E-text prepared by Malcolm Farmer
MISS LUDINGTON'S SISTER
The happiness of some lives is distributed pretty evenly over the whole stretch from the cradle to the grave, while that of others comes all at once, glorifying some particular epoch and leaving the rest in shadow. During one, five, or ten blithe years, as the case may be, all the springs of life send up sweet waters; joy is in the very air we breathe; happiness seems our native element. During this period we know what is the zest of living, as compared with the mere endurance of existence, which is, perhaps, the most we have attained to before or since. With men this culminating epoch comes often in manhood, or even at maturity, especially with men of arduous and successful careers. But with women it comes most frequently perhaps in girlhood and young womanhood. Particularly is this wont to be the fact with women who do not marry, and with whom, as the years glide on, life becomes lonelier and its interests fewer.
By the time Miss Ida Ludington was twenty-five years old she recognised that she had done with happiness, and that the pale pleasures of memory were all which remained to her.
It was not so much the mere fact that her youth was past, saddening though that might be, which had so embittered her life, but the peculiarly cruel manner in which it had been taken from her.
The Ludingtons were one of the old families of Hilton, a little farming village among the hills of Massachusetts. They were not rich, but were well-to-do, lived in the largest house in the place, and were regarded somewhat as local magnates. Miss Ludington's childhood had been an exceptionally happy one, and as a girl she had been the belle of the village. Her beauty, together, with her social position and amiability of disposition, made her the idol of the young men, recognised leader of the girls, and the animating and central figure in the social life of the place.
She was about twenty years old, at the height of her beauty and in the full tide of youthful enjoyment, when she fell ill of a dreadful disease, and for a long time lay between life and death. Or, to state the case more accurately, the girl did die—it was a sad and faded woman who rose from that bed of sickness.
The ravages of disease had not left a vestige of her beauty—it was hopelessly gone. The luxuriant, shining hair had fallen out and been replaced by a scanty growth of washed-out hue; the lips, but yesterday so full, and red, and tempting, were thin, and drawn, and colourless, and the rose-leaf complexion had given place to an aspect so cruelly pitted, seamed, and scarred that even friends did not recognize her.
The fading of youth is always a melancholy experience with women; but in most cases the process is so gradual as to temper the poignancy of regret, and perhaps often to prevent its being experienced at all except as a vague sentiment.
But in Miss Ludington's case the transition had been piteously sharp and abrupt.
With others, ere youth is fully past its charms are well-nigh forgotten in the engrossments of later years; but with her there had been nothing to temper the bitterness of her loss.
During the long period of invalidism which followed her sickness her only solace was a miniature of herself, at the age of seventeen, painted on ivory, the daguerrotype process not having come into use at this time, which was toward the close of the third decade of the present century.
Over this picture she brooded hours together when no one was near, studying the bonny, gladsome face through blinding tears, and sometimes murmuring incoherent words of tenderness.
Her young friends occasionally came to sit with her, by way of enlivening the weary hours of an invalid's day. At such times she would listen with patient indifference while they sought to interest her with current local gossip, and as soon as possible would turn the conversation back to the old happy days before her sickness. On this topic she was never weary of talking, but it was impossible to induce her to take any interest in the present.
She had caused a locket to be made, to contain the ivory miniature of herself as a girl, and always wore it on her bosom.
In no way could her visitors give her more pleasure than by asking to see this picture, and expressing their admiration of it. Then her poor, disfigured face would look actually happy, and she would exclaim, "Was she not beautiful?" "I do not think it flattered her, do you?" and with other similar expressions indicate her sympathy with the admiration expressed. The absence of anything like self-consciousness in the delight she took in these tributes to the charms of her girlish self was pathetic in its completeness. It was indeed not as herself, but as another, that she thought of this fair girl, who had vanished from the earth, leaving a picture as her sole memento. How, indeed, could it be otherwise when she looked from the picture to the looking-glass, and contrasted the images? She mourned for her girlish self, which had been so cruelly effaced from the world of life, as for a person, near and precious to her beyond the power of words to express, who had died.
From the time that she had first risen from the sick-bed, where she had suffered so sad a transformation, nothing could induce her to put on the brightly coloured gowns, beribboned, and ruffled, and gaily trimmed, which she had worn as a girl; and as soon as she was able she carefully folded and put them away in lavender, like relics of the dead. For herself, she dressed henceforth in drab or black.
For three or four years she remained more or less an invalid. At the end of that time she regained a fair measure of health, although she seemed not likely ever to be strong.
In the meanwhile her school-mates and friends had pretty much all married, or been given in marriage. She was a stranger to the new set of young people which had come on the stage since her day, while her former companions lived in a world of new interests, with which she had nothing in common. Society, in reorganizing itself, had left her on the outside. The present had moved on, leaving her behind with the past. She asked nothing better. If she was nothing to the present, the present was still less to her. As to society, her sensitiveness to the unpleasant impression made by her personal appearance rendered social gatherings distasteful to her, and she wore a heavy veil when she went to church.
She was an only child. Her mother had long been dead, and when about this time her father died she was left without near kin. With no ties of contemporary interest to hold her to the present she fell more and more under the influence of the habit of retrospection.
The only brightness of colour which life could ever have for her lay behind in the girlhood which had ended but yesterday, and was yet so completely ended. She found her only happiness in the recollections of that period which she retained. These were the only goods she prized, and it was the grief of her life that, while she had strong boxes for her money, and locks and keys for her silver and her linen, there was no device whereby she could protect her store of memories from the slow wasting of forgetfulness.
She lived with a servant quite alone in the old Ludington homestead, which it was her absorbing care to keep in precisely the same condition, even to the arrangement of the furniture, in which it had always been.
If she could have insured the same permanence in the village of Hilton, outside the homestead enclosure, she would have been spared the cause of her keenest unhappiness. For the hand of change was making havoc with the village: the railroad had come, shops had been built, and stores and new houses were going up on every side, and the beautiful hamlet, with its score or two of old-fashioned dwellings, which had been the scene of her girlhood, was in a fair way to be transformed into a vile manufacturing village.
Miss Ludington, to whom every stick and stone of the place was dear, could not walk abroad without missing some ancient landmark removed since she had passed that way before, perhaps a tree felled, some meadow, that had been a playground of her childhood, dug up for building-lots, or a row of brick tenements going up on the site of a sacred grove.
Her neighbours generally had succumbed to the rage for improvement, as they called it. There was a general remodelling and modernizing of houses, and, where nothing more expensive could be afforded, the paint-brush wrought its cheap metamorphosis. "You wouldn't know Hilton was the same place," was the complacent verdict of her neighbours, to which Miss Ludington sorrowfully assented.
It would be hard to describe her impotent wrath, her sense of outrage and irreparable loss, as one by one these changes effaced some souvenir of her early life. The past was once dead already; they were killing it a second time. Her feelings at length became so intolerable that she kept her house, pretty much ceasing to walk abroad.
At this period, when she was between thirty and thirty-five years old, a distant relative left her a large fortune. She had been well-to-do before, but now she was very rich. As her expenses had never exceeded a few hundred dollars a year, which had procured her everything she needed, it would be hard to imagine a person with less apparent use for a great deal of money. And yet no young rake, in the heyday of youth and the riot of hot blood, could have been more overjoyed at the falling to him of a fortune than was this sad-faced old maid. She became smiling and animated. She no longer kept at home, but walked abroad. Her step was quick and strong; she looked on at the tree-choppers, the builders, and the painters, at their nefarious work, no more in helpless grief and indignation, but with an unmistakable expression of triumph.
Presently surveyors appeared in the village, taking exact and careful measurements of the single broad and grassy street which formed the older part of it. Miss Ludington was closeted with a builder, and engrossed with estimates. The next year she left Hilton to the mercy of the vandals, and never returned.
But it was to another Hilton that she went.
The fortune she had inherited had enabled her to carry out a design which had been a day-dream with her ever since the transformation of the village had begun. Among the pieces of property left her was a large farm on Long Island several miles out of the city of Brooklyn. Here she had rebuilt the Hilton of her girlhood, in facsimile, with every change restored, every landmark replaced. In the midst of this silent village she had built for her residence an exact duplicate of the Ludington homestead, situated in respect to the rest of the village precisely as the original was situated in the real Hilton.
The astonishment of the surveyors and builders at the character of the work required of them was probably great, and their bills certainly were, though Miss Ludington would not have grudged the money had they been ten times greater. However, seeing that the part of the village duplicated consisted of but one broad maple-planted street, with not over thirty houses, mostly a story and a half, and that none of the buildings, except the school-house, the little meeting-house, and the homestead, were finished inside, the outlay was not greater than an elaborate plan of landscape gardening would have involved.
The furniture and fittings of the Massachusetts homestead, to the least detail, had been used to fit up its Long Island duplicate, and when all was complete and Miss Ludington had settled down to housekeeping, she felt more at home than in ten years past.
True, the village which she had restored was empty; but it was not more empty than the other Hilton had been to her these many years, since her old schoolmates had been metamorphosed into staid fathers and mothers. These respectable persons were not the schoolmates and friends of her girlhood, and with no hard feelings toward them, she had still rather resented seeing them about, as tending to blur her recollections of their former selves, in whom alone she was interested.
That her new Long Island neighbours considered her mildly insane was to her the least of all concerns. The only neighbours she cared about were the shadowy forms which peopled the village she had rescued from oblivion, whose faces she fancied smiling gratefully at her from the windows of the homes she had restored to them.
