Part 3 out of 6
I crossed to the other side of the street. Before I had taken
three steps away from her, the old infatuation fastened its hold
on me again. I submitted, without a struggle against myself, to
the degradation of turning spy and following them home. Keeping
well behind, on the opposite side of the way, I tracked them to
their own door, and entered in my pocket-book the name of the
street and the number of the house.
The hardest critic who reads these lines cannot feel more
contemptuously toward me than I felt toward myself. Could I still
love a woman after she had deliberately preferred to me a
scoundrel who had married her while he was the husband of another
wife? Yes! Knowing what I now knew, I felt that I loved her just
as dearly as ever. It was incredible, it was shocking; but it was
true. For the first time in my life, I tried to take refuge from
my sense of my own degradation in drink. I went to my club, and
joined a convivial party at a supper table, and poured glass
after glass of champagne down my throat, without feeling the
slightest sense of exhilaration, without losing for an instant
the consciousness of my own contemptible conduct. I went to my
bed in despair; and through the wakeful night I weakly cursed the
fatal evening at the river-side when I had met her for the first
time. But revile her as I might, despise myself as I might, I
loved her--I loved her still!
Among the letters laid on my table the next morning there were
two which must find their place in this narrative.
The first letter was in a handwriting which I had seen once
before, at the hotel in Edinburgh. The writer was Mrs. Van
"For your own sake" (the letter ran) "make no attempt to see me,
and take no notice of an invitation which I fear you will receive
with this note. I am living a degraded life. I have sunk beneath
your notice. You owe it to yourself, sir, to forget the miserable
woman who now writes to you for the last time, and bids you
gratefully a last farewell."
Those sad lines were signed in initials only. It is needless to
say that they merely strengthened my resolution to see her at all
hazards. I kissed the paper on which her hand had rested, and
then I turned to the second letter. It contained the "invitation"
to which my correspondent had alluded, and it was expressed in
"Mr. Van Brandt presents his compliments to Mr. Germaine, and
begs to apologize for the somewhat abrupt manner in which he
received Mr. Germaine's polite advances. Mr. Van Brandt suffers
habitually from nervous irritability, and he felt particularly
ill last night. He trusts Mr. Germaine will receive this candid
explanation in the spirit in which it is offered; and he begs to
add that Mrs. Van Brandt will be delighted to receive Mr.
Germaine whenever he may find it convenient to favor her with a
That Mr. Van Brandt had some sordid interest of his own to serve
in writing this grotesquely impudent composition, and that the
unhappy woman who bore his name was heartily ashamed of the
proceeding on which he had ventured, were conclusions easily
drawn after reading the two letters. The suspicion of the man and
of his motives which I naturally felt produced no hesitation in
my mind as to the course which I had determined to pursue. On the
contrary, I rejoiced that my way to an interview with Mrs. Van
Brandt was smoothed, no matter with what motives, by Mr. Van
I waited at home until noon, and then I could wait no longer.
Leaving a message of excuse for my mother (I had just sense of
shame enough left to shrink from facing her), I hastened away to
profit by my invitation on the very day when I received it.
MRS. VAN BRANDT AT HOME.
As I lifted my hand to ring the house bell, the door was opened
from within, and no less a person than Mr. Van Brandt himself
stood before me. He had his hat on. We had evidently met just as
he was going out.
"My dear sir, how good this is of you! You present the best of
all replies to my letter in presenting yourself. Mrs. Van Brandt
is at home. Mrs. Van Brandt will be delighted. Pray walk in."
He threw open the door of a room on the ground-floor. His
politeness was (if possible) even more offensive than his
insolence. "Be seated, Mr. Germaine, I beg of you." He turned to
the open door, and called up the stairs, in a loud and confident
"Mary! come down directly."
"Mary"! I knew her Christian name at last, and knew it through
Van Brandt. No words can tell how the name jarred on me, spoken
by his lips. For the first time for years past my mind went back
to Mary Dermody and Greenwater Broad. The next moment I heard the
rustling of Mrs. Van Brandt's dress on the stairs. As the sound
caught my ear, the old times and the old faces vanished again
from my thoughts as completely as if they had never existed. What
had _she_ in common with the frail, shy little child, her
namesake, of other days? What similarity was perceivable in the
sooty London lodging-house to remind me of the bailiff's
flower-scented cottage by the shores of the lake?
Van Brandt took off his hat, and bowed to me with sickening
"I have a business appointment," he said, "which it is impossible
to put off. Pray excuse me. Mrs. Van Brandt will do the honors.
The house door opened and closed again. The rustling of the dress
came slowly nearer and nearer. She stood before me.
"Mr. Germaine!" she exclaimed, starting back, as if the bare
sight of me repelled her. "Is this honorable? Is this worthy of
you? You allow me to be entrapped into receiving you, and you
accept as your accomplice Mr. Van Brandt! Oh, sir, I have
accustomed myself to look up to you as a high-minded man. How
bitterly you have disappointed me!"
Her reproaches passed by me unheeded. They only heightened her
color; they only added a new rapture to the luxury of looking at
"If you loved me as faithfully as I love you," I said, "you would
understand why I am here. No sacrifice is too great if it brings
me into your presence again after two years of absence."
She suddenly approached me, and fixed her eyes in eager scrutiny
on my face.
"There must be some mistake," she said. "You cannot possibly have
received my letter, or you have not read it?"
"I have received it, and I have read it."
"And Van Brandt's letter--you have read that too?"
She sat down by the table, and, leaning her arms on it, covered
her face with her hands. My answers seemed not only to have
distressed, but to have perplexed her. "Are men all alike?" I
heard her say. "I thought I might trust in _his_ sense of what
was due to himself and of what was compassionate toward me."
I closed the door and seated myself by her side. She removed her
hands from her face when she felt me near her. She looked at me
with a cold and steady surprise.
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
"I am going to try if I can recover my place in your estimation,"
I said. "I am going to ask your pity for a man whose whole heart
is yours, whose whole life is bound up in you."
She started to her feet, and looked round her incredulously, as
if doubting whether she had rightly heard and rightly interpreted
my last words. Before I could speak again, she suddenly faced me,
and struck her open hand on the table with a passionate
resolution which I now saw in her for the first time.
"Stop!" she cried. "There must be an end to this. And an end
there shall be. Do you know who that man is who has just left the
house? Answer me, Mr. Germaine! I am speaking in earnest."
There was no choice but to answer her. She was indeed in
earnest--vehemently in earnest.
"His letter tells me," I said, "that he is Mr. Van Brandt."
She sat down again, and turned her face away from me.
"Do you know how he came to write to you?" she asked. "Do you
know what made him invite you to this house?"
I thought of the suspicion that had crossed my mind when I read
Van Brandt's letter. I made no reply.
"You force me to tell you the truth," she went on. "He asked me
who you were, last night on our way home. I knew that you were
rich, and that _he_ wanted money. I told him I knew nothing of
your position in the world. He was too cunning to believe me; he
went out to the public-house and looked at a directory. He came
back and said, 'Mr. Germaine has a house in Berkeley Square and a
country-seat in the Highlands. He is not a man for a poor devil
like me to offend; I mean to make a friend of him, and I expect
you to make a friend of him too.' He sat down and wrote to you. I
am living under that man's protection, Mr. Germaine. His wife is
not dead, as you may suppose; she is living, and I know her to be
living. I wrote to you that I was beneath your notice, and you
have obliged me to tell you why. Am I sufficiently degraded to
bring you to your senses?"
I drew closer to her. She tried to get up and leave me. I knew my
power over her, and used it (as any man in my place would have
used it) without scruple. I took her hand.
"I don't believe you have voluntarily degraded yourself," I said.
"You have been forced into your present position: there are
circumstances which excuse you, and which you are purposely
keeping back from me. Nothing will convince me that you are a
base woman. Should I love you as I love you, if you were really
unworthy of me?"
She struggled to free her hand; I still held it. She tried to
change the subject. "There is one thing you haven't told me yet,"
she said, with a faint, forced smile. "Have you seen the
apparition of me again since I left you?"
"No. Have _you_ ever seen _me_ again, as you saw me in your dream
at the inn in Edinburgh?"
"Never. Our visions of each other have left us. Can you tell
If we had continued to speak on this subject, we must surely have
recognized each other. But the subject dropped. Instead of
answering her question, I drew her nearer to me--I returned to
the forbidden subject of my love.
"Look at me," I pleaded, "and tell me the truth. Can you see me,
can you hear me, and do you feel no answering sympathy in your
own heart? Do you really care nothing for me? Have you never once
thought of me in all the time that has passed since we last met?"
I spoke as I felt--fervently, passionately. She made a last
effort to repel me, and yielded even as she made it. Her hand
closed on mine, a low sigh fluttered on her lips. She answered
with a sudden self-abandonment; she recklessly cast herself loose
from the restraints which had held her up to this time.
"I think of you perpetually," she said. "I was thinking of you at
the opera last night . My heart leaped in me when I heard your
voice in the street."
"You love me!" I whispered.
"Love you!" she repeated. "My whole heart goes out to you in
spite of myself. Degraded as I am, unworthy as I am--knowing as I
do that nothing can ever come of it--I love you! I love you!"
She threw her arms round my neck, and held me to her with all her
strength. The moment after, she dropped on her knees. "Oh, don't
tempt me!" she murmured. "Be merciful--and leave me."
I was beside myself. I spoke as recklessly to her as she had
spoken to me.
"Prove that you love me," I said. "Let me rescue you from the
degradation of living with that man. Leave him at once and
forever. Leave him, and come with me to a future that is worthy
of you--your future as my wife."
"Never!" she answered, crouching low at my feet.
"Why not? What obstacle is there?"
"I can't tell you--I daren't tell you."
"Will you write it?"
"No, I can't even write it--to _you_. Go, I implore you, before
Van Brandt comes back. Go, if you love me and pity me."
