Part 5 out of 6
met again by the Scotch river, to remind us of our younger
selves? We had developed, in the interval, from boy and girl to
man and woman: no outward traces were discernible in us of the
George and Mary of other days. Disguised from each other by our
faces, we were also disguised by our names. Her mock-marriage had
changed her surname. My step-father's will had changed mine. Her
Christian name was the commonest of all names of women; and mine
was almost as far from being remarkable among the names of men.
Turning next to the various occasions
on which we had met, had we seen enough of each other to drift
into recognition on either side, in the ordinary course of talk?
We had met but four times in all; once on the bridge, once again
in Edinburgh, twice more in London. On each of these occasions,
the absorbing anxieties and interests of the passing moment had
filled her mind and mine, had inspired her words and mine. When
had the events which had brought us together left us with leisure
enough and tranquillity enough to look back idly through our
lives, and calmly to compare the recollections of our youth?
Never! From first to last, the course of events had borne us
further and further away from any results that could have led
even to a suspicion of the truth. She could only believe when she
wrote to me on leaving England--and I could only believe when I
read her letter--that we had first met at the river, and that our
divergent destinies had ended in parting us forever.
Reading her farewell letter in later days by the light of my
matured experience, I note how remarkably Dame Dermody's faith in
the purity of the tie that united us as kindred spirits was
justified by the result.
It was only when my unknown Mary was parted from Van Brandt--in
other words, it was only when she was a pure spirit--that she
felt my influence over her as a refining influence on her life,
and that the apparition of her communicated with me in the
visible and perfect likeness of herself. On my side, when was it
that I dreamed of her (as in Scotland), or felt the mysterious
warning of her presence in my waking moments (as in Shetland)?
Always at the time when my heart opened most tenderly toward her
and toward others--when my mind was most free from the bitter
doubts, the self-seeking aspirations, which degrade the divinity
within us. Then, and then only, my sympathy with her was the
perfect sympathy which holds its fidelity unassailable by the
chances and changes, the delusions and temptations, of mortal
I am writing prematurely of the time when the light came to me.
My narrative must return to the time when I was still walking in
Absorbed in watching over the closing days of my mother's life, I
found in the performance of this sacred duty my only consolation
under the overthrow of my last hope of marriage with Mrs. Van
Brandt. By slow degrees my mother felt the reviving influences of
a quiet life and a soft, pure air. The improvement in her health
could, as I but too well knew, be only an improvement for a time.
Still, it was a relief to see her free from pain, and innocently
happy in the presence of her son. Excepting those hours of the
day and night which were dedicated to repose, I was never away
from her. To this day I remember, with a tenderness which
attaches to no other memories of mine, the books that I read to
her, the sunny corner on the seashore where I sat with her, the
games of cards that we played together, the little trivial gossip
that amused her when she was strong enough for nothing else.
These are my imperishable relics; these are the deeds of my life
that I shall love best to look back on, when the all-infolding
shadows of death are closing round me.
In the hours when I was alone, my thoughts--occupying themselves
mostly among the persons and events of the past--wandered back,
many and many a time, to Shetland and Miss Dunross.
My haunting doubt as to what the black veil had really hidden
from me was no longer accompanied by a feeling of horror when it
now recurred to my mind. The more vividly my later remembrances
of Miss Dunross were associated with the idea of an unutterable
bodily affliction, the higher the noble nature of the woman
seemed to rise in my esteem. For the first time since I had left
Shetland, the temptation now came to me to disregard the
injunction which her father had laid on me at parting. When I
thought again of the stolen kiss in the dead of night; when I
recalled the appearance of the frail white hand, waving to me
through the dark curtains its last farewell; and when there
mingled with these memories the later remembrance of what my
mother had suspected, and of what Mrs. Van Brandt had seen in her
dream--the longing in me to find a means of assuring Miss Dunross
that she still held her place apart in my memory and my heart was
more than mortal fortitude could resist. I was pledged in honor
not to return to Shetland, and not to write. How to communicate
with her secretly, in some other way, was the constant question
in my mind as the days went on. A hint to enlighten me was all
that I wanted; and, as the irony of circumstances ordered it, my
mother was the person who gave me the hint.
We still spoke, at intervals, of Mrs. Van Brandt. Watching me on
those occasions when we were in the company of friends and
acquaintances at Torquay, my mother plainly discerned that no
other woman, whatever her attractions might be, could take the
place in my heart of the woman whom I had lost. Seeing but one
prospect of happiness for me, she steadily refused to abandon the
idea of my marriage. When a woman has owned that she loves a man
(so my mother used to express her opinion), it is that man's
fault, no matter what the obstacles may be, if he fails to make
her his wife. Reverting to this view in various ways, she pressed
it on my consideration one day in these words:
"There is one drawback, George, to my happiness in being here
with you. I am an obstacle in the way of your communicating with
Mrs. Van Brandt."
"You forget," I said, "that she has left England without telling
me where to find her."
"If you were free from the incumbrance of your mother, my dear,
you would easily find her. Even as things are, you might surely
write to her. Don't mistake my motives, George. If I had any hope
of your forgetting her--if I saw you only moderately attracted by
one or other of the charming women whom we know here--I should
say, let us never speak again or think again of Mrs. Van Brandt.
But, my dear, your heart is closed to every woman but one. Be
happy in your own way, and let me see it before I die. The wretch
to whom that poor creature is sacrificing her life will, sooner
or later, ill-treat her or desert her and then she must turn to
you. Don't let her think that you are resigned to the loss of
her. The more resolutely you set her scruples at defiance, the
more she will love you and admire you in secret. Women are like
that. Send her a letter, and follow it with a little present. You
talked of taking me to the studio of the young artist here who
left his card the other day. I am told that he paints admirable
portraits in miniatures. Why not send your portrait to Mrs. Van
Here was the idea of which I had been vainly in search! Quite
superfluous as a method of pleading my cause with Mrs. Van
Brandt, the portrait offered the best of all means of
communicating with Miss Dunross, without absolutely violating the
engagement to which her father had pledged me. In this way,
without writing a word, without even sending a message, I might
tell her how gratefully she was remembered; I might remind her of
me tenderly in the bitterest moments of her sad and solitary
The same day I went to the artist privately. The sittings were
afterward continued during the hours while my mother was resting
in her room, until the portrait was completed. I caused it to be
inclosed in a plain gold locket, with a chain attached; and I
forwarded my gift, in the first instance, to the one person whom
I could trust to assist me in arranging for the conveyance of it
to its destination. This was the old friend (alluded to in these
pages as "Sir James") who had taken me with him to Shetland in
the Government yacht.
I had no reason, in writing the necessary explanations, to
express myself to Sir James with any reserve. On the voyage back
we had more than once spoken together confidentially of Miss
Dunross. Sir James had heard her sad story from the resident
medical man at Lerwick, who had been an old companion of his in
their college days. Requesting him to confide my gift to this
gentleman, I did not hesitate to acknowledge the doubt that
oppressed me in relation to the mystery of the black veil. It
was, of course, impossible to decide whether the doctor would be
able to relieve that doubt. I could only venture to suggest that
the question might be guardedly put, in making the customary
inquiries after the health of Miss Dunross.
In those days of slow communication, I had to wait, not for days,
but for weeks, before I could expect to receive Sir James's
answer. His letter only reached me after an unusually long delay.
For this, or for some other reason that I cannot divine, I felt
so strongly the foreboding of bad news that I abstained from
breaking the seal in my mother's presence. I waited until I could
retire to my own room, and then I opened the letter. My
presentiment had not deceived me.
Sir James's reply contained these words only: "The letter
inclosed tells its own sad story, without help from me. I cannot
grieve for her; but I can feel sorry for you."
The letter thus described was addressed to Sir James by the
doctor at Lerwick. I copy it (without comment) in these words:
"The late stormy weather has delayed the vessel by means of which
we communicate with the mainland. I have only received your
letter to-day. With it, there has arrived a little box,
containing a gold locket and chain; being the present which you
ask me to convey privately to Miss Dunross, from a friend of
yours whose name you are not at liberty to mention.
"In transmitting these instructions, you have innocently placed
me in a position of extreme difficulty.
"The poor lady for whom the gift is intended is near the end of
her life--a life of such complicated and terrible suffering that
death comes, in her case, literally as a mercy and a deliverance.
Under these melancholy circumstances, I am, I think, not to blame
if I hesitate to give her the locket in secret; not knowing with
what associations this keepsake may be connected, or of what
serious agitation it may not possibly be the cause.
"In this state of doubt I have ventured on opening the locket,
and my hesitation is naturally increased. I am quite ignorant of
the remembrances which my unhappy patient may connect with the
portrait. I don't know whether it will give her pleasure or pain
to receive it, in her last moments on earth. I can only decide to
take it with me, when I see her to-morrow, and to let
circumstances determine whether I shall risk letting her see it
or not. Our post to the South only leaves this place in three
days' time. I can keep my letter open, and let you know the
"I have seen her; and I have just returned to my own house. My
distress of mind is great. But I will do my best to write
intelligibly and fully of what has happened.
"Her sinking energies, when I first saw her this morning, had
rallied for the moment. The nurse informed me that she had slept
during the early hours of the new day. Previously to this, there
were symptoms of fever, accompanied by some slight delirium. The
words that escaped her in this condition appear to have related
mainly to an absent person whom she spoke of by the name of
'George.' Her one anxiety, I am told, was to see 'George' again
before she died.
"Hearing this, it struck me as barely possible that the portrait
in the locket might be the portrait of the absent person. I sent
her nurse out of the room, and took her hand in mine. Trusting
partly to her own admirable courage and strength of mind, and
partly to the confidence which I knew she placed in me as an old
friend and adviser, I adverted to the words which had fallen from
her in the feverish state. And then I said, 'You know that any
secret of yours is safe in my keeping. Tell me, do you expect to
receive any little keepsake or memorial from 'George'?
