She held him tight a long, long moment, then with one lingering love-kiss on his lips—her very first—she said faintly, putting him away from her, "Ross, not now—wait, my dearest. Sheldon gave me this to give to you to-night;" and she held out a little worn letter, then buried her face upon his breast and tremblingly waited while he read it. It ran thus:
"Sheldon, my cousin, it can never be: give up all hope for ever. I kill it now, because it is best you should know the truth. I almost give up my life, my cousin, when I make my heritage of woe known to you. You will pity me, Sheldon, when you realize what agony the confession you thus wring from me gives my heart. But if it cures your passion it is not borne in vain. I love with an undying love, a faith that knows no change, an endurance that years of neglect have not weakened, that years of cruelty could never change, a man who would laugh to scorn my very name. I love—and have loved since I was sixteen years old, until now—Ross Norval. Keep my secret.
It was dated four years back.
"Ross, Ross! you know it now! Oh, my love! my love!"
* * * * *
I will attempt no painting of the effect that confession had upon him. But after a long, long time she whispered, "I will sing the last verse of your song, dear, which only you shall ever hear." And lying on his breast, she sang—
"Dear love I thy face above me gleaming A sunset radiance gives: Ah, love! thy tones' sweet cadence dying Sings in my heart and lives. Clasped, love, close to thy heart, thy birdling Foldeth her wings in peace— Trusts, love! feeling nor cold nor shadow, Finding at last her ease, From fear a safe release, Heart's love, with thee."
The Victims of Dreams.
My friend Bessie Haines had no mother, but her father was such a very large man that I remember thinking, when I was quite a child, that a kind Providence had intended to make up her loss in that way. She and I did not live in the same city, but managed to keep up a lively friendship through the medium of correspondence and half-yearly visits.
I was a complete orphan, and my uncle, with whom I lived, was her father's attached friend. She had a very happy home, and I was glad to enjoy it with her, particularly when my uncle accompanied me, for then her father and he became absorbed in each other, and left us to our own devices—not very evil ones, but too childish and trifling to claim the sympathy of such very grave men as they were.
We had both become tall, womanly girls, but Uncle Pennyman and Mr. Haines called us children, and treated us as such; and Bessie was just writing to me about her father's telling her she must begin to think of serious things, when my uncle remarked to me that the time was approaching when I should prepare myself to assume the duties and responsibilities of a rational female. Just as if we had waited to be told this, when in fact Bessie and I had been consulting about our bonnets and dresses in the most grave and mature manner for years past, and arranging our future on plans that for variety and agreeability could not have been surpassed had we been brought up on the Arabian Nights and Moore's Poems, instead of Baxter's Saint's Rest and Pollok's Course of Time.
"There are several questions of vital importance that have been growing daily stronger in my mind," said my uncle Pennyman. "My friend Thomas Haines has a gift in clearing points and expounding meanings; so that I feel it to be for my mind's edifying and my soul's profit to go to him for counsel."
I was delighted to hear this. I wanted to see Bessie, and I blessed the bond that united these good brothers in Israel and drew us together so often. Mr. Haines was good at texts, and my uncle was wonderfully expert at dreams. Mr. Haines was a great dreamer, and my uncle constantly stumbled over passages needing elucidation. So we lived in harmonious intercourse, and Bessie and I talked of all our plans and delights while they got themselves entangled in obscurities with a commentary under each arm.
It would have appeared, from Mr. Haines' dreams, that Bessie's mother had been a most fussy and bothering lady, though I was told by the housekeeper, who knew her well, that she was the mildest and most timid of little wives while living.
According to these visions, she was constantly troubled in her spiritual state on the greatest variety of small subjects; and my expert uncle, in expounding her communications, was always able to draw from them strong religious lessons, and to administer much strengthening comfort to his friend the dreamer.
"I was hoping papa would soon have a vision," said Bessie when we were settled together all comfortably, and she had told me how glad she was to see me again. "Mrs. Tanner said last week that she was sure he was going to have another, because the spire which he felt he was directed in his last dream to put on the little chapel was all complete, and the missionary outfit which he had believed himself called upon to provide was ready and gone to the South Seas, and he naturally looked for more work. When he said last week, 'Bessie, I have sent for Brother Pennyman concerning a visitation in the night,' I was so glad, for, Winnie dear—would you believe it?—I have been dreaming too, and I want you to tell me if I have read my dream aright."
Now, this was the most wonderful thing that Bessie Haines could have told me—the most startling and least to be expected altogether; for if ever there was a wide-awake girl, it was she.
I suppose my perfectly frank stare said as much, for she blushed a little, and continued with a very suspicious flutter, which I had learnt, in the case of young engaged persons I knew, to look on as a bad symptom:
"I do not mean dreaming with my eyes shut, you know, but having deep, serious thoughts, unlike the gay fancies that have held me captive all my life."
"Dress trimmings and poetry?" I suggested.
"Yes, yes—all the useless, perishable fancies of thoughtless youth," she replied.
This sounded more like an Essay on Vanity than Bessie Haines, and I really was astonished, and had nothing to say for a little while, during which she, being full of her subject, went on:
"I can scarcely trace the beginning of the—the awakening, shall I call it?"
"You called it a dream before."
"Yes, dear Winnie, but it is so hard to know how to classify new emotions, and this is such a peculiar one that it seems nameless. You know papa feels bound, ever since that water-dream he had, to go down to the Mariners' Chapel on Sunday afternoon, and I used to read solemn poetry when it was too warm or too cold to go with him. Well, about two months ago it was fearfully warm, and papa had come home a fortnight earlier from the shore, on account of a suspicion he had that he had dreamed something and had forgotten it as soon as he awoke. This indistinct warning made him think we had better go home at all events, and home we came the first week in September, to the roasting, dusty city. But I did not then know that I was perhaps drawn back for a purpose; and oh, dear Winnie, there may be something in papa's visions, after all."
"He has had a good many of them," I said.
"So he has," assented Bessie; "and I was inclined to be impatient at this one, since it brought me home in the heat, and the house seemed so lonely, because Mrs. Tanner was still in the country with her married daughter."
"She having received no spectral warning," I hinted.
"Oh dear! no. Mrs. Tanner never dreams: she's opposed to it. Well, the first Sunday was so warm that I took up Solemn Thoughts in Verse instead of the Mariners'; and after I had read eight pages, it really seemed as if I had better have tried the heat out of doors, it was getting so gloomy within. So I got up and dressed, meaning to walk out and meet papa, and return with him. I don't know whether it was the Solemn Thoughts that confused me, or whether I was not paying attention, but I actually lost my way by turning at the wrong corner, and so came down Barton street toward a little chapel that I had often noticed before. Two dreadfully red-faced and short-haired little boys were at the entrance by the small iron gate. They had disagreed about something, I suppose, just as I came up, and they instantly began to fight, with the wickedest determination visible in their freckled little faces. At first, they kicked at each other, and growled out some awful words without the least sense, but with a great deal of profanity in them, and then they laid down their little books and tracts, and apparently tried to pull each other's head off. Of course it made me quite wretched to see them hurt each other in that shocking way, and so I interfered and tried to reconcile them, but the naughty little souls must have had a certain amount of kicking and scratching on hand to dispose of, for they united in bestowing it all on me the moment I came between them.
"I was just trying to save my dress and lace sacque from their boots and claws, when a reverend gentleman appeared at the door, and the bad boys became sneaking cowards at sight of him. I picked up their little tracts, while he tried to apologize for them; and it was so sad, Winnie, to think that those dear children had not profited by their lessons: one was called 'Love One Another,' and the other, 'Be Meek and Lowly.'
"While we were talking a lady joined us, and I went into the school at their invitation.
"Winnie, do you know anything practical about Sunday-school?"
"I went to one, and was for years in the class of an elderly maiden lady who urged us all to learn Scripture and hymns. I was so expert and high in favor that I could repeat forty verses at a time as glibly as a parrot."
"But I don't quite mean that sort of thing," said Bessie. "I mean a real, earnest teaching-place, where children are gathered in and told all about Christ's love and mercy—where they are softened and won to better thoughts and kinder actions, and their poor little minds filled with shining truth, instead of street dirt and abuse."
"I never thought about it before, but such an institution could not help being a popular one, and a very useful one too," I confessed.
"Oh, I am so glad, so very glad, that you approve, dear, for I am engaged in that work; and I did not want to write it to you, for somehow it seemed so strange for such a thoughtless, silly girl as I have been to attempt such a serious thing."
"As teaching in a Sunday-school?"
"Yes, in a sort of mission school for little scholars of the lower classes. Miss Mary Pepper and I have at this time nearly two hundred boys and girls of all ages, and some of them are very interesting and lovable, while others are—"
"Like the two gladiators who introduced you to the scene?"
"Yes. I am afraid there are quite a number of that kind; but, Winnie, you must like Miss Mary Pepper. Oh, she is one of the most excellent women I ever knew, so truly, so nobly, so devotedly good. You cannot imagine what a comfort it is to me to be with her—to feel that I am under her influence, and may learn from her to be a little like her."
"Miss Mary Pepper?" I repeated: "then she is a young lady?"
"No—not young: indeed, she is rather elderly."
"An old maid," I remarked, coldly. "She is pretty and sweet, though faded, I suppose."
"Why, no—not to look at: her nature is beautiful, but her manner and figure are rather—rather unprepossessing at first."
"A stiff, hard, straight-laced old maid," I said, contemptuously. "Well, really, I cannot see the fascination—"
Bessie's face flushed painfully: "I confess that dear Miss Pepper's person is not so beautiful as her nature, but, Winnie, it is the cause of doing good and trying to be good that draws us together so closely; and of course I do not love her as I love you, my dear, precious first friend."
