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Wednesday, 21 September 2016
It is probable that everybody who is at all a constant dreamer has had at least one experience of an event or a sequence of circumstances which have come to his mind in sleep being subsequently realized in the material world. But, in my opinion, so far from this being a strange thing, it would be far odder if this fulfilment did not occasionally happen, since our dreams are, as a rule, concerned with people whom we know and places with which we are familiar, such as might very naturally occur in the awake and daylit world. True, these dreams are often broken into by some absurd and fantastic incident, which puts them out of court in regard to their subsequent fulfilment, but on the mere calculation of chances, it does not appear in the least unlikely that a dream imagined by anyone who dreams constantly should occasionally come true. Not long ago, for instance, I experienced such a fulfilment of a dream which seems to me in no way remarkable and to have no kind of psychical significance. The manner of it was as follows.
A certain friend of mine, living abroad, is amiable enough to write to me about once in a fortnight. Thus, when fourteen days or thereabouts have elapsed since I last heard from him, my mind, probably, either consciously or subconsciously, is expectant of a letter from him. One night last week I dreamed that as I was going upstairs to dress for dinner I heard, as I often heard, the sound of the postman's knock on my front door, and diverted my direction downstairs instead. There, among other correspondence, was a letter from him. Thereafter the fantastic entered, for on opening it I found inside the ace of diamonds, and scribbled across it in his well-known handwriting, "I am sending you this for safe custody, as you know it is running an unreasonable risk to keep aces in Italy." The next evening I was just preparing to go upstairs to dress when I heard the postman's knock, and did precisely as I had done in my dream. There, among other letters, was one from my friend. Only it did not contain the ace of diamonds. Had it done so, I should have attached more weight to the matter, which, as it stands, seems to me a perfectly ordinary coincidence. No doubt I consciously or subconsciously expected a letter from him, and this suggested to me my dream. Similarly, the fact that my friend had not written to me for a fortnight suggested to him that he should do so. But occasionally it is not so easy to find such an explanation, and for the following story I can find no explanation at all. It came out of the dark, and into the dark it has gone again.
All my life I have been a habitual dreamer: the nights are few, that is to say, when I do not find on awaking in the morning that some mental experience has been mine, and sometimes, all night long, apparently, a series of the most dazzling adventures befall me. Almost without exception these adventures are pleasant, though often merely trivial. It is of an exception that I am going to speak.
It was when I was about sixteen that a certain dream first came to me, and this is how it befell. It opened with my being set down at the door of a big red-brick house, where, I understood, I was going to stay. The servant who opened the door told me that tea was being served in the garden, and led me through a low dark-panelled hall, with a large open fireplace, on to a cheerful green lawn set round with flower beds. There were grouped about the tea-table a small party of people, but they were all strangers to me except one, who was a schoolfellow called Jack Stone, clearly the son of the house, and he introduced me to his mother and father and a couple of sisters. I was, I remember, somewhat astonished to find myself here, for the boy in question was scarcely known to me, and I rather disliked what I knew of him; moreover, he had left school nearly a year before. The afternoon was very hot, and an intolerable oppression reigned. On the far side of the lawn ran a red-brick wall, with an iron gate in its center, outside which stood a walnut tree. We sat in the shadow of the house opposite a row of long windows, inside which I could see a table with cloth laid, glimmering with glass and silver. This garden front of the house was very long, and at one end of it stood a tower of three stories, which looked to me much older than the rest of the building.
Before long, Mrs. Stone, who, like the rest of the party, had sat in absolute silence, said to me, "Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower."
Quite inexplicably my heart sank at her words. I felt as if I had known that I should have the room in the tower, and that it contained something dreadful and significant. Jack instantly got up, and I understood that I had to follow him. In silence we passed through the hall, and mounted a great oak staircase with many corners, and arrived at a small landing with two doors set in it. He pushed one of these open for me to enter, and without coming in himself, closed it after me. Then I knew that my conjecture had been right: there was something awful in the room, and with the terror of nightmare growing swiftly and enveloping me, I awoke in a spasm of terror.
Now that dream or variations on it occurred to me intermittently for fifteen years. Most often it came in exactly this form, the arrival, the tea laid out on the lawn, the deadly silence succeeded by that one deadly sentence, the mounting with Jack Stone up to the room in the tower where horror dwelt, and it always came to a close in the nightmare of terror at that which was in the room, though I never saw what it was. At other times I experienced variations on this same theme. Occasionally, for instance, we would be sitting at dinner in the dining-room, into the windows of which I had looked on the first night when the dream of this house visited me, but wherever we were, there was the same silence, the same sense of dreadful oppression and foreboding. And the silence I knew would always be broken by Mrs. Stone saying to me, "Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower." Upon which (this was invariable) I had to follow him up the oak staircase with many corners, and enter the place that I dreaded more and more each time that I visited it in sleep. Or, again, I would find myself playing cards still in silence in a drawing-room lit with immense chandeliers, that gave a blinding illumination. What the game was I have no idea; what I remember, with a sense of miserable anticipation, was that soon Mrs. Stone would get up and say to me, "Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower." This drawing-room where we played cards was next to the dining-room, and, as I have said, was always brilliantly illuminated, whereas the rest of the house was full of dusk and shadows. And yet, how often, in spite of those bouquets of lights, have I not pored over the cards that were dealt me, scarcely able for some reason to see them. Their designs, too, were strange: there were no red suits, but all were black, and among them there were certain cards which were black all over. I hated and dreaded those.
As this dream continued to recur, I got to know the greater part of the house. There was a smoking-room beyond the drawing-room, at the end of a passage with a green baize door. It was always very dark there, and as often as I went there I passed somebody whom I could not see in the doorway coming out. Curious developments, too, took place in the characters that peopled the dream as might happen to living persons. Mrs. Stone, for instance, who, when I first saw her, had been black-haired, became gray, and instead of rising briskly, as she had done at first when she said, "Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower," got up very feebly, as if the strength was leaving her limbs. Jack also grew up, and became a rather ill-looking young man, with a brown moustache, while one of the sisters ceased to appear, and I understood she was married.
