. He declared that
he could only do justice to his sense of obligation by following
Mr. Rayburn's example, and expressing himself as frankly as if he
had been speaking to an old friend.
"The sad story of my sister-in-law's life," he said, "will, I
think, explain certain things which must have naturally perplexed
you. My brother was introduced to her at the house of an
Australian gentleman, on a visit to England. She was then
employed as governess to his daughters. So sincere was the regard
felt for her by the family that the parents had, at the entreaty
of their children, asked her to accompany them when they returned
to the Colony. The governess thankfully accepted the proposal."
"Had she no relations in England?" Mr. Rayburn asked.
"She was literally alone in the world, sir. When I tell you that
she had been brought up in the Foundling Hospital, you will
understand what I mean. Oh, there is no romance in my
sister-in-law's story! She never has known, or will know, who her
parents were or why they deserted her. The happiest moment in her
life was the moment when she and my brother first met. It was an
instance, on both sides, of love at first sight. Though not a
rich man, my brother had earned a sufficient income in mercantile
pursuits. His character spoke for itself. In a word, he altered
all the poor girl's prospects, as we then hoped and believed, for
the better. Her employers deferred their return to Australia, so
that she might be married from their house. After a happy life of
a few weeks only--"
His voice failed him; he paused, and turned his face from the
"Pardon me," he said; "I am not able, even yet, to speak
composedly of my brother's death. Let me only say that the poor
young wife was a widow, before the happy days of the honeymoon
were over. That dreadful calamity struck her down. Before my
brother had been committed to the grave, her life was in danger
Those words placed in a new light Mr. Rayburn's first fear that
her intellect might be deranged. Looking at him attentively, Mr.
Zant seemed to understand what was passing in the mind of his
"No!" he said. "If the opinions of the medical men are to be
trusted, the result of the illness is injury to her physical
strength--not injury to her mind. I have observed in her, no
doubt, a certain waywardness of temper since her illness; but
that is a trifle. As an example of what I mean, I may tell you
that I invited her, on her recovery, to pay me a visit. My house
is not in London--the air doesn't agree with me--my place of
residence is at St. Sallins-on-Sea. I am not myself a married
man; but my excellent housekeeper would have received Mrs. Zant
with the utmost kindness. She was resolved--obstinately resolved,
poor thing--to remain in London. It is needless to say that, in
her melancholy position, I am attentive to her slightest wishes.
I took a lodging for her; and, at her special request, I chose a
house which was near Kensington Gardens.
"Is there any association with the Gardens which led Mrs. Zant to
make that request?"
"Some association, I believe, with the memory of her husband. By
the way, I wish to be sure of finding her at home, when I call
to-morrow. Did you say (in the course of your interesting
statement) that she intended--as you supposed--to return to
Kensington Gardens to-morrow? Or has my memory deceived me?"
"Your memory is perfectly accurate."
"Thank you. I confess I am not only distressed by what you have
told me of Mrs. Zant--I am at a loss to know how to act for the
best. My only idea, at present, is to try change of air and
scene. What do you think yourself?"
"I think you are right."
Mr. Zant still hesitated.
"It would not be easy for me, just now," he said, "to leave my
patients and take her abroad."
The obvious reply to this occurred to Mr. Rayburn. A man of
larger worldly experience might have felt certain suspicions, and
might have remained silent. Mr. Rayburn spoke.
"Why not renew your invitation and take her to your house at the
seaside?" he said.
In the perplexed state of Mr. Zant's mind, this plain course of
action had apparently failed to present itself. His gloomy face
"The very thing!" he said. "I will certainly take your advice. If
the air of St. Sallins does nothing else, it will improve her
health and help her to recover her good looks. Did she strike you
as having been (in happier days) a pretty woman?"
This was a strangely familiar question to ask--almost an
indelicate question, under the circumstances A certain furtive
expression in Mr. Zant's fine dark eyes seemed to imply that it
had been put with a purpose. Was it possible that he suspected
Mr. Rayburn's interest in his sister-in-law to be inspired by any
motive which was not perfectly unselfish and perfectly pure? To
arrive at such a conclusion as this might be to judge hastily and
cruelly of a man who was perhaps only guilty of a want of
delicacy of feeling. Mr. Rayburn honestly did his best to assume
the charitable point of view. At the same time, it is not to be
denied that his words, when he answered, were carefully guarded,
and that he rose to take his leave.
Mr. John Zant hospitably protested.
"Why are you in such a hurry? Must you really go? I shall have
the honor of returning your visit to-morrow, when I have made
arrangements to profit by that excellent suggestion of yours.
Good-by. God bless you."
He held out his hand: a hand with a smooth s urface and a tawny
color, that fervently squeezed the fingers of a departing friend.
"Is that man a scoundrel?" was Mr. Rayburn's first thought, after
he had left the hotel. His moral sense set all hesitation at
rest--and answered: "You're a fool if you doubt it."
DISTURBED by presentiments, Mr. Rayburn returned to his house on
foot, by way of trying what exercise would do toward composing
The experiment failed. He went upstairs and played with Lucy; he
drank an extra glass of wine at dinner; he took the child and her
governess to a circus in the evening; he ate a little supper,
fortified by another glass of wine, before he went to bed--and
still those vague forebodings of evil persisted in torturing him.
Looking back through his past life, he asked himself if any woman
(his late wife of course excepted!) had ever taken the
predominant place in his thoughts which Mrs. Zant had
assumed--without any discernible reason to account for it? If he
had ventured to answer his own question, the reply would have
All the next day he waited at home, in expectation of Mr. John
Zant's promised visit, and waited in vain.
Toward evening the parlor-maid appeared at the family tea-table,
and presented to her master an unusually large envelope sealed
with black wax, and addressed in a strange handwriting. The
absence of stamp and postmark showed that it had been left at the
house by a messenger.
"Who brought this?" Mr. Rayburn asked.
"A lady, sir--in deep mourning."
"Did she leave any message?"
Having drawn the inevitable conclusion, Mr. Rayburn shut himself
up in his library. He was afraid of Lucy's curiosity and Lucy's
questions, if he read Mrs. Zant's letter in his daughter's
Looking at the open envelope after he had taken out the leaves of
writing which it contained, he noticed these lines traced inside
"My one excuse for troubling you, when I might have consulted my
brother-in-law, will be found in the pages which I inclose. To
speak plainly, you have been led to fear that I am not in my
right senses. For this very reason, I now appeal to you. Your
dreadful doubt of me, sir, is my doubt too. Read what I have
written about myself--and then tell me, I entreat you, which I
am: A person who has been the object of a supernatural
revelation? or an unfortunate creature who is only fit for
imprisonment in a mad-house?"
Mr. Rayburn opened the manuscript. With steady attention, which
soon quickened to breathless interest, he read what follows:
THE LADY'S MANUSCRIPT.
YESTERDAY morning the sun shone in a clear blue sky--after a
succession of cloudy days, counting from the first of the month.
