The dog-cart, with Mr. Thomas Idle and his ankle on the hanging seat behind, Mr. Francis Goodchild and the Innkeeper in front, and the rain in spouts and splashes everywhere, made the best of its way back to the little inn; the broken moor country looking like miles upon miles of Pre-Adamite sop, or the ruins of some enormous jorum of antediluvian toast-and-water. The trees dripped; the eaves of the scattered cottages dripped; the barren stone walls dividing the land, dripped; the yelping dogs dripped; carts and waggons under ill-roofed penthouses, dripped; melancholy cocks and hens perching on their shafts, or seeking shelter underneath them, dripped; Mr. Goodchild dripped; Thomas Idle dripped; the Inn-keeper dripped; the mare dripped; the vast curtains of mist and cloud passed before the shadowy forms of the hills, streamed water as they were drawn across the landscape. Down such steep pitches that the mare seemed to be trotting on her head, and up such steep pitches that she seemed to have a supplementary leg in her tail, the dog-cart jolted and tilted back to the village. It was too wet for the women to look out, it was too wet even for the children to look out; all the doors and windows were closed, and the only sign of life or motion was in the rain-punctured puddles.
Whiskey and oil to Thomas Idle’s ankle, and whiskey without oil to Francis Goodchild’s stomach, produced an agreeable change in the systems of both; soothing Mr. Idle’s pain, which was sharp before, and sweetening Mr. Goodchild’s temper, which was sweet before. Portmanteaus being then opened and clothes changed, Mr. Goodchild, through having no change of outer garments but broadcloth and velvet, suddenly became a magnificent portent in the Innkeeper’s house, a shining frontispiece to the fashions for the month, and a frightful anomaly in the Cumberland village.
Greatly ashamed of his splendid appearance, the conscious Goodchild quenched it as much as possible, in the shadow of Thomas Idle’s ankle, and in a corner of the little covered carriage that started with them for Wigton — a most desirable carriage for any country, except for its having a flat roof and no sides; which caused the plumps of rain accumulating on the roof to play vigorous games of bagatelle into the interior all the way, and to score immensely. It was comfortable to see how the people coming back in open carts from Wigton market made no more of the rain than if it were sunshine; how the Wigton policeman taking a country walk of half-a-dozen miles (apparently for pleasure), in resplendent uniform, accepted saturation as his normal state; how clerks and schoolmasters in black, loitered along the road without umbrellas, getting varnished at every step; how the Cumberland girls, coming out to look after the Cumberland cows, shook the rain from their eyelashes and laughed it away; and how the rain continued to fall upon all, as it only does fall in hill countries.
Wigton market was over, and its bare booths were smoking with rain all down the street. Mr. Thomas Idle, melodramatically carried to the inn’s first floor, and laid upon three chairs (he should have had the sofa, if there had been one), Mr. Goodchild went to the window to take an observation of Wigton, and report what he saw to his disabled companion.
‘Brother Francis, brother Francis,’ cried Thomas Idle, ‘What do you see from the turret?’
‘I see,’ said Brother Francis, ‘what I hope and believe to be one of the most dismal places ever seen by eyes. I see the houses with their roofs of dull black, their stained fronts, and their dark-rimmed windows, looking as if they were all in mourning. As every little puff of wind comes down the street, I see a perfect train of rain let off along the wooden stalls in the market-place and exploded against me. I see a very big gas lamp in the centre which I know, by a secret instinct, will not be lighted to-night. I see a pump, with a trivet underneath its spout whereon to stand the vessels that are brought to be filled with water. I see a man come to pump, and he pumps very hard, but no water follows, and he strolls empty away.’
‘Brother Francis, brother Francis,’ cried Thomas Idle, ‘what more do you see from the turret, besides the man and the pump, and the trivet and the houses all in mourning and the rain?’
‘I see,’ said Brother Francis, ‘one, two, three, four, five, linen-drapers’ shops in front of me. I see a linen-draper’s shop next door to the right — and there are five more linen-drapers’ shops down the corner to the left. Eleven homicidal linen-drapers’ shops within a short stone’s throw, each with its hands at the throats of all the rest! Over the small first-floor of one of these linen-drapers’ shops appears the wonderful inscription, BANK.’
‘Brother Francis, brother Francis,’ cried Thomas Idle, ‘what more do you see from the turret, besides the eleven homicidal linen-drapers’ shops, and the wonderful inscription, “Bank,” — on the small first-floor, and the man and the pump and the trivet and the houses all in mourning and the rain?’
‘I see,’ said Brother Francis, ‘the depository for Christian Knowledge, and through the dark vapour I think I again make out Mr. Spurgeon looming heavily. Her Majesty the Queen, God bless her, printed in colours, I am sure I see. I see the ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS of several years ago, and I see a sweetmeat shop — which the proprietor calls a “Salt Warehouse” — with one small female child in a cotton bonnet looking in on tip-toe, oblivious of rain. And I see a watchmaker’s with only three great pale watches of a dull metal hanging in his window, each in a separate pane.’
‘Brother Francis, brother Francis,’ cried Thomas Idle, ‘what more do you see of Wigton, besides these objects, and the man and the pump and the trivet and the houses all in mourning and the rain?’
‘I see nothing more,’ said Brother Francis, ‘and there is nothing more to see, except the curlpaper bill of the theatre, which was opened and shut last week (the manager’s family played all the parts), and the short, square, chinky omnibus that goes to the railway, and leads too rattling a life over the stones to hold together long. O yes! Now, I see two men with their hands in their pockets and their backs towards me.’
‘Brother Francis, brother Francis,’ cried Thomas Idle, ‘what do you make out from the turret, of the expression of the two men with their hands in their pockets and their backs towards you?’
‘They are mysterious men,’ said Brother Francis, ‘with inscrutable backs. They keep their backs towards me with persistency. If one turns an inch in any direction, the other turns an inch in the same direction, and no more. They turn very stiffly, on a very little pivot, in the middle of the market-place. Their appearance is partly of a mining, partly of a ploughing, partly of a stable, character. They are looking at nothing — very hard. Their backs are slouched, and their legs are curved with much standing about. Their pockets are loose and dog’s-eared, on account of their hands being always in them. They stand to be rained upon, without any movement of impatience or dissatisfaction, and they keep so close together that an elbow of each jostles an elbow of the other, but they never speak. They spit at times, but speak not. I see it growing darker and darker, and still I see them, sole visible population of the place, standing to be rained upon with their backs towards me, and looking at nothing very hard.’
‘Brother Francis, brother Francis,’ cried Thomas Idle, ‘before you draw down the blind of the turret and come in to have your head scorched by the hot gas, see if you can, and impart to me, something of the expression of those two amazing men.’
