Part 4 out of 6
between us on former occasions. Why did I feel as if it had
become a forbidden subject now? Why did I evade giving her a
"We have plenty of time before us," I said. "I want to speak to
you about yourself."
She lifted her hand in the obscurity that surrounded her, as if
to protest against the topic to which I had returned. I
persisted, nevertheless, in returning to it.
"If I must go back," I went on, "I may venture to say to you at
parting what I have not said yet. I cannot, and will not, believe
that you are an incurable invalid. My education, as I have told
you, has been the education of a medical man. I am well
acquainted with some of the greatest living physicians, in
Edinburgh as well as in London. Will you allow me to describe
your malady (as I understand it) to men who are accustomed to
treat cases of intricate nervous disorder? And will you let me
write and tell you the result?"
I waited for her reply. Neither by word nor sign did she
encourage the idea of any future communication with her. I
ventured to suggest another motive which might induce her to
receive a letter from me.
"In any case, I may find it necessary to write to you," I went
on. "You firmly believe that I and my little Mary are destined to
meet again. If your anticipations are realized, you will expect
me to tell you of it, surely?"
Once more I waited. She spoke--but it was not to reply: it was
only to change the subject.
"The time is passing," was all she said. "We have not begun your
letter to your mother yet."
It would have been cruel to contend with her any longer. Her
voice warned me that she was suffering. The faint gleam of light
through the parted curtains was fading fast. It was time, indeed,
to write the letter. I could find other opportunities of speaking
to her before I left the house.
"I am ready," I answered. "Let us begin."
The first sentence was easily dictated to my patient secretary. I
informed my mother that my sprained wrist was nearly restored to
use, and that nothing prevented my leaving Shetland when the
lighthouse commissioner was ready to return. This was all that it
was necessary to say on the subject of my health; the disaster of
my re-opened wound having been, for obvious reasons, concealed
from my mother's knowledge. Miss Dunross silently wrote the
opening lines of the letter, and waited for the words that were
In my next sentence, I announced the date at which the vessel was
to sail on the return voyage; and I mentioned the period at which
my mother might expect to see me, weather permitting. Those
words, also, Miss Dunross wrote--and waited again. I set myself
to consider what I should say next. To my surprise and alarm, I
found it impossible to fix my mind on the subject. My thoughts
wandered away, in the strangest manner, from my letter to Mrs.
Van Brandt. I was ashamed of myself; I was angry with myself--I
resolved, no matter what I said, that I would positively finish
the letter. No! try as I might, the utmost effort of my will
availed me nothing. Mrs. Van Brandt's words at our last interview
were murmuring in my ears--not a word of my own would come to me!
Miss Dunross laid down her pen, and slowly turned her head to
look at me.
"Surely you have something more to add to your letter?" she said.
"Certainly," I answered. "I don't know what is the matter with
me. The effort of dictating seems to be beyond my power this
"Can I help you?" she asked.
I gladly accepted the suggestion. "There are many things," I
said, "which my mother would be glad to hear, if I were not too
stupid to think of them. I am sure I may trust your sympathy to
think of them for me."
That rash answer offered Miss Dunross the opportunity of
returning to the subject of Mrs. Van Brandt. She seized the
opportunity with a woman's persistent resolution when she has her
end in view, and is determined to reach it at all hazards.
"You have not told your mother yet," she said, "that your
infatuation for Mrs. Van Brandt is at an end. Will you put it in
your own words? Or shall I write it for you, imitating your
language as well as I can?"
In the state of my mind at that moment, her perseverance
conquered me. I thought to myself indolently, "If I say No, she
will only return to the subject again, and she will end (after
all I owe to her kindness) in making me say Yes." Before I could
answer her she had realized my anticipations. She returned to the
subject; and she made me say Yes.
"What does your silence mean?" she said. "Do you ask me to help
you, and do you refuse to accept the first suggestion I offer?"
"Take up your pen," I rejoined. "It shall be as you wish."
"Will you dictate the words?"
"I will try."
I tried; and this time I succeeded. With the image of Mrs. Van
Brandt vividly present to my mind, I arranged the first words of
the sentence which was to tell my mother that my "infatuation"
was at an end!
"You will be glad to hear," I began, "that time and change are
doing their good work."
Miss Dunross wrote the words, and paused in anticipation of the
next sentence. The light faded and faded; the room grew darker
and darker. I went on.
"I hope I shall cause you no more anxiety, my dear mother, on the
subject of Mrs. Van Brandt."
In the deep silence I could hear the pen of my secretary
traveling steadily over the paper while it wrote those words.
"Have you written?" I asked, as the sound of the pen ceased.
"I have written," she answered, in her customary quiet tones.
I went on again with my letter.
"The days pass now, and I seldom or never think of her; I hope I
am resigned at last to the loss of Mrs. Van Brandt."
As I reached the end of the sentence, I heard a faint cry from
Miss Dunross. Looking instantly toward her, I could just see, in
the deepening darkness, t hat her head had fallen on the back of
the chair. My first impulse was, of course, to rise and go to
her. I had barely got to my feet, when some indescribable dread
paralyzed me on the instant. Supporting myself against the
chimney-piece, I stood perfectly incapable of advancing a step.
The effort to speak was the one effort that I could make.
"Are you ill?" I asked.
She was hardly able to answer me; speaking in a whisper, without
raising her head.
"I am frightened," she said.
"What has frightened you?"
I heard her shudder in the darkness. Instead of answering me, she
whispered to herself: "What am I to say to him?"
"Tell me what has frightened you?" I repeated. "You know you may
trust me with the truth."
She rallied her sinking strength. She answered in these strange
"Something has come between me and the letter that I am writing
"What is it?"
"I can't tell you."
"Can you see it?"
"Can you feel it?"
"What is it like?"
"Like a breath of cold air between me and the letter."
"Has the window come open?"
"The window is close shut."
"And the door?"
"The door is shut also--as well as I can see. Make sure of it for
yourself. Where are you? What are you doing?"
I was looking toward the window. As she spoke her last words, I
was conscious of a change in that part of the room.
In the gap between the parted curtains there was a new light
shining; not the dim gray twilight of Nature, but a pure and
starry radiance, a pale, unearthly light. While I watched it, the
starry radiance quivered as if some breath of air had stirred it.
When it was still again, there dawned on me through the unearthly
luster the figure of a woman. By fine and slow gradations, it
became more and more distinct. I knew the noble figure; I knew
the sad and tender smile. For the second time I stood in the
presence of the apparition of Mrs. Van Brandt.
She was robed, not as I had last seen her, but in the dress which
she had worn on the memorable evening when we met on the
bridge--in the dress in which she had first appeared to me, by
the waterfall in Scotland. The starry light shone round her like
a halo. She looked at me with sorrowful and pleading eyes, as she
had looked when I saw the apparition of her in the summer-house.
She lifted her hand--not beckoning me to approach her, as before,
but gently signing to me to remain where I stood.
I waited--feeling awe, but no fear. My heart was all hers as I
looked at her.
She moved; gliding from the window to the chair in which Miss
Dunross sat; winding her way slowly round it, until she stood at
the back. By the light of the pale halo that encircled the
ghostly Presence, and moved with it, I could see the dark figure
of the living woman seated immovable in the chair. The
writing-case was on her lap, with the letter and the pen lying on
it. Her arms hung helpless at her sides; her veiled head was now
bent forward. She looked as if she had been struck to stone in
the act of trying to rise from her seat.
A moment passed--and I saw the ghostly Presence stoop over the
living woman. It lifted the writing-case from her lap. It rested
the writing-case on her shoulder. Its white fingers took the pen
and wrote on the unfinished letter. It put the writing-case back
on the lap of the living woman. Still standing behind the chair,
it turned toward me. It looked at me once more. And now it
beckoned--beckoned to me to approach.
Moving without conscious will of my own, as I had moved when I
first saw her in the summer-house--drawn nearer and nearer by an
irresistible power--I approached and stopped within a few paces
of her. She advanced and laid her hand on my bosom. Again I felt
those strangely mingled sensations of rapture and awe, which had
once before filled me when I was conscious, spiritually, of her
touch. Again she spoke, in the low, melodious tones which I
recalled so well. Again she said the words: "Remember me. Come to
me." Her hand dropped from my bosom. The pale light in which she
stood quivered, sunk, vanished. I saw the twilight glimmering
between the curtains--and I saw no more. She had spoken. She had
I was near Miss Dunross--near enough, when I put out my hand, to
She started and shuddered, like a woman suddenly awakened from a
"Speak to me!" she whispered. "Let me know that it is _you_ who
I spoke a few composing words before I questioned her.
"Have you seen anything in the room?"
She answered. "I have been filled with a deadly fear. I have seen
nothing but the writing-case lifted from my lap."
"Did you see the hand that lifted it?"
"Did you see a starry light, and a figure standing in it?"
"Did you see the writing-case after it was lifted from your lap?"
"I saw it resting on my shoulder."
