Part 4 out of 8
about my being mad, don't trouble yourself to contradict them;
the scandal is so contemptible that it must end by contradicting
I left him, promising to return early the next day.
When I got back to my hotel, I felt that any idea of sleeping
after all that I had seen and heard was out of the question; so I
lit my pipe, and, sitting by the window--how it refreshed my mind
just then to look at the calm moonlight!--tried to think what it
would be best to do. In the first place, any appeal to doctors or
to Alfred's friends in England was out of the question. I could
not persuade myself that his intellect was sufficiently
disordered to justify me, under existing circumstances, in
disclosing the secret which he had intrusted to my keeping. In
the second place, all attempts on my part to induce him to
abandon the idea of searching out his uncle's remains would be
utterly useless after what I had incautiously said to him. Having
settled these two conclusions, the only really great difficulty
which remained to perplex me was whether I was justified in
aiding him to execute his extraordinary purpose.
Supposing that, with my help, he found Mr. Monkton's body, and
took it back with him to England, was it right in me thus to lend
myself to promoting the marriage which would most likely follow
these events--a marriage which it might be the duty of every one
to prevent at all hazards? This set me thinking about the extent
of his madness, or to speak more mildly and more correctly, of
his delusion. Sane he certainly was on all ordinary subjects;
nay, in all the narrative parts of what he had said to me on this
very evening he had spoken clearly and connectedly. As for the
story of the apparition, other men, with intellects as clear as
the intellects of their neighbors had fancied themselves pursued
by a phantom, and had even written about it in a high strain of
philosophical speculation. It was plain that the real
hallucination in the case now before me lay in Monkton's
conviction of the truth of the old prophecy, and in his idea that
the fancied apparition was a supernatural warning to him to evade
its denunciations; and it was equally clear that both delusions
had been produced, in the first instance, by the lonely life he
had led acting on a naturally excitable temperament, which was
rendered further liable to moral disease by an hereditary taint
Was this curable? Miss Elmslie, who knew him far better than I
did, seemed by her conduct to think so. Had I any reason or right
to determine offhand that she was mistaken? Supposing I refused
to go to the frontier with him, he would then most certainly
depart by himself, to commit all sorts of errors, and perhaps to
meet with all sorts of accidents; while I, an idle man, with my
time entirely at my own disposal, was stopping at Naples, and
leaving him to his fate after I had suggested the plan of his
expedition, and had encouraged him to confide in me. In this way
I kept turning the subject over and over again in my mind, being
quite free, let me add, from looking at it in any other than a
practical point of view. I firmly believed, as a derider of all
ghost stories, that Alfred was deceiving himself in fancying that
he had seen the apparition of his uncle before the news of Mr.
Monkton's death reached England, and I was on this account,
therefore, uninfluenced by the slightest infection of my unhappy
friend's delusions when I at last fairly decided to accompany him
in his extraordinary search. Possibly my harum-scarum fondness
for excitement at that time biased me a little in forming my
resolution; but I must add, in common justice to myself, that I
also acted from motives of real sympathy for Monkton, and from a
sincere wish to allay, if I could, the anxiety of the poor girl
who was still so faithfully waiting and hoping for him far away
Certain arrangements preliminary to our departure, which I found
myself obliged to make after a second interview with Alfred,
betrayed the object of our journey to most of our Neapolitan
friends. The astonishment of everybody was of course unbounded,
and the nearly universal suspicion that I must be as mad in my
way as Monkton himself showed itself pretty plainly in my
presence. Some people actually tried to combat my resolution by
telling me what a shameless profligate Stephen Monkton had
been--as if I had a strong personal interest in hunting out his
remains! Ridicule moved me as little as any arguments of this
sort; my mind was made up, and I was as obstinate then as I am
In two days' time I had got everything ready, and had ordered the
traveling carriage to the door some hours earlier than we had
originally settled. We were jovially threatened with "a parting
cheer" by all our English acquaintances, and I thought it
desirable to avoid this on my friend's account; for he had been
more excited, as it was, by the preparations for the journey than
I at all liked. Accordingly, soon after sunrise, without a soul
in the street to stare at us, we privately left Naples.
Nobody will wonder, I think, that I experienced some difficulty
in realizing my own position, and shrank instinctively from
looking forward a single day into the future, when I now found
myself starting, in company with "Mad Monkton," to hunt for the
body of a dead duelist all along the frontier line of the Roman
I HAD settled it in my own mind that we had better make the town
of Fondi, close on the frontier, our headquarters, to begin with,
and I had arranged, with the assistance of the embassy, that the
leaden coffin should follow us so far, securely nailed up in its
packing-case. Besides our passports, we were well furnished with
letters of introduction to the local authorities at most of the
important frontier towns, and, to crown all, we had money enough
at our command (thanks to Monkton's vast fortune) to make sure of
the services of any one whom we wanted to assist us all along our
line of search. These various resources insured us every facility
for action, provided always that we succeeded in discovering the
body of the dead duelist. But, in the very probable event of our
failing to do this, our future prospects--more especially after
the responsibility I had undertaken--were of anything but an
agreeable nature to contemplate. I confess I felt uneasy, almost
hopeless, as we posted, in the dazzling Italian sunshine, along
the road to Fondi.
We made an easy two days' journey of it; for I had insisted, on
Monkton's account, that we should travel slowly.
On the first day the excessive agitation of my companion a little
alarmed me; he showed, in many ways, more symptoms of a
disordered mind than I had yet observed in him. On the second
day, however, he seemed to get accustomed to contemplate calmly
the new idea of the search on which we were bent, and, except on
one point, he was cheerful and composed enough. Whenever his dead
uncle formed the subject of conversation, he still persisted--on
the strength of the old prophecy, and under the influence of the
apparition which he saw, or thought he saw always--in asserting
that the corpse of Stephen Monkton, wherever it was, lay yet
unburied. On every other topic he deferred to me with the utmost
readiness and docility; on this he maintained his strange opinion
with an obstinacy which set reason and persuasion alike at
On the third day we rested at Fondi. The packing-case, with the
coffin in it, reached us, and was deposited in a safe place under
lock and key. We engaged some mules, and found a man to act as
guide who knew the country thoroughly. It occurred to me that we
had better begin by confiding th e real object of our journey
only to the most trustworthy people we could find among the
better-educated classes. For this reason we followed, in one
respect, the example of the fatal dueling-party, by starting,
early on the morning of the fourth day, with sketch-books and
color-boxes, as if we were only artists in search of the
After traveling some hours in a northerly direction within the
Roman frontier, we halted to rest ourselves and our mules at a
wild little village far out of the track of tourists in general.
The only person of the smallest importance in the place was the
priest, and to him I addressed my first inquiries, leaving
Monkton to await my return with the guide. I spoke Italian quite
fluently, and correctly enough for my purpose, and was extremely
polite and cautious in introducing my business, but in spite of
all the pains I took, I only succeeded in frightening and
bewildering the poor priest more and more with every fresh word I
said to him. The idea of a dueling-party and a dead man seemed to
scare him out of his senses. He bowed, fidgeted, cast his eyes up
to heaven, and piteously shrugging his shoulders, told me, with
rapid Italian circumlocution, that he had not the faintest idea
of what I was talking about. This was my first failure. I confess
I was weak enough to feel a little dispirited when I rejoined
Monkton and the guide.
After the heat of the day was over we resumed our journey.
About three miles from the village, the road, or rather
cart-track, branched off in two directions. The path to the
right, our guide informed us, led up among the mountains to a
convent about six miles off. If we penetrated beyond the convent
we should soon reach the Neapolitan frontier. The path to the
left led far inward on the Roman territory, and would conduct us
to a small town where we could sleep for the night. Now the Roman
territory presented the first and fittest field for our search,
and the convent was always within reach, supposing we returned to
Fondi unsuccessful. Besides, the path to the left led over the
widest part of the country we were starting to explore, and I was
always for vanquishing the greatest difficulty first; so we
decided manfully on turning to the left. The expedition in which
this resolution involved us lasted a whole week, and produced no
results. We discovered absolutely nothing, and returned to our
headquarters at Fondi so completely baffled that we did not know
whither to turn our steps next.
I was made much more uneasy by the effect of our failure on
Monkton than by the failure itself. His resolution appeared to
break down altogether as soon as we began to retrace our steps.
He became first fretful and capricious, then silent and
desponding. Finally, he sank into a lethargy of body and mind
that seriously alarmed me. On the morning after our return to
Fondi he showed a strange tendency to sleep incessantly, which
made me suspect the existence of some physical malady in his
brain. The whole day he hardly exchanged a word with me, and
seemed to be never fairly awake. Early the next morning I went
into his room, and found him as silent and lethargic as ever. His
servant, who was with us, informed me that Alfred had once or
twice before exhibited such physical symptoms of mental
exhaustion as we were now observing during his father's lifetime
at Wincot Abbey. This piece of information made me feel easier,
and left my mind free to return to the consideration of the
errand which had brought us to Fondi.
I resolved to occupy the time until my companion got better in
prosecuting our search by myself. That path to the right hand
which led to the convent had not yet been explored. If I set off
to trace it, I need not be away from Monkton more than one night,
and I should at least be able, on my return, to give him the
satisfaction of knowing that one more uncertainty regarding the
place of the duel had been cleared up. These considerations
decided me. I left a message for my friend in case he asked where
I had gone, and set out once more for the village at which we had
halted when starting on our first expedition.
Intending to walk to the convent, I parted company with the guide
and the mules where the track branched off, leaving them to go
back to the village and await my return.
For the first four miles the path gently ascended through an open
country, then became abruptly much steeper, and led me deeper and
deeper among thickets and endless woods. By the time my watch
informed me that I must have nearly walked my appointed distance,
the view was bounded on all sides and the sky was shut out
overhead by an impervious screen of leaves and branches. I still
followed my only guide, the steep path; and in ten minutes,
emerging suddenly on a plot of tolerably clear and level ground,
I saw the convent before me.