These last words were full of balm, for of course it was the sting of jealousy that had made my heart resent the venerable Pepper's powerful influence over my dear Bessie. Being once assured that it was a second-rate power, and that I still held my supremacy, I entered into the Sunday-school question like a second Raikes, and volunteered to help, and try to learn the way to the young hearts that beat under the pugilistic exterior of the juveniles of Canon lane, where the mission chapel was.
Then, having become one on this serious subject, we began to wonder what Mr. Haines' dream might portend this time, and prepare our minds for the verse from the prophecies over which dear Uncle Pennyman had made his latest stumble.
"Mrs. Tanner thinks it was something about a journey, and she is quite out of sorts on the subject: for, as she says, the house can't be shut up without worriment, and as to staying in it alone she really has not got the nerve."
"I do not think that Uncle Pennyman will interpret it that way, because he cannot go too, as he is at present very deep in the minor prophets, and has fallen out of humor with all the commentaries."
"I am so glad!" said Bessie, placidly—"so glad, I mean, that we need not go: I think every one must find his life-work at home."
I stared a little at this, because I knew that only a few months before Bessie Haines had wanted very much to find style and fashion abroad; but I remembered the Sunday-school, and tried to be as serious and convinced as I could; and to that end I talked a good deal of church interests, and the prophecies, and Light in Obscurity, a new work which had utterly confused me at the first chapter, but which I had read through to Uncle Pennyman one warm July day when he stayed at home to keep Tom's birth-day.
That reminds me: I have not mentioned Tom, but as he was away at college, and Bessie never seemed to like to talk of him—I'm sure I can't see why—it is quite natural that he slipped out of my memory.
He was a ward of Uncle Pennyman, who called him his son, and indeed had adopted him formally.
How two such opposite people ever came to love each other as they did, I never can explain. It was not a natural, commonplace affection: it was a strong, deep, earnest love, as firm in the hearts of both as the life that caused their throbbings.
Tom was wild and full of frolic: if there is a graver word than gravity, it should be used to describe Uncle Pennyman's demeanor. Tom was quick and restless by nature, but his good sense and determination to make a niche for himself in life, and fill it respectably, had toned down his exuberant spirits into active energy; while Uncle Penny man's naturally slow tendencies had become aggravated by the ponderous character of his pursuits and tastes: all hurry was obnoxious to him, and he firmly believed that haste was another name for sin. Yet the solemn, slow old man loved the busy, merry young one, and neither saw any fault or failing in the other.
There was no earthly relationship between Thomas Gray Pennyman and me, and yet I was always spoken of as his sister by my dear, worrying old uncle. Tom did not seem to like it, and I knew I did not.
People often said to me, "What a splendid brother you have, Miss Pennyman but what a pity that all these handsome brothers have to be given up to stronger ties!"
How utterly silly! I never had any patience with such nonsense.
There was not much comfort in talking to Bessie about him. I'm sure I do not know why, but I suppose she saw that I avoided the subject; so I was really quite surprised when she said to me, laughing and looking a little mischievous—
"Mr. Tom is to join us by and by, your uncle says. I hope we may be able to make it pleasant for him. I believe he likes Mrs. Tanner: he used to like her buns when he was a boy, and I hope he has not forgotten the fancy."
Tom coming to visit the Haines! Such a thing had never happened before, and must mean something now. I began to feel quite uneasy, though I really could not have explained why.
We never had much of my uncle's or Mr. Haines' society except in the evening: they spent the day going about together and worrying texts of Scripture with other good old men, before whom Mr. Haines liked to show off uncle's Bible knowledge. They took some pious excursions in company, and had a solemnly festive time, I have no doubt, for they always came in looking perfectly satisfied with the result of their day.
It generally took some time to hear the dream and find its proper interpretation. While it was pending the expounder generally gave out his puzzling verses, and then both pondered a good while before they arrived at their conclusions and made them known.
Both the dream and the text must have been of an unusually difficult nature this time, for a whole week went by without either transpiring; and although Bessie and I watched for some allusions to them in our morning and evening family worship, at which the two good men officiated alternately, yet not a hint could we gain until one night at the end of the week it seemed from Uncle Pennyman's prayer that the matter in some wise referred to Bessie, since Divine guidance was sought under many rhetorical forms for the welfare, future and temporal, of "the young handmaiden, the daughter of thy servant, who would fain know thy will concerning her."
"Bessie," said I that night, when we got up stairs, "I think I have found out what your father's last dream was: I solemnly believe that he means to send you out as a missionary."
Now I thought I had said something calculated to make Bessie turn pale and gasp, but I could scarcely believe it when I looked up, expecting to find her almost fainting, and saw her pensively, but by no means alarmedly, shaking her head.
"I am not devoted enough, Winnie, love," she remarked. "I have not the grand self-abnegating spirit necessary for such a work. No; mine is a home field."
If I had not known about the young warriors of Canon lane, I should have thought her demented: as it was, I could scarcely wait for the next day, which was Sunday, to be introduced to the scene which had already produced such a marked change in her character and tastes.
It transpired during breakfast that Uncle Pennyman's peace had been disturbed by a verse in the book of Nahum, that talked about the lions and lionesses, and their whelps and prey, in what appeared to him a mysterious manner. Mr. Haines, who was a dear, good man, elaborated it so that we all felt as if we had made a visit to the Zoological Gardens, and afterward been carried into Babylonish captivity. My uncle followed his words with a brightening face, and when they grew particularly mixed and long-syllabled, he would exclaim softly,
"It is a great gift! a great gift!" and seem really overcome with the magnitude of his friend's powers.
I never saw any harm in Uncle Pennyman's texts: they never worried any one but himself; though I must confess that verse about Ephraim being a cake not turned affected us a little. But that was because he had the ague, and Mr. Haines was attending some kind of convention; and what with the chills, and that unexplained cake of Ephraim's, we were kept a little uncomfortable for a time.
But Mr. Haines' visions were perplexing: no one could tell where their signification might point; and this sending for Tom (of course he would never have thought of coming if he had not been sent for) made me quite uneasy.
I began to fear that this would be the first time I had ever gone to see Bessie without enjoying the visit; and as we walked along to Canon Lane Chapel together, her manner was so absent and fluttered that I really did not know what to do.
"It is a delightful and meritorious thing to be pious, no doubt," I said to myself, "but it has not improved the manner of my dear Bessie: on the contrary, I should say it has entirely shaken her nerves, and given her palpitation of the heart."
When we reached the chapel we found quite a number and variety of youths already collected around the door, and when we went into a large and airy room, well lighted and filled with seats, a goodly selection awaited us there.
A lady stood on a small platform with a bell in her hand: she had a large, bony figure, and a long, bony face, and turned her eyes toward us without changing their expression into any beam of recognition, as she used her voice without any softening tone or tender cadence whatever:
"Miss Haines, good-afternoon. Mary Bryan, where's your brother? John Mott, you have dropped your tract. Miss Pennyman, glad to see you. Sarah Harper, give your sister a seat."
Bessie had pushed me on her attention between the monotonous sentences she jerked out at her scholars, and she gave me five words just like the rest, and dropped me off again.
Bessie seemed to become calmer after she had looked around the room once in a hasty, fluttered way, and placing a chair for me, she threw herself energetically into her philanthropic work.
I never knew before what a serious thing it was to be a Sunday-school teacher, or how varied the requirements for such duty were. Thirst seemed to be a prevailing agony among the scholars, and it seized its victims as an epidemic does—without warning. They would just reach their seats and drop into them listlessly, or gain them by energetic contest with some previous intruder, and after an empty stare around them would be taken with a sudden pang, expressed in writhing, shaking the right hand wildly and gasping, "Teacher, I want a drink! I want a drink!"
Then they were subject to a terrible vacillation on the subject of their hats: they would almost consign them to the care of a monitor appointed to hang them on the pegs made and provided, when a sense of their preciousness would suddenly present itself to their minds, and they would rescue them wildly, and throw themselves on the defensive while they sat upon or otherwise protected the contested article of dress.
There were six windows with broad sills in the room, and every child seemed beset with a passionate desire to leave its seat and lodge itself in a surreptitious manner on one of these perches, as if they had been posts of honor.
Whether bits of bright tin, glass bottle-stoppers, ends of twine, broken sticks and marbles were accessions to biblical instruction, or were only so considered by the pupils themselves, did not transpire, but poor Bessie seemed to find them stumbling-blocks in her path, and Miss Pepper had no sooner confiscated one lot than another appeared in circulation and broke the story of Joseph's coat into a parenthetical narrative:
"Israel loved Joseph so much that as a particular proof of his parental regard (James Moore, stop putting that stick in your brother's eye) he prepared a variegated garment known as a 'coat of many colors.' (John Mink, take that marble out of your throat, or you'll swallow it.) The bestowal of this beautiful gift (Mary Dunn, put your ticket away, and, Sally Harris, let her hair alone) awakened feelings akin to envy and bitterness in (Jane Sloper must not borrow her cousin's bonnet in Sunday-school) the bosoms of his perverted brethren. (Hugh Fraley will leave those strings at home, and, William Grove, stop climbing over the bench.) Alas! what sorrow can evil and disobedient sons, too little conscious (Dicky Taylor, bring that insect to me) of the sacrifices and prayerful struggles of their venerable parents (no, Henry, not another drink), call down upon their already care-burdened minds!"
Of course I felt sure that Miss Pepper was in earnest and meant to do good, but I suspected that she had not what my uncle called "a gift" with children, and I saw how much harder it made it for Bessie, who really was a natural teacher, and who contrived to rule with a steady but gracious firmness, and to win with a sweet simplicity that explained itself to the minds of little ones.
