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A Child Of The Rain
A Difficult Problem
A Grammatical Ghost
A Memorable Night
A Mysterious Case
A Mystery With A Moral
A Spectral Collie
A Terribly Strange Bed
American Horses
An Astral Onion
An Intangible Clue
As Told By Mr Gryce
Bourgonef
From The Loom Of The Dead
His Last Bow
Hunted Down
Introduction To A Mystery With A Moral
Introduction To Melmoth The Wanderer
Melmoth The Wanderer
Missing: Page Thirteen
My Fascinating Friend
No 1 Branch Line: The Signal-man
On Being Found Out
On The Northern Ice
Problem Ix Violet's Own
Satire Of The Sea
Shall He Wed Her?
Story Of An Obstinate Corpse
Story Of The Vanishing Patient
The Adventure Of Black Peter
The Adventure Of Charles Augustus Milverton
The Adventure Of The Abbey Grange
The Adventure Of The Bruce-partington Plans
The Adventure Of The Cardboard Box
The Adventure Of The Dancing Men
The Adventure Of The Devil's Foot
The Adventure Of The Dying Detective
The Adventure Of The Empty House
The Adventure Of The Golden Pince-nez
The Adventure Of The Missing Three-quarter
The Adventure Of The Norwood Builder
The Adventure Of The Priory School
The Adventure Of The Red Circle
The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons
The Adventure Of The Solitary Cyclist
The Adventure Of The Three Students
The Adventure Of Wisteria Lodge
The Affair Of The Tortoise
The Avenger
The Birth-mark
The Black Cross
The Box With The Iron Clamps
The Bronze Hand
The Cambered Foot
The Case Of He Golden Bullet
The Case Of Mr Foggatt
The Case Of The Dixon Torpedo
The Case Of The Pocket Diary Found In The Snow
The Case Of The Pool Of Blood In The Pastor's Study
The Case Of The Registered Letter
The Closed Cabinet
The Coin Of Dionysius
The Disappearance Of Lady Frances Carfax
The Doctor His Wife And The Clock
The Dreaming Lady
The End Of The Road
The Fortune Teller
The Golden Slipper
The Gray Madam
The Great Valdez Sapphire
The Grotto Spectre
The Haunted And The Haunters Or The House And The Brain
The Hermit Of Street
The Hole In The Mahogany Panel
The House By The Loch
The House Of Clocks
The House That Was Not
The Incantation
The Jew's Breastplate
The Knight's Cross Signal Problem
The Last Adventure
The Last Exploit Of Harry The Actor
The Lenton Croft Robberies
The Loss Of Sammy Crockett
The Lost Lady
The Lost Room
The Man In The Green Hat
The Mortals In The House
The Mysterious Card
The Notch On The Ax - A Story A La Mode
The Oblong Box
The Old Stone House
The Piano Next Door
The Pumpkin Coach
The Quinton Jewel Affair
The Reward
The Room Of The Evil Thought
The Second Bullet
The Shape Of Fear
The Spread Rails
The Stanway Cameo Mystery
The Thing On The Hearth
The Torture By Hope
The Tragedy At Brookbend Cottage
The Wrong Sign
The Yellow Flower
Their Dear Little Ghost

The Lock And Key Library

A Case Of Identity
A Conjurer's Confessions
A Flight Into Texas
A Formidable Weapon
A Mystery With A Moral
A Scandal In Bohemia
A Wish Unexpectedly Gratified
Addressed To The Advocate Who Defended Him At His Trial
Adventure Of The Black Fisherman
Adventures In The Secret Service Of The Post-office Department
An Aspirant For Congress
An Erring Shepherd
An Heiress From Redhorse
An Old Game Revived
Bourgonef
By The Waters Of Paradise
Deception Explained By The Science Of Psychology
Facing The Arab's Pistol
Fact And Fable In Psychology
Fraudulent Spiritualism Unveiled[1]
His Wedded Wife
Horror: A True Tale
How Spirits Materialize
How The Tricks Succeeded
In The House Of Suddhoo
Introduction To A Mystery With A Moral
Introduction To Melmoth The Wanderer
Introduction To The Corpus Delicti
Matter Through Matter
Melmoth The Wanderer
Mind Reading In Public
My Own True Ghost Story
My Wife's Tempter
No 1 Branch Line: The Signal-man
On Being Found Out
Saint-germain The Deathless
Second Sight
Some Famous Exposures
The Avenger
The Baron's Quarry
The Closed Cabinet
The Corpus Delicti
The Dream Woman
The Fortune Of Seth Savage
The Fowl In The Pot
The Gold-bug
The Golden Ingot
The Great Valdez Sapphire
The Haunted And The Haunters Or The House And The Brain
The Hostler's Story Told By Himself
The Incantation
The Lost Duchess
The Magician Who Became An Ambassador
The Man And The Snake
The Man In The Iron Mask
The Methods Of A Doctor Of The Occult
The Minister's Black Veil
The Minor Canon
The Mortals In The House
The Name Of The Dead
The Notch On The Ax - A Story A La Mode
The Oblong Box
The Pavilion On The Links
The Pipe
The Puzzle
The Red-headed League
The Sending Of Dana Da
The Shadows On The Wall
The Story Continued By Percy Fairbank
Wieland's Madness
Wolfert Webber Or Golden Dreams



The Closed Cabinet








I


It was with a little alarm and a good deal of pleasurable
excitement that I looked forward to my first grown-up visit to
Mervyn Grange. I had been there several times as a child, but
never since I was twelve years old, and now I was over eighteen.
We were all of us very proud of our cousins the Mervyns: it is not
everybody that can claim kinship with a family who are in full and
admitted possession of a secret, a curse, and a mysterious cabinet,
in addition to the usual surplusage of horrors supplied in such
cases by popular imagination. Some declared that a Mervyn of the
days of Henry VIII had been cursed by an injured abbot from the
foot of the gallows. Others affirmed that a dissipated Mervyn of
the Georgian era was still playing cards for his soul in some
remote region of the Grange. There were stories of white ladies
and black imps, of bloodstained passages and magic stones. We,
proud of our more intimate acquaintance with the family, naturally
gave no credence to these wild inventions. The Mervyns, indeed,
followed the accepted precedent in such cases, and greatly disliked
any reference to the reputed mystery being made in their presence;
with the inevitable result that there was no subject so
pertinaciously discussed by their friends in their absence. My
father's sister had married the late Baronet, Sir Henry Mervyn, and
we always felt that she ought to have been the means of imparting
to us a very complete knowledge of the family secret. But in this
connection she undoubtedly failed of her duty. We knew that there
had been a terrible tragedy in the family some two or three hundred
years ago--that a peculiarly wicked owner of Mervyn, who flourished
in the latter part of the sixteenth century, had been murdered by
his wife who subsequently committed suicide. We knew that the
mysterious curse had some connection with this crime, but what the
curse exactly was we had never been able to discover. The history
of the family since that time had indeed in one sense been full of
misfortune. Not in every sense. A coal mine had been discovered
in one part of the estate, and a populous city had grown over the
corner of another part; and the Mervyns of to-day, in spite of the
usual percentage of extravagant heirs and political mistakes, were
three times as rich as their ancestors had been. But still their
story was full of bloodshed and shame, of tales of duels and
suicides, broken hearts and broken honor. Only these calamities
seemed to have little or no relation to each other, and what the
precise curse was that was supposed to connect or account for them
we could not learn. When she first married, my aunt was told
nothing about it. Later on in life, when my father asked her for
the story, she begged him to talk upon a pleasanter subject; and
being unluckily a man of much courtesy and little curiosity, he
complied with her request. This, however, was the only part of the
ghostly traditions of her husband's home upon which she was so
reticent. The haunted chamber, for instance--which, of course,
existed at the Grange--she treated with the greatest contempt.
Various friends and relations had slept in it at different times,
and no approach to any kind of authenticated ghost-story, even of
the most trivial description, had they been able to supply. Its
only claim to respect, indeed, was that it contained the famous
Mervyn cabinet, a fascinating puzzle of which I will speak later,
but which certainly had nothing haunting or horrible about its
appearance.