The radiant light had its animating effect on my poor spirits. I
had passed the night more peacefully than usual; undisturbed by
the dream, so cruelly familiar to me, that my lost husband is
still living--the dream from which I always wake in tears. Never,
since the dark days of my sorrow, have I been so little troubled
by the self-tormenting fancies and fears which beset miserable
women, as when I left the house, and turned my steps toward
Kensington Gardens--for the first time since my husband's death.
Attended by my only companion, the little dog who had been his
favorite as well as mine, I went to the quiet corner of the
Gardens which is nearest to Kensington.
On that soft grass, under the shade of those grand trees, we had
loitered together in the days of our betrothal. It was his
favorite walk; and he had taken me to see it in the early days of
our acquaintance. There, he had first asked me to be his wife.
There, we had felt the rapture of our first kiss. It was surely
natural that I should wish to see once more a place sacred to
such memories as these? I am only twenty-three years old; I have
no child to comfort me, no companion of my own age, nothing to
love but the dumb creature who is so faithfully fond of me.
I went to the tree under which we stood, when my dear one's eyes
told his love before he could utter it in words. The sun of that
vanished day shone on me again; it was the same noontide hour;
the same solitude was around me. I had feared the first effect of
the dreadful contrast between past and present. No! I was quiet
and resigned. My thoughts, rising higher than earth, dwelt on the
better life beyond the grave. Some tears came into my eyes. But I
was not unhappy. My memory of all that happened may be trusted,
even in trifles which relate only to myself--I was not unhappy.
The first object that I saw, when my eyes were clear again, was
the dog. He crouched a few paces away from me, trembling
pitiably, but uttering no cry. What had caused the fear that
I was soon to know.
I called to the dog; he remained immovable--conscious of some
mysterious coming thing that held him spellbound. I tried to go
to the poor creature, and fondle and comfort him.
At the first step forward that I took, something stopped me.
It was not to be seen, and not to be heard. It stopped me.
The still figure of the dog disappeared from my view: the lonely
scene round me disappeared--excepting the light from heaven, the
tree that sheltered me, and the grass in front of me. A sense of
unutterable expectation kept my eyes riveted on the grass.
Suddenly, I saw its myriad blades rise erect and shivering. The
fear came to me of something passing over them with the invisible
swiftness of the wind. The shivering advanced. It was all round
me. It crept into the leaves of the tree over my head; they
shuddered, without a sound to tell of their agitation; their
pleasant natural rustling was struck dumb. The song of the birds
had ceased. The cries of the water-fowl on the pond were heard no
more. There was a dreadful silence.
But the lovely sunshine poured down on me, as brightly as ever.
In that dazzling light, in that fearful silence, I felt an
Invisible Presence near me. It touched me gently.
At the touch, my heart throbbed with an overwhelming joy.
Exquisite pleasure thrilled through every nerve in my body. I
knew him! From the unseen world--himself unseen--he had returned
to me. Oh, I knew him!
And yet, my helpless mortality longed for a sign that might give
me assurance of the truth. The yearning in me shaped itself into
words. I tried to utter the words. I would have said, if I could
have spoken: "Oh, my angel, give me a token that it is You!" But
I was like a person struck dumb--I could only think it.
The Invisible Presence read my thought. I felt my lips touched,
as my husband's lips used to touch them when he kissed me. And
that was my answer. A thought came to me again. I would have
said, if I could have spoken: "Are you here to take me to the
I waited. Nothing that I could feel touched me.
I was conscious of thinking once more. I would have said, if I
could have spoken: "Are you here to protect me?"
I felt myself held in a gentle embrace, as my husband's arms used
to hold me when he pressed me to his breast. And that was my
The touch that was like the touch of his lips, lingered and was
lost; the clasp that was like the clasp of his arms, pressed me
and fell away. The garden-scene resumed its natural aspect. I saw
a human creature near, a lovely little girl looking at me.
At that moment, when I was my own lonely self again, the sight of
the child soothed and attracted me. I advanced, intending to
speak to her. To my horror I suddenly ceased to see her. She
disappeared as if I had been stricken blind.
And yet I could see the landscape round me; I could see the
heaven above me. A time passed--only a few minutes, as I
thought--and the child became visible to me again; walking
hand-in-hand with her father. I approached them; I was close
enough to see that they were looking at me with pity and
surprise. My impulse was to ask if they saw anything strange in
my face or my manner. Before I could speak, the horrible wonder
happened again. They vanished from my view.
Was the Invisible Presence still near? Was it passing between me
and my fellow-mortals; forbidding communication, in that place
and at that time?
It must have been so. When I turned away in my
ignorance, with a heavy heart, the dreadful blankness which had
twice shut out from me the beings of my own race, was not between
me and my dog. The poor little creature filled me with pity; I
called him to me. He moved at the sound of my voice, and followed
me languidly; not quite awakened yet from the trance of terror
that had possessed him.
Before I had retired by more than a few steps, I thought I was
conscious of the Presence again. I held out my longing arms to
it. I waited in the hope of a touch to tell me that I might
return. Perhaps I was answered by indirect means? I only know
that a resolution to return to the same place, at the same hour,
came to me, and quieted my mind.
The morning of the next day was dull and cloudy; but the rain
held off. I set forth again to the Gardens.
My dog ran on before me into the street--and stopped: waiting to
see in which direction I might lead the way. When I turned toward
the Gardens, he dropped behind me. In a little while I looked
back. He was following me no longer; he stood irresolute. I
called to him. He advanced a few steps--hesitated--and ran back
to the house.
I went on by myself. Shall I confess my superstition? I thought
the dog's desertion of me a bad omen.
Arrived at the tree, I placed myself under it. The minutes
followed each other uneventfully. The cloudy sky darkened. The
dull surface of the grass showed no shuddering consciousness of
an unearthly creature passing over it.
I still waited, with an obstinacy which was fast becoming the
obstinacy of despair. How long an interval elapsed, while I kept
watch on the ground before me, I am not able to say. I only know
that a change came.
Under the dull gray light I saw the grass move--but not as it had
moved, on the day before. It shriveled as if a flame had scorched
it. No flame appeared. The brown underlying earth showed itself
winding onward in a thin strip--which might have been a footpath
traced in fire. It frightened me. I longed for the protection of
the Invisible Presence. I prayed for a warning of it, if danger
A touch answered me. It was as if a hand unseen had taken my
hand--had raised it, little by little--had left it, pointing to
the thin brown path that wound toward me under the shriveled
blades of grass.
I looked to the far end of the path.
The unseen hand closed on my hand with a warning pressure: the
revelation of the coming danger was near me--I waited for it. I
The figure of a man appeared, advancing toward me along the thin
brown path. I looked in his face as he came nearer. It showed me
dimly the face of my husband's brother--John Zant.
The consciousness of myself as a living creature left me. I knew
nothing; I felt nothing. I was dead.
When the torture of revival made me open my eyes, I found myself
on the grass. Gentle hands raised my head, at the moment when I
recovered my senses. Who had brought me to life again? Who was
taking care of me?
