The Lady of the Shroud (Chapter 3, page 1 of 1)


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Chapter 3


Rupert Sent Leger's Journal.

April 3, 1907.

I have waited till now--well into midday--before beginning to set down
the details of the strange episode of last night. I have spoken with
persons whom I know to be of normal type. I have breakfasted, as usual
heartily, and have every reason to consider myself in perfect health and
sanity. So that the record following may be regarded as not only true in
substance, but exact as to details. I have investigated and reported on
too many cases for the Psychical Research Society to be ignorant of the
necessity for absolute accuracy in such matters of even the minutest
detail.

Yesterday was Tuesday, the second day of April, 1907. I passed a day of
interest, with its fair amount of work of varying kinds. Aunt Janet and
I lunched together, had a stroll round the gardens after tea--especially
examining the site for the new Japanese garden, which we shall call
"Janet's Garden." We went in mackintoshes, for the rainy season is in
its full, the only sign of its not being a repetition of the Deluge being
that breaks in the continuance are beginning. They are short at present
but will doubtless enlarge themselves as the season comes towards an end.
We dined together at seven. After dinner I had a cigar, and then joined
Aunt Janet for an hour in her drawing-room. I left her at half-past ten,
when I went to my own room and wrote some letters. At ten minutes past
eleven I wound my watch, so I know the time accurately. Having prepared
for bed, I drew back the heavy curtain in front of my window, which opens
on the marble steps into the Italian garden. I had put out my light
before drawing back the curtain, for I wanted to have a look at the scene
before turning in. Aunt Janet has always had an old-fashioned idea of
the need (or propriety, I hardly know which) of keeping windows closed
and curtains drawn. I am gradually getting her to leave my room alone in
this respect, but at present the change is in its fitful stage, and of
course I must not hurry matters or be too persistent, as it would hurt
her feelings. This night was one of those under the old regime. It was
a delight to look out, for the scene was perfect of its own kind. The
long spell of rain--the ceaseless downpour which had for the time flooded
everywhere--had passed, and water in abnormal places rather trickled than
ran. We were now beginning to be in the sloppy rather than the deluged
stage. There was plenty of light to see by, for the moon had begun to
show out fitfully through the masses of flying clouds. The uncertain
light made weird shadows with the shrubs and statues in the garden. The
long straight walk which leads from the marble steps is strewn with fine
sand white from the quartz strand in the nook to the south of the Castle.
Tall shrubs of white holly, yew, juniper, cypress, and variegated maple
and spiraea, which stood at intervals along the walk and its branches,
appeared ghost-like in the fitful moonlight. The many vases and statues
and urns, always like phantoms in a half-light, were more than ever
weird. Last night the moonlight was unusually effective, and showed not
only the gardens down to the defending wall, but the deep gloom of the
great forest-trees beyond; and beyond that, again, to where the mountain
chain began, the forest running up their silvered slopes flamelike in
form, deviated here and there by great crags and the outcropping rocky
sinews of the vast mountains.

Whilst I was looking at this lovely prospect, I thought I saw something
white flit, like a modified white flash, at odd moments from one to
another of the shrubs or statues--anything which would afford cover from
observation. At first I was not sure whether I really saw anything or
did not. This was in itself a little disturbing to me, for I have been
so long trained to minute observation of facts surrounding me, on which
often depend not only my own life, but the lives of others, that I have
become accustomed to trust my eyes; and anything creating the faintest
doubt in this respect is a cause of more or less anxiety to me. Now,
however, that my attention was called to myself, I looked more keenly,
and in a very short time was satisfied that something was
moving--something clad in white. It was natural enough that my thoughts
should tend towards something uncanny--the belief that this place is
haunted, conveyed in a thousand ways of speech and inference. Aunt
Janet's eerie beliefs, fortified by her books on occult subjects--and of
late, in our isolation from the rest of the world, the subject of daily
conversations--helped to this end. No wonder, then, that, fully awake
and with senses all on edge, I waited for some further manifestation from
this ghostly visitor--as in my mind I took it to be. It must surely be a
ghost or spiritual manifestation of some kind which moved in this silent
way. In order to see and hear better, I softly moved back the folding
grille, opened the French window, and stepped out, bare-footed and
pyjama-clad as I was, on the marble terrace. How cold the wet marble
was! How heavy smelled the rain-laden garden! It was as though the
night and the damp, and even the moonlight, were drawing the aroma from
all the flowers that blossomed. The whole night seemed to exhale heavy,
half-intoxicating odours! I stood at the head of the marble steps, and
all immediately before me was ghostly in the extreme--the white marble
terrace and steps, the white walks of quartz-sand glistening under the
fitful moonlight; the shrubs of white or pale green or yellow,--all
looking dim and ghostly in the glamorous light; the white statues and
vases. And amongst them, still flitting noiselessly, that mysterious
elusive figure which I could not say was based on fact or imagination. I
held my breath, listening intently for every sound; but sound there was
none, save those of the night and its denizens. Owls hooted in the
forest; bats, taking advantage of the cessation of the rain, flitted
about silently, like shadows in the air. But there was no more sign of
moving ghost or phantom, or whatever I had seen might have been--if,
indeed, there had been anything except imagination.

So, after waiting awhile, I returned to my room, closed the window, drew
the grille across again, and dragged the heavy curtain before the
opening; then, having extinguished my candles, went to bed in the dark.
In a few minutes I must have been asleep.

"What was that?" I almost heard the words of my own thought as I sat up
in bed wide awake. To memory rather than present hearing the disturbing
sound had seemed like the faint tapping at the window. For some seconds
I listened, mechanically but intently, with bated breath and that quick
beating of the heart which in a timorous person speaks for fear, and for
expectation in another. In the stillness the sound came again--this time
a very, very faint but unmistakable tapping at the glass door.

I jumped up, drew back the curtain, and for a moment stood appalled.

There, outside on the balcony, in the now brilliant moonlight, stood a
woman, wrapped in white grave-clothes saturated with water, which dripped
on the marble floor, making a pool which trickled slowly down the wet
steps. Attitude and dress and circumstance all conveyed the idea that,
though she moved and spoke, she was not quick, but dead. She was young
and very beautiful, but pale, like the grey pallor of death. Through the
still white of her face, which made her look as cold as the wet marble
she stood on, her dark eyes seemed to gleam with a strange but enticing
lustre. Even in the unsearching moonlight, which is after all rather
deceptive than illuminative, I could not but notice one rare quality of
her eyes. Each had some quality of refraction which made it look as
though it contained a star. At every movement she made, the stars
exhibited new beauties, of more rare and radiant force. She looked at me
imploringly as the heavy curtain rolled back, and in eloquent gestures
implored me to admit her. Instinctively I obeyed; I rolled back the
steel grille, and threw open the French window. I noticed that she
shivered and trembled as the glass door fell open. Indeed, she seemed so
overcome with cold as to seem almost unable to move. In the sense of her
helplessness all idea of the strangeness of the situation entirely
disappeared. It was not as if my first idea of death taken from her
cerements was negatived. It was simply that I did not think of it at
all; I was content to accept things as they were--she was a woman, and in
some dreadful trouble; that was enough.

I am thus particular about my own emotions, as I may have to refer to
them again in matters of comprehension or comparison. The whole thing is
so vastly strange and abnormal that the least thing may afterwards give
some guiding light or clue to something otherwise not understandable. I
have always found that in recondite matters first impressions are of more
real value than later conclusions. We humans place far too little
reliance on instinct as against reason; and yet instinct is the great
gift of Nature to all animals for their protection and the fulfilment of
their functions generally.