My uncle's family consisted of three sons. The eldest, George, the
present baronet, was now in his thirties, married, and with
children of his own. The second, Jack, was the black-sheep of the
family. He had been in the Guards, but, about five years back, had
got into some very disgraceful scrape, and had been obliged to
leave the country. The sorrow and the shame of this had killed his
unhappy mother, and her husband had not long afterwards followed
her to the grave. Alan, the youngest son, probably because he was
the nearest to us in age, had been our special favorite in earlier
years. George was grown up before I had well left the nursery, and
his hot, quick temper had always kept us youngsters somewhat in awe
of him. Jack was four years older than Alan, and, besides, his
profession had, in a way, cut his boyhood short. When my uncle and
aunt were abroad, as they frequently were for months together on
account of her health, it was Alan, chiefly, who had to spend his
holidays with us, both as school-boy and as undergraduate. And a
brighter, sweeter-tempered comrade, or one possessed of more
diversified talents for the invention of games or the telling of
stories, it would have been difficult to find.

For five years together now our ancient custom of an annual visit
to Mervyn had been broken. First there had been the seclusion of
mourning for my aunt, and a year later for my uncle; then George
and his wife, Lucy,--she was a connection of our own on our
mother's side, and very intimate with us all,--had been away for
nearly two years on a voyage round the world; and since then
sickness in our own family had kept us in our turn a good deal
abroad. So that I had not seen my cousins since all the calamities
which had befallen them in the interval, and as I steamed
northwards I wondered a good deal as to the changes I should find.
I was to have come out that year in London, but ill-health had
prevented me; and as a sort of consolation Lucy had kindly asked me
to spend a fortnight at Mervyn, and be present at a shooting-party,
which was to assemble there in the first week of October.

I had started early, and there was still an hour of the short
autumn day left when I descended at the little wayside station,
from which a six-mile drive brought me to the Grange. A dreary
drive I found it--the round, gray, treeless outline of the fells
stretching around me on every side beneath the leaden, changeless
sky. The night had nearly fallen as we drove along the narrow
valley in which the Grange stood: it was too dark to see the autumn
tints of the woods which clothed and brightened its sides, almost
too dark to distinguish the old tower,--Dame Alice's tower as it
was called,--which stood some half a mile farther on at its head.
But the light shone brightly from the Grange windows, and all
feeling of dreariness departed as I drove up to the door. Leaving
maid and boxes to their fate, I ran up the steps into the old,
well-remembered hall, and was informed by the dignified man-servant
that her ladyship and the tea were awaiting me in the morning-room.

I found that there was nobody staying in the house except Alan, who
was finishing the long vacation there: he had been called to the
Bar a couple of years before. The guests were not to arrive for
another week, so that I had plenty of opportunity in the interval
to make up for lost time with my cousins. I began my observations
that evening as we sat down to dinner, a cozy party of four. Lucy
was quite unchanged--pretty, foolish, and gentle as ever. George
showed the full five years' increase of age, and seemed to have
acquired a somewhat painful control of his temper. Instead of the
old petulant outbursts, there was at times an air of nervous,
irritable self-restraint, which I found the less pleasant of the
two. But it was in Alan that the most striking alteration
appeared. I felt it the moment I shook hands with him, and the
impression deepened that evening with every hour. I told myself
that it was only the natural difference between boy and man,
between twenty and twenty-five, but I don't think that I believed
it. Superficially the change was not great. The slight-built,
graceful figure; the deep gray eyes, too small for beauty; the
clear-cut features, the delicate, sensitive lips, close shaven now,
as they had been hairless then,--all were as I remembered them.
But the face was paler and thinner than it had been, and there were
lines round the eyes and at the corners of the mouth which were no
more natural to twenty-five than they would have been to twenty.
The old charm indeed--the sweet friendliness of manner, which was
his own peculiar possession--was still there. He talked and
laughed almost as much as formerly, but the talk was manufactured
for our entertainment, and the laughter came from his head and not
from his heart. And it was when he was taking no part in the
conversation that the change showed most. Then the face, on which
in the old time every passing emotion had expressed itself in a
constant, living current, became cold and impassive--without
interest, and without desire. It was at such times that I knew
most certainly that here was something which had been living and
was dead. Was it only his boyhood? This question I was unable to
answer.

Still, in spite of all, that week was one of the happiest in my
life. The brothers were both men of enough ability and cultivation
to be pleasant talkers, and Lucy could perform adequately the part
of conversational accompanist, which, socially speaking, is all
that is required of a woman. The meals and evenings passed quickly
and agreeably; the mornings I spent in unending gossips with Lucy,
or in games with the children, two bright boys of five and six
years old. But the afternoons were the best part of the day.
George was a thorough squire in all his tastes and habits, and
every afternoon his wife dutifully accompanied him round farms and
coverts, inspecting new buildings, trudging along half-made roads,
or marking unoffending trees for destruction. Then Alan and I
would ride by the hour together over moor and meadowland, often
picking our way homewards down the glen-side long after the autumn
evenings had closed in. During these rides I had glimpses many a
time into depths in Alan's nature of which I doubt whether in the
old days he had himself been aware. To me certainly they were as a
revelation. A prevailing sadness, occasionally a painful tone of
bitterness, characterized these more serious moods of his, but I do
not think that, at the end of that week, I would, if I could, have
changed the man, whom I was learning to revere and to pity, for the
light-hearted playmate whom I felt was lost to me for ever.


II


The only feature of the family life which jarred on me was the
attitude of the two brothers towards the children. I did not
notice this much at first, and at all times it was a thing to be
felt rather than to be seen. George himself never seemed quite at
ease with them. The boys were strong and well grown, healthy in
mind and body; and one would have thought that the existence of two
such representatives to carry on his name and inherit his fortune
would have been the very crown of pride and happiness to their
father. But it was not so. Lucy indeed was devoted to them, and
in all practical matters no one could have been kinder to them than
was George. They were free of the whole house, and every
indulgence that money could buy for them they had. I never heard
him give them a harsh word. But there was something wrong. A
constraint in their presence, a relief in their absence, an evident
dislike of discussing them and their affairs, a total want of that
enjoyment of love and possession which in such a case one might
have expected to find. Alan's state of mind was even more marked.
Never did I hear him willingly address his nephews, or in any way
allude to their existence. I should have said that he simply
ignored it, but for the heavy gloom which always overspread his
spirits in their company, and for the glances which he would now
and again cast in their direction--glances full of some hidden
painful emotion, though of what nature it would have been hard to
define. Indeed, Alan's attitude towards her children I soon found
to be the only source of friction between Lucy and this otherwise
much-loved member of her husband's family. I asked her one day why
the boys never appeared at luncheon.