I looked upward, and saw--bending over me--John Zant.
THERE, the manuscript ended.
Some lines had been added on the last page; but they had been so
carefully erased as to be illegible. These words of explanation
appeared below the canceled sentences:
"I had begun to write the little that remains to be told, when it
struck me that I might, unintentionally, be exercising an unfair
influence on your opinion. Let me only remind you that I believe
absolutely in the supernatural revelation which I have endeavored
to describe. Remember this--and decide for me what I dare not
decide for myself."
There was no serious obstacle in the way of compliance with this
Judged from the point of view of the materialist, Mrs. Zant might
no doubt be the victim of illusions (produced by a diseased state
of the nervous system), which have been known to exist--as in the
celebrated case of the book-seller, Nicolai, of Berlin--without
being accompanied by derangement of the intellectual powers. But
Mr. Rayburn was not asked to solve any such intricate problem as
this. He had been merely instructed to read the manuscript, and
to say what impression it had left on him of the mental condition
of the writer; whose doubt of herself had been, in all
probability, first suggested by remembrance of the illness from
which she had suffered--brain-fever.
Under these circumstances, there could be little difficulty in
forming an opinion. The memory which had recalled, and the
judgment which had arranged, the succession of events related in
the narrative, revealed a mind in full possession of its
Having satisfied himself so far, Mr. Rayburn abstained from
considering the more serious question suggested by what he had
At any time his habits of life and his ways of thinking would
have rendered him unfit to weigh the arguments, which assert or
deny supernatural revelation among the creatures of earth. But
his mind was now so disturbed by the startling record of
experience which he had just read, that he was only conscious of
feeling certain impressions--without possessing the capacity to
reflect on them. That his anxiety on Mrs. Zant's account had been
increased, and that his doubts of Mr. John Zant had been
encouraged, were the only practical results of the confidence
placed in him of which he was thus far aware. In the ordinary
exigencies of life a man of hesitating disposition, his interest
in Mrs. Zant's welfare, and his desire to discover what had
passed between her brother-in-law and herself, after their
meeting in the Gardens, urged him into instant action. In half an
hour more, he had arrived at her lodgings. He was at once
MRS. ZANT was alone, in an imperfectly lighted room.
"I hope you will excuse the bad light," she said; "my head has
been burning as if the fever had come back again. Oh, don't go
away! After what I have suffered, you don't know how dreadful it
is to be alone."
The tone of her voice told him that she had been crying. He at
once tried the best means of setting the poor lady at ease, by
telling her of the conclusion at which he had arrived, after
reading her manuscript. The happy result showed itself instantly:
her face brightened, her manner changed; she was eager to hear
"Have I produced any other impression on you?" she asked.
He understood the allusion. Expressing sincere respect for her
own convictions, he told her honestly that he was not prepared to
enter on the obscure and terrible question of supernatural
interposition. Grateful for the tone in which he had answered
her, she wisely and delicately changed the subject.
"I must speak to you of my brother-in-law," she said. "He has
told me of your visit; and I am anxious to know what you think of
him. Do you like Mr. John Zant?"
Mr. Rayburn hesitated.
The careworn look appeared again in her face. "If you had felt as
kindly toward him as he feels toward you," she said, "I might
have gone to St. Sallins with a lighter heart."
Mr. Rayburn thought of the supernatural appearances, described at
the close of her narrative. "You believe in that terrible
warning," he remonstrated; "and yet, you go to your
"I believe," she answered, "in the spirit of the man who loved me
in the days of his earthly bondage. I am under _his_ protection.
What have I to do but to cast away my fears, and to wait in faith
and hope? It might have helped my resolution if a friend had been
near to encourage me." She paused and smiled sadly. "I must
remember," she resumed, "that your way of understanding my
position is not my way. I ought to have told you that Mr. John
Zant feels needless anxiety about my health. He declares that he
will not lose sight of me until his mind is at ease. It is
useless to attempt to alter his opinion. He says my nerves are
shattered--and who that sees me can doubt it? He tells me that my
only chance of getting better is to try change of air and perfect
repose--how can I contradict him? He reminds me that I have no
relation but himself, and no house open to me but his own--and
God knows he is right!"
She said those last words in accents of melancholy resignation,
which grieved the good man whose one merciful purpose was to
serve and console her. He spoke impulsively with the freedom of
an old friend
"I want to know more of you and Mr. John Zant than I know now,"
he said. "My motive is a better one than mere curiosity. Do you
believe that I feel a sincere interest in you?"
"With my whole heart."
That reply encouraged him to proceed with what he had to say.
"When you recovered from your fainting-fit," he began, "Mr. John
Zant asked questions, of course?"
"He asked what could possibly have happened, in such a quiet
place as Kensington Gardens, to make me faint."
"And how did you answer?"
"Answer? I couldn't even look at him!"
"You said nothing?"
"Nothing. I don't know what he thought of me; he might have been
surprised, or he might have been offended."
"Is he easily offended?" Mr. Rayburn asked.
"Not in my experience of him."
"Do you mean your experience of him before your illness?"
"Yes. Since my recovery, his engagements with country patients
have kept him away from London. I have not seen him since he took
these lodgings for me. But he is always considerate. He has
written more than once to beg that I will not think him
neglectful, and to tell me (what I knew already through my poor
husband) that he has no money of his own, and must live by his
"In your husband's lifetime, were the two brothers on good
"Always. The one complaint I ever heard my husband make of John
Zant was that he didn't come to see us often enough, after our
marriage. Is there some wickedness in him which we have never
suspected? It may be--but _how_ can it be? I have every reason to
be grateful to the man against whom I have been supernaturally
warned! His conduct to me has been always perfect. I can't tell
you what I owe to his influence in quieting my mind, when a
dreadful doubt arose about my husband's death."
"Do you mean doubt if he died a natural death?"
"Oh, no! no! He was dying of rapid consumption--but his sudden
death took the doctors by surprise. One of them thought that he
might have taken an overdose of his sleeping drops, by mistake.
The other disputed this conclusion, or there might have been an
inquest in the house. Oh, don't speak of it any more! Let us talk
of something else. Tell me when I shall see you again."
"I hardly know. When do you and your brother-in-law leave
"To-morrow." She looked at Mr. Rayburn with a piteous entreaty in
her eyes; she said, timidly: "Do you ever go to the seaside, and
take your dear little girl with you?"
The request, at which she had only dared to hint, touched on the
idea which was at that moment in Mr. Rayburn's mind.
Interpreted by his strong prejudice against John Zant, what she
had said of her brother-in-law filled him with forebodings of
peril to herself; all the more powerful in their influence, for
this reason--that he shrank from distinctly realizing them. If
another person had been present at the interview, and had said to
him afterward: "That man's reluctance to visit his sister-in-law,
while her husband was living, is associated with a secret sense
of guilt which her innocence cannot even imagine: he, and he
alone, knows the cause of her husband's sudden death: his feigned
anxiety about her health is adopted as the safest means of
enticing her into his house--if those formidable conclusions had
been urged on Mr. Rayburn, he would have felt it his duty to
reject them, as unjustifiable aspersions on an absent man. And
yet, when he took leave that evening of Mrs. Zant, he had pledged
himself to give Lucy a holiday at the seaside: and he had said,
without blushing, that the child really deserved it, as a reward
for general good conduct and attention to her lessons!
