Sunday, September 25, 2016
The number of libraries purchasing a copy of Tolstoy's short stories that I edited is growing by leaps and bounds. Follow this link to see if Leo Tolstoy's 20 Greatest Short Stories Annotated is at a library near you: http://www.worldcat.org/title/leo-tolstoys-20-greatest-short-stories-annotated/oclc/457080394
If not, you can get a copy of the Tolstoy ebook for less than $8 on Google Books. Enjoy!
Saturday, September 17, 2016
Jack Kerouac writes like Jackson Pollock paints. And for those of you familiar with the work of Pollock you know exactly what I mean. Kerouac promulgated a slash-and-dash style of writing, a jittery style of writing, an alcohol fused style of writing, that caused his characters to get caught up in their shoelaces and--though On the Road--made them go nowhere in particular no matter how many times they crisscrossed America.
On the Road has very little plot and even less character generation of unique speech and idiosyncrasies. It may have been better if Kerouac had dispensed with punctuation altogether and made it a 300+ page run-on sentence. Truman Capote said "That's not writing; that's typing." His Columbia English lit teacher must have told him that writing a novel is a race. Kerouac took her up on it, claiming to have written On the Road in a three week maniacal flurry of writing (sorry, typing).
Kerouac is said to have died in 1967 (nearly one year after my birth) of internal bleeding due to alcohol abuse. Don't you believe it. I say Kerouac died of an acute case of diarrhea of the keyboard. He is pictured above in his 1943 Naval enlistment photo, Kerouac became a symbol of the early beat culture. On the Road was published in 1957 and is his most famous novel.
Despite my view of it, it is a novel of importance because Kerouac's rambling style was largely a first in literature. I wonder why? There is no question that it gives the novel a pure, unfiltered feel that can only come off as genuine. You take it flaws and all, just like life. For that it has value.
Several big names in music have dedicated songs to the novel and the man: “Black Cowboys” by Bruce Springsteen; “Idiot Wind” by Bob Dylan; “Hey Jack Kerouac” by 10,000 Maniacs.
Author of The Divine Dantes trilogy
Saturday, September 3, 2016
Barnes & Noble
Through September 5th you get 40% off my book at Barnes & Noble using coupon code: LMQCJGX26KQFK Plus bag free shipping on orders over $25. Happy Labor Day weekend for those of you in the States. Here are great choices to use your 40% off B&N coupon:
Best Ghost Short Stories 1850-1899: A Phantasmal Ghost Anthology contains the best ghost stories from the last half of the 19th century. Published in August of 2016, it includes scary short stories from popular American and Victorian authors including: Bram Stoker, M. R. James, Joseph Le Fanu, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Nesbit, and Francis Marion Crawford. The ghost story anthology is annotated and includes story backgrounds and author photos. Boo!
Thanks to Edgar Allan Poe, Honore de Balzac, Nathaniel Hawthorne and others, the half century from 1800-1849 is the cradle of all modern horror short stories. Andrew Barger, the editor of this book as well as Edgar Allan Poe Annotated and Illustrated Entire Stories and Poems, read over 300 horror short stories to compile the 12 best. At the back of the book he includes a list of all short stories he considered along with their dates of publication and author, when available. He even includes background for each of the stories, author photos and annotations for difficult terminology. A number of the scary short stories were published in leading periodicals of the day such as Blackwood's and Atkinson's Casket. Read The Best Horror Short Stories 1800-1849 today!
"Anna Karenina" and "War and Peace" branded Tolstoy as one of the greatest writers in modern history. Few, however, have read his wonderful short stories. Now, in one collection, are the 20 greatest short stories of Leo Tolstoy, which give a snapshot of Russia and its people in the late nineteenth century. A fine introduction is given by Andrew Barger. Annotations are included of difficult Russian terms. There is also a Tolstoy biography at the start of the book with photos of Tolstoy's relatives.
#BarnsandNobleCoupon #BestGhostShortStories #BestHorrorShortStories
Saturday, August 27, 2016
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
Similar to Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce was an American short story writer and flame-throwing critic. Bierce also many stories that centered on the macabre. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is one of his most famous, but for purposes of my countdown of the best horror short stories from 1850-1899, his finest horror tale is "The Damned Thing."
Published on December 7, 1893 in Town Topics: The Journal of Society, a New York literary magazine, "The Damned Thing" at first blush addresses invisibility. The scary story was derided as a result because Fitz James O'Brien penned the first invisible monster horror story in 1859 and it was seen as an imitation on the theme.
Bierce, however, staunchly fought this notion by claiming his story involved a non-supernatural creature whose color was merely invisible to the human eye whereas O'Brien's beast was supernatural.
Enjoy horror short story 17 in my countdown to kick off the launch of my new annotated horror anthology, Best Horror Short Stories 1850-1899: A Phantasmal Horror Anthology.
The Damned Thing
ONE DOES NOT ALWAYS EAT WHAT IS ON A TABLE
BY the light of a tallow candle, which had been placed on one end of a rough table, a man was reading something written in a book. It was an old account book, greatly worn; and the writing was not, apparently, very legible, for the man sometimes held the page close to the flame of the candle to get a stronger light upon it.
The shadow of the book would then throw into obscurity a half of the room, darkening a number of faces and figures; for besides the reader, eight other men were present. Seven of them sat against the rough log walls, silent and motionless, and, the room being small, not very far from the table. By extending an arm any one of them could have touched the eighth man, who lay on the table, face upward, partly covered by a sheet, his arms at his side. He was dead.
The man with the book was not reading aloud, and no one spoke; all seemed to be waiting for something to occur; the dead man only was without expectation. From the blank darkness outside came in, through the aperture that served for a window, all the ever unfamiliar noises of night in the wilderness——the long nameless note of a distant coyote; the stilly pulsing thrill of tireless insects in trees; strange cries of night birds, so different from those of the birds of day; the drone of great blundering beetles, and all that mysterious chorus of small sounds that seem always to have been but half heard when they have suddenly ceased, as if conscious of an indiscretion. But nothing of all this was noted in that company; its members were not over-much addicted to idle interest in matters of no practical importance; that was obvious in every line of their ruddy faces—obvious even in the dim light of the single candle. They were evidently men of the vicinity-farmers and woodmen.
The person reading was a trifle different: one would have said of him that he was o the world worldly, albeit there was that in his attire which attested a certain fellowship with the organisms of his environment. His coat would hardly have passed muster in San Francisco; his foot-gear was not of urban origin, and the hat that lay by him on the floor (he was the only one uncovered) was such that if one had considered it as an article of mere personal adornment he would have missed its meaning. In countenance the man was rather prepossessing, with just a hint of sternness; though that he may have assumed or cultivated, as appropriate to one in authority. For he was a coroner. It was by virtue of his office that he had possession of the book in which he was reading; it had been found among the dead man's effects—in his cabin. where the inquest was now taking place.
When the coroner had finished reading he put the book into his breast pocket. At that moment the door was pushed open and a young man entered. He, clearly, was not of mountain birth and breeding: he was clad as those who dwell in cities. His clothing was dusty, however, as from travel. He had, in fact, been riding hard to attend the inquest.
The coroner nodded; no one else greeted him.
“We have waited for you," said the coroner. "It is necessary to have done with this business to-night." The young man smiled "I am sorry to have kept you," he said. "I went away. not to evade your summons, but to post to my newspaper an account of—of what l suppose I am called back to relate."
The coroner smiled.
"The account that you posted to your newspaper," he said, "differs, probably, from that which you will give here under oath."
"That," replied the other, rather hotly and with a visible flush. “is as you choose. 1 used manifold paper and have a copy of what I sent. It was not written as news, for it is incredible, but as fiction. It may go as a,part of my testimony under oath."
"But you say it is incredible."
"That is nothing to you, sir, if I also swear that it is true."
The coroner was apparently not greatly affected by the young man's manifest resentment. I-Ie was silent for some moments, his eyes upon the floor. The men about the sides of the cabin talked in whispers. but seldom withdrew their gaze from the face of the corpse. Presently the coroner lifted his eyes and said: "We will resume the inquest."
The men removed their hats. The witness was sworn.
"What is our name?" the coroner asked.
"You knew the deceased. Hugh Morgan?"
"You were with him when he died?"
"How did that happen—your presence, I mean?"
"I was visiting him at this place to shoot and fish. A part of my purpose, however, was to study him, and his odd, solitary way of life. He seemed a good model for a character in fiction. I sometimes write stories."
"I sometimes read them."
"Stories in general—not yours."
The witness was not visibly affected in any way, but some of the jurors laughed. Against a sombre background humor shows high lights. Soldiers in the intervals of battle laugh easily, and a jest in the death chamber conquers by surprise.
"Relate the circumstances of this man's death," said the coroner. "You may use any notes or memoranda that you please."
The witness understood. Pulling a manuscript from his breast pocket he held it near the candle, and turning the leaves until he found the passage that he wanted began to read.
WHAT MAY HAPPEN IN A FIELD OF WILD OATS
“ . . . The sun had hardly risen when we left the house. We were looking for quail, each with a shotgun, but we had but one dog. Morgan said that our best ground was beyond a certain ridge that he pointed out, and we crossed it by a trail through the chapparal. On the other side was comparatively level ground, thickly covered with wild oats. As we emerged from the chapparal, Morgan was a few yards in advance. Suddenly, we heard. at a little distance to our right, and partly in front, a noise as of some animal thrashing about in the bushes, which we could see were violently agitated.
"'We've started a deer,' I said. ‘I wish we had brought a rifle.'
"Morgan, who had stopped and was intently watching the agitated chapparal, said nothing, but had cocked both barrels of his gun, and was holding it in readiness to aim. I thought him a trifle excited, which surprised me, for he had a reputation for exceptional coolness, even in moments of sudden and imminent peril.
"'O, come!' I said. ‘You are not going to fill up a deer with quail-shot, are you?’