She had roused my jealousy. I positively refused to leave her.
"I insist on knowing what binds you to that man," I said. "Let
him come back! If _you_ won't answer my question, I will put it
She looked at me wildly, with a cry of terror. She saw my
resolution in my face.
"Don't frighten me," she said. "Let me think."
She reflected for a moment. Her eyes brightened, as if some new
way out of the difficulty had occurred to her.
"Have you a mother living?" she asked.
"Do you think she would come and see me?"
"I am sure she would if I asked her."
She considered with herself once more. "I will tell your mother
what the obstacle is," she said, thoughtfully.
"To-morrow, at this time."
She raised herself on her knees; the tears suddenly filled her
eyes. She drew me to her gently. "Kiss me," she whispered. "You
will never come here again. Kiss me for the last time."
My lips had barely touched hers, when she started to her feet and
snatched up my hat from the chair on which I had placed it.
"Take your hat," she said. "He has come back."
My duller sense of hearing had discovered nothing. I rose and
took my hat to quiet her. At the same moment the door of the room
opened suddenly and softly. Mr. Van Brandt came in. I saw in his
face that he had some vile motive of his own for trying to take
us by surprise, and that the result of the experiment had
"You are not going yet?" he said, speaking to me with his eye on
Mrs. Van Brandt. "I have hurried over my business in the hope of
prevailing on you to stay and take lunch with us. Put down your
hat, Mr. Germaine. No ceremony!"
"You are very good," I answered. "My time is limited to-day. I
must beg you and Mrs. Van Brandt to excuse me."
I took leave of her as I spoke. She turned deadly pale when she
shook hands with me at parting. Had she any open brutality to
dread from Van Brandt as soon as my back was turned? The bare
suspicion of it made my blood boil. But I thought of _her_. In
her interests, the wise thing and the merciful thing to do was to
conciliate the fellow before I left the house.
"I am sorry not to be able to accept your invitation," I said, as
we walked together to the door. "Perhaps you will give me another
His eyes twinkled cunningly. "What do you say to a quiet little
dinner here?" he asked. "A slice of mutton, you know, and a
bottle of good wine. Only our three selves, and one old friend of
mine to make up four. We will have a rubber of whist in the
evening. Mary and you partners--eh? When shall it be? Shall we
say the day after to-morrow?"
She had followed us to the door, keeping behind Van Brandt while
he was speaking to me. When he mentioned the "old friend" and the
"rubber of whist," her face expressed the strongest emotions of
shame and disgust. The next moment (when she had heard him fix
the date of the dinner for "the day after to-morrow") her
features became composed again, as if a sudden sense of relief
had come to her. What did the change mean? "To-morrow" was the
day she had appointed for seeing my mother. Did she really
believe, when I had heard what passed at the interview, that I
should never enter the house again, and never attempt to see her
more? And was this the secret of her composure when she heard the
date of the dinner appointed for "the day after to-morrow"?
Asking myself these questions, I accepted my invitation, and left
the house with a heavy heart. That farewell kiss, that sudden
composure when the day of the dinner was fixed, weighed on my
spirits. I would have given twelve years of my life to have
annihilated the next twelve hours.
In this frame of mind I reached home, and presented myself in my
"You have gone out earlier than usual to-day," she said. "Did the
fine weather tempt you, my dear?" She paused, and looked at me
more closely. "George!" she exclaimed, "what has happened to you?
Where have you been?"
I told her the truth as honestly as I have told it here.
The color deepened in my mother's face. She looked at me, and
spoke to me with a severity which was rare indeed in my
experience of her.
"Must I remind you, for the first time in your life, of what is
due to your mother?" she asked. "Is it possible that you expect
me to visit a woman, who, by her own confession--"
"I expect you to visit a woman who has only to say the word and
to be your daughter-in-law," I interposed. "Surely I am not
asking what is unworthy of you, if I ask that?"
My mother looked at me in blank dismay.
"Do you mean, George, that you have offered her marriage?"
"And she has said No?"
"She has said No, because there is some obstacle in her way. I
have tried vainly to make her explain herself. She has promised
to confide everything to _you_."
The serious nature of the emergency had its effect. My mother
yielded. She handed me the little ivory tablets on which she was
accustomed to record her engagements. "Write down the name and
address," she said resignedly.
"I will go with you," I answered, "and wait in the carriage at
the door. I want to hear what has passed between you and Mrs. Van
Brandt the instant you have left her."
"Is it as serious as that, George?"
"Yes, mother, it is as serious as that."
THE OBSTACLE BEATS ME.
HOW long was I left alone in the carriage at the door of Mrs. Van
Brandt's lodgings? Judging by my sensations, I waited half a
life-time. Judging by my watch, I waited half an hour.
When my mother returned to me, the hope which I had entertained
of a happy result from her interview with Mrs. Van Brandt was a
hope abandoned before she had opened her lips. I saw, in her
face, that an obstacle which was beyond my power of removal did
indeed stand between me and the dearest wish of my life.
"Tell me the worst," I said, as we drove away from the house,
"and tell it at once."
"I must tell it to you, George," my mother answered, sadly, "as
she told it to me. She begged me herself to do that. 'We must
disappoint him,' she said, 'but pray let it be done as gently as
possible.' Beginning in those words, she confided to me the
painful story which you know already--the story of her marriage.
From that she passed to her meeting with you at Edinburgh, and to
the circumstances which have led her to live as she is living
now. This latter part of her narrative she especially requested
me to repeat to you. Do you feel composed enough to hear it now?
Or would you rather wait?"
"Let me hear it now, mother; and tell it, as nearly as you can,
in her own words."
"I will repeat what she said to me, my dear, as faithfully as I
can. After speaking of her father's death, she told me that she
had only two relatives living. 'I have a married aunt in Glasgow,
and a married aunt in London,' she said. 'When I left Edinburgh,
I went to my aunt in London. She and my father had not been on
good terms together; she considered that my father had neglected
her. But his death had softened her toward him and toward me. She
received me kindly, and she got me a situation in a shop. I kept
my situation for three months, and then I was obliged to leave
My mother paused. I thought directly of the strange postscript
which Mrs. Van Brandt had made me add to the letter that I wrote
for her at the Edinburgh inn. In that case also she had only
contemplated remaining in her employment for three months' time.
"Why was she obliged to leave her situation?" I asked.
"I put that question to her myself," replied my mother. "She made
no direct reply--she changed color, and looked confused. 'I will
tell you afterward, madam,' she said. 'Please let me go on now.
My aunt was angry with me for leaving my employment--and she was
more angry still, when I told her the reason. She said I had
failed in duty toward her in not speaking frankly at first. We
parted coolly. I had saved a little money from my wages; and I
did well enough while my savings lasted. When they came to an
end, I tried to get employment again, and I failed. My aunt said,
and said truly, that her husband's income was barely enough to
support his family: she could do nothing for me, and I could do
nothing for myself. I wrote to my aunt at Glasgow, and received
no answer. Starvation stared me in the face, when I saw in a
newspaper an advertisement addressed to me by Mr. Van Brandt. He
implored me to write to him; he declared that his life without me
was too desolate to be endured; he solemnly promised that there
should be no interruption to my tranquillity if I would return to
him. If I had only had myself to think of, I would have begged my
bread in the streets rather than return to him--' "
I interrupted the narrative at that point.
"What other person could she have had to think of?" I said.
"Is it possible, George," my mother rejoined, "that you have no
suspicion of what she was alluding to when she said those words?"
The question passed by me unheeded: my thoughts were dwelling
bitterly on Van Brandt and his advertisement. "She answered the
advertisement, of course?" I said.
"And she saw Mr. Van Brandt," my mother went on. "She gave me no
detailed account of the interview between them. 'He reminded me,'
she said, 'of what I knew to be true--that the woman who had
entrapped him into marrying her was an incurable drunkard, and
that his ever living with her again was out of the question.
Still she was alive, and she had a right to the name at least of
his wife. I won't attempt to excuse my returning to him, knowing
the circumstances as I did. I will only say that I could see no
other choice before me, in my position at the time. It is
needless to trouble you with what I have suffered since, or to
speak of what I may suffer still. I am a lost woman. Be under no
alarm, madam, about your son. I shall remember proudly to the end
of my life that he once offered me the honor and the happiness of
becoming his wife; but I know what is due to him and to you. I
have seen him for the last time. The one thing that remains to be
done is to satisfy him that our marriage is impossible. You are a
mother; you will understand why I reveal the obstacle which
stands between us--not to him, but to you.' She rose saying those
words, and opened the folding-doors which led from the parlor
into a back room. After an absence of a few moments only, she
At that crowning point in the narrative, my mother stopped. Was
she afraid to go on? or did she think it needless to say more?
"Well?" I said.
"Must I really tell it to you in words, George? Can't you guess
how it ended, even yet?"
There were two difficulties in the way of my understanding her. I
had a man's bluntness of perception, and I was half maddened by
suspense. Incredible as it may appear, I was too dull to guess
the truth even now.
"When she returned to me," my mother resumed, "she was not alone.
She had with her a lovely little girl, just old enough to walk
with the help of her mother's hand. She tenderly kissed the
child, and then she put it on my lap. 'There is my only comfort,'
she said, simply; 'and there is the obstacle to my ever becoming
Mr. Germaine's wife.' "
Van Brandt's child! Van Brandt's child!
The postscript which she had made me add to my letter; the
incomprehensible withdrawal from the employment in which she was
prospering; the disheartening difficulties which had brought her
to the brink of starvation; the degrading return to the man who
had cruelly deceived her--all was explained, all was excused now!
With an infant at the breast, how could she obtain a new
employment? With famine staring her in the face, what else could
the friendless woman do but return to the father of her child?
What claim had I on her, by comparison with _him_? What did it
matter, now that the poor creature secretly returned the love
that I felt for her? There was the child, an obstacle between
us--there was _his_ hold on her, now that he had got her back!