I wondered not a little at her infatuation on the Pepper question when I saw how contrary their ways and influence were. There were plenty of nice, interesting little girls among the two hundred, and some very well-behaved boys too; but Bessie set herself to win the unruly, and it was a lesson to thoughtless me to see her do it. One terrible little soul, with a thin, wiry body and tight-cropped head, fell into a conflict with a square-set, hard-faced boy, and they rolled under the seats together just as Miss Pepper had succeeded in raising the ill-used Joseph out of the pit with words of three syllables. Bessie went to the rescue, and separated and inverted the combatants, only the soles of whose boots had been visible a moment before. She sat down with them, and although I could not hear her words, I saw that they were slowly smoothing the angry creases of both the thin and the square face.
"Then let him stop a-callin' me 'Skinny,'" was the last outbreak of the injured lean one, and his antagonist confessed—
"I won't say nothin' to you no more if you stop grinning 'Flathead' at me."
Before Miss Pepper had succeeded in describing the paraphernalia of Eastern travel and the approach of the Ishmaelites, the two were induced to shake hands silently across their gentle mediatrix, whose face suddenly grew radiant with the sweetest blush I ever saw as the door opened and a new feature was added to the scene.
I do not mean to detract from the good impulses or high motives of my dear girl when I say that this was the key that opened the subject to me, and made it bright and plain. It wore the form of a truly good and good-looking young gentleman, who had just enough of the clergyman in his appearance to show that he honored his holy calling above all things. He gave Bessie a glance that set my heart at rest—for I naturally felt anxious that the blush and brightness and other signs should not be thrown away on an unappreciative object—and then he went right into his work. Oh dear! what a difference! One could not imagine, without seeing for one's self, what a beautiful sympathy could do with material that a hard, dry purpose could only irritate. Of course he bowed to me, and met Miss Pepper like an old friend, and then he began, and in beginning caught every single wandering mind, and held it with that mysterious fascination which individualizes, and convinces each one that he is the particular soul addressed.
He had been spending the hour of his absence from us in the chamber of a little fellow, one of our number, who had been terribly hurt by the machinery of a factory in which he worked. He took every one of us there with him, awakening our liveliest interest, and making us anxious to be helpful to every suffering fellow-creature. Some of us had to cry a little at the kind remembrances the poor crushed child sent us, and we felt quite self-reproachful that we had not thought more of him, and been quieter and more orderly in every way. Then, without any dry, hard preaching, he planted that lesson, left it to take root without digging it up again with personal exhortation, and told us something else. Surely no one could have better divined just what we wanted to know, and just how we would have liked it related. Love first of all; then cheerfulness, simplicity, and a strong, earnest enthusiasm that made attention compulsory and the attraction irresistible.
I do not believe I ever felt better satisfied in my life than when he closed and the orderly dismission began: then he turned to Bessie, and I saw that my friend had found the mission of heart-and soul-work, and was being drawn heavenward by the hand she loved. Such a timid tenderness as pervaded his every look and word! such a sweet consciousness as lighted hers! I laughed at my folly about Tom, and felt that I should be delighted to see him at Haines', and introduce him to the dear, good clergyman whom Bessie had the good sense to appreciate.
The Rev. Charles Pepper was the nephew of Miss Mary. I soon changed my prejudiced opinion of that lady into a clearer view of her merits. She was the Paul that planted: being a woman of wealth and strong religious bias, she had built the mission chapel, gathered together the children and taught them, while her good nephew added the superintendence of the school to his church duties in a different quarter.
"Bessie, does your father know—?" I began as we went homeward together.
She interrupted me: "About Miss Pepper? Oh yes, indeed! She called to ask his permission for me to teach them, and has been at our house twice since.
"You know I don't mean her at all," I said, laughing. "I mean her nephew, Bessie Haines."
But Bessie faltered: she had not the courage to speak freely, since it was evident they had not spoken so to each other yet. She knew she loved and was beloved, but could not force the delicate secret into words, since it was yet unavowed between them.
"All I am afraid of, Bess," said I, determined to make her practical, for she was as ethereal as if she and her love meant to live in the clouds all their days—"all I am afraid of is, that your father's vision may threaten your peace; for, rely on it, Bess, it is about you and you alone, or why should uncle keep praying for you as a 'young damsel,' and 'handmaiden,' and 'female pilgrim,' and all that?"
Bessie seemed troubled, but she could not be brought to confidence until the minister had opened his heart to her. I saw that, and though I had never had a warning dream in my life, I felt it was my mission to help her.
The Rev. Charles and I had had a little, a very little, talk, but I saw that Bessie had named me to him—that pleased me; that he was very desirous of gaining my good-will—that pleased me too. So I had happened to say that I admired church architecture, particularly Gothic: some one had said that his church belonged to that style, and he immediately, offered to take us to examine it. I asked him to call for us next day, and he delightedly promised that he would.
I told Bessie, and the ungrateful creature was alarmed and nervous, and gave way to all sorts of nonsense; but I consoled her and admired him in a way that seemed to give her satisfaction. The next morning I made a startling discovery. I went into the little bookroom that opened out of the great old-fashioned back parlor, where uncle and Mr. Haines sat every morning with Scott and Clarke and Cruden open before them: I went in very quietly, and didn't make much noise when there. Mr. Haines was talking in a slow, set way, and I could hear the scratching of a pen over stiff paper.
"Would you mention my reasons for recording this, my dear Daniel?" he said to Uncle Pennyman.
"I have set them down at the commencement," said my uncle, who was acting as scribe. "I have said that, your mind being clear and your feelings at ease, you retired to your couch on the night of the 28th of October; that the form of your dear wife seemed waiting for you, since you became conscious of her presence immediately after your sinking asleep; and so on."
"Yes," said Mr. Haines, witty a deep sigh: "it is a great thing, no doubt, to be so guided in the visions of the night, and I have many times considered myself greatly favored by the knowledge of the ministry of my dear wife's blessed spirit; but, friend Daniel, if she had been a little more explicit in this instance it would have been a great comfort to me. Follow me now, friend Daniel. You have got it down to where she spoke. Well, she raised her hand and seemed to point to the couch of Dorcas Elizabeth" (that was what Bess had been baptized, and was called by her father on solemn occasions)—"my thoughts had been dwelling on the child, and her increasing age and future duties—and she said, 'Marry her wisely to Thomas,' and repeated the words three times."
I heard the scratching pen and Mr. Haines' depressed, uncertain sigh, and my own heart sank heavily. There was no Thomas to marry her to but our Tom, and such a thing was simply preposterous and wicked. I could not, I would not, bear even to think of it.
Oh, good Mrs. Haines, departed so long ago! why should you come back troubling us about such, things? and, above all, why could you not as well have said Charles as Thomas?
"I have that set down," said Uncle Pennyman. Mr. Haines sighed again in that anxious, uncertain way of his:
"During the first day after the visitation, Daniel, I could not recall whether my wife's appearance said, 'To Thomas, marry her wisely,' or as we now put it down; but since you have set it clearly before me, and your son will so soon be here, I feel that I am justified in having it stated in that way, and that Providence is guiding me."
Oh how my heart rose against Uncle Pennyman as I listened! He was the one to blame for such a shameful, foolish notion stealing into Mr. Haines' head! Left to himself, any name would have suited him equally well, and here was Tom's thrust in without any earthly reason. It was really dreadful! I could scarcely stand on my feet when I remembered how Tom loved his adopted father, and with what unselfish devotion he always spoke of him. "If he's told that it will be a family blessing, he never will have the heart to deny them and grieve Uncle Pennyman. Poor Tom! he is so shockingly unselfish himself that he would rather enjoy a sacrifice than otherwise, I suppose." So ran my thoughts, and I grew desperate. Desperation awakens courage. Tom would be there in the evening, and if anything could be done it had to be done at once.
I slipped out silently as I came: no one heard me. I did not mean that they should do so, for, to confess the truth, I was listening on purpose. I dressed to go out with Mr. Pepper; so did Bessie, though I must say she was very nervous and uncertain about it. "You know papa does not know him in—in the character of a friend of mine," she said, hesitatingly. "Miss Pepper introduced him, and that is all."
"But that is no reason why it should be all," I said to myself, and paid no attention to her little bashful fussiness.
When he arrived, I saw in his eyes that he meant to take advantage of the opportunity I was making for him, and so I boldly carried out my plan. We started, and had gone a block or two when I discovered that they were becoming unaware of my existence and completely absorbed in each other. "Poor dears!" I thought, "let them have a still better chance." So I stopped in the most natural way possible at a window where trimmings were displayed, and began to stare at some ribbon. "The very shade!" I said: "I would not miss it for anything. Pray go on slowly, and I'll join you presently. Keep on till you reach the church—I know the way. And be sure you stay till I come. No, you shall not come in: I insist that you go right on, and do not bother. I have a sort of pride in making bargains, and they never can be made in company, you know." I laughed and wouldn't listen to their waiting, and managed it so well that they went away as unsuspecting and tender as two lambs. I waited till they were out of sight, and then I started straight for home.
I was in high glee till Mrs. Tanner came up stairs.
"There are great preparations making for Mr. Tom," said she with a portentous face. "Mr. Haines has given more orders about his reception than I ever knew him to issue before; and, what seems strange, he actually insists on my calling him Mr. Thomas, when I never can get my tongue round anything but Mr. Tom, in the world."
