Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Short Stories > Floating Fancies among the Weird and the Occult > A TALE OF TWO PICTURES.
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 It is a question open to discussion whether it is a blessing to be born with a highly sensitive organization, an artistic taste—and poverty. The reverse was the opinion of Philip Aultman. Life seemed a failure, every venture foredoomed; and this sunny June morning, when all nature seemed to give the lie to evil prognostications, he sat in his room with the curtains of his soul pulled down, brooding over his misfortunes, not once considering that he was in fault. A maple grew just outside the window, and a little branch tapped on the uplifted sash coaxingly; the soft wind whispered through its branches, and entering lifted his curly brown locks shyly; a bluebird tilted its bright head, and swelled its throat in song of enticement; he lifted his face from the melancholy arch of his arms, and said as if in answer to the appeal: “I will go out, this is of no use! Anything is better than staying within brooding over my trouble!”
As he wandered about the sweet wind seemed to blow away much of his despondency, although he still smarted with indignation against fate. Yet—what is fate? The evil we bring upon ourselves. We clasp our hands above our heads, 120prostrate ourselves with our foreheads in the dust, and say with the devout Oriental: “Kismet!” Thus we are absolved from all blame.
Philip had been poor all his life; not miserably indigent, though many things which go to make life comfortable were lacking. He had inherited a taste for art from his father; hard work had been the rule of his life, and as a result he was a very creditable artist, though not by any means entering into the soul of the work. It is one thing to paint a fair picture, to write an acceptable story; it is quite another thing to put your very self into your work, and endow it with a subtle life which is past all explaining.
When he was twenty-five he inherited money—worse for him; he thought that henceforward life held no need for exertion; as though food and raiment constitute all for which we should exert ourselves. He fancied that happiness lay in two things; going to sleep, and letting the enervating wind of pleasure drift him whithersoever it would; or getting astride of the billow of self-will, to ride over everything. He did not find his mistake until slice by slice his inheritance had been cut away from him, and he looked with astonished gaze upon those who, under the guise of friendship, had fastened themselves upon him in his prosperity, and now stared at him with unseeing eyes. He looked upon it as the worst misfortune which could have befallen him. He was no more shortsighted than the majority of persons; because a certain condition brings present discomfort, we rebel against it as being to our great detriment; most frequently 121we rebel without reason. The loss was a blessing to him, against which he railed, beat, and bruised himself.
Just at this point I take up his history.
He wandered about the woods all day, sometimes throwing himself on the grass to look up into the immeasurable depths of the ether; again, idly throwing pebbles into the flashing water; but during all that sweet, restful afternoon his soul was awakening from its lethargy; thoughts which seemed to him a glimpse of the divine, surprised his hitherto dormant intellectuality; he began to realize that life held possibilities of which he had never caught a glimpse.
Evil is but good gone astray; it is the oscillation of the pendulum; Philip had reached the adverse limit, and the pendulum of its own momentum was returning to the center of gravity. As deadly nausea is the precursor of a cleansed stomach, so he felt a thorough disgust with all the world, which meant to him—as it does to every one of us—the people with whom he was in daily association; he indignantly compared them to a flock of geese—all gabble and greed. It is a hard truth, that if we will submit to be plucked we can soon find all the worst characteristics of the worst people. He thought savagely that he desired never to see one of them again.
He took a small memorandum book from his pocket, and setting down a few figures ran them over rapidly; he laughed harshly, a sound that held the threat of a sob: “Six hundred dollars! Well, that is a great showing from fifty thousand! No wonder the elegant Mabel DeVere 122gave me the cold shoulder; she and her kind have no use for a man without money; then there was that little dancer—she had no further use for the goose after it was thoroughly plucked, as she took pains to tell me; she was at least honest. They are all alike, a treacherous, tricky lot!” he muttered to himself, with moody brow; but he remembered with a pang of shame that his loving, patient, helpful mother had been like none of those with whom he had associated, and his shame was that he had sought such company; it had been of his own choosing; what better was he, that he should fling at them? He was looking at himself in a new light.
He tried not to think about it, it made him restless and ashamed; but such thoughts once aroused will not be quieted; when the light is once admitted the germ of higher growth will strengthen rapidly.
“How sweet it would be to live like this,” he said thoughtfully. A sudden smile lighted the gloom of his face; “Why not? I have my outfit, and money enough to procure food and shelter whenever I desire it. It is not so very much that a person needs after all; it is what he fancies that he needs, and is much better without, that takes the money—and what his friends require,” he added with a rueful grimace.
In consequence of this determination, he took a small gripsack, together with his artist’s materials, and tossed the key of his room to his landlady, saying nonchalantly, “Take care of my things; I’ll be back sometime!”
No person can live near to nature’s heart, can 123share in her moods, and drink of her healing waters, and not grow purer in heart, and stronger spiritually. Philip began to lose the sense of discord, and to understand, with a feeling of humility, that he had been in fault; it was well for him to live with himself for awhile, that he might learn what kind of a man he had really been.
