Part 2 out of 8
with pitch and tar. This gave to our little abode a curiously
dark, dingy look, especially when it was seen from a distance;
and so it had come to be called in the neighborhood, even before
I was born, The Black Cottage.
I have now related the preliminary particulars which it is
desirable that you should know, and may proceed at once to the
pleasanter task of telling you my story.
One cloudy autumn day, when I was rather more than eighteen years
old, a herdsman walked over from Moor Farm with a letter which
had been left there for my father. It came from a builder living
at our county town, half a day's journey off, and it invited my
father to come to him and give his judgment about an estimate for
some stonework on a very large scale. My father's expenses for
loss of time were to be paid, and he was to have his share of
employment afterwards in preparing the stone. He was only too
glad, therefore, to obey the directions which the letter
contained, and to prepare at once for his long walk to the county
Considering the time at which he received the letter, and the
necessity of resting before he attempted to return, it was
impossible for him to avoid being away from home for one night,
at least. He proposed to me, in case I disliked being left alone
in the Black Cottage, to lock the door and to take me to Moor
Farm to sleep with any one of the milkmaids who would give me a
share of her bed. I by no means liked the notion of sleeping with
a girl whom I did not know, and I saw no reason to feel afraid of
being left alone for only one night; so I declined. No thieves
had ever come near us; our poverty was sufficient protection
against them; and of other dangers there were none that even the
most timid person could apprehend. Accordingly, I got my father's
dinner, laughing at the notion of my taking refuge under the
protection of a milkmaid at Moor Farm. He started for his walk as
soon as he had done, saying he should try and be back by
dinner-time the next day, and leaving me and my cat Polly to take
care of the house.
I had cleared the table and brightened up the fire, and had sat
down to my work with the cat dozing at my feet, when I heard the
trampling of horses, and, running to the door, saw Mr. and Mrs.
Knifton, with their groom behind them, riding up to the Black
Cottage. It was part of the young lady's kindness never to
neglect an opportunity of coming to pay me a friendly visit, and
her husband was generally willing to accompany her for his wife's
sake. I made my best courtesy, therefore, with a great deal of
pleasure, but with no particular surprise at seeing them. They
dismounted and entered the cottage, laughing and talking in great
spirits. I soon heard that they were riding to the same county
town for which my father was bound and that they intended to stay
with some friends there for a few days, and to return home on
horseback, as they went out.
I heard this, and I also discovered that they had been having an
argument, in jest, about money-matters, as they rode along to our
cottage. Mrs. Knifton had accused her husband of inveterate
extravagance, and of never being able to go out with money in his
pocket without spending it all, if he possibly could, before he
got home again. Mr. Knifton had laughingly defended himself by
declaring that all his pocket-money went in presents for his
wife, and that, if he spent it lavishly, it was under her sole
influence and superintendence.
"We are going to Cliverton now," he said to Mrs. Knifton, naming
the county town, and warming himself at our poor fire just as
pleasantly as if he had been standing on his own grand hearth.
"You will stop to admire every pretty thing in every one of the
Cliverton shop-windows; I shall hand you the purse, and you will
go in and buy. When we have reached home again, and you have h ad
time to get tired of your purchases, you will clasp your hands in
amazement, and declare that you are quite shocked at my habits of
inveterate extravagance. I am only the banker who keeps the
money; you, my love, are the spendthrift who throws it all away!"
"Am I, sir?" said Mrs. Knifton, with a look of mock indignation.
"We will see if I am to be misrepresented in this way with
impunity. Bessie, my dear" (turning to me), "you shall judge how
far I deserve the character which that unscrupulous man has just
given to me. _I_ am the spendthrift, am I? And you are only the
banker? Very well. Banker, give me my money at once, if you
Mr. Knifton laughed, and took some gold and silver from his
"No, no," said Mrs. Knifton, "you may want what you have got
there for necessary expenses. Is that all the money you have
about you? What do I feel here?" and she tapped her husband on
the chest, just over the breast-pocket of his coat.
Mr. Knifton laughed again, and produced his pocketbook. His wife
snatched it out of his hand, opened it, and drew out some
bank-notes, put them back again immediately, and, closing the
pocketbook, stepped across the room to my poor mother's little
walnut-wood book-case, the only bit of valuable furniture we had
in the house.
"What are you going to do there?" asked Mr. Knifton, following
Mrs. Knifton opened the glass door of the book-case, put the
pocketbook in a vacant place on one of the lower shelves, closed
and locked the door again, and gave me the key.
"You called me a spendthrift just now," she said. "There is my
answer. Not one farthing of that money shall you spend at
Cliverton on _me_. Keep the key in your pocket, Bessie, and,
whatever Mr. Knifton may say, on no account let him have it until
we call again on our way back. No, sir, I won't trust you with
that money in your pocket in the town of Cliverton. I will make
sure of your taking it all home again, by leaving it here in more
trustworthy hands than yours until we ride back. Bessie, my dear,
what do you say to that as a lesson in economy inflicted on a
prudent husband by a spendthrift wife?"
She took Mr. Knifton's arm while she spoke, and drew him away to
the door. He protested and made some resistance, but she easily
carried her point, for he was far too fond of her to have a will
of his own in any trifling matter between them. Whatever the men
might say, Mr. Knifton was a model husband in the estimation of
all the women who knew him.
"You will see us as we come back, Bessie. Till then, you are our
banker, and the pocketbook is yours," cried Mrs. Knifton, gayly,
at the door. Her husband lifted her into the saddle, mounted
himself, and away they both galloped over the moor as wild and
happy as a couple of children.
Although my being trusted with money by Mrs. Knifton was no
novelty (in her maiden days she always employed me to pay her
dress-maker's bills), I did not feel quite easy at having a
pocketbook full of bank-notes left by her in my charge. I had no
positive apprehensions about the safety of the deposit placed in
my hands, but it was one of the odd points in my character then
(and I think it is still) to feel an unreasonably strong
objection to charging myself with money responsibilities of any
kind, even to suit the convenience of my dearest friends. As soon
as I was left alone, the very sight of the pocketbook behind the
glass door of the book-case began to worry me, and instead of
returning to my work, I puzzled my brains about finding a place
to lock it up in, where it would not be exposed to the view of
any chance passers-by who might stray into the Black Cottage.
This was not an easy matter to compass in a poor house like ours,
where we had nothing valuable to put under lock and key. After
running over various hiding-places in my mind, I thought of my
tea-caddy, a present from Mrs. Knifton, which I always kept out
of harm's way in my own bedroom. Most unluckily--as it afterward
turned out--instead of taking the pocketbook to the tea-caddy, I
went into my room first to take the tea-caddy to the pocketbook.
I only acted in this roundabout way from sheer thoughtlessness,
and severely enough I was punished for it, as you will
acknowledge yourself when you have read a page or two more of my
I was just getting the unlucky tea-caddy out of my cupboard, when
I heard footsteps in the passage, and, running out immediately,
saw two men walk into the kitchen--the room in which I had
received Mr. and Mrs. Knifton. I inquired what they wanted
sharply enough, and one of them answered immediately that they
wanted my father. He turned toward me, of course, as he spoke,
and I recognized him as a stone-mason, going among his comrades
by the name of Shifty Dick. He bore a very bad character for
everything but wrestling, a sport for which the working men of
our parts were famous all through the county. Shifty Dick was
champion, and he had got his name from some tricks of wrestling,
for which he was celebrated. He was a tall, heavy man, with a
lowering, scarred face, and huge hairy hands--the last visitor in
the whole world that I should have been glad to see under any
circumstances. His companion was a stranger, whom he addressed by
the name of Jerry--a quick, dapper, wicked-looking man, who took
off his cap to me with mock politeness, and showed, in so doing,
a very bald head, with some very ugly-looking knobs on it. I
distrusted him worse than I did Shifty Dick, and managed to get
between his leering eyes and the book-case, as I told the two
that my father was gone out, and that I did not expect him back
till the next day.
The words were hardly out of my mouth before I repented that my
anxiety to get rid of my unwelcome visitors had made me
incautious enough to acknowledge that my father would be away
from home for the whole night.
Shifty Dick and his companion looked at each other when I
unwisely let out the truth, but made no remark except to ask me
if I would give them a drop of cider. I answered sharply that I
had no cider in the house, having no fear of the consequences of
refusing them drink, because I knew that plenty of men were at
work within hail, in a neighboring quarry. The two looked at each
other again when I denied having any cider to give them; and
Jerry (as I am obliged to call him, knowing no other name by
which to distinguish the fellow) took off his cap to me once
more, and, with a kind of blackguard gentility upon him, said
they would have the pleasure of calling the next day, when my
father was at home. I said good-afternoon as ungraciously as
possible, and, to my great relief, they both left the cottage
As soon as they were well away, I watched them from the door.
They trudged off in the direction of Moor Farm; and, as it was
beginning to get dusk, I soon lost sight of them.
Half an hour afterward I looked out again.
The wind had lulled with the sunset, but the mist was rising, and
a heavy rain was beginning to fall. Never did the lonely prospect
of the moor look so dreary as it looked to my eyes that evening.
Never did I regret any slight thing more sincerely than I then
regretted the leaving of Mr. Knifton's pocketbook in my charge. I
cannot say that I suffered under any actual alarm, for I felt
next to certain that neither Shifty Dick nor Jerry had got a
chance of setting eyes on so small a thing as the pocketbook
while they were in the kitchen; but there was a kind of vague
distrust troubling me--a suspicion of the night--a dislike of
being left by myself, which I never remember having experienced
before. This feeling so increased after I had closed the door and
gone back to the kitchen, that, when I heard the voices of the
quarrymen as they passed our cottage on their way home to the
village in the valley below Moor Farm, I stepped out into the
passage with a momentary notion of telling them how I was
situated, and asking them for advice and protection.
I had hardly formed this idea, however, before I dismissed it.