THREE days later, the father and daughter arrived toward evening
at St. Sallins-on-Sea. They found Mrs. Zant at the station.
The poor woman's joy, on seeing them, expressed itself like the
joy of a child. "Oh, I am so glad! so glad!" was all she could
say when they met. Lucy was half-smothered with kisses, and was
made supremely happy by a present of the finest doll she had ever
possessed. Mrs. Zant accompanied her friends to the rooms which
had been secured at the hotel. She was able to speak
confidentially to Mr. Rayburn, while Lucy was in the balcony
hugging her doll, and looking at the sea.
The one event that had happened during Mrs. Zant's short
residence at St. Sallins was the departure of her brother-in-law
that morning, for London. He had been called away to operate on
the feet of a wealthy patient who knew the value of his time: his
housekeeper expected that he would return to dinner.
As to his conduct toward Mrs. Zant, he was not only as attentive
as ever--he was almost oppressively affectionate in his language
and manner. There was no service that a man could render which he
had not eagerly offered to her. He declared that he already
perceived an improvement in her health; he congratulated her on
having decided to stay in his house; and (as a proof, perhaps, of
his sincerity) he had repeatedly pressed her hand. "Have you any
idea what all this means?" she said, simply.
Mr. Rayburn kept his idea to himself. He professed ignorance; and
asked next what sort of person the housekeeper was.
Mrs. Zant shook her head ominously.
"Such a strange creature," she said, "and in the habit of taking
such liberties that I begin to be afraid she is a little crazy."
"Is she an old woman?"
"No--only middle-aged. This morning, after her master had left
the house, she actually asked me what I thought of my
brother-in-law! I told her, as coldly as possible, that I thought
he was very kind. She was quite insensible to the tone in which I
had spoken; she went on from bad to worse. "Do you call him the
sort of man who would take the fancy of a young woman?" was her
next question. She actually looked at me (I might have been
wrong; and I hope I was) as if the "young woman" she had in her
mind was myself! I said: "I don't think of such things, and I
don't talk about them." Still, she was not in the least
discouraged; she made a personal remark next: "Excuse me--but you
do look wretchedly pale." I thought she seemed to enjoy the
defect in my complexion; I really believe it raised me in her
estimation. "We shall get on better in time," she said; "I am
beginning to like you." She walked out humming a tune. Don't you
agree with me? Don't you think she's crazy?"
"I can hardly give an opinion until I have seen her. Does she
look as if she might have been a pretty woman at one time of her
"Not the sort of pretty woman whom I admire!"
Mr. Rayburn smiled. "I was thinking," he resumed, "that this
person's odd conduct may perhaps be accounted for. She is
probably jealous of any young lady who is invited to her master's
house--and (till she noticed your complexion) she began by being
jealous of you."
Innocently at a loss to understand how _she_ could become an
object of the housekeeper's jealousy, Mrs. Zant looked at Mr.
Rayburn in astonishment. Before she could give expression to her
feeling of surprise, there was an interruption--a welcome
interruption. A waiter entered the room, and announced a visitor;
described as "a gentleman."
Mrs. Zant at once rose to retire.
"Who is the gentleman?" Mr. Rayburn asked--detaining Mrs. Zant as
A voice which they both recognized answered gayly, from the outer
side of the door:
"A friend from London."
"WELCOME to St. Sallins! " cried Mr. John Zant. "I knew that you
were expected, my dear sir, and I took my chance at finding you
at the hotel." He turned to his sister-in-law, and kissed her
hand with an elaborate gallantry worthy of Sir Charles Grandison
himself. "When I reached home, my dear, and heard that you had
gone out, I guessed that your object was to receive our excellent
friend. You have not felt lonely while I have been away? That's
right! that's right!" he looked toward the balcony, and
discovered Lucy at the open window, staring at the magnificent
stranger. "Your little daughter, Mr. Rayburn? Dear child! Come
and kiss me."
Lucy answered in one positive word: "No."
Mr. John Zant was not easily discouraged.
Show me your doll, darling," he said. "Sit on my knee."
Lucy answered in two positive words--"I won't."
Her father approached the window to administer the necessary
reproof. Mr. John Zant interfered in the cause of mercy with his
best grace. He held up his hands in cordial entreaty. "Dear Mr.
Rayburn! The fairies are sometimes shy; and _this_ little fairy
doesn't take to strangers at first sight. Dear child! All in good
time. And what stay do you make at St. Sallins? May we hope that
our poor attractions will tempt you to prolong your visit?"
He put his flattering little question with an ease of manner
which was rather too plainly assumed; and he looked at Mr.
Rayburn with a watchfulness which appeared to attach undue
importance to the reply. When he said: "What stay do you make at
St. Sallins?" did he really mean: "How soon do you leave us?"
Inclining to adopt this conclusion, Mr. Rayburn answered
cautiously that his stay at the seaside would depend on
circumstances. Mr. John Zant looked at his sister-in-law, sitting
silent in a corner with Lucy on her lap. "Exert your
attractions," he said; "make the circumstances agreeable to our
good friend. Will you dine with us to-day, my dear sir, and bring
your little fairy with you?"
Lucy was far from receiving this complimentary allusion in the
spirit in which it had been offered. "I'm not a fairy," she
declared. "I'm a child."
"And a naughty child," her father added, with all the severity
that he could assume.
"I can't help it, papa; the man with the big beard puts me out."
The man with the big beard was amused--amiably, paternally
amused--by Lucy's plain speaking. He repeated his invitation to
dinner; and he did his best to look disappointed when Mr. Rayburn
made the necessary excuses.
"Another day," he said (without, however, fixing the day). "I
think you will find my house comfortable. My housekeeper may
perhaps be eccentric--but in all essentials a woman in a
thousand. Do you feel the change from London already? Our air at
St. Sallins is really worthy of its reputation. Invalids who come
here are cured as if by magic. What do you think of Mrs. Zant?
How does she look?"
Mr. Rayburn was evidently expected to say that she looked better.
He said it. Mr. John Zant seemed to have anticipated a stronger
expression of opinion.
"Surprisingly better!" he pronounced. "Infinitely better! We
ought both to be grateful. Pray believe that we _are_ grateful."
"If you mean grateful to me," Mr. Rayburn remarked, "I don't
"You don't quite understand? Is it possible that you have
forgotten our conversation when I first had the honor of
receiving you? Look at Mrs. Zant again."
Mr. Rayburn looked; and Mrs. Zant's brother-in-law explained
"You notice the return of her color, the healthy brightness of
her eyes. (No, my dear, I am not paying you idle compliments; I
am stating plain facts.) For that happy result, Mr. Rayburn, we
are indebted to you."
