Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Questionable Shapes
Author: Howells, William Dean
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Questionable Shapes" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



QUESTIONABLE SHAPES

By W. D. Howells


Author of “Literary Friends And Acquaintance,” “Literature And Life,”
 “The Kentons,” “Their Silver Wedding Journey,” Etc., Etc.

Published May, 1903



CONTENTS.

HIS APPARITION

THE ANGEL OF THE LORD

THOUGH ONE ROSE FROM THE DEAD



ILLUSTRATIONS (See HTML file)

“MRS. ALDERLING CAME OUT WITH A BOOK IN HER HAND”

“‘I’M AFRAID I’M RESPONSIBLE FOR THAT’”

“‘WHY, THERE ISN’T ANY PUNISHMENT SEVERE ENOUGH FOR A CRIME LIKE THAT’”

“HE BROKE INTO A SOBBING THAT SEEMED TO WRENCH AND TEAR”



       *       *       *       *       *



HIS APPARITION.



I.


The incident was of a dignity which the supernatural has by no means
always had, and which has been more than ever lacking in it since the
manifestations of professional spiritualism began to vulgarize it. Hewson
appreciated this as soon as he realized that he had been confronted with
an apparition. He had been very little agitated at the moment, and it was
not till later, when the conflict between sense and reason concerning the
fact itself arose, that he was aware of any perturbation. Even then,
amidst the tumult of his whirling emotions he had a sort of central calm,
in which he noted the particulars of the occurrence with distinctness and
precision. He had always supposed that if anything of the sort happened
to him he would be greatly frightened, but he had not been at all
frightened, so far as he could make out. His hair had not risen, or his
cheek felt a chill; his heart had not lost or gained a beat in its
pulsation; and his prime conclusion was that if the Mysteries had chosen
him an agent in approaching the material world they had not made a
mistake. This becomes grotesque in being put into words, but the words do
not misrepresent, except by their inevitable excess, the mind in which
Hewson rose, and flung open his shutters to let in the dawn upon the
scene of the apparition, which he now perceived must have been, as it
were, self-lighted. The robins were yelling from the trees and the
sparrows bickering under them; catbirds were calling from the thickets of
syringa, and in the nearest woods a hermit-thrush was ringing its crystal
bells. The clear day was penetrating the east with the subtle light which
precedes the sun, and a summer sweetness rose cool from the garden below,
gray with dew.

In the solitude of the hour there was an intimation of privity to the
event which had taken place, an implication of the unity of the natural
and the supernatural, strangely different from that robust gayety of the
plain day which later seemed to disown the affair, and leave the burden
of proof altogether to the human witness. By this time Hewson had already
set about to putting it in such phrases as should carry conviction to the
hearer, and yet should convey to him no suspicion of the pride which
Hewson felt in the incident as a sort of tribute to himself. He
dramatized the scene at breakfast when he should describe it in plain,
matter-of-fact terms, and hold every one spellbound, as he or she leaned
forward over the table to listen, while he related the fact with studied
unconcern for his own part in it, but with a serious regard for the
integrity of the fact itself, which he had no wish to exaggerate as to
its immediate meaning or remoter implications. It did not yet occur to
him that it had none; they were simply to be matters of future
observation in a second ordeal; for the first emotion which the incident
imparted was the feeling that it would happen again, and in this return
would interpret itself. Hewson was so strongly persuaded of something of
the kind, that after standing for an indefinite period at the window in
his pajamas, he got hardily back into bed, and waited for the repetition.
He was agreeably aware of waiting without a tremor, and rather eagerly
than otherwise; then he began to feel drowsy, and this at first flattered
him, as a proof of his strange courage in circumstances which would have
rendered sleep impossible to most men; but in another moment he started
from it. If he slept every one would say he had dreamt the whole thing;
and he could never himself be quite sure that he had not.

He got up, and began to dress, thinking all the time, in a dim way, how
very long it would be till breakfast, and wondering what he should do
till then with his appetite and his apparition. It was now only a little
after four o’clock of the June morning, and nobody would be down till
after eight; most people at that very movable feast, which St. John had
in the English fashion, did not show themselves before nine. It was
impossible to get a book and read for five hours; he would be dropping
with hunger if he walked so long. Yet he must not sleep; and he must do
something to keep from sleeping. He remembered a little interloping
hotel, which had lately forced its way into precincts sacred to cottage
life, and had impudently called itself the St. Johnswort Inn, after St.
John’s place, by a name which he prided himself on having poetically
invented from his own and that of a prevalent wild flower. Upon the
chance of getting an early cup of coffee at this hotel, Hewson finished
dressing, and crept down stairs to let himself out of the house.

He not only found the door locked, as he had expected, but the key taken
out; and after some misgiving he decided to lift one of the long library
windows, from which he could get into the garden, closing the window
after him, and so make his escape. No one was stirring outside the house
any more than within; he knocked down a trellis by which a clematis was
trying to climb over the window he emerged from, and found his way out of
the grounds without alarming any one. He was not so successful at the
hotel, where a lank boy, sweeping the long piazzas, recognized one of the
St. Johnswort guests in the figure approaching the steps, and apparently
had his worst fears roused for Hewson’s sanity when Hewson called to him
and wondered if he could get a cup of coffee at that hour; he openly
owned it was an unnatural hour, and he had a fine inward sense that it
was supernatural. The boy dropped his broom without a word, and vanished
through the office door, reappearing after a blank interval to pick up
his broom and say, “I guess so,” as he began sweeping again. It was well,
for one reason that he did not state his belief too confidently, Hewson
thought; but after another interval of unknown length a rude, sad girl
came to tell him his coffee was waiting for him. He followed her back
into the still dishevelled dining room, and sat down at a long table to a
cup of lukewarm drink that in color and quality recalled terrible
mornings of Atlantic travel when he haplessly rose and descended to the
dining-saloon of the steamer, and had a marine version of British coffee
brought him by an alien table-steward.

He remembered the pock-marked nose of one alien steward, and how he had
questioned whether he should give the fellow six-pence or a shilling,
seeing that apart from this tribute he should have to fee his own steward
for the voyage; at the same time his fancy played with the question
whether that uncouth, melancholy waitress had found a moment to wash her
face before hurrying to fetch his coffee. He amused himself by
contrasting her sloven dejection with the brisk neatness of the service
at St. Johnswort; but through all he never lost the awe, the sense of
responsibility which he bore to the vision vouchsafed him, doubtless for
some reason and to some end that it behooved him to divine.

He found a yesterday’s paper in the office of the hotel, and read it till
he began to drowse over it, when he pulled himself up with a sharp jerk.
He discovered that it was now six o’clock, and he thought if he could
walk about for an hour he might return to St. Johnswort, and worry
through the remaining hour till breakfast somehow. He was still framing
in his thoughts some sort of statement concerning the apparition which he
should make when the largest number of guests had got together at the
table, with a fine question whether he should take them between the
cantaloupe and the broiled chicken, or wait till they had come to the
corn griddle-cakes, which St. John’s cook served of a filigree perfection
in homage to the good old American breakfast ideal. There would be more
women, if he waited, and he should need the sympathy and countenance of
women; his story would be wanting in something of its supreme effect
without the electrical response of their keener nerves.



II.


When Hewson came up to the cottage he was sensible of a certain agitation
in the air, which was intensified to him by the sight of St. John, in his
bare, bald head and the négligé of a flannel housecoat, inspecting, with
the gardener and one of the grooms, the fallen trellis under the library
window, which from time to time they looked up at, as they talked. Hewson
made haste to join them, through the garden gate, and to say shamefacedly
enough, “Oh, I’m afraid I’m responsible for that,” and he told how he
must have thrown down the trellis in getting out of the window.

“Oh!” said St. John, while the two men walked away with dissatisfied
grins at being foiled of their sensation. “We thought it was burglars.
I’m so glad it was only you.” But in spite of his profession, St. John
did not give Hewson any very lively proof of his enjoyment. “Deuced
uncomfortable to have had one’s guests murdered in their beds. Don’t say
anything about it, please, Hewson. The women would all fly the premises,
if there’d been even a suspicion of burglars.”

“Oh, no; I won’t,” Hewson willingly assented; but he perceived a
disappointment in St. John’s tone and manner, and he suspected him,
however unjustly, of having meant to give himself importance with his
guests by the rumor of a burglary in the house.

He was a man quite capable of that, Hewson believed, and failing it,
capable of pretending that he wanted the matter hushed up in the interest
of others.

In any case he saw that it was not to St. John primarily, or secondarily
to St. John’s guests, that he could celebrate the fact of his apparition.
In the presence of St. John’s potential vulgarity he keenly felt his own,
and he recoiled from what he had imagined doing. He even realized that he
would have been working St. John an injury by betraying his house to his
guests as the scene of a supernatural incident.

Nobody believes in ghosts, but there is not one in a thousand of us who
would not be uncomfortable in a haunted house, or a house so reputed. If
Hewson told what he had seen, he would not only scatter St. John’s
house-party to the four winds, but he would cast such a blight upon St.
Johnswort that it would never sell for a tenth of its cost.



III.


From that instant Hewson renounced his purpose, and he remained true to
this renunciation in spite of the behavior of St. John, which might well
have tempted him to a revenge in kind. No one seemed to have slept late
that morning; several of the ladies complained that they had not slept a
wink the whole night, and two or three of the men owned to having waked
early and not been able to hit it off again in a morning nap, though it
appeared that they were adepts in that sort of thing. The hour of their
vigils corresponded so nearly with that of Hewson’s apparition that he
wondered if a mystical influence from it had not penetrated the whole
house. The adventitious facts were of such a nature that he controlled
with the greater difficulty the wish to explode upon an audience so aptly
prepared for it the prodigious incident which he was keeping in reserve;
but he did not yield even when St. John carefully led up to the point
through the sensation of his guests, by recounting the evidences of the
supposed visit of a burglar, and then made his effect by suddenly turning
upon Hewson, and saying with his broad guffaw: “And here you have the
burglar in person. He has owned his crime to me, and I’ve let him off the
penalty on condition that he tells you all about it.” The humor was not
too rank for the horsey people whom St. John had mainly about him, but
some of the women said, “Poor Mr. Hewson!” when the host, failing
Hewson’s confession, went on to betray that he had risen at that
unearthly hour to go down to the St. Johnswort Inn for a cup of its
famous coffee. The coffee turned out to be the greatest kind of joke; one
of the men asked Hewson if he could say on his honor that it was really
any better than St. John’s coffee there before them, and another
professed to be in a secret more recondite than had yet been divined: it
was that long grim girl, who served it; she had lured Hewson from his
rest at five o’clock in the morning; and this humorist proposed a Welsh
rarebit some night at the inn, where they could all see for themselves
why Hewson broke out of the house and smashed a trellis before sunrise.

Hewson sat silent, not even attempting a defensive sally. In fact it was
only his surface mind which was employed with what was going on; as
before, his deeper thought was again absorbed with his great experience.
He could not, if his conscience had otherwise suffered him, have spoken
of it in that company, and the laughter died away from his silence as if
it had been his offence. He was not offended, but he was ashamed, and
not ashamed so much for St. John as for himself, that he could have ever
imagined acquiring merit in such company by exploiting an experience
which should have been sacred to him. How could he have been so shabby?
He was justly punished in the humiliating contrast between being the butt
of these poor wits, and the hero of an incident which, whatever its real
quality was, had an august character of mystery. He had recognized this
from the first instant; he had perceived that the occurrence was for him,
and for him alone, until he had reasoned some probable meaning into it or
from it; and yet he had been willing, he saw it, he owned it! to win the
applause of that crowd as a man who had just seen a ghost.

He thought of them as that crowd, but after all, they were good-natured
people, and when they fancied that he was somehow vexed with the turn the
talk had taken, they began to speak of other things; St. John himself led
the way, and when he got Hewson alone after breakfast, he made him a sort
of amend. “I didn’t mean to annoy you, old fellow,” he said, “with my
story about the burglary.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” Hewson brisked up in response, as he took the
cigar St. John offered him. “I’m afraid I must have seemed rather stupid.
I had got to thinking about something else, and I couldn’t pull myself
away from it. I wasn’t annoyed at all.”

Whether St. John thought this sufficient gratitude for his reparation did
not appear. As Hewson did not offer to break the silence in which they
went on smoking, his host made a pretext, toward the end of their cigars,
after bearing the burden of the conversation apparently as long as he
could, of being reminded of something by the group of women descending
into the garden from the terraced walk beyond it and then slowly, with
little pauses, trailing their summer draperies among the flower-beds and
bushes toward the house.

“Oh, by-the-way,” he said, “I should like to introduce you to Miss
Hernshaw; she came last night with Mrs. Rock: that tall girl, there,
lagging behind a little. She’s an original.”

“I noticed her at breakfast,” Hewson answered, now first aware of having
been struck with the strange beauty and strange behavior of the slim
girl, who drooped in her chair, with her little head fallen forward, and
played with her bread, ignoring her food otherwise, while she listened
with a bored air to the talk which made Hewson its prey. She had an
effect of being both shy and indifferent, in this retrospect; and when
St. John put up the window, and led the way out to the women in the
garden, and presented Hewson, she had still this effect. She did not
smile or speak in acknowledgement of Hewson’s bow; she merely looked at
him with a sort of swift intensity, and then, when one of the women said,
“We were coming to view the scene of your burglarious exploit, Mr.
Hewson. Was that the very window?” the girl looked impatiently away.

“The very window,” Hewson owned. “You wouldn’t know it. St. John has had
the trellis put up and the spot fresh turfed,” and he detached the
interlocutory widow in the direction of their bachelor host, as she
perhaps intended he should, and dropped back to the side of Miss
Hernshaw.

She was almost spiritually slender. In common with all of us, he had
heard that shape of girl called willowy, but he made up his mind that
sweetbriery would be the word for Miss Hernshaw, in whose face a virginal
youth suggested the tender innocence and surprise of the flower, while
the droop of her figure, at once delicate and self-reliant, arrested the
fancy with a sense of the pendulous thorny spray. She looked not above
sixteen in age, but as she was obviously out, in the society sense of the
word, this must have been a moral effect; and Hewson was casting about in
his mind for some appropriate form of thought and language to make talk
in when she abruptly addressed him.

“I don’t see,” she said, with her face still away, “why people make fun
of those poor girls who have to work in that sort of public way.”

Hewson silently picked his steps back through the intervening events to
the drolling at breakfast, and with some misgiving took his stand in the
declaration, “You mean the waitress at the inn?”

“Yes!” cried the girl, with a gentle indignation, which was so dear to
the young man that he would have given anything to believe that it veiled
a measure of sympathy for himself as well as for the waitress. “We went
in there last night when we arrived, for some pins--Mrs. Rock had had her
dress stepped on, getting out of the car--and that girl brought them. I
never saw such a sad face. And she was very nice; she had no more manners
than a cow.”

Miss Hernshaw added the last sentence as if it followed, and in his poor
masculine pride of sequence Hewson wanted to ask if that were why she was
so nice; but he obeyed a better instinct in saying, “Yes, there’s a whole
tragedy in it. I wonder if it’s potential or actual.” He somehow felt
safe in being so metaphysical.

“Does it make any difference?” Miss Hernshaw demanded, whirling her face
round, and fixing him with eyes of beautiful fierceness. “Tragedy is
tragedy, whether you have lived it or not, isn’t it? And sometimes it’s
all the more tragical if you have it still to live: you’ve got it before
you! I don’t see how any one can look at that girl’s face and laugh at
her. I should never forgive any one who did.”

“Then I’m glad I didn’t do any of the laughing,” said Hewson, willing to
relieve himself from the strain of this high mood, and yet anxious not to
fall too far below it. “Perhaps I should, though, if I hadn’t been the
victim of it in some degree.”

“It was the vulgarest thing I ever heard!” said the girl.

Hewson looked at her, but she had averted her face again. He had a
longing to tell her of his apparition which quelled every other interest
in him, and, as it were, blurred his whole consciousness. She would
understand, with her childlike truth, and with her unconventionality she
would not find it strange that he should speak to her of such a thing for
no apparent reason or no immediate cause. He walked silent at her side,
revolving his longing in his thought, and hating the circumstance which
forbade him to speak at once. He did not know how long he was lost in
this, when he was suddenly recalled to fearful question of the fact by
her saying, with another flash of her face toward him, “You _have_ lost
sleep Mr. Hewson!” and she whipped forward, and joined the other women,
who were following the lead of St. John and the widow.

Mrs. Rock, to whom Hewson had been presented at the same time as to Miss
Hernshaw, looked vaguely back at him over her shoulder, but made no
attempt to include him in her group, and he thought, for no reason, that
she was kept from doing so on account of Miss Hernshaw. He thought he
could be no more mistaken in this than in the resentment of Miss
Hernshaw, which he was aware of meriting, however unintentionally. Later,
after lunch, he made sure of this fact when Mrs. Rock got him into a
corner, and cozily began, “I always feel like explaining Rosalie a
little,” and then her vague, friendly eye wandered toward Miss Hernshaw
across the room, and stopped, as if waiting for the girl to look away.
But Miss Hernshaw did not look away, and that afternoon, Hewson’s week
being up, he left St. Johnswort before dinner.



IV.


The time came, before the following winter, when Hewson was tempted
beyond his strength, and told the story of his apparition. He told it
more than once, and kept himself with increasing difficulty from lying
about it. He always wished to add something, to amplify the fact, to
heighten the mystery of the circumstances, to divine the occult
significance of the incident. In itself the incident, when stated, was
rather bare and insufficient; but he held himself rigidly to the actual
details, and he felt that in this at least he was offering the powers
which had vouchsafed him the experience a species of atonement for
breaking faith with them. It seemed like breaking faith with Miss
Hernshaw, too, though this impression would have been harder to reason
than the other. Both impressions began to wear off after the first
tellings of the story; the wound that Hewson gave his sensibility in the
very first cicatrized before the second, and at the fourth or fifth it
had quite calloused over; so that he did not mind anything so much as
what always seemed to him the inadequate effect of his experience with
his hearers. Some listened carelessly; some nervously; some
incredulously, as if he were trying to put up a job on them; some
compassionately, as if he were not quite right, and ought to be looked
after. There was a consensus of opinion, among those who offered any sort
of comment, that he ought to give it to the Psychical Research, and at
the bottom of Hewson’s heart, there was a dread that the spiritualists
would somehow get hold of him. This remained to stay him, when the shame
of breaking faith with Miss Hernshaw and with Mystery no longer
restrained him from exploiting the fact. He was aware of lying in wait
for opportunities of telling it, and he swore himself to tell it only
upon direct provocation, or when the occasion seemed imperatively to
demand it. He commonly brought it out to match some experience of
another; but he could never deny a friendly appeal when he sat with some
good fellows over their five-o’clock cocktails at the club, and one of
them would say in behalf of a newcomer, “Hewson, tell Wilkins that odd
thing that happened to you up country, in the summer.” In complying he
tried to save his self-respect by affecting a contemptuous indifference
in the matter, and beginning reluctantly and pooh-poohingly. He had pangs
afterwards as he walked home to dress for dinner, but his self-reproach
was less afflicting as time passed. His suffering from it was never so
great as from the slight passed upon his apparition, when Wilkins or what
other it might be, would meet the suggestion that he should tell him
about it, with the hurried interposition, “Yes, I have heard that; good
story.” This would make Hewson think that he was beginning to tell his
story too often, and that perhaps the friend who suggested his doing so,
was playing upon his forgetfulness. He wondered if he were really
something of a bore with it, and whether men were shying off from him at
the club on account of it. He fancied that might be the reason why the
circle at the five-o’clock cocktails gradually diminished as the winter
passed. He continued to join it till the chance offered of squarely
refusing to tell Wilkins, or whoever, about the odd thing that had
happened to him up country in the summer. Then he felt that he had in a
manner retrieved himself, and could retire from the five-o’clock
cocktails with honor.

That it was a veridical phantom which had appeared to him he did not in
his inmost at all doubt, though in his superficial consciousness he
questioned it, not indeed so disrespectfully as he pooh-poohed it to
others, but still questioned it. This he thought somehow his due as a man
of intelligence who ought not to suffer himself to fall into superstition
even upon evidence granted to few. Superficially, however, as well as
interiorly, he was aware of always expecting its repetition; and now, six
months after the occurrence this expectation was as vivid with him as it
was the first moment after the vision had vanished, while his tongue was
yet in act to stay it with speech. He would not have been surprised at
any time in walking into his room to find It there; or waking at night to
confront It in the electric flash which he kindled by a touch of the
button at his bedside. Rather, he was surprised that nothing of the sort
happened, to confirm him in his belief that he had been all but in touch
with the other life, or to give him some hint, the slightest, the
dimmest, why this vision had been shown him, and then instantly broken
and withdrawn. In that inmost of his where he recognized its validity, he
could not deny that it had a meaning, and that it had been sent him for
some good reason special to himself; though at the times when he had
prefaced his story of it with terms of slighting scepticism, he had
professed neither to know nor to care why the thing had happened. He
always said that he had never been particularly interested in the
supernatural, and then was ashamed of a lie that was false to universal
human experience; but he could truthfully add that he had never in his
life felt less like seeing a ghost than that morning. It was not full
day, but it was perfectly light, and there the thing was, as palpable to
vision as any of the men that moment confronting him with cocktails in
their hands. Asked if he did not think he had dreamed it, he answered
scornfully that he did not think, he _knew_, he had not dreamed it; he
did not value the experience, it was and had always been perfectly
meaningless, but he would stake his life upon its reality. Asked if it
had not perhaps been the final office of a nightcap, he disdained to
answer at all, though he did not openly object to the laugh which the
suggestion raised.

Secretly, within his inmost, Hewson felt justly punished by the laughter.
He had been unworthy of his apparition in lightly exposing it to such a
chance; he had fallen below the dignity of his experience. He might never
hope to fathom its meaning while he lived; but he grieved for the wrong
he had done it, as if at the instant of the apparition he had offered
that majestic, silent figure some grotesque indignity: thrown a pillow at
it, or hailed it in tones of mocking offence. He was profoundly and
exquisitely ashamed even before he ceased to tell the story for his
listeners’ idle amusement. When he stopped doing so, and snubbed
solicitation with the curt answer that everybody had heard that story, he
was retrospectively ashamed; and mixed with the expectation of seeing the
vision again was the formless wish to offer it some sort of reparation,
of apology.

He longed to prove himself not wholly unworthy of the advance that had
been made him from the other world upon grounds which he had done his
worst to prove untenable. He could not imagine what the grounds were,
though he had to admit their probable existence; such an event might have
no obvious or present significance, but it had not happened for nothing;
it could not have happened for nothing. Hewson might not have been in
what he thought any stressful need of ghostly comfort or reassurance in
matters of faith. He was not inordinately agnostic, or in the way of
becoming so. He was simply an average skeptical American, who denied no
more than he affirmed, and who really concerned himself so little about
his soul, though he tried to keep his conscience decently clean, that he
had not lately asked whether other people had such a thing or not. He had
not lost friends, and he was so much alone in this world that it seemed
improbable the fate of any uncle or cousin, in the absence of more
immediate kindred, should be mystically forecast to him. He was perfectly
well at the time of the apparition, and it could not have been the
figment of a disordered digestion, as the lusty hunger which willingly
appeased itself with the coffee of the St. Johnswort Inn sufficiently
testified. Yet, in spite of all this, an occurrence so out of the course
of events must have had some message for him, and it must have been his
fault that he could not divine it. A sense of culpability grew upon him
with the sense of his ignominy in cheapening it by making it subservient
to what he knew was, in the last analysis, a wretched vanity. At least he
could refuse himself that miserable gratification hereafter, and he got
back some measure of self-respect in forbidding himself the pleasure he
might have taken in being noted for a strange experience he could never
be got to speak of.