"Did you see writing on the letter, which was not _your_
"I saw a darker shadow on the paper than the shadow in which I am
"Did it move?"
"It moved across the paper."
"As a pen moves in writing?"
"Yes. As a pen moves in writing."
"May I take the letter?"
She handed it to me.
"May I light a candle?"
She drew her veil more closely over her face, and bowed in
I lighted the candle on the mantel-piece, and looked for the
There, on the blank space in the letter, as I had seen it before
on the blank space in the sketch-book--there were the written
words which the ghostly Presence had left behind it; arranged
once more in two lines, as I copy them here:
At the month's end, In the shadow of Saint Paul's.
SHE had need of me again. She had claimed me again. I felt all
the old love, all the old devotion owning her power once more.
Whatever had mortified or angered me at our last interview was
forgiven and forgotten now. My whole being still thrilled with
the mingled awe and rapture of beholding the Vision of her that
had come to me for the second time. The minutes passed--and I
stood by the fire like a man entranced; thinking only of her
spoken words, "Remember me. Come to me;" looking only at her
mystic writing, "At the month's end, In the shadow of Saint
The month's end was still far off; the apparition of her had
shown itself to me, under some subtle prevision of trouble that
was still in the future. Ample time was before me for the
pilgrimage to which I was self-dedicated already--my pilgrimage
to the shadow of Saint Paul's. Other men, in my position, might
have hesitated as to the right understanding of the place to
which they were bidden. Other men might have wearied their
memories by recalling the churches, the institutions, the
streets, the towns in foreign countries, all consecrated to
Christian reverence by the great apostle's name, and might have
fruitlessly asked themselves in which direction they were first
to turn their steps. No such difficulty troubled me. My first
conclusion was the one conclusion that was acceptable to my mind.
"Saint Paul's" meant the famous Cathedral of London. Where the
shadow of the great church fell, there, at the month's end, I
should find her, or the trace of her. In London once more, and
nowhere else, I was destined to see the woman I loved, in the
living body, as certainly as I had just seen her in the ghostly
Who could interpret the mysterious sympathies that still united
us, in defiance of distance, in defiance of time? Who could
predict to what end our lives were tending in the years that were
Those questions were still present to my thoughts; my eyes were
still fixed on the mysterious writing--when I became
instinctively aware of the strange silence in the room. Instantly
the lost remembrance of Miss Dunross came back to me. Stung by my
own sense of self-reproach, I turned with a start, and looked
toward her chair by the window.
The chair was empty. I was alone in the room.
Why had she left me secretly, without a word of farewell? Because
she was suffering, in mind or body? Or because she resented,
naturally resented, my neglect of her?
The bare suspicion that I had given her pain was intolerable to
me. I rang my bell, to make inquiries.
The bell was answered, not, as usua l, by the silent servant
Peter, but by a woman of middle age, very quietly and neatly
dressed, whom I had once or twice met on the way to and from my
room, and of whose exact position in the house I was still
"Do you wish to see Peter?" she asked.
"No. I wish to know where Miss Dunross is."
"Miss Dunross is in her room. She has sent me with this letter."
I took the letter, feeling some surprise and uneasiness. It was
the first time Miss Dunross had communicated with me in that
formal way. I tried to gain further information by questioning
"Are you Miss Dunross's maid?" I asked.
"I have served Miss Dunross for many years," was the answer,
spoken very ungraciously.
"Do you think she would receive me if I sent you with a message
"I can't say, sir. The letter may tell you. You will do well to
read the letter."
We looked at each other. The woman's preconceived impression of
me was evidently an unfavorable one. Had I indeed pained or
offended Miss Dunross? And had the servant--perhaps the faithful
servant who loved her--discovered and resented it? The woman
frowned as she looked at me. It would be a mere waste of words to
persist in questioning her. I let her go.
Left by myself again, I read the letter. It began, without any
form of address, in these lines:
"I write, instead of speaking to you, because my self-control has
already been severely tried, and I am not strong enough to bear
more. For my father's sake--not for my own--I must take all the
care I can of the little health that I have left.
"Putting together what you have told me of the visionary creature
whom you saw in the summer-house in Scotland, and what you said
when you questioned me in your room a little while since, I
cannot fail to infer that the same vision has shown itself to
you, for the second time. The fear that I felt, the strange
things that I saw (or thought I saw), may have been imperfect
reflections in my mind of what was passing in yours. I do not
stop to inquire whether we are both the victims of a delusion, or
whether we are the chosen recipients of a supernatural
communication. The result, in either case, is enough for me. You
are once more under the influence of Mrs. Van Brandt. I will not
trust myself to tell you of the anxieties and forebodings by
which I am oppressed: I will only acknowledge that my one hope
for you is in your speedy reunion with the worthier object of
your constancy and devotion. I still believe, and I am consoled
in believing, that you and your first love will meet again.
"Having written so far, I leave the subject--not to return to it,
except in my own thoughts.
"The necessary preparations for your departure to-morrow are all
made. Nothing remains but to wish you a safe and pleasant journey
home. Do not, I entreat you, think me insensible of what I owe to
you, if I say my farewell words here.
"The little services which you have allowed me to render you have
brightened the closing days of my life. You have left me a
treasury of happy memories which I shall hoard, when you are
gone, with miserly care. Are you willing to add new claims to my
grateful remembrance? I ask it of you, as a last favor--do not
attempt to see me again! Do not expect me to take a personal
leave of you! The saddest of all words is 'Good-by': I have
fortitude enough to write it, and no more. God preserve and
"One more request. I beg that you will not forget what you
promised me, when I told you my foolish fancy about the green
flag. Wherever you go, let Mary's keepsake go with you. No
written answer is necessary--I would rather not receive it. Look
up, when you leave the house to-morrow, at the center window over
the doorway--that will be answer enough."
To say that these melancholy lines brought the tears into my eyes
is only to acknowledge that I had sympathies which could be
touched. When I had in some degree recovered my composure, the
impulse which urged me to write to Miss Dunross was too strong to
be resisted. I did not trouble her with a long letter; I only
entreated her to reconsider her decision with all the art of
persuasion which I could summon to help me. The answer was
brought back by the servant who waited on Miss Dunross, in four
resolute words: "It can not be." This time the woman spoke out
before she left me. "If you have any regard for my mistress," she
said sternly, "don't make her write to you again." She looked at
me with a last lowering frown, and left the room.
It is needless to say that the faithful servant's words only
increased my anxiety to see Miss Dunross once more before we
parted--perhaps forever. My one last hope of success in attaining
this object lay in approaching her indirectly through the
intercession of her father.
I sent Peter to inquire if I might be permitted to pay my
respects to his master that evening. My messenger returned with
an answer that was a new disappointment to me. Mr. Dunross begged
that I would excuse him, if he deferred the proposed interview
until the next morning. The next morning was the morning of my
departure. Did the message mean that he had no wish to see me
again until the time had come to take leave of him? I inquired of
Peter whether his master was particularly occupied that evening.
He was unable to tell me. "The Master of Books" was not in his
study, as usual. When he sent his message to me, he was sitting
by the sofa in his daughter's room.
Having answered in those terms, the man left me by myself until
the next morning. I do not wish my bitterest enemy a sadder time
in his life than the time I passed during the last night of my
residence under Mr. Dunross's roof.
After walking to and fro in the room until I was weary, I thought
of trying to divert my mind from the sad thoughts that oppressed
it by reading. The one candle which I had lighted failed to
sufficiently illuminate the room. Advancing to the mantel-piece
to light the second candle which stood there, I noticed the
unfinished letter to my mother lying where I had placed it, when
Miss Dunross's servant first presented herself before me. Having
lighted the second candle, I took up the letter to put it away
among my other papers. Doing this (while my thoughts were still
dwelling on Miss Dunross), I mechanically looked at the letter
again--and instantly discovered a change in it.
The written characters traced by the hand of the apparition had
vanished! Below the last lines written by Miss Dunross nothing
met my eyes now but the blank white paper!
My first impulse was to look at my watch.
When the ghostly presence had written in my sketch-book, the
characters had disappeared after an interval of three hours. On
this occasion, as nearly as I could calculate, the writing had
vanished in one hour only.
Reverting to the conversation which I had held with Mrs. Van
Brandt when we met at Saint Anthony's Well, and to the
discoveries which followed at a later period of my life, I can
only repeat that she had again been the subject of a trance or
dream, when the apparition of her showed itself to me for the
second time. As before, she had freely trusted me and freely
appealed to me to help her, in the dreaming state, when her
spirit was free to recognize my spirit. When she had come to
herself, after an interval of an hour, she had again felt ashamed
of the familiar manner in which she had communicated with me in
the trance--had again unconsciously counteracted by her
waking-will the influence of her sleeping-will; and had thus
caused the writing once more to disappear, in an hour from the
moment when the pen had traced (or seemed to trace) it.