For she had a notion that the spirits of her old neighbours, long dead, had found out this resurrected Hilton, and were grateful for the opportunity to revisit the unaltered scenes of their passion. If she had grieved over the removal of the old landmarks and the change in the appearance of the village, how much more hopelessly must they have grieved if indeed the dead revisit earth! The living, if their homes are broken up, can make them new ones, which, after a fashion, will serve the purpose; but the dead cannot. They are thenceforth homeless and desolate.
No sense of having benefited living persons would have afforded Miss Ludington the pleasure she took in feeling that, by rebuilding ancient Hilton, she had restored homes to these homeless ones.
But of all this fabric of the past which she had resurrected, the central figure was the school-girl Ida Ludington. The restored village was the mausoleum of her youth.
Over the great old-fashioned fireplace, in the sitting-room of the homestead which she had rebuilt in the midst of the village, she had hung a portrait in oil, by the first portrait-painter then in the country. It was an enlarged copy of the little likeness on ivory which had formerly been so great a solace to her.
The portrait was executed with extremely life-like effect, and was fondly believed by Miss Ludington to be a more accurate likeness in some particulars than the ivory picture itself.
It represented a very beautiful girl of seventeen or eighteen, although already possessing the ripened charms of a woman. She was dressed in white, with a low bodice, her luxuriant golden hair, of a rare sheen and fineness, falling upon beautifully moulded shoulders. The complexion was of a purity that needed the faint tinge of pink in the cheeks to relieve it of a suspicion of pallor. The eyes were of the deepest, tenderest violet, full of the light of youth, and the lips were smiling.
It was, indeed, no wonder that Miss Ludington had mourned the vanishing from earth of this delectable maiden with exceeding bitterness, or that her heart yet yearned after her with an aching tenderness across the gulf of years.
How bright, how vivid, how glowing had been the life of that beautiful girl! How real as compared with her own faint and faded personality, which, indeed, had shone these many years only by the light reflected from that young face! And yet that life, in its strength and brightness, had vanished like an exhalation, and its elements might no more be recombined than the hues of yesterday's dawn.
Miss Ludington had hung the portraits of her father and mother with immortelles, but the frame of the girl's picture she had wound with deepest crape.
Her father and mother she did not mourn as one without hope, believing that she should see them some day in another world; but from the death of change which the girl had died no Messiah had ever promised any resurrection.
The solitude in which Miss Ludington lived had become, through habit, so endeared to her that when, a few years after she had been settled in her ghostly village, a cousin died in poverty, bequeathing to her with his last breath a motherless infant boy, it was with great reluctance that she accepted the charge. She would have willingly assumed the support of the child, but if it had been possible would have greatly preferred providing for him elsewhere to bringing him home with her. This, however, was impracticable, and so there came to be a baby in the old maid's house.
Little Paul De Riemer was two years old when he was brought to live with Miss Ludington—a beautiful child, with loving ways, and deep, dark, thoughtful eyes. When he was first taken into the sitting-room, the picture of the smiling girl over the fireplace instantly attracted his gaze, and, putting out his arms, he cooed to it. This completed the conquest of Miss Ludington, whose womanly heart had gone out to the winsome child at first sight.
As the boy grew older his first rational questions were about the pretty lady in the picture, and, he was never so happy as when Miss Ludington took him upon her knee and told him stories about her for hours together.
These stories she always related in the third person, for it would only puzzle and grieve the child to intimate to him that there was anything in common between the radiant girl he had been taught to call Ida and the withered woman whom he called Aunty. What, indeed, had they in common but their name? and it had been so long since any one had called her Ida, that Miss Ludington scarcely felt that the name belonged to her present self at all.
In their daily walks about the village she would tell the little boy endless stories about incidents which had befallen Ida at this spot or that. She was never weary of telling, or he of listening to, these tales, and it was wonderful how the artless sympathy of the child comforted the lone woman.
One day, when he was eight years old, finding himself alone in the sitting-room, the lad, after contemplating Ida's picture for a long time, piled one chair on another, and climbing upon the structure, put up his chubby lips to the painted lips of the portrait and kissed them with right good-will. Just then Miss Ludington came in, and saw what he was doing. Seizing him in her arms, she cried over him and kissed him till he was thoroughly frightened.
A year or two later, on his announcing one day his intention to marry Ida when he grew up, Miss Ludington explained to him that she was dead. He was quite overcome with grief at this intelligence, and for a long time refused to be comforted.
And so it was, that never straying beyond the confines of the eerie village, and having no companion but Miss Ludington, the boy fell scarcely less than she under the influence of the beautiful girl who was the presiding genius of the place.
As he grew older, far from losing its charm, Ida's picture laid upon him a new spell. Her violet eyes lighted his first love-dreams. She became his ideal of feminine loveliness, drawing to herself, as the sun draws mist, all the sentiment and dawning passion of the youth. In a word, he fell in love with her.
Of course he knew now who she had been. Long before as soon as he was old enough to understand it, this had been explained to him. But though he was well aware that neither on earth nor in heaven, nor anywhere in the universe, did she any more exist, that knowledge was quite without effect upon the devotion which she had inspired. The matter indeed, presented itself in a very simple way to his mind. "If I had never seen her picture," he said one day to Miss Ludington, "I should never have known that my love was dead, and I should have gone seeking her through all the world, and wondering what was the reason I could not find her."
Miss Ludington was over sixty years of age and Paul was twenty-two when he finished his course at college. She had naturally supposed that, on going out into the world, mixing with young men and meeting young women, he would outgrow his romantic fancy concerning Ida; but the event was very different. As year after year he returned home to spend his vacations, it was evident that his visionary passion was strengthening rather than losing its hold upon him.
But the strangest thing of all was the very peculiar manner in which, during the last vacation preceding his graduation, he began to allude to Ida in his conversations with Miss Ludington. It was, indeed, so peculiar that when, after his return to college, she recalled the impression left upon her mind, she was constrained to think that she had, somehow, totally misunderstood him; for he had certainly seemed to talk as if Ida, instead of being that most utterly, pathetically dead of all dead things—the past self of a living person—were possibly not dead at all: as if, in fact she might have a spiritual existence, like that ascribed to the souls of those other dead whose bodies are laid in the grave.
Decidedly, she must have misunderstood him.
Some months later, on one of the last days of June, he graduated. Miss Ludington would have attended the graduation exercises but for the fact that her long seclusion from society made the idea of going away from home and mingling with strangers intolerable. She had expected him home the morning after his graduation. When, however, she came downstairs, expecting to greet him at the breakfast-table, she found instead a letter from him, which, to her further astonishment, consisted of several closely written sheets. What could have possessed him to write her this laborious letter on the very day of his return?
The letter began by telling her that he had accepted an invitation from a class-mate, and should not be home for a couple of days. "But this is only an excuse," he went on; "the true reason that I do not at once return is that you may have a day or two to think over the contents of this letter before you see me; for what I have to say will seem very startling to you at first. I was trying to prepare you for it when I talked, as you evidently thought, so strangely, about Ida, the last time I was at home; but you were only mystified, and I was not ready to explain. A certain timidity held me back. It was so great a matter that I was afraid to broach it by word of mouth lest I might fail to put it in just the best way before your mind, and its strangeness might terrify you before you could be led to consider its reasonableness. But, now that I am coming home to stay, I should not be able to keep it from you, and it has seemed to me better to write you in this way, so that you may have time fully to debate the matter with your own heart before you see me. Do you remember the last evening that I was at home, my asking you if you did not sometimes have a sense of Ida's presence? You looked at me as if you thought I were losing my wits. What did I mean, you asked, by speaking of her as a living person? But I was not ready to speak, and I put you off.
"I am going to answer your question now. I am going to tell you how and why I believe that she is neither lost nor dead, but a living and immortal spirit. For this, nothing less than this, is my absolute assurance, the conviction which I ask you to share.
"But stop, let us go back. Let us assume nothing. Let us reason it all out carefully from the beginning. Let me forget that I am her lover. Let me be stiff; and slow, and formal as a logician, while I prove that my darling lives for ever. And you, follow me carefully, to see if I slip. Forget what ineffable thing she is to you; forget what it is to you that she lives. Do not let your eyes fill; do not let your brain swim. It would be madness to believe it if it is not true. Listen, then:— You know that men speak of human beings, taken singly, as individuals. It is taken for granted in the common speech that the individual is the unit of humanity, not to be subdivided. That is, indeed, what the etymology of the word means. Nevertheless, the slightest reflection will cause any one to see that this assumption is a most mistaken one. The individual is no more the unit of humanity than is the tribe or family; but, like them, is a collective noun, and stands for a number of distinct persons, related one to another in a particular way, and having certain features of resemblance. The persons composing a family are related both collaterally and by succession or descent, while the persons composing an individual are related by succession only. They are called infancy, childhood, youth, manhood, maturity, age, and dotage.
"These persons are very unlike one another. Striking physical, mental, and moral differences exist between them. Infancy and childhood are incomprehensible to manhood, and manhood not less so to them. The youth looks forward with disgust to the old age which is to follow him, and the old man has far more in common with other old men, his own contemporaries, than with the youth who preceded him. How frequently do we see the youth vicious and depraved, and the man who follows him upright and virtuous, hating iniquity! How often, on the other hand, is a pure and innocent girlhood succeeded by a dissolute and shameless womanhood! In many cases age looks back upon youth with inexpressible longing and tenderness, and quite as often with shame and remorse; but in all cases with the same consciousness of profound contrast, and of a great gulf fixed between.
"If the series of persons which constitutes an individual could by any magic be brought together and these persons confronted with one another, in how many cases would the result be mutual misunderstanding, disgust, and even animosity? Suppose, for instance, that Saul, the persecutor of the disciples of Jesus, who held the garments of them that stoned Stephen, should be confronted with his later self, Paul the apostle, would there not be reason to anticipate a stormy interview? For there is no more ground to suppose that Saul would be converted to Paul's view than the reverse. Each was fully persuaded in his own mind as to what he did.
