The Family Honor
THE FAMILY HONOR
By J. M. Barrie
MUCH of the story of the Glendowie Monster, now on the tongues of all in the north who are not afraid to speak, has been born of ugly fancies since the night of September 4, 1890, when that happened which sent the country to bed with long candles for the rest of the month. I was at Glendowie Castle that night, and I heard the scream that made nigh two hundred people suddenly stand still in the dance; but of what is now being said I take no stock, thinking it damning to a noble house; and of what was said before that night I will repeat only the native gossip and the story of the children, which I take to be human rather than the worst horror of all, as some would have it.
There are those in Glendowie who hold that this Thing has been in the castle, and there held down by chains, since the year 1200, when the wild Lady Mildred gave it birth and died of sight of it; and in the daylight (but never before wine), they will speak the name of her lover, and so account for 1200 A. D. being known in the annals of that house, not as a year of our Lord, but as the year of the Devil. I am not sufficiently old-fashioned for such a story, and rather believe that the Thing was never in the castle until the coming home from Africa of him who was known as the Left-Handed Earl, which happened a matter of seventy years ago. The secret manner of his coming and the oddness of his attendants, with a wild story of his clearing the house of all other servants for fifteen days, during which he was not idle, raised a crop of scandal that has not yet been cut level with the earth. To be plain, it is said by those who believe witchcraft to be done with, that the Left-Handed Earl brought the Thing from Africa, and in fifteen days had a home made for it in the castle—a home that none could find the way to, save himself and a black servant, who frequently disappeared for many days at a time, yet was known always to be within whistle of his master. Men said furtively that this Thing was the heir, and again there was the devil's shadow in the story, as if the devil could be a woman.
Half a century ago the Left-Handed Earl died, and they will tell you of a three-days' search for a minister brave enough to pray by the open coffin, and that, in the middle of the prayer, the mourners rose to their feet and ran out of the room, because of something squatting on the corpse's chest. There are many such stories of the Thing, against which all who might have seen shut there eyes so quickly that no two drew the same likeness. But this is no great matter, for what they say they saw I will not tell, and I would that none had ever told me.
There have been four earls since then; but, if the tale of the Thing be true, not one of them lawful earls. Yet until the 4th of September, 1890, since the time of the Left-Handed Earl, it has always been the same black servant who waited on the Thing, so that many marveled and called these two one, as they are not. Of the earls I have nothing to tell that could not be told by other men, save this, that they paced their halls by night, and have ever had an ear of listening, not to what was being said to them, but as if for some sudden cry from beyond.
It is not a pretty story, except what is told of the monster's love of children; and though, until the 4th of September, 1890, I never believed what was told of the Thing and these children, I believe it now. What they say is, that it was so savage that not even the black servant could have gone within reach of it and lived; yet with children scarce strong enough to walk, save on all-fours, it would play for hours, even as they played, but with a mother's care for them. There are men of all ages in these parts who hold that they were with it in their childhood and loved it, though now they shudder at a picture they recall, I think, but vaguely. And some of them, doubtless, are liars. It may be wondered why the Lords of Glendowie dared let a child into the power of one that would have broken themselves across its knee; and two reasons are given: the first, that it knew when there were children in the castle, and would have broken down walls to reach them had they not been brought to it; the other, that compassion induced the earls to give it the only pleasure it knew. Of these children some were of the tenantry and others of guests in the castle, and I have not heard of one who dreaded the monster. If half of the stories be true, they would let it toss them sportively in the air, and they would sit with their arms around its neck while it made toys for them of splinters of wood or music by rattling its chains. I need not say that care was taken to keep these meetings from the parents of the children, in which conspiracy the children unconsciously joined, for the pleasant prattle of their new friend allayed suspicion rather than roused it. Nevertheless, queer rumors arose in recent times which, I dare say, few believed who came from a distance; yet were they sufficiently disquieting to make guests leave their children at home, and, as I understand, on the 4th of September, 1890, several years had passed since a child had slept in the castle. On that night there were many guests and one child, who, had been in bed for some hours when the Thing broke loose.
The occasion was the coming of age of the heir, and seldom, I suppose, has there been such a company in a house renowned for hospitality. There were many persons from distant parts, which means London, and all the great folk of our country, with others not so great in that gathering, though capable of making a show at most. After the dancing begins, no man is ever a prominent figure in a room to those who are there merely to look on, as I was; and I now remember, as the two which my eyes followed with greatest pleasure, our hostess, a woman of winning manners, yet cold when need be, and the lady who was shortly to become her daughter, a languid girl, pretty to look at when her lover, the heir, was by her side. I know that nearly all present that night speak now of a haggard look on the earl's face, and of quick glances between him and his wife; I know they say that the heir danced much to keep himself from thinking, and that his arm chattered on the waists of his partners; I know the story that he had learned of the existence of the Thing that night. But I was present, and I am persuaded that at the time all thought, as I did, that never was a gayer scene even at Glendowie, never a host and hostess more cordial, never a merry-eyed heir more anxious to be courteous to all and more than courteous to one. Dance succeeded dance. The hour was late, but another waltz was begun. Then suddenly——
And at once the music stopped and the dancers were as still as stone figures. It had been a horrible, inhuman scream, so loud and shrill as to tear a way through all the walls of the castle; a scream not of pain, but of triumph. I think it must have lasted half a minute, and then came silence, but still no one moved; we waited as if after lightning for the thunder.
The first person I saw was the earl. His face was not white, but gray. His teeth were fixed and he was staring at the door, waiting for it to open. Some men hastened to the door, and he cast out his arms and drove them back. But he never looked at them. The heir I saw with his hands over his face. Many of the men stepped in front of the women. There was no whispering, I think. We all turned our eyes to the door.
Some ladies screamed (one, I have heard, swooned, but we gave her not a glance) when the door opened. It was only the African servant who entered, a man most of us had heard of, but few had seen. He made a sign to the earl, who drew back from him and then stepped forward. The heir hurried to the door, and some of us heard this conversation:
"Not you, father—me."
"Stay here, my son; I entreat; I command."
"Both," said the servant, authoritatively; and then they went out with him, and the door closed.
The dancing was resumed almost immediately. This is a strange thing to tell. Only a woman could have forced us to seem once more as we were before that horrid cry; and the woman was our hostess. As the door closed, my eyes met hers, and I saw that she had been speaking to the musicians. She was smiling graciously, as if what had occurred had been but an amusing interlude. I saw her take her place beside her partner, and begin the waltz again with the music. All looked at her with amazement, dread, pity, suspicion, but they had to dance. "Does she know nothing?" I asked myself, overhearing her laughing merrily as she was whirled past me. Or was this the woman's part in the tragedy while the men were doing theirs? What were they doing? It was whispered in the ballroom that they were in the open, looking for something that had escaped from the castle.
An hour, I dare say, passed, and neither the earl nor his son had returned. By this time it was known to all of us that the door of the ballroom was locked on the outside. Guests bade their hostess good-night, but could retire no further. One man dared request her to bid the servants unlock the door, and she smiled and asked him for the next waltz.
About two o'clock in the morning many of us heard a child's scream, that came, as we thought, from the hall in the castle. A moment afterward we again heard it—this time from the shrubbery. I saw the countess shake with fear at last, but it was only for a moment. Already she was beckoning to the musicians to continue playing. One of the guests stopped them, by raising his hand. He was the child's father.
"You must bid the servants unbar the door," he said to the countess, sternly, "or I will force it open."
"You cannot leave this room, sir," she answered, quite composedly. And then he broke out passionately, fear for his child mastering him. Something about devil's work, he said.
"There is someone on the other side of that door who would not hesitate to kill you," she replied. And we knew that she spoke of the native servant.
"Order him to open the door."
"I will not."
In another moment the door would have been broken open had she not put her back against it. Her eyes were now flashing. The men looked at each other in doubt; and each of them, I know, were for tearing her from the door. It was then that we heard the report of a gun.
It is my belief that the countess saved the life of her guest by preventing his leaving the ballroom. For close on another hour she stood at the door, and the servants gathered round her like men ready to support their mistress.
We were now in groups, whispering and listening, and I shall tell you what I heard, believing it to be all that was heard by any of us, though some of those present that night now tell stranger tales. I heard a child laughing, and I doubt not that we were meant to hear it, to appease the parents' fear; I heard the tramp of men in the hall, and on the stairs, and afterward an unpleasant dirge from above. A carriage drove up the walk and stopped at the door. Then came heavy noises on the stair, as of some weight being slowly moved down it. By and by the carriage drove off. The earl returned to the ballroom, but no one was allowed to leave it until daybreak. I lost sight of the countess when the earl came in, but many say that he whispered something to her, to which she replied, "Thank God!" and then fainted. No explanation of this odd affair was given to the company; but it is believed that the Thing, whatever it was, was shot that night and taken away by the heir and the servant to Africa, there to be buried.