Part 3 out of 8
What time was it when you saw the fair woman with the knife in
her hand?" Isaac reflected on what the landlord had said when
they had passed by the clock on his leaving the inn; allowed as
nearly as he could for the time that must have elapsed between
the unlocking of his bedroom door and the paying of his bill just
before going away, and answered:
"Somewhere about two o'clock in the morning."
His mother suddenly quitted her hold of his neck, and struck her
hands together with a gesture of despair.
"This Wednesday is your birthday, Isaac, and two o'clock in the
morning was the time when you were born."
Isaac's capacities were not quick enough to catch the infection
of his mother's superstitious dread. He was amazed, and a little
startled, also, when she suddenly rose from her chair, opened her
old writing-desk, took pen, ink and paper, and then said to him:
"Your memory is but a poor one, Isaac, and, now I'm an old woman,
mine's not much better. I want all about this dream of yours to
be as well known to both of us, years hence, as it is now. Tell
me over again all you told me a minute ago, when you spoke of
what the woman with the knife looked like."
Isaac obeyed, and marveled much as he saw his mother carefully
set down on paper the very words that he was saying.
"Light gray eyes," she wrote, as they came to the descriptive
part, "with a droop in the left eyelid; flaxen hair, with a
gold-yellow streak in it; white arms, with a down upon them;
little lady's hand, with a reddish look about the finger nails;
clasp-knife with a buck-horn handle, that seemed as good as new."
To these particulars Mrs. Scatchard added the year, month, day of
the week, and time in the morning when the woman of the dream
appeared to her son. She then locked up the paper carefully in
Neither on that day nor on any day after could her son induce her
to return to the matter of the dream. She obstinately kept her
thoughts about it to herself, and even refused to refer again to
the paper in her writing-desk. Ere long Isaac grew weary of
attempting to make her break her resolute silence; and time,
which sooner or later wears out all things, gradually wore out
the impression produced on him by the dream. He began by thinking
of it carelessly, and he ended by not thinking of it at all.
The result was the more easily brought about by the advent of
some important changes for the better in his prospects which
commenced not long after his terrible night's experience at the
inn. He reaped at last th e reward of his long and patient
suffering under adversity by getting an excellent place, keeping
it for seven years, and leaving it, on the death of his master,
not only with an excellent character, but also with a comfortable
annuity bequeathed to him as a reward for saving his mistress's
life in a carriage accident. Thus it happened that Isaac
Scatchard returned to his old mother, seven years after the time
of the dream at the inn, with an annual sum of money at his
disposal sufficient to keep them both in ease and independence
for the rest of their lives.
The mother, whose health had been bad of late years, profited so
much by the care bestowed on her and by freedom from money
anxieties, that when Isaac's birthday came round she was able to
sit up comfortably at table and dine with him.
On that day, as the evening drew on, Mrs. Scatchard discovered
that a bottle of tonic medicine which she was accustomed to take,
and in which she had fancied that a dose or more was still left,
happened to be empty. Isaac immediately volunteered to go to the
chemist's and get it filled again. It was as rainy and bleak an
autumn night as on the memorable past occasion when he lost his
way and slept at the road-side inn.
On going into the chemist's shop he was passed hurriedly by a
poorly-dressed woman coming out of it. The glimpse he had of her
face struck him, and he looked back after her as she descended
"You're noticing that woman?" said the chemist's apprentice
behind the counter. "It's my opinion there's something wrong with
her. She's been asking for laudanum to put to a bad tooth.
Master's out for half an hour, and I told her I wasn't allowed to
sell poison to strangers in his absence. She laughed in a queer
way, and said she would come back in half an hour. If she expects
master to serve her, I think she'll be disappointed. It's a case
of suicide, sir, if ever there was one yet."
These words added immeasurably to the sudden interest in the
woman which Isaac had felt at the first sight of her face. After
he had got the medicine-bottle filled, he looked about anxiously
for her as soon as he was out in the street. She was walking
slowly up and down on the opposite side of the road. With his
heart, very much to his own surprise, beating fast, Isaac crossed
over and spoke to her.
He asked if she was in any distress. She pointed to her torn
shawl, her scanty dress, her crushed, dirty bonnet; then moved
under a lamp so as to let the light fall on her stern, pale, but
still most beautiful face.
"I look like a comfortable, happy woman, don't I?" she said, with
a bitter laugh.
She spoke with a purity of intonation which Isaac had never heard
before from other than ladies' lips. Her slightest actions seemed
to have the easy, negligent grace of a thoroughbred woman. Her
skin, for all its poverty-stricken paleness, was as delicate as
if her life had been passed in the enjoyment of every social
comfort that wealth can purchase. Even her small, finely-shaped
hands, gloveless as they were, had not lost their whiteness.
Little by little, in answer to his questions, the sad story of
the woman came out. There is no need to relate it here; it is
told over and over again in police reports and paragraphs about
"My name is Rebecca Murdoch," said the woman, as she ended. "I
have nine-pence left, and I thought of spending it at the
chemist's over the way in securing a passage to the other world.
Whatever it is, it can't be worse to me than this, so why should
I stop here?"
Besides the natural compassion and sadness moved in his heart by
what he heard, Isaac felt within him some mysterious influence at
work all the time the woman was speaking which utterly confused
his ideas and almost deprived him of his powers of speech. All
that he could say in answer to her last reckless words was that
he would prevent her from attempting her own life, if he followed
her about all night to do it. His rough, trembling earnestness
seemed to impress her.
"I won't occasion you that trouble," she answered, when he
repeated his threat. "You have given me a fancy for living by
speaking kindly to me. No need for the mockery of protestations
and promises. You may believe me without them. Come to Fuller's
Meadow to-morrow at twelve, and you will find me alive, to answer
for myself--No !--no money. My ninepence will do to get me as
good a night's lodging as I want."
She nodded and left him. He made no attempt to follow--he felt no
suspicion that she was deceiving him.
"It's strange, but I can't help believing her," he said to
himself, and walked away, bewildered, toward home.
On entering the house, his mind was still so completely absorbed
by its new subject of interest that he took no notice of what his
mother was doing when he came in with the bottle of medicine. She
had opened her old writing-desk in his absence, and was now
reading a paper attentively that lay inside it. On every birthday
of Isaac's since she had written down the particulars of his
dream from his own lips, she had been accustomed to read that
same paper, and ponder over it in private.
The next day he went to Fuller's Meadow.
He had done only right in believing her so implicitly. She was
there, punctual to a minute, to answer for herself. The last-left
faint defenses in Isaac's heart against the fascination which a
word or look from her began inscrutably to exercise over him sank
down and vanished before her forever on that memorable morning.
When a man, previously insensible to the influence of women,
forms an attachment in middle life, the instances are rare
indeed, let the warning circumstances be what they may, in which
he is found capable of freeing himself from the tyranny of the
new ruling passion. The charm of being spoken to familiarly,
fondly, and gratefully by a woman whose language and manners
still retained enough of their early refinement to hint at the
high social station that she had lost, would have been a
dangerous luxury to a man of Isaac's rank at the age of twenty.
But it was far more than that--it was certain ruin to him--now
that his heart was opening unworthily to a new influence at that
middle time of life when strong feelings of all kinds, once
implanted, strike root most stubbornly in a man's moral nature. A
few more stolen interviews after that first morning in Fuller's
Meadow completed his infatuation. In less than a month from the
time when he first met her, Isaac Scatchard had consented to give
Rebecca Murdoch a new interest in existence, and a chance of
recovering the character she had lost by promising to make her
She had taken possession, not of his passions only, but of his
faculties as well. All the mind he had he put into her keeping.
She directed him on every point--even instructing him how to
break the news of his approaching marriage in the safest manner
to his mother.
"If you tell her how you met me and who I am at first," said the
cunning woman, "she will move heaven and earth to prevent our
marriage. Say l am the sister of one of your fellow-servants--ask
her to see me before you go into any more particulars--and leave
it to me to do the rest. I mean to make her love me next best to
you, Isaac, before she knows anything of who I really am." The
motive of the deceit was sufficient to sanctify it to Isaac. The
stratagem proposed relieved him of his one great anxiety, and
quieted his uneasy conscience on the subject of his mother.
Still, there was something wanting to perfect his happiness,
something that he could not realize, something mysteriously
untraceable, and yet something that perpetually made itself felt;
not when he was absent from Rebecca Murdoch, but, strange to say,
when he was actually in her presence! She was kindness itself
with him. She never made him feel his inferior capacities and
inferior manners. She showed the sweetest anxiety to please him
in the smallest trifles; but, in spite of all these attractions,
he never could feel quite at his ease with her. At their first
meeting, there had mingled with his admiration, when he looked in
her face, a faint, involuntary feeling of doubt whether that face
was entirely strange to him. No after familiarity had the
slightest effect on this inexplicable, wearisome uncertainty.
Concealing the truth as he had been directed, he announced his
marriage engagement precipitately and confusedly to his mother on
the day when he contracted it. Poor Mrs. Scatchard showed her
perfect confidence in her son by flinging her arms round his
neck, and giving him joy of having found at last, in the sister
of one of his fellow-servants, a woman to comfort and care for
him after his mother was gone. She was all eagerness to see the
woman of her son's choice, and the next day was fixed for the
It was a bright sunny morning, and the little cottage parlor was
full of light as Mrs. Scatchard, happy and expectant, dressed for
the occasion in her Sunday gown, sat waiting for her son and her
Punctual to the appointed time, Isaac hurriedly and nervously led
his promised wife into the room. His mother rose to receive
her--advanced a few steps, smiling--looked Rebecca full in the
eyes, and suddenly stopped. Her face, which had been flushed the
moment before, turned white in an instant; her eyes lost their
expression of softness and kindness, and assumed a blank look of
terror; her outstretched hands fell to her sides, and she
staggered back a few steps with a low cry to her son.
"Isaac," she whispered, clutching him fast by the arm when he
asked alarmedly if she was taken ill, "Isaac, does that woman's
face remind you of nothing?"
Before he could answer--before he could look round to where
Rebecca stood, astonished and angered by her reception, at the
lower end of the room, his mother pointed impatiently to her
writing-desk, and gave him the key.
