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The Lock and Key Library

Part 7 out of 7

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"The next is perfect, of course,--poor dear boys." She sighed as
she spoke, and I wondered whether she was really as unconscious as
she generally appeared to be of the strange dissatisfaction with
which her husband seemed to regard his children. Anyhow the
mention of them had evidently changed her mood, and almost directly
afterwards, with the remark that she must go and look after her
guests, who had all arrived by now, she left me to myself.

For some minutes I sat by the bright fire, lost in aimless,
wandering thought, which began with Dame Alice and her cabinet, and
which ended somehow with Alan's face, as I had last seen it looking
up at me in front of the hall-door. When I had reached that point,
I roused myself to decide that I had dreamt long enough, and that
it was quite time to go down to the guests and to tea. I
accordingly donned my best teagown, arranged my hair, and proceeded
towards the drawing-room. My way there lay through the great
central hall. This apartment was approached from most of the
bedrooms in the house through a large, arched doorway at one end of
it, which communicated directly with the great staircase. My
bedroom, however, which, as I have said, lay among the private
apartments of the house, opened into a passage which led into a
broad gallery, or upper chamber, stretching right across the end of
the hall. From this you descended by means of a small staircase in
oak, whose carved balustrade, bending round the corner of the hall,
formed one of the prettiest features of the picturesque old room.
The barrier which ran along the front of the gallery was in solid
oak, and of such a height that, unless standing close up to it, you
could neither see nor be seen by the occupants of the room below.
On approaching this gallery I heard voices in the hall. They were
George's and Alan's, evidently in hot discussion. As I issued from
the passage, George was speaking, and his voice had that
exasperated tone in which an angry man tries to bring to a close an
argument in which he has lost his temper. "For heaven's sake leave
it alone, Alan; I neither can nor will interfere. We have enough
to bear from these cursed traditions as it is, without adding one
which has no foundation whatever to justify it--a mere contemptible
piece of superstition."

"No member of our family has a right to call any tradition
contemptible which is connected with that place, and you know it,"
answered Alan; and though he spoke low, his voice trembled with
some strong emotion. A first impulse of hesitation which I had had
I checked, feeling that as I had heard so much it was fairer to go
on, and I advanced to the top of the staircase. Alan stood by the
fireplace facing me, but far too occupied to see me. His last
speech had seemingly aroused George to fury, for the latter turned
on him now with savage passion.

"Damn it all, Alan!" he cried, "can't you be quiet? I will be
master in my own house. Take care, I tell you; the curse may not
be quite fulfilled yet after all."

As George uttered these words, Alan lifted his eyes to him with a
glance of awful horror: his face turned ghastly white; his lips
trembled for a moment; and then he answered back with one half-
whispered word of supreme appeal--"George!" There was a long-
drawn, unutterable anguish in his tone, and his voice, though
scarcely audible, penetrated to every corner of the room, and
seemed to hang quivering in the air around one after the sound had
ceased. Then there was a terrible stillness. Alan stood trembling
in every limb, incapable apparently of speech or action, and George
faced him, as silent and motionless as he was. For an instant they
remained thus, while I looked breathlessly on. Then George, with a
muttered imprecation, turned on his heel and left the room. Alan
followed him as he went with dull lifeless eyes; and as the door
closed he breathed deeply, with a breath that was almost a groan.

Taking my courage in both hands, I now descended the stairs, and at
the sound of my footfall he glanced up, started, and then came
rapidly to meet me.

"Evie! you here," he said; "I did not notice you. How long have
you been here?" He was still quite white, and I noticed that he
panted for breath as he spoke.

"Not long," I answered, timidly, and rather spasmodically; "I only
heard a sentence or two. You wanted George to do something about
some tradition or other,--and he was angry,--and he said something
about the curse."

While I spoke Alan kept his eyes fixed on mine, reading through
them, as I knew, into my mind. When I had finished he turned his
gaze away satisfied, and answered very quietly, "Yes, that was it."
Then he went back to the fireplace, rested his arm against the high
mantelpiece above it, and leaning his forehead on his arm, remained
silently looking into the fire. I could see by his bent brow and
compressed lips that he was engaged upon some earnest train of
thought or reasoning, and I stood waiting--worried, puzzled,
curious, but above all things, pitiful, and oh! longing so
intensely to help him if I could. Presently he straightened
himself a little, and addressed me more in his ordinary tone of
voice, though without looking round. "So I hear they have changed
your room."

"Yes," I answered. And then, flushing rather, "Is that what you
and George have been quarreling about?" I received no reply, and
taking this silence for assent, I went on deprecatingly, "Because
you know, if it was, I think you are rather foolish, Alan. As I
understand, two girls are said to have died in that room more than
a hundred years ago, and for that reason there is a prejudice
against putting a girl to sleep there. That is all. Merely a
vague, unreasonable tradition."

Alan took a moment to answer.

"Yes," he said at length, speaking slowly, and as if replying to
arguments in his own mind as much as to those which I had uttered.
"Yes, it is nothing but a tradition after all, and that of the very
vaguest and most unsupported kind."

"Is there even any proof that girls have not slept there since
those two died?" I asked. I think that the suggestion conveyed in
this question was a relief to him, for after a moment's pause, as
if to search his memory, he turned round.

"No," he answered, "I don't think that there is any such proof; and
I have no doubt that you are right, and that it is a mere prejudice
that makes me dislike your sleeping there."

"Then," I said, with a little assumption of sisterly superiority,
"I think George was right, and that you were wrong."

Alan smiled,--a smiled which sat oddly on the still pale face, and
in the wearied, worn-looking eyes. "Very likely," he said; "I
daresay that I am superstitious. I have had things to make me so."
Then coming nearer to me, and laying his hands on my shoulders, he
went on, smiling more brightly, "We are a queer-tempered, bad-
nerved race, we Mervyns, and you must not take us too seriously,
Evie. The best thing that you can do with our odd ways is to
ignore them."

"Oh, I don't mind," I answered, laughing, too glad to have won him
back to even temporary brightness, "as long as you and George don't
come to blows over the question of where I am to sleep; which after
all is chiefly my concern,--and Lucy's."

"Well, perhaps it is," he replied, in the same tone; "and now be
off to the drawing-room, where Lucy is defending the tea-table
single-handed all this time."

I obeyed, and should have gone more cheerfully had I not turned at
the doorway to look back at him, and caught one glimpse of his face
as he sank heavily down into the large arm-chair by the fireside.

However, by dinner-time he appeared to have dismissed all painful
reflections from his mind, or to have buried them too deep for
discovery. The people staying in the house were, in spite of my
sense of grievance at their arrival, individually pleasant, and
after dinner I discovered them to be socially well assorted. For
the first hour or two, indeed, after their arrival, each glared at
the other across those triple lines of moral fortification behind
which every well-bred Briton takes refuge on appearing at a
friend's country-house. But flags of truce were interchanged over
the soup, an armistice was agreed upon during the roast, and the
terms of a treaty of peace and amity were finally ratified under
the sympathetic influence of George's best champagne. For the
achievement of this happy result Alan certainly worked hard, and
received therefor many a grateful glance from his sister-in-law.
He was more excited than I had ever seen him before, and talked
brilliantly and well--though perhaps not as exclusively to his
neighbors as they may have wished. His eyes and his attention
seemed everywhere at once: one moment he was throwing remarks
across to some despairing couple opposite, and the next he was
breaking an embarrassing pause in the conversation by some rapid
sally of nonsense addressed to the table in general. He formed a
great contrast to his brother, who sat gloomy and dejected, making
little or no response to the advances of the two dowagers between
whom he was placed. After dinner the younger members of the party
spent the evening by Alan's initiative, and chiefly under his
direction, in a series of lively and rather riotous games such as
my nursery days had delighted in, and my schoolroom ones had
disdained. It was a great and happy surprise to discover that,
grown up, I might again enjoy them. I did so, hugely, and when
bedtime came all memories more serious than those of "musical
chairs" or "follow my leader" had vanished from my mind. I think,
from Alan's glance as he handed me my bed candle, that the pleasure
and excitement must have improved my looks.

"I hope you have enjoyed your first evening of gayety, Evie," he
said.

"I have," I answered, with happy conviction; "and really I believe
that it is chiefly owing to you, Alan." He met my smile by
another; but I think that there must have been something in his
look which recalled other thoughts, for as I started up the stairs
I threw a mischievous glance back at him and whispered, "Now for
the horrors of the haunted chamber."

He laughed rather loudly, and saying "Good-night, and good-luck,"
turned to attend to the other ladies.

His wishes were certainly fulfilled. I got to bed quickly, and--as
soon as my happy excitement was sufficiently calmed to admit of it--
to sleep. The only thing which disturbed me was the wind, which
blew fiercely and loudly all the earlier portion of the night, half
arousing me more than once. I spoke of it at breakfast the next
morning; but the rest of the world seemed to have slept too heavily
to have been aware of it.

IV

The men went out shooting directly after breakfast, and we women
passed the day in orthodox country-house fashion,--working and
eating; walking and riding; driving and playing croquet; and above,
beyond, and through all things, chattering. Beyond a passing sigh
while I was washing my hands, or a moment of mournful remembrance
while I changed my dress, I had scarcely time even to regret the
quiet happiness of the week that was past. In the evening we
danced in the great hall. I had two valses with Alan. During a
pause for breath, I found that we were standing near the fireplace,
on the very spot where he and George had stood on the previous
afternoon. The recollection made me involuntarily glance up at his
face. It looked sad and worried, and the thought suddenly struck
me that his extravagant spirits of the night before, and even his
quieter, careful cheerfulness of to-night, had been but artificial
moods at best. He turned, and finding my eyes fixed on him, at
once plunged into conversation, discussed the peculiarities of one
of the guests, good-humoredly enough, but with so much fun as to
make me laugh in spite of myself. Then we danced again. The
plaintive music, the smooth floor, and the partner were all alike
perfect, and I experienced that entire delight of physical
enjoyment which I believe nothing but a valse under such
circumstances can give. When it was over I turned to Alan, and
exclaimed with impulsive appeal, "Oh, I am so happy,--you must be
happy too!" He smiled rather uncertainly, and answered, "Don't
bother yourself about me, Evie, I am all right. I told you that we
Mervyns had bad nerves; and I am rather tired. That's all." I was
too passionately determined just then upon happiness, and his was
too necessary to mine for me not to believe that he was speaking
the truth.

