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Ken's Mystery

One cool October evening--it was the last day of the month, and
unusually cool for the time of year--I made up my mind to go and spend
an hour or two with my friend Keningale. Keningale was an artist (as
well as a musical amateur and poet), and had a very delightful studio
built onto his house, in which he was wont to sit of an evening. The
studio had a cavernous fire-place, designed in imitation of the old-
fashioned fire-places of Elizabethan manor-houses, and in it, when the
temperature out-doors warranted, he would build up a cheerful fire of
dry logs. It would suit me particularly well, I thought, to go and have
a quiet pipe and chat in front of that fire with my friend.

I had not had such a chat for a very long time--not, in fact, since
Keningale (or Ken, as his friends called him) had returned from his
visit to Europe the year before. He went abroad, as he affirmed at the
time, "for purposes of study," whereat we all smiled, for Ken, so far
as we knew him, was more likely to do anything else than to study. He
was a young fellow of buoyant temperament, lively and social in his
habits, of a brilliant and versatile mind, and possessing an income of
twelve or fifteen thousand dollars a year; he could sing, play,
scribble, and paint very cleverly, and some of his heads and figure-
pieces were really well done, considering that he never had any regular
training in art; but he was not a worker. Personally he was fine-
looking, of good height and figure, active, healthy, and with a
remarkably fine brow, and clear, full-gazing eye. Nobody was surprised
at his going to Europe, nobody expected him to do anything there except
amuse himself, and few anticipated that he would be soon again seen in
New York. He was one of the sort that find Europe agree with them. Off
he went, therefore; and in the course of a few months the rumor reached
us that he was engaged to a handsome and wealthy New York girl whom he
had met in London. This was nearly all we did hear of him until, not
very long afterward, he turned up again on Fifth Avenue, to every one's
astonishment; made no satisfactory answer to those who wanted to know
how he happened to tire so soon of the Old World; while, as to the
reported engagement, he cut short all allusion to that in so peremptory
a manner as to show that it was not a permissible topic of conversation
with him. It was surmised that the lady had jilted him; but, on the
other hand, she herself returned home not a great while after, and,
though she had plenty of opportunities, she has never married to this
day.

Be the rights of that matter what they may, it was soon remarked that
Ken was no longer the careless and merry fellow he used to be; on the
contrary, he appeared grave, moody, averse from general society, and
habitually taciturn and undemonstrative even in the company of his most
intimate friends. Evidently something had happened to him, or he had
done something. What? Had he committed a murder? or joined the
Nihilists? or was his unsuccessful love affair at the bottom of it?
Some declared that the cloud was only temporary, and would soon pass
away. Nevertheless, up to the period of which I am writing, it had not
passed away, but had rather gathered additional gloom, and threatened
to become permanent.

Meanwhile I had met him twice or thrice at the club, at the opera, or
in the street, but had as yet had no opportunity of regularly renewing
my acquaintance with him. We had been on a footing of more than common
intimacy in the old days, and I was not disposed to think that he would
refuse to renew the former relations now. But what I had heard and
myself seen of his changed condition imparted a stimulating tinge of
suspense or curiosity to the pleasure with which I looked forward to
the prospects of this evening. His house stood at a distance of two or
three miles beyond the general range of habitations in New York at this
time, and as I walked briskly along in the clear twilight air I had
leisure to go over in my mind all that I had known of Ken and had
divined of his character. After all, had there not always been
something in his nature--deep down, and held in abeyance by the
activity of his animal spirits--but something strange and separate, and
capable of developing under suitable conditions into--into what? As I
asked myself this question I arrived at his door; and it was with a
feeling of relief that I felt the next moment the cordial grasp of his
hand, and his voice bidding me welcome in a tone that indicated
unaffected gratification at my presence. He drew me at once into the
studio, relieved me of my hat and cane, and then put his hand on my
shoulder.

"I am glad to see you," he repeated, with singular earnestness--"glad
to see you and to feel you; and to-night of all nights in the year."

"Why to-night especially?"

"Oh, never mind. It's just as well, too, you didn't let me know
beforehand you were coming; the unreadiness is all, to paraphrase the
poet. Now, with you to help me, I can drink a glass of whisky and water
and take a bit draw of the pipe. This would have been a grim night for
me if I'd been left to myself."

"In such a lap of luxury as this, too!" said I, looking round at the
glowing fire-place, the low, luxurious chairs, and all the rich and
sumptuous fittings of the room. "I should have thought a condemned
murderer might make himself comfortable here."

"Perhaps; but that's not exactly my category at present. But have you
forgotten what night this is? This is November-eve, when, as tradition
asserts, the dead arise and walk about, and fairies, goblins, and
spiritual beings of all kinds have more freedom and power than on any
other day of the year. One can see you've never been in Ireland."

"I wasn't aware till now that you had been there, either."