It was a dark, low, sinister-looking place. Not a sign of life or
movement was visible anywhere about it. Green stains streaked the
once white facade of the chapel in all directions. Moss clustered
thick in every crevice of the heavy scowling wall that surrounded
the convent. Long lank weeds grew out of the fissures of roof and
parapet, and, drooping far downward, waved wearily in and out of
the barred dormitory windows. The very cross opposite the
entrance-gate, with a shocking life-sized figure in wood nailed
to it, was so beset at the base with crawling creatures, and
looked so slimy, green, and rotten all the way up, that I
absolutely shrank from it.
A bell-rope with a broken handle hung by the gate. I approached
it--hesitated, I hardly knew why--looked up at the convent again,
and then walked round to the back of the building, partly to gain
time to consider what I had better do next, partly from an
unaccountable curiosity that urged me, strangely to myself, to
see all I could of the outside of the place before I attempted to
gain admission at the gate.
At the back of the convent I found an outhouse, built on to the
wall--a clumsy, decayed building, with the greater part of the
roof fallen in, and with a jagged hole in one of its sides, where
in all probability a window had once been. Behind the outhouse
the trees grew thicker than ever. As I looked toward them I could
not determine whether the ground beyond me rose or fell--whether
it was grassy, or earthy, or rocky. I could see nothing but the
all-pervading leaves, brambles, ferns, and long grass.
Not a sound broke the oppressive stillness. No bird's note rose
from the leafy wilderness around me; no voices spoke in the
convent garden behind the scowling wall; no clock struck in the
chapel-tower; no dog barked in the ruined outhouse. The dead
silence deepened the solitude of the place inexpressibly. I began
to feel it weighing on my spirits--the more, because woods were
never favorite places with me to walk in. The sort of pastoral
happiness which poets often represent when they sing of life in
the woods never, to my mind, has half the charm of life on the
mountain or in the plain. When I am in a wood, I miss the
boundless loveliness of the sky, and the delicious softness that
distance gives to the earthly view beneath. I feel oppressively
the change which the free air suffers when it gets imprisoned
among leaves, and I am always awed, rather than pleased, by that
mysterious still light which shines with such a strange dim
luster in deep places among trees. It may convict me of want of
taste and absence of due feeling for the marvelous beauties of
vegetation, but I must frankly own that I never penetrate far
into a wood without finding that the getting out of it again is
the pleasantest part of my walk--the getting out on to the barest
down, the wildest hill-side, the bleakest mountain top--the
getting out anywhere, so that I can see the sky over me and the
view before me as far as my eye can reach.
After such a confession as I have now made, it will appear
surprising to no one that I should have felt the strongest
possible inclination, while I stood by the ruined outhouse, to
retrace my steps at once, and make the best of my way out of the
wood. I had, indeed, actually turned to depart, when the
remembrance of the er rand which had brought me to the convent
suddenly stayed my feet. It seemed doubtful whether I should be
admitted into the building if I rang the bell; and more than
doubtful, if I were let in, whether the inhabitants would be able
to afford me any clew to the information of which I was in
search. However, it was my duty to Monkton to leave no means of
helping him in his desperate object untried; so I resolved to go
round to the front of the convent again, and ring at the
gate-bell at all hazards.
By the merest chance I looked up as I passed the side of the
outhouse where the jagged hole was, and noticed that it was
pierced rather high in the wall.
As I stopped to observe this, the closeness of the atmosphere in
the wood seemed to be affecting me more unpleasantly than ever.
I waited a minute and untied my cravat.
Closeness? surely it was something more than that. The air was
even more distasteful to my nostrils than to my lungs. There was
some faint, indescribable smell loading it--some smell of which I
had never had any previous experience--some smell which I thought
(now that my attention was directed to it) grew more and more
certainly traceable to its source the nearer I advanced to the
By the time I had tried the experiment two or three times, and
had made myself sure of this fact, my curiosity became excited.
There were plenty of fragments of stone and brick lying about me.
I gathered some of them together, and piled them up below the
hole, then mounted to the top, and, feeling rather ashamed of
what I was doing, peeped into the outhouse.
The sight of horror that met my eyes the instant I looked through
the hole is as present to my memory now as if I had beheld it
yesterday. I can hardly write of it at this distance of time
without a thrill of the old terror running through me again to
The first impression conveyed to me, as I looked in, was of a
long, recumbent object, tinged with a lightish blue color all
over, extended on trestles, and bearing a certain hideous,
half-formed resemblance to the human face and figure. I looked
again, and felt certain of it. There were the prominences of the
forehead, nose, and chin, dimly shown as under a veil--there, the
round outline of the chest and the hollow below it--there, the
points of the knees, and the stiff, ghastly, upturned feet. I
looked again, yet more attentively. My eyes got accustomed to the
dim light streaming in through the broken roof, and I satisfied
myself, judging by the great length of the body from head to
foot, that I was looking at the corpse of a man--a corpse that
had apparently once had a sheet spread over it, and that had lain
rotting on the trestles under the open sky long enough for the
linen to take the livid, light-blue tinge of mildew and decay
which now covered it.
How long I remained with my eyes fixed on that dread sight of
death, on that tombless, terrible wreck of humanity, poisoning
the still air, and seeming even to stain the faint descending
light that disclosed it, I know not. I remember a dull, distant
sound among the trees, as if the breeze were rising--the slow
creeping on of the sound to near the place where I stood--the
noiseless whirling fall of a dead leaf on the corpse below me,
through the gap in the outhouse roof--and the effect of awakening
my energies, of relaxing the heavy strain on my mind, which even
the slight change wrought in the scene I beheld by the falling
leaf produced in me immediately. I descended to the ground, and,
sitting down on the heap of stones, wiped away the thick
perspiration which covered my face, and which I now became aware
of for the first time. It was something more than the hideous
spectacle unexpectedly offered to my eyes which had shaken my
nerves as I felt that they were shaken now. Monkton's prediction
that, if we succeeded in discovering his uncle's body, we should
find it unburied, recurred to me the instant I saw the trestles
and their ghastly burden. I felt assured on the instant that I
had found the dead man--the old prophecy recurred to my memory--a
strange yearning sorrow, a vague foreboding of ill, an
inexplicable terror, as I thought of the poor lad who was
awaiting my return in the distant town, struck through me with a
chill of superstitious dread, robbed me of my judgment and
resolution, and left me when I had at last recovered myself, weak
and dizzy, as if I had just suffered under some pang of
overpowering physical pain.
I hastened round to the convent gate and rang impatiently at the
bell--waited a little while and rang again--then heard footsteps.
In the middle of the gate, just opposite my face, there was a
small sliding panel, not more than a few inches long; this was
presently pushed aside from within. I saw, through a bit of iron
grating, two dull, light gray eyes staring vacantly at me, and
heard a feeble husky voice saying:
"What may you please to want?'
"I am a traveler--" I began.
"We live in a miserable place. We have nothing to show travelers
"I don't come to see anything. I have an important question to
ask, which I believe some one in this convent will be able to
answer. If you are not willing to let me in, at least come out
and speak to me here."
"Are you alone?"
"Are there no women with you?"
The gate was slowly unbarred, and an old Capuchin, very infirm,
very suspicious, and very dirty, stood before me. I was far too
excited and impatient to waste any time in prefatory phrases; so,
telling the monk at once how I had looked through the hole in the
outhouse, and what I had seen inside, I asked him, in plain
terms, who the man had been whose corpse I had beheld, and why
the body was left unburied?
The old Capuchin listened to me with watery eyes that twinkled
suspiciously. He had a battered tin snuff-box in his hand, and
his finger and thumb slowly chased a few scattered grains of
snuff round and round the inside of the box all the time I was
speaking. When I had done, he shook his head and said: "That was
certainly an ugly sight in their outhouse; one of the ugliest
sights, he felt sure, that ever I had seen in all my life!"
"I don't want to talk of the sight," I rejoined, impatiently; "I
want to know who the man was, how he died, and why he is not
decently buried. Can you tell me?"
The monk's finger and thumb having captured three or four grains
of snuff at last, he slowly drew them into his nostrils, holding
the box open under his nose the while, to prevent the possibility
of wasting even one grain, sniffed once or twice
luxuriously--closed the box--then looked at me again with his
eyes watering and twinkling more suspiciously than before.
"Yes," said the monk, "that's an ugly sight in our outhouse--a
very ugly sight, certainly!"
I never had more difficulty in keeping my temper in my life than
at that moment. I succeeded, however, in repressing a very
disrespectful expression on the subject of monks in general,
which was on the tip of my tongue, and made another attempt to
conquer the old man's exasperating reserve. Fortunately for my
chances of succeeding with him, I was a snuff-taker myself, and I
had a box full of excellent English snuff in my pocket, which I
now produced as a bribe. It was my last resource.
"I thought your box seemed empty just now," said I; "will you try
a pinch out of mine?"
The offer was accepted with an almost youthful alacrity of
gesture. The Capuchin took the largest pinch I ever saw held
between any man's finger and thumb--inhaled it slowly without
spilling a single grain--half closed his eyes--and, wagging his
head gently, patted me paternally on the back.
"Oh, my son," said the monk, "what delectable snuff! Oh, my son
and amiable traveler, give the spiritual father who loves you yet
another tiny, tiny pinch!"
"Let me fill your box for you. I shall have plenty left for
The battered tin snuff-box was given to me before I had done
speaking; the paternal hand patted my back more approvingly than
ever; the feeble, husky voice grew glib and eloquent in my
praise. I had evidently found out the weak side of the old
Capuchin, and, on returning him his box, I took instan t
advantage of the discovery.
"Excuse my troubling you on the subject again," I said, "but I
have particular reasons for wanting to hear all that you can tell
me in explanation of that horrible sight in the outhouse."
"Come in," answered the monk.
He drew me inside the gate, closed it, and then leading the way
across a grass-grown courtyard, looking out on a weedy
kitchen-garden, showed me into a long room with a low ceiling, a
dirty dresser, a few rudely-carved stall seats, and one or two
grim, mildewed pictures for ornaments. This was the sacristy.
"There's nobody here, and it's nice and cool," said the old
Capuchin. It was so damp that I actually shivered. "Would you
like to see the church?" said the monk; "a jewel of a church, if
we could keep it in repair; but we can't. Ah! malediction and
misery, we are too poor to keep our church in repair!"
