By The Waters Of Paradise
: American Mystery Stories
I remember my childhood very distinctly. I do not think that the
fact argues a good memory, for I have never been clever at learning
words by heart, in prose or rhyme; so that I believe my remembrance
of events depends much more upon the events themselves than upon my
possessing any special facility for recalling them. Perhaps I am
too imaginative, and the earliest impressions I received
were of a
kind to stimulate the imagination abnormally. A long series of
little misfortunes, so connected with each other as to suggest a
sort of weird fatality, so worked upon my melancholy temperament
when I was a boy that, before I was of age, I sincerely believed
myself to be under a curse, and not only myself, but my whole
family and every individual who bore my name.
I was born in the old place where my father, and his father, and
all his predecessors had been born, beyond the memory of man. It
is a very old house, and the greater part of it was originally a
castle, strongly fortified, and surrounded by a deep moat supplied
with abundant water from the hills by a hidden aqueduct. Many of
the fortifications have been destroyed, and the moat has been
filled up. The water from the aqueduct supplies great fountains,
and runs down into huge oblong basins in the terraced gardens, one
below the other, each surrounded by a broad pavement of marble
between the water and the flower-beds. The waste surplus finally
escapes through an artificial grotto, some thirty yards long, into
a stream, flowing down through the park to the meadows beyond, and
thence to the distant river. The buildings were extended a little
and greatly altered more than two hundred years ago, in the time of
Charles II., but since then little has been done to improve them,
though they have been kept in fairly good repair, according to our
In the gardens there are terraces and huge hedges of box and
evergreen, some of which used to be clipped into shapes of animals,
in the Italian style. I can remember when I was a lad how I used
to try to make out what the trees were cut to represent, and how I
used to appeal for explanations to Judith, my Welsh nurse. She
dealt in a strange mythology of her own, and peopled the gardens
with griffins, dragons, good genii and bad, and filled my mind with
them at the same time. My nursery window afforded a view of the
great fountains at the head of the upper basin, and on moonlight
nights the Welshwoman would hold me up to the glass and bid me look
at the mist and spray rising into mysterious shapes, moving
mystically in the white light like living things.
"It's the Woman of the Water," she used to say; and sometimes she
would threaten that if I did not go to sleep the Woman of the Water
would steal up to the high window and carry me away in her wet
The place was gloomy. The broad basins of water and the tall
evergreen hedges gave it a funereal look, and the damp-stained
marble causeways by the pools might have been made of tombstones.
The gray and weather-beaten walls and towers without, the dark and
massively furnished rooms within, the deep, mysterious recesses and
the heavy curtains, all affected my spirits. I was silent and sad
from my childhood. There was a great clock tower above, from which
the hours rang dismally during the day, and tolled like a knell in
the dead of night. There was no light nor life in the house, for
my mother was a helpless invalid, and my father had grown
melancholy in his long task of caring for her. He was a thin, dark
man, with sad eyes; kind, I think, but silent and unhappy. Next to
my mother, I believe he loved me better than anything on earth, for
he took immense pains and trouble in teaching me, and what he
taught me I have never forgotten. Perhaps it was his only
amusement, and that may be the reason why I had no nursery
governess or teacher of any kind while he lived.
I used to be taken to see my mother every day, and sometimes twice
a day, for an hour at a time. Then I sat upon a little stool near
her feet, and she would ask me what I had been doing, and what I
wanted to do. I dare say she saw already the seeds of a profound
melancholy in my nature, for she looked at me always with a sad
smile, and kissed me with a sigh when I was taken away.
One night, when I was just six years old, I lay awake in the
nursery. The door was not quite shut, and the Welsh nurse was
sitting sewing in the next room. Suddenly I heard her groan, and
say in a strange voice, "One--two--one--two!" I was frightened,
and I jumped up and ran to the door, barefooted as I was.
"What is it, Judith?" I cried, clinging to her skirts. I can
remember the look in her strange dark eyes as she answered:
"One--two leaden coffins, fallen from the ceiling!" she crooned,
working herself in her chair. "One--two--a light coffin and a
heavy coffin, falling to the floor!"
Then she seemed to notice me, and she took me back to bed and sang
me to sleep with a queer old Welsh song.
I do not know how it was, but the impression got hold of me that
she had meant that my father and mother were going to die very
soon. They died in the very room where she had been sitting that
night. It was a great room, my day nursery, full of sun when there
was any; and when the days were dark it was the most cheerful place
in the house. My mother grew rapidly worse, and I was transferred
to another part of the building to make place for her. They
thought my nursery was gayer for her, I suppose; but she could not
live. She was beautiful when she was dead, and I cried bitterly.
The light one, the light one--the heavy one to come," crooned the
Welshwoman. And she was right. My father took the room after my
mother was gone, and day by day he grew thinner and paler and
"The heavy one, the heavy one--all of lead," moaned my nurse, one
night in December, standing still, just as she was going to take
away the light after putting me to bed. Then she took me up again
and wrapped me in a little gown, and led me away to my father's
room. She knocked, but no one answered. She opened the door, and
we found him in his easy chair before the fire, very white, quite
So I was alone with the Welshwoman till strange people came, and
relations whom I had never seen; and then I heard them saying that
I must be taken away to some more cheerful place. They were kind
people, and I will not believe that they were kind only because I
was to be very rich when I grew to be a man. The world never
seemed to be a very bad place to me, nor all the people to be
miserable sinners, even when I was most melancholy. I do not
remember that anyone ever did me any great injustice, nor that I
was ever oppressed or ill treated in any way, even by the boys at
school. I was sad, I suppose, because my childhood was so gloomy,
and, later, because I was unlucky in everything I undertook, till I
finally believed I was pursued by fate, and I used to dream that
the old Welsh nurse and the Woman of the Water between them had
vowed to pursue me to my end. But my natural disposition should
have been cheerful, as I have often thought.