V.


The implication of any such study as this is that the subject of it is
continuously if not exclusively occupied with the matter which is
supposed to make him interesting. But of course it was not so with
Hewson, who perhaps did not think of his apparition once in a fortnight,
or oftener, say, than he thought of the odd girl with whom for no reason,
except contemporaneity in his acquaintance, he associated with it. If he
never thought of the apparition without subconsciously expecting its
return, he equally expected when he thought of Miss Hernshaw that the
chances of society would bring them together again, and it was with no
more surprise than if the vision had intimated its second approach that
he one night found her name in the minute envelope which the footman
presented him at a house where he was going to dine, and realized that he
was appointed to take her out. It was a house where he rather liked to
go, for in that New York of his where so few houses had any distinctive
character, this one had a temperament of its own in so far that you might
expect to meet people of temperament there, if anywhere. They were indeed
held in a social solution where many other people of no temperament at
all floated largely and loosely about, but they were there, all the same,
and it was worth coming on the chance of meeting them, though the
indiscriminate hospitality of the hostess might let the evening pass
without promoting the chance. Now, however, she had unwittingly put into
Hewson’s keeping, for two hours at least, the very temperament that had
kept his fancy for the last half-year and more. He fairly laughed at
sight of the name on the little card, and hurried into the drawing-room,
where the first thing after greeting his hostess, he caught the wandering
look and vague smile of Mrs. Rock. The look and the smile became personal
to him, and she welcomed him with a curious resumption of the
confidential terms in which they had seemed to part that afternoon at St.
Johnswort. He thought that she was going to begin talking to him where
she had left off, about Rosalie, as she had called her, and he was
disappointed in the commonplaces that actually ensued. At the end of
these, however, she did say: “Miss Hernshaw is here with me. Have you
seen her?”

“Oh, yes,” Hewson returned, for he had caught sight of the girl in a
distant group, on his way up to Mrs. Rock, but in view of the affluent
opportunity before him had richly forborne trying even to make her bow to
him, though he believed she had seen him. “I am to have the happiness of
going out with her.”

“Oh, indeed,” said Mrs. Rock, “that is nice,” and then the people began
assorting themselves, and the man who was appointed to take Mrs. Rock
out, came and bowed Hewson away.

He hastened to that corner of the room where Miss Hernshaw was waiting,
and if he had been suddenly confronted with his apparition he could not
have experienced a deeper and stranger satisfaction than he felt as the
girl lifted up her innocent fierce face upon him.

It brought back that whole day at St. Johnswort, of which she, with his
vision, formed the supreme interest and equally the mystery; and it went
warmly to his heart to have her peremptorily abolish all banalities by
saying, “I was wondering if they were going to give me you, as soon as
you came in.”

She put her slim hand on his arm as she spoke, and he thought she must
have felt him quiver at her touch. “Then you were not afraid they were
going to give you me?” he bantered.

“No,” she said, “I wanted to talk with you. I wanted you to tell me what
Mrs. Rock said about me!”

“Just now? She said you were here.”

“No, I mean that day at St. Johnswort.”

Hewson laughed out for pleasure in her frankness, and then he felt a
gathering up of his coat-sleeve under her nervous fingers, as if (such a
thing being imaginable) she were going unwittingly to pinch him for his
teasing. “She said she wanted to explain you a little.”

“And then what!”

“And then nothing. She seemed to catch your eye, and she stopped.”

The fingers relaxed their hold upon that gathering up of his coat-sleeve.
“I won’t _be_ explained, and I have told her so. If I choose to act
myself, and show out my real thoughts and feelings, how is it any worse
than if I acted somebody else!”

“I should think it was very much better,” said Hewson, inwardly warned to
keep his face straight.



VI.


They had time for no more talk between the drawing-room and the dinner
table, and when Miss Hernshaw’s chair had been pushed in behind her, and
she sat down, she turned instantly to the man on her right and began
speaking to him, and left Hewson to make conversation with any one he
liked or could.

He did not get on very well, not because there were not enough amusing
people beside him and over against him, but because he was all the time
trying to eavesdrop what was saying between Miss Hernshaw and the man on
her right. It seemed to be absolute trivialities they were talking; so
far as Hewson made out they got no deeper than the new play which was
then commanding the public favor apparently for the reason that it was
altogether surface, with no measure upwards or downwards. Upon this
surface the comment of the man on Miss Hernshaw’s right wandered
indefatigably.

Hewson could not imagine of her sincerity a deliberate purpose of letting
the poor fellow show all the shallowness that was in him, and of amusing
itself with his satisfaction in turning his empty mind inside out for her
inspection. She seemed, if not genuinely interested, to be paying him an
unaffected attention; but when the lady across the table addressed a word
to him, Miss Hernshaw, as if she had been watching for some such chance,
instantly turned to Hewson.

“What do you think of ‘Ghosts’?” she asked, with imperative suddenness.

“Ghosts?” he echoed.

“Or perhaps you didn’t go?” she suggested, and he perceived that she
meant Ibsen’s tragedy. But he did not answer at once. He had had a shock,
and for a timeless space he had been back in his room at St. Johnswort,
with that weird figure seated at his table. It seemed to vanish again
when he gave a second glance, as it had vanished before, and he drew a
long sigh, and looked a little haggardly at Miss Hernshaw. “Ah, I see you
did! Wasn’t it tremendous? I think the girl who did Regina was simply
awful, don’t you?”

“I don’t know,” said Hewson, still so trammeled in his own involuntary
associations with the word as not fully to realize the strangeness of
discussing “Ghosts” with a young lady. But he pulled himself together,
and nimbly making his reflection that the latitude of the stage gave room
for the meeting of cultivated intelligences in regions otherwise tabooed,
if they were of opposite sexes, he responded in kind. “I think that the
greatest miracle of the play--and to me it was altogether miraculous”--

“Oh, I’m glad to hear you say that!” cried the girl. “It was the greatest
experience of my life. I can’t bear to have people undervalue it. I want
to hit them. But go on!”

Hewson went on as gravely as he could in view of her potential violence:
he pictured Miss Hernshaw beating down the inadequate witnesses of
“Ghosts” with her fan, which lay in her lap, with her cobwebby
handkerchief, drawn through its ring, and her long limp gloves looking
curiously like her pretty young arms in their slenderness. “I was merely
going to say that the most prodigious effect of the play was among the
actors--I won’t venture on the spectators--”

“No, don’t! It isn’t speakable.”

“It’s astonishing the effect a play of Ibsen’s has with the actors. They
can’t play false. It turns the merest theatrical sticks into men and
women, and it does it through the perfect honesty of the dramatist. He
deals so squarely with himself that they have to deal squarely with
themselves. They have to be, and not just _seem_.”

Miss Hernshaw sighed deeply. “I’m glad you think that,” she said, and
Hewson felt very glad too that he thought that.

“Why?” he asked.

“Why? Because that is what I always want to do; and it’s what I always
shall do, I don’t care what they say.”

“But I don’t know whether I understand exactly.”

“Deal squarely with everybody. Say what I really feel. Then they say what
they really feel.”

There was an obscure resentment unworthily struggling at the bottom of
Hewson’s heart for her long neglect of him in behalf of the man on her
left. “Yes,” he said, “if they are capable of really feeling anything.”

“What do you mean? Everybody really feels.”

“Well, then, thinking anything.”

She drew herself up a little with an air of question. “I believe
everybody really thinks, too, and it’s your duty to let them find out
what they’re thinking, by truly saying what you think.”

“Then _she_ isn’t dealing quite honestly with him,” said Hewson, with a
malicious smile.

The man at Miss Hernshaw’s left was still talking about the play, and he
was at that moment getting off a piece of pure parrotry about it to the
lady across the table: just what everybody had been saying about it from
the first.

“No, I should think she was not,” said the girl, gravely. She looked
hurt, as if she had been unfairly forced to the logic of her postulate,
and Hewson was not altogether pleased with himself; but at least he had
had his revenge in making her realize the man’s vacuity.

He tried to get her back to talk about “Ghosts,” again, but she answered
with indifference, and just then he was arrested by something a man was
saying near the head of the table.



VII.


It was rather a large dinner, but not so large that a striking phrase,
launched in a momentary lull, could not fuse all the wandering
attentions in a sole regard. The man who spoke was the psychologist
Wanhope, and he was saying with a melancholy that mocked itself a
little in his smile: “I shouldn’t be particular about seeing a ghost
myself. I have seen plenty of men who had seen men who had seen ghosts;
but I never yet saw a man who had seen a ghost. If I had it would go a
long way to persuade me of ghosts.”

Hewson felt his heart thump in his throat. There was a pause, and it was
as if all eyes but the eyes of the psychologist turned upon him; these
rested upon the ice which the servant had just then silently slipped
under them. Hewson had no reason to think that any of the people present
were acquainted with his experience, but he thought it safest to take
them upon the supposition that they had, and after he had said to the
psychologist, “Will you allow me to present him to you?” he added, “I’m
afraid every one else knows him too well already.”

“You!” said his _vis-à-vis_, arching her eyebrows; and others up and down
the table, looked round or over at Hewson where he sat midway of it with
Miss Hernshaw drooping beside him. She alone seemed indifferent to his
pretension; she seemed even insensible of it, as she broke off little
corners of her ice with her fork.

The psychologist fixed his eyes on him with scientific challenge as well
as scientific interest. “Do you mean that _you_ have seen a ghost?”

“Yes--ghost. Generically--provisionally. We always consider them ghosts,
don’t we, till they prove themselves something else? I once saw an
apparition.”

Several people who were near-sighted or far-placed put on their
eye-glasses, to make out whether Hewson were serious; a lady who had a
handsome forearm put up a lorgnette and inspected him through it; she had
the air of questioning his taste, and the subtle aura of her censure
penetrated to him, though she preserved a face of rigid impassivity. He
returned her stare defiantly, though he was aware of not reaching her
through the lenses as effectively as she reached him. Most of those who
prepared themselves to listen seemed to be putting him on trial, and they
apparently justified themselves in this from the cross-questioning method
the psychologist necessarily took in his wish to clarify the situation.

“How long ago was it?” he asked, coldly.

“Last summer.”

“Was it after dark?”

“Very much after. It was at day-break.”

“Oh! You were alone?”

“Quite.”

“You made sure you were not dreaming?”

“I made sure of that, instantly. I was not awakened by the apparition. I
was already fully awake.”

“Had your mind been running on anything of the kind?”

“Nothing could have been farther from it. I was thinking what a very long
while it would be till breakfast.” This was not true as to the order of
the fact; but Hewson could not keep himself from saying it, and it made a
laugh and created a diversion in his favor.

“How long did it seem to last?”

“The vision? That was very curious. The whole affair was quite achronic,
as I may say. The figure was there and it was not there.”

“It vanished suddenly?”

“I can’t say it vanished at all. It ought still to be there. Have you
ever returned to a place where you had always been wrong as to the points
of the compass, and found yourself right up to a certain moment as you
approached, and then without any apparent change, found yourself
perfectly wrong again? The figure was not there, and it was there, and
then it was not there.”

“I think I see what you mean,” said the psychologist, warily. “The
evanescence was subjective.”

“Altogether. But so was the apparescence.”

“Ah!” said Wanhope. “You hadn’t any headache?”

“Not the least.”

“Ah!” The psychologist desisted with the effect of letting the defence
take the witness.

A general dissatisfaction diffused itself, and Hewson felt it; but he
disdained to do anything to appease it. He remained silent for that
appreciable time which elapsed before his host said, almost
compassionately, “Won’t you tell us all about it, Mr. Hewson.”

The guests, all but Miss Hernshaw, seemed to return to their impartial
frame, with a leaning in Hewson’s favor, such as the court-room feels
when the accused is about to testify in his own behalf; the listeners
cannot help wishing him well, though they may have their own opinions of
his guilt.

“Why, there _isn’t_ any ‘all-about-it,’” said Hewson. “The whole thing
has been stated as to the circumstances and conditions.” He could see the
baffled greed in the eyes of those who were hungering for a morsel of the
marvellous, and he made it as meagre as he could. He had now no
temptation to exaggerate the simple fact, and he hurried it out in the
fewest possible words.



VIII.


The general disappointment was evident in the moment of waiting which
followed upon his almost contemptuous ending. His audience some of them
took their cue from his own ironical manner, and joked; others looked as
if they had been trifled with. The psychologist said, “Curious.” He did
not go back to his position that belief in ghosts should follow from
seeing a man who had seen one; he seemed rather annoyed by the encounter.
The talk took another turn and distributed itself again between
contiguous persons for the brief time that elapsed before the women were
to leave the men to their coffee and cigars.

When their hostess rose Hewson offered his arm to Miss Hernshaw. She had
not spoken to him since he had told the story of his apparition. Now she
said in an undertone so impassioned that every vibration from her voice
shook his heart, “If I were you, I would never tell that story again!”
 and she pressed his arm with unconscious intensity, while she looked
away from him.

“You don’t believe it happened?” he returned.

“It did.”

“Of course it happened! Why shouldn’t I believe that? But that’s the very
reason why I wouldn’t have told it. If it happened, it was something
sacred--awful! Oh, I don’t see how you could bear to speak of it at a
dinner, when people were all torpid with--”

She stopped breathlessly, with a break in her voice that sounded just
short of a sob.

“Well, I’m sufficiently ashamed of doing it, and not for the first time,”
 he said, in sullen discontent with himself. “And I’ve been properly
punished. You can’t think how sick it makes me to realize what a
detestable sensation I was seeking.”

She did not heed what he was saying. “Was it that morning at St.
Johnswort when you got up so early, and went for a cup of coffee at the
inn?”

“Yes.”

“I thought so! I could follow every instant of it; I could see just how
it was. If such a thing had happened to me, I would have died before I
spoke of it at such a time as this. Oh, _why_ do you suppose it happened
to you?” the girl grieved.

“Me, of all men?” said Hewson, with a self-contemptuous smile.

“I thought you were different,” she said absently; then abruptly: “What
are you standing here talking to me so long for? You must go back! All
the men have gone back,” and Hewson perceived that they had arrived in
the drawing-room, and were conspicuously parleying in the face of a dozen
interested women witnesses.

In the dining-room he took his way toward a vacant place at the table
near his host, who was saying behind his cigar to another old fellow: “I
used to know her mother; she was rather original too; but nothing to this
girl. I don’t envy Mrs. Rock her job.”

“I don’t know what the pay of a chaperon is, but I suppose Hernshaw can
make it worth her while, if he’s like the rest out there,” said the other
old fellow. “I imagine he’s somewhere in his millions.”

The host held up one of his fingers. “Is that all? I thought more.
Mines?”

“Cattle. Ah, Mr. Hewson,” said the host, turning to welcome him to the
chair on his other side. “Have a cigar. That was a strong story you gave
us. It had a good fault, though. It was too short.”



IX.


Hewson had begun now to feel a keen, persistent, painful sympathy for the
apparition itself as for some one whose confidence had been abused; and
this feeling was none the less, but all the more, poignant because it was
he himself who was guilty towards it. He pitied it in a sort as if it had
been the victim of a wrong more shocking perhaps for the want of taste in
it than for any real turpitude. This was a quality of the event not
without a strange consolation. In arraying him on the side of the
apparition, it antagonized him with what he had done, and enabled him to
renounce and disown it.

From the night of that dinner, Hewson did not again tell the story of his
apparition, though the opportunities to do so now sought him as
constantly as he had formerly sought them. They offered him a fresh
temptation through the different perversions of the fact that had got
commonly abroad, but he resisted this temptation, and let the
perversions, sometimes annoyingly, sometimes amusingly, but always more
and more wildly, wide of the reality, take their course. In his reticence
he had the sense of atoning not only to the apparition but to Miss
Hernshaw too.

[Illustration: “‘I’M AFRAID I’M RESPONSIBLE FOR THAT’”]

Before he met her again, Miss Hernshaw had been carried off to Europe by
Mrs. Rock, perhaps with the purpose of trying the veteran duplicities of
that continent in breaking down the insurgent sincerity of her ward.
Hewson heard that she was not to be gone a great while; it was well into
the winter when they started, and he understood that they were merely
going to Rome for the end of the season, and were then going to work
northward, and after June in London were coming home. He did not fail to
see her again before she left for any want of wishing, but he did not
happen to meet her at other houses, and at the house of Mrs. Rock, if she
had one, he had not been asked to call, or invited to any function. In
thinking the point over it occurred to Hewson that this was so because he
was not wanted there, and not wanted by Miss Hernshaw herself; for it had
been in his brief experience of her that she let people know what she
wanted, and that with Mrs. Rock, whose character seemed to answer to her
name but poorly, she had ways of getting what she wanted. If Miss
Hernshaw had wished to meet him again, he could not doubt that she would
have asked him, or at the least had him asked to come and see her, and
not have left it to the social fortutities to bring them together.
Towards the end of the term which rumor had fixed to her stay abroad
Hewson’s folly was embittered to him in a way that he had never expected
in his deepest shame and darkest forboding. But evil, like good, does not
cease till it has fulfilled itself in every possible consequence. It
seeing even more active and persistent. Good seems to satisfy itself
sometimes in the direct effect, but evil winds sinuously in and out, and
reaches round and over and under its wretched author, and strikes him in
every tender and fatal place, with an ingenuity in finding the places out
that seems truly of hell. Hewson thought he had paid the principal of his
debt in full through the hurt to his vanity in failing to gain any sort
of consequence from his apparition, but the interest of his debt had
accumulated, and the sorest pinch was in paying the interest. His penalty
took the form that was most of all distasteful to him: the form of
publicity in the Sunday edition of a newspaper. A young lady attached to
the staff of this journal had got hold of his story, and had made her
reporter’s Story of it, which she imaginatively cast in the shape of an
interview with Hewson. But worse than this, and really beyond the vagary
of the wildest nightmare, she gave St. Johnswort as the scene of the
apparition, with all the circumstances of the supposed burglary, while
tastefully disguising Hewson’s identity in the figure of A Well-Known
Society-man.

When Hewson read this Story (and it seemed to him that no means of
bringing it to his notice at the club, and on the street, and by mail was
left unemployed), he had two thoughts: one was of St. John, and one was
of Miss Hernshaw. In all his exploitations of his experience he had
carefully, he thought religiously, concealed the scene, except that one
only time when Miss Hernshaw suddenly got it out of him by that demand of
hers, “Was it that morning at St. Johnswort when you got up so early and
went for a cup of coffee at the inn?” He had confided so absolutely in
her that his admission had not troubled him at the time, and it had not
troubled him since, till now when he found the fact given this hideous
publicity, and knew that it could have become known only through her:
through her who had seemed to make herself the protectress of his
apparition and to guard it with indignation even against his own slight!

He could not tell himself what to think of her, and in this disability he
had at least the sad comfort of literally thinking nothing of her; but he
could not keep his thoughts away from St. John. It appeared to him that
he thought and lived nothing else till his dread concreted itself in the
letter which came from St. John as soon as that fatal newspaper could
reach him, and his demand for an explanation could come back to Hewson.
He wrote from St. Johnswort, where he had already gone for the season,
and he assumed, as no doubt he had a right to do, that the whole thing
was a fake, and that if Hewson was hesitating about denying it for fear
of giving it further prominence, or out of contempt for it, he wished
that he would not hesitate. There were reasons, which would suggest
themselves to Hewson, why the thing, if merely and entirely a fake,
should be very annoying, and he thought that it would be best to make the
denial immediate and imperative. To this end he advised Hewson’s sending
the newspaper people a lawyer’s letter; with the ulterior trouble which
this would intimate they would move in the matter with a quickened
conscience.

Apparently St. John was very much in earnest, and Hewson would eagerly
have lied out of it, he felt in sudden depravity, from a just regard for
St. John’s right to privacy in his own premises, but no lying, not the
boldest, not the most ingenious, could now avail. Scores of people could
witness that they had heard Hewson tell the story at first hand; at
second hand hundreds could still more confidently affirm its truth. But
if he admitted the truth of the fact and denied merely that it had
happened at St. Johnswort, he would have Miss Hernshaw to deal with and
what could he hope from truth so relentless as hers? She was of a moral
make so awful that if he ventured to deny it without appeal for her
support (which was impossible), she was quite capable of denying his
denial.

He did the only thing he could. He wrote to St. John declaring that the
newspaper story, though utterly false in its pretensions to be an
interview with him, was true in its essentials. The thing _had_ really
happened, he _had_ seen an apparition, and he had seen it at St.
Johnswort that morning when St. John supposed his house to have been
invaded by burglars. He vainly turned over a thousand deprecatory
expressions in his mind, with which to soften the blow but he let his
letter go without including one.



X.


A week of silence passed, and then one night St. John himself appeared at
Hewson’s apartment. Hewson almost knew that it was his ring at the door,
and in the tremulous note of his voice asking the man if he were at home,
he recognized the great blubbery fellow’s most plaintive mood.

“Well, Hewson,” he whimpered, without staying for any form of greeting
when they stood face to face, “this has been a terrible business for me.
You can’t imagine how it’s broken me up in every direction.”

“I--I’m afraid I can, St. John,” Hewson began, but St. John cut him off.

“Oh, no, you can’t. Look here!” He showed a handful of letters. “All from
people who had promised to stay with me, taking it back, since that
infernal interview of yours, or from people who hadn’t answered before,
saying they can’t come. Of course they make all sorts of civil excuses. I
shouldn’t know what to do with these people if any of them came. There
isn’t a servant left on the place, except the gardener who lives in his
own house, and the groom who sleeps in the stable. For the last three
days I’ve had to take my meals at that infernal inn where you got your
coffee.”

“Is it so bad as that?” Hewson gasped.

“Yes, it is. It’s so bad that sometimes I can’t realize it. Do you
actually mean to tell me, Hewson that you saw a ghost in my house?”

“I never said a ghost. I said an apparition. I don’t know what it was. It
may have been an optical delusion. I call it an apparition, because
that’s the shortest way out. You know I’m not a spiritualist.”

“Yes, that’s the devil of it,” said St. John. “That’s the very thing that
makes people believe it _is_ a ghost. There isn’t one of them that don’t
say to himself and the other fellows that if a cool, clear-headed chap
like you saw something queer, it _must_ have been a ghost; and so they go
on knocking my house down in price till I don’t believe it would fetch
fifteen hundred under the hammer to-morrow. It’s simply ruin to me.”

“Ruin?” Hewson echoed.

“Yes, ruin,” St. John repeated. “Before this thing came out I refused
twenty-five thousand for the place, because I knew I could get
twenty-eight thousand. Now I couldn’t get twenty-eight hundred. Couldn’t
you understand that the reputation of being haunted simply plays the
devil with a piece of property?” “Yes; yes, I did understand that, and
for that very reason I was always careful--”

“Careful! To tell people that you had seen a ghost in my house?”

