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Title: Alone on a Wide Wide Sea, Vol. III (of 3)
Author: Russell, William Clark
Language: English
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NEW NOVELS.


    THE DUCHESS OF POWYSLAND.  By GRANT ALLEN. 3 vols.

    CORINTHIA MARAZION.  By CECIL GRIFFITH. 3 vols.

    A SONG OF SIXPENCE.  By HENRY MURRAY. 1 vol.

    SANTA BARBARA, &c.  By OUIDA. 1 vol.

    IN THE MIDST OF LIFE.  By AMBROSE BIERCE. 1 vol.

    TRACKED TO DOOM.  By DICK DONOVAN. 1 vol.

    COLONEL STARBOTTLE’S CLIENT, AND SOME OTHER PEOPLE.  By BRET
        HARTE. 1 vol.

    ADVENTURES OF A FAIR REBEL.  By MATT. CRIM. 1 vol.

    IN A STEAMER CHAIR.  By ROBERT BARR. 1 vol.

    THE FOSSICKER: a Romance of Mashonaland.  By ERNEST GLANVILLE.
        1 vol.


London: CHATTO & WINDUS, 214 Piccadilly, W.



  ALONE
  ON A WIDE WIDE SEA

  VOL. III.



  PRINTED BY
  SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW STREET SQUARE
  LONDON



  ALONE ON A WIDE WIDE SEA

  BY
  W. CLARK RUSSELL

  AUTHOR OF
  ‘MY SHIPMATE LOUISE’ ‘THE ROMANCE OF JENNY HARLOWE’ ETC.

  [Illustration]

  IN THREE VOLUMES
  VOL. III.

  London
  CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY
  1892



CONTENTS

OF

THE THIRD VOLUME


  CHAPTER                                    PAGE

  XVIII.  A STRANGE OFFER                       1

    XIX.  I CONVERSE WITH THE GIPSY            37

     XX.  THE DEATH OF ALICE LEE               66

    XXI.  I RETURN TO ENGLAND                 106

   XXII.  MEMORY                              141

  XXIII.  GENERAL RAMSAY’S LETTER             172

   XXIV.  AT BATH                             208

    XXV.  MARY                                241

   XXVI.  THE END                             273



ALONE ON A WIDE WIDE SEA



CHAPTER XVIII

A STRANGE OFFER


Small is the world of ship board, yet at sea there often happen
contrasts in life not less violent and remarkable than those which
one meets with in the crowded world ashore. This same day, after my
conversation with Alice Lee, I quitted her cabin shortly before the
luncheon hour, as she seemed drowsy, and sleep was all important to her
whose slumbers were cruelly broken and short throughout the night. Mrs.
Lee stole in upon her child, and finding her asleep came to her place
by my side at the luncheon table.

The passengers understood that Alice was resting, and the conversation
was subdued along the whole line of the table. I said nothing to Mrs.
Lee as to what had passed between her daughter and myself. Though the
mother knew that her daughter’s condition was hopeless, she could
not bear any reference to the girl’s dying state. That is to say,
she would speak of it herself, but with eyes that wistfully sought a
contradiction of her fears.

Now, whilst I sat at table I observed that Mr. Harris regarded me with
more than usual attention. There was an expression of speculation in
his face, as though I were some singular problem which he was wearying
his brains to solve. His air was also one of abstraction, and direct
questions put to him by passengers sitting near were unheeded.

Shortly before lunch was over Mrs. Lee withdrew to her berth. I
remained at table, having for the moment nothing else or better to do.
Mrs. Webber, remarking that I was alone, left her seat and took Mrs.
Lee’s chair at my side.

‘It is really too bad,’ said she, ‘that those wretched men’--referring
to Mr. Clack and Mr. Wedmold--‘should be arguing on their eternal
subject of literature when they know that poor Alice Lee is sleeping,
and that their voices might awaken her.’

‘I have not been listening,’ said I. ‘They have not been talking very
loudly, I think.’

I looked towards the two gentlemen, and my attention being directed to
them, I discovered that they were arguing, and, as usual, on literary
matters. But their voices were somewhat sunk, as though they recognised
the obligation of speaking low.

‘My simple contention is,’ said Mr. Wedmold, ‘that criticism as we now
have it is absolutely worthless. If I were a publisher I would not
send a book of mine to the press. I would content myself with making
it known to the public by advertisements. A man writes a review and
it is published in a newspaper. Just before he sat down to write the
review he was disturbed by a double knock, and his servant handed him
a manuscript which he sent six weeks before to a firm of publishers.
The manuscript is declined with thanks. What sort of a review will that
man write? Or he may dislike the author of the book he is to review
because he thinks him too successful; or he may personally know him
and have reason to hate him; or he may not know him and yet have a
literary prejudice against him; or, before he writes the review the
tax-collector may call; or he may have had a quarrel with his wife over
the weekly bills. But by the publication of his review he commits the
aggregate intellect of the paper in which it appears to his opinion.
For reviews are not quoted as the opinions of Jones or Smith, but as
the verdict of the journal in which they write. On the other hand,
there may be reasons why the reviewer should extravagantly praise a
book which, were it written by you, Clack, or by me, he would probably
dismiss in a couple of lines of contempt. Nevertheless, the aggregate
intellect of the journal is as much committed to this gross lie of
approval as it was to the equally gross lie of depreciation. The name
of a newspaper should never be quoted in a publisher’s advertisement,
unless it be understood that everybody connected with the newspaper
sat in judgment upon the book. A book should be served as a defendant
is served. The paper that reviews a book should convert itself into
a jury. If one juror alone is to decide the question, then his name
should be given. My argument is, why should publishers go on subjecting
their wares to twopenny individual caprice?’

‘You will never get rid of criticism,’ said Mr. Clack, ‘until authors
lose their desire of hearing people’s opinions on their books. Every
man who produces his poor little novel, every woman who produces her
poor little volume of poems, pesters his or her friends for their
candid opinion. Now if that candid opinion is published in a newspaper
and it happens to be _rather_ opposed to the author’s own judgment of
his book, the natural thirst of the author is for the extinction of all
criticism.’

‘Did you ever hear two men talk such utter bosh in all your life?’ said
Mrs. Webber.

‘I will go on deck for a turn,’ said I, observing that the saloon was
fast emptying.

‘Those two men,’ continued she, looking at Mr. Clack somewhat
spitefully, ‘remind me of a very old story. A Frenchman and an American
made a bet that one would out-talk the other. In the morning they were
found in bed, the American dead and the Frenchman feebly whispering in
his ear.’

‘If you please, ma’m,’ said the captain’s servant, coming up to me,
‘Captain Ladmore’s compliments, and he will be glad to see you in his
cabin if you can spare him five minutes.’

I arose and nervously followed the man to the captain’s cabin,
wondering what could be the object of this message. Captain Ladmore
made me a grave bow, placed a chair for me, and seated himself at the
table at which I had found him reading.

‘I hope,’ said he, ‘you will not think me troublesome in desiring these
visits. I have, not had an opportunity of conversing with you lately.
You are very much taken up with poor Miss Lee. How does she do?’

‘She is very poorly,’ said I. ‘The malady seems to have rapidly gained
upon her within the last few days.’

‘It is too often so,’ he exclaimed. ‘These poor consumptive people
embark when it is too late. Mr. McEwan gives me no hope. I fear we
shall lose the poor young lady--and lose her soon, too.’ He directed
his eyes at the deck and his face grew unusually thoughtful and grave.
‘And how are you feeling?’ said he, after a pause. ‘Does this heat try
you?’

‘No, Captain Ladmore; I feel very well, a different being, indeed,
since I came into your kind hands.’

‘Your memory is still dormant?’

‘I am unable to remember anything previous to my awaking to
consciousness on board the French vessel.’

‘It is truly wonderful,’ said he. ‘Had I not witnessed such a thing I
should not have believed it. That is to say, I could understand _total_
failure of memory, for I have heard of instances of that sort of
affliction; but I should not have credited that recollection can lie
dead down to a certain point and be bright and active afterwards, as it
is in you. I have been talking to Mr. McEwan about you, and though we
need lay no emphasis upon his opinion, it is right I should tell you
that he fears your condition may continue for a considerable time.’

‘For a considerable time!’ I cried; ‘what can he mean by a considerable
time, Captain Ladmore?’

‘Do not be agitated. I mention this merely for a reason you will
presently understand. McEwan’s judgment may signify nothing. Doctors
are a very fallible lot, and they talk blindfolded when they speak of
the mind. But that my meaning in inviting you to visit me may be clear,
I wish you to suppose that McEwan is right. In that case, what is your
future to be?’

I gazed at his grave, earnest face, but made him no answer.

‘Let me repeat,’ said he, ‘that you are very welcome to the hospitality
of this ship whilst she keeps the sea; but on our arrival in the Thames
it will be necessary for you to find another asylum. What can be done
for you, madam, shall be done for you, always supposing that your
memory continues to prevent you from directing us. But it is a cold
world----’ He paused abruptly.

‘Oh, Captain Ladmore! I hope my memory will have returned to me before
we arrive in England--before we arrive in Australia.’

‘I hope so too, indeed,’ said he, ‘but if it should not---- You appear
to have found a very warm friend in Mrs. Lee. Yet, from my experiences
as a shipmaster, I would counsel you not to lodge too much hope in
friends and acquaintances made upon the ocean. People are warm-hearted
at sea; they are always full of good intentions; but a change comes
when they step ashore.’

‘Captain Ladmore,’ I exclaimed, ‘if I am not to find a friend when I
leave your ship, then indeed I shall not know _what_ to do.’

‘That brings me,’ said he, ‘to my motive for inviting you to my cabin;
and I will say at once that you appear to have found a very warm friend
on board this ship.’ I imagined that he would name Mrs. Webber, but the
notion vanished at his next utterance. ‘He appears to entertain a very
great admiration for you. It is not,’ continued he, with a slow smile,
‘usual for men occupying our relative positions to confer on such a
matter as he has in his mind, but I consider that he exhibited a proper
delicacy of feeling in approaching me first. You are temporarily my
ward, so to speak, and there are other considerations which induced him
to confer with me on the subject.’

‘Of whom are you speaking?’ I asked.

‘I am speaking of Mr. Harris, my chief officer,’ he replied.

‘And what does Mr. Harris want?’ said I, feeling the blood forsake my
cheeks.

‘Well, madam,’ said he gravely, ‘he desired me to sound you as regards
your feelings towards him. It is his urgent request alone that makes
me interfere, nor should I venture to move in the matter but for your
present lonely, and I may say helpless, condition. You necessarily
need a friend and an adviser, and it certainly is my duty as a master
of this ship to befriend and counsel you. Mr. Harris is a man who, in
the course of a year or two, ought certainly to obtain command. In
the profession of the sea a man must be a prawn before he can become
a lobster. His pay at present is comparatively small, yet it should
suffice, with great care, to maintain a home. Long before I rose to be
a captain I contrived to support a home out of my wages. Mr. Harris is
a very respectable, honest man, and a good officer, and I believe his
connections are rather superior to the average relatives of merchant
mates.’

I listened whilst I stared at him; indeed, the confusion of my mind
was so great that I scarcely grasped his meaning. He observed my
bewilderment, and said, ‘The matter may be thus simply put: Mr.
Harris is willing to offer you his hand in marriage. He is capable of
supporting you, and will, I am convinced, prove an excellent husband.
By making you his wife he secures you against that future which looks
at present dark and hopeless. He is willing to waive all considerations
of your antecedents. In that, Miss C., he tells me he hopes for the
best.’ He added, after a pause, after viewing me steadfastly, ‘I have
fulfilled my promise, and desire to do no more. In Mr. Harris you have
met with a man who is willing and anxious in the most honourable way
to provide for your future.’

‘I will not marry Mr. Harris,’ said I.

‘It is a question for your own decision alone,’ he answered.

‘I would sooner die in one of the miserable asylums he talked about
than marry Mr. Harris,’ I cried.

Captain Ladmore arched his eyebrows and made me a grave bow, as though
he would say, ‘There is an end of the matter.’

‘I am sure the man means kindly,’ said I, my eyes beginning to smart
with tears which I could not suppress, ‘but it renders my situation
truly awful to understand that you and Mr. Harris consider I stand in
need of the sort of assistance your first mate offers.’

‘Remember, madam,’ said Captain Ladmore gently, ‘that on your arrival
in England you will need a friend if you are still unable by that time
to tell us who your friends are, and to what part of the world you
belong.’

‘I would far rather die than accept Mr. Harris’s offer,’ said I, with a
shudder.

‘Let us then allow the matter to rest,’ said the captain; ‘no harm has
been done.’

‘How dare he make such a proposal through you?’ cried I. ‘He may mean
well, but how does he know who I am?’

‘He is willing to take all risks,’ said the captain; ‘but you do not
entertain his proposal, and the matter therefore ends.’

We both rose at once from our chairs.

‘You have shown me the greatest kindness since I have been on board,’
said I, ‘and some further great kindness yet I will ask of you. It is
that as the master of this ship you will command Mr. Harris not to
speak to me about marriage.’

‘I will do so,’ said he.

‘I will beg you to command him to hold aloof from me, for I wish to
have nothing to say to him.’

The captain bowed his head affirmatively.

‘And will you also command him, Captain Ladmore,’ I exclaimed, ‘not to
whisper a syllable of what has passed?’

‘You may trust him to hold his tongue,’ said he smiling.

‘Were the news of his having made me this offer through you to reach
the passengers I could never hold up my head again; I could never bear
to quit my berth.’

‘The secret shall be entirely ours,’ said the captain.

I hurriedly made my way through the saloon, entered my berth in the
steerage, closed and bolted the door, and flung myself into my bunk.
I had wept in the captain’s cabin, but I was now too angry, too
confounded to shed tears, though I longed for the relief of them. There
was a sort of horror too upon me, such a feeling as might possess a
woman who had met with a shocking insult; and yet I knew that no insult
had been offered to me, so that the horror which was upon me was as
inscrutable as ever the emotion had been at other times.

There is no occasion for me to refine upon my condition. The
psychologist might well laugh at my speculations; yet I will venture to
say this, that when I look back and recollect my feelings at this time,
then, knowing that I was without memory to excite in me the detestation
with which I had listened to Captain Ladmore’s communication of Mr.
Harris’s offer, I cannot doubt that the wild antagonism of my heart to
it must have been owing to the _memory of instinct_--a memory that may
have no more to do with the brain than a deep-rooted habit has to do
with consciousness.

But not to dwell upon this. I sat motionless on my bed for I know
not how long a time, thinking and thinking; I then bathed my face and
cooled my hands in water, and stood at the open window to let the
draught caused by the rolling of the ship breathe upon me, and thus I
passed the afternoon.

Shortly before the first dinner-bell rang Mrs. Richards knocked on my
door. I bade her enter. She tried the handle, and found the bolt shot.
This was unusual, and on entering she gazed at me with attention. She
asked me what the matter was, and I answered that the heat had caused
my head to ache, and that I had been lying down. No doubt she perceived
an expression on my face which told her that something more than a
headache ailed me, but she did not press her questions. She had come to
say that Mrs. Lee sent her love, and wished to know what had become of
me during the afternoon.

‘I hope to sit with Miss Lee this evening,’ said I; ‘but I shall not
dine at the dinner table.’

‘Then I will bring you some dinner here,’ said she, and after we had
conversed a little while about the heat of the weather, and about Alice
Lee, the kind, motherly little woman left me.

I could not rally my spirits. The mere thought of what Captain Ladmore
had said to me induced a feeling of crushing humiliation; and then
there was that deep, mysterious, impenetrable emotion of loathing
which I have before mentioned. Oh! it was shocking to think that my
condition should be so cruelly forlorn as to challenge an offer of
marriage from such a man as Mr. Harris. Nothing could have made me more
bitterly understand how helpless I was, how hopeless, how lonely. I
sought comfort in the recollection of Alice’s words; but not only did
it miserably dispirit me to think that the dear girl must die before
the wish she had expressed could take effect; I was haunted by the
captain’s language--that the world was cold--that the kindly intentions
of shipboard acquaintances were not often very lasting--that when
people stepped ashore after a voyage the memories they carried with
them speedily perished out of their minds.

I ate a little of the dinner that Mrs. Richards brought me, but I had
not the heart to leave my cabin. I felt as though I had been terribly
degraded and outraged, and my inability to understand why I should thus
feel when all the while I was saying to myself, nothing but kindness
was meant, no insult could possibly be intended--I say my inability to
understand the dark, subtle protest and loathing and sense of having
been wronged that was in my mind half crazed me.

Twice Mrs. Richards arrived with a message, first from Mrs. Lee and
then from Alice, inviting me to their cabin; but I answered that my
head ached, that I did not feel well; and when the door was closed I
stood with my face at the port-hole breathing the air that floated
warm off the dark stagnant waters, and watching the stars reel to the
sluggish motions of the vessel.

Presently I heard the sound of a bell. I counted the chimes--they were
eight; and so I knew the hour to be eight. Just then someone gently
knocked on the door; it was not the stewardess’s familiar rap. I said,
‘Come in,’ and the door was opened.

‘All in the dark, Agnes?’ exclaimed the voice of Mrs. Lee, ‘what is the
matter with you, my dear? Why have you not come to Alice, who has been
expecting to see you all the evening?’

‘I am so low-spirited, dear Mrs. Lee, that I am not fit company for
Alice,’ I answered.

‘Will you light the lamp,’ said she, ‘that we may see each other?’

I lighted the lamp and she closed the door and seated herself, viewing
me steadily, and taking no notice of the interior of the berth, though
this was her first visit to these steerage quarters.

‘You look pale,’ said she, ‘pale and worried. Are you really ill or is
it the mind? Tell me, my dear. The mind might be making a great effort
that affects you like physical sickness would, but it may be the very
effort to pray for.’

I had felt that nothing could induce me to confess what had passed;
but the tenderness of her voice and manner broke me down. Her sudden
presence made me acutely feel the need of sympathy. But my heart was
too full for speech. I took her hand and bowing my head upon it wept.
She did not speak whilst I sobbed, but soothingly caressed my hair
with a touch soft and comforting as her daughter’s.

After awhile I grew composed, and then, with my face averted, I told
her that the captain had sent for me after lunch, and I repeated to
her the offer Mr. Harris had requested him to make to me. She listened
attentively and on my ending exclaimed:

‘Well, my dear, it is a proposal of marriage as extraordinary in its
manner of reaching you as the whole character of the man who made it.
But what is there in it to cause you to fret and keep yourself locked
up in this dark place?’

‘It affects me as a dreadful insult.’

‘But why? It is not meant as an insult. Captain Ladmore is not a man to
suffer one of his officers to insult you through him.’

‘I cannot explain, Mrs. Lee. This offer of marriage has shocked me as
though it had been some horrid outrage, and I do not know why.’

She sat silently regarding me.

‘But that is not all,’ I continued. ‘The loathing, the horror the offer
has caused is too deep; I feel that it is too deep to be owing _merely_
to the offer. Some sense lying in blackness within me has been shocked
and outraged. But that is not all: the offer has made me feel how
lonely I am, how utterly hopeless my future must be if my memory does
not return to me.’

‘It is very strange,’ said she, ‘that you should feel that this
extraordinary recoil as of loathing comes not from Mr. Harris himself
as it were, but from his offer.’

‘You exactly express it,’ I exclaimed; ‘it is not the man but the offer
which fills me with loathing.’

‘And you do not understand why this should be?’ said she.

‘No, because the man means kindly. He approached me even with delicacy
through the captain. There is nothing in him which should make me
loathe him.’

‘And still his offer fills you with horror and disgust?’

‘Yes.’

She surveyed me for awhile, lightly running her eye over me with an
expression of inquiry. She then said, ‘Do you remember what that gipsy
woman told you?’

I reflected and answered, ‘She told me much that I remember.’

‘She told you,’ said she, ‘that you were a married woman. What else she
said matters not. But she told you, Agnes, that you were married, and
that you have left a husband who wonders and grieves over your absence.’

I drew a deep tremulous breath not knowing what meaning she had in her
mind.

‘From what you have now told me,’ she continued, ‘I am disposed--mind,
my dear, I only say disposed--to believe that the gipsy woman may be
right.’

‘From what I have now told you!’ I echoed.

‘What can cause this deep recoil in you from Mr. Harris’s offer? What
can occasion your detestation of it and the bitter feeling of shame?
His offer reached you in the most inoffensive manner possible. There
is hardly a woman who would not find something in such an offer of
marriage made by such a man under such conditions to laugh at. No
honourable offer of marriage can fill a woman with loathing. A man can
pay a woman no higher compliment than to ask her to be his wife, and no
woman therefore is to be unutterably outraged, as you tell me you are,
by the highest compliment our sex can receive. Nor is it as though Mr.
Harris were a monster of a figure and face to justify the abhorrence
his offer has excited. What, then, is the reason of this abhorrence?’

She sank into a little reverie during which I watched her almost
breathlessly. ‘I shall not be at all surprised, Agnes,’ said she
presently, ‘if you prove to be a married woman in spite of your not
wearing a wedding ring. There must be a reason for your not wearing a
wedding-ring, and some of these days, please God, you will be able to
account for its missing from your finger. I believe--yes, I earnestly
believe’--she went on looking me eagerly in the eyes--‘that your
antipathy to this offer, the sense of insult that has attended this
offer, arises from a rebellion of the instincts which possess the
truth, though they are unable to communicate it to the intelligence.
The impression of marriage--the great momentous step of every woman’s
life--is too deep to perish. Your secret horror, your unaccountable
loathing, is the subtle and unintelligible revolt of your chastity as
a wife against an offer that is an insult to that chastity. I believe
this, my dear, I do indeed.’

‘Oh God!’ I cried, and my bursting heart could find no other vent than
that cry of ‘Oh God!’

‘You must not be distressed,’ continued the dear little woman, clasping
my hand, ‘because our speculations should be tending the right way.
Suppose we are able to satisfy ourselves that you are a wife; the
knowledge will be a distinct gain, something to employ with profit on
our return to England. But to be able to form no ideas whatever about
you, my dear----And now I wish to say a word about your future. Can
you believe that after our association on board this ship, after the
friendship between you and my darling child, I could bear to lose sight
of you on our return home?----But you have been so much upset by what
has happened to-day that I will not talk to you now about the future.
Come with me to Alice,’ said she rising; ‘it is not long after eight;
she has been wanting you all the afternoon and evening, and will be
glad if you will sit with her for an hour.’

       *       *       *       *       *

And now happened another interval of shipboard life, during which
there occurred nothing of interest enough to trouble you with. That
Captain Ladmore had delivered my answer to Mr. Harris, and that he
had also requested, perhaps commanded, his first officer to trouble
me no further with his attentions, I could not doubt, for when, next
morning, I met Mr. Harris at the breakfast table, I never once caught
him looking my way. The twist of his mouth seemed a little dryer than
usual, and his countenance might generally express a slight increase of
acidity of feeling; nevertheless, he talked somewhat more freely than
was commonly his custom, was attentive to what was said, and appeared
to direct his eyes at everybody but at me.

His behaviour made me easy, the more so since I was sure he would
not talk of what had passed, so that the ridiculous, and to me the
humiliating incident, would be known to nobody on board excepting the
Lees and the captain of the ship.

And here I may as well say--for it is time that I should dismiss the
few shadowy figures which flit between this part of my story and the
sequel--that ever after, whilst I remained on board the _Deal Castle_,
the behaviour of Mr. Harris remained the same; that is to say, he
never looked at me and never accosted me. If I approached that part of
the deck where he was standing, he instantly walked away. For a day or
two after I had received his ‘offer’ I would briefly salute him with a
‘Good-morning,’ or some such phrase, if we had not before met in the
day, but he never turned his eyes to my face, nor answered me, nor
took any notice of me; for which behaviour in him, as you may suppose,
I was truly thankful. And yet somehow he so contrived his manner that
his downright cutting of me, if I may so express it, was much less
noticeable than his conduct had been whilst, as I may suppose, he was
making up his mind to offer me marriage. Nobody remarked upon his
behaviour; I never, indeed, heard a whisper about it.

He was, indeed, an extraordinary person in his way. I suffer my memory
to dwell briefly upon him before he stalks ghost-like off the little
stage of my dark and memorable experience. I have, I may say, no doubt
whatever he was in earnest in his desire to marry me; and I have since
understood that it was in the power of Captain Ladmore to have united
us, for it seems that amongst the privileges enjoyed by the master of
a merchant vessel is the right to solemnise holy matrimony, and to
make two people one as effectually as though they were tied together
by a clergyman on shore. I often recall the poor man and speculate on
his motive. It would be ridiculous to feign that he had fallen in love
with me; my face and thin, white hair must have preserved him from that
passion. He might, indeed, have imagined in me certain intellectual
graces and qualities, and fallen in love with his own ideal. Was it
pure goodness of heart that caused him to take pity on my lonely and
helpless condition? or--the notion having been put into his head by
Sir Frederick Thompson--did he secretly believe that I belonged to a
fine old family, that his marriage to me would connect him with people
of title and wealth, and that, for all he knew, when my memory returned
I would be able to tell him that he had married a fortune, or enough
money, at all events, to release him from a calling which he appeared
to hate?

His strange offer of marriage, however, resulted in persuading me that
I was a married woman. It would never have entered my head to imagine
such a thing but for Mrs. Lee; and then when I came to think over her
words, and to reason upon the horror that had visited me whilst I
listened to Captain Ladmore, there grew up in my mind a strong secret
conviction that I was a wife. It was not a discovery. Indeed, as a
surmise, it was no more helpful to my memory than the little City
knight’s assurance that I was a member of the house of Calthorpe;
and yet it could not have affected me more had it been a discovery.
I would lie awake for hours during the night thinking of it. When I
was with Alice my mind would wander from the book I read aloud to her
from, or my attention would stray from her language, whilst my whole
intellectual being sank as it were into the black chasm of memory,
where the mind with sightless vision would go on fruitlessly groping
until the useless quest grew at times into so keen a torment that often
I was convinced I should go mad.

Again and again when alone in my berth I took down the little mirror,
as I had been used to do in the earlier passages of this experience,
and sitting with it in my hands in a posture that brought the light
flowing through the port-hole on to my face, so that the reflection
of my countenance lay brilliantly in the mirror, I would peruse my
lineaments, search mine own eyes, dwell upon the turn of my lips, and
all the while I would be asking myself with a soft whisper, but with a
heart racked with the anguish of hopeless inquiry--‘Who am I? Can it
be that I am a wife? Oh God! what is it which seems to assure me that
Mrs. Lee’s belief that I am a wife is true?’ And then I would say to
myself, whilst I sat gazing at my face in the mirror, ‘If I am a wife I
may have children. Can it be that there are children of my own in the
unknown home in the unknown country from which God has banished me in
blindness--that there are children there whose mother I am, who call
me mother, who have cried for me in the day and in the night as their
mother who has gone from them? Can it be so?’ I would ask myself. And
then I would bend the ear of my mind to the mute lips of my dead or
sleeping memory, and imagination would strain within me to catch some
echo of a child’s voice, of a child’s cry or laugh, that would remind
me and give me back the image of what, since I now believed myself a
wife, I imagined that I had lost.



