By the Waters of Paradise
F. Marion Crawford
I remember my childhood very distinctly. I do not think that the fact
argues a good memory, for I have never been clever at learning words by
heart, in prose or rhyme; so that I believe my remembrance of events
depends much more upon the events themselves than upon my possessing any
special facility for recalling them. Perhaps I am too imaginative, and
the earliest impressions I received were of a kind to stimulate the
imagination abnormally. A long series of little misfortunes, so
connected with each other as to suggest a sort of weird fatality, so
worked upon my melancholy temperament when I was a boy that, before I
was of age, I sincerely believed myself to be under a curse, and not
only myself, but my whole family and every individual who bore my name.
I was born in the old place where my father, and his father, and all his
predecessors had been born, beyond the memory of man. It is a very old
house, and the greater part of it was originally a castle, strongly
fortified, and surrounded by a deep moat supplied with abundant water
from the hills by a hidden aqueduct. Many of the fortifications have
been destroyed, and the moat has been filled up. The water from the
aqueduct supplies great fountains, and runs down into huge oblong basins
in the terraced gardens, one below the other, each surrounded by a broad
pavement of marble between the water and the flower-beds. The waste
surplus finally escapes through an artificial grotto, some thirty yards
long, into a stream, flowing down through the park to the meadows
beyond, and thence to the distant river. The buildings were extended a
little and greatly altered more than two hundred years ago, in the time
of Charles II., but since then little has been done to improve them,
though they have been kept in fairly good repair, according to our
In the gardens there are terraces and huge hedges of box and evergreen,
some of which used to be clipped into shapes of animals, in the Italian
style. I can remember when I was a lad how I used to try to make out
what the trees were cut to represent, and how I used to appeal for
explanations to Judith, my Welsh nurse. She dealt in a strange
mythology of her own, and peopled the gardens with griffins, dragons,
good genii and bad, and filled my mind with them at the same time. My
nursery window afforded a view of the great fountains at the head of the
upper basin, and on moonlight nights the Welshwoman would hold me up to
the glass and bid me look at the mist and spray rising into mysterious
shapes, moving mystically in the white light like living things.
"It's the Woman of the Water," she used to say; and sometimes she would
threaten that if I did not go to sleep the Woman of the Water would
steal up to the high window and carry me away in her wet arms.
The place was gloomy. The broad basins of water and the tall evergreen
hedges gave it a funereal look, and the damp-stained marble causeways by
the pools might have been made of tombstones. The gray and
weather-beaten walls and towers without, the dark and massively
furnished rooms within, the deep, mysterious recesses and the heavy
curtains, all affected my spirits. I was silent and sad from my
childhood. There was a great clock tower above, from which the hours
rang dismally during the day, and tolled like a knell in the dead of
night. There was no light nor life in the house, for my mother was a
helpless invalid, and my father had grown melancholy in his long task of
caring for her. He was a thin, dark man, with sad eyes; kind, I think,
but silent and unhappy. Next to my mother, I believe he loved me better
than anything on earth, for he took immense pains and trouble in
teaching me, and what he taught me I have never forgotten. Perhaps it
was his only amusement, and that may be the reason why I had no nursery
governess or teacher of any kind while he lived.
I used to be taken to see my mother every day, and sometimes twice a
day, for an hour at a time. Then I sat upon a little stool near her
feet, and she would ask me what I had been doing, and what I wanted to
do. I dare say she saw already the seeds of a profound melancholy in my
nature, for she looked at me always with a sad smile, and kissed me with
a sigh when I was taken away.
One night, when I was just six years old, I lay awake in the nursery.
The door was not quite shut, and the Welsh nurse was sitting sewing in
the next room. Suddenly I heard her groan, and say in a strange voice,
"One--two--one--two!" I was frightened, and I jumped up and ran to the
door, barefooted as I was.
"What is it, Judith?" I cried, clinging to her skirts. I can remember
the look in her strange dark eyes as she answered:
"One--two leaden coffins, fallen from the ceiling!" she crooned, working
herself in her chair. "One--two--a light coffin and a heavy coffin,
falling to the floor!"
Then she seemed to notice me, and she took me back to bed and sang me to
sleep with a queer old Welsh song.
I do not know how it was, but the impression got hold of me that she had
meant that my father and mother were going to die very soon. They died
in the very room where she had been sitting that night. It was a great
room, my day nursery, full of sun when there was any; and when the days
were dark it was the most cheerful place in the house. My mother grew
rapidly worse, and I was transferred to another part of the building to
make place for her. They thought my nursery was gayer for her, I
suppose; but she could not live. She was beautiful when she was dead,
and I cried bitterly.
The light one, the light one--the heavy one to come," crooned the
Welshwoman. And she was right. My father took the room after my mother
was gone, and day by day he grew thinner and paler and sadder.
"The heavy one, the heavy one--all of lead," moaned my nurse, one night
in December, standing still, just as she was going to take away the
light after putting me to bed. Then she took me up again and wrapped me
in a little gown, and led me away to my father's room. She knocked, but
no one answered. She opened the door, and we found him in his easy
chair before the fire, very white, quite dead.
