The Woodley Lane Ghost by Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren
Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren (1825- 1889) was the daughter of the long-time congressman from Ohio, Samuel Finley Vinton. Following her mother's death she acted as hostess for her father's many social meetings. When her first husband, Daniel Goddard, died after five years of marriage and leaving her with two children, she began writing to support herself and eventually published a collection, Idealities, under her pseudonym "Corinne." At age forty, she married Admiral John Dahlgren. A well-known Washington socialite, she published such books as Etiquette of Social Life in Washington and The Social-Official Etiquette of the United States, as well as a number of novels and translations. A fiery anti-suffragist, Mrs. Dahlgren testified before Congress against a proposed sixteenth amendment designed to give voting rights to women, and debated some of the leading feminists of her day. In 1873 she founded the Washington Literary Society, many of whose meetings were held in her Washington home.
I can't testify to the virtues of her writing, as this story is the only one of her's that I have read so far. Judging from this story only, her writing is florid, purple, and maudlin, and she never met a comma she didn't like. One phrase in the following story seems to describe her style: "we grow riotous of language." Although plotting did not seem to be her forte -- and consistency and logic may well have eluded her, I found this story surprisingly interesting. It comes from her 1899 collection The Woodley Lane Ghost and Other Stories.
It was the afternoon of the longest day of the year, the 21st of June, and jogging along over the splendid sweep of Massachusetts Avenue, whose picturesque homes are grouped around the statues of historic men, past Thomas Circle, past Scott Cicle, reaching Dupont Circle, then by way of Connecticut Avenue and over the city boundary line, Dr. Rawle's buggy finally turned into that lovely stretch of circling drive, called Woodley Lane. The doctor was a young man, a newly-married man, just starting into a meagre practice, and quite disposed, while waiting for more patients, to take life as easily as very limited means would permit. His comely, girlish wife was seated at his side, an embroidered linen lap-robe deftly tucked around her. Such is the inconsequence of youth that these two were as happy, perhaps more so, than another two who wriled past them in a grand equipage. In, fact, the foolish doctor was even as content as if he were plodding plodding around town with his hired boy visiting patients and coining dollars.
"Ah, my Cynthia," said he, "what an Eden Washington would be were it not so detestably healthy. Why, my sweet moon-flower (a pet name of his, in allusion to her's of Cynthia), with more money, you, too, would bloom forth in a stylish victoria."
"Pray, dear Rufus," she laughed, cheerily, "don't wish for it, for in such case you would not be my driver."
"Wise words fallen from fragrant lips," was the approving answer. Strange how all men, lover and husband alike, are magnetized by the electric stroke of flattery!
At this moment, turning a sharp corner of the winding road, they perceived an oldish man coming toward them with slow and feeble step. Although his scanty looks were white, he gave the impression of one rather bending under the weight of a settled sadness than as if oppressed by years. Notwithstanding his stooping gait, it was evident that he was tall of stature, and his bearing was that of a man concentered upon himself, forced back into a brooding introspection by the strong pressure of a stormy past. As he tottered on, with eyes fixed upon the ground, all unobservant, a flashing wheel of glittering steel, noiseless and swift, hurtled past them. There was, as one might hold their breath, a forceful clash, a sudden outcry, a horror-stricken scream from Cynthia, and the doctor with a quick spring stood beside two fallen men. The reckless bicyclist had struck the ground with such jarring whirl as partially to stun him, but the old man who had been thus ruthlessly run over, lay limp, moaning and helpless.
"I trust that you are not much hurt, sir," said the doctor, stooping over him, as with careful precision he made an examination. "Oh, yes, here it is; a compound fracture of the hip, and, it is to be feared, internal injuries."
Meanwhile, Cynthia ran to the little brook near by, and filling her straw hat with water, poured it over the head of the youthful wheelman, who, reviving, did not pause to thank her, but, picking himself up, as best he could, remounted his wheel and was off, doubtless fearing arrest, should he remain and assist.
"An imp of Satan," groaned the wounded. "By the Highest One, the Spirit of Bad has prevailed."
The doctor looked significantly at his wife, as much as to say, ""Poor man, his mind wanders."
"Can you tell me where to take you, sir?" inquired the doctor, in a compassionate voice. "We will lift you as gently as possible into my buggy, and not leave you. Have courage."
"Courage," gasped the old man, "comes of force of will. It is a subtle essence, it penetrates and overcomes, I WILL, to endure -- I will point the way."