Then it so happened that I was not visited by this dream for six months or more, and I began to hope, in such inexplicable dread did I hold it, that it had passed away for good. But one night after this interval I again found myself being shown out onto the lawn for tea, and Mrs. Stone was not there, while the others were all dressed in black. At once I guessed the reason, and my heart leaped at the thought that perhaps this time I should not have to sleep in the room in the tower, and though we usually all sat in silence, on this occasion the sense of relief made me talk and laugh as I had never yet done. But even then matters were not altogether comfortable, for no one else spoke, but they all looked secretly at each other. And soon the foolish stream of my talk ran dry, and gradually an apprehension worse than anything I had previously known gained on me as the light slowly faded.
Suddenly a voice which I knew well broke the stillness, the voice of Mrs. Stone, saying, "Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower." It seemed to come from near the gate in the red-brick wall that bounded the lawn, and looking up, I saw that the grass outside was sown thick with gravestones. A curious greyish light shone from them, and I could read the lettering on the grave nearest me, and it was, "In evil memory of Julia Stone." And as usual Jack got up, and again I followed him through the hall and up the staircase with many corners. On this occasion it was darker than usual, and when I passed into the room in the tower I could only just see the furniture, the position of which was already familiar to me. Also there was a dreadful odor of decay in the room, and I woke screaming.
The dream, with such variations and developments as I have mentioned, went on at intervals for fifteen years. Sometimes I would dream it two or three nights in succession; once, as I have said, there was an intermission of six months, but taking a reasonable average, I should say that I dreamed it quite as often as once in a month. It had, as is plain, something of nightmare about it, since it always ended in the same appalling terror, which so far from getting less, seemed to me to gather fresh fear every time that I experienced it. There was, too, a strange and dreadful consistency about it. The characters in it, as I have mentioned, got regularly older, death and marriage visited this silent family, and I never in the dream, after Mrs. Stone had died, set eyes on her again. But it was always her voice that told me that the room in the tower was prepared for me, and whether we had tea out on the lawn, or the scene was laid in one of the rooms overlooking it, I could always see her gravestone standing just outside the iron gate. It was the same, too, with the married daughter; usually she was not present, but once or twice she returned again, in company with a man, whom I took to be her husband. He, too, like the rest of them, was always silent. But, owing to the constant repetition of the dream, I had ceased to attach, in my waking hours, any significance to it. I never met Jack Stone again during all those years, nor did I ever see a house that resembled this dark house of my dream. And then something happened.
I had been in London in this year, up till the end of the July, and during the first week in August went down to stay with a friend in a house he had taken for the summer months, in the Ashdown Forest district of Sussex. I left London early, for John Clinton was to meet me at Forest Row Station, and we were going to spend the day golfing, and go to his house in the evening. He had his motor with him, and we set off, about five of the afternoon, after a thoroughly delightful day, for the drive, the distance being some ten miles. As it was still so early we did not have tea at the club house, but waited till we should get home. As we drove, the weather, which up till then had been, though hot, deliciously fresh, seemed to me to alter in quality, and become very stagnant and oppressive, and I felt that indefinable sense of ominous apprehension that I am accustomed to before thunder. John, however, did not share my views, attributing my loss of lightness to the fact that I had lost both my matches. Events proved, however, that I was right, though I do not think that the thunderstorm that broke that night was the sole cause of my depression.
Our way lay through deep high-banked lanes, and before we had gone very far I fell asleep, and was only awakened by the stopping of the motor. And with a sudden thrill, partly of fear but chiefly of curiosity, I found myself standing in the doorway of my house of dream. We went, I half wondering whether or not I was dreaming still, through a low oak-panelled hall, and out onto the lawn, where tea was laid in the shadow of the house. It was set in flower beds, a red-brick wall, with a gate in it, bounded one side, and out beyond that was a space of rough grass with a walnut tree. The facade of the house was very long, and at one end stood a three-storied tower, markedly older than the rest.
Here for the moment all resemblance to the repeated dream ceased. There was no silent and somehow terrible family, but a large assembly of exceedingly cheerful persons, all of whom were known to me. And in spite of the horror with which the dream itself had always filled me, I felt nothing of it now that the scene of it was thus reproduced before me. But I felt intensest curiosity as to what was going to happen.
Tea pursued its cheerful course, and before long Mrs. Clinton got up. And at that moment I think I knew what she was going to say. She spoke to me, and what she said was:
"Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower."
At that, for half a second, the horror of the dream took hold of me again. But it quickly passed, and again I felt nothing more than the most intense curiosity. It was not very long before it was amply satisfied.
John turned to me.
"Right up at the top of the house," he said, "but I think you'll be comfortable. We're absolutely full up. Would you like to go and see it now? By Jove, I believe that you are right, and that we are going to have a thunderstorm. How dark it has become."
I got up and followed him. We passed through the hall, and up the perfectly familiar staircase. Then he opened the door, and I went in. And at that moment sheer unreasoning terror again possessed me. I did not know what I feared: I simply feared. Then like a sudden recollection, when one remembers a name which has long escaped the memory, I knew what I feared. I feared Mrs. Stone, whose grave with the sinister inscription, "In evil memory," I had so often seen in my dream, just beyond the lawn which lay below my window. And then once more the fear passed so completely that I wondered what there was to fear, and I found myself, sober and quiet and sane, in the room in the tower, the name of which I had so often heard in my dream, and the scene of which was so familiar.
I looked around it with a certain sense of proprietorship, and found that nothing had been changed from the dreaming nights in which I knew it so well. Just to the left of the door was the bed, lengthways along the wall, with the head of it in the angle. In a line with it was the fireplace and a small bookcase; opposite the door the outer wall was pierced by two lattice-paned windows, between which stood the dressing-table, while ranged along the fourth wall was the washing-stand and a big cupboard. My luggage had already been unpacked, for the furniture of dressing and undressing lay orderly on the wash-stand and toilet-table, while my dinner clothes were spread out on the coverlet of the bed. And then, with a sudden start of unexplained dismay, I saw that there were two rather conspicuous objects which I had not seen before in my dreams: one a life-sized oil painting of Mrs. Stone, the other a black-and-white sketch of Jack Stone, representing him as he had appeared to me only a week before in the last of the series of these repeated dreams, a rather secret and evil-looking man of about thirty. His picture hung between the windows, looking straight across the room to the other portrait, which hung at the side of the bed. At that I looked next, and as I looked I felt once more the horror of nightmare seize me.