When I stepped out on the balcony, not thinking of my costume, I found
that the woman was benumbed and hardly able to move. Even when I asked
her to enter, and supplemented my words with gestures in case she should
not understand my language, she stood stock-still, only rocking slightly
to and fro as though she had just strength enough left to balance herself
on her feet. I was afraid, from the condition in which she was, that she
might drop down dead at any moment. So I took her by the hand to lead
her in. But she seemed too weak to even make the attempt. When I pulled
her slightly forward, thinking to help her, she tottered, and would have
fallen had I not caught her in my arms. Then, half lifting her, I moved
her forwards. Her feet, relieved of her weight, now seemed able to make
the necessary effort; and so, I almost carrying her, we moved into the
room. She was at the very end of her strength; I had to lift her over
the sill. In obedience to her motion, I closed the French window and
bolted it. I supposed the warmth of the room--though cool, it was warmer
than the damp air without--affected her quickly, for on the instant she
seemed to begin to recover herself. In a few seconds, as though she had
reacquired her strength, she herself pulled the heavy curtain across the
window. This left us in darkness, through which I heard her say in
English:

"Light. Get a light!"

I found matches, and at once lit a candle. As the wick flared, she moved
over to the door of the room, and tried if the lock and bolt were
fastened. Satisfied as to this, she moved towards me, her wet shroud
leaving a trail of moisture on the green carpet. By this time the wax of
the candle had melted sufficiently to let me see her clearly. She was
shaking and quivering as though in an ague; she drew the wet shroud
around her piteously. Instinctively I spoke:

"Can I do anything for you?"

She answered, still in English, and in a voice of thrilling, almost
piercing sweetness, which seemed somehow to go straight to my heart, and
affected me strangely: "Give me warmth."

I hurried to the fireplace. It was empty; there was no fire laid. I
turned to her, and said:

"Wait just a few minutes here. I shall call someone, and get help--and
fire."

Her voice seemed to ring with intensity as she answered without a pause:

"No, no! Rather would I be"--here she hesitated for an instant, but as
she caught sight of her cerements went on hurriedly--"as I am. I trust
you--not others; and you must not betray my trust." Almost instantly she
fell into a frightful fit of shivering, drawing again her death-clothes
close to her, so piteously that it wrung my heart. I suppose I am a
practical man. At any rate, I am accustomed to action. I took from its
place beside my bed a thick Jaeger dressing-gown of dark brown--it was,
of course, of extra length--and held it out to her as I said:

"Put that on. It is the only warm thing here which would be suitable.
Stay; you must remove that wet--wet"--I stumbled about for a word that
would not be offensive--"that frock--dress--costume--whatever it is." I
pointed to where, in the corner of the room, stood a chintz-covered
folding-screen which fences in my cold sponge bath, which is laid ready
for me overnight, as I am an early riser.

She bowed gravely, and taking the dressing-gown in a long, white,
finely-shaped hand, bore it behind the screen. There was a slight
rustle, and then a hollow "flop" as the wet garment fell on the floor;
more rustling and rubbing, and a minute later she emerged wrapped from
head to foot in the long Jaeger garment, which trailed on the floor
behind her, though she was a tall woman. She was still shivering
painfully, however. I took a flask of brandy and a glass from a
cupboard, and offered her some; but with a motion of her hand she refused
it, though she moaned grievously.

"Oh, I am so cold--so cold!" Her teeth were chattering. I was pained at
her sad condition, and said despairingly, for I was at my wits' end to
know what to do:

"Tell me anything that I can do to help you, and I will do it. I may not
call help; there is no fire--nothing to make it with; you will not take
some brandy. What on earth can I do to give you warmth?"

Her answer certainly surprised me when it came, though it was practical
enough--so practical that I should not have dared to say it. She looked
me straight in the face for a few seconds before speaking. Then, with an
air of girlish innocence which disarmed suspicion and convinced me at
once of her simple faith, she said in a voice that at once thrilled me
and evoked all my pity:

"Let me rest for a while, and cover me up with rugs. That may give me
warmth. I am dying of cold. And I have a deadly fear upon me--a deadly
fear. Sit by me, and let me hold your hand. You are big and strong, and
you look brave. It will reassure me. I am not myself a coward, but
to-night fear has got me by the throat. I can hardly breathe. Do let me
stay till I am warm. If you only knew what I have gone through, and have
to go through still, I am sure you would pity me and help me."

To say that I was astonished would be a mild description of my feelings.
I was not shocked. The life which I have led was not one which makes for
prudery. To travel in strange places amongst strange peoples with
strange views of their own is to have odd experiences and peculiar
adventures now and again; a man without human passions is not the type
necessary for an adventurous life, such as I myself have had. But even a
man of passions and experiences can, when he respects a woman, be
shocked--even prudish--where his own opinion of her is concerned. Such
must bring to her guarding any generosity which he has, and any
self-restraint also. Even should she place herself in a doubtful
position, her honour calls to his honour. This is a call which may not
be--must not be--unanswered. Even passion must pause for at least a
while at sound of such a trumpet-call.

This woman I did respect--much respect. Her youth and beauty; her
manifest ignorance of evil; her superb disdain of convention, which could
only come through hereditary dignity; her terrible fear and
suffering--for there must be more in her unhappy condition than meets the
eye--would all demand respect, even if one did not hasten to yield it.
Nevertheless, I thought it necessary to enter a protest against her
embarrassing suggestion. I certainly did feel a fool when making it,
also a cad. I can truly say it was made only for her good, and out of
the best of me, such as I am. I felt impossibly awkward; and stuttered
and stumbled before I spoke:

"But surely--the convenances! Your being here alone at night! Mrs.
Grundy--convention--the--"

She interrupted me with an incomparable dignity--a dignity which had the
effect of shutting me up like a clasp-knife and making me feel a decided
inferior--and a poor show at that. There was such a gracious simplicity
and honesty in it, too, such self-respecting knowledge of herself and her
position, that I could be neither angry nor hurt. I could only feel
ashamed of myself, and of my own littleness of mind and morals. She
seemed in her icy coldness--now spiritual as well as bodily--like an
incarnate figure of Pride as she answered:

"What are convenances or conventions to me! If you only knew where I
have come from--the existence (if it can be called so) which I have
had--the loneliness--the horror! And besides, it is for me to make
conventions, not to yield my personal freedom of action to them. Even as
I am--even here and in this garb--I am above convention. Convenances do
not trouble me or hamper me. That, at least, I have won by what I have
gone through, even if it had never come to me through any other way. Let
me stay." She said the last words, in spite of all her pride,
appealingly. But still, there was a note of high pride in all this--in
all she said and did, in her attitude and movement, in the tones of her
voice, in the loftiness of her carriage and the steadfast look of her
open, starlit eyes. Altogether, there was something so rarely lofty in
herself and all that clad her that, face to face with it and with her, my
feeble attempt at moral precaution seemed puny, ridiculous, and out of
place. Without a word in the doing, I took from an old chiffonier chest
an armful of blankets, several of which I threw over her as she lay, for
in the meantime, having replaced the coverlet, she had lain down at
length on the bed. I took a chair, and sat down beside her. When she
stretched out her hand from beneath the pile of wraps, I took it in mine,
saying:

"Get warm and rest. Sleep if you can. You need not fear; I shall guard
you with my life."

