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IT was towards the fall of one of those rich, moist, melancholy days, in the early English autumn-a reeking, redolent warmth upon the clammy air a luxurious deathfulness among the slumbrous woods, and in the red and rotting leaves that a solitary tour, in one of our northern counties brought me to the little village of
As I descended towards the village, the road-which, forming a serpentine belt about the lake, had from time to time afforded me glimpses between the trees of a sheet of sullen purple, streaked with water-courses of a glaring emerald colour, low down in a hollow cup of woody heights, with distant threads of water, white and glistering, like the wake of a snail, trickling down from chink and cranny between the misty trees- suddenly opened into a broad platform, based high above the lake, from which I beheld at one view the whole expanse of dark, thunder-tinted water, and all the gloomy amphitheatre of the hills. Just opposite, and crowning one of these blue, leafy eminences, I observed a great fringe of red gables, rising over tiers of rocky terraces, apparently the shining limits of an old-fashioned garden, and, here and there among the gables, a white eye-like window, riddled through and through by the yellow autumn
So sudden was the scene which I thus broke in upon, so sudden and so gloomy withal the strange, melancholy house; the dim undulations of folding tree-green hills, in which it was sunk bosom-deep; the lurid, lustrous, circle of leaden lake below; and the very silence among these, which I seemed, as it were, to have caught by surprise that all I saw appeared to me a sort of emanation from the mournful and bitter fancies which I had for days been a prey to, and it was long before I could pluck myself from the painful reveries into which the scene threw me, and twitch up the loose reins that had fallen from my careless hand.
VOL. XLIV.-NO. CCLIX.
Once in motion again, a few moments brought me to the Golden Lion. When I had seen my horse decently stalled, and his nose rummaging about in a feed of corn, I made inquiries about dinner, and received the conventional reply from the waiter. Chop, sir. Roast fowl. Line o' lamb, sir. Vegetables?—yes, sir. Peas and potatoes, sir. Tart-gooseberry. This way, if you please, sir. Mary, the private parlour for the gentleman. Ready, sir, in half-an-hour. Pint o' sherry? Yes, sir!"
At dinner I inquired of my friend, who seemed of a communicative disposition, who was the owner of the great house I had seen upon the lake. "Great house, with red (pepper, sir !)-gables, and garden hundred feet above the level of the - (cruet-stand? Certainly, sir!) lake. Very old, I b'lieve, sir. Heard say in the time of Queen 'Lisbeth. Built in form of a— (salt-cellar? Here, sir!")
"But the owner?" I interrupted, losing all patience. "His name?"
"Name, sir? House, Milverton Manor; owner, Mr. Morton. Very old, sir; one wing quite gone to pieces. Strange person, Mr. Morton; upper story very rickety, they say, sir. Garden full of weeds. Shocking pity,
"Morton Morton ?" The name was familiar to me. I had had a great friend at college of that name. was the most brilliant fellow of all the university. So full of information, so witty, so eloquent. Great and intimate friends we had been in the old college days, but it was many years since I had lost sight of him.
"Mr. Morton"-I said; "pray do you happen to know what his Christian name is? Clarence? Clarence—is that it ?"
"Clarence? Yes, sir, that's it. Morton, Clarence. Name on the Register. Never votes, sir, Mr. Morton. Very strange man-very."
A few more inquiries convinced me that this Mr. Morton could be no other than my old friend. The waiter dwelt
with great emphasis on the fact of his being "a very strange man, sir—very. Goes nowheres, sir; don't think I never seen him. Never visits in the neighb'rood, but keeps hisself shut up horrible close."
All I could gather from the jumbled information of my loquacious attendant was that, some years ago, Mr. Morton had arrived at - -, apparently from the Continent, with a foreign household; that he had taken a fancy to the old house I had seen, and bought it; that he had lived there ever since, a very retired life, which, knowing his studious turn of old, I could easily account for; and that he was strange man."
66 a very
"How, strange?" I inquired. "Why, sir, you see, in the first place, there's a lady he brought with him, I b'lieve, from foreign parts, and which is, as I s'pose, the cause for why he kip hisself to hisself, and don't go into 'ciety at all."
