Transcriber's Note: Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Dialect spellings, contractions and discrepancies have been retained.
TALES OF FANTASY AND FACT
NEW YORK HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS 1896
BOOKS BY BRANDER MATTHEWS.
THE THEATRES OF PARIS. FRENCH DRAMATISTS OF THE 19TH CENTURY. THE LAST MEETING, a Story. A SECRET OF THE SEA, and Other Stories. PEN AND INK: Essays on Subjects of More or Less Importance. A FAMILY TREE, and Other Stories. WITH MY FRIENDS: Tales Told in Partnership. A TALE OF TWENTY-FIVE HOURS. TOM PAULDING, a Story for Boys. IN THE VESTIBULE LIMITED, a Story. AMERICANISMS AND BRITICISMS, with Other Essays on Other Isms. THE STORY OF A STORY, and Other Stories. THE DECISION OF THE COURT, a Comedy. STUDIES OF THE STAGE. THIS PICTURE AND THAT, a Comedy. VIGNETTES OF MANHATTAN. THE ROYAL MARINE, an Idyl of Narragansett. BOOK-BINDINGS, Old and New; Notes of a Book-Lover. HIS FATHER'S SON, a Novel of New York. AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE. TALES OF FANTASY AND FACT. ASPECTS OF FICTION, and Other Ventures in Criticism. (In Press.)
Copyright, 1896, by HARPER & BROTHERS. All rights reserved.
TO THE MEMORY OF MY FRIEND H. C. BUNNER
A PRIMER OF IMAGINARY GEOGRAPHY 3
THE KINETOSCOPE OF TIME 27
THE DREAM-GOWN OF THE JAPANESE AMBASSADOR 57
THE RIVAL GHOSTS 93
SIXTEEN YEARS WITHOUT A BIRTHDAY 131
THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE 143
A CONFIDENTIAL POSTSCRIPT 207
A PRIMER OF IMAGINARY GEOGRAPHY
There was an answer from our bark—for such it seemed to me by this time—but I could not make out the words.
"Where do you hail from?" was the next question.
I strained my ears to catch the response, being naturally anxious to know whence I had come.
"From the City of Destruction!" was what I thought I heard; and I confess that it surprised me not a little.
"Where are you bound?" was asked in turn.
Again I listened with intensest interest, and again did the reply astonish me greatly.
"Ultima Thule!" was the answer from our boat, and the voice of the man who answered was deep and melancholy.
Then I knew that I had set out strange countries for to see, and that I was all unequipped for so distant a voyage. Thule I knew, or at least I had heard of the king who reigned there once and who cast his goblet into the sea. But Ultima Thule! was not that beyond the uttermost borders of the earth?
"Any passengers?" was the next query, and I noted that the voice came now from the left and was almost abreast of us.
"One only," responded the captain of our boat.
"Where bound?" was the final inquiry.
"To the Fortunate Islands!" was the answer; and as I heard this my spirits rose again, and I was glad, as what man would not be who was on his way to the paradise where the crimson-flowered meadows are full of the shade of frankincense-trees and of fruits of gold?
Then the boat bounded forward again, and I heard the wash of the waves.
All this time it seemed as though I were in darkness; but now I began dimly to discern the objects about me. I found that I was lying on a settee in a state-room at the stern of the vessel. Through the small round window over my head the first rays of the rising sun darted and soon lighted the little cabin.
As I looked about me with curiosity, wondering how I came to be a passenger on so unexpected a voyage, I saw the figure of a man framed in the doorway at the foot of the stairs leading to the deck above.
How it was I do not know, but I made sure at once that he was the captain of the ship, the man whose voice I had heard answering the hail.
He was tall and dark, with a scant beard and a fiery and piercing gaze, which penetrated me as I faced him. Yet the expression of his countenance was not unfriendly; nor could any man lay eyes upon him without a movement of pity for the sadness written on his visage.
I rose to my feet as he came forward.
"Well," he said, holding out his hand, "and how are you after your nap?"
He spoke our language with ease and yet with a foreign accent. Perhaps it was this which betrayed him to me.
"Are you not Captain Vanderdecken?" I asked as I took his hand heartily.
"So you know me?" he returned, with a mournful little laugh, as he motioned to me to sit down again.
Thus the ice was broken, and he took his seat by my side, and we were soon deep in talk.
When he learned that I was a loyal New-Yorker, his cordiality increased.
"I have relatives in New Amsterdam," he cried; "at least I had once. Diedrich Knickerbocker was my first cousin. And do you know Rip Van Winkle?"
Although I could not claim any close friendship with this gentleman, I boasted myself fully acquainted with his history.
"Yes, yes," said Captain Vanderdecken, "I suppose he was before your time. Most people are so short-lived nowadays; it's only with that Wandering Jew now that I ever have a chat over old times. Well, well, but you have heard of Rip? Were you ever told that I was on a visit to Hendrik Hudson the night Rip went up the mountain and took a drop too much?"
I had to confess that here was a fact I had not before known.
"I ran up the river," said the Hollander, "to have a game of bowls with the Englishman and his crew, nearly all of them countrymen of mine; and, by-the-way, Hudson always insists that it was I who brought the storm with me that gave poor Rip Van Winkle the rheumatism as he slept off his intoxication on the hillside under the pines. He was a good fellow, Rip, and a very good judge of schnapps, too."
Seeing him smile with the pleasant memories of past companionship, I marvelled when the sorrowful expression swiftly covered his face again as a mask.
"But why talk of those who are dead and gone and are happy?" he asked in his deep voice. "Soon there will be no one left, perhaps, but Ahasuerus and Vanderdecken—the Wandering Jew and the Flying Dutchman."
He sighed bitterly, and then he gave a short, hard laugh.
"There's no use talking about these things, is there?" he cried. "In an hour or two, if the wind holds, I can show you the house in which Ahasuerus has established his museum, the only solace of his lonely life. He has the most extraordinary gathering of curiosities the world has ever seen—truly a virtuoso's collection. An American reporter came on a voyage with me fifty or sixty years ago, and I took him over there. His name was Hawthorne. He interviewed the Jew, and wrote up the collection in the American papers, so I've been told."
"I remember reading the interview," I said, "and it was indeed a most remarkable collection."
"It's all the more curious now for the odds and ends I've been able to pick up here and there for my old friend," Vanderdecken declared; "I got him the horn of Hernani, the harpoon with which Long Tom Coffin pinned the British officer to the mast, the long rifle of Natty Bumppo, the letter A in scarlet cloth embroidered in gold by Hester Prynne, the banner with the strange device 'Excelsior,' the gold bug which was once used as a plummet, Maud Muller's rake, and the jack-knives of Hosea Biglow and Sam Lawson."
"You must have seen extraordinary things yourself," I ventured to suggest.
"No man has seen stranger," he answered, promptly. "No man has ever been witness to more marvellous deeds than I—not even Ahasuerus, I verily believe, for he has only the land, and I have the boundless sea. I survey mankind from China to Peru. I have heard the horns of elfland blowing, and I could tell you the song the sirens sang. I have dropped anchor at the No Man's Land, and off Lyonesse, and in Xanadu, where Alph the sacred river ran. I have sailed from the still-vexed Bermoothes to the New Atlantis, of which there is no mention even until the year 1629."
"In which year there was published an account of it written in the Latin tongue, but by an Englishman," I said, desirous to reveal my acquirements.
"I have seen every strange coast," continued the Flying Dutchman. "The Island of Bells and Robinson Crusoe's Island and the Kingdoms of Brobdingnag and Lilliput. But it is not for me to vaunt myself for my voyages. And of a truth there are men I should like to have met and talked with whom I have yet failed to see. Especially is there one Ulysses, a sailor-man of antiquity who called himself Outis, whence I have sometimes suspected that he came from the town of Weissnichtwo."
Just to discover what Vanderdecken would say, I inquired innocently whether this was the same person as one Captain Nemo of whose submarine exploits I had read.
"Captain Nemo?" the Flying Dutchman repeated scornfully. "I never heard of him. Are you sure there is such a fellow?"
I tried to turn the conversation by asking if he had ever met another ancient mariner named Charon.
"Oh, yes," was his answer. "Charon keeps the ferry across the Styx to the Elysian Fields, past the sunless marsh of Acheron. Yes—I've met him more than once. I met him only last month, and he was very proud of his new electric launch with its storage battery."
When I expressed my surprise at this, he asked me if I did not know that the underworld was now lighted by electricity, and that Pluto had put in all the modern improvements. Before I had time to answer, he rose from his seat and slapped me on the shoulder.
"Come up with me!—if you want to behold things for yourself," he cried. "So far, it seems to me, you have never seen the sights!"
I followed him on deck. The sun was now two hours high, and I could just make out a faint line of land on the horizon.
"That rugged coast is Bohemia, which is really a desert country by the sea, although ignorant and bigoted pedants have dared to deny it," and the scorn of my companion as he said this was wonderful to see. "Its borders touch Alsatia, of which the chief town is a city of refuge. Not far inland, but a little to the south, is the beautiful Forest of Arden, where men and maids dwell together in amity, and where clowns wander, making love to shepherdesses. Some of these same pestilent pedants have pretended to believe that this forest of Arden was situated in France, which is absurd, as there are no serpents and no lions in France, while we have the best of evidence as to the existence of both in Arden—you know that, don't you?"
I admitted that a green and gilded snake and a lioness with udders all drawn dry were known to have been seen there both on the same day. I ventured to suggest further that possibly this Forest of Arden was the Wandering Wood where Una met her lion.