This is still the one explanation that I can offer. At the time
when the incident happened, I was far from being fully admitted
to the confidence of Mrs. Van Brandt; and I was necessarily
incapable of arriving at any solution of the mystery, right or
wrong. I could only put away the letter, doubting vaguely whether
my own senses had not deceived me. After the distressing thoughts
which Miss Dunross's letter had roused in my mind, I was in no
humor to employ my ingenuity in finding a clew to the mystery of
the vanished writing. My ner ves were irritated; I felt a sense
of angry discontent with myself and with others. "Go where I may"
(I thought impatiently), "the disturbing influence of women seems
to be the only influence that I am fated to feel." As I still
paced backward and forward in my room--it was useless to think
now of fixing my attention on a book--I fancied I understood the
motives which made men as young as I was retire to end their
lives in a monastery. I drew aside the window curtains, and
looked out. The only prospect that met my view was the black gulf
of darkness in which the lake lay hidden. I could see nothing; I
could do nothing; I could think of nothing. The one alternative
before me was that of trying to sleep. My medical knowledge told
me plainly that natural sleep was, in my nervous condition, one
of the unattainable luxuries of life for that night. The
medicine-chest which Mr. Dunross had placed at my disposal
remained in the room. I mixed for myself a strong sleeping
draught, and sullenly took refuge from my troubles in bed.
It is a peculiarity of most of the soporific drugs that they not
only act in a totally different manner on different
constitutions, but that they are not even to be depended on to
act always in the same manner on the same person. I had taken
care to extinguish the candles before I got into my bed. Under
ordinary circumstances, after I had lain quietly in the darkness
for half an hour, the draught that I had taken would have sent me
to sleep. In the present state of my nerves the draught stupefied
me, and did no more.
Hour after hour I lay perfectly still, with my eyes closed, in
the semi-sleeping, semi-wakeful state which is so curiously
characteristic of the ordinary repose of a dog. As the night wore
on, such a sense of heaviness oppressed my eyelids that it was
literally impossible for me to open them--such a masterful
languor possessed all my muscles that I could no more move on my
pillow than if I had been a corpse. And yet, in this somnolent
condition, my mind was able to pursue lazy trains of pleasant
thought. My sense of hearing was so acute that it caught the
faintest sounds made by the passage of the night-breeze through
the rushes of the lake. Inside my bed-chamber, I was even more
keenly sensible of those weird night-noises in the heavy
furniture of a room, of those sudden settlements of extinct coals
in the grate, so familiar to bad sleepers, so startling to
overwrought nerves! It is not a scientifically correct statement,
but it exactly describes my condition, that night, to say that
one half of me was asleep and the other half awake.
How many hours of the night had passed, when my irritable sense
of hearing became aware of a new sound in the room, I cannot
tell. I can only relate that I found myself on a sudden listening
intently, with fast-closed eyes. The sound that disturbed me was
the faintest sound imaginable, as of something soft and light
traveling slowly over the surface of the carpet, and brushing it
just loud enough to be heard.
Little by little, the sound came nearer and nearer to my bed--and
then suddenly stopped just as I fancied it was close by me.
I still lay immovable, with closed eyes; drowsily waiting for the
next sound that might reach my ears; drowsily content with the
silence, if the silence continued. My thoughts (if thoughts they
could be called) were drifting back again into their former
course, when I became suddenly conscious of soft breathing just
above me. The next moment I felt a touch on my forehead--light,
soft, tremulous, like the touch of lips that had kissed me. There
was a momentary pause. Then a low sigh trembled through the
silence. Then I heard again the still, small sound of something
brushing its way over the carpet; traveling this time _from_ my
bed, and moving so rapidly that in a moment more it was lost in
the silence of the night.
Still stupefied by the drug that I had taken, I could lazily
wonder what had happened, and I could do no more. Had living lips
really touched me? Was the sound that I had heard really the
sound of a sigh? Or was it all delusion, beginning and ending in
a dream? The time passed without my deciding, or caring to
decide, those questions. Minute by minute, the composing
influence of the draught began at last to strengthen its hold on
my brain. A cloud seemed to pass softly over my last waking
impressions. One after another, the ties broke gently that held
me to conscious life. I drifted peacefully into perfect sleep.
Shortly after sunrise, I awoke. When I regained the use of my
memory, my first clear recollection was the recollection of the
soft breathing which I had felt above me--then of the touch on my
forehead, and of the sigh which I had heard after it. Was it
possible that some one had entered my room in the night? It was
quite possible. I had not locked the door--I had never been in
the habit of locking the door during my residence under Mr.
After thinking it over a little, I rose to examine my room.
Nothing in the shape of a discovery rewarded me, until I reached
the door. Though I had not locked it overnight, I had certainly
satisfied myself that it was closed before I went to bed. It was
now ajar. Had it opened again, through being imperfectly shut? or
had a person, after entering and leaving my room, forgotten to
Accidentally looking downward while I was weighing these
probabilities, I noticed a small black object on the carpet,
lying just under the key, on the inner side of the door. I picked
the thing up, and found that it was a torn morsel of black lace.
The instant I saw the fragment, I was reminded of the long black
veil, hanging below her waist, which it was the habit of Miss
Dunross to wear. Was it _her_ dress, then, that I had heard
softly traveling over the carpet; _her_ kiss that had touched my
forehead; _her_ sigh that had trembled through the silence? Had
the ill-fated and noble creature taken her last leave of me in
the dead of night, trusting the preservation of her secret to the
deceitful appearances which persuaded her that I was asleep? I
looked again at the fragment of black lace. Her long veil might
easily have been caught, and torn, by the projecting key, as she
passed rapidly through the door on her way out of my room. Sadly
and reverently I laid the morsel of lace among the treasured
memorials which I had brought with me from home. To the end of
her life, I vowed it, she should be left undisturbed in the
belief that her secret was safe in her own breast! Ardently as I
still longed to take her hand at parting, I now resolved to make
no further effort to see her. I might not be master of my own
emotions; something in my face or in my manner might betray me to
her quick and delicate perception. Knowing what I now knew, the
last sacrifice I could make to her would be to obey her wishes. I
made the sacrifice.
In an hour more Peter informed me that the ponies were at the
door, and that the Master was waiting for me in the outer hall.
I noticed that Mr. Dunross gave me his hand, without looking at
me. His faded blue eyes, during the few minutes while we were
together, were not once raised from the ground.
"God speed you on your journey, sir, and guide you safely home,"
he said. "I beg you to forgive me if I fail to accompany you on
the first few miles of your journey. There are reasons which
oblige me to remain with my daughter in the house."
He was scrupulously, almost painfully, courteous; but there was
something in his manner which, for the first time in my
experience, seemed designedly to keep me at a distance from him.
Knowing the intimate sympathy, the perfect confidence, which
existed between the father and daughter, a doubt crossed my mind
whether the secret of the past night was entirely a secret to Mr.
Dunross. His next words set that doubt at rest, and showed me the
In thanking him for his good wishes, I attempted also to express
to him (and through him to Miss Dunross) my sincere sense of
gratitude for the kindness which I had received under his roof.
He stopped me, politely and resolutely, speaking with that
quaintly precise choice of language which I h ad remarked as
characteristic of him at our first interview.
"It is in your power, sir," he said, "to return any obligation
which you may think you have incurred on leaving my house. If you
will be pleased to consider your residence here as an unimportant
episode in your life, which ends--_absolutely_ ends--with your
departure, you will more than repay any kindness that you may
have received as my guest. In saying this, I speak under a sense
of duty which does entire justice to you as a gentleman and a man
of honor. In return, I can only trust to you not to misjudge my
motives, if I abstain from explaining myself any further."
A faint color flushed his pale cheeks. He waited, with a certain
proud resignation, for my reply. I respected her secret,
respected it more resolutely than ever, before her father.
"After all that I owe to you, sir," I answered, "your wishes are
my commands." Saying that, and saying no more, I bowed to him
with marked respect, and left the house.
Mounting my pony at the door, I looked up at the center window,
as she had bidden me. It was open; but dark curtains, jealously
closed, kept out the light from the room within. At the sound of
the pony's hoofs on the rough island road, as the animal moved,
the curtains were parted for a few inches only. Through the gap
in the dark draperies a wan white hand appeared; waved
tremulously a last farewell; and vanished from my view. The
curtains closed again on her dark and solitary life. The dreary
wind sounded its long, low dirge over the rippling waters of the
lake. The ponies took their places in the ferryboat which was
kept for the passage of animals to and from the island. With
slow, regular strokes the men rowed us to the mainland and took
their leave. I looked back at the distant house. I thought of her
in the dark room, waiting patiently for death. Burning tears
blinded me. The guide took my bridle in his hand: "You're not
well, sir," he said; "I will lead the pony."
When I looked again at the landscape round me, we had descended
in the interval from the higher ground to the lower. The house
and the lake had disappeared, to be seen no more.
IN THE SHADOW OF ST. PAUL'S.