Toward the close of a cloudless July day he came up a long, grassy, country lane, to a squat looking farmhouse; he had come across country many miles, and had found a strange charm in the solitude. He was tired and hungry, and hailed a sight of the house with pleasure. The whole place had a wild and deserted look; a few late roses hung their heavy heads from the unpruned bushes; creepers ran riot over a long, low porch extending around three sides of the house giving it the appearance of a mother hen protecting her brood.
As he assayed to open the rickety gate the tangled morning-glorys seemed to hold it closed against him as though in warning. A vision of supper and a bed with cool, sweet-scented sheets had possessed his mind; but as the gate creaked on its one rusty hinge and he felt the desolation of the place, a chill went over him and the comforting vision disappeared.
A hollow, uncanny reverberation was the only answer to his rapping. He turned the knob, which yielded readily to his touch, but the door swung slowly on its rusty hinges; stiffly like a person old and tortured with the rheumatism. He stood undecided, peering in among the 124shadows of a long, dimly lighted hall, which extended the whole length of the house, the doors opening primly on either side along its entire length; plainly no foot had disturbed the dust on this floor for many a day. As he stepped within a cloud arose as though in protest; he opened the first door on the right, and was surprised to find the room furnished; the low-browed ceiling seemed to frown ominously; the sides were paneled in dark wood, being alternately the head of an animal and a flower, exquisite in design and workmanship; but the dark mahogany color added to the somber effect. A square old-fashioned bedstead stood at the far corner of the room, its tall spindling posts rising high toward the ceiling like uplifted hands; on one of these hung a man’s hat. Phil fancied that he could see the kind of a man who had worn it; an athletic fellow, not over nice in his dress, judging by its battered look. The clothing on the bed was pulled awry, as though the occupants had hurriedly stepped out, without time to arrange the room; an easy-chair was drawn up before the great, yawning fireplace, in which a few charred sticks lay across the old-fashioned, brass andirons. On the mantle stood a brass candlestick, with a half-burned candle in the socket; a pair of snuffers on a tray at its side; a turkey wing, bound with velvet, lay on another tray in the corner of the fireplace; just above it hung a pair of old-fashioned bellows; a short, squat shovel, and a pair of grotesquely, long legged tongs stood near; the two looking like a lank old man, and his fat, little wife. 125Taken altogether, it had a quaint, old-fashioned look, which told pathetically of mouldering forms, and days long since dead.
All other rooms in the house were entirely destitute of furniture. He soon kindled a fire, and from a little stream which purled through the garden he filled his tin pot and presently it was singing drowsily. Hunger made a sauce piquant to his crackers cheese, and fragrant tea; better relished than all the costly dinners eaten when stomach and morals both were overburdened.
The sun was setting in the west amid a glory of gilded clouds; the wind blew faintly across the level meadow and pasture land; no sound disturbed the silence; the tinkle of a cowbell, the crowing of a cock, seemed but to accentuate the peace.
Phil brought the chair out upon the porch, and sat leaning lazily back, dreamily regarding his surroundings. How much sweeter this than the restless, unsatisfying life which he had led! In some occult manner the quaint old-fashioned house and the peaceful scene brought his mother before his mind; the saddened quiet, the tinge of sweet loneliness, seemed like a reflection of her life. A wave of regret swept over him that he had not been a better son. He remembered that she had saved and denied herself many comforts that he might receive a fine education, and study art under the most favorable circumstances. He blushed with shame to think how ungrateful he had been, and felt glad that the money had not fallen to him while she yet lived, for he knew 126that his reckless course would have grieved her sorely. Heretofore he had consoled himself with the thought that there were others much worse than he; he began to understand that comparison did not in the least palliate the offense; he felt a greater twinge of shame as he thought of some of his past actions, that thus he had wronged her memory, her teachings, and his higher self.
He drifted from regretful thought into slumber.
It had grown dark; the wind had arisen with the going down of the sun, and the loose boards were rattling noisily; the vines were swaying to and fro, but the stars blinked in the darkened vault in a quizzical manner as he started up in affright. He thought that he felt a hand upon his shoulder, and that he beheld the shadowy outline of a form within the room.
He stood up and shook himself vigorously: “I must have been dreaming; this wind is uncomfortably cold,” he said, with a shiver.
He went in, and lighted the candle; he built a fire which leaped and flared up the broad-mouthed fireplace, throwing jolly, fantastic shadows over the great room, much more suggestive of the play of elfins than the gloomy walking of ghosts. He sat drowsily looking into the coals; the fire had burned low, and the room was in half shadow, with a fitful lighting up now and then; a cold wind struck him, and he seemed impelled by some unseen force to look toward the bed; the battered hat appeared to be rising of its own volition above the tall post, and 127the face of a man fitted itself beneath it; a cruel face; the white brow beetling over deep set, piercing eyes; the jaw massive and square; the lips thin, a mere line across the resolute face; the whole countenance imbued with a strange fierce beauty; a man who would allow nothing to stand in the way of his will. Phil started up with a gasp of terror; he felt suffocated.