‘The murky shadows,’ said Francis Goodchild, ‘are gathering fast; and the wings of evening, and the wings of coal, are folding over Wigton. Still, they look at nothing very hard, with their backs towards me. Ah! Now, they turn, and I see — ’
‘Brother Francis, brother Francis,’ cried Thomas Idle, ‘tell me quickly what you see of the two men of Wigton!’
‘I see,’ said Francis Goodchild, ‘that they have no expression at all. And now the town goes to sleep, undazzled by the large unlighted lamp in the market-place; and let no man wake it.’
At the close of the next day’s journey, Mr. Thomas Idle’s ankle became much swollen and inflamed. There are reasons which will presently explain themselves for not publicly indicating the exact direction in which that journey lay, or the place in which it ended. It was a long day’s shaking of Thomas Idle over the rough roads, and a long day’s getting out and going on before the horses, and fagging up hills, and scouring down hills, on the part of Mr. Goodchild, who in the fatigues of such labours congratulated himself on attaining a high point of idleness. It was at a little town, still in Cumberland, that they halted for the night — a very little town, with the purple and brown moor close upon its one street; a curious little ancient market-cross set up in the midst of it; and the town itself looking much as if it were a collection of great stones piled on end by the Druids long ago, which a few recluse people had since hollowed out for habitations.
‘Is there a doctor here?’ asked Mr. Goodchild, on his knee, of the motherly landlady of the little Inn: stopping in his examination of Mr. Idle’s ankle, with the aid of a candle.
‘Ey, my word!’ said the landlady, glancing doubtfully at the ankle for herself; ‘there’s Doctor Speddie.’
‘Is he a good Doctor?’
‘Ey!’ said the landlady, ‘I ca’ him so. A’ cooms efther nae doctor that I ken. Mair nor which, a’s just THE doctor heer.’
‘Do you think he is at home?’
Her reply was, ‘Gang awa’, Jock, and bring him.’
Jock, a white-headed boy, who, under pretence of stirring up some bay salt in a basin of water for the laving of this unfortunate ankle, had greatly enjoyed himself for the last ten minutes in splashing the carpet, set off promptly. A very few minutes had elapsed when he showed the Doctor in, by tumbling against the door before him and bursting it open with his head.
‘Gently, Jock, gently,’ said the Doctor as he advanced with a quiet step. ‘Gentlemen, a good evening. I am sorry that my presence is required here. A slight accident, I hope? A slip and a fall? Yes, yes, yes. Carrock, indeed? Hah! Does that pain you, sir? No doubt, it does. It is the great connecting ligament here, you see, that has been badly strained. Time and rest, sir! They are often the recipe in greater cases,’ with a slight sigh, ‘and often the recipe in small. I can send a lotion to relieve you, but we must leave the cure to time and rest.’
This he said, holding Idle’s foot on his knee between his two hands, as he sat over against him. He had touched it tenderly and skilfully in explanation of what he said, and, when his careful examination was completed, softly returned it to its former horizontal position on a chair.
He spoke with a little irresolution whenever he began, but afterwards fluently. He was a tall, thin, large-boned, old gentleman, with an appearance at first sight of being hard-featured; but, at a second glance, the mild expression of his face and some particular touches of sweetness and patience about his mouth, corrected this impression and assigned his long professional rides, by day and night, in the bleak hill-weather, as the true cause of that appearance. He stooped very little, though past seventy and very grey. His dress was more like that of a clergyman than a country doctor, being a plain black suit, and a plain white neck-kerchief tied behind like a band. His black was the worse for wear, and there were darns in his coat, and his linen was a little frayed at the hems and edges. He might have been poor — it was likely enough in that out-of-the-way spot — or he might have been a little self-forgetful and eccentric. Any one could have seen directly, that he had neither wife nor child at home. He had a scholarly air with him, and that kind of considerate humanity towards others which claimed a gentle consideration for himself. Mr. Goodchild made this study of him while he was examining the limb, and as he laid it down. Mr. Goodchild wishes to add that he considers it a very good likeness.
It came out in the course of a little conversation, that Doctor Speddie was acquainted with some friends of Thomas Idle’s, and had, when a young man, passed some years in Thomas Idle’s birthplace on the other side of England. Certain idle labours, the fruit of Mr. Goodchild’s apprenticeship, also happened to be well known to him. The lazy travellers were thus placed on a more intimate footing with the Doctor than the casual circumstances of the meeting would of themselves have established; and when Doctor Speddie rose to go home, remarking that he would send his assistant with the lotion, Francis Goodchild said that was unnecessary, for, by the Doctor’s leave, he would accompany him, and bring it back. (Having done nothing to fatigue himself for a full quarter of an hour, Francis began to fear that he was not in a state of idleness.)
Doctor Speddie politely assented to the proposition of Francis Goodchild, ‘as it would give him the pleasure of enjoying a few more minutes of Mr. Goodchild’s society than he could otherwise have hoped for,’ and they went out together into the village street. The rain had nearly ceased, the clouds had broken before a cool wind from the north-east, and stars were shining from the peaceful heights beyond them.
Doctor Speddie’s house was the last house in the place. Beyond it, lay the moor, all dark and lonesome. The wind moaned in a low, dull, shivering manner round the little garden, like a houseless creature that knew the winter was coming. It was exceedingly wild and solitary. ‘Roses,’ said the Doctor, when Goodchild touched some wet leaves overhanging the stone porch; ‘but they get cut to pieces.’
The Doctor opened the door with a key he carried, and led the way into a low but pretty ample hall with rooms on either side. The door of one of these stood open, and the Doctor entered it, with a word of welcome to his guest. It, too, was a low room, half surgery and half parlour, with shelves of books and bottles against the walls, which were of a very dark hue. There was a fire in the grate, the night being damp and chill. Leaning against the chimney-piece looking down into it, stood the Doctor’s Assistant.
A man of a most remarkable appearance. Much older than Mr. Goodchild had expected, for he was at least two-and-fifty; but, that was nothing. What was startling in him was his remarkable paleness. His large black eyes, his sunken cheeks, his long and heavy iron-grey hair, his wasted hands, and even the attenuation of his figure, were at first forgotten in his extraordinary pallor. There was no vestige of colour in the man. When he turned his face, Francis Goodchild started as if a stone figure had looked round at him.
‘Mr. Lorn,’ said the Doctor. ‘Mr. Goodchild.’
The Assistant, in a distraught way — as if he had forgotten something — as if he had forgotten everything, even to his own name and himself — acknowledged the visitor’s presence, and stepped further back into the shadow of the wall behind him. But, he was so pale that his face stood out in relief again the dark wall, and really could not be hidden so.
‘Mr. Goodchild’s friend has met with accident, Lorn,’ said Doctor Speddie. ‘We want the lotion for a bad sprain.’
