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Title: Cecilia de Noël
Author: Falconer, Lanoe
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Cecilia de Noël" ***

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[Illustration: "So we went down our stairs."--Chap. II.]

_Cecilia de Noël_

BY

LANOE FALCONER

MACMILLAN & CO., LIMITED
ST. MARTINS ST., LONDON
1910

[Illustration: Title Page]


CECILIA DE NOËL



CHAPTER I

ATHERLEY'S GOSPEL


"There is no revelation but that of science," said Atherley.

It was after dinner in the drawing-room. From the cold of the early
spring night, closed shutters and drawn curtains carefully protected us;
shaded lamps and a wood fire diffused an exquisite twilight; we breathed
a mild and even balmy atmosphere scented with hothouse flowers.

"And this revelation completely satisfies all reasonable desires," he
continued, surveying his small audience from the hearthrug where he
stood; "mind, I say all reasonable desires. If you have a healthy
appetite for bread, you will get it and plenty of it, but if you have a
sickly craving for manna, why then you will come badly off, that is all.
This is the gospel of fact, not of fancy: of things as they actually
are, you know, instead of as A dreamt they were, or B decided they ought
to be, or C would like to have them. So this gospel is apt to look a
little dull beside the highly coloured romances the churches have
accustomed us to--as a modern plate-glass window might, compared with a
stained-glass oriel in a mediæval cathedral. There is no doubt which is
the prettier of the two. The question is, do you want pretty colour or
do you want clear daylight?" He paused, but neither of his listeners
spoke. Lady Atherley was counting the stitches of her knitting; I was
too tired; so he resumed: "For my part, I prefer the daylight and the
glass, without any daubing. What does science discover in the universe?
Precision, accuracy, reliability--any amount of it; but as to pity,
mercy, love! The fact is, that famous simile of the angel playing at
chess was a mistake. Very smart, I grant you, but altogether misleading.
Why! the orthodox quote it as much as the others--always a bad sign. It
tickles these anthropomorphic fancies, which are at the bottom of all
their creeds. Imagine yourself playing at chess, not with an angel, but
with an automaton, an admirably constructed automaton whose mechanism
can outwit your brains any day: calm and strong, if you like, but no
more playing for love than the clock behind me is ticking for love;
there you have a much clearer notion of existence. A much clearer
notion, and a much more satisfactory notion too, I say. Fair play and no
favour! What more can you ask, if you are fit to live?"

His kindling glance sought the farther end of the long drawing-room; had
it fallen upon me instead, perhaps that last challenge might have been
less assured; and yet how bravely it became the speaker, whose
wide-browed head a no less admirable frame supported. Even the stiff
evening uniform of his class could not conceal the grace of form which
health and activity had moulded, working through highly favoured
generations. There was latent force implied in every line of it, and,
in the steady poise of look and mien, that perfect nervous balance
which is the crown of strength.

"And with our creed, of course, we shift our moral code as well. The ten
commandments, or at least the second table, we retain for obvious
reasons, but the theological virtues must be got rid of as quickly as
possible. Charity, for instance, is a mischievous quality--it is too
indulgent to weakness, which is not to be indulged or encouraged, but
stamped out. Hope is another pernicious quality leading to all kinds of
preposterous expectations which never are, or can be, fulfilled; and as
to faith, it is simply a vice. So far from taking anything on trust, you
must refuse to accept any statement whatsoever till it is proved so
plainly you can't help believing it whether you like it or not; just as
a theorem in--"

"George," said Lady Atherley, "what is that noise?"

The question, timed as Lady Atherley's remarks so often were, came with
something of a shock. Her husband, thus checked in full flight, seemed
to reel for a moment, but quickly recovering himself, asked resignedly:
"What noise?"

"Such a strange noise, like the howling of a dog."

"Probably it is the howling of a dog."

"No, for it came from inside the house, and Tip sleeps outside now, in
the saddle-room, I believe. It sounded in the servants' wing. Did you
hear it, Mr. Lyndsay?"

I confessed that I had not.

"Well, as I can offer no explanation," said Atherley, "perhaps I may be
allowed to go on with what I was saying. Doubt, obstinate and almost
invincible doubt, is the virtue we must now cultivate, just as--"

"Why, there it is again," cried Lady Atherley.

Atherley instantly rang the bell near him, and while Lady Atherley
continued to repeat that it was very strange, and that she could not
imagine what it could be, he waited silently till his summons was
answered by a footman.

"Charles, what is the meaning of that crying or howling which seems to
come from your end of the house?"

"I think, Sir George," said Charles, with the coldly impassive manner of
a highly-trained servant--"I think, Sir George, it must be Ann, the
kitchen-maid, that you hear."

"Indeed! and may I ask what Ann, the kitchen-maid, is supposed to be
doing?"

"If you please, Sir George, she is in hysterics."

"Oh! why?" exclaimed Lady Atherley plaintively.

"Because, my lady, Mrs. Mallet has seen the ghost!"

"Because Mrs. Mallet has seen the ghost!" repeated Atherley. "Pray, what
is Mrs. Mallet herself doing under the circumstances?"

"She is having some brandy-and-water, Sir George."

"Mrs. Mallet is a sensible woman," said Atherley heartily; "Ann, the
kitchen-maid, had better follow her example."

"You may go, Charles," said Lady Atherley; and, as the door closed
behind him, exclaimed, "I wish that horrid woman had never entered the
house!"

"What horrid woman? Your too sympathetic kitchen-maid?"

"No, that--that Mrs. Mallet."

"Why are you angry with her? Because she has seen the ghost?"

"Yes, for I told her most particularly the very day I engaged her, after
Mrs. Webb left us in that sudden way--I told her I never allowed the
ghost to be mentioned."

"And why, my dear, did you break your own excellent rule by mentioning
it to her?"

"Because she had the impertinence to tell me, almost directly she came
into the morning-room, that she knew all about the ghost; but I stopped
her at once, and said that if ever she spoke of such a thing especially
to the other servants, I should be very much displeased; and now she
goes and behaves in this way."

"Where did you pick up this viper?"

"She comes from Quarley Beacon. There was no one in this stupid village
who could cook at all, and Cecilia de Noël, who recommended her--"

"Cecilia de Noël!" repeated Atherley, with that long-drawn emphasis
which suggests so much. "My dear Jane, I must say that in taking a
servant on Cissy's recommendation you did not display your usual sound
common sense. I should as soon have thought of asking her to buy me a
gun, knowing that she would carefully pick out the one least likely to
shoot anything. Cissy is accustomed to look upon a servant as something
to be waited on and taken care of. Her own household, as we all know,
is composed chiefly of chronic invalids."

"But I explained to Cecilia that I wanted somebody who was strong as
well as a good cook; and I am sure there is nothing the matter with Mrs.
Mallet. She is as fat as possible, and as red! Besides, she has never
been one of Cecilia's servants; she only goes there to help sometimes;
and she says she is perfectly respectable."

"Mrs. Mallet says that Cissy is perfectly respectable?"

"No, George; it is not likely that I should allow a person in Mrs.
Mallet's position to speak disrespectfully to me about Cecilia. Cecilia
said Mrs. Mallet was perfectly respectable."

"I should not think dear old Ciss exactly knew the meaning of the word."

"Cecilia may be peculiar in many ways, but she is too much of a lady to
send me any one who was not quite nice. I don't believe there is
anything against Mrs. Mallet's character. She cooks very well, you must
allow that; you said only two days ago you never had tasted an omelette
so nicely made in England."

"Did she cook that omelette? Then I am sure she is perfectly
respectable; and pray let her see as many ghosts as she cares to,
especially if it leads to nothing worse than her taking a moderate
quantity of brandy. Time to smoke, Lindy. I am off."

I dragged myself up after my usual fashion, and was preparing to follow
him, when Lady Atherley, directly he was gone, began:

"It is such a pity that clever people can never see things as others do.
George always goes on in this way as if the ghost were of no
consequence, but I always knew how it would be. Of course it is nice
that George should come in for the place, as he might not have done if
his uncle had married, and people said it would be delightful to live in
such an old house, but there are a good many drawbacks, I can assure
you. Sir Marmaduke lived abroad for years before he died, and everything
has got into such a state. We have had to nearly refurnish the house;
the bedrooms are not done yet. The servants' accommodation is very bad
too, and there was no proper cooking-range in the kitchen. But the worst
of all is the ghost. Directly I heard of it I knew we should have
trouble with the servants; and we had not been here a month when our
cook, who had lived with us for years, gave warning because the place
was damp. At first she said it was the ghost, but when I told her not to
talk such nonsense she said it was the damp. And then it is so awkward
about visitors. What are we to do when the fishing season begins? I
cannot get George to understand that some people have a great objection
to anything of the kind, and are quite angry if you put them into a
haunted room. And it is much worse than having only one haunted room,
because we could make that into a bachelor's bedroom--I don't think they
mind; or a linen cupboard, as they do at Wimbourne Castle; but this
ghost seems to appear in all the rooms, and even in the halls and
passages, so I cannot think what we are to do."

I said it was extraordinary, and I meant it. That a ghost should venture
into Atherley's neighbourhood was less amazing than that it should
continue to exist in his wife's presence, so much more fatal than his
eloquence to all but the tangible and the solid. Her orthodoxy is above
suspicion, but after some hours of her society I am unable to
contemplate any aspects of life save the comfortable and the
uncomfortable: while the Universe itself appears to me only a gigantic
apparatus especially designed to provide Lady Atherley and her class
with cans of hot water at stated intervals, costly repasts elaborately
served, and all other requisites of irreproachable civilisation.

But before I had time to say more, Atherley in his smoking-coat looked
in to see if I was coming or not.

"Don't keep Mr. Lyndsay up late, George," said my kind hostess; "he
looks so tired."

"You look dead beat," he said later on, in his own particular and untidy
den, as he carefully stuffed the bowl of his pipe. "I think it would go
better with you, old chap, if you did not hold yourself in quite so
tight. I don't want you to rave or commit suicide in some untidy
fashion, as the hero of a French novel does; but you are as well-behaved
as a woman, without a woman's grand resources of hysterics and general
unreasonableness all round. You always were a little too good for human
nature's daily food. Your notions on some points are quite unwholesomely
superfine. It would be a comfort to see you let out in some way. I wish
you would have a real good fling for once."

"I should have to pay too dear for it afterwards. My superfine habits
are not a matter of choice only, you must remember."

"Oh!--the women! Not the best of them is worth bothering about, let
alone a shameless jilt."

"You were always hard upon her, George. She jilted a cripple for a very
fine specimen of the race. Some of your favourite physiologists would
say she was quite right."

"You never understood her, Lindy. It was not a case of jilting a cripple
at all. She jilted three thousand a year and a small place for ten
thousand a year and a big one."

After all, it did hurt a little, which Atherley must have divined, for
crossing the room on some pretext or another he let his strong hand
rest, just for an instant, gently upon my shoulder, thus, after the
manner of his race, mutely and concisely expressing affection and
sympathy that might have swelled a canto.

"I shall be sorry," he said presently, lying rather than sitting in the
deep chair beside the fire, "very sorry, if the ghost is going to make
itself a nuisance."

"What is the story of the ghost?"

"Story! God bless you, it has none to tell, sir; at least it never has
told it, and no one else rightly knows it. It--I mean the ghost--is
older than the family. We found it here when we came into the place
about two hundred years ago, and it refused to be dislodged. It is
rather uncertain in its habits. Sometimes it is not heard of for years;
then all at once it reappears, generally, I may observe, when some
imaginative female in the house is in love, or out of spirits, or bored
in any other way. She sees it, and then, of course--the complaint being
highly infectious--so do a lot more. One of the family started the
theory it was the ghost of the portrait, or rather the unknown
individual whose portrait hangs high up over the sideboard in the
dining-room."

"You don't mean the lady in green velvet with the snuff-box?"

"Certainly not; that is my own great-grand-aunt. I mean a square of
black canvas with one round yellow spot in the middle and a dirty white
smudge under the spot. There are members of this family--Aunt Eleanour,
for instance--who tell me the yellow spot is a man's face and the dirty
white smudge is an Elizabethan ruff. Then there is a picture of a man in
armour in the oak room, which I don't believe is a portrait at all; but
Aunt Henrietta swears it is, and of the ghost, too--as he was before he
died, of course. And very interesting details both my aunts are ready to
furnish concerning the two originals. It is extraordinary what an amount
of information is always forthcoming about things of which nobody can
know anything--as about the next world, for instance. The, last time I
went to church the preacher gave as minute an account of what our
post-mortem experiences were to be as if he had gone through it all
himself several times."

"Well, does the ghost usually appear in a ruff or in armour?"

"It depends entirely upon who sees it--a ghost always does. Last night,
for instance, I lay you odds it wore neither ruff nor armour, because
Mrs. Mallet is not likely to have heard of either the one or the other.
Not that she saw the ghost--not she. What she saw was a bogie, not a
ghost."

"Why, what is the difference?"

"Immense! As big as that which separates the objective from the
subjective. Any one can see a bogie. It is a real thing belonging to the
external world. It may be a bright light, a white sheet, or a black
shadow--always at night, you know, or at least in the dusk, when you are
apt to be a little mixed in your observations. The best example of a
bogie was Sir Walter Scott's. It looked--in the twilight
remember--exactly like Lord Byron, who had not long departed this life
at the time Sir Walter saw it. Nine men out of ten would have gone off
and sworn they had seen a ghost; why, religions have been founded on
just such stuff: but Sir Walter, as sane a man as ever lived--though he
did write poetry--kept his head clear and went up closer to his ghost,
which proved on examination to be a waterproof."

"A waterproof?"

"Or a railway rug--I forget which: the moral is the same."

"Well, what is a ghost?"

"A ghost is nothing--an airy nothing manufactured by your own disordered
senses of your own over-excited brain."

"I beg to observe that I never saw a ghost in my life."

"I am glad to hear it. It does you credit. If ever any one had an excuse
for seeing a ghost it would be a man whose spine was jarred. But I meant
nothing personal by the pronoun--only to give greater force to my
remarks. The first person singular will do instead. The ghost belongs to
the same lot, as the faces that make mouths at me when I have
brain-fever, the reptiles that crawl about when I have an attack of the
D.T., or--to take a more familiar example--the spots I see floating
before my eyes when my liver is out of order. You will allow there is
nothing supernatural in all that?"

"Certainly. Though, did not that pretty niece of Mrs. Molyneux's say she
used to see those spots floating before her eyes when a misfortune was
impending?"

"I fancy she did, and true enough too, as such spots would very likely
precede a bilious attack, which is misfortune enough while it lasts. But
still, even Mrs. Molyneux's niece, even Mrs. Molyneux herself, would
not say the fever faces, or the reptiles, or the spots, were
supernatural. And in fact the ghost is, so far, more--more _recherché_,
let us say, than the other things. It takes more than a bilious attack
or a fever, or even D.T., to produce a ghost. It takes nothing less than
a pretty high degree of nervous sensibility and excitable imagination.
Now these two disorders have not been much developed yet by the masses,
in spite of the school-boards: ergo, any apparition which leads to
hysterics or brandy-and-water in the servants' hall is a bogie, not a
ghost."

He knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and added:

"And now, Lindy, as we don't want another ghost haunting the house. I
will conduct you to by-by."

It was a strange house, Weald Manor, designed, one might suppose, by
some inveterate enemy of light. It lay at the foot of a steep hill which
screened it from the morning sun, and the few windows which looked
towards the rising day were so shaped as to admit but little of its
brightness. At night it was even worse, at least in the halls and
passages, for there, owing probably to the dark oak which lined both
walls and floor, a generous supply of lamps did little more than
illumine the surface of the darkness, leaving unfathomed and unexplained
mysterious shadows that brooded in distant corners, or, towering
giant-wise to the ceiling, loomed ominously overhead.
Will-o'-the-wisp-like reflections from our lighted candles danced in the
polished surface of panel and balustrade, as from the hall we went
upstairs, I helping myself from step to step by Atherley's arm, as
instinctively, as unconsciously almost, as he offered it. We stopped on
the first landing. Before us rose the stairs leading to the gallery
where Atherley's bedroom was: to our left ran "the bachelor's passage,"
where I was lodged.

"Night, night," were Atherley's parting words. "Don't dream of flirts or
ghosts, but sleep sound."

Sleep sound! the kind words sounded like mockery. Sleep to me, always
chary of her presence, was at best but a fair-weather friend, instantly
deserting me when pain or exhaustion made me crave the more for rest and
forgetfulness; but I had something to do in the interim--a little
_auto-da-fé_ to perform, by which, with that faith in ceremonial, so
deep laid in human nature, I meant once for all to lay the ghost that
haunted me--the ghost of a delightful but irrevocable past, with which
I had dallied too long.

Sitting before the wood-fire I slowly unfolded them: the three
faintly-perfumed sheets with the gilt monogram above the pointed
writing:

     "Dear Mr. Lyndsay," ran the first, "why did you not come over
     to-day? I was expecting you to appear all the afternoon.--Yours
     sincerely, G.E.L."

The second was dated four weeks later--

     "You silly boy! I forbid you ever to write or talk of yourself in
     such a way again. You are not a cripple; and if you had ever had a
     mother or a sister, you would know how little women think of such
     things. How many more assurances do you expect from me? Do you wish
     me to propose to you again? No, if you won't have me, go.--Yours,
     in spite of yourself, GLADYS."

The third--the third is too long to quote entire; besides, the substance
is contained in this last sentence--

     "So I think, my dear Mr. Lyndsay, for your sake more than my own,
     our engagement had better be broken off."

In this letter, dated six weeks ago, she had charged me to burn all that
she had written to me, and as yet I had not done so, shrinking from the
sharp unreasonable pain with which we bury the beloved dead. But the
time of my mourning was accomplished. I tore the paper into fragments
and dropped them into the flames.

It must have been the pang with which I watched them darken and shrivel
that brought back the memory of another sharp stab. It was that day ten
years ago, when I walked for the first time after my accident. Supported
by a stick on one side, and by Atherley on the other, I crawled down the
long gallery at home and halted before a high wide-open window to see
the sunlit view of park and woods and distant downland. Then all at
once, ridden by my groom, Charming went past with feet that verily
danced upon the greensward, and quivering nostrils that rapturously
inhaled the breath of spring and of morning. I said: "George, I want
_you_ to have Charming." And it made me smile, even in that bitter
moment, to remember how indistinctly, how churlishly almost, Atherley
accepted the gift, in his eager haste to get me out of sight and thought
of it.

It was long before the last fluttering rags had vanished, transmuted
into fiery dust. The clock on the landing had many times chanted its
dirge since I had heard below the footsteps of the servants carrying
away the lamps from the sitting-rooms and the hall. Later still came the
far-off sound of Atherley's door closing behind him, like the final
good-night of the waking day. Over all the unconscious household had
stolen that silence which is more than silence, that hush which seems to
wait for something, that stillness of the night-watch which is kept
alone. It was familiar enough to me, but to-night it had a new meaning;
like the sunlight that shines when we are happy, or the rain that falls
when we are weeping, it seemed, as if in sympathy, to be repeating and
accenting what I could not so vividly have told in words. In my life,
and for the second time, there was the same desolate pause, as if the
dreary tale were finished and only the drearier epilogue remained to
live through--the same sense of sad separation from the happy and the
healthful.