Here he shook his head and began fumbling with a large bunch of
"Never mind the church now," said I. "Can you, or can you not,
tell me what I want to know?"
"Everything, from beginning to end--absolutely everything. Why, I
answered the gate-bell--I always answer the gate-bell here," said
"What, in Heaven's name, has the gate-bell to do with the
unburied corpse in your house?"
"Listen, son of mine, and you shall know. Some time ago--some
months--ah! me, I'm old; I've lost my memory; I don't know how
many months--ah! miserable me, what a very old, old monk I am!"
Here he comforted himself with another pinch of snuff.
"Never mind the exact time," said I. "I don't care about that."
"Good," said the Capuchin. "Now I can go on. Well, let us say it
is some months ago--we in this convent are all at
breakfast--wretched, wretched breakfasts, son of mine, in this
convent!--we are at breakfast, and we hear _bang! bang!_ twice
over. 'Guns,' says I. 'What are they shooting for?' says Brother
Jeremy. 'Game,' says Brother Vincent. 'Aha! game,' says Brother
Jeremy. 'If I hear more, I shall send out and discover what it
means,' says the father superior. We hear no more, and we go on
with our wretched breakfasts."
"Where did the report of firearms come from?" I inquired.
"From down below--beyond the big trees at the back of the
convent, where there's some clear ground--nice ground, if it
wasn't for the pools and puddles. But, ah! misery, how damp we
are in these parts! how very, very damp!"
"Well, what happened after the report of firearms?"
"You shall hear. We are still at breakfast, all silent--for what
have we to talk about here? What have we but our devotions, our
kitchen-garden, and our wretched, wretched bits of breakfasts and
dinners? I say we are all silent, when there comes suddenly such
a ring at the bell as never was heard before--a very devil of a
ring--a ring that caught us all with our bits--our wretched,
wretched bits!--in our mouths, and stopped us before we could
swallow them. 'Go, brother of mine,' says the father superior to
me, 'go; it is your duty--go to the gate.' I am brave--a very
lion of a Capuchin. I slip out on tiptoe--I wait--I listen--I
pull back our little shutter in the gate--I wait, I listen
again--I peep through the hole--nothing, absolutely nothing that
I can see. I am brave--I am not to be daunted. What do I do next?
I open the gate. Ah! sacred Mother of Heaven, what do I behold
lying all along our threshold? A man--dead!--a big man; bigger
than you, bigger than me, bigger than anybody in this
convent--buttoned up tight in a fine coat, with black eyes,
staring, staring up at the sky, and blood soaking through and
through the front of his shirt. What do I do? I scream once--I
scream twice--and run back to the father superior!"
All the particulars of the fatal duel which I had gleaned from
the French newspaper in Monkton's room at Naples recurred vividly
to my memory. The suspicion that I had felt when
I looked into the outhouse became a certainty as I listened to
the old monk's last words.
"So far I understand," said I. "The corpse I have just seen in
the outhouse is the corpse of the man whom you found dead outside
your gate. Now tell me why you have not given the remains decent
"Wait--wait--wait," answered the Capuchin. "The father superior
hears me scream and comes out; we all run together to the gate;
we lift up the big man and look at him close. Dead! dead as this
(smacking the dresser with his hand). We look again, and see a
bit of paper pinned to the collar of his coat. Aha! son of mine,
you start at that. I thought I should make you start at last."
I had started, indeed. That paper was doubtless the leaf
mentioned in the second's unfinished narrative as having been
torn out of his pocketbook, and inscribed with the statement of
how the dead man had lost his life. If proof positive were wanted
to identify the dead body, here was such proof found.
"What do you think was written on the bit of paper?" continued
the Capuchin "We read and shudder. This dead man has been killed
in a duel--he, the desperate, the miserable, has died in the
commission of mortal sin; and the men who saw the killing of him
ask us Capuchins, holy men, servants of Heaven, children of our
lord the Pope--they ask _us_ to give him burial! Oh! but we are
outraged when we read that; we groan, we wring our hands, we turn
away, we tear our beards, we--"
"Wait one moment," said I, seeing that the old man was heating
himself with his narrative, and was likely, unless I stopped him,
to talk more and more fluently to less and less purpose--"wait a
moment. Have you preserved the paper that was pinned to the dead
man's coat; and can I look at it?"
The Capuchin seemed on the point of giving me an answer, when he
suddenly checked himself. I saw his eyes wander away from my
face, and at the same moment heard a door softly opened and
closed again behind me.
Looking round immediately, I observed another monk in the
sacristy--a tall, lean, black-bearded man, in whose presence my
old friend with the snuff-box suddenly became quite decorous and
devotional to look at. I suspected I was in the presence of the
father superior, and I found that I was right the moment he
"I am the father superior of this convent," he said, in quiet,
clear tones, and looking me straight in the face while he spoke,
with coldly attentive eyes. "I have heard the latter part of your
conversation, and I wish to know why you are so particularly
anxious to see the piece of paper that was pinned to the dead
The coolness with which he avowed that he had been listening, and
the quietly imperative manner in which he put his concluding
question, perplexed and startled me. I hardly knew at first what
tone I ought to take in answering him. He observed my hesitation,
and attributing it to the wrong cause, signed to the old Capuchin
to retire. Humbly stroking his long gray beard, and furtively
consoling himself with a private pinch of the "delectable snuff,"
my venerable friend shuffled out of the room, making a profound
obeisance at the door just before he disappeared.
"Now," said the father superior, as coldly as ever, "I am
waiting, sir, for your reply."
"You shall have it in the fewest possible words," said I,
answering him in his own tone. "I find, to my disgust and horror,
that there is an unburied corpse in an outhouse attached to your
convent. I believe that corpse to be the body of an English
gentleman of rank and fortune, who was killed in a duel. I have
come into this neighborhood with the nephew and only relation of
the slain man, for the express purpose of recovering his remains;
and I wish to see the paper found on the body, because I believe
that paper will identify it to the satisfaction of the relative
to whom I have referred. Do you find my reply sufficiently
straightforward? And do you mean to give me permission to look at
"I am satisfied with your reply, and see no reason for refusing
you a sight of the paper," said the father superior; "but I have
something to say first. In speaking of the impression produced on
you by beholding the corpse, you used the words 'disgust' and
'horror.' This license of expression in relation to what you have
seen in the precincts of a convent proves to me that you are out
of the pale of the Holy Catholic Church. You have no right,
therefore, to expect any explanation; but I will give you one,
nevertheless, as a favor. The slain man died, unabsolved, in the
commission of mortal sin. We infer so much from the paper which
we found on his body; and we know, by the evidence of our own
eyes and ears, that he was killed on the territories of the
Church, and in the act of committing direct violation of those
special laws against the crime of dueling, the strict enforcement
of which the holy father himself has urged on the faithful
throughout his dominions by letters signed with his own hand.
Inside this convent the ground is consecrated, and we Catholics
are not accustomed to bury the outlaws of our religion, the
enemies of our holy father, and the violators of our most sacred
laws in consecrated ground. Outside this convent we have no
rights and no power; and, if we had both, we should remember that
we are monks, not grave-diggers, and that the only burial with
which _we_ can have any concern is burial with the prayers of the
Church. That is all the explanation I think it necessary to give.
Wait for me here, and you shall see the paper." With those words
the father superior left the room as quietly as he had entered
I had hardly time to think over this bitter and ungracious
explanation, and to feel a little piqued by the language and
manner of the person who had given it to me, before the father
superior returned with the paper in his hand. He placed it before
me on the dresser, and I read, hurriedly traced in pencil, the
"This paper is attached to the body of the late Mr. Stephen
Monkton, an Englishman of distinction. He has been shot in a
duel, conducted with perfect gallantry and honor on both sides.
His body is placed at the door of this convent, to receive burial
at the hands of its inmates, the survivors of the encounter being
obliged to separate and secure their safety by immediate flight.
I, the second of the slain man, and the writer of this
explanation, certify, on my word of honor as a gentleman that the
shot which killed my principal on the instant was fired fairly,
in the strictest accordance with the rules laid down beforehand
for the conduct of the duel.
"F." I recognized easily enough as the initial letter of
Monsieur Foulon's name, the second of Mr. Monkton, who had died
of consumption at Paris.
The discovery and the identification were now complete. Nothing
remained but to break the news to Alfred, and to get permission
to remove the remains in the outhouse. I began almost to doubt
the evidence of my own senses when I reflected that the
apparently impracticable object with which we had left Naples was
already, by the merest chance, virtually accomplished.
"The evidence of the paper is decisive," said I, handing it back.
"There can be no doubt that the remains in the outhouse are the
remains of which we have been in search. May I inquire if any
obstacles will be thrown in our way should the late Mr. Monkton's
nephew wish to remove his uncle's body to the family burial-place
"Where is this nephew?" asked the father superior.
"He is now awaiting my return at the town of Fondi."
"Is he in a position to prove his relationship?"
"Certainly; he has papers with him which will place it beyond a
"Let him satisfy the civil authorities of his claim, and he need
expect no obstacle to his wishes from any one here."
I was in no humor for talking a moment longer with my
sour-tempered companion than I could help. The day was wearing on
me fast; and, whether night overtook me or not, I was resolved
never to stop on my return till I got back to Fondi. Accordingly,
after telling the father superior that he might expect to hear
from me again immediately, I made my bow and hastened out of the
At the convent gate stood my old friend with the tin snuff-box,
waiting to let me out.
"Bless you, may son," said the venerable recluse, giving me a
farewell pat on the shoulder, "come back soon to your spiritual
father who loves you, and amiably favor him with another tiny,
tiny pinch of the delectable snuff."
I RETURNED at the top of my speed to the village where I had left
the mules, had the animals saddled immediately, and succeeded in
getting back to Fondi a little before sunset.
While ascending the stairs of our hotel, I suffered under the
most painful uncertainty as to how I should best communicate the
news of my discovery to Alfred. If I could not succeed in
preparing him properly for my tidings, the results, with such an
organization as his, might be fatal. On opening the door of his
room, I felt by no means sure of myself; and when I confronted
him, his manner of receiving me took me so much by surprise that,
for a moment or two, I lost my self-possession altogether.