“Great God! Is this place haunted, or have I a bad case of nightmare?” he exclaimed aloud.
He could have sworn that he heard a laugh, shrill and blood curdling; but perhaps it was but the wind among the gnarled apple trees—our imagination plays us strange tricks, and the furnishings and appearance of a room have disastrous effect upon our nerves at times.
He slept but fitfully the whole night, although nothing more occurred to alarm him, and with the coming of the morning sun he thought it all a dream.
After he had his breakfast he took his easel out upon the porch; he felt ashamed of the wasted hours which lay behind him, and determined to be more diligent; he placed his board, took his pencil in his hand—and sat staring straight before him. He sought vainly for an inspiration; his brain seemed empty, imagination dead. But one object rose before his mental vision—the face he had seen under the old hat!
He felt tempted to throw pencils and board in among the weeds. He left the easel standing, and went for a long walk; while walking his imagination leaped responsive to his desire; he 128outlined his work, and hastened back eager to commence; but as he once more seated himself, the same tormenting sense of inability assailed him; the same terrifying face came ever between him and the board.
With an angry exclamation he commenced sketching; at once he lost all feeling of uncertainty; he worked feverishly, and line by line the face grew before him; he seemed inspired by some power other than his own; a mole in front of the ear, a dimple in the chin, which he did not remember having seen, grew under his hand. A face of strange beauty, but from every lineament shone forth a fierce unconquerable nature, and at last, as the light was fading, he threw down his pencil and stepped back to look at it; he saw the ghostly counterpart hovering just above it; he gave utterance to a frightened exclamation; then said angrily: “I’ve looked so steadily at that thing, that I see double; I’ll take a run and rest myself.”
So he carried everything within, and took his way to the lone farmhouse visible in the distance; he found the place occupied by an elderly couple. After some desultory talk, he questioned the woman about the old house and its former occupants; she, nothing averse, told him the following story:
The house was built long before her birth, by a strange, foreign looking man, who, although he appeared to be wealthy, lived the life of a recluse. He suddenly disappeared, and what became of him no one ever knew; the estate was finally sold by the courts, and John Hilyer, then 129a young man, and just married to pretty, winsome Rachel Drew, bought the place, and came there to live.
A year or so later a son was born to them; John Hilyer, Jr. As young John grew to manhood, he resembled his father in feature and physique; but had a beauty inherited from his mother. No one ever knew the elder Hilyer to transgress a law, human or divine—according to his own estimation of himself. But he ruled his gentle wife as though she were a child; and he required of John unquestioning obedience—a complete subjugation of will, not considering that so sturdy a sapling must possess a growth of its own. He was a hard, selfish man; without sympathy or understanding for desires, and feelings not possessed by himself; he was, to himself, the criterion by which to judge all things. Added to this, he had a mean, miserly way of using religion as a specious plea for denying others the things conducive to comfort or pleasure; he stigmatized all such as sinful.
Young John was of a fiery, almost cruelly persistent turn; where he loved, he loved fiercely, jealously; where he hated it was with a violence of passion frightful to contemplate. His father allowed him no money to spend, and no time for pleasure, or even for recreation, saying that it was a sinful waste of time. All the love of John’s fierce heart was poured out upon his mother, and when she laid down her hard burden, his grief and anger were beyond words, though he cried out to his father: “You starved her to death! You starved her body of the things that might 130have prolonged her life, and her very soul of all intellectual and spiritual food!” Some little of the truth must have penetrated the old man’s armor of selfishness, as he turned away without reply.
A year later his father died, and so bitter was his feeling against him that he saw him lowered into his grave without a regret. He was like a child let loose from restraint; he plunged into all kinds of excess. He gathered around him a horde of evil companions, who for months made the old place a pandemonium. John was no fool, and he soon sickened of this life; and when one of them thought to be witty at the expense of his mother, and her poor way of living, he grew livid with wrath, and turned them all out, saying as he closed the door upon them, “Neither you, nor I, are fit to mention my mother; but you shall not disgrace her room again!”
He shut himself up in almost total solitude, with a wild idea of doing penance for having outraged his mother’s memory. Several months later one or two of his profligate associates sought him, he promptly shut the door in their faces, and what he said to them he said in such a manner that they left him undisturbed in his solitude. Then he disappeared, and no one knew of his whereabouts for fully a year; even at this time the house had come to have an evil reputation; people said of it that it was an unlucky place, but they passed it with a shudder which meant much more.
One night in early springtime, a passer-by 131saw a dim light in the front room—the others had long since been stripped of the old-fashioned furniture; the uncanny reputation of the house made him hasten by without a glance more than he could help.