"Oh, they come when Alan is away," she answered; "but they seem to
annoy him so much that George thinks it is better to keep them out
of sight when he is here. It is very tiresome. I know that it is
the fashion to say that George has got the temper of the family;
but I assure you that Alan's nervous moods and fancies are much
more difficult to live with."

That was on the morning--a Friday it was--of the last day which we
were to spend alone. The guests were to arrive soon after tea; and
I think that with the knowledge of their approach Alan and I
prolonged our ride that afternoon beyond its usual limits. We were
on our way home, and it was already dusk, when a turn of the path
brought us face to face with the old ruined tower, of which I have
already spoken as standing at the head of the valley. I had not
been close up to it yet during this visit at Mervyn. It had been a
very favorite haunt of ours as children, and partly on that
account, partly perhaps in order to defer the dreaded close of our
ride to the last possible moment, I proposed an inspection of it.
The only portion of the old building left standing in any kind of
entirety was two rooms, one above the other. The tower room, level
with the bottom of the moat, was dark and damp, and it was the
upper one, reached by a little outside staircase, which had been
our rendezvous of old. Alan showed no disposition to enter, and
said that he would stay outside and hold my horse, so I dismounted
and ran up alone.

The room seemed in no way changed. A mere stone shell, littered
with fragments of wood and mortar. There was the rough wooden
block on which Alan used to sit while he first frightened us with
bogey-stories, and then calmed our excited nerves by rapid sallies
of wild nonsense. There was the plank from behind which, erected
as a barrier across the doorway, he would defend the castle against
our united assault, pelting us with fir-cones and sods of earth.
This and many a bygone scene thronged on me as I stood there, and
the room filled again with the memories of childish mirth. And
following close came those of childish terrors. Horrors which had
oppressed me then, wholly imagined or dimly apprehended from half-
heard traditions, and never thought of since, flitted around me in
the gathering dusk. And with them it seemed to me as if there came
other memories too,--memories which had never been my own, of
scenes whose actors had long been with the dead, but which,
immortal as the spirit before whose eyes they had dwelt, still
lingered in the spot where their victim had first learnt to shudder
at their presence. Once the ghastly notion came to me, it seized
on my imagination with irresistible force. It seemed as if from
the darkened corners of the room vague, ill-defined shapes were
actually peering out at me. When night came they would show
themselves in that form, livid and terrible, in which they had been
burnt into the brain and heart of the long ago dead.

I turned and glanced towards where I had left Alan. I could see
his figure framed in by the window, a black shadow against the gray
twilight of the sky behind. Erect and perfectly motionless he sat,
so motionless as to look almost lifeless, gazing before him down
the valley into the illimitable distance beyond. There was
something in that stern immobility of look and attitude which
struck me with a curious sense of congruity. It was right that he
should be thus--right that he should be no longer the laughing boy
who a moment before had been in my memory. The haunting horrors of
that place seemed to demand it, and for the first time I felt that
I understood the change. With an effort I shook myself free from
these fancies, and turned to go. As I did so, my eye fell upon a
queer-shaped painted board, leaning up against the wall, which I
well recollected in old times. Many a discussion had we had about
the legend inscribed upon it, which in our wisdom we had finally
pronounced to be German, chiefly because it was illegible. Though
I had loudly professed my faith in this theory at the time, I had
always had uneasy doubts on the subject, and now half smiling I
bent down to verify or remove them. The language was English, not
German; but the badly painted, faded Gothic letters in which it was
written made the mistake excusable. In the dim light I had
difficulty even now in deciphering the words, and felt when I had
done so that neither the information conveyed nor the style of the
composition was sufficient reward for the trouble I had taken.
This is what I read:


"Where the woman sinned the maid shall win;
But God help the maid that sleeps within."


What the lines could refer to I neither had any notion nor did I
pause then even in my own mind to inquire. I only remember vaguely
wondering whether they were intended for a tombstone or for a
doorway. Then, continuing my way, I rapidly descended the steps
and remounted my horse, glad to find myself once again in the open
air and by my cousin's side.

The train of thought into which he had sunk during my absence was
apparently an absorbing one, for to my first question as to the
painted board he could hardly rouse himself to answer.

"A board with a legend written on it? Yes, he remembered something
of the kind there. It had always been there, he thought. He knew
nothing about it,"--and so the subject was not continued.

The weird feelings which had haunted me in the tower still
oppressed me, and I proceeded to ask Alan about that old Dame Alice
whom the traditions of my childhood represented as the last
occupant of the ruined building. Alan roused himself now, but did
not seem anxious to impart information on the subject. She had
lived there, he admitted, and no one had lived there since. "Had
she not," I inquired, "something to do with the mysterious cabinet
at the house? I remember hearing it spoken of as 'Dame Alice's
cabinet.'

"So they say," he assented; "she and an Italian artificer who was
in her service, and who, chiefly I imagine on account of his skill,
shared with her the honor of reputed witchcraft."

"She was the mother of Hugh Mervyn, the man who was murdered by his
wife, was she not?" I asked.

"Yes," said Alan, briefly.

"And had she not something to do with the curse?" I inquired after
a short pause, and nervously I remembered my father's experience on
that subject, and I had never before dared to allude to it in the
presence of any member of the family. My nervousness was fully
warranted. The gloom on Alan's brow deepened, and after a very
short "They say so" he turned full upon me, and inquired with some
asperity why on earth I had developed this sudden curiosity about
his ancestress.

I hesitated a moment, for I was a little ashamed of my fancies; but
the darkness gave me courage, and besides I was not afraid of
telling Alan--he would understand. I told him of the strange
sensations I had had while in the tower--sensations which had
struck me with all that force and clearness which we usually
associate with a direct experience of fact. "Of course it was a
trick of imagination," I commented; "but I could not get rid of the
feeling that the person who had dwelt there last must have had
terrible thoughts for the companions of her life."

Alan listened in silence, and the silence continued for some time
after I had ceased speaking.

"It is strange," he said at last; "instincts which we do not
understand form the motive-power of most of our life's actions, and
yet we refuse to admit them as evidence of any external truth. I
suppose it is because we MUST act somehow, rightly or wrongly; and
there are a great many things which we need not believe unless we
choose. As for this old lady, she lived long--long enough, like
most of us, to do evil; unlike most of us, long enough to witness
some of the results of that evil. To say that, is to say that the
last years of her life must have been weighted heavily enough with
tragic thought."

I gave a little shudder of repulsion.

"That is a depressing view of life, Alan," I said. "Does our peace
of mind depend only upon death coming early enough to hide from us
the truth? And, after all, can it? Our spirits do not die. From
another world they may witness the fruits of our lives in this
one."

"If they do," he answered with sudden violence, "it is absurd to
doubt the existence of a purgatory. There must in such a case be a
terrible one in store for the best among us."