I made a great effort to read, holding the book before me and compelling
myself to follow the sentences, but that power of abstraction which can
conquer pain does not belong to temperaments like mine. If only I could
have slept, as men have been able to do even upon the rack; but every
hour that passed left me more awake, more alive, more supersensitive to
suffering.

Early in the morning, long before the dawn, I must have been feverish, I
think. My head and hands burned, the air of the room stifled me, I was
losing my self-control.

I opened the window and leant out. The cool air revived me bodily, but
to the fever of the spirit it brought no relief. To my heart, if not to
my lips, sprang the old old cry for help which anguish has wrung from
generation after generation. The agony of mine, I felt wildly, must
pierce through sense, time, space, everything--even to the Living Heart
of all, and bring thence some token of pity! For one instant my passion
seemed to beat against the silent heavens, then to fall back bruised and
bleeding.

Out of the darkness came not so much as a wind whisper or the twinkle of
a star.

Was Atherley right after all?



CHAPTER II

THE STRANGER'S GOSPEL


From the short unsatisfying slumber which sometimes follows a night of
insomnia I was awakened by the laughter and shouts of children. When I
looked out I saw brooding above the hollow a still gray day, in whose
light the woodlands of the park were all in sombre brown, and the trout
stream between its sedgy banks glided dark and lustreless.

On the lawn, still wet with dew, and crossed by the shadows of the bare
elms, Atherley's little sons, Harold and Denis, were playing with a very
unlovely but much-beloved mongrel called Tip. They had bought him with
their own pocket-money from a tinker who was ill-using him, and then
claimed for him the hospitality of their parents; so, though Atherley
often spoke of the dog as a disgrace to the household, he remained a
member thereof, and received, from a family incapable of being uncivil,
far less unkind, to an animal, as much attention as if he had been
high-bred and beautiful--which indeed he plainly supposed himself to be.

When, about an hour later, after their daily custom, this almost
inseparable trio fell into the breakfast-room as if the door had
suddenly given way before them, the boys were able to revenge themselves
for the rebuke this entrance provoked by the tidings they brought with
them.

"I say, old Mallet is going," cried Harold cheerfully, as he wriggled
himself on to his chair. "Denis, mind I want some of that egg-stuff."

"Take your arms off the table, Harold," said Lady Atherley. "Pray, how
do you know Mrs. Mallet is going?"

"She said so herself. She said," he went on, screwing up his nose and
speaking in a falsetto to express the intensity of his scorn--"she said
she was afraid of the ghost."

"I told you I did not allow that word to be mentioned."

"I did not; it was old Mallet."

"But, pray, what were you doing in old Mallet's domain?" asked Atherley.

"Cooking cabbage for Tip."

"Hum! What with ghosts by night and boys by day, our cook seems to have
a pleasant time of it; I shall be glad when Miss Jones's holidays are
over. Castleman, is it true that Mrs. Mallet talks of leaving us because
of the ghost?"

"I am sure I don't know, Sir George," answered the old butler. "She was
going on about it very foolish this morning."

"And how is the kitchen-maid?"

"Has not come down yet, Sir George; says her nerve is shook," said
Castleman, retiring with a plate to the sideboard; then added, with the
freedom of an old servant, "Bile, _I_ should say."

"Probably. We had better send for Doctor What's-his-name."

"The usual doctor is away," said Lady Atherley. "There is a London
doctor in his place. He is clever, Lady Sylvia said, but he gives
himself airs."

"Never mind what he gives himself if he gives his patients the right
thing."

"And after all we can manage very well without Ann, but what are we to
do about Mrs. Mallet? I always told you how it would be."

"But, my dear, it is not my fault. You look as reproachfully at me as if
it were my ghost which was causing all this disturbance instead of the
ghost of a remote ancestor--predecessor, in fact."

"No, but you will always talk just as if it was of no consequence."

"I don't talk of the cook's going as being of no consequence. Far from
it. But you must not let her go, that is all."

"How can I prevent her going? I think you had better talk to her
yourself."

"I should like to meet her very much; would not you, Lindy? I should
like to hear her story; it must be a blood-curdling one, to judge from
its effect upon Ann. The only person I have yet met who pretended to
have seen the ghost was Aunt Eleanour."

"And what was it like, daddy?" asked Denis, much interested.

"She did not say, Den. She would never tell me anything about it."

"Would she tell me?"

"I am afraid not. I don't think she would tell any one, except perhaps
Mr. Lyndsay. He has a way of worming things out of people."

"Mr. Lyndsay, how do you worm things out of people?"

"I don't know, Denis; you must ask your father."

"First, by never asking any questions," said Atherley promptly; "and
then by a curious way he has of looking as if he was listening
attentively to what was said to him, instead of thinking, as most people
do, what he shall say himself when he gets a chance of putting a word
in."

"But how could Aunt Eleanour see the ghost when there is not any such
thing?" cried Harold.

"How indeed!" said his father, rising; "that is just the puzzle. It will
take you years to find it out. Lindy, look into the morning-room in
about half an hour, and you will hear a tale whose lightest word will
harrow up thy soul, etc., etc."

As Lady Atherley kindly seconded this invitation I accepted it, though
not with the consequences predicted. Anything less suggestive of the
supernatural, or in every way less like the typical ghost-seer, was
surely never produced than the round and rubicund little person I found
in conversation with the Atherleys. Mrs. Mallet was a brunette who might
once have considered herself a beauty, to judge by the self-conscious
and self-satisfied simper which the ghastliest recollections were unable
to banish. As I entered I caught only the last words of Atherley's
speech--

"---- treating you well, Mrs. Mallet?"

"Oh no, Sir George," answered Mrs. Mallet, standing very straight and
stiff, with two plump red hands folded demurely before her; "which I
have not a word to say against any one, but have met, ever since I come
here, with the greatest of kindness and respect. But the noises, sir,
the noises of a night is more than I can abear."

"Oh, they are only rats, Mrs. Mallet."

"No rats in this world ever made sech a noise, Sir George; which the
very first night as I slep here, there come the most mysterioustest
sounds as ever I hear, which I says to Hann, 'Whatever are you a-doing?'
which she woke up all of a suddent, as young people will, and said she
never hear nor yet see nothing."

"What was the noise like, Mrs. Mallet?"

"Well, Sir George, I can only compare it to the dragging of heavy
furniture, which I really thought at first it was her ladyship a-coming
upstairs to waken me, took bad with burglars or a fire."

"But, Mrs. Mallet, I am sure you are too brave a woman to mind a little
noise."

"It is not only noises, Sir George. Last night--"

Mrs. Mallet drew a long breath and closed her eyes.

"Yes, Mrs. Mallet, pray go on; I am very curious to hear what did happen
last night."

"It makes the cold chills run over me to think of it. We was all gone to
bed--leastways the maids and me, and Hann and me was but just got to my
room when says she to me, 'Oh la! whatever do you think?' says she; 'I
promised Ellen when she went out this afternoon as I would shut the
windows in the pink bedroom at four o'clock, and never come to think of
it till this minute,' she says. 'Oh dear,' I says, 'and them new
chintzes will be entirely ruined with the damp. Why, what a
good-for-nothing girl you are!' I says, 'and what you thinks on half
your time is more than I can tell.' 'Whatever shall I do?' she says,
'for go along there at this time of night all by myself I dare not,'
says she. 'Well,' I says, 'rather than you should go alone, I'll go
along with you,' I says, 'for stay here by myself I would not,' I says,
'not if any one was to pay me hundreds.' So we went down our stairs and
along our passage to the door which you go into the gallery, Hann
a-clutching hold of me and starting, which when we come into the
gallery I was all of a tremble, and she shook so I said, 'La! Hann, for
goodness' sake do carry that candle straight, or you will grease the
carpet shameful;' and come to the pink room I says, 'Open the door.'
'La!' says she, 'what if we was to see the ghost?' 'Hold your silly
nonsense this minute,' I says, 'and open the door,' which she do, but
stand right back for to let me go first, when, true as ever I am
standing here, my lady, I see something white go by like a flash, and
struck me cold in the face, and blew the candle out, and then come the
fearfullest noise, which thunderclaps is nothing to it. Hann began
a-screaming, and we ran as fast as ever we could till we come to the
pantry, where Mr. Castleman and the footman was. I thought I should ha'
died: died I thought I should. My face was as white as that
antimacassar."

"How could you see your face, Mrs. Mallet?" somewhat peevishly objected
Lady Atherley.

But Mrs. Mallet with great dignity retorted--

"Which I looked down my nose, and it were like a corpse's."

"Very alarming," said Atherley, "but easily explained. Directly you
opened the door there was, of course, a draught from the open window.
That draught blew the candle out and knocked something over, probably a
screen."

"La' bless you, Sir George, it was more like paving-stones than screens
a-falling."

And indeed Mrs. Mallet was so far right, that when, to settle the
weighty question once for all, we adjourned in a body to the pink
bedroom, we discovered that nothing less than the ceiling, or at least a
portion of it, had fallen, and was lying in a heap of broken plaster
upon the floor. However, the moral, as Atherley hastened to observe, was
the same.

"You see, Mrs. Mallet, this was what made the noise."

Mrs. Mallet made no reply, but it was evident she neither saw nor
intended to see anything of the kind; and Atherley wisely substituted
bribery for reasoning. But even with this he made little way till
accidentally he mentioned the name of Mrs. de Noël, when, as if it had
been a name to conjure by, Mrs. Mallet showed signs of softening.

"Yes, think of Mrs. de Noël, Mrs. Mallet; what will she say if you leave
her cousin to starve?"

"I should not wish such a thing to happen for a moment," said Mrs.
Mallet, as if this had been no figure of speech but the actual
alternative, "not to any relation of Mrs. de Noël."

And shortly after the debate ended with a cheerful "Well, Mrs. Mallet,
you will give us another trial," from Atherley.

"There," he exclaimed, as we all three returned to the
morning-room--"there is as splendid an example of the manufacture of a
bogie as you are ever likely to meet with. All the spiritual phenomena
are produced much in the same way. Work yourself up into a great state
of terror and excitement, in the first place; in the next, procure one
companion, if not more, as credulous and excitable as yourself; go at a
late hour and with a dim light to a place where you have been told you
will see something supernatural; steadfastly and determinedly look out
for it, and--you will have your reward. These are precisely the lines on
which a spiritual séance is conducted, only instead of plaster, which is
not always so obliging as to fall in the nick of time, you have a paid
medium who supplies the material for your fancy to work upon. Mrs.
Mallet, you see, has discovered all this for herself--that woman is a
born genius. Just think what she might have been and seen if she had
lived in a sphere where neither cooking nor any other rational
occupation interfered with her pursuit of the supernatural. Mrs.
Molyneux would be nowhere beside her."

"I suppose she really does intend to stay," said Lady Atherley.

"Of course she does. I always told you my powers of persuasion were
irresistible."

"But how annoying about the ceiling," said Lady Atherley. "Over the new
carpet, too! What can make the plaster fall in this way?"

"It is the quality of the climate," said Atherley. "It is horribly
destructive. If you would read the batch of letters now on my
writing-table from tenant-farmers you would see what I mean: barns,
roofs, gates, everything is falling to pieces and must immediately be
repaired--at the landlord's expense, of course."

"We must send for a plasterer," said Lady Atherley, "and then the
doctor. Perhaps you would have time to go round his way, George."

"No, I have no time to go anywhere but to Northside farm. Hunt has been
waiting nearly half an hour for me, as it is. Lindy, would you like to
come with me?"

"No, thank you, George; I too am a landowner, and I mean to look over my
audit accounts to-day."

"Don't compare yourself to a poor overworked underpaid landowner like
me. You are one of the landlords they spout about in London parks on
Sundays. You have nothing to do but sign receipts for your rents, paid
in full and up to date."

"Mr. Lyndsay is an excellent landlord," said Lady Atherley; "and they
tell me the new church and the schools he has built are charming."

"Very mischievous things both," said Atherley. "Ta-ta."

That afternoon, Atherley being still absent, and Lady Atherley having
gone forth to pay a round of calls, the little boys undertook my
entertainment. They were in rather a sober mood for them, having just
forfeited four weeks' pocket-money towards expenses incurred by Tip in
the dairy, where they had foolishly allowed him to enter; so they
accepted very good-humouredly my objections to wading in the river or
climbing trees, and took me instead for a walk to Beggar's Stile. We
climbed up the steep carriage-drive to the lodge, passed through the big
iron gates, turned sharply to the left, and went down the road which the
park palings border and the elms behind them shade, past the little
copse beyond the park, till we came to a tumble-down gate with a stile
beside it in the hedgerow; and this was Beggar's Stile. It was just on
the brow of the little hill which sloped gradually downward to the
village beneath, and commanded a wide view of the broad shallow valley
and of the rising ground beyond.

I was glad to sit down on the step of the stile.

"Are you tired already, Mr. Lyndsay?" inquired Harold incredulously.

"Yes, a little."

"I s'pose you are tired because you always have to pull your leg after
you," said Denis, turning upon me two large topaz-coloured eyes. "Does
it hurt you, Mr. Lyndsay?"

"Mother told you not to talk about Mr. Lyndsay's leg," observed Harold
sharply.

"No, she didn't; she said I was not to talk about the funny way he
walked. She said--"

"Well, never mind, little man," I interrupted. "Is that Weald down
there?"

"Yes," cried Denis, maintaining his balance on the topmost bar but one
of the gate with enviable ease. "All these cottages and houses belong to
Weald, and it is all daddy's on this side of the river down to where you
see the white railings a long way down near the poplars, and that is the
road we go to tea with Aunt Eleanour; and do you see a little blue
speck on the hill over there? You could see if you had a telescope.
Daddy showed me once; but you must shut your eye. That is Quarley
Beacon, where Aunt Cissy lives."

"No, she does not, stupid," cried Harold, now suspended, head downwards,
by one foot, from the topmost rail of the gate. "No one lives there. She
lives in Quarley Manor, just behind."

Denis replied indirectly to the discourteous tone of this speech by
trying with the point of his own foot to dislodge that by which Harold
maintained his remarkable position, and a scuffle ensued, wherein,
though a non-combatant, I seemed likely to get the worst, when their
attention was fortunately diverted by the sight of Tip sneaking off, and
evidently with the vilest motives, towards the covert.

My memory was haunted that day by certain words spoken seven months ago
by Atherley, and by me at the time very ungraciously received:

"Remember, if you do come a cropper, it will go hard with you, old man;
you can't shoot or hunt or fish off the blues, like other men."

No, nor could I work them off, as some might have done. I possessed no
distinct talents, no marked vocation. If there was nothing behind and
beyond all this, what an empty freak of destiny my life would have
been--full, not even of sound and fury, but of dull common-place
suffering: a tale told by an idiot with a spice of malice in him.

Then the view before me made itself felt, as a gentle persistent sound
might have done: a flat, almost featureless scene--a little village
church with cottages and gardens clustering about it, straggling away
from it, by copses and meadows in which winter had left only the
tenderest shades of the saddest colours. The winding river brightened
the dull picture with broken glints of silver, and the tawny hues of the
foreground faded through soft gradations of violet and azure into a far
distance of pearly grey. It is not the scenery men cross continents and
oceans to admire, and yet it has a message of its own. I felt it that
day when I was heart-weary, and was glad that in one corner of this
restless world the little hills preach peace.

Meantime Tip had been recaptured, and when he, or rather the ground
close beside him, had been beaten severely with sticks, and he himself
upbraided in terms which left the censors hoarse, we went down again
into the hollow. Then Lady Atherley returned and gave me tea; and
afterwards, in the library, I worked at accounts till it was nearly too
dark to write. No doubt on the high ground the sky was aflame with
brilliant colour, of which only a dim reflection tinged the dreary view
of sward and leafless trees, to which, for some mysterious reason, a gig
crawling down the carriage-drive gave the last touch of desolation.

Just as I laid my pen aside the door opened, and Castleman introduced a
stranger.

"If you will wait here, sir, I will find her ladyship."

The new-comer was young and slight, with an erect carriage and a firm
step. He had the finely-cut features and dull colouring which I
associate with the high-pressure life of a busy town, so that I guessed
who he was before his first words told me.

"No, thank you, I will not sit down; I expect to be called to my patient
immediately."

The thought of this said patient made me smile, and in explanation I
told him from what she was supposed to be suffering.

"Well; it is less common than other forms of feverishness, but will
probably yield to the same remedies," was his only comment.

"You do not believe in ghosts?"

"Pardon me, I do, just as I believe in all symptoms. When my patient
tells me he hears bells ringing in his ear, or feels the ground swaying
under his feet, I believe him implicitly, though I know nothing of the
kind is actually taking place. The ghost, so far, belongs to the same
class as the other experiences, that it is a symptom--it may be of a
very trifling, it may be of a very serious, disorder."

The voice, the keen flash of the eye, impressed me. I recognised one of
those alert intelligences, beside whose vivid flame the mental life of
most men seems to smoulder. I wished to hear him speak again.

"Is this your view of all supernatural manifestations?"

"Of all so-called supernatural manifestations; I don't understand the
word or the distinction. No event which has actually taken place can be
supernatural. Since it belongs to the actual it must be governed by, it
must be the outcome of, laws which everywhere govern the actual--everywhere
and at all times. In fact, it must be natural, whatever we
may think of it."

"Then if a miracle could be proven, it would be no miracle to you?"

"Certainly not."

"And it could convince you of nothing?"

"Neither me nor any one else who has outgrown his childhood, I should
think. I have never been able to understand the outcry of the orthodox
over their lost miracles. It makes their position neither better nor
worse. The miracles could never prove their creeds. How am I to
recognise a divine messenger? He makes the furniture float about the
room; he changes that coal into gold; he projects himself or his image
here when he is a thousand miles away. Why, an emissary from the devil
might do as much! It only proves--always supposing he really does
these things instead of merely appearing to do so--it proves that he is
better acquainted with natural laws than I am. What if he could kill me
by an effort of the will? What if he could bring me to life again? It is
always the same; he might still be morally my inferior; he might be a
false prophet after all."

He took out his watch and looked at it, by this simple action
illustrating and reminding me of the difference between us--he talking
to pass away the time, I thinking aloud the gnawing question at my
heart.

"And you have no hope for anything beyond this?"

Something in my voice must have struck his ear, trained like every other
organ of observation to quick and fine perception, for he looked at me
more attentively, and it was in a gentler tone that he said--

"Surely, you do not mean for a life beyond this? One's best hope must be
that the whole miserable business ends with death."

"Have you found life so wretched?"

