Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Open Door, and the Portrait. by Margaret O. (Wilson) Oliphant

Part 2 out of 2

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.2 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"You scarcely know the drawing-room, Phil," he said at last.

"Very little. I have never seen it used. I have a little awe of it, to
tell the truth."

"That should not be. There is no reason for that. But a man by himself,
as I have been for the greater part of my life, has no occasion for a
drawing-room. I always, as a matter of preference, sat among my books;
however, I ought to have thought of the impression on you."

"Oh, it is not important," I said; "the awe was childish. I have not
thought of it since I came home."

"It never was anything very splendid at the best," said he. He lifted the
lamp from the table with a sort of abstraction, not remarking even my
offer to take it from him, and led the way. He was on the verge of
seventy, and looked his age; but it was a vigorous age, with no symptom
of giving way. The circle of light from the lamp lit up his white hair
and keen blue eyes and clear complexion; his forehead was like old ivory,
his cheek warmly colored; an old man, yet a man in full strength. He was
taller than I was, and still almost as strong. As he stood for a moment
with the lamp in his hand, he looked like a tower in his great height and
bulk. I reflected as I looked at him that I knew him intimately, more
intimately than any other creature in the world,--I was familiar with
every detail of his outward life; could it be that in reality I did not
know him at all?

* * * * *

The drawing-room was already lighted with a flickering array of candles
upon the mantelpiece and along the walls, producing the pretty, starry
effect which candles give without very much light. As I had not the
smallest idea what I was about to see, for Morphew's "speaking likeness"
was very hurriedly said, and only half comprehensible in the bewilderment
of my faculties, my first glance was at this very unusual illumination,
for which I could assign no reason. The next showed me a large
full-length portrait, still in the box in which apparently it had
travelled, placed upright, supported against a table in the centre of the
room. My father walked straight up to it, motioned to me to place a
smaller table close to the picture on the left side, and put his lamp
upon that. Then he waved his hand towards it, and stood aside that I
might see.

It was a full-length portrait of a very young woman--I might say a girl
scarcely twenty--in a white dress, made in a very simple old fashion,
though I was too little accustomed to female costume to be able to fix
the date. It might have been a hundred years old, or twenty, for aught I
knew. The face had an expression of youth, candor, and simplicity more
than any face I had ever seen,--or so, at least in my surprise, I
thought. The eyes were a little wistful, with something which was almost
anxiety which at least was not content--in them; a faint, almost
imperceptible, curve in the lids. The complexion was of a dazzling
fairness, the hair light, but the eyes dark, which gave individuality to
the face. It would have been as lovely had the eyes been blue,--probably
more so,--but their darkness gave a touch of character, a slight discord,
which made the harmony finer. It was not, perhaps, beautiful in the
highest sense of the word. The girl must have been too young, too slight,
too little developed for actual beauty; but a face which so invited love
and confidence I never saw. One smiled at it with instinctive affection.
"What a sweet face!" I said. "What a lovely girl! Who is she? Is this one
of the relations you were speaking of on the other side?"

My father made me no reply. He stood aside, looking at it as if he knew
it too well to require to look,--as if the picture was already in his
eyes. "Yes," he said, after an interval, with a long-drawn breath, "she
was a lovely girl, as you say."

"Was?--then she is dead. What a pity!" I said; "what a pity! so young and
so sweet!"

We stood gazing at her thus, in her beautiful stillness and calm,--two
men, the younger of us full-grown and conscious of many experiences, the
other an old man,--before this impersonation of tender youth. At length
he said, with a slight tremulousness in his voice, "Does nothing suggest
to you who she is, Phil?"

I turned round to look at him with profound astonishment, but he turned
away from my look. A sort of quiver passed over his face. "That is your
mother," he said, and walked suddenly away, leaving me there.

My mother!

I stood for a moment in a kind of consternation before the white-robed
innocent creature, to me no more than a child; then a sudden laugh broke
from me, without any will of mine something ludicrous, as well as
something awful, was in it. When the laugh was over, I found myself with
tears in my eyes, gazing, holding my breath. The soft features seemed to
melt, the lips to move, the anxiety in the eyes to become a personal
inquiry. Ah, no! nothing of the kind; only because of the water in mine.
My mother! oh, fair and gentle creature, scarcely woman, how could any
man's voice call her by that name! I had little idea enough of what it
meant,--had heard it laughed at, scoffed at, reverenced, but never had
learned to place it even among the ideal powers of life. Yet if it meant
anything at all, what it meant was worth thinking of. What did she ask,
looking at me with those eyes? What would she have said if "those lips
had language"? If I had known her only as Cowper did--with a child's
recollection--there might have been some thread, some faint but
comprehensible link, between us; but now all that I felt was the curious
incongruity. Poor child! I said to myself; so sweet a creature: poor
little tender soul! as if she had been a little sister, a child of
mine,--but my mother! I cannot tell how long I stood looking at her,
studying the candid, sweet face, which surely had germs in it of
everything that was good and beautiful; and sorry, with a profound
regret, that she had died and never carried these promises to
fulfillment. Poor girl! poor people who had loved her! These were my
thoughts; with a curious vertigo and giddiness of my whole being in the
sense of a mysterious relationship, which it was beyond my power to

Presently my father came back, possibly because I had been a long time
unconscious of the passage of the minutes, or perhaps because he was
himself restless in the strange disturbance of his habitual calm. He came
in and put his arm within mine, leaning his weight partially upon me,
with an affectionate suggestion which went deeper than words. I pressed
his arm to my side: it was more between us two grave Englishmen than any

"I cannot understand it," I said.

"No. I don't wonder at that; but if it is strange to you, Phil, think how
much more strange to me! That is the partner of my life. I have never had
another, or thought of another. That--girl! If we are to meet again, as I
have always hoped we should meet again, what am I to say to her,--I, an
old man? Yes; I know what you mean. I am not an old man for my years; but
my years are threescore and ten, and the play is nearly played out. How
am I to meet that young creature? We used to say to each other that it
was forever, that we never could be but one, that it was for life and
death. But what--what am I to say to her, Phil, when I meet her again,
that--that angel? No, it is not her being an angel that troubles me; but
she is so young! She is like my--my granddaughter," he cried, with a
burst of what was half sobs, half laughter; "and she is my wife,--and I
am an old man--an old man! And so much has happened that she could not

I was too much startled by this strange complaint to know what to say.
It was not my own trouble, and I answered it in the conventional way.

"They are not as we are, sir," I said; "they look upon us with larger,
other eyes than ours."