So I was alone with the Welshwoman till strange people came, and
relations whom I had never seen; and then I heard them saying that I
must be taken away to some more cheerful place. They were kind people,
and I will not believe that they were kind only because I was to be very
rich when I grew to be a man. The world never seemed to be a very bad
place to me, nor all the people to be miserable sinners, even when I was
most melancholy. I do not remember that anyone ever did me any great
injustice, nor that I was ever oppressed or ill treated in any way, even
by the boys at school. I was sad, I suppose, because my childhood was
so gloomy, and, later, because I was unlucky in everything I undertook,
till I finally believed I was pursued by fate, and I used to dream that
the old Welsh nurse and the Woman of the Water between them had vowed to
pursue me to my end. But my natural disposition should have been
cheerful, as I have often thought.
Among the lads of my age I was never last, or even among the last, in
anything; but I was never first. If I trained for a race, I was sure to
sprain my ankle on the day when I was to run. If I pulled an oar with
others, my oar was sure to break. If I competed for a prize, some
unforeseen accident prevented my winning it at the last moment. Nothing
to which I put my hand succeeded, and I got the reputation of being
unlucky, until my companions felt it was always safe to bet against me,
no matter what the appearances might be. I became discouraged and
listless in everything. I gave up the idea of competing for any
distinction at the University, comforting myself with the thought that I
could not fail in the examination for the ordinary degree. The day
before the examination began I fell ill; and when at last I recovered,
after a narrow escape from death, I turned my back upon Oxford, and went
down alone to visit the old place where I had been born, feeble in
health and profoundly disgusted and discouraged. I was twenty-one years
of age, master of myself and of my fortune; but so deeply had the long
chain of small unlucky circumstances affected me that I thought
seriously of shutting myself up from the world to live the life of a
hermit and to die as soon as possible. Death seemed the only cheerful
possibility in my existence, and my thoughts soon dwelt upon it
I had never shown any wish to return to my own home since I had been
taken away as a little boy, and no one had ever pressed me to do so.
The place had been kept in order after a fashion, and did not seem to
have suffered during the fifteen years or more of my absence. Nothing
earthly could affect those old gray walls that had fought the elements
for so many centuries. The garden was more wild than I remembered it;
the marble causeways about the pools looked more yellow and damp than of
old, and the whole place at first looked smaller. It was not until I
had wandered about the house and grounds for many hours that I realized
the huge size of the home where I was to live in solitude. Then I began
to delight in it, and my resolution to live alone grew stronger.
The people had turned out to welcome me, of course, and I tried to
recognize the changed faces of the old gardener and the old housekeeper,
and to call them by name. My old nurse I knew at once. She had grown
very gray since she heard the coffins fall in the nursery fifteen years
before, but her strange eyes were the same, and the look in them woke
all my old memories. She went over the house with me.
"And how is the Woman of the Water?" I asked, trying to laugh a little.
"Does she still play in the moonlight?"
"She is hungry," answered the Welshwoman, in a low voice.
"Hungry? Then we will feed her." I laughed. But old Judith turned
very pale, and looked at me strangely.
"Feed her? Aye--you will feed her well," she muttered, glancing behind
her at the ancient housekeeper, who tottered after us with feeble steps
through the halls and passages.
I did not think much of her words. She had always talked oddly, as
Welshwomen will, and though I was very melancholy I am sure I was not
superstitious, and I was certainly not timid. Only, as in a far-off
dream, I seemed to see her standing with the light in her hand and
muttering, "The heavy one--all of lead," and then leading a little boy
through the long corridors to see his father lying dead in a great easy
chair before a smoldering fire. So we went over the house, and I chose
the rooms where I would live; and the servants I had brought with me
ordered and arranged everything, and I had no more trouble. I did not
care what they did provided I was left in peace and was not expected to
give directions; for I was more listless than ever, owing to the effects
of my illness at college.
I dined in solitary state, and the melancholy grandeur of the vast old
dining-room pleased me. Then I went to the room I had selected for my
study, and sat down in a deep chair, under a bright light, to think, or
to let my thoughts meander through labyrinths of their own choosing,
utterly indifferent to the course they might take.
The tall windows of the room opened to the level of the ground upon the
terrace at the head of the garden. It was in the end of July, and
everything was open, for the weather was warm. As I sat alone I heard
the unceasing splash of the great fountains, and I fell to thinking of
the Woman of the Water. I rose and went out into the still night, and
sat down upon a seat on the terrace, between two gigantic Italian flower
pots. The air was deliciously soft and sweet with the smell of the
flowers, and the garden was more congenial to me than the house. Sad
people always like running water and the sound of it at night, though I
cannot tell why. I sat and listened in the gloom, for it was dark
below, and the pale moon had not yet climbed over the hills in front of
me, though all the air above was light with her rising beams. Slowly
the white halo in the eastern sky ascended in an arch above the wooded
crests, making the outlines of the mountains more intensely black by
contrast, as though the head of some great white saint were rising from
behind a screen in a vast cathedral, throwing misty glories from below.
I longed to see the moon herself, and I tried to reckon the seconds
before she must appear. Then she sprang up quickly, and in a moment
more hung round and perfect in the sky. I gazed at her, and then at the
floating spray of the tall fountains, and down at the pools, where the
water lilies were rocking softly in their sleep on the velvet surface of
the moonlit water. Just then a great swan floated out silently into the
midst of the basin, and wreathed his long neck, catching the water in
his broad bill, and scattering showers of diamonds around him.