"Surely yes! It was at your valuable suggestion that I thought of
inviting my sister-in-law to visit me at St. Sallins. Ah, you
remember it now. Forgive me if I look at my watch; the dinner
hour is on my mind. Not, as your dear little daughter there seems
to think, because I am greedy, but because I am always punctual,
in justice to the cook. Shall we see you to-morrow? Call early,
and you will find us at home."
He gave Mrs. Zant his arm, and bowed and smiled, and kissed his
hand to Lucy, and left the room. Recalling their interview at the
hotel in London, Mr. Rayburn now understood John Zant's object
(on that occasion) in assuming the character of a helpless man in
need of a sensible suggestion. If Mrs. Zant's residence under his
roof became associated with evil consequences, he could declare
that she would never have entered the house but for Mr. Rayburn's
With the next day came the hateful necessity of returning this
Mr. Rayburn was placed between two alternatives. In Mrs. Zant's
interests he must remain, no matter at what sacrifice of his own
inclinations, on good terms with her brother-in-law--or he must
return to London, and leave the poor woman to her fate. His
choice, it is needless to say, was never a matter of doubt. He
called at the house, and did his innocent best--without in the
least deceiving Mr. John Zant--to make himself agreeable during
the short duration of his visit. Descending the stairs on his way
out, accompanied by Mrs. Zant, he was surprised to see a
middle-aged woman in the hall, who looked as if she was waiting
there expressly to attract notice.
"The housekeeper," Mrs. Zant whispered. "She is impudent enough
to try to make acquaintance with you."
This was exactly what the housekeeper was waiting in the hall to
"I hope you like our watering-place, sir," she began. "If I can
be of service to you, pray command me. Any friend of this lady's
has a claim on me--and you are an old friend, no doubt. I am only
the housekeeper; but I presume to take a sincere interest in Mrs.
Zant; and I am indeed glad to see you here. We none of us
know--do we?--how soon we may want a friend. No offense, I hope?
Thank you, sir. Good-morning."
There was nothing in the woman's eyes which indicated an
unsettled mind; nothing in the appearance of her lips which
suggested habits of intoxication. That her strange outburst of
familiarity proceeded from some strong motive seemed to be more
than probable. Putting together what Mrs. Zant had already told
him, and what he had himself observed, Mr. Rayburn suspected that
the motive might be found in the housekeeper's jealousy of her
REFLECTING in the solitude of his own room, Mr. Rayburn felt that
the one prudent course to take would be to persuade Mrs. Zant to
leave St. Sallins. He tried to prepare her for this strong
proceeding, when she came the next day to take Lucy out for a
"If you still regret having forced yourself to accept your
brother-in-law's invitation," was all he ventured to say, "don't
forget that you are perfect mistress of your own actions. You
have only to come to me at the hotel, and I will take you back to
London by the next train."
She positively refused to entertain the idea.
"I should be a thankless creature, indeed," she said, "if I
accepted your proposal. Do you think I am ungrateful enough to
involve you in a personal quarrel with John Zant? No! If I find
myself forced to leave the house, I will go away alone."
There was no moving her from this resolution. When she and Lucy
had gone out together, Mr. Rayburn remained at the hotel, with a
mind ill at ease. A man of readier mental resources might have
felt at a loss how to act for the best, in the emergency that now
confronted him. While he was still as far as ever from arriving
at a decision, some person knocked at the door.
Had Mrs. Zant returned? He looked up as the door was opened, and
saw to his astonishment--Mr. John Zant's housekeeper.
"Don't let me alarm you, sir," the woman said. "Mrs. Zant has
been taken a little faint, at the door of our house. My master is
attending to her."
"Where is the child?" Mr. Rayburn asked.
"I was bringing her back to you, sir, when we met a lady and her
little girl at the door of the hotel. They were on their way to
the beach--and Miss Lucy begged hard to be allowed to go with
them. The lady said the two children were playfellows, and she
was sure you would not object."
"The lady is quite right. Mrs. Zant's illness is not serious, I
"I think not, sir. But I should like to say something in her
interests. May I? Thank you." She advanced a step nearer to him,
and spoke her next words in a whisper. "Take Mrs. Zant away from
this place, and lose no time in doing it."
Mr. Rayburn was on his guard. He merely asked: "Why?"
The housekeeper answered in a curiously indirect manner--partly
in jest, as it seemed, and partly in earnest.
"When a man has lost his wife," she said, "there's some
difference of opinion in Parliament, as I hear, whether he does
right or wrong, if he marries his wife's sister. Wait a bit! I'm
coming to the point. My master is one who has a long head on his
shoulders; he sees consequences which escape the notice of peopl
e like me. In his way of thinking, if one man may marry his
wife's sister, and no harm done, where's the objection if another
man pays a compliment to the family, and marries his brother's
widow? My master, if you please, is that other man. Take the
widow away before she marries him."
This was beyond endurance.
"You insult Mrs. Zant," Mr. Rayburn answered, "if you suppose
that such a thing is possible!"
"Oh! I insult her, do I? Listen to me. One of three things will
happen. She will be entrapped into consenting to it--or
frightened into consenting to it--or drugged into consenting to
Mr. Rayburn was too indignant to let her go on.
"You are talking nonsense," he said. "There can be no marriage;
the law forbids it."
"Are you one of the people who see no further than their noses?"
she asked insolently. "Won't the law take his money? Is he
obliged to mention that he is related to her by marriage, when he
buys the license?" She paused; her humor changed; she stamped
furiously on the floor. The true motive that animated her showed
itself in her next words, and warned Mr. Rayburn to grant a more
favorable hearing than he had accorded to her yet. "If you won't
stop it," she burst out, "I will! If he marries anybody, he is
bound to marry ME. Will you take her away? I ask you, for the
last time--_will_ you take her away?"
The tone in which she made that final appeal to him had its
"I will go back with you to John Zant's house," he said, "and
judge for myself."
She laid her hand on his arm:
"I must go first--or you may not be let in. Follow me in five
minutes; and don't knock at the street door."
On the point of leaving him, she abruptly returned.
"We have forgotten something," she said. "Suppose my master
refuses to see you. His temper might get the better of him; he
might make it so unpleasant for you that you would be obliged to
"_My_ temper might get the better of _me_," Mr. Rayburn replied;
"and--if I thought it was in Mrs. Zant's interests--I might
refuse to leave the house unless she accompanied me."
"That will never do, sir."
"Because I should be the person to suffer."
"In what way?"
"In this way. If you picked a quarrel with my master, I should be
blamed for it because I showed you upstairs. Besides, think of
the lady. You might frighten her out of her senses, if it came to
a struggle between you two men."
The language was exaggerated; but there was a force in this last
objection which Mr. Rayburn was obliged to acknowledge.