"I am not speaking from my own particular point of view. I am
singularly, exceptionally, fortunate, I am healthy; I have tastes which
I can gratify, work which I keenly enjoy. Whether the tastes are worth
gratifying or the work worth doing I cannot say. At least they act as an
anodyne to self-consciousness; they help me to forget the farce in
which I play my part. Like Solomon, and all who have had the best of
life, I call it vanity. What do you suppose it is to those--by far the
largest number, remember--who have had the worst of it? To them it is
not vanity, it is misery."

"But they suffer under the invariable laws you speak of--laws working
towards deliverance and happiness in the future."

"The future? Yes, I know that form of consolation which seems to satisfy
so many. To me it seems a hollow one. I have never yet been able to
understand how any amount of ecstasy enjoyed by B a million years hence
can make up for the torture A is suffering to-day. I suppose, dealing so
much with individuals as I do, I am inclined to individualise like a
woman. I think of units rather than of the mass. At this moment I have
before me a patient now left suffering pain as acute as any the rack
ever inflicted. How does it affect his case that centuries later such
pain may be unknown?"

"Of course, the individual's one and only hope is a future existence.
Then it may be all made up to him."

"I see no reason to hope so. Either there is no God, and we shall still
be at the mercy of the blind destiny we suffer under here; or there is a
God, the God who looks on at this world and makes no sign! The sooner we
escape from Him by annihilation the better."

"Christians would tell you He had given a sign."

"Yes; so they do in words and deny it in deeds. Nothing is sadder in
the whole tragedy, or comedy, than these pitiable efforts to hide the
truth, to gloss it over with fables which nobody in his heart of hearts
believes--at least in these days. Why not face the worst like men? If we
can't help being unhappy we can help being dishonest and cowardly.
Existence is a misfortune. Let us frankly confess that it is, and make
the best of it."

He was not looking at his watch now; he was pacing the room. At last, he
was in earnest, and had forgotten all accidents of time and place before
the same enigma which perplexed myself.

"The best of it!" I re-echoed. "Surely, under these circumstances, the
best thing would be to commit suicide?"

"No," he cried, stopping and turning sharply upon me. "The worst,
because the most cowardly; so long as you have strength, brains,
money--anything with which you can do good."

He looked past me through the window into the outer air, no longer
faintly tinged, but dyed deep red by the light of the unseen but
resplendent sunset, and added slowly, dejectedly, as if speaking to
himself as much as to me--

"Yes, there is one thing worth living for--to help to make it all a
little more bearable for the others."

And then all at once, his face, so virile yet so delicate, so young and
yet so sad, reminded me of one I had seen in an old picture--the face of
an angel watching beside the dead Christ; and I cried--

"But are you certain He has made no sign; not hundreds of years ago,
but in your own lifetime? not to saint or apostle, but to you, yourself?
Has nothing which has happened to you, nothing you have ever seen or
read or heard, tempted you to hope in something better?"

"Yes," he said deliberately; "I have had my weak moments. My conviction
has wavered, not before religious teaching of any kind, however, nor
before Nature, in which some people seem to find such promise; but I
have met one or two women, and one man--all of them unknown,
unremarkable people--whom the world never heard of, nor is likely to
hear of, living uneventful obscure lives in out-of-the-way corners. For
instance, there is a lady in this very neighbourhood, a relation of Sir
George Atherley, I believe, Mrs. de No--"

"Her ladyship would like to see you in the drawing-room, sir," said
Castleman, suddenly coming in.

The doctor bowed to me and immediately left the room.



CHAPTER III

MRS. MOSTYN'S GOSPEL


"No, they have not seen any more ghosts, sir," replied Castleman
scornfully next day, "and never need have seen any. It is all along of
this tea-drinking. We did not have this bother when the women took their
beer regular. These teetotallers have done a lot of harm. They ought to
be put down by Act of Parliament."

And the kitchen-maid was better. Mrs. Mallet, indeed, assured Lady
Atherley that Hann was not long for this world, having turned just the
same colour as the late Mr. Mallet did on the eve of his death; but
fortunately the patient herself, as well as the doctor, took a more
hopeful view of the case.

"I can see Mrs. Mallet is a horrible old croaker," said Lady Atherley.

"Let her croak," said Atherley, "so long as she cooks as she did last
night. That curry would have got her absolution for anything if your
uncle had been here."

"That reminds me, George, the ceiling of the spare room is not mended
yet."

"Why, I thought you sent to Whitford for a plasterer yesterday?"

"Yes, and he came; but Mrs. Mallet has some extraordinary story about
his falling into his bucket and spoiling his Sunday coat, and going home
at once to change it. I can't make it out, but nothing is done to the
ceiling."

"I make it out," said Atherley; "I make out that he was a little the
worse for drink. Have we not a plasterer in the village?"

"I think there is one. I fancy the Jacksons did not wish us to employ
him, because he is a dissenter; but after all, giving him work is not
the same as giving him presents."

"No, indeed; nor do I see why, because he is a dissenter, I, who am only
an infidel, am to put up with a hole in my ceiling."

"Only, I don't know what his name is."

"His name is Smart. Everybody in our village is called Smart--most
inappropriately too."

"No, George, the man the doctor told us about who is so dangerously
ill is called Monk."

"I am glad to hear it; but he doesn't belong to our parish, though he
lives so close. He is actually in Rood Warren. His cottage is at the
other side of the Common."

"Then we can leave the wine and things as we go. And, George, while the
boys are having tea with Aunt Eleanour, I think I shall drive on to
Quarley Beacon and try and persuade Cecilia to come back and spend the
night with us. I think we could manage to put her up in the little blue
dressing-room. She is so good-natured; she won't mind its being so
small."

"Yes, do; I want Lyndsay to see her. And give my best love to Aunt
Eleanour, and say that if she is going to send me any more tracts
against Popery, I should be extremely obliged if she would prepay the
postage sufficiently."

"Oh no, George, I could not. It was only threepence."

"Well, then, tell her it is no good sending any at all, because I have
made up my mind to go over to Rome next July."

"No, George; she might not like it, and I don't believe you are going to
do anything of the kind. Oh, are you off already? I thought you would
settle something about the plasterer."

"No, no; I can't think of plasterers and repairs to-day. Even the
galley-slave has his holiday--this is mine. I am going to see the hounds
throw off at Rood Acre, and forget for one day that I have an inch of
landed property in the world."

"But, George, if the pink-room ceiling is not put right by Saturday,
where shall we put Uncle Augustus?"

"Into the room just opposite to Lindy's."

"What! that little room? In the bachelor's passage? A man of his age,
and of his position!"

"I am sure it is large enough for any one under a bishop. Besides, I
don't think he is fussy about anything except his dinner."

"It is not the way he is accustomed to be treated when he is on a visit,
I can assure you. He is a person who is generally considered a great
deal."

"Well, I consider him a great deal. I consider him one of the finest old
heathen I ever knew."

Fortunately for their domestic peace, Lady Atherley usually misses the
points of her husband's speeches, but there are some which jar upon her
sense of the becoming, and this was one of them.

"I don't think," she observed to me, the offender himself having
escaped, "that even if Uncle Augustus were not my uncle, a heathen is a
proper name to call a clergyman, especially a canon--and one who is so
looked up to in the Church. Have you ever heard him preach? But you must
have heard about him, and about his sermons? I thought so. They are
beautiful. When he preaches the church is crammed, and with the best
people--in the season, when they are in town. And he has written a great
many religious books too--sermons and hymns and manuals. There is a
little book in red morocco you may have seen in my sitting-room--I know
it was there a week ago--which he gave me, _The Life of Prayer_, with a
short meditation and a hymn for every hour of the day--all composed by
him. We don't see so much of him as I could wish. He is so grieved about
George's views. He gave him some of his own sermons, but of course
George would not look at them; and--so annoying--the last time he came I
put the sermons, two beautiful large volumes of them, on the
drawing-room table, and when we were all there after dinner George asked
me quite loud what these smart books were, and where they came from. So
altogether he has not come to see us for a long time; but as he happened
to be staying with the Mountshires, I begged him to come over for a
night or two; so you will hear him preach on Sunday."

At lunch that day Lady Atherley proposed that I should accompany them to
Woodcote. "Do come, Mr. Lyndsay," said Denis. "We shall have cakes for
tea, and jam-sandwiches as well."

"And there is an awfully jolly banister for sliding down," added Harold,
"without any turns or landing, you know."

I professed myself unable to resist such inducements. Indeed, I was
almost glad to go. The recollection of Mrs. Mostyn's cheerful face was as
alluring to me that day as the thought of a glowing hearth might be to
the beggar on the door-step. Here, at least, was one to whom life was a
blessing; who partook of all it could bestow with an appetite as
healthfully keen as her nephew's, but without his disinclination or
disregard for anything besides.

The mild March day felt milder, the rooks cawed more cheerfully, and the
spring flowers shone out more fearlessly around us when we had passed
through the white gates of Woodcote--a favoured spot gently declining to
the sunniest quarter, and sheltered from the north and north-east by
barricades of elm-woods. The tiny domain was exquisitely ordered, as I
love to see everything which appertains to women; and within the low
white house, furnished after the simple and stiff fashion of a past
generation, reigned the same dainty neatness, the same sunny
cheerfulness, the native atmosphere of its chatelaine Mrs. Mostyn--a
white-haired old lady long past seventy, with the bloom of youth on her
cheek, its vivacity in her step, and its sparkle in her eyes.

Hardly were the first greetings exchanged when the children opened the
ball of conversation by inquiring eagerly when tea would be ready.

"How can you be so greedy?" said their mother. "Why, you have only just
finished your dinner."

"We dined at half-past one, and it is nearly half-past three."

"Poor darlings!" cried Mrs. Mostyn, regarding them with the enraptured
gaze of the true child-lover; "their drive has made them hungry; and we
cannot have tea very well before half-past four, because some old women
from the village have come up to have tea, and the servants are busy
attending to them. But I can tell you what you could do, dears. You know
the way to the dairy; one of the maids is sure to be there; tell her to
give you some cream. You will like that, won't you? Yes, you can go out
by this door."

"And remember to--"

Lady Atherley's exhortation remained unfinished, her sons having darted
through the door-window like arrows from the bow.

"Since Miss Jones has been gone for her holiday the children are quite
unmanageable," she observed.

"Oh, it is such a good sign!" cried Mrs. Mostyn heartily; "it shows they
are so thoroughly well. Mr. Lyndsay, why have you chosen that
uncomfortable chair? Come and sit over beside me, if you are not afraid
of the fire. And now, Jane, my love, tell me how you are getting on at
Weald."

Then followed a long catalogue of accidents and disappointments, of
faithlessness and incapacity, to which Mrs. Mostyn supplied a running
commentary of interjections sympathetic and consoling. There were,
moreover, many changes for the worse since Sir Marmaduke had resided
there: the shooting and the fishing had been alike neglected; the
farmers were impoverished; the old places had changed hands.

"And a good many quite new people have come to live in small houses
round Weald," said Lady Atherley. "They have left cards on us. Do you
know what they are like?"

"Quite ladies and gentlemen, I believe, and nice enough as long as you
don't get to know them too intimately; but they are always
quarrelling."

"About what?"

"About everything; but especially about church matters--decorations and
anthems and other rubbish. What they want is less of the church and more
of the Bible."

"I believe Mr. Jackson has a Bible-class every week."

"But is it a Bible-class, or is it only called so? There is Mr. Austin
at Rood Warren, a Romanist in disguise if ever there was one: he is by
way of having a Bible-class, and one of our farmers' daughters attended
it. 'And what part of the Bible are you studying now?' I asked her. 'We
are studying early church history.' 'I don't know any such chapter in
the Bible as that,' I said, and yet I know my Bible pretty well. She
explained it was a continuation of the Acts of the Apostles. I said:
'My dear child, don't you be misled by any jugglery of that kind; there
is no continuation of the Bible; and as to what people call the early
church, its doings and sayings are of no consequence at all. The one
question we have to ask ourselves is this: '"What does the Book say?"'
What is in the Book is God's word: what is not in the Book is only
man's."

The effect of this exposition on Lady Atherley was to make her ask
eagerly whether the curate in charge at Rood Warren was one of the
Austyns of Temple Leigh.

"I believe he is a nephew," Mrs. Mostyn admitted, quite gloomily for
her. "It is painful to see people of good standing going astray in this
manner."

"I was thinking it would be so convenient to get a young man over to
dinner sometimes; and Rood Warren cannot be very far from us, for one of
Mr. Austyn's parishioners lives just at the end of Weald."

"If you take my advice, my dearest Jane, you will not have anything to
do with him. He is certain to be attractive--men of that sort always
are; and there is no saying what he might do: perhaps gain an influence
over George himself."

"I don't think there need be any fear of that, for at dinner, you know,
we need not have any religious discussions; I never will have them; they
are almost as bad as politics, they make people so cross."

Then she rose and explained her visit to Mrs. de Noël.

"But, Mr. Lyndsay," said Mrs. Mostyn, "are you going to desert the old
woman for the young one, or are you going to stay and see my gardens and
have tea? That is right. Good-bye, my dearest Jane. Give my dear love to
Cissy, and tell her to come over and see me--but I shall have a glimpse
of her on your way back."

"I hope Mrs. de Noël may be persuaded to come back," I said, as the
carriage drove off, and we walked along a gravel path by lawns of velvet
smoothness; "I would so much like to meet her."

"Have you never met her? Dear Cecilia! She is a sweet creature--the
sweetest, I think, I ever met, though perhaps I ought not to say so of
my own niece. She wants but one thing--the grace of God."

We passed into a little wood, tapestried with ivy, carpeted with
clustering primroses, and she continued--

"It is most mysterious. Both Cecilia and George, being left orphans so
early, were brought up by my dear sister Henrietta. She was a believing
Christian, and no children ever had greater religious advantages than
these two. As soon as they could speak they learnt hymns or texts of
Scripture, and before they could read they knew whole chapters of the
Bible by heart. George even now, I will say that for him, knows his
Bible better than a good many clergymen. And the Sabbath, too. They were
taught to reverence the Lord's day in a way children never are nowadays.
All games and picture-books put away on Saturday night; regularly to
church morning and afternoon, and in the evening Henrietta would talk to
them and question them about the sermon. And after all, here is George
who says he believes in nothing; and as to Cecilia, I never can make out
what she does or does not believe. However, I am quite happy in my mind
about them. I feel they are of the elect. I am as certain of their
salvation as I am of my own."

A sudden scampering of feet upon the gravel was followed by the
appearance of the boys, rosy with exercise and excitement.

"Well, my darling boys, have you had your cream?"

"Oh yes, Aunt Eleanour," cried Harold, "and we have been into the
farm-yard and seen the little pigs. Such jolly little beasts, Mr.
Lyndsay, and squeak so funnily when you pull their tails."

"Oh, but I can't have my pigs unkindly treated."

"Not unkindly, auntie," cried Denis, swinging affectionately upon my
arm; "we only just tried to make their tails go straight, you know. And,
Mr. Lyndsay, there is such a dear little baby calf."

"But I want to give apples to the horses," cried Harold.

So we went to the fruit-house for apples, which Mrs. Mostyn herself
selected from an upper shelf, mounting a ladder with equal agility and
grace; then to the stables, where these dainties were crunched by two
very fat carriage-horses; then to the miniature farm-yard, and the tiny
ivy-covered dairy beyond; and just as I was beginning to feel the first
qualms of my besetting humiliation, fatigue, Mrs. Mostyn led us round to
the garden--a garden with high red walls, and a dial in the
meeting-place of the flower-bordered paths; and we sat down in a rustic
seat cosily fitted into one sunny corner, just behind a great bed of
hyacinths in flower.

The children had but one regret: Tip had been left behind.

"But mamma would not let us bring him," cried Harold in an aggrieved
tone, "because he will roll in the flower-beds."

"Do you think it is nearly half-past four, Aunt Eleanour?" asked Denis.

"Very nearly, I should think. Suppose you were to go and see if they
have brought the tea-kettle in; and if they have, call to me from the
drawing-room window, and I will come."

The tempered sunlight fell full upon the delicate hyacinth
clusters--coral, snow-white, and faintest lilac--exhaling their
exquisite odour, and the warm sweet air seemed to enwrap us tenderly. My
spirits, heavy as lead, began to rise--strangely, irrationally. Sunlight
has always for me a supersensuous beauty, while the colour and perfume
of flowers move me as sound vibrations move the musician. Just then it
was to me as if through Nature, from that which is behind Nature, there
reached me a pitying, a comforting caress.

And in the same key were Mrs. Mostyn's words when she next spoke.

"Mr. Lyndsay, I am an old woman and you are very young, and my heart
goes out to all young creatures in sorrow, especially to one who has no
mother of his own, no, nor father even, to comfort him. I know what
trouble you have had. Would you be offended if I said how deeply I felt
for you?"

"Offended, Mrs. Mostyn!"

"No. I see you understand me; you will not think me obtrusive when I say
that I pray this great trial may be for your lasting good; may lead you
to seek and to find salvation. The truth is brought home to us in many
different ways, by many different instruments. My own eyes were opened
by very extraordinary means."

She was silent for a few instants, and then went on--

"When I was young, Mr. Lyndsay, I lived for the world only. I went to
church, of course, like other people, and said my prayers and called
myself a Christian, but I did not know what the word meant. My sister
Henrietta would often talk seriously to me, but it had no effect, and
she was quite grieved over my hardened state; but my dear mother, a true
saint, used to tell her to have no fear, that some day I should be
sharply awakened to my soul's danger. But it was not till years after
she was in heaven that her words came true."

I looked at her and waited.

"We were still living at Weald Manor with my brother Marmaduke, and we
had young people staying with us. They were all going--all but
myself--to a ball at Carchester. I stayed at home because I had a slight
cold, which made me feel tired and feverish, and disinclined to be
dancing till early next morning. I went to bed early, and when I had
sent away my maid I sat beside the fire for a little, thinking. You know
the long gallery?"

"Yes."

"My room was there; so I was quite alone, for the servants slept, just
as they do now, in the opposite end of the house. But I had my dog with
me, such a dear little thing, a black-and-tan terrier. He was lying
asleep on the rug beside me. Well, all at once he got up and put his
head on one side as if he heard something, and he began barking. I only
said 'Nonsense, Totty, lie down,' and paid no more attention to him,
till some moments afterwards he made a strange kind of noise as if he
were trying to bark and was choked in some way. This made me look at
him, and then I observed that he was trembling from head to foot, and
staring in the strangest way at something behind me. I will honestly
tell you he made me feel so uncomfortable I was afraid to look round;
and still it was almost as bad to sit there and not look round, so at
last I summoned up courage and turned my head. Then I saw it."

"The ghost?"

"Yes."

"What was it like?"

"It was like a shadow, only darker, and not lying against the wall as a
shadow would do, but standing out from it in the air. It stood a little
way from me in a corner of the room. It was in the shape of a man, with
a ruff round his neck, and sleeves puffed out at the shoulders, as you
often see in old pictures; but I don't remember much about that, for at
the time I could think of nothing but the face."