None of the quarrymen were intimate friends of mine. I had a
nodding acquaintance with them, and believed them to be honest
men, as times
went. But my own common sense told me that what little knowledge
of their characters I had was by no means sufficient to warrant
me in admitting them into my confidence in the matter of the
pocketbook. I had seen enough of poverty and poor men to know
what a terrible temptation a large sum of money is to those whose
whole lives are passed in scraping up sixpences by weary hard
work. It is one thing to write fine sentiments in books about
incorruptible honesty, and another thing to put those sentiments
in practice when one day's work is all that a man has to set up
in the way of an obstacle between starvation and his own
The only resource that remained was to carry the pocketbook with
me to Moor Farm, and ask permission to pass the night there. But
I could not persuade myself that there was any real necessity for
taking such a course as this; and, if the truth must be told, my
pride revolted at the idea of presenting myself in the character
of a coward before the people at the farm. Timidity is thought
rather a graceful attraction among ladies, but among poor women
it is something to be laughed at. A woman with less spirit of her
own than I had, and always shall have, would have considered
twice in my situation before she made up her mind to encounter
the jokes of plowmen and the jeers of milkmaids. As for me, I had
hardly considered about going to the farm before I despised
myself for entertaining any such notion. "No, no," thought I, "I
am not the woman to walk a mile and a half through rain, and
mist, and darkness to tell a whole kitchenful of people that I am
afraid. Come what may, here I stop till father gets back."
Having arrived at that valiant resolution, the first thing I did
was to lock and bolt the back and front doors, and see to the
security of every shutter in the house.
That duty performed, I made a blazing fire, lighted my candle,
and sat down to tea, as snug and comfortable as possible. I could
hardly believe now, with the light in the room, and the sense of
security inspired by the closed doors and shutters, that I had
ever felt even the slightest apprehension earlier in the day. I
sang as I washed up the tea-things; and even the cat seemed to
catch the infection of my good spirits. I never knew the pretty
creature so playful as she was that evening.
The tea-things put by, I took up my knitting, and worked away at
it so long that I began at last to get drowsy. The fire was so
bright and comforting that I could not muster resolution enough
to leave it and go to bed. I sat staring lazily into the blaze,
with my knitting on my lap--sat till the splashing of the rain
outside and the fitful, sullen sobbing of the wind grew fainter
and fainter on my ear. The last sounds I heard before I fairly
dozed off to sleep were the cheerful crackling of the fire and
the steady purring of the cat, as she basked luxuriously in the
warm light on the hearth. Those were the last sounds before I
fell asleep. The sound that woke me was one loud bang at the
I started up, with my heart (as the saying is) in my mouth, with
a frightful momentary shuddering at the roots of my hair--I
started up breathless, cold and motionless, waiting in the
silence I hardly knew for what, doubtful at first whether I had
dreamed about the bang at the door, or whether the blow had
really been struck on it.
In a minute or less there came a second bang, louder than the
first. I ran out into the passage.
"Let us in," answered a voice, which I recognised immediately as
the voice of Shifty Dick.
"Wait a bit, my dear, and let me explain," said a second voice,
in the low, oily, jeering tones of Dick's companion--the wickedly
clever little man whom he called Jerry. "You are alone in the
house, my pretty little dear. You may crack your sweet voice with
screeching, and there's nobody near to hear you. Listen to
reason, my love, and let us in. We don't want cider this time--we
only want a very neat-looking pocketbook which you happen to
have, and your late excellent mother's four silver teaspoons,
which you keep so nice and clean on the chimney-piece. If you let
us in we won't hurt a hair of your head, my cherub, and we
promise to go away the moment we have got what we want, unless
you particularly wish us to stop to tea. If you keep us out, we
shall be obliged to break into the house and then--"
"And then," burst in Shifty Dick, "we'll _mash_ you!"
"Yes," said Jerry, "we'll mash you, my beauty. But you won't
drive us to doing that, will you? You will let us in?"
This long parley gave me time to recover from the effect which
the first bang at the door had produced on my nerves. The threats
of the two villains would have terrified some women out of their
senses, but the only result they produced on _me_ was violent
indignation. I had, thank God, a strong spirit of my own, and the
cool, contemptuous insolence of the man Jerry effectually roused
"You cowardly villains!" I screamed at them through the door.
"You think you can frighten me because I am only a poor girl left
alone in the house. You ragamuffin thieves, I defy you both! Our
bolts are strong, our shutters are thick. I am here to keep my
father's house safe, and keep it I will against an army of you!"
You may imagine what a passion I was in when I vapored and
blustered in that way. I heard Jerry laugh and Shifty Dick swear
a whole mouthful of oaths. Then there was a dead silence for a
minute or two, and then the two ruffians attacked the door.
I rushed into the kitchen and seized the poker, and then heaped
wood on the fire, and lighted all the candles I could find; for I
felt as though I could keep up my courage better if I had plenty
of light. Strange and improbable as it may appear, the next thing
that attracted my attention was my poor pussy, crouched up,
panic-stricken, in a corner. I was so fond of the little creature
that I took her up in my arms and carried her into my bedroom and
put her inside my bed. A comical thing to do in a situation of
deadly peril, was it not? But it seemed quite natural and proper
at the time.
All this while the blows were falling faster and faster on the
door. They were dealt, as I conjectured, with heavy stones picked
up from the ground outside. Jerry sang at his wicked work, and
Shifty Dick swore. As I left the bedroom after putting the cat
under cover, I heard the lower panel of the door begin to crack.
I ran into the kitchen and huddled our four silver spoons into my
pocket; then took the unlucky book with the bank-notes and put it
in the bosom of my dress. I was determined to defend the property
confided to my care with my life. Just as I had secured the
pocketbook I heard the door splintering, and rushed into the
passage again with my heavy kitchen poker lifted in both hands.
I was in time to see the bald head of Jerry, with the
ugly-looking knobs on it, pushed into the passage through a great
rent in one of the lower panels of the door.
"Get out, you villain, or I'll brain you on the spot!" I
screeched, threatening him with the poker.
Mr. Jerry took his head out again much faster than he put it in.
The next thing that came through the rent was a long pitchfork,
which they darted at me from the outside, to move me from the
door. I struck at it with all my might, and the blow must have
jarred the hand of Shifty Dick up to his very shoulder, for I
heard him give a roar of rage and pain. Before he could catch at
the fork with his other hand I had drawn it inside. By this time
even Jerry lost his temper and swore more awfully than Dick
Then there came another minute of respite. I suspected they had
gone to get bigger stones, and I dreaded the giving way of the
Running into the bedroom as this fear beset me, I laid hold of my
chest of drawers, dragged it into the passage, and threw it down
against the door. On the top of that I heaped my father's big
tool chest, three chairs, and a scuttleful of coals; and last, I
dragged out the kitchen table and rammed it as hard as I could
against the whole barricade. They heard me as they were coming up
to the door with fresh stones. Jerry said: "Stop a bit!" and t
hen the two consulted together in whispers. I listened eagerly,
and just caught these words:
"Let's try it the other way."
Nothing more was said, but I heard their footsteps retreating
from the door.
Were they going to besiege the back door now?
I had hardly asked myself that question when I heard their voices
at the other side of the house. The back door was smaller than
the front, but it had this advantage in the way of strength--it
was made of two solid oak boards joined lengthwise, and
strengthened inside by heavy cross pieces. It had no bolts like
the front door, but was fastened by a bar of iron running across
it in a slanting direction, and fitting at either end into the
"They must have the whole cottage down before they can break in
at that door!" I thought to myself. And they soon found out as
much for themselves. After five minutes of banging at the back
door they gave up any further attack in that direction and cast
their heavy stones down with curses of fury awful to hear.
I went into the kitchen and dropped on the window-seat to rest
for a moment. Suspense and excitement together were beginning to
tell upon me. The perspiration broke out thick on my forehead,
and I began to feel the bruises I had inflicted on my hands in
making the barricade against the front door. I had not lost a
particle of my resolution, but I was beginning to lose strength.
There was a bottle of rum in the cupboard, which my brother the
sailor had left with us the last time he was ashore. I drank a
drop of it. Never before or since have I put anything down my
throat that did me half so much good as that precious mouthful of
I was still sitting in the window-seat drying my face, when I
suddenly heard their voices close behind me.
They were feeling the outside of the window against which I was
sitting. It was protected, like all the other windows in the
cottage, by iron bars. I listened in dreadful suspense for the
sound of filing, but nothing of the sort was audible. They had
evidently reckoned on frightening me easily into letting them in,
and had come unprovided with house-breaking tools of any kind. A
fresh burst of oaths informed me that they had recognized the
obstacle of the iron bars. I listened breathlessly for some
warning of what they were going to do next, but their voices
seemed to die away in the distance. They were retreating from the
window. Were they also retreating from the house altogether? Had
they given up the idea of effecting an entrance in despair?
A long silence followed--a silence which tried my courage even
more severely than the tumult of their first attack on the
Dreadful suspicions now beset me of their being able to
accomplish by treachery what they had failed to effect by force.
Well as I knew the cottage, I began to doubt whether there might
not be ways of cunningly and silently entering it against which I
was not provided. The ticking of the clock annoyed me; the
crackling of the fire startled me. I looked out twenty times in a
minute into the dark corners of the passage, straining my eyes,
holding my breath, anticipating the most unlikely events, the
most impossible dangers. Had they really gone, or were they still
prowling about the house? Oh, what a sum of money I would have
given only to have known what they were about in that interval of
I was startled at last out of my suspense in the most awful
manner. A shout from one of them reached my ears on a sudden down
the kitchen chimney. It was so unexpected and so horrible in the
stillness that I screamed for the first time since the attack on
the house. My worst forebodings had never suggested to me that
the two villains might mount upon the roof.
"Let us in, you she-devil!" roared a voice down the chimney.
There was another pause. The smoke from the wood fire, thin and
light as it was in the red state of the embers at that moment,
had evidently obliged the man to take his face from the mouth of
the chimney. I counted the seconds while he was, as I
conjectured, getting his breath again. In less than half a minute
there came another shout:
"Let us in, or we'll burn the place down over your head!"