Cynthia helped her husband, and together they succeeded in placing the unfortunate, leaning against and supported by her, in the buggy, the doctor leading the horse very slowly. The transfer, the motion, were torture to the hurt man, whose pallid brow was bathed with great beaded drops, such was his agony.
"By Siva!" muttered he, grinding his teeth, "my cycle is closing."
Cynthia shivered, but she firmly upheld the sufferer amid all his delirious ravings. Yet, incoherent as were his utterances, he retained sufficient consciousness to point out the way exactly. By his direction they had turned off from Woodley Lane into the Tenleytown road, when he presently called out: "Turn in there," and they entered unkempt grounds through a shackly gate. With what a masteful command over himself, tortured and almost swooning as he was, had he guided their progress. The doctor, who had had a season of training in the hospital wards, understood the force of will this man had exerteted, saying, as if to himself: "Most men would lie in the stupor of a dead swoon who had borne this nervous shock and endured his awful pain. This is no common man." They were now slowly ascending a hill by a narrow, sepentine and undulating road. The season, as we have said, was leafy June, and these grounds, neglected as they were, gloried in the majestic growth of a magnificant oak forest. So entirely was the house hidden by their dark and towering branches that one came on it as a surprise, so unexpectedly, and yet it was a substantial, well-built brick house, of ample proportions. There was no attempt at architectural lines, except, perhaps, in a square tower that was projected in the center of the house, forming a hall of entrance below, and a small room, as if of observation, above. Otherwise, the structure was a plain red-brick dwelling of two spacious rooms, one on each side of a wide hall below, and on the second floor were precisely corresponding rooms, with the addition of the tower apartment. Directly in front of the building was a knoll of horseshoe shape crowned by an immense red Virginia oak. It stood a very sentinel tree, shooting a skyward shaft some seventy feet, its finely-veined oblong leaves of a vivid green, framed in and screened the house in umbrageous beauty. As they passed under its protecting boughs, the hurt man, who seemed to have grown very faint during the hard jolting of the winding ascent, instantly revived, as if through some mysterious accession of strength, and uplifting an ardent gaze of yearning tenderness, he extended wide his arms, upraising them as if to embrace the sighing leaves that bent over him. "I come, I come!" he almost shouted with a fierce eagerness; then as if his very soul had gone forth in the extreme effort, he sank back in a dead swoon of pain.
There was not a soul to greet them. No, not even yelping cur, or singing bird. This strange man, then, lived alone, yes, literally all alone. The doctor entered the unknown door, and ascending to the tower room brought forth a small mattress, upon which he laid the now insensible form. As the doctor's fair young wife zealously helped him, he said to her caressingly, "My Cynthia, how good and brave you are." The momentary glance he had given the tower room amazed him. It was evident, as he had said, that his patient was no common man. Here was the den of a natural philosopher, a chemist, an astronomer in fact, a wide student of nature.This was his laboratory, his workshop. Here, undoubtedly, he performed various experiments with scientific precision, and through his well-planted telescope that pierced a small opening adjusted to its use, the heavens were nightly read. And what, at that time, was of vital consequence, was the existence of a carefully labeled pharmacy, evidently supplementing extensive investigations in chemistry.
"It is wonderful, simply wonderful!" said the doctor. "Here are all the appliances needed for treatment. Have you rubbed Aladdin's lamp and sent a geni hither, my moon-flower?" queried he.
"'Tis the Pitris," murmured the patient. They both started. He must have heard and measured the doctor's words in his seeming syncope. Meantime Dr. Rawle made strenuous and successful efforts to revive his patient, preparatory to the more serious operation that he knew must be attempted. It was not long before the old man spoke again.
"Do not torture me," he said; "all surgery is useless. I shall soon be dissolved. My work in this transition is at an end. All that now remains is to disintegrate the earth-bound ties. Leave me -- go quickly, and bring hither one learned in law. But hearken. No jugglery, no priestcraft. Do as you are bid. Now hasten."
The doctor looked inquiringly at his wife. "Do you dare stay, Cynthia, until I come back?" asked he.
"I dare," said the brave little woman, "but hasten, Rufus, for the night closes in." Her words were calmly spoken, but her heart beat violently.
"Daughter of Eve," said the sick man, "you do well -- stay!"
Some two hours later -- it seemed an endless age to Cynthia, as she watched in profound silence, amid the gathering gloom -- her husband returned, bringing with him his friend, Mr. Albright, a well-known Washington lawyer. Already the face of the dying man had taken on that ashen hue that precedes approaching dissolution, and the mildew of death had gathered on his humid brow. But now, as if collecting himself for a last effort, his faculties were clear.
