That made my eyes swim

And this was Geraldine Wilder, or Gerald–Geraldine Wilder, if you
please.

This half ghostly being, with brown rippling hair and a face like the
face of a wild rose. And the dress of wonderful black lace that seemed
draped round the slight figure by the fingers of the wind, and the milk
white neck, rising like the stem of some graceful flower to support the
small brown head, and the _elegance_ of the whole apparition. I love to
think of it even still. But it was Beatrice Sinclair. Oh, yes, beyond
any manner of doubt, it was Beatrice Sinclair, and as we gazed at each
other for one short second the claws of the falcon _tore_ at my wrist.

Then this vision of the past came across the room and held up its
face to be kissed. And it was like two dead lovers kissing through
a veil–so it seemed to me. And yet I could have laughed as she sat
down in the great arm chair opposite mine, to see the subtle turn of
the body with which she arranged the train of her dress, the graceful
manner of sitting down, and then to remember that “Miss Geraldine was
a boy;” and then the glimpse of immaculate white petticoat! it seemed
like a witticism one could not laugh at because one was in church.

I laugh now as I think of it, at least I smile, for I haven’t strength
to get up a real laugh, and then somehow I cry, perhaps because I am so
weak.

Geraldine sat down, and then we began to talk. I talked at random, for
I was so busy examining and admiring her I couldn’t think of other
things. The little division at the end of the nose seemed somehow the
most delightful thing I had ever seen, except maybe the arched instep
of the tiny foot that peeped like a brown mouse from beneath the skirt.

What a lout I felt beside her. I felt awkward, and stupid, and just as
a mole might feel if it were made to sit in the sun. I began to stutter
and stammer, and might have made a dreadful fool of myself, only that
the recollection shot up in my mind, “she’s a boy”; as long as I kept
that in mind I was all right, but the instant I began to think of her
as a girl, my stupidity returned.

We talked, mercy, what modest and innocent talk, the whole college of
Cardinals and the old Pope himself might have listened and been the
better for it, but they would not have been much the wiser.

“Gerald–I mean Geraldine–how old are you?”

“I am sixteen years.”

“You have never been away from home, you have never seen a city?”

“What is a city?”

“Oh, it’s a place, a horrible place where it’s all smoke, and houses,
and noise.”

Geraldine shook her head. She could not imagine what such a place as
this could be like.

“Are there many more people in the world from where you come?” asked
Geraldine after a pause, resting her chin on her hand and gazing at me
with a deep, far-away look, as if she recognised me dimly but was not
quite sure.

“Oh, yes; but has your father never told you about the world and the
people in it?”

“No,” said Geraldine, with a shake of the head; “he told me it was a
bad place, and I must never go there, that was all.”

“Have you never wished to go there?”

“No, never, till–till now.”

“Why now?”

“I would like to go there if it is the place you come from.”

Geraldine was gazing at me now intensely–I know no other word–with
eyes that seemed appealing to me to say something; never had I been
gazed at so before.

I could only falter out, “Why?”

“Because,” said Geraldine, “I think I know where you come from, I
think I have seen you there, but it was in a dream, and we were not
dressed as we are, but I am not sure. _Who_ are you?”

I have never heard anything so soft and yet so full of a kind of fire
as those words.

“Has not your father told you, Geraldine?”

“No–he said a lady was coming to see me, but that was all.”

“I am Beatrice Sinclair, Geraldine.”

“But that is only a name.”

A thought shot like a horrible zig-zag firework through my brain; it
was, “Geraldine, I was once your murderer.”

Then bang from tragedy to comedy. I began to laugh, for no earthly
reason, and Geraldine caught the laugh as it flew on her beautiful
lips, and we both laughed at each other like two children–at nothing.
Then we talked for an hour about–nothing.

As Geraldine vanished that night to her own rooms I called her back,
and she came back from the dark corridor like a beautiful ghost.

I only wanted to kiss her again, but she seemed to think that a
perfectly good reason for my calling her back.

Then I went to bed and cried like a fool; then I got out of bed and
hunted round the room in the dark, guess what for–a match-box, guess
what to find–my cigarette box. I really think I must once have been a
man.

I found it, and having lit the candle by my bedside I got back into
bed and began to smoke. The fumes of the tobacco, the utter silence
of the house broken only by the occasional sighing of the wind in the
trees outside, the exquisite room in which I was lying with its painted
ceiling and rose petal coloured hangings, the image of Geraldine, all
combined to produce in my mind a sort of delicious intoxication.

