MAISIE LLEWELYN had never been asked to Wolverden before;
therefore, she was not a little elated at Mrs. West's invitation. For
Wolverden Hall, one of the loveliest Elizabethan manor-houses in the
Weald of Kent, had been bought and fitted up in appropriate style (the
phrase is the upholsterer's) by Colonel West, the famous millionaire
from South Australia. The Colonel had lavished upon it untold wealth,
fleeced from the backs of ten thousand sheep and an equal number of his
fellow-countrymen; and Wolverden was now, if not the most beautiful, at
least the most opulent country-house within easy reach of London.
Mrs. West was waiting at the station to meet Maisie. The house was
full of Christmas guests already, it is true; but Mrs. West was a model
of stately, old-fashioned courtesy: she would not have omitted meeting
one among the number on any less excuse than a royal command to appear
at Windsor. She kissed Maisie on both cheeks — she had always been fond
of Maisie — and, leaving two haughty young aristocrats (in powdered
hair and blue-and-gold livery) to hunt up her luggage by the light of
nature, sailed forth with her through the door to the obsequious
The drive up the avenue to Wolverden Hall Maisie found quite
delicious. Even in their leafless winter condition the great limes
looked so noble; and the ivy-covered hall at the end, with its
mullioned windows, its Inigo Jones porch, and its creeper-clad gables,
was as picturesque a building as the ideals one sees in Mr. Abbey's
sketches. If only Arthur Hume had been one of the party now, Maisie's
joy would have been complete. But what was the use of thinking so much
about Arthur Hume, when she didn't even know whether Arthur Hume cared
A tall, slim girl, Maisie Llewelyn, with rich black hair, and
ethereal features, as became a descendant of Llewelyn ap Iorwerth — the
sort of girl we none of us would have called anything more than
"interesting" till Rossetti and Burne-Jones found eyes for us to see
that the type is beautiful with a deeper beauty than that of your
obvious pink-and-white prettiness. Her eyes, in particular, had a
lustrous depth that was almost superhuman, and her fingers and nails
were strangely transparent in their waxen softness.
"You won't mind my having put you in a ground-floor room in the new
wing, my dear, will you?" Mrs West inquired, as she led Maisie
personally to the quarters chosen for her. "You see, we 're so
unusually full, because of these tableaux!"
Maisie gazed round the ground-floor room in the new wing with eyes
of mute wonder. If this was the kind of lodging for which Mrs. West
thought it necessary to apologise, Maisie wondered of what sort were
those better rooms which she gave to the guests she delighted to
honour. It was a large and exquisitely decorated chamber, with the
softest and deepest Oriental carpet Maisie's feet had ever felt, and
the daintiest curtains her eyes had ever lighted upon. True, it opened
by French windows on to what was nominally the ground in front; but as
the Italian terrace, with its formal balustrade and its great stone
balls, was raised several feet above the level of the sloping garden
below, the room was really on the first floor for all practical
purposes. Indeed, Maisie rather liked the unwonted sense of space and
freedom which was given by this easy access to the world without; and,
as the windows were secured by great shutters and fasteners, she had no
counterbalancing fear lest a nightly burglar should attempt to carry
off her little pearl necklet or her amethyst brooch, instead of
directing his whole attention to Mrs. West's famous diamond tiara.
She moved naturally to the window. She was fond of nature. The view
it disclosed over the Weald at her feet was wide and varied. Misty
range lay behind misty range, in a faint December haze, receding and
receding, till away to the south, half hidden by vapour, the Sussex
downs loomed vague in the distance. The village church, as happens so
often in the case of old lordly manors, stood within the grounds of the
Hall, and close by the house. It had been built, her hostess said, in
the days of the Edwards, but had portions of an older Saxon edifice
still enclosed in the chancel. The one eyesore in the view was its new
white tower, recently restored (or rather, rebuilt), which contrasted
most painfully with the mellow grey stone and mouldering corbels of the
nave and transept.
"What a pity it's been so spoiled!" Maisie exclaimed, looking
across at the tower. Coming straight as she did from a Merioneth
rectory, she took an ancestral interest in all that concerned churches.
"Oh, my dear!" Mrs. West cried, "please don't say that, I beg of
you, to the Colonel. If you were to murmur 'spoiled' to him you'd wreck
his digestion. He's spent ever so much money over securing the
foundations and reproducing the sculpture on the old tower we took
down, and it breaks his dear heart when anybody disapproves of it. For
some people, you know, are so absurdly opposed to reasonable
"Oh, but this isn't even restoration, you know," Maisie said, with
the frankness of twenty, and the specialist interest of an antiquary's
daughter. "This is pure reconstruction."
"Perhaps so," Mrs. West answered. "But if you think so, my dear,
don't breathe it at Wolverden."
A fire, of ostentatiously wealthy dimensions, and of the best
glowing coal burned bright on the hearth, but the day was mild, and
hardly more than autumnal. Maisie found the room quite unpleasantly
hot. She opened the windows and stepped out on the terrace. Mrs. West
followed her. They paced up and down the broad gravelled platform for a
while — Maisie had not yet taken off her travelling-cloak and hat — and
then strolled half unconsciously towards the gate of the church. The
churchyard, to hide the tombstones of which the parapet had been
erected, was full of quaint old monuments, with broken-nosed cherubs,
some of them dating from a comparatively early period. The porch, with
its sculptured niches deprived of their saints by puritan hands, was
still rich and beautiful in its carved detail. On the seat inside an
old woman was sitting. She did not rise as the lady of the manor
approached, but went on mumbling and muttering inarticulately to
herself in a sulky undertone. Still, Maisie was aware, none the less,
that the moment she came near a strange light gleamed suddenly in the
old woman's eyes, and that her glance was fixed upon her. A faint
thrill of recognition seemed to pass like a flash through her palsied
body. Maisie knew not why, but she was dimly afraid of the old woman's
gaze upon her.
"It's a lovely old church!" Maisie said, looking up at the trefoil
finials on the porch — "all, except the tower."
"We had to reconstruct it," Mrs. West answered apologetically —
Mrs. West's general attitude in life was apologetic, as though she felt
she had no right to so much more money than her fellow-creatures. "It
would have fallen if we hadn't done something to buttress it up. It was
really in a most dangerous and critical condition."
"Lies! lies! lies!" the old woman burst out suddenly, though in a
strange, low tone, as if speaking to herself. "It would not have fallen
— they knew it would not. It could not have fallen. It would never have
fallen if they had not destroyed it. And even then — I was there when
they pulled it down — each stone clung to each, with arms and legs and
hands and claws, till they burst them asunder by main force with their
new-fangled stuff — I don't know what they call it — dynamite, or
something. It was all of it done for one man's vainglory!"
"Come away, dear," Mrs. West whispered. But Maisie loitered.