Both seemed threatening—the preparations and the name; and when Mrs. Tanner asked where Miss Bessie was, and heard that she had gone out, she shook her head and said that she was afraid her pa wouldn't like it. This convinced me that she too had guessed the nature of the vision, and made me more than ever anxious to save poor Bessie and Tom from mutual unhappiness. The first effort was made, and I must consider the next step. I felt nearly sure that by this time the two dear Sunday-school workers had become personal in their conversation, and taking up my position on the broad sofa in the quiet, shady back parlor, I set myself to thinking out the plan. It was a great, solidly-furnished old room, staid and handsome like the rest of the house, and meant for comfort in every particular. Over the mantelpiece, and directly opposite to me, was a life-size picture of Mrs. Haines, a very young lady with a mild shyness of expression and a great deal of flaxen hair. She had died when Bessie was a baby, and was altogether a more childlike and undecided person than her daughter. The wonder therefore was that she should have become so dictatorial in the visions of the night, and undertaken to control the family affairs after so many years, never having meddled with them while there was a living opportunity.
I was just thinking how useless it would be to appeal to Uncle Pennyman without—without saying something about Tom (and that under the circumstances could not be thought of: it made me burn all over merely to have it in my mind for a moment), when I became drowsy, and had not time to question the feeling until I was sound asleep.
A murmur of voices roused me, or perhaps I was going to wake at any rate, for they were singularly low, and the speakers quite unconscious of my presence. I looked up, and in the faint light coming between the bowed shutters and lace curtains I saw the Rev. Charles and Bessie directly under the portrait of Mrs. Haines. He had thrown his arm around her, and, although she struggled just a little in the embrace, held her to his heart.
"Oh, I cannot believe it," she was saying: "it is like a dream. And Winnie too!—to forget all about dear Winnie just because I am so happy. It is selfish and unkind, dear, I am afraid."
He told her I was too good, too lovable to quarrel with their bliss, and held her to his heart while he looked up to the flaxed-haired, baby-faced mother for a blessing with quite a glow of feeling on his face and real tears in his eyes.
There was something in mine I suppose, for when I looked too I could scarcely believe them: the portrait seemed to show a different face entirely. The blue eyes bent down on those upturned to meet them with a look I had never beheld in them before, and the delicate little pink mouth seemed to tremble with a blessing.
"Am I dreaming?" I almost asked it aloud, and the question and the sound of Uncle Pennyman's voice in the book-room gave me a new idea. Softly I slipped from my place and out at the open door, leaving the absorbed ones to themselves, and joined my uncle and Mr. Haines where they were preparing for another conflict with the commentators.
"I have had a dream," I said solemnly.
"A dream!" repeated they.
"Yes, and it was so lifelike that I must tell it to you, for I am convinced it is no common warning, but one full of meaning and truth."
They gazed at me blankly, and I went on, fearing to stop an instant lest I should lose my courage:
"I was lying on the sofa opposite Mrs. Haines' portrait—"
"The very place where I lay when last I dreamed," murmured her husband.
"And I saw Bessie and a gentleman hand in hand beneath it, looking up into the sweet face for a blessing; and oh such a heavenly smile lighted it while the beautiful lips seemed to murmur, 'She will marry wisely, dear Thomas!'"
Mr. Haines was so shaken by my words that my heart misgave me. He covered his face with his hands. "She used to call me dear Thomas," he said, and the tears ran through his fingers.
"Then the name was yours" said Uncle Pennyman with weighty consideration. "You remember I said it was capable of a double application: those things are wonderful, and interpret each other. Winnie, my dear girl, could you distinguish this person's face?"
Before I could answer, Mrs. Tanner at the door said, "Here's Mr. Tom, bless his heart! I never can learn to call him anything else."
Tom was so glad to see me! Yes, I may as well tell it, for it told itself: dear Tom never seemed so glad before.
"Was it his face, Winnie?" whispered Mr. Haines.
If ever No was said with energy and decision, it was in my reply. The parlor door opened just as we were about to go in all together, shaking hands and making kind speeches over Tom, and Bessie and the Rev. Charles appeared in the act of taking leave of each other.
"That's the face!" I cried dramatically; and then I really and truly did faint—stone dead, as Mrs. Tanner said afterward—for I was not used to telling lies, and even white ones were exciting things to tell, and scarcely justified themselves to my conscience by the magnitude of the good they were to do.
When I came to myself, Bessie was hanging over me with all the love she had left from Mr. Charles, I suppose; and I heard Mr. Haines and Uncle Pennyman talking with Tom, and trying to explain to him the remarkable nature of the vision that had overcome me. I sat up, and tried to laugh and declare that it was nothing at all, though my heart kept throbbing.
"You have all had dreams," said Tom: "you have yet to hear mine. Uncle, I dreamed that Winnie and I loved each other, and that I asked you for her and you said yes."
"No, Thomas," said Uncle Pennyman gravely, but with a kind of breaking about his mouth: "your eyes were open when you had that vision, and you must not jest with serious subjects. But it is well you mentioned it, dear boy, and it is well our child Winnie received such a remarkable direction, since it throws light on friend Haines' visitation, and apparently the happiness of that excellent young minister and our dear Bessie here."
"The young man has just expressed himself in corroboration of the vision," said Mr. Haines, much affected.
Bessie threw her arms round her father, then round me, and then she ran away. Mr. Haines and Uncle Pennyman went out to their commentaries, Mrs. Tanner to see to her buns: Tom and I were alone.
"What is this about, Winnie darling?" he said.
"Tom," said I, "we are all the victims of dreams."
The Cold Hand.
There is a rocky hill in what was till recently the town of Dorchester, looking out over Boston Bay. It takes its name from the stiff black savins with which it is covered, and which contrive to find nourishment and support in the rock to which they cling. Some of these trees show their great age by their gnarled and knotted trunks and boughs. Black and impassive they stand, alike in the brightest summer or the grayest winter, sighing restlessly in the breeze, but wailing piteously when the sea-winds sweep over the hill. Partway up the little rocky eminence stands an old house, now fast falling to pieces. It is a low building, with a gambrel roof and a huge chimney. It has stood there many years, for it was built not long after the Revolution, and it might have stood many years more had it not been suffered to go to decay with a carelessness which seemed to belie the general thrift of the town.
Wandering over the hill one bright winter day, with no companion but a large dog, I stopped to look in at the window of the old house. The glass was gone from the sash, and the sash itself was broken in many places; but the obscurity was so deep within that I obtained only a partial glimpse of an interior which to my fancy had a peculiarly deserted and eerie look. I felt a desire to explore the place, attracted rather than repelled by its forlorn look of falling age; for I came from a part of the country where the most ancient relic dates back only forty years, and the aspect of everything old and quaint in the place had a charm for me which I suspect it offers to few of the natives. The front door was locked, but I obtained an entrance without difficulty at the back, and made my way through a little shed, which was evidently of more modern construction than the main part of the building. I came first into the kitchen, where was a large fireplace blackened with the smoke of long-dead fires, and a narrow, high mantelpiece. A little cupboard was let into the side of the great chimney, which projected far across the floor. The room was long and narrow, running the whole length of the house, with a window at each end. The blackened plaster was dropping from the walls and ceiling, exposing in some places the heavy beams, and the floor was dark and discolored with age and dust, although quite firm to the tread. By a low door I passed into a small room lighted by two windows—one in front, the other at the end of the house, and presenting the same appearance of desolate decay. There were four doors in this room—the one through which I had just entered, another leading to the rooms above, a third, secured by a bolt, which I did not then open, and a fourth leading into a narrow passage, in which was the locked front door. I crossed this passage, and found myself in a room of the same size as the one I had just left. It was that into which I had attempted to look from the outside. Here I missed the dog, who had hitherto followed me, though with seeming reluctance, and no persuasion could induce him to cross the threshold. This room was in rather better repair than were the other two. There was the same high mantelpiece, rather less narrow, and the same little cupboard let into the massive chimney. The floor was less discolored, but there was a deep burnt spot on it near the fireplace, as if some one had dropped a shovelful of hot coals, or rather as if some corrosive fluid had been spilled. I remained here a few moments, idly wondering what might have been the history of the former tenants, and what could have induced any one to build a house in a spot so bleak and exposed, where scarcely a pretence of soil offered itself for a garden. As I stood there, a singular impression came upon me that I was not alone. For a moment, and a moment only, I became conscious of another presence in the room. The impression passed as suddenly as it had come, but, transient as it was, it awoke me from my reverie. Smiling at myself for the fancy, I recrossed the passage and ascended the steep, narrow winding stairs to the chambers above. There were four small rooms, opening one into the other, with a closet partitioned off in each, and so low that in the highest part a tall man could but just have stood upright. Here the ruin was farther advanced. The floor creaked under my foot, the plaster had nearly all fallen from the ceiling and was peeling from the walls, while deep stains on the remaining portion showed that the rain and thawing snow had made their way through the roof. The place had a lonesome, forlorn look, even more than usually belongs to a deserted house, though such might not have been its aspect to other than my unaccustomed Western eyes.