The next day the whole country was in commotion. Early in the forenoon three large vans, loaded with furniture—which in those days was considered elegant—drove up to the door of the farmhouse. To their repeated knocking there was no response; one of the teamsters looked in through the uncurtained window; he gave a horrified cry. In the center of the room, ghastly and covered with blood, lay the body of John Hilyer; in his right hand he still grasped the pistol with which he had slain himself. He had bought the furniture the day before, and ordered it delivered at the house; he seemed to be in an unusually happy mood. What cause led to the deed none could conjecture, and during all these years the old house had kept its secret. Not a person could be induced to approach the place after dark, as all declared it to be haunted.
When Philip returned night had fallen, dark and solemn; he dreaded to enter the room; the weird story impressed him with a nervousness unaccountable to himself; he had ever been of a skeptical turn, and had scoffed at spiritual phenomena and manifestations as creations of an overwrought brain. He felt tempted to leave the old house this night, he had a dread of the coming hours; then, he thought scornfully, it would look too much like running away because of a weird story, and—some unseen force seemed 132to restrain him; a whisper in the air—an unseen hand—seemed to be holding him.
He tried to shake himself out of the feeling, and said pettishly: “What nonsense this is!—Much better to have gone on!” but he would not, neither could he go.
He gathered a great armful of wood from the old barn at the far end of the lot, and soon the blaze leaped up brightly; the room grew oppressively warm, the heat, together with the loss of sleep the night before, lulled his senses into drowsy nodding; then he dropped into deep sleep, with his head thrown back against the dark cushion, the dying fire playing over his sun-browned face fitfully.
The night waned; the fire died to a bed of embers, still he slept quietly on.
Of a sudden he opened his eyes, wide awake on the instant; he did not stir, but he felt sure—sure that a hand was resting lightly on his shoulder, that a face almost touched his own; it seemed not the presence of one unknown, but rather of one for whom he had been waiting; he had not before realized this fact, but it now dawned upon him with solemn gladness. At once he seemed to know that it was for this that he had waited; like a dawning light it occurred to him that there is no such thing as accident, that all things proceed from cause to effect, that the intelligent power which is the source of all things cannot forsake His children; the law which is immutable to the least of His children is just as unalterable for Him; he realized that he had been led in this path. He did not seem 133to be thinking this; it was shown to him through the spiritual sense as though the search light of the soul had been thrown upon the facts for his guidance; his every physical effort seemed to be absorbed in the sense of hearing.
Some force other than his own compelled him to turn around; at that instant a sob sounded close beside him; it thrilled him like a blast of cold wind, but he was bound to his chair as though with iron bands. About the middle of the room he heard a rustling sound, but saw nothing except the indistinct shadows called forth by the dying fire; then a cry smote his ear, a sound full of fear and anguish; gradually upon his sight grew the forms of a man and woman in agitated conversation; he stern and angry; she, with her face in her hands, sobbed bitterly; this appeared to melt the man’s anger, and bending above her bowed figure he kissed her bright hair. Behind him crept the man whose face Phil had seen beneath the battered hat, and dealt the other man a terrible blow with a hatchet; the woman raised her face with an appalled shriek, and with a mad ferocity he struck her to the floor; as she sank down the assailed man appeared to recover somewhat, and sought to defend himself; Phil could see the straining muscles, the tigerish ferocity of the assailant’s countenance, the failing struggles of the man on the defensive, a falling back inertly; when he lay ghastly, and cadaverous, the assailant seized him and dragged him out; not as one in fear, but fiercely, as though desirous of putting something he loathed out of his sight. 134Presently he returned, and stood looking down at the woman with strangely working features; he brought his hands together despairingly, as though bewailing his work; then a sudden wave of passion seemed to sweep over him, a wild frenzy of mingled love and hate; for an instant he clasped her form in mad embrace; then as though he loathed even the inanimate flesh, he bore her out of the house as he had carried the man. Phil could hear the fierce panting breath, and the vicious tread upon the porch outside.
For an instant Phil lost all consciousness of the room, of all circumstances, of even the heavy tread outside—it was as though his very spirit swooned; when he again became cognizant of his surroundings the murderer was peering through the open door; his eyes shone out of his ghastly face with a fierce, yet half affrighted, maniacal light. He strode across the room to the bed, and with angry gestures, he pulled the clothing hither and thither; at last he seemed to find that for which he sought, a small packet tied in oiled silk. He walked to a panel in the wall, directly opposite the foot of the bed; he grasped the hound’s head by the muzzle, and it looked as though the animal sprang to life; its eyes rolled wildly, it opened its jaws as though to devour the assailant, who tossed the packet into the wide-open mouth, which closed with a snap as though appeased by the sacrifice. The scene faded away; exhaustion held Phil a prisoner until far into the next day.
He returned to a consciousness of his surroundings with a shiver of affright, but as he 135looked out at the sunlit fields, and smelled the fresh dewy atmosphere, he thought his vision of the past night but the illusions of a dream.