"You are two men, and strong," said he, "lift me to my Edris. Be quick!" and he pointed his gaunt finger upward.
They carried him gently to the mattress and laid it upon the narrow couch in the tower room. The motion, slight as it was, was exhaustive of a fast ebbing life. He pointed to a shelf, whispering as he did so, "The nameless amphora.," adding, as it was touched, "Open!" The doctor silently obeyed, and the delicious perfume of some aromatic volatile essence filled the air. All felt the subtle and penetrating effect of this exhilarating aroma.
"Write! write!" cried the dying man with a momentary force.
The lawyer wrote as dictated --
"I, the Java Aleim, being of sound disposing mind, do hearby devise, give, and bequeath all that I possess, both of real estate and personal, to --," he paused and looked impatiently at the doctor -- "Quick, your name!"
"My name?" muttered the dazed doctor, "my name?"
The lawyer smiled and wrote "to Rufus Rawle, of the city of Washington, D. C."
"We must have three signatures to this will," said the lawyer.
The Java Aleim listened intently for a moment, or rather shrank within himself by some inward act of volition, then gasped --
"Two men approach! I hear the footsteps of the Silent Brothers! Hasten to meet them!"
Five minutes later and the doctor, who had left the room in a bewildered way, returned with two men, whom he had met at the gate. They glanced at the Java Adeim, who became so agitated that he drew his breath convulsively; but speedily controlling himself, he took the pen and signed his name. Then the lawyer and the two men appended their signatures, when, without comment, the two latter disappeared. Were these sentient, living forms, or were the they merely the astral souls of the Silent Brothers', evoked by one of their number to serve his purpose? Verily, there were the names, fairly written in the good black ink of the "Indra Rabba" and "Adam Ferio."
The Brahman, for such as he was, wearily joined his thin hands above his head, then marking his forehead with the sign sacred to Vishnu, his lips moved as if in prayer. The moribund, fixed and rigid as one in a trance, now spoke rapidly and continuously in a hoarse, cavernous whisper that seemed to issue from his body as from a half-closed vault.
"My soul escapes, oh, Triad! The expiatory hour is at hand. My life has failed in abdignation and the taint of selfishness must be expurged. Gross emanations have passed like a murky cloud over the spirit, shutting our Nirvana. I must traverse eons of cyclic arcs ere I can once again reach the ascending cosmic scale. Oh, woe is me! I must be absorbed in the universal whole!"
He paused and seemed to listen, then seizing the triple cord that girded his loins, the invocations were renewed.
"O, Brahma! O, Vishnu! O, Siva! Triad of Triads! Help my return to nature -- when this aching clod, this husk of the outer shell shall be evolved and absolved into the heart and essence of yon far-speading oak, when my clogged veins shall run upon its deep-reaching roots in rivelets of fire, when with heavy lateral pressure, my pent-up thoughts shall scintillate and strike deep the flinty rocks, taking wide and wider range, pressing down into the biowels of Mother Earth; then, with fierce upspringing power, remount in juicy sap, flushing with incarnadine splendor its autumn leaves, or dropping its purifying tears that fill the sacred viscum's pearly coronals; then, partially released, forming true essence of Virgil's golden bough, I shall rise a fluidic specter of transcendent brightness, permeate the opalescent moonlit rays -- a glorious astral shape! Ugh! The way is blinding dark -- oh, this confusing present -- but the end is luminous -- I know it -- I feel it!" Partially arousing himself, he fixed his burning eyes upon the three. "Mystic Triad -- children groping in the outer darkness, heed -- this, my last injunction -- failing which, beware! Bury with me the seven knotted bamboo rod, the Gurugave -- rest my bones, that they may mingle with the roots of the cabalistic oak that shoots its sacred staff aloft within the triple circle of the horseshoe knoll. Thus shall my essence be infused in it, and the virtue from out the oak be effused to me, and thus I shall be transformed into a dual life. But beware!" and his face grew livid and distorted, "violate not this sacred tree, touch it not handle it not! Let the holy lustration that shall proceed as we two become one in cosmic scale continue undisturbed." His bony finger, still fixed and rigid like a note of warning, amid convulsive shudderings terrible to behold, with one long outcry of A. U. M., he gave up the ghost.
Silence and darkness intervened, only broken now and then by the nervous, spasmatic sobs of Cynthia.
"Poor wife," said the doctor; "the strain was awful."