What was _my_ hold worth? All social proprieties and all social
laws answered the question: Nothing!
My head sunk on my breast; I received the blow in silence.
My good mother took my hand. "You understand it now, George?" she
"Yes, mother; I understand it."
"There was one thing she wished me to say to you, my dear, which
I have not mentioned yet. She entreats you not to suppose that
she had the faintest idea of her situation when she attempted to
destroy herself. Her first suspicion that it was possible she
might become a mother was conveyed to her at Edinburgh, in a
conversation with her aunt. It is impossible, George, not to feel
compassionately toward this poor woman. Regrettable as her
position is, I cannot see that she is to blame for it. She was
the innocent victim of a vile fraud when that man married her;
she has suffered undeservedly since; and she has behaved nobly to
you and to me. I only do her justice in saying that she is a
woman in a thousand--a woman worthy, under happier circumstances,
to be my daughter and your wife. I feel _for_ you, and feel
_with_ you, my dear--I do, with my whole heart."
So this scene in my life was, to all appearance, a scene closed
forever. As it had been with my love, in the days of my boyhood,
so it was again now with the love of my riper age!
Later in the day, when I had in some degree recovered my
self-possession, I wrote to Mr. Van Brandt--as _she_ had foreseen
I should write!--to apologize for breaking my engagement to dine
Could I trust to a letter also, to say the farewell words for me
to the woman whom I had loved and lost? No! It was better for
her, and better for me, that I should not write. And yet the idea
of leaving her in silence was more than my fortitude could
endure. Her last words at parting (as they were repeated to me by
my mother) had expressed the hope that I should not think hardly
of her in the future. How could I assure her that I should think
of her tenderly to the end of my life? My mother's delicate tact
and true sympathy showed me the way. "Send a little present,
George," she said, "to the child. You bear no malice to the poor
little child?" God knows I was not hard on the child! I went out
myself and bought her a toy. I brought it home, and before I sent
it away, I pinned a slip of paper to it, bearing this
inscription: "To your little daughter, from George Germaine."
There is nothing very pathetic, I suppose, in those words. And
yet I burst out crying when I had written them.
The next morning my mother and I set forth for my country-house
in Perthshire. London was now unendurable to me. Traveling abroad
I had tried already. Nothing was left but to go back to the
Highlands, and to try what I could make of my life, with my
mother still left to live for.
MY MOTHER'S DIARY.
THERE is something repellent to me, even at this distance of
time, in looking back at the dreary days, of seclusion which
followed each other monotonously in my Highland home. The actions
of my life, however trifling they may have been, I can find some
interest in recalling: they associate me with my
fellow-creatures; they connect me, in some degree, with the
vigorous movement of the world. But I have no sympathy with the
purely selfish pleasure which some men appear to derive from
dwelling on the minute anatomy of their own feelings, under the
pr essure of adverse fortune. Let the domestic record of our
stagnant life in Perthshire (so far as I am concerned in it) be
presented in my mother's words, not in mine. A few lines of
extract from the daily journal which it was her habit to keep
will tell all that need be told before this narrative advances to
later dates and to newer scenes.
"20th August.--We have been two months at our home in Scotland,
and I see no change in George for the better. He is as far as
ever, I fear, from being reconciled to his separation from that
unhappy woman. Nothing will induce him to confess it himself. He
declares that his quiet life here with me is all that he desires.
But I know better! I have been into his bedroom late at night. I
have heard him talking of her in his sleep, and I have seen the
tears on his eyelids. My poor boy! What thousands of charming
women there are who would ask nothing better than to be his wife!
And the one woman whom he can never marry is the only woman whom
"25th.--A long conversation about George with Mr. MacGlue. I have
never liked this Scotch doctor since he encouraged my son to keep
the fatal appointment at Saint Anthony's Well. But he seems to be
a clever man in his profession--and I think, in his way, he means
kindly toward George. His advice was given as coarsely as usual,
and very positively at the same time. 'Nothing will cure your
son, madam, of his amatory passion for that half-drowned lady of
his but change--and another lady. Send him away by himself this
time; and let him feel the want of some kind creature to look
after him. And when he meets with that kind creature (they are as
plenty as fish in the sea), never trouble your head about it if
there's a flaw in her character. I have got a cracked tea-cup
which has served me for twenty years. Marry him, ma'am, to the
new one with the utmost speed and impetuosity which the law will
permit.' I hate Mr. MacGlue's opinions--so coarse and so
hard-hearted!--but I sadly fear that I must part with my son for
a little while, for his own sake.
"26th.--Where is George to go? I have been thinking of it all
through the night, and I cannot arrive at a conclusion. It is so
difficult to reconcile myself to letting him go away alone.
"29th.--I have always believed in special providences; and I am
now confirmed in my belief. This morning has brought with it a
note from our good friend and neighbor at Belhelvie. Sir James is
one of the commissioners for the Northern Lights. He is going in
a Government vessel to inspect the lighthouses on the North of
Scotland, and on the Orkney and Shetland Islands--and, having
noticed how worn and ill my poor boy looks, he most kindly
invites George to be his guest on the voyage. They will not be
absent for more than two months; and the sea (as Sir James
reminds me) did wonders for George's health when he returned from
India. I could wish for no better opportunity than this of trying
what change of air and scene will do for him. However painfully I
may feel the separation myself, I shall put a cheerful face on
it; and I shall urge George to accept the invitation.
"30th.--I have said all I could; but he still refuses to leave
me. I am a miserable, selfish creature. I felt so glad when he
"31st.--Another wakeful night. George must positively send his
answer to Sir James to-day. I am determined to do my duty toward
my son--he looks so dreadfully pale and ill this morning!
Besides, if something is not done to rouse him, how do I know
that he may not end in going back to Mrs. Van Brandt after all?
From every point of view, I feel bound to insist on his accepting
Sir James's invitation. I have only to be firm, and the thing is
done. He has never yet disobeyed me, poor fellow. He will not
disobey me now.
"2d September.--He has gone! Entirely to please me--entirely
against his own wishes. Oh, how is it that such a good son cannot
get a good wife! He would make any woman happy. I wonder whether
I have done right in sending him away? The wind is moaning in the
fir plantation at the back of the house. Is there a storm at sea?
I forgot to ask Sir James how big the vessel was. The 'Guide to
Scotland' says the coast is rugged; and there is a wild sea
between the north shore and the Orkney Islands. I almost regret
having insisted so strongly--how foolish I am! We are all in the
hands of God. May God bless and prosper my good son!
"10th.--Very uneasy. No letter from George. Ah, how full of
trouble this life is! and how strange that we should cling to it
as we do!
"15th.--A letter from George! They have done with the north coast
and they have crossed the wild sea to the Orkneys. Wonderful
weather has favored them so far; and George is in better health
and spirits. Ah! how much happiness there is in life if we only
have the patience to wait for it.
"2d October.--Another letter. They are safe in the harbor of
Lerwick, the chief port in the Shetland Islands. The weather has
not latterly been at all favorable. But the amendment in George's
health remains. He writes most gratefully of Sir James's
unremitting kindness to him. I am so happy, I declare I could
kiss Sir James--though he _is_ a great man, and a Commissioner
for Northern Lights! In three weeks more (wind and weather
permitting) they hope to get back. Never mind my lonely life
here, if I can only see George happy and well again! He tells me
they have passed a great deal of their time on shore; but not a
word does he say about meeting any ladies. Perhaps they are
scarce in those wild regions? I have heard of Shetland shawls and
Shetland ponies. Are there any Shetland ladies, I wonder?"
"GUIDE! Where are we?"
"I can't say for certain."
"Have you lost your way?"
The guide looks slowly all round him, and then looks at me. That
is his answer to my question. And that is enough.
The lost persons are three in number. My traveling companion,
myself, and the guide. We are seated on three Shetland ponies--so
small in stature, that we two strangers were at first literally
ashamed to get on their backs. We are surrounded by dripping
white mist so dense that we become invisible to one another at a
distance of half a dozen yards. We know that we are somewhere on
the mainland of the Shetland Isles. We see under the feet of our
ponies a mixture of moorland and bog--here, the strip of firm
ground that we are standing on, and there, a few feet off, the
strip of watery peat-bog, which is deep enough to suffocate us if
we step into it. Thus far, and no further, our knowledge extends.
This question of the moment is, What are we to do next?
The guide lights his pipe, and reminds me that he warned us
against the weather before we started for our ride. My traveling
companion looks at me resignedly, with an expression of mild
reproach. I deserve it. My rashness is to blame for the
disastrous position in which we now find ourselves.
In writing to my mother, I have been careful to report favorably
of my health and spirits. But I have not confessed that I still
remember the day when I parted with the one hope and renounced
the one love which made life precious to me. My torpid condition
of mind, at home, has simply given place to a perpetual
restlessness, produced by the excitement of my new life. I must
now always be doing something--no matter what, so long as it
diverts me from my own thoughts. Inaction is unendurable;
solitude has become horrible to me. While the other members of
the party which has accompanied Sir James on his voyage of
inspection among the lighthouses are content to wait in the
harbor of Lerwick for a favorable change in the weather, I am
obstinately bent on leaving the comfortable shelter of the vessel
to explore some inland ruin of prehistoric times, of which I
never heard, and for which I care nothing. The movement is all I
want; the ride will fill the hateful void of time. I go, in
defiance of sound advice offered to me on all sides. The youngest
member of our party catches the infection of my recklessness (in
virtue of his youth) and goes with me. And what has come of it?
We are blinded by mist; we are lost on a moor; and the treacherou
s peat-bogs are round us in every direction!
What is to be done?
"Just leave it to the pownies," the guide says.
"Do you mean leave the ponies to find the way?"
"That's it," says the guide. "Drop the bridle, and leave it to
the pownies. See for yourselves. I'm away on _my_ powny."
