“Is it true that she’s going to marry him, Miss Timmens?”
“True! I don’t know,” retorted Miss Timmens, in wrath. “It won’t be for lack of warning, if she does. I told her so last night; and she tossed her head in answer. She’s a vain, heartless girl, Hannah Baber, with no more prudence about her than a female ostrich.”
“There may be nothing in it, after all,” said Hannah. “She is generally ready to flirt, you know.”
“Flirt!” shrieked Miss Timmens in her shrillest tone. “She’d flirt with a two-legged wheelbarrow if it had trousers on.”
This colloquy was taking place at the private door of the school-house. And you must understand that we have gone back a few months, for at this time David Garth was not dead. Hannah, who had gone down from Crabb Cot on an errand, came upon Miss Timmens standing there to look out. Of course she stayed to gossip.
The object of Miss Timmens’s wrath was her niece, Harriet Roe. A vain, showy, handsome, free-natured girl, as you have heard, with bright dark eyes and white teeth — who had helped to work the mischief between Maria Lease and Daniel Ferrar which had led to Ferrar’s dreadful death. Humphrey Roe, Harriet’s father, was half-brother to Miss Timmens and Mrs. Hill; he had settled in France, and married a Frenchwoman. Miss Harriet chose to call herself French, and politely said the English were not fit to tie that nation’s shoes. Perhaps that was why she had now taken up with a cousin, Louis Roe. Not that Louis Roe was really French: he had been born in France of English parents, and so was next door to it. A fashionable-looking young man North Crabb considered him, for he wore well-cut coats and a moustache. A moustache was a thing to be stared at in simple country places then. It may have had something to do with Miss Timmens’s dislike to the young man. Louis Roe was only a distant relative: a tenth cousin, or so; of whom Miss Timmens had heard before, but never seen. When he appeared unexpectedly one January day at the school-house (it was the January after Daniel Ferrar’s death), ostensibly to see Harriet, whom he had known in France, Miss Timmens, between surprise and the moustache, was less gracious than she might have been. From that time to this — March — he had (as Miss Timmens put it) haunted the place, though chiefly taking up his abode at Worcester. Harriet had struck into a flirtation with him at once, after her native fashion: and now it was reported that they were going to be married. Miss Timmens could not find out that he was doing anything for a living. He talked of his fine “affaires” over in France: but when she questioned him of what nature the “affaires” were, he either evaded her like an eel, or gave rambling answers that she could make neither head nor tail of. The way in which he and Harriet would jabber French in her presence, not a word of which language could she comprehend, and the laughing that went on at the same time, put Miss Timmens’s back up worse than anything, for she thought they were making game of her. She could be tart when she pleased; and when that happened, the redness in the nose and cheek grew redder. Very tart indeed was she, recounting these grievances to Hannah.
“My firm belief, Hannah Baber, is, that he wants to get hold of Harriet for her two-hundred pounds. She has that much, you know: it came to her from her mother. Roe would rather play the gentleman than work. It is the money he’s after, not Harriet.”
“The money may put him into some good way of business, and they may live comfortably together,” suggested Hannah.
“Pigs may fly,” returned Miss Timmens. “There’s something in that young man, Hannah Baber, that I could not trust. Oh, but girls are wilful! — and simple, at the best, where the men are concerned! They can’t see an inch beyond their noses: no, and they won’t let others, who have sight, see for them. Look there!”
Emerging into the spring sunshine from the withy walk, came the gentleman in question; Harriet Roe in her gay ribbons at his side. Miss Timmens gave her door a bang, regardless of good manners, and Hannah pursued her way.
The road thus paved for it, North Crabb church was not taken by surprise when it heard the marriage banns read out one Sunday morning between Louis Roe, of the parish of St. Swithin, Worcester (he was staying there at the time), and Henriette Adèle Marie Roe. Miss Timmens, who had not been taken into confidence, started violently; Mademoiselle Henriette Adèle Marie, sitting by her side, held up her head and her blooming cheeks with unruffled equanimity. It was said there was a scene when they got home: Miss Timmens’s sister (once Mrs. Garth, but then our bailiff’s wife, James Hill) looking in at the school-house to assist at it. Neither of them could make anything of Harriet.
“I’ll tell you what it is, Aunt Susan and Aunt Nancy,” said the girl passionately, when her temper got roused: “my mind is made up to marry Louis; and if you don’t drop this magging now and for good; if you attempt to worry me any further, I’ll go off to Worcester, and stay with him till the day arrives. There! how would you like that? I will, I declare. It would be thought nothing at all of in my country, with the wedding so near.”
This shut them up. Mrs. Hill, a meek, gentle little woman, who had her sorrows, and habitually let Miss Timmens do all the talking when they were together, began to cry. Harriet ate her cold dinner standing, and went off for an afternoon promenade with Monsieur Louis. From that time, even Miss Timmens gave up all thought of opposition, seeing that events must take their course. Harriet’s parents were dead; she was over age, and her own mistress in the eye of the law.
“Would you mind taking a turn with me in the withy walk, Harriet Roe?” asked Maria Lease, as they were coming out of church that same night.
Harriet was alone. Louis Roe had gone back to Worcester. The request surprised her considerably. Since Daniel Ferrar’s death the past November, Maria had been very distant with her; averting her head if they happened to meet.
