The Haunted Baronet, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter XIII

The Mist on the Mountain

Doctor Torvey was sent for early next morning, and came full of wonder, learning and scepticism. Seeing is believing, however; and there was Philip Feltram living, and soon to be, in all bodily functions, just as usual.

“Upon my soul, Sir Bale, I couldn’t have believed it, if I had not seen it with my eyes,” said the Doctor impressively, while sipping a glass of sherry in the ‘breakfast parlour,’ as the great panelled and pictured room next the dining-room was called. “I don’t think there is any similar case on record — no pulse, no more than the poker; no respiration, by Jove, no more than the chimney-piece; as cold as a lead image in the garden there. Well, you’ll say all that might possibly be fallacious; but what will you say to the cadaveric stiffness? Old Judy Wale can tell you; and my friend Marcella — Monocula would be nearer the mark — Mrs. Bligh, she knows all those common, and I may say up to this, infallible, signs of death, as well as I do. There is no mystery about them; they’ll depose to the literality of the symptoms. You heard how they gave tongue. Upon my honour, I’ll send the whole case up to my old chief, Sir Hervey Hansard, to London. You’ll hear what a noise it will make among the profession. There never was — and it ain’t too much to say there never will be-another case like it.”

During this lecture, and a great deal more, Sir Bale leaned back in his chair, with his legs extended, his heels on the ground, and his arms folded, looking sourly up in the face of a tall lady in white satin, in a ruff, and with a bird on her hand, who smiled down superciliously from her frame on the Baronet. Sir Bale seemed a little bit high and dry with the Doctor.

“You physicians are unquestionably,” he said, “a very learned profession.”

The Doctor bowed.

“But there’s just one thing you know nothing about ——”

“Eh? What’s that?” inquired Doctor Torvey.

“Medicine,” answered Sir Bale. “I was aware you never knew what was the matter with a sick man; but I didn’t know, till now, that you couldn’t tell when he was dead.”

“Ha, ha! — well — ha, ha! — yes — well, you see, you — ha, ha! — you certainly have me there. But it’s a case without a parallel — it is, upon my honour. You’ll find it will not only be talked about, but written about; and, whatever papers appear upon it, will come to me; and I’ll take care, Sir Bale, you shall have an opportunity of reading them.”

“Of which I shan’t avail myself,” answered Sir Bale. “Take another glass of sherry, Doctor.”

The Doctor made his acknowledgments and filled his glass, and looked through the wine between him and the window.

“Ha, ha! — see there, your port, Sir Bale, gives a fellow such habits — looking for the beeswing, by Jove. It isn’t easy, in one sense at least, to get your port out of a fellow’s head when once he has tasted it.”

But if the honest Doctor meant a hint for a glass of that admirable bin, it fell pointless; and Sir Bale had no notion of making another libation of that precious fluid in honour of Doctor Torvey.

“And I take it for granted,” said Sir Bale, “that Feltram will do very well; and, should anything go wrong, I can send for you — unless he should die again; and in that case I think I shall take my own opinion.”

So he and the Doctor parted.

Sir Bale, although he did not consult the Doctor on his own case, was not particularly well. “That lonely place, those frightful mountains, and that damp black lake”— which features in the landscape he cursed all round —“are enough to give any man blue devils; and when a fellow’s spirits go, he’s all gone. That’s why I’m dyspeptic — that and those damned debts — and the post, with its flight of croaking and screeching letters from London. I wish there was no post here. I wish it was like Sir Amyrald’s time, when they shot the York mercer that came to dun him, and no one ever took anyone to task about it; and now they can pelt you at any distance they please through the post; and fellows lose their spirits and their appetite and any sort of miserable comfort that is possible in this odious abyss.”

Was there gout in Sir Bale’s case, or ‘vapours’? I know not what the faculty would have called it; but Sir Bale’s mode of treatment was simply to work off the attack by long and laborious walking.

This evening his walk was upon the Fells of Golden Friars — long after the landscape below was in the eclipse of twilight, the broad bare sides and angles of these gigantic uplands were still lighted by the misty western sun.

There is no such sense of solitude as that which we experience upon the silent and vast elevations of great mountains. Lifted high above the level of human sounds and habitations, among the wild expanses and colossal features of Nature, we are thrilled in our loneliness with a strange fear and elation — an ascent above the reach of life’s vexations or companionship, and the tremblings of a wild and undefined misgiving. The filmy disc of the moon had risen in the east, and was already faintly silvering the shadowy scenery below, while yet Sir Bale stood in the mellow light of the western sun, which still touched also the summits of the opposite peaks of Morvyn Fells.