I saw now vaguely the wonderful dream that was beginning to unfold
around me, the fairy tale of which I was to be the hero. I saw
once more the face that had come back from the dark corridor to be
kissed–ah me!

My hands rested upon a little black covered book, I had found it upon
the mantelpiece, and had taken it into bed with me, thinking to put my
cigarette ashes upon it. Instead of that I had shaken them off, without
thinking, upon the floor.

I opened it. The first thing I saw was the picture of a skull drawn in
faded ink upon the yellow title-page. Then, under the skull, written in
what, even in those old days, must have been a boy’s scrawl, this–

“The blacke worke of deathe herein sette downe is bye y^e hande of
Geoffry Lely hys page.”

Whose page? I knew well.

Then, on the next leaf, in the same handwriting, but smaller and more
cramped, I read the following. It was written in the old English style,
and the queer spelling of the words I cannot imitate, as I write only
from remembrance.

“Before daylight of that dark and bloody day a week agone now, by
lantern light we left the court-yard and rode down the avenue, Sir
Gerald on his black horse Badminton, I on the bay mare Pimpernel. In
the black dark of the avenue nothing could I see, but followed, led by
the sound of Badminton’s hoofs, the clink of Sir Gerald’s scabbard, and
the tinkling bells of the little hawke that sat hooded and drowsing
upon his wrist.

“Had I followed a common man I might have asked of him what place hath
a hawke on the wrist of a man with a sword by his side and pistols
at his holster, but Sir Gerald I have followed my life long without
question, and without question would have ridden behind him to death.

“In the road beyond the darkness of the trees we paused, each at five
paces from the other; the clouds in the easternmost part of the sky
were all cracked where the day was breaking through; a dour and dark
morning was it, and no sound to hear but a plover crying weep, weep,
and the little tinkle ever and anon of the hawke’s bells.

“I watched the wind toss Sir Gerald’s black hair and lift the plume of
his hat, and let it fall, and lift it again, and let it fall, light as
if ’twere the fingers of a woman at play with it. He was resting in his
saddle as if a-thinking, then touching Badminton with the spur, he led
the way from the road on to the moor, the two horses’ hoofs striking as
one.

“We passed the shoulder of the hill and down to the Gimmer side, and
there by the river we stopped again and Sir Gerald sat and seemed
a-listening to the mutter of the water and the wuther of the wind in
the reeds; but he was in sore trouble, that I knew by the way his head
was bent and by the sighs that broke from him ever and anon.

“And where his trouble lay I knew, for I had but to look the way his
head was turned, and see Castle Sinclair, all towers and turrets, set
up against the morning which was breaking quickly out from under the
clouds.

“As we sat I heard a horn sounding beyond the river bank and the yelp
of a hound blown on the wind thin and sharp, and in the distance,
crossing the ford of the Gimmer, I saw three horsemen; they were
Sinclairs, that I knew,–General James Sinclair rode first, I could
tell him by the great size of himself and his horse, and of the other
two I knew one to be Rupert and the other George, but which was which
no eye of mortal could tell in the dim light that was then.

“They passed the ford and rode away, a huntsman following close on,
seeming to move in the midst of a waving furze bush, which was the
hounds in full pack, and the last of them we heard was the toot of the
horn sounding over the hillside.

“Then Sir Gerald touched Badminton again with spur, and we rode along
the river bank to the ford, still warm from the crossing of the
Sinclairs; and the ford behind us, we set our horses’ heads straight
for Castle Sinclair.

“The morning was up now, and we could hear the cocks a-crowing from the
barnes lying to the thither side of the castle. In the courtyard we
drew bridle, and Sir Gerald dismounted and threw his reins to me.

“At the open door above the stone steps stood Mistress Beatrice
Sinclair herself; she held in her hand a silver stirrup cup. Without
doubt she had lingered at the door from seeing the huntsmen off to
their hunt, held mayhap by the fineness of the morning.

“I saw Sir Gerald advance to her, his plumed hat in hand, and they
passed into the great hall so that I could not see them more, and
there I sat to wait with no sound to save me from the stillness but
the cawing of the rooks in the elm tops below, and the grinding of
Badminton’s teeth as they chawed on the bit.

“The clock in the turret struck six, and I sat a-thinking of Mistress
Beatrice Sinclair, holding her beautiful face up to the eye of my
mind, and putting beside it for contrast the dark face of Sir Gerald.
Then the clock struck seven and Badminton he struck with his hind hoof
on the yard pavement and neighed as if calling after his master.

