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At the breakfast-table the next morning, however, appeared Doctor
Grimshawe, wearing very much the same aspect of an uncombed, unshorn,
unbrushed, odd sort of a pagan as at other times, and making no
difference in his breakfast, except that he poured a pretty large dose
of brandy into his cup of tea; a thing, however, by no means unexampled
or very unusual in his history. There were also the two children,
fresher than the morning itself, rosy creatures, with newly scrubbed
cheeks, made over again for the new day, though the old one had left no
dust upon them;[Endnote: 1] laughing with one another, flinging their
little jokes about the table, and expecting that the Doctor might, as
was often his wont, set some ponderous old English joke trundling round
among the breakfast cups; eating the corn-cakes which crusty Hannah,
with the aboriginal part of her, had a knack of making in a peculiar
and exquisite fashion. But there was an empty chair at table; one cup,
one little jug of milk, and another of pure water, with no guest to
partake of them.
"Where is the schoolmaster?" said Ned, pausing as he was going to take
"Yes, Doctor Grim?" said little Elsie.
"He has overslept himself for once," quoth Doctor Grim gruffly; "a
strange thing, too, for a man whose victuals and drink are so light as
the schoolmaster's. The fiend take me if I thought he had mortal mould
enough in him ever to go to sleep at all; though he is but a kind of
dream-stuff in his widest-awake state. Hannah, you bronze jade, call
the schoolmaster to come to breakfast."
Hannah departed on her errand, and was heard knocking at the door of
the schoolmaster's chamber several times, till the Doctor shouted to
her wrathfully to cease her clatter and open the door at once, which
she appeared to do, and speedily came back.
"He no there, massa. Schoolmaster melted away!"
"Vanished like a bubble!" quoth the Doctor.
"The great spider caught him like a fly," quoth crusty Hannah,
chuckling with a sense of mischief that seemed very pleasant to her
"He has taken a morning walk," said little Ned; "don't you think so,
"Yes," said the grim Doctor. "Go on with your breakfast, little monkey;
the walk may be a long one, or he is so slight a weight that the wind
may blow him overboard."
A very long walk it proved; or it might be that some wind, whether evil
or good, had blown him, as the Doctor suggested, into parts unknown;
for, from that time forth, the Yankee schoolmaster returned no more. It
was a singular disappearance.
The bed did not appear to have been slept in; there was a bundle, in a
clean handkerchief, containing two shirts, two pocket handkerchiefs,
two pairs of cotton socks, a Testament, and that was all. Had he
intended to go away, why did he not take this little luggage in his
hand, being all he had, and of a kind not easily dispensed with? The
Doctor made small question about it, however; he had seemed surprised,
at first, yet gave certainly no energetic token of it; and when Ned,
who began to have notions of things, proposed to advertise him in the
newspapers, or send the town crier round, the Doctor ridiculed the idea
"Lost, a lank Yankee schoolmaster," quoth he, uplifting his voice after
the manner of the town crier; "supposed to have been blown out of
Doctor Grim's window, or perhaps have ridden off astride of a humble-
"It is not pretty to laugh in that way, Doctor Grim," said little
Elsie, looking into his face, with a grave shake of her head.
"And why not, you saucy little witch?" said the Doctor.
"It is not the way to laugh, Doctor Grim," persisted the child, but
either could not or would not assign any reason for her disapprobation,
although what she said appeared to produce a noticeable effect on
Doctor Grimshawe, who lapsed into a rough, harsh manner, that seemed to
satisfy Elsie better. Crusty Hannah, meanwhile, seemed to dance about
the house with a certain singular alacrity, a wonderful friskiness,
indeed, as if the diabolical result of the mixture in her nature was
particularly pleased with something; so she went, with queer
gesticulations, crossings, contortions, friskings, evidently in a very
mirthful state; until, being asked by her master what was the matter,
she replied, "Massa, me know what became of the schoolmaster. Great
spider catch in his web and eat him!"