We kept up the dancing till Lucy discovered with a shock that
midnight had struck, and that Sunday had begun, and we were all
sent off to bed. I was not long in making my nightly preparations,
and had scarcely inserted myself between the sheets when, with a
few long moans, the wind began again, more violently even than the
night before. It had been a calm, fine day, and I made wise
reflections as I listened upon the uncertainty of the north-country
climate. What a tempest it was! How it moaned, and howled, and
shrieked! Where had I heard the superstition which now came to my
mind, that borne upon the wind come the spirits of the drowned,
wailing and crying for the sepulture which had been denied them?
But there were other sounds in that wind, too. Evil, murderous
thoughts, perhaps, which had never taken body in deeds, but which,
caught up in the air, now hurled themselves in impotent fury
through the world. How I wished the wind would stop. It seemed
full of horrible fancies, and it kept knocking them into my head,
and it wouldn't leave off. Fancies, or memories--which?--and my
mind reverted with a flash to the fearful thoughts which had
haunted it the day before in Dame Alice's tower. It was dark now.
Those ghastly intangible shapes must have taken full form and
color, peopling the old ruin with their ageless hideousness. And
the storm had found them there and borne them along with it as it
blew through the creviced walls. That was why the wind's sound
struck so strangely on my brain. Ah! I could hear them now, those
still living memories of dead horror. Through the window crannies
they came shrieking and wailing. They filled the chimney with
spirit sobs, and now they were pressing on, crowding through the
room,--eager, eager to reach their prey. Nearer they came;--nearer
still! They were round my bed now! Through my closed eyelids I
could almost see their dreadful shapes; in all my quivering flesh I
felt their terrors as they bent over me,--lower, lower. . . .

With a start I aroused myself and sat up. Was I asleep or awake?
I was trembling all over still, and it required the greatest effort
of courage I had ever made to enable me to spring from my bed and
strike a light. What a state my nerves or my digestion must be in!
From my childhood the wind had always affected me strangely, and I
blamed myself now for allowing my imagination to run away with me
at the first. I found a novel which I had brought up to my room
with me, one of the modern, Chinese-American school, where human
nature is analyzed with the patient, industrious indifference of
the true Celestial. I took the book to bed with me, and soon under
its soothing influences fell asleep. I dreamt a good deal,--
nightmares, the definite recollection of which, as is so often the
case, vanished from my mind as soon as I awoke, leaving only a
vague impression of horror. They had been connected with the wind,
of that alone I was conscious, and I went down to breakfast,
maliciously hoping that others' rest had been as much disturbed as
my own.

To my surprise, however, I found that I had again been the only
sufferer. Indeed, so impressed were most of the party with the
quiet in which their night had been passed, that they boldly
declared my storm to have been the creature of my dreams. There is
nothing more annoying when you feel yourself aggrieved by fate than
to be told that your troubles have originated in your own fancy; so
I dropped the subject. Though the discussion spread for a few
minutes round the whole table, Alan took no part in it. Neither
did George, except for what I thought a rather unnecessarily rough
expression of his disbelief in the cause of my night's disturbance.
As we rose from breakfast I saw Alan glance towards his brother,
and make a movement, evidently with the purpose of speaking to him.
Whether or not George was aware of the look or action, I cannot
say; but at the same moment he made rapidly across the room to
where one of his principal guests was standing, and at once engaged
him in conversation. So earnestly and so volubly was he borne on,
that they were still talking together when we ladies appeared again
some minutes later, prepared for our walk to church. That was not
the only occasion during the day on which I witnessed as I thought
the same by-play going on. Again and again Alan appeared to be
making efforts to engage George in private conversation, and again
and again the latter successfully eluded him.

The church was about a mile away from the house, and as Lucy did
not like having the carriages out on a Sunday, one service a week
as a rule contented the household. In the afternoon we took the
usual Sunday walk. On returning from it, I had just taken off my
outdoor things, and was issuing from my bedroom, when I found
myself face to face with Alan. He was coming out of George's
study, and had succeeded apparently in obtaining that interview for
which he had been all day seeking. One glance at his face told me
what its nature had been. We paused opposite each other for a
moment, and he looked at me earnestly.

"Are you going to church?" he inquired at last, abruptly.

"No," I answered, with some surprise. "I did not know that any one
was going this evening."

"Will you come with me?"

"Yes, certainly; if you don't mind waiting a moment for me to put
my things on."

"There's plenty of time," he answered; "meet me in the hall."

A few minutes later we started.

It was a calm, cloudless night, and although the moon was not yet
half-full, and already past her meridian, she filled the clear air
with gentle light. Not a word broke our silence. Alan walked
hurriedly, looking straight before him, his head upright, his lips
twitching nervously, while every now and then a half-uttered moan
escaped unconsciously from between them. At last I could bear it
no longer, and burst forth with the first remark which occurred to
me. We were passing a big, black, queer-shaped stone standing in
rather a lonely uncultivated spot at one end of the garden. It was
an old acquaintance of my childhood; but my thoughts had been
turned towards it now from the fact that I could see it from my
bedroom window, and had been struck afresh by its uncouth,
incongruous appearance.

"Isn't there some story connected with that stone?" I asked. "I
remember that we always called it the Dead Stone as children."

Alan cast a quick, sidelong glance in that direction, and his brows
contracted in an irritable frown. "I don't know," he answered
shortly; "they say that there is a woman buried beneath it, I
believe."

"A woman buried there!" I exclaimed in surprise; "but who?"

"How should I know? They know nothing whatever about it. The
place is full of stupid traditions of that kind." Then, looking
suspiciously round at me, "Why do you ask?"

"I don't know; it was just something to say," I answered
plaintively. His strange mood so worked upon my nerves, that it
was all that I could do to restrain my tears. I think that my tone
struck his conscience, for he made a few feverish attempts at
conversation after that. But they were so entirely abortive that
he soon abandoned the effort, and we finished our walk to church as
speechlessly as we had begun it.

The service was bright, and the sermon perhaps a little
commonplace, but sensible as it seemed to me in matter, and
adequate in style. The peaceful evening hymn which followed, the
short solemn pause of silent prayer at the end, soothed and
refreshed my spirit. A hasty glance at my companion's face as he
stood waiting for me in the porch, with the full light from the
church streaming round him, assured me that the same influence had
touched him too. Haggard and sad he still looked, it is true; but
his features were composed, and the expression of actual pain had
left his eyes.

Silent as we had come we started homeward through the waning
moonlight, but this silence was of a very different nature to the
other, and after a minute or two I did not hesitate to break it.

"It was a good sermon?" I observed, interrogatively.

"Yes," he assented, "I suppose you would call it so; but I confess
that I should have found the text more impressive without its
exposition."

"Poor man!"

"But don't you often find it so?" he asked. "Do you not often
wish, to take this evening's instance, that clergymen would infuse
themselves with something of St. Paul's own spirit? Then perhaps
they would not water all the strength out of his words in their
efforts to explain them."

"That is rather a large demand to make upon them, is it not?"

"Is it?" he questioned. "I don't ask them to be inspired saints.
I don't expect St. Paul's breadth and depth of thought. But could
they not have something of his vigorous completeness, something of
the intensity of his feeling and belief? Look at the text of to-
night. Did not the preacher's examples and applications take
something from its awful unqualified strength?"

"Awful!" I exclaimed, in surprise; "that is hardly the expression I
should have used in connection with those words."

"Why not?"

"Oh, I don't know. The text is very beautiful, of course, and at
times, when people are tiresome and one ought to be nice to them,
it is very difficult to act up to. But--"

"But you think that 'awful' is rather a big adjective to use for so
small a duty," interposed Alan, and the moonlight showed the
flicker of a smile upon his face. Then he continued, gravely, "I
doubt whether you yourself realize the full import of the words.
The precept of charity is not merely a code of rules by which to
order our conduct to our neighbors; it is the picture of a
spiritual condition, and such, where it exists in us, must by its
very nature be roused into activity by anything that affects us.
So with this particular injunction, every circumstance in our lives
is a challenge to it, and in presence of all alike it admits of one
attitude only: 'Beareth all things, endureth all things.' I hope
it will be long before that 'all' sticks in your gizzard, Evie,--
before you come face to face with things which nature cannot bear,
and yet which must be borne."

He stopped, his voice quivering; and then after a pause went on
again more calmly, "And throughout it is the same. Moral precepts
everywhere, which will admit of no compromise, no limitation, and
yet which are at war with our strongest passions. If one could
only interpose some 'unless,' some 'except,' even an 'until,' which
should be short of the grave. But we cannot. The law is infinite,
universal, eternal; there is no escape, no repose. Resist, strive,
endure, that is the recurring cry; that is existence."

"And peace," I exclaimed, appealingly. "Where is there room for
peace, if that be true?"

He sighed for answer, and then in a changed and lower tone added,
"However thickly the clouds mass, however vainly we search for a
coming glimmer in their midst, we never doubt that the sky IS still
beyond--beyond and around us, infinite and infinitely restful."