Every trace of the lethargy in which he was sunk when I had last
seen him had disappeared. His eyes were bright, his cheeks deeply
flushed. As I entered, he started up, and refused my offered
"You have not treated me like a friend," he said, passionately;
"you had no right to continue the search unless I searched with
you--you had no right to leave me here alone. I was wrong to
trust you; you are no better than all the rest of them."
I had by this time recovered a little from my first astonishment,
and was able to reply before he could say anything more. It was
quite useless, in his present state, to reason with him or to
defend myself. I determined to risk everything, and break my news
to him at once.
"You will treat me more justly, Monkton, when you know that I
have been doing you good service during my absence," I said.
"Unless I am greatly mistaken, the object for which we have left
Naples may be nearer attainment by both of us than--"
The flush left his cheeks almost in an instant. Some expression
in my face, or some tone in my voice, of which I was not
conscious, had revealed to his nervously-quickened perception
more than I had intended that he should know at first. His eyes
fixed themselves intently on mine; his hand grasped my arm; and
he said to me in an eager whisper:
"Tell me the truth at once. Have you found him?"
It was too late to hesitate. I answered in the affirmative.
"Buried or unburied?"
His voice rose abruptly as he put the question, and his
unoccupied hand fastened on my other arm.
I had hardly uttered the word before the blood flew back into his
cheeks; his eyes flashed again as they looked into mine, and he
burst into a fit of triumphant laughter, which shocked and
startled me inexpressibly.
"What did I tell you? What do you say to the old prophecy now?"
he cried, dropping his hold on my arms, and pacing backward and
forward in the room. "Own you were wrong. Own it, as all Naples
shall own it, when once I have got him safe in his coffin!"
His laughter grew more and mere violent. I tried to quiet him in
vain. His servant and the landlord of the inn entered the room,
but they only added fuel to the fire, and I made them go out
again. As I shut the door on them, I observed lying on a table
near at hand the packet of letters from Miss Elmslie, which my
unhappy friend preserved with such care, and read and re-read
with such unfailing devotion. Looking toward me just when I
passed by the table, the letters caught his eye. The new hope for
the future, in connection with the writer of them, which my news
was already awakening in his heart, seemed to overwhelm him in an
instant at sight of the treasured memorials that reminded him of
his betrothed wife. His laughter ceased, his face changed, he ran
to the table, caught the letters up in his hand, looked from them
to me for one moment with an altered expression which went to my
heart, then sank down on his knees at the table, laid his face on
the letters, and burst into tears. I let the new emotion have its
way uninterruptedly, and quitted the room without saying a word.
When I returned after a lapse of some little time, I found him
sitting quietly in his chair, reading one of the letters from the
pack et which rested on his knee.
His look was kindness itself; his gesture almost womanly in its
gentleness as he rose to meet me, and anxiously held out his
He was quite calm enough now to hear in detail all that I had to
tell him. I suppressed nothing but the particulars of the state
in which I had found the corpse. I assumed no right of direction
as to the share he was to take in our future proceedings, with
the exception of insisting beforehand that he should leave the
absolute superintendence of the removal of the body to me, and
that he should be satisfied with a sight of M. Foulon's paper,
after receiving my assurance that the remains placed in the
coffin were really and truly the remains of which we had been in
"Your nerves are not so strong as mine," I said, by way of
apology for my apparent dictation, "and for that reason I must
beg leave to assume the leadership in all that we have now to do,
until I see the leaden coffin soldered down and safe in your
possession. After that I shall resign all my functions to you."
"I want words to thank you for your kindness," he answered. "No
brother could have borne with me more affectionately, or helped
me more patiently than you."
He stopped and grew thoughtful, then occupied himself in tying up
slowly and carefully the packet of Miss Elmslie's letters, and
then looked suddenly toward the vacant wall behind me with that
strange expression the meaning of which I knew so well. Since we
had left Naples I had purposely avoided exciting him by talking
on the useless and shocking subject of the apparition by which he
believed himself to be perpetually followed. Just now, however,
he seemed so calm and collected--so little likely to be violently
agitated by any allusion to the dangerous topic, that I ventured
to speak out boldly.
"Does the phantom still appear to you," I asked, "as it appeared
He looked at me and smiled.
"Did I not tell you that it followed me everywhere?" His eyes
wandered back again to the vacant space, and he went on speaking
in that direction as if he had been continuing the conversation
with some third person in the room. "We shall part," he said,
slowly and softly, when the empty place is filled in Wincot
vault. Then I shall stand with Ada before the altar in the Abbey
chapel, and when my eyes meet hers they will see the tortured
face no more."
Saying this, he leaned his head on his hand, sighed, and began
repeating softly to himself the lines of the old prophecy:
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 he a certain sign Of the end of Monktons line.
Dwindling ever faster, faster, Dwindling to the last-left master;
From mortal ken, from light of day, Monkton's race shall pass
Fancying that he pronounced the last lines a little incoherently,
I tried to make him change the subject. He took no notice of what
I said, and went on talking to himself.
"Monkton's race shall pass away," he repeated, "but not with
_me_. The fatality hangs over _my_ head no longer. I shall bury
the unburied dead; I shall fill the vacant place in Wincot vault;
and then--then the new life, the life with Ada!" That name seemed
to recall him to himself. He drew his traveling desk toward him,
placed the packet of letters in it, and then took out a sheet of
paper. "I am going to write to Ada," he said, turning to me, "and
tell her the good news. Her happiness, when she knows it, will be
even greater than mine."
Worn out by the events of the day, I left him writing and went to
bed. I was, however, either too anxious or too tired to sleep. In
this waking condition, my mind naturally occupied itself with the
discovery at the convent and with the events to which that
discovery would in all probability lead. As I thought on the
future, a depression for which I could not account weighed on my
spirits. There was not the slightest reason for the vaguely
melancholy forebodings that oppressed me. The remains, to the
finding of which my unhappy friend attached so much importance,
had been traced; they would certainly be placed at his disposal
in a few days; he might take them to England by the first
merchant vessel that sailed from Naples; and, the gratification
of his strange caprice thus accomplished, there was at least some
reason to hope that his mind might recover its tone, and that the
new life he would lead at Wincot might result in making him a
happy man. Such considerations as these were, in themselves,
certainly not calculated to exert any melancholy influence over
me; and yet, all through the night, the same inconceivable,
unaccountable depression weighed heavily on my spirits--heavily
through the hours of darkness--heavily, even when I walked out to
breathe the first freshness of the early morning air.
With the day came the all-engrossing business of opening
negotiations with the authorities.
Only those who have had to deal with Italian officials can
imagine how our patience was tried by every one with whom we came
in contact. We were bandied about from one authority to the
other, were stared at, cross-questioned, mystified--not in the
least because the case presented any special difficulties or
intricacies, but because it was absolutely necessary that every
civil dignitary to whom we applied should assert his own
importance by leading us to our object in the most roundabout
manner possible. After our first day's experience of official
life in Italy, I left the absurd formalities, which we had no
choice but to perform, to be accomplished by Alfred alone, and
applied myself to the really serious question of how the remains
in the convent outhouse were to be safely removed.
The best plan that suggested itself to me was to write to a
friend in Rome, where I knew that it was a custom to embalm the
bodies of high dignitaries of the Church, and where, I
consequently inferred, such chemical assistance as was needed in
our emergency might be obtained. I simply stated in my letter
that the removal of the body was imperative, then described the
condition in which I had found it, and engaged that no expense on
our part should be spared if the right person or persons could be
found to help us. Here, again, more difficulties interposed
themselves, and more useless formalities were to be gone through,
but in the end patience, perseverance, and money triumphed, and
two men came expressly from Rome to undertake the duties we
required of them.
It is unnecessary that I should shock the reader by entering into
any detail in this part of my narrative. When I have said that
the progress of decay was so far suspended by chemical means as
to allow of the remains being placed in the coffin, and to insure
their being transported to England with perfect safety and
convenience, I have said enough. After ten days had been wasted
in useless delays and difficulties, I had the satisfaction of
seeing the convent outhouse empty at last; passed through a final
ceremony of snuff-taking, or rather, of snuff-giving, with the
old Capuchin, and ordered the traveling carriages to be ready at
the inn door. Hardly a month had elapsed since our departure ere
we entered Naples successful in the achievement of a design which
had been ridiculed as wildly impracticable by every friend of
ours who had heard of it.
The first object to be accomplished on our return was to obtain
the means of carrying the coffin to England--by sea, as a matter
of course. All inquiries after a merchant vessel on the point of
sailing for any British port led to the most unsatisfactory
results. There was only one way of insuring the immediate
transportation of the remains to England, and that was to hire a
vessel. Impatient to return, and resolved not to lose sight of
the coffin till he had seen it placed in Wincot vault, Monkton
decided immediately on hiring the first ship that could be
obtained. The vessel in port which we were informed could soonest
be got ready for sea was a Sicilian brig, and this vessel my
friend accordingly engaged. The best dock-yard artisans tha t
could be got were set to work, and the smartest captain and crew
to be picked up on an emergency in Naples were chosen to navigate
Monkton, after again expressing in the warmest terms his
gratitude for the services I had rendered him, disclaimed any
intention of asking me to accompany him on the voyage to England.
Greatly to his surprise and delight, however, I offered of my own
accord to take passage in the brig. The strange coincidences I
had witnessed, the extraordinary discovery I had hit on since our
first meeting in Naples, had made his one great interest in life
my one great interest for the time being as well. I shared none
of his delusions, poor fellow; but it is hardly an exaggeration
to say that my eagerness to follow our remarkable adventure to
its end was as great as his anxiety to see the coffin laid in
Wincot vault. Curiosity influenced me, I am afraid, almost as
strongly as friendship, when I offered myself as the companion of
his voyage home.
We set sail for England on a calm and lovely afternoon.