"And this is why you call him a strange man, eh ?"
"Well, sir, I don't b'lieve them things myself, no ways; but they do say as how he's a seeking the flosofer's stone. Certin is, he's very odd."
"The philosopher's stone!" I shrieked out "what nonsense!"
"And that he knows a doocid deal too much, sir, 'bout the old gent, down there," continued the waiter, pointing mysteriously to the floor, in order to assist the allusion, "all which I don't b'lieve myself, but attributes entirely to the lady."
After dinner, as I had several hours of daylight still before me, and did not feel at all tired, I resolved to walk to Milverton Manor, which I was informed was not so far off as it appeared, and, if possible, to see Mor
The waiter assured me that there was no chance of this, as the only person ever admitted into the house was the parson, and he seldom.
He, however, pointed out to me a short cut; said the gardens were worth looking at, and volunteered to accompany mean offer which I declined, as I was in no humour for such garrulous companionship. I accordingly lighted a solitary cigar, and set out for the manor-house.
The sudden mention of a name which for years had been unheard and unspoken, and which was once so fa
miliar, had awakened in me so many old memories and associations, that, buried in a profound and melancholy reverie, I was not aware how far I had ascended the mountain, till a sudden turning in the road brought me full in front of the old house, with the lake below it. The air was sultry and oppressive the whole sky was of a dead opal colour, but, just over the red gables of the manor-house, hung, low and heavy, a huge cloud of livid white, trailing slowly from the hills, a ragged reef of thunder; small white clouds, like the spray and surf of a sea, were rising rapidly up to this lurid mass, which seemed as if, at any moment, it might burst into sound and flame; but from the nether rim of it, where the hidden sun was sinking to the hills, a great gush of amber light rolled down into the hollow of the lake, and saturated with yellow rays a small green islet in the middle of the meer. To this island my eye was naturally attracted. A little pinnace was moored to the shore, and hung, death-still, over the black water. In the heart of the island, the bowering shrubs and overgrowths which closed the margins, were cut away into a circle of smoothest-shaven green; and there, upon a rude block of stone, like a pedestal, I perceived the figure of a woman, so marble-white, and still, and stately, that I at first took it for a statue. The figure was drawn up to its full height, and the face was turned from me, gazing intently, so far as one could judge from the inclination of the head, at the stormy sky.
While I stood thus gazing, from the bottom fringe of the cloud a snake of vivid fire shot suddenly, and ran shrivelling across the breathless heavens; a minute or two after, a low rumble of thunder was clanged and banged about from bluff to slag, among the echoing hills and hollows. Then the cloud I had been watching seemed suddenly jerked into fragments, and large, slow, heavy drops plunged, plashing into the cold, blue, lurid waters of the lake. The figure turned slowly from the stone, and seemed to glide, rather than walk, glimmering through the wet oziers, to the shore; there it entered the pinnace, and in a moment the little boat slipped round the cape, and I could see it no longer.
I made what haste I could to get to the house before I should be wet
through. When I got near the outer court, however, I could not help stopping to look over the wall into the garden. It was a strange melancholylooking place, weed-grown, and full of broken statues, and dead fountains that could not play; Tritons, with conch-shells at their lips, and thistles growing in the shells; and nymphs and fauns rotting on their mildewed pedestals. There was a flight of stone stairs, and a broken balustrade, which led, as I supposed, to the lower terrace; and while I was looking at it a woman slowly ascended the steps, and entered the garden. I recognised at once the figure I had seen upon the island.
Without observing me, she approached the basin of a fountain, and paused beside it, either unconscious of, or indifferent to, the rain, which was now beginning to fall fast. I suppose, however, that some involuntary excla mation on my part must have startled her, for she turned suddenly round, full fronting me with a face which I can never forget. Never out of dreams have I seen a face like that! Though it was marvellously fair, it was less the beauty than the strangeness of it that struck me. The features were perfect; the skin unnaturally pale and transparent; the eyes very large and lustrous, and of a deep, melancholy, violet colour; the whole form, draped from head to foot in white, was so fragile and undulating, that I could scarcely think it earthly. It was only for a moment, however, that the sight of it was vouchsafed to me; for apparently not discovering her alarm, she twined one of her white fingers into a long silky tress of yellow hair, musingly, as it were, and passed into the house.