I was silent. The shadow that lay on his soul did not penetrate to
mine, but it hung round me nevertheless, a cloud which I felt
powerless to disperse.

After a moment he went on,--"Provided that they are distant enough,
how little, after all, do we think of the results of our actions!
There are few men who would deliberately instill into a child a
love of drink, or wilfully deprive him of his reason; and yet a man
with drunkenness or madness in his blood thinks nothing of bringing
children into the world tainted as deeply with the curse as if he
had inoculated them with it directly. There is no responsibility
so completely ignored as this one of marriage and fatherhood, and
yet how heavy it is and far-reaching."

"Well," I said, smiling, "let us console ourselves with the thought
that we are not all lunatics and drunkards."

"No," he answered; "but there are other evils besides these, moral
taints as well as physical, curses which have their roots in worlds
beyond our own,--sins of the fathers which are visited upon the
children."

He had lost all violence and bitterness of tone now; but the weary
dejection which had taken their place communicated itself to my
spirit with more subtle power than his previous mood had owned.

"That is why," he went on, and his manner seemed to give more
purpose to his speech than hitherto,--"that is why, so far as I am
concerned, I mean to shirk the responsibility and remain
unmarried."

I was hardly surprised at his words. I felt that I had expected
them, but their utterance seemed to intensify the gloom which
rested upon us. Alan was the first to arouse himself from its
influence.

"After all," he said, turning round to me and speaking lightly,
"without looking so far and so deep, I think my resolve is a
prudent one. Above all things, let us take life easily, and you
know what St. Paul says about 'trouble in the flesh,'--a remark
which I am sure is specially applicable to briefless barristers,
even though possessed of a modest competence of their own. Perhaps
one of these days, when I am a fat old judge, I shall give my cook
a chance if she is satisfactory in her clear soups; but till then I
shall expect you, Evie, to work me one pair of carpet-slippers per
annum, as tribute due to a bachelor cousin."

I don't quite know what I answered,--my heart was heavy and
aching,--but I tried with true feminine docility to follow the lead
he had set me. He continued for some time in the same vein; but as
we approached the house the effort seemed to become too much for
him, and we relapsed again into silence.

This time I was the first to break it. "I suppose," I said,
drearily, "all those horrid people will have come by now."

"Horrid people," he repeated, with rather an uncertain laugh, and
through the darkness I saw his figure bend forward as he stretched
out his hand to caress my horse's neck. "Why, Evie, I thought you
were pining for gayety, and that it was, in fact, for the purpose
of meeting these 'horrid people' that you came here."

"Yes, I know," I said, wistfully; "but somehow the last week has
been so pleasant that I cannot believe that anything will ever be
quite so nice again."

We had arrived at the house as I spoke, and the groom was standing
at our horses' heads. Alan got off and came round to help me to
dismount; but instead of putting up his arm as usual as a support
for me to spring from, he laid his hand on mine. "Yes, Evie," he
said, "it has been indeed a pleasant time. God bless you for it."
For an instant he stood there looking up at me, his face full in
the light which streamed from the open door, his gray eyes shining
with a radiance which was not wholly from thence. Then he
straightened his arm, I sprang to the ground, and as if to preclude
the possibility of any answer on my part, he turned sharply on his
heel, and began giving some orders to the groom. I went on alone
into the house, feeling, I knew not and cared not to know why, that
the gloom had fled from my spirit, and that the last ride had not
after all been such a melancholy failure as it had bid fair at one
time to become.


III


In the hall I was met by the housekeeper, who informed me that,
owing to a misunderstanding about dates, a gentleman had arrived
whom Lucy had not expected at that time, and that in consequence my
room had been changed. My things had been put into the East Room,--
the haunted room,--the room of the Closed Cabinet, as I remembered
with a certain sense of pleased importance, though without any
surprise. It stood apart from the other guest-rooms, at the end of
the passage from which opened George and Lucy's private apartment;
and as it was consequently disagreeable to have a stranger there,
it was always used when the house was full for a member of the
family. My father and mother had often slept there: there was a
little room next to it, though not communicating with it, which
served for a dressing-room. Though I had never passed the night
there myself, I knew it as well as any room in the house. I went
there at once, and found Lucy superintending the last arrangements
for my comfort.

She was full of apologies for the trouble she was giving me. I
told her that the apologies were due to my maid and to her own
servants rather than to me; "and besides," I added, glancing round,
"I am distinctly a gainer by the change."

"You know, of course," she said, lightly, "that this is the haunted
room of the house, and that you have no right to be here?"

"I know it is the haunted room," I answered; "but why have I no
right to be here?"

"Oh, I don't know," she said. "There is one of those tiresome
Mervyn traditions against allowing unmarried girls to sleep in this
room. I believe two girls died in it a hundred and fifty years
ago, or something of that sort."

"But I should think that people, married or unmarried, must have
died in nearly every room in the house," I objected.

"Oh, yes, of course they have," said Lucy; "but once you come
across a bit of superstition in this family, it is of no use to ask
for reasons. However, this particular bit is too ridiculous even
for George. Owing to Mr. Leslie having come to-day, we must use
every room in the house: it is intolerable having a stranger here,
and you are the only relation staying with us. I pointed all that
out to George, and he agreed that, under the circumstances, it
would be absurd not to put you here."

"I am quite agreeable," I answered; "and, indeed, I think I am
rather favored in having a room where the last recorded death
appears to have taken place a hundred and fifty years ago,
particularly as I should think that there can be scarcely anything
now left in it which was here then, except, of course, the
cabinet."

The room had, in fact, been entirely done up and refurnished by my
uncle, and was as bright and modern-looking an apartment as you
could wish to see. It was large, and the walls were covered with
one of those white and gold papers which were fashionable thirty
years ago. Opposite us, as we stood warming our backs before the
fire, was the bed--a large double one, hung with a pretty shade of
pale blue. Material of the same color covered the comfortable
modern furniture, and hung from gilded cornices before the two
windows which pierced the side of the room on our left. Between
them stood the toilet-table, all muslin, blue ribbons, and silver.
The carpet was a gray and blue Brussels one. The whole effect was
cheerful, though I fear inartistic, and sadly out of keeping with
the character of the house. The exception to these remarks was, as
I had observed, the famous closed cabinet, to which I have more
than once alluded. It stood against the same wall of the room as
that in which the fireplace was, and on our right--that is, on that
side of the fireplace which was farthest from the windows. As I
spoke, I turned to go and look at it, and Lucy followed me. Many
an hour as a child had I passed in front of it, fingering the seven
carved brass handles, or rather buttons, which were ranged down its
center. They all slid, twisted, or screwed with the greatest ease,
and apparently like many another ingeniously contrived lock; but
neither I nor any one else had ever yet succeeded in sliding,
twisting, or screwing them after such a fashion as to open the
closed doors of the cabinet. No one yet had robbed them of their
secret since first it was placed there three hundred years ago by
the old lady and her faithful Italian. It was a beautiful piece of
workmanship, was this tantalizing cabinet. Carved out of some dark
foreign wood, the doors and panels were richly inlaid with lapis-
lazuli, ivory, and mother-of-pearl, among which were twisted
delicately chased threads of gold and silver. Above the doors,
between them and the cornice, lay another mystery, fully as
tormenting as was the first. In a smooth strip of wood about an
inch wide, and extending along the whole breadth of the cabinet,
was inlaid a fine pattern in gold wire. This at first sight seemed
to consist of a legend or motto. On looking closer, however,
though the pattern still looked as if it was formed out of
characters of the alphabet curiously entwined together, you found
yourself unable to fix upon any definite word, or even letter. You
looked again and again, and the longer that you looked the more
certain became your belief that you were on the verge of discovery.
If you could approach the mysterious legend from a slightly
different point of view, or look at it from another distance, the
clew to the puzzle would be seized, and the words would stand forth
clear and legible in your sight. But the clew never had been
discovered, and the motto, if there was one, remained unread.