He raised his eyes as he spoke, and mine followed his. We had
entered the wooded glen. Through the scanty autumn foliage we
could see the stars shining faintly in the dim moonlight, and
beyond them the deep illimitable blue. A dark world it looked,
distant and mysterious, and my young spirit rebelled at the
consolation offered me.

"Peace seems a long way off," I whispered.

"It is for me," he answered, gently; "not necessarily for you."

"Oh, but I am worse and weaker than you are. If life is to be all
warfare, I must be beaten. I cannot always be fighting."

"Cannot you? Evie, what I have been saying is true of every moral
law worth having, of every ideal of life worth striving after, that
men have yet conceived. But it is only half the truth of
Christianity. You know that. We must strive, for the promise is
to him that overcometh; but though our aim be even higher than is
that of others, we cannot in the end fail to reach it. The victory
of the Cross is ours. You know that? You believe that?"

"Yes" I answered, softly, too surprised to say more. In speaking
of religion he, as a rule, showed to the full the reserve which is
characteristic of his class and country, and this sudden outburst
was in itself astonishing; but the eager anxiety with which he
emphasized the last words of appeal impressed and bewildered me
still further. We walked on for some minutes in silence. Then
suddenly Alan stopped, and turning, took my hand in his. In what
direction his mind had been working in the interval I could not
divine; but the moment he began to speak I felt that he was now for
the first time giving utterance to what had been really at the
bottom of his thoughts the whole evening. Even in that dim light I
could see the anxious look upon his face, and his voice shook with
restrained emotion.

"Evie," he said, "have you ever thought of the world in which our
spirits dwell, as our bodies do in this one of matter and sense,
and of how it may be peopled? I know," he went on hurriedly, "that
it is the fashion nowadays to laugh at such ideas. I envy those
who have never had cause to be convinced of their reality, and I
hope that you may long remain among the number. But should that
not be so, should those unseen influences ever touch your life, I
want you to remember then, that, as one of the race for whom Christ
died, you have as high a citizenship in that spirit land as any
creature there: that you are your own soul's warden, and that
neither principalities nor powers can rob you of that your
birthright."

I think my face must have shown my bewilderment, for he dropped my
hand, and walked on with an impatient sigh.

"You don't understand me. Why should you? I dare-say that I am
talking nonsense--only--only--"

His voice expressed such an agony of doubt and hesitation that I
burst out--

"I think that I do understand you a little, Alan. You mean that
even from unearthly enemies there is nothing that we need really
fear--at least, that is, I suppose, nothing worse than death. But
that is surely enough!"

"Why should you fear death?" he said, abruptly; "your soul will
live."

"Yes, I know that, but still--" I stopped with a shudder.

"What is life after all but one long death?" he went on, with
sudden violence. "Our pleasures, our hopes, our youth are all
dying; ambition dies, and even desire at last; our passions and
tastes will die, or will live only to mourn their dead opportunity.
The happiness of love dies with the loss of the loved, and, worst
of all, love itself grows old in our hearts and dies. Why should
we shrink only from the one death which can free us from all the
others?"

"It is not true, Alan!" I cried, hotly. "What you say is not true.
There are many things even here which are living and shall live;
and if it were otherwise, in everything, life that ends in death is
better than no life at all."

"You say that," he answered, "because for you these things are yet
living. To leave life now, therefore, while it is full and sweet,
untainted by death, surely that is not a fate to fear. Better, a
thousand times better, to see the cord cut with one blow while it
is still whole and strong, and to launch out straight into the
great ocean, than to sit watching through the slow years, while
strand after strand, thread by thread, loosens and unwinds itself,--
each with its own separate pang breaking, bringing the bitterness
of death without its release.

His manner, the despairing ring in his voice, alarmed me even more
than his words. Clinging to his arm with both hands, while the
tears sprang to my eyes--

"Alan," I cried, "don't say such things,--don't talk like that.
You are making me miserable."

He stopped short at my words, with bent head, his features hidden
in the shadow thus cast upon them,--nothing in his motionless form
to show what was passing within him. Then he looked up, and turned
his face to the moonlight and to me, laying his hand on one of
mine.

"Don't be afraid," he said; "it is all right, my little David. You
have driven the evil spirit away." And lifting my hand, he pressed
it gently to his lips. Then drawing it within his arm, he went on,
as he walked forward, "And even when it was on me at its worst, I
was not meditating suicide, as I think you imagine. I am a very
average specimen of humanity,--neither brave enough to defy the
possibilities of eternity nor cowardly enough to shirk those of
time. No, I was only trying idiotically to persuade a girl of
eighteen that life was not worth living; and more futilely still,
myself, that I did not wish her to live. I am afraid, that in my
mind philosophy and fact have but small connection with each other;
and though my theorizing for your welfare may be true enough, yet,--
I cannot help it, Evie,--it would go terribly hard with me if
anything were to happen to you."

His voice trembled as he finished. My fear had gone with his
return to his natural manner, but my bewilderment remained.

"Why SHOULD there anything happen to me?" I asked.

"That is just it," he answered, after a pause, looking straight in
front of him and drawing his hand wearily over his brow. "I know
of no reason why there should." Then giving a sigh, as if finally
to dismiss from his mind a worrying subject--"I have acted for the
best," he said, "and may God forgive me if I have done wrong."

There was a little silence after that, and then he began to talk
again, steadily and quietly. The subject was deep enough still, as
deep as any that we had touched upon, but both voice and sentiment
were calm, bringing peace to my spirit, and soon making me forget
the wonder and fear of a few moments before. Very openly did he
talk as we passed on across the long trunk shadows and through the
glades of silver light; and I saw farther then into the most sacred
recesses of his soul than I have ever done before or since.

When we reached home the moon had already set; but some of her
beams seemed to have been left behind within my heart, so pure and
peaceful was the light which filled it.

The same feeling continued with me all through that evening. After
dinner some of the party played and sang. As it was Sunday, and
Lucy was rigid in her views, the music was of a sacred character.
I sat in a low armchair in a dark corner of the room, my mind too
dreamy to think, and too passive to dream. I hardly interchanged
three words with Alan, who remained in a still darker spot,
invisible and silent the whole time. Only as we left the room to
go to bed, I heard Lucy ask him if he had a headache. I did not
hear his answer, and before I could see his face he had turned back
again into the drawing-room.

V

It was early, and when first I got to my room I felt little
inclined for sleep. I wandered to the window, and drawing aside
the curtains, looked out upon the still, starlit sky. At least I
should rest quiet to-night. The air was very clear, and the sky
seemed full of stars. As I stood there scraps of schoolroom
learning came back to my mind. That the stars were all suns,
surrounded perhaps in their turn by worlds as large or larger than
our own. Worlds beyond worlds, and others farther still, which no
man might number or even descry. And about the distance of those
wonderful suns too,--that one, for instance, at which I was
looking,--what was it that I had been told? That our world was not
yet peopled, perhaps not yet formed, when the actual spot of light
which now struck my sight first started from the star's surface!
While it flashed along, itself the very symbol of speed, the whole
of mankind had had time to be born, and live, and die!

My gaze dropped, and fell upon the dim, half-seen outline of the
Dead Stone. That woman too. While that one ray speeded towards me
her life had been lived and ended, and her body had rotted away
into the ground. How close together we all were! Her life and
mine; our joys, sufferings, deaths--all crowded together into the
space of one flash of light! And yet there was nothing there but a
horrible skeleton of dead bones, while I--!

I stopped with a shudder, and turned back into the room. I wished
that Alan had not told me what lay under the stone; I wished that I
had never asked him. It was a ghastly thing to think about, and
spoilt all the beauty of the night to me.

I got quickly into bed, and soon dropped asleep. I do not know how
long I slept; but when I woke it was with the consciousness again
of that haunting wind.

It was worse than ever. The world seemed filled with its din.
Hurling itself passionately against the house, it gathered strength
with every gust, till it seemed as if the old walls must soon crash
in ruins round me. Gust upon gust; blow upon blow; swelling,
lessening, never ceasing. The noise surrounded me; it penetrated
my inmost being, as all-pervading as silence itself, and wrapping
me in a solitude even more complete. There was nothing left in the
world but the wind and I, and then a weird intangible doubt as to
my own identity seized me. The wind was real, the wind with its
echoes of passion and misery from the eternal abyss; but was there
anything else? What was, and what had been, the world of sense and
of knowledge, my own consciousness, my very self,--all seemed
gathered up and swept away in that one sole-existent fury of sound.

I pulled myself together, and getting out of bed, groped my way to
the table which stood between the bed and the fireplace. The
matches were there, and my half-burnt candle, which I lit. The
wind penetrating the rattling casement circled round the room, and
the flame of my candle bent and flared and shrank before it,
throwing strange moving lights and shadows in every corner. I
stood there shivering in my thin nightdress, half stunned by the
cataract of noise beating on the walls outside, and peered
anxiously around me. The room was not the same. Something was
changed. What was it? How the shadows leaped and fell, dancing in
time to the wind's music. Everything seemed alive. I turned my
head slowly to the left, and then to the right, and then round--and
stopped with a sudden gasp of fear.

The cabinet was open!

I looked away, and back, and again. There was no room for doubt.
The doors were thrown back, and were waving gently in the draught.
One of the lower drawers was pulled out, and in a sudden flare of
the candle-light I could see something glistening at its bottom.
Then the light dwindled again, the candle was almost out, and the
cabinet showed a dim black mass in the darkness. Up and down went
the flame, and each returning brightness flashed back at me from
the thing inside the drawer. I stood fascinated, my eyes fixed
upon the spot, waiting for the fitful glitter as it came and went.
What was there there? I knew that I must go and see, but I did not
want to. If only the cabinet would close again before I looked,
before I knew what was inside it. But it stood open, and the
glittering thing lay there, dragging me towards itself.