“This close, stuffy room is quite enough to give one a nightmare,” he said, stretching his limbs; which felt sore and bruised; he also had a horrible sense of exhaustion.
He walked into the garden, and bathed his face in the stream; there was such fresh life in the atmosphere that his soul filled with the elasticity of hope, and his spirits rose to exaltation; after all, what is energy but hope put to use?
Yesterday his imagination lay dormant; to-day his purposed picture formed itself in his mind, in lineaments of beauty and glowing color. He ate his breakfast in healthy mood; he said to himself: “I’ll get out of this witch’s den to-day! I wouldn’t spend another night here—” a touch light as thistledown grazed his cheek; a breath from the unseen—a pressure on his shoulder, as of an invisible hand; he felt, without knowing the cause, that he could not go.
He arose and went into the house: “I wonder!” though what he wondered he did not say.
He took the sketch of the head he had drawn yesterday, and held it to the light, turning it from side to side. It was, line for line, the face of the murderer as he saw it in his vision; as he sat regarding the drawing thoughtfully, another phase of the vision—was it vision or dream? though the distinction between a vision and a dream might be a nice point for argument—but 136his mind dwelt with strange insistence upon the packet which he had seen put away.
“If I find that parcel it will prove that it was a vision, and it will determine my next step; though why I should go prying around this old house I do not know. The sketch of the head and this illusion also, may both be the effect of that old woman’s story; but—but—it doesn’t tally. Well, here goes for the next move!” he said.
Was it but fancy, that a soft, happy sigh reached his ear? or was it but the summer breeze?
How like the unbroken links of a chain it all appeared; he had planned none of it, he could never have imagined himself in such a r?le; some volition other than his own had led him in a well-prepared way. No abrupt breaks, no jumps, no indecisions are necessary in our lives; when such is the case we are in fault; we fail to heed the signboards and the danger signals; we are shocked when we halt on the verge of a precipice, or disgusted when we find that we have walked weary miles on the wrong road, all because we read the signs to suit our fancied pleasure, or plunged ahead and read them not at all.
His exalted, happy mood left him; he grew restless and nervous; he was conscious of a stir all about him, a continuous vibration; he could not sit still. At last he arose and walked over to the panel which he had, in his vision, seen opened; he passed his hands over the ornamental head, searching for a screw, bolt, or anything to 137indicate that any portion of it was movable; it seemed one solid piece of carving.
“This is all nonsense! I have dreamed the whole thing!” But though he derided, he could not rid himself of his unrest, or the intuition of a sweet presence urging him on.
He examined the alternate panel, and could detect no difference; he again returned, grasping the muzzle as he had seen the murderer do; he started, it felt cold to his hand; he tapped it with his knife, it gave forth a metallic sound; this was iron, the others, wood. He trembled with excitement as he searched for a hinge, spring, or other means of ingress; he no longer doubted being intuitively led. He placed himself as nearly as possible in the position he had witnessed, and grasped the muzzle in the same manner; a hot flush passed over his face, for a single instant his knees grew weak with superstitious fear as he felt the yielding of a tiny spring beneath the ends of his fingers. He pressed firmly upon it; the jaws flew apart, the eyes rolled so fiercely and so suddenly that it made him start back in affright; he thrust his arm into the opening thus formed, and drew forth the package wrapped in oiled silk, just as he had seen it in his vision—he could no longer doubt its being such. Something else he saw, but a warning click caused him to withdraw his hand; none too soon, the jaws closed like a steel trap.
He eagerly unfolded the parcel, it seemed that he knew previous to opening it what it would 138contain; the marriage certificate of John Hilyer, and Amanda Cosgrove.
He returned to his chair and sat looking at the paper thoughtfully; it was dated from a distant city, but he knew in some occult way that Amanda Cosgrove was of the country. I cannot express it better than by saying that the name wafted to him a breath of country air; the odor of buttercups, and a glint of their gold.
The package held another paper—a sealed will.
He drew a breath of relief, and experienced a glad sense of freedom, as though until now he had been bound to some onerous duty. He sat long with his hand pressed over his eyes, his senses deadened to all outside impressions; repeating over many times the name of Amanda Cosgrove; formulating slowly and distinctly his desire to see her.
At first all things waved and swayed, a conglomeration of darkness, shot with rays of light and color; gradually, there evolved from this a hilly country, verdant with grass, and beautified with many trees; a sunny valley with carpet of a brighter hue, and fields of waving grain. A low, picturesque cottage stood in the shelter of a grove; before the door stood a woman whose hair was like silver, and the face though sad and worn did not look old. She shaded her eyes with her hand, and looked wistfully in his direction; dimly outlined within the doorway shone—fairly shone—a face which his spirit recognized as her whose hand had rested upon his shoulder, whose spirit presence had been his guide in this search.
