by Julian Hawthorne
Author of "Garth," "Sebastian Strome," "Dust," Etc.
When I was a child, I used to hope my fairy-stories were true. Since reaching years of discretion, I have preferred acknowledged fiction. This inconsistency, however, is probably rather apparent than real. Experience has taught me that the greater the fairy-story the less the truth; and contrariwise, that the greater the truth the less the fairy-story. In other words, the artistic graces of romance are irreconcilable with the crude straightforwardness of fact. The idealism of childhood, believing that all that is most beautiful must on that very account be most true, clamors accordingly for truth. The knowledge of maturity, which has discovered that nothing that is true (in the sense of being existent) can be beautiful, deprecates truth beyond everything. What happens, we find, is never what ought to happen; nor does it happen in the right way or season. In palliation of this hardship, the sublime irony of fate grants us our imagination, wherewith we create little pet worlds of poetry and romance, in which everything is arranged in neat harmonies and surprises, to gratify the scope of our little vision. The actual world, the real universe, may, indeed, be picturesque and perfect beyond the grandest of our imaginative miniatures; but since the former can be revealed to us only in comparatively infinitesimal portions, the miniatures still have the best of it.
To preface a story with the information that it is true, is not, therefore, the way to recommend it. Your hearer's life, and those of his friends, are enough true stories for him; what he wants of you is merciful fiction. Destiny, to his apprehension, is always either vapid, or clumsy, or brutal; and he feels certain that, do your worst, you can never rival the brutality, the clumsiness, or the vapidity of destiny. If you are silly, he can at least laugh at you; if you are clumsy or brutal, he has his remedy; and meanwhile there is always the chance that you may turn out to be graceful and entertaining. But to bully him with facts is like asking him to live his life over again; and the civilized human being has yet to be found who would not rather die than do that.
No; we are all spontaneously sure that no story-teller, though he were a Timon of Athens double distilled, can ever be so unsympathetic and unnatural as destiny, who tells the only story that never winds up. We cannot understand destiny; we never know to what lengths she may go: but the story-teller we know inside and out; he is only a possible ourself, and we defy him to do us any serious harm. I trust I am rendering my meaning clear, and that no one will suppose that in making this onslaught upon truth, I have anything else in view than truth as applied to what are called stories. With truth scientific, moral, religious, I am at present in nowise concerned. Only, I have no respect for the weakness that will outrage a promising bit of narrative for the sake of keeping to the facts. Imbecile! the facts are given you, like the block of marble or the elements of a landscape, as material for the construction of a work of art. Which would you rather be, a photographer or Michael Angelo? "Non vero ma ben trovato" should be your motto; and if you refuse to kill your heroine on the Saturday night because, forsooth, she really did, despite all dramatic propriety, survive till Monday morning—why, please yourself; but do not bring your inanities to me!
I have now to reconcile this profession of faith with the incongruous fact that the following story is a true one. True it is, in whole and in part; furthermore, the events took place in the present century, and within a hundred miles of London. But let me observe, in the first place, that, although a true tale, it is nevertheless strange and interesting to an unusual degree; and, secondly, that this interest and strangeness mainly depend, not upon the succession of incidents, but upon the subjective condition—character it cannot be termed—of Archibald Malmaison himself. This being the case, it follows that the greater part of the objections above insisted upon fall to the ground. What goes on inside a man must needs be accepted as it is revealed to us: to invent psychological attributes does not lie within the province of a romancer. His skill and power are confined to so selecting and arranging the incidents as to provide his psychological data with the freest possible development. In the present case I might easily have devised a stage and a series of events for Malmaison, which would have brought his mysterious affection into somewhat more prominent and picturesque relief. But that affection is itself so absorbing a problem, that the fashion of its statement becomes of comparatively small import; and I may add that the setting furnished by nature happens on this occasion to answer all practical purposes tolerably well. Moreover, I am not altogether a free agent in the matter. The friend by whose permission I tell the tale is of opinion that no liberties ought to be taken with its form, any more than with what he is pleased to call its "physiological characteristics." The main significance of the narrative being, according to him, of a scientific or pathological kind, it would be hostile to scientific interests to depart from historical accuracy in its presentation. From the professional dictum of a man like Dr. Forbes Rollinson there can, of course, be no appeal, and if I am to write the account at all, it is but fair that in so doing I should respect the wishes of him who is the lawful proprietor of it. I have thought it but fair to myself, however, to begin by offering this explanation. I feel more or less hampered by the conditions enjoined upon me, and, besides, I do not agree with Dr. Rollinson's theory of the phenomena. In the present state of our knowledge, no theory on such subjects can pretend to be more than hypothetically correct; and my prejudices are opposed to what is known as the materialistic explanation of the universe. With, all respect for the validity of science within its proper sphere, I do not conceive that its judgments are entitled to paramount consideration when they attempt to settle the problems of psychology. There are mysteries which no process of inductive reasoning can reach.—The reader, however, will not be decoyed blindfold into accepting as final either the Doctor's view or mine; but, after possessing himself of the facts, will be left free to draw what conclusions he may please.
As regards the matter of names, dates, and localities, Dr. Rollinson holds that they had better be given at full length; and here I am not disposed to differ from him. The system of blanks and initial letters was always distasteful to me; and to use fictitious names in a true story seems like taking away with one hand what you give with another. Besides, every one of the actors in the drama is now dead: Dr. Rollinson  himself being the only living person who is cognizant, directly, of all the circumstances, from beginning to end. In his capacity of physician, he was the intimate and trusted friend of the ill-fated Malmaison household during upward of twenty years, and he inherited this confidential position from his father. He has kindly placed at my disposal a number of his professional note-books and journals, and in various places I have incorporated with the narrative some of the information which they contain. At other times I have inserted minor details of conversation and incident, and have endeavored to throw over the whole as "fictitious" an air as was consistent with the conscientious observance of my compact with the Doctor. And now, without further preface, I will proceed to business.
Archibald Malmaison was the second son of Sir Clarence Butt Malmaison, of Malmaison, Sussex. He had the odd distinction of being born on the 29th of February, 1800. His elder brother, Edward, born 1798, died before him, as will be hereinafter shown. There were no other brothers, but four girls appeared after Archibald, two of whom died in childhood of scarlet fever, while the other two grew up to be married. They have nothing to do with the story, and will not be mentioned again.
The Malmaisons, as their name denotes, were of French descent—Huguenots. Like many other emigrants, they yielded, in the course of a generation or two, to a barbarous mispronunciation of their patronymic, which came to be spoken of as if spelt "Malmsey."
How it happened that the chateau of the Empress Josephine was christened by the same name, I know not; at all events, the Sussex Malmaisons have prior claim to the title. The estate, which embraced between seven and eight hundred acres, lay in that portion of the county which borders upon the junction line of Kent and Surrey. Colonel Battledown, the Peninsular soldier, owned the adjoining estate in Kent; while the Surrey corner was occupied, at the epoch of this story, by the Honorable Richard Pennroyal—he whose father, Lord Epsom, is said to have won ninety thousand pounds from Fox in a single night's play. The three families had been on a friendly footing with each other ever since the early part of the reign of George III.
Sir Clarence had been an ally of the father of the Honorable Richard in Parliament (they were both Whigs), and Colonel Battledown, though a Tory, was such capital company as not only to compensate for his political derelictions, but even to render them a matter for mutual congratulation—they so enlivened the conversation! In truth, I suppose the three gentlemen must have had many a boisterous discussion over their nightly three or four bottles apiece of claret, and after their hard day across country.
The Honorable Richard, by the by, was by far the youngest of the three; at the time of Archibald's birth he was not much over twenty; but he had a cool, strong brain, and quite as much gravity as his seniors, over whom, in fact, he seems to have exercised a species of ascendency. Possibly he inherited something of his noble father's ability—that of playing quietly for big stakes when all the odds were in his favor. At all events, in the year 1801 he married Miss Jane Malmaison, the baronet's sister, who was fifteen years older than he, but who brought him fifty thousand pounds—a not unimportant consideration to him at that time.
Mrs. Pennroyal has one claim upon our notice, and only one; seven years after her marriage, at the age of forty-two, she completely lost her memory, and became rather idiotic, and a few years later contrived to fall into an ornamental fish-pond, and drowned there before her attendants missed her. She was buried with much stateliness; but it is to be feared that few persons missed her even then. She left no children.