Burn it? Burn what? There was nothing easily combustible but the
thatch on the roof; and that had been well soaked by the heavy
rain which had now fallen incessantly for more than six hours.
Burn the place over my head? How?
While I was still casting about wildly in my mind to discover
what possible danger there could be of fire, one of the heavy
stones placed on the thatch to keep it from being torn up by high
winds came thundering down the chimney. It scattered the live
embers on the hearth all over the room. A richly-furnished place,
with knickknacks and fine muslin about it, would have been set on
fire immediately. Even our bare floor and rough furniture gave
out a smell of burning at the first shower of embers which the
first stone scattered.
For an instant I stood quite horror-struck before this new proof
of the devilish ingenuity of the villains outside. But the
dreadful danger I was now in recalled me to my senses
immediately. There was a large canful of water in my bedroom, and
I ran in at once to fetch it. Before I could get back to the
kitchen a second stone had been thrown down the chimney, and the
floor was smoldering in several places.
I had wit enough to let the smoldering go on for a moment or two
more, and to pour the whole of my canful of water over the fire
before the third stone came down the chimney. The live embers on
the floor I easily disposed of after that. The man on the roof
must have heard the hissing of the fire as I put it out, and have
felt the change produced in the air at the mouth of the chimney,
for after the third stone had descended no more followed it. As
for either of the ruffians themselves dropping down by the same
road along which the stones had come, that was not to be dreaded.
The chimney, as I well knew by our experience in cleaning it, was
too narrow to give passage to any one above the size of a small
I looked upward as that comforting reflection crossed my mind--I
looked up, and saw, as plainly as I see the paper I am now
writing on, the point of a knife coming through the inside of the
roof just over my head. Our cottage had no upper story, and our
rooms had no ceilings. Slowly and wickedly the knife wriggled its
way through the dry inside thatch between the rafters. It stopped
for a while, and there came a sound of tearing. That, in its
turn, stopped too; there was a great fall of dry thatch on the
floor; and I saw the heavy, hairy hand of Shifty Dick, armed with
the knife, come through after the fallen fragments. He tapped at
the rafters with the back of the knife, as if to test their
strength. Thank God, they were substantial and close together!
Nothing lighter than a hatchet would have sufficed to remove any
part of them.
The murderous hand was still tapping with the knife when I heard
a shout from the man Jerry, coming from the neighborhood of my
father's stone-shed in the back yard. The hand and knife
disappeared instantly. I went to the back door and put my ear to
it, and listened.
Both men were now in the shed. I made the most desperate efforts
to call to mind what tools and other things were left in it which
might be used against me. But my agitation confused me. I could
remember nothing except my father's big stone-saw, which was far
too heavy and unwieldy to be used on the roof of the cottage. I
was still puzzling my brains, and making my head swim to no
purpose, when I heard the men dragging something out of the shed.
At the same instant that the noise caught my ear, the remembrance
flashed across me like lightning of some beams of wood which had
lain in the shed for years past. I had hardly time to feel
certain that they were removing one of these beams before I heard
Shifty Dick say to Jerry.
"The front," was the answer. "We've cracked it already; we'll
have it down now in no time."
Senses less sharpened by danger than mine would have understood
but too easily, from these words, that they were about to use the
beam as a battering-ram against the door. When that conviction
overcame me, I lost courage at last. I felt that the door must
come down. No such barricade as I had constructed could support
it for more than a few minutes against such shocks as it was now
"I can do no more to keep the house against them," I said to
myself, with my knees knocking together, and the tears at last
beginning to wet my cheeks. "I must trust to the night and the
thick darkness, and save my life by running for it while there is
I huddled on my cloak and hood, and had my hand on the bar of the
back door, when a piteous mew from the bedroom reminded me of the
existence of poor Pussy. I ran in, and huddled the creature up in
my apron. Before I was out in the passage again, the first shock
from the beam fell on the door.
The upper hinge gave way. The chairs and coal-scuttle, forming
the top of my barricade, were hurled, rattling, on to the floor,
but the lower hinge of the door, and the chest of drawers and the
tool-chest still kept their places.
"One more!" I heard the villains cry--"one more run with the
beam, and down it comes!"
Just as they must have been starting for that "one more run," I
opened the back door and fled into the night, with the bookful of
banknotes in my bosom, the silver spoons in my pocket, and the
cat in my arms. I threaded my way easily enough through the
familiar obstacles in the backyard, and was out in the pitch
darkness of the moor before I heard the second shock, and the
crash which told me that the whole door had given way.
In a few minutes they must have discovered the fact of my flight
with the pocketbook, for I heard shouts in the distance as if
they were running out to pursue me. I kept on at the top of my
speed, and the noise soon died away. It was so dark that twenty
thieves instead of two would have found it useless to follow me.
How long it was before I reached the farmhouse--the nearest place
to which I could fly for refuge--I cannot tell you. I remember
that I had just sense enough to keep the wind at my back (having
observed in the beginning of the evening that it blew toward Moor
Farm), and to go on resolutely through the darkness. In all other
respects I was by this time half crazed by what I had gone
through. If it had so happened that the wind had changed after I
had observed its direction early in the evening, I should have
gone astray, and have probably perished of fatigue and exposure
on the moor. Providentially, it still blew steadily as it had
blown for hours past, and I reached the farmhouse with my clothes
wet through, and my brain in a high fever. When I made my alarm
at the door, they had all gone to bed but the farmer's eldest
son, who was sitting up late over his pipe and newspaper. I just
mustered strength enough to gasp out a few words, telling him
what was the matter, and then fell down at his feet, for the
first time in my life in a dead swoon.
That swoon was followed by a severe illness. When I got strong
enough to look about me again, I found myself in one of the
farmhouse beds--my father, Mrs. Knifton, and the doctor were all
in the room--my cat was asleep at my feet, and the pocketbook
that I had saved lay on the table by my side.
There was plenty of news for me to hear as soon as I was fit to
listen to it. Shifty Dick and the other rascal had been caught,
and were in prison, waiting their trial at the next assizes. Mr.
and Mrs. Knifton had been so shocked at the danger I had run--for
which they blamed their own want of thoughtfulness in leaving the
pocketbook in my care--that they had insisted on my father's
removing from our lonely home to a cottage on their land, which
we were to inhabit rent free. The bank-notes that I had saved
were given to me to buy furniture with, in place of the things
that the thieves had broken. These pleasant tidings assisted so
greatly in promoting my recovery, that I was soon able to relate
to my friends at the farmhouse the particulars that I have
written here. They were all surprised and interested, but no one,
as I thought, listened to me with such breathless attention as
the farmer's eldest son. Mrs. Knifton noticed this too, and began
to make jokes about it, in her light-hearted way, as soon as we
were alone. I thought little of her jesting at the time; but when
I got well, and we went to live at our new home, "the young
farmer," as he was called in our parts, constantly came to see
us, and constantly managed to meet me out of doors. I had my
share of vanity, like other young women, and I began to think of
Mrs. Knifton's jokes with some attention. To be brief, the young
farmer managed one Sunday--I never could tell how--to lose his
way with me in returning from church, and before we found out the
right road home again he had asked me to be his wife.
His relations did all they could to keep us asunder and break off
the match, thinking a poor stonemason's daughter no fit wife for
a prosperous yeoman. But the farmer was too obstinate for them.
He had one form of answer to all their objections. "A man, if he
is worth the name, marries according to his own notions, and to
please himself," he used to say. "My notion is, that when I take
a wife I am placing my character and my happiness--the most
precious things I have to trust--in one woman's care. The woman I
mean to marry had a small charge confided to her care, and showed
herself worthy of it at the risk of her life. That is proof
enough for me that she is worthy of the greatest charge I can put
into her hands. Rank and riches are fine things, but the
certainty of getting a good wife is something better still. I'm
of age, I know my own mind, and I mean to marry the stone-mason's
And he did marry me. Whether I proved myself worthy or not of his
good opinion is a question which I must leave you to ask my
husband. All that I had to relate about myself and my doings is
now told. Whatever interest my perilous adventure may excite,
ends, I am well aware, with my escape to the farmhouse. I have
only ventured on writing these few additional sentences because
my marriage is the moral of my story. It has brought me the
choicest blessings of happiness and prosperity, and I owe them
all to my night-adventure in _The Black Cottage_.
THE SECOND DAY.
A CLEAR, cloudless, bracing autumn morning. I rose gayly, with
the pleasant conviction on my mind that our experiment had thus
far been successful beyond our hopes.
Short and slight as the first story had been, the result of it on
Jessie's mind had proved conclusive. Before I could put the
question to her, she declared of her own accord, and with her
customary exaggeration, that she had definitely abandoned all
idea of writing to her aunt until our collection of narratives
"I am in a fever of curiosity about what is to come," she said,
when we all parted for the night; "and, even if I wanted to leave
you, I could not possibly go away now, without hearing the
stories to the end."
So far, so good. All my anxieties from this time were for
George's return. Again to-day I searched the newspapers, and
again there were no tidings of the ship.
Miss Jessie occupied the second day by a drive to our county town
to make some little purchases. Owen, and Morgan, and I were all
hard at work, during her absence, on the stories that still
remained to be completed. Owen desponded about ever getting done;
Morgan grumbled at what he called the absurd difficulty of
writing nonsense. I worked on smoothly and contentedly,
stimulated by the success of the first night.
We assembled as before in our guest's sitting-room. As the clock
struck eight she drew out the second card. It was Number Two. The
lot had fallen on me to read next.
"Although my story is told in the first person," I said,
addressing Jessie, "you must not suppose that the events related
in this particular case happened to me. They happened to a friend
of mine, who naturally described them to me from his own personal
point of view. In producing my narrative from the recollection of
what he told me some years since, I have supposed myself to be
listening to him again, and have therefore written in his
character, and, w henever my memory would help me, as nearly as
possible in his language also. By this means I hope I have
succeeded in giving an air of reality to a story which has truth,
at any rate, to recommend it. I must ask you to excuse me if I
enter into no details in offering this short explanation.