"It was a risk to run. The black veil which she always wears was
over her face. I had nothing to tell me of the effect which I was
producing on her, except the changing temperature, or the partial
movement, of her hand, as it lay in mine, just under the silk
coverlet of the bed.
"She said nothing at first. Her hand turned suddenly from cold to
hot, and closed with a quick pressure on mine. Her breathing
became oppressed. When she spoke, it was with difficulty. She
told me nothing; she only put a question:
" 'Is he here?' she asked.
"I said, 'Nobody is here but myself.'
" 'Is there a letter?'
"I said 'No.'
"She was silent for a while. Her hand turned cold; the grasp of
her fingers loosened. She spoke again: 'Be quick, doctor!
Whatever it is, give it to me, before I die.'
"I risked the experiment; I opened the locket, and put it into
"So far as I could discover, she refrained from looking at it at
first. She said, 'Turn me in the bed, with my face to the wall.'
I obeyed her. With her back turned toward me she lifted her veil;
and then (as I suppose) she looked at the portrait. A long, low
cry--not of sorrow or pain: a cry of rapture and delight--burst
from her. I heard her kiss the portrait. Accustomed as I am in my
profession to piteous sights and sounds, I never remember so
completely losing my self-control as I lost it at that moment. I
was obliged to turn away to the window.
"Hardly a minute can have passed before I was back again at the
bedside. In that brief interval she had changed. Her voice had
sunk again; it was so weak that I could only hear what she said
by leaning over her and placing my ear close to her lips.
" 'Put it round my neck,' she whispered.
"I clasped the chain of the locket round her neck. She tried to
lift her hand to it, but her strength failed her.
" 'Help me to hide it,' she said.
"I guided her hand. She hid the locket in her bosom, under the
white dressing-gown which she wore that day. The oppression in
her breathing increased. I raised her on the pillow. The pillow
was not high enough. I rested her head on my shoulder, and
partially opened her veil. She was able to speak once more,
feeling a momentary relief.
" 'Promise,' she said, 'that no stranger's hand shall touch me.
Promise to bury me as I am now.'
"I gave her my promise.
"Her failing breath quickened. She was just able to articulate
the next words:
" 'Cover my face again.'
"I drew the veil over her face. She rested a while in silence.
Suddenly the sound of her laboring respiration ceased. She
started, and raised her head from my shoulder.
" 'Are you in pain?' I asked.
" 'I am in heaven!' she answered.
" Her head dropped back on my breast as she spoke. In that last
outburst of joy her last breath had passed. The moment of her
supreme happiness and the moment of her death were one. The mercy
of God had found her at last.
"I return to my letter before the post goes out.
"I have taken the necessary measures for the performance of my
promise. She will be buried with the portrait hidden in her
bosom, and with the black veil over her face. No nobler creature
ever breathed the breath of life. Tell the stranger who sent her
his portrait that her last moments were joyful moments, through
his remembrance of her as expressed by his gift.
"I observe a passage in your letter to which I have not yet
replied. You ask me if there was any more serious reason for the
persistent hiding of her face under the veil than the reason
which she was accustomed to give to the persons about her. It is
true that she suffered under a morbid sensitiveness to the action
of light. It is also true that this was not the only result, or
the worst result, of the malady that afflicted her. She had
another reason for keeping her face hidden--a reason known to two
persons only: to the doctor who lives in the village near her
father's house, and to myself. We are both pledged never to
divulge to any living creature what our eyes alone have seen. We
have kept our terrible secret even from her father; and we shall
carry it with us to our graves. I have no more to say on this
melancholy subject to the person in whose interest you write.
When he thinks of her now, let him think of the beauty which no
bodily affliction can profane--the beauty of the freed spirit,
eternally happy in its union with the angels of God.
"I may add, before I close my letter, that the poor old father
will not be left in cheerless solitude at the lak e house. He
will pass the remainder of his days under my roof, with my good
wife to take care of him, and my children to remind him of the
brighter side of life."
So the letter ended. I put it away, and went out. The solitude of
my room forewarned me unendurably of the coming solitude in my
own life. My interests in this busy world were now narrowed to
one object--to the care of my mother's failing health. Of the two
women whose hearts had once beaten in loving sympathy with mine,
one lay in her grave and the other was lost to me in a foreign
land. On the drive by the sea I met my mother, in her little
pony-chaise, moving slowly under the mild wintry sunshine. I
dismissed the man who was in attendance on her, and walked by the
side of the chaise, with the reins in my hand. We chatted quietly
on trivial subjects. I closed my eyes to the dreary future that
was before me, and tried, in the intervals of the heart-ache, to
live resignedly in the passing hour.
THE PHYSICIAN'S OPINION.
SIX months have elapsed. Summer-time has come again.
The last parting is over. Prolonged by my care, the days of my
mother's life have come to their end. She has died in my arms:
her last words have been spoken to me, her last look on earth has
been mine. I am now, in the saddest and plainest meaning of the
words, alone in the world.
The affliction which has befallen me has left certain duties to
be performed that require my presence in London. My house is let;
I am staying at a hotel. My friend, Sir James (also in London on
business), has rooms near mine. We breakfast and dine together in
my sitting-room. For the moment solitude is dreadful to me, and
yet I cannot go into society; I shrink from persons who are mere
acquaintances. At Sir James's suggestion, however, one visitor at
the hotel has been asked to dine with us, who claims distinction
as no ordinary guest. The physician who first warned me of the
critical state of my mother's health is anxious to hear what I
can tell him of her last moments. His time is too precious to be
wasted in the earlier hours of the day, and he joins us at the
dinner-table when his patients leave him free to visit his
The dinner is nearly at an end. I have made the effort to
preserve my self-control; and in few words have told the simple
story of my mother's last peaceful days on earth. The
conversation turns next on topics of little interest to me: my
mind rests after the effort that it has made; my observation is
left free to exert itself as usual.
Little by little, while the talk goes on, I observe something in
the conduct of the celebrated physician which first puzzles me,
and then arouses my suspicion of some motive for his presence
which has not been acknowledged, and in which I am concerned.
Over and over again I discover that his eyes are resting on me
with a furtive interest and attention which he seems anxious to
conceal. Over and over again I notice that he contrives to divert
the conversation from general topics, and to lure me into talking
of myself; and, stranger still (unless I am quite mistaken), Sir
James understands and encourages him. Under various pretenses I
am questioned about what I have suffered in the past, and what
plans of life I have formed for the future. Among other subjects
of personal interest to me, the subject of supernatural
appearances is introduced. I am asked if I believe in occult
spiritual sympathies, and in ghostly apparitions of dead or
distant persons. I am dexterously led into hinting that my views
on this difficult and debatable question are in some degree
influenced by experiences of my own. Hints, however, are not
enough to satisfy the doctor's innocent curiosity; he tries to
induce me to relate in detail what I have myself seen and felt.
But by this time I am on my guard; I make excuses; I steadily
abstain from taking my friend into my confidence. It is more and
more plain to me that I am being made the subject of an
experiment, in which Sir James and the physician are equally
interested. Outwardly assuming to be guiltless of any suspicion
of what is going on, I inwardly determine to discover the true
motive for the doctor's presence that evening, and for the part
that Sir James has taken in inviting him to be my guest.
Events favor my purpose soon after the dessert has been placed on
The waiter enters the room with a letter for me, and announces
that the bearer waits to know if there is any answer. I open the
envelope, and find inside a few lines from my lawyers, announcing
the completion of some formal matter of business. I at once seize
the opportunity that is offered to me. Instead of sending a
verbal message downstairs, I make my apologies, and use the
letter as a pretext for leaving the room.
Dismissing the messenger who waits below, I return to the
corridor in which my rooms are situated, and softly open the door
of my bed-chamber. A second door communicates with the
sitting-room, and has a ventilator in the upper part of it. I
have only to stand under the ventilator, and every word of the
conversation between Sir James and the physician reaches my ears.
"Then you think I am right?" are the first words I hear, in Sir
"Quite right," the doctor answers.
"I have done my best to make him change his dull way of life,"
Sir James proceeds. "I have asked him to pay a visit to my house
in Scotland; I have proposed traveling with him on the Continent;
I have offered to take him with me on my next voyage in the
yacht. He has but one answer--he simply says No to everything
that I can suggest. You have heard from his own lips that he has
no definite plans for the future. What is to become of him? What
had we better do?"
"It is not easy to say," I hear the physician reply. "To speak
plainly, the man's nervous system is seriously deranged. I
noticed something strange in him when he first came to consult me
about his mother's health. The mischief has not been caused
entirely by the affliction of her death. In my belief, his mind
has been--what shall I say?--unhinged, for some time past. He is
a very reserved person. I suspect he has been oppressed by
anxieties which he has kept secret from every one. At his age,
the unacknowledged troubles of life are generally troubles caused
by women. It is in his temperament to take the romantic view of
love; and some matter-of-fact woman of the present day may have
bitterly disappointed him. Whatever may be the cause, the effect
is plain--his nerves have broken down, and his brain is
necessarily affected by whatever affects his nerves. I have known
men in his condition who have ended badly. He may drift into
insane delusions, if his present course of life is not altered.
Did you hear what he said when we talked about ghosts?"
"Sheer nonsense!" Sir James remarks.
"Sheer delusion would be the more correct form of expression,"
the doctor rejoins. "And other delusions may grow out of it at
"What is to be done?" persists Sir James. "I may really say for
myself, doctor, that I feel a fatherly interest in the poor
fellow. His mother was one of my oldest and dearest friends, and
he has inherited many of her engaging and endearing qualities. I
hope you don't think the case is bad enough to be a case for
"Certainly not--as yet," answers the doctor. "So far there is no
positive brain disease; and there is accordingly no sort of
reason for placing him under restraint. It is essentially a
difficult and a doubtful case. Have him privately looked after by
a competent person, and thwart him in nothing, if you can
possibly help it. The merest trifle may excite his suspicions;
and if that happens, we lose all control over him."
"You don't think he suspects us already, do you, doctor?"
"I hope not. I saw him once or twice look at me very strangely;
and he has certainly been a long time out of the room."