I was now more than ever resolved to ferret Morton from his hole, and, as far as might be, unravel the mystery which I felt to be growing upon me. Notwithstanding my excite ment, however, my heart sank when I approached the great gloomy portal of the mansion. I have ever been, and, I suppose, shall ever be, a man of melancholy mind. If there is in anything an element of horror or gloom, I am sure to squeeze out the whole of it.
I have thus managed to make my life unnecessarily miserable. Evil hints peep out at me from the very
spots of pebbles in the gravel-walks ; evil omens gibber at me through the fluttering of yellow autumn leaves; nodoor in the house stands ajar but that some ghost of evil chance may slip through it, and pluck me by the sleeve; the crow flies, the plum drops, the lily whitens, the wind blows-just to frighten me, and no more. No plea
sure but what thrusts a cloven foot from behind the mask at me. From the gaiety of others I shrink back to commune with my own fantastic fears, like the lady who nightly stole from the perfumed couch of her dreaming husband to revel with a ghoul upon dead flesh and blue worms among the graves.
The old porchway, which I now entered, had been turned into a sort of porte cochere, with an iron grille in the back of it, which barred the entrance; and as I rang the bell, a porter thrust his head out of a little window in the wall, and demanded, in indifferent French, what I wanted. I inquired for Morton.
"The Padrone was not at home," he said.
Perceiving that he was an Italian, I addressed him in his own language, and begged him, in the civilest terms I could devise, to convey to his master a note, which I had taken the precaution of writing at the inn, wherein I reminded Morton of our college friendship, and asked permission to see the house and gardens.
The man seemed pleased to hear the accents of his native south, however broken on a northern tongue, and his grim countenance relaxed from the severe and scrutinising regard which it had at first assumed. He deigned to issue cautiously from his lair, and swinging in his hand a brazen triplestemmed lamp, which made a smoky glare along the gloom, bade me follow him.
After treading one or two dingy chambers, we reached a small octagonal room, designed apparently for a library. Here he told me to wait, while he took the letter to his master. Being of an inquisitive disposition, and believing, moreover, that the nature of a man's mind may be seen in the books he reads, as we judge of the species of an insect from the leaves it feeds on, I took up one of the volumes I found lying on the table, and opened it. What was my surprise when my
eye fell upon a paragraph, marked in pencil, which ran thus:
"But, above all, the mind must be calm and earnest. Be not dejected by repeated failure; for it is only by the conquest of thyself that these shall be led captive. They are about us, and yearn to speak, but we will not hear. As in the case of the elixir, whereof I have above treated, the volatile spirit of the sun must be drawn off from the pure essences by a seven-fold furnace, so remember that the spiritual in thee must be first sublimed from all gross and earthy admixture. Again, and again, I say to you, man holds in his hand the keys of the unknown, but knows it not. Faith is volition, and volition power. Believe, and have all things.' Thereunder was written in pencil-"See Rab. Sol. Cap. de Invis."
"Must be mad," thought I. "Poor Morton what trash !"
The only other books were one or two Italian poets; a life of Leobardi ; a pamphlet, containing "A true and authentic Account of the Ghost of Mrs. * *which appeared on three Occasions to several Members of her Family;" a little volume of Shelley; several books in vellum, with odd names; and a little manuscript volume of poems, written in a fine female hand.
While I was turning over the books, the servant returned, and informing me that his master would see me, led the way to Morton's room.
"Enter," said a faint voice, as we knocked at the door, which, though I had not heard it for years, I at once recognised. Morton received me with great cordiality; but I thought that there was a slight embarrassment in his
We talked at first of college days and old mutual acquaintances: how that some were married; some dead; some, once so rollicking and reckless, now country curates; some, then so stupid and dull, now rising young members. But perceiving that these subjects seemed painful to my friend, and that he spoke of them with reluctance, I had to fall back upon the crops and weather, the scenery of the lake, my own tour and its impressions, &c.
"What a charming old house you have been fortunate enough to find!" I said at last: "it wants nothing but a ghost to make it perfect."
"Oh," replied Morton, laughing, "it is thought to be haunted."