It represented Mrs. Stone as I had seen her last in my dreams: old and withered and white-haired. But in spite of the evident feebleness of body, a dreadful exuberance and vitality shone through the envelope of flesh, an exuberance wholly malign, a vitality that foamed and frothed with unimaginable evil. Evil beamed from the narrow, leering eyes; it laughed in the demon-like mouth. The whole face was instinct with some secret and appalling mirth; the hands, clasped together on the knee, seemed shaking with suppressed and nameless glee. Then I saw also that it was signed in the left-hand bottom corner, and wondering who the artist could be, I looked more closely, and read the inscription, "Julia Stone by Julia Stone."
There came a tap at the door, and John Clinton entered.
"Got everything you want?" he asked.
"Rather more than I want," said I, pointing to the picture.
"Hard-featured old lady," he said. "By herself, too, I remember. Anyhow she can't have flattered herself much."
"But don't you see?" said I. "It's scarcely a human face at all. It's the face of some witch, of some devil."
He looked at it more closely.
"Yes; it isn't very pleasant," he said. "Scarcely a bedside manner, eh? Yes; I can imagine getting the nightmare if I went to sleep with that close by my bed. I'll have it taken down if you like."
"I really wish you would," I said. He rang the bell, and with the help of a servant we detached the picture and carried it out onto the landing, and put it with its face to the wall.
"By Jove, the old lady is a weight," said John, mopping his forehead. "I wonder if she had something on her mind."
The extraordinary weight of the picture had struck me too. I was about to reply, when I caught sight of my own hand. There was blood on it, in considerable quantities, covering the whole palm.
"I've cut myself somehow," said I.
John gave a little startled exclamation.
"Why, I have too," he said.
Simultaneously the footman took out his handkerchief and wiped his hand with it. I saw that there was blood also on his handkerchief.
John and I went back into the tower room and washed the blood off; but neither on his hand nor on mine was there the slightest trace of a scratch or cut. It seemed to me that, having ascertained this, we both, by a sort of tacit consent, did not allude to it again. Something in my case had dimly occurred to me that I did not wish to think about. It was but a conjecture, but I fancied that I knew the same thing had occurred to him.
The heat and oppression of the air, for the storm we had expected was still undischarged, increased very much after dinner, and for some time most of the party, among whom were John Clinton and myself, sat outside on the path bounding the lawn, where we had had tea. The night was absolutely dark, and no twinkle of star or moon ray could penetrate the pall of cloud that overset the sky. By degrees our assembly thinned, the women went up to bed, men dispersed to the smoking or billiard room, and by eleven o'clock my host and I were the only two left. All the evening I thought that he had something on his mind, and as soon as we were alone he spoke.
"The man who helped us with the picture had blood on his hand, too, did you notice?" he said.
"I asked him just now if he had cut himself, and he said he supposed he had, but that he could find no mark of it. Now where did that blood come from?"
By dint of telling myself that I was not going to think about it, I had succeeded in not doing so, and I did not want, especially just at bedtime, to be reminded of it.
"I don't know," said I, "and I don't really care so long as the picture of Mrs. Stone is not by my bed."
He got up.
"But it's odd," he said. "Ha! Now you'll see another odd thing."
A dog of his, an Irish terrier by breed, had come out of the house as we talked. The door behind us into the hall was open, and a bright oblong of light shone across the lawn to the iron gate which led on to the rough grass outside, where the walnut tree stood. I saw that the dog had all his hackles up, bristling with rage and fright; his lips were curled back from his teeth, as if he was ready to spring at something, and he was growling to himself. He took not the slightest notice of his master or me, but stiffly and tensely walked across the grass to the iron gate. There he stood for a moment, looking through the bars and still growling. Then of a sudden his courage seemed to desert him: he gave one long howl, and scuttled back to the house with a curious crouching sort of movement.
"He does that half-a-dozen times a day." said John. "He sees something which he both hates and fears."
I walked to the gate and looked over it. Something was moving on the grass outside, and soon a sound which I could not instantly identify came to my ears. Then I remembered what it was: it was the purring of a cat. I lit a match, and saw the purrer, a big blue Persian, walking round and round in a little circle just outside the gate, stepping high and ecstatically, with tail carried aloft like a banner. Its eyes were bright and shining, and every now and then it put its head down and sniffed at the grass.
"The end of that mystery, I am afraid." I said. "Here's a large cat having Walpurgis night all alone."
"Yes, that's Darius," said John. "He spends half the day and all night there. But that's not the end of the dog mystery, for Toby and he are the best of friends, but the beginning of the cat mystery. What's the cat doing there? And why is Darius pleased, while Toby is terror-stricken?"
At that moment I remembered the rather horrible detail of my dreams when I saw through the gate, just where the cat was now, the white tombstone with the sinister inscription. But before I could answer the rain began, as suddenly and heavily as if a tap had been turned on, and simultaneously the big cat squeezed through the bars of the gate, and came leaping across the lawn to the house for shelter. Then it sat in the doorway, looking out eagerly into the dark. It spat and struck at John with its paw, as he pushed it in, in order to close the door.
Somehow, with the portrait of Julia Stone in the passage outside, the room in the tower had absolutely no alarm for me, and as I went to bed, feeling very sleepy and heavy, I had nothing more than interest for the curious incident about our bleeding hands, and the conduct of the cat and dog. The last thing I looked at before I put out my light was the square empty space by my bed where the portrait had been. Here the paper was of its original full tint of dark red: over the rest of the walls it had faded. Then I blew out my candle and instantly fell asleep.
My awaking was equally instantaneous, and I sat bolt upright in bed under the impression that some bright light had been flashed in my face, though it was now absolutely pitch dark. I knew exactly where I was, in the room which I had dreaded in dreams, but no horror that I ever felt when asleep approached the fear that now invaded and froze my brain. Immediately after a peal of thunder crackled just above the house, but the probability that it was only a flash of lightning which awoke me gave no reassurance to my galloping heart. Something I knew was in the room with me, and instinctively I put out my right hand, which was nearest the wall, to keep it away. And my hand touched the edge of a picture-frame hanging close to me.
I sprang out of bed, upsetting the small table that stood by it, and I heard my watch, candle, and matches clatter onto the floor. But for the moment there was no need of light, for a blinding flash leaped out of the clouds, and showed me that by my bed again hung the picture of Mrs. Stone. And instantly the room went into blackness again. But in that flash I saw another thing also, namely a figure that leaned over the end of my bed, watching me. It was dressed in some close-clinging white garment, spotted and stained with mold, and the face was that of the portrait.
