Part 4 out of 10
whom the mercy of the Foundling Hospital provides with a home.
Her after life on the stage was the life of a virtuous woman:
persecuted by profligates; insulted by some of the baser
creatures associated with her, to whom she was an object of envy.
I offered her a home, and the protection of a father--on the only
terms which the world would recognize as worthy of us. My
experience of her since our marriage has been the experience of
unvarying goodness, sweetness, and sound sense. She has behaved
so nobly, in a trying position, that I wish her (even in this
life) to have her reward. I entreat her to make a second choice
in marriage, which shall not be a mere form. I firmly believe
that she will choose well and wisely--that she will make the
happiness of a man who is worthy of her--and that, as wife and
mother, she will set an example of inestimable value in the
social sphere that she occupies. In proof of the
heartfelt sincerity with which I pay my tribute to her virtues,
I add to this my will the clause that follows."
With the clause that followed, Ernest was already acquainted.
"Will you now believe that I never loved till I saw your face for
the first time?" said his wife. "I had no experience to place me
on my guard against the fascination--the madness some people
might call it--which possesses a woman when all her heart is
given to a man. Don't despise me, my dear! Remember that I had to
save you from disgrace and ruin. Besides, my old stage
remembrances tempted me. I had acted in a play in which the
heroine did--what I have done! It didn't end with me, as it did
with her in the story. _She_ was represented as rejoicing in the
success of her disguise. _I_ have known some miserable hours of
doubt and shame since our marriage. When I went to meet you in my
own person at the picture-gallery--oh, what relief, what joy I
felt, when I saw how you admired me--it was not because I could
no longer carry on the disguise. I was able to get hours of rest
from the effort; not only at night, but in the daytime, when I
was shut up in my retirement in the music-room; and when my maid
kept watch against discovery. No, my love! I hurried on the
disclosure, because I could no longer endure the hateful triumph
of my own deception. Ah, look at that witness against me! I can't
bear even to see it!"
She abruptly left him. The drawer that she had opened to take out
the copy of the will also contained the false gray hair which she
had discarded. It had only that moment attracted her notice. She
snatched it up, and turned to the fireplace.
Ernest took it from her, before she could destroy it. "Give it to
me," he said.
He drew her gently to his bosom, and answered: "I must not forget
my old wife."
MISS JEROMETTE AND THE CLERGYMAN.
MY brother, the clergyman, looked over my shoulder before I was
aware of him, and discovered that the volume which completely
absorbed my attention was a collection of famous Trials,
published in a new edition and in a popular form.
He laid his finger on the Trial which I happened to be reading at
the moment. I looked up at him; his face startled me. He had
turned pale. His eyes were fixed on the open page of the book
with an expression which puzzled and alarmed me.
"My dear fellow," I said, "what in the world is the matter with
He answered in an odd absent manner, still keeping his finger on
the open page.
"I had almost forgotten," he said. "And this reminds me."
"Reminds you of what?" I asked. "You don't mean to say you know
anything about the Trial?"
"I know this," he said. "The prisoner was guilty."
"Guilty?" I repeated. "Why, the man was acquitted by the jury,
with the full approval of the judge! What call you possibly
"There are circumstances connected with that Trial," my brother
answered, "which were never communicated to the judge or the
jury--which were never so much as hinted or whispered in court.
_I_ know them--of my own knowledge, by my own personal
experience. They are very sad, very strange, very terrible. I
have mentioned them to no mortal creature. I have done my best to
forget them. You--quite innocently--have brought them back to my
mind. They oppress, they distress me. I wish I had found you
reading any book in your library, except _that_ book!"
My curiosity was now strongly excited. I spoke out plainly.
"Surely," I suggested, "you might tell your brother what you are
unwilling to mention to persons less nearly related to you. We
have followed different professions, and have lived in different
countries, since we were boys at school. But you know you can
He considered a little with himself.
"Yes," he said. "I know I can trust you." He waited a moment, and
then he surprised me by a strange question.
"Do you believe," he asked, "that the spirits of the dead can
return to earth, and show themselves to the living?"
I answered cautiously--adopting as my own the words of a great
English writer, touching the subject of ghosts.
"You ask me a question," I said, "which, after five thousand
years, is yet undecided. On that account alone, it is a question
not to be trifled with."
My reply seemed to satisfy him.
"Promise me," he resumed, "that you will keep what I tell you a
secret as long as I live. After my death I care little what
happens. Let the story of my strange experience be added to the
published experience of those other men who have seen what I have
seen, and who believe what I believe. The world will not be the
worse, and may be the better, for knowing one day what I am now
about to trust to your ear alone."
My brother never again alluded to the narrative which he had
confided to me, until the later time when I was sitting by his
deathbed. He asked if I still remembered the story of Jeromette.
"Tell it to others," he said, "as I have told it to you."
I repeat it after his death--as nearly as I can in his own words.
ON a fine summer evening, many years since, I left my chambers in
the Temple, to meet a fellow-student, who had proposed to me a
night's amusement in the public gardens at Cremorne.
You were then on your way to India; and I had taken my degree at
Oxford. I had sadly disappointed my father by choosing the Law as
my profession, in preference to the Church. At that time, to own
the truth, I had no serious intention of following any special
vocation. I simply wanted an excuse for enjoying the pleasures of
a London life. The study of the Law supplied me with that excuse.
And I chose the Law as my profession accordingly.
On reaching the place at which we had arranged to meet, I found
that my friend had not kept his appointment. After waiting vainly
for ten minutes, my patience gave way and I went into the Gardens
I took two or three turns round the platform devoted to the
dancers without discovering my fellow-student, and without seeing
any other person with whom I happened to be acquainted at that
For some reason which I cannot now remember, I was not in my
usual good spirits that evening. The noisy music jarred on my
nerves, the sight of the gaping crowd round the platform
irritated me, the blandishments of the painted ladies of the
profession of pleasure saddened and disgusted me. I opened my
cigar-case, and turned aside into one of the quiet by-walks of
A man who is habitually careful in choosing his cigar has this
advantage over a man who is habitually careless. He can always
count on smoking the best cigar in his case, down to the last. I
was still absorbed in choosing _my_ cigar, when I heard these
words behind me--spoken in a foreign accent and in a woman's
"Leave me directly, sir! I wish to have nothing to say to you."
I turned round and discovered a little lady very simply and
tastefully dressed, who looked both angry and alarmed as she
rapidly passed me on her way to the more frequented part of the
Gardens. A man (evidently the worse for the wine he had drunk in
the course of the evening) was following her, and was pressing
his tipsy attentions on her with the coarsest insolence of speech
and manner. She was young and pretty, and she cast one entreating
look at me as she went by, which it was not in manhood--perhaps I
ought to say, in young-manhood--to resist.
I instantly stepped forward to protect her, careless whether I
involved myself in a discreditable quarrel with a blackguard or
not. As a matter of course, the fellow resented my interference,
and my temper gave way. Fortunately for me, just as I lifted my
hand to knock him down, at policeman appeared who had noticed
that he was drunk, and who settled the dispute officially by
turning him out of the Gardens.
I led her away from the crowd that had collected. She was
evidently frightened--I felt her hand trembling on my arm--but
she had one great merit; she made no fuss about it.
"If I can sit down for a few minutes," she said in her pretty
foreign accent, "I shall soon be myself again, and I shall not
trespass any further on your kindness. I thank you very much,
sir, for taking care of me."
We sat down on a bench in a retired par t of the Gardens, near a
little fountain. A row of lighted lamps ran round the outer rim
of the basin. I could see her plainly.
I have said that she was "a little lady." I could not have
described her more correctly in three words.
Her figure was slight and small: she was a well-made miniature of
a woman from head to foot. Her hair and her eyes were both dark.
The hair curled naturally; the expression of the eyes was quiet,
and rather sad; the complexion, as I then saw it, very pale; the
little mouth perfectly charming. I was especially attracted, I
remembered, by the carriage of her head; it was strikingly
graceful and spirited; it distinguished her, little as she was
and quiet as she was, among the thousands of other women in the
Gardens, as a creature apart. Even the one marked defect in
her--a slight "cast" in the left eye--seemed to add, in some
strange way, to the quaint attractiveness of her face. I have
already spoken of the tasteful simplicity of her dress. I ought
now to add that it was not made of any costly material, and that
she wore no jewels or ornaments of any sort. My little lady was
not rich; even a man's eye could see that.
She was perfectly unembarrassed and unaffected. We fell as easily
into talk as if we had been friends instead of strangers.
I asked how it was that she had no companion to take care of her.
"You are too young and too pretty," I said in my blunt English
way, "to trust yourself alone in such a place as this."
She took no notice of the compliment. She calmly put it away from
her as if it had not reached her ears.
"I have no friend to take care of me," she said simply. "I was
sad and sorry this evening, all by myself, and I thought I would
go to the Gardens and hear the music, just to amuse me. It is not
much to pay at the gate; only a shilling."
"No friend to take care of you?" I repeated. "Surely there must
be one happy man who might have been here with you to-night?"
"What man do you mean?" she asked.
