I had almost forgotten James Wilder’s existence, when, one night in
June, I received an urgent message asking me to call upon him without
An hour later I was sitting in his library, and in the arm-chair
opposite mine was sunk what seemed the spectre of my friend. During the
ten months that had elapsed since our last meeting he had passed from
middle life to premature old age.
“I am glad you have come,” he said, “I am in need of a friend, but do
not speak to me yet, that is, for a moment, I wish to think.”
His eyes fell from me to the carpet, he seemed watching something, and
his thin lips were curled in a ghostly smile.
The room was hot and oppressive, flowers were heaped everywhere in
profusion, and the large wood fire burning in the grate mixed its faint
aromatic smell with the perfume of the roses and tube-roses lolling in
their porcelain bowls.
I sat watching the burning logs and thinking. I had known Wilder for
some years, I had been his intimate friend, but how much did I know
really about him? Not much. I had dined with him, talked with him,
exchanged opinions; I knew that he was wealthy, that he owned a house
somewhere in the country, to which he never invited friends, and of
which I had heard rumours needless to set down here. That he was an
opium eater I knew, and that was the extent of my knowledge of the man.
Of the being who existed behind that careworn, weary face, I knew
absolutely nothing, but I had always guessed it to be occupied with
some secret trouble, pressed upon by some sin or sorrow of which it
dared not speak; also, by some freak of imagination, I had always
coupled this imaginary sorrow of Wilder’s with that house in the
country of which I had received so many mysterious hints.
Suddenly I started from my reverie. Wilder was speaking.
“Ah, my dear —-, I have been trying to brace myself for the effort,
but I cannot, I cannot; what I have to ask of you, you will do without
question if you are my friend, but to speak of it all, to go over that
terrible ground, oh! impossible, impossible, impossible.”
His voice died away into a whisper, and he struck with his thin hand on
the arm of his chair, as if beating time to some dreary tune heard by
“What I ask of you is this, to start as soon as possible for my place
in Yorkshire, and to see carried out after the fashion I desire, the
obsequies of a man–I mean, a woman–who is lying there dead.”
Again his voice sank to a whisper, his eyes turned from mine evasively,
and he covered them with one of his thin white hands.
A man–I mean a woman–what _did_ he mean?
“Will you do this?”
“Yes, I will do as you ask; it seems strange, no matter, I will do it.”
“You take a load from me. Ah, my dear —-, if you could only guess
what I have suffered, the terrors, the tortures, the _nameless_ misery.
I ought to be at the grave side when this terrible burial–Oh, how my
head wanders, I have scarcely the power of thought, but say it once
again, you will do what I ask, promise me that again.”
“Yes, yes, I promise, set your mind at rest–I will do what you
“You will start, then, at once?”
“Yes, to-morrow early, to-morrow early; and now as to what you are to
do. Listen, at Ashworth, near my place, there lives a man who works in
granite, you will get him to cut a memorial tablet. These words are
to be upon it, they are written on this piece of paper, take it; the
body is to be buried in the vault of the little church in the park;
remember it is to be interred dressed exactly as I have ordered it to
be dressed, this is my chief reason for asking you to attend the last
ceremonies. I dare not leave this matter to the hands of servants, and
I–may not go myself, I am broken down with ill-health and sorrow, and
the journey would kill me, though, indeed, I am dying fast enough.”
His eyes were wandering again, as if following some imaginary spectre
about the room. I looked at the piece of paper, on it was written–
“SIR GERALD WILDER, Knt.
_Rest in Peace_.”
Sir Gerald Wilder! why, a moment ago he said “a woman.” What mystery
was in this? And then, “Rest in Peace,” it sounded like a command.
“The coffin is ordered,” broke out Wilder, suddenly seeming to return
to this world from the world of his imagination. “The coffin is made,
promise me again, you will go.”
“I will go.”
The next morning I started for Ashworth, in Yorkshire, to fulfil my
strange mission. I had asked no more of Wilder, content to act without
question, which is the first office of friendship. I started early, and
arrived at Ashworth shortly after three o’clock. A carriage was waiting
to take me to the Gables. The weather was exquisite, and the moors
over which the white road led us stretched on either side, far as the
eye could reach, like a rolling sea under the blue summer sky and hot
June sun. The rocking motion sent me to sleep. When I woke the wheels
were crashing on gravel, and the carriage was passing swiftly through a
long, dark avenue.