"Of course," was the curt response; "everybody knows that Arden is a most beautiful region; even the toads there have precious jewels in their heads. And if you range the forest freely you may chance to find also the White Doe of Rylstone and the goat with the gilded horns that told fortunes in Paris long ago by tapping with his hoof on a tambourine."
"These, then, are the Happy Hunting-Grounds?" I suggested with a light laugh.
"Who would chase a tame goat?" he retorted with ill-concealed contempt for my ill-advised remark.
I thought it best to keep silence; and after a minute or two he resumed the conversation, like one who is glad of a good listener.
"In the outskirts of the Forest of Arden," he began again, "stands the Abbey of Thelema—the only abbey which is bounded by no wall and in which there is no clock at all nor any dial. And what need is there of knowing the time when one has for companions only comely and well-conditioned men and fair women of sweet disposition? And the motto of the Abbey of Thelema is Fais ce que voudra—Do what you will; and many of those who dwell in the Forest of Arden will tell you that they have taken this also for their device, and that if you live under the greenwood tree you may spend your life—as you like it."
I acknowledged that this claim was probably well founded, since I recalled a song of the foresters in which they declared themselves without an enemy but winter and rough weather.
"Yes," he went on, "they are fond of singing in the Forest of Arden, and they sing good songs. And so they do in the fair land beyond where I have never been, and which I can never hope to go to see for myself, if all that they report be true—and yet what would I not give to see it and to die there."
And as he said this sadly, his voice sank into a sigh.
"And where does the road through the forest lead, that you so much wish to set forth upon it?" I asked.
"That's the way to Arcady," he said—"to Arcady where all the leaves are merry. I may not go there, though I long for it. Those who attain to its borders never come back again—and why should they leave it? Yet there are tales told, and I have heard that this Arcady is the veritable El Dorado, and that in it is the true Fountain of Youth, gushing forth unfailingly for the refreshment of all who may reach it. But no one may find the entrance who cannot see it by the light that never was on land or sea."
"It must be a favored region," I remarked.
"Of a truth it is," he answered; "and on the way there is the orchard where grow the golden apples of Hesperides, and the dragon is dead now that used to guard them, and so any one may help himself to the beautiful fruit. And by the side of the orchard flows the river Lethe, of which it is not well for man to drink, though many men would taste it gladly." And again he sighed.
I knew not what to say, and so waited for him to speak once more.
"That promontory there on the weather bow," he began again after a few moments' silence, "that is Barataria, which was long supposed to be an island by its former governor, Don Sancho Panza, but which is now known by all to be connected with the mainland. Pleasant pastures slope down to the water, and if we were closer in shore you might chance to see Rozinante, the famous charger of Don Quixote de la Mancha, grazing amicably with the horse that brought the good news from Ghent to Aix."
"I wish I could see them!" I cried, enthusiastically; "but there is another horse I would rather behold than any—the winged steed Pegasus."
Before responding, my guide raised his hand and shaded his eyes and scanned the horizon.
"No," he said at last. "I cannot descry any this afternoon. Sometimes in these latitudes I have seen a dozen hippogriffs circling about the ship, and I should like to have shown them to you. Perhaps they are all in the paddock at the stock-farm, where Apollo is now mating them with night-mares in the hope of improving the breed from which he selects the coursers that draw the chariot of the sun. They say that the experiment would have more chance of success if it were easier to find the night-mares' nests."
"It was not a hippogriff I desired to see especially," I returned when he paused, "although that would be interesting, no doubt. It was the renowned Pegasus himself."
"Pegasus is much like the other hippogriffs," he retorted, "although perhaps he has a little better record than any of them. But they say he has not won a single aerial handicap since that American professor of yours harnessed him to a one-hoss shay. That seemed to break his spirit, somehow; and I'm told he would shy now even at a broomstick train."
"Even if he is out of condition," I declared, "Pegasus is still the steed I desire to see above all."
"I haven't set eyes on him for weeks," was the answer, "so he is probably moulting; this is the time of year. He has a roomy boxstall in the new Augean stable at the foot of Mount Parnassus. You know they have turned the spring of Castaly so that it flows through the stable-yard now, and so it is easy enough to keep the place clean."
"If I may not see Pegasus," I asked, "is there any chance of my being taken to the Castle of the Sleeping Beauty?"
"I have never seen it myself," he replied, "and so I cannot show it to you. Rarely indeed may I leave the deck of my ship to go ashore; and this castle that you ask about is very far inland. I am told that it is in a country which the French travellers call La Scribie, a curious land, wherein the scene is laid of many a play, because its laws and its customs are exactly what every playwright has need of; but no poet has visited it for many years. Yet the Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, whose domains lie partly within the boundaries of Scribia, is still a subscriber to the Gazette de Hollande—the only newspaper I take himself, by the way."
This last remark of the Captain's explained how it was that he had been able to keep up with the news of the day, despite his constant wanderings over the waste of waters; and what more natural in fact than that the Flying Dutchman should be a regular reader of the Holland Gazette?
Vanderdecken went forward into the prow of the vessel, calling to me to follow.
"Do you see those peaks afar in the distance?" he asked, pointing over the starboard bow.
I could just make out a saw-like outline in the direction indicated.
"Those are the Delectable Mountains," he informed me; "and down on a hollow between the two ranges is the Happy Valley."
"Where Rasselas lived?"
"Yes," he replied, "and beyond the Delectable Mountains, on the far slope, lies Prester John's Kingdom, and there dwell anthropophagi, and men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders. At least, so they say. For my part, I have never seen any such. And I have now no desire to go to Prester John's Kingdom, since I have been told that he has lately married Pope Joan. Do you see that grove of trees there at the base of the mountains?"
I answered that I thought I could distinguish weirdly contorted branches and strangely shivering foliage.
"That is the deadly upas-tree," he explained, "and it is as much as a man's life is worth to lie down in the shade of its twisted limbs. I slept there, on that point where the trees are the thickest, for a fortnight a century or so ago—but all I had for my pains was a headache. Still I should not advise you to adventure yourself under the shadow of those melancholy boughs."
I confess at once that I was little prompted to a visit so dangerous and so profitless.
"Profitless?" he repeated. "As to that I am not so certain, for if you have a mind to see the rarest animals in the world, you could there sate your curiosity. On the shore, between the foot-hills and the grove of upas, is a park of wild beasts, the like of which no man has looked upon elsewhere. Even from the deck of this ship I have seen more than once a drove of unicorns, or a herd of centaurs, come down to the water to drink; and sometimes I have caught a pleasant glimpse of satyrs and fauns dancing in the sunlight. And once indeed—I shall never forget that extraordinary spectacle—as I sped past with every sail set and a ten-knot breeze astern, I saw the phoenix blaze up in its new birth, while the little salamanders frisked in the intense flame."
"The phoenix?" I cried. "You have seen the phoenix?"
"In just this latitude," he answered, "but it was about nine o'clock in the evening and I remember that the new moon was setting behind the mountains when I happened to come on deck."
"And what was the phoenix like?" I asked.
"Really," he replied, "the bird was almost as Herodotus described her, of the make and size of the eagle, with a plumage partly red and partly golden. If we go by the point by noon, perhaps you may see her for yourself."
"Is she there still?" I asked, in wonder.
"Why not?" he returned. "All the game of this sort is carefully preserved and the law is off on phoenixes only once in a century. Why, if it were not for the keepers, there soon would not be a single griffin or dragon left, not a single sphinx, not a single chimaera. Even as it is, I am told they do not breed as freely now as when they could roam the whole world in safety. That is why the game laws are so rigorous. Indeed, I am informed and believe that it is not permitted to kill the were-wolves even when their howling, as they run at large at night, prevents all sleep. It is true, of course, that very few people care to remain in such a neighborhood."
"I should think not," I agreed. "And what manner of people are they who dare to live here?"
"Along the shore there are a few harpies," he answered; "and now and then I have seen a mermaid on the rocks combing her hair with a golden comb as she sang to herself."
"Harpies?" I repeated, in disgust. "Why not the sea-serpent also?"
"There was a sea-serpent which lived for years in that cove yonder," said the Captain, pointing to a pleasant bay on the starboard, "but I have not seen it lately. Unless I am in error, it had a pitched battle hereabouts with a kraken. I don't remember who got the better of the fight—but I haven't seen the snake since."
As I scanned the surface of the water to see if I might not detect some trace of one or another of these marvellous beasts of the sea, I remarked a bank of fog lying across our course.
"And what is this that we are coming to?" I inquired.
"That?" Captain Vanderdecken responded, indicating the misty outline straight before us. "That is Altruria—at least it is so down in the charts, but I have never set eyes on it actually. It belongs to Utopia, you know; and they say that, although it is now on the level of the earth, it used once to be a flying island—the same which was formerly known as Laputa, and which was first visited and described by Captain Lemuel Gulliver about the year 1727, or a little earlier."
"So that is Altruria," I said, trying in vain to see it more clearly. "There was an Altrurian in New York not long ago, but I had no chance of speech with him."
"They are pleasant folk, those Altrurians," said the Captain, "although rather given to boasting. And they have really little enough to brag about, after all. Their climate is execrable—I find it ever windy hereabouts, and when I get in sight of that bank of fog, I always look out for squalls. I don't know just what the population is now, but I doubt if it is growing. You see, people talk about moving there to live, but they are rarely in a hurry to do it, I notice. Nor are the manufactures of the Altrurians as many as they were said to be. Their chief export now is the famous Procrustean bed; although the old house of Damocles & Co. still does a good business in swords. Their tonnage is not what it used to be, and I'm told that they are issuing a good deal of paper money now to try and keep the balance of trade in their favor."
