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Title: Wandering Ghosts
Author: Crawford, F. Marion (Francis Marion), 1854-1909
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.

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WANDERING GHOSTS


[Illustration: Logo]

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

NEW YORK · BOSTON · CHICAGO
SAN FRANCISCO

MACMILLAN & CO., LIMITED

LONDON · BOMBAY · CALCUTTA
MELBOURNE

THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD.

TORONTO


[Illustration: "What?... It's gone, man, the skull is gone!!"]


WANDERING GHOSTS

BY F. MARION CRAWFORD

AUTHOR OF "SARACINESCA," "A ROMAN SINGER," ETC.

_WITH FRONTISPIECE_

New York

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

1911

_All rights reserved_


COPYRIGHT, 1894,
BY G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS.

COPYRIGHT, 1899,
BY STREET AND SMITH.

COPYRIGHT, 1903,
BY F. MARION CRAWFORD

AND

BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.

COPYRIGHT, 1905 AND 1908,
BY P. F. COLLIER AND SON.

COPYRIGHT, 1911,
BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.

Set up and electrotyped. Published March, 1911.

Norwood Press
J. S. Cushing Co.--Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



CONTENTS

                                PAGE
THE DEAD SMILE                     1

THE SCREAMING SKULL               41

MAN OVERBOARD!                    97

FOR THE BLOOD IS THE LIFE        165

THE UPPER BERTH                  195

BY THE WATER OF PARADISE         235

THE DOLL'S GHOST                 279



THE DEAD SMILE



CHAPTER I


Sir Hugh Ockram smiled as he sat by the open window of his study, in the
late August afternoon; and just then a curiously yellow cloud obscured
the low sun, and the clear summer light turned lurid, as if it had been
suddenly poisoned and polluted by the foul vapours of a plague. Sir
Hugh's face seemed, at best, to be made of fine parchment drawn
skin-tight over a wooden mask, in which two eyes were sunk out of sight,
and peered from far within through crevices under the slanting, wrinkled
lids, alive and watchful like two toads in their holes, side by side and
exactly alike. But as the light changed, then a little yellow glare
flashed in each. Nurse Macdonald said once that when Sir Hugh smiled he
saw the faces of two women in hell--two dead women he had betrayed.
(Nurse Macdonald was a hundred years old.) And the smile widened,
stretching the pale lips across the discoloured teeth in an expression
of profound self-satisfaction, blended with the most unforgiving hatred
and contempt for the human doll. The hideous disease of which he was
dying had touched his brain. His son stood beside him, tall, white and
delicate as an angel in a primitive picture; and though there was deep
distress in his violet eyes as he looked at his father's face, he felt
the shadow of that sickening smile stealing across his own lips and
parting them and drawing them against his will. And it was like a bad
dream, for he tried not to smile and smiled the more. Beside him,
strangely like him in her wan, angelic beauty, with the same shadowy
golden hair, the same sad violet eyes, the same luminously pale face,
Evelyn Warburton rested one hand upon his arm. And as she looked into
her uncle's eyes, and could not turn her own away, she knew that the
deathly smile was hovering on her own red lips, drawing them tightly
across her little teeth, while two bright tears ran down her cheeks to
her mouth, and dropped from the upper to the lower lip while she
smiled--and the smile was like the shadow of death and the seal of
damnation upon her pure, young face.

"Of course," said Sir Hugh very slowly, and still looking out at the
trees, "if you have made up your mind to be married, I cannot hinder
you, and I don't suppose you attach the smallest importance to my
consent----"

"Father!" exclaimed Gabriel reproachfully.

"No; I do not deceive myself," continued the old man, smiling terribly.
"You will marry when I am dead, though there is a very good reason why
you had better not--why you had better not," he repeated very
emphatically, and he slowly turned his toad eyes upon the lovers.

"What reason?" asked Evelyn in a frightened voice.

"Never mind the reason, my dear. You will marry just as if it did not
exist." There was a long pause. "Two gone," he said, his voice lowering
strangely, "and two more will be four--all together--for ever and ever,
burning, burning, burning bright."

At the last words his head sank slowly back, and the little glare of the
toad eyes disappeared under the swollen lids; and the lurid cloud passed
from the westering sun, so that the earth was green again and the light
pure. Sir Hugh had fallen asleep, as he often did in his last illness,
even while speaking.

Gabriel Ockram drew Evelyn away, and from the study they went out into
the dim hall, softly closing the door behind them, and each audibly drew
breath, as though some sudden danger had been passed. They laid their
hands each in the other's, and their strangely-like eyes met in a long
look, in which love and perfect understanding were darkened by the
secret terror of an unknown thing. Their pale faces reflected each
other's fear.

"It is his secret," said Evelyn at last. "He will never tell us what it
is."

"If he dies with it," answered Gabriel, "let it be on his own head!"

"On his head!" echoed the dim hall. It was a strange echo, and some were
frightened by it, for they said that if it were a real echo it should
repeat everything and not give back a phrase here and there, now
speaking, now silent. But Nurse Macdonald said that the great hall would
never echo a prayer when an Ockram was to die, though it would give back
curses ten for one.

"On his head!" it repeated quite softly, and Evelyn started and looked
round.

"It is only the echo," said Gabriel, leading her away.

They went out into the late afternoon light, and sat upon a stone seat
behind the chapel, which was built across the end of the east wing. It
was very still, not a breath stirred, and there was no sound near them.
Only far off in the park a song-bird was whistling the high prelude to
the evening chorus.

"It is very lonely here," said Evelyn, taking Gabriel's hand nervously,
and speaking as if she dreaded to disturb the silence. "If it were dark,
I should be afraid."

"Of what? Of me?" Gabriel's sad eyes turned to her.

"Oh no! How could I be afraid of you? But of the old Ockrams--they say
they are just under our feet here in the north vault outside the chapel,
all in their shrouds, with no coffins, as they used to bury them."

"As they always will--as they will bury my father, and me. They say an
Ockram will not lie in a coffin."

"But it cannot be true--these are fairy tales--ghost stories!" Evelyn
nestled nearer to her companion, grasping his hand more tightly, and the
sun began to go down.

"Of course. But there is the story of old Sir Vernon, who was beheaded
for treason under James II. The family brought his body back from the
scaffold in an iron coffin with heavy locks, and they put it in the
north vault. But ever afterwards, whenever the vault was opened to bury
another of the family, they found the coffin wide open, and the body
standing upright against the wall, and the head rolled away in a corner,
smiling at it."

"As Uncle Hugh smiles?" Evelyn shivered.

"Yes, I suppose so," answered Gabriel, thoughtfully. "Of course I never
saw it, and the vault has not been opened for thirty years--none of us
have died since then."

"And if--if Uncle Hugh dies--shall you----" Evelyn stopped, and her
beautiful thin face was quite white.

"Yes. I shall see him laid there too--with his secret, whatever it is."
Gabriel sighed and pressed the girl's little hand.

"I do not like to think of it," she said unsteadily. "O Gabriel, what
can the secret be? He said we had better not marry--not that he forbade
it--but he said it so strangely, and he smiled--ugh!" Her small white
teeth chattered with fear, and she looked over her shoulder while
drawing still closer to Gabriel. "And, somehow, I felt it in my own
face--"

"So did I," answered Gabriel in a low, nervous voice. "Nurse
Macdonald----" He stopped abruptly.

"What? What did she say?"

"Oh--nothing. She has told me things--they would frighten you, dear.
Come, it is growing chilly." He rose, but Evelyn held his hand in both
of hers, still sitting and looking up into his face.

"But we shall be married, just the same--Gabriel! Say that we shall!"

"Of course, darling--of course. But while my father is so very ill, it
is impossible----"

"O Gabriel, Gabriel, dear! I wish we were married now!" cried Evelyn in
sudden distress. "I know that something will prevent it and keep us
apart."

"Nothing shall!"

"Nothing?"

"Nothing human," said Gabriel Ockram, as she drew him down to her.

And their faces, that were so strangely alike, met and touched--and
Gabriel knew that the kiss had a marvellous savour of evil, but on
Evelyn's lips it was like the cool breath of a sweet and mortal fear.
And neither of them understood, for they were innocent and young. Yet
she drew him to her by her lightest touch, as a sensitive plant shivers
and waves its thin leaves, and bends and closes softly upon what it
wants; and he let himself be drawn to her willingly, as he would if her
touch had been deadly and poisonous; for she strangely loved that half
voluptuous breath of fear, and he passionately desired the nameless evil
something that lurked in her maiden lips.

"It is as if we loved in a strange dream," she said.

"I fear the waking," he murmured.

"We shall not wake, dear--when the dream is over it will have already
turned into death, so softly that we shall not know it. But until
then----"

She paused, and her eyes sought his, and their faces slowly came nearer.
It was as if they had thoughts in their red lips that foresaw and
foreknew the deep kiss of each other.

"Until then----" she said again, very low, and her mouth was nearer to
his.

"Dream--till then," murmured his breath.



CHAPTER II


Nurse Macdonald was a hundred years old. She used to sleep sitting all
bent together in a great old leathern arm-chair with wings, her feet in
a bag footstool lined with sheepskin, and many warm blankets wrapped
about her, even in summer. Beside her a little lamp always burned at
night by an old silver cup, in which there was something to drink.

Her face was very wrinkled, but the wrinkles were so small and fine and
near together that they made shadows instead of lines. Two thin locks of
hair, that was turning from white to a smoky yellow again, were drawn
over her temples from under her starched white cap. Every now and then
she woke, and her eyelids were drawn up in tiny folds like little pink
silk curtains, and her queer blue eyes looked straight before her
through doors and walls and worlds to a far place beyond. Then she slept
again, and her hands lay one upon the other on the edge of the blanket;
the thumbs had grown longer than the fingers with age, and the joints
shone in the low lamplight like polished crab-apples.

It was nearly one o'clock in the night, and the summer breeze was
blowing the ivy branch against the panes of the window with a hushing
caress. In the small room beyond, with the door ajar, the girl-maid who
took care of Nurse Macdonald was fast asleep. All was very quiet. The
old woman breathed regularly, and her indrawn lips trembled each time as
the breath went out, and her eyes were shut.

But outside the closed window there was a face, and violet eyes were
looking steadily at the ancient sleeper, for it was like the face of
Evelyn Warburton, though there were eighty feet from the sill of the
window to the foot of the tower. Yet the cheeks were thinner than
Evelyn's, and as white as a gleam, and the eyes stared, and the lips
were not red with life; they were dead, and painted with new blood.

Slowly Nurse Macdonald's wrinkled eyelids folded themselves back, and
she looked straight at the face at the window while one might count ten.

"Is it time?" she asked in her little old, faraway voice.

While she looked the face at the window changed, for the eyes opened
wider and wider till the white glared all round the bright violet, and
the bloody lips opened over gleaming teeth, and stretched and widened
and stretched again, and the shadowy golden hair rose and streamed
against the window in the night breeze. And in answer to Nurse
Macdonald's question came the sound that freezes the living flesh.

That low-moaning voice that rises suddenly, like the scream of storm,
from a moan to a wail, from a wail to a howl, from a howl to the
fear-shriek of the tortured dead--he who has heard knows, and he can
bear witness that the cry of the banshee is an evil cry to hear alone in
the deep night. When it was over and the face was gone, Nurse Macdonald
shook a little in her great chair, and still she looked at the black
square of the window, but there was nothing more there, nothing but the
night, and the whispering ivy branch. She turned her head to the door
that was ajar, and there stood the girl in her white gown, her teeth
chattering with fright.

"It is time, child," said Nurse Macdonald. "I must go to him, for it is
the end."

She rose slowly, leaning her withered hands upon the arms of the chair,
and the girl brought her a woollen gown and a great mantle, and her
crutch-stick, and made her ready. But very often the girl looked at the
window and was unjointed with fear, and often Nurse Macdonald shook her
head and said words which the maid could not understand.

"It was like the face of Miss Evelyn," said the girl at last, trembling.

But the ancient woman looked up sharply and angrily, and her queer blue
eyes glared. She held herself by the arm of the great chair with her
left hand, and lifted up her crutch-stick to strike the maid with all
her might. But she did not.

"You are a good girl," she said, "but you are a fool. Pray for wit,
child, pray for wit--or else find service in another house than Ockram
Hall. Bring the lamp and help me under my left arm."

The crutch-stick clacked on the wooden floor, and the low heels of the
woman's slippers clappered after her in slow triplets, as Nurse
Macdonald got toward the door. And down the stairs each step she took
was a labour in itself, and by the clacking noise the waking servants
knew that she was coming, very long before they saw her.

No one was sleeping now, and there were lights, and whisperings, and
pale faces in the corridors near Sir Hugh's bedroom, and now some one
went in, and now some one came out, but every one made way for Nurse
Macdonald, who had nursed Sir Hugh's father more than eighty years ago.

The light was soft and clear in the room. There stood Gabriel Ockram by
his father's bedside, and there knelt Evelyn Warburton, her hair lying
like a golden shadow down her shoulders, and her hands clasped nervously
together. And opposite Gabriel, a nurse was trying to make Sir Hugh
drink. But he would not, and though his lips were parted, his teeth were
set. He was very, very thin and yellow now, and his eyes caught the
light sideways and were as yellow coals.

"Do not torment him," said Nurse Macdonald to the woman who held the
cup. "Let me speak to him, for his hour is come."

"Let her speak to him," said Gabriel in a dull voice.

So the ancient woman leaned to the pillow and laid the feather-weight of
her withered hand, that was like a brown moth, upon Sir Hugh's yellow
fingers, and she spoke to him earnestly, while only Gabriel and Evelyn
were left in the room to hear.

"Hugh Ockram," she said, "this is the end of your life; and as I saw you
born, and saw your father born before you, I am come to see you die.
Hugh Ockram, will you tell me the truth?"

The dying man recognised the little faraway voice he had known all his
life, and he very slowly turned his yellow face to Nurse Macdonald; but
he said nothing. Then she spoke again.

"Hugh Ockram, you will never see the daylight again. Will you tell the
truth?"

His toad-like eyes were not yet dull. They fastened themselves on her
face.

"What do you want of me?" he asked, and each word struck hollow upon the
last. "I have no secrets. I have lived a good life."

Nurse Macdonald laughed--a tiny, cracked laugh, that made her old head
bob and tremble a little, as if her neck were on a steel spring. But Sir
Hugh's eyes grew red, and his pale lips began to twist.

"Let me die in peace," he said slowly.

But Nurse Macdonald shook her head, and her brown, moth-like hand left
his and fluttered to his forehead.

"By the mother that bore you and died of grief for the sins you did,
tell me the truth!"

Sir Hugh's lips tightened on his discoloured teeth.

"Not on earth," he answered slowly.

"By the wife who bore your son and died heartbroken, tell me the truth!"

"Neither to you in life, nor to her in eternal death."

His lips writhed, as if the words were coals between them, and a great
drop of sweat rolled across the parchment of his forehead. Gabriel
Ockram bit his hand as he watched his father die. But Nurse Macdonald
spoke a third time.

"By the woman whom you betrayed, and who waits for you this night, Hugh
Ockram, tell me the truth!"

"It is too late. Let me die in peace."

The writhing lips began to smile across the set yellow teeth, and the
toad eyes glowed like evil jewels in his head.

"There is time," said the ancient woman. "Tell me the name of Evelyn
Warburton's father. Then I will let you die in peace."

Evelyn started back, kneeling as she was, and stared at Nurse Macdonald,
and then at her uncle.

"The name of Evelyn's father?" he repeated slowly, while the awful
smile spread upon his dying face.

The light was growing strangely dim in the great room. As Evelyn looked,
Nurse Macdonald's crooked shadow on the wall grew gigantic. Sir Hugh's
breath came thick, rattling in his throat, as death crept in like a
snake and choked it back. Evelyn prayed aloud, high and clear.

Then something rapped at the window, and she felt her hair rise upon her
head in a cool breeze, as she looked around in spite of herself. And
when she saw her own white face looking in at the window, and her own
eyes staring at her through the glass, wide and fearful, and her own
hair streaming against the pane, and her own lips dashed with blood, she
rose slowly from the floor and stood rigid for one moment, till she
screamed once and fell straight back into Gabriel's arms. But the shriek
that answered hers was the fear-shriek of the tormented corpse, out of
which the soul cannot pass for shame of deadly sins, though the devils
fight in it with corruption, each for their due share.

Sir Hugh Ockram sat upright in his deathbed, and saw and cried aloud:

"Evelyn!" His harsh voice broke and rattled in his chest as he sank
down. But still Nurse Macdonald tortured him, for there was a little
life left in him still.

"You have seen the mother as she waits for you, Hugh Ockram. Who was
this girl Evelyn's father? What was his name?"

For the last time the dreadful smile came upon the twisted lips, very
slowly, very surely now, and the toad eyes glared red, and the parchment
face glowed a little in the flickering light. For the last time words
came.

"They know it in hell."

Then the glowing eyes went out quickly, the yellow face turned waxen
pale, and a great shiver ran through the thin body as Hugh Ockram died.

But in death he still smiled, for he knew his secret and kept it still,
on the other side, and he would take it with him, to lie with him for
ever in the north vault of the chapel where the Ockrams lie uncoffined
in their shrouds--all but one. Though he was dead, he smiled, for he had
kept his treasure of evil truth to the end, and there was none left to
tell the name he had spoken, but there was all the evil he had not
undone left to bear fruit.

As they watched--Nurse Macdonald and Gabriel, who held Evelyn still
unconscious in his arms while he looked at the father--they felt the
dead smile crawling along their own lips--the ancient crone and the
youth with the angel's face. Then they shivered a little, and both
looked at Evelyn as she lay with her head on his shoulder, and, though
she was very beautiful, the same sickening smile was twisting her young
mouth too, and it was like the foreshadowing of a great evil which they
could not understand.

But by and by they carried Evelyn out, and she opened her eyes and the
smile was gone. From far away in the great house the sound of weeping
and crooning came up the stairs and echoed along the dismal corridors,
for the women had begun to mourn the dead master, after the Irish
fashion, and the hall had echoes of its own all that night, like the
far-off wail of the banshee among forest trees.

When the time was come they took Sir Hugh in his winding-sheet on a
trestle bier, and bore him to the chapel and through the iron door and
down the long descent to the north vault, with tapers, to lay him by his
father. And two men went in first to prepare the place, and came back
staggering like drunken men, and white, leaving their lights behind
them.

But Gabriel Ockram was not afraid, for he knew. And he went in alone and
saw that the body of Sir Vernon Ockram was leaning upright against the
stone wall, and that its head lay on the ground near by with the face
turned up, and the dried leathern lips smiled horribly at the dried-up
corpse, while the iron coffin, lined with black velvet, stood open on
the floor.

Then Gabriel took the thing in his hands, for it was very light, being
quite dried by the air of the vault, and those who peeped in from the
door saw him lay it in the coffin again, and it rustled a little, like a
bundle of reeds, and sounded hollow as it touched the sides and the
bottom. He also placed the head upon the shoulders and shut down the
lid, which fell to with a rusty spring that snapped.

After that they laid Sir Hugh beside his father, with the trestle bier
on which they had brought him, and they went back to the chapel.

But when they saw one another's faces, master and men, they were all
smiling with the dead smile of the corpse they had left in the vault, so
that they could not bear to look at one another until it had faded away.



CHAPTER III


Gabriel Ockram became Sir Gabriel, inheriting the baronetcy with the
half-ruined fortune left by his father, and still Evelyn Warburton lived
at Ockram Hall, in the south room that had been hers ever since she
could remember anything. She could not go away, for there were no
relatives to whom she could have gone, and, besides, there seemed to be
no reason why she should not stay. The world would never trouble itself
to care what the Ockrams did on their Irish estates, and it was long
since the Ockrams had asked anything of the world.

So Sir Gabriel took his father's place at the dark old table in the
dining-room, and Evelyn sat opposite to him, until such time as their
mourning should be over, and they might be married at last. And
meanwhile their lives went on as before, since Sir Hugh had been a
hopeless invalid during the last year of his life, and they had seen him
but once a day for a little while, spending most of their time together
in a strangely perfect companionship.

But though the late summer saddened into autumn, and autumn darkened
into winter, and storm followed storm, and rain poured on rain through
the short days and the long nights, yet Ockram Hall seemed less gloomy
since Sir Hugh had been laid in the north vault beside his father. And
at Christmastide Evelyn decked the great hall with holly and green
boughs, and huge fires blazed on every hearth. Then the tenants were all
bidden to a New Year's dinner, and they ate and drank well, while Sir
Gabriel sat at the head of the table. Evelyn came in when the port wine
was brought, and the most respected of the tenants made a speech to
propose her health.

It was long, he said, since there had been a Lady Ockram. Sir Gabriel
shaded his eyes with his hand and looked down at the table, but a faint
colour came into Evelyn's transparent cheeks. But, said the grey-haired
farmer, it was longer still since there had been a Lady Ockram so fair
as the next was to be, and he gave the health of Evelyn Warburton.

Then the tenants all stood up and shouted for her, and Sir Gabriel stood
up likewise, beside Evelyn. And when the men gave the last and loudest
cheer of all there was a voice not theirs, above them all, higher,
fiercer, louder--a scream not earthly, shrieking for the bride of Ockram
Hall. And the holly and the green boughs over the great chimney-piece
shook and slowly waved as if a cool breeze were blowing over them. But
the men turned very pale, and many of them set down their glasses, but
others let them fall upon the floor for fear. And looking into one
another's faces, they were all smiling strangely, a dead smile, like
dead Sir Hugh's. One cried out words in Irish, and the fear of death was
suddenly upon them all, so that they fled in panic, falling over one
another like wild beasts in the burning forest, when the thick smoke
runs along before the flame; and the tables were over-set, and drinking
glasses and bottles were broken in heaps, and the dark red wine crawled
like blood upon the polished floor.

Sir Gabriel and Evelyn stood alone at the head of the table before the
wreck of the feast, not daring to turn to see each other, for each knew
that the other smiled. But his right arm held her and his left hand
clasped her right as they stared before them; and but for the shadows of
her hair one might not have told their two faces apart. They listened
long, but the cry came not again, and the dead smile faded from their
lips, while each remembered that Sir Hugh Ockram lay in the north vault,
smiling in his winding-sheet, in the dark, because he had died with his
secret.

So ended the tenants' New Year's dinner. But from that time on Sir
Gabriel grew more and more silent, and his face grew even paler and
thinner than before. Often, without warning and without words, he would
rise from his seat, as if something moved him against his will, and he
would go out into the rain or the sunshine to the north side of the
chapel, and sit on the stone bench, staring at the ground as if he could
see through it, and through the vault below, and through the white
winding-sheet in the dark, to the dead smile that would not die.

Always when he went out in that way Evelyn came out presently and sat
beside him. Once, too, as in summer, their beautiful faces came suddenly
near, and their lids drooped, and their red lips were almost joined
together. But as their eyes met, they grew wide and wild, so that the
white showed in a ring all round the deep violet, and their teeth
chattered, and their hands were like hands of corpses, each in the
other's, for the terror of what was under their feet, and of what they
knew but could not see.

Once, also, Evelyn found Sir Gabriel in the chapel alone, standing
before the iron door that led down to the place of death, and in his
hand there was the key to the door; but he had not put it into the lock.
Evelyn drew him away, shivering, for she had also been driven in waking
dreams to see that terrible thing again, and to find out whether it had
changed since it had lain there.

"I'm going mad," said Sir Gabriel, covering his eyes with his hand as
he went with her. "I see it in my sleep, I see it when I am awake--it
draws me to it, day and night--and unless I see it I shall die!"

"I know," answered Evelyn, "I know. It is as if threads were spun from
it, like a spider's, drawing us down to it." She was silent for a
moment, and then she started violently and grasped his arm with a man's
strength, and almost screamed the words she spoke. "But we must not go
there!" she cried. "We must not go!"

Sir Gabriel's eyes were half shut, and he was not moved by the agony of
her face.

"I shall die, unless I see it again," he said, in a quiet voice not like
his own. And all that day and that evening he scarcely spoke, thinking
of it, always thinking, while Evelyn Warburton quivered from head to
foot with a terror she had never known.

She went alone, on a grey winter's morning, to Nurse Macdonald's room in
the tower, and sat down beside the great leathern easy-chair, laying her
thin white hand upon the withered fingers.

"Nurse," she said, "what was it that Uncle Hugh should have told you,
that night before he died? It must have been an awful secret--and yet,
though you asked him, I feel somehow that you know it, and that you know
why he used to smile so dreadfully."

The old woman's head moved slowly from side to side.

"I only guess--I shall never know," she answered slowly in her cracked
little voice.

"But what do you guess? Who am I? Why did you ask who my father was? You
know I am Colonel Warburton's daughter, and my mother was Lady Ockram's
sister, so that Gabriel and I are cousins. My father was killed in
Afghanistan. What secret can there be?"

"I do not know. I can only guess."

"Guess what?" asked Evelyn imploringly, and pressing the soft withered
hands, as she leaned forward. But Nurse Macdonald's wrinkled lids
dropped suddenly over her queer blue eyes, and her lips shook a little
with her breath, as if she were asleep.

Evelyn waited. By the fire the Irish maid was knitting fast, and the
needles clicked like three or four clocks ticking against each other.
And the real clock on the wall solemnly ticked alone, checking off the
seconds of the woman who was a hundred years old, and had not many days
left. Outside the ivy branch beat the window in the wintry blast, as it
had beaten against the glass a hundred years ago.

Then as Evelyn sat there she felt again the waking of a horrible
desire--the sickening wish to go down, down to the thing in the north
vault, and to open the winding-sheet, and see whether it had changed;
and she held Nurse Macdonald's hands as if to keep herself in her place
and fight against the appalling attraction of the evil dead.

But the old cat that kept Nurse Macdonald's feet warm, lying always on
the bag footstool, got up and stretched itself, and looked up into
Evelyn's eyes, while its back arched, and its tail thickened and
bristled, and its ugly pink lips drew back in a devilish grin, showing
its sharp teeth. Evelyn stared at it, half fascinated by its ugliness.
Then the creature suddenly put out one paw with all its claws spread,
and spat at the girl, and all at once the grinning cat was like the
smiling corpse far down below, so that Evelyn shivered down to her small
feet, and covered her face with her free hand, lest Nurse Macdonald
should wake and see the dead smile there, for she could feel it.

The old woman had already opened her eyes again, and she touched her cat
with the end of her crutch-stick, whereupon its back went down and its
tail shrunk, and it sidled back to its place on the bag footstool. But
its yellow eyes looked up sideways at Evelyn, between the slits of its
lids.

"What is it that you guess, nurse?" asked the young girl again.

"A bad thing--a wicked thing. But I dare not tell you, lest it might not
be true, and the very thought should blast your life. For if I guess
right, he meant that you should not know, and that you two should marry,
and pay for his old sin with your souls."

"He used to tell us that we ought not to marry----"

"Yes--he told you that, perhaps--but it was as if a man put poisoned
meat before a starving beast, and said 'do not eat,' but never raised
his hand to take the meat away. And if he told you that you should not
marry, it was because he hoped you would; for of all men living or dead,
Hugh Ockram was the falsest man that ever told a cowardly lie, and the
cruelest that ever hurt a weak woman, and the worst that ever loved a
sin."

"But Gabriel and I love each other," said Evelyn very sadly.

Nurse Macdonald's old eyes looked far away, at sights seen long ago, and
that rose in the grey winter air amid the mists of an ancient youth.

"If you love, you can die together," she said, very slowly. "Why should
you live, if it is true? I am a hundred years old. What has life given
me? The beginning is fire; the end is a heap of ashes; and between the
end and the beginning lies all the pain of the world. Let me sleep,
since I cannot die."

Then the old woman's eyes closed again, and her head sank a little lower
upon her breast.

So Evelyn went away and left her asleep, with the cat asleep on the bag
footstool; and the young girl tried to forget Nurse Macdonald's words,
but she could not, for she heard them over and over again in the wind,
and behind her on the stairs. And as she grew sick with fear of the
frightful unknown evil to which her soul was bound, she felt a bodily
something pressing her, and pushing her, and forcing her on, and from
the other side she felt the threads that drew her mysteriously: and when
she shut her eyes, she saw in the chapel behind the altar, the low iron
door through which she must pass to go to the thing.

And as she lay awake at night, she drew the sheet over her face, lest
she should see shadows on the wall beckoning to her; and the sound of
her own warm breath made whisperings in her ears, while she held the
mattress with her hands, to keep from getting up and going to the
chapel. It would have been easier if there had not been a way thither
through the library, by a door which was never locked. It would be
fearfully easy to take her candle and go softly through the sleeping
house. And the key of the vault lay under the altar behind a stone that
turned. She knew the little secret. She could go alone and see.

But when she thought of it, she felt her hair rise on her head, and
first she shivered so that the bed shook, and then the horror went
through her in a cold thrill that was agony again, like myriads of icy
needles boring into her nerves.



CHAPTER IV


The old clock in Nurse Macdonald's tower struck midnight. From her room
she could hear the creaking chains and weights in their box in the
corner of the staircase, and overhead the jarring of the rusty lever
that lifted the hammer. She had heard it all her life. It struck eleven
strokes clearly, and then came the twelfth, with a dull half stroke, as
though the hammer were too weary to go on, and had fallen asleep against
the bell.

The old cat got up from the bag footstool and stretched itself, and
Nurse Macdonald opened her ancient eyes and looked slowly round the
room by the dim light of the night lamp. She touched the cat with her
crutch-stick, and it lay down upon her feet. She drank a few drops from
her cup and went to sleep again.

But downstairs Sir Gabriel sat straight up as the clock struck, for he
had dreamed a fearful dream of horror, and his heart stood still, till
he awoke at its stopping, and it beat again furiously with his breath,
like a wild thing set free. No Ockram had ever known fear waking, but
sometimes it came to Sir Gabriel in his sleep.

He pressed his hands to his temples as he sat up in bed, and his hands
were icy cold, but his head was hot. The dream faded far, and in its
place there came the master thought that racked his life; with the
thought also came the sick twisting of his lips in the dark that would
have been a smile. Far off, Evelyn Warburton dreamed that the dead smile
was on her mouth, and awoke, starting with a little moan, her face in
her hands, shivering.

But Sir Gabriel struck a light and got up and began to walk up and down
his great room. It was midnight, and he had barely slept an hour, and in
the north of Ireland the winter nights are long.

"I shall go mad," he said to himself, holding his forehead. He knew that
it was true. For weeks and months the possession of the thing had grown
upon him like a disease, till he could think of nothing without thinking
first of that. And now all at once it outgrew his strength, and he knew
that he must be its instrument or lose his mind--that he must do the
deed he hated and feared, if he could fear anything, or that something
would snap in his brain and divide him from life while he was yet alive.
He took the candlestick in his hand, the old-fashioned heavy candlestick
that had always been used by the head of the house. He did not think of
dressing, but went as he was, in his silk night clothes and his
slippers, and he opened the door. Everything was very still in the great
old house. He shut the door behind him and walked noiselessly on the
carpet through the long corridor. A cool breeze blew over his shoulder
and blew the flame of his candle straight out from him. Instinctively he
stopped and looked round, but all was still, and the upright flame
burned steadily. He walked on, and instantly a strong draught was behind
him, almost extinguishing the light. It seemed to blow him on his way,
ceasing whenever he turned, coming again when he went on--invisible,
icy.

Down the great staircase to the echoing hall he went, seeing nothing but
the flaring flame of the candle standing away from him over the
guttering wax, while the cold wind blew over his shoulder and through
his hair. On he passed through the open door into the library, dark with
old books and carved bookcases; on through the door in the shelves, with
painted shelves on it, and the imitated backs of books, so that one
needed to know where to find it--and it shut itself after him with a
soft click. He entered the low-arched passage, and though the door was
shut behind him and fitted tightly in its frame, still the cold breeze
blew the flame forward as he walked. And he was not afraid; but his face
was very pale, and his eyes were wide and bright, looking before him,
seeing already in the dark air the picture of the thing beyond. But in
the chapel he stood still, his hand on the little turning stone tablet
in the back of the stone altar. On the tablet were engraved words:
"_Clavis sepulchri Clarissimorum Dominorum De Ockram_"--("the key to the
vault of the most illustrious lords of Ockram"). Sir Gabriel paused and
listened. He fancied that he heard a sound far off in the great house
where all had been so still, but it did not come again. Yet he waited at
the last, and looked at the low iron door. Beyond it, down the long
descent, lay his father uncoffined, six months dead, corrupt, terrible
in his clinging shroud. The strangely preserving air of the vault could
not yet have done its work completely. But on the thing's ghastly
features, with their half-dried, open eyes, there would still be the
frightful smile with which the man had died--the smile that haunted----

As the thought crossed Sir Gabriel's mind, he felt his lips writhing,
and he struck his own mouth in wrath with the back of his hand so
fiercely that a drop of blood ran down his chin, and another, and more,
falling back in the gloom upon the chapel pavement. But still his
bruised lips twisted themselves. He turned the tablet by the simple
secret. It needed no safer fastening, for had each Ockram been coffined
in pure gold, and had the door been open wide, there was not a man in
Tyrone brave enough to go down to that place, saving Gabriel Ockram
himself, with his angel's face and his thin, white hands, and his sad
unflinching eyes. He took the great old key and set it into the lock of
the iron door; and the heavy, rattling noise echoed down the descent
beyond like footsteps, as if a watcher had stood behind the iron and
were running away within, with heavy dead feet. And though he was
standing still, the cool wind was from behind him, and blew the flame of
the candle against the iron panel. He turned the key.

Sir Gabriel saw that his candle was short. There were new ones on the
altar, with long candlesticks, and he lit one, and left his own burning
on the floor. As he set it down on the pavement his lip began to bleed
again, and another drop fell upon the stones.

He drew the iron door open and pushed it back against the chapel wall,
so that it should not shut of itself, while he was within; and the
horrible draught of the sepulchre came up out of the depths in his face,
foul and dark. He went in, but though the fetid air met him, yet the
flame of the tall candle was blown straight from him against the wind
while he walked down the easy incline with steady steps, his loose
slippers slapping the pavement as he trod.

He shaded the candle with his hand, and his fingers seemed to be made of
wax and blood as the light shone through them. And in spite of him the
unearthly draught forced the flame forward, till it was blue over the
black wick, and it seemed as if it must go out. But he went straight on,
with shining eyes.

The downward passage was wide, and he could not always see the walls by
the struggling light, but he knew when he was in the place of death by
the larger, drearier echo of his steps in the greater space, and by the
sensation of a distant blank wall. He stood still, almost enclosing the
flame of the candle in the hollow of his hand. He could see a little,
for his eyes were growing used to the gloom. Shadowy forms were outlined
in the dimness, where the biers of the Ockrams stood crowded together,
side by side, each with its straight, shrouded corpse, strangely
preserved by the dry air, like the empty shell that the locust sheds in
summer. And a few steps before him he saw clearly the dark shape of
headless Sir Vernon's iron coffin, and he knew that nearest to it lay
the thing he sought.

He was as brave as any of those dead men had been, and they were his
fathers, and he knew that sooner or later he should lie there himself,
beside Sir Hugh, slowly drying to a parchment shell. But he was still
alive, and he closed his eyes a moment, and three great drops stood on
his forehead.

Then he looked again, and by the whiteness of the winding-sheet he knew
his father's corpse, for all the others were brown with age; and,
moreover, the flame of the candle was blown toward it. He made four
steps till he reached it, and suddenly the light burned straight and
high, shedding a dazzling yellow glare upon the fine linen that was all
white, save over the face, and where the joined hands were laid on the
breast. And at those places ugly stains had spread, darkened with
outlines of the features and of the tight-clasped fingers. There was a
frightful stench of drying death.

As Sir Gabriel looked down, something stirred behind him, softly at
first, then more noisily, and something fell to the stone floor with a
dull thud and rolled up to his feet; he started back and saw a withered
head lying almost face upward on the pavement, grinning at him. He felt
the cold sweat standing on his face, and his heart beat painfully.

For the first time in all his life that evil thing which men call fear
was getting hold of him, checking his heart-strings as a cruel driver
checks a quivering horse, clawing at his backbone with icy hands,
lifting his hair with freezing breath, climbing up and gathering in his
midriff with leaden weight.