Slowly at last, and with infinite reluctance, I went. The drawer
was lined with soft white satin, and upon the satin lay a long,
slender knife, hilted and sheathed in antique silver, richly set
with jewels. I took it up and turned back to the table to examine
it. It was Italian in workmanship, and I knew that the carving and
chasing of the silver were more precious even than the jewels which
studded it, and whose rough setting gave so firm a grasp to my
hand. Was the blade as fair as the covering, I wondered? A little
resistance at first, and then the long thin steel slid easily out.
Sharp, and bright, and finely tempered it looked with its deadly,
tapering point. Stains, dull and irregular, crossed the fine
engraving on its surface and dimmed its polish. I bent to examine
them more closely, and as I did so a sudden stronger gust of wind
blew out the candle. I shuddered a little at the darkness and
looked up. But it did not matter: the curtain was still drawn away
from the window opposite my bedside, and through it a flood of
moonlight was pouring in upon floor and bed.

Putting the sheath down upon the table, I walked to the window to
examine the knife more closely by that pale light. How gloriously
brilliant it was! darkened now and again by the quickly passing
shadows of wind-driven clouds. At least so I thought, and I
glanced up and out of the window to see them. A black world met my
gaze. Neither moon was there nor moonlight: the broad silver beam
in which I stood stretched no farther than the window. I caught my
breath, and my limbs stiffened as I looked. No moon, no cloud, no
movement in the clear, calm, starlit sky; while still the ghastly
light stretched round me, and the spectral shadows drifted across
the room.

But it was not all dark outside: one spot caught my eye, bright
with a livid unearthly brightness--the Dead Stone shining out into
the night like an ember from hell's furnace! There was a horrid
semblance of life in the light,--a palpitating, breathing glow,--
and my pulses beat in time to it, till I seemed to be drawing it
into my veins. It had no warmth, and as it entered my blood my
heart grew colder, and my muscles more rigid. My fingers clutched
the dagger-hilt till its jeweled roughness pressed painfully into
my palm. All the strength of my strained powers seemed gathered in
that grasp, and the more tightly I held the more vividly did the
rock gleam and quiver with infernal life. The dead woman! The
dead woman! What had I to do with her? Let her bones rest in the
filth of their own decay,--out there under the accursed stone.

And now the noise of the wind lessens in my ears. Let it go on,--
yes, louder and wilder, drowning my senses in its tumult. What is
there with me in the room--the great empty room behind me?
Nothing; only the cabinet with its waving doors. They are waving
to and fro, to and fro--I know it. But there is no other life in
the room but that--no, no; no other life in the room but that.

Oh! don't let the wind stop. I can't hear anything while it goes
on;--but if it stops! Ah! the gusts grow weaker, struggling,
forced into rest. Now--now--they have ceased.

Silence!

A fearful pause.

What is that that I hear? There, behind me in the room?

Do I hear it? Is there anything?

The throbbing of my own blood in my ears.

No, no! There is something as well,--something outside myself.

What is it?

Low; heavy; regular.

God! it is--it is the breath of a living creature! A living
creature! here--close to me--alone with me!

The numbness of terror conquers me. I can neither stir nor speak.
Only my whole soul strains at my ears to listen.

Where does the sound come from?

Close behind me--close.

Ah-h!

It is from there--from the bed where I was lying a moment ago! . . .

I try to shriek, but the sound gurgles unuttered in my throat. I
clutch the stone mullions of the window, and press myself against
the panes. If I could but throw myself out!--anywhere, anywhere--
away from that dreadful sound--from that thing close behind me in
the bed! But I can do nothing. The wind has broken forth again
now; the storm crashes round me. And still through it all I hear
the ghastly breathing--even, low, scarcely audible--but I hear it.
I shall hear it as long as I live! . . .

Is the thing moving?

Is it coming nearer?

No, no; not that,--that was but a fancy to freeze me dead.

But to stand here, with that creature behind me, listening, waiting
for the warm horror of its breath to touch my neck! Ah! I cannot.
I will look. I will see it face to face. Better any agony than
this one.

Slowly, with held breath, and eyes aching in their stretched
fixity, I turn. There it is! Clear in the moonlight I see the
monstrous form within the bed,--the dark coverlet rises and falls
with its heaving breath. . . . Ah! heaven have mercy! Is there
none to help, none to save me from this awful presence? . . .

And the knife-hilt draws my fingers round it, while my flesh
quivers, and my soul grows sick with loathing. The wind howls, the
shadows chase through the room, hunting with fearful darkness more
fearful light; and I stand looking, . . . listening. . . .

. . . . . .

I must not stand here for ever; I must be up and doing. What a
noise the wind makes, and the rattling of the windows and the
doors. If he sleeps through this he will sleep through all.
Noiselessly my bare feet tread the carpet as I approach the bed;
noiselessly my left arm raises the heavy curtain. What does it
hide? Do I not know? The bestial features, half-hidden in coarse,
black growth; the muddy, blotched skin, oozing foulness at every
pore. Oh, I know them too well! What a monster it is! How the
rank breath gurgles through his throat in his drunken sleep. The
eyes are closed now, but I know them too; their odious leer, and
the venomous hatred with which they can glare at me from their
bloodshot setting. But the time has come at last. Never again
shall their passion insult me, or their fury degrade me in slavish
terror. There he lies; there at my mercy, the man who for fifteen
years has made God's light a shame to me, and His darkness a
terror. The end has come at last,--the only end possible, the only
end left me. On his head be the blood and the crime! God
almighty, I am not guilty! The end has come; I can bear my burden
no farther.

"Beareth all things, endureth all things."

Where have I heard those words? They are in the Bible; the precept
of charity. What has that to do with me? Nothing. I heard the
words in my dreams somewhere. A white-faced man said them, a
white-faced man with pure eyes. To me?--no, no, not to me; to a
girl it was--an ignorant, innocent girl, and she accepted them as
an eternal, unqualified law. Let her bear but half that I have
borne, let her endure but one-tenth of what I have endured, and
then if she dare let her speak in judgment against me.

Softly now; I must draw the heavy coverings away, and bare his
breast to the stroke,--the stroke that shall free me. I know well
where to plant it; I have learned that from the old lady's Italian.
Did he guess why I questioned him so closely of the surest,
straightest road to a man's heart? No matter, he cannot hinder me
now. Gently! Ah! I have disturbed him. He moves, mutters in his
sleep, throws out his arm. Down; down; crouching behind the
curtain. Heavens! if he wakes and sees me, he will kill me. No!
alas! if only he would. I would kiss the hand that he struck me
with; but he is too cruel for that. He will imagine some new and
more hellish torture to punish me with. But the knife! I have got
that; he shall never touch me living again. . . . He is quieter
now. I hear his breath, hoarse and heavy as a wild beast's
panting. He draws it more evenly, more deeply. The danger is
past. Thank God!

God! What have I to do with Him? A God of Judgment. Ha, ha!
Hell cannot frighten me; it will not be worse than earth. Only he
will be there too. Not with him, not with him,--send me to the
lowest circle of torment, but not with him. There, his breast is
bare now. Is the knife sharp? Yes; and the blade is strong
enough. Now let me strike--myself afterwards if need be, but him
first. Is it the devil that prompts me? Then the devil is my
friend, and the friend of the world. No. God is a God of love.
He cannot wish such a man to live. He made him, but the devil
spoilt him; and let the devil have his handiwork back again. It
has served him long enough here; and its last service shall be to
make me a murderess.

How the moonlight gleams from the blade as my arm swings up and
back: with how close a grasp the rough hilt draws my fingers round
it. Now.

A murderess?

Wait a moment. A moment may make me free; a moment may make me--
that!

Wait.

Hand and dagger droop again. His life has dragged its slime over
my soul; shall his death poison it with a fouler corruption still?

"My own soul's warden."

What was that? Dream memories again.

"Resist, strive, endure."

Easy words. What do they mean for me? To creep back now to bed by
his side, and to begin living again to-morrow the life which I have
lived to-day? No, no; I cannot do it. Heaven cannot ask it of me.
And there is no other way. That or this; this or that. Which
shall it be? Ah! I have striven, God knows. I have endured so
long that I hoped even to do so to the end. But to-day! Oh! the
torment and the outrage: body and soul still bear the stain of it.
I thought that my heart and my pride were dead together, but he has
stung them again into aching, shameful life. Yesterday I might
have spared him, to save my own cold soul from sin; but now it is
cold no longer. It burns, it burns and the fire must be slaked.

Ay, I will kill him, and have done with it. Why should I pause any
longer? The knife drags my hand back for the stroke. Only the
dream surrounds me; the pure man's face is there, white,
beseeching, and God's voice rings in my heart--

"To him that overcometh."

But I cannot overcome. Evil has governed my life, and evil is
stronger than I am. What shall I do? what shall I do? God, if
Thou art stronger than evil, fight for me.

"The victory of the Cross is ours."

Yes, I know it. It is true, it is true. But the knife? I cannot
loose the knife if I would. How to wrench it from my own hold?
Thou God of Victory be with me! Christ help me!

I seize the blade with my left hand; the two-edged steel slides
through my grasp; a sharp pain in fingers and palm; and then--
nothing. . . .

. . . . . .