Suddenly, as I gazed, something came between me and the light. I looked
up instantly. Between me and the round disk of the moon rose a luminous
face of a woman, with great strange eyes, and a woman's mouth, full and
soft, but not smiling, hooded in black, staring at me as I sat still
upon my bench. She was close to me-- so close that I could have touched
her with my hand. But I was transfixed and helpless. She stood still
for a moment, but her expression did not change. Then she passed
swiftly away, and my hair stood up on my head, while the cold breeze
from her white dress was wafted to my temples as she moved. The
moonlight, shining through the tossing spray of the fountain, made
traceries of shadow on the gleaming folds of her garments. In an
instant she was gone and I was alone.
I was strangely shaken by the vision, and some time passed before I
could rise to my feet, for I was still weak from my illness, and the
sight I had seen would have startled anyone. I did not reason with
myself, for I was certain that I had looked on the unearthly, and no
argument could have destroyed that belief. At last I got up and stood
unsteadily, gazing in the direction in which I thought the face had
gone; but there was nothing to be seen--nothing but the broad paths, the
tall, dark evergreen hedges, the tossing water of the fountains and the
smooth pool below. I fell back upon the seat and recalled the face I
had seen. Strange to say, now that the first impression had passed,
there was nothing startling in the recollection; on the contrary, I felt
that I was fascinated by the face, and would give anything to see it
again. I could retrace the beautiful straight features, the long dark
eyes, and the wonderful mouth most exactly in my mind, and when I had
reconstructed every detail from memory I knew that the whole was
beautiful, and that I should love a woman with such a face.
"I wonder whether she is the Woman of the Water!" I said to myself. Then
rising once more, I wandered down the garden, descending one short
flight of steps after another from terrace to terrace by the edge of the
marble basins, through the shadow and through the moonlight; and I
crossed the water by the rustic bridge above the artificial grotto, and
climbed slowly up again to the highest terrace by the other side. The
air seemed sweeter, and I was very calm, so that I think I smiled to
myself as I walked, as though a new happiness had come to me. The
woman's face seemed always before me, and the thought of it gave me an
unwonted thrill of pleasure, unlike anything I had ever felt before.
I turned as I reached the house, and looked back upon the scene. It had
certainly changed in the short hour since I had come out, and my mood
had changed with it. Just like my luck, I thought, to fall in love with
a ghost! But in old times I would have sighed, and gone to bed more sad
than ever, at such a melancholy conclusion. To-night I felt happy,
almost for the first time in my life. The gloomy old study seemed
cheerful when I went in. The old pictures on the walls smiled at me,
and I sat down in my deep chair with a new and delightful sensation that
I was not alone. The idea of having seen a ghost, and of feeling much
the better for it, was so absurd that I laughed softly, as I took up one
of the books I had brought with me and began to read.
That impression did not wear off. I slept peacefully, and in the
morning I threw open my windows to the summer air and looked down at the
garden, at the stretches of green and at the colored flower- beds, at
the circling swallows and at the bright water.
"A man might make a paradise of this place," I exclaimed. "A man and a
From that day the old Castle no longer seemed gloomy, and I think I
ceased to be sad; for some time, too, I began to take an interest in the
place, and to try and make it more alive. I avoided my old Welsh nurse,
lest she should damp my humor with some dismal prophecy, and recall my
old self by bringing back memories of my dismal childhood. But what I
thought of most was the ghostly figure I had seen in the garden that
first night after my arrival. I went out every evening and wandered
through the walks and paths; but, try as I might, I did not see my
vision again. At last, after many days, the memory grew more faint, and
my old moody nature gradually overcame the temporary sense of lightness
I had experienced. The summer turned to autumn, and I grew restless.
It began to rain. The dampness pervaded the gardens, and the outer
halls smelled musty, like tombs; the gray sky oppressed me intolerably.
I left the place as it was and went abroad, determined to try anything
which might possibly make a second break in the monotonous melancholy
from which I suffered.
Most people would be struck by the utter insignificance of the small
events which, after the death of my parents, influenced my life and made
me unhappy. The grewsome forebodings of a Welsh nurse, which chanced to
be realized by an odd coincidence of events, should not seem enough to
change the nature of a child and to direct the bent of his character in
after years. The little disappointments of schoolboy life, and the
somewhat less childish ones of an uneventful and undistinguished
academic career, should not have sufficed to turn me out at
one-and-twenty years of age a melancholic, listless idler. Some
weakness of my own character may have contributed to the result, but in
a greater degree it was due to my having a reputation for bad luck.
However, I will not try to analyze the causes of my state, for I should
satisfy nobody, least of all myself. Still less will I attempt to
explain why I felt a temporary revival of my spirits after my adventure
in the garden. It is certain that I was in love with the face I had
seen, and that I longed to see it again; that I gave up all hope of a
second visitation, grew more sad than ever, packed up my traps, and
finally went abroad. But in my dreams I went back to my home, and it
always appeared to me sunny and bright, as it had looked on that
summer's morning after I had seen the woman by the fountain.
I went to Paris. I went farther, and wandered about Germany. I tried
to amuse myself, and I failed miserably. With the aimless whims of an
idle and useless man come all sorts of suggestions for good resolutions.
