A Christmas Tree


I have been looking on, this evening, at a merry company of children assembled round

that pretty German toy, a Christmas Tree. The tree was planted in the middle of a great

round table and towered high above their heads. It was brilliantly lighted by a multitude

of little tapers, and everywhere sparkled and glittered with bright objects.

There were rosy-cheeked dolls hiding behind the green leaves, and there were real

watches (with movable hands, at least, and an endless capacity of being wound up)

dangling from innumerable twigs; there were French-polished tables, chairs, bedsteads,

wardrobes, eight-day clocks, and various other articles of domestic furniture

(wonderfully made, in tin, at Wolverhampton), perched among the boughs as if

in preparation for some fairy housekeeping; there were jolly, broad-faced little men,

much more agreeable in appearance than many real men—and no wonder, for there

heads took off and showed them to be full of sugar plums; there were fiddles

and drums; there were tambourines, books, work-boxes, paint-boxes,

sweetmeat- boxes, peep-show boxes, and all kinds of boxes; there were trinkets

for the elder girls, far brighter than any grown-up gold and jewels; there were baskets

and pincushions in all devices; there were guns, swords, and banners; there were

witches standing in enchanted rings of pasteboard to tell fortunes; there were

teetotums, humming tops, needle cases, pen wipers, smelling bottles,

conversation cards, bouquet-holders; real fruit, made artificially dazzling with gold leaf;

imitation apples, pears, and walnuts, crammed with surprises; in short, as a pretty

child before me delightedly whispered to another pretty child, her bosom friend,

“There was everything and more.”

This motley collection of odd objects clustering on the tree like a magic fruit

and flashing back the bright looks directed towards it from every side—some

of the diamond-eyes admiring it was hardly on a level with the table, and a few

were languishing in timid wonder on the bosoms of pretty mothers, aunts, and nurses

— made a lively realization of the fancies of childhood; and set me thinking about how

all the trees that grow and all the things that come into existence on the Earth have

their wild adornments at that well-remembered time.

Being now at home again and alone, the only person in the house awake, my thoughts

are drawn back by a fascination that I did not care to resist in my own childhood.

I begin to consider what we all remember best about the branches of the Christmas

Tree of our own young Christmas days, by which we climbed to real life.

Straight in the middle of the room, cramped in the freedom of its growth by no

encircling walls or soon-reached ceiling, a shadowy tree arises; and, looking up into

the dreamy brightness of its top—for I observe in this tree the singular property that

it appears to grow downward towards the earth—I look into my youngest Christmas


All toys at first, I find. Up yonder, among the green holly and red berries, is the Tumbler

with his hands in his pockets, who wouldn’t lie down, but whenever he was put upon

the floor, persisted in rolling his fat body about until he rolled himself still and brought

those lobster eyes of his to bear upon me—when I affected to laugh very much,

but in my heart of hearts, was extremely doubtful of him.

Close beside him is that infernal snuff box, out of which there sprang a demoniacal

Counselor in a black gown, with an obnoxious head of hair and a red cloth mouth

wide open, who was not to be endured on any terms but could not be put away

either; for he used suddenly, in a highly magnified state, to fly out of Mammoth

Snuff-boxes in dreams, when least expected. Nor is the frog with cobbler’s wax

on his tail, far off; for there was no knowing where he wouldn’t jump; and when

he flew over the candle and came upon one’s hand with that spotted back—red

on a green ground—he was horrible. The cardboard lady in a blue-silk skirt was

stood up against the candlestick to dance, and whom I see on the same branch,

was milder and was beautiful, but I can’t say as much for the larger cardboard man,

who used to be hung against the wall and pulled by a string; there was a sinister

expression in that nose of his; and when he got his legs around his neck

(which he very often did), he was ghastly and not a creature to be alone with.

When did that dreadful Mask first look at me? Who put it on, and why was I

so frightened that the sight of it is an era in my life? It is not a hideous visage in itself;

it is even meant to be droll; why, then, were its stolid features so intolerable?

Surely not because it hid the wearer’s face. An apron would have done as much;

and though I should have preferred even the apron away, it would not have been

absolutely insupportable, like the mask. Was it the immovability of the mask?

