Part 5 out of 8
let me do so, do you know that I shall have to kill you?"
"That is better!" he cried. "Let her die also, where's the harm?
Step aside from that girl! and stand up to fight."
"You will observe," said I, half rising, "that I have not kissed
"I dare you to," he cried.
I do not know what possessed me; it was one of the things I am most
ashamed of in my life, though, as my wife used to say, I knew that
my kisses would be always welcome were she dead or living; down I
fell again upon my knees, parted the hair from her forehead, and,
with the dearest respect, laid my lips for a moment on that cold
brow. It was such a caress as a father might have given; it was
such a one as was not unbecoming from a man soon to die to a woman
"And now," said I, "I am at your service, Mr. Northmour."
But I saw, to my surprise, that he had turned his back upon me.
"Do you hear?" I asked.
"Yes," said he, "I do. If you wish to fight, I am ready. If not,
go on and save Clara. All is one to me."
I did not wait to be twice bidden; but, stooping again over Clara,
continued my efforts to revive her. She still lay white and
lifeless; I began to fear that her sweet spirit had indeed fled
beyond recall, and horror and a sense of utter desolation seized
upon my heart. I called her by name with the most endearing
inflections; I chafed and beat her hands; now I laid her head low,
now supported it against my knee; but all seemed to be in vain, and
the lids still lay heavy on her eyes.
"Northmour," I said, "there is my hat. For God's sake bring some
water from the spring."
Almost in a moment he was by my side with the water.
"I have brought it in my own," he said. "You do not grudge me the
"Northmour," I was beginning to say, as I laved her head and
breast; but he interrupted me savagely.
"Oh, you hush up!" he said. "The best thing you can do is to say
I had certainly no desire to talk, my mind being swallowed up in
concern for my dear love and her condition; so I continued in
silence to do my best toward her recovery, and, when the hat was
empty, returned it to him, with one word--"More." He had, perhaps,
gone several times upon this errand, when Clara reopened her eyes.
"Now," said he, "since she is better, you can spare me, can you
not? I wish you a good night, Mr. Cassilis."
And with that he was gone among the thicket. I made a fire, for I
had now no fear of the Italians, who had even spared all the little
possessions left in my encampment; and, broken as she was by the
excitement and the hideous catastrophe of the evening, I managed,
in one way or another--by persuasion, encouragement, warmth, and
such simple remedies as I could lay my hand on--to bring her back
to some composure of mind and strength of body.
Day had already come, when a sharp "Hist!" sounded from the
thicket. I started from the ground; but the voice of Northmour was
heard adding, in the most tranquil tones: "Come here, Cassilis, and
alone; I want to show you something."
I consulted Clara with my eyes, and, receiving her tacit
permission, left her alone, and clambered out of the den. At some
distance off I saw Northmour leaning against an elder; and, as soon
as he perceived me, he began walking seaward. I had almost
overtaken him as he reached the outskirts of the wood.
"Look," said he, pausing.
A couple of steps more brought me out of the foliage. The light of
the morning lay cold and clear over that well-known scene. The
pavilion was but a blackened wreck; the roof had fallen in, one of
the gables had fallen out; and, far and near, the face of the links
was cicatrized with little patches of burned furze. Thick smoke
still went straight upward in the windless air of the morning, and
a great pile of ardent cinders filled the bare walls of the house,
like coals in an open grate. Close by the islet a schooner yacht
lay to, and a well-manned boat was pulling vigorously for the
"The 'Red Earl'!" I cried. "The 'Red Earl' twelve hours too late!"
"Feel in your pocket, Frank. Are you armed?" asked Northmour.
I obeyed him, and I think I must have become deadly pale. My
revolver had been taken from me.
"You see, I have you in my power," he continued. "I disarmed you
last night while you were nursing Clara; but this morning--here--
take your pistol. No thanks!" he cried, holding up his hand. "I
do not like them; that is the only way you can annoy me now."
He began to walk forward across the links to meet the boat, and I
followed a step or two behind. In front of the pavilion I paused
to see where Mr. Huddlestone had fallen; but there was no sign of
him, nor so much as a trace of blood.
"Graden Floe," said Northmour.
He continued to advance till we had come to the head of the beach.
"No farther, please," said he. "Would you like to take her to
"Thank you," replied I; "I shall try to get her to the minister at
The prow of the boat here grated on the beach, and a sailor jumped
ashore with a line in his hand.
"Wait a minute, lads!" cried Northmour; and then lower and to my
private ear, "You had better say nothing of all this to her," he
"On the contrary!" I broke out, "she shall know everything that I
"You do not understand," he returned, with an air of great dignity.
"It will be nothing to her; she expects it of me. Good-by!" he
added, with a nod.
I offered him my hand.
"Excuse me," said he. "It's small, I know; but I can't push things
quite so far as that. I don't wish any sentimental business, to
sit by your hearth a white-haired wanderer, and all that. Quite
the contrary: I hope to God I shall never again clap eyes on either
one of you."
"Well, God bless you, Northmour!" I said heartily.
"Oh, yes," he returned.
He walked down the beach; and the man who was ashore gave him an
arm on board, and then shoved off and leaped into the bows himself.
Northmour took the tiller; the boat rose to the waves, and the oars
between the tholepins sounded crisp and measured in the morning
They were not yet half way to the "Red Earl," and I was still
watching their progress, when the sun rose out of the sea.
One word more, and my story is done. Years after, Northmour was
killed fighting under the colors of Garibaldi for the liberation of
The Dream Woman
A Mystery in Four Narratives
THE FIRST NARRATIVE
INTRODUCTORY STATEMENT OF THE FACTS BY PERCY FAIRBANK
"Hullo, there! Hostler! Hullo-o-o!"
"My dear! why don't you look for the bell?"
"I HAVE looked--there is no bell."
"And nobody in the yard. How very extraordinary! Call again,
"Hostler! Hullo, there! Hostler-r-r!"
My second call echoes through empty space, and rouses nobody--
produces, in short, no visible result. I am at the end of my
resources--I don't know what to say or what to do next. Here I
stand in the solitary inn yard of a strange town, with two horses
to hold, and a lady to take care of. By way of adding to my
responsibilities, it so happens that one of the horses is dead
lame, and that the lady is my wife.
Who am I?--you will ask.
There is plenty of time to answer the question. Nothing happens;
and nobody appears to receive us. Let me introduce myself and my
I am Percy Fairbank--English gentleman--age (let us say) forty--no
profession--moderate politics--middle height--fair complexion--easy
character--plenty of money.
My wife is a French lady. She was Mademoiselle Clotilde Delorge--
when I was first presented to her at her father's house in France.
I fell in love with her--I really don't know why. It might have
been because I was perfectly idle, and had nothing else to do at
the time. Or it might have been because all my friends said she
was the very last woman whom I ought to think of marrying. On the
surface, I must own, there is nothing in common between Mrs.
Fairbank and me. She is tall; she is dark; she is nervous,
excitable, romantic; in all her opinions she proceeds to extremes.
What could such a woman see in me? what could I see in her? I know
no more than you do. In some mysterious manner we exactly suit
each other. We have been man and wife for ten years, and our only
regret is, that we have no children. I don't know what YOU may
think; I call that--upon the whole--a happy marriage.
So much for ourselves. The next question is--what has brought us
into the inn yard? and why am I obliged to turn groom, and hold the
We live for the most part in France--at the country house in which
my wife and I first met. Occasionally, by way of variety, we pay
visits to my friends in England. We are paying one of those visits
now. Our host is an old college friend of mine, possessed of a
fine estate in Somersetshire; and we have arrived at his house--
called Farleigh Hall--toward the close of the hunting season.
On the day of which I am now writing--destined to be a memorable
day in our calendar--the hounds meet at Farleigh Hall. Mrs.
Fairbank and I are mounted on two of the best horses in my friend's
stables. We are quite unworthy of that distinction; for we know
nothing and care nothing about hunting. On the other hand, we
delight in riding, and we enjoy the breezy Spring morning and the
fair and fertile English landscape surrounding us on every side.
While the hunt prospers, we follow the hunt. But when a check
occurs--when time passes and patience is sorely tried; when the
bewildered dogs run hither and thither, and strong language falls
from the lips of exasperated sportsmen--we fail to take any further
interest in the proceedings. We turn our horses' heads in the
direction of a grassy lane, delightfully shaded by trees. We trot
merrily along the lane, and find ourselves on an open common. We
gallop across the common, and follow the windings of a second lane.
We cross a brook, we pass through a village, we emerge into
pastoral solitude among the hills. The horses toss their heads,
and neigh to each other, and enjoy it as much as we do. The hunt
is forgotten. We are as happy as a couple of children; we are
actually singing a French song--when in one moment our merriment
comes to an end. My wife's horse sets one of his forefeet on a
loose stone, and stumbles. His rider's ready hand saves him from
falling. But, at the first attempt he makes to go on, the sad
truth shows itself--a tendon is strained; the horse is lame.
What is to be done? We are strangers in a lonely part of the
country. Look where we may, we see no signs of a human habitation.
There is nothing for it but to take the bridle road up the hill,
and try what we can discover on the other side. I transfer the
saddles, and mount my wife on my own horse. He is not used to
carry a lady; he misses the familiar pressure of a man's legs on
either side of him; he fidgets, and starts, and kicks up the dust.
I follow on foot, at a respectful distance from his heels, leading
the lame horse. Is there a more miserable object on the face of
creation than a lame horse? I have seen lame men and lame dogs who
were cheerful creatures; but I never yet saw a lame horse who
didn't look heartbroken over his own misfortune.
For half an hour my wife capers and curvets sideways along the
bridle road. I trudge on behind her; and the heartbroken horse
halts behind me. Hard by the top of the hill, our melancholy
procession passes a Somersetshire peasant at work in a field. I
summon the man to approach us; and the man looks at me stolidly,
from the middle of the field, without stirring a step. I ask at
the top of my voice how far it is to Farleigh Hall. The
Somersetshire peasant answers at the top of HIS voice:
"Vourteen mile. Gi' oi a drap o' zyder."