"Open it," she said, in a quick breathless whisper.
"What does this mean? Why am I treated as if I had no business
here? Does your mother want to insult me?" asked Rebecca,
"Open it, and give me the paper in the left-hand drawer. Quick!
quick, for Heaven's sake!" said Mrs. Scatchard, shrinking further
back in terror.
Isaac gave her the paper. She looked it over eagerly for a
moment, then followed Rebecca, who was now turning away haughtily
to leave the room, and caught her by the shoulder--abruptly
raised the long, loose sleeve of her gown, and glanced at her
hand and arm. Something like fear began to steal over the angry
expression of Rebecca's face as she shook herself free from the
old woman's grasp. "Mad!" she said to herself; "and Isaac never
told me." With these few words she left the room.
Isaac was hastening after her when his mother turned and stopped
his further progress. It wrung his heart to see the misery and
terror in her face as she looked at him.
"Light gray eyes," she said, in low, mournful, awe-struck tones,
pointing toward the open door; "a droop in the left eyelid;
flaxen hair, with a gold-yellow streak in it; white arms, with a
down upon them; little lady's hand, with a reddish look under the
finger nails--The Dream- Woman, Isaac, the Dream-Woman!"
That faint cleaving doubt which he had never been able to shake
off in Rebecca Murdoch's presence was fatally set at rest
forever. He had seen her face, then, before--seven years before,
on his birthday, in the bedroom of the lonely inn.
"Be warned! oh, my son, be warned! Isaac, Isaac, let her go, and
do you stop with me!"
Something darkened the parlor window as those words were said. A
sudden chill ran through him, and he glanced sidelong at the
shadow. Rebecca Murdoch had come back. She was peering in
curiously at them over the low window-blind.
"I have promised to marry, mother," he said, "and marry I must."
The tears came into his eyes as he spoke and dimmed his sight,
but he could just discern the fatal face outside moving away
again from the window.
His mother's head sank lower.
"Are you faint?" he whispered.
He stooped down and kissed her. The shadow, as he did so,
returned to the window, and the fatal face peered in curiously
THREE weeks after that day Isaac and Rebecca were man and wife.
All that was hopelessly dogged and stubborn in the man's moral
nature seemed to have closed round his fatal passion, and to have
fixed it unassailably in his heart.
After that first interview in the cottage parlor no consideration
would induce Mrs. Scatchard to see her son's wife again or even
to talk of her when Isaac tried hard to plead her cause after
This course of conduct was not in any degree occasioned by a
discovery of the degradation in which Rebecca had lived. There
was no question of that between mother and son. There was no
question of anything but the fearfully-exact resemblance between
the living, breathing woman and the specter-woman of Isaac's
Rebecca on her side neither felt nor expressed the slightest
sorrow at the estrangement between herself and her mother-in-law.
Isaac, for the sake of peace, had never contradicted her first
idea that age and long illness had affected Mrs. Scatchard's
mind. He even allowed his wife to upbraid him for not having
confessed this to her at the time of their marriage engagement,
rather than risk anything by hinting at the truth. The sacrifice
of his integrity before his one all-mastering delusion seemed but
a small thing, and cost his conscience but little after the
sacrifices he had already made.
The time of waking from this delusion--the cruel and the rueful
time--was not far off. After some quiet months of married life,
as the summer was ending, and the year was getting on toward the
month of his birthday, Isaac found his wife altering toward him.
She grew sullen and contemptuous; she formed acquaintances of the
most dangerous kind in defiance of his objections, his
entreaties, and his commands; and, worst of all, she learned, ere
long, after every fresh difference with her husband, to seek the
deadly self-oblivion of drink. Little by little, after the first
miserable discovery that his wife was keeping company with
drunkards, the shocking certainty forced itself on Isaac that she
had grown to be a drunkard herself.
He had been in a sadly desponding state for some time before the
occurrence of these domestic calamities. His mother's health, as
he could but too plainly discern every time he went to see her at
the cottage, was failing fast, and he upbraided himself in secret
as the cause of the bodily and mental suffering she endured. When
to his remorse on his mother's account was added the shame and
misery occasioned by the discovery of his wife's degradation, he
sank under the double trial--his face began to alter fast, and he
looked what he was, a spirit-broken man.
His mother, still struggling bravely against the illness that was
hurrying her to the grave, was the first to notice the sad
alteration in him, and the first to hear of his last worst
trouble with his wife. She could only weep bitterly on the day
when he made his humiliating confession, but on the next occasion
when he went to see her she had taken a resolution in reference
to his domestic afflictions which astonished and even alarmed
him. He found her dressed to go out, and on asking the reason
received this answer:
"I am not long for this world, Isaac," she said, "and I shall not
feel easy on my death-bed unless I have done my best to the last
to make my son happy. I mean to put my own fears and my own
feelings out of the question, and to go with you to your wife,
and try what I can do to reclaim her. Give me your arm, Isaac,
and let me do the last thing I can in this world to help my son
before it is too late."
He could not disobey her, and they walked together slowly toward
his miserable home.
It was only one o'clock in the afternoon when they reached the
cottage where he lived. It was their dinner-hour, and Rebecca was
in the kitchen. He was thus able to take his mother quietly into
the parlor, and then prepare his wife for the interview. She had
fortunately drunk but little at that early hour, and she was less
sullen and capricious than usual.
He returned to his mother with his mind tolerably at ease. His
wife soon followed him into the parlor, and the m eeting between
her and Mrs. Scatchard passed off better than he had ventured to
anticipate, though he observed with secret apprehension that his
mother, resolutely as she controlled herself in other respects,
could not look his wife in the face when she spoke to her. It was
a relief to him, therefore, when Rebecca began to lay the cloth.
She laid the cloth, brought in the bread-tray, and cut a slice
from the loaf for her husband, then returned to the kitchen. At
that moment, Isaac, still anxiously watching his mother, was
startled by seeing the same ghastly change pass over her face
which had altered it so awfully on the morning when Rebecca and
she first met. Before he could say a word, she whispered, with a
look of horror:
"Take me back--home, home again, Isaac. Come with me, and never
go back again."
He was afraid to ask for an explanation; he could only sign to
her to be silent, and help her quickly to the door. As they
passed the breadtray on the table she stopped and pointed to it.
"Did you see what your wife cut your bread with?" she asked, in a
"No, mother--I was not noticing--what was it?"
He did look. A new clasp-knife with a buckhorn handle lay with
the loaf in the bread-tray. He stretched out his hand
shudderingly to possess himself of it; but, at the same time,
there was a noise in the kitchen, and his mother caught at his
"The knife of the dream! Isaac, I'm faint with fear. Take me away
before she comes back."
He was hardly able to support her. The visible, tangible reality
of the knife struck him with a panic, and utterly destroyed any
faint doubts that he might have entertained up to this time in
relation to the mysterious dream-warning of nearly eight years
before. By a last desperate effort, he summoned self-possession
enough to help his mother out of the house--so quietly that the
"Dream-woman" (he thought of her by that name now) did not hear
them departing from the kitchen.
"Don't go back, Isaac--don't go back!" implored Mrs. Scatchard,
as he turned to go away, after seeing her safely seated again in
her own room.
"I must get the knife," he answered, under his breath. His mother
tried to stop him again, but he hurried out without another word.
On his return he found that his wife had discovered their secret
departure from the house. She had been drinking, and was in a
fury of passion. The dinner in the kitchen was flung under the
grate; the cloth was off the parlor table. Where was the knife?
Unwisely, he asked for it. She was only too glad of the
opportunity of irritating him which the request afforded her. "He
wanted the knife, did he? Could he give her a reason why? No!
Then he should not have it--not if he went down on his knees to
ask for it." Further recriminations elicited the fact that she
had bought it a bargain, and that she considered it her own
especial property. Isaac saw the uselessness of attempting to get
the knife by fair means, and determined to search for it, later
in the day, in secret. The search was unsuccessful. Night came
on, and he left the house to walk about the streets. He was
afraid now to sleep in the same room with her.
Three weeks passed. Still sullenly enraged with him, she would
not give up the knife; and still that fear of sleeping in the
same room with her possessed him. He walked about at night, or
dozed in the parlor, or sat watching by his mother's bedside.
Before the expiration of the first week in the new month his
mother died. It wanted then but ten days of her son's birthday.
She had longed to live till that anniversary. Isaac was present
at her death, and her last words in this world were addressed to
"Don't go back, my son, don't go back!" He was obliged to go
back, if it were only to watch his wife. Exasperated to the last
degree by his distrust of her, she had revengefully sought to add
a sting to his grief, during the last days of his mother's
illness, by declaring that she would assert her right to attend
the funeral. In spite of any thing he could do or say, she held
with wicked pertinacity to her word, and on the day appointed for
the burial forced herself--inflamed and shameless with
drink--into her husband's presence, and declared that she would
walk in the funeral procession to his mother's grave.
This last worst outrage, accompanied by all that was most
insulting in word and look, maddened him for the moment. He
The instant the blow was dealt he repented it. She crouched down,
silent, in a corner of the room, and eyed him steadily; it was a
look that cooled his hot blood and made him tremble. But there
was no time now to think of a means of making atonement. Nothing
remained but to risk the worst till the funeral was over. There
was but one way of making sure of her. He locked her into her
When he came back some hours after, he found her sitting, very
much altered in look and bearing, by the bedside, with a bundle
on her lap. She rose, and faced him quietly, and spoke with a
strange stillness in her voice, a strange repose in her eyes, a
strange composure in her manner.
"No man has ever struck me twice," she said, "and my husband
shall have no second opportunity. Set the door open and let me
go. From this day forth we see each other no more."
Before he could answer she passed him and left the room. He saw
her walk away up the street.
Would she return?
All that night he watched and waited, but no footstep came near
the house. The next night, overpowered by fatigue, he lay down in
bed in his clothes, with the door locked, the key on the table,
and the candle burning. His slumber was not disturbed. The third
night, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth passed, and nothing
He lay down on the seventh, still in his clothes, still with the
door locked, the key on the table, and the candle burning, but
easier in his mind.