For a few minutes we stood looking at the cabinet in silence, and
then Lucy gave a discontented little sigh. "There's another
tiresome piece of superstition," she exclaimed; "by far the
handsomest piece of furniture in the house stuck away here in a
bedroom which is hardly ever used. Again and again have I asked
George to let me have it moved downstairs, but he won't hear of
it."

"Was it not placed here by Dame Alice herself?" I inquired a little
reproachfully, for I felt that Lucy was not treating the cabinet
with the respect which it really deserved.

"Yes, so they say," she answered; and the tone of light contempt in
which she spoke was now pierced by a not unnatural pride in the
romantic mysteries of her husband's family. "She placed it here,
and it is said, you know, that when the closed cabinet is opened,
and the mysterious motto is read, the curse will depart from the
Mervyn family."

"But why don't they break it open?" I asked, impatiently. "I am
sure that I would never have remained all my life in a house with a
thing like that, and not found out in some way or another what was
inside it."

"Oh, but that would be quite fatal," answered she. "The curse can
only be removed when the cabinet is opened as Dame Alice intended
it to be, in an orthodox fashion. If you were to force it open,
that could never happen, and the curse would therefore remain for
ever."

"And what is the curse?" I asked, with very different feelings to
those with which I had timidly approached the same subject with
Alan. Lucy was not a Mervyn, and not a person to inspire awe under
any circumstances. My instincts were right again, for she turned
away with a slight shrug of her shoulders.

"I have no idea," she said. "George and Alan always look
portentously solemn and gloomy whenever one mentions the subject,
so I don't. If you ask me for the truth, I believe it to be a pure
invention, devised by the Mervyns for the purpose of delicately
accounting for some of the disreputable actions of their ancestors.
For you know, Evie," she added, with a little laugh, "the less said
about the character of the family into which your aunt and I have
married the better."

The remark made me angry, I don't know why, and I answered stiffly,
that as far as I was acquainted with them, I at least saw nothing
to complain of.

"Oh, as regards the present generation, no,--except for that poor,
wretched Jack," acquiesced Lucy, with her usual imperturbable good-
humor.

"And as regards the next?" I suggested, smiling, and already
ashamed of my little temper.

"The next is perfect, of course,--poor dear boys." She sighed as
she spoke, and I wondered whether she was really as unconscious as
she generally appeared to be of the strange dissatisfaction with
which her husband seemed to regard his children. Anyhow the
mention of them had evidently changed her mood, and almost directly
afterwards, with the remark that she must go and look after her
guests, who had all arrived by now, she left me to myself.

For some minutes I sat by the bright fire, lost in aimless,
wandering thought, which began with Dame Alice and her cabinet, and
which ended somehow with Alan's face, as I had last seen it looking
up at me in front of the hall-door. When I had reached that point,
I roused myself to decide that I had dreamt long enough, and that
it was quite time to go down to the guests and to tea. I
accordingly donned my best teagown, arranged my hair, and proceeded
towards the drawing-room. My way there lay through the great
central hall. This apartment was approached from most of the
bedrooms in the house through a large, arched doorway at one end of
it, which communicated directly with the great staircase. My
bedroom, however, which, as I have said, lay among the private
apartments of the house, opened into a passage which led into a
broad gallery, or upper chamber, stretching right across the end of
the hall. From this you descended by means of a small staircase in
oak, whose carved balustrade, bending round the corner of the hall,
formed one of the prettiest features of the picturesque old room.
The barrier which ran along the front of the gallery was in solid
oak, and of such a height that, unless standing close up to it, you
could neither see nor be seen by the occupants of the room below.
On approaching this gallery I heard voices in the hall. They were
George's and Alan's, evidently in hot discussion. As I issued from
the passage, George was speaking, and his voice had that
exasperated tone in which an angry man tries to bring to a close an
argument in which he has lost his temper. "For heaven's sake leave
it alone, Alan; I neither can nor will interfere. We have enough
to bear from these cursed traditions as it is, without adding one
which has no foundation whatever to justify it--a mere contemptible
piece of superstition."

"No member of our family has a right to call any tradition
contemptible which is connected with that place, and you know it,"
answered Alan; and though he spoke low, his voice trembled with
some strong emotion. A first impulse of hesitation which I had had
I checked, feeling that as I had heard so much it was fairer to go
on, and I advanced to the top of the staircase. Alan stood by the
fireplace facing me, but far too occupied to see me. His last
speech had seemingly aroused George to fury, for the latter turned
on him now with savage passion.

"Damn it all, Alan!" he cried, "can't you be quiet? I will be
master in my own house. Take care, I tell you; the curse may not
be quite fulfilled yet after all."

As George uttered these words, Alan lifted his eyes to him with a
glance of awful horror: his face turned ghastly white; his lips
trembled for a moment; and then he answered back with one half-
whispered word of supreme appeal--"George!" There was a long-
drawn, unutterable anguish in his tone, and his voice, though
scarcely audible, penetrated to every corner of the room, and
seemed to hang quivering in the air around one after the sound had
ceased. Then there was a terrible stillness. Alan stood trembling
in every limb, incapable apparently of speech or action, and George
faced him, as silent and motionless as he was. For an instant they
remained thus, while I looked breathlessly on. Then George, with a
muttered imprecation, turned on his heel and left the room. Alan
followed him as he went with dull lifeless eyes; and as the door
closed he breathed deeply, with a breath that was almost a groan.

Taking my courage in both hands, I now descended the stairs, and at
the sound of my footfall he glanced up, started, and then came
rapidly to meet me.

"Evie! you here," he said; "I did not notice you. How long have
you been here?" He was still quite white, and I noticed that he
panted for breath as he spoke.

"Not long," I answered, timidly, and rather spasmodically; "I only
heard a sentence or two. You wanted George to do something about
some tradition or other,--and he was angry,--and he said something
about the curse."

While I spoke Alan kept his eyes fixed on mine, reading through
them, as I knew, into my mind. When I had finished he turned his
gaze away satisfied, and answered very quietly, "Yes, that was it."
Then he went back to the fireplace, rested his arm against the high
mantelpiece above it, and leaning his forehead on his arm, remained
silently looking into the fire. I could see by his bent brow and
compressed lips that he was engaged upon some earnest train of
thought or reasoning, and I stood waiting--worried, puzzled,
curious, but above all things, pitiful, and oh! longing so
intensely to help him if I could. Presently he straightened
himself a little, and addressed me more in his ordinary tone of
voice, though without looking round. "So I hear they have changed
your room."