139Gradually the picture faded, and so great was his sense of loss that for a time his mind seemed a perfect blank. Then, a fever possessed him to sketch the cottage, the valley, the fair hillside, and the persons he had seen, and with whom he had been in spiritual communion. He worked with an eagerness and joy never before experienced, he delighted in every detail; he touched the fair, dimly seen face lovingly, lingeringly.
Three days later he left the old house; a half regret assailed him as it disappeared from view, for here he first saw the pure spirit whose occult influence was lifting him to a higher and purer life. He went direct to the city named in the marriage certificate; he found a record of it which gave that city as the residence of Amanda Cosgrove. He could find no further trace of her; the time was so distant, and the clew so slight; it was like searching for a drop of water in the sea to endeavor to find one insignificant individual amid the shifting population of a large city.
It would be less than interesting to follow Philip through his frequent and grievous disappointments.
During all the time a change was taking place in all his thoughts and feelings; from the ennui and disgust of the former time and former associates, he had grown into a healthy, hearty happiness in the present; putting the evil of the past wholly behind him, living in the good of each day as each day dawned; trying honestly and joyously to reach upward to a higher standard of thought and work. The presence of the 140sweet spirit was ever near him, prompting his laggard efforts, renewing his courage, and his faith in himself; chiding if at any time the evil spell of the old ways tempted him. I must do him the justice to say that it seldom occurred, because he had reached this happy knowledge, that so long as truth abides life cannot be wholly worthless, because the very life of hope is in truth. He came to feel a compassion—in the place of the past hatred—for his former associates, whose minds had become diseased; so long as we hate we too are touched with moral leprosy. He saw that none were so degraded but that some germ of good yet remained for future development; for good is the seed of the Infinite, and He will not destroy his own, though it be but in the proportion of one grain to a mountain of sand.
How strange that we should be taught that even the hairs of our heads are numbered—the mere material—and then believe that one pure spiritual ray shall go out in darkness. It may not be that the germ will be developed in this plane, but when the limitations and our own degradation of the flesh shall cease, the seed will be planted and fostered in the Beyond, and the trend of good can be no otherwise than toward perfection; all life must grow toward the light. Filled with such thoughts as these, he worked faithfully and conscientiously.
One lovely afternoon he visited the art gallery; he had not been there for some time, and he went prepared to enjoy the treat; he took with him his favorite book, and sought a cozy 141corner; for a time he read, then he wandered among the paintings until his eyes were satisfied with beauty; again returning to his corner and his book, enjoying his feast of good things.
It was growing late in the day; he would make one more excursion, then return to his room, feeling that it had been a well-spent afternoon. He walked slowly down the room, looking abstractedly upon the floor; thinking how strange that he had not been able to obtain a single trace of Amanda Cosgrove; the thought struck him coldly—that he saw John Hilyer carry her out as though dead—yet he felt that she still lived. He sighed, for several days he had not felt the sweet, haunting Presence; he missed it as one does a dear, familiar friend; he longed for the soft thrilling vibration.
Preoccupied with thought, he did not observe a lady standing before one of the paintings, and awkwardly stepped upon her dress; he turned to apologize, but speechless, held his hat poised in the air. Meeting a person for the first time, did never the feeling assail you that this one was not a stranger to you, although time or place of meeting you could not recall? So it was with him; his heart leaped in recognition, yet—he could not recall—what? It made his brain dizzy, his heart beat tumultuously, thought was in disorder; the words he uttered seemed to him to have been spoken before, he was merely repeating them; he was as one in a dream, doing things without conscious volition. He went through the apology mechanically, stiffly, though he longed with all his soul to reach out his hands 142and clasp her in sweet embrace, but he turned coldly away, to be confronted by a picture; a country scene; the sloping hills, the woody heights, the velvet carpet of grass, the waving grain, the cottage half-embowered in trees, a woman with upraised hand, looking, as though to peer into futurity; line for line as he had seen it in his concentration, as he had painted it since; the coloring, the touch seemed identical.
He stooped to read the name: “The Hope of a Lifetime, by Maida Cosgrove.” He uttered an exclamation of astonishment; the lady turned, regarding him strangely; he was intently studying the picture, and she turned again to depart. By what narrow chances do we lose or gain the desire of a lifetime, the fruition of our dearest hope—and humanity says—How sad an accident!
A gentleman passing raised his hat, with the salutation:
“Good-afternoon, Miss Cosgrove!”
Philip wheeled suddenly, trembling in every fibre of his body; like a brilliant sunlight the knowledge that this fair woman was she whose spirit had hovered over him, elevating and encouraging him, broke in upon his intelligence. The strange man was regarding him curiously; Phil removed his hat, and addressed her in a formal manner: “I beg pardon! I am Philip Aultman. Will you excuse my boldness—are you related to Amanda Cosgrove?” he asked excitedly.
“She is my mother,” replied Maida with quiet dignity.
“I have some papers of value belonging to 143her, which I think she would be glad to obtain,” he explained.
