"THE HOUSE BEYOND PRETTYMARSH"
by S. Weir Mitchell
When after breakfast I lounged on the porch of the Newport House and saw the fog’s gray nightcaps drift away from the Porcupine Islands, I knew myself secure of a perfect day; a day with a character—for indeed September weather at Bar Harbor leaves one with remembrance of sunshine warm enough to flatter the aging year with summer dreams, and of shade cool enough to remind one that the festal days of the year’s life are over. To my regret this was the last of my holiday on the happy island. I meant it to be memorable, and had planned it with such care as the gourmét in the story gave to his last dinner on earth. I meant to walk in the morning, to sail alone in the afternoon, and return to dine where one should dine in order to end perfectly a day without a break in its happiness.
I carried a mood of entire satisfaction into the afternoon, when I stood on Captain Conner’s slip at Bar Harbor and felt the wholesome northwest wind’s promise of the delight of a brisk sail. I was about to step into my skiff in order to go out to where the cat-boat was moored, when I heard behind me, “I say, Afton, w-want a c-crew?”
I knew the voice too well. My dream of a lonely sail was gone. I turned and saw Tom Westway coming ponderous over the float, which rocked under the weight of a rotund, short, middle-aged man, clad in faultless white flannel, a straw hat with a red ribbon shading his large, ruddy, clean shaven face. There was now as always something oddly impressive the changeless gravity of the man. He never seemed depressed or excited, and appeared to be so wanting in alertness of mind that his success in the speculations of the grain market was as surprising to me as to others.
Now he remarked as he stood by my side, “Good thing I c-came. You’d have had to s-sail alone. Knew you’d w-want a c-crew.”
I did not, but to say no to the best natured fellow I knew was quite beyond me. I did not doubt the honesty of his belief that his coming was to relieve my solitude, since to be alone was for Tom himself a serious discomfort, although why I never could say, since he was like some domestic animals which are unhappy without human company but have no need of human conversation. Man’s craving for talk varies. Tom had none. Not even the bitter of gossip could provoke an appetite. Indeed he transacted the business of life with fewer words than anybody I can recall. Someone, years ago, seeing him at the club, serene, fat, contented and silent, his arms crossed on his ample stomach, called him the club Joss. And now, on the approach of his tranquil largeness and good-natured assurance of welcome, I knew that, although I never more surely desired to be alone, I could not with decency decline his offer. There seemed to me, for a moment contemplating escape, some vague cruelty in refusing the company of a man who stammered. I smiled at the thought and at the quickly added reflection that a fat man who stammered made some mysteriously larger appeal to my good-nature. My reflection would have offered the over-analytic novelist occasion for a page of psychological comment, with the usual doubt which stands for a conclusion.
“All right, Tom,” I said sweetly. “Get in,” adding something concerning the uncertainties of such as go down to the sea in cat-boats.
Tom, pleased to escape the solitude of self, merely murmured dislocated thanks and carefully got his bulky person into the skiff, which I was steadying to counterbalance his weight. When, however, we were safe in the cat-boat, free of the mooring, and the sail up, he began to ask me, with intervals of silence, how far I was going, and to desire some assurance of return in time for dinner. When he learned with whom I was to dine at Cromwell’s Cove, he seemed, and I think with reason, to feel more secure.
As we sped out between Bar Island and the Porcupines into the open bay, he soon became too uncomfortably busy in keeping his place as ballast on the windward gunwale to attend to any other mental business. He bit hard on his pipe stem and now and then exclaimed, “G-Great Scott!” when the boat lay over. In fact, as the wind rose in perilous gusts and played tricks with the boom, I fancy he may have felt that a lonesome grain broker might pay too dearly for society. At last I saw that his pipe was out and that he was unaware of it. This was too real an expression of discomfort not to touch me, and although my hands were full with the viciousness of the wind I began to talk to him, with now and then an eye to the southeast where, over Green Mountain and Sargent, a low-lying range of clouds was changing from minute to minute.
In the afternoon light the early autumn yellows gave the mountains an appearance of being powdered with gold dust. I spoke of it to Tom, who said, after a reflective pause, “That’s so.” Then I gave him out of my musings something better to see what he would do with it. I got only brief replies, usually a repetition of my queries in some slightly varied form of assent.