Hearing this, I wait to hear no more. I return to the,
sitting-room (by way of the corridor) and resume my place at the
The indignation that I feel--naturally enough, I think, under the
circumstances--makes a good actor of me for once in my life. I
invent the necessary
excuse for my long absence, and take my part in the
conversation, keeping the strictest guard on every word that
escapes me, without betraying any appearance of restraint in my
manner. Early in the evening the doctor leaves us to go to a
scientific meeting. For half an hour or more Sir James remains
with me. By way (as I suppose) of farther testing the state of my
mind, he renews the invitation to his house in Scotland. I
pretend to feel flattered by his anxiety to secure me as his
guest. I undertake to reconsider my first refusal, and to give
him a definite answer when we meet the next morning at breakfast.
Sir James is delighted. We shake hands cordially, and wish each
other good-night. At last I am left alone.
My resolution as to my next course of proceeding is formed
without a moment's hesitation. I determine to leave the hotel
privately the next morning before Sir James is out of his
To what destination I am to betake myself is naturally the next
question that arises, and this also I easily decide. During the
last days of my mother's life we spoke together frequently of the
happy past days when we were living together on the banks of the
Greenwater lake. The longing thus inspired to look once more at
the old scenes, to live for a while again among the old
associations, has grown on me since my mother's death. I have,
happily for myself, not spoken of this feeling to Sir James or to
any other person. When I am missed at the hotel, there will be no
suspicion of the direction in which I have turned my steps. To
the old home in Suffolk I resolve to go the next morning.
Wandering among the scenes of my boyhood, I can consider with
myself how I may best bear the burden of the life that lies
After what I have heard that evening, I confide in nobody. For
all I know to the contrary, my own servant may be employed
to-morrow as the spy who watches my actions. When the man makes
his appearance to take his orders for the night, I tell him to
wake me at six the next morning, and release him from further
I next employ myself in writing two letters. They will be left on
the table, to speak for themselves after my departure.
In the first letter I briefly inform Sir James that I have
discovered his true reason for inviting the doctor to dinner.
While I thank him for the interest he takes in my welfare, I
decline to be made the object of any further medical inquiries as
to the state of my mind. In due course of time, when my plans are
settled, he will hear from me again. Meanwhile, he need feel no
anxiety about my safety. It is one among my other delusions to
believe that I am still perfectly capable of taking care of
myself. My second letter is addressed to the landlord of the
hotel, and simply provides for the disposal of my luggage and the
payment of my bill.
I enter my bedroom next, and pack a traveling-bag with the few
things that I can carry with me. My money is in my dressing-case.
Opening it, I discover my pretty keepsake--the green flag! Can I
return to "Greenwater Broad," can I look again at the bailiff's
cottage, without the one memorial of little Mary that I possess?
Besides, have I not promised Miss Dunross that Mary's gift shall
always go with me wherever I go? and is the promise not doubly
sacred now that she is dead? For a while I sit idly looking at
the device on the flag--the white dove embroidered on the green
ground, with the golden olive-branch in its beak. The innocent
love-story of my early life returns to my memory, and shows me in
horrible contrast the life that I am leading now. I fold up the
flag and place it carefully in my traveling-bag. This done, all
is done. I may rest till the morning comes.
No! I lie down on my bed, and I discover that there is no rest
for me that night.
Now that I have no occupation to keep my energies employed, now
that my first sense of triumph in the discomfiture of the friends
who have plotted against me has had time to subside, my mind
reverts to the conversation that I have overheard, and considers
it from a new point of view. For the first time, the terrible
question confronts me: The doctor's opinion on my case has been
given very positively. How do I know that the doctor is not
This famous physician has risen to the head of his profession
entirely by his own abilities. He is one of the medical men who
succeed by means of an ingratiating manner and the dexterous
handling of good opportunities. Even his enemies admit that he
stands unrivaled in the art of separating the true conditions
from the false in the discovery of disease, and in tracing
effects accurately to their distant and hidden cause. Is such a
man as this likely to be mistaken about me? Is it not far more
probable that I am mistaken in my judgment of myself?
When I look back over the past years, am I quite sure that the
strange events which I recall may not, in certain cases, be the
visionary product of my own disordered brain--realities to me,
and to no one else? What are the dreams of Mrs. Van Brandt? What
are the ghostly apparitions of her which I believe myself to have
seen? Delusions which have been the stealthy growth of years?
delusions which are leading me, by slow degrees, nearer and
nearer to madness in the end? Is it insane suspicion which has
made me so angry with the good friends who have been trying to
save my reason? Is it insane terror which sets me on escaping
from the hotel like a criminal escaping from prison?
These are the questions which torment me when I am alone in the
dead of night. My bed becomes a place of unendurable torture. I
rise and dress myself, and wait for the daylight, looking through
my open window into the street.
The summer night is short. The gray light of dawn comes to me
like a deliverance; the glow of the glorious sunrise cheers my
soul once more. Why should I wait in the room that is still
haunted by my horrible doubts of the night? I take up my
traveling-bag; I leave my letters on the sitting-room table; and
I descend the stairs to the house door. The night-porter at the
hotel is slumbering in his chair. He wakes as I pass him; and
(God help me!) he too looks as if he thought I was mad.
"Going to leave us already, sir?" he says, looking at the bag in
Mad or sane, I am ready with my reply. I tell him I am going out
for a day in the country, and to make it a long day, I must start
The man still stares at me. He asks if he shall find some one to
carry my bag. I decline to let anybody be disturbed. He inquires
if I have any messages to leave for my friend. I inform him that
I have left written messages upstairs for Sir James and the
landlord. Upon this he draws the bolts and opens the door. To the
last he looks at me as if he thought I was mad.
Was he right or wrong? Who can answer for himself? How can I
A LAST LOOK AT GREENWATER BROAD.
MY spirits rose as I walked through the bright empty streets, and
breathed the fresh morning air.
Taking my way eastward through the great city, I stopped at the
first office that I passed, and secured my place by the early
coach to Ipswich. Thence I traveled with post-horses to the
market-town which was nearest to Greenwater Broad. A walk of a
few miles in the cool evening brought me, through well-remembered
by-roads, to our old house. By the last rays of the setting sun I
looked at the familiar row of windows in front, and saw that the
shutters were all closed. Not a living creature was visible
anywhere. Not even a dog barked as I rang the great bell at the
door. The place was deserted; the house was shut up.
After a long delay, I heard heavy footsteps in the hall. An old
man opened the door.
Changed as he was, I remembered him as one of our tenants in the
by-gone time. To his astonishment, I greeted him by his name. On
his side, he tried hard to recognize me, and tried in vain. No
doubt I was the more sadly changed of the two: I was obliged to
introduce myself. The poor fellow's withered face brightened
slowly and timidly, as if he were half incapable, half afraid, of
indulging in the unaccustomed luxury of a smile. In his confusion
he bid me welcome home ag ain, as if the house had been mine.
Taking me into the little back-room which he inhabited, the old
man gave me all he had to offer--a supper of bacon and eggs and a
glass of home-brewed beer. He was evidently puzzled to understand
me when I informed him that the only object of my visit was to
look once more at the familiar scenes round my old home. But he
willingly placed his services at my disposal; and he engaged to
do his best, if I wished it, to make me up a bed for the night.
The house had been closed and the establishment of servants had
been dismissed for more than a year past. A passion for
horse-racing, developed late in life, had ruined the rich retired
tradesman who had purchased the estate at the time of our family
troubles. He had gone abroad with his wife to live on the little
income that had been saved from the wreck of his fortune; and he
had left the house and lands in such a state of neglect that no
new purchaser had thus far been found to take them. My old
friend, "now past his work," had been put in charge of the place.
As for Dermody's cottage, it was empty, like the house. I was at
perfect liberty to look over it if I liked. There was the key of
the door on the bunch with the others; and here was the old man,
with his old hat on his head, ready to accompany me wherever I
pleased to go. I declined to trouble him to accompany me or to
make up a bed in the lonely house. The night was fine, the moon
was rising. I had supped; I had rested. When I had seen what I
wanted to see, I could easily walk back to the market-town and
sleep at the inn. Taking the key in my hand, I set forth alone on
the way through the grounds which led to Dermody's cottage.
Again I followed the woodland paths along which I had once idled
so happily with my little Mary. At every step I saw something
that reminded me of her. Here was the rustic bench on which we
had sat together under the shadow of the old cedar-tree, and
vowed to be constant to each other to the end of our lives. There
was the bright little water spring, from which we drank when we
were weary and thirsty in sultry summer days, still bubbling its
way downward to the lake as cheerily as ever. As I listened to
the companionable murmur of the stream, I almost expected to see
her again, in her simple white frock and straw hat, singing to
the music of the rivulet, and freshening her nosegay of wild
flowers by dipping it in the cool water. A few steps further on
and I reached a clearing in the wood and stood on a little
promontory of rising ground which commanded the prettiest view of
Greenwater lake. A platform of wood was built out from the bank,
to be used for bathing by good swimmers who were not afraid of a
plunge into deep water. I stood on the platform and looked round
me. The trees that fringed the shore on either hand murmured
their sweet sylvan music in the night air; the moonlight trembled
softly on the rippling water. Away on my right hand I could just
see the old wooden shed that once sheltered my boat in the days
when Mary went sailing with me and worked the green flag. On my
left was the wooden paling that followed the curves of the
winding creek, and beyond it rose the brown arches of the decoy
for wild fowl, now falling to ruin for want of use. Guided by the
radiant moonlight, I could see the very spot on which Mary and I
had stood to watch the snaring of the ducks. Through the hole in
the paling before which the decoy-dog had shown himself, at
Dermody's signal, a water-rat now passed, like a little black
shadow on the bright ground, and was lost in the waters of the
lake. Look where I might, the happy by-gone time looked back in
mockery, and the voices of the past came to me with their burden
of reproach: See what your life was once! Is your life worth
I picked up a stone and threw it into the lake. I watched the
circling ripples round the place at which it had sunk. I wondered
if a practiced swimmer like myself had ever tried to commit
suicide by drowning, and had been so resolute to die that he had
resisted the temptation to let his own skill keep him from
sinking. Something in the lake itself, or something in connection
with the thought that it had put into my mind, revolted me. I
turned my back suddenly on the lonely view, and took the path
through the wood which led to the bailiff's cottage.