"Ah! you don't know what I mean," he said quickly; and in the interval he
had subdued his emotion. "At first, after she died, it was my consolation
to think that I should meet her again,--that we never could be really
parted. But, my God, how I have changed since then! I am another man,--I
am a different being. I was not very young even then,--twenty years older
than she was; but her youth renewed mine. I was not an unfit partner; she
asked no better, and knew as much more than I did in some things,--being
so much nearer the source,--as I did in others that were of the world.
But I have gone a long way since then, Phil,--a long way; and there she
stands, just where I left her."

I pressed his arm again. "Father," I said, which was a title I seldom
used, "we are not to suppose that in a higher life the mind stands
still." I did not feel myself qualified to discuss such topics, but
something one must say.

"Worse, worse!" he replied; "then she too will be, like me, a different
being, and we shall meet as what? as strangers, as people who have lost
sight of each other, with a long past between us,--we who parted, my God!

His voice broke and ended for a moment then while, surprised and almost
shocked by what he said, I cast about in my mind what to reply, he
withdrew his arm suddenly from mine, and said in his usual tone, "Where
shall we hang the picture, Phil? It must be here in this room. What do
you think will be the best light?"

This sudden alteration took me still more by surprise, and gave me almost
an additional shock; but it was evident that I must follow the changes of
his mood, or at least the sudden repression of sentiment which he
originated. We went into that simpler question with great seriousness,
consulting which would be the best light. "You know I can scarcely
advise," I said; "I have never been familiar with this room. I should
like to put off, if you don't mind, till daylight."

"I think," he said, "that this would be the best place." It was on the
other side of the fireplace, on the wall which faced the windows,--not
the best light, I knew enough to be aware, for an oil-painting. When I
said so, however, he answered me with a little impatience, "It does not
matter very much about the best light; there will be nobody to see it but
you and me. I have my reasons--" There was a small table standing against
the wall at this spot, on which he had his hand as he spoke. Upon it
stood a little basket in very fine lace-like wicker-work. His hand must
have trembled, for the table shook, and the basket fell, its contents
turning out upon the carpet,--little bits of needlework, colored silks, a
small piece of knitting half done. He laughed as they rolled out at his
feet, and tried to stoop to collect them, then tottered to a chair, and
covered for a moment his face with his hands.

No need to ask what they were. No woman's work had been seen in the house
since I could recollect it. I gathered them up reverently and put them
back. I could see, ignorant as I was, that the bit of knitting was
something for an infant. What could I do less than put it to my lips? It
had been left in the doing--for me.

"Yes, I think this is the best place," my father said a minute after, in
his usual tone.

We placed it there that evening with our own hands. The picture was
large, and in a heavy frame, but my father would let no one help me but
himself. And then, with a superstition for which I never could give any
reason even to myself, having removed the packings, we closed and locked
the door, leaving the candles about the room, in their soft, strange
illumination, lighting the first night of her return to her old place.

That night no more was said. My father went to his room early, which was
not his habit. He had never, however, accustomed me to sit late with him
in the library. I had a little study or smoking-room of my own, in which
all my special treasures were, the collections of my travels and my
favorite books,--and where I always sat after prayers, a ceremonial which
was regularly kept up in the house. I retired as usual this night to my
room, and, as usual, read,--but to-night somewhat vaguely, often pausing
to think. When it was quite late, I went out by the glass door to the
lawn, and walked round the house, with the intention of looking in at the
drawing-room windows, as I had done when a child. But I had forgotten
that these windows were all shuttered at night; and nothing but a faint
penetration of the light within through the crevices bore witness to the
installment of the new dweller there.

In the morning my father was entirely himself again. He told me without
emotion of the manner in which he had obtained the picture. It had
belonged to my mother's family, and had fallen eventually into the hands
of a cousin of hers, resident abroad,--"A man whom I did not like, and
who did not like me," my father said; "there was, or had been, some
rivalry, he thought: a mistake, but he was never aware of that. He
refused all my requests to have a copy made. You may suppose, Phil, that
I wished this very much. Had I succeeded, you would have been acquainted,
at least, with your mother's appearance, and need not have sustained this
shock. But he would not consent. It gave him, I think, a certain pleasure
to think that he had the only picture. But now he is dead, and out of
remorse, or with some other intention, has left it to me."

"That looks like kindness," said I.

"Yes; or something else. He might have thought that by so doing he was
establishing a claim upon me," my father said; but he did not seem
disposed to add any more. On whose behalf he meant to establish a claim I
did not know, nor who the man was who had laid us under so great an
obligation on his death-bed. He _had_ established a claim on me at least;
though, as he was dead, I could not see on whose behalf it was. And my
father said nothing more; he seemed to dislike the subject. When I
attempted to return to it, he had recourse to his letters or his
newspapers. Evidently he had made up his mind to say no more.

Afterwards I went into the drawing-room, to look at the picture once
more. It seemed to me that the anxiety in her eyes was not so evident as
I had thought it last night. The light possibly was more favorable. She
stood just above the place where, I make no doubt, she had sat in life,
where her little work-basket was,--not very much above it. The picture
was full-length, and we had hung it low, so that she might have been
stepping into the room, and was little above my own level as I stood and
looked at her again. Once more I smiled at the strange thought that this
young creature--so young, almost childish--could be my mother; and once
more my eyes grew wet looking at her. He was a benefactor, indeed, who
had given her back to us. I said to myself, that if I could ever do
anything for him or his, I would certainly do it, for my--for this lovely
young creature's sake. And with this in my mind, and all the thoughts
that came with it, I am obliged to confess that the other matter, which I
had been so full of on the previous night, went entirely out of my head.

* * * * *

It is rarely, however, that such matters are allowed to slip out of one's
mind. When I went out in the afternoon for my usual stroll,--or rather
when I returned from that stroll,--I saw once more before me the woman
with her baby, whose story had filled me with dismay on the previous
evening. She was waiting at the gate as before, and, "Oh, gentleman, but
haven't you got some news to give me?" she said.

"My good woman,--I--have been greatly occupied. I have had--no time to do

"Ah!" she said, with a little cry of disappointment, "my man said not to
make too sure, and that the ways of the gentlefolks is hard to know."

"I cannot explain to you," I said, as gently as I could, "what it is that
has made me forget you. It was an event that can only do you good in the
end. Go home now, and see the man that took your things from you, and
tell him to come to me. I promise you it shall all be put right."

