The Lady of the Shroud (Chapter 5, page 1 of 1)


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Chapter 5

RUPERT'S JOURNAL--Continued.

June 20, 1907.

The time has gone as quickly as work can effect since I saw my Lady. As
I told the mountaineers, Rooke, whom I had sent on the service, had made
a contract for fifty thousand Ingis-Malbron rifles, and as many tons of
ammunition as the French experts calculated to be a full supply for a
year of warfare. I heard from him by our secret telegraph code that the
order had been completed, and that the goods were already on the way.
The morning after the meeting at the Flagstaff I had word that at night
the vessel--one chartered by Rooke for the purpose--would arrive at
Vissarion during the night. We were all expectation. I had always now
in the Castle a signalling party, the signals being renewed as fast as
the men were sufficiently expert to proceed with their practice alone or
in groups. We hoped that every fighting-man in the country would in time
become an expert signaller. Beyond these, again, we have always a few
priests. The Church of the country is a militant Church; its priests are
soldiers, its Bishops commanders. But they all serve wherever the battle
most needs them. Naturally they, as men of brains, are quicker at
learning than the average mountaineers; with the result that they learnt
the code and the signalling almost by instinct. We have now at least one
such expert in each community of them, and shortly the priests alone will
be able to signal, if need be, for the nation; thus releasing for active
service the merely fighting-man. The men at present with me I took into
confidence as to the vessel's arrival, and we were all ready for work
when the man on the lookout at the Flagstaff sent word that a vessel
without lights was creeping in towards shore. We all assembled on the
rocky edge of the creek, and saw her steal up the creek and gain the
shelter of the harbour. When this had been effected, we ran out the boom
which protects the opening, and after that the great armoured
sliding-gates which Uncle Roger had himself had made so as to protect the
harbour in case of need.

We then came within and assisted in warping the steamer to the side of
the dock.

Rooke looked fit, and was full of fire and vigour. His responsibility
and the mere thought of warlike action seemed to have renewed his youth.

When we had arranged for the unloading of the cases of arms and
ammunition, I took Rooke into the room which we call my "office," where
he gave me an account of his doings. He had not only secured the rifles
and the ammunition for them, but he had purchased from one of the small
American Republics an armoured yacht which had been especially built for
war service. He grew quite enthusiastic, even excited, as he told me of
her:

"She is the last word in naval construction--a torpedo yacht. A small
cruiser, with turbines up to date, oil-fuelled, and fully armed with the
latest and most perfect weapons and explosives of all kinds. The fastest
boat afloat to-day. Built by Thorneycroft, engined by Parsons, armoured
by Armstrong, armed by Crupp. If she ever comes into action, it will be
bad for her opponent, for she need not fear to tackle anything less than
a Dreadnought."

He also told me that from the same Government, whose nation had just
established an unlooked-for peace, he had also purchased a whole park of
artillery of the very latest patterns, and that for range and accuracy
the guns were held to be supreme. These would follow before long, and
with them their proper ammunition, with a shipload of the same to follow
shortly after.

When he had told me all the rest of his news, and handed me the accounts,
we went out to the dock to see the debarkation of the war material.
Knowing that it was arriving, I had sent word in the afternoon to the
mountaineers to tell them to come and remove it. They had answered the
call, and it really seemed to me that the whole of the land must that
night have been in motion.

They came as individuals, grouping themselves as they came within the
defences of the Castle; some had gathered at fixed points on the way.
They went secretly and in silence, stealing through the forests like
ghosts, each party when it grouped taking the place of that which had
gone on one of the routes radiating round Vissarion. Their coming and
going was more than ghostly. It was, indeed, the outward manifestation
of an inward spirit--a whole nation dominated by one common purpose.

The men in the steamer were nearly all engineers, mostly British, well
conducted, and to be depended upon. Rooke had picked them separately,
and in the doing had used well his great experience of both men and
adventurous life. These men were to form part of the armoured yacht's
crew when she should come into the Mediterranean waters. They and the
priests and fighting-men in the Castle worked well together, and with a
zeal that was beyond praise. The heavy cases seemed almost of their own
accord to leave the holds, so fast came the procession of them along the
gangways from deck to dock-wall. It was a part of my design that the
arms should be placed in centres ready for local distribution. In such a
country as this, without railways or even roads, the distribution of war
material in any quantity is a great labour, for it has to be done
individually, or at least from centres.

But of this work the great number of mountaineers who were arriving made
little account. As fast as the ship's company, with the assistance of
the priests and fighting-men, placed the cases on the quay, the engineers
opened them and laid the contents ready for portage. The mountaineers
seemed to come in a continuous stream; each in turn shouldered his burden
and passed out, the captain of his section giving him as he passed his
instruction where to go and in what route. The method had been already
prepared in my office ready for such a distribution when the arms should
arrive, and descriptions and quantities had been noted by the captains.
The whole affair was treated by all as a matter of the utmost secrecy.
Hardly a word was spoken beyond the necessary directions, and these were
given in whispers. All night long the stream of men went and came, and
towards dawn the bulk of the imported material was lessened by half. On
the following night the remainder was removed, after my own men had
stored in the Castle the rifles and ammunition reserved for its defence
if necessary. It was advisable to keep a reserve supply in case it
should ever be required. The following night Rooke went away secretly in
the chartered vessel. He had to bring back with him the purchased cannon
and heavy ammunition, which had been in the meantime stored on one of the
Greek islands. The second morning, having had secret word that the
steamer was on the way, I had given the signal for the assembling of the
mountaineers.

A little after dark the vessel, showing no light, stole into the creek.
The barrier gates were once again closed, and when a sufficient number of
men had arrived to handle the guns, we began to unload. The actual
deportation was easy enough, for the dock had all necessary appliances
quite up to date, including a pair of shears for gun-lifting which could
be raised into position in a very short time.

The guns were well furnished with tackle of all sorts, and before many
hours had passed a little procession of them disappeared into the woods
in ghostly silence. A number of men surrounded each, and they moved as
well as if properly supplied with horses.