“Then five minutes might have gone. I saw Sir Gerald’s figure at the
door, his face white as the ashes of wood, and he stumbling like a
man far gone in drunkness. But drunkness it was none and that I knew,
but some calamity dire and fell, and I put Badminton up to the steps
in a trice, for I read the look in Sir Gerald’s black eye which meant
‘flight.’

“As he rose into the saddle a window shot open above, and a woman’s
voice cried, ‘Stop them, stop them, my lady is dead, he has killed
her!’ Then, reeling in my saddle with the horror of the thing, I put
the bridle rein to Sir Gerald’s hands. He heard and saw nothing, that
I knew by his eyes and his face, so, leaving Pimpernel to care for
herself, I sprang on Badminton behind Sir Gerald, and taking the reins
with my hands stretched out, I put spurs deep into his sides.

“The wind rushed in my ears and the cries of the woman grew faint;
down hill we tore, I heard the splashing of the Gimmer water round
Badminton’s legs and the hoofs of him rattling on the pebbles of the
ford. Then I heard behind me the clashing of the alarum bell of the
castle.

“Something in Sir Gerald’s right hand, hanging loose, took my eye, and
I sickened at the sight, for it was the body of the little brown hawk
crushed to death.

“I looked back, Castle Sinclair stood out against the blood red of the
sky. Up suddenly against us rose a great man on a black horse. It was
General James Sinclair spurring for the castle; he threw his horse on
his haunches. Badminton he reared, and Sir Gerald fell forward before
me on his neck, his dark hair all mixed with the mane. Then I drew
rein, I called to Sir Gerald, but no answer made he; his lips were
blue, dead he was as the little hawk crushed in his hand, dead as
Mistress Beatrice Sinclair, poisoned with the selfsame poison he always
carried in his ring; dead as I Geoffry Lely shall be, and that soon,
from the sorrow that has fallen on me since that dark and bloody day.”

There the writing stopped. I only quote from memory, but it is a good
memory, for that strange bit of writing burnt itself deeply into my
heart. It occupied six pages. The seventh was covered by Wilder’s
handwriting. It was the beginning of a horrible list, the list of the
eldest sons of the Wilders. Each name stood there bracketed with the
name of a Sinclair. I knew what that meant. This was the way:–

_Beatrice Sinclair–Gerald Wilder._
_John Wilder–Rupert Sinclair._
_Adam Wilder–James Sinclair-Sinclair._
_Athelstan Wilder–Arthur Reginald Sinclair_,

and so on.

That list horrified me, I could not go on with it. At the foot of all
these names so strangely coupled together James Wilder had written a
sort of prayer.

“Oh, God! how long! how much longer shall this blood red hand be held
over us? I have but one little child, I implore your mercy for it. Have
pity upon me and it, _we_ have done no wrong.”

That made my eyes swim so that I could scarcely see. I shut the little
black book; it looked like a witch, and I determined to burn it. The
fire was still red in the grate, so I got up and put it on the live
coals. It burned quite cheerfully. I watched it as I lay in bed, and I
muttered to myself, “Let the past die like that.” I watched the cover
all curling up, and little jets of blue flame spouting from the leather
binding. Oh, if it were only as easy to burn the past as it is to burn
a book! Then nothing was left but sullen-looking grey ashes, with
little red points running over them.

Then I blew out my candle, and the room was in darkness. The wind
sighed outside in the tree tops. I saw all kinds of pictures painted
on the darkness, faces, and one angelic face, the last before I went to
sleep–Geraldine’s.

A week ago I had been living in —- Crescent, living in a room with an
old faded carpet on the floor, with one picture on the walls,–and such
a picture, I can see it still, it was a German oleograph representing
the Day of Judgment, and so badly done that the long trumpets seemed
sticking in the sides of the angels’ cheeks, not out of their mouths,
and some of the devils, I remember, had their tails growing from the
middle of their backs. The looking-glass made one look horrible, and
the handles were off the chest of drawers, so one had to pull the
drawers out with a crooked hairpin.

I minded the picture more than anything. Some girls would have grumbled
at the chest of drawers, and never thought of the picture, but I have
always loved beautiful things, so I suppose that is the reason why I
grumbled so much at the picture and so little at the other thing.