"Wolverden Tower was fasted thrice," the old woman continued, in a
sing-song quaver. "It was fasted thrice with souls of maids against
every assault of man or devil. It was fasted at the foundation against
earthquake and ruin. It was fasted at the top against thunder and
lightning. It was fasted in the middle against storm and battle. And
there it would have stood for a thousand years if a wicked man had not
raised a vainglorious hand against it. For that's what the rhyme says —
"Fasted thrice with souls of men,
Stands the tower of Wolverden;
Fasted thrice with maidens' blood,
A thousand years of fire and flood
Shall see it stand as erst it stood."
She paused a moment, then, raising one skinny hand towards the
brand-new stone, she went on in the same voice, but with malignant
"A thousand years the tower shall stand
Till ill assailed by evil hand;
By evil hand in evil hour,
Fasted thrice with warlock's power,
Shall fall the stanes of Wulfhere's tower."
She tottered off as she ended, and took her seat on the edge of a
depressed vault in the churchyard close by, still eyeing Maisie
Llewelyn with a weird and curious glance, almost like the look which a
famishing man casts upon the food in a shop-window.
"Who is she?" Maisie asked, shrinking away in undefined terror.
"Oh, old Bessie," Mrs. West answered, looking more apologetic (for
the parish) than ever. "She's always hanging about here. She has
nothing else to do, and she's an outdoor pauper. You see, that's the
worst of having the church in one's grounds, which is otherwise
picturesque and romantic and baronial; the road to it's public; you
must admit all the world; and old Bessie will come here. The servants
are afraid of her. They say she's a witch. She has the evil eye, and
she drives girls to suicide. But they cross her hand with silver all
the same, and she tells them their fortunes — gives them each a butler.
She's full of dreadful stories about Wolverden Church — stories to make
your blood run cold, my dear, compact with old superstitions and
murders, and so forth. And they're true, too, that's the worst of them.
She's quite a character. Mr. Blaydes, the antiquary, is really attached
to her; he says she's now the sole living repository of the traditional
folklore and history of the parish. But I don't care for it myself. It
'gars one greet,' as we say in Scotland. Too much burying alive in it,
don't you know, my dear, to quite suit my fancy."
They turned back as she spoke towards the carved wooden lych-gate,
one of the oldest and most exquisite of its class in England. When they
reached the vault by whose doors old Bessie was seated, Maisie turned
once more to gaze at the pointed lancet windows of the Early English
choir, and the still more ancient dog-tooth ornament of the ruined
Norman Lady Chapel.
"How solidly it's built!" she exclaimed, looking up at the arches
which alone survived the fury of the Puritan. It really looks as if it
would last for ever."
Old Bessie had bent her head, and seemed to be whispering something
at the door of the vault. But at the sound she raised her eyes, and,
turning her wizened face towards the lady of the manor, mumbled through
her few remaining fang-like teeth an old local saying, "Bradbury for
length, Wolverden for strength, and Church Hatton for beauty!
"Three brothers builded churches three;
And fasted thrice each church shall be:
Fasted thrice with maidens' blood,
To make them safe from fire and flood;
Fasted thrice with souls of men,
Hatton, Bradbury, Wolverden!"
"Come away," Maisie said, shuddering. "I'm afraid of that woman.
Why was she whispering at the doors of the vault down there? I don't
like the look of her."
"My dear," Mrs. West answered, in no less terrified a tone, "I will
confess I don't like the look of her myself. I wish she'd leave the
place. I've tried to make her. The Colonel offered her fifty pounds
down and a nice cottage in Surrey if only she'd go — she frightens me
so much; but she wouldn't hear of it. She said she must stop by the
bodies of her dead — that's her style, don't you see: a sort of modern
ghoul, a degenerate vampire — and from the bodies of her dead in
Wolverden Church no living soul should ever move her."
For dinner Maisie wore her white satin Empire dress, high-waisted,
low-necked, and cut in the bodice with a certain baby-like simplicity
of style which exactly suited her strange and uncanny type of beauty.
She was very much admired. She felt it, and it pleased her. The young
man who took her in, a subaltern of engineers, had no eyes for any one
else; while old Admiral Wade, who sat opposite her with a plain and
skinny dowager, made her positively uncomfortable by the persistent way
in which he stared at her simple pearl necklet.
After dinner, the tableaux. They had been designed and managed by a
famous Royal Academician, and were mostly got up by the members of the
house-party. But two or three actresses from London had been specially
invited to help in a few of the more mythological scenes; for, indeed,
Mrs. West had prepared the entire entertainment with that topsy-turvy
conscientiousness and scrupulous sense of responsibility to society
which pervaded her view of millionaire morality. Having once decided to
offer the county a set of tableaux, she felt that millionaire morality
absolutely demanded of her the sacrifice of three weeks' time and
several hundred pounds money in order to discharge her obligations to
the county with becoming magnificence.
The first tableau, Maisie learned from the gorgeous programme, was
"Jephthah's Daughter." The subject was represented at the pathetic
moment when the doomed virgin goes forth from her father's house with
her attendant maidens to bewail her virginity for two months upon the
mountains, before the fulfilment of the awful vow which bound her
father to offer her up for a burnt offering. Maisie thought it too
solemn and tragic a scene for a festive occasion. But the famous R.A.
had a taste for such themes, and his grouping was certainly most
"A perfect symphony in white and grey," said Mr. Wills, the art
"How awfully affecting!" said most of the young girls.
"Reminds me a little too much, my dear, of old Bessie's stories,"
Mrs. West whispered low, leaning from her seat across two rows to
A piano stood a little on one side of the platform, just in front
of the curtain. The intervals between the pieces were filled up with
songs, which, however, had been evidently arranged in keeping with the
solemn and half-mystical tone of the tableaux. It is the habit of
amateurs to take a long time in getting their scenes in order, so the
interposition of the music was a happy thought as far as its prime
intention went. But Maisie wondered they could not have chosen some
livelier song for Christmas Eve than "Oh, Mary, go and call the cattle
home, and call the cattle home, and call the cattle home, across the
sands of Dee." Her own name was Mary when she signed it officially, and
the sad lilt of the last line, "But never home came she," rang
unpleasantly in her ear through the rest of the evening.
The second tableau was the "Sacrifice of Iphigenia." It was
admirably rendered. The cold and dignified father, standing, apparently
unmoved, by the pyre; the cruel faces of the attendant priests; the
shrinking form of the immolated princess; the mere blank curiosity and
inquiring interest of the helmeted heroes looking on, to whom this
slaughter of a virgin victim was but an ordinary incident of the
AchæĎan religion — all these had been arranged by the Academical
director with consummate skill and pictorial cleverness. But the group
that attracted Maisie most among the components of the scene was that
of the attendant maidens, more conspicuous here in their flowing white
chitons than even they had been when posed as companions of the
beautiful and ill-fated Hebrew victim. Two in particular excited her
close attention — two very graceful and spiritual-looking girls, in
long white robes of no particular age or country, who stood at the very
end near the right edge of the picture. "How lovely they are, the two
last on the right!" Maisie whispered to her neighbour — an Oxford
undergraduate with a budding moustache. "I do so admire them!"