"Are there not many poets among the inhabitants of Altruria?" I asked.
"They are all poets and romancers of one kind or another," declared the Captain. "Come below again into the cabin, and I will show you some of their books."
The sky was now overcast and there was a chill wind blowing, so I was not at all loath to leave the deck, and to follow Vanderdecken down the steps into the cabin.
He took a thin volume from the table. "This," he said, "is one of their books—'News from Nowhere,' it is called."
He extended it towards me, and I held out my hand for it, but it slipped through my fingers. I started forward in a vain effort to seize it.
As I did so, the walls and the floor of the cabin seemed to melt away and to dissolve in air, and beyond them and taking their place were the walls and floor of my own house. Then suddenly the clock on the mantelpiece struck five, and I heard a bob-tail car rattling and clattering past the door on its way across town to Union Square, and thence to Greenwich Village, and so on down to the Hoboken Ferry.
Then I found myself on my own sofa, bending forward to pick up the volume of Cyrano de Bergerac, which lay on the carpet at my feet. I sat up erect and collected my thoughts as best I could after so strange a journey. And I wondered why it was that no one had ever prepared a primer of imaginary geography, giving to airy nothings a local habitation and a name, and accompanying it with an atlas of maps in the manner of the Carte du Pays de Tendre.
THE KINETOSCOPE OF TIME
As the twelfth stroke of the bell in the tower at the corner tolled forth slowly, the midnight wind blew chill down the deserted avenue, and swept it clear of all belated wayfarers. The bare trees in the thin strip of park clashed their lifeless branches; the river far below slipped along silently. There was no moon, and the stars were shrouded. It was a black night. Yet far in the distance there was a gleam of cheerful light which lured me on and on. I could not have said why it was that I had ventured forth at that hour on such a night. It seemed to me as though the yellow glimmer I beheld afar off was the goal of my excursion. Something within whispered to me then that I need go no farther when once I had come to the spot whence the soft glare proceeded.
The pall of darkness was so dense that I could not see the sparse houses I chanced to pass, nor did I know where I was any more. I urged forward blindly, walking towards the light, which was all that broke the blackness before me; its faint illumination seemed to me somehow to be kindly, inviting, irresistible. At last I came to a halt in front of a building I had never before seen, although I thought myself well acquainted with that part of the city. It was a circular edifice, or so it seemed to me then; and I judged that it had but a single story, or two, at the most. The door stood open to the street; and it was from this that the light was cast. So dim was this illumination now I had come to it that I marvelled I could have seen it at all afar off as I was when first I caught sight of it.
While I stood at the portal of the unsuspected edifice, peering doubtfully within, wondering to what end I had been led thither, and hesitating as to my next step, I felt again the impulse to go forward. At that moment tiny darts of fire, as it were, glowed at the end of the hall that opened before me, and they ran together rapidly and joined in liquid lines and then faded as suddenly as they had come—but not too soon for me to read the simple legend they had written in the air—an invitation to me, so I interpreted it, to go forward again, to enter the building, and to see for myself why I had been enticed there.
Without hesitation I obeyed. I walked through the doorway, and I became conscious that the door had closed behind me as I pressed forward. The passage was narrow and but faintly lighted; it bent to the right with a circular sweep as though it skirted the inner circumference of the building; still curving, it sank by a gentle gradient; and then it rose again and turned almost at right angles. Pushing ahead resolutely, although in not a little doubt as to the meaning of my adventure, I thrust aside a heavy curtain, soft to the hand. Then I found myself just inside a large circular hall. Letting the hangings fall behind me, I took three or four irresolute paces which brought me almost to the centre of the room. I saw that the walls were continuously draped with the heavy folds of the same soft velvet, so that I could not even guess where it was I had entered. The rotunda was bare of all furniture; there was no table in it, no chair, no sofa; nor was anything hanging from the ceiling or against the curtained walls. All that the room contained was a set of four curiously shaped narrow stands, placed over against one another at the corners of what might be a square drawn within the circle of the hall. These narrow stands were close to the curtains; they were perhaps a foot wide, each of them, or it might be a little more: they were twice or three times as long as they were wide; and they reached a height of possibly three or four feet.
Going towards one of these stands to examine it more curiously, I discovered that there were two projections from the top, resembling eye-pieces, as though inviting the beholder to gaze into the inside of the stand. Then I thought I heard a faint metallic click above my head. Raising my eyes swiftly, I read a few words written, as it were, against the dark velvet of the heavy curtains in dots of flame that flowed one into the other and melted away in a moment. When this mysterious legend had faded absolutely, I could not recall the words I had read in the fitful and flitting letters of fire, and yet I retained the meaning of the message; and I understood that if I chose to peer through the eye-pieces I should see a succession of strange dances.
To gaze upon dancing was not what I had gone forth to do, but I saw no reason why I should not do so, as I was thus strangely bidden. I lowered my head until my eyes were close to the two openings at the top of the stand. I looked into blackness at first, and yet I thought that I could detect a mystic commotion of the invisible particles at which I was staring. I made no doubt that, if I waited, in due season the promise would be fulfilled. After a period of expectancy which I could not measure, infinitesimal sparks darted hither and thither, and there was a slight crackling sound. I concentrated my attention on what I was about to see; and in a moment more I was rewarded.
The darkness took shape and robed itself in color; and there arose out of it a spacious banquet-hall, where many guests sat at supper. I could not make out whether they were Romans or Orientals; the structure itself had a Latin solidity, but the decorations were Eastern in their glowing gorgeousness. The hall was illumined by hanging lamps, by the light of which I tried to decide whether the ruler who sat in the seat of honor was a Roman or an Oriental. The beautiful woman beside him struck me as Eastern beyond all question. While I gazed intently he turned to her and proffered a request. She smiled acquiescence, and there was a flash of anticipated triumph in her eye as she beckoned to a menial and sent him forth with a message. A movement as of expectancy ran around the tables where the guests sat at meat. The attendants opened wide the portals and a young girl came forward. She was perhaps fourteen or fifteen years of age, but in the East women ripen young, and her beauty was indisputable. She had large, deep eyes and a full mouth; and there was a chain of silver and golden coins twisted into her coppery hair. She was so like to the woman who sat beside the ruler that I did not doubt them to be mother and daughter. At a word from the elder the younger began to dance; and her dance was Oriental, slow at first, but holding every eye with its sensual fascination. The girl was a mistress of the art; and not a man in the room withdrew his gaze from her till she made an end and stood motionless before the ruler. He said a few words I could not hear, and then the daughter turned to the mother for guidance; and again I caught the flash of triumph in the elder woman's eye and on her face the suggestion of a hatred about to be glutted. And then the light faded and the darkness settled down on the scene and I saw no more.
I did not raise my head from the stand, for I felt sure that this was not all I was to behold; and in a few moments there was again a faint scintillation. In time the light was strong enough for me to perceive the irregular flames of a huge bonfire burning in an old square of some mediaeval city. It was evening, and yet a throng of men and women and children made an oval about the fire and about a slim girl who had spread Persian carpet on the rough stones of the broad street. She was a brunette, with dense black hair; she wore a striped skirt, and a jacket braided with gold had slipped from her bare shoulders. She held a tambourine in her hand and she was twisting and turning in cadence to her own song. Then she went to one side where stood a white goat with gilded horns and put down her tambourine and took up two swords; and with these in her hands she resumed her dance. A man in the throng, a man of scant thirty-five, but already bald, a man of stalwart frame, fixed hot eyes upon her; and from time to time a smile and a sigh met on his lips, but the smile was more dolorous than the sigh. And as the gypsy girl ceased her joyous gyrations, the bonfire died out, and darkness fell on the scene again, and I could no longer see anything.
Again I waited, and after an interval no longer than the other there came a faint glow that grew until I saw clearly as in the morning sun the glade of a forest through which a brook rippled. A sad-faced woman sat on a stone by the side of the streamlet; her gray garments set off the strange ornament in the fashion of a single letter of the alphabet that was embroidered in gold and in scarlet over her heart. Visible at some distance was a little girl, like a bright-apparelled vision, in a sunbeam, which fell down upon her through an arch of boughs. The ray quivered to and fro, making her figure dim or distinct, now like a real child, now like a child's spirit, as the splendor came and went. With violets and anemones and columbines the little girl had decorated her hair. The mother looked at the child and the child danced and sparkled and prattled airily along the course of the streamlet, which kept up a babble, kind, quiet, soothing, but melancholy. Then the mother raised her head as though her ears had detected the approach of some one through the wood. But before I could see who this newcomer might be, once more the darkness settled down upon the scene.
This time I knew the interval between the succeeding visions and I waited without impatience; and in due season I found myself gazing at a picture as different as might be from any I had yet beheld.