"The man," I answered thoughtlessly, "whom we call, in England, a
I would have given worlds to have recalled those foolish words
the moment they passed my lips. I felt that I had taken a vulgar
liberty with her. Her face saddened; her eyes dropped to the
ground. I begged her pardon.
"There is no need to beg my pardon," she said. "If you wish to
know, sir--yes, I had once a sweetheart, as you call it in
England. He has gone away and left me. No more of him, if you
please. I am rested now. I will thank you again, and go home."
She rose to leave me.
I was determined not to part with her in that way. I begged to be
allowed to see her safely back to her own door. She hesitated. I
took a man's unfair advantage of her, by appealing to her fears.
I said, "Suppose the blackguard who annoyed you should be waiting
outside the gates?" That decided her. She took my arm. We went
away together by the bank of the Thames, in the balmy summer
A walk of half an hour brought us to the house in which she
lodged--a shabby little house in a by-street, inhabited evidently
by very poor people.
She held out her hand at the door, and wished me good-night. I
was too much interested in her to consent to leave my little
foreign lady without the hope of seeing her again. I asked
permission to call on her the next day. We were standing under
the light of the street-lamp. She studied my face with a grave
and steady attention before she made any reply.
"Yes," she said at last. "I think I do know a gentleman when I
see him. You may come, sir, if you please, and call upon me
So we parted. So I entered--doubting nothing, foreboding
nothing--on a scene in my life which I now look back on with
unfeigned repentance and regret.
I AM speaking at this later time in the position of a clergyman,
and in the character of a man of mature age. Remember that; and
you will understand why I pass as rapidly as possible over the
events of the next year of my life--why I say as little as I can
of the errors and the delusions of my youth.
I called on her the next day. I repeated my visits during the
days and weeks that followed, until the shabby little house in
the by-street had become a second and (I say it with shame and
self-reproach) a dearer home to me.
All of herself and her story which she thought fit to confide to
me under these circumstances may be repeated to you in few words.
The name by which letters were addressed to her was "Mademoiselle
Jeromette." Among the ignorant people of the house and the small
tradesmen of the neighborhood--who found her name not easy of
pronunciation by the average English tongue--she was known by the
friendly nickname of "The French Miss." When I knew her, she was
resigned to her lonely life among strangers. Some years had
elapsed since she had lost her parents, and had left France.
Possessing a small, very small, income of her own, she added to
it by coloring miniatures for the photographers. She had
relatives still living in France; but she had long since ceased
to correspond with them. "Ask me nothing more about my family,"
she used to say. "I am as good as dead in my own country and
among my own people."
This was all--literally all--that she told me of herself. I have
never discovered more of her sad story from that day to this.
She never mentioned her family name--never even told me what part
of France she came from or how long she had lived in England.
That she was by birth and breeding a lady, I could entertain no
doubt; her manners, her accomplishments, her ways of thinking and
speaking, all proved it. Looking below the surface, her character
showed itself in aspects not common among young women in these
days. In her quiet way she was an incurable fatalist, and a firm
believer in the ghostly reality of apparitions from the dead.
Then again in the matter of money, she had strange views of her
own. Whenever my purse was in my hand, she held me resolutely at
a distance from first to last. She refused to move into better
apartments; the shabby little house was clean inside, and the
poor people who lived in it were kind to her--and that was
enough. The most expensive present that she ever permitted me to
offer her was a little enameled ring, the plainest and cheapest
thing of the kind in the jeweler's shop. In all relations with me
she was sincerity itself. On all occasions, and under all
circumstances, she spoke her mind (as the phrase is) with the
same uncompromising plainness.
"I like you," she said to me; "I respect you; I shall always be
faithful to you while you are faithful to me. But my love has
gone from me. There is another man who has taken it away with
him, I know not where."
Who was the other man?
She refused to tell me. She kept his rank and his name strict
secrets from me. I never discovered how he had met with her, or
why he had left her, or whether the guilt was his of making of
her an exile from her country and her friends. She despised
herself for still loving him; but the passion was too strong for
her--she owned it and lamented it with the frankness which was so
preeminently a part of her character. More than this, she plainly
told me, in the early days of our acquaintance, that she believed
he would return to her. It might be to-morrow, or it might be
years hence. Even if he failed to repent of his own cruel
conduct, the man would still miss her, as something lost out of
his life; and, sooner or later, he would come back.
"And will you receive him if he does come back?" I asked.
"I shall receive him," she replied, "against my own better
judgment--in spite of my own firm persuasion that the day of his
return to me will bring with it the darkest days of my life."
I tried to remonstrate with her.
"You have a will of your own," I said. "Exert it if he attempts
to return to you."
"I have no will of my own," she answered quietly, "where _he_ is
concerned. It is my misfortune to love him." Her eyes rested for
a moment on mine, with the utter self-abandonment of despair. "We
have said enough about this," she added abruptly. "Let us say no
From that time we never spoke again of the unknown man. During
the year that followed o ur first meeting, she heard nothing of
him directly or indirectly. He might be living, or he might be
dead. There came no word of him, or from him. I was fond enough
of her to be satisfied with this--he never disturbed us.
THE year passed--and the end came. Not the end as you may have
anticipated it, or as I might have foreboded it.
You remember the time when your letters from home informed you of
the fatal termination of our mother's illness? It is the time of
which I am now speaking. A few hours only before she breathed her
last, she called me to her bedside, and desired that we might be
left together alone. Reminding me that her death was near, she
spoke of my prospects in life; she noticed my want of interest in
the studies which were then supposed to be engaging my attention,
and she ended by entreating me to reconsider my refusal to enter
"Your father's heart is set upon it," she said. "Do what I ask of
you, my dear, and you will help to comfort him when I am gone."
Her strength failed her: she could say no more. Could I refuse
the last request she would ever make to me? I knelt at the
bedside, and took her wasted hand in mine, and solemnly promised
her the respect which a son owes to his mother's last wishes.
Having bound myself by this sacred engagement, I had no choice
but to accept the sacrifice which it imperatively exacted from
me. The time had come when I must tear myself free from all
unworthy associations. No matter what the effort cost me, I must
separate myself at once and forever from the unhappy woman who
was not, who never could be, my wife.
At the close of a dull foggy day I set forth with a heavy heart
to say the words which were to part us forever.
Her lodging was not far from the banks of the Thames. As I drew
near the place the darkness was gathering, and the broad surface
of the river was hidden from me in a chill white mist. I stood
for a while, with my eyes fixed on the vaporous shroud that
brooded over the flowing water--I stood and asked myself in
despair the one dreary question: "What am I to say to her?"
The mist chilled me to the bones. I turned from the river-bank,
and made my way to her lodgings hard by. "It must be done!" I
said to myself, as I took out my key and opened the house door.
She was not at her work, as usual, when I entered her little
sitting-room. She was standing by the fire, with her head down
and with an open letter in her hand.
The instant she turned to meet me, I saw in her face that
something was wrong. Her ordinary manner was the manner of an
unusually placid and self-restrained person. Her temperament had
little of the liveliness which we associate in England with the
French nature. She was not ready with her laugh; and in all my
previous experience, I had never yet known her to cry. Now, for
the first time, I saw the quiet face disturbed; I saw tears in
the pretty brown eyes. She ran to meet me, and laid her head on
my breast, and burst into a passionate fit of weeping that shook
her from head to foot.
Could she by any human possibility have heard of the coming
change in my life? Was she aware, before I had opened my lips, of
the hard necessity which had brought me to the house?
It was simply impossible; the thing could not be.
I waited until her first burst of emotion had worn itself out.
Then I asked--with an uneasy conscience, with a sinking
heart--what had happened to distress her.
She drew herself away from me, sighing heavily, and gave me the
open letter which I had seen in her hand.
"Read that," she said. "And remember I told you what might happen
when we first met."
I read the letter.
It was signed in initials only; but the writer plainly revealed
himself as the man who had deserted her. He had repented; he had
returned to her. In proof of his penitence he was willing to do
her the justice which he had hitherto refused--he was willing to
marry her, on the condition that she would engage to keep the
marriage a secret, so long as his parents lived. Submitting this
proposal, he waited to know whether she would consent, on her
side, to forgive and forget.
I gave her back the letter in silence. This unknown rival had
done me the service of paving the way for our separation. In
offering her the atonement of marriage, he had made it, on my
part, a matter of duty to _her_, as well as to myself, to say the
parting words. I felt this instantly. And yet, I hated him for
She took my hand, and led me to the sofa. We sat down, side by
side. Her face was composed to a sad tranquillity. She was quiet;
she was herself again.
"I have refused to see him, she said, "until I had first spoken
to you. You have read his letter. What do you say?"
I could make but one answer. It was my duty to tell her what my
own position was in the plainest terms. I did my duty--leaving
her free to decide on the future for herself. Those sad words
said, it was useless to prolong the wretchedness of our
separation. I rose, and took her hand for the last time.
I see her again now, at that final moment, as plainly as if it
had happened yesterday. She had been suffering from an affection
of the throat; and she had a white silk handkerchief tied loosely
round her neck. She wore a simple dress of purple merino, with a
black-silk apron over it. Her face was deadly pale; her fingers
felt icily cold as they closed round my hand.
"Promise me one thing," I said, "before I go. While I live, I am
your friend--if I am nothing more. If you are ever in trouble,
promise that you will let me know it."