Yet presently he bit his lip and bent down, holding the candle in one
hand, to lift the shroud back from the head of the corpse with the
other. Slowly he lifted it. Then it clove to the half-dried skin of the
face, and his hand shook as if some one had struck him on the elbow, but
half in fear and half in anger at himself, he pulled it, so that it came
away with a little ripping sound. He caught his breath as he held it,
not yet throwing it back, and not yet looking. The horror was working in
him, and he felt that old Vernon Ockram was standing up in his iron
coffin, headless, yet watching him with the stump of his severed neck.

While he held his breath he felt the dead smile twisting his lips. In
sudden wrath at his own misery, he tossed the death-stained linen
backward, and looked at last. He ground his teeth lest he should shriek
aloud.

There it was, the thing that haunted him, that haunted Evelyn Warburton,
that was like a blight on all that came near him.

The dead face was blotched with dark stains, and the thin, grey hair was
matted about the discoloured forehead. The sunken lids were half open,
and the candle light gleamed on something foul where the toad eyes had
lived.

But yet the dead thing smiled, as it had smiled in life; the ghastly
lips were parted and drawn wide and tight upon the wolfish teeth,
cursing still, and still defying hell to do its worst--defying, cursing,
and always and for ever smiling alone in the dark.

Sir Gabriel opened the winding-sheet where the hands were, and the
blackened, withered fingers were closed upon something stained and
mottled. Shivering from head to foot, but fighting like a man in agony
for his life, he tried to take the package from the dead man's hold. But
as he pulled at it the claw-like fingers seemed to close more tightly,
and when he pulled harder the shrunken hands and arms rose from the
corpse with a horrible look of life following his motion--then as he
wrenched the sealed packet loose at last, the hands fell back into their
place still folded.

He set down the candle on the edge of the bier to break the seals from
the stout paper. And, kneeling on one knee, to get a better light, he
read what was within, written long ago in Sir Hugh's queer hand.

He was no longer afraid.

He read how Sir Hugh had written it all down that it might perchance be
a witness of evil and of his hatred; how he had loved Evelyn Warburton,
his wife's sister; and how his wife had died of a broken heart with his
curse upon her, and how Warburton and he had fought side by side in
Afghanistan, and Warburton had fallen; but Ockram had brought his
comrade's wife back a full year later, and little Evelyn, her child, had
been born in Ockram Hall. And next, how he had wearied of the mother,
and she had died like her sister with his curse on her. And then, how
Evelyn had been brought up as his niece, and how he had trusted that his
son Gabriel and his daughter, innocent and unknowing, might love and
marry, and the souls of the women he had betrayed might suffer another
anguish before eternity was out. And, last of all, he hoped that some
day, when nothing could be undone, the two might find his writing and
live on, not daring to tell the truth for their children's sake and the
world's word, man and wife.

This he read, kneeling beside the corpse in the north vault, by the
light of the altar candle; and when he had read it all, he thanked God
aloud that he had found the secret in time. But when he rose to his feet
and looked down at the dead face it was changed, and the smile was gone
from it for ever, and the jaw had fallen a little, and the tired, dead
lips were relaxed. And then there was a breath behind him and close to
him, not cold like that which had blown the flame of the candle as he
came, but warm and human. He turned suddenly.

There she stood, all in white, with her shadowy golden hair--for she had
risen from her bed and had followed him noiselessly, and had found him
reading, and had herself read over his shoulder. He started violently
when he saw her, for his nerves were unstrung--and then he cried out her
name in the still place of death:

"Evelyn!"

"My brother!" she answered softly and tenderly, putting out both hands
to meet his.



THE SCREAMING SKULL


I have often heard it scream. No, I am not nervous, I am not
imaginative, and I never believed in ghosts, unless that thing is one.
Whatever it is, it hates me almost as much as it hated Luke Pratt, and
it screams at me.

If I were you, I would never tell ugly stories about ingenious ways of
killing people, for you never can tell but that some one at the table
may be tired of his or her nearest and dearest. I have always blamed
myself for Mrs. Pratt's death, and I suppose I was responsible for it in
a way, though heaven knows I never wished her anything but long life and
happiness. If I had not told that story she might be alive yet. That is
why the thing screams at me, I fancy.

She was a good little woman, with a sweet temper, all things considered,
and a nice gentle voice; but I remember hearing her shriek once when she
thought her little boy was killed by a pistol that went off, though
every one was sure that it was not loaded. It was the same scream;
exactly the same, with a sort of rising quaver at the end; do you know
what I mean? Unmistakable.

The truth is, I had not realised that the doctor and his wife were not
on good terms. They used to bicker a bit now and then when I was here,
and I often noticed that little Mrs. Pratt got very red and bit her lip
hard to keep her temper, while Luke grew pale and said the most
offensive things. He was that sort when he was in the nursery, I
remember, and afterward at school. He was my cousin, you know; that is
how I came by this house; after he died, and his boy Charley was killed
in South Africa, there were no relations left. Yes, it's a pretty little
property, just the sort of thing for an old sailor like me who has taken
to gardening.

One always remembers one's mistakes much more vividly than one's
cleverest things, doesn't one? I've often noticed it. I was dining with
the Pratts one night, when I told them the story that afterwards made so
much difference. It was a wet night in November, and the sea was
moaning. Hush!--if you don't speak you will hear it now....

Do you hear the tide? Gloomy sound, isn't it? Sometimes, about this time
of year--hallo!--there it is! Don't be frightened, man--it won't eat
you--it's only a noise, after all! But I'm glad you've heard it,
because there are always people who think it's the wind, or my
imagination, or something. You won't hear it again to-night, I fancy,
for it doesn't often come more than once. Yes--that's right. Put another
stick on the fire, and a little more stuff into that weak mixture you're
so fond of. Do you remember old Blauklot the carpenter, on that German
ship that picked us up when the _Clontarf_ went to the bottom? We were
hove to in a howling gale one night, as snug as you please, with no land
within five hundred miles, and the ship coming up and falling off as
regularly as clockwork--"Biddy te boor beebles ashore tis night, poys!"
old Blauklot sang out, as he went off to his quarters with the
sail-maker. I often think of that, now that I'm ashore for good and all.

Yes, it was on a night like this, when I was at home for a spell,
waiting to take the _Olympia_ out on her first trip--it was on the next
voyage that she broke the record, you remember--but that dates it.
Ninety-two was the year, early in November.

The weather was dirty, Pratt was out of temper, and the dinner was bad,
very bad indeed, which didn't improve matters, and cold, which made it
worse. The poor little lady was very unhappy about it, and insisted on
making a Welsh rarebit on the table to counteract the raw turnips and
the half-boiled mutton. Pratt must have had a hard day. Perhaps he had
lost a patient. At all events, he was in a nasty temper.

"My wife is trying to poison me, you see!" he said. "She'll succeed some
day." I saw that she was hurt, and I made believe to laugh, and said
that Mrs. Pratt was much too clever to get rid of her husband in such a
simple way; and then I began to tell them about Japanese tricks with
spun glass and chopped horsehair and the like.

Pratt was a doctor, and knew a lot more than I did about such things,
but that only put me on my mettle, and I told a story about a woman in
Ireland who did for three husbands before any one suspected foul play.

Did you never hear that tale? The fourth husband managed to keep awake
and caught her, and she was hanged. How did she do it? She drugged them,
and poured melted lead into their ears through a little horn funnel when
they were asleep.... No--that's the wind whistling. It's backing up to
the southward again. I can tell by the sound. Besides, the other thing
doesn't often come more than once in an evening even at this time of
year--when it happened. Yes, it was in November. Poor Mrs. Pratt died
suddenly in her bed not long after I dined here. I can fix the date,
because I got the news in New York by the steamer that followed the
_Olympia_ when I took her out on her first trip. You had the _Leofric_
the same year? Yes, I remember. What a pair of old buffers we are coming
to be, you and I. Nearly fifty years since we were apprentices together
on the _Clontarf_. Shall you ever forget old Blauklot? "Biddy te boor
beebles ashore, poys!" Ha, ha! Take a little more, with all that water.
It's the old Hulstkamp I found in the cellar when this house came to me,
the same I brought Luke from Amsterdam five-and-twenty years ago. He had
never touched a drop of it. Perhaps he's sorry now, poor fellow.

Where did I leave off? I told you that Mrs. Pratt died suddenly--yes.
Luke must have been lonely here after she was dead, I should think; I
came to see him now and then, and he looked worn and nervous, and told
me that his practice was growing too heavy for him, though he wouldn't
take an assistant on any account. Years went on, and his son was killed
in South Africa, and after that he began to be queer. There was
something about him not like other people. I believe he kept his senses
in his profession to the end; there was no complaint of his having made
bad mistakes in cases, or anything of that sort, but he had a look about
him----

Luke was a red-headed man with a pale face when he was young, and he
was never stout; in middle age he turned a sandy grey, and after his son
died he grew thinner and thinner, till his head looked like a skull with
parchment stretched over it very tight, and his eyes had a sort of glare
in them that was very disagreeable to look at.

He had an old dog that poor Mrs. Pratt had been fond of, and that used
to follow her everywhere. He was a bull-dog, and the sweetest tempered
beast you ever saw, though he had a way of hitching his upper lip behind
one of his fangs that frightened strangers a good deal. Sometimes, of an
evening, Pratt and Bumble--that was the dog's name--used to sit and look
at each other a long time, thinking about old times, I suppose, when
Luke's wife used to sit in that chair you've got. That was always her
place, and this was the doctor's, where I'm sitting. Bumble used to
climb up by the footstool--he was old and fat by that time, and could
not jump much, and his teeth were getting shaky. He would look steadily
at Luke, and Luke looked steadily at the dog, his face growing more and
more like a skull with two little coals for eyes; and after about five
minutes or so, though it may have been less, old Bumble would suddenly
begin to shake all over, and all on a sudden he would set up an awful
howl, as if he had been shot, and tumble out of the easy-chair and trot
away, and hide himself under the sideboard, and lie there making odd
noises.

Considering Pratt's looks in those last months, the thing is not
surprising, you know. I'm not nervous or imaginative, but I can quite
believe he might have sent a sensitive woman into hysterics--his head
looked so much like a skull in parchment.

At last I came down one day before Christmas, when my ship was in dock
and I had three weeks off. Bumble was not about, and I said casually
that I supposed the old dog was dead.

"Yes," Pratt answered, and I thought there was something odd in his tone
even before he went on after a little pause. "I killed him," he said
presently. "I could not stand it any longer."

I asked what it was that Luke could not stand, though I guessed well
enough.

"He had a way of sitting in her chair and glaring at me, and then
howling." Luke shivered a little. "He didn't suffer at all, poor old
Bumble," he went on in a hurry, as if he thought I might imagine he had
been cruel. "I put dionine into his drink to make him sleep soundly, and
then I chloroformed him gradually, so that he could not have felt
suffocated even if he was dreaming. It's been quieter since then."

I wondered what he meant, for the words slipped out as if he could not
help saying them. I've understood since. He meant that he did not hear
that noise so often after the dog was out of the way. Perhaps he thought
at first that it was old Bumble in the yard howling at the moon, though
it's not that kind of noise, is it? Besides, I know what it is, if Luke
didn't. It's only a noise, after all, and a noise never hurt anybody
yet. But he was much more imaginative than I am. No doubt there really
is something about this place that I don't understand; but when I don't
understand a thing, I call it a phenomenon, and I don't take it for
granted that it's going to kill me, as he did. I don't understand
everything, by long odds, nor do you, nor does any man who has been to
sea. We used to talk of tidal waves, for instance, and we could not
account for them; now we account for them by calling them submarine
earthquakes, and we branch off into fifty theories, any one of which
might make earthquakes quite comprehensible if we only knew what they
are. I fell in with one of them once, and the inkstand flew straight up
from the table against the ceiling of my cabin. The same thing happened
to Captain Lecky--I dare say you've read about it in his "Wrinkles."
Very good. If that sort of thing took place ashore, in this room for
instance, a nervous person would talk about spirits and levitation and
fifty things that mean nothing, instead of just quietly setting it down
as a "phenomenon" that has not been explained yet. My view of that
voice, you see.

Besides, what is there to prove that Luke killed his wife? I would not
even suggest such a thing to any one but you. After all, there was
nothing but the coincidence that poor little Mrs. Pratt died suddenly in
her bed a few days after I told that story at dinner. She was not the
only woman who ever died like that. Luke got the doctor over from the
next parish, and they agreed that she had died of something the matter
with her heart. Why not? It's common enough.

Of course, there was the ladle. I never told anybody about that, and it
made me start when I found it in the cupboard in the bedroom. It was
new, too--a little tinned iron ladle that had not been in the fire more
than once or twice, and there was some lead in it that had been melted,
and stuck to the bottom of the bowl, all grey, with hardened dross on
it. But that proves nothing. A country doctor is generally a handy man,
who does everything for himself, and Luke may have had a dozen reasons
for melting a little lead in a ladle. He was fond of sea-fishing, for
instance, and he may have cast a sinker for a night-line; perhaps it was
a weight for the hall clock, or something like that. All the same, when
I found it I had a rather queer sensation, because it looked so much
like the thing I had described when I told them the story. Do you
understand? It affected me unpleasantly, and I threw it away; it's at
the bottom of the sea a mile from the Spit, and it will be jolly well
rusted beyond recognising if it's ever washed up by the tide.

You see, Luke must have bought it in the village, years ago, for the man
sells just such ladles still. I suppose they are used in cooking. In any
case, there was no reason why an inquisitive housemaid should find such
a thing lying about, with lead in it, and wonder what it was, and
perhaps talk to the maid who heard me tell the story at dinner--for that
girl married the plumber's son in the village, and may remember the
whole thing.

You understand me, don't you? Now that Luke Pratt is dead and gone, and
lies buried beside his wife, with an honest man's tombstone at his head,
I should not care to stir up anything that could hurt his memory. They
are both dead, and their son, too. There was trouble enough about Luke's
death, as it was.

How? He was found dead on the beach one morning, and there was a
coroner's inquest. There were marks on his throat, but he had not been
robbed. The verdict was that he had come to his end "by the hands or
teeth of some person or animal unknown," for half the jury thought it
might have been a big dog that had thrown him down and gripped his
windpipe, though the skin of his throat was not broken. No one knew at
what time he had gone out, nor where he had been. He was found lying on
his back above high-water mark, and an old cardboard bandbox that had
belonged to his wife lay under his hand, open. The lid had fallen off.
He seemed to have been carrying home a skull in the box--doctors are
fond of collecting such things. It had rolled out and lay near his head,
and it was a remarkably fine skull, rather small, beautifully shaped and
very white, with perfect teeth. That is to say, the upper jaw was
perfect, but there was no lower one at all, when I first saw it.

Yes, I found it here when I came. You see, it was very white and
polished, like a thing meant to be kept under a glass case, and the
people did not know where it came from, nor what to do with it; so they
put it back into the bandbox and set it on the shelf of the cupboard in
the best bedroom, and of course they showed it to me when I took
possession. I was taken down to the beach, too, to be shown the place
where Luke was found, and the old fisherman explained just how he was
lying, and the skull beside him. The only point he could not explain
was why the skull had rolled up the sloping sand toward Luke's head
instead of rolling downhill to his feet. It did not seem odd to me at
the time, but I have often thought of it since, for the place is rather
steep. I'll take you there to-morrow if you like--I made a sort of cairn
of stones there afterward.

When he fell down, or was thrown down--whichever happened--the bandbox
struck the sand, and the lid came off, and the thing came out and ought
to have rolled down. But it didn't. It was close to his head, almost
touching it, and turned with the face toward it. I say it didn't strike
me as odd when the man told me; but I could not help thinking about it
afterward, again and again, till I saw a picture of it all when I closed
my eyes; and then I began to ask myself why the plaguey thing had rolled
up instead of down, and why it had stopped near Luke's head instead of
anywhere else, a yard away, for instance.

You naturally want to know what conclusion I reached, don't you? None
that at all explained the rolling, at all events. But I got something
else into my head, after a time, that made me feel downright
uncomfortable.

Oh, I don't mean as to anything supernatural! There may be ghosts, or
there may not be. If there are, I'm not inclined to believe that they
can hurt living people except by frightening them, and, for my part, I
would rather face any shape of ghost than a fog in the Channel when it's
crowded. No. What bothered me was just a foolish idea, that's all, and I
cannot tell how it began, nor what made it grow till it turned into a
certainty.

I was thinking about Luke and his poor wife one evening over my pipe and
a dull book, when it occurred to me that the skull might possibly be
hers, and I have never got rid of the thought since. You'll tell me
there's no sense in it, no doubt; that Mrs. Pratt was buried like a
Christian and is lying in the churchyard where they put her, and that
it's perfectly monstrous to suppose her husband kept her skull in her
old bandbox in his bedroom. All the same, in the face of reason, and
common sense, and probability, I'm convinced that he did. Doctors do all
sorts of queer things that would make men like you and me feel creepy,
and those are just the things that don't seem probable, nor logical, nor
sensible to us.

Then, don't you see?--if it really was her skull, poor woman, the only
way of accounting for his having it is that he really killed her, and
did it in that way, as the woman killed her husbands in the story, and
that he was afraid there might be an examination some day which would
betray him. You see, I told that too, and I believe it had really
happened some fifty or sixty years ago. They dug up the three skulls,
you know, and there was a small lump of lead rattling about in each one.
That was what hanged the woman. Luke remembered that, I'm sure. I don't
want to know what he did when he thought of it; my taste never ran in
the direction of horrors, and I don't fancy you care for them either, do
you? No. If you did, you might supply what is wanting to the story.

It must have been rather grim, eh? I wish I did not see the whole thing
so distinctly, just as everything must have happened. He took it the
night before she was buried, I'm sure, after the coffin had been shut,
and when the servant girl was asleep. I would bet anything, that when
he'd got it, he put something under the sheet in its place, to fill up
and look like it. What do you suppose he put there, under the sheet?

I don't wonder you take me up on what I'm saying! First I tell you that
I don't want to know what happened, and that I hate to think about
horrors, and then I describe the whole thing to you as if I had seen it.
I'm quite sure that it was her work-bag that he put there. I remember
the bag very well, for she always used it of an evening; it was made of
brown plush, and when it was stuffed full it was about the size of--you
understand. Yes, there I am, at it again! You may laugh at me, but you
don't live here alone, where it was done, and you didn't tell Luke the
story about the melted lead. I'm not nervous, I tell you, but sometimes
I begin to feel that I understand why some people are. I dwell on all
this when I'm alone, and I dream of it, and when that thing
screams--well, frankly, I don't like the noise any more than you do,
though I should be used to it by this time.

I ought not to be nervous. I've sailed in a haunted ship. There was a
Man in the Top, and two-thirds of the crew died of the West Coast fever
inside of ten days after we anchored; but I was all right, then and
afterward. I have seen some ugly sights, too, just as you have, and all
the rest of us. But nothing ever stuck in my head in the way this does.

You see, I've tried to get rid of the thing, but it doesn't like that.
It wants to be there in its place, in Mrs. Pratt's bandbox in the
cupboard in the best bedroom. It's not happy anywhere else. How do I
know that? Because I've tried it. You don't suppose that I've not tried,
do you? As long as it's there it only screams now and then, generally at
this time of year, but if I put it out of the house it goes on all
night, and no servant will stay here twenty-four hours. As it is, I've
often been left alone and have been obliged to shift for myself for a
fortnight at a time. No one from the village would ever pass a night
under the roof now, and as for selling the place, or even letting it,
that's out of the question. The old women say that if I stay here I
shall come to a bad end myself before long.

I'm not afraid of that. You smile at the mere idea that any one could
take such nonsense seriously. Quite right. It's utterly blatant
nonsense, I agree with you. Didn't I tell you that it's only a noise
after all when you started and looked round as if you expected to see a
ghost standing behind your chair?

I may be all wrong about the skull, and I like to think that I am--when
I can. It may be just a fine specimen which Luke got somewhere long ago,
and what rattles about inside when you shake it may be nothing but a
pebble, or a bit of hard clay, or anything. Skulls that have lain long
in the ground generally have something inside them that rattles, don't
they? No, I've never tried to get it out, whatever it is; I'm afraid it
might be lead, don't you see? And if it is, I don't want to know the
fact, for I'd much rather not be sure. If it really is lead, I killed
her quite as much as if I had done the deed myself. Anybody must see
that, I should think. As long as I don't know for certain, I have the
consolation of saying that it's all utterly ridiculous nonsense, that
Mrs. Pratt died a natural death and that the beautiful skull belonged to
Luke when he was a student in London. But if I were quite sure, I
believe I should have to leave the house; indeed I do, most certainly.
As it is, I had to give up trying to sleep in the best bedroom where the
cupboard is.

You ask me why I don't throw it into the pond--yes, but please don't
call it a "confounded bugbear"--it doesn't like being called names.

There! Lord, what a shriek! I told you so! You're quite pale, man. Fill
up your pipe and draw your chair nearer to the fire, and take some more
drink. Old Hollands never hurt anybody yet. I've seen a Dutchman in Java
drink half a jug of Hulstkamp in a morning without turning a hair. I
don't take much rum myself, because it doesn't agree with my rheumatism,
but you are not rheumatic and it won't damage you. Besides, it's a very
damp night outside. The wind is howling again, and it will soon be in
the southwest; do you hear how the windows rattle? The tide must have
turned too, by the moaning.

We should not have heard the thing again if you had not said that. I'm
pretty sure we should not. Oh yes, if you choose to describe it as a
coincidence, you are quite welcome, but I would rather that you should
not call the thing names again, if you don't mind. It may be that the
poor little woman hears, and perhaps it hurts her, don't you know?
Ghost? No! You don't call anything a ghost that you can take in your
hands and look at in broad daylight, and that rattles when you shake it.
Do you, now? But it's something that hears and understands; there's no
doubt about that.

I tried sleeping in the best bedroom when I first came to the house,
just because it was the best and the most comfortable, but I had to give
it up. It was their room, and there's the big bed she died in, and the
cupboard is in the thickness of the wall, near the head, on the left.
That's where it likes to be kept, in its bandbox. I only used the room
for a fortnight after I came, and then I turned out and took the little
room downstairs, next to the surgery, where Luke used to sleep when he
expected to be called to a patient during the night.

I was always a good sleeper ashore; eight hours is my dose, eleven to
seven when I'm alone, twelve to eight when I have a friend with me. But
I could not sleep after three o'clock in the morning in that room--a
quarter past, to be accurate--as a matter of fact, I timed it with my
old pocket chronometer, which still keeps good time, and it was always
at exactly seventeen minutes past three. I wonder whether that was the
hour when she died?

It was not what you have heard. If it had been that I could not have
stood it two nights. It was just a start and a moan and hard breathing
for a few seconds in the cupboard, and it could never have waked me
under ordinary circumstances, I'm sure. I suppose you are like me in
that, and we are just like other people who have been to sea. No natural
sounds disturb us at all, not all the racket of a square-rigger hove to
in a heavy gale, or rolling on her beam ends before the wind. But if a
lead pencil gets adrift and rattles in the drawer of your cabin table
you are awake in a moment. Just so--you always understand. Very well,
the noise in the cupboard was no louder than that, but it waked me
instantly.

I said it was like a "start." I know what I mean, but it's hard to
explain without seeming to talk nonsense. Of course you cannot exactly
"hear" a person "start"; at the most, you might hear the quick drawing
of the breath between the parted lips and closed teeth, and the almost
imperceptible sound of clothing that moved suddenly though very
slightly. It was like that.

You know how one feels what a sailing vessel is going to do, two or
three seconds before she does it, when one has the wheel. Riders say the
same of a horse, but that's less strange, because the horse is a live
animal with feelings of its own, and only poets and landsmen talk about
a ship being alive, and all that. But I have always felt somehow that
besides being a steaming machine or a sailing machine for carrying
weights, a vessel at sea is a sensitive instrument, and a means of
communication between nature and man, and most particularly the man at
the wheel, if she is steered by hand. She takes her impressions directly
from wind and sea, tide and stream, and transmits them to the man's
hand, just as the wireless telegraph picks up the interrupted currents
aloft and turns them out below in the form of a message.

You see what I am driving at; I felt that something started in the
cupboard, and I felt it so vividly that I heard it, though there may
have been nothing to hear, and the sound inside my head waked me
suddenly. But I really heard the other noise. It was as if it were
muffled inside a box, as far away as if it came through a long-distance
telephone; and yet I knew that it was inside the cupboard near the head
of my bed. My hair did not bristle and my blood did not run cold that
time. I simply resented being waked up by something that had no
business to make a noise, any more than a pencil should rattle in the
drawer of my cabin table on board ship. For I did not understand; I just
supposed that the cupboard had some communication with the outside air,
and that the wind had got in and was moaning through it with a sort of
very faint screech. I struck a light and looked at my watch, and it was
seventeen minutes past three. Then I turned over and went to sleep on my
right ear. That's my good one; I'm pretty deaf with the other, for I
struck the water with it when I was a lad in diving from the foretopsail
yard. Silly thing to do, it was, but the result is very convenient when
I want to go to sleep when there's a noise.

That was the first night, and the same thing happened again and several
times afterward, but not regularly, though it was always at the same
time, to a second; perhaps I was sometimes sleeping on my good ear, and
sometimes not. I overhauled the cupboard and there was no way by which
the wind could get in, or anything else, for the door makes a good fit,
having been meant to keep out moths, I suppose; Mrs. Pratt must have
kept her winter things in it, for it still smells of camphor and
turpentine.

After about a fortnight I had had enough of the noises. So far I had
said to myself that it would be silly to yield to it and take the skull
out of the room. Things always look differently by daylight, don't they?
But the voice grew louder--I suppose one may call it a voice--and it got
inside my deaf ear, too, one night. I realised that when I was wide
awake, for my good ear was jammed down on the pillow, and I ought not to
have heard a fog-horn in that position. But I heard that, and it made me
lose my temper, unless it scared me, for sometimes the two are not far
apart. I struck a light and got up, and I opened the cupboard, grabbed
the bandbox and threw it out of the window, as far as I could.

Then my hair stood on end. The thing screamed in the air, like a shell
from a twelve-inch gun. It fell on the other side of the road. The night
was very dark, and I could not see it fall, but I know it fell beyond
the road. The window is just over the front door, it's fifteen yards to
the fence, more or less, and the road is ten yards wide. There's a
quickset hedge beyond, along the glebe that belongs to the vicarage.

I did not sleep much more that night. It was not more than half an hour
after I had thrown the bandbox out when I heard a shriek outside--like
what we've had to-night, but worse, more despairing, I should call it;
and it may have been my imagination, but I could have sworn that the
screams came nearer and nearer each time. I lit a pipe, and walked up
and down for a bit, and then took a book and sat up reading, but I'll be
hanged if I can remember what I read nor even what the book was, for
every now and then a shriek came up that would have made a dead man turn
in his coffin.

A little before dawn some one knocked at the front door. There was no
mistaking that for anything else, and I opened my window and looked
down, for I guessed that some one wanted the doctor, supposing that the
new man had taken Luke's house. It was rather a relief to hear a human
knock after that awful noise.

You cannot see the door from above, owing to the little porch. The
knocking came again, and I called out, asking who was there, but nobody
answered, though the knock was repeated. I sang out again, and said that
the doctor did not live here any longer. There was no answer, but it
occurred to me that it might be some old countryman who was stone deaf.
So I took my candle and went down to open the door. Upon my word, I was
not thinking of the thing yet, and I had almost forgotten the other
noises. I went down convinced that I should find somebody outside, on
the doorstep, with a message. I set the candle on the hall table, so
that the wind should not blow it out when I opened. While I was drawing
the old-fashioned bolt I heard the knocking again. It was not loud, and
it had a queer, hollow sound, now that I was close to it, I remember,
but I certainly thought it was made by some person who wanted to get in.

It wasn't. There was nobody there, but as I opened the door inward,
standing a little on one side, so as to see out at once, something
rolled across the threshold and stopped against my foot.

I drew back as I felt it, for I knew what it was before I looked down. I
cannot tell you how I knew, and it seemed unreasonable, for I am still
quite sure that I had thrown it across the road. It's a French window,
that opens wide, and I got a good swing when I flung it out. Besides,
when I went out early in the morning, I found the bandbox beyond the
thickset hedge.

You may think it opened when I threw it, and that the skull dropped out;
but that's impossible, for nobody could throw an empty cardboard box so
far. It's out of the question; you might as well try to fling a ball of
paper twenty-five yards, or a blown bird's egg.

To go back, I shut and bolted the hall door, picked the thing up
carefully, and put it on the table beside the candle. I did that
mechanically, as one instinctively does the right thing in danger
without thinking at all--unless one does the opposite. It may seem odd,
but I believe my first thought had been that somebody might come and
find me there on the threshold while it was resting against my foot,
lying a little on its side, and turning one hollow eye up at my face, as
if it meant to accuse me. And the light and shadow from the candle
played in the hollows of the eyes as it stood on the table, so that they
seemed to open and shut at me. Then the candle went out quite
unexpectedly, though the door was fastened and there was not the least
draught; and I used up at least half a dozen matches before it would
burn again.

I sat down rather suddenly, without quite knowing why. Probably I had
been badly frightened, and perhaps you will admit there was no great
shame in being scared. The thing had come home, and it wanted to go
upstairs, back to its cupboard. I sat still and stared at it for a bit,
till I began to feel very cold; then I took it and carried it up and set
it in its place, and I remember that I spoke to it, and promised that it
should have its bandbox again in the morning.

You want to know whether I stayed in the room till daybreak? Yes, but I
kept a light burning, and sat up smoking and reading, most likely out of
fright; plain, undeniable fear, and you need not call it cowardice
either, for that's not the same thing. I could not have stayed alone
with that thing in the cupboard; I should have been scared to death,
though I'm not more timid than other people. Confound it all, man, it
had crossed the road alone, and had got up the doorstep and had knocked
to be let in.

When the dawn came, I put on my boots and went out to find the bandbox.
I had to go a good way round, by the gate near the highroad, and I found
the box open and hanging on the other side of the hedge. It had caught
on the twigs by the string, and the lid had fallen off and was lying on
the ground below it. That shows that it did not open till it was well
over; and if it had not opened as soon as it left my hand, what was
inside it must have gone beyond the road too.

That's all. I took the box upstairs to the cupboard, and put the skull
back and locked it up. When the girl brought me my breakfast she said
she was sorry, but that she must go, and she did not care if she lost
her month's wages. I looked at her, and her face was a sort of greenish,
yellowish white. I pretended to be surprised, and asked what was the
matter; but that was of no use, for she just turned on me and wanted to
know whether I meant to stay in a haunted house, and how long I
expected to live if I did, for though she noticed I was sometimes a
little hard of hearing, she did not believe that even I could sleep
through those screams again--and if I could, why had I been moving about
the house and opening and shutting the front door, between three and
four in the morning? There was no answering that, since she had heard
me, so off she went, and I was left to myself. I went down to the
village during the morning and found a woman who was willing to come and
do the little work there is and cook my dinner, on condition that she
might go home every night. As for me, I moved downstairs that day, and I
have never tried to sleep in the best bedroom since. After a little
while I got a brace of middle-aged Scotch servants from London, and
things were quiet enough for a long time. I began by telling them that
the house was in a very exposed position, and that the wind whistled
round it a good deal in the autumn and winter, which had given it a bad
name in the village, the Cornish people being inclined to superstition
and telling ghost stories. The two hard-faced, sandy-haired sisters
almost smiled, and they answered with great contempt that they had no
great opinion of any Southern bogey whatever, having been in service in
two English haunted houses, where they had never seen so much as the
Boy in Gray, whom they reckoned no very particular rarity in
Forfarshire.

They stayed with me several months, and while they were in the house we
had peace and quiet. One of them is here again now, but she went away
with her sister within the year. This one--she was the cook--married the
sexton, who works in my garden. That's the way of it. It's a small
village and he has not much to do, and he knows enough about flowers to
help me nicely, besides doing most of the hard work; for though I'm fond
of exercise, I'm getting a little stiff in the hinges. He's a sober,
silent sort of fellow, who minds his own business, and he was a widower
when I came here--Trehearn is his name, James Trehearn. The Scotch
sisters would not admit that there was anything wrong about the house,
but when November came they gave me warning that they were going, on the
ground that the chapel was such a long walk from here, being in the next
parish, and that they could not possibly go to our church. But the
younger one came back in the spring, and as soon as the banns could be
published she was married to James Trehearn by the vicar, and she seems
to have had no scruples about hearing him preach since then. I'm quite
satisfied, if she is! The couple live in a small cottage that looks
over the churchyard.

I suppose you are wondering what all this has to do with what I was
talking about. I'm alone so much that when an old friend comes to see
me, I sometimes go on talking just for the sake of hearing my own voice.
But in this case there is really a connection of ideas. It was James
Trehearn who buried poor Mrs. Pratt, and her husband after her in the
same grave, and it's not far from the back of his cottage. That's the
connection in my mind, you see. It's plain enough. He knows something;
I'm quite sure that he does, by his manner, though he's such a reticent
beggar.

Yes, I'm alone in the house at night now, for Mrs. Trehearn does
everything herself, and when I have a friend the sexton's niece comes in
to wait on the table. He takes his wife home every evening in winter,
but in summer, when there's light, she goes by herself. She's not a
nervous woman, but she's less sure than she used to be that there are no
bogies in England worth a Scotchwoman's notice. Isn't it amusing, the
idea that Scotland has a monopoly of the supernatural? Odd sort of
national pride, I call that, don't you?

That's a good fire, isn't it? When driftwood gets started at last
there's nothing like it, I think. Yes, we get lots of it, for I'm sorry
to say there are still a great many wrecks about here. It's a lonely
coast, and you may have all the wood you want for the trouble of
bringing it in. Trehearn and I borrow a cart now and then, and load it
between here and the Spit. I hate a coal fire when I can get wood of any
sort. A log is company, even if it's only a piece of a deck-beam or
timber sawn off, and the salt in it makes pretty sparks. See how they
fly, like Japanese hand-fireworks! Upon my word, with an old friend and
a good fire and a pipe, one forgets all about that thing upstairs,
especially now that the wind has moderated. It's only a lull, though,
and it will blow a gale before morning.

You think you would like to see the skull? I've no objection. There's no
reason why you shouldn't have a look at it, and you never saw a more
perfect one in your life, except that there are two front teeth missing
in the lower jaw.

Oh yes--I had not told you about the jaw yet. Trehearn found it in the
garden last spring when he was digging a pit for a new asparagus bed.
You know we make asparagus beds six or eight feet deep here. Yes, yes--I
had forgotten to tell you that. He was digging straight down, just as he
digs a grave; if you want a good asparagus bed made, I advise you to
get a sexton to make it for you. Those fellows have a wonderful knack at
that sort of digging.

Trehearn had got down about three feet when he cut into a mass of white
lime in the side of the trench. He had noticed that the earth was a
little looser there, though he says it had not been disturbed for a
number of years. I suppose he thought that even old lime might not be
good for asparagus, so he broke it out and threw it up. It was pretty
hard, he says, in biggish lumps, and out of sheer force of habit he
cracked the lumps with his spade as they lay outside the pit beside him;
the jawbone of a skull dropped out of one of the pieces. He thinks he
must have knocked out the two front teeth in breaking up the lime, but
he did not see them anywhere. He's a very experienced man in such
things, as you may imagine, and he said at once that the jaw had
probably belonged to a young woman, and that the teeth had been complete
when she died. He brought it to me, and asked me if I wanted to keep it;
if I did not, he said he would drop it into the next grave he made in
the churchyard, as he supposed it was a Christian jaw, and ought to have
decent burial, wherever the rest of the body might be. I told him that
doctors often put bones into quicklime to whiten them nicely, and that
I supposed Dr. Pratt had once had a little lime pit in the garden for
that purpose, and had forgotten the jaw. Trehearn looked at me quietly.

"Maybe it fitted that skull that used to be in the cupboard upstairs,
sir," he said. "Maybe Dr. Pratt had put the skull into the lime to clean
it, or something, and when he took it out he left the lower jaw behind.
There's some human hair sticking in the lime, sir."

I saw there was, and that was what Trehearn said. If he did not suspect
something, why in the world should he have suggested that the jaw might
fit the skull? Besides, it did. That's proof that he knows more than he
cares to tell. Do you suppose he looked before she was buried? Or
perhaps--when he buried Luke in the same grave----

Well, well, it's of no use to go over that, is it? I said I would keep
the jaw with the skull, and I took it upstairs and fitted it into its
place. There's not the slightest doubt about the two belonging together,
and together they are.