"But for the fact that each one of the persons who together constitute an individual is well off the field before his successor comes upon it, we should not infrequently see the man collaring his own youth, handing him over to the authorities, and prefering charges against him as a rascally fellow.
"Not by any means are the successive persons of an individual always thus out of harmony with one another. In many, perhaps in a majority, of cases, the same general principles and ideals are recognized by the man which were adopted by the boy, and as much sympathy exists between them as is possible in view of the different aspects which the world necessarily presents to youth and age. In such cases, no doubt, could the series of persons constituting the individual be brought together, a scene of inexpressibly tender and intimate communion would ensue.
"But, though no magic may bring back our past selves to earth, may we not hope to meet them hereafter in some other world? Nay, must we not expect so to meet them if we believe in the immortality of human souls? For if our past selves, who were dead before we were alive, had no souls, then why suppose our present selves have any? Childhood, youth, and manhood are the sweetest, the fairest, the noblest, the strongest of the persons who together constitute an individual. Are they soulless? Do they go down in darkness to oblivion while immortality is reserved for the withered soul of age? If we must believe that there is but one soul to all the persons of an individual it would be easier to believe that it belongs to youth or manhood, and that age is soulless. For if youth, strong-winged and ardent, full of fire and power, perish, leaving nothing behind save a few traces in the memory, how shall the flickering spirit of age have strength to survive the blast of death?
"The individual, in its career of seventy years, has not one body, but many, each wholly new. It is a commonplace of physiology that there is not a particle in the body to-day that was in it a few years ago. Shall we say that none of these bodies has a soul except the last, merely because the last decays more suddenly than the others?
"Or is it maintained that, although there is such utter diversity— physical, mental, moral—between infancy and manhood, youth and age, nevertheless, there is a certain essence common to them all, and persisting unchanged through them all, and that this is the soul of the individual? But such an essence as should be the same in the babe and the man, the youth and the dotard, could be nothing more than a colourless abstraction, without distinctive qualities of any kind—a mere principle of life like the fabled jelly protoplasm. Such a fancy reduces the hope of immortality to an absurdity.
"No! no! It is not any such grotesque or fragmentary immortality that God has given us. The Creator does not administer the universe on so niggardly a plan. Either there is no immortality for us which is intelligible or satisfying, or childhood, youth, manhood, age, and all the other persons who make up an individual, live for ever, and one day will meet and be together in God's eternal present; and when the several souls of an individual are in harmony no doubt He will perfect their felicity by joining them with a tie that shall be incomparably more tender and intimate than any earthly union ever dreamed of, constituting a life one yet manifold—a harp of many strings, not struck successively as here on earth, but blending in rich accord.
"And now I beg you not to suppose that what I have tried to demonstrate is any hasty or ill-considered fancy. It was, indeed, at first but a dream with which the eyes of my sweet mistress inspired me, but from a dream it has grown into a belief, and in these last months into a conviction which I am sure nothing can shake. If you can share it the long mourning of your life will be at an end. For my own part I could never return to the old way of thinking without relapsing into unutterable despair. To do so would be virtually to give up faith in any immortality at all worth speaking of. For it is the long procession of our past selves, each with its own peculiar charm and incommunicable quality, slipping away from us as we pass on, and not the last self of all whom the grave entraps, which constitutes our chief contribution to mortality. What shall it avail for the grave to give up its handful if there be no immortality for this great multitude? God would not mock us thus. He has power not only over the grave, but over the viewless sepulchre of the past, and not one of the souls to which he has ever given life will be found wanting on the day when he makes up his jewels."
To understand the impression which Paul's letter produced upon Miss Ludington imagine, in the days before the resurrection of the dead was preached, with what effect the convincing announcement of that doctrine would have fallen on the ears of one who had devoted her life to hopeless regrets over the ashes of a friend.
And yet at no time have men been wholly without belief in some form of survival beyond the grave, and such a bereaved woman of antiquity would merely have received a more clear and positive assurance of what she had vaguely imagined before. But that there was any resurrection for her former self—that the bright youth which she had so yearned after and lamented could anywhere still exist, in a mode however shadowy, Miss Ludington had never so much as dreamed.
There might be immortality for all things else; the birds and beasts, and even the lowest forms of life, might, under some form, in some world, live again; but no priest had ever promised, nor any poet ever dreamed, that the title of a man's past selves to a life immortal is as indefeasible as that of his present self.
It did not occur to her to doubt, to quibble, or to question, concerning the grounds of this great hope. From the first moment that she comprehended the purport of Paul's argument, she had accepted its conclusion as an indubitable revelation, and only wondered that she had never thought of it herself, so natural, so inevitable, so incontrovertible did it seem.
And as a sunburst in an instant transforms the sad fields of November into a bright and cheerful landscape, so did this revelation suddenly illumine her sombre life.
All day she went about the house and the village like one in a dream, smiling and weeping, and reading Paul's letter over and over, through eyes swimming with a joy unutterable.
In the afternoon, with tender, tremulous fingers, she removed the crape from the frame of Ida's picture, which it had draped for so many years. As she was performing this symbolic act, it seemed to the old lady that the fair young face smiled upon her. "Forgive me!" she murmured. "How could I have ever thought you dead!"
It was not till evening that her servants reminded her that she had not eaten that day, and induced her to take food.
The next afternoon Paul arrived. He had not been without very serious doubt as to the manner in which his argument for the immortality of past selves might impress Miss Ludington. A mild melancholy such as hers sometimes becomes sweet by long indulgence. She might not welcome opinions which revolutionized the fixed ideas of her life, even though they should promise a more cheerful philosophy. If she did not accept his belief, but found it chimerical and visionary, the effect of its announcement upon her mind could only be unpleasantly disturbing. It was, therefore, not without some anxiety that he approached the house.
But his first glimpse of her, as she stood in the door awaiting him, dissipated his apprehensions. She wore a smiling face, and the deep black in which she always dressed was set off, for the first time since his knowledge of her, with a bit or two of bright colour.
She said not a word, but, taking him by the hand, led him into the sitting-room.
That morning she had sent into Brooklyn for immortelles, and had spent the day in festooning them about Ida's picture, so that now the sweet girlish face seemed smiling upon them out of a veritable bower of the white flowers of immortality.
In the days that followed, Miss Ludington seemed a changed woman, such blitheness did the new faith she had found bring into her life. The conviction that the past was deathless, and her bright girlhood immortal, took all the melancholy out of retrospection. Nay, more than that, it turned retrospection into anticipation. She no longer viewed her youth-time through the pensive haze of memory, but the rosy mist of hope. She should see it again, for was it not safe with God? Her pains to guard the memory of the beautiful past, to preserve it from the second death of forgetfulness, were now all needless; she could trust it with God, to be restored to her in his eternal present, its lustre undimmed, and no trait missing.
The laying aside of her mourning garb was but one indication of the change that had come over her.
The whole household, from scullion to coachman, caught the inspiration of her brighter mood. The servants laughed aloud about the house. The children of the gardener, ever before banished to other parts of the grounds, played unrebuked in the sacred street of the silent village.
As for Paul, since the revelation had come to him that the lady of his love was no mere dream of a life for ever vanished, but was herself alive for evermore, and that he should one day meet her, his love had assumed a colour and a reality it had never possessed before. To him this meant all it would have meant to the lover of a material maiden, to be admitted to her immediate society.
The sense of her presence in the village imparted to the very air a fine quality of intoxication. The place was her shrine, and he lived in it as in a sanctuary.
It was not as if he should have to wait many years, till death, before he should see her. As soon as he gave place to the later self which was to succeed him, he should be with her. Already his boyish self had no doubt greeted her, and she had taken in her arms the baby Paul who had held his little arms out to her picture twenty years before.
To be in love with the spirit of a girl, however beautiful she might have been when on earth, would doubtless seem to most young men a very chimerical sort of passion; but Paul, on the other hand, looked upon the species of attraction which they called love as scarcely more than a gross appetite. During his absence from home he had seen no woman's face that for a moment rivalled Ida's portrait. Shy and fastidious, he had found no pleasure in ladies' society, and had listened to his classmates' talk of flirtations and conquests with secret contempt. What did they know of love? What had their coarse and sensuous ideas in common with the rare and delicate passion to which his heart was dedicated—a love asking and hoping for no reward, but sufficient to itself?
He had spent but a few weeks at home when Miss Ludington began to talk quite seriously to him about studying for some profession. He was rather surprised at this, for he had supposed she would be glad to have him at home, for a while at lease, now that he had done with college. To Paul, at this time, the idea of any pursuit which would take him away from the village was extremely distasteful, and he had no difficulty in finding excuses enough for procrastinating a step for which, indeed, no sort of urgency could be pretended.
He was to be Miss Ludington's heir, and any profession which he might adopt would be purely ornamental at most.
Finding that he showed no disposition to consider a profession she dropped that point and proposed that he should take six months of foreign travel, as a sort of rounding off of his college course. To the advantages of this project he was, however, equally insensible. When she urged it on him, he said, "Why, aunty, one would say you were anxious to get rid of me. Don't we get on well together? Have you taken a dislike to me? I'm sure I'm very comfortable here. I don't want to do anything different, or to go off anywhere. Why won't you let me stay with you?"
And so she had to let the matter drop.
The truth was she had become anxious to get him away; but it was on his account, not hers.
In putting his room to rights one day since his return from college she had come upon a scrap of paper containing some verses addressed "To Ida." Paul had rather a pretty knack at turning rhymes, and the tears came to Miss Ludington's eyes as she read these lines. They were an attempt at a love sonnet, throbbing with passion, and yet so mystical in some of the allusions that nothing but her knowledge of Paul's devotion to Ida would have given her a clue to his meaning. She was filled with apprehension as she considered the effect which this infatuation, if it should continue to gain strength, might have upon one of Paul's dreamy temperament and excessive ideality. That she had devoted her own lonely and useless life to the cult of the past did not greatly matter, although in the light of her present happier faith she saw and regretted her mistake; but as for permitting Paul's life to be overshadowed by the same influence she could not consent to it. Something must be done to get him away from home, or at least to divert the current of his thought. The failure of her efforts to induce him to consider any scheme that involved his leaving the village threw her into a state of great uneasiness.
At about this time it chanced that Miss Ludington drove into Brooklyn one morning to do some shopping. She was standing at a counter in a large store, examining goods, when she became aware that a lady standing at another counter was attentively regarding her. The lady in question was of about her own height and age, her hair being nearly white, like Miss Ludington's; but it was evident from the hard lines of her face and her almost shabby dress that life had by no means gone so easily with her as with the lady she was regarding so curiously.
As Miss Ludington looked up she smiled, and, crossing the store, held out her hand. "Ida Ludington! don't you know me?" Miss Ludington scanned her face a moment, and then, clasping her outstretched hand, exclaimed, delightedly, "Why, Sarah Cobb, where did you come from?" and for the next quarter of an hour the two ladies, quite oblivious of the clerks who were waiting on them, and the customers who were jostling them, stood absorbed in the most animated conversation. They had been school-girls together in Hilton forty-five years before, and, not having met since Miss Ludington's removal from the village, had naturally a great deal to say.
"It is thirty years since I have seen any one from Hilton," said Miss Ludington at last, "and I'm not going to let you escape me. You must come out with me to my house and stay overnight, and we will talk old times over. I would not have missed you for anything."
Sarah Cobb, who had said that her name was now Mrs. Slater, and that she lived in New York, having removed there from Hilton only a few years previous, seemed nothing loth to accept her friend's invitation, and it was arranged that Miss Ludington should send her carriage to meet her at one of the Brooklyn ferries the day following. Miss Ludington wanted to send the carriage to Mrs. Slater's residence in New York, but the latter said that it would be quite as convenient for her to take it at the ferry.
After repeated injunctions not to fail of her appointment, Miss Ludington finally bade her old school-mate good-by and drove home in a state of pleased expectancy.
She entertained Paul at the tea-table with an account of her adventure, and gave him an animated history of the Cobb family in general and Sarah in particular. She had known Sarah ever since they both could walk, and during the latter part of their school life they had been inseparable. The scholars had even christened them "The Twins," because they were so much together and looked so much alike. Their secrets were always joint property.
The next afternoon Miss Ludington went herself in the carriage to fetch her friend from the ferry. She wanted to be with her and enjoy her surprise when she first saw the restored Hilton on entering the grounds. In this respect her anticipations were fully justified.
The arrangement of the grounds was such that a high board fence protected the interior from inquisitive passers-by on the highway, and the gate was set in a corner, so that no considerable part of the enclosure was visible from it. The gravelled driveway, immediately after entering the grounds, took a sharp turn round the corner of the gardener's cottage, which answered for a gatekeeper's lodge. The moment, however, it was out of sight from the highway it became transformed into a country road, with wide, grassy borders and footpaths close to the rail fences, while just ahead lay the silent village, with the small, brown, one-storey, one-roomed school-house on one side of the green, and the little white box of a meeting-house, with its gilt weathercock, on the other.
As this scene burst upon Mrs. Slater's view, her bewilderment was amusing to witness. Her appearance for a moment was really as if she believed herself the victim of some sort of magic, and suspected her friend of being a sorceress. Reassured on this point by Miss Ludington's smiling explanation, her astonishment gave place to the liveliest interest and curiosity. The carriage was forthwith stopped and sent around to the stables, while the two friends went on foot through the village. Every house, every fence-corner, every lilac-bush or clump of hollyhocks, or row of currant-bushes in the gardens, suggested some reminiscence, and the two old ladies were presently laughing and crying at once. At every dwelling they lingered long, and went on reluctantly with many backward glances, and all their speech was but a repetition of, "Don't you remember this?" and "Do you remember that?"
Mrs Slater, having left Hilton but recently, was able to explain just what had been removed, replaced, or altered subsequent to Miss Ludington's flight. The general appearance of the old street, Mrs. Slater said, remained much the same, despite the changes which had driven Miss Ludington away; but new streets had been opened up, and the population of the village had trebled, and become largely foreign.
In their slow progress they came at last to the school-house.
The door was ajar, and they entered on tiptoe, like tardy scholars. With a glance of mutual intelligence they hung their hats, each on the one of the row of wooden pegs in the entry, which had been hers as a school-girl, and through the open door entered the silent school-room and sat down in the self-same seats in which two maidens, so unlike them, yet linked to them by so strangely tender a tie, had reigned as school-room belles nearly half a century before. In hushed voices, with moist eyes; and faces shining with the light of other days, those grey-haired women talked together of the scenes which that homely old room had witnessed, the long-silent laughter, and the voices, no more heard on earth, with which it had once echoed.
There in the corner stood a great wrought-iron stove, the counterpart of the one around whose red-hot sides they had shivered, in their short dresses, on cold winter mornings. On the walls hung the quaint maps of that period whence they had received geographical impressions, strangely antiquated now. Along one side of the room ran a black-board, on which they had been wont to demonstrate their ignorance of algebra and geometry to the complete satisfaction of the master, while behind them as they sat was a row of recitation benches, associated with so many a trying ordeal of school-girl existence.
"Do you ever think where the girls are in whose seats we are sitting?" said Mrs. Slater, musingly. "I can remember myself as a girl, more or less distinctly, and can even be sentimental about her; but it doesn't seem to me that I am the same person at all; I can't realize it."
"Of course you can't realize it. Why should you expect to realize what is not true?" replied Miss Ludington.
"But I am the same person," responded Mrs. Slater.
Miss Ludington regarded her with a smile.
"You have kept your looks remarkably, my dear," she said. "You did not lose them all at once, as I did; but isn't it a little audacious to try to pass yourself off as a school-girl of seventeen?"
Mrs. Slater laughed. "But I once was she, if I am not now," she said. "You won't deny that."
"I certainly shall deny it, with your permission," replied Ludington. "I remember her very well, and she was no more an old woman like you than you are a young girl like her."
Mrs. Slater laughed again. "How sharp you are getting, my dear!" she said. "Since you are so close after me, I shall have to admit that I have changed slightly in appearance in the forty odd years since we went to school at Hilton, and I'll admit that my heart is even less like a girl's than my face; but, though I have changed so much, I am still the same person, I suppose."
"Which do you mean?" inquired Miss Ludington. "You say in one breath that you are a changed person, and that you are the same person. If you are a changed person you can't be the same, and if you are the same you can't have changed."
"I should really like to know what you are driving at," said Mrs. Slater, calmly. "It seems to me that we are disputing about words."
"Oh, no, not about words! It is a great deal more than a question of words," exclaimed Miss Ludington. "You say that we old women and the girls who sat here forty years and more ago are the same persons, notwithstanding we are so completely transformed without and within. I say we are not the same, and thank God, for their sweet sakes, that we are not. Surely that is not a mere dispute about words."
"But, if we are not those girls, then what has become of them?" asked Mrs. Slater.
"You might better ask what had become of them if you had to seek them in us; but I will tell you what has become of them, Sarah. It is what will become of us when we, in our turn, vanish from earth, and the places that know us now shall know us no more. They are immortal with God, and we shall one day meet them over there."
"What a very odd idea!" exclaimed Mrs. Slater, regarding her friend with astonishment.
Miss Ludington flushed slightly as she replied, "I don't think it half so odd, and not nearly so repulsive, as your notion, that we old women are the mummies of the girls who came before us. It is easier, as well as far sweeter, for me to believe that our youth is somewhere immortal, than that it has been withered, shrivelled, desiccated into our old age. Oh, no, my dear, Paradise is not merely a garden of withered flowers! We shall find the rose and lily of our life blooming there."
The hours had slipped away unnoticed as the friends talked together, and now the lengthening shadows on the school-room floor recalled Miss Ludington to the present, and to the duties of a hostess.
As they walked slowly across the green toward the homestead, she told her friend more fully of this belief in the immortality of past selves which had so recently come to her, and especially how it had quite taken away the melancholy with which she had all her life before looked back upon her youth. Mrs. Slater listened in silence.
"Where on earth did you get that portrait?" she exclaimed, as Miss Ludington, after taking her on a tour through the house before tea, brought her into the sitting-room.
"Whom does it remind you of?" asked Miss Ludington.
"I know whom it reminds me of," replied Mrs. Slater; "but how it ever got here is what puzzles me."
"I thought you would recognize it," said Miss Ludington, with a pleased smile. "I suppose you think it odd you should never have seen it, considering whom it is of?"
"I do, certainly," replied Mrs. Slater.
"You see," explained Miss Ludington, "I did not have it painted till after I left Hilton. You remember that little ivory portrait of myself at seventeen, which I thought so much of after I lost my looks? Well, this portrait I had enlarged from that. I have always believed that it was very like, but you don't know what a reassurance it is to me to have you recognize it so instantly."
At the tea-table Paul appeared, and was introduced to Mrs. Slater, who regarded him with considerable interest. Miss Ludington had informed her that he was her cousin and heir, and had told her something of his romantic devotion to the Ida of the picture. Paul, who from Miss Ludington had learned all there was to be known about the persons and places of old Hilton, entered with much interest into the conversation of the ladies on the subject, and after tea accompanied them in their stroll through that part of the village which they had not inspected before.
When they returned to the house it was quite dark, and they had lights in the sitting-room, and refreshments were served. Mrs. Slater's eyes were frequently drawn toward the picture over the fireplace, and some reference of hers to the immortelles in which it was framed, turned the conversation upon the subject that Miss Ludington and she had been discussing in the school-house.
Mrs. Slater, whose conversation showed her to be a woman of no great culture, but unusual force of character and intelligence, expressed herself as interested in the idea of the immortality of past selves, but decidedly sceptical. Paul grew eloquent in maintaining its truth and reasonableness, and, indeed, that it was the only intelligible theory of immortality that was possible. The idea that the same soul successively animated infancy, childhood, youth, manhood, and maturity, was, he argued, but a modification of the curious East Indian dream of metempsychosis, according to which every soul is supposed to inhabit in turn innumerable bodies.
"You almost persuade me," said Mrs. Slater, at last. "But I never heard of the spirit of anybody's past self appearing to them. If there are such spirits, why have they never manifested themselves? Nobody every heard of the spirit of one's past self appearing at a spiritualist seance, for instance."
"There is one evidence among others," replied Paul. "that spiritualism is a fraud. The mediums merely follow the vulgar superstition in the kind of spirits that they claim to produce."
"Very likely you are right," said Mrs. Slater. "In fact, I presume you are quite right. And yet, if I really believed as you do, do you know what I would do? I would go to some of the spirit mediums over in New York, of whom the papers are giving such wonderful accounts, and let them try to materialize for me the spirit of my youth. Probably they couldn't do it, but possibly they might; and a mighty little sight, Mr. De Riemer, is more convincing than all the belief in the world. If I could see the spirit of my youth face to face, I should believe that it had a separate existence from my own. Otherwise, I don't believe I ever could."
"But the mediums are a set of humbugs!" exclaimed Paul; and then he added, "I beg your pardon. Perhaps you are a spiritualist?"
"You need not beg my pardon," said Mrs. Slater, good-humouredly. "I am not a spiritualist beyond thinking—and that is only lately—that there may possibly be something in it, after all. Perhaps there may be, for example, one part of truth to a hundred parts of fraud. I really don't believe there is more. Now, as you think the mediums humbugs, and I am sure most of them are, their failure to accomplish anything would not shake your faith in your theory, and you would only have lost an evening and the fee you paid the medium. On the other hand, there is a bare possibility—mind you, I think it is no more than that—a bare possibility, say the smallest possible chance, but a chance—that you would see—her," and Mrs. Slater glanced at the portrait.
Paul turned pale.
Miss Ludington, with much agitation, exclaimed, "If I thought there was any possibility of that, do you suppose, Sarah, that I would consider time or money?"
"I don't suppose you would," replied Mrs. Slater. "You would not need to; but the money is something which I should have to consider, if it were my case. The best materializing mediums charge pretty well. Mrs. Legrand, who I believe is considered the leading light just now, charges fifty dollars for a private seance. Now, fifty dollars, I suppose, does not seem a large sum to you, but it would be a great deal for a poor woman like me to spend. And yet if I believed this wonderful thing that you believe, and I thought there was one chance in a million that this woman could demonstrate it to me by the assurance of sight, I would live on crusts from the gutter till I had earned the money to go to her."
Paul rose from his chair, and, after walking across the floor once or twice, stood leaning his arm on the mantelpiece. He cleared his throat, and said:
"Have you ever seen this Mrs. Legrand yourself? I mean, have you ever been present at one of her seances?"
"Not on my own account," replied Mrs. Slater. "It was a mere accident my chancing to know anything about her. I have a friend, a Mrs. Rhinehart, who has recently lost her husband, and she got in a way of going to this Mrs. Legrand's seances to see him, and once she took me with her."
Miss Ludington and Paul waited a moment, and then, perceiving that she was not going to say anything more, exclaimed in the same breath, "Did you see anything?"
"We saw the figure of a fine-looking man," replied Mrs. Slater. "We could distinguish his features and expression very plainly, and he seemed to recognize my friend. She said that it was her husband. Of course I know nothing about that. I had never seen him alive. It may all have been a humbug, as I was prepared to believe it; but I assure you it was a curious business, and I haven't got over the impression which it made on me, yet. I'm not given to believing in things that claim to be supernatural, but I will admit that what I saw that night was very strange. Humbug or no humbug, what she saw seemed to comfort my poor friend more than all the religions or philosophies ever revealed or invented could have done. You see, these are so vague, even when we try to believe them, and that was so plain."
A silence followed Mrs. Slater's words, during which she sat with an absent expression of countenance and a faraway look, as if recalling in fancy the scene which she had described. Miss Ludington's hands trembled as they lay together in her lap, and she was regarding the picture of the girl over the fireplace with a fixed and intense gaze, apparently oblivious of all else.
Paul broke the silence. "I am going to see this woman," he said, quietly. "You need not think of going with me, aunty, unless you care to. I will go alone."
"Do you think I shall let you go alone?" replied Miss Ludington, in a voice which she steadied with difficulty. "Am I not as much concerned as you are, Paul?"
"Where does this Mrs. Legrand live?" Paul asked Mrs. Slater.
"I really can't tell you that, Mr. De Riemer," she said. "It was sometime ago that I attended the seance I spoke of, and all I recall is that it was somewhere in the lower part of the city, on the east side of the Broadway, if I am not mistaken."
"Perhaps you could ascertain her address from the friend of whom you spoke, if it would not be too much trouble?" suggested Miss Ludington.
"I might do that," assented Mrs. Slater. "If she still goes to the seances she would know it. But these mediums don't generally stay long in one place, and it is quite possible that this Mrs. Legrand may not be in the city now, But if I can get her address for you I will. And now, my dear, as I am rather tired after our walk about the village, and probably you are too, will I go to my room."
Mrs. Slater went away the next morning. On the following day but one Miss Ludington received a letter from her. She told her friend how glad she was that she had not postponed her visit to her, for if she had set it for a single day later she could not have made it at all. When she returned home she found that her husband had received an offer of a lucrative business position in Cincinnati, contingent on his immediate removal there.
They had been in a whirl of packing ever since, and were to take that night's train for Cincinnati, and whether they ever again came East to live was very doubtful. In a postscript, written crosswise, she said:
"I have been in such a rush ever since I came home that I declare I had clean forgotten till this moment about my promise to hunt up Mrs. Legrand's address for you. Very likely you have also forgotten by this time our talk about her, and if so it will not matter. But it vexes me to fail in a promise, and, if possible, I will snatch a moment before we leave to send a note to the friend I spoke of, and ask her to look the woman up for you."
Instead of being disappointed, Miss Ludington was, on the whole, relieved to get this letter, and inclined to hope that Mrs. Slater had failed to find the time to write her friend. In that case this extraordinary project of visiting a spiritualist medium would quietly fall through, which was the best thing that could happen.
The fact is, after sleeping on it, she had seen clearly that such a proceeding for a person of her position and antecedents would not only be preposterous, but almost disreputable. She was astonished at herself to think that her feelings could have been so wrought upon as to cause her seriously to contemplate such a step. All her life she had held the conviction, which she supposed to be shared by all persons of culture and respectability, that spiritualism was a low and immoral superstition, invariably implying fraud in its professors, and folly in its dupes: something, in fact, quite below the notice of persons of intelligence or good taste. As for the idea that this medium could show her the spirit of her former self, or any other real spirit, it was simply imbecile to entertain it for a moment.
If, however, Miss Ludington was relieved by Mrs. Slater's letter, Paul was keenly disappointed. His prejudice against spiritualism was by no means so deeply rooted as hers. In a general way he had always believed mediums to be frauds, and their shows mere shams, but he had been ready to allow with Mrs. Slater, that, mixed up in all this fraud, there might be a very little truth.
His mind admitted a bare possibility that this Mrs. Legrand might be able to show him the living face and form of his spirit-love. That possibility once admitted had completely dominated his imagination, and it made little difference whether it was one chance in a thousand or one in a million. He was like the victim of the lottery mania, whose absorption in contemplating the possibility of drawing the prize renders him quite oblivious of the nine hundred and ninety-nine blank tickets.
Previous to Mrs. Slater's visit he had been quite content in his devotion to an ideal mistress, for the reason that any nearer approach to her had not occurred to him as a possibility. But now the suggestion that he might see her face to face had so inflamed his imagination that it was out of the question for him to regain his former serenity. He resolved that, in case they should fail to hear from Mrs. Slater's friend, he would set about finding Mrs. Legrand himself, or, failing that, would go to some other medium. There would be no solace for the fever that had now got into his blood, until experiment should justify his daring hope, or prove it baseless.
However, the third day after Mrs. Slater's letter there came one from her friend, Mrs. Rhinehart. She said that she had received a note from Mrs. Slater, who had suddenly been called to Cincinnati, telling that Miss Ludington desired the address of Mrs. Legrand, with a view to securing a private seance. She could have sent the address at once, as she had it; but Mrs. Legrand was so overrun with business that an application to her by letter, especially from a stranger like Miss Ludington, might not have any result. And so Mrs. Rhinehart, who had been only too happy to oblige any friend of Mrs. Slater's, had called personally upon Mrs. Legrand to arrange for the seance. The medium had told her at first that she was full of previous engagements for a month ahead, and that it would be impossible to give Miss Ludington a seance. When, however, Mrs. Rhinehart told her that Miss Ludington's purpose in asking for the seance was to test the question whether our past selves have immortal souls distinct from our present selves, Mrs. Legrand became greatly interested, and at once said that she would cancel a previous appointment, and give Miss Ludington a seance the following evening, at her parlours, No. — East Tenth Street, at nine o'clock. Mrs. Legrand had said that while she had never heard a belief in the immortality of past selves avowed, there had not been lacking in her relations with the spirit-world some mysterious experiences that seemed to confirm it. She should, therefore, look forward to the issue of the experiment the following evening with nearly as much confidence, and quite as much interest, as Miss Ludington herself. Mrs. Rhinehart hoped that the following evening would be convenient for Miss Ludington. She had assumed the responsibility of making the engagement positive, as she might have failed in securing a seance altogether had she waited to communicate with Miss Ludington. Hoping that "the conditions would be favourable," she remained, &c. &c.
When Miss Ludington had read this letter to Paul, she intimated, though rather faintly, that it was still not too late to withdraw from the enterprise; they could send Mrs. Legrand her fee, say that it was not convenient for them to come on the evening fixed, and so let the matter drop. Paul stared at her in astonishment, and said that, if she did not feel like going, he would go alone, as he had at first proposed. Upon this Miss Ludington once more declared that they would go together, and said nothing further about sacrificing the appointment.
The fact is she did not really wish to sacrifice it. She was experiencing a revulsion of feeling; Mrs. Rhinehart's letter had affected her almost as strongly as Mrs. Slater's talk. The fact that Mrs. Legrand had at once seen the reasonableness and probability of the belief in the immortality of past selves made it difficult for Miss Ludington to think of her as a mere vulgar impostor. The vague hint of the medium's as to strange experiences with the spirit world, confirmatory of this belief, appealed to her imagination in a powerful manner. Of what description might the mysterious monitions be, which, coming to this woman in the dim between-world where she groped, had prepared her to accept as true, on its first statement, a belief that to others seemed so hard to credit? What clutchings of spirit fingers in the dark! What moanings of souls whom no one recognised!
The confidence which Mrs. Legrand had expressed that the seance would prove a success affected Miss Ludington very powerfully. It impressed her as the judgment of an expert; it compelled her to recognize not only as possible, but even as probable, that, on the evening of the following day, she should behold the beautiful girl whom once, so many years before, she had called herself; for so at best would words express this wonder.
With a trembling ecstasy, which in vain she tried to reason down, she began to prepare herself for the presence of one fresh from the face of God and the awful precincts of eternity.
As for Paul, there was no conflict of feeling with prejudice in his case; he gave himself wholly up to a delirious expectation. How would his immortal mistress look? How would she move? What would be her stature—what her bearing? How would she gaze upon him? If not with love he should die at her feet. If with love how should he bear it?
Mrs. Rhinehart's letter had been received in the morning, and during the rest of the day Miss Ludington and Paul seemed quite to forget each other in their absorption in the thoughts suggested by the approaching event. They sat abstracted and silent at table, and, on rising, went each their own way. In the exalted state of their imaginations the enterprise they had in hand would not bear talking over.
When she retired to bed Miss Ludington found that sleep was out of the question. About two o'clock in the morning she heard Paul leave his room and go downstairs. Putting on dressing-gown and slippers she softly followed him. There was a light in the sitting-room and the door was ajar. Stepping noiselessly to it she looked in.
Paul was standing before, the fireplace, leaning on the mantelpiece, and looking up into the eyes of the girl above, smiling and talking softly to her, Miss Ludington entered the room and laid her hand gently on his arm. Her appearance did not seem to startle him in the least. "Paul, my dear boy!" she said, "you had better go to bed."
"It's no use," he said; "I can't sleep, and I had to come down here and look at her. Think, just think, aunty, that to-morrow we shall see her."
The young fellow's nervous excitement culminated in a burst of ecstatic tears, and soon afterwards Miss Ludington induced him to go to bed.
How much more he loved the girl than even she did! She was filled with dread as she thought of the effect which a disappointment of the hope he had given himself up to might produce. And what folly, after all, it was to expect anything but disappointment!
The spectacle of Paul's fatuous confidence had taken hers away.
As the drive over to East Tenth Street was a long one, the carriage had been ordered at seven o'clock, and soon after tea, of which neither Miss Ludington nor Paul had been able to take a mouthful, they set out.
"I am afraid we are doing something very wrong and foolish," said Miss Ludington, feebly, as the carriage rolled down the village street.
During the drive of nearly two hours not another word was said.
The carriage at length drew up before the house in Tenth Street. It stood in a brick block, and there was no sign of the business pursued within, except a small white card on the door bearing the words, "Mrs. Legrand. Materializing, Business, and Test Medium. Clairvoyant."
An old-looking little girl of ten or twelve years of age opened the door. The child's big black eyes, and long snaky locks falling about a pale face, gave her an elfish look quite in keeping with the character of the house. She at once ushered the callers into the front parlour, where a lady and gentleman were sitting, who proved to be Mrs. Legrand and her manager and man of business, Dr. Hull.
The latter was a tall person, of highly respectable and even imposing appearance, to which a high forehead, a pair of gold-bowed spectacles, and a long white beard considerably added. He looked like a scholar, and his speech was that of a man of education.
Mrs. Legrand was a large woman, with black hair sprinkled with grey and worn short like a man's. She had a swarthy complexion, and her eyes were surrounded by noticeably large dark rings, giving an appearance of wretched ill-health. Her manner was extremely languid, as of a person suffering from nervous exhaustion. She kept her eyes half shut, and spoke as if with an effort.
"Did Mrs. Rhinehart tell you," she said to Miss Ludington, "of the interest which I feel in your theory, that the souls of our past selves exist in spirit-land? If my seance to-night realizes your expectations, spirit science will have taken a great step forward."
"My conviction will remain the same whatever the result may be to night," said Miss Ludington.
"I am glad to hear you say so," replied Mrs. Legrand languidly; "but I feel that we shall be successful, and my intuitions rarely deceive me."
A trembling came over Paul at these words.
There was a little more general conversation, and the silence which followed was interrupted by Dr. Hull.
"I suppose there is no reason why the seance should not proceed, Mrs. Legrand?"
"I know of none," assented that lady in lifeless tones. "Please show our friends the cabinet."
Dr. Hull rose. "It is usual," he said, "for those who attend our seances to be asked to satisfy themselves that deception is impossible by an examination of the apartment which Mrs. Legrand occupies during her trance, and from which the materialized spirit appears. Will you kindly step this way?"
The room in which they sat was a long apartment, divided by double sliding-doors into a front and back parlour, the former of which had been the scene of the preceding conversation.
Dr. Hull now conducted the two visitors into the back parlour, which proved to be of similar size and appearance to the front parlour, except that it contained no furniture whatever. There was only one window in the back parlour, and this was firmly closed by inside blinds.
It was also uncurtained, and in plain view from the front parlour. Besides the connection with the front parlour, there was but one door in the back parlour. This opened into a small apartment, about six feet by five, which had been taken out of the right-hand rear corner of the back parlour, and was separated from it by a partition reaching to the ceiling. This was the cabinet. It had neither window nor door, except the one into the back parlour. A sofa was its only article of furniture, and this was of wicker-work, so that nothing could be concealed beneath it.
"Mrs. Legrand lies upon this sofa while in a state of trance, during which the spirit is materialized, and appears to us," explained Dr. Hull.
A rug lay on the floor of the cabinet, the walls were of hard-finished white plaster, quite bare, and the ceiling, like that of the parlours, was plain white, without ornament.
There seemed no possibility of introducing any person into the cabinet or the back parlour without the knowledge of those in the front parlour. But Dr. Hull insisted upon making assurance doubly sure by pounding upon the walls and pulling up the rug in the cabinet, to prove that no sliding panel or trap-door trick was possible. There was something calculated to make an unbeliever very uneasy in the quiet confidence of these people, and the business-like way in which they went to work to make it impossible to account for any phenomenon that might appear, on any other but a supernatural theory. No doubt whatever now remained in the mind of Miss Ludington or Paul that the wonderful mystery which they had hardly dared to dream of was about to be enacted before them. They followed Dr. Hull on his tour of inspection as if they were in a dream, mechanically observing what he pointed out, but replying at random to his remarks, and, indeed, barely aware of what they were doing. The sense of the unspeakably awful and tender scene so soon to pass before their eyes absorbed every susceptibility of their minds.
Nor indeed would this detective work have had any interest for them in any case. They would have been willing to concede the medium all the machinery she desired. There was no danger that they could be deceived as to the reality of the face and form that for so many years had been enshrined in their memories.
There might be as many side entrances to the cabinet as desired, but she whom they looked for could come only from the spirit-land.
The front parlour, too, having been investigated, to show the impossibility of any person's being concealed there, Dr. Hull proceeded to close and lock the hall-door, that being the only exit connecting this suite of rooms with the rest of the house. Having placed a heavy chair against the locked door for further security, he gave the key to Paul.
Mrs. Legrand now rose, and without a word to any one passed through the back parlour and disappeared in the cabinet.
As she did so a wild desire to fly from the room and the house came over Miss Ludington. Not that she did not long inexpressibly to see the vision that was drawing near, whose beautiful feet might even now be on the threshold, but the sense of its awfulness overcame her. She felt that she was not fit, not ready, for it now. If she could only have more time to prepare herself, and then could come again. But it was too late to draw back.
Dr. Hull had arranged three chairs across the broad doorway between the back and front parlours, and facing the former. He asked Miss Ludington to occupy the middle chair, and, trembling in every limb, she did so. Paul took the chair by her side, the other being apparently for Dr. Hull.
The elfish little girl, whom they called Alta, and who appeared to be the daughter of Mrs. Legrand, meanwhile took her place at a piano standing in the front parlour.