At last I said, “When a man is in the autumn of life, he makes wild efforts to resist decay, but here are these great forests fading with no effort to stay the march of time. It seems strange to me; and to think how we poor devils fight, when our fate is just as inevitable.” What I thus offered was no way remarkable except for the comment it provoked.
For a moment the wind held steady, and, more at ease, Tom considered his pipe to see if it were alive, and then remarked, “Y-Yes. It does. It goes on and on, just like the s-slump in the wheat m-market in ’91. No f-fellow could stop it, and---”
There was something exasperating in this contribution to the possibilities of human thought. What more there was I never knew, for just then the wind and a careless hand on the tiller of a sudden tipped the boat so that we took in a little water, and Tom evolved profane generalizations.
I supposed the talk to have come to a close, but to my surprise Tom rallied, and after a slight search in his mind, said with the consciousness of being valuably productive, “It’s a g-good thing there are no m-middle-aged women in the g-grain market.”
When I asked, “Why middle-aged?” Tom, refreshed by my want of intelligent apprehension, replied, “Why, d-don’t you see? Most any fellow c-could see that—autumn and all that.” What he meant I do not know; perhaps he did not.
Just past Badley’s Point I concluded to get about for the sail home, since now we had run far to the westward up Frenchman’s Bay. I was on the point of getting about when I realized that I was too late. The wind was failing and the dark summer storm long brewing over Sargent and the Bubbles was coming up from the southeast with unexpected speed. I said nothing but held my course until I had put the boat through the drawbridge, just opened for a small sloop. Then, at last, Tom began to gather the bitter fruit of a craving for company, and desired to know when we might calculate upon being at Bar Harbor.
Some mild sense of satisfaction was mine as, with thought of my spoiled afternoon, I said, “There will be no dinner for us to-day, Tom. The norther is dying out. If we try to return, we shall be caught in Frenchman’s Bay by the storm you see to the southward. I don’t mind a ducking—we are in for that—but I won’t risk drowning you.”
Tom said it was pretty bad, but took the tiller while I double-reefed. As I resumed my place, the north wind ceased with an abruptness I did not like, and for a minute there was a dead calm. The water took on a leaden tint, and the fast coming cloud masses of a dull greenish hue were aglow now and then with grim javelins of violet light.
I saw that Tom was more and more uneasy. He crouched a little as the lightning flared, and said with a sorry attempt to look the courage he did not feel, “R-rather a scrape, Afton, isn’t it? G-great Scott! That was c-close.” As the thunder followed instant on the flash, his shoulders rose and gave him the appearance of a turtle retreating into the security of its shell.
As it blew harder, I felt that to be caught even in the half shelter of the narrows of Western Bay by the fury of wind out of yonder blackness was not to be risked. Overhead every storm signal was set, and I knew that we were about to encounter something unusual. The north wind came again in puffs and for a time helped my purpose of securing a shelter. Then of a sudden the wind changed and we felt the first irregular gusts of the coming storm. Leaving Tom the tiller with a word of warning, I stood up on the bow to pilot him into a place of security. Although for him it was alarming, and the prospect of wet clothes and no dinner tragic, I was rejoicing in the magnificence of the scene overhead and in the interest of what I saw around me. The rising southeast wind was taking little nips at the black surface, and the large rain drops were making brief, bell-like bubbles, followed instantly by the upleap of dark spikes of water. To westward, still in a clear sky, the setting sun touched with gold every leaping ripple and turned to lustrous bronze the far seen summits of the Gouldsboro Hills on the mainland. It was really an amazing spectacle with something dramatic in the contrasts it offered.
I said at last, “Is n’t it glorious?”
Tom said it would be if he were n’t so cold. I myself felt the chill of the September evening and too, in the swift coming wind, the colder air from the mountain tops. Presently it would be far worse.
Now and then, as the gale gathered force and the rain grew heavier, I heard Tom’s exclamations. His mind was on his dinner, as to which my conscience was quite at rest. At last, as a terrible zigzag of light flashed overhead, Tom cried out, “Oh, don’t stand by that m-mast when you’re g-getting wet. It’s dangerous.”
“Getting wet? I am wet,” I said laughing. Run her in there, Tom. Put her head up. So. That will do.” I let fall the anchor, dropped and secured the sail, and sat down in the partial shelter of Prettymarsh Harbor.