The woman looked at me in astonishment, then burst forth, as it seemed,
involuntarily, "What! without asking no questions?" After this there came
a storm of tears and blessings, from which I made haste to escape, but
not without carrying that curious commentary on my rashness away with
me,--"Without asking no questions?" It might be foolish, perhaps; but
after all, how slight a matter. To make the poor creature comfortable at
the cost of what,--a box or two of cigars, perhaps, or some other trifle.
And if it should be her own fault, or her husband's--what then? Had I
been punished for all my faults, where should I have been now? And if the
advantage should be only temporary, what then? To be relieved and
comforted even for a day or two, was not that something to count in life?
Thus I quenched the fiery dart of criticism which my _protegee_ herself
had thrown into the transaction, not without a certain sense of the humor
of it. Its effect, however, was to make me less anxious to see my father,
to repeat my proposal to him, and to call his attention to the cruelty
performed in his name. This one case I had taken out of the category of
wrongs to be righted, by assuming arbitrarily the position of Providence
in my own person,--for, of course, I had bound myself to pay the poor
creature's rent as well as redeem her goods,--and, whatever might happen
to her in the future, had taken the past into my own hands. The man came
presently to see me, who, it seems, had acted as my father's agent in the
matter. "I don't know, sir, how Mr. Canning will take it," he said. "He
don't want none of those irregular, bad-paying ones in his property. He
always says as to look over it and let the rent run on is making things
worse in the end. His rule is, 'Never more than a month, Stevens;' that's
what Mr. Canning says to me, sir. He says, 'More than that they can't
pay. It's no use trying.' And it's a good rule; it's a very good rule. He
won't hear none of their stories, sir. Bless you, you'd never get a penny
of rent from them small houses if you listened to their tales. But if so
be as you'll pay Mrs. Jordan's rent, it's none of my business how it's
paid, so long as it's paid, and I'll send her back her things. But
they'll just have to be took next time," he added composedly. "Over and
over; it's always the same story with them sort of poor folks,--they're
too poor for anything, that's the truth," the man said.

Morphew came back to my room after my visitor was gone. "Mr. Philip," he
said, "you'll excuse me, sir, but if you're going to pay all the poor
folks' rent as have distresses put in, you may just go into the court at
once, for it's without end--"

"I am going to be the agent myself, Morphew, and manage for my father;
and we'll soon put a stop to that," I said, more cheerfully than I felt.

"Manage for--master," he said, with a face of consternation. "You,
Mr. Philip!"

"You seem to have a great contempt for me, Morphew."

He did not deny the fact. He said with excitement, "Master, sir,--master
don't let himself be put a stop to by any man. Master's--not one to be
managed. Don't you quarrel with master, Mr. Philip, for the love of God."
The old man was quite pale.

"Quarrel!" I said. "I have never quarrelled with my father, and I don't
mean to begin now."

Morphew dispelled his own excitement by making up the fire, which was
dying in the grate. It was a very mild spring evening, and he made up a
great blaze which would have suited December. This is one of many ways in
which an old servant will relieve his mind. He muttered all the time as
he threw on the coals and wood. "He'll not like it,--we all know as he'll
not like it. Master won't stand no meddling, Mr. Philip,"--this last he
discharged at me like a flying arrow as he closed the door.

I soon found there was truth in what he said. My father was not angry, he
was even half amused. "I don't think that plan of yours will hold water,
Phil. I hear you have been paying rents and redeeming furniture,--that's
an expensive game, and a very profitless one. Of course, so long as you
are a benevolent gentleman acting for your own pleasure, it makes no
difference to me. I am quite content if I get my money, even out of your
pockets,--so long as it amuses you. But as my collector, you know, which
you are good enough to propose to be--"

"Of course I should act under your orders," I said; "but at least you
might be sure that I would not commit you to any--to any--" I paused
for a word.

"Act of oppression," he said, with a smile--"piece of cruelty,
exaction--there are half-a-dozen words--"

"Sir--" I cried.

"Stop, Phil, and let us understand each other. I hope I have always been
a just man. I do my duty on my side, and I expect it from others. It is
your benevolence that is cruel. I have calculated anxiously how much
credit it is safe to allow; but I will allow no man, or woman either, to
go beyond what he or she can make up. My law is fixed. Now you
understand. My agents, as you call them, originate nothing; they execute
only what I decide--"

"But then no circumstances are taken into account,--no bad luck, no evil
chances, no loss unexpected."

"There are no evil chances," he said; "there is no bad luck; they reap as
they sow. No, I don't go among them to be cheated by their stories, and
spend quite unnecessary emotion in sympathizing with them. You will find
it much better for you that I don't. I deal with them on a general rule,
made, I assure you, not without a great deal of thought."

"And must it always be so?" I said. "Is there no way of ameliorating or
bringing in a better state of things?"

"It seems not," he said; "we don't get 'no forrarder' in that
direction so far as I can see." And then he turned the conversation to
general matters.

I retired to my room greatly discouraged that night. In former ages--or
so one is led to suppose--and in the lower primitive classes who still
linger near the primeval type, action of any kind was, and is, easier
than amid the complication of our higher civilization. A bad man is a
distinct entity, against whom you know more or less what steps to take. A
tyrant, an oppressor, a bad landlord, a man who lets miserable tenements
at a rack-rent (to come down to particulars), and exposes his wretched
tenants to all those abominations of which we have heard so much--well!
he is more or less a satisfactory opponent. There he is, and there is
nothing to be said for him--down with him! and let there be an end of his
wickedness. But when, on the contrary, you have before you a good man, a
just man, who has considered deeply a question which you allow to be full
of difficulty; who regrets, but cannot, being human, avert the miseries
which to some unhappy individuals follow from the very wisdom of his
rule,--what can you do? What is to be done? Individual benevolence at
haphazard may balk him here and there, but what have you to put in the
place of his well-considered scheme? Charity which makes paupers? or what
else? I had not considered the question deeply, but it seemed to me that
I now came to a blank wall, which my vague human sentiment of pity and
scorn could find no way to breach. There must be wrong somewhere, but
where? There must be some change for the better to be made, but how?