"Do you?" he answered, fondling the moustache with one dubious
finger. "Well, now, do you know, I don't think I do. They're rather
coarse-looking. And besides, I don't quite like the way they've got
their hair done up in bunches; too fashionable, isn't it? — too much of
the present day? I don't care to see a girl in a Greek costume, with
her coiffure so evidently turned out by Truefitt's!"
"Oh, I don't mean those two," Maisie answered, a little shocked he
should think she had picked out such meretricious faces; "I mean the
two beyond them again — the two with their hair so simply and sweetly
done — the ethereal-looking dark girls."
The undergraduate opened his mouth, and stared at her in blank
amazement for a moment. "Well, I don't see ——" he began, and broke off
suddenly. Something in Maisie's eye seemed to give him pause. He
fondled his moustache, hesitated and was silent.
"How nice to have read the Greek and know what it all means!"
Maisie went on, after a minute. "It's a human sacrifice, of course;
but, please, what is the story?"
The undergraduate hummed and hawed. "Well, it's in Euripides, you
know," he said, trying to look impressive, "and — er — and I haven't
taken up Euripides for my next examination. But I think it's like this.
Iphigenia was a daughter of Agamemnon's, don't you know, and he had
offended Artemis or somebody — some other Goddess; and he vowed to
offer up to her the most beautiful thing that should be born that year,
by way of reparation — just like Jephthah. Well, Iphigenia was
considered the most beautiful product of the particular twelvemonth —
don't look at me like that, please! you — you make me nervous — and so,
when the young woman grew up — well, I don't quite recollect the ins
and outs of the details, but it's a human sacrifice business, don't you
see; and they're just going to kill her, though I believe a hind was
finally substituted for the girl, like the ram for Isaac; but I must
confess I've a very vague recollection of it." He rose from his seat
uneasily. "I'm afraid," he went on, shuffling about for an excuse to
move, "these chairs are too close. I seem to be incommoding you."
He moved away with a furtive air. At the end of the tableau one or
two of the characters who were not needed in succeeding pieces came
down from the stage and joined the body of spectators, as they often
do, in their character-dresses — a good opportunity, in point of fact,
for retaining through the evening the advantages conferred by
theatrical costume, rouge, and pearl-powder. Among them the two girls
Maisie had admired so much glided quietly toward her and took the two
vacant seats on either side, one of which had just been quitted by the
awkward undergraduate. They were not only beautiful in face and figure,
on a closer view, but Maisie found them from the first extremely
sympathetic. They burst into talk with her, frankly and at once, with
charming ease and grace of manner. They were ladies in the grain, in
instinct and breeding. The taller of the two, whom the other addressed
as Yolande, seemed particularly pleasing. The very name charmed Maisie.
She was friends with them at once. They both possessed a certain
nameless attraction that constitutes in itself the best possible
introduction. Maisie hesitated to ask them whence they came, but it was
clear from their talk they knew Wolverden intimately.
After a minute the piano struck up once more. A famous Scotch
vocalist, in a diamond necklet and a dress to match, took her place on
the stage, just in front of the footlights. As chance would have it,
she began singing the song Maisie most of all hated. It was Scott's
ballad of "Proud Maisie," set to music by Carlo Ludovici —
"Proud Maisie is in the wood,
Walking so early;
Sweet Robin sits on the bush,
Singing so rarely.
'Tell me, thou bonny bird,
When shall I marry me?'
'When six braw gentlemen
Kirkward shall carry ye.'
'Who makes the bridal bed,
Birdie, say truly?'
'The grey-headed sexton
That delves the grave duly.
'The glow-worm o'er grave and stone
Shall light thee steady;
The owl from the steeple sing,
"Welcome, Proud lady."'"
Maisie listened to the song with grave discomfort. She had never
liked it, and to-night it appalled her. She did not know that just at
that moment Mrs. West was whispering in a perfect fever of apology to a
lady by her side, "Oh dear! oh dear! what a dreadful thing of me ever
to have permitted that song to be sung here to-night! It was horribly
thoughtless! Why, now I remember, Miss Llewelyn's name, you know, is
Maisie! — and there she is listening to it with a face like a sheet! I
shall never forgive myself!"
The tall, dark girl by Maisie's side, whom the other called
Yolande, leaned across to her sympathetically. "You don't like that
song?" she said, with just a tinge of reproach in her voice as she said
"I hate it!" Maisie answered, trying hard to compose herself.
"Why so?" the tall, dark girl asked, in a tone of calm and singular
sweetness. "It is sad, perhaps; but it's lovely — and natural!"
"My own name is Maisie," her new friend replied, with an
ill-repressed shudder. "And somehow that song pursues me through life I
seem always to hear the horrid ring of the words, 'When six braw
gentlemen kirkward shall carry ye.' I wish to Heaven my people had
never called me Maisie!"
"And yet why?" the tall, dark girl asked again, with a sad,
mysterious air. "Why this clinging to life — this terror of death —
this inexplicable attachment to a world of misery? And with such eyes
as yours, too! Your eyes are like mine" — which was a compliment,
certainly, for the dark girl's own pair were strangely deep and
lustrous. "People with eyes such as those, that can look into futurity,
ought not surely to shrink from a mere gate like death! For death is
but a gate — the gate of life in its fullest beauty. It is written over
the door, 'Mors janua vitæ.'"
"What door?" Maisie asked — for she remembered having read those
selfsame words, and tried in vain to translate them, that very day,
though the meaning was now clear to her.
The answer electrified her: "The gate of the vault in Wolverden
She said it very low, but with pregnant expression.
"Oh, how dreadful!" Maisie exclaimed, drawing back. The tall, dark
girl half frightened her.
"Not at all," the girl answered. "This life is so short, so vain,
so transitory! And beyond it is peace — eternal peace — the calm of
rest — the joy of the spirit."
"You come to anchor at last," her companion added.
"But if — one has somebody one would not wish to leave behind?"
Maisie suggested timidly.
"He will follow before long," the dark girl replied with quiet
decision, interpreting rightly the sex of the indefinite substantive.
"Time passes so quickly. And if time passes quickly in time, how much
more, then, in eternity!"
"Hush, Yolande," the other dark girl put in, with a warning glance;
"there's a new tableau coming. Let me see, is this 'The Death of
Ophelia'? No, that 's number four; this is number three, 'The Martyrdom
of St. Agnes.'"
"My dear," Mrs. West said, positively oozing apology, when she met
Maisie in the supper-room, "I'm afraid you've been left in a corner by
yourself almost all the evening!"