She looked at me gratefully, her starry eyes taking a new light more full
of illumination than was afforded by the wax candle, which was shaded
from her by my body . . . She was horribly cold, and her teeth chattered
so violently that I feared lest she should have incurred some dangerous
evil from her wetting and the cold that followed it. I felt, however, so
awkward that I could find no words to express my fears; moreover, I
hardly dared say anything at all regarding herself after the haughty way
in which she had received my well-meant protest. Manifestly I was but to
her as a sort of refuge and provider of heat, altogether impersonal, and
not to be regarded in any degree as an individual. In these humiliating
circumstances what could I do but sit quiet--and wait developments?

Little by little the fierce chattering of her teeth began to abate as the
warmth of her surroundings stole through her. I also felt, even in this
strangely awakening position, the influence of the quiet; and sleep began
to steal over me. Several times I tried to fend it off, but, as I could
not make any overt movement without alarming my strange and beautiful
companion, I had to yield myself to drowsiness. I was still in such an
overwhelming stupor of surprise that I could not even think freely.
There was nothing for me but to control myself and wait. Before I could
well fix my thoughts I was asleep.

I was recalled to consciousness by hearing, even through the pall of
sleep that bound me, the crowing of a cock in some of the out-offices of
the castle. At the same instant the figure, lying deathly still but for
the gentle heaving of her bosom, began to struggle wildly. The sound had
won through the gates of her sleep also. With a swift, gliding motion
she slipped from the bed to the floor, saying in a fierce whisper as she
pulled herself up to her full height:

"Let me out! I must go! I must go!"

By this time I was fully awake, and the whole position of things came to
me in an instant which I shall never--can never--forget: the dim light of
the candle, now nearly burned down to the socket, all the dimmer from the
fact that the first grey gleam of morning was stealing in round the edges
of the heavy curtain; the tall, slim figure in the brown dressing-gown
whose over-length trailed on the floor, the black hair showing glossy in
the light, and increasing by contrast the marble whiteness of the face,
in which the black eyes sent through their stars fiery gleams. She
appeared quite in a frenzy of haste; her eagerness was simply
irresistible.

I was so stupefied with amazement, as well as with sleep, that I did not
attempt to stop her, but began instinctively to help her by furthering
her wishes. As she ran behind the screen, and, as far as sound could
inform me,--began frantically to disrobe herself of the warm
dressing-gown and to don again the ice-cold wet shroud, I pulled back the
curtain from the window, and drew the bolt of the glass door. As I did
so she was already behind me, shivering. As I threw open the door she
glided out with a swift silent movement, but trembling in an agonized
way. As she passed me, she murmured in a low voice, which was almost
lost in the chattering of her teeth:

"Oh, thank you--thank you a thousand times! But I must go. I must! I
must! I shall come again, and try to show my gratitude. Do not
condemn me as ungrateful--till then." And she was gone.

I watched her pass the length of the white path, flitting from shrub to
shrub or statue as she had come. In the cold grey light of the
undeveloped dawn she seemed even more ghostly than she had done in the
black shadow of the night.

When she disappeared from sight in the shadow of the wood, I stood on the
terrace for a long time watching, in case I should be afforded another
glimpse of her, for there was now no doubt in my mind that she had for me
some strange attraction. I felt even then that the look in those
glorious starry eyes would be with me always so long as I might live.
There was some fascination which went deeper than my eyes or my flesh or
my heart--down deep into the very depths of my soul. My mind was all in
a whirl, so that I could hardly think coherently. It all was like a
dream; the reality seemed far away. It was not possible to doubt that
the phantom figure which had been so close to me during the dark hours of
the night was actual flesh and blood. Yet she was so cold, so cold!
Altogether I could not fix my mind to either proposition: that it was a
living woman who had held my hand, or a dead body reanimated for the time
or the occasion in some strange manner.

The difficulty was too great for me to make up my mind upon it, even had
I wanted to. But, in any case, I did not want to. This would, no doubt,
come in time. But till then I wished to dream on, as anyone does in a
dream which can still be blissful though there be pauses of pain, or
ghastliness, or doubt, or terror.

So I closed the window and drew the curtain again, feeling for the first
time the cold in which I had stood on the wet marble floor of the terrace
when my bare feet began to get warm on the soft carpet. To get rid of
the chill feeling I got into the bed on which she had lain, and as the
warmth restored me tried to think coherently. For a short while I was
going over the facts of the night--or what seemed as facts to my
remembrance. But as I continued to think, the possibilities of any
result seemed to get less, and I found myself vainly trying to reconcile
with the logic of life the grim episode of the night. The effort proved
to be too much for such concentration as was left to me; moreover,
interrupted sleep was clamant, and would not be denied. What I dreamt
of--if I dreamt at all--I know not. I only know that I was ready for
waking when the time came. It came with a violent knocking at my door.
I sprang from bed, fully awake in a second, drew the bolt, and slipped
back to bed. With a hurried "May I come in?" Aunt Janet entered. She
seemed relieved when she saw me, and gave without my asking an
explanation of her perturbation:

"Oh, laddie, I hae been so uneasy aboot ye all the nicht. I hae had
dreams an' veesions an' a' sorts o' uncanny fancies. I fear that--" She
was by now drawing back the curtain, and as her eyes took in the marks of
wet all over the floor the current of her thoughts changed:

"Why, laddie, whativer hae ye been doin' wi' yer baith? Oh, the mess ye
hae made! 'Tis sinful to gie sic trouble an' waste . . . " And so she
went on. I was glad to hear the tirade, which was only what a good
housewife, outraged in her sentiments of order, would have made. I
listened in patience--with pleasure when I thought of what she would have
thought (and said) had she known the real facts. I was well pleased to
have got off so easily.


April 10, 1907.

For some days after what I call "the episode" I was in a strange
condition of mind. I did not take anyone--not even Aunt Janet--into
confidence. Even she dear, and open-hearted and liberal-minded as she
is, might not have understood well enough to be just and tolerant; and I
did not care to hear any adverse comment on my strange visitor. Somehow
I could not bear the thought of anyone finding fault with her or in her,
though, strangely enough, I was eternally defending her to myself; for,
despite my wishes, embarrassing thoughts would come again and again,
and again in all sorts and variants of queries difficult to answer. I
found myself defending her, sometimes as a woman hard pressed by
spiritual fear and physical suffering, sometimes as not being amenable to
laws that govern the Living. Indeed, I could not make up my mind whether
I looked on her as a living human being or as one with some strange
existence in another world, and having only a chance foothold in our own.
In such doubt imagination began to work, and thoughts of evil, of danger,
of doubt, even of fear, began to crowd on me with such persistence and in
such varied forms that I found my instinct of reticence growing into a
settled purpose. The value of this instinctive precaution was promptly
shown by Aunt Janet's state of mind, with consequent revelation of it.
She became full of gloomy prognostications and what I thought were morbid
fears. For the first time in my life I discovered that Aunt Janet had
nerves! I had long had a secret belief that she was gifted, to some
degree at any rate, with Second Sight, which quality, or whatever it is,
skilled in the powers if not the lore of superstition, manages to keep at
stretch not only the mind of its immediate pathic, but of others relevant
to it. Perhaps this natural quality had received a fresh impetus from
the arrival of some cases of her books sent on by Sir Colin. She
appeared to read and reread these works, which were chiefly on occult
subjects, day and night, except when she was imparting to me choice
excerpts of the most baleful and fearsome kind. Indeed, before a week
was over I found myself to be an expert in the history of the cult, as
well as in its manifestations, which latter I had been versed in for a
good many years.