Opening the door with my key, I groped my way into the
well-remembered parlor; and, unbarring the window-shutters, I let
in the light of the moon.
With a heavy heart I looked round me. The old furniture--renewed,
perhaps, in one or two places--asserted its mute claim to my
recognition in every part of the room. The tender moonlight
streamed slanting into the corner in which Mary and I used to
nestle together while Dame Dermody was at the window reading her
mystic books. Overshadowed by the obscurity in the opposite
corner, I discovered the high-backed arm-chair of carved wood in
which the Sibyl of the cottage sat on the memorable day when she
warned us of our coming separation, and gave us her blessing for
the last time. Looking next round the walls of the room, I
recognized old friends wherever my eyes happened to rest--the
gaudily colored prints; the framed pictures in fine needle-work,
which we thought wonderful efforts of art; the old circular
mirror to which I used to lift Mary when she wanted "to see her
face in the glass." Whenever the moonlight penetrated there, it
showed me some familiar object that recalled my happiest days.
Again the by-gone time looked back in mockery. Again the voices
of the past came to me with their burden of reproach: See what
your life was once! Is your life worth living now?
I sat down at the window, where I could just discover, here and
there between the trees, the glimmer of the waters of the lake. I
thought to myself: "Thus far my mortal journey has brought me.
Why not end it here?"
Who would grieve for me if my death were reported to-morrow? Of
all living men, I had perhaps the smallest number of friends, the
fewest duties to perform toward others, the least reason to
hesitate at leaving a world which had no place in it for my
ambition, no creature in it for my love.
Besides, what necessity was there for letting it be known that my
death was a death of my own seeking? It could easily be left to
represent itself as a death by accident.
On that fine summer night, and after a long day of traveling,
might I not naturally take a bath in the cool water before I went
to bed? And, practiced as I was in the exercise of swimming,
might it not nevertheless be my misfortune to be attacked by
cramp? On the lonely shores of Greenwater Broad the cry of a
drowning man would bring no help at night. The fatal accident
would explain itself. There was literally but one difficulty in
the way--the difficulty which had already occurred to my mind.
Could I sufficiently master the animal instinct of
self-preservation to deliberately let myself sink at the first
The atmosphere in the room felt close and heavy. I went out, and
walked to and fro--now in the shadow, and now in the
moonlight--under the trees before the cottage door.
Of the moral objections to suicide, not one had any influence
over me now. I, who had once found it impossible to excuse,
impossible even to understand, the despair which had driven Mrs.
Van Brandt to attempt self-destruction--I now contemplated with
composure the very act which had horrified me when I saw it
committed by another person. Well may we hesitate to condemn the
frailties of our fellow-creatures, for the one unanswerable
reason that we can never feel sure how soon similar temptations
may not lead us to be guilty of the same frailties ourselves.
Looking back at the events of the night, I can recall but one
consideration that stayed my feet on the fatal path which led
back to the lake. I still doubted whether it would be possible
for such a swimmer as I was to drown himself. This was all that
troubled my mind. For the rest, my will was made, and I had few
other affairs which remained unsettled. No lingering hope was
left in me of a reunion in the future with Mrs. Van Brandt. She
had never written to
me again; I had never, since our last parting, seen her again in
my dreams. She was doubtless reconciled to her life abroad. I
forgave her for having forgotten me. My thoughts of her and of
others were the forbearing thoughts of a man whose mind was
withdrawn already from the world, whose views were narrowing fast
to the one idea of his own death.
I grew weary of walking up and down. The loneliness of the place
began to oppress me. The sense of my own indecision irritated my
nerves. After a long look at the lake through the trees, I came
to a positive conclusion at last. I determined to try if a good
swimmer could drown himself.
A VISION OF THE NIGHT.
RETURNING to the cottage parlor, I took a chair by the window and
opened my pocket-book at a blank page. I had certain directions
to give to my representatives, which might spare them some
trouble and uncertainty in the event of my death. Disguising my
last instructions under the commonplace heading of "Memoranda on
my return to London," I began to write.
I had filled one page of the pocket-book, and had just turned to
the next, when I became conscious of a difficulty in fixing my
attention on the subject that was before it. I was at once
reminded of the similar difficulty which I felt in Shetland, when
I had tried vainly to arrange the composition of the letter to my
mother which Miss Dunross was to write. By way of completing the
parallel, my thoughts wandered now, as they had wandered then, to
my latest remembrance of Mrs. Van Brandt. In a minute or two I
began to feel once more the strange physical sensations which I
had first experienced in the garden at Mr. Dunross's house. The
same mysterious trembling shuddered through me from head to foot.
I looked about me again, with no distinct consciousness of what
the objects were on which my eyes rested. My nerves trembled, on
that lovely summer night, as if there had been an electric
disturbance in the atmosphere and a storm coming. I laid my
pocket-book and pencil on the table, and rose to go out again
under the trees. Even the trifling effort to cross the room was
an effort made in vain. I stood rooted to the spot, with my face
turned toward the moonlight streaming in at the open door.
An interval passed, and as I still looked out through the door, I
became aware of something moving far down among the trees that
fringed the shore of the lake. The first impression produced on
me was of two gray shadows winding their way slowly toward me
between the trunks of the trees. By fine degrees the shadows
assumed a more and more marked outline, until they presented
themselves in the likeness of two robed figures, one taller than
the other. While they glided nearer and nearer, their gray
obscurity of hue melted away. They brightened softly with an
inner light of their own as they slowly approached the open space
before the door. For the third time I stood in the ghostly
presence of Mrs. Van Brandt; and with her, holding her hand, I
beheld a second apparition never before revealed to me, the
apparition of her child.
Hand-in-hand, shining in their unearthly brightness through the
bright moonlight itself, the two stood before me. The mother's
face looked at me once more with the sorrowful and pleading eyes
which I remembered so well. But the face of the child was
innocently radiant with an angelic smile. I waited in unutterable
expectation for the word that was to be spoken, for the movement
that was to come. The movement came first. The child released its
hold on the mother's hand, and floating slowly upward, remained
poised in midair--a softly glowing presence shining out of the
dark background of the trees. The mother glided into the room,
and stopped at the table on which I had laid my pocket-book and
pencil when I could no longer write. As before, she took the
pencil and wrote on the blank page. As before, she beckoned to me
to step nearer to her. I approached her outstretched hand, and
felt once more the mysterious rapture of her touch on my bosom,
and heard once more her low, melodious tones repeating the words:
"Remember me. Come to me." Her hand dropped from my bosom. The
pale light which revealed her to me quivered, sunk, vanished. She
had spoken. She had gone.
I drew to me the open pocket-book. And this time I saw, in the
writing of the ghostly hand, these words only:
_"Follow the Child."_
I looked out again at the lonely night landscape.
There, in mid-air, shining softly out of the dark background of
the trees, still hovered the starry apparition of the child.
Advancing without conscious will of my own, I crossed the
threshold of the door. The softly glowing vision of the child
moved away before me among the trees. I followed, like a man
spellbound. The apparition, floating slowly onward, led me out of
the wood, and past my old home, back to the lonely by-road along
which I had walked from the market-town to the house. From time
to time, as we two went on our way, the bright figure of the
child paused, hovering low in the cloudless sky. Its radiant face
looked down smiling on me; it beckoned with its little hand, and
floated on again, leading me as the Star led the Eastern sages in
the olden time.
I reached the town. The airy figure of the child paused, hovering
over the house at which I had left my traveling-carriage in the
evening. I ordered the horses to be harnessed again for another
journey. The postilion waited for his further directions. I
looked up. The child's hand was pointing southward, along the
road that led to London. I gave the man his instructions to
return to the place at which I had hired the carriage. At
intervals, as we proceeded, I looked out through the window. The
bright figure of the child still floated on before me gliding low
in the cloudless sky. Changing the horses stage by stage, I went
on till the night ended--went on till the sun rose in the eastern
heaven. And still, whether it was dark or whether it was light,
the figure of the child floated on before me in its changeless
and mystic light. Mile after mile, it still led the way
southward, till we left the country behind us, and passing
through the din and turmoil of the great city, stopped under the
shadow of the ancient Tower, within view of the river that runs
The postilion came to the carriage door to ask if I had further
need of his services. I had called to him to stop, when I saw the
figure of the child pause on its airy course. I looked upward
again. The child's hand pointed toward the river. I paid the
postilion and left the carriage. Floating on before me, the child
led the way to a wharf crowded with travelers and their luggage.
A vessel lay along-side of the wharf ready to sail. The child led
me on board the vessel and paused again, hovering over me in the
I looked up. The child looked back at me with its radiant smile,
and pointed eastward down the river toward the distant sea. While
my eyes were still fixed on the softly glowing figure, I saw it
fade away upward and upward into the higher light, as the lark
vanishes upward and upward in the morning sky. I was alone again
with my earthly fellow-beings--left with no clew to guide me but
the remembrance of the child's hand pointing eastward to the
A sailor was near me coiling the loosened mooring-rope on the
deck. I asked him to what port the vessel was bound. The man
looked at me in surly amazement, and answered:
BY LAND AND SEA.
IT mattered little to me to what port the vessel was bound. Go
where I might, I knew that I was on my way to Mrs. Van Brandt.
She had need of me again; she had claimed me again. Where the
visionary hand of the child had pointed, thither I was destined
to go. Abroad or at home, it mattered nothing: when I next set my
foot on the land, I should be further directed on the journey
which lay before me. I believed this as firmly as I believed that
I had been guided, thus far, by the vision of the child.
For two nights I had not slept--my weariness overpowered me. I
descended to the cabin, and found an unoccupied corner in which I
could lie down to rest. When I awoke, it was night already, and
the vessel was at sea.