“So you have come to your senses, have you, Maria Lease?” was the half insolent, half good-natured answer. “I’ll walk down it with you if you like.”
“Come to my senses in what way?” asked Maria, in low, subdued, sad tones, as they went towards the withy walk.
“About —you know what. You blamed me for what happened. As good as laid his death at my door.”
“Did you ever hear me say so?”
“Oh, I could see: your manner was enough. As if I either helped it on — or could have prevented it! We used to have just a bit of talking and laughing together, he and I, but that was all.”
That’s all! And the gold chain was still on Harriet’s neck. Maria suppressed a sigh.
“Whether I blamed you for it, Harriet Roe, or whether I blamed myself, is of no moment now. The past can never be recalled or redeemed in this world — its remembrance alone remains. I want to do you a little service, Harriet. Nothing may come of it, but it is my duty to speak.”
Amidst the shadows of the withy beds, under the silent stars, Maria spoke, dropping her voice to a whisper. In a sufficiently curious but accidental manner, she had heard something said the previous week about Louis Roe. A stranger, who had known him in France, spoke very much in his disfavour. He said that any girl, if she cared for her future happiness and credit would be mad to unite herself to him. Maria had asked no particulars; they might not have been given if she had; but the impression of Louis Roe left on her mind was not a good one. All this she quietly repeated to Harriet. It was received in anything but a friendly spirit.
“Thank you for nothing, Maria Lease. Because you lost your own husband — that was to have been — you think you’ll try what you can do to deprive me of mine. A slice of revenge, I suppose: but it won’t succeed.”
“Harriet, you are mistaken,” rejoined Maria; and Miss Harriet thought she had never in her life heard so mournfully sad a tone as the words were spoken in. “So much self-reproach fell upon me that bitter evening when he was found dead: reproach that can never be lifted from me while time shall last: that I do not think I can ever again do an ill turn in this life, or give an unkind word. The whole world does not seem to be as sinful in its wickedness as I was in my harsh unkindness; and there’s no sort of expiation left to me. If I pass my whole existence laying my hands under other people’s feet in humble hope to serve them, it cannot undo the bitterness of my passion when I exposed him before Johnny Ludlow. The exposure was more than he could bear; and he — he put an end to it. I suffer always, Harriet Roe; my days are one prolonged burning agony of repentance. Repentance that brings no relief.”
“My goodness!” cried Harriet, her breath almost scared away at hearing this, careless-natured though she was. “I’ll tell you what, Maria: I should turn Roman Catholic in your place; and let a priest absolve me from the sin.”
A priest absolve her from the sin! The strange anguish on her compressed lips was visible as Maria Lease turned her face upwards in the starlight. ONE Most High and merciful Priest was ever there, who could, and would, wash out her sin. But — what of Daniel Ferrar, who had died in his?
“If there is one person whom I would more especially seek in kindness to serve, it is you, Harriet,” she resumed, putting her hand gently on Harriet’s arm — and her fingers accidentally touched the chain that Daniel Ferrar had hung round the girl’s neck in his perfidy. “Revenge! — from me!”
“The very idea of my giving up Louis is absurd,” was Harriet’s rejoinder, as they came out of the withy walk. “Thank you all the same, Maria Lease; and there’s my hand. I see now that you meant kindly: but no one shall set me against my promised husband.”
Maria shook the hand in silence.
“Look here, Maria — don’t go and tell your beautiful scandal to sharp Susan Timmens. Not that I care whether you do or not, except on the score of contention. She would strike up fresh opposition, and it might come to scratching and fighting. My temper has borne enough: one can’t be a lamb always.”
The wedding came off on Easter Tuesday. Harriet wore a bright silk dress, the colour of lilac, with a wreath and veil. When the latter ornaments came home, Miss Timmens nearly fainted. Decent young women in their station of life were married in bonnets, she represented: not in wreaths and veils. But Harriet Roe, reared to French customs, said bonnets could never be admissible for a bride, and she’d sooner go to church in a coal-scuttle. The Batley girls, in trains and straw-hats, were bridesmaids. Miss Timmens wore a new shawl and white gloves; and poor little David Garth — who was to die of fright before that same year came to an end — stood with his hand locked in his mother’s.
And so, in the self-same church where she had sat displaying her graces before the ill-fated Daniel Ferrar, and by the same young clergyman who had preached to her then, Harriet became the wife of Louis Roe, and went away with him to London.
The next move in the chain of events was the death of David Garth in Willow Cottage. It occurred in November, when Tod and I were staying at home, and has been already told of. James Hill escaped without punishment: it was said there was no law to touch him. He protested through thick and thin that he meant no harm to the boy; to do him justice, it was not supposed he had: he was finely repentant for it, and escaped with a reprimand.
Mrs. Hill refused to remain in the cottage. What with her innate tendency to superstition, with the real facts of the case, and with that strange belief — that David’s spirit had appeared to her in the moment of dying; a belief firm and fixed as adamant — she passed into a state of horror of the dwelling. Not another night could she remain in it. The doctor himself, Cole, said she must not. Miss Timmens took her in as a temporary thing; until the furniture could be replaced in their former house, which was not let. Hill made no objection to this. For that matter, he seemed afraid of the new place himself, and was glad to get back to the old one. All his native surliness had left him for the time: he was as a subdued man whose tongue has departed on an excursion. You see, he had feared the law might come down upon him. The coroner’s inquest had brought in a safe verdict: all Hill received was a censure for having locked the boy in alone: but he could not yet feel sure that the affair would not be taken up by the magistrates: and the parish said in his hearing that his punishment ought to be transportation at the very least. Altogether, it subdued him.