I was seated with a book before me on the table, with my head supported
on my hands. My eyes were on the printed page, but I was not reading; my
mind was full of these thoughts, my heart of great discouragement and
despondency,--a sense that I could do nothing, yet that there surely must
and ought, if I but knew it, be something to do. The fire which Morphew
had built up before dinner was dying out, the shaded lamp on my table
left all the corners in a mysterious twilight. The house was perfectly
still, no one moving: my father in the library, where, after the habit of
many solitary years, he liked to be left alone, and I here in my retreat,
preparing for the formation of similar habits. I thought all at once of
the third member of the party, the new-comer, alone too in the room that
had been hers; and there suddenly occurred to me a strong desire to take
up my lamp and go to the drawing-room and visit her, to see whether her
soft, angelic face would give any inspiration. I restrained, however,
this futile impulse,--for what could the picture say?--and instead
wondered what might have been had she lived, had she been there, warmly
enthroned beside the warm domestic centre, the hearth which would have
been a common sanctuary, the true home. In that case what might have
been? Alas! the question was no more simple to answer than the other: she
might have been there alone too, her husband's business, her son's
thoughts, as far from her as now, when her silent representative held her
old place in the silence and darkness. I had known it so, often enough.
Love itself does not always give comprehension and sympathy. It might be
that she was more to us there, in the sweet image of her undeveloped
beauty, than she might have been had she lived and grown to maturity and
fading, like the rest.

I cannot be certain whether my mind was still lingering on this not very
cheerful reflection, or if it had been left behind, when the strange
occurrence came of which I have now to tell. Can I call it an occurrence?
My eyes were on my book, when I thought I heard the sound of a door
opening and shutting, but so far away and faint that if real at all it
must have been in a far corner of the house. I did not move except to
lift my eyes from the book as one does instinctively the better to
listen; when--But I cannot tell, nor have I ever been able to describe
exactly what it was. My heart made all at once a sudden leap in my
breast. I am aware that this language is figurative, and that the heart
cannot leap; but it is a figure so entirely justified by sensation, that
no one will have any difficulty in understanding what I mean. My heart
leaped up and began beating wildly in my throat, in my ears, as if my
whole being had received a sudden and intolerable shock. The sound went
through my head like the dizzy sound of some strange mechanism, a
thousand wheels and springs circling, echoing, working in my brain. I
felt the blood bound in my veins, my mouth became dry, my eyes hot; a
sense of something insupportable took possession of me. I sprang to my
feet, and then I sat down again. I cast a quick glance round me beyond
the brief circle of the lamplight, but there was nothing there to
account in any way for this sudden extraordinary rush of sensation, nor
could I feel any meaning in it, any suggestion, any moral impression. I
thought I must be going to be ill, and got out my watch and felt my
pulse: it was beating furiously, about one hundred and twenty-five throbs
in a minute. I knew of no illness that could come on like this without
warning, in a moment, and I tried to subdue myself, to say to myself that
it was nothing, some flutter of the nerves, some physical disturbance. I
laid myself down upon my sofa to try if rest would help me, and kept
still, as long as the thumping and throbbing of this wild, excited
mechanism within, like a wild beast plunging and struggling, would let
me. I am quite aware of the confusion of the metaphor; the reality was
just so. It was like a mechanism deranged, going wildly with
ever-increasing precipitation, like those horrible wheels that from time
to time catch a helpless human being in them and tear him to pieces; but
at the same time it was like a maddened living creature making the
wildest efforts to get free.

When I could bear this no longer I got up and walked about my room; then
having still a certain command of myself, though I could not master the
commotion within me, I deliberately took down an exciting book from the
shelf, a book of breathless adventure which had always interested me, and
tried with that to break the spell. After a few minutes, however, I flung
the book aside; I was gradually losing all power over myself. What I
should be moved to do,--to shout aloud, to struggle with I know not what;
or if I was going mad altogether, and next moment must be a raving
lunatic,--I could not tell. I kept looking round, expecting I don't know
what; several times with the corner of my eye I seemed to see a movement,
as if some one was stealing out of sight; but when I looked straight,
there was never anything but the plain outlines of the wall and carpet,
the chairs standing in good order. At last I snatched up the lamp in my
hand, and went out of the room. To look at the picture, which had been
faintly showing in my imagination from time to time, the eyes, more
anxious than ever, looking at me from out the silent air? But no; I
passed the door of that room swiftly, moving, it seemed, without any
volition of my own, and before I knew where I was going, went into my
father's library with my lamp in my hand.

He was still sitting there at his writing-table; he looked up astonished
to see me hurrying in with my light. "Phil!" he said, surprised. I
remember that I shut the door behind me, and came up to him, and set down
the lamp on his table. My sudden appearance alarmed him. "What is the
matter?" he cried. "Philip, what have you been doing with yourself?"

I sat down on the nearest chair and gasped, gazing at him. The wild
commotion ceased; the blood subsided into its natural channels; my
heart resumed its place. I use such words as mortal weakness can to
express the sensations I felt. I came to myself thus, gazing at him,
confounded, at once by the extraordinary passion which I had gone
through, and its sudden cessation. "The matter?" I cried; "I don't
know what is the matter."

My father had pushed his spectacles up from his eyes. He appeared to me
as faces appear in a fever, all glorified with light which is not in
them,--his eyes glowing, his white hair shining like silver; but his
looks were severe. "You are not a boy, that I should reprove you; but you
ought to know better," he said.

Then I explained to him, so far as I was able, what had happened. Had
happened? Nothing had happened. He did not understand me; nor did I, now
that it was over, understand myself; but he saw enough to make him aware
that the disturbance in me was serious, and not caused by any folly of my
own. He was very kind as soon as he had assured himself of this, and
talked, taking pains to bring me back to unexciting subjects. He had a
letter in his hand with a very deep border of black when I came in. I
observed it, without taking any notice or associating it with anything I
knew. He had many correspondents; and although we were excellent friends,
we had never been on those confidential terms which warrant one man in
asking another from whom a special letter has come. We were not so near
to each other as this, though we were father and son. After a while I
went back to my own room, and finished the evening in my usual way,
without any return of the excitement which, now that it was over, looked
to me like some extraordinary dream. What had it meant? Had it meant
anything? I said to myself that it must be purely physical, something
gone temporarily amiss, which had righted itself. It was physical; the
excitement did not affect my mind. I was independent of it all the time,
a spectator of my own agitation, a clear proof that, whatever it was, it
had affected my bodily organization alone.