The Java Aliem was buried as he had requested. Did the process of a metempsychosis then and there commence!
Dr. Rawle found himself suddenly a rich man. No need now of troubling himself about the health of Washington. With a pleasant home, that commanded a splendid view, with a goodly store of bonds, securities, and rare coins and curios; and for his wife, gold chains of fine filigree work, filmy taffities embroidered in silver, tortoise shell combs set this plates of gold, and girdles enriched with pearls, sapphires and diamonds; rings and necklaces of ruby, blue topaz, yellow tourmalins, blood stones, cat's eyes, and amethyst; etuis of aquamarine and cinnamon stone, and of various devices to charm a woman's eye. The doctor loved books, and was an enthusiast in his profession. There were various works in chemistry and medical books, but others not a few, filled with hieroglyphics and strangely illuminated, besides those of palimpsests covered with secret Arabic symbols bearing evidence of successive ages, and one, most precious of all, and steeped in a musky, dankish odor, inscribed in Candian sanscrit and bound in thick, lacquered ivory boards, encrusted with gems, framing the enigmatic abraxas. Happily for the doctor, he was a matter-of-fact man, or he surely would have sworn by the Vedas, yielded to the fascination of his surroundings, and become a Buddhist. As it was he only sighed and said: "What a pity that I am not an Oriental scholar!" But already he was to a degree imbued with the influences pressing upon him, smoking a superb tchibouk with amber mouthpiece the while, lazily immersed in vague speculations and day-dreams.
Now and then his friend the lawyer came to see him, drawn by curiosity he could not resist to revisit a spot of such weird memories. But Dr. Rawle never left this idlewild of Woodley Lane, nor, strange to say, did Cynthia wish for change. Was the spirit of the old seer and Brahmin permeating the atmosphere with an oriental repose at the very outset of their occupancy? Some energy had been displayed in transforming the house into a more cheerful home, and in building a verandah over the front door, whence the superb view could be more fully enjoyed. They had found the two lower rooms unfurnished, and the one nearest the mystic oak-tree was fitted up as a kitchen, while the room across the hall was pleasantly adorned as a drawing-room and dining-room as well. Here Cynthia presided, spending happy, quiet hours, quite content, as she imagined, and yet not knowing why or wherefore, subdued and gradually toned into a half-drooping melancholy.
"How can gladness and sadness be one, dear Rufus?" asked she puzzled to understand herself.
"'Tis the spirit of the place, pale moon-flower," he answerd, smiling, yet sighing.
It was strange, but various little mishaps, to trifling to notice, attended the building of that part of the verandah nearest the horseshow knoll. If so much as a chip fell upon that spot it rebounded, inflicting some hurt, and the mechanic, not knowing why, declared it an unlucky thing to work on that side.
There came to be a tacit understanding between the doctor and his wife to avoid all allusion to that death-bed scene, and after the verandah was finished it began to be unpleasant to sit upon it on a moonlit night, and even the sun's rays glinted with a sickly glare through the umbrageous screen. At times there was never a surcease of low, humming, busy sound, a shadowy play of leaves, and the coruscant foliage threw out vivid flashes of light, the blood-red veins became swelled and tinged, tracing mystic energy against the blue of Heaven, and the grand old tree communed with nature, rustling with a sad susurrus.
"Passing strange," softly said the doctor.
"Uncanny," whispered Cynthia.
The first positive discomfort was experienced when, one evening in the early winter, the two Irish domestics, a man and a woman servant, were seated in the kitchen at dusk, their hands folded at the close of a day's work, and they resting in that inert way that marks the repose succeeding manual labor. The open-mouthed fireplace was all aglow with the hot coals of oak-wood cinders, when, almost imperceptibly at first, the burning mass became astir. Presently odd and fierce flashes leaped forth from out the incandescent heat, accompanied by the constant popping of exploding fragments, when, as if gaining a rapid aggressive force, a lurid light appeared, out of which sprang forth an impalpable shape that advanced into the room. Scream after scream called Dr. Rawle and his wife to the scene just as the woman fainted, and the man rushing out, hatless and distracted, never stopped until he reached Swampoodle, crossing himself under the shadow of the Jesuit church in Washington, vociferating all the way, "Spooks! spooks!" Nor would the woman stay one hour after she was revived, declaring that "a say of holy wather'" was not enough "to clane that fiery divil out." "It must have been the knotted heart of oak that split and frightened those fools out of their shallow wits," cried the doctor, much irritated. "Oh, no, Rufus," said Cynthia mildly, "It was a dead bought that fell from the oak. Katy told me that she had picked it up from off the knoll where it had fallen, and tripped with it in her arms, nearly tumbling into the fire as she threw it on, then it burned savagely into that dreadful mass of coals."