"Still he did not reply; but, catching a. sight of his face as he turned it slightly toward me, I was struck by the pallor of it. Then I understood that we had serious business on hand, and my first conjecture was that we had 'jumped' a grizzly. I advanced to Morgan's side, cocking my piece as I moved.
"The bushes were now quiet, and the sounds had ceased, but Morgan was as attentive to the place as before.
"'What is it? What the devil is it?' I asked.
"'That Damned Thing!' he replied, without turning his head. His voice was husky and unnatural. He trembled visibly.
"I was about to speak further, when I observed the wild oats near the place of the disturbance moving in the most inexplicable way. I can hardly describe it. It seemed as if stirred by a streak of wind, which not only bent it, but pressed it down—crushed it so that it did not rise, and this movement was slowly prolonging itself directly toward us.
"Nothing that I had ever seen had affected me so strangely as this unfamiliar and unaccountable phenomenon yet I am unable to recall any sense of fear. I remember—an relate it here because, singularly enough, I recollected it then——at once, in looking carelessly out of an open window. I momentarily took a small tree close at hand for one of a group of larger trees at a little distance away. It looked the same size as the others, but, being more distinctly and sharply defined in mass and detail, seemed out of harmony with them. It was a mere falsification of the law of aerial perspective, but it startled, almost terrified me. We so rely upon the orderly operation of familiar natural laws that any seeming suspension of them l\' noted as a menace to our safety, a warning 0 unthinkable calamity. So now the apparently causeless movement of the herbage and the slow, undeviating approach of the line of disturbance were distinctly disquieting. My companion appeared actually frightened, and I could hardly credit my senses when I saw him suddenly throw his gun to his shoulder and fire both barrels at the agitated grass! Before the smoke of the discharge had cleared away I heard a loud savage cry—a scream like that of a wild animal—and, flinging his gun upon the ground, Morgan sprang away and ran swiftly from the spot. At the same instant I was thrown violently to the ground by the impact of something unseen in the smoke--some soft, heavy substance that seemed thrown against me with great force.
"Before l could get upon my feet and recover my gun, which seemed to have been struck from my hands, I heard Morgan crying out as if in mortal agony, and mingling with his cries were such hoarse savage sounds as one hears from fighting dogs. Inexpressibly terrified,I struggled to my feet and looked in the direction of Morgan's retreat; and may Heaven in mercy spare me from another sight like that! At a distance of less than thirty yards was my friend, down upon one knee, his head thrown back at a frightful angle, hatless, his long hair in disorder and his whole body in violent movement from side to side, backward and forward. His right arm was lifted and seemed to lack the hand—at least, I could see none. The other arm was invisible. At times, as my memory now reports this extraordinary scene, I could discern but a art of his body; it was as if he had been partly blotted out—I cannot otherwise express it—then a shifting of his position would bring it all into view again.
"All this must have occurred within a few seconds, yet in that time Morgan assumed all the postures of a determined wrestler vanquished by superior weight and strength. 1 saw nothing but him, and him not always distinctly. During the entire incident his shouts and curses were heard, as if through an enveloping uproar of such sounds of rage and fury as I had never heard from the throat of man or brute!
"For a moment only I stood irresolute, then, throwing down my gun, I ran forward to my friend's assistance. I had a vague belief that he was suffering from a fit, or some form of convulsion. Before I could reach his side he was down and quiet. All sounds had ceased, but, with a feeling of such terror as even these awful events had not inspired, l now saw the same mysterious movement of the wild oats prolonging itself from the trampled area about the prostrate man towards the edge of a wood. It was only when it had reached the wood that I was able to withdraw my eyes and look at my companion. He was dead. . .
A MAN IF NAKED MAY BE IN RAGS
The coroner rose from his seat and stood beside the dead man. Lifting an edge of the sheet he pulled it away, exposing the entire body, altogether naked, and showing, in the candle light, a claylike yellow. It had, however, broad maculations of bluish black, obviously caused by extravasated blood from contusions. The chest and sides looked as if they had been beaten with a bludgeon. There were dreadful lacerations; the skin was torn in strips and shreds.
The coroner moved round to the end of the table and undid a silk handkerchief, which had been passed under the chin and knotted on the top of the head. When the handkerchief was drawn away it exposed what had been the throat. Some of the witnesses who had risen to get a better view repented their curiosity, and turned away their faces. Witness Harker went to the open window and leaned out across the sill, faint and sick. Dropping the handkerchief upon the dead man's neck the coroner stepped to an angle of the room, and from a pile of clothing produced one garment after another, each of which he held up a moment for inspection. All were torn and stiff with blood.
"The jurors did not make a closer inspection. They seemed rather uninterested. They had, in truth, seen all this before; the only thing that was new to them being Harker's testimony.
"Gentlemen," the coroner said, “we have no more evidence; I think. Your duty has been already explained to you; if there is anything you wish to ask you may go outside and consider your verdict.
The foreman rose-a tall bearded man of sixty, coarsely clad. "i should like to ask one question, Mr. Coroner," he said. "What asylum mdid this yer last witness escape from?"
"Mr. Harker," said the coroner, gravely and tranquilly, "from what asylum did you last escape?"
Harker flushed crimson again, but said nothing, and the seven jurors rose and solemly filed out of the cabin.
"If you have done insulting me, sir," said Harker, as soon as he and the officer were left alone with the dead man. "I suppose I am at liberty to go?"
Harker started to leave, but paused, with his hand on the door latch. The habit of his profession was strong in him--stonger than his sense of personal dignity. He turned about and said: "The book that you have there--I recognize it as Morgan's diary. You seemed greatly interested in it; you read in it while I was testifying. May I see it? The public would like—"
"The book will cut no figure in this matter," replied the official, slipping it into his coat pocket; "all the entries in it were made before the writer's death."
As Harker passed out of the house the jury re-entered and stood about the table, on which the now covered corpse showed under the sheet with sharp definition. The foreman seated himself near the candle, produced from his breast pocket a pencil and scrap of paper, and wrote, rather laboriously, the following verdict, which with various degrees of effort all signed:
"We, the jury, do find that the remains come to their death at the hands of a mountain lion, but some of us thinks, all the same, they had fits."
AN EXPLANATION FROM THE TOMB
In the diary of the late Hugh Morgan are certain interesting entries having, possibly, a scientific value as suggestions. At the inquest upon his body the book was not put in evidence; possibly the coroner thought it not worth while to confuse the jury. The date of the first of the entries mentioned cannot be ascertained; the upper part of the leaf is torn away; the part of the entry remaining is as follows:
" . . . up his bristles, growling and uncovering his teeth, making sudden dashes, then backing away, as if in fear. Sometimes he would run in a half circle, keeping his head turned always toward the centre. and again he would stand still, barking furiously. At last he ran away into the brush as fast as he could go. I thought at first that he had gone mad, but on returning to the house found no other alteration in his manner than what was obviously due to fear of punishment.
"Can a dog see with his nose? Do odors impress some olfactory centre with images of the thing emitting them? . . . .
"Sept. 2.-—Looking at the stars last night as they rose above the crest of the ridge east of the house, I observed them successively disappear—from left to right. Each was eclipsed but an instant, and only a few at the same time, but along the entire length of the ridge all that were within a degree or two of the crest were blotted out. It was as if something had passed along between me and them; but I could not see it, and the stars were not thick enough to define its outline. Ugh! I don't like this. . . ."
Several weeks' entries are missing, three leaves being torn from the book.
"Sept. 27.—It has been about here again—I find evidences of its presence every day. I watched again all of last night in the same cover, gun in hand, double-charged with buckshot. In the morning the fresh footprints were there, as before. Yet I would have sworn that I did not sleep-—indeed, I hardly sleep at all. It is terrible, insupportable If these amazing experiences are real I shall go mad; if they are fanciful I am mad already. . . .
"Oct. 3.——l shall not go—it shall not drive me away. No. this is my house, my land. God hates a coward. . . .
"Oct. 5.—l can stand it no longer; I have invited Harker to pass a few weeks with me—he has a level head. I can judge from his manner if he thinks me mad. . . .
"Oct. 7.—I have -the solution of the problem; it came to_me last night—suddenly, as by revelation. How simple—how terribly simple!
“There are sounds that we cannot hear. At either end of the scale are notes that stir no cord of that imperfect instrument. the human ear. They are too high or too grave. I have observed a flock of blackbirds occupying an entire tree-top— the tops of several trees—an(l all in full song. Suddenly—in a moment—at absolutely the same instant—all spring into the air and fly away. How? They could not all see one another—whole tree-tops intervened. At no point could a leader have been visible to all. There must have been a signal of warning or command, high and shrill above the din, but by me unheard. I have observed, too, the same simultaneous flight when all were silent. among not only blackbirds, but other birds——quail, for example. widely separated by bushes——even on opposite sides of a hill.
"It is known to seamen that a school of whales basking Or sporting on the surface of the ocean, miles apart. with the convexity of the earth between them, will sometimes dive at the same instant—all gone out of sight in a second. The signal has been sounded—too grave for the ear of the sailor at the masthead and his comrades on the deck—who nevertheless feel its vibration in the ship as the stones of a cathedral are stirred by the bass of the organ.
"As with sounds, so with colors. At each end of the solar spectrum the chemist can detect the presence of what are known 'actinic' rays. They represent colors—integral colors in ll"? composition of light—which we are unable to discern. The human eye is an imperfect instrument; its range is but a few octaves of the real ‘chromatic scale.’ I am not mad; there are colors that we cannot see.
"And, God help me! the Damned Thing is of that color!"
Best Horror Short Stories 1850-1899 Annotated
Exciting news in the horror world. This week I have pre-published my latest horror anthology - Best Horror Short Stories 1850-1899: A 6a66le Horror Anthology. It will launch October 8th just in time for the bewitching season. You can purchase it on Kindle for $2.99 during the pre-launch period. Order today!