Easier in his mind, and in perfect health of body when he fell
off to sleep. But his rest was disturbed. He woke twice without
any sensation of uneasiness. But the third time it was that
never-to-be-forgotten shivering of the night at the lonely inn,
that dreadful sinking pain at the heart, which once more aroused
him in an instant.
His eyes opened toward the left-hand side of the bed, and there
stood--The Dream-Woman again? No! His wife; the living reality,
with the dream-specter's face, in the dream-specter's attitude;
the fair arm up, the knife clasped in the delicate white hand.
He sprang upon her almost at the instant of seeing her, and yet
not quickly enough to prevent her from hiding the knife. Without
a word from him--without a cry from her--he pinioned her in a
chair. With one hand he felt up her sleeve, and there, where the
Dream-Woman had hidden the knife, his wife had hidden it--the
knife with the buckhorn handle, that looked like new.
In the despair of that fearful moment his brain was steady, his
heart was calm. He looked at her fixedly with the knife in his
hand, and said these last words:
"You told me we should see each other no more, and you have come
back. It is my turn now to go, and to go forever. I say that we
shall see each other no more, and my word shall not be broken."
He left her, and set forth into the night. There was a bleak wind
abroad, and the smell of recent rain was in the air. The distant
church-clocks chimed the quarter as he walked rapidly beyond the
last houses in the suburb. He asked the first policeman he met
what hour that was of which the quarter past had just struck.
The man referred sleepily to his watch, and answered, "Two
o'clock." Two in the morning. What day of the month was this day
that had just begun? He reckoned it up from the date of his
mother's funeral. The fatal parallel was complete: it was his
Had he escaped the mortal peril which his dream foretold? or had
he only received a second warning?
As that ominous doubt forced itself on his mind, he stopped,
reflected, and turned back again toward the city. He was still
resolute to hold to his word, and never to let her see him more;
but there was a thought now in his mind of having her watched and
followed. The knife was in his possession; the world was b efore
him; but a new distrust of her--a vague, unspeakable,
superstitious dread had overcome him.
"I must know where she goes, now she thinks I have left her," he
said to himself, as he stole back wearily to the precincts of his
It was still dark. He had left the candle burning in the
bedchamber; but when he looked up to the window of the room now
there was no light in it. He crept cautiously to the house door.
On going away, he remembered to have closed it; on trying it now,
he found it open.
He waited outside, never losing sight of the house, till
daylight. Then he ventured indoors--listened, and heard
nothing--looked into kitchen, scullery, parlor and found nothing;
went up at last into the bedroom--it was empty. A picklock lay on
the floor betraying how she had gained entrance in the night, and
that was the only trace of her.
Whither had she gone? That no mortal tongue could tell him. The
darkness had covered her flight; and when the day broke, no man
could say where the light found her.
Before leaving the house and the town forever, he gave
instructions to a friend and neighbor to sell his furniture for
anything that it would fetch, and apply the proceeds to employing
the police to trace her. The directions were honestly followed,
and the money was all spent, but the inquiries led to nothing.
The picklock on the bedroom floor remained the one last useless
trace of the Dream-Woman.
At this point of the narrative the landlord paused, and,
turning toward the window of the room in which we were sitting,
looked in the direction of the stable-yard.
"So far," he said, "I tell you what was told to me. The little
that remains to be added lies within my own experience. Between
two and three months after the events I have just been relating,
Isaac Scatchard came to me, withered and old-looking before his
time, just as you saw him to-day. He had his testimonials to
character with him, and he asked for employment here. Knowing
that my wife and he were distantly related, I gave him a trial in
consideration of that relationship, and liked him in spite of his
queer habits. He is as sober, honest, and willing a man as there
is in England. As for his restlessness at night, and his sleeping
away his leisure time in the day, who can wonder at it after
hearing his story? Besides, he never objects to being roused up
when he's wanted, so there's not much inconvenience to complain
of, after all."
"I suppose he is afraid of a return of that dreadful dream, and
of waking out of it in the dark?" said I.
"No," returned the landlord. "The dream comes back to him so
often that he has got to bear with it by this time resignedly
enough. It's his wife keeps him waking at night as he has often
"What! Has she never been heard of yet?"
"Never. Isaac himself has the one perpetual thought about her,
that she is alive and looking for him. I believe he wouldn't let
himself drop off to sleep toward two in the morning for a king's
ransom. Two in the morning, he says, is the time she will find
him, one of these days. Two in the morning is the time all the
year round when he likes to be most certain that he has got that
clasp-knife safe about him. He does not mind being alone as long
as he is awake, except on the night before his birthday, when he
firmly believes himself to be in peril of his life. The birthday
has only come round once since he has been here, and then he sat
up along with the night-porter. 'She's looking for me,' is all he
says when anybody speaks to him about the one anxiety of his
life; 'she's looking for me.' He may be right. She may be looking
for him. Who can tell?"
"Who can tell?" said I.
THE FOURTH DAY.
THE sky once more cloudy and threatening. No news of George. I
corrected Morgan's second story to-day; numbered it Seven, and
added it to our stock.
Undeterred by the weather, Miss Jessie set off this morning on
the longest ride she had yet undertaken. She had heard--through
one of my brother's laborers, I believe--of the actual existence,
in this nineteenth century, of no less a personage than a Welsh
Bard, who was to be found at a distant farmhouse far beyond the
limits of Owen's property. The prospect of discovering this
remarkable relic of past times hurried her off, under the
guidance of her ragged groom, in a high state of excitement, to
see and hear the venerable man. She was away the whole day, and
for the first time since her visit she kept us waiting more than
half an hour for dinner. The moment we all sat down to table, she
informed us, to Morgan's great delight, that the bard was a rank
"Why, what did you expect to see?" I asked.
"A Welsh patriarch, to be sure, with a long white beard, flowing
robes, and a harp to match," answered Miss Jessie.
"And what did you find?"
"A highly-respectable middle-aged rustic; a smiling,
smoothly-shaven, obliging man, dressed in a blue swallow-tailed
coat, with brass buttons, and exhibiting his bardic legs in a
pair of extremely stout. and comfortable corduroy trousers."
"But he sang old Welsh songs, surely?"
"Sang! I'll tell you what he did. He sat down on a Windsor chair,
without a harp; he put his hands in his pockets, cleared his
throat, looked up at the ceiling, and suddenly burst into a
series of the shrillest falsetto screeches I ever heard in my
life. My own private opinion is that he was suffering from
hydrophobia. I have lost all belief, henceforth and forever, in
bards--all belief in everything, in short, except your very
delightful stories and this remarkably good dinner.
Ending with that smart double fire of compliments to her hosts,
the Queen of Hearts honored us all three with a smile of
approval, and transferred her attention to her knife and fork.
The number drawn to-night was One. On examination of the Purple
Volume, it proved to be my turn to read again.
"Our story to-night," I said, "contains the narrative of a very
remarkable adventure which really befell me when I was a young
man. At the time of my life when these events happened I was
dabbling in literature when I ought to have been studying law,
and traveling on the Continent when I ought to have been keeping
my terms at Lincoln's Inn. At the outset of the story, you will
find that I refer to the county in which I lived in my youth, and
to a neighboring family possessing a large estate in it. That
county is situated in a part of England far away from The Glen
Tower, and that family is therefore not to be associated with any
present or former neighbors of ours in this part of the world."
After saying these necessary words of explanation, I opened the
first page, and began the story of my Own Adventure. I observed
that my audience started a little as I read the title, which I
must add, in my own defense, had been almost forced on my choice
by the peculiar character of the narrative. It was "MAD MONKTON."
BROTHER GRIFFITH'S STORY
THE Monktons of Wincot Abbey bore a sad character for want of
sociability in our county. They never went to other people's
houses, and, excepting my father, and a lady and her daughter
living near them, never received anybody under their own roof.
Proud as they all certainly were, it was not pride, but dread,
which kept them thus apart from their neighbors. The family had
suffered for generations past from the horrible affliction of
hereditary insanity, and the members of it shrank from exposing
their calamity to others, as they must have exposed it if they
had mingled with the busy little world around them. There is a
frightful story of a crime committed in past times by two of the
Monktons, near relatives, from which the first appearance of the
insanity was always supposed to date, but it is needless for me
to shock any one by repeating it. It is enough to say that at
intervals almost every form of madness appeared in the family,
monomania being the most frequent manifestation of the affliction
among them. I have these particulars, and one or two yet to be
related, from my father.
At the period of my youth but three of the Monktons were left at
the Abbey--Mr. and Mrs. Monkton and their only child Alfred, heir
to the prope rty. The one other member of this, the elder branch
of the family, who was then alive, was Mr. Monkton's younger
brother, Stephen. He was an unmarried man, possessing a fine
estate in Scotland; but he lived almost entirely on the
Continent, and bore the reputation of being a shameless
profligate. The family at Wincot held almost as little
communication with him as with their neighbors.
I have already mentioned my father, and a lady and her daughter,
as the only privileged people who were admitted into Wincot
My father had been an old school and college friend of Mr.
Monkton, and accident had brought them so much together in later
life that their continued intimacy at Wincot was quite
intelligible. I am not so well able to account for the friendly
terms on which Mrs. Elmslie (the lady to whom I have alluded)
lived with the Monktons. Her late husband had been distantly
related to Mrs. Monkton, and my father was her daughter's
guardian. But even these claims to friendship and regard never
seemed to me strong enough to explain the intimacy between Mrs.
Elmslie and the inhabitants of the Abbey. Intimate, however, they
certainly were, and one result of the constant interchange of
visits between the two families in due time declared itself: Mr.
Monkton's son and Mrs. Elmslie's daughter became attached to each
I had no opportunities of seeing much of the young lady; I only
remember her at that time as a delicate, gentle, lovable girl,
the very opposite in appearance, and apparently in character
also, to Alfred Monkton. But perhaps that was one reason why they
fell in love with each other. The attachment was soon discovered,
and was far from being disapproved by the parents on either side.