Turning, I made my way down the short staircase, and was about to leave the house when the third door, as yet unopened, caught my eye. I drew with some difficulty the rusted bolt, and found myself at the head of a steep flight of stairs, seemingly longer than that which I had just descended. It led to the cellar, and though the afternoon was getting on, I thought I would finish my exploration, and therefore went down, though repelled by the close and peculiarly damp air. The cellar was blasted and hewn in the solid rock to a depth which, considering the extreme hardness of the stone, seemed remarkable in a house so unpretending. A dim light made its way through a narrow window at each end and fell upon the stone floor. I walked forward, looking up at the windows, but I had not taken ten steps before I recoiled with a start. At my feet lay a pit, seemingly of considerable depth, and filled with water to within four feet of the top. The cellar did not lie under the kitchen, but only under the two front rooms and the passage, and this pit occupied the whole length and fully half the breadth of the space of the rooms above, and, what was more peculiar, seemed to extend even farther forward than the house itself. Another step, and I should have fallen into it. Curious to try its depth, I picked up a little fragment of stone and dropped it in. As the stone touched the water, and the circles on the sullen surface began to widen, a current of air rushed down the stairs, and the door above shut violently. At that moment the impression which I had experienced in the room above came back upon me with tenfold distinctness, and was accompanied with a feeling of exceeding horror. It seemed as if there was closing around me some evil influence, from which I could only escape by instant flight. For one moment I resisted the unreasonable terror, and made an attempt to explain, or at least analyze, a sensation so unwonted: the next, the loathing dread grew too strong. I turned and hurried across the damp floor, up the narrow stairs, and, opening the door, made my way as quickly as possible into the outside air. The dog was waiting for me in the little shed, and seemed delighted at seeing me again. I closed the door, ashamed of my senseless fright, but nevertheless I was thankful that I had found no trouble in getting out. I am not quite prepared to say, however, that these sudden and apparently unreasonable starts are independent of external causes. The Vermont-bred horse will be thrown into an agony of fright when the closed cage of a lion passes by, though he has never learned by experience that lions will kill horses, and though the lion himself is unseen.
I walked briskly home. I had some distance to go, and had quite lost the impression of my ghostly terror when I reached the house where I was staying, a modern shingle Gothic erection, which in vain endeavored to disguise its barny appearance with sundry wooden adornments modeled after crochet-work.
"Freda," said I to my friend after tea, when she and I were sitting comfortably by the fire in the library, "do you know anything about the old yellow-gray house up on the hill?"
"Why, what of it?"
"Nothing, only I went into it to-day. What is its history?"
"Nothing particular. It was built for a Doctor Haywood. Have you read Alp's last essay on the Semi-occasional?"
"Yes, and great stuff it is."
Freda looked inexpressibly shocked. I had better have condemned law and gospel together than made light of Alp; but she put up with it, probably considering it excusable as the utterance of a savage from the wilds of New York.
"Never mind him now. He shall proclaim his figs in the name of the Prophet for all time if you will tell me about the old house. I know it has a story."
She rose and took from the drawer an old manuscript volume, which she placed in my hands. It was a little note-book, in which the entries were made not from day to day, but at irregular intervals, in a singularly clear, precise hand:
"Nov. 3, 1784. This day my neighbor Ball's cow, getting out of the pasture and running on the highway, was put in the pound. Took her out, and cautioned my neighbor to have more care of the creature. Mem.: To bespeak a pair of shoes for her eldest girl.
"Jan. 1, 1785. This day the wind very high.
"Jan. 10. Neighbor Ball's cow, getting among my wife's rosebushes, did do some damage, whereat she was much vexed. Caught the said cow, and begged my neighbor to keep her at home, which she promised to do, but in an hour back again. However, she is a widow.
"Jan. 13. Doctor Haywood, newly come to this place from the old country, has taken lodging with Neighbor Ball. Said to be a learned man—has much baggage, and they say some curious machines. Is curious about plants and the like. Neighbor Ball did hint to my wife that he knew about matters better let alone, whereat my wife did tell her that she wished he would give her a charm to keep her cow out of our yard.
"Jan. 15. Dr. Haywood has bought a lot on the hill, and is to build upon it. Has spoken to me about it. Have drawn the plan, and shall make the estimate.
"Feb. 1. Doctor Haywood hurries on the work—says he is in haste to get into his own house. Saw Indian Will to-day, quite drunk. With much trouble got him to our house, where my wife did let him lie in the kitchen all night. Had she not done so, the poor man might have frozen to death before morning, for it was a very cold night. Argued with him in the morning, whereat he promised amendment.
"Feb. 10. My daughter Faithful this day, with my consent, promised herself to John Clark, skipper of the Federalist schooner.
"Feb. 18. Blasting out the cellar for Haywood's house. He wants it more than common deep—says it makes the house warm.
"Feb. 21. Came this day upon a great hollow in the rock filled with water, which ran in as soon as pumped but. The doctor much displeased at first—talked of beginning over again, but finally contented himself.
"June 3. Doctor Haywood moved into his house this day. Has much curious stuff. The minister says he is a chemist.
"June 8. Went up to the doctor's house to settle with him. He came to the door and said he was too busy then, but would drop round soon. They say he lets no one inside the place since he moved. Has taken a pew in the meeting-house, and comes once of a Sabbath.
"July 22. Doctor Haywood and me did settle accounts. He beat everything down to the last penny—offered to pay part in attendance on my family if sick. Did not care to settle that way, knowing his charges. Charged James Sumner five dollars for one visit to his child, which child, nevertheless, he did greatly help.
"August 18. News came this day that the Federalist went down in the gale of the tenth, off Marblehead, with all on board. A sore affliction to my daughter Faithful. The Lord's will be done!
"August 26. Neighbor Ball's eldest girl gets lower. Doctor Cray does no good. She would call in Doctor Haywood if she dared, but his charges are so high. James Sumner and me did consult together and agree to take the charges between us. I have heard say that he has helped several poor people free: did especially help Indian Will when he lay like to die of pleurisy at Neponset Village.
"Sept. 1. Neighbor Ball, going up the hill last night to call Doctor Haywood to her daughter Hepsey, did tell my wife that she had a look into the south room as he opened the door, and that there were queer things there, such as a brick furnace, all red with fire; and she did say, too, that she saw things like snakes, only thin like mist, twisting about in the air by the firelight, which I do hold to be her own invention or mere foolish notions.
"Sept. 2. Doctor Haywood has helped Hepsey Ball some considerable, though he says he cannot cure her, for she has consumption.
"Sept. 16. Doctor Haywood told James Sumner and me that he would ask nothing for attending Hepsey Ball, but would keep on to ease her what he could as long as she lived. He told my wife she might last a year.
"Nov. 3. Jonathan Phelps told me that Doctor Haywood had borrowed one hundred dollars of him, giving security on the house and lot.
"Nov. 8. James Sumner this day, his wife being dead a year, did ask my daughter Sophonisba to marry him, the which she did refuse, and snapped him off too short. Then he spoke to Faithful, and she burst out crying and ran up stairs, and could by no means be got to listen. Recommended James to Hannah Gardner.
"Nov. 16. Doctor Hay wood this day borrowed fifty dollars of me. If he had not been so considerate to Widow Ball should not have felt like letting it go.
"Dec. 16. Coming home from Boston last night, overtook Indian Will. He showed me a big iron tobacco-box nearly full of money—silver, with two gold-pieces, one a Spanish piece, the other an English half guinea. He got it for a lot of deer-skins in Boston. Begged him not to drink it all up, which he said he would not do, but would give it to his squaw. Did ask him to come home with me, which he refused, as he meant to go on to Neponset Village.
"Dec. 17. The wind blowing these two days to the land made it very high water, coming nearly up to Governor Stoughton's elm, and covering the road.
"Dec. 18. A great gale last night—much damage at sea, doubtless. The water very high.
"Dec. 19. Two men out in a boat found an old hat and blanket floating by the Point, said to belong to Indian Will: no one has seen him since the 16th. Likely he went to the tavern and got drunk, so missed his way and was drowned by the tide.
"Dec. 20, Last night Indian Will's body came ashore, much beaten by the rocks, but known to be his by those who knew him. The verdict was, 'Drowned by the tide.'
"Feb. 11, 1786. Doctor Haywood spent the evening at our house. He has been more social of late, going a good deal among people, especially poor people, to help them. Has never paid me the fifty dollars, but makes promises. I was led on to speak of Indian Will. The doctor said the night of the 16th he thought he heard some one cry out, but thought it some drunken person, and besides was busy with his studies, and so did not mind. My wife asked him what he studied. He said a good many different matters, but that he had given it all up now, and meant to practice. Shortly after jumped up and went away very sudden."
Here the journal came to an abrupt end. The rest of the book was filled with accounts relating to the business of a milliner and dressmaker. Slipped in between its leaves were two letters, written in a cramped, scratchy hand and rather irregular in spelling. They were directed to Sophonisba T——, Salem, Massachusetts, and seemed to be from a mother to her daughter:
"DORCHESTER, May 1, 1786.
"My Dear Child: I take my pen in hand to let you knew that we are all in good health, and hope you are enjoying the same blessing. James Sumner is married to Hannah Gardner. Most people think she will have her hands full with his children. Parson H—— married them. She wore a blue silk at two dollars the yard. Hepsey Ball is dead. She departed this life on the 29th of April, at half-past eight in the evening, being quite resigned and in good hope of her election to grace. She had not much pain at the last. Doctor Haywood called to see her in the morning, and she being then, as we thought, asleep, did start up and cry out that there was a black shadow, not his own, always following after him, which made me think her light-headed; but her mother says the doctor turned as pale as a sheet, and made as if to go off again. Your sister Faithful is at Mr. Trueman's, helping to make up Lorenda's wedding-clothes. I would not have had her go, but she seemed willing to undertake it. Your loving mother, ANNA T——."
