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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
The bitter cold weather out of doors made the cosy glow of my little library even more than usually grateful. I had carried the warm and bright anticipation of it close-buttoned under my top-coat throughout my cold drive in the hansom from the South-Western Railway Station to my rooms on the Thames Embankment. But now, as I stepped in and shut the door behind me, I found I had done it less than justice.
The four comfortable walls gave a broad smile of welcome, which was multitudinously repeated from the well-known back of every beloved book. Softly gleamed the Argand burner from the green-topped study table; hospitably flickered the blazing Wallsend from the wide-mouthed grate; seductive was the invitation extended me by padded easy-chair, fox-skin hearthrug, and toasted slippers; crisp was the greeting of the evening’s Pall Mall lying on the table; and solid the promise of the latest Contemporary, containing, as I knew, my article on “Unrecognisable Truths in their Relation to Non-existent Phenomena.” Bethinking myself, moreover, of the decanter of matchless old port-wine in the right-hand cupboard of the table, and of the box of prime Cabanas, made to my own order in Habana, in the drawer on the left, I was not so much disposed to envy Calbot his late betrothal to the beautiful Miss Burleigh, the news whereof he had triumphantly poured into my bachelor ears a week or two before.
“Never mind, Drayton, old fellow,” I muttered to myself, as I pushed off my boots and slid my feet into the toasted slippers; “what matter though love, courtship, and marriage be not for thee? Thou hast yet thy luxuries”— here I sank slowly into my easy-chair, “thy creature comforts”— here I got out the wine and the cigars, “and thy beloved offspring!”— here I glanced at “Unrecognisable Truths,” &c., printed on the cover of the Contemporary.
While I am pouring out and tasting a mellow glass of port, let me briefly recall what and whence I am.
Snugness, comfort, and privacy are my desiderata. My visible possessions must be few, intrinsically valuable, and so disposed as to lie within the scope of two or three paces and an outstretched arm. My being a bachelor (and at the age of forty, I think I may add a confirmed one) enables me to indulge these and other whims conveniently and without embarrassment.
My forefathers kept large establishments and had big families — and plenty of bother and discomfort into the bargain. But when my turn came, I sold out everything (except a few old heirlooms, and a part of the library, and an ancestral portrait or two), put the cash proceeds in the Funds, and myself, with my literary tastes and æsthetic culture, into the rooms which I now occupy. I might live in a much more grandiose style if I pleased, but in my opinion I am very well off as I am. I can find my way to Freemasons’ Tavern on occasions; my essays are a power in the philosophic and theologic worlds; and I can count on a friend or two worth their weight in gold, morally, mentally, and materially. Poor Calbot, to be sure — but more of him anon.
That is old Dean Drayton’s portrait, over the mantelpiece — taken one hundred and fifty years ago: an ancestor and namesake of mine. He wrote a pamphlet on witchcraft, or something of that sort, which made a stir in its day. I had thoughts of entering the ministry myself a long while ago; I think it was about the time of my engagement to Miss Seraphine Angell — the Bishop of Maresnest’s daughter. But when she jil —— when the affair was discontinued I had second thoughts, ending in the resolve to let both women and the ministry severely alone for the future. So the name of Drayton dies with me.
There is, I fancy, at once a curious similarity and dissimilarity between the Dean and his descendant. For one thing, we are both of us singularly liable to be made confidants of delicate subjects; with this difference, however, that whereas the Dean is — or was — an old busybody (I am quoting history, not my private judgment), my natural tendency is not only to mind my own business, but to tell other people to mind theirs. It’s no use, though — they only babble the more; and were I to lose all my fortune, I could, by turning black-mailer, ensure a permanent income twice as large as the one I have now.
Another thing. The Dean was an alchemist — so tradition says; and his descendant has a marked taste for scientific subjects, though not of the occult kind. One of the family heirlooms, by-the-way, was a monument of the Dean’s alchemic skill; it was a large sealed vase or phial, ornamented with cabalistic figures and inscriptions, and affirmed to contain the veritable Elixir Vitæ, manufactured after years of labour by the old gentleman, and corked up and put away for future use. It unfortunately happened, however, that he was killed by an upset of his coach, away from home; and the vase remained sealed ever afterwards. I have often thought of taking a little out and analysing it; for even should it turn out not to be the water of life, I thought it might possibly resolve itself into a bottle of excellent brandy. But I delayed too long; and at last the mysterious phial very unexpectedly analysed itself, and dissipated itself at the same moment — but, again, let me not anticipate.
I finished my first glass of wine, poured out another, and taking up the Contemporary turned to the masterly discussion of “Unrecognisable Truths,” &c. Before I had reached the close of the opening period, however, I heard the postman’s knock.
I ought to have mentioned that I had been down to Richmond that afternoon — an unusual thing for me to do at that time of year. But the fact was that a distant connection of mine had died a short time before, and his effects were announced to be sold at auction. I had reason to believe that among these effects were some old relics of my family — documents and so forth — which I was interested to recover; indeed, but that some foolish quarrel or other had parted my relative and me years ago, I might doubtless have had them at any time for the asking. Of the precise nature of the documents in question I was not precisely informed; Armstrong — such was my relative’s name — had taken care not to enlighten me on the subject. When I read the announcement of his death in The Times I had half expected that he might have bequeathed me the old things; but it turned out that he had made no will at all, having, as it appeared, no very great property to dispose of. He was a queer fellow, and came of a queer family; half insane I always considered them; and I know they were suspected of witchcraft as long ago as the time of our old Dean. Nay, the Dean himself was whispered to have been the least bit overshadowed at that epoch, owing, I understand, to one fussy habit he had of encouraging confidences. One of these Armstrong witches had communicated some devilish secret or other to the reverend gentleman, I suppose, and thus brought ill-repute upon him. However, the Dean was no fool, and got out of the scrape by writing that pamphlet on witchcraft.
Well, I was about to say that when I heard of the sale I resolved to run over to Richmond and see what I could pick up. I got there just in time to see the last lot knocked down. It was shockingly stupid of me to have mistaken the hour — such a cold day, too, and I so unaccustomed to running about the country at that time of year. But there was no help for it; I had to return as wise as I started, and the poorer by the loss of my temper and expectations. I was beginning to get in a good humour again, however, what with my fire, and my cigar, and my article on “Truths,” &c., and partly, no doubt, by reason of the genial effect of that old port-wine; besides, I am by no means of a sour disposition, naturally; when all of a sudden came the postman’s knock, making me start so that the ash of my cigar fell on the open page of the Contemporary and scorched a hole in it. Postmen have always been a horror to me; I have never enjoyed receiving letters since the date of a certain missive from — from someone who is now the wife of another man; and on this particular evening I was more than commonly averse to any such interruption. I laid my book on my knees, leaned back in my chair, and blew an irritated cloud of smoke towards the painted countenance of my ecclesiastical ancestor over the fireplace. It curled and twisted about his respectable visage, until I could almost have believed that he winked one eye and moved his ancient lips as if to speak.
The servant brought in a square packet done up in brown wrapping-paper, and sealed in half-a-dozen places. It was about the size and shape of the magazine I had been reading — a little thicker, perhaps, and heavier. I put my name to the receipt accompanying the parcel, and the servant went out.
At first I was disposed to let the thing lie unopened till the next day, being well assured that it would not repay examination: and I actually did put it aside and attempt to resume my reading as though no interruption had occurred. But I found it impossible to get on, or to fix my thoughts upon anything except just that parcel. What could be in it? Who could have sent it? I looked at the direction, but could make nothing out of that; it was written in an ordinary business hand, quite characterless and non-committal. I felt it carefully all over; it was stiffer than ordinary paper, but not hard like wood. Meanwhile I glanced up at my pictured ancestor, and was struck with the expression of anxious interest which appeared to have come over his features. Perhaps he knew what the packet contained; or more probably his ruling passion of curiosity, strong in death, was making his old painted fingers itch to break the seals and take a peep at the mystery. The idea provoked me, and with a sudden impulse I held the packet out over the blazing Wallsend, two-thirds minded to drop it in. But the next moment I was more provoked at my own childish folly. I drew the thing back, took my penknife from my pocket, and cut the strings that tied it. Unwrapping the paper, there was disclosed to view a very antique-looking leather case or cover — a pocketbook or portfolio to all appearance. I undid the worn strap that fastened it, and it fell open, showing a number of leaves of musty parchment, written over with a quaint and crabbed chirography, such as could not have been in vogue for a good deal more than a century, to say the least.
I am something of an antiquary, and not entirely without experience of MS. older even than this appeared to be. Having convinced myself by a cursory inspection that the matter was worth looking into, I lost no time in composing myself to its perusal.