All being now ready, Dr. Hull proceeded to turn the gas in the two parlours very low. The jets in both rooms were controlled by a stop-cock in the wall by the side of the doorway between them. There were two jets in the back parlour, fastened to the wall dividing it from the front parlour, one on each side of the door, so as to throw light on any figure coming out of the cabinet. The light they diffused, after being turned down; was enough to render forms and faces sufficiently visible for the recognition of acquaintances, though a close study of features would have been difficult.
It now appeared that the glass shades of the jets in the back parlour were of a bluish tint, which lent a peculiarly weird effect to the illumination.
Dr. Hull now took the remaining chair by Miss Ludington's side, and a perfect silence of some moments ensued, during which she could perfectly hear the beating of Paul's heart. Then Alta began, with a wonderfully soft touch, to play a succession of low, dreamy chords, rather than any set composition—music that thrilled the listeners with vague suggestions of the unfathomable mystery and unutterable sadness of human life. She played on and on. It seemed to two of the hearers that she played for hours, although it was probably but a few minutes.
At last the music flowed slower, trickled, fell in drops, and ceased.
They had a sensation of being breathed upon by a faint, cool draught of air, and then appeared in the door-way of the cabinet the figure of a beautiful girl, which, after standing still a moment, glided forth, by an imperceptible motion, into the room.
The light, which had before seemed so faint, now proved sufficient to bring out every line of her face and form. Or was it that the figure itself was luminous by some light from within?
Paul heard Miss Ludington gasp; but if he had known that she was dying he could not have taken his eyes from the apparition.
For it was Ida who stood before him; no counterfeit of the painter now, but radiant with life.
Her costume was exactly that of her picture, white, with a low bodice; but how utterly had the artist failed to reproduce the ravishing contours of her young form, the enchanting sweetness of her expression. The golden hair fell in luxuriant tresses about the face and down the dazzling shoulders. The lips were parted in a pleased smile as, with a gliding motion, she approached the rapt watchers.
Her eyes rested on Miss Ludington with a look full of recognition and a tenderness that seemed beyond the power of mortal eyes to express.
Then she looked at Paul. Her smile was no longer the smile of an angel, but of a woman. The light of her violet eyes burned like delicious flame to the marrow of his bones.
She was so near him that he could have touched her. Her beauty overcame his senses. Forgetting all else, in an agony of love, he was about to clasp her in his arms, but she drew back with a gentle gesture of denial.
Then a sudden and indescribable wavering passed over her face, like the passing of the wind over a field of rye, and slowly, as if reluctantly obeying an unseen attraction, she retreated, still facing them, across the room, and disappeared within the cabinet.
Instantly Alta touched the piano, playing the same slow, heavy chords as before. But this time she played but a few moments, and when she ceased, Mrs. Legrand's voice was heard faintly calling her. She glided between the chairs in the door-way and entered the cabinet, drawing a portiere across its door behind her.
As she did so, Dr. Hull touched the stopcock in the wall by his side, turning on the gas in both parlours, and proceeded to unlock and open the hall-door.
"It was the most successful seance I have ever witnessed," he said. "The conditions must have been unusually favourable. How were you pleased, Miss Ludington?"
The abrupt transition from the shadows of the between-world to the glare of gas-light, from the communion of spirits to the brisk business-like tones of Dr. Hull, was quite too much for the poor lady, and with a piteous gesture, she buried her face in her hands. Alta now came out of the cabinet, and said that her mother would like them to examine it once more.
Miss Ludington took no notice of the request, but Paul, who had continued to sit staring into vacancy, as if for him the seance were still going on, sprang up at Alta's invitation and accepted it with alacrity. The eagerness with which he peered into the corner of the cabinet, and the disappointment which his face showed when he perceived no trace of any person there save Mrs. Legrand and Alta, might naturally have suggested to them that he suspected fraud; but the fact was very different. His conduct was merely the result of a confused hope that he might gain another glimpse of Ida by following her to the place within which she had vanished.
When Paul looked into the cabinet, Mrs. Legrand was lying upon the lounge, and Alta was administering smelling salts to her. As he turned away disappointed, the medium rose, and leaning on her daughter, returned to the front parlour. She looked completely overcome. Her face was deathly pale, and the dark rings around her eyes were larger and darker than ever. She leaned back in her chair, which had a special rest for her head, and closed her eyes.
As neither Dr. Hull nor Alta showed any surprise at her condition, it was apparently the ordinary result of a seance.
To her faint inquiry whether the materialization had been satisfactory to Miss Ludington, the latter replied that it had been all, and more than all, she had dared dream of. Dr. Hull, in a very enthusiastic manner, went on to describe the manifestation more particularly. He declared that the present evening a new world of spirit-life had been revealed, and a new era in spiritualism had opened.
"I have been devoted to the study of spiritualism for thirty years," he exclaimed; "but I have never been present at so wonderful a seance as this. I grow dizzy when I think of the field of speculation which it opens up. The spirits of our past selves—? And yet why not, why not? Like all great discoveries it seems most simple when once brought to light. It accounts, no doubt, for the throng of unknown spirits of which mediums are so often conscious, and for the many materializations and communications which no one recognizes."
Meanwhile the wretched appearance of the medium aroused Miss Ludington's sympathies, in spite of the distracted condition of her mind.
"Is Mrs. Legrand always prostrated in this manner after a seance?" she asked.
Dr. Hull answered for the medium. "Not generally quite so much so," he said; "the strain on her vitality is always very trying, but it is especially so when a new spirit materializes, as to-night. Out of her being, somehow, and just how, I know no better than you, is woven the veil of seeming flesh, yes, and even the clothing which the spirit assumes in order to appear. The fact that Mrs. Legrand suffers from heart disease makes seances not only more exhausting for her than for other mediums, but really dangerous. I have told her, as a physician, and other physicians have told her, that she is liable at any time to die in a trance."
Paul now spoke for the first time since the conclusion of the seance. "What do you fancy would be the effect on the spirit if a medium should die during a materialization, as you have supposed?" he inquired.
"That can only be a matter of theory," replied Dr. Hull; "the accident has never happened."
"But it might happen."
"Yes, it might happen."
"Is not the spirit as much dependent on the medium for dematerializing and resuming the spirit-form, as for materializing?" asked Paul.
"I see what you mean," said Dr. Hull. "You think that in case the medium should die during a materialization, the spirit might be left in a materialized state. How does it strike you, Mrs. Legrand?"
"I don't know," replied that lady, with her eyes closed. "Spirits require our aid as much to lay aside their bodies as to assume them. If the medium died meantime, I should think that the spirit might find some trouble in dematerializing."
"Is it not possible," said Paul, "that it might be unable to dematerialize at all? Would not the medium's death close against it the only door by which it could return to the spirit-world, shutting it out in this life with us henceforth? More than that: would not the already materialized spirit be in a position to succeed to the physical life which the medium relinquished? Already possessed of a part of the medium's vitality, would not the remainder naturally flow to it when given up in death, and thus complete its materialization?"
"And give it an earthly body like ours?" exclaimed Miss Ludington.
"Yes, like ours," replied Paul. "I suppose it would simply take up its former life on earth where it had been left off, ceasing to possess a spirit's powers, and knowing only what and whom it knew at the point when its first life on earth had ceased."
"After what I have seen to-night, nothing will ever seem impossible to me again," said Miss Ludington.
"As Miss Ludington suggests," observed Dr. Hull, "in spiritualism one soon ceases to consider whether a thing be wonderful or not, but only if it be true. And so as to this matter. Now, if the death of a medium should be absolutely instantaneous, the spirit might, indeed, be unable to dematerialize, and might even succeed to the medium's earth life, as you suggest. The trouble with the theory—and it seems to me a fatal one—is, that death is almost never, if indeed it is ever, absolutely instantaneous but only comparatively so; and it seems to me that the least possible interval of time would be sufficient to enable the spirit to dematerialize. Consequently, it strikes me, that while the result you suppose is theoretically possible, it could, practically, never occur. Still, the subject is one of mere conjecture at most, and one opinion is, perhaps, as good as another."
"I think you are probably right," said Paul; "it was only a fancy I had."
"Why does Mrs. Legrand persist in giving seances if she is not in a fit condition?" said Miss Ludington.
"Well," replied Dr. Hull, "you see we spiritualists do not regard death as so serious a matter as do many others. Our mediums, especially, who stand with one hand clasped by spirits and the other by mortals, are almost indifferent which way they are drawn; besides, you see, she is recognized as the most fully developed medium in the United States to-day, and many spirits, which cannot materialize through other mediums, are dependent upon her; she feels that she has a duty to discharge towards the spirit-world, at whatever risk to herself. I doubt if to-night's seance, for example, would have been successful with any other medium."
Immediately after this conversation Miss Ludington and Paul took their departure. Dr. Hull went, out with them to the carriage, and was obliged to remind them of the little matter of Mrs. Legrand's fee, which they had entirely forgotten.
Now, before she ever had heard of Mrs. Legrand, Miss Ludington had fully believed that her former self had an immortal existence, apart and distinct from her present self, and Paul, to whom she was indebted for this belief, held it even more firmly than she.
But there is a great difference between the strongest form of faith and the absolute assurance of sight. The effect of the vision which they had witnessed in Mrs. Legrand's parlours was almost as startling as if they had not expected to see it.
Very little was said in the carriage going home, but, as they were crossing the ferry, Miss Ludington exclaimed, in an awestruck voice,
"O Paul! was it not strange!"