"And that--?"

"That was simply dreadful. I can't tell you what it was like. I could
not have imagined it, if I had not seen it. It was the look--the look
in its eyes. After all these years it makes me tremble when I think of
it. But what I felt was not the same nervous feeling which made me
afraid to turn round. It went much deeper--indeed it went deeper than
anything in my life had ever gone before; it went right down to my soul,
in fact, and made me feel I had a soul."

She had turned quite pale.

"Yes, Mr. Lyndsay, strange as it sounds, the mere sight of that face
made me realise in an instant what I had read and heard thousands of
times, and what my mother and Henrietta had told me over and over again
about the utter nothingness of earthly aims and comforts--of what in an
ordinary way is called life. I had heard very fine sermons preached
about the same thing: 'What is our life, it is even a vapour,' and the
'vain shadow' in which we walk. Have you ever thought how we can go on
hearing and even repeating true and wise words without getting at their
real sense, and, what is worse, without suspecting our own ignorance?"

"I know it well."

"When Henrietta used to say that the whirl of worldly occupations and
interests and amusements in which I was so engrossed did not deserve to
be called life, and could never satisfy the eternal soul within me, it
used to seem to me an exaggerated way of saying that the next world
would be better than this one; but I saw the meaning of her words, I saw
the truth of them, as I see these flowers before me, and feel the gravel
under my feet: it came to me in a moment, the night these terrible eyes
looked into mine. The feeling did not last, but I have never forgotten
it, and never shall. It was as if a veil were lifted for an instant, and
I was standing outside of my life and looking back at it; and it seemed
so poor and worthless and unreal--I can't explain myself properly."

"And did the figure remain for any time?"

"I do not know. I think I must have fainted. They found me lying in a
half-unconscious state in my chair when they came home. I was ill in bed
for weeks with what the doctors call low fever. But neither the fever
nor anything else could remove the impression that had been made. That
terrible thing was a blessed messenger to me. My real conversion was
not till years later, but the way was prepared by the great shock I then
received, and which roused me to a sense of my danger."

"What do you think the thing you saw Was, Mrs. Mostyn?"

"The ghost?"

"Yes."

Slowly, thoughtfully, she answered me--

"I am certain it was a lost soul: nothing else could have worn that
dreadful look."

She paused for a few moments and then continued--

"Perhaps you are one of those who do not believe in the punishment of
sin?"

"Who can disbelieve it, Mrs. Mostyn? Call it what we like, it is a fact.
It confronts us on every side. We might as well refuse to believe in
death."

"It is not that I meant! I was talking of punishment in the next world,
Mr. Lyndsay."

"Well, there, too, no doubt it must continue, until the uttermost
farthing is paid. I believe--at least I hope--that."

She shook her head with a troubled expression.

"There is no paying that debt in the next world. It can only be paid
here. Here, a free pardon is offered to us, and if we do not accept it,
then---- It is the fashion, even among believers, nowadays to avoid this
awful subject. Preachers of the Gospel do not speak of it in the pulpit
as they once did. It is considered too shocking for our modern notions.
I have no patience with such weakness, such folly--worse than folly. It
seems to me even more wrong to try and hide this terrible danger from
ourselves and from others than to deny it altogether, as some poor
deluded souls do. Mr. Lyndsay, have you ever realised what the place of
torment will be like?"

"Yes; once, Mrs. Mostyn."

"You were in pain?"

"I suppose it was pain," I said.

For always, when anything revives this recollection, seared into my
memory, the question rises: was it merely pain, physical pain, of which
we all speak so easily and lightly? It lasted only ten minutes; ten
minutes by the clock, that is. For me time was annihilated. There was no
past or future, but only an intolerable present, in which mind and soul
were blotted out, and all of sentient existence that remained was the
animal consciousness of agony. I cannot share men's stoical contempt
for a Gehenna, which is nothing worse.

"Mr. Lyndsay, imagine pain, worse than any ever endured on earth going
on and on, for ever!"

A bird, not a thrush, but one of the minor singers, lighting on a bough
near us, trilled one simple but ecstatic phrase.

"Do you really and truly believe, Mrs. Mostyn, that this will be the
fate of any single being?"

"Of any single being? Do we not know that it is what will happen to the
greatest number? For what does the Book say? 'Many are called but few
are chosen.'"

Through the still, mild air, across the sun-steeped gardens, came the
voices of the children--

"Aunt Eleanour! Aunt Eleanour!"

"Many are called," she repeated, "but few are chosen; and those who are
not chosen shall be cast into everlasting fire."

There was a pause. She turned to look at me, and, as if struck by
something in my face, said gently, soothingly:

"Yes, it is a terrible thought, but only for the unregenerate. It has no
terror for me. I trust it need have no terror for you. After all, how
simple, how easy is the way of escape! You have only to believe."

"And then?"

"And then you are safe, safe for evermore. Think of that. The foolish
people who wish to explain away eternal punishment, forget that at the
same time they explain away eternal happiness! You will be safe now,
and after death you will be in heaven for evermore."

"I shall be in heaven for evermore, and always there will be hell."

"Yes."

"Where the others will be?"

"What others? Only the wicked!"

"Aunt Eleanour! Aunt Eleanour!" called the children once more.

"I must go to them! But, Mr. Lyndsay, think over what I have said."

And I remained and obeyed her, and beheld, entire, distinct, the spectre
that drives men to madness or despair--illimitable omnipotent Malice. In
its shadow the colour of the flowers was quenched, and the music of the
birds rang false. Yet it wore the consecration of time and authority!
What if it were true?

"Mr. Lyndsay," said Denis at my elbow, "Aunt Eleanour has sent me to
fetch you to tea. Mr. Lyndsay, do you hear? Why do you look so strange?"

He caught my hand anxiously as he spoke, and by that little human touch
the spell was broken. The phantom vanished; and, looking into the
child's eyes, I felt it was a lie.



CHAPTER IV

CANON VERNADE'S GOSPEL


There was no Mrs. de Noël in the carriage when it returned; she had gone
to London to stay with Mrs. Donnithorne, whom Atherley spoke of as Aunt
Henrietta, and was not expected home till Wednesday.

"I am sorry," Lady Atherley observed, as we drove home through the dusk;
"I should like to have had her here when Uncle Augustus was with us. I
would have asked Mrs. Mostyn to dine with us, but I am not sure she and
Uncle Augustus would get on. When her sister, Mrs. Donnithorne, met
Uncle Augustus and his wife at lunch at our house once, she said she
thought no minister of the Gospel ought to allow his child to take part
in worldly amusements or ceremonials. It was very awkward, because Uncle
Augustus's eldest girl had been presented only the day before. And Aunt
Clara, Uncle Augustus's wife, you know, who is rather quick, said it
depended whether the minister of the Gospel was a gentleman or a
shoe-black, because Mrs. Donnithorne was attending a dissenting chapel
then where the preacher was quite a common uneducated sort of person.
And after that they would not talk to each other, and, altogether, I
remember, it was very unpleasant. I do think it is such a pity," cried
Lady Atherley with real feeling, "when people will take up these extreme
religious views, as all the Atherleys do. I am sure it is quite a
comfort to have someone like you in the house, Mr. Lyndsay, who is not
particular about religion."

       *       *       *       *       *

"If this is the best Aunt Eleanour has to show in the way of a ghost,
she does well to keep so quiet about it," was Atherley's comment on that
part of the story which, by special permission, I repeated to him next
day. "I never heard a weaker ghost story. She explains the whole thing
away as she tells it. She was, as she candidly admits, ill and
feverish--sickening for a fever, in fact, when the most rational
person's senses are apt to play them strange tricks. She is alone at the
dead of night in a house she believes to be haunted; and then her
dog--an odious little beast, I remember him well, always barking at
something or nothing;--the dog suggests there is somebody near. She
looks round into a dark part of the room, and naturally, inevitably--all
things considered--sees a ghost. Did you say it wore a ruff and puffed
sleeves?"

"So Mrs. Mostyn said."

"Of course, because, as I told you, Aunt Eleanour believed in the
Elizabethan portrait theory. If it had been Aunt Henrietta, the ghost
would have been in armour. Ghosts and all visitors from the other world
obligingly correspond with the preconceived notions of the visionary.
When a white robe and a halo were considered the proper celestial
outfit, saints and angels always appeared with white robes and halos. In
the same way, the African savage, who believes in a god with a crooked
leg, always sees him in dreams, waking or asleep, with a crooked leg;
and--"

Here we were interrupted by a great stir in the hall outside, and Lady
Atherley looked in to explain that the carriage with Uncle Augustus was
just coming down the drive.

Her manner reminded me of the full importance of this arrival, as well
as of the unfortunate circumstance that, owing to the ill-timed absence
of the dissenting plasterer, the Canon must be lodged in the little room
opposite to my own.

However, when I went into the drawing-room, I found him accepting his
niece's apologies and explanations with great good-humour. To me also he
was especially gracious.

"I had the pleasure of dining at Lindesford, Mr. Lyndsay, when you must
have been in long clothes. I remember we had some of the finest trout I
ever tasted. Are they still as good in your river?"

His voice, like himself, was massive and impressive; his bearing and
manner inspired me with wistful admiration: what must life be to a man
so self-confident, and so rightly self-confident?

"Is not Uncle Augustus a fine-looking man?" asked Lady Atherley, when he
had left the room with Atherley. "I cannot think why they do not make
him a bishop; he would look so well in the robes. He ought to have had
something when the last ministry was in, for Aunt Clara and Lord
Lingford are cousins; but, unfortunately, the families were on bad terms
because of a lawsuit."

The morning after was bright and fair, so that
sunlight mingled with the drowsy calm--Sunday in the country as we
remember it, looking lovingly back from lands that are not English to
the tenderer side of the Puritan Sabbath. But I missed my little
_aubade_ from the lawn, and not till breakfast-time did I behold my
small friends, who then came into the breakfast-room, one on either side
of their mother--two miniature sailors, exquisitely neat but visibly
dejected. Behind walked Tip, demurely recognising the change in the
atmosphere, but, undisturbed thereby, he at once, with his usual air of
self-satisfied dignity, assumed his place in the largest arm-chair.

"The landau could take us all to church except you, George," said Lady
Atherley, looking thoughtfully into the fire as we waited for breakfast
and the Canon. "But I suppose you would prefer to walk?"

"Why should you suppose I am going to church, either walking or
driving?"

"Well, I certainly hoped you would have gone to-day; as Uncle Augustus
is going to preach it seems only polite to do so."

"Well, I don't mind; I daresay it will do me no harm; and if it is
understood I attend only out of consideration for my wife's uncle,
then--"

He was interrupted by the entrance of the person in question.

Many times during breakfast Denis looked thoughtfully at his
great-uncle, and at last inquired--

"Do you preach very long sermons, Uncle Augustus?"

"They are not generally considered so," replied the Canon with some
dignity.

"Denis, I have often told you not to ask questions," said Lady Atherley.

"When I am grown up," remarked Harold, "I will be an atheist."

"Do you know what an atheist is?" inquired his father.

"Yes, it is people who never go to church."

"But they go to lecture-rooms, which you would find worse."

"But they don't have sermons."

"Don't they? Hours long, especially when they bury each other."

"Oh!" said Harold, evidently taken aback, and somewhat reconciled to the
church.

"When I am grown up," said Denis, "I mean to be the same church as Aunt
Cissy."

"And what may that be?" inquired the Canon.

Denis was silent and looked perplexed; but some time afterwards, when we
were talking of other things, he called out, with the joy of one who has
captured that elusive thing, a definition:

"In Aunt Cissy's church they climb trees and make toffee on Sundays."

After which Lady Atherley seemed glad to take them both away with her.

It was perhaps this remark that led the Canon to ask, on the way to
church--

"Is it true that Mrs. de Noël attends a dissenting chapel?"

"No," said Lady Atherley. "But I know why people say so. She lent a
field last year to the Methodists to have their camp-meeting in."

"Oh! but that is a pity," said the Canon. "A very great pity--a person
in her position encouraging dissent, especially when there is no real
occasion for it. Clara's nephew, young Littlemore, did something of the
kind last year, but then he was standing for the county; and though that
hardly justifies, it excuses, a little pandering to the multitude."

"Cissy only let them have it once," said Lady Atherley, as if making the
best of it. "And, indeed, I believe it rained so hard that day they were
not able to have the meeting after all."

Then the carriage stopped before the lych-gate, through which the
fresh-faced school children were trooping; and while the bell clanged
its last monotonous summons, we walked up between the village graves to
the old church porch that older yews overshadow, where the village lads
were loitering, as Sunday after Sunday their sleeping forefathers had
loitered before them.

We worshipped that morning in a magnificent pew to one side of the
chancel, and quite as large, from which we enjoyed a full view of clergy
and congregation. The former consisted of the Canon, Mr. Jackson,
clergyman of the parish, and a young man I had not seen before. Not a
large number had mustered to hear the Canon; the front seats were well
filled by men and women in goodly apparel, but in the pews behind and in
the side aisles there was a mere sprinkling of worshippers in the Sunday
dress of country labourers. Our supplicaitions were offered with as
little ritualistic pageantry as Mrs. Mostyn herself could have desired,
though the choir probably sang oftener and better than she would have
approved. In spite of their efforts it was as uninspiring a service as I
have ever taken part in. This was not due, as might be suspected, to
Atherley's presence, for his demeanour was irreproachable. His little
sons, delighted at having him with them, carefully found his places for
him in prayer and hymnbook, and kept watch that he did not lose them
afterwards, so that he perforce assumed a really edifying degree of
attention. Nor, indeed, did the rest of the congregation err in the
direction of restlessness or wandering looks, but rather in the opposite
extreme, insomuch that during the litany, when we were no longer
supported by music, and had, most of us, assumed attitudes favourable
to repose, we appeared one and all to succumb to it, especially towards
the close, when, from the body of the church at least, only the aged
clerk was heard to cry for mercy. But with the third service, there came
a change, which reminded me of how once in a foreign cathedral, when the
procession filed by--the singing-men nudging each other, the
standard-bearers giggling, and the English tourists craning to see the
sight--the face of one white-haired old bishop beneath his canopy
transformed for me a foolish piece of mummery into a prayer in action.
So it was again, when the young stranger turned to us his pale clear-cut
face, solemn with an awe as rapt as if he verily stood before the throne
of Him he called upon, and felt Its glory beating on his face; then, by
that one earnest and believing presence, all was transformed and
redeemed; the old emblems recovered their first significance, the
time-worn phrases glowed with life again, and we ourselves were
altered--our very heaviness was pathetic: it was the lethargy of death
itself, and our poor sleepy prayers the strain of manacled captives
striving to be free.

The Canon's sermon did not maintain this high-strung mood, though why
not it would be difficult to say. Like all his, it was eloquent,
brilliant even, declaimed by a fine voice of wide compass, whose varying
tones he used with the skill of a practised orator. The text was "Our
conversation is in Heaven," its theme the contrast between the man of
this world, with his heart fixed upon its pomps, its vanities, its
honours, and the believer indifferent to all these, esteeming them as
dross merely compared to the heavenly treasure, the one thing needful.
Certainly the utter worthlessness of the prizes for which men labour and
so late take rest, barter their happiness, their peace, their honour,
was never more scathingly depicted. I remember the organ-like bass of
his note in passages which denounced the grovelling worship of earthly
pre-eminence and riches, the clarion-like cry with which he concluded a
stirring eulogy of the Christian's nobler service of things unseen.

"Brethren, as His kingdom is not of this world, so too our kingdom is
not of this world."

"I think you will admit, George," said Lady Atherley, as we left the
church, "that you have had a good sermon to-day."

"Yes, indeed," heartily assented Atherley. "It was excellent. Your uncle
certainly knows his business, which is more than can be said of most
preachers. It was a really splendid performance. But who on earth was he
talking about--those wonderful people who don't care for money or
success, or the best of everything generally? I never met any like
them."

"My dear George! How extraordinary you are! Any one could see, I should
have thought, that he meant Christians."

Atherley and the children walked home while we waited for the Canon, who
stayed behind to exchange a few words in the vestry with his old
schoolfellow, Mr. Jackson.

As we drove home he made, aloud, some reflections, probably suggested by
the difference between their positions.

"It really grieves me to see Jackson where he is at his age. He deserves
a better living. He is an excellent fellow, and not without ability, but
wanting, unfortunately, in tact and _savoir-faire_. He always had an
unhappy knack of blurting out the truth in season and out of season. I
did my best to get him a good living once--a first-rate living--in Sir
John Marsh's gift; and I warned him before he went to lunch with Sir
John to be careful what he said. 'Sir John,' I said, 'is one of the old
school; he thinks the Squire is pope of the parish, and you will have to
humour him a little. He will talk a great deal of nonsense in this
strain, and be careful not to contradict him, for he can't bear it.'
But Jackson did contradict him--flatly; he told me so himself, and, of
course, Sir John would have nothing to say to him. 'But he made such
extravagant statements,' said Jackson. 'If I had kept quiet he would
have thought I agreed with him.'--'What did that matter?' I said. 'Once
you were vicar you could have shown him you didn't.'--'The truth is,'
said Jackson, 'I cannot sit by and hear black called white without
protesting.' That is Jackson all over! A man of that kind will never get
on. And then, such an imprudent marriage--a woman without a penny!"

"I have never seen any one who wore such extraordinary bonnets," said
Lady Atherley.

"Who was that young man who bowed to the altar and crossed himself?"
asked the Canon.

"I suppose that must be Mr. Austyn, curate in charge at Rood Warren. He
comes over to help Mr. Jackson sometimes, I believe. George has met him;
I have not. I want to get him over to dinner. He is a nephew of Mr.
Austyn of Temple Leigh."

"Oh, that family!" said the Canon. "I am sorry he has taken up such an
extreme line. It is a great mistake. In the Church, preferment in these
days always goes to the moderate men."

"Rood Warren is not far from here," said Lady Atherley, "and he has a
parishioner--Oh, that reminds me. Mr. Lyndsay, would you be so kind as
to look out and tell the coachman to drive round by Monk's? I want to
leave some soup."

"Monk, I presume, is a sick labourer?" said the Canon. "I hope you are
not as indiscriminate in your charities as most Ladies Bountiful."

"Mr. Jackson says this is a really deserving case. He knows all about
him, though he really is in Mr. Austyn's parish. Monk has never had
anything from the parish, and been working hard all his life, and he is
past seventy. He was breaking stones on the road a few weeks ago; but he
caught a chill or something one very cold day, and has been laid up ever
since. This is the house. Oh, Mr. Lyndsay, you should not trouble to get
out. As you are so kind, will you carry this in?"