For the first time since I had known him, Monkton seemed to be in
high spirits. He talked and jested on all sorts of subjects, and
laughed at me for allowing my cheerfulness to be affected by the
dread of seasickness. I had really no such fear; it was my excuse
to my friend for a return of that unaccountable depression under
which I had suffered at Fondi. Everything was in our favor;
everybody on board the brig was in good spirits. The captain was
delighted with the vessel; the crew, Italians and Maltese, were
in high glee at the prospect of making a short voyage on high
wages in a well-provisioned ship. I alone felt heavy at heart.
There was no valid reason that I could assign to myself for the
melancholy that oppressed me, and yet I struggled against it in
Late on our first night at sea, I made a discovery which was by
no means calculated to restore my spirits to their usual
equilibrium. Monkton was in the cabin, on the floor of which had
been placed the packing-case containing the coffin, and I was on
deck. The wind had fallen almost to a calm, and I was lazily
watching the sails of the brig as they flapped from time to time
against the masts, when the captain approached, and, drawing me
out of hearing of the man at the helm, whispered in my ear:
"There's something wrong among the men forward. Did you observe
how suddenly they all became silent just before sunset?"
I had observed it, and told him so.
"There's a Maltese boy on board," pursued the captain, "who is a
smart enough lad, but a bad one to deal with. I have found out
that he has been telling the men there is a dead body inside that
packing-case of your friend's in the cabin."
My heart sank as he spoke. Knowing the superstitious
irrationality of sailors--of foreign sailors especially--I had
taken care to spread a report on board the brig, before the
coffin was shipped, that the packing-case contained a valuable
marble statue which Mr. Monkton prized highly, and was unwilling
to trust out of his own sight. How could this Maltese boy have
discovered that the pretended statue was a human corpse? As I
pondered over the question, my suspicions fixed themselves on
Monkton's servant, who spoke Italian fluently, and whom I knew to
be an incorrigible gossip. The man denied it when I charged him
with betraying us, but I have never believed his denial to this
"The little imp won't say where he picked up this notion of his
about the dead body," continued the captain. "It's not my place
to pry into secrets; but I advise you to call the crew aft, and
contradict the boy, whether he speaks the truth or not. The men
are a parcel of fools who believe in ghosts, and all the rest of
it. Some of them say they would never have signed our articles if
they had known they were going to sail with a dead man; others
only grumble; but I'm afraid we shall have some trouble with them
all, in case of rough weather, unless the boy is contradicted by
you or the other gentleman. The men say that if either you or
your friend tell them on your words of honor that the Maltese is
a liar, they will hand him up to be rope's-ended accordingly; but
that if you won't, they have made up their minds to believe the
Here the captain paused and awaited my answer. I could give him
none. I felt hopeless under our desperate emergency. To get the
boy punished by giving my word of honor to support a direct
falsehood was not to be thought of even for a moment. What other
means of extrication from this miserable dilemma remained? None
that I could think of. I thanked the captain for his attention to
our interests, told him I would take time to consider what course
I should pursue, and begged that he would say nothing to my
friend about the discovery he had made. He promised to be silent,
sulkily enough, and walked away from me.
We had expected the breeze to spring up with the morning, but no
breeze came. As it wore on toward noon the atmosphere became
insufferably sultry, and the sea looked as smooth as glass. I saw
the captain's eye turn often and anxiously to windward. Far away
in that direction, and alone in the blue heaven, I observed a
little black cloud, and asked if it would bring us any wind.
"More than we want," the captain replied, shortly; and then, to
my astonishment, ordered the crew aloft to take in sail. The
execution of this maneuver showed but too plainly the temper of
the men; they did their work sulkily and slowly, grumbling and
murmuring among themselves. The captain's manner, as he urged
them on with oaths and threats, convinced me we were in danger. I
looked again to windward. The one little cloud had enlarged to a
great bank of murky vapor, and the sea at the horizon had changed
"The squall will be on us before we know where we are," said the
captain. "Go below; you will be only in the way here."
I descended to the cabin, and prepared Monkton for what was
coming. He was still questioning me about what I had observed on
deck when the storm burst on us. We felt the little brig strain
for an instant as if she would part in two, then she seemed to be
swinging round with us, then to be quite still for a moment,
trembling in every timber. Last came a shock which hurled us from
our seats, a deafening crash, and a flood of water pouring into
the cabin. We clambered, half drowned, to the deck. The brig had,
in the nautical phrase, "broached to," and she now lay on her
Before I could make out anything distinctly in the horrible
confusion except the one tremendous certainty that we were
entirely at the mercy of the sea, I heard a voice from the fore
part of the ship which stilled the clamoring and shouting of the
rest of the crew in an instant. The words were in Italian, but I
understood their fatal meaning only too easily. We had sprung a
leak, and the sea was pouring into the ship's hold like the race
of a mill-stream. The captain did not lose his presence of mind
in this fresh emergency. He called for his ax to cut away the
foremast, and, ordering some of the crew to help him, directed
the others to rig out the pumps.
The words had hardly passed his lips before the men broke into
open mutiny. With a savage look at me, their ringleader declared
that the passengers might do as they pleased, but that he and his
messmates were determined to take to the boat, and leave the
accursed ship, and _the dead man in her,_ to go to the bottom
together. As he spoke there was a shout among the sailors, and I
observed some of them pointing derisively behind me. Looking
round, I saw Monkton, who had hitherto kept close at my side,
making his way back to the cabin. I followed him directly, but
the water and confusion on deck, and the impossibility, from the
position of the brig, of moving the feet without the slow
assistance of the hands, so impeded my progress that it was
impossible for me to overtake him. When I had got below he was
crouched upon the coffin, with the water on the cabin floor
whirling and splashing about him as the ship heaved and plunged.
I saw a warning brightness in his eyes, a warning flush on his
cheek, as I approached and said to him:
"There is nothing left for it, Alfred, but to bow to our
misfortune, and do the best we can to save our lives."
"Save yours," he cried, waving his hand to me, "for _you_ have a
future before you. Mine is gone when this coffin goes to the
bottom. If the ship sinks, I shall know that the fatality is
accomplished, and shall sink with her."
I saw that he was in no state to be reasoned with or persuaded,
and raised myself again to the deck. The men were cutting away
all obstacles so as to launch the longboat placed amidships over
the depressed bulwark of the brig as she lay on her side, and the
captain, after having made a last vain exertion to restore his
authority, was looking on at them in silence. The violence of the
squall seemed already to be spending itself, and I asked whether
there was really no chance for us if we remained by the ship. The
captain answered that there might have been the best chance if
the men had obeyed his orders, but that now there was none.
Knowing that I could place no dependence on the presence of mind
of Monkton's servant, I confided to the captain, in the fewest
and plainest words, the condition of my unhappy friend, and asked
if I might depend on his help. He nodded his head, and we
descended together to the cabin. Even at this day it costs me
pain to write of the terrible necessity to which the strength and
obstinacy of Monkton's delusion reduced us in the last resort. We
were compelled to secure his hands, and drag him by main force to
the deck. The men were on the point of launching the boat, and
refused at first to receive us into it.
"You cowards!" cried the captain, "have we got the dead man with
us this time? Isn't he going to the bottom along with the brig?
Who are you afraid of when we get into the boat?"
This sort of appeal produced the desired effect; the men became
ashamed of themselves, and retracted their refusal.
Just as we pushed off from the sinking ship Alfred made an effort
to break from me, but I held him firm, and he never repeated the
attempt. He sat by me with drooping head, still and silent, while
the sailors rowed away from the vessel; still and silent when,
with one accord, they paused at a little distance off, and we all
waited and watched to see the brig sink; still and silent, even
when that sinking happened, when the laboring hull plunged slowly
into a hollow of the sea--hesitated, as it seemed, for one
moment, rose a little again, then sank to rise no more.
Sank with her dead freight--sank, and snatched forever from our
power the corpse which we had discovered almost by a
miracle--those jealously-preserved remains, on the safe-keeping
of which rested so strangely the hopes and the love-destinies of
two living beings! As the last signs of the ship in the depths of
I felt Monkton trembling all over as he sat close at my side, and
heard him repeating to himself, sadly, and many times over, the
name of "Ada."
I tried to turn his thoughts to another subject, but it was
useless. He pointed over the sea to where the brig had once been,
and where nothing was left to look at but the rolling waves.
"The empty place will now remain empty forever in Wincot vault."
As he said these words, he fixed his eyes for a moment sadly and
earnestly on my face, then looked away, leaned his cheek on his
hand, and spoke no more.
We were sighted long before nightfall by a trading vessel, were
taken on board, and landed at Cartagena in Spain. Alfred never
held up his head, and never once spoke to me of his own accord
the whole time we were at sea in the merchantman. I observed,
however, with alarm, that he talked often and incoherently to
himself--constantly muttering the lines of the old
prophecy--constantly referring to the fatal place that was empty
in Wincot vault--constantly repeating in broken accents, which it
affected me inexpressibly to hear, the name of the poor girl who
was awaiting his return to England. Nor were these the only
causes for the apprehension that I now felt on his account.
Toward the end of our voyage he began to suffer from alternations
of fever-fits and shivering-fits, which I ignorantly imagined to
be attacks of ague. I was soon undeceived. We had hardly been a
day on shore before he became so much worse that I secured the
best medical assistance Cartagena could afford. For a day or two
the doctors differed, as usual, about the nature of his
complaint, but ere long alarming symptoms displayed themselves.
The medical men declared that his life was in danger, and told me
that his disease was brain fever.
Shocked and grieved as I was, I hardly knew how to act at first
under the fresh responsibility now laid upon me. Ultimately I
decided on writing to the old priest who had been Alfred's tutor,
and who, as I knew, still resided at Wincot Abbey. I told this
gentleman all that had happened, begged him to break my
melancholy news as gently as possible to Miss Elmslie, and
assured him of my resolution to remain with Monkton to the last.
After I had dispatched my letter, and had sent to Gibraltar to
secure the best English medical advice that could be obtained, I
felt that I had done my best, and that nothing remained but to
wait and hope.