She started, and drew back from me as if I had struck her with a
"Strange!' she said, speaking to herself. "_He_ feels as I feel.
He is afraid of what may happen to me, in my life to come."
I attempted to reassure her. I tried to tell her what was indeed
the truth--that I had only been thinking of the ordinary chances
and changes of life, when I spoke.
She paid no heed to me; she came back and put her hands on my
shoulders and thoughtfully and sadly looked up in my face.
"My mind is not your mind in this matter," she said. "I once
owned to you that I had my forebodings, when we first spoke of
this man's return. I may tell you now, more than I told you then.
I believe I shall die young, and die miserably. If I am right,
have you interest enough still left in me to wish to hear of it?"
She paused, shuddering--and added these startling words:
"You _shall_ hear of it."
The tone of steady conviction in which she spoke alarmed and
distressed me. My face showed her how deeply and how painfully I
"There, there!" she said, returning to her natural manner; "don't
take what I say too seriously. A poor girl who has led a lonely
life like mine thinks strangely and talks strangely--sometimes.
Yes; I give you my promise. If I am ever in trouble, I will let
you know it. God bless you--you have been very kind to
A tear dropped on my face as she kissed me. The door closed
between us. The dark street received me.
It was raining heavily. I looked up at her window, through the
drifting shower. The curtains were parted: she was standing in
the gap, dimly lit by the lamp on the table behind her, waiting
for our last look at each other. Slowly lifting her hand, she
waved her farewell at the window, with the unsought native grace
which had charmed me on the night when we first met. The curtain
fell again--she disappeared--nothing was before me, nothing was
round me, but the darkness and the night.
IN two years from that time, I had redeemed the promise given to
my mother on her deathbed. I had entered the Church.
My father's interest made my first step in my new profession an
easy one. After serving my preliminary apprenticeship as a
curate, I was appointed, before I was thirty years of age, to a
living in the West of England.
My new benefice offered me every advantage that I could possibly
desire--with the one exception of a sufficient income. Although
my wants were few, and although I was still an unmarried man, I
found it desirable, on many accounts, to add to my resources.
Following the example of other young clergymen in my position, I
det ermined to receive pupils who might stand in need of
preparation for a career at the Universities. My relatives
exerted themselves; and my good fortune still befriended me. I
obtained two pupils to start with. A third would complete the
number which I was at present prepared to receive. In course of
time, this third pupil made his appearance, under circumstances
sufficiently remarkable to merit being mentioned in detail.
It was the summer vacation; and my two pupils had gone home.
Thanks to a neighboring clergyman, who kindly undertook to
perform my duties for me, I too obtained a fortnight's holiday,
which I spent at my father's house in London.
During my sojourn in the metropolis, I was offered an opportunity
of preaching in a church, made famous by the eloquence of one of
the popular pulpit-orators of our time. In accepting the
proposal, I felt naturally anxious to do my best, before the
unusually large and unusually intelligent congregation which
would be assembled to hear me.
At the period of which I am now speaking, all England had been
startled by the discovery of a terrible crime, perpetrated under
circumstances of extreme provocation. I chose this crime as the
main subject of my sermon. Admitting that the best among us were
frail mortal creatures, subject to evil promptings and
provocations like the worst among us, my object was to show how a
Christian man may find his certain refuge from temptation in the
safeguards of his religion. I dwelt minutely on the hardship of
the Christian's first struggle to resist the evil influence--on
the help which his Christianity inexhaustibly held out to him in
the worst relapses of the weaker and viler part of his nature--on
the steady and certain gain which was the ultimate reward of his
faith and his firmness--and on the blessed sense of peace and
happiness which accompanied the final triumph. Preaching to this
effect, with the fervent conviction which I really felt, I may
say for myself, at least, that I did no discredit to the choice
which had placed me in the pulpit. I held the attention of my
congregation, from the first word to the last.
While I was resting in the vestry on the conclusion of the
service, a note was brought to me written in pencil. A member of
my congregation--a gentleman--wished to see me, on a matter of
considerable importance to himself. He would call on me at any
place, and at any hour, which I might choose to appoint. If I
wished to be satisfied of his respectability, he would beg leave
to refer me to his father, with whose name I might possibly be
The name given in the reference was undoubtedly familiar to me,
as the name of a man of some celebrity and influence in the world
of London. I sent back my card, appointing an hour for the visit
of my correspondent on the afternoon of the next day.
THE stranger made his appearance punctually. I guessed him to be
some two or three years younger than myself. He was undeniably
handsome; his manners were the manners of a gentleman--and yet,
without knowing why, I felt a strong dislike to him the moment he
entered the room.
After the first preliminary words of politeness had been
exchanged between us, my visitor informed me as follows of the
object which he had in view.
"I believe you live in the country, sir?" he began.
"I live in the West of England," I answered.
"Do you make a long stay in London?"
"No. I go back to my rectory to-morrow."
"May I ask if you take pupils?"
"Have you any vacancy?"
"I have one vacancy."
"Would you object to let me go back with you to-morrow, as your
The abruptness of the proposal took me by surprise. I hesitated.
In the first place (as I have already said), I disliked him. In
the second place, he was too old to be a fit companion for my
other two pupils--both lads in their teens. In the third place,
he had asked me to receive him at least three weeks before the
vacation came to an end. I had my own pursuits and amusements in
prospect during that interval, and saw no reason why I should
inconvenience myself by setting them aside.
He noticed my hesitation, and did not conceal from me that I had
"I have it very much at heart," he said, "to repair without delay
the time that I have lost. My age is against me, I know. The
truth is--I have wasted my opportunities since I left school, and
I am anxious, honestly anxious, to mend my ways, before it is too
late. I wish to prepare myself for one of the Universities--I
wish to show, if I can, that I am not quite unworthy to inherit
my father's famous name. You are the man to help me, if I can
only persuade you to do it. I was struck by your sermon
yesterday; and, if I may venture to make the confession in your
presence, I took a strong liking to you. Will you see my father,
before you decide to say No? He will be able to explain whatever
may seem strange in my present application; and he will be happy
to see you this afternoon, if you can spare the time. As to the
question of terms, I am quite sure it can be settled to your
He was evidently in earnest--gravely, vehemently in earnest. I
unwillingly consented to see his father.
Our interview was a long one. All my questions were answered
fully and frankly.
The young man had led an idle and desultory life. He was weary of
it, and ashamed of it. His disposition was a peculiar one. He
stood sorely in need of a guide, a teacher, and a friend, in whom
he was disposed to confide. If I disappointed the hopes which he
had centered in me, he would be discouraged, and he would relapse
into the aimless and indolent existence of which he was now
ashamed. Any terms for which I might stipulate were at my
disposal if I would consent to receive him, for three months to
begin with, on trial.
Still hesitating, I consulted my father and my friends.
They were all of opinion (and justly of opinion so far) that the
new connection would be an excellent one for me. They all
reproached me for taking a purely capricious dislike to a
well-born and well-bred young man, and for permitting it to
influence me, at the outset of my career, against my own
interests. Pressed by these considerations, I allowed myself to
be persuaded to give the new pupil a fair trial. He accompanied
me, the next day, on my way back to the rectory.
LET me be careful to do justice to a man whom I personally
disliked. My senior pupil began well: he produced a decidedly
favorable impression on the persons attached to my little
The women, especially, admired his beautiful light hair, his
crisply-curling beard, his delicate complexion, his clear blue
eyes, and his finely shaped hands and feet. Even the inveterate
reserve in his manner, and the downcast, almost sullen, look
which had prejudiced _me_ against him, aroused a common feeling
of romantic enthusiasm in my servants' hall. It was decided, on
the high authority of the housekeeper herself, that "the new
gentleman" was in love--and, more interesting still, that he was
the victim of an unhappy attachment which had driven him away
from his friends and his home.
For myself, I tried hard, and tried vainly, to get over my first
dislike to the senior pupil.
I could find no fault with him. All his habits were quiet and
regular; and he devoted himself conscientiously to his reading.
But, little by little, I became satisfied that his heart was not
in his studies. More than this, I had my reasons for suspecting
that he was concealing something from me, and that he felt
painfully the reserve on his own part which he could not, or
dared not, break through. There were moments when I almost
doubted whether he had not chosen my remote country rectory as a
safe place of refuge from some person or persons of whom he stood
For example, his ordinary course of proceeding, in the matter of
his correspondence, was, to say the least of it, strange.
He received no letters at my house. They waited for him at the
village post office. He invariably called for them himself, and
invariably forbore to trust any of my servants with his own
letters for the post. Again, when we were out walking together, I
more than once caught him looking furtively over his shoulder, as
if he suspected some person of following him, for some evil
purpose. Being constitutionally a hater of mysteries, I
determined, at an early stage of our intercourse, on making an
effort to clear matters up. There might be just a chance of my
winning the senior pupil's confidence, if I spoke to him while
the last days of the summer vacation still left us alone together
in the house.
"Excuse me for noticing it," I said to him one morning, while we
were engaged over our books--"I cannot help observing that you
appear to have some trouble on your mind. Is it indiscreet, on my
part, to ask if I can be of any use to you?"