"Yes," I answered. And then, flushing rather, "Is that what you
and George have been quarreling about?" I received no reply, and
taking this silence for assent, I went on deprecatingly, "Because
you know, if it was, I think you are rather foolish, Alan. As I
understand, two girls are said to have died in that room more than
a hundred years ago, and for that reason there is a prejudice
against putting a girl to sleep there. That is all. Merely a
vague, unreasonable tradition."

Alan took a moment to answer.

"Yes," he said at length, speaking slowly, and as if replying to
arguments in his own mind as much as to those which I had uttered.
"Yes, it is nothing but a tradition after all, and that of the very
vaguest and most unsupported kind."

"Is there even any proof that girls have not slept there since
those two died?" I asked. I think that the suggestion conveyed in
this question was a relief to him, for after a moment's pause, as
if to search his memory, he turned round.

"No," he answered, "I don't think that there is any such proof; and
I have no doubt that you are right, and that it is a mere prejudice
that makes me dislike your sleeping there."

"Then," I said, with a little assumption of sisterly superiority,
"I think George was right, and that you were wrong."

Alan smiled,--a smiled which sat oddly on the still pale face, and
in the wearied, worn-looking eyes. "Very likely," he said; "I
daresay that I am superstitious. I have had things to make me so."
Then coming nearer to me, and laying his hands on my shoulders, he
went on, smiling more brightly, "We are a queer-tempered, bad-
nerved race, we Mervyns, and you must not take us too seriously,
Evie. The best thing that you can do with our odd ways is to
ignore them."

"Oh, I don't mind," I answered, laughing, too glad to have won him
back to even temporary brightness, "as long as you and George don't
come to blows over the question of where I am to sleep; which after
all is chiefly my concern,--and Lucy's."

"Well, perhaps it is," he replied, in the same tone; "and now be
off to the drawing-room, where Lucy is defending the tea-table
single-handed all this time."

I obeyed, and should have gone more cheerfully had I not turned at
the doorway to look back at him, and caught one glimpse of his face
as he sank heavily down into the large arm-chair by the fireside.

However, by dinner-time he appeared to have dismissed all painful
reflections from his mind, or to have buried them too deep for
discovery. The people staying in the house were, in spite of my
sense of grievance at their arrival, individually pleasant, and
after dinner I discovered them to be socially well assorted. For
the first hour or two, indeed, after their arrival, each glared at
the other across those triple lines of moral fortification behind
which every well-bred Briton takes refuge on appearing at a
friend's country-house. But flags of truce were interchanged over
the soup, an armistice was agreed upon during the roast, and the
terms of a treaty of peace and amity were finally ratified under
the sympathetic influence of George's best champagne. For the
achievement of this happy result Alan certainly worked hard, and
received therefor many a grateful glance from his sister-in-law.
He was more excited than I had ever seen him before, and talked
brilliantly and well--though perhaps not as exclusively to his
neighbors as they may have wished. His eyes and his attention
seemed everywhere at once: one moment he was throwing remarks
across to some despairing couple opposite, and the next he was
breaking an embarrassing pause in the conversation by some rapid
sally of nonsense addressed to the table in general. He formed a
great contrast to his brother, who sat gloomy and dejected, making
little or no response to the advances of the two dowagers between
whom he was placed. After dinner the younger members of the party
spent the evening by Alan's initiative, and chiefly under his
direction, in a series of lively and rather riotous games such as
my nursery days had delighted in, and my schoolroom ones had
disdained. It was a great and happy surprise to discover that,
grown up, I might again enjoy them. I did so, hugely, and when
bedtime came all memories more serious than those of "musical
chairs" or "follow my leader" had vanished from my mind. I think,
from Alan's glance as he handed me my bed candle, that the pleasure
and excitement must have improved my looks.

"I hope you have enjoyed your first evening of gayety, Evie," he
said.

"I have," I answered, with happy conviction; "and really I believe
that it is chiefly owing to you, Alan." He met my smile by
another; but I think that there must have been something in his
look which recalled other thoughts, for as I started up the stairs
I threw a mischievous glance back at him and whispered, "Now for
the horrors of the haunted chamber."

He laughed rather loudly, and saying "Good-night, and good-luck,"
turned to attend to the other ladies.

His wishes were certainly fulfilled. I got to bed quickly, and--as
soon as my happy excitement was sufficiently calmed to admit of it--
to sleep. The only thing which disturbed me was the wind, which
blew fiercely and loudly all the earlier portion of the night, half
arousing me more than once. I spoke of it at breakfast the next
morning; but the rest of the world seemed to have slept too heavily
to have been aware of it.


IV


The men went out shooting directly after breakfast, and we women
passed the day in orthodox country-house fashion,--working and
eating; walking and riding; driving and playing croquet; and above,
beyond, and through all things, chattering. Beyond a passing sigh
while I was washing my hands, or a moment of mournful remembrance
while I changed my dress, I had scarcely time even to regret the
quiet happiness of the week that was past. In the evening we
danced in the great hall. I had two valses with Alan. During a
pause for breath, I found that we were standing near the fireplace,
on the very spot where he and George had stood on the previous
afternoon. The recollection made me involuntarily glance up at his
face. It looked sad and worried, and the thought suddenly struck
me that his extravagant spirits of the night before, and even his
quieter, careful cheerfulness of to-night, had been but artificial
moods at best. He turned, and finding my eyes fixed on him, at
once plunged into conversation, discussed the peculiarities of one
of the guests, good-humoredly enough, but with so much fun as to
make me laugh in spite of myself. Then we danced again. The
plaintive music, the smooth floor, and the partner were all alike
perfect, and I experienced that entire delight of physical
enjoyment which I believe nothing but a valse under such
circumstances can give. When it was over I turned to Alan, and
exclaimed with impulsive appeal, "Oh, I am so happy,--you must be
happy too!" He smiled rather uncertainly, and answered, "Don't
bother yourself about me, Evie, I am all right. I told you that we
Mervyns had bad nerves; and I am rather tired. That's all." I was
too passionately determined just then upon happiness, and his was
too necessary to mine for me not to believe that he was speaking
the truth.

We kept up the dancing till Lucy discovered with a shock that
midnight had struck, and that Sunday had begun, and we were all
sent off to bed. I was not long in making my nightly preparations,
and had scarcely inserted myself between the sheets when, with a
few long moans, the wind began again, more violently even than the
night before. It had been a calm, fine day, and I made wise
reflections as I listened upon the uncertainty of the north-country
climate. What a tempest it was! How it moaned, and howled, and
shrieked! Where had I heard the superstition which now came to my
mind, that borne upon the wind come the spirits of the drowned,
wailing and crying for the sepulture which had been denied them?
But there were other sounds in that wind, too. Evil, murderous
thoughts, perhaps, which had never taken body in deeds, but which,
caught up in the air, now hurled themselves in impotent fury
through the world. How I wished the wind would stop. It seemed
full of horrible fancies, and it kept knocking them into my head,
and it wouldn't leave off. Fancies, or memories--which?--and my
mind reverted with a flash to the fearful thoughts which had
haunted it the day before in Dame Alice's tower. It was dark now.
Those ghastly intangible shapes must have taken full form and
color, peopling the old ruin with their ageless hideousness. And
the storm had found them there and borne them along with it as it
blew through the creviced walls. That was why the wind's sound
struck so strangely on my brain. Ah! I could hear them now, those
still living memories of dead horror. Through the window crannies
they came shrieking and wailing. They filled the chimney with
spirit sobs, and now they were pressing on, crowding through the
room,--eager, eager to reach their prey. Nearer they came;--nearer
still! They were round my bed now! Through my closed eyelids I
could almost see their dreadful shapes; in all my quivering flesh I
felt their terrors as they bent over me,--lower, lower. . . .