So, as soon as David’s funeral was over, and while his wife was still with Miss Timmens, Hill began to move back his goods in a sort of humble silence. Crowds collected to see the transport, much to Hill’s annoyance and discomfiture. The calamity had caused intense excitement in the place; and Miss Timmens, who had a very long tongue, and hated Hill just as much as she had loved David, kept up the ball. Hill’s intention was to lock up Willow Cottage until he could get Mr. Todhetley to release him from it. At present he dared not ask: all of us at Crabb Cot, from the Squire downwards, were bitterly against him for his wicked inhumanity to poor David.
Curious to say — curious because of what was to happen out of it — as Hill was loading the truck with the last remaining things, a stranger came up to the cottage door. Just at the first moment, Hill did not recognize him; he had shaved off his moustache and whiskers, and grown a beard instead. And that alters people.
“How are you, Hill? What are you up to here?”
It was Louis Roe — who had married Mademoiselle Henriette the previous Easter. Where they had been since, or what they had done, was a sort of mystery, for Harriet had written only one letter. By that letter, it was gathered that they were flourishing in London: but no address was given, and Miss Timmens had called her a heartless jade, not to want to hear from her best relatives.
Hill answered that he was pretty well, and went on loading; but said nothing to the other question. Louis Roe — perceiving sundry straggling spectators who stood peering, as if the loading of a hand-barrow with goods were a raree-show — rather wondered at appearances, and asked again. Hill shortly explained then that they had moved into Willow Cottage; but his wife found it didn’t suit her, and so they were moving back again to the old home.
He went off with the truck, before he had well answered, giving no time for further colloquy. Louis Roe happened to come across young Jim Batley amidst the tag-rag, and heard from him all that had occurred.
“He must be a cruel devil, to leave a timid child all night in a house alone!” was Mr. Roe’s indignant comment; who, whatever his shortcomings might be in the eyes of Miss Timmens, was not thought to be hard-hearted.
“His mother, she sees his ghost,” went on Jim Batley. “Leastways, heered it.”
Mr. Roe took no notice of this additional communication. Perhaps ghosts held a low place in his creed — and he appeared to have plunged into a reverie. Starting out of it in a minute or two, he ran after Hill, and began talking in a low, business tone.
Hill could not believe his ears. Surely such luck had never befallen a miserable man! For here was Louis Roe offering to take Willow Cottage off his hands: to become his, Hill’s, tenant for a short time. The double rent; this, and that for the old house he was returning to; had been weighing upon Hill’s mind as heavily as David weighed upon it. The man had saved plenty of money, but he was of a close nature. Squire Todhetley was a generous man; but Hill felt conscious that he had displeased him too much to expect any favour at present.
“What d’ye want of the cottage?” asked Hill, suppressing all signs of satisfaction. “Be you and Harriet a-coming to live down here?”
“We should like to stay here for a few weeks — say till the dead of winter’s over,” replied Roe. “London is a beastly dull place in bad weather; the fogs don’t agree with Harriet. I had thought of taking two or three rooms at Birmingham: but I don’t know but she’ll like this cottage best — if you will let me have it cheap.”
It would be cheap enough. For Hill named the very moderate rent he had agreed to pay the Squire. Only too glad was he, to get that. Roe promised to pay him monthly.
North Crabb was electrified at the news. Mr. and Mrs. Roe were coming to stay in the cottage where poor David Garth had just died. No time was lost over it, either. On the following day some hired furniture was put into it, and Harriet herself arrived.
She was looking very ill. And I’m sure if she had appeared with a beard as well as her husband, her face could not have seemed more changed. Not her face only, but her manners. Instead of figuring off in silks and ribbons, finer than the stars, laughing with every one she met, and throwing her handsome eyes about, she wore only plain things, and went along noticing no one. Some people called it “pride;” Miss Timmens said it was disappointment. The first time Tod and I met her, she never lifted her eyes at all. Tod would have stayed to speak; but she just said, “Good morning, gentlemen,” and went on.
“I say, Johnny, there’s some change there,” was Tod’s remark, as he turned to look after her.
They had been in the place about a week — and Roe seemed to keep indoors, or else was away, for no one ever saw him — when a strange turn arose, that was destined to set the neighbourhood in an uproar. I was running past the school-house one evening at dusk, and saw Maria Lease sitting with Miss Timmens by fire-light. Liking Maria very much — for I always did like her, and always shall — I went bolt in to them. James Hill’s wife was also there, in her mourning gown with crape on it, sitting right back in the chimney corner. She had gone back to Hill then, but made no scruple of leaving him alone often: and Hill, who had had his lesson, put up with it. And you would never guess; no, not though you had tried from then till Midsummer; what they were whispering about, as though scared out of their seven senses.
David Garth’s ghost was haunting Willow Cottage.
Miss Timmens was telling the story; the others listened with open mouths. She began at the beginning again for my benefit.