‘My dear fellow, you are more than usually absent to-night. The lotion for a bad sprain.’
‘Ah! yes! Directly.’
He was evidently relieved to turn away, and to take his white face and his wild eyes to a table in a recess among the bottles. But, though he stood there, compounding the lotion with his back towards them, Goodchild could not, for many moments, withdraw his gaze from the man. When he at length did so, he found the Doctor observing him, with some trouble in his face. ‘He is absent,’ explained the Doctor, in a low voice. ‘Always absent. Very absent.’
‘Is he ill?’
‘No, not ill.’
‘I have my suspicions that he was,’ assented the Doctor, ‘once.’
Francis Goodchild could not but observe that the Doctor accompanied these words with a benignant and protecting glance at their subject, in which there was much of the expression with which an attached father might have looked at a heavily afflicted son. Yet, that they were not father and son must have been plain to most eyes. The Assistant, on the other hand, turning presently to ask the Doctor some question, looked at him with a wan smile as if he were his whole reliance and sustainment in life.
It was in vain for the Doctor in his easy-chair, to try to lead the mind of Mr. Goodchild in the opposite easy-chair, away from what was before him. Let Mr. Goodchild do what he would to follow the Doctor, his eyes and thoughts reverted to the Assistant. The Doctor soon perceived it, and, after falling silent, and musing in a little perplexity, said:
‘My dear Doctor.’
‘Would you go to the Inn, and apply that lotion? You will show the best way of applying it, far better than Mr. Goodchild can.’
The Assistant took his hat, and passed like a shadow to the door.
‘Lorn!’ said the Doctor, calling after him.
‘Mr. Goodchild will keep me company till you come home. Don’t hurry. Excuse my calling you back.’
‘It is not,’ said the Assistant, with his former smile, ‘the first time you have called me back, dear Doctor.’ With those words he went away.
‘Mr. Goodchild,’ said Doctor Speddie, in a low voice, and with his former troubled expression of face, ‘I have seen that your attention has been concentrated on my friend.’
‘He fascinates me. I must apologise to you, but he has quite bewildered and mastered me.’
‘I find that a lonely existence and a long secret,’ said the Doctor, drawing his chair a little nearer to Mr. Goodchild’s, ‘become in the course of time very heavy. I will tell you something. You may make what use you will of it, under fictitious names. I know I may trust you. I am the more inclined to confidence to-night, through having been unexpectedly led back, by the current of our conversation at the Inn, to scenes in my early life. Will you please to draw a little nearer?’
Mr. Goodchild drew a little nearer, and the Doctor went on thus: speaking, for the most part, in so cautious a voice, that the wind, though it was far from high, occasionally got the better of him.
When this present nineteenth century was younger by a good many years than it is now, a certain friend of mine, named Arthur Holliday, happened to arrive in the town of Doncaster, exactly in the middle of a race-week, or, in other words, in the middle of the month of September. He was one of those reckless, rattle-pated, open-hearted, and open-mouthed young gentlemen, who possess the gift of familiarity in its highest perfection, and who scramble carelessly along the journey of life making friends, as the phrase is, wherever they go. His father was a rich manufacturer, and had bought landed property enough in one of the midland counties to make all the born squires in his neighbourhood thoroughly envious of him. Arthur was his only son, possessor in prospect of the great estate and the great business after his father’s death; well supplied with money, and not too rigidly looked after, during his father’s lifetime. Report, or scandal, whichever you please, said that the old gentleman had been rather wild in his youthful days, and that, unlike most parents, he was not disposed to be violently indignant when he found that his son took after him. This may be true or not. I myself only knew the elder Mr. Holliday when he was getting on in years; and then he was as quiet and as respectable a gentleman as ever I met with.
Well, one September, as I told you, young Arthur comes to Doncaster, having decided all of a sudden, in his harebrained way, that he would go to the races. He did not reach the town till towards the close of the evening, and he went at once to see about his dinner and bed at the principal hotel. Dinner they were ready enough to give him; but as for a bed, they laughed when he mentioned it. In the race-week at Doncaster, it is no uncommon thing for visitors who have not bespoken apartments, to pass the night in their carriages at the inn doors. As for the lower sort of strangers, I myself have often seen them, at that full time, sleeping out on the doorsteps for want of a covered place to creep under. Rich as he was, Arthur’s chance of getting a night’s lodging (seeing that he had not written beforehand to secure one) was more than doubtful. He tried the second hotel, and the third hotel, and two of the inferior inns after that; and was met everywhere by the same form of answer. No accommodation for the night of any sort was left. All the bright golden sovereigns in his pocket would not buy him a bed at Doncaster in the race-week.
To a young fellow of Arthur’s temperament, the novelty of being turned away into the street, like a penniless vagabond, at every house where he asked for a lodging, presented itself in the light of a new and highly amusing piece of experience. He went on, with his carpet-bag in his hand, applying for a bed at every place of entertainment for travellers that he could find in Doncaster, until he wandered into the outskirts of the town. By this time, the last glimmer of twilight had faded out, the moon was rising dimly in a mist, the wind was getting cold, the clouds were gathering heavily, and there was every prospect that it was soon going to rain.
The look of the night had rather a lowering effect on young Holliday’s good spirits. He began to contemplate the houseless situation in which he was placed, from the serious rather than the humorous point of view; and he looked about him, for another public-house to inquire at, with something very like downright anxiety in his mind on the subject of a lodging for the night. The suburban part of the town towards which he had now strayed was hardly lighted at all, and he could see nothing of the houses as he passed them, except that they got progressively smaller and dirtier, the farther he went. Down the winding road before him shone the dull gleam of an oil lamp, the one faint, lonely light that struggled ineffectually with the foggy darkness all round him. He resolved to go on as far as this lamp, and then, if it showed him nothing in the shape of an Inn, to return to the central part of the town and to try if he could not at least secure a chair to sit down on, through the night, at one of the principal Hotels.
As he got near the lamp, he heard voices; and, walking close under it, found that it lighted the entrance to a narrow court, on the wall of which was painted a long hand in faded flesh-colour, pointing with a lean forefinger, to this inscription:-
THE TWO ROBINS.
Arthur turned into the court without hesitation, to see what The Two Robins could do for him. Four or five men were standing together round the door of the house which was at the bottom of the court, facing the entrance from the street. The men were all listening to one other man, better dressed than the rest, who was telling his audience something, in a low voice, in which they were apparently very much interested.
On entering the passage, Arthur was passed by a stranger with a knapsack in his hand, who was evidently leaving the house.
‘No,’ said the traveller with the knapsack, turning round and addressing himself cheerfully to a fat, sly-looking, bald-headed man, with a dirty white apron on, who had followed him down the passage. ‘No, Mr. landlord, I am not easily scared by trifles; but, I don’t mind confessing that I can’t quite stand THAT.’
