Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/The ghost in the Green Park
THE GHOST IN THE GREEN PARK.
In the east there is a white, wan glimmer, as of a spectre haunting the dying moments of night: then the twilight of early morning is in the London streets. The air is fresh, exhilarating, unadulterated, for as yet even that very early riser the smoke is not astir. The highways are deserted, and for any visible signs of existence the pulse of the great city would seem to have ceased to beat. Solitary policemen, it is true, pursue the nocturnal pastimes of the force in the way of pulling at door-handles and testing shutter-fastenings; and coffee-stalls, warmed by red stoves, gleam mistily here and there, like town glow-worms, at the corners of open streets—but these, seen through the gauze of dawn, are, after all, more phantoms than actualities, and impart no more semblance of vitality to the sleeping metropolis than ghosts to a grave-yard.
A feeling of solitude begotten by the stillness—so unnatural compared with the roar of later hours—impresses forcibly the mind of the early wanderer. Independence so apparently absolute is not without its element of alarm. In the suspension of all social conventions in sleep, men who are compelled to be awake and about, go back to quite a primitive order of being, and learn the advantages of fraternisation as completely as in the Australian bush or the African desert. It is remarkable how soon interchange of colloquy ensues, how immediately acquaintances are to be made, and all restrictions of form and rank are abolished, amongst vagrants, at say four o’clock in the morning, in the streets of London. Then, even the policeman thaws, and, merging the constable in the man, is quite anxious to inform any one on his beat that it is a fine morning: and upon the lightest encouragement will furnish full particulars o the large fire over night, or the daring burglary in the next street two mornings back. After all, nature is an older institution than civilisation, and occasionally asserts her rights of primogeniture.
For some time after my first arrival in London, the occupation in which I was engaged rendered it necessary for me to rise very early. I may say at once that I was young—little more than a boy in years—and poor. I occupied inexpensive apartments in a street turning out of the Hampstead Road. It was in days when existing ingenious contrivances for boiling kettles rapidly by means of a star of gas-jets or a wheel of resinous firewood were undiscovered, or at any rate, not generally available. Breakfast in my own rooms involved difficulties and delays not to be endured. My toilet completed as well as darkness and drowsiness would permit, I sallied out into the streets, and took refuge for half an hour at a small coffee-shop in the neighbourhood of Holborn. The establishment had few recommendations beyond being both early and cheap, though I am bound to add that it was clean and not uncomfortable. What time it opened or whether it ever shut I could never clearly ascertain. Its frequenters were numerous, and for the most part like myself, influenced as to their early rising rather by necessity than choice; gentlemen of the newspaper press, post-office employés on their way to early duty or returning from night service, travellers just arrived by late or preparing to start by early trains, with occasional visitors whom festivity had kept from bed, and who were constantly trying by means of mild decoctions of tea and coffee to negative the effects of recent more powerful potations.
Frequenters of a public room soon become acquainted with its advantages and deficiencies, and acquire, moreover, a sort of right from custom to certain seats and corners. Hence I knew exactly in the establishment I visited the seat that from its situation near the fire was too hot, and the seat that was exposed to the draught of the door—where the culinary fumes were too abundant, and where the clattering of crockery and the details of the scullery were unpleasantly close—and I learnt to appropriate a comfortable position at some distance from the entrance and by the side of the fire, at a small table in the centre of a hutch or pew fitted into a recess in the wall, where accommodation was afforded to two guests only. Other habitués of the room had apparently their accustomed places. The usual occupant of the seat opposite to mine was a man of above sixty, as I judged, who appeared to have been well known in the room for some time preceding my first visit. Meeting this same man morning after morning, I soon learnt to take an interest in him and his proceedings. It began to be a source of disappointment to me if he ever failed to appear opposite to me during the progress of my meal, while his presence permitted me the pleasure of much and ingenious surmise; we had never spoken, however, and there was little in his abstracted, unconscious air that invited me to address him. He was tall, thin, very erect. In the winter he wore a large military cloak folded round him: in the summer his frock coat was always buttoned close up to his chin. His face was worn and sunburnt. He wore no whiskers, but a thick, projecting, shaggy moustache—at a time when moustaches were seldom to be seen in this country; and his hair, iron-grey in colour, was long and tangled. For some reason he had, unknown to himself, acquired in the room the soubriquet of the Baron. The fancy of bestowing upon him this fictitious rank arose probably from a certain dignified foreign air in his manner and appearance. He invariably raised his hat as he entered or quitted the room, and though he never or rarely spoke to anyone, he always delivered or received the newspapers and magazines with which the place was strewn, and which he and others were sometimes moving about in quest of, with great politeness. He read through gold-framed double eye-glasses which fastened with a spring. He frequently occupied himself with writing in a small note-book. He had been severely wounded in his right arm, but, nevertheless, he wrote with considerable facility and apparent neatness with his left hand; the writing being sloped contrarily to the ordinary method, after the manner peculiar to writers with the left hand. He was in the habit of entering the coffee-room about the same time that I did, and I generally left him there. His breakfast was moderate enough; being seldom more than a cup of coffee, a biscuit, and a cigar. But he had always the appearance of having been up all night, rather than of having risen early. On rainy mornings he would come in dripping wet and splashed with mire, as though he had been walking far, and when it snowed there was quite a thick crust upon his hat and cloak. Still he exhibited no symptom of fatigue or of desire for rest. Although his dress was simple and his fare frugal, there was about him no positive indication of poverty, while his manners and appearance gave no clue as to his ordinary occupation or profession. Altogether the Baron puzzled and interested me. I longed for an opportunity of drawing him into conversation, in the hope of gathering some information, or at least some food for further surmise regarding him. Notwithstanding our frequent meetings, however, I was for some time able to do little more than show him the small civilities and attentions which the facts of our occupation of the same table and the crippled state of his arm fairly permitted. At length I made an excuse for addressing him.