“I w-won’t stay here,” protested Tom. “I ‘m wet.”
“All right. We will go ashore. Pull up the skiff. We will make for that house on the hill. I should stand by my boat if I were alone.”
“Well, I w-won’t.”
“All right,” I said.
It was now raining harder, and in a minute I was wet to the skin, and the wind so furious that it was a hard pull to the beach. Tom was in as sorry a plight. “Cheer up, old man,” I said. “We will go up to the house and make a good fire.”
“And get some g-grub,” said Tom. “What is the place? It looks shut up.”
“Prettymarsh is over yonder,” I replied, “and no one lives here. We’ll get in somehow.”
“Good heavens!” ejaculated Tom, amid a solid downfall of rain.
“What’s wrong? Any wetter?”
“I c-could n’t be w-wetter. There’ll be thirteen at table! My aunt will never forgive me. I was to dine with her.”
“Can’t be helped,” said I, and strode on doggedly behind him, contemplating the ponderous form, the water-soaked flannels, now a dull gray, the limp dripping straw hat giving an air of singular dejection to his figure.
It was all very sad for a man who divided his time systematically between the grain exchange, bridge at the club, and an afternoon on the speedway. Adventure, bodily risks and the unusual had no place in his ordered life and for him no charm. I began to pity him as he walked on, growling out his usual brief sentences. Even ordinary talk seemed to be an effort requiring pauses and some slow marshaling of his mental forces.
As with difficulty facing the wind we topped the hill, I wiped the rain from my eyes for a survey of the house, which before to-day I had seen only at a distance, but always with a certain interested curiosity. It is visible everywhere from the upper water beyond Frenchman’s Bay as well as from Prettymarsh on the landward side, and is in fact the most notable dwelling in this the flatter part of Mt. Desert Island. I saw it better now, a house of dull ruddy color with a rather small doorway in front and two large windows on each side of the entrance. Some tradition of hospitality and of former importance was indicated by the great size of the house and by the large chimneys over both gables. As we drew near, I observed that the paling fence was in ruin, and what had once been modest flower beds was overgrown with golden rod and asters. The house, if showing no sign of recent habitation, was not dilapidated.
Two fine red-oaks stood just outside of the fence. Under one of these we took shelter, and, as Tom said, took stock of an unpromising situation. Then, with the manner of a man revealing a secret, Tom said, “Tell you something, Afton. The w-water is running down the b-back of my neck worse than it was.”
“Me too,” I said, laughing.
“Is that so?” he returned, as if surprised. “What a house!”
It was hardly descriptive, but meant, as I soon learned, that it was absurdly big for a farmhouse.
“How to get in, Tom. It seems pretty securely shut up,” said I, as we stood, the wind somewhat broken for us by the house. The day was slowly darkening, while the storm not only gave no sign of ending, but in fact was every minute increasing in violence.
“Let’s go round it and see,” said Tom.
As we turned the corner, the gray lashes of rain driven by a good thirty-mile gale seemed nearly level and stung as they struck the face. Before us were well tilled fields, and beyond the house a barn in ruin. At the back of the house we looked in vain for an easy way of entrance. The shutters were solid and tightly closed. There were none above the first story.
Tom went up the steps and tried the door in vain. Leaning against the door he turned to make this clear to me. “It’s no use,” he roared, for what with a fury of rain and wind beating on the house I hardly heard him. Then there was an abrupt increase in the violence of the gale. A big maple behind me went down with a loud crack and clatter of broken branches, and the door of the house was blown open, slamming inward so that the wind and Tom burst into the emptiness with a whooping sound like a huge, deep inbreath.
“Great Scott!” cried Tom. “Thought a f-fellow opened it behind me.”
“He did,” I laughed, and darted by him through the solid cascade from the eaves. “Come in,” I cried, for the wind-driven rain was flooding the hall. “Quick,” I cried, “and get a big stone.” And this being fetched, closing the door we set the stone against it, and were thus left in a darkened hall.
I had been much on the sea, but as wild a storm as this was a notable event in my life. There was comic contrast in what Tom said.