Among the lads of my age I was never last, or even among the last,
in anything; but I was never first. If I trained for a race, I was
sure to sprain my ankle on the day when I was to run. If I pulled
an oar with others, my oar was sure to break. If I competed for a
prize, some unforeseen accident prevented my winning it at the last
moment. Nothing to which I put my hand succeeded, and I got the
reputation of being unlucky, until my companions felt it was always
safe to bet against me, no matter what the appearances might be. I
became discouraged and listless in everything. I gave up the idea
of competing for any distinction at the University, comforting
myself with the thought that I could not fail in the examination
for the ordinary degree. The day before the examination began I
fell ill; and when at last I recovered, after a narrow escape from
death, I turned my back upon Oxford, and went down alone to visit
the old place where I had been born, feeble in health and
profoundly disgusted and discouraged. I was twenty-one years of
age, master of myself and of my fortune; but so deeply had the long
chain of small unlucky circumstances affected me that I thought
seriously of shutting myself up from the world to live the life of
a hermit and to die as soon as possible. Death seemed the only
cheerful possibility in my existence, and my thoughts soon dwelt
upon it altogether.
I had never shown any wish to return to my own home since I had
been taken away as a little boy, and no one had ever pressed me to
do so. The place had been kept in order after a fashion, and did
not seem to have suffered during the fifteen years or more of my
absence. Nothing earthly could affect those old gray walls that
had fought the elements for so many centuries. The garden was more
wild than I remembered it; the marble causeways about the pools
looked more yellow and damp than of old, and the whole place at
first looked smaller. It was not until I had wandered about the
house and grounds for many hours that I realized the huge size of
the home where I was to live in solitude. Then I began to delight
in it, and my resolution to live alone grew stronger.
The people had turned out to welcome me, of course, and I tried to
recognize the changed faces of the old gardener and the old
housekeeper, and to call them by name. My old nurse I knew at
once. She had grown very gray since she heard the coffins fall in
the nursery fifteen years before, but her strange eyes were the
same, and the look in them woke all my old memories. She went over
the house with me.
"And how is the Woman of the Water?" I asked, trying to laugh a
little. "Does she still play in the moonlight?"
"She is hungry," answered the Welshwoman, in a low voice.
"Hungry? Then we will feed her." I laughed. But old Judith
turned very pale, and looked at me strangely.
"Feed her? Aye--you will feed her well," she muttered, glancing
behind her at the ancient housekeeper, who tottered after us with
feeble steps through the halls and passages.
I did not think much of her words. She had always talked oddly, as
Welshwomen will, and though I was very melancholy I am sure I was
not superstitious, and I was certainly not timid. Only, as in a
far-off dream, I seemed to see her standing with the light in her
hand and muttering, "The heavy one--all of lead," and then leading
a little boy through the long corridors to see his father lying
dead in a great easy chair before a smoldering fire. So we went
over the house, and I chose the rooms where I would live; and the
servants I had brought with me ordered and arranged everything, and
I had no more trouble. I did not care what they did provided I was
left in peace and was not expected to give directions; for I was
more listless than ever, owing to the effects of my illness at
I dined in solitary state, and the melancholy grandeur of the vast
old dining-room pleased me. Then I went to the room I had selected
for my study, and sat down in a deep chair, under a bright light,
to think, or to let my thoughts meander through labyrinths of their
own choosing, utterly indifferent to the course they might take.
The tall windows of the room opened to the level of the ground upon
the terrace at the head of the garden. It was in the end of July,
and everything was open, for the weather was warm. As I sat alone
I heard the unceasing splash of the great fountains, and I fell to
thinking of the Woman of the Water. I rose and went out into the
still night, and sat down upon a seat on the terrace, between two
gigantic Italian flower pots. The air was deliciously soft and
sweet with the smell of the flowers, and the garden was more
congenial to me than the house. Sad people always like running
water and the sound of it at night, though I cannot tell why. I
sat and listened in the gloom, for it was dark below, and the pale
moon had not yet climbed over the hills in front of me, though all
the air above was light with her rising beams. Slowly the white
halo in the eastern sky ascended in an arch above the wooded
crests, making the outlines of the mountains more intensely black
by contrast, as though the head of some great white saint were
rising from behind a screen in a vast cathedral, throwing misty
glories from below. I longed to see the moon herself, and I tried
to reckon the seconds before she must appear. Then she sprang up
quickly, and in a moment more hung round and perfect in the sky. I
gazed at her, and then at the floating spray of the tall fountains,
and down at the pools, where the water lilies were rocking softly
in their sleep on the velvet surface of the moonlit water. Just
then a great swan floated out silently into the midst of the basin,
and wreathed his long neck, catching the water in his broad bill,
and scattering showers of diamonds around him.