One day I made up my mind that I would go and bury myself in a German
university for a time, and live simply like a poor student. I started
with the intention of going to Leipzig, determined to stay there until
some event should direct my life or change my humor, or make an end of
me altogether. The express train stopped at some station of which I did
not know the name. It was dusk on a winter's afternoon, and I peered
through the thick glass from my seat. Suddenly another train came
gliding in from the opposite direction, and stopped alongside of ours.
I looked at the carriage which chanced to be abreast of mine, and idly
read the black letters painted on a white board swinging from the brass
handrail: BERLIN--COLOGNE--PARIS. Then I looked up at the window above.
I started violently, and the cold perspiration broke out upon my
forehead. In the dim light, not six feet from where I sat, I saw the
face of a woman, the face I loved, the straight, fine features, the
strange eyes, the wonderful mouth, the pale skin. Her head-dress was a
dark veil which seemed to be tied about her head and passed over the
shoulders under her chin. As I threw down the window and knelt on the
cushioned seat, leaning far out to get a better view, a long whistle
screamed through the station, followed by a quick series of dull,
clanking sounds; then there was a slight jerk, and my train moved on.
Luckily the window was narrow, being the one over the seat, beside the
door, or I believe I would have jumped out of it then and there. In an
instant the speed increased, and I was being carried swiftly away in the
opposite direction from the thing I loved.
For a quarter of an hour I lay back in my place, stunned by the
suddenness of the apparition. At last one of the two other passengers,
a large and gorgeous captain of the White Konigsberg Cuirassiers,
civilly but firmly suggested that I might shut my window, as the evening
was cold. I did so, with an apology, and relapsed into silence. The
train ran swiftly on for a long time, and it was already beginning to
slacken speed before entering another station, when I roused myself and
made a sudden resolution. As the carriage stopped before the brilliantly
lighted platform, I seized my belongings, saluted my fellow-passengers,
and got out, determined to take the first express back to Paris.
This time the circumstances of the vision had been so natural that it
did not strike me that there was anything unreal about the face, or
about the woman to whom it belonged. I did not try to explain to myself
how the face, and the woman, could be traveling by a fast train from
Berlin to Paris on a winter's afternoon, when both were in my mind
indelibly associated with the moonlight and the fountains in my own
English home. I certainly would not have admitted that I had been
mistaken in the dusk, attributing to what I had seen a resemblance to my
former vision which did not really exist. There was not the slightest
doubt in my mind, and I was positively sure that I had again seen the
face I loved. I did not hesitate, and in a few hours I was on my way
back to Paris. I could not help reflecting on my ill luck. Wandering
as I had been for many months, it might as easily have chanced that I
should be traveling in the same train with that woman, instead of going
the other way. But my luck was destined to turn for a time.
I searched Paris for several days. I dined at the principal hotels; I
went to the theaters; I rode in the Bois de Boulogne in the morning, and
picked up an acquaintance, whom I forced to drive with me in the
afternoon. I went to mass at the Madeleine, and I attended the services
at the English Church. I hung about the Louvre and Notre Dame. I went
to Versailles. I spent hours in parading the Rue de Rivoli, in the
neighborhood of Meurice's corner, where foreigners pass and repass from
morning till night. At last I received an invitation to a reception at
the English Embassy. I went, and I found what I had sought so long.
There she was, sitting by an old lady in gray satin and diamonds, who
had a wrinkled but kindly face and keen gray eyes that seemed to take in
everything they saw, with very little inclination to give much in
return. But I did not notice the chaperon. I saw only the face that
had haunted me for months, and in the excitement of the moment I walked
quickly toward the pair, forgetting such a trifle as the necessity for
She was far more beautiful than I had thought, but I never doubted that
it was she herself and no other. Vision or no vision before, this was
the reality, and I knew it. Twice her hair had been covered, now at
last I saw it, and the added beauty of its magnificence glorified the
whole woman. It was rich hair, fine and abundant, golden, with deep
ruddy tints in it like red bronze spun fine. There was no ornament in
it, not a rose, not a thread of gold, and I felt that it needed nothing
to enhance its splendor; nothing but her pale face, her dark strange
eyes, and her heavy eyebrows. I could see that she was slender too, but
strong withal, as she sat there quietly gazing at the moving scene in
the midst of the brilliant lights and the hum of perpetual conversation.
I recollected the detail of introduction in time, and turned aside to
look for my host. I found him at last. I begged him to present me to
the two ladies, pointing them out to him at the same time.
"Yes--uh--by all means--uh," replied his Excellency with a pleasant
smile. He evidently had no idea of my name, which was not to be
"I am Lord Cairngorm," I observed.
"Oh--by all means," answered the Ambassador with the same hospitable
smile. "Yes--uh--the fact is, I must try and find out who they are;
such lots of people, you know."
"Oh, if you will present me, I will try and find out for you," said I,
"Ah, yes--so kind of you--come along," said my host. We threaded the
crowd, and in a few minutes we stood before the two ladies.
"'Lowmintrduce L'd Cairngorm," he said; then, adding quickly to me,
"Come and dine to-morrow, won't you?" he glided away with his pleasant
smile and disappeared in the crowd.
I sat down beside the beautiful girl, conscious that the eyes of the
duenna were upon me.
"I think we have been very near meeting before," I remarked, by way of
opening the conversation.
My companion turned her eyes full upon me with an air of inquiry. She
evidently did not recall my face, if she had ever seen me.