It was written in Latin — a fortunate circumstance, since there was none of the difficulty attendant upon old-fashioned bad spelling to contend with. The substance of the writing consisted, so far as I was able to make out, of extracts from a number of private letters, supplemented by passages from the pages of a journal and by occasional observations made apparently in the transcriber’s own person. The combination formed a tolerably consecutive and logical history of three individuals — a woman and two men — who lived and loved and hated with the antiquated vehemence of a century and a half ago.
An odd circumstance which was immediately noticeable in the compilation was a systematic omission of the names of all the actors in the events narrated. A blank space of some length was left for each one, as though the writer had intended filling them in afterwards, but, for whatever cause, had failed to do so. Even the scribe himself — he was a friend or confidential adviser, as it seemed, of the principal figure in the narrative — had suffered himself to remain as nameless as the rest.
This omission affected me strangely. So far from alienating my interest, it greatly augmented it; and although the body of the writing was couched in terms sufficiently dry and matter-of-fact, the blank spaces gave rein to the imagination, and lent the story a present and almost a personal vitality and significance. It almost seemed to me that the matter was, in some way or other, my individual concern — that I was, or had been, involved in the incidents here set forth, and had still to look forward to the catastrophe. The potent port, I fancy, must have a little o’ercrowed my spirit; but I believe I ascribed it, at the same time, to the peculiar influence exerted over me by the portrait of my reverend ancestor. He seemed positively to be alive, and preparing to come down from his frame and take the MS. into his own possession.
I spent a long time in trying to find out whence the MS. came, and why it had been sent to me. But to this problem there was no apparent clue — no tangible evidence, external or internal. Of course I was sure that the secret lay in the blank spaces; and was half inclined to cut the knot by filling them up with my own name and with those of the first three friends of mine that happened to come into my head. However, after quite working myself into a fever, and ruining the flavour of my Cabana by letting it go out and then relighting it, I finally contented myself by stopping the pregnant gaps with the first four letters of the alphabet; and thus furnished forth, I buckled earnestly and steadily to my work, progressing so rapidly that in less than three hours’ time I had mastered the whole narrative.
It was an unpleasant story, certainly, but there was nothing particularly weird or remarkable, after all, in the incidents related. From a literary point of view, it was greatly lacking in point and completeness; for though it ended with the death of the chief character and the marriage of the other two, yet the interest of the reader advanced beyond the written limits, and demanded a more definite conclusion. Things were left at such loose ends, in spite of death and marriage, that it was hard not to believe that more remained behind. In the heated and excited condition of my imagination, I felt strongly tempted to snatch up my pen and improvise an ending on my own responsibility.
The longer I mused over the matter the more convinced did I become that all had not been told. Moreover, I could almost fancy that I had some occult perception of what the true and ultimate conclusion really was; nay, even that the authorship of this very MS., which had been penned considerably more than a hundred years before I was born, was nevertheless mystically my own. I repeat, there seemed to be something of myself in it; and the events had an inexplicable sort of familiarity to my mind, as though they were long forgotten, rather than now known for the first time. And all the while that alchemic progenitor of mine kept up his mysterious winking and nodding.
It would be too long and tedious to transcribe the tale as I read it; I will therefore give, as briefly as possible, an abstract of the leading points round which it was woven.
Shortly before the beginning of the last century, a wealthy gentleman — let us call him A. — made a proposal for the hand of a young lady living in the neighbourhood of London, the daughter of an excellent family, though at that time somewhat reduced in circumstances, probably in consequence of political jealousies. Judging from what is said of her, this young lady — Miss B. — must have been a famous beauty; and it would not therefore be surprising if A. had met with some rivalry in his suit. To all appearances, however, the course of true love flowed as smooth as oil. The B. family, in spite of their political disaffection, did not oppose the marriage of their daughter to so wealthy and respectable a suitor; and if she herself had any disinclination to him, she very probably and prudently said nothing about it, but treated Mr. A. very graciously.
A.’s property, and the general management of his business affairs, were entrusted by him to the care of a talented young barrister, C. by name; who, indeed, largely owed his prosperity and brilliant prospects to A.’s kindness, the latter having aided him in his preparation for the Bar, and afterwards put a great deal of business in his way, which otherwise he would have obtained but slowly. In fact, A’s attitude towards this young man was almost parental; and no wonder if he felt himself secure in trusting his most private concerns to one who owed him so deep a debt of gratitude.
Nevertheless, it would doubtless have been wiser in him, a man somewhat advanced in life, not to have made C. the bearer and utterer of his loving messages to the lady of his heart, quite so often or so unreservedly as he appears to have done. C., who was probably a well-favoured and fascinating fellow enough, must have seen more of Miss B. than did her lover; and in his capacity of the latter’s recognised confidant, he could easily have obtained access to her at any moment. Perhaps the young beauty was not averse to a little flirtation with the handsome and clever barrister. Perhaps she encouraged him; the evidence, such as it is, would seem to point that way. Be that as it may, we must admit that C. was exposed to pretty strong temptation. His virtue, be he who he might, must have had a struggle for it; and if we imagine him rather warm-blooded and tolerably weak-principled, we may be justly anxious as to virtue’s victory.
Having made what allowances we will, there is no denying that C. turned out a great scoundrel. A. one morning took his carriage and went up to London, and the coachman stopped at the door of the Court jeweller. Out steps Mr. A., with his velvet cloak, his silk stockings, his plumed hat, and his peaked beard; and, with his long rapier dangling at his side, and his lace ruffles half concealing his white hands, he makes his stately entry into the bowing tradesman’s shop. There he spends a long time examining, with all the whimsical particularity of an elderly lover, the trays upon trays of rare, rich, and costly nicknacks which are set before him. It seems as though he would never be suited. The pompous horses, standing outside, shake their rattling head-gear and stamp their proud hoofs impatiently; the obsequious jeweller racks his brain and exhausts his eloquence unavailingly. Never was there so difficult a customer. At length the man of jewels picks up a quaint-looking little locket, and is just on the point of putting it down again, as not even worth the trouble of offering, when Mr. A. exclaims:
“Hold, Mr. Jeweller, that is what we are looking for. What is the price of that locket?”
“Oh sir,” replies the shrewd man of business, quickly recovering from his first surprise, “I see you need not be informed of what is truly valuable. This little locket, which most persons would look upon as commonplace, is in fact, in more senses than one, the jewel of my stock. It is made, you perceive, out of a simple brown tourmaline, exquisitely cut in relief. The workmanship is really matchless, and the tourmaline itself — as perhaps you are aware — is believed to be endowed with certain mystic properties ——”
“Yes, yes, Mr. Jeweller,” interrupts the dark-visaged customer, in a somewhat testy tone; “I know the nature and properties of the trinket quite as well as you do. What I desired of you was to name your price.”
The tradesman hesitated for a moment, and then, summoning all his audacity to his aid, mentioned a sum which made his own heart beat and his eyes water. But the composure of Mr. A. was not dashed a whit. He even appeared to smile a little satirically, as though to intimate that he considered himself as having altogether the best of the bargain. He paid the money without a moment’s demur, and taking up the locket before the excited jeweller had time to put it in a box for him, Mr. A. saluted him gravely and stalked out of the shop.
“Well,” thought the tradesman, as he watched the heavy coach roll away, “if he’s satisfied, I’m sure I ought to be. And yet — I wonder what that locket was after all! I don’t remember having ever noticed it amongst the stock before to-day. It really was finely enchased, and may have been more valuable than I supposed. But pshaw! fifty guineas! Such a stroke of business was never heard of before. If the locket had been a witch’s amulet, with power to drive men mad or raise the Devil, I should still have made a good profit!”
Meanwhile Mr. A. was speeding on his way to his betrothed. The fact is, they were to be married on the morrow, and the honest gentleman had bought the locket as a pre-nuptial gift. Probably the horses, fleet and well-conditioned as they were, were somewhat put to it to keep pace with their owner’s eagerness to be at the end of his journey. In due time, however, behold them reined snorting up at the gateway of the B. mansion, and Mr. A., locket in hand, preparing to alight.
But, alas! it is too evident that some disaster has occurred. The servant who opens the door is pale and scared; the household is in disorder. Twice does the visitor demand news of the master and mistress before he can elicit a reply.
“Present them my compliments, if they are at leisure,” continues Mr. A., “and ask whether I may request the honour of an interview with their daughter.”
“Lord bless me, sir!” falters the trembling servant, “haven’t you heard ——”
“Heard what?” says A., turning pale; “what is the matter, fellow? Is the young lady ill?”
“Ill, sir? Lord bless me, sir, she — she’s gone!”
Mr. A. recoiled, and seemed to gasp for breath for a moment. His face, from pale, became suddenly overspread with a deep crimson flush, and the veins on his forehead swelled. At length he burst out in a terrible voice:
“Gone? Where? With whom?”
But at this point the appearance of the master and mistress relieved the wretched footman from his unenviable position. The miserable story was soon told. The young lady to whom Mr. A. had entrusted his heart and honour, to whom he was to have been united the next day, whose wedding gift he even then held in his hand, had eloped the night before in the good old-fashioned manner, and was by this time far beyond the reach of pursuit, could pursuit have availed. The flight had been six hours old before it was discovered by the young lady’s mother.