It occurred to young Holliday, the moment he heard these words, that the stranger had been asked an exorbitant price for a bed at The Two Robins; and that he was unable or unwilling to pay it. The moment his back was turned, Arthur, comfortably conscious of his own well-filled pockets, addressed himself in a great hurry, for fear any other benighted traveller should slip in and forestall him, to the sly-looking landlord with the dirty apron and the bald head.
‘If you have got a bed to let,’ he said, ‘and if that gentleman who has just gone out won’t pay your price for it, I will.’
The sly landlord looked hard at Arthur.
‘Will you, sir?’ he asked, in a meditative, doubtful way.
‘Name your price,’ said young Holliday, thinking that the landlord’s hesitation sprang from some boorish distrust of him. ‘Name your price, and I’ll give you the money at once if you like?’
‘Are you game for five shillings?’ inquired the landlord, rubbing his stubbly double chin, and looking up thoughtfully at the ceiling above him.
Arthur nearly laughed in the man’s face; but thinking it prudent to control himself, offered the five shillings as seriously as he could. The sly landlord held out his hand, then suddenly drew it back again.
‘You’re acting all fair and above-board by me,’ he said: ‘and, before I take your money, I’ll do the same by you. Look here, this is how it stands. You can have a bed all to yourself for five shillings; but you can’t have more than a half-share of the room it stands in. Do you see what I mean, young gentleman?’
‘Of course I do,’ returned Arthur, a little irritably. ‘You mean that it is a double-bedded room, and that one of the beds is occupied?’
The landlord nodded his head, and rubbed his double chin harder than ever. Arthur hesitated, and mechanically moved back a step or two towards the door. The idea of sleeping in the same room with a total stranger, did not present an attractive prospect to him. He felt more than half inclined to drop his five shillings into his pocket, and to go out into the street once more.
‘Is it yes, or no?’ asked the landlord. ‘Settle it as quick as you can, because there’s lots of people wanting a bed at Doncaster to-night, besides you.’
Arthur looked towards the court, and heard the rain falling heavily in the street outside. He thought he would ask a question or two before he rashly decided on leaving the shelter of The Two Robins.
‘What sort of a man is it who has got the other bed?’ he inquired. ‘Is he a gentleman? I mean, is he a quiet, well-behaved person?’
‘The quietest man I ever came across,’ said the landlord, rubbing his fat hands stealthily one over the other. ‘As sober as a judge, and as regular as clock-work in his habits. It hasn’t struck nine, not ten minutes ago, and he’s in his bed already. I don’t know whether that comes up to your notion of a quiet man: it goes a long way ahead of mine, I can tell you.’
‘Is he asleep, do you think?’ asked Arthur.
‘I know he’s asleep,’ returned the landlord. ‘And what’s more, he’s gone off so fast, that I’ll warrant you don’t wake him. This way, sir,’ said the landlord, speaking over young Holliday’s shoulder, as if he was addressing some new guest who was approaching the house.
‘Here you are,’ said Arthur, determined to be beforehand with the stranger, whoever he might be. ‘I’ll take the bed.’ And he handed the five shillings to the landlord, who nodded, dropped the money carelessly into his waistcoat-pocket, and lighted the candle.
‘Come up and see the room,’ said the host of The Two Robins, leading the way to the staircase quite briskly, considering how fat he was.
They mounted to the second-floor of the house. The landlord half opened a door, fronting the landing, then stopped, and turned round to Arthur.
‘It’s a fair bargain, mind, on my side as well as on yours,’ he said. ‘You give me five shillings, I give you in return a clean, comfortable bed; and I warrant, beforehand, that you won’t be interfered with, or annoyed in any way, by the man who sleeps in the same room as you.’ Saying those words, he looked hard, for a moment, in young Holliday’s face, and then led the way into the room.
It was larger and cleaner than Arthur had expected it would be. The two beds stood parallel with each other — a space of about six feet intervening between them. They were both of the same medium size, and both had the same plain white curtains, made to draw, if necessary, all round them. The occupied bed was the bed nearest the window. The curtains were all drawn round this, except the half curtain at the bottom, on the side of the bed farthest from the window. Arthur saw the feet of the sleeping man raising the scanty clothes into a sharp little eminence, as if he was lying flat on his back. He took the candle, and advanced softly to draw the curtain — stopped half-way, and listened for a moment — then turned to the landlord.
‘He’s a very quiet sleeper,’ said Arthur.
‘Yes,’ said the landlord, ‘very quiet.’
Young Holliday advanced with the candle, and looked in at the man cautiously.
‘How pale he is!’ said Arthur.
‘Yes,’ returned the landlord, ‘pale enough, isn’t he?’
Arthur looked closer at the man. The bedclothes were drawn up to his chin, and they lay perfectly still over the region of his chest. Surprised and vaguely startled, as he noticed this, Arthur stooped down closer over the stranger; looked at his ashy, parted lips; listened breathlessly for an instant; looked again at the strangely still face, and the motionless lips and chest; and turned round suddenly on the landlord, with his own cheeks as pale for the moment as the hollow cheeks of the man on the bed.
‘Come here,’ he whispered, under his breath. ‘Come here, for God’s sake! The man’s not asleep — he is dead!’
‘You have found that out sooner than I thought you would,’ said the landlord, composedly. ‘Yes, he’s dead, sure enough. He died at five o’clock to-day.’
‘How did he die? Who is he?’ asked Arthur, staggered, for a moment, by the audacious coolness of the answer.
‘As to who is he,’ rejoined the landlord, ‘I know no more about him than you do. There are his books and letters and things, all sealed up in that brown-paper parcel, for the Coroner’s inquest to open to-morrow or next day. He’s been here a week, paying his way fairly enough, and stopping in-doors, for the most part, as if he was ailing. My girl brought him up his tea at five to-day; and as he was pouring of it out, he fell down in a faint, or a fit, or a compound of both, for anything I know. We could not bring him to — and I said he was dead. And the doctor couldn’t bring him to — and the doctor said he was dead. And there he is. And the Coroner’s inquest’s coming as soon as it can. And that’s as much as I know about it.’
Arthur held the candle close to the man’s lips. The flame still burnt straight up, as steadily as before. There was a moment of silence; and the rain pattered drearily through it against the panes of the window.