In ten days I was at home again--and my mother's arms were round
I had left her for my sea-voyage very unwillingly--seeing that
she was in delicate health. On my return, I was grieved to
observe a change for the worse, for which her letters had not
prepared me. Consulting our medical friend, Mr. MacGlue, I found
that he, too, had noticed my mother's failing health, but that he
attributed it to an easily removable cause--to the climate of
Scotland. My mother's childhood and early life had been passed on
the southern shores of England. The change to the raw, keen air
of the North had been a trying change to a person at her age. In
Mr. MacGlue's opinion, the wise course to take would be to return
to the South before the autumn was further advanced, and to make
our arrangements for passing the coming winter at Penzance or
Resolved as I was to keep the mysterious appointment which
summoned me to London at the month's end, Mr. MacGlue's
suggestion met with no opposition on my part. It had, to my mind,
the great merit of obviating the necessity of a second separation
from my mother--assuming that she approved of the doctor's
advice. I put the question to her the same day. To my infinite
relief, she was not only ready, but eager to take the journey to
the South. The season had been unusually wet, even for Scotland;
and my mother reluctantly confessed that she "did feel a certain
longing" for the mild air and genial sunshine of the Devonshire
We arranged to travel in our own comfortable carriage by
post--resting, of course, at inns on the road at night. In the
days before railways it was no easy matter for an invalid to
travel from Perthshire to London--even with a light carriage and
four horses. Calculating our rate of progress from the date of
our departure, I found that we had just time, and no more, to
reach London on the last day of the month.
I shall say nothing of the secret anxieties which weighed on my
mind, under these circumstances. Happily for me, on every
account, my mother's strength held out. The easy and (as we then
thought) the rapid rate of traveling had its invigorating effect
on her nerves. She slept better when we rested for the night than
she had slept at home. After twice being delayed on the road, we
arrived in London at three o'clock on the afternoon of the last
day of the month. Had I reached my destination in time?
As I interpreted the writing of the apparition, I had still some
hours at my disposal. The phrase, "at the month's end," meant, as
I understood it, at the last hour of the last day in the month.
If I took up my position "under the shadow of Saint Paul's," say,
at ten that night, I should arrive at the place of meeting with
two hours to spare, before the last stroke of the clock marked
the beginning of the new month.
At half-past nine, I left my mother to rest after her long
journey, and privately quit the house. Before ten, I was at my
post. The night was fine and clear; and the huge shadow of the
cathedral marked distinctly the limits within which I had been
bid to wait, on the watch for events.
The great clock of Saint Paul's struck ten--and nothing happened.
The next hour passed very slowly. I walked up and down; at one
time absorbed in my own thoughts; at another, engaged in watching
the gradual diminution in the number of foot passengers who
passed me as the night advanced. The City (as it is called) is
the most populous part of London in the daytime; but at night,
when it ceases to be the center of commerce, its busy population
melts away, and the empty streets assume the appearance of a
remote and deserted quarter of the metropolis. As the half hour
after ten struck--then the quarter to eleven--then the hour--the
pavement steadily became more and more deserted. I could count
the foot passengers now by twos and threes; and I could see the
places of public refreshment within my view beginning already to
close for the night.
I looked at the clock; it pointed to ten minutes past eleven. At
that hour, could I hope to meet Mrs. Van Brandt alone in the
The more I thought of it, the less likely such an event seemed to
be. The more reasonable probability was that I might meet her
once more, accompanied by some friend--perhaps under the escort
of Van Brandt himself. I wondered whether I should preserve my
self-control, in the presence of that man, for the second time.
While my thoughts were still pursuing this direction, my
attention was recalled to passing events by a sad little voice,
putting a strange little question, close at my side.
"If you please, sir, do you know where I can find a chemist's
shop open at this time of night?"
I looked round, and discovered a poorly clad little boy, with a
basket over his arm, and a morsel of paper in his hand.
"The chemists' shops are all shut," I said. "If you want any
medicine, you must ring the night-bell."
"I dursn't do it, sir," replied the small stranger. "I am such a
little boy, I'm afraid of their beating me if I ring them up out
of their beds, without somebody to speak for me."
The little creature looked at me under the street lamp with such
a forlorn experience of being beaten for trifling offenses in his
face, that it was impossible to resist the impulse to help him.
"Is it a serious case of illness?" I asked.
"I don't know, sir."
"Have you got a doctor's prescription?"
He held out his morsel of paper.
"I have got this," he said.
I took the paper from him, and looked at it.
It was an ordinary prescription for a tonic mixture. I looked
first at the doctor's signature; it was the name of a perfectly
obscure person in the profession. Below it was written the name
of the patient for whom the medicine had been prescribed. I
started as I read it. The name was "Mrs. Brand."
The idea instantly struck me that this (so far as sound went, at
any rate) was the English equivalent of Van Brandt.
"Do you know the lady who sent you for the medicine?" I asked.
" Oh yes, sir! She lodges with mother--and she owes for rent. I
have done everything she told me, except getting the physic. I've
pawned her ring, and I've bought the bread and butter and eggs,
and I've taken care of the change. Mother looks to the change for
her rent. It isn't my fault, sir, that I've lost myself. I am but
ten years old--and all the chemists' shops are shut up!"
Here my little friend's sense of his unmerited misfortunes
overpowered him, and he began to cry.
"Don't cry, my man!" I said; "I'll help you. Tell me something
more about the lady first. Is she alone?"
"She's got her little girl with her, sir."
My heart quickened its beat. The boy's answer reminded me of that
other little girl whom my mother had once seen.
"Is the lady's husband with her?" I asked next.
"No, sir--not now. He was with her; but he went away--and he
hasn't come back yet."
I put a last conclusive question.
"Is her husband an Englishman?" I inquired.
"Mother says he's a foreigner," the boy answered.
I turned away to hide my agitation. Even the child might have
Passing under the name of "Mrs. Brand"--poor, so poor that she
was obliged to pawn her ring--left, by a man who was a foreigner,
alone with her little girl--was I on the trace of her at that
moment? Was this lost child destined to be the innocent means of
leading me back to the woman I loved, in her direst need of
sympathy and help? The more I thought of it, the more strongly
the idea of returning with the boy to the house in which his
mother's lodger lived fastened itself on my mind. The clock
struck the quarter past eleven. If my anticipations ended in
misleading me, I had still three-quarters of an hour to spare
before the month reached its end.
"Where do you live?" I asked.
The boy mentioned a street, the name of which I then heard for
the first time. All he could say, when I asked for further
particulars, was that he lived close by the river--in which
direction, he was too confused and too frightened to be able to
While we were still trying to understand each other, a cab passed
slowly at some little distance. I hailed the man, and mentioned
the name of the street to him. He knew it perfectly well. The
street was rather more than a mile away from us, in an easterly
direction. He undertook to drive me there and to bring me back
again to Saint Paul's (if necessary), in less than twenty
minutes. I opened the door of the cab, and told my little friend
to get in. The boy hesitated.
"Are we going to the chemist's, if you please, sir?" he asked.
"No. You are going home first, with me."
The boy began to cry again.
"Mother will beat me, sir, if I go back without the medicine."
"I will take care that your mother doesn't beat you. I am a
doctor myself; and I want to see the lady before we get the
The announcement of my profession appeared to inspire the boy
with a certain confidence. But he still showed no disposition to
accompany me to his mother's house.
"Do you mean to charge the lady anything?" he asked. "The money
I've got on the ring isn't much. Mother won't like having it
taken out of her rent."
"I won't charge the lady a farthing," I answered.
The boy instantly got into the cab. "All right," he said, "as
long as mother gets her money."
Alas for the poor! The child's education in the sordid anxieties
of life was completed already at ten years old!
We drove away.
I KEEP MY APPOINTMENT.
THE poverty-stricken aspect of the street when we entered it, the
dirty and dilapidated condition of the house when we drew up at
the door, would have warned most men, in my position, to prepare
themselves for a distressing discovery when they were admitted to
the interior of the dwelling. The first impression which the
place produced on _my_ mind suggested, on the contrary, that the
boy's answers to my questions had led me astray. It was simply
impossible to associate Mrs. Van Brandt (as _I_ remembered her)
with the spectacle of such squalid poverty as I now beheld. I
rang the door-bell, feeling persuaded beforehand that my
inquiries would lead to no useful result.
As I lifted my hand to the bell, my little companion's dread of a
beating revived in full force. He hid himself behind me; and when
I asked what he was about, he answered, confidentially: "Please
stand between us, sir, when mother opens the door!"
A tall and truculent woman answered the bell. No introduction was
necessary. Holding a cane in her hand, she stood self-proclaimed
as my small friend's mother.
"I thought it was that vagabond of a boy of mine," she explained,
as an apology for the exhibition of the cane. "He has been gone
on an errand more than two hours. What did you please to want,
I interceded for the unfortunate boy before I entered on my own
"I must beg you to forgive your son this time," I said. "I found
him lost in the streets; and I have brought him home."