“But with whom? with whom? Who was the villain who dared to rob me?” cried Mr. A., storming up and down the hall in ungovernable fury. “Who was it, madam, I say? Stop your wretched whimpering and speak!”
“Dear me, Mr. A.,” quavered the poor lady, struggling with her sobs, “can’t you think? Why, it’s that young Mr. C. of yours, of course. Who else could it be?”
At this reply, which he seems not in the least to have expected, Mr. A. became suddenly and appallingly calm. During a short space he made neither sound nor movement. At length he slowly uplifted one clenched hand above his head, and shook it there with a kind of sluggish deliberation. To the frightened and hushed spectators it seemed as if the air grew dark around him as he did it. Still without uttering a word he now partly unclosed his hand, and there was seen to proceed from it a dusky glow or gleam, as of phosphorescence. Drawing in a deep breath, he exhaled it slowly over this phosphorescent appearance, as if desirous of inspiring it with the very essence of his being. If the account is to be believed, the glow became more lurid, and the tall figure of Mr. A. more sombre, with the action.
Whatever this odd ceremony might mean, it had the good effect of restoring the betrayed suitor to his wonted courteous and grave self-possession. In a manner at once earnest and dignified he besought Mr. and Mrs. B. to pardon and overlook his late violent and passionate demeanour.
“I have erred deeply,” added he, “in permitting, even for a short time, that evil spirit which is ever at hand to ensnare the rash and unwary to gain dominion over me. For, alas! what right have I to be angry? Your daughter, methinks, has better reason to upbraid me than I her. What charm could such a one as she is find in a graybeard like myself? Truly, I blame her not, and sorrow only that she did not frankly make known to me her disfavour, rather than thus violently and suddenly cast me off. And as for the partner of her flight, how can I do otherwise than pardon him? Have I not trusted him and loved him as a son? Nay, nay, I have been an old fool — an old fool; but I will not be an unforgiving one. See,” he went on, in the same quiet and colourless tone in which he had spoken throughout, “here is a trifle which I had purposed presenting to your daughter as a symbol of my affection. It is a jewel, curiously carven as you see, and fabled to exert a benign and wholesome influence over the wearer. How that may be, I know not; but sure am I that aught freighted, like this, with the deepest prayers and most earnest hopes of him who had thought (a foolish thought — I see it now!) to win the highest place in her regard, will not be refused by her when, acknowledging my error, I beg her to accept it as the gift of elder friend to friend. Permit me, madam”— he laid the locket in Mrs. B.’s hand, she half shrinkingly receiving it; “you will soon hear from your daughter and her husband”— this word he pronounced with a certain grave emphasis —“and your reply, let me venture to hope, will tend to a speedy reconciliation. Present her, in my name and with my blessing, with this gem; bid her transmit it as an heirloom to her descendants; and believe that, so long as it retains its form and virtue, my spirit will not forget this solemn hour.”
Having delivered himself of this long-winded and not altogether unambiguous speech, good Mr. A. bowed himself out, and rumbled away in his stately coach. Shortly afterwards the abdication of James II. was known throughout England. The B.’s rose at once from their position of political obscurity to an honoured and powerful place under the new régime. C., who now turned out to have been for a long time a plotter for the successful cause, was not long afterwards installed as a Court favourite, and his beautiful wife became the idol of society. Poor Mr. A., on the other hand, had a sour time of it. He had been bitterly opposed to the Prince of Orange, and naturally found his present predicament an embarrassing one. He appears to have met with quite an Iliad of misfortunes and reverses; and a few years after William’s accession he died.
The general opinion was that he had devoted his latter days to religious exercises. Certain it is, that he was on terms of intimacy with an eminent divine of the day; indeed, a careful analysis of references satisfied me that the compiler of the mysterious MS. and this divine could be no other than one and the same person. And the inference thence that he had died in the odour of sanctity would have been easy enough, save for one discordant and sinister circumstance.
This was reserved for the very last paragraph of the narrative, and shed a peculiar and ill-omened light over all that had gone before. It was related in the transcriber’s own person; and after describing with some minuteness the last hours of Mr. A., it concluded as follows. I translate from the original Latin:
“Mr. A. having long lain without motion, breathing hoarsely, and with his eyes half open, and of a rigid and glazed appearance, as of a man already dead — all at once raised himself up in bed, with a strength and deliberation altogether unexpected; and having once or twice passed his hand over his brow, and coughed slightly in his throat, he said to me:
“‘Take your pen, friend, and write. I will now dictate my last will and testament.’
“It appeared to me that he must be delirious both because he had, several hours previous, caused his will to be brought to him and read in his ear (this will bore date before the date of his intended marriage with Miss B.), and also because his aspect, notwithstanding the strength of his movements and voice, was more that of a corpse than of a living man; and he might have been believed, by those who put faith in such superstitions, to be animated by some unhallowed spirit not his own.
“But when I showed him that former will, supposing him to have forgotten it, he bade me put it in the fire; and when this had been done, and the will consumed, he bade me write thus:
“‘I, —— A., being nowe about to die, yet knowynge well the nature of this my act, doe herebye bequeathe my ondyinge Hatred to C. and to his wife (formerly Miss B.), to them and to their Posteritie. And I doe herebye pray Almighty God that the Revenge which my Soule hath desired and conceived, be fulfilled to the uttermoste, whether soon or hereafter: yea, at the perill of my Salvation. Amen!’”
This Satanic composition was duly signed, sealed, and witnessed as A.’s last will and testament; and the latest earthly act of the wretched man was the affixing his signature to an instrument which, whatever other end it might accomplish, could hardly fail of exercising its deadliest venom against himself.
I lit a fresh cigar, poured out another glass of wine, and gave myself up to meditation. Those blank spaces completely mystified me. For what other object had this lengthy transcription been made than to record A.’s “last will,” and the causes leading up to and (so far as that was possible) justifying it? Yet, on the other hand, the careful omission of every clue whereby the persons concerned might have been identified seemed to annul and stultify the laborious record of their actions. Or if the composition were a mere fiction, why not have invented names as well as incidents?
But fiction, I was satisfied, it could not be. It was not the fashion to compose such fictions a hundred and fifty or more years ago. And it was not within the scope of such an arid old specimen of the antique clergy as he whose stilted Latin and angular chirography I had just examined to follow such a fashion even had it existed. No, no. Account for it how I might, the things here set down were facts, not fancies.
The will was the only part of the compilation written in English, as though it were especially commended to the knowledge of all men; and it was certainly not the sort of thing a dying man would be apt to compose and have attested purely for his own amusement. Yet, as it stood, it was no more than a lifeless formula. But, indeed, so far as this feature of the narrative was concerned, the subtlest casuistry failed to enlighten me as to what Mr. A.’s proposed revenge had been, and how he expected it to be accomplished. An attempt to make the tourmaline locket serve as a key to the enigma promised well at first, but could not quite be induced to fit the lock after all. Either the problem was too abstruse, or my head was not in the best condition for solving it. The longer I puzzled over it, the more plainly did my inefficiency appear; and at last I came to the very sensible determination to go to bed, and hope for clearer faculties on the morrow.
I had just finished winding up my watch, which marked half-past ten, when there was a violent ring at my door-bell, followed by a rattling appeal to the knocker.
“A telegram!” I exclaimed, falling back in my chair. “The only thing I detest more than a postman. Well, the postman brought an enigma; perhaps the telegram may contain the solution.”
It was not a telegram, but Calbot, to whom I have already made incidental allusion. He opened the library door without knocking, came swiftly in, and walked up to the fire. This abruptness of manner, which was by no means proper to him, added to something very peculiar in his general aspect and expression, gave me quite a start.
He was dressed in light in-door costume, and, in spite of the cold, wore neither top-coat nor gloves. His face had a pallor which would have been extraordinary in anyone, but in a man whose cheek was ordinarily so ruddy and robust as Calbot’s, it was almost ghastly. He said nothing for some moments, but seemed to be struggling with an irrepressible and exaggerated physical tremor, resembling St. Vitus’s dance. I must say that my nerves have never been more severely tried than by this unexpected apparition, in so strange a guise, of a friend whom I had always looked upon as about the most imperturbable and common-sensible one I had. He was a young man, but older than his years, clear-headed, practical, clever, an excellent lawyer, and a fine fellow. Eccentricity of any kind was altogether foreign to his character. Something very unpleasant, I apprehended, must be at the bottom of his present profound and uncontrollable agitation.
Of course I jumped up after the first shock, and shook his hand — which, notwithstanding the cold weather and his own paleness, was dry and hot. I fancied Calbot hardly knew where he was or what he was doing; not that he seemed delirious, but rather overwhelmingly preoccupied about something altogether hateful and ugly.