“I was sitting by myself here about this time last evening, Master Johnny, having dismissed the children, and almost too tired with their worry to get my own tea, when Harriet Roe came gliding in at the door, looking whiter than a sheet, and startling me beyond everything. ‘Aunt Susan,’ says she in so indistinct a tone that I should have boxed one of the girls had she attempted to use such, ‘would you take pity on me and let me stay here till tomorrow morning? Louis went away this afternoon, and I dare not stop alone in the place all night.’ ‘What are you afraid of?’ I asked, not telling her at once that she might stay; but down she sat, and threw her mantle and bonnet off — taking French leave. I never saw her in such a state before,” continued Miss Timmens vehemently; “shivering and shaking as if she had an ague, and not a particle of her impudence left in her. ‘I think that place must be damp with the willow brook, aunt,’ says she; ‘it gives me a sensation of cold.’ ‘Now don’t you talk nonsense about your willow brooks, Harriet Roe,’ says I. ‘You are not shaking for willow brooks, or for cold either, but from fright. What is it?’ ‘Well then,’ says she, plucking up a bit, ‘I’m afraid of seeing the boy.’ ‘What boy?’ says I—‘not David?’ ‘Yes; David,’ she says, and trembles worse than ever. ‘He appeared to Aunt Nancy; a sign he is not at rest; and he is as sure to be in the house as sure can be. Dying in the way he did, and lying hid in the shed as he did, what else is to be expected?’ Well, Master Johnny, this all seemed to me very odd — as I’ve just observed to Nancy,” continued Miss Timmens. “It struck me, sir, there was more behind. ‘Harriet,’ says I, ‘have you seen David Garth?’ But at first no satisfactory answer could I get from her, neither yes nor no. At last she said she had not seen him, but knew she should if she stayed in the house by herself at night, for that he came again, and was in it. It struck me she was speaking falsely; and that she had seen him; or what she took for him.”
“I know she has; I feel convinced of it,” spoke up poor Mrs. Hill, tilting back her black bonnet — worn for David — to wipe the tears from her eyes. “Master Ludlow, don’t smile, sir — though it’s best perhaps for the young to disbelieve these solemn things. As surely as that we are talking here, my dear boy’s spirit came to me in the moment of his death. I feared it might take to haunting the cottage, sir; and that’s one reason why I could not stay in it.”
“Yes; Harriet has seen him,” interposed Maria Lease in low, firm tones. “Just as I saw Daniel Ferrar. Master Johnny, you know I saw him.”
Well, truth to say, I thought she must have seen Daniel Ferrar. Having assisted at the sight — or if not at the actual sight, at the place and time and circumstance attending it — I did not see how else it was to be explained away.
“Where’s Harriet now?” I asked.
“She stayed here last night, and went off by rail this morning to her grandmother’s at Worcester,” replied Miss Timmens. “Mother will be glad of her for a day or so, for she keeps her bed still.”
“Then who is in the cottage?”
“Nobody, sir. It’s locked up. Roe is expected back tomorrow.”
Miss Timmens began to set her tea-things, and I left them. Whom should I come upon in the road, but Tod — who had been over to South Crabb. I told him all this; and we took the broad path home through the fields, which led us past Willow Cottage. The fun Tod made of what the women had been saying, was beyond everything. A dreary dwelling, it looked; cold, and deserted, and solitary in the dusky night, on which the moon was rising. The back looked towards Crabb Ravine and the three-cornered grove in which Daniel Ferrar had taken his own life away; and to the barn where Maria had seen Ferrar after death. In front was the large field, bleak and bare; and beyond, the scattered chimneys of North Crabb. A lively dwelling altogether! — let alone what had happened in it to David Garth. I said so.
“Yes, it is a lively spot!” acquiesced Tod. “Beautifully lively in itself, without having the reputation of being haunted. Eugh! Let’s get home to dinner, Johnny.”
Mr. and Mrs. Coney and Tom came in after dinner. Old Coney and the Squire smoked till tea-time. When tea was over we all sat down to Pope Joan. Mr. Coney kept mistaking hearts for diamonds, clubs for spades; he had not his spectacles, and I offered to fetch them. Upon that, he set upon Tom for being lazy and letting Johnny Ludlow do what it was his place to do. The result was, that Tom Coney and I had a race which should reach the farm first. The night was bright, the moon high. Coming back with the spectacles, a man encountered us, tearing along as fast as we were. And that was like mad.
“Halloa!” cried Tom. “What’s up.”
Tom had cause to ask it. The man was Luke Macintosh: and never in all my life had I seen a specimen of such terror. His face was white, his breath came in gasps. Without saying with your leave or by your leave, he caught hold of Tom Coney’s arm.
“Master, as I be a living sinner, I ha’ just seen Davy Garth.”
“Seen David Garth?” echoed Tom, wondering whether Luke had been drinking.
“I see him as plain as plain. He be at that end window o’ the Willow Cottage.”
“Do you mean his ghost, or himself?” asked Tom, making game of it.
“Why, his ghost, in course, sir. It’s well known hisself be dead and buried — worse luck! Mercy on us! — I’d ha’ lost a month’s wages rather nor see this.”
