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Title: Four Ghost Stories
Author: Molesworth, Mrs., 1839-1921
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 "Four Ghost Stories" ***

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FOUR GHOST STORIES

by

MRS. MOLESWORTH

Author of 'Carrots,' 'Hathercourt Rectory,'
Etc. Etc.



London
Macmillan and Co.
and New York
1888



TO MY NIECES,

LILIAN AND GEORGINA MOLESWORTH.

5th DECEMBER 1887.



 CONTENTS
                                           PAGE

   I. LADY FARQUHAR'S OLD LADY               1
  II. WITNESSED BY TWO                      43
 III. UNEXPLAINED                           87
  IV. THE STORY OF THE RIPPLING TRAIN      227



I

LADY FARQUHAR'S OLD LADY

A TRUE GHOST STORY

"One that was a woman, sir; but, rest her soul, she's dead."


I myself have never seen a ghost (I am by no means sure that I wish ever
to do so), but I have a friend whose experience in this respect has been
less limited than mine. Till lately, however, I had never heard the
details of Lady Farquhar's adventure, though the fact of there being a
ghost story which she could, if she chose, relate with the authority of
an eye-witness, had been more than once alluded to before me. Living at
extreme ends of the country, it is but seldom my friend and I are able
to meet; but a few months ago I had the good fortune to spend some days
in her house, and one evening our conversation happening to fall on the
subject of the possibility of so-called "supernatural" visitations or
communications, suddenly what I had heard returned to my memory.

"By the bye," I exclaimed, "we need not go far for an authority on the
question. You have seen a ghost yourself, Margaret. I remember once
hearing it alluded to before you, and you did not contradict it. I have
so often meant to ask you for the whole story. Do tell it to us now."

Lady Farquhar hesitated for a moment, and her usually bright expression
grew somewhat graver. When she spoke, it seemed to be with a slight
effort.

"You mean what they all call the story of 'my old lady,' I suppose," she
said at last. "Oh yes, if you care to hear it, I will tell it you. But
there is not much to tell, remember."

"There seldom is in _true_ stories of the kind," I replied. "Genuine
ghost stories are generally abrupt and inconsequent in the extreme,
but on this very account all the more impressive. Don't you think so?"

"I don't know that I am a fair judge," she answered. "Indeed," she went
on rather gravely, "my own opinion is that what you call _true_ ghost
stories are very seldom told at all."

"How do you mean? I don't quite understand you," I said, a little
perplexed by her words and tone.

"I mean," she replied, "that people who really believe they have come in
contact with--with anything of that kind, seldom care to speak about it."

"Do you really think so? do you mean that you feel so yourself?" I
exclaimed with considerable surprise. "I had no idea you did, or I would
not have mentioned the subject. Of course you know I would not ask you
to tell it if it is the least painful or disagreeable to you to talk
about it."

"But it isn't. Oh no, it is not nearly so bad as that," she replied,
with a smile. "I cannot really say that it is either painful or
disagreeable to me to recall it, for I cannot exactly apply either of
those words to the thing itself. All that I feel is a sort of shrinking
from the subject, strong enough to prevent my ever alluding to it
lightly or carelessly. Of all things, I should dislike to have a joke
made of it. But with you I have no fear of that. And you trust me,
don't you? I don't mean as to truthfulness only; but you don't think me
deficient in common sense and self-control--not morbid, or very apt to
be run away with by my imagination?"

"Not the sort of person one would pick out as likely to see ghosts?"
I replied. "Certainly not. You are far too sensible and healthy and
vigorous. I can't, very readily, fancy you the victim of delusion of any
kind. But as to ghosts--are they or are they not delusions? There lies
the question! Tell us your experience of them, any way."

So she told the story I had asked for--told it in the simplest language,
and with no exaggeration of tone or manner, as we sat there in her
pretty drawing-room, our chairs drawn close to the fire, for it was
Christmas time, and the weather was "seasonable." Two or three of
Margaret's children were in the room, though not within hearing of us;
all looked bright and cheerful, nothing mysterious. Yet notwithstanding
the total deficiency of ghostly accessories, the story impressed me
vividly.

"It was early in the spring of '55 that it happened," began Lady
Farquhar; "I never forget the year, for a reason I will tell you
afterwards. It is fully fifteen years ago now--a long time--but I am
still quite able to recall the _feeling_ this strange adventure of mine
left on me, though a few details and particulars have grown confused
and misty. I think it often happens so when one tries, as it were _too_
hard, to be accurate and unexaggerated in telling over anything. One's
very honesty is against one. I have not told it over many times, but
each time it seems more difficult to tell it quite exactly; the
impression left at the time was so powerful that I have always dreaded
incorrectness or exaggeration creeping in. It reminds me, too, of the
curious way in which a familiar word or name grows distorted, and then
cloudy and strange, if one looks at it too long or thinks about it too
much. But I must get on with my story. Well, to begin again. In the
winter of '54-'55 we were living--my mother, my sisters, and I, that is,
and from time to time my brother--in, or rather near, a quiet little
village on the south coast of Ireland. We had gone there, before the
worst of the winter began at home, for the sake of my health. I had not
been as well as usual for some time (this was greatly owing, I believe,
to my having lately endured unusual anxiety of mind), and my dear mother
dreaded the cold weather for me, and determined to avoid it. I say that
I had had unusual anxiety to bear, still it was not of a kind to render
me morbid or fanciful. And what is even more to the point, my mind was
perfectly free from prepossession or association in connection with the
place we were living in, or the people who had lived there before us. I
simply knew nothing whatever of these people, and I had no sort of fancy
about the house--that it was haunted, or anything of that kind; and
indeed I never heard that it _was_ thought to be haunted. It did not
look like it; it was just a moderate-sized, somewhat old-fashioned
country, or rather sea-side, house, furnished, with the exception of one
room, in an ordinary enough modern style. The exception was a small room
on the bedroom floor, which, though not locked off (that is to say, the
key was left in the lock outside), was not given up for our use, as it
was crowded with musty old furniture, packed closely together, and all
of a fashion many, many years older than that of the contents of the
rest of the house. I remember some of the pieces of furniture still,
though I think I was only once or twice in the room all the time we were
there. There were two or three old-fashioned cabinets or bureaux; there
was a regular four-post bedstead, with the gloomy curtains still hanging
round it; and ever so many spider-legged chairs and rickety tables; and
I rather think in one corner there was a spinet. But there was nothing
particularly curious or attractive, and we never thought of meddling
with the things or 'poking about,' as girls sometimes do; for we always
thought it was by mistake that this room had not been locked off
altogether, so that no one should meddle with anything in it.

"We had rented the house for six months from a Captain Marchmont, a
half-pay officer, naval or military, I don't know which, for we never
saw him, and all the negotiations were managed by an agent. Captain
Marchmont and his family, as a rule, lived at Ballyreina all the year
round--they found it cheap and healthy, I suppose--but this year they
had preferred to pass the winter in some livelier neighbourhood, and
they were very glad to let the house. It never occurred to us to doubt
our landlord's being the owner of it: it was not till some time after we
left that we learned that he himself was only a tenant, though a tenant
of long standing. There were no people about to make friends with, or to
hear local gossip from. There were no gentry within visiting distance,
and if there had been, we should hardly have cared to make friends for
so short a time as we were to be there. The people of the village were
mostly fishermen and their families; there were so many of them, we
never got to know any specially. The doctor and the priest and the
Protestant clergyman were all newcomers, and all three very uninteresting.
The clergyman used to dine with us sometimes, as my brother had had some
sort of introduction to him when we came to Ballyreina; but we never
heard anything about the place from him. He was a great talker, too;
I am sure he would have told us anything he knew. In short, there was
nothing romantic or suggestive either about our house or the village.
But we didn't care. You see we had gone there simply for rest and quiet
and pure air, and we got what we wanted.

"Well, one evening about the middle of March I was up in my room
dressing for dinner, and just as I had about finished dressing, my
sister Helen came in. I remember her saying as she came in, 'Aren't you
ready yet, Maggie? Are you making yourself extra smart for Mr. Conroy?'
Mr. Conroy was the clergyman; he was dining with us that night. And then
Helen looked at me and found fault with me, half in fun of course, for
not having put on a prettier dress. I remember I said it was good enough
for Mr. Conroy, who was no favourite of mine; but Helen wasn't satisfied
till I agreed to wear a bright scarlet neck-ribbon of hers, and she ran
off to her room to fetch it. I followed her almost immediately. Her room
and mine, I must, by the bye, explain, were at extreme ends of a passage
several yards in length. There was a wall on one side of this passage,
and a balustrade overlooking the staircase on the other. My room was at
the end nearest the top of the staircase. There were no doors along the
passage leading to Helen's room, but just beside her door, at the end,
was that of the unused room I told you of, filled with the old furniture.
The passage was lighted from above by a skylight--I mean, it was by no
means dark or shadowy--and on the evening I am speaking of, it was still
clear daylight. We dined early at Ballyreina; I don't think it could
have been more than a quarter to five when Helen came into my room.
Well, as I was saying, I followed her almost immediately, so quickly
that as I came out of my room I was in time to catch sight of her as
she ran along the passage, and to see her go into her own room. Just
as I lost sight of her--I was coming along more deliberately, you
understand--suddenly, how or when exactly I cannot tell, I perceived
_another_ figure walking along the passage in front of me. It was a
woman, a little thin woman, but though she had her back to me, something
in her gait told me she was not young. She seemed a little bent, and
walked feebly. I can remember her dress even now with the most perfect
distinctness. She had a gown of gray clinging stuff, rather scanty in
the skirt, and one of those funny little old-fashioned black shawls with
a sewed-on border, that you seldom see nowadays. Do you know the kind I
mean? It was a narrow, shawl-pattern border, and there was a short tufty
black fringe below the border. And she had a gray poke bonnet, a bonnet
made of silk 'gathered' on to a large stiff frame; 'drawn' bonnets they
used to be called. I took in all these details of her dress in a moment,
and even in that moment I noticed too that the materials of her clothes
looked _good_, though so plain and old-fashioned. But somehow my first
impulse when I saw her was to call out, 'Fraser, is that you?' Fraser
was my mother's maid: she was a young woman, and not the least like the
person in front of me, but I think a vague idea rushed across my mind
that it might be Fraser dressed up to trick the other servants. But the
figure took no notice of my exclamation; it, or she, walked on quietly,
not even turning her head round in the least; she walked slowly down the
passage, seemingly quite unconscious of my presence, and, to my extreme
amazement, disappeared into the unused room. The key, as I think I told
you, was always turned in the lock--that is to say, the door was locked,
but the key was left in it; but the old woman did not seem to me to
unlock the door, or even to turn the handle. There seemed no obstacle in
her way: she just quietly, as it were, walked _through_ the door. Even
by this time I hardly think I felt _frightened_. What I had seen had
passed too quickly for me as yet to realise its strangeness. Still I
felt perplexed and vaguely uneasy, and I hurried on to my sister's room.
She was standing by the toilet-table, searching for the ribbon. I think
I must have looked startled, for before I could speak she called out,
'Maggie, whatever is the matter with you? You look as if you were going
to faint.' I asked her if she had heard anything, though it was an
inconsistent question, for to _my_ ears there had been no sound at all.
Helen answered, 'Yes:' a moment before I came into the room she had
heard the lock of the lumber-room (so we called it) door click, and had
wondered what I could be going in there for. Then I told her what I had
seen. She looked a little startled, but declared it must have been one
of the servants.

"'If it is a trick of the servants,' I answered, 'it should be exposed;'
and when Helen offered to search through the lumber-room with me at
once, I was very ready to agree to it. I was so satisfied of the reality
of what I had seen, that I declared to Helen that the old woman, whoever
she was, _must_ be in the room; it stood to reason that, having gone in,
she must still be there, as she could not possibly have come out again
without our knowledge.

"So, plucking up our courage, we went to the lumber-room door. I felt so
certain that but a moment before, some one had opened it, that I took
hold of the knob quite confidently and turned it, just as one always
does to open a door. The handle turned, but the door did not yield. I
stooped down to see why; the reason was plain enough: the door was still
locked, locked as usual, and the key in the lock! Then Helen and I stared
at each other: _her_ mind was evidently recurring to the sound she had
heard; what _I_ began to think I can hardly put in words.

"But when we got over this new start a little, we set to work to search
the room as we had intended. And we searched it thoroughly, I assure
you. We dragged the old tables and chairs out of their corners, and
peeped behind the cabinets and chests of drawers where no one _could_
have been hidden. Then we climbed upon the old bedstead, and shook the
curtains till we were covered with dust; and then we crawled under the
valances, and came out looking like sweeps; but there was nothing to be
found. There was certainly _no one_ in the room, and by all appearances
no one could have been there for weeks. We had hardly time to make
ourselves fit to be seen when the dinner-bell rang, and we had to hurry
downstairs. As we ran down we agreed to say nothing of what had happened
before the servants, but after dinner in the drawing-room we told our
story. My mother and brother listened to it attentively, said it was
very strange, and owned themselves as puzzled as we. Mr. Conroy of
course laughed uproariously, and made us dislike him more than ever.
After he had gone we talked it over again among ourselves, and my
mother, who hated mysteries, did her utmost to explain what I had seen
in a matter-of-fact, natural way. Was I sure it was not only Helen
herself I had seen, after fancying she had reached her own room? Was
I quite certain it was not Fraser after all, carrying a shawl perhaps,
which made her look different? Might it not have been this, that, or the
other? It was no use. Nothing could convince me that I had _not_ seen
what I had seen; and though, to satisfy my mother, we cross-questioned
Fraser, it was with no result in the way of explanation. Fraser evidently
knew nothing that could throw light on it, and she was quite certain
that at the time I had seen the figure, both the other servants were
downstairs in the kitchen. Fraser was perfectly trustworthy; we warned
her not to frighten the others by speaking about the affair at all, but
we could not leave off speaking about it among ourselves. We spoke about
it so much for the next few days, that at last my mother lost patience,
and forbade us to mention it again. At least she _pretended_ to lose
patience; in reality I believe she put a stop to the discussion because
she thought it might have a bad effect on our nerves, on mine especially;
for I found out afterwards that in her anxiety she even went the length
of writing about it to our old doctor at home, and that it was by his
advice she acted in forbidding us to talk about it any more. Poor dear
mother! I don't know that it was very sound advice. One's mind often
runs all the more on things one is forbidden to mention. It certainly
was so with me, for I thought over my strange adventure almost
incessantly for some days after we left off talking about it."

Here Margaret paused.

"And is that all?" I asked, feeling a little disappointed, I think, at
the unsatisfactory ending to the "true ghost story."

"All!" repeated Lady Farquhar, rousing herself as if from a reverie,
"all! oh, dear no. I have sometimes wished it had been, for I don't
think what I have told you would have left any long-lasting impression
on me. All! oh, dear no. I am only at the beginning of my story."

So we resettled ourselves again to listen, and Lady Farquhar
continued:--

"For some days, as I said, I could not help thinking a good deal of the
mysterious old woman I had seen. Still, I assure you, I was not exactly
frightened. I was more puzzled--puzzled and annoyed at not being able in
any way to explain the mystery. But by ten days or so from the time of
my first adventure the impression was beginning to fade. Indeed, the day
before the evening I am now going to tell you of, I don't think my old
lady had been in my head at all. It was filled with other things. So,
don't you see, the explaining away what I saw as entirely a delusion,
a fancy of my own brain, has a weak point here; for _had_ it been all
my fancy, it would surely have happened _sooner_--at the time my mind
really was full of the subject. Though even if it had been so, it would
not have explained the curious coincidence of my 'fancy' with facts,
actual facts of which at the time I was in complete ignorance. It must
have been just about ten days after my first adventure that I happened
one evening, between eight and nine o'clock, to be alone upstairs in my
own room. We had dined at half-past five as usual, and had been sitting
together in the drawing-room since dinner, but I had made some little
excuse for coming upstairs; the truth being that I wanted to be alone
to read over a letter which the evening post (there actually was an
evening post at Ballyreina) had brought me, and which I had only had
time to glance at. It was a very welcome and dearly-prized letter, and
the reading of it made me very happy. I don't think I had felt so happy
all the months we had been in Ireland as I was feeling that evening. Do
you remember my saying I never forget the year all this happened? It was
the year '55 and the month of March, the spring following that first
dreadful 'Crimean winter,' and news had just come to England of the
Czar's death, and every one was wondering and hoping and fearing what
would be the results of it. I had no very near friends in the Crimea,
but of course, like every one else, I was intensely interested in all
that was going on, and in this letter of mine there was told the news
of the Czar's death, and there was a good deal of comment upon it. I had
read my letter--more than once, I daresay--and was beginning to think I
must go down to the others in the drawing-room. But the fire in my
bedroom was very tempting; it was burning so brightly, that though I had
got up from my chair by the fireside to leave the room, and had blown
out the candle I had read my letter by, I yielded to the inclination to
sit down again for a minute or two to dream pleasant dreams and think
pleasant thoughts. At last I rose and turned towards the door--it was
standing wide open, by the bye. But I had hardly made a step from the
fireplace when I was stopped short by what I saw. Again the same strange
indefinable feeling of not knowing how or when it had come there, again
the same painful sensation of perplexity (not yet amounting to fear) as
to whom or what it was I saw before me. The room, you must understand,
was perfectly flooded with the firelight; except in the corners, perhaps,
every object was as distinct as possible. And the object I was staring
at was not in a corner, but standing there right before me--between me
and the open door, alas!--in the middle of the room. It was the old
woman again, but this time with her face towards me, with a look upon
it, it seemed to me, as if she were conscious of my presence. It is very
difficult to tell over thoughts and feelings that can hardly have taken
any time to pass, or that passed almost simultaneously. My _very_ first
impulse this time was, as it had been the first time I saw her, to
explain in some natural way the presence before me. I think this says
something for my common sense, does it not? My mind did not readily
desert matters of fact, you see. I did not think of Fraser this time,
but the thought went through my mind, 'She must be some friend of the
servants who comes in to see them of an evening. Perhaps they have sent
her up to look at my fire.' So at first I looked up at her with simple
inquiry. But as I looked my feelings changed. I realised that this
was the same being who had appeared so mysteriously once before; I
recognised every detail of her dress; I even noticed it more acutely
than the first time--for instance, I recollect observing that here and
there the short tufty fringe of her shawl was stuck together, instead
of hanging smoothly and evenly all round. I looked up at her face. I
cannot now describe the features beyond saying that the whole face was
refined and pleasing, and that in the expression there was certainly
nothing to alarm or repel. It was rather wistful and beseeching, the
look in the eyes anxious, the lips slightly parted, as if she were on
the point of speaking. I have since thought that if _I_ had spoken, if I
_could_ have spoken--for I did make one effort to do so, but no audible
words would come at my bidding--the spell that bound the poor soul, this
mysterious wanderer from some shadowy borderland between life and death,
might have been broken, and the message that I now believe burdened her
delivered. Sometimes I wish I could have done it; but then, again--oh
no! a _voice_ from those unreal lips would have been too awful--flesh
and blood could not have stood it. For another instant I kept my eyes
fixed upon her without moving; then there came over me at last with an
awful thrill, a sort of suffocating gasp of horror, the consciousness,
the actual realisation of the fact that this before me, this _presence_,
was no living human being, no dweller in our familiar world, not a woman,
but a ghost! Oh, it was an awful moment! I pray that I may never again
endure another like it. There is something so indescribably frightful in
the feeling that we are on the verge of being tried _beyond_ what we can
bear, that ordinary conditions are slipping away from under us, that in
another moment reason or life itself must snap with the strain; and all
these feelings I then underwent. At last I moved, moved backwards from
the figure. I dared not attempt to _pass_ her. Yet I could not at first
turn away from her. I stepped backwards, facing her still as I did so,
till I was close to the fireplace. Then I turned sharply from her, sat
down again on the low chair still standing by the hearth, resolutely
forcing myself to gaze into the fire, which was blazing cheerfully,
though conscious all the time of a terrible fascination urging me to
look round again to the middle of the room. Gradually, however, now that
I no longer _saw_ her, I began a little to recover myself. I tried to
bring my sense and reason to bear on the matter. 'This being,' I said to
myself, 'whoever and whatever she is, _cannot harm_ me. I am under God's
protection as much at this moment as at any moment of my life. All
creatures, even disembodied spirits, if there be such, and this among
them, if it be one, are under His control. _Why_ should I be afraid?
I am being tried; my courage and trust are being tried to the utmost:
let me prove them, let me keep my own self-respect, by mastering this
cowardly, unreasonable terror.' And after a time I began to feel stronger
and surer of myself. Then I rose from my seat and turned towards the
door again; and oh, the relief of seeing that the way was clear; my
terrible visitor had disappeared! I hastened across the room, I passed
the few steps of passage that lay between my door and the staircase, and
hurried down the first flight in a sort of suppressed agony of eagerness
to find myself again safe in the living human companionship of my mother
and sisters in the cheerful drawing-room below. But my trial was not yet
over, indeed it seemed to me afterwards that it had only now reached its
height; perhaps the strain on my nervous system was now beginning to
tell, and my powers of endurance were all but exhausted. I cannot say
if it was so or not. I can only say that my agony of terror, of horror,
of absolute _fear_, was far past describing in words, when, just as I
reached the little landing at the foot of the first short staircase, and
was on the point of running down the longer flight still before me, I
saw _again_, coming slowly _up_ the steps, as if to meet me, the ghostly
figure of the old woman. It was too much. I was reckless by this time; I
could not stop. I rushed down the staircase, brushing past the figure as
I went: I use the word intentionally--I did _brush_ past her, I _felt_
her. This part of my experience was, I believe, quite at variance with
the sensations of orthodox ghost-seers; but I am really telling you
all I was conscious of. Then I hardly remember anything more; my agony
broke out at last in a loud shrill cry, and I suppose I fainted. I only
know that when I recovered my senses I was in the drawing-room, on the
sofa, surrounded by my terrified mother and sisters. But it was not
for some time that I could find voice or courage to tell them what
had happened to me; for several days I was on the brink of a serious
illness, and for long afterwards I could not endure to be left alone,
even in the broadest daylight."

Lady Farquhar stopped. I fancied, however, from her manner that there
was more to tell, so I said nothing; and in a minute or two she went on
speaking.

"We did not stay long at Ballyreina after this. I was not sorry to leave
it; but still, before the time came for us to do so, I had begun to
recover from the most painful part of the impression left upon me by my
strange adventure. And when I was at home again, far from the place
where it had happened, I gradually lost the feeling of horror altogether,
and remembered it only as a very curious and inexplicable experience.
Now and then even, I did not shrink from talking about it, generally, I
think, with a vague hope that somehow, some time or other, light might
be thrown upon it. Not that I ever expected, or could have believed it
possible, that the supernatural character of the adventure could be
explained away; but I always had a misty fancy that sooner or later I
should find out _something_ about my old lady, as we came to call her;
who she had been and what her history was."

"And did you?" I asked eagerly.

"Yes, I did," Margaret answered. "To some extent, at least, I learnt
the explanation of what I had seen. This was how it was: nearly a year
after we had left Ireland I was staying with one of my aunts, and one
evening some young people who were also visiting her began to talk
about ghosts, and my aunt, who had heard something of the story from my
mother, begged me to tell it. I did so, just as I have now told it to
you. When I had finished, an elderly lady who was present, and who had
listened very attentively, surprised me a little by asking the name of
the house where it happened. 'Was it Ballyreina?' she said. I answered
'Yes,' wondering how she knew it, for I had not mentioned it.

"'Then I can tell you whom you saw,' she exclaimed; 'it must have been
one of the old Miss Fitzgeralds--the eldest one. The description suits
her exactly.'

"I was quite puzzled. We had never heard of any Fitzgeralds at Ballyreina.
I said so to the lady, and asked her to explain what she meant. She told
me all she knew. It appeared there had been a family of that name for
many generations at Ballyreina. Once upon a time--a long-ago once upon
a time--the Fitzgeralds had been great and rich; but gradually one
misfortune after another had brought them down in the world, and at the
time my informant heard about them the only representatives of the old
family were three maiden ladies already elderly. Mrs. Gordon, the lady
who told me all this, had met them once, and had been much impressed by
what she heard of them. They had got poorer and poorer, till at last
they had to give up the struggle, and sell, or let on a long lease,
their dear old home, Ballyreina. They were too proud to remain in
their own country after this, and spent the rest of their lives on the
Continent, wandering about from place to place. The most curious part of
it was that nearly all their wandering was actually _on foot_. They were
too poor to afford to travel much in the usual way, and yet, once torn
from their old associations, the travelling mania seized them; they
seemed absolutely unable to rest. So on foot, and speaking not a word of
any language but their own, these three desolate sisters journeyed over
a great part of the Continent. They visited most of the principal towns,
and were well known in several. I daresay they are still remembered at
some of the places they used to stay at, though never for more than a
short time together. Mrs. Gordon had met them somewhere, I forget where,
but it was many years ago. Since then she had never heard of them; she
did not know if they were alive or dead; she was only certain that the
description of my old lady was exactly like that of the eldest of the
sisters, and that the name of their old home was Ballyreina. And I
remember her saying, 'If ever a heart was buried in a house, it was that
of poor old Miss Fitzgerald.'

"That was all Mrs. Gordon could tell me," continued Lady Farquhar; "but
it led to my learning a little more. I told my brother what I had heard.
He used often at that time to be in Ireland on business; and to satisfy
me, the next time he went he visited the village of Ballyreina again,
and in one way and another he found out a few particulars. The house,
you remember, had been let to us by a Captain Marchmont. He, my brother
discovered, was not the owner of the place, as we had naturally imagined,
but only rented it on a very long lease from some ladies of the name of
Fitzgerald. It had been in Captain Marchmont's possession for a great
many years at the time he let it to us, and the Fitzgeralds, never
returning there even to visit it, had come to be almost forgotten. The
room with the old-fashioned furniture had been reserved by the owners
of the place to leave some of their poor old treasures in--relics too
cumbersome to be carried about with them in their strange wanderings,
but too precious, evidently, to be parted with. We, of course, never
could know what may not have been hidden away in some of the queer
old bureaux I told you of. Family papers of importance, perhaps;
possibly some ancient love-letters, forgotten in the confusion of their
leave-taking; a lock of hair, or a withered flower, perhaps, that she,
my poor old lady, would fain have clasped in her hand when dying, or
have had buried with her. Ah, yes; there must be many a pitiful old
story that is never told."

Lady Farquhar stopped and gazed dreamily and half sadly into the fire.

"Then Miss Fitzgerald _was_ dead when you were at Ballyreina?" I asked.

Margaret looked up with some surprise.

"Did I not say so?" she exclaimed. "That was the point of most interest
in what my brother discovered. He could not hear the exact date of her
death, but he learnt with certainty that she was dead--had died, at
Geneva I think, some time in the month of March in the previous year;
_the same month, March '55, in which I had twice seen the apparition at
Ballyreina._"

This was my friend's ghost story.



II

WITNESSED BY TWO


"But to-morrow--to-morrow you will keep for me. I may expect you at the
usual time?" said young Mrs. Medway to her old friend Major Graham, as
she shook hands with him.

"To-morrow? Certainly. I _have_ kept it for you, Anne. I always said I
should," he answered. There was a slight touch of reproach in his tone.

She lifted her eyes for half a second to his face as if she would have
said more. But after all it was only the words, "Good-bye, then, till
to-morrow," that were uttered, quietly and almost coldly, as Major
Graham left the room.

"I can't quite make Anne out sometimes," he said to himself. "She
is surely _very_ cold. And yet I know she has real affection for
me--_sisterly_ affection, I suppose. Ah, well! so much the better.
But still, just when a fellow's off for heaven knows how long,
and--and--altogether it does seem a little overstrained. She can't but
know what might have come to pass had we not been separated for so
long--or had I been richer; and I don't think she could have been
exactly in love with Medway, though by all accounts he was a very decent
fellow. She is so inconsistent too--she seemed really disappointed when
I said I couldn't stay to-day. But I'm a fool to think so much about
her. I am as poor as ever and she is rich. A fatal barrier! It's a good
thing that she _is_ cold, and that I have plenty of other matters to
think about."

And thus congratulating himself he dismissed, or believed that he
dismissed for the time being, all thought of Anne Medway from his mind.
It was true that he had plenty of other things to occupy it with, for
the day after to-morrow was to see his departure from England for an
indefinite period.

Mrs. Medway meantime sat sadly and silently in the library where Major
Graham had left her. Her sweet gray eyes were fixed on the fire burning
brightly and cheerfully in the waning afternoon light, but she saw
nothing about her. Her thoughts were busily travelling along a road
which had grown very familiar to them of late: she was recalling all
her past intercourse with Kenneth Graham since the time when, as boy
and girl, they had scarcely remembered that they were not "real" brother
and sister--all through the pleasant years of frequent meeting and
unconstrained companionship to the melancholy day when Kenneth was
ordered to India, and they bade each other a long farewell! That was ten
years ago now, and they had not met again till last spring, when Major
Graham returned to find his old playfellow a widow, young, rich, and
lovely, but lonely in a sense--save that she had two children--for she
was without near relations, and was not the type of woman to make quick
or numerous friendships.

The renewal of the old relations had been very pleasant--only too
pleasant, Anne had of late begun to think. For the news of Kenneth's
having decided to go abroad again had made her realise all he had become
to her, and the discovery brought with it sharp misgiving, and even
humiliation.

"He does not care for me--not as I do for him," she was saying to
herself as she sat by the fire. "There would have been no necessity for
his leaving England again had he done so. It cannot be because I am
rich and he poor, surely? He is not the sort of man to let such a mere
accident as that stand in the way if he really cared for me. No, it is
that he does not care for me except as a sort of sister. But still--he
said he had kept his _last_ evening for me--at least he cares for no one
else _more_, and that is something. Who knows--perhaps to-morrow--when
it comes to really saying good-bye----?" and a faint flush of renewed
hope rose to her cheeks and a brighter gleam to her eyes.

The door opened, and a gray-haired man-servant came in gently.

"I beg your pardon, ma'am," he said apologetically; "I was not sure if
Major Graham had gone. Will he be here to dinner, if you please?"

"Not to-night, Ambrose. I shall be quite alone. But Major Graham will
dine here to-morrow; he does not leave till Thursday morning."

"Very well, ma'am," said Ambrose, as he discreetly retired.

He had been many years in the Medway household. He had respected his
late master, but for his young mistress he had actual affection, and
being of a somewhat sentimental turn, he had constructed for her benefit
a very pretty little romance of which Major Graham was the hero. It had
been a real blow to poor Ambrose to learn that the gentleman in question
was on the eve of his departure without any sign of a satisfactory third
volume, and he was rather surprised to see that Mrs. Medway seemed this
evening in better spirits than for some time past.

"It's maybe understood between themselves," he reflected, as he made
his way back to his own quarters. "I'm sure I hope so, for he's a real
gentleman and she's as sweet a lady as ever stepped, which I should know
if any one should, having seen her patience with poor master as was
really called for through his long illness. She deserves a happy ending,
and I'm sure I hope she may have it, poor lady."

"To-morrow at the usual time," meaning five o'clock or thereabouts,
brought Kenneth for his last visit. Anne had been expecting him with an
anxiety she was almost ashamed to own to herself, yet her manner was so
calm and collected that no one could have guessed the tumult of hope
and fear, of wild grief at his leaving, of intense longing for any
word--were it but a word--to prove that all was not on _her_ side only.

"I could bear his being away--for years even, if he thought it must
be--if I could but look forward--if I had the _right_ to look forward to
his return," she said to herself.

But the evening passed on tranquilly, and to all appearance pleasantly,
without a word or look more than might have been between real brother
and sister. Kenneth talked kindly--tenderly even--of the past; repeated
more than once the pleasure it had been to him to find again his old
friend so little changed, so completely his old friend still. The boys
came in to say good-night, and "good-bye, alas! my lads," added their
tall friend with a sigh. "Don't forget me quite, Hal and Charlie, and
don't let your mother forget me either, eh?" To which the little fellows
replied solemnly, though hardly understanding why he patted their curly
heads with a lingering hand this evening, or why mamma looked grave at
his words.

And Anne bore it all without flinching, and smiled and talked a little
more than usual perhaps, though all the time her heart was bursting, and
Kenneth wondered more than ever if, after all, she _had_ "much heart or
feeling to speak of."

"You will be bringing back a wife with you perhaps," she said once.
"Shall you tell her about your sister Anne, Kenneth?"

Major Graham looked at her earnestly for half an instant before he
replied, but Anne's eyes were not turned towards him, and she did not
see the look. And his words almost belied it.

"Certainly I shall tell her of you," he said, "that is to say, if she
ever comes to exist. At present few things are less probable. Still I
am old enough now never to say, '_Fontaine, je ne boirai jamais de ton
eau._' But," he went on, "I may return to find _you_ married again,
Anne. You are still so young and you are rather lonely."

"No," said Anne with a sudden fierceness which he had never seen in her
before, "I shall _never_ marry again--_never_," and she looked him full
in the face with a strange sparkle in her eyes which almost frightened
him.

"I beg your pardon," he said meekly. And though the momentary
excitement faded as quickly as it had come, and Anne, murmuring some
half-intelligible excuse, was again her quiet self, this momentary
glimpse of a fierier nature beneath gave him food for reflection.

"Can Medway have not been what he seemed on the surface, after all?" he
thought to himself. "What can make her so vindictive against matrimony?"

But it was growing late, and Kenneth had still some last preparations to
make. He rose slowly and reluctantly from his chair.

"I must be going, I fear," he said.

Anne too had risen. They stood together on the hearthrug. A slight,
very slight shiver passed through her. Kenneth perceived it.

"You have caught cold, I fear," he said kindly; for the room was warm
and the fire was burning brightly.

"No, I don't think so," she said indifferently.

"You will write to me now and then?" he said next.

"Oh, certainly--not very often perhaps," she replied lightly, "but now
and then. Stay," and she turned away towards her writing-table, "tell me
exactly how to address you. Your name--is your surname enough?--there is
no other Graham in your regiment?"

"No," he said absently, "I suppose not. Yes, just my name and the
regiment and Allagherry, which will be our headquarters. You might, if
you were _very_ amiable--you might write to Galles--a letter overland
would wait for me there," for it was the days of "long sea" for all
troops to India.

Anne returned to her former position on the hearthrug--the moment at the
table had restored her courage. "We shall see," she said, smiling again.

Then Kenneth said once more, "I _must_ go;" but he lingered still a
moment.

"You must have caught cold, Anne, or else you are very tired. You are so
white," and from his height above her, though Anne herself was tall, he
laid his hand on her shoulder gently and as a brother might have done,
and looked down at her pale face half inquiringly. A flush of colour
rose for an instant to her cheeks. The temptation was strong upon her to
throw off that calmly caressing hand, but she resisted it, and looked
up bravely with a light almost of defiance in her eyes.

"I am perfectly well, I assure you. But perhaps I am a little tired. I
suppose it is getting late."

And Kenneth stifled a sigh of scarcely realised disappointment, and
quickly drew back his hand.

"Yes, it is late. I am very thoughtless. Good-bye then, Anne. God bless
you."

And before she had time to answer he was gone.

Ambrose met him in the hall, with well-meaning officiousness bringing
forward his coat and hat. His presence helped to dissipate an impulse
which seized Major Graham to rush upstairs again for one other word of
farewell. Had he done so what would he have found? Anne sobbing--sobbing
with the terrible intensity of a self-contained nature once the strain
is withdrawn--sobbing in the bitterness of her grief and the cruelty of
her mortification, with but one consolation.

"At least he does not despise me. I hid it well," she whispered to
herself.

And Kenneth Graham, as he drove away in his cab, repeated to himself,
"She is _so_ cold, this evening particularly. And yet, can it be that it
was to hide any other feeling? If I thought so--good God!" and he half
started up as if to call to the driver, but sat down again. "No, no, I
must not be a fool. I could not stand a repulse from _her_--I could
never see her again. Better not risk it. And then I am so poor!"

And in the bustle and hurry of his departure he tried to forget the
wild fancy which for a moment had disturbed him. He sailed the next
day.

But the few weeks which followed passed heavily for Anne. It was a dead
time of year--there was no special necessity for her exerting herself to
throw off the overwhelming depression, and strong and brave as she was,
she allowed herself, to some extent, to yield to it.

"If only he had not come back--if I had never seen him again!" she
repeated to herself incessantly. "I had in a sense forgotten him--the
thought of him never troubled me all the years of my marriage. I suppose
I had never before understood how I _could_ care. How I wish I had never
learnt it! How I _wish_ he had never come back!"

It was above all in the afternoons--the dull, early dark, autumn
afternoons--which for some weeks had been enlivened by the expectation,
sure two or three times a week to be fulfilled, of Major Graham's
"dropping in"--that the aching pain, the weary longing, grew so bad as
to be well-nigh intolerable.

"How shall I bear it?" said poor Anne to herself sometimes; "it is so
wrong, so unwomanly! So selfish, too, when I think of my children. How
much I have to be thankful for--why should I ruin my life by crying for
the one thing that is not for me? It is worse, far worse than if he had
died; had I known that he had loved me, I could have borne his death, it
seems to me."

She was sitting alone one afternoon about five weeks after Kenneth had
left, thinking sadly over and over the same thoughts, when a tap at the
door made her look up.

"Come in," she said, though the tap hardly sounded like that of her
maid, and no one else was likely to come to the door of her own room
where she happened to be. "Come in," and somewhat to her surprise the
door half opened and old Ambrose's voice replied--

"If you please, ma'am----" then stopped and hesitated.

"Come in," she repeated with a touch of impatience. "What is it,
Ambrose? Where is Seton?"

"If you please, ma'am, I couldn't find her--that is to say," Ambrose
went on nervously, "I didn't look for her. I thought, ma'am, I would
rather tell you myself. You mustn't be startled, ma'am," and Anne at
this looking up at the old man saw that he was pale and
startled-looking himself, "but it's--it's Major Graham."

"Major Graham?" repeated Anne, and to herself her voice sounded almost
like a scream. "What about him? Have you heard anything?"

"It's _him_, ma'am--him himself!" said Ambrose. "He's in the library.
I'm a little afraid, ma'am, there may be something wrong--he looked so
strange and he did not answer when I spoke to him. But he's in the
library, ma'am."

Anne did not wait to hear more. She rushed past Ambrose, across
the landing, and down the two flights of steps which led to the
library--a half-way house room, between the ground-floor and the
drawing-room--almost before his voice had stopped. At the door she
hesitated a moment, and in that moment all sorts of wild suppositions
flashed across her brain. What was it? What was she going to hear? Had
Kenneth turned back half-way out to India for _her_ sake? Had some
trouble befallen him, in which he had come to seek her sympathy? What
_could_ it be? and her heart beating so as almost to suffocate her, she
opened the door.

Yes--there he stood--on the hearthrug as she had last seen him in that
room. But he did not seem to hear her come in, for he made no movement
towards her; he did not even turn his head in her direction.

More and more startled and perturbed, Anne hastily went up to him.

"Kenneth," she cried, "what is it? What is the matter?"

She had held out her hand as she hurried towards him, but he did not
seem to see it. He stood there still, without moving--his face slightly
turned away, till she was close beside him.

"Kenneth," she repeated, this time with a thrill of something very like
anguish in her tone, "what is the matter? Are you angry with me?
_Kenneth_--speak."

Then at last he slowly turned his head and looked at her with a strange,
half-wistful anxiety in his eyes--he gazed at her as if his very soul
were in that gaze, and lifting his right hand, gently laid it on her
shoulder as he had done the evening he had bidden her farewell. She did
not shrink from his touch, but strange to say, she did not feel it,
and some indefinable instinct made her turn her eyes away from his and
glance at her shoulder. But even as she did so she saw that his hand
was no longer there, and with a thrill of fear she exclaimed again,
"_Speak_, Kenneth, _speak_ to me!"

The words fell on empty air. There was no Kenneth beside her. She was
standing on the hearthrug alone.

Then, for the first time, there came over her that awful chill of terror
so often described, yet so indescribable to all but the few who have
felt it for themselves. With a terrible though half-stifled cry, Anne
turned towards the door. It opened before she reached it, and she
half fell into old Ambrose's arms. Fortunately for her--for her reason,
perhaps--his vague misgiving had made him follow her, though of what he
was afraid he could scarcely have told.

"Oh, ma'am--oh, my poor lady!" he exclaimed, as he half led, half
carried her back to her own room, "what is it? Has he gone? But how
could he have gone? I was close by--I never saw him pass."

"He is not there--_he has not been there_," said poor Anne, trembling
and clinging to her old servant. "Oh, Ambrose, what you and I have seen
was no living Kenneth Graham--no living man at all. Ambrose--he came
thus to say good-bye to me. He is dead," and the tears burst forth as
she spoke, and Anne sobbed convulsively.

Ambrose looked at her in distress and consternation past words. Then at
last he found courage to speak.

"My poor lady," he repeated. "It must be so. I misdoubted me and I
did not know why. He did not ring, but I was passing by the door
and something--a sort of feeling that there was some one waiting
outside--made me open it. To my astonishment it was he," and Ambrose
himself could not repress a sort of tremor. "He did not speak, but
seemed to pass me and be up the stairs and in the library in an instant.
And then, not knowing what to do, I went to your room, ma'am. Forgive me
if I did wrong."

"No, no," said Anne, "you could not have done otherwise. Ring the bell,
Ambrose; tell Seton I have had bad news, and that you think it has upset
me. But wait at the door till she comes. I--I am afraid to be left
alone."

And Mrs. Medway looked so deadly pale and faint, that when Seton came
hurrying in answer to the sharply-rung bell, it needed no explanation
for her to see that Mrs. Medway was really ill. Seton was a practical,
matter-of-fact person, and the bustle of attending to her mistress,
trying to make her warm again--for Anne was shivering with cold--and
persuading her to take some restoratives, effectually drove any inquiry
as to the cause of the sudden seizure out of the maid's head. And by
the time Mrs. Medway was better, Seton had invented a satisfactory
explanation of it all, for herself.

"You need a change, ma'am. It's too dull for anybody staying in town at
this season; and it's beginning to tell on your nerves, ma'am," was the
maid's idea.

And some little time after the strange occurrence Mrs. Medway was
persuaded to leave town for the country.

But not till she had seen in the newspapers the fatal paragraph she knew
would sooner or later be there--the announcement of the death, on board
Her Majesty's troopship _Ariadne_ a few days before reaching the Cape,
of "Major R. R. Graham," of the 113th regiment.

She "had known it," she said to herself; yet when she saw it there,
staring her in the face, she realised that she had been living in a hope
which she had not allowed to herself that the apparition might in the
end prove capable of other explanation. She would gladly have taken
refuge in the thought that it was a dream, an optical delusion fed of
her fancy incessantly brooding on her friend and on his last visit--that
her brain was in some way disarranged or disturbed--anything, anything
would have been welcome to her. But against all such was opposed the
fact that it was not herself alone who had seen Kenneth Graham that
fatal afternoon.

And now, when the worst was certain, she recognised this still more
clearly as the strongest testimony to the apparition not having been the
product of her own imagination. And old Ambrose, her sole confidant, in
his simple way agreed with her.

"If I had not seen him too, ma'am, or if I alone had seen him," he said,
furtively wiping his eyes. "But the two of us. No, it could have but
the one meaning," and he looked sadly at the open newspaper. "There's
a slight discrimpancy, ma'am," he said as he pointed to the paragraph.
"Our Major Graham's name was '_K._ R.' not '_R._ R.'"

"It is only a misprint. I noticed that," said Anne wearily. "No,
Ambrose, there can be no mistake. But I do not want any one--not _any
one_--ever to hear the story. You will promise me that, Ambrose?" and
the old man repeated the promise he had already given.

There was another "discrimpancy" which had struck Anne more forcibly,
but which she refrained from mentioning to Ambrose.

"It can mean nothing; it is no use putting it into his head," she said
to herself. "Still, it is strange."

The facts were these. The newspaper gave the date of Major Graham's
death as the 25th November--the afternoon on which he had appeared to
Mrs. Medway and her servant was that of the 26th. This left no
possibility of calculating that the vision had occurred at or even
shortly after the moment of the death.

"It must be a mistake in the announcement," Anne decided. And then she
gave herself up to the acceptance of the fact. Kenneth was dead. Life
held no individual future for her any more--nothing to look forward to,
no hopes, however tremblingly admitted, that "some day" he might return,
and return to discover--to own, perhaps, to himself and to her that he
did love her, and that only mistaken pride, or her own coldness, or one
of the hundred "mistakes" or "perhapses" by which men, so much more than
women, allow to drift away from them the happiness they might grasp, had
misled and withheld him! No; all was over. Henceforth she must live in
her children alone--in the interests of others she must find her
happiness.

"And in one blessed thought," said the poor girl--for she was little
more--even at the first to herself; "that after all he _did_ love me,
that I may, without shame, say so in my heart, for I was his last
thought. It was--it must have been--to tell me so that he came that day.
My Kenneth--yes, he was mine after all."

Some little time passed. In the quiet country place whither, sorely
against Seton's desires, Mrs. Medway had betaken herself for "change,"
she heard no mention of Major Graham's death. One or two friends
casually alluded to it in their letters as "very sad," but that was all.
And Anne was glad of it.

"I must brace myself to hear it spoken of and discussed by the friends
who knew him well--who knew how well _I_ knew him"--she reflected. "But
I am glad to escape it for a while."

It was February already, more than three months since Kenneth Graham had
left England, when one morning--among letters forwarded from her London
address--came a thin foreign paper one with the traces of travel upon
it--of which the superscription made Anne start and then turn pale and
cold.

"I did not think of this," she said to herself. "He must have left it to
be forwarded to me. It is terrible--getting a letter after the hand that
wrote it has been long dead and cold."

With trembling fingers she opened it.

"My dear--may I say my dearest Anne," were the first words that her eyes
fell on. Her own filled with tears. Wiping them away before going on to
read more, she caught sight of the date. "On board H.M.'s troopship
_Ariadne_, 27th November."

Anne started. Stranger and stranger. _Two_ days later than the reported
date of his death--and the writing so strong and clear. No sign of
weakness or illness even! She read on with frantic eagerness; it was
not a very long letter, but when Anne had read the two or three somewhat
hurriedly written pages, her face had changed as if from careworn, pallid
middle age, back to fresh, sunny youth. She fell on her knees in fervent,
unspoken thanksgiving. She kissed the letter--the dear, beautiful letter,
as if it were a living thing!

"It is too much--too much," she said. "What have I done to deserve such
blessedness?"

This was what the letter told. The officer whose death had been
announced was not "our Major Graham," not Graham of the 113th at all,
but an officer belonging to another regiment who had come on board at
Madeira to return to India, believing his health to be quite restored.
"The doctors had in some way mistaken his case," wrote Kenneth, "for he
broke down again quite suddenly and died two days ago. He was a very
good fellow, and we have all been very cut up about it. He took a fancy
to me, and I have been up some nights with him, and I am rather done
up myself. I write this to post at the Cape, for a fear has struck me
that--his initials being so like mine--some report may reach you that it
is _I_, not he. Would you care very much, dear Anne? I dare to think you
would--but I cannot in a letter tell you why. I must wait till I see
you. I have had a somewhat strange experience, and it is possible, just
possible, that I may be able to tell you all about it, _vivâ voce_,
sooner than I had any idea of when I last saw you. In the meantime,
good-bye and God bless you, my dear child."

Then followed a postscript--of some days' later date, written in great
perturbation of spirit at finding that the letter had, by mistake, not
been posted at the Cape. "After all my anxiety that you should see it
as soon as or before the newspapers, it is really too bad. I cannot
understand how it happened. I suppose it was that I was so busy getting
poor Graham's papers and things together to send on shore, that I
overlooked it. It cannot now be posted till we get to Galles."

That was all. But was it not enough, and more than enough? The next few
weeks passed for Anne Medway like a happy dream. She was content now to
wait--years even--she had recovered faith in herself, faith in the
future.

The next Indian mail brought her no letter, somewhat to her surprise.
She wondered what had made Kenneth allude to his perhaps seeing her
again before long--she wondered almost more, what was the "strange
experience" to which he referred. Could it have had any connection
with her _most_ strange experience that November afternoon? And thus
"wondering" she was sitting alone--in her own house again by this
time--one evening towards the end of April, when a ring at the bell made
her look up from the book she was reading, half dreamily asking herself
what visitor could be coming so late. She heard steps and voices--a door
shutting--then Ambrose opened that of the drawing-room where she was
sitting and came up to her, his wrinkled old face all flushed and
beaming.

"It was me that frightened you so that day, ma'am," he began. "It's
right it should be me again. But it's himself--his very own self this
time. You may believe me, indeed."

Anne started to her feet. She felt herself growing pale--she trembled so
that she could scarcely stand.

"Where is he?" she said. "You have not put him into the library--anywhere
but there?"

"He would have it so, ma'am. He said he would explain to you. Oh, go to
him, ma'am--you'll see it'll be all right."

Anne made her way to the library. But at the door a strange tremor
seized her. She could scarcely control herself to open it. Yes--there
again on the hearthrug stood the tall figure she had so often pictured
thus to herself. She trembled and all but fell, but his voice--his own
hearty, living voice--speaking to her in accents tenderer and deeper
than ever heretofore--reassured her, and dispersed at once the fear that
had hovered about her.

"Anne, my dear Anne. It is I myself. Don't look so frightened;" and in a
moment he had led her forward, and stood with his hand on her shoulder,
looking with his kind, earnest eyes into hers.

"Yes," he said dreamily, "it was just thus. Oh, how often I have thought
of this moment! Anne, if I am mistaken forgive my presumption, but I can't
think I am. Anne, my darling, you _do_ love me?"

There was no need of words. Anne hid her face on his shoulder for one
happy moment. Then amidst the tears that _would_ come she told him
all--all she had suffered and hoped and feared--her love and her agony
of humiliation when she thought it was not returned--her terrible grief
when she thought him dead; and yet the consolation of believing herself
to have been his last thought in life.

"So you shall be--my first and my last," he answered. "My Anne--my very
own."

And then she told him more of the strange story we know. He listened
with intense eagerness, but without testifying much surprise, far less
incredulity.

"I anticipated something of the kind," he said, after a moment or two of
silence. "It is very strange. Listen, Anne: at the time, the exact time,
so far as I can roughly calculate, at which you thought you saw me, I
was _dreaming_ of you. It was between four and five o'clock in the
afternoon, was it not?"

Anne bowed her head in assent.

"That would have made it about six o'clock where we then were," he went
on consideringly. "Yes; it was about seven when I awoke. I had lain down
that afternoon with a frightful headache. Poor Graham had died shortly
before midnight the night before, and I had not been able to sleep,
though I was very tired. I daresay I was not altogether in what the
doctors call a normal condition, from the physical fatigue and the effect
generally of having watched him die. I was feeling less _earthly_, if you
can understand, than one usually does. It is--to me at least--_impossible_
to watch a deathbed without wondering about it all--about what comes
after--intensely. And Graham was so good, so patient and resigned and
trustful, though it was awfully hard for him to die. He had every reason
to wish to live. Well, Anne, when I fell asleep that afternoon I at
once began dreaming about you. I had been thinking about you a great
deal, constantly almost, ever since we set sail. For, just before
starting, I had got a hint that this appointment--I have not told you
about it yet, but that will keep; I have accepted it, as you see by my
being here--I got a hint that it would probably be offered me, and that
if I didn't mind paying my passage back almost as soon as I got out, I
had better make up my mind to accept it. I felt that it hung upon _you_,
and yet I did not see how to find out what you would say without--without
risking what I _had_--your sisterly friendship. It came into my head
just as I was falling asleep that I would write to you from the Cape,
and tell you of Graham's death to avoid any mistaken report, and that
I might in my letter somehow feel my way a little. This was all in my
mind, and as I fell asleep it got confused so that I did not know
afterwards clearly where to separate it from my dream."

"And what was the dream?" asked Anne breathlessly.

"_Almost precisely what you saw_," he replied. "I fancied myself
here--rushing upstairs to the library in my haste to see you--to tell
you I was not dead, and to ask you if you would have cared much had it
been so. I saw all the scene--the hall, the staircase already lighted.
This room--and you coming in at the door with a half-frightened,
half-eager look in your face. Then it grew confused. I next remember
standing here beside you on the hearthrug with my hand on your
shoulder--_thus_, Anne--and gazing into your eyes, and struggling,
_struggling_ to ask you what I wanted so terribly to know. But the
words would not come, and the agony seemed to awake me. Yet with the
awaking came the answer. _Something_ had answered me; I said to myself,
'Yes, Anne does love me.'"

And Anne remembered the strange feeling of joy which had come to her
even in the first bitterness of her grief. She turned to the hand that
still lay on her shoulder and kissed it. "Oh, Kenneth," she said, "how
thankful we should be! But how strange, to think that we owe all to a
dream! _Was_ it a dream, Kenneth?"

He shook his head.

"You must ask that of wiser people than I," he said. "I suppose it was."

"But how could it have been a dream?" said Anne again. "You forget,
Kenneth--Ambrose saw you too."

"Though I did not see him, nor even think of him. Yes, that makes it
even more incomprehensible. It must have been the old fellow's devotion
to you, Anne, that made him sympathise with you, somehow."

"I am glad he saw you," said Anne. "I should prefer to think it more
than a dream. And there is always more evidence in favour of any story
of the kind if it has been witnessed by two. But there is one other
thing I want to ask you. It has struck me since that you answered me
rather abstractedly that last evening when I spoke about your address,
and asked if there was any other of the name in your regiment. Once or
twice I have drawn a faint ray of hope from remembering your not very
decided answer."

"Yes, it was stupid of me; I half remembered it afterwards. I should
have explained it, but it scarcely seemed worth while. I did know
another Major Graham might be joining us at Funchal, for that very day I
had been entrusted with letters for him. But I _was_ abstracted that
evening, Anne. I was trying to persuade myself I didn't care for what I
now know I care for more than for life itself--your love--Anne."



III

UNEXPLAINED


PART I

"For facts are stubborn things."--SMOLLETT.

"Silberbach! What in the name of everything that is eccentric should
you go there for? The most uninteresting, out-of-the-way, altogether
unattractive little hole in all Germany? What can have put Silberbach in
your head?"

"I really don't know," I answered, rather tired, to tell the truth, of
the discussion. "There doesn't seem any particular reason why anybody
ever should go to Silberbach, except that Goethe and the Duke of Weimar
are supposed to have gone there to dance with the peasant maidens. I
certainly don't see that that is any reason why _I_ should go there.
Still, on the other hand, I don't see that it is any reason why I should
_not_? I only want to find some thoroughly country place where the
children and I can do as we like for a fortnight or so. It is really
too hot to stay in a town, even a little town like this."

"Yes, that is true," said my friend. "It is a pity you took up your
quarters in the town. You might have taken a little villa outside, and
then you would not have needed to go away at all."

"I wanted a rest from housekeeping, and our queer old inn is very
comfortable," I said. "Besides, being here, would it not be a pity to
go away without seeing anything of the far-famed Thuringian Forest?"

"Yes, certainly it would. I quite agree with you about everything except
about Silberbach. _That_ is what I cannot get over. You have not enough
self-assertion, my dear. I am certain Silberbach is some freak of Herr
von Walden's--most unpractical man. Why, I really am not at all sure
that you will get anything to eat there."

"I am not afraid of _that_ part of it," I replied philosophically. "With
plenty of milk, fresh eggs, and bread and butter, we can always get on.
And those I suppose we are sure to find."

"Milk and eggs--yes, I suppose so. Butter is doubtful once you leave the
tourist track, and the bread will be the sour bread of the country."

"I don't mind that--nor do the children. But if the worst comes to the
worst we need not stay at Silberbach--we can always get away."

"That is certainly true; if one can get there, one can, I suppose,
always get away," answered Fräulein Ottilia with a smile, "though I
confess it is a curious inducement to name for going _to_ a place--that
one can get away from it! However, we need not say any more about it. I
see your heart is set on Silberbach, and I am quite sure I shall have
the satisfaction of hearing you own I was right in trying to dissuade
you from it, when you come back again," she added, rather maliciously.

"Perhaps so. But it is not _only_ Silberbach we are going to. We shall
see lots of other places. Herr von Walden has planned it all. The first
three days we shall travel mostly on foot. I think it will be great fun.
Nora and Reggie are enchanted. Of course I would not travel on foot
alone with them; it would hardly be safe, I suppose?"

"Safe? oh yes, safe enough. The peasants are very quiet, civil
people--honest and kindly, though generally desperately poor! But you
would be _safe_ enough anywhere in Thuringia. It is not like Alsace,
where now and then one does meet with rather queer customers in the
forests. So good-bye, then, my dear, for the next two or three
weeks--and may you enjoy yourself."

"Especially at Silberbach?"

"_Even_ at Silberbach--that is to say, even if I have to own you were
right and I wrong. Yes, my dear, I am unselfish enough to hope you will
return having found Silberbach an earthly paradise."

And waving her hand in adieu, kind Fräulein Ottilia stood at her
garden-gate watching me make my way down the dusty road.

"She is a little prejudiced, I daresay," I thought to myself.
"Prejudiced against Herr von Walden's choice, for I notice every one
here has their pet places and their special aversions. I daresay we
shall like Silberbach, and if not, we need not stay there after the
Waldens leave us. Anyway, I shall be thankful to get out of this heat
into the real country."

I was spending the summer in a part of Germany hitherto new ground to
me. We had--the "we" meaning myself and my two younger children, Nora of
twelve and Reggie of nine--settled down for the greater part of the time
in a small town on the borders of the Thuringian Forest. Small, but
not in its own estimation unimportant, for it was a "Residenz," with a
fortress of sufficiently ancient date to be well worth visiting, even
had the view from its ramparts been far less beautiful than it was. And
had the little town possessed no attractions of its own, natural or
artificial, the extreme cordiality and kindness of its most hospitable
inhabitants would have left the pleasantest impression on my mind. I was
sorry to leave my friends even for two or three weeks, but it was _too_
hot! Nora was pale and Reggie's noble appetite gave signs of flagging.
Besides--as I had said to Ottilia--it would be too absurd to have come
so far and not see the lions of the neighbourhood.

So we were to start the next morning for an excursion in the so-called
"Forest," in the company of Herr von Walden, his wife and son, and two
young men, friends of the latter. We were to travel by rail over the
first part of the ground, uninteresting enough, till we reached a point
where we could make our way on foot through the woods for a considerable
distance. Then, after spending the night in a village whose beautiful
situation had tempted some enterprising speculator to build a good
hotel, we proposed the next day to plunge still deeper into the real
recesses of the forest, walking and driving by turns, in accordance
with our inclination and the resources of the country in respect of
_Einspänners_--the light carriage with the horse invariably yoked at one
side of the pole instead of between shafts, in which one gets about more
speedily and safely than might be imagined. And at the end of three or
four days of this, weather permitting, agreeably nomad life, our friends
the Waldens, obliged to return to their home in the town from which we
started, were to leave my children and me for a fortnight's country air
in this same village of Silberbach which Ottilia so vehemently objected
to. I did not then, I do not now, know--and I am pretty sure he himself
could not say--why our guide, Herr von Walden, had chosen Silberbach
from among the dozens of other villages which could quite as well--as
events proved, indeed, infinitely better--have served our very simple
purpose. It was a chance, as such things often are, but a chance which,
as you will see, left its mark in a manner which can never be altogether
effaced from my memory.

The programme was successfully carried out. The weather was magnificent.
Nobody fell ill or footsore, or turned out unexpectedly bad-tempered.
And it was hot enough, even in the forest shades, which we kept to as
much as possible, to have excused some amount of irritability. But we
were all sound and strong, and had entered into a tacit compact of
making the best of things and enjoying ourselves as much as we could.
Nora and Reggie perhaps, by the end of the second day, began to have
doubts as to the delights of indefinitely continued walking excursions;
and though they would not have owned to it, they were not, I think,
sorry to hear that the greater part of the fourth day's travels was to
be on wheels. But they were very well off. Lutz von Walden and his
two friends--a young baron, rather the typical "German student" in
appearance, though in reality as hearty and unsentimental as any John
Bull of his age and rank--and George Norman, an English boy of seventeen
or eighteen, "getting up" German for an army examination--were all three
only too ready to carry my little boy on their backs on any sign of
over-fatigue. And, indeed, more than one hint reached me that they would
willingly have done the same by Nora, had the dignity of her twelve
years allowed of such a thing. She scarcely looked her age at that time,
but she was very conscious of having entered "on her teens," and the
struggle between this new importance and her hitherto almost boyish
tastes was amusing to watch. She was strong and healthy in the extreme,
intelligent though not precocious, observant but rather matter-of-fact,
with no undue development of the imagination, nothing that by any kind
of misapprehension or exaggeration could have been called "morbid" about
her. It was a legend in the family that the word "nerves" existed not
for Nora: she did not know the meaning of _fear_, physical or moral. I
could sometimes wish she had never learnt otherwise. But we must take
the bad with the good, the shadow inseparable from the light. The first
perception of things not dreamt of in her simple childish philosophy
came to Nora as I would not have chosen it; but so, I must believe, it
had to be.

"Where are we to sleep to-night, Herr von Walden, please?" asked Reggie
from the heights of Lutz's broad shoulders, late that third afternoon,
when we were all, not the children only, beginning to think that a rest
even in the barest of inn parlours, and a dinner even of the most
modest description, would be very welcome.

"Don't tease so, Reggie," said Nora. "I'm sure Herr von Walden has told
you the name twenty times already."

"Yes, but I forget it," urged the child; and good-natured Herr von
Walden, nowise loath to do so again, took up the tale of our projected
doings and destinations.

"To-night, my dear child, we sleep at the pretty little town--yes,
town I may almost call it--of Seeberg. It stands in what I may call an
oasis of the forest, which stops abruptly, and begins again some miles
beyond Seeberg. We should be there in another hour or so," he went on,
consulting his watch. "I have, of course, written for rooms there, as I
have done to all the places where we mean to halt. And so far I have
not proved a bad courier, I flatter myself?"

He paused, and looked round him complacently.

"No, indeed," replied everybody. "The very contrary. We have got on
capitally."

At which the beaming face of our commander-in-chief beamed still more
graciously.

"And to-morrow," continued Reggie in his funny German, pounding away
vigorously at Lutz's shoulders meanwhile, "what do we do to-morrow? We
must have an _Einspänner_--is it not so? not that we are tired, but you
said we had far to go."

"Yes, an _Einspänner_ for the ladies--your amiable mother, Miss Nora,
and my wife, and you, Reggie, will find a corner beside the driver.
Myself and these young fellows," indicating the three friends by a wave
of the hand, "will start from Seeberg betimes, giving you _rendez vous_
at Ulrichsthal, where there are some famous ruins. And you must not
forget," he added, turning to his wife and me, "to stop at Grünstein
as you pass, and spend a quarter of an hour in the china manufactory
there."

"Just what I wanted," said Frau von Walden. "I have a tea-service from
there, and I am in hopes of matching it. I had a good many breakages
last winter with a dreadfully careless servant, and there is a good deal
to replace."

"I don't think I know the Grünstein china," I said. "Is it very pretty?"

"It is very like the blue-and-white that one sees so much of with us,"
said Frau von Walden. "That, the ordinary blue-and-white, is made at
Blauenstein. But there is more variety of colours at Grünstein. They are
rather more enterprising there, I fancy, and perhaps there is a finer
quality of china clay, or whatever they call it, in that neighbourhood.
I often wonder the Thuringian china is not more used in England, where
you are so fond of novelties."

"And where nothing is so appreciated as what comes from a distance,"
said George Norman. "By Jove! isn't that a pretty picture!" he broke off
suddenly, and we all stood still to admire.

It was the month of August; already the subdued evening lights were
replacing the brilliant sunshine and blue sky of the glowing summer day.
We were in the forest, through which at this part ran the main road
which we were following to Seeberg. At one side of the road the ground
descended abruptly to a considerable depth, and there in the defile far
beneath us ran a stream, on one bank of which the trees had been for
some distance cleared away, leaving a strip of pasture of the most
vivid green imaginable. And just below where we stood, a goatherd, in
what--thanks possibly to the enchantment of the distance--appeared a
picturesque costume, was slowly making his way along, piping as he went,
and his flock, of some fifteen or twenty goats of every colour and size,
following him according to their own eccentric fashion, some scrambling
on the bits of rock a little way up the ascending ground, others quietly
browsing here and there on their way--the tinkling of their collar-bells
reaching us with a far-away, silvery sound through the still softer and
fainter notes of the pipe. There was something strangely fascinating
about it all--something pathetic in the goatherd's music, simple,
barbaric even as it was, and in the distant, uncertain tinkling, which
impressed us all, and for a moment or two no one spoke.

"What is it that it reminds me of?" said Lutz suddenly. "I seem to have
seen and heard it all before."

"Yes, I know exactly how you mean," I replied. "It is like a dream;" and
as I said so, I walked on again a little in advance of the others with
Lutz and his rider. For I _thought_ I saw a philosophical or metaphysical
dissertation preparing in Herr von Walden's bent brows and general look
of absorption, and somehow, just then, it would have spoilt it all. Lutz
seemed instinctively to understand, for he too for a moment or so was
silent, when suddenly a joyful cry arose.

"Seeberg!" exclaimed several voices; for the first sight of our
temporary destination broke upon the view all at once, as is often
the case in these more or less wooded districts. One travels for hours
together as if in an enchanted land of changeless monotony; trees, trees
everywhere and nothing but trees--one could fancy late in the afternoon
that one was back at the early morning's starting-point--when suddenly
the forest stops, sharply and completely, where the hand of man has
decreed that it should, not by gradual degrees as when things have been
left to the gentler management of nature and time.

So our satisfaction was the greater from not having known the goal of
that day's journey to be so near. We began to allow to each other for
the first time that we were "a _little_ tired," and with far less
hesitation that we were "_very_ hungry." Still we were not a very
dilapidated-looking party when the inhabitants of Seeberg turned
out at doors and windows to inspect us. Reggie, of course, whom no
consideration could induce to make his entry on Lutz's shoulders,
looking the freshest of all, and eliciting many complimentary remarks
from the matrons and maidens of the place as we passed.

Our quarters at Seeberg met with the approval of everybody. The supper
was excellent, our rooms as clean and comfortable as could be wished.

"So far," I could not help saying to my friends, "I have seen no signs
of the 'roughing it' for which you prepared me. I call this luxurious."

"Yes, this is very comfortable," said Herr von Walden. "At Silberbach,
which we shall reach to-morrow evening, all will be much more homely."

"But that is what I like," I maintained stoutly. "I assure you I am not
at all _difficile_, as the French say."

"Still," began Frau von Walden, "are you sure that you know what
'roughing it' means? One has such romantic, unpractical ideas till one
really tries it. For me, I confess, there is something very depressing
in being without all the hundred and one little comforts, not to say
luxuries, that have become second nature to us, and yet I do not think I
am a self-indulgent woman."

"Certainly not," I said, and with sincerity.

"If it were necessary," she went on, "I hope I should be quite ready to
live in a cottage and make the best of it cheerfully. But when it is not
necessary? Don't you think, my dear friend, it would perhaps be wiser
for you to arrange to spend your two or three weeks _here_, and not go
on to Silberbach? You might return here to-morrow from Ulrichsthal while
we make our way home, by Silberbach, if my husband really wishes to see
it."

I looked at her in some surprise. What possessed everybody to caution me
so against Silberbach? Everybody, that is to say, except Herr von Walden
himself. A spice of contradiction began to influence me. Perhaps the
worthy Herr had himself been influenced in the same way more than he
realised.

"I don't see why I should do so," I said. "We expect really to enjoy
ourselves at Silberbach. You have no reason for advising me to give it
up?"

"No, oh no--none in particular," she replied. "I have only a feeling
that it is rather out of the way and lonely for you. Supposing, for
instance, one of the children got ill there?"

"Oh, my dear, you are _too_ fanciful," said her husband. "Why should the
children get ill there more than anywhere else? If one thought of all
these possibilities one would never stir from home."

"And you know my maid is ready to follow me as soon as I quite settle
where we shall stay," I said. "I shall not be alone more than
four-and-twenty hours. Of course it would have been nonsense to bring
Lina with us; she would have been quite out of her element during our
walking expeditions."

"And I have a very civil note from the inn at Silberbach, the 'Katze,'"
said Herr von Walden, pulling a mass of heterogeneous-looking papers
out of his pocket. "Where can it be? Not that it matters; he will have
supper and beds ready for us to-morrow night. And then," he went on to
me, "if you like it you can make some arrangement for the time you wish
to stay, if not you can return here, or go on to any place that takes
your fancy. We, my wife and I and these boys, _must_ be home by Saturday
afternoon, so we can only stay the one night at Silberbach," for this
was Thursday.

And so it was settled.

The next day dawned as bright and cloudless as its predecessors. The
gentlemen had started--I should be afraid to say how early--meaning to
be overtaken by us at Ulrichsthal. Reggie had gone to bed with the firm
intention of accompanying them, but as it was not easy to wake him
and get him up in time to eat his breakfast, and be ready when the
_Einspänner_ came round to the door, my predictions that he would be
too sleepy for so early a start proved true.

It was pleasant in the early morning--pleasanter than it would be later
in the day. I noticed an unusual amount of blue haze on the distant
mountain-tops, for the road along which we were driving was open on all
sides for some distance, and the view was extensive.

"That betokens great heat, I suppose," I said, pointing out the
appearance I observed to my companion.

"I suppose so. That bluish mist probably increases in hot and sultry
weather," she said. "But it is always to be seen more or less in this
country, and is, I believe, peculiar to some of the German hill and
forest districts. I don't know what it comes from--whether it has to do
with the immense number of pines in the forests, perhaps. Some one, I
think, once told me that it indicates the presence of a great deal of
electricity in the air, but I am far too ignorant to know if that is
true or not."

"And I am far too ignorant to know what the effect would be if it were
so," I said. "It is a very healthy country, is it not?"

"For strangers it certainly is. Doctors send their patients here from
all parts of Germany. But the inhabitants themselves do not seem strong
or healthy. One sees a good many deformed people, and they all look pale
and thin--much less robust than the people of the Black Forest. But
that may come from their poverty--the peasants of the Black Forest are
proverbially well off."

A distant, very distant, peal of thunder was heard at this moment.

"I hope the weather is not going to break up _just_ yet," I said. "Are
there often bad thunderstorms here?"

"Yes; I think we do have a good many in this part of the world," she
replied. "But I do not think there are any signs of one at present."

And then, still a little sleepy and tired from our unusual exertions of
the last three days, we all three, Frau von Walden, Nora, and myself,
sat very still for some time, though the sound of Reggie's voice
persistently endeavouring to make the driver understand his inquiries,
showed that he was as lively as ever.

He turned round after a while in triumph.

"Mamma, Frau von Walden," he exclaimed, "we are close to that place
where they make the cups and saucers. Herr von Walden said we weren't to
forget to go there--and you all _would_ have forgotten, you see, if it
hadn't been for me," he added complacently.

"Grünstein," said Frau von Walden. "Well, tell the driver to stop
there, he can rest his horses for half an hour or so; and thank you
for reminding us, Reggie, for I should have been sorry to lose the
opportunity of matching my service."

The china manufactory was not of any very remarkable interest, at least
not for those who had visited such places before. But the people were
exceedingly civil, and evidently very pleased to have visitors; and
while my friend was looking out the things she was specially in search
of--a business which promised to take some little time--a good-natured
sub-manager, or functionary of some kind, proposed to take the children
to see the sheds where the first mixing and kneading took place, the
moulding rooms, the painting rooms, the ovens--in short, the whole
process. They accepted his offer with delight, and I wandered about the
various pattern or show rooms, examining and admiring all that was to be
seen, poking into corners where any specially pretty bit of china caught
my eye. But there was no great variety in design or colour, though
both were good of their kind, the Grünsteiners, like their rivals of
Blauenstein, seeming content to follow in the steps of their fathers
without seeking for new inspirations. Suddenly, however, all but hidden
in a corner, far away back on a shelf, a flash of richer tints made me
start forward eagerly. There was no one near to apply to at the moment,
so I carefully drew out my treasure trove. It was a cup and saucer,
evidently of the finest quality of china, though pretty similar in shape
to the regular Grünstein ware, but in colouring infinitely richer--really
beautiful, with an almost Oriental cleverness in the blending of the
many shades, and yet decidedly more striking and uncommon than any of
the modern Oriental with which of late years the facilities of trade
with the East make us so familiar. I stood with the cup in my hand,
turning it around and admiring it, when Frau von Walden and the woman
who had been attending to her orders came forward to where I was.

"See here," I exclaimed; "here is a lovely cup! Now a service like that
_would_ be tempting! Have you more of it?" I inquired of the woman.

She shook her head.

"That is all that remains," she said. "We have never kept it in stock;
it is far too expensive. Of course it can be made to order, though it
would take some months, and cost a good deal."

"I wish I could order a service of it," I said; but when I heard how
much it would probably cost it was my turn to shake my head. "No, I must
consider about it," I decided; "but I really have never seen anything
prettier. Can I buy this cup?"

The woman hesitated.

"It is the only one left," she said; "but I think--oh yes, I feel
sure--we have the pattern among the painting designs. This cup belonged
to, or rather was an extra one of, a tea-service made expressly for
the Duchess of T----, on her marriage, now some years ago. And it is
curious, we sold the other one--there were two too many--to a compatriot
of yours (the gracious lady is English?) two or three years ago. He
admired them so much, and felt sure his mother would send an order if he
took it home to show her. A tall, handsome young man he was. I remember
it so well; just about this time of the year, and hot, sultry weather
like this. He was travelling on foot--for pleasure, no doubt--for he had
quite the air of a _milord_. And he bought the cup, and took it with
him. But he has never written! I made sure he would have done so."

"He did not leave his name or address?" I said; for the world is a
small place: it was just possible I might have known him, and the
little coincidence would have been curious.

"Oh no," said the woman. "But I have often wondered why he changed his
mind. He seemed so sure about sending the order. It was not the price
that made him hesitate; but he wished his lady mother to make out the
list herself."

"Well, I confess the price _does_ make _me_ hesitate," I said, smiling.
"However, if you will let me buy this cup, I have great hopes of proving
a better customer than my faithless compatriot."

"I am sure he _meant_ to send the order," said the woman. She spoke
quite civilly, but I was not sure that she liked my calling him
"faithless."

"It is evident," I said to Frau von Walden, "that the good-looking
young Englishman made a great impression on her. I rather think she
gave _him_ the fellow cup for nothing."

But after all I had no reason to be jealous, for just then the woman
returned, after consulting the manager, to tell me I might have the cup
and saucer, and for a less sum than their real worth, seeing that I was
taking it, in a sense, as a pattern.

Then she wrapped it up for me, carefully and in several papers, of which
the outside one was bright blue; and, very proud of my acquisition, I
followed Frau von Walden to the other side of the building containing
the workrooms, where we found the two children full of interest about
all they had seen.

I should here, perhaps, apologise for entering into so much and
apparently trifling detail. But as will, I think, be seen when I have
told all I have to tell, it would be difficult to give the main facts
fairly, and so as to avoid all danger of any mistaken impression,
without relating the whole of the surroundings. If I tried to condense,
to pick out the salient points, to enter into no particulars but such
as directly and unmistakably lead up to the central interest, I might
unintentionally omit what those wiser than I would consider as bearing
on it. So, like a patient adjured by his doctor, or a client urged by
his lawyer, to tell the whole at the risk of long-windedness, I prefer
to run that risk, while claiming my readers' forgiveness for so doing,
rather than that of relating my story incompletely.

And what I would here beg to have specially observed is _that not one
word about the young Englishman had been heard by Nora_. She was, in
fact, in a distant part of the building at the time the saleswoman was
telling us about him. And, furthermore, I am equally certain, and so is
Frau von Walden, that neither she nor I, then or afterwards, mentioned
the subject to, or in the presence of, the children. I did not show her
the cup and saucer, as it would have been a pity to undo its careful
wrappings. All she knew about it will be told in due course.

We had delayed longer than we intended at the china manufactory, and in
consequence we were somewhat late at the meeting-place--Ulrichsthal. The
gentlemen had arrived there quite an hour before; so they had ordered
luncheon, or dinner rather, at the inn, and thoroughly explored
the ruins. But dinner discussed, and neither Frau von Walden nor I
objecting to pipes, our cavaliers were amiably willing to show us all
there was to be seen.

The ruins were those of an ancient monastery, one of the most ancient in
Germany, I believe. They covered a very large piece of ground, and had
they been in somewhat better preservation, they would have greatly
impressed us; as it was they were undoubtedly, even to the unlearned in
archæological lore, very interesting. The position of the monastery had
been well and carefully chosen, for on one side it commanded a view of
surpassing beauty over the valley through which we had travelled from
Seeberg, while on the other arose still higher ground, richly wooded,
for the irrepressible forest here, as it were, broke out again.

"It is a most lovely spot!" I said with some enthusiasm, as we sat in
the shade of the ruined cloisters, the sunshine flecking the sward in
eccentric patches as it made its way through what had evidently been
richly-sculptured windows. "How one wishes it were possible to see it
as it must have been--how many?--three or four hundred years ago, I
suppose!"

Lutz grunted.

"What did you say, Lutz?" asked his mother.

"Nothing particular," he sighed. "I was only thinking of what I read in
the guide-book, that the monastery was destroyed--partly by lightning, I
believe, all the same--by order of the authorities, in consequence of
the really awful wickedness of the monks who inhabited it. So I am not
sure that it would have been a very nice place to visit at the time you
speak of, gracious lady, begging your pardon."

"What a pity!" I said, with a little shudder. "I do not like to think
of it. And I was going to say how beautiful it must be here in the
moonlight! But now that you have disenchanted me, Lutz, I should not
like it at all," and I arose as I spoke.

"Why not, mamma?" said Reggie curiously. I had not noticed that he and
his sister were listening to us. "They're not here _now_--not those
naughty monks."

"No, of course not," agreed practical Nora. "Mamma only means that it
is a pity such a beautiful big house as this must have been _had_ to
be pulled down--such a waste when there are so many poor people in the
world with miserable, little, stuffy houses, or none at all even! That
was what you meant; wasn't it, mamma?"

"It is always a pity--the worst of pities--when people are wicked,
wherever they are," I replied.

"But _all_ monks are not bad," remarked Nora consolingly. "Think of the
Great St. Bernard ones, with their dogs."

And on Reggie's inquiring mind demanding further particulars on the
subject, she walked on with him somewhat in front of the rest of us, a
happy little pair in the sunshine.

"Lutz," said his father, "you cannot be too careful what you say before
children; they are often shocked or frightened by so little. Though
yours are such healthy-minded little people," he added, turning to me,
"it is not likely anything undesirable would make any impression on
them."

I particularly remember this little incident.

It turned out a long walk to Silberbach, the longest we had yet
attempted. Hitherto Herr von Walden had been on known ground, and
thoroughly acquainted with the roads, the distances, and all necessary
particulars; but it was the first time he had explored beyond Seeberg,
and before we had accomplished more than half the journey, he began to
feel a little alarm at the information given us by the travellers we
came across at long intervals "coming from," not "going to St. Ives!"
For the farther we went the greater seemed to be the distance we had to
go!

"An hour or thereabouts," grew into "two," or even "three" hours; and at
last, on a peculiarly stupid countryman assuring us we would scarcely
reach our destination before nightfall, our conductor's patience broke
down altogether.

"Idiots!" he exclaimed. "But I cannot stand this any longer. I will
hasten on and see for myself; and if, as I expect, we are really not
very far from Silberbach, it will be all the better for me to find out
the 'Katze,' and see that everything is ready for your arrival."

Frau von Walden seemed a little inclined to protest, but I begged her
not to do so, seeing that three able-bodied protectors still remained to
us, and that it probably was really tiresome for a remarkably good and
trained pedestrian like her husband to have to adapt his vigorous steps
to ours. And comfort came from an unexpected quarter. The old peasant
woman, strong and muscular as any English labourer, whom we had hired
at Seeberg to carry our bags and shawls through the forest, overheard
the discussion, and for the first time broke silence to assure "the
gracious ladies" that Silberbach was at no great distance; in half an
hour or so we should come upon the first of its houses.

"Though as for the 'Katze,'" she added, "that was farther off--at the
other end of the village;" and she went on muttering something about "if
she had known we were going to the 'Katze,'" which we did not understand,
but which afterwards, "being translated," proved to mean that she would
have stood out for more pay.

Sure enough, at the end of not more than three-quarters of an hour we
came upon one or two outlying houses. Then the trees gradually here grew
sparser, and soon ceased, except in occasional patches. It was growing
dusk; but as we emerged from the wood we found that we were on a height,
the forest road having been a steady, though almost imperceptible, ascent.
Far below gleamed already some twinkling cottage lights, and the silvery
reflection of a small piece of water.

"To be sure," said young von Trachenfels, "there is a lake at Silberbach.
Here we are at last! But where is the 'Katze'?"

He might well ask. Never was there so tantalising a place as Silberbach.
Instead of one compact, sensible village, it was more like three or
four--nay, five or six--wretched hamlets, each at several minutes'
distance from all the others. And the "Katze," of course, was at the
farther end of the farthest off from where we stood of these miserable
little ragged ends of village! Climbing is tiring work, but it seemed
to me it would have been preferable to what lay before us,--a continual
descent, by the ruggedest of hill-paths, of nearly two miles, stumbling
along in the half light, tired, footsore past description, yet--to
our everlasting credit be it recorded--laughing, or trying to laugh,
determined at all costs to make the best of it.

"I have no feet left," said poor Frau von Walden. "I am only conscious
of two red-hot balls attached somehow to my ankles. I daresay _they_
will drop off soon."

How thankful we were at last to attain to what bore some faint
resemblance to a village street! How we gazed on every side to discover
anything like an inn! How we stared at each other in bewilderment when
at last, from we could not see where, came the well-known voice of Herr
von Walden, shouting to us to stop.

"It is here--_here_, I say. You are going too far."

"Here," judging by the direction whence came the words, seemed to be
a piled-up mass of hay, of proportions, exaggerated perhaps by the
uncertain light, truly enormous. Was our friend buried in the middle of
it? Not so. By degrees we made out his sunburnt face, beaming as ever,
from out of a window behind the hay--cartful or stack, we were not sure
which; and by still further degrees we discovered that the hay was being
unloaded before a little house which it had almost entirely hidden from
view, and inside which it was being carried, apparently by the front
door, for there was no other door to be seen; but as we stood in
perplexity, Herr von Walden, whose face had disappeared, emerged in
some mysterious way.

"You can come through the kitchen, ladies; or by the window, if you
please." But though the boys and Nora were got, or got themselves, in
through the window, Frau von Walden and I preferred the kitchen; and
I remember nothing more till we found ourselves all assembled--the
original eight as we had started--in a very low-roofed, sandy-floored,
tobacco-impregnated sort of cabin which, it appeared, was the
_salle-à-manger_ of the renowned hostelry "zur Katze" of Silberbach!

Herr von Walden was vigorously mopping his face. It was very red, and
naturally so, considering the weather and the want of ventilation
peculiar to the "Katze"; but it struck me there was something slightly
forced about the beamingness.

"So, so," he began; "all's well that ends well! But I must explain," and
he mopped still more vigorously, "that--there has been a slight, in
short, a little, mistake about the accommodation I wish to secure. The
supper I have seen to, and it will be served directly. But as to the
beds," and here he could not help laughing, "our worthy host has beds
enough"--we found afterwards that every available mattress and pillow in
the village had been levied--"but there is but one _bedroom_, or two, I
may say." For the poor Herr had not lost his time since his arrival.
Appalled by the want of resources, he had suggested the levy of beds,
and had got the host to spread them on the floor of a granary for
himself, the three young men, and Reggie; while his wife, Nora, and I
were to occupy the one bedroom, which luckily contained two small beds
and a sort of settee, such as one sees in old farmhouses all over the
world.

So it was decided; and, after all, for one night, what did it matter?
For one night? that was for me the question! The supper was really not
bad; but the look, and still worse the smell, of the room where it was
served, joined no doubt to our excessive fatigue, made it impossible for
me to eat anything. My friends were sorry, and I felt ashamed of myself
for being so easily knocked up or knocked down. How thoroughly I entered
into Frau von Walden's honestly-expressed dislike to "roughing it"! Yet
it was not only the uncivilised look of the place, nor the coarse food,
nor the want of comfort that made me feel that one night of Silberbach
would indeed be enough for me. A sort of depression, of fear almost,
came over me when I pictured the two children and myself alone in that
strange, out-of-the-world place, where it really seemed to me we might
all three be made an end of without any one being the wiser of it! There
was a general look of squalor and stolid depression about the people
too: the landlord was a black-browed, surlily silent sort of man, his
wife and the one maid-servant looked frightened and anxious, and the
only voices to be heard were those of half-tipsy peasants drinking and
quarrelling at the bar.

To say the least, it was not enlivening. Yet my pride was aroused. I
did not like to own myself already beaten. After supper I sat apart,
reflecting rather gloomily as to what I could or should do, while the
young men and the children amused themselves with the one piece of
luxury with which the poorest inn in Thuringia is sure to be provided.
For, anomalous as it may seem, there was a piano, and by no means an
altogether decrepit one, in the sandy-floored parlour!

Herr von Walden was smoking his pipe outside, the hay being by this time
housed somewhere or other. His wife, who had been speaking to him, came
in and sat down beside me.

"My dear," she said, "you must not be vexed with me for renewing the
subject, but I cannot help it; I feel a responsibility. You must not,
you really _must not_, think of staying here alone with those two
children. It is not fit for you."

Oh, how I blessed her for breaking the ice! I could hardly help hugging
her as I replied--diplomatically--

"You really think so?"

"Certainly I do; and so, though perhaps he won't say so as frankly--so
does my husband. He says I am foolish and fanciful; but I confess to
feeling a kind of dislike to the place that I cannot explain. Perhaps
there is thunder in the air--that always affects my nerves--but I just
feel that I _cannot_ agree to your staying on here."

"Very well, I am quite willing to go back to Seeberg to-morrow," I
replied meekly. "Of course we can't judge of the place by what we have
seen of it to-night, but no doubt, as far as the inn is concerned,
Seeberg is much nicer. I daresay we can see all we want by noon
to-morrow, and get back to Seeberg in the afternoon."

Kind Frau von Walden kissed me rapturously on both cheeks.

"You don't _know_, my dear, the relief to my mind of hearing you say so!
And now I think the best thing we can do is to go to bed. For we _must_
start at six."

"So early!" I exclaimed, with a fresh feeling of dismay.

"Yes, indeed; and I must bid you good-bye to-night, for after all I am
not to sleep in your room, which is much better, as I should have had to
disturb you so early. My husband has found a tidy room next door in a
cottage, and we shall do very well there."

What sort of a place she euphemistically described as "a tidy room" I
never discovered. But it would have been useless to remonstrate, the
kind creature was so afraid of incommoding us that she would have
listened to no objections.

Herr von Walden came in just as we were about to wish each other
good-night.

"So!" he said, with a tone of amiable indulgence, "so! And what do you
think of Silberbach? My wife feels sure you will not like it after all."

"I think I shall see as much as I care to see of it in an hour or two
to-morrow morning," I replied quietly. "And by the afternoon the
children and I will go back to our comfortable quarters at Seeberg."

"Ah, indeed! Yes, I daresay it will be as well," he said airily, as
if he had nothing at all to do with decoying us to the place. "Then
good-night and pleasant dreams, and----"

"But," I interrupted, "I want to know _how_ we are to get back to
Seeberg. Can I get an _Einspänner_ here?"

"To be sure, to be sure. You have only to speak to the landlord in
the morning, and tell him at what hour you want it," he answered so
confidently that I felt no sort of misgiving, and I turned with a smile
to finish my good-nights.

The young men were standing close beside us. I shook hands with
Trachenfels and Lutz, the latter of whom, though he replied as heartily
as usual, looked, I thought, annoyed. George Norman followed me to the
door of the room. In front of us was the ladder-like staircase leading
to the upper regions.

"What a hole of a place!" said the boy. "I don't mind quite a cottage
if it's clean and cheerful, but this place is so grim and squalid. I
can't tell you how glad I am you're not going to stay on here alone. It
really isn't fit for you."

"Well, you may be easy, as we shall only be here a few hours after you
leave."

"Yes; so much the better. I wish I could have stayed, but I _must_ be
back at Kronberg to-morrow. Lutz could have stayed and seen you back to
Seeberg, but his father won't let him. Herr von Walden is so queer once
he takes an idea in his head--and he _won't_ allow this place isn't all
right."

"But I daresay there would be nothing to hurt us! Anyway, I will write
to reassure you that we have not fallen into a nest of cut-throats or
brigands," I said laughingly.

Certainly it never occurred to me or to my friends what _would_ be the
nature of the "experience" which would stamp Silberbach indelibly on our
memory.

We must have been really very tired, for, quite contrary to our habit,
the children and I slept late the next morning, undisturbed by the
departure of our friends at the early hour arranged by them.

The sun was shining, and Silberbach, like every other place, appeared
all the better for it. But the view from the window of our room was not
encouraging. It looked out upon the village street--a rough, unkempt
sort of track--and on its other side the ground rose abruptly to some
height, but treeless and grassless. It seemed more like the remains of
a quarry of some kind, for there was nothing to be seen but stones and
broken pieces of rock.

"We must go out after our breakfast and look about us a little before
we start," I said. "But how glad I shall be to get back to that bright,
cheerful Seeberg!"

"Yes, indeed," said Nora. "I think this is the ugliest place I ever was
at in my life." And she was not inclined to like it any better when
Reggie, whom we sent down to reconnoitre, came back to report that we
must have our breakfast in our own room.

"There are a lot of rough-looking men down there, smoking and drinking
beer. You _couldn't_ eat there," said the child.

But, after all, it was to be our last meal there, and we did not
complain. The root coffee was not too unpalatable with plenty of
good milk; the bread was sour and the butter dubious, as Ottilia had
foretold, so we soaked the bread in the coffee, like French peasants.

"Mamma," said Nora gravely, "it makes me sorry for poor people. I
daresay many never have anything nicer to eat than this."

"Not nicer than this!" I exclaimed. "Why, my dear child, thousands, not
in Germany only, but in France and England, never taste anything as good."

The little girl opened her eyes. There are salutary lessons to be learnt
from even the mildest experience of "roughing it."

Suddenly Nora's eyes fell on a little parcel in blue paper. It was lying
on one of the shelves of the stove, which, as in most German rooms,
stood out a little from the wall, and in its summer idleness was a
convenient receptacle for odds and ends. This stove was a high one, of
black-leaded iron; it stood between the door and the wall, on the same
side as the door, and was the most conspicuous object in the room.

"Mamma," she exclaimed, "there is the parcel you brought away from the
china place. What is it? I wish you would show it me."

I gave a little exclamation of annoyance.

"Frau von Walden has forgotten it," I said; for my friend, returning
straight to Kronberg, had offered to take it home for me in her bag for
fear of accidents. "It does not matter," I added, "I will pack it among
our soft things. It is a very pretty cup and saucer, but I will show
it to you at Kronberg, for it is so nicely wrapped up. Now I am going
downstairs to order the _Einspänner_, and we can walk about for an hour
or two."

The children came with me. I had some trouble in disinterring the
landlord, but at last I found him, of course with a pipe in his mouth,
hanging about the premises. He listened to me civilly enough, but when I
waited for his reply as to whether the _Einspänner_ would be ready about
twelve o'clock, he calmly regarded me without speaking. I repeated my
inquiry.

"At twelve?" he said calmly. "Yes, no doubt the gracious lady might as
well fix twelve as any other hour, for there was no such thing as a
horse, much less an _Einspänner_, to be had at Silberbach."

I stared at him in my turn.

"No horse, no carriage to be had! How do people ever get away from here
then?" I said.

"They don't get away--that is to say, if they come at all, they go as
they came, in the carriage that brought them; otherwise they neither
come nor go. The lady came on foot: she can go on foot; otherwise she
can stay."

There seemed something sinister in his words. A horrible, ridiculous
feeling came over me that we were caught in a net, as it were, and
doomed to stay at Silberbach for the rest of our lives. But I looked at
the man. He was simply stolid and indifferent. I did not believe then,
nor do I now, that he was anything worse than sulky and uncivilised. He
did not even care to have us as his visitors: he had no wish to retain
us nor to speed us on our way. Had we remained at the "Katze" from that
day to this, I don't believe he would have ever inquired what we stayed
for!

"I _cannot_ walk back to Seeberg," I said half indignantly, "we are too
tired; nor would it be safe through the forest alone with two children."

The landlord knocked some ashes off his pipe.

"There may be an ox-cart going that way next week," he observed.

"Next week!" I repeated. Then a sudden idea struck me. "Is there a
post-office here?" I said.

Of course there was a post-office; where can one go in Germany where
there is not a post and telegraph office?

"The telegraph officials must be sadly overworked here," I said to
myself. But as far as mine host was concerned, I satisfied myself with
obtaining the locality of the post-office, and with something like a
ray of hope I turned to look for the children. They had been amusing
themselves with the piano in the now empty room, but as I called to
them, Reggie ran out with a very red face.

"I wish I were a man, mamma. Fancy! a peasant--one of those men who were
drinking beer--came and put his arm around Nora as she was playing. '_Du
spielst schön_,' he said, and I _do_ believe he meant to kiss her, if I
hadn't shaken my fist at him."

"Yes, indeed, mamma," said Nora, equally but more calmly indignant. "I
certainly think the sooner we get away the better."

I had to tell them of my discomfiture, but ended with my new idea.

"If there is a post-office," I said, "the mail must stop there, and the
mail takes passengers."

But, arrived at the neat little post-house--to reach which without a
most tremendous round we had to climb up a really precipitous path,
so called, over the stones and rocks in front of the inn--new dismay
awaited us. The postmaster was a very old man, but of a very different
type from our host. He was sorry to disappoint us, but the mail only
stopped here for _letters_--all _passengers_ must begin their journey
at--I forget where--leagues off on the other side from Silberbach. We
wanted to get away? He was not surprised. _What had we come for?_ No one
ever came here. Were we Americans! Staying at the "Katze"! Good heavens!
"A rough place." "I should rather think so."

And this last piece of information fairly overcame him. He evidently
felt he must come to the rescue of these poor Babes in the wood.

"Come up when the mail passes from Seeberg this evening at seven, and I
will see what I can do with the conductor. If he _happens_ to have no
passengers to-morrow, he _may_ stretch a point and take you in. No one
will be the wiser."

"Oh, thanks, thanks," I cried. "Of course I will pay anything he likes
to ask."

"No need for that. He is a _braver Mann_, and will not cheat you."

"We shall be here at seven, then. I would rather have started to walk
than stayed here indefinitely."

"Not _to-day_ anyway. We shall have a storm," he said, looking up to the
sky. "Adieu. _Auf Wiedersehen!_"

"I wish we had not to stay another night here," I said. "Still,
to-morrow morning will soon come."

We spent the day as best we could. There was literally nothing to see,
nowhere to go, except back into the forest whence we had come. Nor dared
we go far, for the day grew more and more sultry; the strange, ominous
silence that precedes a storm came on, adding to our feelings of
restlessness and depression. And by about two o'clock, having ventured
out again after "dinner," we were driven in by the first great drops.
Huddled together in our cheerless little room we watched the breaking
loose of the storm demons. I am not affected by thunder and lightning,
nor do I dread them. But what a storm that was! Thunder, lightning,
howling wind, and rain like no rain I had ever seen before, all mingled
together. An hour after it began, a cart, standing high and dry in
the steep village street, was hidden by water to above the top of the
wheels--a little more and it would have floated like a boat. But by
about five, things calmed down; the few stupid-looking peasants came out
of their houses, and gazed about them as if to see what damage had been
done. Perhaps it was not much after all--they seemed to take it quietly
enough; and by six all special signs of disturbance had disappeared--the
torrents melted away as if by magic. Only a strange, heavy mist began to
rise, enveloping everything, so that we could hardly believe the evening
was yet so early. I looked at my watch.

"Half-past six. We must, mist or no mist, go up to the post-house. But I
don't mind going alone, dears."

"No, no, mamma; I _must_ go with you, to take care of you," said Reggie;
"but Nora needn't."

"Perhaps it would be as well," said the little girl. "I have one or two
buttons to sew on, and I _am_ still rather tired."

And, knowing she was never timid about being left alone, thinking we
should be absent half an hour at most, I agreed.

But the half hour lengthened into an hour, then into an hour and a half,
before the weary mail made its appearance. The road through the forest
must be all but impassable, our old friend told us. But oh, how tired
Reggie and I were of waiting! though all the time never a thought of
uneasiness with regard to _Nora_ crossed my mind. And when the mail did
come, delayed, as the postmaster had suspected, the good result of his
negotiations made us forget all our troubles; for the conductor all but
_promised_ to take us the next morning, in consideration of a very
reasonable extra payment. It was most unlikely he would have any,
certainly not many passengers. We must be there, at the post-house, by
nine o'clock, baggage and all, for he dared not wait a moment, and he
would do his best.

Through the evening dusk, now fast replacing the scattered mist, Reggie
and I, light of heart, stumbled down the rocky path.

"How pleased Nora will be! She will be wondering what has come over us,"
I said as the "Katze" came in view. "But what is that, Reggie, running
up and down in front of the house? Is it a sheep, or a big white dog?
or--or a child? Can it be Nora, and no cloak or hat? and so damp and
chilly as it is? How can she be so foolish?"

And with a vague uneasiness I hurried on.

Yes, it was Nora. There was light enough to see her face. What had
happened to my little girl? She was white--no, not white, ghastly. Her
eyes looked glassy, and yet as if drawn into her head; her whole bright,
fearless bearing was gone. She clutched me convulsively as if she would
never again let me go. Her voice was so hoarse that I could scarcely
distinguish what she said.

"Send Reggie in--he must not hear," were her first words--of rare
unselfishness and presence of mind.

"Reggie," I said, "tell the maid to take candles up to our room, and
take off your wet boots at once."

My children are obedient; he was off instantly.

Then Nora went on, still in a strained, painful whisper--

"Mamma, there has been a _man_ in our room, and----"

"Did that peasant frighten you again, dear? Oh, I am so sorry I left
you;" for my mind at once reverted to the man whom Reggie had shaken his
fist at that morning.

"No, no; not that. I would not have minded. But, mamma, Reggie must
never know it--he is so little, he could not bear it--mamma, it was
_not_ a man. It was--oh, mamma, I have seen a _ghost_!"


PART II

"A ghost," I repeated, holding the poor trembling little thing more
closely. I think my first sensation was a sort of rage at whomever or
whatever--ghost or living being--had frightened her so terribly. "Oh,
Nora darling, it couldn't be a ghost. Tell me about it, and I will try
to find out what it was. Or would you rather try to forget about it just
now, and tell me afterwards? You are shivering so dreadfully. I _must_
get you warm first of all."

"But let me tell you, mamma--I _must_ tell you," she entreated
piteously. "If you _could_ explain it, I should be so glad, but I am
afraid you can't," and again a shudder passed through her.

I saw it was better to let her tell it. I had by this time drawn her
inside; a door in front stood open, and a bright fire caught my eyes.
It was the kitchen, and the most inviting-looking room in the house. I
peeped in--there was no one there, but from an inner room we heard the
voice of the landlady hushing her baby to sleep.

"Come to the fire, Nora," I said. Just then Reggie came clattering
downstairs, followed by Lieschen, the taciturn "maid of the inn."

"She has taken a candle upstairs, mamma, but I've not taken off my
boots, for there's a little calf, she says, in the stable, and she's
going to show it me. May I go?"

"Yes, but don't stay long," I said, my opinion of the sombre Lieschen
improving considerably; and when they were out of hearing, "Now, Nora
dear, tell me what frightened you so."

"Mamma," she said, a little less white and shivering by now, but still
with the strange strained look in her eyes that I could not bear to see,
"it _couldn't_ have been a real man. Listen, mamma. When you and Reggie
went, I got out a needle and thread--out of your little bag--and first
I mended a hole in my glove, and then I took off one of my boots--the
buttoning-up-the-side ones, you know--to sew a button on. I soon
finished it, and then, without putting my boot on, I sat there, looking
out of the window and wondering if you and Reggie would soon be back.
Then I thought perhaps I could see if you were coming, better from the
window of the place outside our room, where the hay and bags of flour
are." (I think I forgot to say that to get to our room we had to cross
at the top of the stair a sort of landing, along one side of which, as
Nora said, great bags of flour or grain and trusses of hay were ranged;
this place had a window with a somewhat more extended view than that of
our room.) "I went there, still without my boot, and I knelt in front of
the window some time, looking up the rough path, and wishing you would
come. But I was not the least dull or lonely. I was only a little tired.
At last I got tired of watching there, and I thought I would come back
to our room and look for something to do. The door was not closed, but
I think I had half drawn it to as I came out. I pushed it open and went
in, and then--I seemed to feel there was something that had not been
there before, and I looked up; and just beside the stove--the door
opens _against_ the stove, you know, and so it had hidden it for a
moment as it were--there, mamma, _stood a man_! I saw him as plainly as
I see you. He was staring at the stove, afterwards I saw it must have
been at your little blue paper parcel. He was a gentleman, mamma--quite
young. I saw his coat, it was cut like George Norman's. I think he must
have been an Englishman. His coat was dark, and bound with a little very
narrow ribbon binding. I have seen coats like that. He had a dark blue
neck-tie, his dress all looked neat and careful--like what all gentlemen
are; I saw all that, mamma, before I clearly saw his face. He was tall
and had fair hair--I saw that at once. But I was not frightened; just at
first I did not even wonder how he _could_ have got into the room--now
I see he _couldn't_ without my knowing. My first thought, it seems so
silly," and Nora here smiled a little, "my first thought was, 'Oh, he
will see I have no boot on,'"--which was very characteristic of the
child, for Nora was a very "proper" little girl,--"and just as I thought
that, _he_ seemed to know I was there, for he slowly turned his head
from the stove and looked at me, and then I saw his face. Oh, mamma!"

"Was there anything frightening about it?" I said.

"I don't know," the child went on. "It was not like any face I ever saw,
and yet it does not _sound_ strange. He had nice, rather wavy fair hair,
and I think he must _have been_ nice-looking. His eyes were blue, and he
had a little fair moustache. But he was so _fearfully_ pale, and a look
over all that I can't describe. And his eyes when he looked at me _seemed
not to see me_, and yet they turned on me. They looked dreadfully sad,
and though they were so close to me, as if they were miles and miles
away. Then his lips parted slightly, very slightly, as if he were going
to speak. Mamma," Nora went on impressively, "they would have spoken
if _I_ had said the least word--I felt they would. But just then--and
remember, mamma, it couldn't have been yet two seconds since I came in,
I hadn't yet had _time_ to get frightened--just then there came over me
the most awful feeling. I _knew_ it was not a real man, and I seemed to
hear myself saying inside my mind, 'It is a ghost,' and while I seemed
to be saying it--I had not moved my eyes--while I looked at him----"

"He disappeared?"

"No, mamma, he did not even disappear. He was just _no longer there_.
I was staring at nothing! Then came a sort of wild fear. I turned and
rushed downstairs, even without my boot, and all the way the horrible
feeling was that even though he was no longer there he might still be
coming after me. I should not have cared if there had been twenty tipsy
peasants downstairs! But I found Lieschen. Of course I said nothing to
her; I only asked her to come up with a light to help me to find my
boot, and as soon as I had put it on I came outside, and ran up and
down--it was a long time, I think--till you and Reggie came at last.
Mamma, _can_ you explain it?"

How I longed to be able to do so! But I would not deceive the child.
Besides, it would have been useless.

"No, dear. As yet I cannot. But I will try to understand it. There are
several ways it may be explained. Have you ever heard of optical
delusions, Nora?"

"I am not sure. You must tell me;" and she looked at me so appealingly,
and with such readiness to believe whatever I told her, that I felt I
would give anything to restore her to her former happy fearlessness.

But just then Reggie came in from the stable.

"We must go upstairs," I said; "and Lieschen," turning to her, "bring up
our supper at once. We are leaving very early to-morrow morning, and we
will go early to bed."

"Oh, mamma," whispered Nora, "if only we had not to stay all night in
that room!"

But there was no help for it, and she was thankful to hear of the
success of our expedition to the post-office. During supper we, of
course, on Reggie's account, said nothing of Nora's fright, but as
soon as it was over, Reggie declaring himself very sleepy, we got him
undressed and put to bed on the settee originally intended for Nora. He
was asleep in five minutes, and then Nora and I did our utmost to arrive
at the explanation we so longed for. We thoroughly examined the room;
there was no other entrance, no cupboard of any kind even. I tried to
imagine that some of our travelling cloaks or shawls hanging on the
back of a chair might, in the uncertain light, have taken imaginary
proportions; that the stove itself might have cast a shadow we had not
before observed; I suggested everything, but in vain. Nothing shook
Nora's conviction that she had seen something _not_ to be explained.

"For the light was _not_ uncertain just then," she maintained; "the
mist had gone and it had not begun to get dark. And then I saw him _so_
plainly! If it had been a fancy ghost it wouldn't have looked like
that--it would have had a long white thing floating over it, and a
face like a skeleton perhaps. But to see somebody just like a regular
gentleman--I could never have _fancied_ that!"

There was a good deal in what she said. I had to give up my suggestions,
and I tried to give Nora some idea of what are called "optical delusions,"
though my own comprehension of the theory was of the vaguest. She
listened, but I don't think my words had much weight. And at last I
told her I thought she had better go to bed and try to sleep. I saw she
shrank from the idea, but it had to be.

"We can't sit up all night, I suppose," she said, "but I wish we could.
I am so dreadfully afraid of waking in the night, and--and--_seeing him
there again_."

"Would you like to sleep in my bed? though it is so tiny, I could make
room and put you inside," I said.

Nora looked wistfully at the haven of refuge, but her good sense and
considerateness for me came to the front.

"No," she said, "neither of us would sleep, and you would be _so_ tired
to-morrow. I will get into my own bed, and I _will_ try to sleep, mamma."

"And listen, Nora; if you are the least frightened in the night, or if
you can't sleep, call out to me without hesitation. I am sure to wake
often, and I will speak to you from time to time."

That was the longest night of my life! The first part was not the
worst. By what I really thought a fortunate chance it was a club night
of some kind at Silberbach--a musical club, of course; and all the
musically-gifted peasants of the countryside assembled in the sanded
parlour of the "Katze." The noise was something indescribable, for
though there may have been some good voices among them, they were
drowned in the din. But though it prevented us from sleeping, it also
fairly drove away all ghostly alarms. By twelve o'clock or thereabouts
the party seemed to disperse, and all grew still. Then came some hours I
can never forget. There was faint moonlight by fits and starts, and I
not only found it impossible to sleep, I found it impossible to keep
my eyes shut. Some irresistible fascination seemed to force them open,
and obliged me ever and anon to turn in the direction of the stove,
from which, however, before going to bed, I had removed the blue paper
parcel. And each time I did so I said to myself, "Am I going to see that
figure standing there as Nora saw it? Shall I remain sane if I do? Shall
I scream out? Will it look at _me_, in turn, with its sad unearthly
eyes? Will it speak? If it moves across the room and comes near me, or
if I see it going towards Nora, or leaning over my Reggie sleeping there
in his innocence, misdoubting of no fateful presence near, what, oh!
what _shall_ I do?"

For in my heart of hearts, though I would not own it to Nora, I felt
convinced that what she had seen was no living human being--whence it
had come, or _why_, I could not tell. But in the quiet of the night I
had thought of what the woman at the china factory had told us, of the
young Englishman who had bought the other cup, who had promised to write
and never done so! What had become of him? "If," I said to myself, "if
I had the slightest reason to doubt his being at this moment alive and
well in his own country, as he pretty certainly is, I should really
begin to think he had been robbed and murdered by our surly landlord,
and that his spirit had appeared to us--the first compatriots who have
passed this way since, most likely--to tell the story."

I really think I must have been a little light-headed some part of that
night. My poor Nora, I am certain, never slept, but I can only hope her
imagination was less wildly at work than mine. From time to time I spoke
to her, and every time she was awake, for she always answered without
hesitation.

"I am quite comfortable, dear mamma, and I don't think I am very
frightened;" or else, "I have not slept much, but I have said my prayers
a great many times, and all the hymns I could remember. Don't mind about
me, mamma, and do try to sleep."

I watched the dawn slowly breaking. From where I lay I could see through
the window the high mound of rough stones and fragments of rock that I
have described. At its foot there was a low wall loosely constructed of
these same unhewn blocks, and the shapes that evolved themselves out
of this wall, beside which grew two or three stunted trees, were more
grotesque and extraordinary than I could describe. They varied like
the colours in a kaleidoscope with the wavering and increasing light.
At one time it seemed to me that one of the trees was a gipsy woman
enveloped in a cloak, extending her arm towards me threateningly; at
another, two weird dogs seemed to be fighting together; but however
fantastic and fearsome had been these strange effects of light and fancy
mingled together, I should not have minded--I knew what they were; it
was a relief to have anything to look at which could keep my eyes from
constantly turning in the direction of that black iron stove.

I fell asleep at last, though not for long. When I woke it was bright
morning--fresher and brighter, I felt, as I threw open the window, than
the day before. With the greatest thankfulness that the night was over
at last, as soon as I was dressed I began to put our little belongings
together, and then turned to awake the children. Nora was sleeping
quietly; it seemed a pity to arouse her, for it was not much past six,
but I heard the people stirring about downstairs, and I had a feverish
desire to get away; for though the daylight had dispersed much of the
"eerie" impression of Nora's fright, there was a feeling of uneasiness,
almost of insecurity, left in my mind since recalling the incident of
the young man who had visited the china factory. How did I know but that
some harm had really come to him in this very place? There was certainly
nothing about the landlord to inspire confidence. At best it was a
strange and unpleasant coincidence. The evening before I had half
thought of inquiring of the landlord or his wife, or even of Lieschen,
if any English had ever before stayed at the "Katze." If assured by
them that we were the first, or at least the first "in their time," it
would, I thought, help to assure Nora that the ghost had really been a
delusion of some kind. But then, again, supposing the people of the inn
hesitated to reply--supposing the landlord to be really in any way
guilty, and my inquiries were to rouse his suspicions, would I not be
risking dangerous enmity, besides strengthening the painful impression
left on my own mind, and this corroboration of her own fear might be
instinctively suspected by Nora, even if I told her nothing?

"No," I decided; "better leave it a mystery, in any case, till we are
safely away from here." For, allowing that these people are perfectly
innocent and harmless, their even telling me simply, like the woman at
Grünstein, that such a person _had_ been here, that he had fallen ill,
possibly died here--I would rather not know it. It is certainly not
probable that it was so; they would have been pretty sure to gossip
about any occurrence of the kind, taciturn though they are. The wife
would have talked of it to me--she is more genial than the others--for I
had had a little kindly chat with her the day before, _à propos_ of what
every mother, of her class at least, is ready to talk about--the baby!
A pretty baby too, though the last, she informed me with a sort of
melancholy pride, of four she had "buried"--using the same expression
in her rough German as a Lancashire factory hand or an Irish peasant
woman--one after the other. Certainly Silberbach was not a cheerful or
cheering spot. "No, no," I made up my mind, "I would rather at present
know nothing, even if there is anything to know. I can the more honestly
endeavour to remove the impression left on Nora."

The little girl was so easily awakened that I was half inclined to doubt
if she had not been "shamming" out of filial devotion. She looked ill
still, but infinitely better than the night before, and she so eagerly
agreed with me in my wish to leave the house as soon as possible,
that I felt sure it was the best thing to do. Reggie woke up rosy and
beaming--evidently no ghosts had troubled _his_ night's repose. There
was something consoling and satisfactory in seeing him quite as happy
and hearty as in his own English nursery. But though he had no uncanny
reasons like us for disliking Silberbach, he was quite as cordial in
his readiness to leave it. We got hold of Lieschen, and asked for our
breakfast at once. As I had told the landlady the night before that we
were leaving very early, our bill came up with the coffee. It was, I
must say, moderate in the extreme--ten or twelve marks, if I remember
rightly, for two nights' lodging and _almost_ two days' board for three
people. And such as it was, they had given us of their best. I felt a
little twinge of conscience, when I said good-bye to the poor woman, for
having harboured any doubts of the establishment. But when the gruff
landlord, standing outside the door, smoking of course, nodded a surly
"adieu" in return to our parting greeting, my feeling of unutterable
thankfulness that we were not to spend another night under his roof
regained the ascendant.

"Perhaps he is offended at my not having told him how I mean to get
away, notwithstanding his stupidity about it," I said to myself, as we
passed him. But no, there was no look of vindictiveness, of malice, of
even annoyance on his dark face. Nay, more, I could almost have fancied
there was the shadow of a smile as Reggie tugged at his Tam o' Shanter
by way of a final salute. That landlord was really one of the most
incomprehensible human beings it has ever been my fate to come across,
in fact or fiction.

We had retained Lieschen to carry our modest baggage to the post-house,
and having deposited it at the side of the road just where the coach
stopped, she took her leave, apparently more than satisfied with the
small sum of money I gave her, and civilly wishing us a pleasant
journey. But though less gruff, she was quite as impassive as the
landlord. She never asked where we were going, if we were likely ever to
return again, and like her master, as I said, had we been staying there
still, I do not believe she would ever have made an inquiry or expressed
the slightest astonishment.

"There is really something very queer about Silberbach," I could not
help saying to Nora, "both about the place and the people. They almost
give one the feeling that they are half-witted, and yet they evidently
are not. This last day or two I seem to have been living in a sort of
dream or nightmare, and I shall not get over it altogether till we are
fairly out of the place;" and though she said little, I felt sure the
child understood me.

We were of course far, far too early for the post. The old man came out
of his house, and seemed amused at our haste to be gone.

"I am afraid Silberbach has not taken your fancy," he said. "Well, no
wonder. I think it is the dreariest place I ever saw."

"Then you do not belong to it? Have you not been here long?" I asked.

He shook his head.

"Only a few months, and I hope to get removed soon," he said. So _he_
could have told me nothing, evidently! "It is too lonely here. There is
not a creature in the place who ever touches a book--they are all as
dull and stupid as they can be. But then they are very poor, and they
live on here from year's end to year's end, barely able to earn their
daily bread. Poverty degrades--there is no doubt of it, whatever the
wise men may say. A few generations of it makes men little better
than----" He stopped.

"Than?" I asked.

"Than," the old philosopher of the post-house went on, "pardon the
expression--than pigs."

There were two or three of the fraternity grubbing about at the side of
the road; they may have suggested the comparison. I could hardly help
smiling.

"But I have travelled a good deal in Germany," I said, "and I have never
anywhere found the people so stupid and stolid and ungenial as here."

"Perhaps not," he said. "Still there are many places like this, only
naturally they are not the places strangers visit. It is never so bad
where there are a few country houses near, for nowadays it must be
allowed it is seldom but that the gentry take some interest in the
people."

"It is a pity no rich man takes a fancy to Silberbach," I said.

"That day will never come. The best thing would be for a railway to be
cut through the place, but that, too, is not likely."

Then the old postmaster turned into his garden, inviting us civilly to
wait there or in the office if we preferred. But we liked better to
stay outside, for just above the post-house there was a rather tempting
little wood, much prettier than anything to be seen on the other side of
the village. And Nora and I sat there quietly on the stumps of some old
trees, while Reggie found a pleasing distraction in alternately chasing
and making friends with a party of ducks, which, for reasons best known
to themselves, had deserted their native element and come for a stroll
in the woods.

From where we sat we looked down on our late habitation; we could almost
distinguish the landlord's slouching figure and poor Lieschen with a
pail of water slung at each side as she came in from the well.

"What a life!" I could not help saying. "Day after day nothing but work.
I suppose it is not to be wondered at if they grow dull and stolid, poor
things." Then my thoughts reverted to what up here in the sunshine and
the fresh morning air and with the pleasant excitement of going away I
had a little forgotten--the strange experience of the evening before. It
was difficult for me now to realise that I had been so affected by it.
I felt _now_ as if I wished I could see the poor ghost for myself, and
learn if there was aught we could do to serve or satisfy him! For in the
old orthodox ghost-stories there is always some reason for these eerie
wanderers returning to the world they have left. But when I turned to
Nora and saw her dear little face still white and drawn, and with an
expression half-subdued, half-startled, that it had never worn before, I
felt thankful that the unbidden visitor had attempted no communication.

"It might have sent her out of her mind," I thought. "Why, if he had
anything to say, did he appear to her, poor child, and not to me?--though,
after all, I am not at all sure that _I_ should not have gone out of my
mind in such a case."

Before long the post-horn made itself heard in the distance; we hurried
down, our hearts beating with the fear of possible disappointment. It
was all right, however, there were _no_ passengers, and nodding adieu to
our old friend, we joyfully mounted into our places, and were bowled
away to Seeberg.

There and at other spots in its pretty neighbourhood we pleasantly
enough spent two or three weeks. Nora by degrees recovered her roses and
her good spirits. Still, her strange experience left its mark on her.
She was never again quite the merry, thoughtless, utterly fearless
child she had been. I tried, however, to take the good with the ill,
remembering that thorough-going childhood cannot last for ever, that
the shock possibly helped to soften and modify a nature that might have
been too daring for perfect womanliness--still more, wanting perhaps in
tenderness and sympathy for the weaknesses and tremors of feebler
temperaments.

At Kronberg, on our return, we found that Herr von Walden was off on a
tour to the Italian lakes, Lutz and young Trachenfels had returned to
their studies at Heidelberg, George Norman had gone home to England. All
the members of our little party were dispersed except Frau von Walden.

To her and to Ottilia I told the story, sitting together one afternoon
over our coffee, when Nora was not with us. It impressed them both.
Ottilia could not resist an "I told you so."

"I knew, I felt," she said, "that something disagreeable would happen to
you there. I never will forget," she went on naïvely, "the dreary, dismal
impression the place left on me the only time I was there--pouring rain
and universal gloom and discomfort. We had to wait there a few hours to
get one of the horses shod, once when I was driving with my father from
Seeberg to Marsfeldt."

Frau von Walden and I could not help smiling at her. Still there was no
smiling at my story, though both agreed that, viewed in the light of
unexaggerated common sense, it was most improbable that there was any
tragedy mixed up with the disappearance of the young man we had heard of
at Grünstein.

"And indeed why we should speak of his 'disappearance' I don't know,"
said Frau von Walden. "He did not write to send the order he had spoken
of--that was all. No doubt he is very happy at his own home. When you
are back in England, my dear, you must try to find him out--perhaps by
means of the cup. And then when Nora sees him, and finds he is not at
all like the 'ghost,' it will make her the more ready to think it was
really only some _very strange_, I must admit, kind of optical delusion."

"But Nora has never heard the Grünstein story, and is not to hear it,"
said Ottilia.

"And England is a wide place, small as it is in one sense," I said.
"Still, if I _did_ come across the young man, I half think I would tell
Nora the whole, and by showing her how _my_ imagination had dressed it
up, I think I could perhaps lessen the effect on her of what she thought
she saw. It would prove to her better than anything, the tricks that
fancy may play us.

"And in the meantime, if you take my advice, you will allude to it as
little as possible," said practical Ottilia. "Don't _seem_ to avoid the
subject, but manage to do so in reality."

"Shall you order the tea-service?" asked Frau von Walden.

"I hardly think so. I am out of conceit of it somehow," I said. "And it
might remind Nora of the blue paper parcel. I think I shall give the cup
and saucer to my sister."

And on my return to England I did so.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two years later. A very different scene from quaint old Kronberg, or
still more from the dreary "Katze" at Silberbach. We are in England
now, though not at our own home. We are staying, my children and I--two
older girls than little Nora, and Nora herself, though hardly now to
be described as "little"--with my sister. Reggie is there too, but
naturally not much heard of, for it is the summer holidays, and
the weather is delightful. It is August again--a typical August
afternoon--though a trifle too hot perhaps for some people.

"This time two years ago, mamma," said Margaret, my eldest daughter,
"you were in Germany with Nora and Reggie. What a long summer that
seemed! It is so much nicer to be all together."

"I should like to go to Kronberg and all those queer places," said Lily,
the second girl; "especially to the place where Nora saw the ghost."

"I am quite sure you would not wish to _stay_ there," I replied. "It is
curious that you should speak of it just now. I was thinking of it this
morning. It was just two years yesterday that it happened."

We were sitting at afternoon tea on the lawn outside the drawing-room
window--my sister, her husband, Margaret, Lily, and I. Nora was with the
schoolroom party inside.

"How queer!" said Lily.

"You don't think Nora has thought of it?" I asked.

"Oh no, I am sure she hasn't," said Margaret. "I think it has grown
vague to her now. You know she spoke about it to us when she first came
home. You had prepared us, you remember, mamma, and told us not to make
too much of it. The first year after, she _did_ think of it. She told me
she was dreadfully frightened all that day for fear he should appear
again. But since then I think she has gradually forgotten it."

"She is a very sensible child," said my sister. "And she is especially
kind and sympathising with any of the little ones who seem timid. I
found her sitting beside Charlie the other night for ever so long
because he heard an owl hooting outside, and was frightened."

Just then a servant came out of the house, and said something to my
brother-in-law. He got up at once.

"It is Mr. Grenfell," he said to his wife, "and a friend with him. Shall
I bring them out here?"

"Yes, it would really be a pity to go into the house again--it is so
nice out here," she replied. And her husband went to meet his guests.

He appeared again in a minute or two, stepping out through the low
window of the drawing-room, accompanied by the two gentlemen.

Mr. Grenfell was a young man living in the neighbourhood, whom we had
known from his boyhood; the stranger he introduced to us as Sir Robert
Masters. He was a middle-aged man, with a quiet, gentle bearing and
expression.

"You will have some tea?" said my sister, after the first few words of
greeting had passed. Mr. Grenfell declined. His friend accepted.

"Go into the drawing-room, Lily, please, and ring for a cup and saucer,"
said her aunt, noting the deficiency. "There was an extra one, but some
one has poured milk into the saucer. It surely can't have been you,
Mark, for Tiny?" she went on, turning to her husband. "You _shouldn't_
let a dog drink out of anything we drink out of ourselves."

My brother-in-law looked rather comically penitent; he did not attempt
to deny the charge.

"Only, my dear, you must allow," he pleaded, "that we do not drink our
tea out of the _saucers_."

On what trifling links hang sometimes important results! Had it not been
for Mark's transgressing in the matter of Tiny's milk we should never
have learnt the circumstances which give to this simple relation of
facts--valueless in itself--such interest, speculative and suggestive
only, I am aware, as it may be found to possess.

Lily, in the meantime, had disappeared. But more quickly than it would
have taken her to ring the bell, and await the servant's response to the
summons, she was back again, carrying something carefully in her hand.

"Aunt," she said, "is it not a good idea? As you have a tea-spoon--I
don't suppose Tiny used the spoon, did he?--I thought, instead of
ringing for another, I would bring out the ghost-cup for Sir Robert. It
is only fair to use it for once, poor thing, and just as we have been
speaking about it. Oh, I assure you it is not dusty," as my sister
regarded it dubiously. "It was inside the cabinet."

"Still, all the same, a little hot water will do it no harm," said her
aunt--"provided, that is to say, that Sir Robert has no objection to
drink out of a cup with such a name attached to it?"

"On the contrary," replied he, "I shall think it an honour. But you
will, I trust, explain the meaning of the name to me? It puzzles me
more than if it were a piece of ancient china--a great-great-grandmother's
cup, for instance. For I see it is not old, though it is very pretty,
and, I suppose, uncommon?"

There was a slight tone of hesitation about the last word which struck
me.

"I have no doubt my sister will be ready to tell you all there is to
tell. It was she who gave me the cup," replied the lady of the house.

Then Sir Robert turned to me. Looking at him full in the face I saw that
there was a thoughtful, far-seeing look in his eyes, which redeemed his
whole appearance from the somewhat commonplace gentlemanliness which was
all I had before observed about him.

"I am greatly interested in these subjects," he said. "It would be very
kind of you to tell me the whole."

I did so, more rapidly and succinctly of course than I have done here.
It is not easy to play the part of narrator, with five or six pairs of
eyes fixed upon you, more especially when the owners of several of them
have heard the story a good many times before, and are quick to observe
the slightest discrepancy, however unintentional. "There is, you see,
very little to tell," I said in conclusion, "only there is always a
certain amount of impressiveness about any experience of the kind when
related at first hand."

"Undoubtedly so," Sir Robert replied. "Thank you very much indeed for
telling it me."

He spoke with perfect courtesy, but with a slight absence of manner,
his eyes fixed rather dreamily on the cup in his hand. He seemed as if
trying to recall or recollect something.

"There should be a sequel to that story," said Mr. Grenfell.

"That's what I say," said Margaret eagerly. "It will be too stupid if
we never hear any more. But that is always the way with modern ghost
stories--there is no sense or meaning in them. The ghosts appear to
people who never knew them, who take no interest in them, as it were,
and then they have nothing to say--there is no _dénouement_, it is all
purposeless."

Sir Robert looked at her thoughtfully.

"There is a good deal in what you say," he replied. "But I think there
is a good deal also to be deduced from the very fact you speak of,
for it is a fact. I believe what you call the meaninglessness and
purposelessness--the arbitrariness, one may say, of modern experiences
of the kind are the surest proofs of their authenticity. Long ago people
mixed up fact and fiction, their imaginations ran riot and on some very
slight foundation--often, no doubt, genuine, though slight--they built
up a very complete and thrilling 'ghost story.' Nowadays we consider and
philosophise, we want to get to the root and reason of things, and we
are more wary of exaggeration. The result is that the only genuine
ghosts are most unsatisfactory beings; they appear without purpose,
and seem to be what, in fact, I believe they _almost_ always are,
irresponsible, purposeless will-o'-the-wisps. But from these I would
separate the class of ghost stories the best attested and most
impressive--those that have to do with the moment of death; any vision
that appears just at or about that time has _generally_ more meaning in
it, I think you will find. Such ghosts appear for a reason, if no other
than that of intense affection, which draws them near those from whom
they are to be separated."

We listened attentively to this long explanation, though by no means
fully understanding it.

"I have often heard," I said, "that the class of ghost stories you speak
of are the only thoroughly authenticated ones, and I think one is
naturally more inclined to believe in them than in any others. But I
confess I do not in the least understand what you mean by speaking of
_other_ ghosts as 'will-o'-the-wisps.' You don't mean that though at the
moment of death there is a real being--the soul, in fact, as distinct
from the body, in which all but materialists believe--that this has
no permanent existence, but melts away by degrees till it becomes an
irresponsible, purposeless _nothing_--a will-o'-the-wisp in fact? I
think I heard of some theory of the kind lately in a French book, but
it shocked and repelled me so that I tried to forget it. Just as well,
_better_, believe that we are nothing but our bodies, and that all is
over when we die. Surely you don't mean what I say?"

"God forbid," said Sir Robert, with a fervency which startled while it
reassured me. "It is my profound belief that not only we are something
more than our bodies, but that our bodies are the merest outer dress of
the real ourselves. It is also my profound belief that at death we--the
real we--either enter at once into a state of rest temporarily, or, in
some cases--for I do not believe in any cut-and-dry rule independently
of _individual_ considerations--are privileged at once to enter upon a
sphere of nobler and purer labour," and here the speaker's eyes glowed
with a light that was not of this world. "Is it then the least probable,
is it not altogether discordant with our 'common sense'--a Divine gift
which we may employ fearlessly--to suppose that these real 'selves,'
freed from the weight of their discarded garments, would leave either
their blissful repose, _or_, still less, their new activities, to come
back to wander about, purposelessly and aimlessly, in this world, at
best only perplexing and alarming such as may perceive them? Is it not
contrary to all we find of the wisdom and _reasonableness_ of such laws
as we _do_ know something about?"

"I have often thought so," I said, "and hitherto this has led me to be
very sceptical about all ghost stories."

"But they are often true--so far as they go," he replied. "Our natures
are much more complex than we ourselves understand or realise. I cannot
now go at all thoroughly into the subject, but to give you a rough idea
of my will-o'-the-wisp theory--can you not imagine a sort of shadow, or
echo of ourselves, lingering about the scenes we have frequented on
this earth, which under certain very rare conditions--the state of the
atmosphere among others--may be perceptible to those still 'clothed
upon' with this present body? To attempt a simile, I might suggest the
perfume that lingers when the flowers are thrown away, the smoke that
gradually dissolves after the lamp is extinguished! This is very, very
loosely and roughly the _sort_ of thing I mean by my 'will-o'-the-wisps.'"

"I don't like it at all," said Margaret, though she smiled a little. "I
think I should be more frightened if I saw that kind of ghost--I mean if
I thought it that kind--than by a good, honest, old-fashioned one, who
knew what it was about and meant to come."

"But you have just said," he objected, "that they never do seem to know
what they are about. Besides, why should you be frightened?--our fears,
ourselves in fact--are the only thing we really need be frightened
of--our weaknesses and ignorances and folly. There was great truth in
that rather ghastly story of Calderra's, allegory though it is, about
the man whose evil genius was himself; have you read it?"

We all shook our heads.

"It is ignorance that frightens us," he went on. "In this instance think
of the appearances we are speaking of as almost of the nature of a
photograph, or the reflection in a looking-glass. I daresay we should
have been terrified by these, had we not grown used to them, did we not
know what they are. Somebody said lately what appalling things we should
think our own _shadows_, if we had suddenly for the first time become
aware of them."

"I don't mind so much," said Margaret, "when you speak of ghosts as a
sort of photograph. But----" she hesitated.

"Pray say what you are thinking."

"Just now when you said how incredible it was that _real souls_ should
return to this earth, you only spoke of good people, did you not?"

In his turn Sir Robert hesitated.

"It is difficult to draw a line even in thought between good and bad
people," he said, "and, thank God, it is not for us to do so. 'To my
Maker alone I stand or I fall.' There is evil in the best; there is, I
would fain hope," but here his face grew grave and sad, "good in the
worst. But even allowing that we could draw the line, is it likely that
the bad, even those who have all but lost the last spark, who don't want
to be good, is it likely that they, if, as we must believe, under Divine
control, would be allowed to leave their new life of punishment--punishment
in the sense of _correction_, mind you--to come back here, wasting
their time, one may say, to frighten perfectly innocent people for no
purpose? No, I think I am quite consistent. Only try to get rid of all
_fears_--that is what we can all do. But really I should apologise for
all this lecture;" and he was turning to me with a smile, when his eyes
fell on the cup which he had replaced on the table.

"I cannot get over the impression that I have seen that cup--no, not
that cup, but one just like it, before. Not long ago, I fancy," he said.

"Oh, you must let us know if you find out anything," we all exclaimed.

"I certainly shall do so," he said, and a few minutes afterwards he and
Mr. Grenfell took their leave.

But I had time for a word or two with the latter out of hearing of the
others.

"Who is Sir Robert Masters?" I asked. "Have you known him long? He is a
very uncommon and impressive sort of man."

"Yes, I thought you would like him. I have not personally known him
long, but he is an old friend of friends of ours. He is of good family,
an old baronetcy, but he is not much known in fashionable society. He
travels a great deal, or has done so rather, and people say he has
'peculiar ideas,' though that would not go against him in the world.
Peculiar ideas, or the cant of them, are rather the fashion it seems to
me! But there is no cant about him. And whatever his ideas are," went on
young Grenfell warmly, "he is one of the _best_ men I ever knew. He has
settled down for some years, and devotes his whole life to doing good,
but so quietly and unostentatiously that no one knows how much he does,
and others get the credit of it very often."

That was all I heard.

I have never seen Sir Robert again. Still I have by no means arrived yet
at the end of my so-called ghost story.

The cup and saucer were carefully washed and replaced in the
glass-doored cabinet. The summer gradually waned, and we all returned to
our own home. It was at a considerable distance from my sister's, and
we met each other principally in the summer time. So, though I did not
forget Sir Robert Masters, or his somewhat strange conversation, amid
the crowd of daily interests and pleasures, duties and cares, none of
the incidents I have here recorded were much in my mind, and but that I
had while still in Germany carefully noted the details of all bearing
directly or indirectly on "Nora's ghost," as we had come to call
it--though it was but rarely alluded to before the child herself--I
should not now have been able to give them with circumstantiality.

Fully fifteen months after the visit to my sister, during which we had
met Sir Robert, the whole was suddenly and unexpectedly recalled to my
memory. Mark and Nora the elder--my sister, that is,--were in their turn
staying with us, when one morning at breakfast the post brought for the
latter an unusually bulky and important-looking letter. She opened it,
glanced at an outer sheet enclosing several pages in a different
handwriting, and passed it on to me.

"We must read the rest together," she said in a low voice, glancing at
the children, who were at the table. "How interesting it will be!"

The sheet she had handed to me was a short note from Mr. Grenfell. It
was dated from some place in Norway where he was fishing, and from
whence he had addressed the whole packet to my sister's own home, not
knowing of her absence.

"MY DEAR MRS. DAVENTRY"--it began--"The enclosed will have been a long
time of reaching its real destination, for it is, as you will see,
really intended for your sister. No doubt it will interest you too, as
it has done me, though I am too matter-of-fact and prosaic to enter into
such things much. Still it is curious. Please keep the letter; I am sure
my friend intends you to do so.
                                     "Yours very truly,
                                                     "RALPH GRENFELL."

The manuscript enclosed was, of course, from Sir Robert himself. It was
in the form of a letter to young Grenfell; and after explaining that he
thought it better to write to him, not having my address, he plunged
into the real object of his communication.

"You will not," he said, "have forgotten the incident of the 'ghost-cup,'
in the summer of last year, and the curious story your friend was so
good as to tell us about it. You may remember--Mrs. ---- will, I am
sure, do so--my strong impression that I had recently seen one like it.
After I left you I could not get this feeling out of my head. It is
always irritating not to be able, figuratively speaking, 'to lay your
hand' on a recollection, and in this instance I really wanted to get the
clue, as it might lead to some sort of 'explanation' of the little
girl's strange experience. I cudgelled my brains, but all to no purpose;
I went over in memory all the houses at which I had visited within a
certain space of time; I made lists of all the people I knew interested
in 'china,' ancient or modern, and likely to possess specimens of it.
But all in vain. All I got for my pains was that people began to think I
was developing a new crotchet, or, as I heard one lady say to another,
not knowing I was within earshot, 'the poor man must be a little off his
head, though till now I have always denied it. But the revulsion from
benevolent schemes to china-collecting shows it only too plainly.' So I
thought I had better leave off cross-questioning my 'collecting' friends
about porcelain and faïence, German ware in particular. And after a
while I thought no more about it. Two months ago I had occasion to make
a journey to the north--the same journey and to stay at the same house
where I have been four or five times since I saw the 'ghost-cup.' But
this was what happened _this_ time. There is a junction by which one
must pass on this journey. I generally manage to suit my trains so as to
avoid waiting there, but this is not always feasible. This time I found
that an hour at the junction was inevitable. There is a very good
refreshment room there, kept by very civil, decent people. They knew me
by sight, and after I had had a cup of tea they proposed to me, as they
have done before, to wait in their little parlour just off the public
room. 'It would be quieter and more comfortable,' said either the mother
or the daughter who manage the concern. I thanked them, and settled
myself in an arm-chair with my book, when, looking up--there on the
mantelpiece stood the fellow cup--the identical shape, pattern, and
colour! It all flashed into my mind then. I had made this journey just
before going into your neighbourhood last year, and had waited in this
little parlour just as this time.

"'Where did you get that cup, Mrs. Smith?' I asked.

"There were two or three rather pretty bits of china about. The good
woman was pleased at my noticing it.

"'Yes, sir. Isn't it pretty? I've rather a fancy for china. That cup was
sent me by my niece. She said she'd picked it up somewhere--at a sale, I
think. It's foreign, sir; isn't it?'

"'Yes, German. But can't you find out _where_ your niece got it?' for
at the word 'sale' my hopes fell.

"'I can ask her. I shall be writing to her this week,' she replied; and
she promised to get any information she could for me within a fortnight,
by which time I expected to pass that way again. I did so, and Mrs.
Smith proved as good as her word. The niece had got the cup from a
friend of hers, an auctioneer, and he, not she, had got it at a sale.
But he was away from home--she could hear nothing more at present. She
gave his address, however, and assurances that he was very good-natured
and would gladly put the gentleman in the way of getting china like it,
if it was to be got. He would be home by the middle of the month. It
was now the middle of the month. The auctioneer's town was not above a
couple of hours off my line. Perhaps you will all laugh at me when I
tell you that I went those two hours out of my way, arriving at the town
late that night and putting up at a queer old inn--worth going to see
for itself--on purpose to find the man of the hammer. I found him.
He was very civil, though rather mystified. He remembered the cup
perfectly, but there was no chance of getting any like it where it
came from!

"'And where was that?' I asked eagerly.

"'At a sale some miles from here, about four years ago,' he replied. 'It
was the sale of the furniture and plate, and everything, in fact, of a
widow lady. She had some pretty china, for she had a fancy for it. That
cup was not of much value; it was quite modern. I bought it in for a
trifle. I gave it to Miss Cross, and she sent it to her aunt, as you
know. As for getting any like it----'

"But I interrupted him by assuring him I did not wish that, but that
I had reasons for wanting some information about the person who, I
believed, had bought the cup. 'Nothing to do any harm to any one,' I
said; 'a matter of feeling. A similar cup had been bought by a person
I was interested in, and I feared that person was dead.'

"The auctioneer's face cleared. He fancied he began to understand me.

"'I am afraid you are right, sir, if the person you mean was young Mr.
Paulet, the lady's son. You may have met him on his travels? His death
was very sad, I believe. It killed his mother, they say--she never
looked up after; and as she had no near relative to follow her, everything
was sold. I remember I was told all that, at the sale, and it seemed to
me particularly sad, even though one comes across many sad things in our
line of business.'

"'Do you remember the particulars of Mr. Paulet's death?' I asked.

"'Only that it happened suddenly--somewhere in foreign parts. I did not
know the family till I was asked to take charge of the sale,' he replied.

"'Could you possibly get any details for me? I feel sure it is the same
Mr. Paulet,' I said boldly.

"The auctioneer considered.

"'Perhaps I can. I rather think a former servant of theirs is still in
the neighbourhood,' he replied.

"I thanked him and left him my address, to which he promised to write. I
felt it was perhaps better not to pursue my inquiries further in person;
it might lead to annoyance, or possibly to gossip about the dead, which
I detest. I jotted down some particulars for the auctioneer's guidance,
and went on my way. That was a fortnight ago. To-day I have his answer,
which I transcribe:--


"'SIR--The servant I spoke of could not tell me very much, as she was
not long in the late Mrs. Paulet's service. To hear more, she says, you
must apply to the relations of the family. Young Mr. Paulet was tall and
fair and very nice-looking. His mother and he were deeply attached to
each other. He travelled a good deal and used to bring her home lots
of pretty things. He met his death in some part of Germany where there
are forests, for though it was thought at first he had died of heart
disease, the doctors proved he had been struck by lightning, and his
body was found in the forest, and the papers on him showed who he was.
The body was sent home to be buried, and all that was found with it; a
knapsack and its contents, among which was the cup I bought at the sale.
His death was about the middle of August 18--. I shall be glad if this
information is of any service.'


"This," continued Sir Robert's own letter, "is all I have been able to
learn. There does not seem to have been the very slightest suspicion of
foul play, nor do I think it the least likely there was any ground for
such. Young Paulet probably died some way farther in the forest than
Silberbach, and it is even possible the surly landlord never heard of
it. It _might_ be worth while to inquire about it should your friends
ever be there again. If I should be in the neighbourhood I certainly
should do so; the whole coincidences are very striking."

Then followed apologies for the length of his letter which he had been
betrayed into by his anxiety to tell all there was to tell. In return he
asked Mr. Grenfell to obtain from me certain dates and particulars as he
wished to note them down. It was the 18th of August on which "Nora's
ghost" had appeared--just two years after the August of the poor young
man's death!

There was also a postscript to Sir Robert's letter, in which he said, "I
think, in Mrs. ----'s place, I would say nothing to the little girl of
what we have discovered."

And I have never done so.

This is all I have to tell. I offer no suggestions, no theories in
explanation of the facts. Those who, like Sir Robert Masters, are able
and desirous to treat such subjects scientifically or philosophically
will doubtless form their own. I cannot say that I find _his_ theory a
perfectly satisfactory one, perhaps I do not sufficiently understand it,
but I have tried to give it in his own words. Should this matter-of-fact
relation of a curious experience meet his eyes, I am sure he will forgive
my having brought him into it. Besides, it is not likely that he
would be recognised; men, and women too, of "peculiar ideas," sincere
investigators and honest searchers after truth, as well as their
superficial plagiarists, being by no means rare in these days.



IV

THE STORY OF THE RIPPLING TRAIN


"Let's tell ghost stories, then," said Gladys.

"Aren't you tired of them? One hears nothing else nowadays. And they're
all 'authentic,' really vouched for, only you never see the person
who saw or heard or felt the ghost. It is always somebody's sister or
cousin, or friend's friend," objected young Mrs. Snowdon, another of the
guests at the Quarries.

"I don't know that that is quite a reasonable ground for discrediting
them _en masse_," said her husband. "It is natural enough, indeed
inevitable, that the principal or principals in such cases should be
much more rarely come across than the stories themselves. A hundred
people can repeat the story, but the author, or rather hero, of it,
can't be in a hundred places at once. You don't disbelieve in any other
statement or narrative merely because you have never seen the prime
mover in it?"

"But I didn't say I discredited them on that account," said Mrs.
Snowdon. "You take one up so, Archie. I'm not logical and reasonable;
I don't pretend to be. If I meant anything, it was that a ghost story
would have a great pull over other ghost stories if one could see the
person it happened to. One does get rather provoked at _never_ coming
across him or her," she added a little petulantly.

She was tired; they were all rather tired, for it was the first evening
since the party had assembled at the large country house known as "the
Quarries" on which there was not to be dancing, with the additional
fatigue of "ten miles there and ten back again"; and three or four
evenings of such doings without intermission tell even on the young and
vigorous.

To-night various less energetic ways of passing the evening had been
proposed,--music, games, reading aloud, recitation,--none had found
favour in everybody's sight, and now Gladys Lloyd's proposal that they
should "tell ghost stories" seemed likely to fall flat also.

For a moment or two no one answered Mrs. Snowdon's last remarks. Then,
somewhat to everybody's surprise, the young daughter of the house
turned to her mother.

"Mamma," she said, "don't be vexed with me--I know you warned me once to
be careful how I spoke of it; but _wouldn't_ it be nice if Uncle Paul
would tell us his ghost story? And then, Mrs. Snowdon," she went on,
"you could always say you had heard _one_ ghost story at or from--which
should I say?--headquarters."

Lady Denholme glanced round half nervously before she replied.

"Locally speaking, it would not be _at_ headquarters, Nina," she said.
"The Quarries was not the scene of your uncle's ghost story. But I
almost think it is better not to speak about it--I am not sure that he
would like it mentioned, and he will be coming in a moment. He had only
a note to write."

"I do wish he would tell it to us," said Nina regretfully. "Don't you
think, mamma, I might just run to the study and ask him, and if he did
not like the idea he might say so to me, and no one would seem to know
anything about it? Uncle Paul is so kind--I'm never afraid of asking him
any favour."

"Thank you, Nina, for your good opinion of me; you see there is no rule
without exceptions; listeners do sometimes hear pleasant things of
themselves," said Mr. Marischal, as he at that moment came round the
screen which half concealed the doorway. "What is the special favour you
were thinking of asking me?"

Nina looked rather taken aback.

"How softly you opened the door, Uncle Paul," she said. "I would not
have spoken of you if I had known you were there."

"But after all you were saying no harm," observed her brother Michael.
"And for my part I don't believe Uncle Paul would mind our asking him
what we were speaking of."

"What was it?" asked Mr. Marischal. "I think, as I have heard so much,
you may as well tell me the whole."

"It was only----" began Nina, but her mother interrupted her.

"I have told Nina not to speak of it, Paul," she said anxiously;
"but--it was only that all these young people are talking about ghost
stories, and they want you to tell them your own strange experience.
You must not be vexed with them."

"Vexed!" said Mr. Marischal, "not in the least." But for a moment or two
he said no more, and even pretty, spoilt Mrs. Snowdon looked a little
uneasy.

"You shouldn't have persisted, Nina," she whispered.

Mr. Marischal must have had unusually quick ears. He looked up and
smiled.

"I really don't mind telling you all there is to hear," he said. "At one
time I had a sort of dislike to mentioning the story, for the sake of
others. The details would have led to its being recognised--and it might
have been painful. But there is no one now living to whom it would
matter--you know," he added, turning to his sister; "her husband is
dead too."

Lady Denholme shook her head.

"No," she said, "I did not hear."

"Yes," said her brother, "I saw his death in the papers last year. He
had married again, I believe. There is not now, therefore, any reason
why I should not tell the story, if it will interest you," he went on,
turning to the others. "And there is not very much to tell. Not worth
making such a preamble about. It was--let me see--yes, it must be nearly
fifteen years ago."

"Wait a moment, Uncle Paul," said Nina. "Yes, that's all right, Gladys.
You and I will hold each other's hands, and pinch hard if we get very
frightened."

"Thank you," Miss Lloyd replied. "On the whole I should prefer for you
not to hold my hand."

"But I won't pinch you so as to hurt," said Nina reassuringly; "and it
isn't as if we were in the dark."

"Shall I turn down the lamps?" asked Mr. Snowdon.

"No, no," exclaimed his wife.

"There really is nothing frightening--scarcely even 'creepy,' in my
story at all," said Mr. Marischal, half apologetically. "You make me
feel like an impostor."

"Oh no, Uncle Paul, don't say that. It is all my fault for interrupting,"
said Nina. "Now go on, please. I have Gladys's hand all the same," she
added _sotto voce_, "it's just as well to be prepared."

"Well, then," began Mr. Marischal once more, "it must be nearly fifteen
years ago; and I had not seen her for fully ten years before that
again! I was not thinking of her in the least; in a sense I had really
forgotten her: she had quite gone out of my life; that has always struck
me as a very curious point in the story," he added parenthetically.

"Won't you tell us who 'she' was, Uncle Paul?" asked Nina half shyly.

"Oh yes, I was going to do so. I am not skilled in story-telling, you
see. She was, at the time I first knew her--at the only time, indeed,
that I knew her--a very sweet and attractive girl, named Maud Bertram.
She was very pretty--more than pretty, for she had remarkably regular
features--her profile was always admired, and a tall and graceful
figure. And she was a bright and happy creature too; that, perhaps, was
almost her greatest charm. You will wonder--I see the question hovering
on your lips, Miss Lloyd, and on yours too, Mrs. Snowdon--why, if I
admired her and liked her so much, I did not go further. And I will tell
you frankly that I did not because I dared not. I had then no prospect
of being able to marry for years to come, and I was not very young. I
was already nearly thirty, and Maud was quite ten years younger. I was
wise enough and old enough to realise the situation thoroughly, and to
be on my guard."

"And Maud?" asked Mrs. Snowdon.

"She was surrounded by admirers; it seemed to me then that it would have
been insufferable conceit to have even asked myself if it could matter
to her. It was only in the light of after events that the possibility of
my having been mistaken occurred to me. And I don't even now see that I
could have acted otherwise----" Here Uncle Paul sighed a little. "We
were the best of friends. She knew that I admired her, and she seemed
to take a frank pleasure in its being so. I had always hoped that she
really liked and trusted me as a friend, but no more. The last time I
saw her was just before I started for Portugal, where I remained three
years. When I returned to London Maud had been married for two years,
and had gone straight out to India on her marriage, and except by
some few friends who had known us both intimately, I seldom heard her
mentioned. And time passed. I cannot say I had exactly forgotten
her, but she was not much or often in my thoughts. I was a busy and
much-absorbed man, and life had proved a serious matter to me. Now
and then some passing resemblance would recall her to my mind--once
especially when I had been asked to look in to see the young wife of one
of my cousins in her court-dress; something in her figure and bearing
brought back Maud to my memory, for it was thus, in full dress, that
I had last seen her, and thus perhaps, unconsciously, her image had
remained photographed on my brain. But as far as I can recollect at the
time when the occurrence I am going to relate to you happened, I had not
been thinking of Maud Bertram for months. I was in London just then,
staying with my brother, my eldest brother, who had been married for
several years, and lived in our own old town-house in ---- Square. It
was in April, a clear spring day, with no fog or half-lights about,
and it was not yet four o'clock in the afternoon--not very ghost-like
circumstances, you will admit. I had come home early from my club--it
was a sort of holiday-time with me just then for a few weeks--intending
to get some letters written which had been on my mind for some days,
and I had sauntered into the library, a pleasant, fair-sized room lined
with books, on the first-floor. Before setting to work I sat down for a
moment or two in an easy-chair by the fire, for it was still cool enough
weather to make a fire desirable, and began thinking over my letters.
No thought, no shadow of a thought of my old friend Miss Bertram was
present with me; of that I am perfectly certain. The door was on the
same side of the room as the fireplace; as I sat there, half facing the
fire, I also half faced the door. I had not shut it properly on coming
in--I had only closed it without turning the handle--and I did not feel
surprised when it slowly and noiselessly swung open, till it stood right
out into the room, concealing the actual doorway from my view. You will
perhaps understand the position better if you think of the door as just
then acting like a screen to the doorway. From where I sat I could not
have seen any one entering the room till he or she had got beyond the
door itself. I glanced up, half expecting to see some one come in, but
there was no one; the door had swung open of itself. For the moment I
sat on, with only the vague thought passing through my mind, 'I must
shut it before I begin to write.'

"But suddenly I found my eyes fixing themselves on the carpet; something
had come within their range of vision, compelling their attention in a
mechanical sort of way. What was it?

"'Smoke,' was my first idea. 'Can there be anything on fire?' But
I dismissed the notion almost as soon as it suggested itself. The
something, faint and shadowy, that came slowly rippling itself in as it
were beyond the dark wood of the open door, was yet too material for
'smoke.' My next idea was a curious one. 'It looks like soapy water,'
I said to myself; 'can one of the housemaids have been scrubbing, and
upset a pail on the stairs?' For the stair to the next floor almost
faced the library door. But--no; I rubbed my eyes and looked again;
the soapy water theory gave way. The wavy something that kept gliding,
rippling in, gradually assumed a more substantial appearance. It
was--yes, I suddenly became convinced of it--it was ripples of soft
silken stuff, creeping in as if in some mysterious way unfolded or
unrolled, not jerkily or irregularly, but glidingly and smoothly, like
little wavelets on the sea-shore.

"And I sat there and gazed. 'Why did you not jump up and look behind the
door to see what it was?' you may reasonably ask. That question I cannot
answer. Why I sat still, as if bewitched, or under some irresistible
influence, I cannot tell, but so it was.

"And it--came always rippling in, till at last it began to rise as
it still came on, and I saw that a figure--a tall, graceful woman's
figure--was slowly advancing, backwards of course, into the room, and
that the waves of pale silk--a very delicate shade of pearly gray I
think it must have been--were in fact the lower portion of a long
court-train, the upper part of which hung in deep folds from the lady's
waist. She moved in--I cannot describe the motion, it was not like
ordinary walking or stepping backwards--till the whole of her figure
and the clear profile of her face and head were distinctly visible, and
when at last she stopped and stood there full in my view just, but only
just beyond the door, I saw--it came upon me like a flash--that she was
no stranger to me, this mysterious visitant! I recognised, unchanged it
seemed to me since the day, ten years ago, when I had last seen her, the
beautiful features of Maud Bertram."

Mr. Marischal stopped a moment. Nobody spoke. Then he went on again.

"I should not have said 'unchanged.' There was one great change in the
sweet face. You remember my telling you that one of my girl-friend's
greatest charms was her bright sunny happiness--she never seemed gloomy
or depressed or dissatisfied, seldom even pensive. But in this respect
the face I sat there gazing at was utterly unlike Maud Bertram's. Its
expression, as she--or 'it'--stood there looking, not towards me, but
out beyond, as if at some one or something outside the doorway, was of
the profoundest sadness. Anything _so_ sad I had never seen in a human
face, and I trust I never may. But I sat on, as motionless almost as
she, gazing at her fixedly, with no desire, no power perhaps, to move or
approach more nearly to the phantom. I was not in the least frightened.
I knew it _was_ a phantom, but I felt paralysed, and as if I myself had
somehow got outside of ordinary conditions. And there I sat--staring
at Maud, and there she stood, gazing before her with that terrible,
unspeakable sadness in her face, which, even though I felt no _fear_,
seemed to freeze me with a kind of unutterable pity.

"I don't know how long I had sat thus, or how long I might have
continued to sit there, almost as if in a trance, when suddenly I heard
the front-door bell ring. It seemed to awaken me. I started up and
glanced round, half-expecting that I should find the vision dispelled.
But no; she was still there, and I sank back into my seat just as I
heard my brother coming quickly upstairs. He came towards the library,
and seeing the door wide open walked in, and I, still gazing, saw his
figure _pass through that of the woman in the doorway_ as you may walk
through a wreath of mist or smoke--only, don't misunderstand me, the
figure of Maud till that moment had had nothing unsubstantial about it.
She had looked to me, as she stood there, literally and exactly like a
living woman--the shade of her dress, the colour of her hair, the few
ornaments she wore, all were as defined and clear as yours, Nina, at the
present moment, and remained so, or perhaps became so again as soon as
my brother was well within the room. He came forward addressing me by
name, but I answered him in a whisper, begging him to be silent and to
sit down on the seat opposite me for a moment or two. He did so, though
he was taken aback by my strange manner, for I still kept my eyes fixed
on the door. I had a queer consciousness that if I looked away _it_
would fade, and I wanted to keep cool and see what would happen. I asked
Herbert in a low voice if _he_ saw nothing, but though he mechanically
followed the direction of my eyes, he shook his head in bewilderment.
And for a moment or two he remained thus. Then I began to notice that
the figure was growing less clear, as if it were receding, yet without
growing smaller to the sight; it grew fainter and vaguer, the colours
grew hazy. I rubbed my eyes once or twice with a half idea that my long
watching was making them misty, but it was not so. My eyes were not at
fault--slowly but surely Maud Bertram, or her ghost, melted away, till
all trace of her had gone. I saw again the familiar pattern of the
carpet where she had stood and the objects of the room that had been
hidden by her draperies--all again in the most commonplace way, but she
was gone, quite gone.

"Then Herbert, seeing me relax my intense gaze, began to question
me. I told him exactly what I have told you. He answered, as every
"common-sensible" person of course would, that it was strange, but that
such things did happen sometimes and were classed by the wise under the
head of 'optical delusions.' I was not well, perhaps, he suggested. Been
over-working? Had I not better see a doctor? But I shook my head. I was
quite well, and I said so. And perhaps he was right, it might be an
optical delusion only. I had never had any experience of such things.

"'All the same,' I said, 'I shall mark down the date.'

"Herbert laughed and said that was what people always did in such cases.
If he knew where Mrs. ---- then was he would write to her, just for the
fun of the thing, and ask her to be so good as to look up her diary, if
she kept one, and let us know what she had been doing on that particular
day--'the 6th of April, isn't it?' he said--when I would have it her
wraith had paid me a visit. I let him talk. It seemed to remove the
strange painful impression--painful because of that terrible sadness in
the sweet face. But we neither of us knew where she was, we scarcely
remembered her married name! And so there was nothing to be done--except,
what I did at once in spite of Herbert's rallying, to mark down the day
and hour with scrupulous exactness in _my_ diary.

"Time passed. I had not forgotten my strange experience, but of course
the impression of it lessened by degrees till it seemed more like a
curious dream than anything more real, when one day I _did_ hear of
poor Maud again. 'Poor' Maud I cannot help calling her. I heard of her
indirectly, and probably, but for the sadness of her story, I should
never have heard it at all. It was a friend of her husband's family who
had mentioned the circumstances in the hearing of a friend of mine, and
one day something brought round the conversation to old times, and he
startled me by suddenly inquiring if I remembered Maud Bertram. I said,
of course I did. Did he know anything of her? And then he told me.

"She was dead--she had died some months ago after a long and trying
illness, the result of a terrible accident. She had caught fire one
evening when dressed for some grand entertainment or other, and though
her injuries did not seem likely to be fatal at the time, she had never
recovered the shock.

"'She was so pretty,' my friend said, 'and one of the saddest parts of
it was that I hear she was terrifically disfigured, and she took this
most sadly to heart. The right side of her face was utterly ruined, and
the sight of the right eye lost, though, strange to say, the left side
entirely escaped, and seeing her in profile one would have had no notion
of what had happened. Was it not sad? She was such a sweet, bright
creature.'

"I did not tell him _my_ story, for I did not want it chattered about,
but a strange sort of shiver ran through me at his words. _It was the
left side of her face only_ that the wraith of my poor friend had
allowed me to see."

"Oh, Uncle Paul!" exclaimed Nina.

"And--as to the dates?" inquired Mr. Snowdon.

"I never knew the exact date of the accident," said Mr. Marischal, "but
that of her death was fully six months after I had seen her. And in my
own mind, I have never made any doubt that it was at or about, probably
a short time after, the accident, that she came to me. It seemed a kind
of appeal for sympathy--and--a farewell also, poor child."

They all sat silent for some little time, and then Mr. Marischal got up
and went off to his own quarters, saying something vaguely about seeing
if his letters had gone.

"What a touching story!" said Gladys Lloyd. "I am afraid, after all, it
has been more painful than he realised for Mr. Marischal to tell it. Did
you know anything of Maud's husband, dear Lady Denholme? Was he kind to
her? Was she happy?"

"We never heard much about her married life," her hostess replied. "But
I have no reason to think she was unhappy. Her husband married again
two or three years after her death, but that says nothing."

"N--no," said Nina. "All the same, mamma, I am sure she really did love
Uncle Paul very much,--much more than he had any idea of. Poor Maud!"

"And he has never married," added Gladys.

"No," said Lady Denholme, "but there have been many practical
difficulties in the way of his doing so. He has had a most absorbingly
busy life, and now that he is more at leisure he feels himself too old
to form new ties."

"But," persisted Nina, "if he had had any idea at the time that Maud
cared for him so?"

"Ah well," Lady Denholme allowed, "in that case, in spite of the
practical difficulties, things would probably have been different."

And again Nina repeated softly, "Poor Maud!"



_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, _Edinburgh_.



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

In a very few cases, missing punctuation has been added. One change was
made to the text. Towards the end of part 1 of the third tale,
"Unexplained," the word "went" was replaced by "gone" in the sentence:

I am not at all sure that _I_ should not have gone out of my
mind in such a case.





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