I translate (for my wife's benefit) from the Somersetshire language
into the English language. We are fourteen miles from Farleigh
Hall; and our friend in the field desires to be rewarded, for
giving us that information, with a drop of cider. There is the
peasant, painted by himself! Quite a bit of character, my dear!
Quite a bit of character!
Mrs. Fairbank doesn't view the study of agricultural human nature
with my relish. Her fidgety horse will not allow her a moment's
repose; she is beginning to lose her temper.
"We can't go fourteen miles in this way," she says. "Where is the
nearest inn? Ask that brute in the field!"
I take a shilling from my pocket and hold it up in the sun. The
shilling exercises magnetic virtues. The shilling draws the
peasant slowly toward me from the middle of the field. I inform
him that we want to put up the horses and to hire a carriage to
take us back to Farleigh Hall. Where can we do that? The peasant
answers (with his eye on the shilling):
"At Oonderbridge, to be zure." (At Underbridge, to be sure.)
"Is it far to Underbridge?"
The peasant repeats, "Var to Oonderbridge?"--and laughs at the
question. "Hoo-hoo-hoo!" (Underbridge is evidently close by--if
we could only find it.) "Will you show us the way, my man?" "Will
you gi' oi a drap of zyder?" I courteously bend my head, and point
to the shilling. The agricultural intelligence exerts itself. The
peasant joins our melancholy procession. My wife is a fine woman,
but he never once looks at my wife--and, more extraordinary still,
he never even looks at the horses. His eyes are with his mind--and
his mind is on the shilling.
We reach the top of the hill--and, behold on the other side,
nestling in a valley, the shrine of our pilgrimage, the town of
Underbridge! Here our guide claims his shilling, and leaves us to
find out the inn for ourselves. I am constitutionally a polite
man. I say "Good morning" at parting. The guide looks at me with
the shilling between his teeth to make sure that it is a good one.
"Marnin!" he says savagely--and turns his back on us, as if we had
offended him. A curious product, this, of the growth of
civilization. If I didn't see a church spire at Underbridge, I
might suppose that we had lost ourselves on a savage island.
Arriving at the town, we had no difficulty in finding the inn. The
town is composed of one desolate street; and midway in that street
stands the inn--an ancient stone building sadly out of repair. The
painting on the sign-board is obliterated. The shutters over the
long range of front windows are all closed. A cock and his hens
are the only living creatures at the door. Plainly, this is one of
the old inns of the stage-coach period, ruined by the railway. We
pass through the open arched doorway, and find no one to welcome
us. We advance into the stable yard behind; I assist my wife to
dismount--and there we are in the position already disclosed to
view at the opening of this narrative. No bell to ring. No human
creature to answer when I call. I stand helpless, with the bridles
of the horses in my hand. Mrs. Fairbank saunters gracefully down
the length of the yard and does--what all women do, when they find
themselves in a strange place. She opens every door as she passes
it, and peeps in. On my side, I have just recovered my breath, I
am on the point of shouting for the hostler for the third and last
time, when I hear Mrs. Fairbank suddenly call to me:
"Percy! come here!"
Her voice is eager and agitated. She has opened a last door at the
end of the yard, and has started back from some sight which has
suddenly met her view. I hitch the horses' bridles on a rusty nail
in the wall near me, and join my wife. She has turned pale, and
catches me nervously by the arm.
"Good heavens!" she cries; "look at that!"
I look--and what do I see? I see a dingy little stable, containing
two stalls. In one stall a horse is munching his corn. In the
other a man is lying asleep on the litter.
A worn, withered, woebegone man in a hostler's dress. His hollow
wrinkled cheeks, his scanty grizzled hair, his dry yellow skin,
tell their own tale of past sorrow or suffering. There is an
ominous frown on his eyebrows--there is a painful nervous
contraction on the side of his mouth. I hear him breathing
convulsively when I first look in; he shudders and sighs in his
sleep. It is not a pleasant sight to see, and I turn round
instinctively to the bright sunlight in the yard. My wife turns me
back again in the direction of the stable door.
"Wait!" she says. "Wait! he may do it again."
"Do what again?"
"He was talking in his sleep, Percy, when I first looked in. He
was dreaming some dreadful dream. Hush! he's beginning again."
I look and listen. The man stirs on his miserable bed. The man
speaks in a quick, fierce whisper through his clinched teeth.
"Wake up! Wake up, there! Murder!"
There is an interval of silence. He moves one lean arm slowly
until it rests over his throat; he shudders, and turns on his
straw; he raises his arm from his throat, and feebly stretches it
out; his hand clutches at the straw on the side toward which he has
turned; he seems to fancy that he is grasping at the edge of
something. I see his lips begin to move again; I step softly into
the stable; my wife follows me, with her hand fast clasped in mine.
We both bend over him. He is talking once more in his sleep--
strange talk, mad talk, this time.
"Light gray eyes" (we hear him say), "and a droop in the left
eyelid--flaxen hair, with a gold-yellow streak in it--all right,
mother! fair, white arms with a down on them--little, lady's hand,
with a reddish look round the fingernails--the knife--the cursed
knife--first on one side, then on the other--aha, you she-devil!
where is the knife?"
He stops and grows restless on a sudden. We see him writhing on
the straw. He throws up both his hands and gasps hysterically for
breath. His eyes open suddenly. For a moment they look at
nothing, with a vacant glitter in them--then they close again in
deeper sleep. Is he dreaming still? Yes; but the dream seems to
have taken a new course. When he speaks next, the tone is altered;
the words are few--sadly and imploringly repeated over and over
again. "Say you love me! I am so fond of YOU. Say you love me!
say you love me!" He sinks into deeper and deeper sleep, faintly
repeating those words. They die away on his lips. He speaks no
By this time Mrs. Fairbank has got over her terror; she is devoured
by curiosity now. The miserable creature on the straw has appealed
to the imaginative side of her character. Her illimitable appetite
for romance hungers and thirsts for more. She shakes me
impatiently by the arm.
"Do you hear? There is a woman at the bottom of it, Percy! There
is love and murder in it, Percy! Where are the people of the inn?
Go into the yard, and call to them again."
My wife belongs, on her mother's side, to the South of France. The
South of France breeds fine women with hot tempers. I say no more.
Married men will understand my position. Single men may need to be
told that there are occasions when we must not only love and honor-
-we must also obey--our wives.
I turn to the door to obey MY wife, and find myself confronted by a
stranger who has stolen on us unawares. The stranger is a tiny,
sleepy, rosy old man, with a vacant pudding-face, and a shining
bald head. He wears drab breeches and gaiters, and a respectable
square-tailed ancient black coat. I feel instinctively that here
is the landlord of the inn.
"Good morning, sir," says the rosy old man. "I'm a little hard of
hearing. Was it you that was a-calling just now in the yard?"
Before I can answer, my wife interposes. She insists (in a shrill
voice, adapted to our host's hardness of hearing) on knowing who
that unfortunate person is sleeping on the straw. "Where does he
come from? Why does he say such dreadful things in his sleep? Is
he married or single? Did he ever fall in love with a murderess?
What sort of a looking woman was she? Did she really stab him or
not? In short, dear Mr. Landlord, tell us the whole story!"
Dear Mr. Landlord waits drowsily until Mrs. Fairbank has quite
done--then delivers himself of his reply as follows:
"His name's Francis Raven. He's an Independent Methodist. He was
forty-five year old last birthday. And he's my hostler. That's
My wife's hot southern temper finds its way to her foot, and
expresses itself by a stamp on the stable yard.
The landlord turns himself sleepily round, and looks at the horses.
"A fine pair of horses, them two in the yard. Do you want to put
'em in my stables?" I reply in the affirmative by a nod. The
landlord, bent on making himself agreeable to my wife, addresses
her once more. "I'm a-going to wake Francis Raven. He's an
Independent Methodist. He was forty-five year old last birthday.
And he's my hostler. That's his story."
Having issued this second edition of his interesting narrative, the
landlord enters the stable. We follow him to see how he will wake
Francis Raven, and what will happen upon that. The stable broom
stands in a corner; the landlord takes it--advances toward the
sleeping hostler--and coolly stirs the man up with a broom as if he
was a wild beast in a cage. Francis Raven starts to his feet with
a cry of terror--looks at us wildly, with a horrid glare of
suspicion in his eyes--recovers himself the next moment--and
suddenly changes into a decent, quiet, respectable serving-man.
"I beg your pardon, ma'am. I beg your pardon, sir."
The tone and manner in which he makes his apologies are both above
his apparent station in life. I begin to catch the infection of
Mrs. Fairbank's interest in this man. We both follow him out into
the yard to see what he will do with the horses. The manner in
which he lifts the injured leg of the lame horse tells me at once
that he understands his business. Quickly and quietly, he leads
the animal into an empty stable; quickly and quietly, he gets a
bucket of hot water, and puts the lame horse's leg into it. "The
warm water will reduce the swelling, sir. I will bandage the leg
afterwards." All that he does is done intelligently; all that he
says, he says to the purpose.
Nothing wild, nothing strange about him now. Is this the same man
whom we heard talking in his sleep?--the same man who woke with
that cry of terror and that horrid suspicion in his eyes? I
determine to try him with one or two questions.
"Not much to do here," I say to the hostler.
"Very little to do, sir," the hostler replies.
"Anybody staying in the house?"
"The house is quite empty, sir."
"I thought you were all dead. I could make nobody hear me."
"The landlord is very deaf, sir, and the waiter is out on an
"Yes; and YOU were fast asleep in the stable. Do you often take a
nap in the daytime?"