The interior of the tiny thatched cottage was scrupulously clean and
neat, as they nearly all are in the valley, but barer and more scantily
furnished than most of them. No photographs or pictures decorated the
white-washed walls, no scraps of carpet or matting hid the red-brick
floor. The Monks were evidently of the poorest. An old piece of faded
curtain had been hung from a rope between the chimney-piece and the door
to shield the patient from the draught. He sat in a stiff wooden
arm-chair near the fire, drawing his breath laboriously. "He was better
now," said his wife, a nurse as old and as frail-looking as himself.
"Nights was the worst." His shoulders were bent, his hair white with
age, his withered features almost as coarse and as unshapely as the poor
clothes he wore. The mask had been rough-hewn, to begin with; time and
exposure had further defaced it. No gleam of intellectual life
transpierced and illumined all. It was the face of an animal--ugly,
ignorant, honest, patient. As I looked at it there came over me a rush
of the pity I have so often felt for this suffering of age in
poverty--so unpicturesque, so unwinning, to shallow sight so
unpathetic--and I put out my hand and let it rest for a moment on his
own, knotted with rheumatism, stained and seamed with toil. Then he
looked up at me from under his shaggy brows with haggard, wistful eyes,
and gasped: "It's hard work, sir; it's hard work." And I went out into
the sunshine, feeling that I had heard the epitome of his life.

That night Mrs. Mallet surpassed herself by her rendering of a menu,
especially composed by Atherley for the delectation of their guest.
Their pains were not wasted. The Canon's commendation of each
course--and we talked of little else, I remember, from soup to
dessert--was as discriminating as it was warm.

"I am glad you approve of our cook, Uncle," said Lady Atherley in the
drawing-room afterwards, "for she is only a stop-gap. Our own cook left
us quite suddenly the other day, and we had such difficulty in finding
this one to take her place. No one can imagine how inconvenient it is to
have a haunted house."

"My dear Jane, you don't mean to tell me you are afraid of ghosts?"

"Oh no, Uncle."

"And I am sure your husband is not?"

"No; but unfortunately cooks are."

"Eh! what?"

Then Lady Atherley willingly repeated the story of her troubles.

"Preposterous! perfectly preposterous!" cried the Canon. "The Education
Act in operation for all these years, and our lower orders still believe
in bogies and hobgoblins! And yet it is hardly to be wondered at; their
social superiors are not much wiser. The nonsense which is talked in
society at present is perfectly incredible. Persons who are supposed to
be in their right mind gravely relate to me such incidents that I could
imagine myself transported to the Middle Ages. I hear of miraculous
cures, of spirits summoned from the dead, of men and women floating in
the air; and as to diabolic possession, it seems to have become as
common as colds in the head."

He had risen, and now addressed us from the hearthrug.

"Then Mrs. Molyneux and others come and tell me about personal friends
of their own who can foretell everything that is going to happen; who
can read your inmost thoughts; who can compel others to do this and to
do that, whether they like it or no; who, being themselves in one
quarter of the globe, constantly appear to their acquaintances in
another. 'What!' I say. 'They can be in two places at once, then!
Certainly no conjurer can equal that!'"

"And what do they say to that?" asked Atherley.

"Oh, they assure me the extraordinary beings who perform these marvels
are not impostors, but very superior and religious characters. 'If they
are not impostors,' I say, 'then their right place is the lunatic
asylum.' 'Oh but, Canon Vernade, you don't understand; it is only our
Western ignorance which makes such things seem astonishing! Far more
marvellous things are going on, and have been going on for centuries, in
the East; for instance, in the Brotherhoods of--I forget--some
unpronounceable name.' 'And how do you know they have?' I ask. 'Oh, by
their traditions, which have been handed on for generations.' 'That is
very reliable information indeed,' I say. 'Pray, have you ever played a
game of Russian scandal?' 'Well; but, then, there are the sacred books.
There can be no mistake about them, for they have been translated by
learned European professors, who say the religious sentiments are
perfectly beautiful.' 'Very possibly,' I say. 'But it does not follow
that the historical statements are correct.'"

"I gave my ladies' Bible-class a serious lecture about it all the other
day. I said: 'Do, my dear ladies, get rid of these childish notions,
these uncivilised hankerings after marvels and magic, which make you the
dupe of one charlatan after another. Take up science, for a change;
study natural philosophy; try and acquire accurate notions of the system
under which we live; realise that we are not moving on the stage of a
Christmas pantomime, but in a universe governed by fixed laws, in which
the miraculous performances you describe to me never can, and never
could, have taken place. And be sure of this, that any book and any
teacher, however admirable their moral teaching, who tell you that two
and two make anything but four, are not inspired, so far as arithmetic
and common sense are concerned.'"

"Hear, hear!" cried Atherley heartily.

The Canon's brow contracted a little.

"I need hardly explain," he said, "that what I said did not apply to
revealed truth. Jane, my dear, as I must leave by an early train
to-morrow, I think I shall say good-night."

I fell asleep that night early, and dreamt that I was sitting with
Gladys in the frescoed dining-room of an old Italian palace. It was
night, and through the open window came one long shaft of moonlight,
that vanished in the aureole of the shaded lamp standing with wine and
fruit upon the table between us. And I said in my dream--

"Oh, Gladys, will it be always like this, or must we part again?"

And she, smiling her slow soft smile, said: "You may stay with me till
the knock comes."

"What knock, my darling?"

But even as I spoke I heard it, low and penetrating, and I stretched out
my arms imploringly towards Gladys; but she only smiled, and the knock
was repeated, and the whole scene dissolved around me, and I was sitting
up in bed in semi-darkness, while somebody was tapping with a quick
agitated touch at my door. I remembered then that I had forgotten to
unlock it before I went to bed, and I rose at once and made haste to
open it, not without a passing thrill of unpleasant conjecture as to
what might be behind it. It was a tall figure in a long grey garment,
who carried a lighted candle in his hand. For a moment, startled and
stupefied as I was, I failed to recognise the livid face.

"Canon Vernade! You are ill?"

Too ill to speak, it would seem, for without a word he staggered forward
and sank into a chair, letting the candle almost drop from his hand on
to the table beside him; but when I put out my hand to ring the bell, he
stayed me by a gesture. I looked at him, deadly pale, with blue shadows
about the mouth and eyes, his head thrown helplessly back, and then I
remembered some brandy I had in my dressing-bag. He took the glass from
me and raised it to his lips with a trembling hand. I stood watching
him, debating within myself whether I should disobey him by calling for
help or not; but presently, to my great relief, I saw the stimulant take
effect, and life come slowly surging back in colour to his cheeks, in
strength to his whole prostrate frame. He straightened himself a little,
and turned upon me a less distracted gaze than before.

"Mr. Lyndsay, there is something horrible in this house."

"Have you seen it?"

He shook his head.

"I saw nothing; it is what I felt."

He shuddered.

I looked towards the grate. The fire had long been out, but the wood was
still unconsumed, and I managed, inexpertly enough, to relight it. When
a long blue flame sprang up, he drew his chair near the hearth and
stretched towards the blaze his still tremulous hands.

"Mr. Lyndsay," he said, in a voice as strangely altered as his whole
appearance, "may I sit here a little--till it is light? I dread to go
back to that room. But don't let me keep you up."

I said, and in all honesty, that I had no inclination to sleep. I put on
my dressing-gown, threw a rug over his knees, and took my place opposite
to him on the other side of the fire; and thus we kept our strange
vigil, while slowly above us broke the grim, cold dawn of early
spring-time, which even the birds do not brighten with their babble.

Silently staring into the fire, he vouchsafed no further explanations,
and I did not venture to ask for any; but I doubt if even such language
as he could command would have been so full of horrible suggestion as
that grey set face, and the terror-stricken gaze, which the growing
light made every minute more distinct, more weird. What had so suddenly
and so completely overthrown, not his own strength merely, but the
defences of his faith? He groped amongst them still, for, from time to
time, I heard him murmuring to himself familiar verses of prayer and
psalm and gospel, as if he sought therewith to banish some haunting
fear, to quiet some torturing suspicion. And at last, when the dull grey
day had fully broken, he turned towards me, and cried in tones more
heart-piercing than ever startled the great congregations in church or
cathedral--

"What if it were all a delusion, and there be no Father, no Saviour?"

And the horror of that abyss into which he looked, flashing from his
mind to my own, left me silent and helpless before him. Yet I longed to
give him comfort; for, with the regal self-possession which had fallen
from him, there had slipped from me too some undefined instinct of
distrust and disapproval. All that I felt now was the sad tie of
brotherhood which united us, poor human atoms, strong only in our
capacity to suffer, tossed and driven, whitherward we knew not, in the
purposeless play of soulless and unpitying forces.



CHAPTER V

AUSTYN'S GOSPEL


"He did not see the ghost, you say; he only felt it? I should think he
did--on his chest. I never heard of a clearer case of nightmare. You
must be careful whom you tell the story to, old chap; for at the first
go-off it sounds as if it was not merely eating too much that was the
matter. It was, however, indigestion sure enough. No wonder! If a man of
his age who takes no exercise will eat three square meals a day, what
else can he expect? And Mallet is rather liberal with her cream."

Atherley it was, of course, who propounded this simple interpretation of
the night's alarms, as he sat in his smoking-room reviewing his
trout-flies after an early breakfast we had taken with the Canon.

"You always account for the mechanism, but not for the effect. Why
should indigestion take that mental form?"

"Why, because indigestion constantly does in sleep, and out of it as
well, for that matter. A nightmare is not always a sense of oppression
on the chest only; it may be an overpowering dread of something you
dream you see. Indigestion can produce, waking or asleep, a very good
imitation of what is experienced in a blue funk. And there is another
kind of dream which is produced by fasting--that, I need hardly say, I
have never experienced. Indeed, I don't dream."

"But the ghost--the ghost he almost saw."

"The sinking horror produced the ghost, instead of _vice versa_, as you
might suppose. It is like a dream. In unpleasant dreams we fancy it is
the dream itself which makes us feel uncomfortable. It is just the other
way round. It is the discomfort that produces the dream. Have you ever
dreamt you were tramping through snow, and felt cold in consequence? I
did the other night. But I did not feel cold because I dreamt I was
walking through snow, but because I had not enough blankets on my bed;
and because I felt cold I dreamt about the snow. Don't you know the
dream you make up in a few moments about the knocking at the door when
they call you in the morning? And ghosts are only waking dreams."

"I wonder if you ever had an illusion yourself--gave way to it, I mean.
You were in love once--twice," I added hastily, in deference to Lady
Atherley.

"Only once," said Atherley, calmly. "Do you ever see her now, Lindy? She
has grown enormously fat. Certainly I have had my illusions, and I don't
object to them when they are pleasant and harmless--on the contrary.
Now, falling in love, if you don't fall too deep, is pleasant, and it
never lasts long enough to do much mischief. Marriage, of course, you
will say, may be mischievous--only for the individual, it is useful for
the race. What I object to is the deliberate culture of illusions which
are not pleasant but distinctly depressing, like half your religious
beliefs."

"George," said Lady Atherley, coming into the room at this instant;
"have you--oh, dear! what a state this room is in!"

"It is the housemaids. They never will leave things as I put them."

"And it was only dusted and tidied an hour ago. Mr. Lyndsay, did you
ever see anything like it?"

I said "Never."

"If Lindy has a fault in this world, it is that he is as pernickety, as
my old nurse used to say--as pernickety as an old maid. The stiff
formality of his room would give me the creeps, if anything could. The
first thing I always want to do when I see it is to make hay in it."

"It is what you always do do, before you have been an hour there," I
observed.

"Jane, in Heaven's name leave those things alone! Is this sort of thing
all you came in for?"

"No; I really came in to ask if you had read Lucinda Molyneux's letter."

"No, I have not; her writing is too bad for anything. Besides, I know
exactly what she has got to say. She has at last found the religion
which she has been looking for all her life, and she intends to be
whatever it is for evermore."

"That is not all. She wants to come and stay here for a few days."

"What! Here? Now? Why, what--oh, I forgot the ghost! By Jove! You see,
Jane, there are some advantages in having one on the premises when it
procures you a visit from a social star like Mrs. Molyneux. But where
are you going to put her? Not in the bachelor's room, where your poor
uncle made such a night of it? It wouldn't hold her dressing bag, let
alone herself."

"Oh, but I hope the pink room will be ready. The plasterer from Whitford
came out yesterday to apologise, and said he had been keeping his
birthday."

"Indeed! and how many times a year does he have a birthday?"

"I don't know, but he was quite sober; and he did the most of it
yesterday and will finish it to-day, so it will be all right."

"When is she coming, then?"

"To-morrow. You would have seen that if you had read the letter. And
there is a message for you in it, too."

"Then find me the place, like an angel; I cannot wade through all these
sheets of hieroglyphics. In the postscript? Let me see: 'Tell Sir George
I look forward to explaining to him the religious teaching which I have
been studying for months.' Months! Come; there must be something in a
religion which Mrs. Molyneux sticks to for months at a time--'studying
for months under the guidance of its great apostle Baron Zinkersen--'
What is this name? 'The deeper I go into it all the more I feel in it
that faith, satisfying to the reason as well as to the emotions, for
which I have been searching all my life. It is certainly the religion of
the future'--future underlined--'and I believe it will please even Sir
George, for it so distinctly coincides with his own favourite theories.'
Favourite theories, indeed! I haven't any. My mind is as open as day to
truth from any quarter. Only I distrust apostles with no vowels in their
names ever since that one, two years ago, made off with the spoons."

"No, George, he did not take any plate. It was money, and money Lucinda
gave him herself for bringing her letters from her father."

"Where was her father, then?" I inquired, much interested.

"Well, he was--a--he was dead," answered Lady Atherley; "and after some
time, a very low sort of person called upon Lucinda and said she wrote
all the letters; but Lucinda could not get the money back without going
to law, as some people wished her to do; but I am glad she did not, as I
think the papers would have said very unpleasant things about it."

"The apostle I liked best," said Atherley, "was the American one. I
really admired old Stamps, and old Stamps admired me; for she knew I
thoroughly understood what an unmitigated humbug she was. She had a fine
sense of humour, too. How her eyes used to twinkle when I asked posers
at her prayer-meetings!"

"Dreadful woman!" cried Lady Atherley. "Lucinda brought her to lunch
once. Such black nails, and she said she could make the plates and
dishes fly about the room, but I said I would rather not. I am thankful
she does not want to bring this baron with her."

"I would not have him. I draw the line there, and also at spiritual
seances. I am too old for them. Do you remember one I took you to at
Mrs. Molyneux's, Lindy, five years ago, when they raised poor old
Professor Delaine, and he danced on the table and spelt bliss with one
_s_? I was haunted for weeks afterwards by the dread that there might be
a future life, in which we should make fools of ourselves in the same
way. What is this?"

"It is the carriage just come back from the station. Mr. Lyndsay and the
little boys are going over to Rood Warren with a note for me. I hope you
will see Mr. Austyn, Mr. Lyndsay, and persuade him to come over
to-morrow."

"What! To dine?" said Atherley. "He won't come out to dinner in Lent."

I thought so myself, but I was glad of the excuse to see again the
delicate, austere face. As we drove along, I tried to define to myself
the quality which marked it out from others. Not sweetness, not marked
benevolence, but the repose of absolute spiritual conviction. Austyn's
God can never be my God, and in his heaven I should find no rest; but,
one among ten thousand, he believed in both, as the martyrs believed who
perished in the flames, with a faith which would have stood the
atheist's test;--"We believe a thing, when we are prepared to act as if
it were true."

Rood Warren lay in a little hollow beside an armlet of the stream that
waters all the valley. The hamlet consisted of a tiny church and a group
of labourers' cottages, in one of which, presumably because there was no
other habitation for him, the curate in charge made his home. An
apple-faced old woman received me at the door, and hospitably invited me
to wait within for Mr. Austyn's return from morning service, which I
did, while the carriage, with the little boys and Tip in it, drove up
and down before the door. The room in which I waited, evidently the one
sitting-room, was destitute of luxury or comfort as a monk's cell.

Profusion there was in one thing only--books. They indeed furnished the
room, clothing the walls and covering the table; but ornaments there
were none, not even sacred or symbolical, save, indeed, one large and
beautifully-carved crucifix over a mantelpiece covered with letters and
manuscripts. I have thought of this early home of Austyn's many a time
as dignities have been literally thrust upon him by a world which since
then has discovered his intellectual rank. He will end his days in a
palace, and, one may confidently predict of him, remain as absolutely
indifferent to his surroundings as in the little cottage at Rood
Warren.

But he did not come, and presently his housekeeper came in with many
apologies to explain he would not be back for hours, having started
after service on a round of parish visiting instead of first returning
home, as she had expected. She herself was plainly depressed by the
fact. "I did hope he would have come in for a bit of lunch first," she
said, sadly.

All I could do was to leave the note, to which late in the day came an
answer, declining simply and directly on the ground that he did not dine
out in Lent.

"I cannot see why," observed Lady Atherley, as we sat together over the
drawing-room fire after tea, "because it is possible to have a very nice
dinner without meat. I remember one we had abroad once at an hotel on
Good Friday. There were sixteen courses, chiefly fish, no meat even in
the soup, only cream and eggs and that sort of thing, all beautifully
cooked with exquisite sauces. Even George said he would not mind fasting
in that way. It would have been nice if he could have come to meet Mrs.
Molyneux to-morrow. I am sure they must be connected in some way,
because Lord--"

And then my mind wandered whilst Lady Atherley entered into some
genealogical calculations, for which she has nothing less than a genius.
My attention was once again captured by the name de Noël, how introduced
I know not, but it gave me an excuse for asking--

"Lady Atherley, what is Mrs. de Noël like?"

"Cecilia? She is rather tall and rather fair, with brown hair. Not
exactly pretty, but very ladylike-looking. I think she would be very
good-looking if she thought more about her dress."

"Is she clever?"

"No, not at all; and that is very strange, for the Atherleys are such a
clever family, and she has quite the ways of a clever person, too; so
odd, and so stupid about little things that anyone can remember. I don't
believe she could tell you, if you asked her, what relation her husband
was to Lord Stowell."

"She seems a great favourite."

"Oh, no one could possibly help liking her. She is the most good-natured
person; there is nothing she would not do to help one; she is a dear
thing, but most odd, so very odd. I often think it is so fortunate that
she married a sailor, because he is so much away from home."

"Don't they get on, then?"

"Oh dear, yes; they are devoted to each other, and he thinks everything
she does quite perfect. But then he is very different from most men; he
thinks so little about eating, and he takes everything so easy; I don't
think he cares what strange people Cecilia asks to the house."

"Strange people!"

"Well; strange people to have on a visit. Invalids and--people that have
nowhere else they could go to."

"Do you mean poor people from the East End?"

"Oh no; some of them are quite rich. She had an idiot there with his
mother once who was heir to a very large fortune in the Colonies
somewhere; but of course nobody else would have had them, and I think
it must have been very uncomfortable. And then once she actually had a
woman who had taken to drinking. I did not see her, I am thankful to
say, but there was a deformed person once staying there, I saw him being
wheeled about the garden. It was very unpleasant. I think people like
that should always live shut up."