He drops his bridle on the pommel of his saddle, whistles to his
pony, and disappears in the mist; riding with his hands in his
pockets, and his pipe in his mouth, as composedly as if he were
sitting by his own fireside at home.
We have no choice but to follow his example, or to be left alone
on the moor. The intelligent little animals, relieved from our
stupid supervision, trot off with their noses to the ground, like
hounds on the scent. Where the intersecting tract of bog is wide,
they skirt round it. Where it is narrow enough to be leaped over,
they cross it by a jump. Trot! trot!--away the hardy little
creatures go; never stopping, never hesitating. Our "superior
intelligence," perfectly useless in the emergency, wonders how it
will end. Our guide, in front of us, answers that it will end in
the ponies finding their way certainly to the nearest village or
the nearest house. "Let the bridles be," is his one warning to
us. "Come what may of it, let the bridles be!"
It is easy for the guide to let his bridle be--he is accustomed
to place himself in that helpless position under stress of
circumstances, and he knows exactly what his pony can do.
To us, however, the situation is a new one; and it looks
dangerous in the extreme. More than once I check myself, not
without an effort, in the act of resuming the command of my pony
on passing the more dangerous points in the journey. The time
goes on; and no sign of an inhabited dwelling looms through the
mist. I begin to get fidgety and irritable; I find myself
secretly doubting the trustworthiness of the guide. While I am in
this unsettled frame of mind, my pony approaches a dim, black,
winding line, where the bog must be crossed for the hundredth
time at least. The breadth of it (deceptively enlarged in
appearance by the mist) looks to my eyes beyond the reach of a
leap by any pony that ever was foaled. I lose my presence of
mind. At the critical moment before the jump is taken, I am
foolish enough to seize the bridle, and suddenly check the pony.
He starts, throws up his head, and falls instantly as if he had
been shot. My right hand, as we drop on the ground together, gets
twisted under me, and I feel that I have sprained my wrist.
If I escape with no worse injury than this, I may consider myself
well off. But no such good fortune is reserved for me. In his
struggles to rise, before I have completely extricated myself
from him, the pony kicks me; and, as my ill-luck will have it,
his hoof strikes just where the poisoned spear struck me in the
past days of my service in India. The old wound opens again--and
there I lie bleeding on the barren Shetland moor!
This time my strength has not been exhausted in attempting to
breast the current of a swift-flowing river with a drowning woman
to support. I preserve my senses; and I am able to give the
necessary directions for bandaging the wound with the best
materials which we have at our disposal. To mount my pony again
is simply out of the question. I must remain where I am, with my
traveling companion to look after me; and the guide must trust
his pony to discover the nearest place of shelter to which I can
Before he abandons us on the moor, the man (at my suggestion)
takes our " bearings," as correctly as he can by the help of my
pocket-compass. This done, he disappears in the mist, with the
bridle hanging loose, and the pony's nose to the ground, as
before. I am left, under my young friend's care, with a cloak to
lie on, and a saddle for a pillow. Our ponies composedly help
themselves to such grass as they can find on the moor; keeping
always near us as companionably as if they were a couple of dogs.
In this position we wait events, while the dripping mist hangs
thicker than ever all round us.
The slow minutes follow each other wearily in the majestic
silence of the moor. We neither of us acknowledge it in words,
but we both feel that hours may pass before the guide discovers
us again. The penetrating damp slowly strengthens its clammy hold
on me. My companion's pocket-flask of sherry has about a
teaspoonful of wine left in the bottom of it. We look at one
another--having nothing else to look at in the present state of
the weather--and we try to make the best of it. So the slow
minutes follow each other, until our watches tell us that forty
minutes have elapsed since the guide and his pony vanished from
My friend suggests that we may as well try what our voices can do
toward proclaiming our situation to any living creature who may,
by the barest possibility, be within hearing of us. I leave him
to try the experiment, having no strength to spare for vocal
efforts of any sort. My companion shouts at the highest pitch of
his voice. Silence follows his first attempt. He tries again;
and, this time, an answering hail reaches us faintly through the
white fog. A fellow-creature of some sort, guide or stranger, is
near us--help is coming at last!
An interval passes; and voices reach our ears--the voices of two
men. Then the shadowy appearance of the two becomes visible in
the mist. Then the guide advances near enough to be identified.
He is followed by a sturdy fellow in a composite dress, which
presents him under the double aspect of a groom and a gardener.
The guide speaks a few words of rough sympathy. The composite man
stands by impenetrably silent; the sight of a disabled stranger
fails entirely either to surprise or to interest the
After a little private consultation, the two men decide to cross
their hands, and thus make a seat for me between them. My arms
rest on their shoulders; and so they carry me off. My friend
trudges behind them, with the saddle and the cloak. The ponies
caper and kick, in unrestrained enjoyment of their freedom; and
sometimes follow, sometimes precede us, as the humor of the
moment inclines them. I am, fortunately for my bearers, a light
weight. After twice resting, they stop altogether, and set me
down on the driest place they can find. I look eagerly through
the mist for some signs of a dwelling-house--and I see nothing
but a little shelving beach, and a sheet of dark water beyond.
Where are we?
The gardener-groom vanishes, and appears again on the water,
looming large in a boat. I am laid down in the bottom of the
boat, with my saddle-pillow; and we shove off, leaving the ponies
to the desolate freedom of the moor. They will pick up plenty to
eat (the guide says); and when night comes on they will find
their own way to shelter in a village hard by. The last I see of
the hardy little creatures they are taking a drink of water, side
by side, and biting each other sportively in higher spirits than
Slowly we float over the dark water--not a river, as I had at
first supposed, but a lake--until we reach the shores of a little
island; a flat, lonely, barren patch of ground. I am carried
along a rough pathway made of great flat stones, until we reach
the firmer earth, and discover a human dwelling-place at last. It
is a long, low house of one story high; forming (as well as I can
see) three sides of a square. The door stands hospitably open.
The hall within is bare and cold and dreary. The men open an
inner door, and we enter a long corridor, comfortably warmed by a
peat fire. On one wall I notice the closed oaken doors of rooms;
on the other, rows on rows of well-filled book-shelves meet my
eye. Advancing to the end of the first passage, we turn at right
angles into a second. Here a door is opened at last: I find
myself in a spacious room, completely and tastefully furnished,
having two beds in it, and a large fire burning in the grate. The
change to this warm and cheerful place of shelter from the chilly
and misty solitude of the moor is so luxuriously delightful that
I am quite content, for the first few minutes, to stretch myself
on a bed, in lazy enjoyment of my new position; without caring to
inquire into whose house we have intruded; without even wondering
at the strange absence of master, mistress, or member of the
family to welcome our arrival under their hospitable roof.
After a while, the first sense of relief passes away. My dormant
curiosity revives. I begin to look about me.
The gardener-groom has disappeared. I discover my traveling
companion at the further end of the room, evidently occupied in
questioning the guide. A word from me brings him to my bedside.
What discoveries has he made? whose is the house in which we are
sheltered; and how is it that no member of the family appears to
My friend relates his discoveries. The guide listens as
attentively to the second-hand narrative as if it were quite new
The house that shelters us belongs to a gentleman of ancient
Northern lineage, whose name is Dunross. He has lived in unbroken
retirement on the barren island for twenty years past, with no
other companion than a daughter, who is his only child. He is
generally believed to be one of the most learned men living. The
inhabitants of Shetland know him far and wide, under a name in
their dialect which means, being interpreted, "The Master of
Books." The one occasion on which he and his daughter have been
known to leave their island retreat was at a past time when a
terrible epidemic disease broke out among the villages in the
neighborhood. Father and daughter labored day and night among
their poor and afflicted neighbors, with a courage which no
danger could shake, with a tender care which no fatigue could
exhaust. The father had escaped infection, and the violence of
the epidemic was beginning to wear itself out, when the daughter
caught the disease. Her life had been preserved, but she never
completely recovered her health. She is now an incurable sufferer
from some mysterious nervous disorder which nobody understands,
and which has kept her a prisoner on the island, self-withdrawn
from all human observation, for years past. Among the poor
inhabitants of the district, the father and daughter are
worshiped as semi-divine beings. Their names come after the
Sacred Name in the prayers which the parents teach to their
Such is the household (so far as the guide's story goes) on whose
privacy we have intruded ourselves! The narrative has a certain
interest of its own, no doubt, but it has one defect--it fails
entirely to explain the continued absence of Mr. Dunross. Is it
possible that he is not aware of our presence in the house? We
apply the guide, and make a few further inquiries of him.
"Are we here," I ask, "by permission of Mr. Dunross?"
The guide stares. If I had spoken to him in Greek or Hebrew, I
could hardly have puzzled him more effectually. My friend tries
him with a simpler form of words.
"Did you ask leave to bring us here when you found your way to
The guide stares harder than ever, with every appearance of
feeling perfectly scandalized by the question.
"Do you think," he asks, sternly, "'that I am fool enough to
disturb the Master over his books for such a little matter as
bringing you and your friend into this house?"
"Do you mean that you have brought us here without first asking
leave?" I exclaim in amazement.
The guide's face brightens; he has beaten the true state of the
case into our stupid heads at last! "That's just what I mean!" he
says, with an air of infinite relief.
The door opens before we have recovered the shock inflicted on us
by this extraordinary discovery. A little, lean, old gentleman,
shrouded in a long black dressing-gown, quietly enters the room.
The guide steps forward, and respectfully closes the door for
him. We are evidently in the presence of The Master of Books!
THE DARKENED ROOM.
THE little gentleman advances to my bedside. His silky white hair
flows over his shoulders; he looks at us with faded blue eyes; he
bows with a sad and subdued courtesy, and says, in the simplest
manner, "I bid you welcome, gentlemen, to my house."
We are not content with merely thanking him; we naturally attempt
to apologize for our intrusion. Our host defeats the attempt at
the outset by making an apology on his own behalf.