In all essential points except that of wealth, the Elmslies were
nearly the equals of the Monktons, and want of money in a bride
was of no consequence to the heir of Wincot. Alfred, it was well
known, would succeed to thirty thousand a year on his father's
Thus, though the parents on both sides thought the young people
not old enough to be married at once, they saw no reason why Ada
and Alfred should not be engaged to each other, with the
understanding that they should be united when young Monkton came
of age, in two years' time. The person to be consulted in the
matter, after the parents, was my father, in his capacity of
Ada's guardian. He knew that the family misery had shown itself
many years ago in Mrs. Monkton, who was her husband's cousin. The
_illness,_ as it was significantly called, had been palliated by
careful treatment, and was reported to have passed away. But my
father was not to be deceived. He knew where the hereditary taint
still lurked; he viewed with horror the bare possibility of its
reappearing one day in the children of his friend's only
daughter; and he positively refused his consent to the marriage
The result was that the doors of the Abbey and the doors of Mrs.
Elmslie's house were closed to him. This suspension of friendly
intercourse had lasted but a very short time when Mrs. Monkton
died. Her husband, who was fondly attached to her, caught a
violent cold while attending her funeral. The cold was neglected,
and settled on his lungs. In a few months' time he followed his
wife to the grave, and Alfred was left master of the grand old
Abbey and the fair lands that spread all around it.
At this period Mrs. Elmslie had the indelicacy to endeavor a
second time to procure my father's consent to the marriage
engagement. He refused it again more positively than before. More
than a year passed away. The time was approaching fast when
Alfred would be of age. I returned from college to spend the long
vacation at home, and made some advances toward bettering my
acquaintance with young Monkton. They were evaded--certainly with
perfect politeness, but still in such a way as to prevent me from
offering my friendship to him again. Any mortification I might
have felt at this petty repulse under ordinary circumstances was
dismissed from my mind by the occurrence of a real misfortune in
our household. For some months past my father's health had been
failing, and, just at the time of which I am now writing, his
sons had to mourn the irreparable calamity of his death.
This event, through some informality or error in the late Mr.
Elmslie's will, left the future of Ada's life entirely at her
mother's disposal. The consequence was the immediate ratification
of the marriage engagement to which my father had so steadily
refused his consent. As soon as the fact was publicly announced,
some of Mrs. Elmslie's more intimate friends, who were acquainted
with the reports affecting the Monkton family, ventured to mingle
with their formal congratulations one or two significant
references to the late Mrs. Monkton and some searching inquiries
as to the disposition of her son.
Mrs. Elmslie always met these polite hints with one bold form of
answer. She first admitted the existence of these reports about
the Monktons which her friends were unwilling to specify
distinctly, and then declared that they were infamous calumnies.
The hereditary taint had died out of the family generations back.
Alfred was the best, the kindest, the sanest of human beings. He
loved study and retirement; Ada sympathized with his tastes, and
had made her choice unbiased; if any more hints were dropped
about sacrificing her by her marriage, those hints would be
viewed as so many insults to her mother, whose affection for her
it was monstrous to call in question. This way of talking
silenced people, but did not convince them. They began to
suspect, what was indeed the actual truth, that Mrs. Elmslie was
a selfish, worldly, grasping woman, who wanted to get her
daughter well married, and cared nothing for consequences as long
as she saw Ada mistress of the greatest establishment in the
It seemed, however, as if there was some fatality at work to
prevent the attainment of Mrs. Elmslie's great object in life.
Hardly was one obstacle to the ill-omened marriage removed by my
father's death before another succeeded it in the shape of
anxieties and difficulties caused by the delicate state of Ada's
health. Doctors were consulted in all directions, and the result
of their advice was that the marriage must be deferred, and that
Miss Elmslie must leave England for a certain time, to reside in
a warmer climate--the south of France, if I remember rightly.
Thus it happened that just before Alfred came of age Ada and her
mother departed for the Continent, and the union of the two young
people was understood to be indefinitely postponed. Some
curiosity was felt in the neighborhood as to what Alfred Monkton
would do under these circumstances. Would he follow his
lady-love? would he go yachting? would he throw open the doors of
the old Abbey at last, and endeavor to forget the absence of Ada
and the postponement of his marriage in a round of gayeties? He
did none of these things. He simply remained at Wincot, living as
suspiciously strange and solitary a life as his father had lived
before him. Literally, there was now no companion for him at the
Abbey but the old priest--the Monktons, I should have mentioned
before, were Roman Catholics--who had held the office of tutor to
Alfred from his earliest years. He came of age, and there was not
even so much as a private dinner-party at Wincot to celebrate the
event. Families in the neighborhood determined to forget the
offense which his father's reserve had given them, and invited
him to their houses. The invitations were politely declined.
Civil visitors called resolutely at the Abbey, and were as
resolutely bowed away from the doors as soon as they had left
their cards. Under this combination of sinister and aggravating
circumstances people in all directions took to shaking their
heads mysteriously when the name of Mr. Alfred Monkton was
mentioned, hinting at the family calamity, and wondering
peevishly or sadly, as their tempers inclined them, what he could
possibly do to occupy himself month after month in the lonely old
The right answer to this question was not easy to find. It was
quite useless, for ex ample, to apply to the priest for it. He
was a very quiet, polite old gentleman; his replies were always
excessively ready and civil, and appeared at the time to convey
an immense quantity of information; but when they came to be
reflected on, it was universally observed that nothing tangible
could ever be got out of them. The housekeeper, a weird old
woman, with a very abrupt and repelling manner, was too fierce
and taciturn to be safely approached. The few indoor servants had
all been long enough in the family to have learned to hold their
tongues in public as a regular habit. It was only from the
farm-servants who supplied the table at the Abbey that any
information could be obtained, and vague enough it was when they
came to communicate it.
Some of them had observed the "young master" walking about the
library with heaps of dusty papers in his hands. Others had heard
odd noises in the uninhabited parts of the Abbey, had looked up,
and had seen him forcing open the old windows, as if to let light
and air into the rooms supposed to have been shut close for years
and years, or had discovered him standing on the perilous summit
of one of the crumbling turrets, never ascended before within
their memories, and popularly considered to be inhabited by the
ghosts of the monks who had once possessed the building. The
result of these observations and discoveries, when they were
communicated to others, was of course to impress every one with a
firm belief that "poor young Monkton was going the way that the
rest of the family had gone before him," which opinion always
appeared to be immensely strengthened in the popular mind by a
conviction--founded on no particle of evidence--that the priest
was at the bottom of all the mischief.
Thus far I have spoken from hearsay evidence mostly. What I have
next to tell will be the result of my own personal experience.
ABOUT five months after Alfred Monkton came of age I left
college, and resolved to amuse and instruct myself a little by
At the time when I quitted England young Monkton was still
leading his secluded life at the Abbey, and was, in the opinion
of everybody, sinking rapidly, if he had not already succumbed,
under the hereditary curse of his family. As to the Elmslies,
report said that Ada had benefited by her sojourn abroad, and
that mother and daughter were on their way back to England to
resume their old relations with the heir of Wincot. Before they
returned I was away on my travels, and wandered half over Europe,
hardly ever planning whither I should shape my course beforehand.
Chance, which thus led me everywhere, led me at last to Naples.
There I met with an old school friend, who was one of the
_attaches_ at the English embassy, and there began the
extraordinary events in connection with Alfred Monkton which form
the main interest of the story I am now relating.
I was idling away the time one morning with my friend the
_attache_ in the garden of the Villa Reale, when we were passed
by a young man, walking alone, who exchanged bows with my friend.
I thought I recognized the dark, eager eyes, the colorless
cheeks, the strangely-vigilant, anxious expression which I
remembered in past times as characteristic of Alfred Monkton's
face, and was about to question my friend on the subject, when he
gave me unasked the information of which I was in search.
"That is Alfred Monkton," said he; "he comes from your part of
England. You ought to know him."
"I do know a little of him," I answered; "he was engaged to Miss
Elmslie when I was last in the neighborhood of Wincot. Is he
married to her yet?"
"No, and he never ought to be. He has gone the way of the rest of
the family--or, in plainer words, he has gone mad."
"Mad! But I ought not to be surprised at hearing that, after the
reports about him in England."
"I speak from no reports; I speak from what he has said and done
before me, and before hundreds of other people. Surely you must
have heard of it?"
"Never. I have been out of the way of news from Naples or England
for months past."
"Then I have a very extraordinary story to tell you. You know, of
course, that Alfred had an uncle, Stephen Monkton. Well, some
time ago this uncle fought a duel in the Roman States with a
Frenchman, who shot him dead. The seconds and the Frenchman (who
was unhurt) took to flight in different directions, as it is
supposed. We heard nothing here of the details of the duel till a
month after it happened, when one of the French journals
published an account of it, taken from the papers left by
Monkton's second, who died at Paris of consumption. These papers
stated the manner in which the duel was fought, and how it
terminated, but nothing more. The surviving second and the
Frenchman have never been traced from that time to this. All that
anybody knows, therefore, of the duel is that Stephen Monkton was
shot; an event which nobody can regret, for a greater scoundrel
never existed. The exact place where he died, and what was done
with the body are still mysteries not to be penetrated."
"But what has all this to do with Alfred?"
"Wait a moment, and you will hear. Soon after the news of his
uncle's death reached England, what do you think Alfred did? He
actually put off his marriage with Miss Elmslie, which was then
about to be celebrated, to come out here in search of the
burial-place of his wretched scamp of an uncle; and no power on
earth will now induce him to return to England and to Miss
Elmslie until he has found the body, and can take it back with
him, to be buried with all the other dead Monktons in the vault
under Wincot Abbey Chapel. He has squandered his money, pestered
the police, and exposed himself to the ridicule of the men and
the indignation of the women for the last three months in trying
to achieve his insane purpose, and is now as far from it as ever.
He will not assign to anybody the smallest motive for his
conduct. You can't laugh him out of it or reason him out of it.
When we met him just now, I happen to know that he was on his way
to the office of the police minister, to send out fresh agents to
search and inquire through the Roman States for the place where
his uncle was shot. And, mind, all this time he professes to be
passionately in love with Miss Elmslie, and to be miserable at
his separation from her. Just think of that! And then think of
his self-imposed absence from her here, to hunt after the remains
of a wretch who was a disgrace to the family, and whom he never
saw but once or twice in his life. Of all the 'Mad Monktons,' as
they used to call them in England, Alfred is the maddest. He is
actually our principal excitement in this dull opera season;
though, for my own part, when I think of the poor girl in
England, I am a great deal more ready to despise him than to
laugh at him."
"You know the Elmslies then?"
"Intimately. The other day my mother wrote to me from England,
after having seen Ada. This escapade of Monkton's has outraged
all her friends. They have been entreating her to break off the
match, which it seems she could do if she liked. Even her mother,
sordid and selfish as she is, has been obliged at last, in common
decency, to side with the rest of the family; but the good,
faithful girl won't give Monkton up. She humors his insanity;
declares he gave her a good reason in secret for going away; says
she could always make him happy when they were together in the
old Abbey, and can make him still happier when they are married;
in short, she loves him dearly, and will therefore believe in him
to the last. Nothing shakes her. She has made up her mind to
throw away her life on him, and she will do it."
"I hope not. Mad as his conduct looks to us, he may have some
sensible reason for it that we cannot imagine. Does his mind seem
at all disordered when he talks on ordinary topics?"
"Not in the least. When you can get him to say anything, which is
not often, he talks like a sensible, well-educated man. Keep
silence about his precious errand here, and you would fancy him
the gentlest and most temperate of human beings; but touch the
subject of his vagabond of an uncle, and the Monkton madness
comes out directly. The other night a lady asked him, jestingly
of course, whether he had ever seen his uncle's ghost. He scowled
at her like a perfect fiend, and said that he and his uncle would
answer her question together some day, if they came from hell to
do it. We laughed at his words, but the lady fainted at his
looks, and we had a scene of hysterics and hartshorn in
consequence. Any other man would have been kicked out of the room
for nearly frightening a pretty woman to death in that way; but
'Mad Monkton,' as we have christened him, is a privileged lunatic
in Neapolitan society, because he is English, good-looking, and
worth thirty thousand a year. He goes out everywhere under the
impression that he may meet with somebody who has been let into
the secret of the place where the mysterious duel was fought. If
you are introduced to him he is sure to ask you whether you know
anything about it; but beware of following up the subject after
you have answered him, unless you want to make sure that he is
out of his senses. In that case, only talk of his uncle, and the
result will rather more than satisfy you."
A day or two after this conversation with my friend the
_attache,_ I met Monkton at an evening party.
The moment he heard my name mentioned, his face flushed up; he
drew me away into a corner, and referring to his cool reception
of my advance years ago toward making his acquaintance, asked my
pardon for what he termed his inexcusable ingratitude with an
earnestness and an agitation which utterly astonished me. His
next proceeding was to question me, as my friend had said he
would, about the place of the mysterious duel.
An extraordinary change came over him while he interrogated me on
this point. Instead of looking into my face as they had looked
hitherto, his eyes wandered away, and fixed themselves intensely,
almost fiercely, either on the perfectly empty wall at our side,
or on the vacant space between the wall and ourselves, it was
impossible to say which. I had come to Naples from Spain by sea,
and briefly told him so, as the best way of satisfying him that I
could not assist his inquiries. He pursued them no further; and,
mindful of my friend's warning, I took care to lead the
conversation to general topics. He looked back at me directly,
and, as long as we stood in our corner, his eyes never wandered
away again to the empty wall or the vacant space at our side.
Though more ready to listen than to speak, his conversation, when
he did talk, had no trace of anything the least like insanity
about it. He had evidently read, not generally only, but deeply
as well, and could apply his reading with singular felicity to
the illustration of almost any subject under discussion, neither
obtruding his knowledge absurdly, nor concealing it affectedly.
His manner was in itself a standing protest against such a
nickname as "Mad Monkton." He was so shy, so quiet, so composed
and gentle in all his actions, that at times I should have been
almost inclined to call him effeminate. We had a long talk
together on the first evening of our meeting; we often saw each
other afterward, and never lost a single opportunity of bettering
our acquaintance. I felt that he had taken a liking to me, and,
in spite of what I had heard about his behavior to Miss Elmslie,
in spite of the suspicions which the history of his family and
his own conduct had arrayed against him, I began to like "Mad
Monkton" as much as he liked me. We took many a quiet ride
together in the country, and sailed often along the shores of the
Bay on either side. But for two eccentricities in his conduct,
which I could not at all understand, I should soon have felt as
much at my ease in his society as if he had been my own brother.
The first of these eccentricities consisted in the reappearance
on several occasions of the odd expression in his eyes which I
had first seen when he asked me whether I knew anything about the
duel. No matter what we were talking about, or where we happened
to be, there were times when he would suddenly look away from my
face, now on one side of me, now on the other, but always where
there was nothing to see, and always with the same intensity and
fierceness in his eyes. This looked so like madness--or
hypochondria at the least--that I felt afraid to ask him about
it, and always pretended not to observe him.
The second peculiarity in his conduct was that he never referred,
while in my company, to the reports about his errand at Naples,
and never once spoke of Miss Elmslie, or of his life at Wincot
Abbey. This not only astonished me, but amazed those who had
noticed our intimacy, and who had made sure that I must be the
depositary of all his secrets. But the time was near at hand when
this mystery, and some other mysteries of which I had no
suspicion at that period, were all to be revealed.
I met him one night at a large ball, given by a Russian nobleman,
whose name I could not pronounce then, and cannot remember now. I
had wandered away from reception-room, ballroom, and cardroom, to
a small apartment at one extremity of the palace, which was half
conservatory, half boudoir, and which had been prettily
illuminated for the occasion with Chinese lanterns. Nobody was in
the room when I got there. The view over the Mediterranean,
bathed in the bright softness of Italian moonlight, was so lovely
that I remained for a long time at the window, looking out, and
listening to the dance-music which faintly reached me from the
ballroom. My thoughts were far away with the relations I had left
in England, when I was startled out of them by hearing my name
I looked round directly, and saw Monkton standing in the room. A
livid paleness overspread his face, and his eyes were turned away
from me with the same extraordinary expression in them to which I
have already alluded.
"Do you mind leaving the ball early to-night?" he asked, still
not looking at me.
"Not at all," said I. "Can I do anything for you? Are you ill?"
"No--at least nothing to speak of. Will you come to my rooms?"
"At once, if you like."
"No, not at once. _I_ must go home directly; but don't you come
to me for half an hour yet. You have not been at my rooms before,
I know, but you will easily find them out; they are close by.
There is a card with my address. I _must_ speak to you to-night;
my life depends on it. Pray come! for God's sake, come when the
half hour is up!"
I promised to be punctual, and he left me directly.
Most people will be easily able to imagine the state of nervous
impatience and vague expectation in which I passed the allotted
period of delay, after hearing such words as those Monkton had
spoken to me. Before the half hour had quite expired I began to
make my way out through the ballroom.
At the head of the staircase my friend, the _attache,_ met me.
"What! going away already?" Said he.
"Yes; and on a very curious expedition. I am going to Monkton's
rooms, by his own invitation."
"You don't mean it! Upon my honor, you're a bold fellow to trust
yourself alone with 'Mad Monkton' when the moon is at the full."
"He is ill, poor fellow. Besides, I don't think him half as mad
as you do."
"We won't dispute about that; but mark my words, he has not asked
you to go where no visitor has ever been admitted before without
a special purpose. I predict that you will see or hear something
to-night which you will remember for the rest of your life."
We parted. When I knocked at the courtyard gate of the house
where Monkton lived, my friend's last words on the palace
staircase recurred to me, and, though I had laughed at him when
he spoke them, I began to suspect even then that his prediction
would be fulfilled.
THE porter who let me into the house where Monkton lived directed
me to the floor on which his rooms were situated. On getting
upstairs, I found his door on the landing ajar. He heard my
footsteps, I suppose, for he called to me to come in before I
I entered, and found him sitting by the table, with some loose
letters in his hand, which he was just tying together into a
packet. I noticed, as he asked me to sit down, that his express
ion looked more composed, though the paleness had not yet left
his face. He thanked me for coming; repeated that he had
something very important to say to me; and then stopped short,
apparently too much embarrassed to proceed. I tried to set him at
his ease by assuring him that, if my assistance or advice could
be of any use, I was ready to place myself and my time heartily
and unreservedly at his service.
As I said this I saw his eyes beginning to wander away from my
face--to wander slowly, inch by inch, as it were, until they
stopped at a certain point, with the same fixed stare into
vacancy which had so often startled me on former occasions. The
whole expression of his face altered as I had never yet seen it
alter; he sat before me looking like a man in a death-trance.
"You are very kind," he said, slowly and faintly, speaking, not
to me, but in the direction in which his eyes were still fixed.
"I know you can help me; but--"
He stopped; his face whitened horribly, and the perspiration
broke out all over it. He tried to continue--said a word or
two--then stopped again. Seriously alarmed about him, I rose from
my chair with the intention of getting him some water from a jug
which I saw standing on a side-table.
He sprang up at the same moment. All the suspicions I had ever
heard whispered against his sanity flashed over my mind in an
instant, and I involuntarily stepped back a pace or two.
"Stop," he said, seating himself again; "don't mind me; and don't
leave your chair. I want--I wish, if you please, to make a little
alteration, before we say anything more. Do you mind sitting in a
"Not in the least."
I had hitherto been seated in the shade of his reading-lamp, the
only light in the room.
As I answered him he rose again, and, going into another
apartment, returned with a large lamp in his hand; then took two
candles from the side-table, and two others from the chimney
piece; placed them all, to my amazement, together, so as to stand
exactly between us, and then tried to light them. His hand
trembled so that he was obliged to give up the attempt, and allow
me to come to his assistance. By his direction, I took the shade
off the reading-lamp after I had lit the other lamp and the four
candles. When we sat down again, with this concentration of light
between us, his better and gentler manner began to return, and
while he now addressed me he spoke without the slightest
"It is useless to ask whether you have heard the reports about
me," he said; "I know that you have. My purpose to-night is to
give you some reasonable explanation of the conduct which has
produced those reports. My secret has been hitherto confided to
one person only; I am now about to trust it to your keeping, with
a special object which will appear as I go on. First, however, I
must begin by telling you exactly what the great difficulty is
which obliges me to be still absent from England. I want your
advice and your help; and, to conceal nothing from you, I want
also to test your forbearance and your friendly sympathy, before
I can venture on thrusting my miserable secret into your keeping.