There was a little pause, and then Lady Atherley added--

"Cecilia has never been the same since her baby died. She used to have
such a bright colour before that. He was not quite two years old, but
she felt it dreadfully; and it was a great pity, for if he had lived he
would have come in for all the Stowell property."

The door opened.

"Why, George; how late you are, and--how wet! Is it raining?"

"Yes; hard."

"Have you bought the ponies?"

"No; they won't do at all. But whom do you think I picked up on the way
home? You will never guess. Your pet parson, Mr. Austyn."

"Mr. Austyn!"

"Yes; I found him by the roadside not far from Monk's cottage, where he
had been visiting, looking sadly at a spring-cart, which the owner
thereof, one of the Rood Warren farmers, had managed to upset and damage
considerably. He was giving Austyn a lift home when the spill took
place. So, remembering your hankering and Lindy's for the society of
this young Ritualist, I persuaded him that instead of tramping six miles
through the wet he should come here and put up for the night with us;
so, leaving the farmer free to get home on his pony, I clinched the
matter by promising to send him back to-morrow in time for his eight
o'clock service."

"Oh dear! I wish I had known he was coming. I would have ordered a
dinner he would like."

"Judging by his appearance, I should say the dinner he would like will
be easily provided."

Atherley was right. Mr. Austyn's dinner consisted of soup, bread, and
water. He would not even touch the fish or the eggs elaborately prepared
for his especial benefit. Yet he was far from being a skeleton at the
feast, to whose immaterial side he contributed a good deal--not taking
the lead in conversation, but readily following whosoever did, giving
his opinions on one topic after another in the manner of a man well
informed, cultured, thoughtful, original even, and at the same time with
no warmer interest in all he spoke of than the inhabitant of another
planet might have shown.

Atherley was impressed and even surprised to a degree unflattering to
the rural clergy.

"This is indeed a _rara avis_ of a country curate," he confided to me
after dinner, while Lady Atherley was unravelling with Austyn his
connection with various families of her acquaintance. "We shall hear of
him in time to come, if, in the meanwhile, he does not starve himself to
death. By the way, I lay you odds he sees the ghost. To begin with; he
has heard of it--everybody has in this neighbourhood; and then St.
Anthony himself was never in a more favourable condition for spiritual
visitations. Look at him; he is blue with asceticism. But he won't turn
tail to the ghost; he'll hold his own. There's metal in him."

This led me to ask Austyn, as we went down the bachelor's passage to our
rooms, if he were afraid of ghosts.

"No; that is, I don't feel any fear now. Whether I should do so if face
to face with one, is another question. This house has the reputation of
being haunted, I believe. Have you seen the ghost yourself?"

"No, but I have seen others who did, or thought they did. Do you believe
in ghosts?"

"I do not know that I have considered the subject sufficiently to say
whether I do or not. I see no _primâ facie_ objection to their
appearance. That it would be supernatural offers no difficulty to a
Christian whose religion is founded on, and bound up with, the
supernatural."

"If you do see anything, I should like to know."

I went away, wondering why he repelled as well as attracted me; what it
was behind the almost awe-inspiring purity and earnestness I felt in him
that left me with a chill sense of disappointment? The question was so
perplexing and so interesting that I determined to follow it up next
day, and ordered my servant to call me as early as Mr. Austyn was
wakened.

In the morning I had just finished dressing, but had not put out my
candles, when a knock at the door was followed by the entrance of Austyn
himself.

"I did not expect to find you up, Mr. Lyndsay; I knocked gently, lest
you should be asleep. In case you were not, I intended to come and tell
you that I had seen the ghost."

"Breakfast is ready," said a servant at the door.

"Let me come down with you and hear about it," I said.

We went down through staircase and hall, still plunged in darkness, to
the dining-room, where lamps and fire burned brightly. Their glow
falling on Austyn's face showed me how pale it was, and worn as if from
watching.

Breakfast was set ready for him, but he refused to touch it.

"But tell me what you saw."

"I must have slept two or three hours when I awoke with the feeling that
there was someone besides myself in the room. I thought at first it was
the remains of a dream and would quickly fade away; but it did not, it
grew stronger. Then I raised myself in bed and looked round. The space
between the sash of the window and the curtains--my shutters were not
closed--allowed one narrow stream of moonlight to enter and lie across
the floor. Near this, standing on the brink of it, as it were, and
rising dark against it, was a shadowy figure. Nothing was clearly
outlined but the face; _that_ I saw only too distinctly. I rose and
remained up for at least an hour before it vanished. I heard the clock
outside strike the hour twice. I was not looking at it all this time--on
the contrary, my hands were clasped across my closed eyes; but when from
time to time I turned to see if it was gone, it was reminded me of a
wild beast waiting to spring, and I seemed to myself to be holding it at
bay all the time with a great strain of the will, and, of course"--he
hesitated for an instant, and then added--"in virtue of a higher power."

The reserve of all his school forbade him to say more, but I understood
as well as if he had told me that he had been on his knees, praying all
the time, and there rose before my mind a picture of the
scene--moonlight, kneeling saint, and watching demon, which the leaf of
some illustrated missal might have furnished.

The bronze timepiece over the fireplace struck half-past six.

"I wonder if the carriage is at the door," said Austyn, rather
anxiously. He went into the hall and looked out through the narrow
windows. There was no carriage visible, and I deeply regretted the
second interruption that must follow when it did come.

"Let us walk up the hill and on a little way together. The carriage will
overtake us. My curiosity is not yet satisfied."

"Then first, Mr. Lyndsay, you must go back and drink some coffee; you
are not strong as I am, or accustomed to go out fasting into the morning
air."

Outside in the shadow of the hill, where the fog lay thick and white,
the gloom and the cold of the night still lingered, but as we climbed
the hill we climbed, too, into the brightness of a sunny
morning--brilliant, amber-tinted above the long blue shadows.

       *       *       *       *       *

I had to speak first.

"Now tell me what the face was like."

"I do not think I can. To begin with, I have a very indistinct
remembrance of either the form or the colouring. Even at the time my
impression of both was very vague; what so overwhelmed and transfixed my
attention, to the exclusion of everything besides itself, was the look
upon the face."

"And that?"

"And that I literally cannot describe. I know no words that could depict
it, no images that could suggest it; you might as well ask me to tell
you what a new colour was like if I had seen it in my dreams, as some
people declare they have done. I could convey some faint idea of it by
describing its effect upon myself, but that, too, is very
difficult--that was like nothing I have ever felt before. It was the
realisation of much which I have affirmed all my life, and steadfastly
believed as well, but only with what might be called a notional assent,
as the blind man might believe that light is sweet, or one who had never
experienced pain might believe it was something from which the senses
shrink. Every day that I have recited the creed, and declared my belief
in the Life Everlasting, I have by implication confessed my entire
disbelief in any other. I knew that what seemed so solid is not solid,
so real is not real; that the life of the flesh, of the senses, of
things seen, is but the "stuff that dreams are made of"--"a dream within
a dream," as one modern writer has called it; "the shadow of a dream,"
as another has it. But last night--"

He stood still, gazing straight before him, as if he saw something that
I could not see.

"But last night," I repeated, as we walked on again.

"Last night? I not only believed, I saw, I felt it with a sudden
intuition conveyed to me in some inexplicable manner by the vision of
that face. I felt the utter insignificance of what we name existence,
and I perceived too behind it that which it conceals from us--the real
Life, illimitable, unfathomable, the element of our true being, with its
eternal possibilities of misery or joy."

"And all this came to you through something of an evil nature?"

"Yes; it was like the effect of lightning oh a pitch-dark night--the
same vivid and lurid illumination of things unperceived before. It must
be like the revelation of death, I should think, without, thank God,
that fearful sense of the irrevocable which death must bring with it.
Will you not rest here?"

For we had reached Beggar's Stile. But I was not tired for once, so
keen, so life-giving was the air, sparkling with that fine elixir
whereby morning braces us for the day's conflict. Below, through
slowly-dissolving mists, the village showed as if it smiled, each little
cottage hearth lifting its soft spiral of smoke to a zenith immeasurably
deep, immaculately blue.

"But the ghost itself?" I said, looking up at him as we both rested our
arms upon the gate. "What do you think of that?"

"I am afraid there is no possible doubt what that was. Its face, as I
tell you, was a revelation of evil--evil and its punishment. It was a
lost soul."

"Do you mean by a lost soul, a soul that is in never-ending torment?"

"Not in physical torment, certainly; that would be a very material
interpretation of the doctrine. Besides, the Church has always
recognised degree and difference in the punishment of the lost. This,
however, they all have in common--eternal separation from the Divine
Being."

"Even if they repent and desire to be reunited to Him?"

"Certainly; that must be part of their suffering."

"And yet you believe in a good God?"

"In what else could I believe, even without revelation? But goodness,
divine goodness, is far from excluding severity and wrath, and even
vengeance. Here the witness of science and of history are in accord with
that of the Christian Church; their first manifestation of God is
always of 'one that is angry with us and threatens evil.'"

The carriage had overtaken us and stopped now close to us. I rose to say
good-bye. Austyn shook me by the hand and moved towards the carriage;
then, as if checked by a sudden thought, returned upon his steps and
stood before me, his earnest eyes fixed upon me as if the whole
self-denying soul within him hungered to waken mine.

"I feel I must speak one word before I leave you, even if it be out of
season. With the recollection of last night still so fresh, even the
serious things of life seem trifles, far more its small
conventionalities. Mr. Lyndsay, your friend has made his choice, but you
are dallying between belief and unbelief. Oh, do not dally long! We
need no spirit from the dead to tell us life is short. Do we not feel it
passing quicker and quicker every year? The one thing that is serious in
all its shows and delusions is the question it puts to each one of us,
and which we answer to our eternal loss or gain. Many different voices
call to us in this age of false prophets, but one only threatens as well
as invites. Would it not be only wise, prudent even, to give the
preference to that? Mr. Lyndsay, I beseech you, accept the teaching of
the Church, which is one with that of conscience and of nature, and
believe that there _is_ a God, a Sovereign, a Lawgiver, a Judge."

He was gone, and I still stood thinking of his words, and of his gaze
while he spoke them.

The mists were all gone, now, leaving behind them in shimmering dewdrops
an iridescent veil on mead and copse and garden; the river gleamed in
diamond curves and loops, while in the covert near me the birds were
singing as if from hearts that over-brimmed with joy.

And slowly, sadly, I repeated to myself the words--Sovereign, Lawgiver,
Judge.

I was hungering for bread; I was given a stone.



CHAPTER VI

MRS. MOLYNEUX'S GOSPEL


"The room is all ready now," said Lady Atherley, "but Lucinda has never
written to say what train she is coming by."

"A good thing, too," said Atherley; "we shall not have to send for her.
Those unlucky horses are worked off their legs already. Is that the
carriage coming back from Rood Warren? Harold, run and stop it, and tell
Marsh to drive round to the door before he goes to the stables. I may as
well have a lift down to the other end of the village."

"What do you want to do at the other end of the village?"

"I don't want to do anything, but my unlucky fate as a landowner compels
me to go over and look at an eel-weir which has just burst. Lindy, come
along with me, and cheer me up with one of your ghost stories. You are
as good as a Christmas annual."

"And on your way back," said Lady Atherley, "would you mind the carriage
stopping to leave some brandy at Monk's? Mr. Austyn told me last night
he was so weak, and the doctor has ordered him brandy every hour."

Atherley was disappointed with what he called my last edition of the
ghost; he complained that it was little more definite than the Canon's.

"Your last two stories are too highflown for my simple tastes. I want a
good coherent description of the ghost himself, not the particular
emotions he excited. I had expected better things from Austyn. Upon my
word, as far as we have gone, old Aunt Eleanour's is the best. I think
Austyn, with his mediæval turn of mind and his quite mediæval habit of
living upon air, might have managed to raise something with horns and
hoofs. It is a curious thing that in the dark ages the devil was always
appearing to somebody. He doesn't make himself so cheap now. He has
evidently more to do; but there is a fashion in ghosts as in other
things, and that reminds me our ghost, from all we hear of it, is
decidedly rococo. If you study the reports of societies that hunt the
supernatural, you will find that the latest thing in ghosts is very
quiet and commonplace. Rattling chains and blue lights, and even fancy
dress, have quite gone out. And the people who see the ghosts are not
even startled at first sight; they think it is a visitor, or a man come
to wind the clocks. In fact, the chic thing for a ghost in these days is
to be mistaken for a living person."

"What puzzles me is that a sceptic like you can so easily swallow the
astonishing coincidence of these different people all having imagined
the ghost in the same house."

"Why, the coincidence is not a bit more astonishing than several people
in the same place having the same fever. Nothing in the world is so
infectious as ghost-seeing. The oftener a ghost is seen, the oftener it
will be seen. In this sort of thing particularly, one fool makes many.
No, don't wait for me. Heaven only knows when I shall be released."

The door of Monk's cottage was open, but no one was to be seen within,
and no one answered to my knock, so, anxious to see him again, I groped
my way up the dark ladder-like stairs to the room above. The first thing
I saw was the bed where Monk himself was lying. They had drawn the sheet
across his face: I saw what had happened. His wife was standing near,
looking not so much grieved as stunned and tired. "Would you like to see
him, sir?" she asked, stretching out her withered hand to draw the sheet
aside. I was glad afterwards I had not refused, as, but for fear of
being ungracious, I would have done.

Since then I have seen death--"in state" as it is called--invested with
more than royal pomp, but I have never felt his presence so majestic as
in that poor little garret. I know his seal may be painful, grotesque
even: here it was wholly benign and beautiful. All discolorations had
disappeared in an even pallor as of old ivory; all furrows of age and
pain were smoothed away, and the rude peasant face was transfigured,
glorified, by that smile of ineffable and triumphant repose.

Many times that day it rose before me, never more vividly than when, at
dinner, Mrs. Molyneux, in colours as brilliant as her complexion, and
jewels as sparkling as her eyes, recounted in her silvery treble the
latest flowers of fashionable gossip. I am always glad to be one of any
audience which Mrs. Molyneux addresses, not so much out of admiration
for the discourse itself, as for the charm of gesture and intonation
with which it is delivered. But the main question--the subject of
Atherley's conversion--she did not approach till we were in the
drawing-room, luxuriously established in deep and softly-cushioned
chairs. Then, near the fire, but turned away from it so as to face us
all, and in the prettiest of attitudes, she began, gracefully
emphasising her more important points by movements of her spangled fan.

"I do not mention the name of the religion I wish to speak to you about,
because--now I hope you won't be angry, but I am going to be quite
horribly rude--because Sir George is certain to be so prejudiced
against--oh yes, Sir George, you are; everybody is at first. Even I was,
because it has been so horribly misrepresented by people who really know
nothing about it. For instance, I have myself heard it said that it was
only a kind of spiritualism. On the contrary, it is very much opposed to
it, and has quite convinced me for one of the wickedness and danger of
spiritualism."

"Well, that is so much to its credit," Atherley generously acknowledged.

"And then, people said it was very immoral. Far from that; it has a very
high ethical standard indeed--a very moral aim. One of its chief objects
is to establish a universal brotherhood amongst men of all nations and
sects."

"A what?" asked Atherley.

"A universal brotherhood."

"My dear Mrs. Molyneux, you don't mean to seriously offer that as a
novelty. I never heard anything so hackneyed in my life. Why, it has
been preached _ad nauseam_ for centuries!"

"By the Christian Church, I suppose you mean. And pray how have they
practised their preaching?"

"Oh, but excuse me; that is not the question. If your religion is as
brand-new as you gave me to understand, there has been no time for
practice. It must be all theory, and I hoped I was going to hear
something original."

"Oh really, Sir George, you are quite too naughty. How can I explain
things if you are so flippant and impatient? In one sense, it is a very
old religion; it is the truth which is in all religions, and some of its
interesting doctrines were taught ages before Christianity was ever
heard of, and proved, too, by miracles far far more wonderful than any
in the New Testament. However, it is no good talking to you about that;
what I really wanted you to understand is how infinitely superior it is
to all other religions in its theological teaching. You know, Sir
George, you are always finding fault with all the Christian
Churches--and even with the Mahommedans too, for that matter--because
they are so anthropomorphic, because they imply that God is a personal
being. Very well, then, you cannot say that about this religion,
because--this is what is so remarkable and elevated about it--it has
nothing to do with God at all."

"Nothing to do with what did you say?" asked Lady Atherley, diverted by
this last remark from a long row of loops upon an ivory needle which she
appeared to be counting.

"Nothing to do with God."

"Do you know, Lucinda," said Lady Atherley, "if you would not mind, I
fancy the coffee is just coming in, and perhaps it would be as well just
to wait for a little, you know--just till the servants are out of the
room? They might perhaps think it a little odd."

"Yes," said Atherley, "and even unorthodox."

Mrs. Molyneux submitted to this interruption with the greatest sweetness
and composure, and dilated on the beauty of the new chair-covers till
Castleman and the footman had retired, when, with a coffee-cup instead
of a fan in her exquisite hand, she took up the thread of her
exposition.

"As I was saying, the distinction of this religion is that it has
nothing to do with God. Of course it has other great advantages, which I
will explain later, like its cultivation of a sixth sense, for
instance--"

"Do you mean common sense?"

"Jane, what am I to do with Sir George? He is really incorrigible. How
can I possibly explain things if you will not be serious?"

"I never was more serious in my life. Show me a religion which
cultivates common sense, and I will embrace it at once."

"It is just because I knew you would go on in this way that I do not
attempt to say anything about the supernatural side of this religion,
though it is very important and most extraordinary. I assure you, my
dear Jane, the powers that people develop under it are really
marvellous. I have friends who can see into another world as plainly as
you can see this drawing-room, and talk as easily with spirits as I am
talking with you."

"Indeed!" said Lady Atherley politely, with her eyes fixed anxiously on
something which had gone wrong with her knitting.

"Unfortunately, for that kind of thing you require to undergo such
severe treatment; my health would not stand it; the London season itself
is almost too much for me. It is a pity, for they all say I have great
natural gifts that way, and I should have so loved to have taken it up;
but to begin with, one must have no animal food and no stimulants, and
the doctors always tell me I require a great deal of both."

"Besides, _le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle_," said Atherley, "if the
spirits you are to converse with are anything like those we used to meet
in your drawing-room."

"That is not the same thing at all; these were only spooks."

"Only what?"