"Old women's tales, forsooth," muttered the doctor.
Be that as it may, after this incident, with the freemasonry of signals that exist among the Ishmallites, it was understood that the house was haunted, and no one would hire out to live at that place. This event also seemed to mark a distinct epoch, as if that baptism of fire had liberated an astral soul. Henceforth there was a shadowy shade, an indefinable something in that room that took possession. So the door was closed and the doctor took the key thereof.
"D--n it," said he, "what's the use of a kitchen, Cynthia, if there's no cook?"
"Don't swear, Rufus," she shudderingly answered. "I love to cook, dear. With our little oil-stove in the drawing-room it's like playing at housekeeping. Yes, positively, I prefer it, dear. Then, it is so nice for us to be alone; just we two."
"Moon-flower, how sweetly you expand!" cried the doctor; enfolding her in his arms and kissing her.
If a wife wishes to make her husband a radiant lover let her try cooking for him; that is, if she knows how!
And thus the winter closed in upon these two, who lived in the old house without other occupants. Dr. Rawle soon became so deeply interested in the occult investigations into which he was led by the books left to him by the Java Aleim that he did not feel the weariness of their solitary life; but it was not so with his wife. She, poor lady, had entered that strange house a gay and laughing bride, in good health and fine spirits. It was not long before she moved about silently, growing each day paler and paler, like some tender plant that requires sunshine and wilts in cheerless shade. She was not unhappy, because she led a life apart from the world, with her husband, for she loved him too fondly to pine for other society, still less did she care for the dissipation of gayety. But her nervous system had received a serious shock. The terrifying accident and the harrowing death-bed scene, succeeded by the horror of thast spectral fire, phantasmal as it undoubtedly was, had left an impression, not to be shaken off, that the place was haunted. She would constantly repeat to herself that it was a mere hallucination, and yet the feeling wore upon her, and she became extremely sensitive to all sounds. A vague distrust and fear took possession of her. Upon the eminence where they lived the winter storms oft and again held wildest revelry. To her morbid imagination the rude blasts had human voices that sighed, moaned, groaned, wailed, howled, and shrieked, and during the blackness of the long winter nights all these voices of nature were a thousand-fold intensified to her acute perceptions. Oh, how she dreaded the prolonged swirl of the tempest, the swift recurring waves of direful sound of these viewless legions of the air, when her timid soul shrank shrivelled and aghast within its shell. During that dismal winter they slept in the chamber directly above the now-closed room, which she felt sure had a nightly occupant. One thing Cynthia became aware of. Only her ears were opened to these preternatural sounds. She had, it is true, an increasing consciousness that they might be invoked at any time; but she never heard, or thought she heard, the plaintive sighs, the stealthy tread, nor the slamming of a door she knew was closed, or even, oh, hideous feeling, that she was being breathed upon, unless she was alone, or her husband's spirit locked in sleep. The something, whatever it was, that had access to that house, had not the force to impress itself upon the stronger organization of the doctor. At moments she became overwhelmed with a creeping fear, that if she slept, when her willpower was dormant would it not then oppress her. and could not the ghoul live from life and gloat upon her vitality? All that she had read about the ravening vampire would then recur to her disturbed fancy and affright her. And thus, month after month, poor Cynthia, half distraught, communed within herself. At first, whenever she would strive to express her impressions, they were brusquely repelled by her husband as silly dreams, and he thus quite unwittingly condemned this woman, whom he loved, to untold torture.
But at last the dreary winter passed away, and the budding of spring cast a more cheerful atmosphere upon the gloomy spot. Then the doctor aroused himself somewhat from the long hibernation over the books from which he had derived sustenance. Opening his eyes to things around him, he began to notice how wan and thin his wife was. All the while his love had never abated, but in the strange existence he had led, absorbing thoughts had occupied him. Had he been dreaming? He was vexed with himself. He feared, indeed, he felt sure, that he must have neglected his darling while leading this visionary life. Like one who has returns from a foreign land, where, deeply interested in the new scenes around him, he, for the moment, forgets loved ones at home, yet rekindles his devotion on his return, so it was with this student of the occult. Once awakened, he again recognizes all that had made a part of his former life, and he was uneasy about his wife. "My pale Moon-flower!" he would say tenderly, and Cynthia was revived by this delicate attention, finding relief in tears. Oh, if man could only understand how inexpressibly it comforts the heart of a woman to cry! Tears, consoling tears, are the one special, delicious, feminine luxury. They fertilize and revivify the arid wastes of a woman's heart. The affectionate care the doctor now bestowed upon his wife was quite oppressive, for he was always thinking what healing influences would be most beneficial. He besought her to live more in the open air, but such was her morbid dread of passing the tree that she would actually stay indoors from the dread of going out. Then he began to think seriously of leaving the place, and reproached himself anew for past obliviousness.
