« PreviousContinue »
collecting that the lid of the coffin should be replaced, he summoned a strong effort, and went again into the vault for that purpose.
But the sight of the corpse was not now so awful to him as before. The consternation had done its utmost. There was an imperceptible return of the original intention in his mind, and by a quick effort he lifted the body, drew the chain over the head, disengaged the locket from under the hand, and then lowered the corpse again into its place. As he did this, the arm which before lay upon the breast, fell with a strange flexibility over the side of the coffin, and a faint sigh came from the body.
Had a thunder-clap broken in upon the silence, the man would not have been more staggered than he was at this little sigh. He rushed hastily forth, left the sepulchre unclosed, and opened the church door to go out, when, as if to increase his bewilderment, the first thing which met his eyes was the great moon lifting itself in the unabated power of its light over the horizon's edge. It shone right opposite, and seemed looking at and coming to expose him. He did not dare to lift his eyes again; but, without stopping even to lock up the church, he flew over the fields pursued by his fears.
It was at this time about eleven o'clock. The domestics at WoodleyHall had not yet retired to rest. Their minds were agitated and unset.. tled by the funeral; and they found relief in sitting up together, and talking over the circumstances connected with their lady's illness and sudden death. With hearts so full, they could not endure the silence of their chambers, and it would have been vain to try to sleep; therefore, about the time I have just mentioned, they left their room and dull candles, to go out under the portico of the house, and enjoy the balmy night air and the bright moon.
The subject of their talk continued the same :-the youth of their lady, her gentleness, her unaccountable illness, the sublime testimony she gave of her love even in the grasp of death; and then of what would become of their heart-broken master, who had been secluded in his room all day, scarcely admitting any one even to bring him needful refreshment-when one of them with a low voice said, "What can that white thing be which is fluttering about the beech trees there, at the farthest end of the long walk?" They looked, and nothing was It was, however, only leaf-hidden for a time, for presently it emerged altogether from the obscurity of the trees, and they saw it plainly enough.
The walk was about a quarter of a mile in length. The object advanced down it, and soon a fearful sight was seen by the company under the portico; an apparently human figure, with long trailing white garments, staggering and stumbling across the open park at that solemn hour, and under the keen moonlight.
They did not stop to see any more; but, hastening to their master's room, told him what they had witnessed.
He answered them with his faint voice from within: "Go to rest, my friends; go to rest. Your minds are disturbed: and, to tell you the truth, my own is too much subdued just now to bear the hearing of such things. Shut up the house; good night."
But they all persisted so strenuously in avouching the truth of what they had stated, that Sir William came from his chamber, and said he would go with them into the park, and see whether the apparition was yet visible. Poor man! he was at this time ill calculated to dissipate the terror which had taken hold of his servants. Sorrow, want of food, long privation of sleep, the dismal business of the day, and then this phantom story, had almost bewildered his faculties; and he descended the stairs trembling and uncollected.
Before they had reached the bottom, one of the servants cried out with a wild voice, "Look, sir, look!"
Sir William cast his eyes downwards, and lo! there upon the cold stone-floor of the hall, lay a figure entangled in unseemly clothes, moaning and sobbing naturally. The face was partially exposed. Sir William saw it. His faculties seemed suddenly scattered, for in a confused manner he dropped on his knees by the side of the figure, and there remained a few moments with clasped hands and vacant and immoveable looks. At length a weak faltering female voice was heard:
“I am afraid I have done wrong," it said; "but I must have been in a dream; do not be angry with me."
"God! God! my wife!How is this?—No, no, no, it cannot be. She is in her tomb!-And yet this countenance and these graveclothes strike away my senses with wonder!-Eliza ! Eliza !-She cannot speak again. Yet she is not quite cold. What can this mysterious visitation portend?-Eliza !-Let me once more hear that voice.-Silent! silent! Lift her up. Look! it is herself, her own self; her lips move; and see, her poor face is wet with tears. God alone knows how this has come to pass; but I will thank him for it for ever. There gently, move her gently; lay her in my arms, and some one go before me with a light.'
It was indeed his wife whom he embraced. He carried her to his chamber, laid her in the bed, and ordered warm restoratives to be prepared. These he administered himself, and she slept for two hours. On awaking she said :—
"Are you there, my dear? let me hear you speak. Something strange has happened to me, I am sure. Have I been delirious? wish they had watched me better; for I am certain that I have been wandering out in the open air. It terrifies me to think of it. The dream I have had since I saw you, dear husband, last night, presses on me with an intolerable sense of reality. It must have been those ghastly visions which scared me out of the house in my sleep. I am full of pain. My feet are sore and bleeding. Reach me your hand, and comfort me with your voice. I fancied that I was just now staying obstinately, and yet unwillingly, in a painful, dreary, dark place, and was startled there by a sudden rush of cold wind. 1 seemed to fall many times, and to bruise myself exceedingly in endeavouring to struggle out towards the light. This must have been a dream; but I am certain I have been wandering out of doors in my sleep, for I thought I should have gone mad when my perceptions came to me and I found myself alone, barefooted, and the wide and silent park stretch
ing far around me. I have endeavoured, but it is in vain, to recollect any circumstance connected with my leaving the house.
Her husband shook from head to foot at this. The coffin and the hearse swam instantly in his eyes. He was sick at heart with the oppression of a mystery; but he looked at his wife again, and blessed Heaven.
Having addressed a few cheering words to her, and promised not to leave her side, he exhorted her to be composed, and to endeavour to sleep.
In the morning the whole thing was explained. Some rustics passing by the church, had observed it to be open, and going in, saw that one of the family vaults was unclosed, and that there was an empty coffin in it. This information they carried forthwith to the sexton, who, alarmed at the probability of being detected, (as some one might have seen him escaping by the moonlight,) and fearing that his guilt would seem greater than it was, went to Woodley Hall, and confessed the whole business, making a restitution of the locket, but declaring that he knew nothing whatever of the removal of the corpse.
He was readily enough forgiven, and, I believe, rewarded. It was plain now that Lady Fanshaw had been buried in a trance. It was of the utmost consequence that the subject of the interment should be kept from her knowledge. The sexton was enjoined to silence; but it was not so easy to quell the tongues of the village. Besides, when the lady recovered sufficiently to go out, every object she saw in the direction of the church perplexed her with some dim and uncomfortable reminiscence. She might some day stumble on the truth, and Sir William, in the fear of this, sold his estate, and purchased another in a distant part of the country. In this latter place, Lady Fanshaw gave birth to a large family, and lived many years with her husband in health and comfort.
It was only to hear the Yorlin sing,
And lang lang greet or Kilmeny come hame!
When many a day had come and fled,
When grief grew calm and hope was dead,
When the bedes-man had prayed, and the dead-bell rung,
Late, late in a gloamin' when all was still,
"Kilmeny, Kilmeny, where have you been?
Kilmeny looked up with a lovely grace,
In yon green-wood there is a waik, And in that waik there is a wene,
And in that wene there is a maike, That neither has flesh, blood, nor bane:
And down in you green-wood he walks his lane.
She 'wakened on couch of the silk sae slim,
And aye they smiled, and 'gan to speer,
"Lang have I journeyed the world wide,"
Yes, I have watched o'er ilk degree,
They clasped her waist and her hands sae fair,
O, blessed be the day Kilmeny was born!
For its they who nurice th' immortal mind.
We have watched their steps as the dawning shone,
The viewless tears have o'er them shed;