Overhead the thunder cracked and roared, and when it ceased and the deathly stillness succeeded, I heard the rustle of movement coming nearer me, and, more horrible yet, perceived an odor of corruption and decay. And then a hand was laid on the side of my neck, and close beside my ear I heard quick-taken, eager breathing. Yet I knew that this thing, though it could be perceived by touch, by smell, by eye and by ear, was still not of this earth, but something that had passed out of the body and had power to make itself manifest. Then a voice, already familiar to me, spoke.
"I knew you would come to the room in the tower," it said. "I have been long waiting for you. At last you have come. Tonight I shall feast; before long we will feast together."
And the quick breathing came closer to me; I could feel it on my neck.
At that the terror, which I think had paralyzed me for the moment, gave way to the wild instinct of self-preservation. I hit wildly with both arms, kicking out at the same moment, and heard a little animal-squeal, and something soft dropped with a thud beside me. I took a couple of steps forward, nearly tripping up over whatever it was that lay there, and by the merest good-luck found the handle of the door. In another second I ran out on the landing, and had banged the door behind me. Almost at the same moment I heard a door open somewhere below, and John Clinton, candle in hand, came running upstairs.
"What is it?" he said. "I sleep just below you, and heard a noise as if--Good heavens, there's blood on your shoulder."
I stood there, so he told me afterwards, swaying from side to side, white as a sheet, with the mark on my shoulder as if a hand covered with blood had been laid there.
"It's in there," I said, pointing. "She, you know. The portrait is in there, too, hanging up on the place we took it from."
At that he laughed.
"My dear fellow, this is mere nightmare," he said.
He pushed by me, and opened the door, I standing there simply inert with terror, unable to stop him, unable to move.
"Phew! What an awful smell," he said.
Then there was silence; he had passed out of my sight behind the open door. Next moment he came out again, as white as myself, and instantly shut it.
"Yes, the portrait's there," he said, "and on the floor is a thing--a thing spotted with earth, like what they bury people in. Come away, quick, come away."
How I got downstairs I hardly know. An awful shuddering and nausea of the spirit rather than of the flesh had seized me, and more than once he had to place my feet upon the steps, while every now and then he cast glances of terror and apprehension up the stairs. But in time we came to his dressing-room on the floor below, and there I told him what I have here described.
The sequel can be made short; indeed, some of my readers have perhaps already guessed what it was, if they remember that inexplicable affair of the churchyard at West Fawley, some eight years ago, where an attempt was made three times to bury the body of a certain woman who had committed suicide. On each occasion the coffin was found in the course of a few days again protruding from the ground. After the third attempt, in order that the thing should not be talked about, the body was buried elsewhere in unconsecrated ground. Where it was buried was just outside the iron gate of the garden belonging to the house where this woman had lived. She had committed suicide in a room at the top of the tower in that house. Her name was Julia Stone.
Subsequently the body was again secretly dug up, and the coffin was found to be full of blood.
Friday, 2 September 2016
We were speaking of sequestration, alluding to a recent lawsuit. It was
at the close of a friendly evening in a very old mansion in the Rue de
Grenelle, and each of the guests had a story to tell, which he assured
us was true.
Then the old Marquis de la Tour-Samuel, eighty-two years of age, rose
and came forward to lean on the mantelpiece. He told the following story
in his slightly quavering voice.
"I, also, have witnessed a strange thing--so strange that it has been
the nightmare of my life. It happened fifty-six years ago, and yet there
is not a month when I do not see it again in my dreams. From that day I
have borne a mark, a stamp of fear,--do you understand?
"Yes, for ten minutes I was a prey to terror, in such a way that ever
since a constant dread has remained in my soul. Unexpected sounds chill
me to the heart; objects which I can ill distinguish in the evening
shadows make me long to flee. I am afraid at night.
"No! I would not have owned such a thing before reaching my present
age. But now I may tell everything. One may fear imaginary dangers at
eighty-two years old. But before actual danger I have never turned back,
"That affair so upset my mind, filled me with such a deep, mysterious
unrest that I never could tell it. I kept it in that inmost part, that
corner where we conceal our sad, our shameful secrets, all the
weaknesses of our life which cannot be confessed.
"I will tell you that strange happening just as it took place, with no
attempt to explain it. Unless I went mad for one short hour it must be
explainable, though. Yet I was not mad, and I will prove it to you.
Imagine what you will. Here are the simple facts:
"It was in 1827, in July. I was quartered with my regiment in Rouen.
"One day, as I was strolling on the quay, I came across a man I believed
I recognized, though I could not place him with certainty. I
instinctively went more slowly, ready to pause. The stranger saw my
impulse, looked at me, and fell into my arms.
"It was a friend of my younger days, of whom I had been very fond. He
seemed to have become half a century older in the five years since I had
seen him. His hair was white, and he stooped in his walk, as if he were
exhausted. He understood my amazement and told me the story of his life.
"A terrible event had broken him down. He had fallen madly in love with
a young girl and married her in a kind of dreamlike ecstasy. After a
year of unalloyed bliss and unexhausted passion, she had died suddenly
of heart disease, no doubt killed by love itself.
"He had left the country on the very day of her funeral, and had come to
live in his hotel at Rouen. He remained there, solitary and desperate,
grief slowly mining him, so wretched that he constantly thought of
"'As I thus came across you again,' he said, 'I shall ask a great favor
of you. I want you to go to my château and get some papers I urgently
need. They are in the writing-desk of my room, of _our_ room. I cannot
send a servant or a lawyer, as the errand must be kept private. I want
"'I shall give you the key of the room, which I locked carefully myself
before leaving, and the key to the writing-desk. I shall also give you a
note for the gardener, who will let you in.
"'Come to breakfast with me to-morrow, and we'll talk the matter over.'
"I promised to render him that slight service. It would mean but a
pleasant excursion for me, his home not being more than twenty-five
miles from Rouen. I could go there in an hour on horseback.
"At ten o'clock the next day I was with him. We breakfasted alone
together, yet he did not utter more than twenty words. He asked me to
excuse him. The thought that I was going to visit the room where his
happiness lay shattered, upset him, he said. Indeed, he seemed
perturbed, worried, as if some mysterious struggle were taking place in
"At last he explained exactly what I was to do. It was very simple. I
was to take two packages of letters and some papers, locked in the first
drawer at the right of the desk of which I had the key. He added:
"'I need not ask you not to glance at them.'
"I was almost hurt by his words, and told him so, rather sharply. He
"'Forgive me. I suffer so much!'