"Better far," thought he, "to go back to the city. I have been a fool indeed to burrow in the old wizard's den, immersed in the mystical so-called black arts that occupied him, while the very essence of a being dearer than my own life was fading away. A thousand times rather be the poor man, the struggling young practitioner of a year ago." With a sigh of regret he pictured to himself the joyessness, the lightheartedness of that time, and in the retrospect, the past months, during nearly a year, seemed to lie in dismal shadow, in unwholesome dreariness, as compared with the sunshine and bright cheeriness of the helpful effort then made. It's strange that young people never can realize what a bracing, wholesome life those lead who begin with merely a competence, and how much pleasure is involved in the eagerness of pursuit, stimulated by hopes elate of the future. In youth uncertainty lends a zest to the present, and makes a constant incentive for action. All the little daily plans that grow out of such situations form, as it were, a series of plots and counterplots of a drama, where no one can foresee the ending. "I worried then," sadly mused the doctor, "because we were poor; I know now that we were very happy."
Thus the summer days succeeded each other, finding Cynthia more and more prostrated, and her husband more and more resolute. Was it the enervating atmosphere in which they lived? The omened old oak, had the brunt bravely borne, of the wild, wintry winds. fiercely flinging its bared, brawny arms aloft, as one bereft and bestraught; or, sullenly standing aloof, besprent of the vested beauty of its foliage, an image of statuesque despair. But with the renaissant spring came the mystery of its revivification, when coursing through all its gaunt length of frame mounted the renewing vital sap. Then the sere, crackling branches put on a semblance of youth, and innumerous tiny leaflets that burgeoned from out its frowning wrinkles thrilled with the joy of new-born living, until the hot embrace of June completed its glorious expansion, and the dull splendor of its resurgence. Oh, touching symbols of the mysteries of life and death that nature ever and ever exhibits! Oh, dullard eyes that scan so illy the clear mirror ever so held forth to view! Yes, a perpetual pafeant is unfolded of birth, growth, maturity, decay, decline to dissolution, out of which the endless circling cycles bring forth fruition. But in the midst of this great joy of living, drinking in this wine of life, so freely offered, we grow riotous of language, and forget to face our facts solemnly.
To recall a coincidence of time, it will be remembered that the tragic opening of this story occured on the 21st day of June. As this anniversary drew near, Cynthia became really ill. She was in an unceasing state of agitation, so that the doctor grew seriously alarmed. It was on the eve of that day that Cynthis, weak and prostrated, retired early. The isolated place was, as usual, very still, and the doctor, wearied with apprehension, also retired and was soon soundly sleeping. Not so with Cynthia. Insomnia had become a dreaded condition, and she solaced her waking hours wistfully looking at the handsome face of her sleeping spouse, upon which, even in sleep, a certain sadness rested under the closed lips and expressed itself in the drooping lines along the mouth. Then it occured to her that if she gazed upon him when his will-power was relaxed, it might infuse some mesmeric state not well for him, so she silently arosed, and impelled by a vague desire she could not resist, gently opened her window and leaned forward. The young moon, with clear and beaming crescent, drifted lazily on a bed of lightest amber cloudlets, diffusing that faint, mysterious light so grateful to her questioning soul. Before her stood the mystic oak, now so very near, in its far-spreading branches of vivid green, that were softened and exquisitely tinted by the opalescent rays that shone upon it, so that its splendid noon-tide beauty was etherealized.
"Oh, translucent image," sighed Cynthia, "art thou in very truth, as the Druids would have thee, a sacfred form to worship -- or," -- and she paused in her unconscious invocation, as if responsive to her call, and effused from out the deep-planted roots of the tree, a mild radiance played with swaying motion, to and fro, over the horse-shoe knoll. At one moment swinging slowly, hovering with a phosphorescent glow, rising a little, then sinking again as if about to die out, but all the while steadily gaining force to remount higher.