He changed color--looked up at me quickly--looked down again at
his book--struggled hard with some secret fear or secret
reluctance that was in him--and suddenly burst out with this
extraordinary question: "I suppose you were in earnest when you
preached that sermon in London?"
"I am astonished that you should doubt it," I replied.
He paused again; struggled with himself again; and startled me by
a second outbreak, even stranger than the first.
"I am one of the people you preached at in your sermon," he said.
"That's the true reason why I asked you to take me for your
pupil. Don't turn me out! When you talked to your congregation of
tortured and tempted people, you talked of Me."
I was so astonished by the confession, that I lost my presence of
mind. For the moment, I was unable to answer him.
"Don't turn me out!" he repeated. "Help me against myself. I am
telling you the truth. As God is my witness, I am telling you the
"Tell me the _whole_ truth," I said; "and rely on my consoling
and helping you--rely on my being your friend."
In the fervor of the moment, I took his hand. It lay cold and
still in mine; it mutely warned me that I had a sullen and a
secret nature to deal with.
"There must be no concealment between us," I resumed. "You have
entered my house, by your own confession, under false pretenses.
It is your duty to me, and your duty to yourself, to speak out."
The man's inveterate reserve--cast off for the moment
only--renewed its hold on him. He considered, carefully
considered, his next words before he permitted them to pass his
"A person is in the way of my prospects in life," he began
slowly, with his eyes cast down on his book. "A person provokes
me horribly. I feel dreadful temptations (like the man you spoke
of in your sermon) when I am in the person's company. Teach me to
resist temptation. I am afraid of myself, if I see the person
again. You are the only man who can help me. Do it while you
He stopped, and passed his handkerchief over his forehead.
"Will that do?" he asked--still with his eyes on his book.
"It will _not_ do," I answered. "You are so far from really
opening your heart to me, that you won't even let me know whether
it is a man or a woman who stands in the way of your prospects in
life. You used the word 'person,' over and over again--rather
than say 'he' or 'she' when you speak of the provocation which is
trying you. How can I help a man who has so little confidence in
me as that?"
My reply evidently found him at the end of his resources. He
tried, tried desperately, to say more than he had said yet. No!
The words seemed to stick in his throat. Not one of them would
pass his lips.
"Give me time," he pleaded piteously. "I can't bring myself to
it, all at once. I mean well. Upon my soul, I mean well. But I am
slow at this sort of thing. Wait till to-morrow."
To-morrow came--and again he put it off.
"One more day!" he said. "You don't know how hard it is to speak
plainly. I am half afraid; I am half ashamed. Give me one more
I had hitherto only disliked him. Try as I might (and did) to
make merciful allowance for his reserve, I began to despise him
THE day of the deferred confession came, and brought an event
with it, for which both he and I were alike unprepared. Would he
really have confided in me but for that event? He must either
have done it, or have abandoned the purpose which had led him
into my house.
We met as usual at the breakfast-table. My housekeeper brought in
my letters of the morning. To my surprise, instead of leaving the
room again as usual, she walked round to the other side of the
table, and laid a letter before my senior pupil--the first
letter, since his residence with me, which had been delivered to
him under my roof.
He started, and took up the letter. He looked at the address. A
spasm of suppressed fury passed across his face; his breath came
quickly; his hand trembled as it held the letter. So far, I said
nothing. I waited to see whether he would open the envelope in my
presence or not.
He was afraid to open it in my presence. He got on his feet; he
said, in tones so low that I could barely hear him: "Please
excuse me for a minute"--and left the room.
I waited for half an hour--for a quarter of an hour after
that--and then I sent to ask if he had forgotten his breakfast.
In a minute more, I heard his footstep in the hall. He opened the
breakfast-room door, and stood on the threshold, with a small
traveling-bag in his hand.
"I beg your pardon," he said, still standing at the door. "I must
ask for leave of absence for a day or two. Business in London."
"Can I be of any use?" I asked. "I am afraid your letter has
brought you bad news?"
"Yes," he said shortly. "Bad news. I have no time for breakfast."
"Wait a few minutes," I urged. "Wait long enough to treat me like
your friend--to tell me what your trouble is before you go."
He made no reply. He stepped into the hall and closed the
door--then opened it again a little way, without showing himself.
"Business in London," he repeated--as if he thought it highly
important to inform me of the nature of his errand. The door
closed for the second time. He was gone.
I went into my study, and carefully considered what had happened.
The result of my reflections is easily described. I determined on
discontinuing my relations with my senior pupil. In writing to
his father (which I did, with all due courtesy and respect, by
that day's post), I mentioned as my reason for arriving at this
decision:--First, that I had found it impossible to win the
confidence of his son. Secondly, that his son had that morning
suddenly and mysteriously left my house for London, and that I
must decline accepting any further responsibility toward him, as
the necessary consequence.
I had put my letter in the post-bag, and was beginning to feel a
little easier after having written it, when my housekeeper
appeared in the study, with a very grave face, and with something
hidden apparently in her closed hand.
"Would you please look, sir, at what we have found in the
gentleman's bedroom, since he went away this morning?"
I knew the housekeeper to possess a woman's full share of that
amicable weakness of the sex which goes by the name of
"Curiosity." I had also, in various indirect ways, become aware
that my senior pupil's strange departure had largely increased
the disposition among the women of my household to regard him as
the victim of an unhappy attachment. The time was ripe, as it
seemed to me, for checking any further gossip about him, and any
renewed attempts at prying into his affairs in his absence.
"Your only business in my pupil's bedroom," I said to the
housekeeper, "is to see that it is kept clean, and that it is
properly aired. There must be no interference, if you please,
with his letters, or his papers, or with anything else that he
has left behind him. Put back directly whatever you may have
found in his room."
The housekeeper had her full share of a woman's temper as well as
of a woman's curiosity. She listened to me with a rising color,
and a just perceptible toss of the head.
"Must I put it back, sir, on the floor, between the bed and the
wall?" she inquired, with an ironical assumption of the humblest
deference to my wishes. "_That's_ where the girl found it when
she was sweeping the room. Anybody can see for themselves,"
pursued the housekeeper indignantly, "that the poor gentleman has
gone away broken-hearted.
And there, in my opinion, is the hussy who is the cause of it!"
With those words, she made me a low curtsey, and laid a small
photographic portrait on the desk at which I was sitting.
I looked at the photograph.
In an instant, my heart was beating wildly--my head turned
giddy--the housekeeper, the furniture, the walls of the room, all
swayed and whirled round me.
The portrait that had been found in my senior pupil's bedroom was
the portrait of Jeromette!
I HAD sent the housekeeper out of my study. I was alone, with the
photograph of the Frenchwoman on my desk.
There could surely be little doubt about the discovery that had
burst upon me. The man who had stolen his way into my house,
driven by the terror of a temptation that he dared not reveal,
and the man who had been my unknown rival in the by-gone time,
were one and the same!
Recovering self-possession enough to realize this plain truth,
the inferences that followed forced their way into my mind as a
matter of course. The unnamed person who was the obstacle to my
pupil's prospects in life, the unnamed person in whose company he
was assailed by temptations which made him tremble for himself,
stood revealed to me now as being, in all human probability, no
other than Jeromette. Had she bound him in the fetters of the
marriage which he had himself proposed? Had she discovered his
place of refuge in my house? And was the letter that had been
delivered to him of her writing? Assuming these questions to be
answered in the affirmative, what, in that case, was his
"business in London"? I remembered how he had spoken to me of his
temptations, I recalled the expression that had crossed his face
when he recognized the handwriting on the letter--and the
conclusion that followed literally shook me to the soul. Ordering
my horse to be saddled, I rode instantly to the railway-station.
The train by which he had traveled to London had reached the
terminus nearly an hour since. The one useful course that I could
take, by way of quieting the dreadful misgivings crowding one
after another on my mind, was to telegraph to Jeromette at the
address at which I had last seen her. I sent the subjoined
message--prepaying the reply:
"If you are in any trouble, telegraph to me. I will be with you
by the first train. Answer, in any case."
There was nothing in the way of the immediate dispatch of my
message. And yet the hours passed, and no answer was received. By
the advice of the clerk, I sent a second telegram to the London
office, requesting an explanation. The reply came back in these
"Improvements in street. Houses pulled down. No trace of person
named in telegram."
I mounted my horse, and rode back slowly to the rectory.
"The day of his return to me will bring with it the darkest days
of my life." . . . . . "I shall die young, and die miserably.
Have you interest enough still left in me to wish to hear of it?"
.... "You _ shall_ hear of it." Those words were in my memory
while I rode home in the cloudless moonlight night. They were so
vividly present to me that I could hear again her pretty foreign
accent, her quiet clear tones, as she spoke them. For the rest,
the emotions of that memorable day had worn me out. The answer
from the telegraph office had struck me with a strange and stony
despair. My mind was a blank. I had no thoughts. I had no tears.
I was about half-way on my road home, and I had just heard the
clock of a village church strike ten, when I became conscious,
little by little, of a chilly sensation slowly creeping through
and through me to the bones. The warm, balmy air of a summer
night was abroad. It was the month of July. In the month of July,
was it possible that any living creature (in good health) could
feel cold? It was _not_ possible--and yet, the chilly sensation
still crept through and through me to the bones.