"Oh dear, no," Maisie answered with a quiet smile. "I had that
Oxford undergraduate at my elbow at first; and afterwards those two
nice girls, with the flowing white dresses and the beautiful eyes, came
and sat beside me. What's their name, I wonder?"
"Which girls?" Mrs. West asked, with a little surprise in her tone,
for her impression was rather that Maisie had been sitting between two
empty chairs for the greater part of the evening, muttering at times to
herself in the most uncanny way, but not talking to anybody.
Maisie glanced round the room in search of her new friends, and for
some time could not see them. At last, she observed them in a remote
alcove, drinking red wine by themselves out of Venetian-glass beakers.
"Those two," she said, pointing towards them. "They 're such charming
girls! Can you tell me who they are? I've quite taken a fancy to them."
Mrs. West gazed at them for a second — or rather, at the recess
towards which Maisie pointed — and then turned to Maisie with much the
same oddly embarrassed look and manner as the undergraduate's. "Oh,
those!" she said slowly, peering through and through her, Maisie
thought. "Those — must be some of the professionals from London. At any
rate — -I'm not sure which you mean — over there by the curtain, in the
Moorish nook, you say — well, I can't tell you their names! So they
must be professionals."
She went off with a singularly frightened manner. Maisie noticed it
and wondered at it. But it made no great or lasting impression.
When the party broke up, about midnight or a little later, Maisie
went along the corridor to her own bedroom. At the end, by the door,
the two other girls happened to be standing, apparently gossiping.
"Oh, you've not gone home yet?" Maisie said, as she passed, to
"No, we're stopping here," the dark girl with the speaking eyes
Maisie paused for a second. Then an impulse burst over her. "Will
you come and see my room?" she asked, a little timidly.
"Shall we go, Hedda?" Yolande said, with an inquiring glance at her
Her friend nodded assent. Maisie opened the door, and ushered them
into her bedroom.
The ostentatiously opulent fire was still burning brightly, the
electric light flooded the room with its brilliancy, the curtains were
drawn, and the shutters fastened. For a while the three girls sat
together by the hearth and gossiped quietly. Maisie liked her new
friends — their voices were so gentle, soft, and sympathetic, while for
face and figure they might have sat as models to Burne-Jones or
Botticelli. Their dresses, too, took her delicate Welsh fancy; they
were so dainty, yet so simple. The soft silk fell in natural folds and
dimples. The only ornaments they wore were two curious brooches of very
antique workmanship — as Maisie supposed — somewhat Celtic in design,
and enamelled in blood-red on a gold background. Each carried a flower
laid loosely in her bosom. Yolande's was an orchid with long, floating
streamers, in colour and shape recalling some Southern lizard; dark
purple spots dappled its lip and petals. Hedda's was a flower of a sort
Maisie had never before seen — the stem spotted like a viper's skin,
green flecked with russet-brown, and uncanny to look upon; on either
side, great twisted spirals of red-and-blue blossoms, each curled after
the fashion of a scorpion's tail, very strange and lurid. Something
weird and witch-like about flowers and dresses rather attracted Maisie;
they affected her with the half-repellent fascination of a snake for a
bird; she felt such blossoms were fit for incantations and sorceries.
But a lily-of-the-valley in Yolande's dark hair gave a sense of purity
which assorted better with the girl's exquisitely calm and nun-like
After a while Hedda rose. "This air is close," she said. "It ought
to be warm outside to-night, if one may judge by the sunset. May I open
"Oh, certainly, if you like," Maisie answered, a vague foreboding
now struggling within her against innate politeness.
Hedda drew back the curtains and unfastened the shutters. It was a
moonlit evening. The breeze hardly stirred the bare boughs of the
silver birches. A sprinkling of soft snow on the terrace and the hills
just whitened the ground The moon lighted it up, falling full upon the
Hall; the church and tower below stood silhouetted in dark against a
cloudless expanse of starry sky in the background. Hedda opened the
window. Cool, fresh air blew in, very soft and genial, in spite of the
snow and the lateness of the season. "What a glorious night!" she said,
looking up at Orion overhead. "Shall we stroll out for a while in it?"
If the suggestion had not thus been thrust upon her from outside,
it would never have occurred to Maisie to walk abroad in a strange
place, in evening dress, on a winter's night, with snow whitening the
ground; but Hedda's voice sounded so sweetly persuasive, and the idea
itself seemed so natural now she had once proposed it, that Maisie
followed her two new friends on to the moonlit terrace without a
They paced once or twice up and down the gravelled walks. Strange
to say, though a sprinkling of dry snow powdered the ground under foot,
the air itself was soft and balmy. Stranger still, Maisie noticed,
almost without noticing it, that though they walked three abreast, only
one pair of footprints — her own — lay impressed on the snow in a long
trail when they turned at either end and re-paced the platform. Yolande
and Hedda must step lightly indeed; or perhaps her own feet might be
warmer or thinner shod, so as to melt the light layer of snow more
The girls slipped their arms through hers. A little thrill coursed
through her. Then, after three or four turns up and down the terrace,
Yolande led the way quietly down the broad flight of steps in the
direction of the church on the lower level. In that bright, broad
moonlight Maisie went with them undeterred; the Hall was still alive
with the glare of electric lights in bedroom windows; and the presence
of the other girls, both wholly free from any signs of fear, took off
all sense of terror or loneliness. They strolled on into the
churchyard. Maisie's eyes were now fixed on the new white tower, which
merged in the silhouette against the starry sky into much the same grey
and indefinite hue as the older parts of the building. Before she quite
knew where she was, she found herself at the head of the worn stone
steps which led into the vault by whose doors she had seen old Bessie
sitting. In the pallid moonlight, with the aid of the greenish
reflection from the snow, she could just read the words inscribed over
the portal, the words that Yolande had repeated in the drawing-room,
"Mors janua vitæ."
Yolande moved down one step. Maisie drew back for the first time
with a faint access of alarm. "You're — you're not going down there!"
she exclaimed, catching her breath for a second.
"Yes, I am," her new friend answered in a calmly quiet voice. "Why
not? We live here."
"You live here?" Maisie echoed, freeing her arms by a sudden
movement and standing away from her mysterious friends with a tremulous
"Yes, we live here," Hedda broke in, without the slightest emotion.
She said it in a voice of perfect calm, as one might say it of any
house in a street in London.
Maisie was far less terrified than she might have imagined
beforehand would be the case under such unexpected conditions. The two
girls were so simple, so natural, so strangely like herself, that she
could not say she was really afraid of them. She shrank, it is true,
from the nature of the door at which they stood, but she received the
unearthly announcement that they lived there with scarcely more than a
slight tremor of surprise and astonishment.
"You will come in with us?" Hedda said in a gently enticing tone.
"We went into your bedroom."