Was poor old Jane the first member of the Malmaison line who had shown any special weakness or peculiarity in the upper story? There was a hoary tradition to the effect that the son or grandson of the first emigrant had made some compact or other with the Evil One, the terms of which were that he (the grandson) was to prolong his terrestrial existence for one hundred and forty years by the ingenious device of living only every alternate seven years, the intervening periods to be passed in a sort of hibernation. In return for this accommodation he was, of course, to make H.S.M. the usual acknowledgment!
The final upshot of this bargain—as is usually the way in these cases—is not known. Did the worthy gentleman work his way into his third half century? And had he, by that time, acquired astuteness sufficient to cheat the other party to the contract of his due? History is silent; the only thing asserted with any appearance of confidence is that Sir Eustace de Malmaison possessed the power of vanishing at will from the eyes of men. Nay, he would seem to have bequeathed this useful accomplishment to certain of his descendants; for there is among the family documents a curious narrative, signed and witnessed, describing how a member of the family, in the time (I think) of the Second Pretender, did, being hard pressed by the minions of the German Prince, and pursued by them into the extreme eastern chamber of his house of Malmaison, suddenly and without warning render himself invisible, insomuch that nothing of him remained save his dagger, and the plume which he bore in his cap. This eastern chamber had, at the time, but one outlet, and that was into a room already guarded by the soldiery.
The chronicle goes on to say that the disappearance was not final: the mysterious fugitive reappeared on the third day, in the same spot where he had vanished, but apparently rather the worse for wear. He was at first taken for a spirit, and all fled before him; but he, going hastily forward to the dining hall, and finding a great sirloin of beef set out upon the board, forthwith fell to, and, in a wondrous short time, devoured the whole thereof, drinking also a gallon and a half of the wine of Burgundy. This exploit restored the belief of the household in the material consistency of their master, and thereupon was much thanksgiving, feasting, and rejoicing. But the secret of the disappearance never was revealed.
I give these musty old details for what they are worth; they may perhaps be construed as an indication that the race of Malmaison had some peculiarities of its own.
As for Archibald, he was rather neglected than otherwise. He was a dull and stolid baby, neither crying nor crowing much: he would sit all day over a single toy, not playing with it, but holding it idly in his hands or between his knees. He could neither crawl, walk, nor talk till long after the usual time for such accomplishments. It seemed as if he had made up his mind to live according to his birthdays—that is, four times as slow as other people. The only things he did do well were eating and sleeping: he never appeared to be thoroughly awake, nor was his appetite ever entirely satisfied. As might be supposed, therefore, his body grew apace; and at seven years old (or one and three quarters, as the facetious Baronet would have it) he weighed twelve good pounds more than his brother Edward, who was two years his senior, though, to be sure, not a specially robust child.
For the rest, poor Archibald seemed to be affectionate, in a dim, inarticulate way, though his sympathies were confined within somewhat narrow limits. He loved a certain brindled cat that he had more than anything else: next to her, his little baby sister; and oddly enough, he conceived a sort of dog-like admiration for the Honorable Richard Pennroyal—a compliment which that personage did nothing to deserve, and which he probably did not desire. He had also a distinct feeling for localities; he was never quite at his ease except in the nursery-room where he slept; and, on the other hand, he never failed to exhibit symptoms of distrust and aversion when he was carried into the East chamber—that in which his great-grandfather had effected his mysterious self-effacement. But the only thing that was certain to make him cry was to be brought into the company of little Kate Battledown, the colonel's only child, a year or two younger than Archibald, and universally admitted to be the prettiest and most graceful baby in the neighborhood. But Archibald, up to his seventh year, would do anything to get away from her —short of walking.
In a word, he exhibited such symptoms of a deficient and perverted understanding as would have gained him—had he been of humbler birth—the descriptive title of "natural." Being a son of Sir Clarence Butt Malmaison, he was considered to be peculiar only. The old wives of the village maintained that he was the sort that could see elves, and that, if one but knew how, he might be induced to reveal valuable secrets, and to confer magic favors. But, looking the other way, he was to be dreaded as a possible (though involuntary) agent of evil; especially perilous was it, these venerable dames would affirm, to become the object of his affection or caresses—a dogma which received appalling confirmation in the fate of the brindled cat, who, after having been caught by the leg in a trap intended for a less respectable robber of hen-roosts, was finished by a bull-terrier, who took advantage of her embarrassed circumstances to pay off upon her a grudge of long standing. This tragedy occurred in January of the year 1807, and produced a noticeable effect upon Master Archibald Malmaison. He neither wept nor tore his hair, but took the far more serious course of losing his appetite.
The most remarkable part of the story is yet to come. No one had told him that the cat was dead, and the cat, having adventurous propensities, had often been away from home for days at a time without leave or warning. Nevertheless, Archibald was immediately aware of her fate, and even seemed (judging from some expressions that escaped him) to have divined the manner of it. He then gave intimation of an earnest desire to view the remains; but in this he could not be gratified, for they had already been secretly interred in an obscure corner of the back garden. Will it be believed that the "peculiar" child hereupon got upon his fat legs, and, without either haste or hesitation, deliberately ambled out of the nursery, along the corridor, down the stairs, across the hall, through the door, and so round to the back garden and to the very identical spot where poor Tabby had been deposited!
The fact is sufficiently well attested; I am not aware that it has ever been accounted for. The boy had never in his life walked so far before, although his limbs were perfectly developed and able for much longer pilgrimages. He did not resist being led away; but, as has been said, he neglected his bread and milk, and every few days returned to the back garden, and stood beside the grave in the cold, looking fixedly at it, but making no active demonstration whatever. This went on for about six weeks, and attracted a good deal of curiosity in the neighborhood. At length, in the latter part of February, Archibald had a sort of fit, apparently of an epileptic nature. On recovering from it, he called for a glass of milk, and drank it with avidity; he then fell asleep, and did not awake again for thirty-six hours.
By this time he was a personage of more importance at Malmaison than he had ever yet been in his small life. The wise folk who stood around his crib hazarded various predictions as to the issue of his unnatural slumber. Some said he would lose what little wit he had; others, that he would become an acknowledged wizard; others again, that he would never wake up at all. In short, like other prophets, they foretold everything except that which was actually to happen; and they would have foretold that too, if they had thought of it in time.
Archibald awoke at length, and sat up in bed. He opened his mouth, apparently for the purpose of saying something, but his tongue refused to articulate any recognizable words. An irregular, disjointed sound made itself heard, like the vague outcry of an infant; and then, as if angry at his own failure, he set up a loud and indignant wail, muffled from time to time by the cramming of his fingers into his mouth.
Whatever else was the matter with the child, it was evident that he was hungry—as, indeed, he well might be. Some bread and milk was brought to him, that being his favorite food; but to the general astonishment and dismay, he did not seem to know what it was, although he continued to exhibit every symptom of a ravenous and constantly augmenting appetite. They tried him with every imaginable viand, but in vain; they even put morsels into his mouth, but he had lost the power of mastication, and could not retain them. The more they labored, the greater became his exasperation, until at last there was such a hubbub and confusion on the score of Master Archibald as that hitherto rather insignificant little personage should have felt proud to occasion.
Among the anxious and bewildered people who thronged the nursery at this juncture was a young woman who acted as wet-nurse to the latest born of the Malmaisons, a baby-girl three months old.
She was a healthy and full-bodied peasant, and as she pressed forward to have her look at the now frantic Archibald, she held the nursing infant—the only serene and complacent member of the assemblage—to her open breast. Archibald caught sight of her, and immediately reached toward her, arms, mouth and all, accompanying the action by an outcry so eager, impatient, and gluttonous that it was capable of only one interpretation. An incredible interpretation, certainly, but that made no difference; there was nothing else to be done. Honest Maggie, giggling and rubicund, put aside her complacent nursling (who thereupon became anything but complacent) and took to her kind bosom this strapping and unreasonable young gentleman, who had already got many of his second teeth. That did not prevent him from making an unconscionably good supper, and thenceforth the only person likely to be disturbed by his new departure in gormandizing was Maggie herself. Everything being thus happily arranged, the household dispersed about its business, the Baronet declaring, with a great laugh, that he had always said Archie was but a babe in arms, and this proved it!
Dr. Rollinson, however (the elder doctor, that is—father of the present  distinguished bearer of the name), had witnessed this scene with something more than ordinary wonder or amusement; it had puzzled, but also interested him extremely. He was less of a conservative than many of his profession; he kept his mind open, and was not disinclined to examine into odd theories, and even, perhaps, to originate a few such himself upon occasion. The question that now confronted him and challenged his ingenuity was, What was the matter with Archibald? Why had the boy suddenly gone back to the primitive source of nourishment, not from mere childish whim, but from actual ignorance—as it seemed—that nourishment was obtainable in any other way? An obvious reply would be that the boy had become wholly, idiotic; but the more Dr. Rollinson revolved this rough and ready explanation, the less satisfactory did he find it. He wisely decided to study the symptoms and weigh the evidence before committing himself one way or the other.