I looked up. I looked all round me.
My horse was walking along an open highroad. Neither trees nor
waters were near me. On either side, the flat fields stretched
away bright and broad in the moonlight.
I stopped my horse, and looked round me again.
Yes: I saw it. With my own eyes I saw it. A pillar of white
mist--between five and six feet high, as well as I could
judge--was moving beside me at the edge of the road, on my left
hand. When I stopped, the white mist stopped. When I went on, the
white mist went on. I pushed my horse to a trot--the pillar of
mist was with me. I urged him to a gallop---the pillar of mist
was with me. I stopped him again--the pillar of mist stood still.
The white color of it was the white color of the fog which I had
seen over the river--on the night when I had gone to bid her
farewell. And the chill which had then crept through me to the
bones was the chill that was creeping through me now.
I went on again slowly. The white mist went on again slowly--with
the clear bright night all round it.
I was awed rather than frightened. There was one moment, and one
only, when the fear came to me that my reason might be shaken. I
caught myself keeping time to the slow tramp of the horse's feet
with the slow utterances of these words, repeated over and over
again: "Jeromette is dead. Jeromette is dead." But my will was
still my own: I was able to control myself, to impose silence on
my own muttering lips. And I rode on quietly. And the pillar of
mist went quietly with me.
My groom was waiting for my return at the rectory gate. I pointed
to the mist, passing through the gate with me.
"Do you see anything there?" I said.
The man looked at me in astonishment.
I entered the rectory. The housekeeper met me in the hall. I
pointed to the mist, entering with me.
"Do you see anything at my side?" I asked.
The housekeeper looked at me as the groom had looked at me.
"I am afraid you are not well, sir," she said. "Your color is all
gone--you are shivering. Let me get you a glass of wine. "
I went into my study, on the ground-floor, and took the chair at
my desk. The photograph still lay where I had left it. The pillar
of mist floated round the table, and stopped opposite to me,
behind the photograph.
The housekeeper brought in the wine. I put the glass to my lips,
and set it down again. The chill of the mist was in the wine.
There was no taste, no reviving spirit in it. The presence of the
housekeeper oppressed me. My dog had followed her into the room.
The presence of the animal oppressed me. I said to the woman:
"Leave me by myself, and take the dog with you."
They went out, and left me alone in the room.
I sat looking at the pillar of mist, hovering opposite to me.
It lengthened slowly, until it reached to the ceiling. As it
lengthened, it grew bright and luminous. A time passed, and a
shadowy appearance showed itself in the center of the light.
Little by little, the shadowy appearance took the outline of a
human form. Soft brown eyes, tender and melancholy, looked at me
through the unearthly light in the mist. The head and the rest of
the face broke next slowly on my view. Then the figure gradually
revealed itself, moment by moment, downward and downward to the
feet. She stood before me as I had last seen her, in her
purple-merino dress, with the black-silk apron, with the white
handkerchief tied loosely round her neck. She stood before me, in
the gentle beauty that I remembered so well; and looked at me as
she had looked when she gave me her last kiss--when her tears had
dropped on my cheek.
I fell on my knees at the table. I stretched out my hands to her
imploringly. I said: "Speak to me--O, once again speak to me,
Her eyes rested on me with a divine compassion in them. She
lifted her hand, and pointed to the photograph on my desk, with a
gesture which bade me turn the card. I turned it. The name of the
man who had left my house that morning was inscribed on it, in
her own handwriting.
I looked up at her again, when I had read it. She lifted her hand
once more, and pointed to the handkerchief round her neck. As I
looked at it, the fair white silk changed horribly in color--the
fair white silk became darkened and drenched in blood.
A moment more--and the vision of her began to grow dim. By slow
degrees, the fi gure, then the face, faded back into the shadowy
appearance that I had first seen. The luminous inner light died
out in the white mist. The mist itself dropped slowly
downward--floated a moment in airy circles on the
floor--vanished. Nothing was before me but the familiar wall of
the room, and the photograph lying face downward on my desk.
THE next day, the newspapers reported the discovery of a murder
in London. A Frenchwoman was the victim. She had been killed by a
wound in the throat. The crime had been discovered between ten
and eleven o'clock on the previous night.
I leave you to draw your conclusion from what I have related. My
own faith in the reality of the apparition is immovable. I say,
and believe, that Jeromette kept her word with me. She died
young, and died miserably. And I heard of it from herself.
Take up the Trial again, and look at the circumstances that were
revealed during the investigation in court. His motive for
murdering her is there.
You will see that she did indeed marry him privately; that they
lived together contentedly, until the fatal day when she
discovered that his fancy had been caught by another woman; that
violent quarrels took place between them, from that time to the
time when my sermon showed him his own deadly hatred toward her,
reflected in the case of another man; that she discovered his
place of retreat in my house, and threatened him by letter with
the public assertion of her conjugal rights; lastly, that a man,
variously described by different witnesses, was seen leaving the
door of her lodgings on the night of the murder. The
Law--advancing no further than this--may have discovered
circumstances of suspicion, but no certainty. The Law, in default
of direct evidence to convict the prisoner, may have rightly
decided in letting him go free.
But _I_ persisted in believing that the man was guilty. _I_
declare that he, and he alone, was the murderer of Jeromette. And
now, you know why.
MISS MINA AND THE GROOM
I HEAR that the "shocking story of my conduct" was widely
circulated at the ball, and that public opinion (among the
ladies), in every part of the room, declared I had disgraced
myself. But there was one dissentient voice in this chorus of
general condemnation. You spoke, Madam, with all the authority of
your wide celebrity and your high rank. You said: "I am
personally a stranger to the young lady who is the subject of
remark. If I venture to interfere, it is only to remind you that
there are two sides to every question. May I ask if you have
waited to pass sentence, until you have heard what the person
accused has to say in her own defense?"
These just and generous words produced, if I am correctly
informed, a dead silence. Not one of the women who had condemned
me had heard me in my own defense. Not one of them ventured to
How I may stand in the opinions of such persons as these, is a
matter of perfect indifference to me. My one anxiety is to show
that I am not quite unworthy of your considerate interference in
my favor. Will you honor me by reading what I have to say for
myself in these pages?
I will pass as rapidly as I can over the subject of my family;
and I will abstain (in deference to motives of gratitude and
honor) from mentioning surnames in my narrative.
My father was the second son of an English nobleman. A German
lady was his first wife, and my mother. Left a widower, he
married for the second time; the new wife being of American
birth. She took a stepmother's dislike to me--which, in some
degree at least, I must own that I deserved.
When the newly married pair went to the United States they left
me in England, by my own desire, to live under the protection of
my uncle--a General in the army. This good man's marriage had
been childless, and his wife (Lady Claudia) was, perhaps on that
account, as kindly ready as her husband to receive me in the
character of an adopted daughter. I may add here, that I bear my
German mother's Christian name, Wilhelmina. All my friends, in
the days when I had friends, used to shorten this to Mina. Be my
friend so far, and call me Mina, too.
After these few words of introduction, will your patience bear
with me, if I try to make you better acquainted with my uncle and
aunt, and if I allude to circumstances connected with my new life
which had, as I fear, some influence in altering my character for
WHEN I think of the good General's fatherly kindness to me, I
really despair of writing about him in terms that do justice to
his nature. To own the truth, the tears get into my eyes, and the
lines mingle in such confusion that I cannot read them myself. As
for my relations with my aunt, I only tell the truth when I say
that she performed her duties toward me without the slightest
pretension, and in the most charming manner.
At nearly fifty years old, Lady Claudia was still admired, though
she had lost the one attraction which distinguished her before my
time-- the attraction of a perfectly beautiful figure. With fine
hair and expressive eyes, she was otherwise a plain woman. Her
unassuming cleverness and her fascinating manners were the
qualities no doubt which made her popular everywhere. We never
quarreled. Not because I was always amiable, but because my aunt
would not allow it. She managed me, as she managed her husband,
with perfect tact. With certain occasional checks, she absolutely
governed the General. There were eccentricities in his character
which made him a man easily ruled by a clever woman. Deferring to
his opinion, so far as appearances went, Lady Claudia generally
contrived to get her own way in the end. Except when he was at
his Club, happy in his gossip, his good dinners, and his whist,
my excellent uncle lived under a despotism, in the happy delusion
that he was master in his own house.
Prosperous and pleasant as it appeared on the surface, my life
had its sad side for a young woman.
In the commonplace routine of our existence, as wealthy people in
the upper rank, there was nothing to ripen the growth of any
better capacities which may have been in my nature. Heartily as I
loved and admired my uncle, he was neither of an age nor of a
character to be the chosen depositary of my most secret thoughts,
the friend of my inmost heart who could show me how to make the
best and the most of my life. With friends and admirers in
plenty, I had found no one who could hold this position toward
me. In the midst of society I was, unconsciously, a lonely woman.
As I remember them, my hours of happiness were the hours when I
took refuge in my music and my books. Out of the house, my one
diversion, always welcome and always fresh, was riding. Without,
any false modesty, I may mention that I had lovers as well as
admirers; but not one of them produced an impression on my heart.