The doll’s face was immovable, but I was not afraid of her. Perhaps that fixed and set

change coming over a real face infused into my quickened heart some remote

suggestion and dread of the universal change that is to come on every face and make

it still? Nothing reconciled me to it. No drummers, from whom proceeded a melancholy

chirping on the turning of a handle; no regiment of soldiers, with a mute band,

taken out of a box and fitted, one by one, upon a stiff and lazy little set of lazy- tongs;

no old woman, made of wires and a brown-paper composition, cutting up a pie for two

small children; could give me permanent comfort for a long time. Nor was it any

satisfaction to be shown the Mask and see that it was made of paper or to have it

locked up and be assured that no one wore it. The mere recollection of that fixed face,

the mere knowledge of its existence anywhere, was sufficient to awake me in the night

all perspiration and horror, with, “O, I know it’s coming! O, the mask!”

I never wondered what the dear old donkey with the panniers was—there he is!

Was made of, then! His hide was real to the touch, I recollect. And the great black

horse with the round red spots all over him—the horse that I could even get upon—

I never wondered what had brought him to that strange condition or thought

that such a horse was not commonly seen at Newmarket. The four horses

of no color next to him went into the wagon of cheeses and could be taken out

and stable under the piano; appear to have bits of fur tippet for their tails

and other bits for their manes and to stand on pegs instead of legs, but it was not

so when they were brought home for a Christmas present. They were all right, then;

neither was their harness unceremoniously nailed into their chests, as appears to be

the case now. The tinkling works of the music cart, I did find out, to be made of quill

tooth-picks and wire, and I always thought that little tumbler in his shirt sleeves,

perpetually swarming up one side of a wooden frame and coming down,

head foremost, on the other, rather a weak-minded person—though good-natured;

but the Jacob’s Ladder, next to him, was made of little squares of redwood that went

flapping and clattering over one another, each developing a different picture,

and the whole, enlivened by small bells, was a mighty marvel and a great delight.

Ah! The Doll’s house!—of which I was not proprietor, but where I visited. I don’t admire

the Houses of Parliament half so much as that stone-fronted mansion with real glass

windows and doorsteps and a real balcony—greener than I ever see now, except

at watering places, and even they afford but a poor imitation. And though it did open

all at once, the entire house front (which was a blow, I admit, as canceling the fiction

of a staircase), it was but to shut it up again, and I could believe.

Even open, there were three distinct rooms in it: a sitting room and bedroom,

elegantly furnished, and best of all, a kitchen with uncommonly soft fire- irons,

a plentiful assortment of diminutive utensils—oh, the warming pan!—and a tin man-

cook in profile, who was always going to fry two fish. What Barmecide justice have I

done to the noble feasts wherein the set of wooden platters figured, each with its own

peculiar delicacy, as a ham or turkey, glued tight onto it and garnished with

something green, which I recollect as moss! Could all the Temperance Societies

of these later days, united, give me such a tea-drinking as I have had through

the means of yonder little set of blue crockery, which really would hold liquid

(it ran out of the small wooden cask, I recollect and tasted of matches), and which

made tea and nectar. And if the two legs of the ineffectual little sugar tongs did

tumble over one another and want purpose, like Punch’s hands; what does it matter?

And if I did once shriek out, as a poisoned child, and strike the fashionable company

with consternation, by reason of having drunk a little teaspoon, inadvertently

dissolved in too hot tea, I was never the worse for it, except by a powder!

Upon the next branches of the tree, lower down, hard by the green roller and miniature

gardening tools, how thick the books begin to hang. Thin books, in themselves, at first,

but many of them, and with deliciously smooth covers of bright red or green.

What fat black letters to begin with! “A was an archer and shot at a frog.”

Of course, he was. He was an apple pie also, and there he is! He was a good many

things in his time, was A, and so were most of his friends, except X, who had so little

versatility that I never knew him to get beyond Xerxes or Xantippe—like Y, who was

always confined to a Yacht or a Yew Tree, and Z condemned forever to be a Zebra

or a Zany. But, now, the very tree itself changes and becomes a beanstalk—

the marvelous bean stalk up which Jack climbed to the Giant’s house! And now,

those dreadfully interesting, double-headed giants, with their clubs over

their shoulders, begin to stride along the boughs in a perfect throng, dragging knights

and ladies home for dinner by the hair of their heads. And Jack—how noble,

with his sword of sharpness and his shoes of swiftness! Again those old meditations

come upon me as I gaze up at him, and I debate within myself whether there was more

than one Jack (which I am loth to believe possible) or only one genuine original

admirable Jack who achieved all the recorded exploits.