This was, then, the Gables, this great old-fashioned gloomy house, with
a broad portico supported on fluted granite pillars, facing the broad
park dotted with clumps of trees, so broad and so far-reaching that the
deer in the furthermost parts were reduced to moving specks.
The door was opened by an ill-looking servant-maid, whose sour and
crabbed face struck an unpleasant note against the old-fashioned and
The great hall, oak-panelled, and lit by stained glass windows, hid
amongst its other treasures an echo, whose dreamy voice repeated my
footsteps with a sound like the pattering of a ghost. I stood for a
moment, my heart absorbing the silence of this place, so far removed
from the spirit of to-day. The air held something, I know not what, it
seemed like an odour left from the perfumed robes of Romance.
I heard a sound behind me, and turning, I saw an old servant man with
silvery white hair. He showed me to my room, and I kept him whilst I
explained fully my business.
He listened respectfully, but like a person who had ceased to take any
interest in life. When I had finished, I asked him to take me to the
room where the dead person lay.
He led the way down a corridor, opened a door, and stood aside whilst
I entered. I found myself in a bedroom hung with rose-coloured silk;
the window was open, and through it came the warm evening breeze and
the far-off cawing of rooks.
On the bed I saw a form, but I could scarcely believe that what I saw
was real. Stretched upon the snow-white coverlet lay the body of a
cavalier, full-dressed in amber satin doublet and long buff-coloured
riding-boots, his hair long, curling, and black as night, surrounded a
face pale as marble and beautiful as a woman’s. His white right hand,
peeping from its lace ruffle, grasped the hilt of a sword, his left
hand grasped a silver trumpet. Attached to the trumpet a crimson silk
cord streaked the coverlet like a thin and tortuous stream of blood.
He seemed to have stepped from the pages of romance, and to have laid
himself down here to rest. I trembled as I looked, feared to stir lest
he should wake, yet I well knew him to be dead. I might have fancied
myself in a dream but for the far-off clamour of the rooks coming
through the evening sky outside and the sound of my own heart beating.
Was it a man? was it a woman? the face might have done for either, yet
it was the most beautiful face I had ever beheld, the most romantic,
the most pathetic. Then recollection woke up, and I shuddered. This,
then, was Sir Gerald Wilder. This form, more beautiful than a picture,
was the sorrow of James Wilder, the thing that had driven him to opium,
the thing that had broken his heart and crowned him with premature old
age. How? Why? I dared scarcely think.
I stole from the room. In the passage I found the old man-servant
waiting for me; he shut the door softly, and I followed him back to my
own room. There I took his arm and looked in his face.
“What is the meaning of this?”
“I dursn’t tell you, sir; oh, sir, my heart be gone with the sorrow
of it all, but if you wish, I will bring the book that he was always
a-writing in for these months past.”
“Yes, get the book, please, at once: no thank you, nothing to eat yet,
I wish to see the book first.”
He went, and returned with a large, old-fashioned common-place book,
the leaves of which were covered with writing. It was a woman’s hand.
I took it down stairs, and went with it into the garden.
There, on a seat in the middle of an old Dutch garden, very prim, very
silent, where the sunlight fell upon the faces of the amber and purple
pansies, and the great white carnations shook their ruffles to the wind
with a dreamy and seventeenth century air, I sat and read this story,
written by the hand of a dead cavalier who craves, through me, your
sympathy for his deathless sorrow.
I cannot tell you my story unless I tell you who I am and what I am.
Oh, it is not for pleasure that I am writing all this down, but just
My name is Beatrice Sinclair, and I am the last representative of an
old and ruined family. There were Sinclairs in the time of King Charles
who were great people at Court–you must accept the statement, for I
cannot write much about this family of mine, the very thought of it
fills me with a kind of horror. What would all those men with long
flowing hair, those women with patches on their faces,–what would they
say if they could see me, the last of their race, and could know what
I have been?
Perhaps you guess what I mean, perhaps you are sneering at me; you can
do so if you please, for I am so very ill that I care for nothing now,
and they say I am dying. I know now, oh, I know well why an animal
crawls away and hides itself to die: though I am only twenty-three I
know more about death than those Egyptians who have been shut up in
pyramids alone with him for a thousand years.