In all that related to the tender passion, as it is called, I was
an undeveloped being. The influence that men have on women,
_because_ they are men, was really and truly a mystery to me. I
was ashamed of my own coldness--I tried, honestly tried, to copy
other girls; to feel my heart beating in the presence of the one
chosen man. It was not to be done. When a man pressed my hand, I
felt it in my rings, instead of my heart.
These confessions made, I have done with the past, and may now
relate the events which my enemies, among the ladies, have
described as presenting a shocking story.
WE were in London for the season. One morning, I went out riding
with my uncle, as usual, in Hyde Park.
The General's service in the army had been in a cavalry
regiment-- service distinguished by merits which justified his
rapid rise to the high places in his profession. In the
hunting-field, he was noted as one of the most daring and most
accomplished riders in our county. He had always delighted in
riding young and high-spirited horses; and the habit remained
with him after he had quitted the active duties of his profession
in later life. From first to last he had met with no accident
worth remembering, until the unlucky morning when he went out
His horse, a fiery chestnut, ran away with him, in that part of
the Park-ride call ed Rotten Row. With the purpose of keeping
clear of other riders, he spurred his runaway horse at the rail
which divides the Row from the grassy inclosure at its side. The
terrified animal swerved in taking the leap, and dashed him
against a tree. He was dreadfully shaken and injured; but his
strong constitution carried him through to recovery--with the
serious drawback of an incurable lameness in one leg.
The doctors, on taking leave of their patient, united in warning
him (at his age, and bearing in mind his weakened leg) to ride no
more restive horses. "A quiet cob, General," they all suggested.
My uncle was sorely mortified and offended. "If I am fit for
nothing but a quiet cob," he said, bitterly, "I will ride no
more." He kept his word. No one ever saw the General on horseback
Under these sad circumstances (and my aunt being no horsewoman),
I had apparently no other choice than to give up riding also. But
my kind-hearted uncle was not the man to let me be sacrificed to
his own disappointment. His riding-groom had been one of his
soldier-servants in the cavalry regiment--a quaint sour tempered
old man, not at all the sort of person to attend on a young lady
taking her riding-exercise alone. "We must find a smart fellow
who can be trusted," said the General. "I shall inquire at the
For a week afterward, a succession of grooms, recommended by
friends, applied for the vacant place.
The General found insurmountable objections to all of them. "I'll
tell you what I have done," he announced one day, with the air of
a man who had hit on a grand discovery; "I have advertised in the
Lady Claudia looked up from her embroidery with the placid smile
that was peculiar to her. "I don't quite like advertising for a
servant,Ó she said. "You are at the mercy of a stranger; you
don't know that you are not engaging a drunkard or a thief."
"Or you may be deceived by a false character," I added on my
side. I seldom ventured, at domestic consultations, on giving my
opinion unasked--but the new groom represented a subject in which
I felt a strong personal interest. In a certain sense, he was to
be _my_ groom.
"I'm much obliged to you both for warning me that I am so easy to
deceive," the General remarked satirically. "Unfortunately, the
mischief is done. Three men have answered my advertisement
already. I expect them here tomorrow to be examined for the
Lady Claudia looked up from her embroidery again. "Are you going
to see them yourself?" she asked softly. "I thought the
"I have hitherto considered myself a better judge of a groom than
my steward," the General interposed. "However, don't be alarmed;
I won't act on my own sole responsibility, after the hint you
have given me. You and Mina shall lend me your valuable
assistance, and discover whether they are thieves, drunkards, and
what not, before I feel the smallest suspicion of it, myself."
WE naturally supposed that the General was joking. No. This was
one of those rare occasions on which Lady Claudia's
tact--infallible in matters of importance--proved to be at fault
in a trifle. My uncle's self-esteem had been touched in a tender
place; and he had resolved to make us feel it. The next morning a
polite message came, requesting our presence in the library, to
see the grooms. My aunt (always ready with her smile, but rarely
tempted into laughing outright) did for once laugh heartily. "It
is really too ridiculous!" she said. However, she pursued her
policy of always yielding, in the first instance. We went
together to the library
The three grooms were received in the order in which they
presented themselves for approval. Two of them bore the
ineffaceable mark of the public-house so plainly written on their
villainous faces, that even I could see it. My uncle ironically
asked us to favor him with our opinions. Lady Claudia answered
with her sweetest smile: "Pardon me, General--we are here to
learn." The words were nothing; but the manner in which they were
spoken was perfect. Few men could have resisted that gentle
influence--and the General was not one of the few. He stroked his
mustache, and returned to his petticoat government. The two
grooms were dismissed.
The entry of the third and last man took me completely by
If the stranger's short coat and light trousers had not
proclaimed his vocation in life, I should have taken it for
granted that there had been some mistake, and that we were
favored with a visit from a gentleman unknown. He was between
dark and light in complexion, with frank clear blue eyes; quiet
and intelligent, if appearances were to be trusted; easy in his
movements; respectful in his manner, but perfectly free from
servility. "I say!" the General blurted out, addressing my aunt
confidentially, "_he_ looks as if he would do, doesn't he?"
The appearance of the new man seemed to have had the same effect
on Lady Claudia which it had produced on me. But she got over her
first feeling of surprise sooner than I did. "You know best," she
answered, with the air of a woman who declined to trouble herself
by giving an opinion.
"Step forward, my man," said the General. The groom advanced from
the door, bowed, and stopped at the foot of the table--my uncle
sitting at the head, with my aunt and myself on either side of
him. The inevitable questions began.
"What is your name?"
My aunt's want of interest in the proceedings expressed itself by
a little weary sigh. She leaned back resignedly in her chair.
The General went on with his questions: "What experience have you
had as a groom?"
"I began learning my work, sir, before I was twelve years old."
"Yes! yes! I mean what private families have you served in?"
"How long have you been in your two situations?"
"Four years in the first; and three in the second."
The General looked agreeably surprised. "Seven years in only two
situations is a good character in itself," he remarked. "Who are
The groom laid two papers on the table.
"I don't take written references," said the General.
"Be pleased to read my papers, sir," answered the groom.
My uncle looked sharply across the table. The groom sustained the
look with respectful but unshaken composure. The General took up
the papers, and seemed to be once more favorably impressed as he
read them. "Personal references in each case if required in
support of strong written recommendations from both his
employers," he informed my aunt. "Copy the addresses, Mina. Very
satisfactory, I must say. Don't you think so yourself?" he
resumed, turning again to my aunt.
Lady Claudia replied by a courteous bend of her head. The General
went on with his questions. They related to the management of
horses; and they were answered to his complete satisfaction.
"Michael Bloomfield, you know your business," he said, "and you
have a good character. Leave your address. When I have consulted
your references, you shall hear from me."
The groom took out a blank card, and wrote his name and address
on it. I looked over my uncle's shoulder when he received the
card. Another surprise! The handwriting was simply
irreproachable--the lines running perfectly straight, and every
letter completely formed. As this perplexing person made his
modest bow, and withdrew, the General, struck by an
after-thought, called him back from the door.
"One thing more," said my uncle. "About friends and followers? I
consider it my duty to my servants to allow them to see their
relations; but I expect them to submit to certain conditions in
"I beg your pardon, sir," the groom interposed. "I shall not give
you any trouble on that score. I have no relations."
"No brothers or sisters?" asked the General.
"Father and mother both dead?"
"I don't know, sir."
"You don't know! What does that mean?"
"I am telling you the plain truth, sir. I never heard who my
father and mother were--and I don't expect to hear now."
He said those words with a bitter composure which impressed me
painfully. Lady Claudia was far from feeling it as I did. Her
languid interest in the engagement of the
groom seemed to be completely exhausted--and that was all. She
rose, in her easy graceful way, and looked out of the window at
the courtyard and fountain, the house-dog in his kennel, and the
box of flowers in the coachman's window.
In the meanwhile, the groom remained near the table, respectfully
waiting for his dismissal. The General spoke to him sharply, for
the first time. I could see that my good uncle had noticed the
cruel tone of that passing reference to the parents, and thought
of it as I did.
"One word more, before you go," he said. "If I don't find you
more mercifully inclined toward my horses than you seem to be
toward your father and mother, you won't remain long in my
service. You might have told me you had never heard who your
parents were, without speaking as if you didn't care to hear."
"May I say a bold word, sir, in my own defense?"
He put the question very quietly, but, at the same time, so
firmly that he even surprised my aunt. She looked round from the
window--then turned back again, and stretched out her hand toward
the curtain, intending, as I supposed, to alter the arrangement
of it. The groom went on.
"May I ask, sir, why I should care about a father and mother who
deserted me? Mind what you are about, my lady!" he
cried--suddenly addressing my aunt. "There's a cat in the folds
of that curtain; she might frighten you."
He had barely said the words before the housekeeper's large tabby
cat, taking its noonday siesta in the looped-up fold of the
curtain, leaped out and made for the door.
Lady Claudia was, naturally enough, a little perplexed by the
man's discovery of an animal completely hidden in the curtain.
She appeared to think that a person who was only a groom had
taken a liberty in presuming to puzzle her. Like her husband, she
spoke to Michael sharply.
"Did you see the cat?" she asked.