Maisie hardly liked to say no. They seemed so anxious to show her
their home. With trembling feet she moved down the first step, and then
the second. Yolande kept ever one pace in front of her. As Maisie
reached the third step, the two girls, as if moved by one design, took
her wrists in their hands, not unkindly, but coaxingly. They reached
the actual doors of the vault itself — two heavy bronze valves, meeting
in the centre. Each bore a ring for a handle, pierced through a
Gorgon's head embossed upon the surface. Yolande pushed them with her
hand. They yielded instantly to her light touch, and opened inward.
Yolande, still in front, passed from the glow of the moon to the gloom
of the vault, which a ray of moonlight just descended obliquely. As she
passed, for a second, a weird sight met Maisie's eyes. Her face and
hands and dress became momentarily self-luminous but through them, as
they glowed, she could descry within every bone and joint of her living
skeleton, dimly shadowed in dark through the luminous haze that marked
Maisie drew back once more, terrified. Yet her terror was not quite
what one could describe as fear: it was rather a vague sense of the
profoundly mystical. "I can't! I can't!" she cried, with an appealing
glance. "Hedda! Yolande! I cannot go with you."
Hedda held her hand tight, and almost seemed to force her. But
Yolande, in front, like a mother with her child, turned round with a
grave smile. "No, no," she said reprovingly. "Let her come if she will,
Hedda, of her own accord, not otherwise. The tower demands a willing
Her hand on Maisie's wrist was strong but persuasive. It drew her
without exercising the faintest compulsion. "Will you come with us,
dear?" she said, in that winning silvery tone which had captivated
Maisie's fancy from the very first moment they spoke together. Maisie
gazed into her eyes. They were deep and tender. A strange resolution
seemed to nerve her for the effort. "Yes, yes — I — will — come — with
you," she answered slowly.
Hedda on one side, Yolande on the other, now went before her,
holding her wrists in their grasp, but rather enticing than drawing
her. As each reached the gloom, the same luminous appearance which
Maisie had noticed before spread over their bodies, and the same weird
skeleton shape showed faintly through their limbs in darker shadow.
Maisie crossed the threshold with a convulsive gasp. As she crossed it
she looked down at her own dress and body. They were semi-transparent,
like the others', though not quite so self-luminous; the framework of
her limbs appeared within in less certain outline, yet quite dark and
The doors swung to of themselves behind her. Those three stood
alone in the vault of Wolverden
Alone, for a minute or two; and then, as her eyes grew accustomed
to the grey dusk of the interior, Maisie began to perceive that the
vault opened out into a large and beautiful hall or crypt, dimly
lighted at first, but becoming each moment more vaguely clear and more
dreamily definite. Gradually she could make out great rock-hewn
pillars, Romanesque in their outline or dimly Oriental, like the
sculptured columns in the caves of Ellora, supporting a roof of vague
and uncertain dimensions, more or less strangely dome-shaped. The
effect on the whole was like that of the second impression produced by
some dim cathedral, such as Chartres or Milan, after the eyes have
grown accustomed to the mellow light from the stained-glass windows,
and have recovered from the blinding glare of the outer sunlight. But
the architecture, if one may call it so, was more mosque-like and
magical. She turned to her companions. Yolande and Hedda stood still by
her side; their bodies were now self-luminous to a greater degree than
even at the threshold; but the terrible transparency had disappeared
altogether; they were once more but beautiful though strangely
transfigured and more than mortal women
Then Maisie understood in her own soul, dimly, the meaning of those
mystic words written over the portal — "Mors janua vitæ" — Death is the
gate of life; and also the interpretation of that awful vision of death
dwelling within them as they crossed the threshold; for through that
gate they had passed to this underground palace.
Her two guides still held her hands, one on either side. But they
seemed rather to lead her on now, seductively and resistlessly, than to
draw or compel her. As she moved in through the hall, with its endless
vistas of shadowy pillars, seen now behind, now in dim perspective, she
was gradually aware that many other people crowded its aisles and
corridors. Slowly they took shape as forms more or less clad,
mysterious, varied, and of many ages. Some of them wore flowing robes,
half mediæval in shape, like the two friends who had brought her there.
They looked like the saints on a stained-glass window. Others were girt
merely with a light and floating Coan sash; while some stood dimly nude
in the darker recesses of the temple or palace. All leaned eagerly
forward with one mind as she approached, and regarded her with deep and
sympathetic interest. A few of them murmured words — mere cabalistic
sounds which at first she could not understand; but as she moved
further into the hall, and saw at each step more clearly into the
gloom, they began to have a meaning for her. Before long, she was aware
that she understood the mute tumult of voices at once by some internal
instinct. The Shades addressed her; she answered them. She knew by
intuition what tongue they spoke; it was the Language of the Dead; and,
by passing that portal with her two companions, she had herself become
enabled both to speak and understand it.
A soft and flowing tongue, this speech of the Nether World — all
vowels it seemed, without distinguishable consonants; yet dimly
recalling every other tongue, and compounded, as it were, of what was
common to all of them. It flowed from those shadowy lips as clouds
issue inchoate from a mountain valley; it was formless, uncertain,
vague, but yet beautiful. She hardly knew, indeed, as it fell upon her
senses, if it were sound or perfume.
Through this tenuous world Maisie moved as in a dream, her two
companions still cheering and guiding her. When they reached an inner
shrine or chantry of the temple she was dimly conscious of more
terrible forms pervading the background than any of those that had yet
appeared to her. This was a more austere and antique apartment than the
rest; a shadowy cloister, prehistoric in its severity; it recalled to
her mind something indefinitely intermediate between the huge unwrought
trilithons of Stonehenge and the massive granite pillars of Philæ and
Luxor. At the further end of the sanctuary a sort of Sphinx looked down
on her, smiling mysteriously. At its base, on a rude megalithic throne,
in solitary state, a High Priest was seated. He bore in his hand a wand
or sceptre. All round, a strange court of half-unseen acolytes and
shadowy hierophants stood attentive They were girt, as she fancied, in
what looked like leopards' skins, or in the fells of some earlier
prehistoric lion. These wore sabre-shaped teeth suspended by a string
round their dusky necks; others had ornaments of uncut amber, or
hatchets of jade threaded as collars on a cord of sinew. A few, more
barbaric than savage in type, flaunted torques of gold as armlets and
The High Priest rose slowly and held out his two hands, just level
with his head, the palms turned outward. "You have brought a willing
victim as Guardian of the Tower?" he asked, in that mystic tongue, of
Yolande and Hedda.
"We have brought a willing victim," the two girls answered.
The High Priest gazed at her. His glance was piercing Maisie
trembled less with fear than with a sense of strangeness, such as a
neophyte might feel on being first presented at some courtly pageant.
"You come of your own accord?" the Priest inquired of her in solemn
"I come of my own accord," Maisie answered, with an inner
consciousness that she was bearing her part in some immemorial ritual.
Ancestral memories seemed to stir within her.