"Really--I cannot remember," she observed, in a low and musical voice.
"In the first place, you came down from Berlin by the express ten days
ago. I was going the other way, and our carriages stopped opposite each
other. I saw you at the window."
"Yes--we came that way, but I do not remember--" She hesitated.
"Secondly," I continued, "I was sitting alone in my garden last
summer--near the end of July--do you remember? You must have wandered
in there through the park; you came up to the house and looked at me--"
"Was that you?" she asked, in evident surprise. Then she broke into a
laugh. "I told everybody I had seen a ghost; there had never been any
Cairngorms in the place since the memory of man. We left the next day,
and never heard that you had come there; indeed, I did not know the
castle belonged to you."
"Where were you staying?" I asked.
"Where? Why, with my aunt, where I always stay. She is your neighbor,
since it IS you."
"I--beg your pardon--but then--is your aunt Lady Bluebell? I did not
"Don't be afraid. She is amazingly deaf. Yes. She is the relict of my
beloved uncle, the sixteenth or seventeenth Baron Bluebell--I forget
exactly how many of them there have been. And I--do you know who I am?"
She laughed, well knowing that I did not.
"No," I answered frankly. "I have not the least idea. I asked to be
introduced because I recognized you. Perhaps--perhaps you are a Miss
"Considering that you are a neighbor, I will tell you who I am," she
answered. "No; I am of the tribe of Bluebells, but my name is Lammas,
and I have been given to understand that I was christened Margaret.
Being a floral family, they call me Daisy. A dreadful American man once
told me that my aunt was a Bluebell and that I was a Harebell--with two
l's and an e--because my hair is so thick. I warn you, so that you may
avoid making such a bad pun."
"Do I look like a man who makes puns?" I asked, being very conscious of
my melancholy face and sad looks.
Miss Lammas eyed me critically.
"No; you have a mournful temperament. I think I can trust you," she
answered. "Do you think you could communicate to my aunt the fact that
you are a Cairngorm and a neighbor? I am sure she would like to know."
I leaned toward the old lady, inflating my lungs for a yell. But Miss
Lammas stopped me.
"That is not of the slightest use," she remarked. "You can write it on
a bit of paper. She is utterly deaf."
"I have a pencil," I answered; "but I have no paper. Would my cuff do,
do you think?"
"Oh, yes!" replied Miss Lammas, with alacrity; "men often do that."
I wrote on my cuff: "Miss Lammas wishes me to explain that I am your
neighbor, Cairngorm." Then I held out my arm before the old lady's
nose. She seemed perfectly accustomed to the proceeding, put up her
glasses, read the words, smiled, nodded, and addressed me in the
unearthly voice peculiar to people who hear nothing.
"I knew your grandfather very well," she said. Then she smiled and
nodded to me again, and to her niece, and relapsed into silence.
"It is all right," remarked Miss Lammas. "Aunt Bluebell knows she is
deaf, and does not say much, like the parrot. You see, she knew your
grandfather. How odd that we should be neighbors! Why have we never
"If you had told me you knew my grandfather when you appeared in the
garden, I should not have been in the least surprised," I answered
rather irrelevantly. "I really thought you were the ghost of the old
fountain. How in the world did you come there at that hour?"
"We were a large party and we went out for a walk. Then we thought we
should like to see what your park was like in the moonlight, and so we
trespassed. I got separated from the rest, and came upon you by
accident, just as I was admiring the extremely ghostly look of your
house, and wondering whether anybody would ever come and live there
again. It looks like the castle of Macbeth, or a scene from the opera.
Do you know anybody here?"
"Hardly a soul! Do you?"
"No. Aunt Bluebell said it was our duty to come. It is easy for her to
go out; she does not bear the burden of the conversation."
"I am sorry you find it a burden," said I. "Shall I go away?"
Miss Lammas looked at me with a sudden gravity in her beautiful eyes,
and there was a sort of hesitation about the lines of her full, soft
"No," she said at last, quite simply, "don't go away. We may like each
other, if you stay a little longer--and we ought to, because we are
neighbors in the country."
I suppose I ought to have thought Miss Lammas a very odd girl. There is,
indeed, a sort of freemasonry between people who discover that they live
near each other and that they ought to have known each other before.
But there was a sort of unexpected frankness and simplicity in the
girl's amusing manner which would have struck anyone else as being
singular, to say the least of it. To me, however, it all seemed natural
enough. I had dreamed of her face too long not to be utterly happy when
I met her at last and could talk to her as much as I pleased. To me,
the man of ill luck in everything, the whole meeting seemed too good to
be true. I felt again that strange sensation of lightness which I had
experienced after I had seen her face in the garden. The great rooms
seemed brighter, life seemed worth living; my sluggish, melancholy blood
ran faster, and filled me with a new sense of strength. I said to
myself that without this woman I was but an imperfect being, but that
with her I could accomplish everything to which I should set my hand.
Like the great Doctor, when he thought he had cheated Mephistopheles at
last, I could have cried aloud to the fleeting moment, Verweile doch, du
bist so schon!
"Are you always gay?" I asked, suddenly. "How happy you must be!"
"The days would sometimes seem very long if I were gloomy," she
answered, thoughtfully. "Yes, I think I find life very pleasant, and I
tell it so."