The whole occurrence seemed informal, but a feeling of sympathy lay between them, as of old acquaintanceship. Philip spoke of the picture, and Maida replied that it was her home. It was with strange sensations that Philip the next day approached the house. He had given Maida no knowledge of the character of the papers in his possession, yet she had exhibited no surprise or curiosity, but rather as though she knew and appreciated his mission; he felt himself in a very awkward position.
How should he account to Amanda Cosgrove for their possession? What excuse had he for searching out her whereabouts? What did it concern him? He found it hard—impossible to answer these questions to himself; how then should he answer to her satisfaction? Could he say to her that it was through psychic knowledge?
His face burned at thought of the ridicule which would greet that statement, but—was it not true? In what other manner had he gained one iota of this knowledge? He was not yet strong enough to stand up and declare the truth in the face of skepticism and ridicule. Very many people enjoy antagonism; it brings out their fighting qualities, and they feel very strong; but ridicule hits the very heart of their conceit, and they weakly go down before it.
Phil drove up to the door feeling very weak indeed; all things had a familiar look; in his psychic condition, he had seen even the gray cat, 144that sunned itself on the door mat, and the tall hollyhocks, standing like red-coated sentinels, near the gate.
It seemed very proper when Amanda Cosgrove stepped forward to meet him, although his thought of the moment before had been: “What shall I say to her?”
Her first words were a surprise, and settled all difficulties.
“I knew that you would come! But I have waited so long!”
His way was very easy after that; he placed the papers and drawings in her hands; as she opened the marriage certificate, she sobbed aloud. “Oh, mother! Don’t grieve, mother!” cried Maida imploringly.
“Oh, not for grief! not for grief, my child! This is greater joy than I have known in many a day! Poor, misguided John, he was to be pitied; but you, my Maida, have had to bear the stain of illegitimacy all these years! It has nearly broken my heart. I have seen your playmates slight you; I have heard them cast it in your face, and was powerless to prove the truth; and yet, my Maida never loved her mother the less,” she cried hysterically.
“You could have proved it by the church record,” said Phil, in surprise that she should be ignorant on such a point.
Such however was the fact, living within a few miles of the proof of her marriage she and her child had been shunned and scorned, because of that ignorance. One thing only sustained her, the firm belief that some day all would be made right.
145That evening, sitting in the twilight, she finished the story of that awful night.
She became acquainted with John Hilyer through a young friend in the city; none of her people liked him, they bitterly opposed her seeing him. John, with all the fiery impetuosity of his nature, had fallen in love with her; it was mating the dove with the fierce bird of prey; he fairly compelled her with his fiery persistence. She at last eloped with him, and they were married; he loved her too truly to wrong her. For three months they traveled, he then made preparations to take her to his home. Often his fierce love frightened her; she adored him, but she was afraid of him.
He knew all of her family except one brother, whom he had never seen. The whole family misjudged him in thinking that he had wronged the girl; the brother whom he had never met endeavored to find them; but it was not until they were returning to the old home that he obtained a trace of them. When they were first married Amanda wished to write to her people, but John sternly forbade it.
It was night when they reached home; John kindled a fire, seated her in the great easy-chair with much ceremony, and with many fond words, and fierce kisses made his wife welcome.
He had scarcely left the house to care for the team which brought them, when her brother burst into the room; the happy smiles died upon her lips, never to return again. She trembled with affright; she knew that John might return at any moment and she feared his anger. She 146excitedly rose to her feet, and advanced to the center of the room, and as the accusation of shame left her brother’s lips, she sank upon her knees, sobbing forth her denial; at first he scoffed at her words; but as conviction of the truth was forced upon him, he begged her pardon, and stooped to kiss her bowed head; through the uncurtained window John witnessed the closing part of the scene.
In his hand he had a hatchet, with which to cut kindling for the fire; in an instant the demon of jealousy sprang to life full grown; he did not consider the absurdity of his thought—does jealousy ever consider? His mind held no thought but that this man was his wife’s lover, and the fancied knowledge drove him insane. He silently let himself into the room, creeping, creeping up behind them; as the brother stooped over to caress her, John dealt him a fearful blow; Amanda raised her face with a horrified cry; with an infuriated epithet he struck her, the blow was sufficiently hard to render her insensible, but her heavy garments saved her life. Regaining consciousness, the brother fought desperately, but against a madman he had no chance in his favor.
When his opponent lay before him, a livid corpse, still no compunction touched his conscience; he spurned the lifeless form with his foot, and dragged him out as he would have cast out a dead dog; he threw the body into the well at the end of the porch, and returned to the room.
Amanda recovered consciousness during the 147struggle between the two men, but she was without power either of speech or motion; horror held her dumb, her brain only held life. She tried to cry out but could not, she was like one in a trance, even when John lifted her in his arms, and cast her from him, she had little sense of the horror of her situation; something caught her, and with a sudden jerk, she felt herself suspended. She had no idea of what held her, or what would become of her should the fabric give way. Instinctively she threw up her arm as her head came in contact with a timber, and for a few seconds she hung there without consciousness enough to make an effort.