It was a March morning. A bitter east wind was blowing round the corners of the streets as fiercely as though it had been suffering under a pent-up rage and had at length received licence to give the reins to its wrath. Now it furiously whirled about and stung the faces of the passers in the streets with handfuls of sleet; now it made frantic efforts to tear away their hats and cloaks; now it lashed them with vindictive blasts till they ached and tingled all over as from the most cutting and malicious stripes. The streets so searchingly swept by the wind looked blanched like bones on a sea-strand. Right glad was I to beat a retreat from an enemy so merciless, and take refuge for a while in my warm corner in the coffee-shop.
The Baron was not long after me. As he took possession of his accustomed seat, I was struck by something unusual in his appearance. He was pale and agitated; he glanced continually over his shoulder as though he expected to see some one following him, and his thin white hand trembled so that he at once removed it from the table. His eyes wandered about with a vacant restlessness that was almost alarming, while he was every now and then seized with a distressing fit of coughing which shook his whole frame.
“This is a bad morning,” I said.
He turned to me with a startled air.
“It is,” he replied coldly, after a pause.
“Your cold is very bad—are you not imprudent to venture out?”
He gazed at me steadfastly for a moment or two.
“Why do you ask this? Who are you, that presume to question me?”
I was not unprepared for a rebuff of this nature. In a few words I ventured to inform him that my question arose from no merely idle motive, but out of real sympathy for him. I reminded him of the many times we had met, and suggested to him that the fact prevented my regarding him entirely as a stranger. I spoke in a tone as conciliatory and polite as was possible to me, and by way of giving an example of confidence, I spoke openly of myself; mentioned my name, address, and calling, and finally expressed regret if in addressing him I had given offence.
The unreserve of this appeared to soothe him.
“You have trust in me, at any rate,” he said.
I gave him my card. He placed it in his notebook—shuffling it in with his hand—then clasped the book and returned it to his pocket.
“Your curiosity in regard to me has been roused?”
“Something more than curiosity.”
“Well, it is not so surprising. You are young and—”
He stopped as though from irresolution. Leaning his head upon his hand and gazing at me searchingly, he after a pause resumed:
“Something has happened to me tonight”—speaking slowly and in a depressed tone—“so strange, so marvellous, that I might stand excused if I made the first man I met my confidant; were it only to preserve a record of what has taken place in another mind than my own, I am almost bound to speak. Time so effaces impressions—so constrains us to forget and to disbelieve, it would be a satisfaction to relate this matter to another, even an utter stranger, while it is still new, fresh, and restless in my thoughts. And you have taught yourself to be interested in me?”
A sudden fit of coughing shook him cruelly. Exhausted and panting he rose from his seat. I stretched out my arm to assist him. Probably he misunderstood my intention. Smiling, he pressed my hand gently.
“No,” he said, “not here; not now.”
He moved slowly towards the door, turning back, however, before he had reached it.
“Do not follow me,” he said, and quitted the room.
For three days the Baron’s seat in the coffee-room was unoccupied, and I could gain no tidings of him. On the evening of the fourth day, however, I found at my lodgings a letter, the handwriting of which I readily recognised. The contents were brief. I was requested to call that night at a house in the neighbourhood of Queen Square. The letter was signed “Lane Daly.” I hurried at once to the place appointed, found the house without difficulty—it was small, but not mean-looking—and learnt that Mr. Daly occupied rooms on the second-floor. The staircase was tortuous and ill-lighted, but the apartment into which I was introduced was well-furnished, and generally comfortable in appearance. The Baron, or Mr. Daly, as his real name seemed to be, was reclining on a small sofa in front of the fire. He rose as I entered, shook me cordially by the hand, and motioned me to an armchair by the side of his couch. He looked pallid and weak. He was taking coffee; after pouring me out a cup, he resumed his reclining position.