I went on deck to breathe the fresh air. Before long the
sensation of drowsiness returned; I slept again for hours
together. My friend, the physician, would no doubt have
attributed this prolonged need of repose to the exhausted
condition of my brain, previously excited by delusions which had
lasted uninterruptedly for many hours together. Let the cause be
what it might, during the greater part of the voyage I was awake
at intervals only. The rest of the time I lay like a weary
animal, lost in sleep.
When I stepped on shore at Rotterdam, my first proceeding was to
ask my way to the English Consulate. I had but a small sum of
money with me; and, for all I knew to the contrary, it might be
well, before I did anything else, to take the necessary measures
for replenishing my purse.
I had my traveling-bag with me. On the journey to Greenwater
Broad I had left it at the inn in the market-town, and the waiter
had placed it in the carriage when I started on my return to
London. The bag contained my checkbook, and certain letters which
assisted me in proving my identity to the consul. He kindly gave
me the necessary introduction to the correspondents at Rotterdam
of my bankers in London.
Having obtained my money, and having purchased certain
necessaries of which I stood in need, I walked slowly along the
street, knowing nothing of what my next proceeding was to be, and
waiting confidently for the event which was to guide me. I had
not walked a hundred yards before I noticed the name of "Van
Brandt" inscribed on the window-blinds of a house which appeared
to be devoted to mercantile purposes.
The street door stood open. A second door, on one side of the
passage, led into the office. I entered the room and inquired for
Mr. Van Brandt. A clerk who spoke English was sent for to
communicate with me. He told me there were three partners of that
name in the business, and inquired which of them I wished to see.
I remembered Van Brandt's Christian name, and mentioned it. No
such person as "Mr. Ernest Van Brandt" was known at the office.
"We are only the branch house of the firm of Van Brandt here,"
the clerk explained. "The head office is at Amsterdam. They may
know where Mr. Ernest Van Brandt is to be found, if you inquire
It mattered nothing to me where I went, so long as I was on my
way to Mrs. Van Brandt. It was too late to travel that day; I
slept at a hotel. The night passed quietly and uneventfully. The
next morning I set forth by the public conveyance for Amsterdam.
Repeating my inquiries at the head office on my arrival, I was
referred to one of the partners in the firm. He spoke English
perfectly; and he received me with an appearance of interest
which I was at a loss to account for at first.
"Mr. Ernest Van Brandt is well known to me," he said. "May I ask
if you are a relative or friend of the English lady who has been
introduced here as his wife?"
I answered in the affirmative; adding, "I am here to give any
assistance to the lady of which she may stand in need."
The merchant's next words explained the appearance of interest
with which he had received me.
"You are most welcome," he said. "You relieve my partners and
myself of a great anxiety. I can only explain what I mean by
referring for a moment to the business affairs of my firm. We
have a fishing establishment in the ancient city of Enkhuizen, on
the shores of the Zuyder Zee. Mr. Ernest Van Brandt had a share
in it at one time, which he afterward sold. Of late years our
profits from this source have been diminishing; and we think of
giving up the fishery, unless our prospects in that quarter
improve after a further trial. In the meantime, having a vacant
situation in the counting-house at Enkhuizen, we thought of Mr.
Ernest Van Brandt, and offered him the opportunity of renewing
his connection with us, in the capacity of a clerk. He is related
to one of my partners; but I am bound in truth to tell you that
he is a very bad man. He has awarded us for our kindness to him
by embezzling our money; and he has taken to flight--in what
direction we have not yet discovered. The English lady and her
child are left deserted at Enkhuizen; and until you came here
to-day we were quite at a loss to know what to do with them. I
don't know whether you are already aware of it, sir; but the
lady's position is made doubly distressing by doubts which we
entertain of her being really Mr. Ernest Van Brandt's wife. To
our certain knowledge, he was privately married to another woman
some years since; and we have no evidence whatever that the first
wife is dead. If we can help you in any way to assist your
unfortunate country-woman, pray believe that our services are at
With what breathless interest I listened to these words it is
needless to say. Van Brandt had deserted her! Surely (as my poor
mother had once said) "she must turn to me now." The hopes that
had abandoned me filled my heart once more; the future which I
had so long feared to contemplate showed itself again bright with
the promise of coming happiness to my view. I thanked the good
merchant with a fervor that surprised him. "Only help me to find
my way to Enkhuizen," I said, "and I will answer for the rest."
"The journey will put you to some expense," the merchant replied.
"Pardon me if I ask the question bluntly. Have you money?"
"Plenty of money."
"Very good. The rest will be easy enough. I will place you under
the care of a countryman of yours, who has been employed in our
office for many years. The easiest way for you, as a stranger,
will be to go by sea; and the Englishman will show you where to
hire a boat."
In a few minutes more the clerk and I were on our way to the
Difficulties which I had not anticipated occurred in finding the
boat and in engaging a crew. This done, it was next necessary to
purchase provisions for the voyage. Thanks to the experience of
my companion, and to the hearty good-will with which he exerted
it, my preparations were completed before night-fall. I was able
to set sail for my destination on the next day.
The boat had the double advantage, in navigating the Zuyder Zee,
of being large, and of drawing very little water; the captain's
cabin was at the stern; and the two or three men who formed his
crew were berthed forward, in the bows. The whole middle of the
boat, partitioned off on the one side and on the other from the
captain and the crew, was assigned to me for my cabin. Under
these circumstances, I had no reason to complain of want of
space; the vessel measuring between fifty and sixty tons. I had a
comfortable bed, a table, and chairs. The kitchen was well away
from me, in the forward part of the boat. At my own request, I
set forth on the voyage without servant or interpreter. I
preferred being alone. The Dutch captain had been employed, at a
former period of his life, in the mercantile navy of France; and
we could communicate, whenever it was necessary or desirable, in
the French language.
We left the spires of Amsterdam behind us, and sailed over the
smooth waters of the lake on our way to the Zuyder Zee.
The history of this remarkable sea is a romance in itself. In the
days when Rome was mistress of the world, it had no existence.
Where the waves now roll, vast tracts of forest surrounded a
great inland lake, with but one river to serve it as an outlet to
the sea. Swelled by a succession of tempests, the lake overflowed
its boundaries: its furious waters, destroying every obstacle in
their course, rested only when they reached the furthest limits
of the land.
The Northern Ocean beyond burst its way in through the gaps of
ruin; and from that time the Zuyder Zee existed as we know it
now. The years advanced, the generations of man succeeded each
other; and on the shores of the new ocean there rose great and
populous cities, rich in commerce, renowned in history. For
centuries their prosperity lasted, before the next in this mighty
series of changes ripened and revealed itself. Isolated from the
rest of the world, vain of themselves and their good fortune,
careless of the march of progress in the natio ns round them, the
inhabitants of the Zuyder Zee cities sunk into the fatal torpor
of a secluded people. The few members of the population who still
preserved the relics of their old energy emigrated, while the
mass left behind resignedly witnessed the diminution of their
commerce and the decay of their institutions. As the years
advanced to the nineteenth century, the population was reckoned
by hundreds where it had once been numbered by thousands. Trade
disappeared; whole streets were left desolate. Harbors, once
filled with shipping, were destroyed by the unresisted
accumulation of sand. In our own times the decay of these once
flourishing cities is so completely beyond remedy, that the next
great change in contemplation is the draining of the now
dangerous and useless tract of water, and the profitable
cultivation of the reclaimed land by generations that are still
to come. Such, briefly told, is the strange story of the Zuyder
As we advanced on our voyage, and left the river, I noticed the
tawny hue of the sea, caused by sand-banks which color the
shallow water, and which make the navigation dangerous to
inexperienced seamen. We found our moorings for the night at the
fishing island of Marken--a low, lost, desolate-looking place, as
I saw it under the last gleams of the twilight. Here and there,
the gabled cottages, perched on hillocks, rose black against the
dim gray sky. Here and there, a human figure appeared at the
waterside, standing, fixed in contemplation of the strange boat.
And that was all I saw of the island of Marken.
Lying awake in the still night, alone on a strange sea, there
were moments when I found myself beginning to doubt the reality
of my own position.
Was it all a dream? My thoughts of suicide; my vision of the
mother and daughter; my journey back to the metropolis, led by
the apparition of the child; my voyage to Holland; my night
anchorage in the unknown sea--were these, so to speak, all pieces
of the same morbid mental puzzle, all delusions from which I
might wake at any moment, and find myself restored to my senses
again in the hotel at London? Bewildered by doubts which led me
further and further from any definite conclusion, I left my bed
and went on deck to change the scene. It was a still and cloudy
night. In the black void around me, the island was a blacker
shadow yet, and nothing more. The one sound that reached my ears
was the heavy breathing of the captain and his crew sleeping on
either side of me. I waited, looking round and round the circle
of darkness in which I stood. No new vision showed itself. When I
returned again to the cabin, and slumbered at last, no dreams
came to me. All that was mysterious, all that was marvelous, in
the later events of my life seemed to have been left behind me in
England. Once in Holland, my course had been influenced by
circumstances which were perfectly natural, by commonplace
discoveries which might have revealed themselves to any man in my
position. What did this mean? Had my gifts as a seer of visions
departed from me in the new land and among the strange people? Or
had my destiny led me to the place at which the troubles of my
mortal pilgrimage were to find their end? Who could say?
Early the next morning we set sail once more.
Our course was nearly northward. On one side of me was the tawny
sea, changing under certain conditions of the weather to a dull
pearl-gray. On the other side was the flat, winding coast,
composed alternately of yellow sand and bright-green
meadow-lands; diversified at intervals by towns and villages,
whose red-tiled roofs and quaint church-steeples rose gayly
against the clear blue sky. The captain suggested to me to visit
the famous towns of Edam and. Hoorn; but I declined to go on
shore. My one desire was to reach the ancient city in which Mrs.