“What’s the matter, John?” I said, instinctively using a sharp tone, and laying my hand heavily on his shoulder. “Are you ill?” Then a thought struck me, and I added: “Nothing wrong about Miss Burleigh, I hope?”
“Drayton,” said my friend — his utterance was interrupted somewhat by the nervous starts and twitches which still mastered his efforts to control them —“something terrible has happened. I wanted to tell you. I can’t fathom it. Drayton, I’ve seen —— May I take a glass of wine?”
He drank two glasses in quick succession. As he hardly ever touched wine, there was no little significance in the act. The rich old liquor evidently did him good. To tell the truth, I would rather have given him some brandy. He was not in a state to appreciate a fine flavour, and my port was as rare as it was good. However, I was really concerned about him, and would gladly have given the whole decanterful to set him right again.
He would not take a chair, but stood on the rug with his back to the fire. As I sat looking up at his tall figure, I caught the painted eye of my priestly ancestor over his shoulder, and it seemed to me to twinkle with saturnine humour.
“Well, what have you seen, Calbot?”
“Some evil thing has come between Miss Burleigh and me, and has parted us. I have seen it — two or three times. She has felt it. It’s killing her, Drayton. As for me. . . . You know me pretty well, and you know what my life has been thus far. I’ve not been a good man, of course — quite the contrary; I’ve done any quantity of bad things, but I don’t know that I’ve committed any such hideous sin as ought to bring a punishment like this upon me — not to speak of her! I’m not a parricide, nor an adulterer; I never sold my salvation to the devil — did I, Drayton?”
“No, no, of course not, my dear Calbot. You have a fever, that’s all. Don’t get excited. Just lie down on the sofa for half an hour, and quiet yourself a little.”
“I see you think I’m out of my head, and no wonder. I behave like a madman. But I’m not mad at all; I wish I could think I were. This shuddering — it won’t last — but I tell you, Drayton, when you see a man of my health and strength stricken this way in two days, you may believe it would have driven many a man to madness, or to suicide ——”
“Let me pour it out for you; your hand shakes so. I can give you some splendid French cognac, if you’d prefer it? Well. Hadn’t you better lie down?”
“Come, I can control myself, now — I will!” said Calbot, through his teeth, and putting a strong constraint upon himself. For about a minute he kept silent, the blood gradually coming into his cheeks and the nervous twitchings growing less frequent.
“That’s better,” said I, encouragingly. “You don’t look so much as though you’d seen a ghost, now. How is that Chancery case of yours getting on?”
“A ghost? You speak lightly enough, and I suppose your idea of a ghost is some conventional bogey such as children are scared with. We laugh at such things — heaven knows why! An evil, sin-breathing spirit, coming from hell to take vengeance, for some dead and buried wrong, upon living men and women — what is there laughable in that?”
“Really, Calbot,” I said, with a smile — a rather uneasy smile, be it admitted —“I never laughed at a ghost, for the simple reason that I never saw one to laugh at.”
“You never saw one, and you mean to hint, I suppose, that there are none to see?”
“Well,” returned I, still maintaining a precarious grimace, “I’m not a spiritualist, you know ——”
“Nor I,” interrupted Calbot, in a lower and quieter tone than he had yet used. He took a chair, and, sitting down close in front of me, bent forward and whispered in my ear: “But I saw the soul of a dead man yesterday; and this afternoon I saw it again, and chased it from the Burleighs’ house in Mayfair, along the Strand, and through the heart of London, to its grave in St. G——’s churchyard. I copied the inscription on the stone: it is a very old one, as you will see by the date.”
A far bolder man than I have ever claimed to be might have felt his heart stand still at this speech; and its effect on me was greatly heightened by Calbot’s tone and manner, and by the way he fastened his eyes upon me. Nor were the circumstances in other respects reassuring — alone at night, with a man three or four times my physical equal, who was wholly emancipated from rational control. I sat quite still for a few moments — very long moments they seemed to me — staring helplessly at Calbot, who took a small notebook out of his pocket, tore out a leaf with something scrawled on it, and handed it to me. I read it mechanically —“Archibald Armstrong. Died February 6th, 1698.” Meanwhile Calbot helped himself to another glass of wine; but I was too much unnerved to restrain him, and, indeed, too much bewildered.
“Archibald Armstrong,” muttered I, repeating the name aloud; “died February 6th — yes; but it was this present year 1875 — not 1698. Why, I went to the auction-sale of his effects this very afternoon!”
“Keep the paper,” said Calbot, not noticing my observation, “it may possibly lead to something. And now I wish you to listen to my statement. I am neither crazy, Drayton, nor intoxicated. But I am not the same man you have known heretofore; my life has been seared — blasted. Perhaps you think my language extravagant; but after what I have experienced there can be no such thing as extravagance for me. It is an awful thing,” he added, with a long involuntary sigh, “to have been face to face with an evil spirit!”
“In Heaven’s name, Calbot,” cried I, starting up from my chair, and trembling all over, I believe, from nervous excitement, “don’t go on talking and looking like that. If you can tell me a straightforward, consistent story, I’ll listen to it; but these hints and interjections of yours will drive me mad!”
“I’m going to tell you, Drayton, though it will be the next worst thing to meeting that —— Thing —— itself, to tell about it. But the matter is too grim earnest to allow of trifling. You have a great deal of knowledge on queer and out-of-the-way subjects, Drayton, and I thought it not impossible that you might make some suggestions, for there must be some reason for this hideous visitation — some cause for it; and though all is over for me now, there would be a kind of satisfaction in knowing what that reason was. Besides, I must speak to someone, and you are a dear friend, and an old one.”
I was a good deal relieved to hear Calbot speak thus affectionately of our relations with each other; and indeed he appeared no way inclined to violence. Accordingly, having offered him a Cabana (which he refused), I put the box and the decanter back in the cupboard, and locked the door. Then, relighting my own cigar, and putting a lump or two of coal on the fire, I resumed my chair, and bade my friend begin his story.
“There was an intermarriage between the Burleighs and the Calbots four or five generations ago,” said he; “I found the record of it in our family papers, shortly before Miss Burleigh and I were engaged; but it appears not to have turned out well. I don’t know whether the husband and wife quarrelled, or whether their troubles came from some outside interference; but they had not been long married before a separation took place — not a regular divorce, but the wife went quietly back to her fathers house, and my ancestor is supposed to have gone abroad. But this was not the end of it, Drayton; for, some years later, the husband returned, and he and his wife lived together again.”
“Was there any further estrangement between them, afterwards?”
“It is an ugly story,” said Calbot, gloomily, getting up from his chair, and taking his old place before the fire. “No; they lived together — as long as they did live! But it was about the era of the witchcraft mania — or delusion, if you choose to call it so — and it is strongly hinted in some of the documents in my possession that the Calbots were — not witches — but victims of witchcraft. They accused no one, but they seemed to have been shunned by everybody like persons under the shadow of a curse. Well — it wasn’t a great while before Mrs. Calbot died, and her husband went mad soon afterwards. There were two children. One of them, the son, was born before the first separation. The other, a daughter, came into the world after the reunion, and she was an idiot!”
“An ugly story, sure enough,” said I, shrugging my shoulders with a chilly sensation; “but what has it to do with your business?”
“Perhaps nothing; but there is one thing which would go for nothing in the way of legal evidence, but which has impressed me, nevertheless. The date of the second coming-together of my ancestor and his wife was 1698.”
“If you look at that paper I gave you you’ll see the date of Armstrong’s death is also 1698.”
“Still I don’t see the point.”
“It’s simply this: the — Thing I saw was the condemned soul of that Archibald Armstrong. Who he may have been I don’t know; but I can’t help believing that my ancestor knew him when he was still in the flesh. They had a feud, perhaps — maybe about this very marriage — of course you understand I’m only supposing a case. Well, Calbot gets the better of his rival, and is married. Then Armstrong exerts his malignant ingenuity to set them at odds with each other. He may have played on the superstitious fancies which they probably shared with others of that age, and at last we may suppose he accomplished their separation.”
“An ingenious idea,” I admitted, “but what about your date?”
“Why, on hearing of his death, they would naturally suppose all danger over, and that they might live together unmolested. And from this point you may differ with me or not, as you choose. I believe that it was only after Armstrong was dead that his power for evil became commensurate with his will. I believe, Drayton,” said Calbot, drawing himself up to his full height, and emphasising his words with the slow gesture of his right arm, “that the soul of that dead man haunted that wretched couple from the day of his death until the whole tragedy was consummated — until the woman died and the man went mad. And I believe that his devilish malignity has lived on to this day, and wreaked itself, a second time, on Miss Burleigh and myself.”
There was a short pause, during which my poor friend stood tapping one foot on the hearth-rug, his eyes bent downwards in sombre abstraction.