Although the persons concerned in my narrative have ceased to
exist, it is necessary to observe all due delicacy toward their
memories. Who they were, and how I became acquainted with them,
are matters of no moment. The interest of the story, such as it
is, stands in no need, in this instance, of any assistance from
With those words I addressed myself to my task, and read as
BROTHER GRIFFITH'S STORY
THE FAMILY SECRET.
WAS it an Englishman or a Frenchman who first remarked that every
family had a skeleton in its cupboard? I am not learned enough to
know, but I reverence the observation, whoever made it. It speaks
a startling truth through an appropriately grim metaphor--a truth
which I have discovered by practical experience. Our family had a
skeleton in the cupboard, and the name of it was Uncle George.
I arrived at the knowledge that this skeleton existed, and I
traced it to the particular cupboard in which it was hidden, by
slow degrees. I was a child when I first began to suspect that
there was such a thing, and a grown man when I at last discovered
that my suspicions were true.
My father was a doctor, having an excellent practice in a large
country town. I have heard that he married against the wishes of
his family. They could not object to my mother on the score of
birth, breeding, or character--they only disliked her heartily.
My grandfather, grandmother, uncles, and aunts all declared that
she was a heartless, deceitful woman; all disliked her manners,
her opinions, and even the expression of her face--all, with the
exception of my father's youngest brother, George.
George was the unlucky member of our family. The rest were all
clever; he was slow in capacity. The rest were all remarkably
handsome; he was the sort of man that no woman ever looks at
twice. The rest succeeded in life; he failed. His profession was
the same as my father's, but he never got on when he started in
practice for himself. The sick poor, who could not choose,
employed him, and liked him. The sick rich, who could--especially
the ladies--declined to call him in when they could get anybody
else. In experience he gained greatly by his profession; in money
and reputation he gained nothing.
There are very few of us, however dull and unattractive we may be
to outward appearance, who have not some strong passion, some
germ of what is called romance, hidden more or less deeply in our
natures. All the passion and romance in the nature of my Uncle
George lay in his love and admiration for my father.
He sincerely worshipped his eldest brother as one of the noblest
of human beings. When my father was engaged to be married, and
when the rest of the family, as I have already mentioned, did not
hesitate to express their unfavorable opinion of the disposition
of his chosen wife, Uncle George, who had never ventured on
differing with anyone before, to the amazement of everybody,
undertook the defense of his future sister-in-law in the most
vehement and positive manner. In his estimation, his brother's
choice was something sacred and indisputable. The lady might, and
did, treat him with unconcealed contempt, laugh at his
awkwardness, grow impatient at his stammering--it made no
difference to Uncle George. She was to be his brother's wife,
and, in virtue of that one great fact, she became, in the
estimation of the poor surgeon, a very queen, who, by the laws of
the domestic constitution, could do no wrong.
When my father had been married a little while, he took his
youngest brother to live with him as his assistant.
If Uncle George had been made president of the College of
Surgeons, he could not have been prouder and happier than he was
in his new position. I am afraid my father never understood the
depth of his brother's affection for him. All the hard work fell
to George's share: the long journeys at night, the physicking of
wearisome poor people, the drunken cases, the revolting
cases--all the drudging, dirty business of the surgery, in short,
was turned over to him; and day after day, month after month, he
struggled through it without a murmur. When his brother and his
sister-in-law went out to dine with the county gentry, it never
entered his head to feel disappointed at being left unnoticed at
home. When the return dinners were given, and he was asked to
come in at tea-time, and left to sit unregarded in a corner, it
never occurred to him to imagine that he was treated with any
want of consideration or respect. He was part of the furniture of
the house, and it was the business as well as the pleasure of his
life to turn himself to any use to which his brother might please
to put him.
So much for what I have heard from others on the subject of my
Uncle George. My own personal experience of him is limited to
what I remember as a mere child. Let me say something, however,
first about my parents, my sister and myself.
My sister was the eldest born and the best loved. I did not come
into the world till four years after her birth, and no other
child followed me. Caroline, from her earliest days, was the
perfection of beauty and health. I was small, weakly, and, if the
truth must be told, almost as plain-featured as Uncle George
himself. It would be ungracious and undutiful in me to presume to
decide whether there was any foundation or not for the dislike
that my father's family always felt for my mother. All I can
venture to say is, that her children never had any cause to
complain of her.
Her passionate affection for my sister, her pride in the child's
beauty, I remember well, as also her uniform kindness and
indulgence toward me. My personal defects must have been a sore
trial to her in secret, but neither she nor my father ever showed
me that they perceived any difference between Caroline and
myself. When presents were made to my sister, presents were made
to me. When my father and mother caught my sister up in their
arms and kissed her they scrupulously gave me my turn afterward.
My childish instinct told me that there was a difference in their
smiles when they looked at me and looked at her; that the kisses
given to Caroline were warmer than the kisses given to me; that
the hands which dried her tears in our childish griefs, touched
her more gently than the hands which dried mine. But these, and
other small signs of preference like them, were such as no
parents could be expected to control. I noticed them at the time
rather with wonder than with repining. I recall them now without
a harsh thought either toward my father or my mother. Both loved
me, and both did their duty by me. If I seem to speak
constrainedly of them here, it is not on my own account. I can
honestly say that, with all my heart and soul.
Even Uncle George, fond as he was of me, was fonder of my
When I used mischievously to pull at his lank, scanty hair, he
would gently and laughingly take it out of my hands, but he would
let Caroline tug at it till his dim, wandering gray eyes winked
and watered again with pain. He used to plunge perilously about
the garden, in awkward imitation of the cantering of a horse,
while I sat on his shoulders; but he would never proceed at any
pace beyond a slow and safe walk when Caroline had a ride in her
turn. When he took us out walking, Caroline was always on the
side next the wall. When we interrupted him over his dirty work
in the surgery, he used to tell me to go and play until he was
ready for me; but he would put down his bottles, and clean his
clumsy fingers on his coarse apron, and lead Caroline out again,
as if she had been the greatest lady in the land. Ah! how he
loved her! and, let me be honest and grateful, and add, how he
loved me, too!
When I was eight years old and Caroline was twelve, I was
separated from home for some time. I had been ailing for many
months previously; had got ben efit from being taken to the
sea-side, and had shown symptoms of relapsing on being brought
home again to the midland county in which we resided. After much
consultation, it was at last resolved that I should be sent to
live, until my constitution got stronger, with a maiden sister of
my mother's, who had a house at a watering-place on the south
I left home, I remember, loaded with presents, rejoicing over the
prospect of looking at the sea again, as careless of the future
and as happy in the present as any boy could be. Uncle George
petitioned for a holiday to take me to the seaside, but he could
not be spared from the surgery. He consoled himself and me by
promising to make me a magnificent model of a ship.
I have that model before my eyes now while I write. It is dusty
with age; the paint on it is cracked; the ropes are tangled; the
sails are moth-eaten and yellow. The hull is all out of
proportion, and the rig has been smiled at by every nautical
friend of mine who has ever looked at it. Yet, worn-out and
faulty as it is--inferior to the cheapest miniature vessel
nowadays in any toy-shop window--I hardly know a possession of
mine in this world that I would not sooner part with than Uncle
My life at the sea-side was a very happy one. I remained with my
aunt more than a year. My mother often came to see how I was
going on, and at first always brought my sister with her; but
during the last eight months of my stay Caroline never once
appeared. I noticed also, at the same period, a change in my
mother's manner. She looked paler and more anxious at each
succeeding visit, and always had long conferences in private with
my aunt. At last she ceased to come and see us altogether, and
only wrote to know how my health was getting on. My father, too,
who had at the earlier periods of my absence from home traveled
to the sea-side to watch the progress of my recovery as often as
his professional engagements would permit, now kept away like my
mother. Even Uncle George, who had never been allowed a holiday
to come and see me, but who had hitherto often written and begged
me to write to him, broke off our correspondence.
I was naturally perplexed and amazed by these changes, and
persecuted my aunt to tell me the reason of them. At first she
tried to put me off with excuses; then she admitted that there
was trouble in our house; and finally she confessed that the
trouble was caused by the illness of my sister. When I inquired
what that illness was, my aunt said it was useless to attempt to
explain it to me. I next applied to the servants. One of them was
less cautious than my aunt, and answered my question, but in
terms that I could not comprehend. After much explanation, I was
made to understand that "something was growing on my sister's
neck that would spoil her beauty forever, and perhaps kill her,
if it could not be got rid of." How well I remember the shudder
of horror that ran through me at the vague idea of this deadly
"something"! A fearful, awe-struck curiosity to see what
Caroline's illness was with my own eyes troubled my inmost heart,
and I begged to be allowed to go home and help to nurse her. The
request was, it is almost needless to say, refused.
Weeks passed away, and still I heard nothing, except that my
sister continued to be ill. One day I privately wrote a letter to
Uncle George, asking him, in my childish way, to come and tell me
about Caroline's illness.
I knew where the post-office was, and slipped out in the morning
unobserved and dropped my letter in the box. I stole home again
by the garden, and climbed in at the window of a back parlor on
the ground floor. The room above was my aunt's bedchamber, and
the moment I was inside the house I heard moans and loud
convulsive sobs proceeding from it. My aunt was a singularly
quiet, composed woman. I could not imagine that the loud sobbing
and moaning came from her, and I ran down terrified into the
kitchen to ask the servants who was crying so violently in my
I found the housemaid and the cook talking together in whispers
with serious faces. They started when they saw me as if I had
been a grown-up master who had caught them neglecting their work.
"He's too young to feel it much," I heard one say to the other.
"So far as he is concerned, it seems like a mercy that it
happened no later."
In a few minutes they had told me the worst. It was indeed my
aunt who had been crying in the bedroom. Caroline was dead.