Considering Luke Macintosh was so great a coward that he would not go through the Ravine after nightfall, this was not much from him. Neither had his conscience been quite easy since David’s death: as it may be said that he, through refusing at the last moment to sleep in the house, had in a degree been the remote cause of it. His account was this: Passing the Willow Cottage on his way from North Crabb, he happened to look up at the end window, and saw David standing there all in white in the moonlight.
“I never see nothing plainer in all my born days, never,” gasped Luke. “His poor little face hadn’t no more colour in it nor chalk. Drat them ghosts and goblins, then! What does they come and show theirselves to decent folk for?”
He was trembling just as Miss Timmens, some three hours before, had described Harriet Roe to have trembled. An idea flashed into my mind.
“Now, Luke, just you confess — who is it that has put this into your head?” I asked. But Luke only stared at me: he seemed unable to understand.
“Some one has been telling you this to-night at North Crabb?”
“Telling me what, Master Ludlow?”
“That David Garth is haunting the cottage. It is what people are saying, Tom,” I added to Coney.
“Then, Master Johnny, I never heered a blessed syllable on’t,” he replied; and so earnestly that it was not possible to doubt him. “Nobody have said nothing to me. For the matter o’ that, I didn’t stop to talk to a soul, but just put Molly’s letter in the window slit — which was what I went for — and turned back again. I wish the woman had ha’ been skinned afore she’d got me to go off to the post for her to-night. Plague on me, to have took the way past the cottage! as if the road warn’t good enough to ha’ served me! — and a sight straighter!”
“Were there lights in the cottage, Luke?” asked Coney. “Did you see the Roes about?”
“There warn’t no more sign o’ light or life a-nigh the place, Mr. Tom, no more nor if they’d all been dead and buried inside it.”
“It is shut up, Tom,” I said. “Roe and his wife are away.”
“Lawk a mercy! — not a living creature in it but the ghost!” quaked Luke.
As I have said, this was not much from Luke, taking what he was into consideration; but it was to be confirmed by others. One of the Coneys’ maid-servants came along, as we stood there, on her way from North Crabb. A sensible, respectable woman, with no nonsense about her in general; but she looked almost as scared as Luke now.
“You don’t mean to say you have seen it, Dinah?” cried Tom, staring at her.
“Yes, I have, sir.”
“What! seen David Garth?”
“Well, I suppose it was him. It was something at the window, in white, that looked like him, Mr. Tom.”
“Did you go on purpose to look for it, Dinah?” asked Tom ironically.
“The way I happened to go was this, sir. James Hill overtook me coming out of North Crabb: he was going up to Willow Cottage to speak to Roe; and I thought I’d walk with him, instead of taking the road. Not but what he’s a beauty to walk with, he is, after his cruelty to his wife’s boy,” broke off Dinah: “but company is company on a solitary road at night. When we got to the cottage, Hill knocked; I stayed a minute to say how-d’ye-do to Mrs. Roe, for I’ve not seen her yet. Nobody answered the door; the place looked all dark and empty. ‘They must be out for the evening, I should think,’ says Hill: and with that he steps back and looks up at the windows. ‘Lord be good to us! what’s that?’ says he, when he had got round where he could see the end casement. I went to him, and found him standing like a pump, just as stiff and upright, his hands clutched hold of one another, and his eyes staring up at the panes in mortal terror. ‘What is it?’ says I. ‘It’s Davvy,’ says he; but the voice didn’t sound like Hill’s voice, and it scared me a bit. ‘Yes, it’s him,’ says Hill; ‘he have got on the sheet as was wrapped round him to carry him to the shed. I— I lodged him again that there window to make the turning; the stairs was awk’ard,’ went on Hill, as if he was speaking again the grain, but couldn’t help himself. — And sure enough, Mr. Tom — sure enough, Master Ludlow, there was David.”
“Nonsense, Dinah!” cried Tom Coney.
“I saw him quite well, sir, in the white sheet,” said Dinah. “The moon was shining on the window a’most as bright as day.”
“It were brighter nor day,” eagerly put in Luke Macintosh. “You’ll believe me now, Mr. Tom.”
“I’d not believe it if I saw it,” said Tom Coney.
“As we stood looking up, me laying hold of Hill’s arm,” resumed Dinah, as if she had not told all her tale, “there came a loud whistling and shouting behind. Which was young Jim Batley, bringing some message from them sisters of his to Harriet Roe. I bade him hush his noise, but he only danced and mocked at me; so then I told him the cottage was empty, except for David Garth. That hushed him. He came stealing up, and stood by me, staring. You should have seen his face change, Mr. Tom.”
“Was he frightened?”
“Frightened is hardly the word for it, sir. His teeth began to chatter, as if he had a fit; and down he went at last like a stone, face first, howling fearful. We couldn’t hardly get him up again to come away, me and Hill. And as to the ghost, Mr. Tom, it was still there.”
“Well, it is a queer tale,” acknowledged Tom Coney.
“We made for the road, all three of us then, and I turned on here — and I didn’t half like coming by the barn where Maria Lease saw Daniel Ferrar,” candidly added Dinah. “T’other two went on their opposite way, Jim never letting go of Hill’s coat-tails.”
There was no more Pope Joan that night. We carried the story indoors; and I mentioned also what had been said to Miss Timmens. The Squire and old Coney laughed.
With David Garth’s ghost to be seen, it could not be supposed that I, or Tod, or Tom Coney, should stay away from the sight. When we reached the place, some twenty people had collected round the house. Jim Batley had told the tale in North Crabb.
But curious watchers had seen nothing. Neither did we. For the bright night had changed to darkness. A huge curtain of cloud had come up from the south, covering the moon and the best part of the sky, as a pall covers a coffin. If gazing could have brought a ghost to the window, there would assuredly have been one. The casement was at the end of the house; serving to light the narrow upstairs passage. A huge cherry-tree hid the casement in summer; very slightly its bare branches obscured it now.
A sound, as of some panting animal, came up beside me as I leaned on the side palings. I turned; and saw the bailiff. Some terrible power of fascination had brought him back again, against his will.
“So it is gone, Hill, you see.”
“It’s not gone, Mr. Johnny,” was his answer. “For some of our sights, it’ll never go away again. You look well at the right-hand side, sir, and see if you don’t see some’at white there.”
Peering steadily, I thought I did see something white — as of a face above a white garment. But it might have been fancy.
“Us as saw him couldn’t mistake it for fancy,” was Hill’s rejoinder. “There was three on us: me, and Dinah up at Coney’s, and that there imp of a Jim Batley.”
“Some one saw it before you did, Hill. At least he says so. Luke Macintosh. He was scared out of his senses.”
The effect of these words on Hill was such, that I quite believed he was scared out of his. He clasped his hands in wild emotion, and turned up his eyes to give thanks.
“It’s ret’ibution a working its ends, Mr. Ludlow. See it first, did he! And I hope to my heart he’ll see it afore his eyes evermore. If that there Macintosh had not played a false and coward’s game, no harm ‘ud ha’ come to Davvy.”
The crowd increased. The Squire and old Coney came up, and told the whole assemblage that they were born idiots. Of course, with nothing to be seen, it looked as though we all were that. In the midst of it, making quietly for the back-door, as though he had come home through Crabb Ravine from Timberdale, I espied Louis Roe. Saying nothing to any one, I went round and told him.
“David Garth’s ghost in the place!” he exclaimed. “Why, it will frighten my wife to death. Of course there’s nothing of the sort; but women are so foolishly timid.”
I said his wife was not there. Roe took a key from his pocket, unlocked the back-door, and went in. He was talking to me, and I stepped over the threshold to the kitchen, into which the door opened. He began feeling on the shelf for matches, and could not find any.
“There’s a box in the bedroom, I know,” he said; and went stumbling upstairs.
Down he came, after a minute or so, with the matches, struck one, and lighted a candle. Opening the front door, he showed himself, explained that he had just come home, and complained of the commotion.
“There’s no such thing in this lower world as ghosts,” said Roe. “Whoever pretends to see them must be either drunk or mad. As to this house — well, some of you had better walk in and reassure yourselves. You are welcome.”
He was taken at his word. A few came in, and went looking about for the ghost, upstairs and down. Writing about it now, it seems to have been the most ridiculous thing in the world. Nothing was to be found. The narrow passage above, where David had stood, was empty. “As if supernatural visitants waited while you looked for them!” cried the superstitious crowd outside.
It is easier to raise a disturbance of this kind than to allay it, and the ghost-seers stayed on. The heavy cloud in the heavens rolled away by-and-by; and the moon came out, and shone on the casement again. But neither David Garth nor anything else was then to be seen there.
The night’s commotion passed away, but not the rumours. That David Garth’s spirit could not rest, but came back to trouble the earth, especially that spot known as Willow Cottage, was accepted as a fact. People would go stealing up there at night, three or four of them arm-inarm, and stand staring at the casement, and walk round the cottage. Nothing more was to be seen — perhaps because there was no moon to light up the window. Harriet Roe was at home again with her husband; but she did not go abroad much: and her face seemed to wear a sort of uneasy terror. “The fear of seeing him is wearing her heart out; why does Roe stop in the place?” said North Crabb: and though Harriet had never been much of a favourite, she had plenty of sympathy now.
It soon came to be known in a gradual sort of way that a visitor was staying at Willow Cottage. A young woman fashionably dressed, who was called Mrs. James; and who was said to be the wife of James Roe, Louis Roe’s elder brother. Some people declared that a man was also there: they had seen one. Harriet denied it. An acquaintance of her husband’s, a Mr. Duffy, had been over to see them from Birmingham, she said, but he went back again. She was not believed.
What with the ghost, and what with the mystery attaching to its inhabitants, Willow Cottage was a great card just then. If you ask me to explain what mystery there could be, I cannot do so: all I know is, an idea that there was something of the kind, apart from David, dawned upon many minds in North Crabb. Miss Timmens spoke it openly. She did not like Harriet’s looks, and said that something or other was killing her. And Susan Timmens considered it her duty to try and come to the bottom of it.
At all sorts of hours, seasonable and unseasonable, Miss Timmens presented herself at Willow Cottage. Rarely alone. Sometimes Mrs. Hill would be with her; or it would be Maria Lease; or one of the Batley girls; and once it was young Jim. Louis Roe grew to feel annoyed at this; he told Harriet he would not have confounded people coming there, prying; and he closed the door against them. So, the next time Miss Timmens went, she found the door bolted in the most inhospitable manner. Harriet threw open the parlour window to speak to her.
“Louis says he won’t have any more visitors calling here just now; not even you, Aunt Susan.”
“What does he say that for?” snapped Miss Timmens.
“We came down here to be quiet: he has some accounts to go over, and can’t be disturbed at them. So perhaps you’ll stay away, Aunt Susan. I’ll come to the school-house sometimes instead.”
It was the dusk of the evenings but Miss Timmens could see the fearful look of illness on Harriet’s face. She was also trembling.
“Harriet, what’s the matter with you?” she asked, in a kinder tone.
“Nothing! Why, you look as ill as you can look. You are trembling all over.”
“It’s true I don’t feel very well this evening, aunt, but I think it is nothing. I often feel as if I had a touch of ague.”
Miss Timmens bent her face nearer; it had a strange concern in it. “Harriet, look here. There’s some mystery about this place; won’t you tell me what it is? I— seem — to — be-afraid — for —you,” she concluded, in a slow and scarcely audible whisper.
For answer, Miss Timmens found the window slammed down in her face. An impression arose — she hardly knew whence gathered, or whether it had any foundation — that it was not Harriet who had slammed it, but some one concealed behind the curtain.
“Well I’m sure!” cried she. “It might have taken my nose off.”
“It was so cold, aunt!” Harriet called out apologetically through the glass. “Good night.”
Miss Timmens walked off in dudgeon. Revolving matters along the broad field-path, she liked their appearance less and less. Harriet was looking as ill as possible: and what meant that trembling? Was it caused by sickness of body, or terror of mind? Mrs. Hill, when consulted, summed it up comprehensively: “It is David about the place: that’s killing her.”
Harriet Roe did not make her appearance at the school-house, and the next day but one Miss Timmens went up again. The door was bolted. Miss Timmens knocked, but received no answer. Not choosing to be treated in that way she made so much noise, first at the door and then at the window, that the former was at length unclosed by Mrs. James, in list shoes and a dressing-gown, as if her toilette had been delayed that day. The chain was kept up — a new chain that Miss Timmens had not seen before — and she could not enter.
“I want to see Harriet, Mrs. James.”
“Harriet’s gone,” replied Mrs. James.
“Gone! Gone where?”
“To London. She went off there yesterday morning.”
Miss Timmens felt, as she would have said, struck into herself. An idea flashed over her that the words had not a syllable of truth in them.
“What did she go to London for?”
Mrs. James glanced over her two shoulders, seemingly in terror herself, and sunk her voice to a whisper. “She had grown afraid of the place, this dark winter weather. Miss Timmens — it’s as true as you’re there — nothing would persuade her out of the fancy that she was always seeing David Garth. He used to stand in a sheet at the end of the upstairs passage and look at her. Leastways, she said so.”
This nearly did for Miss Timmens. It might be true; and she could not confute it. “Do you see him, Mrs. James?”
“Well, no; I never have. Goodness knows, I don’t want to.”
“But Harriet was not well enough to take a long journey,” contended Miss Timmens. “She never could have undertaken one in her state of health.”
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘state,’ Miss Timmens. She would shake a bit at times; but we saw nothing else the matter with her. Perhaps you would shake if you had an apparition in the house. Any way, well or ill, she went off to London. Louis took her as far as the station and saw her away.”
“Will you give me her address? I should like to write to her.”
Mrs. James said she could not give the address, because she did not know it. Nothing more was to be got out of her, and Miss Timmens reluctantly departed.
“I should hope they’ve not murdered her — and are concealing her in the house as Hill concealed David,” was the comment she gave vent to in her perplexity and wrath.
From that time, nothing could be heard of Harriet Roe. A week went on; nearly two weeks; but she never was seen, and no tidings came of her. So far as could be ascertained, she had not gone away by train: neither station-master nor porter remembered to have seen her. Miss Timmens grew as thin as a ghost herself: the subject worried her night and day. That some ill had happened to Harriet; or been done to her, she did not doubt. Once or twice she managed to see Roe; once or twice she saw Mrs. James: speaking to them at the door with the chain up. Roe said he heard from his wife nearly every other day; but he would not show the letters, or give the address: a conclusive proof to the mind of Miss Timmens that neither had any existence. What had they done with Harriet? Miss Timmens could not have been in much worse mental trouble had she herself made away with her.
One morning the postman delivered a letter at the school-house. It bore the London post-mark, and purported to be from Harriet. A few lines only — saying she was well and enjoying herself, and should come back sometime — the writing shaky and blotted, and bearing but a slight resemblance to hers. Miss Timmens dashed it on the table.
“The fools, to think they can deceive me this way! That’s no more Harriet’s writing than it is mine.”
But Miss Timmens’s passion soon subsided into a grave, settled, awful dread. For she saw that this had been written to delude her into the belief that Harriet was in health and life — when she might be in neither one nor the other. She brought the letter to Crabb Cot. She took it round the parish. She went with it to the police-station; imparting her views of it to all freely. It was a sham; a blind; a forgery: and where was she to look for poor lost Harriet Roe?
That same evening the ghost appeared again. Miss Timmens and others went up to the cottage, intending to demand an interview with Roe; and they found the house shut up, apparently deserted. Reconnoitring the windows from all points, their dismayed eyes rested on something at the end casement: a thin, shadowy form, robed in white. Every one of them saw it; but, even as they looked, it seemed to vanish away. Yes, there was no question that the house was haunted. Perhaps Harriet had died from fright, as poor David died.
Things could not go on like this for ever. After another day or two of discomfort, Mr. Todhetley, as a county magistrate, incited by the feeling in the parish, issued a private mandate for Roe to appear before him, that he might be questioned as to what had become of his wife. It was not a warrant; but a sort of friendly invitation, that could offend no one. Jiff the policeman was entrusted with the delivery of the message, a verbal one, and I went with him.
As if she had scented our errand for herself, and wanted to make a third in it, who should meet us in the broad path, but Miss Timmens. Willow Cottage might or might not be haunted, but I am sure her legs were: they couldn’t be still.
“What are you doing up here, Jiff?” she tartly asked.
Jiff told her. Squire Todhetley wanted Roe at Crabb Cot.
“It will be of no use, Jiff; the door’s sure to be fast,” groaned Miss Timmens. “My opinion is that Roe has left the place for good.”
Miss Timmens was mistaken. The shutters were open, and the house showed signs of life. Upon knocking at the door — Miss Timmens took off her patten to do it with, and you might have heard the echoes at North Crabb — it was flung wide by Mrs. James.
Mr. Roe? No, Mr. Roe was not at home. Mrs. Roe was.
Mrs. Roe was! “What, Harriet?” cried excited Miss Timmens.
Yes, Harriet. If we liked to walk in and see her, we could do so.
By the kitchen fire, as being biggest and hottest, in a chair stuffed about with blankets, sat Harriet Roe. Worn, white, shadowy, she was evidently just getting over some desperate illness. I stared; the policeman softly whistled; you might have knocked Miss Timmens down with a feather.
“Good patience, child — why, where have you been hiding all this while?” cried she. “And what on earth has been the matter with you?”
“I have been upstairs in my room, Aunt Susan, keeping my bed. As to the illness, it turned out to be ague and low fever.”
Jiff went out again; there was nothing to stay for. I followed, leaving Miss Timmens and Harriet to have it out together.
She had really been ill in bed all the time, Mrs. James and Roe attending on her. It did not suit them to admit visitors; for James Roe, who had fallen into some difficulty in London, connected with forged bills, was lying concealed at Willow Cottage. That’s why people were kept out. It would not have done by any means for Miss Timmens and her sharp eyes to go upstairs and catch a glimpse of him; so they concocted the tale that Harriet was away. James Roe was safely away now, and Louis with him. Louis had been mixed up in the bill trouble in a lesser degree: but quite enough so to induce him to absent himself from London for a time, and to stay quietly at North Crabb.
“Was it fear or ague that caused you to shake so that last evening I saw you here?” questioned Miss Timmens.
“Ague. I never got out of bed after that night. I could hardly write that letter, aunt, that Louis sent to London to be posted to you.”
“And — did you really see David Garth?”
“No, I never saw him,” said Harriet. “But, after all the reports and talk, I was timid at being in the house alone — James and his wife had not come then — and that’s why I asked you to let me stay at the school-house the night my husband was away.”
“But it was told me that you did see him.”
“I was always frightened for fear I should.”
“It strikes me you have had other causes for fright as well, Harriet,” cried shrewd Miss Timmens.
“Well, you see — this business of James Roe’s has put me about. Every knock that came to the door seemed to me to be somebody coming for him. My husband says the ghost is all rubbish and fancy, Aunt Susan.”
“Rubbish and fancy, does he?”
“He says that when he came in here with Johnny Ludlow, the night there was that commotion, in going up for some matches, he fell over something at the top of the stairs by the end casement, and flung it behind the rafters. Next day he saw what it was. I had tied a white cloth over a small dwarf mop to sweep the walls with, and must have left it near the window. I remembered that I did leave it there. It no doubt looked in the moonlight just like a white face. And that’s what was taken for David’s ghost.”
Miss Timmens paused, considering matters: she might believe just as much of this as she liked.
“It appeared again at the same place, Harriet, two or three days ago.”
“That was me, aunt. I saw you all looking up, and drew away again for fear you should know me. Mrs. James was making my bed, and I had crawled there.”
There it ended. So far the mystery was over. The explanation was confided to the public, who received it differently. Some accepted the mop version; others clung to the ghost. And Hill never had a penny of his rent. Louis Roe was away; and, as it turned out, did not come back again.
Mrs. James wanted to leave also; and Maria Lease took her place as nurse. Tenderly she did it, too; and Harriet got well. She was going off to join her husband as soon as she could travel: it was said in France. No one knew; unless it was Maria Lease. She and Harriet had become confidential friends.
“Which is the worse fate — yours or mine?” cried Harriet to Maria, half mockingly, half woefully, the day she was packing her trunk. “You have your lonely life, and your never-ending repentance for what you call your harsh sin: I have my sickness and my trouble — and I have enough of that, Maria.” But Maria Lease only shook her head in answer.
“Trouble and repentance are our best lot in this world, Harriet. They come to fit us for heaven.”
But North Crabb, though willingly admitting that Harriet Roe, in marrying, had not entered on a bed of lilies, and might have been happier had she kept single, would not, on the whole, be shaken from its belief that the ghost still haunted the empty cottage. Small parties made shivering pilgrimages up there on a moonlight night, to watch for it, and sometimes declared that it appeared. Fancy goes a long way in this world.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55