You may think, then, how delightful it was next morning when I woke and
saw the light filtering in through the rose-coloured blinds. I sat up
in the bed and saw the glimmer of the great ivory hair brushes on the
dressing-table. I saw my rings lying in a heap–I would never have had
those rings only for Geraldine, I would never have been here, only for
Geraldine, I might have been in the Thames, floating with dead cats
and dogs by this, only for Geraldine. Then I fell back on the pillows,
smothered with a strange kind of horror; it was strange, because it had
no reason for being. It passed away slowly like a mist dissolving, and
I lay looking up at the blue ceiling, with rosy clouds painted on it,
and little Cupids peeping at each other from behind them. I pulled up
the blinds of my window to look out; then I opened the sash.

It was an autumn morning, warm and dark, the wind of the night before
had blown half dead leaves about the garden on which my window looked;
it had rained in the night, and the air was full of the smell of
dampness and decay, and a faint perfume like the bitter perfume of
chrysanthemums; there was just enough wind to make the trees move
their leaves about, and make a noise as if they were sighing. I love
this autumn weather; I don’t know why, perhaps it’s just because I
don’t know why that I love it. That seems rubbish, but I am too lazy
to scratch it out. It is just like autumn now as I sit writing this,
though it is early spring, and the trees are all covered with little
green buds, making ready for another autumn that I shall never see.

Then I dressed. I put on three dresses, one after another, and they all
seemed not good enough; but I had no more fit for morning wear, so I
left on the third.

Then I came down to breakfast, and I found only one place laid. I could
have broken my plate over the old butler’s head, but I didn’t, and I
can’t for the life of me tell why I could have done it, or why I didn’t
do it. Breakfast proceeded in solemn silence.

“Would I have ham?”

No, I would not have ham! where was Geraldine?

Miss Geraldine breakfasted an hour ago alone in her wing of the house;
Miss Geraldine sent her compliments, and wanted to know if I would
visit her in her own rooms after I had finished breakfast.

He might take Miss Geraldine my compliments, and say that I would have
much pleasure in doing so. He had better go at once. No, I required no
more coffee.

He went.

Her compliments, indeed, and her wing of the house, I wonder why
she didn’t send her card. Yes, I would visit her just as often as I
pleased–yet I would not if my visits didn’t please. No, in that case I
would drown myself in the moat, but there was no moat; well, in the big
bath upstairs. And the way the old butler said, “Miss Geraldine” quite
calmly, though he knows Miss Geraldine is a boy; and she is a boy,
and she ought to be smacked for being such a prig. But why smack her
when it’s not her fault? No, it’s James Wilder and the old butler that
require smacking, and still–and still, these two old fools between
them have produced, or helped to produce, this weird child, just as she
is; and in all God’s earth she is the most beautiful thing, and the
most strange. She is like a thing made of mist, yet she is real; she is
a ghost, yet one can touch her. What is she–what is he–who am I–I
don’t know–I don’t want to know. Ha! I felt just then the claws of the
little falcon pinching my wrist.

That was the jumbling kind of stuff that ran through my head as I
breakfasted; then, when I had finished, instead of going at once to
find Geraldine’s wing of the house, I hung about the room looking at
the pictures, putting off my visit just as a person puts off a bite at
a peach. At last I came.

I seemed to know the way by instinct; there was no placard with “To
Geraldine” on it, but I found Geraldine for all that. I crossed the
hall and passed the picture gallery scarcely looking at the door. Then
I lifted a heavy corded silk curtain, and found myself in a corridor.
Upon my word, I thought I was in the Arabian Nights. Each side of the
corridor was panelled, and on the cream white panels were painted
flowers,–it was a regular flower-garden of painting. The roof was
white, with coloured windows, each made in the shape of a fan. These
stained glass fans were the prettiest things in the way of windows I
had ever seen–so I thought. The corridor ended in a heavy curtain like
the one at the other end; two doors stood on each side of the curtain.
I chose the right hand door, for I guessed it belonged to the room she
was in. I was right. I knocked. A voice cried, “Come in,” and in I came.

Oh, this Geraldine! I must have seen her all askew last night, for now
she seemed eight times lovelier than she was then. Who had taught
this being the art of putting on dress? Surely not James Wilder or the
old butler. This dress she wore was made from a fabric intended to
represent the skin of some tropical lizard, scales of golden satin on a
body-ground of dull emerald-coloured silk. She rose from her chair like
a snake from a blanket. James Wilder, when he rose from a chair, always
reminded me of a flail in a fit. Yet she was his son.