The woman's astonishment when she heard what I had done, and
discovered her son behind me, literally struck her dumb. The
language of the eye, superseding on this occasion the language of
the tongue, plainly revealed the impression that I had produced
on her: "You bring my lost brat home in a cab! Mr. Stranger, you
"I hear that you have a lady named Brand lodging in the house," I
went on. "I dare say I am mistaken in supposing her to be a lady
of the same name whom I know. But I should like to make sure
whether I am right or wrong. Is it too late to disturb your
The woman recovered the use of her tongue.
"My lodger is up and waiting for that little fool, who doesn't
know his way about London yet!" She emphasized those words by
shaking her brawny fist at her son--who instantly returned to his
place of refuge behind the tail of my coat. "Have you got the
money?" inquired the terrible person, shouting at her hidden
offspring over my shoulder. "Or have you lost _that_ as well as
your own stupid little self?"
The boy showed himself again, and put the money into his mother's
knotty hand. She counted it, with eyes which satisfied themselves
fiercely that each coin was of genuine silver--and then became
"Go along upstairs," she growled, addressing her son; "and don't
keep the lady waiting any longer. They're half starved, she and
her child," the woman proceeded, turning to me. "The food my boy
has got for them in his basket will be the first food the mother
has tasted today. She's pawned everything by this time; and what
she's to do unless you help her is more than I can say. The
doctor does what he can; but he told me today, if she wasn't
better nourished, it was no use sending for _him_. Follow the
boy; and see for yourself if it's the lady you know."
I listened to the woman, still feeling persuaded that I had acted
under a delusion in going to her house. How was it possible to
associate the charming object of my heart's worship with the
miserable story of destitution which I had just heard? I stopped
the boy on the first landing, and told him to announce me simply
as a doctor, who had been informed of Mrs. Brand's illness, and
who had called to see her.
We ascended a second flight of stairs, and a third. Arrived now
at the top of the house, the boy knocked at the door that was
nearest to us on the landing. No audible voice replied. He opened
the door without ceremony, and went in. I waited outside to hear
what was said. The door was left ajar. If the voice of "Mrs.
Brand" was (as I believed it would prove to be) the voice of a
stranger, I resolved to offer her delicately such help as lay
within my power, and to return forthwith to my post under "the
shadow of Saint Paul's."
The first voice that spoke to the boy was the voice of a child.
"I'm so hungry, Jemmy--I'm so hungry!"
"All right, missy--I've got you something to eat."
"Be quick, Jemmy! Be quick!"
There was a momentary pause; and then I heard the boy's voice
"There's a slice of bread-and-butter, missy. You must wait for
your egg till I can boil it. Don't you eat too fast, or you'll
choke yourself. What's the matter with your mamma? Are you
I could bar ely hear the answering voice--it was so faint; and it
uttered but one word: "No!"
The boy spoke again.
"Cheer up, missus. There's a doctor outside waiting to see you."
This time there was no audible reply. The boy showed himself to
me at the door. "Please to come in, sir. _I_ can't make anything
It would have been misplaced delicacy to have hesitated any
longer to enter the room. I went in.
There, at the opposite end of a miserably furnished bed-chamber,
lying back feebly in a tattered old arm-chair, was one more among
the thousands of forlorn creatures, starving that night in the
great city. A white handkerchief was laid over her face as if to
screen it from the flame of the fire hard by. She lifted the
handkerchief, startled by the sound of my footsteps as I entered
the room. I looked at her, and saw in the white, wan, death-like
face the face of the woman I loved!
For a moment the horror of the discovery turned me faint and
giddy. In another instant I was kneeling by her chair. My arm was
round her--her head lay on my shoulder. She was past speaking,
past crying out: she trembled silently, and that was all. I said
nothing. No words passed my lips, no tears came to my relief. I
held her to me; and she let me hold her. The child, devouring its
bread-and-butter at a little round table, stared at us. The boy,
on his knees before the grate, mending the fire, stared at us.
And the slow minutes lagged on; and the buzzing of a fly in a
corner was the only sound in the room.
The instincts of the profession to which I had been trained,
rather than any active sense of the horror of the situation in
which I was placed, roused me at last. She was starving! I saw it
in the deadly color of her skin; I felt it in the faint, quick
flutter of her pulse. I called the boy to me, and sent him to the
nearest public-house for wine and biscuits. "Be quick about it,"
I said; "and you shall have more money for yourself than ever you
had in your life!" The boy looked at me, spit on the coins in his
hand, said, "That's for luck!" and ran out of the room as never
boy ran yet.
I turned to speak my first words of comfort to the mother. The
cry of the child stopped me.
"I'm so hungry! I'm so hungry!"
I set more food before the famished child and kissed her. She
looked up at me with wondering eyes.
"Are you a new papa?" the little creature asked. "My other papa
never kisses me."
I looked at the mother. Her eyes were closed; the tears flowed
slowly over her worn, white cheeks. I took her frail hand in
mine. "Happier days are coming," I said; "you are _my_ care now."
There was no answer. She still trembled silently, and that was
In less than five minutes the boy returned, and earned his
promised reward. He sat on the floor by the fire counting his
treasure, the one happy creature in the room. I soaked some
crumbled morsels of biscuit in the wine, and, little by little, I
revived her failing strength by nourishment administered at
intervals in that cautious form. After a while she raised her
head, and looked at me with wondering eyes that were pitiably
like the eyes of her child. A faint, delicate flush began to show
itself in her face. She spoke to me, for the first time, in
whispering tones that I could just hear as I sat close at her
"How did you find me? Who showed you the way to this place?"
She paused; painfully recalling the memory of something that was
slow to come back. Her color deepened; she found the lost
remembrance, and looked at me with a timid curiosity. "What
brought you here?" she asked. "Was it my dream?"
"Wait, dearest, till you are stronger, and I will tell you all."
I lifted her gently, and laid her on the wretched bed. The child
followed us, and climbing to the bedstead with my help, nestled
at her mother's side. I sent the boy away to tell the mistress of
the house that I should remain with my patient, watching her
progress toward recovery, through the night. He went out,
jingling his money joyfully in his pocket. We three were left
As the long hours followed each other, she fell at intervals into
a broken sleep; waking with a start, and looking at me wildly as
if I had been a stranger at her bedside. Toward morning the
nourishment which I still carefully administered wrought its
healthful change in her pulse, and composed her to quieter
slumbers. When the sun rose she was sleeping as peacefully as the
child at her side. I was able to leave her, until my return later
in the day, under the care of the woman of the house. The magic
of money transformed this termagant and terrible person into a
docile and attentive nurse--so eager to follow my instructions
exactly that she begged me to commit them to writing before I
went away. For a moment I still lingered alone at the bedside of
the sleeping woman, and satisfied myself for the hundredth time
that her life was safe, before I left her. It was the sweetest of
all rewards to feel sure of this--to touch her cool forehead
lightly with my lips--to look, and look again, at the poor worn
face, always dear, always beautiful, to _my_ eyes. change as it
might. I closed the door softly and went out in the bright
morning, a happy man again. So close together rise the springs of
joy and sorrow in human life! So near in our heart, as in our
heaven, is the brightest sunshine to the blackest cloud!
CONVERSATION WITH MY MOTHER.
I REACHED my own house in time to snatch two or three hours of
repose, before I paid my customary morning visit to my mother in
her own room. I observed, in her reception of me on this
occasion, certain peculiarities of look and manner which were far
from being familiar in my experience of her.
When our eyes first met, she regarded me with a wistful,
questioning look, as if she were troubled by some doubt which she
shrunk from expressing in words. And when I inquired after her
health, as usual, she surprised me by answering as impatiently as
if she resented my having mentioned the subject. For a moment, I
was inclined to think these changes signified that she had
discovered my absence from home during the night, and that she
had some suspicion of the true cause of it. But she never
alluded, even in the most distant manner, to Mrs. Van Brandt; and
not a word dropped from her lips which implied, directly or
indirectly, that I had pained or disappointed her. I could only
conclude that she had something important to say in relation to
herself or to me--and that for reasons of her own she unwillingly
abstained from giving expression to it at that time.
Reverting to our ordinary topics of conversation, we touched on
the subject (always interesting to my mother) of my visit to
Shetland. Speaking of this, we naturally spoke also of Miss
Dunross. Here, again, when I least expected it, there was another
surprise in store for me.
"You were talking the other day," said my mother, "of the green
flag which poor Dermody's daughter worked for you, when you were
both children. Have you really kept it all this time?"
"Where have you left it? In Scotland?"
"I have brought it with me to London."
"I promised Miss Dunross to take the green flag with me, wherever
I might go."
My mother smiled.
"Is it possible, George, that you think about this as the young
lady in Shetland thinks? After all the years that have passed,
you believe in the green flag being the means of bringing Mary
Dermody and yourself together again?"
"Certainly not! I am only humoring one of the fancies of poor
Miss Dunross. Could I refuse to grant her trifling request, after
all I owed to her kindness?"
The smile left my mother's face. She looked at me attentively.
"Miss Dunross seems to have produced a very favorable impression
on you," she said.
"I own it. I feel deeply interested in her."