With a start I aroused myself and sat up. Was I asleep or awake?
I was trembling all over still, and it required the greatest effort
of courage I had ever made to enable me to spring from my bed and
strike a light. What a state my nerves or my digestion must be in!
From my childhood the wind had always affected me strangely, and I
blamed myself now for allowing my imagination to run away with me
at the first. I found a novel which I had brought up to my room
with me, one of the modern, Chinese-American school, where human
nature is analyzed with the patient, industrious indifference of
the true Celestial. I took the book to bed with me, and soon under
its soothing influences fell asleep. I dreamt a good deal,--
nightmares, the definite recollection of which, as is so often the
case, vanished from my mind as soon as I awoke, leaving only a
vague impression of horror. They had been connected with the wind,
of that alone I was conscious, and I went down to breakfast,
maliciously hoping that others' rest had been as much disturbed as
my own.

To my surprise, however, I found that I had again been the only
sufferer. Indeed, so impressed were most of the party with the
quiet in which their night had been passed, that they boldly
declared my storm to have been the creature of my dreams. There is
nothing more annoying when you feel yourself aggrieved by fate than
to be told that your troubles have originated in your own fancy; so
I dropped the subject. Though the discussion spread for a few
minutes round the whole table, Alan took no part in it. Neither
did George, except for what I thought a rather unnecessarily rough
expression of his disbelief in the cause of my night's disturbance.
As we rose from breakfast I saw Alan glance towards his brother,
and make a movement, evidently with the purpose of speaking to him.
Whether or not George was aware of the look or action, I cannot
say; but at the same moment he made rapidly across the room to
where one of his principal guests was standing, and at once engaged
him in conversation. So earnestly and so volubly was he borne on,
that they were still talking together when we ladies appeared again
some minutes later, prepared for our walk to church. That was not
the only occasion during the day on which I witnessed as I thought
the same by-play going on. Again and again Alan appeared to be
making efforts to engage George in private conversation, and again
and again the latter successfully eluded him.

The church was about a mile away from the house, and as Lucy did
not like having the carriages out on a Sunday, one service a week
as a rule contented the household. In the afternoon we took the
usual Sunday walk. On returning from it, I had just taken off my
outdoor things, and was issuing from my bedroom, when I found
myself face to face with Alan. He was coming out of George's
study, and had succeeded apparently in obtaining that interview for
which he had been all day seeking. One glance at his face told me
what its nature had been. We paused opposite each other for a
moment, and he looked at me earnestly.

"Are you going to church?" he inquired at last, abruptly.

"No," I answered, with some surprise. "I did not know that any one
was going this evening."

"Will you come with me?"

"Yes, certainly; if you don't mind waiting a moment for me to put
my things on."

"There's plenty of time," he answered; "meet me in the hall."


A few minutes later we started.

It was a calm, cloudless night, and although the moon was not yet
half-full, and already past her meridian, she filled the clear air
with gentle light. Not a word broke our silence. Alan walked
hurriedly, looking straight before him, his head upright, his lips
twitching nervously, while every now and then a half-uttered moan
escaped unconsciously from between them. At last I could bear it
no longer, and burst forth with the first remark which occurred to
me. We were passing a big, black, queer-shaped stone standing in
rather a lonely uncultivated spot at one end of the garden. It was
an old acquaintance of my childhood; but my thoughts had been
turned towards it now from the fact that I could see it from my
bedroom window, and had been struck afresh by its uncouth,
incongruous appearance.

"Isn't there some story connected with that stone?" I asked. "I
remember that we always called it the Dead Stone as children."

Alan cast a quick, sidelong glance in that direction, and his brows
contracted in an irritable frown. "I don't know," he answered
shortly; "they say that there is a woman buried beneath it, I
believe."

"A woman buried there!" I exclaimed in surprise; "but who?"

"How should I know? They know nothing whatever about it. The
place is full of stupid traditions of that kind." Then, looking
suspiciously round at me, "Why do you ask?"

"I don't know; it was just something to say," I answered
plaintively. His strange mood so worked upon my nerves, that it
was all that I could do to restrain my tears. I think that my tone
struck his conscience, for he made a few feverish attempts at
conversation after that. But they were so entirely abortive that
he soon abandoned the effort, and we finished our walk to church as
speechlessly as we had begun it.

The service was bright, and the sermon perhaps a little
commonplace, but sensible as it seemed to me in matter, and
adequate in style. The peaceful evening hymn which followed, the
short solemn pause of silent prayer at the end, soothed and
refreshed my spirit. A hasty glance at my companion's face as he
stood waiting for me in the porch, with the full light from the
church streaming round him, assured me that the same influence had
touched him too. Haggard and sad he still looked, it is true; but
his features were composed, and the expression of actual pain had
left his eyes.

Silent as we had come we started homeward through the waning
moonlight, but this silence was of a very different nature to the
other, and after a minute or two I did not hesitate to break it.

"It was a good sermon?" I observed, interrogatively.

"Yes," he assented, "I suppose you would call it so; but I confess
that I should have found the text more impressive without its
exposition."

"Poor man!"

"But don't you often find it so?" he asked. "Do you not often
wish, to take this evening's instance, that clergymen would infuse
themselves with something of St. Paul's own spirit? Then perhaps
they would not water all the strength out of his words in their
efforts to explain them."

"That is rather a large demand to make upon them, is it not?"

"Is it?" he questioned. "I don't ask them to be inspired saints.
I don't expect St. Paul's breadth and depth of thought. But could
they not have something of his vigorous completeness, something of
the intensity of his feeling and belief? Look at the text of to-
night. Did not the preacher's examples and applications take
something from its awful unqualified strength?"

"Awful!" I exclaimed, in surprise; "that is hardly the expression I
should have used in connection with those words."

"Why not?"

"Oh, I don't know. The text is very beautiful, of course, and at
times, when people are tiresome and one ought to be nice to them,
it is very difficult to act up to. But--"

"But you think that 'awful' is rather a big adjective to use for so
small a duty," interposed Alan, and the moonlight showed the
flicker of a smile upon his face. Then he continued, gravely, "I
doubt whether you yourself realize the full import of the words.
The precept of charity is not merely a code of rules by which to
order our conduct to our neighbors; it is the picture of a
spiritual condition, and such, where it exists in us, must by its
very nature be roused into activity by anything that affects us.
So with this particular injunction, every circumstance in our lives
is a challenge to it, and in presence of all alike it admits of one
attitude only: 'Beareth all things, endureth all things.' I hope
it will be long before that 'all' sticks in your gizzard, Evie,--
before you come face to face with things which nature cannot bear,
and yet which must be borne."

