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





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