The result of all this was that it set me brooding. Such, at least, I
gathered was the fact when Aunt Janet took me to task for it. She always
speaks out according to her convictions, so that her thinking I brooded
was to me a proof that I did; and after a personal examination I
came--reluctantly--to the conclusion that she was right, so far, at any
rate, as my outer conduct was concerned. The state of mind I was in,
however, kept me from making any acknowledgment of it--the real cause of
my keeping so much to myself and of being so distrait. And so I went
on, torturing myself as before with introspective questioning; and she,
with her mind set on my actions, and endeavouring to find a cause for
them, continued and expounded her beliefs and fears.

Her nightly chats with me when we were alone after dinner--for I had come
to avoid her questioning at other times--kept my imagination at high
pressure. Despite myself, I could not but find new cause for concern in
the perennial founts of her superstition. I had thought, years ago, that
I had then sounded the depths of this branch of psychicism; but this new
phase of thought, founded on the really deep hold which the existence of
my beautiful visitor and her sad and dreadful circumstances had taken
upon me, brought me a new concern in the matter of self-importance. I
came to think that I must reconstruct my self-values, and begin a fresh
understanding of ethical beliefs. Do what I would, my mind would keep
turning on the uncanny subjects brought before it. I began to apply them
one by one to my own late experience, and unconsciously to try to fit
them in turn to the present case.

The effect of this brooding was that I was, despite my own will, struck
by the similarity of circumstances bearing on my visitor, and the
conditions apportioned by tradition and superstition to such strange
survivals from earlier ages as these partial existences which are rather
Undead than Living--still walking the earth, though claimed by the world
of the Dead. Amongst them are the Vampire, or the Wehr-Wolf. To this
class also might belong in a measure the Doppelganger--one of whose dual
existences commonly belongs to the actual world around it. So, too, the
denizens of the world of Astralism. In any of these named worlds there
is a material presence--which must be created, if only for a single or
periodic purpose. It matters not whether a material presence already
created can be receptive of a disembodied soul, or a soul unattached can
have a body built up for it or around it; or, again, whether the body of
a dead person can be made seeming quick through some diabolic influence
manifested in the present, or an inheritance or result of some baleful
use of malefic power in the past. The result is the same in each case,
though the ways be widely different: a soul and a body which are not in
unity but brought together for strange purposes through stranger means
and by powers still more strange.

Through much thought and a process of exclusions the eerie form which
seemed to be most in correspondence with my adventure, and most suitable
to my fascinating visitor, appeared to be the Vampire. Doppelganger,
Astral creations, and all such-like, did not comply with the conditions
of my night experience. The Wehr-Wolf is but a variant of the Vampire,
and so needed not to be classed or examined at all. Then it was that,
thus focussed, the Lady of the Shroud (for so I came to hold her in my
mind) began to assume a new force. Aunt Janet's library afforded me
clues which I followed with avidity. In my secret heart I hated the
quest, and did not wish to go on with it. But in this I was not my own
master. Do what I would--brush away doubts never so often, new doubts
and imaginings came in their stead. The circumstance almost repeated the
parable of the Seven Devils who took the place of the exorcised one.
Doubts I could stand. Imaginings I could stand. But doubts and
imaginings together made a force so fell that I was driven to accept any
reading of the mystery which might presumably afford a foothold for
satisfying thought. And so I came to accept tentatively the Vampire
theory--accept it, at least, so far as to examine it as judicially as was
given me to do. As the days wore on, so the conviction grew. The more I
read on the subject, the more directly the evidences pointed towards this
view. The more I thought, the more obstinate became the conviction. I
ransacked Aunt Janet's volumes again and again to find anything to the
contrary; but in vain. Again, no matter how obstinate were my
convictions at any given time, unsettlement came with fresh thinking over
the argument, so that I was kept in a harassing state of uncertainty.

Briefly, the evidence in favour of accord between the facts of the case
and the Vampire theory were:

Her coming was at night--the time the Vampire is according to the theory,
free to move at will.

She wore her shroud--a necessity of coming fresh from grave or tomb; for
there is nothing occult about clothing which is not subject to astral or
other influences.

She had to be helped into my room--in strict accordance with what one
sceptical critic of occultism has called "the Vampire etiquette."

She made violent haste in getting away at cock-crow.

She seemed preternaturally cold; her sleep was almost abnormal in
intensity, and yet the sound of the cock-crowing came through it.

These things showed her to be subject to some laws, though not in exact
accord within those which govern human beings. Under the stress of such
circumstances as she must have gone through, her vitality seemed more
than human--the quality of vitality which could outlive ordinary burial.
Again, such purpose as she had shown in donning, under stress of some
compelling direction, her ice-cold wet shroud, and, wrapt in it, going
out again into the night, was hardly normal for a woman.

But if so, and if she was indeed a Vampire, might not whatever it may be
that holds such beings in thrall be by some means or other exorcised? To
find the means must be my next task. I am actually pining to see her
again. Never before have I been stirred to my depths by anyone. Come it
from Heaven or Hell, from the Earth or the Grave, it does not matter; I
shall make it my task to win her back to life and peace. If she be
indeed a Vampire, the task may be hard and long; if she be not so, and if
it be merely that circumstances have so gathered round her as to produce
that impression, the task may be simpler and the result more sweet. No,
not more sweet; for what can be more sweet than to restore the lost or
seemingly lost soul of the woman you love! There, the truth is out at
last! I suppose that I have fallen in love with her. If so, it is too
late for me to fight against it. I can only wait with what patience I
can till I see her again. But to that end I can do nothing. I know
absolutely nothing about her--not even her name. Patience!


April 16, 1907.

The only relief I have had from the haunting anxiety regarding the Lady
of the Shroud has been in the troubled state of my adopted country.
There has evidently been something up which I have not been allowed to
know. The mountaineers are troubled and restless; are wandering about,
singly and in parties, and holding meetings in strange places. This is
what I gather used to be in old days when intrigues were on foot with
Turks, Greeks, Austrians, Italians, Russians. This concerns me vitally,
for my mind has long been made up to share the fortunes of the Land of
the Blue Mountains. For good or ill I mean to stay here: J'y suis,
j'y reste. I share henceforth the lot of the Blue Mountaineers; and
not Turkey, nor Greece, nor Austria, nor Italy, nor Russia--no, not
France nor Germany either; not man nor God nor Devil shall drive me from
my purpose. With these patriots I throw in my lot! My only difficulty
seemed at first to be with the men themselves. They are so proud that at
the beginning I feared they would not even accord me the honour of being
one of them! However, things always move on somehow, no matter what
difficulties there be at the beginning. Never mind! When one looks back
at an accomplished fact the beginning is not to be seen--and if it were
it would not matter. It is not of any account, anyhow.

I heard that there was going to be a great meeting near here yesterday
afternoon, and I attended it. I think it was a success. If such is any
proof, I felt elated as well as satisfied when I came away. Aunt Janet's
Second Sight on the subject was comforting, though grim, and in a measure
disconcerting. When I was saying good-night she asked me to bend down my
head. As I did so, she laid her hands on it and passed them all over it.
I heard her say to herself:

"Strange! There's nothing there; yet I could have sworn I saw it!" I
asked her to explain, but she would not. For once she was a little
obstinate, and refused point blank to even talk of the subject. She was
not worried nor unhappy; so I had no cause for concern. I said nothing,
but I shall wait and see. Most mysteries become plain or disappear
altogether in time. But about the meeting--lest I forget!