"And tears came to his eyes.
"I left about one o'clock to accomplish my errand.
"The day was radiant, and I rushed through the meadows, listening to the
song of the larks, and the rhythmical beat of my sword on my
"Then I entered the forest, and I set my horse to walking. Branches of
the trees softly caressed my face, and now and then I would catch a leaf
between my teeth and bite it with avidity, full of the joy of life, such
as fills you without reason, with a tumultuous happiness almost
indefinable, a kind of magical strength.
"As I neared the house I took out the letter for the gardener, and noted
with surprise that it was sealed. I was so amazed and so annoyed that I
almost turned back without fulfilling my mission. Then I thought that I
should thus display over-sensitiveness and bad taste. My friend might
have sealed it unconsciously, worried as he was.
"The manor looked as though it had been deserted the last twenty years.
The gate, wide-open and rotten, held, one wondered how. Grass filled the
paths; you could not tell the flower-beds from the lawn.
"At the noise I made kicking a shutter, an old man came out from a
side-door and was apparently amazed to see me there. I dismounted from
my horse and gave him the letter. He read it once or twice, turned it
over, looked at me with suspicion, and asked:
"'Well, what do you want?'
"I answered sharply:
"'You must know it as you have read your master's orders. I want to get
in the house.'
"He appeared overwhelmed. He said:
"'So--you are going in--in his room?'
"I was getting impatient.
"'_Parbleu!_ Do you intend to question me, by chance?'
"'No--monsieur--only--it has not been opened since--since the death. If
you will wait five minutes, I will go in to see whether----'
"I interrupted angrily:
"'See here, are you joking? You can't go in that room, as I have the
"He no longer knew what to say.
"'Then, monsieur, I will show you the way.'
"'Show me the stairs and leave me alone. I can find it without your
"Then I lost my temper.
"'Now be quiet! Else you'll be sorry!'
"I roughly pushed him aside and went into the house.
"I first went through the kitchen, then crossed two small rooms occupied
by the man and his wife. From there I stepped into a large hall. I went
up the stairs, and I recognized the door my friend had described to me.
"I opened it with ease and went in.
"The room was so dark that at first I could not distinguish anything. I
paused, arrested by that moldy and stale odor peculiar to deserted and
condemned rooms, of dead rooms. Then gradually my eyes grew accustomed
to the gloom, and I saw rather clearly a great room in disorder, a bed
without sheets having still its mattresses and pillows, one of which
bore the deep print of an elbow or a head, as if someone had just been
resting on it.
"The chairs seemed all in confusion. I noticed that a door, probably
that of a closet, had remained ajar.
"I first went to the window and opened it to get some light, but the
hinges of the outside shutters were so rusted that I could not loosen
"I even tried to break them with my sword, but did not succeed. As those
fruitless attempts irritated me, and as my eyes were by now adjusted to
the dim light, I gave up hope of getting more light and went toward the
"I sat down in an arm-chair, folded back the top, and opened the drawer.
It was full to the edge. I needed but three packages, which I knew how
to distinguish, and I started looking for them.
"I was straining my eyes to decipher the inscriptions, when I thought I
heard, or rather felt a rustle behind me. I took no notice, thinking a
draft had lifted some curtain. But a minute later, another movement,
almost indistinct, sent a disagreeable little shiver over my skin. It
was so ridiculous to be moved thus even so slightly, that I would not
turn round, being ashamed. I had just discovered the second package I
needed, and was on the point of reaching for the third, when a great and
sorrowful sigh, close to my shoulder, made me give a mad leap two yards
away. In my spring I had turned round, my hand on the hilt of my sword,
and surely had I not felt that, I should have fled like a coward.
"A tall woman, dressed in white, was facing me, standing behind the
chair in which I had sat a second before.
"Such a shudder ran through me that I almost fell back! Oh, no one who
has not felt them can understand those gruesome and ridiculous terrors!
The soul melts; your heart seems to stop; your whole body becomes limp
as a sponge, and your innermost parts seem collapsing.
"I do not believe in ghosts; and yet I broke down before the hideous
fear of the dead; and I suffered, oh, I suffered more in a few minutes,
in the irresistible anguish of supernatural dread, than I have suffered
in all the rest of my life!
"If she had not spoken, I might have died. But she did speak; she spoke
in a soft and plaintive voice which set my nerves vibrating. I could not
say that I regained my self-control. No, I was past knowing what I did;
but the kind of pride I have in me, as well as a military pride, helped
me to maintain, almost in spite of myself, an honorable countenance. I
was making a pose, a pose for myself, and for her, for her, whatever she
was, woman, or phantom. I realized this later, for at the time of the
apparition, I could think of nothing. I was afraid.
"'Oh, you can be of great help to me, monsieur!'
"I tried to answer, but I was unable to utter one word. A vague sound
came from my throat.
"'Will you? You can save me, cure me. I suffer terribly. I always
suffer. I suffer, oh, I suffer!'
"And she sat down gently in my chair. She looked at me.
"I nodded my head, being still paralyzed.
"Then she handed me a woman's comb of tortoise-shell, and murmured:
"'Comb my hair! Oh, comb my hair! That will cure me. Look at my
head--how I suffer! And my hair--how it hurts!'
"Her loose hair, very long, very black, it seemed to me, hung over the
back of the chair, touching the floor.
"Why did I do it? Why did I, shivering, accept that comb, and why did I
take between my hands her long hair, which left on my skin a ghastly
impression of cold, as if I had handled serpents? I do not know.
"That feeling still clings about my fingers, and I shiver when I recall
"I combed her, I handled, I know not how, that hair of ice. I bound and
unbound it; I plaited it as one plaits a horse's mane. She sighed, bent
her head, seemed happy.
"Suddenly she said, 'Thank you!' tore the comb from my hands, and fled
through the door which I had noticed was half opened.
"Left alone, I had for a few seconds the hazy feeling one feels in
waking up from a nightmare. Then I recovered myself. I ran to the window
and broke the shutters by my furious assault.
"A stream of light poured in. I rushed to the door through which that
being had gone. I found it locked and immovable.
"Then a fever of flight seized on me, a panic, the true panic of battle.
I quickly grasped the three packages of letters from the open desk; I
crossed the room running, I took the steps of the stairway four at a
time. I found myself outside, I don't know how, and seeing my horse
close by, I mounted in one leap and left at a full gallop.