I felt the blow more severely than the servants or anyone else
about me supposed. Still I was a child in years, and I had the
blessed elasticity of a child's nature. If I had been older I
might have been too much absorbed in grief to observe my aunt so
closely as I did, when she was composed enough to see me later in
I was not surprised by the swollen state of her eyes, the
paleness of her cheeks, or the fresh burst of tears that came
from her when she took me in her arms at meeting. But I was both
amazed and perplexed by the look of terror that I detected in her
face. It was natural enough that she should grieve and weep over
my sister's death, but why should she have that frightened look
as if some other catastrophe had happened?
I asked if there was any more dreadful news from home besides the
news of Caroline's death.
My aunt, said No in a strange, stifled voice, and suddenly turned
her face from me. Was my father dead? No. My mother? No. Uncle
George? My aunt trembled all over as she said No to that also,
and bade me cease asking any more questions. She was not fit to
bear them yet she said, and signed to the servant to lead me out
of the room.
The next day I was told that I was to go home after the funeral,
and was taken out toward evening by the housemaid, partly for a
walk, partly to be measured for my mourning clothes. After we had
left the tailor's, I persuaded the girl to extend our walk for
some distance along the sea-beach, telling her, as we went, every
little anecdote connected with my lost sister that came tenderly
back to my memory in those first days of sorrow. She was so
interested in hearing and I in speaking that we let the sun go
down before we thought of turning back.
The evening was cloudy, and it got on from dusk to dark by the
time we approached the town again. The housemaid was rather
nervous at finding herself alone with me on the beach, and once
or twice looked behind her distrustfully as we went on. Suddenly
she squeezed my hand hard, and said:
"Let's get up on the cliff as fast as we can."
The words were hardly out of her mouth before I heard footsteps
behind me--a man came round quickly to my side, snatched me away
from the girl, and, catching me up in his arms without a word,
covered my face with kisses. I knew he was crying, because my
cheeks were instantly wet with his tears; but it was too dark for
me to see who he was, or even how he was dressed. He did not, I
should think, hold me half a minute in his arms. The housemaid
screamed for help. I was put down gently on the sand, and the
strange man instantly disappeared in the darkness.
When this extraordinary adventure was related to my aunt, she
seemed at first merely bewildered at hearing of it; but in a
moment more there came a change over her face, as if she had
suddenly recollected or thought of something. She turned deadly
pale, and said, in a hurried way, very unusual with her:
"Never mind; don't talk about it any more. It was only a
mischievous trick to frighten you, I dare say. Forget all about
it, my dear--forget all about it."
It was easier to give this advice than to make me follow it. For
many nights after, I thought of nothing but the strange man who
had kissed me and cried over me.
Who could he be? Somebody who loved me very much, and who was
very sorry. My childish logic carried me to that length. But when
I tried to think over all the grown-up gentlemen who loved me
very much, I could never get on, to my own satisfaction, beyond
my father and my Uncle George.
I was taken home on the appointed day to suffer the trial--a hard
one even at my tender years--of witnessing my mother's passionate
grief and my father's mute despair. I remember that the scene of
our first meeting after Caroline's death was wisely and
considerately shortened by my aunt, who took me out of the room.
She seemed to have a confused desire to keep me from leaving her
after the door had closed behind us; but I broke away and ran
downstairs to the surgery, to go and cry for my lost playmate
with the sharer of all our games, Uncle George.
I opened the surgery door and could see nobody. I dried my tears
and looked all round the room--it was empty. I ran upstairs again
to Uncle George's garret bedroom--he was not there; his cheap
hairbrush and old cast-off razor-case that had belonged to my
grandfather were not on the dressing-table. Had he got some other
bedroom? I went out on the landing and called softly, with an
unaccountable terror and sinking at my heart:
Nobody answered; but my aunt came hastily up the garret stairs.
"Hush!" she said. "You must never call that name out here again!"
She stopped suddenly, and looked as if her own words had
"Is Uncle George dead?" I asked. My aunt turned red and pale, and
I did not wait to hear what she said. I brushed past her, down
the stairs. My heart was bursting--my flesh felt cold. I ran
breathlessly and recklessly into the room where my father and
mother had received me. They were both sitting there still. I ran
up to them, wringing my hands, and crying out in a passion of
"Is Uncle George dead?"
My mother gave a scream that terrified me into instant silence
and stillness. My father looked at her for a moment, rang the
bell that summoned the maid, then seized me roughly by the arm
and dragged me out of the room.
He took me down into the study, seated himself in his accustomed
chair, and put me before him between his knees. His lips were
awfully white, and I felt his two hands, as they grasped my
shoulders, shaking violently.
"You are never to mention the name of Uncle George again," he
said, in a quick, angry, trembling whisper. "Never to me, never
to your mother, never to your aunt, never to anybody in this
The repetition of the word terrified me even more than the
suppressed vehemence with which he spoke. He saw that I was
frightened, and softened his manner a little before he went on.
"You will never see Uncle George again," he said. "Your mother
and I love you dearly; but if you forget what I have told you,
you will be sent away from home. Never speak that name
again--mind, never! Now kiss me, and go away."
How his lips trembled--and oh, how cold they felt on mine!
I shrunk out of the room the moment he had kissed me, and went
and hid myself in the garden.
"Uncle George is gone. I am never to see him any more; I am never
to speak of him again"--those were the words I repeated to
myself, with indescribable terror and confusion, the moment I was
alone. There was something unspeakably horrible to my young mind
in this mystery which I was commanded always to respect, and
which, so far as I then knew, I could never hope to see revealed.
My father, my mother, my aunt, all appeared to be separated from
me now by some impassable barrier. Home seemed home no longer
with Caroline dead, Uncle George gone, and a forbidden subject of
talk perpetually and mysteriously interposing between my parents
Though I never infringed the command my father had given me in
his study (his words and looks, and that dreadful scream of my
mother's, which seemed to be still ringing in my ears, were more
than enough to insure my obedience), I also never lost the secret
desire to penetrate the darkness which clouded over the fate of
For two years I remained at home and discovered nothing. If I
asked the servants about my uncle, they could only tell me that
one morning he disappeared from the house. Of the members of my
father's family I could make no inquiries. They lived far away,
and never came to see us; and the idea of writing to them, at my
age and in my position, was out of the question. My aunt was as
unapproachably silent as my father and mother; but I never forgot
how her face had altered when she reflected for a moment after
hearing of my extraordinary adventure while going home with the
servant over the sands at night. The more I thought of that
change of countenance in connection with what had occurred on my
return to my father's house, the more certain I felt that the
stranger who had kissed me and wept over me must have been no
other than Uncle George.
At the end of my two years at home I was sent to sea in the
merchant navy by my own earnest desire. I had always determined
to be a sailor from the time when I first went to stay with my
aunt at the sea-side, and I persisted long enough in my
resolution to make my parents recognize the necessity of acceding
to my wishes.
My new life delighted me, and I remained away on foreign stations
more than four years. When I at length returned home, it was to
find a new affliction darkening our fireside. My father had died
on the very day when I sailed for my return voyage to England.
Absence and change of scene had in no respect weakened my desire
to penetrate the mystery of Uncle George's disappearance. My
mother's health was so delicate that I hesitated for some time to
approach the forbidden subject in her presence. When I at last
ventured to refer to it, suggesting to her that any prudent
reserve which might have been necessary while I was a child, need
no longer be persisted in now that I was growing to be a young
man, she fell into a violent fit of trembling, and commanded me
to say no more. It had been my father's will, she said, that the
reserve to which I referred should be always adopted toward me;
he had not authorized her, before he died, to speak more openly;
and, now that he was gone, she would not so much as think of
acting on her own unaided judgment. My aunt said the same thing
in effect when I appealed to her. Determined not to be
discouraged even yet, I undertook a journey, ostensibly to pay my
respects to my father's family, but with the secret intention of
trying what I could learn in that quarter on the subject of Uncle
My investigations led to some results, though they were by no
means satisfactory. George had always been looked upon with
something like contempt by his handsome sisters and his
prosperous brothers, and he had not improved his position in the
family by his warm advocacy of his brother's cause at the time of
my father's marriage. I found that my uncle's surviving relatives
now spoke of him slightingly and carelessly. They assured me that
they had never heard from him, and that they knew nothing about
him, except that he had gone away to settle, as they supposed, in
some foreign place, after having behaved very basely and badly to
my father. He had been traced to London, where he had sold out of
the funds the small share of money which he had inherited after
his father's death, and he had been seen on the deck of a packet
bound for France later on the same day. Beyond this nothing was
known about him. In what the alleged baseness of his behavior had
consisted none of his brothers and sisters could tell me. My
father had refused to pain them by going into particulars, not
only at the time of his brother's disappearance, but afterward,
whenever the subject was mentioned. George had always been the
black sheep of the flock, and he must have been conscious of his
own baseness, or he would certainly have written to explain and
to justify himself.
Such were the particulars which I gleaned during my visit to my
father's family. To my mind, they tended rather to deepen than to
reveal the mystery. That such a gentle, docile, affectionate
creature as Uncle George should have injured the brother he loved
by word or deed at any period of their intercourse, seemed
incredible; but that he should have been guilty of an act of
baseness at the very time when my sister was dying was simply and
plainly impossible. And yet there was the incomprehensible fact
staring me in the face that the death of Caroline and the
disappearance of Uncle George had taken plac e in the same week!
Never did I feel more daunted and bewildered by the family secret
than after I had heard all the particulars in connection with it
that my father's relatives had to tell me.
I may pass over the events of the next few years of my life
My nautical pursuits filled up all my time, and took me far away
from my country and my friends. But, whatever I did, and wherever
I went, the memory of Uncle George, and the desire to penetrate
the mystery of his disappearance, haunted me like familiar
spirits. Often, in the lonely watches of the night at sea, did I
recall the dark evening on the beach, the strange man's hurried
embrace, the startling sensation of feeling his tears on my
cheeks, the disappearance of him before I had breath or
self-possession enough to say a word. Often did I think over the
inexplicable events that followed, when I had returned, after my
sister's funeral, to my father's house; and oftener still did I
puzzle my brains vainly, in the attempt to form some plan for
inducing my mother or my aunt to disclose the secret which they
had hitherto kept from me so perseveringly. My only chance of
knowing what had really happened to Uncle George, my only hope of
seeing him again, rested with those two near and dear relatives.