In the broad parlor of a house that seemed to be spacious, a middle-aged lady, of an appearance at once austere and kindly, was looking at a smiling gentleman who was coming towards her pulling along a little negro girl about eight or nine years of age. She was one of the blackest of her race; and her round, shining eyes, glittering as glass beads, moved with quick and restless glances over everything in the room. Her woolly hair was braided in sundry little tails, which stuck out in every direction. She was dressed in a single filthy, ragged garment, made of bagging; and altogether there was something odd and goblin-like about her appearance. The severe old maid examined this strange creature in dismay and then directed a glance of inquiry at the gentleman in white. He smiled again and gave a signal to the little negro girl. Whereupon the black eyes glittered with a kind of wicked drollery, and apparently she began to sing, keeping time with her hands and feet, spinning round, clapping her hands, knocking her knees together, in a wild, fantastic sort of time; and finally, turning a somersault or two, she came suddenly down on the carpet, and stood with her hands folded, and a most sanctimonious expression of meekness and solemnity over her face, only broken by the cunning glances which she shot askance from the corners of her eyes. The elderly lady stood silent, perfectly paralyzed with amazement, while the smiling gentleman in white was amused at her astonishment.
Once more the vision faded. And when, after the same interval, the darkness began to disappear again, even while everything was dim and indistinct I knew that the scene was shifted from the South to the North. I saw a room comfortably furnished, with a fire smouldering in a porcelain stove. In a corner stood a stripped Christmas-tree, with its candles burned out. Against the wall between the two doors was a piano, on which a man was playing—a man who twisted his head now and again to look over his shoulder, sometimes at another and younger man standing by the stove, sometimes at a young woman who was dancing alone in the centre of the room. This young woman had draped herself in a long parti-colored shawl and she held a tambourine in her hand. There was in her eyes a look of fear, as of one conscious of an impending misfortune. As I gazed she danced more and more wildly. The man standing by the porcelain stove was apparently making suggestions, to which she paid no heed. At last her hair broke loose and fell over her shoulders; and even this she did not notice, going on with her dancing as though it were a matter of life and death. Then one of the doors opened and another woman stood on the threshold. The man at the piano ceased playing and left the instrument. The dancer paused unwillingly, and looked pleadingly up into the face of the younger man as he came forward and put his arm around her.
And then once more the light died away and I found myself peering into a void blackness. This time, though I waited long, there were no crackling sparks announcing another inexplicable vision. I peered intently into the stand, but I saw nothing. At last I raised my head and looked about me. Then on the hangings over another of the four stands, over the one opposite to that into which I had been looking, there appeared another message, the letters melting one into another in lines of liquid light; and this told me that in the other stand I could, if I chose, gaze upon combats as memorable as the delectable dances I had been beholding.
I made no hesitation, but crossed the room and took my place before the other stand and began at once to look through the projecting eye-pieces. No sooner had I taken this position than the dots of fire darted across the depth into which I was gazing; and then there came a full clear light as of a cloudless sky, and I saw the walls of an ancient city. At the gates of the city there stood a young man, and toward him there ran a warrior, brandishing a spear, while the bronze of his helmet and his armor gleamed in the sunlight. And trembling seized the young man and he fled in fear; and the warrior darted after him, trusting in his swift feet. Valiant was the flier, but far mightier he who fleetingly pursued him. At last the young man took heart and made a stand against the warrior. They faced each other in light. The warrior hurled his spear and it went over the young man's head. And the young man then hurled his spear in turn and it struck fair upon the centre of the warrior's shield. Then the young man drew his sharp sword that by his flank hung great and strong. But by some magic the warrior had recovered his spear; and as the young man came forward he hurled it again, and it drove through the neck of the young man at the joint of his armor, and he fell in the dust. After that the sun was darkened; and in a moment more I was looking into an empty blackness.
When again the light returned it was once more with the full blaze of mid-day that the scene was illumined, and the glare of the sun was reflected from the burning sands of the desert. Two or three palms arose near a well, and there two horsemen faced each other warily. One was a Christian knight in a coat of linked mail, over which he wore a surcoat of embroidered cloth, much frayed and bearing more than once the arms of the wearer—a couchant leopard. The other was a Saracen, who was circling swiftly about the knight of the leopard. The crusader suddenly seized the mace which hung at his saddle-bow, and with a strong hand and unerring aim sent it crashing against the head of his foe, who raised his buckler of rhinoceros-hide in time to save his life, though the force of the blow bore him from the saddle. The knight spurred his steed forward, but the Saracen leaped into his seat again without touching the stirrup. While the Christian recovered his mace, the infidel withdrew to a little distance and strung the short bow he carried at his back. Then he circled about his foe, whose armor stood him in good stead, until the seventh shaft apparently found a less perfect part, and the Christian dropped heavily from his horse. But the dismounted Oriental found himself suddenly in the grasp of the European, who had recourse to this artifice to bring his enemy within his reach. The Saracen was saved again by his agility; and loosing his sword-belt, which the knight had grasped, he mounted his watching horse. He had lost his sword and his arrows and his turban, and these disadvantages seemed to incline him for a truce. He approached the Christian with his right hand extended, but no longer in a menacing attitude. What the result of this proffer of a parley might be I could not observe, for the figures became indistinct, as though a cloud had settled down on them; and in a few seconds more all was blank before me.
When the next scene grew slowly into view I thought for a moment it might be a continuation of the preceding, for the country I beheld was also soaking in the hot sunlight of the South, and there was also a mounted knight in armor. A second glance undeceived me. This knight was old and thin and worn, and his armor was broken and pieced, and his helmet was but a barber's basin, and his steed was a pitiful skeleton. His countenance was sorrowful indeed, but there was that in his manner which would stop any man from denying his nobility. His eye was fired with a high purpose and a lofty resolve. In the distance before him were a group of windmills waving their arms in the air, and the knight urged forward his wretched horse as though to charge them. Upon an ass behind him was a fellow of the baser sort, a genial, simple follower, seemingly serving him as his squire. As the knight pricked forward his sorry steed and couched his lance, the attendant apparently appealed to him, and tried to explain, and even ventured on expostulation. But the knight gave no heed to the protests of the squire, who shook his head and dutifully followed his master. What the issue of this unequal combat was to be I could not see, for the inexorable veil of darkness fell swiftly.
Even after the stray sparks had again flitted through the blackness into which I was gazing daylight did not return, and it was with difficulty I was able at last to make out a vague street in a mediaeval city doubtfully outlined by the hidden moon. From a window high above the stones there came a faint glimmer. Under this window stood a soldier worn with the wars, who carried himself as though glad now to be at home again. He seemed to hear approaching feet, and he withdrew into the shadow as two others advanced. One of these was a handsome youth with an eager face, in which spirituality and sensuality contended. The other was older, of an uncertain age, and his expression was mocking and evil; he carried some sort of musical instrument, and to this he seemed to sing while the younger man looked up at the window. The soldier came forward angrily and dashed the instrument to the ground with his sword. Then the newcomers drew also, and the elder guarded while the younger thrust. There were a few swift passes, and then the younger of the two lunged fiercely, and the soldier fell back on the stones wounded to the death. Without a glance behind them, the two who had withstood his onslaught withdrew, as the window above opened and a fair-haired girl leaned forth.
Then nothing was visible, until after an interval the light once more returned and I saw a sadder scene than any yet. In a hollow of the bare mountains a little knot of men in dark-blue uniforms were centred about their commander, whose long locks floated from beneath his broad hat. Around this small band of no more than a score of soldiers, thousands of red Indians were raging, with exultant hate in their eyes. The bodies of dead comrades lay in narrowing circles about the thinning group of blue-coats. The red men were picking off their few surviving foes, one by one; and the white men could do nothing, for their cartridges were all gone. They stood at bay, valiant and defiant, despite their many wounds; but the line of their implacable foemen was drawn tighter and tighter about them, and one after another they fell forward dying or dead, until at last only the long-haired commander was left, sore wounded but unconquered in spirit.
When this picture of strong men facing death fearlessly was at last dissolved into darkness like the others that had gone before, I had an inward monition that it was the last that would be shown me; and so it was, for although I kept my place at the stand for two or three minutes more, no warning sparks dispersed the opaque depth.
When I raised my head from the eye-pieces, I became conscious that I was not alone. Almost in the centre of the circular hall stood a middle-aged man of distinguished appearance, whose eyes were fixed upon me. I wondered who he was, and whence he had come, and how he had entered, and what it might be that he wished with me. I caught a glimpse of a smile that lurked vaguely on his lips. Neither this smile nor the expression of his eyes was forbidding, though both were uncanny and inexplicable. He seemed to be conscious of a remoteness which would render futile any effort of his towards friendliness.
How long we stood thus staring the one at the other I do not know. My heart beat heavily and my tongue refused to move when at last I tried to break the silence.
Then he spoke, and his voice was low and strong and sweet.
"You are welcome," he began, and I noted that the accent was slightly foreign, Italian perhaps, or it might be French. "I am glad always to show the visions I have under my control to those who will appreciate them."
I tried to stammer forth a few words of thanks and of praise for what I had seen.
"Did you recognize the strange scenes shown to you by these two instruments?" he asked, after bowing gently in acknowledgment of my awkward compliments.
Then I plucked up courage and made bold to express to him the surprise I had felt, not only at the marvellous vividness with which the actions had been repeated before my eyes, like life itself in form and in color and in motion, but also at the startling fact that some of the things I had been shown were true and some were false. Some of them had happened actually to real men and women of flesh and blood, while others were but bits of vain imagining of those who tell tales as an art and as a means of livelihood.
I expressed myself as best I could, clumsily, no doubt; but he listened patiently and with the smile of toleration on his lips.
"Yes," he answered, "I understand your surprise that the facts and the fictions are mingled together in these visions of mine as though there was little to choose between them. You are not the first to wonder or to express that wonder; and the rest of them were young like you. When you are as old as I am—when you have lived as long as I—when you have seen as much of life as I—then you will know, as I know, that fact is often inferior to fiction, and that it is often also one and the same thing; for what might hare been is often quite as true as what actually was?"