Will you pardon this apparent distrust of your frank and open
character--this apparent ingratitude for your kindness toward me
ever since we first met?"
I begged him not to speak of these things, but to go on.
"You know," he proceeded, "that I am here to recover the body of
my Uncle Stephen, and to carry it back with me to our family
burial-place in England, and you must also be aware that I have
not yet succeeded in discovering his remains. Try to pass over,
for the present, whatever may seem extraordinary and
incomprehensible in such a purpose as mine is, and read this
newspaper article where the ink-line is traced. It is the only
evidence hitherto obtained on the subject of the fatal duel in
which my uncle fell, and I want to hear what course of proceeding
the perusal of it may suggest to you as likely to be best on my
He handed me an old French newspaper. The substance of what I
read there is still so firmly impressed on my memory that I am
certain of being able to repeat correctly at this distance of
time all the facts which it is necessary for me to communicate to
The article began, I remember, with editorial remarks on the
great curiosity then felt in regard to the fatal duel between the
Count St. Lo and Mr. Stephen Monkton, an English gentleman. The
writer proceeded to dwell at great length on the extraordinary
secrecy in which the whole affair had been involved from first to
last, and to express a hope that the publication of a certain
manuscript, to which his introductory observations referred,
might lead to the production of fresh evidence from other and
better-informed quarters. The manuscript had been found among the
papers of Monsieur Foulon, Mr. Monkton's second, who had died at
Paris of a rapid decline shortly after returning to his home in
that city from the scene of the duel. The document was
unfinished, having been left incomplete at the very place where
the reader would most wish to find it continued. No reason could
be discovered for this, and no second manuscript bearing on the
all-important subject had been found, after the strictest search
among the papers left by the deceased.
The document itself then followed.
It purported to be an agreement privately drawn up between Mr.
Monkton's second, Monsieur Foulon, and the Count St. Lo's second,
Monsieur Dalville, and contained a statement of all the
arrangements for conducting the duel. The paper was dated
"Naples, February 22d," and was divided into some seven or eight
clauses. The first clause described the origin and nature of the
quarrel--a very disgraceful affair on both sides, worth neither
remembering nor repeating. The second clause stated that, the
challenged man having chosen the pistol as his weapon, and the
challenger (an excellent swordsman), having, on his side,
thereupon insisted that the duel should be fought in such a
manner as to make the first fire decisive in its results, the
seconds, seeing that fatal consequences must inevitably follow
the hostile meeting, determined, first of all, that the duel
should be kept a profound secret from everybody, and that the
place where it was to be fought should not be made known
beforehand, even to the principals themselves. It was added that
this excess of precaution had been rendered absolutely necessary
in consequence of a recent address from the Pope to the ruling
powers in Italy commenting on the scandalous frequency of the
practice of dueling, and urgently desiring that the laws against
duelists should be enforced for the future with the utmost rigor.
The third clause detailed the manner in which it had been
arranged that the duel should be fought.
The pistols having been loaded by the seconds on the ground, the
combatants were to be placed thirty paces apart, and were to toss
up for the first fire. The man who won was to advance ten paces
marked out for him beforehand--and was then to discharge his
pistol. If he missed, or failed to disable his opponent, the
latter was free to advance, if he chose, the whole remaining
twenty paces before he fired in his turn. This arrangement
insured the decisive termination of the duel at the first
discharge of the pistols, and both principals and seconds pledged
themselves on either side to abide by it.
The fourth clause stated that the seconds had agreed that the
duel should be fought out of the Neapolitan States, but left
themselves to be guided by circumstances as to the exact locality
in which it should take place. The remaining clauses, so far as I
remember them, were devoted to detailing the different
precautions to be adopted for avoiding discovery. The duelists
and their seconds were to leave Naples in separate parties; were
to change carriages several times; were to meet at a certain
town, or, failing that, at a certain post-house on the high road
from Naples to Rome; were to carry drawing-books, color boxes,
and camp-stools, as if they had been artists out on a
sketching-tour; and were to proceed to the place of the duel on
foot, employing no gui des, for fear of treachery. Such general
arrangements as these, and others for facilitating the flight of
the survivors after the affair was over, formed the conclusion of
this extraordinary document, which was signed, in initials only,
by both the seconds.
Just below the initials appeared the beginning of a narrative,
dated "Paris," and evidently intended to describe the duel itself
with extreme minuteness. The hand-writing was that of the
Monsieur Foulon, tire gentleman in question, stated his belief
that circumstances might transpire which would render an account
by an eyewitness of the hostile meeting between St. Lo and Mr.
Monkton an important document. He proposed, therefore, as one of
the seconds, to testify that the duel had been fought in exact
accordance with the terms of the agreement, both the principals
conducting themselves like men of gallantry and honor (!). And he
further announced that, in order not to compromise any one, he
should place the paper containing his testimony in safe hands,
with strict directions that it was on no account to be opened
except in a case of the last emergency.
After thus preamble, Monsieur Foulon related that the duel had
been fought two days after the drawing up of the agreement, in a
locality to which accident had conducted the dueling party. (The
name of the place was not mentioned, nor even the neighborhood in
which it was situated.) The men having been placed according to
previous arrangement, the Count St. Lo had won the toss for the
first fire, had advanced his ten paces, and had shot his opponent
in the body. Mr. Monkton did not immediately fall, but staggered
forward some six or seven paces, discharged his pistol
ineffectually at the count, and dropped to the ground a dead man.
Monsieur Foulon then stated that he tore a leaf from his
pocketbook, wrote on it a brief description of the manner in
which Mr. Monkton had died, and pinned the paper to his clothes;
this proceeding having been rendered necessary by the peculiar
nature of the plan organized on the spot for safely disposing of
the dead body. What this plan was, or what was done with the
corpse, did not appear, for at this important point the narrative
abruptly broke off.
A foot-note in the newspaper merely stated the manner in which
the document had been obtained for publication, and repeated the
announcement contained in the editor's introductory remarks, that
no continuation had been found by the persons intrusted with the
care of Monsieur Foulon's papers. I have now given the whole
substance of what I read, and have mentioned all that was then
known of Mr. Stephen Monkton's death.
When I gave the newspaper back to Alfred he was too much agitated
to speak, but he reminded me by a sign that he was anxiously
waiting to hear what I had to say. My position was a very trying
and a very painful one. I could hardly tell what consequences
might not follow any want of caution on my part, and could think
at first of no safer plan than questioning him carefully before I
committed myself either one way or the other.
"Will you excuse me if I ask you a question or two before I give
you my advice?" said I.
He nodded impatiently.
"Yes, yes--any questions you like."
"Were you at any time in the habit of seeing your uncle
"I never saw him more than twice in my life--on each occasion
when I was a mere child."
"Then you could have had no very strong personal regard for him?"
'Regard for him! I should have been ashamed to feel any regard
for him. He disgraced us wherever he went."
"May I ask if any family motive is involved in your anxiety to
recover his remains?"
"Family motives may enter into it among others--but why do you
"Because, having heard that you employ the police to assist your
search, I was anxious to know whether you had stimulated their
superiors to make them do their best in your service by giving
some strong personal reasons at headquarters for the very unusual
project which has brought you here."
"I give no reasons. I pay for the work I want done, and, in
return for my liberality, I am treated with the most infamous
indifference on all sides. A stranger in the country, and badly
acquainted with the language, I can do nothing to help myself.
The authorities, both at Rome and in this place, pretend to
assist me, pretend to search and inquire as I would have them
search and inquire, and do nothing more. I am insulted, laughed
at, almost to my face."
"Do you not think it possible--mind, I have no wish to excuse the
misconduct of the authorities, and do not share in any such
opinion myself--but do you not think it likely that the police
may doubt whether you are in earnest?"
"Not in earnest!" he cried, starting up and confronting me
fiercely, with wild eyes and quickened breath. "Not in earnest!
_You_ think I'm not in earnest too. I know you think it, though
you tell me you don't. Stop; before we say another word, your own
eyes shall convince you. Come here--only for a minute--only for
I followed him into his bedroom, which opened out of the
sitting-room. At one side of his bed stood a large packing-case
of plain wood, upward of seven feet in length.
"Open the lid and look in," he said, "while I hold the candle so
that you can see."
I obeyed his directions, and discovered to my astonishment that
the packing-case contained a leaden coffin, magnificently
emblazoned with the arms of the Monkton family, and inscribed in
old-fashioned letters with the name of "Stephen Monkton," his age
and the manner of his death being added underneath.
"I keep his coffin ready for him," whispered Alfred, close at my
ear. "Does that look like earnest?"
It looked more like insanity--so like that I shrank from
"Yes! yes! I see you are convinced," he continued quickly; "we
may go back into the next room, and may talk without restraint on
either side now."
On returning to our places, I mechanically moved my chair away
from the table. My mind was by this time in such a state of
confusion and uncertainty about what it would be best for me to
say or do next, that I forgot for the moment the position he had
assigned to me when we lit the candles. He reminded me of this
"Don't move away," he said, very earnestly; "keep on sitting in
the light; pray do! I'll soon tell you why I am so particular
about that. But first give me your advice; help me in my great
distress and suspense. Remember, you promised me you would."
I made an effort to collect my thoughts, and succeeded. It was
useless to treat the affair otherwise than seriously in his
presence; it would have been cruel not to have advised him as I
"You know," I said, "that two days after the drawing up of the
agreement at Naples, the duel was fought out of the Neapolitan
States. This fact has of course led you to the conclusion that
all inquiries about localities had better be confined to the
"Certainly; the search, such as it is, has been made there, and
there only. If I can believe the police, they and their agents
have inquired for the place where the duel was fought (offering a
large reward in my name to the person who can discover it) all
along the high road from Naples to Rome. They have also
circulated--at least so they tell me--descriptions of the
duelists and their seconds; have left an agent to superintend
investigations at the post-house, and another at the town
mentioned as meeting-points in the agreement; and have
endeavored, by correspondence with foreign authorities, to trace
the Count St. Lo and Monsieur Dalville to their place or places
of refuge. All these efforts, supposing them to have been really
made, have hitherto proved utterly fruitless."