‘If you haven’t got nothing more to say to me,’ continued the landlord, ‘I suppose I may go. You don’t expect your five shillings back, do you? There’s the bed I promised you, clean and comfortable. There’s the man I warranted not to disturb you, quiet in this world for ever. If you’re frightened to stop alone with him, that’s not my look out. I’ve kept my part of the bargain, and I mean to keep the money. I’m not Yorkshire, myself, young gentleman; but I’ve lived long enough in these parts to have my wits sharpened; and I shouldn’t wonder if you found out the way to brighten up yours, next time you come amongst us.’ With these words, the landlord turned towards the door, and laughed to himself softly, in high satisfaction at his own sharpness.
Startled and shocked as he was, Arthur had by this time sufficiently recovered himself to feel indignant at the trick that had been played on him, and at the insolent manner in which the landlord exulted in it.
‘Don’t laugh,’ he said sharply, ‘till you are quite sure you have got the laugh against me. You shan’t have the five shillings for nothing, my man. I’ll keep the bed.’
‘Will you?’ said the landlord. ‘Then I wish you a goodnight’s rest.’ With that brief farewell, he went out, and shut the door after him.
A good night’s rest! The words had hardly been spoken, the door had hardly been closed, before Arthur half-repented the hasty words that had just escaped him. Though not naturally over-sensitive, and not wanting in courage of the moral as well as the physical sort, the presence of the dead man had an instantaneously chilling effect on his mind when he found himself alone in the room — alone, and bound by his own rash words to stay there till the next morning. An older man would have thought nothing of those words, and would have acted, without reference to them, as his calmer sense suggested. But Arthur was too young to treat the ridicule, even of his inferiors, with contempt — too young not to fear the momentary humiliation of falsifying his own foolish boast, more than he feared the trial of watching out the long night in the same chamber with the dead.
‘It is but a few hours,’ he thought to himself, ‘and I can get away the first thing in the morning.’
He was looking towards the occupied bed as that idea passed through his mind, and the sharp, angular eminence made in the clothes by the dead man’s upturned feet again caught his eye. He advanced and drew the curtains, purposely abstaining, as he did so, from looking at the face of the corpse, lest he might unnerve himself at the outset by fastening some ghastly impression of it on his mind. He drew the curtain very gently, and sighed involuntarily as he closed it. ‘Poor fellow,’ he said, almost as sadly as if he had known the man. ‘Ah, poor fellow!’
He went next to the window. The night was black, and he could see nothing from it. The rain still pattered heavily against the glass. He inferred, from hearing it, that the window was at the back of the house; remembering that the front was sheltered from the weather by the court and the buildings over it.
While he was still standing at the window — for even the dreary rain was a relief, because of the sound it made; a relief, also, because it moved, and had some faint suggestion, in consequence, of life and companionship in it — while he was standing at the window, and looking vacantly into the black darkness outside, he heard a distant church-clock strike ten. Only ten! How was he to pass the time till the house was astir the next morning?
Under any other circumstances, he would have gone down to the public-house parlour, would have called for his grog, and would have laughed and talked with the company assembled as familiarly as if he had known them all his life. But the very thought of whiling away the time in this manner was distasteful to him. The new situation in which he was placed seemed to have altered him to himself already. Thus far, his life had been the common, trifling, prosaic, surface-life of a prosperous young man, with no troubles to conquer, and no trials to face. He had lost no relation whom he loved, no friend whom he treasured. Till this night, what share he had of the immortal inheritance that is divided amongst us all, had laid dormant within him. Till this night, Death and he had not once met, even in thought.
He took a few turns up and down the room — then stopped. The noise made by his boots on the poorly carpeted floor, jarred on his ear. He hesitated a little, and ended by taking the boots off, and walking backwards and forwards noiselessly. All desire to sleep or to rest had left him. The bare thought of lying down on the unoccupied bed instantly drew the picture on his mind of a dreadful mimicry of the position of the dead man. Who was he? What was the story of his past life? Poor he must have been, or he would not have stopped at such a place as The Two Robins Inn — and weakened, probably, by long illness, or he could hardly have died in the manner in which the landlord had described. Poor, ill, lonely, — dead in a strange place; dead, with nobody but a stranger to pity him. A sad story: truly, on the mere face of it, a very sad story.
While these thoughts were passing through his mind, he had stopped insensibly at the window, close to which stood the foot of the bed with the closed curtains. At first he looked at it absently; then he became conscious that his eyes were fixed on it; and then, a perverse desire took possession of him to do the very thing which he had resolved not to do, up to this time — to look at the dead man.
He stretched out his hand towards the curtains; but checked himself in the very act of undrawing them, turned his back sharply on the bed, and walked towards the chimney-piece, to see what things were placed on it, and to try if he could keep the dead man out of his mind in that way.
There was a pewter inkstand on the chimney-piece, with some mildewed remains of ink in the bottle. There were two coarse china ornaments of the commonest kind; and there was a square of embossed card, dirty and fly-blown, with a collection of wretched riddles printed on it, in all sorts of zig-zag directions, and in variously coloured inks. He took the card, and went away, to read it, to the table on which the candle was placed; sitting down, with his back resolutely turned to the curtained bed.
He read the first riddle, the second, the third, all in one corner of the card — then turned it round impatiently to look at another. Before he could begin reading the riddles printed here, the sound of the church-clock stopped him. Eleven. He had got through an hour of the time, in the room with the dead man.
Once more he looked at the card. It was not easy to make out the letters printed on it, in consequence of the dimness of the light which the landlord had left him — a common tallow candle, furnished with a pair of heavy old-fashioned steel snuffers. Up to this time, his mind had been too much occupied to think of the light. He had left the wick of the candle unsnuffed, till it had risen higher than the flame, and had burnt into an odd pent-house shape at the top, from which morsels of the charred cotton fell off, from time to time, in little flakes. He took up the snuffers now, and trimmed the wick. The light brightened directly, and the room became less dismal.
Again he turned to the riddles; reading them doggedly and resolutely, now in one corner of the card, now in another. All his efforts, however, could not fix his attention on them. He pursued his occupation mechanically, deriving no sort of impression from what he was reading. It was as if a shadow from the curtained bed had got between his mind and the gaily printed letters — a shadow that nothing could dispel. At last, he gave up the struggle, and threw the card from him impatiently, and took to walking softly up and down the room again.
The dead man, the dead man, the HIDDEN dead man on the bed! There was the one persistent idea still haunting him. Hidden? Was it only the body being there, or was it the body being there, concealed, that was preying on his mind? He stopped at the window, with that doubt in him; once more listening to the pattering rain, once more looking out into the black darkness.
Still the dead man! The darkness forced his mind back upon itself, and set his memory at work, reviving, with a painfully-vivid distinctness the momentary impression it had received from the first sight of the corpse. Before long the face seemed to be hovering out in the middle of the darkness, confronting him through the window, with the paleness whiter, with the dreadful dull line of light between the imperfectly-closed eyelids broader than he had seen it — with the parted lips slowly dropping farther and farther away from each other — with the features growing larger and moving closer, till they seemed to fill the window and to silence the rain, and to shut out the night.