Many a sad and anxious hour did I pass by my poor friend's
bedside. Many a time did I doubt whether I had done right in
giving any encouragement to his delusion. The reasons for doing
so which had suggested themselves to me after my first interview
with him seemed, however, on reflection, to be valid reasons
still. The only way of hastening his return to England and to
Miss Elmslie, who was pining for that return, was the way I had
taken. It was not my fault that a disaster which no man could
foresee had overthrown all his projects and all mine. But, now
that the calamity had happened and was irretrievable, how, in the
event of his physical recovery, was his moral malady to be
When I reflected on the hereditary taint in his mental
organization, on that first childish fright of Stephen Monkton
from which he had never recovered, on the perilously-secluded
life that he had led at the Abbey, and on his firm persuasion of
the reality of the apparition by which he believed himself to be
constantly followed, I confess I despaired of shaking his
superstitious faith in every word and line of the old family
prophecy. If the series of striking coincidences which appeared
to attest its truth had made a strong and lasting impression on
_me_ (and this was assuredly the case), how could I wonder that
they had produced the effect of absolute conviction on _his_
mind, constituted as it was? If I argued with him, and he
answered me, how could I rejoin? If he said, "The prophecy points
at the last of the family: _I_ am the last of the family. The
prophecy mentions an empty place in Wincot vault; there is such
an empty place there at this moment. On the faith of the prophecy
I told you that Stephen Monkton's body was unburied, and you
found that it was unburied"--if he said this, what use would it
be for me to reply, "These are only strange coincidences after
The more I thought of the task that lay before me, if he
recovered, the more I felt inclined to despond. The oftener the
English physician who attended on him said to me, "He may get the
better of the fever, but he has a fixed idea, which never leaves
him night or day, which has unsettled his reason, and which will
end in killing him, unless you or some of his friends can remove
it"--the oftener I heard this, the more acutely I felt my own
powerlessness, the more I shrank from every idea that was
connected with the hopeless future.
I had only expected to receive my answer from Wincot in the shape
of a letter. It was consequently a great surprise, as well as a
great relief, to be informed one day that two gentlemen wished to
speak with me, and to find that of these two gentlemen the first
was the old priest, and the second a male relative of Mrs.
Just before their arrival the fever symptoms had disappeared, and
Alfred had been pronounced out of danger. Both the priest and his
companion were eager to know when the sufferer would be strong
enough to travel. The y had come to Cartagena expressly to take
him home with them, and felt far more hopeful than I did of the
restorative effects of his native air. After all the questions
connected with the first important point of the journey to
England had been asked and answered, I ventured to make some
inquiries after Miss Elmslie. Her relative informed me that she
was suffering both in body and in mind from excess of anxiety on
Alfred's account. They had been obliged to deceive her as to the
dangerous nature of his illness in order to deter her from
accompanying the priest and her relation on their mission to
Slowly and imperfectly, as the weeks wore on, Alfred regained
something of his former physical strength, but no alteration
appeared in his illness as it affected his mind.
From the very first day of his advance toward recovery, it had
been discovered that the brain fever had exercised the strangest
influence over his faculties of memory. All recollection of
recent events was gone from him. Everything connected with
Naples, with me, with his journey to Italy, had dropped in some
mysterious manner entirely out of his remembrance. So completely
had all late circumstances passed from his memory that, though he
recognized the old priest and his own servant easily on the first
days of his convalescence, he never recognized me, but regarded
me with such a wistful, doubting expression, that I felt
inexpressibly pained when I approached his bedside. All his
questions were about Miss Elmslie and Wincot Abbey, and all his
talk referred to the period when his father was yet alive.
The doctors augured good rather than ill from this loss of memory
of recent incidents, saying that it would turn out to be
temporary, and that it answered the first great healing purpose
of keeping his mind at ease. I tried to believe them--tried to
feel as sanguine, when the day came for his departure, as the old
friends felt who were taking him home. But the effort was too
much for me. A foreboding that I should never see him again
oppressed my heart, and the tears came into my eyes as I saw the
worn figure of my poor friend half helped, half lifted into the
traveling-carriage, and borne away gently on the road toward
He had never recognized me, and the doctors had begged that I
would give him, for some time to come, as few opportunities as
possible of doing so. But for this request I should have
accompanied him to England. As it was, nothing better remained
for me to do than to change the scene, and recruit as I best
could my energies of body and mind, depressed of late by much
watching and anxiety. The famous cities of Spain were not new to
me, but I visited them again and revived old impressions of the
Alhambra and Madrid. Once or twice I thought of making a
pilgrimage to the East, but late events had sobered and altered
me. That yearning, unsatisfied feeling which we call
"homesickness" began to prey upon my heart, and I resolved to
return to England.
I went back by way of Paris, having settled with the priest that
he should write to me at my banker's there as soon as he could
after Alfred had returned to Wincot. If I had gone to the East,
the letter would have been forwarded to me. I wrote to prevent
this; and, on my arrival at Paris, stopped at the banker's before
I went to my hotel.
The moment the letter was put into my hands, the black border on
the envelope told me the worst. He was dead.
There was but one consolation--he had died calmly, almost
happily, without once referring to those fatal chances which had
wrought the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy. "My beloved
pupil," the old priest wrote, "seemed to rally a little the first
few days after his return, but he gained no real strength, and
soon suffered a slight relapse of fever. After this he sank
gradually and gently day by day, and so departed from us on the
last dread journey. Miss Elmslie (who knows that I am writing
this) desires me to express her deep and lasting gratitude for
all your kindness to Alfred. She told me when we brought him back
that she had waited for him as his promised wife, and that she
would nurse him now as a wife should; and she never left him. his
face was turned toward her, his hand was clasped in hers when he
died. It will console you to know that he never mentioned events
at Naples, or the shipwreck that followed them, from the day of
his return to the day of his death."
Three days after reading the letter I was at Wincot, and heard
all the details of Alfred's last moments from the priest. I felt
a shock which it would not be very easy for me to analyze or
explain when I heard that he had been buried, at his own desire,
in the fatal Abbey vault.
The priest took me down to see the place--a grim, cold,
subterranean building, with a low roof, supported on heavy Saxon
arches. Narrow niches, with the ends only of coffins visible
within them, ran down each side of the vault. The nails and
silver ornaments flashed here and there as my companion moved
past them with a lamp in his hand. At the lower end of the place
he stopped, pointed to a niche, and said, "He lies there, between
his father and mother." I looked a little further on, and saw
what appeared at first like a long dark tunnel. "That is only an
empty niche," said the priest, following me. "If the body of Mr.
Stephen Monkton had been brought to Wincot, his coffin would have
been placed there."
A chill came over me, and a sense of dread which I am ashamed of
having felt now, but which I could not combat then. The blessed
light of day was pouring down gayly at the other end of the vault
through the open door. I turned my back on the empty niche, and
hurried into the sunlight and the fresh air.
As I walked across the grass glade leading down to the vault, I
heard the rustle of a woman's dress behind me, and turning round,
saw a young lady advancing, clad in deep mourning. Her sweet, sad
face, her manner as she held out her hand, told me who it was in
"I heard that you were here," she said, "and I wished--" Her
voice faltered a little. My heart ached as I saw how her lip
trembled, but before I could say anything she recovered herself
and went on: "I wished to take your hand, and thank you for your
brotherly kindness to Alfred; and I wanted to tell you that I am
sure in all you did you acted tenderly and considerately for the
best. Perhaps you may be soon going away from home again, and we
may not meet any more. I shall never, never forget that you were
kind to him when he wanted a friend, and that you have the
greatest claim of any one on earth to be gratefully remembered in
my thoughts as long as I live."
The inexpressible tenderness of her voice, trembling a little all
the while she spoke, the pale beauty of her face, the artless
candor in her sad, quiet eyes, so affected me that I could not
trust myself to answer her at first except by gesture. Before I
recovered my voice she had given me her hand once more and had
I never saw her again. The chances and changes of life kept us
apart. When I last heard of her, years and years ago, she was
faithful to the memory of the dead, and was Ada Elmslie still for
Alfred Monkton's sake.
THE FIFTH DAY.
STILL cloudy, but no rain to keep our young lady indoors. The
paper, as usual, without interest to _me_.
To-day Owen actually vanquished his difficulties and finished his
story. I numbered it Eight, and threw the corresponding number
(as I had done the day before in Morgan's case) into the china
Although I could discover no direct evidence against her, I
strongly suspected The Queen of Hearts of tampering with the lots
on the fifth evening, to irritate Morgan by making it his turn to
read again, after the shortest possible interval of repose.
However that might be, the number drawn was certainly Seven, and
the story to be read was consequently the story which my brother
had finished only two days before.
If I had not known that it was part of Morgan's character always
to do exactly the reverse of what might be expected from him, I
should have been surprised at the extraordinary docility he
exhibited the moment his manuscript was placed i n his hands.
"My turn again?" he said. "How very satisfactory! I was anxious
to escape from this absurd position of mine as soon as possible,
and here is the opportunity most considerately put into my hands.
Look out, all of you! I won't waste another moment. I mean to
"Do tell me," interposed Jessie, mischievously, "shall I be very
much interested to-night'?'
"Not you!" retorted Morgan. "You will be very much frightened
instead. You hair is uncommonly smooth at the present moment, but
it will be all standing on end before I've done. Don't blame me,
miss, if you are an object when you go to bed to-night!"
With this curious introductory speech he began to read. I was
obliged to interrupt him to say the few words of explanation
which the story needed.
"Before my brother begins," I said, "it may be as well to mention
that he is himself the doctor who is supposed to relate this
narrative. The events happened at a time of his life when he had
left London, and had established himself in medical practice in
one of our large northern towns."
With that brief explanation, I apologized for interrupting the
reader, and Morgan began once more.
BROTHER MORGAN'S STORY
THE DEAD HAND
WHEN this present nineteenth century was younger by a good many
years than it is now, a certain friend of mine, named Arthur
Holliday, happened to arrive in the town of Doncaster exactly in
the middle of the race-week, or, in other words, in the middle of
the month of September.
He was one of those reckless, rattle-pated, open-hearted, and
open-mouthed young gentlemen who possess the gift of familiarity
in its highest perfection, and who scramble carelessly along the
journey of life, making friends, as the phrase is, wherever they
go. His father was a rich manufacturer, and had bought landed
property enough in one of the midland counties to make all the
born squires in his neighborhood thoroughly envious of him.