CHAPTER XIX

I CONVERSE WITH THE GIPSY


A few days of sultry oppressive calm were followed by a violent storm.
I was sitting with Alice Lee in her cabin when her mother entered and
said:

‘Such a marvellous sunset everybody declares never was seen. Go and
look at it, Agnes; I will sit with Alice.’

‘I will go with Agnes,’ said her daughter.

She arose, but her cough obliged her to sit. When her cough had ceased
she arose again, but slowly and painfully, with a heart-rending
suggestion of weakness and exhaustion in her whole manner.

‘Do not go on deck, dearest,’ said her mother; ‘the cabin steps will
try you.’

‘Oh, mother! let me go and let me go quickly,’ exclaimed Alice. ‘I love
to look at a glorious sunset, and the sunsets here are soon gone.’

Mrs. Lee gazed at her child with a pleading face, but made no further
objection, and the three of us went on deck, the girl supported by her
mother and me. Twice whilst ascending the short flight of cabin stairs
Alice paused for breath. There is much that I have cause to remember
in this time, but nothing do I see after all these years more clearly
than the anguish in the mother’s eyes, as she looked at me on her child
pausing for a second time during the ascent of that short flight of
steps.

The sunset was indeed a magnificent spectacle. The western sky seemed
in flames. Deep purple lines of cloud barred the fiery splendour, and
the heavens resembled a mighty furnace burning in a grate that half
filled the sky. In the immediate neighbourhood of the sun the light
round about was blood red, but on either hand were vast lovely spaces
resembling lagoons of silver and gold; spikes of glory shot up to the
zenith, and the countless lines of them resembled giant javelins of
flame arrested in their flight, with their barbed ends glowing like
golden stars in the dimly crimsoned blue over our ship’s mast-heads.
The ship’s sails reflected the light, and she seemed to be clothed
in cloth of gold. Her rigging and masts were veined with gold, and
our glass and brass-work blazed with rubies. The swell of the sea was
flowing from the west, and the distant glory came running to us from
brow to brow, steeping in splendour to the ship and washing the side
of her with liquid crimson light. The calm was as profound as ever it
had been; there was not a breath of air to be felt save the eddying
of draughts from the swinging of the lower sails. The sea floated in
undulations of quicksilver into the east, where, on the dark-blue
horizon, there hung a red gleam of sail, showing like a little tongue
of fire in the far ocean recess. I placed a chair for Alice, but she
refused to sit.

‘We will return to the cabin in a few minutes,’ she exclaimed, and she
stood looking into the west, holding by her mother’s and my arm.

She had put on a veil, but she lifted it to look at the sun, and
the western splendour lay full on her face as I gazed at her. Never
so painfully thin and white had she appeared as she now did in this
searching crimson glare. But an expression rested upon her countenance
that entirely dominated all physical features of it; it was, indeed,
to my mind then, and it still is as I think of it whilst I write, a
revelation of angelic spiritual beauty. You would have thought her
hallowed, empowered by Heaven to witness the invisible, for there was
a look in her gaze, whilst she directed her sight into the west, that
would have made you think she saw something beyond and behind those
flaming gates of the sinking sun, that filled her soul with joy. Her
expression was full of solemn delight, and her smile was like that
which glorifies the face of one who, in dying, has beheld a vision of
the Heaven of God and of the angels opening to him. Such a smile, I
have read, sweetened the mouth of the poet Pope in his dying hour. Many
who have stood beside the bed of death will know the entranced look.

Captain Ladmore, who was walking the deck close by, approached us.

‘That is a very noble sunset,’ said he.

‘Noble indeed!’ exclaimed Mrs. Lee. ‘I have seen many splendid sunsets
in Newcastle, and there is no part of the world where you will witness
grander sunsets, but never did I see such a sublime picture as yon.’

‘Sunsets of that sort are rare in the Tropics,’ said the captain. ‘It
is noble, as I have said, but I do not like the look of it. It has a
peculiar, smoky, thunderous appearance, which in plain English means
change of weather.’

‘And I hope the change will soon come,’ said Mrs. Lee, looking from
her daughter to Captain Ladmore, as though she would have him read her
thoughts; ‘these prolonged calms are cruelly trying in this part of the
world.’

‘God knows I do not love prolonged calms in any part of the world,’
said Captain Ladmore.

‘The captains who visited my husband used to have much to tell about
the calms down here,’ said Mrs. Lee. ‘They called them the Doldrums.’
Captain Ladmore smiled. ‘I assure you,’ she continued, ‘I would rather
meet with a fierce hurricane, to drive us into cool weather at the risk
of our lives, than suffer a continuance of such a calm as this.’

Alice and I watched the sunset whilst Captain Ladmore and Mrs. Lee
discoursed upon the weather. Even whilst we looked dark smoke-like
masses of cloud had gathered about the huge rayless orb, and the
splendour went out on a sudden in a sort of dingy flare, that floated
in rusty streaks up into the darkling sky, and swiftly vanished as
though they had been the luminous trails of rockets. I looked at Alice.
The last faint gleam of red touched her face, and then the rapid tropic
twilight swept westward in an eclipse, and the girl in it grew wan as a
phantom. I felt her shiver.

‘Let us return to the cabin,’ said I, and, supported by her mother and
me, she descended. It was the last time that Alice Lee was ever on deck.

The night fulfilled the stormy threat of the sunset. It came on to blow
fresh shortly after the night had settled down upon the sea. The stars
were shrouded by flying clouds, but the moon glanced through the many
rifts of the winging shadows, and when I took a peep at the ocean at
half-past nine that night it was already a wild scene of stormy ocean
rolling in snow, the wilder for the flash of the darting moonbeam.

At ten o’clock it was blowing very hard indeed, and by midnight the
gale had risen to half a hurricane, with much lightning and thunder. I
cannot remember whether or not the wind blew fair for our course; the
gale was so heavy that the captain was forced to heave the ship to,
and all through the night we lay in the trough rolling and pitching
furiously, with no more canvas set than served to keep the vessel in
the situation the captain had put her into.

I got no sleep that night. The noises within and without were
distracting. The steerage passengers took fright, believed the ship was
going down, lighted the lantern and sat at the table--that is to say,
most of the men and two or three of the women; and then, by-and-by,
taking courage perhaps from the discovery that the ship continued to
swim, though still not being easy enough in their minds to return to
their beds, they produced a bottle of spirits and drank and made merry
after their fashion, and the noise of their singing was more dreadful
to hear than the sound of the storm. Nobody interfered with them;
probably nobody with power to control them knew that they were awake
and drinking and singing.

So, as I have said, I got no sleep that night. As the ship lifted the
cabin window out of the foaming water the black interior in which I
lay would be dazzlingly illuminated by violet lightning striking on
the snow-like froth upon the glass of the port-hole. The sight was
beautiful and terrifying. The port-hole looked like a large violet eye
winking in the blackness. I could trace the crystals of the brine and
the froth upon the glass as the window came soaring out of the seething
foam into the fiery flash from the clouds. The flaming, blinking disk
was as if some huge sea monster clung to the side of the ship, trying
to peer into my cabin and unable to keep his eye steady at the aperture.

It blew hard all next day; too hard to allow the ship to resume her
course. The captain said it was strange weather to encounter near the
equator. He had crossed the line I know not how many times; but, said
he, never had he fallen in with such weather hereabouts. We were all
willing, however, to endure the stormy buffeting for the sake of the
respite it gave us from the overpowering heat. The gale was a hot
wind, but the spray that clouded cooled it as the dew refreshes the
breath of the Indian night. The sensation of putting one’s head into
the companion-way and feeling the sweep of the spray-laden blast was
delicious after the motionless atmosphere that had pressed like hot
metal against the cheek and brow.

Alice Lee seemed to rally. The saloon was full of air that rushed
through it in draughts purposely contrived by leaving open one of the
doors which conducted to the quarter-deck; the breeze filled the girl’s
berth, and she appeared to revive in it as a languishing flower lifts
its head and sweetens its fragrance when watered.

‘Sometimes I think--sometimes I _dare_ believe, Agnes,’ poor Mrs. Lee
said to me, ‘that if Alice has strength enough to survive the ordeal
of the horrid equinoctial belt she will recover. Did not you fancy she
was looking much better this morning? Her eyes have not the bright,
glassy appearance which shocked me every time I looked at her. And did
not you notice that she breathed with less labour, and that the red of
her lips was more lifelike and healthy? Oh, my dear! God may yet hear
my prayers, and my heart is seldom silent. If this gale will blow us
to the south of the equator and drive us into cooler latitudes I shall
live in hope. But now we are stationary, the ship is merely tossing up
and down and making no real progress, and my dread is that when the
weather breaks the calm will come again and leave us roasting.’

These observations Mrs. Lee addressed to me in the saloon as I was
passing through it on my way from Alice’s cabin to my own berth; her
words were running in my head when, after having occupied myself for
a short time in my berth, I was returning to Alice. As I cautiously
passed through the steerage, carefully providing against a dangerous
fall by keeping my arms outstretched and touching or holding whatever
was nearest to me, I saw Mr. McEwan standing at the foot of the stairs
grasping the thick brass banisters, and peering about as though in
search of somebody.

‘Seen Mrs. Richards?’ he asked.

‘No,’ I answered.

‘Mrs. Richards,’ said he, ‘answers to the descreeption of a
midshipman’s chest; everything is on top and nothing at bottom. She’s
always aboot--she’s to be seen everywhere--and is never to be found.
And how are you this roaring day?’

I told him that I was pretty well.

‘D’ye know that you’ll be getting an eyebrow yet?’ said he.

‘I hope so,’ I said.

‘Gi’ us hold of your arm,’ said he; ‘I’ll take ye above.’

Without giving him hold of my arm, as he called it, I said, ‘The
improvement in Miss Lee has greatly heartened her poor mother. Her hope
is----’ and I told him what Mrs. Lee’s hope was.

‘Ye’re no talker, I trust,’ said he.

‘I can keep a secret,’ I replied.

He put one hand on my shoulder, swinging by the other hand that grasped
the banister: ‘Your poor friend, Alice Lee,’ he exclaimed, ‘will not
live another fortnight.’

‘Oh, do not say so!’ I cried.

‘One lung is useless; the other is so hampered that it scarcely enables
her to pump in air enough for life. How can she live? And why are
these puir creatures--men and women--girls and boys--brought to sea
to die, that they may be thrown overboard in mid-ocean? Of course
no cruelty is meant--not likely that any cruelty can be meant; but
what greater cruelty would ye have people guilty of than to wait till
a puir consumptive creature is past all hope, and then bring her to
sea in a ship that is never steady, with food that she may not fancy
but that they cannot replace by what she can eat, subjecting her to
twenty climates in a month when one climate may prove too much for
her? I am very sorry to say that medical men are much too much given
to recommending sea voyages for consumptive people when they know
that a sea voyage can do them no good. But the doctor comes to the
end of his tether: “I canna save this patient,” says he to himself,
and so he sends the puir thing on a voyage. Mark you now the rolling
of this ship. D’ye feel how she heaves and bounds, and d’ye hear how
the wind roars in the rigging, and how all those bulkheads yawl and
squall as though there was another massacre of the innocents going on
down here? Yes, ye hear it and ye feel it: ask yourself then if your
friend Alice Lee should be here instead of ashore--here instead of
lying in a pleasant room upon a steady couch, with every comfort which
her mother’s purse could command within reach of her? She’ll not live
another fortnight, I tell you. Where’s that d----d Mrs. Richards? No
matter. Gi’ us hold of your arm, that I may save ye a broken neck.’

His language so disquieted me that when I had gained the saloon I was
without heart to immediately enter Alice’s berth. Mr. McEwan was a
man of intelligence, and I might be sure he knew what he was talking
about. His roughness, amounting almost to brutality, seemed like the
strong language and violent demeanour of that fine creation Matthew
Bramble, assumed to conceal a thoroughly kind heart; and the note of
true sympathetic feeling which ran through his rough words and harsh
pronunciation accentuated his prediction to my fears and to my love for
Alice Lee.

I seated myself on a sofa at the end of the saloon, where I found
a book, which I placed on my lap and feigned to read. A few of the
passengers sat here and there; most of the people were in their berths,
and those who were present were clearly in no humour for conversation.
Half an hour passed in this way, by which time I had somewhat settled
my spirits; and, walking with exceeding caution to the Lees’ berth, I
lightly tapped upon the door of it.

The door was opened by Mrs. Lee, who put her finger upon her lip. The
gesture signified that Alice was sleeping, and, giving her a nod, I
passed on to the forward end of the saloon that I might obtain a view
of the rolling, straining ship, and the huge frothing sea rushing
from under her. I stepped out into a recess on the quarter-deck formed
by the projection of the cabin on either hand, and by the overshot
extremity of the poop-deck. This recess provided a shelter from the
gale which was howling over the bulwarks, and splitting in ringing,
piercing whistlings upon the complicated shrouds and gear; and in a
corner of it--of the recess I mean--squatted the gipsy woman. She was
smoking a little sooty clay pipe, the bowl of which was upside down.

She was alone; a few of the emigrants were crouching on the lee or
sheltered side of the house, called the galley, in which the food
was cooked; otherwise the decks were deserted. As the ship rolled to
the wind the huge seas in masses of cloudy grey water charged at her
as though they must thunder in mighty falls over the rail; but the
noble fabric rose with dry decks and screaming rigging to the wash of
each foaming mountain, letting it run away from under her in a huge
streaming sheet of white, and the wild, expiring foam hissed into the
gale with the noise of an electric storm of wet and hail falling upon a
calm sea.

The gipsy woman pulled the pipe out of her mouth and gave me a nod,
with a wide grin of her white, strong teeth. Though her appearance was
sufficiently fierce and disagreeable to occasion an instinctive recoil,
yet, remembering what she had told me, and how what she had told me
seemed confirmed by some strong secret instinct or feeling within me,
and by Mrs. Lee’s conjectures or suspicions, I resolved to talk with
her awhile; and, giving her a nod by way of returning her salutation,
I made my way to her side, motioning with my hand that she should keep
seated; and when I had drawn close enough to hear her speak I crouched
against the saloon front to prevent myself from being thrown.

‘Do you want some more of your fortune told, my pretty lady?’ said the
woman, knocking the ashes out of her pipe and putting it in her pocket.

‘No, I wish to hear no more of my fortune,’ I answered.

‘I am glad of that,’ said she; ‘I have told you all I know, and if I
was to tell you more I should have to speak what is not the truth.’

‘I do not want any more of my fortune told,’ said I, ‘but I wish to
ask you certain questions, which I dare say you will answer,’ and as I
spoke I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out my purse, from which I
extracted a shilling.

She took the shilling, and looked at the purse and said, speaking
naturally--that is to say, without the drawling and whining tone which
she had employed when addressing the passengers:

‘Is that your purse, lady?’

‘Yes,’ said I.

‘Did it come with you into the ship?’

‘Yes.’

‘Let me look at it, lady.’

She turned it about, examined the money in it, looked at the purse
again, then returning it to me exclaimed, ‘This is English.’

‘How do you know?’ said I.

‘I know many things,’ she answered, ‘and one thing I know is that that
purse was made in England.’

‘Well!’ said I, finding that she did not proceed in her speech.

‘Well!’ she echoed. ‘What would you think, lady, if you was to meet
out upon the sea with a woman who did not know from what country she
came, and who had in her pocket a purse made in England with English
money in it, and who likewise had in her mouth good English such as you
speaks? What would you think?’

‘I would think that she was English,’ said I.

‘And you are English,’ she exclaimed.

‘It does not help me to know that,’ cried I.

She stared into my eyes, but made no answer.

‘When you told my fortune,’ said I, ‘you said that I was a married
woman. Since then feelings and fancies have visited me which make me
believe you to be right. Now I want to know how you guessed that I was
a married woman.’

‘We do not guess; we see,’ answered the gipsy.

‘Pray do not talk nonsense, but converse with me without any idea of
fortune-telling. You looked at me, and knew me to be married woman.
Plenty of others had looked at me, but none declared me to be a married
woman, saving you. Tell me, then, what you saw in me to enable you to
decide that I was a married woman?’

‘You are not only a married woman,’ she answered; ‘you are also a
mother.’

‘How can you tell that by looking at me?’ I cried passionately.

She smiled, but with nothing of her former cringing and fawning
expression. Her brilliant eyes seemed to flame into mine as she fixed
them upon me.

‘Why should I teach you my art?’ said she. ‘But even if I was willing
to teach it I could not make you understand it. There are some who can
see clear writing upon what would be white paper to you, and to the
likes of you, lady. There is that in your face which makes me know what
I tell you. But look at yourself in a looking-glass whilst I stand
behind and point to what I see, and what will you behold? Nothing but
your face, just as it is.’

‘And you can read that I am a mother?’

‘Yes, yes,’ she answered, with such energy as made the nod she gave
fierce.

‘Tell me all that you can read!’ said I, questioning her not, believe
me, because I was credulous enough to conceive that she was anything
more than a commonplace lying fortune-teller, but because I hoped she
would be able to say something to strengthen my own secret growing
fancies and feelings.

‘You want me to tell you your fortune again, lady,’ said she; ‘but have
I not said I must invent if I speaks more?’

‘I do not want my fortune told. I wish you to make certain guesses. You
are shrewd, and a single guess of yours might throw a light upon my
mind; and if you can give me back my memory, whatever it may be in my
power to do for you shall be done.’

She glared at me as though she was used to promises and disdained them.

‘What shall I _guess_, lady?’ she asked.

‘If I have children, what will be their age?’

She stared close into my face with so fierce and piercing a gaze that
nothing but the _excitement_ of my curiosity hindered me from rising
and widening my distance from her.

‘What will be their age? What will be their age?’ she muttered, passing
her hand over my face without touching it; ‘why, whether they are
living or dead, they will be young, and the youngest will be an infant
that is not eighteen months old, and the eldest will not yet be six.
You will find that right.’

She watched me with a surly smile whilst I turned my eyes inwards and
underwent one of my old terrible, dark conflicts. Presently I raised my
eyes to her face, and said, ‘How many children do you guess I have?’

‘Guess! Guess!’ she answered; then, once more advancing her face close
to mine, she looked at me, drew back, and said, ‘You have two children.’

‘If I am a married woman, why do I not wear a wedding ring?’ said I,
not choosing to venture the word _guess_ again.

‘That was a part of the fortune I told you,’ said she. ‘There are
thieves at sea as there are thieves on land. Your rings were stolen.’

‘Why did the thieves leave my purse?’

‘Was I there to see?’ she exclaimed, hunching her shoulders. ‘Why did
they not steal your clothes? Why did not they take your life? You are a
married woman, I say, and you should wear a wedding ring according to
the custom of your country; and if you have not a ring it is because it
was stolen.’

She spoke with as much emphasis as though she positively _knew_ that
what she stated was the fact. I was influenced by her; I could not help
myself. Had she possessed a plain English face my good sense must have
ridiculed her pretensions as a sibyl, even though she spoke things
which seemed to find a dull, hollow echo in the dark recesses of my
mind; but her black, eastern eyes were full of fire, and eager and
piercing, with a sort of wild intelligence that was scarcely human; her
speech took weight and significance from the strange, fierce, repellent
expression of her face; there was a kind of fascination too in her very
adjacency, in her manner of staring into my eyes, in her way of passing
her hand over my face.

‘If I have a husband and children, shall I ever see them again?’ said I.

‘You forget what I said when I told you your fortune, lady,’ she
answered.

‘You spoke without knowing,’ said I. ‘You have a set of tales by heart,
and you call them fortunes.’

‘I am a gipsy and can read _baji_,’ cried the woman, with her eyes
beginning to flash. ‘Many fortunes have I told in my time and many
prophecies have I uttered which have come to pass. Do not I read what
you are? When you were walking the deck with the lady and I was sitting
there,’ said she, pointing, ‘I looked at you and said to myself, “Let
me see into her eyes and let me look at her hand, and I will tell her
much that is not in her memory.”’

‘Are you a mother?’ said I.

‘I have had my bantlings,’ she answered sullenly. ‘They went home long
ago.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘They lies dead and buried,’ said she. ‘What other homes have us poor
gipsies and our bantlings got but the grave? The likes of you goes to
Heaven, lady; the likes of us don’t carry our thoughts so high. I wish
I was at home with my bantlings, I do, instead of living to be a lone
woman crossing the seas----’ Her voice failed her; and, pulling her
little black pipe from her pocket, she dashed it on to the deck with a
face of fury, and then, with a harsh and hideous voice, began to sing
some strange gibberish, which, to judge by the expression in her eye,
might very well have been a string of curses.

Her looks and behaviour alarmed me; and, without exchanging another
word with her, I rose and re-entered the saloon.



CHAPTER XX

THE DEATH OF ALICE LEE


The storm passed away in the night, and when the morning came there
was a breathless calm upon the sea. On my way from the steerage I
looked out through the saloon door for a minute or two. All sail was
set upon the ship, but there was no wind. The white canvas was pouring
in and out somewhat heavily, and as it beat the masts the thunderous,
crackling notes it rang through the motionless atmosphere were like the
noise of the wheels of artillery drawn at a gallop over a stony street.
The sea was breathing heavily after its conflict of the previous day,
and the ship was rolling majestically, but at the same time very
uncomfortably, upon the glass-white swell.

The decks were crowded with emigrants. Children were tumbling and
sporting in the channel under the bulwarks, called the ‘scuppers,’
as though their instincts directed them to find a playground in the
gutters of the ship. Some of the people appeared to be breakfasting.
With one hand they grasped tin mugs full of a steaming black liquid,
probably called tea by those who served it out to them, and in the
other hand they held a piece of flinty biscuit, and with this dry,
disgusting fare a number of the poor creatures were breaking their fast.

There were some delicate faces amongst the women--two or three with
eyes of beauty, and two or three with rich auburn hair. I longed to go
amongst the poor people and ask them questions, and learn from what
parts of the country they came. I thought to myself, one of those many
men and women may have it in his or her power to give me back my memory
by saying something that might serve as a burning brand for the dark
galleries of my brain. But it was a desire which the rules of the ship
forbade me to satisfy.

Presently I caught sight of the gipsy woman. She showed her teeth and
nodded demonstratively, as if she would have her fellow-passengers take
notice that she and I were friends. I coldly nodded in return, and
then, learning from the stewardess that Mrs. Lee had not yet left her
berth, I walked to the end of the saloon, where I could sit retired,
and there waited for the breakfast-bell to ring and for the passengers
to appear.

The first to come out of her berth was Mrs. Lee. She immediately saw
and approached me. She looked as if she had been crying, and there was
an expression of deep and settled grief in her face. I asked after
Alice, but with a sinking heart, as I gazed at the poor, anxious,
devoted mother.

‘She has been very ill in the night,’ she answered. ‘She is very low
this morning.’

‘But yesterday she seemed so much better.’

‘Oh! she is dying, Agnes, she is leaving me. God is fast withdrawing
her from me now,’ and she wept afresh.

I hung my head. I could not look into the face of her grief and find
words.

And now again the poor woman reproached herself for having brought her
child to sea when it was too late. She talked indeed as though she had
overheard what Mr. McEwan had said to me on the previous day, or as
though he had repeated his discourse to her.

‘She would have been comfortable at home,’ she exclaimed amidst her
sobs. ‘Her rest is broken by the narrow bunk she lies in, and she
is distressed by the movements of the ship. At home she would lie
peacefully in her own bedroom, she would be surrounded by familiar
objects, friends would come and sit with her, and--oh, Agnes!’ She
stopped in her speech as though a spasm had wrenched her heart.

I knew what was in her mind, and the tears sprang into my eyes.

‘Her grave,’ continued Mrs. Lee in a whisper, ‘would not be far away
from me. I should be able to visit it, to see that it is tended as her
sister’s is: but----’ She stopped again in her speech and directed her
eyes at one of the large circular windows through which, as the ship
rolled, we could now and again catch a sight of the glassy volumes of
water.

While she talked of her dying child the breakfast-bell rang. She rose
and said: ‘I cannot sit at the table. I cannot bear to be asked
questions about Alice, though they are kindly meant. Come to me when
you have breakfasted,’ and she returned to her berth.

I felt, now that the mother was without hope, that there was no hope
indeed. My own grief was so keen that I was as unequal to the task of
sitting at the breakfast table as Mrs. Lee, and after drinking a cup
of tea, which one of the stewards brought to me before the passengers
assembled, I slipped downstairs to my cabin there to wait until it
should be time to visit Alice. My low spirits were not only owing to
the news which Mrs. Lee had given me: I had passed a miserable night
disturbed by many shapeless undeterminable dreams, and broken by long
passages of waking thought. The gipsy woman’s repeated deliberate
assurance that I was not only a wife but a mother also influenced me
as though her words were the truth itself. A secret voice within me
was for ever whispering, ‘It is so! It is so!’ and I cannot express
how dreadful was the anguish of my mind as I sought in the void within
for any, the least, stir of shadow to which I could give some form of
memory.

And I was sensible too of a heartache as of yearning, though I knew not
what I yearned for. I sought to explain to myself this subtle craving
by saying, ‘I am a mother and I yearn for my children;’ and yet my
children were to me then as though they had never been born! What,
then, did this sense of yearning signify? Was it a desire put into my
head by the gipsy woman’s talk--first, the belief that I was a mother
as she had said, and then a craving to _know_ whether or not I had left
children behind me in my unknown home? Or was it the deep, unfailing,
deathless, maternal instinct whose accents were sounding to my heart
out of the darkness that was upon my mind, as the whisper of a spirit
falls upon the waking ear in the blackness of the night, serving as an
impulse and an inspiration, though the listener knows not whence the
sound proceeds nor what it is?

It happened as Mrs. Lee had feared. As the wife of a shipowner she had
met many seafaring men in her time, and she talked of the sea with
something of the knowledge of an experienced ocean traveller. The calm
weather which she had dreaded happened. For many days, whose number my
memory does not carry, the sea stretched flat and lifeless round about
the ship, and the rim of it was dim with the faint blue haze of heat
whilst the central sky was a blaze of white light. Faint airs called
catspaws occasionally tarnished the table-flat plain of the ocean; but
so weak were these draughts that they expired long before they reached
the ship, and for hours and for days the _Deal Castle_ sat upright upon
the water without motion except a small swaying of her mast-heads,
and there was so perfect a reflection of her fabric of black sides and
star-white canvas under her that one might have believed on gazing over
the side that she rested on a sheet of looking-glass.