Next day I returned to the problem which I had not been able to solve. I
found out my petitioner in the back street, and that she was happy in the
recovery of her possessions, which to my eyes indeed did not seem very
worthy either of lamentation or delight. Nor was her house the tidy house
which injured virtue should have when restored to its humble rights. She
was not injured virtue, it was clear. She made me a great many curtseys,
and poured forth a number of blessings. Her "man" came in while I was
there, and hoped in a gruff voice that God would reward me, and that the
old gentleman'd let 'em alone. I did not like the look of the man. It
seemed to me that in the dark lane behind the house of a winter's night
he would not be a pleasant person to find in one's way. Nor was this all:
when I went out into the little street which it appeared was all, or
almost all, my father's property, a number of groups formed in my way,
and at least half-a-dozen applicants sidled up. "I've more claims nor
Mary Jordan any day," said one; "I've lived on Squire Canning's property,
one place and another, this twenty year." "And what do you say to me?"
said another; "I've six children to her two, bless you, sir, and ne'er a
father to do for them." I believed in my father's rule before I got out
of the street, and approved his wisdom in keeping himself free from
personal contact with his tenants. Yet when I looked back upon the
swarming thoroughfare, the mean little houses, the women at their doors
all so open-mouthed and eager to contend for my favor, my heart sank
within me at the thought that out of their misery some portion of our
wealth came, I don't care how small a portion; that I, young and strong,
should be kept idle and in luxury, in some part through the money screwed
out of their necessities, obtained sometimes by the sacrifice of
everything they prized! Of course I know all the ordinary commonplaces of
life as well as any one,--that if you build a house with your hand or
your money, and let it, the rent of it is your just due; and must be
paid. But yet--

"Don't you think, sir," I said that evening at dinner, the subject being
reintroduced by my father himself, "that we have some duty towards them
when we draw so much from them?"

"Certainly," he said; "I take as much trouble about their drains as I do
about my own."

"That is always something, I suppose."

"Something! it is a great deal; it is more than they get anywhere else. I
keep them clean, as far as that's possible. I give them at least the
means of keeping clean, and thus check disease, and prolong life, which
is more, I assure you, than they've any right to expect."

I was not prepared with arguments as I ought to have been. That is all in
the Gospel according to Adam Smith, which my father had been brought up
in, but of which the tenets had begun to be less binding in my day. I
wanted something more, or else something less; but my views were not so
clear, nor my system so logical and well-built, as that upon which my
father rested his conscience, and drew his percentage with a light heart.

Yet I thought there were signs in him of some perturbation. I met him one
morning coming out of the room in which the portrait hung, as if he had
gone to look at it stealthily. He was shaking his head, and saying "No,
no," to himself, not perceiving me, and I stepped aside when I saw him so
absorbed. For myself, I entered that room but little. I went outside, as
I had so often done when I was a child, and looked through the windows
into the still and now sacred place, which had always impressed me with
a certain awe. Looked at so, the slight figure in its white dress seemed
to be stepping down into the room from some slight visionary altitude,
looking with that which had seemed to me at first anxiety, which I
sometimes represented to myself now as a wistful curiosity, as if she
were looking for the life which might have been hers. Where was the
existence that had belonged to her, the sweet household place, the infant
she had left? She would no more recognize the man who thus came to look
at her as through a veil, with a mystic reverence, than I could recognize
her. I could never be her child to her, any more than she could be a
mother to me.

* * * * *

Thus time passed on for several quiet days. There was nothing to make us
give any special heed to the passage of time, life being very uneventful
and its habits unvaried. My mind was very much preoccupied by my father's
tenants. He had a great deal of property in the town which was so near
us,--streets of small houses, the best-paying property (I was assured) of
any. I was very anxious to come to some settled conclusion: on the one
hand, not to let myself be carried away by sentiment; on the other, not
to allow my strongly roused feelings to fall into the blank of routine,
as his had done. I was seated one evening in my own sitting-room, busy
with this matter,--busy with calculations as to cost and profit, with an
anxious desire to convince him, either that his profits were greater than
justice allowed, or that they carried with them a more urgent duty than
he had conceived.

It was night, but not late, not more than ten o'clock, the household
still astir. Everything was quiet,--not the solemnity of midnight
silence, in which there is always something of mystery, but the
soft-breathing quiet of the evening, full of the faint habitual sounds of
a human dwelling, a consciousness of life about. And I was very busy with
my figures, interested, feeling no room in my mind for any other thought.
The singular experience which had startled me so much had passed over
very quickly, and there had been no return. I had ceased to think of it;
indeed, I had never thought of it save for the moment, setting it down
after it was over to a physical cause without much difficulty. At this
time I was far too busy to have thoughts to spare for anything, or room
for imagination; and when suddenly in a moment, without any warning, the
first symptom returned, I started with it into determined resistance,
resolute not to be fooled by any mock influence which could resolve
itself into the action of nerves or ganglions. The first symptom; as
before, was that my heart sprang up with a bound, as if a cannon had been
fired at my ear. My whole being responded with a start. The pen fell out
of my fingers, the figures went out of my head as if all faculty had
departed; and yet I was conscious for a time at least of keeping my
self-control. I was like the rider of a frightened horse, rendered almost
wild by something which in the mystery of its voiceless being it has
seen, something on the road which it will not pass, but wildly plunging,
resisting every persuasion, turns from, with ever-increasing passion. The
rider himself after a time becomes infected with this inexplainable
desperation of terror, and I suppose I must have done so; but for a time
I kept the upper hand. I would not allow myself to spring up as I wished,
as my impulse was, but sat there doggedly, clinging to my books, to my
table, fixing myself on I did not mind what, to resist the flood of
sensation, of emotion, which was sweeping through me, carrying me away. I
tried to continue my calculations. I tried to stir myself up with
recollections of the miserable sights I had seen, the poverty, the
helplessness. I tried to work myself into indignation; but all through
these efforts I felt the contagion growing upon me, my mind falling into
sympathy with all those straining faculties of the body, startled,
excited, driven wild by something, I knew not what. It was not fear. I
was like a ship at sea straining and plunging against wind and tide, but
I was not afraid. I am obliged to use these metaphors, otherwise I could
give no explanation of my condition, seized upon against my will, and
torn from all those moorings of reason to which I clung with desperation,
as long as I had the strength.

When I got up from my chair at last, the battle was lost, so far as my
powers of self-control were concerned. I got up, or rather was dragged
up, from my seat, clutching at these material things round me as with a
last effort to hold my own. But that was no longer possible; I was
overcome. I stood for a moment looking round me feebly, feeling myself
begin to babble with stammering lips, which was the alternative of
shrieking, and which I seemed to choose as a lesser evil. What I said
was, "What am I to do?" and after a while, "What do you want me to do?"
although throughout I saw no one, heard no voice, and had in reality not
power enough in my dizzy and confused brain to know what I myself meant.
I stood thus for a moment, looking blankly round me for guidance,
repeating the question, which seemed after a time to become almost
mechanical, "What do you want me to do?" though I neither knew to whom I
addressed it nor why I said it. Presently--whether in answer, whether in
mere yielding of nature, I cannot tell--I became aware of a difference:
not a lessening of the agitation, but a softening, as if my powers of
resistance being exhausted, a gentler force, a more benignant influence,
had room. I felt myself consent to whatever it was. My heart melted in
the midst of the tumult; I seemed to give myself up, and move as if drawn
by some one whose arm was in mine, as if softly swept along, not
forcibly, but with an utter consent of all my faculties to do I knew not
what, for love of I knew not whom. For love,--that was how it
seemed,--not by force, as when I went before. But my steps took the same
course: I went through the dim passages in an exaltation indescribable,
and opened the door of my father's room.