“No! _Not_ to tell them where I had seen a ghost. I never--”

“How did it get out then?”

“I,” Hewson began, and then he stood with his mouth open, unable to close
it for the articulation of the next word, which he at last huskily
whispered forth, “can’t tell you.”

“Can’t tell me?” wailed St. John. “Well, I call that pretty rough!”

“It is rough,” Hewson admitted; “and Heaven knows that I would make it
smooth if I could. I never once--except once only--mentioned your place
in connection with the matter. I was scrupulously careful not to do so,
for I did imagine something like what has happened. I would do
anything--anything--in reparation. But I can’t even tell you how the name
of your place got out in the connection, though certainly you have a
right to ask and to know. The circumstances were--peculiar. The person--
was one that I wouldn’t have dreamt was capable of repeating it. It was
as if I had said the words over to myself.”

“Well, I can’t understand all that,” said St. John, with rueful
sulkiness, from which he brisked up to ask, as if by a sudden
inspiration, “If it was only to one person, why couldn’t you deny it, and
throw the onus on the other fellow?” He looked up at Hewson, standing
nerveless before him, from where he lay mournfully wallowing in an
easy-chair, as if now for the first time, there might be a gleam of hope
for them both in some such notion.

Hewson slowly shook his head. “It wouldn’t work. The person--isn’t that
kind of person.”

“Why, but see here,” St. John urged. “There must be something in the
fellow that you can appeal to. If you went and told him how it was
playing the very deuce with me pecuniarily, he would see the necessity of
letting you deny it, and taking the consequences, if he was anything of a
man at all.”

“He isn’t anything of a man at all,” said Hewson, in mechanical and
melancholy parody.

“Then in Heaven’s name what is he?” demanded St. John, savagely.

“A woman.” “Oh!” St. John fell back in his chair. But he pulled himself
up again with a sudden renewal of hope. “Why, see here! If she’s the
right kind of woman, she’ll enjoy denying the story, and putting the
people in the wrong that have circulated it!”

Hewson shook his head in rejection of the general principle, while, as to
the particular instance, he could only say: “She isn’t that kind. She’s
the kind that would rather die herself, and let everybody else die, than
be party to any sort of deception.”

“She must be a queer woman,” St. John bewailed himself, looking at the
point of his cigar, and discovering to his surprise that it was out. He
did not attempt to light it. “Of course, I can’t ask you _who_ she is;
but why shouldn’t I see her, and try what _I_ can do with her? I’m the
one that’s the principal sufferer in this matter,” he added, perhaps
seeing refusal in Hewson’s troubled eye.

“Because--for one reason--she’s in London.”

“Oh Lord!” St. John lamented.

“But if she were here in New York, I couldn’t allow it,” he continued.
“It was in confidence between us.”

“She doesn’t seem to have thought so,” said St. John, with sarcasm which
Hewson could not resent.

“There’s only one thing for me to do,” said Hewson, who had been thinking
the point over, and saw no other way out for him as a gentleman, or even
merely as a just man. He was not rich, and in the face of the mounting
accumulations of other men he had grown comparatively poor, without
actually losing money, since he had begun to lead the life which had long
been his ideal. After carefully ascertaining at the time in question that
he had sufficient income from inherited means to live without his
profession, he had closed his law-office without shutting many clients
out, and had contributed himself to the formation of a leisure class,
which he conceived was regrettably lacking in our conditions. He had
taste, he had reading, he had a pretty knowledge of the world from
travel, he had observed manners, and it seemed to him that he might not
immodestly pretend to supply, as far as one man went, a well-recognized
want.

Hitherto he had been able to live up to his ideal with, sufficient
satisfaction, and in proposing to himself never to marry, but to grow old
gradually and gracefully as a bachelor of adequate income, he saw no
difficulties in his way for the future, until this affair of the
apparition. If now he incurred the chances of an open change in his way
of living--the end was simply a question of very little time. He must not
only declass, he must depatriate himself, for he would not have the means
of living even much more economically than he now lived in New York, if
he did what a sense of honor, of just responsibility urged him to do with
regard to St. John.

He would have been glad of any interposition of Providence that would
have availed him against his obvious duty. He would have liked to recall
the words saying that there was only one thing for him to do, but he
could not recall them and he was forced to go on. “Will you sell me your
place?” he said to St. John, colorlessly.

“Sell you my place? What do you mean?”

“Simply that if you will, I shall be glad to buy it at your own
valuation.”

“Oh, look here, now, Hewson! I can’t let you do this,” St. John began,
trying to feel a magnanimity which proved impossible to him. “What do you
want with my place? You couldn’t get anybody to live there with you.”

“I couldn’t afford to live there in any case,” said Hewson; “but I am
entirely willing to risk the purchase.”

Was it possible that Hewson knew something of the neighborhood or its
future, which encouraged him to take the chances of the property
appreciating in value? This thought passed through St. John’s mind, and
he was not the man to let himself be overreached in a deal. “The place
ought to be worth thirty thousand,” he said, for a bluff.

It was a relief for Hewson to feel ashamed of St. John instead of
himself, for a moment. “Very well, I’ll give you thirty thousand.”

St. John examined himself for a responsive generosity. The most he could
say was, “You’re doing this because of what I’d said.”

“What does it matter? I make you a bonafide offer. I will give you thirty
thousand dollars for St. Johnswort,” said Hewson, haughtily. “I ask you
to sell me that place. I cannot see that it will ever be any good to me,
but I can assure you that it would be a far worse burden for me to carry
round the sense of having injured you, however unwillingly--God knows I
never meant you harm!--than to shoulder the chance of your place
remaining worthless on my hands.”

St. John caught at the hope which the form of words suggested. “If
anything can bring it up, it will be the fact that you have bought it.
Such a thing would give the lie to that ridiculous story, as nothing else
could. Every one will see that a house can’t be very badly haunted, if
the man that the ghost appeared to is willing to buy it.”

“Perhaps,” said Hewson sadly.

“No perhaps about it,” St. John retorted, all the more cheerfully because
he would have been glad before this incident to take twenty thousand for
his place. “It’s just on the borders of Lenox, and it’s bound to come up
when this blows over.” He talked on for a time in an encouraging strain,
while Hewson, standing with his back against the mantel, looked absently
down upon him. St. John was inwardly struggling through all to say that
Hewson might have the property for twenty-eight thousand, but he could
not. Possibly he made himself believe that he was letting it go a great
bargain at thirty; at any rate he ended by saying, “Well, it’s yours--if
you really mean it.”

“I mean it,” said Hewson.

St. John floundered up out of his chair with seal-like struggles. “Do you
want the furniture?” he panted.

“The furniture? Yes, why not?” said Hewson. He did not seem to know what
he was saying, or to care.

“I will put that in for a mere nominal consideration--the rugs alone are
worth the money--say a thousand more.”

Hewson’s man came in with a note. “The messenger is waiting, sir,” he
said.

Hewson was aware of wondering that he had not heard any ring. “Will you
excuse me?” he said, toward St. John.

“By all means,” said St. John.

Hewson opened the note, and read it with an expression which can only be
described as a radiant frown. He sat down at his desk, and wrote an
answer to the note, and gave it to his man, who was still waiting. Then
he said to St. John, “What did you say the rugs were worth?”

“A thousand.”

“I’ll take them. And what do you want for the rest of the furniture?”

Clearly he had not understood that the furniture, rugs, and all, had been
offered to him for a thousand dollars. But what was a man in St. John’s
place to do? As it was he was turning himself out of house and home for
Hewson, and that was sacrifice enough. He hesitated, sighed deeply, and
then said, “Well, I will throw all that in for a couple of thousand
more.”

“All right,” said Hewson, “I will give it. Have the papers made out and
I will have the money ready at once.”

“Oh, there’s no hurry about that, my dear fellow,” said St. John,
handsomely.



XI.


Hewson’s note was from Mrs. Rock, asking him to breakfast with her at the
Walholland the next morning. She said that they were just off the
steamer, which had got in late, and they had started so suddenly from
London that she had not had time to write and have her apartment opened.
She came to business in the last sentence where she said that Miss
Hernshaw joined her in kind remembrances, and wished her to say that he
must not fail them, or if he could not come to breakfast, to let them
know at what hour during the day he would be kind enough to call; it was
very important they should see him at the earliest possible moment.

Hewson instantly decided that this summons was related to the affair of
his apparition, without imagining how or why, and when Miss Hernshaw met
him, and almost before she could say that Mrs. Rock would be down in a
moment, began with it, he made no feint of having come for anything else.

[Illustration: “‘WHY, THERE ISN’T ANY PUNISHMENT SEVERE ENOUGH FOR A
CRIME LIKE THAT’”]

As he entered the door of Mrs. Rock’s parlor, where the breakfast table
was laid, the girl came swiftly toward him, with the air of having turned
from watching for him at the window. “Well, what do you think of me?” she
demanded as soon as she had got over Mrs. Rock’s excuses for having her
receive him. He had of course to repeat, “What do I think of you?” but he
knew perfectly what she meant.

She disdained to help him pretend that he did not know. “It was I who
told that horrible woman about your experience at St. Johnswort. I
didn’t dream that she was an interviewer, but that doesn’t excuse me,
and I am willing to take any punishment for my--I don’t know what to call
it--mischief.”

She was so intensely ready, so magnificently prepared for the stake, if
that should be her sentence, that Hewson could not help laughing. “Why
there isn’t any punishment severe enough for a crime like that,” he
began, but she would not allow him to trifle with the matter.

“Oh, I didn’t think you would be so uncandid! The instant I read that
interview I made Mrs. Rock get ready to come. And we started the first
steamer. It seemed to me that I could not eat or sleep, till I had seen
you and told you what I had done and taken the consequences. And now do
you think it right to turn it off as a joke?”

“I don’t wish to make a joke of it,” said Hewson, gravely, in compliance
with her mood. “But I don’t understand, quite, how you could have got the
story over there in time for you--”

“It was cabled to their London edition--that’s what it said in the paper;
and by this time they must have it in Australia,” said Miss Hernshaw,
with unrelieved severity.

“Oh!” said Hewson, giving himself time to realize that he was the
psychical hero of two hemispheres. “Well,” he resumed “what do you expect
me to say?”

“I don’t know what I expect. I expected you to say something without my
prompting you. You know that it was outrageous for me to talk about your
apparition without your leave, and to be the means of its getting into
the newspapers.”

“I’m not sure you were the means. I have told the story a hundred
times, myself.”

“But that doesn’t excuse me. You knew the kind of people to tell it to,
and I didn’t.”

“Oh, I am afraid I was willing to tell it to all kinds of people--to any
kind that would listen.”

“You are trying to evade me, Mr. Hewson,” she said, with a severity he
found charming. “I didn’t expect that of you.”

The appeal was not lost upon Hewson. “What do you want me to say?”

“I want you,” said Miss Hernshaw, with an effect of giving him another
trial, “to say--to acknowledge that you were terribly annoyed by that
interview.”

“If you will excuse me from attaching the slightest blame to you for it,
I will acknowledge that I was annoyed.”

Miss Hernshaw drew a deep breath as of relief. “I will arrange about
the blame,” she said loftily. “And now I wish to tell you how I
never supposed that girl was an interviewer. We were all together
at an artist’s house in Rome, and after dinner, we got to telling
ghost-stories, the way people do, around the fire, and I told mine--yours
I mean. And before we broke up, this girl came to me--it was while we
were putting on our wraps--and introduced herself, and said how much she
had been impressed by my story--of course, I mean your story--and she
said she supposed it was made up. I said I should not dream of making up
a thing of that kind, and that it was every word true, and I had heard
the person it happened to tell it himself. I don’t know! I was vain of
having heard it, so, at first hand.”

“I can understand,” said Hewson, sadly.

“And then I told her who the person was, and where it happened--and about
the burglary. You can’t imagine how silly people get when they begin
going in that direction.”

“I am afraid I can,” said Hewson.

“She seemed very grateful somehow; I couldn’t see why, but I didn’t ask;
and then I didn’t think about it again till I saw it in that awful
newspaper. She sent it to me herself; she was such a simpleton; she
thought I would actually like to see it. She must have written it down,
and sent it to the paper, and they printed it when they got ready to; she
needed the money, I suppose. Then I began to wonder what you would say,
when you remembered how I blamed you for telling the same story--only not
half so bad--at that dinner.”

“I always felt you were quite right,” said Hewson. “I have always thanked
you in my own mind for being so frank with me.”

“Well, and what do you think now, when you know that I was ten times as
bad as you--ten times as foolish and vulgar!”

“I haven’t had time to formulate my ideas yet,” Hewson urged.

“You know perfectly well that you despise me. Can you say that I had any
right to give your name?”

“It must have got out sooner or later. I never asked any one not to
mention my name when I told the story--”

“I see that you think I took a liberty, and I did. But that’s nothing.
That isn’t the point. How I do keep beating about the bush! Mrs. Rock
says it was a great deal worse to tell where it happened, for that would
give the place the reputation of being haunted and nobody could ever live
there afterwards, for they couldn’t keep servants, even if they didn’t
have the creeps themselves, and it would ruin the property.”

Hewson had not been able, when she touched upon this point, to elude the
keen eye with which she read his silent thought.

“Is that true?” she demanded.

“Oh, no; oh, no,” he began, but he could not frame in plausible terms the
lies he would have uttered. He only succeeded in saying, “Those things
soon blow over.”

“Then how,” she said, sternly, “does it happen that in every town and
village, almost, there are houses that you can hardly hire anybody to
live in, because people say they are haunted? No, Mr. Hewson, it’s very
kind of you, and I appreciate it, but you can’t make me believe that it
will ever blow over, about St. Johnswort. Have you heard from Mr. St.
John since?”

“Yes,” Hewson was obliged to own.

“And was he very much troubled about it? I should think he was a man that
would be, from the way he behaved about the burglary. Was he?” she
persisted, seeing that Hewson hesitated.

“Yes, I must say he was.”

There was a sound of walking to and fro in the adjoining room, a quick
shutting as of trunk-lids, a noise as of a skirt shaken out, and steps
advanced to the door. Miss Hernshaw ran to it and turned the key in the
lock. “Not yet, Mrs. Rock,” she called to the unseen presence within, and
she explained to Hewson, as she faced him again, “She promised that I
should have it all out with you myself, and now I’m not going to have her
in here, interrupting. Well, did he write to you?”

“Yes, he wrote to me. He wanted me to deny the story.”

“And did you?”

“Of course not!” said Hewson, with a note of indignation. “It was true.
Besides it wouldn’t have been of any use.”

“No, it would have been wicked and it would have been useless. And then
what did he say?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing? And you have never heard another word from him?”

“Yes, he came to see me last night.”

“Here in New York? Is he here yet?”

“I suppose so.”

“Where?”

“I believe at the Overpark.”

Miss Hernshaw caught her breath, as if she were going to speak, but she
did not say anything.

“Why do you insist upon all this, Miss Hernshaw?” he entreated. “It can
do you no good to follow the matter up!”

“Do you think I want to do myself _good?_” she returned. “I want to do
myself _harm!_ What did he say when he came to see you?”

“Well, you can imagine,” said Hewson, not able to keep out of his tone
the lingering disgust he felt for St. John.

“He complained?”

“He all but shed tears,” said Hewson, recalled to a humorous sense of St.
John’s behavior. “I felt sorry for him; though,” he added, darkly, “I
can’t say that I do now.”

Miss Hernshaw didn’t seek to fathom the mystery of his closing words.
“Had he been actually inconvenienced by that thing in the paper?”

“Yes--somewhat.”

“How much?”

“Oh,” Hewson groaned. “If you must know--”

“I must! The worst!”

“It had fairly turned him out of house and home. His servants had all
left him, and he had been reduced to taking his meals at the inn. He
showed me a handful of letters from people whom he had asked to visit
him, withdrawing their acceptances, or making excuses for not accepting.”

“Ah!” said Miss Hernshaw, with a deep, inward breath, as if this now were
indeed something like the punishment she had expected. “And will it--did
he think--did he say anything about the pecuniary effect--the--whether it
would hurt the property?”

“He seemed to think it would,” answered Hewson, reluctantly, and he
added, unfortunately for his generous purpose, “I really can’t enter upon
that part.”

She arched her eyebrows in grieved surprise. “But that is the very part
that I want you to enter upon Mr. Hewson. You _must_ tell me, now! Did he
say that it had injured the property very much?”

“He did, but--”

“But what?”

“I think St. John is a man to put the worst face on that matter.”

“You are saying that to keep me from feeling badly. But I ought to feel
badly--I _wish_ to feel badly. I suppose he said that it wasn’t worth
anything now.”

“Something of that sort,” Hewson helplessly admitted.

“Very well, then, I will buy it for whatever he chooses to ask!” With the
precipitation which characterized all her actions, Miss Hernshaw rose
from the chair in which she had been provisionally sitting, pushed an
electric button in the wall, swirled away to the other side of the room,
unlocked the door behind which those sounds had subsided, and flinging it
open, said, “You can come out, Mrs. Hock; I’ve rung for breakfast.”

Mrs. Rock came smoothly forth, with her vague eyes wandering over every
other object in the room, till they rested upon Hewson, directly before
her. Then she gave him her hand, and asked, with a smile, as if taking
him into the joke. “Well, has Rosalie had it out with you?”

“I have had it out with him, Mrs. Rock,” Miss Hernshaw answered, “and I
will tell you all about it later. Now I want my breakfast.”



XII.


Hewson ate the meal before him, and it was a very good one, as from time
to time he noted, in a daze which was as strange a confusion of the two
consciousnesses as he had ever experienced. Whatever the convention was
between Miss Hernshaw and Mrs. Rock with regard to the matter in hand, or
lately in hand, it dropped, after a few uninterested inquiries from Mrs.
Rock, who was satisfied, or seemed so, to know that Miss Hernshaw had got
at the worst. She led the talk to other things, like the comparative
comforts and discomforts of the line to Genoa and the line to Liverpool;
and Hewson met her upon these polite topics with an apparent fulness of
interest that would have deceived a much more attentive listener.

All the time he was arguing with Miss Hernshaw in his nether
consciousness, pleading with her to keep her away from the fact that he
had himself bought St. Johnswort, until he could frame some fitting
form in which to tell her that he had bought it. With his outward eyes,
he saw her drooping on the opposite side of the table, and in spite of
her declaration that she wanted her breakfast, making nothing of it,
after the preliminary melon, while to his inward vision she was
passionately refusing, by every charming perversity, to be tempted
away from the subject.

As the Cunard boats always get in on Saturday, this morrow of their
arrival was naturally Sunday; and after a while Hewson fancied symptoms
of going to church in Mrs. Rock. She could not have become more vague
than she ordinarily was, but her wanderings were of a kind of devotional
character. She spoke of the American church in Rome, and asked Hewson if
he knew the rector. Then, when he said he was afraid he was keeping her
from going to church, she said she did not know whether Rosalie intended
going. At the same time she rose from the table, and Hewson found that he
should not be allowed to sit down again, unless by violence. He had to go
away, and he went, as little at ease in his mind as he very well could
be.

He was no sooner out of the house than he felt the necessity of
returning. He did not know how or when Miss Hernshaw would write to St.
John, but that she would do so, he did not at all doubt, and then, when
the truth came out, what would she think of him? He did not think her a
very wise person; she seemed to him rather a wild and whirling person in
her ideals of conduct, an unbridled and undisciplined person; and yet he
was aware of profoundly and tenderly respecting her as a creature of the
most inexpugnable innocence and final goodness. He could not bear to have
her feel that he had trifled with her. There had not been many meetings
between them, but each meeting had been of such event that it had
advanced their acquaintance far beyond the point that it could have
reached through weeks of ordinary association. From the first there had
been that sort of intimacy which exists between spirits which encounter
in the region of absolute sincerity. She had never used the least of
those arts which women use in concealing the candor of their natures from
men unworthy of it; she had not only practiced her rule of instant and
constant veracity, but had avowed it, and as it were, invited his
judgment of it. Hitherto, he had met her half-way at least, but now he
was in the coil of a disingenuousness which must more and more trammel
him from her, unless he found some way to declare the fact to her.

This ought to have been an easy matter, but it was not easy; upon
reflection it grew rather more difficult. Hewson did not see how he could
avow the fact, which he wished to avow, without intolerable awkwardness;
without the effect of boasting, without putting upon her a burden which
he had no right to put. To be sure, she had got herself in for it all by
her divine imprudence, but she had owned her error in that as promptly as
if it had been the blame of some one else. Still Hewson doubted whether
her magnanimity was large enough to go round in the case of a man who
tried to let his magnanimity come upon her with any sort of dramatic
surprise. This was what he must seem to be doing if he now left her to
learn from another how he had kept St. John from loss by himself assuming
the chance of depreciation in his property. But if he went and told her
that he had done it, how much better for him would that be?

He took a long, unhappy walk up into the Park, and then he walked back to
the Walholland. By this time he thought Mrs. Rock and Miss Hernshaw must
have been to church, but he had not the courage to send up his name to
them. He waited about in the region of the dining-room, in the senseless
hope that it would be better for him to surprise them on their way to
luncheon, and trust to some chance for introducing his confession, than
to seek a direct interview with Miss Hernshaw. But they did not come to
luncheon, and then Hewson had the clerk send up his card. Word came back
that the ladies would see him, and he followed the messenger to Mrs.
Rock’s apartment, where if he was surprised, he was not disappointed to
be received by Miss Hernshaw alone.

“Mrs. Rock is lying down,” she explained, “but I thought that it might be
something important, and you would not mind seeing me.”

“Not at all,” said Hewson, with what seemed to him afterwards superfluous
politeness, and then they both waited until he could formulate his
business, Miss Hernshaw drooping forward, and looking down in a way that
he had found was most characteristic of her. “It _is_ something
important--at least it is important to me. Miss Hernshaw, may I ask
whether you have done anything--it seems a very unwarrantable
question--about St. Johnswort?”

“About buying it?”

“Yes. It will be useless to make any offer for it.”

“Why will it be useless to do that?”

“Because--because I have bought it myself.”

“You have bought it?”

“Yes; when he came to me last night, and made those
representations--Well, in short, I have bought the place.”

“To save him from losing money by that--story?”

“Well--yes. I ought to have told you the fact this morning, as soon as
you said you would buy the place. I know that you like people to be
perfectly truthful. But--I couldn’t--without seeming to--brag.”

“I understand,” said Miss Hernshaw.

“I took the risk of your writing to St. John; but then I realized that if
he answered and told you what I ought to have told you myself, it would
make it worse, and I came back.”

“I don’t know whether it would have made it worse; but you have come too
late,” said Miss Hernshaw. “I’ve just written to Mr. St. John.”

They were both silent for what Hewson thought a long time. At the end of
it, he asked, “Did you--you must excuse me--refer to me at all?”

“No, certainly not. Why should I?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know that it would have mattered.” He was silent
again, with bowed head; when he looked up he saw tears in the girl’s
eyes.

“I suppose you know where this leaves me?” she said gently.

“I can’t pretend that I don’t,” answered Hewson. “What can I do?”

“You can sell me the place for what it cost you.”

“Oh, no, I can’t do that,” said Hewson.