Whether that was the mode of his disappearance, or some other,
certainly the schoolmaster was gone; and the children were left in
great bewilderment at the sudden vacancy in his place. They had not
contracted a very yearning affection for him, and yet his impression
had been individual and real, and they felt that something was gone out
of their lives, now that he was no longer there. Something strange in
their circumstances made itself felt by them; they were more sensible
of the grim Doctor's uncouthness, his strange, reprehensible habits,
his dark, mysterious life,--in looking at these things, and the
spiders, and the graveyard, and their insulation from the world,
through the crystal medium of this stranger's character. In remembering
him in connection with these things, a certain seemly beauty in him
showed strikingly the unfitness, the sombre and tarnished color, the
outréness, of the rest of their lot. Little Elsie perhaps felt the loss
of him more than her playmate, although both had been interested by
him. But now things returned pretty much to their old fashion;
although, as is inevitably the case, whenever persons or things have
been taken suddenly or unaccountably out of our sphere, without telling
us whither and why they have disappeared, the children could not, for a
long while, bring themselves to feel that he had really gone. Perhaps,
in imitation of the custom in that old English house, of which the
Doctor had told them, little Elsie insisted that his place should still
be kept at the table; and so, whenever crusty Hannah neglected to do
so, she herself would fetch a plate, and a little pitcher of water, and
set it beside a vacant chair; and sometimes, so like a shadow had he
been, this pale, slender creature, it almost might have been thought
that he was sitting with them. But crusty Hannah shook her head, and
grinned. "The spider know where he is. We never see him more!"
His abode in the house had been of only two or three weeks; and in the
natural course of things, had he come and gone in an ordinary way, his
recollection would have grown dim and faded out in two or three weeks
more; but the speculations, the expectations, the watchings for his
reappearance, served to cut and grave the recollection of him into the
children's hearts, so that it remained a life-long thing with them,--a
sense that he was something that had been lost out of their life too
soon, and that was bound, sooner or later, to reappear, and finish what
business he had with them. Sometimes they prattled around the Doctor's
chair about him, and they could perceive sometimes that he appeared to
be listening, and would chime in with some remark; but he never
expressed either wonder or regret; only telling Ned, once, that he had
no reason to be sorry for his disappearance.
"Why, Doctor Grim?" asked the boy.
The Doctor mused, and smoked his pipe, as if he himself were thinking
why, and at last he answered, "He was a dangerous fellow, my old boy."
"Why?" said Ned again.
"He would have taken the beef out of you," said the Doctor.
I know not how long it was before any other visitor (except such as
brought their shattered constitutions there in hopes that the Doctor
would make the worn-out machinery as good as new) came to the lonely
little household on the corner of the graveyard. The intercourse
between themselves and the rest of the town remained as scanty as ever.
Still, the grim, shaggy Doctor was seen setting doggedly forth, in all
seasons and all weathers, at a certain hour of the day, with the two
children, going for long walks on the sea-shore, or into the country,
miles away, and coming back, hours afterwards, with plants and herbs
that had perhaps virtue in them, or flowers that had certainly beauty;
even, in their season, the fragrant magnolias, leaving a trail of
fragrance after them, that grow only in spots, the seeds having been
apparently dropped by some happy accident when those proper to the
climate were distributed. Shells there were, also, in the baskets that
they carried, minerals, rare things, that a magic touch seemed to have
created out of the rude and common things that others find in a homely
and ordinary region. The boy was growing tall, and had got out of the
merely infantile age; agile he was, bright, but still with a remarkable
thoughtfulness, or gravity, or I know not what to call it; but it was a
shadow, no doubt, falling upon him from something sombre in his warp of
life, which the impressibility of his age and nature so far
acknowledged as to be a little pale and grave, without positive
unhappiness; and when a playful moment came, as they often did to these
two healthy children, it seemed all a mistake that you had ever thought
either of them too grave for their age. But little Elsie was still the
merrier. They were still children, although they quarrelled seldomer
than of yore, and kissed seldomer, and had ceased altogether to
complain of one another to the Doctor; perhaps the time when Nature saw
these bickerings to be necessary to the growth of some of their
faculties was nearly gone. When they did have a quarrel, the boy stood
upon his dignity, and visited Elsie with a whole day, sometimes, of
silent and stately displeasure, which she was accustomed to bear,
sometimes with an assumption of cold indifference, sometimes with
liveliness, mirth in double quantity, laughter almost as good as real,
--little arts which showed themselves in her as naturally as the gift of
tears and smiles. In fact, having no advantage of female intercourse,
she could not well have learnt them unless from crusty Hannah, who was
such an anomaly of a creature, with all her mixtures of race, that she
struck you as having lost all sex as one result of it. Yet this little
girl was truly feminine, and had all the manners and pre-eminently
uncriticisable tenets proper to women at her early age.