No sail could heave into view in such stagnant weather. Never was the
hot, blurred edge of the ocean broken by the thread-like shadowing of
a steamer’s smoke. There was nothing to see but water, and there was
nothing for the passengers to do but to lounge and eat and sleep and
grumble. The heat told fearfully on Alice Lee. The saloon and berths
were unendurably hot, and the doctor ordered the girl to be carried on
deck on a couch. She begged not to be disturbed; her mother entreated
her to allow the people to carry her on deck, and then she consented;
but when they put their hands upon her she fainted, and so deep and
long was her swoon that we feared she had died. The doctor then
directed that she should be left as she was.

Her mother and I nursed her between us. Mrs. Richards put a little
arm-chair in the dying girl’s berth, and I sat and watched whilst Mrs.
Lee slept; and then, when it came to Mrs. Lee’s turn to watch, I would
fall asleep in the chair, and thus we would pass the nights. Oh, it was
a bitter sad time! The mother fought with her grief in the sight of her
child that she might not witness the agony of her affliction; but often
at night, when she lay down after several hours of watching, instead of
sleeping she would weep, very silently indeed, but I could tell by the
breathing that her tears were flowing.

Alice’s sufferings were not great. Time after time in the silent
watches of the night--and silent indeed were the watches of those
breathless nights of equatorial calm--I would rise on observing the
dear girl to move uneasily, bend over her, and ask if she suffered; and
regularly would she answer me in her sweet voice and with her sweet
smile that she was free from pain, that she desired but a little air,
but that she was not suffering, and then she would extend her thin,
damp, cold hand for me to hold, and ask me if her mother was sleeping,
and then whisper that she was happy, that she was dying, that she
knew she was dying, but that the holy peace of God which passes all
understanding was upon her heart, and that she was praying for the hour
to come when He would take her to Himself.

Once she awoke uttering a cry as of rapture. I was at her side in an
instant.

She looked a little strangely at me, then, as an expression of
recognition entered her eyes, she exclaimed; ‘I have been with my angel
sister. Can it have been a dream? How real, how real it was! We stood
together hand in hand--I do not know where--the light was that of the
moon. Our dear mother was coming and we waited for her. Can it have
been a dream?’ Her smile faded; she sighed, closed her eyes, and was
presently asleep again.

I could tell you many sweet things of this beautiful character as she
lay dying in that little cabin, but it is my own, and not Alice Lee’s,
story that I have undertaken to relate. Yet the mystical part that she
played in the turning-point of my life is so truly wonderful that I
cannot but dwell upon her blessed memory. She was the good angel of my
life, and God afterwards sent her from Heaven to me, as you shall read
when you come to that part of my experiences.

And though I had known her but for a few weeks, yet as she lay dying
on her bed my love could not have been deeper for her than had she
been flesh of my own flesh, had she been my sister or my child, had her
mother been mine, and we had grown together in years with never a day
of separation.

It was the night of the eleventh day of the calm, but this night the
breathlessness of the atmosphere was broken by a faint air of wind. The
window of Alice’s berth was wide open, but though I put my hand into it
I felt no movement of air. Yet a small weak wind was blowing; it was
past midnight, and in the stillness of this hour I heard the noise of
waters faintly rippling, and the deep silence was unbroken by the notes
of flapping canvas, for there was wind enough to ‘put the sails to
sleep,’ as a pretty saying of the sea goes.

Mrs. Lee had been lying down since ten o’clock, and was sleeping, but I
should awaken her presently, for it had been arranged that she should
watch from after midnight until three or four in the morning. I was
faint, and there was a feeling of nausea upon me. The atmosphere of the
cabin was oppressively close. In spite of the awning having been spread
throughout the day the heat of the sun was in the planks of the deck,
and this heat, though it was now the hour of midnight, was still in
the planks, and it struck through into the atmosphere of the cabin as
though a great oven rested on the ceiling of the little interior.

There are many sorts of illness which are sad and afflicting to
nurse, but none so sad and afflicting, I think, as consumption in
its last stage. There was a weight upon my spirits; I panted for
the deck, and for the starlit freedom of the cool night. Alice had
been resting motionlessly for nearly an hour. I knew not whether she
slept or was awake, and would not look lest I should disturb her if
she was sleeping. Her eyes were closed, her thin hands were crossed
saint-like upon her breast, her face was as white as though the moon
shone upon it. Through the open window, that was somewhat above her
sleeping-shelf and near her head, I saw a large golden star shining:
the rolling of the ship was so slight that the star continued to shine
in the aperture, sliding up and down, but never beyond the limits of
the circle of window. The effect of the girl’s white face, and of this
star that seemed to be sliding to and fro near it, was extraordinary.
A strange fancy entered my head: I thought of the star as of Alice’s
spirit hovering close to the form that was not yet inanimate, and
waiting for death to give the signal for its flight to Heaven; and
whilst I thus thought, looking at the white face and the golden star
shining in the cabin window, a sweet low voice began to sing the
opening lines of that beautiful hymn, ‘Abide with Me.’

The voice was faint and sounded as though it came from a distance,
but it was inexpressibly sweet. I started, believing that someone was
singing on deck, for the voice of anyone singing on deck would strike
faintly upon the ear through the open cabin window, even as this voice
did. Then I said to myself, ‘It is Alice who is singing,’ and stepping
to her side I was in time to witness the movement of her lips ere she
ceased, after having sung but little more than the first two lines of
the hymn. Her eyes were closed, her hands remained crossed upon her
bosom; she had not stirred, and there was no doubt that she sang in her
sleep.

About this hour Mrs. Lee lifted her head from her pillow, then arose,
and after gazing silently for awhile at her child, she approached me,
put her lips to my ear, and bade me in almost breathless accents take
the sleep I needed. I answered in a whisper that I could not sleep,
and asked her to allow me to go on deck to breathe the cool air for
a quarter of an hour or so, telling her where she would find me.
She acquiesced with a motion of her head, and catching up a shawl I
noiselessly passed out from the cabin.

The saloon lamps had long been extinguished, but a plentiful haze of
starlight floated through the open skylights. Not knowing but that Mr.
Harris might have charge of the ship, and desiring to avoid him, though
even if he were on the poop and saw me there I did not suppose he would
address me, I passed through the saloon on to the quarter-deck, and
seated myself half-way up one of the ladders which conducted to the
poop, and, my attire being dark, and the darkness where I sat being
deep, there was small chance of my being observed unless someone came
to the ladder to mount or descend it.

The night air was delicious. Low over the sea on my left hand side was
a dark red scar of moon; it was floating slowly up out of the east with
its fragment of disk large and distorted by the hot atmosphere through
which it stared. The sails of the ship rose pale, and the topmost
of them looked so high up that the faint pallid spaces seemed to be
hovering cloud-like close under the stars. The faint breeze held the
canvas motionless, and not a sound came from those airy heights.

The figure of a man moved on the forecastle; otherwise the decks--so
much of them, at least, as my sight commanded--were tenantless. The
night was the more peaceful for the soft air that blew. The delicate
noise of rippling waters lulled the senses, and at another time I
should have fallen asleep to that gentle music of the sea, but my
heart was too full to suffer me to slumber then; the tears fell from my
eyes. A sweet girl was dying; the gentlest heart that ever beat in a
woman’s breast might even now, as I sat thinking, have ceased to throb;
one whom I dearly loved, whose tenderness for me had been that of a
sister, was dying, might even now be dead, and as I sat thinking of her
I wept.

I looked up at the sky; it was crowded with stars, and many meteors
glanced in the dark heights. I asked myself, ‘Where is Heaven?’ We look
upwards and think that Heaven is where we direct our eyes, but I knew
that even as I looked the prospect of the stars was slowly changing,
so that if Heaven were _there_ where I was now gazing it would not be
there presently. Where then was Heaven? And when the soul of the sweet
girl who was dying in her cabin quitted her body whither would it fly?
Then I remembered that she herself had told me that we looked upwards
when we thought of Heaven because the light was there, the light of the
sun, and the moon, and the stars, but that God whom she had taught me
to remember and to pray to was everywhere.

This thought of God’s presence--for if He was everywhere He must be
where I now was--awed me, and, rising from the step upon which I was
seated, I knelt and prayed, weeping bitterly as I uttered the words
which arose from my heart. I prayed that my memory might be restored
to me; I prayed that, if I were a wife and a mother, the image of my
husband and my children would be presented to me that I might know them
and return to them. But I did not pray for Alice Lee. She was already
His to whom I knelt, and I knew in my heart that even if it had been
in the power of prayer to save her she would not desire another hour of
life unless--and here I turned my head and looked at the dark surface
of sea and thought of it as her grave.

I resumed the seat I had arisen from in order to kneel, and again
surrendered myself to thought. I heard the measured tread of a man upon
the poop-deck that stretched above and behind me. He came to the rail,
and stood at the head of the steps which lay opposite to those on which
I was seated. His figure showed black against the starless sky, and I
saw that he was not Mr. Harris, but Mr. ----, the second officer of the
vessel. He whistled softly to himself as he stood awhile surveying the
sea and the ship.

One reads often in poetry and in stories of the loneliness of the
night watch on the ocean; but one should bear a secret part in such
a watch--a part such as I was now bearing, with a heart of lead and
with eyes which burnt with recent tears--to compass what is meant when
the loneliness of the night watch at sea is sung or written of. Nobody
stirred upon the ship but the figure of this second officer and some
dim shadowy shape far forward on the forecastle, flitting among and
blending with the deep masses of dye cast upon the atmosphere there by
the sails. Not a sound was to be heard saving the sigh of the faint
wind in the rigging, and the tinkling noise of rippling water. The
fragment of moon was still red in the east, and as yet without power to
touch the dark ocean under it with light. Two bells were struck on some
part of the deck, and the tremulous chimes went floating up into the
hollows of the sails, and trembled in the pallid concavities in echoes.
The figure of the second officer moved away from the rail; and now,
though a little while before I had believed myself sleepless, my head
insensibly sank forward, my eyes closed, and I slumbered.

I was awakened by a hand laid upon my shoulder. I started with a cry,
and gazed around me. No situation would more bewilder one new to the
sea than the being suddenly aroused and finding oneself on the deck of
a ship, with the stars shining and the tall sails spreading over one,
and the night wind of the deck blowing upon one’s face. The person who
had awakened me was Mr. McEwan.

‘This is a strange bed for a lady to be sleeping upon at this hour of
the night,’ said he; ‘but I have no heart and no time now to represent
the folly ye commeet in sleeping in such a dew as is falling. I have
been to see Miss Alice Lee; she is dying. She will be gone before that
moon there has climbed to over our mast-heads. She wishes to see you,
and her mother asked me to find and send you to her. Go and comfort
the puir old lady. God knows she needs comfort! There is nothing I can
do for the girl,’ and he abruptly quitted me, and disappeared in the
gloom of the saloon.

I immediately made my way to Mrs. Lee’s cabin, but before entering I
stood upon a chair that I might see the clock under the skylight. The
time was a quarter to two. I was now able to read the clock, though
when I had first come on board the _Deal Castle_, having no memory of
the figures, I was unable to tell the time. I quietly opened the door
and entered. Mrs. Lee was kneeling at the side of her sleeping-shelf,
which was below the bunk in which her daughter lay, and she was so lost
in prayer that she did not hear me enter. I crept to Alice’s side, and
then her mother, perceiving me, arose.

Though the cabin lamp was turned down, there was plenty of light to
see by. Alice’s eyes were closed, but after I had stood a moment or
two looking at her she opened them, saw me and knew me, and a smile of
touching sweetness lighted up her wasted face. She feebly moved her
hand, but with a gesture which made me know she wished me to hold it.
I bowed my head close to her face, and asked her in a whisper if she
was in pain. She answered no; and then I asked her if she was happy,
on which she looked at me and smiled. Her lips moved, but she seemed
powerless to give expression to her thoughts. I bent my ear close to
her mouth, and I heard her say in a whisper as dim and far off as the
voice one hears in a dream:

‘I have been praying that God will give you back your memory----My
beloved mother will be your friend----’

The whisper ceased, she smiled again, twitched her fingers that I might
relax my hold of her hand, and looked at her mother, who took her hand
and held it.

I withdrew to the chair in which I had been wont to keep a watch while
Mrs. Lee slept, that the mother and daughter might, in that sacred
time, be alone together. But the sweet girl never spoke again. Whilst
her hand was still clasped by her mother she turned her face to the
side of the ship and passed away, dying so quietly that her death was
as noiseless as the fall of the leaf of a flower in the night--dying so
quietly that her mother knew not when the soul of her child had fled,
and continued holding her hand, with not a sound breaking the sacred
stillness of that little cabin save the rippling of the water tinkling
to the ear through the embrasure of the window, from whose dark disk
the large golden star had gone.

‘Mark,’ says the most eloquent of divines, ‘mark the rain that falls
from above, and the same shower that droppeth out of one cloud
increaseth sundry plants in a garden, and severally according to the
condition of every plant. In one stalk it makes a rose, in another a
violet, divers in a third, and sweet in all. So the Spirit makes its
multiformous effects in several complexions and all according to the
increase of God.’

The rose of this fair garden was dead. But what says this same most
eloquent of all divines, the rose being dead, and the perfume, which is
its spirit, gone from it?

‘As when the eye meets with light it is the comfort of the eye: when
the ear meets with harmony it is the comfort of the ear. What is the
most transcendent consolation therefore but the union of the soul with
God?’

Until long after the dawn had broken Mrs. Lee and I remained with the
dead. The poor mother seemed at first stupefied. Mr. McEwan came in,
looked at Alice, pronounced that all was over, and with a sigh and a
gentle nod to Mrs. Lee softly quitted the cabin.

And then it was that the poor mother appeared to have been changed into
stone. She held the dead girl’s hand, and kept her eyes fastened upon
the averted face. At last a sob convulsed her. Another and a third
followed, and, releasing her child’s hand, she threw herself into a
chair, hid her face, and wept. Oh how she wept! and I feared that her
heart had broken. Then, when she had calmed down somewhat, I took
her hand and said whatever I thought might soothe her. But there was
nothing under Heaven to soothe grief so recent as hers, with the body
of her sweet daughter lying within view, though she may have found a
sort of sympathy which no other person on board could have possessed
for her in my own distressed condition; for from time to time as I
talked she would lift her streaming eyes to my face with an expression
of deep pity that for the moment overlay the look of her own grief.
It was indeed as though she should say, ‘Great as is my sorrow here,
seeking to comfort me is one whose sorrow may be even greater than
mine.’

We passed the hours until some time after dawn had broken in prayer
and in tears, and in whispering of the dead. Often the mother would
rise to look at her, and then come back and talk to me about her--of
the sweetness of her disposition even when she was a little child,
of her tenderness and goodness as a daughter, of her simple innocent
pleasures, of her tastes; how the poor whom she had visited and
comforted loved her and blessed her name.

When the morning had fairly come I saw it was no longer fit that the
poor bereaved mother should continue in this cabin in sight of her
child’s body, so, telling her that I would presently return, I entered
the saloon, and, seeing nothing of Mrs. Richards, I descended into
the steerage and found her in her cabin. I told her that Alice Lee
was dead. She heard me with a look of sorrow, but it was impossible
that she should feel surprise. I told her that Mrs. Lee was nearly
heartbroken, and begged that another cabin might be prepared for her
where she might remain private until after the funeral. She reflected
and said:

‘All the saloon cabins are occupied. It would not be right to offer
her a berth in the steerage. I will speak to the captain at once; the
surgeon is sure to have reported the poor young lady’s death to him;
pray return to Mrs. Lee until I am able to tell you what can be done.’

Shortly after I had returned to Mrs. Lee’s cabin a number of the
passengers came out of their berths, and the news that Alice Lee was
dead swiftly went from mouth to mouth. Then it was, as I afterwards
came to know, that Mrs. Webber, meeting Mrs. Richards as she came from
the captain’s cabin, learnt from the stewardess that there was no
berth vacant in the saloon for the reception of Mrs. Lee, and that the
poor bereaved mother would have to retire for awhile to a cabin in the
darksome steerage. The good-natured, sympathetic Mrs. Webber would not
hear of this; she bade Mrs. Richards wait for a little, and going to
one of the ladies she promptly arranged to share her berth with her;
Mr. Webber and the lady’s husband sleeping meanwhile in cabins occupied
by single men. All this Mrs. Webber promptly arranged. Her sympathetic
enthusiasm swept away every difficulty, and before the breakfast-bell
summoned the passengers to the saloon table Mrs. Lee and I were
installed in the Webbers’ cabin.

The state of the weather required that the funeral should not be
delayed, but I own that I was not a little shocked when I learnt that
the ceremony was to take place at eleven that morning. I had met
Captain Ladmore in the saloon as I came from my berth in the steerage
to rejoin Mrs. Lee in her new quarters, and he stopped me to ask in his
grave sad way how Mrs. Lee did, and to inquire after the last moments
of the dear girl. I answered him as best I could, and then, seeing Mrs.
Richards come out of the berth that had been occupied by Mrs. Lee, it
entered my head to ask the captain when the funeral would take place.

‘I have arranged,’ said he, ‘that it shall take place at eleven.’

‘At eleven!--this morning?’ cried I, starting. ‘That is terribly soon,
Captain Ladmore.’

‘It is terribly soon, as you say,’ he answered, ‘but at sea there is no
sentiment, and the claims of the living at sea are far more imperious
than ever they can be ashore. I do not wish to intrude upon Mrs. Lee.
Her sorrow is too fresh to admit of intrusion. I will ask you to tell
her that the funeral takes place at eleven, and you will also say that
I too have suffered keenly, even as keenly as she, and that I feel for
her,’ and, giving me a slight hurried bow to conceal his emotion, he
left me.

I broke the intelligence as softly as I was able to the poor bereaved
mother. A scared look entered her eyes, which were red with weeping,
and she convulsively motioned with her arm as though she would speak
but could not; she then hid her face in her hands and swayed her form
as though she wrestled with the agony of her affliction. I stood at the
port-hole, looking through it at the sea, but my eyes were blind with
tears, and I could behold nothing but the image of Alice Lee, already
draped, perhaps, in her sea-shroud--in less than two hours to have
vanished for ever in that mighty sepulchre of ocean from which, as a
grave, her pure sweet spirit had shrunk, so great was her horror of its
vastness, albeit she knew that her Lord, in whom she believed and whom
she loved, was awaiting and would receive her, though an ocean as wide
as the heavens themselves rolled between her and Him. Presently I felt
Mrs. Lee’s hand upon my arm.

‘Agnes, will you attend my darling’s funeral?’

‘If you wish it, dear Mrs. Lee, yes.’

‘I could not be present--I could not----. You will tell me----’ She
broke down and wept upon my shoulder; but I readily gathered her
thoughts from her grief-broken utterance.

Shortly before eleven I quitted her cabin. She looked me in the eyes
and kissed me on the brow before I left her. I went to the berth that
I had been occupying, but that I was to occupy no longer, and put on
a black veil which Mrs. Lee had given to me to wear. I also put on a
pair of black gloves which had belonged to sweet Alice Lee. I had no
more mourning to wear. As I passed through the saloon I heard the sound
of the ship’s bell tolling. It chimed in a funeral note, but the wide
glory of the morning took all significance of grief out of it. The soft
wind which had fanned the ship forward during the night still blew;
the sun was within an hour of his meridian, and the rippling sea was a
vast dazzling plain, a surface of white fire wrinkling southward. There
could be nothing funereal in the tolling of a bell on such a morning as
this; the life of the flashing universe was in every trembling pulse
of the slowly recurring chimes.

The emigrants crowded the deck in the forward part of the ship. They
stared with eager eyes, and every face wore an expression of vulgar,
morbid curiosity. The children amongst them stared too, but they were
silent and wondering, and often would they look up at the sails and
around at the furniture of the ship, as though all familiar objects had
been rendered fresh and strange to their young eyes. Most of the crew,
in clean white attire, stood in ranks in front of the emigrants. Every
man’s shadow softly swung at his feet, and just past and close behind
one bushy-whiskered face was the tawny countenance of the gipsy woman,
her eyes full of fire, and her mouth wide with a grin that seemed to
fling a complexion of irony upon the serious, vulgar, and grimy faces
round about in her neighbourhood.

The saloon passengers had clothed themselves in black. They were
congregated on the quarter-deck, at a short distance from the part of
the bulwark where the body was to be launched. The hour of eleven was
struck, six blows on the bell announcing the time; and the captain,
stalking gravely out of the saloon, Prayer-book in hand, took up his
station close against the bulwarks, where the sailors had made an
opening by lifting out a piece of the rail. A few moments later the
body was borne forth from the saloon, and at the sight of it every man
took off his hat, and a strange sound, like a subdued moan uttered by
many persons at one instant, came from the crowd of emigrants.

The body was carried by four sailors; it was covered by a large
flag--the red ensign of the English merchant service--and the crimson
edges of the flag trailed along the white planks as the sailors, with
measured tread, bore their sweet and sacred burthen to the bulwarks.
The captain, opening his book, began to read the funeral service in
a deep, clear voice; but often there was a tremor, often there was a
break of emotion in his tones, which made those who knew how it had
been with him feel that his heart was away with his own dead in the old
home. Sobs often broke from the ladies.

So young! So sweet! So good! Whilst my eyes streamed with tears, and
whilst my ears followed the touching words recited by the captain,
my heart asked many questions. Why should one so gentle, so pure, so
young, be taken? Why for years should she have been haunted by the
terrible spectre of death, a shadow for ever creeping closer and closer
to her, poising its certain and envenomed lance, for years haunting her
hours and her dreams with its ever-growing apparition? Oh, how cruel!
how hard to bear is the continuous dread and expectation of death! I
thought. And when I remembered how she had answered me when I spoke
aloud to her some such thoughts as were now running in my mind: how she
had told me that the victory of the spirit over life, and all that life
can tempt it with, is by suffering and pain; that the great triumph
of our salvation was the fruit of suffering and of pain, the sweet,
dear, glad voice spoke to me yet. I seemed to hear its pure accents
creeping into my ear from the pale form hidden by the crimson flag. The
voice told me that all was well with her, that the conquest was hers,
that she had exchanged the dim pale shadows of this dream called life
for the shining and glorious realities which had been promised to her
by One whose word was Love, unfailing and imperishable, and that she
was--as no one in this life can be--happy.

At a signal from the captain the flag was removed, the grating on
which the body rested was tilted, and the body, sewn up in snow-white
sail-cloth, flashed from the ship’s side.



CHAPTER XXI

I RETURN TO ENGLAND


And now it is necessary that I should skip a considerable period of
time--no less a period of time indeed than ten months--that this story
may bring me to a close relation of my own affairs; for the most
extraordinary part of my strange adventures yet remains to be unfolded,
and no purpose can be served by my keeping you dawdling on shipboard,
when everything from this time material befell me on shore.

I will not speak of the grief of Mrs. Lee; her bereavement left her
childless, and, indeed, alone in the world, and her loss was as an
arrow in her heart. Alice had been left to her when her first child
was taken; but now Alice was gone, and loneliness and childlessness
rendered the loss of this daughter a far deeper affliction than had
been the death of the other. But Mrs. Lee was a woman of strong
religious feelings; resignation grew in her with the help of prayer,
and with the compassion of God, and through much silent meditation;
and, long before we arrived in Australia, she could bear to say and to
hear many things concerning Alice which, in the earliest stages of her
grief, her faltering tongue could not have pronounced, nor her stricken
heart endure to listen to.

I think it was about three weeks after Alice’s death, that Mrs. Lee
spoke to me very seriously about my future, repeated her daughter’s
wishes, and asked me to live with her as companion whilst my memory
continued dark, and whilst I remained homeless. I gladly assented,
kissing her, and gratefully thanking her again and again for her
offer; and she seemed as glad as I. She had liked me from the beginning
of our acquaintance; now she loved me for my association with her
lost child, and also because Alice had loved me. And she loved me for
myself too, as the dear little woman would often tell me, though all
the kindness, all the goodness was on one side. For I could do no more
than feel grateful, and thank God for having found me a friend in her,
and be with her, and oblige her, and comfort her as fully as my mind,
enfeebled by the want of memory, would enable me.

We arrived at Sydney, New South Wales; the passengers bade us farewell
and went their ways. Some of them presented me with little gifts of
jewellery to remember them by, and the tears stood in Mrs. Webber’s
eyes when she said good-bye to me. Had the _Deal Castle_ touched at
the Cape of Good Hope, Mrs. Lee would have gone on shore, taking me
with her, and proceeded to England direct by one of the fine steamers
of the Union Steamship line; but the ship stopped nowhere during the
outward passage, and therefore, unless we chose to be transferred to a
homeward-bound ship, we were obliged to proceed direct to Sydney. Mrs.
Lee made up her mind to return home in the ship. She had paid her cabin
fare for two for the ‘round voyage,’ as it is called; she liked Captain
Ladmore, and she also liked his ship; and then, again, Mr. McEwan
strongly recommended her to remain in the _Deal Castle_, affirming that
her health would benefit by such a voyage as a sailing ship provided.

So, for the reasons I have given, together with others which I need
not enter into--as, for example, the cost of returning home by steam:
a cost that must tax her purse, seeing that she had already paid for
the voyage out and home--we returned to England in the _Deal Castle_
living on shore at a hotel during the three months the vessel lay in
Sydney harbour.

You will ask whether, in this time, my memory had returned to
me--whether, indeed, I was even capable of dimly recollecting? My
answer is, _No!_ My memory seemed to grow even more impenetrable as
the months went by. There had been times, as I have told you, when the
cry of a child, when the gibberish of a gipsy woman would stir the
gloom within me as though there were shadows or shapes of memory which
moved, eagerly responsive to the cry or the syllables which fell upon
my ear, but incapable of determining themselves to my mental vision. My
feelings were, indeed, as the poet expresses a like state of mind:--

    ‘Moreover, something is or seems,
    That touches me with mystic gleams,
    Like glimpses of forgotten dreams.
    Of something felt, like something here;
    Of something done, I know not where;
    Such as no language may declare.’

But time deepened the silence and the darkness. The old yearning grew
sick, it languished; curiosity itself, the vulgar, commonplace quality
of curiosity, fell mute and closed its eyes and seemed to sleep. The
utter inability to penetrate, resulted in a sort of stagnation of soul.
My mind lapsed into a condition of absolute passivity. I knew that I
had a past; but of it, of all that entered into it, and created it,
I was as ignorant as though it had never been. I believed it to be
extinguished for ever, and I became resigned to the loss as we become
resigned to the loss of those who have died; though a loss it was _not_
to my unremembering brain in the sense that death is a loss to the
mourner who has dried her tears; for _she_ can remember; but I, though
conscious of a loss, and of a loss that for all I knew might have
rendered me a widow and motherless for life, though with a husband and
children living and craving for me, could not weep over it, for I knew
not what I had lost.