Sir Bale Mardykes did not, as a stranger might, in prudence, hasten his descent from the heights at which he stood while yet a gleam of daylight remained to him. For he was, from his boyhood, familiar with those solitary regions; and, beside this, the thin circle of the moon, hung in the eastern sky, would brighten as the sunlight sank, and hang like a lamp above his steps.

There was in the bronzed and resolute face of the Baronet, lighted now in the parting beams of sunset, a resemblance to that of Charles the Second — not our “merry” ideal, but the more energetic and saturnine face which the portraits have preserved to us.

He stood with folded arms on the side of the slope, admiring, in spite of his prejudice, the unusual effects of a view so strangely lighted — the sunset tints on the opposite peaks, lost in the misty twilight, now deepening lower down into a darker shade, through which the outlines of the stone gables and tower of Golden Friars and the light of fire or candle in their windows were dimly visible.

As he stood and looked, his more distant sunset went down, and sudden twilight was upon him, and he began to remember the beautiful Homeric picture of a landscape coming out, rock and headland, in the moonlight.

There had hung upon the higher summits, at his right, a heavy fold of white cloud, which on a sudden broke, and, like the smoke of artillery, came rolling down the slopes toward him. Its principal volume, however, unfolded itself in a mighty flood down the side of the mountain towards the lake; and that which spread towards and soon enveloped the ground on which he stood was by no means so dense a fog. A thick mist enough it was; but still, to a distance of twenty or thirty yards, he could discern the outline of a rock or scaur, but not beyond it.

There are few sensations more intimidating than that of being thus enveloped on a lonely mountain-side, which, like this one, here and there breaks into precipice.

There is another sensation, too, which affects the imagination. Overtaken thus on the solitary expanse, there comes a new chill and tremour as this treacherous medium surrounds us, through which unperceived those shapes which fancy conjures up might approach so near and bar our path.

From the risk of being reduced to an actual standstill he knew he was exempt. The point from which the wind blew, light as it was, assured him of that. Still the mist was thick enough seriously to embarrass him. It had overtaken him as he was looking down upon the lake; and he now looked to his left, to try whether in that direction it was too thick to permit a view of the nearest landmarks. Through this white film he saw a figure standing only about five-and-twenty steps away, looking down, as it seemed, in precisely the same direction as he, quite motionless, and standing like a shadow projected upon the smoky vapour. It was the figure of a slight tall man, with his arm extended, as if pointing to a remote object, which no mortal eye certainly could discern through the mist. Sir Bale gazed at this figure, doubtful whether he were in a waking dream, unable to conjecture whence it had come; and as he looked, it moved, and was almost instantly out of sight.

He descended the mountain cautiously. The mist was now thinner, and through the haze he was beginning to see objects more distinctly, and, without danger, to proceed at a quicker pace. He had still a long walk by the uplands towards Mardykes Hall before he descended to the level of the lake.

The mist was still quite thick enough to circumscribe his view and to hide the general features of the landscape; and well was it, perhaps, for Sir Bale that his boyhood had familiarised him with the landmarks on the mountain-side.

He had made nearly four miles on his solitary homeward way, when, passing under a ledge of rock which bears the name of the Cat’s Skaitch, he saw the same figure in the short cloak standing within some thirty or forty yards of him — the thin curtain of mist, through which the moonlight touched it, giving to it an airy and unsubstantial character.

Sir Bale came to a standstill. The man in the short cloak nodded and drew back, and was concealed by the angle of the rock.

Sir Bale was now irritated, as men are after a start, and shouting to the stranger to halt, he ‘slapped’ after him, as the northern phrase goes, at his best pace. But again he was gone, and nowhere could he see him, the mist favouring his evasion.

Looking down the fells that overhang Mardykes Hall, the mountain-side dips gradually into a glen, which, as it descends, becomes precipitous and wooded. A footpath through this ravine conducts the wayfarer to the level ground that borders the lake; and by this dark pass Sir Bale Mardykes strode, in comparatively clear air, along the rocky path dappled with moonlight.

As he emerged upon the lower ground he again encountered the same figure. It approached. It was Philip Feltram.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:49