She had made respectable advancement in study; that is, she had taught
herself to write, with even greater mechanical facility than Ned; and
other knowledge had fallen upon her, as it were, by a reflected light
from him; or, to use another simile, had been spattered upon her by the
full stream which the Doctor poured into the vessel of the boy's
intellect. So that she had even some knowledge of the rudiments of
Latin, and geometry, and algebra; inaccurate enough, but yet with such
a briskness that she was sometimes able to assist Ned in studies in
which he was far more deeply grounded than herself. All this, however,
was more by sympathy than by any natural taste for such things; being
kindly, and sympathetic, and impressible, she took the color of what
was nearest to her, and especially when it came from a beloved object,
so that it was difficult to discover that it was not really one of her
native tastes. The only thing, perhaps, altogether suited to her
idiosyncrasy (because it was truly feminine, calculated for dainty
fingers, and a nice little subtlety) was that kind of embroidery,
twisting, needle-work, on textile fabric, which, as we have before
said, she learnt from crusty Hannah, and which was emblematic perhaps
of that creature's strange mixture of races.
Elsie seemed not only to have caught this art in its original spirit,
but to have improved upon it, creating strange, fanciful, and graceful
devices, which grew beneath her finger as naturally as the variegated
hues grow in a flower as it opens; so that the homeliest material
assumed a grace and strangeness as she wove it, whether it were grass,
twigs, shells, or what not. Never was anything seen, that so combined a
wild, barbarian freedom with cultivated grace; and the grim Doctor
himself, little open to the impressions of the beautiful, used to hold
some of her productions in his hand, gazing at them with deep
intentness, and at last, perhaps, breaking out into one of his deep
roars of laughter; for it seemed to suggest thoughts to him that the
children could not penetrate. This one feature of strangeness and wild
faculty in the otherwise sweet and natural and homely character of
Elsie had a singular effect; it was like a wreath of wild-flowers in
her hair, like something that set her a little way apart from the rest
of the world, and had an even more striking effect than if she were
Thus were the little family going on; the Doctor, I regret to say,
growing more morose, self-involved, and unattainable since the
disappearance of the schoolmaster than before; more given up to his one
plaything, the great spider; less frequently even than before coming
out of the grim seclusion of his moodiness, to play with the children,
though they would often be sensible of his fierce eyes fixed upon them,
and start and feel incommoded by the intensity of his regard;--thus
things were going on, when one day there was really again a visitor,
and not a dilapidated patient, to the grim Doctor's study. Crusty
Hannah brought up his name as Mr. Hammond, and the Doctor--filling his
everlasting pipe, meanwhile, and ordering Hannah to give him a coal
(perhaps this was the circumstance that made people say he had imps to
bring him coals from Tophet)--ordered him to be shown up. [Endnote: 2.]
A fresh-colored, rather young man [Endnote: 3] entered the study, a
person of rather cold and ungraceful manners, yet genial-looking
enough; at least, not repulsive. He was dressed in rather a rough,
serviceable travelling-dress, and except for a nicely brushed hat, and
unmistakably white linen, was rather careless in attire. You would have
thought twice, perhaps, before deciding him to be a gentleman, but
finally would have decided that he was; one great token being, that the
singular aspect of the room into which he was ushered, the spider
festoonery, and other strange accompaniments, the grim aspect of the
Doctor himself, and the beauty and intelligence of his two companions,
and even that horrific weaver, the great dangling spider,--neither one
nor all of these called any expression of surprise to the stranger's
"Your name is Hammond?" begins the Doctor, with his usual sparseness of
ornamental courtesy. [Endnote: 4.]
The stranger bowed.
"An Englishman, I perceive," continued the Doctor, but nowise
intimating that the fact of being a countryman was any recommendation
in his eyes.
"Yes, an Englishman," replied Hammond; "a briefless barrister,
[Endnote: 5] in fact, of Lincoln's Inn, who, having little or nothing
to detain him at home, has come to spend a few idle months in seeing
the new republic which has been made out of English substance."
"And what," continued Doctor Grim, not a whit relaxing the
repulsiveness of his manner, and scowling askance at the stranger,--
"what may have drawn on me the good fortune of being compelled to make
my time idle, because yours is so?"
The stranger's cheek flushed a little; but he smiled to himself, as if
saying that here was a grim, rude kind of humorist, who had lost the
sense of his own peculiarity, and had no idea that he was rude at all.
"I came to America, as I told you," said he, "chiefly because I was
idle, and wanted to turn my enforced idleness to what profit I could,
in the way of seeing men, manners, governments, and problems, which I
hope to have no time to study by and by. But I also had an errand
intrusted to me, and of a singular nature; and making inquiry in this
little town (where my mission must be performed, if at all), I have
been directed to you, by your townspeople, as to a person not unlikely
to be able to assist me in it."