Saturday, August 20, 2016
Sleepyhead by Anton Chekhov - Story 18 in Andrew Barger's Top 20 Horror Short Story Countdown from 1850-1899
The next scary tale in my Top 20 horror short story countdown from 1850-1899 comes to us compliments of Anton Chekhov. The Russian author and playwright was known for his numerous short stories that were precise and often contained repetitive phrases. Chekhov also practiced as a medical doctor for a number of years. He once said, "Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress."
"Sleepy," also titled "Let Me Sleep" in the original was first published in Russia on January 25, 1888. The print version appeared as "Sleepy-Eye" in Cosmopolitan Magazine, volume 41, New York, May, 1906. It one of the best treatments of insanity for the last half of the nineteenth century and nearly rivals that of "The Yellow Wallpaper." In 1915 it was published in a collection of short stories by Chekhov called The Black Monk and Other Stories as "Sleepyhead." This is the version provided below.
NIGHT. Nursemaid Varka, aged thirteen, rocks the cradle where baby lies, and murmurs almost inaudibly:
"Bayu, bayushki, bayu!
Nurse will sing a song to you! . . ."
In front of the ikon burns a green lamp; across the room from wall to wall stretches a cord on which hang baby-clothes and a great pair of black trousers. On the ceiling above the lamp shines a great green spot, and the baby-clothes and trousers cast long shadows on the stove, on the cradle, on Varka . . . When the lamp flickers, the spot and shadows move as if from a draught. It is stifling. There is a smell of soup and boots.
The child cries. It has long been hoarse and weak from crying, but still it cries, and who can say when it will be comforted? And Varka wants to sleep. Her eyelids droop, her head hangs, her neck pains her. . . . She can hardly move her eyelids or her lips, and it seems to her that her face is sapless and petrified, and that her head has shrivelled up to the size of a pinhead.
"Bayu, bayushki, bayu!" she murmurs, "Nurse is making pap for you.
In the stove chirrups a cricket. In the next room behind that door snore Varka's master and the journeyman Athanasius. The cradle creaks plaintively, Varka murmurs—and the two sounds mingle soothingly m a lullaby sweet to the ears of those who lie in bed. But now the music is only irritating and oppressive, for it inclines to sleep, and sleep is impossible. If Varka, which God forbid, were to go to sleep, her master and mistress would beat her.
The lamp flickers. The green spot and the shadows move about, they pass into the half-open, motionless eyes of Varka, and in her half-awakened brain blend in misty images. She sees dark clouds chasing one another across the sky and crying like the child. And then a wind blows; the clouds vanish; and Varka sees a wide road covered with liquid mud; along the road stretch wagons, men with satchels on their backs crawl along, and shadows move backwards and forwards; on either side through the chilly, thick mist are visible hills. And suddenly the men with the satchels, and the shadows collapse in the liquid mud.
"Why is this?" asks Varka. "To sleep, to sleep!" comes the answer. And they sleep soundly, sleep sweetly; and on the telegraph wires perch crows, and cry like the child, and try to awaken them.
"Bayu, bayushki, bayu. Nurse will sing a song to you," murmurs Varka; and now she sees herself in a dark and stifling cabin.
On the floor lies her dead father, Yefim Stepanoff. She cannot see him, but she hears him rolling from side to side, and groaning. In his own words he " has had a rupture." The pain is so intense that he cannot utter a single word, and only inhales air and emits through his lips a drumming sound.
"Bu, bu, bu, bu, bu. . . ."
Mother Pelageya has run to the manor-house to tell the squire that Yefim is dying. She has been gone a long time . . . will she ever return? Varka lies on the stove, and listens to her father's "Bu, bu, bu, bu." And then someone drives up to the cabin door. It is the doctor, sent from the manor-house where he is staying as a guest. The doctor comes into the hut; in the darkness he is invisible, but Varka can hear him coughing and hear the creaking of the door.
"Bring a light!" he says.
"Bu, bu, bu," answers Yefim.
Pelageya runs to the stove and searches for a jar of matches. A minute passes in silence. The doctor dives into his pockets and lights a match himself.
"Immediately, batiushka, immediately!" cries Pelageya, running out of the cabin. In a minute she returns with a candle end.
Yefim's cheeks are flushed, his eyes sparkle, and his look is piercing, as if he could see through the doctor and the cabin wall.
"Well, what's the matter with you?" asks the doctor, bending over him. "Ah! You have been like this long?"
"What's the matter? The time has come, your honor, to die. ... I shall not live any longer. . . ."
"Nonsense. . . . We'll soon cure you!"
"As you will, your honor. Thank you humbly . . . only we understand. ... If we must die, we must die. . . ."
Half an hour the doctor spends with Yefim; then he rises and says: "I can do nothing. . , . You must go to the hospital; there they will operate on you. You must go at once . . . without fail! It is late, and they will all be asleep at the hospital . . . but never mind, I will give you a note. . . . Do you hear?"
"Batiushka, how can he go to the hospital?" asks Pelageya. "We have no horse."
"Never mind, I will speak to the squire, he will lend you one."
The doctor leaves, the light goes out, and again Varka hears: "Bu, bu, bu." In half an hour someone drives up to the cabin. . . . This is the cart for Yefim to go to hospital in. . . . Yefim gets ready and goes. . . .
And now comes a clear and fine morning. Pelageya is not at home; she has gone to the hospital to find out how Yefim is. . . . There is a child crying, and Varka hears someone singing with her own voice: "Bayu, bayushki, bayu! , Nurse will sing a song to you. . .
Pelageya returns, she crosses herself and whispers: "Last night he was better, towards morning he gave his soul to God. . . . Heavenly kingdom, eternal rest!. . . They say we brought him too late. . . . We should have done it sooner. . .
Varka goes into the wood, and cries, and suddenly someone slaps her on the nape of the neck with such force that her forehead bangs against a birch tree. She lifts her head, and sees before her her master, the shoemaker.
"What are you doing, scabby?" he asks. "The child is crying and you are asleep.'"
He gives her a slap on the ear; and she shakes her head, rocks the cradle, and murmurs her lullaby. The green spot, the shadows from the trousers and the baby-clothes, tremble, wink at her, and soon again possess her brain. Again she sees a road covered with liquid mud. Men with satchels on their backs, and shadows lie down and sleep soundly. When she looks at them Varka passionately desires to sleep; she would lie down with joy; but mother Pelageya comes along and hurries her. They are going into town to seek situations.
"Give me a kopeck for the love of Christ,'' says her mother to everyone she meets. "Show the pity of God, merciful gentleman!"
"Give me here the child," cries a well-known voice. "Give me the child," repeats the same voice, but this time angrily and sharply. "You are asleep, beast!"
Varka jumps up, and looking around her remembers where she is; there is neither road, nor Pelageya, nor people, but only, standing in the middle of the room, her mistress who has come to feed the child. While the stout, broad-shouldered woman feeds and soothes the baby, Varka stands still, looks at her, and waits till she has finished.
And outside the window the air grows blue, the shadows fade and the green spot on the ceiling pales. It will soon be morning.
"Take it," says her mistress buttoning her nightdress. "It is crying. The evil eye is upon it!"
Varka takes the child, lays it in the cradle, and again begins rocking. The shadows and the green spot fade away, and there is nothing now to set her brain going. But, as before, she wants to sleep, wants passionately to sleep. Varka lays her head on the edge of the cradle and rocks it with her whole body so as to drive away sleep; but her eyelids droop again, and her head is heavy.
"Varka, light the stove!" rings the voice of her master from behind the door.
That is to say: it is at last time to get up and begin the day's work. Varka leaves the cradle, and inns to the shed for wood. She is delighted. When she runs or walks she does not feel the want of sleep as badly as when she is sitting down. She brings in wood, lights the stove, and feels how her petrified face is waking up, and how her thoughts are clearing.
"Varka, get ready the samovar!" cries her mistress. Varka cuts splinters of wood, and has hardly lighted them and laid them in the samovar when another order comes: "Varka, clean your master's goloshes!"
Varka sits on the floor, cleans the goloshes, and thinks how delightful it would be to thrust her head into the big, deep golosh, and slumber in it awhile. . . . And suddenly the golosh grows, swells, and fills the whole room. Varka drops the brush, but immediately shakes her head, distends her eyes, and tries to look at things as if they had not grown and did not move in her eyes.
"Varka, wash the steps outside . . . the customers will be scandalized!"
Varka cleans the steps, tidies the room, and then lights another stove and runs into the shop. There is much work to be done, and not a moment free.
But nothing is so tiresome as to stand at the kitchen-table and peel potatoes. Varka's head falls on the table, the potatoes glimmer in her eyes, the knife drops from her hand, and around her bustles her stout, angry mistress with sleeves tucked up, and talks so loudly that her voice rings in Varka's ears. It is torture, too, to wait at table, to wash up, and to sew. There are moments when she wishes, notwithstanding everything around her, to throw herself on the floor and sleep.
The day passes. And watching how the windows darken, Varka presses her petrified temples, and smiles, herself not knowing why. The darkness caresses her drooping eyelids, and promises a sound sleep soon. But towards evening the bootmaker's rooms are full of visitors.
"Varka, prepare the samovar!" cries her mistress.
It is a small samovar, and before the guests are tired of drinking tea, it has to be filled and heated five times. After tea Varka stands a whole hour on one spot, looks at the guests, and waits for orders.
"Varka, run and buy three bottles of beer!"
Varka jumps from her place, and tries to run as quickly as possible so as to drive away sleep.
"Varka, go for vodka! Varka, where is the corkscrew? Varka, clean the herrings!"
At Lost the guests are gone; the fires are extinguished; master and mistress go to bed.
"Varka, rock the cradle!" echoes the last order.
In the stove chirrups a cricket; the green spot on the ceiling, and the shadows from the trousers and baby-clothes again twinkle before Varka's half-opened eyes, they wink at her, and obscure her brain.
"Bayu, bayushki, bayu," she murmurs, "Nurse will sing a song to you. . . ."