The first result of his observations was to confirm his impression that Archibald was not idiotic. There was a certain sort of vacancy in the child's expression, but it was the vacancy of ignorance rather than of foolishness. And ignorant to a surprising degree he was. He had at no time been regarded as a boy of large attainments; but what he knew before his strange seizure was, to what he knew after it, as Bacon to a ploughman. Had he been newly born into the world, he could not have shown less acquaintance with it, so far as intellectual comprehension went; his father, mother, sister—all were alike strangers to him; he gazed at them with intent but unrecognizing eyes; he never looked up when his name was spoken, nor did he betray any sign of understanding the talk that went on around him. His own thoughts and wants were expressed by inarticulate sounds and by gestures; but the mystery of speech evidently interested him, and he studied the movements of the lips of those who spoke to him with a keen, grave scrutiny to them highly amusing—except in the case of his poor old Aunt Jane, who turned quite pale under his inquisition, and declared that he must be bewitched, for although he seemed to know nothing, yet he had the knowingest look of any child she ever saw. Herein Aunt Jane gave utterance to a fact that was beginning to be generally acknowledged. Whatever Archibald had lost, it was beyond dispute that he had somehow come into possession of a fund of native intelligence (the term "mother wit" seems inappropriate under the circumstances) to which he had heretofore been a stranger. He might have forgotten his own name, and the mother that bore him; but he had learned how to learn, and was for the first time in his life wide awake. This was very much like saying that he was a new boy in the old skin; and this, again, was little better than a euphemism for changeling. Was he a changeling after all? The sage old woman whom we have already quoted asserted confidently that he was, and that, however much he pretended to ignorance, he really knew vastly more than any plain human child did or ought to know. And as a warrant for this opinion they brought forward evidence that Master Archibald, having been left alone one day in the nursery, had been overheard humming to himself the words of a certain song—a thing, it was argued, which he could not have done had he known no words at all; and therefore he was a changeling.
Dr. Rollinson happened to hear this argument, and thought it worth while to inquire further into the matter. Such testimony as he could collect went to confirm the truth of the story. Not only so, but the song itself, if the witnesses were to be believed, so far from being an ordinary childish ditty, was some matter of pretty maids and foaming wine-cups that Tom Moore might have written, and that gentlemen sometimes trolled out, an hour or two after dinner. Now this looked very black for Archibald. Further investigation, however, put a somewhat different face upon the affair. It transpired that the song had been often sung in Archibald's hearing, and before his fit, by the Honorable Richard, for whom, as has been said, the boy had taken a queer fancy.
And, perhaps because affection is a good teacher, the boy had acquired the power of repeating some of the verses to himself, of course without understanding a syllable of them, and very likely without himself being conscious of what he was doing, he hummed them over, in short, exactly as a preoccupied parrot might do; and always at a certain time, namely, after he had been put to bed, and was staring up at the darkening ceiling previous to falling asleep. This, by itself, was nothing very remarkable; the puzzle was, how could he do it now? Out of all the wreck of his small memory, why was this song, the meaning of which he had never understood, the sole survivor? Was it that his affection for Mr. Pennroyal had kept it alive? So might a sentimentalist have concluded; but the Doctor was a man of sense. Was it that the boy was shamming? Impossible on all accounts. But then, what was it?
The Doctor had by this time worked himself up to believe that the solution of this problem would help largely toward the clearing up of the whole mystery. So he took notes, and continued to observe and to consider.
He found, in the first place, that the song-singing took place under exactly the same circumstances as before the fit, and at no other time or place.
Hereupon, he devised experiments to discover whether Archibald was conscious that he was singing, or whether it was an act performed mechanically, while the mind was otherwise engaged. After the child was in bed, he quietly arranged a lamp so as to cast a circular space of light upon the ceiling above the bed, the rest of the room being left in shadow. Not a word of any song was heard that night; and the test was tried twice more during the week, with a like result. At another time he got the Honorable Richard to come into a room adjoining the nursery, and sing the song so that Archibald might hear it. Archibald heard it, but gave no sign of being affected thereby. He was then brought into Mr. Richard's presence; it was the first time they had met since the change. Now, if ever, was an opportunity for the imperishable quality of the affections to be vindicated. But no such vindication occurred. On the contrary, after having stared his uncle almost out of countenance for some minutes, he turned from him with a marked expression of disapproval, and could never afterward be induced voluntarily to go near him. The affection had become an antipathy.
"No, madam; set your mind at rest," said the bluff Doctor to Lady Malmaison over a cup of tea that evening. "The child's no changeling; but he's changed, and changed for the better, too, by Gad! He can tell a bad egg from a good one now," continued the Doctor, with a significant chuckle, the significance of which, however, Lady Malmaison perhaps failed to perceive. But the fact was, the Honorable Richard Pennroyal had never been an especial favorite with Dr. Rollinson.
The next day was a new excitement. Archibald had walked, and that, too, as well as the best-grown boy of seven that you would want to see.
"Ay, and where did he walk to?" demanded the Doctor.
It was explained that it was at the time for nursing him, and he was sitting in his little chair at one end of the nursery, when Maggie had entered at the other. As soon as he clapped eyes on her, he had set up his usual impatient outcries; but Maggie, instead of going directly to him, had stopped to exchange a few words with the head-nurse, unfastening the front of her dress the while, however, so that Master Archibald's impatience was carried to the point of intolerance by the glimpse thus afforded of the good things in store for him. And then, before you had time to think, he had got up from his chair, and trotted across the floor, bellowing all the time, and had tugged at Maggie's dress.
"Bellowing all the time, eh?" said the Doctor.
"And walking all the same like he was ten year old, sir: and it did give us all a turn; and if you please, sir, what do you say to that?"
"What do I say to that?—why, that it's just what I should have expected—that's what I say!" replied Dr. Rollinson, who had apparently begun to divine some clew to the grand mystery. But he vouchsafed no explanations as yet.
Archibald did not repeat the walking miracle, although, within the space of a few weeks only, he passed through the regular gradations of crawling, tottering, and toddling, to normal pedestrianism of the most active kind. His progress in other accomplishments was almost parallel with this. From inarticulate gabble he trained his tongue to definite speech; his vocabulary expanded with astonishing rapidity, and, contrary to his previous habit, he made incessant use of it. He was now as remarkable for loquacity as formerly for the opposite characteristic; and his keenness of observation and retentive memory were a theme of general admiration. In a word, he used his five senses to ten times better effect than had ever been expected of him in the old days; and no one who had not seen him for a year from the time of his fit would have recognized him as the same child. He was not only making up for lost time—he was incomparably outstripping his earlier self; he seemed to have emerged from a mental and physical cocoon—to have cast aside an incrustation of deterrent clumsiness, and to be hastening onward with the airy case and accuracy of perfect self-possession. At the end of a year he was to all intents and purposes ten years old; and what was most remarkable about this swift advance lay in the fact that a year had seen the whole of it. Though he had been eight years in the world, the first seven had furnished none of the mental or moral material for the last: it stood alone and disconnectedly. Of those seven years it is certain that he retained not the smallest recollection; they were to him as if they had never been. The only thing they did provide him with was a well-fed and sound body; in other respects Archibald was positively new. He had to make the acquaintance of his family and friends over again; but it was done with modifications. In other cases besides that of his uncle, it was observed that he felt antipathies where formerly he loved, and vice versa.
A minor instance, but interesting as must be all evidence in a case so strange as this, is that of the brindled cat that was buried in the garden. Archibald was brought to the grave, which he had so pathetically haunted before his metamorphosis, not many weeks after the metamorphosis occurred; and every means was used to revive in him some recollection of the bereavement; they even went so far as to uncover poor pussy's remains.... Archibald was first unconscious and indifferent, then curious, finally disgusted. His feelings were not otherwise touched. All associations connected with this whilom pet of his, grief for whose loss was supposed to have been the impelling cause of the fit itself, were as utterly expunged from his mind as if they had never existed there. Moreover, aversion from all cats was from this time forth so marked in him as almost to amount to horror; while dogs, whose presence had been wont to fill him with dismay, were now his favorite companions. It was the same in other things; the boy formed independent opinions and prejudices in all the relations of life—independent, that is, of his past. His temper, too, was changed; no longer timid, appealing and docile, it was now determined, enterprising, and bold. It was manifest even thus early that here was a character fitted to make its way in the world.