"And, after all," the housekeeper continued, "he has more right
over her than you have. He is related to her, and you are only
Mr. Rayburn declined to let himself be influenced by this
consideration, "Mr. John Zant is only related to her by
marriage," he said. "If she prefers trusting in me--come what may
of it, I will be worthy of her confidence."
The housekeeper shook her head.
"That only means another quarrel," she answered. "The wise way,
with a man like my master, is the peaceable way. We must manage
to deceive him."
"I don't like deceit."
"In that case, sir, I'll wish you good-by. We will leave Mrs.
Zant to do the best she can for herself."
Mr. Rayburn was unreasonable. He positively refused to adopt this
"Will you hear what I have got to say?" the housekeeper asked.
"There can be no harm in that," he admitted. "Go on."
She took him at his word.
"When you called at our house," she began, "did you notice the
doors in the passage, on the first floor? Very well. One of them
is the door of the drawing-room, and the other is the door of the
library. Do you remember the drawing-room, sir?"
"I thought it a large well-lighted room," Mr. Rayburn answered.
"And I noticed a doorway in the wall, with a handsome curtain
hanging over it."
"That's enough for our purpose," the housekeeper resumed. "On the
other side of the curtain, if you had looked in, you would have
found the library. Suppose my master is as polite as usual, and
begs to be excused for not receiving you, because it is an
inconvenient time. And suppose you are polite on your side and
take yourself off by the drawing-room door. You will find me
waiting downstairs, on the first landing. Do you see it now?"
"I can't say I do."
"You surprise me, sir. What is to prevent us from getting back
softly into the library, by the door in the passage? And why
shouldn't we use that second way into the library as a means of
discovering what may be going on in the drawing-room? Safe behind
the curtain, you will see him if he behaves uncivilly to Mrs.
Zant, or you will hear her if she calls for help. In either case,
you may be as rough and ready with my master as you find needful;
it will be he who has frightened her, and not you. And who can
blame the poor housekeeper because Mr. Rayburn did his duty, and
protected a helpless woman? There is my plan, sir. Is it worth
He answered, sharply enough: "I don't like it."
The housekeeper opened the door again, and wished him good-by.
If Mr. Rayburn had felt no more than an ordinary interest in Mrs.
Zant, he would have let the woman go. As it was, he stopped her;
and, after some further protest (which proved to be useless), he
ended in giving way.
"You promise to follow my directions?" she stipulated.
He gave the promise. She smiled, nodded, and left him. True to
his instructions, Mr. Rayburn reckoned five minutes by his watch,
before he followed her.
THE housekeeper was waiting for him, with the street-door ajar.
"They are both in the drawing-room," she whispered, leading the
way upstairs. "Step softly, and take him by surprise."
A table of oblong shape stood midway between the drawing-room
walls. At the end of it which was nearest to the window, Mrs.
Zant was pacing to and fro across the breadth of the room. At the
opposite end of the table, John Zant was seated. Taken completely
by surprise, he showed himself in his true character. He started
to his feet, and protested with an oath against the intrusion
which had been committed on him.
Heedless of his action and his language, Mr. Rayburn could look
at nothing, could think of nothing, but Mrs. Zant. She was still
walking slowly to and fro, unconscious of the words of sympathy
which he addressed to her, insensible even as it seemed to the
presence of other persons in the room.
John Zant's voice broke the silence. His temper was under control
again: he had his reasons for still remaining on friendly terms
with Mr. Rayburn.
"I am sorry I forgot myself just now," he said.
Mr. Rayburn's interest was concentrated on Mrs. Zant; he took no
notice of the apology.
"When did this happen?" he asked.
"About a quarter of an hour ago. I was fortunately at home.
Without speaking to me, without noticing me, she walked upstairs
like a person in a dream."
Mr. Rayburn suddenly pointed to Mrs. Zant.
"Look at her!" he said. "There's a change!"
All restlessness in her movements had come to an end. She was
standing at the further end of the table, which was nearest to
the window, in the full flow of sunlight pouring at that moment
over her face. Her eyes looked out straight before her--void of
all expression. Her lips were a little parted: her head drooped
slightly toward her shoulder, in an attitude which suggested
listening for something or waiting for something. In the warm
brilliant light, she stood before the two men, a living creature
self-isolated in a stillness like the stillness of death.
John Zant was ready with the expression of his opinion.
"A nervous seizure," he said. "Something resembling catalepsy, as
"Have you sent for a doctor?"
"A doctor is not wanted."
"I beg your pardon. It seems to me that medical help is
"Be so good as to remember, " Mr. John Zant answered, "that the
decision rests with me, as the lady's relative. I am sensible of
the honor which your visit confers on me. But the time has been
unhappily chosen. Forgive me if I suggest that you will do well
Mr. Rayburn had not forgotten the housekeeper's advice, or the
promise which she had exacted from him. But the expression in
John Zant's face was a serious trial
to his self-control. He hesitated, and looked back at Mrs. Zant.
If he provoked a quarrel by remaining in the room, the one
alternative would be the removal of her by force. Fear of the
consequences to herself, if she was suddenly and roughly roused
from her trance, was the one consideration which reconciled him
to submission. He withdrew.
The housekeeper was waiting for him below, on the first landing.
When the door of the drawing-room had been closed again, she
signed to him to follow her, and returned up the stairs. After
another struggle with himself, he obeyed. They entered the
library from the corridor--and placed themselves behind the
closed curtain which hung over the doorway. It was easy so to
arrange the edge of the drapery as to observe, without exciting
suspicion, whatever was going on in the next room.
Mrs. Zant's brother-in-law was approaching her at the time when
Mr. Rayburn saw him again.
In the instant afterward, she moved--before he had completely
passed over the space between them. Her still figure began to
tremble. She lifted her drooping head. For a moment there was a
shrinking in her--as if she had been touched by something. She
seemed to recognize the touch: she was still again.
John Zant watched the change. It suggested to him that she was
beginning to recover her senses. He tried the experiment of
speaking to her.
"My love, my sweet angel, come to the heart that adores you!"
He advanced again; he passed into the flood of sunlight pouring
"Rouse yourself!" he said.
She still remained in the same position; apparently at his mercy,
neither hearing him nor seeing him.
"Rouse yourself!" he repeated. "My darling, come to me!"
At the instant when he attempted to embrace her--at the instant
when Mr. Rayburn rushed into the room--John Zant's arms, suddenly
turning rigid, remained outstretched. With a shriek of horror, he
struggled to draw them back--struggled, in the empty brightness
of the sunshine, as if some invisible grip had seized him.
"What has got me?" the wretch screamed. "Who is holding my hands?
Oh, the cold of it! the cold of it!"
His features became convulsed; his eyes turned upward until only
the white eyeballs were visible. He fell prostrate with a crash
that shook the room.
The housekeeper ran in. She knelt by her master's body. With one
hand she loosened his cravat. With the other she pointed to the
end of the table.
Mrs. Zant still kept her place; but there was another change.