"My townspeople, since you choose to call them so," answered the grim
Doctor, "ought to know, by this time, that I am not the sort of man
likely to assist any person, in any way."
"Yet this is so singular an affair," said the stranger, still with mild
courtesy, "that at least it may excite your curiosity. I have come here
to find a grave."
"To find a grave!" said Doctor Grim, giving way to a grim sense of
humor, and relaxing just enough to let out a joke, the tameness of
which was a little redeemed, to his taste, by its grimness. "I might
help you there, to be sure, since it is all in the way of business.
Like others of my profession, I have helped many people to find their
graves, no doubt, and shall be happy to do the same for you. You have
hit upon the one thing in which my services are ready."
"I thank you, my dear sir," said the young stranger, having tact enough
to laugh at Dr. Grim's joke, and thereby mollifying him a little; "but
as far as I am personally concerned, I prefer to wait a while before
making the discovery of that little spot in Mother Earth which I am
destined to occupy. It is a grave which has been occupied as such for
at least a century and a half which I am in quest of; and it is as an
antiquarian, a genealogist, a person who has had dealings with the dead
of long ago, not as a professional man engaged in adding to their
number, that I ask your aid."
"Ah, ahah!" said the Doctor, laying down his pipe, and looking
earnestly at the stranger; not kindly nor genially, but rather with a
lurid glance of suspicion out of those red eyes of his, but no longer
with a desire to escape an intruder; rather as one who meant to clutch
him. "Explain your meaning, sir, at once."
"Then here it is," said Mr. Hammond. "There is an old English family,
one of the members of which, very long ago, emigrated to this part of
America, then a wilderness, and long afterwards a British colony. He
was on ill terms with his family. There is reason to believe that
documents, deeds, titular proofs, or some other thing valuable to the
family, were buried in the grave of this emigrant; and there have been
various attempts, within a century, to find this grave, and if possible
some living descendant of the man, or both, under the idea that either
of these cases might influence the disputed descent of the property,
and enable the family to prove its claims to an ancient title. Now,
rather as a matter of curiosity, than with any real hope of success,--
and being slightly connected with the family,--I have taken what seems
to myself a wild-goose chase; making it merely incidental, you well
understand, not by any means the main purpose of my voyage to America."
"What is the name of this family?" asked the Doctor, abruptly.
"The man whose grave I seek," said the stranger, "lived and died, in
this country, under the assumed name of Colcord."
"How do you expect to succeed in this ridiculous quest?" asked the
Doctor, "and what marks, signs, directions, have you to guide your
search? And moreover, how have you come to any knowledge whatever about
the matter, even that the emigrant ever assumed this name of Colcord,
and that he was buried anywhere, and that his place of burial, after
more than a century, is of the slightest importance?"
"All this was ascertained by a messenger on a similar errand with my
own, only undertaken nearly a century ago, and more in earnest than I
can pretend to be," replied the Englishman. "At that period, however,
there was probably a desire to find nothing that might take the
hereditary possessions of the family out of the branch which still held
them; and there is strong reason to suspect that the information
acquired was purposely kept secret by the person in England into whose
hands it came. The thing is differently situated now; the possessor of
the estate is recently dead; and the discovery of an American heir
would not be unacceptable to many. At all events, any knowledge gained
here would throw light on a somewhat doubtful matter."
"Where, as nearly as you can judge," said the Doctor, after a turn or
two through the study, "was this man buried?"
"He spent the last years of his life, certainly, in this town," said
Hammond, "and may be found, if at all, among the dead of that period."
"And they--their miserable dust, at least, which is all that still
exists of them--were buried in the graveyard under these windows," said
the Doctor. "What marks, I say,--for you might as well seek a vanished
wave of the sea, as a grave that surged upward so long ago."
"On the gravestone," said Hammond, "a slate one, there was rudely
sculptured the impress of a foot. What it signifies I cannot
conjecture, except it had some reference to a certain legend of a
bloody footstep, which is currently told, and some token of which yet
remains on one of the thresholds of the ancient mansion-house."
Ned and Elsie had withdrawn themselves from the immediate vicinity of
the fireside, and were playing at fox and geese in a corner near the
window. But little Elsie, having very quick ears, and a faculty of
attending to more affairs than one, now called out, "Doctor Grim, Ned
and I know where that gravestone is."
"Hush, Elsie," whispered Ned, earnestly.
"Come forward here, both of you," said Doctor Grimshawe.
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