"It is well," the Priest murmured. Then he turned to her guides.
"She is of royal lineage?" he inquired, taking his wand in his hand
"She is a Llewelyn," Yolande answered, "of royal lineage, and of
the race that, after your own, earliest bore sway in this land of
Britain. She has in her veins the blood of Arthur, of Ambrosius, and of
"It is well," the Priest said again. "I know these princes." Then
he turned to Maisie. "This is the ritual of those who build," he said,
in a very deep voice. "It has been the ritual of those who build from
the days of the builders of Lokmariaker and Avebury. Every building man
makes shall have its human soul, the soul of a virgin to guard and
protect it. Three souls it requires as a living talisman against chance
and change. One soul is the soul of the human victim slain beneath the
foundation-stone; she is the guardian spirit against earthquake and
ruin. One soul is the soul of the human victim slain when the building
is half built up; she is the guardian spirit against battle and
tempest. One soul is the soul of the human victim who flings herself of
her own free will off tower or gable when the building is complete; she
is the guardian spirit against thunder and lightning. Unless a building
be duly fasted with these three, how can it hope to stand against the
hostile powers of fire and flood and storm and earthquake?"
An assessor at his side, unnoticed till then, took up the parable.
He had a stern Roman face, and bore a shadowy suit of Roman armour. "In
times of old," he said, with iron austerity, "all men knew well these
rules of building. They built in solid stone to endure for ever: the
works they erected have lasted to this day, in this land and others. So
built we the amphitheatres of Rome and Verona; so built we the walls of
Lincoln, York, and London. In the blood of a king's son laid we the
foundation-stone: in the blood of a king's son laid we the
coping-stone: in the blood of a maiden of royal line fasted we the
bastions against fire and lightning. But in these latter days, since
faith grows dim, men build with burnt brick and rubble of plaster; no
foundation spirit or guardian soul do they give to their bridges, their
walls, or their towers: so bridges break, and walls fall in, and towers
crumble, and the art and mystery of building aright have perished from
He ceased. The High Priest held out his wand and spoke again. "We
are the Assembly of Dead Builders and Dead Victims," he said, "for this
mark of Wolverden; all of whom have built or been built upon in this
holy site of immemorial sanctity. We are the stones of a living fabric.
Before this place was a Christian church, it was a temple of Woden. And
before it was a temple of Woden, it was a shrine of Hercules. And
before it was a shrine of Hercules, it was a grove of Nodens. And
before it was a grove of Nodens, it was a Stone Circle of the Host of
Heaven. And before it was a Stone Circle of the Host of Heaven, it was
the grave and tumulus and underground palace of Me, who am the earliest
builder of all in this place; and my name in my ancient tongue is Wolf,
and I laid and hallowed it. And after me, Wolf, and my namesake
Wulfhere, was this barrow called Ad Lupum and Wolverden. And all these
that are here with me have built and been built upon in this holy site
for all generations. And you are the last who come to join us."
Maisie felt a cold thrill course down her spine as he spoke these
words; but courage did not fail her. She was dimly aware that those who
offer themselves as victims for service must offer themselves
willingly; for the gods demand a voluntary victim; no beast can be
slain unless it nod assent; and none can be made a guardian spirit who
takes not the post upon him of his own free will. She turned meekly to
Hedda. "Who are you?" she asked, trembling.
"I am Hedda," the girl answered, in the same soft sweet voice and
winning tone as before; "Hedda, the daughter of Gorm, the chief of the
Northmen who settled in East Anglia. And I was a worshipper of Thor and
Odin. And when my father, Gorm, fought against Alfred, King of Wessex,
was I taken prisoner. And Wulfhere, the Kenting, was then building the
first church and tower of Wolverden. And they baptized me, and shrived
me, and I consented of my own free will to be built under the
foundation-stone. And there my body lies built up to this day; and I am
the guardian spirit against earthquake and ruin."
"And who are you?" Maisie asked, turning again to Yolande.
"I am Yolande Fitz-Aylwin," the tall dark girl answered; "a royal
maiden too, sprung from the blood of Henry Plantagenet. And when Roland
Fitz-Stephen was building anew the choir and chancel of Wulfhere's
minster, I chose to be immured in the fabric of the wall, for love of
the Church and all holy saints; and there my body lies built up to this
day; and I am the guardian against battle and tempest."
Maisie held her friend's hand tight. Her voice hardly trembled.
"And I?" she asked once more. "What fate for me? Tell me!"
"Your task is easier far," Yolande answered gently. "For you shall
be the guardian of the new tower against thunder and lightning. Now,
those who guard against earthquake and battle are buried alive under
the foundation-stone or in the wall of the building; there they die a
slow death of starvation and choking. But those who guard against
thunder and lightning cast themselves alive of their own free will from
the battlements of the tower, and die in the air before they reach the
ground; so their fate is the easiest and the lightest of all who would
serve mankind; and thenceforth they live with us here in our palace."
Maisie clung to her hand still tighter. "Must I do it?" she asked,
"It is not must," Yolande replied in the same caressing tone, yet
with a calmness as of one in whom earthly desires and earthly passions
are quenched for ever. "It is as you choose yourself. None but a
willing victim may be a guardian spirit. This glorious privilege comes
but to the purest and best amongst us. Yet what better end can you ask
for your soul than to dwell here in our midst as our comrade for ever,
where all is peace, and to preserve the tower whose guardian you are
from evil assaults of lightning and thunderbolt?"
Maisie flung her arms round her friend's neck. "But — I am afraid,"
she murmured. Why she should even wish to consent she knew not, yet the
strange serene peace in these strange girls' eyes made her mysteriously
in love with them and with the fate they offered her. They seemed to
move like the stars in their orbits. "How shall I leap from the top?"
she cried. "How shall I have courage to mount the stairs alone, and
fling myself off from the lonely battlement?"
Yolande unwound her arms with a gentle forbearance. She coaxed her
as one coaxes an unwilling child. "You will not be alone," she said,
with a tender pressure. "We will all go with you. We will help you and
encourage you. We will sing our sweet songs of life-in-death to you.
Why should you draw back? All we have faced it in ten thousand ages,
and we tell you with one voice, you need not fear it. 'Tis life you
should fear — life, with its dangers, its toils, its heartbreakings.
Here we dwell for ever in unbroken peace. Come, come, and join us!"