"No, I will not explain; you only mean to make fun of it, and there is
nothing to laugh at. What I am trying to show you is that side of the
religion you will really approve--the unanthropomorphic side. It is not
anything like atheism, you know, as some ill-natured people have said;
it does not declare there is no God; it only declares that it is worse
than useless to try and think of Him, far less pray to Him--because it
is simply impossible. And that is quite scientific and philosophical, is
it not? For all the great men are agreed now that the conditioned can
know nothing of the unconditioned, and the finite can know nothing of
the infinite. It is quite absurd to try, you know; and it is equally
absurd to say anything about Him. You can't call Him Providence,
because, as the universe is governed by fixed laws, there is nothing for
him to provide; and we have no business to call Him Creator, because we
don't really know that things were created. Besides," said Mrs.
Molyneux, resuming her fan, which she furled and unfurled as she
continued, "I was reading in a delightful book the other day--I can't
remember the author's name, but I think it begins with K or P. It
explained so clearly that if the universe was created at all, it was
created by the human mind. Then you can't call Him Father--it is quite
blasphemous; and it is almost as bad to say He is merciful or loving, or
anything of that kind, because mercy and love are only human attributes;
and so is consciousness too, therefore we know He cannot be conscious;
and I believe, according to the highest philosophical teaching, He has
not any Being. So that altogether it is impossible, without being
irreverent, to think of Him, far less speak to Him or of Him, because we
cannot do so without ascribing to Him some conceivable quality--and He
has not any. Indeed, even to speak of Him as _He_ is not right; the
pronoun is very anthropomorphic and misleading. So, when you come to
consider all this carefully, it is quite evident--though it sounds
rather strange at first--that the only way you can really honour and
reverence God is by forgetting Him altogether."

Here Mrs. Molyneux paused, panting prettily for breath; but quickly
recovering herself, proceeded: "So in fact, it is just the same,
practically speaking--remember I say only practically speaking--as if
there were no God; and this religion--"

"Excuse me," said Atherley; "but if, as you have so forcibly explained
to us, there is, practically speaking, no God, why should we hamper
ourselves with any religion at all?"

"Why, to satisfy the universal craving after an ideal; the yearning for
something beyond the sordid realities of animal existence and of daily
life; to comfort, to elevate--"

"No, no, my dear Mrs. Molyneux; pardon me, but the sooner we get rid of
all this sort of rubbish the better. It is the indulgence they have
given to such feelings that has made all the religions such a curse to
the world. I don't believe, to begin with, that they are universal. I
never experienced any such cravings and yearnings except when I was out
of sorts; and I never met a thoroughly happy or healthy person who did.
If people keep their bodies in good order and their minds well employed,
they have no time for yearnings. It was bad enough when there was some
pretext for them; when we imagined there was a God and a world which was
better than this one. But now we know there is not the slightest ground
for supposing anything of the kind, we had better have the courage of
our opinions, and live up to them, or down to them. As to the word
'ideal,' it ought to be expunged from the vocabulary; I would like to
make it penal to pronounce, or write, or print the word for a century.
Why, we have been surfeited with the ideal by the Christian Churches;
that's why we find the real so little to our taste. We've been so long
fed upon sweet trash, we can't relish wholesome food. The cure for that
is to take wholesome food or starve, not provide another sickly
substitute. Pray, let us have no more religions. On the contrary, our
first duty is to be as irreligious as possible--to believe in as little
as we can, to trust in nobody but ourselves, to hope for nothing but the
actual, to get rid of all high-flown notions of human beings and their
destiny, and, above all, to avoid as poison the ideal, the sublime,
the--"

His words were drowned at last in musical cries of indignation from Mrs.
Molyneux. I remember no more of the discussion, except that Atherley
continued to reiterate his doctrine in different words, and Mrs.
Molyneux to denounce it with unabated fervour.

My thoughts wandered--I heard no more. I was tired and depressed, and
felt grateful to Lady Atherley when, with invariable punctuality, at a
quarter to eleven, she interrupted the symposium by rising and proposing
that we should all go to bed.

My last distinct recollection of that evening is of Mrs. Molyneux, with
the folds of her gown in one hand, and a bedroom candlestick in the
other, mounting the dark oak stairs, and calling out fervently as she
went--

"Oh, how I pray that I may see the ghost!"

The night was stormy, and I could not sleep. The wind wailed fitfully
outside the house, while within doors and windows rattled, and on the
stairs and in the passages wandered strange and unaccountable noises,
like stealthy footsteps or stifled voices. To this dreary accompaniment,
as I lay awake in the darkness, I heard the lessons of the last few days
repeated: witness after witness rose and gave his varying testimony; and
when, before the discord and irony of it all, I bitterly repeated
Pilate's question, the smile on that dead face would rise before me, and
then I hoped again.

Between three and four the wind fell during a short space, and all
responsive noises ceased. For a few minutes reigned absolute silence,
then it was broken by two piercing cries--the cries of a woman in terror
or in pain.

They disturbed even the sleepers, it was evident; for when I reached the
end of my passage I heard opening doors, hurrying footsteps, and bells
ringing violently in the gallery. After a little the stir was increased,
presumably by servants arriving from the farther wing; but no one came
my way till Atherley himself, in his dressing-gown, went hurriedly
downstairs.

"Anything wrong?" I called as he passed me.

"Only Mrs. Molyneux's prayer has been granted."

"Of course she was bound to see it," he said next day, as we sat
together over a late breakfast. "It would have been a miracle if she had
not; but if I had known the interview was to be followed by such
unpleasant consequences I shouldn't have asked her down. I was wandering
about for hours looking for an imaginary bottle of sal-volatile Jane
described as being in her sitting-room: and Jane herself was up till
late--or rather early--this morning, trying to soothe Mrs. Molyneux, who
does not appear to have found the ghost quite such pleasant company as
she expected. Oh yes, Jane is down; she breakfasted in her own room. I
believe she is ordering dinner at this minute in the next room."

Hardly had he said the words when outside, in the hall, resounded a
prolonged and stentorian wail.

"What on earth is the matter now?" said Atherley, rising and making for
the door. He opened it just in time for us to see Mrs. Mallet go
by--Mrs. Mallet bathed in tears and weeping as I never have heard an
adult weep before or since--in a manner which is graphically and
literally described by the phrase "roaring and crying."

"Why, Mrs. Mallet! What on earth is the matter?"

"Send for Mrs. de Noël," cried Mrs. Mallet in tones necessarily raised
to a high and piercing key by the sobs with which they were accompanied.
"Send for Mrs. de Noël; send for that dear lady, and she will tell you
whether a word has been said against my character till I come here,
which I never wish to do, being frightened pretty nigh to death with
what one told me and the other; and if you don't believe me, ask Mrs.
Stubbs as keeps the little sweet-shop near the church, if any one in the
village will so much as come up the avenue after dark; and says to me,
the very day I come here, 'You have a nerve,' she says; 'I wouldn't
sleep there if you was to pay me,' she says; and I says, not wishing to
speak against a family that was cousin to Mrs. de Noël, 'Noises is
neither here nor there,' I says, 'and ghostisses keeps mostly to the
gentry's wing,' I says. And then to say as I put about that they was all
over the house, and frighten the London lady's maid, which all I said
was--and Hann can tell you that I speak the truth, for she was
there--'some says one thing,' says I, 'and some says another, but I
takes no notice of nothink.' But put up with a deal, I have--more than
ever I told a soul since I come here, which I promised Mrs. de Noël when
she asked me to oblige her; which the blue lights I have seen a many
times, and tapping of coffin-nails on the wall, and never close my eyes
for nights sometimes, but am entirely wore away, and my nerve that
weak; and then to be so hurt in my feelings, and spoke to as I am not
accustomed, but always treated everywhere I goes with the greatest of
kindness and respect, which ask Mrs. de Noël she will tell you, since
ever I was a widow; but pack my things I will, and walk every step of
the way, if it was pouring cats and dogs, I would, rather than stay
another minute here to be so put upon; and send for Mrs. de Noël if you
don't believe me, and she will tell you the many high families she
recommended me, and always give satisfaction. Send for Mrs. de Noël--"

The swing door closed behind her, and the sounds of her grief and her
reiterated appeals to Mrs. de Noël died slowly away in the distance.

"What on earth have you been saying to her?" said Atherley to his wife,
who had come out into the hall.

"Only that she behaved very badly indeed in speaking about the ghost to
Mrs. Molyneux's maid, who, of course, repeated it all directly and made
Lucinda nervous. She is a most troublesome, mischievous old woman."

"But she can cook. Pray what are we to do for dinner?"

"I am sure I don't know. I never knew anything so unlucky as it all is,
and Lucinda looking so ill."

"Well, you had better send for the doctor."

"She won't hear of it. She says nobody could do her any good but
Cecilia."

"What! 'Send for Mrs. de Noël?' Poor Cissy! What do these excited
females imagine she is going to do?"

"I don't know, but I do wish we could get her here."

"But she is in London, is she not, with Aunt Henrietta?"

"Yes, and only comes home to-day."

"Well, I will tell you what we might do if you want her badly. Telegraph
to her to London and ask her to come straight on here."

"I suppose she is sure to come?"

"Like a shot, if you say we are all ill."

"No, that would frighten her. I will just say we want her particularly."

"Yes, and say the carriage shall meet the 5.15 at Whitford station, and
then she will feel bound to come. And as I shall not be back in time,
send Lindy to meet her. It will do him good. He looks as if he had been
sitting up all night with the ghost."

It was a melancholy day. The wind was quieter, but the rain still fell.
Indoors we were all in low spirits, not even excepting the little boys,
much concerned about Tip, who was not his usual brisk and complacent
self. His nose was hot, his little stump of a tail was limp, he hid
himself under chairs and tables, whence he turned upon us sorrowful and
beseeching eyes, and, most alarming symptom of all, refused sweet
biscuits. During the afternoon he was confided to me by his little
masters while they made an expedition to the stables, and I was sitting
reading by the library fire with the invalid beside me when Lady
Atherley came in to propose I should go into the drawing-room and talk
to Mrs. Molyneux, who had just come down.

"Did she ask to see me?"

"No; but when I proposed your going in, she did not say no."

I did as I was asked to do, but with some misgivings. It was one of the
few occasions when my misfortune became an advantage. No one, especially
no woman, was likely to rebuff too sharply the intruder who dragged
himself into her presence. So far from that, Mrs. Molyneux, who was
leaning against the mantelpiece and looking down listlessly into the
fire, moved to welcome me with a smile and to offer me a hand
startlingly cold. But after that she resumed her first attitude and made
no attempt to converse--she, the most ready, the most voluble of women.
Then followed an awkward pause, which I desperately broke by saying I
was afraid she was not better.

"Better! I was not ill," she answered, almost impatiently, and walked
away towards the other side of the room. I understood that she wished to
be alone, and was moving towards the door as quietly as possible when I
was suddenly checked by her hand upon my elbow.

"Mr. Lyndsay, why are you going? Was I rude? I did not mean to be.
Forgive me; I am so miserable."

"You could not be rude, I think, even if you wished to. It is I who am
inconsiderate in intruding--"

"You are not intruding; please stay."

"I would gladly stay if I could help you."

"Can any one help me, I wonder?" She went slowly back to the fire and
sat down upon the fender-stool, and resting her chin upon her hand, and
looking dreamily before her, repeated--

"Can any one help me, I wonder?"

I sat down on a chair near her and said--

"Do you think it would help you to talk of what has frightened you?"

"I don't think I can. I would tell you, Mr. Lyndsay, if I could tell any
one; for you know what it is to be weak and suffering; you are as
sympathetic as a woman, and more merciful than some women. But part of
the horror of it all is that I cannot explain it. Words seem to be no
good, just because I have used them so easily and so meaninglessly all
my life--just as words and nothing more."

"Can you tell me what you saw?"

"A face, only a face, when I woke up suddenly. It looked as if it were
painted on the darkness. But oh, the dreadfulness of it and what it
brought with it! Do you remember the line, 'Bring with you airs from
heaven or blasts from hell'? Yes, it was in hell, because hell is not a
great gulf, like Dante described, as I used to think; it is no place at
all--it is something we make ourselves. I felt all this as I saw the
face, for we ourselves are not what we think. Part of what I used to
play with was true enough; it is all Mâyâ, a delusion, this
sense--life--it is no life at all. The actual life is behind, under it
all; it goes deep deep down, it stretches on, on--and yet it has nothing
to do with space or time. I feel as if I were beating myself against a
stone wall. My words can have no sense for you any more than they would
have had for me yesterday."

"But tell me, why should this discovery of this other life make you so
miserable?"

"Oh, because it brings such a want with it. How can I explain? It is
like a poor wretch stupefied with drink. Don't you know the poor
creatures in the Eastend sometimes drink just that they may not feel how
hungry and how cold they are? 'They remember their misery no more.' Is
the life of the world and of outward things like that, if we live too
much in it? I used to be so contented with it all--its pleasures, its
little triumphs, even its gossip; and what I called my aspirations I
satisfied with what was nothing more than phrases. And now I have found
my real self, now I am awake, I want much more, and there is
nothing--only a great silence, a great loneliness like that in the
face. And the theories I talked about are no comfort any more; they are
just what pretty speeches would be to a person in torture. Oh, Mr.
Lyndsay, I always feel that you are real, that you are good; tell me
what you know. Is there nothing but this dark void beyond when life
falls away from us?"

She lifted towards me a face quivering with excitement, and eyes that
waited wild and famished for my answer--the answer I had not for her,
and then indeed I tasted the full bitterness of the cup of unbelief.

"No," she said presently, "I knew it; no one can do me any good but
Cecilia de Noël."

"And she believes?"

"It is not what she believes, it is what she is."

She rested her head upon her hand and looked musingly towards the
window, down which the drops were trickling, and said--

"Ever since I have known Cecilia I have always felt that if all the
world failed this would be left. Not that I really imagined the world
would fail me, but you know how one imagines things, how one asks
oneself questions. If I was like this, if I was like that, what should I
do? I used to say to myself, if the very worst happened to me, if I was
ill of some loathsome disease from which everybody shrank away, or if my
mind was unhinged and I was tempted with horrible temptations like I
have read about, I would go to Cecilia. She would not turn from me; she
would run to meet me as the father in the parable did, not because I was
her friend but because I was in trouble. All who are in trouble are
Cecilia's friends, and she feels to them just as other people feel
towards their own children. And I could tell her everything, show her
everything. Others feel the same; I have heard them say so--men as well
as women. I know why--Cecilia's pity is so reverent, so pure. A great
London doctor said to me once, 'Remember, nothing is shocking or
disgusting to a doctor.' That is like Cecilia. No suffering could ever
be disgusting or shocking to Cecilia, nor ridiculous, nor grotesque. The
more humiliating it was, the more pitiful it would be to her. Anything
that suffers is sacred to Cecilia. She would comfort, as if she went on
her knees to one; and her touch on one's wounds, one's ugliest wounds,
would be like,"--she hesitated and looked about her in quest of a
comparison, then, pointing to a picture over the door, a picture of the
Magdalene, kissing the bleeding feet upon the Cross, ended, "like that."

"Oh, Mrs. Molyneux," I cried, "if there be love like that in the world,
then--"

The door opened and Castleman entered.

"If you please, sir, the carriage is at the door."



CHAPTER VII

CECILIA'S GOSPEL


The rain gradually ceased falling as we drove onward and upward to the
station. It stood on high ground, overlooking a wide sweep of downland
and fallow, bordered towards the west by close-set woodlands, purple
that evening against a sky of limpid gold, which the storm-clouds
discovered as they lifted.

I had not long to wait, for, punctual to its time, the train steamed
into the station. From that part of the train to which I first looked,
four or five passengers stepped out; not one of them certainly the lady
that I waited for. Glancing from side to side I saw, standing at the far
end of the platform, two women; one of them was tall; could this be Mrs.
de Noël? And yet no, I reflected as I went towards them, for she held a
baby in her arms--a baby moreover swathed, not in white and laces, but
in a tattered and discoloured shawl: while her companion, lifting out
baskets and bundles from a third-class carriage, was poorly and evenly
miserably clad. But again, as I drew nearer, I observed that the long
fine hand which supported the child was delicately gloved, and that the
cloak which swung back from the encircling arm was lined and bordered
with very costly fur. This and something in the whole outline--

"Mrs. de Noël?" I murmured inquiringly.

Then she turned towards me, and I saw her, as I often see her now in
dreams, against that sunset background of aerial gold which the artist
of circumstance had painted behind her, like a new Madonna, holding the
child of poverty to her heart, pressing her cheek against its tiny head
with a gesture whose exquisite tenderness, for at least that fleeting
instant, seemed to bridge across the gulf which still yawns between
Dives and Lazarus. So standing, she looked at me with two soft brown
eyes, neither large nor beautiful, but in their outlook direct and
simple as a child's. Remembering as I met them what Mrs. Molyneux had
said, I saw and comprehended as well what she meant. Benevolence is but
faintly inscribed, on the faces of most men, even of the better sort.
"I will love you, my neighbour," we thereon decipher, "when I have
attended to my own business, in the first place; if you are lovable, or
at least likeable, in the second." But in the transparent gaze that
Cecilia de Noël turned upon her fellows beamed love poured forth without
stint and without condition. It was as if every man, woman, and child
who approached her became instantly to her more interesting than
herself, their defects more tolerable, their wants more imperative,
their sorrows more moving than her own. In this lay the source of that
mysterious charm so many have felt, so few have understood, and yielding
to which even those least capable of appreciating her confessed that,
whatever her conduct might be, she herself was irresistibly lovable. A
kind of dream-like haze seemed to envelop us as I introduced myself, as
she smiled upon me, as she resigned the child to its mother and bid them
tenderly farewell; but the clear air of the real became distinct again
when there stood suddenly before us a fat elderly female, whose
countenance was flushed with mingled anxiety and displeasure.

"Law bless me, mem!" said the newcomer, "I could not think wherever you
could be. I have been looking up and down for you, all through the
first-class carriages."

"I am so sorry, Parkins," said Mrs. de Noël penitently; "I ought to have
let you know that I changed my carriage at Carchester. I wanted to nurse
a baby whose mother was looking ill and tired. I saw them on the
platform, and then they got into a third-class carriage, so I thought
the best way would be to get in with them."

"And where, if you please, mem," inquired Parkins, in an icy tone and
with a face stiffened by repressed displeasure--"where do you think you
have left your dressing-bag and humbrella?"

Mrs. de Noël fixed her sweet eyes upon the speaker, as if striving to
recollect the answer to this question and then replied--

"She told me she lived quite near the station. I wish I had asked her
how far. She is much too weak to walk any distance. I might have found a
fly for her, might I not?"

Upon which Parkins gave a snort of irrepressible exasperation, and,
evidently renouncing her mistress as beyond hope, forthwith departed in
search of the missing property. I accompanied her, and, with the aid of
the guard, we speedily found and secured both bag and umbrella, and, as
the train steamed off, returned with these treasures to Mrs. de Noël,
still on the same spot and in the same attitude as we had left her, and
all that she said was--

"It was so stupid, so forgetful, so just like me not to have asked her
more about it. She had been ill; the journey itself was more than she
could stand; and then to have to carry the baby! She said it was not
far, but perhaps she only said that to please me. Poor people are so
afraid of distressing one; they often make themselves out better off
than they really are, don't they?"