The second was also addressed to Sophonisba, who on the 3d of June was yet visiting friends in Salem. After a few details of domestic news, it went on:
"Doctor Haywood is missing: no one knows where he is gone. He has been looked for in Boston, but they have found no news of him; only that a little black boy says he saw a man like him go on board a ship bound for the East Indies. Now he is gone, they find he owes money to a great many besides your father. He owes to people in Boston for drugs and medicines—some, it is said, very costly, and sent for express to the old country. Mr. Sewell, the bookseller there, says he tried to dispose of his books to him; and when he did not buy them, thinks he sent them to the old country. He owes every one he could get to trust him. It is odd what he did with all the money. It is thought Jonathan Phelps will get the house. They went up to it and found the door unlocked. They found nothing in the house but the furniture, and that very common and cheap. There were none of all those things they said he had; only in the south room a lot of bottles and jars, and a brick place built up with a vent outside, which Parson H—— says is a furnace such as folks use that study chemistry. There was a great heap of ashes in the fireplace, as if he had burned papers or books there, and a great burned spot on the floor right before it."
"Who was the writer of these?" I asked as I refolded the little old letter, "and what became of Doctor Haywood? Was nothing more heard?"
In answer to these questions my friend gave the following narration.
The writer of the journal was my great uncle, Silas T——. Sophonisba and Faithful were my mother's cousins. Both were much older than she, but I have often seen Faithful when I was a girl, and I had all the story there is from herself. The little house on the hill fell into the hands of the chief creditor, who took down the furnace in the south room and offered the place to rent, but no tenant ever remained there long, either because of the bleak situation or the want of a garden. There were rumors that the place was not quite canny. One woman, indeed, went so far as to declare that she had seen the doctor's figure, dim and unsubstantial, standing before the fireplace in the twilight, and that once, as she came up the cellar stairs, something followed her and laid a cold hand on her shoulder; but as she was a nervous, hysterical person, and moreover was known to be somewhat given to exaggeration, no one paid much attention to her tale.
It was certain, however, that there was a great deal of sickness in the house. One family who rented the place lost three children by fever in one summer, and it was remarkable that all three seemed to fall under the same delusion, and insisted that something or some one, coming behind them, laid upon their shoulders a cold hand. One of them, toward the last, said that a shadow kept moving to and fro in the room, and kept the sunshine all away. The woman who had seen the vision of the old doctor became a widow the next month, and so much sickness and death took place in the house that at last no one would live there, and it was shut up by its owner.
In due course of time the father and mother of Sophonisba and Faithful were laid in Dorchester burial-ground. Mr. T—— had never been a rich man by any means, and when he died there was little left for the two girls, even after the sale of the homestead. They did not, however, consider themselves poor, but with their fifteen hundred dollars in the bank and their trade of milliner and dressmaker thought themselves very well to do in the world. Sophonisba, the elder, was at that time a little under fifty—an energetic, hard-working woman, with a constitution of wrought iron and bend leather, and no more under the influence of what are called "nerves" than if they had been left out of her system entirely. If ever a woman was born into this world an old maid, it was Sophonisba T——. Her fine name was the only romantic thing about her. She had had more than one offer of marriage in her day, but she had no talent for matrimony, and had turned such a very cold shoulder on her admirers that the swains became dispirited, and betook themselves to the courtship of more impressible damsels. There was no hidden romance or tale of unreturned affection in Miss Sophonisba's experience. The simple fact was, she had never wished to be married. Miss Faithful was five years her sister's junior. She had never found room in her heart for a second love since John Clark went down in the Federalist. She had been a young and pretty girl then, and now she was a thin, silent, rather nervous little body, depending entirely upon her sister with a helpless kind of affection that was returned on Miss Sophonisba's part by a devotion which might almost be called passionate.
"I tell you what it is, Faithful," said Miss Sophonisba one evening, as they sat over their tea, "if they raise the rent on us here, I won't stay."
The sisters had lived in the house ever since the death of their mother, five years before. Their business had prospered, and they were conveniently situated, but, for all that, Miss Sophonisba had no mind to pay additional rent.
"No?" said Faithful, inquiringly.
"That I won't! We pay all it's worth now, and more too. It ain't the extra four shillings," said Miss Sophonisba, rubbing her spectacles in irritation, "but I do hate to be imposed upon."
"It will be some trouble to find a new place," suggested Miss Faithful meekly, "and we can afford it, I suppose."
"I don't care if we can afford it a dozen times over," said her sister, with increased decision. "I won't be imposed upon. If I've got either to drive or be driven, I'd rather drive."
"Of course," said Miss Faithful, who had never driven any living creature in the whole course of her life.
"I saw Peter Phelps to-day," said Miss Sophonisba, "and he says he'll let us have the old house up on the hill for anything we like to give."
Miss Faithful gave a little start: "Would you like to live there, Sophonisba?"
"Why, it's a good convenient situation, and plenty big enough for you and me and the cat."
"But you know," said Miss Faithful, timidly, "they have told such queer stories about it." "Stuff and nonsense!" said Miss Sophonisba. "You don't believe them, I hope?"
"No," hesitated her sister, "but then one remembers them, you know. Widow Eldridge always said she saw old Doctor Haywood there."
"Stuff and nonsense!" said Miss Sophonisba again. "You know perfectly well you couldn't trust a word she said about anything."
"Oh, Sophonisba, she's dead!" said Miss Faithful, shocked.
"I can't help that, child. It don't hinder her having told fibs all her lifetime."
"Her husband died the next month."
"Well, so he might anywhere. My wonder is he lived as long as he did, considering."
"And Mrs. Jones's three children died there."
"Well, and didn't Mrs. Gardner lose her two and that brother of hers? and I never heard their place was haunted; and didn't two die out of the Trueman house? and ever so many more all over town? It was a dreadful sickly summer."
"And Sarah Jane McClean was taken sick there with fever."
"Well, they had dirt enough to account for anything. Doctor Brown told me himself that they had a great heap of potatoes sprouted in the cellar, and there ain't anything so bad as that."
The last vestige of a ghost was demolished: Miss Faithful had nothing more to say.
"It's nigh twenty-five years since the old doctor went off," said Miss Sophonisba. "It ain't very probable he's alive now; and if he is, he won't be very apt to come back: and if he is dead, he certainly won't. If he did, I'd like to ask him why he never paid father that fifty dollars. I saw Peter Phelps to-day, and he says he'll fix the place all up for us if we'll have it, but of course I wouldn't say anything about it till I'd spoken to you."
"Just as you please, Sophonisba," said Miss Faithful.
"He says he'll give us a bit of ground down on the flat for a garden, and let his man dig it up for us. I went up and looked at the house. It ain't so much out of repair as you'd think."
"Did you see the burnt spot on the floor?" asked Miss Faithful with some interest.
"Yes, I saw it—a great blackened place. Most likely he spilled some of his chemical stuff on it."
Miss Sophonisba was not, as she expressed herself, one to let the grass grow under her feet. She concluded the bargain for the house next day, and informed their landlord—who, by the by, was a son of their old neighbor, Widow Ball—of their intention to move. That gentleman was not at all pleased at the idea of losing his tenants. In vain he offered to recede from the obnoxious demand of four shillings more. Miss Sophonisba told him that she had made up her mind, and that she wasn't in the habit of going back from her bargains when she had given her word, whatever other people might be.
"Well, Miss T——," said Mr. Ball, "I hope you won't repent. They've said queer things about that house ever since the old doctor went off so mysterious. Some folks said he drowned himself in that place in the cellar."
"Stuff and nonsense!" said Miss Sophonisba. "The old doctor never hurt any one when he was alive, except by borrowing money of them, and it ain't likely he'll want to do that now that he's dead; and if he did, I shouldn't let him have it."
"Well, my mother was in the house when Miss Eldridge came running up the stairs as pale as a sheet, and said he came behind her and caught hold of her shoulder."
"Joanna Eldridge was always a poor, miserable, shiftless, narvy thing," said Miss Sophonisba, "and half the time you couldn't believe a word she said."
"Well she was a connexion of our'n, Miss T——, and I always thought there was something in it. Narves won't account for everything."
"Well, I never trusted her a bit more for that," said Miss Sophonisba. "I know one time she told mother a long story about how you sent in a bill for shoes to Widow Sumner that James had paid you before he died, and she said you'd have made her a deal of trouble if she hadn't ha' found the receipt. A good many folks talked about it, but I always said it was just one of Joanna's stories."
Mr. Ball was put down, and took his leave.
As soon as the necessary repairs were finished the sisters moved into the house, and during that summer found reason to congratulate themselves on their change of abode. The high, airy situation was very pleasant in warm weather, and the view over the waters of the bay across to Boston and far out to sea, with the coming and departing ships, afforded much pleasure and a subject of conversation to the sisters. Their little garden on the flat throve well, and was a source of never-ending interest. They had been troubled by no ghostly visitations. Miss Sophonisba had indeed once heard a mysterious noise in the cellar, but on going down stairs she found that the cat had jumped on the hanging shelf and was helping herself out of the milk-pan.
The sisters were sitting one day toward the end of November—I think it was the twenty-fifth—in the north room, which they had made their work-room. The south room, according to the custom of our ancestors, still religiously preserved among us, was shut up "for company." The kitchen served them also for dining-room, and the largest room up stairs was their bed-chamber. Miss Sophonisba was trimming a bonnet, a task for which she had an especial gift. Ladies came to her even from Boston, saying that her work had an air and style quite its own, while her charges were not nearly so high as those of the more fashionable milliners in the city. Faithful was altering a dress of her own. Both were much engaged with their work, and neither had spoken for some time. Suddenly, Faithful started slightly, and the needle dropped from her hand.
"What's the matter?" asked her sister.
"Nothing," said Faithful, rather confused.
"Yes, there is," said Miss Sophonisba. "People don't jump that way for nothing. What is it?"
"Oh, I don't know," hesitated Miss Faithful. "I guess I pricked my finger."
"Umph!" said Miss Sophonisba in a very incredulous way, but she pushed her inquiries no farther.