I despaired of ever getting my mother to speak on the forbidden
subject after what had passed between us, but I felt more
sanguine about my prospects of ultimately inducing my aunt to
relax in her discretion. My anticipations, however, in this
direction were not destined to be fulfilled. On my next visit to
England I found my aunt prostrated by a paralytic attack, which
deprived her of the power of speech. She died soon afterward in
my arms, leaving me her sole heir. I searched anxiously among her
papers for some reference to the family mystery, but found no
clew to guide me. All my mother's letters to her sister at the
time of Caroline's illness and death had been destroyed.
MORE years passed; my mother followed my aunt to the grave, and
still I was as far as ever from making any discoveries in
relation to Uncle George. Shortly after the period of this last
affliction my health gave way, and I departed, by my doctor's
advice, to try some baths in the south of France.
I traveled slowly to my destination, turning aside from the
direct road, and stopping wherever I pleased. One evening, when I
was not more than two or three days' journey from the baths to
which I was bound, I was struck by the picturesque situation of a
little town placed on the brow of a hill at some distance from
the main road, and resolved to have a nearer look at the place,
with a view to stopping there for the night, if it pleased me. I
found the principal inn clean and quiet--ordered my bed
there--and, after dinner, strolled out to look at the church. No
thought of Uncle George was in my mind when I entered the
building; and yet, at that very moment, chance was leading me to
the discovery which, for so many years past, I had vainly
endeavored to make--the discovery which I had given up as
hopeless since the day of my mother's death.
I found nothing worth notice in the church, and was about to
leave it again, when I caught a glimpse of a pretty view through
a side door, and stopped to admire it.
The churchyard formed the foreground, and below it the hill-side
sloped away gently into the plain, over which the sun was setting
in full glory. The cure of the church was reading his breviary,
walking up and down a gravel-path that parted the rows of graves.
In the course of my wanderings I had learned to speak French as
fluently as most Englishmen, and when the priest came near me I
said a few words in praise of the view, and complimented him on
the neatness and prettiness of the churchyard. He answered with
great politeness, and we got into conversation together
As we strolled along the gravel-walk, my attention was attracted
by one of the graves standing apart from the rest. The cross at
the head of it differed remarkably, in some points of appearance,
from the crosses on the other graves. While all the rest had
garlands hung on them, this one cross was quite bare; and, more
extraordinary still, no name was inscribed on it.
The priest, observing that I stopped to look at the grave, shook
his head and sighed.
"A countryman of yours is buried there," he said. "I was present
at his death. He had borne the burden of a great sorrow among us,
in this town, for many weary years, and his conduct had taught us
to respect and pity him with all our hearts."
"How is it that his name is not inscribed over his grave?" I
"It was suppressed by his own desire," answered the priest, with
some little hesitation. "He confessed to me in his last moments
that he had lived here under an assumed name. I asked his real
name, and he told it to me, with the particulars of his sad
story. He had reasons for desiring to be forgotten after his
death. Almost the last words he spoke were, 'Let my name die with
me.' Almost the last request he made was that I would keep that
name a secret from all the world excepting only one person."
"Some relative, I suppose?" said I.
"Yes--a nephew," said the priest.
The moment the last word was out of his mouth, my heart gave a
strange answering bound. I suppose I must have changed color
also, for the cure looked at me with sudden attention and
"A nephew," the priest went on, "whom he had loved like his own
child. He told me that if this nephew ever traced him to his
burial-place, and asked about him, I was free in that case to
disclose all I knew. 'I should like my little Charley to know the
truth,' he said. 'In spite of the difference in our ages, Charley
and I were playmates years ago.' "
My heart beat faster, and I felt a choking sensation at the
throat the moment I heard the priest unconsciously mention my
Christian name in mentioning the dying man's last words.
As soon as I could steady my voice and feel certain of my
self-possession, I communicated my family name to the cure, and
asked him if that was not part of the secret that he had been
requested to preserve.
He started back several steps, and clasped his hands amazedly.
"Can it be?" he said, in low tones, gazing at me earnestly, with
something like dread in his face.
I gave him my passport, and looked away toward the grave. The
tears came into my eyes as the recollections of past days crowded
back on me. Hardly knowing what I did, I knelt down by the grave,
and smoothed the grass over it with my hand. Oh, Uncle George,
why not have told your secret to your old playmate? Why leave him
to find you _here?_
The priest raised me gently, and begged me to go with him into
his own house. On our way there, I mentioned persons and places
that I thought my uncle might have spoken of, in order to satisfy
my companion that I was really the person I represented myself to
be. By the time we had entered his little parlor, and had sat
down alone in it, we were almost like old friends together.
I thought it best that I should begin by telling all that I have
related here on the subject of Uncle George, and his
disappearance from home. My host listened with a very sad face,
and said, when I had done:
"I can understand your anxiety to know what I am authorized to
tell you, but pardon me if I say first that there are
circumstances in your uncle's story which it may pain you to
hear--" He stopped suddenly.
"Which it may pain me to hear as a nephew?" I asked.
"No," said the priest, looking away from me, "as a son."
I gratefully expressed my sense of the delicacy and kindness
which had prompted my companion's warning, but I begged him, at
the same time, to keep me no longer in suspense and to tell me
the stern truth, no matter how painfully it might affect me as a
"In telling me all you knew about what you term the Family
Secret," said the priest, "you have mentioned as a strange
coincidence that your sister's death and your uncle's
disappearance took place at the same time. Did you ever suspect
what cause it was that occasioned your sister's death?"
"I only knew what my father told me, an d what all our friends
believed--that she had a tumor in the neck, or, as I sometimes
heard it stated, from the effect on her constitution of a tumor
in the neck."
"She died under an operation for the removal of that tumor," said
the priest, in low tones; "and the operator was your Uncle
In those few words all the truth burst upon me.
"Console yourself with the thought that the long martyrdom of his
life is over," the priest went on. "He rests; he is at peace. He
and his little darling understand each other, and are happy now.
That thought bore him up to the last on his death-bed. He always
spoke of your sister as his 'little darling.' He firmly believed
that she was waiting to forgive and console him in the other
world--and who shall say he was deceived in that belief?"
Not I! Not anyone who has ever loved and suffered, surely!
"It was out of the depths of his self-sacrificing love for the
child that he drew the fatal courage to undertake the operation,"
continued the priest. "Your father naturally shrank from
attempting it. His medical brethren whom he consulted all doubted
the propriety of taking any measures for the removal of the
tumor, in the particular condition and situation of it when they
were called in. Your uncle alone differed with them. He was too
modest a man to say so, but your mother found it out. The
deformity of her beautiful child horrified her. She was desperate
enough to catch at the faintest hope of remedying it that anyone
might hold out to her; and she persuaded your uncle to put his
opinion to the proof. Her horror at the deformity of the child,
and her despair at the prospect of its lasting for life, seem to
have utterly blinded her to all natural sense of the danger of
the operation. It is hard to know how to say it to you, her son,
but it must be told, nevertheless, that one day, when your father
was out, she untruly informed your uncle that his brother had
consented to the performance of the operation, and that he had
gone purposely out of the house because he had not nerve enough
to stay and witness it. After that, your uncle no longer
hesitated. He had no fear of results, provided he could be
certain of his own courage. All he dreaded was the effect on him
of his love for the child when he first found himself face to
face with the dreadful necessity of touching her skin with the
I tried hard to control myself, but I could not repress a shudder
at those words.
"It is useless to shock you by going into particulars," said the
priest, considerately. "Let it be enough if I say that your
uncle's fortitude failed to support him when he wanted it most.
His love for the child shook the firm hand which had never
trembled before. In a word, the operation failed. Your father
returned, and found his child dying. The frenzy of his despair
when the truth was told him carried him to excesses which it
shocks me to mention--excesses which began in his degrading his
brother by a blow, which ended in his binding himself by an oath
to make that brother suffer public punishment for his fatal
rashness in a court of law. Your uncle was too heartbroken by
what had happened to feel those outrages as some men might have
felt them. He looked for one moment at his sister-in-law (I do
not like to say your mother, considering what I have now to tell
you), to see if she would acknowledge that she had encouraged him
to attempt the operation, and that she had deceived him in saying
that he had his brother's permission to try it. She was silent,
and when she spoke, it was to join her husband in denouncing him
as the murderer of their child. Whether fear of your father's
anger, or revengeful indignation against your uncle most actuated
her, I cannot presume to inquire in your presence. I can only
The priest paused and looked at me anxiously. I could not speak
to him at that moment--I could only encourage him to proceed by
pressing his hand.
He resumed in these terms:
"Meanwhile, your uncle turned to your father, and spoke the last
words he was ever to address to his eldest brother in this world.
He said, 'I have deserved the worst your anger can inflict on me,
but I will spare you the scandal of bringing me to justice in
open court. The law, if it found me guilty, could at the worst
but banish me from my country and my friends. I will go of my own
accord. God is my witness that I honestly believed I could save
the child from deformity and suffering. I have risked all and
lost all. My heart and spirit are broken. I am fit for nothing
but to go and hide myself, and my shame and misery, from all eyes
that have ever looked on me. I shall never come back, never
expect your pity or forgiveness. If you think less harshly of me
when I am gone, keep secret what has happened; let no other lips
say of me what yours and your wife's have said. I shall think
that forbearance atonement enough--atonement greater than I have
deserved. Forget me in this world. May we meet in another, where
the secrets of all hearts are opened, and where the child who is
gone before may make peace between us!' He said those words and
went out. Your father never saw him or heard from him again."
I knew the reason now why my father had never confided the truth
to anyone, his own family included. My mother had evidently
confessed all to her sister under the seal of secrecy, and there
the dreadful disclosure had been arrested.
"Your uncle told me," the priest continued, "that before he left
England he took leave of you by stealth, in a place you were
staying at by the sea-side. Tie had not the heart to quit his
country and his friends forever without kissing you for the last
time. He followed you in the dark, and caught you up in his arms,
and left you again before you had a chance of discovering him.