He stopped, his voice quivering; and then after a pause went on
again more calmly, "And throughout it is the same. Moral precepts
everywhere, which will admit of no compromise, no limitation, and
yet which are at war with our strongest passions. If one could
only interpose some 'unless,' some 'except,' even an 'until,' which
should be short of the grave. But we cannot. The law is infinite,
universal, eternal; there is no escape, no repose. Resist, strive,
endure, that is the recurring cry; that is existence."

"And peace," I exclaimed, appealingly. "Where is there room for
peace, if that be true?"

He sighed for answer, and then in a changed and lower tone added,
"However thickly the clouds mass, however vainly we search for a
coming glimmer in their midst, we never doubt that the sky IS still
beyond--beyond and around us, infinite and infinitely restful."

He raised his eyes as he spoke, and mine followed his. We had
entered the wooded glen. Through the scanty autumn foliage we
could see the stars shining faintly in the dim moonlight, and
beyond them the deep illimitable blue. A dark world it looked,
distant and mysterious, and my young spirit rebelled at the
consolation offered me.

"Peace seems a long way off," I whispered.

"It is for me," he answered, gently; "not necessarily for you."

"Oh, but I am worse and weaker than you are. If life is to be all
warfare, I must be beaten. I cannot always be fighting."

"Cannot you? Evie, what I have been saying is true of every moral
law worth having, of every ideal of life worth striving after, that
men have yet conceived. But it is only half the truth of
Christianity. You know that. We must strive, for the promise is
to him that overcometh; but though our aim be even higher than is
that of others, we cannot in the end fail to reach it. The victory
of the Cross is ours. You know that? You believe that?"

"Yes" I answered, softly, too surprised to say more. In speaking
of religion he, as a rule, showed to the full the reserve which is
characteristic of his class and country, and this sudden outburst
was in itself astonishing; but the eager anxiety with which he
emphasized the last words of appeal impressed and bewildered me
still further. We walked on for some minutes in silence. Then
suddenly Alan stopped, and turning, took my hand in his. In what
direction his mind had been working in the interval I could not
divine; but the moment he began to speak I felt that he was now for
the first time giving utterance to what had been really at the
bottom of his thoughts the whole evening. Even in that dim light I
could see the anxious look upon his face, and his voice shook with
restrained emotion.

"Evie," he said, "have you ever thought of the world in which our
spirits dwell, as our bodies do in this one of matter and sense,
and of how it may be peopled? I know," he went on hurriedly, "that
it is the fashion nowadays to laugh at such ideas. I envy those
who have never had cause to be convinced of their reality, and I
hope that you may long remain among the number. But should that
not be so, should those unseen influences ever touch your life, I
want you to remember then, that, as one of the race for whom Christ
died, you have as high a citizenship in that spirit land as any
creature there: that you are your own soul's warden, and that
neither principalities nor powers can rob you of that your
birthright."

I think my face must have shown my bewilderment, for he dropped my
hand, and walked on with an impatient sigh.

"You don't understand me. Why should you? I dare-say that I am
talking nonsense--only--only--"

His voice expressed such an agony of doubt and hesitation that I
burst out--

"I think that I do understand you a little, Alan. You mean that
even from unearthly enemies there is nothing that we need really
fear--at least, that is, I suppose, nothing worse than death. But
that is surely enough!"

"Why should you fear death?" he said, abruptly; "your soul will
live."

"Yes, I know that, but still--" I stopped with a shudder.

"What is life after all but one long death?" he went on, with
sudden violence. "Our pleasures, our hopes, our youth are all
dying; ambition dies, and even desire at last; our passions and
tastes will die, or will live only to mourn their dead opportunity.
The happiness of love dies with the loss of the loved, and, worst
of all, love itself grows old in our hearts and dies. Why should
we shrink only from the one death which can free us from all the
others?"

"It is not true, Alan!" I cried, hotly. "What you say is not true.
There are many things even here which are living and shall live;
and if it were otherwise, in everything, life that ends in death is
better than no life at all."

"You say that," he answered, "because for you these things are yet
living. To leave life now, therefore, while it is full and sweet,
untainted by death, surely that is not a fate to fear. Better, a
thousand times better, to see the cord cut with one blow while it
is still whole and strong, and to launch out straight into the
great ocean, than to sit watching through the slow years, while
strand after strand, thread by thread, loosens and unwinds itself,--
each with its own separate pang breaking, bringing the bitterness
of death without its release.

His manner, the despairing ring in his voice, alarmed me even more
than his words. Clinging to his arm with both hands, while the
tears sprang to my eyes--

"Alan," I cried, "don't say such things,--don't talk like that.
You are making me miserable."

He stopped short at my words, with bent head, his features hidden
in the shadow thus cast upon them,--nothing in his motionless form
to show what was passing within him. Then he looked up, and turned
his face to the moonlight and to me, laying his hand on one of
mine.

"Don't be afraid," he said; "it is all right, my little David. You
have driven the evil spirit away." And lifting my hand, he pressed
it gently to his lips. Then drawing it within his arm, he went on,
as he walked forward, "And even when it was on me at its worst, I
was not meditating suicide, as I think you imagine. I am a very
average specimen of humanity,--neither brave enough to defy the
possibilities of eternity nor cowardly enough to shirk those of
time. No, I was only trying idiotically to persuade a girl of
eighteen that life was not worth living; and more futilely still,
myself, that I did not wish her to live. I am afraid, that in my
mind philosophy and fact have but small connection with each other;
and though my theorizing for your welfare may be true enough, yet,--
I cannot help it, Evie,--it would go terribly hard with me if
anything were to happen to you."

His voice trembled as he finished. My fear had gone with his
return to his natural manner, but my bewilderment remained.

"Why SHOULD there anything happen to me?" I asked.

"That is just it," he answered, after a pause, looking straight in
front of him and drawing his hand wearily over his brow. "I know
of no reason why there should." Then giving a sigh, as if finally
to dismiss from his mind a worrying subject--"I have acted for the
best," he said, "and may God forgive me if I have done wrong."

There was a little silence after that, and then he began to talk
again, steadily and quietly. The subject was deep enough still, as
deep as any that we had touched upon, but both voice and sentiment
were calm, bringing peace to my spirit, and soon making me forget
the wonder and fear of a few moments before. Very openly did he
talk as we passed on across the long trunk shadows and through the
glades of silver light; and I saw farther then into the most sacred
recesses of his soul than I have ever done before or since.

When we reached home the moon had already set; but some of her
beams seemed to have been left behind within my heart, so pure and
peaceful was the light which filled it.

The same feeling continued with me all through that evening. After
dinner some of the party played and sang. As it was Sunday, and
Lucy was rigid in her views, the music was of a sacred character.
I sat in a low armchair in a dark corner of the room, my mind too
dreamy to think, and too passive to dream. I hardly interchanged
three words with Alan, who remained in a still darker spot,
invisible and silent the whole time. Only as we left the room to
go to bed, I heard Lucy ask him if he had a headache. I did not
hear his answer, and before I could see his face he had turned back
again into the drawing-room.


V


It was early, and when first I got to my room I felt little
inclined for sleep. I wandered to the window, and drawing aside
the curtains, looke





Next: By The Waters Of Paradise

Previous: Bourgonef



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