In the meantime, and for a week after the arrival of the guns, the
drilling went on without pause. The gun-drill was wonderful. In the
arduous work necessary for it the great strength and stamina of the
mountaineers showed out wonderfully. They did not seem to know fatigue
any more than they knew fear.

For a week this went on, till a perfect discipline and management was
obtained. They did not practise the shooting, for this would have made
secrecy impossible. It was reported all along the Turkish frontier that
the Sultan's troops were being massed, and though this was not on a war
footing, the movement was more or less dangerous. The reports of our own
spies, although vague as to the purpose and extent of the movement, were
definite as to something being on foot. And Turkey does not do something
without a purpose that bodes ill to someone. Certainly the sound of
cannon, which is a far-reaching sound, would have given them warning of
our preparations, and would so have sadly minimized their effectiveness.

When the cannon had all been disposed of--except, of course, those
destined for defence of the Castle or to be stored there--Rooke went away
with the ship and crew. The ship he was to return to the owners; the men
would be shipped on the war-yacht, of whose crew they would form a part.
The rest of them had been carefully selected by Rooke himself, and were
kept in secrecy at Cattaro, ready for service the moment required. They
were all good men, and quite capable of whatever work they might be set
to. So Rooke told me, and he ought to know. The experience of his young
days as a private made him an expert in such a job.


June 24, 1907.

Last night I got from my Lady a similar message to the last, and
delivered in a similar way. This time, however, our meeting was to be on
the leads of the Keep.

I dressed myself very carefully before going on this adventure, lest by
any chance of household concern, any of the servants should see me; for
if this should happen, Aunt Janet would be sure to hear of it, which
would give rise to endless surmises and questionings--a thing I was far
from desiring.

I confess that in thinking the matter over during the time I was making
my hurried preparations I was at a loss to understand how any human body,
even though it be of the dead, could go or be conveyed to such a place
without some sort of assistance, or, at least, collusion, on the part of
some of the inmates. At the visit to the Flagstaff circumstances were
different. This spot was actually outside the Castle, and in order to
reach it I myself had to leave the Castle privately, and from the garden
ascend to the ramparts. But here was no such possibility. The Keep was
an imperium in imperio. It stood within the Castle, though separated
from it, and it had its own defences against intrusion. The roof of it
was, so far as I knew, as little approachable as the magazine.

The difficulty did not, however, trouble me beyond a mere passing
thought. In the joy of the coming meeting and the longing rapture at the
mere thought of it, all difficulties disappeared. Love makes its own
faith, and I never doubted that my Lady would be waiting for me at the
place designated. When I had passed through the little arched passages,
and up the doubly-grated stairways contrived in the massiveness of the
walls, I let myself out on the leads. It was well that as yet the times
were sufficiently peaceful not to necessitate guards or sentries at all
such points.

There, in a dim corner where the moonlight and the passing clouds threw
deep shadows, I saw her, clothed as ever in her shroud. Why, I know not.
I felt somehow that the situation was even more serious than ever. But I
was steeled to whatever might come. My mind had been already made up.
To carry out my resolve to win the woman I loved I was ready to face
death. But now, after we had for a few brief moments held each other in
our arms, I was willing to accept death--or more than death. Now, more
than before, was she sweet and dear to me. Whatever qualms there might
have been at the beginning of our love-making, or during the progress of
it, did not now exist. We had exchanged vows and confidences, and
acknowledged our loves. What, then, could there be of distrust, or even
doubt, that the present might not set at naught? But even had there been
such doubts or qualms, they must have disappeared in the ardour of our
mutual embrace. I was by now mad for her, and was content to be so mad.
When she had breath to speak after the strictness of our embrace, she
said:

"I have come to warn you to be more than ever careful." It was, I
confess, a pang to me, who thought only of love, to hear that anything
else should have been the initiative power of her coming, even though it
had been her concern for my own safety. I could not but notice the
bitter note of chagrin in my voice as I answered:

"It was for love's sake that I came." She, too, evidently felt the
undercurrent of pain, for she said quickly:

"Ah, dearest, I, too, came for love's sake. It is because I love you
that I am so anxious about you. What would the world--ay, or heaven--be
to me without you?"

There was such earnest truth in her tone that the sense and realization
of my own harshness smote me. In the presence of such love as this even
a lover's selfishness must become abashed. I could not express myself in
words, so simply raised her slim hand in mine and kissed it. As it lay
warm in my own I could not but notice, as well as its fineness, its
strength and the firmness of its clasp. Its warmth and fervour struck
into my heart--and my brain. Thereupon I poured out to her once more my
love for her, she listening all afire. When passion had had its say, the
calmer emotions had opportunity of expression. When I was satisfied
afresh of her affection, I began to value her care for my safety, and so
I went back to the subject. Her very insistence, based on personal
affection, gave me more solid ground for fear. In the moment of love
transports I had forgotten, or did not think, of what wonderful power or
knowledge she must have to be able to move in such strange ways as she
did. Why, at this very moment she was within my own gates. Locks and
bars, even the very seal of death itself, seemed unable to make for her a
prison-house. With such freedom of action and movement, going when she
would into secret places, what might she not know that was known to
others? How could anyone keep secret from such an one even an ill
intent? Such thoughts, such surmises, had often flashed through my mind
in moments of excitement rather than of reflection, but never long enough
to become fixed into belief. But yet the consequences, the convictions,
of them were with me, though unconsciously, though the thoughts
themselves were perhaps forgotten or withered before development.

"And you?" I asked her earnestly. "What about danger to you?" She
smiled, her little pearl-white teeth gleaming in the moonlight, as she
spoke:

"There is no danger for me. I am safe. I am the safest person, perhaps
the only safe person, in all this land." The full significance of her
words did not seem to come to me all at once. Some base for
understanding such an assertion seemed to be wanting. It was not that I
did not trust or believe her, but that I thought she might be mistaken.
I wanted to reassure myself, so in my distress I asked unthinkingly:

"How the safest? What is your protection?" For several moments that
spun themselves out endlessly she looked me straight in the face, the
stars in her eyes seeming to glow like fire; then, lowering her head, she
took a fold of her shroud and held it up to me.