Suddenly, as I gazed, something came between me and the light. I
looked up instantly. Between me and the round disk of the moon
rose a luminous face of a woman, with great strange eyes, and a
woman's mouth, full and soft, but not smiling, hooded in black,
staring at me as I sat still upon my bench. She was close to me--
so close that I could have touched her with my hand. But I was
transfixed and helpless. She stood still for a moment, but her
expression did not change. Then she passed swiftly away, and my
hair stood up on my head, while the cold breeze from her white
dress was wafted to my temples as she moved. The moonlight,
shining through the tossing spray of the fountain, made traceries
of shadow on the gleaming folds of her garments. In an instant she
was gone and I was alone.
I was strangely shaken by the vision, and some time passed before I
could rise to my feet, for I was still weak from my illness, and
the sight I had seen would have startled anyone. I did not reason
with myself, for I was certain that I had looked on the unearthly,
and no argument could have destroyed that belief. At last I got up
and stood unsteadily, gazing in the direction in which I thought
the face had gone; but there was nothing to be seen--nothing but
the broad paths, the tall, dark evergreen hedges, the tossing water
of the fountains and the smooth pool below. I fell back upon the
seat and recalled the face I had seen. Strange to say, now that
the first impression had passed, there was nothing startling in the
recollection; on the contrary, I felt that I was fascinated by the
face, and would give anything to see it again. I could retrace the
beautiful straight features, the long dark eyes, and the wonderful
mouth most exactly in my mind, and when I had reconstructed every
detail from memory I knew that the whole was beautiful, and that I
should love a woman with such a face.
"I wonder whether she is the Woman of the Water!" I said to myself.
Then rising once more, I wandered down the garden, descending one
short flight of steps after another from terrace to terrace by the
edge of the marble basins, through the shadow and through the
moonlight; and I crossed the water by the rustic bridge above the
artificial grotto, and climbed slowly up again to the highest
terrace by the other side. The air seemed sweeter, and I was very
calm, so that I think I smiled to myself as I walked, as though a
new happiness had come to me. The woman's face seemed always
before me, and the thought of it gave me an unwonted thrill of
pleasure, unlike anything I had ever felt before.
I turned as I reached the house, and looked back upon the scene.
It had certainly changed in the short hour since I had come out,
and my mood had changed with it. Just like my luck, I thought, to
fall in love with a ghost! But in old times I would have sighed,
and gone to bed more sad than ever, at such a melancholy
conclusion. To-night I felt happy, almost for the first time in my
life. The gloomy old study seemed cheerful when I went in. The
old pictures on the walls smiled at me, and I sat down in my deep
chair with a new and delightful sensation that I was not alone.
The idea of having seen a ghost, and of feeling much the better for
it, was so absurd that I laughed softly, as I took up one of the
books I had brought with me and began to read.
That impression did not wear off. I slept peacefully, and in the
morning I threw open my windows to the summer air and looked down
at the garden, at the stretches of green and at the colored flower-
beds, at the circling swallows and at the bright water.
"A man might make a paradise of this place," I exclaimed. "A man
and a woman together!"
From that day the old Castle no longer seemed gloomy, and I think I
ceased to be sad; for some time, too, I began to take an interest
in the place, and to try and make it more alive. I avoided my old
Welsh nurse, lest she should damp my humor with some dismal
prophecy, and recall my old self by bringing back memories of my
dismal childhood. But what I thought of most was the ghostly
figure I had seen in the garden that first night after my arrival.
I went out every evening and wandered through the walks and paths;
but, try as I might, I did not see my vision again. At last, after
many days, the memory grew more faint, and my old moody nature
gradually overcame the temporary sense of lightness I had
experienced. The summer turned to autumn, and I grew restless. It
began to rain. The dampness pervaded the gardens, and the outer
halls smelled musty, like tombs; the gray sky oppressed me
intolerably. I left the place as it was and went abroad,
determined to try anything which might possibly make a second break
in the monotonous melancholy from which I suffered.
Most people would be struck by the utter insignificance of the
small events which, after the death of my parents, influenced my
life and made me unhappy. The grewsome forebodings of a Welsh
nurse, which chanced to be realized by an odd coincidence of
events, should not seem enough to change the nature of a child and
to direct the bent of his character in after years. The little
disappointments of schoolboy life, and the somewhat less childish
ones of an uneventful and undistinguished academic career, should
not have sufficed to turn me out at one-and-twenty years of age a
melancholic, listless idler. Some weakness of my own character may
have contributed to the result, but in a greater degree it was due
to my having a reputation for bad luck. However, I will not try to
analyze the causes of my state, for I should satisfy nobody, least
of all myself. Still less will I attempt to explain why I felt a
temporary revival of my spirits after my adventure in the garden.
It is certain that I was in love with the face I had seen, and that
I longed to see it again; that I gave up all hope of a second
visitation, grew more sad than ever, packed up my traps, and
finally went abroad. But in my dreams I went back to my home, and
it always appeared to me sunny and bright, as it had looked on that
summer's morning after I had seen the woman by the fountain.