“Why do you say that? It isn’t as if I were poor; but even then you
wouldn’t have the right to refuse me if I insisted. It was my fault that
it ever came out about St. Johnswort. It might have come out about you,
but the harm to Mr. St. John--I did that, and why should you take it upon
yourself?”

“Because I was really to blame from the beginning to the end. If it had
not been for my pitiful wish to shine as the confidant of mystery,
nothing would have been known of the affair. Even when you asked me that
night if it had not happened at St. Johnswort, I know now that I had a
wretched triumph in saying that it had, and I was so full of this that I
did not think to caution you against repeating what I had owned.”

“Yes,” said the girl, with her unsparing honesty, “if you had given
me any hint, I would not have told for the world. Of course I did not
think--a girl wouldn’t--of the effect it would have on the property.”

“No, you wouldn’t think of that,” said Hewson. Though he agreed with
her, he would have preferred that she should continue to blame herself;
but he took himself severely in hand again. “So, you see, the fault was
altogether mine, and if there is to be any penalty it ought to fall upon
me.”

“Yes,” said Miss Hernshaw, “and if there has been a fault there ought to
be a penalty, don’t you think? It would have been no penalty for me to
buy St. Johnswort. My father wouldn’t have minded it.” She blushed
suddenly, and added, “I don’t mean that--You may be so rich that--I think
I had better stop.”

“No, no!” said Hewson, amused, and glad of the relief. “Go on. I will
tell you anything you wish to know.”

“I don’t wish, to know anything,” said Miss Hernshaw, haughtily.

Her words seemed to put an end to an interview for which there was no
longer any excuse.

Hewson rose. “Good-by,” he said, and he was rather surprised at her
putting out her hand, but he took it gratefully. “Will you make my adieux
to Mrs. Rock? And excuse my coming a second time to trouble you!”

“I don’t see how you could have helped coming,” said Miss Hernshaw, “when
you thought I might write to Mr. St. John at once.”

Whether this implied excuse or greater blame, Hewson had to go away with
it as her final response, and he went away certainly in as great
discomfort as he had come. He did not feel quite well used; it seemed to
him that hard measure had been dealt him on all sides, but especially by
Miss Hernshaw. After her futile effort at reparation to St. John she had
apparently withdrawn from all responsibility in the matter. He did not
know when he was to see her again, if ever, and he did not know what he
was to wait for, if anything.

Still he had the sense of waiting for something, or for some one, and he
went home to wait. There he perceived that it was for St. John, who did
not keep him waiting long. His nervous ring roused Hewson half an hour
after his return, and St. John came in with a look in his greedy eyes
which Hewson rightly interpreted at the first glance.

“See here, Hewson,” St. John said, with his habitual lack of manners. “I
don’t want to get you in for this thing at St. Johnswort. I know why you
offered to buy the place, and though of course you are the original cause
of the trouble, I don’t feel that it’s quite fair to let you shoulder the
consequences altogether.”

“Have I been complaining?” Hewson asked, dryly.

“No, and that’s just it. You’ve behaved like a little man through it all,
and I don’t like to take advantage of you. If you want to rue your
bargain, I’ll call it off. I’ve had some fresh light on the matter, and I
believe I can let you off without loss to myself. So that if it’s me
you’re considering--”

“What’s your fresh light?” asked Hewson.

“Well,” said St. John, and he swallowed rather hard, as if it were a
pill, “the fact is, I’ve had another offer for the place.”

“A better one?”

“Well, I don’t know that I can say that it is,” answered St. John, saving
his conscience in the form of the words.

Hewson knew that he was lying, and he had no mercy on him. “Then I
believe I’ll stick to my bargain. You say that the other party hasn’t
bettered my offer, and so I needn’t withdraw on your account. I’m not
bound to withdraw for any other reason.”

“No, of course not.” St. John rubbed his chin, as if hesitating to eat
his words, however unpalatable; but in the end he seemed not to find it
possible. “Well,” he said, disgustedly, as he floundered up to take his
leave, “I thought I ought to come and give you the chance.”

“It’s very nice of you,” said Hewson, with a smile that made itself a
derisive grin in spite of him, and a laugh of triumph when the door had
closed upon St. John.



XIII.


After the first flush of Hewson’s triumph had passed he began to enjoy it
less, and by-and-by he did not enjoy it at all. He had done right not
only in keeping St. John from plundering Miss Hernshaw, but in standing
firm and taking the punishment which ought to fall upon him and not on
her. But the sense of having done right sufficed him no more than the
sense of having got the better of St. John. What was lacking to him? In
the casuistry of the moment, which was perhaps rather emotional than
rational, it appeared to Hewson that he had again a duty toward Miss
Hernshaw, and that his feeling of dissatisfaction was the first effect of
its non-fulfilment. But it was clearly impossible that he should go again
to see her, and tell her what had passed between him and St. John, and it
was clearly impossible that he should write and tell her what it was
quite as clearly her right to know from him. If he went to her, or wrote
to her, he felt himself in danger of wanting to shine in the affair, as
her protector against the rapacity of St. John, and as the man of
superior quality who had outwitted a greedy fellow. The fear that she
might not admire his splendor in either sort caused him to fall somewhat
nervelessly back upon Providence; but if the moral government of the
universe finally favored him it was not by traversing any of its own
laws. By the time he had determined to achieve both the impossibilities
which formed his dilemma--had decided to write to Miss Hernshaw and call
upon her, and leave his letter in the event of failing to find her--his
problem was as far solved as it might be, by the arrival of a note from
Miss Hernshaw herself, hoping that he would come to see her on business
of pressing importance.

She received him without any pretence of Mrs. Rock’s intermediary
presence, and put before him a letter which she had received, before
writing him, from St. John, and which she could not answer without first
submitting it to him. It was a sufficiently straightforward expression of
his regret that he could not accept her very generous offer for St.
Johnswort because the place was already sold. He had the taste to forbear
any allusion to the motives which (she told Hewson) she had said prompted
her offer; but then he became very darkling and sinuous in a suggestion
that if Miss Hernshaw wished to have her offer known as hers to the
purchaser of St. Johnswort he would be happy to notify him of it.

“You see,” she eagerly commented to Hewson, “he does not give your name;
but I know who it is, though I did not know when I made him my offer. I
must answer his letter now, and what shall I say? Shall I tell him I know
who it is? I should like to; I hate all concealments! Will it do any harm
to tell him I know?”

Hewson reflected. “I don’t see how it can. I was trying to come to you,
when I got your note, to say that St. John had been to see me, and
offered to release me from my offer, because, as I thought, you had made
him a better one. He’s amusingly rapacious, St. John is.”

“And what did you--I beg your pardon!”

“Oh, not at all. I said I would stand to my offer.”

She repressed, apparently, some form of protest, and presently asked,
“And what shall I say?”

“Oh, if you like, that you have learned who the purchaser of St.
Johnswort is, and that you know he will not give way.”

“Well!” she said, with a quick sigh, as of disappointment. After an
indefinite pause, she asked, “Shall you be going to St. Johnswort?”

“Why, I don’t know,” Hewson answered. “I had thought of going to Europe.
But, yes, I think I shall go to St. Johnswort, first, at any rate. One
can’t simply turn one’s back on a piece of real estate in that way,” he
said, recognizing a fact that would doubtless have presented itself in
due order for his consideration. “My one notion was to forget it as
quickly as possible.”

“I should not think you would want to do that,” said the girl, seriously.

“No, one oughtn’t to neglect an investment.”

“I don’t mean that. But if such a thing had happened to me, there, I
should want to go again and again.”

“You mean the apparition? Did I tell you how I had always had the
expectation that I should see it again, and perhaps understand it? But
when I had behaved so shabbily about it, I began to feel that it would
not come again.”

“If I were in your place,” said the girl, “I should never give up; I
should spend my whole life trying to find out what it meant.”

“Ah!” he sighed. “I wish you could put yourself in my place.”

“I wish I could,” she returned, intensely.

They looked into each other’s faces.

“Miss Hernshaw,” he demanded, solemnly, “do you really like people to say
what they think?”

“Of course I do!”

“Then I wish you would come to St. Johnswort with me!”

“Would that do?” she asked. “If Mrs. Rock--”

He saw how far she was from taking his meaning, but he pushed on. “I
don’t want Mrs. Rock. I want you--you alone. Don’t you understand me? I
love you. I--of course it’s ridiculous! We’ve only met three or four
times in our lives, but I knew this as well the first moment as I do now.
I knew it when you came walking across the garden that morning, and I
haven’t known it any better since, and I couldn’t in a thousand years.
But of course--”

“Sit down,” she said, wafting herself into a chair, and he obeyed her. “I
should have to tell my father,” she began.

“Why, certainly,” and he sprang to his feet again.

She commanded him to his chair with an imperative gesture. “I have got
to find out what I think, first, myself. If I were sure that I loved
you--but I don’t know. I believe you are good. I believed that when they
were all joking you there at breakfast, and you took it so nicely; I have
_always_ believed that you were good.”

She seemed to be appealing to him for confirmation, but he could not very
well say that she was right, and he kept silent. “I didn’t like your
telling that story at the dinner, and I said so; and then I went and did
the same thing, or worse; so that I have nothing to say about that. And I
think you have behaved very nobly to Mr. St. John.” As if at some sign of
protest in Hewson, she insisted, “Yes, I do! But all this doesn’t prove
that I love you.” Again she seemed to appeal to him, and this time he
thought he might answer her appeal.

“I couldn’t prove that _I_ love _you_, but I feel sure of it.”

“And do you believe that we ought to take our feelings for a guide?”

“That’s what people do,” he ventured, with the glimmer of a smile in his
eyes, which she was fixing so earnestly with her own.

“I am not satisfied that it is the right way,” she answered. “If there is
really such a thing as love there ought to be some way of finding it out
besides our feelings. Don’t you think it’s a thing we ought to talk
sensibly about?”

“Of all things in the world; though it isn’t the custom.”

Miss Hernshaw was silent for a moment. Then she said, “I believe I should
like a little time.”

“Oh, I didn’t expect you to answer me at once,--I”

“But if you are going to Europe?”

“I needn’t go to Europe at all. I can go to St. Johnswort, and wait for
your answer there.”

“It might be a good while,” she urged. “I should want to tell my father
that I was thinking about it, and he would want to see you before he
approved.”

“Why, of course!”

“Not,” she added, “that it would make any difference, if I was sure of it
myself. He has always said that he would not try to control me in such a
matter, and I think he would like you. I do like you very much myself,
Mr. Hewson, but I don’t think it would be right to say I loved you unless
I could prove it.”

Hewson was tempted to say that she could prove it by marrying him, but he
had not the heart to mock a scruple which he felt to be sacred. What he
did say was: “Then I will wait till you can prove it. Do you wish me not
to see you again, before you have made up your mind?”

“I don’t know. I can’t see what harm there would be in our meeting.”
 “No, I can’t, either,” said Hewson, as she seemed to refer the point to
him. “Should you mind my coming again, say, this evening?”

“To-night?” She reflected a moment. “Yes, come to-night.”

When he came after dinner, Hewson was sensible from the perfect
unconsciousness of Mrs. Rock’s manner that Miss Hernshaw had been telling
her. Her habit of a wandering eye, contributed to the effect she wished
to produce, if this were the effect, and her success was such that it
might easily have deceived herself. But when Mrs. Rock, in a supreme
exercise of her unconsciousness, left him with the girl for a brief
interval before it was time for him to go, Miss Hernshaw said, “Mrs. Rock
knows about it, and she says that the best way for me to find out will be
to try whether I can live without you.”

“Was that Mrs. Rock’s idea?” asked Hewson, as gravely as he could.

“No it was mine; I suggested it to her; but she approves of it. Don’t
you like it?”

“Yes. I hope I sha’n’t die while you are trying to live without me. Shall
you be very long?” She frowned, and he hastened to say, “I do like your
idea; it’s the best way, and I thank you for giving me a chance.”

“We are going out to my father’s ranch in Colorado, at once,” she
explained. “We shall start to-morrow morning.”

“Oh! May I come to see you off?”

“No, I would rather begin at once.”

“May I write to you?”

“I will write to you--when I’ve decided.”

She gave him her hand, but she would not allow him to keep it for more
than farewell, and then she made him stay till Mrs. Rock came back, and
take leave of her too; he had frankly forgotten Mrs. Rock, who bade him
adieu with averted eyes, and many civilities about seeing him again. She
could hardly have been said to be seeing him then.



XIV.


The difficulties of domestication at St. Johnswort had not been
misrepresented by the late proprietor, Hewson found, when he went to take
possession of his estate. He thought it right in engaging servants to say
openly that the place had the reputation of being haunted, and if he had
not thought it right he would have thought it expedient, for he knew that
if he had concealed the fact it would have been discovered to them within
twenty-four hours of their arrival. His declaration was sufficient at
once with most, who recoiled from his service as if he had himself been a
ghost; with one or two sceptics who seemed willing to take the risks
(probably in a guilty consciousness of records that would have kept them
out of other employ) his confession that he had himself seen the spectre
which haunted St. Johnswort, was equally effective. He prevailed at last
against the fact and his own testimony with a Japanese, who could not be
made to understand the objection to the place, and who willingly went
with Hewson as his valet and general house-workman. With the wife of the
gardener coming in to cook for them during the long daylight, he got on
in as much comfort as he could have expected, and by night he suffered no
sort of disturbance from the apparition. He had expected to be annoyed by
believers in spiritualism, and other psychical inquirers, but it sufficed
with them to learn from him that he had come to regard his experience, of
which he had no more question now than ever, as purely subjective.

It seemed to Hewson, in the six weeks’ time which he spent at St.
Johnswort, waiting to hear from Rosalie (he had come already to think of
her as Rosalie), that all his life was subjective, it passed so like a
dream. He had some outward cares as to the place; he kept a horse in the
stable, where St. John had kept half a dozen, and he had the gardener
look after that as well as the shrubs and vegetables; but all went on in
a suspensive and provisional sort. In the mean time Rosalie’s charm grew
upon him; everything that she had said or looked, was hourly and daily
sweeter and dearer; her truth was intoxicating, beyond the lures of other
women, in which the quality of deceit had once fascinated him. Now, so
late in his youthful life, he realized that there was no beauty but that
of truth, and he pledged himself a thousand times that if she should say
she could not live without him he would henceforward live for truth
alone, and not for the truth merely as it was in her, but as it was in
everything. In those day’s he learned to know himself, as he never had
before, and to put off a certain shell of worldliness that had grown upon
him. In his remoteness from it, New York became very distasteful to him;
he thought with reluctance of going back to it; his club, which had been
his home, now appeared a joyless exile; the life of a leisure class,
which he had made his ideal, looked pitifully mean and little in the
retrospect; he wondered how he could have valued the things that he had
once thought worthy. He did not know what he should replace it all with,
but Rosalie would know, in the event of not being able to live without
him. In that event there was hardly any use of which he could not be
capable. In any other event--he surprised himself by realizing that in
any other event--still the universe had somehow more meaning than it once
had. Somehow, he felt himself an emancipated man.

He began many letters to Rosalie, and some he finished and some not, but
he sent none; and when her letter came at last, he was glad that he had
waited for it in implicit trust of its coming, though he believed she
would have forgiven him if he had not had the patience. The letter was
quite what he could have imagined of her. She said that she had put
herself thoroughly to the test, and she could not live without him. But
if he had found out that he could live without her, then she should know
that she had been to blame, and would take her punishment. Apparently in
her philosophy, which now seemed to him so divine, without punishment
there must be perdition; it was the penalty that redeemed; that was the
token of forgiveness.

Hewson hurried out to Colorado, where he found Hernshaw a stout, silent,
impersonal man, whose notion of the paternal office seemed to be a ready
acquiescence in a daughter’s choice of a husband; he appeared to think
this could be best expressed to Hewson in a good cigar He perceptibly
enjoyed the business details of the affair, but he enjoyed despatching
them in the least possible time and the fewest words, and then he settled
down to the pleasure of a superficial passivity. Hewson could not make
out that he regarded his daughter as at all an unusual girl, and from
this he argued that her mother must have been a very unusual woman. His
only reason for doubting that Rosalie must have got all her originality
from her mother was something that fell from Hernshaw when they were near
the end of their cigars. He said irrelevantly to their talk at that
point, “I suppose you know Rosalie believes in that ghost of yours?”

“Was it a ghost?--I’ve never been sure, myself,” said Hewson.

“How do you explain it?” asked his prospective father-in-law.

“I don’t explain it. I have always left it just as it was. I know that it
was a real experience.”

“I think I should have left it so, too,” said Hernshaw. “That always
gives it a chance to explain itself. If such a thing had happened to me I
should give it all the time it wanted.”

“Well, I haven’t hurried it,” Hewson suggested.

“What I mean,” and Hernshaw stepped to the edge of the porch and threw
the butt of his cigar into the darkness, where it described a glimmering
arc, “is that if anything came to me that would help shore up my
professed faith in what most of us want to believe in, I would take the
common-law view of it. I would believe it was innocent till it proved
itself guilty. I wouldn’t try to make it out a fraud myself.”

“I’m afraid that’s what I’ve really done,” said Hewson. “But before
people I’ve put up a bluff of despising it.”

“Oh, yes, I understand that,” said Hernshaw. “A man thinks that if he
can have an experience like that he must be something out of the common,
and if he can despise it--”

“You’ve hit my case exactly,” said Hewson, and the two men laughed.



XV.


After his marriage, which took place without needless delay, Hewson
returned with his wife to spend their honey-moon at St. Johnswort. The
honey-moon prolonged itself during an entire year, and in this time they
contrived so far to live down its reputation of being a haunted house
that they were able to conduct their _ménage_ on the ordinary terms. They
themselves never wished to lose the sense of something supernatural in
the place, and were never quite able to accept the actual conditions as
final. That is to say, Rosalie was not, for she had taken Hewson’s
apparition under her peculiar care, and defended it against even his
question. She had a feeling (it was scarcely a conviction) that if he
believed more strenuously in the validity of his apparition as an
authorized messenger from the unseen world it would yet come again and
declare its errand. She could not accept the theory that if such a thing
actually happened it could happen for nothing at all, or that the reason
of its occurrence could be indefinitely postponed. She was impatient of
that, as often as he urged the possibility, and she wished him to use a
seriousness of mind in speaking of his apparition which should form some
sort of atonement to it for his past levity, though since she had taken
his apparition into her keeping he had scarcely hazarded any suggestion
concerning it; in fact it had become so much her apparition that he had a
fantastic reluctance from meddling with it.

“You are always requiring a great occasion for it,” he said, at last.
“What greater event could it have foreshadowed or foreshown, than that
which actually came to pass?”

“I don’t understand you, Arthur,” she said, letting her hand creep into
his, where it trembled provisionally as they sat together in the
twilight.

“Why, that was the day I first saw you.”

“Now, you are laughing!” she said, pulling her hand away.

“Indeed, I’m not! I couldn’t imagine anything more important than the
union of our lives. And if that was what the apparition meant to portend
it could not have intimated it by a more noble and impressive behavior.
Simply to be there, and then to be gone, and leave the rest to us! It was
majestic, it was--delicate!”

“Yes, it was. But it was too much, for it was out of proportion. A mere
earthly love-affair--” “Is it merely for earth?”

“Oh, husband, I hope you don’t think so! I wanted you to say you didn’t.
And if you don’t think so, yes, I’ll believe it came for that!”

“You may be sure I don’t think so.”

“Then I know it will come again.”



       *       *       *       *       *



THE ANGEL OF THE LORD.



I.


“All that sort of personification,” said Wanhope, “is far less remarkable
than the depersonification which has now taken place so thoroughly that
we no longer think in the old terms at all. It was natural that the
primitive peoples should figure the passions, conditions, virtues, vices,
forces, qualities, in some sort of corporal shape, with each a propensity
or impulse of its own, but it does not seem to me so natural that the
derivative peoples should cease to do so. It is rational that they should
do so, and I don’t know that any stronger proof of our intellectual
advance could be alleged than the fact that the old personifications
survive in the parlance while they are quite extinct in the
consciousness. We still talk of death at times as if it were an embodied
force of some kind, and of love in the same way; but I don’t believe that
any man of the commonest common-school education thinks of them so. If
you try to do it yourself, you are rather ashamed of the puerility, and
when a painter or a sculptor puts them in an objective shape, you follow
him with impatience, almost with contempt.”

“How about the poets?” asked Minver, less with the notion, perhaps, of
refuting the psychologist than of bringing the literary member of our
little group under the disgrace that had fallen upon him as an artist.

“The poets,” said I, “are as extinct as the personifications.”

“That’s very handsome of you, Acton,” said the artist. “But go on,
Wanhope.”

“Yes, get down to business,” said Rulledge. Being of no employ whatever,
and spending his whole life at the club in an extraordinary idleness,
Rulledge was always using the most strenuous expressions, and requiring
everybody to be practical. He leaned directly forward with the difficulty
that a man of his girth has in such a movement, and vigorously broke off
the ash of his cigar against the edge of his saucer. We had been dining
together, and had been served with coffee in the Turkish room, as it was
called from its cushions and hangings of Indian and Egyptian stuffs.
“What is the instance you’ve got up your sleeve?” He smoked with great
energy, and cast his eyes alertly about as if to make sure that there was
no chance of Wanhope’s physically escaping him, from the corner of the
divan, where he sat pretty well hemmed in by the rest of us, spreading in
an irregular circle before him.

“You unscientific people are always wanting an instance, as if an
instance were convincing. An instance is only suggestive; a thousand
instances, if you please, are convincing,” said the psychologist. “But I
don’t know that I wish to be convincing. I would rather be enquiring.
That is much more interesting, and, perhaps, profitable.”

“All the same,” Minver persisted, apparently in behalf of Rulledge, but
with an after-grudge of his own, “you’ll allow that you were thinking of
something in particular when you began with that generalization about the
lost art of personifying?”

“Oh, that is very curious,” said the psychologist. “We talk of
generalizing, but is there any such thing? Aren’t we always striving from
one concrete to another, and isn’t what we call generalizing merely a
process of finding our way?”

“I see what you mean,” said the artist, expressing in that familiar
formula the state of the man who hopes to know what the other man means.

“That’s what I say,” Rulledge put in. “You’ve got something up your
sleeve. What is it?”

Wanhope struck the little bell on the table before him, but, without
waiting for a response, he intercepted a waiter who was passing with a
coffee-pot, and asked, “Oh, couldn’t you give me some of that?”

The man filled his cup for him, and after Wanhope put in the sugar and
lifted it to his lips, Rulledge said, with his impetuous business air,
“It’s easy to see what Wanhope does his high thinking on.”

“Yes,” the psychologist admitted, “coffee is an inspiration. But you can
overdo an inspiration. It would be interesting to know whether there
hasn’t been a change in the quality of thought since the use of such
stimulants came in--whether it hasn’t been subtilized--”

“Was that what you were going to say?” demanded Rulledge, relentlessly.
“Come, we’ve got no time to throw away!”

Everybody laughed.

“_You_ haven’t, anyway,” said I.

“Well, none of his own,” Minver admitted for the idler.

“I suppose you mean I have thrown it all away. Well, I don’t want to
throw away other peoples’. Go on, Wanhope.”



II.