She held out her arms with an enticing gesture. Maisie sprang into
them, sobbing. "Yes, I will come," she cried in an access of hysterical
fervour. "These are the arms of Death — I embrace them. These are the
lips of Death — I kiss them. Yolande, Yolande, I will do as you ask
The tall dark girl in the luminous white robe stooped down and
kissed her twice on the forehead in return. Then she looked at the High
Priest. "We are ready," she murmured in a low, grave voice. "The Victim
consents. The Virgin will die. Lead on to the tower. We are ready! We
From the recesses of the temple — if temple it were — from the inmost
shrines of the shrouded cavern, unearthly music began to sound of
itself; with wild modulation, on strange reeds and tabors. It swept
through the aisles like a rushing wind on an Æolian harp; at times it
wailed with a voice like a woman's; at times it rose loud in an
organ-note of triumph; at times it sank low into a pensive and
melancholy flute-like symphony. It waxed and waned; it swelled and died
away again; but no man saw how or whence it proceeded. Wizard echoes
issued from the crannies and vents in the invisible walls; they sighed
from the ghostly interspaces of the pillars; they keened and moaned
from the vast overhanging dome of the palace. Gradually the song shaped
itself by weird stages into a processional measure. At its sound the
High Priest rose slowly from his immemorial seat on the mighty cromlech
which formed his throne. The Shades in leopards' skins ranged
themselves in bodiless rows on either hand; the ghostly wearers of the
sabre-toothed lions' fangs followed like ministrants in the footsteps
of their hierarch.
Hedda and Yolande took their places in the procession. Maisie stood
between the two, with hair floating on the air; she looked like a
novice who goes up to take the veil, accompanied and cheered by two
The ghostly pageant began to move. Unseen music followed it with
fitful gusts of melody. They passed down the main corridor, between
shadowy Doric or Ionic pillars which grew dimmer and ever dimmer again
in the distance as they approached, with slow steps, the earthward
At the gate, the High Priest pushed against the valves with his
hand. They opened outward.
He passed into the moonlight. The attendants thronged after him. As
each wild figure crossed the threshold the same strange sight as before
met Maisie's eyes. For a second of time each ghostly body became
self-luminous, as with some curious phosphorescence; and through each,
at the moment of passing the portal, the dim outline of a skeleton
loomed briefly visible. Next instant it had clothed itself as with
Maisie reached the outer air. As she did so, she gasped. For a
second, its chilliness and freshness almost choked her. She was
conscious now that the atmosphere of the vault, though pleasant in its
way, and warm and dry, had beezl loaded with fumes as of burning
incense, and with somnolent vapours of poppy and mandragora. Its drowsy
ether had cast her into a lethargy. But after the first minute in the
outer world, the keen night air revived her. Snow lay still on the
ground a little deeper than when she first came out, and the moon rode
lower; otherwise, all was as before, save that only one or two lights
still burned here and there in the great house on the terrace. Among
them she could recognise her own room, on the ground floor in the new
wing, by its open window.
The procession made its way across the churchyard towards the
tower. As it wound among the graves an owl hooted. All at once Maisie
remembered the lines that had so chilled her a few short hours before
in the drawing-room —
"The glow-worm o'er grave and stone
Shall light thee steady;
The owl from the steeple sing,
'Welcome, proud lady!'"
But, marvellous to relate, they no longer alarmed her. She felt
rather that a friend was welcoming her home; she clung to Yolande's
hand with a gentle pressure.
As they passed in front of the porch, with its ancient yew-tree, a
stealthy figure glided out like a ghost from the darkling shadow. It
was a woman, bent and bowed, with quivering limbs that shook half
palsied. Maisie recognised old Bessie. "I knew she would come!" the old
hag muttered between her toothless jaws. "I knew Wolverden Tower would
yet be duly fasted!"
She put herself, as of right, at the head of the procession. They
moved on to the tower, rather gliding than walking. Old Bessie drew a
rusty key from her pocket, and fitted it with a twist into the
brand-new lock. "What turned the old will turn the new," she murmured,
looking round and grinning. Maisie shrank from her as she shrank from
not one of the Dead; but she followed on still into the ringers' room
at the base of the tower.
Thence a staircase in the corner led up to the summit. The High
Priest mounted the stair, chanting a mystic refrain, whose runic sounds
were no longer intelligible to Maisie. As she reached the outer air,
the Tongue of the Dead seemed to have become a mere blank of mingled
odours and murmurs to her. It was like a summer breeze, sighing through
warm and resinous pinewoods. But Yolande and Hedda spoke to her yet, to
cheer her, in the language of the living. She recognised that as
#revenants they were still in touch with the upper air and the world of
They tempted her up the stair with encouraging fingers. Maisie
followed them like a child, in implicit confidence. The steps wound
round and round, spirally, and the staircase was dim; but a
supernatural light seemed to fill the tower, diffused from the bodies
or souls of its occupants. At the head of all, the High Priest still
chanted as he went his unearthly litany; magic sounds of chimes seemed
to swim in unison with his tune as they mounted. Were those floating
notes material or spiritual? They passed the belfry; no tongue of metal
wagged; but the rims of the great bells resounded and reverberated to
the ghostly symphony with sympathetic music. Still they passed on and
on, upward and upward. They reached the ladder that alone gave access
to the final story. Dust and cobwebs already clung to it. Once more
Maisie drew back. It was dark overhead and the luminous haze began to
fail them. Her friends held her hands with the same kindly persuasive
touch as ever. "I cannot!" she cried, shrinking away from the tall,
steep ladder. "Oh, Yolande, I cannot!"
"Yes, dear," Yolande whispered in a soothing voice. "You can. It is
but ten steps, and I will hold your hand tight. Be brave and mount
The sweet voice encouraged her. It was like heavenly music. She
knew not why she should submit, or, rather, consent; but none the less
she consented. Some spell seemed cast over her. With tremulous feet,
scarcely realising what she did, she mounted the ladder and went up
four steps of it.
Then she turned and looked down again. Old Bessie's wrinkled face
met her frightened eyes. It was smiling horribly. She shrank back once
more, terrified. "I can't do it," she cried, "if that woman comes up!
I'm not afraid of you, dear" — she pressed Yolande's hand — "but she,
she is too terrible!"
Hedda looked back and raised a warning finger. "Let the woman stop
below," she said; "she savours too much of the evil world. We must do
nothing to frighten the willing victim."
The High Priest by this time, with his ghostly fingers, had opened
the trap-door that gave access to the summit. A ray of moonlight
slanted through the aperture. The breeze blew down with it. Once more
Maisie felt the stimulating and reviving effect of the open air.
Vivified by its freshness, she struggled up to the top, passed out
through the trap, and found herself standing on the open platform at
the summit of the tower.