"No, I protest, Doctor, I can never believe it's the same child," said Lady Malmaison, with a sigh. "That noisy, self-willed boy is never my quiet, affectionate little Archie. And yesterday he beat his brother Edward, that is two years older than he. Heigho! Pray, dear Doctor, what is your opinion?"
"My opinion, Lady Malmaison, is that women will never be content," answered the bluff old physician. "I can remember the time when you thought your quiet little Archie was a nincompoop—and quite right too. And now because a monstrous piece of good luck has made a Crichton of him, you begin to regret the nincompoop! It ain't logical;" and the Doctor took snuff.
"But who ever heard of a child changing his whole nature all in a moment?" persisted Lady Malmaison.
"Why, isn't all in a moment better than inch by inch? The thing is no such mighty matter as some folks try to make it out. The boy went to sleep as soon as he was born, and has but just waked up—that's my notion about it. So now, instead of starting, the way most of us do, at the point of helplessness, he begins life with a body full of seven years' pith, and faculties sharp set as a new watch. Till now he has but dreamed; now he's going to exist, with so much the more extra impetus. He don't recollect what he's been dreaming—why should he?"
"But he did recollect some things, Doctor; that song.... And then, his walking across the room."
"Purely physical—purely automatic," replied the Doctor, tapping his snuff-box, and pleased with Lady Malmaison's awe at the strange word. "If he had stopped to think what he was doing he couldn't have done it. The body, I tell you, grows under all circumstances—as much when you're asleep as when you're awake; and the body has a memory of its own, distinct from the mental memory. Have you never hummed a song when you were doing your embroidery, and thinking about—about Lady Snaffle's elopement with the captain?"
"Yes; and if I'd come in at the moment and asked you what you were singing, could you have told me? Of course you couldn't! You could have told me all about the elopement. Well, then, that's clear now, ain't it?"
"Yes," said Lady Malmaison, meaning, it must be supposed, "as clear as mud." Dr. Rollinson chuckled to himself, and they continued their game of piquet.
Possibly the reader, though, understanding the force of the Doctor's illustration better than good stupid Lady Malmaison could do, is still of opinion that that eminent practitioner's exposition of the real nucleus of the mystery might have been more explicit. It is all very well to say that the boy was asleep for seven years and then woke up; but what does such a statement mean? Are such prolonged slumbers an ordinary occurrence? And if so, might not the slumberer, after a longer or shorter interval of wakefulness, fall asleep again? It is to be feared that the old physician was not quite so well satisfied in his secret mind as he pretended to be, and that his learned dissertation upon automatic action was little better than a device to avoid being pressed upon the real point at issue. But it is always a delicate matter to fathom the depth of a medical man's sagaciousness.
Mention has already been made of little Kate Battledown, the effect of whose society on Archibald had been so strangely ungenial. A year or two after his "awakening" the little maiden was again thrown in his way, and this time with very different results. There is extant among the family papers a letter containing a very pretty account of the relations which were soon established between these small personages. They seem to have taken to one another at once, and exercised over each other a mutual fascination. Archibald, keen and domineering with his brother and sisters, and, so far as his power went, with everybody else—was as sweet as milk to his childish enchantress; and no doubt his manners, if not his general character, greatly benefited by her companionship. There is a picture of the two children painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence and now hanging in the present Dr. Rollinson's parlor (where, doubtless, thousands of his patients have beheld it, ignorant of its history), which is perhaps as beautiful an example of English youth and maidenhood at eleven and nine years of age as could be found in the three kingdoms. The boy, black-eyed and black-haired, seems to step forward daringly, with his glance fixed defiantly upon the spectator; but his left hand, extended behind him, clasps that of little Kate with a protecting gesture; and her great brown eyes rest on his face, with a look half of apprehension, half of admiring confidence. There is a second portrait of her, taken ten years later; but of Archibald no other authentic likeness exists. Report affirms, however, that in 1823 and thereabout he was esteemed one of the handsomest young fellows of his day.
The devotion of the two to each other grew with their growth. She, even at that early age, must have given occasional foretastes of the wayward, impulsive, and yet calculating character that was developed in her later life; but there can be little doubt that she felt a genuine attachment to Archibald; and he laid himself at her feet with a chivalric single-heartedness more characteristic of the fifteenth century than of the early nineteenth. Indeed, his jealous guardianship of her excited not a little amusement among his seniors; and it is related that in his twelfth year he actually commissioned Colonel Battledown to carry a formal "message" on his behalf to the Honorable Richard Pennroyal; the latter's offence consisting in his having taken Miss Battledown on his knee and kissed her. The matter was, however, happily arranged on the Hon. gentleman's expressing his regret for his indiscretion, and the Colonel and Sir Clarence becoming answerable for his good behavior in future. But the children's preference for each other now began to suggest other thoughts than those of mere passing entertainment to the paternal minds. There seemed to be no good reason why they should not ultimately make a match of it. It was true that Kate might well expect to find a more brilliant mate than the second son of a baronet; but, personal feeling and the friendship of the families aside, she might do much worse than with Archibald. The second son of Sir Clarence stood a fair chance of hereafter making a favorable entry into politics; and as for fortune, his aunt on the mother's side, a Miss Tremont, of Cornwall, an old maid without nearer relatives than her nephew, was in a fair way to bequeath him seventy thousand pounds. And furthermore (this was an aspect of the case which Colonel Battledown probably kept to himself), it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that Archibald might finally inherit Malmaison in spite of the accident of his birth. Edward Malmaison had always been a delicate child, and years were not making him stronger. He was very studious, and disinclined to those active exercises in which his brother was already beginning to excel: his eyes were weak and his cheeks pale; and in short, unless his constitution should presently undergo a favorable change, the chances were fairly against his surviving Archibald, to say the least of it. "Archie thrashed him at fisticuffs," said the old man of war to himself, "and why shouldn't he get the better of him in other ways as well? Of course we wish no harm to happen to poor Edward, who is a good little snipe enough; but one must conduct one's campaign to an eye to what may happen, as well as to what is."
So this matrimonial arrangement, without being definitely resolved upon (except possibly in the hearts of the two young persons principally concerned), was allowed to remain in a state of favorable suspense. Kate and Archibald saw one another as much as was good for them—although, by way of keeping up the chivalric conditions, they used to pretend that all manner of portentous obstacles intervened between them and the consummation of their desires; and exhausted their ingenuity in the devising of secret meetings, of elopements across the garden wall, and of heart-rending separations, when imaginary heartless parents tore them ruthlessly from one another's arms. In a letter written by Sir Clarence to Dr. Rollinson, under date December 27th, 1811, the jolly Baronet says: "Our Xmas festivities were for a time interupted by another Romantic Event. Catherine, onely daughter of Colonel Battledown eloped with Mr. Archibald Malmaison of Malmaison. The Fugitives escaped by the pantry dore, and before they could be overtaken, had been maid man and wife by the under Gardner in the tool house in the corner of the yard. An application will be made to Parlement to dissolve the marriage untill the parties are out of the Nursrie." By this it may appear that Sir Clarence had even more humor than orthography.
It was a few weeks after this event that poor old Aunt Jane left the world by way of the ornamental fish-pond. The pond in question lay on the boundary-line between the Malmaison estate and that of the Pennroyals; and the ornamentation consisted of two flights of steps leading down to the water, and of half a dozen willows whose twisted trunks bent over the surface. Although of no great area, this pond was startlingly deep, and the bottom, when you got to it, was of the softest and most unfathomable mud. Had not Aunt Jane been seen just as she was sinking for the third time, therefore, the chances are that she would never have been seen till doomsday; there was room, and to spare, for all the Malmaison line in the slimy depths of that pool. After the catastrophe, Mr. Pennroyal caused a handsome iron railing to be erected round the scene of it. This act caused it to be said that he might have done it before. Did he expect his future wives to go the road of the first one? And was it not criminal negligence in him to have suffered her to escape from her attendants? How could such a thing have happened? Did Mr. Pennroyal consider that people might say that the death of his wife was no loss to him, but the contrary? because that fifty thousand pounds of hers, of which, during her lifetime, he could touch only the interest, became, at her decease, his absolute property, to do with as he liked. Under such circumstances, a gentleman careful of his reputation should have guarded her as the apple of his eye. It was certainly very odd that a poor frail crazy creature should have been able to elude all pursuit, and then have gone straight to the pool—in midwinter, too—and deliberately jumped in. And there she might have lain, and no one the wiser, had not young Archibald Malmaison happened to see her, and given the alarm. If he had been a few minutes earlier, who can tell but he might have seen something—that nobody suspected!