The psychologist set his cup down and resumed his cigar, which he had to
pull at pretty strongly before it revived. “I should not be surprised,”
 he began, “if a good deal of the fear of death had arisen, and
perpetuated itself in the race, from the early personification of
dissolution as an enemy of a certain dreadful aspect, armed and
threatening. That conception wouldn’t have been found in men’s minds at
first; it would have been the result of later crude meditation upon the
fact. But it would have remained through all the imaginative ages, and
the notion might have been intensified in the more delicate temperaments
as time went on, and by the play of heredity it might come down to our
own day in certain instances with a force scarcely impaired by the lapse
of incalculable time.”

“You said just now,” said Rulledge, in rueful reproach, “that
personification had gone out.”

“Yes, it has. I did say that, and yet I suppose that though such a notion
of death, say, no longer survives in the consciousness, it does survive
in the unconsciousness, and that any vivid accident or illusory
suggestion would have force to bring it to the surface.”

“I wish I knew what you were driving at,” said Rulledge.

“You remember Ormond, don’t you?” asked Wanhope, turning suddenly to me.

“Perfectly,” I said. “I--he isn’t living, is he?”

“No; he died two years ago.”

“I thought so,” I said, with the relief that one feels in not having put
a fellow-creature out of life, even conditionally.

“You knew Mrs. Ormond, too, I believe,” the psychologist pursued.

I owned that I used to go to the Ormonds’ house.

“Then you know what a type she was, I suppose,” he turned to the others,
“and as they’re both dead it’s no contravention of the club etiquette
against talking of women, to speak of her. I can’t very well give the
instance--the sign--that Rulledge is seeking without speaking of her,
unless I use a great deal of circumlocution.” We all urged him to go on,
and he went on. “I had the facts I’m going to give, from Mrs. Ormond. You
know that the Ormonds left New York a couple of years ago?”

He happened to look at Minver as he spoke, and Minver answered: “No; I
must confess that I didn’t even know they had left the planet.”

Wanhope ignored his irrelevant ignorance. “They went to live
provisionally at a place up the Housatonic road, somewhere--perhaps
Canaan; but it doesn’t matter. Ormond had been suffering some time with
an obscure affection of the heart--”

“Oh, come now!” said Rulledge. “You’re not going to spring anything so
pat as heart-disease on us?”

“Acton is all ears,” said Minver, nodding toward me. “He hears the weird
note afar.”

The psychologist smiled. “I’m afraid you’re not interested. I’m not much
interested myself in these unrelated instances.”

“Oh, no!” “Don’t!” “Do go on!” the different entreaties came, and after a
little time taken to recover his lost equanimity, Wanhope went on: “I
don’t know whether you knew that Ormond had rather a peculiar dread of
death.” We none of us could affirm that we did, and again Wanhope
resumed: “I shouldn’t say that he was a coward above other men I believe
he was rather below the average in cowardice. But the thought of death
weighed upon him. You find this much more commonly among the Russians, if
we are to believe their novelists, than among Americans. He might have
been a character out of one of Tourguénief’s books, the idea of death was
so constantly present with him. He once told me that the fear of it was a
part of his earliest consciousness, before the time when he could have
had any intellectual conception of it. It seemed to be something like the
projection of an alien horror into his life--a prenatal influence--”

“Jove!” Rulledge broke in. “I don’t see how the women stand it. To look
forward nearly a whole year to death as the possible end of all they’re
hoping for and suffering for! Talk of men’s courage after that! I wonder
we’re not _all_ marked.’

“I never heard of anything of the kind in Ormond’s history,” said
Wanhope, tolerant of the incursion.

Minver took his cigar out to ask, the more impressively, perhaps, “What
do you fellows make of the terror that a two months’ babe starts in its
sleep with before it can have any notion of what fear is on its own
hook?”

“We don’t make anything of it,” the psychologist answered. “Perhaps the
pathologists do.”

“Oh, it’s easy enough to say wind,” Rulledge indignantly protested.

“Too easy, I agree with you,” Wanhope consented. “We cannot tell what
influences reach us from our environment, or what our environment really
is, or how much or little we mean by the word. The sense of danger seems
to be inborn, and possibly it is a survival of our race life when it was
wholly animal and took care of itself through what we used to call the
instincts. But, as I was saying, it was not danger that Ormond seemed to
be afraid of, if it came short of death. He was almost abnormally
indifferent to pain. I knew of his undergoing an operation that most
people would take ether for, and not wincing, because it was not supposed
to involve a fatal result.

“Perhaps he carried his own anodyne with him,” said Minver, “like the
Chinese.”

“You mean a sort of self-anaesthesia?” Wanhope asked. “That is very
interesting. How far such a principle, if there is one, can be carried in
practice. The hypnotists--”

“I’m afraid I didn’t mean anything so serious or scientific,” said the
painter.

“Then don’t switch Wanhope off on a side track,” Rulledge implored. “You
know how hard it is to keep him on the main line. He’s got a mind that
splays all over the place if you give him the least chance. Now, Wanhope,
come down to business.”

Wanhope laughed amiably. “Why, there’s so very little of the business.
I’m not sure that it wasn’t Mrs. Ormond’s attitude toward the fact that
interested me most. It was nothing short of devout. She was a convert.
She believed he really saw--I suppose,” he turned to me, “there’s no harm
in our recognizing now that they didn’t always get on smoothly together?”

“Did they ever?” I asked.

“Oh, yes--oh, yes,” said the psychologist, kindly. “They were very fond
of each other, and often very peaceful.”

“I never happened to be by,” I said.

“Used to fight like cats and dogs,” said Minver. “And they didn’t seem to
mind people. It was very swell, in a way, their indifference, and it did
help to take away a fellow’s embarrassment.”

“That seemed to come mostly to an end that summer,” said Wanhope, “if you
could believe Mrs. Ormond.”

“You probably couldn’t,” the painter put in.

“At any rate she seemed to worship his memory.”

“Oh, yes; she hadn’t him there to claw.”

“Well, she was quite frank about it with me,” the psychologist pursued.
“She admitted that they had always quarreled a good deal. She seemed to
think it was a token of their perfect unity. It was as if they were each
quarreling with themselves, she said. I’m not sure that there wasn’t
something in the notion. There is no doubt but that they were
tremendously in love with each other, and there is something curious in
the bickerings of married people if they are in love. It’s one way of
having no concealments; it’s perfect confidence of a kind--”

“Or unkind,” Minver suggested.

“What has all that got to do with it!” Rulledge demanded.

“Nothing directly,” Wanhope confessed, “and I’m not sure that it has much
to do indirectly. Still, it has a certain atmospheric relation. It is
very remarkable how thoughts connect themselves with one another. It’s a
sort of wireless telegraphy. They do not touch at all; there is
apparently no manner of tie between them, but they communicate--”

“Oh, Lord!” Rulledge fumed.

Wanhope looked at him with a smiling concern, such as a physician might
feel in the symptoms of a peculiar case. “I wonder,” he said absently,
“how much of our impatience with a fact delayed is a survival of the
childhood of the race, and how far it is the effect of conditions in
which possession is the ideal!”

Rulledge pushed back his chair, and walked away in dudgeon. “I’m a busy
man myself. When you’ve got anything to say you can send for me.”

Minver ran after him, as no doubt he meant some one should. “Oh, come
back! He’s just going to begin;” and when Rulledge, after some pouting,
had been _pushed down into his chair again,_ Wanhope went on, with a
glance of scientific pleasure at him.



III.


“The house they had taken was rather a lonely place, out of sight of
neighbors, which they had got cheap because it was so isolated and
inconvenient, I fancy. Of course Mrs. Ormond, with her exaggeration,
represented it as a sort of solitude which nobody but tramps of the most
dangerous description ever visited. As she said, she never went to sleep
without expecting to wake up murdered in her bed.”

“Like her,” said Minver, with a glance at me full of relish for the touch
of character which I would feel with him.

“She said,” Wanhope went on, “that she was anxious from the first for the
effect upon Ormond. In the stress of any danger, she gave me to
understand, he always behaved very well, but out of its immediate
presence he was full of all sorts of gloomy apprehensions, unless the
surroundings were cheerful. She could not imagine how he came to take the
place, but when she told him so--”

“I’ve no doubt she told him so pretty promptly,” the painter grinned.

“--he explained that he had seen it on a brilliant day in spring, when
all the trees were in bloom, and the bees humming in the blossoms, and
the orioles singing, and the outlook from the lawn down over the river
valley was at its best. He had fallen in love with the place, that was
the truth, and he was so wildly in love with it all through that he could
not feel the defect she did in it. He used to go gaily about the wide,
harking old house at night, shutting it up, and singing or whistling
while she sat quaking at the notion of their loneliness and their
absolute helplessness--an invalid and a little woman--in case anything
happened. She wanted him to get the man who did the odd jobs about the
house, to sleep there, but he laughed at her, and they kept on with their
usual town equipment of two serving-women. She could not account for his
spirits, which were usually so low when they were alone--”

“And not fighting,” Minver suggested to me.

“--and when she asked him what the matter was he could not account for
them, either. But he said, one day, that the fear of death seemed to be
lifted from his soul, and that made her shudder.”

Rulledge fetched a long sigh, and Minver interpreted, “Beginning to feel
that it’s something like now.”

“He said that for the first time within his memory he was rid of that
nether consciousness of mortality which had haunted his whole life, and
poisoned, more or less, all his pleasure in living. He had got a
reprieve, or a respite, and he felt like a boy--another kind of boy from
what he had ever been. He was full of all sorts of brilliant hopes and
plans. He had visions of success in business beyond anything he had
known, and talked of buying the place he had taken, and getting a summer
colony of friends about them. He meant to cut the property up, and make
the right kind of people inducements. His world seemed to have been
emptied of all trouble as well as all mortal danger.”

“Haven’t you psychologists some message about a condition like
that!” I asked.

“Perhaps it’s only the pathologists again,” said Minver.

“The alienists, rather more specifically,” said Wanhope. “They recognize
it as one of the beginnings of insanit--_folie des grandeurs_ as the
French call the stage.”

“Is it necessarily that?” Rulledge demanded, with a resentment which we
felt so droll in him that we laughed.

“I don’t know that it is,” said Wanhope. “I don’t know why we shouldn’t
sometimes, in the absence of proofs to the contrary, give such a fact the
chance to evince a spiritual import. Of course it had no other import to
poor Mrs. Ormond, and of course I didn’t dream of suggesting a scientific
significance.”

“I should think not!” Rulledge puffed.

Wanhope went on: “I don’t think I should have dared to do so to a woman
in her exaltation concerning it. I could see that however his state had
affected her with dread or discomfort in the first place, it had since
come to be her supreme hope and consolation. In view of what afterward
happened, she regarded it as the effect of a mystical intimation from
another world that was sacred, and could not he considered like an
ordinary fact without sacrilege. There was something very pathetic in her
absolute conviction that Ormond’s happiness was an emanation from the
source of all happiness, such as sometimes, where the consciousness
persists, comes to a death-bed. That the dying are not afraid of dying is
a fact of such common, such almost invariable observation--”

“You mean,” I interposed, “when the vital forces are beaten so low that
the natural dread of ceasing to be, has no play? It has less play, I’ve
noticed, in age than in youth, but for the same reason that it has when
people are weakened by sickness.”

“Ah,” said Wanhope, “that comparative indifference to death in the old,
to whom it is so much nearer than it is to the young, is very suggestive.
There may be something in what you say; they may not care so much because
they have no longer the strength--the muscular strength--for caring. They
are too tired to care as they used. There is a whole region of most
important inquiry in that direction--”

“Did you mean to have him take that direction?” Rulledge asked, sulkily.

“He can take any direction for me,” I said. “He is always delightful.”

“Ah, thank you!” said Wanhope.

“But I confess,” I went on, “that I was wondering whether the fact that
the dying are indifferent to death could be established in the case of
those who die in the flush of health and strength, like, for instance,
people who are put to death.”

Wanhope smiled. “I think it can--measurably. Most murderers make a good
end, as the saying used to be, when they end on the scaffold, though they
are not supported by religious fervor of any kind, or the exaltation of a
high ideal. They go meekly and even cheerfully to their death, without
rebellion or even objection. It is most exceptional that they make a
fight for their lives, as that woman did a few years ago at Dannemora,
and disgusted all refined people with capital punishment.”

“I wish they would make a fight always,” said Rulledge, with unexpected
feeling. “It would do more than anything to put an end to that
barbarity.”

“It would be very interesting, as Wanhope says,” Minver remarked. “But
aren’t we getting rather far away? From the Ormonds, I mean.”

“We are, rather,” said Wanhope. “Though I agree that it would be
interesting. I should rather like to have it tried. You know Frederick
Douglass acted upon some such principle when his master attempted to whip
him. He fought, and he had a theory that if the slave had always fought
there would soon have been an end of whipping, and so an end of slavery.
But probably it will be a good while before criminals are--”

“Educated up to the idea,” Minver proposed.

“Yes,” Wanhope absently acquiesced. “There seems to be a resignation
intimated to the parting soul, whether in sickness or in health, by the
mere proximity of death. In Ormond’s case there seems to have been
something more positive. His wife says that in the beginning of those
days he used to come to her and wonder what could be the matter with him.
He had a joy he could not account for by anything in their lives, and it
made her tremble.”

“Probably it didn’t. I don’t think there was anything that could make
Mrs. Ormond tremble, unless it was the chance that Ormond would get the
last word,” said Minver.

No one minded him, and Wanhope continued: “Of course she thought he
must be going to have a fit of sickness, as the people say in the
country, or used to say. Those expressions often survive in the common
parlance long after the peculiar mental and moral conditions in which
they originated have passed away. They must once have been more
accurate than they are now. When one said ‘fit of sickness’ one must
have meant something specific; it would be interesting to know what.
Women use those expressions longer than men; they seem to be inveterate
in their nerves; and women apparently do their thinking in their nerves
rather than their brains.”



IV.


Wanhope had that distant look in his eyes which warned his familiars of a
possible excursion, and I said, in the hope of keeping him from it, “Then
isn’t there a turn of phrase somewhat analogous to that in a
personification?”

“Ah, yes--a personification,” he repeated with a freshness of interest,
which he presently accounted for. “The place they had taken was very
completely furnished. They got it fully equipped, even to linen and
silver; but what was more important to poor Ormond was the library, very
rich in the English classics, which appeared to go with the house. The
owner was a girl who married and lived abroad, and these were her
father’s books. Mrs. Ormond said that her husband had the greatest
pleasure in them: their print, which was good and black, and their
paper, which was thin and yellowish, and their binding, which was tree
calf in the poets, he specially liked. They were English editions as well
as English classics, and she said he caressed the books, as he read them,
with that touch which the book-lover has; he put his face into them, and
inhaled their odor as if it were the bouquet of wine; he wanted her to
like it, too.”

“Then she hated it,” Minver said, unrelentingly.

“Perhaps not, if there was nobody else there,” I urged.

For once Wanhope was not to be tempted off on another scent. “There was a
good deal of old-fashioned fiction of the suspiratory and exclamatory
sort, like Mackenzie’s, and Sterne’s and his followers, full of feeling,
as people understood feeling a hundred years ago. But what Ormond
rejoiced in most were the poets, good and bad, like Gray and Collins and
Young, and their contemporaries, who personified nearly everything from
Contemplation to Indigestion, through the whole range of the Vices,
Virtues, Passions, Propensities, Attributes, and Qualities, and gave them
each a dignified capital letter to wear. She said he used to come roaring
to her with the passages in which these personifications flourished, and
read them off with mock admiration, and then shriek and sputter with
laughter. You know the way he had when a thing pleased him, especially a
thing that had some relish of the quaint or rococo. As nearly as she
would admit, in view of his loss, he bored her with these things. He was
always hunting down some new personification, and when he had got it,
adding it to the list he kept. She said he had thousands of them, but I
suppose he had not so many. He had enough, though, to keep him amused,
and she said he talked of writing something for the magazines about them,
but probably he never would have done it. He never wrote anything, did
he?” Wanhope asked of me.

“Oh, no. He was far too literary for _that_,” I answered. “He had a
reputation to lose.”

“Pretty good,” said Minver, “even if Ormond _is_ dead.”

Wanhope ignored us both. “After awhile, his wife said, she began to
notice a certain change in his attitude toward the personifications. She
noticed this, always expecting that fit of sickness for him; but she was
not so much troubled by his returning seriousness. Oh, I ought to tell
you that when she first began to be anxious for him she privately wrote
home to their family doctor, telling him how strangely happy Ormond was,
and asking him if he could advise anything. He wrote back that if Ormond
was so very happy they had better not do anything to cure him; that the
disease was not infectious, and was seldom fatal.”

“What an ass!” said Rulledge.

“Yes, I think he was, in this instance. But probably he had been
consulted a good deal by Mrs. Ormond,” said Wanhope. “The change that
began to set her mind at rest about Ormond was his taking the
personifications more seriously. Why, he began to ask, but always with a
certain measure of joke in it, why shouldn’t there be something _in_ the
personifications? Why shouldn’t Morn and Eve come corporeally walking up
their lawn, with little or no clothes on, or Despair be sitting in their
woods with her hair over her face, or Famine coming gauntly up to their
back door for a hand-out? Why shouldn’t they any day see pop-eyed Rapture
passing on the trolley, or Meditation letting the car she intended to
take go by without stepping lively enough to get on board? He pretended
that we could have the personifications back again, if we were not so
conventional in our conceptions of them. He wanted to know what reason
there was for representing Life as a very radiant and bounding party,
when Life usually neither shone nor bounded; and why Death should be
figured as an enemy with a dart, when it was so often the only friend a
man had left, and had the habit of binding up wounds rather than
inflicting them. The personifications were all right, he said, but the
poets and painters did not know how they really looked. By the way,”
 Wanhope broke off, “did you happen to see Hauptmann’s ‘Hånnele’ when it
was here?”

None of us had, and we waited rather restively for the passing of the
musing fit which he fell into. After a while he resumed at a point whose
relation to the matter in hand we could trace:

“It was extremely interesting for all reasons, by its absolute
fearlessness and freshness in regions where there has been nothing but
timid convention for a long time; but what I was thinking of was the
personification of Death as it appears there. The poor little dying
pauper, lying in her dream at the almshouse, sees the figure of Death. It
is not the skeleton with the dart, or the phantom with the shrouded face,
but a tall, beautiful young man,--as beautiful as they could get into the
cast, at any rate,--clothed in simple black, and standing with his back
against the mantlepiece, with his hands resting on the hilt of a long,
two-handed sword. He is so quiet that you do not see him until some time
after the child has seen him. When she begins to question him whether she
may not somehow get to heaven without dying, he answers with a sort of
sorrowful tenderness, a very sweet and noble compassion, but unsparingly
as to his mission. It is a singular moment of pure poetry that makes the
heart ache, but does not crush or terrify the spirit.”

“And what has it got to do with Ormond?” asked Rulledge, but with less
impatience than usual.

“Why, nothing, I’m afraid, that I can make out very clearly. And yet
there is an obscure connection with Ormond, or his vision, if it was a
vision. Mrs. Ormond could not be very definite about what he saw, perhaps
because even at the last moment he was not definite himself. What she was
clear about, was the fact that his mood, though it became more serious,
by no means became sadder. It became a sort of solemn joy instead of the
light gaiety it had begun by being. She was no sort of scientific
observer, and yet the keenness of her affection made her as closely
observant of Ormond as if she had been studying him psychologically.
Sometimes the light in his room would wake her at night, and she would go
to him, and find him lying with a book faced down on his breast, as if he
had been reading, and his fingers interlaced under his head, and a kind
of radiant peace in his face. The poor thing said that when she would ask
him what the matter was, he would say, ‘Nothing; just happiness,’ and
when she would ask him if he did not think he ought to do something, he
would laugh, and say perhaps it would go off of itself. But it did not go
off; the unnatural buoyancy continued after he became perfectly tranquil.
‘I don’t know,’ he would say. ‘I seem to have got to the end of my
troubles. I haven’t a care in the world, Jenny. I don’t believe you could
get a rise out of me if you said the nastiest thing you could think of.
It sounds like nonsense, of course, but it seems to me that I have found
out the reason of things, though I don’t know what it is. Maybe I’ve only
found out that there _is_ a reason of things. That would be enough,
wouldn’t it?’”



V.


At this point Wanhope hesitated with a kind of diffidence that was rather
charming in him. “I don’t see,” he said, “just how I can keep the facts
from this on out of the line of facts which we are not in the habit of
respecting very much, or that we relegate to the company of things that
are not facts at all. I suppose that in stating them I shall somehow make
myself responsible for them, but that is just what I don’t want to do. I
don’t want to do anything more than give them as they were given to me.”

“You won’t be able to give them half as fully,” said Minver, “if Mrs.
Ormond gave them to you.”

“No,” Wanhope said gravely, “and that’s the pity of it; for they ought to
be given as fully as possible.”

“Go ahead,” Rulledge commanded, “and do the best you can.”

“I’m not sure,” the psychologist thoughtfully said, “that I am quite
satisfied to call Ormond’s experiences hallucinations. There ought to be
some other word that doesn’t accuse his sanity in that degree. For he
apparently didn’t show any other signs of an unsound mind.”

“None that Mrs. Ormond would call so,” Minver suggested.

“Well, in his case, I don’t think she was such a bad judge,” Wanhope
returned. “She was a tolerably unbalanced person herself, but she wasn’t
altogether disqualified for observing him, as I’ve said before. They had
a pretty hot summer, as the summer is apt to be in the Housatonic valley,
but when it got along into September the weather was divine, and they
spent nearly the whole time out of doors, driving over the hills. They
got an old horse from a native, and they hunted out a rickety buggy from
the carriage-house, and they went wherever the road led. They went mostly
at a walk, and that suited the horse exactly, as well as Mrs. Ormond, who
had no faith in Ormond’s driving, and wanted to go at a pace that would
give her a chance to jump out safely if anything happened. They put their
hats in the front of the buggy, and went about in their bare heads. The
country people got used to them, and were not scandalized by their
appearance, though they were both getting a little gray, and must have
looked as if they were old enough to know better.

“They were not really old, as age goes nowadays: he was not more
than forty-two or -three, and she was still in the late thirties. In
fact, they were

“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita--

“in that hour when life, and the conceit of life, is strongest, and when
it feels as if it might go on forever. Women are not very articulate
about such things, and it was probably Ormond who put their feeling into
words, though she recognized at once that it was her feeling, and shrank
from it as if it were something wicked, that they would be punished for;
so that one day, when he said suddenly, ‘Jenny, I don’t feel as if I
could ever die,’ she scolded him for it. Poor women!” said Wanhope,
musingly, “they are not always cross when they scold. It is often the
expression of their anxieties, their forebodings, their sex-timidities.
They are always in double the danger that men are, and their nerves
double that danger again. Who was that famous _salonnière_--Mme.
Geoffrin, was it?--that Marmontel says always scolded her friends when
they were in trouble, and came and scolded him when he was put into the
Bastille? I suppose Mrs. Ormond was never so tender of Ormond as she was
when she took it out of him for suggesting what she wildly felt herself,
and felt she should pay for feeling.”

Wanhope had the effect of appealing to Minver, but the painter would
not relent. “I don’t know. I’ve seen her--or heard her--in very
devoted moments.”