Good for Christmas time is the ruddy color of the cloak, in which—the tree making

a forest of itself for her to trip through with her basket—Little Red Riding Hood comes

to me one Christmas Eve to give me information about the cruelty and treachery

of that dissembling Wolf who ate her grandmother without making any impression

on his appetite and then ate her after making that ferocious joke about his teeth.

She was my first love. I felt that if I could have married Little Red Riding- Hood, I should

have known perfect bliss. But, it was not to be; and there was nothing for it but to look

out the Wolf in Noah’s Ark there and put him late in the procession on the table

as a monster who was to be degraded. O, the wonderful Noah’s Ark! It was not found

seaworthy when put in a washing tub, and the animals were crammed in at the roof

and needed to have their legs well shaken down before they could be got in, even

there—and then, ten to one, but they began to tumble out at the door, which was

but imperfectly fastened with a wire latch—but what was that against it? Consider

the noble fly, a size or two smaller than the elephant.

The ladybird, the butterfly—all triumphs of art! Consider the goose, whose feet were

so small and whose balance was so indifferent that he usually tumbled forward

and knocked down all the animal creation. Consider Noah and his family, like idiotic

tobacco-stoppers; and how the leopard stuck to warm little fingers; and how the tails

of the larger animals used gradually to resolve themselves into frayed bits of string!

Hush! Again a forest and somebody up in a tree—not Robin Hood, not Valentine,

not the Yellow Dwarf (I have passed him and all Mother Bunch’s wonders, without

mention), but an Eastern King with a glittering scimitar and turban. By Allah!

Two Eastern Kings, for I see another looking over his shoulder! Down upon the grass,

at the tree’s foot, lies the full length of a coal-black Giant, stretched asleep, with his

head in a lady’s lap; and near them is a glass box, fastened with four locks of shining

steel, in which he keeps the lady prisoner when he is awake. I see the four keys on his

girdle now. The lady makes signs to the two kings in the tree, who softly descend.

It is the setting-in of the bright Arabian Nights.

Oh, now all common things become uncommon and enchanted to me. All lamps are

wonderful; all rings are talismans. Common flower pots are full of treasure, with a little

earth scattered on the top; trees are for Ali Baba to hide in; beef steaks are to throw

down into the Valley of Diamonds, that the precious stones may stick to them

and be carried by the eagles to their nests, whence the traders, with loud cries,

will scare them. Tarts are made according to the recipe of the Vizier’s son of Bussorah,

who turned pastrycook after he was set down in his drawers at the gate of Damascus;

cobblers are all Mustaphas and in the habit of sewing up people cut into four pieces,

to whom they are taken blindfolded.

Any iron ring let into stone is the entrance to a cave which only waits for the magician,

and the little fire, and the necromancy, that will make the earth shake. All the dates

imported come from the same tree as that unlucky date, with whose shell

the merchant knocked out the eye of the genie’s invisible son. All olives are

of the stock of that fresh fruit, concerning which the Commander of the Faithful

overheard the boy conduct the fictitious trial of the fraudulent olive merchant;

all apples are akin to the apple purchased (with two others) from Sultan’s gardener

for three sequins and which the tall black slave stole from the child. All dogs

are associated with the dog, really a transformed man who jumped upon the baker’s

counter and put his paw on the piece of bad money. All rice recalls the rice which

the awful lady, who was a ghoul, could only peck with grains because of her nightly

feasts in the burial place. My very rocking horse—there he is, with his nostrils turned

completely inside-out, indicative of Blood!—should have a peg in his neck, by virtue

thereof, to fly away with me, as the wooden horse did with the Prince of Persia,

in the sight of all his father’s Court.

Yes, on every object that I recognize among those upper branches of my Christmas

Tree, I see this fairy light! When I wake in bed, at daybreak, on cold, dark winter

mornings, the white snow dimly beheld outside through the frost on the window pane,

I hear Dinarzade.

“Sister, sister, if you are yet awake, I pray you finish the history of the Young King
of the Black Islands.” Scheherazade replies, “If my lord the Sultan will suffer me to live another day, sister, I will not only finish that but tell you a more wonderful story yet.”

Then, the gracious Sultan goes out, giving no orders for the execution, and we all three

breathe again.