We said “Good morning,” but we did not kiss. Something seemed to have
come between us; we seemed instinctively to hold aloof from each
other. The Geraldine who came up to me last night to be kissed, just
as a tame fawn might have done, was not exactly the Geraldine of this
morning. And yet I liked this something that had come between us.
Kisses are just like apples; if you can get as many as you want they
grow tasteless, and the more you pay for them the sweeter they seem,
and they are never so sweet as when you steal them. I never heard of a
farmer robbing his own orchard, have you?

Then this fine lady sank back into the chair from which she had
arisen–it was not sitting down, it was sinking down–and with a
ghostly smile resumed her work. And guess the work–tapestry. Tapestry;
and she had done yards of it, when she ought to have been playing at
marbles and learning to swear.

As for me, I sat down plump on a chair close by, crossed my legs, and
nursed my knee with my hands. I felt inclined to whistle. Remember,
I was thinking of her now as a boy in petticoats, and as long as I
thought of her as that I was in my right senses, that is, my everyday
senses. I felt perverse, just as I always feel, and would have liked to
tease–only I wouldn’t have dared–this half-absurd, wholly delightful
production of old James Wilder. But when I thought of her as a girl
I felt–I felt the dim remembrance of a past life, and an infinite
sadness.

I looked round at the room; it looked like the inside of a shell.
Fairies seemed to have furnished it. I never saw such exquisite things
before. There were cabinets inlaid with copper on ebony, and Venice
glass that seemed coloured with tints of the sea. A wood fire was
burning on the tiled hearth, and a great bowl of violets stood on a
table supported by carved dragons with jewels for eyes. The smell of
the violets made me feel faint every now and then, but the faintness
went away when I remembered this Geraldine was a boy. “Remember that,”
I kept repeating to myself. And in the middle of the room sat Geraldine.

The long French windows were open, and the garden, all damp and
sad-coloured, lay outside. Great chrysanthemums, potted out, were
nodding under the marble-coloured sky, and they all seemed nodding at
Geraldine. When a hitch came in the thread Geraldine’s under lip would
pout out. I felt now and then as if I were acting in a play, and the
chrysanthemums’ faces were the faces of the audience. Perhaps they
were. Anyhow, I had learnt my part very badly, so it seemed to me.

The tapestry was a great blessing; one could speak or not as one
pleased, and I generally preferred–not. I fell to wondering does
_she_ remember anything of that hunting morning so long ago: does she
remember the poison, has she forgiven the poisoner, and has God?

Then I began to talk to her again and she answered in a low measured
voice that sounded to me like a bell from the far past, yet in spite of
the ghostly kind of sadness with which her voice filled me, some of her
answers made me laugh.

She didn’t know how to read; that came out in the course of our scrappy
conversation.

“But, _Geraldine_, why–you’ve never read your _Bible_, then?”

One might have thought from my tone that I was a shocked Sunday-school
superintendent, and it really did seem shocking to me that a person
should never have read the Bible.

“What is my Bible?” asked Geraldine, staring at me, half-frightened at
my astonishment.

“Oh, it’s a book. I’ll tell you about it some other time, but–but you
can’t know Geography. Do you know where Japan is, Geraldine, or India?”

Geraldine’s head shook. She looked dazed.

“Do you know where England is?”

Oh, yes, she knew where England was,–this house, this garden, all away
beyond there, was England–all over there.

How proudly she waved the white hand. It was patriotism pure and
simple. She was proud of her park, not because it was her park, but
because it was her native land. Her–his–I cannot say “his,” I must
always say “her;” besides, it doesn’t matter now. It will never matter
again, nothing will ever matter again. What gibberish I am writing;
how those trees nod and nod their heads as if they were nodding at the
little graveyard “away over there,” just as the chrysanthemums were
nodding that morning at Geraldine.

She didn’t know her Bible and she didn’t know her Geography, and she
didn’t know “nothing.” What a lot of ignorance was stowed away in that
small head; but she knew something of natural history. The tapestry
work had stopped, and we were walking in the little garden where the
chrysanthemums were. I pointed to a snail on the path.

“What is that, Geraldine?”

“That,” said Geraldine, “is a snail.”

How proud she seemed of her knowledge, and how tenderly she lifted the
snail on to a leaf. The clock in the clock-turret was striking noon.

“Can you read the clock, Geraldine?”

“Oh, yes, and my watch.”

A watch the size of my thumb-nail was produced. How learned she was,
really a kind of professor!

We walked down an alley of cypress trees without speaking, then we
stopped, for the sound of a gong came roaring from the house.

It was the luncheon gong, so said Geraldine, and I suddenly woke up
from a reverie to remember that I was not in the seventeenth but the
nineteenth century.

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