VI

When I again became conscious, I found myself half kneeling, half
lying across the bed, my arms stretched out in front of me, my face
buried in the clothes. Body and mind were alike numbed. A
smarting pain in my left hand, a dreadful terror in my heart, were
at first the only sensations of which I was aware. Slowly, very
slowly, sense and memory returned to me, and with them a more vivid
intensity of mental anguish, as detail by detail I recalled the
weird horror of the night. Had it really happened,--was the thing
still there,--or was it all a ghastly nightmare? It was some
minutes before I dared either to move or look up, and then
fearfully I raised my head. Before me stretched the smooth white
coverlet, faintly bright with yellow sunshine. Weak and giddy, I
struggled to my feet, and, steadying myself against the foot of the
bed, with clenched teeth and bursting heart, forced my gaze round
to the other end. The pillow lay there, bare and unmarked save for
what might well have been the pressure of my own head. My breath
came more freely, and I turned to the window. The sun had just
risen, the golden tree-tops were touched with light, faint threads
of mist hung here and there across the sky, and the twittering of
birds sounded clearly through the crisp autumn air.

It was nothing but a bad dream then, after all, this horror which
still hung round me, leaving me incapable of effort, almost of
thought. I remembered the cabinet, and looked swiftly in that
direction. There it stood, closed as usual, closed as it had been
the evening before, as it had been for the last three hundred
years, except in my dreams.

Yes, that was it; nothing but a dream,--a gruesome, haunting dream.
With an instinct of wiping out the dreadful memory, I raised my
hand wearily to my forehead. As I did so, I became conscious again
of how it hurt me. I looked at it. It was covered with half-dried
blood, and two straight clean cuts appeared, one across the palm
and one across the inside of the fingers just below the knuckles.
I looked again towards the bed, and, in the place where my hand had
rested during my faint, a small patch of red blood was to be seen.

Then it was true! Then it had all happened! With a low shuddering
sob I threw myself down upon the couch at the foot of the bed, and
lay there for some minutes, my limbs trembling, and my soul
shrinking within me. A mist of evil, fearful and loathsome, had
descended upon my girlhood's life, sullying its ignorant innocence,
saddening its brightness, as I felt, for ever. I lay there till my
teeth began to chatter, and I realized that I was bitterly cold.
To return to that accursed bed was impossible, so I pulled a rug
which hung at one end of the sofa over me, and, utterly worn out in
mind and body, fell uneasily asleep.

I was roused by the entrance of my maid. I stopped her
exclamations and questions by shortly stating that I had had a bad
night, had been unable to rest in bed, and had had an accident with
my hand,--without further specifying of what description.

"I didn't know that you had been feeling unwell when you went to
bed last night, miss," she said.

"When I went to bed last night? Unwell? What do you mean?"

"Only Mr. Alan has just asked me to let him know how you find
yourself this morning," she answered.

Then he expected something, dreaded something. Ah! why had he
yielded and allowed me to sleep here, I asked myself bitterly, as
the incidents of the day before flashed through my mind.

"Tell him," I said, "what I have told you; and say that I wish to
speak to him directly after breakfast." I could not confide my
story to any one else, but speak of it I must to some one or go
mad.

Every moment passed in that place was an added misery. Much to my
maid's surprise I said that I would dress in her room--the little
one which, as I have said, was close to my own. I felt better
there; but my utter fatigue and my wounded hand combined to make my
toilet slow, and I found that most of the party had finished
breakfast when I reached the dining-room. I was glad of this, for
even as it was I found it difficult enough to give coherent answers
to the questions which my white face and bandaged hand called
forth. Alan helped me by giving a resolute turn to the
conversation. Once only our eyes met across the table. He looked
as haggard and worn as I did: I learned afterwards that he had
passed most of that fearful night pacing the passage outside my
door, though he listened in vain for any indication of what was
going on within the room.

The moment I had finished breakfast he was by my side. "You wish
to speak to me? now?" he asked in a low tone.

"Yes; now," I answered, breathlessly, and without raising my eyes
from the ground.

"Where shall we go? Outside? It is a bright day, and we shall be
freer there from interruption."

I assented; and then looking up at him appealingly, "Will you fetch
my things for me? I CANNOT go up to that room again."

He seemed to understand me, nodded, and was gone. A few minutes
later we left the house, and made our way in silence towards a
grassy spot on the side of the ravine where we had already indulged
in more than one friendly talk.

As we went, the Dead Stone came for a moment into view. I seized
Alan's arm in an almost convulsive grip. "Tell me," I whispered,--
"you refused to tell me yesterday, but you must now,--who is buried
beneath that rock?"

There was now neither timidity nor embarrassment in my tone. The
horrors of that house had become part of my life for ever, and
their secrets were mine by right. Alan, after a moment's pause, a
questioning glance at my face, tacitly accepted the position.

"I told you the truth," he replied, "when I said that I did not
know; but I can tell you the popular tradition on the subject, if
you like. They say that Margaret Mervyn, the woman who murdered
her husband, is buried there, and that Dame Alice had the rock
placed over her grave,--whether to save it from insult or to mark
it out for opprobrium, I never heard. The poor people about here
do not care to go near the place after dark, and among the older
ones there are still some, I believe, who spit at the suicide's
grave as they pass."

"Poor woman, poor woman!" I exclaimed, in a burst of uncontrollable
compassion.

"Why should you pity her?" demanded he with sudden sternness; "she
WAS a suicide and a murderess too. It would be better for the
public conscience, I believe, if such were still hung in chains, or
buried at the cross-roads with a stake through their bodies."

"Hush, Alan, hush!" I cried hysterically, as I clung to him; "don't
speak harshly of her: you do not know, you cannot tell, how
terribly she was tempted. How can you?"

He looked down at me in bewildered surprise. "How can I?" he
repeated. "You speak as if YOU could. What do you mean?"

"Don't ask me," I answered, turning towards him my face,--white,
quivering, tear-stained. "Don't ask me. Not now. You must answer
my questions first, and after that I will tell you. But I cannot
talk of it now. Not yet."

We had reached the place we were in search of as I spoke. There,
where the spreading roots of a great beech-tree formed a natural
resting place upon the steep side of the ravine, I took my seat,
and Alan stretched himself upon the grass beside me. Then looking
up at me--"I do not know what questions you would ask," he said,
quietly; "but I will answer them, whatever they may be."

But I did not ask them yet. I sat instead with my hands clasping
my knee, looking opposite at the glory of harmonious color, or down
the glen at the vista of far-off, dream-like loveliness, on which
it opened out. The yellow autumn sunshine made everything golden,
the fresh autumn breezes filled the air with life; but to me a
loathsome shadow seemed to rest upon all, and to stretch itself out
far beyond where my eyes could reach, befouling the beauty of the
whole wide world. At last I spoke. "You have known of it all, I
suppose; of this curse that is in the world,--sin and suffering,
and what such words mean."

"Yes," he said, looking at me with wondering pity, "I am afraid
so."

"But have you known them as they are known to some,--agonized,
hopeless suffering, and sin that is all but inevitable? Some time
in your life probably you have realized that such things are: it
has come home to you, and to every one else, no doubt, except a few
ignorant girls such as I was yesterday. But there are some,--yes,
thousands and thousands,--who even now, at this moment, are feeling
sorrow like that, are sinking deep, deeper into the bottomless pit
of their soul's degradation. And yet men who know this, who have
seen it, laugh, talk, are happy, amuse themselves--how can they,
how can they?" I stopped with a catch in my voice, and then
stretching out my arms in front of me--"And it is not only men.
Look how beautiful the earth is, and God has made it, and lets the
sun crown it every day with a new glory, while this horror of evil
broods over and poisons it all. Oh, why is it so? I cannot
understand it."

My arms drooped again as I finished, and my eyes sought Alan's.
His were full of tears, but there was almost a smile quivering at
the corners of his lips as he replied: "When you have found an
answer to that question, Evie, come and tell me and mankind at
large: it will be news to us all." Then he continued--"But, after
all, the earth is beautiful, and the sun does shine: we have our
own happiness to rejoice in, our own sorrows to bear, the suffering
that is near to us to grapple with. For the rest, for this
blackness of evil which surrounds us, and which we can do nothing
to lighten, it will soon, thank God, become vague and far off to
you as it is to others: your feeling of it will be dulled, and,
except at moments, you too will forget."

"But that is horrible," I exclaimed, passionately; "the evil will
be there all the same, whether I feel it or not. Men and women
will be struggling in their misery and sin, only I shall be too
selfish to care."

"We cannot go outside the limits of our own nature," he replied;
"our knowledge is shallow and our spiritual insight dark, and God
in His mercy has made our hearts shallow too, and our imagination
dull. If, knowing and trusting only as men do, we were to feel as
angels feel, earth would be hell indeed."

It was cold comfort, but at that moment anything warmer or brighter
would have been unreal and utterly repellent to me. I hardly took
in the meaning of his words, but it was as if a hand had been
stretched out to me, struggling in the deep mire, by one who
himself felt solid ground beneath him. Where he stood I also might
some day stand, and that thought seemed to make patience possible.

It was he who first broke the silence which followed. "You were
saying that you had questions to ask me. I am impatient to put
mine in return, so please go on."

It had been a relief to me to turn even to generalizations of
despair from the actual horror which had inspired them, and to
which my mind was thus recalled. With an effort I replied, "Yes, I
want to ask you about that room--the room in which I slept, and--
and the murder which was committed there." In spite of all that I
could do, my voice sank almost to a whisper as I concluded, and I
was trembling from head to foot.