"I happened to send for my servant a minute since," he proceeds,
"and I only then heard that you were here. It is a custom of the
house that nobody interrupts me over my books. Be pleased, sir,
to accept my excuses," he adds, addressing himself to me, "for
not having sooner placed myself and my household at your
disposal. You have met, as I am sorry to hear, with an accident.
Will you permit me to send for medical help? I ask the question a
little abruptly, fearing that time may be of importance, and
knowing that our nearest doctor lives at some distance from this
He speaks with a certain quaintly precise choice of words--more
like a man dictating a letter than holding a conversation. The
subdued sadness of his manner is reflected in the subdued sadness
of his face. He and sorrow have apparently been old
acquaintances, and have become used to each other for years past.
The shadow of some past grief rests quietly and impenetrably over
the whole man; I see it in his faded blue eyes, on his broad
forehead, on his delicate lips, on his pale shriveled cheeks. My
uneasy sense of committing an intrusion on him steadily
increases, in spite of his courteous welcome. I explain to him
that I am capable of treating my own case, having been myself in
practice as a medical man; and this said, I revert to my
interrupted excuses. I assure him that it is only within the last
few moments that my traveling companion and I have become aware
of the liberty which our guide has taken in introducing us, on
his own sole responsibility, to the house. Mr. Dunross looks at
me, as if he, like the guide, failed entirely to understand what
my scruples and excuses mean. After a while the truth dawns on
him. A faint smile flickers over his face; he lays his hand in a
gentle, fatherly way on my shoulder.
"We are so used here to our Shetland hospitality," he says, "that
we are slow to understand the hesitation which a stranger feels
in taking advantage of it. Your guide is in no respect to blame,
gentlemen. Every house in these islands which is large enough to
contain a spare room has its Guests' Chamber, always kept ready
for occupation. When you travel my way, you come here as a matter
of course; you stay here as long as you like; and, when you go
away, I only do my duty as a good Shetlander in accompanying you
on the first stage of your journey to bid you godspeed. The
customs of centuries past elsewhere are modern customs here. I
beg of you to give my servant all the directions which are
necessary to your comfort, just as freely as you could give them
in your own house."
He turns aside to ring a hand-bell on the table as he speaks; and
notices in the guide's face plain signs that the man has taken
offense at my disparaging allusion to him.
"Strangers cannot be expected to understand our ways, Andrew,"
says The Master of Books. "But you and I understand one
another--and that is enough."
The guide's rough face reddens with pleasure. If a crowned king
on a throne had spoken condescendingly to him, he could hardly
have looked more proud of the honor conferred than he looks now.
He makes a clumsy attempt to take the Master's hand and kiss it.
Mr. Dunross gently repels the attempt, and gives him a little pat
on the head. The guide looks at me and my friend as if he had
been honored with the highest distinction that an earthly being
can receive. The Master's hand had touched him kindly!
In a moment more, the gardener-groom appears at the door to
answer the bell.
"You will move the medicine-chest into this room, Peter," says
Mr. Dunross. "And you will wait on this gentleman, who is
confined to his bed by an accident, exactly as you would wait on
me if I were ill. If we both happen to ring for you together, you
will answer his bell before you answer mine. The usual changes of
linen are, of course, ready in the wardrobe there? Very good. Go
now, and tell the cook to prepare a little dinner; and get a
bottle of the old Madeira
out of the cellar. You will spread the table, for to-day at
least, in this room. These two gentlemen will be best pleased to
dine together. Return here in five minutes' time, in case you are
wanted; and show my guest, Peter, that I am right in believing
you to be a good nurse as well as a good servant."
The silent and surly Peter brightens under the expression of the
Master's confidence in him, as the guide brightened under the
influence of the Master s caressing touch. The two men leave the
We take advantage of the momentary silence that follows to
introduce ourselves by name to our host, and to inform him of the
circumstances under which we happen to be visiting Shetland. He
listens in his subdued, courteous way; but he makes no inquiries
about our relatives; he shows no interest in the arrival of the
Government yacht and the Commissioner for Northern Lights. All
sympathy with the doings of the outer world, all curiosity about
persons of social position and notoriety, is evidently at an end
in Mr. Dunross. For twenty years the little round of his duties
and his occupations has been enough for him. Life has lost its
priceless value to this man; and when Death comes to him he will
receive the king of terrors as he might receive the last of his
"Is there anything else I can do," he says, speaking more to
himself than to us, "before I go back to my books?"
Something else occurs to him, even as he puts the question. He
addresses my companion, with his faint, sad smile. "This will be
a dull life, I am afraid, sir, for you. If you happen to be fond
of angling, I can offer you some little amusement in that way.
The lake is well stocked with fish; and I have a boy employed in
the garden, who will be glad to attend on you in the boat."
My friend happens to be fond of fishing, and gladly accepts the
invitation. The Master says his parting words to me before he
goes back to his books.
"You may safely trust my man Peter to wait on you, Mr. Germaine,
while you are so unfortunate as to be confined to this room. He
has the advantage (in cases of illness) of being a very silent,
undemonstrative person. At the same time he is careful and
considerate, in his own reserved way. As to what I may term the
lighter duties at your bedside such as reading to you, writing
your letters for you while your right hand is still disabled,
regulating the temperature in the room, and so on--though I
cannot speak positively, I think it likely that these little
services may be rendered to you by another person whom I have not
mentioned yet. We shall see what happens in a few hours' time. In
the meanwhile, sir, I ask permission to leave you to your rest."
With those words, he walks out of the room as quietly as he
walked into it, and leaves his two guests to meditate gratefully
on Shetland hospitality. We both wonder what those last
mysterious words of our host mean; and we exchange more or less
ingenious guesses on the subject of that nameless "other person"
who may possibly attend on me--until the arrival of dinner turns
our thoughts into a new course.
The dishes are few in number, but cooked to perfection and
admirably served. I am too weary to eat much: a glass of the fine
old Madeira revives me. We arrange our future plans while we are
engaged over the meal. Our return to the yacht in Lerwick harbor
is expected on the next day at the latest. As things are, I can
only leave my companion to go back to the vessel, and relieve the
minds of our friends of any needless alarm about me. On the day
after, I engage to send on board a written report of the state of
my health, by a messenger who can bring my portmanteau back with
These arrangements decided on, my friend goes away (at my own
request) to try his skill as an angler in the lake. Assisted by
the silent Peter and the well-stocked medicine-chest, I apply the
necessary dressings to my wound, wrap myself in the comfortable
morning-gown which is always kept ready in the Guests' Chamber,
and lie down again on the bed to try the restorative virtues of
Before he leaves the room, silent Peter goes to the window, and
asks in fewest possible words if he shall draw the curtains. In
fewer words still--for I am feeling drowsy already--I answer No.
I dislike shutting out the cheering light of day. To my morbid
fancy, at that moment, it looks like resigning myself
deliberately to the horrors of a long illness. The hand-bell is
on my bedside table; and I can always ring for Peter if the light
keeps me from sleeping. On this understanding, Peter mutely nods
his head, and goes out.
For some minutes I lie in lazy contemplation of the companionable
fire. Meanwhile the dressings on my wound and the embrocation on
my sprained wrist steadily subdue the pains which I have felt so
far. Little by little, the bright fire seems to be fading. Little
by little, sleep steals on me, and all my troubles are forgotten.
I wake, after what seems to have been a long repose--I wake,
feeling the bewilderment which we all experience on opening our
eyes for the first time in a bed and a room that are new to us.
Gradually collecting my thoughts, I find my perplexity
considerably increased by a trifling but curious circumstance.
The curtains which I had forbidden Peter to touch are
drawn--closely drawn, so as to plunge the whole room in
obscurity. And, more surprising still, a high screen with folding
sides stands before the fire, and confines the light which it
might otherwise give exclusively to the ceiling. I am literally
enveloped in shadows. Has night come?
In lazy wonder, I turn my head on the pillow, and look on the
other side of my bed.
Dark as it is, I discover instantly that I am not alone.
A shadowy figure stands by my bedside. The dim outline of the
dress tells me that it is the figure of a woman. Straining my
eyes, I fancy I can discern a wavy black object covering her head
and shoulders which looks like a large veil. Her face is turned
toward me, but no distinguishing feature in it is visible. She
stands like a statue, with her hands crossed in front of her,
faintly relieved against the dark substance of her dress. This I
can see--and this is all.
There is a moment of silence. The shadowy being finds its voice,
and speaks first.
"I hope you feel better, sir, after your rest?"
The voice is low, with a certain faint sweetness or tone which
falls soothingly on my ear. The accent is unmistakably the accent
of a refined and cultivated person. After making my
acknowledgments to the unknown and half-seen lady, I venture to
ask the inevitable question, "To whom have I the honor of
The lady answers, "I am Miss Dunross; and I hope, if you have no
objection to it, to help Peter in nursing you."
This, then, is the "other person" dimly alluded to by our host! I
think directly of the heroic conduct of Miss Dunross among her
poor and afflicted neighbors; and I do not forget the melancholy
result of her devotion to others which has left her an incurable
invalid. My anxiety to see this lady more plainly increases a
hundred-fold. I beg her to add to my grateful sense of her
kindness by telling me why the room is so dark "Surely," I say,
"it cannot be night already?"
"You have not been asleep," she answers, "for more than two
hours. The mist has disappeared, and the sun is shining."
I take up the bell, standing on the table at my side.
"May I ring for Peter, Miss Dunross?"
"To open the curtains, Mr. Germaine?"
"Yes--with your permission. I own I should like to see the
"I will send Peter to you immediately."
The shadowy figure of my new nurse glides away. In another
moment, unless I say something to stop her, the woman whom I am
so eager to see will have left the room.
"Pray don't go!" I say. "I cannot think of troubling you to take
a trifling message for me. The servant will come in, if I only
ring the bell."
She pauses--more shadowy than ever--halfway between the bed and
the door, and answers a little sadly:
"Peter will not let in the daylight while I am in the room. He
closed the curtains by my order."
The reply puzzles me. Why should Peter keep the room dark while
Miss Dunro ss is in it? Are her eyes weak? No; if her eyes were
weak, they would be protected by a shade. Dark as it is, I can
see that she does not wear a shade. Why has the room been
darkened--if not for me? I cannot venture on asking the
question--I can only make my excuses in due form.
"Invalids only think of themselves," I say. "I supposed that you
had kindly darkened the room on my account."
She glides back to my bedside before she speaks again. When she
does answer, it is in these startling words:
"You were mistaken, Mr. Germaine. Your room has been
darkened--not on your account, but on _mine_."
MISS DUNROSS had so completely perplexed me, that I was at a loss
what to say next.
To ask her plainly why it was necessary to keep the room in
darkness while she remained in it, might prove (for all I knew to
the contrary) to be an act of positive rudeness. To venture on
any general expression of sympathy with her, knowing absolutely
nothing of the circumstances, might place us both in an
embarrassing position at the outset of our acquaintance. The one
thing I could do was to beg that the present arrangement of the
room might not be disturbed, and to leave her to decide as to
whether she should admit me to her confidence or exclude me from
it, at her own sole discretion.
She perfectly understood what was going on in my mind. Taking a
chair at the foot of the bed, she told me simply and unreservedly
the sad secret of the darkened room.
"If you wish to see much of me, Mr. Germaine," she began, "you
must accustom yourself to the world of shadows in which it is my
lot to live. Some time since, a dreadful illness raged among the
people in our part of this island; and I was so unfortunate as to
catch the infection. When I recovered--no! 'Recovery' is not the
right word to use--let me say, when I escaped death, I found
myself afflicted by a nervous malady which has defied medical
help from that time to this. I am suffering (as the doctors
explain it to me) from a morbidly sensitive condition of the
nerves near the surface to the action of light. If I were to draw
the curtains, and look out of that window, I should feel the
acutest pain all over my face. If I covered my face, and drew the
curtains with my bare hands, I should feel the same pain in my
hands. You can just see, perhaps, that I have a very large and
very thick veil on my head. I let it fall over my face and neck
and hands, when I have occasion to pass along the corridors or to
enter my father's study--and I find it protection enough. Don't
be too ready to deplore my sad condition, sir! I have got so used
to living in the dark that I can see quite well enough for all
the purposes of _my_ poor existence. I can read and write in
these shadows--I can see you, and be of use to you in many little
ways, if you will let me. There is really nothing to be
distressed about. My life will not be a long one--I know and feel
that. But I hope to be spared long enough to be my father's
companion through the closing years of his life. Beyond that, I
have no prospect. In the meanwhile, I have my pleasures; and I
mean to add to my scanty little stack the pleasure of attending
on you. You are quite an event in my life. I look forward to
reading to you and writing for you, as some girls look forward to
a new dress, or a first ball. Do you think it very strange of me
to tell you so openly just what I have in my mind? I can't help
it! I say what I think to my father and to our poor neighbors
hereabouts--and I can't alter my ways at a moment's notice. I own
it when I like people; and I own it when I don't. I have been
looking at you while you were asleep; and I have read your face
as I might read a book. There are signs of sorrow on your
forehead and your lips which it is strange to see in so young a
face as yours. I am afraid I shall trouble you with many
questions about yourself when we become better acquainted with
each other. Let me begin with a question, in my capacity as
nurse. Are your pillows comfortable? I can see they want shaking
up. Shall I send for Peter to raise you? I am unhappily not
strong enough to be able to help you in that way. No? You are
able to raise yourself? Wait a little. There! Now lie back--and
tell me if I know how to establish the right sort of sympathy
between a tumbled pillow and a weary head."
She had so indescribably touched and interested me, stranger as I
was, that the sudden cessation of her faint, sweet tones affected
me almost with a sense of pain. In trying (clumsily enough) to
help her with the pillows, I accidentally touched her hand. It
felt so cold and so thin, that even the momentary contact with it
startled me. I tried vainly to see her face, now that it was more
within reach of my range of view. The merciless darkness kept it
as complete a mystery as ever. Had my curiosity escaped her
notice? Nothing escaped her notice. Her next words told me
plainly that I had been discovered.
"You have been trying to see me," she said. "Has my hand warned
you not to try again? I felt that it startled you when you
touched it just now."
Such quickness of perception as this was not to be deceived; such
fearless candor demanded as a right a similar frankness on my
side. I owned the truth, and left it to her indulgence to forgive
She returned slowly to her chair at the foot of the bed.
"If we are to be friends," she said, "we must begin by
understanding one another. Don't associate any romantic ideas of
invisible beauty with _me_, Mr. Germaine. I had but one beauty to
boast of before I fell ill--my complexion--and that has gone
forever. There is nothing to see in me now but the poor
reflection of my former self; the ruin of what was once a woman.
I don't say this to distress you--I say it to reconcile you to
the darkness as a perpetual obstacle, so far as your eyes are
concerned, between you and me. Make the best instead of the worst
of your strange position here. It offers you a new sensation to
amuse you while you are ill. You have a nurse who is an
impersonal creature--a shadow among shadows; a voice to speak to
you, and a hand to help you, and nothing more. Enough of myself!"
she exclaimed, rising and changing her tone. "What can I do to
amuse you?" She considered a little. "I have some odd tastes,"
she resumed; "and I think I may entertain you if I make you
acquainted with one of them. Are you like most other men, Mr.
Germaine? Do you hate cats?"
The question startled me. However, I could honestly answer that,
in this respect at least, I was not like other men.
"To my thinking," I added, "the cat is a cruelly misunderstood
creature--especially in England. Women, no doubt, generally do
justice to the affectionate nature of cats. But the men treat
them as if they were the natural enemies of the human race. The
men drive a cat out of their presence if it ventures upstairs,
and set their dogs at it if it shows itself in the street--and
then they turn round and accuse the poor creature (whose genial
nature must attach itself to something) of being only fond of the
The expression of these unpopular sentiments appeared to raise me
greatly in the estimation of Miss Dunross.
"We have one sympathy in common, at any rate," she said. "Now I
can amuse you! Prepare for a surprise."
She drew her veil over her face as she spoke, and, partially
opening the door, rang my handbell. Peter appeared, and received
"Move the screen," said Miss Dunross. Peter obeyed; the ruddy
firelight streamed over the floor. Miss Dunross proceeded with
her directions. "Open the door of the cats' room, Peter; and
bring me my harp. Don't suppose that you are going to listen to a
great player, Mr. Germaine," she went on, when Peter had departed
on his singular errand, "or that you are likely to see the sort
of harp to which you are accustomed, as a man of the modern time.
I can only play some old Scotch airs; and my harp is an ancient
instrument (with new strings)--an heirloom in our family, some
centuries old. When you see my harp, you will think of pictures
of St. Cecilia--and you will be treating my performance kindly if
you will remember, at the sam e time, that I am no saint!"
She drew her chair into the firelight, and sounded a whistle
which she took from the pocket of her dress. In another moment
the lithe and shadowy figures of the cats appeared noiselessly in
the red light, answering their mistress's call. I could just
count six of them, as the creatures seated themselves demurely in
a circle round the chair. Peter followed with the harp, and
closed the door after him as he went out. The streak of daylight
being now excluded from the room, Miss Dunross threw back her
veil, and took the harp on her knee; seating herself, I observed,
with her face turned away from the fire.
"You will have light enough to see the cats by," she said,
"without having too much light for _me_. Firelight does not give
me the acute pain which I suffer when daylight falls on my
face--I feel a certain inconvenience from it, and nothing more."
She touched the strings of her instrument--the ancient harp, as
she had said, of the pictured St. Cecilia; or, rather, as I
thought, the ancient harp of the Welsh bards. The sound was at
first unpleasantly high in pitch, to my untutored ear. At the
opening notes of the melody--a slow, wailing, dirgelike air--the
cats rose, and circled round their mistress, marching to the
tune. Now they followed each other singly; now, at a change in
the melody, they walked two and two; and, now again, they
separated into divisions of three each, and circled round the
chair in opposite directions. The music quickened, and the cats
quickened their pace with it. Faster and faster the notes rang
out, and faster and faster in the ruddy firelight, the cats, like
living shadows, whirled round the still black figure in the
chair, with the ancient harp on its knee. Anything so weird,
wild, and ghostlike I never imagined before even in a dream! The
music changed, and the whirling cats began to leap. One perched
itself at a bound on the pedestal of the harp. Four sprung up
together, and assumed their places, two on each of her shoulders.
The last and smallest of the cats took the last leap, and lighted
on her head! There the six creatures kept their positions,
motionless as statues! Nothing moved but the wan, white hands
over the harp-strings; no sound but the sound of the music
stirred in the room. Once more the melody changed. In an instant
the six cats were on the floor again, seated round the chair as I
had seen them on their first entrance; the harp was laid aside;
and the faint, sweet voice said quietly, "I am soon tired--I must
leave my cats to conclude their performances tomorrow."
She rose, and approached the bedside.
"I leave you to see the sunset through your window," she said.
"From the coming of the darkness to the coming of breakfast-time,
you must not count on my services--I am taking my rest. I have no
choice but to remain in bed (sleeping when I can) for twelve
hours or more. The long repose seems to keep my life in me. Have
I and my cats surprised you very much? Am I a witch; and are they
my familiar spirits? Remember how few amusements I have, and you
will not wonder why I devote myself to teaching these pretty
creatures their tricks, and attaching them to me like dogs! They
were slow at first, and they taught me excellent lessons of
patience. Now they understand what I want of them, and they learn
wonderfully well. How you will amuse your friend, when he comes
back from fishing, with the story of the young lady who lives in
the dark, and keeps a company of performing cats! I shall expect
_you_ to amuse _me_ to-morrow--I want you to tell me all about
yourself, and how you came to visit these wild islands of ours.