I went to Paris. I went farther, and wandered about Germany. I
tried to amuse myself, and I failed miserably. With the aimless
whims of an idle and useless man come all sorts of suggestions for
good resolutions. One day I made up my mind that I would go and
bury myself in a German university for a time, and live simply like
a poor student. I started with the intention of going to Leipzig,
determined to stay there until some event should direct my life or
change my humor, or make an end of me altogether. The express
train stopped at some station of which I did not know the name. It
was dusk on a winter's afternoon, and I peered through the thick
glass from my seat. Suddenly another train came gliding in from
the opposite direction, and stopped alongside of ours. I looked at
the carriage which chanced to be abreast of mine, and idly read the
black letters painted on a white board swinging from the brass
handrail: BERLIN--COLOGNE--PARIS. Then I looked up at the window
above. I started violently, and the cold perspiration broke out
upon my forehead. In the dim light, not six feet from where I sat,
I saw the face of a woman, the face I loved, the straight, fine
features, the strange eyes, the wonderful mouth, the pale skin.
Her head-dress was a dark veil which seemed to be tied about her
head and passed over the shoulders under her chin. As I threw down
the window and knelt on the cushioned seat, leaning far out to get
a better view, a long whistle screamed through the station,
followed by a quick series of dull, clanking sounds; then there was
a slight jerk, and my train moved on. Luckily the window was
narrow, being the one over the seat, beside the door, or I believe
I would have jumped out of it then and there. In an instant the
speed increased, and I was being carried swiftly away in the
opposite direction from the thing I loved.
For a quarter of an hour I lay back in my place, stunned by the
suddenness of the apparition. At last one of the two other
passengers, a large and gorgeous captain of the White Konigsberg
Cuirassiers, civilly but firmly suggested that I might shut my
window, as the evening was cold. I did so, with an apology, and
relapsed into silence. The train ran swiftly on for a long time,
and it was already beginning to slacken speed before entering
another station, when I roused myself and made a sudden resolution.
As the carriage stopped before the brilliantly lighted platform, I
seized my belongings, saluted my fellow-passengers, and got out,
determined to take the first express back to Paris.
This time the circumstances of the vision had been so natural that
it did not strike me that there was anything unreal about the face,
or about the woman to whom it belonged. I did not try to explain
to myself how the face, and the woman, could be traveling by a fast
train from Berlin to Paris on a winter's afternoon, when both were
in my mind indelibly associated with the moonlight and the
fountains in my own English home. I certainly would not have
admitted that I had been mistaken in the dusk, attributing to what
I had seen a resemblance to my former vision which did not really
exist. There was not the slightest doubt in my mind, and I was
positively sure that I had again seen the face I loved. I did not
hesitate, and in a few hours I was on my way back to Paris. I
could not help reflecting on my ill luck. Wandering as I had been
for many months, it might as easily have chanced that I should be
traveling in the same train with that woman, instead of going the
other way. But my luck was destined to turn for a time.
I searched Paris for several days. I dined at the principal
hotels; I went to the theaters; I rode in the Bois de Boulogne in
the morning, and picked up an acquaintance, whom I forced to drive
with me in the afternoon. I went to mass at the Madeleine, and I
attended the services at the English Church. I hung about the
Louvre and Notre Dame. I went to Versailles. I spent hours in
parading the Rue de Rivoli, in the neighborhood of Meurice's
corner, where foreigners pass and repass from morning till night.
At last I received an invitation to a reception at the English
Embassy. I went, and I found what I had sought so long.
There she was, sitting by an old lady in gray satin and diamonds,
who had a wrinkled but kindly face and keen gray eyes that seemed
to take in everything they saw, with very little inclination to
give much in return. But I did not notice the chaperon. I saw
only the face that had haunted me for months, and in the excitement
of the moment I walked quickly toward the pair, forgetting such a
trifle as the necessity for an introduction.
She was far more beautiful than I had thought, but I never doubted
that it was she herself and no other. Vision or no vision before,
this was the reality, and I knew it. Twice her hair had been
covered, now at last I saw it, and the added beauty of its
magnificence glorified the whole woman. It was rich hair, fine and
abundant, golden, with deep ruddy tints in it like red bronze spun
fine. There was no ornament in it, not a rose, not a thread of
gold, and I felt that it needed nothing to enhance its splendor;
nothing but her pale face, her dark strange eyes, and her heavy
eyebrows. I could see that she was slender too, but strong withal,
as she sat there quietly gazing at the moving scene in the midst of
the brilliant lights and the hum of perpetual conversation.
I recollected the detail of introduction in time, and turned aside
to look for my host. I found him at last. I begged him to present
me to the two ladies, pointing them out to him at the same time.
"Yes--uh--by all means--uh," replied his Excellency with a pleasant
smile. He evidently had no idea of my name, which was not to be
"I am Lord Cairngorm," I observed.
"Oh--by all means," answered the Ambassador with the same
hospitable smile. "Yes--uh--the fact is, I must try and find out
who they are; such lots of people, you know."
"Oh, if you will present me, I will try and find out for you," said
"Ah, yes--so kind of you--come along," said my host. We threaded
the crowd, and in a few minutes we stood before the two ladies.
"'Lowmintrduce L'd Cairngorm," he said; then, adding quickly to me,
"Come and dine to-morrow, won't you?" he glided away with his
pleasant smile and disappeared in the crowd.
I sat down beside the beautiful girl, conscious that the eyes of
the duenna were upon me.
"I think we have been very near meeting before," I remarked, by way
of opening the conversation.
My companion turned her eyes full upon me with an air of inquiry.
She evidently did not recall my face, if she had ever seen me.
