Letters on Literature

第85章 Volume 3(13)

'My lord,'said I,'I have neither forgotten your COMMANDS,since such they were,nor disobeyed them.I was,last night,wakened from my sleep,as I lay in my own chamber,and accosted by the person whom I have mentioned.How she found access to the room I cannot pretend to say.'

'Ha!this must be looked to,'said he,half reflectively;'and pray,'added he,quickly,while in turn he fixed his eyes upon me,'what did this person say?since some comment upon her communication forms,no doubt,the sequel to your preface.'

'Your lordship is not mistaken,'said I;

'her statement was so extraordinary that I could not think of withholding it from you.She told me,my lord,that you had a wife living at the time you married me,and that she was that wife.'

Lord Glenfallen became ashy pale,almost livid;he made two or three efforts to clear his voice to speak,but in vain,and turning suddenly from me,he walked to the window.The horror and dismay which,in the olden time,overwhelmed the woman of Endor when her spells unexpectedly conjured the dead into her presence,were but types of what I felt when thus presented with what appeared to be almost unequivocal evidence of the guilt whose existence I had before so strongly doubted.

There was a silence of some moments,during which it were hard to conjecture whether I or my companion suffered most.

Lord Glenfallen soon recovered his self-

command;he returned to the table,again sat down and said:

'What you have told me has so astonished me,has unfolded such a tissue of motiveless guilt,and in a quarter from which I had so little reason to look for ingratitude or treachery,that your announcement almost deprived me of speech;the person in question,however,has one excuse,her mind is,as I told you before,unsettled.You should have remembered that,and hesitated to receive as unexceptionable evidence against the honour of your husband,the ravings of a lunatic.Inow tell you that this is the last time I shall speak to you upon this subject,and,in the presence of the God who is to judge me,and as I hope for mercy in the day of judgment,I swear that the charge thus brought against me is utterly false,unfounded,and ridiculous;I defy the world in any point to taint my honour;and,as I have never taken the opinion of madmen touching your character or morals,Ithink it but fair to require that you will evince a like tenderness for me;and now,once for all,never again dare to repeat to me your insulting suspicions,or the clumsy and infamous calumnies of fools.

I shall instantly let the worthy lady who contrived this somewhat original device,understand fully my opinion upon the matter.Good morning;'and with these words he left me again in doubt,and involved in all horrors of the most agonising suspense.

I had reason to think that Lord Glenfallen wreaked his vengeance upon the author of the strange story which I had heard,with a violence which was not satisfied with mere words,for old Martha,with whom I was a great favourite,while attending me in my room,told me that she feared her master had ill-used the poor blind Dutch woman,for that she had heard her scream as if the very life were leaving her,but added a request that I should not speak of what she had told me to any one,particularly to the master.

'How do you know that she is a Dutch woman?'inquired I,anxious to learn anything whatever that might throw a light upon the history of this person,who seemed to have resolved to mix herself up in my fortunes.

'Why,my lady,'answered Martha,'the master often calls her the Dutch hag,and other names you would not like to hear,and I am sure she is neither English nor Irish;for,whenever they talk together,they speak some queer foreign lingo,and fast enough,I'll be bound.But I ought not to talk about her at all;it might be as much as my place is worth to mention her--only you saw her first yourself,so there can be no great harm in speaking of her now.'

'How long has this lady been here?' continued I.

'She came early on the morning after your ladyship's arrival,'answered she;'but do not ask me any more,for the master would think nothing of turning me out of doors for daring to speak of her at all,much less to you,my lady.'

I did not like to press the poor woman further,for her reluctance to speak on this topic was evident and strong.

You will readily believe that upon the very slight grounds which my information afforded,contradicted as it was by the solemn oath of my husband,and derived from what was,at best,a very questionable source,I could not take any very decisive measure whatever;and as to the menace of the strange woman who had thus unaccountably twice intruded herself into my chamber,although,at the moment,it occasioned me some uneasiness,it was not,even in my eyes,sufficiently formidable to induce my departure from Cahergillagh.

A few nights after the scene which I have just mentioned,Lord Glenfallen having,as usual,early retired to his study,I was left alone in the parlour to amuse myself as best I might.

It was not strange that my thoughts should often recur to the agitating scenes in which I had recently taken a part.

The subject of my reflections,the solitude,the silence,and the lateness of the hour,as also the depression of spirits to which Ihad of late been a constant prey,tended to produce that nervous excitement which places us wholly at the mercy of the imagination.

In order to calm my spirits I was endeavouring to direct my thoughts into some more pleasing channel,when I heard,or thought I heard,uttered,within a few yards of me,in an odd,half-sneering tone,the words,'There is blood upon your ladyship's throat.'

So vivid was the impression that I started to my feet,and involuntarily placed my hand upon my neck.

I looked around the room for the speaker,but in vain.

I went then to the room-door,which I opened,and peered into the passage,nearly faint with horror lest some leering,shapeless thing should greet me upon the threshold.

Andrew Lang