Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Charade

CHARADE.

For half an evening he had bent
O’er the sweet bands of golden hair,
A flower-screened lamp its lustre blent
With eyes and gems that sparkled there,
And choice exotic perfumes lent
A witchery to the air.
Through maiden groups, with look askance,
Float wondering words scarce envy-free,
Shrewd chaperones cast a furtive glance
And whisper of a fate they see;
’Ere August stifle fête and dance,
My first there’s sure to be.

But August empties square and street,
Less frequent whirl the wheels along,
No longer gleam the sandalled feet,
Nor murmurs now the silken throng!
On jaded beauty’s ear falls sweet
The country’s matin-song;
The breeze alas! o’er saddened brow
Lifts the light tress of sunny hue;
False was the lip that breathed the vow
And thrilled the soul with feelings new:
My second is his love grown now
Whose utterance seemed so true.

And so the long days wane. Ah me!
How soon young hearts grow worldly-cold!
How deftly learns the gallant’s knee
To bend but at the shrine of gold,
Where faith and trust may bartered be,
Aye, bargained, bought, and sold!
Poor Alice had but soul and grace,
But Laura dowers a lover more.
A wife with fortune and a place!
What wonder if his dream be o’er?
If slighted be the tender face
He deemed my whole before?

Ralph A. Benson.




A RETURN FROM THE THRESHOLD.


Doctor Dampier’s compliments, and he will be obliged if you will send him word whether you will give him what he has written to ask you for.”

In the dull light which was reflected from the staircase on the landing at the entrance to my chambers it was not possible for me to see the speaker’s face; but there was something in the sound of his voice which struck me with a kind of terror; it was as though I was listening to a voice from another world. So forcible was the shock that I drew back with a kind of fear from the speaker, and even hesitated for an instant to take the letter from his hand, although the person he named was one well known to me. Thinking that this feeling could only arise from the excited state of my mind, I took the letter from his hand, and, unlocking the door, I told him to come in. There was a fire burning in the grate, which lighted the room a little, and as a heavy rain was falling, and had been falling for some time, I said, “How long have you been waiting? Are you wet?”

“Nearly an hour,” was the reply; “but I don’t mind the wet.”

It was the same slow, even voice which seemed to come to me from the darkness of the grave, and I felt the same creeping sensation of horror which had attacked me when he spoke to me outside my door. Snatching up a piece of paper from my table, I took the lamp from the mantel-piece and hastily lighted it, keeping my back towards the speaker that he might not perceive my agitation. With a sudden determination I turned and held the lamp at arm’s length, so that it threw its light full on the messenger’s face. Apart from the expression of the countenance, which was stern, and as firmly set as though it were carved in stone, and of itself calculated to make a profound impression on all who looked at it, there was that in the eyes which no human being could fathom. They might belong to a man who had at one time committed a murder, and who was continually on the watch to see if any person who spoke to him suspected the crime of which he had been guilty. Such I have seen; but these to me shone from the deep hollows of the bloodless countenance with a far more appalling intelligence. There was in them an expression of recognition of myself; and in my own mind I recognised him, but always as one who had passed into another stage of existence. By a strong effort I said:

“You say you bring this from Doctor Dampier. Do you know me? Where have I seen you before?”

Without answering my question he pointed to the note I held in my hand. I felt that I could not read the note with any understanding of its contents; so, motioning towards the door, I told him to tell Dr. Dampier I felt too unwell to answer his note that evening, but that I would send an answer the following day. I held the door open, and listened to him as he descended the staircase with a step which sounded slow, even, and solemn as his voice. I waited two or three minutes till I thought he had reached a distance which would prevent me from overtaking him; then thrusting the letter into my pocket I turned out the lamp, shut the door, and left for a friend’s house, resolved not to enter my chambers again that night.

As soon as I found myself seated beside my friend at his fireside I recovered my spirits, and taking out the letter, read as follows:

My dear Mr. Hensman,

“Will you have the kindness to furnish me, at your leisure, with a full report of the case of Samuel Calcraft, in which you were engaged.

I prefer making this request to you rather than to the attorney who prepared the case for his defence, because, as you prosecuted him in your official capacity, no person will be able or likely to wish to throw doubt on your statement.

“I do not require your statement for present use, but eventually I shall do so in the interests of humanity; I shall, however, have no objection to reveal the reason to you on receiving your promise that you will not divulge what I tell you till the occurrence of an event which may be still distant.

“Very truly yours,
J. Dampier.

I had scarcely run my eye over this note before I understood the cause of my emotion on hearing