The sound of a voice, shouting below-stairs, woke him suddenly from the dream of his own distempered fancy. He recognised it as the voice of the landlord. ‘Shut up at twelve, Ben,’ he heard it say. ‘I’m off to bed.’
He wiped away the damp that had gathered on his forehead, reasoned with himself for a little while, and resolved to shake his mind free of the ghastly counterfeit which still clung to it, by forcing himself to confront, if it was only for a moment, the solemn reality. Without allowing himself an instant to hesitate, he parted the curtains at the foot of the bed, and looked through.
There was a sad, peaceful, white face, with the awful mystery of stillness on it, laid back upon the pillow. No stir, no change there! He only looked at it for a moment before he closed the curtains again — but that moment steadied him, calmed him, restored him — mind and body — to himself.
He returned to his old occupation of walking up and down the room; persevering in it, this time, till the clock struck again. Twelve.
As the sound of the clock-bell died away, it was succeeded by the confused noise, down-stairs, of the drinkers in the tap-room leaving the house. The next sound, after an interval of silence, was caused by the barring of the door, and the closing of the shutters, at the back of the Inn. Then the silence followed again, and was disturbed no more.
He was alone now — absolutely, utterly, alone with the dead man, till the next morning.
The wick of the candle wanted trimming again. He took up the snuffers — but paused suddenly on the very point of using them, and looked attentively at the candle — then back, over his shoulder, at the curtained bed — then again at the candle. It had been lighted, for the first time, to show him the way up-stairs, and three parts of it, at least, were already consumed. In another hour it would be burnt out. In another hour — unless he called at once to the man who had shut up the Inn, for a fresh candle — he would be left in the dark.
Strongly as his mind had been affected since he had entered his room, his unreasonable dread of encountering ridicule, and of exposing his courage to suspicion, had not altogether lost its influence over him, even yet. He lingered irresolutely by the table, waiting till he could prevail on himself to open the door, and call, from the landing, to the man who had shut up the Inn. In his present hesitating frame of mind, it was a kind of relief to gain a few moments only by engaging in the trifling occupation of snuffing the candle. His hand trembled a little, and the snuffers were heavy and awkward to use. When he closed them on the wick, he closed them a hair’s breadth too low. In an instant the candle was out, and the room was plunged in pitch darkness.
The one impression which the absence of light immediately produced on his mind, was distrust of the curtained bed — distrust which shaped itself into no distinct idea, but which was powerful enough in its very vagueness, to bind him down to his chair, to make his heart beat fast, and to set him listening intently. No sound stirred in the room but the familiar sound of the rain against the window, louder and sharper now than he had heard it yet.
Still the vague distrust, the inexpressible dread possessed him, and kept him to his chair. He had put his carpet-bag on the table, when he first entered the room; and he now took the key from his pocket, reached out his hand softly, opened the bag, and groped in it for his travelling writing-case, in which he knew that there was a small store of matches. When he had got one of the matches, he waited before he struck it on the coarse wooden table, and listened intently again, without knowing why. Still there was no sound in the room but the steady, ceaseless, rattling sound of the rain.
He lighted the candle again, without another moment of delay and, on the instant of its burning up, the first object in the room that his eyes sought for was the curtained bed.
Just before the light had been put out, he had looked in that direction, and had seen no change, no disarrangement of any sort, in the folds of the closely-drawn curtains.
When he looked at the bed, now, he saw, hanging over the side of it, a long white hand.
It lay perfectly motionless, midway on the side of the bed, where the curtain at the head and the curtain at the foot met. Nothing more was visible. The clinging curtains hid everything but the long white hand.
He stood looking at it unable to stir, unable to call out; feeling nothing, knowing nothing, every faculty he possessed gathered up and lost in the one seeing faculty. How long that first panic held him he never could tell afterwards. It might have been only for a moment; it might have been for many minutes together. How he got to the bed — whether he ran to it headlong, or whether he approached it slowly — how he wrought himself up to unclose the curtains and look in, he never has remembered, and never will remember to his dying day. It is enough that he did go to the bed, and that he did look inside the curtains.
The man had moved. One of his arms was outside the clothes; his face was turned a little on the pillow; his eyelids were wide open. Changed as to position, and as to one of the features, the face was, otherwise, fearfully and wonderfully unaltered. The dead paleness and the dead quiet were on it still
One glance showed Arthur this — one glance, before he flew breathlessly to the door, and alarmed the house.
The man whom the landlord called ‘Ben,’ was the first to appear on the stairs. In three words, Arthur told him what had happened, and sent him for the nearest doctor.
I, who tell you this story, was then staying with a medical friend of mine, in practice at Doncaster, taking care of his patients for him, during his absence in London; and I, for the time being, was the nearest doctor. They had sent for me from the Inn, when the stranger was taken ill in the afternoon; but I was not at home, and medical assistance was sought for elsewhere. When the man from The Two Robins rang the night-bell, I was just thinking of going to bed. Naturally enough, I did not believe a word of his story about ‘a dead man who had come to life again.’ However, I put on my hat, armed myself with one or two bottles of restorative medicine, and ran to the Inn, expecting to find nothing more remarkable, when I got there, than a patient in a fit.
My surprise at finding that the man had spoken the literal truth was almost, if not quite, equalled by my astonishment at finding myself face to face with Arthur Holliday as soon as I entered the bedroom. It was no time then for giving or seeking explanations. We just shook hands amazedly; and then I ordered everybody but Arthur out of the room, and hurried to the man on the bed.
The kitchen fire had not been long out. There was plenty of hot water in the boiler, and plenty of flannel to be had. With these, with my medicines, and with such help as Arthur could render under my direction, I dragged the man, literally, out of the jaws of death. In less than an hour from the time when I had been called in, he was alive and talking in the bed on which he had been laid out to wait for the Coroner’s inquest.
You will naturally ask me, what had been the matter with him; and I might treat you, in reply, to a long theory, plentifully sprinkled with, what the children call, hard words. I prefer telling you that, in this case, cause and effect could not be satisfactorily joined together by any theory whatever. There are mysteries in life, and the condition of it, which human science has not fathomed yet; and I candidly confess to you, that, in bringing that man back to existence, I was, morally speaking, groping haphazard in the dark. I know (from the testimony of the doctor who attended him in the afternoon) that the vital machinery, so far as its action is appreciable by our senses, had, in this case, unquestionably stopped; and I am equally certain (seeing that I recovered him) that the vital principle was not extinct. When I add, that he had suffered from a long and complicated illness, and that his whole nervous system was utterly deranged, I have told you all I really know of the physical condition of my dead-alive patient at The Two Robins Inn.