I did not know what to say in answer to this, and so I said nothing.
"What would you say to me," he went on—and now it seemed to me that his smile suggested rather pitying condescension than kindly toleration—"what would you say to me, if I were to tell you that I myself have seen all the many visions unrolled before you in these instruments? What would you say, if I declared that I had gazed on the dances of Salome and of Esmeralda? that I had beheld the combat of Achilles and Hector and the mounted fight of Saladin and the Knight of the Leopard?"
"You are not Time himself?" I asked in amaze.
He laughed lightly, and without bitterness or mockery.
"No," he answered, promptly, "I am not Time himself. And why should you think so? Have I a scythe? Have I an hour-glass? Have I a forelock? Do I look so very old, then?"
I examined him more carefully to answer this last question, and the more I scrutinized him the more difficult I found it to declare his age. At first I had thought him to be forty, perhaps, or of a certainty less than fifty. But now, though his hair was black, though his eye was bright, though his step was firm, though his gestures were free and sweeping, I had my doubts; and I thought I could perceive, one after another, many impalpable signs of extreme old age.
Then, all at once, he grew restive under my fixed gaze.
"But it is not about me that we need to waste time now," he said, impatiently. "You have seen what two of my instruments contain; would you like now to examine the contents of the other two?"
I answered in the affirmative.
"The two you have looked into are gratuitous," he continued. "For what you beheld in them there is no charge. But a sight of the visions in the other two or in either one of them must be paid for. So far, you are welcome as my guest; but if you wish to see any more you must pay the price."
I asked what the charge was, as I thrust my hand into my pocket to be certain that I had my purse with me.
He saw my gesture, and he smiled once more.
"The visions I can set before you in those two instruments you have not yet looked into are visions of your own life," he said. "In that stand there," and he indicated one behind my back, "you can see five of the most important episodes of your past."
I withdrew my hand from my pocket. "I thank you," I said, "but I know my own past, and I have no wish to see it again, however cheap the spectacle."
"Then you will be more interested in the fourth of my instruments," he said, as he waved his thin, delicate hand towards the stand which stood in front of me. "In this you can see your future!"
I made an involuntary step forward; and then, at a second thought, I shrank back again.
"The price of this is not high," he continued, "and it is not payable in money."
"How, then, should I buy it?" I asked, doubtingly.
"In life!" he answered, gravely. "The vision of life must be paid for in life itself. For every ten years of the future which I may unroll before you here, you must assign me a year of life—twelve months—to do with as I will."
Strange as it seems to me now, I did not doubt that he could do as he declared. I hesitated, and then I fixed my resolve.
"Thank you," I said, and I saw that he was awaiting my decision eagerly. "Thank you again for what I have already seen and for what you proffer me. But my past I have lived once, and there is no need to turn over again the leaves of that dead record. And the future I must face as best I may, the more bravely, I think, that I do not know what it holds in store for me."
"The price is low," he urged.
"It must be lower still," I answered; "it might be nothing at all, and I should still decline. I cannot afford to be impatient now and to borrow knowledge of the future. I shall know all in good time."
He seemed not a little disappointed as I said this.
Then he made a final appeal: "Would you not wish to know even the matter of your end?"
"No," I answered. "That is no temptation to me, for whatever it may be I must find fortitude to undergo it somehow, whether I am to pass away in my sleep in my bed, or whether I shall have to withstand the chances of battle and murder and sudden death."
"That is your last word?" he inquired.
"I thank you again for what I have seen," I responded, bowing again; "but my decision is final."
"Then I will detain you no longer," he said, haughtily, and he walked towards the circling curtains and swept two of them aside. They draped themselves back, and I saw before me an opening like that through which I had entered.
I followed him, and the curtains dropped behind me as I passed into the insufficiently illuminated passage beyond. I thought that the mysterious being with whom I had been conversing had preceded me, but before I had gone twenty paces I found that I was alone. I pushed ahead, and my path twisted and turned on itself and rose and fell irregularly like that by means of which I had made my way into the unknown edifice. At last I picked my steps down winding stairs, and at the foot I saw the outline of a door. I pushed it back, and I found myself in the open air.
I was in a broad street, and over my head an electric light suddenly flared out and white-washed the pavement at my feet. At the corner a train of the elevated railroad rushed by with a clattering roar and a trailing plume of white steam. Then a cable-car clanged past with incessant bangs upon its gong. Thus it was that I came back to the world of actuality.
I turned to get my bearings, that I might find my way home again. I was standing almost in front of a shop, the windows of which were filled with framed engravings.
One of these caught my eye, and I confess that I was surprised. It was a portrait of a man—it was a portrait of the man with whom I had been talking.
I went close to the window, that I might see it better. The electric light emphasized the lines of the high-bred face, with its sombre searching eyes and the air of old-world breeding. There could be no doubt whatever that the original of this portrait was the man from whom I had just parted. By the costume I knew that the original had lived in the last century; and the legend beneath the head, engraved in a flowing script, asserted this to be a likeness of "Monsieur le Comte de Cagliostro."
THE DREAM-GOWN OF THE JAPANESE AMBASSADOR
After arranging the Egyptian and Mexican pottery so as to contrast agreeably with the Dutch and the German beer-mugs on the top of the bookcase that ran along one wall of the sitting-room, Cosmo Waynflete went back into the bedroom and took from a half-empty trunk the little cardboard boxes in which he kept the collection of playing-cards, and of all manner of outlandish equivalents for these simple instruments of fortune, picked up here and there during his two or three years of dilettante travelling in strange countries. At the same time he brought out a Japanese crystal ball, which he stood upon its silver tripod, placing it on a little table in one of the windows on each side of the fireplace; and there the rays of the westering sun lighted it up at once into translucent loveliness.
The returned wanderer looked out of the window and saw on one side the graceful and vigorous tower of the Madison Square Garden, with its Diana turning in the December wind, while in the other direction he could look down on the frozen paths of Union Square, only a block distant, but as far below him almost as though he were gazing down from a balloon. Then he stepped back into the sitting-room itself, and noted the comfortable furniture and wood-fire crackling in friendly fashion on the hearth, and his own personal belongings, scattered here and there as though they were settling themselves for a stay. Having arrived from Europe only that morning, he could not but hold himself lucky to have found these rooms taken for him by the old friend to whom he had announced his return, and with whom he was to eat his Christmas dinner that evening. He had not been on shore more than six or seven hours, and yet the most of his odds and ends were unpacked and already in place as though they belonged in this new abode. It was true that he had toiled unceasingly to accomplish this, and as he stood there in his shirt-sleeves, admiring the results of his labors, he was conscious also that his muscles were fatigued, and that the easy-chair before the fire opened its arms temptingly.
He went again into the bedroom, and took from one of his many trunks a long, loose garment of pale-gray silk. Apparently this beautiful robe was intended to serve as a dressing-gown, and as such Cosmo Waynflete utilized it immediately. The ample folds fell softly about him, and the rich silk itself seemed to be soothing to his limbs, so delicate was its fibre and so carefully had it been woven. Around the full skirt there was embroidery of threads of gold, and again on the open and flowing sleeves. With the skilful freedom of Japanese art the pattern of this decoration seemed to suggest the shrubbery about a spring, for there were strange plants with huge leaves broadly outlined by the golden threads, and in the midst of them water was seen bubbling from the earth and lapping gently over the edge of the fountain. As the returned wanderer thrust his arms into the dressing-gown with its symbolic embroidery on the skirt and sleeves, he remembered distinctly the dismal day when he had bought it in a little curiosity-shop in Nuremberg; and as he fastened across his chest one by one the loops of silken cord to the three coins which served as buttons down the front of the robe, he recalled also the time and the place where he had picked up each of these pieces of gold and silver, one after another. The first of them was a Persian daric, which he had purchased from a dealer on the Grand Canal in Venice; and the second was a Spanish peso struck under Philip II. at Potosi, which he had found in a stall on the embankment of the Quay Voltaire, in Paris; and the third was a York shilling, which he had bought from the man who had turned it up in ploughing a field that sloped to the Hudson near Sleepy Hollow.
Having thus wrapped himself in this unusual dressing-gown with its unexpected buttons of gold and silver, Cosmo Waynflete went back into the front room. He dropped into the arm-chair before the fire. It was with a smile of physical satisfaction that he stretched out his feet to the hickory blaze.
The afternoon was drawing on, and in New York the sun sets early on Christmas day. The red rays shot into the window almost horizontally, and they filled the crystal globe with a curious light. Cosmo Waynflete lay back in his easy-chair, with his Japanese robe about him, and gazed intently at the beautiful ball which seemed like a bubble of air and water. His mind went back to the afternoon in April, two years before, when he had found that crystal sphere in a Japanese shop within sight of the incomparable Fugiyama.
As he peered into its transparent depths, with his vision focused upon the spot of light where the rays of the setting sun touched it into flame, he was but little surprised to discover that he could make out tiny figures in the crystal. For the moment this strange thing seemed to him perfectly natural. And the movements of these little men and women interested him so much that he watched them as they went to and fro, sweeping a roadway with large brooms. Thus it happened that the fixity of his gaze was intensified. And so it was that in a few minutes he saw with no astonishment that he was one of the group himself, he himself in the rich and stately attire of a samurai. From the instant that Cosmo Waynflete discovered himself among the people whom he saw moving before him, as his eyes were fastened on the illuminated dot in the transparent ball, he ceased to see them as little figures, and he accepted them as of the full stature of man. This increase in their size was no more a source of wonderment to him than it had been to discern himself in the midst of them. He accepted both of these marvellous things without question—indeed, with no thought at all that they were in any way peculiar or abnormal. Not only this, but thereafter he seemed to have transferred his personality to the Cosmo Waynflete who was a Japanese samurai and to have abandoned entirely the Cosmo Waynflete who was an American traveller, and who had just returned to New York that Christmas morning. So completely did the Japanese identity dominate that the existence of the American identity was wholly unknown to him. It was as though the American had gone to sleep in New York at the end of the nineteenth century, and had waked a Japanese in Nippon in the beginning of the eighteenth century.
With his sword by his side—a Murimasa blade, likely to bring bad luck to the wearer sooner or later—he had walked from his own house in the quarter of Kioto which is called Yamashina to the quarter which is called Yoshiwara, a place of ill repute, where dwell women of evil life, and where roysterers and drunkards come by night. He knew that the sacred duty of avenging his master's death had led him to cast off his faithful wife so that he might pretend to riot in debauchery at the Three Sea-Shores. The fame of his shameful doings had spread abroad, and it must soon come to the ears of the man whom he wished to take unawares. Now he was lying prone in the street, seemingly sunk in a drunken slumber, so that men might see him and carry the news to the treacherous assassin of his beloved master. As he lay there that afternoon, he revolved in his mind the devices he should use to make away with his enemy when the hour might be ripe at last for the accomplishment of his holy revenge. To himself he called the roll of his fellow-ronins, now biding their time, as he was, and ready always to obey his orders and to follow his lead to the death, when at last the sun should rise on the day of vengeance.
So he gave no heed to the scoffs and the jeers of those who passed along the street, laughing him to scorn as they beheld him lying there in a stupor from excessive drink at that inordinate hour of the day. And among those who came by at last was a man from Satsuma, who was moved to voice the reproaches of all that saw this sorry sight.
"Is not this Oishi Kuranosuke," said the man from Satsuma, "who was a councillor of Asano Takumi no Kami, and who, not having the heart to avenge his lord, gives himself up to women and wine? See how he lies drunk in the public street! Faithless beast! Fool and craven! Unworthy of the name of a samurai!"
And with that the man from Satsuma trod on him as he lay there, and spat upon him, and went away indignantly. The spies of Kotsuke no Suke heard what the man from Satsuma had said, and they saw how he had spurned the prostrate samurai with his foot; and they went their way to report to their master that he need no longer have any fear of the councillors of Asano Takumi no Kami. All this the man, lying prone in the dust of the street, noted; and it made his heart glad, for then he made sure that the day was soon coming when he could do his duty at last and take vengeance for the death of his master.
He lay there longer than he knew, and the twilight settled down at last, and the evening stars came out. And then, after a while, and by imperceptible degrees, Cosmo Waynflete became conscious that the scene had changed and that he had changed with it. He was no longer in Japan, but in Persia. He was no longer lying like a drunkard in the street of a city, but slumbering like a weary soldier in a little oasis by the side of a spring in the midst of a sandy desert. He was asleep, and his faithful horse was unbridled that it might crop the grass at will.
The air was hot and thick, and the leaves of the slim tree above him were never stirred by a wandering wind. Yet now and again there came from the darkness a faintly fetid odor. The evening wore on and still he slept, until at length in the silence of the night a strange huge creature wormed its way steadily out of its lair amid the trees, and drew near the sleeping man to devour him fiercely. But the horse neighed vehemently and beat the ground with his hoofs and waked his master. Then the hideous monster vanished; and the man, aroused from his sleep, saw nothing, although the evil smell still lingered in the sultry atmosphere. He lay down again once more, thinking that for once his steed had given a false alarm. Again the grisly dragon drew nigh, and again the courser notified its rider, and again the man could make out nothing in the darkness of the night; and again he was wellnigh stifled by the foul emanation that trailed in the wake of the misbegotten creature. He rebuked his horse and laid him down once more.
A third time the dreadful beast approached, and a third time the faithful charger awoke its angry master. But there came the breath of a gentle breeze, so that the man did not fear to fill his lungs; and there was a vague light in the heavens now, so that he could dimly discern his mighty enemy; and at once he girded himself for the fight. The scaly monster came full at him with dripping fangs, its mighty body thrusting forward its huge and hideous head. The man met the attack without fear and smote the beast full on the crest, but the blow rebounded from its coat of mail.
Then the faithful horse sprang forward and bit the dreadful creature full upon the neck and tore away the scales, so that its master's sword could pierce the armored hide. So the man was able to dissever the ghastly head and thus to slay the monstrous dragon. The blackness of night wrapped him about once more as he fell on his knees and gave thanks for his victory; and the wind died away again.
Only a few minutes later, so it seemed to him, Cosmo Waynflete became doubtfully aware of another change of time and place—of another transformation of his own being. He knew himself to be alone once more, and even without his trusty charger. Again he found himself groping in the dark. But in a little while there was a faint radiance of light, and at last the moon came out behind a tower. Then he saw that he was not by the roadside in Japan or in the desert of Persia, but now in some unknown city of Southern Europe, where the architecture was hispano-moresque. By the silver rays of the moon he was able to make out the beautiful design damascened upon the blade of the sword which he held now in his hand ready drawn for self-defence.
Then he heard hurried footfalls down the empty street, and a man rushed around the corner pursued by two others, who had also weapons in their hands. For a moment Cosmo Waynflete was a Spaniard, and to him it was a point of honor to aid the weaker party. He cried to the fugitive to pluck up heart and to withstand the enemy stoutly. But the hunted man fled on, and after him went one of the pursuers, a tall, thin fellow, with a long black cloak streaming behind him as he ran.
The other of the two, a handsome lad with fair hair, came to a halt and crossed swords with Cosmo, and soon showed himself to be skilled in the art of fence. So violent was the young fellow's attack that in the ardor of self-defence Cosmo ran the boy through the body before he had time to hold his hand or even to reflect.
The lad toppled over sideways. "Oh, my mother!" he cried, and in a second he was dead. While Cosmo bent over the body, hasty footsteps again echoed along the silent thoroughfare. Cosmo peered around the corner, and by the struggling moonbeams he could see that it was the tall, thin fellow in the black cloak, who was returning with half a score of retainers, all armed, and some of them bearing torches.
Cosmo turned and fled swiftly, but being a stranger in the city he soon lost himself in its tortuous streets. Seeing a light in a window and observing a vine that trailed from the balcony before it, he climbed up boldly, and found himself face to face with a gray-haired lady, whose visage was beautiful and kindly and noble. In a few words he told her his plight and besought sanctuary. She listened to him in silence, with exceeding courtesy of manner, as though she were weighing his words before making up her mind. She raised the lamp on her table and let its beams fall on his lineaments. And still she made no answer to his appeal.
Then came a glare of torches in the street below and a knocking at the door. Then at last the old lady came to a resolution; she lifted the tapestry at the head of her bed and told him to bestow himself there. No sooner was he hidden than the tall, thin man in the long black cloak entered hastily. He greeted the elderly lady as his aunt, and he told her that her son had been set upon by a stranger in the street and had been slain. She gave a great cry and never took her eyes from his face. Then he said that a servant had seen an unknown man climb to the balcony of her house. What if it were the assassin of her son? The blood left her face and she clutched at the table behind her, as she gave orders to have the house searched.
When the room was empty at last she went to the head of the bed and bade the man concealed there to come forth and begone, but to cover his face, that she might not be forced to know him again. So saying, she dropped on her knees before a crucifix, while he slipped out of the window again and down to the deserted street.
He sped to the corner and turned it undiscovered, and breathed a sigh of relief and of regret. He kept on steadily, gliding stealthily along in the shadows, until he found himself at the city gate as the bell of the cathedral tolled the hour of midnight.
How it was that he passed through the gate he could not declare with precision, for seemingly a mist had settled about him. Yet a few minutes later he saw that in some fashion he must have got beyond the walls of the town, for he recognized the open country all around. And, oddly enough, he now discovered himself to be astride a bony steed. He could not say what manner of horse it was he was riding, but he felt sure that it was not the faithful charger that had saved his life in Persia, once upon a time, in days long gone by, as it seemed to him then. He was not in Persia now—of that he was certain, nor in Japan, nor in the Iberian peninsula. Where he was he did not know.
In the dead hush of midnight he could hear the barking of a dog on the opposite shore of a dusky and indistinct waste of waters that spread itself far below him. The night grew darker and darker, the stars seemed to sink deeper in the sky, and driving clouds occasionally hid them from his sight. He had never felt so lonely and dismal. In the centre of the road stood an enormous tulip-tree; its limbs were gnarled and fantastic, large enough to form trunks for ordinary trees, twisting down almost to the earth, and rising again into the air. As he approached this fearful tree he thought he saw something white hanging in the midst of it, but on looking more narrowly he perceived it was a place where it had been scathed by lightning and the white wood laid bare. About two hundred yards from the tree a small brook crossed the road; and as he drew near he beheld—on the margin of this brook, and in the dark shadow of the grove—he beheld something huge, misshapen, black, and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveller.