“At any rate,” Wanhope resumed, “she says she scolded him, and it did not
do the least good. She could not scold him out of that feeling, which was
all mixed up in her retrospect with the sense of the weather and the
season, the leaves just beginning to show the autumn, the wild asters
coming to crowd the goldenrod, the crickets shrill in the grass, and the
birds silent in the trees, the smell of the rowan in the meadows, and the
odor of the old logs and fresh chips in the woods. She was not a woman to
notice such things much, but he talked of them all and made her notice
them. His nature took hold upon what we call nature, and clung fondly to
the lowly and familiar aspects of it. Once she said to him, trembling for
him, ‘I should think you would be afraid to take such a pleasure in those
things,’ and when he asked her why, she couldn’t or wouldn’t tell him;
but he understood, and he said: ‘I’ve never realized before that I was so
much a part of them. Either I am going to have them forever, or they are
going to have me. We shall not part, for we are all members of the same
body. If it is the body of death, we are members of that. If it is the
body of life, we are members of that. Either I have never lived, or else
I am never going to die.’ She said: ‘Of course you are never going to
die; a spirit can’t die.’ But he told her he didn’t mean that. He was
just as radiantly happy when they would get home from one of their
drives, and sit down to their supper, which they had country-fashion
instead of dinner, and then when they would turn into their big, lamplit
parlor, and sit down for a long evening with his books. Sometimes he read
to her as she sewed, but he read mostly to himself, and he said he hadn’t
had such a bath of poetry since he was a boy. Sometimes in the splendid
nights, which were so clear that you could catch the silver glint of the
gossamers in the thin air, he would go out and walk up and down the long
veranda. Once, when he coaxed her out with him, he took her under the arm
and walked her up and down, and he said: ‘Isn’t it like a ship? The earth
is like a ship, and we’re sailing, sailing! Oh, I wonder where!’ Then he
stopped with a sob, and she was startled, and asked him what the matter
was, but he couldn’t tell her. She was more frightened than ever at what
seemed a break in his happiness. She was troubled about his reading the
Bible so much, especially the Old Testament; but he told her he had never
known before what majestic literature it was. There were some turns or
phrases in it that peculiarly took his fancy and seemed to feed it with
inexhaustible suggestion. ‘The Angel of the Lord’ was one of these. The
idea of a divine messenger, embodied and commissioned to intimate the
creative will to the creature: it was sublime, it was ineffable. He
wondered that men had ever come to think in any other terms of the living
law that we were under, and that could much less conceivably operate like
an insensate mechanism than it could reveal itself as a constant purpose.
He said he believed that in every great moral crisis, in every ordeal of
conscience, a man was aware of standing in the presence of something sent
to try him and test him, and that this something was the Angel of the
Lord.

“He went off that night, saying to himself, ‘The Angel of the Lord, the
Angel of the Lord!’ and when she lay a long time awake, waiting for him
to go to sleep, she heard him saying it again in his room. She thought he
might be dreaming, but when she went to him, he had his lamp lighted, and
was lying with that rapt smile on his face which she was so afraid of.
She told him she was afraid and she wished he would not say such things;
and that made him laugh, and he put his arms round her, and laughed and
laughed, and said it was only a kind of swearing, and she must cheer up.
He let her give him some trional to make him sleep, and then she went off
to her bed again. But when they both woke late, she heard him, as he
dressed, repeating fragments of verse, quoting quite without order, as
the poem drifted through his memory. He told her at breakfast that it was
a poem which Longfellow had written to Lowell upon the occasion of his
wife’s death, and he wanted to get it and read it to her. She said she
did not see how he could let his mind run on such gloomy things. But he
protested he was not the least gloomy, and that he supposed his
recollection of the poem was a continuation of his thinking about the
Angel of the Lord.

“While they were at table a tramp came up the drive under the window, and
looked in at them hungrily. He was a very offensive tramp, and quite took
Mrs. Ormond’s appetite away: but Ormond would not send him round to the
kitchen, as she wanted; he insisted upon taking him a plate and a cup of
coffee out on the veranda himself. When she expostulated with him, he
answered fantastically that the fellow might be an angel of the Lord, and
he asked her if she remembered Parnell’s poem of ‘The Hermit.’ Of course
she didn’t, but he needn’t get it, for she didn’t want to hear it, and if
he kept making her so nervous, she should be sick herself. He insisted
upon telling her what the poem was, and how the angel in it had made
himself abhorrent to the hermit by throttling the babe of the good man
who had housed and fed them, and committing other atrocities, till the
hermit couldn’t stand it any longer, and the angel explained that he had
done it all to prevent the greater harm that would have come if he had
not killed and stolen in season. Ormond laughed at her disgust, and said
he was curious to see what a tramp would do that was treated with real
hospitality. He thought they had made a mistake in not asking this tramp
in to breakfast with them; then they might have stood a chance of being
murdered in their beds to save them from mischief.”



VI.


“Mrs. Ormond really lost her patience with him, and felt better than she
had for a long time by scolding him in good earnest. She told him he was
talking very blasphemously, and when he urged that his morality was
directly in line with Parnell’s, and Parnell was an archbishop, she was
so vexed that she would not go to drive with him that morning, though he
apologized and humbled himself in every way. He pleaded that it was such
a beautiful day, it must be the last they were going to have; it was
getting near the equinox, and this must be a weather-breeder. She let him
go off alone, for he would not lose the drive, and she watched him out of
sight from her upper window with a heavy heart. As soon as he was fairly
gone, she wanted to go after him, and she was wild all the forenoon. She
could not stay indoors, but kept walking up and down the piazza and
looking for him, and at times she went a bit up the road he had taken, to
meet him. She had got to thinking of the tramp, though the man had gone
directly off down another road after he had his breakfast. At last she
heard the old creaking, rattling buggy, and as soon as she saw Ormond’s
bare head, and knew he was all right, she ran up to her room and shut
herself in. But she couldn’t hold out against him when he came to her
door with an armful of wild flowers that he had gathered for her, and
boughs from some young maples that he had found all red in a swamp. She
showed herself so interested that he asked her to come with him after
their midday dinner and see them, and she said perhaps she would, if he
would promise not to keep talking about the things that made her so
miserable. He asked her, ‘What things?’ and she answered that he knew
well enough, and he laughed and promised.

“She didn’t believe he would keep his word, but he did at first, and he
tried not to tease her in any way. He tried to please her in the whims
and fancies she had about going this way or that, and when she decided
not to look up his young maples with him, because the first autumn leaves
made her melancholy, he submitted. He put his arm across her shoulder as
they drove through the woods, and pulled her to him, and called her ‘poor
old thing,’ and accused her of being morbid. He wanted her to tell him
all there was in her mind, but she could not; she could only cry on his
arm. He asked her if it was something about him that troubled her, and
she could only say that she hated to see people so cheerful without
reason. That made him laugh, and they were very gay after she had got her
cry out; but he grew serious again. Then her temper rose, and she asked,
‘Well, what is it?’ and he said at first, ‘Oh, nothing,’ as people do
when there is really something, and presently he confessed that he was
thinking about what she had said of his being cheerful without reason.
Then, as she said, he talked so beautifully that she had to keep her
patience with him, though he was not keeping his word to her. His talk,
as far as she was able to report it, didn’t amount to much more than
this: that in a world where death was, people never could be cheerful
with reason unless death was something altogether different from what
people imagined. After people came to their intellectual consciousness,
death was never wholly out of it, and if they could be joyful with that
black drop at the bottom of every cup, it was proof positive that death
was not what it seemed. Otherwise there was no logic in the scheme of
being, but it was a cruel fraud by the Creator upon the creature; a poor
practical joke, with the laugh all on one side. He had got rid of his
fear of it in that light, which seemed to have come to him before the
fear left him, and he wanted her to see it in the same light, and if he
died before her--But there she stopped him and protested that it would
kill her if she did not die first, with no apparent sense, even when she
told me, of her fatuity, which must have amused poor Ormond. He said what
he wanted to ask was that she would believe he had not been the least
afraid to die, and he wished her to remember this always, because she
knew how he always used to be afraid of dying. Then he really began to
talk of other things, and he led the way back to the times of their
courtship and their early married days, and their first journeys
together, and all their young-people friends, and the simple-hearted
pleasure they used to take in society, in teas and dinners, and going to
the theater. He did not like to think how that pleasure had dropped out
of their life, and he did not know why they had let it, and he was going
to have it again when they went to town.

“They had thought of staying a long time in the country, perhaps till
after Thanksgiving, for they had become attached to their place; but now
they suddenly agreed to go back to New York at once. She told me that as
soon as they agreed she felt a tremendous longing to be gone that
instant, as if she must go to escape from something, some calamity, and
she felt, looking back, that there was a prophetic quality in her
eagerness.”

“Oh, she was always so,” said Minver. “When a thing was to be done, she
wanted it done like lightning, no matter what the thing was.”

“Well, very likely,” Wanhope consented. “I never make much account of
those retroactive forebodings. At any rate, she says she wanted him to
turn about and drive home so that they could begin packing, and when he
demurred, and began to tease, as she called it, she felt as if she should
scream, till he turned the old horse and took the back track. She was
_wild_ to get home, and kept hurrying him, and wanting him to whip the
horse; but the old horse merely wagged his tail, and declined to go
faster than a walk, and this was the only thing that enabled her to
forgive herself afterward.”

“Why, what had she done?” Rulledge asked. “She would have been
responsible for what happened, according to her notion, if she had had
her way with the horse; she would have felt that she had driven Ormond to
his doom.”

“Of course!” said Minver. “She always found a hole to creep out of. Why
couldn’t she go back a little further, and hold herself responsible
through having made him turn round?”

“Poor woman!” said Rulledge, with a tenderness that made Minver smile.
“What was it that did happen?”

Wanhope examined his cup for some dregs of coffee, and then put it down
with an air of resignation. I offered to touch the bell, but, “No,
don’t,” he said. “I’m better without it.” And he went on: “There was a
lonely piece of woods that they had to drive through before they struck
the avenue leading to their house, which was on a cheerful upland
overlooking the river, and when they had got about half-way through this
woods, the tramp whom Ormond had fed in the morning, slipped out of a
thicket on the hillside above them, and crossed the road in front of
them, and slipped out of sight among the trees on the slope below. Ormond
stopped the horse, and turned to his wife with a strange kind of whisper.
‘Did you see it?’ he asked, and she answered yes, and bade him drive on.
He did so, slowly looking back round the side of the buggy till a turn of
the road hid the place where the tramp had crossed their track. She could
not speak, she says, till they came in sight of their house. Then her
heart gave a great bound, and she broke out on him, blaming him for
having encouraged the tramp to lurk about, as he must have done, all day,
by his foolish sentimentality in taking his breakfast out to him. ‘He saw
that you were a delicate person, and now to-night he will be coming
round, and--’ She says Ormond kept looking at her, while she talked, as
if he did not know what she was saying, and all at once she glanced down
at their feet, and discovered that her hat was gone.

“That, she owned, made her frantic, and she blazed out at him again, and
accused him of having lost her hat by stopping to look at that worthless
fellow, and then starting up the horse so suddenly that it had rolled
out. He usually gave her as good as she sent when she let herself go in
that way, and she told me she would have been glad if he had done it now,
but he only looked at her in a kind of daze, and when he understood, at
last, he bade her get out and go into the house--they were almost at the
door,--and he would go back and find her hat himself. ‘Indeed, you’ll do
nothing of the kind,’ she said she told him. ‘I shall go back with you,
or you’ll be hunting up that precious vagabond and bringing him home to
supper.’ Ormond said, ‘All right,’ with a kind of dreamy passivity, and
he turned the old horse again, and they drove slowly back, looking for
the hat in the road, right and left. She had not noticed before that it
was getting late, and perhaps it was not so late as it seemed when they
got into that lonely piece of woods again, and the veils of shadow began
to drop round them, as if they were something falling from the trees, she
said. They found the hat easily enough at the point where it must have
rolled out of the buggy, and he got down and picked it up. She kept
scolding him, but he did not seem to hear her. He stood dangling the hat
by its ribbons from his right hand, while he rested his left on the
dashboard, and looking--looking down into the wooded slope where the
tramp had disappeared. A cold chill went over her, and she stopped her
scolding. ‘Oh, Jim,’ she said, ‘do you see something? What do you see?’
He flung the hat from him, and ran plunging down the hillside--she
covered up her face when she told me, and said she should always see him
running--till the dusk among the trees hid him. She ran after him, and
she heard him calling, calling joyfully, ‘Yes, I’m coming!’ and she
thought he was calling back to her, but the rush of his feet kept getting
farther, and then he seemed to stop with a sound like falling. He
couldn’t have been much ahead of her, for it was only a moment till she
stood on the edge of a boulder in the woods, looking over, and there at
the bottom Ormond was lying with his face turned under him, as she
expressed it; and the tramp, with a heavy stick in his hand, was standing
by him, stooping over him, and staring at him. She began to scream, and
it seemed to her that she flew down from the brink of the rock, and
caught the tramp and clung to him, while she kept screaming ‘Murder!’
The man didn’t try to get away; he only said, over and over, ‘I didn’t
touch him, lady; I didn’t touch him.’ It all happened simultaneously,
like events in a dream, and while there was nobody there but herself
and the tramp, and Ormond lying between them, there were some people
that must have heard her from the road and come down to her. They were
neighbor-folk that knew her and Ormond, and they naturally laid hold of
the tramp; but he didn’t try to escape. He helped them gather poor Ormond
up, and he went back to the house with them, and staid while one of them
ran for the doctor. The doctor could only tell them that Ormond was dead,
and that his neck must have been broken by his fall over the rock. One of
the neighbors went to look at the place the next morning, and found one
of the roots of a young tree growing on the rock, torn out, as if Ormond
had caught his foot in it; and that had probably made his fall a headlong
dive. The tramp knew nothing but that he heard shouting and running, and
got up from the foot of the rock, where he was going to pass the night,
when something came flying through the air, and struck at his feet. Then
it scarcely stirred, and the next thing, he said, the lady was _onto_
him, screeching and tearing. He piteously protested his innocence, which
was apparent enough, at the inquest, and before, for that matter. He said
Ormond was about the only man that ever treated him white, and Mrs.
Ormond was remorseful for having let him get away before she could tell
him that she didn’t blame him, and ask him to forgive her.”



VII.


Wanhope desisted with a provisional air, and Rulledge went and got
Himself a sandwich from the lunch-table.

“Well, upon my word!” said Minver. “I thought you had dined, Rulledge.”

Rulledge came back munching, and said to Wanhope, as he settled himself
in his chair again: “Well, go on.”

“Why, that’s all.”

The psychologist was silent, with Rulledge staring indignantly at him.

“I suppose Mrs. Ormond had her theory?” I ventured.

“Oh, yes--such as it was,” said Wanhope. “It was her belief--her
religion--that Ormond had seen Death, in person or personified, or the
angel of it; and that the sight was something beautiful, and not
terrible. She thought that she should see Death, too in the same way, as
a messenger. I don’t know that it was such a bad theory,” he added
impartially.

“Not,” said Minver, “if you suppose that Ormond was off his nut. But, in
regard to the whole matter, there is always a question of how much truth
there was in what she said about it.”

“Of course,” the psychologist admitted, “that is a question which must be
considered. The question of testimony in such matters is the difficult
thing. You might often believe in supernatural occurrences if it were not
for the witnesses. It is very interesting,” he pursued, with his
scientific smile, “to note how corrupting anything supernatural or
mystical is. Such things seem mostly to happen either in the privity of
people who are born liars, or else they deprave the spectator so, through
his spiritual vanity or his love of the marvelous, that you can’t believe
a word he says.

“They are as bad as horses on human morals,” said Minver. “Not that I
think it ever needed the coming of a ghost to invalidate any statement of
Mrs. Ormond’s.” Rulledge rose and went away growling something, partially
audible, to the disadvantage of Minver’s wit, and the painter laughed
after him: “He really believes it.”

Wanhope’s mind seemed to be shifted from Mrs. Ormond to her convert, whom
he followed with his tolerant eyes. “Nothing in all this sort of inquiry
is so impossible to predicate as the effect of any given instance upon a
given mind. It would be very interesting--”

“Excuse me!” said Minver. “There’s Whitley. I must speak to him.”

He went away, leaving me alone with the psychologist.

“And what is your own conclusion in this instance?” I asked.

“Why, I haven’t formulated it yet.”



       *       *       *       *       *



THOUGH ONE ROSE FROM THE DEAD.



I.


You are very welcome to the Alderling incident, my dear Acton, if you
think you can do anything with it, and I will give it as circumstantially
as possible. The thing has its limitations, I should think, for the
fictionist, chiefly in a sort of roundedness which leaves little play to
the imagination. It seems to me that it would be more to your purpose if
it were less _pat_, in its catastrophe, but you are a better judge of all
that than I am, and I will put the facts in your hands, and keep my own
hands off, so far as any plastic use of the material is concerned.

The first I knew of the peculiar Alderling situation was shortly after
William James’s “Will to Believe” came out. I had been telling the
Alderlings about it, for they had not seen it, and I noticed that from
time to time they looked significantly at each other. When I had got
through he gave a little laugh, and she said, “Oh, you may laugh!” and
then I made bold to ask, “What is it?”

“Marion can tell you,” he said. He motioned towards the coffee-pot and
asked, “More?” I shook my head, and he said, “Come out and let us see
what the maritime interests have been doing for us. Pipe or cigar?” I
chose cigarettes, and he brought the box off the table, stopping on his
way to the veranda, and taking his pipe and tobacco-pouch from the hall
mantel.

Mrs. Alderling had got to the veranda before us, and done things to the
chairs and cushions, and was leaning against one of the slender fluted
pine columns like some rich, blond caryatid just off duty, with the
blue of her dress and the red of her hair showing deliciously against
the background of white house-wall. He and she were an astonishing and
satisfying contrast; in the midst of your amazement you felt the divine
propriety of a woman like her wanting just such a wiry,
smoky-complexioned, black-browed, black-bearded, bald-headed little man
as he was. Before he sat down where she was going to put him, he
stood stoopingly, and frowned at the waters of the cove lifting from
the foot of the lawn that sloped to it before the house. “Three
lumbermen, two goodish-sized yachts, a dozen sloop-rigged boats: not so
bad. About the usual number that come loafing in to spend the night.
You ought to see them when it threatens to breeze up. Then they’re here
in flocks. Go on, Marion.”

He gave a soft groan of comfort as he settled in his chair and began
pulling at his short black pipe, and she let her eyes dwell on him in a
rapture that curiously interested me. People in love are rarely
interesting--that is, flesh-and-blood people. Of course I know that
lovers are the life of fiction, and that a story of any kind can scarcely
hold the reader without them. The love-interest, as they call it, is also
supposed to be essential to the drama, and friends of mine who have tried
to foist their plays upon managers have been overthrown by the objection
that the love-interest is not strong enough in what they have done. Yet
lovers in real life are, so far as I have observed them, bores. They are
confessed to be disgusting before or after marriage when they let their
fondness appear, but even when they try to hide it, they are tiresome.
Character goes down before passion in them; nature is reduced to
propensity. Then, how is it that the novelist manages to keep these, and
to give us nature and character while seeming to offer nothing but
propensity and passion? Perhaps he does not give them. Perhaps what he
does is to hypnotize us so that we each of us identify ourselves with the
lovers, and add our own natures and characters to the single principle
that animates them. The reason we like, that we endure, to read about
them, may be that they are ourselves rendered objective in an instant of
intense vitality, without the least trouble or risk to us. But if we have
them there before us in the tiresome reality, they exclude us from their
pleasure in each other and stop up the perspective of our happiness with
their hulking personalities, bare of all the iridescence of potentiality,
which we could have cast about them. Something of this iridescence may
cling to unmarried lovers, in spite of themselves, but wedded bliss is a
sheer offence.

I do not know why it was not an offence in the case of the Alderlings,
unless it was because they both, in their different ways, saw the joke of
the thing. At any rate, I found that in their charm for each other they
had somehow not ceased to be amusing for me, and I waited confidently for
the answer she would make to his whimsically abrupt bidding. But she did
not answer very promptly, even when he had added, “Wanhope, here, is
scenting something psychological in the reason of my laughing at you,
instead of accepting the plain inference in the case.”

“What is the plain inference?” I asked, partly to fill up Mrs.
Alderling’s continued silence.

“When a man laughs at a woman for no apparent reason it is because he is
amused at her being afraid of him when he is so much more afraid of her,
or puzzled by him when she is such an incomparable riddle herself, or
caring for him when he knows he is not worth his salt.”

“You don’t expect to put me off with that sort of thing,” I said.

“Well, then, go on Marion,” Alderling repeated.



II.


Mrs. Alderling stood looking at him, not me, with a smile hovering about
the corners of her mouth, which, when it decided not to alight anywhere,
scarcely left her aspect graver for its flitting. She said at last, in
her slow, deep-throated voice, “I guess I will let you tell him.”

“Oh, I’ll tell him fast enough,” said Alderling, nursing his knee, and
bringing it well up toward his chin, between his clasped hands. “Marion
has always had the notion that I should live again if I believed I
should, and that as I don’t believe I shall, I am not going to. The joke
of it is,” and he began to splutter laughter round the stem of his pipe,
“she’s as much of an agnostic as I am. She doesn’t believe she is going
to live again, either.”

Mrs. Alderling said, “I don’t care for it in my case.” That struck me as
rather touching, but I had no right to enter uninvited into the intimacy
of her meaning, and I said, looking as little at her as I need, “Aren’t
you both rather belated?”

“You mean that protoplasm has gone out?” he chuckled.

“Not exactly,” I answered. “But you know that a great many things are
allowed now that were once forbidden to the True Disbeliever.”

“You mean that we may trust in the promises, as they used to be called,
and still keep the Unfaith?”

“Something like that.”

Alderling took his pipe out, apparently to give his whole face to the
pleasure of teasing his wife.

“That’ll be a great comfort to Marion,” he said, and he threw back his
head and laughed.

She smiled faintly, vaguely, tolerantly, as if she enjoyed his pleasure
in teasing her.

“Where have you been,” I asked, “that you don’t know the changed attitude
in these matters?”

“Well, here for the last three years. We tried it the first winter after
we came, and found it was not so bad, and we simply stayed on. But I
haven’t really looked into the question since I gave the conundrum up
twenty years ago, on what was then the best authority. Marion doesn’t
complain. She knew what I was when she married me. She was another. We
were neither of us very bigoted disbelievers. We should not have burned
anybody at the stake for saying that we had souls.”

Alderling put back his pipe and cackled round it, taking his knee between
his hands again.

“You know,” she explained, more in my direction than to me, “that I had
none to begin with. But Alderling had. His people believed in the future
life.”

“That’s what they said,” Alderling crowed. “And Marion has always thought
that if she had believed that way, she could have kept me up to it; and
so when I died I should have lived again. It is perfectly logical, though
it isn’t capable of a practical demonstration. If Marion had come of a
believing family, she could have brought me back into the fold. Her great
mistake was in being brought up by an uncle who denied that he was living
here, even. The poor girl could not do a thing when it came to the life
hereafter.”

The smile now came hovering back, and alighted at a corner of Mrs.
Alderling’s mouth, making it look, oddly enough, rather rueful. “It
didn’t matter about me. I thought it a pity that Alderling’s talent
should stop here.”