From the window where I am sitting now, wrapped up in shawls, I can see
the garden; the frost has gone, and I can see a yellow crocus that has
pushed its head up through the dark, stiff mould. If it knew what I
know of life, it would draw that head back.
You must think me a very gloomy person, and indeed just now I am, for
I am thinking of a part of my history of which I shall not speak, but
Some time, no matter how long ago, I was living at the Bath Hotel. I
had plenty of clothes and money, and I thought I was in love. Well,
one day I found myself deserted, I found a letter on the breakfast
table enclosing a blue strip of paper–a cheque for two hundred pounds.
I did not scream and tear my hair as a girl I know said she did when
she was deserted, I believe I laughed.
I went to the theatre that night alone, and everybody stared at me. I
was beautiful then, I am nearly as beautiful now, but it was only on
that night that I first fully recognised how beautiful I was, I could
see it in the faces of the men who looked at me, and in the manner of
the women,–how women hate one another! and yet some women have been
very good to me.
Well, when I got home I found supper waiting for me, and after supper I
looked at myself again in the long pier glass opposite the fireplace;
then a strange feeling came over me that I had never felt before, I
felt a thirst to be admired, I say thirst, for it was so, it was really
in the back of my throat that this feeling came, but it was in my head
as well; it was not the admiration of ordinary people that I wanted; I
craved to see some being as lovely as myself turn its head to gaze at
Oh! my beautiful face, how I loved you, oh! the nights I have woken up
shivering to think of the dissecting rooms where they take the bodies
of the people who have no friends.
At the end of six months my two hundred pounds were nearly gone. I
lived innocently, I lived in a kind of dream. Men filled me with a kind
of horror, when they looked at me in the streets I shuddered; I shudder
still, and I wonder why God ever made such a blind and cruel thing as
I moved into furnished rooms: all this is misty now in my mind. If I
had died then I might never have gone to heaven, but I would never have
seen hell. I got typhoid fever; my rings lay on the dressing table,
hoops of sapphires and emeralds; each fortnight a ring went to pay for
my rooms and the doctor, who seemed never able to cure me.
I cannot tell you much after this, I can only say that I struggled, mad
with pride and mad with hatred. I starved, but why should I pain you,
and make more sad a story that is already sad enough?
It is about six months ago. I was in a very bad way. I was walking
along the south side of Russell Square one day–the 17th of September I
remember now–and thinking to myself how I should pay my landlady the
three weeks’ rent owing to her.
Deeply as I was trying to think I could not help noticing a man coming
towards me, striding along with his hat tilted back from his forehead,
his head in the air, and looking just like a person walking in his
sleep. I made way to let him pass, then suddenly I felt him grasp me by
the arm and I heard him say “Ah!”
I knew at once–how shall I put it–that he only wanted to speak to me,
that he had mistaken me for someone he knew, and as I looked in his
face I did not feel a bit afraid, although his face was strange enough,
“What is your name?” he asked.
“Jane Seymour,” I replied, for it was my name, at least the name I went
“Ah!” he said, and his hand fell from my arm. I never saw a person look
so disappointed as he looked just then; I heard him muttering something
like “always the same, disappointment, death,” then he turned to go,
and I broke into tears.
I was hungry and I had no money; he had seemed almost friendly, and now
he was going–I could scarcely speak, I leaned up against the railings,
I remember trying to hide a hole in my glove, for I had determined on
telling him my real name.
“Well?” he said, “Well?”
“My name is Beatrice Sinclair,” I answered; “that is my real name.”
Then I stopped crying, for I was absolutely frightened, _such_ a
change came over this strange man; two large tears ran down his face,
he clasped his hands together with the fingers across the backs of each
hand, and I thought for one moment that he was a lunatic, then somehow
I _knew_ that he was not.
“Beatrice Sinclair,” he muttered to me in a low voice, as if afraid of
someone else hearing him, “Beatrice Sinclair, oh, Beatrice! the time
I have been searching for you, the three weary years, the nights of
terror; but it is over now, thank God! thank God.”
I felt very strange as he said all this. I knew well that this man was
not in love with me; I had no relations, so he could not be a relation,
and yet I knew in a horribly certain kind of manner that he knew me,
that he had been searching for me, and–had found me.