“Look here, my dear John,” I said at length, speaking with an effort, for there was a sensation of heavy oppression on my chest; “listen to me, old fellow. You’ve had time to cool down and bethink yourself: so far as I can judge you appear, as you say, neither crazy nor intoxicated. Now I wish you, remembering that we are sensible, enlightened men, living in London in this year 1875, to tell me honestly whether I am to understand you as deliberately asserting a belief in visitations from the other world. Because, really, you know, that is what anyone would infer from the way you have been talking this evening.”
“I see there would be little use, Drayton, in my answering your question directly; but I will give you a deliberate and honest account of my personal experiences during these last two days: there will be no danger of your mistaking my meaning then. You won’t mind my walking up and down the room while I’m speaking, will you? The subject is a painful one, and motion seems to make it easier, somehow.”
I did mind it very much, it made me as nervous as a water-beetle; but, of course, I forbore to say so, and Calbot went on:
“I said I found out all this ancestral trouble some time before I was engaged; and, as you may imagine, I kept silence about it to Miss Burleigh. I think now it was a mistake to do so; but my ideas on many subjects have undergone modification of late. I believe I had forgotten all about the discovery by the time I had made up my mind to risk an avowal: at any rate, I had no misgivings about it; and when I came out from my interview with her — the happiest man in England! — ah Drayton, it seemed to me then that there could be no more pains nor shadows in life for me thence-forward for ever!”
I devoutly wished, not for the first time that evening, that Calbot would not be so painfully in earnest. In his normal state it was difficult to get a serious word out of him; he was brimming over with quaint humour and fun; but, as he himself had remarked, he was another man to-day. After walking backwards and forwards once or twice in silence, he continued:
“You know how happy I was those first few days. I daresay you wished me and my happiness in Jericho, when I insisted on deluging you with an account of it. Think! Drayton, that was hardly a week ago. Well, as soon as I had got a little bit used to the feeling of being engaged, I began to think what I should give her — Edna, you know — for a betrothal gift. A ring, of course, is the usual thing; but I couldn’t be satisfied with a ring: I wanted my gift to be something rare — unique; in short, something different from what any other fellow could give his mistress; for I loved her more than any woman was ever loved before. After a good deal of fruitless bother, I suddenly bethought myself of a jewel-box which had belonged to my mother — God bless her! — and which she had bequeathed to me, intending, very likely, that I should use it for the very purpose I was now thinking of. I got out the box, and overhauled it. There was a lot of curious old trinkets in it; but the thing which at once took my eye was a delicately wrought gold necklace, that looked as though it had been made expressly for Edna’s throat. There was a locket attached to it, which I at first meant to take off; but on examining it closely, I found it was quite worthy of the chain — was an exquisite work of art, indeed. It was made of a dark yellow or brownish sort of stone, semi-transparent, and was engraven with a very finely-wrought bas-relief.”
“Calbot!” exclaimed I, starting upright in my chair, “what sort of a stone did you say that locket was made of?”
“What is the matter?” returned he, stopping short in his walk and facing me with a glance partly apprehensive, partly expectant. “I never saw exactly such a stone before — but why?”
“Oh, nothing,” said I, after a moment’s excited thought; “it certainly is very strange! But, never mind, go on,” I added, throwing a glance at the old manuscript which lay open on the table; “go on. I’ll tell you afterwards; I must turn it over in my mind a bit.”
“The reason I described it so minutely,” remarked Calbot, “was that I got a notion into my head that it had something to do with what happened afterwards, and the reason of that notion is, that almost from the very moment that Edna took the necklace — I clasped it round her neck myself — the strange awful influence — visitation — call it what you like — began to be apparent.
“Oh Drayton, you can never know how lovely, how divine she looked that evening. She had on what they call, I believe, a demi-toilette; open at the throat, you know, and half the arm showing. No woman could have looked more beautiful than she, before I put on the chain and locket; yet when they were on, she looked as handsome again. It was really wonderful — the effect they had. Her eyes deepened, and an indescribable change or modulation — imperceptible, very likely, to anyone beside myself, her lover — came over her face. I think it was a shade of sadness — of mystery — no, I can only repeat, that it was indescribable; but it gave her beauty just the touch that made it, humanly speaking, perfect. I daresay this is all very tiresome to you, Drayton, but I can’t help it!”
“Oh, go on, my dear fellow,” said I warmly; for, indeed, I was moved as well as excited. “Won’t you sit down? Here, take my chair!”
But he would not.
“As I fastened the clasp, I said: ‘You are fettered for ever now, Edna!’ and she said, with her eyes sparkling: ‘Yes, I am the thrall of the locket; the giver may lead me in triumph where he will!’ Just as the words passed her lips, Drayton, I felt a sensation of coldness and depression; I gave an involuntary shudder, and looking quickly in Edna’s eyes, I saw there the very reflection of my own feeling! We were alone, and yet there seemed to be a third person present — cold, hateful, malevolent. He seemed to be between us — to be pressing us irresistibly apart; and I felt powerless to contend against the insidious influence; and so was she. For an instant or two we gazed fearfully and strangely at each other; then she said faintly: ‘Come to me — take me!’ and half held out her arms, her face and lips all pale. Drayton, I cannot tell you what a desperate struggle I had with myself then! My whole soul leapt out towards her with a passion such as I had never known before; and yet my body seemed paralysed. I had felt something similar to it in dreams before then; but the dream pain was nothing to the real pain. A cold dead hand was on my heart, dragging it backward, deadening it; and another at my throat, stifling me. But I fought against it — it seemed to me I sweated drops of blood — but I overcame. I put my arm round her waist — I kissed her; and yet, though I seemed to hold her — though our lips seemed to meet — still that Thing was between us — we did not really touch each other! With all our love, we were like lifeless clay to one another’s caress. It was a mockery — our souls could meet no more.” Here Calbot covered his eyes with his hand for a short time. “It was the last time I ever kissed her,” said he.
I said nothing; my sympathy with my hapless friend was keen. Yet I must confess to a secret sensation of relief that there was to be no more kissing. It was natural, under the circumstances, that Calbot — poor fellow! — should speak recklessly; but I am a bachelor, a confirmed bachelor, and such descriptions distress me; they make me restless, wakeful, and unhappy. Yes, I was glad we had had the last of them.
“It all passed very quickly, and a third person would perhaps have seen no change in us; probably the change was more inward than outward, after all. It was peculiar that we, both of us, by a tacit understanding, forbore to speak to each other of this dismal mystery that had so suddenly grown up between us. It was too real, and at the same time too hopeless; but to have acknowledged it would have been to pronounce it hopeless indeed. We would not do that yet. We sat apart, quietly and conventionally making observations on ordinary topics, as though we had been newly introduced. And yet my betrothal gift was round her neck, moving as she breathed; and we loved each other, and our hearts were breaking. Oh, it is cruel!”
In exclaiming thus, my friend (being at the farther end of the room at the time) struck his foot sharp against the leg of a small antique table which stood against the wall. Like many other valuable things, the table was fragile, and the leg broke. The table tipped over, and a vase (the ancestral vase, containing the elixir of life), fell off to the floor.
Calbot — I think it was much to his credit — found room amidst his proper anguish to be sincerely distressed at this accident. On picking up the vase, however, he immediately exclaimed that it was unbroken. This was fortunate: the table could be mended, but the vase, not to speak of its contents, would have been irreplaceable. Calbot put it carefully on the study table, beside the MS.; set the invalid table in a corner; and then, to my great satisfaction, drew up a chair to the fire, and continued his sad story in a civilised posture.
“I did not stay long after this; and ours was a strange parting that evening, if our hearts could have been seen. We felt it a relief to separate, and yet the very relief was a finer kind of pain. We knew not what had befallen us; but, perhaps, we both had a hope, then, that another day would somehow set things right.
“I only took her hand in saying good-bye; but again it seemed as if her soft fingers were not actually in contact with mine — as if some rival hand were interposed. And I noticed (as I had done once or twice before during our latter conversation) that, even while the farewell words were being spoken, she turned her head abruptly with a startled, listening expression, as though another voice had spoken close at her ear. I could hear nothing, nor understand the dimly terrified look in her eyes — a look appealing and yet shrinking. But afterwards I understood it all. When I reached the street, I turned back and caught a glimpse of Edna at the window. Beside her I fancied I distinguished the half-defined outlines of a strange figure — that of a man who appeared to be gesticulating in an extravagant manner. But before I could decide whether it were a shadow or a reality, Edna had turned away, and the apparition vanished with her.”
“Her father, of course,” I threw in, with a glance over my shoulder; “or perhaps it was the footman.” Calbot made no reply.
“I got up yesterday morning,” said he, “convinced that the whole thing was a delusion. I took a brisk walk round Hyde Park, ate a good breakfast, and by eleven o’clock was on my way to her house, sure that I should find her as cheerfully disposed to laugh at our dolorous behaviour the night before as I myself was. I went down Piccadilly in the best of spirits; but on turning the corner of Park Lane, I very plainly saw three persons coming down towards me.”