"If she had not been an incurable invalid, George, I too might
have become interested in Miss Dunross--perhaps in the character
of my daughter-in-law?"
"It is useless, mother, to speculate on what _might_ have
happened. The sad reality is enough."
My mother paused a little before she put her next question to me.
"Did Miss Dunross always keep her veil drawn in your
presence, when there happened to be light in the room?"
"She never even let you catch a momentary glance at her face?"
"And the only reason she gave you was that the light caused her a
painful sensation if it fell on her uncovered skin?"
"You say that, mother, as if you doubt whether Miss Dunross told
me the truth."
"No, George. I only doubt whether she told you _all_ the truth."
"What do you mean?"
"Don't be offended, my dear. I believe Miss Dunross has some more
serious reason for keeping her face hidden than the reason that
she gave _you_."
I was silent. The suspicion which those words implied had never
occurred to my mind. I had read in medical books of cases of
morbid nervous sensitiveness exactly similar to the case of Miss
Dunross, as described by herself--and that had been enough for
me. Now that my mother's idea had found its way from her mind to
mine, the impression produced on me was painful in the last
degree. Horrible imaginings of deformity possessed my brain, and
profaned all that was purest and dearest in my recollections of
Miss Dunross. It was useless to change the subject--the evil
influence that was on me was too potent to be charmed away by
talk. Making the best excuse that I could think of for leaving my
mother's room, I hurried away to seek a refuge from myself, where
alone I could hope to find it, in the presence of Mrs. Van
CONVERSATION WITH MRS. VAN BRANDT.
THE landlady was taking the air at her own door when I reached
the house. Her reply to my inquiries justified my most hopeful
anticipations. The poor lodger looked already "like another
woman"; and the child was at that moment posted on the stairs,
watching for the return of her "new papa."
"There's one thing I should wish to say to you, sir, before you
go upstairs," the woman went on. "Don't trust the lady with more
money at a time than the money that is wanted for the day's
housekeeping. If she has any to spare, it's as likely as not to
be wasted on her good-for-nothing husband."
Absorbed in the higher and dearer interests that filled my mind,
I had thus far forgotten the very existence of Mr. Van Brandt.
"Where is he?" I asked.
"Where he ought to be," was the answer. "In prison for debt."
In those days a man imprisoned for debt was not infrequently a
man imprisoned for life. There was little fear of my visit being
shortened by the appearance on the scene of Mr. Van Brandt.
Ascending the stairs, I found the child waiting for me on the
upper landing, with a ragged doll in her arms. I had bought a
cake for her on my way to the house. She forthwith turned over
the doll to my care, and, trotting before me into the room with
her cake in her arms, announced my arrival in these words:
"Mamma, I like this papa better than the other. You like him
The mother's wasted face reddened for a moment, then turned pale
again, as she held out her hand to me. I looked at her anxiously,
and discerned the welcome signs of recovery, clearly revealed.
Her grand gray eyes rested on me again with a glimmer of their
old light. The hand that had lain so cold in mine on the past
night had life and warmth in it now.
"Should I have died before the morning if you had not come here?"
she asked, softly. "Have you saved my life for the second time? I
can well believe it."
Before I was aware of her, she bent her head over my hand, and
touched it tenderly with her lips. "I am not an ungrateful
woman," she murmured--"and yet I don't know how to thank you."
The child looked up quickly from her cake. "Why don't you kiss
him?" the quaint little creature asked, with a broad stare of
Her head sunk on her breast. She sighed bitterly.
"No more of Me!" she said, suddenly recovering her composure, and
suddenly forcing herself to look at me again. "Tell me what happy
chance brought you here last night?"
"The same chance," I answered, "which took me to Saint Anthony's
She raised herself eagerly in the chair.
"You have seen me again--as you saw me in the summer-house by the
waterfall!" she exclaimed. "Was it in Scotland once more?"
"No. Further away than Scotland--as far away as Shetland."
"Tell me about it! Pray, pray tell me about it!"
I related what had happened as exactly as I could, consistently
with maintaining the strictest reserve on one point. Concealing
from her the very existence of Miss Dunross, I left her to
suppose that the master of the house was the one person whom I
had found to receive me during my sojourn under Mr. Dunross's
"That is strange!" she exclaimed, after she had heard me
attentively to the end.
"What is strange?" I asked.
She hesitated, searching my face earnestly with her large grave
"I hardly like speaking of it," she said. "And yet I ought to
have no concealments in such a matter from you. I understand
everything that you have told me--with one exception. It seems
strange to me that you should only have had one old man for your
companion while you were at the house in Shetland."
"What other companion did you expect to hear of?" I inquired.
"I expected," she answered, "to hear of a lady in the house."
I cannot positively say that the reply took me by surprise: it
forced me to reflect before I spoke again. I knew, by my past
experience, that she must have seen me, in my absence from her,
while I was spiritually present to her mind in a trance or dream.
Had she also seen the daily companion of my life in
I put the question in a form which left me free to decide whether
I should take her unreservedly into my confidence or not.
"Am I right," I began, "in supposing that you dreamed of me in
Shetland, as you once before dreamed of me while I was at my
house in Perthshire?"
"Yes," she answered. "It was at the close of evening, this time.
I fell asleep, or became insensible--I cannot say which. And I
saw you again, in a vision or a dream."
"Where did you see me?"
"I first saw you on the bridge over the Scotch river--just as I
met you on the evening when you saved my life. After a while the
stream and the landscape about it faded, and you faded with them,
into darkness. I waited a little, and the darkness melted away
slowly. I stood, as it seemed to me, in a circle of starry
lights; fronting a window, with a lake behind me, and before me a
darkened room. And I looked into the room, and the starry light
showed you to me again."
"When did this happen? Do you remember the date?"
"I remember that it was at the beginning of the month. The
misfortunes which have since brought me so low had not then
fallen on me; and yet, as I stood looking at you, I had the
strangest prevision of calamity that was to come. I felt the same
absolute reliance on your power to help me that I felt when I
first dreamed of you in Scotland. And I did the same familiar
things. I laid my hand on your bosom. I said to you: 'Remember
me. Come to me.' I even wrote--"
She stopped, shuddering as if a sudden fear had laid its hold on
her. Seeing this, and dreading the effect of any violent
agitation, I hastened to suggest that we should say no more, for
that day, on the subject of her dream.
"No," she answered, firmly. "There is nothing to be gained by
giving me time. My dream has left one horrible remembrance on my
mind. As long as I live, I believe I shall tremble when I think
of what I saw near you in that darkened room."
She stopped again. Was she approaching the subject of the
shrouded figure, with the black veil over its head? Was she about
to describe her first discovery, in the dream, of Miss Dunross?
"Tell me one thing first," she resumed. "Have I been right in
what I have said to you, so far? Is it true that you were in a
darkened room when you saw me?"
"Was the date the beginning of the month? and was the hour the
close of evening?"
"Were you alone in the room? Answer me truly!"
"I was not alone."
"Was the master of the house with you? or had you some other
It would have been worse than useless (after what I had now
heard) to attempt to deceive her.
"I had another companion," I answered. "The person in the room
with me was a woman."
Her face showed, as I spoke, that she was again shaken by the
terrifying recollection to which she had just alluded. I had, by
this time, some difficulty myself in preserving my composure.
Still, I was determined not to let a word escape me which could
operate as a suggestion on the mind of my companion.
"Have you any other question to ask me?" was all I said.
"One more," she answered. "Was there anything unusual in the
dress of your companion?"
"Yes. She wore a long black veil, which hung over her head and
face, and dropped to below her waist."
Mrs. Van Brandt leaned back in her chair, and covered her eyes
with her hands.
"I understand your motive for concealing from me the presence of
that miserable woman in the house," she said. "It is good and
kind, like all your motives; but it is useless. While I lay in
the trance I saw everything exactly as it was in the reality; and
I, too, saw that frightful face!"
Those words literally electrified me.
My conversation of that morning with my mother instantly recurred
to my memory. I started to my feet.
"Good God!" I exclaimed, "what do you mean?"
"Don't you understand yet?" she asked in amazement on her side.
"Must I speak more plainly still? When you saw the apparition of
me, did you see me write?"
"Yes. On a letter that the lady was writing for me. I saw the
words afterward; the words that brought me to you last night: 'At
the month's end, In the shadow of Saint Paul's.' "
"How did I appear to write on the unfinished letter?"
"You lifted the writing-case, on which the letter and the pen
lay, off the lady's lap; and, while you wrote, you rested the
case on her shoulder."
"Did you notice if the lifting of the case produced any effect on
"I saw no effect produced," I answered. "She remained immovable
in her chair."
"I saw it differently in my dream. She raised her hand--not the
hand that was nearest to you, but nearest to me. As _I_ lifted
the writing-case, _she_ lifted her hand, and parted the folds of
the veil from off her face--I suppose to see more clearly. It was
only for a moment; and in that moment I saw what the veil hid.
