The Cry Of The Peacock
'Damn the dice!' cried the elder of the two players, ...
Appearances Of The Dead
We now pass beyond the utmost limits to which a "scient...
The Slaying Of Sergeant Davies
We now examine a ghost with a purpose; he wanted to hav...
The Roll-call Of The Reef
A. T. QUILLER-COUCH
"Yes, sir," said my host, the ...
Smith: An Episode In A Lodging-house
"When I was a medical student," began the doctor, hal...
The Woman's Ghost Story
"Yes," she said, from her seat in the dark corner, "...
The Dream That Knocked At The Door
The following is an old but good story. The Rev. Josep...
The Lady In Black
A ghost in a haunted house is seldom observed with anyt...
A Wireless Message
In the summer of 1896 Mr. William Holt, a wealthy m...
Brother, you ask me if I have ever loved. Yes. My story is a strange and
terrible one; and though I am sixty-six years of age, I scarcely dare
even now to disturb the ashes of that memory.
From my earliest childhood I had felt a vocation to the priesthood, so
that all my studies were directed with that idea in view. Up to the age
of twenty-four my life had been only a prolonged novitiate. Having
completed my course of theology I successively received all the minor
orders, and my superiors judged me worthy, despite my youth, to pass the
last awful degree. My ordination was fixed for Easter week.
I had never gone into the world. My world was confined by the walls of
the college and the seminary. I knew in a vague sort of a way that there
was something called Woman, but I never permitted my thoughts to dwell
on such a subject, and I lived in a state of perfect innocence. Twice a
year only I saw my infirm and aged mother, and in those visits were
comprised my sole relations with the outer world.
I regretted nothing; I felt not the least hesitation at taking the last
irrevocable step; I was filled with joy and impatience. Never did a
betrothed lover count the slow hours with more feverish ardour; I slept
only to dream that I was saying mass; I believed there could be nothing
in the world more delightful than to be a priest; I would have refused
to be a king or a poet in preference. My ambition could conceive of no
At last the great day came. I walked to the church with a step so light
that I fancied myself sustained in air, or that I had wings upon my
shoulders. I believed myself an angel, and wondered at the sombre and
thoughtful faces of my companions, for there were several of us. I had
passed all the night in prayer, and was in a condition wellnigh
bordering on ecstasy. The bishop, a venerable old man, seemed to me God
the Father leaning over his Eternity, and I beheld Heaven through the
vault of the temple.
You well know the details of that ceremony--the benediction, the
communion under both forms, the anointing of the palms of the hands with
the Oil of Catechumens, and then the holy sacrifice offered in concert
with the bishop.
Ah, truly spake Job when he declared that the imprudent man is one who
hath not made a covenant with his eyes! I accidentally lifted my head,
which until then I had kept down, and beheld before me, so close that it
seemed that I could have touched her--although she was actually a
considerable distance from me and on the further side of the sanctuary
railing--a young woman of extraordinary beauty, and attired with royal
magnificence. It seemed as though scales had suddenly fallen from my
eyes. I felt like a blind man who unexpectedly recovers his sight. The
bishop, so radiantly glorious but an instant before, suddenly vanished
away, the tapers paled upon their golden candlesticks like stars in the
dawn, and a vast darkness seemed to fill the whole church. The charming
creature appeared in brief relief against the background of that
darkness, like some angelic revelation. She seemed herself radiant, and
radiating light rather than receiving it.
I lowered my eyelids, firmly resolved not to again open them, that I
might not be influenced by external objects, for distraction had
gradually taken possession of me until I hardly knew what I was doing.
In another minute, nevertheless, I reopened my eyes, for through my
eyelashes I still beheld her, all sparkling with prismatic colours, and
surrounded with such a purple penumbra as one beholds in gazing at the
Oh, how beautiful she was! The greatest painters, who followed ideal
beauty into heaven itself, and thence brought back to earth the true
portrait of the Madonna, never in their delineations even approached
that wildly beautiful reality which I saw before me. Neither the verses
of the poet nor the palette of the artist could convey any conception of
her. She was rather tall, with a form and bearing of a goddess. Her
hair, of a soft blonde hue, was parted in the midst and flowed back over
her temples in two rivers of rippling gold; she seemed a diademed
queen. Her forehead, bluish-white in its transparency, extended its calm
breadth above the arches of her eyebrows, which by a strange singularity
were almost black, and admirably relieved the effect of sea-green eyes
of unsustainable vivacity and brilliancy. What eyes! With a single flash
they could have decided a man's destiny. They had a life, a limpidity,
an ardour, a humid light which I have never seen in human eyes; they
shot forth rays like arrows, which I could distinctly see enter my
heart. I know not if the fire which illumined them came from heaven or
from hell, but assuredly it came from one or the other. That woman was
either an angel or a demon, perhaps both. Assuredly she never sprang
from the flank of Eve, our common mother. Teeth of the most lustrous
pearl gleamed in her ruddy smile, and at every inflection of her lips
little dimples appeared in the satiny rose of her adorable cheeks. There
was a delicacy and pride in the regal outline of her nostrils bespeaking
noble blood. Agate gleams played over the smooth lustrous skin of her
half-bare shoulders, and strings of great blonde pearls--almost equal to
her neck in beauty of colour--descended upon her bosom. From time to
time she elevated her head with the undulating grace of a startled
serpent or peacock, thereby imparting a quivering motion to the high
lace ruff which surrounded it like a silver trellis-work.
She wore a robe of orange-red velvet, and from her wide ermine-lined
sleeves there peeped forth patrician hands of infinite delicacy, and so
ideally transparent that, like the fingers of Aurora, they permitted
the light to shine through them.
All these details I can recollect at this moment as plainly as though
they were of yesterday, for notwithstanding I was greatly troubled at
the time, nothing escaped me; the faintest touch of shading, the little
dark speck at the point of the chin, the imperceptible down at the
corners of the lips, the velvety floss upon the brow, the quivering
shadows of the eyelashes upon the cheeks, I could notice everything with
astonishing lucidity of perception.
And gazing I felt opening within me gates that had until then remained
closed; vents long obstructed became all clear, permitting glimpses of
unfamiliar perspectives within; life suddenly made itself visible to me
under a totally novel aspect. I felt as though I had just been born into
a new world and a new order of things. A frightful anguish commenced to
torture my heart as with red-hot pincers. Every successive minute seemed
to me at once but a second and yet a century. Meanwhile the ceremony was
proceeding, and with an effort of will sufficient to have uprooted a
mountain, I strove to cry out that I would not be a priest, but I could
not speak; my tongue seemed nailed to my palate, and I found it
impossible to express my will by the least syllable of negation. Though
fully awake, I felt like one under the influence of a nightmare, who
vainly strives to shriek out the one word upon which life depends.
She seemed conscious of the martyrdom I was undergoing, and, as though
to encourage me, she gave me a look replete with divinest promise. Her
eyes were a poem; their every glance was a song.
She said to me:
"If thou wilt be mine, I shall make thee happier than God Himself in His
paradise. The angels themselves will be jealous of thee. Tear off that
funeral shroud in which thou art about to wrap thyself. I am Beauty, I
am Youth, I am Life. Come to me! Together we shall be Love. Can Jehovah
offer thee aught in exchange? Our lives will flow on like a dream, in
one eternal kiss.
"Fling forth the wine of that chalice, and thou art free. I will conduct
thee to the Unknown Isles. Thou shalt sleep in my bosom upon a bed of
massy gold under a silver pavilion, for I love thee and would take thee
away from thy God, before whom so many noble hearts pour forth floods of
love which never reach even the steps of His throne!"
These words seemed to float to my ears in a rhythm of infinite
sweetness, for her look was actually sonorous, and the utterances of her
eyes were re-echoed in the depths of my heart as though living lips had
breathed them into my life. I felt myself willing to renounce God, and
yet my tongue mechanically fulfilled all the formalities of the
ceremony. The fair one gave me another look, so beseeching, so
despairing that keen blades seemed to pierce my heart, and I felt my
bosom transfixed by more swords than those of Our Lady of Sorrows.
All was consummated; I had become a priest.
Never was deeper anguish painted on human face than upon hers. The
maiden who beholds her affianced lover suddenly fall dead at her side,
the mother bending over the empty cradle of her child, Eve seated at the
threshold of the gate of Paradise, the miser who finds a stone
substituted for his stolen treasure, the poet who accidentally permits
the only manuscript of his finest work to fall into the fire, could not
wear a look so despairing, so inconsolable. All the blood had abandoned
her charming face, leaving it whiter than marble; her beautiful arms
hung lifelessly on either side of her body as though their muscles had
suddenly relaxed, and she sought the support of a pillar, for her
yielding limbs almost betrayed her. As for myself, I staggered toward
the door of the church, livid as death, my forehead bathed with a sweat
bloodier than that of Calvary; I felt as though I were being strangled;
the vault see