A hansom cab was passing, he hailed it and we both got in, then I heard
him giving directions to the driver, “No.–Berkeley Square,” he said,
“and drive quick.”
“You look pale and sick,” that was the only thing he said during our
drive. But the way in which he said it was very queer. He did not seem
in the least to care whether I was pale or sick, and yet he had seemed
so glad to find me, “Can he be mad after all?” thought I.
The cab stopped at a large house in Berkeley Square, and we got out; he
gave the driver half-a-sovereign, and without waiting for the change
went up the steps, and opened the door with a latch-key; “Come on,” he
said, beckoning to me, and I followed.
We entered a great hall with a floor of polished oak; I saw jars of
flowers standing here and there, and idols half hidden by palms and
long feathery grasses.
He opened a door and motioned me to enter a room, and I went in,
feeling horrible in my shabby clothes amongst all this splendour.
It was a library. He told me to sit down, and I sat in a great
easy-chair, looking about me whilst he went to a window, and stood for
nearly a minute looking out, jingling money in his pocket, but not
speaking a word.
–Oh, this writing makes my head ache so, and this cough, cough, cough,
that tears me from morning till night!–
Well, he stood at the window without speaking, and I kept trying to
hide my boots under my skirt; but I looked about me, and noticed
everything in the room at the same time.
The books were all set in narrow bookcases, and between the bookcases
there were spaces occupied by pictures, and I never had seen such
strange pictures before. They were just like pictures of ghosts,
beautiful faces nearly all of them, but they seemed like faces made out
of mist, if you understand me. Over the mantelpiece stood a portrait of
an old man with grey hair, and on the gold frame of this picture was
written in black letters the name, “Swedenborg.”
At last my companion turned from the window, wheeled a chair close to
me, and sat down.
“Now,” he said, “I want you to tell me all you know about your family.
I want to make perfectly sure that you _are_ the person for whom I have
been seeking. Tell me unreservedly, it will be to your advantage.”
He had taken his gloves off now, and I saw that his hands, very white
and delicate-looking, were absolutely covered with the most exquisite
“Mine is a very old family,” I said. “We lived once in a castle in the
North of England, Castle Sinclair.”
“My father was an officer. He was very extravagant. He died in India. I
was sent to school in England, then I became a governess–then–then–”
“You need not tell me the rest,” he said, “I know it. Yes, you are
indeed Beatrice Sinclair.” He looked at me in a gloomy manner. Then
“You have spoken frankly,” he said, “and I shall do the same. My name
is James Wilder.”
He paused, and looked at me hard, but I said nothing.
“Ah!” he continued, “you know nothing of the past, then? Perhaps it
is better so, but I must tell you some of it, so that you may do what
I require you to do. Listen. In the reign of King Charles the First a
terrible tragedy happened. A member of the Wilder family did a fearful
wrong upon a member of the Sinclair family. No family feud took place,
because Gerald Wilder, who had committed this wrong, expiated it by
suicide, but a blind, reasonless, unintentional feud has been going on
between the two houses ever since. The house of Sinclair has warred
with our family in a strange and fearful manner. All the eldest sons of
our house have been slain before the age of twenty by–a Sinclair. My
eldest brother was slain by your father’s brother.”
“My father’s brother?”
“Yes, they were out shooting together. My brother was shot dead by
your uncle. It was an accident; no one was to blame, but fate. Now the
fortunes of the two families have been altering during all these years.
The house of Wilder is at its zenith. Speaking in a worldly sense, I
am worth at least fifty thousand a year, at _least_, and the house of
Sinclair?–you are its last representative, how much are you worth?”
“Less than nothing.”
“Let us be friends then, let us be friends,” said Wilder, in a voice
full of supplication. How strange it sounded to hear a man like this,
wealthy and great, asking for _my_ friendship. “Let us be friends,–the
two last representatives of these great houses must forgive each other.
Love can heal this awful wound, and the house of Wilder shall not be
extinct. Oh, God is great and good, he will sanction this love even
though you are what you are.”
He was walking up and down the room as he spoke. “Does he want me to
love _him_?” I thought.
Then he stopped.
“You have no money?”
He went to a desk and drew out a cheque-book, scribbled for a moment,
tore off a cheque, and brought it to me.