When I joined the mountaineers who had assembled, I really think they
were glad to see me; though some of them seemed adverse, and others did
not seem over well satisfied. However, absolute unity is very seldom to
be found. Indeed, it is almost impossible; and in a free community is
not altogether to be desired. When it is apparent, the gathering lacks
that sense of individual feeling which makes for the real consensus of
opinion--which is the real unity of purpose. The meeting was at first,
therefore, a little cold and distant. But presently it began to thaw,
and after some fiery harangues I was asked to speak. Happily, I had
begun to learn the Balkan language as soon as ever Uncle Roger's wishes
had been made known to me, and as I have some facility of tongues and a
great deal of experience, I soon began to know something of it. Indeed,
when I had been here a few weeks, with opportunity of speaking daily with
the people themselves, and learned to understand the intonations and
vocal inflexions, I felt quite easy in speaking it. I understood every
word which had up to then been spoken at the meeting, and when I spoke
myself I felt that they understood. That is an experience which every
speaker has in a certain way and up to a certain point. He knows by some
kind of instinct if his hearers are with him; if they respond, they must
certainly have understood. Last night this was marked. I felt it every
instant I was talking and when I came to realize that the men were in
strict accord with my general views, I took them into confidence with
regard to my own personal purpose. It was the beginning of a mutual
trust; so for peroration I told them that I had come to the conclusion
that what they wanted most for their own protection and the security and
consolidation of their nation was arms--arms of the very latest pattern.
Here they interrupted me with wild cheers, which so strung me up that I
went farther than I intended, and made a daring venture. "Ay," I
repeated, "the security and consolidation of your country--of our
country, for I have come to live amongst you. Here is my home whilst I
live. I am with you heart and soul. I shall live with you, fight
shoulder to shoulder with you, and, if need be, shall die with you!"
Here the shouting was terrific, and the younger men raised their guns to
fire a salute in Blue Mountain fashion. But on the instant the Vladika
{1} held up his hands and motioned them to desist. In the immediate
silence he spoke, sharply at first, but later ascending to a high pitch
of single-minded, lofty eloquence. His words rang in my ears long after
the meeting was over and other thoughts had come between them and the
present.

"Silence!" he thundered. "Make no echoes in the forest or through the
hills at this dire time of stress and threatened danger to our land.
Bethink ye of this meeting, held here and in secret, in order that no
whisper of it may be heard afar. Have ye all, brave men of the Blue
Mountains, come hither through the forest like shadows that some of you,
thoughtless, may enlighten your enemies as to our secret purpose? The
thunder of your guns would doubtless sound well in the ears of those who
wish us ill and try to work us wrong. Fellow-countrymen, know ye not
that the Turk is awake once more for our harming? The Bureau of Spies
has risen from the torpor which came on it when the purpose against our
Teuta roused our mountains to such anger that the frontiers blazed with
passion, and were swept with fire and sword. Moreover, there is a
traitor somewhere in the land, or else incautious carelessness has served
the same base purpose. Something of our needs--our doing, whose secret
we have tried to hide, has gone out. The myrmidons of the Turk are close
on our borders, and it may be that some of them have passed our guards
and are amidst us unknown. So it behoves us doubly to be discreet.
Believe me that I share with you, my brothers, our love for the gallant
Englishman who has come amongst us to share our sorrows and
ambitions--and I trust it may be our joys. We are all united in the wish
to do him honour--though not in the way by which danger might be carried
on the wings of love. My brothers, our newest brother comes to us from
the Great Nation which amongst the nations has been our only friend, and
which has ere now helped us in our direst need--that mighty Britain whose
hand has ever been raised in the cause of freedom. We of the Blue
Mountains know her best as she stands with sword in hand face to face
with our foes. And this, her son and now our brother, brings further to
our need the hand of a giant and the heart of a lion. Later on, when
danger does not ring us round, when silence is no longer our outer guard;
we shall bid him welcome in true fashion of our land. But till then he
will believe--for he is great-hearted--that our love and thanks and
welcome are not to be measured by sound. When the time comes, then shall
be sound in his honour--not of rifles alone, but bells and cannon and the
mighty voice of a free people shouting as one. But now we must be wise
and silent, for the Turk is once again at our gates. Alas! the cause of
his former coming may not be, for she whose beauty and nobility and whose
place in our nation and in our hearts tempted him to fraud and violence
is not with us to share even our anxiety."

Here his voice broke, and there arose from all a deep wailing sound,
which rose and rose till the woods around us seemed broken by a mighty
and long-sustained sob. The orator saw that his purpose was
accomplished, and with a short sentence finished his harangue: "But the
need of our nation still remains!" Then, with an eloquent gesture to me
to proceed, he merged in the crowd and disappeared.

How could I even attempt to follow such a speaker with any hope of
success? I simply told them what I had already done in the way of help,
saying:

"As you needed arms, I have got them. My agent sends me word through the
code between us that he has procured for me--for us--fifty thousand of
the newest-pattern rifles, the French Ingis-Malbron, which has surpassed
all others, and sufficient ammunition to last for a year of war. The
first section is in hand, and will soon be ready for consignment. There
are other war materials, too, which, when they arrive, will enable every
man and woman--even the children--of our land to take a part in its
defence should such be needed. My brothers, I am with you in all things,
for good or ill!"

It made me very proud to hear the mighty shout which arose. I had felt
exalted before, but now this personal development almost unmanned me. I
was glad of the long-sustained applause to recover my self-control.

I was quite satisfied that the meeting did not want to hear any other
speaker, for they began to melt away without any formal notification
having been given. I doubt if there will be another meeting soon again.
The weather has begun to break, and we are in for another spell of rain.
It is disagreeable, of course; but it has its own charm. It was during a
spell of wet weather that the Lady of the Shroud came to me. Perhaps the
rain may bring her again. I hope so, with all my soul.


April 23, 1907.

The rain has continued for four whole days and nights, and the low-lying
ground is like a quagmire in places. In the sunlight the whole mountains
glisten with running streams and falling water. I feel a strange kind of
elation, but from no visible cause. Aunt Janet rather queered it by
telling me, as she said good-night, to be very careful of myself, as she
had seen in a dream last night a figure in a shroud. I fear she was not
pleased that I did not take it with all the seriousness that she did. I
would not wound her for the world if I could help it, but the idea of a
shroud gets too near the bone to be safe, and I had to fend her off at
all hazards. So when I doubted if the Fates regarded the visionary
shroud as of necessity appertaining to me, she said, in a way that was,
for her, almost sharp:

"Take care, laddie. 'Tis ill jesting wi' the powers o' time Unknown."

Perhaps it was that her talk put the subject in my mind. The woman
needed no such aid; she was always there; but when I locked myself into
my room that night, I half expected to find her in the room. I was not
sleepy, so I took a book of Aunt Janet's and began to read. The title
was "On the Powers and Qualities of Disembodied Spirits." "Your
grammar," said I to the author, "is hardly attractive, but I may learn
something which might apply to her. I shall read your book." Before
settling down to it, however, I thought I would have a look at the
garden. Since the night of the visit the garden seemed to have a new
attractiveness for me: a night seldom passed without my having a last
look at it before turning in. So I drew the great curtain and looked
out.