Here Calbot paused so long that I could hardly refrain from springing out of my chair. I had never heard him argue a case before a jury; but had I been the presiding judge himself, I was convinced that Calbot could have moulded my opinions to whatsoever issue he had pleased. But, on the other hand, I doubt whether he was aware of his own best powers. The effect he was now producing on me was certainly not the result of any premeditated artifice.
“I saw Edna,” he finally went on, speaking in a husky labouring tone, and gazing intently over my shoulder, as if he saw her there. “She was walking in the centre, with a weary lifeless step, her head bent downwards: on her right was her father, as jolly and portly as ever; and on her left, Drayton, was the same strange figure of which I fancied I had caught a glimpse the night before. It was no shadow now, however, but looked as real and palpable as General Burleigh himself. It appeared to be diligently addressing itself to Edna, occasionally even stooping to speak in her ear; and once I saw it put its arm round her waist, and apparently press its bearded cheek to her own.”
“Why, in Heaven’s name, Calbot, didn’t you ——” But there was something in my friend’s eyes, as he turned them on me, which made me break off just there.
“When I first turned the corner the three were sixty or seventy yards distant. It struck me at once that Edna seemed to have no direct consciousness of the stranger’s presence. That is, she did not act as if he were visible to her; though, at the same time, I could hardly doubt that the idea of him was present to her mind; and from her manner of involuntary shrinking and starting when the Thing became particularly demonstrative in its manner, I fancied that the words which it appeared to address to her insinuated themselves into her brain under the form of dismal and hateful thoughts. Perhaps, Drayton, the base or wicked notions that sometimes creep into our minds unawares, asserting themselves our own, are whispered to us by some evil spirit, invisible to our sight, but capable of impressing the immaterial part of us all the more effectively.
“As they drew near, I could no longer doubt that the Thing was viewless, not only to Edna, but to everyone else besides myself alone. Had it been otherwise, the figure’s remarkable costume, no less than its many eccentricities, would have drawn a great crowd in a few moments. It was a tall fantastic apparition, clad in a black velvet cloak and doublet, silk hose, and high-heeled shoes. On its head was a broad-brimmed hat, with heavy plumes; there were lace ruffles at its wrists and round its throat. A long rapier dangled by its side; its beard was gray and peaked, but a copious powdered wig flowed out beneath the hat and rested on the shoulders.
“Its gait, as it stalked along the pavement, was mincing and affected, and under other circumstances I might have laughed at it. Its manner and gestures were absurdly exaggerated and fantastic. It was continually bowing and scraping to Edna, and seemingly making hot love to her; but as often as she winced or shrank from it, it appeared hugely delighted, throwing up its arms, wagging its head, and contorting its body, as if carried away by an immoderate fit of laughter.
“The sun was shining broadly, but none of its rays seemed to fall on the sable garments of this singular personage. In fact, though I saw him as plainly as I now see you, Drayton, I was, nevertheless, well aware that here was something more or less than flesh and blood. It was a being of another state than this mortal one of ours. I say I saw him; and yet I do not believe that it was with my natural eyesight. A deeper sense of vision had been temporarily opened within me, and this spectre came within its scope.
“For a spectre it was. General Burleigh, striding bluffly along by the other side of his daughter, swinging his cane, twisting his moustaches, and ever and anon smiling and bowing to a passing friend, was ludicrously unconscious of there being anything supernatural in his vicinity. Moreover, I saw at least twenty persons pass the apparition shoulder to shoulder, evidently without seeing it; though they would often shiver, and wrap their top-coats or shawls more closely round them, as if a sudden blast of icy air had penetrated them. All this time the three were approaching slowly, and were now but little more than twenty paces distant. I had not moved a step since first coming in view of them, and had kept my eyes fixed point-blank upon the apparition.
“At this moment I was puzzled to observe that the black-garmented figure was a good deal less distinctly discernible than when it had been farther off. The sun was still as bright as ever, the air as clear, but the outline of the shape was blurred and undefined, as though seen out of focus through a telescope. General Burleigh now caught sight of me for the first time, and his cordial gesture of salute caused Edna quickly to raise her eyes. We saw despair in each other’s looks, and then she dropped her eyes again, and moved wearily onward. Simultaneously with her glance the spectre (which appeared to be as unconscious of everything save Edna and myself, as everyone except us was of it)— the spectre also directed its gaze at me. I can never forget that face, Drayton. I seemed to grow older and more miserable as I confronted it. And all the while it was getting less and less perceptible; now it was magnified, clouded, and distorted; but the devilish expression of it was still recognisable. Now it faded or expanded into vagueness; only a foggy shadow seemed gliding by Edna’s side; and when she was within ten paces, and her father’s voice was speaking out its hearty welcome to me, every trace even of the shadow had disappeared; nothing was left but that chilliness and horror of the heart which I had felt the night previous, but now vastly intensified, because I was no longer ignorant of the cause of it. Edna and I would never again be alone together. This devil was to haunt us henceforth, mocking our love by its hideous mimicry and derision, marring and polluting our most sacred secrets, sickening our hearts and paralysing our hope and reliance in each other. We could neither escape it nor resist it; and its invisibility when we were together was not the least fearful thing about it. To see it, awful as it was, must be less unendurable than to imagine it, unseen; and the certainty that, so often as I left Edna, I should leave this devil in her company, visible once more the moment he was out of my reach, but never to be met and grappled with hand to hand — this was hard to bear! Had ever mortal man before such a rival?
“All this, of course, was but dimly apprehended by my mind at the time; but I had sufficient opportunity to muse upon it afterwards. General Burleigh seized my hand, and shook the head of his cane at me.
“‘Shall be obliged to court-martial you, young man! What have you been doing to my daughter, sir? Why, no one can get a word or a smile out of her, since you came with your tomfooleries! She keeps all her good humour for you, confound you! It’s witchcraft — you’ve bewitched my little girl with your lockets and your necklaces and your tomfooleries! You’ve bewitched her — and I’ll have you court-martialed, and executed for witchcraft, by Jove! Ha, ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha!’ And with that he gripped my hand again, and vowing that the club was the only place for him since I had appeared with my tomfooleries and witchcraft, he swung round on his heel and strode away, his broad military shoulders shaking with jollity; and left Edna alone with me — and my rival!
“We strolled off along Piccadilly, and I daresay every man we met was envying me from the bottom of his heart. But though her arm was in mine, I knew I might as well have been miles away from her. And we both were reticent of our words on all matters lying near our hearts, as if that third presence had been as palpable and visible as it was otherwise real. We spoke constrainedly and coldly; nay, we even tried not to think of our love or of our misery, lest it might possess power to see our thoughts as well as hear our voices. We walked on, seldom looking at one another, for fear of catching a glimpse of it in each other’s eyes. I saw, however, that Edna still wore her locket — indeed, she had told me, the night before, that she would never take it off, until I bade her do so.
“‘So your father thinks you bewitched, Edna,’ I said at length, trying to throw off the incubus a little.
“‘I am not very well, I think.’
“‘He seemed to fancy the spell was connected with that old locket,’ I continued; my very disinclination to the subject driving me to tamper with it.
“‘Perhaps it is,’ returned Edna listlessly, lifting her hand for a moment to her throat. ‘I am not quite used to it yet.’
“‘To witchcraft, do you mean? You have seen no phantoms, have you?’
“I felt her little hand clutch my arm with an involuntary start. I looked down, and she met my eye with a blush, and at the same time with a terrified shrinking expression that was bitter to behold.
“‘I see nothing with my open eyes,’ she said, scarcely above a whisper; ‘but at night — I cannot help my dreams; and they follow me into the day.’
“It was as I had thought, therefore; the spectre was not objectively visible to her. She could not get away from her own self, and hence could gain no point of vantage whence her persecutor could be seen. There was little doubt, nevertheless, that her mental picture of him agreed with my ocular experience. It seemed to me, on the whole, that her burden must be far harder to bear than mine. There is a kind of relief in being able to face a horror; and my own feelings, since seeing this evil spirit which was haunting us, had been in a certain sense more tolerable, if more hopeless, than the night before. But how did I know what agony she might suffer? Even her innocent sleep was not sacred from this evil thing; all her maiden reserve and delicacy were outraged; she could be safe nowhere — no one could protect her; and with me, who would have given my life to please a whim of hers, her suffering and exposure must be less endurable than anywhere else. I could well understand her blush, poor girl — poor girl!”