He was seated there at his table as usual, the light of the lamp falling
on his white hair; he looked up with some surprise at the sound of the
opening door. "Phil," he said, and with a look of wondering apprehension
on his face, watched my approach. I went straight up to him and put my
hand on his shoulder. "Phil, what is the matter? What do you want with
me? What is it?" he said.

"Father, I can't tell you. I come not of myself. There must be something
in it, though I don't know what it is. This is the second time I have
been brought to you here."

"Are you going--?" He stopped himself. The exclamation had been begun
with an angry intention. He stopped, looking at me with a scared look, as
if perhaps it might be true.

"Do you mean mad? I don't think so. I have no delusions that I know of.
Father, think--do you know any reason why I am brought here? for some
cause there must be."

I stood with my hand upon the back of his chair. His table was covered
with papers, among which were several letters with the broad black border
which I had before observed. I noticed this now in my excitement without
any distinct association of thoughts, for that I was not capable of; but
the black border caught my eye. And I was conscious that he too gave a
hurried glance at them, and with one hand swept them away.

"Philip," he said, pushing back his chair, "you must be ill, my poor boy.
Evidently we have not been treating you rightly; you have been more ill
all through than I supposed. Let me persuade you to go to bed."

"I am perfectly well," I said. "Father, don't let us deceive one another.
I am neither a man to go mad nor to see ghosts. What it is that has got
the command over me I can't tell; but there is some cause for it. You are
doing something or planning something with which I have a right to

He turned round squarely in his chair, with a spark in his blue eyes.
He was not a man to be meddled with. "I have yet to learn what can
give my son a right to interfere. I am in possession of all my
faculties, I hope."

"Father," I cried, "won't you listen to me? No one can say I have been
undutiful or disrespectful. I am a man, with a right to speak my mind,
and I have done so; but this is different. I am not here by my own will.
Something that is stronger than I has brought me. There is something in
your mind which disturbs--others. I don't know what I am saying. This is
not what I meant to say; but you know the meaning better than I. Some
one--who can speak to you only by me--speaks to you by me; and I know
that you understand."

He gazed up at me, growing pale, and his underlip fell. I, for my part,
felt that my message was delivered. My heart sank into a stillness so
sudden that it made me faint. The light swam in my eyes; everything went
round with me. I kept upright only by my hold upon the chair; and in the
sense of utter weakness that followed, I dropped on my knees I think
first, then on the nearest seat that presented itself, and, covering my
face with my hands, had hard ado not to sob, in the sudden removal of
that strange influence,--the relaxation of the strain.

There was silence between us for some time; then he said, but with a
voice slightly broken, "I don't understand you, Phil. You must have
taken some fancy into your mind which my slower intelligence--Speak out
what you want to say. What do you find fault with? Is it all--all that
woman Jordan?"

He gave a short, forced laugh as he broke off, and shook me
almost roughly by the shoulder, saying, "Speak out! what--what do
you want to say?"

"It seems, sir, that I have said everything." My voice trembled more than
his, but not in the same way. "I have told you that I did not come by my
own will,--quite otherwise. I resisted as long as I could: now all is
said. It is for you to judge whether it was worth the trouble or not."

He got up from his seat in a hurried way. "You would have me as--mad as
yourself," he said, then sat down again as quickly. "Come, Phil: if it
will please you, not to make a breach,--the first breach between us,--you
shall have your way. I consent to your looking into that matter about the
poor tenants. Your mind shall not be upset about that, even though I
don't enter into all your views."

"Thank you," I said; "but, father, that is not what it is."

"Then it is a piece of folly," he said angrily. "I suppose you mean--but
this is a matter in which I choose to judge for myself."

"You know what I mean," I said, as quietly as I could, "though I don't
myself know; that proves there is good reason for it. Will you do one
thing for me before I leave you? Come with me into the drawing-room--"

"What end," he said, with again the tremble in his voice, "is to be
served by that?"

"I don't very well know; but to look at her, you and I together, will
always do something for us, sir. As for breach, there can be no breach
when we stand there."

He got up, trembling like an old man, which he was, but which he never
looked like save at moments of emotion like this, and told me to take the
light; then stopped when he had got half-way across the room. "This is a
piece of theatrical sentimentality," he said. "No, Phil, I will not go. I
will not bring her into any such--Put down the lamp, and, if you will
take my advice, go to bed."

"At least," I said, "I will trouble you no more, father, to-night. So
long as you understand, there need be no more to say."

He gave me a very curt "good-night," and turned back to his papers,--the
letters with the black edge, either by my imagination or in reality,
always keeping uppermost. I went to my own room for my lamp, and then
alone proceeded to the silent shrine in which the portrait hung. I at
least would look at her to-night. I don't know whether I asked myself,
in so many words, if it were she who--or if it was any one--I knew
nothing; but my heart was drawn with a softness--born, perhaps, of the
great weakness in which I was left after that visitation--to her, to look
at her, to see, perhaps, if there was any sympathy, any approval in her
face. I set down my lamp on the table where her little work-basket still
was; the light threw a gleam upward upon her,--she seemed more than ever
to be stepping into the room, coming down towards me, coming back to her
life. Ah, no! her life was lost and vanished: all mine stood between her
and the days she knew. She looked at me with eyes that did not change.
The anxiety I had seen at first seemed now a wistful, subdued question;
but that difference was not in her look but in mine.

* * * * *

I need not linger on the intervening time. The doctor who attended us
usually, came in next day "by accident," and we had a long conversation.
On the following day a very impressive yet genial gentleman from town
lunched with us,--a friend of my father's, Dr. Something; but the
introduction was hurried, and I did not catch his name. He, too, had a
long talk with me afterwards, my father being called away to speak to
some one on business. Dr.---- drew me out on the subject of the dwellings
of the poor. He said he heard I took great interest in this question,
which had come so much to the front at the present moment. He was
interested in it too, and wanted to know the view I took. I explained at
considerable length that my view did not concern the general subject, on
which I had scarcely thought, so much as the individual mode of
management of my father's estate. He was a most patient and intelligent
listener, agreeing with me on some points, differing in others; and his
visit was very pleasant. I had no idea until after of its special object;
though a certain puzzled look and slight shake of the head when my father
returned, might have thrown some light upon it. The report of the medical
experts in my case must, however, have been quite satisfactory, for I
heard nothing more of them. It was, I think, a fortnight later when the
next and last of these strange experiences came.