"Really--I cannot remember," she observed, in a low and musical
"In the first place, you came down from Berlin by the express ten
days ago. I was going the other way, and our carriages stopped
opposite each other. I saw you at the window."
"Yes--we came that way, but I do not remember--" She hesitated.
"Secondly," I continued, "I was sitting alone in my garden last
summer--near the end of July--do you remember? You must have
wandered in there through the park; you came up to the house and
looked at me--"
"Was that you?" she asked, in evident surprise. Then she broke
into a laugh. "I told everybody I had seen a ghost; there had
never been any Cairngorms in the place since the memory of man. We
left the next day, and never heard that you had come there; indeed,
I did not know the castle belonged to you."
"Where were you staying?" I asked.
"Where? Why, with my aunt, where I always stay. She is your
neighbor, since it IS you."
"I--beg your pardon--but then--is your aunt Lady Bluebell? I did
not quite catch--"
"Don't be afraid. She is amazingly deaf. Yes. She is the relict
of my beloved uncle, the sixteenth or seventeenth Baron Bluebell--I
forget exactly how many of them there have been. And I--do you
know who I am?" She laughed, well knowing that I did not.
"No," I answered frankly. "I have not the least idea. I asked to
be introduced because I recognized you. Perhaps--perhaps you are a
"Considering that you are a neighbor, I will tell you who I am,"
she answered. "No; I am of the tribe of Bluebells, but my name is
Lammas, and I have been given to understand that I was christened
Margaret. Being a floral family, they call me Daisy. A dreadful
American man once told me that my aunt was a Bluebell and that I
was a Harebell--with two l's and an e--because my hair is so thick.
I warn you, so that you may avoid making such a bad pun."
"Do I look like a man who makes puns?" I asked, being very
conscious of my melancholy face and sad looks.
Miss Lammas eyed me critically.
"No; you have a mournful temperament. I think I can trust you,"
she answered. "Do you think you could communicate to my aunt the
fact that you are a Cairngorm and a neighbor? I am sure she would
like to know."
I leaned toward the old lady, inflating my lungs for a yell. But
Miss Lammas stopped me.
"That is not of the slightest use," she remarked. "You can write
it on a bit of paper. She is utterly deaf."
"I have a pencil," I answered; "but I have no paper. Would my cuff
do, do you think?"
"Oh, yes!" replied Miss Lammas, with alacrity; "men often do that."
I wrote on my cuff: "Miss Lammas wishes me to explain that I am
your neighbor, Cairngorm." Then I held out my arm before the old
lady's nose. She seemed perfectly accustomed to the proceeding,
put up her glasses, read the words, smiled, nodded, and addressed
me in the unearthly voice peculiar to people who hear nothing.
"I knew your grandfather very well," she said. Then she smiled and
nodded to me again, and to her niece, and relapsed into silence.
"It is all right," remarked Miss Lammas. "Aunt Bluebell knows she
is deaf, and does not say much, like the parrot. You see, she knew
your grandfather. How odd that we should be neighbors! Why have
we never met before?"
"If you had told me you knew my grandfather when you appeared in
the garden, I should not have been in the least surprised," I
answered rather irrelevantly. "I really thought you were the ghost
of the old fountain. How in the world did you come there at that
"We were a large party and we went out for a walk. Then we thought
we should like to see what your park was like in the moonlight, and
so we trespassed. I got separated from the rest, and came upon you
by accident, just as I was admiring the extremely ghostly look of
your house, and wondering whether anybody would ever come and live
there again. It looks like the castle of Macbeth, or a scene from
the opera. Do you know anybody here?"
"Hardly a soul! Do you?"
"No. Aunt Bluebell said it was our duty to come. It is easy for
her to go out; she does not bear the burden of the conversation."
"I am sorry you find it a burden," said I. "Shall I go away?"
Miss Lammas looked at me with a sudden gravity in her beautiful
eyes, and there was a sort of hesitation about the lines of her
full, soft mouth.
"No," she said at last, quite simply, "don't go away. We may like
each other, if you stay a little longer--and we ought to, because
we are neighbors in the country."
I suppose I ought to have thought Miss Lammas a very odd girl.
There is, indeed, a sort of freemasonry between people who discover
that they live near each other and that they ought to have known
each other before. But there was a sort of unexpected frankness
and simplicity in the girl's amusing manner which would have struck
anyone else as being singular, to say the least of it. To me,
however, it all seemed natural enough. I had dreamed of her face
too long not to be utterly happy when I met her at last and could
talk to her as much as I pleased. To me, the man of ill luck in
everything, the whole meeting seemed too good to be true. I felt
again that strange sensation of lightness which I had experienced
after I had seen her face in the garden. The great rooms seemed
brighter, life seemed worth living; my sluggish, melancholy blood
ran faster, and filled me with a new sense of strength. I said to
myself that without this woman I was but an imperfect being, but
that with her I could accomplish everything to which I should set
my hand. Like the great Doctor, when he thought he had cheated
Mephistopheles at last, I could have cried aloud to the fleeting
moment, Verweile doch, du bist so schon!
"Are you always gay?" I asked, suddenly. "How happy you must be!"
"The days would sometimes seem very long if I were gloomy," she
answered, thoughtfully. "Yes, I think I find life very pleasant,
and I tell it so."
"How can you 'tell life' anything?" I inquired. "If I could catch
my life and talk to it, I would abuse it prodigiously, I assure
"I dare say. You have a melancholy temper. You ought to live out-
of-doors, dig potatoes, make hay, shoot, hunt, tumble into ditches,
and come home muddy and hungry for dinner. It would be much better
for you than moping in your rook tower and hating everything."
"It is rather lonely down there," I murmured, apologetically,
feeling that Miss Lammas was quite right.
"Then marry, and quarrel with your wife," she laughed. "Anything
is better than being alone."
"I am a very peaceable person. I never quarrel with anybody. You
can try it. You will find it quite impossible."
"Will you let me try?" she asked, still smiling.
"By all means--especially if it is to be only a preliminary
canter," I answered, rashly.
"What do you mean?" she inquired, turning quickly upon me.
"Oh--nothing. You might try my paces with a view to quarreling in
the future. I cannot imagine how you are going to do it. You will
have to resort to immediate and direct abuse."
"No. I will only say that if you do not like your life, it is your
own fault. How can a man of your age talk of being melancholy, or
of the hollowness of existence? Are you consumptive? Are you
subject to hereditary insanity? Are you deaf, like Aunt Bluebell?
Are you poor, like--lots of people? Have you been crossed in love?
Have you lost the world for a woman, or any particular woman for
the sake of the world? Are you feeble-minded, a cripple, an
outcast? Are you--repulsively ugly?" She laughed again. "Is
there any reason in the world why you should not enjoy all you have
got in life?"
"No. There is no reason whatever, except that I am dreadfully
unlucky, especially in small things."
"Then try big things, just for a change," suggested Miss Lammas.
"Try and get married, for instance, and see how it turns out."
"If it turned out badly it would be rather serious."
"Not half so serious as it is to abuse everything unreasonably. If
abuse is your particular talent, abuse something that ought to be
abused. Abuse the Conservatives--or the Liberals--it does not
matter which, since they are always abusing each other. Make
yourself felt by other people. You will like it, if they don't.
It will make a man of you. Fill your mouth with pebbles, and howl
at the sea, if you cannot do anything else. It did Demosthenes no
end of good, you know. You will have the satisfaction of imitating
a great man."
"Really, Miss Lammas, I think the list of innocent exercises you
"Very well--if you don't care for that sort of thing, care for some
other sort of thing. Care for something, or hate something. Don't
be idle. Life is short, and though art may be long, plenty of
noise answers nearly as well."
"I do care for something--I mean, somebody," I said.
"A woman? Then marry her. Don't hesitate."
"I do not know whether she would marry me," I replied. "I have
never asked her."
"Then ask her at once," answered Miss Lammas. "I shall die happy
if I feel I have persuaded a melancholy fellow creature to rouse
himself to action. Ask her, by all means, and see what she says.
If she does not accept you at once, she may take you the next time.
Meanwhile, you will have entered for the race. If you lose, there
are the 'All-aged Trial Stakes,' and the 'Consolation Race.'"
"And plenty of selling races into the bargain. Shall I take you at
your word, Miss Lammas?"
"I hope you will," she answered.
"Since you yourself advise me, I will. Miss Lammas, will you do me
the honor to marry me?"
For the first time in my life the blood rushed to my head and my
sight swam. I cannot tell why I said it. It would be useless to
try to explain the extraordinary fascination the girl exercised
over me, or the still more extraordinary feeling of intimacy with
her which had grown in me during that half hour. Lonely, sad,
unlucky as I had been all my life, I was certainly not timid, nor
even shy. But to propose to marry a woman after half an hour's
acquaintance was a piece of madness of which I never believed
myself capable, and of which I should never be capable again, could
I be placed in the same situation. It was as though my whole being
had been changed in a moment by magic--by the white magic of her
nature brought into contact with mine. The blood sank back to my
heart, and a moment later I found myself staring at her with
anxious eyes. To my amazement she was as calm as ever, but her
beautiful mouth smiled, and there was a mischievous light in her
"Fairly caught," she answered. "For an individual who pretends to
be listless and sad you are not lacking in humor. I had really not
the least idea what you were going to say. Wouldn't it be
singularly awkward for you if I had said 'Yes'? I never saw
anybody begin to practice so sharply what was preached to him--with
so very little loss of time!"
"You probably never met a man who had dreamed of you for seven
months before being introduced."
"No, I never did," she answered gayly. "It smacks of the romantic.
Perhaps you are a romantic character, after all. I should think
you were if I believed you. Very well; you have taken my advice,
entered for a Stranger's Race and lost it. Try the All-aged Trial
Stakes. You have another cuff, and a pencil. Propose to Aunt
Bluebell; she would dance with astonishment, and she might recover
That was how I first asked Margaret Lammas to be my wife, and I
will agree with anyone who says I behaved very foolishly. But I
have not repented of it, and I never shall. I have long ago
understood that I was out of my mind that evening, but I think my
temporary insanity on that occasion has had the effect of making me
a saner man ever since. Her manner turned my head, for it was so
different from what I had expected. To hear this lovely creature,
who, in my imagination, was a heroine of romance, if not of
tragedy, talking familiarly and laughing readily was more than my
equanimity could bear, and I lost my head as well as my heart. But
when I went back to England in the spring, I went to make certain
arrangements at the Castle--certain changes and improvements which
would be absolutely necessary. I had won the race for which I had
entered myself so rashly, and we were to be married in June.
Whether the change was due to the orders I had left with the
gardener and the rest of the servants, or to my own state of mind,
I cannot tell. At all events, the old place did not look the same
to me when I opened my window on the morning after my arrival.
There were the gray walls below me and the gray turrets flanking
the huge building; there were the fountains, the marble causeways,
the smooth basins, the tall box hedges, the water lilies and the
swans, just as of old. But there was something else there, too--
something in the air, in the water, and in the greenness that I did
not recognize--a light over everything by which everything was
transfigured. The clock in the tower struck seven, and the strokes
of the ancient bell sounded like a wedding chime. The air sang
with the thrilling treble of the song-birds, with the silvery music
of the plashing water and the softer harmony of the leaves stirred
by the fresh morning wind. There was a smell of new-mown hay from
the distant meadows, and of blooming roses from the beds below,
wafted up together to my window. I stood in the pure sunshine and
drank the air and all the sounds and the odors that were in it; and
I looked down at my garden and said: "It is Paradise, after all."
I think the men of old were right when they called heaven a garden,
and Eden a garden inhabited by one man and one woman, the Earthly
I turned away, wondering what had become of the gloomy memories I
had always associated with my home. I tried to recall the
impression of my nurse's horrible prophecy before the death of my
parents--an impression which hitherto had been vivid enough. I
tried to remember my old self, my dejection, my listlessness, my
bad luck, my petty disappointments. I endeavored to force myself
to think as I used to think, if only to satisfy myself that I had
not lost my individuality. But I succeeded in none of these
efforts. I was a different man, a changed being, incapable of
sorrow, of ill luck, or of sadness. My life had been a dream, not
evil, but infinitely gloomy and hopeless. It was now a reality,
full of hope, gladness, and all manner of good. My home had been
like a tomb; to-day it was Paradise. My heart had been as though
it had not existed; to-day it beat with strength and youth and the
certainty of realized happiness. I reveled in the beauty of the
world, and called loveliness out of the future to enjoy it before
time should bring it to me, as a traveler in the plains looks up to
the mountains, and already tastes the cool air through the dust of
Here, I thought, we will live and live for years. There we will
sit by the fountain toward evening and in the deep moonlight. Down
those paths we will wander together. On those benches we will rest
and talk. Among those eastern hills we will ride through the soft
twilight, and in the old house we will tell tales on winter nights,
when the logs burn high, and the holly berries are red, and the old
clock tolls out the dying year. On these old steps, in these dark
passages and stately rooms, there will one day be the sound of
little pattering feet, and laughing child voices will ring up to
the vaults of the ancient hall. Those tiny footsteps shall not be
slow and sad as mine were, nor shall the childish words be spoken
in an awed whisper. No gloomy Welshwoman shall people the dusky
corners with weird horrors, nor utter horrid prophecies of death
and ghastly things. All shall be young, and fresh, and joyful, and
happy, and we will turn the old luck again, and forget that there
was ever any sadness.
So I thought, as I looked out of my window that morning and for
many mornings after that, and every day it all seemed more real
than ever before, and much nearer. But the old nurse looked at me
askance, and muttered odd sayings about the Woman of the Water. I
cared little what she said, for I was far too happy.
At last the time came near for the wedding. Lady Bluebell and all
the tribe of Bluebells, as Margaret called them, were at Bluebell
Grange, for we had determined to be married in the country, and to
come straight to the Castle afterwards. We cared little for
traveling, and not at all for a crowded ceremony at St. George's in
Hanover Square, with all the tiresome formalities afterwards. I
used to ride over to the Grange every day, and very often Margaret
would come with her aunt and some of her cousins to the Castle. I
was suspicious of my own taste, and was only too glad to let her
have her way about the alterations and improvements in our home.
We were to be married on the thirtieth of July, and on the evening
of the twenty-eighth Margaret drove over with some of the Bluebell
party. In the long summer twilight we all went out into the
garden. Naturally enough, Margaret and I were left to ourselves,
and we wandered down by the marble basins.
"It is an odd coincidence," I said; "it was on this very night last
year that I first saw you."
"Considering that it is the month of July," answered Margaret with
a laugh, "and that we have been here almost every day, I don't
think the coincidence is so extraordinary, after all."
"No, dear," said I, "I suppose not. I don't know why it struck me.
We shall very likely be here a year from today, and a year from
that. The odd thing, when I think of it, is that you should be
here at all. But my luck has turned. I ought not to think
anything odd that happens now that I have you. It is all sure to
"A slight change in your ideas since that remarkable performance of
yours in Paris," said Margaret. "Do you know, I thought you were
the most extraordinary man I had ever met."
"I thought you were the most charming woman I had ever seen. I
naturally did not want to lose any time in frivolities. I took you
at your word, I followed your advice, I asked you to marry me, and
this is the delightful result--what's the matter?"
Margaret had started suddenly, and her hand tightened on my arm.
An old woman was coming up the path, and was close to us before we
saw her, for the moon had risen, and was shining full in our faces.
The woman turned out to be my old nurse.
"It's only Judith, dear--don't be frightened," I said. Then I
spoke to the Welshwoman: "What are you about, Judith? Have you
been feeding the Woman of the Water?"
"Aye--when the clock strikes, Willie--my Lord, I mean," muttered
the old creature, drawing aside to let us pass, and fixing her
strange eyes on Margaret's face.
"What does she mean?" asked Margaret, when we had gone by.