“I’m glad the w-wind b-burgled for us. We did n’t have to break in after all.” This reflection seemed to comfort a conservative commercial citizen facing the unusual.
I felt it imperative that we should find warmth, since the early chilliness of a September evening had set in and we were water-soaked to the skin. It was dark in the hall and I struck match after match until, thus aided, I found a closed door opening from the hall into an eastern room.
I groped my way to a window, where I raised the sash with difficulty and threw back the shutters. There was no more than light enough from the outside to show me, as I turned from the window, that we were in a room which had the appearance of being really vast. For a moment this remained unexplained until I saw in the fading light of the storm-shortened day what caused this sense of space without distinct boundaries. Walls, floor, and the heavy rafters overhead were black from the smoke of what seemed to have been a fire once kindled in the middle of the floor of the room. A deeply burned place was left where the fire had burned half-way through the floor. The blackening of the room helped in the twilight to give an appearance of indistinct size and of lack of limiting boundaries. It was mysteriously impressive even after the delusory effect was explained, and was not quite pleasant.
If I was puzzled, Tom was not. “W-well,” he exclaimed, “m-must have been a t-tramp did that. I w-wonder why it did n’t all g-go.”
I made no reply. I did not accept his view of the matter nor yet know why it was not obviously as he put it. Then after a pause he brought out another theory. “That’s it! Someone m-might have w-wanted the insurance.” And still I was silent. An effort had been made long ago to destroy the house, but why? Tom’s conjectures were reasonable.
I shook my head as I went over to the window and rubbing away the blackened spiderwebs looked through a deluge of rain which beat on the roof with a murmurous humming sound, or swept over it in gusts like the patter of numberless small feet.
“By George!” I cried, “There goes the ‘Sylvia’!” As the lightning flashed I made out the boat, dimly seen, bottom up, adrift across the water.
When I announced to Tom that we were mildly marooned, he said that he saw nothing mild about it, but that he would not mind if he had a fire and dinner and a good bed. When I agreed with him, he went on to say that was n’t the worst of it. There was Aunt Martha.
“Well?” I queried.
“She hasn’t got any head for arithmetic, but she’s got enough to know there’s thirteen at table. I can see her c-counting them.” I was well aware that Tom had expectations which I was sure made his commercial conscience sensitive in matters concerning Aunt Martha.
“Perhaps,” I returned, laughing, “that fated thirteenth may be Aunt Martha.”
“I n-n-never th-th-thought of that,” said Tom frankly. I trust that he was measurably consoled.
“Well,” I added, “it can’t be helped. Come. Let us see what there is in this place to make us comfortable.”
His small resources in the language of despair were seemingly at an end. As I spoke he was standing still in wet dismay, all adrip, dolefully regarding the growing pool of water on the floor about him.
“Come along,” I repeated. “There is nothing here. It can’t be worse anywhere else.” Thus exhorted, he followed my steps into the hall which ran through the house from north to south.
As we struck matches—for now, at least within the house, it was quite dark—we saw small evidence of the smoke, and I concluded that whoever kindled the fire had closed the doors and windows of the room and may thus have smothered the blaze. As we lighted our brief-lived little vesta torches, we saw that the hall was wide and that on the western side was another room. As we passed across it I observed no relics of former habitation except a crane in the chimney place, which made me think it had been the kitchen.
The solitude of the place and the sense of its having once been what now it was not troubled me. People had lived here, but were here no longer. That was commonplace enough, and yet now, interpreted by a mood, it became uncommonplace. There has always been to me something impressive in an empty house, something which sets me to thinking.
It was useless to invite Tom to share my thoughts, and perhaps after all there was not enough in them to make division worth while. I stood looking about me, now seeing, now blind, as the wax matches flared and went out. Strange as it may seem, it was Tom who showed the first signal of any sense of the unusual. In an interval of darkness he clutched my arm and said in the low voice of one startled, “D-did you hear that? Hush! Listen!”
“A clock. There! You didn’t hear. It struck eight.”
“Struck nonsense. I wish there were a clock.”
“Great heavens, and you did n’t hear that? Someone laughed.”
“Someone laughed, did they? I wish they had. We are alone, you and I, host and guest if you like. You may choose which you will be. That wind has groaned and howled and whistled in the last half-hour, and you heard it laugh, old man. Well, why not?”