"My impression is," said I, after a moment's consideration, "that
all inquiries made along the high road, or anywhere near Rome,
are likely to be made in vain. As to the discovery of your
uncle's remains, that is, I think, identical with the discovery
of the place where he was shot; for those engaged in the duel
would certainly not risk detection by carrying a corpse any
distance with them in their flight. The place, then,
is all that we want to find out. Now let us consider for a
moment. The dueling-party changed carriages; traveled separately,
two and two; doubtless took roundabout roads; stopped at the
post-house and the town as a blind; walked, perhaps, a
considerable distance unguided. Depend upon it, such precautions
as these (which we know they must have employed) left them very
little time out of the two days--though they might start at
sunrise and not stop at night-fall--for straightforward
traveling. My belief therefore is, that the duel was fought
somewhere near the Neapolitan frontier; and, if I had been the
police agent who conducted the search, I should only have pursued
it parallel with the frontier, starting from west to east till I
got up among the lonely places in the mountains. That is my idea;
do you think it worth anything?"
His face flushed all over in an instant. "I think it an
inspiration!" he cried. "Not a day is to be lost in carrying out
our plan. The police are not to be trusted with it. I must start
myself to-morrow morning; and you--"
He stopped; his face grew suddenly pale; he sighed heavily; his
eyes wandered once more into the fixed look at vacancy; and the
rigid, deathly expression fastened again upon all his features.
"I must tell you my secret before I talk of to-morrow," he
proceeded, faintly. "If I hesitated any longer at confessing
everything, I should be unworthy of your past kindness, unworthy
of the help which it is my last hope that you will gladly give me
when you have heard all."
I begged him to wait until he was more composed, until he was
better able to speak; but he did not appear to notice what I
said. Slowly, and struggling as it seemed against himself, he
turned a little away from me, and, bending his head over the
table, supported it on his hand. The packet of letters with which
I had seen him occupied when I came in lay just beneath his eyes.
He looked down on it steadfastly when he next spoke to me.
"You were born, I believe, in our county," he said; "perhaps,
therefore, you may have heard at some time of a curious old
prophecy about our family, which is still preserved among the
traditions of Wincot Abbey?"
"I have heard of such a prophecy," I answered, "but I never knew
in what terms it was expressed. It professed to predict the
extinction of your family, or something of that sort, did it
"No inquiries," he went on, "have traced back that prophecy to
the time when it was first made; none of our family records tell
us anything of its origin. Old servants and old tenants of ours
remember to have heard it from their fathers and grandfathers.
The monks, whom we succeeded in the Abbey in Henry the Eighth's
time, got knowledge of it in some way, for I myself discovered
the rhymes, in which we know the prophecy to have been preserved
from a very remote period, written on a blank leaf of one of the
Abbey manuscripts. These are the verses, if verses they deserve
to be called:
When in Wincot vault a place Waits for one of Monkton's race--
When that one forlorn shall lie Graveless under open sky,
Beggared of six feet of earth, Though lord of acres from his
birth-- That shall be a certain sign Of the end of Monkton's
line. Dwindling ever faster, faster, Dwindling to the last-left
master; From mortal ken, from light of day, Monkton's race shall
"The prediction seems almost vague enough to have been uttered by
an ancient oracle," said I, observing that he waited, after
repeating the verses, as if expecting me to say something.
"Vague or not, it is being accomplished," he returned. "I am now
the 'last-left master'--the last of that elder line of our family
at which the prediction points; and the corpse of Stephen Monkton
is not in the vaults of Wincot Abbey. Wait before you exclaim
against me. I have more to say about this. Long before the Abbey
was ours, when we lived in the ancient manor-house near it (the
very ruins of which have long since disappeared), the family
burying-place was in the vault under the Abbey chapel. Whether in
those remote times the prediction against us was known and
dreaded or not, this much is certain: every one of the Monktons
(whether living at the Abbey or on the smaller estate in
Scotland) was buried in Wincot vault, no matter at what risk or
what sacrifice. In the fierce fighting days of the olden time,
the bodies of my ancestors who fell in foreign places were
recovered and brought back to Wincot, though it often cost not
heavy ransom only, but desperate bloodshed as well, to obtain
them. This superstition, if you please to call it so, has never
died out of the family from that time to the present day; for
centuries the succession of the dead in the vault at the Abbey
has been unbroken--absolutely unbroken--until now. The place
mentioned in the prediction as waiting to be filled is Stephen
Monkton's place; the voice that cries vainly to the earth for
shelter is the spirit-voice of the dead. As surely as if I saw
it, I know that they have left him unburied on the ground where
He stopped me before I could utter a word in remonstrance by
slowly rising to his feet, and pointing in the same direction
toward which his eyes had wandered a short time since.
"I can guess what you want to ask me," he exclaimed, sternly and
loudly; "you want to ask me how I can be mad enough to believe in
a doggerel prophecy uttered in an age of superstition to awe the
most ignorant hearers. I answer" (at those words his voice sank
suddenly to a whisper), "I answer, because _Stephen Monkton
himself stands there at this moment confirming me in my belief_."
Whether it was the awe and horror that looked out ghastly from
his face as he confronted me, whether it was that I had never
hitherto fairly believed in the reports about his madness, and
that the conviction of their truth now forced itself upon me on a
sudden, I know not, but I felt my blood curdling as he spoke, and
I knew in my own heart, as I sat there speechless, that I dare
not turn round and look where he was still pointing close at my
"I see there," he went on, in the same whispering voice, "the
figure of a dark-complexioned man standing up with his head
uncovered. One of his hands, still clutching a pistol, has fallen
to his side; the other presses a bloody handkerchief over his
mouth. The spasm of mortal agony convulses his features; but I
know them for the features of a swarthy man who twice frightened
me by taking me up in his arms when I was a child at Wincot
Abbey. I asked the nurses at the time who that man was, and they
told me it was my uncle, Stephen Monkton. Plainly, as if he stood
there living, I see him now at your side, with the death-glare in
his great black eyes; and so have I ever seen him, since the
moment when he was shot; at home and abroad, waking or sleeping,
day and night, we are always together, wherever I go!"
His whispering tones sank into almost inaudible murmuring as he
pronounced these last words. From the direction and expression of
his eyes, I suspected that he was speaking to the apparition. If
I had beheld it myself at that moment, it would have been, I
think, a less horrible sight to witness than to see him, as I saw
him now, muttering inarticulately at vacancy. My own nerves were
more shaken than I could have thought possible by what had
passed. A vague dread of being near him in his present mood came
over me, and I moved back a step or two.
He noticed the action instantly.
"Don't go! pray--pray don't go! Have I alarmed you? Don't you
believe me? Do the lights make your eyes ache? I only asked you
to sit in the glare of the candles because I could not bear to
see the light that always shines from the phantom there at dusk
shining over you as you sat in the shadow. Don't go--don't leave
There was an utter forlornness, an unspeakable misery in his face
as he spoke these words, which gave me back my self-possession by
the simple process of first moving me to pity. I resumed my
chair, and said that I would stay with him as long as he wished.
"Thank you a thousand times. You are patience and kindness
itself," he said, going back to his former place
and resuming his former gentleness of manner. "Now that I have
got over my first confession of the misery that follows me in
secret wherever I go, I think I can tell you calmly all that
remains to be told. You see, as I said, my Uncle Stephen" he
turned away his head quickly, and looked down at the table as the
name passed his lips--"my Uncle Stephen came twice to Wincot
while I was a child, and on both occasions frightened me
dreadfully. He only took me up in his arms and spoke to me--very
kindly, as I afterward heard, for _him_--but he terrified me,
nevertheless. Perhaps I was frightened at his great stature, his
swarthy complexion, and his thick black hair and mustache, as
other children might have been; perhaps the mere sight of him had
some strange influence on me which I could not then understand
and cannot now explain. However it was, I used to dream of him
long after he had gone away, and to fancy that he was stealing on
me to catch me up in his arms whenever I was left in the dark.
The servants who took care of me found this out, and used to
threaten me with my Uncle Stephen whenever I was perverse and
difficult to manage. As I grew up, I still retained my vague
dread and abhorrence of our absent relative. I always listened
intently, yet without knowing why, whenever his name was
mentioned by my father or my mother--listened with an
unaccountable presentiment that something terrible had happened
to him, or was about to happen to me. This feeling only changed
when I was left alone in the Abbey; and then it seemed to merge
into the eager curiosity which had begun to grow on me, rather
before that time, about the origin of the ancient prophecy
predicting the extinction of our race. Are you following me?"
"I follow every word with the closest attention."
"You must know, then, that I had first found out some fragments
of the old rhyme in which the prophecy occurs quoted as a
curiosity in an antiquarian book in the library. On the page
opposite this quotation had been pasted a rude old wood-cut,
representing a dark-haired man, whose face was so strangely like
what I remembered of my Uncle Stephen that the portrait
absolutely startled me. When I asked my father about this--it was
then just before his death--he either knew, or pretended to know,
nothing of it; and when I afterward mentioned the prediction he
fretfully changed the subject. It was just the same with our
chaplain when I spoke to him. He said the portrait had been done
centuries before my uncle was born, and called the prophecy
doggerel and nonsense. I used to argue with him on the latter
point, asking why we Catholics, who believed that the gift of
working miracles had never departed from certain favored persons,
might not just as well believe that the gift of prophecy had
never departed, either? He would not dispute with me; he would
only say that I must not waste time in thinking of such trifles;
that I had more imagination than was good for me, and must
suppress instead of exciting it. Such advice as this only
irritated my curiosity. I determined secretly to search
throughout the oldest uninhabited part of the Abbey, and to try
if I could not find out from forgotten family records what the
portrait was, and when the prophecy had been first written or
uttered. Did you ever pass a day alone in the long-deserted
chambers of an ancient house?"
"Never! such solitude as that is not at all to my taste."
