The black jades of swart night trot foggy rings
'Bout heaven's brow. 'Tis now stark dead night.
JOHN MARSTON. -- Second Part of Antonio and Mellida.
AS soon as Hugh was alone, his first action was to lock the door by which he had entered; his next to take the key from the lock, and put it in his pocket. He then looked if there were any other fastenings, and finding an old tarnished brass bolt as well, succeeded in making it do its duty for the first time that century, which required some persuasion, as may be supposed. He then turned towards the other door. As he crossed the room, he found four candles, a decanter of port, and some biscuits, on a table -- placed there, no doubt, by the kind hands of Euphra. He vowed to himself that he would not touch the wine. |I have had enough of that for one night,| said he. But he lighted the candles; and then saw that the couch was provided with plenty of wraps for the night. One of them -- he recognised to his delight -- was a Cameron tartan, often worn by Euphra. He buried his face in it for a moment, and drew from it fresh courage. He then went into the furthest recess, lifted the tapestry, and proceeded to fasten the concealed door. But, to his discomfiture, he could find no fastening upon it. |No doubt,| thought he, |it does fasten, in some secret way or other.| But he could discover none. There was no mark of bolt or socket to show whence one had been removed, nor sign of friction to indicate that the door had ever been made secure in such fashion. It closed with a spring.
|Then,| said Hugh, apostrophising the door, |I must watch you.|
As, however, it was not yet near the time when ghosts are to be expected, and as he felt very tired, he drank one glass of the wine, and throwing himself on the couch, drew Euphra's shawl over him, opened his book, and began to read. But the words soon vanished in a bewildering dance, and he slept.
He started awake in that agony of fear in which I suppose most people have awaked in the night, once or twice in their lives. He felt that he was not alone. But the feeling seemed, when he recalled it, to have been altogether different from that with which we recognise the presence of the most unwelcome bodily visitor. The whole of his nervous skeleton seemed to shudder and contract. Every sense was intensified to the acme of its acuteness; while the powers of volition were inoperative. He could not move a finger.
The moment in which he first saw the object I am about to describe, he could not recall. The impression made seemed to have been too strong for the object receiving it, destroying thus its own traces, as an overheated brand-iron would in dry timber. Or it may be that, after such a pre-sensation, the cause of it could not surprise him.
He saw, a few paces off, bending as if looking down upon him, a face which, if described as he described it, would be pronounced as far past the most liberal boundary-line of art, as itself had passed beyond that degree of change at which a human countenance is fit for the upper world no longer, and must be hidden away out of sight. The lips were dark, and drawn back from the closed teeth, which were white as those of a skull. There were spots -- in fact, the face corresponded exactly to the description given by Funkelstein of the reported ghost of Lady Euphrasia. The dress was point for point correspondent to that in the picture. Had the portrait of Lady Euphrasia been hanging on the wall above, instead of the portrait of the unknown nun, Hugh would have thought, as far as dress was concerned, that it had come alive, and stepped from its frame -- except for one thing: there was no ring on the thumb.
It was wonderful to himself afterwards, that he should have observed all these particulars; but the fact was, that they rather burnt themselves in upon his brain, than were taken notice of by him. They returned upon him afterwards by degrees, as one becomes sensible of the pain of a wound.
But there was one sign of life. Though the eyes were closed, tears flowed from them; and seemed to have worn channels for their constant flow down this face of death, which ought to have been lying still in the grave, returning to its dust, and was weeping above ground instead. The figure stood for a moment, as one who would gaze, could she but open her heavy, death-rusted eyelids. Then, as if in hopeless defeat, she turned away. And then, to crown the horror literally as well as figuratively, Hugh saw that her hair sparkled and gleamed goldenly, as the hair of a saint might, if the aureole were combed down into it. She moved towards the door with a fettered pace, such as one might attribute to the dead if they walked; -- to the dead body, I say, not to the living ghost; to that which has lain in the prison-hold, till the joints are decayed with the grave-damps, and the muscles are stiff with more than deathly cold. She dragged one limb after the other slowly and, to appearance, painfully, as she moved towards the door which Hugh had locked.
When she had gone half-way to the door, Hugh, lying as he was on a couch, could see her feet, for her dress did not reach the ground. They were bare, as the feet of the dead ought to be, which are about to tread softly in the realm of Hades, But how stained and mouldy and iron-spotted, as if the rain had been soaking through the spongy coffin, did the dress show beside the pure whiteness of those exquisite feet! Not a sign of the tomb was upon them. Small, living, delicately formed, Hugh, could he have forgot the face they bore above, might have envied the floor which in their nakedness they seemed to caress, so lingeringly did they move from it in their noiseless progress.
She reached the door, put out her hand, and touched it. Hugh saw it open outwards and let her through. Nor did this strike him as in the smallest degree marvellous. It closed again behind her, noiseless as her footfalls.
The moment she vanished, the power of motion returned to him, and Hugh sprang to his feet. He leaped to the door. With trembling hand he inserted the key, and the lock creaked as he turned it.
In proof of his being in tolerable possession of his faculties at the moment, and that what he was relating to me actually occurred, he told me that he remembered at once that he had heard that peculiar creak, a few moments before Euphra and he discovered that they were left alone in this very chamber. He had never thought of it before.
Still the door would not open: it was bolted as well, and the bolt was very stiff to withdraw. But at length he succeeded.
When he reached the passage outside, he thought he saw the glimmer of a light, perhaps in the picture-gallery beyond. Towards this he groped his way. -- He could never account for the fact, that he left the candles burning in the room behind him and went forward into the darkness, except by supposing that his wits had gone astray, in consequence of the shock the apparition had occasioned them. -- When he reached the gallery, there was no light there; but somewhere in the distance he saw, or fancied, a faint shimmer.
The impulse to go towards it was too strong to be disputed with. He advanced with outstretched arms, groping. After a few steps, he had lost all idea of where he was, or how he ought to proceed in order to reach any known quarter. The light had vanished. He stood. -- Was that a stealthy step he heard beside him in the dark? He had no time to speculate, for the next moment he fell senseless.