“You were possibly surprised at my writing to you,” he said in a low tone, “but the fact of your presence here shows that I did not draw too largely upon your kindness. I have been ill—I have been compelled to succumb to sickness as I have seldom done before. I have not left my room since I last saw you. You will forgive my asking you to come to me here, but for some days now I must remain a prisoner, and I then leave England. You have expressed an interest in me. I have to thank you much. I have seen you frequently at the coffee-room to which we both resort. I have Observed you more perhaps than you are aware of. I can—I do believe that this interest arises from a certain sympathy and not from mere curiosity. You are young. You do not know how valuable to those journeying on to age is the sympathy of the young. I did not perhaps myself know it thoroughly until within these few hours. I did not think I needed the sympathy of anyone. Heaven knows I have not courted it, and but a short time back I would as soon have died as have had a stranger here, sitting where you sit, hearing what I am about to ask you to hear. But an event has occurred which almost forces me to speak. It seems to me that silence would prey upon my reason.
“I had resolved after our last meeting at the coffee-room, and urged by your kindness there, to make known to you a strange chapter in a strange history. I have been thinking how to isolate this incident from surrounding circumstances, so as to make it intelligible to you without my entering upon a lengthy revelation. I find it necessary, however, that I should narrate to you certain details of my past career which I had not contemplated at first, and which may lead me to be more prolix than I desire. Forgive me, therefore, if I test your kindness too severely; and remember, you have in fact courted the position you occupy. If my recital weary, it may also warn you; and if I lose your respect, I must beg none the less—your pity.”
I assured him of my sympathy beforehand.
“Your patience first, then,” he said.
“My name is Lane Daly. I am of the Dalys of Fermoy, a good family, but sadly impoverished, like many another Irish house, by prolonged improvidence. I was a younger son, and as a consequence inherited little more than a foolish pride, a monstrous pedigree, and that phantom property, a contingent interest in an over-encumbered estate. Yet these were excuses enough to keep an Irishman from industry. I was never trained to any profession. I seemed forbidden to toil for my bread. I was brought up with independent notions without independent means. I received an accidental education at a Jesuit college in the neighbourhood of the family estate. Then, as a young man, a brief career of life in Dublin, where I acquired little beyond the science of debt, and I came to London fortune seeking. I had name and connections although I had not money, and moreover every Irishman has some one above him in station whom he looks up to and expects to get something from. A promise is the general result—another word for a lie—it was all I ever got. I, with others, dangled attendance at a great man’s levée, in the hope of advancement I never received. He was one of those old-established mockeries—a man who seemed a patron and arrogated to himself the airs of one, without ever doing a single action to merit the title. I am speaking of years long past. I was a young man then. I am not now so old as you perhaps deem me. I am now little more than forty-five, though I am aware I seem older. I was young, and as a necessary adjunct to youth and poverty—came love.
“The family of the Moncktons have been, as you are doubtless aware, for many years distinguished in the commercial history of this country for their enormous wealth and influence. The late Sir John Monckton had one daughter—Margaret. Of her exquisite beauty I will spare both of us elaborate description. Here is her portrait, painted about the date of my first meeting with her, by a French artist of some fame. Judge for yourself.”
He took from his breast-pocket a morocco-leather miniature case, and handed it to me. It enclosed the portrait of a woman, certainly of great beauty. For some minutes the charming expression of innocence and contemplative purity depicted in the miniature, held me spell-bound. Then I closed the case and returned it to him, motioning my thanks.
“In mind,” he went on, “she was not less excellent. And here I should state,—you know me so slightly, it is necessary,—that not one thought of the wealth she was likely one day to inherit, ever tainted the truthfulness of my love for Margaret Monckton. I believe that had I met her even in the very humblest position I should not have loved her less. I had frequent opportunities of seeing her. I was admitted to her father’s house, and received there as a constant and welcome guest. That the cadet of a needy Irish family should aspire to the hand of an English heiress, was looked upon as a danger too absurd to be apprehended. So my love grew and swelled unchecked within me, until my surcharged heart broke down beneath the burthen. My passion would find its way into words. I betrayed myself. You can guess the result. The door of Sir John Monckton’s house was thenceforth for ever closed against me. My only sins were my poverty and my love. But how unpardonable are these in a rich man’s eyes!
“The father of Margaret had views of his own in relation to his daughter’s hand. There were other matters besides the happiness of his child to be considered. What could be more important than strengthening his political connections, than enlarging the arena of his commercial pursuits? He had decided upon the marriage of his daughter with a General Galton, a man of high family and great wealth, who had returned from an important colonial appointment to marry and be buried in his native land. Obedience is a nobler virtue than love—the conviction cannot be too soon grafted into the heart of a child. Filial piety is rightly held in high esteem: it has a happy tendency to promote parental profit! How many Englishmen, do you think, champions of liberty abroad, are yet the most cruel of tyrants at home, preying upon their children’s joys, weighing their hearts but as fathers in the scale against political advancement and sordid ambition?”
He spoke with violence, and then paused for some minutes, as though overcome with his exertion.