The scene was beautiful, but almost entirely desolate. All was ghastly
in the raw, hard gleams of moonlight coming fitfully through the masses
of flying cloud. The wind was rising, and the air was damp and cold. I
looked round the room instinctively, and noticed that the fire was laid
ready for lighting, and that there were small-cut logs of wood piled
beside the hearth. Ever since that night I have had a fire laid ready.
I was tempted to light it, but as I never have a fire unless I sleep in
the open, I hesitated to begin. I went back to the window, and, opening
the catch, stepped out on the terrace. As I looked down the white walk
and let my eyes range over the expanse of the garden, where everything
glistened as the moonlight caught the wet, I half expected to see some
white figure flitting amongst the shrubs and statues. The whole scene of
the former visit came back to me so vividly that I could hardly believe
that any time had passed since then. It was the same scene, and again
late in the evening. Life in Vissarion was primitive, and early hours
prevailed--though not so late as on that night.

As I looked I thought I caught a glimpse of something white far away. It
was only a ray of moonlight coming through the rugged edge of a cloud.
But all the same it set me in a strange state of perturbation. Somehow I
seemed to lose sight of my own identity. It was as though I was
hypnotized by the situation or by memory, or perhaps by some occult
force. Without thinking of what I was doing, or being conscious of any
reason for it, I crossed the room and set light to the fire. Then I blew
out the candle and came to the window again. I never thought it might be
a foolish thing to do--to stand at a window with a light behind me in
this country, where every man carries a gun with him always. I was in my
evening clothes, too, with my breast well marked by a white shirt. I
opened the window and stepped out on the terrace. There I stood for many
minutes, thinking. All the time my eyes kept ranging over the garden.
Once I thought I saw a white figure moving, but it was not followed up,
so, becoming conscious that it was again beginning to rain, I stepped
back into the room, shut the window, and drew the curtain. Then I
realized the comforting appearance of the fire, and went over and stood
before it.

Hark! Once more there was a gentle tapping at the window. I rushed over
to it and drew the curtain.

There, out on the rain-beaten terrace, stood the white shrouded figure,
more desolate-appearing than ever. Ghastly pale she looked, as before,
but her eyes had an eager look which was new. I took it that she was
attracted by the fire, which was by now well ablaze, and was throwing up
jets of flame as the dry logs crackled. The leaping flames threw fitful
light across the room, and every gleam threw the white-clad figure into
prominence, showing the gleam of the black eyes, and fixing the stars
that lay in them.

Without a word I threw open the window, and, taking the white hand
extended to me, drew into the room the Lady of the Shroud.

As she entered and felt the warmth of the blazing fire, a glad look
spread over her face. She made a movement as if to run to it. But she
drew back an instant after, looking round with instinctive caution. She
closed the window and bolted it, touched the lever which spread the
grille across the opening, and pulled close the curtain behind it. Then
she went swiftly to the door and tried if it was locked. Satisfied as to
this, she came quickly over to the fire, and, kneeling before it,
stretched out her numbed hands to the blaze. Almost on the instant her
wet shroud began to steam. I stood wondering. The precautions of
secrecy in the midst of her suffering--for that she did suffer was only
too painfully manifest--must have presupposed some danger. Then and
there my mind was made up that there should no harm assail her that I by
any means could fend off. Still, the present must be attended to;
pneumonia and other ills stalked behind such a chill as must infallibly
come on her unless precautions were taken. I took again the
dressing-gown which she had worn before and handed it to her, motioning
as I did so towards the screen which had made a dressing-room for her on
the former occasion. To my surprise she hesitated. I waited. She
waited, too, and then laid down the dressing-gown on the edge of the
stone fender. So I spoke:

"Won't you change as you did before? Your--your frock can then be dried.
Do! It will be so much safer for you to be dry clad when you resume your
own dress."

"How can I whilst you are here?"

Her words made me stare, so different were they from her acts of the
other visit. I simply bowed--speech on such a subject would be at least
inadequate--and walked over to the window. Passing behind the curtain, I
opened the window. Before stepping out on to the terrace, I looked into
the room and said:

"Take your own time. There is no hurry. I dare say you will find there
all you may want. I shall remain on the terrace until you summon me."
With that I went out on the terrace, drawing close the glass door behind
me.

I stood looking out on the dreary scene for what seemed a very short
time, my mind in a whirl. There came a rustle from within, and I saw a
dark brown figure steal round the edge of the curtain. A white hand was
raised, and beckoned me to come in. I entered, bolting the window behind
me. She had passed across the room, and was again kneeling before the
fire with her hands outstretched. The shroud was laid in partially
opened folds on one side of the hearth, and was steaming heavily. I
brought over some cushions and pillows, and made a little pile of them
beside her.

"Sit there," I said, "and rest quietly in the heat." It may have been
the effect of the glowing heat, but there was a rich colour in her face
as she looked at me with shining eyes. Without a word, but with a
courteous little bow, she sat down at once. I put a thick rug across her
shoulders, and sat down myself on a stool a couple of feet away.

For fully five or six minutes we sat in silence. At last, turning her
head towards me she said in a sweet, low voice:

"I had intended coming earlier on purpose to thank you for your very
sweet and gracious courtesy to me, but circumstances were such that I
could not leave my--my"--she hesitated before saying--"my abode. I am
not free, as you and others are, to do what I will. My existence is
sadly cold and stern, and full of horrors that appal. But I do thank
you. For myself I am not sorry for the delay, for every hour shows me
more clearly how good and understanding and sympathetic you have been to
me. I only hope that some day you may realize how kind you have been,
and how much I appreciate it."

"I am only too glad to be of any service," I said, feebly I felt, as I
held out my hand. She did not seem to see it. Her eyes were now on the
fire, and a warm blush dyed forehead and cheek and neck. The reproof was
so gentle that no one could have been offended. It was evident that she
was something coy and reticent, and would not allow me to come at present
more close to her, even to the touching of her hand. But that her heart
was not in the denial was also evident in the glance from her glorious
dark starry eyes. These glances--veritable lightning flashes coming
through her pronounced reserve--finished entirely any wavering there
might be in my own purpose. I was aware now to the full that my heart
was quite subjugated. I knew that I was in love--veritably so much in
love as to feel that without this woman, be she what she might, by my
side my future must be absolutely barren.

It was presently apparent that she did not mean to stay as long on this
occasion as on the last. When the castle clock struck midnight she
suddenly sprang to her feet with a bound, saying:

"I must go! There is midnight!" I rose at once, the intensity of her
speech having instantly obliterated the sleep which, under the influence
of rest and warmth, was creeping upon me. Once more she was in a frenzy
of haste, so I hurried towards the window, but as I looked back saw her,
despite her haste, still standing. I motioned towards the screen, and
slipping behind the curtain, opened the window and went out on the
terrace. As I was disappearing behind the curtain I saw her with the
tail of my eye lifting the shroud, now dry, from the hearth.

She was out through the window in an incredibly short time, now clothed
once more in that dreadful wrapping. As she sped past me barefooted on
the wet, chilly marble which made her shudder, she whispered:

"Thank you again. You are good to me. You can understand."

Once again I stood on the terrace, saw her melt like a shadow down the
steps, and disappear behind the nearest shrub. Thence she flitted away
from point to point with exceeding haste. The moonlight had now
disappeared behind heavy banks of cloud, so there was little light to see
by. I could just distinguish a pale gleam here and there as she wended
her secret way.