"No, my lady."
"Then how did you know the creature was in the curtain?"
For the first time since he had entered the room the groom looked
a little confused.
"It's a sort of presumption for a man in my position to be
subject to a nervous infirmity," he answered. "I am one of those
persons (the weakness is not uncommon, as your ladyship is aware)
who know by their own unpleasant sensations when a cat is in the
room. It goes a little further than that with me. The
'antipathy,' as the gentlefolks call it, tells me in what part of
the room the cat is."
My aunt turned to her husband, without attempting to conceal that
she took no sort of interest in the groom's antipathies.
"Haven't you done with the man yet?" she asked.
The General gave the groom his dismissal.
"You shall hear from me in three days' time. Good-morning."
Michael Bloomfield seemed to have noticed my aunt's ungracious
manner. He looked at her for a moment with steady attention
before he left the room.
"You don't mean to engage that man?" said Lady Claudia as the
"Why not?" asked my uncle.
"I have taken a dislike to him."
This short answer was so entirely out of the character of my aunt
that the General took her kindly by the hand, and said:
"I am afraid you are not well."
She irritably withdrew her hand.
"I don't feel well. It doesn't matter."
"It does matter, Claudia. What can I do for you?"
"Write to the man--" She paused and smiled contemptuously.
"Imagine a groom with an antipathy to cats!" she said, turning to
me. "I don't know what you think, Mina. I have a strong
objection, myself, to servants who hold themselves above their
position in life. Write," she resumed, addressing her husband,
"and tell him to look for another place."
"What objection can I make to him?" the General asked,
"Good heavens! can't you make an excuse? Say he is too young."
My uncle looked at me in expressive silence-- walked slowly to
the writing-table--and glanced at his wife, in the faint hope
that she might change her mind. Their eyes met--and she seemed to
recover the command of her temper. She put her hand caressingly
on the General's shoulder.
"I remember the time," she said, softly, "when any caprice of
mine was a command to you. Ah, I was younger then!"
The General's reception of this little advance was thoroughly
characteristic of him. He first kissed Lady Claudia's hand, and
then he wrote the letter. My aunt rewarded him by a look, and
left the library.
"What the deuce is the matter with her?" my uncle said to me when
we were alone. "Do you dislike the man, too?"
"Certainly not. As far as I can judge, he appears to be just the
sort of person we want."
"And knows thoroughly well how to manage horses, my dear. What
_can_ be your aunt's objection to him?"
As the words passed his lips Lady Claudia opened the library
"I am so ashamed of myself," she said, sweetly. "At my age, I
have been behaving like a spoiled child. How good you are to me,
General! Let me try to make amends for my misconduct. Will you
She took up the General's letter, without waiting for permission;
tore it to pieces, smiling pleasantly all the while; and threw
the fragments into the waste-paper basket. "As if you didn't know
better than I do!" she said, kissing him on the forehead. "Engage
the man by all means."
She left the room for the second time. For the second time my
uncle looked at me in blank perplexity--and I looked back at him
in the same condition of mind. The sound of the luncheon bell was
equally a relief to both of us. Not a word more was spoken on the
subject of the new groom. His references were verified; and he
entered the General's service in three days' time.
ALWAYS careful in anything that concerned my welfare, no matter
how trifling it might be, my uncle did not trust me alone with
the new groom when he first entered our service. Two old friends
of the General accompanied me at his special request, and
reported the man to be perfectly competent and trustworthy. After
that, Michael rode out with me alone; my friends among young
ladies seldom caring to accompany me, when I abandoned the park
for the quiet country roads on the north and west of London. Was
it wrong in me to talk to him on these expeditions? It would
surely have been treating a man like a brute never to take the
smallest notice of him--especially as his conduct was uniformly
respectful toward me. Not once, by word or look, did he presume
on the position which my favor permitted him to occupy.
Ought I to blush when I confess (though he was only a groom) that
he interested me?
In the first place, there was something romantic in the very
blankness of the story of his life.
He had been left, in his infancy, in the stables of a gentleman
living in Kent, near the highroad between Gravesend and
Rochester. The same day, the stable-boy had met a woman running
out of the yard, pursued by the dog. She was a stranger, and was
not well-dressed. While the boy was protecting her by chaining
the dog to his kennel, she was quick enough to place herself
beyond the reach of pursuit.
The infant's clothing proved, on examination, to be of the finest
linen. He was warmly wrapped in a beautiful shawl of some foreign
manufacture, entirely unknown to all the persons present,
including the master and mistress of the house. Among the folds
of the shawl there was discovered an open letter, without date,
signature, or address, which it was presumed the woman must have
Like the shawl, the paper was of foreign manufacture. The
handwriting presented a strongly marked character; and the
composition plainly revealed the mistakes of a person imperfectly
acquainted with the English language. The contents of the letter,
after alluding to the means supplied for the support of the
child, announced that the writer had committed the folly of
inclosing a sum of a hundred pounds in a banknote, "to pay
expenses." In a postscript, an appointment was made for a meeting
in six months' time, on the eastward side of London Bridge. The
stable-boy's description of the woman who had passed him showed
that she belonged to the lower class. To such a person a hundred
pounds would be a fortune. She had, no doubt, abandoned the
child, and made off with the money.
No trace of her was ever discovered. On the day of the
appointment the police watched the eastward side of London Bridge
without obtaining any result. Through the kindness of the
gentleman in whose stable he had been found, the first ten years
of the boy's life were passed under the protection of a
charitable asylum. They gave him the name of one of the little
inmates who had died; and they sent him out to service before he
was eleven years old. He was harshly treated and ran away;
wandered to some training-stables near Newmarket; attracted the
favorable notice of the head-groom, was employed among the other
boys, and liked the occupation. Growing up to manhood, he had
taken service in private families as a groom. This was the story
of twenty-six years of Michael's life.
But there was something in the man himself which attracted
attention, and made one think of him in his absence.
I mean by this, that there was a spirit of resistance to his
destiny in him, which is very rarely found in serving-men of his
order. I remember accompanying the General "on one of his
periodical visits of inspection to the stable." He was so well
satisfied that he proposed extending his investigations to the
groom's own room.
"If you don object, Michael?" he added, with his customary
consideration for the self-respect of all persons in his
employment. Michael's color rose a little; he looked at me. "I am
afraid the young lady will not find my room quite so tidy as it
ought to be," he said as he opened the door for us.
The only disorder in the groom's room was produced, to our
surprise, by the groom's books and papers.
Cheap editions of the English poets, translations of Latin and
Greek classics, handbooks for teaching French and German "without
a master," carefully written "exercises" in both languages,
manuals of shorthand, with more "exercises" in that art, were
scattered over the table, round the central object of a
reading-lamp, which spoke plainly of studies by night. "Why, what
is all this?" cried the General. "Are you going to leave me,
Michael, and set up a school?" Michael answered in sad,
submissive tones. "I try to improve myself, sir--though I
sometimes lose heart and hope." "Hope of what?" asked my uncle.
"Are you not content to be a servant? Must you rise in the world,
as the saying is?" The groom shrank a little at that abrupt
question. "If I had relations to care for me and help me along
the hard ways of life," he said, "I might be satisfied, sir, to
remain as I am. As it is, I have no one to think about but
myself--and I am foolish enough sometimes to look beyond myself."
So far, I had kept silence; but I could no longer resist giving
him a word of encouragement--his confession was so sadly and so
patiently made. "You speak too harshly of yourself," I said; "the
best and greatest men have begun like you by looking beyond
themselves." For a moment our eyes met. I admired the poor lonely
fellow trying so modestly and so bravely to teach himself--and I
did not care to conceal it. He was the first to look away; some
suppressed emotion turned him deadly pale. Was I the cause of it?
I felt myself tremble as that bold question came into my mind.
The General, with one sharp glance at me, diverted the talk (not
very delicately, as I thought) to the misfortune of Michael's
"I have heard of your being deserted in your infancy by some
woman unknown," he said. "What has become of the things you were
wrapped in, and the letter that was found on you? They might lead
to a discovery, one of these days." The groom smiled. "The last
master I served thought of it as you do, Sir. He was so good as
to write to the gentleman who was first burdened with the care of
me-- and the things were sent to me in return."
He took up an unlocked leather bag, which opened by touching a
brass knob, and showed us the shawl, the linen (sadly faded by
time) and the letter. We were puzzled by the shawl. My uncle, who
had served in the East, thought it looked like a very rare kind
of Persian work. We examined with interest the letter, and the
fine linen. When Michael quietly remarked, as we handed them back
to him, "They keep the secret, you see," we could only look at
each other, and own there was nothing more to be said
THAT night, lying awake thinking, I made my first discovery of a
great change that had come over me. I felt like a new woman.
Never yet had my life been so enjoyable to me as it was now. I
was conscious of a delicious lightness of heart. The simplest
things pleased me; I was ready to be kind to everybody, and to
admire everything. Even the familiar scenery of my rides in the
park developed beauties which I had never noticed before. The
enchantments of music affected me to tears. I was absolutely in
love with my dogs and my birds--and, as for my maid, I bewildered
the girl with presents, and gave her holidays almost before she
could ask for them. In a bodily sense, I felt an extraordinary
accession of strength and activity. I romped with the dear old
General, and actually kissed Lady Claudia, one morning, instead
of letting her kiss me as usual. My friends noticed my new
outburst of gayety and spirit--and wondered what had produced it.