“She loved me,” he continued, in a low voice, and speaking slowly and with effort. “Yet she prepared to obey her father’s commands. There was something touching, it was too pitiable to be condemned, in her compliance with a bidding which was breaking her heart. In the interval between my dismissal and the final arrangement of her marriage, I had written to her beseeching an interview. Trembling, for it was the first time she had acted wilfully in opposition to her father, she granted my request. Our meeting was a strange mingling of happiness and suffering—vows of love and outbursts of regret. In vain did we attempt to rend the ties that united us. Each interview dedicated to the interchange of eternal adieux, ended in an arrangement for a further meeting. I saw her again and again. Sir John Monckton resided in one of those houses in St. James’s Place, the gardens of which run down to the Green Park. A place of meeting was beneath a lime-tree, in a secluded part of the enclosure. Margaret had free access to the park in the early part of the morning, and by indentations on the bark of the tree, she was enabled to indicate to me the hour at which she could probaby escape from her father’s house for a meeting in the evening—the garden wall being so low that she could descend from it into the park, or return thence, without difficulty or much fear of detection.
“What hours of happiness did we pass in the calm of those summer evenings, beneath the shadow of the lime-tree! A happiness enhanced by the dangers which menaced it—by the despair in which it was inevitably to end.
“Let me hurry on. It was the night before the wedding. The forthcoming marriage had been published throughout the town. Sick with terror, Margaret met me beneath the tree—fell weeping upon my bosom. Once more the avowal of my passion poured from my lips. My love blinded—maddened me. I rose against my doom. We fled—if, indeed, it was not rather an abduction than a flight—for Margaret had lost consciousness in conjuring me by all I held sacred—by our love—to save her. A priest of the Catholic church, whose faith I hold, consecrated our marriage. We made for the coast, and quitted England, purposing never to return.
“Had I done rightly; or had human frailty leavened my conduct, poisoned my love? Should I not have considered her more, and myself less? She had youth, beauty, the prospect of extraordinary wealth—few women possessed equal advantages. Through my act, these had been lost to her. She had yoked herself with a poor adventurer. She had withdrawn herself from an engagement, in the world’s eyes voluntarily entered upon. She had incurred the ceaseless anger of her father. And this my doing! Yet, could I have acted otherwise? I, who loved her!
“We were pursued, and overtaken at Abbeville, on our road to Paris. I returned with General Galton to Calais. We fought on the sands at low tide. We exchanged three shots. I was struck in the wrist of my right hand. The bone was splintered, and after suffering the most exquisite pain, it became necessary for me to have a very painful operation performed on my arm. For many weeks I was a prey to a brain fever of a most severe character. On my recovery, I found myself at Brussels, tended by Margaret, my wife. Nothing could exceed her affectionate care. Subsequently our story became known in Brussels, and drew upon us an unpleasant amount of attention: we moved to Dresden.
“And now a misfortune we had hardly foreseen, and could not avert, came upon us. This was the want of money. Margaret possessed no means in her own right, although presumptive heiress of the whole of her father’s vast property. Our sole income, therefore, was comprised in a small annuity to which I was entitled under my mother’s marriage settlement; and which, fortunately, it had not been possible to involve in the difficulties of my father’s estate. Our fortune, Heaven knows, was small enough, still it had probably been sufficient, living as obscurely and inexpensively as we were. But at this time began irregularities in the remittances, by reason of the chicanery of one of the trustees charged with the payment of the annuity. Sir John Monckton had solemnly renounced his daughter, had sworn never to forgive, or even to see us more; he carefully alienated the whole of his property from Margaret. His anger knew no bounds—his former love for his child was now changed to an insatiable hate. It seemed to have become an object of his life to oppose us in every way, to drive us to extremities. I had written to every friend I had, or thought I had, hoping to obtain an appointment under one of the continental embassies. But Sir John’s interest effectually prevented this. To all my applications I received an unvarying reply. I had made an enemy of a man too powerful to be opposed, and the consequences must be upon my own head.
“Our situation daily became worse. To purchase the means of subsistence, Margaret was compelled to effect a sale of her jewels. Formerly I had possessed some skill as an artist—with this maimed arm, what did that avail now? Margaret had great gifts as a musician. She endeavoured to obtain pupils. For a time she succeeded, but many on becoming further acquainted with her history, expressed an unaccountable aversion to employing her. I earned some small sums by teaching English, but still insufficient to supply the requirements of our most modest household.
“One day I returned home later than usual. I had been out many hours in the vain quest of employment. To my joy I found a letter from England. I broke the seal with eagerness, and read with a trembling hope which died away into despair as I concluded. The letter was from a relative, and was written in terms colder even than usual. I had implored a remittance. None was forwarded, the letter bade me hope for none, and urged me, as the only way of appeasing the anger of Sir John Monckton, and so of obtaining a cessation of his persecution, to part from my wife, and return alone to England. You cannot imagine the harsh way in which this recommendation was pressed upon me, while on the other hand, if I rejected this counsel, I was hidden to do the best I could for myself, for no one else would ever aid me. I was sick with fatigue and disappointment I yielded to a weak feeling of despair.