As soon as her sister was silent, Miss Faithful's conscience began to chide her for her little evasion. Twice she opened her mouth to speak, and as often checked herself, but the third time the words were uttered: "If I tell you, Sophonisba, you will laugh at me."
"Well, that wouldn't kill you, child."
"No; but—well—it was only that I thought all of a sudden some one was standing behind my chair."
"How could you think so when there was no one there?"
"I don't know, but it felt as if there was."
"Nonsense, Faithful! If you didn't see any one, how did you know there was any one? Have you got eyes in the back of your head?"
"I didn't see it—I sort of felt so."
"'Sort of felt so!'" said Miss Sophonisba, with good-natured contempt. "If I was you, I'd take some catnip tea when I went to bed: you're kind of narvy."
Miss Faithful assented, and went on quietly with her sewing, but she changed the seat which she had occupied, with her back to the cellar door, for one close to her sister.
No further disturbance occurred till the middle of December. It had been a very windy day. The bay was tossing in long gray-green lines of waves crested with flying foam. The black savins sighed and wailed as they bent to the cutting blast. The wind was east, and it took a good deal of fire to keep the old house warm, but wood was cheap in those days, and Miss Sophonisba, though prudent and economical, was not given to what New England expressively calls "skrimping."
Miss Faithful, not feeling very well, had gone up stairs to bed soon after tea. A windy day always made her uncomfortable, recalling, too vividly perhaps, the gale in which the Federalist had gone down. Miss Sophonisba, having some work on hand which she was anxious to finish, was sitting up rather beyond her usual hour. Pausing for a moment in her sewing, she heard some one walking about in the room above her to and fro, with a regular though light step, as of bare or thinly-shod feet, on the boards.
"Why, what can ail the child," she said to herself, "to be walking about barefoot this time of night? She'll get her death of cold;" and she put down her work and went up stairs, intending to administer a sisterly lecture. To her surprise, Faithful was fast asleep in bed, and no other living creature was in the room. It could not have been the cat this time, for Puss was comfortably purring before the fire down stairs. Miss Sophonisba stood by the bed for a moment, candle in hand, listening for a repetition of the sound.
Suddenly a wilder gust shook the house perceptibly. Miss Faithful started from her sleep with a cry of terror. "Oh, I have had such a dream!" said she, clinging to her sister.
"What was it?" said Miss Sophonisba, soothing and quieting her like a child.
"I thought I was lying in bed just as I was, when all of a sudden I knew that Something had come in, and was going up and down, up and down the room."
"What was it like?" asked her sister, rather impressed in spite of herself.
"I couldn't see: it was all shifty and mist-like—like the shadow of smoke on the ground—and I couldn't tell if it was like a human being or not; but it seemed to me as if I ought to know it and what it was, and as if it was trying to make me understand something, and couldn't, just as it is when the cat sits and looks at you. You know the creature wants something, if she could tell what it was."
"She wants something out of the cupboard most generally," said Miss Sophonisba; "but go on."
"And finally," said Miss Faithful with a nervous shudder, "after it had gone back and forth two or three times—and I could hear it on the floor too, just like some one walking in their stocking-feet—it came close up to me and seemed to bend over me, or to be all around me in the air some way—I can't tell you how—and I was dreadfully scared, and woke up."
"It made a noise, did it?" said Miss Sophonisba.
"Yes; and somehow the noise made me feel as if I ought to know what it wanted and what it was."
"It was the wind," said Miss Sophonisba. "It got mixed up in your dreams, I expect. How it does blow!—fit to take the roof off. There! the cellar door has started open. That latch doesn't catch: I must go down and bolt it."
At that moment the cat rushed up the short staircase from the lower room, and springing on the bed, stood with bristling tail and glaring eyes, intently watching the door.
"Has she got a fit?" exclaimed Miss Sophonisba; and she put out her hand to push the cat off, but it turned to Miss Faithful, who was sitting up in bed, and crawling under the bed-clothes, lay there trembling and mewing in a very curious fashion.
"Some one has got in down stairs," said Miss Faithful, turning white. "Oh, Sophonisba, we shall all be murdered!"
"Nonsense!" said Miss Sophonisba, quite restored to herself at the thought of actual danger. She caught up a great pair of tongs and started down stairs, the candlestick in one hand, the tongs in the other, Miss Faithful, who dared not stay behind, threw a shawl over her night-dress and followed close at her sister's heels, while the cat crawled still farther under the clothes, and refused to answer to Miss Sophonisba's call. There was nothing unusual down stairs. The two outside doors were locked, the fire was burning brightly, and Miss Sophonisba's work lay on the table just as she had left it. The cellar door indeed, which latched imperfectly, stood open.
"Some one has come in and locked the door after them, and gone down cellar," was Miss Faithful's whispered suggestion.
"How could they?" said Miss Sophonisba. "We didn't hear any one; and besides, they would have left their tracks on the floor this wet night; but I'll go down and look. You stay here by the fire."
But Miss Faithful preferred to follow her sister. They found nothing out of place in the cellar, into which, if you remember, there is no outside door. Every tub and barrel and milk-pan was in its place, and the surface of the pit of water, which served the family as a cistern, was undisturbed.
"It must have been the door flying open that scared the cat," said Miss Sophonisba, "Faithful, you're as white as a sheet. I shall just heat up some elderberry wine and make you drink it;" which she did then and there, and, no further disturbance taking place, the sisters went to bed. The cat, however, whose usual place was by the kitchen fire, would not go down stairs, and when at last turned out, she mewed so piteously and scratched so persistently at the bed-room door that Miss Sophonisba gave way to her and let her in to sleep all night at the foot of the bed.
No further annoyance took place, nor was Miss Faithful troubled with a repetition of her curious dream. The next week, however, as Miss Sophonisba was in the kitchen making preparations for tea, she was startled by a scream from her sister in the next room, succeeded by the sound of a heavy fall. She hurried into the work-room. Miss Faithful lay on the floor quite insensible. It was some time before her sister's anxious exertions were rewarded by signs of returning animation. When at last she opened her eyes, she burst into a fit of hysterical sobbing and crying.
"For gracious sake, sister!" said Miss Sophonisba, really alarmed, "what is the matter?"
"Oh dear! oh dear!" sobbed Miss Faithful. "It was John! I know it was John, and I could not speak to him!"
"What?" said Miss Sophonisba, alarmed for her sister's wits. "What was John?"
"It—that—the thing that came behind me: I know it was!"
"When?" asked her sister.
"As I was sitting there in my chair something came behind me and put a hand on my shoulder. It was John—I know it was. His hand was all cold and wet: he came out of the sea to call me."
"Now just look here, Faithful!" said Miss Sophonisba. "John was one of the most careful, considerate fellows I ever knew, and he was always particular careful of you. Do you think it's likely he wouldn't have no more sense, now that he's a saint in heaven, than to come scaring you out of your wits in that way? Is it like him, now?"
"But oh, sister, if you had felt it as I did, clear into the bone!"
"Then it's over twenty-five years since the Federalist was lost. Do you suppose he's been going round the other world all this while without getting a chance to be dry? Did you see him?"
"No, but I felt it."
"Well, now if there'd been anything real there, anything material, you'd have seen it; and if it wasn't material, how could it be wet?"
Faithful was not prepared to answer, but it was evident that she had received a great shock. In vain did her sister argue, reason and coax. She could not explain, but that something had come behind her, and that this Something had touched her, she was convinced; and she added: "I do believe it was John I saw the other night. I thought then I was awake all the time, and now I know I was."
This last assertion quite overset Miss Sophonisba's patience, "If ever any one was asleep," she said, "you were when I came up stairs. I thought I heard you walking about with your bare feet, and I came up to see."
"Then you: heard it too?" said Miss Faithful, eagerly.
It was an unlucky admission, but Miss Sophonisba would not allow that she had made it.
"I heard the wind make the boards creak, I suppose; and do you think John wouldn't have more sense than to be walking about our room at half-past ten at night? What nonsense!"
"You may call it nonsense as much as you like, Sophonisba," said Miss Faithful, beginning to cry afresh, "but I know what I know, and I can't help it."
"Well, well, dear, we won't think of it any more. You're nervous and worried, and you'd just best put on your wrapper and lie down and try to go to sleep."
"I don't like to stay alone just now," said Miss Faithful, timidly.
"I don't want you to: I'll bring my work up stairs and stay with you."
Miss Sophonisba helped her sister up stairs, and began to assist her to undress. As she took into her hand the cape of Miss Faithful's woolen dress she nearly uttered an exclamation of surprise, but checked herself in time. On the left shoulder was a wet spot, and the dress directly beneath was quite damp. Miss Sophonisba said nothing, of this matter to her sister, but she made an excuse to leave the room for a moment, and going down stairs looked to see if any water had been spilled on the floor. There was none, and Miss Sophonisba was puzzled. She remembered that when her sister was startled before she had occupied the same seat, with her back to the cellar door. She noticed that the door was slightly ajar, and it occurred to her that the cold air blowing through the crack might account for her sister's feeling of sudden chill, if not for the dampness. She went down the cellar stairs, carrying with her a lighted candle. Bold as she was, a singular sensation came over her when she saw upon each stair a print, as if some one with wet feet had ascended or descended, and that very recently. The track was not such as would be left by a person heavily shod: it was rather like that of one wearing a stocking or thin slipper.