When he ‘came to,’ as the phrase goes, he was a startling object to look at, with his colourless face, his sunken cheeks, his wild black eyes, and his long black hair. The first question he asked me about himself, when he could speak, made me suspect that I had been called in to a man in my own profession. I mentioned to him my surmise; and he told me that I was right.
He said he had come last from Paris, where he had been attached to a hospital. That he had lately returned to England, on his way to Edinburgh, to continue his studies; that he had been taken ill on the journey; and that he had stopped to rest and recover himself at Doncaster. He did not add a word about his name, or who he was: and, of course, I did not question him on the subject. All I inquired, when he ceased speaking, was what branch of the profession he intended to follow.
‘Any branch,’ he said, bitterly, ‘which will put bread into the mouth of a poor man.’
At this, Arthur, who had been hitherto watching him in silent curiosity, burst out impetuously in his usual good-humoured way:-
‘My dear fellow!’ (everybody was ‘my dear fellow’ with Arthur) ‘now you have come to life again, don’t begin by being down-hearted about your prospects. I’ll answer for it, I can help you to some capital thing in the medical line — or, if I can’t, I know my father can.’
The medical student looked at him steadily.
‘Thank you,’ he said, coldly. Then added, ‘May I ask who your father is?’
‘He’s well enough known all about this part of the country,’ replied Arthur. ‘He is a great manufacturer, and his name is Holliday.’
My hand was on the man’s wrist during this brief conversation. The instant the name of Holliday was pronounced I felt the pulse under my fingers flutter, stop, go on suddenly with a bound, and beat afterwards, for a minute or two, at the fever rate.
‘How did you come here?’ asked the stranger, quickly, excitably, passionately almost.
Arthur related briefly what had happened from the time of his first taking the bed at the inn.
‘I am indebted to Mr. Holliday’s son then for the help that has saved my life,’ said the medical student, speaking to himself, with a singular sarcasm in his voice. ‘Come here!’
He held out, as he spoke, his long, white, bony, right hand.
‘With all my heart,’ said Arthur, taking the hand-cordially. ‘I may confess it now,’ he continued, laughing. ‘Upon my honour, you almost frightened me out of my wits.’
The stranger did not seem to listen. His wild black eyes were fixed with a look of eager interest on Arthur’s face, and his long bony fingers kept tight hold of Arthur’s hand. Young Holliday, on his side, returned the gaze, amazed and puzzled by the medical student’s odd language and manners. The two faces were close together; I looked at them; and, to my amazement, I was suddenly impressed by the sense of a likeness between them — not in features, or complexion, but solely in expression. It must have been a strong likeness, or I should certainly not have found it out, for I am naturally slow at detecting resemblances between faces.
‘You have saved my life,’ said the strange man, still looking hard in Arthur’s face, still holding tightly by his hand. ‘If you had been my own brother, you could not have done more for me than that.’
He laid a singularly strong emphasis on those three words ‘my own brother,’ and a change passed over his face as he pronounced them, — a change that no language of mine is competent to describe.
‘I hope I have not done being of service to you yet,’ said Arthur. ‘I’ll speak to my father, as soon as I get home.’
‘You seem to be fond and proud of your father,’ said the medical student. ‘I suppose, in return, he is fond and proud of you?’
‘Of course, he is!’ answered Arthur, laughing. ‘Is there anything wonderful in that? Isn’t YOUR father fond — ’
The stranger suddenly dropped young Holliday’s hand, and turned his face away.
‘I beg your pardon,’ said Arthur. ‘I hope I have not unintentionally pained you. I hope you have not lost your father.’
‘I can’t well lose what I have never had,’ retorted the medical student, with a harsh, mocking laugh.
‘What you have never had!’
The strange man suddenly caught Arthur’s hand again, suddenly looked once more hard in his face.
‘Yes,’ he said, with a repetition of the bitter laugh. ‘You have brought a poor devil back into the world, who has no business there. Do I astonish you? Well! I have a fancy of my own for telling you what men in my situation generally keep a secret. I have no name and no father. The merciful law of Society tells me I am Nobody’s Son! Ask your father if he will be my father too, and help me on in life with the family name.’
Arthur looked at me, more puzzled than ever. I signed to him to say nothing, and then laid my fingers again on the man’s wrist. No! In spite of the extraordinary speech that he had just made, he was not, as I had been disposed to suspect, beginning to get light-headed. His pulse, by this time, had fallen back to a quiet, slow beat, and his skin was moist and cool. Not a symptom of fever or agitation about him.
Finding that neither of us answered him, he turned to me, and began talking of the extraordinary nature of his case, and asking my advice about the future course of medical treatment to which he ought to subject himself. I said the matter required careful thinking over, and suggested that I should submit certain prescriptions to him the next morning. He told me to write them at once, as he would, most likely, be leaving Doncaster, in the morning, before I was up. It was quite useless to represent to him the folly and danger of such a proceeding as this. He heard me politely and patiently, but held to his resolution, without offering any reasons or any explanations, and repeated to me, that if I wished to give him a chance of seeing my prescription, I must write it at once. Hearing this, Arthur volunteered the loan of a travelling writing-case, which, he said, he had with him; and, bringing it to the bed, shook the note-paper out of the pocket of the case forthwith in his usual careless way. With the paper, there fell out on the counterpane of the bed a small packet of sticking-plaster, and a little water-colour drawing of a landscape.
The medical student took up the drawing and looked at it. His eye fell on some initials neatly written, in cypher, in one corner. He started and trembled; his pale face grew whiter than ever; his wild black eyes turned on Arthur, and looked through and through him.
‘A pretty drawing,’ he said in a remarkably quiet tone of voice.
‘Ah! and done by such a pretty girl,’ said Arthur. ‘Oh, such a pretty girl! I wish it was not a landscape — I wish it was a portrait of her!’
‘You admire her very much?’
Arthur, half in jest, half in earnest, kissed his hand for answer.
‘Love at first sight!’ he said, putting the drawing away again. ‘But the course of it doesn’t run smooth. It’s the old story. She’s monopolised as usual. Trammelled by a rash engagement to some poor man who is never likely to get money enough to marry her. It was lucky I heard of it in time, or I should certainly have risked a declaration when she gave me that drawing. Here, doctor! Here is pen, ink, and paper all ready for you.’
‘When she gave you that drawing? Gave it. Gave it.’ He repeated the words slowly to himself, and suddenly closed his eyes. A momentary distortion passed across his face, and I saw one of his hands clutch up the bedclothes and squeeze them hard. I thought he was going to be ill again, and begged that there might be no more talking. He opened his eyes when I spoke, fixed them once more searchingly on Arthur, and said, slowly and distinctly, ‘You like her, and she likes you. The poor man may die out of your way. Who can tell that she may not give you herself as well as her drawing, after all?’