I was embarrassed by this question, to which my own experience did not
authorise me to answer yes; but I evaded the difficulty by consulting a
porter, who fortunately knew the woman, and was able to assure us that
her cottage was barely a stone's throw from the station. When I had
conveyed to Mrs. de Noël this information, which she received with an
eager gratitude that the recovery of her bag and umbrella had failed to
rouse, we left the station to go to the carriage, and then it was that,
pausing suddenly, she cried out in dismay--

"Ah, you are hurt! you--"

She stopped abruptly; she had divined the truth, and her eyes grew
softer with such tender pity as not yet had shone for me--motherless,
sisterless--on any woman's face. As we drove home that evening she heard
the story that never had been told before.

"You may have your faults, Cissy," said Atherley, "but I will say this
for you--for smoothing people down when they have been rubbed the wrong
way, you never had your equal."

He lay back in a comfortable chair looking at his cousin, who, sitting
on a low seat opposite the drawing-room fire, shaded her eyes from the
glare with a little hand-screen.

"Mrs. Molyneux, I hear, has gone to sleep," he went on; "and Mrs. Mallet
is unpacking her boxes. The only person who does not seem altogether
happy is my old friend Parkins. When I inquired after her health a few
minutes ago her manner to me was barely civil."

"Poor Parkins is rather put out," said Mrs. de Noël in her slow gentle
way. "It is all my fault. I forgot to pack up the bodice of my best
evening gown, and Parkins says it is the only one I look fit to be seen
in."

"But, my dear Cecilia," said Lady Atherley, looking up from the work
which she pursued beside a shaded lamp, "why did not Parkins pack it up
herself?"

"Oh, because she had some shopping of her own to do this forenoon, so
she asked me to finish packing for her, and of course I said I would;
and I promised to try and forget nothing; and then, after all, I went
and left the bodice in a drawer. It is provoking! The fact is, James
spoils me so when he is at home. He remembers everything for me, and
when I do forget anything he never scolds me."

"Ah, I expect he has a nice time of it," said Atherley. "However, it is
not my fault. I warned him how it would be when he was engaged. I said:
'I hope, for one thing, you can live on air, old chap for you will get
nothing more for dinner if you trust to Cissy to order it.'"

"I don't believe you said anything of the kind," observed Lady Atherley.

"No, dear Jane; of course he did not. He was very much pleased with our
marriage. He said James was the only man he ever knew who was fit to
marry me."

"So he was," agreed Atherley; "the only man whose temper could stand all
he would have to put up with. We had good proof of that even on the
wedding-day, when you kept him kicking his heels for half an hour in the
church while you were admiring the effect of your new finery in the
glass."

"What!" cried Lady Atherley incredulously.

"What really did happen, Jane," said Mrs. de Noël, "was that when Edith
Molyneux was trying on my wreath before a looking-glass over the
fireplace, she unfortunately dropped it into the grate, and got it in
such a mess. It took us a long time to get the black off, and some of
the sprays were so spoiled, we had to take them out. And it was very
unpleasant for Edith, as Aunt Henrietta was extremely angry, because the
wreath was her present, you know, and it was very expensive; and as to
Parkins, poor dear, she was so vexed she positively cried. She said I
was the most trying lady she had ever waited upon. She often says so. I
am afraid it is true."

"Not a doubt of it," said Atherley.

"Do not believe him, Cecilia," said Lady Atherley: "he thinks there is
no one in the world like you."

"Fortunately for the world," said Atherley; "any more of the sort would
spoil it. But I am not going to stay here to be bullied by two women at
once. Rather than that, I will go and write letters."

He went, and soon afterwards Lady Atherley followed him.

Then the two little boys came in with Tip.

"We are not allowed to take him upstairs," explained Harold, "so we
thought he might stay with you and Mr. Lyndsay for a little, till
Charles comes for him."

"If you would let him lie upon your dress, Aunt Cissy," suggested
Denis; "he would like that."

Accordingly he was carefully settled on the outspread folds of the serge
gown; and after the little boys had condoled with him in tones so
melancholy that he was affected almost to tears, they went off to supper
and to bed.

Silence followed, broken only by the ticking of the clock and the
wailing of the wind outside. Mrs. de Noël gazed into the fire with
intent and unseeing eyes. Its warm red light softly illumined her whole
face and figure, for in her abstraction she had let the hand-screen
fall, and was stroking mechanically the little sleek head that nestled
against her. Meantime I stared attentively at her, thinking I might do
so without offence, seeing she had forgotten me and all else around her.
Once, indeed, as if rising for a minute to the surface, with eyes that
appeared to waken, she looked up and encountered my earnest gaze, but
without shade of displeasure or discomfiture. She only smiled upon me,
placidly as a sister might smile upon a brother, benignly as one might
smile upon a child, and fell into her dream again. It was a wonderful
look, especially from a woman, as unique in its complete unconsciousness
as in its warm goodwill; it was as soothing as the touch of her fine
soft fingers must have been on Tip's hot head. I felt I could have
curled myself up, as he did, at her feet and slept on--for ever. But,
alas! the clock was checking the flying minutes and chanting the
departing quarters, and presently the dressing-bell rang, Mrs. de Noël
stirred, gave a long sigh, and, plainly from the fulness of her heart
and of the thoughts she had so long been following, said--

"Mr. Lyndsay, is it not strange? So many people from the great world
come and ask me if there is any God. Really good people, you know, so
honourable, so generous, so self-sacrificing. It is just the same to me
as if they should ask me whether the sun was shining, when all the time
I saw the sunshine on their faces."

"By the way," said Atherley that night after dinner, when Mrs. Molyneux
was not present, "where are you going to put Cissy to-night? Are you
going to make a bachelor of her too?"

"Oh, such an uncomfortable arrangement!" said Lady Atherley. "But
Lucinda has set her heart on having Cecilia near her; so they have put
up a little bed in the dressing-room for her."

"Cissy is to keep the ghost at bay, is she?" said Atherley. "I hope she
may. I don't want another night as lively as the last."

"Who else has seen the ghost?" asked Mrs. de Noël, thoughtfully. "Has
Mr. Lyndsay?"

"No, Lindy will never see the ghost; he is too much of a sceptic. Even
if he saw it he would not believe in it, and there is nothing a ghost
hates like that. But he has seen the people who saw the ghost, and he
tells their several stories very well."

"Would you tell me, Mr. Lyndsay?" asked Mrs. de Noël.

I could do nothing but obey her wish; still I secretly questioned the
wisdom of doing so, especially when, as I went on, I observed stealing
over her listening face the shadow of some disturbing thought.

"Well now, Cissy is thoroughly well frightened," observed Atherley.
"Perhaps we had better go to bed."

"It is no good saying so to Lucinda," said Lady Atherley, as we all
rose, "because it only puts her out; but I shall always feel certain
myself it was a mouse; because I remember in the house we had at
Bournemouth two years ago there was a mouse in my room which often made
such a noise knocking down the plaster inside the wall, it used to quite
startle me."

That night the storm finally subsided. When the morning came the rain
fell no longer, the cry of the wind had ceased, and the cloud-curtain
above us was growing lighter and softer as if penetrated and suffused by
the growing sunshine behind it.

I was late for breakfast that day.

"Mr. Lyndsay, Tip is all right again," cried Denis at sight of me. "Mrs.
Mallet says it was chicken bones he stole from the cat's dish."

"Is that all?" observed Atherley sardonically; "I thought he must have
seen the ghost. By the bye, Cissy, did you see it?"

"Yes," said Mrs. de Noël simply, at which Atherley visibly started, and
instantly began talking of something else.

Mrs. Molyneux was to leave by an afternoon train, but, to the relief of
everybody, it was discovered that Mrs. Mallet had indefinitely postponed
her departure. She remained in the mildest of humours and in the most
philosophical of tempers, as I myself can testify; for, meeting her by
accident in the hall, I was encouraged by the amiability of her simper
to say that I hoped we should have no more trouble with the ghost, when
she answered in words I have often since admiringly quoted--

"Perhaps not, sir, but I don't seem to care even if we do; for I had a
dream last night, and a spirit seemed to whisper in my ear, 'Don't be
afraid; it is only a token of death.'"

After Mrs. Molyneux had started, with Mrs. de Noël as her companion as
far as the station, and all the rest of the party had gone out to sun
themselves in the brightness of the afternoon, I worked through a long
arrears of correspondence: and I was just finishing a letter, when
Atherley, whom I supposed to be far distant, came into the library.

"I thought you had gone to pay calls with Lady Atherley?"

"Is it likely? Look here, Lindy, it is quite hot out of doors. Come, and
let me tug you up the hill to meet Cissy coming home from the station,
and then I promise you a rare treat."

Certainly to meet Mrs. de Noël anywhere might be so considered, but I
did not ask if that was what he meant. It was milder; one felt it more
at every step upward. The sun, low as it was, shone warmly as well as
brilliantly between the clouds that he had thrust asunder and scattered
in wild and beautiful disorder. It was one of those incredible days in
early spring, balmy, tender, which our island summer cannot always
match.

We went on till we reached Beggar's Stile.

"Sit down," said Atherley, tossing on to the wet step a coat he carried
over his arm. "And there is a cigarette; you must smoke, if you please,
or at least pretend to do so."

"What does all this mean? What are you up to, George?"

"I am up to a delicate psychical investigation which requires the
greatest care. The medium is made of such uncommon stuff; she has not a
particle of brass in her composition. So she requires to be carefully
isolated from all disturbing influences. I allow you to be present at
the experiment, because discretion is one of your strongest points, and
you always know when to hold your tongue. Besides, it will improve your
mind. Cissy's story is certain to be odd, like herself, and will
illustrate what I am always saying that--Here she is."

He went forward to meet and to stop the carriage, out of which, at his
suggestion, Mrs. de Noël readily came down to join us.

"Do not get up, Mr. Lyndsay," she called out as she came towards us, "or
I will go away. I don't want to sit down."

"Sit down, Lindy," said Atherley sharply, "Cissy likes tobacco in the
open air."

She rested her arms upon the gate and looked downwards.

"The dear dear old river! It makes me feel young again to look at it."

"Cissy," said Atherley, his arms on the gate, his eyes staring straight
towards the opposite horizon, "tell us about the ghost; were you
frightened?"

There was a certain tension in the pause which followed. Would she tell
us or not? I almost felt Atherley's rebound of satisfaction as well as
my own at the sound of her voice. It was uncertain and faint at first,
but by degrees grew firm again, as timidity was lost in the interest of
what she told:

"Last night I sat up with Mrs. Molyneux, holding her hand till she fell
asleep, and that was very late, and then I went to the dressing-room,
where I was to sleep; and as I undressed, I thought over what Mr.
Lyndsay had told us about the ghost; and the more I thought, the more
sad and strange it seemed that not one of those who saw it, not even
Aunt Eleanour, who is so kind and thoughtful, had had one pitying
thought for it. And we who heard about it were just the same, for it
seemed to us quite natural and even right that everybody should shrink
away from it because it was so horrible; though that should only make
them the more kind; just as we feel we must be more tender and loving to
any one who is deformed, and the more shocking his deformity the more
tender and loving. And what, I thought, if this poor spirit had come by
any chance to ask for something; if it were in pain and longed for
relief, or sinful and longed for forgiveness? How dreadful then that
other beings should turn from it, instead of going to meet it and
comfort it--so dreadful that I almost wished that I might see it, and
have the strength to speak to it! And it came into my head that this
might happen, for often and often when I have been very anxious to serve
some one, the wish has been granted in a quite wonderful way. So when I
said my prayers, I asked especially that if it should appear to me, I
might have strength to forget all selfish fear and try only to know
what it wanted. And as I prayed the foolish shrinking dread we have of
such things seemed to fade away; just as when I have prayed for those
towards whom I felt cold or unforgiving, the hardness has all melted
away into love towards them. And after that came to me that lovely
feeling which we all have sometimes--in church, or when we are praying
alone, or more often in the open air, on beautiful summer days when it
is warm and still; as if one's heart were beating and overflowing with
love towards everything in this world and in all the worlds; as if the
very grasses and the stones were clear, but dearest of all, the
creatures that still suffer, so that to wipe away their tears forever,
one feels that one would die--oh die so gladly! And always as if this
were something not our own, but part of that wonderful great Love above
us, about us, everywhere, clasping us all so tenderly and safely!"

Here her voice trembled and failed; she waited a little and then went
on, "Ah, I am too stupid to say rightly what I mean, but you who are
clever will understand.

"It was so sweet that I knelt on, drinking it in for a long time; not
praying, you know, but just resting, and feeling as if I were in heaven,
till all at once, I cannot explain why, I moved and looked round. It was
there at the other end of the room. It was ...--much worse than I had
dreaded it would be; as if it looked out of some great horror deeper
than I could understand. The loving feeling was gone, and I was
afraid--so much afraid, I only wanted to get out of sight of it. And I
think I would have gone, but it stretched out its hands to me as if it
were asking for something, and then, of course, I could not go. So,
though I was trembling a little, I went nearer and looked into its face.
And after that I was not afraid any more, I was too sorry for it; its
poor poor eyes were so full of anguish. I cried: 'Oh, why do you look at
me like that? Tell me what I shall do.'

"And directly I spoke I heard it moan. Oh, George, oh, Mr. Lyndsay, how
can I tell you what that moaning was like! Do you know how a little
change in the face of some one you love, or a little tremble in his
voice, can make you see quite clearly what nobody, not even the great
poets, had been able to show you before?

"George, do you remember the day that grandmother died, when they all
broke down and cried a little at dinner, all except Uncle Marmaduke? He
sat up looking so white and stern at the end of the table. And I,
foolish little child, thought he was not so grieved as the others--that
he did not love his mother so much. But next day, quite by chance, I
heard him, all alone, sobbing over her coffin. I remember standing
outside the door and listening, and each sob went through my heart with
a little stab, and I knew for the first time what sorrow was. But even
his sobs were not so pitiful as the moans of that poor spirit. While I
listened I learnt that in another world there may be worse for us to
bear than even here--sorrow more hopeless, more lonely. For the strange
thing was, the moaning seemed to come from so far far away; not only
from somewhere millions and millions of miles away, but--this is the
strangest of all--as if it came to me from time long since past, ages
and ages ago. I know this sounds like nonsense, but indeed I am trying
to put into words the weary long distance that seemed to stretch between
us, like one I never should be able to cross. At last it spoke to me in
a whisper which I could only just hear; at least it was more like a
whisper than anything else I can think of, and it seemed to come like
the moaning from far far away. It thanked me so meekly for looking at it
and speaking to it. It told me that by sins committed against others
when it was on earth it had broken the bond between itself and all other
creatures. While it was what we call alive, it did not feel this, for
the senses confuse us and hide many things from the good, and so still
more from the wicked; but when it died and lost the body by which it
seemed to be kept near to other beings, it found itself imprisoned in
the most dreadful loneliness--loneliness which no one in this world can
even imagine. Even the pain of solitary confinement, so it told me,
which drives men mad, is only like a shadow or type of this loneliness
of spirits. Others there might be, but it knew nothing of them--nothing
besides this great empty darkness everywhere, except the place it had
once lived in, and the people who were moving about it; and even those
it could only perceive dimly as if looking through a mist, and always so
unutterably away from them all. I am not giving its own words, you know,
George, because I cannot remember them. I am not certain it did speak
to me; the thoughts seemed to pass in some strange way into my mind; I
cannot explain how, for the still far-away voice did not really speak.
Sometimes, it told me, the loneliness became agony, and it longed for a
word or a sign from some other being, just as Dives longed for the drop
of cold water; and at such times it was able to make the living people
see it. But that, alas! was useless, for it only alarmed them so much
that the bravest and most benevolent rushed away in terror or would not
let it come near them. But still it went on showing itself to one after
another, always hoping that some one would take pity on it and speak to
it, for it felt that if comfort ever came to it, it must be through a
living soul, and it knew of none save those in this world and in this
place. And I said: 'Why did you not turn for help to God?'

"Then it gave a terrible answer: it said, 'What is God?'

"And when I heard these words there came over me a wild kind of pity,
such as I used to feel when I saw my little child struggling for breath
when he was ill, and I held out my arms to this poor lonely thing, but
it shrank back, crying:

"'Speak to me, but do not touch me, brave human creature. I am all
death, and if you come too near me the Death in me may kill the life in
you.'

"But I said: 'No Death can kill the life in me, even though it kill my
body. Dear fellow-spirit, I cannot tell you what I know; but let me take
you in my arms; rest for an instant on my heart, and perhaps I may make
you feel what I feel all around us.'

"And as I spoke I threw my arms around the shadowy form and strained it
to my breast. And I felt as if I were pressing to me only air, but air
colder than any ice, so that my heart seemed to stop beating, and I
could hardly breathe. But I still clasped it closer and closer, and as I
grew colder it seemed to grow less chill.

"And at last it spoke, and the whisper was not far away, but near. It
said:

"'It is enough; now I know what God is!'

"After that I remember nothing more, till I woke up and found myself
lying on the floor beside the bed. It was morning, and the spirit was
not there; but I have a strong feeling that I have been able to help
it, and that it will trouble you no more.

"Surely it is late! I must go at once. I promised to have tea with the
children."

       *       *       *       *       *

Neither of us spoke; neither of us stirred; when the sound of her light
footfall was heard no more, there was complete silence. Below, the mists
had gathered so thickly that now they spread across the valley one dead
white sea of vapour in which village and woods and stream were all
buried--all except the little church spire, that, still unsubmerged,
pointed triumphantly to the sky; and what a sky! For that which
yesterday had steeped us in cold and darkness, now, piled even to the
zenith in mountainous cloud-masses, was dyed, every crest and summit of
it, in crimson fire, pouring from a great fount of colour, where, to the
west, the heavens opened to show that wonder-world whence saints and
singers have drawn their loveliest images of the Rest to come.

But perhaps I saw all things irradiated by the light which had risen
upon my darkness--the light that never was on land or sea, but shines
reflected in the human face.

       *       *       *       *       *

"George, I am waiting for your interpretation."

"It is very simple, Lindy," he said.

But there was a tone in his voice I had heard once--and only
once--before, when, through the first terrible hours that followed my
accident, he sat patiently beside me in the darkened room, holding my
hot hand in his broad cool palm.

"It is very simple. It is the most easily explained of all the accounts.
It was a dream from beginning to end. She fell asleep praying, thinking,
as she says; what was more natural or inevitable than that she should
dream of the ghost? And it all confirms what I say: that visions are
composed by the person who sees them. Nothing could be more
characteristic of Cissy than the story she has just told us."

"And let it be a dream," I said. "It is of no consequence, for the
dreamer remains, breathing and walking on this solid earth. I have
touched her hand, I have looked into her face. Thank God! she is no
vision, the woman who could dream this dream! George, how do you explain
the miracle of her existence?"

But Atherley was silent.



THE END



Transcriber's Note: Several spelling errors were corrected:
childen/children, greal/great and spendid/splendid.


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