“‘Why did I ever marry,’ I cried in the extremity of my folly. ‘Was it for this—for ruin and death?’
“I knew not that my words had been overheard.
“On my return on the following day I found awaiting me a note in pencil in the handwriting of Margaret.
“‘Do as they will. It is in vain to struggle further. We must part. I love you too well to be the cause of further suffering to you. I love you as I have ever loved you, but we must part—it is best so—never to meet again. Think of me as one who is dead, and love me as though Heaven had taken me from you. They cannot wrong you for that. God bless you, dearest. I will ever pray so. Farewell—for ever.
His voice trembled and broke. He gave way to a grief which would not be subdued. He buried his face in his hands and sobbed audibly.
“She was gone,” he said at length. “She was gone, and I have never seen her since. It is now fifteen years since she left me.”
“And you have sought her?” I asked.
“From that hour until now. I made inquiries throughout Dresden, but I could learn nothing either of her presence there or of her having quitted the city. Afterwards I sold off everything I was possessed of, and partially on foot, I journeyed to Paris, and so on at last to London, at every opportunity seeking traces of her on the road. Arrived in London, I was enabled after much difficulty to resume the receipt of my annuity. This furnished me with the means of continued search. My personal wants are small, and every farthing not absorbed by these, I have expended in the prosecution of my hapless search. I have visited every town in Europe, making inquiries far and near, as I proceeded. I have explored every corner where I could dream of her being by any possibility secluded. I have called in the aid of the police. I have agents here, in France, in Germany. I wander from one to the other, searching, waiting, hoping. All, all in vain. I cannot find her. She is lost! she is lost!”
There was a dreadful accent of despair in his words.
“And you have now resigned your quest?” I asked.
“I shall resign it but with life,” he answered solemnly. “It is the sole object of my existence. I live for this only. No one tie unites me to my fellows, or to this earth, but the hope of finding Margaret. O, to see her once again!” he cried with passion, “to assure her of my unceasing love, to win her pardon for the wrong which drove her from me, to soothe the remainder of her life by tenderness, to efface the anguish of the past by my devotion!”
“You have not seen her for fifteen years?”
“No,” and then after a pause, he added, “unless I saw her but a few hours before you first addressed me in the coffee-room.”
“You think you saw her then?”
“Listen. I seek her everywhere. No place is too exalted, no place is too lowly for my search, and day and night have I pursued it. In the palace as in the cellar, in the churchyard, and in the prison; in all phases of life, even amid scenes it had been better she should have died a hundred times than have lived to know, I have carried on my search. I have ceased to bewilder myself with probabilities, I seek her systematically everywhere. I extend my toil through the night, even into the hours of the morning. Then I have wandered to that lime-tree in the park, consecrated by her memory, and have bowed down in its shadow with my one prayer—that I may meet her yet once again before I die. I am known to the police, who regard me probably as an eccentric, privileged to do what seem to them strange things. Hence my rumblings by day or night receive from them neither question nor molestation.
“It was a cold night. The ground had been covered for some days with a frozen snow. There was no moon, but the stars were out, shining brilliantly in their pale, wan splendour. The white ground and the cold, clear air, rendered objects readily distinguishable, even at a considerable distance. I strode towards the lime-tree, and when within some fifty yards of it, perceived that a figure, advancing, as it were, from an opposite direction, had already reached the tree: the form of a woman stood out darkly majestic against the white back-ground. I could hear no sound of other footsteps than my own, crunching on the congealed snow. Yet I could not be mistaken. Plainly before me I recognised a pale, thin face, and a figure clothed in black and floating garments. I gasped for breath. Not so much from visual recognition, however, as from the conviction of some inner feeling I knew that it was she! My blood mounted to my head—my sight grew dim—my heart throbbed as though it would burst. I hurried on; but as I neared the tree, the figure waving its hands with a strange, solemn action, glided away in the direction from which it had come. I followed, greatly agitated. I sought to overtake it, but it kept in advance of me. It moved towards the park gate on Constitution Hill, passed through, and disappeared. I ran to the gate. To my amazement I found it locked. I climbed over the railing, but I could see no one. I walked on for some minutes in the direction in which it had seemed to me the figure had turned. At length I encountered a policeman carrying his lanthorn, and beating himself with his disengaged arm to keep himself warm. In reply to my questions, I learnt that he had not seen a soul upon his beat for some two hours. Bewildered and excited, I hurried past him. For miles I walked on without pause. But fruitlessly. The figure had escaped me, and I returned towards town much and painfully moved. It was on that morning you first spoke to me in the coffee-room.
“I know how the world would receive the story of this strange occurrence. I should be ridiculed as a monomaniac, or science would tell me that I was the victim of a spectral illusion; the result of unstrung nerves, or disordered brain. Yet, as certainly as I now stand here, as plainly as I can see you facing me, on the night in question did I see the form of Margaret, my wife, beneath the lime-tree in the Green Park. I am not more satisfied of my own existence than of that.”