The worn face of the hostler faintly flushes. His eyes look away
from my eyes for the first time. Mrs. Fairbank furtively pinches
my arm. Are we on the eve of a discovery at last? I repeat my
question. The man has no civil alternative but to give me an
answer. The answer is given in these words:
"I was tired out, sir. You wouldn't have found me asleep in the
daytime but for that."
"Tired out, eh? You had been hard at work, I suppose?"
"What was it, then?"
He hesitates again, and answers unwillingly, "I was up all night."
"Up all night? Anything going on in the town?"
"Nothing going on, sir."
"Nobody ill, sir."
That reply is the last. Try as I may, I can extract nothing more
from him. He turns away and busies himself in attending to the
horse's leg. I leave the stable to speak to the landlord about the
carriage which is to take us back to Farleigh Hall. Mrs. Fairbank
remains with the hostler, and favors me with a look at parting.
The look says plainly, "I mean to find out why he was up all night.
Leave him to Me."
The ordering of the carriage is easily accomplished. The inn
possesses one horse and one chaise. The landlord has a story to
tell of the horse, and a story to tell of the chaise. They
resemble the story of Francis Raven--with this exception, that the
horse and chaise belong to no religious persuasion. "The horse
will be nine year old next birthday. I've had the shay for four-
and-twenty year. Mr. Max, of Underbridge, he bred the horse; and
Mr. Pooley, of Yeovil, he built the shay. It's my horse and my
shay. And that's THEIR story!" Having relieved his mind of these
details, the landlord proceeds to put the harness on the horse. By
way of assisting him, I drag the chaise into the yard. Just as our
preparations are completed, Mrs. Fairbank appears. A moment or two
later the hostler follows her out. He has bandaged the horse's
leg, and is now ready to drive us to Farleigh Hall. I observe
signs of agitation in his face and manner, which suggest that my
wife has found her way into his confidence. I put the question to
her privately in a corner of the yard. "Well? Have you found out
why Francis Raven was up all night?"
Mrs. Fairbank has an eye to dramatic effect. Instead of answering
plainly, Yes or No, she suspends the interest and excites the
audience by putting a question on her side.
"What is the day of the month, dear?"
"The day of the month is the first of March."
"The first of March, Percy, is Francis Raven's birthday."
I try to look as if I was interested--and don't succeed.
"Francis was born," Mrs. Fairbank proceeds gravely, "at two o'clock
in the morning."
I begin to wonder whether my wife's intellect is going the way of
the landlord's intellect. "Is that all?" I ask.
"It is NOT all," Mrs. Fairbank answers. "Francis Raven sits up on
the morning of his birthday because he is afraid to go to bed."
"And why is he afraid to go to bed?"
"Because he is in peril of his life."
"On his birthday?"
"On his birthday. At two o'clock in the morning. As regularly as
the birthday comes round."
There she stops. Has she discovered no more than that? No more
thus far. I begin to feel really interested by this time. I ask
eagerly what it means? Mrs. Fairbank points mysteriously to the
chaise--with Francis Raven (hitherto our hostler, now our coachman)
waiting for us to get in. The chaise has a seat for two in front,
and a seat for one behind. My wife casts a warning look at me, and
places herself on the seat in front.
The necessary consequence of this arrangement is that Mrs. Fairhank
sits by the side of the driver during a journey of two hours and
more. Need I state the result? It would be an insult to your
intelligence to state the result. Let me offer you my place in the
chaise. And let Francis Raven tell his terrible story in his own
THE SECOND NARRATIVE
THE HOSTLER'S STORY.--TOLD BY HIMSELF
It is now ten years ago since I got my first warning of the great
trouble of my life in the Vision of a Dream.
I shall be better able to tell you about it if you will please
suppose yourselves to be drinking tea along with us in our little
cottage in Cambridgeshire, ten years since.
The time was the close of day, and there were three of us at the
table, namely, my mother, myself, and my mother's sister, Mrs.
Chance. These two were Scotchwomen by birth, and both were widows.
There was no other resemblance between them that I can call to
mind. My mother had lived all her life in England, and had no more
of the Scotch brogue on her tongue than I have. My aunt Chance had
never been out of Scotland until she came to keep house with my
mother after her husband's death. And when SHE opened her lips you
heard broad Scotch, I can tell you, if you ever heard it yet!
As it fell out, there was a matter of some consequence in debate
among us that evening. It was this: whether I should do well or
not to take a long journey on foot the next morning.
Now the next morning happened to be the day before my birthday; and
the purpose of the journey was to offer myself for a situation as
groom at a great house in the neighboring county to ours. The
place was reported as likely to fall vacant in about three weeks'
time. I was as well fitted to fill it as any other man. In the
prosperous days of our family, my father had been manager of a
training stable, and he had kept me employed among the horses from
my boyhood upward. Please to excuse my troubling you with these
small matters. They all fit into my story farther on, as you will
soon find out. My poor mother was dead against my leaving home on
"You can never walk all the way there and all the way back again by
to-morrow night," she says. "The end of it will be that you will
sleep away from home on your birthday. You have never done that
yet, Francis, since your father's death, I don't like your doing it
now. Wait a day longer, my son--only one day."
For my own part, I was weary of being idle, and I couldn't abide
the notion of delay. Even one day might make all the difference.
Some other man might take time by the forelock, and get the place.
"Consider how long I have been out of work," I says, "and don't ask
me to put off the journey. I won't fail you, mother. I'll get
back by to-morrow night, if I have to pay my last sixpence for a
lift in a cart."
My mother shook her head. "I don't like it, Francis--I don't like
it!" There was no moving her from that view. We argued and
argued, until we were both at a deadlock. It ended in our agreeing
to refer the difference between us to my mother's sister, Mrs.
While we were trying hard to convince each other, my aunt Chance
sat as dumb as a fish, stirring her tea and thinking her own
thoughts. When we made our appeal to her, she seemed as it were to
wake up. "Ye baith refer it to my puir judgment?" she says, in her
broad Scotch. We both answered Yes. Upon that my aunt Chance
first cleared the tea-table, and then pulled out from the pocket of
her gown a pack of cards.
Don't run away, if you please, with the notion that this was done
lightly, with a view to amuse my mother and me. My aunt Chance
seriously believed that she could look into the future by telling
fortunes on the cards. She did nothing herself without first
consulting the cards. She could give no more serious proof of her
interest in my welfare than the proof which she was offering now.
I don't say it profanely; I only mention the fact--the cards had,
in some incomprehensible way, got themselves jumbled up together
with her religious convictions. You meet with people nowadays who
believe in spirits working by way of tables and chairs. On the
same principle (if there IS any principle in it) my aunt Chance
believed in Providence working by way of the cards.
"Whether YOU are right, Francie, or your mither--whether ye will do
weel or ill, the morrow, to go or stay--the cairds will tell it.
We are a' in the hands of Proavidence. The cairds will tell it."
Hearing this, my mother turned her head aside, with something of a
sour look in her face. Her sister's notions about the cards were
little better than flat blasphemy to her mind. But she kept her
opinion to herself. My aunt Chance, to own the truth, had
inherited, through her late husband, a pension of thirty pounds a
year. This was an important contribution to our housekeeping, and
we poor relations were bound to treat her with a certain respect.
As for myself, if my poor father never did anything else for me
before he fell into difficulties, he gave me a good education, and
raised me (thank God) above superstitions of all sorts. However, a
very little amused me in those days; and I waited to have my
fortune told, as patiently as if I believed in it too!
My aunt began her hocus pocus by throwing out all the cards in the
pack under seven. She shuffled the rest with her left hand for
luck; and then she gave them to me to cut. "Wi' yer left hand,
Francie. Mind that! Pet your trust in Proavidence--but dinna
forget that your luck's in yer left hand!" A long and roundabout
shifting of the cards followed, reducing them in number until there
were just fifteen of them left, laid out neatly before my aunt in a
half circle. The card which happened to lie outermost, at the
right-hand end of the circle, was, according to rule in such cases,
the card chosen to represent Me. By way of being appropriate to my
situation as a poor groom out of employment, the card was--the King
"I tak' up the King o' Diamants," says my aunt. "I count seven
cairds fra' richt to left; and I humbly ask a blessing on what
follows." My aunt shut her eyes as if she was saying grace before
meat, and held up to me the seventh card. I called the seventh
card--the Queen of Spades. My aunt opened her eyes again in a
hurry, and cast a sly look my way. "The Queen o' Spades means a
dairk woman. Ye'll be thinking in secret, Francie, of a dairk
When a man has been out of work for more than three months, his
mind isn't troubled much with thinking of women--light or dark. I
was thinking of the groom's place at the great house, and I tried
to say so. My aunt Chance wouldn't listen. She treated my
interpretation with contempt. "Hoot-toot! there's the caird in
your hand! If ye're no thinking of her the day, ye'll be thinking
of her the morrow. Where's the harm of thinking of a dairk woman!
I was ance a dairk woman myself, before my hair was gray. Haud yer
peace, Francie, and watch the cairds."
I watched the cards as I was told. There were seven left on the
table. My aunt removed two from one end of the row and two from
the other, and desired me to call the two outermost of the three
cards now left on the table. I called the Ace of Clubs and the Ten
of Diamonds. My aunt Chance lifted her eyes to the ceiling with a
look of devout gratitude which sorely tried my mother's patience.
The Ace of Clubs and the Ten of Diamonds, taken together,
signified--first, good news (evidently the news of the groom's
place); secondly, a journey that lay before me (pointing plainly to
my journey to-morrow!); thirdly and lastly, a sum of money
(probably the groom's wages!) waiting to find its way into my
pockets. Having told my fortune in these encouraging terms, my
aunt declined to carry the experiment any further. "Eh, lad! it's
a clean tempting o' Proavidence to ask mair o' the cairds than the
cairds have tauld us noo. Gae yer ways to-morrow to the great
hoose. A dairk woman will meet ye at the gate; and she'll have a
hand in getting ye the groom's place, wi' a' the gratifications and
pairquisites appertaining to the same. And, mebbe, when yer
poaket's full o' money, ye'll no' be forgetting yer aunt Chance,
maintaining her ain unblemished widowhood--wi' Proavidence
assisting--on thratty punds a year!"