"How can you 'tell life' anything?" I inquired. "If I could catch my
life and talk to it, I would abuse it prodigiously, I assure you."
"I dare say. You have a melancholy temper. You ought to live out-
of-doors, dig potatoes, make hay, shoot, hunt, tumble into ditches, and
come home muddy and hungry for dinner. It would be much better for you
than moping in your rook tower and hating everything."
"It is rather lonely down there," I murmured, apologetically, feeling
that Miss Lammas was quite right.
"Then marry, and quarrel with your wife," she laughed. "Anything is
better than being alone."
"I am a very peaceable person. I never quarrel with anybody. You can
try it. You will find it quite impossible."
"Will you let me try?" she asked, still smiling.
"By all means--especially if it is to be only a preliminary canter," I
"What do you mean?" she inquired, turning quickly upon me.
"Oh--nothing. You might try my paces with a view to quarreling in the
future. I cannot imagine how you are going to do it. You will have to
resort to immediate and direct abuse."
"No. I will only say that if you do not like your life, it is your own
fault. How can a man of your age talk of being melancholy, or of the
hollowness of existence? Are you consumptive? Are you subject to
hereditary insanity? Are you deaf, like Aunt Bluebell? Are you poor,
like--lots of people? Have you been crossed in love? Have you lost the
world for a woman, or any particular woman for the sake of the world?
Are you feeble-minded, a cripple, an outcast? Are you--repulsively
ugly?" She laughed again. "Is there any reason in the world why you
should not enjoy all you have got in life?"
"No. There is no reason whatever, except that I am dreadfully unlucky,
especially in small things."
"Then try big things, just for a change," suggested Miss Lammas. "Try
and get married, for instance, and see how it turns out."
"If it turned out badly it would be rather serious."
"Not half so serious as it is to abuse everything unreasonably. If
abuse is your particular talent, abuse something that ought to be
abused. Abuse the Conservatives--or the Liberals--it does not matter
which, since they are always abusing each other. Make yourself felt by
other people. You will like it, if they don't. It will make a man of
you. Fill your mouth with pebbles, and howl at the sea, if you cannot
do anything else. It did Demosthenes no end of good, you know. You
will have the satisfaction of imitating a great man."
"Really, Miss Lammas, I think the list of innocent exercises you
"Very well--if you don't care for that sort of thing, care for some
other sort of thing. Care for something, or hate something. Don't be
idle. Life is short, and though art may be long, plenty of noise
answers nearly as well."
"I do care for something--I mean, somebody," I said.
"A woman? Then marry her. Don't hesitate."
"I do not know whether she would marry me," I replied. "I have never
"Then ask her at once," answered Miss Lammas. "I shall die happy if I
feel I have persuaded a melancholy fellow creature to rouse himself to
action. Ask her, by all means, and see what she says. If she does not
accept you at once, she may take you the next time. Meanwhile, you will
have entered for the race. If you lose, there are the 'All-aged Trial
Stakes,' and the 'Consolation Race.'"
"And plenty of selling races into the bargain. Shall I take you at your
word, Miss Lammas?"
"I hope you will," she answered.
"Since you yourself advise me, I will. Miss Lammas, will you do me the
honor to marry me?"
For the first time in my life the blood rushed to my head and my sight
swam. I cannot tell why I said it. It would be useless to try to
explain the extraordinary fascination the girl exercised over me, or the
still more extraordinary feeling of intimacy with her which had grown in
me during that half hour. Lonely, sad, unlucky as I had been all my
life, I was certainly not timid, nor even shy. But to propose to marry
a woman after half an hour's acquaintance was a piece of madness of
which I never believed myself capable, and of which I should never be
capable again, could I be placed in the same situation. It was as
though my whole being had been changed in a moment by magic--by the
white magic of her nature brought into contact with mine. The blood
sank back to my heart, and a moment later I found myself staring at her
with anxious eyes. To my amazement she was as calm as ever, but her
beautiful mouth smiled, and there was a mischievous light in her
"Fairly caught," she answered. "For an individual who pretends to be
listless and sad you are not lacking in humor. I had really not the
least idea what you were going to say. Wouldn't it be singularly
awkward for you if I had said 'Yes'? I never saw anybody begin to
practice so sharply what was preached to him--with so very little loss
"You probably never met a man who had dreamed of you for seven months
before being introduced."
"No, I never did," she answered gayly. "It smacks of the romantic.
Perhaps you are a romantic character, after all. I should think you
were if I believed you. Very well; you have taken my advice, entered
for a Stranger's Race and lost it. Try the All-aged Trial Stakes. You
have another cuff, and a pencil. Propose to Aunt Bluebell; she would
dance with astonishment, and she might recover her hearing."
That was how I first asked Margaret Lammas to be my wife, and I will
agree with anyone who says I behaved very foolishly. But I have not
repented of it, and I never shall. I have long ago understood that I
was out of my mind that evening, but I think my temporary insanity on
that occasion has had the effect of making me a saner man ever since.
Her manner turned my head, for it was so different from what I had
expected. To hear this lovely creature, who, in my imagination, was a
heroine of romance, if not of tragedy, talking familiarly and laughing
readily was more than my equanimity could bear, and I lost my head as
well as my heart. But when I went back to England in the spring, I went
to make certain arrangements at the Castle--certain changes and
improvements which would be absolutely necessary. I had won the race
for which I had entered myself so rashly, and we were to be married in
Whether the change was due to the orders I had left with the gardener
and the rest of the servants, or to my own state of mind, I cannot tell.