My condition excited much interest in Sydney; that is to say, amongst
a circle of acquaintances whom we had got to know through some of
the passengers who had come out in the ship with us. A doctor, whose
reputation stood high in Sydney, was introduced to me, questioned me
closely, subjected me to all the tests he could devise, carried Mrs.
Lee and me here and there with some worthy, kind notion in his head of
my memory taking fire from the sight of shops and streets, and gardens
of beautiful flowers and the like; but all to no purpose. From nothing
he could do, from nothing that I could see, did I get the least hint. I
perfectly comprehended everything that I beheld, and everything that I
heard; but no images of the past were presented to my mind.

I went by the name of Miss C----, and was thus spoken of by everybody
excepting Mrs. Lee, who always referred to me and addressed me by the
name of Agnes. Before I left Sydney, however, my appearance had greatly
improved. It might have been the change from the sea to the shore; it
might have been that condition of passivity which I have mentioned,
which had silenced in me to a very large extent the dreadful, wearing,
benumbing, blind conflicts of my spirit with my memory; but be the
reason what it might, I was looking so much better when Mrs. Lee and I
rejoined the ship, when she was about to sail for England, that Mrs.
Richards scarcely recognised me. My hair was growing very thick and
abundant again; it remained as white as snow, but being very plentiful,
it looked as though it were powdered; it contrasted finely with my
dark eyes and gave them, as Mrs. Lee would tell me, a very rich and
glowing expression. Hair had sprouted, as Mr. McEwan predicted it
would, on the brow which had been injured and where the scar was; but,
strangely enough, this hair was black, whereas the other eyebrow was
as snow-white as the hair of my head. There was but one way to remedy
this extreme of hue. I could not make the growing hair white; and
therefore, to rescue my face from the odd cast which the differently
coloured eyebrows imparted, I purchased some dye at Sydney, and so
brought my left eyebrow to look like my right one. That the shape of
my nose had been altered by its having been broken or indented above
the bridge I very well knew, but I could not know to what extent its
shape differed from its form before the accident befell me. It was
now, as of course it has ever remained, what might be termed a Roman
nose, though scarcely high-bridged enough for that shape; but I easily
conceived that the structural change of it, coupled with my snow-white
hair, and the scar over my right eye, that gave a somewhat overhanging
look to the brow there--these were changes, I say, to make me easily
conceive that, however my face may have shown in the past, it could
hardly be more changed had I worn a mask. My complexion, however, had
wonderfully cleared. Those strange fine lines, the effect, as Mr.
McEwan declared, of a terrible shock to the nervous system, were fading
out of my cheeks, though they lingered somewhat obstinately about my
forehead. I was pale, but no longer sallow; my skin, indeed, had grown
very clear; and I was not always pale either, for, being very nervous,
and constantly possessed by a painful sense of embarrassment through my
not having any memory, and through my being conscious that my intellect
was weakened by the want of memory, a very little matter would bring
the blood to my cheeks, and often I would turn scarlet when suddenly
addressed.

As you will suppose, I presented what may reasonably be called a
very striking appearance, what with my white hair and dark eyebrows,
and dark shining eyes and clear skin, and youthful well-proportioned
figure. Mrs. Richards would tell me that amongst the passengers (during
the homeward run) I passed for any age, from five-and-twenty to forty.

But to proceed with my story. It was some time about ten months from
the date of my being rescued from the French brig--whose people, more
especially the kind young Alphonse, were often in my mind--that the
_Deal Castle_ arrived in the River Thames. I stood on the deck with
Mrs. Lee, all the canvas was furled, and the ship was being dragged up
the river by a small steamboat. We had met with thick blowing weather
in the Channel, and I had seen nothing of the English coast; but now
we were in the River Thames; the land, with houses and gardens and
fields, and blue hills in the far distance, was on either hand. It was
a fine summer day; the river was crowded with ships of many kinds; one
seemed to feel the beat of the mighty heart of the great metropolis
that lay hidden beyond the bends and reaches, in this great artery of
its river; and I gazed about me with an impassioned yearning.

There was no detail of the busy, shining scene at which I did not
thirstily stare--from the half-embowered church-spire ashore--from the
windmill languidly revolving--from the white cloud of a locomotive
speeding through a cutting--from the tall factory chimney soiling the
pure azure with its dingy feathering of smoke; from these and from
scores of such things as these, to the barge with chocolate-coloured
sails lazily stemming the stream, to the stately ship towing past, to
the great steamer whose destination might be the land whence we were
newly returned, to the little wherry doggedly impelled by its lonely
occupant in a tall hat.

I gazed with a passion of anxiety and expectation, kindled afresh in me
by the sight of the land--by the sight of what I had again and again
been told was the land of my birth, the unremembered land in which my
home was; but to no purpose. Nothing came back to me.

‘We shall pass through London,’ said Mrs. Lee, ‘and your memory may
return at the sight of the streets; for rest assured, even supposing
your home is not in London, that you have visited the great city,
perhaps very often. And if London gives you nothing, and there is still
the journey to Newcastle, then there will be Newcastle itself. And
if all remains blank, there is my home for you to share; and though
I should rejoice, even as my angel daughter would, over the recovery
of your memory, you have become so necessary to me, dear Agnes, as a
companion, that parting with you would be almost like losing another
child.’

Before we arrived at the Docks where the ship was to be berthed, and
where we proposed to land, Captain Ladmore invited Mrs. Lee and myself
to his cabin; for his ship was now in the hands of the pilot, and the
captain was, so to speak, a free man. First of all he asked Mrs. Lee
for her address at Newcastle-on-Tyne, to enable the owners of the
_Deal Castle_ to communicate with her, should any inquiries concerning
me be made at their office. He informed us that it would be his duty
to report the circumstance of his ship having been in collision with
a French brig, on board of which there was found a single person, a
woman, whose memory was gone--that is to say, who was unable to give
any particulars of herself prior to her having been picked up by the
French brig. This report, he said, would be printed in the shipping
papers, and it would find its way into the London daily newspapers, and
be copied by most of the provincial sheets; so that if I had friends
in England, or, indeed, in any part of the United Kingdom, it would be
strange indeed if the newspaper paragraph did not lead to the discovery
of my identity.

He then advised Mrs. Lee to send my case to the London police, and
solicit such help as they would have it in their power to render
by advertisements and by communicating with the provincial police;
and he also recommended Mrs. Lee to repeat the paragraph in the
newspapers--the paragraph I mean about his ship having found me in a
brig--after a few weeks should elapse, that is to say, supposing the
report which he himself would make, and which would be published,
should lead to nothing.

I bade farewell to this upright, worthy, humane captain with tears and
expressions of gratitude again and again repeated. He had befriended
me; he had protected me; his ship had been my home; he had done me a
hundred kindnesses; and when I put my hand in his and said good-bye my
heart was very full.

And equally full was my heart when I said good-bye to Mrs. Richards,
for she, too, had proved a true friend to me at a time when I was
without friends, at a time when I was destitute, helpless, hopeless,
and broken-hearted, and when sympathy and friendship were precious
indeed to me. I gave her of what the passengers had given to me on
our arrival at Sydney. I could not part from her without a gift. I
possessed nothing but the trifles of jewellery which had been given to
me by the passengers, and of these I chose the best, and when I put
them into her hand I kissed her and blessed her for her kindness to me.

Mr. Harris I did not see; Mr. McEwan I warmly thanked for his attention
and interest in me, and then Mrs. Lee and I left the ship and drove to
a hotel close to the railway station, whence we were to depart on the
following morning for the north.

On our way to this hotel I spoke little, so busy was I with looking.
The sight of the streets and houses, however, did nothing for me but
keep me bewildered. So profound had been the sense of loneliness
occasioned by my loss of memory, that I felt as one who had been
shipwrecked upon an uninhabited island, where I had lived solitary,
hearing nothing but the cry of tropic birds, the noise of the wind in
trees, the dull thunder of the gigantic breakers bursting upon the
desolate shore. I was in a manner dazed by the crowds and the throng
of vehicles, by the uproar of locomotion, by the seemingly endless
complication of streets. No, assuredly, it was not in London that I was
to find my memory.

Mrs. Lee watched me as we sat in the cab, and when we had arrived at
the hotel and were conversing in a quiet sitting-room she told me she
was now certain I had never before been in London, and that, as it was
impossible for her to imagine that any Englishwoman who belonged to
such a station of life as was indicated by my manner and speech was
never in London, her conviction was my home was not in England.

We left for the north by an early train on the following morning, and
arrived at Newcastle at about five o’clock in the afternoon. Throughout
the long journey my eyes and my thoughts were as busy as they had
been in the drive from the docks to the hotel. I gazed, half maddened
by my passionate anxiety to recollect, at every little village or town
we flew past; and whenever the engine’s whistle signalled that we were
approaching a station at which we were to stop my head was out of the
window and my heart beat furiously, whilst I kept crying to myself,
Will _this_ be the town? Will _this_ be the place where my home is? and
shall I know it when I see it?

I had often heard dear Alice Lee talk of her home at Jesmond, and I
could have made a sketch of the house without seeing it from her loving
description. It was a pretty little house indeed, standing in about
half-an-acre of garden. The house was removed from the road, very
sheltered and retired. It had been left in charge of an old servant, a
respectable Newcastle woman, now somewhat stricken in years, who had
been in Mrs. Lee’s service almost throughout my dear friend’s married
life. To this honest old housekeeper Mrs. Lee had written on the ship’s
arrival at Gravesend; servants were engaged and the house thoroughly
prepared to receive us.

Mrs. Lee bore up bravely throughout the journey and down to the moment
of her entering her home; but when the house-door was opened and she
saw the old housekeeper standing within dressed in black--for she had
written the news of Alice’s death from Sydney--she broke down.

‘Oh, my child! my child!’ she cried, and went with a blind step into
the parlour and sank into a chair, weeping bitterly. Ay, it is on
such occasions as this that death is most terribly felt; when you
go forth with someone beloved by you and return _alone_, then is
the house desolate and every familiar object a pang and every sound
will make you start as though the dear one were at hand and about
to enter, and whatever your gaze rests on bristles with bitter-sweet
memories. I knelt beside Mrs. Lee; the old servant stood in the doorway
crying and looking at her mistress, but not offering to say a word of
comfort--perhaps because of a little natural feeling of jealousy, for
I cannot be certain that Mrs. Lee had made any reference to me in her
letter, beyond saying that she was bringing a friend home with her. The
poor old woman in the doorway might suppose, from my familiar manner
of kneeling and speaking to Mrs. Lee and holding her hand and soothing
her, that her mistress had adopted me as a daughter in the place of
Alice.

The room that Alice had occupied was to be mine. The old housekeeper,
whose name was Sarah, conducted me to it at the request of Mrs. Lee,
and left me to return to her mistress, who would now explain all about
me and win the old thing’s sympathy for me.

I stood in the room that had been Alice Lee’s and looked around. It
was sacred ground to me--consecrated by love, death, and memory. Often
had she spoken of this little room, of the view from the window, of
the weeks during which she would lie ill in yonder bed, and she seemed
to stand before me as I gazed; I saw her sweet, pale, wasted face, her
gentle, touching, prayerful eyes, and the last smile she had given
me--a smile that had lain like God’s glory upon her countenance as
she put her hand into her mother’s and turned her face to the ship’s
side. Often to amuse me she had, girl-like, spoken of her little
possessions, and many of them I now saw and remembered as though I
had seen them before. There was a little white marble cross; there
was her Bible, lying at the foot of the steps of the cross; there
were pencil-sketches and water-colours by her own hand, all dealing
with subjects which showed that her heart was for ever with her God.
Many more trifles of decoration could I name, such things as a sweet
young soul, a tender girl, would love to collect and cherish as
embellishments for her bedroom.

I stepped to the window, that stood wide open, and I looked forth.
The prospect was a fair English scene, clothed just now with summer
evening beauty. For Jesmond, where Mrs. Lee’s house was situated, is
universally considered the prettiest part of the neighbourhood of
Newcastle-on-Tyne. The effect largely lies in contrast; for you come
out of Newcastle, whose atmosphere is tinged with smoke and often
poisonous with the fumes of the chemical works--you come from that
great noisy town, or city as it now is, with its hard stony streets
over which every vehicle roars, with its crowds upon the pavements,
its horned cattle newly arrived from some Scandinavian port and
thrashed bellowing through the throng, its tumult of newspaper urchins,
its distracting cry of hawkers, its dark tide of Tyne smearing as
though the mud of the banks through which it flows were tar--from all
this you come into a country of gentle and sometimes of romantic beauty
when you arrive at Jesmond, whose Dene, as it is called, lives in the
memory of those who view it as one of the sweetest pictures that our
garden-land of England has to offer.

For some days we lived very retired. Nobody appeared to know that Mrs.
Lee had returned, and this she had provided for by bidding the old
housekeeper Sarah and the other servants hold their peace. She desired
time to battle with the deep grief which visited her with the sight of
the home in which she was now to live childless as she had before lived
a widow; and when at last we made an excursion our first walk was to
Jesmond cemetery, there to view the grave of Alice’s twin sister.

The mother wept as she looked upon the grave. It had been carefully
tended during her absence; it was rich with flowers, and the cross
at the head of it was as white as the foam of the sea, and the gilt
letters upon it burned in the sun. The mother wept, for her thoughts
were with that other blessed child whose grave was the mighty deep.

‘Oh,’ she cried to me, ‘if I could but have laid my darling by the side
of her sister here!’

As we returned home from this visit to the cemetery Mrs. Lee met the
wife of the clergyman of the parish church, and after that there were
many callers--for it seemed that the Lees had lived for the greater
part of their lives at Newcastle-upon-Tyne and had a number of friends
in the district. But she denied herself to most of the visitors; she
received but a few and they had been Alice’s most valued friends.

Five days had not passed since our arrival at Newcastle when the
postman brought a newspaper addressed to Mrs. Lee. The wrapper was
initialled ‘F. L.,’ and when she opened the paper her eye lighted upon
a paragraph with a cross of red ink against it, under which were the
initials ‘F. L.,’ so we might be sure that this newspaper had been sent
to us by Captain Frederick Ladmore. The newspaper was the _Shipping and
Mercantile Gazette_, and the paragraph indicated by the red mark was
buried in a half column of shipping intelligence. It ran thus:--

‘The ship _Deal Castle_, Ladmore, arrived in the Thames on ----. Her
master reports that on such and such a date, when in latitude -- N.
and longitude -- W., she was in collision with the French brig _Notre
Dame de Boulogne_. The night was dark and squally, and a moderate sea
was running. The _Deal Castle_ hove to within a mile of the vessel she
had run into and for some time continued to burn flares and to send up
rockets. At daybreak the French brig was found to be still afloat, and
a boat was sent in charge of the third officer of the _Deal Castle_,
who discovered that all hands of the Frenchman had left the brig,
leaving behind them a woman who was imprisoned in her berth owing to
a cask having been dislodged and rolled against the door. When this
woman was brought aboard the _Deal Castle_ she was found to be without
memory, and could give no further account of herself than saying that
she had been fallen in with by the French brig, in an insensible
condition, drifting about in a boat. It is supposed that she is the
survivor of a wreck. She was landed in London, and those interested may
obtain her present address on application to Messrs ----, etc.’

Mrs. Lee read this paragraph aloud, and when she had ended it she
said:--

‘I fear this will not help us, Agnes.’

‘Yet what more could be said?’ I asked. ‘It is the whole story so far
as Captain Ladmore--so far as any of us could relate it.’

‘Oh, but there is more to be said,’ she exclaimed: ‘the newspaper
notices of your rescue should contain conjectures as to how it happened
that you were drifting about in an open boat. And a description of you
should be given--a description of those points, I mean, which could not
be changed, such as your height, complexion, colour of eyes, and so
forth.’

She rose and paced about the room; then, stopping and gazing at me
earnestly, with a look which reminded me of Alice, she said, ‘I am
acquainted with a gentleman who is connected with the Newcastle
press. His name is Francis Roddam. He was formerly a clerk in my
poor husband’s office. I will write to him and ask him to sup with us
to-morrow evening. He will be able to put together such a newspaper
notice as is sure to attract attention; he will also advise us how
best to place it. Indeed, I dare say he will himself send it to the
newspapers. As to writing to the London police, as Captain Ladmore
suggested’--she shook her head and added, ‘I fear they will not trouble
themselves. Had you been the victim of a crime--but even supposing
a representative of the police should call upon you, what can you
say that will enable him to help you better than we are able to help
ourselves?’

She wrote to Mr. Roddam, and on the following evening he arrived to
supper, and spent a couple of hours in discourse with us. He was a
slow-minded but shrewd man, whose light-blue eyes seemed to bore deep
into me as they pierced the spectacles he wore. He listened with
the interest of a born journalist to my story, and, remarkable as he
doubtless found it, I believe he thought it mainly so because of the
opportunity it offered him of making stories and newspaper paragraphs
out of it.

He questioned me with great sagacity. Never since the hour of my
rescue from the French vessel had my dead or slumbering memory been
so critically ‘overhauled.’ To express my sensations by a material
image: some of his inquiries flashed with the dazzle of the lightning
brand upon the closed doors of a temple or sanctuary; but the midnight
darkness within remained impenetrable. Sometimes I seemed to recollect;
but when with a trembling heart and a white face, believing at such
moments that my memory was astir--when, I say, I endeavoured to
_realise_, I found that what I imagined to be recollection was no more
than the effect of fancy acting upon what Mr. Roddam had, by his own
inquiries and suggestions, put into my head.

However, he took many notes, and told me he would send my story to
several newspapers for which he acted as correspondent, one of them
being a London daily paper and another a widely read influential
journal published in Liverpool.

‘The paragraph,’ he said, ‘will run the whole round of the British
press, and, to ensure your hearing of your friends, should the
paragraph meet their eye and lead to their inquiring after you, I will
take care to give the address of the owners of the _Deal Castle_.’

He was as good as his word, and in a day or two called upon us with a
printed slip of the paragraph he had written and proposed to send. It
was something more than a paragraph; it ran to the length of a short
story, was very well written, and bore a title of a sort to catch the
eye of the most indolent reader. In it he introduced the conjectures
which Mrs. Lee considered needful, since one of them alone might serve
to clear up the mystery of my identity. He put it that it was supposed
either that I had formed one of a yachting party; or that I had been
blown away from a French port whilst making an excursion in a small
boat; or that I was the sole survivor of a shipwreck, the particulars
of which might never be known unless my memory returned to me; or that
I had been the victim of some great outrage at the hands of the captain
or crew of the _Notre Dame de Boulogne_, the effects of which had lost
me my memory and turned my hair white.

This last was a guess of his own, and he insisted upon including it,
though I pointed out to him that I had met with the humanest treatment
it is possible to imagine on board the French vessel, and that there
could be no doubt whatever that the young man Alphonse’s story of my
being found drifting about in an open boat was absolutely true.

‘Ay, that may be,’ he exclaimed with a knowing look at Mrs. Lee; ‘but I
fully agree with those of your fellow-passengers who hold that _before_
your disaster, whatever it may have been, you wore jewellery, and that
your being found without rings, without a watch, with nothing of value
upon you saving a few shillings in a purse, signifies robbery and more
than robbery.’

But to end this. The paragraph was published. I read it in the
_Newcastle Chronicle_ and in five other journals sent to us by Mr.
Roddam, who assured me that it had been reprinted in a hundred
different directions; but nothing came of it--that is to say, nothing
in any way material. About twenty letters reached me through the
owners of the _Deal Castle_; but they contained nothing but idle
inquiries; a few of them were impertinently curious, and the contents
of them all were wretchedly purposeless. One was from a quack who
offered to recover my memory for a certain sum; three were from people
who desired to write an account of my adventures; another was evidently
from a poor lunatic, who, writing as a mother, said that her daughter
had perished by shipwreck twenty years before, and that she expected I
was her child who had been restored to life by her prayers. She asked
me for my private address that she might visit me.

How can I express the passionate eagerness with which I awaited the
arrival of the post, the recurring little pangs of disappointment as
the man would go by time after time without knocking, the torment of
hope with which I would tear open an envelope when a letter reached
me at last, the cold despair that took possession of me when the weeks
rolled by yielding me nothing!

‘It must be, Agnes, as I have all along thought,’ exclaimed Mrs. Lee,
‘your home is not in England, and you have no friends in this country.
But let us be patient, my dear. Mr. Roddam’s paragraph will find its
way to the Colonies, to India, to distant countries, and when _that_
has happened, any day may bring glad tidings to you. But you must wait,
and meanwhile you must make yourself as happy as you can with your poor
bereaved friend.’



CHAPTER XXII

MEMORY


The days rolled into weeks and the weeks into months, and still my
memory remained clothed as with midnight. No whisper broke its silence.
I recollected with almost phenomenal accuracy everything that had
befallen me since my rescue; but all that had gone before was darkness,
hushed and impenetrable. I cannot remember that I was visited by the
dimmest intimation--that the dullest gleam, however instantaneous,
touched my inward gloom.

My story and condition created great interest in Newcastle; for a time
I was much talked about. Mrs. Lee had friends who were concerned in
the shipping trade, and two or three of them good-naturedly wrote
to correspondents at various parts of our coast, and to agents and
representatives abroad; but it was all one. Nobody gave information
that was in the slightest degree useful. A gentleman at Havre wrote
that he met with a sailor who had formed one of the crew of _Notre Dame
de Boulogne_, but the man could not tell so much of what happened after
the collision as I, because, when the _Notre Dame_ was struck, they
launched and crowded into their only boat, and were swept away in the
blackness of the night, losing sight of the brig, and the ship which
had run into her, and seeing nothing of the flares which the _Deal
Castle_ had burnt and the rockets she had sent up. They were rescued
next morning by a Spanish schooner, bound to the Mediterranean, and
safely landed at Toulon, their original destination, but with the loss
of all they possessed in the world. It was quite true, this man added,
that the _Notre Dame_ had fallen in with an open boat, and rescued a
woman whom they found unconscious, and severely wounded about the head.

The sailor had no more to tell.

It rejoiced me, however, to learn that Alphonse and his uncle had been
rescued and were safe. Strange indeed did it seem to hear of them in
such a roundabout way; and yet perhaps it would have been stranger
still had nothing been heard of the fate of the crew of the _Notre Dame
de Boulogne_, considering the paragraphs which had appeared about me,
and the letters which had been written, some of them being despatched
to shippers, consuls, and others, not only in France, but in Spain and
Portugal.

Mrs. Lee, fixing as well as she could the time of the month in
which I had been drifting about in the open boat, and willing to
suppose--merely to supply me with a further chance--that I had been
blown away from some part of the English coast, set her friends to
inquire if there had been any notice in the newspapers of that date of
a lady who had gone out in a boat and had not returned nor been heard
of. The files of local papers were searched; but, though there were
several accounts of boating accidents, none could be found that at all
fitted my case. A friend of Mrs. Lee, a Mr. Weldon, ‘fancied’ in a
vague sort of way that he had read, probably in a mood of abstraction,
of a lady who had gone out with a boatman from some part of the coast
which he could not recollect, but which he believed was the south-east
coast--it might have been Ramsgate or Folkestone, he could not be
sure--and he had some dim idea that the body of the boatman was
discovered, and the boat afterwards brought in ... he would look the
incident up ... he would endeavour to recollect the name of the paper
in which it was published. But if he gave himself any trouble it was to
no purpose.

       *       *       *       *       *

The time went on; the interest I had excited died out; I heard not a
syllable from the owners of the _Deal Castle_; Mrs. Lee had long since
persuaded herself that, though I was undoubtedly of English parentage,
and perhaps born in England, my home was not in this country, and that
I had no friends in it. And this was now my belief also. My spirits
grew apathetic. I ceased to importune my memory. My past, let it hold
what it would, I regarded as dead as my sweet Alice Lee was--as buried,
mouldering, irrecoverable as her twin sister was.

Three years passed--three years dating from my rescue by the French
vessel. In all this while I had lived with Mrs. Lee as her companion.
I strove to keep up my heart for her sake, thanking God always for
finding for me so true a friend as she had proved, and praying to Him
always that He would give me back my memory. I know not how to express
my state of mind throughout all these months now running into years.
My intellect was dull, my conversation to strangers insipid. I found
myself constantly at a loss through inability to carry my memory back
past the point where it had vanished; but I read aloud very well, my
tastes corresponded with Mrs. Lee’s; she owned again and again that she
would not have known where to seek for such a companion as she desired
had my strange experiences not brought us together; there was no one
who could have talked about Alice as I did; my presence seemed to give
embodiment to the memory of her child, and in our many lonely rambles
our conversation was nearly wholly made up of our recollections of the
sweet girl’s closing days.

It chanced one day in October--three years from the time when I was
taken on board the _Deal Castle_--that, having occasion to go into
Newcastle for Mrs. Lee, and finding myself with some leisure on my
hands, I went on to the High Level Bridge to view the scene of the
river and the busy quayside. It was a somewhat cold, grey day. The wind
blew strong, and the rapid ripples of the rushing river broke in white
water upon the dingy banks. Many tall chimneys reared their stacks on
my right, and the smoke breaking from their orifices was again and
again flashed up by a ruddy glare as though the chimneys themselves
were full of living fire. Large steamers lay at the quayside under me;
steam broke from their sides, and there was an artillery-like sound of
rattling engines; scores of figures on the wharves hurried here and
there. And from time to time above my head would sound the thunder of a
train roaring past over the wondrous height of metal ways.

I was singularly depressed. Never before had I felt so low in spirits.
Heretofore my days had been passed in the coldness of settled grief, at
first in a capricious and now in an habitual acquiescence, charged with
despair, in my lonely, outcast, hopeless lot. But this day misery was
active in me. I might compare myself to a woman who, having for long
rested apathetically in her cell, is stimulated by some wild longing of
misery to rise and grope with extended hands in agony of mind round the
black walls outside which she knows the sun is shining.

My head ached, but the ache was a novel pain; it was a dull sick throb,
a thick and dizzy pulse, not in my brows, but on the top of my head,
in the middle of it. It was as though I had been stabbed there and
the wound ached. I stood upon the bridge, perhaps for twenty minutes,
gazing down at the sight of the vessels moored at the wharves, or
passing in mid-stream below me; and then, hearing the clock of the
church of St. Nicholas strike, I quitted the bridge and walked in the
direction of Jesmond.

It was a considerable walk--I had measured the distance both ways; and
when Mrs. Lee asked me if I felt ill, and I answered my head pained
me, she accounted for my headache and for my pallor by my having
over-fatigued myself. This I knew was not the case, for I had awakened
in the morning with a pain in my head, but it was not nearly as bad
then as it was now.

We passed the evening in the usual way. I read to Mrs. Lee, then she
dozed a while, and I picked up some work that I was upon, but could do
nothing with it, for my head ached so badly that my sight was confused
by the pain, and I could not see to thread a needle. Supper was ready
at nine o’clock, but I could not eat. Mrs. Lee felt my pulse and placed
her hand upon my brow.