"Who told you that a murder was committed there?" Something in my
face as he asked the question made him add quickly, "Never mind.
You are right. That is the room in which Hugh Mervyn was murdered
by his wife. I was surprised at your question, for I did not know
that anyone but my brothers and myself were aware of the fact. The
subject is never mentioned: it is closely connected with one
intensely painful to our family, and besides, if spoken of, there
would be inconveniences arising from the superstitious terrors of
servants, and the natural dislike of guests to sleep in a room
where such a thing had happened. Indeed it was largely with the
view of wiping out the last memory of the crime's locality, that my
father renewed the interior of the room some twenty years ago. The
only tradition which has been adhered to in connection with it is
the one which has now been violated in your person--the one which
precludes any unmarried woman from sleeping there. Except for
that, the room has, as you know, lost all sinister reputation, and
its title of 'haunted' has become purely conventional.
Nevertheless, as I said, you are right--that is undoubtedly the
room in which the murder was committed."

He stopped and looked up at me, waiting for more.

"Go on; tell me about it, and what followed." My lips formed the
words; my heart beat too faintly for my breath to utter them.

"About the murder itself there is not much to tell. The man, I
believe, was an inhuman scoundrel, and the woman first killed him
in desperation, and afterwards herself in despair. The only detail
connected with the actual crime of which I have ever heard, was the
gale that was blowing that night--the fiercest known to this
countryside in that generation; and it has always been said since
that any misfortune to the Mervyns--especially any misfortune
connected with the curse--comes with a storm of wind. That was why
I so disliked your story of the imaginary tempests which have
disturbed your nights since you slept there. As to what
followed,"--he gave a sigh,--"that story is long enough and full of
incident. On the morning after the murder, so runs the tale, Dame
Alice came down to the Grange from the tower to which she had
retired when her son's wickednesses had driven her from his house,
and there in the presence of the two corpses she foretold the curse
which should rest upon their descendants for generations to come.
A clergyman who was present, horrified, it is said at her words,
adjured her by the mercy of Heaven to place some term to the doom
which she had pronounced. She replied that no mortal might reckon
the fruit of a plant which drew its life from hell; that a term
there should be, but as it passed the wisdom of man to fix it, so
it should pass the wit of man to discover it. She then placed in
the room this cabinet, constructed by herself and her Italian
follower, and said that the curse should not depart from the family
until the day when its doors were unlocked and its legend read.

"Such is the story. I tell it to you as it was told to me. One
thing only is certain, that the doom thus traditionally foretold
has been only too amply fulfilled."

"And what was the doom?"

Alan hesitated a little, and when he spoke his voice was almost
awful in its passionless sternness, in its despairing finality; it
seemed to echo the irrevocable judgment which his words pronounced:
"That the crimes against God and each other which had destroyed the
parents' life should enter into the children's blood, and that
never thereafter should there fail a Mervyn to bring shame or death
upon one generation of his father's house.

"There were two sons of that ill-fated marriage," he went on after
a pause, "boys at the time of their parents' death. When they grew
up they both fell in love with the same woman, and one killed the
other in a duel. The story of the next generation was a peculiarly
sad one. Two brothers took opposite sides during the civil
troubles; but so fearful were they of the curse which lay upon the
family, that they chiefly made use of their mutual position in
order to protect and guard each other. After the wars were over,
the younger brother, while traveling upon some parliamentary
commission, stopped a night at the Grange. There, through a
mistake, he exchanged the report which he was bringing to London
for a packet of papers implicating his brother and several besides
in a royalist plot. He only discovered his error as he handed the
papers to his superior, and was but just able to warn his brother
in time for him to save his life by flight. The other men involved
were taken and executed, and as it was known by what means
information had reached the Government, the elder Mervyn was
universally charged with the vilest treachery. It is said that
when after the Restoration his return home was rumored the
neighboring gentry assembled, armed with riding whips, to flog him
out of the country if he should dare to show his face there. He
died abroad, shame-stricken and broken-hearted. It was his son,
brought up by his uncle in the sternest tenets of Puritanism, who,
coming home after a lengthened journey, found that during his
absence his sister had been shamefully seduced. He turned her out
of doors, then and there, in the midst of a bitter January night,
and the next morning her dead body and that of her new-born infant
were found half buried in the fresh-fallen snow on the top of the
wolds. The 'white lady' is still supposed by the villagers to
haunt that side of the glen. And so it went on. A beautiful,
heartless Mervyn in Queen Anne's time enticed away the affections
of her sister's betrothed, and on the day of her own wedding with
him, her forsaken sister was found drowned by her own act in the
pond at the bottom of the garden. Two brothers were soldiers
together in some Continental war, and one was involuntarily the
means of discovering and exposing the treason of the other. A girl
was betrayed into a false marriage, and her life ruined by a man
who came into the house as her brother's friend, and whose infamous
designs were forwarded and finally accomplished by that same
brother's active though unsuspecting assistance. Generation after
generation, men or women, guilty or innocent, through the action of
their own will or in spite of it, the curse has never yet failed of
its victims."

"Never yet? But surely in our own time--your father?" I did not
dare to put the question which was burning my lips.

"Have you never heard of the tragic end of my poor young uncles?"
he replied. "They were several years older than my father. When
boys of fourteen and fifteen they were sent out with the keeper for
their first shooting lesson, and the elder shot his brother through
the heart. He himself was delicate, and they say that he never
entirely recovered from the shock. He died before he was twenty,
and my father, then a child of seven years old, became the heir.
It was partly, no doubt, owing to this calamity having thus
occurred before he was old enough to feel it, that his comparative
skepticism on the whole subject was due. To that I suppose, and to
the fact that he grew up in an age of railways and liberal
culture."

"He didn't believe, then, in the curse?"

"Well, rather, he thought nothing about it. Until, that is, the
time came when it took effect, to break his heart and end his
life."

"How do you mean?"

There was silence for a little. Alan had turned away his head, so
that I could not see his face. Then--

"I suppose you have never been told the true story of why Jack left
the country?"

"No. Was he--is he--?"

"He is one victim of the curse in this generation, and I, God help
me, am the other, and perhaps more wretched one."

His voice trembled and broke, and for the first time that day I
almost forgot the mysterious horror of the night before, in my pity
for the actual, tangible suffering before me. I stretched out my
hand to his, and his fingers closed on mine with a sudden, painful
grip. Then quietly--

"I will tell you the story," he said, "though since that miserable
time I have spoken of it to no one."

There was a pause before he began. He lay there by my side, his
gaze turned across me up the sunbright, autumn-tinted glen, but his
eyes shadowed by the memories which he was striving to recall and
arrange in due order in his mind. And when he did speak it was not
directly to begin the promised recital.

"You never knew Jack," he said, abruptly.

"Hardly," I acquiesced. "I remember thinking him very handsome."

"There could not be two opinions as to that," he answered. "And a
man who could have done anything he liked with life, had things
gone differently. His abilities were fine, but his strength lay
above all in his character: he was strong,--strong in his likes and
in his dislikes, resolute, fearless, incapable of half measures--a
man, every inch of him. He was not generally popular--stiff, hard,
unsympathetic, people called him. From one point of view, and one
only, he perhaps deserved the epithets. If a woman lost his
respect she seemed to lose his pity too. Like a mediaeval monk, he
looked upon such rather as the cause than the result of male
depravity, and his contempt for them mingled with anger, almost, as
I sometimes thought, with hatred. And this attitude was, I have no
doubt, resented by the men of his own class and set, who shared
neither his faults nor his virtues. But in other ways he was not
hard. He could love; I, at least, have cause to know it. If you
would hear his story rightly from my lips, Evie, you must try and
see him with my eyes. The friend who loved me, and whom I loved
with the passion which, if not the strongest, is certainly, I
believe, the most enduring of which men are capable,--that perfect
brother's love, which so grows into our being that when it is at
peace we are scarcely conscious of its existence, and when it is
wounded our very life-blood seems to flow at the stroke. Brothers
do not always love like that: I can only wish that we had not done
so.

VII

"Well, about five years ago, before I had taken my degree, I became
acquainted with a woman whom I will call 'Delia,'--it is near
enough to the name by which she went. She was a few years older
than myself, very beautiful, and I believed her to be what she
described herself--the innocent victim of circumstance and false
appearance, a helpless prey to the vile calumnies of worldlings.
In sober fact, I am afraid that, whatever her life may have been
actually at the time that I knew her--a subject which I have never
cared to investigate--her past had been not only bad enough
irretrievably to fix her position in society, but bad enough to
leave her without an ideal in the world, though still retaining
within her heart the possibilities of a passion which, from the
moment that it came to life, was strong enough to turn her whole
existence into one desperate reckless straining after an object
hopelessly beyond her reach. That was the woman with whom, at the
age of twenty, I fancied myself in love. She wanted to get a
husband, and she thought me--rightly--ass enough to accept the
post. I was very young then even for my years,--a student, an
idealist, with an imagination highly developed, and no knowledge
whatever of the world as it actually is. Anyhow, before I had
known her a month, I had determined to make her my wife. My
parents were abroad at the time, George and Lucy here, so that it
was to Jack that I imparted the news of my resolve. As you may
imagine, he did all that he could to shake it. But I was
immovable. I disbelieved his facts, and despised his contempt from
the standpoint of my own superior morality. This state of things
continued for several weeks, during the greater part of which time
I was at Oxford. I only knew that while I was there, Jack had made
Delia's acquaintance, and was apparently cultivating it
assiduously.

"One day, during the Easter vacation, I got a note from her asking
me to supper at her house. Jack was invited too: we lodged
together while my people were away.