Before young Holliday could answer, he turned to me, and said in a whisper, ‘Now for the prescription.’ From that time, though he spoke to Arthur again, he never looked at him more.
When I had written the prescription, he examined it, approved of it, and then astonished us both by abruptly wishing us good night. I offered to sit up with him, and he shook his head. Arthur offered to sit up with him, and he said, shortly, with his face turned away, ‘No.’ I insisted on having somebody left to watch him. He gave way when he found I was determined, and said he would accept the services of the waiter at the Inn.
‘Thank you, both,’ he said, as we rose to go. ‘I have one last favour to ask — not of you, doctor, for I leave you to exercise your professional discretion — but of Mr. Holliday.’ His eyes, while he spoke, still rested steadily on me, and never once turned towards Arthur. ‘I beg that Mr. Holliday will not mention to any one — least of all to his father — the events that have occurred, and the words that have passed, in this room. I entreat him to bury me in his memory, as, but for him, I might have been buried in my grave. I cannot give my reasons for making this strange request. I can only implore him to grant it.’
His voice faltered for the first time, and he hid his face on the pillow. Arthur, completely bewildered, gave the required pledge. I took young Holliday away with me, immediately afterwards, to the house of my friend; determining to go back to the Inn, and to see the medical student again before he had left in the morning.
I returned to the Inn at eight o’clock, purposely abstaining from waking Arthur, who was sleeping off the past night’s excitement on one of my friend’s sofas. A suspicion had occurred to me as soon as I was alone in my bedroom, which made me resolve that Holliday and the stranger whose life he had saved should not meet again, if I could prevent it. I have already alluded to certain reports, or scandals, which I knew of, relating to the early life of Arthur’s father. While I was thinking, in my bed, of what had passed at the Inn — of the change in the student’s pulse when he heard the name of Holliday; of the resemblance of expression that I had discovered between his face and Arthur’s; of the emphasis he had laid on those three words, ‘my own brother;’ and of his incomprehensible acknowledgment of his own illegitimacy — while I was thinking of these things, the reports I have mentioned suddenly flew into my mind, and linked themselves fast to the chain of my previous reflections. Something within me whispered, ‘It is best that those two young men should not meet again.’ I felt it before I slept; I felt it when I woke; and I went, as I told you, alone to the Inn the next morning.
I had missed my only opportunity of seeing my nameless patient again. He had been gone nearly an hour when I inquired for him.
I have now told you everything that I know for certain, in relation to the man whom I brought back to life in the double-bedded room of the Inn at Doncaster. What I have next to add is matter for inference and surmise, and is not, strictly speaking, matter of fact.
I have to tell you, first, that the medical student turned out to be strangely and unaccountably right in assuming it as more than probable that Arthur Holliday would marry the young lady who had given him the water-colour drawing of the landscape. That marriage took place a little more than a year after the events occurred which I have just been relating. The young couple came to live in the neighbourhood in which I was then established in practice. I was present at the wedding, and was rather surprised to find that Arthur was singularly reserved with me, both before and after his marriage, on the subject of the young lady’s prior engagement. He only referred to it once, when we were alone, merely telling me, on that occasion, that his wife had done all that honour and duty required of her in the matter, and that the engagement had been broken off with the full approval of her parents. I never heard more from him than this. For three years he and his wife lived together happily. At the expiration of that time, the symptoms of a serious illness first declared themselves in Mrs. Arthur Holliday. It turned out to be a long, lingering, hopeless malady. I attended her throughout. We had been great friends when she was well, and we became more attached to each other than ever when she was ill. I had many long and interesting conversations with her in the intervals when she suffered least. The result of one of these conversations I may briefly relate, leaving you to draw any inferences from it that you please.
The interview to which I refer, occurred shortly before her death. I called one evening, as usual, and found her alone, with a look in her eyes which told me that she had been crying. She only informed me at first, that she had been depressed in spirits; but, by little and little, she became more communicative, and confessed to me that she had been looking over some old letters, which had been addressed to her, before she had seen Arthur, by a man to whom she had been engaged to be married. I asked her how the engagement came to be broken off. She replied that it had not been broken off, but that it had died out in a very mysterious way. The person to whom she was engaged — her first love, she called him — was very poor, and there was no immediate prospect of their being married. He followed my profession, and went abroad to study. They had corresponded regularly, until the time when, as she believed, he had returned to England. From that period she heard no more of him. He was of a fretful, sensitive temperament; and she feared that she might have inadvertently done or said something that offended him. However that might be, he had never written to her again; and, after waiting a year, she had married Arthur. I asked when the first estrangement had begun, and found that the time at which she ceased to hear anything of her first lover exactly corresponded with the time at which I had been called in to my mysterious patient at The Two Robins Inn.
A fortnight after that conversation, she died. In course of time, Arthur married again. Of late years, he has lived principally in London, and I have seen little or nothing of him.
I have many years to pass over before I can approach to anything like a conclusion of this fragmentary narrative. And even when that later period is reached, the little that I have to say will not occupy your attention for more than a few minutes. Between six and seven years ago, the gentleman to whom I introduced you in this room, came to me, with good professional recommendations, to fill the position of my assistant. We met, not like strangers, but like friends — the only difference between us being, that I was very much surprised to see him, and that he did not appear to be at all surprised to see me. If he was my son or my brother, I believe he could not be fonder of me than he is; but he has never volunteered any confidences since he has been here, on the subject of his past life. I saw something that was familiar to me in his face when we first met; and yet it was also something that suggested the idea of change. I had a notion once that my patient at the Inn might be a natural son of Mr. Holliday’s; I had another idea that he might also have been the man who was engaged to Arthur’s first wife; and I have a third idea, still clinging to me, that Mr. Lorn is the only man in England who could really enlighten me, if he chose, on both those doubtful points. His hair is not black, now, and his eyes are dimmer than the piercing eyes that I remember, but, for all that, he is very like the nameless medical student of my young days — very like him. And, sometimes, when I come home late at night, and find him asleep, and wake him, he looks, in coming to, wonderfully like the stranger at Doncaster, as he raised himself in the bed on that memorable night!
The Doctor paused. Mr. Goodchild, who had been following every word that fell from his lips up to this time, leaned forward eagerly to ask a question. Before he could say a word, the latch of the door was raised, without any warning sound of footsteps in the passage outside. A long, white, bony hand appeared through the opening, gently pushing the door, which was prevented from working freely on its hinges by a fold in the carpet under it.
‘That hand! Look at that hand, Doctor!’ said Mr. Goodchild, touching him.
At the same moment, the Doctor looked at Mr. Goodchild, and whispered to him, significantly:
‘Hush! he has come back.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07