All this random talk proved nothing more than that the Honorable Mr. Pennroyal was not a favorite with his neighbors; and that was a fact of which no proof was needed. Some men, who are good fellows enough at bottom and even capable of inspiring genuine attachment in particular cases, never become generally popular. When Mr. Pennroyal was accused of stinginess, it was not considered that he had a great many liabilities to meet, and perhaps some big debts to pay off. When it was said that he was unsocial and cynical, it was forgotten that these very remarks were enough to make him so. And when he was blamed for neglecting his wife, and profiting by her demise—well, now, how is a gentleman to pay attentions to an idiot, or to be inconsolable when Providence gives him fifty thousand down in exchange for her? Besides, he gave her an imposing funeral, and put himself and all his household into strict mourning. As for the iron railing, it might be looked upon as a sort of monument to the departed, in which practical usefulness and a becoming sentiment were ingeniously combined.
The incident had its effect upon Archibald—in rather a curious fashion. He was, as has been intimated, the one to give the alarm. He had been passing that way, it seemed, and had caught sight of a struggling something in the water; and his shouts had speedily drawn the gamekeeper and a couple of villagers to the spot. The boy had watched the recapture of the lifeless body in solemn silence, a red flush of color in either cheek. He had been rather fond of Aunt Jane after her insanity became confirmed, and he was the only human being whom the poor woman had seemed to recognize, and in whose company she felt some dull gleams of pleasure. He now shed no tears, seeming more angry than grieved, and continued to maintain a marked taciturnity for several days; and, concerning the catastrophe itself, he could never be induced to speak at all. The power of keeping his own counsel had always characterized him: in the present instance he was as gloomily reserved as though he had buried a secret of state in his breast. Toward the widower his manner became, from hostile, almost insolent. It was a curious spectacle to see the lad, scarcely out of the nursery, either ignoring his tall relative, as if the latter were a caitiff unworthy the notice of a gentleman, or else staring him haughtily in the face, and staring him down, too! for it was remarked that the Honorable Richard exhibited an admirable forbearance, not to say meekness, toward his rude little kinsman. And yet, before this time, he had occasionally given the boy harsh words and looks.... It must have been that his bereavement had softened his heart.
However, time went on, and by degrees the poignancy of the widower's grief was blunted, and Aunt Jane's name was seldom mentioned by any one; after all she had not done herself, or anybody connected with her, much credit. And other changes occurred: the stout old Colonel found it incumbent upon him to join Sir Arthur Wellesley in the Peninsula; and Kate began to take the lead in household affairs (her mother was a good deal of an invalid), and stayed more at home than she used to do, and consequently did not see so much of Archibald; she gave him to understand that it was more genteel for him to come and call on her, as Mr. Pennroyal and other gentlemen did. The young lady was already coming into her heritage of beauty, and possessed more than her share of maidenly dignity, considering that she was barely thirteen. And when, at that mention of Pennroyal, Archibald said:
"Indeed, Kate, you must not class me with him, or with any man. Remember that we were married two Christmases ago—" she answered:
"You foolish boy! that was not a real marriage: a real marriage is done in a church, by a parson, and I wear a white veil."
"But ours was an elopement," objected Archibald, disturbed.
"An elopement without a carriage-and-four and a blacksmith? What an idea!"
"Do you mean to say you are not my wife, Kate?" demanded the boy, turning pale.
"Neither yours nor anybody's, Mr. Archibald."
"Kate!" he broke out passionately, the blood leaping to his face, "take care you never let yourself be any body else's wife than mine! And I don't see what difference a blacksmith or a veil makes. And if you do, they shall die! I know how to use a sword, and a pistol too!"
"O Archie, how wicked you are! and how cruel to me, when you know that I can never love any man but you, though cruel fate may separate us for a season!" The young lady was quoting from "Evelina," as Archibald well knew, but they had got so much in the habit of applying the phraseology of that work to the requirements of their own private romance, that it came without their thinking of it.
"But say that you will be my own at last!" cries Archibald, carrying on the scene in all seriousness.
"Nay, my lord, 'tis ungenerous thus to press me—Oh, no, you must not do so, Archie; the book says that Lord Orville only kisses her hand—"
"I am not Lord Orville, and I will kiss you where I like; and I don't care for the book when I feel as I do now! I only care for you."
"Bravo, young gentleman! that's the way to talk to 'em!" cried Dr. Rollinson, who had overheard the whole of this conversation, and who now appeared with his broad figure, his gouty legs, and his gruff chuckle. "Books are very well for make-believe, but when it comes to downright earnest, use a tongue of your own—eh?" and he clapped the boy kindly on the shoulder. "Yes, yes, she'll marry you fast enough when she sees you making eyes at some other pretty girl! Don't tell me! there's plenty of 'em, go where you will, and when you start on the grand tour, as you'll be doing one of these days, you'll see for yourself!" Such were the cynical blasphemies which this man was not ashamed to instil into the ear of his young friend; and then he led him away somewhere, still chuckling, and left Miss Battledown to digest her slight the best way she could. The Doctor fancied he knew a thing or two about the sex. If so, he was very knowing!
Malmaison House was partly destroyed by fire a number of years ago,  and two years later the portion still standing was taken down to make way for the proposed branch of the London and South-Coast Railway. The branch is still unbuilt, but only some heaps of grass-grown rubbish remain to mark the site of the venerable edifice. But at the period of which I am now writing it was an imposing pile of gray-stone, standing on a slight elevation, with a sloping lawn in front, and many large trees surrounding it. The centre and the right wing were of Elizabethan date; the left wing was constructed by Sir Christopher Wren, or by some architect of his school, and, though outwardly corresponding with the rest of the building, was interiorly both more commodious and less massive. The walls of the old part were in some places over four feet in thickness, and even the partitions between the rooms were two feet of solid masonry. Many of the rooms were hung with tapestry; and in taking down the house several traces were discovered of secret passages hollowed out within the walls themselves, and communicating by means of sliding panels from room to room. The plan of the building comprised two floors and an attic; but the attic was not coextensive with the lower areas; and there was often a difference of level between the apartments on the latter floors of from one to four steps. An irregular corridor on the first floor, badly lighted, and in some places perfectly dark, extended from the centre into the right wing, affording entrance to the rooms front and back.
At the end of the right wing was situated the east chamber, of which mention has already been made. Originally, the only access to it was by way of a larger chamber adjoining, which, again, could only be entered through the dark corridor. This was the condition of things at the time of the famous magic disappearance of Sir Charles Malmaison, in 1745. But, at the beginning of the present century, a door was cut through the outside wall, whence a covered flight of stone steps led down into an enclosed courtyard. The room was thus rendered independent, so to speak, of the rest of the house. The occupant might lock the door communicating with the adjoining chamber, and go and come by the other as he pleased. As for the courtyard, part of it had formerly been used as a stable, with stalls for three horses; these were now transferred to the other end of the mansion, though the stable, of course, remained; and it was necessary to go through the stable in order to get to the covered flight of steps.