But the child cries and wearies itself with crying. Varka sees again the muddy road, the men with satchels, Felageya, and father Yefim. She remembers, she recognizes them all, but in her semi-slumber she cannot understand the force which binds her, hand and foot, and crushes her, and ruins her life. She looks around her, and seeks that force that she may rid herself of it. But she cannot find it. And at last, tortured, she strains all her strength and sight; she looks upward at the winking green spot, and as she hears the cry of the baby, she finds the enemy who is crushing her heart.
The enemy is the child.
Varka laughs. She is astonished. How was it that never before could she understand such a simple thing? The green spot, the shadows, and the cricket, it seems, all smile and are surprised at it.
An idea takes possession of Varka. She rises from the stool, and, smiling broadly with unwinking eyes, walks up and down the room. She is delighted and touched by the thought that she will soon be delivered from the child who has bound her, hand and foot. To kill the child, and then to sleep, sleep, sleep . . .
And smiling and blinking and threatening the green spot with her fingers, Varka steals to the cradle and bends over the child. . . . And having smothered the child she drops on the floor, and, laughing with joy at the thought that she can sleep, in a moment sleeps as soundly as the dead child.
Best Horror Short Stories 1850-1899 Annotated
Exciting news in the horror world. This week I have pre-published my latest horror anthology - Best Horror Short Stories 1850-1899: A 6a66le Horror Anthology. It will launch October 8th just in time for the bewitching season. You can purchase it on Kindle for $2.99 during the pre-launch period. Order today!
#Sleepyhead #ChekhovBestStories #BestHorrorShortStories
Sunday, August 7, 2016
Excuse me while I interrupt my countdown of the 20 scariest short stories for the last half of the 19th century to drop a my new ghost short stories cover. I wanted a simple cover that would stand out even when a thumbnail-sized image on the Internet, hence the Victorian ghost woman on the front.
The full title is Best Ghost Short Stories 1850-1899: A Phantasmal Ghost Anthology and it officially launches in two weeks. But you can buy it now on Google Books by clicking the link above.
More on the contents later along with a haunting countdown of what I believe to be the top 20 ghost stories for the last half of the Victorian Age.
Saturday, July 30, 2016
Grant Allen (1848-1899)
Born in Canada, Grant Allen subsequently moved to London and gained literary fame. His forte was science fiction short stories and novels. Occasionally he delved into horror, which he did with his 1887 collection where he published a collection of 13 short stories that had the horror story at issue front and center: The Beckoning Hand and Other Stories. It was met with praise by the British literary magazines that reviewed it, but many were surprised as he originally published some under the pen name of J. Arbuthnot Wilson.
"Mr. Grant Allen has fully established his claim to be heard henceforth as a story-teller."—Academy.
"No one will be able to say that the stories are dull. The lighter stories can be read with pleasure by everybody, and the book can be dipped into anywhere without disappointment. One and all, the stories are told with a delightful ease and with an abundance 'of lively humour."—Athenum.
"Almost all the stories are good, coming nearer to the weird power of Poe than any that we remember to have seen."—Pall Mall Gazette.
I pick "The Beckoning Hand" as the 19th best horror short story from 1850-1899 in my countdown. Enjoy!
THE BECKONING HAND
I First met Cesarine Vivian in the stalls at the Ambiguities Theatre.
I had promised to take Mrs. Latham and Irene to see the French plays which were then being acted by Marie Leroux's celebrated Palais Royal company. I wasn't at the time exactly engaged to poor Irene: it has always been a comfort to me that I wasn't engaged to her, though I knew Irene herself considered it practically equivalent to an understood engagement. We had known one another intimately from childhood upward, for the Lathams were a sort of second cousins of ours, three times removed: and we had always called one another by our Christian names, and been very fond of one another in a simple girlish and boyish fashion as long as we could either of us remember. Still, I maintain, there was no definite understanding between us; and if Mrs. Latham thought I had been paying Irene attentions, she must have known that a young man of two and twenty, with a decent fortune and a nice estate down in Devonshire, was likely to look about him for a while before he thought of settling down and marrying quietly.
I had brought the yacht up to London Bridge, and was living on board in picnic style, and running about town casually, when I took Irene and her mother to see "Fanstine," at the Ambiguities. As soon as we had got in and taken our places, Irene whispered to me, touching my hand lightly with her fan, "Just look at the very dark girl on the other side of you, Harry! Did you ever in your life see anybody so perfectly beautiful?"
It has always been a great comfort to me, too, that Irene herself was the first person to call my attention to Cesarine Vivian's extraordinary beauty.
I turned round, as if by accident, and gave a passing glance, where Irene waved her fan, at the girl beside me. She was beautiful, certainly, in a terrible, grand, statuesque style of beauty; and I saw at a glimpse that she had Southern blood in her veins, perhaps Negro, perhaps Moorish, perhaps only Spanish, or Italian, or Provencal. Her features were proud and somewhat Jewish-looking; her eyes large, dark, and haughty; her black hair waved slightly in sinuous undulations as it passed across her high, broad forehead; her complexion, though a dusky olive in tone, was clear and rich, and daintily transparent; and her lips were thin and very slightly curled at the delicate corners, with a peculiarly imperious and almost scornful expression of fixed disdain. I had never before beheld anywhere such a magnificently repellent specimen of womanhood. For a second or so, as I looked, her eyes met mine with a defiant inquiry, and I was conscious that moment of some strange and weird fascination in her glance that seemed to draw me irresistibly towards her, at the same time that I hardly dared to fix my gaze steadily upon the piercing eyes that looked through and through me with their keen penetration.
"She's very beautiful, no doubt," I whispered back to Irene in a low undertone, "though I must confess I don't exactly like the look of her. She's a trifle too much of a tragedy queen for my taste: a Lady Macbeth, or a Beatrice Cenci, or a Clytemnestra. I prefer our simple little English prettiness to this southern splendour. It's more to our English liking than these tall and stately Italian enchantresses. Besides, I fancy the girl looks as if she had a drop or two of black blood somewhere about her."
"Oh, no," Irepe cried warmly. "Impossible, Harry. She's exquisite: exquisite. Italian, you know, or something of that sort. Italian girls have always got that peculiar gipsy-like type of beauty."
Low as we spoke, the girl seemed to know by instinct we were talking about her; for she drew away the ends of her light wrap coldly, in a significant fashion, and turned with her opera-glass in the opposite direction, as if on purpose to avoid looking towards us.
A minute later the curtain rose, and the first act of Halevy's "Faustine" distracted my attention for the moment from the beautiful stranger.
Marie Leroux took the part of the great empress. She was grand, stately, imposing, no doubt, but somehow it seemed to me she didn't come up quite so well as usnal that evening to one's ideal picture of the terrible, audacious, superb Roman woman. I leant over and murmured so to Irene. "Don't you know why?" Irene whispered back to me with a faint movement of the play-bill toward the beautiful stranger.
"No," I answered; "I haven't really the slightest conception."
"Why," she whispered, smiling; "just look beside you. Could anybody bear comparison for a moment as a Faustine with that splendid creature in the stall next to you?"
I stole a glance sideways as she spoke. It was quite true. The girl by my side was the real Faustine, the exact embodiment of the dramatist's creation ; and Marie Leronx, with her stagey effects and her actress's pretences, could not in any way stand the contrast with the genuine empress who sat there eagerly watching her.
The girl saw me glance quickly from her towards the actress and from the actress back to her, and shrank aside, not with coquettish timidity, but half angrily and half as if flattered and pleased at the implied compliment. "Papa," she said to the very English-looking gentleman who sat beyond her, "ce monsieur-ci ..." I couldn't catch the end of the sentence.
She was French, then, not Italian or Spanish; yet a more perfect Englishman than the man she called "papa" it would be difficult to discover on a long summer's day in all London.
"My dear," her father whispered back in English, "if I were you . . ." and the rest of that sentence also was quite inaudible to me.
My interest was now fully roused in the beautiful stranger, who sat evidently with her father and sister, and drank in every word of the play as it proceeded with the intensest interest. As for me, I hardly cared to look at the actors, so absorbed was I in my queenly neighbour. I made a bare pretence of watching the stage every five minutes, and saying a few words now and again to Irene or her mother; but my real attention was all the time furtively directed to the girl beside me. Not that I was taken with her; quite the contrary; she distinctly repelled me; but she seemed to exercise over me for all that the same strange and indescribable fascination which is often possessed by some horrible sight that you would give worlds to avoid, and yet cannot for your life help intently gazing upon.
Between the third and fourth acts Irene whispered to me again, "I can't keep my eyes off her, Harry. She's wonderfully beautiful. Confess now: aren't you over head and ears in love with her?"
I looked at Irene's sweet little peaceful English face, and I answered truthfully, "No, Irene. If I wanted to fall in love, I should find somebody"
"Nonsense, Harry," Irene cried, blushing a little, and holding up her fan before her nervously. "She's a thousand times prettier aud handsomer in every way"
"Than I am."
At that moment the curtain rose, and Marie Leroux came forward once more with her imperial diadem, in the very act of defying and bearding the enraged emperor.
It was a great scene. The whole theatre hung upon her words for twenty minutes. The effect was sublime. Even I myself felt my interest aroused at last in the consummate spectacle. I glanced round to observe my neighbour. She sat there, straining her gaze upon the stage, and heaving her bosom with suppressed emotion. In a second, the spell was broken again. Beside that tall, dark southern girl, in her queenly beauty, with her flashing eyes and quivering nostrils, intensely moved by the passion of the play, the mere actress who mouthed aud gesticulated before us by the footlights was as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. My companion in the stalls was the genuine Faustina: the player on the stage was but a false pretender.
As I looked a cry arose from the wings: a hushed cry at first, a buzz or hum; rising louder and ever louder still, as a red glare burst upon the scene from the background. Then a voice from the side boxes rang out suddenly above the confused murmur and the ranting of the actors —"Fire! Fire!"
Almost before I knew what had happened, the mob in the stalls, like the mob in the gallery, was surging and swaying wildly towards the exits, in a general struggle for life of the fierce old selfish barbaric pattern. Dense clouds of smoke rolled from the stage and filled the length and breadth of the auditorium; tongues of flame licked up the pasteboard scenes and hangings, like so much paper; women screamed, and fought, and fainted; men pushed one another aside and hustled and elbowed, in onewild effort to make for the doors at all hazards to the lives of their neighbours. Never before had I so vividly realized how near the savage lies to the surface in our best and highest civilized society. I had to realize it still more vividly and more terribly afterwards.
One person alone I observed calm and erect, resisting quietly all pushes and thrusts, and moving with slow deliberateness to the door, as if wholly unconcerned at the universal noise and hubbub and tumult around her. It was the dark girl from the stalls beside me.
For myself, my one thought of course was for poor Irene and Mrs. Latham. Fortunately, I am a strong and well-built man, and by keeping the two women in front of me, and thrusting hard with my elbows on either side to keep off the crush, I managed to make a tolerably clear road for them down the central row of stalls and out on to the big external staircase. The dark girl, now separated from her father and sister by the rush, was close in front of me. By a careful side movement, I managed to include her also in our party. She looked up to me gratefully with her big eyes, and her mouth broke into a charming smile as she turned and said in perfect English, "I am much obliged to you for your kind assistance." Irene's cheek was pale as death; but through the strange young lady's olive skin the bright blood still burned and glowed amid that frantic panic as calmly as ever.
We had reached the bottom of the steps, and were out into the front, when suddenly the strange lady turned around and gave a little cry of disappointment. "Mes lorgnettes! Mes lorgnettes!" she said. Then glancing round carelessly to me she went on in English: "I have left my opera-glasses inside on the vacant seat. I think, if you will excuse me, I'll go back and fetch them."
"It's impossible," I cried, "my dear madam. Utterly impossible. They'll crush you underfoot. They'll tear you to pieces."
She smiled a strange haughty smile, as if amused at the idea, but merely answered, "I think not," and tried to pass lightly by me.
I held her arm. I didn't know then she was as strong as I was. "Don't go," I said imploringly. "They will certainly kill you. It would be impossible to stem a mob like this one."
She smiled again, and darted back in silence before I could stop her.
Irene and Mrs. Latham were now fairly out of all danger. "Go on, Irene," I said loosing her arm. ," Policeman, get these ladies safely out. I must go back and take care of that mad woman."
"Go, go quick," Irene cried. "If you don't go, she'll be killed, Harry."
I rushed back wildly after her, battling as well as I was able against the frantic rush of panic-stricken fugitives, and found my companion struggling still upon the main staircase. I helped her to make her way back into the burning theatre, and she ran lightly through the dense smoke to the stall she had occupied, and took the operaglasses from the vacant place. Then she turned to me once more with a smile of triumph. "People lose their heads so," she said, "in all these crushes. I came back on purpose to show papa I wasn't going to be frightened into leaving my opera-glasses. I should have been eternally ashamed of myself if I had come away and left them in the theatre."
"Quick," I answered, gasping for breath. "If you don't make haste, we shall be choked to death, or the roof itself will fall in upon us and crush us!"
She looked up where I pointed with a hasty glance, and then made her way back again quickly to the staircase. As we hurried out, the timbers of the stage were beginning to fall in, and the engines were already playing fiercely upon the raging flames. I took her hand and almost dragged her out into the open. When we reached the Strand, we were both wet through, and terribly blackened with smoke and ashes. Pushing our way through the dense crowd, I called a hansom. She jumped in lightly. "Thank you so much," she said, quite carelessly. "Will you kindly tell him where to drive? Twenty-seven, Seymour Crescent."
"I'll see you home, if you'll allow me," I answered. "Under these circumstances, I trust I may be permitted."
"As you like," she said, smiling enchantingly. "You are very good. My name is Cesarine Vivian. Papa will be very much obliged to you for your kind assistance."
I drove round to the Lathams' after dropping Miss Vivian at her father's door, to assure myself of Irene's safety, and to let them know of my own return unhurt from my perilous adventure. Irene met me on the doorstep, pale .as death still. "Thank heaven," she cried, "Harry, you're safe back again! And that poor girl? What has become of her?"
"I left her," I said, " at Seymour Crescent."
Irene burst into a flood of tears. "Oh, Harry," she cried, " I thought she would have been killed there. It was brave of you, indeed, to help her through with it."
Next day, Mr. Vivian called on me at the Oxford and Cambridge, the address on the card I had given his daughter. I was in the club when he called, and I found him a pleasant, good-natured Cornishman, with very little that was strange or romantic in any way about him. He thanked me heartily, but not too effusively, for the care I had taken of Miss Vivian over-night; and he was not so overcome with parental emotion as not to smoke a very good Havana, or to refuse my offer of a brandy and seltzer. We got on very well together, and I soon gathered from what my new acquaintance said that, though he belonged to one of the best families in Cornwall, he had been an English merchant iu Haiti, and had made his money chiefly in the coffee trade. He was a widower, I learned incidentally, and his daughters had been brought up for some years in England, though at their mother's request they had also passed part of their lives in convent schools in Paris and Rouen. "Mrs. Vivian was a Haitian, you know," he said casually: "Catholic of course. The girls are Catholics. They're good girls, though they're my own daughters; and Cesarine, your friend of last night, is supposed to be clever. I'm no judge myself: I don't know about it. Oh, by the way, Cesarine said she hadn't thanked you half enough herself yesterday, and I was to be sure and bring you round this afternoon to a cup of tea with us at Seymour Crescent."
In spite of the impression Mdlle. Cesarine had made upon me the night before, I somehow didn't feel at all desirous of meeting her again. I was impressed, it is true, but not favourably. There seemed to me something uncanny and weird about her which made me shrink from seeing anything more of her if I could possibly avoid it. And as it happened, I was luckily engaged that very afternoon to tea at Irene's. I made the excuse, and added somewhat pointedly—on purpose that it might be repeated to Mdlle. Cesarine—" Miss Latham is a very old and particular friend of mine—a friend whom I couldn't for worlds think of disappointing."
Mr. Vivian laughed the matter off. "I shall catch it from Cesarine," he said good-humouredly, "for not bringing her cavalier to receive her formal thanks in person. Our West-Indian born girls, you know, are very imperious. But if you can't, you can't, of course, so there's an end of it, and it's no use talking any more about it."
I can't say why, but at that moment, in spite of my intense desire not 'to meet Cesarine again, I felt I would have given whole worlds if he would have pressed me to come in spite of myself. But, as it happened, he didn't.
At five o'clock, I drove round in a hansom as arranged, to Irene's, having almost made up my mind, if I found her alone, to come to a definite understanding with her and call it an engagement. She wasn't alone, however. As I entered the drawing-room, I saw a tall and graceful lady sitting opposite her, holding a cup of tea, and with her back towards me. The lady rose, moved round, and bowed. To my immense surprise, I found it was Cesarine.
I noted to myself at the moment, too, that in my heart, though I had seen her but once before, I thought of her already simply as Cesarine. And I was pleased to see her: fascinated: spell-bound.
Cesarine smiled at my evident surprise. "Papa and I met Miss Latham this afternoon in Bond Street," she said gaily, in answer to my mute inquiry, "and we stopped and spoke to one another, of course, about last night; and papa said you couldn't come round to tea with us in the Crescent, because you were engaged already to Miss Latham. And Miss Latham very kindly asked me to drive over and take tea with her, as I was so anxious to thank you once more for your great kindness to me yesterday."
"And Miss Vivian was good enough to waive all ceremony," Irene put in, "and come round to us as you see, without further introduction."
I stopped and talked all the time I was there to Irene; but, somehow, whatever I said, Cesarine managed to intercept it, and I caught myself quite guiltily looking at her from time to time, with an inexpressible attraction that I could not account for.
By-and-by, Mr. Vivian's carriage called for Cesarine, and I was left a few minutes alone with Irene.
"Well, what do you think of her?" Irene asked me simply.
I turned my eyes away: I dare not meet hers. "I think she's very handsome," I replied evasively.
"Handsome! I should think so. She's wonderful. She's splendid. And doesn't she talk magnificently, too, Harry?"
"She's clever, certainly," I answered shuffling. "But I don't know why, I mistrust her, Irene."
I rose and stood by the door with my hat in my hand, hesitating and trembling. I felt as if I had something to say to Irene, and yet I was half afraid to venture upon saying it. My fingers quivered, a thing very unusual with me. At last I came closer to her, after a long pause, and said, "Irene."
Irene started, and the colour flushed suddenly into her cheeks. "Yes, Harry," she answered tremulously.
I don't know why, but I couldn't utter it. It was but to say "I love you," yet I hadn't the courage. I stood there like a fool, looking at her irresolutely, and then—
The door opened suddenly, and Mrs. Latham entered and interrupted us.
I didn't speak again to Irene. The reason was that three days later I received a little note of invitation to lunch at Seymour Crescent from Cesarine Vivian.
I didn't want to accept it, and yet I didn't know how to help myself. I went, determined beforehand as soon as ever lunch was over to take away the yacht to the Scotch islands, and leave Cesarine and all her enchantments for ever behind me. I was afraid of her, that's the fact, positively afraid of her. I couldn't look her in the face without feeling at once that she exerted a terrible influence over me.
The lunch went off quietly enough, however. We talked about Haiti and the West Indies; about the beautiful foliage and the lovely flowers; about the moonlight nights and the tropical sunsets; and Cesarine grew quite enthusiastic over them all. "You should take your yacht out there some day, Mr. Tristram," she said softly. "There is no place on earth so wild and glorious as our own beautiful neglected Haiti."
She lifted her eyes full upon me as she spoke. I stammered out, like one spellbound, "I must certainly go, on your recommendation, Mdlle. Cesarine."
"Why Mademoiselle ?" she asked quickly. Then, perceiving I misunderstood her by the start I gave, she added with a blush, "I mean, why not 'Miss Vivian' in plain English?"