This time it was morning, about noon,--a wet and rather dismal spring
day. The half-spread leaves seemed to tap at the window, with an appeal
to be taken in; the primroses, that showed golden upon the grass at the
roots of the trees, just beyond the smooth-shorn grass of the lawn, were
all drooped and sodden among their sheltering leaves. The very growth
seemed dreary--the sense of spring in the air making the feeling of
winter a grievance, instead of the natural effect which it had conveyed a
few months before. I had been writing letters, and was cheerful enough,
going back among the associates of my old life, with, perhaps, a little
longing for its freedom and independence, but at the same time a not
ungrateful consciousness that for the moment my present tranquillity
might be best.

This was my condition--a not unpleasant one--when suddenly the now
well-known symptoms of the visitation to which I had become subject
suddenly seized upon me,--the leap of the heart; the sudden, causeless,
overwhelming physical excitement, which I could neither ignore nor allay.
I was terrified beyond description, beyond reason, when I became
conscious that this was about to begin over again: what purpose did it
answer; what good was in it? My father indeed understood the meaning of
it though I did not understand; but it was little agreeable to be thus
made a helpless instrument, without any will of mine, in an operation of
which I knew nothing; and to enact the part of the oracle unwillingly,
with suffering and such a strain as it took me days to get over. I
resisted, not as before, but yet desperately, trying with better
knowledge to keep down the growing passion. I hurried to my room and
swallowed a dose of a sedative which had been given me to procure sleep
on my first return from India. I saw Morphew in the hall, and called him
to talk to him, and cheat myself, if possible, by that means. Morphew
lingered, however, and, before he came, I was beyond conversation. I
heard him speak, his voice coming vaguely through the turmoil which was
already in my ears, but what he said I have never known. I stood staring,
trying to recover my power of attention, with an aspect which ended by
completely frightening the man. He cried out at last that he was sure I
was ill, that he must bring me something; which words penetrated more or
less into my maddened brain. It became impressed upon me that he was
going to get some one--one of my father's doctors, perhaps--to prevent
me from acting, to stop my interference, and that if I waited a moment
longer I might be too late. A vague idea seized me at the same time, of
taking refuge with the portrait,--going to its feet, throwing myself
there, perhaps, till the paroxysm should be over. But it was not there
that my footsteps were directed. I can remember making an effort to open
the door of the drawing-room, and feeling myself swept past it, as if by
a gale of wind. It was not there that I had to go. I knew very well where
I had to go,--once more on my confused and voiceless mission to my
father, who understood, although I could not understand.

Yet as it was daylight, and all was clear, I could not help noting one or
two circumstances on my way. I saw some one sitting in the hall as if
waiting,--a woman, a girl, a black-shrouded figure, with a thick veil
over her face; and asked myself who she was, and what she wanted there.
This question, which had nothing to do with my present condition, somehow
got into my mind, and was tossed up and down upon the tumultuous tide
like a stray log on the breast of a fiercely rolling stream, now
submerged, now coming uppermost, at the mercy of the waters. It did not
stop me for a moment, as I hurried towards my father's room, but it got
upon the current of my mind. I flung open my father's door, and closed it
again after me, without seeing who was there or how he was engaged. The
full clearness of the daylight did not identify him as the lamp did at
night. He looked up at the sound of the door, with a glance of
apprehension; and rising suddenly, interrupting some one who was standing
speaking to him with much earnestness and even vehemence, came forward to
meet me. "I cannot be disturbed at present," he said quickly; "I am
busy." Then seeing the look in my face, which by this time he knew, he
too changed color. "Phil," he said, in a low, imperative voice, "wretched
boy, go away--go away; don't let a stranger see you--"

"I can't go away," I said. "It is impossible. You know why I have come. I
cannot, if I would. It is more powerful than I--"

"Go, sir," he said; "go at once; no more of this folly. I will not have
you in this room: Go-go!"

I made no answer. I don't know that I could have done so. There had
never been any struggle between us before; but I had no power to do
one thing or another. The tumult within me was in full career. I heard
indeed what he said, and was able to reply; but his words, too, were
like straws tossed upon the tremendous stream. I saw now with my
feverish eyes who the other person present was. It was a woman, dressed
also in mourning similar to the one in the hall; but this a middle-aged
woman, like a respectable servant. She had been crying, and in the
pause caused by this encounter between my father and myself, dried her
eyes with a handkerchief, which she rolled like a ball in her hand,
evidently in strong emotion. She turned and looked at me as my father
spoke to me, for a moment with a gleam of hope, then falling back into
her former attitude.

My father returned to his seat. He was much agitated too, though doing
all that was possible to conceal it. My inopportune arrival was evidently
a great and unlooked-for vexation to him. He gave me the only look of
passionate displeasure I have ever had from him, as he sat down again;
but he said nothing more.

"You must understand," he said, addressing the woman, "that I have said
my last words on this subject. I don't choose to enter into it again in
the presence of my son, who is not well enough to be made a party to any
discussion. I am sorry that you should have had so much trouble in vain,
but you were warned beforehand, and you have only yourself to blame. I
acknowledge no claim, and nothing you can say will change my resolution.
I must beg you to go away. All this is very painful and quite useless. I
acknowledge no claim."

"Oh, sir," she cried, her eyes beginning once more to flow, her speech
interrupted by little sobs. "Maybe I did wrong to speak of a claim. I'm
not educated to argue with a gentleman. Maybe we have no claim. But if
it's not by right, oh, Mr. Canning, won't you let your heart be touched
by pity? She don't know what I'm saying, poor dear. She's not one to beg
and pray for herself, as I'm doing for her. Oh, sir, she's so young!
She's so lone in this world,--not a friend to stand by her, nor a house
to take her in! You are the nearest to her of any one that's left in this
world. She hasn't a relation,--not one so near as you,--oh!" she cried,
with a sudden thought, turning quickly round upon me, "this gentleman's
your son! Now I think of it, it's not your relation she is, but his,
through his mother! That's nearer, nearer! Oh, sir! you're young; your
heart should be more tender. Here is my young lady that has no one in the
world to look to her. Your own flesh and blood; your mother's
cousin,--your mother's--"

My father called to her to stop, with a voice of thunder. "Philip, leave
us at once. It is not a matter to be discussed with you."