Eagerly bending toward the witching glimmer, stretching forth her hand in supplication, she adjured the aura, "Oh, elemental, arise; disengage yourself from these painful earth-bound ties!"
She had scarcely spoken when, as if awaiting the summons to arise, and by it permeated with a force it had hitherto vainly sought, it suddenly streamed upward with a clear and steady flame until it touched the lower sweep of the oak tree branches when, forming instantaneously into definite shape, the aural soul of the Java Adeim stood before her.
As Cynthia uttered an agonized cry it extended toward her a skeletal arm, with gestures of pleading entreaty; then slowly sinking downward, as if repelled by want of attractive power, and casting upon her a lowering look of fierce hatred, it disappeared just as the doctor was aroused by the shreik of his wife. In another moment he bore, with tenderest care, her fainting form back to bed. He had not seen the vision, but he knew what it all meant.
"This, this is too dreadful!" he cried, in a transport of rage. "The old demon gave me a true devil's gift, fair to the seeming, illusory in the holding, and fatal in reality. To-morrow, the anniversary of this cursed existence here, shall witness my return to the busy scenes of the outer world. I have done with this infernal nonsense. I shall end it all!"
"Darling, sweetest, dearest, best!" he implored, "revive, awake! To-morrow there shall come a new life, for to-morrow shall end it all!"
"Shall end it all," was the weird warning whispered in his ear.
The doctor started, then collected himself defiantly. "This way lies madness," he muttered. "The time has come to be up and doing. To-morrow --"
The morrow of that predestined day, forewarned by the entombed, now dawned. There are good hours, and there are evil hours, that appear in the horoscope of life, and from the Chaldeans of remote ages to the soothsayers and Buddhists of the present time the starry hosts have been compelled to give up their secrets. Have they found true interpreters?
What happened on this recurring 21st day of June -- this day of seven times three and three times seven? The day found Cynthia too ill to rise. The doctor saw the danger of brain fever, and tried to calm himself and quiet her.
"Rest to-day, dearest wife," he said to her. "You need rest. But to-morrow, when you are stronger, we will leave this lonely place. Forgive me, darling, that I have let you pine away in these dark shadows so long" --
She made no reply other than to mutter: "Too late! too late!"
The doctor sadly returned to the window from whence the night before he had borne his swooning wife. Through the exquisite screen of the lofty oak, he caught glimpses here and there of a ravishing landscape. The peerless city of liberty stretched out at his feet in graceful repose, then a vista of the rounded dome of the capitol, or of the sinuous line of the meanding Potomac sparkling in the sunlight, beautified by its island oasis, dotted here and there and encrusted by its gem-like environment of undulating verdure-clad hills.
"Oh, paradisaical earth! why, why should the trail of the serpent rest on thy fair bosom! Why should the malign glance of the evil eye empoison thy fairest scenes!" groaned the wretched man. His mind was filled with the rich imagery of that hidden love, over which he had been listlessly dreaming during the past year. But he had received a rude awakening, as he at last fully realized the critical condition of his beloved wife. Cynthia's fever rose as the hot June sun heated the air with its vertical rays, and as the day wore slowly on the doctor saw that she was no better.
Was it a psychic effect that influenced Mr. Albright and attracted him to such a degree that putting aside a mass of papers claiming his careful attention, he yielded to the power that impelled him to visit his friends? "It is the anniversary," he thought, "of one of the strangest events I have ever witnessed, and many hidden aspects of life have been laid open to me in the course of the practice of my profession. I have not seen Rawle for months, for both he and his pretty wife are positively buried." Thus it came to pass that just as the sun set gorgeous cloud masses transfigured into ethereal shapes, the two friends met, and they walked together in the oak forest, not far distant from the house. Cynthia continued very ill, too ill to be moved, and the doctor was in a state of agitation and grief too difficult to describe. It was indeed a welcome relief to grasp the friendly hand of Albright thus unexpectedly extended to him, and to unburthen his heart. The lawyer listened with that precise and patient attention which was his habit.
The story of the two apparitions, of the dismal winter, filled with its imaginary terrors, and the frantic fright of the previous night, culmulating in the present delerium of Cynthia, was all told.
When the doctor had finished, his friend said: "Of course, Rawle, the weird part, and it is weird, must be all fustion and fancy. The serious part comes in the effect produced."
Dr. Rawle was about to reply, "effect produced from a cause" -- but he shrank from making the open avowal. The bravest men are apt to be moral cowards in the face of ridicule, so he merely said with an assumed assent he did not feel -- "Of course."