Little by little, her eyes recovered their natural living
expression--then slowly closed. She tottered backward from the
table, and lifted her hands wildly, as if to grasp at something
which might support her. Mr. Rayburn hurried to her before she
fell--lifted her in his arms--and carried her out of the room.
One of the servants met them in the hall. He sent her for a
carriage. In a quarter of an hour more, Mrs. Zant was safe under
his care at the hotel.
THAT night a note, written by the housekeeper, was delivered to
"The doctors give little hope. The paralytic stroke is spreading
upward to his face. If death spares him, he will live a helpless
man. I shall take care of him to the last. As for you--forget
Mrs. Zant gave the note to Mr. Rayburn.
"Read it, and destroy it," she said. "It is written in ignorance
of the terrible truth."
He obeyed--and looked at her in silence, waiting to hear more.
She hid her face. The few words she had addressed to him, after a
struggle with herself, fell slowly and reluctantly from her lips.
She said: "No mortal hand held the hands of John Zant. The
guardian spirit was with me. The promised protection was with me.
I know it. I wish to know no more."
Having spoken, she rose to retire. He opened the door for her,
seeing that she needed rest in her own room.
Left by himself, he began to consider the prospect that was
before him in the future. How was he to regard the woman who had
just left him? As a poor creature weakened by disease, the victim
of her own nervous delusion? or as the chosen object of a
supernatural revelation--unparalleled by any similar revelation
that he had heard of, or had found recorded in books? His first
discovery of the place that she really held in his estimation
dawned on his mind, when he felt himself recoiling from the
conclusion which presented her to his pity, and yielding to the
nobler conviction which felt with her faith, and raised her to a
place apart among other women.
THEY left St. Sallins the next day.
Arrived at the end of the journey, Lucy held fast by Mrs. Zant's
hand. Tears were rising in the child's eyes.
"Are we to bid her good-by?" she said sadly to her father.
He seemed to be unwilling to trust himself to speak; he only
"My dear, ask her yourself."
But the result justified him. Lucy was happy again.
MISS MORRIS AND THE STRANGER.
WHEN I first saw him, he was lost in one of the Dead Cities of
England--situated on the South Coast, and called Sandwich.
Shall I describe Sandwich? I think not. Let us own the truth;
descriptions of places, however nicely they may be written, are
always more or less dull. Being a woman, I naturally hate
dullness. Perhaps some description of Sandwich may drop out, as
it were, from my report of our conversation when we first met as
strangers in the street.
He began irritably. "I've lost myself," he said.
"People who don't know the town often do that," I remarked.
He went on: "Which is my way to the Fleur de Lys Inn?"
His way was, in the first place, to retrace his steps. Then to
turn to the left. Then to go on until he found two streets
meeting. Then to take the street on the right. Then to look out
for the second turning on the left. Then to follow the turning
until he smelled stables--and there was the inn. I put it in the
clearest manner, and never stumbled over a word.
"How the devil am I to remember all that?" he said.
This was rude. We are naturally and properly indignant with any
man who is rude to us. But whether we turn our backs on him in
contempt, or whether we are merciful and give him a lesson in
politeness, depends entirely on the man. He may be a bear, but he
may also have his redeeming qualities. This man had redeeming
qualities. I cannot positively say that he was either handsome or
ugly, young or old, well or ill dressed. But I can speak with
certainty to the personal attractions which recommended him to
notice. For instance, the tone of his voice was persuasive. (Did
you ever read a story, written by one of _us_, in which we failed
to dwell on our hero's voice?) Then, again, his hair was
reasonably long. (Are you acquainted with any woman who can
endure a man with a cropped head?) Moreover, he was of a good
height. (It must be a very tall woman who can feel favorably
inclined toward a short man.) Lastly, although his eyes were not
more than fairly presentable in form and color, the wretch had in
some unaccountable manner become possessed of beautiful
eyelashes. They were even better eyelashes than mine. I write
quite seriously. There is one woman who is above the common
weakness of vanity--and she holds the present pen.
So I gave my lost stranger a lesson in politeness. The lesson
took the form of a trap. I asked him if he would like me to show
him the way to the inn. He was still annoyed at losing himself.
As I had anticipated, he bluntly answered: "Yes."
"When you were a boy, and you wanted something," I said, "did
your mother teach you to say 'Please'?"
He positively blushed. "She did," he admitted; "and she taught me
to say 'Beg your pardon' when I was rude. I'll say it now: 'Beg
your pardon.' "
This curious apology increased my belief in his redeeming
qualities. I led the way to the inn. He followed me in silence.
No woman who respects herself can endure silence when she is in
the company of a man. I made him talk.
"Do you come to us from Ramsgate?" I began. He only nodded his
head. "We don't think much of Ramsgate here," I went on. "There
is not an old building in the place. And their first Mayor was
only elected the other day!"
This point of view seemed to be new to him. He made no attempt to
dispute it; he only looked around him, and said: "Sandwich is a
melancholy place, miss." He was so rapidly improving in
politeness, that I encouraged him by a smile. As a citizen of
Sandwich, I may say that we take it as a compliment when we are
told that our town is a melancholy place. And why not? Melancholy
is connected with dignity. And dignity is associated with age.
And _we_ are old. I teach my pupils logic, among other
things--there is a specimen. Whatever may be said to the
contrary, women can reason. They can also wander; and I must
admit that _I_ am wandering. Did I mention, at starting, that I
was a governess? If not, that allusion to "pupils" must have come
in rather abruptly. Let me make my excuses, and return to my lost
"Is there any such thing as a straight street in all Sandwich?"
"Not one straight street in the whole town."
"Any trade, miss?"
"As little as possible--and _that_ is expiring."
"A decayed place, in short?"
My tone seemed to astonish him. "You speak as if you were proud
of its being a decayed place," he said.
I quite respected him; this was such an intelligent remark to
make. We do enjoy our decay: it is our chief distinction.
Progress and prosperity everywhere else; decay and dissolution
here. As a necessary consequence, we produce our own impression,
and we like to be original. The sea deserted us long ago: it once
washed our walls, it is now two miles away from us--we don't
regret the sea. We had sometimes ninety-five ships in our harbor,
Heaven only knows how many centuries ago; we now have one or two
small coasting vessels, half their time aground in a muddy little
river--we don't regret our harbor. But one house in the town is
daring enough to anticipate the arrival of resident visitors, and
announces furnished apartments to let. What a becoming contrast
to our modern neighbor, Ramsgate! Our noble market-place exhibits
the laws made by the corporation; and every week there are fewer
and fewer people to obey the laws. How convenient! Look at our
one warehouse by the river side--with the crane generally idle,
and the windows mostly boarded up; and perhaps one man at the
door, looking out for the job which his better sense tells him
cannot possibly come. What a wholesome protest against the
devastating hurry and over-work elsewhere, which has shattered
the nerves of the nation! "Far from me and from my friends" (to
borrow the eloquent language of Doctor Johnson) "be such frigid
enthusiasm as shall conduct us indifferent and unmoved'' over the
bridge by which you enter Sandwich, and pay a toll if you do it
in a carriage. "That man is little to be envied" (Doctor Johnson
again) who can lose himself in our labyrinthine streets, and not
feel that he has reached the welcome limits of progress, and
found a haven of rest in an age of hurry.