At this height of my tree, I begin to see, cowering among the leaves—it may be born

of turkey, or of pudding, or mince pie, or of these many fancies jumbled with Robinson

Crusoe on his desert island, Philip Quarll among the monkeys, Sandford, and Merton

with Mr. Barlow, Mother Bunch, and the Mask—or it may be the result of indigestion,

assisted by imagination and over-doctoring—a prodigious nightmare. It is so

exceedingly indistinct that I don’t know why it’s frightful—but I know it is.

I can only make out that it is an immense array of shapeless things which appear to be

planted on a vast exaggeration of the lazy tongs that used to bear the toy soldiers

and to be slowly coming close to my eyes and receding to an immeasurable

distance. When it comes closest, it is worse. In connection with it, I descry

remembrances of winter nights incredibly long; of being sent early to bed

as a punishment for some small offense and waking in two hours with a sensation

of having been asleep two nights, of the laden hopelessness of morning ever dawning,

and the oppression of a weight of remorse.

And now, I see a wonderful row of little lights rise smoothly out of the ground before

a vast green curtain. Now, a bell rings—a magic bell, which still sounds in my ears

unlike all other bells—and music plays amidst a buzz of voices and a fragrant smell

of orange peel and oil.

Anon, the magic bell commands the music to cease, and the great green curtain rolls

itself up majestically, and The Play begins! The devoted dog of Montargis avenges

the death of his master, foully murdered in the Forest of Bondy; and a humorous

Peasant with a red nose and a very little hat, whom I take from this hour forth

to my bosom as a friend (I think he was a Waiter or a Hostler at a village Inn,

but many years have passed since he and I have met), remarks that the sassigasity

of that dog is indeed surprising, and evermore this jocular conceit will live in

my remembrance fresh and unfading, overtopping all possible jokes, unto the end

of time. Or now, I learn with bitter tears how poor Jane Shore, dressed all in white,

and with her brown hair hanging down, went starving through the streets; or how

George Barnwell killed the worthiest uncle that ever man had and was afterward

so sorry for it that he ought to have been let off. Comes swiftly to comfort me,

the Pantomime—a stupendous Phenomenon!—when clowns are shot from loaded

mortars into the great chandelier, the bright constellation that it is; when Harlequins,

covered all over with scales of pure gold, twist and sparkle like amazing fish;

when Pantaloon (whom I deem it no irreverence to compare in my own mind

to my grandfather) puts red-hot pokers in his pocket and cries,

“Here’s somebody coming!” or taxes the Clown with petty larceny by saying,

“Now, I sawed you do it!” when Everything is capable, with the greatest ease, of being

changed into Anything, and “Nothing is, but thinking makes it so.”

Now, too, I perceive my first experience of the dreary sensation—often to return in

the after-life—of being unable, the next day, to get back to the dull, settled world,

of wanting to live forever in the bright atmosphere I have quitted; of doting

on the little Fairy, with the wand like a celestial Barber’s Pole and pining for a Fairy

immortality along with her. Ah, she comes back in many shapes, as my eye wanders

down the branches of my Christmas Tree, and goes as often, and has never yet

stayed by me!

Out of this delight springs the toy theatre—there it is, with its familiar proscenium,

and ladies in feathers, in the boxes!—and all its attendant occupation with paste

and glue, and gum, and watercolors, in the getting-up of The Miller and his Men,

and Elizabeth, or the Exile of Siberia. In spite of a few besetting accidents and failures

(particularly an unreasonable disposition in the respectable Kelmar and some others,

to become faint in the legs and double up at exciting points of the drama), a teeming

world of fancies so suggestive and all-embracing that, far below it on my Christmas

Tree, I see dark, dirty, real Theatres in the day-time, adorned with these associations

as with the freshest garlands of the rarest flowers and charming me yet.

But hark! The Waits are playing, and they break my childish sleep! What images do I

associate with the Christmas music as I see them set forth on Christmas?