"Nothing, darling. The old thing is mildly crazy, but she is a
We went on in silence for a few moments, and came to the rustic
bridge just above the artificial grotto through which the water ran
out into the park, dark and swift in its narrow channel. We
stopped, and leaned on the wooden rail. The moon was now behind
us, and shone full upon the long vista of basins and on the huge
walls and towers of the Castle above.
"How proud you ought to be of such a grand old place!" said
"It is yours now, darling," I answered. "You have as good a right
to love it as I--but I only love it because you are to live in it,
Her hand stole out and lay on mine, and we were both silent. Just
then the clock began to strike far off in the tower. I counted--
eight--nine--ten--eleven--I looked at my watch--twelve--thirteen--I
laughed. The bell went on striking.
"The old clock has gone crazy, like Judith," I exclaimed. Still it
went on, note after note ringing out monotonously through the still
air. We leaned over the rail, instinctively looking in the
direction whence the sound came. On and on it went. I counted
nearly a hundred, out of sheer curiosity, for I understood that
something had broken and that the thing was running itself down.
Suddenly there was a crack as of breaking wood, a cry and a heavy
splash, and I was alone, clinging to the broken end of the rail of
the rustic bridge.
I do not think I hesitated while my pulse beat twice. I sprang
clear of the bridge into the black rushing water, dived to the
bottom, came up again with empty hands, turned and swam downward
through the grotto in the thick darkness, plunging and diving at
every stroke, striking my head and hands against jagged stones and
sharp corners, clutching at last something in my fingers and
dragging it up with all my might. I spoke, I cried aloud, but
there was no answer. I was alone in the pitchy darkness with my
burden, and the house was five hundred yards away. Struggling
still, I felt the ground beneath my feet, I saw a ray of moonlight-
-the grotto widened, and the deep water became a broad and shallow
brook as I stumbled over the stones and at last laid Margaret's
body on the bank in the park beyond.
"Aye, Willie, as the clock struck!" said the voice of Judith, the
Welsh nurse, as she bent down and looked at the white face. The
old woman must have turned back and followed us, seen the accident,
and slipped out by the lower gate of the garden. "Aye," she
groaned, "you have fed the Woman of the Water this night, Willie,
while the clock was striking."
I scarcely heard her as I knelt beside the lifeless body of the
woman I loved, chafing the wet white temples and gazing wildly into
the wide-staring eyes. I remember only the first returning look of
consciousness, the first heaving breath, the first movement of
those dear hands stretching out toward me.
That is not much of a story, you say. It is the story of my life.
That is all. It does not pretend to be anything else. Old Judith
says my luck turned on that summer's night when I was struggling in
the water to save all that was worth living for. A month later
there was a stone bridge above the grotto, and Margaret and I stood
on it and looked up at the moonlit Castle, as we had done once
before, and as we have done many times since. For all those things
happened ten years ago last summer, and this is the tenth Christmas
Eve we have spent together by the roaring logs in the old hall,
talking of old times; and every year there are more old times to
talk of. There are curly-headed boys, too, with red-gold hair and
dark-brown eyes like their mother's, and a little Margaret, with
solemn black eyes like mine. Why could not she look like her
mother, too, as well as the rest of them?
The world is very bright at this glorious Christmas time, and
perhaps there is little use in calling up the sadness of long ago,
unless it be to make the jolly firelight seem more cheerful, the
good wife's face look gladder, and to give the children's laughter
a merrier ring, by contrast with all that is gone. Perhaps, too,
some sad-faced, listless, melancholy youth, who feels that the
world is very hollow, and that life is like a perpetual funeral
service, just as I used to feel myself, may take courage from my
example, and having found the woman of his heart, ask her to marry
him after half an hour's acquaintance. But, on the whole, I would
not advise any man to marry, for the simple reason that no man will
ever find a wife like mine, and being obliged to go farther, he
will necessarily fare worse. My wife has done miracles, but I will
not assert that any other woman is able to follow her example.
Margaret always said that the old place was beautiful, and that I
ought to be proud of it. I dare say she is right. She has even
more imagination than I. But I have a good answer and a plain one,
which is this,--that all the beauty of the Castle comes from her.
She has breathed upon it all, as the children blow upon the cold
glass window panes in winter; and as their warm breath crystallizes
into landscapes from fairyland, full of exquisite shapes and
traceries upon the blank surface, so her spirit has transformed
every gray stone of the old towers, every ancient tree and hedge in
the gardens, every thought in my once melancholy self. All that
was old is young, and all that was sad is glad, and I am the
gladdest of all. Whatever heaven may be, there is no earthly
paradise without woman, nor is there anywhere a place so desolate,
so dreary, so unutterably miserable that a woman cannot make it
seem heaven to the man she loves and who loves her.
I hear certain cynics laugh, and cry that all that has been said
before. Do not laugh, my good cynic. You are too small a man to
laugh at such a great thing as love. Prayers have been said before
now by many, and perhaps you say yours, too. I do not think they
lose anything by being repeated, nor you by repeating them. You
say that the world is bitter, and full of the Waters of Bitterness.
Love, and so live that you may be loved--the world will turn sweet
for you, and you shall rest like me by the Waters of Paradise.
From "The Play-Actress and the Upper Berth," by F. Marion Crawford.
Copyright, 1896, by G. P. Putnam's Sons.