"What under the sun—" was her perplexed exclamation as she went down, following the marks of the unknown feet until they were lost on the stone floor. It was certain that there was no one in the cellar, but as she went up again, and paused for a moment at the top of the staircase, she heard, or thought she heard, close to her ear, a long, weary sigh, as of one in pain, and a sudden breath of cold air swept past her down the stairs. She turned, and crossing the little passage went into the south room. The burned spot on the floor was covered by the neat rag carpet, but there were still some slight marks on the wall of the old doctor's brick furnace. Miss Sophonisba glanced round the room, but her eyes fell upon nothing but the familiar and well-preserved furniture; yet there came over her a strange sense that she was not alone. She saw nothing, but in spite of herself a feeling of a Presence not her own gathered about her. It was but for a moment, and then her habitual firmness and common sense reasserted themselves.
"Stuff and nonsense!" she said. "I am getting as bad as Faithful;" and leaving the room, she went back to her sister. Miss Faithful had sought comfort in her devotions, and was more composed than could have been expected. Neither felt inclined to comment on the recent disturbance. Miss Faithful's health seemed to have received no permanent harm from the sudden shock she had undergone, but she had a nervous dread of being alone, which was a source of some inconvenience to her sister.
The month of December passed, and the uncomfortable impression left by Faithful's attack was beginning to fade away from the minds of both, when it happened that the disturbance was renewed in a singular manner.
Miss Sophonisba was alone, her sister having gone to a household in the village to take the measure for some mourning garments to be made up immediately. Miss Sophonisba was busy with a black bonnet intended for a member of the same family, and was thinking of nothing but the folds of the material directly under her fingers. Gradually there came over her a feeling that she was not alone. She struggled against it, and resolutely bent her mind on her work; but the impression grew upon her, and with it a sensation of horror such as she had never before experienced. The idea that something stood behind her became so strong that she raised her eyes from her work and looked around. Was there anything actually there, or was the shapeless darkness anything more than an accidental shadow? Another instant, and something touched her cheek—something like soft, cold, moist fingers. The touch, if such it was, was very gentle, such as a child might give to attract attention. Miss Sophonisba would not give way. She took up her work and went quietly on with it, though her fingers trembled. The same long sigh fell upon her ear, the same chill breath of air swept past her, and the Presence, if such it was, was gone, and with it the shadow.
"Well," said Miss Sophonisba to herself, "some things are kind of curious, after all!"
There had certainly been no living creature in the house but herself, for their cat had disappeared some days before, and the loss of their favorite had been a great vexation to both sisters. The shadow behind her chair, if indeed it had been anything but fancy, had been too indistinct to allow her to say that she had really seen it before it had vanished, but what had given her the touch, the recollection of which yet caused a shiver? She put up her hand to her cheek. The place was wet—an actual drop of water adhered to her finger.
"Dear me!" said she, "I wish I did know what to think."
To one of her temperament the uncertainty was very annoying. She could not bear to think that her experience was not directly owing to natural—by which she meant, common—causes. "I am very glad Faithful was not here," she thought as she turned to her work again. She would not indulge herself by changing her seat, but kept her place with her back to the cellar door, though she could not help now and then casting a glance over her shoulder. Neither shadow nor substance, however, made itself manifest.
That same night Miss Sophonisba woke from her sleep with the feeling that some one had called her. She found herself mistaken, however, and lay quietly awake, thinking over the events of the afternoon. The more she thought the more puzzled, and even provoked, did she become. She was one of those people who cannot bear to feel themselves incapable of accounting for anything that is brought under their notice. A mystery, as such, is an exasperation to them, and they will sometimes adopt an explanation more perplexing than the phenomenon itself, rather than say, "I don't know." As she lay there thinking over the matter, and trying to make herself believe that the afternoon's experience was the effect of the wind or her own fancy, she was startled by a step on the floor of the lower room—the same light step. It crossed the floor, and she heard it on the stairs. Miss Sophonisba raised her head from her pillow and looked around. There could be no doubt that she was awake. She could see everything in the room: her sister slept quietly at her side, and the moonlight shone in brightly at the window. The slow step came up the stairs and in at the open door. She heard it on the boards: her eyes beheld the shadow of her sister's vision, so wavering and indistinct that she could not say with certainty that it wore the semblance of a human form. The blood at her heart seemed to stand still, but yet she neither screamed nor fainted, nor tried to wake her sister. She watched the Thing as it moved to and fro in the chamber. Suddenly it came toward her, and stood at the bedside, seeming indeed, as Faithful had said, to be "all around her in the air," and weigh upon her with a sense of oppression almost unendurable as the shadowy Presence obscured the moonbeams. Miss Sophonisba bent all her will to the effort, and with an heroic exertion she put out her hand to try by the sense of touch if indeed she was in her waking senses. Her fingers were met by others, soft, cold and damp. For a second, which seemed an hour, they grasped her extended hand with a close, clinging touch that some way seemed half familiar. For one instant the shapeless gloom appeared to take definite form—a tall human figure, a man in poor and ragged clothes; for one instant a pair of wistful, eager eyes looked into her own; the next, the cock without crowed loud and shrill. Her hand was released, and with the same long, weary sigh the ghostly Presence passed away. Miss Sophonisba sank back on her pillow nearly insensible. She did not know how long she lay there, but when she at last gathered her senses she saw and felt, with an involuntary shudder, that her hand was wet and cold, and that across the floor, plain in the moonlight, leading to the half-open door, were the marks of wet feet. She did not waken her sister, who still slept quietly at her side, but it was with unspeakable relief that she saw the morning dawn at last.
In spite of herself, Miss Sophonisba was forced to the conclusion that, except on the supposition that some inhabitant of another world had been permitted to approach her, her experience was wholly inexplicable. "If it comes again," said she to herself, "I'll certainly speak to it. Goodness me!" she added, somewhat irritated in spite of her terror, "if it's got anything to say, why don't it speak and be done with it?"
She said nothing of the matter to her sister, and she so far controlled herself as to preserve her usual manner.
The sisters were busily engaged all day over the mourning dresses, when toward night Miss Faithful's thread gave out and her work came to a stand-still.
"How provoking!" said she. "Three yards more would finish, and now I shall have to go down to the village and buy a whole skein, just for that."
"No," said Miss Sophonisba, who would not have acknowledged to herself her dread of being alone in the house, "I think there's some like that in the chimney cupboard in the south room: I'll get it."
She put down her work, and taking a candle went into the south room. Placing the light on a chair, she opened the cupboard door and began searching for the thread among a variety of miscellaneous matters. Some slight noise startled her. She turned, and saw standing before the fireplace an elderly gentleman, whose face was, as she thought, familiar, though she could not recall at the moment where she had seen it. It did not occur to her that her companion was not a living man, and she stood for a moment with a look of surprised inquiry, expecting him to speak. The eyes met hers in a fixed stare, like that of a corpse. She had not seen the figure move, yet the same instant it was at her side. It, was too much, even for her. She turned and sprang through the open door into the passage, but not before it had flashed across her mind that the dead face bore a horrible resemblance to the old doctor. The Thing did not follow her, and she stood still in the passage, not daring to alarm her more timid sister, and yet dreading inexpressibly to re-enter the haunted room. Her terror was not merely the oppression, the natural fear of the unknown, the sense of a nature differing from her own, which she had experienced the past night: it was all this, together with a sense of an evil influence, a feeling of loathing and horror, that made her sick in soul and in body. However strong her resolution, Miss Sophonisba felt that she could never endure, much less question, this frightful Presence. The candle was yet burning on the chair where she had left it, and, summoning all her strength, with an inward prayer she recrossed the threshold. The light still burned brightly, the thread she had come to seek lay on the floor where she had dropped it, but the figure was gone. She looked about the room: there was no trace of living presence save her own. She had even the courage to stoop down and examine the place on the carpet where the Shape had stood, and which covered the burned spot on the floor; but this time the mysterious footsteps had failed to leave their mark.
"Whatever shall I do?" said Miss Sophonisba to herself. "If Faithful was to see what I have, she'd nigh go crazy; and what excuse can we make for leaving the house?"
If no one but herself had been concerned, I think she would have stood a siege from the hosts of the unknown world rather than confess that she left the house because it was haunted. She caught herself up as the word was formed in her thoughts. "Haunted, indeed!" she said. "I'll think I'm losing my wits first. Stuff and nonsense!" But she paused, for through the middle of the room, close by her side, making an angry gesture as it passed, swept the same Shape, visible for one moment, vanishing the next. She went back into the other room, and giving her sister the thread, sat down so as to hide her face, busying herself with her work until she could in some measure regain her wonted steady composure.
Miss Faithful was much engaged with her sewing just at that moment, and her sister's unusual agitation escaped her notice. Presently she said, "Sophonisba, isn't there a bit of old black ribbon in that cupboard? I want something of the kind, just to put round inside the neck of the dress, and then it will be done."
"Yes—I don't know—I think not," said her sister, with a hesitation so unlike her usual promptness that Miss Faithful looked up surprised. "I mean, I think there is," said Miss Sophonisba. "If you'd like to look, I'll hold the candle for you."
"Oh, you needn't put down your work for that," said Miss Faithful, but Miss Sophonisba dropped the ribbon she was plaiting and followed her sister with the candle. She threw a half-frightened glance around the room as she entered, but the Vision did not reappear. It was some time before the ribbon was found. It had been pushed into the farther corner of the lower shelf, which was a wide and very thick pine board, slipping easily on the cleats by which it was upheld. One end of the roll had caught behind this shelf, and Miss Faithful pulled the board a little forward. As she did so a little roll of paper fell into the bottom of the cupboard. Miss Sophonisba picked it up. It consisted of several stained and discolored sheets of paper, seemingly torn from an account-book or journal, and covered all over with very fine and closely-written though perfectly legible characters, in a very precise hand.