Tree? Known before all the others, keeping far apart from all the others, they gather

around my little bed. An angel speaking to a group of shepherds in a field;

some travelers, with eyes uplifted, following a star; a baby in a manger; a child in

a spacious temple, talking with grave men; a solemn figure with a mild and beautiful

face, raising a dead girl by the hand; again, near a city gate, calling back the son

of a widow, on his bier, to life; a crowd of people looking through the opened roof

of a chamber where he sits and lets down a sick person on a bed with ropes;

the same, in a tempest, walking on the water to a ship; again, on a sea-shore, teaching

a great multitude; again, with a child upon his knee and other children round; again,

restoring sight to the blind, speech to the dumb, hearing to the deaf, health to the sick,

strength to the lame, knowledge to the ignorant; again, dying upon a Cross, watched

by armed soldiers, thick darkness coming on, the earth beginning to shake,

and only one voice heard, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Still, on the lower and maturer branches of the Tree, Christmas associations cluster

thick. School books shut up; Ovid and Virgil silenced; the Rule of Three, with its cool

impertinent inquiries, long disposed of; Terence and Plautus acted no more in an arena

of huddled desks and forms, all chipped, notched, and inked; cricket bats, stumps,

and balls left higher up, with the smell of trodden grass and the softened noise

of shouts in the evening air; the tree is still fresh, still gay. If I no more come home

at Christmas time, there will be boys and girls (thank Heaven!) while the World lasts;

and they do! Yonder they dance and play upon the branches of my Tree, God bless

them, merrily, and my heart dances and plays too!

And I do come home at Christmas. We all do, or we all should. We all come home,

or ought to come home for a short holiday—the longer, the better—from the great

boarding school, where we are forever working at our arithmetical slates to take

and give a rest. As to going for a visit, where can we not go, if we will; where have

we not been, when we would; starting our fancy from our Christmas Tree!

Away into the winter prospect. There are many such upon the tree! On, by low-lying,

misty grounds, through fens and fogs, up long hills, winding dark as caverns between

thick plantations, almost shutting out the sparkling stars; so, out on broad heights,

until we stop at last, with sudden silence, at an avenue. The gate-bell has a deep,

half-awful sound in the frosty air; the gate swings open on its hinges; and, as we drive

up to a great house, the glancing lights grow larger in the windows and the opposing

rows of trees seem to fall solemnly back on either side to give us a place.

At intervals, all day, a frightened hare has shot across this whitened turf; or the distant

clatter of a herd of deer trampling the hard frost has, for the minute, crushed

the silence too. Their watchful eyes beneath the fern may be shining now if we could

see them, like the icy dewdrops on the leaves, but they are still, and all is still.

And so, the lights growing larger, and the trees falling back before us and closing up

again behind us as if to forbid retreat, we come to the house.

There is probably a smell of roasted chestnuts and other good comfortable things all

the time, for we are telling Winter Stories—Ghost Stories, or more shame for us— round

the Christmas fire, and we have never stirred, except to draw a little nearer to it.

But no matter that. We came to the house, and it is an old house, full of great

chimneys where wood is burnt on ancient dogs upon the hearth, and grim portraits

(some of them with grim legends, too) lower distrustfully from the oaken panels

of the walls. We are middle-aged noblemen, and we make a generous supper with

our host and hostess and their guests—it being Christmas time and the old house full

of company—and then we go to bed. Our room is a very old room.

It is hung with a tapestry. We don’t like the portrait of a cavalier in green over

the fireplace. There are great black beams in the ceiling, and there is a great

black bedstead supported at the foot by two great black figures who seem to have

come off a couple of tombs in the old baronial church in the park for our particular

accommodation. But we are not superstitious noblemen, and we don’t mind.

Well! We dismiss our servant, lock the door, and sit before the fire in our dressing

gown, musing about a great many things. At length, we go to bed.

Well! We can’t sleep. We toss and tumble and can’t sleep. The embers on the hearth

burn fitfully and make the room look ghostly. We can’t help peeping out over

the counterpane at the two black figures and the cavalier—that wicked

-looking cavalier—in green. In the flickering light, they seem to advance and retire:

Which, though we are not by any means a superstitious nobleman, is not agreeable.

Well! We get nervous—more and more nervous.

We say, “This is very foolish, but we can’t stand this; we’ll pretend to be ill and knock up somebody.”