The moon had not yet quite set. The light on the snow shone pale
green and mysterious. For miles and miles around she could just make
out, by its aid, the dim contour of the downs, with their thin white
mantle, in the solemn silence. Range behind range rose faintly
shimmering. The chant had now ceased; the High Priest and his acolytes
were mingling strange herbs in a mazar-bowl or chalice. Stray perfumes
of myrrh and of cardamoms were wafted towards her. The men in leopards'
skins burnt smouldering sticks of spikenard. Then Yolande led the
postulant forward again, and placed her close up to the new white
parapet. Stone heads of virgins smiled on her from the angles. "She
must front the east," Hedda said in a tone of authority: and Yolande
turned her face towards the rising sun accordingly. Then she opened her
lips and spoke in a very solemn voice. "From this new-built tower you
fling yourself," she said, or rather intoned, "that you may serve
mankind, and all the powers that be, as its guardian spirit against
thunder and lightning. Judged a virgin, pure and unsullied in deed and
word and thought, of royal race and ancient lineage — a Cymry of the
Cymry — you are found worthy to be intrusted with this charge and this
honour. Take care that never shall dart or thunderbolt assault this
tower, as She that is below you takes care to preserve it from
earthquake and ruin, and She that is midway takes care to preserve it
from battle and tempest. This is your charge. See well that you keep
She took her by both hands. "Mary Llewelyn," she said, "you willing
victim, step on to the battlement."
Maisie knew not why, but with very little shrinking she stepped as
she was told, by the aid of a wooden footstool, on to the
eastward-looking parapet. There, in her loose white robe, with her arms
spread abroad, and her hair flying free, she poised herself for a
second, as if about to shake out some unseen wings and throw herself on
the air like a swift or a swallow.
"Mary Llewelyn," Yolande said once more, in a still deeper tone,
with ineffable earnestness, "cast yourself down, a willing sacrifice,
for the service of man, and the security of this tower against
thunderbolt and lightning."
Maisie stretched her arms wider, and leaned forward in act to leap,
from the edge of the parapet, on to the snow-clad churchyard.
One second more and the sacrifice would have been complete. But before
she could launch herself from the tower, she felt suddenly a hand laid
upon her shoulder from behind to restrain her. Even in her existing
state of nervous exaltation she was aware at once that it was the hand
of a living and solid mortal, not that of a soul or guardian spirit. It
lay heavier upon her than Hedda's or Yolande's. It seemed to clog and
burden her. With a violent effort she strove to shake herself free, and
carry out her now fixed intention of self-immolation, for the safety of
the tower. But the hand was too strong for her. She could not shake it
off. It gripped and held her.
She yielded, and, reeling, fell back with a gasp on to the platform
of the tower. At the selfsame moment a strange terror and commotion
seemed to seize all at once on the assembled spirits. A weird cry rang
voiceless through the shadowy company. Maisie heard it as in a dream,
very dim and distant. It was thin as a bat's note; almost inaudible to
the ear, yet perceived by the brain or at least by the spirit. It was a
cry of alarm, of fright, of warning. With one accord, all the host of
phantoms rushed hurriedly forward to the battlements and pinnacles. The
ghostly High Priest went first, with his wand held downward; the men in
leopards' skins and other assistants followed in confusion. Theirs was
a reckless rout. They flung themselves from the top, like fugitives
from a cliff, and floated fast through the air on invisible pinions.
Hedda and Yolande, ambassadresses and intermediaries with the upper
air, were the last to fly from the living presence. They clasped her
hand silently, and looked deep into her eyes. There was something in
that calm yet regretful look that seemed to say, "Farewell! We have
tried in vain to save you, sister, from the terrors of living."
The horde of spirits floated away on the air, as in a witches'
Sabbath, to the vault whence it issued. The doors swung on their rusty
hinges, and closed behind them. Maisie stood alone with the hand that
grasped her on the tower.
The shock of the grasp, and the sudden departure of the ghostly
band in such wild dismay, threw Maisie for a while into a state of
semi-unconsciousness. Her head reeled round; her brain swam faintly.
She clutched for support at the parapet of the tower. But the hand that
held her sustained her still. She felt herself gently drawn down with
quiet mastery, and laid on the stone floor close by the trap-door that
led to the ladder.
The next thing of which she could feel sure was the voice of the
Oxford undergraduate. He was distinctly frightened and not a little
tremulous. "I think," he said very softly, laying her head on his lap,
"you had better rest a while, Miss Llewelyn, before you try to get down
again. I hope I didn't catch you and disturb you too hastily. But one
step more, and you would have been over the edge. I really couldn't
"Let me go," Maisie moaned, trying to raise herself again, but
feeling too faint and ill to make the necessary effort to recover the
power of motion. "I want to go with them! I want to join them!"
"Some of the others will be up before long," the undergraduate
said, supporting her head in his hands; "and they'll help me to get you
down again. Mr. Yates is in the belfry. Meanwhile, if I were you, I'd
lie quite still, and take a drop or two of this brandy."
He held it to her lips. Maisie drank a mouthful, hardly knowing
what she did. Then she lay quiet where he placed her for some minutes.
How they lifted her down and conveyed her to her bed she scarcely knew.
She was dazed and terrified. She could only remember afterward that
three or four gentlemen in roughly huddled clothes had carried or
handed her down the ladder between them. The spiral stair and all the
rest were a blank to her.
When she next awoke she was lying in her bed in the same room at the
Hall, with Mrs. West by her side, leaning over her tenderly.
Maisie looked up through her closed eyes and just saw the motherly
face and grey hair bending above her. Then voices came to her from the
mist, vaguely: "Yesterday was so hot for the time of year, you see!"
"Very unusual weather, of course, for Christmas." "But a thunderstorm!
So strange! I put it down to that. The electrical disturbance must have
affected the poor child's head." Then it dawned upon her that the
conversation she heard was passing between Mrs. West and a doctor.
She raised herself suddenly and wildly on her arms. The bed faced
the windows. She looked out and beheld — the tower of Wolverden church,
rent from top to bottom with a mighty rent, while half its height lay
tossed in fragments on the ground in the churchyard.
"What is it?" she cried wildly, with a flush as of shame.
"Hush, hush!" the doctor said. "Don't trouble! Don't look at it!"
"Was it — after I came down?" Maisie moaned in vague terror.
The doctor nodded. "An hour after you were brought down," he said,
"a thunderstorm broke over it. The lightning struck and shattered the
tower. They had not yet put up the lightning-conductor. It was to have
been done on Boxing Day."
A weird remorse possessed Maisie's soul. "My fault!" she cried,
starting up. "My fault, my fault! I have neglected my duty!"
"Don't talk," the doctor answered, looking hard at her. "It is
always dangerous to be too suddenly aroused from these curious
overwrought sleeps and trances."
"And old Bessie?" Maisie exclaimed, trembling with an eerie
The doctor glanced at Mrs. West. "How did she know?" he whispered.
Then he turned to Maisie. "You may as well be told the truth as suspect
it," he said slowly. "Old Bessie must have been watching there. She was
crushed and half buried beneath the falling tower."
"One more question, Mrs. West," Maisie murmured, growing faint with
an access of supernatural fear. "Those two nice girls who sat on the
chairs at each side of me through the tableaux — are they hurt? Were
they in it?"
Mrs. West soothed her hand. "My dear child," she said gravely, with
quiet emphasis, "there were no other girls. This is mere hallucination.
You sat alone by yourself through the whole of the evening."