He demanded, in stammering accents, "Who are you?" He received no reply. He repeated his demand in a still more agitated voice. Still there was no answer. And then the shadowy object of alarm put itself in motion, and with a scramble and a bound stood in the middle of the road. He appeared to be a horseman of large dimensions and mounted on a black horse of powerful frame. Having no relish for this strange midnight companion, Cosmo Waynflete urged on his steed in hopes of leaving the apparition behind; but the stranger quickened his horse also to an equal pace. And when the first horseman pulled up, thinking to lag behind, the second did likewise. There was something in the moody and dogged silence of this pertinacious companion that was mysterious and appalling. It was soon fearfully accounted for. On mounting a rising ground which brought the figure of his fellow-traveller against the sky, gigantic in height and muffled in a cloak, he was horror-struck to discover the stranger was headless!—but his horror was still more increased in observing that the head which should have rested on the shoulders was carried before the body on the pommel of the saddle.
The terror of Cosmo Waynflete rose to desperation, and he spurred his steed suddenly in the hope of giving his weird companion the slip. But the headless horseman started full jump with him. His own horse, as though possessed by a demon, plunged headlong down the hill. He could hear, however, the black steed panting and blowing close behind him; he even fancied that he felt the hot breath of the pursuer. When he ventured at last to cast a look behind, he saw the goblin rising in the stirrups, and in the very act of hurling at him the grisly head. He fell out of the saddle to the ground; and the black steed and the goblin rider passed by him like a whirlwind.
How long he lay there by the roadside, stunned and motionless, he could not guess; but when he came to himself at last the sun was already high in the heavens. He discovered himself to be reclining on the tall grass of a pleasant graveyard which surrounded a tiny country church in the outskirts of a pretty little village. It was in the early summer, and the foliage was green above him as the boughs swayed gently to and fro in the morning breeze. The birds were singing gayly as they flitted about over his head. The bees hummed along from flower to flower. At last, so it seemed to him, he had come into a land of peace and quiet, where there was rest and comfort and where no man need go in fear of his life. It was a country where vengeance was not a duty and where midnight combats were not a custom he found himself smiling as he thought that a grisly dragon and a goblin rider would be equally out of place in this laughing landscape.
Then the bell in the steeple of the little church began to ring merrily, and he rose to his feet in expectation. All of a sudden the knowledge came to him why it was that they were ringing. He wondered then why the coming of the bride was thus delayed. He knew himself to be a lover, with life opening brightly before him; and the world seemed to him sweeter than ever before and more beautiful.
Then at last the girl whom he loved with his whole heart and who had promised to marry him appeared in the distance, and he thought he had never seen her look more lovely. As he beheld his bridal party approaching, he slipped into the church to await her at the altar. The sunshine fell full upon the portal and made a halo about the girl's head as she crossed the threshold.
But even when the bride stood by his side and the clergyman had begun the solemn service of the church the bells kept on, and soon their chiming became a clangor, louder and sharper and more insistent.
So clamorous and so persistent was the ringing that Cosmo Waynflete was roused at last. He found himself suddenly standing on his feet, with his hand clutching the back of the chair in which he had been sitting before the fire when the rays of the setting sun had set long ago. The room was dark, for it was lighted now only by the embers of the burnt-out fire; and the electric bell was ringing steadily, as though the man outside the door had resolved to waken the seven sleepers.
Then Cosmo Waynflete was wide-awake again; and he knew where he was once more—not in Japan, not in Persia, not in Lisbon, not in Sleepy Hollow, but here in New York, in his own room, before his own fire. He opened the door at once and admitted his friend, Paul Stuyvesant.
"It isn't dinner-time, is it?" he asked. "I'm not late, am I? The fact is, I've been asleep."
"It is so good of you to confess that," his friend answered, laughing; "although the length of time you kept me waiting and ringing might have led me to suspect it. No, you are not late and it is not dinner-time. I've come around to have another little chat with you before dinner, that's all."
"Take this chair, old man," said Cosmo, as he threw another hickory-stick on the fire. Then he lighted the gas and sat down by the side of his friend.
"This chair is comfortable, for a fact," Stuyvesant declared, stretching himself out luxuriously. "No wonder you went to sleep. What did you dream of?—strange places you had seen in your travels or the homely scenes of your native land."
Waynflete looked at his friend for a moment without answering the question. He was startled as he recalled the extraordinary series of adventures which had fallen to his lot since he had fixed his gaze on the crystal ball. It seemed to him as though he had been whirled through space and through time.
"I suppose every man is always the hero of his own dreams," he began, doubtfully.
"Of course," his friend returned; "in sleep our natural and healthy egotism is absolutely unrestrained. It doesn't make any matter where the scene is laid or whether the play is a comedy or a tragedy, the dreamer has always the centre of the stage, with the calcium light turned full on him."
"That's just it," Waynflete went on; "this dream of mine makes me feel as if I were an actor, and as if I had been playing many parts, one after the other, in the swiftest succession. They are not familiar to me, and yet I confess to a vague feeling of unoriginality. It is as though I were a plagiarist of adventure—if that be a possible supposition. I have just gone through these startling situations myself, and yet I'm sure that they have all of them happened before—although, perhaps, not to any one man. Indeed, no one man could have had all these adventures of mine, because I see now that I have been whisked through the centuries and across the hemispheres with a suddenness possible only in dreams. Yet all my experiences seem somehow second-hand, and not really my own."
"Picked up here and there—like your bric-a-brac?" suggested Stuyvesant. "But what are these alluring adventures of yours that stretched through the ages and across the continents?"
Then, knowing how fond his friend was of solving mysteries and how proud he was of his skill in this art, Cosmo Waynflete narrated his dream as it has been set down in these pages.
When he had made an end, Paul Stuyvesant's first remark was: "I'm sorry I happened along just then and waked you up before you had time to get married."
His second remark followed half a minute later.
"I see how it was," he said; "you were sitting in this chair and looking at that crystal ball, which focussed the level rays of the setting sun, I suppose? Then it is plain enough—you hypnotized yourself!"
"I have heard that such a thing is possible," responded Cosmo."
"Possible?" Stuyvesant returned, "it is certain! But what is more curious is the new way in which you combined your self-hypnotism with crystal-gazing. You have heard of scrying, I suppose?"
"You mean the practice of looking into a drop of water or a crystal ball or anything of that sort," said Cosmo, "and of seeing things in it—of seeing people moving about?"
"That's just what I do mean," his friend returned. "And that's just what you have been doing. You fixed your gaze on the ball, and so hypnotized yourself; and then, in the intensity of your vision, you were able to see figures in the crystal—with one of which visualized emanations you immediately identified yourself. That's easy enough, I think. But I don't see what suggested to you your separate experiences. I recognize them, of course——"
"You recognize them?" cried Waynflete, in wonder.
"I can tell you where you borrowed every one of your adventures," Stuyvesant replied, "But what I'd like to know now is what suggested to you just those particular characters and situations, and not any of the many others also stored away in your subconsciousness."
So saying, he began to look about the room.
"My subconsciousness?" repeated Waynflete. "Have I ever been a samurai in my subconsciousness?"
Paul Stuyvesant looked at Cosmo Waynflete for nearly a minute without reply. Then all the answer he made was to say: "That's a queer dressing-gown you have on."
"It is time I took it off," said the other, as he twisted himself out of its clinging folds. "It is a beautiful specimen of weaving, isn't it? I call it the dream-gown of the Japanese ambassador, for although I bought it in a curiosity-shop in Nuremberg, it was once, I really believe, the slumber-robe of an Oriental envoy."
Stuyvesant took the silken garment from his friend's hand.
"Why did the Japanese ambassador sell you his dream-gown in a Nuremberg curiosity-shop?" he asked.
"He didn't," Waynflete explained. "I never saw the ambassador, and neither did the old German lady who kept the shop. She told me she bought it from a Japanese acrobat who was out of an engagement and desperately hard up. But she told me also that the acrobat had told her that the garment had belonged to an ambassador who had given it to him as a reward of his skill, and that he never would have parted with it if he had not been dead-broke."
Stuyvesant held the robe up to the light and inspected the embroidery on the skirt of it.
"Yes," he said, at last, "this would account for it, I suppose. This bit here was probably meant to suggest 'the well where the head was washed,'—see?"
"I see that those lines may be meant to represent the outline of a spring of water, but I don't see what that has to do with my dream," Waynflete answered.
"Don't you?" Stuyvesant returned. "Then I'll show you. You had on this silk garment embroidered here with an outline of the well in which was washed the head of Kotsuke no Suke, the man whom the Forty-Seven Ronins killed. You know the story?"
"I read it in Japan, but——" began Cosmo.
"You had that story stored away in your subconsciousness," interrupted his friend. "And when you hypnotized yourself by peering into the crystal ball, this embroidery it was which suggested to you to see yourself as the hero of the tale—Oishi Kuranosuke, the chief of the Forty-Seven Ronins, the faithful follower who avenged his master by pretending to be vicious and dissipated—just like Brutus and Lorenzaccio—until the enemy was off his guard and open to attack."
"I think I do recall the tale of the Forty-Seven Ronins, but only very vaguely," said the hero of the dream. "For all I know I may have had the adventure of Oishi Kuranosuke laid on the shelf somewhere in my subconsciousness, as you want me to believe. But how about my Persian dragon and my Iberian noblewoman?"
Paul Stuyvesant was examining the dream-gown of the Japanese ambassador with minute care. Suddenly he said, "Oh!" and then he looked up at Cosmo Waynflete and asked: "What are those buttons? They seem to be old coins."
"They are old coins," the other answered; "it was a fancy of mine to utilize them on that Japanese dressing-gown. They are all different, you see. The first is——"
"Persian, isn't it?" interrupted Stuyvesant.