Not for many years — not since, in fact, certain sad experiences of my own early days — had I been so deeply stirred as by this recital of Calbot’s. His voice had great compass and expression, and the needs of his profession had given its natural powers every cultivation. He had a way of dwelling on certain words, and of occasionally pausing, or appearing to hesitate, which greatly added to the effect of his narrative. All this might be acquired by art, but not so the ever and anon recurring falterings and breaks, into which, as now, he was unexpectedly betrayed. I felt that it was unwise in me to listen to him, to sympathise with him, as I was doing; yet could I not find it in my heart to stop him. All fears of violence on his part had been for some time past allayed. I was well aware that my encouragement of his confidences could only result in my passing a feverish uncomfortable night, and a listless dismal morrow; and yet I forbore to interrupt him. Ah! it is we old bachelors who have hearts after all.
I blew my nose, Calbot cleared his throat, and continued.
“Well, Drayton, I shan’t keep you much longer. From Piccadilly we turned into Bond Street, and were walking up the side-walk on the left-hand side, when suddenly Edna stopped, and clasped both her hands round my arm. She uttered a low exclamation, and trembled perceptibly. Her face, as I looked at it, was quite rigid and colourless. I did not know what was the matter, but fearing she was about to swoon, I looked round for a cab. In so doing my eye caught my own reflection in a mirror, fixed at a shop entrance on the other side of the street. It was in this direction that Edna also was gazing, and the next moment I no longer wondered at her ghastly aspect. Close by her shoulder appeared the fantastic black-garmented figure which I had seen awhile before in Park Lane. He was making the wildest and most absurd gestures — grinning, throwing about his arms, making profound mock obeisances, and evidently in an ecstasy of enjoyment. I looked suddenly round, but the place which should have been occupied by the original of the reflection appeared entirely empty. Looking back to the mirror, however, there was the spectre again, actually capering with ugly glee.
“Meantime people were beginning to notice the strange behaviour of Edna and myself, and I was thankful when a passing cab enabled me to shield her from their scrutiny. No sooner were we seated than she fainted away, and only recovered a few moments before we stopped at her door. As I helped her out she looked me sadly in the face, and said:
“‘Come to me to-morrow afternoon — for the last time.’
“I could say nothing against her decision, Drayton; I felt we should be really more united, living apart, than were we to force ourselves to outward association. Our calamity was too strong for us; separation might appease the mysterious malice of the phantom, and cause him to return whither he belonged. The persecution of our long-dead ancestors now recurred to me, as I had read it a few months before in those dusty old documents, and I could not help seeing a strange similarity between their fate and ours. Yet we had an advantage in not being married, and in having the warning of their history before us. You see,” observed Calbot, somewhat bitterly, “even I can talk of advantages!
“I went to her house to-day and had a short interview. I cannot tell you in detail what we said, but it seems to me as though the memory of it would gradually oust all other memories from my mind. I told her that passage of history. We agreed to part — for ever in this world. I took back the chain and locket which I had given her but so short a time before. We said good-bye, in cold and distant words. We could not gratify the evil spirit, which we knew was watching us, by any embrace or show of grief and passion. We could be proud in our despair.”
“One moment, Calbot,” said I, interrupting him at this point; “you say she gave you back the locket?”
“Is it in your possession now?”
“It is at the bottom of the Thames.”
“Good! And have you or Miss Burleigh seen anything of your phantom since then?”
“You forget that we parted only this afternoon. But I understand your question. No, Drayton, it is there that the fate of our ancestors gives us timely warning. We must never meet again.”
“I don’t consider the cases parallel; and besides,” I added, with a glance at my MS., “there is perhaps another point to be considered. However, finish your story, if there be any more to tell.”
“A little more, and then my story will be finished indeed! I am going with the new expedition to the North Pole, and it will be my own fault if I return. Well, after leaving her, I came straight downstairs and hurried out. I felt as though I must go mad, or kill someone — myself perhaps. As I stood on the doorstep, mechanically buttoning up my ulster, I felt that creeping sickening chill once more, and knew that the unholy Thing had passed me. I looked sharply about, and in a moment or two I saw it, as plainly as ever. It stood on the sunlit pavement, about fifty yards away, and appeared to be beckoning me to approach.
“I watched it for perhaps a minute, and then a sudden fury took possession of me. My hatred against this devil which had blighted my life and Edna’s must have leapt up in my eyes, for I fancied, from the way the phantom leered at me, that he meant to claim a sort of relationship with me — as though I were become a devil too. Well, if I were a devil, perhaps I might be able to inflict some torture on this my fellow. I sprang down the steps, and set off towards it. It waited until I had passed over more than half the intervening distance, and then it suddenly turned and walked onward before me. So a chase began.”
“Good gracious, Calbot,” remonstrated I; “you don’t mean to tell me you ran after it — in the face of all London too?”
“I would have followed it to its own hell if it had led me there,” he returned. “At first it stalked along swiftly but easily, only occasionally cutting a grotesque caper in the air, with a flourish of its arms and legs. It kept always the same distance in front of me — with no effort could I lessen the interval. Nevertheless, I gradually increased my speed almost to a run, much to the apparent delight of the hobgoblin, who skipped with frantic glee over the cold pavements, occasionally half facing about to wave me on. It turned the corner of Piccadilly, and I lost sight of it for a moment; but, hurrying up, there it was again, a short distance up the street. It made me a profound mock obeisance, and immediately set off anew.
“As I need not tell you, the figure which I was pursuing was visible only to myself. The street was full of people, there were all the usual noise, bustle, and gaiety of the city at that hour; but though it passed through the midst of the crowd, in all the fantastic singularity of its costume and manner, no one stepped out of its way or turned to gaze at it. That it should be so terrible a reality to me, and at the same time so completely non-existent to the rest of the world, affected me strangely. Here was a new bond of relationship between me and it. My misery and I were one; but the link which united us was a cap of invisibility for the demon.
“I was not invisible, however, nor unnoticed. I was conscious that everyone was staring at me — and no wonder! I must have presented an odd spectacle, hurrying onward with no apparent object, and with an expression of face which may well have been startling to behold. But so long as no attempt was made to stop me, I was indifferent to remark. I had determined to follow my black friend in the plumed hat, no matter where the chase might lead me.
“The pace grew quicker and quicker. We went down the Haymarket, and were now in the throng of the Strand. All the places which I know so well passed by like remembered dreams. They seemed illusions, and the only real substance in the world was this Thing that I pursued. The dark shape continued to glide forward with easy speed, ever and anon giving me a glimpse of the pallid malignance of its evil visage; but my own breath was beginning to come hard, and the difficulty of forcing a path through the press became greater as we neared the heart of the city. Passing beneath Temple Bar, the spectre stopped a moment and stamped its foot imperiously, at the same time beckoning to me with an impatient gesture. I sprang forward, yearning to grapple with it; but it was gone again, and seemed to flit like a shadow along the sidewalk. Its merriment, however, now forsook all bounds — it appeared to be in a ceaseless convulsion of chuckling laughter. We fled onward, but so absorbed in my pursuit had I now become, that I recollect nothing distinctly until the tower of St. G——’s came into view. I think a premonition of what was to occur entered my mind then. The hobgoblin disappeared — seemingly through the iron railing of the contracted graveyard which bounds the northern side of the church. I came up to the railing and looked within. It was sitting on an ancient headstone, blackened by London smoke and worn by time; it sat with its elbows on its knees, and its head in its hands. A sombre shadow fell about it, which the cheerful sunshine could not penetrate; but its awful eyes emitted a dusky phosphorescent glare, dimly illuminating the leering features. As I looked, a change came over them — they were now those of a corpse already mouldering in decay, crumbling into nothingness before my eyes. The whole figure gradually faded or darkened away: I cannot tell how or when it vanished. Presently I was staring fixedly at an old tombstone, with a name and a date upon it; but the churchyard was empty.”
Of my own accord I now reproduced my decanter of port-wine, and Calbot and I finished it before either of us spoke another word.
What he was thinking of meanwhile I know not; for my part, I was endeavouring to put in order a number of disjointed ideas, imbibed at various epochs during this evening, whose logical arrangement, I was convinced, would go far towards elucidating much of the mystery. As to the positively supernatural part of Calbot’s experience, of course I had no way of accounting for that; but I fancied there were materials at hand tolerably competent to raise a ghost, allowing such a thing as a ghost to be possible.
“I am glad, Calbot,” I began, “that you came to me. Your good sense — or instinct, perhaps — directed you aright. Do not despair: I should not be surprised were we to manage between us to discover that your happiness, so far from being at an end, was just on the point of establishing itself upon a trustworthy foundation.” Calbot shook his head gloomily. “Well, well,” resumed I, “let us see. In the first place — as regards that locket. It will perhaps surprise you to learn that I had heard of it before you came this evening — had read quite a minute description of it, in fact.”
“Where?” demanded my friend, raising his eyes.
“That will appear later. I must first ask you whether, in the old family documents you spoke of, the personal appearance of this Archibald Armstrong was particularly delineated?”
“I hardly know; I have no recollection of any especial passage — and yet I fancy it must have been given with some fulness; because when I saw the hobgoblin, its costume and aspect seemed curiously familiar.”
“And had I seen it, there is little doubt in my mind that I should have recognised it also.”