Perhaps, as the days go on, and we get better acquainted, you
will take me a little more into your confidence, and tell me the
true meaning of that story of sorrow which I read on your face
while you were asleep? I have just enough of the woman left in me
to be the victim of curiosity, when I meet with a person who
interests me. Good-by till to-morrow! I wish you a tranquil
night, and a pleasant waking. - Come, my familiar spirits! Come,
my cat children! it's time we went back to our own side of the
She dropped the veil over her face--and, followed by her train of
cats, glided out of the room.
Immediately on her departure, Peter appeared and drew back the
curtains. The light of the setting sun streamed in at the window.
At the same moment my traveling companion returned in high
spirits, eager to tell me about his fishing in the lake. The
contrast between what I saw and heard now, and what I had seen
and heard only a few minutes since, was so extraordinary and so
startling that I almost doubted whether the veiled figure with
the harp, and the dance of cats, were not the fantastic creations
of a dream. I actually asked my friend whether he had found me
awake or asleep when he came into the room!
Evening merged into night. The Master of Books made his
appearance, to receive the latest news of my health. He spoke and
listened absently as if his mind were still pre-occupied by his
studies--except when I referred gratefully to his daughter's
kindness to me. At her name his faded blue eyes brightened; his
drooping head became erect; his sad, subdued voice strengthened
"Do not hesitate to let her attend on you," he said. "Whatever
interests or amuses her, lengthens her life. In _her_ life is the
breath of mine. She is more than my daughter; she is the
guardian-angel of the house. Go where she may, she carries the
air of heaven with her. When you say your prayers, sir, pray God
to leave my daughter here a little longer."
He sighed heavily; his head dropped again on his breast--he left
The hour advanced; the evening meal was set by my bedside. Silent
Peter, taking his leave for the night, developed into speech. "I
sleep next door," he said. "Ring when you want me." My traveling
companion, taking the second bed in the room, reposed in the
happy sleep of youth. In the house there was dead silence. Out of
the house, the low song of the night-wind, rising and falling
over the lake and the moor, was the one sound to be heard. So the
first day ended in the hospitable Shetland house.
THE GREEN FLAG.
"I CONGRATULATE you, Mr. Germaine, on your power of painting in
words. Your description gives me a vivid idea of Mrs. Van
"Does the portrait please you, Miss Dunross?"
"May I speak as plainly as usual?"
"Well, then, plainly, I don't like your Mrs. Van Brandt."
Ten days had passed; and thus far Miss Dunross had made her way
into my confidence already!
By what means had she induced me to trust her with those secret
and sacred sorrows of my life which I had hitherto kept for my
mother's ear alone? I can easily recall the rapid and subtle
manner in which her sympathies twined themselves round mine; but
I fail entirely to trace the infinite gradations of approach by
which she surprised and conquered my habitual reserve. The
strongest influence of all, the influence of the eye, was not
hers. When the light was admitted into the room she was shrouded
in her veil. At all other times the curtains were drawn, the
screen was before the fire--I could see dimly the outline of her
face, and I could see no more. The secret of her influence was
perhaps partly attributable to the simple and sisterly manner in
which she spoke to me, and partly to the indescribable interest
which associated itself with her mere presence in the room. Her
father had told me that she "carried the air of heaven with her."
In my experience, I can only say that she carried something with
her which softly and inscrutably possessed itself of my will, and
made me as unconsciously obedient to her wishes as if I had been
her dog. The love-story of my boyhood, in all its particulars,
down even to the gift of the green flag; the mystic predictions
of Dame Dermody; the loss of every trace of my little Mary of
former days; the rescue of Mrs. Van Brandt from the river; the
apparition of her in the summer-house; the after-meetings with
her in Edinburgh and in London; the final parting which had left
its mark of sorrow on my face--all these events, all these
sufferi ngs, I confided to her as unreservedly as I have confided
them to these pages. And the result, as she sat by me in the
darkened room, was summed up, with a woman's headlong impetuosity
of judgment, in the words that I have just written--"I don't like
your Mrs. Van Brandt!"
"Why not?" I asked.
She answered instantly, "Because you ought to love nobody but
"But Mary has been lost to me since I was a boy of thirteen."
"Be patient, and you will find her again. Mary is patient--Mary
is waiting for you. When you meet her, you will be ashamed to
remember that you ever loved Mrs. Van Brandt--you will look on
your separation from that woman as the happiest event of your
life. I may not live to hear of it--but _you_ will live to own
that I was right."
Her perfectly baseless conviction that time would yet bring about
my meeting with Mary, partly irritated, partly amused me.
"You seem to agree with Dame Dermody," I said. "You believe that
our two destinies are one. No matter what time may elapse, or
what may happen in the time, you believe my marriage with Mary is
still a marriage delayed, and nothing more?"
"I firmly believe it."
"Without knowing why--except that you dislike the idea of my
marrying Mrs. Van Brandt?"
She knew that this view of her motive was not far from being the
right one--and, womanlike, she shifted the discussion to new
"Why do you call her Mrs. Van Brandt?" she asked. "Mrs. Van
Brandt is the namesake of your first love. If you are so fond of
her, why don't you call her Mary?"
I was ashamed to give the true reason--it seemed so utterly
unworthy of a man of any sense or spirit. Noticing my hesitation,
she insisted on my answering her; she forced me to make my
"The man who has parted us," I said, "called her Mary. I hate him
with such a jealous hatred that he has even disgusted me with the
name! It lost all its charm for me when it passed _his_ lips."
I had anticipated that she would laugh at me. No! She suddenly
raised her head as if she were looking at me intently in the
"How fond you must be of that woman!" she said. "Do you dream of
"I never dream of her now."
"Do you expect to see the apparition of her again?"
"It may be so--if a time comes when she is in sore need of help,
and when she has no friend to look to but me."
"Did you ever see the apparition of your little Mary?"
"But you used once to see her--as Dame Dermody predicted--in
"Yes--when I was a lad."
"And, in the after-time, it was not Mary, but Mrs. Van Brandt who
came to you in dreams--who appeared to you in the spirit, when
she was far away from you in the body? Poor old Dame Dermody. She
little thought, in her life-time, that her prediction would be
fullfilled by the wrong woman!"
To that result her inquiries had inscrutably conducted her! If
she had only pressed them a little further--if she had not
unconsciously led me astray again by the very next question that
fell from her lips--she _must_ have communicated to _my_ mind the
idea obscurely germinating in hers--the idea of a possible
identity between the Mary of my first love and Mrs. Van Brandt!
"Tell me," she went on. "If you met with your little Mary now,
what would she be like? What sort of woman would you expect to
I could hardly help laughing. "How can I tell," I rejoined, "at
this distance of time?"
"Try!" she said.
Reasoning my way from the known personality to the unknown, I
searched my memory for the image of the frail and delicate child
of my remembrance: and I drew the picture of a frail and delicate
woman--the most absolute contrast imaginable to Mrs. Van Brandt!
The half-realized idea of identity in the mind of Miss Dunross
dropped out of it instantly, expelled by the substantial
conclusion which the contrast implied. Alike ignorant of the
aftergrowth of health, strength, and beauty which time and
circumstances had developed in the Mary of my youthful days, we
had alike completely and unconsciously misled one another. Once
more, I had missed the discovery of the truth, and missed it by a
"I infinitely prefer your portrait of Mary," said Miss Dunross,
"to your portrait of Mrs. Van Brandt. Mary realizes my idea of
what a really attractive woman ought to be. How you can have felt
any sorrow for the loss of that other person (I detest buxom
women!) passes my understanding. I can't tell you how interested
I am in Mary! I want to know more about her. Where is that pretty
present of needle-work which the poor little thing embroidered
for you so industriously? Do let me see the green flag!"
She evidently supposed that I carried the green flag about me! I
felt a little confused as I answered her.
"I am sorry to disappoint you. The green flag is somewhere in my
house in Perthshire."
"You have not got it with you?" she exclaimed. "You leave her
keepsake lying about anywhere? Oh, Mr. Germaine, you have indeed
forgotten Mary! A woman, in your place, would have parted with
her life rather than part with the one memorial left of the time
when she first loved!"
She spoke with such extraordinary earnestness--with such
agitation, I might almost say--that she quite startled me.
"Dear Miss Dunross," I remonstrated, "the flag is not lost."
"I should hope not!" she interposed, quickly. "If you lose the
green flag, you lose the last relic of Mary--and more than that,
if _my_ belief is right."
"What do you believe?"
"You will laugh at me if I tell you. I am afraid my first reading
of your face was wrong--I am afraid you are a hard man."
"Indeed you do me an injustice. I entreat you to answer me as
frankly as usual. What do I lose in losing the last relic of
"You lose the one hope I have for you," she answered,
gravely--"the hope of your meeting and your marriage with Mary in
the time to come. I was sleepless last night, and I was thinking
of your pretty love story by the banks of the bright English
lake. The longer I thought, the more firmly I felt the conviction
that the poor child's green flag is destined to have its innocent
influence in forming your future life. Your happiness is waiting
for you in that artless little keepsake! I can't explain or
justify this belief of mine. It is one of my eccentricities, I
suppose--like training my cats to perform to the music of my
harp. But, if I were your old friend, instead of being only your
friend of a few days, I would leave you no peace--I would beg and
entreat and persist, as only a woman _can_ persist--until I had
made Mary's gift as close a companion of yours, as your mother's
portrait in the locket there at your watch-chain. While the flag
is with you, Mary's influence is with you; Mary's love is still
binding you by the dear old tie; and Mary and you, after years of
separation, will meet again!"