The next day he quitted England."
"For this place?" I asked.
"Yes. He had spent a week here once with a student friend at the
time when he was a pupil in the Hotel Dieu, and to this place he
returned to hide, to suffer, and to die. We all saw that he was a
man crushed and broken by some great sorrow, and we respected him
and his affliction. He lived alone, and only came out of doors
toward evening, when he used to sit on the brow of the hill
yonder, with his head on his hand, looking toward England. That
place seemed a favorite with him, and he is buried close by it.
He revealed the story of his past life to no living soul here but
me, and to me he only spoke when his last hour was approaching.
What he had suffered during his long exile no man can presume to
say. I, who saw more of him than anyone, never heard a word of
complaint fall from his lips. He had the courage of the martyrs
while he lived, and the resignation of the saints when he died.
Just at the last his mind wandered. He said he saw his little
darling waiting by the bedside to lead him away, and he died with
a smile on his face--the first I had ever seen there."
The priest ceased, and we went out together in the mournful
twilight, and stood for a little while on the brow of the hill
where Uncle George used to sit, with his face turned toward
England. How my heart ached for him as I thought of what he must
have suffered in the silence and solitude of his long exile! Was
it well for me that I had discovered the Family Secret at last? I
have sometimes thought not. I have sometimes wished that the
darkness had never been cleared away which once hid from me the
fate of Uncle George.
THE THIRD DAY.
FINE again. Our guest rode out, with her ragged little groom, as
usual. There was no news yet in the paper--that is to say, no
news of George or his ship.
On this day Morgan completed his second story, and in two or
three days more I expected to finish the last of my own
contributions. Owen was still behindhand and still despondent.
The lot drawing to-night was Five. This proved to be the number
of the first of Morgan's stories, which he had completed before
we began the readings. His second story, finished this day, being
still uncorrected by me, could not yet be added to the common
On being informed that it had come to his turn to occupy the
attention of the company, Morga n startled us by immediately
objecting to the trouble of reading his own composition, and by
coolly handing it over to me, on the ground that my numerous
corrections had made it, to all intents and purposes, my story.
Owen and I both remonstrated; and Jessie, mischievously
persisting in her favorite jest at Morgan's expense, entreated
that he would read, if it was only for her sake. Finding that we
were all determined, and all against him, he declared that,
rather than hear our voices any longer, he would submit to the
minor inconvenience of listening to his own. Accordingly, he took
his manuscript back again, and, with an air of surly resignation,
spread it open before him.
"I don't think you will like this story, miss," he began,
addressing Jessie, "but I shall read it, nevertheless, with the
greatest pleasure. It begins in a stable--it gropes its way
through a dream--it keeps company with a hostler--and it stops
without an end. What do you think of that?"
After favoring his audience with this promising preface, Morgan
indulged himself in a chuckle of supreme satisfaction, and then
began to read, without wasting another preliminary word on any
one of us.
BROTHER MORGAN'S STORY
I HAD not been settled much more than six weeks in my country
practice when I was sent for to a neighboring town, to consult
with the resident medical man there on a case of very dangerous
My horse had come down with me at the end of a long ride the
night before, and had hurt himself, luckily, much more than he
had hurt his master. Being deprived of the animal's services, I
started for my destination by the coach (there were no railways
at that time), and I hoped to get back again, toward the
afternoon, in the same way.
After the consultation was over, I went to the principal inn of
the town to wait for the coach. When it came up it was full
inside and out. There was no resource left me but to get home as
cheaply as I could by hiring a gig. The price asked for this
accommodation struck me as being so extortionate, that I
determined to look out for an inn of inferior pretensions, and to
try if I could not make a better bargain with a less prosperous
I soon found a likely-looking house, dingy and quiet, with an
old-fashioned sign, that had evidently not been repainted for
many years past. The landlord, in this case, was not above making
a small profit, and as soon as we came to terms he rang the
yard-bell to order the gig.
"Has Robert not come back from that errand?" asked the landlord,
appealing to the waiter who answered the bell.
"No, sir, he hasn't."
"Well, then, you must wake up Isaac."
"Wake up Isaac!" I repeated; "that sounds rather odd. Do your
hostlers go to bed in the daytime?"
"This one does," said the landlord, smiling to himself in rather
a strange way.
"And dreams too," added the waiter; "I shan't forget the turn it
gave me the first time I heard him."
"Never you mind about that," retorted the proprietor; "you go and
rouse Isaac up. The gentleman's waiting for his gig."
The landlord's manner and the waiter's manner expressed a great
deal more than they either of them said. I began to suspect that
I might be on the trace of something professionally interesting
to me as a medical man, and I thought I should like to look at
the hostler before the waiter awakened him.
"Stop a minute," I interposed; "I have rather a fancy for seeing
this man before you wake him up. I'm a doctor; and if this queer
sleeping and dreaming of his comes from anything wrong in his
brain, I may be able to tell you what to do with him."
"I rather think you will find his complaint past all doctoring,
sir," said the landlord; "but, if you would like to see him,
you're welcome, I'm sure."
He led the way across a yard and down a passage to the stables,
opened one of the doors, and, waiting outside himself, told me to
I found myself in a two-stall stable. In one of the stalls a
horse was munching his corn; in the other an old man was lying
asleep on the litter.
I stooped and looked at him attentively. It was a withered,
woe-begone face. The eyebrows were painfully contracted; the
mouth was fast set, and drawn down at the corners.
The hollow wrinkled cheeks, and the scanty grizzled hair, told
their own tale of some past sorrow or suffering. He was drawing
his breath convulsively when I first looked at him, and in a
moment more he began to talk in his sleep.
"Wake up!" I heard him say, in a quick whisper, through his
clinched teeth. "Wake up there! Murder!"
He moved one lean arm slowly till it rested over his throat,
shuddered a little, and turned on his straw. Then the arm left
his throat, the hand stretched itself out, and clutched at the
side toward which he had turned, as if he fancied himself to be
grasping at the edge of something. I saw his lips move, and bent
lower over him. He was still talking in his sleep.
"Light gray eyes," he murmured, "and a droop in the left eyelid;
flaxen hair, with a gold-yellow streak in it--all right,
mother--fair white arms, with a down on them--little lady's hand,
with a reddish look under the finger nails. The knife--always the
cursed knife--first on one side, then on the other. Aha! you
she-devil, where's the knife?"
At the last word his voice rose, and he grew restless on a
sudden. I saw him shudder on the straw; his withered face became
distorted, and he threw up both his hands with a quick hysterical
gasp. They struck against the bottom of the manger under which he
lay, and the blow awakened him. I had just time to slip through
the door and close it before his eyes were fairly open, and his
senses his own again.
"Do you know anything about that man's past life?" I said to the
"Yes, sir, I know pretty well all about it," was the answer, "and
an uncommon queer story it is. Most people don't believe it. It's
true, though, for all that. Why, just look at him," continued the
landlord, opening the stable door again. "Poor devil! he's so
worn out with his restless nights that he's dropped back into his
"Don't wake him," I said; "I'm in no hurry for the gig. Wait till
the other man comes back from his errand; and, in the meantime,
suppose I have some lunch and a bottle of sherry, and suppose you
come and help me to get through it?"
The heart of mine host, as I had anticipated, warmed to me over
his own wine. He soon became communicative on the subject of the
man asleep in the stable, and by little and little I drew the
whole story out of him. Extravagant and incredible as the events
must appear to everybody, they are related here just as I heard
them and just as they happened.
SOME years ago there lived in the suburbs of a large seaport town
on the west coast of England a man in humble circumstances, by
name Isaac Scatchard. His means of subsistence were derived from
any employment that he could get as an hostler, and occasionally,
when times went well with him, from temporary engagements in
service as stable-helper in private houses. Though a faithful,
steady, and honest man, he got on badly in his calling. His ill
luck was proverbial among his neighbors. He was always missing
good opportunities by no fault of his own, and always living
longest in service with amiable people who were not punctual
payers of wages. "Unlucky Isaac" was his nickname in his own
neighborhood, and no one could say that he did not richly deserve
With far more than one man's fair share of adversity to endure,
Isaac had but one consolation to support him, and that was of the
dreariest and most negative kind. He had no wife and children to
increase his anxieties and add to the bitterness of his various
failures in life. It might have been from mere insensibility, or
it might have been from generous unwillingness to involve another
in his own unlucky destiny, but the fact undoubtedly was, that he
had arrived at the middle term of life without marrying, and,
what is much more remarkable, without once exposing himself, from
eighteen to eight-and-thirty, to the genial imputation of ever
having had a sweetheart.
When he was out of service he lived alone with his widowed
mother. Mrs. Scatchard was a woman above the average in her lowly
station as to capacity and manners. She had seen better days, as
the phrase is, but she never referred to them in the presence of
curious visitors; and, though perfectly polite to every one who
approached her, never cultivated any intimacies among her
neighbors. She contrived to provide, hardly enough, for her
simple wants by doing rough work for the tailors, and always
managed to keep a decent home for her son to return to whenever
his ill luck drove him out helpless into the world.
One bleak autumn when Isaac was getting on fast toward forty and
when he was as usual out of place through no fault of his own, he
set forth, from his mother's cottage on a long walk inland to a
gentleman's seat where he had heard that a stable-helper was
It wanted then but two days of his birthday; and Mrs. Scatchard,
with her usual fondness, made him promise, before he started,
that he would be back in time to keep that anniversary with her,
in as festive a way as their poor means would allow. It was easy
for him to comply with this request, even supposing he slept a
night each way on the road.
He was to start from home on Monday morning, and, whether he got
the new place or not, he was to be back for his birthday dinner
on Wednesday at two o'clock.
Arriving at his destination too late on the Monday night to make
application for the stablehelper's place, he slept at the village
inn, and in good time on the Tuesday morning presented himself at
the gentleman's house to fill the vacant situation. Here again
his ill luck pursued him as inexorably as ever. The excellent
written testimonials to his character which he was able to
produce availed him nothing; his long walk had been taken in
vain: only the day before the stable-helper's place had been
given to another man.