Don't let us speak of it! You must have shuddered at that
frightful sight in the reality, as I shuddered at it in the
dream. You must have asked yourself, as I did: 'Is there nobody
to poison the terrible creature, and hide her mercifully in the
At those words, she abruptly checked herself. I could say
nothing--my face spoke for me. She saw it, and guessed the truth.
"Good heavens!" she cried, "you have not seen her! She must have
kept her face hidden from you behind the veil! Oh, why, why did
you cheat me into talking of it! I will never speak of it again.
See, we are frightening the child! Come here, darling; there is
nothing to be afraid of. Come, and bring your cake with you. You
shall be a great lady, giving a grand dinner; and we will be two
friends whom you have invited to dine with you; and the doll
shall be the little girl who comes in after dinner, and has fruit
at dessert!" So she ran on, trying vainly to forget the shock
that she had inflicted on me in talking nursery nonsense to the
Recovering my composure in some degree, I did my best to second
the effort that she had made. My quieter thoughts suggested that
she might well be self-deceived in believing the horrible
spectacle presented to her in the vision to be an actual
reflection of the truth. In common justice toward Miss Dunross I
ought surely not to accept the conviction of her deformity on no
better evidence than the evidence of a dream? Reasonable as it
undoubtedly was, this view left certain doubts still lingering in
my mind. The child's instinct soon discovered that her mother and
I were playfellows who felt no genuine enjoyment of the game. She
dismissed her make-believe guests without ceremony, and went back
with her doll to the favorite play-ground on which I had met
her--the landing outside the door. No persuasion on her mother's
part or on mine succeeded in luring her back to us. We were left
together, to face each other as best we might--with the forbidden
subject of Miss Dunross between us.
LOVE AND MONEY.
FEELING the embarrassment of the moment most painfully on her
side, Mrs. Van Brandt spoke first.
"You have said nothing to me about yourself," she began. "Is your
life a happier one than it was when we last met?"
"I cannot honestly say that it is," I answered.
"Is there any prospect of your being married?"
"My prospect of being married still rests with you."
"Don't say that!" she exclaimed, with an entreating look at me.
"Don't spoil my pleasure in seeing you again by speaking of what
can never be! Have you still to be told how it is that you find
me here alone with my child?"
I forced myself to mention Van Brandt's name, rather than hear it
pass _her_ lips.
"I have been told that Mr. Van Brandt is in prison for debt," I
said. "And I saw for myself last night that he had left you
"He left me the little money he had with him when he was
arrested," she rejoined, sadly. "His cruel creditors are more to
blame than he is for the poverty that has fallen on us."
Even this negative defense of Van Brandt stung me to the quick.
"I ought to have spoken more guardedly of him," I said, bitterly.
"I ought to have remembered that a woman can forgive almost any
wrong that a man can inflict on her--when he is the man whom she
She put her hand on my mouth, and stopped me before I could say
"How can you speak so cruelly to me?" she asked. "You know--to my
shame I confessed it to you the last time we met--you know that
my heart, in secret, is all yours. What 'wrong' are you talking
of? Is it the wrong I suffered when Van Brandt married me, with a
wife living at the time (and living still)? Do you think I can
ever forget the great misfortune of my life--the misfortune that
has made me unworthy of you? It is no fault of mine, God knows;
but it is not the less true that I am not married, and that the
little darling who is playing out there with her doll is my
child. And you talk of my being your wife--knowing that!"
"The child accepts me as her second father," I said. "It would be
better and happier for us both if you had as little pride as the
"Pride?" she repeated. "In such a position as mine? A helpless
woman, with a mock-husband in prison for debt! Say that I have
not fallen quite so low yet as to forget what is due to you, and
you will pay me a compliment that will be nearer to the truth. Am
I to marry you for my food and shelter? Am I to marry you,
because there is no lawful tie that binds me to the father of my
child? Cruelly as he has behaved, he has still _that_ claim upon
me. Bad as he is, he has not forsaken me; he has been forced
away. My only friend, is it possible that you think me ungrateful
enough to consent to be your wife? The woman (in my situation)
must be heartless indeed who could destroy your place in the
estimation of the world and the regard of your friends! The
wretchedest creature that walks the streets would shrink from
treating you in that way. Oh, what are men made of? How _can_
you--how _can_ you speak of it!"
I yielded---and spoke of it no more. Every word she uttered only
increased my admiration of the noble creature whom I had loved,
and lost. What refuge was now left to me? But one refuge; I could
still offer to her the sacrifice of myself. Bitterly as I hated
the man who had parted us, I loved her dearly enough to be even
capable of helping him for her sake. Hopeless infatuation! I
don't deny it; I don't excuse it--hopeless infatuation!
"You have forgiven me," I said. "Let me deserve to be forgiven.
It is something to be your only friend. You must have plans for
the future; tell me unreservedly how I can help you."
"Complete the good work that you have begun," she answered,
gratefully. "Help me back to health. Make me strong enough to
submit to a doctor's estimate of my chances of living for some
"A doctor's estimate of your chances of living?" I repeated.
"What do you mean?"
"I hardly know how to tell you," she said, "without
speaking again of Mr. Van Brandt."
"Does speaking of him again mean speaking of his debts?" I asked.
"Why need you hesitate? You know that there is nothing I will not
do to relieve _your_ anxieties."
She looked at me for a moment, in silent distress.
"Oh! do you think I would let you give your money to Van Brandt?"
she asked, as soon as she could speak. "I, who owe everything to
your devotion to me? Never! Let me tell you the plain truth.
There is a serious necessity for his getting out of prison. He
must pay his creditors; and he has found out a way of doing
it--with my help."
"Your help?" I exclaimed.
"Yes. This is his position, in two words: A little while since,
he obtained an excellent offer of employment abroad, from a rich
relative of his, and he had made all his arrangements to accept
it. Unhappily, he returned to tell me of his good fortune, and
the same day he was arrested for debt. His relative has offered
to keep the situation open for a certain time, and the time has
not yet expired. If he can pay a dividend to his creditors, they
will give him his freedom; and he believes he can raise the money
if I consent to insure my life."
To insure her life! The snare that had been set for her was
plainly revealed in those four words.
In the eye of the law she was, of course, a single woman: she was
of age; she was, to all intents and purposes, her own mistress.
What was there to prevent her from insuring her life, if she
pleased, and from so disposing of the insurance as to give Van
Brandt a direct interest in her death? Knowing what I knew of
him--believing him, as I did, to be capable of any atrocity--I
trembled at the bare idea of what might have happened if I had
failed to find my way back to her until a later date. Thanks to
the happy accident of my position, the one certain way of
protecting her lay easily within my reach. I could offer to lend
the scoundrel the money that he wanted at an hour's notice, and
he was the man to accept my proposal quite as easily as I could
"You don't seem to approve of our idea," she said, noticing, in
evident perplexity, the effect which she had produced on me. "I
am very unfortunate; I seem to have innocently disturbed and
annoyed you for the second time."
"You are quite mistaken," I replied. "I am only doubting whether
your plan for relieving Mr. Van Brandt of his embarrassments is
quite so simple as you suppose. Are you aware of the delays that
are likely to take place before it will be possible to borrow
money on your policy of insurance?"
"I know nothing about it," she said, sadly.
"Will you let me ask the advice of my lawyers? They are
trustworthy and experienced men, and I am sure they can be of use
Cautiously as I had expressed myself, her delicacy took the
"Promise that you won't ask me to borrow money of you for Mr. Van
Brandt," she rejoined, "and I will accept your help gratefully."
I could honestly promise that. My one chance of saving her lay in
keeping from her knowledge the course that I had now determined
to pursue. I rose to go, while my resolution still sustained me.
The sooner I made my inquiries (I reminded her) the more speedily
our present doubts and difficulties would be resolved.
She rose, as I rose--with the tears in her eyes, and the blush on
"Kiss me," she whispered, "before you go! And don't mind my
crying. I am quite happy now. It is only your goodness that
I pressed her to my heart, with the unacknowledged tenderness of
a parting embrace. It was impossible to disguise the position in
which I had now placed myself. I had, so to speak, pronounced my
own sentence of banishment. When my interference had restored my
unworthy rival to his freedom, could I submit to the degrading
necessity of seeing her in his presence, of speaking to her under
his eyes? _That_ sacrifice of myself was beyond me--and I knew
it. "For the last time!" I thought, as I held her to me for a
moment longer--"for the last time!"
The child ran to meet me with open arms when I stepped out on the
landing. My manhood had sustained me through the parting with the
mother. It was only when the child's round, innocent little face
laid itself lovingly against mine that my fortitude gave way. I
was past speaking; I put her down gently in silence, and waited
on the lower flight of stairs until I was fit to face the world
OUR DESTINIES PART US.
DESCENDING to the ground-floor of the house, I sent to request a
moment's interview with the landlady. I had yet to learn in which
of the London prisons Van Brandt was confined; and she was the
only person to whom I could venture to address the question.
Having answered my inquiries, the woman put her own sordid
construction on my motive for visiting the prisoner.