"Because you aren't English," I said confusedly. "You're Haitian, in reality. Nobody could ever for a moment take you for a mere Englishwoman."
I meant it for a compliment, but Cesarine frowned. I saw I had hurt her, and why; but I did not apologize. Yet I was conscious of having done something very wrong, and I knew I must try my best at once to regain my lost favour with her.
"You will take some coffee after lunch?" Cesarine said, as the dishes were removed.
"Oh, certainly, my dear," her father put in. "You must show Mr. Tristram how we make coffee in the West Indian fashion."
Cesarine jsmiled, and poured it out—black coffee, very strong, and into each cup she poured a little glass of excellent pale neat cognac. It seemed to me that she poured the cognac like a conjuror's trick; but everything about her was so strange and lurid that I took very little notice of the matter at that particular moment. It certainly was delicious coffee: I never tasted anything like it.
After lunch, we went into the drawing-room, and thence Cesarine took me alone into the pretty conservatory. She wanted to show me some of her beautiful Haitian orchids, she said; she had brought the orchids herself years ago from Haiti. How long we stood there I could never tell. I seemed as if intoxicated with her presence. I had forgotten now all about my distrust of her: I had forgotten all about Irene and what I wished to say to her: I was conscious only of Cesarine's great dark eyes, looking through and through me with their piercing glance, and Cesarine's jfigure, tall and stately, but very voluptuous, standing close beside me, and heaving regularly as we looked at the orchids. She talked to me in a low and dreamy voice; and whether the Chateau Larose at lunch had got into my head, or whatever it might be, I felt only dimly and faintly aware of what was passing around me. I was unmanned with love, I suppose: but, however it may have been, I certainly moved and spoke that afternoon like a man in a trance from which he cannot by any effort of his own possibly awake himself.
"Yes, yes," I overheard Cesarine saying at last, as through a mist of emotion, "you must go some day and see our beautiful mountainous Haiti. I must go myself. I long to go again. I don't care for this gloomy, dull, sunless England. A hand seems always to be beckoning me there. I shall obey it some day, for Haiti—our lovely Haiti, is too beautiful."
Her voice was low and marvellously musical. "Mademoiselle Cesarine," I began timidly.
She ponted and looked at me. "Mademoiselle again," she said in a pettish way. "I told you not to call me so, didn't I?"
"Well, then, Cesarine," I went on boldly. She laughed low, a little laugh of triumph, but did not correct or check me in any way.
"Cesarine," I continued, lingering I know not why over the syllables of the name, "I will go, as you say. I shall see Haiti. Why should we not both go together?"
She looked up at me eagerly with a sudden look of hushed inquiry. "You mean it? "she asked, trembling visibly. "You mean it, Mr. Tristram? You know what you are saying?"
"Cesarine," I answered, "I mean it. I know it. I cannot go away from you and leave you. Something seems to tie me. I am not my own master. . . . Cesarine, I love you."
My head whirled as I said the words, but I meant them at the time, and heaven knows I tried ever after to live up to them.
She clutched my arm convulsively for a moment. Her face was aglow with a wonderful light, and her eyes burned like a pair of diamonds. "But the other girl!" she cried. "Her! Miss Latham! The one you call Irene! You are ... in love with her! Are you not? Tell me!"
"I have never proposed to Irene," I replied slowly. "I have never asked any other woman but you to marry me, Cesarine."
She answered me nothing, but my face was very near hers, and I bent forward and kissed her suddenly. To my immense surprise, instead of struggling or drawing away, she kissed me back a fervent kiss, with lips hard pressed to mine, and the tears trickled slowly down her cheeks in a strange fashion. "You are mine," she cried. "Mine for ever. I have won you. She shall not have you. I knew you were mine the moment I looked upon you. The hand beckoned me. I knew I should get you."
"Come up into my den, Mr. Tristram, and have a smoke," my host interrupted in his bluff voice, putting his head in unexpectedly at the conservatory door. "I think I can offer you a capital Manilla."
The sound woke me as if from some terrible dream, and I followed him still in a sort of stupor up to the smoking room.
That very evening I went to see Irene. My brain was whirling even yet, and I hardly knew what I was doing; but the cool air revived me a little, and by the time I reached the Lathams' I almost felt myself again.
Irene came down to the drawing-room to see me alone. I saw what she expected, and the shame of my duplicity overcame me utterly.
I took both her hands in mine and stood opposite her, ashamed to look her in the face, and with the terrible confession weighing me down like a burden of guilt. "Irene," I blurted out, without preface or comment, "I have just proposed to Cesarine Vivian."
Irene drew back a moment and took a long breath. Then she said, with a tremor in her voice, but without a tear or a cry, "I expected it, Harry. I thought you meant it. I saw you were terribly, horribly in love with her."
"Irene," I cried, passionately and remorsefully flinging myself upon the sofa in an agony of repentance, "I do not love her. I have never cared for her. I'm afraid of her, fascinated by her. I love you, Irene, you and you only. The moment I'm away from her, I hate her, I hate her. For heaven's sake, tell me what am I to do! I do not love her. I hate her, Irene."
Irene came up to me and soothed my hair tenderly with her hand. "Don't, Harry," she said, with sisterly kindliness. "Don't speak so. Don't give way to it. I know what you feel. I know what you think. But I am not angry with you. You mustn't talk like that. If she has accepted you, you must go and marry her. I have nothing to reproach you with: nothing, nothing. Never say such words to me again. Let us be as we have always been, friends only."
"Irene," I cried, lifting up my head and looking at her wildly, "it is the truth: I do not love her, except when I am with her: and then, some strange enchantment seems to come over me. I don't know what it is, but I can't escape it. In my heart, Irene, in my heart of hearts, I love you, and you only. I can never love her as I love you, Irene. My darling, my darling, tell me how to get myself away from her."
"Hush," Irene said, laying her hand on mine persuasively. "You're excited to-night, Harry. You are flushed and feverish. You don't know what you're saying. You mustn't talk so. If you do, you'll make me hate you and despise you. Yon must keep your word now, and marry Miss Vivian."
The next six weeks seem to me still like a vague dream: everything happened so hastily and strangely. I got a note next day from Irene. It was very short. "Dearest Harry,—Mamma and I think, under the circumstances, it would be best for us to leave London for a few weeks. I am not angry with you. With best love, ever yours affectionately, Irene."
I was wild when I received it. I couldn't bear to part so with Irene. I would find out where they were going and follow them immediately. I would write a note and break off my mad engagement with Cesarine. I must have been drunk or insane when I made it. I couldn't imagine what I could have been doing.
On my way round to inquire at the Latham's, a carriage came suddenly upon me at a sharp corner. A lady bowed to me from it. It was Cesarine with her father. They pulled up and spoke to me. From that moment my doom was sealed. The old fascination came back at once, and I followed Cesarine blindly home to her house to luncheon, her accepted lover.
In six weeks more we were really married.
The first seven or eight months of our married life passed away happily enough. As soon as I was actually married to Cesarine, that strange feeling I had at first experienced about her slowly wore off in the closer, commonplace, daily intercourse of married life. I almost smiled at myself for ever having felt it. Cesarine was so beautiful and so queenly a person, that when I took her down home to Devonshire, and introduced her to the old manor, I really found myself immensely proud of her. Everybody at Teignbury was delighted and struck with her; and, what was a great deal more to the point, I began to discover that I was positively in love with her myself, into the bargain. She softened and melted immensely on nearer acquaintance; the Faustina air faded slowly away, when one saw her in her own home among her own occupations; and I came to look on her as a beautiful, simple, innocent girl, delighted with all our country pleasures, fond of a breezy canter on the slopes of Dartmoor, and taking an affectionate interest in the ducks and chickens, which I could hardly ever have conceived even as possible when I first saw her in Seymour Crescent. The imperious, mysterious, terrible Cesarine disappeared entirely, and I found in her place, to my immense relief, that I had married a graceful, gentle, tender-hearted English girl, with just a pleasant occasional touch of southern fire and impetuosity.
As winter came round again, however, Cesarine's cheeks began to look a little thinner than usual, and she had such a constant, troublesome cough, that I began to be a trifle alarmed at her strange symptoms. Cesarine herself laughed off my fears. "It's nothing, Harry," she would say; "nothing at all, I assure you, dear. A few good rides on the moor will set me right again. It's all the result of that horrid London. I'm a country-born girl, and I hate big towns. I never want to live in town again, Harry."
I called in our best Exeter doctor, and he largely confirmed Cesarine's own simple view of the situation. "There's nothing organically wrong with Mrs. Tristram's constitution," he said confidently. "No weakness of the lungs or heart in any way. She has merely rnn down— outlived her strength a little. A winter in some warm, genial climate would set her up again, I haven't the least hesitation in saying."
"Let us go to Algeria with the yacht, Reeney," I suggested, much reassured.
"Why Algeria?" Cesarine replied, with brightening eyes. "Oh, Harry, why not dear old Haiti? You said once you would go there with me—you remember when, darling; why not keep your promise now, and go there? I want to go there, Harry: I'm longing to go there." And she held out her delicately moulded hand in front of her, as if beckoning me, and drawing me on to Haiti after her.
"Ah, yes; why not the West Indies?" the Exeter doctor answered meditatively. "I think I understood you that Mrs. Tristram is West Indian born. Quite so. Quite so. Her native air. Depend upon it, that's the best place for her. By all means, I should say, try Haiti."
I don't know why, but the notion for some reason displeased me immensely. There was something about Cesarine's eyes, somehow, when she beckoned with her hand in that strange fashion, which reminded me exactly of the weird, uncanny, indescribable impression she had made upon me when I first knew her. Still I was very fond of Cesarine, and if she and the doctor were both agreed that Haiti would be the very best place for her, it would be foolish and wrong for me to interfere with their joint wisdom. Depend upon it, a woman often knows what is the matter with her better than any man, even her husband, can possibly tell her.