Van Brandt had been left deserted. As we altered our course, to
make for the promontory on which Enkhuizen is situated, the wind
fell, then shifted to another quarter, and blew with a force
which greatly increased the difficulties of navigation. I still
insisted, as long as it was possible to do so, on holding on our
course. After sunset, the strength of the wind abated. The night
came without a cloud, and the starry firmament gave us its pale
and glittering light. In an hour more the capricious wind shifted
back again in our favor. Toward ten o'clock we sailed into the
desolate harbor of Enkhuizen.
The captain and crew, fatigued by their exertions, ate their
frugal suppers and went to their beds. In a few minutes more, I
was the only person left awake in the boat.
I ascended to the deck, and looked about me.
Our boat was moored to a deserted quay. Excepting a few fishing
vessels visible near us, the harbor of this once prosperous place
was a vast solitude of water, varied here and there by dreary
banks of sand. Looking inland, I saw the lonely buildings of the
Dead City--black, grim, and dreadful under the mysterious
starlight. Not a human creature, not even a stray animal, was to
be seen anywhere. The place might have been desolated by a
pestilence, so empty and so lifeless did it now appear. Little
more than a hundred years ago, the record of its population
reached sixty thousand. The inhabitants had dwindled to a tenth
of that number when I looked at Enkhuizen now!
I considered with myself what my next course of proceeding was to
The chances were certainly against my discovering Mrs. Van Brandt
if I ventured alone and unguided into the city at night. On the
other hand, now that I had reached the place in which she and her
child were living, friendless and deserted, could I patiently
wait through the weary interval that must elapse before the
morning came and the town was astir? I knew my own
self-tormenting disposition too well to accept this latter
alternative. Whatever came of it, I determined to walk through
Enkhuizen on the bare chance of meeting some one who might inform
me of Mrs. Van Brandt's address.
First taking the precaution of locking my cabin door, I stepped
from the bulwark of the vessel to the lonely quay, and set forth
upon my night wanderings through the Dead City.
UNDER THE WINDOW.
I SET the position of the harbor by my pocket-compass, and then
followed the course of the first street that lay before me.
On either side, as I advanced, the desolate old houses frowned on
me. There were no lights in the windows, no lamps in the streets.
For a quarter of an hour at least I penetrated deeper and deeper
into the city, without encountering a living creature on my
way--with only the starlight to guide me. Turning by chance into
a street broader than the rest, I at last saw a moving figure,
just visible ahead, under the shadows of the houses. I quickened
my pace, and found myself following a man in the dress of a
peasant. Hearing my footsteps behind him, he turned and looked at
me. Discovering that I was a stranger, he lifted a thick cudgel
that he carried with him, shook it threateningly, and called to
me in his own language (as I gathered by his actions) to stand
back. A stranger in Eukhuizen at that time of night was evidently
reckoned as a robber in the estimation of this citizen! I had
learned on the voyage, from the captain of the boat, how to ask
my way in Dutch, if I happened to be by myself in a strange town;
and I now repeated my lesson, asking my way to the fishing office
of Messrs. Van Brandt. Either my foreign accent made me
unintelligible, or the man's suspicions disinclined him to trust
me. Again he shook his cudgel, and again he signed to me to stand
back. It was useless to persist. I crossed to the opposite side
of the way, and soon afterward lost sight of him under the
portico of a house.
Still following the windings of the deserted streets, I reached
what I at first supposed to be the end of the town.
Before me, for half a mile or more (as well as I could guess),
rose a tract of meadow-land, with sheep dotted over it at
intervals reposing for the night. I advanced over the grass, and
observed here and there, where the ground rose a little, some
moldering fragments of brickwork. Looking onward as I reached the
middle of th e meadow, I perceived on its further side, towering
gaunt and black in the night, a lofty arch or gateway, without
walls at its sides, without a neighboring building of any sort,
far or near. This (as I afterward learned) was one of the ancient
gates of the city. The walls, crumbling to ruin, had been
destroyed as useless obstacles that cumbered the ground. On the
waste meadow-land round me had once stood the shops of the
richest merchants, the palaces of the proudest nobles of North
Holland. I was actually standing on what had been formerly the
wealthy quarter of Enkhuizen! And what was left of it now? A few
mounds of broken bricks, a pasture-land of sweet-smelling grass,
and a little flock of sheep sleeping.
The mere desolation of the view (apart altogether from its
history) struck me with a feeling of horror. My mind seemed to
lose its balance in the dreadful stillness that was round me. I
felt unutterable forebodings of calamities to come. For the first
time, I repented having left England. My thoughts turned
regretfully to the woody shores of Greenwater Broad. If I had
only held to my resolution, I might have been at rest now in the
deep waters of the lake. For what had I lived and planned and
traveled since I left Dermody's cottage? Perhaps only to find
that I had lost the woman whom I loved--now that I was in the
same town with her!
Regaining the outer rows of houses still left standing, I looked
about me, intending to return by the street which was known to me
already. Just as I thought I had discovered it, I noticed another
living creature in the solitary city. A man was standing at the
door of one of the outermost houses on my right hand, looking at
At the risk of meeting with another rough reception, I determined
to make a last effort to discover Mrs. Van Brandt before I
returned to the boat.
Seeing that I was approaching him, the stranger met me midway.
His dress and manner showed plainly that I had not encountered
this time a person in the lower ranks of life. He answered my
question civilly in his own language. Seeing that I was at a loss
to understand what he said, he invited me by signs to follow him.
After walking for a few minutes in a direction which was quite
new to me, we stopped in a gloomy little square, with a plot of
neglected garden-ground in the middle of it. Pointing to a lower
window in one of the houses, in which a light dimly appeared, my
guide said in Dutch: "Office of Van Brandt, sir," bowed, and left
I advanced to the window. It was open, and it was just high
enough to be above my head. The light in the room found its way
outward through the interstices of closed wooden shutters. Still
haunted by misgivings of trouble to come, I hesitated to announce
my arrival precipitately by ringing the house-bell. How did I
know what new calamity might not confront me when the door was
opened? I waited under the window and listened.
Hardly a minute passed before I heard a woman's voice in the
room. There was no mistaking the charm of those tones. It was the
voice of Mrs. Van Brandt.
"Come, darling," she said. "It is very late--you ought to have
been in bed two hours ago."
The child's voice answered, "I am not sleepy, mamma."
"But, my dear, remember you have been ill. You may be ill again
if you keep out of bed so late as this. Only lie down, and you
will soon fall asleep when I put the candle out."
"You must _not_ put the candle out!" the child returned, with
strong emphasis. "My new papa is coming. How is he to find his
way to us, if you put out the light?"
The mother answered sharply, as if the child's strange words had
"You are talking nonsense," she said; "and you must go to bed.
Mr. Germaine knows nothing about us. Mr. Germaine is in England."
I could restrain myself no longer. I called out under the window:
"Mr. Germaine is here!"
LOVE AND PRIDE.
A CRY of terror from the room told me that I had been heard. For
a moment more nothing happened. Then the child's voice reached
me, wild and shrill: "Open the shutters, mamma! I said he was
coming--I want to see him!"
There was still an interval of hesitation before the mother
opened the shutters. She did it at last. I saw her darkly at the
window, with the light behind her, and the child's head just
visible above the lower part of the window-frame. The quaint
little face moved rapidly up and down, as if my self-appointed
daughter were dancing for joy!
"Can I trust my own senses?" said Mrs. Van Brandt. "Is it really
"How do you do, new papa?" cried the child. "Push open the big
door and come in. I want to kiss you."
There was a world of difference between the coldly doubtful tone
of the mother and the joyous greeting of the child. Had I forced
myself too suddenly on Mrs. Van Brandt? Like all sensitively
organized persons, she possessed that inbred sense of
self-respect which is pride under another name. Was her pride
wounded at the bare idea of my seeing her, deserted as well as
deceived--abandoned contemptuously, a helpless burden on
strangers--by the man for whom she had sacrificed and suffered so
much? And that man a thief, flying from the employers whom he had
cheated! I pushed open the heavy oaken street-door, fearing that
this might be the true explanation of the change which I had
already remarked in her. My apprehensions were confirmed when she
unlocked the inner door, leading from the courtyard to the
sitting-room, and let me in.
As I took her by both hands and kissed her, she turned her head,
so that my lips touched her cheek only. She flushed deeply; her
eyes looked away from me as she spoke her few formal words of
welcome. When the child flew into my arms, she cried out,
irritably, "Don't trouble Mr. Germaine!" I took a chair, with the
little one on my knee. Mrs. Van Brandt seated herself at a
distance from me. "It is needless, I suppose, to ask you if you
know what has happened," she said, turning pale again as suddenly
as she had turned red, and keeping her eyes fixed obstinately on
Before I could answer, the child burst out with the news of her
father's disappearance in these words:
"My other papa has run away! My other papa has stolen money! It's
time I had a new one, isn't it?" She put her arms round my neck.
"And now I've got him!" she cried, at the shrillest pitch of her
The mother looked at us. For a while, the proud, sensitive woman
struggled successfully with herself; but the pang that wrung her
was not to be endured in silence. With a low cry of pain, she hid
her face in her hands. Overwhelmed by the sense of her own
degradation, she was even ashamed to let the man who loved her
see that she was in tears.
I took the child off my knee. There was a second door in the
sitting-room, which happened to be left open. It showed me a
bed-chamber within, and a candle burning on the toilet-table.
"Go in there and play," I said. "I want to talk to your mamma."
The child pouted: my proposal did not appear to tempt her. "Give
me something to play with," she said. "I'm tired of my toys. Let
me see what you have got in your pockets."
Her busy little hands began to search in my coat-pockets. I let
her take what she pleased, and so bribed her to run away into the
inner room. As soon as she was out of sight, I approached the
poor mother and seated myself by her side.
"Think of it as I do," I said. "Now that he has forsaken you, he
has left you free to be mine."
She lifted her head instantly; her eyes flashed through her
"Now that he has forsaken me," she answered, "I am more unworthy
of you than ever!"
"Why?" I asked.