"Yes, I have been in Ireland. Yes--" He paused, sighed, and fell into a
reverie, from which, however, he soon roused himself by an effort, and
went to a cabinet in a corner of the room for the liquor and tobacco.
While he was thus employed I sauntered about the studio, taking note of
the various beauties, grotesquenesses, and curiosities that it
contained. Many things were there to repay study and arouse admiration;
for Ken was a good collector, having excellent taste as well as means
to back it. But, upon the whole, nothing interested me more than some
studies of a female head, roughly done in oils, and, judging from the
sequestered positions in which I found them, not intended by the artist
for exhibition or criticism. There were three or four of these studies,
all of the same face, but in different poses and costumes. In one the
head was enveloped in a dark hood, overshadowing and partly concealing
the features; in another she seemed to be peering duskily through a
latticed casement, lit by a faint moonlight; a third showed her
splendidly attired in evening costume, with jewels in her hair and
cars, and sparkling on her snowy bosom. The expressions were as various
as the poses; now it was demure penetration, now a subtle inviting
glance, now burning passion, and again a look of elfish and elusive
mockery. In whatever phase, the countenance possessed a singular and
poignant fascination, not of beauty merely, though that was very
striking, but of character and quality likewise.

"Did you find this model abroad?" I inquired at length. "She has
evidently inspired yon, and I don't wonder at it."

Ken, who had been mixing the punch, and had not noticed my movements,
now looked up, and said: "I didn't mean those to be seen. They don't
satisfy me, and I am going to destroy them; but I couldn't rest till
I'd made some attempts to reproduce--What was it you asked? Abroad?
Yes--or no. They were all painted here within the last six weeks."

'"Whether they satisfy you or not, they are by far the best things of
yours I have ever seen."

'"Well, let them alone, and tell me what you think of this beverage. To
my thinking, it goes to the right spot. It owes its existence to your
coming here. I can't drink alone, and those portraits are not company,
though, for aught I know, she might have come out of the canvas to-
night and sat down in that chair." Then, seeing my inquiring look, he
added, with a hasty laugh, "It's November-eve, you know, when anything
may happen, provided its strange enough. Well, here's to ourselves."

We each swallowed a deep draught of the smoking and aromatic liquor,
and set down our glasses with approval. The punch was excellent. Ken
now opened a box of cigars, and we seated ourselves before the fire-
place.

"All we need now," I remarked, after a short silence, "is a little
music. By-the-by, Ken, have you still got the banjo I gave you before
you went abroad?"

He paused so long before replying that I supposed he had not heard my
question. "I have got it," he said, at length, "but it will never make
any more music."

"Got broken, eh? Can't it be mended? It was a fine instrument."

"It's not broken, but it's past mending. You shall see for yourself."

He arose as he spoke, and going to another part of the studio, opened a
black oak coffer, and took out of it a long object wrapped up in a
piece of faded yellow silk. He handed it to me, and when I had
unwrapped it, there appeared a thing that might once have been a banjo,
but had little resemblance to one now. It bore every sign of extreme
age. The wood of the handle was honeycombed with the gnawings of worms,
and dusty with dry-rot. The parchment head was green with mold, and
hung in shriveled tatters. The hoop, which was of solid silver, was so
blackened and tarnished that it looked like dilapidated iron. The
strings were gone, and most of the tuning-screws had dropped out of
their decayed sockets. Altogether it had the appearance of having been
made before the Flood, and been forgotten in the forecastle of Noah's
Ark ever since.

"It is a curious relic, certainly," I said. "Where did you come across
it? I had no idea that the banjo was invented so long ago as this. It
certainly can't be less than two hundred years old, and may be much
older than that."

Ken smiled gloomily. "You are quite right," lie said; "it is at least
two hundred years old, and yet it is the very same banjo that you gave
me a year ago."

"Hardly," I returned, smiling in my turn, "since that was made to my
order with a view to presenting it to you."

"I know that; but the two hundred years have passed since then. Yes; it
is absurd and impossible, I know, but nothing is truer. That banjo,
which was made last year, existed in the sixteenth century, and has
been rotting ever since. Stay. Give it to me a moment, and I'll
convince you. You recollect that your name and mine, with the date,
were engraved on the silver hoop?"

"Yes; and there was a private mark of my own there, also."

"Very well," said Ken, who had been rubbing a place on the hoop with a
corner of the yellow silk wrapper; "look at that."

I took the decrepit instrument from him, and examined the spot which he
had rubbed. It was incredible, sure enough; but there were the names
and the date precisely as I had caused them to be engraved; and there,
moreover, was my own private mark, which I had idly made with an old
etching point not more than eighteen months before. After convincing
myself that there was no mistake, I laid the banjo across my knees, and
stared at my friend in bewilderment. He sat smoking with a kind of grim
composure, his eyes fixed upon the blazing logs.

"I'm mystified, I confess," said I. "Come; what is the joke? What
method have you discovered of producing the decay of centuries on this
unfortunate banjo in a few months? And why did you do it? I have heard
of an elixir to counteract the effects of time, but your recipe seems
to work the other way--to make time rush forward at two hundred times
his usual rate, in one place, while he jogs on at his usual gait
elsewhere. Unfold your mystery, magician. Seriously, Ken, how on earth
did the thing happen?"