"I didn't stop till I reached Rouen and drew up in front of my house.
Having thrown the reins to my orderly, I flew to my room and locked
myself in to think.
"Then for an hour I asked myself whether I had not been the victim of an
hallucination. Certainly I must have had one of those nervous shocks,
one of those brain disorders such as give rise to miracles, to which the
supernatural owes its strength.
"And I had almost concluded that it was a vision, an illusion of my
senses, when I came near to the window. My eyes by chance looked down.
My tunic was covered with hairs, long woman's hairs which had entangled
themselves around the buttons!
"I took them off one by one and threw them out of the window with
"I then called my orderly. I felt too perturbed, too moved, to go and
see my friend on that day. Besides, I needed to think over what I should
"I had his letters delivered to him. He gave a receipt to the soldier.
He inquired after me and was told that I was not well. I had had a
sunstroke, or something. He seemed distressed.
"I went to see him the next day, early in the morning, bent on telling
him the truth. He had gone out the evening before and had not come
"I returned the same day, but he had not been seen. I waited a week. He
did not come back. I notified the police. They searched for him
everywhere, but no one could find any trace of his passing or of his
"A careful search was made in the deserted manor. No suspicious clue was
"There was no sign that a woman had been concealed there.
"The inquest gave no result, and so the search went no further.
"And in fifty-six years I have learned nothing more. I never found out
Saturday, 11 April 2015
It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer. A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity but that would be asking too much of fate! Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it. Else, why should it be let so cheaply? And why have stood so long untenanted?
John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage. John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures. John is a physician, and - perhaps (I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind) perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.
You see he does not believe I am sick!
And what can one do?
If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression -- a slight hysterical tendency -- what is one to do? My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing. So I take phosphates or phospites -- whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to "work" until I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.
But what is one to do?
I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal -- having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition. I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus -- but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad.
So I will let it alone and talk about the house.
The most beautiful place! It is quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village. It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people. There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden large and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them. There were greenhouses, too, but they are all broken now. There was some legal trouble, I believe, something about the heirs and coheirs; anyhow, the place has been empty for years. That spoils my ghostliness, I am afraid, but I don't care -- there is something strange about the house -- I can feel it. I even said so to John one moonlight evening, but he said what I felt was a draught, and shut the window.
I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I'm sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition. But John says if I feel so, I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control myself -- before him, at least, and that makes me very tired. I don't like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all over the window, and such pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings! but John would not hear of it. He said there was only one window and not room for two beds, and no near room for him if he took another.
He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction. I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day; he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more. He said we came here solely on my account, that I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get.
"Your exercise depends on your strength, my dear," said he, "and your food somewhat on your appetite; but air you can absorb all the time."
So we took the nursery at the top of the house. It is a big, airy room, the whole floor nearly, with windows that look all ways, and air and sunshine galore. It was nursery first and then playroom and gymnasium, I should judge; for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls.
The paint and paper look as if a boys' school had used it. It is stripped off -- the paper -- in great patches all around the head of my bed, about as far as I can reach, and in a great place on the other side of the room low down. I never saw a worse paper in my life. One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin. It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide -- plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions. The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.
No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long.
There comes John, and I must put this away, -- he hates to have me write a word.
We have been here two weeks, and I haven't felt like writing before, since that first day. I am sitting by the window now, up in this atrocious nursery, and there is nothing to hinder my writing as much as I please, save lack of strength. John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious. I am glad my case is not serious! But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing.
John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him. Of course it is only nervousness. It does weigh on me so not to do my duty in any way! I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already! Nobody would believe what an effort it is to do what little I am able, -- to dress and entertain, and order things.
It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous. I suppose John never was nervous in his life. He laughs at me so about this wall-paper! At first he meant to repaper the room, but afterwards he said that I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies. He said that after the wall-paper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on.
"You know the place is doing you good," he said, "and really, dear, I don't care to renovate the house just for a three months' rental."
"Then do let us go downstairs," I said, "there are such pretty rooms there."
Then he took me in his arms and called me a blessed little goose, and said he would go down to the cellar, if I wished, and have it whitewashed into the bargain. But he is right enough about the beds and windows and things. It is an airy and comfortable room as any one need wish, and, of course, I would not be so silly as to make him uncomfortable just for a whim.
I'm really getting quite fond of the big room, all but that horrid paper. Out of one window I can see the garden, those mysterious deepshaded arbors, the riotous old fashioned flowers, and bushes and gnarly trees. Out of another I get a lovely view of the bay and a little private wharf belonging to the estate. There is a beautiful shaded lane that runs down there from the house. I always fancy I see people walking in these numerous paths and arbors, but John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least. He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency. So I try. I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me. But I find I get pretty tired when I try.
It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work. When I get really well, John says we will ask Cousin Henry and Julia down for a long visit; but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow case as to let me have those stimulating people about now.
I wish I could get well faster.
But I must not think about that. This paper looks to me as if it knew what a vicious influence it had! There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down. I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where two breaths didn't match, and the eyes go all up and down the line, one a little higher than the other.
I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have! I used to lie awake as a child and get more entertainment and terror out of blank walls and plain furniture than most children could find in a toy-store.
I remember what a kindly wink the knobs of our big, old bureau used to have, and there was one chair that always seemed like a strong friend I used to feel that if any of the other thing' looked too fierce I could always hop into that chair and be safe. The furniture in this room is no worse than inharmonious, however, for we had to bring it all from downstairs. I suppose when this was used as a playroom they had to take the nursery things out, and no wonder! I never saw such ravages as the children have made here.
The wall-paper, as I said before, is torn off in spots, and it sticketh closer than a brother -- they must have had perseverance as well as hatred. Then the floor is scratched and gouged and splintered, the plaster itself is dug out here and there, and this great heavy bed which is all we found in the room, looks as if it had been through the wars. But I don't mind it a bit -- only the paper.
There comes John's sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must not let her find me writing. She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!
But I can write when she is out, and see her a long way off from these windows.
There is one that commands the road, a lovely shaded winding road, and one that just looks off over the country. A lovely country, too, full of great elms and velvet meadows.
This wall-paper has a kind of sub-pattern in a different shade, a particularly irritating one, for you can only see it in certain lights, and not clearly then. But in the places where it isn't faded and where the sun is just so I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design.
There's sister on the stairs!
