That was how I first asked Margaret Lammas to be my wife, and I will agree
with anyone who says I behaved very foolishly. But I have not repented
of it, and I never shall. I have long ago understood that I was out
of my mind that evening, but I think my temporary insanity on that occasion
has had the effect of making me a saner man ever since. Her manner
turned my head, for it was so different from what I had expected.
To hear this lovely creature, who, in my imagination, was a heroine of
romance, if not of tragedy, talking familiarly and laughing readily was
more than my equanimity could bear, and I lost my head as well as my heart.
But when I went back to England in the spring, I went to make certain arrangements
at the Castle--certain changes and improvements which would be absolutely
necessary. I had won the race for which I had entered myself so rashly,
and we were to be married in June.
Whether the change was due to the orders I had left with the gardener and
the rest of the servants, or to my own state of mind, I cannot tell.
At all events, the old place did not look the same to me when I opened
my window on the morning after my arrival. There were the gray walls below
me and the gray turrets flanking the huge building; there were the fountains,
the marble causeways, the smooth basins, the tall box hedges, the water
lilies and the swans, just as of old. But there was something else
there, too-- something in the air, in the water, and in the greenness that
I did not recognize--a light over everything by which everything was transfigured.
The clock in the tower struck seven, and the strokes of the ancient bell
sounded like a wedding chime. The air sang with the thrilling treble
of the song-birds, with the silvery music of the plashing water and the
softer harmony of the leaves stirred by the fresh morning wind. There
was a smell of new-mown hay from the distant meadows, and of blooming roses
from the beds below, wafted up together to my window. I stood in
the pure sunshine and drank the air and all the sounds and the odors that
were in it; and I looked down at my garden and said: "It is Paradise, after
all." I think the men of old were right when they called heaven a garden,
and Eden a garden inhabited by one man and one woman, the Earthly Paradise.
I turned away, wondering what had become of the gloomy memories I had always
associated with my home. I tried to recall the impression of my nurse's
horrible prophecy before the death of my parents--an impression which hitherto
had been vivid enough. I tried to remember my old self, my dejection,
my listlessness, my bad luck, my petty disappointments. I endeavored
to force myself to think as I used to think, if only to satisfy myself
that I had not lost my individuality. But I succeeded in none of
these efforts. I was a different man, a changed being, incapable
of sorrow, of ill luck, or of sadness. My life had been a dream,
not evil, but infinitely gloomy and hopeless. It was now a reality,
full of hope, gladness, and all manner of good. My home had been
like a tomb; to-day it was Paradise. My heart had been as though
it had not existed; to-day it beat with strength and youth and the certainty
of realized happiness. I reveled in the beauty of the world, and
called loveliness out of the future to enjoy it before time should bring
it to me, as a traveler in the plains looks up to the mountains, and already
tastes the cool air through the dust of the road.
Here, I thought, we will live and live for years. There we will sit
by the fountain toward evening and in the deep moonlight. Down those
paths we will wander together. On those benches we will rest and
talk. Among those eastern hills we will ride through the soft twilight,
and in the old house we will tell tales on winter nights, when the logs
burn high, and the holly berries are red, and the old clock tolls out the
dying year. On these old steps, in these dark passages and stately
rooms, there will one day be the sound of little pattering feet, and laughing
child voices will ring up to the vaults of the ancient hall. Those
tiny footsteps shall not be slow and sad as mine were, nor shall the childish
words be spoken in an awed whisper. No gloomy Welshwoman shall people
the dusky corners with weird horrors, nor utter horrid prophecies of death
and ghastly things. All shall be young, and fresh, and joyful, and
happy, and we will turn the old luck again, and forget that there was ever
So I thought, as I looked out of my window that morning and for many mornings
after that, and every day it all seemed more real than ever before, and
much nearer. But the old nurse looked at me askance, and muttered
odd sayings about the Woman of the Water. I cared little what she
said, for I was far too happy.
At last the time came near for the wedding. Lady Bluebell and all
the tribe of Bluebells, as Margaret called them, were at Bluebell Grange,
for we had determined to be married in the country, and to come straight
to the Castle afterwards. We cared little for traveling, and not
at all for a crowded ceremony at St. George's in Hanover Square, with all
the tiresome formalities afterwards. I used to ride over to the Grange
every day, and very often Margaret would come with her aunt and some of
her cousins to the Castle. I was suspicious of my own taste, and
was only too glad to let her have her way about the alterations and improvements
in our home.
We were to be married on the thirtieth of July, and on the evening of the
twenty-eighth Margaret drove over with some of the Bluebell party.
In the long summer twilight we all went out into the garden. Naturally
enough, Margaret and I were left to ourselves, and we wandered down by
the marble basins.
"It is an odd coincidence," I said; "it was on this very night last year
that I first saw you."
"Considering that it is the month of July," answered Margaret with a laugh,
"and that we have been here almost every day, I don't think the coincidence
is so extraordinary, after all."
"No, dear," said I, "I suppose not. I don't know why it struck me.
We shall very likely be here a year from today, and a year from that.
The odd thing, when I think of it, is that you should be here at all.
But my luck has turned. I ought not to think anything odd that happens
now that I have you. It is all sure to be good."
"A slight change in your ideas since that remarkable performance of yours
in Paris," said Margaret. "Do you know, I thought you were the most
extraordinary man I had ever met."
"I thought you were the most charming woman I had ever seen. I naturally
did not want to lose any time in frivolities. I took you at your
word, I followed your advice, I asked you to marry me, and this is the
delightful result--what's the matter?"
Margaret had started suddenly, and her hand tightened on my arm. An old
woman was coming up the path, and was close to us before we saw her, for
the moon had risen, and was shining full in our faces. The woman turned
out to be my old nurse.
"It's only Judith, dear--don't be frightened," I said. Then I spoke
to the Welshwoman: "What are you about, Judith? Have you been feeding
the Woman of the Water?"
"Aye--when the clock strikes, Willie--my Lord, I mean," muttered the old
creature, drawing aside to let us pass, and fixing her strange eyes on
"What does she mean?" asked Margaret, when we had gone by.
"Nothing, darling. The old thing is mildly crazy, but she is a good
We went on in silence for a few moments, and came to the rustic bridge
just above the artificial grotto through which the water ran out into the
park, dark and swift in its narrow channel. We stopped, and leaned
on the wooden rail. The moon was now behind us, and shone full upon
the long vista of basins and on the huge walls and towers of the Castle
"How proud you ought to be of such a grand old place!" said Margaret, softly.
"It is yours now, darling," I answered. "You have as good a right
to love it as I--but I only love it because you are to live in it, dear."
Her hand stole out and lay on mine, and we were both silent. Just
then the clock began to strike far off in the tower. I counted--
eight--nine--ten--eleven--I looked at my watch--twelve--thirteen--I laughed.
The bell went on striking.
"The old clock has gone crazy, like Judith," I exclaimed. Still it
went on, note after note ringing out monotonously through the still air.
We leaned over the rail, instinctively looking in the direction whence
the sound came. On and on it went. I counted nearly a hundred,
out of sheer curiosity, for I understood that something had broken and
that the thing was running itself down.
Suddenly there was a crack as of breaking wood, a cry and a heavy splash,
and I was alone, clinging to the broken end of the rail of the rustic bridge.
I do not think I hesitated while my pulse beat twice. I sprang clear
of the bridge into the black rushing water, dived to the bottom, came up
again with empty hands, turned and swam downward through the grotto in
the thick darkness, plunging and diving at every stroke, striking my head
and hands against jagged stones and sharp corners, clutching at last something
in my fingers and dragging it up with all my might. I spoke, I cried
aloud, but there was no answer. I was alone in the pitchy darkness
with my burden, and the house was five hundred yards away. Struggling
still, I felt the ground beneath my feet, I saw a ray of moonlight- -the
grotto widened, and the deep water became a broad and shallow brook as
I stumbled over the stones and at last laid Margaret's body on the bank
in the park beyond.
"Aye, Willie, as the clock struck!" said the voice of Judith, the Welsh
nurse, as she bent down and looked at the white face. The old woman
must have turned back and followed us, seen the accident, and slipped out
by the lower gate of the garden. "Aye," she groaned, "you have fed
the Woman of the Water this night, Willie, while the clock was striking."
I scarcely heard her as I knelt beside the lifeless body of the woman I
loved, chafing the wet white temples and gazing wildly into the wide-staring
eyes. I remember only the first returning look of consciousness,
the first heaving breath, the first movement of those dear hands stretching
out toward me.
That is not much of a story, you say. It is the story of my life.
That is all. It does not pretend to be anything else. Old Judith
says my luck turned on that summer's night when I was struggling in the
water to save all that was worth living for. A month later there
was a stone bridge above the grotto, and Margaret and I stood on it and
looked up at the moonlit Castle, as we had done once before, and as we
have done many times since. For all those things happened ten years
ago last summer, and this is the tenth Christmas Eve we have spent together
by the roaring logs in the old hall, talking of old times; and every year
there are more old times to talk of. There are curly-headed boys,
too, with red-gold hair and dark-brown eyes like their mother's, and a
little Margaret, with solemn black eyes like mine. Why could not
she look like her mother, too, as well as the rest of them?
The world is very bright at this glorious Christmas time, and perhaps there
is little use in calling up the sadness of long ago, unless it be to make
the jolly firelight seem more cheerful, the good wife's face look gladder,
and to give the children's laughter a merrier ring, by contrast with all
that is gone. Perhaps, too, some sad-faced, listless, melancholy
youth, who feels that the world is very hollow, and that life is like a
perpetual funeral service, just as I used to feel myself, may take courage
from my example, and having found the woman of his heart, ask her to marry
him after half an hour's acquaintance. But, on the whole, I would
not advise any man to marry, for the simple reason that no man will ever
find a wife like mine, and being obliged to go farther, he will necessarily
fare worse. My wife has done miracles, but I will not assert that
any other woman is able to follow her example.
Margaret always said that the old place was beautiful, and that I ought
to be proud of it. I dare say she is right. She has even more
imagination than I. But I have a good answer and a plain one, which
is this,--that all the beauty of the Castle comes from her. She has breathed
upon it all, as the children blow upon the cold glass window panes in winter;
and as their warm breath crystallizes into landscapes from fairyland, full
of exquisite shapes and traceries upon the blank surface, so her spirit
has transformed every gray stone of the old towers, every ancient tree
and hedge in the gardens, every thought in my once melancholy self.
All that was old is young, and all that was sad is glad, and I am the gladdest
of all. Whatever heaven may be, there is no earthly paradise without
woman, nor is there anywhere a place so desolate, so dreary, so unutterably
miserable that a woman cannot make it seem heaven to the man she loves
and who loves her.
I hear certain cynics laugh, and cry that all that has been said before.
Do not laugh, my good cynic. You are too small a man to laugh at
such a great thing as love. Prayers have been said before now by
many, and perhaps you say yours, too. I do not think they lose anything
by being repeated, nor you by repeating them. You say that the world
is bitter, and full of the Waters of Bitterness. Love, and so live that
you may be loved--the world will turn sweet for you, and you shall rest
like me by the Waters of Paradise.