Trehearn knows several things. We were talking about plastering the
kitchen a while ago, and he happened to remember that it had not been
done since the very week when Mrs. Pratt died. He did not say that the
mason must have left some lime on the place, but he thought it, and
that it was the very same lime he had found in the asparagus pit. He
knows a lot. Trehearn is one of your silent beggars who can put two and
two together. That grave is very near the back of his cottage, too, and
he's one of the quickest men with a spade I ever saw. If he wanted to
know the truth, he could, and no one else would ever be the wiser unless
he chose to tell. In a quiet village like ours, people don't go and
spend the night in the churchyard to see whether the sexton potters
about by himself between ten o'clock and daylight.

What is awful to think of, is Luke's deliberation, if he did it; his
cool certainty that no one would find him out; above all, his nerve, for
that must have been extraordinary. I sometimes think it's bad enough to
live in the place where it was done, if it really was done. I always put
in the condition, you see, for the sake of his memory, and a little bit
for my own sake, too.

I'll go upstairs and fetch the box in a minute. Let me light my pipe;
there's no hurry! We had supper early, and it's only half-past nine
o'clock. I never let a friend go to bed before twelve, or with less than
three glasses--you may have as many more as you like, but you shan't
have less, for the sake of old times.

It's breezing up again, do you hear? That was only a lull just now, and
we are going to have a bad night.

A thing happened that made me start a little when I found that the jaw
fitted exactly. I'm not very easily startled in that way myself, but I
have seen people make a quick movement, drawing their breath sharply,
when they had thought they were alone and suddenly turned and saw some
one very near them. Nobody can call that fear. You wouldn't, would you?
No. Well, just when I had set the jaw in its place under the skull, the
teeth closed sharply on my finger. It felt exactly as if it were biting
me hard, and I confess that I jumped before I realised that I had been
pressing the jaw and the skull together with my other hand. I assure you
I was not at all nervous. It was broad daylight, too, and a fine day,
and the sun was streaming into the best bedroom. It would have been
absurd to be nervous, and it was only a quick mistaken impression, but
it really made me feel queer. Somehow it made me think of the funny
verdict of the coroner's jury on Luke's death, "by the hand or teeth of
some person or animal unknown." Ever since that I've wished I had seen
those marks on his throat, though the lower jaw was missing then.

I have often seen a man do insane things with his hands that he does
not realise at all. I once saw a man hanging on by an old awning stop
with one hand, leaning backward, outboard, with all his weight on it,
and he was just cutting the stop with the knife in his other hand when I
got my arms round him. We were in mid-ocean, going twenty knots. He had
not the smallest idea what he was doing; neither had I when I managed to
pinch my finger between the teeth of that thing. I can feel it now. It
was exactly as if it were alive and were trying to bite me. It would if
it could, for I know it hates me, poor thing! Do you suppose that what
rattles about inside is really a bit of lead? Well, I'll get the box
down presently, and if whatever it is happens to drop out into your
hands that's your affair. If it's only a clod of earth or a pebble, the
whole matter would be off my mind, and I don't believe I should ever
think of the skull again; but somehow I cannot bring myself to shake out
the bit of hard stuff myself. The mere idea that it may be lead makes me
confoundedly uncomfortable, yet I've got the conviction that I shall
know before long. I shall certainly know. I'm sure Trehearn knows, but
he's such a silent beggar.

I'll go upstairs now and get it. What? You had better go with me? Ha,
ha! do you think I'm afraid of a bandbox and a noise? Nonsense!

Bother the candle, it won't light! As if the ridiculous thing
understood what it's wanted for! Look at that--the third match. They
light fast enough for my pipe. There, do you see? It's a fresh box, just
out of the tin safe where I keep the supply on account of the dampness.
Oh, you think the wick of the candle may be damp, do you? All right,
I'll light the beastly thing in the fire. That won't go out, at all
events. Yes, it sputters a bit, but it will keep lighted now. It burns
just like any other candle, doesn't it? The fact is, candles are not
very good about here. I don't know where they come from, but they have a
way of burning low occasionally, with a greenish flame that spits tiny
sparks, and I'm often annoyed by their going out of themselves. It
cannot be helped, for it will be long before we have electricity in our
village. It really is rather a poor light, isn't it?

You think I had better leave you the candle and take the lamp, do you? I
don't like to carry lamps about, that's the truth. I never dropped one
in my life, but I have always thought I might, and it's so confoundedly
dangerous if you do. Besides, I am pretty well used to these rotten
candles by this time.

You may as well finish that glass while I'm getting it, for I don't mean
to let you off with less than three before you go to bed. You won't
have to go upstairs, either, for I've put you in the old study next to
the surgery--that's where I live myself. The fact is, I never ask a
friend to sleep upstairs now. The last man who did was Crackenthorpe,
and he said he was kept awake all night. You remember old Crack, don't
you? He stuck to the Service, and they've just made him an admiral. Yes,
I'm off now--unless the candle goes out. I couldn't help asking if you
remembered Crackenthorpe. If any one had told us that the skinny little
idiot he used to be was to turn out the most successful of the lot of
us, we should have laughed at the idea, shouldn't we? You and I did not
do badly, it's true--but I'm really going now. I don't mean to let you
think that I've been putting it off by talking! As if there were
anything to be afraid of! If I were scared, I should tell you so quite
frankly, and get you to go upstairs with me.

       *       *       *       *       *

Here's the box. I brought it down very carefully, so as not to disturb
it, poor thing. You see, if it were shaken, the jaw might get separated
from it again, and I'm sure it wouldn't like that. Yes, the candle went
out as I was coming downstairs, but that was the draught from the leaky
window on the landing. Did you hear anything? Yes, there was another
scream. Am I pale, do you say? That's nothing. My heart is a little
queer sometimes, and I went upstairs too fast. In fact, that's one
reason why I really prefer to live altogether on the ground floor.

Wherever that shriek came from, it was not from the skull, for I had the
box in my hand when I heard the noise, and here it is now; so we have
proved definitely that the screams are produced by something else. I've
no doubt I shall find out some day what makes them. Some crevice in the
wall, of course, or a crack in a chimney, or a chink in the frame of a
window. That's the way all ghost stories end in real life. Do you know,
I'm jolly glad I thought of going up and bringing it down for you to
see, for that last shriek settles the question. To think that I should
have been so weak as to fancy that the poor skull could really cry out
like a living thing!

Now I'll open the box, and we'll take it out and look at it under the
bright light. It's rather awful to think that the poor lady used to sit
there, in your chair, evening after evening, in just the same light,
isn't it? But then--I've made up my mind that it's all rubbish from
beginning to end, and that it's just an old skull that Luke had when he
was a student; and perhaps he put it into the lime merely to whiten it,
and could not find the jaw.

I made a seal on the string, you see, after I had put the jaw in its
place, and I wrote on the cover. There's the old white label on it
still, from the milliner's, addressed to Mrs. Pratt when the hat was
sent to her, and as there was room I wrote on the edge: "A skull, once
the property of the late Luke Pratt, M.D." I don't quite know why I
wrote that, unless it was with the idea of explaining how the thing
happened to be in my possession. I cannot help wondering sometimes what
sort of hat it was that came in the bandbox. What colour was it, do you
think? Was it a gay spring hat with a bobbing feather and pretty
ribands? Strange that the very same box should hold the head that wore
the finery--perhaps. No--we made up our minds that it just came from the
hospital in London where Luke did his time. It's far better to look at
it in that light, isn't it? There's no more connection between that
skull and poor Mrs. Pratt than there was between my story about the lead
and----

Good Lord! Take the lamp--don't let it go out, if you can help it--I'll
have the window fastened again in a second--I say, what a gale! There,
it's out! I told you so! Never mind, there's the firelight--I've got the
window shut--the bolt was only half down. Was the box blown off the
table? Where the deuce is it? There! That won't open again, for I've put
up the bar. Good dodge, an old-fashioned bar--there's nothing like it.
Now, you find the bandbox while I light the lamp. Confound those
wretched matches! Yes, a pipe spill is better--it must light in the
fire--I hadn't thought of it--thank you--there we are again. Now,
where's the box? Yes, put it back on the table, and we'll open it.

That's the first time I have ever known the wind to burst that window
open; but it was partly carelessness on my part when I last shut it.
Yes, of course I heard the scream. It seemed to go all round the house
before it broke in at the window. That proves that it's always been the
wind and nothing else, doesn't it? When it was not the wind, it was my
imagination. I've always been a very imaginative man: I must have been,
though I did not know it. As we grow older we understand ourselves
better, don't you know?

I'll have a drop of the Hulstkamp neat, by way of an exception, since
you are filling up your glass. That damp gust chilled me, and with my
rheumatic tendency I'm very much afraid of a chill, for the cold
sometimes seems to stick in my joints all winter when it once gets in.

By George, that's good stuff! I'll just light a fresh pipe, now that
everything is snug again, and then we'll open the box. I'm so glad we
heard that last scream together, with the skull here on the table
between us, for a thing cannot possibly be in two places at the same
time, and the noise most certainly came from outside, as any noise the
wind makes must. You thought you heard it scream through the room after
the window was burst open? Oh yes, so did I, but that was natural enough
when everything was open. Of course we heard the wind. What could one
expect?

Look here, please. I want you to see that the seal is intact before we
open the box together. Will you take my glasses? No, you have your own.
All right. The seal is sound, you see, and you can read the words of the
motto easily. "Sweet and low"--that's it--because the poem goes on "Wind
of the Western sea," and says, "blow him again to me," and all that.
Here is the seal on my watch-chain, where it's hung for more than forty
years. My poor little wife gave it to me when I was courting, and I
never had any other. It was just like her to think of those words--she
was always fond of Tennyson.

It's of no use to cut the string, for it's fastened to the box, so I'll
just break the wax and untie the knot, and afterward we'll seal it up
again. You see, I like to feel that the thing is safe in its place, and
that nobody can take it out. Not that I should suspect Trehearn of
meddling with it, but I always feel that he knows a lot more than he
tells.

You see, I've managed it without breaking the string, though when I
fastened it I never expected to open the bandbox again. The lid comes
off easily enough. There! Now look!

What? Nothing in it? Empty? It's gone, man, the skull is gone!

       *       *       *       *       *

No, there's nothing the matter with me. I'm only trying to collect my
thoughts. It's so strange. I'm positively certain that it was inside
when I put on the seal last spring. I can't have imagined that: it's
utterly impossible. If I ever took a stiff glass with a friend now and
then, I would admit that I might have made some idiotic mistake when I
had taken too much. But I don't, and I never did. A pint of ale at
supper and half a go of rum at bedtime was the most I ever took in my
good days. I believe it's always we sober fellows who get rheumatism and
gout! Yet there was my seal, and there is the empty bandbox. That's
plain enough.

I say, I don't half like this. It's not right. There's something wrong
about it, in my opinion. You needn't talk to me about supernatural
manifestations, for I don't believe in them, not a little bit! Somebody
must have tampered with the seal and stolen the skull. Sometimes, when I
go out to work in the garden in summer, I leave my watch and chain, on
the table. Trehearn must have taken the seal then, and used it, for he
would be quite sure that I should not come in for at least an hour.

If it was not Trehearn--oh, don't talk to me about the possibility that
the thing has got out by itself! If it has, it must be somewhere about
the house, in some out-of-the-way corner, waiting. We may come upon it
anywhere, waiting for us, don't you know?--just waiting in the dark.
Then it will scream at me; it will shriek at me in the dark, for it
hates me, I tell you!

The bandbox is quite empty. We are not dreaming, either of us. There, I
turn it upside down.

What's that? Something fell out as I turned it over. It's on the floor,
it's near your feet, I know it is, and we must find it. Help me to find
it, man. Have you got it? For God's sake, give it to me, quickly!

Lead! I knew it when I heard it fall. I knew it couldn't be anything
else by the little thud it made on the hearth-rug. So it was lead after
all, and Luke did it.

I feel a little bit shaken up--not exactly nervous, you know, but badly
shaken up, that's the fact. Anybody would, I should think. After all,
you cannot say that it's fear of the thing, for I went up and brought it
down--at least, I believed I was bringing it down, and that's the same
thing, and by George, rather than give in to such silly nonsense, I'll
take the box upstairs again and put it back in its place. It's not that.
It's the certainty that the poor little woman came to her end in that
way, by my fault, because I told the story. That's what is so dreadful.
Somehow, I had always hoped that I should never be quite sure of it, but
there is no doubting it now. Look at that!

Look at it! That little lump of lead with no particular shape. Think of
what it did, man! Doesn't it make you shiver? He gave her something to
make her sleep, of course, but there must have been one moment of awful
agony. Think of having boiling lead poured into your brain. Think of
it. She was dead before she could scream, but only think of--oh! there
it is again--it's just outside--I know it's just outside--I can't keep
it out of my head!--oh!--oh!

       *       *       *       *       *

You thought I had fainted? No, I wish I had, for it would have stopped
sooner. It's all very well to say that it's only a noise, and that a
noise never hurt anybody--you're as white as a shroud yourself. There's
only one thing to be done, if we hope to close an eye to-night. We must
find it and put it back into its bandbox and shut it up in the cupboard,
where it likes to be. I don't know how it got out, but it wants to get
in again. That's why it screams so awfully to-night--it was never so bad
as this--never since I first----

Bury it? Yes, if we can find it, we'll bury it, if it takes us all
night. We'll bury it six feet deep and ram down the earth over it, so
that it shall never get out again, and if it screams, we shall hardly
hear it so deep down. Quick, we'll get the lantern and look for it. It
cannot be far away; I'm sure it's just outside--it was coming in when I
shut the window, I know it.

Yes, you're quite right. I'm losing my senses, and I must get hold of
myself. Don't speak to me for a minute or two; I'll sit quite still and
keep my eyes shut and repeat something I know. That's the best way.

"Add together the altitude, the latitude, and the polar distance, divide
by two and subtract the altitude from the half-sum; then add the
logarithm of the secant of the latitude, the cosecant of the polar
distance, the cosine of the half-sum and the sine of the half-sum minus
the altitude"--there! Don't say that I'm out of my senses, for my memory
is all right, isn't it?

Of course, you may say that it's mechanical, and that we never forget
the things we learned when we were boys and have used almost every day
for a lifetime. But that's the very point. When a man is going crazy,
it's the mechanical part of his mind that gets out of order and won't
work right; he remembers things that never happened, or he sees things
that aren't real, or he hears noises when there is perfect silence.
That's not what is the matter with either of us, is it?

Come, we'll get the lantern and go round the house. It's not
raining--only blowing like old boots, as we used to say. The lantern is
in the cupboard under the stairs in the hall, and I always keep it
trimmed in case of a wreck.

No use to look for the thing? I don't see how you can say that. It was
nonsense to talk of burying it, of course, for it doesn't want to be
buried; it wants to go back into its bandbox and be taken upstairs, poor
thing! Trehearn took it out, I know, and made the seal over again.
Perhaps he took it to the churchyard, and he may have meant well. I
daresay he thought that it would not scream any more if it were quietly
laid in consecrated ground, near where it belongs. But it has come home.
Yes, that's it. He's not half a bad fellow, Trehearn, and rather
religiously inclined, I think. Does not that sound natural, and
reasonable, and well meant? He supposed it screamed because it was not
decently buried--with the rest. But he was wrong. How should he know
that it screams at me because it hates me, and because it's my fault
that there was that little lump of lead in it?

No use to look for it, anyhow? Nonsense! I tell you it wants to be
found--Hark! what's that knocking? Do you hear it?
Knock--knock--knock--three times, then a pause, and then again. It has a
hollow sound, hasn't it?

It has come home. I've heard that knock before. It wants to come in and
be taken upstairs, in its box. It's at the front door.

Will you come with me? We'll take it in. Yes, I own that I don't like to
go alone and open the door. The thing will roll in and stop against my
foot, just as it did before, and the light will go out. I'm a good deal
shaken by finding that bit of lead, and, besides, my heart isn't quite
right--too much strong tobacco, perhaps. Besides, I'm quite willing to
own that I'm a bit nervous to-night, if I never was before in my life.

That's right, come along! I'll take the box with me, so as not to come
back. Do you hear the knocking? It's not like any other knocking I ever
heard. If you will hold this door open, I can find the lantern under the
stairs by the light from this room without bringing the lamp into the
hall--it would only go out.

The thing knows we are coming--hark! It's impatient to get in. Don't
shut the door till the lantern is ready, whatever you do. There will be
the usual trouble with the matches, I suppose--no, the first one, by
Jove! I tell you it wants to get in, so there's no trouble. All right
with that door now; shut it, please. Now come and hold the lantern, for
it's blowing so hard outside that I shall have to use both hands. That's
it, hold the light low. Do you hear the knocking still? Here goes--I'll
open just enough with my foot against the bottom of the door--now!

Catch it! it's only the wind that blows it across the floor, that's
all--there's half a hurricane outside, I tell you! Have you got it? The
bandbox is on the table. One minute, and I'll have the bar up. There!

Why did you throw it into the box so roughly? It doesn't like that, you
know.

What do you say? Bitten your hand? Nonsense, man! You did just what I
did. You pressed the jaws together with your other hand and pinched
yourself. Let me see. You don't mean to say you have drawn blood? You
must have squeezed hard, by Jove, for the skin is certainly torn. I'll
give you some carbolic solution for it before we go to bed, for they say
a scratch from a skull's tooth may go bad and give trouble.

Come inside again and let me see it by the lamp. I'll bring the
bandbox--never mind the lantern, it may just as well burn in the hall,
for I shall need it presently when I go up the stairs. Yes, shut the
door if you will; it makes it more cheerful and bright. Is your finger
still bleeding? I'll get you the carbolic in an instant; just let me see
the thing.

Ugh! There's a drop of blood on the upper jaw. It's on the eye-tooth.
Ghastly, isn't it? When I saw it running along the floor of the hall,
the strength almost went out of my hands, and I felt my knees bending;
then I understood that it was the gale, driving it over the smooth
boards. You don't blame me? No, I should think not! We were boys
together, and we've seen a thing or two, and we may just as well own to
each other that we were both in a beastly funk when it slid across the
floor at you. No wonder you pinched your finger picking it up, after
that, if I did the same thing out of sheer nervousness, in broad
daylight, with the sun streaming in on me.

Strange that the jaw should stick to it so closely, isn't it? I suppose
it's the dampness, for it shuts like a vice--I have wiped off the drop
of blood, for it was not nice to look at. I'm not going to try to open
the jaws, don't be afraid! I shall not play any tricks with the poor
thing, but I'll just seal the box again, and we'll take it upstairs and
put it away where it wants to be. The wax is on the writing-table by the
window. Thank you. It will be long before I leave my seal lying about
again, for Trehearn to use, I can tell you. Explain? I don't explain
natural phenomena, but if you choose to think that Trehearn had hidden
it somewhere in the bushes, and that the gale blew it to the house
against the door, and made it knock, as if it wanted to be let in,
you're not thinking the impossible, and I'm quite ready to agree with
you.

Do you see that? You can swear that you've actually seen me seal it this
time, in case anything of the kind should occur again. The wax fastens
the strings to the lid, which cannot possibly be lifted, even enough to
get in one finger. You're quite satisfied, aren't you? Yes. Besides, I
shall lock the cupboard and keep the key in my pocket hereafter.

Now we can take the lantern and go upstairs. Do you know? I'm very much
inclined to agree with your theory that the wind blew it against the
house. I'll go ahead, for I know the stairs; just hold the lantern near
my feet as we go up. How the wind howls and whistles! Did you feel the
sand on the floor under your shoes as we crossed the hall?

Yes--this is the door of the best bedroom. Hold up the lantern, please.
This side, by the head of the bed. I left the cupboard open when I got
the box. Isn't it queer how the faint odour of women's dresses will hang
about an old closet for years? This is the shelf. You've seen me set the
box there, and now you see me turn the key and put it into my pocket. So
that's done!

       *       *       *       *       *

Good-night. Are you sure you're quite comfortable? It's not much of a
room, but I daresay you would as soon sleep here as upstairs to-night.
If you want anything, sing out; there's only a lath and plaster
partition between us. There's not so much wind on this side by half.
There's the Hollands on the table, if you'll have one more nightcap. No?
Well, do as you please. Good-night again, and don't dream about that
thing, if you can.

       *       *       *       *       *

The following paragraph appeared in the _Penraddon News_, 23rd November,
1906:


                "MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF A RETIRED SEA CAPTAIN

     "The village of Tredcombe is much disturbed by the strange death of
     Captain Charles Braddock, and all sorts of impossible stories are
     circulating with regard to the circumstances, which certainly seem
     difficult of explanation. The retired captain, who had successfully
     commanded in his time the largest and fastest liners belonging to
     one of the principal transatlantic steamship companies, was found
     dead in his bed on Tuesday morning in his own cottage, a quarter of
     a mile from the village. An examination was made at once by the
     local practitioner, which revealed the horrible fact that the
     deceased had been bitten in the throat by a human assailant, with
     such amazing force as to crush the windpipe and cause death. The
     marks of the teeth of both jaws were so plainly visible on the skin
     that they could be counted, but the perpetrator of the deed had
     evidently lost the two lower middle incisors. It is hoped that this
     peculiarity may help to identify the murderer, who can only be a
     dangerous escaped maniac. The deceased, though over sixty-five
     years of age, is said to have been a hale man of considerable
     physical strength, and it is remarkable that no signs of any
     struggle were visible in the room, nor could it be ascertained how
     the murderer had entered the house. Warning has been sent to all
     the insane asylums in the United Kingdom, but as yet no information
     has been received regarding the escape of any dangerous patient.

     "The coroner's jury returned the somewhat singular verdict that
     Captain Braddock came to his death 'by the hands or teeth of some
     person unknown.' The local surgeon is said to have expressed
     privately the opinion that the maniac is a woman, a view he deduces
     from the small size of the jaws, as shown by the marks of the
     teeth. The whole affair is shrouded in mystery. Captain Braddock
     was a widower, and lived alone. He leaves no children."


[_Note_.--Students of ghost lore and haunted houses will find the
foundation of the foregoing story in the legends about a skull which is
still preserved in the farm-house called Bettiscombe Manor, situated, I
believe, on the Dorsetshire coast.]



MAN OVERBOARD!


Yes--I have heard "Man overboard!" a good many times since I was a boy,
and once or twice I have seen the man go. There are more men lost in
that way than passengers on ocean steamers ever learn of. I have stood
looking over the rail on a dark night, when there was a step beside me,
and something flew past my head like a big black bat--and then there was
a splash! Stokers often go like that. They go mad with the heat, and
they slip up on deck and are gone before anybody can stop them, often
without being seen or heard. Now and then a passenger will do it, but he
generally has what he thinks a pretty good reason. I have seen a man
empty his revolver into a crowd of emigrants forward, and then go over
like a rocket. Of course, any officer who respects himself will do what
he can to pick a man up, if the weather is not so heavy that he would
have to risk his ship; but I don't think I remember seeing a man come
back when he was once fairly gone more than two or three times in all my
life, though we have often picked up the life-buoy, and sometimes the
fellow's cap. Stokers and passengers jump over; I never knew a sailor to
do that, drunk or sober. Yes, they say it has happened on hard ships,
but I never knew a case myself. Once in a long time a man is fished out
when it is just too late, and dies in the boat before you can get him
aboard, and--well, I don't know that I ever told that story since it
happened--I knew a fellow who went over, and came back dead. I didn't
see him after he came back; only one of us did, but we all knew he was
there.

No, I am not giving you "sharks." There isn't a shark in this story, and
I don't know that I would tell it at all if we weren't alone, just you
and I. But you and I have seen things in various parts, and maybe you
will understand. Anyhow, you know that I am telling what I know about,
and nothing else; and it has been on my mind to tell you ever since it
happened, only there hasn't been a chance.

It's a long story, and it took some time to happen; and it began a good
many years ago, in October, as well as I can remember. I was mate then;
I passed the local Marine Board for master about three years later. She
was the _Helen B. Jackson_, of New York, with lumber for the West
Indies, four-masted schooner, Captain Hackstaff. She was an
old-fashioned one, even then--no steam donkey, and all to do by hand.
There were still sailors in the coasting trade in those days, you
remember. She wasn't a hard ship, for the Old Man was better than most
of them, though he kept to himself and had a face like a monkey-wrench.
We were thirteen, all told, in the ship's company; and some of them
afterwards thought that might have had something to do with it, but I
had all that nonsense knocked out of me when I was a boy. I don't mean
to say that I like to go to sea on a Friday, but I _have_ gone to sea on
a Friday, and nothing has happened; and twice before that we have been
thirteen, because one of the hands didn't turn up at the last minute,
and nothing ever happened either--nothing worse than the loss of a light
spar or two, or a little canvas. Whenever I have been wrecked, we had
sailed as cheerily as you please--no thirteens, no Fridays, no dead men
in the hold. I believe it generally happens that way.

I daresay you remember those two Benton boys that were so much alike? It
is no wonder, for they were twin brothers. They shipped with us as boys
on the old _Boston Belle_, when you were mate and I was before the mast.
I never was quite sure which was which of those two, even then; and when
they both had beards it was harder than ever to tell them apart. One was
Jim, and the other was Jack; James Benton and John Benton. The only
difference I ever could see was, that one seemed to be rather more
cheerful and inclined to talk than the other; but one couldn't even be
sure of that. Perhaps they had moods. Anyhow, there was one of them that
used to whistle when he was alone. He only knew one tune, and that was
"Nancy Lee," and the other didn't know any tune at all; but I may be
mistaken about that, too. Perhaps they both knew it.

Well, those two Benton boys turned up on board the _Helen B. Jackson_.
They had been on half a dozen ships since the _Boston Belle_, and they
had grown up and were good seamen. They had reddish beards and bright
blue eyes and freckled faces; and they were quiet fellows, good workmen
on rigging, pretty willing, and both good men at the wheel. They managed
to be in the same watch--it was the port watch on the _Helen B._, and
that was mine, and I had great confidence in them both. If there was any
job aloft that needed two hands, they were always the first to jump into
the rigging; but that doesn't often happen on a fore-and-aft schooner.
If it breezed up, and the jibtopsail was to be taken in, they never
minded a wetting, and they would be out at the bowsprit end before there
was a hand at the downhaul. The men liked them for that, and because
they didn't blow about what they could do. I remember one day in a
reefing job, the downhaul parted and came down on deck from the peak of
the spanker. When the weather moderated, and we shook the reefs out, the
downhaul was forgotten until we happened to think we might soon need it
again. There was some sea on, and the boom was off, and the gaff was
slamming. One of those Benton boys was at the wheel, and before I knew
what he was doing, the other was out on the gaff with the end of the new
downhaul, trying to reeve it through its block. The one who was steering
watched him, and got as white as cheese. The other one was swinging
about on the gaff end, and every time she rolled to leeward, he brought
up with a jerk that would have sent anything but a monkey flying into
space. But he didn't leave it until he had rove the new rope, and he got
back all right. I think it was Jack at the wheel; the one that seemed
more cheerful, the one that whistled "Nancy Lee." He had rather have
been doing the job himself than watch his brother do it, and he had a
scared look; but he kept her as steady as he could in the swell, and he
drew a long breath when Jim had worked his way back to the peak-halliard
block, and had something to hold on to. I think it was Jim.

They had good togs, too, and they were neat and clean men in the
forecastle. I knew they had nobody belonging to them ashore--no mother,
no sisters, and no wives; but somehow they both looked as if a woman
overhauled them now and then. I remember that they had one ditty bag
between them, and they had a woman's thimble in it. One of the men said
something about it to them, and they looked at each other; and one
smiled, but the other didn't. Most of their clothes were alike, but they
had one red guernsey between them. For some time I used to think it was
always the same one that wore it, and I thought that might be a way to
tell them apart. But then I heard one asking the other for it, and
saying that the other had worn it last. So that was no sign either. The
cook was a West Indiaman, called James Lawley; his father had been
hanged for putting lights in cocoanut trees where they didn't belong.
But he was a good cook, and knew his business; and it wasn't
soup-and-bully and dog's-body every Sunday. That's what I meant to say.
On Sunday the cook called both those boys Jim, and on weekdays he called
them Jack. He used to say he must be right sometimes if he did that,
because even the hands on a painted clock point right twice a day.

What started me to trying for some way of telling the Bentons apart was
this. I heard them talking about a girl. It was at night, in our watch,
and the wind had headed us off a little rather suddenly, and when we had
flattened in the jibs, we clewed down the topsails, while the two Benton
boys got the spanker sheet aft. One of them was at the helm. I coiled
down the mizzen-topsail downhaul myself, and was going aft to see how
she headed up, when I stopped to look at a light, and leaned against the
deck-house. While I was standing there, I heard the two boys talking. It
sounded as if they had talked of the same thing before, and, as far as I
could tell, the voice I heard first belonged to the one who wasn't quite
so cheerful as the other--the one who was Jim when one knew which he
was.

"Does Mamie know?" Jim asked.

"Not yet," Jack answered quietly. He was at the wheel. "I mean to tell
her next time we get home."

"All right."

That was all I heard, because I didn't care to stand there listening
while they were talking about their own affairs; so I went aft to look
into the binnacle, and I told the one at the wheel to keep her so as
long as she had way on her, for I thought the wind would back up again
before long, and there was land to leeward. When he answered, his voice,
somehow, didn't sound like the cheerful one. Perhaps his brother had
relieved the wheel while they had been speaking, but what I had heard
set me wondering which of them it was that had a girl at home. There's
lots of time for wondering on a schooner in fair weather.

After that I thought I noticed that the two brothers were more silent
when they were together. Perhaps they guessed that I had overheard
something that night, and kept quiet when I was about. Some men would
have amused themselves by trying to chaff them separately about the girl
at home, and I suppose whichever one it was would have let the cat out
of the bag if I had done that. But, somehow, I didn't like to. Yes, I
was thinking of getting married myself at that time, so I had a sort of
fellow-feeling for whichever one it was, that made me not want to chaff
him.

They didn't talk much, it seemed to me; but in fair weather, when there
was nothing to do at night, and one was steering, the other was
everlastingly hanging round as if he were waiting to relieve the wheel,
though he might have been enjoying a quiet nap for all I cared in such
weather. Or else, when one was taking his turn at the lookout, the other
would be sitting on an anchor beside him. One kept near the other, at
night more than in the daytime. I noticed that. They were fond of
sitting on that anchor, and they generally tucked away their pipes under
it, for the _Helen B._ was a dry boat in most weather, and like most
fore-and-afters was better on a wind than going free. With a beam sea we
sometimes shipped a little water aft. We were by the stern, anyhow, on
that voyage, and that is one reason why we lost the man.

We fell in with a southerly gale, southeast at first; and then the
barometer began to fall while you could watch it, and a long swell began
to come up from the south'ard. A couple of months earlier we might have
been in for a cyclone, but it's "October all over" in those waters, as
you know better than I. It was just going to blow, and then it was to
rain, that was all; and we had plenty of time to make everything snug
before it breezed up much. It blew harder after sunset, and by the time
it was quite dark it was a full gale. We had shortened sail for it, but
as we were by the stern we were carrying the spanker close reefed
instead of the storm trysail. She steered better so, as long as we
didn't have to heave to. I had the first watch with the Benton boys, and
we had not been on deck an hour when a child might have seen that the
weather meant business.

The Old Man came up on deck and looked round, and in less than a minute
he told us to give her the trysail. That meant heaving to, and I was
glad of it; for though the _Helen B._ was a good vessel enough, she
wasn't a new ship by a long way, and it did her no good to drive her in
that weather. I asked whether I should call all hands, but just then the
cook came aft, and the Old Man said he thought we could manage the job
without waking the sleepers, and the trysail was handy on deck already,
for we hadn't been expecting anything better. We were all in oilskins,
of course, and the night was as black as a coal mine, with only a ray of
light from the slit in the binnacle shield, and you couldn't tell one
man from another except by his voice. The Old Man took the wheel; we got
the boom amidships, and he jammed her into the wind until she had hardly
any way. It was blowing now, and it was all that I and two others could
do to get in the slack of the downhaul, while the others lowered away at
the peak and throat, and we had our hands full to get a couple of turns
round the wet sail. It's all child's play on a fore-and-after compared
with reefing topsails in anything like weather, but the gear of a
schooner sometimes does unhandy things that you don't expect, and those
everlasting long halliards get foul of everything if they get adrift. I
remember thinking how unhandy that particular job was. Somebody
unhooked the throat-halliard block, and thought he had hooked it into
the head-cringle of the trysail, and sang out to hoist away, but he had
missed it in the dark, and the heavy block went flying into the lee
rigging, and nearly killed him when it swung back with the weather roll.
Then the Old Man got her up in the wind until the jib was shaking like
thunder; then he held her off, and she went off as soon as the headsails
filled, and he couldn't get her back again without the spanker. Then the
_Helen B._ did her favourite trick, and before we had time to say much,
we had a sea over the quarter and were up to our waists, with the
parrels of the trysail only half becketed round the mast, and the deck
so full of gear that you couldn't put your foot on a plank, and the
spanker beginning to get adrift again, being badly stopped, and the
general confusion and hell's delight that you can only have on a
fore-and-after when there's nothing really serious the matter. Of
course, I don't mean to say that the Old Man couldn't have steered his
trick as well as you or I or any other seaman; but I don't believe he
had ever been on board the _Helen B_. before, or had his hand on her
wheel till then; and he didn't know her ways. I don't mean to say that
what happened was his fault. I don't know whose fault it was. Perhaps
nobody was to blame. But I knew something happened somewhere on board
when we shipped that sea, and you'll never get it out of my head. I
hadn't any spare time myself, for I was becketing the rest of the
trysail to the mast. We were on the starboard tack, and the
throat-halliard came down to port as usual, and I suppose there were at
least three men at it, hoisting away, while I was at the beckets.

Now I am going to tell you something. You have known me, man and boy,
several voyages; and you are older than I am; and you have always been a
good friend to me. Now, do you think I am the sort of man to think I
hear things where there isn't anything to hear, or to think I see things
when there is nothing to see? No, you don't. Thank you. Well now, I had
passed the last becket, and I sang out to the men to sway away, and I
was standing on the jaws of the spanker-gaff, with my left hand on the
bolt-rope of the trysail, so that I could feel when it was board-taut,
and I wasn't thinking of anything except being glad the job was over,
and that we were going to heave her to. It was as black as a
coal-pocket, except that you could see the streaks on the seas as they
went by, and abaft the deck-house I could see the ray of light from the
binnacle on the captain's yellow oilskin as he stood at the wheel--or,
rather, I might have seen it if I had looked round at that minute. But
I didn't look round. I heard a man whistling. It was "Nancy Lee," and I
could have sworn that the man was right over my head in the crosstrees.
Only somehow I knew very well that if anybody could have been up there,
and could have whistled a tune, there were no living ears sharp enough
to hear it on deck then. I heard it distinctly, and at the same time I
heard the real whistling of the wind in the weather rigging, sharp and
clear as the steam-whistle on a Dago's peanut-cart in New York. That was
all right, that was as it should be; but the other wasn't right; and I
felt queer and stiff, as if I couldn't move, and my hair was curling
against the flannel lining of my sou'wester, and I thought somebody had
dropped a lump of ice down my back.

I said that the noise of the wind in the rigging was real, as if the
other wasn't, for I felt that it wasn't, though I heard it. But it was,
all the same; for the captain heard it, too. When I came to relieve the
wheel, while the men were clearing up decks, he was swearing. He was a
quiet man, and I hadn't heard him swear before, and I don't think I did
again, though several queer things happened after that. Perhaps he said
all he had to say then; I don't see how he could have said anything
more. I used to think nobody could swear like a Dane, except a
Neapolitan or a South American; but when I had heard the Old Man, I
changed my mind. There's nothing afloat or ashore that can beat one of
your quiet American skippers, if he gets off on that tack. I didn't need
to ask him what was the matter, for I knew he had heard "Nancy Lee," as
I had, only it affected us differently.

He did not give me the wheel, but told me to go forward and get the
second bonnet off the staysail, so as to keep her up better. As we
tailed on to the sheet when it was done, the man next me knocked his
sou'wester off against my shoulder, and his face came so close to me
that I could see it in the dark. It must have been very white for me to
see it, but I only thought of that afterwards. I don't see how any light
could have fallen upon it, but I knew it was one of the Benton boys. I
don't know what made me speak to him. "Hullo, Jim! Is that you?" I
asked. I don't know why I said Jim, rather than Jack.