"Strange? Strange?" he echoed, in strong, exultant tones. "How oddly you use the word, aunty! You might well say how strange, if we mortals were isolated here on this little island of time, with no communication with the mainland of eternity; but how can you call it strange when you find out that we are not isolated? Surely it is not strange, but supremely reasonable, right, and natural."
"I suppose it is so," said Miss Ludington, "but if I had let you go alone to-night, and stayed at home, I could never have fully believed you when you told me what you had seen any more than I shall ever expect any one to believe me. Think, Paul, if I had not gone, if I had not seen her, if she had not given me that look! I knew, of course, if she appeared that I should recognize her, but I did not dare to be sure that she would recognize me. I remember her, but she never saw me on earth."
"It was as a spirit that she knew you, and that is the way she knew me, and knew that I loved her," said Paul, with a sudden huskiness in his voice.
"Surely that makes it clear," said Miss Ludington, "that the spirits of our past selves love us who follow them, as we, in looking back, yearn after them, and not merely await us at the end, but are permitted to watch over us as we complete the journey which they began. I am sure that if people knew this they would never feel lonely or forlorn again."
It was a relief to Paul when they reached home and he could be alone.
In an ecstasy of happiness that was like a delicious pain, he sat till morning in his unlighted chamber, gazing into the darkness with a set smile, motionless, and breathing only by deep, infrequent inhalations. What were the joys of mortal love to the transports that were his? What were the smoky fires of earthly passion to his pure, keen flame, almost too strong for a heart of flesh to bear?
As he strove to realize what it was to be beloved by an immortal, the veil between time and eternity was melted by the hot breath of his passion, and the confines of the natural and the supernatural were confounded.
As the east grew light he began to feel the weariness of the intense mental strain which had led up to, and culminated in, the transcendent experience of the previous evening. A tranquil happiness succeeded his exalted mood, and, lying down, he slept soundly till noon, when he went downstairs to find Miss Ludington anxiously waiting for him to reassure her that her recollection of the last night was not altogether a dream, as she had half convinced herself since waking.
Paul had to go into Brooklyn to do some business for Miss Ludington that day, but the men he dealt with seemed to him shadows.
After finishing with them he went over to New York, and presently found himself on East Tenth Street. He had not intended to go there. His feet had borne him involuntarily to the spot. He could not resist the temptation of drawing near to the place where she had been only a few hours before. He walked to and fro before Mrs. Legrand's house for an hour, and then stood a long time on the opposite side, looking at the closed windows of the front parlour, quite unconscious that he had become an object of curiosity to numerous persons in adjoining houses, and of marked suspicion to the policeman at the corner.
Finally he crossed the street, mounted the steps, and rang the bell. The door was opened, after a considerable interval, by Alta, the elfish little girl. Paul asked for Mrs. Legrand. Alta said that her mother was ill to-day, and not able to see any one. Paul then asked for Dr. Hull. He was not in.
"I wanted to arrange for another seance," he said.
"Will you write, or will you call to-morrow?" asked Alta, in a business-like manner.
Paul said he would call. Then he hesitated.
"Excuse me," he said, "but may I ask you if there is any one now in the parlour where we were last night?"
"No one is there," replied the little girl.
"Could you let me just go in and see where she was?" asked Paul, humbly. "I would not keep you a moment."
Alta, in her character of door-keeper to this house of mystery, was, doubtless, in the habit of seeing queer people, bent on queer errands. She merely asked him to step within the hall, saying that she would speak to her mother. Presently she returned with the desired permission, and, producing a key, unlocked the parlour door, and ushered Paul in.
It was late in the afternoon, and the heavy curtains and blinds left the rooms almost dark. There was barely light enough to see that all was just as it had been the night before. The sounds of the street penetrated the closed apartments but faintly. With the step of one on holy ground, Paul advanced to the spot where he had been seated when the vision appeared to him the night before.
Aided by the darkness, the silence, and by the identity of the surroundings, the memory of that vision returned to him as he stood there with a vividness which, in the overwrought condition of his nerves, it was impossible for him to distinguish from reality. Once more a radiant figure glided noiselessly from the cabinet, which was darkly outlined in the corner of the room, and stood before him. Once more her eyes burned on his, until, forgetting all but her beauty, he put forth his arms to clasp her. A startled exclamation from Alta banished the vision, and he perceived that he was smiling upon the empty air.
He went away from the house ecstatically happy. He believed that he had really seen her. He had no doubt that, aided by the mediumship of love, she had actually appeared to him a second time in a form only a little less material than the night before.
Of this experience he did not tell Miss Ludington. This interview, which Ida had granted to him alone, he kept as a precious secret.
The next day, as he had promised, Paul called at Mrs. Legrand's and saw Dr. Hull. That gentleman was unable to promise him anything definite about a seance, on account of Mrs. Legrand's continued illness.
"Is she seriously sick?" asked Paul, with a new terror.
"I think not," said Dr. Hull; "but her trouble is of the heart, the result of the nervous crises which a trance medium is necessarily subject to, and a disease of the heart may at any time take an unexpected turn."
"Has she the best advice?" asked Paul. "Excuse me; but if she has not, and if her pecuniary means do not enable her to afford it, I beg you will let me secure it for her."
Dr. Hull thanked him, but said that he was a physician himself, and that, on account of his acquaintance with her constitutional peculiarities, Mrs. Legrand considered him, and he considered himself, better able to treat her than any strange physician. "You seem to be very much interested in her case," added the doctor, with a slight intonation of surprise.
"Can you wonder?" replied Paul. "Is she not door-keeper between this world and the world of spirits where my love is? Don't think me brutal if I confess to you that what I think of most is that her death might close that door."
"I do not think you brutal," replied Dr. Hull; "what you feel is very natural."
"Is it not strange—is it not hard to bear," cried Paul, giving way to his feelings, "that the key of the gate between the world of spirits and of men should be intrusted to a weak and sickly woman?"
"It is hard to bear, no doubt," replied Dr. Hull; "but it is not strange. It is in accordance with the laws by which this world has always been conducted. From the beginning has not the power of calling spirits out of the unknown into this earth life been intrusted to weak and sickly women? What the world loosely calls spiritualism is no isolated phenomenon or set of phenomena. The universe is spiritual. Much as we claim for our mediums, the mediumship of motherhood is far more marvellous. Our mediums can enable spirits already alive, and able by their own wills to cooperate, to pass before our eyes for a moment. To hold them longer in our view exceeds their power. But these other women, these mothers, call souls out of nothingness, and clothe them with bodies, so that they speak, walk, work, love, and hate, some forty, some fifty, some seventy years."
"You are right," said Paul bowing his head. "It is not strange though it is hard to bear."
The effect of the seance at Mrs. Legrand's upon Miss Ludington had been far less disturbing than upon Paul. To her it had been a lofty spiritual consolation, setting the seal of absolute assurance upon a faith that had been before too great, too strange, too beautiful for her to fully realize.
When Paul brought word that Mrs. Legrand was sick and might die, and that if she died that first vision of Ida might also prove the last to be vouchsafed them on earth, although she was deeply grieved, yet the thought did not seem so intolerable to her as to him. She had, indeed, hoped that from time to time she should see Ida again; still, her life was mostly past, and it was chiefly upon the communion they would enjoy in heaven, not momentary and imperfect as here, but perennial and complete, that her heart was set.
Very different was it with Paul. He was young; heaven was very far off, and the way thither, unless cheered by occasional visitations of his radiant mistress, seemed inexpressibly long and dreary. The nature of his sentiment for Ida had changed since he had seen her clothed in a living form, from the worship of a sweet but dim ideal to the passion which a living woman inspires. He thought of her no more as a spirit, lofty and serene, but as a beautiful maiden with the love-light in her eyes.
He was not able to find his former inspiration in the picture above the fireplace. Its still enchantment was gone. The set smile, that had ever before seemed so sweet, palled upon him. The eyes, that had always been so tender, now lacked expression. The lips that the boy had climbed up to kiss, how had the artist failed to intimate their exquisite curves! The whole picture had suffered a subtle deterioration, and looked hard, wooden, lifeless, and almost, unlike. The living woman had eclipsed the portrait. Fortunate it is for the fame of painters that their originals do not oftener return to earth.
If Mrs. Legrand had been his own mother Paul could not have been more assiduous in his calls and inquiries as to her condition, nor could his relief have been greater when, a few days later, Dr. Hull told him that the case had taken a favourable turn, and according to her previous experience with such attacks, she would probably be as well as usual by the following day. Dr. Hull said that she had heard of Paul's frequent inquiries for her, and while she did not flatter herself that his interest in her was wholly on her own account, she was, nevertheless, so far grateful that she would give him the first seance which she was able to hold, and that would be, if she continued to improve, on the following evening.
If Miss Ludington's desire for another glimpse of Ida had lacked the passionate intensity of Paul's, she had, notwithstanding, longed for it very ardently, and when at nine o'clock the next night the carriage drew up before Mrs. Legrand's door, she was in a transport of sweet anticipation.
As for Paul he had dressed himself with extreme care for the occasion, and looked to his best advantage. He had said to himself, "Shall I not show her as much observance as I would pay to a living woman?" And who can say—for very odd, sometimes, are the inarticulate processes of the mind—that there was not at the bottom of his thoughts something of the universal lover's willingness to let his mistress see him at his best?
They found the front parlour occupied as before by Mrs. Legrand and Dr. Hull, when Alta showed them in. The medium was, as previously, the picture of ill-health, and if she did not look noticeably worse than before her sickness, it was merely because she had looked as badly as possible then. In response to inquiries about her health she admitted that she did not really feel equal to resuming her seances quite so soon, and but for disliking to disappoint them would have postponed this evening's appointment. Dr. Hull had, indeed, urged her to do so.