"There is no need to dwell upon that supper. There were two or
three women there of her own sort, or worse, and a dozen men from
among the most profligate in London. The conversation was, I
should think, bad even for that class; and she, the goddess of my
idolatry, outstripped them all by the foul, coarse shamelessness of
her language and behavior. Before the entertainment was half over,
I rose and took my leave, accompanied by Jack and another man,--
Legard was his name,--who I presume was bored. Just as we had
passed through into the anteroom, which lay beyond the one in which
we had been eating, Delia followed us, and laying her hand on
Jack's arm, said that she must speak with him. Legard and I went
into the outer hall, and we had not been there more than a minute
when the door from the anteroom opened, and we heard Delia's voice.
I remember the words well,--that was not the only occasion on which
I was to hear them. 'I will keep the ring as a record of my love,'
she said, 'and understand, that though you may forget, I never
shall.' Jack came through, the door closed, and as we went out I
glanced towards his left hand, and saw, as I expected to see, the
absence of the ring which he usually wore there. It contained a
gem which my mother had picked up in the East, and I knew that he
valued it quite peculiarly. We always called it Jack's talisman.

"A miserable time followed, a time for me of agonizing wonder and
doubt, during which regret for my dead illusion was entirely
swallowed up in the terrible dread of my brother's degradation.
Then came the announcement of his engagement to Lady Sylvia Grey;
and a week later, the very day after I had finally returned to
London from Oxford, I received a summons from Delia to come and see
her. Curiosity, and the haunting fear about Jack, which still hung
round me, induced me to consent to what otherwise would have been
intolerably repellent to me, and I went. I found her in a mad
passion of fury. Jack had refused to see her or to answer her
letters, and she had sent for me, that I might give him her
message,--tell him that he belonged to her and her only, and that
he never should marry another woman. Angry at my interference,
Jack disdained even to repudiate her claims, only sending back a
threat of appealing to the police if she ventured upon any further
annoyance. I wrote as she told me, and she emphasized my silence
on the subject by writing back to me a more definite and explicit
assertion of her rights. Beyond that for some weeks she made no
sign. I have no doubt that she had means of keeping watch upon
both his movements and mine; and during that time, as she
relinquished gradually all hopes of inducing him to abandon his
purpose, she was being driven to her last despairing resolve.

"Later, when all was over, Jack told me the story of that spring
and summer. He told me how, when he found me immovable on the
subject, he had resolved to stop the marriage somehow through Delia
herself. He had made her acquaintance, and sought her society
frequently. She had taken a fancy to him, and he admitted that he
had availed himself of this fact to increase his intimacy with her,
and, as he hoped ultimately, his power over her. But he was not
conscious of ever having varied in his manner towards her of
contemptuous indifference. This contradictory behavior,--his being
constantly near her, yet always beyond her reach,--was probably the
very thing which excited her fancy into passion, the one strong
passion of the poor woman's life. Then came his deliberate demand
that she should by her own act unmask herself in my sight. The
unfortunate woman tried to bargain for some proof of affection in
return, and on this occasion had first openly declared her feelings
towards him. He did not believe her; he refused her terms; but
when as her payment she asked for the ring which was so especially
associated with himself, he agreed to give it to her. Otherwise
hoping, no doubt against hope, dreading above all things a quarrel
and final separation, she submitted unconditionally. And from the
time of that evening, when Legard and I had overheard her parting
words, Jack never saw her again until the last and final
catastrophe.

"It was in July. My parents had returned to England, but had come
straight on here. Jack and I were dining together with Lady Sylvia
at her father's house--her brother, young Grey, making the fourth
at dinner. I had arranged to go to a party with your mother, and I
told the servants that a lady would call for me early in the
evening. The house stood in Park Lane, and after dinner we all
went out on to the broad balcony which opened from the drawing-
room. There was a strong wind blowing that night, and I remember
well the vague, disquieted feeling of unreality that possessed me,--
sweeping through me, as it were, with each gust of wind. Then,
suddenly, a servant stood behind me, saying that the lady had come
for me, and was in the drawing-room. Shocked that my aunt should
have troubled herself to come so far, I turned quickly, stepped
back into the room, and found myself face to face with Delia. She
was fully dressed for the evening, with a long silk opera-cloak
over her shoulders, her face as white as her gown, her splendid
eyes strangely wide open and shining. I don't know what I said or
did; I tried to get her away, but it was too late. The others had
heard us, and appeared at the open window. Jack came forward at
once, speaking rapidly, fiercely; telling her to leave the house at
once; promising desperately that he would see her in his own rooms
on the morrow. Well I remember how her answer rang out,--

"'Neither to-morrow nor another day: I will never leave you again
while I live.'

"At the same instant she drew something swiftly from under her
cloak, there was the sound of a pistol shot and she lay dead at our
feet, her blood splashing upon Jack's shirt and hands as she fell."

Alan paused in his recital. He was trembling from head to foot;
but he kept his eyes turned steadily downwards, and both face and
voice were cold--almost expressionless.

"Of course there was an inquest," he resumed, "which, as usual,
exercised its very ill-defined powers in inquiring into all
possible motives for the suicide. Young Grey, who had stepped into
the room just before the shot had been fired, swore to the last
words Delia had uttered; Legard to those he had overheard the night
of that dreadful supper: there were scores of men to bear witness
to the intimate relations which had existed between her and Jack
during the whole of the previous spring. I had to give evidence.
A skillful lawyer had been retained by one of her sisters, and had
been instructed by her on points which no doubt she had originally
learnt from Delia herself. In his hands, I had not only to
corroborate Grey and Legard, and to give full details of that last
interview, but also to swear to the peculiar value which Jack
attached to the talisman ring which he had given Delia; to the
language she had held when I saw her after my return from Oxford;
to her subsequent letter, and Jack's fatal silence on the occasion.
The story by which Jack and I strove to account for the facts was
laughed at as a clumsy invention, and my undisguised reluctance in
giving evidence added greatly to its weight against my brother's
character.

"The jury returned a verdict of suicide while of unsound mind, the
result of desertion by her lover. You may imagine how that verdict
was commented upon by every Radical newspaper in the kingdom, and
for once society more than corroborated the opinions of the press.
The larger public regarded the story as an extreme case of the
innocent victim and the cowardly society villain. It was only
among a comparatively small set that Delia's reputation was known,
and there, in view of Jack's notorious and peculiar intimacy, his
repudiation of all relations with her was received with
contemptuous incredulity. That he should have first entered upon
such relations at the very time when he was already courting Lady
Sylvia was regarded even in those circles as a 'strong order,' and
they looked upon his present attitude with great indignation, as a
cowardly attempt to save his own character by casting upon the dead
woman's memory all the odium of a false accusation. With an entire
absence of logic, too, he was made responsible for the suicide
having taken place in Lady Sylvia's presence. She had broken off
the engagement the day after the catastrophe, and her family, a
clan powerful in the London world, furious at the mud through which
her name had been dragged, did all that they could to intensify the
feeling already existing against Jack.

"Not a voice was raised in his defense. He was advised to leave
the army; he was requested to withdraw from some of his clubs,
turned out of others, avoided by his fast acquaintances, cut by his
respectable ones. It was enough to kill a weaker man.

"He showed no resentment at the measure thus dealt out to him.
Indeed, at the first, except for Sylvia's desertion of him, he
seemed dully indifferent to it all. It was as if his soul had been
stunned, from the moment that that wretched woman's blood had
splashed upon his fingers, and her dead eyes had looked up into his
own.

"But it was not long before he realized the full extent of the
social damnation which had been inflicted upon him, and he then
resolved to leave the country and go to America. The night before
he started he came down here to take leave. I was here looking
after my parents--George, whose mind was almost unhinged by the
family disgrace, having gone abroad with his wife. My mother at
the first news of what had happened had taken to her bed, never to
leave it again; and thus it was in my presence alone, up there in
my father's little study, that Jack gave him that night the whole
story. He told it quietly enough; but when he had finished, with a
sudden outburst of feeling he turned upon me. It was I who had
been the cause of it all. My insensate folly had induced him to
make the unhappy woman's acquaintance, to allow and even encourage
her fatal love, to commit all the blunders and sins which had
brought about her miserable ending and his final overthrow. It was
by means of me that she had obtained access to him on that dreadful
night; my evidence which most utterly damned him in public opinion;
through me he had lost his reputation, his friends, his career, his
country, the woman he loved, his hopes for the future; through me,
above all, that the burden of that horrible death would lie for
ever on his soul. He was lashing himself to fury with his own
words as he spoke; and I stood leaning against the wall opposite to
him, cold, dumb, unresisting, when suddenly my father interrupted.
I think that both Jack and I had forgotten his presence; but at the
sound of his voice, changed from what we had ever heard it, we
turned to him, and I then for the first time saw in his face the
death-look which never afterwards quitted it.

"'Stop, Jack,' he said; 'Alan is not to blame; and if it had not
been in this way, it would have been in some other. I only am
guilty, who brought you both into existence with my own hell-
stained blood in your veins. If you wish to curse anyone, curse
your family, your name, me if you will, and may God forgive me that
you were ever born into the world!'"

Alan stopped with a shudder, and then continued, dully, "It was
when I heard those words, the most terrible that a father could
have uttered, that I first understood all that that old sixteenth-
century tale might mean to me and mine,--I have realized it vividly
enough since. Early the next morning, when the dawn was just
breaking, Jack came to the door of my room to bid me good-by. All
his passion was gone. His looks and tones seemed part and parcel
of the dim gray morning light. He freely withdrew all the charges
he had made against me the night before; forgave me all the share
that I had had in his misfortunes; and then begged that I would
never come near him, or let him hear from me again. 'The curse is
heavy upon us both,' he said, 'and it is the only favor which you
can do me.' I have never seen him since."

"But you have heard of him!" I exclaimed; "what has become of him?"

Alan raised himself to a sitting posture. "The last that I heard,"
he said, with a catch in his voice, "was that in his misery and
hopelessness he was taking to drink. George writes to him, and
does what he can; but I--I dare not say a word, for fear it should
turn to poison on my lips,--I dare not lift a hand to help him, for
fear it should have power to strike him to the ground. The worst
may be yet to come; I am still living, still living: there are
depths of shame to which he has not sunk. And oh, Evie, Evie, he
is my own, my best-loved brother!"