"I am Jack," he answered.

We made all fast, and things were much quieter. "The Old Man heard you
whistling 'Nancy Lee,' just now," I said, "and he didn't like it."

It was as if there were a white light inside his face, and it was
ghastly. I know his teeth chattered. But he didn't say anything, and the
next minute he was somewhere in the dark trying to find his sou'wester
at the foot of the mast.

When all was quiet, and she was hove to, coming to and falling off her
four points as regularly as a pendulum, and the helm lashed a little to
the lee, the Old Man turned in again, and I managed to light a pipe in
the lee of the deck-house, for there was nothing more to be done till
the gale chose to moderate, and the ship was as easy as a baby in its
cradle. Of course the cook had gone below, as he might have done an hour
earlier; so there were supposed to be four of us in the watch. There was
a man at the lookout, and there was a hand by the wheel, though there
was no steering to be done, and I was having my pipe in the lee of the
deck-house, and the fourth man was somewhere about decks, probably
having a smoke, too. I thought some skippers I had sailed with would
have called the watch aft, and given them a drink after that job, but it
wasn't cold, and I guessed that our Old Man wouldn't be particularly
generous in that way. My hands and feet were red-hot, and it would be
time enough to get into dry clothes when it was my watch below; so I
stayed where I was, and smoked. But by and by, things being so quiet, I
began to wonder why nobody moved on deck; just that sort of restless
wanting to know where every man is that one sometimes feels in a gale of
wind on a dark night. So when I had finished my pipe, I began to move
about. I went aft, and there was a man leaning over the wheel, with his
legs apart and both hands hanging down in the light from the binnacle,
and his sou'wester over his eyes. Then I went forward, and there was a
man at the lookout, with his back against the foremast, getting what
shelter he could from the staysail. I knew by his small height that he
was not one of the Benton boys. Then I went round by the weather side,
and poked about in the dark, for I began to wonder where the other man
was. But I couldn't find him, though I searched the decks until I got
right aft again. It was certainly one of the Benton boys that was
missing, but it wasn't like either of them to go below to change his
clothes in such warm weather. The man at the wheel was the other, of
course. I spoke to him.

"Jim, what's become of your brother?"

"I am Jack, sir."

"Well, then, Jack, where's Jim? He's not on deck."

"I don't know, sir."

When I had come up to him he had stood up from force of instinct, and
had laid his hands on the spokes as if he were steering, though the
wheel was lashed; but he still bent his face down, and it was half
hidden by the edge of his sou'wester, while he seemed to be staring at
the compass. He spoke in a very low voice, but that was natural, for
the captain had left his door open when he turned in, as it was a warm
night in spite of the storm, and there was no fear of shipping any more
water now.

"What put it into your head to whistle like that, Jack? You've been at
sea long enough to know better."

He said something, but I couldn't hear the words; it sounded as if he
were denying the charge.

"Somebody whistled," I said.

He didn't answer, and then, I don't know why, perhaps because the Old
Man hadn't given us a drink, I cut half an inch off the plug of tobacco
I had in my oilskin pocket, and gave it to him. He knew my tobacco was
good, and he shoved it into his mouth with a word of thanks. I was on
the weather side of the wheel.

"Go forward and see if you can find Jim," I said.

He started a little, and then stepped back and passed behind me, and was
going along the weather side. Maybe his silence about the whistling had
irritated me, and his taking it for granted that because we were hove to
and it was a dark night, he might go forward any way he pleased. Anyhow,
I stopped him, though I spoke good-naturedly enough.

"Pass to leeward, Jack," I said.

He didn't answer, but crossed the deck between the binnacle and the
deck-house to the lee side. She was only falling off and coming to, and
riding the big seas as easily as possible, but the man was not steady on
his feet and reeled against the corner of the deck-house and then
against the lee rail. I was quite sure he couldn't have had anything to
drink, for neither of the brothers were the kind to hide rum from their
shipmates, if they had any, and the only spirits that were aboard were
locked up in the captain's cabin. I wondered whether he had been hit by
the throat-halliard block and was hurt.

I left the wheel and went after him, but when I got to the corner of the
deck-house I saw that he was on a full run forward, so I went back. I
watched the compass for a while, to see how far she went off, and she
must have come to again half a dozen times before I heard voices, more
than three or four, forward; and then I heard the little West Indies
cook's voice, high and shrill above the rest:

"Man overboard!"

There wasn't anything to be done, with the ship hove to and the wheel
lashed. If there was a man overboard, he must be in the water right
alongside. I couldn't imagine how it could have happened, but I ran
forward instinctively. I came upon the cook first, half dressed in his
shirt and trousers, just as he had tumbled out of his bunk. He was
jumping into the main rigging, evidently hoping to see the man, as if
any one could have seen anything on such a night, except the
foam-streaks on the black water, and now and then the curl of a breaking
sea as it went away to leeward. Several of the men were peering over the
rail into the dark. I caught the cook by the foot, and asked who was
gone.

"It's Jim Benton," he shouted down to me. "He's not aboard this ship!"

There was no doubt about that. Jim Benton was gone; and I knew in a
flash that he had been taken off by that sea when we were setting the
storm trysail. It was nearly half an hour since then; she had run like
wild for a few minutes until we got her hove to, and no swimmer that
ever swam could have lived as long as that in such a sea. The men knew
it as well as I, but still they stared into the foam as if they had any
chance of seeing the lost man. I let the cook get into the rigging and
joined the men, and asked if they had made a thorough search on board,
though I knew they had and that it could not take long, for he wasn't on
deck, and there was only the forecastle below.

"That sea took him over, sir, as sure as you're born," said one of the
men close beside me.

We had no boat that could have lived in that, sea, of course, and we all
knew it. I offered to put one over, and let her drift astern two or
three cables' lengths by a line, if the men thought they could haul me
aboard again; but none of them would listen to that, and I should
probably have been drowned if I had tried it, even with a life-belt; for
it was a breaking sea. Besides, they all knew as well as I did that the
man could not be right in our wake. I don't know why I spoke again.

"Jack Benton, are you there? Will you go if I will?"

"No, sir," answered a voice; and that was all.

By that time the Old Man was on deck, and I felt his hand on my shoulder
rather roughly, as if he meant to shake me.

"I'd reckoned you had more sense, Mr. Torkeldsen," he said. "God knows I
would risk my ship to look for him, if it were any use; but he must have
gone half an hour ago."

He was a quiet man, and the men knew he was right, and that they had
seen the last of Jim Benton when they were bending the trysail--if
anybody had seen him then. The captain went below again, and for some
time the men stood around Jack, quite near him, without saying
anything, as sailors do when they are sorry for a man and can't help
him; and then the watch below turned in again, and we were three on
deck.

Nobody can understand that there can be much consolation in a funeral,
unless he has felt that blank feeling there is when a man's gone
overboard whom everybody likes. I suppose landsmen think it would be
easier if they didn't have to bury their fathers and mothers and
friends; but it wouldn't be. Somehow the funeral keeps up the idea of
something beyond. You may believe in that something just the same; but a
man who has gone in the dark, between two seas, without a cry, seems
much more beyond reach than if he were still lying on his bed, and had
only just stopped breathing. Perhaps Jim Benton knew that, and wanted to
come back to us. I don't know, and I am only telling you what happened,
and you may think what you like.

Jack stuck by the wheel that night until the watch was over. I don't
know whether he slept afterwards, but when I came on deck four hours
later, there he was again, in his oilskins, with his sou'wester over his
eyes, staring into the binnacle. We saw that he would rather stand
there, and we left him alone. Perhaps it was some consolation to him to
get that ray of light when everything was so dark. It began to rain,
too, as it can when a southerly gale is going to break up, and we got
every bucket and tub on board, and set them under the booms to catch the
fresh water for washing our clothes. The rain made it very thick, and I
went and stood under the lee of the staysail, looking out. I could tell
that day was breaking, because the foam was whiter in the dark where the
seas crested, and little by little the black rain grew grey and steamy,
and I couldn't see the red glare of the port light on the water when she
went off and rolled to leeward. The gale had moderated considerably, and
in another hour we should be under way again. I was still standing there
when Jack Benton came forward. He stood still a few minutes near me. The
rain came down in a solid sheet, and I could see his wet beard and a
corner of his cheek, too, grey in the dawn. Then he stooped down and
began feeling under the anchor for his pipe. We had hardly shipped any
water forward, and I suppose he had some way of tucking the pipe in, so
that the rain hadn't floated it off. Presently he got on his legs again,
and I saw that he had two pipes in his hand. One of them had belonged to
his brother, and after looking at them a moment I suppose he recognized
his own, for he put it in his mouth, dripping with water. Then he looked
at the other fully a minute without moving. When he had made up his
mind, I suppose, he quietly chucked it over the lee rail, without even
looking round to see whether I was watching him. I thought it was a
pity, for it was a good wooden pipe, with a nickel ferrule, and somebody
would have been glad to have it. But I didn't like to make any remark,
for he had a right to do what he pleased with what had belonged to his
dead brother. He blew the water out of his own pipe, and dried it
against his jacket, putting his hand inside his oilskin; he filled it,
standing under the lee of the foremast, got a light after wasting two or
three matches, and turned the pipe upside down in his teeth, to keep the
rain out of the bowl. I don't know why I noticed everything he did, and
remember it now; but somehow I felt sorry for him, and I kept wondering
whether there was anything I could say that would make him feel better.
But I didn't think of anything, and as it was broad daylight I went aft
again, for I guessed that the Old Man would turn out before long and
order the spanker set and the helm up. But he didn't turn out before
seven bells, just as the clouds broke and showed blue sky to
leeward--"the Frenchman's barometer," you used to call it.

Some people don't seem to be so dead, when they are dead, as others are.
Jim Benton was like that. He had been on my watch, and I couldn't get
used to the idea that he wasn't about decks with me. I was always
expecting to see him, and his brother was so exactly like him that I
often felt as if I did see him and forgot he was dead, and made the
mistake of calling Jack by his name; though I tried not to, because I
knew it must hurt. If ever Jack had been the cheerful one of the two, as
I had always supposed he had been, he had changed very much, for he grew
to be more silent than Jim had ever been.

One fine afternoon I was sitting on the main-hatch, overhauling the
clockwork of the taffrail-log, which hadn't been registering very well
of late, and I had got the cook to bring me a coffee-cup to hold the
small screws as I took them out, and a saucer for the sperm oil I was
going to use. I noticed that he didn't go away, but hung round without
exactly watching what I was doing, as if he wanted to say something to
me. I thought if it were worth much, he would say it anyhow, so I didn't
ask him questions; and sure enough he began of his own accord before
long. There was nobody on deck but the man at the wheel, and the other
man away forward.

"Mr. Torkeldsen," the cook began, and then stopped.

I supposed he was going to ask me to let the watch break out a barrel
of flour, or some salt horse.

"Well, doctor?" I asked, as he didn't go on.

"Well, Mr. Torkeldsen," he answered, "I somehow want to ask you whether
you think I am giving satisfaction on this ship, or not?"

"So far as I know, you are, doctor. I haven't heard any complaints from
the forecastle, and the captain has said nothing, and I think you know
your business, and the cabin-boy is bursting out of his clothes. That
looks as if you are giving satisfaction. What makes you think you are
not?"

I am not good at giving you that West Indies talk, and shan't try; but
the doctor beat about the bush awhile, and then he told me he thought
the men were beginning to play tricks on him, and he didn't like it, and
thought he hadn't deserved it, and would like his discharge at our next
port. I told him he was a d----d fool, of course, to begin with; and
that men were more apt to try a joke with a chap they liked than with
anybody they wanted to get rid of; unless it was a bad joke, like
flooding his bunk, or filling his boots with tar. But it wasn't that
kind of practical joke. The doctor said that the men were trying to
frighten him, and he didn't like it, and that they put things in his
way that frightened him. So I told him he was a d----d fool to be
frightened, anyway, and I wanted to know what things they put in his
way. He gave me a queer answer. He said they were spoons and forks, and
odd plates, and a cup now and then, and such things.

I set down the taffrail-log on the bit of canvas I had put under it, and
looked at the doctor. He was uneasy, and his eyes had a sort of hunted
look, and his yellow face looked grey. He wasn't trying to make trouble.
He was in trouble. So I asked him questions.

He said he could count as well as anybody, and do sums without using his
fingers, but that when he couldn't count any other way, he did use his
fingers, and it always came out the same. He said that when he and the
cabin-boy cleared up after the men's meals there were more things to
wash than he had given out. There'd be a fork more, or there'd be a
spoon more, and sometimes there'd be a spoon and a fork, and there was
always a plate more. It wasn't that he complained of that. Before poor
Jim Benton was lost they had a man more to feed, and his gear to wash up
after meals, and that was in the contract, the doctor said. It would
have been if there were twenty in the ship's company; but he didn't
think it was right for the men to play tricks like that. He kept his
things in good order, and he counted them, and he was responsible for
them, and it wasn't right that the men should take more things than they
needed when his back was turned, and just soil them and mix them up with
their own, so as to make him think--

He stopped there, and looked at me, and I looked at him. I didn't know
what he thought, but I began to guess. I wasn't going to humour any such
nonsense as that, so I told him to speak to the men himself, and not
come bothering me about such things.

"Count the plates and forks and spoons before them when they sit down to
table, and tell them that's all they'll get; and when they have
finished, count the things again, and if the count isn't right, find out
who did it. You know it must be one of them. You're not a green hand;
you've been going to sea ten or eleven years, and don't want any lessons
about how to behave if the boys play a trick on you."

"If I could catch him," said the cook, "I'd have a knife into him before
he could say his prayers."

Those West India men are always talking about knives, especially when
they are badly frightened. I knew what he meant, and didn't ask him, but
went on cleaning the brass cog-wheels of the patent log, and oiling the
bearings with a feather. "Wouldn't it be better to wash it out with
boiling water, sir?" asked the cook in an insinuating tone. He knew that
he had made a fool of himself, and was anxious to make it right again.

I heard no more about the odd platter and gear for two or three days,
though I thought about his story a good deal. The doctor evidently
believed that Jim Benton had come back, though he didn't quite like to
say so. His story had sounded silly enough on a bright afternoon, in
fair weather, when the sun was on the water, and every rag was drawing
in the breeze, and the sea looked as pleasant and as harmless as a cat
that has just eaten a canary. But when it was toward the end of the
first watch, and the waning moon had not risen yet, and the water was
like still oil, and the jibs hung down flat and helpless like the wings
of a dead bird--it wasn't the same then. More than once I have started
then and looked round when a fish jumped, expecting to see a face
sticking out of the water with its eyes shut. I think we all felt
something like that at the time.

One afternoon we were putting a fresh service on the jib-sheet-pennant.
It wasn't my watch, but I was standing by, looking on. Just then Jack
Benton came up from below, and went to look for his pipe under the
anchor. His face was hard and drawn, and his eyes were cold like steel
balls. He hardly ever spoke now, but he did his duty as usual, and
nobody had to complain of him, though we were all beginning to wonder
how long his grief for his dead brother was going to last like that. I
watched him as he crouched down, and ran his hand into the hiding-place
for the pipe. When he stood up, he had two pipes in his hand.

Now, I remembered very well seeing him throw one of those pipes away,
early in the morning after the gale; and it came to me now, and I didn't
suppose he kept a stock of them under the anchor. I caught sight of his
face, and it was greenish white, like the foam on shallow water, and he
stood a long time looking at the two pipes. He wasn't looking to see
which was his, for I wasn't five yards from him as he stood, and one of
those pipes had been smoked that day, and was shiny where his hand had
rubbed it, and the bone mouthpiece was chafed white where his teeth had
bitten it. The other was water-logged. It was swelled and cracking with
wet, and it looked to me as if there were a little green weed on it.

Jack Benton turned his head rather stealthily as I looked away, and then
he hid the thing in his trousers pocket, and went aft on the lee side,
out of sight. The men had got the sheet-pennant on a stretch to serve
it, but I ducked under it and stood where I could see what Jack did,
just under the fore-staysail. He couldn't see me, and he was looking
about for something. His hand shook as he picked up a bit of half-bent
iron rod, about a foot long, that had been used for turning an eye-bolt,
and had been left on the main-hatch. His hand shook as he got a piece of
marline out of his pocket, and made the water-logged pipe fast to the
iron. He didn't mean it to get adrift either, for he took his turns
carefully, and hove them taut and then rode them, so that they couldn't
slip, and made the end fast with two half-hitches round the iron, and
hitched it back on itself. Then he tried it with his hands, and looked
up and down the deck furtively, and then quietly dropped the pipe and
iron over the rail, so that I didn't even hear the splash. If anybody
was playing tricks on board, they weren't meant for the cook.

I asked some questions about Jack Benton, and one of the men told me
that he was off his feed, and hardly ate anything, and swallowed all the
coffee he could lay his hands on, and had used up all his own tobacco
and had begun on what his brother had left.

"The doctor says it ain't so, sir," said the man, looking at me shyly,
as if he didn't expect to be believed; "the doctor says there's as much
eaten from breakfast to breakfast as there was before Jim fell
overboard, though there's a mouth less and another that eats nothing. I
says it's the cabin-boy that gets it. He's bu'sting."

I told him that if the cabin-boy ate more than his share, he must work
more than his share, so as to balance things. But the man laughed
queerly, and looked at me again.

"I only said that, sir, just like that. We all know it ain't so."

"Well, how is it?"

"How is it?" asked the man, half-angry all at once. "I don't know how it
is, but there's a hand on board that's getting his whack along with us
as regular as the bells."

"Does he use tobacco?" I asked, meaning to laugh it out of him, but as I
spoke, I remembered the water-logged pipe.

"I guess he's using his own still," the man answered, in a queer, low
voice. "Perhaps he'll take some one else's when his is all gone."

It was about nine o'clock in the morning, I remember, for just then the
captain called to me to stand by the chronometer while he took his fore
observation. Captain Hackstaff wasn't one of those old skippers who do
everything themselves with a pocket watch, and keep the key of the
chronometer in their waistcoat pocket, and won't tell the mate how far
the dead reckoning is out. He was rather the other way, and I was glad
of it, for he generally let me work the sights he took, and just ran
his eye over my figures afterwards. I am bound to say his eye was pretty
good, for he would pick out a mistake in a logarithm, or tell me that I
had worked the "Equation of Time" with the wrong sign, before it seemed
to me that he could have got as far as "half the sum, minus the
altitude." He was always right, too, and besides he knew a lot about
iron ships and local deviation, and adjusting the compass, and all that
sort of thing. I don't know how he came to be in command of a
fore-and-aft schooner. He never talked about himself, and maybe he had
just been mate on one of those big steel square-riggers, and something
had put him back. Perhaps he had been captain, and had got his ship
aground, through no particular fault of his, and had to begin over
again. Sometimes he talked just like you and me, and sometimes he would
speak more like books do, or some of those Boston people I have heard. I
don't know. We have all been shipmates now and then with men who have
seen better days. Perhaps he had been in the Navy, but what makes me
think he couldn't have been, was that he was a thorough good seaman, a
regular old windjammer, and understood sail, which those Navy chaps
rarely do. Why, you and I have sailed with men before the mast who had
their master's certificates in their pockets--English Board of Trade
certificates, too--who could work a double altitude if you would lend
them a sextant and give them a look at the chronometer, as well as many
a man who commands a big square-rigger. Navigation ain't everything, nor
seamanship either. You've got to have it in you, if you mean to get
there.

I don't know how our captain heard that there was trouble forward. The
cabin-boy may have told him, or the men may have talked outside his door
when they relieved the wheel at night. Anyhow, he got wind of it, and
when he had got his sight that morning, he had all hands aft, and gave
them a lecture. It was just the kind of talk you might have expected
from him. He said he hadn't any complaint to make, and that so far as he
knew everybody on board was doing his duty, and that he was given to
understand that the men got their whack, and were satisfied. He said his
ship was never a hard ship, and that he liked quiet, and that was the
reason he didn't mean to have any nonsense, and the men might just as
well understand that, too. We'd had a great misfortune, he said, and it
was nobody's fault. We had lost a man we all liked and respected, and he
felt that everybody in the ship ought to be sorry for the man's brother,
who was left behind, and that it was rotten lubberly childishness, and
unjust and unmanly and cowardly, to be playing schoolboy tricks with
forks and spoons and pipes, and that sort of gear. He said it had got to
stop right now, and that was all, and the men might go forward. And so
they did.

It got worse after that, and the men watched the cook, and the cook
watched the men, as if they were trying to catch each other; but I think
everybody felt that there was something else. One evening, at
supper-time, I was on deck, and Jack came aft to relieve the wheel while
the man who was steering got his supper. He hadn't got past the
main-hatch on the lee side, when I heard a man running in slippers that
slapped on the deck, and there was a sort of a yell and I saw the
coloured cook going for Jack, with a carving knife in his hand. I jumped
to get between them, and Jack turned round short, and put out his hand.
I was too far to reach them, and the cook jabbed out with his knife. But
the blade didn't get anywhere near Benton. The cook seemed to be jabbing
it into the air again and again, at least four feet short of the mark.
Then he dropped his right hand, and I saw the whites of his eyes in the
dusk, and he reeled up against the pin-rail, and caught hold of a
belaying-pin with his left. I had reached him by that time, and grabbed
hold of his knife-hand, and the other, too, for I thought he was going
to use the pin; but Jack Benton was standing staring stupidly at him, as
if he didn't understand. But instead, the cook was holding on because he
couldn't stand, and his teeth were chattering, and he let go of the
knife, and the point stuck into the deck.

"He's crazy!" said Jack Benton, and that was all he said; and he went
aft.

When he was gone, the cook began to come to, and he spoke quite low,
near my ear.

"There were two of them! So help me God, there were two of them!"

I don't know why I didn't take him by the collar, and give him a good
shaking; but I didn't. I just picked up the knife and gave it to him,
and told him to go back to his galley, and not to make a fool of
himself. You see, he hadn't struck at Jack, but at something he thought
he saw, and I knew what it was, and I felt that same thing, like a lump
of ice sliding down my back, that I felt that night when we were bending
the trysail.

When the men had seen him running aft, they jumped up after him, but
they held off when they saw that I had caught him. By and by, the man
who had spoken to me before told me what had happened. He was a stocky
little chap, with a red head.

"Well," he said, "there isn't much to tell. Jack Benton had been eating
his supper with the rest of us. He always sits at the after corner of
the table, on the port side. His brother used to sit at the end, next
him. The doctor gave him a thundering big piece of pie to finish up
with, and when he had finished he didn't stop for a smoke, but went off
quick to relieve the wheel. Just as he had gone, the doctor came in from
the galley, and when he saw Jack's empty plate he stood stock still
staring at it; and we all wondered what was the matter, till we looked
at the plate. There were two forks in it, sir, lying side by side. Then
the doctor grabbed his knife, and flew up through the hatch like a
rocket. The other fork was there all right, Mr. Torkeldsen, for we all
saw it and handled it; and we all had our own. That's all I know."

I didn't feel that I wanted to laugh when he told me that story; but I
hoped the Old Man wouldn't hear it, for I knew he wouldn't believe it,
and no captain that ever sailed likes to have stories like that going
round about his ship. It gives her a bad name. But that was all anybody
ever saw except the cook, and he isn't the first man who has thought he
saw things without having any drink in him. I think, if the doctor had
been weak in the head, as he was afterwards, he might have done
something foolish again, and there might have been serious trouble. But
he didn't. Only, two or three times, I saw him looking at Jack Benton in
a queer, scared way, and once I heard him talking to himself.

"There's two of them! So help me God, there's two of them!"

He didn't say anything more about asking for his discharge, but I knew
well enough that if he got ashore at the next port we should never see
him again, if he had to leave his kit behind him, and his money, too. He
was scared all through, for good and all; and he wouldn't be right again
till he got another ship. It's no use to talk to a man when he gets like
that, any more than it is to send a boy to the main truck when he has
lost his nerve.

Jack Benton never spoke of what happened that evening. I don't know
whether he knew about the two forks, or not; or whether he understood
what the trouble was. Whatever he knew from the other men, he was
evidently living under a hard strain. He was quiet enough, and too
quiet; but his face was set, and sometimes it twitched oddly when he was
at the wheel, and he would turn his head round sharp to look behind him.
A man doesn't do that naturally, unless there's a vessel that he thinks
is creeping up on the quarter. When that happens, if the man at the
wheel takes a pride in his ship, he will almost always keep glancing
over his shoulder to see whether the other fellow is gaining. But Jack
Benton used to look round when there was nothing there; and what is
curious, the other men seemed to catch the trick when they were
steering. One day the Old Man turned out just as the man at the wheel
looked behind him.

"What are you looking at?" asked the captain.

"Nothing, sir," answered the man.

"Then keep your eye on the mizzen-royal," said the Old Man, as if he
were forgetting that we weren't a square-rigger.

"Ay, ay, sir," said the man.

The captain told me to go below and work up the latitude from the
dead-reckoning, and he went forward of the deck-house and sat down to
read, as he often did. When I came up, the man at the wheel was looking
round again, and I stood beside him and just asked him quietly what
everybody was looking at, for it was getting to be a general habit. He
wouldn't say anything at first, but just answered that it was nothing.
But when he saw that I didn't seem to care, and just stood there as if
there were nothing more to be said, he naturally began to talk.

He said that it wasn't that he saw anything, because there wasn't
anything to see except the spanker sheet just straining a little, and
working in the sheaves of the blocks as the schooner rose to the short
seas. There wasn't anything to be seen, but it seemed to him that the
sheet made a queer noise in the blocks. It was a new manilla sheet; and
in dry weather it did make a little noise, something between a creak and
a wheeze. I looked at it and looked at the man, and said nothing; and
presently he went on. He asked me if I didn't notice anything peculiar
about the noise. I listened awhile, and said I didn't notice anything.

Then he looked rather sheepish, but said he didn't think it could be his
own ears, because every man who steered his trick heard the same thing
now and then,--sometimes once in a day, sometimes once in a night,
sometimes it would go on a whole hour.

"It sounds like sawing wood," I said, just like that.

"To us it sounds a good deal more like a man whistling 'Nancy Lee.'" He
started nervously as he spoke the last words. "There, sir, don't you
hear it?" he asked suddenly.

I heard nothing but the creaking of the manilla sheet. It was getting
near noon, and fine, clear weather in southern waters,--just the sort of
day and the time when you would least expect to feel creepy. But I
remembered how I had heard that same tune overhead at night in a gale of
wind a fortnight earlier, and I am not ashamed to say that the same
sensation came over me now, and I wished myself well out of the _Helen
B._, and aboard of any old cargo-dragger, with a windmill on deck, and
an eighty-nine-forty-eighter for captain, and a fresh leak whenever it
breezed up.

Little by little during the next few days life on board that vessel came
to be about as unbearable as you can imagine. It wasn't that there was
much talk, for I think the men were shy even of speaking to each other
freely about what they thought. The whole ship's company grew silent,
until one hardly ever heard a voice, except giving an order and the
answer. The men didn't sit over their meals when their watch was below,
but either turned in at once or sat about on the forecastle, smoking
their pipes without saying a word. We were all thinking of the same
thing. We all felt as if there were a hand on board, sometimes below,
sometimes about decks, sometimes aloft, sometimes on the boom end;
taking his full share of what the others got, but doing no work for it.
We didn't only feel it, we knew it. He took up no room, he cast no
shadow, and we never heard his footfall on deck; but he took his whack
with the rest as regular as the bells, and--he whistled "Nancy Lee." It
was like the worst sort of dream you can imagine; and I daresay a good
many of us tried to believe it was nothing else sometimes, when we stood
looking over the weather rail in fine weather with the breeze in our
faces; but if we happened to turn round and look into each other's eyes,
we knew it was something worse than any dream could be; and we would
turn away from each other with a queer, sick feeling, wishing that we
could just for once see somebody who didn't know what we knew.

There's not much more to tell about the _Helen B. Jackson_, so far as I
am concerned. We were more like a shipload of lunatics than anything
else when we ran in under Morro Castle and anchored in Havana. The cook
had brain fever, and was raving mad in his delirium; and the rest of the
men weren't far from the same state. The last three or four days had
been awful, and we had been as near to having a mutiny on board as I
ever want to be. The men didn't want to hurt anybody; but they wanted to
get away out of that ship, if they had to swim for it; to get away from
that whistling, from that dead shipmate who had come back, and who
filled the ship with his unseen self! I know that if the Old Man and I
hadn't kept a sharp lookout, the men would have put a boat over quietly
on one of those calm nights, and pulled away, leaving the captain and
me and the mad cook to work the schooner into harbour. We should have
done it somehow, of course, for we hadn't far to run if we could get a
breeze; and once or twice I found myself wishing that the crew were
really gone, for the awful state of fright in which they lived was
beginning to work on me too. You see I partly believed and partly
didn't; but, anyhow, I didn't mean to let the thing get the better of
me, whatever it was. I turned crusty, too, and kept the men at work on
all sorts of jobs, and drove them to it until they wished I was
overboard, too. It wasn't that the Old Man and I were trying to drive
them to desert without their pay, as I am sorry to say a good many
skippers and mates do, even now. Captain Hackstaff was as straight as a
string, and I didn't mean those poor fellows should be cheated out of a
single cent; and I didn't blame them for wanting to leave the ship, but
it seemed to me that the only chance to keep everybody sane through
those last days was to work the men till they dropped. When they were
dead tired they slept a little, and forgot the thing until they had to
tumble up on deck and face it again. That was a good many years ago. Do
you believe that I can't hear "Nancy Lee" now, without feeling cold down
my back? For I heard it, too, now and then, after the man had explained
why he was always looking over his shoulder. Perhaps it was
imagination. I don't know. When I look back it seems to me that I only
remember a long fight against something I couldn't see, against an
appalling presence, against something worse than cholera or Yellow Jack
or the plague--and, goodness knows, the mildest of them is bad enough
when it breaks out at sea. The men got as white as chalk, and wouldn't
go about decks alone at night, no matter what I said to them. With the
cook raving in his bunk, the forecastle would have been a perfect hell,
and there wasn't a spare cabin on board. There never is on a
fore-and-after. So I put him into mine, and he was more quiet there, and
at last fell into a sort of stupor as if he were going to die. I don't
know what became of him, for we put him ashore alive and left him in the
hospital.

The men came aft in a body, quiet enough, and asked the captain if he
wouldn't pay them off, and let them go ashore. Some men wouldn't have
done it, for they had shipped for the voyage, and had signed articles.
But the captain knew that when sailors get an idea into their heads,
they're no better than children; and if he forced them to stay aboard,
he wouldn't get much work out of them, and couldn't rely on them in a
difficulty. So he paid them off, and let them go. When they had gone
forward to get their kits, he asked me whether I wanted to go, too, and
for a minute I had a sort of weak feeling that I might just as well. But
I didn't, and he was a good friend to me afterwards. Perhaps he was
grateful to me for sticking to him.

When the men went off he didn't come on deck; but it was my duty to
stand by while they left the ship. They owed me a grudge for making them
work during the last few days, and most of them dropped into the boat
without so much as a word or a look, as sailors will. Jack Benton was
the last to go over the side, and he stood still a minute and looked at
me, and his white face twitched. I thought he wanted to say something.

"Take care of yourself, Jack," said I. "So long!"

It seemed as if he couldn't speak for two or three seconds; then his
words came thick.

"It wasn't my fault, Mr. Torkeldsen. I swear it wasn't my fault!"

That was all; and he dropped over the side, leaving me to wonder what he
meant.

The captain and I stayed on board, and the ship-chandler got a West
India boy to cook for us.

That evening, before turning in, we were standing by the rail having a
quiet smoke, watching the lights of the city, a quarter of a mile off,
reflected in the still water. There was music of some sort ashore, in a
sailors' dance-house, I daresay; and I had no doubt that most of the men
who had left the ship were there, and already full of jiggy-jiggy. The
music played a lot of sailors' tunes that ran into each other, and we
could hear the men's voices in the chorus now and then. One followed
another, and then it was "Nancy Lee," loud and clear, and the men
singing "Yo-ho, heave-ho!"

"I have no ear for music," said Captain Hackstaff, "but it appears to me
that's the tune that man was whistling the night we lost the man
overboard. I don't know why it has stuck in my head, and of course it's
all nonsense; but it seems to me that I have heard it all the rest of
the trip."

I didn't say anything to that, but I wondered just how much the Old Man
had understood. Then we turned in, and I slept ten hours without opening
my eyes.

I stuck to the _Helen B. Jackson_ after that as long as I could stand a
fore-and-after; but that night when we lay in Havana was the last time I
ever heard "Nancy Lee" on board of her. The spare hand had gone ashore
with the rest, and he never came back, and he took his tune with him;
but all those things are just as clear in my memory as if they had
happened yesterday.

After that I was in deep water for a year or more, and after I came home
I got my certificate, and what with having friends and having saved a
little money, and having had a small legacy from an uncle in Norway, I
got the command of a coastwise vessel, with a small share in her. I was
at home three weeks before going to sea, and Jack Benton saw my name in
the local papers, and wrote to me.

He said that he had left the sea, and was trying farming, and he was
going to be married, and he asked if I wouldn't come over for that, for
it wasn't more than forty minutes by train; and he and Mamie would be
proud to have me at the wedding. I remembered how I had heard one
brother ask the other whether Mamie knew. That meant, whether she knew
he wanted to marry her, I suppose. She had taken her time about it, for
it was pretty nearly three years then since we had lost Jim Benton
overboard.

I had nothing particular to do while we were getting ready for sea;
nothing to prevent me from going over for a day, I mean; and I thought
I'd like to see Jack Benton, and have a look at the girl he was going to
marry. I wondered whether he had grown cheerful again, and had got rid
of that drawn look he had when he told me it wasn't his fault. How could
it have been his fault, anyhow? So I wrote to Jack that I would come
down and see him married; and when the day came I took the train and
got there about ten o'clock in the morning. I wish I hadn't. Jack met me
at the station, and he told me that the wedding was to be late in the
afternoon, and that they weren't going off on any silly wedding trip, he
and Mamie, but were just going to walk home from her mother's house to
his cottage. That was good enough for him, he said. I looked at him hard
for a minute after we met. When we had parted I had a sort of idea that
he might take to drink, but he hadn't. He looked very respectable and
well-to-do in his black coat and high city collar; but he was thinner
and bonier than when I had known him, and there were lines in his face,
and I thought his eyes had a queer look in them, half shifty, half
scared. He needn't have been afraid of me, for I didn't mean to talk to
his bride about the _Helen B. Jackson._

He took me to his cottage first, and I could see that he was proud of
it. It wasn't above a cable's length from high-water mark, but the tide
was running out, and there was already a broad stretch of hard, wet sand
on the other side of the beach road. Jack's bit of land ran back behind
the cottage about a quarter of a mile, and he said that some of the
trees we saw were his. The fences were neat and well kept, and there was
a fair-sized barn a little way from the cottage, and I saw some
nice-looking cattle in the meadows; but it didn't look to me to be much
of a farm, and I thought that before long Jack would have to leave his
wife to take care of it, and go to sea again. But I said it was a nice
farm, so as to seem pleasant, and as I don't know much about these
things, I daresay it was, all the same. I never saw it but that once.
Jack told me that he and his brother had been born in the cottage, and
that when their father and mother died they leased the land to Mamie's
father, but had kept the cottage to live in when they came home from sea
for a spell. It was as neat a little place as you would care to see: the
floors as clean as the decks of a yacht, and the paint as fresh as a
man-o'-war. Jack always was a good painter. There was a nice parlour on
the ground floor, and Jack had papered it and had hung the walls with
photographs of ships and foreign ports, and with things he had brought
home from his voyages: a boomerang, a South Sea club, Japanese straw
hats, and a Gibraltar fan with a bull-fight on it, and all that sort of
gear. It looked to me as if Miss Mamie had taken a hand in arranging it.
There was a brand-new polished iron Franklin stove set into the old
fireplace, and a red table-cloth from Alexandria embroidered with those
outlandish Egyptian letters. It was all as bright and homelike as
possible, and he showed me everything, and was proud of everything, and
I liked him the better for it. But I wished that his voice would sound
more cheerful, as it did when we first sailed in the _Helen B._, and
that the drawn look would go out of his face for a minute. Jack showed
me everything, and took me upstairs, and it was all the same: bright and
fresh and ready for the bride. But on the upper landing there was a door
that Jack didn't open. When we came out of the bedroom I noticed that it
was ajar, and Jack shut it quickly and turned the key.