I looked at it: it was a cheque on the British Linen Company’s Bank for
five hundred pounds. I felt just as if I were drunk, the books in the
cases seemed to dance.
“This can’t be for me,” I remember saying; “or do you want me to do
some dreadful thing, that you offer me all this money—-”
I stopped, for he was smiling at me such a melancholy, kind smile,
it told me at once that I had nothing to fear from him. He called me
“child,” and took my hand and kissed it–I felt so ashamed of my glove,
but he did not seem to notice the holes in it, nor how old it was.
“Yes,” he said, “the money is for you; you must buy yourself beautiful
clothes and some jewellery. I am going to send you to the north of
England, to do what has to be done. You must start on the day after
to-morrow; have no fear, I wish you to do nothing sinful or wrong, but
rather the best work mortal ever did; you shall be provided for. I
will set aside a fund for you under trustees; it is an act of piety,
not charity, for in saving the last of the Sinclairs from want I am
doing an act which may expiate the sin our house committed. Beatrice
Sinclair, you shall never want again, never be cold or hungry.”
I was crying like a child. When I could cry no more he began speaking
“You must stay in this house until you start, that is, if you please.
My carriage shall take you to all the shops you require to visit; by
the way, spend _all_ that money on clothes. I will give you a note
to the jewellers with whom I deal in Bond Street, and you can supply
yourself with all the jewellery you require; don’t think about the
expense. You are beautiful by nature, but I wish you to be as beautiful
as art can make you. Then, again, you will require dressing-bags and
portmanteaux, and such things. I will give you a note to the best firm
in London. I need not speak to you on matters of taste; you are a
lady–I only say this, spare no expense. Is that cheque sufficient?”
“More than sufficient.” I felt dazed and strange. Did he intend to
marry me? Why was he sending me to the north of England? But it was
delightful, I could not describe my feelings.
“Now you must have some food,” he said, getting up and moving to the
door as he spoke. “Come with me to the dining-room.”
The table was laid for luncheon in the dining-room, and as I took my
seat at a place he pointed out, he went to a speaking tube and whistled
down it. Then I heard him ordering the carriage to be ready in an hour.
“Will that suit you?” he asked, looking at me.
“Yes,” I replied. I was laughing now. Oh, life had turned so in a
moment from awfulness to loveliness. I never pinched myself to feel
if I were in a dream or not. I have read about that in stories, and
I think it’s stupid, besides, I did not want to wake up if it was a
dream. I did not want to talk either, I was too happy.
I thought of the dinner I had yesterday. I could not remember what it
was, then I remembered I had not dined yesterday at all; I had lent
my last shilling to Jessie, who lives in the room below mine; she had
sworn to pay me back in the evening if she was lucky, and then she came
back drunk at twelve o’clock, swearing like a soldier, poor Jessie—-
Wilder ate very little and spoke scarcely at all, I think the
only thing he said in the way of conversation was “I never have
servants in the room when I am eating;” and I said to myself, “Thank
goodness.” Just imagine how I would have felt if one of those dreadful
men-servants had been gliding about the room,–my wristbands all
frayed, my hands not very clean, for those cheap gloves dye one’s
hands, and my collar crumpled.
Wilder wanted to open me some champagne, but I said no. I thought he
looked pleased. He had a decanter before him, and he poured himself out
a glass from it.
“I don’t ask you to take this,” he said in an apologetic sort of
manner; “because it would–well a glass of it would kill you, it’s
opium, I am used to it–all the worry I have had—-” His head sunk on
his breast, and I felt sorry for him, though he was so rich and lived
in such a beautiful house. After a moment he looked up–we had finished
“Gerald,” he said, “I want you to be happy; poor soul, you have
suffered too, but perhaps it is for the best.”
“Why do you call me Gerald?” I asked, staring at him. A dreamy look had
come over his strange face, perhaps it was the opium.
“Did I call you Gerald?” he said, “well, you will know why soon, I want
you to be happy.”
He rose from the table. “Come,” he said, “I will show you to your room.”
I followed him into the hall, then up a great broad staircase carpeted
with soft fleecy carpet; on the first landing he opened a door.
“This is your room,” he said, “you will find everything you require;
when you are ready come downstairs and you will find the carriage
He shut the door on me, and I found myself alone.