It may be remembered that Archibald, in what we may term his soporific period, had manifested a strong, although entirely irrational, repugnance to this east chamber. Perhaps he had been conscious of presences there which were imperceptible to normal and healthy senses! Be that as it may, he got bravely over his folly afterward, and in his twelfth year (his third, Sir Clarence would have called it) he permanently took up his quarters there, and would admit no "women" except as a special favor. In those days, when people were still, more or less, prone to superstition, it was not every boy who would have enjoyed the sensation of spending his nights in so isolated a situation; for the right wing was almost entirely unoccupied on this floor. But Archibald appears to have been singularly free from fear, whether of the natural or of the supernatural. He collected together all his boyish penates—his gun, his sword, his fishing-rods, and his riding-whips, and arranged them about the walls. He swept down the cobwebs from windows and ceiling; turned out of doors a lot of miscellaneous lumber that had insensibly collected there during the last half century; lugged in a few comfortable broad-bottomed chairs and stanch old tables; set up a bookshelf containing Walton's "Complete Angler," "Dialogues of Devils," "Arabian Nights," Miss Burney's "Evelina," and other equally fashionable and ingenious works; kindled a great fire on the broad hearth; and, upon the whole, rendered the aspect of things more comfortable than would have been anticipated. The room itself was long, narrow, and comparatively low; the latticed windows were sunk several feet into the massive walls; lengths of brownish-green and yellow tapestry, none the fresher for its two centuries and more of existence, still protested against the modern heresy of wallpaper; and in a panel-frame over the fireplace was seen the portrait, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, of the Jacobite baronet. It was a half-length, in officer's uniform; one hand holding the hilt of a sword against the breast, while the forefinger of the other hand pointed diagonally downward, as much as to say, "I vanished in that direction!" The fireplace, it should be noted, was built on the side of the room opposite to the windows; that is to say, in one of the partition walls. And what was on the other side of this partition? Not the large chamber opening into the corridor—that lay at right angles to the east chamber, along the southern front of the wing. Not the corridor either, though it ran for some distance parallel to the east chamber, and had a door on the east side. But this door led into a great dark closet, as big as an ordinary room, and used as a receptacle for rubbish. Was it the dark closet, then, that adjoined the east chamber on the other side of the partition? No, once more. Had a window been opened through the closet wall, it would have looked—not into Archibald's room, but—into a narrow blind court or well, entirely enclosed between four stone walls, and of no apparent use, save as a somewhat clumsy architectural expedient. There was no present way of getting into this well, or even of looking into it, unless one had been at the pains to mount on the roof of the house and peer down. As a matter of fact, its existence was only made known by the reports of an occasional workman engaged in renewing the tiles, or mending a decayed chimney. An accurate survey of the building would, of course, have revealed it at once; but nothing of the kind had been thought of within the memory of man. Such a survey would also have revealed what no one in the least suspected, but which was, nevertheless, a fact of startling significance—namely, that the blind court was, at least, fifteen feet shorter, and twenty-five feet narrower, than it ought to have been!
Archibald was as far from suspecting it as anybody; indeed, he most likely never troubled his head about builders' plans in his life. But he thought a great deal of his great-grandfather's portrait; and since it was so placed as to be in view of the most comfortable chair before the fire, he spent many hours of every week gazing at it. What was Sir Charles pointing at with that left forefinger? And what meant that peculiarly intent and slightly frowning glance which the painted eyes forever bent upon his own? Archibald probably had a few of Mrs. Radcliffe's romances along with the other valuable books on his shelves, and he may have cherished a notion that a treasure, or an important secret of some sort, was concealed in the vicinity. Following down the direction of the pointing finger, he found that it intersected the floor at a spot about five feet to the right of the side of the fireplace. The floor of the chamber was of solid oak planking, blackened by age; and it appeared to be no less solid at this point than at any other. Nevertheless, he thought it would be good fun, and at all events would do no harm, to cut a hole there, and see what was underneath. Accordingly, he quietly procured a saw and a hammer and chisel, and one day, when the family were away from home, he locked himself into his room, and went to work. The job was not an easy one, the tough oak wood being almost enough to turn the edge of his chisel, and there being no purchase at all for the saw. After quarter of an hour's chipping and hammering, with very little result, he paused to rest. The board at which he had been working, and which met the wall at right angles, was very short, not more than eighteen inches long, indeed, being inserted merely to fill up the gap caused by a deficiency in length of the plank of which it was the continuation. Between the two adjoining ends was a crack of some width, and into that crack did Archibald idly stick his chisel. It seemed to him that the crack widened, so that he was able to press the blade of the chisel down to its thickest part. He now worked it eagerly backward and forward, and, to his delight, the crack rapidly widened still further; in fact, the short board was sliding back underneath the wainscot. A small oblong cavity was thus revealed, into which the young discoverer glowered with beating heart and vast anticipations.
What he found could scarcely be said to do those anticipations justice; it was neither a casket of precious stones, nor a document establishing the family right of ownership of the whole county of Sussex. It was nothing more than a tarnished rod of silver, about nine inches in length, and twisted into an irregular sort of corkscrew shape. One end terminated in a broad flat button; the other in a blunted point. There was nothing else in the hole—nothing to show what the rod was meant for, or why it was so ingeniously hidden there. And yet, reflected Archibald, could it have been so hidden, and its place of concealment so mysteriously indicated, without any ulterior purpose whatever? It was incredible! Why, the whole portrait was evidently painted with no other object than that of indicating the rod's whereabouts. Either, then, there was or had been something else in the cavity in addition to the rod, or the rod was intended to be used in some way still unexplained. So much was beyond question.
Thus cogitated Archibald—that is to say, thus he might have cogitated, for there is no direct evidence of what passed through his mind. And, in the first place, he made an exhaustive examination of the cavity, and convinced himself not only that there was nothing else except dust to be got out of it, but also that it opened into no other cavity which might prove more fruitful. His next step was to study the silver rod, in the hope that scrutiny or inspiration might suggest to him what it was good for. His pains were rewarded by finding on the flat head the nearly obliterated figures 3 and 5, inscribed one above the other, in the manner of a vulgar fraction, thus, 3/5; and by the conviction that the spiral conformation of the rod was not the result of accident, as he had at first supposed, but had been communicated to it intentionally, for some purpose unknown. These conclusions naturally stimulated his curiosity more than ever, but nothing came of it. The boy was a clever boy, but he was not a detective trained in this species of research, and the problem was beyond his ingenuity. He made every application of the figures 3 and 5 that imagination could suggest; he took them in feet, in inches, in yards; he added them together, and he subtracted one from the other: all in vain. The only thing he did not do was to take any one else into his confidence; he said not a word about the affair even to Kate; being resolved that if there were a mystery, it should be revealed, at least in the first instance, to no one else besides himself. At length, after several days spent in fruitless experiments and loss of temper, he returned the rod to its hiding-place, with the determination to give himself a rest for awhile, and see what time and accident would do for him. This plan, though undoubtedly prudent, seemed likely to effect no more than the others; and over a year passed away without the rod's being again disturbed. By degrees his thoughts ceased to dwell so persistently upon the unsolved puzzle, and other interests took possession of his mind. The tragedy of his aunt's death, his love for Kate, his studies, his prospects—a hundred things gave him occupation, until the silver rod was half forgotten.
In the latter part of 1813, however, he accidentally made a rather remarkable discovery.
He had for the first time been out hunting with his father and the neighboring country gentlemen in the autumn of this year, and it appears that on two occasions he had the brush awarded to him. At his request the heads of the two foxes were mounted for him, and he proposed to put them up on either side his fireplace.
The wall, above and for a few inches to the right and left of the mantelpiece, was bare of tapestry; the first-named place being occupied by the portrait, while the sides were four feet up the oaken wainscot which surrounded the whole room behind the tapestry, and from thence to the ceiling, plaster. The mantelpiece and fireplace were of a dark slaty stone, and of brick, respectively.
Archibald fixed upon what he considered the most effective positions for his heads—just above the level of the wainscot, and near enough to the mantelpiece not to be interfered with by the tapestry. He nailed up one of them on the left-hand side, the nails penetrating with just sufficient resistance in the firm plaster; and then, measuring carefully to the corresponding point on the right-hand side, he proceeded to affix the other head there. But the nail, on this occasion, could not be made to go in; and on his attempting to force it with a heavier stroke of the hammer, it bent beneath the blow, and the hammer came sharply into contact with the white surface of the wall, producing a clinking sound as from an impact on metal.
A brief investigation now revealed the fact that a circular disk of iron, about three inches in diameter, and painted white to match the plaster, was here let into the wall. What could be the object of it? With a fresh nail the boy began to scratch off the paint from the surface of the disk, in order to determine whether it were actually iron, or some other metal; in so doing a small movable lid, like the screen of a keyhole, was pushed aside, disclosing a little round aperture underneath. Archibald pushed the nail into it, thereby informing himself that the hole went straight into the wall, for a distance greater than the length of the nail; but how much greater, and what was at the end of it, he could only conjecture.
We must imagine him now standing upon a chair, with the nail in his hand, casting about in his mind for some means of probing this mysterious and unexpected hole to the bottom. At this juncture he happens to glance upward, and meets the intent regard of his pictured ancestor, who seems to have been silently watching him all this time, and only to be prevented by unavoidable circumstances from speaking out and telling him what to do next. And there is that constant forefinger pointing—at what? At the cavity in the floor, of course; but not of that alone; for if you observe, this same new-found hole in the wall is a third point in the straight line between the end of the forefinger and the hiding-place of the silver rod; furthermore, the hole is, as nearly as can be estimated without actual measurement, three feet distant from the forefinger, and five feet from the rod; the problem of three above and five below has solved itself in the twinkling of an eye, and it only remains to act accordingly!