Arthur was his only son, possessor in prospect of the great
estate and the great business after his father's death; well
supplied with money, and not too rigidly looked after during his
father's lifetime. Report, or scandal, whichever you please, said
that the old gentleman had been rather wild in his youthful days,
and that, unlike most parents, he was not disposed to be
violently indignant when he found that his son took after him.
This may be true or not. I myself only knew the elder Mr.
Holliday when he was getting on in years, and then he was as
quiet and as respectable a gentleman as ever I met with.
Well, one September, as I told you, young Arthur comes to
Doncaster, having decided all of a sudden, in his hare-brained
way, that he would go to the races. He did not reach the town
till toward the close of evening, and he went at once to see
about his dinner and bed at the principal hotel. Dinner they were
ready enough to give him, but as for a bed, they laughed when he
mentioned it. In the race-week at Doncaster it is no uncommon
thing for visitors who have not bespoken apartments to pass the
night in their carriages at the inn doors. As for the lower sort
of strangers, I myself have often seen them, at that full time,
sleeping out on the doorsteps for want of a covered place to
creep under. Rich as he was, Arthur's chance of getting a night's
lodging (seeing that he had not written beforehand to secure one)
was more than doubtful. He tried the second hotel, and the third
hotel, and two of the inferior inns after that, and was met
everywhere with the same form of answer. No accommodation for the
night of any sort was left. All the bright golden sovereigns in
his pocket would not buy him a bed at Doncaster in the race-week.
To a young fellow of Arthur's temperament, the novelty of being
turned away into the street like a penniless vagabond, at every
house where he asked for a lodging, presented itself in the light
of a new and highly amusing piece of experience. He went on with
his carpet-bag in his hand, applying for a bed at every place of
entertainment for travelers that he could find in Doncaster,
until he wandered into the outskirts of the town.
By this time the last glimmer of twilight had faded out, the moon
was rising dimly in a mist, the wind was getting cold, the clouds
were gathering heavily, and there was every prospect that it was
soon going to rain!
The look of the night had rather a lowering effect on young
Holliday's spirits. He began to contemplate the houseless
situation in which he was placed from the serious rather than the
humorous point of view, and he looked about him for another
public house to inquire at with something very like downright
anxiety in his mind on the subject of a lodging for the night.
The suburban part of the town toward which he had now strayed was
hardly lighted at all, and he could see nothing of the houses as
he passed them, except that they got progressively smaller and
dirtier the further he went. Down the winding road before him
shone the dull gleam of an oil lamp, the one faint lonely light
that struggled ineffectually with the foggy darkness all round
him. He resolved to go on as far as this lamp, and then, if it
showed him nothing in the shape of an inn, to return to the
central part of the town, and to try if he could not at least
secure a chair to sit down on through the night at one of the
As he got near the lamp he heard voices, and, walking close under
it, found that it lighted the entrance to a narrow court, on the
wall of which was painted a long hand in faded flesh-color,
pointing, with a lean forefinger, to this inscription:
THE TWO ROBINS.
Arthur turned into the court without hesitation to see what The
Two Robins could do for him. Four or five men were standing
together round the door of the house, which was at the bottom of
the court, facing the entrance from the street. The men were all
listening to one other man, better dressed than the rest, who was
telling his audience something, in a low voice, in which they
were apparently very much interested.
On entering the passage, Arthur was passed by a stranger with a
knapsack in his hand, who was evidently leaving the house.
"No," said the traveler with the knapsack, turning round and
addressing himself cheerfully to a fat, sly-looking, bald-headed
man, with a dirty white apron on, who had followed him down the
passage, "no, Mr. Landlord, I am not easily scared by trifles;
but I don't mind confessing that I can't quite stand _that_."
It occurred to young Holliday, the moment he heard these words,
that the stranger had been asked an exorbitant price for a bed at
The Two Robins, and that he was unable or unwilling to pay it.
The moment his back was turned, Arthur, comfortably conscious of
his own well-filled pockets, addressed himself in a great hurry,
for fear any other benighted traveler should slip in and
forestall him, to the sly-looking landlord with the dirty apron
and the bald head.
"If you have got a bed to let," he said, "and if that gentleman
who has just gone out won't pay your price for it, I will."
The sly landlord looked hard at Arthur. "Will you, sir?" he
asked, in a meditative, doubtful way.
"Name your price," said young Holliday, thinking that the
landlord's hesitation sprang from some boorish distrust of him.
"Name your price, and I'll give you the money at once, if you
"Are you game for five shillings?" inquired the landlord, rubbing
his stubby double chin and looking up thoughtfully at the ceiling
Arthur nearly laughed in the man's face; but, thinking it prudent
to control himself, offered the five shillings as seriously as he
could. The sly landlord held out his hand, then suddenly drew it
"You're acting all fair and aboveboard by me," he said, "and,
before I take your money, I'll do the same by you. Look here;
this is how it stands. You can have a bed all to yourself for
five shillings, but you can't have more than a half share of the
room it stands in. Do you see what I mean, young gentleman?"
"Of course I do," returned Arthur, a little irritably. "You mean
that it is a double-bedded room, and that one of the beds is
The land lord nodded his head, and rubbed his double chin harder
than ever. Arthur hesitated, and mechanically moved back a step
or two toward the door. The idea of sleeping in the same room
with a total stranger did not present an attractive prospect to
him. He felt more than half inclined to drop his five shillings
into his pocket and to go out into the street once more.
"Is it yes or no?" asked the landlord. "Settle it as quick as you
can, because there's lots of people wanting a bed at Doncaster
to-night besides you."
Arthur looked toward the court and heard the rain falling heavily
in the street outside. He thought he would ask a question or two
before he rashly decided on leaving the shelter of The Two
"What sort of man is it who has got the other bed?" he inquired.
"Is he a gentleman? I mean, is he a quiet, well-behaved person?"
"The quietest man I ever came across," said the landlord, rubbing
his fat hands stealthily one over the other. "As sober as a
judge, and as regular as clock-work in his habits. It hasn't
struck nine, not ten minutes ago, and he's in his bed already. I
don't know whether that comes up to your notion of a quiet man:
it goes a long way ahead of mine, I can tell you."
"Is he asleep, do you think?" asked Arthur.
"I know he's asleep," returned the landlord; "and, what's more,
he's gone off so fast that I'll warrant you don't wake him. This
way, sir," said the landlord, speaking over young Holliday's
shoulder, as if he was addressing some new guest who was
approaching the house.
"Here you are," said Arthur, determined to be beforehand with the
stranger, whoever he might be. "I'll take the bed." And he handed
the five shillings to the landlord, who nodded, dropped the money
carelessly into his waistcoat pocket, and lighted a candle.
"Come up and see the room," said the host of The Two Robins,
leading the way to the staircase quite briskly, considering how
fat he was.
They mounted to the second floor of the house. The landlord half
opened a door fronting the landing, then stopped, and turned
round to Arthur.
"It's a fair bargain, mind, on my side as well as on yours," he
said. "You give me five shillings, and I give you in return a
clean, comfortable bed; and I warrant, beforehand, that you won't
be interfered with, or annoyed in anyway, by the man who sleeps
in the same room with you." Saying those words, he looked hard,
for a moment, in young Holliday's face, and then led the way into
It was larger and cleaner than Arthur had expected it would be.
The two beds stood parallel with each other, a space of about six
feet intervening between them. They were both of the same medium
size, and both had the same plain white curtains, made to draw,
if necessary, all round them.
The occupied bed was the bed nearest the window. The curtains
were all drawn round it except the half curtain at the bottom, on
the side of the bed furthest from the window. Arthur saw the feet
of the sleeping man raising the scanty clothes into a sharp
little eminence, as if he was lying flat on his back. He took the
candle, and advanced softly to draw the curtain--stopped half
way, and listened for a moment--then turned to the landlord.
"He is a very quiet sleeper," said Arthur. "Yes," said the
landlord, "very quiet." Young Holliday advanced with the candle,
and looked in at the man cautiously.
"How pale he is," said Arthur.
"Yes," returned the landlord, "pale enough, isn't he?"
Arthur looked closer at the man. The bedclothes were drawn up to
his chin, and they lay perfectly still over the region of his
chest. Surprised and vaguely startled as he noticed this, Arthur
stooped down closer over the stranger, looked at his ashy, parted
lips, listened breathlessly for an instant, looked again at the
strangely still face, and the motionless lips and chest, and
turned round suddenly on the landlord with his own cheeks as pale
for the moment as the hollow cheeks of the man on the bed.
"Come here," he whispered, under his breath. "Come here, for
God's sake! The man's not asleep--he is dead."
"You have found that out sooner than I thought you would," said
the landlord, composedly. "Yes, he's dead, sure enough. He died
at five o'clock to-day."
"How did he die? Who is he?" asked Arthur, staggered for the
moment by the audacious coolness of the answer.
"As to who is he," rejoined the landlord, "I know no more about
him than you do. There are his books, and letters, and things all
sealed up in that brown paper parcel for the coroner's inquest to
open to-morrow or next day. He's been here a week, paying his way
fairly enough, and stopping indoors, for the most part, as if he
was ailing. My girl brought him up his tea at five to-day, and as
he was pouring of it out, he fell down in a faint, or a fit, or a
compound of both, for anything I know. We couldn't bring him to,
and I said he was dead. And, the doctor couldn't bring him to,
and the doctor said he was dead. And there he is. And the
coroner's inquest's coming as soon as it can. And that's as much
as I know about it."
Arthur held the candle close to the man's lips. The flame still
burned straight up as steadily as ever. There was a moment of
silence, and the rain pattered drearily through it against the
panes of the window.
"If you haven't got nothing more to say to me," continued the
landlord, "I suppose I may go. You don't expect your five
shillings back, do you? There's the bed I promised you, clean and
comfortable. There's the man I warranted not to disturb you,
quiet in this world forever. If you're frightened to stop alone
with him, that's not my lookout. I've kept my part of the
bargain, and I mean to keep the money. I'm not Yorkshire myself,
young gentleman, but I've lived long enough in these parts to
have my wits sharpened, and I shouldn't wonder if you found out
the way to brighten up yours next time you come among us."
With these words the landlord turned toward the door, and laughed
to himself softly, in high satisfaction at his own sharpness.
Startled and shocked as he was, Arthur had by this time
sufficiently recovered himself to feel indignant at the trick
that had been played on him, and at the insolent manner in which
the landlord exulted in it.
"Don't laugh," he said sharply, "till you are quite sure you have
got the laugh against me. You shan't have the five shillings for
nothing, my man. I'll keep the bed."
"Will you?" said the landlord. "Then I wish you a good night's
rest." With that brief farewell he went out and shut the door
A good night's rest! The words had hardly been spoken, the door
had hardly been closed, before Arthur half repented the hasty
words that had just escaped him. Though not naturally
over-sensitive, and not wanting in courage of the moral as well
as the physical sort, the presence of the dead man had an
instantaneously chilling effect on his mind when he found himself
alone in the room--alone, and bound by his own rash words to stay
there till the next morning. An older man would have thought
nothing of those words, and would have acted, without reference
to them, as his calmer sense suggested. But Arthur was too young
to treat the ridicule even of his inferiors with contempt--too
young not to fear the momentary humiliation of falsifying his own
foolish boast more than he feared the trial of watching out the
long night in the same chamber with the dead.
"It is but a few hours," he thought to himself, "and I can get
away the first thing in the morning."
He was looking toward the occupied bed as that idea passed
through his mind, and the sharp, angular eminence made in the
clothes by the dead man's upturned feet again caught his eye. He
advanced and drew the curtains, purposely abstaining, as he did
so, from looking at the face of the corpse, lest he might unnerve
himself at the outset by fastening some ghastly impression of it
on his mind. He drew the curtain very gently, and sighed
involuntarily as he closed it.
"Poor fellow," he said, almost as sadly as if he had known the
man. "Ah! poor fellow!"
He went next to the window. The night was black, and he could see
nothing from it. The rain still pattered heavily agai nst the
glass. He inferred, from hearing it, that the window was at the
back of the house, remembering that the front was sheltered from
the weather by the court and the buildings over it.
While he was still standing at the window--for even the dreary
rain was a relief, because of the sound it made; a relief, also,
because it moved, and had some faint suggestion, in consequence,
of life and companionship in it--while he was standing at the
window, and looking vacantly into the black darkness outside, he
heard a distant church clock strike ten. Only ten! How was he to
pass the time till the house was astir the next morning?
Under any other circumstances he would have gone down to the
public-house parlor, would have called for his grog, and would
have laughed and talked with the company assembled as familiarly
as if he had known them all his life. But the very thought of
whiling away the time in this manner was now distasteful to him.
The new situation in which he was placed seemed to have altered
him to himself already. Thus far his life had been the common,
trifling, prosaic, surface-life of a prosperous young man, with
no troubles to conquer and no trials to face. He had lost no
relation whom he loved, no friend whom he treasured. Till this
night, what share he had of the immortal inheritance that is
divided among us all had lain dormant within him. Till this
night, Death and he had not once met, even in thought.
He took a few turns up and down the room, then stopped. The noise
made by his boots on the poorly-carpeted floor jarred on his ear.
He hesitated a little, and ended by taking the boots off, and
walking backward and forward noiselessly.
All desire to sleep or to rest had left him. The bare thought of
lying down on the unoccupied bed instantly drew the picture on
his mind of a dreadful mimicry of the position of the dead man.
Who was he? What was the story of his past life? Poor he must
have been, or he would not have stopped at such a place as the
Two Robins Inn; and weakened, probably, by long illness, or he
could hardly have died in the manner which the landlord had
described. Poor, ill, lonely--dead in a strange place--dead, with
nobody but a stranger to pity him. A sad story; truly, on the
mere face of it, a very sad story.
While these thoughts were passing through his mind, he had
stopped insensibly at the window, close to which stood the foot
of the bed with the closed curtains. At first he looked at it
absently; then he became conscious that his eyes were fixed on
it; and then a perverse desire took possession of him to do the
very thing which he had resolved not to do up to this time--to
look at the dead man.
He stretched out his hand toward the curtains, but checked
himself in the very act of undrawing them, turned his back
sharply on the bed, and walked toward the chimney-piece, to see
what things were placed on it, and to try if he could keep the
dead man out of his mind in that way.
There was a pewter inkstand on the chimney-piece, with some
mildewed remains of ink in the bottle. There were two coarse
china ornaments of the commonest kind; and there was a square of
embossed card, dirty and fly-blown, with a collection of wretched
riddles printed on it, in all sorts of zigzag directions, and in
variously colored inks. He took the card and went away to read it
at the table on which the candle was placed, sitting down with
his back resolutely turned to the curtained bed.
He read the first riddle, the second, the third, all in one
corner of the card, then turned it round impatiently to look at
another. Before he could begin reading the riddles printed here
the sound of the church clock stopped him.
He had got through an hour of the time in the room with the dead
Once more he looked at the card. It was not easy to make out the
letters printed on it in consequence of the dimness of the light
which the landlord had left him--a common tallow candle,
furnished with a pair of heavy old-fashioned steel snuffers. Up
to this time his mind had been too much occupied to think of the
light. He had left the wick of the candle unsnuffed till it had
risen higher than the flame, and had burned into an odd
pent-house shape at the top, from which morsels of the charred
cotton fell off from time to time in little flakes. He took up
the snuffers now and trimmed the wick. The light brightened
directly, and the room became less dismal.
Again he turned to the riddles, reading them doggedly and
resolutely, now in one corner of the card, now in another. All
his efforts, however, could not fix his attention on them. He
pursued his occupation mechanically, deriving no sort of
impression from what he was reading. It was as if a shadow from
the curtained bed had got between his mind and the gayly printed
letters--a shadow that nothing could dispel. At last he gave up
the struggle, threw the card from him impatiently, and took to
walking softly up and down the room again.
The dead man, the dead man, the _hidden_ dead man on the bed!
There was the one persistent idea still haunting him. Hidden! Was
it only the body being there, or was it the body being there
_concealed,_ that was preying on his mind? He stopped at the
window with that doubt in him, once more listening to the
pattering rain, once more looking out into the black darkness.
Still the dead man!
The darkness forced his mind back upon itself, and set his memory
at work, reviving with a painfully vivid distinctness the
momentary impression it had received from his first sight of the
corpse. Before long the face seemed to be hovering out in the
middle of the darkness, confronting him through the window, with
the paleness whiter--with the dreadful dull line of light between
the imperfectly-closed eyelids broader than he had seen it--with
the parted lips slowly dropping further and further away from
each other--with the features growing larger and moving closer,
till they seemed to fill the window, and to silence the rain, and
to shut out the night.
The sound of a voice shouting below stairs woke him suddenly from
the dream of his own distempered fancy. He recognized it as the
voice of the landlord.
"Shut up at twelve, Ben," he heard it say. "I'm off to bed."
He wiped away the damp that had gathered on his forehead,
reasoned with himself for a little while, and resolved to shake
his mind free of the ghastly counterfeit which still clung to it
by forcing himself to confront, if it was only for a moment, the
solemn reality. Without allowing himself an instant to hesitate,
he parted the curtains at the foot of the bed, and looked
There was the sad, peaceful, white face, with the awful mystery
of stillness on it, laid back upon the pillow. No stir, no change
there! He only looked at it for a moment before he closed the
curtains again, but that moment steadied him, calmed him,
restored him--mind and body--to himself. He returned to his old
occupation of walking up and down the room, persevering in it
this time till the clock struck again.
As the sound of the clock-bell died away, it was succeeded by the
confused noise downstairs of the drinkers in the taproom leaving
the house. The next sound, after an interval of silence, was
caused by the barring of the door and the closing of the shutters
at the back of the inn. Then the silence followed again, and was
disturbed no more.
He was alone now--absolutely, hopelessly alone with the dead man
till the next morning.
The wick of the candle wanted trimming again. He took up the
snuffers, but paused suddenly on the very point of using them,
and looked attentively at the candle--then back, over his
shoulder, at the curtained bed--then again at the candle. It had
been lighted for the first time to show him the way upstairs, and
three parts of it, at least, were already consumed. In another
hour it would be burned out. In another hour, unless he called at
once to the man who had shut up the inn for a fresh candle, he
would be left in the dark.
Strongly as his mind had been affected since he had entered the
room, his unreasonable dread of encountering ridicule and of
exposing his courage to suspicion had not
altogether lost its influence over him even yet.
He lingered irresolutely by the table, waiting till he could
prevail on himself to open the door, and call from the landing,
to the man who had shut up the inn. In his present hesitating
frame of mind, it was a kind of relief to gain a few moments only
by engaging in the trifling occupation of snuffing the candle.
His hand trembled a little, and the snuffers were heavy and
awkward to use. When he closed them on the wick, he closed them a
hair-breadth too low. In an instant the candle was out, and the
room was plunged in pitch darkness.
The one impression which the absence of light immediately
produced on his mind was distrust of the curtained bed--distrust
which shaped itself into no distinct idea, but which was powerful
enough, in its very vagueness, to bind him down to his chair, to
make his heart beat fast, and to set him listening intently. No
sound stirred in the room, but the familiar sound of the rain
against the window, louder and sharper now than he had heard it
Still the vague distrust, the inexpressible dread possessed him,
and kept him in his chair. He had put his carpet-bag on the table
when he first entered the room, and he now took the key from his
pocket, reached out his hand softly, opened the bag, and groped
in it for his traveling writing-case, in which he knew that there
was a small store of matches. When he had got one of the matches
he waited before he struck it on the coarse wooden table, and
listened intently again without knowing why. Still there was no
sound in the room but the steady, ceaseless rattling sound of the
He lighted the candle again without another moment of delay, and,
on the instant of its burning up, the first object in the room
that his eyes sought for was the curtained bed.
Just before the light had been put out he had looked in that
direction, and had seen no change, no disarrangement of any sort
in the folds of the closely-drawn curtains.
When he looked at the bed now, he saw hanging over the side of it
a long white hand.
It lay perfectly motionless midway on the side of the bed, where
the curtain at the head and the curtain at the foot met. Nothing
more was visible. The clinging curtains hid everything but the