"That lock's no good," he said, half to himself. "The door is always
open."

I didn't pay much attention to what he said, but as we went down the
short stairs, freshly painted and varnished so that I was almost afraid
to step on them, he spoke again.

"That was his room, sir. I have made a sort of store-room of it."

"You may be wanting it in a year or so," I said, wishing to be pleasant.

"I guess we won't use his room for that," Jack answered in a low voice.

Then he offered me a cigar from a fresh box in the parlour, and he took
one, and we lit them, and went out; and as we opened the front door
there was Mamie Brewster standing in the path as if she were waiting for
us. She was a fine-looking girl, and I didn't wonder that Jack had been
willing to wait three years for her. I could see that she hadn't been
brought up on steam-heat and cold storage, but had grown into a woman by
the sea-shore. She had brown eyes, and fine brown hair, and a good
figure.

"This is Captain Torkeldsen," said Jack. "This is Miss Brewster,
captain; and she is glad to see you."

"Well, I am," said Miss Mamie, "for Jack has often talked to us about
you, captain."

She put out her hand, and took mine and shook it heartily, and I suppose
I said something, but I know I didn't say much.

The front door of the cottage looked toward the sea, and there was a
straight path leading to the gate on the beach road. There was another
path from the steps of the cottage that turned to the right, broad
enough for two people to walk easily, and it led straight across the
fields through gates to a larger house about a quarter of a mile away.
That was where Mamie's mother lived, and the wedding was to be there.
Jack asked me whether I would like to look round the farm before dinner,
but I told him I didn't know much about farms. Then he said he just
wanted to look round himself a bit, as he mightn't have much more chance
that day; and he smiled, and Mamie laughed.

"Show the captain the way to the house, Mamie," he said. "I'll be along
in a minute."

So Mamie and I began to walk along the path, and Jack went up toward the
barn.

"It was sweet of you to come, captain," Miss Mamie began, "for I have
always wanted to see you."

"Yes," I said, expecting something more.

"You see, I always knew them both," she went on. "They used to take me
out in a dory to catch codfish when I was a little girl, and I liked
them both," she added thoughtfully. "Jack doesn't care to talk about his
brother now. That's natural. But you won't mind telling me how it
happened, will you? I should so much like to know."

Well, I told her about the voyage and what happened that night when we
fell in with a gale of wind, and that it hadn't been anybody's fault,
for I wasn't going to admit that it was my old captain's, if it was. But
I didn't tell her anything about what happened afterwards. As she didn't
speak, I just went on talking about the two brothers, and how like they
had been, and how when poor Jim was drowned and Jack was left, I took
Jack for him. I told her that none of us had ever been sure which was
which.

"I wasn't always sure myself," she said, "unless they were together.
Leastways, not for a day or two after they came home from sea. And now
it seems to me that Jack is more like poor Jim, as I remember him, than
he ever was, for Jim was always more quiet, as if he were thinking."

I told her I thought so, too. We passed the gate and went into the next
field, walking side by side. Then she turned her head to look for Jack,
but he wasn't in sight. I shan't forget what she said next.

"Are you sure now?" she asked.

I stood stock-still, and she went on a step, and then turned and looked
at me. We must have looked at each other while you could count five or
six.

"I know it's silly," she went on, "it's silly, and it's awful, too, and
I have got no right to think it, but sometimes I can't help it. You see
it was always Jack I meant to marry."

"Yes," I said stupidly, "I suppose so."

She waited a minute, and began walking on slowly before she went on
again.

"I am talking to you as if you were an old friend, captain, and I have
only known you five minutes. It was Jack I meant to marry, but now he is
so like the other one."

When a woman gets a wrong idea into her head, there is only one way to
make her tired of it, and that is to agree with her. That's what I did,
and she went on talking the same way for a little while, and I kept on
agreeing and agreeing until she turned round on me.

"You know you don't believe what you say," she said, and laughed. "You
know that Jack is Jack, right enough; and it's Jack I am going to
marry."

Of course I said so, for I didn't care whether she thought me a weak
creature or not. I wasn't going to say a word that could interfere with
her happiness, and I didn't intend to go back on Jack Benton; but I
remembered what he had said when he left the ship in Havana: that it
wasn't his fault.

"All the same," Miss Mamie went on, as a woman will, without realising
what she was saying, "all the same, I wish I had seen it happen. Then I
should know."

Next minute she knew that she didn't mean that, and was afraid that I
would think her heartless, and began to explain that she would really
rather have died herself than have seen poor Jim go overboard. Women
haven't got much sense, anyhow. All the same, I wondered how she could
marry Jack if she had a doubt that he might be Jim after all. I suppose
she had really got used to him since he had given up the sea and had
stayed ashore, and she cared for him.

Before long we heard Jack coming up behind us, for we had walked very
slowly to wait for him.

"Promise not to tell anybody what I said, captain," said Mamie, as girls
do as soon as they have told their secrets.

Anyhow, I know I never did tell any one but you. This is the first time
I have talked of all that, the first time since I took the train from
that place. I am not going to tell you all about the day. Miss Mamie
introduced me to her mother, who was a quiet, hard-faced old New England
farmer's widow, and to her cousins and relations; and there were plenty
of them, too, at dinner, and there was the parson besides. He was what
they call a Hard-shell Baptist in those parts, with a long, shaven upper
lip and a whacking appetite, and a sort of superior look, as if he
didn't expect to see many of us hereafter--the way a New York pilot
looks round, and orders things about when he boards an Italian
cargo-dragger, as if the ship weren't up to much anyway, though it was
his business to see that she didn't get aground. That's the way a good
many parsons look, I think. He said grace as if he were ordering the men
to sheet home the topgallant-sail and get the helm up. After dinner we
went out on the piazza, for it was warm autumn weather; and the young
folks went off in pairs along the beach road, and the tide had turned
and was beginning to come in. The morning had been clear and fine, but
by four o'clock it began to look like a fog, and the damp came up out of
the sea and settled on everything. Jack said he'd go down to his cottage
and have a last look, for the wedding was to be at five o'clock, or soon
after, and he wanted to light the lights, so as to have things look
cheerful.

"I will just take a last look," he said again, as we reached the house.
We went in, and he offered me another cigar, and I lit it and sat down
in the parlour. I could hear him moving about, first in the kitchen and
then upstairs, and then I heard him in the kitchen again; and then
before I knew anything I heard somebody moving upstairs again. I knew he
couldn't have got up those stairs as quick as that. He came into the
parlour, and he took a cigar himself, and while he was lighting it I
heard those steps again overhead. His hand shook, and he dropped the
match.

"Have you got in somebody to help?" I asked.

"No," Jack answered sharply, and struck another match.

"There's somebody upstairs, Jack," I said. "Don't you hear footsteps?"

"It's the wind, captain," Jack answered; but I could see he was
trembling.

"That isn't any wind, Jack," I said; "it's still and foggy. I'm sure
there's somebody upstairs."

"If you are so sure of it, you'd better go and see for yourself,
captain," Jack answered, almost angrily.

He was angry because he was frightened. I left him before the fireplace,
and went upstairs. There was no power on earth that could make me
believe I hadn't heard a man's footsteps overhead. I knew there was
somebody there. But there wasn't. I went into the bedroom, and it was
all quiet, and the evening light was streaming in, reddish through the
foggy air; and I went out on the landing and looked in the little back
room that was meant for a servant-girl or a child. And as I came back
again I saw that the door of the other room was wide open, though I knew
Jack had locked it. He had said the lock was no good. I looked in. It
was a room as big as the bedroom, but almost dark, for it had shutters,
and they were closed. There was a musty smell, as of old gear, and I
could make out that the floor was littered with sea-chests, and that
there were oilskins and such stuff piled on the bed. But I still
believed that there was somebody upstairs, and I went in and struck a
match and looked round. I could see the four walls and the shabby old
paper, an iron bed and a cracked looking-glass, and the stuff on the
floor. But there was nobody there. So I put out the match, and came out
and shut the door and turned the key. Now, what I am telling you is the
truth. When I had turned the key, I heard footsteps walking away from
the door inside the room. Then I felt queer for a minute, and when I
went downstairs I looked behind me, as the men at the wheel used to look
behind them on board the _Helen B._

Jack was already outside on the steps, smoking. I have an idea that he
didn't like to stay inside alone.

"Well?" he asked, trying to seem careless.

"I didn't find anybody," I answered, "but I heard somebody moving
about."

"I told you it was the wind," said Jack contemptuously. "I ought to
know, for I live here, and I hear it often."

There was nothing to be said to that, so we began to walk down toward
the beach. Jack said there wasn't any hurry, as it would take Miss Mamie
some time to dress for the wedding. So we strolled along, and the sun
was setting through the fog, and the tide was coming in. I knew the
moon was full, and that when she rose the fog would roll away from the
land, as it does sometimes. I felt that Jack didn't like my having heard
that noise, so I talked of other things, and asked him about his
prospects, and before long we were chatting as pleasantly as possible.

I haven't been at many weddings in my life, and I don't suppose you
have, but that one seemed to me to be all right until it was pretty near
over; and then, I don't know whether it was part of the ceremony or not,
but Jack put out his hand and took Mamie's and held it a minute, and
looked at her, while the parson was still speaking.

Mamie turned as white as a sheet and screamed. It wasn't a loud scream,
but just a sort of stifled little shriek, as if she were half frightened
to death; and the parson stopped, and asked her what was the matter, and
the family gathered round.

"Your hand's like ice," said Mamie to Jack, "and it's all wet!"

She kept looking at it, as she got hold of herself again.

"It don't feel cold to me," said Jack, and he held the back of his hand
against his cheek. "Try it again."

Mamie held out hers, and touched the back of his hand, timidly at
first, and then took hold of it.

"Why, that's funny," she said.

"She's been as nervous as a witch all day," said Mrs. Brewster severely.

"It is natural," said the parson, "that young Mrs. Benton should
experience a little agitation at such a moment."

Most of the bride's relations lived at a distance, and were busy people,
so it had been arranged that the dinner we'd had in the middle of the
day was to take the place of a dinner afterwards, and that we should
just have a bite after the wedding was over, and then that everybody
should go home, and the young couple would walk down to the cottage by
themselves. When I looked out I could see the light burning brightly in
Jack's cottage, a quarter of a mile away. I said I didn't think I could
get any train to take me back before half-past nine, but Mrs. Brewster
begged me to stay until it was time, as she said her daughter would want
to take off her wedding dress before she went home; for she had put on
something white with a wreath that was very pretty, and she couldn't
walk home like that, could she?

So when we had all had a little supper the party began to break up, and
when they were all gone Mrs. Brewster and Mamie went upstairs, and Jack
and I went out on the piazza to have a smoke, as the old lady didn't
like tobacco in the house.

The full moon had risen now, and it was behind me as I looked down
toward Jack's cottage, so that everything was clear and white, and there
was only the light burning in the window. The fog had rolled down to the
water's edge, and a little beyond, for the tide was high, or nearly, and
was lapping up over the last reach of sand within fifty feet of the
beach road.

Jack didn't say much as we sat smoking, but he thanked me for coming to
his wedding, and I told him I hoped he would be happy, and so I did. I
daresay both of us were thinking of those footsteps upstairs, just then,
and that the house wouldn't seem so lonely with a woman in it. By and by
we heard Mamie's voice talking to her mother on the stairs, and in a
minute she was ready to go. She had put on again the dress she had worn
in the morning.

Well, they were ready to go now. It was all very quiet after the day's
excitement, and I knew they would like to walk down that path alone now
that they were man and wife at last. I bade them good-night, although
Jack made a show of pressing me to go with them by the path as far as
the cottage, instead of going to the station by the beach road. It was
all very quiet, and it seemed to me a sensible way of getting married;
and when Mamie kissed her mother good-night, I just looked the other
way, and knocked my ashes over the rail of the piazza. So they started
down the straight path to Jack's cottage, and I waited a minute with
Mrs. Brewster, looking after them, before taking my hat to go. They
walked side by side, a little shyly at first, and then I saw Jack put
his arm round her waist. As I looked he was on her left and I saw the
outline of the two figures very distinctly against the moonlight on the
path; and the shadow on Mamie's right was broad and black as ink, and it
moved along, lengthening and shortening with the unevenness of the
ground beside the path.

I thanked Mrs. Brewster, and bade her good-night; and though she was a
hard New England woman, her voice trembled a little as she answered, but
being a sensible person, she went in and shut the door behind her as I
stepped out on the path. I looked after the couple in the distance a
last time, meaning to go down to the road, so as not to overtake them;
but when I had made a few steps I stopped and looked again, for I knew I
had seen something queer, though I had only realised it afterwards. I
looked again, and it was plain enough now; and I stood stock-still,
staring at what I saw. Mamie was walking between two men. The second man
was just the same height as Jack, both being about a half a head taller
than she; Jack on her left in his black tail-coat and round hat, and the
other man on her right--well, he was a sailor-man in wet oilskins. I
could see the moonlight shining on the water that ran down him, and on
the little puddle that had settled where the flap of his sou'wester was
turned up behind: and one of his wet, shiny arms was round Mamie's
waist, just above Jack's. I was fast to the spot where I stood, and for
a minute I thought I was crazy. We'd had nothing but some cider for
dinner, and tea in the evening, otherwise I'd have thought something had
got into my head, though I was never drunk in my life. It was more like
a bad dream after that.

I was glad Mrs. Brewster had gone in. As for me, I couldn't help
following the three, in a sort of wonder to see what would happen, to
see whether the sailor-man in his wet togs would just melt away into the
moonshine. But he didn't.

I moved slowly, and I remembered afterwards that I walked on the grass,
instead of on the path, as if I were afraid they might hear me coming. I
suppose it all happened in less than five minutes after that, but it
seemed as if it must have taken an hour. Neither Jack nor Mamie seemed
to notice the sailor. She didn't seem to know that his wet arm was round
her, and little by little they got near the cottage, and I wasn't a
hundred yards from them when they reached the door. Something made me
stand still then. Perhaps it was fright, for I saw everything that
happened just as I see you now.

Mamie set her foot on the step to go up, and as she went forward, I saw
the sailor slowly lock his arm in Jack's, and Jack didn't move to go up.
Then Mamie turned round on the step, and they all three stood that way
for a second or two. She cried out then--I heard a man cry like that
once, when his arm was taken off by a steam-crane--and she fell back in
a heap on the little piazza.

I tried to jump forward, but I couldn't move, and I felt my hair rising
under my hat. The sailor turned slowly where he stood, and swung Jack
round by the arm steadily and easily, and began to walk him down the
pathway from the house. He walked him straight down that path, as
steadily as Fate; and all the time I saw the moonlight shining on his
wet oilskins. He walked him through the gate, and across the beach road,
and out upon the wet sand, where the tide was high. Then I got my breath
with a gulp, and ran for them across the grass, and vaulted over the
fence, and stumbled across the road. But when I felt the sand under my
feet, the two were at the water's edge; and when I reached the water
they were far out, and up to their waists; and I saw that Jack Benton's
head had fallen forward on his breast, and his free arm hung limp beside
him, while his dead brother steadily marched him to his death. The
moonlight was on the dark water, but the fog-bank was white beyond, and
I saw them against it; and they went slowly and steadily down. The water
was up to their armpits, and then up to their shoulders, and then I saw
it rise up to the black rim of Jack's hat. But they never wavered; and
the two heads went straight on, straight on, till they were under, and
there was just a ripple in the moonlight where Jack had been.

It has been on my mind to tell you that story, whenever I got a chance.
You have known me, man and boy, a good many years; and I thought I would
like to hear your opinion. Yes, that's what I always thought. It wasn't
Jim that went overboard; it was Jack, and Jim just let him go when he
might have saved him; and then Jim passed himself off for Jack with us,
and with the girl. If that's what happened, he got what he deserved.
People said the next day that Mamie found it out as they reached the
house, and that her husband just walked out into the sea, and drowned
himself; and they would have blamed me for not stopping him if they'd
known that I was there. But I never told what I had seen, for they
wouldn't have believed me. I just let them think I had come too late.

When I reached the cottage and lifted Mamie up, she was raving mad. She
got better afterwards, but she was never right in her head again.

Oh, you want to know if they found Jack's body? I don't know whether it
was his, but I read in a paper at a Southern port where I was with my
new ship that two dead bodies had come ashore in a gale down East, in
pretty bad shape. They were locked together, and one was a skeleton in
oilskins.



FOR THE BLOOD IS THE LIFE


We had dined at sunset on the broad roof of the old tower, because it
was cooler there during the great heat of summer. Besides, the little
kitchen was built at one corner of the great square platform, which made
it more convenient than if the dishes had to be carried down the steep
stone steps, broken in places and everywhere worn with age. The tower
was one of those built all down the west coast of Calabria by the
Emperor Charles V. early in the sixteenth century, to keep off the
Barbary pirates, when the unbelievers were allied with Francis I.
against the Emperor and the Church. They have gone to ruin, a few still
stand intact, and mine is one of the largest. How it came into my
possession ten years ago, and why I spend a part of each year in it, are
matters which do not concern this tale. The tower stands in one of the
loneliest spots in Southern Italy, at the extremity of a curving rocky
promontory, which forms a small but safe natural harbour at the southern
extremity of the Gulf of Policastro, and just north of Cape Scalea, the
birthplace of Judas Iscariot, according to the old local legend. The
tower stands alone on this hooked spur of the rock, and there is not a
house to be seen within three miles of it. When I go there I take a
couple of sailors, one of whom is a fair cook, and when I am away it is
in charge of a gnome-like little being who was once a miner and who
attached himself to me long ago.

My friend, who sometimes visits me in my summer solitude, is an artist
by profession, a Scandinavian by birth, and a cosmopolitan by force of
circumstances. We had dined at sunset; the sunset glow had reddened and
faded again, and the evening purple steeped the vast chain of the
mountains that embrace the deep gulf to eastward and rear themselves
higher and higher toward the south. It was hot, and we sat at the
landward corner of the platform, waiting for the night breeze to come
down from the lower hills. The colour sank out of the air, there was a
little interval of deep-grey twilight, and a lamp sent a yellow streak
from the open door of the kitchen, where the men were getting their
supper.

Then the moon rose suddenly above the crest of the promontory, flooding
the platform and lighting up every little spur of rock and knoll of
grass below us, down to the edge of the motionless water. My friend
lighted his pipe and sat looking at a spot on the hillside. I knew that
he was looking at it, and for a long time past I had wondered whether he
would ever see anything there that would fix his attention. I knew that
spot well. It was clear that he was interested at last, though it was a
long time before he spoke. Like most painters, he trusts to his own
eyesight, as a lion trusts his strength and a stag his speed, and he is
always disturbed when he cannot reconcile what he sees with what he
believes that he ought to see.

"It's strange," he said. "Do you see that little mound just on this side
of the boulder?"

"Yes," I said, and I guessed what was coming.

"It looks like a grave," observed Holger.

"Very true. It does look like a grave."

"Yes," continued my friend, his eyes still fixed on the spot. "But the
strange thing is that I see the body lying on the top of it. Of course,"
continued Holger, turning his head on one side as artists do, "it must
be an effect of light. In the first place, it is not a grave at all.
Secondly, if it were, the body would be inside and not outside.
Therefore, it's an effect of the moonlight. Don't you see it?"

"Perfectly; I always see it on moonlight nights."

"It doesn't seem to interest you much," said Holger.

"On the contrary, it does interest me, though I am used to it. You're
not so far wrong, either. The mound is really a grave."

"Nonsense!" cried Holger, incredulously. "I suppose you'll tell me what
I see lying on it is really a corpse!"

"No," I answered, "it's not. I know, because I have taken the trouble to
go down and see."

"Then what is it?" asked Holger.

"It's nothing."

"You mean that it's an effect of light, I suppose?"

"Perhaps it is. But the inexplicable part of the matter is that it makes
no difference whether the moon is rising or setting, or waxing or
waning. If there's any moonlight at all, from east or west or overhead,
so long as it shines on the grave you can see the outline of the body on
top."

Holger stirred up his pipe with the point of his knife, and then used
his finger for a stopper. When the tobacco burned well he rose from his
chair.

"If you don't mind," he said, "I'll go down and take a look at it."

He left me, crossed the roof, and disappeared down the dark steps. I did
not move, but sat looking down until he came out of the tower below. I
heard him humming an old Danish song as he crossed the open space in the
bright moonlight, going straight to the mysterious mound. When he was
ten paces from it, Holger stopped short, made two steps forward, and
then three or four backward, and then stopped again. I know what that
meant. He had reached the spot where the Thing ceased to be
visible--where, as he would have said, the effect of light changed.

Then he went on till he reached the mound and stood upon it. I could see
the Thing still, but it was no longer lying down; it was on its knees
now, winding its white arms round Holger's body and looking up into his
face. A cool breeze stirred my hair at that moment, as the night wind
began to come down from the hills, but it felt like a breath from
another world.

The Thing seemed to be trying to climb to its feet, helping itself up by
Holger's body while he stood upright, quite unconscious of it and
apparently looking toward the tower, which is very picturesque when the
moonlight falls upon it on that side.

"Come along!" I shouted. "Don't stay there all night!"

It seemed to me that he moved reluctantly as he stepped from the mound,
or else with difficulty. That was it. The Thing's arms were still round
his waist, but its feet could not leave the grave. As he came slowly
forward it was drawn and lengthened like a wreath of mist, thin and
white, till I saw distinctly that Holger shook himself, as a man does
who feels a chill. At the same instant a little wail of pain came to me
on the breeze--it might have been the cry of the small owl that lives
among the rocks--and the misty presence floated swiftly back from
Holger's advancing figure and lay once more at its length upon the
mound.

Again I felt the cool breeze in my hair, and this time an icy thrill of
dread ran down my spine. I remembered very well that I had once gone
down there alone in the moonlight; that presently, being near, I had
seen nothing; that, like Holger, I had gone and had stood upon the
mound; and I remembered how, when I came back, sure that there was
nothing there, I had felt the sudden conviction that there was something
after all if I would only look behind me. I remembered the strong
temptation to look back, a temptation I had resisted as unworthy of a
man of sense, until, to get rid of it, I had shaken myself just as
Holger did.

And now I knew that those white, misty arms had been round me too; I
knew it in a flash, and I shuddered as I remembered that I had heard the
night owl then too. But it had not been the night owl. It was the cry of
the Thing.

I refilled my pipe and poured out a cup of strong southern wine; in less
than a minute Holger was seated beside me again.

"Of course there's nothing there," he said, "but it's creepy, all the
same. Do you know, when I was coming back I was so sure that there was
something behind me that I wanted to turn round and look? It was an
effort not to."

He laughed a little, knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and poured
himself out some wine. For a while neither of us spoke, and the moon
rose higher, and we both looked at the Thing that lay on the mound.

"You might make a story about that," said Holger after a long time.

"There is one," I answered. "If you're not sleepy, I'll tell it to you."

"Go ahead," said Holger, who likes stories.

       *       *       *       *       *

Old Alario was dying up there in the village behind the hill. You
remember him, I have no doubt. They say that he made his money by
selling sham jewellery in South America, and escaped with his gains when
he was found out. Like all those fellows, if they bring anything back
with them, he at once set to work to enlarge his house, and as there are
no masons here, he sent all the way to Paola for two workmen. They were
a rough-looking pair of scoundrels--a Neapolitan who had lost one eye
and a Sicilian with an old scar half an inch deep across his left cheek.
I often saw them, for on Sundays they used to come down here and fish
off the rocks. When Alario caught the fever that killed him the masons
were still at work. As he had agreed that part of their pay should be
their board and lodging, he made them sleep in the house. His wife was
dead, and he had an only son called Angelo, who was a much better sort
than himself. Angelo was to marry the daughter of the richest man in the
village, and, strange to say, though the marriage was arranged by their
parents, the young people were said to be in love with each other.

For that matter, the whole village was in love with Angelo, and among
the rest a wild, good-looking creature called Cristina, who was more
like a gipsy than any girl I ever saw about here. She had very red lips
and very black eyes, she was built like a greyhound, and had the tongue
of the devil. But Angelo did not care a straw for her. He was rather a
simple-minded fellow, quite different from his old scoundrel of a
father, and under what I should call normal circumstances I really
believe that he would never have looked at any girl except the nice
plump little creature, with a fat dowry, whom his father meant him to
marry. But things turned up which were neither normal nor natural.

On the other hand, a very handsome young shepherd from the hills above
Maratea was in love with Cristina, who seems to have been quite
indifferent to him. Cristina had no regular means of subsistence, but
she was a good girl and willing to do any work or go on errands to any
distance for the sake of a loaf of bread or a mess of beans, and
permission to sleep under cover. She was especially glad when she could
get something to do about the house of Angelo's father. There is no
doctor in the village, and when the neighbours saw that old Alario was
dying they sent Cristina to Scalea to fetch one. That was late in the
afternoon, and if they had waited so long, it was because the dying
miser refused to allow any such extravagance while he was able to speak.
But while Cristina was gone matters grew rapidly worse, the priest was
brought to the bedside, and when he had done what he could he gave it as
his opinion to the bystanders that the old man was dead, and left the
house.

You know these people. They have a physical horror of death. Until the
priest spoke, the room had been full of people. The words were hardly
out of his mouth before it was empty. It was night now. They hurried
down the dark steps and out into the street.

Angelo, as I have said, was away, Cristina had not come back--the simple
woman-servant who had nursed the sick man fled with the rest, and the
body was left alone in the flickering light of the earthen oil lamp.

Five minutes later two men looked in cautiously and crept forward toward
the bed. They were the one-eyed Neapolitan mason and his Sicilian
companion. They knew what they wanted. In a moment they had dragged from
under the bed a small but heavy iron-bound box, and long before any one
thought of coming back to the dead man they had left the house and the
village under cover of the darkness. It was easy enough, for Alario's
house is the last toward the gorge which leads down here, and the
thieves merely went out by the back door, got over the stone wall, and
had nothing to risk after that except the possibility of meeting some
belated countryman, which was very small indeed, since few of the people
use that path. They had a mattock and shovel, and they made their way
here without accident.

I am telling you this story as it must have happened, for, of course,
there were no witnesses to this part of it. The men brought the box down
by the gorge, intending to bury it until they should be able to come
back and take it away in a boat. They must have been clever enough to
guess that some of the money would be in paper notes, for they would
otherwise have buried it on the beach in the wet sand, where it would
have been much safer. But the paper would have rotted if they had been
obliged to leave it there long, so they dug their hole down there, close
to that boulder. Yes, just where the mound is now.

Cristina did not find the doctor in Scalea, for he had been sent for
from a place up the valley, halfway to San Domenico. If she had found
him, he would have come on his mule by the upper road, which is smoother
but much longer. But Cristina took the short cut by the rocks, which
passes about fifty feet above the mound, and goes round that corner. The
men were digging when she passed, and she heard them at work. It would
not have been like her to go by without finding out what the noise was,
for she was never afraid of anything in her life, and, besides, the
fishermen sometimes come ashore here at night to get a stone for an
anchor or to gather sticks to make a little fire. The night was dark,
and Cristina probably came close to the two men before she could see
what they were doing. She knew them, of course, and they knew her, and
understood instantly that they were in her power. There was only one
thing to be done for their safety, and they did it. They knocked her on
the head, they dug the hole deep, and they buried her quickly with the
iron-bound chest. They must have understood that their only chance of
escaping suspicion lay in getting back to the village before their
absence was noticed, for they returned immediately, and were found half
an hour later gossiping quietly with the man who was making Alario's
coffin. He was a crony of theirs, and had been working at the repairs in
the old man's house. So far as I have been able to make out, the only
persons who were supposed to know where Alario kept his treasure were
Angelo and the one woman-servant I have mentioned. Angelo was away; it
was the woman who discovered the theft.

It is easy enough to understand why no one else knew where the money
was. The old man kept his door locked and the key in his pocket when he
was out, and did not let the woman enter to clean the place unless he
was there himself. The whole village knew that he had money somewhere,
however, and the masons had probably discovered the whereabouts of the
chest by climbing in at the window in his absence. If the old man had
not been delirious until he lost consciousness, he would have been in
frightful agony of mind for his riches. The faithful woman-servant
forgot their existence only for a few moments when she fled with the
rest, overcome by the horror of death. Twenty minutes had not passed
before she returned with the two hideous old hags who are always called
in to prepare the dead for burial. Even then she had not at first the
courage to go near the bed with them, but she made a pretence of
dropping something, went down on her knees as if to find it, and looked
under the bedstead. The walls of the room were newly whitewashed down to
the floor, and she saw at a glance that the chest was gone. It had been
there in the afternoon, it had therefore been stolen in the short
interval since she had left the room.

There are no carabineers stationed in the village; there is not so much
as a municipal watchman, for there is no municipality. There never was
such a place, I believe. Scalea is supposed to look after it in some
mysterious way, and it takes a couple of hours to get anybody from
there. As the old woman had lived in the village all her life, it did
not even occur to her to apply to any civil authority for help. She
simply set up a howl and ran through the village in the dark, screaming
out that her dead master's house had been robbed. Many of the people
looked out, but at first no one seemed inclined to help her. Most of
them, judging her by themselves, whispered to each other that she had
probably stolen the money herself. The first man to move was the father
of the girl whom Angelo was to marry; having collected his household,
all of whom felt a personal interest in the wealth which was to have
come into the family, he declared it to be his opinion that the chest
had been stolen by the two journeyman masons who lodged in the house. He
headed a search for them, which naturally began in Alario's house and
ended in the carpenter's workshop, where the thieves were found
discussing a measure of wine with the carpenter over the half-finished
coffin, by the light of one earthen lamp filled with oil and tallow. The
search party at once accused the delinquents of the crime, and
threatened to lock them up in the cellar till the carabineers could be
fetched from Scalea. The two men looked at each other for one moment,
and then without the slightest hesitation they put out the single light,
seized the unfinished coffin between them, and using it as a sort of
battering ram, dashed upon their assailants in the dark. In a few
moments they were beyond pursuit.

That is the end of the first part of the story. The treasure had
disappeared, and as no trace of it could be found the people naturally
supposed that the thieves had succeeded in carrying it off. The old man
was buried, and when Angelo came back at last he had to borrow money to
pay for the miserable funeral, and had some difficulty in doing so. He
hardly needed to be told that in losing his inheritance he had lost his
bride. In this part of the world marriages are made on strictly
business principles, and if the promised cash is not forthcoming on the
appointed day the bride or the bridegroom whose parents have failed to
produce it may as well take themselves off, for there will be no
wedding. Poor Angelo knew that well enough. His father had been
possessed of hardly any land, and now that the hard cash which he had
brought from South America was gone, there was nothing left but debts
for the building materials that were to have been used for enlarging and
improving the old house. Angelo was beggared, and the nice plump little
creature who was to have been his turned up her nose at him in the most
approved fashion. As for Cristina, it was several days before she was
missed, for no one remembered that she had been sent to Scalea for the
doctor, who had never come. She often disappeared in the same way for
days together, when she could find a little work here and there at the
distant farms among the hills. But when she did not come back at all,
people began to wonder, and at last made up their minds that she had
connived with the masons and had escaped with them.

       *       *       *       *       *

_I paused and emptied my glass._

_"That sort of thing could not happen anywhere else," observed Holger,
filling his everlasting pipe again. "It is wonderful what a natural
charm there is about murder and sudden death in a romantic country like
this. Deeds that would be simply brutal and disgusting anywhere else
become dramatic and mysterious because this is Italy and we are living
in a genuine tower of Charles V. built against genuine Barbary
pirates."_

_"There's something in that" I admitted. Holger is the most romantic man
in the world inside of himself, but he always thinks it necessary to
explain why he feels anything._

_"I suppose they found the poor girl's body with the box," he said
presently._

_"As it seems to interest you," I answered, "I'll tell you the rest of
the story."_

_The moon had risen high by this time; the outline of the Thing on the
mound was clearer to our eyes than before._

       *       *       *       *       *

The village very soon settled down to its small, dull life. No one
missed old Alario, who had been away so much on his voyages to South
America that he had never been a familiar figure in his native place.
Angelo lived in the half-finished house, and because he had no money to
pay the old woman-servant she would not stay with him, but once in a
long time she would come and wash a shirt for him for old acquaintance'
sake. Besides the house, he had inherited a small patch of ground at
some distance from the village; he tried to cultivate it, but he had no
heart in the work, for he knew he could never pay the taxes on it and on
the house, which would certainly be confiscated by the Government, or
seized for the debt of the building material, which the man who had
supplied it refused to take back.

Angelo was very unhappy. So long as his father had been alive and rich,
every girl in the village had been in love with him; but that was all
changed now. It had been pleasant to be admired and courted, and invited
to drink wine by fathers who had girls to marry. It was hard to be
stared at coldly, and sometimes laughed at because he had been robbed of
his inheritance. He cooked his miserable meals for himself, and from
being sad became melancholy and morose.

At twilight, when the day's work was done, instead of hanging about in
the open space before the church with young fellows of his own age, he
took to wandering in lonely places on the outskirts of the village till
it was quite dark. Then he slunk home and went to bed to save the
expense of a light. But in those lonely twilight hours he began to have
strange waking dreams. He was not always alone, for often when he sat on
the stump of a tree, where the narrow path turns down the gorge, he was
sure that a woman came up noiselessly over the rough stones, as if her
feet were bare; and she stood under a clump of chestnut trees only half
a dozen yards down the path, and beckoned to him without speaking.
Though she was in the shadow he knew that her lips were red, and that
when they parted a little and smiled at him she showed two small sharp
teeth. He knew this at first rather than saw it, and he knew that it was
Cristina, and that she was dead. Yet he was not afraid; he only wondered
whether it was a dream, for he thought that if he had been awake he
should have been frightened.

Besides, the dead woman had red lips, and that could only happen in a
dream. Whenever he went near the gorge after sunset she was already
there waiting for him, or else she very soon appeared, and he began to
be sure that she came a little nearer to him every day. At first he had
only been sure of her blood-red mouth, but now each feature grew
distinct, and the pale face looked at him with deep and hungry eyes.

It was the eyes that grew dim. Little by little he came to know that
some day the dream would not end when he turned away to go home, but
would lead him down the gorge out of which the vision rose. She was
nearer now when she beckoned to him. Her cheeks were not livid like
those of the dead, but pale with starvation, with the furious and
unappeased physical hunger of her eyes that devoured him. They feasted
on his soul and cast a spell over him, and at last they were close to
his own and held him. He could not tell whether her breath was as hot as
fire or as cold as ice; he could not tell whether her red lips burned
his or froze them, or whether her five fingers on his wrists seared
scorching scars or bit his flesh like frost; he could not tell whether
he was awake or asleep, whether she was alive or dead, but he knew that
she loved him, she alone of all creatures, earthly or unearthly, and her
spell had power over him.

When the moon rose high that night the shadow of that Thing was not
alone down there upon the mound.

Angelo awoke in the cool dawn, drenched with dew and chilled through
flesh, and blood, and bone. He opened his eyes to the faint grey light,
and saw the stars still shining overhead. He was very weak, and his
heart was beating so slowly that he was almost like a man fainting.
Slowly he turned his head on the mound, as on a pillow, but the other
face was not there. Fear seized him suddenly, a fear unspeakable and
unknown; he sprang to his feet and fled up the gorge, and he never
looked behind him until he reached the door of the house on the
outskirts of the village. Drearily he went to his work that day, and
wearily the hours dragged themselves after the sun, till at last he
touched the sea and sank, and the great sharp hills above Maratea turned
purple against the dove-coloured eastern sky.