"Why!" she repeated, passionately. "Has a woman not reached the
lowest depths of degradation when she has lived to be deserted by
It was hopeless to attempt to reason with her in her present
frame of mind. I tried to attract her attention to a less painful
subject by referring to the strange succession of events which
had brought me to her for the third time. She stopped me
impatiently at the outset.
"It seems useless to say once more what we have said on other
occasions," she answered. "I understand what has brought you
have appeared to you again in a vision, just as I appeared to
you twice before."
"No," I said. "Not as you appeared to me twice before. This time
I saw you with the child by your side."
That reply roused her. She started, and looked nervously toward
the bed-chamber door.
"Don't speak loud!" she said. "Don't let the child hear us! My
dream of you this time has left a painful impression on my mind.
The child is mixed up in it--and I don't like that. Then the
place in which I saw you is associated--" She paused, leaving the
sentence unfinished. "I am nervous and wretched to-night," she
resumed; "and I don't want to speak of it. And yet, I should like
to know whether my dream has misled me, or whether you really
were in that cottage, of all places in the world?"
I was at a loss to understand the embarrassment which she
appeared to feel in putting her question. There was nothing very
wonderful, to my mind, in the discovery that she had been in
Suffolk, and that she was acquainted with Greenwater Broad. The
lake was known all over the county as a favorite resort of picnic
parties; and Dermody's pretty cottage used to be one of the
popular attractions of the scene. What really surprised me was to
see, as I now plainly saw, that she had some painful association
with my old home. I decided on answering her question in such
terms as might encourage her to take me into her confidence. In a
moment more I should have told her that my boyhood had been
passed at Greenwater Broad--in a moment more, we should have
recognized each other--when a trivial interruption suspended the
words on my lips. The child ran out of the bed-chamber, with a
quaintly shaped key in her hand. It was one of the things she had
taken out of my pockets. and it belonged to the cabin door on
board the boat. A sudden fit of curiosity (the insatiable
curiosity of a child) had seized her on the subject of this key.
She insisted on knowing what door it locked; and, when I had
satisfied her on that point, she implored me to take her
immediately to see the boat. This entreaty led naturally to a
renewal of the disputed question of going, or not going, to bed.
By the time the little creature had left us again, with
permission to play for a few minutes longer, the conversation
between Mrs. Van Brandt and myself had taken a new direction.
Speaking now of the child's health, we were led naturally to the
kindred subject of the child's connection with her mother's
"She had been ill with fever," Mrs. Van Brandt began; "and she
was just getting better again on the day when I was left deserted
in this miserable place. Toward evening, she had another attack
that frightened me dreadfully. She became perfectly
insensible--her little limbs were stiff and cold. There is one
doctor here who has not yet abandoned the town. Of course I sent
for him. He thought her insensibility was caused by a sort of
cataleptic seizure. At the same time, he comforted me by saying
that she was in no immediate danger of death; and he left me
certain remedies to be given, if certain symptoms appeared. I
took her to bed, and held her to me, with the idea of keeping her
warm. Without believing in mesmerism, it has since struck me that
we might unconsciously have had some influence over each other,
which may explain what followed. Do you think it likely?"
"Quite likely. At the same time, the mesmeric theory (if you
could believe in it) would carry the explanation further still.
Mesmerism would assert, not only that you and the child
influenced each other, but that--in spite of the distance--you
both influenced _me_. And in that way, mesmerism would account
for my vision as the necessary result of a highly developed
sympathy between us. Tell me, did you fall asleep with the child
in your arms?"
"Yes. I was completely worn out; and I fell asleep, in spite of
my resolution to watch through the night. In my forlorn
situation, forsaken in a strange place, I dreamed of you again,
and I appealed to you again as my one protector and friend. The
only new thing in the dream was, that I thought I had the child
with me when I approached you, and that the child put the words
into my mind when I wrote in your book. You saw the words, I
suppose? and they vanished, as before, no doubt, when I awoke? I
found the child still lying, like a dead creature, in my arms.
All through the night there was no change in her. She only
recovered her senses at noon the next day. Why do you start? What
have I said that surprises you?"
There was good reason for my feeling startled, and showing it. On
the day and at the hour when the child had come to herself, I had
stood on the deck of the vessel, and had seen the apparition of
her disappear from my view.
"Did she say anything," I asked, "when she recovered her senses?"
"Yes. She too had been dreaming--dreaming that she was in company
with you. She said: 'He is coming to see us, mamma; and I have
been showing him the way.' I asked her where she had seen you.
She spoke confusedly of more places than one. She talked of
trees, and a cottage, and a lake; then of fields and hedges, and
lonely lanes; then of a carriage and horses, and a long white
road; then of crowded streets and houses, and a river and a ship.
As to these last objects, there is nothing very wonderful in what
she said. The houses, the river, and the ship which she saw in
her dream, she saw in the reality when we took her from London to
Rotterdam, on our way here. But as to the other places,
especially the cottage and the lake (as she described them) I can
only suppose that her dream was the reflection of mine. _I_ had
been dreaming of the cottage and the lake, as I once knew them in
years long gone by; and--Heaven only knows why--I had associated
you with the scene. Never mind going into that now! I don't know
what infatuation it is that makes me trifle in this way with old
recollections, which affect me painfully in my present position.
We were talking of the child's health; let us go back to that."
It was not easy to return to the topic of her child's health. She
had revived my curiosity on the subject of her association with
Greenwater Broad. The child was still quietly at play in the
bedchamber. My second opportunity was before me. I took it.
"I won't distress you," I began. "I will only ask leave, before
we change the subject, to put one question to you about the
cottage and the lake."
As the fatality that pursued us willed it, it was _her_ turn now
to be innocently an obstacle in the way of our discovering each
"I can tell you nothing more to-night," she interposed, rising
impatiently. "It is time I put the child to bed--and, besides, I
can't talk of things that distress me. You must wait for the
time--if it ever comes!--when I am calmer and happier than I am
She turned to enter the bed-chamber. Acting headlong on the
impulse of the moment, I took her by the hand and stopped her.
"You have only to choose," I said, "and the calmer and happier
time is yours from this moment."
"Mine?" she repeated. "What do you mean?"
"Say the word," I replied, "and you and your child have a home
and a future before you."
She looked at me half bewildered, half angry.
"Do you offer me your protection?" she asked.
"I offer you a husband's protection," I answered. "I ask you to
be my wife."
She advanced a step nearer to me, with her eyes riveted on my
"You are evidently ignorant of what has really happened," she
said. "And yet, God knows, the child spoke plainly enough!"
"The child only told me," I rejoined, "what I had heard already,
on my way here."
"All of it?"
"All of it."
"And you still ask me to be your wife?"
"I can imagine no greater happiness than to make you my wife."
"Knowing what you know now?"
"Knowing what I know now, I ask you confidently to give me your
hand. Whatever claim that man may once have had, as the father of
your child, he has now forfeited it by his infamous desertion of
you. In every sense of the word, my darling, you are a free
woman. We have had sorrow enough in our lives. Happiness is at
last within our reach. Come to me, and say Yes."
I tried to take her in my arms. She drew
back as if I had frightened her.
"Never!" she said, firmly.
I whispered my next words, so that the child in the inner room
might not hear us.
"You once said you loved me!"
"I do love you!"
"As dearly as ever?"
"_More_ dearly than ever!"
She yielded mechanically; she kissed me--with cold lips, with big
tears in her eyes.
"You don't love me!" I burst out, angrily. "You kiss me as if it
were a duty. Your lips are cold--your heart is cold. You don't
She looked at me sadly, with a patient smile.
"One of us must remember the difference between your position and
mine," she said. "You are a man of stainless honor, who holds an
undisputed rank in the world. And what am I? I am the deserted
mistress of a thief. One of us must remember that. You have
generously forgotten it. I must bear it in mind. I dare say I am
cold. Suffering has that effect on me; and, I own it, I am
I was too passionately in love with her to feel the sympathy on
which she evidently counted in saying those words. A man can
respect a woman's scruples when they appeal to him mutely in her
looks or in her tears; but the formal expression of them in words
only irritates or annoys him.
"Whose fault is it that you suffer?" I retorted, coldly. "I ask
you to make my life a happy one, and your life a happy one. You
are a cruelly wronged woman, but you are not a degraded woman.
You are worthy to be my wife, and I am ready to declare it
publicly. Come back with me to England. My boat is waiting for
you; we can set sail in two hours."
She dropped into a chair; her hands fell helplessly into her lap.
"How cruel!" she murmured, "how cruel to tempt me!" She waited a
little, and recovered her fatal firmness. "No!" she said. "If I
die in doing it, I can still refuse to disgrace you. Leave me,
Mr. Germaine. You can show me that one kindness more. For God's
sake, leave me!"
I made a last appeal to her tenderness.
"Do you know what my life is if I live without you?" I asked. "My
mother is dead. There is not a living creature left in the world
whom I love but you. And you ask me to leave you! Where am I to
go to? what am I to do? You talk of cruelty! Is there no cruelty
in sacrificing the happiness of my life to a miserable scruple of
delicacy, to an unreasoning fear of the opinion of the world? I
love you and you love me. There is no other consideration worth a
straw. Come back with me to England! come back and be my wife!"
She dropped on her knees, and taking my hand put it silently to
her lips. I tried to raise her. It was useless: she steadily
"Does this mean No?" I asked.
"It means," she said in faint, broken tones, "that I prize your
honor beyond my happiness. If I marry you, your career is
destroyed by your wife; and the day will come when you will tell
me so. I can suffer--I can die; but I can _not_ face such a
prospect as that. Forgive me and forget me. I can say no more!"
She let go of my hand, and sank on the floor. The utter despair
of that action told me, far more eloquently than the words which
she had just spoken, that her resolution was immovable. She had
deliberately separated herself from me; her own act had parted us
THE TWO DESTINIES.