I promised to remember my aunt Chance (who had the defect, by the
way, of being a terribly greedy person after money) on the next
happy occasion when my poor empty pockets were to be filled at
last. This done, I looked at my mother. She had agreed to take
her sister for umpire between us, and her sister had given it in my
favor. She raised no more objections. Silently, she got on her
feet, and kissed me, and sighed bitterly--and so left the room. My
aunt Chance shook her head. "I doubt, Francie, yer puir mither has
but a heathen notion of the vairtue of the cairds!"
By daylight the next morning I set forth on my journey. I looked
back at the cottage as I opened the garden gate. At one window was
my mother, with her handkerchief to her eyes. At the other stood
my aunt Chance, holding up the Queen of Spades by way of
encouraging me at starting. I waved my hands to both of them in
token of farewell, and stepped out briskly into the road. It was
then the last day of February. Be pleased to remember, in
connection with this, that the first of March was the day, and two
o'clock in the morning the hour of my birth.
Now you know how I came to leave home. The next thing to tell is,
what happened on the journey.
I reached the great house in reasonably good time considering the
distance. At the very first trial of it, the prophecy of the cards
turned out to be wrong. The person who met me at the lodge gate
was not a dark woman--in fact, not a woman at all--but a boy. He
directed me on the way to the servants' offices; and there again
the cards were all wrong. I encountered, not one woman, but three-
-and not one of the three was dark. I have stated that I am not
superstitious, and I have told the truth. But I must own that I
did feel a certain fluttering at the heart when I made my bow to
the steward, and told him what business had brought me to the
house. His answer completed the discomfiture of aunt Chance's
fortune-telling. My ill-luck still pursued me. That very morning
another man had applied for the groom's place, and had got it.
I swallowed my disappointment as well as I could, and thanked the
steward, and went to the inn in the village to get the rest and
food which I sorely needed by this time.
Before starting on my homeward walk I made some inquiries at the
inn, and ascertained that I might save a few miles, on my return,
by following a new road. Furnished with full instructions, several
times repeated, as to the various turnings I was to take, I set
forth, and walked on till the evening with only one stoppage for
bread and cheese. Just as it was getting toward dark, the rain
came on and the wind began to rise; and I found myself, to make
matters worse, in a part of the country with which I was entirely
unacquainted, though I guessed myself to be some fifteen miles from
home. The first house I found to inquire at, was a lonely roadside
inn, standing on the outskirts of a thick wood. Solitary as the
place looked, it was welcome to a lost man who was also hungry,
thirsty, footsore, and wet. The landlord was civil and
respectable-looking; and the price he asked for a bed was
reasonable enough. I was grieved to disappoint my mother. But
there was no conveyance to be had, and I could go no farther afoot
that night. My weariness fairly forced me to stop at the inn.
I may say for myself that I am a temperate man. My supper simply
consisted of some rashers of bacon, a slice of home-made bread, and
a pint of ale. I did not go to bed immediately after this moderate
meal, but sat up with the landlord, talking about my bad prospects
and my long run of ill-luck, and diverging from these topics to the
subjects of horse-flesh and racing. Nothing was said, either by
myself, my host, or the few laborers who strayed into the tap-room,
which could, in the slightest degree, excite my mind, or set my
fancy--which is only a small fancy at the best of times--playing
tricks with my common sense.
At a little after eleven the house was closed. I went round with
the landlord, and held the candle while the doors and lower windows
were being secured. I noticed with surprise the strength of the
bolts, bars, and iron-sheathed shutters.
"You see, we are rather lonely here," said the landlord. "We never
have had any attempts to break in yet, but it's always as well to
be on the safe side. When nobody is sleeping here, I am the only
man in the house. My wife and daughter are timid, and the servant
girl takes after her missuses. Another glass of ale, before you
turn in?--No!--Well, how such a sober man as you comes to be out of
a place is more than I can understand for one.--Here's where you're
to sleep. You're the only lodger to-night, and I think you'll say
my missus has done her best to make you comfortable. You're quite
sure you won't have another glass of ale?--Very well. Good night."
It was half-past eleven by the clock in the passage as we went
upstairs to the bedroom. The window looked out on the wood at the
back of the house.
I locked my door, set my candle on the chest of drawers, and
wearily got me ready for bed. The bleak wind was still blowing,
and the solemn, surging moan of it in the wood was very dreary to
hear through the night silence. Feeling strangely wakeful, I
resolved to keep the candle alight until I began to grow sleepy.
The truth is, I was not quite myself. I was depressed in mind by
my disappointment of the morning; and I was worn out in body by my
long walk. Between the two, I own I couldn't face the prospect of
lying awake in the darkness, listening to the dismal moan of the
wind in the wood.
Sleep stole on me before I was aware of it; my eyes closed, and I
fell off to rest, without having so much as thought of
extinguishing the candle.
The next thing that I remember was a faint shivering that ran
through me from head to foot, and a dreadful sinking pain at my
heart, such as I had never felt before. The shivering only
disturbed my slumbers--the pain woke me instantly. In one moment I
passed from a state of sleep to a state of wakefulness--my eyes
wide open--my mind clear on a sudden as if by a miracle. The
candle had burned down nearly to the last morsel of tallow, but the
unsnuffed wick had just fallen off, and the light was, for the
moment, fair and full.
Between the foot of the bed and the closet door, I saw a person in
my room. The person was a woman, standing looking at me, with a
knife in her hand. It does no credit to my courage to confess it--
but the truth IS the truth. I was struck speechless with terror.
There I lay with my eyes on the woman; there the woman stood (with
the knife in her hand) with HER eyes on ME.
She said not a word as we stared each other in the face; but she
moved after a little--moved slowly toward the left-hand side of the
The light fell full on her face. A fair, fine woman, with
yellowish flaxen hair, and light gray eyes, with a droop in the
left eyelid. I noticed these things and fixed them in my mind,
before she was quite round at the side of the bed. Without saying
a word; without any change in the stony stillness of her face;
without any noise following her footfall, she came closer and
closer; stopped at the bed-head; and lifted the knife to stab me.
I laid my arm over my throat to save it; but, as I saw the blow
coming, I threw my hand across the bed to the right side, and
jerked my body over that way, just as the knife came down, like
lightning, within a hair's breadth of my shoulder.
My eyes fixed on her arm and her hand--she gave me time to look at
them as she slowly drew the knife out of the bed. A white, well-
shaped arm, with a pretty down lying lightly over the fair skin. A
delicate lady's hand, with a pink flush round the finger nails.
She drew the knife out, and passed back again slowly to the foot of
the bed; she stopped there for a moment looking at me; then she
came on without saying a word; without any change in the stony
stillness of her face; without any noise following her footfall--
came on to the side of the bed where I now lay.
Getting near me, she lifted the knife again, and I drew myself away
to the left side. She struck, as before right into the mattress,
with a swift downward action of her arm; and she missed me, as
before; by a hair's breadth. This time my eyes wandered from HER
to the knife. It was like the large clasp knives which laboring
men use to cut their bread and bacon with. Her delicate little
fingers did not hide more than two thirds of the handle; I noticed
that it was made of buckhorn, clean and shining as the blade was,
and looking like new.
For the second time she drew the knife out of the bed, and suddenly
hid it away in the wide sleeve of her gown. That done, she stopped
by the bedside watching me. For an instant I saw her standing in
that position--then the wick of the spent candle fell over into the
socket. The flame dwindled to a little blue point, and the room
A moment, or less, if possible, passed so--and then the wick flared
up, smokily, for the last time. My eyes were still looking for her
over the right-hand side of the bed when the last flash of light
came. Look as I might, I could see nothing. The woman with the
knife was gone.
I began to get back to myself again. I could feel my heart
beating; I could hear the woeful moaning of the wind in the wood; I
could leap up in bed, and give the alarm before she escaped from
the house. "Murder! Wake up there! Murder!"
Nobody answered to the alarm. I rose and groped my way through the
darkness to the door of the room. By that way she must have got
in. By that way she must have gone out.
The door of the room was fast locked, exactly as I had left it on
going to bed! I looked at the window. Fast locked too!
Hearing a voice outside, I opened the door. There was the
landlord, coming toward me along the passage, with his burning
candle in one hand, and his gun in the other.
"What is it?" he says, looking at me in no very friendly way.
I could only answer in a whisper, "A woman, with a knife in her
hand. In my room. A fair, yellow-haired woman. She jabbed at me
with the knife, twice over."
He lifted his candle, and looked at me steadily from head to foot.
"She seems to have missed you--twice over."
"I dodged the knife as it came down. It struck the bed each time.
Go in, and see."
The landlord took his candle into the bedroom immediately. In less
than a minute he came out again into the passage in a violent
"The devil fly away with you and your woman with the knife! There
isn't a mark in the bedclothes anywhere. What do you mean by
coming into a man's place and frightening his family out of their
wits by a dream?"
A dream? The woman who had tried to stab me, not a living human
being like myself? I began to shake and shiver. The horrors got
hold of me at the bare thought of it.
"I'll leave the house," I said. "Better be out on the road in the
rain and dark, than back in that room, after what I've seen in it.
Lend me the light to get my clothes by, and tell me what I'm to
The landlord led the way back with his light into the bedroom.
"Pay?" says he. "You'll find your score on the slate when you go
downstairs. I wouldn't have taken you in for all the money you've
got about you, if I had known your dreaming, screeching ways
beforehand. Look at the bed--where's the cut of a knife in it?
Look at the window--is the lock bursted? Look at the door (which I
heard you fasten yourself)--is it broke in? A murdering woman with
a knife in my house! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!"
My eyes followed his hand as it pointed first to the bed--then to
the window--then to the door. There was no gainsaying it. The bed
sheet was as sound as on the day it was made. The window was fast.