The end of it all was, that in less than a month from that day, we were out in the yacht on the broad Atlantic, with the cliffs of Falmouth and the Lizard Point fading slowly behind us in the distance, and the white spray dashing in front of us, like fingers beckoning us on to Haiti.
The bay of Port-au-Prince is hot and simmering, a deep basin enclosed in a ringing semicircle of mountains, with scarce a breath blowing on the harbour, and with tall cocoa-nut palms rising unmoved into the still air above on the low sand-spits that close it in to seaward. The town itself is wretched, squalid, and hopelessly ramshackled, a despondent collection of tumbledown wooden houses, interspersed with indescribable negro huts, mere human rabbit-hutches, where parents and children herd together, in one higgledy-piggledy, tropical confusion. I had never in my days seen anything more painfully desolate and dreary, and I feared that Cesarine, who had not been here since she was a girl of fourteen, would be somewhat depressed at the horrid actuality, after her exalted fanciful ideals of the remembered Haiti. But, to my immense surprise, as it turned out, Cesarine did not appear ab all shocked or taken aback at the squalor and wretchedness all around her. On the contrary, the very air of the place seemed to inspire her from the first with fresh vigour; her cough disappeared at once as if by magic; and the colour returned forthwith to her cheeks, almost as soon as we had fairly cast anchor in Haitian waters.
The very first day we arrived at Port-au-Prince, Cesarine said to me, with more shyness than I had ever yet seen her exhibit, "If you wouldn't mind it, Harry, I should like to go at once, this morning—and see my grandmother."
I started with astonishment. "Your grandmother, Cesarine !" I cried incredulously. "My darling! I didn't know you had a grandmother living."
"Yes, I have," she answered, with some slight hesitation, "and I think if you wouldn't object to it, Harry, I'd rather go and see her alone, the first time at least, please dearest."
In a moment, the obvious truth, which I had always known in a vague sort of fashion, but never thoroughly realized, flashed across my mind in its full vividness, and I merely bowed my head in silence. It was natural she should not wish me to see her meeting with her Haitian grandmother.
She went alone through the streets of Port-au-Prince, without inquiry, like one who knew them familiarly of old, and I dogged her footsteps at a distance unperceived, impelled by the same strange fascination which had so often driven me to follow Cesarine wherever she led me. After a few hundred yards, she turned out of the chief business place, and down a tumbledown alley of scattered negro cottages, till she came at last to a rather better house that stood by itself in a little dusty garden of guava-trees and cocoa-nuts. A rude paling, built negro-wise of broken barrel-staves, nailed rudely together, separated the garden from the compound next to it. I slipped into the compound before Cesarine observed me, beckoned the lazy negro from the door of the hut, with one finger placed as a token of silence upon my lips, dropped a dollar into his open palm, and stood behind the paling, looking out into the garden beside me through a hole made by a knot in one of the barrel staves.
Ce'sarine knocked with her hand at the door, and in a moment was answered by an old negress, tall and bony, dressed in a loose sack-like gown of coarse cotton print, with a big red bandanna tied around her short grey hair, and a huge silver cross dangling carelessly upon her bare and wrinkled black neck. She wore no sleeves, and bracelets of strange beads hung loosely around her shrunken and skinny wrists. A more hideous old hag I had never in my life beheld before; and yet I saw, without waiting to observe it, that she had Cesarine's great dark eyes and even white teeth, and something of Cesarine's figure lingered still in her lithe and sinuous yet erect carriage.
"Grand'mere!" Cesarine said convulsively, flinging her arms with wild delight around that grim and withered gaunt black woman. It seemed to me she had never since our marriage embraced me with half the fervour she bestowed upon this hideous old African witch creature.
"He, Cesarine, it is thee, then, my little one," the old negress cried out suddenly, in her thin high voice and her muffled Haitian patois. "I did not expect thee so soon, my cabbage. Thou hast come early. Be the welcome one, my granddaughter."
I reeled with horror as I saw the wrinkled and haggard African kissing once more my beautiful Cesarine. It seemed to me a horrible desecration. I had always known, of course, since Cesarine was a quadroon, that her grandmother on one side must necessarily have been a fullblooded negress, but I had never yet suspected the reality could be so hideous, so terrible as this.
I crouched down speechless against the paling in my disgust and astonishment, and motioned with my hand to the negro in the hut to remain perfectly quiet. The door of the house closed, and Cesarine disappeared: but I waited there, as if chained to the spot, under a hot and burning tropical sun, for fully an hour, unconscious of anything in heaven or earth, save the shock and surprise of that unexpected disclosure.
At last the door opened again, and Cesarine apparently came out once more into the neighbouring garden. The gaunt negress followed her close, with one arm thrown caressingly about her beautiful neck and shoulders. In London, Cesarine would not have permitted anybody but a great lady to take such a liberty with her; but here in Haiti, she submitted to the old negress's horrid embraces with perfect calmness. Why should she not, indeed! It was her own grandmother.
They came close up to the spot where I was crouching in the thick drifted dust behind the low fence, and then I heard rather than saw that Cesarine had flung herself passionately down upon her knees on the ground, and was pouring forth a muttered prayer, in a tongue unknown to me, and full of harsh and uncouth gutturals. It was not Latin; it was not even the coarse Creole French, the negro patois in which I heard the people jabbering to one another loudly in the streets around me: it was some still more hideous and barbaric language, a mass of clicks and inarticulate noises, such as I could never have believed might possibly proceed from Cesarine's thin and scornful lips.
At last she finished, and I heard her speaking again to her grandmother in the Creole dialect. "Grandmother, you will pray and get me one. You will not forget me. A boy. A'pretty one; an heir to my husband!" It was said wistfully, with an infinite longing. I knew then why she had grown so pale and thin and haggard before we sailed away from England.
The old hag answered in the same tongue, but in her shrill withered note, " You will bring him up to the religion, my little one, will you?"
Cesarine seemed to bow her head. "I will," she said. "He shall follow the religion. Mr. Tristram shall never know anything about it."
They went back once more into the house, and I crept away, afraid of being discovered, and returned to the yacht, sick at heart, not knowing how I should ever venture again to meet Cesarine.
But when I got back, and had helped myself to a glass of sherry to steady my nerves, from the little flask on Cesarine's dressing-table, I thought to myself, hideous as it all seemed, it was very natural Cesarine should wish to see her grandmother. After all, was it not better, that proud and haughty as she was, she should not disown her own flesh and blood? And yet, the memory of my beautiful Cesarine wrapped in that hideous old black woman's arms made the blood curdle in my very veins.
As soon as Cesarine returned, however, gayer and brighter than I had ever seen her, the old fascination overcame me once more, and I determined in my heart to stifle the horror I could not possibly help feeling. And that evening, as I sat alone in the cabin with my wife, I said to her, " Cesarine, we have never spoken about the religious question before: but if it should be ordained we are ever to have any little ones of our own, I should wish them to be brought up in their mother's creed. You could make them better Catholics, I take it, than I could ever make them Christians of any sort."
Cesarine answered never a word, but to my intense surprise she burst suddenly into a flood of tears, and flung herself sobbing on the cabin floor at my feet in an agony of tempestuous cries and writhings.
A few days later, when we had settled down for a three months' stay at a little bungalow on the green hills behind Port-au-Prince, Cesarine said to me early in the day, "I want to go away to-day, Harry, up into the mountains, to the chapel of Notre Dame de Bon Secours."
I bowed my head in acquiescence. "I can guess why you want to go, Reeney," I answered gently. "You want to pray there about something that's troubling you. And if I'm not mistaken, it's the same thing that made you cry the other evening when I spoke to you down yonder in the cabin."
The tears rose hastily once more into Cesarine's eyes, and she cried in a low distressed voice, "Harry, Harry, don't talk to me so. You are too good to me. You will kill me. You will kill me."
I lifted her head from the table, where she had buried it in her arms, and kissed her tenderly. "Reeney," I said, "I know how you feel, and I hope Notre Dame will listen to your prayers, and send you what you ask of her. But if not, you need never be afraid that I shall love you any the less than I do at present."
Cesarine burst into a fresh flood of tears. "No, Harry," she said, " you don't know about it. You can't imagine it. To us, you know, who have the blood of Africa running in our veins, it is not a mere matter of fancy. It is an eternal disgrace for any woman of our race and descent not to be a mother. I cannot help it. It is the instinct of my people. We are all born so: we cannot feel otherwise."
It was the only time either of us ever alluded in speaking with one another to the sinister half of Cesarine's pedigree.
"You will let me go with you to the mountains, Reeney?" I asked, ignoring her remark. "You mustn't go so far by yourself, darling."
"No, Harry, you can't come with me. It would make my prayers ineffectual, dearest. You are a heretic, you know, Harry. You are not Catholic. Notre Dame won't listen to my prayer if I take you with me on my pilgrimage, my darling."
I saw her mind was set upon it, and I didn't interfere. She would be away all night, she said. There was a resthouse for pilgrims attached to the chapel, and she would be back again at Maisonette (our bungalow) the morning after.
That afternoon she started on her way on a mountain pony I had just bought for her, accompanied only by a negro maid. I couldn't let her go quite unattended through those lawless paths, beset by cottages of half savage Africans; so I followed at a distance, aided by a black groom, and tracked her road along the endless hill-sidea up to a fork in the way where the narrow bridlepath divided into two, one of which bore away to leftward, leading, my guide told me, to the chapel of Notre Dame de Bon Secours.
At that point the guide halted. He peered with hand across his eyebrows among the tangled brake of tree-ferns with a terrified look; then he shook his woolly black head ominously. "I can't go on, Monsieur," he said, turning to me with an unfeigned shudder. "Madame has not taken the path of Our Lady. She has gone to the left along the other road, which leads at last to the Vaudoux temple."
I looked at him incredulously. I had heard before of Vaudoux. It is the hideous African canibalistic witchcraft of the relapsing half-heathen Haitian negroes. But Cesarine a Vaudoux worshipper! It was too ridiculous. The man must be mistaken: or else Ce'sarine had taken the wrong road by some slight accident.
Next moment, a horrible unspeakable doubt seized upon me irresistibly. What was the unknown shrine in her grandmother's garden at which Cesarine had prayed in those awful gutturals? Whatever it was, I would probe this mystery to the very bottom. I would know the truth, come what might of it.
"Go, you coward!" I said to the negro. "I have no further need of you. I will make my way alone to the Vaudoux temple.
"Monsieur," the man cried, trembling visibly in every limb, " they will tear you to pieces. If they ever discover you near the temple, they will offer you up as a victim to the Vaudoux."
"Pooh," I answered, contemptuous of the fellow's slavish terror. "Where Madame, a woman, dares to go, I, her husband, am certainly not afraid to follow her."
"Monsieur," he replied, throwing himself submissively in the dust on the path before me, "Madame is Creole; she has the blood of the Vaudoux worshippers flowing in her veins. Nobody will hurt her. She is free of the craft. But Monsieur is a pure white and uninitiated. . . . If the Vaudoux people catch him at their rites, they will rend him in pieces, and offer his blood as an expiation to the Unspeakable One."
"Go," I said, with a smile, turning my horse's head up the right-hand path toward the Vaudoux temple.
"I am not afraid. I will come back again to Maisonette tomorrow."
I followed the path through a tortuous maze, beget with prickly cactus, agave, and fern-brake, till I came at last to a spur of the hill, where a white wooden building gleamed in front of me, in the full slanting rays of tropical sunset. A skull was fastened to the lintel of the door. I knew at once it was the Vaudoux temple.
I dismounted at once, and led my horse aside into the brake, though I tore his legs and my own as I went with the spines of the cactus plants; and tying him by the bridle to a mountain cabbage palm, in a spot where the thick underbrush completely hid us from view, I lay down and waited patiently for the shades of evening.
It was a moonless night, according to the Vaudoux fashion; and I knew from what I had already read in West Indian books that the orgies would not commence till midnight.
From time to time, I rubbed a fusee against my hand without lighting it, and by the faint glimmer of the phosphorus on my palm, I was able to read the figures of my watch dial without exciting the attention of the neighbouring Vaudoux worshippers.
Hour after hour went slowly by, and I crouched there still unseen among the agave thicket. At last, as the hands of the watch reached together the point of twelve, I heard a low but deep rumbling noise coming ominously from the Vaudoux temple. I recognized at once the familiar sound. It was the note of the bull-roarer, that mystic instrument of pointed wood, whirled by a string round the head of the hierophant, by whose aid savages in their secret rites summon to their shrines their gods and spirits. I had often made one myself for a toy when I was a boy in England.
I crept out through the tangled brake, and cautiously approached the back of the building. A sentinel was standing by the door in front, a powerful negro, armed with revolver and cutlas. I skulked round noiselessly to the rear, and lifting myself by my hands to the level of the one tiny window, I peered in through a slight scratch on the white paint, with which the glass was covered internally.
I only saw the sight within for a second. Then my brain reeled, and my fingers refused any longer to hold me. But in that second, I had read the whole terrible, incredible truth: I knew what sort of a woman she really was whom I had blindly taken as the wife of my bosom.
Before a rude stone altar covered with stuffed alligator skins, human bones, live snakes, and hideous sorts of African superstition, a tall and withered black woman stood erect, naked as she came from her mother's womb, one skinny arm raised aloft, and the other holding below some dark object, that writhed and struggled awfully in her hand on the slab of the altar, even as she held it. I saw in a flash of the torches behind it was the black hag I had watched before at the Port-au-Prince cottage.
Beside her, whiter of skin, and faultless of figure, stood a younger woman, beautiful to behold, imperious and haughty still, like a Greek statue, unmoved before that surging horrid background of naked black and cringing savages. Her head was bent, and her hand pressed convulsively against the swollen vein sin her throbbing brow; and I saw at once it was my own wife—a Vandoux worshipper—Cesarine Tristram.
In another flash, I knew the black woman had a sharp flint knife in her uplifted hand; and the dark object in the other hand I recognized with a thrill of unspeakable horror as a negro girl of four years old or thereabouts, gagged and bound, and lying on the altar.
Before I could see the sharp flint descend upon the naked breast of the writhing victim, my fingers in mercy refused to bear me, and I fell half fainting on the ground below, too shocked and unmanned even to crawl away at once out of reach of the awful unrealizable horror.
But by the sounds within, I knew they had completed their hideous sacrifice, and that they were smearing over Cesarine—my own wife—the woman of my choice—with the warm blood of the human victim.
Sick and faint, 1 crept away slowly through the tangled underbrush, tearing my skin as I went with the piercing cactus spines; untied my horse from the spot where I had fastened him; and rode him down without drawing rein, cantering round sharp angles and down horrible ledges, till he stood at last, white with foam, by the grey dawn, in front of the little piazza at Maisonette.
That night, the thunder roared and the lightning played with tropical fierceness round the tall hilltops away in the direction of the Vaudoux temple. The rain came down iu fearful sheets, and the torrents roared and foamed in cataracts, and tore away great gaps in the rough paths on the steep hill-sides. But at eight o'clock in the morning Cesarine returned, drenched with wet, and with a strange frown upon her haughty forehead.
I did not know how to look at her or how to meet her.
"My prayers are useless," she muttered angrily as she entered. "Some heretic must have followed me unseen to the chapel of Notre Dame de Bon Secours. The pilgrimage is a failure."
"You are wet," I said, trembling. "Change your things, Cesarine." I could no1 pretend to speak gently to her.
She turned upon me with a fierce look in her big black eyes. Her instinct showed her at once I had discovered her secret. "Tell them, and hang me," she cried fiercely.
It was what the law required me to do. I was otherwise the accomplice of murder and cannibalism. But I could not do it. Profoundly as I loathed her and hated her presence, now, I couldn't find it in my heart to give her up to justice, as I knew I ought to do.
I turned away and answered nothing.
Presently, she came out again from her bedroom, with her wet things still dripping around her. "Smoke that," she said, handing me a tiny cigarette rolled round in a leaf of fresh tobacco.
"I will not," I answered with a vague surmise, taking it from her fingers. "I know the smell. It is nianchineal. You cannot any longer deceive me."
She went back to her bedroom once more. I sat, dazed and stupefied, in the bamboo chair on the front
piazza. What to do, I knew not, and cared not. I was tied to her for life, and there was no help for it, save by denouncing her to the rude Haitian justice.
In an hour or more, our English maid came out to speak to me. "I'm afraid, sir," she said, " Mrs. Tristram is getting delirious. She seems to be in a high fever. Shall I ask one of these poor black bodies to go out and get the English doctor?"
I went into my wife's bedroom. Cesarine lay moaning piteously on the bed, in her wet clothes still; her cheeks were hot, and her pulse was high and thin and feverish. I knew without asking what was the matter with her. It was yellow fever.
The night's exposure in that terrible climate, and the ghastly scene she had gone through so intrepidly, had broken down even Cesarine's iron constitution.
I sent for the doctor and had her put to bed immediately. The black nurse and I undressed her between us. We found next her bosom, tied by a small red silken thread, a tiny bone, fresh and ruddy-looking. I knew what it was, and so did the negress. It was a human finger-bone—the last joint of a small child's fourth finger. The negress shuddered and hid her head. "It is Vaudoux, Monsieur !" she said. "I have seen it on others. Madame has been paying a visit, I suppose, to her grandmother."
For six long endless days and nights I watched and nursed that doomed criminal, doing everything for her that skill could direct or care could suggest to me: yet all the time fearing and dreading that she might yet recover, and not knowing in my heart what either of our lives could ever be like if she did live through it. A merciful Providence willed it otherwise. On the sixth day, the fatal vomito negro set in—the symptom of the last incurable stage of yellow fever—andI knew for certain that Cesarine would die. She had brought her own punishment upon her. At midnight that evening she died delirious.
Thank God, she had left no child of mine behind her to inherit the curse her mother's blood had handed down to her!
On my return to London, whither I went by mail direct, leaving the yacht to follow after me, I drove straight to the Lathams' from Waterloo Station. Mrs. Latham was out, the servant said, but Miss Irene was in the drawingroom.
Irene was sitting at the window by herself, working quietly at a piece of crewel work. She rose to meet me with her sweet simple little English smile. I took her hand and pressed it like a brother.
"I got your telegram," she said simply. "Harry, I know she is dead; but I know something terrible besides has happened. Tell me all. Don't be afraid to speak of it before me. I am not afraid, for my part, to listen."
I sat down on the sofa beside her, and told her all, without one word of excuse or concealment, from our last parting to the day of Cesarine's death in Haiti: and she held my hand and listened all the while with breathless wonderment to my strange story.
At the end I said, "Irene, it has all come and gone between us like a hideous nightmare. I cannot imagine even now how that terrible woman, with all her power, could ever for one moment have bewitched me away from you, my beloved, my queen, my own heart's darling."
Irene did not try to hush me or to stop me in any way. She merely sat and looked at me steadily, and said nothing.
"It was fascination," I cried. "Infatuation, madness, delirium, enchantment."
"It was worse than that, Harry," Irene answered, rising quietly. "It was poison; it was witchcraft; it was sheer African devilry."
In a flash of thought, I remembered the cup of coffee at Seymour Crescent, the curious sherry at Port-au-Prince, the cigarette with the manchineal she had given me on the mountains, and I saw forthwith that Irene with her woman's quickness had divined rightly. It was more than infatuation; it was intoxication with African charms and West Indian poisons.
"What a man does in such a woman's hands is not his own doing," Irene said slowly. "He has no more control of himself in such circumstances than if she had drugged him with chloroform or opium."
"Then you forgive me, Irene?"
"I have nothing to forgive, Harry. I am grieved for you. I am frightened." Then bursting into tears, "My darling, my darling; I love you, I love you!"
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