And then in a moment it became clear to me what it was. It had been with
difficulty that I had kept myself still. My breast was laboring with the
fever of an impulse poured into me, more than I could contain. And now
for the first time I knew why. I hurried towards him, and took his hand,
though he resisted, into mine. Mine were burning, but his like ice: their
touch burnt me with its chill, like fire. "This is what it is?" I cried.
"I had no knowledge before. I don't know now what is being asked of you.
But, father, understand! You know, and I know now, that some one sends
me,--some one--who has a right to interfere."

He pushed me away with all his might. "You are mad," he cried. "What
right have you to think--? Oh, you are mad--mad! I have seen it
coming on--"

The woman, the petitioner, had grown silent, watching this brief conflict
with the terror and interest with which women watch a struggle between
men. She started and fell back when she heard what he said, but did not
take her eyes off me, following every movement I made. When I turned to
go away, a cry of indescribable disappointment and remonstrance burst
from her, and even my father raised himself up and stared at my
withdrawal, astonished to find that he had overcome me so soon and
easily. I paused for a moment, and looked back on them, seeing them large
and vague through the mist of fever. "I am not going away," I said. "I am
going for another messenger,--one you can't gainsay."

My father rose. He called out to me threateningly, "I will have nothing
touched that is hers. Nothing that is hers shall be profaned--"

I waited to hear no more; I knew what I had to do. By what means it was
conveyed to me I cannot tell; but the certainty of an influence which no
one thought of calmed me in the midst of my fever. I went out into the
hall, where I had seen the young stranger waiting. I went up to her and
touched her on the shoulder. She rose at once, with a little movement of
alarm, yet with docile and instant obedience, as if she had expected the
summons. I made her take off her veil and her bonnet, scarcely looking at
her, scarcely seeing her, knowing how it was: I took her soft, small,
cool, yet trembling hand into mine; it was so soft and cool,--not
cold,--it refreshed me with its tremulous touch. All through I moved and
spoke like a man in a dream; swiftly, noiselessly, all the complications
of waking life removed; without embarrassment, without reflection,
without the loss of a moment. My father was still standing up, leaning a
little forward as he had done when I withdrew; threatening, yet
terror-stricken, not knowing what I might be about to do, when I returned
with my companion. That was the one thing he had not thought of. He was
entirely undecided, unprepared. He gave her one look, flung up his arms
above his head, and uttered a distracted cry, so wild that it seemed the
last outcry of nature,--"Agnes!" then fell back like a sudden ruin, upon
himself, into his chair.

I had no leisure to think how he was, or whether he could hear what I
said. I had my message to deliver. "Father," I said, laboring with my
panting breath, "it is for this that heaven has opened, and one whom I
never saw, one whom I know not, has taken possession of me. Had we been
less earthly, we should have seen her--herself, and not merely her image.
I have not even known what she meant. I have been as a fool without
understanding. This is the third time I have come to you with her
message, without knowing what to say. But now I have found it out. This
is her message. I have found it out at last." There was an awful
pause,--a pause in which no one moved or breathed. Then there came a
broken voice out of my father's chair. He had not understood, though I
think he heard what I said. He put out two feeble hands. "Phil--I think I
am dying--has she--has she come for me?" he said.

We had to carry him to his bed. What struggles he had gone through before
I cannot tell. He had stood fast, and had refused to be moved, and now he
fell,--like an old tower, like an old tree. The necessity there was for
thinking of him saved me from the physical consequences which had
prostrated me on a former occasion. I had no leisure now for any
consciousness of how matters went with myself.

His delusion was not wonderful, but most natural. She was clothed in
black from head to foot, instead of the white dress of the portrait. She
had no knowledge of the conflict, of nothing but that she was called for,
that her fate might depend on the next few minutes. In her eyes there was
a pathetic question, a line of anxiety in the lids, an innocent appeal in
the looks. And the face the same: the same lips, sensitive, ready to
quiver; the same innocent, candid brow; the look of a common race, which
is more subtle than mere resemblance. How I knew that it was so I cannot
tell, nor any man. It was the other, the elder,--ah, no! not elder; the
ever young, the Agnes to whom age can never come, she who they say was
the mother of a man who never saw her,--it was she who led her kinswoman,
her representative, into our hearts.

* * * * *

My father recovered after a few days: he had taken cold, it was said, the
day before; and naturally, at seventy, a small matter is enough to upset
the balance even of a strong man. He got quite well; but he was willing
enough afterwards to leave the management of that ticklish kind of
property which involves human well-being in my hands, who could move
about more freely, and see with my own eyes how things were going on. He
liked home better, and had more pleasure in his personal existence in the
end of his life. Agnes is now my wife, as he had, of course, foreseen. It
was not merely the disinclination to receive her father's daughter, or to
take upon him a new responsibility, that had moved him, to do him
justice; but both these motives had told strongly. I have never been
told, and now will never be told, what his griefs against my mother's
family, and specially against that cousin, had been; but that he had been
very determined, deeply prejudiced, there can be no doubt. It turned out
after, that the first occasion on which I had been mysteriously
commissioned to him with a message which I did not understand, and which
for that time he did not understand, was the evening of the day on which
he had received the dead man's letter, appealing to him--to him, a man
whom he had wronged--on behalf of the child who was about to be left
friendless in the world. The second time, further letters--from the nurse
who was the only guardian of the orphan, and the chaplain of the place
where her father had died, taking it for granted that my father's house
was her natural refuge--had been received. The third I have already
described, and its results.

For a long time after, my mind was never without a lurking fear that the
influence which had once taken possession of me might return again. Why
should I have feared to be influenced, to be the messenger of a blessed
creature, whose wishes could be nothing but heavenly? Who can say? Flesh
and blood is not made for such encounters: they were more than I could
bear. But nothing of the kind has ever occurred again.

Agnes had her peaceful domestic throne established under the picture.
My father wished it to be so, and spent his evenings there in the
warmth and light, instead of in the old library,--in the narrow circle
cleared by our lamp out of the darkness, as long as he lived. It is
supposed by strangers that the picture on the wall is that of my wife;
and I have always been glad that it should be so supposed. She who was
my mother, who came back to me and became as my soul for three strange
moments and no more, but with whom I can feel no credible relationship
as she stands there, has retired for me into the tender regions of the
unseen. She has passed once more into the secret company of those
shadows, who can only become real in an atmosphere fitted to modify and
harmonize all differences, and make all wonders possible,--the light of
the perfect day.

Book of the day: