Edgar Allan Poe – Morella

Lui stesso, per lui stesso, con lui stesso, omogeneo, eterno.
Platone.

Ciò che io provavo verso la mia amica Morella era una profonda, ma singolarissima affezione. – Avendo fatto a caso la sua conoscenza, or son molti anni, la mia anima avvampò, fino dal nostro primo incontro, di ardori che essa non aveva mai conosciuti: – ma questi ardori non erano quelli d’Ero, e fu pel mio spirito un ben amaro tormento la convinzione sempre crescente che io non avrei mai potuto definire il loro carattere tutt’affatto eccezionale, nè sistemare la loro errante intensità. Ciò nondimeno, Morella ed io ci trovammo adatti reciprocamente, e il destino ne fece unire dinanzi all’altare. Io non parlava mai di passione; non una volta io pensai all’amore. Con tutto ciò ella fuggiva la società, e, avvicinandosi a me solo, mi rese felice. Essere ammaliato è una felicità; – e sognare non è dunque pure una felicità?
L’erudizione di Morella era profonda. Come io spero di dimostrarlo, i suoi talenti non apparivano d’ordine secondario; la potenza del suo spirito era gigantesca. Io lo riconobbi ben tosto, e in parecchie occasioni mi feci suo scolaro. Tuttavia m’avvidi di leggieri che Morella, forse a motivo della sua educazione compiutasi a Presburgo, spiegava dinanzi a me buon numero di quegli scritti mistici che sono generalmente considerati come il fiore della prima letteratura tedesca. Questi libri, per ragioni che io non poteva concepire, costituivano il suo studio costante e prediletto; – e se, col tempo, divennero anche il mio, non bisogna attribuire tal fatto che alla semplice ma efficace influenza dell’abitudine e dell’esempio.
In tutte queste cose, se io non m’inganno, la mia ragione non aveva pressochè nulla a che fare. Le mie convinzioni, od io non mi riconosco più, non erano in alcun modo basate sull’ideale, e niuno avrebbe potuto scoprire, a meno ch’io non n’inganni di gran lunga, alcun riflesso del misticismo delle mie letture, sia nelle mie azioni, che ne’ miei pensieri. Persuaso di ciò, io m’abbandonai ciecamente alla direzione di mia moglie ed entrai con cuore imperterrito nel labirinto dei suoi studii. E allorchè, avvolgendomi nell’ebbrezza di pagine maledette, io sentiva destarsi in me uno spirito maledetto – Morella s’avanzava posando la sua mano fredda sulla mia e raccogliendo dalle ceneri d’una morta filosofia alcune parole gravi e singolari, che, pel loro senso bizzarro, si incidevano al vivo nella mia memoria. E allora, durante intere ore, io mi sedevo, fantastico sognatore, al suo fianco, immergendomi nella musica della sua voce, – fino a che questa melodia, a lungo andare, si imbevesse di terrore; – e un’ombra si stendeva sulla mia anima, – ed io divenivo pallido, e tremavo internamente a quei sogni extraterrestri. E così la gioja si mutava repentinamente nell’orrore, e l’ideale del bello diveniva l’ideale dell’orrido, come la valle d’Hinnom è poi divenuta la Gehenna.
Crederei inutile di stabilire il carattere esatto dei problemi che, sgorgando dai volumi di cui tenni parola, furono per lungo tempo pressochè l’unico oggetto di conversazione fra me e Morella. Gli uomini istrutti in ciò che può dirsi lo morale teologica li concepiranno facilmente, e gli ignoranti di tal scienza vi comprenderebbero ben poca cosa. Lo strano panteismo di Fichte, la palingenesi modificata dei pitagorici, e sopratutto la dottrina dell’identità quale ci è esposta da Schelling, erano generalmente i punti di discussione che offrivano maggiore attrattiva alla visionaria Morella. Questa identità, detta personale, il filosofo Locke, io credo, la fa con sano criterio consistere nella permanenza dell’essere razionale. Ammesso che per persona noi intendiamo un’essenza pensante dotata di ragione, e che esista una coscienza che accompagni sempre il pensiero, è dessa – questa coscienza – che ci fa essere tutti ciò che noi chiamiamo noi stessi – distinguendoci così dagli altri esseri pensanti, e dandoci la nostra identità personale. Ma il principium individuationis – la nozione di questa identità che alla morte è o non è mai perduta completamente, fu per me, in ogni tempo, un problema del più vivo interesse, non solo in causa della natura inquietante ed imbarazzante delle sue conseguenze, ma a causa altresì del modo strano ed agitato in cui soleva parlarne Morella.
Ma arrivò un tempo, alla fine, in cui il mistero della natura di mia moglie venne ad opprimermi come una malìa. – Io non poteva più sopportare il contatto delle sue dita pallide, nè il timbro profondo della sua parola musicale, nè il fulgore dei suoi occhi melanconiosi. Ella sapeva tutto ciò, ma non me ne moveva alcun rimprovero; chè sembrava aver conoscenza della mia debolezza e della mia follia, e chiamava ciò, quasi sorridente, il destino. Pareva che ella avesse anzi coscienza della causa, a me ignota, dell’alterazione graduale della mia amicizia; ma non me ne dava alcuna spiegazione, nè faceva allusione qualsiasi alla natura di tal causa. Tuttavia Morella non era che una donna, e deperiva giornalmente. Coll’andar del tempo, una macchia sanguigna si fissò stabilmente sulla sua gota, e le vene azzurre della sua pallida fronte divennero prominenti. La mia natura sentì allora qualche impeto di pietà; ma un momento dopo incontrai il lampo delle sue pupille sovrabbondante di pensieri, e la mia anima si sentì come malata, e provò la vertigine di colui che ha fisso lo sguardo in qualche lugubre ed inesplorabile abisso.
Dirò io dunque che aspirava, con un desiderio intenso e divorante, al momento della morte di Morella?` Eppure fu così; ma il di lei fragile spirito si avviticchiò al suo abitacolo d’argilla per ben lunghi giorni, per settimane intere, e mesi fastidiosi, cosìcchè alla fine i miei nervi torturati presero il sopravvento sulla mia ragione ed io divenni furioso di tutti questi ritardi, e con un cuore di demonio maledissi i giorni e le ore, e i minuti amari che sembravano prolungarsi, e prolungarsi senza fine, man mano che la sua nobile esistenza declinava, come le ombre nell’agonia del giorno.
Ma una sera d’autunno, mentre l’aria dormiva immobile nel cielo, Morella mi chiamò al suo capezzale. Vi era un velo di nebbia su tutta la terra, e un caldo vapore si stendeva sulle acque, cosicchè nel mirare attraverso il fogliame della foresta gli splendori dell’ottobre, si sarebbe detto che un bell’arcobaleno si fosse dispiegato sul firmamento.
– Ecco il giorno dei giorni – mi disse ella quando me le appressai – il più bel giorno per vivere o per morire. – È un bel giorno pei figli della terra e della vita – ah! più bello ancora per le figlie del cielo e della morte
Io baciai la sua fronte, ed essa continuò:
– Io sto per morire; tuttavia vivrò.
– Morella!
– Non vi sono mai stati i giorni in cui ti fu concesso d’amarmi; ma quella che aborristi in vita, morta tu adorerai.
– Morella!
– Ti ripeto ch’io sto per morire. – Ma havvi in me un pegno di quella affezione – ah! qual tenue affezione! – che tu hai provato per me, Morella. Ma i tuoi giorni saranno giorni pieni di cordoglio, di quel cordoglio che è la più durevole fra le impressioni, come il cipresso è il più vitale fra gli alberi. – Imperciocchè le ore della tua felicità sono trascorse e la gioja non si raccoglie due volte nella vita come le rose di Pesto, due volte nell’annata. Tu non giuocherai più col tempo il giuoco dell’eroe di Teo; il mirto ed il vigneto ti saranno cose conosciute, e dovunque sulla terra, tu porterai con te il tuo sudario, a guisa del musulmano della Mecca.
– Morella! – gridai io – Morella! come sai tu ciò?
Ma essa piegò il suo capo sull’origliere; un leggiero tremito le corse per le membra; poi spirò, nè io intesi mai più la sua voce.
Tuttavia, com’essa l’aveva predetto, la creatura, – a cui aveva dato la vita morendo, e che non respirò che allorchè la madre aveva cessato di respirare, – la sua creatura, una figliuoletta, visse. Ed anzi, ingrandì maravigliosamente di persona e d’intelligenza, e divenne la perfetta rassomiglianza di quella che se ne era partita: ed io l’amai d’un amore così fervente come non mi sarei creduto capace di provare per alcuna abitatrice della terra.
Ma, dopo non molto, l’orizzonte di questa pura affezione s’oscurò e vi si distesero come fosche nubi la melanconia, l’orrore e l’angoscia. Ho già detto che la bambina si sviluppò maravigliosamente di persona e d’intelligenza. – Strano invero fu il rapido sviluppo della natura corporea – ma terribili, oh terribili furono i pensieri tumultuosi che si addensarono su di me nel sorvegliare lo sviluppo del suo essere intellettuale. E poteva essere diversamente, mentre io scopriva ogni giorno più nelle concezioni della fanciulletta la potenza già adulta e la facoltà della donna? – quando i dettami dell’esperienza sgorgavano dalle labbra dell’infanzia? – quand’io vedeva ad ogni istante la saggezza e le passioni della maturità scaturire dalla sua pupilla ampia e meditativa? – quando, ripeto, tutto ciò colpì i miei sensi atterriti, – quando fu impossibile alla mia anima di dissimularlo più a lungo – alle mie facoltà rabbrividite di respingere questa certezza, – v’è dunque a maravigliarsi se dei sospetti d’una natura terribile ed inquietante si sieno inoculati nel mio spirito, o che i miei pensieri si sieno riportati con orrore a quegli strani racconti, ed alle penetranti teorie della defunta Morella? Io strappai dunque alla curiosità del mondo un essere che il destino mi comandava d’adorare, e nella rigida clausura della mia casetta vegliai con ansia mortale su tutto quanto concerneva l’amata creaturina.
E siccome gli anni passavano, ed ogni giorno io contemplava il suo santo, il suo dolce, il suo eloquente volto, e studiavo le sue forme ormai quasi di donna, così del pari io scoprivo ogni giorno dei nuovi punti di rassomiglianza tra la figlia e la madre, la melanconiosa e la morta. E di istante in istante, tali ombre di rassomiglianza prendevano consistenza, sempre più piene, più definite, più inquietanti e più orridamente terribili nel loro aspetto. Imperciocchè, io potevo ammettere bensì che il suo sorriso assomigliasse al sorriso di sua madre; ma questa rassomiglianza era una identità che mi metteva i brividi; – io doveva pur tollerare che i suoi occhi assomigliassero a quelli di Morella: ma anche essi penetravano troppo sovente negli intimi abissi della mia anima colla stranezza ed intensità di pensiero della stessa Morella. E nel profilo della sua fronte alta e nelle ciocche della sua capigliatura di seta, e nelle sue dita pallide che vi si immergevano abitualmente, e nel timbro grave e musicale della sua parola, e sopratutto – oh sopratutto – nelle frasi ed espressioni della morta sulle labbra dell’amata, della vivente, io trovavo alimento ad un pensiero divorante – per un verme che non voleva morire.
Così passarono due lustri della sua vita, e mia figlia restava sempre senza nome sulla terra. – Figliuola mia ed amor mio erano gli appellativi abitualmente suggeriti dall’affezione paterna, e la severa reclusione della sua esistenza s’opponeva ad ogni altra relazione. Il nome di Morella era morto con essa. Della madre io non aveva mai parlato alla figlia; – mi era assolutamente impossibile il farlo. E in realtà nel breve periodo della sua esistenza, quest’ultima non aveva ricevuto alcuna impressione del mondo esterno, fuorchè quelle che avevano potuto esserle fornite negli angusti limiti del suo ritiro.
Nondimeno, col progredire degli anni, la cerimonia del battesimo s’offerse al mio spirito, in tale stato di snervamento e d’agitazione, come il felice mezzo di liberazione dei terrori della mia sorte. Ma al fonte battesimale esitai sulla scelta d’un nome. Ed una miriade d’epiteti di saggezza e di beltà, di nomi venutici dai tempi antichi e moderni, del mio paese ed esteri, vennero ad affollarsi sulle mie labbra insieme ad una moltitudine di appellativi affascinanti di nobiltà, di bellezza e di bontà.
Chi m’inspirò allora dunque d’evocare la memoria della morta già da tanto tempo sepolta? Qual demone mi spinse ad emettere un suono di cui il ricordo mi faceva sempre rifinire il sangue a torrenti dalle tempia al cuore? Quale spirito maligno parlò dai più reconditi abissi della mia anima, allorchè, sotto le vòlte oscure del tempio e nel silenzio della notte, io susurrai alle orecchie del ministro di Dio le sillabe Morella? Qual essere, più che demone, agitò convulsivamente le sembianze della mia figliuoletta e le coprì del pallor della morte, allorchè, trasalendo a quel suono appena percettibile, ella levò i suoi limpidi occhi dalla terra al cielo, e cadendo bocconi sulle pietre annerite del nostro sepolcro di famiglia, rispose: Eccomi?
Queste semplici parole percossero distintamente il mio orecchio, fredde, tranquille, e di là, come piombo fuso, passarono sibilando nel mio cervello. Oh! gli anni! possono ben passare gli anni, ma il ricordo di quell’istante – non mai! Ah! i fiori e il vigneto non erano cose per me sconosciute; – ma l’aconito ed il cipresso distesero su me le loro ombre notte e giorno. Ed io perdetti ogni senso di tempo e di luogo, e sparvero dal cielo gli astri del mio destino, e da quel giorno la terra si è fatta tenebrosa, e tutte le immagini terrestri mi passarono accanto come ombre girevoli , e fra di esse io non ne vedevo che una: – Morella! I venti del firmamento non sospiravano alle mie orecchie che un suono, ed i flutti del mare mormoravano incessantemente: – Morella! – Ma essa è morta, ed io la portai colle mie stesse mani fino alla sua tomba, dov’io sorrisi d’un riso ben amaro e prolungato, quando nella nicchia dov’io deposi la seconda, non trovai più alcuna traccia della prima Morella.