“Damn it,” he said, “wind does n’t strike eight.”
“An old house and a forty-mile gale make a queer orchestra.”
“Oh, stuff!” he broke in rudely, for him an amazing thing. “I am not a child. There’s something wrong in this house.”
“There is n’t anything in it wrong or right. Let us have a look at the cellar. There’ll be wood there if anywhere. I am chilled to the bones. We must have a fire. And don’t waste matches that way, Tom. Mine are nearly all gone.”
This I said because as we stood in the gloom Tom was flashing the small wax lights and uneasily turning from side to side. As I spoke, he said, “It’s c-coming.”
“What,” I broke in. The queer ways of my stout friend were vexing me a little and perplexing me more. Well used to the pause before his mental mechanism could become vocally expressive, I waited, making no comment. I heard him move as he said, “I think you are getting n-nervous.”
“Yes. I only w-wanted to say that storm would be c-coming back from the northwest. That was all. I don’t know what’s the matter with you.”
This was not like him. He was suffering from an attack of abnormal acuteness of perception. Of a sudden Tom did an unusual thing, and when he said or did an unusual thing, it disturbed those who knew him well as with a sense of shock. He cried, “I shall not stay here a m-minute,” and ran by me and out into the hall.
When I overtook him, I made him out by my flashed match leaning against the stair-rail. I said, “What the deuce is the matter, Tom?”
“N-nothing. It was so close in there.” He was wiping his forehead.
“Oh, is that all! You acted just the way my terrier Susan did last year. I was looking over an empty house. She sat down to howl in one of the rooms and then ran out as if possessed.”
“Hang Susan! I’m cold and wet. Let’s get a fire.”
We found the cellar door beneath the stairway. Striking a match we went down and found ourselves in a damp, earth-paved space under the west half of the house. It was here quite dark. Tom took one side of the cellar and I the other. There was no wood. Guarding my feeble taper, I came to a corner. There lay on the ground a rusty spade with a broken handle and a mattock. As I looked idly at the worn tools, Tom called out, “Come here, Afton, that’s q-queer.
I turned at his summons and found him standing over the wreck of an old-fashioned mahogany cradle. Neither of us spoke for a moment. I had a sense of awe and of unseen human nearness. Except the canopy and rockers, the cradle was in large fragments. It must have been broken very long ago, for in places it was rotten, a rare thing to see in mahogany.
“It has been sm-smashed with an axe,” said Tom. “Queer to want to sm-smash a ch-child’s cr-cradle. Who c-could have done that?”
“Who indeed?” I murmured.
“What’s that?” said Tom.
I looked down and saw the remnants of a mouldered, mouse-gnawed little slipper—a child’s. I picked it up and turned it over and laid it in the broken cradle as Tom said, “Well, there’s fire-wood at last. Got to have a fire. Can’t be any harm in b-burning a b-busted cradle.”
“Harm? No,” I said, “but something else.” I could not have said what else. “I would as soon be warmed by a broken coffin. Let it alone. We’ll find something upstairs.”
“Oh, darn your sentiment. I’m ch-chilled to the bone.” As he spoke he kicked over the broken fragments of the cradle.
“Don’t do that,” I said, “I say—don’t.” Upon this he growled, but went back with me to the hall and then up the creaking stair to the second story.
There again was a hallway with doors open to east and west, so that as we stood we could look to right and left into the dark depths of two large rooms. I chose without reason the room to westward. As I moved into it Tom said, almost in a whisper, “I w-would n’t go in. It—it’s no g-good, and it’s so c-cussed d-dark.”
“Nonsense,” I said, “if you go on this way, we shall either see or think we see ghosts.”
“Great Scott! G-Ghosts?”
I broke into the comment of a laugh, which brought back a crude echo from the empty chamber. The notion of a ghost’s appearing to a stout member of the grain exchange somehow tickled me into a brief mood of wholesome amusement.
“I don’t see anything to l-laugh at,” said Tom. “I say—light up. It’s awful here.”
I said no more. Both struck vestas and we moved into the dark space before us. Then I stood still. I saw far away, across the room, an answering glow of light, and as if coming toward me the dimly-seen form of a woman, and then a confusion of many figures, appearing to come out of the gleaming distance. All were indistinct; and now of a sudden they were gone. I was simply startled.