I MADE no movement to leave the room; I let no sign of sorrow
escape me. At last, my heart was hardened against the woman who
had so obstinately rejected me. I stood looking down at her with
a merciless anger, the bare remembrance of which fills me at this
day with a horror of myself. There is but one excuse for me. The
shock of that last overthrow of the one hope that held me to life
was more than my reason could endure. On that dreadful night
(whatever I may have been at other times), I myself believe it, I
was a maddened man.
I was the first to break the silence.
"Get up," I said coldly.
She lifted her face from the floor, and looked at me as if she
doubted whether she had heard aright.
"Put on your hat and cloak," I resumed. "I must ask you to go
back with me as far as the boat."
She rose slowly. Her eyes rested on my face with a dull,
"Why am I to go with you to the boat?" she asked.
The child heard her. The child ran up to us with her little hat
in one hand, and the key of the cabin in the other.
"I'm ready," she said. "I will open the cabin door."
Her mother signed to her to go back to the bed-chamber. She went
back as far as the door which led into the courtyard, and waited
there, listening. I turned to Mrs. Van Brandt with immovable
composure, and answered the question which she had addressed to
"You are left," I said, "without the means of getting away from
this place. In two hours more the tide will be in my favor, and I
shall sail at once on the return voyage. We part, this time,
never to meet again. Before I go I am resolved to leave you
properly provided for. My money is in my traveling-bag in the
cabin. For that reason, I am obliged to ask you to go with me as
far as the boat."
"I thank you gratefully for your kindness," she said. "I don't
stand in such serious need of help as you suppose."
"It is useless to attempt to deceive me," I proceeded. "I have
spoken with the head partner of the house of Van Brandt at
Amsterdam, and I know exactly what your position is. Your pride
must bend low enough to take from my hands the means of
subsistence for yourself and your child. If I had died in
I stopped. The unexpressed idea in my mind was to tell her that
she would inherit a legacy under my will, and that she might
quite as becomingly take money from me in my life-time as take it
from my executors after my death. In forming this thought into
words, the associations which it called naturally into being
revived in me the memory of my contemplated suicide in the
Greenwater lake. Mingling with the remembrance thus aroused,
there rose in me unbidden, a temptation so overpoweringly vile,
and yet so irresistible in the state of my mind at the moment,
that it shook me to the soul. "You have nothing to live for, now
that she has refused to be yours," the fiend in me whispered.
"Take your leap into the next world, and make the woman whom you
love take it with you!" While I was still looking at her, while
my last words to her faltered on my lips, the horrible facilities
for the perpetration of the double crime revealed themselves
enticingly to my view. My boat was moored in the one part of the
decaying harbor in which deep water still lay at the foot of the
quay. I had only to induce her to follow me when I stepped on the
deck, to seize her in my arms, and to jump overboard with her
before she could utter a cry for help. My drowsy sailors, as I
knew by experience, were hard to wake, and slow to move even when
they were roused at last. We should both be drowned before the
youngest and the quickest of them could get up from his bed and
make his way to the deck. Yes! We should both be struck together
out of the ranks of the living at one and the same moment. And
why not? She who had again and again refused to be my wife--did
she deserve that I should leave her free to go back, perhaps, for
the second time to Van Brandt? On the evening when I had saved
her from the waters of the Scotch river, I had made myself master
of her fate. She had tried to destroy herself by drowning; she
should drown now, in the arms of the man who had once thrown
himself between her and death!
Self-abandoned to such atrocious reasoning as this, I stood face
to face with her, and returned deliberately to my unfinished
"If I had died in England, you would have been provided for by my
will. What you would have taken from me then, you may take from
me now. Come to the boat."
A change passed over her face as I spoke; a vague doubt of me
began to show itself in her eyes. She drew back a little, without
making any reply.
"Come to the boat," I reiterated.
"It is too late." With that answer, she looked across the room at
the child, still waiting by the door. "Come, Elfie," she said,
calling the little creature by one of her favorite nicknames.
"Come to bed."
I too looked at Elfie. Might she not, I asked myself, be made the
innoce nt means of forcing her mother to leave the house?
Trusting to the child's fearless character, and her eagerness to
see the boat, I suddenly opened the door. As I had anticipated,
she instantly ran out. The second door, leading into the square,
I had not closed when I entered the courtyard. In another moment
Elfie was out in the square, triumphing in her freedom. The
shrill little voice broke the death-like stillness of the place
and hour, calling to me again and again to take her to the boat.
I turned to Mrs. Van Brandt. The stratagem had succeeded. Elfie's
mother could hardly refuse to follow when Elfie led the way.
"Will you go with us?" I asked. "Or must I send the money back by
Her eyes rested on me for a moment with a deepening expression of
distrust, then looked away again. She began to turn pale. "You
are not like yourself to-night," she said. Without a word more,
she took her hat and cloak and went out before me into the
square. I followed her, closing the doors behind me. She made an
attempt to induce the child to approach her. "Come, darling," she
said, enticingly--"come and take my hand."
But Elfie was not to be caught: she took to her heels, and
answered from a safe distance. "No," said the child; "you will
take me back and put me to bed." She retreated a little further,
and held up the key: "I shall go first," she cried, "and open the
She trotted off a few steps in the direction of the harbor, and
waited for what was to happen next. Her mother suddenly turned,
and looked close at me under the light of the stars.
''Are the sailors on board the boat?" she asked.
The question startled me. Had she any suspicion of my purpose?
Had my face warned her of lurking danger if she went to the boat?
It was impossible. The more likely motive for her inquiry was to
find a new excuse for not accompanying me to the harbor. If I
told her that the men were on board, she might answer, "Why not
employ one of your sailors to bring the money to me at the
house?" I took care to anticipate the suggestion in making my
"They may be honest men," I said, watching her carefully; "but I
don't know them well enough to trust them with money."
To my surprise, she watched me just as carefully on her side, and
deliberately repeated her question:
"Are the sailors on board the boat?"
I informed her that the captain and crew slept in the boat, and
paused to see what would follow. My reply seemed to rouse her
resolution. After a moment's consideration, she turned toward the
place at which the child was waiting for us. "Let us go, as you
insist on it," she said, quietly. I made no further remark. Side
by side, in silence we followed Elfie on our way to the boat.
Not a human creature passed us in the streets; not a light
glimmered on us from the grim black houses. Twice the child
stopped, and (still keeping slyly out of her mother's reach) ran
back to me, wondering at my silence. "Why don't you speak?" she
asked. "Have you and mamma quarreled?"
I was incapable of answering her--I could think of nothing but my
contemplated crime. Neither fear nor remorse troubled me. Every
better instinct, every nobler feeling that I had once possessed,
seemed to be dead and gone. Not even a thought of the child's
future troubled my mind. I had no power of looking on further
than the fatal leap from the boat: beyond that there was an utter
blank. For the time being--I can only repeat it, my moral sense
was obscured, my mental faculties were thrown completely off
their balance. The animal part of me lived and moved as usual;
the viler animal instincts in me plotted and planned, and that
was all. Nobody, looking at me, would have seen anything but a
dull quietude in my face, an immovable composure in my manner.
And yet no madman was fitter for restraint, or less responsible
morally for his own actions, than I was at that moment.
The night air blew more freshly on our faces. Still led by the
child, we had passed through the last street--we were out on the
empty open space which was the landward boundary of the harbor.
In a minute more we stood on the quay, within a step of the
gunwale of the boat. I noticed a change in the appearance of the
harbor since I had seen it last. Some fishing-boats had come in
during my absence. They moored, some immediately astern and some
immediately ahead of my own vessel. I looked anxiously to see if
any of the fishermen were on board and stirring. Not a living
being appeared anywhere. The men were on shore with their wives
and their families.
Elfie held out her arms to be lifted on board my boat. Mrs. Van
Brandt stepped between us as I stooped to take her up.
"We will wait here," she said, "while you go into the cabin and
get the money."
Those words placed it beyond all doubt that she had her
suspicions of me--suspicions, probably, which led her to fear not
for her life, but for her freedom. She might dread being kept a
prisoner in the boat, and being carried away by me against her
will. More than this she could not thus far possibly apprehend.
The child saved me the trouble of making any remonstrance. She
was determined to go with me. "I must see the cabin," she cried,
holding up the key. "I must open the door myself."
She twisted herself out of her mother's hands, and ran round to
the other side of me. I lifted her over the gunwale of the boat
in an instant. Before I could turn round, her mother had followed
her, and was standing on the deck.
The cabin door, in the position which she now occupied, was on
her left hand. The child was close behind her. I was on her
right. Before us was the open deck, and the low gunwale of the
boat overlooking the deep water. In a moment we might step
across; in a moment we might take the fatal plunge. The bare
thought of it brought the mad wickedness in me to its climax. I
became suddenly incapable of restraining myself. I threw my arm
round her waist with a loud laugh. "Come," I said, trying to drag
her across the deck--"come and look at the water."
She released herself by a sudden effort of strength that
astonished me. With a faint cry of horror, she turned to take the
child by the hand and get back to the quay. I placed myself
between her and the sides of the boat, and cut off her retreat in
that way. Still laughing, I asked her what she was frightened
about. She drew back, and snatched the key of the cabin door out
of the child's hand. The cabin was the one place of refuge now
left, to which she could escape from the deck of the boat. In the
terror of the moment, she never hesitated. She unlocked the door,
and hurried down the two or three steps which led into the cabin,
taking the child with her. I followed them, conscious that I had
betrayed myself, yet still obstinately, stupidly, madly bent on
carrying out my purpose. "I have only to behave quietly," I
thought to myself, "and I shall persuade her to go on deck
My lamp was burning as I had left it; my traveling-bag was on the
table. Still holding the child, she stood, pale as death, waiting
for me. Elfie's wondering eyes rested inquiringly on my face as I
approached them. She looked half inclined to cry; the suddenness
of the mother's action had frightened the child. I did my best to
compose Elfie before I spoke to her mother. I pointed out the
different objects which were likely to interest her in the cabin.
"Go and look at them," I said, "go and amuse yourself."
The child still hesitated. "Are you angry with me?" she asked.
"Are you angry with mamma?"