Angelo shouldered his heavy hoe and left the field. He felt less tired
now than in the morning when he had begun to work, but he promised
himself that he would go home without lingering by the gorge, and eat
the best supper he could get himself, and sleep all night in his bed
like a Christian man. Not again would he be tempted down the narrow way
by a shadow with red lips and icy breath; not again would he dream that
dream of terror and delight. He was near the village now; it was half an
hour since the sun had set, and the cracked church bell sent little
discordant echoes across the rocks and ravines to tell all good people
that the day was done. Angelo stood still a moment where the path
forked, where it led toward the village on the left, and down to the
gorge on the right, where a clump of chestnut trees overhung the narrow
way. He stood still a minute, lifting his battered hat from his head and
gazing at the fast-fading sea westward, and his lips moved as he
silently repeated the familiar evening prayer. His lips moved, but the
words that followed them in his brain lost their meaning and turned into
others, and ended in a name that he spoke aloud--Cristina! With the
name, the tension of his will relaxed suddenly, reality went out and the
dream took him again, and bore him on swiftly and surely like a man
walking in his sleep, down, down, by the steep path in the gathering
darkness. And as she glided beside him, Cristina whispered strange,
sweet things in his ear, which somehow, if he had been awake, he knew
that he could not quite have understood; but now they were the most
wonderful words he had ever heard in his life. And she kissed him also,
but not upon his mouth. He felt her sharp kisses upon his white throat,
and he knew that her lips were red. So the wild dream sped on through
twilight and darkness and moonrise, and all the glory of the summer's
night. But in the chilly dawn he lay as one half dead upon the mound
down there, recalling and not recalling, drained of his blood, yet
strangely longing to give those red lips more. Then came the fear, the
awful nameless panic, the mortal horror that guards the confines of the
world we see not, neither know of as we know of other things, but which
we feel when its icy chill freezes our bones and stirs our hair with the
touch of a ghostly hand. Once more Angelo sprang from the mound and
fled up the gorge in the breaking day, but his step was less sure this
time, and he panted for breath as he ran; and when he came to the bright
spring of water that rises halfway up the hillside, he dropped upon his
knees and hands and plunged his whole face in and drank as he had never
drunk before--for it was the thirst of the wounded man who has lain
bleeding all night long upon the battle-field.

She had him fast now, and he could not escape her, but would come to her
every evening at dusk until she had drained him of his last drop of
blood. It was in vain that when the day was done he tried to take
another turning and to go home by a path that did not lead near the
gorge. It was in vain that he made promises to himself each morning at
dawn when he climbed the lonely way up from the shore to the village. It
was all in vain, for when the sun sank burning into the sea, and the
coolness of the evening stole out as from a hiding-place to delight the
weary world, his feet turned toward the old way, and she was waiting for
him in the shadow under the chestnut trees; and then all happened as
before, and she fell to kissing his white throat even as she flitted
lightly down the way, winding one arm about him. And as his blood
failed, she grew more hungry and more thirsty every day, and every day
when he awoke in the early dawn it was harder to rouse himself to the
effort of climbing the steep path to the village; and when he went to
his work his feet dragged painfully, and there was hardly strength in
his arms to wield the heavy hoe. He scarcely spoke to any one now, but
the people said he was "consuming himself" for love of the girl he was
to have married when he lost his inheritance; and they laughed heartily
at the thought, for this is not a very romantic country. At this time,
Antonio, the man who stays here to look after the tower, returned from a
visit to his people, who live near Salerno. He had been away all the
time since before Alario's death and knew nothing of what had happened.
He has told me that he came back late in the afternoon and shut himself
up in the tower to eat and sleep, for he was very tired. It was past
midnight when he awoke, and when he looked out the waning moon was
rising over the shoulder of the hill. He looked out toward the mound,
and he saw something, and he did not sleep again that night. When he
went out again in the morning it was broad daylight, and there was
nothing to be seen on the mound but loose stones and driven sand. Yet he
did not go very near it; he went straight up the path to the village and
directly to the house of the old priest.

"I have seen an evil thing this night," he said; "I have seen how the
dead drink the blood of the living. And the blood is the life."

"Tell me what you have seen," said the priest in reply.

Antonio told him everything he had seen.

"You must bring your book and your holy water to-night," he added. "I
will be here before sunset to go down with you, and if it pleases your
reverence to sup with me while we wait, I will make ready."

"I will come," the priest answered, "for I have read in old books of
these strange beings which are neither quick nor dead, and which lie
ever fresh in their graves, stealing out in the dusk to taste life and
blood."

Antonio cannot read, but he was glad to see that the priest understood
the business; for, of course, the books must have instructed him as to
the best means of quieting the half-living Thing for ever.

So Antonio went away to his work, which consists largely in sitting on
the shady side of the tower, when he is not perched upon a rock with a
fishing-line catching nothing. But on that day he went twice to look at
the mound in the bright sunlight, and he searched round and round it for
some hole through which the being might get in and out; but he found
none. When the sun began to sink and the air was cooler in the shadows,
he went up to fetch the old priest, carrying a little wicker basket with
him; and in this they placed a bottle of holy water, and the basin, and
sprinkler, and the stole which the priest would need; and they came down
and waited in the door of the tower till it should be dark. But while
the light still lingered very grey and faint, they saw something moving,
just there, two figures, a man's that walked, and a woman's that flitted
beside him, and while her head lay on his shoulder she kissed his
throat. The priest has told me that, too, and that his teeth chattered
and he grasped Antonio's arm. The vision passed and disappeared into the
shadow. Then Antonio got the leathern flask of strong liquor, which he
kept for great occasions, and poured such a draught as made the old man
feel almost young again; and he got the lantern, and his pick and
shovel, and gave the priest his stole to put on and the holy water to
carry, and they went out together toward the spot where the work was to
be done. Antonio says that in spite of the rum his own knees shook
together, and the priest stumbled over his Latin. For when they were yet
a few yards from the mound the flickering light of the lantern fell upon
Angelo's white face, unconscious as if in sleep, and on his upturned
throat, over which a very thin red line of blood trickled down into his
collar; and the flickering light of the lantern played upon another face
that looked up from the feast--upon two deep, dead eyes that saw in
spite of death--upon parted lips redder than life itself--upon two
gleaming teeth on which glistened a rosy drop. Then the priest, good old
man, shut his eyes tight and showered holy water before him, and his
cracked voice rose almost to a scream; and then Antonio, who is no
coward after all, raised his pick in one hand and the lantern in the
other, as he sprang forward, not knowing what the end should be; and
then he swears that he heard a woman's cry, and the Thing was gone, and
Angelo lay alone on the mound unconscious, with the red line on his
throat and the beads of deathly sweat on his cold forehead. They lifted
him, half-dead as he was, and laid him on the ground close by; then
Antonio went to work, and the priest helped him, though he was old and
could not do much; and they dug deep, and at last Antonio, standing in
the grave, stooped down with his lantern to see what he might see.

His hair used to be dark brown, with grizzled streaks about the temples;
in less than a month from that day he was as grey as a badger. He was a
miner when he was young, and most of these fellows have seen ugly
sights now and then, when accidents have happened, but he had never seen
what he saw that night--that Thing which is neither alive nor dead, that
Thing that will abide neither above ground nor in the grave. Antonio had
brought something with him which the priest had not noticed. He had made
it that afternoon--a sharp stake shaped from a piece of tough old
driftwood. He had it with him now, and he had his heavy pick, and he had
taken the lantern down into the grave. I don't think any power on earth
could make him speak of what happened then, and the old priest was too
frightened to look in. He says he heard Antonio breathing like a wild
beast, and moving as if he were fighting with something almost as strong
as himself; and he heard an evil sound also, with blows, as of something
violently driven through flesh and bone; and then the most awful sound
of all--a woman's shriek, the unearthly scream of a woman neither dead
nor alive, but buried deep for many days. And he, the poor old priest,
could only rock himself as he knelt there in the sand, crying aloud his
prayers and exorcisms to drown these dreadful sounds. Then suddenly a
small iron-bound chest was thrown up and rolled over against the old
man's knee, and in a moment more Antonio was beside him, his face as
white as tallow in the flickering light of the lantern, shovelling the
sand and pebbles into the grave with furious haste, and looking over the
edge till the pit was half full; and the priest said that there was much
fresh blood on Antonio's hands and on his clothes.


_I had come to the end of my story. Holger finished his wine and leaned
back in his chair._

_"So Angelo got his own again," he said. "Did he marry the prim and
plump young person to whom he had been betrothed?"_

_"No; he had been badly frightened. He went to South America, and has
not been heard of since."_

_"And that poor thing's body is there still, I suppose," said Holger.
"Is it quite dead yet, I wonder?"_

_I wonder, too. But whether it be dead or alive, I should hardly care to
see it, even in broad daylight. Antonio is as grey as a badger, and he
has never been quite the same man since that night._



THE UPPER BERTH

CHAPTER I


Somebody asked for the cigars. We had talked long, and the conversation
was beginning to languish; the tobacco smoke had got into the heavy
curtains, the wine had got into those brains which were liable to become
heavy, and it was already perfectly evident that, unless somebody did
something to rouse our oppressed spirits, the meeting would soon come to
its natural conclusion, and we, the guests, would speedily go home to
bed, and most certainly to sleep. No one had said anything very
remarkable; it may be that no one had anything very remarkable to say.
Jones had given us every particular of his last hunting adventure in
Yorkshire. Mr. Tompkins, of Boston, had explained at elaborate length
those working principles, by the due and careful maintenance of which
the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fé Railroad not only extended its
territory, increased its departmental influence, and transported live
stock without starving them to death before the day of actual delivery,
but, also, had for years succeeded in deceiving those passengers who
bought its tickets into the fallacious belief that the corporation
aforesaid was really able to transport human life without destroying it.
Signor Tombola had endeavoured to persuade us, by arguments which we
took no trouble to oppose, that the unity of his country in no way
resembled the average modern torpedo, carefully planned, constructed
with all the skill of the greatest European arsenals, but, when
constructed, destined to be directed by feeble hands into a region where
it must undoubtedly explode, unseen, unfeared, and unheard, into the
illimitable wastes of political chaos.

It is unnecessary to go into further details. The conversation had
assumed proportions which would have bored Prometheus on his rock, which
would have driven Tantalus to distraction, and which would have impelled
Ixion to seek relaxation in the simple but instructive dialogues of Herr
Ollendorff, rather than submit to the greater evil of listening to our
talk. We had sat at table for hours; we were bored, we were tired, and
nobody showed signs of moving.

Somebody called for cigars. We all instinctively looked towards the
speaker. Brisbane was a man of five-and-thirty years of age, and
remarkable for those gifts which chiefly attract the attention of men.
He was a strong man. The external proportions of his figure presented
nothing extraordinary to the common eye, though his size was about the
average. He was a little over six feet in height, and moderately broad
in the shoulder; he did not appear to be stout, but, on the other hand,
he was certainly not thin; his small head, was supported by a strong and
sinewy neck; his broad, muscular hands appeared to possess a peculiar
skill in breaking walnuts without the assistance of the ordinary
cracker, and seeing him in profile, one could not help remarking the
extraordinary breadth of his sleeves, and the unusual thickness of his
chest. He was one of those men who are commonly spoken of among men as
deceptive; that is to say, that though he looked exceedingly strong he
was in reality very much stronger than he looked. Of his features I need
say little. His head is small, his hair is thin, his eyes are blue, his
nose is large, he has a small moustache and a square jaw. Everybody
knows Brisbane, and when he asked for a cigar everybody looked at him.

"It is a very singular thing," said Brisbane.

Everybody stopped talking. Brisbane's voice was not loud, but possessed
a peculiar quality of penetrating general conversation, and cutting it
like a knife. Everybody listened. Brisbane, perceiving that he had
attracted their general attention, lit his cigar with great equanimity.

"It is very singular," he continued, "that thing about ghosts. People
are always asking whether anybody has seen a ghost. I have."

"Bosh! What, you? You don't mean to say so, Brisbane? Well, for a man of
his intelligence!"

A chorus of exclamations greeted Brisbane's remarkable statement.
Everybody called for cigars, and Stubbs, the butler, suddenly appeared
from the depths of nowhere with a fresh bottle of dry champagne. The
situation was saved; Brisbane was going to tell a story.

I am an old sailor, said Brisbane, and as I have to cross the Atlantic
pretty often, I have my favourites. Most men have their favourites. I
have seen a man wait in a Broadway bar for three-quarters of an hour for
a particular car which he liked. I believe the bar-keeper made at least
one-third of his living by that man's preference. I have a habit of
waiting for certain ships when I am obliged to cross that duck-pond. It
may be a prejudice, but I was never cheated out of a good passage but
once in my life. I remember it very well; it was a warm morning in June,
and the Custom House officials, who were hanging about waiting for a
steamer already on her way up from the Quarantine, presented a
peculiarly hazy and thoughtful appearance. I had not much luggage--I
never have. I mingled with a crowd of passengers, porters, and
officious individuals in blue coats and brass buttons, who seemed to
spring up like mushrooms from the deck of a moored steamer to obtrude
their unnecessary services upon the independent passenger. I have often
noticed with a certain interest the spontaneous evolution of these
fellows. They are not there when you arrive; five minutes after the
pilot has called "Go ahead!" they, or at least their blue coats and
brass buttons, have disappeared from deck and gangway as completely as
though they had been consigned to that locker which tradition
unanimously ascribes to Davy Jones. But, at the moment of starting, they
are there, clean shaved, blue coated, and ravenous for fees. I hastened
on board. The _Kamtschatka_ was one of my favourite ships. I say was,
because she emphatically no longer is. I cannot conceive of any
inducement which could entice me to make another voyage in her. Yes, I
know what you are going to say. She is uncommonly clean in the run aft,
she has enough bluffing off in the bows to keep her dry, and the lower
berths are most of them double. She has a lot of advantages, but I won't
cross in her again. Excuse the digression. I got on board. I hailed a
steward, whose red nose and redder whiskers were equally familiar to me.

"One hundred and five, lower berth," said I, in the businesslike tone
peculiar to men who think no more of crossing the Atlantic than taking
a whiskey cocktail at down-town Delmonico's.

The steward took my portmanteau, greatcoat, and rug. I shall never
forget the expression of his face. Not that he turned pale. It is
maintained by the most eminent divines that even miracles cannot change
the course of nature. I have no hesitation in saying that he did not
turn pale; but, from his expression, I judged that he was either about
to shed tears, to sneeze, or to drop my portmanteau. As the latter
contained two bottles of particularly fine old sherry presented to me
for my voyage by my old friend Snigginson van Pickyns, I felt extremely
nervous. But the steward did none of these things.

"Well, I'm d----d!" said he in a low voice, and led the way.

I supposed my Hermes, as he led me to the lower regions, had had a
little grog, but I said nothing and followed him. 105 was on the port
side, well aft. There was nothing remarkable about the state-room. The
lower berth, like most of those upon the _Kamtschatka_, was double.
There was plenty of room; there was the usual washing apparatus,
calculated to convey an idea of luxury to the mind of a North American
Indian; there were the usual inefficient racks of brown wood, in which
it is more easy to hang a large-sized umbrella than the common
tooth-brush of commerce. Upon the uninviting mattresses were carefully
folded together those blankets which a great modern humourist has aptly
compared to cold buckwheat cakes. The question of towels was left
entirely to the imagination. The glass decanters were filled with a
transparent liquid faintly tinged with brown, but from which an odour
less faint, but not more pleasing, ascended to the nostrils, like a
far-off sea-sick reminiscence of oily machinery. Sad-coloured curtains
half closed the upper berth. The hazy June daylight shed a faint
illumination upon the desolate little scene. Ugh! how I hate that
state-room!

The steward deposited my traps and looked at me as though he wanted to
get away--probably in search of more passengers and more fees. It is
always a good plan to start in favour with those functionaries, and I
accordingly gave him certain coins there and then.

"I'll try and make yer comfortable all I can," he remarked, as he put
the coins in his pocket. Nevertheless, there was a doubtful intonation
in his voice which surprised me. Possibly his scale of fees had gone up,
and he was not satisfied; but on the whole I was inclined to think that,
as he himself would have expressed it, he was "the better for a glass."
I was wrong, however, and did the man injustice.



CHAPTER II


Nothing especially worthy of mention occurred during that day. We left
the pier punctually, and it was very pleasant to be fairly under way,
for the weather was warm and sultry, and the motion of the steamer
produced a refreshing breeze. Everybody knows what the first day at sea
is like. People pace the decks and stare at each other, and occasionally
meet acquaintances whom they did not know to be on board. There is the
usual uncertainty as to whether the food will be good, bad, or
indifferent, until the first two meals have put the matter beyond a
doubt; there is the usual uncertainty about the weather, until the ship
is fairly off Fire Island. The tables are crowded at first, and then
suddenly thinned. Pale-faced people spring from their seats and
precipitate themselves towards the door, and each old sailor breathes
more freely as his seasick neighbour rushes from his side, leaving him
plenty of elbow-room and an unlimited command over the mustard.

One passage across the Atlantic is very much like another, and we who
cross very often do not make the voyage for the sake of novelty. Whales
and icebergs are indeed always objects of interest, but, after all, one
whale is very much like another whale, and one rarely sees an iceberg at
close quarters. To the majority of us the most delightful moment of the
day on board an ocean steamer is when we have taken our last turn on
deck, have smoked our last cigar, and having succeeded in tiring
ourselves, feel at liberty to turn in with a clear conscience. On that
first night of the voyage I felt particularly lazy, and went to bed in
105 rather earlier than I usually do. As I turned in, I was amazed to
see that I was to have a companion. A portmanteau, very like my own, lay
in the opposite corner, and in the upper berth had been deposited a
neatly folded rug, with a stick and umbrella. I had hoped to be alone,
and I was disappointed; but I wondered who my room-mate was to be, and I
determined to have a look at him.

Before I had been long in bed he entered. He was, as far as I could see,
a very tall man, very thin, very pale, with sandy hair and whiskers and
colourless grey eyes. He had about him, I thought, an air of rather
dubious fashion; the sort of man you might see in Wall Street, without
being able precisely to say what he was doing there--the sort of man who
frequents the Café Anglais, who always seems to be alone and who drinks
champagne; you might meet him on a racecourse, but he would never appear
to be doing anything there either. A little over-dressed--a little odd.
There are three or four of his kind on every ocean steamer. I made up
my mind that I did not care to make his acquaintance, and I went to
sleep saying to myself that I would study his habits in order to avoid
him. If he rose early, I would rise late; if he went to bed late I would
go to bed early. I did not care to know him. If you once know people of
that kind, they are always turning up. Poor fellow! I need not have
taken the trouble to come to so many decisions about him, for I never
saw him again after that first night in 105.

I was sleeping soundly when I was suddenly waked by a loud noise. To
judge from the sound, my room-mate must have sprung with a single leap
from the upper berth to the floor. I heard him fumbling with the latch
and bolt of the door, which opened almost immediately, and then I heard
his footsteps as he ran at full speed down the passage, leaving the door
open behind him. The ship was rolling a little, and I expected to hear
him stumble or fall, but he ran as though he were running for his life.
The door swung on its hinges with the motion of the vessel, and the
sound annoyed me. I got up and shut it, and groped my way back to my
berth in the darkness. I went to sleep again; but I have no idea how
long I slept.

When I awoke it was still quite dark, but I felt a disagreeable
sensation of cold, and it seemed to me that the air was damp. You know
the peculiar smell of a cabin which has been wet with sea-water. I
covered myself up as well as I could and dozed off again, framing
complaints to be made the next day, and selecting the most powerful
epithets in the language. I could hear my room-mate turn over in the
upper berth. He had probably returned while I was asleep. Once I thought
I heard him groan, and I argued that he was sea-sick. That is
particularly unpleasant when one is below. Nevertheless I dozed off and
slept till early daylight.

The ship was rolling heavily, much more than on the previous evening,
and the grey light which came in through the porthole changed in tint
with every movement according as the angle of the vessel's side turned
the glass seawards or skywards. It was very cold--unaccountably so for
the month of June. I turned my head and looked at the porthole, and saw
to my surprise that it was wide open and hooked back. I believe I swore
audibly. Then I got up and shut it. As I turned back I glanced at the
upper berth. The curtains were drawn close together; my companion had
probably felt cold as well as I. It struck me that I had slept enough.
The state-room was uncomfortable, though, strange to say, I could not
smell the dampness which had annoyed me in the night. My room-mate was
still asleep--excellent opportunity for avoiding him, so I dressed at
once and went on deck. The day was warm and cloudy, with an oily smell
on the water. It was seven o'clock as I came out--much later than I had
imagined. I came across the doctor, who was taking his first sniff of
the morning air. He was a young man from the West of Ireland--a
tremendous fellow, with black hair and blue eyes, already inclined to be
stout; he had a happy-go-lucky, healthy look about him which was rather
attractive.

"Fine morning," I remarked, by way of introduction.

"Well," said he, eyeing me with an air of ready interest, "it's a fine
morning and it's not a fine morning. I don't think it's much of a
morning."

"Well, no--it is not so very fine," said I.

"It's just what I call fuggly weather," replied the doctor.

"It was very cold last night, I thought," I remarked. "However, when I
looked about, I found that the porthole was wide open. I had not noticed
it when I went to bed. And the state-room was damp, too."

"Damp!" said he. "Whereabouts are you?"

"One hundred and five--"

To my surprise the doctor started visibly, and stared at me.

"What is the matter?" I asked.

"Oh--nothing," he answered; "only everybody has complained of that
state-room for the last three trips."

"I shall complain, too," I said. "It has certainly not been properly
aired. It is a shame!"

"I don't believe it can be helped," answered the doctor. "I believe
there is something--well, it is not my business to frighten passengers."

"You need not be afraid of frightening me," I replied. "I can stand any
amount of damp. If I should get a bad cold, I will come to you."

I offered the doctor a cigar, which he took and examined very
critically.

"It is not so much the damp," he remarked. "However, I dare say you will
get on very well. Have you a room-mate?"

"Yes; a deuce of a fellow, who bolts out in the middle of the night, and
leaves the door open."

Again the doctor glanced curiously at me. Then he lit the cigar and
looked grave.

"Did he come back?" he asked presently.

"Yes. I was asleep, but I waked up, and heard him moving. Then I felt
cold and went to sleep again. This morning I found the porthole open."

"Look here," said the doctor quietly, "I don't care much for this ship.
I don't care a rap for her reputation. I tell you what I will do. I have
a good-sized place up here. I will share it with you, though I don't
know you from Adam."

I was very much surprised at the proposition. I could not imagine why he
should take such a sudden interest in my welfare. However, his manner,
as he spoke of the ship, was peculiar.

"You are very good, doctor," I said. "But, really, I believe even now
the cabin could be aired, or cleaned out, or something. Why do you not
care for the ship?"

"We are not superstitious in our profession, sir," replied the doctor,
"but the sea makes people so. I don't want to prejudice you, and I don't
want to frighten you, but if you will take my advice you will move in
here. I would as soon see you overboard," he added earnestly, "as know
that you or any other man was to sleep in 105."

"Good gracious! Why?" I asked.

"Just because on the three last trips the people who have slept there
actually have gone overboard," he answered gravely.

The intelligence was startling and exceedingly unpleasant, I confess. I
looked hard at the doctor to see whether he was making game of me, but
he looked perfectly serious. I thanked him warmly for his offer, but
told him I intended to be the exception to the rule by which every one
who slept in that particular state-room went overboard. He did not say
much, but looked as grave as ever, and hinted that, before we got
across, I should probably reconsider his proposal. In the course of time
we went to breakfast, at which only an inconsiderable number of
passengers assembled. I noticed that one or two of the officers who
breakfasted with us looked grave. After breakfast I went into my
state-room in order to get a book. The curtains of the upper berth were
still closely drawn. Not a sound was to be heard. My room-mate was
probably still asleep.

As I came out I met the steward whose business it was to look after me.
He whispered that the captain wanted to see me, and then scuttled away
down the passage as if very anxious to avoid any questions. I went
toward the captain's cabin, and found him waiting for me.

"Sir," said he, "I want to ask a favour of you."

I answered that I would do anything to oblige him.

"Your room-mate has disappeared," he said. "He is known to have turned
in early last night. Did you notice anything extraordinary in his
manner?"

The question, coming as it did in exact confirmation of the fears the
doctor had expressed half an hour earlier, staggered me.

"You don't mean to say he has gone overboard?" I asked.

"I fear he has," answered the captain.

"This is the most extraordinary thing--" I began.

"Why?" he asked.

"He is the fourth, then?" I explained. In answer to another question
from the captain, I explained, without mentioning the doctor, that I had
heard the story concerning 105. He seemed very much annoyed at hearing
that I knew of it. I told him what had occurred in the night.

"What you say," he replied, "coincides almost exactly with what was told
me by the room-mates of two of the other three. They bolt out of bed and
run down the passage. Two of them were seen to go overboard by the
watch; we stopped and lowered boats, but they were not found. Nobody,
however, saw or heard the man who was lost last night--if he is really
lost. The steward, who is a superstitious fellow, perhaps, and expected
something to go wrong, went to look for him this morning, and found his
berth empty, but his clothes lying about, just as he had left them. The
steward was the only man on board who knew him by sight, and he has
been searching everywhere for him. He has disappeared! Now, sir, I want
to beg you not to mention the circumstance to any of the passengers; I
don't want the ship to get a bad name, and nothing hangs about an
ocean-goer like stories of suicides. You shall have your choice of any
one of the officers' cabins you like, including my own, for the rest of
the passage. Is that a fair bargain?"

"Very," said I; "and I am much obliged to you. But since I am alone, and
have the state-room to myself, I would rather not move. If the steward
will take out that unfortunate man's things, I would as lief stay where
I am. I will not say anything about the matter, and I think I can
promise you that I will not follow my room-mate."

The captain tried to dissuade me from my intention, but I preferred
having a state-room alone to being the chum of any officer on board. I
do not know whether I acted foolishly, but if I had taken his advice I
should have had nothing more to tell. There would have remained the
disagreeable coincidence of several suicides occurring among men who had
slept in the same cabin, but that would have been all.

That was not the end of the matter, however, by any means. I
obstinately made up my mind that I would not be disturbed by such tales,
and I even went so far as to argue the question with the captain. There
was something wrong about the state-room, I said. It was rather damp.
The porthole had been left open last night. My room-mate might have been
ill when he came on board, and he might have become delirious after he
went to bed. He might even now be hiding somewhere on board, and might
be found later. The place ought to be aired and the fastening of the
port looked to. If the captain would give me leave, I would see that
what I thought necessary were done immediately.

"Of course you have a right to stay where you are if you please," he
replied, rather petulantly; "but I wish you would turn out and let me
lock the place up, and be done with it."

I did not see it in the same light, and left the captain, after
promising to be silent concerning the disappearance of my companion. The
latter had had no acquaintances on board, and was not missed in the
course of the day. Towards evening I met the doctor again, and he asked
me whether I had changed my mind. I told him I had not.

"Then you will before long," he said, very gravely.



CHAPTER III


We played whist in the evening, and I went to bed late. I will confess
now that I felt a disagreeable sensation when I entered my state-room. I
could not help thinking of the tall man I had seen on the previous
night, who was now dead, drowned, tossing about in the long swell, two
or three hundred miles astern. His face rose very distinctly before me
as I undressed, and I even went so far as to draw back the curtains of
the upper berth, as though to persuade myself that he was actually gone.
I also bolted the door of the state-room. Suddenly I became aware that
the porthole was open, and fastened back. This was more than I could
stand. I hastily threw on my dressing-gown and went in search of Robert,
the steward of my passage. I was very angry, I remember, and when I
found him I dragged him roughly to the door of 105, and pushed him
towards the open porthole.

"What the deuce do you mean, you scoundrel, by leaving that port open
every night? Don't you know it is against the regulations? Don't you
know that if the ship heeled and the water began to come in, ten men
could not shut it? I will report you to the captain, you blackguard, for
endangering the ship!"

I was exceedingly wroth. The man trembled and turned pale, and then
began to shut the round glass plate with the heavy brass fittings.

"Why don't you answer me?" I said roughly.

"If you please, sir," faltered Robert, "there's nobody on board as can
keep this 'ere port shut at night. You can try it yourself, sir. I ain't
a-going to stop hany longer on board o' this vessel, sir; I ain't,
indeed. But if I was you, sir, I'd just clear out and go and sleep with
the surgeon, or something, I would. Look 'ere, sir, is that fastened
what you may call securely, or not, sir? Try it, sir, see if it will
move a hinch."

I tried the port, and found it perfectly tight.

"Well, sir," continued Robert, triumphantly, "I wager my reputation as a
A1 steward that in 'arf an hour it will be open again; fastened back,
too, sir, that's the horful thing--fastened back!"

I examined the great screw and the looped nut that ran on it.

"If I find it open in the night, Robert, I will give you a sovereign. It
is not possible. You may go."

"Soverin' did you say, sir? Very good, sir. Thank ye, sir. Good-night,
sir. Pleasant reepose, sir, and all manner of hinchantin' dreams, sir."

Robert scuttled away, delighted at being released. Of course, I thought
he was trying to account for his negligence by a silly story, intended
to frighten me, and I disbelieved him. The consequence was that he got
his sovereign, and I spent a very peculiarly unpleasant night.

I went to bed, and five minutes after I had rolled myself up in my
blankets the inexorable Robert extinguished the light that burned
steadily behind the ground-glass pane near the door. I lay quite still
in the dark trying to go to sleep, but I soon found that impossible. It
had been some satisfaction to be angry with the steward, and the
diversion had banished that unpleasant sensation I had at first
experienced when I thought of the drowned man who had been my chum; but
I was no longer sleepy, and I lay awake for some time, occasionally
glancing at the porthole, which I could just see from where I lay, and
which, in the darkness, looked like a faintly luminous soup-plate
suspended in blackness. I believe I must have lain there for an hour,
and, as I remember, I was just dozing into sleep when I was roused by a
draught of cold air, and by distinctly feeling the spray of the sea
blown upon my face. I started to my feet, and not having allowed in the
dark for the motion of the ship, I was instantly thrown violently across
the state-room upon the couch which was placed beneath the porthole. I
recovered myself immediately, however, and climbed upon my knees. The
porthole was again wide open and fastened back!

Now these things are facts. I was wide awake when I got up, and I
should certainly have been waked by the fall had I still been dozing.
Moreover, I bruised my elbows and knees badly, and the bruises were
there on the following morning to testify to the fact, if I myself had
doubted it. The porthole was wide open and fastened back--a thing so
unaccountable that I remember very well feeling astonishment rather than
fear when I discovered it. I at once closed the plate again, and screwed
down the loop nut with all my strength. It was very dark in the
state-room. I reflected that the port had certainly been opened within
an hour after Robert had at first shut it in my presence, and I
determined to watch it, and see whether it would open again. Those brass
fittings are very heavy and by no means easy to move; I could not
believe that the clump had been turned by the shaking of the screw. I
stood peering out through the thick glass at the alternate white and
grey streaks of the sea that foamed beneath the ship's side. I must have
remained there a quarter of an hour.

Suddenly, as I stood, I distinctly heard something moving behind me in
one of the berths, and a moment afterwards, just as I turned
instinctively to look--though I could, of course, see nothing in the
darkness--I heard a very faint groan. I sprang across the state-room,
and tore the curtains of the upper berth aside, thrusting in my hands to
discover if there were any one there. There was some one.

I remember that the sensation as I put my hands forward was as though I
were plunging them into the air of a damp cellar, and from behind the
curtains came a gust of wind that smelled horribly of stagnant
sea-water. I laid hold of something that had the shape of a man's arm,
but was smooth, and wet, and icy cold. But suddenly, as I pulled, the
creature sprang violently forward against me, a clammy, oozy mass, as it
seemed to me, heavy and wet, yet endowed with a sort of supernatural
strength. I reeled across the state-room, and in an instant the door
opened and the thing rushed out. I had not had time to be frightened,
and quickly recovering myself, I sprang through the door and gave chase
at the top of my speed, but I was too late. Ten yards before me I could
see--I am sure I saw it--a dark shadow moving in the dimly lighted
passage, quickly as the shadow of a fast horse thrown before a dogcart
by the lamp on a dark night. But in a moment it had disappeared, and I
found myself holding on to the polished rail that ran along the bulkhead
where the passage turned towards the companion. My hair stood on end,
and the cold perspiration rolled down my face. I am not ashamed of it
in the least: I was very badly frightened.

Still I doubted my senses, and pulled myself together. It was absurd, I
thought. The Welsh rarebit I had eaten had disagreed with me. I had been
in a nightmare. I made my way back to my state-room, and entered it with
an effort. The whole place smelled of stagnant sea-water, as it had when
I had waked on the previous evening. It required my utmost strength to
go in, and grope among my things for a box of wax lights. As I lighted a
railway reading lantern which I always carry in case I want to read
after the lamps are out, I perceived that the porthole was again open,
and a sort of creeping horror began to take possession of me which I
never felt before, nor wish to feel again. But I got a light and
proceeded to examine the upper berth, expecting to find it drenched with
sea-water.

But I was disappointed. The bed had been slept in, and the smell of the
sea was strong; but the bedding was as dry as a bone. I fancied that
Robert had not had the courage to make the bed after the accident of the
previous night--it had all been a hideous dream. I drew the curtains
back as far as I could and examined the place very carefully. It was
perfectly dry. But the porthole was open again. With a sort of dull
bewilderment of horror I closed it and screwed it down, and thrusting
my heavy stick through the brass loop, wrenched it with all my might,
till the thick metal began to bend under the pressure. Then I hooked my
reading lantern into the red velvet at the head of the couch, and sat
down to recover my senses if I could. I sat there all night, unable to
think of rest--hardly able to think at all. But the porthole remained
closed, and I did not believe it would now open again without the
application of a considerable force.

The morning dawned at last, and I dressed myself slowly, thinking over
all that had happened in the night. It was a beautiful day and I went on
deck, glad to get out into the early, pure sunshine, and to smell the
breeze from the blue water, so different from the noisome, stagnant
odour of my state-room. Instinctively I turned aft, towards the
surgeon's cabin. There he stood, with a pipe in his mouth, taking his
morning airing precisely as on the preceding day.

"Good-morning," said he quietly, but looking at me with evident
curiosity.

"Doctor, you were quite right," said I. "There is something wrong about
that place."

"I thought you would change your mind," he answered, rather
triumphantly. "You have had a bad night, eh? Shall I make you a
pick-me-up? I have a capital recipe."

"No, thanks," I cried. "But I would like to tell you what happened."

I then tried to explain as clearly as possible precisely what had
occurred, not omitting to state that I had been scared as I had never
been scared in my whole life before. I dwelt particularly on the
phenomenon of the porthole, which was a fact to which I could testify,
even if the rest had been an illusion. I had closed it twice in the
night, and the second time I had actually bent the brass in wrenching it
with my stick. I believe I insisted a good deal on this point.

"You seem to think I am likely to doubt the story," said the doctor,
smiling at the detailed account of the state of the porthole. "I do not
doubt it in the least. I renew my invitation to you. Bring your traps
here, and take half my cabin."

"Come and take half of mine for one night," I said. "Help me to get at
the bottom of this thing."

"You will get to the bottom of something else if you try," answered the
doctor.

"What?" I asked.

"The bottom of the sea. I am going to leave this ship. It is not canny."

"Then you will not help me to find out--"

"Not I," said the doctor, quickly. "It is my business to keep my wits
about me--not to go fiddling about with ghosts and things."

"Do you really believe it is a ghost?" I enquired, rather
contemptuously. But as I spoke I remembered very well the horrible
sensation of the supernatural which had got possession of me during the
night. The doctor turned sharply on me.

"Have you any reasonable explanation of these things to offer?" he
asked. "No; you have not. Well, you say you will find an explanation. I
say that you won't, sir, simply because there is not any."

"But, my dear sir," I retorted, "do you, a man of science, mean to tell
me that such things cannot be explained?"

"I do," he answered stoutly. "And, if they could, I would not be
concerned in the explanation."

I did not care to spend another night alone in the state-room, and yet I
was obstinately determined to get at the root of the disturbances. I do
not believe there are many men who would have slept there alone, after
passing two such nights. But I made up my mind to try it, if I could not
get any one to share a watch with me. The doctor was evidently not
inclined for such an experiment. He said he was a surgeon, and that in
case any accident occurred on board he must be always in readiness. He
could not afford to have his nerves unsettled. Perhaps he was quite
right, but I am inclined to think that his precaution was prompted by
his inclination. On enquiry, he informed me that there was no one on
board who would be likely to join me in my investigations, and after a
little more conversation I left him. A little later I met the captain,
and told him my story. I said that, if no one would spend the night with
me, I would ask leave to have the light burning all night, and would try
it alone.

"Look here," said he, "I will tell you what I will do. I will share your
watch myself, and we will see what happens. It is my belief that we can
find out between us. There may be some fellow skulking on board, who
steals a passage by frightening the passengers. It is just possible that
there may be something queer in the carpentering of that berth."

I suggested taking the ship's carpenter below and examining the place;
but I was overjoyed at the captain's offer to spend the night with me.
He accordingly sent for the workman and ordered him to do anything I
required. We went below at once. I had all the bedding cleared out of
the upper berth, and we examined the place thoroughly to see if there
was a board loose anywhere, or a panel which could be opened or pushed
aside. We tried the planks everywhere, tapped the flooring, unscrewed
the fittings of the lower berth and took it to pieces--in short, there
was not a square inch of the state-room which was not searched and
tested. Everything was in perfect order, and we put everything back in
its place. As we were finishing our work, Robert came to the door and
looked in.

"Well, sir--find anything, sir?" he asked, with a ghastly grin.

"You were right about the porthole, Robert," I said, and I gave him the
promised sovereign. The carpenter did his work silently and skilfully,
following my directions. When he had done he spoke.

"I'm a plain man, sir," he said. "But it's my belief you had better just
turn out your things, and let me run half a dozen four-inch screws
through the door of this cabin. There's no good never came o' this cabin
yet, sir, and that's all about it. There's been four lives lost out o'
here to my own remembrance, and that in four trips. Better give it up,
sir--better give it up!"

"I will try it for one night more," I said.

"Better give it up, sir--better give it up! It's a precious bad job,"
repeated the workman, putting his tools in his bag and leaving the
cabin.

But my spirits had risen considerably at the prospect of having the
captain's company, and I made up my mind not to be prevented from going
to the end of the strange business. I abstained from Welsh rarebits and
grog that evening, and did not even join in the customary game of whist.
I wanted to be quite sure of my nerves, and my vanity made me anxious to
make a good figure in the captain's eyes.



CHAPTER IV


The captain was one of those splendidly tough and cheerful specimens of
seafaring humanity whose combined courage, hardihood, and calmness in
difficulty leads them naturally into high positions of trust. He was not
the man to be led away by an idle tale, and the mere fact that he was
willing to join me in the investigation was proof that he thought there
was something seriously wrong, which could not be accounted for on
ordinary theories, nor laughed down as a common superstition. To some
extent, too, his reputation was at stake, as well as the reputation of
the ship. It is no light thing to lose passengers overboard, and he knew
it.

About ten o'clock that evening, as I was smoking a last cigar, he came
up to me, and drew me aside from the beat of the other passengers who
were patrolling the deck in the warm darkness.

"This is a serious matter, Mr. Brisbane," he said. "We must make up our
minds either way--to be disappointed or to have a pretty rough time of
it. You see I cannot afford to laugh at the affair, and I will ask you
to sign your name to a statement of whatever occurs. If nothing happens
to-night, we will try it again to-morrow and next day. Are you ready?"

So we went below, and entered the state-room. As we went in I could see
Robert the steward, who stood a little further down the passage,
watching us, with his usual grin, as though certain that something
dreadful was about to happen. The captain closed the door behind us and
bolted it.

"Supposing we put your portmanteau before the door," he suggested. "One
of us can sit on it. Nothing can get out then. Is the port screwed
down?"

I found it as I had left it in the morning. Indeed, without using a
lever, as I had done, no one could have opened it. I drew back the
curtains of the upper berth so that I could see well into it. By the
captain's advice I lighted my reading lantern, and placed it so that it
shone upon the white sheets above. He insisted upon sitting on the
portmanteau, declaring that he wished to be able to swear that he had
sat before the door.

Then he requested me to search the stateroom thoroughly, an operation
very soon accomplished, as it consisted merely in looking beneath the
lower berth and under the couch below the porthole. The spaces were
quite empty.

"It is impossible for any human being to get in," I said, "or for any
human being to open the port."

"Very good," said the captain, calmly. "If we see anything now, it must
be either imagination or something supernatural."

I sat down on the edge of the lower berth.

"The first time it happened," said the captain, crossing his legs and
leaning back against the door, "was in March. The passenger who slept
here, in the upper berth, turned out to have been a lunatic--at all
events, he was known to have been a little touched, and he had taken his
passage without the knowledge of his friends. He rushed out in the
middle of the night, and threw himself overboard, before the officer who
had the watch could stop him. We stopped and lowered a boat; it was a
quiet night, just before that heavy weather came on; but we could not
find him. Of course his suicide was afterwards accounted for on the
ground of his insanity."

"I suppose that often happens?" I remarked, rather absently.

"Not often--no," said the captain; "never before in my experience,
though I have heard of it happening on board of other ships. Well, as I
was saying, that occurred in March. On the very next trip--What are you
looking at?" he asked, stopping suddenly in his narration.

I believe I gave no answer. My eyes were riveted upon the porthole. It
seemed to me that the brass loop-nut was beginning to turn very slowly
upon the screw--so slowly, however, that I was not sure it moved at all.
I watched it intently, fixing its position in my mind, and trying to
ascertain whether it changed. Seeing where I was looking, the captain
looked too.

"It moves!" he exclaimed, in a tone of conviction. "No, it does not," he
added, after a minute.

"If it were the jarring of the screw," said I, "it would have opened
during the day; but I found it this evening jammed tight as I left it
this morning."

I rose and tried the nut. It was certainly loosened, for by an effort I
could move it with my hands.

"The queer thing," said the captain, "is that the second man who was
lost is supposed to have got through that very port. We had a terrible
time over it. It was in the middle of the night, and the weather was
very heavy; there was an alarm that one of the ports was open and the
sea running in. I came below and found everything flooded, the water
pouring in every time she rolled, and the whole port swinging from the
top bolts--not the porthole in the middle. Well, we managed to shut it,
but the water did some damage. Ever since that the place smells of
sea-water from time to time. We supposed the passenger had thrown
himself out, though the Lord only knows how he did it. The steward kept
telling me that he cannot keep anything shut here. Upon my word--I can
smell it now, cannot you?" he enquired, sniffing the air suspiciously.

"Yes--distinctly," I said, and I shuddered as that same odour of
stagnant sea-water grew stronger in the cabin. "Now, to smell like this,
the place must be damp," I continued, "and yet when I examined it with
the carpenter this morning everything was perfectly dry. It is most
extraordinary--hallo!"

My reading lantern, which had been placed in the upper berth, was
suddenly extinguished. There was still a good deal of light from the
pane of ground glass near the door, behind which loomed the regulation
lamp. The ship rolled heavily, and the curtain of the upper berth swung
far out into the state-room and back again. I rose quickly from my seat
on the edge of the bed, and the captain at the same moment started to
his feet with a loud cry of surprise. I had turned with the intention of
taking down the lantern to examine it, when I heard his exclamation,
and immediately afterwards his call for help. I sprang towards him. He
was wrestling with all his might with the brass loop of the port. It
seemed to turn against his hands in spite of all his efforts. I caught
up my cane, a heavy oak stick I always used to carry, and thrust it
through the ring and bore on it with all my strength. But the strong
wood snapped suddenly, and I fell upon the couch. When I rose again the
port was wide open, and the captain was standing with his back against
the door, pale to the lips.

"There is something in that berth!" he cried, in a strange voice, his
eyes almost starting from his head. "Hold the door, while I look--it
shall not escape us, whatever it is!"

But instead of taking his place, I sprang upon the lower bed, and seized
something which lay in the upper berth.

It was something ghostly, horrible beyond words, and it moved in my
grip. It was like the body of a man long drowned, and yet it moved, and
had the strength of ten men living; but I gripped it with all my
might--the slippery, oozy, horrible thing--the dead white eyes seemed to
stare at me out of the dusk; the putrid odour of rank sea-water was
about it, and its shiny hair hung in foul wet curls over its dead face.
I wrestled with the dead thing; it thrust itself upon me and forced me
back and nearly broke my arms; it wound its corpse's arms about my neck,
the living death, and overpowered me, so that I, at last, cried aloud
and fell, and left my hold.

As I fell the thing sprang across me, and seemed to throw itself upon
the captain. When I last saw him on his feet his face was white and his
lips set. It seemed to me that he struck a violent blow at the dead
being, and then he, too, fell forward upon his face, with an
inarticulate cry of horror.

The thing paused an instant, seeming to hover over his prostrate body,
and I could have screamed again for very fright, but I had no voice
left. The thing vanished suddenly, and it seemed to my disturbed senses
that it made its exit through the open port, though how that was
possible, considering the smallness of the aperture, is more than any
one can tell. I lay a long time upon the floor, and the captain lay
beside me. At last I partially recovered my senses and moved, and
instantly I knew that my arm was broken--the small bone of the left
forearm near the wrist.

I got upon my feet somehow, and with my remaining hand I tried to raise
the captain. He groaned and moved, and at last came to himself. He was
not hurt, but he seemed badly stunned.

Well, do you want to hear any more? There is nothing more. That is the
end of my story. The carpenter carried out his scheme of running half a
dozen four-inch screws through the door of 105; and if ever you take a
passage in the _Kamtschatka_, you may ask for a berth in that
state-room. You will be told that it is engaged--yes--it is engaged by
that dead thing.

I finished the trip in the surgeon's cabin. He doctored my broken arm,
and advised me not to "fiddle about with ghosts and things" any more.
The captain was very silent, and never sailed again in that ship, though
it is still running. And I will not sail in her either. It was a very
disagreeable experience, and I was very badly frightened, which is a
thing I do not like. That is all. That is how I saw a ghost--if it was a
ghost. It was dead, anyhow.



BY THE WATERS OF PARADISE


I remember my childhood very distinctly. I do not think that the fact
argues a good memory, for I have never been clever at learning words by
heart, in prose or rhyme; so that I believe my remembrance of events
depends much more upon the events themselves than upon my possessing any
special facility for recalling them. Perhaps I am too imaginative, and
the earliest impressions I received were of a kind to stimulate the
imagination abnormally. A long series of little misfortunes, connected
with each other so as to suggest a sort of weird fatality, so worked
upon my melancholy temperament when I was a boy that, before I was of
age, I sincerely believed myself to be under a curse, and not only
myself, but my whole family, and every individual who bore my name.

I was born in the old place where my father, and his father, and all his
predecessors had been born, beyond the memory of man. It is a very old
house, and the greater part of it was originally a castle, strongly
fortified, and surrounded by a deep moat supplied with abundant water
from the hills by a hidden aqueduct. Many of the fortifications have
been destroyed, and the moat has been filled up. The water from the
aqueduct supplies great fountains, and runs down into huge oblong basins
in the terraced gardens, one below the other, each surrounded by a broad
pavement of marble between the water and the flower-beds. The waste
surplus finally escapes through an artificial grotto, some thirty yards
long, into a stream, flowing down through the park to the meadows
beyond, and thence to the distant river. The buildings were extended a
little and greatly altered more than two hundred years ago, in the time
of Charles II., but since then little has been done to improve them,
though they have been kept in fairly good repair, according to our
fortunes.

In the gardens there are terraces and huge hedges of box and evergreen,
some of which used to be clipped into shapes of animals, in the Italian
style. I can remember when I was a lad how I used to try to make out
what the trees were cut to represent, and how I used to appeal for
explanations to Judith, my Welsh nurse. She dealt in a strange mythology
of her own, and peopled the gardens with griffins, dragons, good genii
and bad, and filled my mind with them at the same time. My nursery
window afforded a view of the great fountains at the head of the upper
basin, and on moonlight nights the Welshwoman would hold me up to the
glass, and bid me look at the mist and spray rising into mysterious
shapes, moving mystically in the white light like living things.

"It's the Woman of the Water," she used to say; and sometimes she would
threaten that, if I did not go to sleep, the Woman of the Water would
steal up to the high window and carry me away in her wet arms.

The place was gloomy. The broad basins of water and the tall evergreen
hedges gave it a funereal look, and the damp-stained marble causeways by
the pools might have been made of tombstones. The grey and
weather-beaten walls and towers without, the dark and massively
furnished rooms within, the deep, mysterious recesses and the heavy
curtains, all affected my spirits. I was silent and sad from my
childhood. There was a great clock-tower above, from which the hours
rang dismally during the day and tolled like a knell in the dead of
night. There was no light nor life in the house, for my mother was a
helpless invalid, and my father had grown melancholy in his long task of
caring for her. He was a thin, dark man, with sad eyes; kind, I think,
but silent and unhappy. Next to my mother, I believe he loved me better
than anything on earth, for he took immense pains and trouble in
teaching me, and what he taught me I have never forgotten. Perhaps it
was his only amusement, and that may be the reason why I had no nursery
governess or teacher of any kind while he lived.

I used to be taken to see my mother every day, and sometimes twice a
day, for an hour at a time. Then I sat upon a little stool near her
feet, and she would ask me what I had been doing, and what I wanted to
do. I dare say she saw already the seeds of a profound melancholy in my
nature, for she looked at me always with a sad smile, and kissed me with
a sigh when I was taken away.

One night, when I was just six years old, I lay awake in the nursery.
The door was not quite shut, and the Welsh nurse was sitting sewing in
the next room. Suddenly I heard her groan, and say in a strange voice.
"One--two--one--two!" I was frightened, and I jumped up and ran to the
door, barefooted as I was.

"What is it, Judith?" I cried, clinging to her skirts. I can remember
the look in her strange dark eyes as she answered.

"One--two leaden coffins, fallen from the ceiling!" she crooned, working
herself in her chair. "One--two--a light coffin and a heavy coffin,
falling to the floor!"

Then she seemed to notice me, and she took me back to bed and sang me to
sleep with a queer old Welsh song.

I do not know how it was, but the impression got hold of me that she
had meant that my father and mother were going to die very soon. They
died in the very room where she had been sitting that night. It was a
great room, my day nursery, full of sun when there was any; and when the
days were dark it was the most cheerful place in the house. My mother
grew rapidly worse, and I was transferred to another part of the
building to make place for her. They thought my nursery was gayer for
her, I suppose; but she could not live. She was beautiful when she was
dead, and I cried bitterly.

"The light one, the light one--the heavy one to come," crooned the
Welshwoman. And she was right. My father took the room after my mother
was gone, and day by day he grew thinner and paler and sadder.

"The heavy one, the heavy one--all of lead," moaned my nurse, one night
in December, standing still, just as she was going to take away the
light after putting me to bed. Then she took me up again, and wrapped me
in a little gown, and led me away to my father's room. She knocked, but
no one answered. She opened the door, and we found him in his easy-chair
before the fire, very white, quite dead.

So I was alone with the Welshwoman till strange people came, and
relations, whom I had never seen; and then I heard them saying that I
must be taken away to some more cheerful place. They were kind people,
and I will not believe that they were kind only because I was to be very
rich when I grew to be a man. The world never seemed to be a very bad
place to me, nor all the people to be miserable sinners, even when I was
most melancholy. I do not remember that any one ever did me any great
injustice, nor that I was ever oppressed or ill-treated in any way, even
by the boys at school. I was sad, I suppose, because my childhood was so
gloomy, and, later, because I was unlucky in everything I undertook,
till I finally believed I was pursued by fate, and I used to dream that
the old Welsh nurse and the Woman of the Water between them had vowed to
pursue me to my end. But my natural disposition should have been
cheerful, as I have often thought.

Among lads of my age I was never last, or even among the last, in
anything; but I was never first. If I trained for a race, I was sure to
sprain my ankle on the day when I was to run. If I pulled an oar with
others, my oar was sure to break. If I competed for a prize, some
unforseen accident prevented my winning it at the last moment. Nothing
to which I put my hand succeeded, and I got the reputation of being
unlucky, until my companions felt it was always safe to bet against me,
no matter what the appearances might be. I became discouraged and
listless in everything. I gave up the idea of competing for any
distinction at the University, comforting myself with the thought that I
could not fail in the examination for the ordinary degree. The day
before the examination began I fell ill; and when at last I recovered,
after a narrow escape from death, I turned my back upon Oxford, and went
down alone to visit the old place where I had been born, feeble in
health and profoundly disgusted and discouraged. I was twenty-one years
of age, master of myself and of my fortune; but so deeply had the long
chain of small unlucky circumstances affected me, that I thought
seriously of shutting myself up from the world to live the life of a
hermit, and to die as soon as possible. Death seemed the only cheerful
possibility in my existence, and my thoughts soon dwelt upon it
altogether.

I had never shown any wish to return to my own home since I had been
taken away as a little boy, and no one had ever pressed me to do so. The
place had been kept in order after a fashion, and did not seem to have
suffered during the fifteen years or more of my absence. Nothing earthly
could affect those old grey walls that had fought the elements for so
many centuries. The garden was more wild than I remembered it; the
marble causeways about the pools looked more yellow and damp than of
old, and the whole place at first looked smaller. It was not until I had
wandered about the house and grounds for many hours that I realised the
huge size of the home where I was to live in solitude. Then I began to
delight in it, and my resolution to live alone grew stronger.

The people had turned out to welcome me, of course, and I tried to
recognise the changed faces of the old gardener and the old housekeeper,
and to call them by name. My old nurse I knew at once. She had grown
very grey since she heard the coffins fall in the nursery fifteen years
before, but her strange eyes were the same, and the look in them woke
all my old memories. She went over the house with me.

"And how is the Woman of the Water?" I asked, trying to laugh a little.
"Does she still play in the moonlight?"

"She is hungry," answered the Welshwoman, in a low voice.

"Hungry? Then we will feed her." I laughed. But old Judith turned very
pale, and looked at me strangely.

"Feed her? Ay--you will feed her well," she muttered, glancing behind
her at the ancient housekeeper, who tottered after us with feeble steps
through the halls and passages.

I did not think much of her words. She had always talked oddly, as
Welshwomen will, and though I was very melancholy I am sure I was not
superstitious, and I was certainly not timid. Only, as in a far-off
dream, I seemed to see her standing with the light in her hand and
muttering, "The heavy one--all of lead," and then leading a little boy
through the long corridors to see his father lying dead in a great
easy-chair before a smouldering fire. So we went over the house, and I
chose the rooms where I would live; and the servants I had brought with
me ordered and arranged everything, and I had no more trouble. I did not
care what they did, provided I was left in peace, and was not expected
to give directions; for I was more listless than ever, owing to the
effects of my illness at college.

I dined in solitary state, and the melancholy grandeur of the vast old
dining-room pleased me. Then I went to the room I had selected for my
study, and sat down in a deep chair, under a bright light, to think, or
to let my thoughts meander through labyrinths of their own choosing,
utterly indifferent to the course they might take.

The tall windows of the room opened to the level of the ground upon the
terrace at the head of the garden. It was in the end of July, and
everything was open, for the weather was warm. As I sat alone I heard
the unceasing plash of the great fountains, and I fell to thinking of
the Woman of the Water. I rose, and went out into the still night, and
sat down upon a seat on the terrace, between two gigantic Italian
flower-pots. The air was deliciously soft and sweet with the smell of
the flowers, and the garden was more congenial to me than the house. Sad
people always like running water and the sound of it at night, though I
cannot tell why. I sat and listened in the gloom, for it was dark below,
and the pale moon had not yet climbed over the hills in front of me,
though all the air above was light with her rising beams. Slowly the
white halo in the eastern sky ascended in an arch above the wooded
crests, making the outline of the mountains more intensely black by
contrast, as though the head of some great white saint were rising from
behind a screen in a vast cathedral, throwing misty glories from below.
I longed to see the moon herself, and I tried to reckon the seconds
before she must appear. Then she sprang up quickly, and in a moment more
hung round and perfect in the sky. I gazed at her, and then at the
floating spray of the tall fountains, and down at the pools, where the
water-lilies were rocking softly in their sleep on the velvet surface
of the moonlit water. Just then a great swan floated out silently into
the midst of the basin, and wreathed his long neck, catching the water
in his broad bill, and scattering showers of diamonds around him.

Suddenly, as I gazed, something came between me and the light. I looked
up instantly. Between me and the round disc of the moon rose a luminous
face of a woman, with great strange eyes, and a woman's mouth, full and
soft, but not smiling, hooded in black, staring at me as I sat still
upon my bench. She was close to me--so close that I could have touched
her with my hand. But I was transfixed and helpless. She stood still for
a moment, but her expression did not change. Then she passed swiftly
away, and my hair stood up on my head, while the cold breeze from her
white dress was wafted to my temples as she moved. The moonlight,
shining through the tossing spray of the fountain, made traceries of
shadow on the gleaming folds of her garments. In an instant she was
gone, and I was alone.

I was strangely shaken by the vision, and some time passed before I
could rise to my feet, for I was still weak from my illness, and the
sight I had seen would have startled any one. I did not reason with
myself, for I was certain that I had looked on the unearthly, and no
argument could have destroyed that belief. At last I got up and stood
unsteadily, gazing in the direction in which I thought the figure had
gone; but there was nothing to be seen--nothing but the broad paths, the
tall, dark evergreen hedges, the tossing water of the fountains and the
smooth pool below. I fell back upon the seat and recalled the face I had
seen. Strange to say, now that the first impression had passed, there
was nothing startling in the recollection; on the contrary, I felt that
I was fascinated by the face, and would give anything to see it again. I
could retrace the beautiful straight features, the long dark eyes and
the wonderful mouth, most exactly in my mind, and, when I had
reconstructed every detail from memory, I knew that the whole was
beautiful, and that I should love a woman with such a face.

"I wonder whether she is the Woman of the Water!" I said to myself. Then
rising once more I wandered down the garden, descending one short flight
of steps after another, from terrace to terrace by the edge of the
marble basins, through the shadow and through the moonlight; and I
crossed the water by the rustic bridge above the artificial grotto, and
climbed slowly up again to the highest terrace by the other side. The
air seemed sweeter, and I was very calm, so that I think I smiled to
myself as I walked, as though a new happiness had come to me. The
woman's face seemed always before me, and the thought of it gave me an
unwonted thrill of pleasure, unlike anything I had ever felt before.

I turned, as I reached the house, and looked back upon the scene. It had
certainly changed in the short hour since I had come out, and my mood
had changed with it. Just like my luck, I thought, to fall in love with
a ghost! But in old times I would have sighed, and gone to bed more sad
than ever, at such a melancholy conclusion. To-night I felt happy,
almost for the first time in my life. The gloomy old study seemed
cheerful when I went in. The old pictures on the walls smiled at me, and
I sat down in my deep chair with a new and delightful sensation that I
was not alone. The idea of having seen a ghost, and of feeling much the
better for it, was so absurd that I laughed softly, as I took up one of
the books I had brought with me and began to read.

That impression did not wear off. I slept peacefully, and in the morning
I threw open my windows to the summer air, and looked down at the
garden, at the stretches of green and at the coloured flower-beds, at
the circling swallows, and at the bright water.

"A man might make a paradise of this place," I exclaimed. "A man and a
woman together!"

From that day the old castle no longer seemed gloomy, and I think I
ceased to be sad; for some time, too, I began to take an interest in the
place, and to try and make it more alive. I avoided my old Welsh nurse,
lest she should damp my humour with some dismal prophecy, and recall my
old self by bringing back memories of my dismal childhood. But what I
thought of most was the ghostly figure I had seen in the garden that
first night after my arrival. I went out every evening and wandered
through the walks and paths; but, try as I might, I did not see my
vision again. At last, after many days, the memory grew more faint, and
my old moody nature gradually overcame the temporary sense of lightness
I had experienced. The summer turned to autumn, and I grew restless. It
began to rain. The dampness pervaded the gardens, and the outer halls
smelled musty, like tombs; the grey sky oppressed me intolerably. I left
the place as it was and went abroad, determined to try anything which
might possibly make a second break in the monotonous melancholy from
which I suffered.



CHAPTER II


Most people would be struck by the utter insignificance of the small
events which, after the death of my parents influenced my life and made
me unhappy. The gruesome forebodings of a Welsh nurse, which chanced to
be realised by an odd coincidence of events, should not seem enough to
change the nature of a child, and to direct the bent of his character in
after years. The little disappointments of schoolboy life, and the
somewhat less childish ones of an uneventful and undistinguished
academic career, should not have sufficed to turn me out at
one-and-twenty years of age a melancholic, listless idler. Some weakness
of my own character may have contributed to the result, but in a greater
degree it was due to my having a reputation for bad luck. However, I
will not try to analyse the causes of my state, for I should satisfy
nobody, least of all myself. Still less will I attempt to explain why I
felt a temporary revival of my spirits after my adventure in the garden.
It is certain that I was in love with the face I had seen, and that I
longed to see it again; that I gave up all hope of a second visitation,
grew more sad than ever, packed up my traps, and finally went abroad.
But in my dreams I went back to my home, and it always appeared to me
sunny and bright, as it had looked on that summer's morning after I had
seen the woman by the fountain.

I went to Paris. I went further, and wandered about Germany. I tried to
amuse myself, and I failed miserably. With the aimless whims of an idle
and useless man, came all sorts of suggestions for good resolutions. One
day I made up my mind that I would go and bury myself in a German
university for a time, and live simply like a poor student. I started
with the intention of going to Leipzic, determined to stay there until
some event should direct my life or change my humour, or make an end of
me altogether. The express train stopped at some station of which I did
not know the name. It was dusk on a winter's afternoon, and I peered
through the thick glass from my seat. Suddenly another train came
gliding in from the opposite direction, and stopped alongside of ours. I
looked at the carriage which chanced to be abreast of mine, and idly
read the black letters painted on a white board swinging from the brass
handrail: "BERLIN--COLOGNE--PARIS." Then I looked up at the window
above. I started violently and the cold perspiration broke out upon my
forehead. In the dim light, not six feet from where I sat, I saw the
face of a woman, the face I loved, the straight, fine features, the
strange eyes, the wonderful mouth, the pale skin. Her head-dress was a
dark veil which seemed to be tied about her head and passed over the
shoulders under her chin. As I threw down the window and knelt on the
cushioned seat, leaning far out to get a better view, a long whistle
screamed through the station, followed by a quick series of dull,
clanking sounds; then there was a slight jerk, and my train moved on.
Luckily the window was narrow, being the one over the seat, beside the
door, or I believe I would have jumped out of it then and there. In an
instant the speed increased, and I was being carried swiftly away in the
opposite direction from the thing I loved.

For a quarter of an hour I lay back in my place, stunned by the
suddenness of the apparition. At last one of the two other passengers, a
large and gorgeous captain of the White Königsberg Cuirassiers, civilly
but firmly suggested that I might shut my window, as the evening was
cold. I did so, with an apology, and relapsed into silence. The train
ran swiftly on for a long time, and it was already beginning to slacken
speed before entering another station when I roused myself, and made a
sudden resolution. As the carriage stopped before the brilliantly
lighted platform, I seized my belongings, saluted my fellow-passengers,
and got out, determined to take the first express back to Paris.

This time the circumstances of the vision had been so natural that it
did not strike me that there was anything unreal about the face, or
about the woman to whom it belonged. I did not try to explain to myself
how the face, and the woman, could be travelling by a fast train from
Berlin to Paris on a winter's afternoon, when both were in my mind
indelibly associated with the moonlight and the fountains in my own
English home. I certainly would not have admitted that I had been
mistaken in the dusk, attributing to what I had seen a resemblance to my
former vision which did not really exist. There was not the slightest
doubt in my mind, and I was positively sure that I had again seen the
face I loved. I did not hesitate, and in a few hours I was on my way
back to Paris. I could not help reflecting on my ill-luck. Wandering as
I had been for many months, it might as easily have chanced that I
should be travelling in the same train with that woman, instead of going
the other way. But my luck was destined to turn for a time.

I searched Paris for several days. I dined at the principal hotels; I
went to the theatres; I rode in the Bois de Boulogne in the morning, and
picked up an acquaintance, whom I forced to drive with me in the
afternoon. I went to mass at the Madeleine, and I attended the services
at the English Church. I hung about the Louvre and Notre Dame. I went
to Versailles. I spent hours in parading the Rue de Rivoli, in the
neighbourhood of Meurice's corner, where foreigners pass and re-pass
from morning till night. At last I received an invitation to a reception
at the English Embassy. I went, and I found what I had sought so long.

There she was, sitting by an old lady in grey satin and diamonds, who
had a wrinkled but kindly face and keen grey eyes that seemed to take in
everything they saw, with very little inclination to give much in
return. But I did not notice the chaperon. I saw only the face that had
haunted me for months, and in the excitement of the moment I walked
quickly towards the pair, forgetting such a trifle as the necessity for
an introduction.

She was far more beautiful than I had thought, but I never doubted that
it was she herself and no other. Vision or no vision before, this was
the reality, and I knew it. Twice her hair had been covered, now at last
I saw it, and the added beauty of its magnificence glorified the whole
woman. It was rich hair, fine and abundant, golden, with deep ruddy
tints in it like red bronze spun fine. There was no ornament in it, not
a rose, not a thread of gold, and I felt that it needed nothing to
enhance its splendour; nothing but her pale face, her dark strange
eyes, and her heavy eyebrows. I could see that she was slender, too, but
strong withal, as she sat there quietly gazing at the moving scene in
the midst of the brilliant lights and the hum of perpetual conversation.

I recollected the detail of introduction in time, and turned aside to
look for my host. I found him at last. I begged him to present me to the
two ladies, pointing them out to him at the same time.

"Yes--uh--by all means--uh--" replied his Excellency, with a pleasant
smile. He evidently had no idea of my name, which was not to be wondered
at.

"I am Lord Cairngorm," I observed.

"Oh--by all means," answered the Ambassador, with the same hospitable
smile. "Yes--uh--the fact is, I must try and find out who they are; such
lots of people, you know."

"Oh, if you will present me, I will try and find out for you," said I,
laughing.

"Ah, yes--so kind of you--come along," said my host.

We threaded the crowd, and in a few minutes we stood before the two
ladies.

"'Lowmintrduce L'd Cairngorm," he said; then, adding quickly to me,
"Come and dine to-morrow, won't you?" He glided away with his pleasant
smile, and disappeared in the crowd.

I sat down beside the beautiful girl, conscious that the eyes of the
duenna were upon me.

"I think we have been very near meeting before," I remarked, by way of
opening the conversation.

My companion turned her eyes full upon me with an air of enquiry. She
evidently did not recall my face, if she had ever seen me.

"Really--I cannot remember," she observed, in a low and musical voice.
"When?"

"In the first place, you came down from Berlin by the express, ten days
ago. I was going the other way, and our carriages stopped opposite each
other. I saw you at the window."

"Yes--we came that way, but I do not remember--" She hesitated.

"Secondly," I continued, "I was sitting alone in my garden last
summer--near the end of July--do you remember? You must have wandered in
there through the park; you came up to the house and looked at me--"

"Was that you?" she asked, in evident surprise. Then she broke into a
laugh. "I told everybody I had seen a ghost; there had never been any
Cairngorms in the place since the memory of man. We left the next day,
and never heard that you had come there; indeed, I did not know the
castle belonged to you."

"Where were you staying?" I asked.

"Where? Why, with my aunt, where I always stay. She is your neighbour,
since it _is_ you."

"I--beg your pardon--but then--is your aunt Lady Bluebell? I did not
quite catch--"

"Don't be afraid. She is amazingly deaf. Yes. She is the relict of my
beloved uncle, the sixteenth or seventeenth Baron Bluebell--I forget
exactly how many of them there have been. And I--do you know who I am?"
She laughed, well knowing that I did not.

"No," I answered frankly. "I have not the least idea. I asked to be
introduced because I recognised you. Perhaps--perhaps you are a Miss
Bluebell?"

"Considering that you are a neighbour, I will tell you who I am," she
answered. "No; I am of the tribe of Bluebells, but my name is Lammas,
and I have been given to understand that I was christened Margaret.
Being a floral family, they call me Daisy. A dreadful American man once
told me that my aunt was a Bluebell and that I was a Harebell--with two
l's and an e--because my hair is so thick. I warn you, so that you may
avoid making such a bad pun."

"Do I look like a man who makes puns?" I asked, being very conscious of
my melancholy face and sad looks.

Miss Lammas eyed me critically.

"No; you have a mournful temperament. I think I can trust you," she
answered. "Do you think you could communicate to my aunt the fact that
you are a Cairngorm and a neighbour? I am sure she would like to know."

I leaned towards the old lady, inflating my lungs for a yell. But Miss
Lammas stopped me.

"That is not of the slightest use," she remarked. "You can write it on a
bit of paper. She is utterly deaf."

"I have a pencil," I answered, "but I have no paper. Would my cuff do,
do you think?"

"Oh yes!" replied Miss Lammas, with alacrity; "men often do that."

I wrote on my cuff: "Miss Lammas wishes me to explain that I am your
neighbour, Cairngorm." Then I held out my arm before the old lady's
nose. She seemed perfectly accustomed to the proceeding, put up her
glasses, read the words, smiled, nodded, and addressed me in the
unearthly voice peculiar to people who hear nothing.

"I knew your grandfather very well," she said. Then she smiled and
nodded to me again, and to her niece, and relapsed into silence.

"It is all right," remarked Miss Lammas. "Aunt Bluebell knows she is
deaf, and does not say much, like the parrot. You see, she knew your
grandfather. How odd, that we should be neighbours! Why have we never
met before?"

"If you had told me you knew my grandfather when you appeared in the
garden, I should not have been in the least surprised," I answered
rather irrelevantly. "I really thought you were the ghost of the old
fountain. How in the world did you come there at that hour?"

"We were a large party, and we went out for a walk. Then we thought we
should like to see what your park was like in the moonlight, and so we
trespassed. I got separated from the rest, and came upon you by
accident, just as I was admiring the extremely ghostly look of your
house, and wondering whether anybody would ever come and live there
again. It looks like the castle of Macbeth, or a scene from the opera.
Do you know anybody here?"

"Hardly a soul. Do you?"

"No. Aunt Bluebell said it was our duty to come. It is easy for her to
go out; she does not bear the burden of the conversation."

"I am sorry you find it a burden," said I. "Shall I go away?"

Miss Lammas looked at me with a sudden gravity in her beautiful eyes,
and there was a sort of hesitation about the lines of her full, soft
mouth.

"No," she said at last, quite simply, "don't go away. We may like each
other, if you stay a little longer--and we ought to because we are
neighbours in the country."

I suppose I ought to have thought Miss Lammas a very odd girl. There is,
indeed, a sort of freemasonry between people who discover that they live
near each other, and that they ought to have known each other before.
But there was a sort of unexpected frankness and simplicity in the
girl's amusing manner which would have struck any one else as being
singular, to say the least of it. To me, however, it all seemed natural
enough. I had dreamed of her face too long not to be utterly happy when
I met her at last, and could talk to her as much as I pleased. To me,
the man of ill-luck in everything, the whole meeting seemed too good to
be true. I felt again that strange sensation of lightness which I had
experienced after I had seen her face in the garden. The great rooms
seemed brighter, life seemed worth living; my sluggish, melancholy blood
ran faster, and filled me with a new sense of strength. I said to myself
that without this woman I was but an imperfect being, but that with her
I could accomplish everything to which I should set my hand. Like the
great Doctor, when he thought he had cheated Mephistopheles at last, I
could have cried aloud to the fleeting moment, _Verweile doch du bist
so schön_!

"Are you always gay?" I asked suddenly. "How happy you must be!"

"The days would sometimes seem very long if I were gloomy," she answered
thoughtfully. "Yes, I think I find life very pleasant, and I tell it
so."

"How can you 'tell life' anything?" I enquired. "If I could catch my
life and talk to it, I would abuse it prodigiously, I assure you."

"I dare say. You have a melancholy temper. You ought to live out of
doors, dig potatoes, make hay, shoot, hunt, tumble into ditches, and
come home muddy and hungry for dinner. It would be much better for you
than moping in your rook tower, and hating everything."

"It is rather lonely down there," I murmured apologetically, feeling
that Miss Lammas was quite right.

"Then marry, and quarrel with your wife," she laughed. "Anything is
better than being alone."

"I am a very peaceable person. I never quarrel with anybody. You can try
it. You will find it quite impossible."

"Will you let me try?" she asked, still smiling.

"By all means--especially if it is to be only a preliminary canter," I
answered rashly.

"What do you mean?" she enquired, turning quickly upon me.

"Oh--nothing. You might try my paces with a view to quarrelling in the
future. I cannot imagine how you are going to do it. You will have to
resort to immediate and direct abuse."