I can honestly say that I wondered too! Only on that wakeful
night which followed our visit to Michael's room did I arrive at
something like a clear understanding of myself. The next morning
completed the process of enlightenment. I went out riding as
usual. The instant when Michael put his hand under my foot as I
sprang into the saddle, his touch flew all over me like a flame.
I knew who had made a new woman of me from that moment.
As to describing the first sense of confusion that overwhelmed
me, even if I were a practiced writer I should be incapable of
doing it. I pulled down my veil, and rode on in a sort of trance.
Fortunately for me, our house looked on the park, and I had only
to cross the road. Otherwise I should have met with some accident
if I had ridden through the streets. To this day, I don't know
where I rode. The horse went his own way quietly--and the groom
The groom! Is there any human creature so free from the hateful
and anti-Christian pride of rank as a woman who loves with all
her heart and soul, for the first time in her life? I only tell
the truth (in however unfavorable a light it may place me) when I
declare that my confusion was entirely due to the discovery that
I was in love. I was not ashamed of myself for being in love with
the groom. I had given my heart to the man. What did the accident
of his position matter? Put money into his pocket and a title
before his name--by another accident: in speech, manners, and
attainments, he would he a gentleman worthy of his wealth and
worthy of his rank.
Even the natural dread of what my relations and friends might
say, if they discovered my secret, seemed to be a sensation so
unworthy of me and of him, that I looked round, and called to him
to speak to me, and asked him questions about himself which kept
him riding nearly side by side with me. Ah, how I enjoyed the
gentle deference and respect of his manner as he answered me! He
was hardly bold enough to raise his eyes to mine, when I looked
at him. Absorbed in the Paradise of my own making, I rode on
slowly, and was only aware that friends had passed and had
recognized me, by seeing him touch his hat. I looked round and
discovered the women smiling ironically as they rode by. That one
circumstance roused me rudely from my dream. I let Michael fall
back again to his proper place, and quickened my horse's pace;
angry with myself, angry with the world in general, then suddenly
changing, and being fool enough and child enough to feel ready to
cry. How long these varying moods lasted, I don't know. On
returning, I slipped off my horse without waiting for Michael to
help me, and ran into the house without even wishing him
AFTER taking off my riding-habit, and cooling my hot face with
eaude-cologne and water, I went down to the room which we called
the morning-room. The piano there was my favorite instrument and
I had the idea of trying what music would do toward helping me to
compo se myself.
As I sat down before the piano, I heard the opening of the door
of the breakfast-room (separated from me by a curtained archway),
and the voice of Lady Claudia asking if Michael had returned to
the stable. On the servant's reply in the affirmative, she
desired that he might be sent to her immediately.
No doubt, I ought either to have left the morning-room, or to
have let my aunt know of my presence there. I did neither the one
nor the other. Her first dislike of Michael had, to all
appearance, subsided. She had once or twice actually taken
opportunities of speaking to him kindly. I believed this was due
to the caprice of the moment. The tone of her voice too
suggested, on this occasion, that she had some spiteful object in
view, in sending for him. I knew it was unworthy of me--and yet,
I deliberately waited to hear what passed between them.
Lady Claudia began.
"You were out riding to-day with Miss Mina?"
"Yes, my lady."
"Turn to the light. I wish to see people when I speak to them.
You were observed by some friends of mine; your conduct excited
remark. Do you know your business as a lady's groom?"
"I have had seven years' experience, my lady."
"Your business is to ride at a certain distance behind your
mistress. Has your experience taught you that?"
"Yes, my lady."
"You were not riding behind Miss Mina--your horse was almost side
by side with hers. Do you deny it?"
"No, my lady."
"You behaved with the greatest impropriety--you were seen talking
to Miss Mina. Do you deny that?"
"No, my lady."
"Leave the room. No! come back. Have you any excuse to make?"
"None, my lady."
"Your insolence is intolerable! I shall speak to the General."
The sound of the closing door followed.
I knew now what the smiles meant on the false faces of those
women-friends of mine who had met me in the park. An ordinary
man, in Michael's place, would have mentioned my own
encouragement of him as a sufficient excuse. _He_, with the
inbred delicacy and reticence of a gentleman, had taken all the
blame on himself. Indignant and ashamed, I advanced to the
breakfast-room, bent on instantly justifying him. Drawing aside
the curtain, I was startled by a sound as of a person sobbing. I
cautiously looked in. Lady Claudia was prostrate on the sofa,
hiding her face in her hands, in a passion of tears.
I withdrew, completely bewildered. The extraordinary
contradictions in my aunt's conduct were not at an end yet. Later
in the day, I went to my uncle, resolved to set Michael right in
_his_ estimation, and to leave him to speak to Lady Claudia. The
General was in the lowest spirits; he shook his head ominously
the moment. I mentioned the groom's name. "I dare say the man
meant no harm--but the thing has been observed. I can't have you
made the subject of scandal, Mina. My wife makes a point of
it--Michael must go.
"You don't mean to say that she has insisted on your sending
Before he could answer me, a footman appeared with a message. "My
lady wishes to see you, sir."
The General rose directly. My curiosity had got, by this time,
beyond all restraint. I was actually indelicate enough to ask if
I might go with him! He stared at me, as well he might. I
persisted; I said I particularly wished to see Lady Claudia. My
uncle's punctilious good breeding still resisted me. "Your aunt
may wish to speak to me in private," he said. "Wait a moment, and
I will send for you."
I was incapable of waiting: my obstinacy was something
superhuman. The bare idea that Michael might lose his place,
through my fault, made me desperate, I suppose. "I won't trouble
you to send for me," I persisted; "I will go with you at once as
far as the door, and wait to hear if I may come in." The footman
was still present, holding the door open; the General gave way. I
kept so close behind him that my aunt saw me as her husband
entered the room. "Come in, Mina," she said, speaking and looking
like the charming Lady Claudia of everyday life. Was this the
woman whom I had seen crying her heart out on the sofa hardly an
"On second thoughts," she continued, turning to the General, "I
fear I may have been a little hasty. Pardon me for troubling you
about it again--have you spoken to Michael yet? No? Then let us
err on the side of kindness; let us look over his misconduct this
My uncle was evidently relieved. I seized the opportunity of
making my confession, and taking the whole blame on myself. Lady
Claudia stopped me with the perfect grace of which she was
"My good child, don't distress yourself! don't make mountains out
of molehills!" She patted me on the cheek with two plump white
fingers which felt deadly cold. "I was not always prudent, Mina,
when I was your age. Besides, your curiosity is naturally excited
about a servant who is--what shall I call him?--a foundling."
She paused and fixed her eyes on me attentively. "What did he
tell you?" she asked. "Is it a very romantic story?"
The General began to fidget in his chair. If I had kept my
attention on him, I should have seen in his face a warning to me
to be silent. But my interest at the moment was absorbed in my
aunt. Encouraged by her amiable reception, I was not merely
unsuspicious of the trap that she had set for me--I was actually
foolish enough to think that I could improve Michael's position
in her estimation (remember that I was in love with him!) by
telling his story exactly as I have already told it in these
pages. I spoke with fervor. Will you believe it?--her humor
positively changed again! She flew into a passion with me for the
first time in her life.
"Lies!" she cried. "Impudent lies on the face of them--invented
to appeal to your interest. How dare you repeat them? General! if
Mina had not brought it on herself, this man's audacity would
justify you in instantly dismissing him. Don't you agree with
The General's sense of fair play roused him for once into openly
opposing his wife.
"You are completely mistaken," he said. "Mina and I have both had
the shawl and the letter in our hands--and (what was there
besides?)-- ah, yes, the very linen the child was wrapped in."
What there was in those words to check Lady Claudia's anger in
its full flow I was quite unable to understand. If her husband
had put a pistol to her head, he could hardly have silenced her
more effectually. She did not appear to be frightened, or ashamed
of her outbreak of rage--she sat vacant and speechless, with her
eyes on the General and her hands crossed on her lap. After
waiting a moment (wondering as I did what it meant) my uncle rose
with his customary resignation and left her. I followed him. He
was unusually silent and thoughtful; not a word passed between
us. I afterward discovered that he was beginning to fear, poor
man, that his wife's mind must be affected in some way, and was
meditating a consultation with the physician who helped us in
cases of need.
As for myself, I was either too stupid or too innocent to feel
any positive forewarning of the truth, so far. After luncheon,
while I was alone in the conservatory, my maid came to me from
Michael, asking if I had any commands for him in the afternoon. I
thought this rather odd; but it occurred to me that he might want
some hours to himself. I made the inquiry.
To my astonishment, the maid announced that Lady Claudia had
employed Michael to go on an errand for her. The nature of the
errand was to take a letter to her bookseller, and to bring back
the books which she had ordered. With three idle footmen in the
house, whose business it was to perform such service as this, why
had she taken the groom away from his work? The question obtained
such complete possession of my mind that I actually summoned
courage enough to go to my aunt. I said I had thought of driving