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Edgar Allan Poe – Il ritratto ovale

Il castello, nel quale il mio domestico s’era deciso di penetrare a viva forza, anziché permettermi, deplorevolmente ferito come io era, di passare una notte all’aria aperta, era una di quelle costruzioni, indecifrabile miscuglio di grandezza e di melanconia, che hanno per sì lungo tempo innalzate le loro rocche eccelse in mezzo agli Apennini, tanto nella realtà quanto nell’immaginazione di mistress Radcliffe. – Secondo ogni apparenza, esso era stato abbandonato temporariamente e tutt’affatto di recente. <p>
Noi ci adattammo in una camera fra le più piccole e le meno riccamente ammobiliate, posta in una torre appartata dal fabbricato. La sua decorazione era ricca, ma rustica e cadente. Lungo i muri erano tese delle tappezzerie adorne di numerosi trofei araldici d’ogni forma, nonchè di una quantità veramente prodigiosa di pitture moderne, in sontuose cornici dorate, d’un gusto arabesco.
Io provai tosto un vivo interesse (e la causa ne era forse il delirio che incominciava) per questi dipinti che erano affissi, non solamente sulle pareti principali delle diverse camere, ma altresì in una sequela di anditi e corridoi che, per la bizzarra architettura del castello, dovevamo passare inevitabilmente; e crebbe tanto l’interesse, che ordinai a Pietro di chiudere le massicce imposte della camera – poichè omai già annottava – di accendere un gran candelabro a più bracci, collocato vicino al mio capezzale, e di alzare invece, quanto era possibile, le tende di velluto nero, guarnite di frangie che circondavano il letto. – Io desiderava tutto ciò per poter almeno, quando non mi fosse dato di addormentarmi, consolarmi alternativamente nella contemplazione di quei dipinti e nella lettura di un piccolo volume che io avevo trovato sull’origliere, che enunciava appunto il valore di essi e ne conteneva la descrizione.
Io lessi lungo tempo, assai lungo tempo; contemplai tutto religiosamente, devotamente quasi; e le ore passarono rapide e brillanti, direi così, talchè udii suonare la solenne ora della mezzanotte. La posizione del candelabro non mi garbava, e, protendendo la mano con certa difficoltà, per non disturbare di soverchio il mio domestico addormentato, io lo collocai in maniera che i suoi raggi si projettassero in modo completo sul libro.
Ma questa operazione produsse un effetto assolutamente inatteso. I raggi delle molteplici candele (poichè ve ne erano molte) caddero allora sopra una nicchia che trovavasi sulla parete e che una colonna del letto aveva fino allora coperta d’un’ombra profonda e mi apparve d’un tratto, in mezzo alla viva luce, un quadro che m’era dapprima sfuggito all’esame. Era il ritratto d’una giovine le cui forme già pronunciate, accennavano a donna omai fatta.
Io gettai sul dipinto un rapido sguardo e chiusi gli occhi: il perchè non lo compresi bene io stesso a tutta prima. Ma nel mentre le mie pupille rimanevano abbassate, analizzai rapidamente la ragione che mi obbligava quasi di ricorrere a tale espediente. Era questo un movimento involontario per guadagnar tempo, e per pensare, per assicurarmi che la mia vista non mi aveva ingannato, per calmare, direi così, e preparare ad un tempo istesso il mio spirito ad una contemplazione più pacata e sicura. Dopo alcuni istanti guardai di nuovo quel dipinto fissamente.
Io non poteva allora più dubitare, quand’anche lo avessi voluto, di distinguere ogni cosa assai nettamente; giacchè il primo baleno di luce su quella tela aveva dissipato lo stupore da trasognato da cui i miei sensi erano invasi, e mi aveva richiamato d’improvviso alla vita reale.
Il ritratto, io l’ho già detto , era quello d’una giovine donna. Era una semplice testa, giacchè il collo e le spalle vi si intravedevano appena; il tutto composto in quello stile che suol chiamarsi, in linguaggio tecnico, stile da vignetta; vi era assai della maniera di Sully nelle teste di sua predilezione. Il braccio, il seno, e fino le ultime ciocche di capelli, si fondevano in modo da sfuggire ad ogni indagine, nell’ombra indefinita ma intensa che serviva di fondo all’insieme. La cornice era ovale, magnificamente dorata e foggiata a rilievi sul gusto moresco. Come opera d’arte non si poteva, del resto, trovar nulla di più ammirabile di quel dipinto.
Tuttavia non dovevano essere nè la perfetta esecuzione dell’artista, nè l’immortale bellezza della fisionomia, che mi impressionarono così d’improvviso e sì fortemente; ed io dovevo poi credere ancor meno che la mia immaginazione, non ancor ben risveglia, avesse preso quella testa per quella d’una persona vivente.
Allora mi s’affacciò senz’altro al pensiero che i dettagli del disegno, lo stile di vignetta e l’aspetto del quadro avrebbero ben tosto dissipato una simile allucinazione, cosicchè io sarei stato liberato repentinamente da ogni illusione. Nel mentre maturava tra me queste riflessioni, assai preoccupato, io restai, mezzo seduto, mezzo sdrajato, più di un’ora forse cogli occhi fissi in quel ritratto.
A lungo andare però, sembrandomi d’aver scoperto il vero segreto del suo effetto, mi lasciai ricadere sul letto. Io aveva indovinato che il fascino di quella pittura era un’impressione vitale assolutamente adeguata alla vita stessa; ciò che dapprima m’aveva fatto trasalire, poi confuso, soggiogato, atterrito.
Pieno di spavento profondo, misterioso, io ricollocai il candelabro alla sua pristina posizione, ed essendomi così tolto dagli occhi la causa della mia violenta agitazione, cercai ansiosamente il volume che conteneva l’analisi dei dipinti e la loro istoria. Passando tosto al numero che designava il ritratto ovale, io vi lessi allora lo strano e singolare racconto che segue:
«Era una giovinetta veramente d’una rara bellezza e che non era meno amabile di quel che fosse piena di giovialità. E maledetta sia l’ora in cui essa vide il pittore! innamorossi di lui e divenne infine sua sposa.
«Egli, appassionato, studioso, austero, e che aveva già trovato nell’arte la sua fidanzata: ella una giovinetta non meno amabile che piena di gajezza, tutta luce e sorrisi e colle pazzie in capo di una giovine gazzella; innamorata alla follia d’ogni cosa, e non odiando che l’arte, che era la sua rivale; nulla temendo fuorchè la tavolozza e i pennelli e gli altri odiosi istrumenti che la privavano dell’aspetto del suo adorato amante. Oh! fu una ben terribile cosa per questa poveretta quando essa udì il pittore manifestarle il desiderio di dipingere egli stesso la sua giovine sposa. Ma essa era umile ed obbediente, e posò quindi con dolcezza, durante ben lunghe settimane, nella tetra e più alta camera della torre, ove la luce pioveva sulla bianca tela solamente da un’apertura del soffitto. Ma egli, il pittore, metteva ogni sua gloria in quel lavoro, che progrediva di giorno in giorno, di ora in ora. Ed era un uomo appassionato e strano e pensieroso che si perdeva in fantasticherie; cosicchè egli non voleva vedere come la luce che cadeva così lugubremente in quella torre isolata disseccava le fonti della salute ed ogni vigoria di spirito della sua amata, la quale periva visibilmente agli occhi di tutti, fuorchè ai suoi. Ma essa sorrideva sempre, e sempre senza muover lamento, giacchè s’accorgeva come il pittore (che già aveva una gran fama) provava un piacer vivo ed ardente nel suo cómpito e lavorava notte e giorno per ritrarre quella che l’amava tanto, nonostante che si facesse di giorno in giorno più debole e languente. E in verità, quanti contemplavano il ritratto parlavano a bassa voce della sua rassomiglianza, come di una superba maraviglia, e di una prova non meno grande, della potenza del pittore, che del suo profondo amore per quella che egli dipingeva sì mirabilmente e in modo quasi prodigioso. – Ma a lungo andare, appressandosi il lavoro al suo compimento, niuno fu più ammesso nella torre; poichè il pittore, divenuto demente quasi dall’ardore della sua opera, staccava raramente gli occhi dalla tela nemmeno per guardare l’aspetto della sua amante. Ed egli non voleva vedere come i colori che stemprava sulla tela, erano tolti dalle guance di quella che era seduta e posava presso di lui. E quando furono trascorse lunghe settimane e non restava omai che ben poco a fare, null’altro che un ultimo tocco alle labbra e un tratto all’occhio, lo spirito della giovine donna palpitò ancora un istante come l’ultimo guizzo della fiamma d’una lampada. E allora il tocco fu dato e il tratto fu posto, e per un momento il pittore si trattenne in estasi davanti il proprio quadro – quel quadro che egli stesso aveva dipinto; ma un momento appresso, mentre egli stava tuttora contemplando, prese a tremare, si fe’ pallido in viso e, come colpito di repentino spavento, gridando con voce possente: «Davvero che è la vita istessa!» – egli si rivolse bruscamente per riguardare la sua amata; – essa era morta!»

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Charles Dickens – The Boots at the Holly-Tree-In

Where had he been in his time? he repeated, when I asked him the question, Lord, he had been everywhere! And what had he been? Bless you, he had been everything you could mention, a’most!

Seen a good deal? Why, of course he had. I should say so, he could assure me, if I only knew about a twentieth part of what had come in his way. Why, it would be easier for him, he expected, to tell what he hadn’t seen than what he had. Ah! a deal, it would.

What was the curiousest thing he had seen? Well! He didn’t know. He couldn’t momently name what was the curiousest thing he had seen—unless it was a Unicorn—and he see him once at a fair. But supposing a young gentleman not eight year old was to run away with a fine young woman of seven, might I think that a queer start? Certainly. Then that was a start as he himself had had his blessed eyes on, and he had cleaned the shoes they run away in—and they was so little he couldn’t get his hand into ’em.

Master Harry Walmers’ father, you see, he lived at the Elmses, down away by Shooter’s Hill there, six or seven miles from Lunnon. He was a gentleman of spirit, and good-looking, and held his head up when he walked, and had what you call Fire about him. He wrote poetry, and he rode, and he ran, and he cricketed, and he danced, and he acted, and he done it all equally beautiful. He was uncommon proud of Master Harry as was his only child; but he didn’t spoil him neither. He was a gentleman that had a will of his own and a eye of his own, and that would be minded. Consequently, though he made quite a companion of the fine bright boy, and was delighted to see him so fond of reading his fairy-books, and was never tired of hearing him say my name is Norval, or hearing him sing his songs about Young May Moons is beaming love, and When he as adores thee has left but the name, and that; still he kept the command over the child, and the child was a child, and it’s to be wished more of ’em was.

How did Boots happen to know all this? Why, through being under-gardener. Of course he couldn’t be under-gardener, and he always about, in the summer-time, near the windows on the lawn, a-mowing, and sweeping, and weeding, and pruning, and this and that, without getting acquainted with the ways of the family. Even supposing Master Harry hadn’t come to him one morning early, and said, “Cobbs, how should you spell Norah, if you was asked?” and then began cutting it in print all over the fence.

He couldn’t say that he had taken particular notice of children before that; but really it was pretty to see them two mites a-going about the place together, deep in love. And the courage of the boy! Bless your soul, he’d have throwed off his little hat, and tucked up his little sleeves, and gone in at a lion, he would, if they had happened to meet one, and she had been frightened of him. One day he stops, along with her, where Boots was hoeing weeds in the gravel, and says, speaking up, “Cobbs,” he says, “I like you.” “Do you, sir? I’m proud to hear it.” “Yes, I do, Cobbs. Why do I like you, do you think, Cobbs?” “Don’t know, Master Harry, I am sure.” “Because Norah likes you, Cobbs.” “Indeed, sir? That’s very gratifying.” “Gratifying, Cobbs? It’s better than millions of the brightest diamonds to be liked by Norah.” “Certainly, sir.” “Would you like another situation, Cobbs?” “Well, sir, I shouldn’t object if it was a good ‘un.” “Then, Cobbs,” says he, “you shall be our Head Gardener when we are married.” And he tucks her, in her little sky-blue mantle, under his arm, and walks away.

Boots could assure me that it was better than a picter, and equal to a play, to see them babies, with their long, bright, curling hair, their sparkling eyes, and their beautiful light tread, a-rambling about the garden, deep in love. Boots was of opinion that the birds believed they was birds, and kept up with ’em, singing to please ’em. Sometimes they would creep under the tulip-tree, and would sit there with their arms round one another’s necks, and their soft cheeks touching, a-reading about the Prince and the Dragon, and the good and bad enchanters, and the king’s fair daughter. Sometimes he would hear them planning about a house in a forest, keeping bees and a cow, and living entirely on milk and honey. Once he came upon them by the pond, and heard Master Harry say, “Adorable Norah, kiss me, and say you love me to distraction, or I’ll jump in head foremost.” And Boots made no question he would have done it if she hadn’t complied. On the whole, Boots said it had a tendency to make him feel he was in love himself—only he didn’t exactly know who with.

“Cobbs,” said Master Harry, one evening, when Cobbs was watering the flowers, “I am going on a visit, this present midsummer, to my grandmamma’s at York.”

“Are you, indeed, sir? I hope you’ll have a pleasant time. I am going into Yorkshire, myself, when I leave here.”

“Are you going to your grandmamma’s, Cobbs?”

“No, sir. I haven’t got such a thing.”

“Not as a grandmamma, Cobbs?”

“No, sir.”

The boy looked on at the watering of the flowers for a little while, and then said, “I shall be very glad indeed to go, Cobbs—Norah’s going.”

“You’ll be all right, then, sir,” says Cobbs, “with your beautiful sweetheart by your side.”

“Cobbs,” returned the boy, flushing, “I never let anybody joke about it when I can prevent them.”

“It wasn’t a joke, sir,” says Cobbs, with humility—”wasn’t so meant.”

“I am glad of that, Cobbs, because I like you, you know, and you’re going to live with us. Cobbs!”

“Sir.”

“What do you think my grandmamma gives me when I go down there?”

“I couldn’t so much as make a guess, sir.”

“A Bank-of-England five-pound note, Cobbs.”

“Whew!” says Cobbs, “that’s a spanking sum of money, Master Harry.”

“A person could do a great deal with such a sum of money as that—couldn’t a person, Cobbs?”

“I believe you, sir!”

“Cobbs,” said the boy, “I’ll tell you a secret. At Norah’s house they have been joking her about me, and pretending to laugh at our being engaged—pretending to make game of it, Cobbs!”

“Such, sir,” says Cobbs, “is the depravity of human natur’.”

The boy, looking exactly like his father, stood for a few minutes with his glowing face toward the sunset, and then departed with, “Good-night, Cobbs. I’m going in.”

If I was to ask Boots how it happened that he was a-going to leave that place just at that present time, well, he couldn’t rightly answer me. He did suppose he might have stayed there till now if he had been anyways inclined. But you see, he was younger then, and he wanted change. That’s what he wanted—change. Mr. Walmers, he said to him when he gave him notice of his intentions to leave, “Cobbs,” he says, “have you anythink to complain of? I make the inquiry, because if I find that any of my people really has anythink to complain of, I wish to make it right if I can.” “No, sir,” says Cobbs; “thanking you, sir, I find myself as well sitiwated here as I could hope to be anywheres. The truth is, sir, that I’m a-going to seek my fortun’.” “Oh, indeed, Cobbs!” he says; “I hope you may find it.” And Boots could assure me—which he did, touching his hair with his bootjack, as a salute in the way of his present calling—that he hadn’t found it yet.

Well, sir! Boots left the Elmses when his time was up, and Master Harry, he went down to the old lady’s at York, which old lady would have given that child the teeth out of her head (if she had had any), she was so wrapped up in him. What does that Infant do—for Infant you may call him, and be within the mark—but cut away from that old lady’s with his Norah, on a expedition to go to Gretna Green and be married!

Sir, Boots was at this identical Holly-Tree Inn (having left it several times to better himself, but always come back through one thing or another), when, one summer afternoon, the coach drives up, and out of the coach gets them two children. The Guard says to our Governor, “I don’t quite make out these little passengers, but the young gentleman’s words was, that they was to be brought here.” The young gentleman gets out; hands his lady out; gives the Guard something for himself; says to our Governor, “We’re to stop here to-night, please. Sitting-room and two bedrooms will be required. Chops and cherry-pudding for two!” and tucks her in her little sky-blue mantle, under his arm, and walks into the house much bolder than Brass.

Boots leaves me to judge what the amazement of that establishment was, when these two tiny creatures all alone by themselves was marched into the Angel—much more so when he, who had seen them without their seeing him, give the Governor his views upon the expedition they was upon. “Cobbs,” says the Governor, “if this is so, I must set off myself to York, and quiet their friends’ minds. In which case you must keep your eye upon ’em, and humor ’em till I come back. But before I take these measures, Cobbs, I should wish you to find from themselves whether your opinions is correct.” “Sir, to you,” says Cobbs, “that shall be done directly.”

So Boots goes up-stairs to the Angel, and there he finds Master Harry, on a e’normous sofa—immense at any time, but looking like the Great Bed of Ware, compared with him—a-drying the eyes of Miss Norah with his pocket-hankecher. Their little legs was entirely off the ground, of course, and it really is not possible for Boots to express to me how small them children looked.

“It’s Cobbs! It’s Cobbs!” cries Master Harry, and comes running to him on t’other side, and catching hold of his t’other hand, and they both jump for joy.

“I see you a-getting out, sir,” says Cobbs. “I thought it was you. I thought I couldn’t be mistaken in your height and figure. What’s the object of your journey, sir? Matrimonial?”

“We’re going to be married, Cobbs, at Gretna Green,” returned the boy.
“We have run away on purpose. Norah has been in rather low spirits,
Cobbs; but she’ll be happy, now we have found you to be our friend.”

“Thank you, sir, and thank you, miss,” says Cobbs, “for your good opinion. Did you bring any luggage with you, sir?”

If I will believe Boots when he gives me his word and honor upon it, the lady had got a parasol, a smelling-bottle, a round and a half of cold buttered toast, eight peppermint drops, and a hair-brush—seemingly a doll’s. The gentleman had got about half a dozen yards of string, a knife, three or four sheets of writing-paper, folded up surprising small, a orange, and a Chaney mug with his name upon it.

“What may be the exact nature of your plans, sir?” says Cobbs.

“To go on,” replied the boy—which the courage of that boy was something wonderful!—”in the morning, and be married to-morrow.”

“Just so, sir,” says Cobbs. “Would it meet your views, sir, if I was to accompany you?”

When Cobbs said this, they both jumped for joy again, and cried out,
“Oh yes, yes, Cobbs! Yes!”

“Well, sir!” says Cobbs. “If you will excuse me having the freedom to give an opinion, what I should recommend would be this. I am acquainted with a pony, sir, which, put in a pheayton that I could borrow, would take you and Mrs. Harry Walmers, Junior (myself driving, if you approved), to the end of your journey in a very short space of time. I am not altogether sure, sir, that this pony will be at liberty to-morrow, but even if you had to wait over to-morrow for him, it might be worth your while. As to the small account here, sir, in case you was to find yourself running at all short, that don’t signify; because I am a part proprietor of this inn, and it could stand over.”

Boots assures me that when they clapped their hands, and jumped for joy again, and called him “Good Cobbs!” and “Dear Cobbs!” and bent across him to kiss one another in the delight of their confiding hearts, he felt himself the meanest rascal for deceiving ’em that ever was born.

“Is there anything you want just at present, sir?” says Cobbs, mortally ashamed of himself.

“We should like some cakes after dinner,” answered Master Harry, folding his arms, putting out one leg, and looking straight at him, “and two apples and jam. With dinner we should like to have toast and water. But Norah has always been accustomed to half a glass of currant wine at dessert. And so have I.”

“It shall be ordered at the bar, sir,” says Cobbs; and away he went.

Boots has the feeling as fresh upon him this moment of speaking as he had then, that he would far rather have had it out in half a dozen rounds with the Governor than have combined with him; and that he wished with all his heart there was any impossible place where two babies could make an impossible marriage, and live impossibly happy ever afterward. However, as it couldn’t be, he went into the Governor’s plans, and the Governor set off for York in half an hour.

The way in which the women of that house—without exception—every one of ’em—married and single—took to that boy when they heard the story, Boots considers surprising. It was as much as he could do to keep ’em from dashing into the room and kissing him. They climbed up all sorts of places, at the risk of their lives, to look at him through a pane of glass. They was seven deep at the keyhole. They was out of their minds about him and his bold spirit.

In the evening, Boots went into the room to see how the runaway couple was getting on. The gentleman was on the window-seat, supporting the lady in his arms. She had tears upon her face, and was lying, very tired and half asleep, with her head upon his shoulder.

“Mrs. Harry Walmers, Junior, fatigued, sir?” says Cobbs.

“Yes, she is tired, Cobbs; but she is not used to be away from home, and she has been in low spirits again. Cobbs, do you think you could bring a biffin, please?”

“I ask your pardon, sir,” says Cobbs. “What was it you—”

“I think a Norfolk biffin would rouse her, Cobbs. She is very fond of them.”

Boots withdrew in search of the required restorative, and, when he brought it in, the gentleman handed it to the lady, and fed her with a spoon, and took a little himself; the lady being heavy with sleep, and rather cross. “What should you think, sir,” says Cobbs, “of a chamber candlestick?” The gentleman approved; the chambermaid went first, up the great staircase; the lady, in her sky-blue mantle, followed, gallantly escorted by the gentleman; the gentleman embraced her at her door, and retired to his own apartment, where Boots softly locked him in.

Boots couldn’t but feel with increased acuteness what a base deceiver he was, when they consulted him at breakfast (they had ordered sweet milk-and-water, and toast and currant jelly, over-night) about the pony. It really was as much as he could do, he don’t mind confessing to me, to look them two young things in the face, and think what a wicked old father of lies he had grown up to be. Howsomever, he went on a-lying like a Trojan about the pony. He told ’em that it did so unfortunately happen that the pony was half clipped, you see, and that he couldn’t be taken out in that state, for fear it should strike to his inside. But that he’d be finished clipping in the course of the day, and that to-morrow morning at eight o’clock the pheayton would be ready. Boots’ view of the whole case, looking back on it in my room, is, that Mrs. Harry Walmers, Junior, was beginning to give in. She hadn’t had her hair curled when she went to bed, and she didn’t seem quite up to brushing it herself, and its getting in her eyes put her out. But nothing put out Master Harry. He sat behind his breakfast-cup, a-tearing away at the jelly, as if he had been his own father.

After breakfast Boots is inclined to consider they drawed soldiers—at least he knows that many such was found in the fireplace, all on horseback. In the course of the morning Master Harry rang the bell—it was surprising how that there boy did carry on—and said, in a sprightly way, “Cobbs, is there any good walks in this neighborhood?”

“Yes, sir,” says Cobbs. “There’s Love Lane.”

“Get out with you, Cobbs!”—that was that there boy’s expression—”you’re joking.”

“Begging your pardon, sir,” says Cobbs, “there really is Love Lane. And a pleasant walk it is, and proud shall I be to show it to yourself and Mrs. Harry Walmers, Junior.”

“Norah, dear,” says Master Harry, “this is curious. We really ought to see Love Lane. Put on your bonnet, my sweetest darling, and we will go there with Cobbs.”

Boots leaves me to judge what a Beast he felt himself to be, when that young pair told him, as they all three jogged along together, that they had made up their minds to give him two thousand guineas a year as Head Gardener, on account of his being so true a friend to ’em. Boots could have wished at the moment that the earth would have opened and swallowed him up, he felt so mean, with their beaming eyes a-looking at him, and believing him. Well, sir, he turned the conversation as well as he could, and he took ’em down Love Lane to the water-meadows, and there Master Harry would have drowned himself in half a moment more, a-getting out a water-lily for her—but nothing daunted that boy. Well, sir, they was tired out. All being so new and strange to ’em, they was tired as tired could be. And they laid down on a bank of daisies, like the children in the wood, leastways meadows, and fell asleep.

Boots don’t know—perhaps I do—but never mind, it don’t signify either way—why it made a man fit to make a fool of himself to see them two pretty babies a-lying there in the clear, still day, not dreaming half so hard when they was asleep as they done when they was awake. But, Lord! when you come to think of yourself, you know, and what a game you have been up to ever since you was in your own cradle, and what a poor sort of chap you are, and how it’s always either Yesterday with you, or To-morrow, and never To-day, that’s where it is!

Well, sir, they woke up at last, and then one thing was getting pretty clear to Boots—namely, that Mrs. Harry Walmerses, Junior’s, temper was on the move. When Master Harry took her round the waist, she said he “teased her so”; and when he says, “Norah, my young May Moon, your Harry tease you?” she tells him, “Yes; and I want to go home.”

A biled fowl and baked bread-and-butter pudding brought Mrs. Walmers up a little; but Boots could have wished, he must privately own to me, to have seen her more sensible of the woice of love, and less abandoning of herself to currants. However, Master Harry, he kept up, and his noble heart was as fond as ever. Mrs. Walmers turned very sleepy about dusk, and began to cry. Therefore, Mrs. Walmers went off to bed as per yesterday; and Master Harry ditto repeated.

About eleven or twelve at night comes back the Governor in a chaise, along with Mr. Walmers and a elderly lady. Mr. Walmers looks amused and very serious, both at once, and says to our Missis: “We are much indebted to you, ma’am; for your kind care of our little children, which we can never sufficiently acknowledge. Pray, ma’am, where is my boy?” Our Missis says: “Cobbs has the dear child in charge, sir. Cobbs, show Forty!” Then he says to Cobbs: “Ah, Cobbs, I am glad to see you! I understood you was here!” And Cobbs says: “Yes, sir. Your most obedient, sir.”