I am wandering again. Bear with the unpremeditated enthusiasm of
a citizen who only attained years of discretion at her last
birthday. We shall soon have done with Sandwich; we are close to
the door of the inn.
"You can't mistake it now, sir," I said. "Good-morning."
He looked down at me from under his beautiful eyelashes (have I
mentioned that I am a little woman?), and he asked in his
persuasive tones: "Must we say good-by?"
I made him a bow.
"Would you allow me to see you safe home?" he suggested.
Any other man would have offended me. This man blushed like a
boy, and looked at the pavement instead of looking at me. By this
time I had made up my mind about him. He was not only a gentleman
beyond all doubt, but a shy gentleman as well. His bluntness and
his odd remarks were, as I thought, partly efforts to disguise
his shyness, and partly refuges in which he tried to forget his
own sense of it. I answered his audacious proposal amiably and
pleasantly. "You would only lose your way again," I said, "and I
should have to take you back to the inn for the second time."
Wasted words! My obstinate stranger only made another proposal.
"I have ordered lunch here," he said, "and I am quite alone." He
stopped in confusion, and looked as if he rather expected me to
box his ears. "I shall be forty next birthday," he went on; "I am
old enough to be your father." I all but burst out laughing, and
stepped across the street, on my way home. He followed me. "We
might invite the landlady to join us," he said, looking the
picture of a headlong man, dismayed by the consciousness of his
own imprudence. "Couldn't you honor me by lunching with me if we
had the landlady?" he asked.
This was a little too much. "Quite out of the question, sir--and
you ought to know it," I said with severity. He half put out his
hand. "Won't you even shake hands with me?" he inquired
piteously. When we have most properly administered a reproof to a
man, what is the perversity which makes us weakly pity him the
minute afterward? I was fool enough to shake hands with this
perfect stranger. And, having done it, I completed the total loss
of my dignity by running away. Our dear crooked little streets
hid me from him directly.
As I rang at the door-bell of my employer's house, a thought
occurred to me which might have been alarming to a better
regulated mind than mine.
"Suppose he should come back to Sandwich?"
BEFORE many more days passed I had troubles of my own to contend
with, which put the eccentric stranger out of my head for the
Unfortunately, my troubles are part of my story; and my early
life mixes itself up with them. In consideration of what is to
follow, may I say two words relating to the period before I was a
I am the orphan daughter of a shopkeeper of Sandwich. My father
died, leaving to his widow and child an honest name and a little
income of L80 a year. We kept on the shop--neither gaining nor
losing by it. The truth is nobody would buy our poor little
business. I was thirteen years old at the time; and I was able to
help my mother, whose health was then beginning to fail. Never
shall I forget a certain bright summer's day, when I saw a new
customer enter our shop. He was an elderly gentleman; and he
seemed surprised to find so young a girl as myself in charge of
the business, and, what is more, competent to support the charge.
I answered his questions in a manner which seemed to please him.
He soon discovered that my education (excepting my knowledge of
the business) had been sadly neglected; and he inquired if he
could see my mother. She was resting on the sofa in the back
parlor--and she received him there. When he came out, he patted
me on the cheek. "I have taken a fancy to you," he said, "and
perhaps I shall come back again." He did come back again. My
mother had referred him to the rector for our characters in the
town, and he had heard what our clergyman could say for us. Our
only relations had emigrated to Australia, and were not doing
well there. My mother's death would leave me, so far as relatives
were concerned, literally alone in the world. "Give this girl a
first-rate education," said our elderly customer, sitting at our
tea-table in the back parlor, "and she will do. If you will send
her to school, ma'am, I'll pay for her education." My poor mother
began to cry at the prospect of parting with me. The old
gentleman said: "Think of it," and got up to go. He gave me his
card as I opened the shop-door for him. "If you find yourself in
trouble," he whispered, so that my mother could not hear him, "be
a wise child, and write and tell me of it." I looked at the card.
Our kind-hearted customer was no less a person than Sir Gervase
Damian, of Garrum Park, Sussex--with landed property in our
county as well! He had made himself (through the rector, no
doubt) far better acquainted than I was with the true state of my
mother's health. In four months from the memorable day when the
great man had taken tea with us, my time had come to be alone in
the world. I have no courage to dwell on it; my spirits sink,
even at this distance of time, when I think of myself in those
days. The good rector helped me with his advice--I wrote to Sir
A change had come over his life as well as mine in the interval
since we had met.
Sir Gervas e had married for the second time--and, what was more
foolish still, perhaps, at his age, had married a young woman.
She was said to be consumptive, and of a jealous temper as well.
Her husband's only child by his first wife, a son and heir, was
so angry at his father's second marriage that he left the house.
The landed property being entailed, Sir Gervase could only
express his sense of his son's conduct by making a new will,
which left all his property in money to his young wife.
These particulars I gathered from the steward, who was expressly
sent to visit me at Sandwich.
"Sir Gervase never makes a promise without keeping it," this
gentleman informed me. "I am directed to take you to a first-rate
ladies' school in the neighborhood of London, and to make all the
necessary arrangements for your remaining there until you are
eighteen years of age. Any written communications in the future
are to pass, if you please, through the hands of the rector of
Sandwich. The delicate health of the new Lady Damian makes it
only too likely that the lives of her husband and herself will be
passed, for the most part, in a milder climate than the climate
of England. I am instructed to say this, and to convey to you Sir
Gervase's best wishes."
By the rector's advice, I accepted the position offered to me in
this unpleasantly formal manner--concluding (quite correctly, as
I afterward discovered) that I was indebted to Lady Damian for
the arrangement which personally separated me from my benefactor.
Her husband's kindness and my gratitude, meeting on the neutral
ground of Garrum Park, were objects of conjugal distrust to this
lady. Shocking! shocking! I left a sincerely grateful letter to
be forwarded to Sir Gervase; and, escorted by the steward, I went
to school--being then just fourteen years old.
I know I am a fool. Never mind. There is some pride in me, though
I am only a small shopkeeper's daughter. My new life had its
trials--my pride held me up.
For the four years during which I remained at the school, my poor
welfare might be a subject of inquiry to the rector, and
sometimes even the steward--never to Sir Gervase himself. His
winters were no doubt passed abroad; but in the summer time he
and Lady Damian were at home again. Not even for a day or two in
the holiday time was there pity enough felt for my lonely
position to ask me to be the guest of the housekeeper (I expected
nothing more) at Garrum Park. But for my pride, I might have felt
it bitterly. My pride said to me, "Do justice to yourself." I
worked so hard, I behaved so well, that the mistress of the
school wrote to Sir Gervase to tell him how thoroughly I had
deserved the kindness that he had shown to me. No answer was
received. (Oh, Lady Damian!) No change varied the monotony of my