For a long time I stood there alone thinking, as I watched the course she
had taken, and wondering where might be her ultimate destination. As she
had spoken of her "abode," I knew there was some definitive objective of
her flight.

It was no use wondering. I was so entirely ignorant of her surroundings
that I had not even a starting-place for speculation. So I went in,
leaving the window open. It seemed that this being so made one barrier
the less between us. I gathered the cushions and rugs from before the
fire, which was no longer leaping, but burning with a steady glow, and
put them back in their places. Aunt Janet might come in the morning, as
she had done before, and I did not wish to set her thinking. She is much
too clever a person to have treading on the heels of a
mystery--especially one in which my own affections are engaged. I wonder
what she would have said had she seen me kiss the cushion on which my
beautiful guest's head had rested?

When I was in bed, and in the dark save for the fading glow of the fire,
my thoughts became fixed that whether she came from Earth or Heaven or
Hell, my lovely visitor was already more to me than aught else in the
world. This time she had, on going, said no word of returning. I had
been so much taken up with her presence, and so upset by her abrupt
departure, that I had omitted to ask her. And so I am driven, as before,
to accept the chance of her returning--a chance which I fear I am or may
be unable to control.

Surely enough Aunt Janet did come in the morning, early. I was still
asleep when she knocked at my door. With that purely physical
subconsciousness which comes with habit I must have realized the cause of
the sound, for I woke fully conscious of the fact that Aunt Janet had
knocked and was waiting to come in. I jumped from bed, and back again
when I had unlocked the door. When Aunt Janet came in she noticed the
cold of the room.

"Save us, laddie, but ye'll get your death o' cold in this room." Then,
as she looked round and noticed the ashes of the extinct fire in the
grate:

"Eh, but ye're no that daft after a'; ye've had the sense to light yer
fire. Glad I am that we had the fire laid and a wheen o' dry logs ready
to yer hand." She evidently felt the cold air coming from the window,
for she went over and drew the curtain. When she saw the open window,
she raised her hands in a sort of dismay, which to me, knowing how little
base for concern could be within her knowledge, was comic. Hurriedly she
shut the window, and then, coming close over to my bed, said:

"Yon has been a fearsome nicht again, laddie, for yer poor auld aunty."

"Dreaming again, Aunt Janet?" I asked--rather flippantly as it seemed to
me. She shook her head:

"Not so, Rupert, unless it be that the Lord gies us in dreams what we in
our spiritual darkness think are veesions." I roused up at this. When
Aunt Janet calls me Rupert, as she always used to do in my dear mother's
time, things are serious with her. As I was back in childhood now,
recalled by her word, I thought the best thing I could do to cheer her
would be to bring her back there too--if I could. So I patted the edge
of the bed as I used to do when I was a wee kiddie and wanted her to
comfort me, and said:

"Sit down, Aunt Janet, and tell me." She yielded at once, and the look
of the happy old days grew over her face as though there had come a gleam
of sunshine. She sat down, and I put out my hands as I used to do, and
took her hand between them. There was a tear in her eye as she raised my
hand and kissed it as in old times. But for the infinite pathos of it,
it would have been comic:

Aunt Janet, old and grey-haired, but still retaining her girlish slimness
of figure, petite, dainty as a Dresden figure, her face lined with the
care of years, but softened and ennobled by the unselfishness of those
years, holding up my big hand, which would outweigh her whole arm;
sitting dainty as a pretty old fairy beside a recumbent giant--for my
bulk never seems so great as when I am near this real little good fairy
of my life--seven feet beside four feet seven.

So she began as of old, as though she were about to soothe a frightened
child with a fairy tale:

"'Twas a veesion, I think, though a dream it may hae been. But whichever
or whatever it was, it concerned my little boy, who has grown to be a big
giant, so much that I woke all of a tremble. Laddie dear, I thought that
I saw ye being married." This gave me an opening, though a small one,
for comforting her, so I took it at once:

"Why, dear, there isn't anything to alarm you in that, is there? It was
only the other day when you spoke to me about the need of my getting
married, if it was only that you might have children of your boy playing
around your knees as their father used to do when he was a helpless wee
child himself."

"That is so, laddie," she answered gravely. "But your weddin' was none
so merry as I fain would see. True, you seemed to lo'e her wi' all yer
hairt. Yer eyes shone that bright that ye might ha' set her afire, for
all her black locks and her winsome face. But, laddie, that was not
all--no, not though her black een, that had the licht o' all the stars o'
nicht in them, shone in yours as though a hairt o' love an' passion, too,
dwelt in them. I saw ye join hands, an' heard a strange voice that
talked stranger still, but I saw none ither. Your eyes an' her eyes, an'
your hand an' hers, were all I saw. For all else was dim, and the
darkness was close around ye twa. And when the benison was spoken--I
knew that by the voices that sang, and by the gladness of her een, as
well as by the pride and glory of yours--the licht began to glow a wee
more, an' I could see yer bride. She was in a veil o' wondrous fine
lace. And there were orange-flowers in her hair, though there were
twigs, too, and there was a crown o' flowers on head wi' a golden band
round it. And the heathen candles that stood on the table wi' the Book
had some strange effect, for the reflex o' it hung in the air o'er her
head like the shadow of a crown. There was a gold ring on her finger and
a silver one on yours." Here she paused and trembled, so that, hoping to
dispel her fears, I said, as like as I could to the way I used to when I
was a child:

"Go on, Aunt Janet."

She did not seem to recognize consciously the likeness between past and
present; but the effect was there, for she went on more like her old
self, though there was a prophetic gravity in her voice, more marked than
I had ever heard from her:

"All this I've told ye was well; but, oh, laddie, there was a dreadful
lack o' livin' joy such as I should expect from the woman whom my boy had
chosen for his wife--and at the marriage coupling, too! And no wonder,
when all is said; for though the marriage veil o' love was fine, an' the
garland o' flowers was fresh-gathered, underneath them a' was nane ither
than a ghastly shroud. As I looked in my veesion--or maybe dream--I
expectit to see the worms crawl round the flagstane at her feet. If
'twas not Death, laddie dear, that stood by ye, it was the shadow o'
Death that made the darkness round ye, that neither the light o' candles
nor the smoke o' heathen incense could pierce. Oh, laddie, laddie, wae
is me that I hae seen sic a veesion--waking or sleeping, it matters not!
I was sair distressed--so sair that I woke wi' a shriek on my lips and
bathed in cold sweat. I would hae come doon to ye to see if you were
hearty or no--or even to listen at your door for any sound o' yer being
quick, but that I feared to alarm ye till morn should come. I've counted
the hours and the minutes since midnight, when I saw the veesion, till I
came hither just the now."

"Quite right, Aunt Janet," I said, "and I thank you for your kind thought
for me in the matter, now and always." Then I went on, for I wanted to
take precautions against the possibility of her discovery of my secret.
I could not bear to think that she might run my precious secret to earth
in any well-meant piece of bungling. That would be to me disaster
unbearable. She might frighten away altogether my beautiful visitor,
even whose name or origin I did not know, and I might never see her
again:

"You must never do that, Aunt Janet. You and I are too good friends to
have sense of distrust or annoyance come between us--which would surely
happen if I had to keep thinking that you or anyone else might be
watching me."


April 27, 1907.

After a spell of loneliness which has seemed endless I have something to
write. When the void in my heart was becoming the receptacle for many
devils of suspicion and distrust I set myself a task which might, I
thought, keep my thoughts in part, at any rate, occupied--to explore
minutely the neighbourhood round the Castle. This might, I hoped, serve
as an anodyne to my pain of loneliness, which grew more acute as the
days, the hours, wore on, even if it should not ultimately afford me some
clue to the whereabouts of the woman whom I had now grown to love so
madly.

My exploration soon took a systematic form, as I intended that it should
be exhaustive. I would take every day a separate line of advance from
the Castle, beginning at the south and working round by the east to the
north. The first day only took me to the edge of the creek, which I
crossed in a boat, and landed at the base of the cliff opposite. I found
the cliffs alone worth a visit. Here and there were openings to caves
which I made up my mind to explore later. I managed to climb up the
cliff at a spot less beetling than the rest, and continued my journey.
It was, though very beautiful, not a specially interesting place. I
explored that spoke of the wheel of which Vissarion was the hub, and got
back just in time for dinner.

The next day I took a course slightly more to the eastward. I had no
difficulty in keeping a straight path, for, once I had rowed across the
creek, the old church of St. Sava rose before me in stately gloom. This
was the spot where many generations of the noblest of the Land of the
Blue Mountains had from time immemorial been laid to rest, amongst them
the Vissarions. Again, I found the opposite cliffs pierced here and
there with caves, some with wide openings,--others the openings of which
were partly above and partly below water. I could, however, find no
means of climbing the cliff at this part, and had to make a long detour,
following up the line of the creek till further on I found a piece of
beach from which ascent was possible. Here I ascended, and found that I
was on a line between the Castle and the southern side of the mountains.
I saw the church of St. Sava away to my right, and not far from the edge
of the cliff. I made my way to it at once, for as yet I had never been
near it. Hitherto my excursions had been limited to the Castle and its
many gardens and surroundings. It was of a style with which I was not
familiar--with four wings to the points of the compass. The great
doorway, set in a magnificent frontage of carved stone of manifestly
ancient date, faced west, so that, when one entered, he went east. To my
surprise--for somehow I expected the contrary--I found the door open.
Not wide open, but what is called ajar--manifestly not locked or barred,
but not sufficiently open for one to look in. I entered, and after
passing through a wide vestibule, more like a section of a corridor than
an ostensible entrance, made my way through a spacious doorway into the
body of the church. The church itself was almost circular, the openings
of the four naves being spacious enough to give the appearance of the
interior as a whole, being a huge cross. It was strangely dim, for the
window openings were small and high-set, and were, moreover, filled with
green or blue glass, each window having a colour to itself. The glass
was very old, being of the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Such
appointments as there were--for it had a general air of desolation--were
of great beauty and richness,--especially so to be in a place--even a
church--where the door lay open, and no one was to be seen. It was
strangely silent even for an old church on a lonesome headland. There
reigned a dismal solemnity which seemed to chill me, accustomed as I have
been to strange and weird places. It seemed abandoned, though it had not
that air of having been neglected which is so often to be noticed in old
churches. There was none of the everlasting accumulation of dust which
prevails in places of higher cultivation and larger and more strenuous
work.

In the church itself or its appending chambers I could find no clue or
suggestion which could guide me in any way in my search for the Lady of
the Shroud. Monuments there were in profusion--statues, tablets, and all
the customary memorials of the dead. The families and dates represented
were simply bewildering. Often the name of Vissarion was given, and the
inscription which it held I read through carefully, looking to find some
enlightenment of any kind. But all in vain: there was nothing to see in
the church itself. So I determined to visit the crypt. I had no lantern
or candle with me, so had to go back to the Castle to secure one.

It was strange, coming in from the sunlight, here overwhelming to one so
recently accustomed to northern skies, to note the slender gleam of the
lantern which I carried, and which I had lit inside the door. At my
first entry to the church my mind had been so much taken up with the
strangeness of the place, together with the intensity of wish for some
sort of clue, that I had really no opportunity of examining detail. But
now detail became necessary, as I had to find the entrance to the crypt.
My puny light could not dissipate the semi-Cimmerian gloom of the vast
edifice; I had to throw the feeble gleam into one after another of the
dark corners.

At last I found, behind the great screen, a narrow stone staircase which
seemed to wind down into the rock. It was not in any way secret, but
being in the narrow space behind the great screen, was not visible except
when close to it. I knew I was now close to my objective, and began to
descend. Accustomed though I have been to all sorts of mysteries and
dangers, I felt awed and almost overwhelmed by a sense of loneliness and
desolation as I descended the ancient winding steps. These were many in
number, roughly hewn of old in the solid rock on which the church was
built.

I met a fresh surprise in finding that the door of the crypt was open.
After all, this was different from the church-door being open; for in
many places it is a custom to allow all comers at all times to find rest
and comfort in the sacred place. But I did expect that at least the
final resting-place of the historic dead would be held safe against
casual intrusion. Even I, on a quest which was very near my heart,
paused with an almost overwhelming sense of decorum before passing
through that open door. The crypt was a huge place, strangely lofty for
a vault. From its formation, however, I soon came to the conclusion that
it was originally a natural cavern altered to its present purpose by the
hand of man. I could hear somewhere near the sound of running water, but
I could not locate it. Now and again at irregular intervals there was a
prolonged booming, which could only come from a wave breaking in a
confined place. The recollection then came to me of the proximity of the
church to the top of the beetling cliff, and of the half-sunk cavern
entrances which pierced it.

With the gleam of my lamp to guide me, I went through and round the whole
place. There were many massive tombs, mostly rough-hewn from great slabs
or blocks of stone. Some of them were marble, and the cutting of all was
ancient. So large and heavy were some of them that it was a wonder to me
how they could ever have been brought to this place, to which the only
entrance was seemingly the narrow, tortuous stairway by which I had come.
At last I saw near one end of the crypt a great chain hanging. Turning
the light upward, I found that it depended from a ring set over a wide
opening, evidently made artificially. It must have been through this
opening that the great sarcophagi had been lowered.

Directly underneath the hanging chain, which did not come closer to the
ground than some eight or ten feet, was a huge tomb in the shape of a
rectangular coffer or sarcophagus. It was open, save for a huge sheet of
thick glass which rested above it on two thick balks of dark oak, cut to
exceeding smoothness, which lay across it, one at either end. On the far
side from where I stood each of these was joined to another oak plank,
also cut smooth, which sloped gently to the rocky floor. Should it be
necessary to open the tomb, the glass could be made to slide along the
supports and descend by the sloping planks.

Naturally curious to know what might be within such a strange receptacle,
I raised the lantern, depressing its lens so that the light might fall
within.

Then I started back with a cry, the lantern slipping from my nerveless
hand and falling with a ringing sound on the great sheet of thick glass.

Within, pillowed on soft cushions, and covered with a mantle woven of
white natural fleece sprigged with tiny sprays of pine wrought in gold,
lay the body of a woman--none other than my beautiful visitor. She was
marble white, and her long black eyelashes lay on her white cheeks as
though she slept.

Without a word or a sound, save the sounds made by my hurrying feet on
the stone flooring, I fled up the steep steps, and through the dim
expanse of the church, out into the bright sunlight. I found that I had
mechanically raised the fallen lamp, and had taken it with me in my
flight.

My feet naturally turned towards home. It was all instinctive. The new
horror had--for the time, at any rate--drowned my mind in its mystery,
deeper than the deepest depths of thought or imagination.

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