At all events, the old place did not look the same to me when I opened
my window on the morning after my arrival. There were the gray walls
below me and the gray turrets flanking the huge building; there were the
fountains, the marble causeways, the smooth basins, the tall box hedges,
the water lilies and the swans, just as of old. But there was something
else there, too-- something in the air, in the water, and in the
greenness that I did not recognize--a light over everything by which
everything was transfigured. The clock in the tower struck seven, and
the strokes of the ancient bell sounded like a wedding chime. The air
sang with the thrilling treble of the song-birds, with the silvery music
of the plashing water and the softer harmony of the leaves stirred by
the fresh morning wind. There was a smell of new-mown hay from the
distant meadows, and of blooming roses from the beds below, wafted up
together to my window. I stood in the pure sunshine and drank the air
and all the sounds and the odors that were in it; and I looked down at
my garden and said: "It is Paradise, after all." I think the men of old
were right when they called heaven a garden, and Eden a garden inhabited
by one man and one woman, the Earthly Paradise.
I turned away, wondering what had become of the gloomy memories I had
always associated with my home. I tried to recall the impression of my
nurse's horrible prophecy before the death of my parents--an impression
which hitherto had been vivid enough. I tried to remember my old self,
my dejection, my listlessness, my bad luck, my petty disappointments. I
endeavored to force myself to think as I used to think, if only to
satisfy myself that I had not lost my individuality. But I succeeded in
none of these efforts. I was a different man, a changed being,
incapable of sorrow, of ill luck, or of sadness. My life had been a
dream, not evil, but infinitely gloomy and hopeless. It was now a
reality, full of hope, gladness, and all manner of good. My home had
been like a tomb; to-day it was Paradise. My heart had been as though
it had not existed; to-day it beat with strength and youth and the
certainty of realized happiness. I reveled in the beauty of the world,
and called loveliness out of the future to enjoy it before time should
bring it to me, as a traveler in the plains looks up to the mountains,
and already tastes the cool air through the dust of the road.
Here, I thought, we will live and live for years. There we will sit by
the fountain toward evening and in the deep moonlight. Down those paths
we will wander together. On those benches we will rest and talk. Among
those eastern hills we will ride through the soft twilight, and in the
old house we will tell tales on winter nights, when the logs burn high,
and the holly berries are red, and the old clock tolls out the dying
year. On these old steps, in these dark passages and stately rooms,
there will one day be the sound of little pattering feet, and laughing
child voices will ring up to the vaults of the ancient hall. Those tiny
footsteps shall not be slow and sad as mine were, nor shall the childish
words be spoken in an awed whisper. No gloomy Welshwoman shall people
the dusky corners with weird horrors, nor utter horrid prophecies of
death and ghastly things. All shall be young, and fresh, and joyful,
and happy, and we will turn the old luck again, and forget that there
was ever any sadness.
So I thought, as I looked out of my window that morning and for many
mornings after that, and every day it all seemed more real than ever
before, and much nearer. But the old nurse looked at me askance, and
muttered odd sayings about the Woman of the Water. I cared little what
she said, for I was far too happy.
At last the time came near for the wedding. Lady Bluebell and all the
tribe of Bluebells, as Margaret called them, were at Bluebell Grange,
for we had determined to be married in the country, and to come straight
to the Castle afterwards. We cared little for traveling, and not at all
for a crowded ceremony at St. George's in Hanover Square, with all the
tiresome formalities afterwards. I used to ride over to the Grange
every day, and very often Margaret would come with her aunt and some of
her cousins to the Castle. I was suspicious of my own taste, and was
only too glad to let her have her way about the alterations and
improvements in our home.
We were to be married on the thirtieth of July, and on the evening of
the twenty-eighth Margaret drove over with some of the Bluebell party.
In the long summer twilight we all went out into the garden. Naturally
enough, Margaret and I were left to ourselves, and we wandered down by
the marble basins.
"It is an odd coincidence," I said; "it was on this very night last year
that I first saw you."
"Considering that it is the month of July," answered Margaret with a
laugh, "and that we have been here almost every day, I don't think the
coincidence is so extraordinary, after all."
"No, dear," said I, "I suppose not. I don't know why it struck me. We
shall very likely be here a year from today, and a year from that. The
odd thing, when I think of it, is that you should be here at all. But
my luck has turned. I ought not to think anything odd that happens now
that I have you. It is all sure to be good."
"A slight change in your ideas since that remarkable performance of
yours in Paris," said Margaret. "Do you know, I thought you were the
most extraordinary man I had ever met."
"I thought you were the most charming woman I had ever seen. I
naturally did not want to lose any time in frivolities. I took you at
your word, I followed your advice, I asked you to marry me, and this is
the delightful result--what's the matter?"
Margaret had started suddenly, and her hand tightened on my arm. An old
woman was coming up the path, and was close to us before we saw her, for
the moon had risen, and was shining full in our faces. The woman turned
out to be my old nurse.
"It's only Judith, dear--don't be frightened," I said. Then I spoke to
the Welshwoman: "What are you about, Judith? Have you been feeding the
Woman of the Water?"