It was a small, but beautifully furnished bedroom. A fire was burning
in the grate; on the bed lay a great sealskin cloak, perfectly new.
It was evidently intended for me, I tried it on before the glass,
it reached to my feet, hiding all my shabby clothes. Then I took it
off and laid it on the bed again. I looked at the floor beside the
fireplace. There, in a row, stood a number of ladies’ boots and shoes,
different sizes; a wardrobe stood open, I looked in, dresses of dark
silk and satin, bonnets, hats; on the dressing-table great ivory hair
brushes, gloves, handkerchiefs, scent bottles of cut glass, a curling
tongs and spirit lamp which was lit, a little strip of paper on which
was written, “Help yourself to whatever you require.”
I could have cried again, but somehow I didn’t. I looked all round, and
then I remember lifting up my arms to stretch myself, why I did so I
Then, as I began undressing, I laughed, I spoke to the things in the
room just like a child, I asked questions of the little silver clock on
the mantelpiece–oh, those hideous old boots I had worn so long, they
seemed to make faces at me as I took them off. I flung them in a corner.
In an alcove stood a great bath; I turned the tap, shaped like a
dragon’s head, and the water roared and foamed into the bath through
the dragon’s mouth; I smelt the water, I tasted it, it was sea water;
in a minute the bath was full.
The luxury of it! the warm briny water that let one’s limbs float loose
like seaweed. I pretended to drown myself for fun, then I turned over
on my face, floating, and seized the dragon’s head in both hands.
Then, as I lay floating, I listened to the far away sound I knew so
well–the distant roar of carts and cabs in the streets.
I sprang out of the bath in a fury. I had never thought of it before
like this, now I saw all the wretchedness that I had gone through, saw
it all a million times more clearly than I had ever done when I was in
it. Oh, the vile world, I could have eaten it, eaten it.
Then I caught a glimpse of my naked figure in the long glass. I was
beautiful as ever, my limbs were white as snow. I whirled round, and
my long black hair flew out in a mist, scattering drops of water
Yes, I was even more beautiful than before, my troubles had given
my face more expression; my teeth were perfect–Jessie’s teeth were
broken–_Jessie_. I would be revenged yet. I leaned on my side before
the great glass, gazing at myself as gloomily as a thunder-cloud. I
would be revenged on this world. Why had God created such a place, and
the clergymen whining about heaven, and the doctors who took a poor
girl’s rings, and–I smelt a subtle perfume, and turning, I saw a great
bunch of violets standing in a little bowl in the corner.
I don’t know why, but they made me feel choky, and I remember taking
them to me and kissing them, and putting them back.
Then I dried myself in a huge towel, and dressed. I laughed at the
curling tongs, and blew the little lamp out–my hair did not want
curling tongs. I laughed to think of the frights of women going about
with their noses in the air, who had to curl their heads.
One of the bonnets in the wardrobe fitted me perfectly. I could have
chosen a hat, but I preferred this bonnet. I put on the sealskin cloak.
Then, taking the bunch of violets with the stalks all dripping, I put
it in my breast.
Wilder was standing in the hall as I came down the great staircase. He
smiled at the violets as if he were pleased. “You look very well,” he
said, passing, as he spoke, into the library, where I followed him.
“Now, here are three letters I have written–one to the jewellers, this
one to the portmanteau people, and this to Coutts’ bank. Drive first
to Coutts’, give them this letter and my cheque on the British Linen
Company. They will open an account with you, small as the sum is,
because they know me very well; they will give you a cheque book, and
you can give cheques to your milliners and people–poor Beatrice, I
want you to be happy.” I felt horrible for a moment as he said this. It
was said in such a supplicatory tone, as if he wanted to propitiate me,
as if I were some evil thing he feared, and he had said it before just
in the same voice, “Poor Beatrice, I want you to be happy.”
How this story is lengthening out. I thought I could have told it all
in three or four pages, and now look, thirty pages–and yet I want
to make it as long as possible. Can you guess what I say to the old
doctor who comes to see me every day? I ask him, does he know how long
I will live? and he shakes his head and says something about “the hands
of Providence.” No, I answer, not the hands of Providence, but these
hands–when they have finished writing what they have to write I shall
die. I know it.