“But how did she escape you? How did she quit the park?”
For some minutes he did not answer.
“In these days,” he said, at length, “it seems to me that men have become so learned they have taught themselves to dispense with belief, and have voted faith unnecessary. The supernatural is regarded as an old nurse’s tale, fit only to frighten children. To credit aught out of the pale of the common-place, is scorned as credulity. I am born of a country where ignorance embalms belief—where superstition is a religion. Tales of omens, of banshees, or wraiths, and all the wonderful poetry of the mysterious, were among the first lessons impressed upon my childish mind; and became too deeply fixed there to be effaced by either education, or age, or experience. Smile, if you will. I do not believe that it was Margaret’s self that I saw, but as I believe in Heaven, I believe that it was her wraith. It was Margaret—not in the flesh—but in the spirit!”
“You believe her dead, then?”
“No,” he cried, starting up. “I cannot believe her dead—not dead. I should die myself could I think that. No. She is living still. She may be in trouble, perhaps in pain; and her gentle spirit in some ecstacy of longing has for a term escaped its material bondage, to hover near the spot it has most loved of all the earth. It was Margaret as she must be now—pale, calm, and beautiful—come to me in spirit, to warn—to bid adieu, perhaps: I cannot know. She may be dying, but she is not dead. I cannot reason upon this. I can give you no such explanation as would satisfy modern science; but I can, and I do, believe!”
“And your next step?”
“Continued search. The same post brought me these three letters.”
He took from his pocket a packet of papers, among which were the letters he referred to. Two of them were written on thin paper, and bore foreign post-marks. The third was a London letter posted apparently in an adjoining neighbourhood.
“This tells me,” he said, opening the last, “that there is some one residing in a street in Camden Town, answering the description of her whom I seek. It is a mistake. I have made inquiries. This is from Paris. My correspondent informs me, that on the fourth floor, No. 117, Rue des Martyrs, resides Madame Winter, stated to be German, but believed to be English—age about thirty-three—lives very retired. This is from Vienna. It gives particulars concerning a Madame d’Audry, residing in a secluded street, in the outskirts of the city. One of my correspondents must be in error. It is likely enough that they both are. It will not be the first time by many that they have been so. But I start to-morrow on this new trace. To Paris first, and then on.
“And now it is growing late, and I have detained you long. Thank you for your kind interest and attention, and good night. I will write to you from the continent. I will see you on my return. Think over my strange story—believe it—if you can—for it is true. I am no madman, tell those who think me so—and my strange doings have had an object. Good night!”
I assured him of my deep symathy, and much moved by what I had heard, I left him.
A year and some five months intervened between my parting with Daly and our next meeting.
Circumstances had changed with me. My habits were now more those of ordinary people. I no longer rose at abnormal hours. I breakfasted in my own apartments. The early coffee-house was to me as a thing of the past.
I had often pondered over Daly’s strange narrative. I had never received the promised communication from abroad, and I began to think that I had lighted upon a thread of mystery which no effort of mine could ever ravel out completely—that I had met with the first chapters of a romance of which the last part was to be for ever withheld.
He had not been to the coffee-room since my first conversation with him there. He had not been heard of at his lodgings for many months.
I was strolling in St. James’s Park on a lovely evening in August. The weather was very sultry, and the sinking sun was still darting out hot rays between the branches of the trees, like a fire from behind the bars of a grate. The park was full of visitors, moving slowly about in an oppressed manner, hovering on the edge of the ornamental water, or reclining on the parched turf, trying to fancy some slight element of freshness was springing out of the lazy breathing of the evening air. I was idling amid the idle, thankful to be out of the hot streets, or the hot rooms of a London house, and reckless as to the near approach of the hour for closing the park gates. Suddenly I saw before me a form I could hardly fail to recognise.
On one of the park seats encircling a tree, among a crowd of other loungers, but completely isolated in mind from his neighbours, Daly was sitting, resting his hand upon his stick, and gazing abstractedly upon the scene before him. I was struck with the change in him. Ill as he had been at the time of my parting with him, he now appeared to be infinitely worse. His face had paled fearfully, as though sorrow were turning it to stone. Many, too, were the lines of suffering upon it. His hair had turned quite white—his whole frame was emaciated and bent. I have never seen any man assume in so short a time the aspect of extreme old age. He appeared to be lost in contemplation, and I felt for some minutes unwilling to disturb him, but as at length it became evident that I should not receive recognition unless I did so, I went to him and touched him gently on the shoulder. He started up instantly, much agitated, but gradually recovering himself, he greeted me cordially, and rose to walk with me.
“I have often wished to see you,” he said, “and I ought to have written to you. I promised to do so, I know. But my acquaintance with you was after all so slight. I had so poor a claim upon your sympathy, that much as I desired to do so, I could not bring myself to write to you from abroad, or to seek you out on my return to England a few weeks since. Pray pardon me. Your kind welcome assures me that I have done wrong in doubting for one moment your kind interest in me and my misfortunes.”