"No. I will only say that if you do not like your life, it is your own
fault. How can a man of your age talk of being melancholy, or of the
hollowness of existence? Are you consumptive? Are you subject to
hereditary insanity? Are you deaf, like Aunt Bluebell? Are you poor,
like--lots of people? Have you been crossed in love? Have you lost the
world for a woman, or any particular woman for the sake of the world?
Are you feebleminded, a cripple, an outcast? Are you--repulsively ugly?"
She laughed again. "Is there any reason in the world why you should not
enjoy all you have got in life?"

"No. There is no reason whatever, except that I am dreadfully unlucky,
especially in small things."

"Then try big things, just for a change," suggested Miss Lammas. "Try
and get married, for instance, and see how it turns out."

"If it turned out badly, it would be rather serious."

"Not half so serious as it is to abuse everything unreasonably. If
abuse is your particular talent, abuse something that ought to be
abused. Abuse the Conservatives--or the Liberals--it does not matter
which, since they are always abusing each other. Make yourself felt by
other people. You will like it, if they don't. It will make a man of
you. Fill your mouth with pebbles, and howl at the sea, if you cannot do
anything else. It did Demosthenes no end of good, you know. You will
have the satisfaction of imitating a great man."

"Really, Miss Lammas, I think the list of innocent exercises you
propose--"

"Very well--if you don't care for that sort of thing, care for some
other sort of thing. Care for something, or hate something. Don't be
idle. Life is short, and though art may be long, plenty of noise answers
nearly as well."

"I do care for something--I mean somebody," I said.

"A woman? Then marry her. Don't hesitate."

"I do not know whether she would marry me," I replied. "I have never
asked her."

"Then ask her at once," answered Miss Lammas. "I shall die happy if I
feel I have persuaded a melancholy fellow-creature to rouse himself to
action. Ask her, by all means, and see what she says. If she does not
accept you at once, she may take you the next time. Meanwhile, you will
have entered for the race. If you lose, there are the 'All-aged Trial
Stakes,' and the 'Consolation Race.'"

"And plenty of selling races into the bargain. Shall I take you at your
word, Miss Lammas?"

"I hope you will," she answered.

"Since you yourself advise me, I will. Miss Lammas, will you do me the
honour to marry me?"

For the first time in my life the blood rushed to my head and my sight
swam. I cannot tell why I said it. It would be useless to try to explain
the extraordinary fascination the girl exercised over me, or the still
more extraordinary feeling of intimacy with her which had grown in me
during that half-hour. Lonely, sad, unlucky as I had been all my life, I
was certainly not timid, nor even shy. But to propose to marry a woman
after half an hour's acquaintance was a piece of madness of which I
never believed myself capable, and of which I should never be capable
again, could I be placed in the same situation. It was as though my
whole being had been changed in a moment by magic--by the white magic of
her nature brought into contact with mine. The blood sank back to my
heart, and a moment later I found myself staring at her with anxious
eyes. To my amazement she was as calm as ever, but her beautiful mouth
smiled, and there was a mischievous light in her dark-brown eyes.

"Fairly caught," she answered. "For an individual who pretends to be
listless and sad you are not lacking in humour. I had really not the
least idea what you were going to say. Wouldn't it be singularly awkward
for you if I had said 'Yes'? I never saw anybody begin to practise so
sharply what was preached to him--with so very little loss of time!"

"You probably never met a man who had dreamed of you for seven months
before being introduced."

"No, I never did," she answered gaily. "It smacks of the romantic.
Perhaps you are a romantic character after all. I should think you were,
if I believed you. Very well; you have taken my advice, entered for a
Stranger's Race and lost it. Try the All-aged Trial Stakes. You have
another cuff, and a pencil. Propose to Aunt Bluebell; she would dance
with astonishment, and she might recover her hearing."



CHAPTER III


That was how I first asked Margaret Lammas to be my wife, and I will
agree with any one who says I behaved very foolishly. But I have not
repented of it, and I never shall. I have long ago understood that I was
out of my mind that evening, but I think my temporary insanity on that
occasion has had the effect of making me a saner man ever since. Her
manner turned my head, for it was so different from what I had expected.
To hear this lovely creature, who, in my imagination, was a heroine of
romance, if not of tragedy, talking familiarly and laughing readily was
more than my equanimity could bear, and I lost my head as well as my
heart. But when I went back to England in the spring, I went to make
certain arrangements at the Castle--certain changes and improvements
which would be absolutely necessary. I had won the race for which I had
entered myself so rashly, and we were to be married in June.

Whether the change was due to the orders I had left with the gardener
and the rest of the servants, or to my own state of mind, I cannot tell.
At all events, the old place did not look the same to me when I opened
my window on the morning after my arrival. There were the grey walls
below me, and the grey turrets flanking the huge building; there were
the fountains, the marble causeways, the smooth basins, the tall box
hedges, the water-lilies and the swans, just as of old. But there was
something else there, too--something in the air, in the water, and in
the greenness that I did not recognise--a light over everything by which
everything was transfigured. The clock in the tower struck seven, and
the strokes of the ancient bell sounded like a wedding chime. The air
sang with the thrilling treble of the song-birds, with the silvery music
of the plashing water, and the softer harmony of the leaves stirred by
the fresh morning wind. There was a smell of new-mown hay from the
distant meadows, and of blooming roses from the beds below, wafted up
together to my window. I stood in the pure sunshine and drank the air
and all the sounds and the odours that were in it; and I looked down at
my garden and said, "It is Paradise, after all. I think the men of old
were right when they called heaven a garden, and Eden a garden inhabited
by one man and one woman, the Earthly Paradise."

I turned away, wondering what had become of the gloomy memories I had
always associated with my home. I tried to recall the impression of my
nurse's horrible prophecy before the death of my parents--an impression
which hitherto had been vivid enough. I tried to remember my own self,
my dejection, my listlessness, my bad luck, and my petty
disappointments. I endeavoured to force myself to think as I used to
think, if only to satisfy myself that I had not lost my individuality.
But I succeeded in none of these efforts. I was a different man, a
changed being, incapable of sorrow, of ill-luck, or of sadness. My life
had been a dream, not evil, but infinitely gloomy and hopeless. It was
now a reality, full of hope, gladness, and all manner of good. My home
had been like a tomb; to-day it was Paradise. My heart had been as
though it had not existed; to-day it beat with strength and youth, and
the certainty of realised happiness. I revelled in the beauty of the
world, and called loveliness out of the future to enjoy it before time
should bring it to me, as a traveller in the plains looks up to the
mountains, and already tastes the cool air through the dust of the road.

Here, I thought, we will live and live for years. There we will sit by
the fountain towards evening and in the deep moonlight. Down those paths
we will wander together. On those benches we will rest and talk. Among
those eastern hills we will ride through the soft twilight, and in the
old house we will tell tales on winter nights, when the logs burn high,
and the holly berries are red, and the old clock tolls out the dying
year. On these old steps, in these dark passages and stately rooms,
there will one day be the sound of little pattering feet, and laughing
child-voices will ring up to the vaults of the ancient hall. Those tiny
footsteps shall not be slow and sad as mine were, nor shall the childish
words be spoken in an awed whisper. No gloomy Welshwoman shall people
the dusky corners with weird horrors, nor utter horrid prophecies of
death and ghastly things. All shall be young, and fresh, and joyful, and
happy, and we will turn the old luck again, and forget that there was
ever any sadness.

So I thought, as I looked out of my window that morning and for many
mornings after that, and every day it all seemed more real than ever
before, and much nearer. But the old nurse looked at me askance, and
muttered odd sayings about the Woman of the Water. I cared little what
she said, for I was far too happy.

At last the time came near for the wedding. Lady Bluebell and all the
tribe of Bluebells, as Margaret called them, were at Bluebell Grange,
for we had determined to be married in the country, and to come straight
to the Castle afterwards. We cared little for travelling, and not at
all for a crowded ceremony at St. George's in Hanover Square, with all
the tiresome formalities afterwards. I used to ride over to the Grange
every day, and very often Margaret would come with her aunt and some of
her cousins to the Castle. I was suspicious of my own taste, and was
only too glad to let her have her way about the alterations and
improvements in our home.

We were to be married on the thirtieth of July, and on the evening of
the twenty-eighth Margaret drove over with some of the Bluebell party.
In the long summer twilight we all went out into the garden. Naturally
enough, Margaret and I were left to ourselves, and we wandered down by
the marble basins.

"It is an odd coincidence," I said; "it was on this very night last year
that I first saw you."

"Considering that it is the month of July," answered Margaret, with a
laugh, "and that we have been here almost every day, I don't think the
coincidence is so extraordinary, after all."

"No, dear," said I, "I suppose not. I don't know why it struck me. We
shall very likely be here a year from to-day, and a year from that. The
odd thing, when I think of it, is that you should be here at all. But my
luck has turned. I ought not to think anything odd that happens now that
I have you. It is all sure to be good."

"A slight change in your ideas since that remarkable performance of
yours in Paris," said Margaret. "Do you know, I thought you were the
most extraordinary man I had ever met."

"I thought you were the most charming woman I have ever seen. I
naturally did not want to lose any time in frivolities. I took you at
your word, I followed your advice, I asked you to marry me, and this is
the delightful result--what's the matter?"

Margaret had started suddenly, and her hand tightened on my arm. An old
woman was coming up the path, and was close to us before we saw her, for
the moon had risen, and was shining full in our faces. The woman turned
out to be my old nurse.

"It's only old Judith, dear--don't be frightened," I said. Then I spoke
to the Welshwoman: "What are you about, Judith? Have you been feeding
the Woman of the Water?"

"Ay--when the clock strikes, Willie--my lord, I mean," muttered the old
creature, drawing aside to let us pass, and fixing her strange eyes on
Margaret's face.

"What does she mean?" asked Margaret, when we had gone by.

"Nothing, darling. The old thing is mildly crazy, but she is a good
soul."

We went on in silence for a few moments, and came to the rustic bridge
just above the artificial grotto through which the water ran out into
the park, dark and swift in its narrow channel. We stopped, and leaned
on the wooden rail. The moon was now behind us, and shone full upon the
long vista of basins and on the huge walls and towers of the Castle
above.

"How proud you ought to be of such a grand old place!" said Margaret,
softly.

"It is yours now, darling," I answered. "You have as good a right to
love it as I--but I only love it because you are to live in it, dear."

Her hand stole out and lay on mine, and we were both silent. Just then
the clock began to strike far off in the tower. I counted the
strokes--eight--nine--ten--eleven--I looked at my
watch--twelve--thirteen--I laughed. The bell went on striking.

"The old clock has gone crazy, like Judith," I exclaimed. Still it went
on, note after note ringing out monotonously through the still air. We
leaned over the rail, instinctively looking in the direction whence the
sound came. On and on it went. I counted nearly a hundred, out of sheer
curiosity, for I understood that something had broken and that the thing
was running itself down.

Suddenly there was a crack as of breaking wood, a cry and a heavy
splash, and I was alone, clinging to the broken end of the rail of the
rustic bridge.

I do not think I hesitated while my pulse beat twice. I sprang clear of
the bridge into the black rushing water, dived to the bottom, came up
again with empty hands, turned and swam downwards through the grotto in
the thick darkness, plunging and diving at every stroke, striking my
head and hands against jagged stones and sharp corners, clutching at
last something in my fingers, and dragging it up with all my might. I
spoke, I cried aloud, but there was no answer. I was alone in the pitchy
blackness with my burden, and the house was five hundred yards away.
Struggling still, I felt the ground beneath my feet, I saw a ray of
moonlight--the grotto widened, and the deep water became a broad and
shallow brook as I stumbled over the stones and at last laid Margaret's
body on the bank in the park beyond.

"Ay, Willie, as the clock struck!" said the voice of Judith, the Welsh
nurse, as she bent down and looked at the white face. The old woman must
have turned back and followed us, seen the accident, and slipped out by
the lower gate of the garden. "Ay," she groaned, "you have fed the Woman
of the Water this night, Willie, while the clock was striking."

I scarcely heard her as I knelt beside the lifeless body of the woman I
loved, chafing the wet white temples, and gazing wildly into the
wide-staring eyes. I remember only the first returning look of
consciousness, the first heaving breath, the first movement of those
dear hands stretching out towards me.


That is not much of a story, you say. It is the story of my life. That
is all. It does not pretend to be anything else. Old Judith says my luck
turned on that summer's night, when I was struggling in the water to
save all that was worth living for. A month later there was a stone
bridge above the grotto, and Margaret and I stood on it, and looked up
at the moonlit Castle, as we had done once before, and as we have done
many times since. For all those things happened ten years ago last
summer, and this is the tenth Christmas Eve we have spent together by
the roaring logs in the old hall, talking of old times; and every year
there are more old times to talk of. There are curly-headed boys, too,
with red-gold hair and dark-brown eyes like their mother's, and a little
Margaret, with solemn black eyes like mine. Why could she not look like
her mother, too, as well as the rest of them?

The world is very bright at this glorious Christmas time, and perhaps
there is little use in calling up the sadness of long ago, unless it be
to make the jolly firelight seem more cheerful, the good wife's face
look gladder, and to give the children's laughter a merrier ring, by
contrast with all that is gone. Perhaps, too, some sad-faced, listless,
melancholy youth, who feels that the world is very hollow, and that life
is like a perpetual funeral service, just as I used to feel myself, may
take courage from my example, and having found the woman of his heart,
ask her to marry him after half an hour's acquaintance. But, on the
whole, I would not advise any man to marry, for the simple reason that
no man will ever find a wife like mine, and being obliged to go further,
he will necessarily fare worse. My wife has done miracles, but I will
not assert that any other woman is able to follow her example.

Margaret always said that the old place was beautiful, and that I ought
to be proud of it. I dare say she is right. She has even more
imagination than I. But I have a good answer and a plain one, which is
this--that all the beauty of the Castle comes from her. She has breathed
upon it all, as the children blow upon the cold glass window-panes in
winter; and as their warm breath crystallises into landscapes from
fairyland, full of exquisite shapes and traceries upon the blank
surface, so her spirit has transformed every grey stone of the old
towers, every ancient tree and hedge in the gardens, every thought in my
once melancholy self. All that was old is young, and all that was sad is
glad, and I am the gladdest of all. Whatever heaven may be, there is no
earthly paradise without woman, nor is there anywhere a place so
desolate, so dreary, so unutterably miserable that a woman cannot make
it seem heaven to the man she loves, and who loves her.

I hear certain cynics laugh, and cry that all that has been said before.
Do not laugh, my good cynic. You are too small a man to laugh at such a
great thing as love. Prayers have been said before now by many, and
perhaps you say yours, too. I do not think they lose anything by being
repeated, nor you by repeating them. You say that the world is bitter,
and full of the Waters of Bitterness. Love, and so live that you may be
loved--the world will turn sweet for you, and you shall rest like me by
the Waters of Paradise.



THE DOLL'S GHOST


It was a terrible accident, and for one moment the splendid machinery of
Cranston House got out of gear and stood still. The butler emerged from
the retirement in which he spent his elegant leisure, two grooms of the
chambers appeared simultaneously from opposite directions, there were
actually housemaids on the grand staircase, and those who remember the
facts most exactly assert that Mrs. Pringle herself positively stood
upon the landing. Mrs. Pringle was the housekeeper. As for the head
nurse, the under nurse, and the nursery maid, their feelings cannot be
described. The head nurse laid one hand upon the polished marble
balustrade and stared stupidly before her, the under nurse stood rigid
and pale, leaning against the polished marble wall, and the nursery-maid
collapsed and sat down upon the polished marble step, just beyond the
limits of the velvet carpet, and frankly burst into tears.

The Lady Gwendolen Lancaster-Douglas-Scroop, youngest daughter of the
ninth Duke of Cranston, and aged six years and three months, picked
herself up quite alone, and sat down on the third step from the foot of
the grand staircase in Cranston House.

"Oh!" ejaculated the butler, and he disappeared again.

"Ah!" responded the grooms of the chambers, as they also went away.

"It's only that doll," Mrs. Pringle was distinctly heard to say, in a
tone of contempt.

The under nurse heard her say it. Then the three nurses gathered round
Lady Gwendolen and patted her, and gave her unhealthy things out of
their pockets, and hurried her out of Cranston House as fast as they
could, lest it should be found out upstairs that they had allowed the
Lady Gwendolen Lancaster-Douglas-Scroop to tumble down the grand
staircase with her doll in her arms. And as the doll was badly broken,
the nursery-maid carried it, with the pieces, wrapped up in Lady
Gwendolen's little cloak. It was not far to Hyde Park, and when they had
reached a quiet place they took means to find out that Lady Gwendolen
had no bruises. For the carpet was very thick and soft, and there was
thick stuff under it to make it softer.

Lady Gwendolen Douglas-Scroop sometimes yelled, but she never cried. It
was because she had yelled that the nurse had allowed her to go
downstairs alone with Nina, the doll, under one arm, while she steadied
herself with her other hand on the balustrade, and trod upon the
polished marble steps beyond the edge of the carpet. So she had fallen,
and Nina had come to grief.

When the nurses were quite sure that she was not hurt, they unwrapped
the doll and looked at her in her turn. She had been a very beautiful
doll, very large, and fair, and healthy, with real yellow hair, and
eyelids that would open and shut over very grown-up dark eyes. Moreover,
when you moved her right arm up and down she said "Pa-pa," and when you
moved the left she said "Ma-ma," very distinctly.

"I heard her say 'Pa' when she fell," said the under nurse, who heard
everything. "But she ought to have said 'Pa-pa.'"

"That's because her arm went up when she hit the step," said the head
nurse. "She'll say the other 'Pa' when I put it down again."

"Pa," said Nina, as her right arm was pushed down, and speaking through
her broken face. It was cracked right across, from the upper corner of
the forehead, with a hideous gash, through the nose and down to the
little frilled collar of the pale green silk Mother Hubbard frock, and
two little three-cornered pieces of porcelain had fallen out.

"I'm sure it's a wonder she can speak at all, being all smashed," said
the under nurse.

"You'll have to take her to Mr. Puckler," said her superior. "It's not
far, and you'd better go at once."

Lady Gwendolen was occupied in digging a hole in the ground with a
little spade, and paid no attention to the nurses.

"What are you doing?" enquired the nursery-maid, looking on.

"Nina's dead, and I'm diggin' her a grave," replied her ladyship
thoughtfully.

"Oh, she'll come to life again all right," said the nursery-maid.

The under nurse wrapped Nina up again and departed. Fortunately a kind
soldier, with very long legs and a very small cap, happened to be there;
and as he had nothing to do, he offered to see the under nurse safely to
Mr. Puckler's and back.


Mr. Bernard Puckler and his little daughter lived in a little house in a
little alley, which led out off a quiet little street not very far from
Belgrave Square. He was the great doll doctor, and his extensive
practice lay in the most aristocratic quarter. He mended dolls of all
sizes and ages, boy dolls and girl dolls, baby dolls in long clothes,
and grown-up dolls in fashionable gowns, talking dolls and dumb dolls,
those that shut their eyes when they lay down, and those whose eyes had
to be shut for them by means of a mysterious wire. His daughter Else was
only just over twelve years old, but she was already very clever at
mending dolls' clothes, and at doing their hair, which is harder than
you might think, though the dolls sit quite still while it is being
done.

Mr. Puckler had originally been a German, but he had dissolved his
nationality in the ocean of London many years ago, like a great many
foreigners. He still had one or two German friends, however, who came on
Saturday evenings, and smoked with him and played picquet or "skat" with
him for farthing points, and called him "Herr Doctor," which seemed to
please Mr. Puckler very much.

He looked older than he was, for his beard was rather long and ragged,
his hair was grizzled and thin, and he wore horn-rimmed spectacles. As
for Else, she was a thin, pale child, very quiet and neat, with dark
eyes and brown hair that was plaited down her back and tied with a bit
of black ribbon. She mended the dolls' clothes and took the dolls back
to their homes when they were quite strong again.

The house was a little one, but too big for the two people who lived in
it. There was a small sitting-room on the street, and the workshop was
at the back, and there were three rooms upstairs. But the father and
daughter lived most of their time in the workshop, because they were
generally at work, even in the evenings.

Mr. Puckler laid Nina on the table and looked at her a long time, till
the tears began to fill his eyes behind the horn-rimmed spectacles. He
was a very susceptible man, and he often fell in love with the dolls he
mended, and found it hard to part with them when they had smiled at him
for a few days. They were real little people to him, with characters and
thoughts and feelings of their own, and he was very tender with them
all. But some attracted him especially from the first, and when they
were brought to him maimed and injured, their state seemed so pitiful to
him that the tears came easily. You must remember that he had lived
among dolls during a great part of his life, and understood them.

"How do you know that they feel nothing?" he went on to say to Else.
"You must be gentle with them. It costs nothing to be kind to the little
beings, and perhaps it makes a difference to them."

And Else understood him, because she was a child, and she knew that she
was more to him than all the dolls.

He fell in love with Nina at first sight, perhaps because her beautiful
brown glass eyes were something like Else's own, and he loved Else first
and best, with all his heart. And, besides, it was a very sorrowful
case. Nina had evidently not been long in the world, for her complexion
was perfect, her hair was smooth where it should be smooth, and curly
where it should be curly, and her silk clothes were perfectly new. But
across her face was that frightful gash, like a sabre-cut, deep and
shadowy within, but clean and sharp at the edges. When he tenderly
pressed her head to close the gaping wound, the edges made a fine
grating sound, that was painful to hear, and the lids of the dark eyes
quivered and trembled as though Nina were suffering dreadfully.

"Poor Nina!" he exclaimed sorrowfully. "But I shall not hurt you much,
though you will take a long time to get strong."

He always asked the names of the broken dolls when they were brought to
him, and sometimes the people knew what the children called them, and
told him. He liked "Nina" for a name. Altogether and in every way she
pleased him more than any doll he had seen for many years, and he felt
drawn to her, and made up his mind to make her perfectly strong and
sound, no matter how much labour it might cost him.

Mr. Puckler worked patiently a little at a time, and Else watched him.
She could do nothing for poor Nina, whose clothes needed no mending. The
longer the doll doctor worked, the more fond he became of the yellow
hair and the beautiful brown glass eyes. He sometimes forgot all the
other dolls that were waiting to be mended, lying side by side on a
shelf, and sat for an hour gazing at Nina's face, while he racked his
ingenuity for some new invention by which to hide even the smallest
trace of the terrible accident.

She was wonderfully mended. Even he was obliged to admit that; but the
scar was still visible to his keen eyes, a very fine line right across
the face, downwards from right to left. Yet all the conditions had been
most favourable for a cure, since the cement had set quite hard at the
first attempt and the weather had been fine and dry, which makes a great
difference in a dolls' hospital.

At last he knew that he could do no more, and the under nurse had
already come twice to see whether the job was finished, as she coarsely
expressed it.

"Nina is not quite strong yet," Mr. Puckler had answered each time, for
he could not make up his mind to face the parting.

And now he sat before the square deal table at which he worked, and Nina
lay before him for the last time with a big brown paper box beside her.
It stood there like her coffin, waiting for her, he thought. He must put
her into it, and lay tissue paper over her dear face, and then put on
the lid, and at the thought of tying the string his sight was dim with
tears again. He was never to look into the glassy depths of the
beautiful brown eyes any more, nor to hear the little wooden voice say
"Pa-pa" and "Ma-ma." It was a very painful moment.

In the vain hope of gaining time before the separation, he took up the
little sticky bottles of cement and glue and gum and colour, looking at
each one in turn, and then at Nina's face. And all his small tools lay
there, neatly arranged in a row, but he knew that he could not use them
again for Nina. She was quite strong at last, and in a country where
there should be no cruel children to hurt her she might live a hundred
years, with only that almost imperceptible line across her face to tell
of the fearful thing that had befallen her on the marble steps of
Cranston House.

Suddenly Mr. Puckler's heart was quite full, and he rose abruptly from
his seat and turned away.

"Else," he said unsteadily, "you must do it for me. I cannot bear to see
her go into the box."

So he went and stood at the window with his back turned, while Else did
what he had not the heart to do.

"Is it done?" he asked, not turning round. "Then take her away, my dear.
Put on your hat, and take her to Cranston House quickly, and when you
are gone I will turn round."

Else was used to her father's queer ways with the dolls, and though she
had never seen him so much moved by a parting, she was not much
surprised.

"Come back quickly," he said, when he heard her hand on the latch. "It
is growing late, and I should not send you at this hour. But I cannot
bear to look forward to it any more."

When Else was gone, he left the window and sat down in his place before
the table again, to wait for the child to come back. He touched the
place where Nina had lain, very gently, and he recalled the softly
tinted pink face, and the glass eyes, and the ringlets of yellow hair,
till he could almost see them.

The evenings were long, for it was late in the spring. But it began to
grow dark soon, and Mr. Puckler wondered why Else did not come back. She
had been gone an hour and a half, and that was much longer than he had
expected, for it was barely half a mile from Belgrave Square to Cranston
House. He reflected that the child might have been kept waiting, but as
the twilight deepened he grew anxious, and walked up and down in the dim
workshop, no longer thinking of Nina, but of Else, his own living child,
whom he loved.

An undefinable, disquieting sensation came upon him by fine degrees, a
chilliness and a faint stirring of his thin hair, joined with a wish to
be in any company rather than to be alone much longer. It was the
beginning of fear.

He told himself in strong German-English that he was a foolish old man,
and he began to feel about for the matches in the dusk. He knew just
where they should be, for he always kept them in the same place, close
to the little tin box that held bits of sealing-wax of various colours,
for some kinds of mending. But somehow he could not find the matches in
the gloom.

Something had happened to Else, he was sure, and as his fear increased,
he felt as though it might be allayed if he could get a light and see
what time it was. Then he called himself a foolish old man again, and
the sound of his own voice startled him in the dark. He could not find
the matches.

The window was grey still; he might see what time it was if he went
close to it, and he could go and get matches out of the cupboard
afterwards. He stood back from the table, to get out of the way of the
chair, and began to cross the board floor.

Something was following him in the dark. There was a small pattering, as
of tiny feet upon the boards. He stopped and listened, and the roots of
his hair tingled. It was nothing, and he was a foolish old man. He made
two steps more, and he was sure that he heard the little pattering
again. He turned his back to the window, leaning against the sash so
that the panes began to crack, and he faced the dark. Everything was
quite still, and it smelt of paste and cement and wood-filings as usual.

"Is that you, Else?" he asked, and he was surprised by the fear in his
voice.

There was no answer in the room, and he held up his watch and tried to
make out what time it was by the grey dusk that was just not darkness.
So far as he could see, it was within two or three minutes of ten
o'clock. He had been a long time alone. He was shocked, and frightened
for Else, out in London, so late, and he almost ran across the room to
the door. As he fumbled for the latch, he distinctly heard the running
of the little feet after him.

"Mice!" he exclaimed feebly, just as he got the door open.

He shut it quickly behind him, and felt as though some cold thing had
settled on his back and were writhing upon him. The passage was quite
dark, but he found his hat and was out in the alley in a moment,
breathing more freely, and surprised to find how much light there still
was in the open air. He could see the pavement clearly under his feet,
and far off in the street to which the alley led he could hear the
laughter and calls of children, playing some game out of doors. He
wondered how he could have been so nervous, and for an instant he
thought of going back into the house to wait quietly for Else. But
instantly he felt that nervous fright of something stealing over him
again. In any case it was better to walk up to Cranston House and ask
the servants about the child. One of the women had perhaps taken a fancy
to her, and was even now giving her tea and cake.

He walked quickly to Belgrave Square, and then up the broad streets,
listening as he went, whenever there was no other sound, for the tiny
footsteps. But he heard nothing, and was laughing at himself when he
rang the servants' bell at the big house. Of course, the child must be
there.

The person who opened the door was quite an inferior person, for it was
a back door, but affected the manners of the front, and stared at Mr.
Puckler superciliously under the strong light.

No little girl had been seen, and he knew "nothing about no dolls."

"She is my little girl," said Mr. Puckler tremulously, for all his
anxiety was returning tenfold, "and I am afraid something has happened."

The inferior person said rudely that "nothing could have happened to her
in that house, because she had not been there, which was a jolly good
reason why;" and Mr. Puckler was obliged to admit that the man ought to
know, as it was his business to keep the door and let people in. He
wished to be allowed to speak to the under nurse, who knew him; but the
man was ruder than ever, and finally shut the door in his face.

When the doll doctor was alone in the street, he steadied himself by the
railing, for he felt as though he were breaking in two, just as some
dolls break, in the middle of the backbone.

Presently he knew that he must be doing something to find Else, and that
gave him strength. He began to walk as quickly as he could through the
streets, following every highway and byway which his little girl might
have taken on her errand. He also asked several policemen in vain if
they had seen her, and most of them answered him kindly, for they saw
that he was a sober man and in his right senses, and some of them had
little girls of their own.

It was one o'clock in the morning when he went up to his own door
again, worn out and hopeless and broken-hearted. As he turned the key in
the lock, his heart stood still, for he knew that he was awake and not
dreaming, and that he really heard those tiny footsteps pattering to
meet him inside the house along the passage.

But he was too unhappy to be much frightened any more, and his heart
went on again with a dull regular pain, that found its way all through
him with every pulse. So he went in, and hung up his hat in the dark,
and found the matches in the cupboard and the candlestick in its place
in the corner.

Mr. Puckler was so much overcome and so completely worn out that he sat
down in his chair before the work-table and almost fainted, as his face
dropped forward upon his folded hands. Beside him the solitary candle
burned steadily with a low flame in the still warm air.

"Else! Else!" he moaned against his yellow knuckles. And that was all he
could say, and it was no relief to him. On the contrary, the very sound
of the name was a new and sharp pain that pierced his ears and his head
and his very soul. For every time he repeated the name it meant that
little Else was dead, somewhere out in the streets of London in the
dark.

He was so terribly hurt that he did not even feel something pulling
gently at the skirt of his old coat, so gently that it was like the
nibbling of a tiny mouse. He might have thought that it was really a
mouse if he had noticed it.

"Else! Else!" he groaned right against his hands.

Then a cool breath stirred his thin hair, and the low flame of the one
candle dropped down almost to a mere spark, not flickering as though a
draught were going to blow it out, but just dropping down as if it were
tired out. Mr. Puckler felt his hands stiffening with fright under his
face; and there was a faint rustling sound, like some small silk thing
blown in a gentle breeze. He sat up straight, stark and scared, and a
small wooden voice spoke in the stillness.

"Pa-pa," it said, with a break between the syllables.

Mr. Puckler stood up in a single jump, and his chair fell over backwards
with a smashing noise upon the wooden floor. The candle had almost gone
out.

It was Nina's doll voice that had spoken, and he should have known it
among the voices of a hundred other dolls. And yet there was something
more in it, a little human ring, with a pitiful cry and a call for help,
and the wail of a hurt child. Mr. Puckler stood up, stark and stiff, and
tried to look round, but at first he could not, for he seemed to be
frozen from head to foot.

Then he made a great effort, and he raised one hand to each of his
temples, and pressed his own head round as he would have turned a
doll's. The candle was burning so low that it might as well have been
out altogether, for any light it gave, and the room seemed quite dark at
first. Then he saw something. He would not have believed that he could
be more frightened than he had been just before that. But he was, and
his knees shook, for he saw the doll standing in the middle of the
floor, shining with a faint and ghostly radiance, her beautiful glassy
brown eyes fixed on his. And across her face the very thin line of the
break he had mended shone as though it were drawn in light with a fine
point of white flame.

Yet there was something more in the eyes, too; there was something
human, like Else's own, but as if only the doll saw him through them,
and not Else. And there was enough of Else to bring back all his pain
and to make him forget his fear.

"Else! my little Else!" he cried aloud.

The small ghost moved, and its doll-arm slowly rose and fell with a
stiff, mechanical motion.

"Pa-pa," it said.

It seemed this time that there was even more of Else's tone echoing
somewhere between the wooden notes that reached his ears so distinctly,
and yet so far away. Else was calling him, he was sure.

His face was perfectly white in the gloom, but his knees did not shake
any more, and he felt that he was less frightened.

"Yes, child! But where? Where?" he asked. "Where are you, Else?"

"Pa-pa!"

The syllables died away in the quiet room. There was a low rustling of
silk, the glassy brown eyes turned slowly away, and Mr. Puckler heard
the pitter-patter of the small feet in the bronze kid slippers as the
figure ran straight to the door. Then the candle burned high again, the
room was full of light, and he was alone.

Mr. Puckler passed his hand over his eyes and looked about him. He could
see everything quite clearly, and he felt that he must have been
dreaming, though he was standing instead of sitting down, as he should
have been if he had just waked up. The candle burned brightly now. There
were the dolls to be mended, lying in a row with their toes up. The
third one had lost her right shoe, and Else was making one. He knew
that, and he was certainly not dreaming now. He had not been dreaming
when he had come in from his fruitless search and had heard the doll's
footsteps running to the door. He had not fallen asleep in his chair.
How could he possibly have fallen asleep when his heart was breaking? He
had been awake all the time.

He steadied himself, set the fallen chair upon its legs, and said to
himself again very emphatically that he was a foolish old man. He ought
to be out in the streets looking for his child, asking questions, and
enquiring at the police stations, where all accidents were reported as
soon as they were known, or at the hospitals.

"Pa-pa!"

The longing, wailing, pitiful little wooden cry rang from the passage,
outside the door, and Mr. Puckler stood for an instant with white face,
transfixed and rooted to the spot. A moment later his hand was on the
latch. Then he was in the passage, with the light streaming from the
open door behind him.

Quite at the other end he saw the little phantom shining clearly in the
shadow, and the right hand seemed to beckon to him as the arm rose and
fell once more. He knew all at once that it had not come to frighten him
but to lead him, and when it disappeared, and he walked boldly towards
the door, he knew that it was in the street outside, waiting for him. He
forgot that he was tired and had eaten no supper, and had walked many
miles, for a sudden hope ran through and through him, like a golden
stream of life.

And sure enough, at the corner of the alley, and at the corner of the
street, and out in Belgrave Square, he saw the small ghost flitting
before him. Sometimes it was only a shadow, where there was other light,
but then the glare of the lamps made a pale green sheen on its little
Mother Hubbard frock of silk; and sometimes, where the streets were dark
and silent, the whole figure shone out brightly, with its yellow curls
and rosy neck. It seemed to trot along like a tiny child, and Mr.
Puckler could almost hear the pattering of the bronze kid slippers on
the pavement as it ran. But it went very fast, and he could only just
keep up with it, tearing along with his hat on the back of his head and
his thin hair blown by the night breeze, and his horn-rimmed spectacles
firmly set upon his broad nose.

On and on he went, and he had no idea where he was. He did not even
care, for he knew certainly that he was going the right way.

Then at last, in a wide, quiet street, he was standing before a big,
sober-looking door that had two lamps on each side of it, and a polished
brass bell-handle, which he pulled.

And just inside, when the door was opened, in the bright light, there
was the little shadow, and the pale green sheen of the little silk
dress, and once more the small cry came to his ears, less pitiful, more
longing.

"Pa-pa!"

The shadow turned suddenly bright, and out of the brightness the
beautiful brown glass eyes were turned up happily to his, while the rosy
mouth smiled so divinely that the phantom doll looked almost like a
little angel just then.

"A little girl was brought in soon after ten o'clock," said the quiet
voice of the hospital doorkeeper. "I think they thought she was only
stunned. She was holding a big brown-paper box against her, and they
could not get it out of her arms. She had a long plait of brown hair
that hung down as they carried her."

"She is my little girl," said Mr. Puckler, but he hardly heard his own
voice.

He leaned over Else's face in the gentle light of the children's ward,
and when he had stood there a minute the beautiful brown eyes opened and
looked up to his.

"Pa-pa!" cried Else, softly, "I knew you would come!"

Then Mr. Puckler did not know what he did or said for a moment, and what
he felt was worth all the fear and terror and despair that had almost
killed him that night. But by and by Else was telling her story, and the
nurse let her speak, for there were only two other children in the room,
who were getting well and were sound asleep.

"They were big boys with bad faces," said Else, "and they tried to get
Nina away from me, but I held on and fought as well as I could till one
of them hit me with something, and I don't remember any more, for I
tumbled down, and I suppose the boys ran away, and somebody found me
there. But I'm afraid Nina is all smashed."

"Here is the box," said the nurse. "We could not take it out of her arms
till she came to herself. Should you like to see if the doll is broken?"

And she undid the string cleverly, but Nina was all smashed to pieces.
Only the gentle light of the children's ward made a pale green sheen in
the folds of the little Mother Hubbard frock.





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