The door hung on its hinges as steady as ever. I huddled my
clothes on without speaking. We went downstairs together. I
looked at the clock in the bar-room. The time was twenty minutes
past two in the morning. I paid my bill, and the landlord let me
out. The rain had ceased; but the night was dark, and the wind was
bleaker than ever. Little did the darkness, or the cold, or the
doubt about the way home matter to ME. My mind was away from all
these things. My mind was fixed on the vision in the bedroom.
What had I seen trying to murder me? The creature of a dream? Or
that other creature from the world beyond the grave, whom men call
ghost? I could make nothing of it as I walked along in the night;
I had made nothing by it by midday--when I stood at last, after
many times missing my road, on the doorstep of home.
My mother came out alone to welcome me back. There were no secrets
between us two. I told her all that had happened, just as I have
told it to you. She kept silence till I had done. And then she
put a question to me.
"What time was it, Francis, when you saw the Woman in your Dream?"
I had looked at the clock when I left the inn, and I had noticed
that the hands pointed to twenty minutes past two. Allowing for
the time consumed in speaking to the landlord, and in getting on my
clothes, I answered that I must have first seen the Woman at two
o'clock in the morning. In other words, I had not only seen her on
my birthday, but at the hour of my birth.
My mother still kept silence. Lost in her own thoughts, she took
me by the hand, and led me into the parlor. Her writing-desk was
on the table by the fireplace. She opened it, and signed to me to
take a chair by her side.
"My son! your memory is a bad one, and mine is fast failing me.
Tell me again what the Woman looked like. I want her to be as well
known to both of us, years hence, as she is now."
I obeyed; wondering what strange fancy might be working in her
mind. I spoke; and she wrote the words as they fell from my lips:
"Light gray eyes, with a droop in the left eyelid. Flaxen hair,
with a golden-yellow streak in it. White arms, with a down upon
them. Little, lady's hands, with a rosy-red look about the finger
"Did you notice how she was dressed, Francis?"
"Did you notice the knife?"
"Yes. A large clasp knife, with a buckhorn handle, as good as
My mother added the description of the knife. Also the year,
month, day of the week, and hour of the day when the Dream-Woman
appeared to me at the inn. That done, she locked up the paper in
"Not a word, Francis, to your aunt. Not a word to any living soul.
Keep your Dream a secret between you and me."
The weeks passed, and the months passed. My mother never returned
to the subject again. As for me, time, which wears out all things,
wore out my remembrance of the Dream. Little by little, the image
of the Woman grew dimmer and dimmer. Little by little, she faded
out of my mind.
The story of the warning is now told. Judge for yourself if it was
a true warning or a false, when you hear what happened to me on my
In the Summer time of the year, the Wheel of Fortune turned the
right way for me at last. I was smoking my pipe one day, near an
old stone quarry at the entrance to our village, when a carriage
accident happened, which gave a new turn, as it were, to my lot in
life. It was an accident of the commonest kind--not worth
mentioning at any length. A lady driving herself; a runaway horse;
a cowardly man-servant in attendance, frightened out of his wits;
and the stone quarry too near to be agreeable--that is what I saw,
all in a few moments, between two whiffs of my pipe. I stopped the
horse at the edge of the quarry, and got myself a little hurt by
the shaft of the chaise. But that didn't matter. The lady
declared I had saved her life; and her husband, coming with her to
our cottage the next day, took me into his service then and there.
The lady happened to be of a dark complexion; and it may amuse you
to hear that my aunt Chance instantly pitched on that circumstance
as a means of saving the credit of the cards. Here was the promise
of the Queen of Spades performed to the very letter, by means of "a
dark woman," just as my aunt had told me. "In the time to come,
Francis, beware o' pettin' yer ain blinded intairpretation on the
cairds. Ye're ower ready, I trow, to murmur under dispensation of
Proavidence that ye canna fathom--like the Eesraelites of auld.
I'll say nae mair to ye. Mebbe when the mony's powering into yer
poakets, ye'll no forget yer aunt Chance, left like a sparrow on
the housetop, wi a sma' annuitee o' thratty punds a year."
I remained in my situation (at the West-end of London) until the
Spring of the New Year. About that time, my master's health
failed. The doctors ordered him away to foreign parts, and the
establishment was broken up. But the turn in my luck still held
good. When I left my place, I left it--thanks to the generosity of
my kind master--with a yearly allowance granted to me, in
remembrance of the day when I had saved my mistress's life. For
the future, I could go back to service or not, as I pleased; my
little income was enough to support my mother and myself.
My master and mistress left England toward the end of February.
Certain matters of business to do for them detained me in London
until the last day of the month. I was only able to leave for our
village by the evening train, to keep my birthday with my mother as
usual. It was bedtime when I got to the cottage; and I was sorry
to find that she was far from well. To make matters worse, she had
finished her bottle of medicine on the previous day, and had
omitted to get it replenished, as the doctor had strictly directed.
He dispensed his own medicines, and I offered to go and knock him
up. She refused to let me do this; and, after giving me my supper,
sent me away to my bed.
I fell asleep for a little, and woke again. My mother's bed-
chamber was next to mine. I heard my aunt Chance's heavy footsteps
going to and fro in the room, and, suspecting something wrong,
knocked at the door. My mother's pains had returned upon her;
there was a serious necessity for relieving her sufferings as
speedily as possible, I put on my clothes, and ran off, with the
medicine bottle in my hand, to the other end of the village, where
the doctor lived. The church clock chimed the quarter to two on my
birthday just as I reached his house. One ring of the night bell
brought him to his bedroom window to speak to me. He told me to
wait, and he would let me in at the surgery door. I noticed, while
I was waiting, that the night was wonderfully fair and warm for the
time of year. The old stone quarry where the carriage accident had
happened was within view. The moon in the clear heavens lit it up
almost as bright as day.
In a minute or two the doctor let me into the surgery. I closed
the door, noticing that he had left his room very lightly clad. He
kindly pardoned my mother's neglect of his directions, and set to
work at once at compounding the medicine. We were both intent on
the bottle; he filling it, and I holding the light--when we heard
the surgery door suddenly opened from the street.
Who could possibly be up and about in our quiet village at the
second hour of the morning?
The person who opened the door appeared within range of the light
of the candle. To complete our amazement, the person proved to be
a woman! She walked up to the counter, and standing side by side
with me, lifted her veil. At the moment when she showed her face,
I heard the church clock strike two. She was a stranger to me, and
a stranger to the doctor. She was also, beyond all comparison, the
most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life.
"I saw the light under the door," she said. "I want some
She spoke quite composedly, as if there was nothing at all
extraordinary in her being out in the village at two in the
morning, and following me into the surgery to ask for medicine!
The doctor stared at her as if he suspected his own eyes of
deceiving him. "Who are you?" be asked. "How do you come to be
wandering about at this time in the morning?"
She paid no heed to his questions. She only told him coolly what
she wanted. "I have got a bad toothache. I want a bottle of
The doctor recovered himself when she asked for the laudanum. He
was on his own ground, you know, when it came to a matter of
laudanum; and he spoke to her smartly enough this time.
"Oh, you have got the toothache, have you? Let me look at the
She shook her bead, and laid a two-shilling piece on the counter.
"I won't trouble you to look at the tooth," she said. "There is
the money. Let me have the laudanum, if you please."
The doctor put the two-shilling piece back again in her hand. "I
don't sell laudanum to strangers," he answered. "If you are in any
distress of body or mind, that is another matter. I shall be glad
to help you."
She put the money back in her pocket. "YOU can't help me," she
said, as quietly as ever. "Good morning."
With that, she opened the surgery door to go out again into the
street. So far, I had not spoken a word on my side. I had stood
with the candle in my hand (not knowing I was holding it)--with my
eyes fixed on her, with my mind fixed on her like a man bewitched.
Her looks betrayed, even more plainly than her words, her
resolution, in one way or another, to destroy herself. When she
opened the door, in my alarm at what might happen I found the use
of my tongue.
"Stop!" I cried out. "Wait for me. I want to speak to you before
you go away." She lifted her eyes with a look of careless surprise
and a mocking smile on her lips.
"What can YOU have to say to me?" She stopped, and laughed to
herself. "Why not?" she said. "I have got nothing to do, and
nowhere to go." She turned back a step, and nodded to me. "You're
a strange man--I think I'll humor you--I'll wait outside." The
door of the surgery closed on her. She was gone.
I am ashamed to own what happened next. The only excuse for me is
that I was really and truly a man bewitched. I turned me round to
follow her out, without once thinking of my mother. The doctor
"Don't forget the medicine," he said. "And if you will take my
advice, don't trouble yourself about that woman. Rouse up the
constable. It's his business to look after her--not yours."
I held out my hand for the medicine in silence: I was afraid I
should fail in respect if I trusted myself to answer him. He must
have seen, as I saw, that she wanted the laudanum to poison
herself. He had, to my mind, taken a very heartless view of the
matter. I just thanked him when he gave me the medicine--and went
She was waiting for me as she had promised; walking slowly to and
fro--a tall, graceful, solitary figure in the bright moonbeams.
They shed over her fair complexion, her bright golden hair, her
large gray eyes, just the light that suited them best. She looked
hardly mortal when she first turned to speak to me.
"Well?" she said. "And what do you want?"
In spite of my pride, or my shyness, or my better sense--whichever
it might be--all my heart went out to her in a moment. I caught
hold of her by the hands, and owned what was in my thoughts, as
freely as if I had known her for half a lifetime.
"You mean to destroy yourself," I said. "And I mean to prevent you
from doing it. If I follow you about all night, I'll prevent you
from doing it."
She laughed. "You saw yourself that he wouldn't sell me the
laudanum. Do you really care whether I live or die?" She squeezed
my hands gently as she put the question: her eyes searched mine
with a languid, lingering look in them that ran through me like
fire. My voice died away on my lips; I couldn't answer her.