"Has the money you left upstairs gone into his greedy pockets
already?" she asked. "If I was as rich as you are, I should let
it go. In your place, I wouldn't touch him with a pair of tongs!"
The woman's coarse warning actually proved useful to me; it
started a new idea in my mind! Before she spoke, I had been too
dull or too preoccupied to see that it was quite needless to
degrade myself by personally communicating with Van Brandt in his
prison. It only now occurred to me that my legal advisers were,
as a matter of course, the proper persons to represent me in the
matter--with this additional advantage, that they could keep my
share in the transaction a secret even from Van Brandt himself.
I drove at once to the office of my lawyers. The senior
partner--the tried friend and adviser of our family--received me.
My instructions, naturally enough, astonished him. He was
immediately to satisfy the prisoner's creditors, on my behalf,
without mentioning my name to any one. And he was gravely to
accept as security for repayment--Mr. Van Brandt's note of hand!
"I thought I was well acquainted with the various methods by
which a gentleman can throw away his money," the senior partner
remarked. "I congratulate you, Mr. Germaine, on having discovered
an entirely new way of effectually emptying your purse. Founding
a newspaper, taking a theater, keeping race-horses, gambling at
Monaco, are highly efficient as modes of losing money. But they
all yield, sir, to paying the debts of Mr. Van Brandt!"
I left him, and went home.
The servant who opened the door had a message for me from my
mother. She wished to see me as soon as I was at leisure to speak
I presented myself at once in my mother's sitting-room.
"Well, George?" she said, without a word to prepare me for what
was coming. "How have you left Mrs. Van Brandt?"
I was completely thrown off my guard.
"Who has told you that I have seen Mrs. Van Brandt?" I asked.
"My dear, your face has told me. Don't I know by this time how
you look and how you speak when Mrs. Van Brandt is in your mind.
Sit down by me. I have something to say to you which I wanted to
say this morning; but, I hardly know why, my heart failed me. I
am bolder now, and I can say it. My son, you still love Mrs. Van
Brandt. You have my permission to marry her."
Those were the words! Hardly an hour had elapsed since Mrs. Van
Brandt's own lips had told me that our union was impossible. Not
even half an hour had passed since I had given the directions
which would restore to liberty the man who was the one obstacle
to my marriage. And this was the time that my mother had
innocently chosen for consenting to receive as her
daughter-in-law Mrs. Van Brandt!
"I see that I surprise you," she resumed. "Let me explain my
motive as plainly as I can. I should not be speaking the truth,
George, if I told you that I have ceased to feel the serious
objections that there are to your marrying this lady. The only
difference in my way of thinking is, that I am now willing to set
my objections aside, out of regard for your happiness. I am an
old woman, my dear. In the course of nature, I cannot hope to be
with you much longer. When I am gone, who will be left to care
for you and love you, in the place of your mother? No one will be
left, unless you marry Mrs. Van Brandt. Your happiness is my
first consideration, and the woman you love (sadly as she has
been led astray) is a woman worthy of a better fate. Marry her."
I could not trust myself to speak. I could only kneel at my
mother's feet, and hide my face on her knees, as if I had been a
"Think of it, George," she said. "And come back to me when you
are composed enough to speak as quietly of the future as I do."
She lifted my head and kissed me. As I rose to leave her, I saw
something in the dear old eyes that met mine so tenderly, which
struck a sudden fear through me, keen and cutting, like a stroke
from a knife.
The moment I had closed the door, I went downstairs to the porter
in the hall.
"Has my mother left the house," I asked, "while I have been
"Have any visitors called?"
"One visitor has called, sir."
"Do you know who it was?"
The porter mentioned the name of a celebrated physician--a man at
the head of his profession in those days. I instantly took my hat
and went to his house.
He had just returned from his round of visits. My card was taken
to him, and was followed at once by my admission to his
"You have seen my mother," I said. "Is she seriously ill? and
have you not concealed it from her? For God's sake, tell me the
truth; I can bear it."
The great man took me kindly by the hand.
"Your mother stands in no need of any warning; she is herself
aware of the critical state of her health," he said. "She sent
for me to confirm her own conviction. I could not conceal from
her--I must not conceal from you--that the vital energies are
sinking. She may live for some months longer in a milder air than
the air of London. That is all I can say. At her age, her days
He gave me time to steady myself under the blow; and then he
placed his vast experience, his matured and consummate knowledge,
at my disposal. From his dictation, I committed to writing the
necessary instructions for watching over the frail tenure of my
"Let me give you one word of warning," he said, as we parted.
"Your mother is especially desirous that you should know nothing
of the precarious condition of her health. Her one anxiety is to
see you happy. If she discovers your visit to me, I will not
answer for the consequences. Make the best excuse you can think
of for at once taking her away from London, and, whatever you may
feel in secret, keep up an appearance of good spirits in her
That evening I made my excuse. It was easily found. I had only to
tell my poor mother of Mrs. Van Brandt's refusal to marry me, and
there was an intelligible motive assigned for my proposing to
leave London. The same night I wrote to inform Mrs. Van Brandt of
the sad event which was the cause of my sudden departure, and to
warn her that there no longer existed the slightest necessity for
insuring her life. "My lawyers" (I wrote) "have undertaken to
arrange Mr. Van Brandt's affairs immediately. In a few hours he
will be at liberty to accept the situation that has been offered
to him." The last lines of the letter assured her of my
unalterable love, and entreated her to write to me before she
This done, all was done. I was conscious, strange to say, of no
acutely painful suffering at this saddest time of my life. There
is a limit, morally as well as physically, to our capacity for
endurance. I can only describe my sensations under the calamities
that had now fallen on me in one way: I felt like a man whose
mind had been stunned.
The next day my mother and I set forth on the first stage of our
journey to the south coast of Devonshire.
THE PROSPECT DARKENS.
THREE days after my mother and I had established ourselves at
Torquay, I received Mrs. Van Brandt's answer to my letter. After
the opening sentences (informing me that Van Brandt had been set
at liberty, under circumstances painfully suggestive to the
writer of some unacknowledged sacrifice on my part), the letter
proceeded in these terms:
"The new employment which Mr. Van Brandt is to undertake secures
to us the comforts, if not the luxuries, of life. For the first
time since my troubles began, I have the prospect before me of a
peaceful existence, among a foreign people from whom all that is
false in my position may be concealed--not for my sake, but for
the sake of my child. To more than this, to the happiness which
some women enjoy, I must not, I dare not, aspire.
"We leave England for the Continent early tomorrow morning. Shall
I tell you in what part of Europe my new residence is to be?
"No! You might write to me again; and I might write back. The one
poor return I can make to the good angel of my life is to help
him to forget me. What right have I to cling to my usurped place
in your regard? The time will come when you will give your heart
to a woman who is worthier of it than I am. Let me drop out of
your life--except as an occasional remembrance, when you
sometimes think of the days that have gone forever.
"I shall not be without some consolation on my side, when I too
look back at the past. I have been a better woman since I met
with you. Live as long as I may, I shall always remember that.
"Yes! The influence that you have had over me has been from first
to last an influence for good. Allowing that I have done wrong
(in my position) to love you, and, worse even than that, to own
it, still the love has been innocent, and the effort to control
it has been an honest effort at least. But, apart from this, my
heart tells me that I am the better for the sympathy which has
united us. I may confess to you what I have never yet
acknowledged--now that we are so widely parted, and so little
likely to meet again--whenever I have given myself up
unrestrainedly to my own better impulses, they have always seemed
to lead me to you. Whenever my mind has been most truly at peace,
and I have been able to pray with a pure and a penitent heart, I
have felt as if there was some unseen tie that was drawing us
nearer and nearer together. And, strange to say, this has always
happened (just as my dreams of you have always come to me) when I
have been separated from Van Brandt. At such times, thinking or
dreaming, it has always appeared to me that I knew you far more
familiarly than I know you when we meet face to face. Is there
really such a thing, I wonder, as a former state of existence?
And were we once constant companions in some other sphere,
thousands of years since? These are idle guesses. Let it be
enough for me to remember that I have been the better for knowing
you--without inquiring how or why.
"Farewell, my beloved benefactor, my only friend! The child sends
you a kiss; and the mother signs herself your grateful and
M. VAN BRANDT."
When I first read those lines, they once more recalled to my
memory--very strangely, as I then thought--the predictions of
Dame Dermody in the days of my boyhood. Here were the foretold
sympathies which were spiritually to unite me to Mary, realized
by a stranger whom I had met by chance in the later years of my
Thinking in this direction, did I advance no further? Not a step
further! Not a suspicion of the truth presented itself to my mind
Was my own dullness of apprehension to blame for this? Would
another man in my position have discovered what I had failed to
I look back along the chain of events which runs through my
narrative, and I ask myself, Where are the possibilities to be
found (in my case, or in the case of any other man) of
identifying the child who was Mary Dermody with the woman who was
Mrs. Van Brandt? Was there anything left in our faces, when we