"This!"

The meaning was complete and understandable now. I could not speak at
once for the wave of emotion which choked me. I dropped on my knees, and
taking her in my arms, held her close to me. She saw that I was moved,
and tenderly stroked my hair, and with delicate touch pressed down my
head on her bosom, as a mother might have done to comfort a frightened
child.

Presently we got back to the realities of life again. I murmured:

"Your safety, your life, your happiness are all-in-all to me. When will
you let them be my care?" She trembled in my arms, nestling even closer
to me. Her own arms seemed to quiver with delight as she said:

"Would you indeed like me to be always with you? To me it would be a
happiness unspeakable; and to you, what would it be?"

I thought that she wished to hear me speak my love to her, and that,
woman-like, she had led me to the utterance, and so I spoke again of the
passion that now raged in me, she listening eagerly as we strained each
other tight in our arms. At last there came a pause, a long, long pause,
and our hearts beat consciously in unison as we stood together.
Presently she said in a sweet, low, intense whisper, as soft as the
sighing of summer wind:

"It shall be as you wish; but oh, my dear, you will have to first go
through an ordeal which may try you terribly! Do not ask me anything!
You must not ask, because I may not answer, and it would be pain to me to
deny you anything. Marriage with such an one as I am has its own ritual,
which may not be foregone. It may . . . " I broke passionately into her
speaking:

"There is no ritual that I fear, so long as it be that it is for your
good, and your lasting happiness. And if the end of it be that I may
call you mine, there is no horror in life or death that I shall not
gladly face. Dear, I ask you nothing. I am content to leave myself in
your hands. You shall advise me when the time comes, and I shall be
satisfied, content to obey. Content! It is but a poor word to express
what I long for! I shall shirk nothing which may come to me from this or
any other world, so long as it is to make you mine!" Once again her
murmured happiness was music to my ears:

"Oh, how you love me! how you love me, dear, dear!" She took me in her
arms, and for a few seconds we hung together. Suddenly she tore herself
apart from me, and stood drawn up to the full height, with a dignity I
cannot describe or express. Her voice had a new dominance, as with firm
utterance and in staccato manner she said:

"Rupert Sent Leger, before we go a step further I must say something to
you, ask you something, and I charge you, on your most sacred honour and
belief, to answer me truly. Do you believe me to be one of those unhappy
beings who may not die, but have to live in shameful existence between
earth and the nether world, and whose hellish mission is to destroy, body
and soul, those who love them till they fall to their level? You are a
gentleman, and a brave one. I have found you fearless. Answer me in
sternest truth, no matter what the issue may be!"

She stood there in the glamorous moonlight with a commanding dignity
which seemed more than human. In that mystic light her white shroud
seemed diaphanous, and she appeared like a spirit of power. What was I
to say? How could I admit to such a being that I had actually had at
moments, if not a belief, a passing doubt? It was a conviction with me
that if I spoke wrongly I should lose her for ever. I was in a desperate
strait. In such a case there is but one solid ground which one may rest
on--the Truth.

I really felt I was between the devil and the deep sea. There was no
avoiding the issue, and so, out of this all-embracing, all-compelling
conviction of truth, I spoke.

For a fleeting moment I felt that my tone was truculent, and almost
hesitated; but as I saw no anger or indignation on my Lady's face, but
rather an eager approval, I was reassured. A woman, after all, is glad
to see a man strong, for all belief in him must be based on that.

"I shall speak the truth. Remember that I have no wish to hurt your
feelings, but as you conjure me by my honour, you must forgive me if I
pain. It is true that I had at first--ay, and later, when I came to
think matters over after you had gone, when reason came to the aid of
impression--a passing belief that you are a Vampire. How can I fail to
have, even now, though I love you with all my soul, though I have held
you in my arms and kissed you on the mouth, a doubt, when all the
evidences seem to point to one thing? Remember that I have only seen you
at night, except that bitter moment when, in the broad noonday of the
upper world, I saw you, clad as ever in a shroud, lying seemingly dead in
a tomb in the crypt of St. Sava's Church . . . But let that pass. Such
belief as I have is all in you. Be you woman or Vampire, it is all the
same to me. It is you whom I love! Should it be that you are--you are
not woman, which I cannot believe, then it will be my glory to break your
fetters, to open your prison, and set you free. To that I consecrate my
life." For a few seconds I stood silent, vibrating with the passion
which had been awakened in me. She had by now lost the measure of her
haughty isolation, and had softened into womanhood again. It was really
like a realization of the old theme of Pygmalion's statue. It was with
rather a pleading than a commanding voice that she said:

"And shall you always be true to me?"

"Always--so help me, God!" I answered, and I felt that there could be no
lack of conviction in my voice.

Indeed, there was no cause for such lack. She also stood for a little
while stone-still, and I was beginning to expand to the rapture which was
in store for me when she should take me again in her arms.

But there was no such moment of softness. All at once she started as if
she had suddenly wakened from a dream, and on the spur of the moment
said:

"Now go, go!" I felt the conviction of necessity to obey, and turned at
once. As I moved towards the door by which I had entered, I asked:

"When shall I see you again?"

"Soon!" came her answer. "I shall let you know soon--when and where.
Oh, go, go!" She almost pushed me from her.

When I had passed through the low doorway and locked and barred it behind
me, I felt a pang that I should have had to shut her out like that; but I
feared lest there should arise some embarrassing suspicion if the door
should be found open. Later came the comforting thought that, as she had
got to the roof though the door had been shut, she would be able to get
away by the same means. She had evidently knowledge of some secret way
into the Castle. The alternative was that she must have some
supernatural quality or faculty which gave her strange powers. I did not
wish to pursue that train of thought, and so, after an effort, shut it
out from my mind.

When I got back to my room I locked the door behind me, and went to sleep
in the dark. I did not want light just then--could not bear it.

This morning I woke, a little later than usual, with a kind of
apprehension which I could not at once understand. Presently, however,
when my faculties became fully awake and in working order, I realized
that I feared, half expected, that Aunt Janet would come to me in a worse
state of alarm than ever apropos of some new Second-Sight experience of
more than usual ferocity.

But, strange to say, I had no such visit. Later on in the morning, when,
after breakfast, we walked together through the garden, I asked her how
she had slept, and if she had dreamt. She answered me that she had slept
without waking, and if she had had any dreams, they must have been
pleasant ones, for she did not remember them. "And you know, Rupert,"
she added, "that if there be anything bad or fearsome or warning in
dreams, I always remember them."

Later still, when I was by myself on the cliff beyond the creek, I could
not help commenting on the absence of her power of Second Sight on the
occasion. Surely, if ever there was a time when she might have had cause
of apprehension, it might well have been when I asked the Lady whom she
did not know to marry me--the Lady of whose identity I knew nothing, even
whose name I did not know--whom I loved with all my heart and soul--my
Lady of the Shroud.

I have lost faith in Second Sight.


July 1, 1907.

Another week gone. I have waited patiently, and I am at last rewarded by
another letter. I was preparing for bed a little while ago, when I heard
the same mysterious sound at the door as on the last two occasions. I
hurried to the glass door, and there found another close-folded letter.
But I could see no sign of my Lady, or of any other living being. The
letter, which was without direction, ran as follows:

"If you are still of the same mind, and feel no misgivings, meet me at
the Church of St. Sava beyond the Creek to-morrow night at a quarter
before midnight. If you come, come in secret, and, of course, alone. Do
not come at all unless you are prepared for a terrible ordeal. But if
you love me, and have neither doubts nor fears, come. Come!"

Needless to say, I did not sleep last night. I tried to, but without
success. It was no morbid happiness that kept me awake, no doubting, no
fear. I was simply overwhelmed with the idea of the coming rapture when
I should call my Lady my very, very own. In this sea of happy
expectation all lesser things were submerged. Even sleep, which is an
imperative force with me, failed in its usual effectiveness, and I lay
still, calm, content.

With the coming of the morning, however, restlessness began. I did not
know what to do, how to restrain myself, where to look for an anodyne.
Happily the latter came in the shape of Rooke, who turned up shortly
after breakfast. He had a satisfactory tale to tell me of the armoured
yacht, which had lain off Cattaro on the previous night, and to which he
had brought his contingent of crew which had waited for her coming. He
did not like to take the risk of going into any port with such a vessel,
lest he might be detained or otherwise hampered by forms, and had gone
out upon the open sea before daylight. There was on board the yacht a
tiny torpedo-boat, for which provision was made both for hoisting on deck
and housing there. This last would run into the creek at ten o'clock
that evening, at which time it would be dark. The yacht would then run
to near Otranto, to which she would send a boat to get any message I
might send. This was to be in a code, which we arranged, and would
convey instructions as to what night and approximate hour the yacht would
come to the creek.

The day was well on before we had made certain arrangements for the
future; and not till then did I feel again the pressure of my personal
restlessness. Rooke, like a wise commander, took rest whilst he could.
Well he knew that for a couple of days and nights at least there would be
little, if any, sleep for him.

For myself, the habit of self-control stood to me, and I managed to get
through the day somehow without exciting the attention of anyone else.
The arrival of the torpedo-boat and the departure of Rooke made for me a
welcome break in my uneasiness. An hour ago I said good-night to Aunt
Janet, and shut myself up alone here. My watch is on the table before
me, so that I may make sure of starting to the moment. I have allowed
myself half an hour to reach St. Sava. My skiff is waiting, moored at
the foot of the cliff on the hither side, where the zigzag comes close to
the water. It is now ten minutes past eleven.

I shall add the odd five minutes to the time for my journey so as to make
safe. I go unarmed and without a light.

I shall show no distrust of anyone or anything this night.


July 2, 1907.

When I was outside the church, I looked at my watch in the bright
moonlight, and found I had one minute to wait. So I stood in the shadow
of the doorway and looked out at the scene before me. Not a sign of life
was visible around me, either on land or sea. On the broad plateau on
which the church stands there was no movement of any kind. The wind,
which had been pleasant in the noontide, had fallen completely, and not a
leaf was stirring. I could see across the creek and note the hard line
where the battlements of the Castle cut the sky, and where the keep
towered above the line of black rock, which in the shadow of the land
made an ebon frame for the picture. When I had seen the same view on
former occasions, the line where the rock rose from the sea was a fringe
of white foam. But then, in the daylight, the sea was sapphire blue; now
it was an expanse of dark blue--so dark as to seem almost black. It had
not even the relief of waves or ripples--simply a dark, cold, lifeless
expanse, with no gleam of light anywhere, of lighthouse or ship; neither
was there any special sound to be heard that one could
distinguish--nothing but the distant hum of the myriad voices of the dark
mingling in one ceaseless inarticulate sound. It was well I had not time
to dwell on it, or I might have reached some spiritually-disturbing
melancholy.

Let me say here that ever since I had received my Lady's message
concerning this visit to St. Sava's I had been all on fire--not, perhaps,
at every moment consciously or actually so, but always, as it were,
prepared to break out into flame. Did I want a simile, I might compare
myself to a well-banked furnace, whose present function it is to contain
heat rather than to create it; whose crust can at any moment be broken by
a force external to itself, and burst into raging, all-compelling heat.
No thought of fear really entered my mind. Every other emotion there
was, coming and going as occasion excited or lulled, but not fear. Well
I knew in the depths of my heart the purpose which that secret quest was
to serve. I knew not only from my Lady's words, but from the teachings
of my own senses and experiences, that some dreadful ordeal must take
place before happiness of any kind could be won. And that ordeal, though
method or detail was unknown to me, I was prepared to undertake. This
was one of those occasions when a man must undertake, blindfold, ways
that may lead to torture or death, or unknown terrors beyond. But, then,
a man--if, indeed, he have the heart of a man--can always undertake; he
can at least make the first step, though it may turn out that through the
weakness of mortality he may be unable to fulfil his own intent, or
justify his belief in his own powers. Such, I take it, was the
intellectual attitude of the brave souls who of old faced the tortures of
the Inquisition.

But though there was no immediate fear, there was a certain doubt. For
doubt is one of those mental conditions whose calling we cannot control.
The end of the doubting may not be a reality to us, or be accepted as a
possibility. These things cannot forego the existence of the doubt.
"For even if a man," says Victor Cousin, "doubt everything else, at least
he cannot doubt that he doubts." The doubt had at times been on me that
my Lady of the Shroud was a Vampire. Much that had happened seemed to
point that way, and here, on the very threshold of the Unknown, when,
through the door which I was pushing open, my eyes met only an expanse of
absolute blackness, all doubts which had ever been seemed to surround me
in a legion. I have heard that, when a man is drowning, there comes a
time when his whole life passes in review during the space of time which
cannot be computed as even a part of a second. So it was to me in the
moment of my body passing into the church. In that moment came to my
mind all that had been, which bore on the knowledge of my Lady; and the
general tendency was to prove or convince that she was indeed a Vampire.
Much that had happened, or become known to me, seemed to justify the
resolving of doubt into belief. Even my own reading of the books in Aunt
Janet's little library, and the dear lady's comments on them, mingled
with her own uncanny beliefs, left little opening for doubt. My having
to help my Lady over the threshold of my house on her first entry was in
accord with Vampire tradition; so, too, her flying at cock-crow from the
warmth in which she revelled on that strange first night of our meeting;
so, too, her swift departure at midnight on the second. Into the same
category came the facts of her constant wearing of her Shroud, even her
pledging herself, and me also, on the fragment torn from it, which she
had given to me as a souvenir; her lying still in the glass-covered tomb;
her coming alone to the most secret places in a fortified Castle where
every aperture was secured by unopened locks and bolts; her very
movements, though all of grace, as she flitted noiselessly through the
gloom of night.

All these things, and a thousand others of lesser import, seemed, for the
moment, to have consolidated an initial belief. But then came the
supreme recollections of how she had lain in my arms; of her kisses on my
lips; of the beating of her heart against my own; of her sweet words of
belief and faith breathed in my ear in intoxicating whispers; of . . . I
paused. No! I could not accept belief as to her being other than a
living woman of soul and sense, of flesh and blood, of all the sweet and
passionate instincts of true and perfect womanhood.

And so, in spite of all--in spite of all beliefs, fixed or transitory,
with a mind whirling amid contesting forces and compelling beliefs--I
stepped into the church overwhelmed with that most receptive of
atmospheres--doubt.

In one thing only was I fixed: here at least was no doubt or misgiving
whatever. I intended to go through what I had undertaken. Moreover, I
felt that I was strong enough to carry out my intention, whatever might
be of the Unknown--however horrible, however terrible.

When I had entered the church and closed the heavy door behind me, the
sense of darkness and loneliness in all their horror enfolded me round.
The great church seemed a living mystery, and served as an almost
terrible background to thoughts and remembrances of unutterable gloom.
My adventurous life has had its own schooling to endurance and upholding
one's courage in trying times; but it has its contra in fulness of
memory.

I felt my way forward with both hands and feet. Every second seemed as
if it had brought me at last to a darkness which was actually tangible.
All at once, and with no heed of sequence or order, I was conscious of
all around me, the knowledge or perception of which--or even speculation
on the subject--had never entered my mind. They furnished the darkness
with which I was encompassed with all the crowded phases of a dream. I
knew that all around me were memorials of the dead--that in the Crypt
deep-wrought in the rock below my feet lay the dead themselves. Some of
them, perhaps--one of them I knew--had even passed the grim portals of
time Unknown, and had, by some mysterious power or agency, come back
again to material earth. There was no resting-place for thought when I
knew that the very air which I breathed might be full of denizens of the
spirit-world. In that impenetrable blackness was a world of imagining
whose possibilities of horror were endless.

I almost fancied that I could see with mortal eyes down through that
rocky floor to where, in the lonely Crypt, lay, in her tomb of massive
stone and under that bewildering coverlet of glass, the woman whom I
love. I could see her beautiful face, her long black lashes, her sweet
mouth--which I had kissed--relaxed in the sleep of death. I could note
the voluminous shroud--a piece of which as a precious souvenir lay even
then so close to my heart--the snowy woollen coverlet wrought over in
gold with sprigs of pine, the soft dent in the cushion on which her head
must for so long have lain. I could see myself--within my eyes the
memory of that first visit--coming once again with glad step to renew
that dear sight--dear, though it scorched my eyes and harrowed my
heart--and finding the greater sorrow, the greater desolation of the
empty tomb!

There! I felt that I must think no more of that lest the thought should
unnerve me when I should most want all my courage. That way madness lay!
The darkness had already sufficient terrors of its own without bringing
to it such grim remembrances and imaginings . . . And I had yet to go
through some ordeal which, even to her who had passed and repassed the
portals of death, was full of fear.

It was a merciful relief to me when, in groping my way forwards through
the darkness, I struck against some portion of the furnishing of the
church. Fortunately I was all strung up to tension, else I should never
have been able to control instinctively, as I did, the shriek which was
rising to my lips.

I would have given anything to have been able to light even a match. A
single second of light would, I felt, have made me my own man again. But
I knew that this would be against the implied condition of my being there
at all, and might have had disastrous consequences to her whom I had come
to save. It might even frustrate my scheme, and altogether destroy my
opportunity. At that moment it was borne upon me more strongly than ever
that this was not a mere fight for myself or my own selfish purposes--not
merely an adventure or a struggle for only life and death against unknown
difficulties and dangers. It was a fight on behalf of her I loved, not
merely for her life, but perhaps even for her soul.

And yet this very thinking--understanding--created a new form of terror.
For in that grim, shrouding darkness came memories of other moments of
terrible stress.

Of wild, mystic rites held in the deep gloom of African forests, when,
amid scenes of revolting horror, Obi and the devils of his kind seemed to
reveal themselves to reckless worshippers, surfeited with horror, whose
lives counted for naught; when even human sacrifice was an episode, and
the reek of old deviltries and recent carnage tainted the air, till even
I, who was, at the risk of my life, a privileged spectator who had come
through dangers without end to behold the scene, rose and fled in horror.

Of scenes of mystery enacted in rock-cut temples beyond the Himalayas,
whose fanatic priests, cold as death and as remorseless, in the reaction
of their phrenzy of passion, foamed at the mouth and then sank into
marble quiet, as with inner eyes they beheld the visions of the hellish
powers which they had invoked.

Of wild, fantastic dances of the Devil-worshippers of Madagascar, where
even the very semblance of humanity disappeared in the fantastic excesses
of their orgies.

Of strange doings of gloom and mystery in the rock-perched monasteries of
Thibet.

Of awful sacrifices, all to mystic ends, in the innermost recesses of
Cathay.

Of weird movements with masses of poisonous snakes by the medicine-men of
the Zuni and Mochi Indians in the far south-west of the Rockies, beyond
the great plains.

Of secret gatherings in vast temples of old Mexico, and by dim altars of
forgotten cities in the heart of great forests in South America.

Of rites of inconceivable horror in the fastnesses of Patagonia.

Of . . . Here I once more pulled myself up. Such thoughts were no kind
of proper preparation for what I might have to endure. My work that
night was to be based on love, on hope, on self-sacrifice for the woman
who in all the world was the closest to my heart, whose future I was to
share, whether that sharing might lead me to Hell or Heaven. The hand
which undertook such a task must have no trembling.

Still, those horrible memories had, I am bound to say, a useful part in
my preparation for the ordeal. They were of fact which I had seen, of
which I had myself been in part a sharer, and which I had survived. With
such experiences behind me, could there be aught before me more dreadful?
. . .

Moreover, if the coming ordeal was of supernatural or superhuman order,
could it transcend in living horror the vilest and most desperate acts of
the basest men? . . .

With renewed courage I felt my way before me, till my sense of touch told
me that I was at the screen behind which lay the stair to the Crypt.

There I waited, silent, still.

My own part was done, so far as I knew how to do it. Beyond this, what
was to come was, so far as I knew, beyond my own control. I had done
what I could; the rest must come from others. I had exactly obeyed my
instructions, fulfilled my warranty to the utmost in my knowledge and
power. There was, therefore, left for me in the present nothing but to
wait.

It is a peculiarity of absolute darkness that it creates its own
reaction. The eye, wearied of the blackness, begins to imagine forms of
light. How far this is effected by imagination pure and simple I know
not. It may be that nerves have their own senses that bring thought to
the depository common to all the human functions, but, whatever may be
the mechanism or the objective, the darkness seems to people itself with
luminous entities.

So was it with me as I stood lonely in the dark, silent church. Here and
there seemed to flash tiny points of light.

In the same way the silence began to be broken now and again by strange
muffled sounds--the suggestion of sounds rather than actual vibrations.
These were all at first of the minor importance of movement--rustlings,
creakings, faint stirrings, fainter breathings. Presently, when I had
somewhat recovered from the sort of hypnotic trance to which the darkness
and stillness had during the time of waiting reduced me, I looked around
in wonder.

The phantoms of light and sound seemed to have become real. There were
most certainly actual little points of light in places--not enough to see
details by, but quite sufficient to relieve the utter gloom. I
thought--though it may have been a mingling of recollection and
imagination--that I could distinguish the outlines of the church;
certainly the great altar-screen was dimly visible. Instinctively I
looked up--and thrilled. There, hung high above me, was, surely enough,
a great Greek Cross, outlined by tiny points of light.

I lost myself in wonder, and stood still, in a purely receptive mood,
unantagonistic to aught, willing for whatever might come, ready for all
things, in rather a negative than a positive mood--a mood which has an
aspect of spiritual meekness. This is the true spirit of the neophyte,
and, though I did not think of it at the time, the proper attitude for
what is called by the Church in whose temple I stood a "neo-nymph."

As the light grew a little in power, though never increasing enough for
distinctness, I saw dimly before me a table on which rested a great open
book, whereon were laid two rings--one of sliver, the other of gold--and
two crowns wrought of flowers, bound at the joining of their stems with
tissue--one of gold, the other of silver. I do not know much of the
ritual of the old Greek Church, which is the religion of the Blue
Mountains, but the things which I saw before me could be none other than
enlightening symbols. Instinctively I knew that I had been brought
hither, though in this grim way, to be married. The very idea of it
thrilled me to the heart's core. I thought the best thing I could do
would be to stay quite still, and not show surprise at anything that
might happen; but be sure I was all eyes and ears.

I peered anxiously around me in every direction, but I could see no sign
of her whom I had come to meet.

Incidentally, however, I noticed that in the lighting, such as it was,
there was no flame, no "living" light. Whatever light there was came
muffled, as though through some green translucent stone. The whole
effect was terribly weird and disconcerting.

Presently I started, as, seemingly out of the darkness beside me, a man's
hand stretched out and took mine. Turning, I found close to me a tall
man with shining black eyes and long black hair and beard. He was clad
in some kind of gorgeous robe of cloth of gold, rich with variety of
adornment. His head was covered with a high, over-hanging hat draped
closely with a black scarf, the ends of which formed a long, hanging veil
on either side. These veils, falling over the magnificent robes of cloth
of gold, had an extraordinarily solemn effect.

I yielded myself to the guiding hand, and shortly found myself, so far as
I could see, at one side of the sanctuary.

In the floor close to my feet was a yawning chasm, into which, from so
high over my head that in the uncertain light I could not distinguish its
origin, hung a chain. At the sight a strange wave of memory swept over
me. I could not but remember the chain which hung over the glass-covered
tomb in the Crypt, and I had an instinctive feeling that the grim chasm
in the floor of the sanctuary was but the other side of the opening in
the roof of the crypt from which the chain over the sarcophagus depended.

There was a creaking sound--the groaning of a windlass and the clanking
of a chain. There was heavy breathing close to me somewhere. I was so
intent on what was going on that I did not see that one by one, seeming
to grow out of the surrounding darkness, several black figures in monkish
garb appeared with the silence of ghosts. Their faces were shrouded in
black cowls, wherein were holes through which I could see dark gleaming
eyes. My guide held me tightly by the hand. This gave me a feeling of
security in the touch which helped to retain within my breast some
semblance of calm.

The strain of the creaking windlass and the clanking chain continued for
so long that the suspense became almost unendurable. At last there came
into sight an iron ring, from which as a centre depended four lesser
chains spreading wide. In a few seconds more I could see that these were
fixed to the corners of the great stone tomb with the covering of glass,
which was being dragged upward. As it arose it filled closely the whole
aperture. When its bottom had reached the level of the floor it stopped,
and remained rigid. There was no room for oscillation. It was at once
surrounded by a number of black figures, who raised the glass covering
and bore it away into the darkness. Then there stepped forward a very
tall man, black-bearded, and with head-gear like my guide, but made in
triple tiers, he also was gorgeously arrayed in flowing robes of cloth of
gold richly embroidered. He raised his hand, and forthwith eight other
black-clad figures stepped forward, and bending over the stone coffin,
raised from it the rigid form of my Lady, still clad in her Shroud, and
laid it gently on the floor of the sanctuary.

I felt it a grace that at that instant the dim lights seemed to grow
less, and finally to disappear--all save the tiny points that marked the
outline of the great Cross high overhead. These only gave light enough
to accentuate the gloom. The hand that held mine now released it, and
with a sigh I realized that I was alone. After a few moments more of the
groaning of the winch and clanking of the chain there was a sharp sound
of stone meeting stone; then there was silence. I listened acutely, but
could not hear near me the slightest sound. Even the cautious,
restrained breathing around me, of which up to then I had been conscious,
had ceased. Not knowing, in the helplessness of my ignorance, what I
should do, I remained as I was, still and silent, for a time that seemed
endless. At last, overcome by some emotion which I could not at the
moment understand, I slowly sank to my knees and bowed my head. Covering
my face with my hands, I tried to recall the prayers of my youth. It was
not, I am certain, that fear in any form had come upon me, or that I
hesitated or faltered in my intention. That much I know now; I knew it
even then. It was, I believe, that the prolonged impressive gloom and
mystery had at last touched me to the quick. The bending of the knees
was but symbolical of the bowing of the spirit to a higher Power. When I
had realized that much, I felt more content than I had done since I had
entered the church, and with the renewed consciousness of courage, took
my hands from my face, and lifted again my bowed head.

Impulsively I sprang to my feet and stood erect--waiting. All seemed to
have changed since I had dropped on my knees. The points of light about
time church, which had been eclipsed, had come again, and were growing in
power to a partial revealing of the dim expanse. Before me was the table
with the open book, on which were laid the gold and silver rings and the
two crowns of flowers. There were also two tall candles, with tiniest
flames of blue--the only living light to be seen.

Out of the darkness stepped the same tall figure in the gorgeous robes
and the triple hat. He led by the hand my Lady, still clad in her
Shroud; but over it, descending from the crown of her head, was a veil of
very old and magnificent lace of astonishing fineness. Even in that dim
light I could note the exquisite beauty of the fabric. The veil was
fastened with a bunch of tiny sprays of orange-blossom mingled with
cypress and laurel--a strange combination. In her hand she carried a
great bouquet of the same. Its sweet intoxicating odour floated up to my
nostrils. It and the sentiment which its very presence evoked made me
quiver.

Yielding to the guiding of the hand which held hers, she stood at my left
side before the table. Her guide then took his place behind her. At
either end of the table, to right and left of us, stood a long-bearded
priest in splendid robes, and wearing the hat with depending veil of
black. One of them, who seemed to be the more important of the two, and
took the initiative, signed to us to put our right hands on the open
book. My Lady, of course, understood the ritual, and knew the words
which the priest was speaking, and of her own accord put out her hand.
My guide at the same moment directed my hand to the same end. It
thrilled me to touch my Lady's hand, even under such mysterious
conditions.

After the priest had signed us each thrice on the forehead with the sign
of the Cross, he gave to each of us a tiny lighted taper brought to him
for the purpose. The lights were welcome, not so much for the solace of
the added light, great as that was, but because it allowed us to see a
little more of each other's faces. It was rapture to me to see the face
of my Bride; and from the expression of her face I was assured that she
felt as I did. It gave me an inexpressible pleasure when, as her eyes
rested on me, there grew a faint blush over the grey pallor of her
cheeks.

The priest then put in solemn voice to each of us in turn, beginning with
me, the questions of consent which are common to all such rituals. I
answered as well as I could, following the murmured words of my guide.
My Lady answered out proudly in a voice which, though given softly,
seemed to ring. It was a concern--even a grief--to me that I could not,
in the priest's questioning, catch her name, of which, strangely
enough,--I was ignorant. But, as I did not know the language, and as the
phrases were not in accord literally with our own ritual, I could not
make out which word was the name.

After some prayers and blessings, rhythmically spoken or sung by an
invisible choir, the priest took the rings from the open book, and, after
signing my forehead thrice with the gold one as he repeated the blessing
in each case, placed it on my right hand; then he gave my Lady the silver
one, with the same ritual thrice repeated. I suppose it was the blessing
which is the effective point in making two into one.

After this, those who stood behind us exchanged our rings thrice, taking
them from one finger and placing them on the other, so that at the end my
wife wore the gold ring and I the silver one.

Then came a chant, during which the priest swung the censer himself, and
my wife and I held our tapers. After that he blessed us, the responses
coming from the voices of the unseen singers in the darkness.

After a long ritual of prayer and blessing, sung in triplicate, the
priest took the crowns of flowers, and put one on the head of each,
crowning me first, and with the crown tied with gold. Then he signed and
blessed us each thrice. The guides, who stood behind us, exchanged our
crowns thrice, as they had exchanged the rings; so that at the last, as I
was glad to see, my wife wore the crown of gold, and I that of silver.

Then there came, if it is possible to describe such a thing, a hush over
even that stillness, as though some form of added solemnity were to be
gone through. I was not surprised, therefore, when the priest took in
his hands the great golden chalice. Kneeling, my wife and I partook
together thrice.

When we had risen from our knees and stood for a little while, the priest
took my left hand in his right, and I, by direction of my guide, gave my
right hand to my wife. And so in a line, the priest leading, we circled
round the table in rhythmic measure. Those who supported us moved behind
us, holding the crowns over our heads, and replacing them when we
stopped.

After a hymn, sung through the darkness, the priest took off our crowns.
This was evidently the conclusion of the ritual, for the priest placed us
in each other's arms to embrace each other. Then he blessed us, who were
now man and wife!

The lights went out at once, some as if extinguished, others slowly
fading down to blackness.

Left in the dark, my wife and I sought each other's arms again, and stood
together for a few moments heart to heart, tightly clasping each other,
and kissed each other fervently.

Instinctively we turned to the door of the church, which was slightly
open, so that we could see the moonlight stealing in through the
aperture. With even steps, she holding me tightly by the left arm--which
is the wife's arm, we passed through the old church and out into the free
air.

Despite all that the gloom had brought me, it was sweet to be in the open
air and together--this quite apart from our new relations to each other.
The moon rode high, and the full light, coming after the dimness or
darkness in the church, seemed as bright as day. I could now, for the
first time, see my wife's face properly. The glamour of the moonlight
may have served to enhance its ethereal beauty, but neither moonlight nor
sunlight could do justice to that beauty in its living human splendour.
As I gloried in her starry eyes I could think of nothing else; but when
for a moment my eyes, roving round for the purpose of protection, caught
sight of her whole figure, there was a pang to my heart. The brilliant
moonlight showed every detail in terrible effect, and I could see that
she wore only her Shroud. In the moment of darkness, after the last
benediction, before she returned to my arms, she must have removed her
bridal veil. This may, of course, have been in accordance with the
established ritual of her church; but, all the same, my heart was sore.
The glamour of calling her my very own was somewhat obscured by the
bridal adornment being shorn. But it made no difference in her sweetness
to me. Together we went along the path through the wood, she keeping
equal step with me in wifely way.

When we had come through the trees near enough to see the roof of the
Castle, now gilded with the moonlight, she stopped, and looking at me
with eyes full of love, said:

"Here I must leave you!"

"What?" I was all aghast, and I felt that my chagrin was expressed in
the tone of horrified surprise in my voice. She went on quickly:

"Alas! It is impossible that I should go farther--at present!"

"But what is to prevent you?" I queried. "You are now my wife. This is
our wedding-night; and surely your place is with me!" The wail in her
voice as she answered touched me to the quick:

"Oh, I know, I know! There is no dearer wish in my heart--there can be
none--than to share my husband's home. Oh, my dear, my dear, if you only
knew what it would be to me to be with you always! But indeed I may
not--not yet! I am not free! If you but knew how much that which has
happened to-night has cost me--or how much cost to others as well as to
myself may be yet to come--you would understand. Rupert"--it was the
first time she had ever addressed me by name, and naturally it thrilled
me through and through--"Rupert, my husband, only that I trust you with
all the faith which is in perfect love--mutual love, I dare not have done
what I have done this night. But, dear, I know that you will bear me
out; that your wife's honour is your honour, even as your honour is mine.
My honour is given to this; and you can help me--the only help I can have
at present--by trusting me. Be patient, my beloved, be patient! Oh, be
patient for a little longer! It shall not be for long. So soon as ever
my soul is freed I shall come to you, my husband; and we shall never part
again. Be content for a while! Believe me that I love you with my very
soul; and to keep away from your dear side is more bitter for me than
even it can be for you! Think, my dear one, I am not as other women are,
as some day you shall clearly understand. I am at the present, and shall
be for a little longer, constrained by duties and obligations put upon me
by others, and for others, and to which I am pledged by the most sacred
promises--given not only by myself, but by others--and which I must not
forgo. These forbid me to do as I wish. Oh, trust me, my beloved--my
husband!"

She held out her hands appealingly. The moonlight, falling through the
thinning forest, showed her white cerements. Then the recollection of
all she must have suffered--the awful loneliness in that grim tomb in the
Crypt, the despairing agony of one who is helpless against the
unknown--swept over me in a wave of pity. What could I do but save her
from further pain? And this could only be by showing her my faith and
trust. If she was to go back to that dreadful charnel-house, she would
at least take with her the remembrance that one who loved her and whom
she loved--to whom she had been lately bound in the mystery of
marriage--trusted her to the full. I loved her more than myself--more
than my own soul; and I was moved by pity so great that all possible
selfishness was merged in its depths. I bowed my head before her--my
Lady and my Wife--as I said:

"So be it, my beloved. I trust you to the full, even as you trust me.
And that has been proven this night, even to my own doubting heart. I
shall wait; and as I know you wish it, I shall wait as patiently as I
can. But till you come to me for good and all, let me see you or hear
from you when you can. The time, dear wife, must go heavily with me as I
think of you suffering and lonely. So be good to me, and let not too
long a time elapse between my glimpses of hope. And, sweetheart, when
you do come to me, it shall be for ever!" There was something in the
intonation of the last sentence--I felt its sincerity myself--some
implied yearning for a promise, that made her beautiful eyes swim. The
glorious stars in them were blurred as she answered with a fervour which
seemed to me as more than earthly:

"For ever! I swear it!"

With one long kiss, and a straining in each others arms, which left me
tingling for long after we had lost sight of each other, we parted. I
stood and watched her as her white figure, gliding through the deepening
gloom, faded as the forest thickened. It surely was no optical delusion
or a phantom of the mind that her shrouded arm was raised as though in
blessing or farewell before the darkness swallowed her up.

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