“Great heavens,” cried Tom, “what’s that?”
We were moving forward as he stopped, saying, “They came out of that—that—” I saw that our lights were reflected back to us from a full length mirror such as in France they call a cheval glass. I had no more doubt than had Tom that these shadowy phantoms came, or seemed to come, out of the mirror, but to reassure him and myself I said, “Stuff and nonsense. You saw your own image and mine.”
Now that we were nearer I understood why we had seen only the reflected flash from the glass. The tall side columns between which swung the mirror were of dark mahogany worn shabby, and were crowned with brass pineapples green rusted. This bit of lonely furniture troubled me more than the delusion of the figures and set me to thinking. I remembered to have heard that the house had been built by one of the early French settlers, people with some means and of a class much above the rank of the ordinary English emigrants.
Alone in the deserted farmhouse, which was only remarkable for its great size, this broken relic of days of luxury and refinement, abandoned as worthless when the owners moved away, affected me strangely. Reflecting upon my excited interpretation of the flash of our wax lights, I stood alone while Tom was opening a window. What fair women had the mirror seen; what gay gowns away in France; what looks of love, hate, sorrow, had its far-gone hours caught. Were they all there still— for nothing is lost—the forms and faces of the dead, generations of unseen pictures.
As Tom’s return broke in on my musings I kept up my tiny illuminations, and drawing near to the glass began to examine it more closely. One of the claw-toed legs was broken and the mirror stood awry. There was even in this something pitiful and appealing. A crack crossed the glass from side to side.
As Tom, a little reassured, came near he announced the limits of his wonder. “Was n’t worth t-taking. Well I never! That’s queer. Don’t you n-notice the smell in this room—like—like—dead rose leaves?”
“Yes. What is it? It is like—no—I don’t know what it is like. I’ll open the other window.”
As I raised the sash the wind came in and blew out Tom’s taper. I heard his quickened step across the room as he exclaimed, “G-good heavens!”
“What?” I said. Not seeing him at all in the deep darkness whence came to me only a scared voice, I put out a hand and touched him. “What nonsense are you talking? Strike a match?”
He did. It was blown out instantly as he cried, “They came out of the mirror. They came again.”
“Who came? What came? What did you see?”
“See? Oh, Lord, they are all around me. Can’t you feel them?”
“No, I can’t, you idiot.”
“I can’t feel them now, but it’s awful.”
I neither felt them in the sense of contact, nor saw, nor heard them, but I was as surely aware in the deep gloom of there being persons around me as I was of the presence of Westway. I was past power to reason. Nor had I any sense of peril. I did have something like awe, such as one has in the face of great elemental forces.
Tom was stammering broken phrases in pure fear. His condition rallied me and I cried, “Steady, old fellow,” casting an arm over his shoulder. “Come,” I said, “there is no one.”
“I can’t—I can’t move.”
I felt like him some sense of difficulty in moving. Then with a great effort I went by him hearing him cry, “Don’t l-leave me.”
“Come,” I called, and at the door, “a match, Tom,” and struck it as we stood at the head of the stair. I was in a cold sweat. As I spoke I got a look at Tom in the red flare of the match. I once saw a man who in rude health had come of a sudden into the shadow of death. So looked Tom, his face flushed, his eyes red, the sweat trickling down his forehead, his jaws dropped. I may have looked no better. I knew vaguely that we were intruders. All my futile explanatory wrestling was come to a feeble end. I made believe a little. “Come, Tom,” I said, “we are a pair of children. Let’s go down stairs and wait till morning.”
I was relieved when he said, “N-not I. Not a m-minute.”
As I made my proposal I was again aware of what I hesitate to call “people.” I was at once resolute not to confess to Tom; and indeed my feeling of terror was less and my sense of being unwelcome more distinct.