Well, the Fourth of July is over! The people are all gone and I am tired out. John thought it might do me good to see a little company, so we just had mother and Nellie and the children down for a week. Of course I didn't do a thing. Jennie sees to everything now.
But it tired me all the same. John says if I don't pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall. But I don't want to go there at all. I had a friend who was in his hands once, and she says he is just like John and my brother, only more so! Besides, it is such an undertaking to go so far.
I don't feel as if it was worth while to turn my hand over for anything, and I'm getting dreadfully fretful and querulous. I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time. Of course I don't when John is here, or anybody else, but when I am alone. And I am alone a good deal just now. John is kept in town very often by serious cases, and Jennie is good and lets me alone when I want her to.
So I walk a little in the garden or down that lovely lane, sit on the porch under the roses, and lie down up here a good deal. I'm getting really fond of the room in spite of the wall-paper. Perhaps because of the wall-paper. It dwells in my mind so!
I lie here on this great immovable bed -- it is nailed down, I believe -- and follow that pattern about by the hour. It is as good as gymnastics, I assure you. I start, we'll say, at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion.
I know a little of the principle of design, and I know this thing was not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of. It is repeated, of course, by the breadths, but not otherwise. Looked at in one way each breadth stands alone, the bloated curves and flourishes -- a kind of "debased Romanesque" with delirium tremens -- go waddling up and down in isolated columns of fatuity.
But, on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of optic horror, like a lot of wallowing seaweeds in full chase. The whole thing goes horizontally, too, at least it seems so, and I exhaust myself in trying to distinguish the order of its going in that direction. They have used a horizontal breadth for a frieze, and that adds wonderfully to the confusion. There is one end of the room where it is almost intact, and there, when the crosslights fade and the low sun shines directly upon it, I can almost fancy radiation after all, -- the interminable grotesques seem to form around a common centre and rush off in headlong plunges of equal distraction.
It makes me tired to follow it. I will take a nap I guess.
I don't know why I should write this. I don't want to. I don't feel able. And I know John would think it absurd. But must say what I feel and think in some way -- it is such a relief!
But the effort is getting to be greater than the relief. Half the time now I am awfully lazy, and lie down ever so much. John says I mustn't lose my strength, and has me take cod liver oil and lots of tonics and things, to say nothing of ale and wine and rare meat.
Dear John! He loves me very dearly, and hates to have me sick. I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia.
But he said I wasn't able to go, nor able to stand it after I got there; and I did not make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished. It is getting to be a great effort for me to think straight. Just this nervous weakness I suppose. And dear John gathered me up in his arms, and just carried me upstairs and laid me on the bed, and sat by me and read to me till it tired my head. He said I was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and keep well. He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with me. There's one comfort, the baby is well and happy, and does not have to occupy this nursery with the horrid wall-paper. If we had not used it, that blessed child would have! What a fortunate escape! Why, I wouldn't have a child of mine, an impressionable little thing, live in such a room for worlds.
I never thought of it before, but it is lucky that John kept me here after all, I can stand it so much easier than a baby, you see. Of course I never mention it to them any more -- I am too wise, -- but I keep watch of it all the same. There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don't like it a bit. I wonder -- I begin to think -- I wish John would take me away from here!
It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so. But I tried it last night. It was moonlight. The moon shines in all around just as the sun does. I hate to see it sometimes, it creeps so slowly, and always comes in by one window or another. John was asleep and I hated to waken him, so I kept still and watched the moonlight on that undulating wall-paper till I felt creepy.
The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out.
I got up softly and went to feel and see if the paper did move, and when I came back John was awake.
"What is it, little girl?" he said. "Don't go walking about like that -- you'll get cold."
I thought it was a good time to talk, so I told him that I really was not gaining here, and that I wished he would take me away.
"Why darling!" said he, "our lease will be up in three weeks, and I can't see how to leave before.
"The repairs are not done at home, and I cannot possibly leave town just now. Of course if you were in any danger, I could and would, but you really are better, dear, whether you can see it or not. I am a doctor, dear, and I know. You are gaining flesh and color, your appetite is better, I feel really much easier about you."
"I don't weigh a bit more," said I, "nor as much; and my appetite may be better in the evening when you are here, but it is worse in the morning when you are away!"
"Bless her little heart!" said he with a big hug, "she shall be as sick as she pleases! But now let's improve the shining hours by going to sleep, and talk about it in the morning!"
"And you won't go away?" I asked gloomily.
"Why, how can I, dear? It is only three weeks more and then we will take a nice little trip of a few days while Jennie is getting the house ready. Really dear you are better! "
"Better in body perhaps -- " I began, and stopped short, for he sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could not say another word.
"My darling," said he, "I beg of you, for my sake and for our child's sake, as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish fancy. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?"
So of course I said no more on that score, and we went to sleep before long. He thought I was asleep first, but I wasn't, and lay there for hours trying to decide whether that front pattern and the back pattern really did move together or separately.
On a pattern like this, by daylight, there is a lack of sequence, a defiance of law, that is a constant irritant to a normal mind. The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing. You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well underway in following, it turns a back somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream.
The outside pattern is a florid arabesque, reminding one of a fungus. If you can imagine a toadstool in joints, an interminable string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless convolutions -- why, that is something like it.
That is, sometimes!
There is one marked peculiarity about this paper, a thing nobody seems to notice but myself and that is that it changes as the light changes. When the sun shoots in through the east window -- I always watch for that first long, straight ray -- it changes so quickly that I never can quite believe it. That is why I watch it always.
By moonlight -- the moon shines in all night when there is a moon -- I wouldn't know it was the same paper. At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candle light, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be. I didn't realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman.
By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still. It is so puzzling. It keeps me quiet by the hour. I lie down ever so much now. John says it is good for me, and to sleep all I can. Indeed he started the habit by making me lie down for an hour after each meal. It is a very bad habit I am convinced, for you see I don't sleep.
And that cultivates deceit, for I don't tell them I'm awake -- O no!
The fact is I am getting a little afraid of John. He seems very queer sometimes, and even Jennie has an inexplicable look. It strikes me occasionally, just as a scientific hypothesis, -- that perhaps it is the paper! I have watched John when he did not know I was looking, and come into the room suddenly on the most innocent excuses, and I've caught him several times looking at the paper! And Jennie too. I caught Jennie with her hand on it once.