‘Your head is cool,’ said she, ‘and your heart’s action regular.
Evidently you have overwalked yourself to-day. You had better go to
bed and get a good night’s rest. But first take this little glass of
brandy and water. There is no better remedy for a nervous headache than
brandy, such a liqueur brandy as this.’

I kissed and bade her good night and went to my bedroom. The grey day
had been followed by a clear dusk. There was a high, bright moon. It
poured a silver haze upon the farther land, and the nearer land it
whitened as with sifted snow, giving a silver edge to every leaf and
branch, and painting the shapes of the trees and bushes in indigo at
their feet. I stood at the open window for a minute or two, believing
that the cool of the night would ease the pain in my head; but the air
was chilly, it was the month of October, and, closing the window, I
undressed.

I extinguished the candle and got into bed leaving the window blind
up. The moon shot a slanting beam through the window, and the light
flooded the white cross which had belonged to Alice Lee and her Bible
that rested as she had left it at the foot of the white cross. The
haze of this beam of moonlight was in the room, and I could see every
object with a certain distinctness. The eye will naturally seek the
brightest object, and my sight rested upon the cross that sparkled in
the moonlight as though it had been dipped in phosphorus. The cold,
soft pillow, and the restful posture of my head had somewhat eased the
pain. My mind grew collected, and whilst my eyes rested upon the cross
my memory gave me back the form and face of Alice Lee.

I thought of her as I had first seen her, when her sweet, lovely but
wasted face was angelic with the sympathy with which she viewed me.
I recalled her as I beheld her when she lay dying, when the light of
heaven was in the smile she gave me, when the peace of God was in
her eyes as she gazed at her mother ere she turned her face to the
ship’s side. I recalled her natural, girlish fear of the great ocean
as a grave; I saw her as she lay in her white shroud; I looked at the
moonlit cross and thought how that same moon which was illumining the
symbol of her faith and the sure rock of her hopes was shining over her
ocean grave----

My eyes closed and I slumbered. And in my sleep I dreamt this dream.

I dreamt that I stood at the open window of a room whose furniture
was perfectly familiar to me. Without seeming to look I yet saw
all things; the pictures, the case of books, the ornaments on the
mantelpiece; and everything was familiar to me. Before me stretched a
garden sloping some considerable distance down. Beyond this garden were
green pastures, at the foot of which ran a river, and on the opposite
hillside rows of houses appeared to hang in clusters. The hour was
drawing on into the evening and the sun was sinking, and through the
long shadows which lay in the valley the river ran in gold.

While I gazed I beheld walking in the garden that sloped from the
window at which I stood, two figures; their backs were upon me, they
walked hand in hand, but though their steps gathered the ground their
figures did not appear to recede. On a sudden they halted, the man
turned and looked at me intently; it was my husband! I knew him, I
stretched out my arms to him, I cried aloud to him to come and take me
to his heart; but whether any sound escaped me in my sleep I do not
know. He continued to gaze fixedly at me, then putting his hand upon
the shoulder of his companion he pointed towards me. She, too, then
turned and looked, and I knew her to be my twin sister Mary. Again I
stretched forth my arms--I desperately struggled to approach them, but
my feet seemed nailed to the floor. The vision of my husband and my
sister, the familiar room in which I stood, the scene of gardens and
orchard and river and clustering houses dissolved, and I know that
I wept in my sleep and that I passionately prayed for the vision to
return that I might behold it all again.

But now came a change which hushed with awe and new emotions the
heart--cries and the spirit--yearnings of my slumber. I beheld a
strange light. It grew in brightness, and in the midst of it I
witnessed the marble cross of Alice Lee, resplendent as though wrought
of the brilliant moonlight which had been resting upon it when my
eyes closed in sleep. This cross flamed upon the vision of my slumber
for a while, and there was nothing more to be seen; then it faded and
I beheld the figure of Alice Lee where the cross had been. She was
robed in white. With her right arm she carried an infant, and with her
left hand she held a little boy. Oh, that vision was like a glorious
painting, ineffably bright and beautiful and vivid. The face of Alice
Lee was no longer wasted; it was not such a face as would come from the
grave to visit the bedside of a slumberer; it was a face fresh from
heaven, and with the radiance of heaven upon it, and her whole figure
was clothed with celestial light and the glory of heaven shone in the
beauty of her countenance.

I shrieked!--for the children she held, the one on her arm, the other
by the hand, were _mine_! Again I stretched forth my hands and my two
little ones smiled upon me. Then instantly all was blackness and I
awoke.

The room was in darkness. The moon had sailed to the other side of
the house, and the shadow of the night lay heavy upon the unblinded
window. My heart beat as though I was in a raging fever, and I could
not understand the reason of that maddening pulse, nor of the dreadful
consternation that was upon me, nor why when I put my hand to my brow
I should find it streaming with perspiration, nor why I should have
awakened trembling from head to foot; because it is true that often the
most vivid, the most terrific dream will not recur to the memory for
some time after the dreamer has awakened.

But presently I remembered. I beheld with my waking sense the whole
vision afresh, and I said to myself, even as I lay trembling from
head to foot, and even as my brains seemed thickened with bewilderment
that was like madness itself--I said to myself, speaking aloud in
the darkness, but calmly and with a gentle voice: ‘My name is Agnes
Campbell. I have seen my husband John, I have seen my sister Mary, and
my two little ones have come to me in my sleep. I remember that we took
a house at Piertown--I remember that I went out sailing in a boat--I
remember that the man who had charge of the boat fell into the water
and was drowned. I remember---- I remember----’

And _now_ the full realisation that my memory had returned to me swept
into my soul. I sat up in my bed and gasped for breath. I believed
I was dying, and that my memory had revisited me, sharp and vivid,
in the last moments of my life. But the overwhelming emotions which
possessed me mastered the hysteric condition, and leaping from my
bed I cast myself down upon my knees. But I could not pray. My tongue
was powerless to shape thoughts of appeal and impulses of thanks into
words. I arose from my knees, lighted the candle, and began to pace the
room.

Then all at once I was seized with a terrible fear: suppose my memory
should forsake me again, even in the next minute! Suppose all that I
could recollect of the vision I had beheld should in an instant perish
off my mind, and leave me inwardly as blind as I had been during the
past three years! I felt in the pocket of my dress that was hanging
against the door and found a pencil; but not knowing where to lay my
hand upon a piece of paper, unless I sought for it downstairs, and
urged by a very passion of hurry lest my memory should in a moment
fail me, I took Alice Lee’s Bible, carried it to the candle, and upon
the fly-leaf wrote my name and the names of my husband and my sister
and the children, also my address at Bath, together with the story,
briefly related, of my husband leaving Piertown for a couple or three
days, of my going out in a boat with a man named William Hitchens, of
my pulling off my rings, amongst them my wedding-ring, that I might row
without being inconvenienced by the pressure of them, of their being
cast overboard by the hoisting of the sail, of William Hitchens’ sudden
death by heart-disease or drowning, and of the horrible days and nights
of misery, despair, madness, and unconsciousness which followed.

The mere writing of all this steadied my mind. I kissed the sacred Book
when I had ended, gazed upwards with adoration, as though the sweet
saint who had come to me with my children and restored my memory were
gazing down upon me, and then I began to pace the room again, thinking
and thinking, but no longer struggling with memory: for all was clear,
all had wonderfully, by a miracle of God’s own working through the
intercession of one of the sweetest of his angels, come back to me; and
_then_ my heart was filled with an impassioned yearning to be with my
dear ones again, to return to them _immediately_, to write _now_, at
this very instant, and tell them that I was alive, sending kisses and
my heart’s love to my husband and sister, and kisses and blessings to
my two little ones.

But _then_, too, arose the thought that it was three years since I had
been torn away from them. Three years! How much may happen in three
years! My little Johnny would now be five years old, my little baby
Mary would be three years and eight months old! I clasped my hands, and
paused in my walk and wondered.

What might not have happened in three years? Was my husband well--was
my dear sister Mary living--were my children----? Oh, if you who are
reading this are a mother and a wife, as you muse upon my situation at
this time, your own heart will be telling more to you about me than
ever I could convey of my own conflicts of mind, though I wrote with
the most eloquent pen the world has ever known.

Whilst I paced the room the door was softly knocked upon, and Mrs.
Lee’s voice exclaimed:

‘Are not you well, Agnes? Is your head still bad? I have heard you
pacing the room for hours.’

‘My head is better,’ I answered, for, being taken unawares, I knew not
what to say, and wished to think out the thoughts which besieged me
before communicating my dream to her.

She was silent, as though in alarm, and cried nervously, ‘Who answered
me? Is that you, Agnes?’

On this I opened the door. She was clothed in a dressing-gown, and
recoiled a step on my opening the door, and, after peering for a few
moments, she exclaimed, ‘I did not recognise your voice.’

‘I have had a wonderful dream,’ I said.

She took me by the hand, turned me to the light, looked in my face, and
shrieked, ‘Child, you have your memory!’

‘Yes, it has all come back to me!’ I exclaimed, and casting my arms
round her neck I bent my head upon her shoulder and broke into an
uncontrollable fit of weeping that lasted I know not how long, for as
often as I sought to lift my head I wept afresh.

At length I grew somewhat composed, and then Mrs. Lee exclaimed: ‘It
is five o’clock. I will dress myself, and return and hear what you
have to tell me. Meanwhile, do you dress yourself. Day will be breaking
shortly. Strange!’ she said. ‘I seemed to hear in your footsteps
what was passing in your mind, and felt that something wonderful was
happening to you.’

She left me, and I made haste to dress myself. My trembling hands
worked mechanically; my mind was distracted; so extreme was the
agitation of my spirits, that anyone secretly viewing me must have
supposed me mad to see how I would start and then pause, then laugh,
then fling down whatever I might be holding that I might bury my
face in my hands and rock myself, then laugh again and take a number
of turns about the room with delirious steps, as though I were some
fever-maddened patient who had sprung from her bed in the absence of
her attendant.

Before I had completely attired myself Mrs. Lee entered the room. I
could see by her countenance she had composed her mind that she might
receive with as little emotion as possible whatever I had to tell her.
She lighted another candle, viewed me for a moment, and then said,
‘Now, Agnes, be calm. Sit down and tell me of your dream, and what you
can recollect of yourself.’

‘Let me hold your hand, dear friend,’ said I, ‘whilst I sit and tell
you what has happened to me. The pressure of your hand will keep me
calm,’ and, sitting at her side and holding her hand, I related my
dream to her.

She endeavoured to listen tranquilly, but an expression of awe grew in
her face as I proceeded, and when I described how I beheld her sainted
daughter Alice robed in white, with my baby girl on one arm and holding
my little boy by the hand, the three clothed in a mystical light, an
expression of rapturous joy entered her face. She dropped my hand to
raise hers on high, and lifting up her eyes, cried out, ‘Oh, my Alice!
my Alice! Though I know now that you are in heaven, yet also do I feel,
my blessed one, that you are near us. Oh, come to me with my beloved
Edith, that I may behold you both, and know that you are happy and
awaiting me!----’

We sat eagerly and earnestly talking; for now all the mysteries of my
past could be solved. Why it was that I was without a wedding-ring, how
it came about that I was drifting in the wide ocean in a little open
boat, why it was that I had been moved by indescribable, dark, subtle
emotions when I heard a baby cry, and when the gipsy told me that I was
a married woman, and with preternatural effort of guessing informed me
that I had left a husband and two children behind me: these things and
how much more were now to be explained.

‘And your name is Agnes--your true name is Agnes?--and my darling in
heaven gave you that name!’ cried Mrs. Lee.

‘Yes,’ said I, ‘and she was one of twins, and I am one of twins,
and who will say that there was not a magnetism in that to draw us
together?’

I turned my head and found the dawn had broken. The heavens were
flooded with a delicate pale green, against which the trees stood
black, as though sketched in ink. But even as I gazed the pink and
silver haze of the rising sun smote the green and swept it like a veil
off the face of the tender dewy blue of the early autumn morn.

‘Oh, thank God, the day has come!’ said I. ‘I will go presently, before
breakfast, to the railway station, and find out at what hour I can
reach Bath.’

‘To-day?’ cried Mrs. Lee.

‘To-day,’ I echoed.

‘You will not go to Bath to-day with my consent, Agnes,’ said Mrs.
Lee; ‘and I will tell you why. You have been absent from your home
for three years. What may have happened in that time? How do you know
that your husband and children are still living at Bath? It is a long
journey from Newcastle to Bath, and when you arrive there you may find
that your husband has broken up his home and gone away, no one might be
able to tell you where, for you must consider as beyond all question
that your husband and sister have long ago supposed you dead. They may
have left England for all you know. How can you tell but that they may
be residing abroad? The newspaper paragraphs stating your case were
very plentifully published: _that_ you know; and that they provoked no
attention, signifies to my mind that your husband and family are either
abroad, or that----’ She paused.

‘What?’ I cried.

‘Ah, you may well ask what!’ she exclaimed. ‘It is three years ago,
remember, since you left your husband, and he has never received a
syllable of news about you since. Suppose him to be still living
at Bath with your sister and children: would not your going to the
house be too fearful a trial for you, and too frightful a shock for
them?--why, it is by suddenness of joy, by shocks of emotion of this
sort that hearts are broken. You must not dream of going to Bath
to-day, Agnes.’

‘It is not likely that John has left Bath,’ said I, ‘he is in practice
there as a solicitor. He will not have broken up his home; I am sure of
that.’

‘You must have patience. I will write cautiously and make inquiries. Of
course you know many people in Bath?’

‘I have several friends there.’

‘Give me the name of a lady or gentleman to whom I may cautiously
write.’

I reflected, but I could not recollect a name, and then I grew
terrified, and feared that my memory was deserting me again.

‘Oh, Mrs. Lee,’ I cried, ‘I cannot remember a name. And yet I can see
the people I have in my mind, in fancy. Oh, if my memory should be
again deserting me!’

‘It will not matter,’ she exclaimed, with one of her gentle, reassuring
smiles, ‘everything is known to me now, and, besides, are not all
things material written there?’ motioning with her head towards Alice’s
Bible which I had shown her, and in which she had read the particulars
I had written down on the fly-leaves.

‘I have a name!’ I cried, with sudden elation: ‘General Ramsay--General
William Stirling Ramsay,’ and my being able to recollect and pronounce
this name in its entirety was as refreshing and comforting to me as is
the inspiration of a deep and easy breath to one whose breathing has
been a labour.

Mrs. Lee asked me several questions about General Ramsay; how long my
husband and I had been acquainted with him; if he was a good-hearted
man, likely to give himself the trouble to answer a letter; ‘because,’
said she, ‘my impatience is nearly as great as yours, and I shall want
an answer by return of post.’ She then wrote down his name and the name
of the street in which he lived; but I again felt frightened when I
found that I could not recollect the number of his house.

Wild as I was at heart to hurry off to Bath to clasp my dear ones to
my heart, to fill them with the exquisite gladness of possessing me
again, I was able, after some feverish thinking and pacing about the
room, to perceive the wisdom of Mrs. Lee’s counsel. So, the sun being
now high and the morning advanced, for by this time it was about
half-past seven o’clock, my dear friend and I went downstairs together,
and, opening her desk, Mrs. Lee sat down and wrote a letter to General
Ramsay.



CHAPTER XXIII

GENERAL RAMSAY’S LETTER.


Three days must now certainly pass before I could receive news of my
husband, sister, and children. I call the time three days, but I might
have to wait very much longer than that, for how could I tell that
General Ramsay still lived at Bath? And, supposing him to be living
there, could I be sure that he would promptly answer Mrs. Lee’s letter?
So that, if we did not hear from him presently, Mrs. Lee must apply to
some others of the friends I had named to her. This I was resolved not
to consent to. Expectation, uncertainty, the passionate yearning of the
mother and wife worked in my mind in a torment that delay would render
insupportable, and I made up my mind that if General Ramsay did not
answer Mrs. Lee’s letter within four days of the time of her writing to
him I would deafen my ears to every possible objection that Mrs. Lee
might make, and go myself to Bath.

I was too agitated, too expectant to leave the house. I wandered
from room to room. I could not sit for five minutes at a time. The
marvellous recovery of my memory, all in a moment as it might seem, did
undoubtedly make me light headed during that first day, and Mrs. Lee
would often eye me anxiously. I could think of nothing but my husband
and children and my sister. Were they well? Suppose one of my precious
ones had died during the long three years I had been missing! Suppose
my husband were dead! Suppose they had broken up their home at Bath and
had gone away, as Mrs. Lee had suggested, and there should be no one to
tell me where they had gone, so that it might end in my knowing myself
to be a wife and mother and not knowing where to find my husband and
children!

These and the like of these were maddening fancies, and they kept me
restlessly moving here and there, as though I had lost my reason and
Mrs. Lee’s house were a cell.

A certain physician, a person who was highly esteemed by the people of
Newcastle for his skill, called on the afternoon of this first day on
his way back to Newcastle after visiting a patient, to inquire after
Mrs. Lee’s health, her husband and this physician having been boys
together. He knew all about my case, and had frequently visited me
in a friendly way, but with a professional motive, owning himself at
last powerless to do me any good. I did not know that he had called
and that he was talking in the parlour to Mrs. Lee when I entered that
room, and I was hastily withdrawing when, calling to me, he took me
by the hand and in a few words, pronounced with the utmost cordiality,
congratulated me on the return of my memory. Mrs. Lee begged me to sit
and I did so, and then some discourse followed on the subject of my
memory. But the physician’s language was much too technical and learned
for me to recollect, even if I chose to repeat it. I remember, however,
he told us that these abrupt recoveries were more frequent than slow
returns. He cited instances of three persons whose memory, having
utterly failed them, had returned on a sudden. The only difference
between them and me was that I had been able to recollect from the
period of my recovery on board the French vessel, whereas _they_ had
been unable to recall events which had happened an hour before. The
physician talked much of brain cells and of the nervous system, and was
so deeply interested in my case and in his own views and arguments
that he kept his carriage at our door for above an hour. I was glad
when he went, for his observations upon brain cells and the nervous
system made me feel faint, and the condition of my mind rendered
listening and sitting for any length of time insupportable.

I pass by the remainder of that day, I pass by the sleepless night
that followed, and I pass by the next two days and their long wakeful
nights. On the morning of the fourth day I arose early and stationed
myself at the window, and for an hour and a half I stood with my eyes
fixed upon the garden-gate, waiting for the arrival of the postman. At
last I caught sight of him as he put his hand through the bars to lift
the latch, and I flew to the hall door and received a letter addressed
to Mrs. Lee, heavily sealed, and with the postmark of Bath upon it.

Mrs. Lee had not yet left her bedroom. The beating of my heart almost
deprived me of the power of speech. I knocked, and on her asking who
was that, I was unable to make my voice heard, whereupon she opened
the door. She took the letter from me, told me to come in and shut the
door, and going to the window broke the seal and withdrew the letter
from its envelope. Her back was upon me--purposely upon me, I was sure.
She read the letter, and I could have shrieked aloud with impatience
and vexation. She read the letter--I believed she would never cease to
read it; then the hand which grasped it fell slowly to her side, and
she turned to look at me with a face full of the deepest pity and grief.

I saw the look and, clasping my hands, cried, ‘Oh, tell me!’ There was
a hesitation which was a sort of horror in her manner. She did not seem
to know what to do, nor would she speak. I could bear the suspense no
longer, and, rushing to her side, I snatched the letter from her hand.

It ran thus:--

                              ‘Raby Place, Bath, October --, 18--.

  ‘DEAR MADAM,

  ‘I am in receipt of your letter, the contents of which I read with
  interest. It may be known to you that Mrs. John Campbell with her
  family, composed of her husband, sister, and two children, took a
  house about three years ago at the seaside. Mrs. Campbell, during
  her husband’s absence on business at this city, went on a boating
  excursion, her sole companion being the boatman. She did not
  return. The weather grew boisterous, and although one or two boats
  were sent out in search they returned after a few hours, the men
  professing themselves unable to keep the sea. Ten days after Mrs.
  Campbell had been missing, the body of a man was brought ashore and
  recognised as that of the sailor who had accompanied Mrs. Campbell.
  A little later the boat was fallen in with; she was drifting about
  upside down. She was towed to the harbour to which she belonged.

  ‘These particulars I give you from memory. Mr. John Campbell
  caused many inquiries to be made, but no news of his wife was ever
  received. She was undoubtedly drowned. I have been absent from Bath
  for some time, and since my return have been confined to my house
  with the gout. I am able to state, however, that Mr. John Campbell,
  his wife, and two children are in good health. About four months
  ago he shut up his house and the family went to London. I believe
  Mr. Campbell left Bath for no other purpose than to marry his
  sister-in-law. The marriage was advertised in a Bath paper, but I
  am unable to refer you to it. He returned with her as his wife, and
  I hear from my daughter that they are living at their old address.
  This, madam, is all that it is in my power to communicate.

                              ‘Faithfully yours,
                                  ‘W. STIRLING RAMSAY,
                                      ‘_Major-General_.’

I read this letter through, and as I approached the end of it I felt my
heart turning into stone. There was something petrific in the horror,
the consternation, the despair which rushed into me out of that letter.
The hand with which I grasped it sank to my side even as Mrs. Lee’s
had, and I looked at my friend though I knew not that I saw her. I
felt as though some one had circled my breast with a rope which was
being tightened and yet tightened into one of agony of constriction. My
throat swelled, my breath came and went through it in a dull moaning,
my head seemed formed of fire, my hands and feet of ice. I may guess
now by the expression Mrs. Lee’s countenance reflected as she suddenly
hurried to me, believing that I was about to fall, perhaps expire, that
there was something shocking in my looks.

I raised the letter again, dashed it from me, flung myself upon Mrs.
Lee’s bed with a long cry, and lay moaning and moaning in the hands
with which I had covered my face. Then I started up.

‘I must have my children!’ I shrieked. ‘They are mine! They cannot
keep them from me! They are my own flesh and blood! They are mine!’ I
shrieked again.

‘You shall have them, my love!’ exclaimed Mrs. Lee in a broken,
tremulous voice. ‘They are yours--they cannot keep them from you. They
shall come here and live with us, and they shall have my love as well
as yours.’

‘Married!’ I muttered. ‘Married! Married!’ I muttered, mumbling my
words huskily--so dry were my lips, so tight was my throat--and looking
at the letter which lay upon the floor. ‘My husband married to Mary!
Oh, my God,’ I cried, flinging back my head and beating my brow with my
fist, ‘what is this new thing that has come to me?’

Mrs. Lee stood silent. What could she say? There were no words of
comfort to utter at such a moment. Misery must be suffered to have its
way with me, and she could do nothing but stand and gaze and wait.

What I have set down I very well remember saying, but afterwards a
sort of delirium fastened upon me, and I recollect but fragments of
my dazed, broken-hearted speech. I remember lifting up my hands and
calling upon God to slay me as I there stood. I remember cursing the
moment that gave me back my memory since it was to yield me _this_. I
remember exclaiming with passionate abhorrence against my husband’s
infidelity to my memory, against my sister Mary’s--my twin sister
Mary’s--cold, cruel, treacherous, disloyal appropriation of my place
in my husband’s heart. I wandered about the room with the steps of
madness, loud with lamentation, loud with abuse of my husband and
sister, vengefully, with infuriate gestures, crying that I must have
my children! They were mine! I must have my children. They were my own
flesh and blood! They dared not keep them from me! pausing sometimes to
say ‘they have driven me mad!’ and then raving afresh, but always with
dry eyes, whilst poor Mrs. Lee stood apart, gazing at me with silent
distress and dismay.

Then in one of my transports I stood and picked up the letter and read
it again, breathing fast, as though I had been racing, and when I
had come to the end of it for the second time the horrible tightness
in my throat was relaxed, as though a cord which had been choking me
had suddenly broken, and, once again flinging myself upon the bed, I
wept--crying as never had I cried before, often as my griefs had vented
themselves in passions of weeping!

Human sorrow may be compared to a river that, when it first springs,
flows over a shallow bed with froth and noise, but presently the
channel deepens, and then the river flows silently. As my grief flowed,
it deepened; it grew hushed. I arose from Mrs. Lee’s bed, and sat upon
the edge of it with my eyes fixed upon the floor. The dear little woman
finished dressing in silence. She then took me by the hand, and we
went downstairs into the parlour where breakfast awaited us.

‘Now, Agnes,’ she exclaimed, ‘before we decide upon what steps you are
to take we must first make sure that General Ramsay’s information is
correct.’

‘Oh, I feel within my heart it is correct,’ said I; ‘Mary is a
beautiful girl; my husband always admired her. Oh, yes, they are
married,’ and I wept silently.

‘I should wish to be quite satisfied as to that,’ said Mrs. Lee. ‘I
wish General Ramsay had given us the date of their marriage. However,
after breakfast I will write to the offices of the Bath newspapers--you
will be able to give me their names--and offer a reasonable price for a
copy of any paper which may contain an announcement of the marriage.’

‘I must have my children!’ I cried.

‘Yes, yes, all shall happen as you wish. But God has been good to you.
Continue to have faith in His goodness. Do not act hastily, do not let
your feelings govern you; for, unless we reflect, we are certain to act
rashly. Something we might do which would make you feel broken-hearted
for life for having done. Remember this: _you are still your husband’s
wife_. It is your sister who must be the sufferer--not you. She is
your twin sister. Be sure that your love for her is deep, though for
the moment the startling, dreadful news which we have received renders
you insensible of that love. And you must be just, Agnes. It is hard
for one who feels as you now do to be just, and still the truth must
be as a star that nothing is to cloud, that you may be able to direct
your steps unerringly by it. It is three years since your sister and
husband have heard of you. They believe you dead. Who would not believe
you dead on such evidence as General Ramsay’s letter contains? The
body of the boatman who was known to be your sole companion is found,
is brought to land, and identified. The boat in which you set sail is
discovered drifting about upside down. Surely your husband had all
imaginable right to consider himself a widower. He has waited two
years and seven or eight months. Do not imagine that I justify his
second marriage. It is not a right marriage. Indeed, it is not lawful.
A man may not marry his deceased wife’s sister. But these unions are
repeatedly happening for all that, and I for one do not oppose them
for the reasons which are advanced against them, but merely because I
object to second marriages altogether. But remember that you have two
little ones. They need a mother’s care. Your husband has a business
that takes him away from his home, and, failing your sister, the
little ones must be at the mercy of a nurse throughout the day and
night. Your sister took your place. She loved your children, as you
have told me, with a love which was scarcely less than your own, and
if this world had been any other world than it is, your sister, I have
no doubt, would have gone on filling your place as a mother, without
a thought ever occurring to her or to your husband of her taking your
place as a wife. Whilst you were at home it was perfectly reasonable
and correct that she should live with you. But when you were gone--that
is to say, when it was believed that you were dead--it would not be
considered proper by a society that drives people into a behaviour it
condemns, that your sister should continue living as a single woman
under the same roof with your husband, whom all Bath regarded as a
widower; and yet, if she did not live under his roof, she could not
look after your children! Oh, have mercy, my dear. Be just to those
who loved you, whom you still love, hard as it may seem to you to
render justice at such a time. And, above all, remember you are still
the wife!--it is your sister, your dear twin sister, who must prove the
sufferer.’

She looked upwards with tears in her eyes; her own daughters were in
her thoughts at that moment.

To this, and to much more--for we sat talking until the morning was far
advanced--I listened with tearful attention; but my passions were so
hot, my emotions so violent, that whilst my dear friend talked I was
not sensible of being influenced by her views. Knowing that my husband
was again married, I could not bring myself to feel that I was still
his wife. I had been replaced; he had given his love to my sister; for
all I knew I might be as dead to his remembrance and love as I was dead
in his belief.

Oh, it was an exquisite pang of mortification to feel that there had
been needed but a very little while--for what were three short years in
the life of married love? nor was it even three short years, for, if
General Ramsay spoke truly, my husband had been already married three
or four months--I say it was exquisitely mortifying to my pride and to
my love for my husband, to think how speedily and easily the memory
of me had been turned out of his heart, leaving room for another to
replace me, and that other my sister, whom I had loved so tenderly,
that I would have laid down my life for her, even as I was sure she
would have died for me.

But after a while, and when I was alone, other and higher and nobler
thoughts prevailed. The words of Mrs. Lee began to weigh with me. I
fell very silent, and for the rest of the day sat or moved here and
there engrossed in thought. Mrs. Lee contrived to leave me alone. She
could perceive in my face the conflict that was happening in my mind,
and, having given me her opinion and her counsel, she acted wisely in
letting me solve, as best I could, with the help of God, the awful and
tremendous problem which my returning memory had brought with it.

When the night came I was still undecided. Mrs. Lee had written to
the Bath papers during the afternoon, and nothing more had been done.
Indeed, we had seen so little of each other throughout the day that,
after our long discourse of the morning was ended, but a very little
more had been said on the subject. She had counselled me; she had been
perfectly conscious of the deep, and often the distracting, struggle in
my mind, and now, I saw, she was resolved that, let the issue be what
it might, it should be of my own contriving.

I bade her good-night at ten o’clock, our usual time of separating, and
entering my bedroom, closed the door, and putting Alice Lee’s cross
upon a chair, knelt before it and prayed for aid and enlightenment,
for support and for strength; and I prayed that I might be taught to
know what was best to be done. I arose with refreshed heart and calmed
feelings, and, replacing the cross, I paced about the room, not with
agitation, but because I was sleepless, and because the mere mechanical
effort of walking seemed to help me to think.

But I had made up my mind. I had said to myself: my husband and my
sister believe me dead, and I must remain dead to them, for if I
return to my home and proclaim that I am alive, what is to become of
my sister, who is now a wife, but who will not then be a wife? What is
to become of her? A dreadful sacrifice is involved, and I must be the
victim. Were Alice Lee to descend from heaven and speak to me, what
would be her bidding? That my sister must remain a wife, yea, though my
heart broke in securing her in that title.

I love my husband; I love my sister. The great sacrifice, I said to
myself, that I feel is demanded of me will prove my love. But my
children! I cannot possess them without discovering myself. I must
surrender them to my sister, who I know loves them with the love
of their mother ... but here I stopped dead in my pacing the room
and wept, but without agitation, without passion, for my prayer was
brooding dove-like over my spirit, and though I wept I was calm.

I could say no more to you, no, not if I were to write down every
thought that had visited me throughout the day and in the silent
watches of the night. They supposed me dead, they had wept for me--oh,
well did my heart know how they had mourned for me! and a mother being
wanted for my little ones, who, of all the countless women in this
land, could so fitly take my place as my sister?

But my children.... But my children? and I pressed my hand to my
heart....

In the morning when Mrs. Lee entered the parlour she found me standing
at the window. She kissed me and then looked me in the face. She would
know by my eyes that I had slept but little, she would also see that I
had wept much, and she would gather from my face that I had formed a
resolution. She listened in silence while I unfolded that resolution to
her.

‘You must not dream of banishing yourself from your home for ever,’
said she.

‘I must not dream of banishing my sister from the home which my
supposed death has made her mistress of,’ said I. ‘She could not now
live in the same house with me. She is friendless in the world, as I
should be were you not my friend. If I claim my own, what is to become
of _her_?’

‘But your children!’ exclaimed Mrs. Lee.

‘Oh, my children!’ I cried.

‘Your estrangement from them, your estrangement from your husband is
not to be thought of,’ said Mrs. Lee; ‘it is a terrible calamity to
befall your sister, but your children’s claims upon you are greater
than your sister’s.’

I shook my head.

‘And your husband has claims too,’ continued she. ‘He believes you
dead. If he knew you to be alive, would not his love eagerly claim you
and possess you, in spite of what has come between your hearts through
the silence of three years?’

I stared through the window, making no answer.

‘It is quite certain,’ said Mrs. Lee, ‘that you cannot be separated
from your children. You have a home, and it is your duty to occupy it.
Now what passed in my mind last night is this: you are very dear to me,
Agnes, but I must not keep you away from your husband and children.
Yet when you go I shall be companionless and I know I shall find it
very hard indeed to replace you. But your sister is certain to be like
you. You are twins, and from what you have told me of her I am sure you
differ but little in character. Let her take your place here. She will
be dear to me for your sake, and if she has even but a little of the
sweetness you have told me of we shall be happy together.’

‘Dear Mrs. Lee, my sister is now a wife. I must leave her so. I am the
stronger by my rights, and the stronger by my love, and the sacrifice
must be mine.’

‘You think nobly and God will bless you,’ said she; ‘but your sister is
not your children, and it is of your children that I am thinking.’

I made a motion of entreaty with my hand.

‘Could your sister live independently of--of--your husband?’

‘She has means of her own. She has the same amount that I possess, or
rather that I possessed.’

‘She can do what she likes with it?’

‘Yes, unless she has given it to John.’

‘As you did your portion?----Well, if your sister leaves your husband
he must return the money he has taken from her that she may be
independent to that extent. And she will take your place and live with
me.’

But I was not to be moved. I had made up my mind. The resolution I
had formed was the offspring of bitter tears and long hours of inward
torment. My sister, my sweet sister, must be first. Since the certain
result of the assertion of my existence must be to expel her from
her home, leaving her friendless, an orphan, and lonely to face the
world, then I must remain dumb and hidden, as much so as if I were at
the bottom of the sea. And there was another consideration, something
that _might_ render the news of my being alive a dreadful and horrible
affliction to her. She had been married four months.

Mrs. Lee saw that I was not to be moved.

‘I could sympathise with your resolution,’ said she, ‘if it were not
for your children. Can we not get possession of them? You would then be
happy, or at least happier than you are. But how is it to be done? They
cannot be stolen,’ she cried, stepping about the room. ‘They can only
be demanded in your name;’ then observing my distress and agitation,
she added, ‘Well, we will wait a little. Something may happen to give
a new turn to this strange, lamentable business. And you will not mind
my having a good long talk with Mr. ----?’ and she named the clergyman
of the church we attended. ‘He is a man of resources. Even my husband,
who was a thoroughly business man, often found Mr. ----’s advice very
useful. You may be able to exist without your husband, but with such a
mother’s heart as you possess you will not be able to go on living long
without your children.’

One point I overlooked at this time, nor indeed did it occur to me
until events had robbed it of the weight it must otherwise have had: I
mean that by determining not to make my existence known to my husband
and sister I should be continuing in a state of absolute dependence
upon Mrs. Lee. This I could not have felt whilst my memory was wanting;
but now it was known to Mrs. Lee that I was a wife and that my husband
was in a good position and capable of supporting me. As you will
perhaps remember, when my father died he left five thousand pounds to
my mother; this on her death was divided equally between Mary and me.
Mary invested her money and kept control of it; I gave my portion to my
husband, who invested it in his business or in some other way. There
was capital enough here to have yielded me about one hundred pounds
per annum, and this was the income, I believe, that Mary obtained from
her share; whilst I chose to remain as one that was dead, my little
fortune, of course, could be of no use to me, but as I have just said,
the matter did not pressingly occur to me at this time.

It was on the day following that conversation with Mrs. Lee which
I have just related that the dear little woman called upon her old
friend the Rev. ---- and was closeted with him for two hours. When
she returned she gave me the substance of what had passed between
them, and added that Mr. ---- was going to Edinburgh, whither he had
been suddenly summoned, but that on his return he would visit me and
earnestly enter with me into my trouble and advise me.

I asked Mrs. Lee what he had said, and she owned that though he had
talked much he had left no very definite impressions upon her mind.

‘Unhappily,’ said she, ‘there is no middle way in this sad business.
You want your children: you must have them: but in order to obtain them
your husband must be informed that you are alive. That is what you do
not want. I tell you frankly, Agnes, Mr. ----’s opinion is, that for
the sake of your children and for your own, and for your husband’s
sake, it is your bounden duty to make your existence known.’

‘And my sister?’ cried I; ‘he does not name my sister.’

‘Yes, to deeply pity her, for she is the true sufferer. Your trouble
is voluntary, and you can end it when you choose. However, let us
wait until Mr. ---- returns. By that time a change may come over your
mind, or Mr. ---- may be able to offer some suggestion of the utmost
usefulness to us. And pray, my dear, also remember that in the eyes
of my friend your sister is not a wife: nothing could make her your
husband’s wife short of an Act of Parliament, and even if she could
be legally married to him as his deceased wife’s sister, she still
cannot be his wife whilst you are living. This was one of Mr. ----’s
arguments, and he insisted that it was your duty to rescue your sister
from the false and really odious position in which her ignorance of
your being alive has placed her.’

But I was now firm. Every hour of thought had served to harden my
resolution. I did not choose to consider that my sister was in a false
position because I was alive, but I did choose to consider that she
would be in a false position if I announced my existence; and my fixed
determination, therefore, was to remain dead to her and her husband,
leaving it to the Almighty God who had watched over me in many terrible
perils and distresses, and who had raised up a friend for me when I was
absolutely friendless and blind in soul upon the great ocean, to find a
way of His own to bring me and my little ones together.

It was on the morning of the sixth day, dating from the receipt of
General Ramsay’s letter, that Mrs. Lee opened a newspaper which had
been addressed to her from Bath, and read aloud the announcement of my
husband’s marriage to my sister. The statement was brief; merely that
the marriage had taken place in London.

I had passed a long miserable night of bitter thought, with a desire
in me that had grown more and more impassioned as I lay dwelling upon
it; and yet I know not that I would have given expression to it or
have resolved upon gratifying it but for Mrs. Lee reading aloud this
announcement of my husband’s marriage. But when she had read it, and
sat gazing at me through her glasses in silence, I sprang up and cried:

‘I must see my children. I have struggled hard with the yearning, but
it will have its way.’

Something like a smile of satisfaction lighted up her face as she
answered:

‘I was sure you would come round to my views. There are, I know,
mothers, miserable creatures that they are! who could live without
seeing their children; but you are not of them, Agnes, you are not of
them.’

‘Do not misunderstand me,’ I exclaimed; ‘I wish to see my
children--merely to see them, but the darlings shall not know I have
beheld them--and John and my sister shall not know that I am alive.’

‘But you will have to call at the house to see them,’ said Mrs. Lee.

‘I will visit Bath and return to you,’ said I, caressing her hand.
‘Bear with me, dearest friend. Let me have my way.’

‘You shall have your way,’ she exclaimed. ‘I shall do nothing and say
nothing to hinder you. When do you wish to go?’

‘To-day.’

‘I will find out how much money you need. How long do you mean to stop?’

‘Until I have caught sight of my children,’ I answered. ‘One look at
them--to see if they are well--to see how much they have grown----’

‘Well,’ said she, ‘let us hope, my dear, for your sake that the
children are in Bath. You may have to wait some days before you obtain
a glimpse of them, and if you are constantly about the house will not
you be noticed, and excite suspicion? But I wish to say nothing to
hinder you. If it will comfort you to get a sight of your children,
then, my dear, go; and should you be kept waiting, write to me and I
will remit as much money as you may think needful. But suppose your
memory should fail you?’

‘I will take care of that,’ said I, ‘by putting down my name and your
name and address and other matters on a card. I can never be at a loss
if I have such a card to refer to.’

‘Take two cards,’ said Mrs. Lee, ‘one for your pocket, and one
which I will stitch inside your jacket. It is not probable that your
memory will play you false, but it would be a terrible thing to find
yourself at a distance from me without being able to give your name and
address.’



CHAPTER XXIV

AT BATH


The train I caught did not reach Bath till half-past eight in the
evening. It was a tedious, melancholy journey, so sad to me that I
never recall it without emotion. The moment I had kissed and said
good-bye to Mrs. Lee, and entered the train and started, I felt utterly
lonely and miserable, as though, indeed, I were friendless, without
memory, childless and widowed, and a blind wanderer. My luggage
consisted of a travelling bag. I was dressed in black and wore a thick
veil, but even without that veil I should not have feared recognition.
I had looked into the glass before I started, and _now_, being able
to remember my face as it was when my husband and sister last beheld
me at Piertown, I was very sure that both of them might stare me in
the eyes for an hour at a time, and find nothing in my white hair and
in my changed lineaments, and in the expression which grief and time
had stamped upon my countenance, and in my white eyebrows and the
appearance of the flesh of my face that wore no longer the bloom of my
happy days to give life to any sort of imagination which might visit
them from the tone of my voice or from some subtle quality in my looks.

As I have said, I arrived at Bath at half-past eight, wearied to the
heart by the long journey, and drove to an old-fashioned hotel not very
far from Milsom Street. I was too exhausted to walk, or even at that
hour, after I had refreshed myself with a cup of tea, I would have
crept forth and traversed the width of the city to view the home in
which my little ones were resting. I went to the window and gazed into
the street; there were brightly lighted shops opposite; the roadway
shone with the light of gas lamps; many people were afoot and private
carriages and vehicles of all sorts passed in plenty.

I stood gazing, and my eyes may well have worn the expression of one
who dreams. To think that for three years the old familiar city in
which I now was, my pretty home past the avenue of chestnuts, the dear
ones who dwelt within it, should have been as utterly extinguished from
my brain as though I had died! I thought of the day when I had started
from Piertown on an excursion, as I had imagined, of an hour or two; I
thought of the French vessel, of my awaking in her from a swoon, and
finding my face strapped, mutilated, unrecognisable, and I recalled
the dumb, importunate cry of my heart, _Who am I?_ I thought of all
that had happened afterwards, of the gipsy’s predictions which had been
so fearfully verified, that I wondered if her darker predictions were
still awaiting realisation; and then I pictured my home: the interior
of the house: I beheld my children sleeping in their beds, and my
husband and my sister sitting in the parlour, one reading to the other
or conversing.... I sighed deeply and turned away from the window.

I was in no hurry to rise next morning. It was the second day of
November and a cold morning, though the sun shone bright with a
frost-like whiteness in his brilliance, and I knew that my children
would not be taken for a walk until the morning had somewhat advanced.
I did not suppose that Johnny went to school. I knew that my husband
had always been of opinion that no child should be sent to school under
the age of ten; Johnny was but five.

I descended to the coffee room, keeping my face carefully covered by
a thick black veil: but when I found that I was the only occupant of
the room I lifted the veil to the height of my eyes, the better to
see through the wire blinds in the windows and to observe the people
passing. The waiter who attended at my solitary meal looked very hard
at me, but his gaze was one of curiosity merely. Well might it puzzle
the man to reconcile my youthful figure and youthful complexion, pale
as I was, with my hair and eyebrows, whose snowy whiteness was rendered
remarkable by my dark eyes.

I asked him how long he had lived in Bath, and he answered all his
life; and that he had never been further than Swindon. I asked him a
number of idle questions, and named one or two persons who lived in
Bath, and I then spoke of Mr. John Campbell, solicitor, and inquired if
he had left the city.

‘No,’ he answered, ‘Mr. Campbell is my governor’s legal adviser. He was
here yesterday; very like he’ll be here to-day. The governor’s got a
lawsuit on. Are you acquainted with the gentleman, mum?’

I asked him to tell me the time, and then saying it was uncertain at
what hour I should return, I dropped my veil and walked into the street.

It was about half-past ten o’clock. By this hour I knew that my husband
would have arrived at his office; or, if he was not yet at his office,
he would be on his way to business, and by going a little out of my
road when I was in New Bond Street I might have passed the windows of
his place of business; but I dreaded to see him. Veiled as I was I
felt that if we met and his gaze rested upon me, though I should be no
more known to him than the veriest stranger then in Bath, yet the mere
sight of him would break me down. I should cry out or swoon, suffer
from some convulsion of passion and feeling whose violence might result
in betraying me by attracting a crowd, by bringing him to my side to
inquire, by causing my pocket to be searched for my address; and,
therefore, when I passed the street in which his office stood, I shrank
within myself, and for ever as I walked I stared through my veil at
the passing faces, never knowing but that I might meet my husband, and
trembling and shuddering from head to foot at the mere contemplation of
the encounter.

But though I had had many acquaintances in Bath, I met no one that I
knew; no, not a single familiar face did I see. As I walked I could not
realise that three years had passed since I was last in these streets.
The extinction of my memory had fallen upon me as a deep sleep might
fall upon a person on a sudden, arresting her in her discourse or in
whatever she might be doing, and the sleep might last for many hours;
though when she awakens she proceeds in her speech or resumes what she
was about with no idea of having been interrupted beyond a minute or
two. Thus it was with me. I walked through the streets of Bath and I
could not persuade myself that I had not trodden the same pavements
yesterday. I passed down that wide, cold, windy thoroughfare called
Pulteney Street and reached Sydney Place, where I came to a pause with
my heart in my throat; for here are situated the public grounds called
Sydney Gardens, where many a time had I walked with my children and the
nurse, and as I looked at the trees, which were brown and burning with
their late autumn tints and fast growing leafless, and thought of how I
had romped with my little Johnny in the shade of them on summer days,
and how I had sat with my baby in my arms upon the cool seats along
the shadowed walks, and how happy I then was, I wept.

The house which I intended to watch until I saw my children stood not
far from the part at which I had arrived, and after I had walked a few
hundred yards I came to a bend of the road which brought me to the
foot of the hill. And now I walked very slowly, gazing in advance of
me with impassioned eagerness, and with so great a craziness for clear
vision that I could have torn the veil from my face. Very few people
were about, and they took no notice of me. At times a cart from some
neighbouring farm came spinning down the hill. It was a fine bright
morning, no longer cold, as it had been, now that the sun was asserting
his power, and I was sure that my children would be sent by Mary for a
walk with the nurse. I entered the avenue of chestnuts and crept along
up the hill very slowly until I had sight of the house, and then I
stopped with a dreadful aching under my left breast as though my heart
had broken.

I stood partly sheltered by the trees, staring at the house. It was
situated on the left-hand side of the road, and as I stood gazing on
this same side I thought to myself, supposing my husband having been
detained at home should _now_ come out. The thought affrighted me,
and I hastily crossed the road and in a manner hid myself among the
trees on that side. A gentleman and two ladies came from the direction
of Bathampton; they stared very hard and turned their heads to view
me after they had passed; their scrutiny vexed and agitated me, and
stepping out I walked up the hill, passing my home.

I dared not look too hard lest I should attract attention. The bedroom
windows were open, but I could not see anybody stirring within. I
looked at the window of the room that had been the day-nursery
and that, very well knowing the accommodation the house offered, I
might suppose was still occupied by my children by day; and whilst I
instinctively paused in my walk to gaze at that window the hall-door
was opened, and the nurse, the person I had taken to Piertown with me,
she who had been in my service for a short while when I was lost to my
husband and children--this nurse, I say, whose name was Eliza Barclay,
came out and advanced as far as the gate and looked up and down the
road as though waiting for somebody.

I walked on with my eyes straight in front, but my heart beat so
violently that I felt myself sway from side to side, and coming to a
bench that was at the top of the hill and at some distance from the
house, I sank upon it, breathing with great distress.

Here on this eminence I commanded a view of our garden and of the
river flowing through the valley, of the hills opposite with their
clustered houses and spaces of garden-land and groups of trees, whose
summits in parts feathered a line of roofs. Dogs were barking down by
the river side; notes of life came floating from the fair city of Bath
upon the November wind; the violet shadows of clouds sailed stately
over the green slopes. I went to the hedge that divided the adjoining
meadows from the side path and looked over, thinking I might catch a
sight of my children in the garden. A man was at work there. I raised
my veil to observe if he was the gardener whom we had employed when
I was at home, but I could not distinguish his features, and if I
approached the house the angle of the building must shut him out.

The time passed. Twelve o’clock was struck by the clock of a church
down in the valley, then one, and then two. Some tradesmen’s
assistants had called at the house during this time, and a housemaid
had come to the side-gate and stared with a servant’s idle curiosity
up and down the road. Nothing more had happened. But I must see my
children if I lingered all day; I must see my children, though to
obtain but one glimpse of them I should be obliged to remain in Bath
a month. Do you wonder if I wished to see my husband and my sister?
Oh, do not ask me! If ever I thought of them the desire to behold them
rapidly merged into a passionate yearning to see my children, and I
could think of nothing else but my two little ones.

The time passed. And now the next hour the Batheaston clock struck
would be half-past three. All this while I had been wandering furtively
about the chestnut avenue, and up and down the hill, never losing sight
of the house, but taking care after the first hour of this grievous day
of sad expectant watching to remain unseen by anyone who might come to
its gate or look from its windows. There were times when I would walk
on as far as Bathwick Street and there loiter, for if my children came
down the hill I might be sure they would pass by the end of that street
and I should see them.

The road in which the chestnut avenue stood is but little frequented.
Carts and private carriages drive along it, but few people use it
merely for walking. It is traversed by those who live at Batheaston and
Bathford and beyond, and such persons when they pass, whether coming
into or going from Bath, are long in returning. There are also very
few houses; the few there are for the most part stand back. All these
points I had reckoned upon, knowing the neighbourhood thoroughly; and
I state them that you may understand how it was that so conspicuous a
figure as I made in my black dress and thick black veil should have
haunted that road of the chestnut avenue for nearly a whole day without
apparently receiving any further attention than now and again a stare
from a passer-by.

I had eaten nothing since my breakfast, and that meal had been slender
enough; but I felt no hunger; though I had sat but little I was not
conscious of any feeling of exhaustion. The craving for a sight of my
children dominated all physical sensations.

It was drawing on to the hour of four; I was slowly making my way up
the hill in the direction of my house, and I was within a hundred yards
of it when a little boy ran through the gateway on to the path, and was
immediately followed by a lady.

The little boy was my child. I should instantly have known him had I
beheld him amongst a thousand children. His face was the same sweet
face that I had left behind me three long years before; grown, indeed,
but the eyes, the expression, were the same, the beautiful golden hair
but a little darker in hue. He was tall for his years, and looked a
noble, manly little fellow. He was dressed in the costume of a sailor,
and when he ran from out the gateway he sprang with graceful agility
across the side-walk into the road, pointing to a hedge that was
opposite, and looking back as he cried: ‘Mother, mother, I saw a wabbit
jump out of that ditch.’

The lady was my sister. She was dressed in black, but was without a
veil; her hat of black velvet with a black feather suited her beauty.
She looked younger, sweeter than I remembered her; her complexion
was of an exquisite delicacy faintly touched with bloom, and her
golden-brown hair sparkled in the sunlight under the black velvet of
her hat.

My boy came running towards me, leaving my sister at some distance;
then when he was close he stopped, child-like, to stare up at the
strange veiled figure. I looked down into his upward-gazing face: I
could have cried aloud out of the passion of the impulse that possessed
me to lift him, to clasp him to my heart, to devour him with kisses.
Then, all on a sudden, his own little figure, and the figure of my
sister who was now nearing us, swept round, and I fell, with a roaring
in my ears that was followed by blackness and insensibility.

       *       *       *       *       *

I opened my eyes and slowly turned them about. It was strange that the
first idea which came to my awakening senses was that I was on board
the French vessel, that in a few moments Alphonse would appear, that
he would hold a mirror to me into which I would look and behold a
face which I had never before seen. I closed my eyes and heard myself
sighing deeply; then opening my eyes again I slightly raised my head
and surveyed the place in which I was lying.

It was a room, and as my eyes roamed over the various objects which
formed the furniture of that room, I found everything I beheld familiar
to my recollection, and still I could not tell myself where I was. I
rested upon a sofa; there was a lamp with a deep green shade upon it in
the centre of the dining-table: a small fire was burning in the grate,
and I perceived the figure of a woman seated in an arm-chair beside the
fire. She turned her head and directed her eyes at me; then, observing
that I had returned to consciousness, she arose and came across to the
sofa.

When she was close to me I saw that she was the nurse whom we had taken
with us to Piertown, and by this time having my senses fully, and every
sense being rendered keen by dread of detection, I raised my hand to
my head, meaning to pull down my veil, but found that my hat and veil,
as well as my jacket, had been removed. The nurse’s name, as I have
said, was Barclay; she looked at me earnestly, but without the least
expression of recognition in her face, and said:

‘I am glad you have got your senses, ma’am. You have been a long time
in a faint. I will go and tell Mrs. Campbell you are awake: she is
sitting with the doctor in the dining-room. The doctor asked me to let
him know when you came to.’ She was about to leave me.

‘I do not wish to see the doctor,’ I exclaimed feebly. ‘Where am I?’

‘You are in Mr. John Campbell’s house, ma’am.’

‘Why am I in his house?’

‘You fainted away just outside his door and was carried in by me and
the gardener.’

‘I do not wish to see the doctor,’ said I. ‘Where is my hat and veil?’
and I endeavoured to sit up, but fell back again, feeling as weak as
though I had been confined to my bed for a month by a severe illness.

At this moment I heard footsteps, and my sister entered the room,
followed by a gentleman who instantly stepped to my side. He asked me
how I felt, but I made no answer, and on his taking my wrist to feel my
pulse I drew my hand away. I knew him very well; he was Doctor B----,
he had attended me with each of my children; but now he looked at me
with a subdued air of astonishment at my appearance--with nothing but
_that_ expression in his face; he recognised me no more than my nurse
did.

‘I have asked for my hat and veil,’ said I, ‘I wish to return to the
hotel at which I am stopping. I am quite well now,’ and again I essayed
to rise, and again fell back.

‘She appears to have overtaxed herself,’ said the doctor, speaking
to my sister as though I were not present. ‘One would suppose she had
walked from London and eaten nothing the whole way.’

I drew my handkerchief from my pocket and held it to my mouth to hide
my face as much as possible, and I also turned my head away from the
light, which, indeed, was sufficiently subdued owing to the green shade
that covered the lamp, and to the smallness of the fire.