Archibald sprang to the floor in no small excitement; but the first thing he did was to see that both his doors were securely fastened. Then he advanced upon the mystery with heightened color and beating heart, his imagination revelling in the wildest forecasts of what might be in store; and anon turning him cold with sickening apprehension lest it should prove to be nothing after all! But no—something there must be, some buried secret, now to live once more for him, and for him only: the secret, whereof dim legends had come down through the obscurity of two hundred years; the secret, too, of old Sir Charles in the frame yonder, the man of magic repute. What could it be? Some talisman—some volume of the Black Art perhaps—which would enable him to vanish at will into thin air, and to travel with the speed of a wish from place to place—to become a veritable enchanter, endowed with all supernatural powers. With hands slightly tremulous from eagerness he pushed back the bit of plank and drew forth the silver rod; then mounted on the chair and applied it to the hole, which it fitted accurately. Before pushing it home he paused a moment.
In all the stories he had read, the possessors of magic secrets had acquired the same, only in exchange for something supposed to be equally valuable, namely, their own souls. It was not to be expected that Archibald would be able to modify the terms of the bargain in his own case: was he, then, prepared to pay the price? Every human being, probably, is called upon to give a more or less direct answer to this question at some epoch of their lives: and were it not for curiosity and scepticism, and an unwillingness to profit by the experience of others, very likely that answer might be more often favorable to virtue than it actually is. Archibald did not hesitate long. Whether he decided to disbelieve in any danger; whether he resolved to brave it whatever it might be; or whether, having got thus far, he had not sufficient control over his inclinations to resist going further—at all events he drew in his breath, set his boyish lips, and drove the silver rod into the aperture with right good will.
It turned slowly as it entered, the curve of its spiral evidently following the corresponding windings of the hole. Inward it twisted like a snake, until only some two inches still projected. As the searcher after forbidden mysteries continued to press, something seemed to give way within; and at the same instant an odd, shuffling sound caused him to glance sharply over his left shoulder.
What was the matter with the mantelpiece? The whole of the right jamb seemed to have started forward nearly a foot, while the left jamb had retired by a corresponding distance into the wall; the hearth, with the fire burning upon it, remained meanwhile undisturbed. At first Archibald imagined that the mantelpiece was going to fall, perhaps bringing down the whole partition with it; but when he had got over the first shock of surprise sufficiently to make an examination, he found that the entire structure of massive gray-stone was swung upon a concealed pivot, round which it turned independently of the brickwork of the fireplace. The silver rod had released the spring by which the mechanism was held in check, and an unsuspected doorway was thus revealed, opening into the very substance of the apparently solid wall. On getting down from his chair he had no difficulty in pulling forward the jamb far enough to satisfy himself that there was a cavity of unknown extent behind. And from out of this cavity breathed a strange dry air, like the sigh of a mummy. As for the darkness in there, it was almost substantial as of the central chamber in the great pyramid.
Archibald may well have had some misgivings, for he was only a boy, and this happened more than sixty years ago, when ghosts and goblins had not come to be considered such indefensible humbugs as they are now. Nevertheless, he was of a singularly intrepid temperament, and besides he had passed the turning point in this adventure a few minutes ago. Nothing, therefore, would have turned him back now. Come what might of it, he would see this business to an end.
It was, however, impossible to see anything without a light; it would be necessary to fetch one of the rush candles from the table in the corridor. It was a matter of half a minute for the boy to go and return; then he edged himself through the opening, and was standing in a kind of vaulted tunnel, directly behind the fireplace, the warmth of which he could feel when he laid his hand on the bricks on that side. The tunnel, which extended along the interior of the wall toward the left, was about six feet in height by two and a half in width. Archibald could walk in it quite easily.
But, in the first place, he scrutinized the mechanism of the revolving mantelpiece. It was an extremely ingenious and yet simple device, and so accurately fitted in all its parts that, after so many years, they still worked together almost as smoothly as when new. After Archibald had poured a little of his gun-oil into the joints of the hinges, and along the grooves, he found that heavy stone structure would open and close as noiselessly and easily as his own jaws. It could be opened from the inside by using the silver rod in a hole corresponding to that on the outside; and, having practised this opening and shutting until he was satisfied that he was thoroughly master of the process, he put the rod in his pocket, pulled the jamb gently together behind him, and, candle in hand, set forth along the tunnel.
After walking ten paces, he came face-up against a wall lying at right angles to the direction in which he had been moving. Peering cautiously round the corner, he saw, at the end of a shallow embrasure, a ponderous door of dark wood, braced with iron, standing partly open, with a key in the keyhole, as if some one had just come out, and, in his haste, had forgotten to shut and lock the door behind him. Archibald now slowly opened it to its full extent; it creaked as it moved, and the draught of air made his candle flicker, and caused strange shadows to dance for a moment in the unexplored void beyond. In another breath Archibald had crossed the threshold and arrived at the goal of his pilgrimage.
At first he could see very little; but there could be no doubt that he was in a room which seemed to be of large extent, and for the existence of which he could by no means account. The reader, who has been better informed, will already have assigned it its true place in that unexplained region mentioned some pages back, between the blind court and the east chamber. Groping his way cautiously about, Archibald presently discerned a burnished sconce affixed to the wall, in which having placed his candle, the light was reflected over the room, so that the objects it contained stood dimly forth. It was a room of fair extent and considerable height, and was, apparently, furnished in a style of quaint and sombre magnificence, such as no other apartment in Malmaison could show. The arched ceiling was supported by vast oaken beams; the floor was inlaid with polished marbles. The walls, instead of being hung with tapestry, were painted in distemper with life-size figure subjects, representing, as far as the boy could make out, some weird incantation scene. At one end of the room stood a heavy cabinet, the shelves of which were piled with gold and silver plate, richly chased, and evidently of great value. Here, in fact, seemed to have been deposited many of the precious heirlooms of the family, which had disappeared during the Jacobite rebellions, and were supposed to have been lost. The cabinet was made of ebony inlaid with ivory, as was also a broad round table in the centre of the room. In a niche opposite the cabinet gleamed a complete suit of sixteenth century armor; and so dry was the atmosphere of the apartment, that scarce a spot of rust appeared upon the polished surface, which, however, like every other object in the room, was overlaid with fine dust. A bed, with embroidered coverlet and heavy silken curtains, stood in a deep recess to the left of the cabinet. Upon the table lay a number of papers and parchments, some tied up in bundles, others lying about in disorder. One was spread open, with a pen thrown down upon it, and an antique ink-horn standing near; and upon a stand beside the bed was a gold-enamelled snuff-box, with its lid up, and containing, doubtless, the dusty remnant of some George II. rappee.
At all these things Archibald gazed in thoughtful silence. This room had been left, at a moment's warning, generations ago; since then this strange dry air had been breathed by no human nostrils, these various objects had remained untouched and motionless; nothing but time had dwelt in the chamber; and yet what a change, subtle but mighty, had been wrought! Mere stillness—mere absence of life—was an appalling thing, the boy thought. And why had this secret been suffered to pass into oblivion? And why had fate selected him to discover it? And now, what use would he make of it? "At all events," said the boy to himself, "it has become my secret, and shall remain mine; and no fear but the occasion will come when I shall know what use to make of it." He felt that meanwhile it would give him power, security, wealth also if he should ever have occasion for it; and with a curious sentiment of pride he saw himself thus mystically designated as the true heir of Malmaison—the only one of his age and generation who had been permitted to stand on an equality with those historic and legendary ancestors, to whom the secret of this chamber had given the name and fame of wizards. Henceforth Archibald was as much a wizard as they.
Or, might there after all be a power in necromancy that he yet dreamed not of? Was it possible that even now those old enchanters held their meetings here, and would question his right to force his way among them?
As this thought passed through the boy's mind, he was moving slowly forward, his eyes glancing now here, now there, when all at once the roots of his hair were stirred with an emotion which, if not fear, was certainly far removed from tranquillity. From the darkest corner of the room he had seen a human figure silently and stealthily creeping toward him. Now, as he fixed his eyes upon it, it stopped, and seemed to return his stare. His senses did not deceive him; there it stood, distinctly outlined, though its features were indistinguishable by reason of the shadow that fell upon them. But what living thing—living with mortal life at least—could exist in a room that had been closed for sixty years?