I may be surprised to hear Boots say it, perhaps; but Boots assures me that his heart beat like a hammer, going up-stairs. “I beg your pardon, sir,” says he, while unlocking the door; “I do hope you are not angry with Master Harry. For Master Harry is a fine boy, sir, and will do you credit and honor.” And Boots signifies to me that, if the fine boy’s father had contradicted him in the daring state of mind in which he then was, he thinks he should have “fetched him a crack,” and taken the consequences.

But Mr. Walmers only says: “No, Cobbs. No, my good fellow. Thank you!”
And, the door being opened, goes in.

Boots goes in, too, holding the light, and he sees Mr. Walmers go up to the bedside, bend gently down, and kiss the little sleeping face. Then he stands looking at it for a minute, looking wonderfully like it (they do say he ran away with Mrs. Walmers); and then he gently shakes the little shoulder.

“Harry, my dear boy! Harry!”

Master Harry starts up and looks at him. Looks at Cobbs, too. Such is the honor of that mite, that he looks at Cobbs, to see whether he has brought him into trouble.

“I’m not angry, my child. I only want you to dress yourself and come home.”

“Yes, pa.”

Master Harry dresses himself quickly. His breast begins to swell when he has nearly finished, and it swells more and more as he stands, at last, a-looking at his father; his father standing a-looking at him, the quiet image of him.

“Please may I”—the spirit of that little creatur’, and the way he kept his rising tears down!—”please, dear pa—may I—kiss Norah before I go?”

“You may, my child.”

So he takes Master Harry in his hand, and Boots leads the way with the candle, and they come to that other bedroom, where the elderly lady is seated by the bed, and poor little Mrs. Harry Walmers, Junior, is fast asleep. There the father lifts the child up to the pillow, and he lays his little face down for an instant by the little warm face of poor unconscious little Mrs. Harry Walmers, Junior, and gently draws it to him—a sight so touching to the chambermaids, who are peeping through the door, that one of them called out, “It’s a shame to part ’em!” But this chambermaid was always, as Boots informs us, a softhearted one. Not that there was any harm in that girl. Far from it.

Finally, Boots says, that’s all about it. Mr. Walmers drove away in the chaise, having hold of Master Harry’s hand. The elderly lady and Mrs. Walmers, Junior, that was never to be (she married a Captain long afterward, and died in India), went off next day. In conclusion, Boots puts it to me whether I hold with him in two opinions: firstly, that there are not many couples on their way to be married who are half as innocent of guile as those two children; secondly, that it would be a jolly good thing for a great many couples on their way to be married, if they could only be stopped in time, and brought back separately.

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Washington Irving – The Devil and Tom Walker

A few miles from Boston, in Massachusetts, there is a deep inlet winding several miles into the interior of the country from Charles Bay, and terminating in a thickly wooded swamp or morass. On one side of this inlet is a beautiful dark grove; on the opposite side the land rises abruptly from the water’s edge into a high ridge, on which grow a few scattered oaks of great age and immense size. Under one of these gigantic trees, according to old stories, there was a great amount of treasure buried by Kidd the pirate. The inlet allowed a facility to bring the money in a boat secretly, and at night, to the very foot of the hill; the elevation of the place permitted a good lookout to be kept that no one was at hand; while the remarkable trees formed good landmarks by which the place might easily be found again. The old stories add, moreover, that the devil presided at the hiding of the money, and took it under his guardianship; but this, it is well known, he always does with buried treasure, particularly when it has been ill-gotten. Be that as it may, Kidd never returned to recover his wealth; being shortly after seized at Boston, sent out to England, and there hanged for a pirate.

About the year 1727, just at the time that earthquakes were prevalent in New England, and shook many tall sinners down upon their knees, there lived near this place a meagre, miserly fellow, of the name of Tom Walker. He had a wife as miserly as himself; they were so miserly that they even conspired to cheat each other. Whatever the woman could lay hands on she hid away; a hen could not cackle but she was on the alert to secure the new-laid egg. Her husband was continually prying about to detect her secret hoards, and many and fierce were the conflicts that took place about what ought to have been common property. They lived in a forlorn-looking house that stood alone and had an air of starvation. A few straggling savin-trees, emblems of sterility, grew near it; no smoke ever curled from its chimney; no traveller stopped at its door. A miserable horse, whose ribs were as articulate as the bars of a gridiron, stalked about a field, where a thin carpet of moss, scarcely covering the ragged beds of pudding-stone, tantalized and balked his hunger; and sometimes he would lean his head over the fence, look piteously at the passer-by, and seem to petition deliverance from this land of famine.

The house and its inmates had altogether a bad name. Tom’s wife was a tall termagant, fierce of temper, loud of tongue, and strong of arm. Her voice was often heard in wordy warfare with her husband; and his face sometimes showed signs that their conflicts were not confined to words. No one ventured, however, to interfere between them. The lonely wayfarer shrank within himself at the horrid clamor and clapper-clawing; eyed the den of discord askance; and hurried on his way, rejoicing, if a bachelor, in his celibacy.

One day that Tom Walker had been to a distant part of the neighborhood, he took what he considered a short-cut homeward, through the swamp. Like most short-cuts, it was an ill-chosen route. The swamp was thickly grown with great, gloomy pines and hemlocks, some of them ninety feet high, which made it dark at noonday and a retreat for all the owls of the neighborhood. It was full of pits and quagmires, partly covered with weeds and mosses, where the green surface often betrayed the traveller into a gulf of black, smothering mud; there were also dark and stagnant pools, the abodes of the tadpole, the bull-frog, and the water-snake, where the trunks of pines and hemlocks lay half-drowned, half-rotting, looking like alligators sleeping in the mire.

Tom had long been picking his way cautiously through this treacherous forest, stepping from tuft to tuft of rushes and roots, which afforded precarious footholds among deep sloughs, or pacing carefully, like a cat, along the prostrate trunks of trees, startled now and then by the sudden screaming of the bittern, or the quacking of a wild duck, rising on the wing from some solitary pool. At length he arrived at a firm piece of ground, which ran like a peninsula into the deep bosom of the swamp. It had been one of the strongholds of the Indians during their wars with the first colonists. Here they had thrown up a kind of fort, which they had looked upon as almost impregnable, and had used as a place of refuge for their squaws and children. Nothing remained of the old Indian fort but a few embankments, gradually sinking to the level of the surrounding earth, and already overgrown in part by oaks and other forest trees, the foliage of which formed a contrast to the dark pines and hemlocks of the swamps.

It was late in the dusk of evening when Tom Walker reached the old fort, and he paused there awhile to rest himself. Any one but he would have felt unwilling to linger in this lonely, melancholy place, for the common people had a bad opinion of it, from the stories handed down from the times of the Indian wars, when it was asserted that the savages held incantations here and made sacrifices to the Evil Spirit.

Tom Walker, however, was not a man to be troubled with any fears of the kind. He reposed himself for some time on the trunk of a fallen hemlock, listening to the boding cry of the tree-toad, and delving with his walking-staff into a mound of black mould at his feet. As he turned up the soil unconsciously, his staff struck against something hard. He raked it out of the vegetable mould, and lo! a cloven skull, with an Indian tomahawk buried deep in it, lay before him. The rust on the weapon showed the time that had elapsed since this death-blow had been given. It was a dreary memento of the fierce struggle that had taken place in this last foothold of the Indian warriors.

“Humph!” said Tom Walker, as he gave it a kick to shake the dirt from it.

“Let that skull alone!” said a gruff voice. Tom lifted up his eyes and beheld a great black man seated directly opposite him, on the stump of a tree. He was exceedingly surprised, having neither heard nor seen any one approach; and he was still more perplexed on observing, as well as the gathering gloom would permit, that the stranger was neither negro nor Indian. It is true he was dressed in a rude Indian garb, and had a red belt or sash swathed round his body; but his face was neither black nor copper-color, but swarthy and dingy, and begrimed with soot, as if he had been accustomed to toil among fires and forges. He had a shock of coarse black hair, that stood out from his head in all directions, and bore an axe on his shoulder.

He scowled for a moment at Tom with a pair of great red eyes.

“What are you doing on my grounds?” said the black man, with a hoarse, growling voice.

“Your grounds!” said Tom, with a sneer; “no more your grounds than mine; they belong to Deacon Peabody.”

“Deacon Peabody be damned,” said the stranger, “as I flatter myself he will be, if he does not look more to his own sins and less to those of his neighbors. Look yonder, and see how Deacon Peabody is faring.”

Tom looked in the direction that the stranger pointed, and beheld one of the great trees, fair and flourishing without, but rotten at the core, and saw that it had been nearly hewn through, so that the first high wind was likely to blow it down. On the bark of the tree was scored the name of Deacon Peabody, an eminent man who had waxed wealthy by driving shrewd bargains with the Indians. He now looked around, and found most of the tall trees marked with the name of some great man of the colony, and all more or less scored by the axe. The one on which he had been seated, and which had evidently just been hewn down, bore the name of Crowninshield; and he recollected a mighty rich man of that name, who made a vulgar display of wealth, which it was whispered he had acquired by buccaneering.

“He’s just ready for burning!” said the black man, with a growl of triumph. “You see I am likely to have a good stock of firewood for winter.”

“But what right have you,” said Tom, “to cut down Deacon Peabody’s timber?”

“The right of a prior claim,” said the other. “This woodland belonged to me long before one of your white-faced race put foot upon the soil.”

“And, pray, who are you, if I may be so bold?” said Tom.

“Oh, I go by various names. I am the wild huntsman in some countries; the black miner in others. In this neighborhood I am known by the name of the black woodsman. I am he to whom the red men consecrated this spot, and in honor of whom they now and then roasted a white man, by way of sweet-smelling sacrifice. Since the red men have been exterminated by you white savages, I amuse myself by presiding at the persecutions of Quakers and Anabaptists; I am the great patron and prompter of slave-dealers and the grand-master of the Salem witches.”

“The upshot of all which is, that, if I mistake not,” said Tom, sturdily, “you are he commonly called Old Scratch.”

“The same, at your service!” replied the black man, with a half-civil nod.

Such was the opening of this interview, according to the old story; though it has almost too familiar an air to be credited. One would think that to meet with such a singular personage in this wild, lonely place would have shaken any man’s nerves; but Tom was a hard-minded fellow, not easily daunted, and he had lived so long with a termagant wife that he did not even fear the devil.

It is said that after this commencement they had a long and earnest conversation together, as Tom returned homeward. The black man told him of great sums of money buried by Kidd the pirate under the oak-trees on the high ridge, not far from the morass. All these were under his command, and protected by his power, so that none could find them but such as propitiated his favor. These he offered to place within Tom Walker’s reach, having conceived an especial kindness for him; but they were to be had only on certain conditions. What these conditions were may be easily surmised, though Tom never disclosed them publicly. They must have been very hard, for he required time to think of them, and he was not a man to stick at trifles when money was in view. When they had reached the edge of the swamp, the stranger paused. “What proof have I that all you have been telling me is true?” said Tom. “There’s my signature,” said the black man, pressing his finger on Tom’s forehead. So saying, he turned off among the thickets of the swamp, and seemed, as Tom said, to go down, down, down, into the earth, until nothing but his head and shoulders could be seen, and so on, until he totally disappeared.

When Tom reached home he found the black print of a finger burned, as it were, into his forehead, which nothing could obliterate.

The first news his wife had to tell him was the sudden death of
Absalom Crowninshield, the rich buccaneer. It was announced in the
papers, with the usual flourish, that “A great man had fallen in
Israel.”

Tom recollected the tree which his black friend had just hewn down, and which was ready for burning. “Let the freebooter roast,” said Tom; “who cares!” He now felt convinced that all he had heard and seen was no illusion.

He was not prone to let his wife into his confidence; but as this was an uneasy secret, he willingly shared it with her. All her avarice was awakened at the mention of hidden gold, and she urged her husband to comply with the black man’s terms, and secure what would make them wealthy for life. However Tom might have felt disposed to sell himself to the devil, he was determined not to do so to oblige his wife; so he flatly refused, out of the mere spirit of contradiction. Many and bitter were the quarrels they had on the subject; but the more she talked, the more resolute was Tom not to be damned to please her.

At length she determined to drive the bargain on her own account, and, if she succeeded, to keep all the gain to herself. Being of the same fearless temper as her husband, she set off for the old Indian fort toward the close of a summer’s day. She was many hours absent. When she came back, she was reserved and sullen in her replies. She spoke something of a black man, whom she had met about twilight hewing at the root of a tall tree. He was sulky, however, and would not come to terms; she was to go again with a propitiatory offering, but what it was she forbore to say.

The next evening she set off again for the swamp, with her apron heavily laden. Tom waited and waited for her, but in vain; midnight came, but she did not make her appearance; morning, noon, night returned, but still she did not come. Tom now grew uneasy for her safety, especially as he found she had carried off in her apron the silver tea-pot and spoons, and every portable article of value. Another night elapsed, another morning came; but no wife. In a word, she was never heard of more.

What was her real fate nobody knows, in consequence of so many pretending to know. It is one of those facts which have become confounded by a variety of historians. Some asserted that she lost her way among the tangled mazes of the swamp, and sank into some pit or slough; others, more uncharitable, hinted that she had eloped with the household booty, and made off to some other province; while others surmised that the tempter had decoyed her into a dismal quagmire, on the top of which her hat was found lying. In confirmation of this, it was said a great black man, with an axe on his shoulder, was seen late that very evening coming out of the swamp, carrying a bundle tied in a check apron, with an air of surly triumph.