“Did you ever know anything like that?” he cried. “Perfectly willing to
thrust me out into a cold other-world, and leave me to struggle on
without her, when I had got used to her looking after me. Now I’m not so
selfish as that. I shouldn’t want to have Marion living on through all
eternity if I wasn’t with her. It would be too lonely for her.”

He looked up at her, with his dancing eyes, and she put her hand down
over his shoulder into the hand that he lifted to meet it, in a way that
would have made me sick in some people. But in her the action was so
casual, so absent, that it did not affect me disagreeably.

“Do you mean that you haven’t been away since you came here three years
ago?” I asked.

“We ran up to the theatre once in Boston last winter, but it bored us to
the limit.” Alderling poked his knife-blade into the bowl of his pipe as
he spoke, having freed his hand for the purpose, while Mrs. Alderling
leaned back against the slim column again. He said gravely: “It was a
great thing for Marion, though. In view of the railroad accident that
didn’t happen, she convinced herself that her sole ambition was that we
should die together. Then, whether we found ourselves alive or not, we
should be company for each other. She’s got it arranged with the
thunderstorms, so that one bolt will do for us both, and she never lets
me go out on the water alone, for fear I shall watch my chance, and get
drowned without her.”

I did not trouble myself to make out how much of this was mocking, and as
there was no active participation in the joke expected of me, I kept on
the safe side of laughing. “No wonder you’ve been able to do such a lot
of pictures,” I said. “But I should have thought you might have found it
dull--I mean dull together--at odd times.”

“Dull?” he shouted. “It’s stupendously dull! Especially when our country
neighbors come in to ‘‘liven us up.’ We’ve got neighbors here that can
stay longer in half an hour than most people can in a week. We get tired
of each other at times, but after a call from the people in the next
house, we return with rapture to our delusion that we are interesting.”

“And you never,” I ventured, making my jocosity as ironical as possible,
“wear upon each other?”

“Horribly!” said Alderling, and his wife smiled contentedly, behind him.
“We haven’t a whole set of china in the house, from exchanging it across
the table, and I haven’t made a study of Marion--you must have noticed
how many Marions there were that she hasn’t thrown at my head. Especially
the Madonnas. She likes to throw the Madonnas at me.”

I ventured still farther, addressing myself to Mrs. Alderling. “Does he
keep it up all the time--this blague?”

“Pretty much,” she answered passively, with entire acquiescence in the
fact if it were the fact, or the joke if it were the joke.

“But I didn’t see anything of yours, Mrs. Alderling,” I said. She
had had her talent, as a girl, and some people preferred it to her
husband’s,--but there was no effect of it anywhere in the house.

“The housekeeping is enough,” she answered, with her tranquil smile.

There was nothing in her smile that was leading, and I did not push my
inquiry, especially as Alderling did not seem disposed to assist. “Well,”
 I said, “I suppose you will forgive to science my feeling that your
situation is most suggestive.”

“Oh, don’t mind _us!_” said Alderling.

“I won’t, thank you,” I answered. “Why, it’s equal to being cast away
together on an uninhabited island.”

“Quite,” he assented.

“There can’t,” I went on, “be a corner of your minds that you haven’t
mutually explored. You must know each other,” I cast about for the word,
and added abruptly, “by heart.”

“I don’t suppose he meant anything pretty?” said Alderling, with a look
up over his shoulder at his wife; and then he said to me, “We do; and
there are some very curious things I could tell you, if Marion would ever
let me get in a word.”

“Do let him, Mrs. Alderling,” I entreated, humoring his joke at her
silence.

She smiled, and softly shrugged, and then sighed.

“I could make your flesh creep,” he went on, “or I could if you were not
a psychologist. I assure you that we are quite weird at times.”

“As how?”

“Oh, just knowing what the other is thinking, at a given moment, and
saying it. There are times when Marion’s thinking is such a nuisance to
me, that I have to yell down to her from my loft to stop it. The racket
it makes breaks me all up. It’s a relief to have her talk, and I try to
make her, when she’s posing, just to escape the din of her thinking. Then
the willing! We experimented with it, after we had first noticed it, but
we don’t any more. It’s too dead easy.”

“What do you mean by the willing?” I asked.

“Oh, just wishing one that the other was there, and there he or she is.”

“Is he trying to work me, Mrs. Alderling?” I appealed to her, and she
answered from her calm:

“It is very unaccountable.”

“Then you really mean it! Why can’t you give me an illustration?”

“Why, you know,” said Alderling more seriously than he had yet spoken, “I
don’t believe those things, if they are real, can ever be got to show
off. That’s the reason why your ‘Quests in the Occult’ are mainly such
rubbish, as far as the evidences are concerned. If Marion and I tried to
give you an illustration, as you call it, the occult would snub us. But,
is there anything so very strange about it? The wonder _is_ that a man
and wife ever fail of knowing each what the other is thinking. They
pervade each other’s minds, if they are really married, and they are so
present with each other that the tacit wish should be the same as a call.
Marion and I are only an intensified instance of what may be done by
living together. There is something, though, that is rather queer, but it
belongs to psychomancy rather than psychology, as I understand it.”

“Ah!” I said. “What is that queer something?”

“Being visibly present when absent. It has not happened often, but it has
happened that I have seen Marion in my loft when she was really somewhere
else and not when I had willed her or wished her to be there.”

“Now, really,” I said, “I must ask you for an instance.”

“You want to heap up facts, Lombroso fashion? Well, this is as good as
most of Lombroso’s facts, or better. I went up one morning, last winter,
to work at a study of a Madonna from Marion, directly after breakfast,
and left her below in the dining-room, putting away the breakfast
things. She has to do that occasionally, between the local helps, who
are all we can get in the winter. She professes to like it, but you
never can tell, from what a woman says; she has to do it, anyway.” It is
hard to convey a notion of the serene, impersonal acquiescence of Mrs.
Alderling in taking this talk of her. “I was banging away at it when I
knew she was behind me looking over my shoulder rather more stormily
than she usually does; usually, she is a dead calm. I glanced up, and
saw the calm succeed the storm. I kept on, and after awhile I was aware
of hearing her step on the stairs.”

Alderling stopped, and smoked definitively, as if that were the end.

“Well,” I said, after waiting a while, “I don’t exactly get the unique
value of the incident.”

“Oh,” he said, as if he had accidentally forgotten the detail, “the steps
were coming up?”

“Yes?”

“She opened the door, which she had omitted to do before, and when she
came in she denied having been there already. She owned that she had been
hurrying through her work, and thinking of mine, so as to make me do
something, or undo something, to it; and then all at once she lost her
impatience, and came up at her leisure. I don’t exactly like to tell what
she wanted.”

He began to laugh provokingly, and she said, tranquilly, “I don’t mind
your telling Mr. Wanhope.”

“Well, then, strictly in the interest of psychomancy, I will confide that
she had found some traces of a model that I used to paint my Madonnas
from, before we were married, in that picture. She had slept on her
suspicion, and then when she could not stand it any longer, she had come
up in the spirit to say that she was not going to be mixed up in a
Madonna with any such minx. The words are mine, but the meaning was
Marion’s. When she found me taking the minx out, she went quietly back to
washing her dishes, and then returned in the body to give me a sitting.”



III.


We were silent a moment, till I asked, “Is this true, Mrs. Alderling?”

“About,” she said. “I don’t remember the storm, exactly.”

“Well, I don’t see why you bother to remain in the body at all,” I
remarked.

“We haven’t arranged just how to leave it together,” said Alderling.
“Marion, here, if I managed to get off first, would have no means of
knowing whether her theory of the effect of my unbelief on my future was
right or not; and if _she_ gave _me_ the slip, she would always be sorry
that she had not stayed here to convert me.”

“Why don’t you agree that if either of you lives again, he or she shall
make some sign to let the other know?” I suggested. “Well, that has been
tried so often, and has it ever worked? It’s open to the question whether
the dead do not fail to show up because they are forbidden to communicate
with the living; and you are just where you were, as to the main point.
No, I don’t see any way out of it.”

Mrs. Alderling went into the house and came out with a book in her hand,
and her fingers in it at two places. It was that impressive collection of
Christ’s words from the New Testament called “The Great Discourse.” She
put the book before me, first at one place and then at another, and I
read, “Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die,” and then,
“Nay, but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” She did not
say anything in showing me these passages, and I found something in her
action touchingly childlike and elemental, as well as curiously
heathenish. It was as if some poor pagan had brought me his fetish to
test its effect upon me. “Yes,” I said, “those are things that we hardly
know what to do with in our philosophy. They seem to be said as with
authority, and yet, somehow, we cannot admit their validity in a
philosophical inquiry as to a future life. Aren’t they generally taken to
mean that we shall be unhappy or happy hereafter, rather than that we
shall be or not be at all? And what is believing? Is it the mere act of
acknowledgement, or is it something more vital, which expresses itself in
conduct?”

She did not try to say. In fact she did not answer at all. Whatever point
was in her mind she did not, or could not, debate it. I perceived, in a
manner, that her life was so largely subliminal that if she had tried she
could not have met my question any more than if she had not had the gift
of speech at all. But, in her inarticulate fashion, she had exposed to me
a state of mind which I was hardly withheld by the decencies from
exploring. “You know,” I said, “that psychology almost begins by
rejecting the authority of these sayings, and that while we no longer
deny anything, we cannot allow anything merely because it has been
strongly affirmed. Supposing that there is a life after this, how can it
be denied to one and bestowed upon another because one has assented to a
certain supernatural claim and another has refused to do so? That does
not seem reasonable, it does not seem right. Why should you base your
conclusion as to that life upon a promise and a menace which may not
really refer to it in the sense which they seem to have?”

“Isn’t it all there is?” she asked, and Alderling burst into his laugh.

“I’m afraid she’s got you there, Wanhope. When it comes to polemics
there’s nothing like the passive obstruction of Mrs. Alderling. Marion
might never have been an early Christian herself--I think she’s an
inexpugnable pagan--but she would have gone round making it awfully
uncomfortable for the other unbelievers.”

“You know,” she said to him, and I never could decide how much she was in
earnest, “that I can’t believe till you do. I couldn’t take the risk of
keeping on without you.”

Alderling followed her in-doors, where she now went to put the book away,
with the mock addressed to me, “Did you ever know such a stubborn woman?”



IV.


One conclusion from my observation of the Alderlings during the week I
spent with them was that it is bad for a husband and wife to be
constantly and unreservedly together, not because they grow tired of each
other, but because they grow more intensely interested in each other.
Children, when they come, serve the purpose of separating the parents;
they seem to unite them in one care, but they divide them in their
employments, at least in the normally constituted family. If they are
rich, and can throw the care of the children upon servants, then they
cannot enjoy the relief from each other that children bring to the mother
who nurtures and teaches them, and to the father who must work for them
harder than before. The Alderlings were not rich enough to have been
freed from the wholesome responsibilities of parentage, but they were
childless, and so they were not detached from the perpetual thought of
each other. If they had only had different tastes, it might have been
better, but they were both artists, she not less than he, though she no
longer painted. When their common thoughts were not centred upon each
other’s being, they were centred on his work, which, viciously enough,
was the constant reproduction of her visible personality. I could always
see them studying each other, he with an eye to her beauty, she with an
eye to his power.

He was every now and then saying to her, “Hold on, Marion,” and staying
her in some pose or movement, while he made mental note of it, and I was
conscious of her preying upon his inmost thoughts and following him into
the recesses of his reveries, where it is best for a man to be alone,
even if he is sometimes a beast there. She was not like those wives who
ask their husbands, when they do not happen to be talking, “What are you
thinking about?” and I put this to her credit, till I realized that she
had no need to ask, for she knew already. Now and then I saw him get up
and shake himself restively, but I am bound to say in her behalf, that
her pursuit of him seemed quite involuntary, and that she enjoyed it no
more than he did. Twenty times I was on the point of asking, “Why don’t
you people go in for a good long separation? Is there nothing to call you
to Europe, Alderling? Haven’t you got a mother, or sister, or some one
that you could visit, Mrs. Alderling? It would do you both a world of
good.”

But it happened, oddly enough, that the Alderlings were as kinless as
they were childless, and if he had gone to Europe he would have taken her
with him, and prolonged their seclusion by the isolation in which people
necessarily live in a foreign country. I found I was the only
acquaintance who had visited them during the years of their retirement on
the coast, where they had stayed, partly through his inertia, and partly
from his superstition that he could paint better away from the ordinary
associations and incentives; and they ceased, before I left, to get the
good they might of my visit because they made me a part of their
intimacy, instead of making themselves part of my strangeness.

After a day or two, their queer experiences began to resume themselves,
unabashed by my presence. These were mostly such as they had already more
than hinted to me: the thought-transferences, and the unconscious
hypnotic suggestions which they made to each other. There was more
novelty in the last than the first. If I could trust them, and they did
not seem to wish to exploit their mysteries for the effect on me, they
were with each other because one or the other had willed it. She would
say, if we were sitting together without him, “I think Rupert wants me;
I’ll be back in a moment,” and he, if she were not by, for some time,
would get up with, “Excuse me, I must go to Marion; she’s calling me.”

I had to take a great deal of this on faith; in fact, none of it was
susceptible of proof; but I have not been able since to experience all
the skepticism which usually replaces the impression left by sympathy
with such supposed occurrences. The thing was not quite what we call
uncanny; the people were so honest, both of them, that the morbid
character of like situations was wanting. The events, if they could be
called so, were not invited, I was quite sure, and they were varied by
such diversions as we had in reach. I went blueberrying with Mrs.
Alderling in the morning after she had got her breakfast dishes put away,
in order that we might have something for dessert at our midday dinner;
and I went fishing off the old stone crib with Alderling in the
afternoon, so that we might have cunners for supper. The farmerfolks and
fisherfolks seemed to know them and to be on tolerant terms with them,
though it was plain that they still considered them probational in
their fellow-citizenship. I do not think they were liked the less
because they did not assume to be of the local sort, but let their
difference stand, if it would. There was nothing countrified in her
dress, which was frankly conventional; the short walking-skirt had as
sharp a slant in front as her dinner-gown would have had, and he wore his
knickerbockers--it was then the now-faded hour of knickerbockers--with an
air of going out golfing in the suburbs. They stood on ceremony in
addressing the natives, who might have been Jim or Liza to each other,
but were always Mr. Donald or Mrs. Moody, with the Alderlings. They said
they would not like being called by their first names themselves, and
they did not see why they should take that freedom with others. Neither
by nature nor by nurture were they out of the ordinary in their ideals,
and it was by a sort of accident that they were so different in their
realities. She had stayed on with him through the first winter in the
place they had taken for the summer, because she wished to be with him,
rather than because she wished to be there, and he had stayed because he
had not just found the moment to break away, though afterwards he
pretended a reason for staying. They had no more voluntarily
cultivated the natural than the supernatural; he kindled the fire for
her, and she made the coffee for him, not because they preferred, but
because they must; and they had arrived at their common ground in the
occult by virtue of being alone together, and not by seeking the solitude
for the experiment which the solitude promoted. Mrs. Alderling did not
talk less, nor he more, when either was alone with me, than when we were
all together; perhaps he was more silent, and she not quite so much; she
was making up for him in his absence as he was for her in her presence.
But they were always hospitable and attentive hosts, and though under the
peculiar circumstances of Mrs. Alderling’s having to do the house-work I
necessarily had to do a good many things for myself, there were certain
little graces which were never wanting, from her hands: my curtains were
always carefully drawn, and my coverlet triangularly opened, so that I
did not have to pull it down myself. There was a freshly trimmed lamp on
the stand at my bed-head, and a book and paper-cutter put there, with a
decanter of whiskey and a glass of water. I note these things to you,
because they are touches which help remove the sense of anything
intentional in the occultism of the Alderlings.

I do not know whether I shall be able to impart the feeling of an obscure
pathos in the case of Mrs. Alderling, which I certainly did not
experience in Alderling’s. Temperamentally he was less fitted to undergo
the rigors of their seclusion than she was; in his liking to talk, he
needed an audience and a variety of listening, and she, in her somewhat
feline calm, could not have been troubled by any such need. You can be
silent to yourself, but you cannot very well be loquacious, without
danger of having the devil for a listener, if the old saying is true. Yet
still, I felt a keener poignancy in her sequestration. Her beauty had
even greater claim to regard than his eloquence. She was a woman who
could have commanded a whole roomful with it, and no one would have
wanted a word from her. She could only have been entirely herself in
society, where, and in spite of everything that can be said against it,
we can each, if we will, be more natural than out of it. The reason that
most of us are not natural in it is that we want to play parts for which
we are more or less unfit, and Marion Alderling never wished to play a
part, I was sure. It would have sufficed her to be herself wherever she
was, and the more people there were by, the more easily she could have
been herself.

I am not able to say now how much of all this is observation of previous
facts, and how much speculation based upon subsequent occurrences. At the
best I can only let it stand for characterization. In the same interest I
will add a fact in relation to Mrs. Alderling which ought to have its
weight against any undue appeal I have been making in her behalf. Without
in the least blaming her, I will say that I think that Mrs. Alderling ate
too much. She must have had naturally a strong appetite, which her active
life sharpened, and its indulgence formed a sort of refuge from the
pressure of the intense solitude in which she lived, and which was all
the more a solitude because it was _solitude à deux_. I noticed that
beyond the habit of cooks she partook of the dishes she had prepared,
and that after Alderling and I had finished dinner, and he was impatient
to get at his pipe, she remained prolonging her dessert. One night, when
he and I came in from the veranda, she was standing at the sideboard,
bent over a saucer of something, and she made me think of a large
tortoise-shell cat which has got at the cream. I expected in my nerves to
hear her lap, and my expectation was heightened by the soft, purring
laugh with which she owned that she was hungry, and those berries were so
nice.

At the risk of giving the effect of something sensuous, even sensual, in
her, I find myself insisting upon this detail, which did not lessen her
peculiar charm. As far as the mystical quality of the situation was
concerned, I fancy your finding that rather heightened by her innocent
_gourmandise_. You must have noticed how inextricably, for this life at
least, the spiritual is trammeled in the material, how personal character
and ancestral propensity seem to flow side by side in the same individual
without necessarily affecting each other. On the moral side Mrs.
Alderling was no more to be censured for the refuge which her nerves
sought from the situation in over-eating than Alderling for the smoking
in which he escaped from the pressure they both felt from one another;
and she was not less fitted than he for their joint experience.



V.


I do not suppose it was with the notion of keeping her weight down that
Mrs. Alderling rowed a good deal on the cove before the cottage; but she
had a boat, which she managed very well, and which she was out in, pretty
much the whole time when she was not cooking, or eating or sleeping, or
roaming the berry-pastures with me, or sitting to Alderling for his
Madonnas. He did not care for the water himself; he said he knew every
inch of that cove, and was tired of it; but he rather liked his wife’s
going, and they may both have had an unconscious relief from each other
in the absences which her excursions promoted. She swam as well as she
rowed, and often we saw her going down water-proofed to the shore, where
we presently perceived her pulling off in her bathing-dress. Well out in
the cove she had the habit of plunging overboard, and after a good swim,
she rowed back, and then, discreetly water-proofed again, she climbed the
lawn back to the house. Now and then she took me out in her boat, but so
far as I remember, Alderling never went with her. Once I ventured to ask
him if he never felt anxious about her. He said no, he should not have
been afraid to go with her, and she could take better care of herself
than he could. Besides, by means of their telepathy they were in constant
communion, and he could make her feel at any sort of chance, that he did
not wish her to take it, and she would not. This was the only occasion
when he treated their peculiar psychomancy boastfully, and the only
occasion when I felt a distinct misgiving of his sincerity.

The day before I left, Mrs. Alderling went down about eleven in the
morning to her boat, and rowed out into the cove. She rowed far toward
the other shore, whither, following her with my eyes from Alderling’s
window, I saw its ridge blotted out by a long low cloud. It was straight
and level as a wall, and looked almost as dense, and I called Alderling.

“Oh, that fog won’t come in before afternoon,” he said. “We usually get
it about four o’clock. But even if it does,” he added dreamily, “Marion
can manage. I’d trust her anywhere in this cove in any kind of weather.”

He went back to his work, and painted away for five or six minutes. Then
he asked me, still at the window, “What’s that fog doing now?”

“Well, I don’t know,” I answered. “I should say it was making in.”

“Do you see Marion?”

“Yes, she seems to be taking her bath.”

Again he painted a while before he asked, “Has she had her dip?”

“She’s getting back into her boat.”

“All right,” said Alderling, in a tone of relief. “She’s good to beat
any fog in these parts ashore. I wish you would come and look at this
a minute.”

I went, and we lost ourselves for a time in our criticism of the picture.
He was harder on it than I was. He allowed, _“C’est un bon portrait_, as
the French used to say of a faithful landscape, though I believe now the
portrait can’t be too good for them. I can’t say about landscape. But in
a Madonna I feel that there can be too much Marion, not for me, of
course, but for the ideal, which I suppose we are bound to respect.
Marion is not spiritual, but I would not have her less of the earth
earthy, for all the angels that ever spread themselves ‘in strong level
flight.’”

I recognized the words from “The Blessed Damozel,” and I made bold to be
so personal as to say, “If her hair were a little redder than ‘the color
of ripe corn’ one might almost feel that the Blessed Damozel had been
painted from Mrs. Alderling. It’s the lingering earthiness in her that
makes the Damozel so divine.”

“Yes, that was a great conception. I wonder none of the fellows do that
kind of thing now.”

I laughed and said, “Well, so few of them have had the advantage of
seeing Mrs. Alderling. And besides, Rosettis don’t happen every day.”

“It was the period, too. I always tell her that she belongs among the
later eighteen sixties. But she insists that she wasn’t even born then.
Marion is tremendously single-minded.”

“She has her mind all on you.”

He looked askance at me. “You’ve noticed--”

“I’ve noticed that your mind is all on her.”

“Not half as much!” he protested, fervidly. “I don’t think it’s good for
her, though of course I like it. That is, in a way. Sometimes it’s
rather too--” He suddenly flung his brush from him, and started up, with
a loudly shouted, “Yes, yes! I’m coming,” and hurled himself out of the
garret which he used for his studio, and cleared the stairs with two
bounds.

By the time I reached the outer door of the cottage, he was a dark blur
in the white blur of the fog which had swallowed up the cove, and was
rising round the house-walls from the grass. I heard him shouting,
“Marion!” and a faint mellow answer, far out in the cove, “Hello!” and
then--

“Where are you?” and her answer “Here!” I heard him jump into a boat, and
the thump of the oars in the row-locks, and then the rapid beat of the
oars while he shouted, “Keep calling!” and she answered,--

“I will!” and called “Hello! Hello! Hello!”

I made my mental comment that this time their mystical means of
communication was somehow not working. But after her last hello, no sound
broke the white silence of the fog except the throb of Alderling’s oars.
She was evidently resting on hers, lest she should baffle his attempts to
find her by trying to find him.

I suppose ten minutes or so had passed, when the dense air brought me the
sound of low laughing that was also like the sound of low sobbing, and
then I knew that they had met somewhere in the blind space. I began to
hear rowing again, but only as of one boat, and suddenly out of the mist,
almost at my feet, Alderling’s boat shot up on the shelving beach, and
his wife leaped ashore from it, and ran past me up the lawn, while he
pulled her boat out on the gravel. She must have been trailing it from
the stern of his.