Well! We are just going to do it when the locked door opens, and there comes

in a young woman, deadly pale and with long fair hair, who glides to the fire and sits

down in the chair; we have left there, wringing her hands. Then, we notice that

her clothes are wet. Our tongue cleaves to the roof of our mouth, and we can’t speak,

but we observe her accurately. Her clothes are wet; her long hair is dabbled with

moist mud; she is dressed in the fashion of two hundred years ago, and she has at her

girdle a bunch of rusty keys. Well! There she sits, and we can’t even faint;

we are in such a state about it. Presently she gets up and tries all the locks

in the room with the rusty keys, which won’t fit one of them; then, she fixes her eyes

on the portrait of the cavalier in green and says, in a low, terrible voice,

“The stags know it!” After that, she wrings her hands again, passes the bedside,

and goes out at the door. We hurry on our dressing gowns, seize our pistols

(we always travel with pistols), and follow when we find the door locked.

We turn the key and look out into the dark gallery; no one is there. We wander away

and try to find our servant. Can’t be done. We pace the gallery till daybreak,

then return to our deserted room, fall asleep, and are awakened by our servant.

(nothing ever haunts him) and the shining sun. Well! We make a wretched breakfast,

and all the company says we look queer. After breakfast, we go over to the house with

our host, and then we take him to the portrait of the cavalier in green, and then it all

comes out. He was false to a young housekeeper once attached to that family

and famous for her beauty, she drowned herself in a pond, and her body was

discovered, after a long time, because the stags refused to drink the water.

Since which, it has been whispered that she traverses the house at midnight

(but goes especially to that room where the cavalier in green was wont to sleep),

trying the old locks with the rusty keys. Well! We tell our host what we have seen,

and a shade comes over his features, and he begs it may be hushed up, and so it is.

But, it’s all true, and we said so before we died (we are dead now) to many

responsible people.

There is no end to the old houses, with resounding galleries, dismal

state- bed-chambers and haunted wings shut up for many years, through which

we may ramble, with an agreeable creeping up our back, and encounter any number

of ghosts, but (it is worthy of remark perhaps) reducible to a very few general types

and classes; for ghosts have little originality and “walk” on a beaten track.

Thus, it comes to pass that a certain room in a certain old hall, where a certain bad

lord, baronet, knight, or gentleman, shot himself, has certain planks on the floor from

which the blood will not be taken out. You may scrape and scrape, as the present

owner has done, or plane and plane, as his father did, or scrub and scrub,

as his grandfather did, or burn and burn with strong acids, as his great-grandfather

did, but there the blood will still be—no redder and no paler—no more and no less—

always just the same. Thus, in another house, there is a haunted door that never

will keep open, or another door that never will keep shut, or a haunted sound

of a spinning- wheel, or a hammer, or a footstep, or a cry, or a sigh, or a horse’s tramp,

or the rattling of a chain. Or else, there is a turret clock, which, at the midnight hour,

strikes thirteen when the head of the family is going to die, or a shadowy, immovable

black carriage, which at such a time is always seen by somebody waiting near

the great gates in the stable yard. Or thus, it came to pass how Lady Mary went

to pay a visit at a large wild house in the Scottish Highlands and, being fatigued

with her long journey, retired to bed early and innocently said the next morning,

at the breakfast- table,

“How odd to have so late a party last night in this remote place and not to tell me of it before I went to bed!”

Then, every one asked Lady Mary what she meant. Then, Lady Mary replied,

“Why, all night long, the carriages were driving round and round the terrace, underneath my window!”

Then, the owner of the house turned pale, and so did his Lady and Charles.

Macdoodle of Macdoodle signed to Lady Mary to say no more, and everyone was

silent. After breakfast, Charles Macdoodle told Lady Mary that it was a tradition

in the family that those rumbling carriages on the terrace betokened death.

And so it proved, for two months afterward, the Lady of the mansion died.

And Lady Mary, who was a Maid of Honour at Court, often told this story to the old

Queen Charlotte; by this token that the old King always said,

“Eh, eh? What, what? Ghosts, ghosts? No such thing, no such thing!”

And never left off saying so until he went to bed.

Or, a friend of somebody’s whom most of us know, when he was a young man

at college, had a particular friend with whom he made the compact that

if it were possible for the Spirit to return to this earth after its separation from the body,

he of the twain who first died should reappear to the other. In the course of time,

this compact was forgotten by our friend; the two young men had progressed in life

and taken diverging paths that were wide asunder. But, one night, many years

afterward, our friend being in the North of England and staying for the night in an inn

on the Yorkshire Moors, happened to look out of bed; and there, in the moonlight,

leaning on a bureau near the window, steadfastly regarding him, saw his old college

friend! The appearance being solemnly addressed replied, in a kind of whisper, but very

audibly, “Do not come near me. I am dead. I am here to redeem my promise. I come from another world but may not disclose its secrets!”

Then, the whole form became paler, melted, as it were, into the moonlight, and faded


Or, there was the daughter of the first occupier of the picturesque Elizabethan house

so famous in our neighborhood. Have you heard about her? No! Why, She went out one

summer evening at twilight, when she was a beautiful girl, just seventeen years of age,

to gather flowers in the garden; and presently came running, terrified, into the hall

to her father, saying, “Oh, dear father, I have met myself!” He took her in his arms

and told her it was fancy, but she said,

“Oh no! I met myself in the broad walk, and I was pale and gathering withered flowers, and I turned my head and held them up!”

And, that night, she died; and a picture of her story was begun, though never finished,

and they say it is somewhere in the house to this day, with its face to the wall.

Or, the uncle of my brother’s wife was riding home on horseback one mellow evening

at sunset when, in a green lane close to his own house, he saw a man standing before

him in the very center of a narrow way. “Why does that man in the cloak stand there!”

he thought. “Does he want me to ride over him?” But the figure never moved.

He felt a strange sensation at seeing it so still but slackened his trot and rode

forward. When he was so close to it, as almost to touch it with his stirrup, his horse

shied, and the figure glided up the bank in a curious, unearthly manner— backward

and without seeming to use its feet—and was gone. The uncle of my brother’s wife,

exclaiming, “Good Heaven! It’s my cousin Harry, from Bombay!” put spurs to his

horse, which was suddenly in a profuse sweat, and, wondering at such strange

behavior, dashed round to the front of his house. There, he saw the same figure,

just passing in at the long French window of the drawing room, opening

on the ground. He threw his bridle to a servant and hastened in after it. His sister

was sitting there, alone. “Alice, where’s my cousin Harry?”

“Your cousin Harry, John?”

“Yes. From Bombay. I met him in the lane just now and saw him enter here this instant.”

Not a creature had been seen by anyone, and in that hour and minute, as it afterward

appeared, this cousin died in India.

Or, it was a certain sensible old maiden lady, who died at ninety-nine and retained

her faculties to the last, who really did see the Orphan Boy; a story which has often

been incorrectly told, but, of which the real truth is this—because it is, in fact, a story

belonging to our family—and she was a connexion of our family. When she was about

forty years of age and still an uncommonly fine woman (her lover died young,

which was the reason why she never married, though she had many offers),

she went to stay at a place in Kent, which her brother, an Indian-Merchant, had newly

bought. There was a story that this place had once been held in trust by the guardian

of a young boy, who was himself the next heir, and who killed the young boy by harsh

and cruel treatment. She knew nothing of that. It has been said that there was a Cage

in her bedroom in which the guardian used to put the boy. There was no such thing.

There was only a closet. She went to bed, made no alarm whatever in the night,

and in the morning said composedly to her maid when she came in,

“Who is the pretty, forlorn-looking child who has been peeping out of that closet all night?”

The maid replied by giving a loud scream and instantly decamping. She was surprised,

but she was a woman of remarkable strength of mind, and she dressed herself

and went downstairs and closeted herself with her brother.

“Now, Walter,” she said, “I have been disturbed all night by a pretty, forlorn-looking boy, who has been constantly peeping out of that closet in my room, which I can’t open. This is some trick.”

“I am afraid not, Charlotte,” said he, “for it is the legend of the house. It is the Orphan Boy. What did he do?”

“He opened the door softly,” said she, “and peeped out. Sometimes, he came a step or two into the room. Then, I called to him to encourage him, and he shrunk, shuddered, and crept in again and shut the door.”

“The closet has no communication, Charlotte,” said her brother, “with any other part of the house, and it’s nailed up.”

This was undeniably true, and it took two carpenters a whole forenoon to get it open

for examination. Then, she was satisfied that she had seen the Orphan Boy.

But, the wild and terrible part of the story is that he was also seen by three

of her brother’s sons in succession, who all died young. On the occasion of each child

being taken ill, he came home in the heat twelve hours before and said, “Oh, Mamma, he had been playing under a particular oak tree, in a certain meadow, with a strange boy—a pretty, forlorn-looking boy, who was very timid, and made signs!”

From the fatal experience, the parents came to know that this was the Orphan Boy

and that the course of that child whom he chose for his little playmate was surely run.

The End