Isaac accepted this new disappointment resignedly and as a matter
of course. Naturally slow in capacity, he had the bluntness of
sensibility and phlegmatic patience of disposition which
frequently distinguish men with sluggishly-working mental powers.
He thanked the gentleman's steward with his usual quiet civility
for granting him an interview, and took his departure with no
appearance of unusual depression in his face or manner.
Before starting on his homeward walk he made some inquiries at
the inn, and ascertained that he might save a few miles on his
return by following the new road. Furnished with full
instructions, several times repeated, as to the various turnings
he was to take, he set forth on his homeward journey and walked
on all day with only one stoppage for bread and cheese. Just as
it was getting toward dark, the rain came on and the wind began
to rise, and he found himself, to make matters worse, in a part
of the country with which he was entirely unacquainted, though he
knew himself to be some fifteen miles from home. The first house
he found to inquire at was a lonely roadside inn, standing on the
outskirts of a thick wood. Solitary as the place looked, it was
welcome to a lost man who was also hungry, thirsty, footsore and
wet. The landlord was civil and respectable-looking, and the
price he asked for a bed was reasonable enough. Isaac therefore
decided on stopping comfortably at the inn for that night.
He was constitutionally a temperate man.
His supper consisted of two rashers of bacon, a slice of
home-made bread and a pint of ale. He did not go to bed
immediately after this moderate meal, but sat up with the
landlord, talking about his bad prospects and his long run of
ill-luck, and diverging from these topics to the subjects of
horse-flesh and racing. Nothing was said either by himself, his
host, or the few laborers who strayed into the tap-room, which
could, in the slightest degree, excite the very small and very
dull imaginative faculty which Isaac Scatchard possessed.
At a little after eleven the house was closed. Isaac went round
with the landlord and held the candle while the doors and lower
windows were being secured. He noticed with surprise the strength
of the bolts and bars, and iron-sheathed shutters.
"You see, we are rather lonely here," said the landlord. "We
never have had any attempts made to break in yet, but it's always
as well to be on the safe side. When nobody is sleeping here, I
am the only man in the house. My wife and daughter are timid, and
the servant-girl takes after her missuses. Another glass of ale
before you turn in? No! Well, how such a sober man as you comes
to be out of place is more than I can make out, for one. Here's
where you're to sleep. You're our only lodger to-night, and I
think you'll say my missus has done her best to make you
comfortable. You're quite sure you won't have another glass of
ale? Very well. Good-night."
It was half-past eleven by the clock in the passage as they went
upstairs to the bedroom, the window of which looked on to the
wood at the back of the house.
Isaac locked the door, set his candle on the chest of drawers,
and wearily got ready for bed.
The bleak autumn wind was still blowing, and the solemn,
monotonous, surging moan of it in the wood was dreary and awful
to hear through the night-silence. Isaac felt strangely wakeful.
He resolved, as he lay down in bed, to keep the candle alight
until he began to grow sleepy, for there was something
unendurably depressing in the bare idea of lying awake in the
darkness, listening to the dismal, ceaseless moaning of the wind
in the wood.
Sleep stole on him before he was aware of it. His eyes closed,
and he fell off insensibly to rest without having so much as
thought of extinguishing the candle.
The first sensation of which he was conscious after sinking into
slumber was a strange shivering that ran through him suddenly
from head to foot, and a dreadful sinking pain at the heart, such
as he had never felt before. The shivering only disturbed his
slumbers; the pain woke him instantly. In one moment he passed
from a state of sleep to a state of wakefulness--his eyes wide
open--his mental perceptions cleared on a sudden, as if by a
The candle had burned down nearly to the last morsel of tallow,
but the top of the unsnuffed wick had just fallen off, and the
light in the little room was, for the moment, fair and full.
Between the foot of his bed and the closed door there stood a
woman with a knife in her hand, looking at him.
He was stricken speechless with terror, but he did not lose the
preternatural clearness of his faculties, and he never took his
eyes off the woman. She said not a word as they stared each other
in the face, but she began to move slowly toward the left-hand
side of the bed.
His eyes followed her. She was a fair, fine woman, with yellowish
flaxen hair and light gray eyes, with a droop in the left eyelid.
He noticed those things and fixed them on his mind before she was
round at the side of the bed. Speechless, with no expression in
her face, with no noise following her footfall, she came closer
and closer--stopped--and slowly raised the knife. He laid his
right arm over his throat to save it; but, as he saw the knife
coming down, threw his hand across the bed to the right side, and
jerked his body over that way just as the knife descended on the
mattress within an inch of his shoulder.
His eyes fixed on her arm and hand as she slowly drew her knife
out of the bed: a white, well-shaped arm, with a pretty down
lying lightly over the fair skin--a delicate lady's hand, with
the crowning beauty of a pink flush under and round the
She drew the knife out, and passed back again slowly to the foot
of the bed; stopped there for a moment looking at him; then came
on--still speechless, still with no expression on the blank,
beautiful face, still with no sound following the stealthy
footfalls--came on to the right side of the bed, where he now
As she approached, she raised the knife again, and he drew
himself away to the left side. She struck, as before, right into
the mattress, with a deliberate, perpendicularly downward action
of the arm. This time his eyes wandered from her to the knife. It
was like the large cla sp-knives which he had often seen laboring
men use to cut their bread and bacon with. Her delicate little
fingers did not conceal more than two-thirds of the handle: he
noticed that it was made of buck-horn, clean and shining as the
blade was, and looking like new.
For the second time she drew the knife out, concealed it in the
wide sleeve of her gown, then stopped by the bedside, watching
him. For an instant he saw her standing in that position, then
the wick of the spent candle fell over into the socket; the flame
diminished to a little blue point, and the room grew dark.
A moment, or less, if possible, passed so, and then the wick
flamed up, smokingly, for the last time. His eyes were still
looking eagerly over the right-hand side of the bed when the
final flash of light came, but they discovered nothing. The fair
woman with the knife was gone.
The conviction that he was alone again weakened the hold of the
terror that had struck him dumb up to this time. The
preternatural sharpness which the very intensity of his panic had
mysteriously imparted to his faculties left them suddenly. His
brain grew confused--his heart beat wildly--his ears opened for
the first time since the appearance of the woman to a sense of
the woeful ceaseless moaning of the wind among the trees. With
the dreadful conviction of the reality of what he had seen still
strong within him, he leaped out of bed, and screaming "Murder!
Wake up, there! wake up!" dashed headlong through the darkness to
It was fast locked, exactly as he had left it on going to bed.
His cries on starting up had alarmed the house. He heard the
terrified, confused exclamations of women; he saw the master of
the house approaching along the passage with his burning
rush-candle in one hand and his gun in the other.
"What is it?" asked the landlord, breathlessly. Isaac could only
answer in a whisper. "A woman, with a knife in her hand," he
gasped out. "In my room--a fair, yellow-haired woman; she jobbed
at me with the knife twice over."
The landlord's pale cheeks grew paler. He looked at Isaac eagerly
by the flickering light of his candle, and his face began to get
red again; his voice altered, too, as well as his complexion.
"She seems to have missed you twice," he said.
"I dodged the knife as it came down," Isaac went on, in the same
scared whisper. "It struck the bed each time."
The landlord took his candle into the bedroom immediately. In
less than a minute he came out again into the passage in a
"The devil fly away with you and your woman with the knife! There
isn't a mark in the bedclothes anywhere. What do you mean by
coming into a man's place and frightening his family out of their
wits about a dream?"
"I'll leave your house," said Isaac, faintly. "Better out on the
road, in rain and dark, on my road home, than back again in that
room, after what I've seen in it. Lend me a light to get my
clothes by, and tell me what I'm to pay."
"Pay!" cried the landlord, leading the way with his light sulkily
into the bedroom. "You'll find your score on the slate when you
go downstairs. I wouldn't have taken you in for all the money
you've got about you if I'd known your dreaming, screeching ways
beforehand. Look at the bed. Where's the cut of a knife in it?
Look at the window--is the lock bursted? Look at the door (which
I heard you fasten yourself)--is it broke in? A murdering woman
with a knife in my house! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!"
Isaac answered not a word. He huddled on his clothes, and then
they went downstairs together.
"Nigh on twenty minutes past two!" said the landlord, as they
passed the clock. "A nice time in the morning to frighten honest
people out of their wits!"
Isaac paid his bill, and the landlord let him out at the front
door, asking, with a grin of contempt, as he undid the strong
fastenings, whether "the murdering woman got in that way."
They parted without a word on either side. The rain had ceased,
but the night was dark, and the wind bleaker than ever. Little
did the darkness, or the cold, or the uncertainty about the way
home matter to Isaac. If he had been turned out into a wilderness
in a thunder-storm it would have been a relief after what he had
suffered in the bedroom of the inn.
What was the fair woman with the knife? The creature of a dream,
or that other creature from the unknown world called among men by
the name of ghost? He could make nothing of the mystery--had made
nothing of it, even when it was midday on Wednesday, and when he
stood, at last, after many times missing his road, once more on
the doorstep of home.
His mother came out eagerly to receive him.
His face told her in a moment that something was wrong.
"I've lost the place; but that's my luck. I dreamed an ill dream
last night, mother--or maybe I saw a ghost. Take it either way,
it scared me out of my senses, and I'm not my own man again yet."
"Isaac, your face frightens me. Come in to the fire--come in, and
tell mother all about it."
He was as anxious to tell as she was to hear; for it had been his
hope, all the way home, that his mother, with her quicker
capacity and superior knowledge, might be able to throw some
light on the mystery which he could not clear up for himself. His
memory of the dream was still mechanically vivid, though his
thoughts were entirely confused by it.
His mother's face grew paler and paler as he went on. She never
interrupted him by so much as a single word; but when he had
done, she moved her chair close to his, put her arm round his
neck, and said to him:
"Isaac, you dreamed your ill dream on this Wednesday morning.