"Ah! what a life it was when I began my search. I should like to
live it over again. Such tempting suspense, such strange
discoveries, such wild fancies, such inthralling terrors, all
belonged to that life. Only think of breaking open the door of a
room which no living soul had entered before you for nearly a
hundred years; think of the first step forward into a region of
airless, awful stillness, where the light falls faint and sickly
through closed windows and rotting curtains; think of the ghostly
creaking of the old floor that cries out on you for treading on
it, step as softly as you will; think of arms, helmets, weird
tapestries of by-gone days, that seem to be moving out on you
from the walls as you first walk up to them in the dim light;
think of prying into great cabinets and iron-clasped chests, not
knowing what horrors may appear when you tear them open; of
poring over their contents till twilight stole on you and
darkness grew terrible in the lonely place; of trying to leave
it, and not being able to go, as if something held you; of wind
wailing at you outside; of shadows darkening round you, and
closing you up in obscurity within--only think of these things,
and you may imagine the fascination of suspense and terror in
such a life as mine was in those past days."
(I shrank from imagining that life: it was bad enough to see its
results, as I saw them before me now.)
"Well, my search lasted months and months; then it was suspended
a little; then resumed. In whatever direction I pursued it I
always found something to lure me on. Terrible confessions of
past crimes, shocking proofs of secret wickedness that had been
hidden securely from all eyes but mine, came to light. Sometimes
these discoveries were associated with particular parts of the
Abbey, which have had a horrible interest of their own for me
ever since; sometimes with certain old portraits in the
picture-gallery, which I actually dreaded to look at after what I
had found out. There were periods when the results of this search
of mine so horrified me that I determined to give it up entirely;
but I never could persevere in my resolution; the temptation to
go on seemed at certain intervals to get too strong for me, and
then I yielded to it again and again. At last I found the book
that had belonged to the monks with the whole of the prophecy
written in the blank leaf. This first success encouraged me to
get back further yet in the family records. I had discovered
nothing hitherto of the identity of the mysterious portrait; but
the same intuitive conviction which had assured me of its
extraordinary resemblance to my Uncle Stephen seemed also to
assure me that he must be more closely connected with the
prophecy, and must know more of it than any one else. I had no
means of holding any communication with him, no means of
satisfying myself whether this strange idea of mine were right or
wrong, until the day when my doubts were settled forever by the
same terrible proof which is now present to me in this very
He paused for a moment, and looked at me intently and
suspiciously; then asked if I believed all he had said to me so
far. My instant reply in the affirmative seemed to satisfy his
doubts, and he went on.
"On a fine evening in February I was standing alone in one of the
deserted rooms of the western turret at the Abbey, looking at the
sunset. Just before the sun went down I felt a sensation stealing
over me which it is impossible to explain. I saw nothing, heard
nothing, knew nothing. This utter self-oblivion came suddenly; it
was not fainting, for I did not fall to the ground, did not move
an inch from my place. If such a thing could be, I should say it
was the temporary separation of soul and body without death; but
all description of my situation at that time is impossible. Call
my state what you will, trance or catalepsy, I know that I
remained standing by the window utterly unconscious--dead, mind
and body--until the sun had set. Then I came to my senses again;
and then, when I opened my eyes, there was the apparition of
Stephen Monkton standing opposite to me, faintly luminous, just
as it stands opposite me at this very moment by your side."
Was this before the news of the duel reached England?" I asked.
"_Two weeks before_ the news of it reached us at Wincot. And even
when we heard of the duel, we did not hear of the day on which it
was fought. I only found that out when the document which you
have read was published in the French newspaper. The date of that
document, you will remember, is February 22d, and it is stated
that the duel was fought two days afterward. I wrote down in my
pocketbook, on the evening when I saw the phantom, the day of the
month on which it first appeared to me . That day was the 24th of
He paused again, as if expecting me to say something. After the
words he had just spoken, what could I say? what could I think?
"Even in the first horror of first seeing the apparition," he
went on, "the prophecy against our house came to my mind, and
with it the conviction that I beheld before me, in that spectral
presence, the warning of my own doom. As soon as I recovered a
little, I determined, nevertheless, to test the reality of what I
saw; to find out whether I was the dupe of my own diseased fancy
or not. I left the turret; the phantom left it with me. I made an
excuse to have the drawing-room at the Abbey brilliantly lighted
up; the figure was still opposite me. I walked out into the park;
it was there in the clear starlight. I went away from home, and
traveled many miles to the sea-side; still the tall dark man in
his death agony was with me. After this I strove against the
fatality no more. I returned to the Abbey, and tried to resign
myself to my misery. But this was not to be. I had a hope that
was dearer to me than my own life; I had one treasure belonging
to me that I shuddered at the prospect of losing; and when the
phantom presence stood a warning obstacle between me and this one
treasure, this dearest hope, then my misery grew heavier than I
could bear. You must know what I am alluding to; you must have
heard often that I was engaged to be married?"
"Yes, often. I have some acquaintance myself with Miss Elmslie."
"You never can know all that she has sacrificed for me--never can
imagine what I have felt for years and years past"--his voice
trembled, and the tears came into his eyes--"but I dare not trust
myself to speak of that; the thought of the old happy days in the
Abbey almost breaks my heart now. Let me get back to the other
subject. I must tell you that I kept the frightful vision which
pursued me, at all times and in all places, a secret from
everybody, knowing the vile reports about my having inherited
madness from my family, and fearing that an unfair advantage
would be taken of any confession that I might make. Though the
phantom always stood opposite to me, and therefore always
appeared either before or by the side of any person to whom I
spoke, I soon schooled myself to hide from others that I was
looking at it except on rare occasions, when I have perhaps
betrayed myself to you. But my self-possession availed me nothing
with Ada. The day of our marriage was approaching."
He stopped and shuddered. I waited in silence till he had
"Think," he went on, "think of what I must have suffered at
looking always on that hideous vision whenever I looked on my
betrothed wife! Think of my taking her hand, and seeming to take
it through the figure of the apparition! Think of the calm
angel-face and the tortured specter-face being always together
whenever my eyes met hers! Think of this, and you will not wonder
that I betrayed my secret to her. She eagerly entreated to know
the worst--nay, more, she insisted on knowing it. At her bidding
I told all, and then left her free to break our engagement. The
thought of death was in my heart as I spoke the parting
words--death by my own act, if life still held out after our
separation. She suspected that thought; she knew it, and never
left me till her good influence had destroyed it forever. But for
her I should not have been alive now; but for her I should never
have attempted the project which has brought me here."
"Do you mean that it was at Miss Elmslie's suggestion that you
came to Naples?" I asked, in amazement.
"I mean that what she said suggested the design which has brought
me to Naples," he answered. "While I believed that the phantom
had appeared to me as the fatal messenger of death, there was no
comfort--there was misery, rather, in hearing her say that no
power on earth should make her desert me, and that she would live
for me, and for me only, through every trial. But it was far
different when we afterward reasoned together about the purpose
which the apparition had come to fulfill--far different when she
showed me that its mission might be for good instead of for evil,
and that the warning it was sent to give might be to my profit
instead of to my loss. At those words, the new idea which gave
the new hope of life came to me in an instant. I believed then,
what I believe now, that I have a supernatural warrant for my
errand here. In that faith I live; without it I should die. _She_
never ridiculed it, never scorned it as insanity. Mark what I
say! The spirit that appeared to me in the Abbey--that has never
left me since--that stands there now by your side, warns me to
escape from the fatality which hangs over our race, and commands
me, if I would avoid it, to bury the unburied dead. Mortal loves
and mortal interests must bow to that awful bidding. The
specter-presence will never leave me till I have sheltered the
corpse that cries to the earth to cover it! I dare not return--I
dare not marry till I have filled the place that is empty in
His eyes flashed and dilated--his voice deepened--a fanatic
ecstasy shone in his expression as he uttered these words.
Shocked and grieved as I was, I made no attempt to remonstrate or
to reason with him. It would have been useless to have referred
to any of the usual commonplaces about optical delusions or
diseased imaginations--worse than useless to have attempted to
account by natural causes for any of the extraordinary
coincidences and events of which he had spoken. Briefly as he had
referred to Miss Elmslie, he had said enough to show me that the
only hope of the poor girl who loved him best and had known him
longest of any one was in humoring his delusions to the last. How
faithfully she still clung to the belief that she could restore
him! How resolutely was she sacrificing herself to his morbid
fancies, in the hope of a happy future that might never come!
Little as I knew of Miss Elmslie, the mere thought of her
situation, as I now reflected on it, made me feel sick at heart.
"They call me Mad Monkton!" he exclaimed, suddenly breaking the
silence between us during the last few minutes, "Here and in
England everybody believes I am out of my senses except Ada and
you. She has been my salvation, and you will be my salvation too.
Something told me that when I first met you walking in the Villa
Peale. I struggled against the strong desire that was in me to
trust my secret to you, but I could resist it no longer when I
saw you to-night at the ball; the phantom seemed to draw me on to
you as you stood alone in the quiet room. Tell me more of that
idea of yours about finding the place where the duel was fought.
If I set out to-morrow to seek for it myself, where must I go to
first? where?" He stopped; his strength was evidently becoming
exhausted, and his mind was growing confused. "What am I to do? I
can't remember. You know everything--will you not help me? My
misery has made me unable to help myself."
He stopped, murmured something about failing if he went to the
frontier alone, and spoke confusedly of delays that might be
fatal, then tried to utter the name of "Ada"; but, in pronouncing
the first letter, his voice faltered, and, turning abruptly from
me, he burst into tears.
My pity for him got the better of my prudence at that moment, and
without thinking of responsibilities, I promised at once to do
for him whatever he asked. The wild triumph in his expression as
he started up and seized my hand showed me that I had better have
been more cautious; but it was too late now to retract what I had
said. The next best thing to do was to try if I could not induce
him to compose himself a little, and then to go away and think
coolly over the whole affair by myself.
"Yes, yes," he rejoined, in answer to the few words I now spoke
to try and calm him, "don't be afraid about me. After what you
have said, I'll answer for my own coolness and composure under
all emergencies. I have been so long used to the apparition that
I hardly feel its presence at all except on rare occasions.
Besides, I have here in this little packet of letters the
medicine for every m alady of the sick heart. They are Ada's
letters; I read them to calm me whenever my misfortune seems to
get the better of my endurance. I wanted that half hour to read
them in to-night before you came, to make myself fit to see you,
and I shall go through them again after you are gone; so, once
more, don't be afraid about me. I know I shall succeed with your
help, and Ada shall thank you as you deserve to be thanked when
we get back to England. If you hear the fools at Naples talk