Hardly to my surprise Tom ran by me down the stairs. He tore open the hall door, and pausing cried, “Heavens,” and bounded down the outer steps. I had no intention of making such a cowardly exit. I went down stair by stair. I was rather in a state of tension than of alarm. What I expected from moment to moment was that I should see someone—something. At the last step my expectant imagination, as I then believed, did its work. While taking out my last two tapers I dropped the match safe, and this slight material reminder steadied me, so that for an instant I was again free from the despotism of my belief that I was accompanied by unseen beings. To recover the little silver case I struck the vestas on the wall and, finding the box at my feet, looked up. I was aware of a woman standing in the open doorway. I got but a moment’s glance at her, enough to learn that she was young and was in a plain gown and carried in one hand what was called in my grandmother’s time a caléche bonnet. The face I saw in the flare of the matches I shall never forget. It seemed to express fear and horror. I stood still a moment really appalled. She moved aside as though to let me pass. The tapers flickered in the wind and went out, the figure disappeared, and I drew a full breath of relief in the open air.
The storm was over. The moon was brilliant overhead. I saw Tom seated under a tree. “Halloa,” he cried. “What kept you? A l-little more and I should have gone to l-look for you.”
“Thanks, my dear fellow.”
“No I w-wouldn’t,” said Tom. “Did you, n-now did you see her?”
“See whom?” I asked, quick to test the reality of what I had seen.
“A g-girl—a woman. She had a queer bonnet in her hand.”
“Yes, I saw her.
“Well, I say, Afton, we were n’t d-drunk or dreaming. No one will believe us.” He wiped his forehead.
“No one will believe us; I should think not. Better not try the credulity of our club friends, Tom.”
“No indeed, guess I know what they would say, but a fellow might tell a woman.”
“What, Miss Martha, your Aunt?”
“Yes, perhaps.” The thought struck me as odd.
“You see it would explain things.”
“Would it indeed? There would be a more probable explanation. You left your hat in the house. Better go and get it.”
“I will not,” said Tom.
Both were disposed to be silent, as we walked down the hill and found refuge in a farmhouse near by, where we told of the wrecked cat-boat, but no more. Early next day I went with Tom to recover his hat. I found it lying in the hall. Tom declined to enter. We both felt, or I at least, the impropriety of making use of daylight to aid our idle curiosity by a new inspection. I closed the door, and we walked across the fields to return to the farmhouse, where a wagon was ready to take us to Bar Harbor. At the foot of the hill we came upon an inclosure, one of the many pathetic little graveyards to be found here and there on the island. A single large gray stone bore, some scarcely legible, names and dates in the first third of the nineteenth century. Last of all was the single name, “Hortense,” and no more.
“Well now, I w-wonder,” said Tom. “Was that Hortense, the ch-child ?”
“Hush!” said I, a faint sense, perhaps a mere remembrance of unseen listeners coming upon me. “What secrets lay beneath these stones?”
“Now that child b-bothers me,” said Tom. “There must have been a b-baby.”
“Hush!” I said. “Come, let us go.”
“W-well, I’d like to know, Afton. You don’t want to talk about it.”
“No, I do not.”
“All right, but I can’t get that smashed c-cradle out of my head, and the spade and mattock and the sh-shoe.”
I stood above the grave-stone silent, hardly hearing him. In a little while the slow mechanism of Tom’s brain ground out, “Well, but now, s-suppose that—”
“Oh, quit,” I cried, and walked away.
At the farmhouse just as we got into the wagon Tom said to the farmer, “Who owns that house on the hill?”
“Some French people did once. They went away in my grandfather’s time.”
“Anything queer happen there?” asked Tom.
“Yes, but my folk would n’t ever talk about it. Those French—they sold the farm and the house, but they kept the graveyard. My father said that when he was a boy he heard say that the house was set afire the day they left, but it war n’t burnt much—only one room damaged.”
“Yes, we saw that.”
“What! Was you in it?”
“Yes, we got in.”
The farmer returned, “I own it and the farm, but my wife won’t live up there. And you was in it—after dark?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, is that so!”
“Good-bye,” I cried, as we drove away.
Tom was as usual silent and I deep in perplexed thought. I reflected that not always was it Tom who had first felt these ghostly presences. Had I been the victim of the crude imagined phantoms of a cold, hungry, commonplace man disturbed by physical discomfort and a novel environment? But then I remembered that we had both seen the woman. That seemed conclusive.
“Give me a l-light,” said Tom. “That cradle was queer, was n’t it, and what you said about c-coffins—”
“Hush!” I said, pointing to the driver.
“But the little s-shoe,” persisted Tom.
“Oh, let’s drop it,” I said.
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