The most current and probable story, however, observes that Tom Walker grew so anxious about the fate of his wife and his property that he set out at length to seek them both at the Indian fort. During a long summer’s afternoon he searched about the gloomy place, but no wife was to be seen. He called her name repeatedly, but she was nowhere to be heard. The bittern alone responded to his voice, as he flew screaming by; or the bull-frog croaked dolefully from a neighboring pool. At length, it is said, just in the brown hour of twilight, when the owls began to hoot and the bats to flit about, his attention was attracted by the clamor of carrion crows hovering about a cypress-tree. He looked up and beheld a bundle tied in a check apron and hanging in the branches of the tree, with a great vulture perched hard by, as if keeping watch upon it. He leaped with joy, for he recognized his wife’s apron, and supposed it to contain the household valuables.

“Let us get hold of the property,” said he, consolingly, to himself, “and we will endeavor to do without the woman.”

As he scrambled up the tree, the vulture spread its wide wings and sailed off, screaming, into the deep shadows of the forest. Tom seized the checked apron, but, woful sight! found nothing but a heart and liver tied up in it!

Such, according to this most authentic old story, was all that was to be found of Tom’s wife. She had probably attempted to deal with the black man as she had been accustomed to deal with her husband; but though a female scold is generally considered a match for the devil, yet in this instance she appears to have had the worst of it. She must have died game, however; for it is said Tom noticed many prints of cloven feet deeply stamped about the tree, and found handfuls of hair, that looked as if they had been plucked from the coarse black shock of the woodsman. Tom knew his wife’s prowess by experience. He shrugged his shoulders as he looked at the signs of fierce clapper-clawing. “Egad,” said he to himself, “Old Scratch must have had a tough time of it!”

Tom consoled himself for the loss of his property, with the loss of his wife, for he was a man of fortitude. He even felt something like gratitude toward the black woodsman, who, he considered, had done him a kindness. He sought, therefore, to cultivate a further acquaintance with him, but for some time without success; the old black-legs played shy, for, whatever people may think, he is not always to be had for the calling; he knows how to play his cards when pretty sure of his game.

At length, it is said, when delay had whetted Tom’s eagerness to the quick and prepared him to agree to anything rather than not gain the promised treasure, he met the black man one evening in his usual woodsman’s dress, with his axe on his shoulder, sauntering along the swamp and humming a tune. He affected to receive Tom’s advances with great indifference, made brief replies, and went on humming his tune.

By degrees, however, Tom brought him to business, and they began to haggle about the terms on which the former was to have the pirate’s treasure. There was one condition which need not be mentioned, being generally understood in all cases where the devil grants favors; but there were others about which, though of less importance, he was inflexibly obstinate. He insisted that the money found through his means should be employed in his service. He proposed, therefore, that Tom should employ it in the black traffic; that is to say, that he should fit out a slave-ship. This, however, Tom resolutely refused; he was bad enough in all conscience, but the devil himself could not tempt him to turn slave-trader.

Finding Tom so squeamish on this point, he did not insist upon it, but proposed, instead, that he should turn usurer; the devil being extremely anxious for the increase of usurers, looking upon them as his peculiar people.

To this no objections were made, for it was just to Tom’s taste.

“You shall open a broker’s shop in Boston next month,” said the black man.

“I’ll do it to-morrow, if you wish,” said Tom Walker.

“You shall lend money at two per cent. a month.”

“Egad, I’ll charge four!” replied Tom Walker.

“You shall extort bonds, foreclose mortgages, drive the merchants to bankruptcy—”

“I’ll drive them to the devil,” cried Tom Walker.

You are the usurer for my money!” said black-legs with delight. “When will you want the rhino?”

“This very night.”

“Done!” said the devil.

“Done!” said Tom Walker. So they shook hands and struck a bargain.

A few days’ time saw Tom Walker seated behind his desk in a counting-house in Boston.

His reputation for a ready-moneyed man, who would lend money out for a good consideration, soon spread abroad. Everybody remembers the time of Governor Belcher, when money was particularly scarce. It was a time of paper credit. The country had been deluged with government bills; the famous Land Bank had been established; there had been a rage for speculating; the people had run mad with schemes for new settlements, for building cities in the wilderness; land-jobbers went about with maps of grants and townships and Eldorados, lying nobody knew where, but which everybody was ready to purchase. In a word, the great speculating fever which breaks out every now and then in the country had raged to an alarming degree, and everybody was dreaming of making sudden fortunes from nothing. As usual, the fever had subsided, the dream had gone off, and the imaginary fortunes with it; the patients were left in doleful plight, and the whole country resounded with the consequent cry of “hard times.”

At this propitious time of public distress did Tom Walker set up as usurer in Boston. His door was soon thronged by customers. The needy and adventurous, the gambling speculator, the dreaming land-jobber, the thriftless tradesman, the merchant with cracked credit—in short, everyone driven to raise money by desperate means and desperate sacrifices hurried to Tom Walker.

Thus Tom was the universal friend to the needy, and acted like “a friend in need”; that is to say, he always exacted good pay and security. In proportion to the distress of the applicant was the hardness of his terms. He accumulated bonds and mortgages, gradually squeezed his customers closer and closer, and sent them at length, dry as a sponge, from his door.

In this way he made money hand over hand, became a rich and mighty man, and exalted his cocked hat upon “Change.” He built himself, as usual, a vast house, out of ostentation, but left the greater part of it unfinished and unfurnished, out of parsimony. He even set up a carriage in the fulness of his vain-glory, though he nearly starved the horses which drew it; and, as the ungreased wheels groaned and screeched on the axle-trees, you would have thought you heard the souls of the poor debtors he was squeezing.

As Tom waxed old, however, he grew thoughtful. Having secured the good things of this world, he began to feel anxious about those of the next. He thought with regret of the bargain he had made with his black friend, and set his wits to work to cheat him out of the conditions. He became, therefore, all of a sudden, a violent church-goer. He prayed loudly and strenuously, as if heaven were to be taken by force of lungs. Indeed, one might always tell when he had sinned most during the week by the clamor of his Sunday devotion. The quiet Christians who had been modestly and steadfastly travelling Zionward were struck with self-reproach at seeing themselves so suddenly outstripped in their career by this new-made convert. Tom was as rigid in religious as in money matters; he was a stern supervisor and censurer of his neighbors, and seemed to think every sin entered up to their account became a credit on his own side of the page. He even talked of the expediency of reviving the persecution of Quakers and Anabaptists. In a word, Tom’s zeal became as notorious as his riches.

Still, in spite of all this strenuous attention to forms, Tom had a lurking dread that the devil, after all, would have his due. That he might not be taken unawares, therefore, it is said he always carried a small Bible in his coat-pocket. He had also a great folio Bible on his counting-house desk, and would frequently be found reading it when people called on business; on such occasions he would lay his green spectacles in the book, to mark the place, while he turned round to drive some usurious bargain.

Some say that Tom grew a little crack-brained in his old days, and that, fancying his end approaching, he had his horse new shod, saddled, and bridled, and buried with his feet uppermost; because he supposed that at the last day the world would be turned upside-down; in which case he should find his horse standing ready for mounting, and he was determined at the worst to give his old friend a run for it. This, however, is probably a mere old wives’ fable. If he really did take such a precaution, it was totally superfluous; at least so says the authentic old legend, which closes his story in the following manner:

One hot summer afternoon in the dog-days, just as a terrible black thunder-gust was coming up, Tom sat in his counting-house, in his white linen cap and India silk morning-gown. He was on the point of foreclosing a mortgage, by which he would complete the ruin of an unlucky land-speculator for whom he had professed the greatest friendship. The poor land-jobber begged him to grant a few months’ indulgence. Tom had grown testy and irritated, and refused another delay.

“My family will be ruined, and brought upon the parish,” said the land-jobber.

“Charity begins at home,” replied Tom; “I must take care of myself in these hard times.”

“You have made so much money out of me,” said the speculator.

Tom lost his patience and his piety. “The devil take me,” said he, “if
I have made a farthing!”

Just then there were three loud knocks at the street door. He stepped out to see who was there. A black man was holding a black horse, which neighed and stamped with impatience.

“Tom, you’re come for,” said the black fellow, gruffly. Tom shrank back, but too late. He had left his little Bible at the bottom of his coat-pocket and his big Bible on the desk buried under the mortgage he was about to foreclose: never was sinner taken more unawares. The black man whisked him like a child into the saddle, gave the horse the lash, and away he galloped, with Tom on his back, in the midst of the thunder-storm. The clerks stuck their pens behind their ears, and stared after him from the windows. Away went Tom Walker, dashing down the streets, his white cap bobbing up and down, his morning-gown fluttering in the wind, and his steed striking fire out of the pavement at every bound. When the clerks turned to look for the black man, he had disappeared.

Tom Walker never returned to foreclose the mortgage. A countryman, who lived on the border of the swamp, reported that in the height of the thunder-gust he had heard a great clattering of hoofs and a howling along the road, and running to the window caught sight of a figure, such as I have described, on a horse that galloped like mad across the fields, over the hills, and down into the black hemlock swamp toward the old Indian fort, and that shortly after a thunder-bolt falling in that direction seemed to set the whole forest in a blaze.

The good people of Boston shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders, but had been so much accustomed to witches and goblins, and tricks of the devil, in all kinds of shapes, from the first settlement of the colony, that they were not so much horror-struck as might have been expected. Trustees were appointed to take charge of Tom’s effects. There was nothing, however, to administer upon. On searching his coffers, all his bonds and mortgages were reduced to cinders. In place of gold and silver, his iron chest was filled with chips and shavings; two skeletons lay in his stable instead of his half-starved horses, and the very next day his great house took fire and was burned to the ground.

Such was the end of Tom Walker and his ill-gotten wealth. Let all gripping money-brokers lay this story to heart. The truth of it is not to be doubted. The very hole under the oak-trees, whence he dug Kidd’s money, is to be seen to this day; and the neighboring swamp and old Indian fort are often haunted in stormy nights by a figure on horseback, in morning-gown and white cap, which is doubtless the troubled spirit of the usurer. In fact, the story has resolved itself into a proverb, and is the origin of that popular saying, so prevalent throughout New England, of “The devil and Tom Walker.”

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James Hogg – The Mysterious Bride

A great number of people nowadays are beginning broadly to insinuate that there are no such things as ghosts, or spiritual beings visible to mortal sight. Even Sir Walter Scott is turned renegade, and, with his stories made up of half-and-half, like Nathaniel Gow’s toddy, is trying to throw cold water on the most certain, though most impalpable, phenomena of human nature. The bodies are daft. Heaven mend their wits! Before they had ventured to assert such things, I wish they had been where I have often been; or, in particular, where the Laird of Birkendelly was on St. Lawrence’s Eve, in the year 1777, and sundry times subsequent to that.

Be it known, then, to every reader of this relation of facts that happened in my own remembrance that the road from Birkendelly to the great muckle village of Balmawhapple (commonly called the muckle town, in opposition to the little town that stood on the other side of the burn)—that road, I say, lay between two thorn-hedges, so well kept by the Laird’s hedger, so close, and so high, that a rabbit could not have escaped from the highway into any of the adjoining fields. Along this road was the Laird riding on the Eve of St. Lawrence, in a careless, indifferent manner, with his hat to one side, and his cane dancing a hornpipe before him. He was, moreover, chanting a song to himself, and I have heard people tell what song it was too. There was once a certain, or rather uncertain, bard, ycleped Robert Burns, who made a number of good songs; but this that the Laird sang was an amorous song of great antiquity, which, like all the said bard’s best songs, was sung one hundred and fifty years before he was born. It began thus:

  “I am the Laird of Windy-wa’s,
I cam nae here without a cause,
An’ I hae gotten forty fa’s
In coming o’er the knowe, joe.
The night it is baith wind and weet;
The morn it will be snaw and sleet;
My shoon are frozen to my feet;
O, rise an’ let me in, joe!
Let me in this ae night,” etc.

This song was the Laird singing, while, at the same time, he was smudging and laughing at the catastrophe, when, ere ever aware, he beheld, a short way before him, an uncommonly elegant and beautiful girl walking in the same direction with him. “Aye,” said the Laird to himself, “here is something very attractive indeed! Where the deuce can she have sprung from? She must have risen out of the earth, for I never saw her till this breath. Well, I declare I have not seen such a female figure—I wish I had such an assignation with her as the Laird of Windy-wa’s had with his sweetheart.”

As the Laird was half-thinking, half-speaking this to himself, the enchanting creature looked back at him with a motion of intelligence that she knew what he was half-saying, half-thinking, and then vanished over the summit of the rising ground before him, called the Birky Brow. “Aye, go your ways!” said the Laird; “I see by you, you’ll not be very hard to overtake. You cannot get off the road, and I’ll have a chat with you before you make the Deer’s Den.”

The Laird jogged on. He did not sing the Laird of Windy-wa’s any more, for he felt a stifling about his heart; but he often repeated to himself, “She’s a very fine woman!—a very fine woman indeed!—and to be walking here by herself! I cannot comprehend it.”

When he reached the summit of the Birky Brow he did not see her, although he had a longer view of the road than before. He thought this very singular, and began to suspect that she wanted to escape him, although apparently rather lingering on him before. “I shall have another look at her, however,” thought the Laird, and off he set at a flying trot. No. He came first to one turn, then another. There was nothing of the young lady to be seen. “Unless she take wings and fly away, I shall be up with her,” quoth the Laird, and off he set at the full gallop.

In the middle of his career he met with Mr. McMurdie, of Aulton, who hailed him with, “Hilloa, Birkendelly! Where the deuce are you flying at that rate?”

“I was riding after a woman,” said the Laird, with great simplicity, reining in his steed.

“Then I am sure no woman on earth can long escape you, unless she be in an air balloon.”

“I don’t know that. Is she far gone?”

“In which way do you mean?”

“In this.”

“Aha-ha-ha! Hee-hee-hee!” nichered McMurdie, misconstruing the Laird’s meaning.

“What do you laugh at, my dear sir? Do you know her, then?”

“Ho-ho-ho! Hee-hee-hee! How should I, or how can I, know her,
Birkendelly, unless you inform me who she is?”

“Why, that is the very thing I want to know of you. I mean the young lady whom you met just now.”

“You are raving, Birkendelly. I met no young lady, nor is there a single person on the road I have come by, while you know that for a mile and a half forward your way she could not get out of it.”

“I know that,” said the Laird, biting his lip and looking greatly puzzled; “but confound me if I understand this; for I was within speech of her just now on the top of the Birky Brow there, and, when I think of it, she could not have been even thus far as yet. She had on a pure white gauze frock, a small green bonnet and feathers, and a green veil, which, flung back over her left shoulder, hung below her waist, and was altogether such an engaging figure that no man could have passed her on the road without taking some note of her. Are you not making game of me? Did you not really meet with her?”

“On my word of truth and honor, I did not. Come, ride back with me, and we shall meet her still, depend on it. She has given you the go-by on the road. Let us go; I am only to call at the mill about some barley for the distillery, and will return with you to the big town.”

Birkendelly returned with his friend. The sun was not yet set, yet M’Murdie could not help observing that the Laird looked thoughtful and confused, and not a word could he speak about anything save this lovely apparition with the white frock and the green veil; and lo! when they reached the top of Birky Brow there was the maiden again before them, and exactly at the same spot where the Laird first saw her before, only walking in the contrary direction.

“Well, this is the most extraordinary thing that I ever knew!” exclaimed the Laird.

“What is it, sir?” said M’Murdie.

“How that young lady could have eluded me,” returned the Laird. “See, here she is still!”

“I beg your pardon, sir, I don’t see her. Where is she?”

“There, on the other side of the angle; but you are shortsighted. See, there she is ascending the other eminence in her white frock and green veil, as I told you. What a lovely creature!”

“Well, well, we have her fairly before us now, and shall see what she is like at all events,” said McMurdie.

Between the Birky Brow and this other slight eminence there is an obtuse angle of the road at the part where it is lowest, and, in passing this, the two friends necessarily lost sight of the object of their curiosity. They pushed on at a quick pace, cleared the low angle—the maiden was not there! They rode full speed to the top of the eminence from whence a long extent of road was visible before them—there was no human creature in view. McMurdie laughed aloud, but the Laird turned pale as death and bit his lip. His friend asked him good-humoredly why he was so much affected. He said, because he could not comprehend the meaning of this singular apparition or illusion, and it troubled him the more as he now remembered a dream of the same nature which he had, and which terminated in a dreadful manner.

“Why, man, you are dreaming still,” said McMurdie. “But never mind; it is quite common for men of your complexion to dream of beautiful maidens with white frocks, and green veils, bonnets, feathers, and slender waists. It is a lovely image, the creation of your own sanguine imagination, and you may worship it without any blame. Were her shoes black or green? And her stockings—did you note them? The symmetry of the limbs, I am sure you did! Good-bye; I see you are not disposed to leave the spot. Perhaps she will appear to you again.”

So saying, McMurdie rode on toward the mill, and Birkendelly, after musing for some time, turned his beast’s head slowly round, and began to move toward the great muckle village.

The Laird’s feelings were now in terrible commotion. He was taken beyond measure with the beauty and elegance of the figure he had seen, but he remembered, with a mixture of admiration and horror, that a dream of the same enchanting object had haunted his slumbers all the days of his life; yet, how singular that he should never have recollected the circumstance till now! But farther, with the dream there were connected some painful circumstances which, though terrible in their issue, he could not recollect so as to form them into any degree of arrangement.

As he was considering deeply of these things and riding slowly down the declivity, neither dancing his cane nor singing the Laird of Windy-wa’s, he lifted up his eyes, and there was the girl on the same spot where he saw her first, walking deliberately up the Birky Brow. The sun was down, but it was the month of August and a fine evening, and the Laird, seized with an unconquerable desire to see and speak with that incomparable creature, could restrain himself no longer, but shouted out to her to stop till he came up. She beckoned acquiescence, and slackened her pace into a slow movement. The Laird turned the corner quickly, but when he had rounded it the maiden was still there, though on the summit of the brow. She turned round, and, with an ineffable smile and curtsy, saluted him, and again moved slowly on. She vanished gradually beyond the summit, and while the green feathers were still nodding in view, and so nigh that the Laird could have touched them with a fishing-rod, he reached the top of the brow himself. There was no living soul there, nor onward, as far as his view reached. He now trembled in every limb, and, without knowing what he did, rode straight on to the big town, not daring well to return and see what he had seen for three several times; and certain he would see it again when the shades of evening were deepening, he deemed it proper and prudent to decline the pursuit of such a phantom any farther.

He alighted at the Queen’s Head, called for some brandy and water, quite forgot what was his errand to the great muckle town that afternoon, there being nothing visible to his mental sight but lovely images, with white gauze frocks and green veils. His friend M’Murdie joined him; they drank deep, bantered, reasoned, got angry, reasoned themselves calm again, and still all would not do. The Laird was conscious that he had seen the beautiful apparition, and, moreover, that she was the very maiden, or the resemblance of her, who, in the irrevocable decrees of Providence, was destined to be his. It was in vain that M’Murdie reasoned of impressions on the imagination, and

  “Of fancy moulding in the mind,
Light visions on the passing wind.”

Vain also was a story that he told him of a relation of his own, who was greatly harassed by the apparition of an officer in a red uniform that haunted him day and night, and had very nigh put him quite distracted several times, till at length his physician found out the nature of this illusion so well that he knew, from the state of his pulse, to an hour when the ghost of the officer would appear, and by bleeding, low diet, and emollients contrived to keep the apparition away altogether.

The Laird admitted the singularity of this incident, but not that it was one in point; for the one, he said, was imaginary, the other real, and that no conclusions could convince him in opposition to the authority of his own senses. He accepted of an invitation to spend a few days with M’Murdie and his family, but they all acknowledged afterward that the Laird was very much like one bewitched.

As soon as he reached home he went straight to the Birky Brow, certain of seeing once more the angelic phantom, but she was not there. He took each of his former positions again and again, but the desired vision would in no wise make its appearance. He tried every day and every hour of the day, all with the same effect, till he grew absolutely desperate, and had the audacity to kneel on the spot and entreat of Heaven to see her. Yes, he called on Heaven to see her once more, whatever she was, whether a being of earth, heaven, or hell.

He was now in such a state of excitement that he could not exist; he grew listless, impatient, and sickly, took to his bed, and sent for M’Murdie and the doctor; and the issue of the consultation was that Birkendelly consented to leave the country for a season, on a visit to his only sister in Ireland, whither we must accompany him for a short space.

His sister was married to Captain Bryan, younger, of Scoresby, and they two lived in a cottage on the estate, and the Captain’s parents and sisters at Scoresby Hall. Great was the stir and preparation when the gallant young Laird of Birkendelly arrived at the cottage, it never being doubted that he came to forward a second bond of connection with the family, which still contained seven dashing sisters, all unmarried, and all alike willing to change that solitary and helpless state for the envied one of matrimony—a state highly popular among the young women of Ireland. Some of the Misses Bryan had now reached the years of womanhood, several of them scarcely, but these small disqualifications made no difference in the estimation of the young ladies themselves; each and all of them brushed up for the competition with high hopes and unflinching resolutions. True, the elder ones tried to check the younger in their good-natured, forthright Irish way; but they retorted, and persisted in their superior pretensions. Then there was such shopping in the county town! It was so boundless that the credit of the Hall was finally exhausted, and the old Squire was driven to remark that “Och, and to be sure it was a dreadful and tirrabell concussion, to be put upon the equipment of seven daughters all at the same moment, as if the young gentleman could marry them all! Och, then, poor dear shoul, he would be after finding that one was sufficient, if not one too many. And therefore there was no occasion, none at all, at all, and that there was not, for any of them to rig out more than one.”

It was hinted that the Laird had some reason for complaint at this time, but as the lady sided with her daughters, he had no chance. One of the items of his account was thirty-seven buckling-combs, then greatly in vogue. There were black combs, pale combs, yellow combs, and gilt ones, all to suit or set off various complexions; and if other articles bore any proportion at all to these, it had been better for the Laird and all his family that Birkendelly had never set foot in Ireland.

The plan was all concocted. There was to be a grand dinner at the Hall, at which the damsels were to appear in all their finery. A ball to follow, and note be taken which of the young ladies was their guest’s choice, and measures taken accordingly. The dinner and the ball took place; and what a pity I may not describe that entertainment, the dresses, and the dancers, for they were all exquisite in their way, and outré beyond measure. But such details only serve to derange a winter evening’s tale such as this.

Birkendelly having at this time but one model for his choice among womankind, all that ever he did while in the presence of ladies was to look out for some resemblance to her, the angel of his fancy; and it so happened that in one of old Bryan’s daughters named Luna, or, more familiarly, Loony, he perceived, or thought he perceived, some imaginary similarity in form and air to the lovely apparition. This was the sole reason why he was incapable of taking his eyes off from her the whole of that night; and this incident settled the point, not only with the old people, but even the young ladies were forced, after every exertion on their own parts, to “yild the p’int to their sister Loony, who certainly was not the mist genteelest nor mist handsomest of that guid-lucking fimily.”

The next day Lady Luna was dispatched off to the cottage in grand style, there to live hand in glove with her supposed lover. There was no standing all this. There were the two parrocked together, like a ewe and a lamb, early and late; and though the Laird really appeared to have, and probably had, some delight in her company, it was only in contemplating that certain indefinable air of resemblance which she bore to the sole image impressed on his heart. He bought her a white gauze frock, a green bonnet and feather, with a veil, which she was obliged to wear thrown over her left shoulder, and every day after, six times a day, was she obliged to walk over a certain eminence at a certain distance before her lover. She was delighted to oblige him; but still, when he came up, he looked disappointed, and never said, “Luna, I love you; when are we to be married?” No, he never said any such thing, for all her looks and expressions of fondest love; for, alas! in all this dalliance he was only feeding a mysterious flame that preyed upon his vitals, and proved too severe for the powers either of reason or religion to extinguish. Still, time flew lighter and lighter by, his health was restored, the bloom of his cheek returned, and the frank and simple confidence of Luna had a certain charm with it that reconciled him to his sister’s Irish economy. But a strange incident now happened to him which deranged all his immediate plans.

He was returning from angling one evening, a little before sunset, when he saw Lady Luna awaiting him on his way home. But instead of brushing up to meet him as usual, she turned, and walked up the rising ground before him. “Poor sweet girl! how condescending she is,” said he to himself, “and how like she is in reality to the angelic being whose form and features are so deeply impressed on my heart! I now see it is no fond or fancied resemblance. It is real! real! real! How I long to clasp her in my arms, and tell her how I love her; for, after all, that is the girl that is to be mine, and the former a vision to impress this the more on my heart.”

He posted up the ascent to overtake her. When at the top she turned, smiled, and curtsied. Good heavens! it was the identical lady of his fondest adoration herself, but lovelier, far lovelier, than ever. He expected every moment that she would vanish, as was her wont; but she did not—she awaited him, and received his embraces with open arms. She was a being of real flesh and blood, courteous, elegant, and affectionate. He kissed her hand, he kissed her glowing cheek, and blessed all the powers of love who had thus restored her to him again, after undergoing pangs of love such as man never suffered.

“But, dearest heart, here we are standing in the middle of the highway,” said he; “suffer me to conduct you to my sister’s house, where you shall have an apartment with a child of nature having some slight resemblance to yourself.” She smiled, and said, “No, I will not sleep with Lady Luna to-night. Will you please to look round you, and see where you are.” He did so, and behold they were standing on the Birky Brow, on the only spot where he had ever seen her. She smiled at his embarrassed look, and asked if he did not remember aught of his coming over from Ireland. He said he thought he did remember something of it, but love with him had long absorbed every other sense. He then asked her to his own house, which she declined, saying she could only meet him on that spot till after their marriage, which could not be before St. Lawrence’s Eve come three years. “And now,” said she, “we must part. My name is Jane Ogilvie, and you were betrothed to me before you were born. But I am come to release you this evening, if you have the slightest objection.”

He declared he had none; and kneeling, swore the most solemn oath to be hers forever, and to meet her there on St. Lawrence’s Eve next, and every St. Lawrence’s Eve until that blessed day on which she had consented to make him happy by becoming his own forever. She then asked him affectionately to change rings with her, in pledge of their faith and troth, in which he joyfully acquiesced; for she could not have then asked any conditions which, in the fulness of his heart’s love, he would not have granted; and after one fond and affectionate kiss, and repeating all their engagements over again, they parted.

Birkendelly’s heart was now melted within him, and all his senses overpowered by one overwhelming passion. On leaving his fair and kind one, he got bewildered, and could not find the road to his own house, believing sometimes that he was going there, and sometimes to his sister’s, till at length he came, as he thought, upon the Liffey, at its junction with Loch Allan; and there, in attempting to call for a boat, he awoke from a profound sleep, and found himself lying in his bed within his sister’s house, and the day sky just breaking.

If he was puzzled to account for some things in the course of his dream, he was much more puzzled to account for them now that he was wide awake. He was sensible that he had met his love, had embraced, kissed, and exchanged vows and rings with her, and, in token of the truth and reality of all these, her emerald ring was on his finger, and his own away; so there was no doubt that they had met—by what means it was beyond the power of man to calculate.

There was then living with Mrs. Bryan an old Scotswoman, commonly styled Lucky Black. She had nursed Birkendelly’s mother, and been dry-nurse to himself and sister; and having more than a mother’s attachment for the latter, when she was married, old Lucky left her country to spend the last of her days in the house of her beloved young lady. When the Laird entered the breakfast-parlor that morning she was sitting in her black velvet hood, as usual, reading The Fourfold State of Man, and, being paralytic and somewhat deaf, she seldom regarded those who went or came. But chancing to hear him say something about the 9th of August, she quitted reading, turned round her head to listen, and then asked, in a hoarse, tremulous voice: “What’s that he’s saying? What’s the unlucky callant saying about the 9th of August? Aih? To be sure it is St. Lawrence’s Eve, although the 10th be his day. It’s ower true, ower true, ower true for him an’ a’ his kin, poor man! Aih? What was he saying then?”

The men smiled at her incoherent earnestness, but the lady, with true feminine condescension, informed her, in a loud voice, that Allan had an engagement in Scotland on St. Lawrence’s Eve. She then started up, extended her shrivelled hands, that shook like the aspen, and panted out: “Aih, aih? Lord preserve us! Whaten an engagement has he on St. Lawrence’s Eve? Bind him! bind him! Shackle him wi’ bands of steel, and of brass, and of iron! O may He whose blessed will was pleased to leave him an orphan sae soon, preserve him from the fate which I tremble to think on!”

She then tottered round the table, as with supernatural energy, and seizing the Laird’s right hand, she drew it close to her unstable eyes, and then perceiving the emerald ring chased in blood, she threw up her arms with a jerk, opened her skinny jaws with a fearful gape, and uttering a shriek that made all the house yell, and every one within it to tremble, she fell back lifeless and rigid on the floor. The gentlemen both fled, out of sheer terror; but a woman never deserts her friends in extremity. The lady called her maids about her, had her old nurse conveyed to bed, where every means were used to restore animation. But, alas, life was extinct! The vital spark had fled forever, which filled all their hearts with grief, disappointment, and horror, as some dreadful tale of mystery was now sealed up from their knowledge which, in all likelihood, no other could reveal. But to say the truth, the Laird did not seem greatly disposed to probe it to the bottom.

Not all the arguments of Captain Bryan and his lady, nor the simple entreaties of Lady Luna, could induce Birkendelly to put off his engagement to meet his love on the Birky Brow on the evening of the 9th of August; but he promised soon to return, pretending that some business of the utmost importance called him away. Before he went, however, he asked his sister if ever she had heard of such a lady in Scotland as Jane Ogilvie. Mrs. Bryan repeated the name many times to herself, and said that name undoubtedly was once familiar to her, although she thought not for good, but at that moment she did not recollect one single individual of the name. He then showed her the emerald ring that had been the death of Lucky Black; but the moment the lady looked at it, she made a grasp at it to take it off by force, which she had very nearly effected. “Oh, burn it! burn it!” cried she; “it is not a right ring! Burn it!”

“My dear sister, what fault is in the ring?” said he. “It is a very pretty ring, and one that I set great value by.”

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, burn it, and renounce the giver!” cried she. “If you have any regard for your peace here or your soul’s welfare hereafter, burn that ring! If you saw with your own eyes, you would easily perceive that that is not a ring befitting a Christian to wear.”

This speech confounded Birkendelly a good deal. He retired by himself and examined the ring, and could see nothing in it unbecoming a Christian to wear. It was a chased gold ring, with a bright emerald, which last had a red foil, in some lights giving it a purple gleam, and inside was engraven “Elegit,” much defaced, but that his sister could not see; therefore he could not comprehend her vehement injunctions concerning it. But that it might no more give her offence, or any other, he sewed it within his vest, opposite his heart, judging that there was something in it which his eyes were withholden from discerning.

Thus he left Ireland with his mind in great confusion, groping his way, as it were, in a hole of mystery, yet with the passion that preyed on his heart and vitals more intense than ever. He seems to have had an impression all his life that some mysterious fate awaited him, which the correspondence of his dreams and day visions tended to confirm. And though he gave himself wholly up to the sway of one overpowering passion, it was not without some yearnings of soul, manifestations of terror, and so much earthly shame, that he never more mentioned his love, or his engagements, to any human being, not even to his friend M’Murdie, whose company he forthwith shunned.

It is on this account that I am unable to relate what passed between the lovers thenceforward. It is certain they met at the Birky Brow that St. Lawrence’s Eve, for they were seen in company together; but of the engagements, vows, or dalliance that passed between them I can say nothing; nor of all their future meetings, until the beginning of August, 1781, when the Laird began decidedly to make preparations for his approaching marriage; yet not as if he and his betrothed had been to reside at Birkendelly, all his provisions rather bespeaking a meditated journey.

On the morning of the 9th he wrote to his sister, and then arraying himself in his new wedding suit, and putting the emerald ring on his finger, he appeared all impatience, until toward evening, when he sallied out on horseback to his appointment. It seems that his mysterious inamorata had met him, for he was seen riding through the big town before sunset, with a young lady behind him, dressed in white and green, and the villagers affirmed that they were riding at the rate of fifty miles an hour! They were seen to pass a cottage called Mosskilt, ten miles farther on, where there was no highway, at the same tremendous speed; and I could never hear that they were any more seen, until the following morning, when Birkendelly’s fine bay horse was found lying dead at his own stable door; and shortly after his master was likewise discovered lying, a blackened corpse, on the Birky Brow at the very spot where the mysterious but lovely dame had always appeared to him. There was neither wound, bruise, nor dislocation in his whole frame; but his skin was of a livid color, and his features terribly distorted.

This woful catastrophe struck the neighborhood with great consternation, so that nothing else was talked of. Every ancient tradition and modern incident were raked together, compared, and combined; and certainly a most rare concatenation of misfortunes was elicited. It was authenticated that his father had died on the same spot that day twenty years, and his grandfather that day forty years, the former, as was supposed, by a fall from his horse when in liquor, and the latter, nobody knew how; and now this Allan was the last of his race, for Mrs. Bryan had no children.

It was, moreover, now remembered by many, and among the rest by the Rev. Joseph Taylor, that he had frequently observed a young lady, in white and green, sauntering about the spot on a St. Lawrence’s Eve.

When Captain Bryan and his lady arrived to take possession of the premises, they instituted a strict inquiry into every circumstance; but nothing further than what was related to them by Mr. M’Murdie could be learned of this Mysterious Bride, besides what the Laird’s own letter bore. It ran thus:

“DEAREST SISTER,—I shall before this time to-morrow be the most happy, or most miserable, of mankind, having solemnly engaged myself this night to wed a young and beautiful lady, named Jane Ogilvie, to whom it seems I was betrothed before I was born. Our correspondence has been of a most private and mysterious nature; but my troth is pledged, and my resolution fixed. We set out on a far journey to the place of her abode on the nuptial eve, so that it will be long before I see you again. Yours till death,

“ALLAN GEORGE SANDISON.

“BIRKENDELLY, August 8, 1781.”

That very same year, an old woman, named Marion Haw, was returned upon that, her native parish, from Glasgow. She had led a migratory life with her son—who was what he called a bell-hanger, but in fact a tinker of the worst grade—for many years, and was at last returned to the muckle town in a state of great destitution. She gave the parishioners a history of the Mysterious Bride, so plausibly correct, but withal so romantic, that everybody said of it (as is often said of my narratives, with the same narrow-minded prejudice and injustice) that it was a made story. There were, however, some strong testimonies of its veracity.

She said the first Allan Sandison, who married the great heiress of Birkendelly, was previously engaged to a beautiful young lady named Jane Ogilvie, to whom he gave anything but fair play; and, as she believed, either murdered her, or caused her to be murdered, in the midst of a thicket of birch and broom, at a spot which she mentioned; and she had good reason for believing so, as she had seen the red blood and the new grave, when she was a little girl, and ran home and mentioned it to her grandfather, who charged her as she valued her life never to mention that again, as it was only the nombles and hide of a deer which he himself had buried there. But when, twenty years subsequent to that, the wicked and unhappy Allan Sandison was found dead on that very spot, and lying across the green mound, then nearly level with the surface, which she had once seen a new grave, she then for the first time ever thought of a Divine Providence; and she added, “For my grandfather, Neddy Haw, he dee’d too; there’s naebody kens how, nor ever shall.”

As they were quite incapable of conceiving from Marion’s description anything of the spot, Mr. M’Murdie caused her to be taken out to the Birky Brow in a cart, accompanied by Mr. Taylor and some hundreds of the town’s folks; but whenever she saw it, she said, “Aha, birkies! the haill kintra’s altered now. There was nae road here then; it gaed straight ower the tap o’ the hill. An’ let me see—there’s the thorn where the cushats biggit; an’ there’s the auld birk that I ance fell aff an’ left my shoe sticking i’ the cleft. I can tell ye, birkies, either the deer’s grave or bonny Jane Ogilvie’s is no twa yards aff the place where that horse’s hind-feet are standin’; sae ye may howk, an’ see if there be ony remains.”

The minister and M’Murdie and all the people stared at one another, for they had purposely caused the horse to stand still on the very spot where both the father and son had been found dead. They digged, and deep, deep below the road they found part of the slender bones and skull of a young female, which they deposited decently in the church-yard. The family of the Sandisons is extinct, the Mysterious Bride appears no more on the Eve of St. Lawrence, and the wicked people of the great muckle village have got a lesson on divine justice written to them in lines of blood.

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Daniel DeFoe – The Apparition of Mrs Veal

This thing is so rare in all its circumstances, and on so good authority, that my reading and conversation have not given me anything like it. It is fit to gratify the most ingenious and serious inquirer. Mrs. Bargrave is the person to whom Mrs. Veal appeared after her death; she is my intimate friend, and I can avouch for her reputation for these fifteen or sixteen years, on my own knowledge; and I can confirm the good character she had from her youth to the time of my acquaintance. Though, since this relation, she is calumniated by some people that are friends to the brother of Mrs. Veal who appeared, who think the relation of this appearance to be a reflection, and endeavor what they can to blast Mrs. Bargrave’s reputation and to laugh the story out of countenance. But by the circumstances thereof, and the cheerful disposition of Mrs. Bargrave, notwithstanding the ill usage of a very wicked husband, there is not yet the least sign of dejection in her face; nor did I ever hear her let fall a desponding or murmuring expression; nay, not when actually under her husband’s barbarity, which I have been a witness to, and several other persons of undoubted reputation.

Now you must know Mrs. Veal was a maiden gentlewoman of about thirty years of age, and for some years past had been troubled with fits, which were perceived coming on her by her going off from her discourse very abruptly to some impertinence. She was maintained by an only brother, and kept his house in Dover. She was a very pious woman, and her brother a very sober man to all appearance; but now he does all he can to null and quash the story. Mrs. Veal was intimately acquainted with Mrs. Bargrave from her childhood. Mrs. Veal’s circumstances were then mean; her father did not take care of his children as he ought, so that they were exposed to hardships. And Mrs. Bargrave in those days had as unkind a father, though she wanted neither for food nor clothing; while Mrs. Veal wanted for both, insomuch that she would often say, “Mrs. Bargrave, you are not only the best, but the only friend I have in the world; and no circumstance of life shall ever dissolve my friendship.” They would often condole each other’s adverse fortunes, and read together Drelincourt upon Death, and other good books; and so, like two Christian friends, they comforted each other under their sorrow.

Some time after, Mr. Veal’s friends got him a place in the custom-house at Dover, which occasioned Mrs. Veal, by little and little, to fall off from her intimacy with Mrs. Bargrave, though there was never any such thing as a quarrel; but an indifferency came on by degrees, till at last Mrs. Bargrave had not seen her in two years and a half, though above a twelvemonth of the time Mrs. Bargrave hath been absent from Dover, and this last half-year has been in Canterbury about two months of the time, dwelling in a house of her own.

In this house, on the eighth of September, one thousand seven hundred and five, she was sitting alone in the forenoon, thinking over her unfortunate life, and arguing herself into a due resignation to Providence, though her condition seemed hard: “And,” said she, “I have been provided for hitherto, and doubt not but I shall be still, and am well satisfied that my afflictions shall end when it is most fit for me.” And then took up her sewing work, which she had no sooner done but she hears a knocking at the door; she went to see who was there, and this proved to be Mrs. Veal, her old friend, who was in a riding-habit. At that moment of time the clock struck twelve at noon.

“Madam,” says Mrs. Bargrave, “I am surprised to see you, you have been so long a stranger”; but told her she was glad to see her, and offered to salute her, which Mrs. Veal complied with, till their lips almost touched, and then Mrs. Veal drew her hand across her own eyes, and said, “I am not very well,” and so waived it. She told Mrs. Bargrave she was going a journey, and had a great mind to see her first. “But,” says Mrs. Bargrave, “how can you take a journey alone? I am amazed at it, because I know you have a fond brother.” “Oh,” says Mrs. Veal, “I gave my brother the slip, and came away, because I had so great a desire to see you before I took my journey.” So Mrs. Bargrave went in with her into another room within the first, and Mrs. Veal sat her down in an elbow-chair, in which Mrs. Bargrave was sitting when she heard Mrs. Veal knock. “Then,” says Mrs. Veal, “my dear friend, I am come to renew our old friendship again, and beg your pardon for my breach of it; and if you can forgive me, you are the best of women.” “Oh,” says Mrs. Bargrave, “do not mention such a thing; I have not had an uneasy thought about it.” “What did you think of me?” says Mrs. Veal. Says Mrs. Bargrave, “I thought you were like the rest of the world, and that prosperity had made you forget yourself and me.” Then Mrs. Veal reminded Mrs. Bargrave of the many friendly offices she did her in former days, and much of the conversation they had with each other in the times of their adversity; what books they read, and what comfort in particular they received from Drelincourt’s Book of Death, which was the best, she said, on the subject ever wrote. She also mentioned Doctor Sherlock, and two Dutch books, which were translated, wrote upon death, and several others. But Drelincourt, she said, had the clearest notions of death and of the future state of any who had handled that subject. Then she asked Mrs. Bargrave whether she had Drelincourt. She said, “Yes.” Says Mrs. Veal, “Fetch it.” And so Mrs. Bargrave goes up-stairs and brings it down. Says Mrs. Veal, “Dear Mrs. Bargrave, if the eyes of our faith were as open as the eyes of our body, we should see numbers of angels about us for our guard. The notions we have of Heaven now are nothing like what it is, as Drelincourt says; therefore be comforted under your afflictions, and believe that the Almighty has a particular regard to you, and that your afflictions are marks of God’s favor; and when they have done the business they are sent for, they shall be removed from you. And believe me, my dear friend, believe what I say to you, one minute of future happiness will infinitely reward you for all your sufferings. For I can never believe” (and claps her hand upon her knee with great earnestness, which, indeed, ran through most of her discourse) “that ever God will suffer you to spend all your days in this afflicted state. But be assured that your afflictions shall leave you, or you them, in a short time.” She spake in that pathetical and heavenly manner that Mrs. Bargrave wept several times, she was so deeply affected with it.

Then Mrs. Veal mentioned Doctor Kendrick’s Ascetic, at the end of which he gives an account of the lives of the primitive Christians. Their pattern she recommended to our imitation, and said, “Their conversation was not like this of our age. For now,” says she, “there is nothing but vain, frothy discourse, which is far different from theirs. Theirs was to edification, and to build one another up in faith, so that they were not as we are, nor are we as they were. But,” said she, “we ought to do as they did; there was a hearty friendship among them; but where is it now to be found?” Says Mrs. Bargrave, “It is hard indeed to find a true friend in these days.” Says Mrs. Veal, “Mr. Norris has a fine copy of verses, called Friendship in Perfection, which I wonderfully admire. Have you seen the book?” says Mrs. Veal. “No,” says Mrs. Bargrave, “but I have the verses of my own writing out.” “Have you?” says Mrs. Veal; “then fetch them”; which she did from above stairs, and offered them to Mrs. Veal to read, who refused, and waived the thing, saying, “holding down her head would make it ache”; and then desiring Mrs. Bargrave to read them to her, which she did. As they were admiring Friendship, Mrs. Veal said, “Dear Mrs. Bargrave, I shall love you forever.” In these verses there is twice used the word “Elysian.” “Ah!” says Mrs. Veal, “these poets have such names for Heaven.” She would often draw her hand across her own eyes, and say, “Mrs. Bargrave, do not you think I am mightily impaired by my fits?” “No,” says Mrs. Bargrave; “I think you look as well as ever I knew you.”

After this discourse, which the apparition put in much finer words than Mrs. Bargrave said she could pretend to, and as much more than she can remember—for it cannot be thought that an hour and three quarters’ conversation could all be retained, though the main of it she thinks she does—she said to Mrs. Bargrave she would have her write a letter to her brother, and tell him she would have him give rings to such and such; and that there was a purse of gold in her cabinet, and that she would have two broad pieces given to her cousin Watson.

Talking at this rate, Mrs. Bargrave thought that a fit was coming upon her, and so placed herself on a chair just before her knees, to keep her from falling to the ground, if her fits should occasion it; for the elbow-chair, she thought, would keep her from falling on either side. And to divert Mrs. Veal, as she thought, took hold of her gown-sleeve several times, and commended it. Mrs. Veal told her it was a scoured silk, and newly made up. But, for all this, Mrs. Veal persisted in her request, and told Mrs. Bargrave she must not deny her. And she would have her tell her brother all their conversation when she had the opportunity. “Dear Mrs. Veal,” says Mrs. Bargrave, “this seems so impertinent that I cannot tell how to comply with it; and what a mortifying story will our conversation be to a young gentleman. Why,” says Mrs. Bargrave, “it is much better, methinks, to do it yourself.” “No,” says Mrs. Veal; “though it seems impertinent to you now, you will see more reasons for it hereafter.” Mrs. Bargrave, then, to satisfy her importunity, was going to fetch a pen and ink, but Mrs. Veal said, “Let it alone now, but do it when I am gone; but you must be sure to do it”; which was one of the last things she enjoined her at parting, and so she promised her.

Then Mrs. Veal asked for Mrs. Bargrave’s daughter. She said she was not at home. “But if you have a mind to see her,” says Mrs. Bargrave, “I’ll send for her.” “Do,” says Mrs. Veal; on which she left her, and went to a neighbor’s to see her; and by the time Mrs. Bargrave was returning, Mrs. Veal was got without the door in the street, in the face of the beast-market, on a Saturday (which is market-day), and stood ready to part as soon as Mrs. Bargrave came to her. She asked her why she was in such haste. She said she must be going, though perhaps she might not go her journey till Monday; and told Mrs. Bargrave she hoped she should see her again at her cousin Watson’s before she went whither she was going. Then she said she would take her leave of her, and walked from Mrs. Bargrave, in her view, till a turning interrupted the sight of her, which was three-quarters after one in the afternoon.

Mrs. Veal died the seventh of September, at twelve o’clock at noon, of her fits, and had not above four hours’ senses before her death, in which time she received the sacrament. The next day after Mrs. Veal’s appearance, being Sunday, Mrs. Bargrave was mightily indisposed with a cold and sore throat, that she could not go out that day; but on Monday morning she sends a person to Captain Watson’s to know if Mrs. Veal was there. They wondered at Mrs. Bargrave’s inquiry, and sent her word she was not there, nor was expected. At this answer, Mrs. Bargrave told the maid she had certainly mistook the name or made some blunder. And though she was ill, she put on her hood and went herself to Captain Watson’s, though she knew none of the family, to see if Mrs. Veal was there or not. They said they wondered at her asking, for that she had not been in town; they were sure, if she had, she would have been there. Says Mrs. Bargrave, “I am sure she was with me on Saturday almost two hours.” They said it was impossible, for they must have seen her if she had. In comes Captain Watson, while they were in dispute, and said that Mrs. Veal was certainly dead, and the escutcheons were making. This strangely surprised Mrs. Bargrave, when she sent to the person immediately who had the care of them, and found it true. Then she related the whole story to Captain Watson’s family; and what gown she had on, and how striped; and that Mrs. Veal told her that it was scoured. Then Mrs. Watson cried out, “You have seen her indeed, for none knew but Mrs. Veal and myself that the gown was scoured.” And Mrs. Watson owned that she described the gown exactly; “for,” said she, “I helped her to make it up.” This Mrs. Watson blazed all about the town, and avouched the demonstration of truth of Mrs. Bargrave’s seeing Mrs. Veal’s apparition. And Captain Watson carried two gentlemen immediately to Mrs. Bargrave’s house to hear the relation from her own mouth. And when it spread so fast that gentlemen and persons of quality, the judicious and sceptical part of the world, flocked in upon her, it at last became such a task that she was forced to go out of the way; for they were in general extremely satisfied of the truth of the thing, and plainly saw that Mrs. Bargrave was no hypochondriac, for she always appears with such a cheerful air and pleasing mien that she has gained the favor and esteem of all the gentry, and it is thought a great favor if they can but get the relation from her own mouth. I should have told you before that Mrs. Veal told Mrs. Bargrave that her sister and brother-in-law were just come down from London to see her. Says Mrs. Bargrave, “How came you to order matters so strangely?” “It could not be helped,” said Mrs. Veal. And her brother and sister did come to see her, and entered the town of Dover just as Mrs. Veal was expiring. Mrs. Bargrave asked her whether she would drink some tea. Says Mrs. Veal, “I do not care if I do; but I’ll warrant you this mad fellow”—meaning Mrs. Bargrave’s husband—”has broke all your trinkets.” “But,” says Mrs. Bargrave, “I’ll get something to drink in for all that”; but Mrs. Veal waived it, and said, “It is no matter; let it alone”; and so it passed.

All the time I sat with Mrs. Bargrave, which was some hours, she recollected fresh sayings of Mrs. Veal. And one material thing more she told Mrs. Bargrave, that old Mr. Bretton allowed Mrs. Veal ten pounds a year, which was a secret, and unknown to Mrs. Bargrave till Mrs. Veal told her.

Mrs. Bargrave never varies in her story, which puzzles those who doubt of the truth, or are unwilling to believe it. A servant in the neighbor’s yard adjoining to Mrs. Bargrave’s house heard her talking to somebody an hour of the time Mrs. Veal was with her. Mrs. Bargrave went out to her next neighbor’s the very moment she parted with Mrs. Veal, and told her what ravishing conversation she had had with an old friend, and told the whole of it. Drelincourt’s Book of Death is, since this happened, bought up strangely. And it is to be observed that, notwithstanding all the trouble and fatigue Mrs. Bargrave has undergone upon this account, she never took the value of a farthing, nor suffered her daughter to take anything of anybody, and therefore can have no interest in telling the story.

But Mr. Veal does what he can to stifle the matter, and said he would see Mrs. Bargrave; but yet it is certain matter of fact that he has been at Captain Watson’s since the death of his sister, and yet never went near Mrs. Bargrave; and some of his friends report her to be a liar, and that she knew of Mr. Bretton’s ten pounds a year. But the person who pretends to say so has the reputation to be a notorious liar among persons whom I know to be of undoubted credit. Now, Mr. Veal is more of a gentleman than to say she lies, but says a bad husband has crazed her; but she needs only present herself, and it will effectually confute that pretence. Mr. Veal says he asked his sister on her death-bed whether she had a mind to dispose of anything. And she said no. Now the things which Mrs. Veal’s apparition would have disposed of were so trifling, and nothing of justice aimed at in the disposal, that the design of it appears to me to be only in order to make Mrs. Bargrave satisfy the world of the reality thereof as to what she had seen and heard, and to secure her reputation among the reasonable and understanding part of mankind. And then, again, Mr. Veal owns that there was a purse of gold; but it was not found in her cabinet, but in a comb-box. This looks improbable; for that Mrs. Watson owned that Mrs. Veal was so very careful of the key of her cabinet that she would trust nobody with it; and if so, no doubt she would not trust her gold out of it. And Mrs. Veal’s often drawing her hands over her eyes, and asking Mrs. Bargrave whether her fits had not impaired her, looks to me as if she did it on purpose to remind Mrs. Bargrave of her fits, to prepare her not to think it strange that she should put her upon writing to her brother, to dispose of rings and gold, which look so much like a dying person’s request; and it took accordingly with Mrs. Bargrave as the effect of her fits coming upon her, and was one of the many instances of her wonderful love to her and care of her, that she should not be affrighted, which, indeed, appears in her whole management, particularly in her coming to her in the daytime, waiving the salutation, and when she was alone; and then the manner of her parting, to prevent a second attempt to salute her.

Now, why Mr. Veal should think this relation a reflection—as it is plain he does, by his endeavoring to stifle it—I cannot imagine; because the generality believe her to be a good spirit, her discourse was so heavenly. Her two great errands were, to comfort Mrs. Bargrave in her affliction, and to ask her forgiveness for her breach of friendship, and with a pious discourse to encourage her. So that, after all, to suppose that Mrs. Bargrave could hatch such an invention as this, from Friday noon to Saturday noon—supposing that she knew of Mrs. Veal’s death the very first moment—without jumbling circumstances, and without any interest, too, she must be more witty, fortunate, and wicked, too, than any indifferent person, I dare say, will allow. I asked Mrs. Bargrave several times if she was sure she felt the gown. She answered, modestly, “If my senses be to be relied on, I am sure of it.” I asked her if she heard a sound when she clapped her hand upon her knee. She said she did not remember she did, but said she appeared to be as much a substance as I did who talked with her. “And I may,” said she, “be as soon persuaded that your apparition is talking to me now as that I did not really see her; for I was under no manner of fear, and received her as a friend, and parted with her as such. I would not,” says she, “give one farthing to make any one believe it; I have no interest in it; nothing but trouble is entailed upon me for a long time, for aught I know; and, had it not come to light by accident, it would never have been made public.” But now she says she will make her own private use of it, and keep herself out of the way as much as she can; and so she has done since. She says she had a gentleman who came thirty miles to her to hear the relation; and that she had told it to a roomful of people at the time. Several particular gentlemen have had the story from Mrs. Bargrave’s own mouth.

This thing has very much affected me, and I am as well satisfied as I am of the best-grounded matter of fact. And why we should dispute matter of fact, because we cannot solve things of which we can have no certain or demonstrative notions, seems strange to me; Mrs. Bargrave’s authority and sincerity alone would have been undoubted in any other case.

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