They were silent, but after a moment's pause the doctor remarked:
"Please excuse me for an instant. I wish to see if my wife still sleeps."
Left alone in this lone forest, as the light of day was rapidly yielding to the gathering twilight, even the incredulous lawyer felt a creeping sensation, a thrill of the nerves, that was, to say the least, uncomfortable; but he resolutely battled against the influence, and retired within his triple armor of incredulity, materialism and logical sequence, thus defying the visionary. For all that, he found the hour that he was thus left alone both tedious and uncomfortable. But at last the doctor came striding forward. Cynthia was awake and raving about a bough of the oak that, she declared, had waved over her, assuming the grinning aspect of a death's head.
"Albright," said Rawle, "I must try the effect of heroic treatment. I mean to ascend to that deviliish bough and cut it off. I wish I could destroy the whole infernal tree, root and branch. We have livedd to long under its deadly upas shade. I hope, old fellow, that the sudden revulsion when Cynthia sees it crashing down will help her to overcome these diabolical illusions. Promise me, my dear friend," he added, with emotion, "that while I am doing this thing you will watch over my darling, so that no harm can befall her in some ffrenzied mood." The obscurity of the early dusk was now giving way to the glimmering pallor of the newly-risen moon as the two friends approached the house.
Suddenly Albright exclaimed, "Look!" A flickering, uncertain, shadowy, lambent light played above the grave that these two had dug one year ago that very night. Then, as if condensing, casting a sickly sheen around, it hovered here and there, at one moment darting upward fiercely, as a thin pillar of fire, then subsiding, trailing along near the ground, gradually sinking, and finally its flamboyant curving line was lost to sight!
It was a somewhat varied repetition of the phantom flights that had horrified Cynthia, but neither the doctor nor the lawyer had ever before seen a visible shape thus defined from the invisible. They were students and thinkers, not disposed to accept an illusory semblance, and both men declared that it must be an optical illusion. But Dr. Rawle was under a strong and fierce excitement on account of the sickness of his wife. "My God!" groaned he, "what if Cynthia has seen it!"
He hastened past the horse-shoe knoll, up to her room. She was still reclinng as he had left her, muttering inarticulate sounds, her hands tightly clasped and her eyelids half open. It was evident that she had not stirred. In a few minutes the doctor returned, carrying a saw.
"Go, watch her, Albright," said he, hoarsely. "The time has come for me to ascend this accursed tree. I will lop off these hellish branches. I will hack and hew" --
He strode fiercely forward, stamping heavily over the horse shoe knoll.
"Ha! ha,"! he laughed, strangely moved. "To molest my Cynthia; mine, with its tricksy images, its impish delusions, its uncanny spectacular shows!"
He now commences to ascend the gnarled trunk of the knotted oak. Climbing and clinging to every inequality. The doctor was a practiced athlete, and this was child's for him.
Up! up! and the fated branch is reached! The shrp teeth of the saw had made its first deep, grinding incision, when --
As Albright entered the room Cynthia had arisen and stood beside the open window, enveloped in a fleecy flowing robe of some light India stuff; a gray cashmere shawl of richest oriental design was carelessly thrown 0ver her fair shoulders, and her wealth of pale, ashen-colored hair, fell, unheeded, in tangled masses, around her person. Albright, wishing to protect, but not to disturb her, approached with noiseless step. She did not see him, or, seeing, heeded not. With the palms of her hands closely pressed against the blue-veined temples, the large orbs of her wide-opened eyes gazing fixedly, she stood in speechless affright. Albright could not resist the impulse. He advanced and stood beside her, and he, too, gazed outwardly intently. The doctor had commenced his work, and with sure and swift motion the pitiless saw ground through the twisted bark. Already the huge branch swayed and rocked to and fro. The air was filled with the sharp clicking resonance of the breaking branches; they moved backward and forward; they crackle; they oscillate; they swing; they sway -- when -- "Oh, God! my God!" shrieked Cynthia, for now the flickering light arose from out the grave, the emanation rapidly gathering force, when sheeted with encircling flames, the fierce phantom arose in might and with an awful swirl enveloped the darling iconoclast in its skeleton ribs of furious fire, bearing downward in one crushing mass the crashing bough and the crushed man.
Cynthia had swooned away, but the horror-stricken Albright heard distinctly, in vibratory sepulchral tones -- "Dead! All is at an end!"
And poor Cynthia?
"Dead! All is at an end!"