"Aye--when the clock strikes, Willie--my Lord, I mean," muttered the old
creature, drawing aside to let us pass, and fixing her strange eyes on
"What does she mean?" asked Margaret, when we had gone by.
"Nothing, darling. The old thing is mildly crazy, but she is a good
We went on in silence for a few moments, and came to the rustic bridge
just above the artificial grotto through which the water ran out into
the park, dark and swift in its narrow channel. We stopped, and leaned
on the wooden rail. The moon was now behind us, and shone full upon the
long vista of basins and on the huge walls and towers of the Castle
"How proud you ought to be of such a grand old place!" said Margaret,
"It is yours now, darling," I answered. "You have as good a right to
love it as I--but I only love it because you are to live in it, dear."
Her hand stole out and lay on mine, and we were both silent. Just then
the clock began to strike far off in the tower. I counted--
eight--nine--ten--eleven--I looked at my watch--twelve--thirteen--I
laughed. The bell went on striking.
"The old clock has gone crazy, like Judith," I exclaimed. Still it went
on, note after note ringing out monotonously through the still air. We
leaned over the rail, instinctively looking in the direction whence the
sound came. On and on it went. I counted nearly a hundred, out of
sheer curiosity, for I understood that something had broken and that the
thing was running itself down.
Suddenly there was a crack as of breaking wood, a cry and a heavy
splash, and I was alone, clinging to the broken end of the rail of the
I do not think I hesitated while my pulse beat twice. I sprang clear of
the bridge into the black rushing water, dived to the bottom, came up
again with empty hands, turned and swam downward through the grotto in
the thick darkness, plunging and diving at every stroke, striking my
head and hands against jagged stones and sharp corners, clutching at
last something in my fingers and dragging it up with all my might. I
spoke, I cried aloud, but there was no answer. I was alone in the
pitchy darkness with my burden, and the house was five hundred yards
away. Struggling still, I felt the ground beneath my feet, I saw a ray
of moonlight- -the grotto widened, and the deep water became a broad and
shallow brook as I stumbled over the stones and at last laid Margaret's
body on the bank in the park beyond.
"Aye, Willie, as the clock struck!" said the voice of Judith, the Welsh
nurse, as she bent down and looked at the white face. The old woman
must have turned back and followed us, seen the accident, and slipped
out by the lower gate of the garden. "Aye," she groaned, "you have fed
the Woman of the Water this night, Willie, while the clock was
I scarcely heard her as I knelt beside the lifeless body of the woman I
loved, chafing the wet white temples and gazing wildly into the
wide-staring eyes. I remember only the first returning look of
consciousness, the first heaving breath, the first movement of those
dear hands stretching out toward me.
That is not much of a story, you say. It is the story of my life. That
is all. It does not pretend to be anything else. Old Judith says my
luck turned on that summer's night when I was struggling in the water to
save all that was worth living for. A month later there was a stone
bridge above the grotto, and Margaret and I stood on it and looked up at
the moonlit Castle, as we had done once before, and as we have done many
times since. For all those things happened ten years ago last summer,
and this is the tenth Christmas Eve we have spent together by the
roaring logs in the old hall, talking of old times; and every year there
are more old times to talk of. There are curly-headed boys, too, with
red-gold hair and dark-brown eyes like their mother's, and a little
Margaret, with solemn black eyes like mine. Why could not she look like
her mother, too, as well as the rest of them?
The world is very bright at this glorious Christmas time, and perhaps
there is little use in calling up the sadness of long ago, unless it be
to make the jolly firelight seem more cheerful, the good wife's face
look gladder, and to give the children's laughter a merrier ring, by
contrast with all that is gone. Perhaps, too, some sad-faced, listless,
melancholy youth, who feels that the world is very hollow, and that life
is like a perpetual funeral service, just as I used to feel myself, may
take courage from my example, and having found the woman of his heart,
ask her to marry him after half an hour's acquaintance. But, on the
whole, I would not advise any man to marry, for the simple reason that
no man will ever find a wife like mine, and being obliged to go farther,
he will necessarily fare worse. My wife has done miracles, but I will
not assert that any other woman is able to follow her example.
Margaret always said that the old place was beautiful, and that I ought
to be proud of it. I dare say she is right. She has even more
imagination than I. But I have a good answer and a plain one, which is
this,--that all the beauty of the Castle comes from her. She has
breathed upon it all, as the children blow upon the cold glass window
panes in winter; and as their warm breath crystallizes into landscapes
from fairyland, full of exquisite shapes and traceries upon the blank
surface, so her spirit has transformed every gray stone of the old
towers, every ancient tree and hedge in the gardens, every thought in my
once melancholy self. All that was old is young, and all that was sad
is glad, and I am the gladdest of all. Whatever heaven may be, there is
no earthly paradise without woman, nor is there anywhere a place so
desolate, so dreary, so unutterably miserable that a woman cannot make
it seem heaven to the man she loves and who loves her.
I hear certain cynics laugh, and cry that all that has been said before.
Do not laugh, my good cynic. You are too small a man to laugh at such a
great thing as love. Prayers have been said before now by many, and
perhaps you say yours, too. I do not think they lose anything by being
repeated, nor you by repeating them. You say that the world is bitter,
and full of the Waters of Bitterness. Love, and so live that you may be
loved--the world will turn sweet for you, and you shall rest like me by
the Waters of Paradise.