Then a sudden terror of the unknown shook her, and she made an effort to raise herself; it was well for her that she could not see the dizzy depth beneath her, in such situations fear is our worst enemy. She cautiously raised herself by a board above her head, until she could loosen her sleeve from a large hook, upon which it had caught; she then easily raised herself until she could climb over the low curb, and stood upon the ground outside; here she sank down, weak and trembling for a few minutes. Then, though a chill fear assailed her, she determined to go into the house; she wondered where her brother was, that he did not come to her rescue; but she must go in! John, her John, would surely not harm her knowingly; she dragged herself along wearily, holding on to the side of the house for support; she felt so sick and tired.
She looked in through one of the long windows, the candle had been extinguished long 148since by a draught of wind, the fire had burned low, and only an occasional fitful blaze leaped up, and lighted the room intermittently; in one of the flashes she saw John lying in the middle of the floor.
“Poor fellow, he is sorry now that he gave way to his quick temper, and he is lying there grieving. I wonder where Brother Ernest is?”
She pulled herself slowly into the room; the wall clock ticked loudly, its long pendulum seeming to take a preternatural sweep; as she neared the recumbent figure the fire crackled ominously, and the blaze flared up redly, like blood; she shivered as she bent over the recumbent figure. A brand fell to the earth, a bright flame shot up lighting all the room, and the pallid face of the dead man. The horror and desolation of all things smote her with sudden madness.
Months afterward she wandered into her old home; it was in dead of winter, she was half naked, white haired, wan, and emaciated; her father and mother remembered nothing, save that she was their child. For weeks she lay on the bed, white and silent, or sat in an easy-chair beside a sunny window, propped up with pillows, but when her baby girl was laid in her arms she looked at it with the light of love and reason in her sad eyes; but the same silence which had characterized her lunacy, remained in her sanity. Of what use to explain to them those awful incidents; they did not believe that she was John Hilyer’s wife—why should she make further explanation to be disbelieved? 149She was either morbidly wrong, or—still a little unbalanced by all that she had endured.
She named her babe Maida Hilyer, but all persisted in calling the child Cosgrove.
“The name doesn’t matter,” she said sadly; but later when she saw her supposed sin visited upon the innocent child she cried aloud to the All Merciful to right her wrong.
The ways of the All Wise are not our ways, very fortunately, or things would be greatly muddled. The old father and mother died, but Amanda and her child remained at the farm.
Maida was eighteen, a gentle, rarely thoughtful girl; her mother’s sorrow seemed to have left its impress on her character and mind; she early showed a decided artistic talent, which her mother took pains to cultivate; all went well until Maida gained recognition; then that jealousy which ever seems to lie in wait for unpropitious circumstances, seized upon the name she bore to taunt her.
Poor Maida! She threw herself into her mother’s arms, ready to give up her chosen profession. Her mother said sadly: “Be brave, my child! I know that some day the truth will come to light!”
Maida thought continually of her mother’s words, and with all her soul sought to reach the one who she felt was destined to help right the grievous wrong; but she continued her work as sweetly and firmly as though no wound was there.
One night her mother dreamed of the old house, it looked as it did the night of the 150tragedy; she saw a strange form there, and she reached out her hands supplicatingly, beseeching his help; to her spiritual sense it was made manifest that her wish should be accomplished; she told this to Maida, and the two talked of little else, and thought of it without cessation, until night after night in her dreams Maida stood by that stranger’s form, urging him to clear up the mystery.
The will inclosed with the certificate gave all of his property to his “beloved wife, Amanda Cosgrove Hilyer.”
There was no more cause to taunt Maida, and there was no opposition to Amanda’s taking possession of the property, which necessitated a visit to the place. Amanda walked silently about: “Poor John! Poor John!” she said pathetically; they looked shudderingly down into the depths of the old well, and as though some occult influence prompted her, Amanda said, “I wonder what became of brother Ernest. No one ever saw him after that time; I wish that I knew!”
Philip thought it far better that she did not know, therefore he kept silence.
The hook upon which Amanda had caught was still firmly imbedded in the beam; in the elder Mrs. Hilyer’s day it had been used to suspend butter and cream into the cool depths below.
Philip showed them the secret panel, and in doing so discovered another secret for himself; the lower portion of the panel formed a drawer; as long as the drawer remained open, the mouth of the dog would not close, but as the drawer 151was shut, the mouth came together with a vicious snap, as though the thing were possessed of life. This drawer contained all of John Hilyer’s papers, and a large sum of money; and here also they found the story of the lonely heart life of a man of strong feeling, and untaught, ungoverned passions; a sad record of a noble soul gone astray.
Phil and his wife Maida are very happy, and with the gentle, white-haired mother, they live in the pleasant cottage where Phil in his concentration first saw them.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved