TO all appearances, things went on
as usual for a week or two. The only difference
was that Mr. Brympton stayed on, instead of going off
as he usually did, and that Mr. Ranford never showed
himself. I heard Mr. Brympton remark on this
one afternoon when he was sitting in my mistress’s
room before dinner.
says he. “He hasn’t been near the
house for a week. Does he keep away because I’m
Mrs. Brympton spoke so low that I
couldn’t catch her answer.
“Well,” he went on, “two’s
company and three’s trumpery; I’m sorry
to be in Ranford’s way, and I suppose I shall
have to take myself off again in a day or two and
give him a show.” And he laughed at his
The very next day, as it happened,
Mr. Ranford called. The footman said the three
were very merry over their tea in the library, and
Mr. Brympton strolled down to the gate with Mr. Ranford
when he left.
I have said that things went on as
usual; and so they did with the rest of the household;
but as for myself, I had never been the same since
the night my bell had rung. Night after night
I used to lie awake, listening for it to ring again,
and for the door of the locked room to open stealthily.
But the bell never rang, and I heard no sound across
the passage. At last the silence began to be more
dreadful to me than the most mysterious sounds.
I felt that someone were cowering there, behind
the locked door, watching and listening as I watched
and listened, and I could almost have cried out, “Whoever
you are, come out and let me see you face to face,
but don’t lurk there and spy on me in the darkness!”
Feeling as I did, you may wonder I
didn’t give warning. Once I very nearly
did so; but at the last moment something held me back.
Whether it was compassion for my mistress, who had
grown more and more dependent on me, or unwillingness
to try a new place, or some other feeling that I couldn’t
put a name to, I lingered on as if spell-bound, though
every night was dreadful to me, and the days but little
For one thing, I didn’t like
Mrs. Brympton’s looks. She had never been
the same since that night, no more than I had.
I thought she would brighten up after Mr. Brympton
left, but though she seemed easier in her mind, her
spirits didn’t revive, nor her strength either.
She had grown attached to me, and seemed to like to
have me about; and Agnes told me one day that, since
Emma Saxon’s death, I was the only maid her
mistress had taken to. This gave me a warm feeling
for the poor lady, though after all there was little
I could do to help her.
After Mr. Brympton’s departure,
Mr. Ranford took to coming again, though less often
than formerly. I met him once or twice in the
grounds, or in the village, and I couldn’t but
think there was a change in him too; but I set it
down to my disordered fancy.
The weeks passed, and Mr. Brympton
had now been a month absent. We heard he was
cruising with a friend in the West Indies, and Mr.
Wace said that was a long way off, but though you
had the wings of a dove and went to the uttermost
parts of the earth, you couldn’t get away from
the Almighty. Agnes said that as long as he stayed
away from Brympton, the Almighty might have him and
welcome; and this raised a laugh, though Mrs. Blinder
tried to look shocked, and Mr. Wace said the bears
would eat us.
We were all glad to hear that the
West Indies were a long way off, and I remember that,
in spite of Mr. Wace’s solemn looks, we had a
very merry dinner that day in the hall. I don’t
know if it was because of my being in better spirits,
but I fancied Mrs. Brympton looked better too, and
seemed more cheerful in her manner. She had been
for a walk in the morning, and after luncheon she
lay down in her room, and I read aloud to her.
When she dismissed me I went to my own room feeling
quite bright and happy, and for the first time in
weeks walked past the locked door without thinking
of it. As I sat down to my work I looked out
and saw a few snow-flakes falling. The sight was
pleasanter than the eternal rain, and I pictured to
myself how pretty the bare gardens would look in their
white mantle. It seemed to me as if the snow would
cover up all the dreariness, indoors as well as out.
The fancy had hardly crossed my mind
when I heard a step at my side. I looked up,
thinking it was Agnes.
“Well, Agnes ”
said I, and the words froze on my tongue; for there,
in the door, stood Emma Saxon.
I don’t know how long she stood
there. I only know I couldn’t stir or take
my eyes from her. Afterward I was terribly frightened,
but at the time it wasn’t fear I felt, but something
deeper and quieter. She looked at me long and
long, and her face was just one dumb prayer to me but
how in the world was I to help her? Suddenly she
turned, and I heard her walk down the passage.
This time I wasn’t afraid to follow I
felt that I must know what she wanted. I sprang
up and ran out. She was at the other end of the
passage, and I expected her to take the turn toward
my mistress’s room; but instead of that she pushed
open the door that led to the backstairs. I followed
her down the stairs, and across the passageway to
the back door. The kitchen and hall were empty
at that hour, the servants being off duty, except
for the footman, who was in the pantry. At the
door she stood still a moment, with another look at
me; then she turned the handle, and stepped out.
For a minute I hesitated. Where was she leading
me to? The door had closed softly after her,
and I opened it and looked out, half-expecting to find
that she had disappeared. But I saw her a few
yards off, hurrying across the court-yard to the path
through the woods. Her figure looked black and
lonely in the snow, and for a second my heart failed
me and I thought of turning back. But all the
while she was drawing me after her; and catching up
an old shawl of Mrs. Blinder’s I ran out into
Emma Saxon was in the wood-path now.
She walked on steadily, and I followed at the same
pace, till we passed out of the gates and reached
the high-road. Then she struck across the open
fields to the village. By this time the ground
was white, and as she climbed the slope of a bare
hill ahead of me I noticed that she left no foot-prints
behind her. At sight of that, my heart shrivelled
up within me, and my knees were water. Somehow,
it was worse here than indoors. She made the whole
countryside seem lonely as the grave, with none but
us two in it, and no help in the wide world.
Once I tried to go back; but she turned
and looked at me, and it was as if she had dragged
me with ropes. After that I followed her like
a dog. We came to the village, and she led me
through it, past the church and the blacksmith’s
shop, and down the lane to Mr. Ranford’s.
Mr. Ranford’s house stands close to the road:
a plain old-fashioned building, with a flagged path
leading to the door between box-borders. The
lane was deserted, and as I turned into it, I saw Emma
Saxon pause under the old elm by the gate. And
now another fear came over me. I saw that we
had reached the end of our journey, and that it was
my turn to act. All the way from Brympton I had
been asking myself what she wanted of me, but I had
followed in a trance, as it were, and not till I saw
her stop at Mr. Ranford’s gate did my brain begin
to clear itself. It stood a little way off in
the snow, my heart beating fit to strangle me, and
my feet frozen to the ground; and she stood under the
elm and watched me.
I knew well enough that she hadn’t
led me there for nothing. I felt there was something
I ought to say or do but how was I to guess
what it was? I had never thought harm of my mistress
and Mr. Ranford, but I was sure now that, from one
cause or another, some dreadful thing hung over them.
She knew what it was; she would tell me if she
could; perhaps she would answer if I questioned her.
It turned me faint to think of speaking
to her; but I plucked up heart and dragged myself
across the few yards between us. As I did so,
I heard the house-door open, and saw Mr. Ranford approaching.
He looked handsome and cheerful, as my mistress had
looked that morning, and at sight of him the blood
began to flow again in my veins.
“Why, Hartley,” said he,
“what’s the matter? I saw you coming
down the lane just now, and came out to see if you
had taken root in the snow.” He stopped
and stared at me. “What are you looking
at?” he says.
I turned toward the elm as he spoke,
and his eyes followed me; but there was no one there.
The lane was empty as far as the eye could reach.
A sense of helplessness came over
me. She was gone, and I had not been able to
guess what she wanted. Her last look had pierced
me to the marrow; and yet it had not told me!
All at once, I felt more desolate than when she had
stood there watching me. It seemed as if she had
left me all alone to carry the weight of the secret
I couldn’t guess. The snow went round me
in great circles, and the ground fell away from me....
A drop of brandy and the warmth of
Mr. Ranford’s fire soon brought me to, and I
insisted on being driven back at once to Brympton.
It was nearly dark, and I was afraid my mistress might
be wanting me. I explained to Mr. Ranford that
I had been out for a walk and had been taken with
a fit of giddiness as I passed his gate. This
was true enough; yet I never felt more like a liar
than when I said it.
When I dressed Mrs. Brympton for dinner
she remarked on my pale looks and asked what ailed
me. I told her I had a headache, and she said
she would not require me again that evening, and advised
me to go to bed.
It was a fact that I could scarcely
keep on my feet; yet I had no fancy to spend a solitary
evening in my room. I sat downstairs in the hall
as long as I could hold my head up; but by nine I
crept upstairs, too weary to care what happened if
I could but get my head on a pillow. The rest
of the household went to bed soon afterward; they kept
early hours when the master was away, and before ten
I heard Mrs. Blinder’s door close, and Mr. Wace’s
It was a very still night, earth and
air all muffled in snow. Once in bed I felt easier,
and lay quiet, listening to the strange noises that
come out in a house after dark. Once I thought
I heard a door open and close again below: it
might have been the glass door that led to the gardens.
I got up and peered out of the window; but it was in
the dark of the moon, and nothing visible outside
but the streaking of snow against the panes.
I went back to bed and must have dozed,
for I jumped awake to the furious ringing of my bell.
Before my head was clear I had sprung out of bed,
and was dragging on my clothes. It is going to happen
now, I heard myself saying; but what I meant I
had no notion. My hands seemed to be covered
with glue I thought I should never get into
my clothes. At last I opened my door and peered
down the passage. As far as my candle-flame carried,
I could see nothing unusual ahead of me. I hurried
on, breathless; but as I pushed open the baize door
leading to the main hall my heart stood still, for
there at the head of the stairs was Emma Saxon, peering
dreadfully down into the darkness.
For a second I couldn’t stir;
but my hand slipped from the door, and as it swung
shut the figure vanished. At the same instant
there came another sound from below stairs a
stealthy mysterious sound, as of a latch-key turning
in the house-door. I ran to Mrs. Brympton’s
room and knocked.
There was no answer, and I knocked
again. This time I heard some one moving in the
room; the bolt slipped back and my mistress stood before
me. To my surprise I saw that she had not undressed
for the night. She gave me a startled look.
“What is this, Hartley?”
she says in a whisper. “Are you ill?
What are you doing here at this hour?”
“I am not ill, madam; but my bell rang.”
At that she turned pale, and seemed about to fall.
“You are mistaken,” she
said harshly; “I didn’t ring. You
must have been dreaming.” I had never heard
her speak in such a tone. “Go back to bed,”
she said, closing the door on me.
But as she spoke I heard sounds again
in the hall below: a man’s step this time;
and the truth leaped out on me.
“Madam,” I said, pushing
past her, “there is someone in the house ”
“Mr. Brympton, I think I hear his
step below ”
A dreadful look came over her, and
without a word, she dropped flat at my feet.
I fell on my knees and tried to lift her: by the
way she breathed I saw it was no common faint.
But as I raised her head there came quick steps on
the stairs and across the hall: the door was flung
open, and there stood Mr. Brympton, in his travelling-clothes,
the snow dripping from him. He drew back with
a start as he saw me kneeling by my mistress.
“What the devil is this?”
he shouted. He was less high-colored than usual,
and the red spot came out on his forehead.
“Mrs. Brympton has fainted, sir,” said
He laughed unsteadily and pushed by
me. “It’s a pity she didn’t
choose a more convenient moment. I’m sorry
to disturb her, but ”
I raised myself up, aghast at the man’s action.
“Sir,” said I, “are you mad?
What are you doing?”
“Going to meet a friend,”
said he, and seemed to make for the dressing-room.
At that my heart turned over.
I don’t know what I thought or feared; but I
sprang up and caught him by the sleeve.
“Sir, sir,” said I, “for pity’s
sake look at your wife!”
He shook me off furiously.
“It seems that’s done
for me,” says he, and caught hold of the dressing-room
At that moment I heard a slight noise
inside. Slight as it was, he heard it too, and
tore the door open; but as he did so he dropped back.
On the threshold stood Emma Saxon. All was dark
behind her, but I saw her plainly, and so did he.
He threw up his hands as if to hide his face from
her; and when I looked again she was gone.
He stood motionless, as if the strength
had run out of him; and in the stillness my mistress
suddenly raised herself, and opening her eyes fixed
a look on him. Then she fell back, and I saw the
death-flutter pass over her....
We buried her on the third day, in
a driving snow-storm. There were few people in
the church, for it was bad weather to come from town,
and I’ve a notion my mistress was one that hadn’t
many near friends. Mr. Ranford was among the
last to come, just before they carried her up the
aisle. He was in black, of course, being such
a friend of the family, and I never saw a gentleman
so pale. As he passed me, I noticed that he leaned
a trifle on a stick he carried; and I fancy Mr. Brympton
noticed it too, for the red spot came out sharp on
his forehead, and all through the service he kept
staring across the church at Mr. Ranford, instead
of following the prayers as a mourner should.
When it was over and we went out to
the graveyard, Mr. Ranford had disappeared, and as
soon as my poor mistress’s body was underground,
Mr. Brympton jumped into the carriage nearest the gate
and drove off without a word to any of us. I
heard him call out, “To the station,”
and we servants went back alone to the house.