His voice had lost its firmness. He spoke in a low and broken tone, and as though he breathed with difficulty. He leant upon my arm as we walked slowly away from the other saunterers, now turning their steps towards the park gates. He bore so much the mark of suffering, so fixed an air of disappointment if not despair was in his face, that I for some time forbore to inquire as to the object which had drawn him from England. At length I questioned him upon the subject.
“All has failed,” he said, in a tone of anguish. “The information I had received was founded upon error. I have had a long, long journey, and a fatiguing search since we parted—but all has been in vain. I have failed to find her, and have returned.”
“You have resigned the task?”
“I am dying,” he answered, solemnly.
I recollected his old declaration that he would give up his quest but with his life.
“I have enough medical learning to know that the world and I must soon part company. I am dying. I am prematurely worn out by my great trouble. My pulse numbers little more than thirty beats to the minute. Night brings me no rest. I lay my head upon the pillow only to pass hours of wakeful sorrow, and to rise each day more weary. I cannot sleep. Opiates give me a numbing repose, but only by taking doses so large as almost to endanger life. It must end soon. Still do I pray Heaven that I may see her once again before I die. God grant that this may be!”
“And the figure seen in the park—you have seen it since?”
“But once, three nights since, and in the same place. But for a space of time so brief that I could do little more than recognise it before it vanished.”
We had passed out of St. James’s Park, and crossing the Mall, approached a gate on the other side, leading into the Green Park. The gatekeeper stepped forward, as though to oppose our entrance, but seeing Daly he moved aside, touching his hat respectfully, and we passed into the park. For some minutes we had not spoken. Slowly as we were walking, it was evidently a serious exertion to Daly, and occasionally his breathing became so short we were obliged to halt altogether.
“There is the lime-tree,” he said at length, in a low tone, pointing to a tree some hundred yards in front of us. As we moved in the direction indicated, the sad reverence which affected Daly extended its influence to me. It was not without a vague sensation of awe that I found myself beneath the shadow of the tree.
“This was our trysting-place,” said Daly, sadly. “This is the spot hallowed by love and sorrow. These branches above us have sheltered Margaret’s gentleness, have shrouded my vigils of mourning and broken hope. Here on this bark—”
He stopped suddenly with a wild scream of surprise. His whole frame trembled. He gasped for breath.
“Look! look!” he cried. “There—there are figures scratched on the bark! She will come again! At twelve! See, it says at twelve! Thank God, thank God!”
But for my support he would have fallen. Certainly, as he had said, there appeared upon the bark figures scratched by some sharp instrument.
“You think that she has been here?” I asked, when he had a little recovered from the violence of his emotion; “that she has done this?”
“I am sure of it.”
“But may not these marks be the result of mere accident? the chance work of an idle hand?”
“Impossible!” be cried, with passion. “She has been here! She will come again—at twelve o’clock. I will await her here. And you—you too—I beg, I implore you, to remain also!”
There was a feverish energy in his manner that almost alarmed me. Unwilling to leave him in such a state, and prompted also by an interest strongly excited, I acceded to his request, and it was arranged that we should remain together beneath the tree until twelve o’clock had chimed.
It wanted some hours to midnight. How we succeeded in wiling away the time I hardly know. We spoke but little, and my companion was deaf to all suggestion that we should quit for a period the lime-tree, and return at the appointed hour.
“I shall wait here until she comes,” he said.
His recent agitation had given place to a strangely determined calmness. His lips were compressed, the fingers of his one hand tightly clenched. He leant against the tree with a motionless rigidity, gazing in the direction in which he stated he had formerly seen the figure of Margaret appear. I must confess I was myself possessed with a nervous anxiety to see the issue of the adventure which kept me in a ceaseless excitement.
Twelve o’clock was at length tolled out by the Abbey bell. The night was fine, but dark. A mist in the nature of a blight veiled the horizon. We gazed eagerly towards Constitution Hill. We were too agitated for speech, and Daly’s heart was beating with a violence that shook his whole frame at every throb.
We waited patiently for about four minutes. We could see nothing. With a movement, part of despair, part amazement, Daly turned his head round as though about to address some remark to me. Suddenly a strange cry broke from him, and he raised his one arm with a beseeching gesture.
“See, see, she is there—there—close upon us! Margaret, Margaret—my wife, my own! Thank God!”
Trembling from head to foot he moved forward some steps. His words died away in an unintelligible murmur, and he fell forward heavily on the ground. I looked where he had pointed.
I am writing at a period so distant from the date of the events narrated, and lapse of time so undermines our belief, even in our own experience of the unusual, that I hesitate to set down as an actual fact what it seemed to me I really saw on that night in the Green Park. How far I had been wrought upon by Daly’s strange conduct, and a sympathetic inclination to credit the improbable so roused in me, I cannot tell. Certainly, I did believe that I could trace out in the mist a shadowy female form—tall, slight, majestic—first advancing to where Daly stood, then bending over him in an attitude of unspeakable tenderness, then fading away altogether into air.