Now certainly this Archibald, who had not yet completed his fourteenth year, possessed a valiant soul. That all his flesh yearned for instant flight does not admit of a doubt; and had he fled, this record would never have been written. Fly, however, he would not, but would step forward rather, and be resolved what manner of goblin confronted him. Forward, therefore, he stepped; and behold, the goblin was but the reflection of himself in a tall mirror, which the obscurity and his own agitation had prevented him from discerning. The revulsion of feeling thus occasioned was so strong that for a moment all strength forsook the boy's knees; he stumbled and fell, and his forehead struck the corner of the ebony cabinet. He was on his feet again in a moment, but his forehead was bleeding, and he felt strangely giddy. The candle, too, was getting near its end; it was time to bring this first visit to a close. He took the candle from the sconce, passed out through the door, traversed the tunnel, and thrust the silver key into the keyhole. The stone door yielded before him; he dropped what was left of the candle, and slipped through the opening into broad daylight. The first object his dazzled eyes rested upon was the figure of Miss Kate Battledown. In returning from his visit to the corridor he must have forgotten to lock the room door after him. She was standing with her back toward him, looking out of the window, and was apparently making signs to some one outside.
Noiselessly Archibald pushed the mantelpiece back into place; thanks to the oiling he had given the hinges, no sound betrayed the movement. The next moment Kate turned round, and seeing him, started and cried "Oh!"
"Good-morning, Mistress Kate," said Archibald.
"You were not here a moment ago!"
"Then how did you get here?"
Archibald made a gesture toward the door leading to the covered stairway.
"No—no!" said Kate; "it is locked, and the key is on this side." She had been coming toward him, but now stopped and regarded him with terror in her looks.
"What is the matter, Kate?"
"You are all over blood, Archibald! What has happened? Are you ... oh, what are you?" She was ready to believe him a ghost.
"What am I?" repeated the boy, sluggishly. That odd giddiness was increasing, and he scarcely knew whether he were asleep or awake. Who was he, indeed? What had happened? Who was that young woman in front of him? What....
"Archibald! Archie! Speak to me! Why do you look so strangely?"
"Me not know oo!" said Archie, and began to cry.
Mistress Kate turned pale, and began to back toward the door.
"Me want my Kittie!" blubbered Archie.
Kate stopped. "You want me?"
"Me want my 'ittle Kittie—my 'ittle b'indled Kittie! Dey put my Kittie in de hole in de darden! Me want her to p'ay wiz!" And with this, and with the tears streaming down his cheeks, poor Archie toddled forward with the uncertain step and outstretched arms of a little child. But Kate had already gained the door, and was running screaming across the next room, and so down the long corridor.
Poor Archie toddled after, his baby heart filled with mourning for the brindled cat that had been buried in the back garden seven years before. Seven years?—or was it only yesterday?
Miss Kate Battledown's screams, as she ran down the corridor, must speedily have summoned the household; and then the dreadful news was told, not losing anything of its horror, we may be sure, in the recital; and then appeared poor Archie in confirmation. The greatest confusion and bewilderment prevailed. No one comprehended anything. It was not known what had happened. What was this story about Archie's having suddenly appeared, where before there had been only empty air—just as his great grandfather, Sir Charles, had done before him? Kate, to whom we may pardon a little incorrectness or exaggeration under the circumstances, solemnly asseverated that she had been looking straight at the centre of the room, and that nobody was there; and that all at once "Archie grew together out of nothing!" Such is the version of her words given by Lady Malmaison in a letter to her sister, Miss Tremount, of Cornwall, soon after the occurrence. Miss Tremount, it may be remembered, had intimated years ago her intention of making Archibald her heir; and Lady Malmaison's letter is an amusing and rather ingenious attempt to convey the information about poor Archie, in such a way as not to frighten off this inheritance. Doctor Rollinson, she wrote, had seen dear Archie, and had said that what had happened was only what might have been expected; and that the dear child's health would certainly not suffer, but, on the contrary, be strengthened, and his life prolonged. For that there could be no doubt that poor Archie had been laboring under an almost unnatural excitement, or tension of the nerves, during the last few years, which had caused Lady Malmaison the greatest anxiety; and she was truly thankful, for her part, that things had come out no worse than they had. She could feel secure, now, that her darling Archie would live to be a quiet, good, sensible English gentleman, fitted to discharge efficiently, and conscientiously, an English gentleman's duties, whether it were to manage an estate, or—or in fact whatever it might be. And then came the little story about the mysterious apparition of Archie out of vacancy, which Lady Malmaison treated humorously; though in her own heart she was very much scared at it, and was moreover privately convinced that Archie was, and would remain, very little better than an idiot all his life long. Now, it is well known that English country gentlemen are never idiotic.
What was the elder Dr. Rollinson's real opinion about Archie's relapse? The only direct evidence worth having on this point—his own—is unfortunately not forthcoming, and we are obliged to depend on such inaccurate or interested hearsay as has just been quoted above. It seems likely that he came to the conclusion that stupidity was the boy's normal condition and that his seven years of brilliance had been something essentially abnormal and temporary, and important only from a pathological point of view. Indeed, there was nothing in the transmuted Archibald's condition that was susceptible of being treated as a disease. He was as healthy as the average of boys of fourteen (if he were a boy of fourteen, and not a child of seven). He knew nothing, and had retained nothing, of his other life; he had to be taught his letters—and a terrible job that was, by all accounts; he occasionally expressed a desire to see his nurse Maggie—who, the charitable reader will rejoice to hear, had been honestly married since we last heard of her. He was greatly puzzled to find himself so much taller than when he last knew himself; and it was a long time before he could be induced to recognize his own reflection in the looking-glass. Needless to say that everything connected with the secret chamber and the silver rod was completely erased from his mind; and though he had been found with the rod in his hand, he could not tell what it was or where he got it.
In this connection, however, I will mention something which, if it be true, throws a new and strange light upon his psychological condition. There is reason to believe that he visited the secret chamber in a somnambulistic state. The evidence on which this supposition is founded appears, at this distance of time, rather imperfect; but it is certain that a few weeks after the boy's entrance upon his unintelligent state, the silver rod was lost sight of; and it is almost certain that during the time of its disappearance it was lying in its hidden receptacle under the floor beside the mantelpiece. But in that case, who but Archibald could have put it there? and when could he have put it there save in his sleep? It is known that he was a somnambulist during his unenlightened period, though never in his alternate state; and if he, as a somnambulist, remembered the hiding-place of the rod, it follows that he must also have remembered the rod's use, and visited the secret chamber. Thus it would seem that only in the boy's waking hours was he oblivious and stupid; in his dreams he truly lived and was awake! Here, then, is a complication of absorbing interest, which I will leave for physicians and metaphysicians to fight out between themselves. For my part, I can only look on in respectful bewilderment.
But we must leave Archibald for the present, and occupy our minds with the proceedings of the other personages of this drama. An era of disaster was in store for most of them. It is curious to note how the proverb that misfortunes never come single was illustrated in the case of these people. Fate seems to have launched its thunderbolts at them all at once, as if making up for lost time; or like a playwright, who clears his stage of all secondary and superfluous characters, and leaves a free field wherein the two or three principal people may meet and work out their destiny unimpeded.
Colonel Battledown fought under Wellington against Soult at Orthez; and in a charge of the French cavalry the gallant officer and genial gentleman was cut in the head by a sabre-stroke and ridden down; and when picked up after the battle he was dead. He was buried on the spot; the practice of sending the corpses of heroes and others careering over the face of the earth, in search of a spot of loam worthy to receive them, was not at that time so fashionable as it has since become. But the news of his death came home, and put his friends in mourning, and made Mistress Kate the heiress of a great property at the age of fourteen. But she was older than her years, and was generally considered to be "just the sort of person to be an heiress," whatever that may be. I suppose she was exceedingly handsome, with a proper sense of her importance, and a capacity of keeping an eye upon what she considered her interests. At the same time many actions of hers indicate that she was occasionally liable to ungovernable impulses, and that her temper was fitful and wayward. Such a woman would make a capital heroine for a modern novel; she would stand a lot of analyzing.
The tender relations which had subsisted between her and Archibald were perforce broken off. What can you do with a lover who suddenly ceases to have the most distant recollection of you, who does not believe you when you tell him your name, and whose only associations with that name date seven years back and are disagreeable? Nobody can blame Kate for giving Archibald up; she would have been more than human if she could have intrusted her heart to the keeping of a half-witted wizard, whose mysterious likeness to, or connection with, a charming young gentleman rendered him only the more undesirable. Poor Kate! If she gave her heart to Archibald, and then Archibald became somebody else, what shall we say became of her heart? Must it not have been irretrievably lost, and shall we be surprised if we hereafter detect in her a tendency to heartlessness?