“Indeed!” exclaimed Calbot, sitting upright in his chair, “how happens that?”
“Wait a moment, I am merely collecting evidence. Now, have you any reason to suppose that a connection of any sort — friendly, business, or other — subsisted between your unhappy ancestor and this Armstrong previous to the former’s marriage?”
“Do you mean whether he was under any obligations to Armstrong?”
“He may have been — but the idea is new to me. How ——”
“I am not done yet. Now, did it never occur to you — or, I should say, does it not seem probable — that the locket which you had found hidden away in your mother’s jewel-box was in some way connected with the family tragedy you told me of?”
“I have thought of it, Drayton; there is no difficulty in imagining such a thing; the trouble is, we haven’t the slightest evidence of it.”
“I was about to say,” I rejoined, “that there is direct evidence of precisely such a locket having been bought, in the latter part of the seventeenth century, by precisely such a looking man as the hobgoblin you saw to-day. It was to be a wedding-gift to the woman he was to marry the next day.”
“That woman deceived him, and eloped on the eve of her marriage with a protégé of his. He professed forgiveness, and sent the locket as a pledge of it.”
“He died in 1698, and his last recorded words were a curse invoked upon those whom he had before professed to pardon — upon them and their posterity.”
“But, Drayton — what ——”
“It is my opinion that his forgiveness was merely a cloak to his deadly and unrelenting hatred. It is my opinion, Calbot, that the pledge he gave was poisonous with evil and malicious influences. The locket was made of tourmaline, which has mysterious properties. No doubt he believed it a veritable witch’s talisman; and from the sufferings which afterwards befell his enemies (not to speak of your own experience), one might almost fancy witchcraft to be not entirely a delusion after all.”
“One might, indeed! But if, as you seem to imply, this locket enabled Armstrong to persecute Calbot and his wife, why did not they send it back or destroy it?”
“Simply because they were not aware of its evil nature, and fancied that Armstrong’s (if it were his) profession of forgiveness had been genuine. Very likely Mrs. Calbot habitually wore it on her bosom, as Miss Burleigh did again yesterday, more than a century later. The persecutor must have been a devil incarnate, from the time he learnt his lady’s faithlessness until his death; and after that ——”
“A plain devil. But to come to the point, you think that the locket was the sole medium of his power over them?”
“Undoubtedly. Then, after their death, it remained in the family, but never happened to be used again: it is not a jewel to catch the eye by any means. It remained perdu until you fished it out for Miss Burleigh, and thereby stirred up the old hobgoblin to play his devilish tricks once more. But by a lucky combination of accidents you parted with her in time; she returned you the locket, thus freeing herself from the spectre; and you, by throwing it in the Thames, have secured him against ever being able to make his appearance again.”
“It may be so, Drayton,” cried Calbot in great excitement. “I remember, too, that when I gave her the locket she promised fealty to the giver! Now, in fact, not I but this cursed Armstrong was the real giver; and so Edna was actually surrendering herself to his power. But, supposing your explanation correct, why may not Edna and I come together again?”
“Well, my dear fellow,” replied I, as I lit another Cabana, “unless you have acquired a very decided aversion to each other during the last few hours, I really don’t see why you shouldn’t.”
“Drayton, I’m afraid to believe this true! Tell me how you came upon your evidence, and what degree of reliance may be placed upon it.”
I told him briefly about the MS., and added the conviction (at which I had arrived during his narrative) that it must have been sent to me by my former friend, Armstrong’s executor; and probably comprised the very papers which I had made an ineffectual attempt to secure at the auction sale. “The only lame point about the matter,” I added, “is, that the MS. is wholly anonymous. All the names are blanks, and though I have no doubt, now, that they are Armstrong, Burleigh, and Calbot, there is no direct proof of it.”
My friend’s face fell. “There, it may be only a coincidence after all!”
“Nonsense! a coincidence indeed! If you have credulity enough to believe in such a ‘coincidence’ as that, you have certainly mistaken your profession.”
“If you were a lawyer,” returned he, “you would know that there is no limit to the strangeness of coincidences. But let me see the MS.”
“It is there on the table, at your elbow.”
Calbot turned and took it up.
“How’s this — it’s wet, soaking wet!” he exclaimed. “Drayton, I’m afraid I must have cracked that old vase of yours. It has been leaking, and the table is flooded.”
It was too true. The precious water of life had been preserved through so many generations merely for the sake of spoiling the morocco of my study table at last. Vanished were my hopes of earthly immortality. Cautiously lifting the vase, in the hope that somewhat of the precious ichor might yet be saved, the whole bottom fell out. Calbot was sorry, of course, but he had no conception of the extent of the misfortune. He observed that the vase could easily be mended, as if the vase were the chief treasure.
“Never mind,” said I, rather soberly, after we had sopped up the inestimable elixir, as well as we could, with our handkerchiefs. “I shall die an eternity or two the sooner, and shall have to get my table new covered, that’s all. I hope, Calbot, that the good which your visit here has done you, will be a small fraction as great as the loss it has inflicted on me. Well, and how has the MS. come out of the scrape? All washed out, I suppose.”
With a penitent eye Calbot took it up once more, and ran his eye over the last page. I saw his expression change. He knit his brows — looked up at me with a quick questioning glance — looked back to the page, and finally said: “Oh!”
“It seems you had filled in the blanks before I came?”
“With the first four letters of the alphabet. Yes!”
“With the names in full!”
“Why, Drayton, the first thing I looked at was this record of ‘ondyinge Hatred,’ &c. It contains all the four names — yours as one of the witnesses of Armstrong’s signature. They are written out in pale red ink, as plain as can be ——”
I had jumped from my chair and taken the MS. from Calbot’s hand. It was impossible — it was inconceivable, but it was true. The page was thoroughly wetted through, but there were the three names — the four names, for my own was added, in the character of compiler of the work — plainly traced out in light red ink. Could I have done it in a fit of abstraction? No, for the chirography was not mine — it was identical with all the rest of the writing. In my utter bewilderment, I raised my eyes to the wall, where hung the picture of my ecclesiastical ancestor — he, the alchemist, the busybody, the death-bed confidant, the suspected wizard — and my own namesake — we were the only two Toxophiluses in all the line of Draytons. Once more, for the third or fourth time that evening, it struck me that he looked excessively knowing and sly.
Who can analyse the lightning evolutions of human thought? I knew the truth before I could explain it. It crystallised in my brain all in a moment. A glance at the front of the MS., which had not been wetted, confirmed me.
I threw down the MS., clapped Calbot on the shoulder, and burst into an immoderate fit of laughter, which his astonished and concerned aspect served only to aggravate. It was some minutes before I could speak.
“It is a simple matter after all,” I said. “My old progenitor, there on the wall, was a friend — confidential friend — of Armstrong’s. It was he who wrote that MS., and left the blanks, which are not blanks, but names written in invisible ink. He prepared, then, the chemical reagent for the purpose of making the invisible writing visible whenever the time should come. Perhaps he meant to apply it himself some day; but, unluckily, death snatched him all unawares from the scene of his pious intrigues. The MS. got into the hands of Armstrong’s heirs (from whom I this day received it). The reagent stayed with the Draytons. This evening you came and brought the two together in your own inimitable style. You see, wherever the paper is wet, the blanks are filled in: the untouched parts are blanks still. Oh John, John! I wish this had happened before I printed my article on ‘Unrecognisable Truths:’ it is a peculiarly apt illustration.”
“Didn’t I tell you,” said Calbot, after a pause, “that there was nothing in the world so strange as coincidences?”
“There is the hobgoblin still unaccounted for,” answered I; “but I have done my part; I leave the rest to you.”
The next day but one came a note from my friend. It ran:
“What did I do at your rooms last night? Was I queer at all? I had intended calling on you that day, to tell you that Edna and I were going to be married April 1st, and to get you for my best man. Did I tell you? Because, if not, I do now. The fact is, you see, I had been reading over some curious old family documents (I think I spoke to you about them), and then I went up to Edna’s and frightened her half to death with telling her ghost stories about the locket I’d given her as a betrothal gift (a queer little thing it is. Did I ever mention it to you?) Well, going home I met young De Quincey, and he proposed — he’s always up to some devilry or other — he proposed doing something which I shall never do again; I was a fool to try it at all, but I had no notion how it would act. I’m afraid I may have annoyed you. I have an idea I upset your ink-bottle, and that I got it into my head that the ghost story I had been telling Edna was true. How was it? I know I felt deathly sick the next morning; I’m not certain whether it was the port-wine I drank, or that confounded hasheesh that I took with young De Quincey. I promised Edna I’d never take any more. Well, you won’t object to being my best man, will you?
So far from explaining the essential mystery — the Ghostly Rival — this letter of John’s only makes it, to my mind, more inscrutable than ever. Talk about coincidences! For my part, I prefer to believe in ghosts.
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