"Indeed, and what is the story?" "Like all others of the kind," he said. "I forget it now."
I could get nothing further from him upon this subject, and we talked on for some time upon other things. The thunder spending itself in the distance, through the open window we heard the hollow reverberations among the hills; and now and then a faint pulse of light flickered in the heavy air. In the pauses of the storm, I thought that I heard the low notes of a lute, but the sound was so indistinct that I supposed myself deceived by my own fancy. I was vexed with myself for having so failed in drawing out Morton, or clearing up any of the mystery by which he seemed surrounded. The night darkened about us, and gulphed up all the landscape. We could not see each other's faces as we talked. I was preparing to take my leave of Morton, not without a feeling of disappointment, when I felt something brush past me. I thought that I could also hear the flutter of a garment; and the darkness seemed for one instant to grow denser in the recess of the window. My nerves had been so tensely strung, partly by the oppressive weather, partly by the curious and increasing interest with which all that I had heard and seen of my present companion had inspired me, that I was unable to suppress an involuntary cry of surprise.
"What's the matter?" said Mor
parapet of one of the lower terraces, I beheld a woman bending and leaning. The outline of the figure was distinct against the clear light of the
I could not be deceived. It was the same person whom I had before seen upon the island and by the fountain. Her arms were stretched out into the night, and she seemed by her gestures to be conversing energetically with some invisible companion. I know not why, but a sensation of shame seized me, as though I had seen something which I had no business to look at, and my eye instinctively turned with an apologetic glance upon Mor
He was leaning against the wall, with his arms folded, and his bright keen eye turned to the moon. There was more than its usual sternness in his hollow cheek and thin firm lip.
"How the past seems to look out at one from that cold moon," he said, musingly, as though half to me half to himself. "A melancholy planet! it has survived the sunshine. Astronomers tell us that there is no life in it. It looks laden with death."
I was glad to find that he had not remarked the figure in the garden, or
He hesitated a moment, then said, abruptly
Surely you cannot be very comfortable at the inn. I know the place, and once ate a dinner there. Ugh! it was positively poisonous. There are, too, some points about the lake here worth looking at. If you have time and inclination to share my solitude for a day or two, I will send my servant down to-night to bring up your baggage, and we can put you up a bed in the tapestry chamber. I shall be sincerely glad, for my part, to renew our old friendship, with new walks and talks; though they may not be such pleasant ones as those in the old time, in the gardens of
I accepted his offer joyfully.
"Now," said I, "as Algernon Sydney is said to have exclaimed, when he ascended the scaffold now I shall unravel the great secret!'"
MEN were blowing bugles, and running, with spears in their hands, after fabulous animals, through ghostly forests on the walls. A Venetian mirror, suspended aslant above the black chimneypiece, and just opposite the foot of the huge bed, showed all the chairs and tables as though they were hanging from the ceiling, and might fall in on if a mouse shook the wainscoat. The moon hung breathless in the middle of the curtainless window; and all these things flickered, and winked, and waned out of sight, as I dropped asleep. Then, in dreams, I found myself roaming through limitless dim gardens with the pale lady whom I had seen that afternoon, and listening to strange tunes floating from invisible harp-strings. At last these things too faded off into black, solid sleep, from which the full, clear sun and the crowing of a cock in the courtyard below finally awoke me. soon as I was dressed, I endeavoured to find my way to the great staircase.
After certain wanderings, I found myself in a long, low-roofed gallery, full of pictures, principally copies from the old masters, one or two choice originals, and some fine landscapes in watercolours. Greek statues (copies of course) were ranged along the walls; and amongst them one or two from the modern studios of Rome. Here and there was a family picture, left, as I concluded, by the former owners of the mansion; but just between the two middle windows, was a large picture in a heavy frame of gold and ebony, over which was written, in Gothic letters, this text from Scripture-"She is not dead, but sleepeth." A black velvet curtain was hung across the picture. For the life of me, I could not help drawing it aside, and looking at what it concealed. Conceive my surprise, at beholding the full-length portrait of a woman, the exact counterpart of the person whom I had seen the day before in the garden! It was impossible to mistake the likeness. The stately fi