She understood, without my answering. "You have given me a fancy
for living, by speaking kindly to me," she said. "Kindness has a
wonderful effect on women, and dogs, and other domestic animals.
It is only men who are superior to kindness. Make your mind easy--
I promise to take as much care of myself as if I was the happiest
woman living! Don't let me keep you here, out of your bed. Which
way are you going?"
Miserable wretch that I was, I had forgotten my mother--with the
medicine in my hand! "I am going home," I said. "Where are you
staying? At the inn?"
She laughed her bitter laugh, and pointed to the stone quarry.
"There is MY inn for to-night," she said. "When I got tired of
walking about, I rested there."
We walked on together, on my way home. I took the liberty of
asking her if she had any friends.
"I thought I had one friend left," she said, "or you would never
have met me in this place. It turns out I was wrong. My friend's
door was closed in my face some hours since; my friend's servants
threatened me with the police. I had nowhere else to go, after
trying my luck in your neighborhood; and nothing left but my two-
shilling piece and these rags on my back. What respectable
innkeeper would take ME into his house? I walked about, wondering
how I could find my way out of the world without disfiguring
myself, and without suffering much pain. You have no river in
these parts. I didn't see my way out of the world, till I heard
you ringing at the doctor's house. I got a glimpse at the bottles
in the surgery, when he let you in, and I thought of the laudanum
directly. What were you doing there? Who is that medicine for?
"I am not married!"
She laughed again. "Not married! If I was a little better dressed
there might be a chance for ME. Where do you live? Here?"
We had arrived, by this time, at my mother's door. She held out
her hand to say good-by. Houseless and homeless as she was, she
never asked me to give her a shelter for the night. It was MY
proposal that she should rest, under my roof, unknown to my mother
and my aunt. Our kitchen was built out at the back of the cottage:
she might remain there unseen and unheard until the household was
astir in the morning. I led her into the kitchen, and set a chair
for her by the dying embers of the fire. I dare say I was to
blame--shamefully to blame, if you like. I only wonder what YOU
would have done in my place. On your word of honor as a man, would
YOU have let that beautiful creature wander back to the shelter of
the stone quarry like a stray dog? God help the woman who is
foolish enough to trust and love you, if you would have done that!
I left her by the fire, and went to my mother's room.
If you have ever felt the heartache, you will know what I suffered
in secret when my mother took my hand, and said, "I am sorry,
Francis, that your night's rest has been disturbed through ME." I
gave her the medicine; and I waited by her till the pains abated.
My aunt Chance went back to her bed; and my mother and I were left
alone. I noticed that her writing-desk, moved from its customary
place, was on the bed by her side. She saw me looking at it.
"This is your birthday, Francis," she said. "Have you anything to
tell me?" I had so completely forgotten my Dream, that I had no
notion of what was passing in her mind when she said those words.
For a moment there was a guilty fear in me that she suspected
something. I turned away my face, and said, "No, mother; I have
nothing to tell." She signed to me to stoop down over the pillow
and kiss her. "God bless you, my love!" she said; and many happy
returns of the day." She patted my hand, and closed her weary
eyes, and, little by little, fell off peaceably into sleep.
I stole downstairs again. I think the good influence of my mother
must have followed me down. At any rate, this is true: I stopped
with my hand on the closed kitchen door, and said to myself:
"Suppose I leave the house, and leave the village, without seeing
her or speaking to her more?"
Should I really have fled from temptation in this way, if I had
been left to myself to decide? Who can tell? As things were, I
was not left to decide. While my doubt was in my mind, she heard
me, and opened the kitchen door. My eyes and her eyes met. That
We were together, unsuspected and undisturbed, for the next two
hours. Time enough for her to reveal the secret of her wasted
life. Time enough for her to take possession of me as her own, to
do with me as she liked. It is needless to dwell here on the
misfortunes which had brought her low; they are misfortunes too
common to interest anybody.
Her name was Alicia Warlock. She had been born and bred a lady.
She had lost her station, her character, and her friends. Virtue
shuddered at the sight of her; and Vice had got her for the rest of
her days. Shocking and common, as I told you. It made no
difference to ME. I have said it already--I say it again--I was a
man bewitched. Is there anything so very wonderful in that? Just
remember who I was. Among the honest women in my own station in
life, where could I have found the like of HER? Could THEY walk as
she walked? and look as she looked? When THEY gave me a kiss, did
their lips linger over it as hers did? Had THEY her skin, her
laugh, her foot, her hand, her touch? SHE never had a speck of
dirt on her: I tell you her flesh was a perfume. When she embraced
me, her arms folded round me like the wings of angels; and her
smile covered me softly with its light like the sun in heaven. I
leave you to laugh at me, or to cry over me, just as your temper
may incline. I am not trying to excuse myself--I am trying to
explain. You are gentle-folks; what dazzled and maddened ME, is
everyday experience to YOU. Fallen or not, angel or devil, it came
to this--she was a lady; and I was a groom.
Before the house was astir, I got her away (by the workmen's train)
to a large manufacturing town in our parts.
Here--with my savings in money to help her--she could get her
outfit of decent clothes and her lodging among strangers who asked
no questions so long as they were paid. Here--now on one pretense
and now on another--I could visit her, and we could both plan
together what our future lives were to be. I need not tell you
that I stood pledged to make her my wife. A man in my station
always marries a woman of her sort.
Do you wonder if I was happy at this time? I should have been
perfectly happy but for one little drawback. It was this: I was
never quite at my ease in the presence of my promised wife.
I don't mean that I was shy with her, or suspicious of her, or
ashamed of her. The uneasiness I am speaking of was caused by a
faint doubt in my mind whether I had not seen her somewhere, before
the morning when we met at the doctor's house. Over and over
again, I found myself wondering whether her face did not remind me
of some other face--what other I never could tell. This strange
feeling, this one question that could never be answered, vexed me
to a degree that you would hardly credit. It came between us at
the strangest times--oftenest, however, at night, when the candles
were lit. You have known what it is to try and remember a
forgotten name--and to fail, search as you may, to find it in your
mind. That was my case. I failed to find my lost face, just as
you failed to find your lost name.
In three weeks we had talked matters over, and had arranged how I
was to make a clean breast of it at home. By Alicia's advice, I
was to describe her as having been one of my fellow servants during
the time I was employed under my kind master and mistress in
London. There was no fear now of my mother taking any harm from
the shock of a great surprise. Her health had improved during the
three weeks' interval. On the first evening when she was able to
take her old place at tea time, I summoned my courage, and told her
I was going to be married. The poor soul flung her arms round my
neck, and burst out crying for joy. "Oh, Francis!" she says, "I am
so glad you will have somebody to comfort you and care for you when
I am gone!" As for my aunt Chance, you can anticipate what SHE
did, without being told. Ah, me! If there had really been any
prophetic virtue in the cards, what a terrible warning they might
have given us that night! It was arranged that I was to bring my
promised wife to dinner at the cottage on the next day.
I own I was proud of Alicia when I led her into our little parlor
at the appointed time. She had never, to my mind, looked so
beautiful as she looked that day. I never noticed any other
woman's dress--I noticed hers as carefully as if I had been a woman
myself! She wore a black silk gown, with plain collar and cuffs,
and a modest lavender-colored bonnet, with one white rose in it
placed at the side. My mother, dressed in her Sunday best, rose
up, all in a flutter, to welcome her daughter-in-law that was to
be. She walked forward a few steps, half smiling, half in tears--
she looked Alicia full in the face--and suddenly stood still. Her
cheeks turned white in an instant; her eyes stared in horror; her
hands dropped helplessly at her sides. She staggered back, and
fell into the arms of my aunt, standing behind her. It was no
swoon--she kept her senses. Her eyes turned slowly from Alicia to
me. "Francis," she said, "does that woman's face remind you of
Before I could answer, she pointed to her writing-desk on the table
at the fireside. "Bring it!" she cried, "bring it!"
At the same moment I felt Alicia's hand on my shoulder, and saw
Alicia's face red with anger--and no wonder!
"What does this mean?" she asked. "Does your mother want to insult
I said a few words to quiet her; what they were I don't remember--I
was so confused and astonished at the time. Before I had done, I
heard my mother behind me.
My aunt had fetched her desk. She had opened it; she had taken a
paper from it. Step by step, helping herself along by the wall,
she came nearer and nearer, with the paper in her hand. She looked
at the paper--she looked in Alicia's face--she lifted the long,
loose sleeve of her gown, and examined her hand and arm. I saw
fear suddenly take the place of anger in Alicia's eyes. She shook
herself free of my mother's grasp. "Mad!" she said to herself,
"and Francis never told me!" With those words she ran out of the
I was hastening out after her, when my mother signed to me to stop.
She read the words written on the paper. While they fell slowly,
one by one, from her lips, she pointed toward the open door.
"Light gray eyes, with a droop in the left eyelid. Flaxen hair,
with a gold-yellow streak in it. White arms, with a down upon
them. Little, lady's hand, with a rosy-red look about the finger
nails. The Dream Woman, Francis! The Dream Woman!"
Something darkened the parlor window as those words were spoken. I
looked sidelong at the shadow. Alicia Warlock had come back! She
was peering in at us over the low window blind. There was the
fatal face which had first looked at me in the bedroom of the
lonely inn. There, resting on the window blind, was the lovely
little hand which had held the murderous knife. I HAD seen her
before we met in the village. The Dream Woman! The Dream Woman!
I expect nobody to approve of what I have next to tell of myself.
In three weeks from the day when my mother had identified her with
the Woman of the Dream, I took Alicia Warlock to church, and made
her my wife. I was a man bewitched. Again and again I say it--I
was a man bewitched!
During the interval before my marriage, our little household at the
cottage was broken up. My mother and my aunt quarreled. My
mother, believing in the Dream, entreated me to break off my
engagement. My aunt, believing in the cards, urged me to marry.