I hurried forward to Daly’s aid. I raised him quickly; he was insensible. I loosened his neckerchief; and as he was thin and light I carried him without much difficulty towards the entrance to the park from Piccadilly. But he never spoke or moved. Assistance was obtained after a short interval. A surgeon opened a vein in his arm. All was fruitless, however. The sorrows of Lane Daly were for ever over. He was quite dead.
By a letter found in one of his pockets it appeared that he had been residing in a small street near Covent Garden Market, and the body was accordingly conveyed thither. He had occupied two small rooms at the top of the house; they were dark, confined, and poorly furnished. I could find no clue to the names of any of his friends, to whom I could communicate the sad intelligence of his death. I thought it incumbent upon me, therefore, to seal up the papers of the unhappy man until some persons should come forward entitled to take possession of them. In doing this, from a bundle of letters in faded ink, there fell a worn morocco case. It contained the portrait I had seen on my visit to the dead man. The pensive beauty of the face struck me with new force, and Daly’s wonderful love seemed comprehensible. Soon after I discovered a letter of some years back from the brother of the deceased at Fermoy. I at once wrote to him with an account of his sudden loss.
The attempts to revive the body—the removal of it—the arrangement of the papers—had altogether occupied some hours. It was early morning when I quitted Daly’s lodgings. On my way home I was passing up Bow Street when I observed at the door of the police station a policeman posting a notice on the board outside. Moved by an impulse of curiosity I crossed the road to read the bill. It was just from the printer’s, and was quite wet. It was headed with the words “Found Drowned.” It went on to state that the body of a woman had been that morning found in the Thames. That she was clothed in mourning; was fair in complexion, with black hair slightly tinged with grey; ago about thirty-five; figure thin and tall; but with no evidence upon her of her name or address. A strange feeling rose in my mind, connecting the description in the handbill with the figure I had seen in the park. I spoke to the policeman.
“Well,” he said, “I know as much about it, perhaps, as any man. I live over the water. I’m taking charge of an empty house in Stamford Street. I’d been on duty last night at the Lyceum theatre, and was crossing Waterloo Bridge on my way home. I’d just got half-way across when I met a woman running. Lord, how she did run! I could just see that she was as white as a sheet, and looked quite mad-like, and she’d passed me. I turned round. I thought something had gone wrong. A few yards off she stopped all of a sudden, as though struck by lightning. She was clutching at her throat—panting for breath. She staggered from the pavement on to the road. Then she screamed out—‘I’ve seen him again—again! Dead! dead! dead!’ Such a strange cry—I never heard the like. I ran towards her; it was no use; the quickest thing you ever saw. More like flying than anything else—up with a spring and over. She was as mad as could be!”
“What o’clock was it?”
“Well, you see, it struck twelve by St. Paul’s as I paid the toll to go across. It must have been all within the five minutes after. I ran back, gave the alarm, and we got a boat off. It was no use. The tide was running up strong, and the night dark. It was some time before the body was picked up, and then it was close up to Hungerford. Quite dead, of course.”
The body had been taken to the workhouse, preparatory to the inquest. It was laid out in the same soiled clothes in which it had been drawn from the water. A sad sight. The face was thin and hollow, and there was a deep furrow on the forehead. The hands were emaciated but of beautiful form. The hair streamed down in long, lank lines.
“A sempstress,” said the policeman, as he raised the left hand and pointed to the forefinger, much worn as from the action of a needle. “The old story I suppose. She must have been a good-looking woman once.”
I came away strangely perplexed.
That any identity existed between the body found in the Thames and the Margaret of Daly’s story—that any tie connected the death of the woman at Waterloo Bridge and the death of Daly in the Green Park, could only be maintained upon hypotheses long scouted as supernatural and illusive. I could not accept these in explanation of the strange occurrences that had come to my knowledge. While, on the other hand, I could not ignore those occurrences, or explain them in any other way. Many would have me believe that I have been made the dupe of a madman, and that the figure supposed to have been seen in the Park was an hallucination resulting from an over-strained imagination; that the finding the body of the woman had nothing to do with Daly’s narrative or his sudden death, and was a coincidence in nowise remarkable. The resemblance of the face of the drowned woman to the portrait of Margaret, was certainly faint enough to be a matter of fancy, merely; but then the picture had avowedly been painted many years back, while the similarity of the corpse to the figure believed to have been seen in the Park, so far as I had been able to define it, was unquestionable. Had I then by an accident stumbled, as it were, upon the conclusion of Lane Daly’s story: or had I construed a fictitious whole by joining two fragmentary romances? I shall never know. I cannot even satisfy myself upon the subject, much less any other person. I have simply narrated the events as it seemed to me that they occurred.
The body of the woman was never claimed.
An inquest upon the body of Daly resulted in a verdict that he had died by the visitation of God.
In compliance with directions I received from his relatives in Ireland, his remains were interred in that part of the cemetery at Kensal Green set apart for those holding, as he did, the Roman Catholic faith.