She didn't know I was in the room, and when I asked her in a quiet, a very quiet voice, with the most restrained manner possible, what she was doing with the paper -- she turned around as if she had been caught stealing, and looked quite angry -- asked me why I should frighten her so! Then she said that the paper stained everything it touched, that she had found yellow smooches on all my clothes and John's, and she wished we would be more careful! Did not that sound innocent? But I know she was studying that pattern, and I am determined that nobody shall find it out but myself!
Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be. You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch. I really do eat better, and am more quiet than I was.
John is so pleased to see me improve! He laughed a little the other day, and said I seemed to be flourishing in spite of my wall-paper. I turned it off with a laugh. I had no intention of telling him it was because of the wall-paper -- he would make fun of me. He might even want to take me away. I don't want to leave now until I have found it out. There is a week more, and I think that will be enough.
I'm feeling ever so much better! I don't sleep much at night, for it is so interesting to watch developments; but I sleep a good deal in the daytime. In the daytime it is tiresome and perplexing. There are always new shoots on the fungus, and new shades of yellow all over it. I cannot keep count of them, though I have tried conscientiously. It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw -- not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things. But there is something else about that paper -- the smell! I noticed it the moment we came into the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad. Now we have had a week of fog and rain, and whether the windows are open or not, the smell is here. It creeps all over the house. I find it hovering in the dining-room, skulking in the parlor, hiding in the hall, lying in wait for me on the stairs. It gets into my hair.
Even when I go to ride, if I turn my head suddenly and surprise it -- there is that smell!
Such a peculiar odor, too! I have spent hours in trying to analyze it, to find what it smelled like. It is not bad -- at first, and very gentle, but quite the subtlest, most enduring odor I ever met. In this damp weather it is awful, I wake up in the night and find it hanging over me. It used to disturb me at first. I thought seriously of burning the house -- to reach the smell. But now I am used to it. The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper! A yellow smell.
There is a very funny mark on this wall, low down, near the mopboard. A streak that runs round the room. It goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, a long, straight, even smooch, as if it had been rubbed over and over. I wonder how it was done and who did it, and what they did it for. Round and round and round -- round and round and round -- it makes me dizzy!
I really have discovered something at last. Through watching so much at night, when it changes so, I have finally found out. The front pattern does move -- and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it! Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.
Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard. And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern -- it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.
They get through, and then the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white! If those heads were covered or taken off it would not be half so bad.
I think that woman gets out in the daytime! And I'll tell you why -- privately -- I've seen her! I can see her out of every one of my windows! It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight. I see her on that long road under the trees, creeping along, and when a carriage comes she hides under the blackberry vines. I don't blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping by daylight! I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can't do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once. And John is so queer now, that I don't want to irritate him. I wish he would take another room! Besides, I don't want anybody to get that woman out at night but myself.
I often wonder if I could see her out of all the windows at once. But, turn as fast as I can, I can only see out of one at one time. And though I always see her, she may be able to creep faster than I can turn! I have watched her sometimes away off in the open country, creeping as fast as a cloud shadow in a high wind.
If only that top pattern could be gotten off from the under one! I mean to try it, little by little. I have found out another funny thing, but I shan't tell it this time! It does not do to trust people too much. There are only two more days to get this paper off, and I believe John is beginning to notice. I don't like the look in his eyes. And I heard him ask Jennie a lot of professional questions about me. She had a very good report to give. She said I slept a good deal in the daytime. John knows I don't sleep very well at night, for all I'm so quiet! He asked me all sorts of questions, too, and pretended to be very loving and kind.
As if I couldn't see through him! Still, I don't wonder he acts so, sleeping under this paper for three months. It only interests me, but I feel sure John and Jennie are secretly affected by it.
Hurrah! This is the last day, but it is enough. John to stay in town over night, and won't be out until this evening. Jennie wanted to sleep with me -- the sly thing! but I told her I should undoubtedly rest better for a night all alone. That was clever, for really I wasn't alone a bit! As soon as it was moonlight and that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern, I got up and ran to help her. I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper. A strip about as high as my head and half around the room. And then when the sun came and that awful pattern began to laugh at me, I declared I would finish it to-day!
We go away to-morrow, and they are moving all my furniture down again to leave things as they were before. Jennie looked at the wall in amazement, but I told her merrily that I did it out of pure spite at the vicious thing. She laughed and said she wouldn't mind doing it herself, but I must not get tired. How she betrayed herself that time!
But I am here, and no person touches this but me, -- not alive !
She tried to get me out of the room -- it was too patent! But I said it was so quiet and empty and clean now that I believed I would lie down again and sleep all I could; and not to wake me even for dinner -- I would call when I woke. So now she is gone, and the servants are gone, and the things are gone, and there is nothing left but that great bedstead nailed down, with the canvas mattress we found on it. We shall sleep downstairs to-night, and take the boat home to-morrow. I quite enjoy the room, now it is bare again.
How those children did tear about here!
This bedstead is fairly gnawed!
But I must get to work.
I have locked the door and thrown the key down into the front path. I don't want to go out, and I don't want to have anybody come in, till John comes. I want to astonish him.
I've got a rope up here that even Jennie did not find. If that woman does get out, and tries to get away, I can tie her! But I forgot I could not reach far without anything to stand on!
This bed will not move! I tried to lift and push it until I was lame, and then I got so angry I bit off a little piece at one corner -- but it hurt my teeth. Then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks horribly and the pattern just enjoys it! All those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision!
I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too strong even to try.
Besides I wouldn't do it. Of course not. I know well enough that a step like that is improper and might be misconstrued. I don't like to look out of the windows even -- there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did? But I am securely fastened now by my well hidden rope -- you don't get me out in the road there! I suppose I shall have to get back behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard!
It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please!
I don't want to go outside. I won't, even if Jennie asks me to.
For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow.
But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way.
Why there's John at the door!
It is no use, young man, you can't open it!
How he does call and pound!
Now he's crying for an axe.
It would be a shame to break down that beautiful door!
"John dear!" said I in the gentlest voice, "the key is down by the front steps, under a plantain leaf! "
That silenced him for a few moments. Then he said very quietly indeed, "Open the door, my darling!" "I can't," said I. "The key is down by the front door under a plantain leaf!"
And then I said it again, several times, very gently and slowly, and said it so often that he had to go and see, and he got it of course, and came in. He stopped short by the door.
"What is the matter?" he cried. "For God's sake, what are you doing!"
I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder.
"I've got out at last," said I, "in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back! "
Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!