This difference of opinion produced a dispute between them, in the
course of which my aunt Chance--quite unconscious of having any
superstitious feelings of her own--actually set out the cards which
prophesied happiness to me in my married life, and asked my mother
how anybody but "a blinded heathen could be fule enough, after
seeing those cairds, to believe in a dream!" This was, naturally,
too much for my mother's patience; hard words followed on either
side; Mrs. Chance returned in dudgeon to her friends in Scotland.
She left me a written statement of my future prospects, as revealed
by the cards, and with it an address at which a post-office order
would reach her. "The day was not that far off," she remarked,
"when Francie might remember what he owed to his aunt Chance,
maintaining her ain unbleemished widowhood on thratty punds a
Having refused to give her sanction to my marriage, my mother also
refused to be present at the wedding, or to visit Alicia
afterwards. There was no anger at the bottom of this conduct on
her part. Believing as she did in this Dream, she was simply in
mortal fear of my wife. I understood this, and I made allowances
for her. Not a cross word passed between us. My one happy
remembrance now--though I did disobey her in the matter of my
marriage--is this: I loved and respected my good mother to the
As for my wife, she expressed no regret at the estrangement between
her mother-in-law and herself. By common consent, we never spoke
on that subject. We settled in the manufacturing town which I have
already mentioned, and we kept a lodging-house. My kind master, at
my request, granted me a lump sum in place of my annuity. This put
us into a good house, decently furnished. For a while things went
well enough. I may describe myself at this time of my life as a
My misfortunes began with a return of the complaint with which my
mother had already suffered. The doctor confessed, when I asked
him the question, that there was danger to be dreaded this time.
Naturally, after hearing this, I was a good deal away at the
cottage. Naturally also, I left the business of looking after the
house, in my absence, to my wife. Little by little, I found her
beginning to alter toward me. While my back was turned, she formed
acquaintances with people of the doubtful and dissipated sort. One
day, I observed something in her manner which forced the suspicion
on me that she had been drinking. Before the week was out, my
suspicion was a certainty. From keeping company with drunkards,
she had grown to be a drunkard herself.
I did all a man could do to reclaim her. Quite useless! She had
never really returned the love I felt for her: I had no influence;
I could do nothing. My mother, hearing of this last worse trouble,
resolved to try what her influence could do. Ill as she was, I
found her one day dressed to go out.
"I am not long for this world, Francis," she said. "I shall not
feel easy on my deathbed, unless I have done my best to the last to
make you happy. I mean to put my own fears and my own feelings out
of the question, and go with you to your wife, and try what I can
do to reclaim her. Take me home with you, Francis. Let me do all
I can to help my son, before it is too late."
How could I disobey her? We took the railway to the town: it was
only half an hour's ride. By one o'clock in the afternoon we
reached my house. It was our dinner hour, and Alicia was in the
kitchen. I was able to take my mother quietly into the parlor and
then to prepare my wife for the visit. She had drunk but little at
that early hour; and, luckily, the devil in her was tamed for the
She followed me into the parlor, and the meeting passed off better
than I had ventured to forecast; with this one drawback, that my
mother--though she tried hard to control herself--shrank from
looking my wife in the face when she spoke to her. It was a relief
to me when Alicia began to prepare the table for dinner.
She laid the cloth, brought in the bread tray, and cut some slices
for us from the loaf. Then she returned to the kitchen. At that
moment, while I was still anxiously watching my mother, I was
startled by seeing the same ghastly change pass over her face which
had altered it in the morning when Alicia and she first met.
Before I could say a word, she started up with a look of horror.
"Take me back!--home, home again, Francis! Come with me, and never
go back more!"
I was afraid to ask for an explanation; I could only sign her to be
silent, and help her quickly to the door. As we passed the bread
tray on the table, she stopped and pointed to it.
"Did you see what your wife cut your bread with?" she asked.
"No, mother; I was not noticing. What was it?"
I did look. A new clasp knife, with a buckhorn handle, lay with
the loaf in the bread tray. I stretched out my hand to possess
myself of it. At the same moment, there was a noise in the
kitchen, and my mother caught me by the arm.
"The knife of the Dream! Francis, I'm faint with fear--take me
away before she comes back!"
I couldn't speak to comfort or even to answer her. Superior as I
was to superstition, the discovery of the knife staggered me. In
silence, I helped my mother out of the house; and took her home.
I held out my hand to say good-by. She tried to stop me.
"Don't go back, Francis! don't go back!"
"I must get the knife, mother. I must go back by the next train."
I held to that resolution. By the next train I went back.
My wife had, of course, discovered our secret departure from the
house. She had been drinking. She was in a fury of passion. The
dinner in the kitchen was flung under the grate; the cloth was off
the parlor table. Where was the knife?
I was foolish enough to ask for it. She refused to give it to me.
In the course of the dispute between us which followed, I
discovered that there was a horrible story attached to the knife.
It had been used in a murder--years since--and had been so
skillfully hidden that the authorities had been unable to produce
it at the trial. By help of some of her disreputable friends, my
wife had been able to purchase this relic of a bygone crime. Her
perverted nature set some horrid unacknowledged value on the knife.
Seeing there was no hope of getting it by fair means, I determined
to search for it, later in the day, in secret. The search was
unsuccessful. Night came on, and I left the house to walk about
the streets. You will understand what a broken man I was by this
time, when I tell you I was afraid to sleep in the same room with
Three weeks passed. Still she refused to give up the knife; and
still that fear of sleeping in the same room with her possessed me.
I walked about at night, or dozed in the parlor, or sat watching by
my mother's bedside. Before the end of the first week in the new
month, the worst misfortune of all befell me--my mother died. It
wanted then but a short time to my birthday. She had longed to
live till that day. I was present at her death. Her last words in
this world were addressed to me. "Don't go back, my son--don't go
I was obliged to go back, if it was only to watch my wife. In the
last days of my mother's illness she had spitefully added a sting
to my grief by declaring she would assert her right to attend the
funeral. In spite of all that I could do or say, she held to her
word. On the day appointed for the burial she forced herself,
inflamed and shameless with drink, into my presence, and swore she
would walk in the funeral procession to my mother's grave.
This last insult--after all I had gone through already--was more
than I could endure. It maddened me. Try to make allowances for a
man beside himself. I struck her.
The instant the blow was dealt, I repented it. She crouched down,
silent, in a corner of the room, and eyed me steadily. It was a
look that cooled my hot blood in an instant. There was no time now
to think of making atonement. I could only risk the worst, and
make sure of her till the funeral was over. I locked her into her
When I came back, after laying my mother in the grave, I found her
sitting by the bedside, very much altered in look and bearing, with
a bundle on her lap. She faced me quietly; she spoke with a
curious stillness in her voice--strangely and unnaturally composed
in look and manner.
"No man has ever struck me yet," she said. "My husband shall have
no second opportunity. Set the door open, and let me go."
She passed me, and left the room. I saw her walk away up the
street. Was she gone for good?
All that night I watched and waited. No footstep came near the
house. The next night, overcome with fatigue, I lay down on the
bed in my clothes, with the door locked, the key on the table, and
the candle burning. My slumber was not disturbed. The third
night, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, passed, and nothing
happened. I lay down on the seventh night, still suspicious of
something happening; still in my clothes; still with the door
locked, the key on the table, and the candle burning.
My rest was disturbed. I awoke twice, without any sensation of
uneasiness. The third time, that horrid shivering of the night at
the lonely inn, that awful sinking pain at the heart, came back
again, and roused me in an instant. My eyes turned to the left-
hand side of the bed. And there stood, looking at me--
The Dream Woman again? No! My wife. The living woman, with the
face of the Dream--in the attitude of the Dream--the fair arm up;
the knife clasped in the delicate white hand.
I sprang upon her on the instant; but not quickly enough to stop
her from hiding the knife. Without a word from me, without a cry
from her, I pinioned her in a chair. With one hand I felt up her
sleeve; and there, where the Dream Woman had hidden the knife, my
wife had hidden it--the knife with the buckhorn handle, that looked
What I felt when I made that discovery I could not realize at the
time, and I can't describe now. I took one steady look at her with
the knife in my hand. "You meant to kill me?" I said.
"Yes," she answered; "I meant to kill you." She crossed her arms
over her bosom, and stared me coolly in the face. "I shall do it
yet," she said. "With that knife."
I don't know what possessed me--I swear to you I am no coward; and
yet I acted like a coward. The horrors got hold of me. I couldn't
look at her--I couldn't speak to her. I left her (with the knife
in my hand), and went out into the night.
There was a bleak wind abroad, and the smell of rain was in the
air. The church clocks chimed the quarter as I walked beyond the
last house in the town. I asked the first policeman I met what
hour that was, of which the quarter past had just struck.
The man looked at his watch, and answered, "Two o'clock." Two in
the morning. What day of the month was this day that had just
begun? I reckoned it up from the date of my mother's funeral. The
horrid parallel between the dream and the reality was complete--it
was my birthday!
Had I escaped the mortal peril which the dream foretold? or had I
only received a second warning? As that doubt crossed my mind I
stopped on my way out of the town. The air had revived me--I felt
in some degree like my own self again. After a little thinking, I
began to see plainly the mistake I had made in leaving my wife free
to go where she liked and to do as she pleased.
I turned instantly, and made my way back to the house. It was
still dark. I had left the candle burning in the bedchamber. When
I looked up to the window of the room now, there was no light in
it. I advanced to the house door. On going away, I remembered to
have closed it; on trying it now, I found it open.
I waited outside, never losing sight of the house till daylight.
Then I ventured indoors--listened, and heard nothing--looked into
the kitchen, scullery, parlor, and found nothing--went up at last
into the bedroom. It was empty.
A picklock lay on the floor, which told me how she had gained
entrance in the night. And that was the one trace I could find of
the Dream Woman.