‘Do you live in Bath?’ said the doctor.

‘No,’ I answered.

‘Where are you stopping?’

I named the hotel and said, ‘I wish to return to it.’

‘My carriage is at the door,’ said he, ‘I shall be happy to drive you
to your hotel.’

My sister, who had been standing at a little distance with the shadow
of the shaded lamp upon her face, said: ‘I cannot suffer the lady to
leave until she is stronger and better.’

‘Are you alone at the hotel?’ said the doctor.

‘Yes,’ said I, answering him in a weak voice; ‘but that does not
matter. I will thankfully accept your offer to drive me to my hotel,’
and again I tried to sit up, but my having been on my feet from ten
o’clock in the morning to four o’clock that afternoon, my having taken
nothing to eat or drink--no, not so much as a glass of water--and,
above all, the terrible agitation, the dreadful continuous expectancy,
and the hundred feelings which had burnt like fires in my breast as
I passed my home again and again, all this had done its work; a few
hours’ rest might help to restore me, but as I now was I was incapable
of any exertion.

The doctor saw how it was. He drew my sister to the other side of the
room and conversed with her. I tried to hear what was said, but caught
only a few sentences. He seemed to advise her to keep me for an hour
or two, then send me in a cab to the hotel. I heard him whisper: ‘A
perfect stranger, you see, Mrs. Campbell’--‘a genuine case I don’t
doubt’--‘I would not, if I were you, keep her through the whole
night’--these, and one or two more sentences of counsel, were all I
heard. He then bade my sister good-night; meanwhile I kept my face from
the light and my handkerchief to my mouth.

‘You will sleep here to-night,’ said the sweet voice of my sister, and
looking up I perceived her bending over me. Her face was tranquil, her
gaze perfectly calm with an expression of gentle sadness that had been
there ever since I could remember. Pity was the only look in her face
that was in any way marked. She glanced at my white hair, and her eyes
rested for a little while upon my face, but her regard was without
recognition. Her presence was a torture to me. My old love for her
was strong and deep. There she stood, my sweet, my gentle, my beloved
sister, and I dared not own myself--I dared scarcely look at her; for
her occupation of my place was based on deep conviction of my death. I
would have killed myself sooner than by confession of my existence have
forced her from the position she had purely entered upon with a spirit
which she would take to her grave clothed in mourning for the sister
whom she believed dead.

But her presence was an agony. I felt that it would be impossible to
support even for a short time the ordeal of her ministrations; to
listen to her low, sweet voice; to meet her clear, sad gaze; to suffer
in silence the intolerable sense of loneliness born of her presence, of
my being homeless in my own home, of the thought of my little ones, in
a room above, taught to pray for a mother they could not remember and
to give that holy name to another, even though she were my own sister.

‘You will sleep here to-night,’ said my sister, bending over me.

‘What is the time?’ I inquired, resolved to speak as little as possible.

‘It is nearly eight o’clock. You have been a long time unconscious.
Barclay, cut a few light sandwiches and bring some port wine. Be quick.
I am sure this poor lady wants nourishment first of all. Tell Sarah to
light a fire in the spare room and prepare the bed.’

My sister then brought a chair to the table and seated herself.

‘This light, I fear, taxes your eyes,’ said she, and stretching forth
her hand she dimmed the lamp.

Then followed a long silence; my sister did not appear to regard me.
Her eyes seemed to steal to my face rather than look at it; but for the
most part she kept her gaze bent downwards. Her behaviour suggested
that she was struck, as all others whom I had met had been struck,
with the contrast between my snow-white hair and white eyebrows and
my youthful figure. Only at long intervals did I dare glance at her.
I held my face averted and my handkerchief to my mouth, and twice I
endeavoured to rise, fully meaning to leave the house if I found that I
had strength to walk; but I was without strength as yet even to sit up.

The housemaid brought in some port wine and sandwiches, and I drank the
wine which my sister put to my lips. I then ate the sandwiches merely
with the hope that they would diminish the feeling of faintness and
give me strength enough to leave the house.

I had eaten as much as my constricted throat would enable me to
swallow, when suddenly I heard the noise of a key turned in a lock,
then the hall door was shut and my sister went out. I caught the sound
of my husband’s voice; but I should have known him by his tread alone
as he stepped across the square hall, and thankful, indeed, was I that
Mary had gone out to speak to him and detain him whilst she prepared
him for seeing me--that is to say, for seeing a strange lady who had
dropped in a fit near the house and been brought in; I was truly
thankful, I say, for this delay, since it gave me time to fortify my
mind for beholding my husband and being looked at by him, and perhaps
spoken to by him; for had he come in upon me on a sudden, my white
hair and changed face would have availed nothing: I must have betrayed
myself, he would have detected me by signs I should have been unable to
conceal.

He and Mary conversed for some time in the hall. The door was ajar and
I heard their voices, but not what they said. He ejaculated, as though
expressing surprise and sometimes remonstrance; her sweet, low voice
had a pleading note. Presently the door was pushed open and the two of
them entered.

I held my handkerchief to my mouth, but forced my eyes to look in the
direction of my husband, never doubting that any emotion that my face
might express would be attributed by him to my illness and condition.
There was no more alteration in him than in Mary. He wore a little
more whisker than formerly, and his hair was cut short in the military
style, otherwise there was no change. He was dressed in dark grey
clothes and, instead of a gold watch-chain, wore one of jet, to which
was attached a locket which had formerly held, as it might still hold,
a likeness of me and a piece of my hair.

He slightly bowed as to a perfect stranger, and leaned upon the table
to look across at me. I closed my eyes and averted my face; I could not
bear the dreadful trial of looking at him and of seeing him look at me.
Oh, he was my husband--he was the father of my children--he had been my
first and only love--but though he was my husband still, my love for my
sister stood between him and me in as iron-like a barrier as ever the
divorce law of the land could erect between two hearts.

Mary had gone to the end of the table where it faced the windows which
overlooked the grounds; she stood with one hand upon it and the other
resting upon her hip. When I opened my eyes she seemed to be gazing at
me steadily, but the light was dim and I could not see her clearly.

‘I am sorry to hear of your illness,’ exclaimed my husband, addressing
me across the table, ‘I trust you are feeling better?’

‘I believe I am well enough to return to my hotel,’ I answered in a
tremulous voice, ‘will you kindly send for a cab?’

‘No,’ said my sister, ‘you must sleep here to-night. You are alone in
Bath. Should you return to the hotel and feel ill in the night you will
not be able to obtain the attention you might require.’

‘By what name shall I address you?’ said my husband.

‘Do not trouble her with questions, dear,’ said Mary. ‘She is very
poorly.’

I had made up my mind to give the name of my old friend at Jesmond
should it ever come to my having to give a name at all. This I had
settled with myself before I left Newcastle. When Mary ceased I
answered, ‘My name is Miss Lee.’

‘Have you no friend in Bath?’ said my husband.

‘None. I am returning to-morrow to the north.’

‘My wife is anxious that you should stay the night,’ said my husband;
‘you will be very welcome; but if it would make you more comfortable
to return to your hotel, I will call a cab and personally attend you
there; provide--for I am very well acquainted with the landlord of the
house--that you be carefully looked after; and, if you should desire to
communicate with your friends in the North by telegraph or by letter, I
shall be very pleased to do your bidding.’

‘Yes, I shall feel easier--my strength is returning,’ I exclaimed, and
I forced myself to sit upright.

‘John,’ said my sister, ‘it is settled that Miss Lee sleeps in this
house to-night. It is not as though she had friends to go to. She is
ill,’ she added, and for a moment her voice trembled. ‘The spare room
is ready. I can take no denial.’

She crossed the room and rang the bell.

‘Be it as you wish, my dear,’ said my husband, and casting another look
upon me of curiosity he left the room.

The housemaid answered the bell; my sister told her to send the
nurse, then poured out another glass of port and begged me to drink
it. I drank it, for I needed strength. Already had I settled what to
do, but I required more strength than I now possessed to carry out
my resolution. The nurse arrived and my sister requested her help
to convey me upstairs. I said not a word. I kept my eyes fastened
upon the floor. I feared that I should betray myself by speech, by
look, by tears, or by some subtle sign that would be interpretable by
the penetrating, wonderful sympathy that exists between twins--the
sympathy that had certainly existed between my sister and me. So far I
had victoriously passed through one of the most terrible ordeals that
a woman could be confronted with, and the sight and presence of my
sister, her sweet voice, her sweet face, the memories which arose in me
as I looked at her and listened to her, had still further heightened
and hardened what I might have already deemed my unconquerable
determination to remain dead to her and her husband that her happiness
should not be disturbed, leaving it, as I have already said, to my
Heavenly Father to bring my children to me in any way that should not
bruise my sister’s heart, or cloud the clear serenity of her life as a
wife.



CHAPTER XXV

MARY


My sister took me by one arm and the nurse by the other, and assisted
me to rise. I found myself a little stronger than I had imagined. I
felt, indeed, fully equal to returning to the hotel, if my sister sent
for a cab; but my bedroom was ready, I was now being helped upstairs,
and, moreover, I had settled a plan which I did not intend to disturb.
I looked neither to the right nor to the left, as I ascended the
stairs, supported by my sister and the nurse. I feared the effect upon
me of the familiar objects which my sight must encounter--the shield
and stag’s head in the hall, the pictures on the staircase, the
barometer, and other such details--in all which I had taken a young
wife’s pride, choosing places for them, dusting them with my own hands.

We mounted the stairs in silence. I was taken to a room over the
dining-room, an apartment at the back of the house. This room had been
the spare room with us ever since we had occupied the house. A cheerful
fire burnt in the grate, and on a chair near it were my jacket, hat,
and veil. Lighted candles stood upon the dressing-table; the curtains
were drawn; the bed, draped with a new eider-down quilt, was open ready
for my reception; there was a smell of flowers in the atmosphere, and
the whole chamber was spotless and the picture of comfort.

‘A long night’s rest will do you all the good in the world,’ said Mary.
‘Do not hurry to rise in the morning.’

I could not thank her; I could not feel grateful for hospitality shown
to me in my own house; I could not bring my tongue to utter to my
sister words which my heart would pronounce ironical. But I could have
thrown my arms round her neck, I could have wept upon her breast, I
could have poured forth the story of my life; and all this, too, my
heart denied me.

She sent Barclay, the nurse, for some hot spirits and water, and for
another plate of sandwiches; but I refused to eat or drink. I said I
was weary and would get into bed and rest. She asked me at what hour I
wished to leave by train next day.

‘If I can reach my destination by five or six o’clock in the evening I
shall be satisfied,’ I answered.

She looked around as though there was something, unremembered by her,
that would add to my comfort, then softly said, ‘Good-night,’ and left
the room, closing the door after her.

I thanked God when she went out, for another few minutes must have
betrayed me. No sooner, indeed, had she closed the door than my heart
gave way, and I cried with a dreadful grief, burying my face upon
the bed that the sound of my sobs might be unheard. My children, I
knew, were sleeping on the same floor. I say I _knew_, because the
disposition of the rooms would not admit of a day and night nursery on
the floor above. My bedroom--the bedroom I had occupied--had been over
the room in which I now was; it was the best room in the house, with a
bath-room and dressing-room adjoining it, and this apartment I might be
sure my husband still used. Therefore, knowing that my children were
within a few yards of me, my yearning to visit them, to behold and
kiss my baby--my little baby girl--to kiss my darling boy, to view
them even for a moment only--this yearning was anguish inexpressible.
But I dared not leave my room. I could not think of any excuse to make
should I be found looking at my children. Indeed, my being found in
their room, bending over them, would infallibly lead to my husband
and sister making conjectures, and putting one thing and another
together--for my husband was a lawyer and my sister a clever woman of
quick intellect--and so discovering who I was.

I partially unclothed, extinguished the lights, and got into bed--not
to sleep, but that I should be found in bed if my sister visited me
before she herself retired. I heard a distant clock strike nine. A few
minutes later a child cried. I sat up, straining my ear to catch the
precious voice of my baby girl. It was the cry of a sleeping child,
and was not repeated; but, even if that cry of my child had found me
drowsy, it would have awakened me to the very full of all my senses and
held me sleepless for the rest of the night.

All was quiet below. I heard no sound of my husband and sister
conversing, though I supposed that they continued to occupy the
dining-room beneath me. The distant church clock struck ten. The
hall-door was then bolted, and the noise was followed by a faint
tapping on my bedroom door. I made no answer. I knew by the character
of the knocking that it was my sister, and wished her to think that
I was asleep. I held my face to the wall, and kept my eyes closed
and drew my breath regularly, as though I slumbered; but, though my
eyes were closed, I was sensible of the presence of my sister at the
bedside. The light she held dimly flushed my sealed vision, and I knew
by the radiance that she held the candle close to my face, whence I
might conclude she was inspecting me. That she had not recognised me I
was sure, but I now dreaded this minute scrutiny. Some feature, some
point of resemblance to our mother or to herself, some expression which
I could not control, she might witness, and by it know me.

I sighed and stirred, without opening my eyes, on which the light
vanished; and when, after waiting a little, I stealthily lifted my
eyelids, I found myself alone and the room in darkness.

I was able to follow the flight of the hours by hearing the distant
church-clock strike. Midnight rang out, and then one o’clock, and then
two o’clock. The wind had risen. It made a noise in the chimney and
hissed about the windows; otherwise the house was buried in silence,
saving that at intervals I seemed to hear a sound of footsteps, a very
soft movement, as of naked or slippered feet restlessly pacing. But,
listen as I might, I could not imagine in what room the person, whoever
it might be, was pacing; it was not overhead, and it did not sound as
though it were on the floor where the room I occupied was. I therefore
supposed it a deception of the ear, though it held me in check until
after three o’clock had struck, at which hour it ceased.

I waited until somewhat after four o’clock, then noiselessly rose,
very softly lighted a candle, and completely dressed myself, with the
exception of my veil, which I folded and put in my pocket. The fire had
long ago gone out. A small pair of scissors lay upon the toilet-table,
and on a chest of drawers was an Old Testament, with illustrations
protected by sheets of tissue paper. The book had been my mother’s. I
tore out several sheets of the tissue-paper, picked up the scissors,
and, putting the candle in the grate, where it would be safe--I dared
not move without a light, lest I should make a noise--I opened the
door, crept forth on to the landing, and stood listening.

All was silent, save the noise of the wind. At the extremity of the
landing a door stood ajar, and a faint light shone through it. I knew
that my children slept in that room, that the faint illumination
proceeded from a night-light, and that the door was left ajar in
pursuance of a custom established by myself, for I always required that
my children should have air, but would not permit their bedroom window
to be left open during the night. I put my boots on the landing-carpet,
and crept on noiseless feet to the door where the light shone, and,
looking into the room, saw the two little brass bedsteads side by side.
I stood listening, and plainly heard the deep breathing of the nurse,
who slept in a small room adjoining this bedroom.

I crept to the side of one of the beds, and in it lay my little girl,
Mary. I stood looking down upon her sleeping face, then cut off a
little piece of her hair, and breathlessly pressed my lips to her
cheek. Afterwards I stepped round to the bedside of my little boy,
and, when I had looked down upon him for awhile, I cut off a little
piece of his hair, and, with trembling but noiseless hands, placed the
two curls in the tissue-paper and slipped them into my pocket. I then
kissed my boy, and, going to the foot of the bedstead, knelt so that
my posture might embrace both little forms, and, lifting up my eyes to
God, I asked Him to look down and bless my children, and to give them
to me soon, and to watch over them and preserve them whilst I continued
absent from them.

I then rose, and, with a weeping heart and one long, lingering look
at the two faces, I soundlessly descended the staircase, and, being
intimately acquainted with the house, as you will suppose, knowing
exactly how the house-door was bolted and locked, I opened it without
more noise than would have scared a mouse, gently pulled it to after
me, so that it would have been impossible upstairs to have heard the
click of the latch, so gradually did I draw the door to; then, seating
myself on the step, I put on my boots, and, rising again, hurried away
down the hill.

It was snowing slightly, and the ground was thinly whitened. The
wind blew piercingly cold. I had learnt that the railway-station was
closed all night, and that the earliest train to London, which was the
directest way to Newcastle from Bath, did not leave until eight o’clock
or thereabouts. There was nothing for me to do but to walk about the
cold, windy streets until the hotel where I had left my bag was opened.

This I did. I met nobody. Bath seemed as silent and as deserted as
though the old plague that had visited London two hundred years ago
had attacked and desolated this city of the Abbey Church. At last, at
about a quarter to seven, on passing the hotel for the tenth or twelfth
time, I saw a man sweeping in front of the door, which stood a little
way open. I entered and passed into the coffee-room, and found a large
fire, newly lighted, burning in the grate, before which sat a man
reading a paper by the gas-light, for the sky was dark with cloud and
there was no daylight as yet. The man did not lift his head nor make
room for me; he was probably a commercial traveller. I rang the bell,
ordered some breakfast, desired that my bag should be brought from my
bedroom, and, whilst I waited, I drew as close to the fire as the
commercial traveller would suffer me, and warmed myself.

I was very cold and very weary, but the rest I had taken at my
husband’s house had given me strength enough to walk about the streets,
and when I had warmed myself and breakfasted I found that my sense of
exhaustion was considerably less than I had dreaded to find it. All the
while that I had walked, and all the while that I was warming myself
and eating my breakfast, I was thinking, ‘What will my sister say, or
what will my husband suppose, when they find that their visitor, whom
they so hospitably received, has fled from their house in the darkness
of the night? Their first suspicion will be that my falling into a
fit was a trick, and they will look over the house to see what I have
stolen; then, on discovering that nothing whatever is missing, they
will conjecture that my fit was epileptic, and that in an hour of
madness I rose in the night and wandered from the house.’

This notion made me hurry, lest my husband should come to the hotel
to inquire after me; for though, if he came, he would know no more
about me this morning than he did last night, yet he might agitate
and confuse me with questions--perhaps cause me to be detained for
inquiries, as it is called--and this apprehension, as I have said,
made me hurry. As soon, then, as I had breakfasted, I paid the bill,
took my bag, and told a porter who stood in the hall to call a cab. An
hour later I was safe in a railway-carriage, gliding out of the Great
Western Railway station at Bath on my way to London.

I reached Newcastle at seven o’clock in the evening, and drove at once
to Jesmond. I had telegraphed to Mrs. Lee from London, and I found her
awaiting me, with a table cheerfully set forth and a great Newcastle
coal fire roaring. She kissed me again and again; had I been her own
child she could not have given me a gladder, more affectionate welcome.
She saw exhaustion in my looks and the marks of much bitter weeping in
my eyes, and asked no questions until after I had eaten and drunk and
was resting upon the sofa before the fire, with my feet in comfortable
slippers, and the dress in which I had travelled replaced by a warm
dressing-gown.

I then told her everything that had happened to me; but when I opened
the travelling-bag, which I had kept at my side, and took from it the
two little locks of hair and showed them to her, I broke down, and
could not speak again for a long time for weeping.

‘Well,’ said she, when my sobs had ceased, ‘your adventure has
certainly been an extraordinary one. To think of neither your husband
nor your sister knowing you! Surely that can only be accounted for by
their conviction that you are dead? Your white hair, and the structural
change of the shape of your nose, and the change in the shape of your
right brow, coupled with other changes which they might be able to
point out, have, of course, created a new face for you--a face such
as friends, people whom you may have known for a few years but met at
intervals only, would not recognise; but that the alteration should be
so complete that your own sister and husband----no, it is because they
believe you dead.’

‘The light was dim when my husband saw me,’ said I.

‘Ay, but your sister? She saw you when you were brought in from the
street in daylight. No; I am sure that nothing could have saved you
from recognition but their belief that you are dead--a belief that is
now a habit of mind with them, not to be disturbed by the apparition
of a white-haired woman, who, to be sure, looks some years older than
the mere passage of three years only could have made her.’

She then asked me what I meant to do, and I replied that the sight
of my sister had hardened my resolution to leave her in undisturbed
possession of her home and her peace of mind.

‘But your children, dear?’

‘I am in God’s hands,’ I cried. ‘I have left it to Him to bring them to
me in His own good time.’

She looked at me, shook her head, and fell into a fit of musing.

I was so exhausted, however, that I was unable to maintain a
conversation even on this subject of my children--a subject which so
wholly occupied my heart that I could think of nothing else. I went to
bed, and scarcely was my head upon the pillow when I fell asleep, and
slept without moving the whole night through, without the disturbance
of the least dream that I can remember. In fact, nature could support
the burthen I had imposed upon her no longer; I had, in truth, scarcely
closed my eyes for above a few hours from the time of the restoration
of my memory, and this night I lay as one that had died. Next morning,
when I awoke, I found my limbs so stiff that I was unable to rise,
and I kept my bed all that day. Mrs. Lee came and sat by my side,
and we talked long and gravely upon the subject of my future--what
was best to be done; whether I had a right to divorce myself from my
husband and remain as dead to him out of a sentimental tenderness for
my sister, whose claims were not those of a mother’s, as mine were;
whose claims were not those even of a wife’s, as mine were--because it
would be all the same whether I was living or dead: she could not be
my husband’s wife; the law did not suffer a man to marry the sister of
his dead wife. In this way Mrs. Lee reasoned; and, after asking me some
questions about my sister--as to her habits, tastes, appearance, and so
forth--she said:

‘Why will you not let me write to her, gently break the news of your
being alive, ask her to come and see us here, and bring your children
with her; then the three of us can talk the matter over? Her sensations
on hearing the news of your being alive will soon pass; you will find
that she will agree in my views and consent to come and live with me,
taking your place, often seeing you and the children--for, of course,
dear Agnes, you will be a regular visitor. I can imagine no other
way of your regaining possession of your children. Whilst you have
been away I have thought and thought, and I cannot imagine what Mr.
----’ (naming the clergyman), ‘will be able to suggest beyond what
we ourselves are quite capable of conceiving--namely, that, in order
to obtain your children, you must make your existence known to your
husband and sister. Since, therefore, _that_ is certain, the rest is
inevitable. I mean that your sister, on hearing that you are alive,
must at once quit your husband.’

I lay in my bed listening to her, and often answering and agreeing with
her in many points of her argument, but all the time perfectly resolved
to remain dead to my husband, that my sister’s peace should not be
ruined and her life wrecked. The problem of how I was to regain my
children was indeed fearful, and, as I did think, insoluble; but I had
seen them, I had kissed them in their sleep, they were alive and well.
All this greatly comforted me, and though I was almost crazy with a
mother’s yearning for them, I felt better capable of waiting, now that
I had seen them, than before--better capable of exercising patience
for my sister’s sake, looking to God to reward me for my sacrifice by
uniting me with my children without desolating my sister’s life.

When the night came I again slept well, and was awakened next morning
by a knock on the door. The servant entered, and handed me a letter in
deep mourning. I was startled by the deep black edge upon the envelope,
and told the maid to open the curtains. She did so, flooding the room
with light, and withdrew. I looked at the envelope, and instantly
recognised the handwriting as that of my sister. It was addressed
to Mrs. John Campbell, care of Mrs. Lee. In fact, the address was
precisely the same as that which I had written upon the cards I had
taken to Bath with me, one of which, as you will remember, Mrs. Lee had
stitched inside of the back of my jacket, the only difference being
that the envelope bore my name, Mrs. John Campbell.

I trembled violently, and for some few minutes felt so faint that the
letter drooped in my hand on to the coverlet, whilst I lay back for
the support of the pillow. Then I looked at the letter again; it was
in Mary’s writing. I knew the writing as well as though I had seen her
with a pen in her hand addressing the envelope. For a long time I could
not summon courage to open the letter. It was not only the handwriting
and the seeing my name plain upon the envelope; it was the mourning
also that terrified me, so significant was it of the character of the
enclosure. At last I opened the letter, and read this:

  ‘My own darling Sister,--When, after fainting at the sight of your
  boy, you were brought into your house, and your hat and veil were
  removed, I knew you. Beloved sister, I knew you instantly. Your
  white hair, your changed appearance, could not disguise you from
  the eyes of my love. They had told me that during a great part of
  the day a woman in black, thickly veiled, had several times passed
  this house, and when your veil was removed, and I saw that it was
  you, Agnes, _then_ I knew all, I understood all. I knew that you
  had come to catch a sight of your children, that you knew I had
  become your husband’s wife, and I understood that your secret visit
  meant that when you returned to your home you would never come here
  again. And why? That your husband and I might think you dead, as we
  have long believed you dead, and that I might be left to live as I
  have lived since you were mourned as lost to us for ever.

  ‘My darling sister! It was because I knew you that I insisted upon
  your remaining in the house all night, for then you would have
  rested, sleep would have given you strength, I should have been
  able to see you in the morning, have heard your story, and have
  told you mine. Oh! what has kept you from us for three years? What
  sufferings have you undergone to change you so? I have loved and
  tended your little ones as though they had been my own. You will
  find them well, and very beautiful children. You saw but little of
  Johnny. You fell whilst he was looking at you. I have been wakeful
  all night, pacing the floor of a room that was above the one in
  which you slept--not thinking over what I should do; no! what I was
  to do I knew very well; but thinking about you, your three years’
  absence, the meeting of two sisters who knew each other and loved
  each other, and yet dared not speak to each other.

  ‘And why did not I speak to you, Agnes? Because, my beloved, I
  desired the morning to come, when, after having sat and conversed
  with you in your bedroom, I should have been able to depart from
  your house, leaving it to you to tell your husband the story of
  your return, and of my going, when he came back to his home in the
  evening.

  ‘You know that I was married to him fourteen weeks ago. Your secret
  visit convinced me that _that_ news had reached you. Oh! had the
  gentle and all-merciful God brought you home to us but four months
  earlier! I can write to you that I was married to John, but I could
  not look at you and say so.

  ‘Yet I believed you dead, dear sister, and your husband believed
  you dead. The body of the man who attended you in the boat was
  washed ashore, and the boat was afterwards found drifting about,
  upside down. How could we doubt that you had perished? But I have
  not come between you and your husband’s heart. Your memory is sweet
  and sacred to him. Often does he talk of you. It is a subject that
  he never wearies of. One to take the place of you was needed for
  Johnny and little Mary, and who fitter than I? But oh! but oh! that
  you had returned but four months earlier!

  ‘And now with the tears standing in my eyes, and my heart aching as
  though it must break, I am going to bid you farewell for ever. Do
  not fear for me. God’s love will stay my hand. I will do nothing
  that is rash or sinful. I shall hear of you and always in spirit
  be with you, and my prayers shall ever be for you and for your
  husband, and your little ones. By the time this letter reaches
  your hands, your husband will have known all, and will in all
  probability be on his way to Newcastle-on-Tyne.

  ‘As for me, I go where no inquiries can ever reach me. It will be
  useless to seek for me; not the utmost strength of our love, Agnes,
  would ever be able to court me from my concealment. You may hear of
  me in my death, but in no wise else, and some day you will know why
  I have chosen to hide myself until the grave closes over me.