The fancy was in itself pretty and poetical; the earnestness
which had given expression to it would have had its influence
over a man of a far harder nature than mine. I confess she had
made me ashamed, if she had done nothing more, of my neglect of
the green flag.
"I will look for it the moment I am at home again," I said; "and
I will take care that it is carefully preserved for the future."
"I want more than that," she rejoined. "If you can't wear the
flag about you, I want it always to be _with_ you--to go wherever
you go. When they brought your luggage here from the vessel at
Lerwick, you were particularly anxious about the safety of your
traveling writing-desk--the desk there on the table. Is there
anything very valuable in it?"
"It contains my money, and other things that I prize far more
highly--my mother's letters, and some family relics which I
should be very sorry to lose. Besides, the desk itself has its
own familiar interest as my constant traveling companion of many
Miss Dunross rose, and came close to the chair in which I was
"Let Mary's flag be your constant traveling companion," she said.
"You have spoken far too gratefully of my services here as your
nurse. Reward me beyond my deserts. Make allowances, Mr.
Germaine, for the superstitious fancies of a lonely, dreamy
woman. Promise me that the green
flag shall take its place among the other little treasures in
It is needless to say that I made the allowances and gave the
promise--gave it, resolving seriously to abide by it. For the
first time since I had known her, she put her poor, wasted hand
in mine, and pressed it for a moment. Acting heedlessly under my
first grateful impulse, I lifted her hand to my lips before I
released it. She started--trembled--and suddenly and silently
passed out of the room.
SHE COMES BETWEEN US.
WHAT emotion had I thoughtlessly aroused in Miss Dunross? Had I
offended or distressed her? Or had I, without meaning it, forced
on her inner knowledge some deeply seated feeling which she had
thus far resolutely ignored?
I looked back through the days of my sojourn in the house; I
questioned my own feelings and impressions, on the chance that
they might serve me as a means of solving the mystery of her
sudden flight from the room.
What effect had she produced on me?
In plain truth, she had simply taken her place in my mind, to the
exclusion of every other person and every other subject. In ten
days she had taken a hold on my sympathies of which other women
would have failed to possess themselves in so many years. I
remembered, to my shame, that my mother had but seldom occupied
my thoughts. Even the image of Mrs. Van Brandt--except when the
conversation had turned on her--had become a faint image in my
mind! As to my friends at Lerwick, from Sir James downward, they
had all kindly come to see me--and I had secretly and
ungratefully rejoiced when their departure left the scene free
for the return of my nurse. In two days more the Government
vessel was to sail on the return voyage. My wrist was still
painful when I tried to use it; but the far more serious injury
presented by the re-opened wound was no longer a subject of
anxiety to myself or to any one about me. I was sufficiently
restored to be capable of making the journey to Lerwick, if I
rested for one night at a farm half-way between the town and Mr.
Dunross's house. Knowing this, I had nevertheless left the
question of rejoining the vessel undecided to the very latest
moment. The motive which I pleaded to my friends was--uncertainty
as to the sufficient recovery of my strength. The motive which I
now confessed to myself was reluctance to leave Miss Dunross.
What was the secret of her power over me? What emotion, what
passion, had she awakened in me? Was it love?
No: not love. The place which Mary had once held in my heart, the
place which Mrs. Van Brandt had taken in the after-time, was not
the place occupied by Miss Dunross. How could I (in the ordinary
sense of the word) be in love with a woman whose face I had never
seen? whose beauty had faded, never to bloom again? whose wasted
life hung by a thread which the accident of a moment might snap?
The senses have their share in all love between the sexes which
is worthy of the name. They had no share in the feeling with
which I regarded Miss Dunross. What _was_ the feeling, then? I
can only answer the question in one way. The feeling lay too deep
in me for my sounding.
What impression had I produced on her? What sensitive chord had I
ignorantly touched, when my lips touched her hand?
I confess I recoiled from pursuing the inquiry which I had
deliberately set myself to make. I thought of her shattered
health; of her melancholy existence in shadow and solitude; of
the rich treasures of such a heart and such a mind as hers,
wasted with her wasting life; and I said to myself, Let her
secret be sacred! let me never again, by word or deed, bring the
trouble which tells of it to the surface! let her heart be veiled
from me in the darkness which veils her face!
In this frame of mind toward her, I waited her return.
I had no doubt of seeing her again, sooner or later, on that day.
The post to the south went out on the next day; and the early
hour of the morning at which the messenger called for our letters
made it a matter of ordinary convenience to write overnight. In
the disabled state of my hand, Miss Dunross had been accustomed
to write home for me, under my dictation: she knew that I owed a
letter to my mother, and that I relied as usual on her help. Her
return to me, under these circumstances, was simply a question of
time: any duty which she had once undertaken was an imperative
duty in her estimation, no matter how trifling it might be.
The hours wore on; the day drew to its end--and still she never
I left my room to enjoy the last sunny gleam of the daylight in
the garden attached to the house; first telling Peter where I
might be found, if Miss Dunross wanted me. The garden was a wild
place, to my southern notions; but it extended for some distance
along the shore of the island, and it offered some pleasant views
of the lake and the moorland country beyond. Slowly pursuing my
walk, I proposed to myself to occupy my mind to some useful
purpose by arranging beforehand the composition of the letter
which Miss Dunross was to write.
To my great surprise, I found it simply impossible to fix my mind
on the subject. Try as I might, my thoughts persisted in
wandering from the letter to my mother, and concentrated
themselves instead--on Miss Dunross? No. On the question of my
returning, or not returning, to Perthshire by the Government
vessel? No. By some capricious revulsion of feeling which it
seemed impossible to account for, my whole mind was now absorbed
on the one subject which had been hitherto so strangely absent
from it--the subject of Mrs. Van Brandt!
My memory went back, in defiance of all exercise of my own will,
to my last interview with her. I saw her again; I heard her
again. I tasted once more the momentary rapture of our last kiss;
I felt once more the pang of sorrow that wrung me when I had
parted with her and found myself alone in the street. Tears--of
which I was ashamed, though nobody was near to see them--filled
my eyes when I thought of the months that had passed since we had
last looked on one another, and of all that she might have
suffered, must have suffered, in that time. Hundreds on hundreds
of miles were between us--and yet she was now as near me as if
she were walking in the garden by my side!
This strange condition of my mind was matched by an equally
strange condition of my body. A mysterious trembling shuddered
over me faintly from head to foot. I walked without feeling the
ground as I trod on it; I looked about me with no distinct
consciousness of what the objects were on which my eyes rested.
My hands were cold--and yet I hardly felt it. My head throbbed
hotly--and yet I was not sensible of any pain. It seemed as if I
were surrounded and enwrapped in some electric atmosphere which
altered all the ordinary conditions of sensation. I looked up at
the clear, calm sky, and wondered if a thunderstorm was coming. I
stopped, and buttoned my coat round me, and questioned myself if
I had caught a cold, or if I was going to have a fever. The sun
sank below the moorland horizon; the gray twilight trembled over
the dark waters of the lake. I went back to the house; and the
vivid memory of Mrs. Van Brandt, still in close companionship,
went back with me.
The fire in my room had burned low in my absence. One of the
closed curtains had been drawn back a few inches, so as to admit
through the window a ray of the dying light. On the boundary
limit where the light was crossed by the obscurity which filled
the rest of the room, I saw Miss Dunross seated, with her veil
drawn and her writing-case on her knee, waiting my return.
I hastened to make my excuses. I assured her that I had been
careful to tell the servant where to find me. She gently checked
me before I could say more.
"It's not Peter's fault," she said. "I told him not to hurry your
return to the house. Have you enjoyed your walk?"
She spoke very quietly. The faint, sad voice was fainter and
sadder than ever. She kept her head bent over her writing-case,
instead of turning it toward me as usual while we were talking. I
still felt the mysterious trembling which had oppressed me in the
garden. Drawing a chair near the fire, I stirred the embers
together, and tried to warm myself. Our positions in the room
left some little distance between us. I could only see her
sidewise, as she sat by the window in the sheltering darkness of
the curtain which still remained drawn.
"I think I have been too long in the garden," I said. "I feel
chilled by the cold evening air."
"Will you have some more wood put on the fire?" she asked. "Can I
get you anything?"
"No, thank you. I shall do very well here. I see you are kindly
ready to write for me."
"Yes," she said, "at your own convenience. When you are ready, my
pen is ready."
The unacknowledged reserve that had come between us since we had
last spoken together, was, I believe, as painfully felt by her as
by me. We were no doubt longing to break through it on either
side--if we had only known how. The writing of the letter would
occupy us, at any rate. I made another effort to give my mind to
the subject--and once more it was an effort made in vain. Knowing
what I wanted to say to my mother, my faculties seemed to be
paralyzed when I tried to say it. I sat cowering by the fire--and
she sat waiting, with her writing-case on her lap.
SHE CLAIMS ME AGAIN.
THE moments passed; the silence between us continued. Miss
Dunross made an attempt to rouse me.
"Have you decided to go back to Scotland with your friends at
Lerwick?" she asked.
"It is no easy matter," I replied, "to decide on leaving my
friends in this house."
Her head drooped lower on her bosom; her voice sunk as she
"Think of your mother," she said. "The first duty you owe is your
duty to her. Your long absence is a heavy trial to her--your
mother is suffering."
"Suffering?" I repeated. "Her letters say nothing--"
"You forget that you have allowed me to read her letters," Miss
Dunross interposed. "I see the unwritten and unconscious
confession of anxiety in every line that she writes to you. You
know, as well as I do, that there is cause for her anxiety. Make
her happy by telling her that you sail for home with your
friends. Make her happier still by telling her that you grieve no
more over the loss of Mrs. Van Brandt. May I write it, in your
name and in those words?"
I felt the strangest reluctance to permit her to write in those
terms, or in any terms, of Mrs. Van Brandt. The unhappy
love-story of my manhood had never been a forbidden subject