I waited in the house till the town was astir for the day, and then
I went to consult a lawyer. In the confused state of my mind at
the time, I had one clear notion of what I meant to do: I was
determined to sell my house and leave the neighborhood. There were
obstacles in the way which I had not counted on. I was told I had
creditors to satisfy before I could leave--I, who had given my wife
the money to pay my bills regularly every week! Inquiry showed
that she had embezzled every farthing of the money I had intrusted
to her. I had no choice but to pay over again.
Placed in this awkward position, my first duty was to set things
right, with the help of my lawyer. During my forced sojourn in the
town I did two foolish things. And, as a consequence that
followed, I heard once more, and heard for the last time, of my
In the first place, having got possession of the knife, I was rash
enough to keep it in my pocket. In the second place, having
something of importance to say to my lawyer, at a late hour of the
evening, I went to his house after dark--alone and on foot. I got
there safely enough. Returning, I was seized on from behind by two
men, dragged down a passage and robbed--not only of the little
money I had about me, but also of the knife. It was the lawyer's
opinion (as it was mine) that the thieves were among the
disreputable acquaintances formed by my wife, and that they, had
attacked me at her instigation. To confirm this view I received a
letter the next day, without date or address, written in Alicia's
hand. The first line informed me that the knife was back again in
her possession. The second line reminded me of the day when I
struck her. The third line warned me that she would wash out the
stain of that blow in my blood, and repeated the words, "I shall do
it with the knife!"
These things happened a year ago. The law laid hands on the men
who had robbed me; but from that time to this, the law has failed
completely to find a trace of my wife.
My story is told. When I had paid the creditors and paid the legal
expenses, I had barely five pounds left out of the sale of my
house; and I had the world to begin over again. Some months since--
drifting here and there--I found my way to Underbridge. The
landlord of the inn had known something of my father's family in
times past. He gave me (all he had to give) my food, and shelter
in the yard. Except on market days, there is nothing to do. In
the coming winter the inn is to be shut up, and I shall have to
shift for myself. My old master would help me if I applied to him--
but I don't like to apply: he has done more for me already than I
deserve. Besides, in another year who knows but my troubles may
all be at an end? Next winter will bring me nigh to my next
birthday, and my next birthday may be the day of my death. Yes!
it's true I sat up all last night; and I heard two in the morning
strike: and nothing happened. Still, allowing for that, the time
to come is a time I don't trust. My wife has got the knife--my
wife is looking for me. I am above superstition, mind! I don't
say I believe in dreams; I only say, Alicia Warlock is looking for
me. It is possible I may be wrong. It is possible I may be right.
Who can tell?
THE THIRD NARRATIVE
THE STORY CONTINUED BY PERCY FAIRBANK
We took leave of Francis Raven at the door of Farleigh Hall, with
the understanding that he might expect to hear from us again.
The same night Mrs. Fairbank and I had a discussion in the
sanctuary of our own room. The topic was "The Hostler's Story";
and the question in dispute between us turned on the measure of
charitable duty that we owed to the hostler himself.
The view I took of the man's narrative was of the purely matter-of-
fact kind. Francis Raven had, in my opinion, brooded over the
misty connection between his strange dream and his vile wife, until
his mind was in a state of partial delusion on that subject. I was
quite willing to help him with a trifle of money, and to recommend
him to the kindness of my lawyer, if he was really in any danger
and wanted advice. There my idea of my duty toward this afflicted
person began and ended.
Confronted with this sensible view of the matter, Mrs. Fairbank's
romantic temperament rushed, as usual, into extremes. "I should no
more think of losing sight of Francis Raven when his next birthday
comes round," says my wife, "than I should think of laying down a
good story with the last chapters unread. I am positively
determined, Percy, to take him back with us when we return to
France, in the capacity of groom. What does one man more or less
among the horses matter to people as rich as we are?" In this
strain the partner of my joys and sorrows ran on, perfectly
impenetrable to everything that I could say on the side of common
sense. Need I tell my married brethren how it ended? Of course I
allowed my wife to irritate me, and spoke to her sharply.
Of course my wife turned her face away indignantly on the conjugal
pillow, and burst into tears. Of course upon that, "Mr." made his
excuses, and "Mrs." had her own way.
Before the week was out we rode over to Underbridge, and duly
offered to Francis Raven a place in our service as supernumerary
At first the poor fellow seemed hardly able to realize his own
extraordinary good fortune. Recovering himself, he expressed his
gratitude modestly and becomingly. Mrs. Fairbank's ready
sympathies overflowed, as usual, at her lips. She talked to him
about our home in France, as if the worn, gray-headed hostler had
been a child. "Such a dear old house, Francis; and such pretty
gardens! Stables! Stables ten times as big as your stables here--
quite a choice of rooms for you. You must learn the name of our
house--Maison Rouge. Our nearest town is Metz. We are within a
walk of the beautiful River Moselle. And when we want a change we
have only to take the railway to the frontier, and find ourselves
Listening, so far, with a very bewildered face, Francis started and
changed color when my wife reached the end of her last sentence.
"Germany?" he repeated.
"Yes. Does Germany remind you of anything?"
The hostler's eyes looked down sadly on the ground. "Germany
reminds me of my wife," he replied.
"She once told me she had lived in Germany--long before I knew her-
-in the time when she was a young girl."
"Was she living with relations or friends?"
"She was living as governess in a foreign family."
"In what part of Germany?"
"I don't remember, ma'am. I doubt if she told me."
"Did she tell you the name of the family?"
"Yes, ma'am. It was a foreign name, and it has slipped my memory
long since. The head of the family was a wine grower in a large
way of business--I remember that."
"Did you hear what sort of wine he grew? There are wine growers in
our neighborhood. Was it Moselle wine?"
"I couldn't say, ma'am, I doubt if I ever heard."
There the conversation dropped. We engaged to communicate with
Francis Raven before we left England, and took our leave. I had
made arrangements to pay our round of visits to English friends,
and to return to Maison Rouge in the summer. On the eve of
departure, certain difficulties in connection with the management
of some landed property of mine in Ireland obliged us to alter our
plans. Instead of getting back to our house in France in the
Summer, we only returned a week or two before Christmas. Francis
Raven accompanied us, and was duly established, in the nominal
capacity of stable keeper, among the servants at Maison Rouge.
Before long, some of the objections to taking him into our
employment, which I had foreseen and had vainly mentioned to my
wife, forced themselves on our attention in no very agreeable form.
Francis Raven failed (as I had feared he would) to get on smoothly
with his fellow-servants. They were all French; and not one of
them understood English. Francis, on his side, was equally
ignorant of French. His reserved manners, his melancholy
temperament, his solitary ways--all told against him. Our servants
called him "the English Bear." He grew widely known in the
neighborhood under his nickname. Quarrels took place, ending once
or twice in blows. It became plain, even to Mrs. Fairbank herself,
that some wise change must be made. While we were still
considering what the change was to be, the unfortunate hostler was
thrown on our hands for some time to come by an accident in the
stables. Still pursued by his proverbial ill-luck, the poor
wretch's leg was broken by a kick from a horse.
He was attended to by our own surgeon, in his comfortable bedroom
at the stables. As the date of his birthday drew near, he was
still confined to his bed.
Physically speaking, he was doing very well. Morally speaking, the
surgeon was not satisfied. Francis Raven was suffering under some
mysterious mental disturbance, which interfered seriously with his
rest at night. Hearing this, I thought it my duty to tell the
medical attendant what was preying on the patient's mind. As a
practical man, he shared my opinion that the hostler was in a state
of delusion on the subject of his Wife and his Dream. "Curable
delusion, in my opinion," the surgeon added, "if the experiment
could be fairly tried."
"How can it be tried?" I asked. Instead of replying, the surgeon
put a question to me, on his side.
"Do you happen to know," he said, "that this year is Leap Year?"
"Mrs. Fairbank reminded me of it yesterday," I answered.
"Otherwise I might NOT have known it."
"Do you think Francis Raven knows that this year is Leap Year?"
(I began to see dimly what my friend was driving at.)
"It depends," I answered, "on whether he has got an English
almanac. Suppose he has NOT got the almanac--what then?"
"In that case," pursued the surgeon, "Francis Raven is innocent of
all suspicion that there is a twenty-ninth day in February this
year. As a necessary consequence--what will he do? He will
anticipate the appearance of the Woman with the Knife, at two in
the morning of the twenty-ninth of February, instead of the first
of March. Let him suffer all his superstitious terrors on the
wrong day. Leave him, on the day that is really his birthday, to
pass a perfectly quiet night, and to be as sound asleep as other
people at two in the morning. And then, when he wakes comfortably
in time for his breakfast, shame him out of his delusion by telling
him the truth."
I agreed to try the experiment. Leaving the surgeon to caution
Mrs. Fairbank on the subject of Leap Year, I went to the stables to
see Mr. Raven.
The poor fellow was full of forebodings of the fate in store for
him on the ominous first of March. He eagerly entreated me to
order one of the men servants to sit up with him on the birthday
morning. In granting his request, I asked him to tell me on which
day of the week his birthday fell. He reckoned the days on his
fingers; and proved his innocence of all suspicion that it was Leap
Year, by fixing on the twenty-ninth of February, in the full
persuasion that it was the first of March. Pledged to try the
surgeon's experiment, I left his error uncorrected, of course. In
so doing, I took my first step blindfold toward the last act in the
drama of the Hostler's Dream.
The next day brought with it a little domestic difficulty, which
indirectly and strangely associated itself with the coming end.
My wife received a letter, inviting us to assist in celebrating the
"Silver Wedding" of two worthy German neighbors of ours--Mr. and
Mrs. Beldheimer. Mr. Beldheimer was a large wine grower on the
banks of the Moselle. His house was situated on the frontier line
of France and Germany; and the distance from our house was
sufficiently considerable to make it necessary for us to sleep
under our host's roof. Under these circumstances, if we accepted
the invitation, a comparison of dates showed that we should be away
from home on the morning of the first of March. Mrs. Fairbank--