VI.


I was abroad when Mrs. Alderling died, but I heard that it was from a
typhoid fever which she had contracted from the water in their well, as
was supposed. The water-supply all along that coast is scanty, and that
summer most of the wells were dry, and quite a plague of typhoid raged
among the people from drinking the dregs. The fever might have gone the
worse with her because of her over-fed robustness; at any rate it went
badly enough.

I first heard of her death from Minver at the club, and I heard with
still greater astonishment that Alderling was down there alone where she
had died. Minver said that somebody ought to go down and look after the
poor old fellow, but nobody seemed to feel it exactly his office.
Certainly I did not feel it mine, and I thought it rather a hardship when
a few days after I found a letter from Alderling at the club quite
piteously beseeching me to come to him. He had read of my arrival home,
in a stray New York paper, and he was firing his letter, he said, at the
club, with one chance in a thousand of hitting me with it. Rulledge was
by when I read it, and he decided, with that unsparing activity of his,
where other people are concerned, that I must go; I certainly could not
resist such an appeal as that. He had a vague impression, he said, of
something weird in the situation down there, and I ought to go and pull
Alderling out of it; besides, I might find my account in it as a
psychologist. I hesitated a day, out of self-respect, or self-assertion,
and then, the weather coming on suddenly hot, in the beginning of
September, I went.

Of course I had meant to go, all along, but I was not so glad when I
arrived, as I might have been if Alderling had given me a little
warmer welcome. His mood had changed since writing to me, and the
strongest feeling he showed at seeing me was what affected me very
like a cold surprise.

If I had broken in on a solitude in that place before, I was now the
intruder upon a desolation. Alderling was living absolutely alone,
except for the occasional presence of a neighboring widow--all the
middle-aged women there are widows, with dim or dimmer memories of
husbands lost off the Banks, or elsewhere at sea--who came in to get his
meals and make his bed, and then had instructions to leave. It was in one
of her prevailing absences that I arrived with my bag, and I had to
hammer a long time with the knocker on the open door before Alderling
came clacking down the stairs in his slippers from the top of the house,
and gave me his somewhat defiant greeting. I could almost have said that
he did not recognize me at the first bleared glance, and his inability,
when he realized who it was, to make me feel at home, encouraged me to
take the affair into my own hands.

He looked frightfully altered, but perhaps it was the shaggy beard that
he had let grow over his poor, lean muzzle, that mainly made the
difference. His clothes hung gauntly upon him, and he had a weak-kneed
stoop. His coat sleeves were tattered at the wrists, and one of them
showed the white lining at the elbow. I simply shuddered at his shirt.

“Will you smoke?” he asked huskily, almost at the first word, and with an
effect of bewilderment in his hospitality that almost made me shed tears.

“Well, not just yet, Alderling,” I said. “Shall I go to my old room?”

“Go anywhere,” he answered, and he let me carry my bag to the chamber
where I had slept before.

It was quite as his wife would have arranged it, even to the detail of a
triangular portion of the bedding turned down as she used to do it for
me. The place was well aired and dusted, and gave me the sense of being
as immaculately clean and fresh as Alderling was not. He sat down in a
chair by the window, and he remained, while I laid out my things and made
my brief toilet, unabashed by those incidents for which I did not feel it
necessary to banish him, if he liked staying.

We had supper by-and-by, a very well-cooked meal of fried fresh cod and
potatoes, with those belated blackberries which grow so sweet when they
hang long on the canes into September. There was a third plate laid, and
I expected that when the housekeeper had put the dishes on the table, she
would sit down with us, as the country-fashion still is, but she did not
reappear till she came in with the dessert and coffee. Alderling ate
hungrily, and much more than I had remembered his doing, but perhaps I
formerly had the impression of Mrs. Alderling’s fine appetite so strongly
in mind that I had failed to note his. Certainly, however, there was a
difference in one sort which I could not be mistaken in, and that was in
his not talking. Her mantle of silence had fallen upon him, and whereas
he used hardly to give me a chance in the conversation, he now let me do
all of it. He scarcely answered my questions, and he asked none of his
own; but I saw that he liked being talked to, and I did my best, shying
off from his sorrow, as people foolishly do, and speaking banalities
about my trip to Europe, and the Psychological Congress in Geneva, and
the fellows at the club, and heaven knows what rot else.

He listened, but I do not know whether he heard much of my clack, and I
got very tired of it myself at last. When I had finished my blackberries,
he asked mechanically, in an echo of my former visit, with a repetition
of his gesture towards the coffee-pot, “More?” I shook my head, and then
he led the way out to the veranda, stopping to get his pipe and tobacco
from the mantel on the way. But when we sat down in the early falling
September twilight outside, he did not light his pipe, letting me smoke
my cigarette alone.

“Are you off your tobacco?” I asked.

“I don’t smoke,” he answered, but he did not explain why, and I did not
feel authorized to ask.

The talk went on as lopsidedly as before, and I began to get sleepy. I
made bold to yawn, but Alderling did not mind that, and then I made bold
to say that I thought I would go to bed. He followed me indoors, saying
that he would go to bed, too. The hall was lighted from a hanging-lamp
and two clear-burning hand-lamps which the widow had put for us on a
small table. She had evidently gone home, and left us to ourselves. He
took one lamp and I the other, and he started up stairs before me. If he
were not coming down again, he meant to let the hanging-lamp burn, and I
had nothing to say about that; but I suggested, concerning the wide-open
door behind me, “Shall I close the door, Alderling?” and he answered,
without looking round, “I don’t shut it.”

He led the way into my room, and he sat down as when I had come, and
absently watched my processes of getting into bed. There was something
droll, and yet miserable, in his behavior. At first, I thought he might
be staying merely for the comfort of a human presence, and again, I
thought he might be afraid, for I felt a little creepy myself, for no
assignable reason, except that Absence, which he must have been
incomparably more sensible of than I. From certain ineffectual movements
that he made, and from certain preliminary noises in his throat, which
ended in nothing, I decided that he wished to say something to me, tell
me something, and could not. But I was selfishly sleepy, and it seemed to
me that anything he had on his mind would keep there till morning, at
least, and that if he got it off on mine now, it might give me a night of
wakeful speculation. So when I got into bed and pulled the sheet up under
my chin, I said, “Well, I don’t want to turn you out, old fellow.”

He stared, and answered, “Oh!” and went without other words, carrying his
lamp with him and moving with a weak-kneed shuffle, like a very old man.

He was going to leave the door open behind him, but I called out, “I wish
you’d shut me in, Alderling,” and after a hesitation, he came back and
closed the door.



VII.


We breakfasted as silently on his part as we had supped, but when we had
finished, and I was wondering what he was going to let me do with myself,
and on the whole what the deuce I had come for, he said, in the longest
speech I had yet had from him, “Wouldn’t you like to come up and see what
I’ve been doing?”

I said I should like it immensely, and he led the way up stairs, as far
As his attic studio. The door of that, like the other doors in the house,
stood open, and I got the emotion which the interior gave me, full force,
at the first glance. The place was so startlingly alive with that dead
woman on a score of canvases in the character in which he had always
painted her, that I could scarcely keep from calling out; but I went
about, pretending to examine the several Madonnas, and speaking rubbish
about them, while he stood stoopingly in the midst of them like the
little withered old man he looked. When I had emptied myself of my chaff,
I perceived that the time had come.

I glanced about for a seat, and was going to take that in which Mrs.
Alderling used to pose for him, but he called out with sudden sharpness,
“Not that!” and without appearing to notice, I found a box which I
inverted, and sat down on.

“Tell me about your wife, Alderling,” I said, and he answered with a sort
of scream, “I wanted you to ask me! Why didn’t you ask me before? What
did you suppose I got you here for?”

With that he shrank down, a miserable heap, in his own chair, and bowed
his hapless head and cried. It was more affecting than any notion I can
give you of it, and I could only wait patiently for his grief to wash
itself out in one of those paroxysms which come to bereavement and leave
it somehow a little comforted when they pass.

“I was waiting, for the stupid reasons you will imagine, to let you speak
first,” I said, “but here in her presence I couldn’t hold in any longer.”

He asked with strange eagerness, “You noticed that?”

I chose to feign that he meant in the pictures. “Over and over again,”
 I answered.

He would not have my feint. “I don’t mean in these wretched caricatures!”

“Well?” I assented provisionally.

“I mean her very self, listening, looking, living--waiting!”

Whether I had insanity or sorrow to deal with, I could not gainsay the
unhappy man, and I only said what I really felt: “Yes, the place seems
strangely full of her. I wish you would tell me about her.”

He asked, with a certain slyness, “Have you heard anything about her
already? At the club? From that fool woman in the kitchen?”

“For heaven’s sake, no, Alderling!”

“Or about me?”

“Nothing whatever!”

He seemed relieved of whatever suspicion he felt, but he said finally,
and with an air of precaution, “I should like to know just how much you
mean by the place seeming full of her.”

“Oh, I suppose the association of her personality with the whole
house, and especially this room. I didn’t mean anything preternatural,
I believe.”

“Then you don’t believe in a life after death?” he demanded with a kind
of defiance.

I thought this rather droll, seeing what his own position had been, but
that was not the moment for the expression of my amusement. “The tendency
is to a greater tolerance of the notion,” I said. “Men like James and
Royce, among the psychologists, and Shaler, among the scientists,
scarcely leave us at peace in our doubts, any more, much less our
denials.”

He said, as if he had forgotten the question: “They called it a very
light case, and they thought she was getting well. In fact, she did get
well, and then--there was a relapse. They laid it to her eating some
fruit which they allowed her.”

Alderling spoke with a kind of bitter patience, but in my own mind I was
not able to put all the blame on the doctors. Neither did I blame that
innocently earthy creature, who was of no more harm in her strong
appetite than any other creature which gluts its craving as simply as it
feels it. The sense of her presence was deepened by the fact of those
childlike self-indulgences which Alderling’s words recalled to me. I made
no comment, however, and he asked gloomily, as if with a return of his
suspicion, “And you haven’t heard of anything happening afterward?”

“I don’t know what you refer to,” I told him, “but I can safely say I
haven’t, for I haven’t heard anything at all.”

“They contended that it _didn’t_ happen,” he resumed. “She died, they
said, and by all the tests she had been dead two whole days. She died
with her hand in mine. I was not trying to hold her back; she had a kind
of majestic preoccupation in her going, so that I would not have dared to
detain her if I could. You’ve seen them go, and how they seem to draw
those last, long, deep breaths, as if they had no thought in the world
but of the work of getting out of it. When her breathing stopped I
expected it to go on, but it did not go on, and that was all. Nothing
startling, nothing dramatic, just simple, natural, _like her!_ I gave her
hand back, I put it on her breast myself, and crossed the other on it.
She looked as if she were sleeping, with that faint color hovering in her
face, which was not wasted, but I did not make-believe about it; I
accepted the fact of her death. In your ‘Quests of the Occult,’”
 Alderling broke off, with a kind of superiority that was of almost the
quality of contempt, “I believe you don’t allow yourself to be daunted by
a diametrical difference of opinion among the witnesses of an occurrence,
as to its nature, or as to its reality, even?” “Not exactly that,” I
said. “I think I argued that the passive negation of one witness ought
not to invalidate the testimony of another as to his experience. One
might hear and see things, and strongly affirm them, and another,
absorbed in something else, or in a mere suspense of the observant
faculties, might quite as honestly declare that so far as his own
knowledge was concerned, nothing of the kind happened. I held that in
such a case, counter-testimony should not be allowed to invalidate the
testimony for the fact.”

“Yes, that is what I meant,” said Alderling. “You say it more clearly in
the book, though.”

“Oh, of course.”



VIII.


He began again, more remotely from the affair in hand than he had left
off, as if he wanted to give himself room for parley with my possible
incredulity. “You know how it was with Marion about my not believing that
I should live again. Her notion was a sort of joke between us, especially
when others were by, but it was a serious thing with her, in her heart.
Perhaps it had originally come to her as a mere fancy, and from
entertaining it playfully, she found herself with a mental inmate that
finally dispossessed her judgment. You remember how literally she brought
those Scripture texts to bear on it?”

“Yes. May I say that it was very affecting?”

“Affecting!” Alderling repeated in a tone of amaze at the inadequacy of
my epithet. “She was always finding things that bore upon the point.
After awhile she got to concealing them, as if she thought they annoyed
me. They never did; they amused me; and when I saw that she had something
of the sort on her mind, I would say, ‘Well, out with it, Marion!’ She
would always begin, ‘Well, you may laugh!’” and as he repeated her words
Alderling did laugh, forlornly, and as I must say, rather
bloodcurdlingly.

I could not prompt him to go on, but he presently did so himself,
desolately enough. “I suppose, if I was in her mind at all in that
supreme moment, when she seemed to be leaving this life behind with such
a solemn effect of rating it at nothing, it may have been a pang to her
that I was not following her into the dark, with any ray of hope for
either of us. She could not have returned from it with the expectation of
convincing me, for I used to tell her that if one came back from the
dead, I should merely know that he had been mistaken about being dead,
and was giving me a dream from his trance. She once asked me if I thought
Lazarus was not really dead, with a curious childlike interest in the
miracle, and she was disheartened when I reminded her that Lazarus had
not testified of any life hereafter, and it did not matter whether he had
been really dead or not when he was resuscitated, as far as that was
concerned. Last year, we read the Bible a good deal together here, and to
tease her I pretended to be convinced of the contrary by the very
passages that persuaded her. As she told you, she did not care for
herself. You remember that?”

“Distinctly,” I said.

“It was always so. She never cared. I was perfectly aware that if she
could have assured life hereafter to me, she would have given her life
here to do it. You know how some women, when they are married, absolutely
give themselves up, try to lose themselves in the behoof of their
husbands? I don’t say it rightly; there are no words that will express
the utterness of their abdication.”

“I know what you mean,” I said, “and it was one of the facts which most
interested me in Mrs. Alderling.”

“Because I wasn’t worthy of it? No man is!”

“It wasn’t a question of that in my mind; I don’t believe that occurred
to me. It was the _Ding an sich_ that interested me, or as it related
itself to her, and not the least as it related itself to you. Such a
woman’s being is a cycle of self-sacrifice, so perfect, so essential,
from birth to death, as to exclude the notion of volition. She is what
she does. Of course she has to put her sacrifice into words from time to
time, but its true language is acts, and the acts themselves only
clumsily express it. There is a kind of tyranny in it for the man, of
course. It requires self-sacrifice to be sacrificed to, and I don’t
suppose a woman has any particular merit in what is so purely natural. It
appears pathetic when it is met with ingratitude or rejection, but when
it has its way it is no more deserving our reverence than eating or
sleeping. It astonishes men because they are as naturally incapable of it
as women are capable of it.”

I was mounted and was riding on, forgetful of Alderling, and what he had
to tell me, if he had anything, but he recalled me to myself by having
apparently forgotten me, for when I paused, he took up his affair at a
quite different point, and as though that were the question in hand.

“That gift, or knack, or trick, or whatever it was, of one compelling the
presence of the other by thinking or willing it, was as much mine as
hers, and she tried sometimes to get me to say that I would use it with
her if she died before I did; and if she were where the conditions were
opposed to her coming to me, my will would help her to overcome the
hinderance; our united wills would form a current of volition that she
could travel back on against all obstacles. I don’t know whether I make
myself clear?” he appealed.

“Yes, perfectly,” I said. “It is very curious.” He said in a kind of
muse, “I don’t know just where I was.” Then he began again, “Oh, yes! It
was at the ceremony--down there in the library. Some of the country
people came in; I suppose they thought they ought, and I suppose they
wanted to; it didn’t matter to me. I had sent for Doctor Norrey, as soon
as the relapse came, and he was there with me. Of course there was the
minister, conducting the services. He made a prayer full of helpless
repetitions, which I helplessly noticed, and some scrambling remarks,
mostly misdirected at me, affirming and reaffirming that the sister they
had lost was only gone before, and that she was now in a happier world.

“The singing and the praying and the preaching came to an end, and then
there was that soul-sickening hush, that exanimate silence, of which the
noise of rustling clothes and scraping feet formed a part, as the people
rose in the hall, where chairs had been put for them, leaving me and
Norrey alone with Marion. Every fibre of my frame recognized the moment
of parting, and protested. A tremendous wave of will swept through me and
from me, a resistless demand for her presence, and it had power upon her.
I heard her speak, and say, as distinctly as I repeat the words, ‘I will
come for you!’ and the youth and the beauty that had been growing more
and more wonderful in her face, ever since she died, shone like a kind of
light from it. I answered her, ‘I am ready now!’ and then Norrey scuffled
to his feet, with a conventional face of sympathy, and said, ‘No hurry,
my dear Alderling,’ and I knew he had not heard or seen anything, as well
as I did afterwards when I questioned him. He thought I was giving them
notice that they could take her away. What do you think?”

“How what do I think?” I asked.

“Do you think that it happened?”

There was something in Alderling’s tone and manner that made me, instead
of answering directly that I did not, temporize and ask, “Why?”

“Because--because,” and Alderling caught his breath, like a child that is
trying to keep itself from crying, “because _I_ don’t.” He broke into a
sobbing that seemed to wrench and tear his poor little body, and if I had
thought of anything to say, I could not have said it to his headlong
grief with any hope of assuaging it. “I am satisfied now,” he said, at
last, wiping his wet face, and striving for some composure of its
trembling features, “that it was all a delusion, the effect of my
exaltation, of my momentary aberration, perhaps. Don’t be afraid of
saying what you really think,” he added scornfully, “with the notion of
sparing me. You couldn’t doubt it, or deny it, more completely than I
do.”

[Illustration: “HE BROKE INTO A SOBBING THAT SEEMED TO WRENCH AND TEAR”]

I confess this unexpected turn struck me dumb. I did not try to say
anything, and Alderling went on.

“I don’t deny that she is living, but I can’t believe that I shall ever
live to see her again, or if you prefer, die to see her. There is the
play of the poor animal instinct, or the mechanical persistence of
expectation in me, so that I can’t shut the doors without the sense of
shutting her out, can’t put out the lights without feeling that I am
leaving her in the dark. But I know it is all foolishness, as well as you
do, all craziness. If she is alive it is because she believed she should
live, and I shall perish because I didn’t believe. I should like to
believe, now, if only to see her again, but it is too late. If you disuse
any member of your body, or any faculty of your mind, it withers away and
if you deny your soul your soul ceases to be.”

I found myself saying, “That is very interesting,” from a certain force
of habit, which you have noted in me, when confronted with a novel
instance of any kind. “But,” I suggested, “why not act upon the reverse
of that principle, and create the fact by affirmation which you think
your denial destroys?”

“Because,” he repeated wearily, “it is too late. You might as well ask
the fakir who has held his arm upright for twenty years, till it has
stiffened there, to restore the dry stock by exercise. It is too late,
I tell you.”

“But, look here, Alderling,” I pursued, beginning to taste the joy of
argument. “You say that your will had such power upon her after you knew
her to be dead that you made her speak to you?”

“No, I don’t say that now,” he returned. “I know now that it was a
delusion.”

“But if you once had that power of summoning her to you, by strongly
wishing for her presence, when you were both living here, why doesn’t it
stand to reason that you could do it still, if she is living there and
you are living here?”

“I never had any such power,” he replied, with the calm of absolute
tragedy. “That was a delusion too. I leave the doors open for her, night
and day, because I must, but if she came I should know it was not she.”



IX.


Of course you know your own business, my dear Acton, but if you think of
using the story of the Alderlings--and there is no reason why you should
not, for they are both dead, without kith or kin surviving, so far as I
know, unless he has some relatives in Germany, who would never penetrate
the disguise you could give the case--it seems to me that here is your
true climax. But I necessarily leave the matter to you, for I shall not
touch it at any point where we could come into competition. In fact, I
doubt if I ever touch it at all, for though all psychology is in a manner
dealing with the occult, still I think I have done my duty by that side
of it, as the occult is usually understood; and I am shy of its grosser
instances, as things that are apt to bring one’s scientific poise into
question. However, you shall be the judge of what is best for you to do,
when you have the whole story, and I will give it you without more ado,
merely premising that I have a sort of shame for the aptness of the
catastrophe. I shall respect you more if I hear that you agree with me as
to the true climax of the tragedy, and have the heroism to reject the
final event.

I stayed with Alderling nearly a week, and I will own that I bored
myself. In fact, I am not sure but we bored each other. At any rate, when
I told him, the night before I intended going, that I meant to leave him
in the morning, he seemed resigned, or indifferent, or perhaps merely
inattentive. From time to time we had recurred to the matter of his
experience, or his delusion, but with apparently increasing impatience on
his part, and certainly decreasing interest on mine; so that at last I
think he was willing to have me go. But in the morning he seemed
reluctant, and pleaded with me to stay a few days longer with him. I
alleged engagements, more or less unreal, for I was never on such terms
with Alderling that I felt I need make any special sacrifice to him. He
gave way, suspiciously, rather, and when I came down from my room after
having put the last touches to my packing, I found him on the veranda
looking out to seaward, where a heavy fog-bank hung.

You will sense here the sort of _patness_ which I feel cheapens the
catastrophe; and yet, as I consider it, again, the fact is not without
its curious importance, and its bearing upon what went before. I do not
know but it gives the whole affair a relief which it would not otherwise
have.

He was to have driven me to the station, some miles away, before noon,
and I supposed we should sit down together, and try to have some sort of
talk before I went. But Alderling appeared to have forgotten about my
going, and after a while, took himself off to his studio, and left me
alone to watch the inroads of the fog. It came on over the harbor
rapidly, as on that morning when Mrs. Alderling had been so nearly lost
in it, and presently the masts and shrouds of the shipping at anchor were
sticking up out of it as if they were sunk into a body as dense as the
sea under them.

I amused myself watching it blot out one detail of the prospect after
another, while the fog-horn lowed through it, and the bell-buoy, far out
beyond the light-house ledge, tolled mournfully. The milk-white mass
moved landward, and soon the air was blind with the mist which hid the
grass twenty yards away. There was an awfulness in the silence, which
nothing broke but the lowing of the horn, and the tolling of the bell,
except when now and then the voice of a sailor came through it, like that
of some drowned man sending up his hail from the bottom of the bay.

Suddenly I heard a joyful shout from the attic overhead:

“I am coming! I am coming!”

It was Alderling calling out through his window, and then a cry came from
over the water, which seemed to answer him, but which there is no reason
in the world to believe was not a girlish shout from one of the yachts,
swallowed up in the fog.

His lunging descent of the successive stairways followed, and he burst
through the doorway beside me, and without heeding me, ran bareheaded
down the sloping lawn.

I followed, with what notion of help or hinderance I should not find it
easy to say, but before I reached the water’s edge--in fact I never did
reach it, and had some difficulty making my way back to the house,--I
heard the rapid throb of the oars in the row-locks as he pulled through
the white opacity.

You know the rest, for it was the common property of our
enterprising press at the time, when the incident was fully reported,
with my ineffectual efforts to be satisfactorily interviewed as to
the nothing I knew.

The oarless boat was found floating far out to sea after the fog lifted.
It was useless to look for Alderling’s body, and I do not know that any
search was made for it.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Questionable Shapes" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home