"Yes," Waynflete explained, "it is a Persian daric. And the second is a Spanish peso made at Potosi under Philip II. for use in America. And the third is a York shilling, one of the coins in circulation here in New York at the time of the Revolution—I got that one, in fact, from the farmer who ploughed it up in a field at Tarrytown, near Sunnyside."
"Then there are three of your adventures accounted for, Cosmo, and easily enough," Paul commented, with obvious satisfaction at his own explanation. "Just as the embroidery on the silk here suggested to you—after you had hypnotized yourself—that you were the chief of the Forty-Seven Ronins, so this first coin here in turn suggested to you that you were Rustem, the hero of the 'Epic of Kings.' You have read the 'Shah-Nameh?'"
"I remember Firdausi's poem after a fashion only," Cosmo answered. "Was not Rustem a Persian Hercules, so to speak?"
"That's it precisely," the other responded, "and he had seven labors to perform; and you dreamed the third of them, the slaying of the grisly dragon. For my own part, I think I should have preferred the fourth of them, the meeting with the lovely enchantress; but that's neither here nor there."
"It seems to me I do recollect something about that fight of Rustem and the strange beast. The faithful horse's name was Rakush, wasn't it?" asked Waynflete.
"If you can recollect the 'Shah-Nameh,'" Stuyvesant pursued, "no doubt you can recall also Beaumont and Fletcher's 'Custom of the Country?' That's where you got the midnight duel in Lisbon and the magnanimous mother, you know."
"No, I didn't know," the other declared.
"Well, you did, for all that," Paul went on. "The situation is taken from one in a drama of Calderon's, and it was much strengthened in the taking. You may not now remember having read the play, but the incident must have been familiar to you, or else your subconsciousness couldn't have yielded it up to you so readily at the suggestion of the Spanish coin, could it?"
"I did read a lot of Elizabethan drama in my senior year at college," admitted Cosmo, "and this piece of Beaumont and Fletcher's may have been one of those I read; but I totally fail to recall now what it was all about."
"You won't have the cheek to declare that you don't remember the 'Legend of Sleepy Hollow,' will you?" asked Stuyvesant. "Very obviously it was the adventure of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman that the York shilling suggested to you."
"I'll admit that I do recollect Irving's story now," the other confessed.
"So the embroidery on the dream-gown gives the first of your strange situations; and the three others were suggested by the coins you have been using as buttons," said Paul Stuyvesant. "There is only one thing now that puzzles me: that is the country church and the noon wedding and the beautiful bride."
And with that he turned over the folds of the silken garment that hung over his arm.
Cosmo Waynflete hesitated a moment and a blush mantled his cheek. Then he looked his friend in the face and said: "I think I can account for my dreaming about her—I can account for that easily enough."
"So can I," said Paul Stuyvesant, as he held up the photograph of a lovely American girl that he had just found in the pocket of the dream-gown of the Japanese ambassador.
THE RIVAL GHOSTS
The good ship sped on her way across the calm Atlantic. It was an outward passage, according to the little charts which the company had charily distributed, but most of the passengers were homeward bound, after a summer of rest and recreation, and they were counting the days before they might hope to see Fire Island Light. On the lee side of the boat, comfortably sheltered from the wind, and just by the door of the captain's room (which was theirs during the day), sat a little group of returning Americans. The Duchess (she was down on the purser's list as Mrs. Martin, but her friends and familiars called her the Duchess of Washington Square) and Baby Van Rensselaer (she was quite old enough to vote, had her sex been entitled to that duty, but as the younger of two sisters she was still the baby of the family)—the Duchess and Baby Van Rensselaer were discussing the pleasant English voice and the not unpleasant English accent of a manly young lordling who was going to America for sport. Uncle Larry and Dear Jones were enticing each other into a bet on the ship's run of the morrow.
"I'll give you two to one she don't make 420," said Dear Jones.
"I'll take it," answered Uncle Larry. "We made 427 the fifth day last year." It was Uncle Larry's seventeenth visit to Europe, and this was therefore his thirty-fourth voyage.
"And when did you get in?" asked Baby Van Rensselaer. "I don't care a bit about the run, so long as we get in soon."
"We crossed the bar Sunday night, just seven days after we left Queenstown, and we dropped anchor off Quarantine at three o'clock on Monday morning."
"I hope we sha'n't do that this time. I can't seem to sleep any when the boat stops."
"I can, but I didn't," continued Uncle Larry, "because my state-room was the most for'ard in the boat, and the donkey-engine that let down the anchor was right over my head."
"So you got up and saw the sun rise over the bay," said Dear Jones, "with the electric lights of the city twinkling in the distance, and the first faint flush of the dawn in the east just over Fort Lafayette, and the rosy tinge which spread softly upward, and——"
"Did you both come back together?" asked the Duchess.
"Because he has crossed thirty-four times you must not suppose he has a monopoly in sunrises," retorted Dear Jones. "No; this was my own sunrise; and a mighty pretty one it was too."
"I'm not matching sunrises with you," remarked Uncle Larry calmly; "but I'm willing to back a merry jest called forth by my sunrise against any two merry jests called forth by yours."
"I confess reluctantly that my sunrise evoked no merry jest at all." Dear Jones was an honest man, and would scorn to invent a merry jest on the spur of the moment.
"That's where my sunrise has the call," said Uncle Larry, complacently.
"What was the merry jest?" was Baby Van Rensselaer's inquiry, the natural result of a feminine curiosity thus artistically excited.
"Well, here it is. I was standing aft, near a patriotic American and a wandering Irishman, and the patriotic American rashly declared that you couldn't see a sunrise like that anywhere in Europe, and this gave the Irishman his chance, and he said, 'Sure ye don't have 'm here till we're through with 'em over there.'"
"It is true," said Dear Jones, thoughtfully, "that they do have some things over there better than we do; for instance, umbrellas."
"And gowns," added the Duchess.
"And antiquities"—this was Uncle Larry's contribution.
"And we do have some things so much better in America!" protested Baby Van Rensselaer, as yet uncorrupted by any worship of the effete monarchies of despotic Europe. "We make lots of things a great deal nicer than you can get them in Europe—especially ice-cream."
"And pretty girls," added Dear Jones; but he did not look at her.
"And spooks," remarked Uncle Larry, casually.
"Spooks?" queried the Duchess.
"Spooks. I maintain the word. Ghost, if you like that better, or spectres. We turn out the best quality of spook——"
"You forget the lovely ghost stories about the Rhine and the Black Forest," interrupted Miss Van Rensselaer, with feminine inconsistency.
"I remember the Rhine and the Black Forest and all the other haunts of elves and fairies and hobgoblins; but for good, honest spooks there is no place like home. And what differentiates our spook—spiritus Americanus—from the ordinary ghost of literature is that it responds to the American sense of humor. Take Irving's stories, for example. The 'Headless Horseman'—that's a comic ghost story. And Rip Van Winkle—consider what humor, and what good humor, there is in the telling of his meeting with the goblin crew of Hendrik Hudson's men! A still better example of this American way of dealing with legend and mystery is the marvellous tale of the rival ghosts."
"The rival ghosts!" queried the Duchess and Baby Van Rensselaer together. "Who were they?"
"Didn't I ever tell you about them?" answered Uncle Larry, a gleam of approaching joy flashing from his eye.
"Since he is bound to tell us sooner or later, we'd better be resigned and hear it now," said Dear Jones.
"If you are not more eager, I won't tell it at all."
"Oh, do, Uncle Larry! you know I just dote on ghost stories," pleaded Baby Van Rensselaer.
"Once upon a time," began Uncle Larry—"in fact, a very few years ago—there lived in the thriving town of New York a young American called Duncan—Eliphalet Duncan. Like his name, he was half Yankee and half Scotch, and naturally he was a lawyer, and had come to New York to make his way. His father was a Scotchman who had come over and settled in Boston and married a Salem girl. When Eliphalet Duncan was about twenty he lost both of his parents. His father left him enough money to give him a start, and a strong feeling of pride in his Scotch birth; you see there was a title in the family in Scotland, and although Eliphalet's father was the younger son of a younger son, yet he always remembered, and always bade his only son to remember, that this ancestry was noble. His mother left him her full share of Yankee grit and a little old house in Salem which had belonged to her family for more than two hundred years. She was a Hitchcock, and the Hitchcocks had been settled in Salem since the year 1. It was a great-great-grandfather of Mr. Eliphalet Hitchcock who was foremost in the time of the Salem witchcraft craze. And this little old house which she left to my friend Eliphalet Duncan was haunted."
"By the ghost of one of the witches, of course?" interrupted Dear Jones.
"Now how could it be the ghost of a witch, since the witches were all burned at the stake? You never heard of anybody who was burned having a ghost, did you?" asked Uncle Larry.
"That's an argument in favor of cremation, at any rate," replied Dear Jones, evading the direct question.
"It is, if you don't like ghosts. I do," said Baby Van Rensselaer.
"And so do I," added Uncle Larry. "I love a ghost as dearly as an Englishman loves a lord."
"Go on with your story," said the Duchess, majestically overruling all extraneous discussion.
"This little old house at Salem was haunted," resumed Uncle Larry. "And by a very distinguished ghost—or at least by a ghost with very remarkable attributes."
"What was he like?" asked Baby Van Rensselaer, with a premonitory shiver of anticipatory delight.
"It had a lot of peculiarities. In the first place, it never appeared to the master of the house. Mostly it confined its visitations to unwelcome guests. In the course of the last hundred years it had frightened away four successive mothers-in-law, while never intruding on the head of the household."