All his composure was gone now. His voice rose to a kind of wail
with the last words, and folding his arms on his raised knee, he
let his head fall upon them, while his figure quivered with
scarcely restrained emotion. There was a silence for some moments
while he sat thus, I looking on in wretched helplessness beside
him. Then he raised his head, and, without looking round at me,
went on in a low tone: "And what is in the future? I pray that
death instead of shame may be the portion of the next generation,
and I look at George's boys only to wonder which of them is the
happy one who shall some day lie dead at his brother's feet. Are
you surprised at my resolution never to marry? The fatal prophecy
is rich in its fulfillment; none of our name and blood are safe;
and the day might come when I too should have to call upon my
children to curse me for their birth,--should have to watch while
the burden which I could no longer bear alone pressed the life from
their mother's heart."

Through the tragedy of this speech I was conscious of a faint
suggestion of comfort, a far-off glimmer, as of unseen home-lights
on a midnight sky. I was in no mood then to understand, or to seek
to understand, what it was; but I know now that his words had
removed the weight of helpless banishment from my spirit--that his
heart, speaking through them to my own, had made me for life the
sharer of his grief.

VIII

Presently he drew his shoulders together with a slight determined
jerk, threw himself back upon the grass, and turning to me, with
that tremulous, haggard smile upon his lips which I knew so well,
but which had never before struck me with such infinite pathos,
"Luckily," he said, "there are other things to do in life besides
being happy. Only perhaps you understand now what I meant last
night when I spoke of things which flesh and blood cannot bear, and
yet which must be borne."

Suddenly and sharply his words roused again into activity the
loathsome memory which my interest in his story had partially
deadened. He noticed the quick involuntary contraction of my
muscles, and read it aright. "That reminds me," he went on; "I
must claim your promise. I have told you my story. Now, tell me
yours."

I told him; not as I have set it down here, though perhaps even in
greater detail, but incoherently, bit by bit, while he helped me
out with gentle questions, quickly comprehending gestures, and
patient waiting during the pauses of exhaustion which perforce
interposed themselves. As my story approached its climax, his
agitation grew almost equal to my own, and he listened to the
close, his teeth clenched, his brows bent, as if passing again with
me through that awful conflict. When I had finished, it was some
moments before either of us could speak; and then he burst forth
into bitter self-reproach for having so far yielded to his
brother's angry obstinacy as to allow me to sleep the third night
in that fatal room.

"It was cowardice," he said, "sheer cowardice! After all that has
happened, I dared not have a quarrel with one of my own blood. And
yet if I had not hardened my heart, I had reason to know what I was
risking."

"How do you mean?" I asked.

"Those other two girls who slept there," he said, breathlessly; "it
was in each case after the third night there that they were found
dead--dead, Evie, so runs the story, with a mark upon their necks
similar in shape and position to the death-wound which Margaret
Mervyn inflicted upon herself."

I could not speak, but I clutched his hand with an almost
convulsive grip.

"And I knew the story,--I knew it!" he cried. "As boys we were not
allowed to hear much of our family traditions, but this one I knew.
When my father redid the interior of the east room, he removed at
the same time a board from above the doorway outside, on which had
been written--it is said by Dame Alice herself--a warning upon this
very subject. I happened to be present when our old housekeeper,
who had been his nurse, remonstrated with him warmly upon this act;
and I asked her afterwards what the board was, and why she cared
about it so much. In her excitement she told me the story of those
unhappy girls, repeating again and again that, if the warning were
taken away, evil would come of it."

"And she was right," I said, dully. "Oh, if only your father had
left it there!"

"I suppose," he answered, speaking more quietly, "that he was
impatient of traditions which, as I told you, he at that time more
than half despised. Indeed he altered the shape of the doorway,
raising it, and making it flat and square, so that the old
inscription could not have been replaced, even had it been wished.
I remember it was fitted round the low Tudor arch which was
previously there."

My mind, too worn with many emotions for deliberate thought,
wandered on languidly, and as it were mechanically, upon these last
trivial words. The doorway presented itself to my view as it had
originally stood, with the discarded warning above it; and then, by
a spontaneous comparison of mental vision, I recalled the painted
board which I had noticed three days before in Dame Alice's tower.
I suggested to Alan that it might have been the identical one--its
shape was as he described. "Very likely," he answered, absently.
"Do you remember what the words were?"

"Yes, I think so," I replied. "Let me see." And I repeated them
slowly, dragging them out as it were one by one from my memory:

"Where the woman sinned the maid shall win;
But God help the maid that sleeps within."

"You see," I said, turning towards him slowly, "the last line is a
warning such as you spoke of."

But to my surprise Alan had sprung to his feet, and was looking
down at me, his whole body quivering with excitement. "Yes, Evie,"
he cried, "and the first line is a prophecy;--where the woman
sinned the maid HAS won." He seized the hand which I instinctively
reached out to him. "We have not seen the end of this yet," he
went on, speaking rapidly, and as if articulation had become
difficult to him. "Come, Evie, we must go back to the house and
look at the cabinet--now, at once."

I had risen to my feet by this time, but I shrank away at those
words. "To that room? Oh, Alan--no, I cannot."

He had hold of my hand still, and he tightened his grasp upon it.
"I shall be with you; you will not be afraid with me," he said.
"Come." His eyes were burning, his face flushed and paled in rapid
alternation, and his hand held mine like a vice of iron.

I turned with him, and we walked back to the Grange, Alan
quickening his pace as he went, till I almost had to run by his
side. As we approached the dreaded room my sense of repulsion
became almost unbearable; but I was now infected by his excitement,
though I but dimly comprehended its cause. We met no one on our
way, and in a moment he had hurried me into the house, up the
stairs, and along the narrow passage, and I was once more in the
east room, and in the presence of all the memories of that accursed
night. For an instant I stood strengthless, helpless, on the
threshold, my gaze fixed panic-stricken on the spot where I had
taken such awful part in that phantom tragedy of evil; then Alan
threw his arm round me, and drew me hastily on in front of the
cabinet. Without a pause, giving himself time neither to speak nor
think, he stretched out his left hand and moved the buttons one
after another. How or in what direction he moved them I know not;
but as the last turned with a click, the doors, which no mortal
hand had unclosed for three hundred years, flew back, and the
cabinet stood open. I gave a little gasp of fear. Alan pressed
his lips closely together, and turned to me with eager questioning
in his eyes. I pointed in answer tremblingly at the drawer which I
had seen open the night before. He drew it out, and there on its
satin bed lay the dagger in its silver sheath. Still without a
word he took it up, and reaching his right hand round me, for I
could not now have stood had he withdrawn his support, with a swift
strong jerk he unsheathed the blade. There in the clear autumn
sunshine I could see the same dull stains I had marked in the
flickering candle-light, and over them, still ruddy and moist, were
the drops of my own half-dried blood. I grasped the lapel of his
coat with both my hands, and clung to him like a child in terror,
while the eyes of both of us remained fixed as if fascinated upon
the knife-blade. Then, with a sudden start of memory, Alan raised
his to the cornice of the cabinet, and mine followed. No change
that I could detect had taken place in that twisted goldwork; but
there, clear in the sight of us both, stood forth the words of the
magic motto:

"Pure blood shed by the blood-stained knife
Ends Mervyn shame, heals Mervyn strife."

In low steady tones Alan read out the lines, and then there was
silence--on my part of stunned bewilderment, the bewilderment of a
spirit overwhelmed beyond the power of comprehension by rushing,
conflicting emotions. Alan pressed me closer to him, while the
silence seemed to throb with the beating of his heart and the
panting of his breath. But except for that he remained motionless,
gazing at the golden message before him. At length I felt a
movement, and looking up saw his face turned down towards mine, the
lips quivering, the cheeks flushed, the eyes soft with passionate
feeling. "We are saved, my darling," he whispered; "saved, and
through you." Then he bent his head lower, and there in that room
of horror, I received the first long lover's kiss from my own dear
husband's lips.

. . . . . .

My husband, yes; but not till some time after that. Alan's first
act, when he had once fully realized that the curse was indeed
removed, was--throwing his budding practice to the winds--to set
sail for America. There he sought out Jack, and labored hard to
impart to him some of his own newfound hope. It was slow work, but
he succeeded at last; and only left him when, two years later, he
had handed him over to the charge of a bright-eyed Western girl, to
whom the whole story had been told, and who showed herself ready
and anxious to help in building up again the broken life of her
English lover. To judge from the letters that we have since
received, she has shown herself well fitted for the task. Among
other things she has money, and Jack's worldly affairs have so
prospered that George declares that he can well afford now to waste
some of his superfluous cash upon farming a few of his elder
brother's acres. The idea seems to smile upon Jack, and I have
every hope this winter of being able to institute an actual
comparison between our small boy, his namesake, and his own three-
year-old Alan. The comparison, by the way, will have to be
conditional, for Jacket--the name by which my son and heir is
familiarly known--is but a little more than two.

I turn my eyes for a moment, and they fall upon the northern corner
of the East Room, which shows round the edge of the house. Then
the skeleton leaps from the cupboard of my memory; the icy hand
which lies ever near my soul grips it suddenly with a chill
shudder. Not for nothing was that wretched woman's life interwoven
with my own, if only for an hour; not for nothing did my spirit
harbor a conflict and an agony, which, thank God, are far from its
own story. Though Margaret Mervyn's dagger failed to pierce my
flesh, the wound in my soul may never wholly be healed. I know
that that is so; and yet as I turn to start through the sunshine to
the cedar shade and its laughing occupants, I whisper to myself
with fervent conviction, "It was worth it."

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