  ‘But I could wish to receive one last letter from you, telling me
  what has befallen you, and where you have been during these three
  years, and sending me your blessing and your love, and a kiss.
  Therefore write to me at the ---- Hotel, Leicester. Address me
  there by return of post, that I may receive the letter as I pass
  through that town. My beloved sister, farewell. Forgive me! Love me
  with the strength of your old sweet love.

                                                  ‘MARY.’

I read this letter twice over, realising its full import. There
then followed such a tumult of feelings in my mind that I cannot
recollect even a little of my thoughts. I was struck to the heart by
the knowledge that Mary had known me from the beginning, and had not
spoken, and then horror fell upon me when I reflected that she had left
her home; that she had as good as vowed never to be heard of until her
death should come; that, despite her assurance, grief, misery, shame,
homelessness, the remembrance of what she had lost, the fear of, as I
could read in her letter, of what was yet to befall her, might tempt
her to end her life!

I hastily rose, dressed myself, and went downstairs. Mrs. Lee had not
yet left her bed. I took pen and paper, and wrote to Mary. I wrote page
after page, for I had much to relate and also to implore, to persuade,
and to command. On the top of the third or fourth sheet of paper I
began to tell her that it was my unalterable resolution never to live
with my husband, or speak of him, or think of him as my husband whilst
she was living; and I was going on to say that I asked for nothing but
my children, when it flashed upon me that if I told her I would never
have anything more to do with my husband _while she was alive_, her
love for me, her determination to reinstate me might cause her to take
her life! so that by making a widower of my husband, so far as she was
concerned, there could be no longer any excuse remaining to keep me
away from my home. This fear I say flashed upon me, and I tore that
part of the letter up, and went on writing till I had said all that
was in my heart; but even as I addressed the envelope I seemed to feel
that this letter, full as it was of love and piteous pleadings to her
to return to her home, would be no more than as a wreath laid upon a
grave, and that my sister and I would never meet again in this world.

I desired a servant to immediately post the letter, and then walked
about the room, as was my habit when deeply agitated, waiting for the
arrival of Mrs. Lee. She entered at last, kissed me, and looking at me
affectionately, exclaimed: ‘You have heard from your sister, I am sure.
The letter was brought to me in error, and I sent it immediately to
you.’

I put it into her hand in silence. She read it through, and then said:
‘So she knew you, and yet made no sign! She must be a girl of great
nobility of mind, of wonderful strength of character.’ She read the
letter through again, and exclaimed: ‘And now, Agnes, you will return
with your husband?’

‘No,’ I answered. ‘I cannot, and will not, think of him as my husband
whilst my sister lives.’

She said much to dissuade me from this resolution, pointing out that
great as might be my love for my sister, my husband must be first of
all with me. Did I remember my marriage vows? Did I remember saying
that I would forsake all others, and keep only to my husband? This was
a vow solemnly uttered at the altar, and God was a witness to it, and
I should be grievously sinning if I were false to that vow. I answered
that I loved my husband, and that I remembered my marriage vows, but
that my husband had married my sister, believing me dead, that she was
his wife and must remain his wife. I asked for my children, I said; and
when I had them--and here I broke into a passion of weeping, for God
knows I spoke truly when I said that I loved my husband; and yet my
love for my sister, my determination that she should not be dishonoured
by my reappearing, after I was supposed dead, must certainly divorce
me from my husband; and then there was the thought of my sister hiding
for the remainder of her days alone, knowing no other happiness than
such as would flow from the belief that I was happy--I say all these
thoughts broke in upon me, and extinguished my speech in a passion of
tears.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE END


The time passed, and now I was to prepare myself to receive my husband.
My mind had been so wholly engrossed by my sister that I had given but
little thought to the interview that was likely to happen that day, if
it were true, as Mary had said, that my husband would come to Newcastle.

It was not my fault, but the fault of my having been born a woman--of
my being human, in short--that, whilst I thought of my husband’s
arrival, I should find myself looking into the glass and comparing
my face with my sister’s. Never had I seen her so sweet, so lovely,
indeed, as when I beheld her in the road when my little boy came
running to me. How different was my face from hers! And yet, if he
loved me, if his love for my memory was as deep as my sister had
declared it in her letter, surely my face could not signify. Had I
found him shorn of his youth, maimed, ravaged by disaster, it would not
have mattered, I should but have loved him the more.

But then, I said to myself, whilst I looked in the glass, ‘What should
it be to me if his love grows cold at the sight of my white hair and
my altered countenance? Why should I care, though he came to me loving
only Mary? for I swear’--and as I pronounced these words I knelt--‘I
swear by my God that whilst Mary lives I will be no wife to John.’ And
this I said on my knees, again and still again. Yet, when I arose,
having been governed by a sudden bitter, powerful impulse to pronounce
these words, my heart trembled within me, and I felt that I had sinned
in directing myself by oath to a course, instead of trusting myself,
child-like, to the guiding hand of Him whose loving eye had been, as I
still hoped it was, upon me.

I was in my bedroom that evening; the time was a little before eight.
The room, as you may remember, was at the back of the house, and no
sound of traffic from the roadway reached me. On a sudden Mrs. Lee
opened the door without knocking, and said, with something of alarm
in the expression of her face, ‘Agnes, your husband awaits you in the
dining-room.’

Had I not seen him when I secretly visited Bath, and had not Mary’s
letter made me expect to see him at Jesmond almost immediately, I
cannot tell what would have been the effect upon me of the announcement
of his arrival. But I had had all day to think over it, and, as I
have said, I had seen him when I went to Bath, though he did not
know me; then, again, my capacity of emotion--or, in other words, my
sensibility--was somewhat dulled by the manner in which my spirits had
been strained since I had recovered my memory and received news of my
family; for one reason or another, then, I merely started when Mrs. Lee
announced my husband’s arrival, and, with a voice of composure, asked
her to accompany me downstairs.

‘No,’ said she, ‘go alone, Agnes. It will be a meeting too sacred for
me to witness. I have welcomed him to my house, and he awaits you. Go,
then!’

I descended the stairs, but my heart beat very quickly. Sacred the
meeting might be, but it could not possess the joy, the gladness, the
happy tears, the pathos of the delight of reunion which must have
made a golden and glorious memory of it whilst my life lasted had it
chanced but four short months earlier. The dining-room door was ajar;
I pushed it open and entered. A tall lamp stood upon the table; the
globe was unshaded, and the light streamed full upon my husband, who
stood at the table with his face turned towards the door. On seeing
me, he cried, ‘Oh, Agnes! oh, my dearest wife!’ and in a moment he had
embraced me, and once or twice he sobbed as he pressed his lips to my
cheek. He held me to him for some moments, then released me, grasped my
hands, and fell back a step to survey me.

‘That I should not have known you,’ he cried, ‘when I looked at you as
you lay upon the sofa! That you should have come to Bath, as Mary told
me, to see your children, walking until you fainted in your exhaustion,
and not entering your own house because--because--ah, God!’ he cried,
broke off, hid his face, and then, looking at me, exclaimed, ‘Speak to
me, Agnes!’

‘Oh, John, I will speak to you! The love that I gave you when we were
married is still yours. I will speak to you--but not as your wife.
Look at these white hairs. Look at the deformity here and here. I have
suffered much. For nearly three years have I been deprived of memory. I
knew not my own name. I knew not,’ I added, in a low voice, ‘that I had
a husband and children. My memory came back to me the other day, and
then I heard that Mary was your wife. Would for her dear sake that I
was dead, as you both believed me. Look in my face; you will see how I
have suffered. But what have been my sufferings compared to Mary’s now?
Oh! I have received a terrible letter from her.’

I put my hand in my pocket and extended the letter to him. He looked
at it, and then at me, and then at it again, standing motionless, as
though paralysed. Presently he exclaimed, in a voice a little above a
whisper:

‘You will speak to me, you say, but not as my wife? You will speak to
me, _but not as my wife_?’

‘Oh, John! I love you, but whilst Mary lives I am not your wife.’

He regarded me awhile, then extended his arms, as though he would
have me run to him that he might clasp me. I could not bear his look,
and, sinking upon a chair, I hid my face upon the table. He put his
arm around me and caressed me, kissing my hands and stroking my hair,
and calling me his precious wife whom God had returned to him. My
resolution was a bitter hard one in the face of those endearments! I
felt that he loved me. I believed in my heart that his marriage to my
sister was mainly for the sake of my children, and to shield her from
the whispers of the gossips by giving her his name. But, nevertheless,
she was his wife in the eyes of God and in her own pure heart; it was
not for me, her twin sister, to dishonour her; and with a cry forced
from me from the _pang_ of determination renewed, even as I sat with
buried face, caressed by my husband, I sprang to my feet, stepped a few
paces away, and confronted him with dry eyes.

‘Read this letter, John,’ I said; and I put Mary’s letter upon the
table.

He picked it up with one hand, and with the other drew a letter from
his pocket.

‘This, too,’ he said, ‘is from Mary.’

It was addressed to my husband. It contained not above twenty lines.
She said that the white-haired lady who had been carried into the
house was Agnes, ‘my sister and your wife.’ She gave him my address,
which she had doubtless found on the card that had been stitched to my
jacket, and bade him go to me without delay. She then, in a few words,
pointed out that I had come to Bath to see my children, that I knew
she had been married to him, and that I had meant to remain as though
dead to them that _her_ happiness might not be disturbed. Wonderful was
the sympathy of the sweet and gentle heart that could thus interpret
me! She briefly concluded by saying that she left him and the children
with tears and love, and that day and night she would pray to God to
continue to bless the house in which she had passed so many happy years.

My heart wept tears of blood as I read this letter, but my eyes
remained dry. My husband put the letter I had given to him upon the
table after reading it, and stood with his head bowed. He looked pale,
distress worked in his face, he had been travelling all day and was
cold, and he was my husband and I loved him. I took him by the hand
and led him to an arm-chair near the fire, and stood beside him.

‘John,’ I said, ‘Mary is your wife, and out of her letter I interpret
what you yourself must know. Can I dishonour my beloved sister by
replacing her? Would you wish it? Could you endure the thought of it?
You must seek her, take her to you again, cherish her. I ask only for
my children. Give me them, for they are mine and I must have them.’

‘I will seek her, Agnes, but you are my wife. I will seek her; but
suppose I find her? It is not she who is my wife; it is you. Could I
induce her to live with us under the same roof?’ He paused, and then
said, a little wildly, ‘Why have you been silent for three years? What
has become of you in all that long time?’

I took a chair opposite him, and told him all that had befallen me,
from the hour of the boatman falling overboard down to the time of
the recovery of my memory. He often started up, as though pity and
grief would make him clasp me. Then I told him of Alice Lee, and of
Mrs. Lee’s goodness to me--how dear, true, and devoted a friend she had
proved to me; and I also told him of the many inquiries she had caused
to be made on our return to England, and of the paragraphs relating
my story which had appeared in the newspapers. He declared he had not
heard one word of those paragraphs. He asked me to name the time when
they had appeared, and, when I answered, he said that in those months
he was taking a holiday in France with Mary and the children, and
this was the reason, no doubt, of his not having seen the newspaper
paragraphs; but he was amazed that none of his friends had acquainted
him with the publication of a story which must certainly have led to
his discovering me, particularly as my disappearance from Piertown and
my supposed death at sea had been much talked of amongst our friends in
Bath, whilst the account of the disaster had been printed in a local
paper.

His mentioning the trip to France with Mary and the children led him to
speak of the reason of his marrying my sister. I listened to him, and
then said, ‘I have not one word to say. When I first received the news
it grieved me indeed to think how short a time it takes for a man to
banish the memory of his wife from his love.’

‘No!’ he said passionately, ‘your memory was never banished from my
love. What has been my sin? How I grieved over your loss, Mary knows.
But the years stole away, two years and eight months passed; all this
while Mary was living with me, the children wanted a mother’s care, and
Mary was with them, and I could not part with her for Johnny’s and the
baby’s sake. But already your sister had remained too long under the
roof of one who was supposed to be a widower. People had been talking
for some time. Our visitors grew fewer and fewer. Either Mary must
leave my children, or I must protect her with my name.’

‘John, I have not one word to say,’ I repeated, ‘but Mary is your wife,
and if that be so, you cannot be my husband; therefore find her--you
will send me my children?’ My voice failed me; nevertheless I arose,
crossed to him, kissed his brow, and then found power to say: ‘I love
you, but I also love my sister. Do not ask me to dishonour her. Sooner
than do so I will kill myself,’ and speaking these words I pulled the
bell.

A servant opened the door, and I asked her to request Mrs. Lee to join
us. In a few moments the dear little creature entered. ‘This has been
my true best friend,’ I cried, throwing my arms around her neck.

My husband took her by the hand, and thanked her with deep feeling for
her kindness to me; ‘But,’ he added, looking at her with grief strong
in his face, ‘she asks for her children, and means to live away from
me, and to think of me as a stranger.’

‘Mr. Campbell,’ said Mrs. Lee, speaking cheerfully, though with a
little effort, ‘you must give your wife time. She has told you she was
without memory for three years. The whole of her past life came to her
suddenly, as I believe, as I truly believe, through the intercession of
my sainted child. Here was a revelation that might wreck the reason.
A lifetime is granted to a mortal to bear the sorrows and take the
pleasures of a lifetime, but all that entered into the lifetime of your
wife was utterly lost to her for three years, and then the mighty tide
of memory floods her brain. Consider this, I pray you, and add to it
the sad complication that has followed. Bear with her, grant her time;
all will yet be well.’

‘My sister must not suffer through me,’ said I.

‘Neither must you suffer through your sister,’ she answered. ‘Mr.
Campbell, I have ordered supper to be laid in the drawing-room, as I
did not wish you to be interrupted. You must feel weary after your long
journey.’

‘I can eat nothing, thanking you much. I have left my portmanteau at
the Central Station Hotel. I had hoped to return with Agnes to-morrow
morning.’

‘No, John, no!’ I cried. ‘When will you send the children to me?’

‘Are you so resolved?’ he said in a low voice.

‘I have sworn by my God,’ I cried, ‘that Mary shall not be dishonoured
through me. She is your wife. It is your duty to seek her, to follow
her, to find her. She is to be traced to Leicester, at all events.’

He took up his hat that lay upon a chair, moving as though in a dream.

‘God forgive you, Agnes,’ said he; ‘you are wronging and paining one
who loves you.’

He went to the door, and held it a moment with his eyes fixed upon me.
I directed my gaze downwards; for not long could I have withheld that
appealing look.

‘God forgive you!’ said he again, and passed out, followed by Mrs. Lee,
who closed the door behind her. She took him into the drawing-room,
and a long half-hour passed. The hall-door was then opened and shut,
footsteps sounded on the gravel-path, and Mrs. Lee came into the
dining-room. She sank into a chair, and exclaimed, ‘Agnes, he is a
good man, and he loves you. I have sent him away with a light heart.
All will yet be well. We shall recover your sister, and she will live
with me, and you will be a happy wife once more in your own home, with
your husband and your children by your side.’

‘Will he send the children to me?’ I said.

‘Yes.’

‘When?’

‘On his return.’

I blessed him in my heart, and kissed him in fancy. But the strain
had proved too great. The strength I had put forth to uphold me in my
resolution, not to know him as my husband whilst Mary lived, had taxed
me too heavily. I sat down at the table to support my head till the fit
of giddiness should pass, and when I opened my eyes again, Mrs. Lee
told me that I had been unconscious for nearly a quarter of an hour.

She saw me to bed, and that my thoughts should not keep me sleepless
all night, she procured and insisted on my taking a soothing draught,
which threw me into a sleep from which I did not awaken until past
eight o’clock next morning. My mind went often to my husband throughout
the day, but oftener to my children, whom I was to expect on the
following afternoon, and oftener still to my sister. In what part of
England did she mean to hide herself? And was it not true, as John had
said, that, supposing her hiding-place to be discovered, she would
insist on remaining apart from us all, insuring concealment by change
of quarters. It was certain she would not dwell with my husband whilst
I was alive. It was certain she could not live with us if I chose to
return to my husband. What then could she do? She must live apart, and
her pride and her condition, which her letter had hinted at, would
compel her to live in obscurity, even though, instead of having a
hundred a year to subsist upon, she had the wealth of a Princess.

I talked earnestly, with tears and with passion, to Mrs. Lee about
her; asked her how we should go to work to find out where she was;
‘Because,’ I said, ‘if she should not consent to live with you, she
might consent to live with me and my children. My husband must support
me, and Mary and I might be able to put enough together to keep a
little home on.’

But Mrs. Lee answered somewhat coldly, and without interest. Her
sympathy was not with my sister; it was with me and my husband and
children. She told me that I had no right to render my children
fatherless, to deprive them of their natural protection, and of their
home, indeed, by finding out where my sister was hidden and dwelling
with her. Indeed she strongly discountenanced my resolution not to
rejoin my husband, and I let the subject drop, fearful lest some hot
sentence should escape me, which might give pain to a friend and
benefactress whom I loved only a little less tenderly than I loved my
own sister.

I busied myself that afternoon, helped by the old housekeeper, Sarah,
to prepare a room for my children and the nurse. I walked into
Newcastle and purchased two little bedsteads, and I bought several toys
and boxes of sweets as surprises and welcomes for my little ones; and
when the evening had come, my thoughts at the time being much with my
husband, I sat down, and for above two hours occupied myself in filling
page after page of a letter to him.

I should only weary you to give you, even in the most abridged form,
the substance of that long letter. It was a justification of my
behaviour; it was an entreaty for my sister; and I also pointed out to
him that now my children were coming to me, I could no longer remain
dependent upon Mrs. Lee. I would be satisfied with the interest of
the money my mother had given to me, and if that did not suffice to
maintain my children and myself, I would endeavour by my industry to
make up what was wanting.

My children came next day. My husband sent Mrs. Lee a telegram, giving
the hour at which the train arrived, and I went to the railway station
to meet my children. There were many people on the platform, and I
do not doubt that my behaviour was observed, and that numbers went
away saying that they had seen a mad woman. My joy at the sight of my
children was indeed extravagant. First, I would take the baby from the
nurse and hug it, and then pick up Johnny and hold him, and then put
the little fellow down and take the baby again, laughing and crying
alternately with such gestures of delight, with such impassioned speech
to one or the other of the little ones, that, as I have said, many of
the people who observed me must have certainly thought me crazy.

As we drove to Jesmond I plied the nurse with all sorts of questions,
and heard, though I did not need to be told, of the devotion of Mary
to my children. As for the nurse, I could not but treat her as a
stranger. She had been with me a few months only before I was lost to
my family, and now, after three years, she was as strange to me as
though I had just engaged her. She it was, however, who told me of my
sister’s fright and grief, when, at Piertown, the evening approached,
the weather grew boisterous, and I did not return; how my sister had
sent boatmen to seek for me, but how they came back in a very short
while, bringing no news, and offering no hope; how further search was
made next day when my husband arrived. And she told me of his grief,
how his heart seemed broken, how messages were sent to adjacent ports
along the line of coast stating the disaster, and requesting that a
lookout should be kept, and that a search should be made; and then she
spoke of the family’s return to Bath, of their going into mourning for
me, though for months my husband refused to believe I was lost to him,
in spite of the boatman’s body having been washed ashore, and his boat
discovered upside down. She told me enough in her plain way to make
me understand that I had been mourned by my husband with a passion of
grief that had broken him down and forced him away for his health,
and almost ruined his practice by rendering him for months unfit for
business.

I secretly wept as I listened to her and often kissed my children, for
his face as he had turned to look at me was before me, and his cry of
‘God forgive you, Agnes!’ rang in my ears.

Two days after I had written to him I received a reply. He enclosed a
cheque, told me what he was earning, and said that all should be mine
if I would grant him a trifle to live upon in lodgings, because now
that his children were gone and I refused to return to him his home was
desolate, his life was made insupportable by the memories which arose
as he sat alone of an evening. He would shut up the house, he said, and
go into lodgings and there await me, for he had faith in my love and
believed that I would return to him yet. He had much to tell me about
Mary, repeated all that he had said in his conversation with me about
his reasons for marrying her, said that he had made up his mind not to
endeavour to discover her, because if he succeeded in finding her he
was without any proposal to make. She was not his wife, he could not
insult her by asking her to live with him, and she would not live with
me if I rejoined him. Even if he could find her he would not propose,
because he would not wish, that she and I should live together, for in
that case it might come to his never seeing me nor his children again.
Much more he said with which I will not weary you.

But his appeals left my resolution unaltered. Day followed day and I
was for ever hoping to receive a letter from my sister, or to hear
from my husband that he had learnt where she was in hiding. But the
silence remained unbroken. What could I do? Even should I make appeals
to her through the newspapers and she read them she was not likely to
tell me where she lived and what she was doing. I could not myself
seek for her. It was impossible to know, indeed, whether she had not
left England. I ascertained from my husband that she had withdrawn her
securities, so there was no clue to her whereabouts to be obtained
from the bank where she had deposited the documents. Bitterest of all
was this consideration--that even if I employed some shrewd person to
seek after her and he should find her, there was no other proposal to
make than that she should live with me; a proposal that I knew would be
hopeless, because she would feel that whilst she lived with me I could
not live with my husband, and her reason in disappearing was that she
should be as dead to us voluntarily as I had been forced to be through
calamity, that I might return to my home.

       *       *       *       *       *

Six months passed. Occasionally I heard from my husband. He had locked
up the house and gone into lodgings, and every letter contained an
impassioned entreaty to me to return to him with the children.

One evening I was sitting with Mrs. Lee reading aloud to her. We had
passed the afternoon in a long drive with the children; they were
in bed sleeping soundly, and I had come down from seeing after them
and was now sitting reading aloud to Mrs. Lee. It was the 21st of
April, and, I believe, six months to the very day since the date of my
husband’s visit to Jesmond.

I was reading aloud mechanically; my thoughts had all day been very
much with my husband and my sister, and I felt dull in my heart, when
we were startled by a loud postman’s knock on the hall door, and a
minute later the housemaid entered with a letter. It was addressed to
me, and it was in my husband’s handwriting, and I said to Mrs. Lee,
‘Here is a letter from John.’

But on opening the envelope I found that the enclosure consisted of a
letter addressed to Mrs. John Campbell at my house in Bath. I turned it
about before opening it. It was sealed with black wax, but the envelope
was not black-edged, and the handwriting was entirely strange to me.

‘Can this be news of Mary?’ said I in a low voice, and looking at the
post-mark I said, ‘it is from Manchester.’

‘Open it, my love, and read it,’ said Mrs. Lee; ‘there is no other way
to put an end to your conjectures.’

The superscription of the letter was that of a vicarage taking its
name from a very little town or village within an easy distance of
Manchester. It was dated seven days earlier than this date of my
receipt of it. I read it aloud:

  ‘Dear Madam,--As the clergyman who attended your sister, Mary
  Hutchinson, during her last moments, and as her friend and
  confidant during the few months she resided in this neighbourhood,
  it is my sad duty to inform you that she died on Saturday evening
  last. She was confined of a still-born child on the previous
  Tuesday, was very ill, having been long previously in a weakly
  condition, but rallied, and the doctor had great hopes, when a
  change happened for the worse, and I was sent for.

  ‘My wife had helped to nurse her through her illness; she was
  seldom absent from her side. The sad and singular story of your
  sister was well known to us. She took lodgings in this quiet place
  about five months since, and speedily attracted my attention by her
  frequent attendance at church, by her devotional behaviour during
  the services, and by her isolation, that seemed strange in one so
  young and beautiful. My wife and I found out where she lodged,
  and called. Our relations quickly grew friendly and ripened into
  intimacy. She told us her story, the story of your own strange and
  dreadful experiences, imploring our secrecy, and assuring us that
  nothing could ever prevail on her to make her whereabouts known to
  you and her husband. We admired the nobility of her resolution, nor
  was it possible for us to counsel her otherwise than as her own
  pure heart dictated. Indeed, dear madam, we had nothing to oppose
  to her own views. She was right. God has now taken her to Himself,
  and be satisfied that she is happy, for surely she was of those who
  are tried by the Lord in this world only that they shall enter more
  surely as partakers of the glory of God and the life everlasting of
  His Kingdom.

  ‘I propose that the funeral shall take place on Tuesday, if by
  that date you and Mr. Campbell can conveniently reach this place.
  Almost her last thoughts were with you and your husband and your
  two children, and she desired me to send you her blessing, to tell
  you that she was without pain, that the peace of God was upon her
  spirit, and that she desired rest. One of the last wishes she
  expressed was that her money should be divided between and settled
  upon your two children.

                              ‘I am, dear madam,
                                  ‘Sincerely yours,
                                      ‘JOHN F. TRUSCOTT.

  ‘P.S.--I reopen this letter after an interval of a week, to express
  my deep regret that owing to an oversight on the part of one of my
  servants it was not posted when written. It was placed upon the
  mantelpiece and the servant was directed to post it, but, by some
  means I am unable to account for, it got hidden behind a large
  clock that stands upon my mantelpiece. I beg your forgiveness. I
  am bitterly grieved by this act of neglect. The remains of your
  dear sister were buried on Wednesday. I trust this letter may
  safely reach your hands, and should you or Mr. Campbell be unable
  to immediately visit us I shall be happy to attend to any requests
  you may have to make.’

I read this letter aloud with tearless eyes to the last syllable of it,
then remained gazing at it as though I had been turned to stone, and
thus I sat, and nothing broke the silence in that room for many minutes
but the tick of the clock or the fall of an ember in the grate.

Then, lifting up my eyes and looking at Mrs. Lee, I said, ‘Mary is
dead!’

‘She is dead,’ said Mrs. Lee, beginning to weep, ‘and so is Alice, and
so is Edith, and how much happier are they than we!’

‘She is dead,’ I cried, ‘my sister is dead!’ and I rose and stepped
about the room murmuring to myself, ‘She is dead---and I was not there
to attend upon her---and whilst she lay dying I might have been playing
with my children and not thinking of her---’And then, seeing Mrs. Lee
weeping, the sight of her tears loosened mine, and I flung myself upon
my knees at her side and buried my face in her lap.

I felt my dear friend’s soft hand upon my head, and I heard her whisper
in my ear, ‘Agnes, it is at such a moment as this that you need your
husband’s love and sympathy.’

‘Oh, John!’ I cried, starting to my feet, ‘if you were but here.’

‘He is lonely--his grief will not be less than yours, Agnes,’ said Mrs.
Lee. ‘Prove now a true wife to your husband.’

‘I will go to him,’ I cried.

She kissed me, and again I knelt by her side, and with clasped hands
and streaming eyes we talked of Mary and of Alice and of my husband.


THE END


  PRINTED BY
  SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE
  LONDON


[Illustration]



Transcriber’s Notes


Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in the original book; otherwise they
were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected.





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