"I know no more about it than you do," was his reply. "Either you and I
and all the rest of the living world are insane, or else there has been
wrought a miracle as strange as any in tradition. How can I explain it?
It is a common saying--a common experience, if you will--that we may,
on certain trying or tremendous occasions, live years in one moment.
But that's a mental experience, not a physical one, and one that
applies, at all events, only to human beings, not to senseless things
of wood and metal. You imagine the thing is some trick or jugglery. If
it be, I don't know the secret of it. There's no chemical appliance
that I ever heard of that will get a piece of solid wood into that
condition in a few months, or a few years. And it wasn't done in a few
years, or a few months either. A year ago today at this very hour that
banjo was as sound as when it left the maker's hands, and twenty-four
hours afterward--I'm telling you the simple truth--it was as you see it
now."

The gravity and earnestness with which Ken made this astounding
statement were evidently not assumed, He believed every word that he
uttered. I knew not what to think. Of course my friend might be insane,
though he betrayed none of the ordinary symptoms of mania; but, however
that might be, there was the banjo, a witness whose silent testimony
there was no gainsaying. The more I meditated on the matter the more
inconceivable did it appear. Two hundred years--twenty-four hours;
these were the terms of the proposed equation. Ken and the banjo both
affirmed that the equation had been made; all worldly knowledge and
experience affirmed it to be impossible. "What was the explanation?
What is time? What is life? I felt myself beginning to doubt the
reality of all things. And so this was the mystery which my friend had
been brooding over since his return from abroad. No wonder it had
changed him. More to be wondered at was it that it had not changed him
more.

"Can you tell me the whole story?" I demanded at length.

Ken quaffed another draught from his glass of whisky and water and
rubbed his hand through his thick brown beard. "I have never spoken to
any one of it heretofore," he said, "and I had never meant to speak of
it. But I'll try and give you some idea of what it was. You know me
better than any one else; you'll understand the thing as far as it can
ever be understood, and perhaps I may be relieved of some of the
oppression it has caused me. For it is rather a ghastly memory to
grapple with alone, I can tell you."

Hereupon, without further preface, Ken related the following tale. He
was, I may observe in passing, a naturally fine narrator. There were
deep, lingering tones in his voice, and he could strikingly enhance the
comic or pathetic effect of a sentence by dwelling here and there upon
some syllable. His features were equally susceptible of humorous and of
solemn expressions, and his eyes were in form and hue wonderfully
adapted to showing great varieties of emotion. Their mournful aspect
was extremely earnest and affecting; and when Ken was giving utterance
to some mysterious passage of the tale they had a doubtful, melancholy,
exploring look which appealed irresistibly to the imagination. But the
interest of his story was too pressing to allow of noticing these
incidental embellishments at the time, though they doubtless had their
influence upon me all the same.

"I left New York on an Inman Line steamer, you remember," began Ken,
"and landed at Havre. I went the usual round of sight-seeing on the
Continent, and got round to London in July, at the height of the
season. I had good introductions, and met any number of agreeable and
famous people. Among others was a young lady, a countrywoman of my own
--you know whom I mean--who interested me very much, and before her
family left London she and I were engaged. We parted there for the
time, because she had the Continental trip still to make, while I
wanted to take the opportunity to visit the north of England and
Ireland. I landed at Dublin about the 1st of October, and, zigzagging
about the country, I found myself in County Cork about two weeks later.

"There is in that region some of the most lovely scenery that human
eyes ever rested on, and it seems to be less known to tourists than
many places of infinitely less picturesque value. A lonely region too:
during my rambles I met not a single stranger like myself, and few
enough natives. It seems incredible that so beautiful a country should
be so deserted. After walking a dozen Irish miles you come across a
group of two or three one-roomed cottages, and, like as not, one or
more of those will have the roof off and the walls in ruins. The few
peasants whom one sees, however, are affable and hospitable, especially
when they hear you are from that terrestrial heaven whither most of
their friends and relatives have gone before them. They seem simple and
primitive enough at first sight, and yet they are as strange and
incomprehensible a race as any in the world. They are as superstitious,
as credulous of marvels, fairies, magicians, and omens, as the men whom
St. Patrick preached to, and at the same time they are shrewd,
skeptical, sensible, and bottomless liars. Upon the whole, I met with
no nation on my travels whose company I enjoyed so much, or who
inspired me with so much kindliness, curiosity, and repugnance.

"At length I got to a place on the sea-coast, which I will not further
specify than to say that it is not many miles from Ballymacheen, on the
south shore. I have seen Venice and Naples, I have driven along the
Cornice Road, I have spent a month at our own Mount Desert, and I say
that all of them together are not so beautiful as this glowing, deep-
hued, soft-gleaming, silvery-lighted, ancient harbor and town, with the
tall hills crowding round it and the black cliffs and headlands
planting their iron feet in the blue, transparent sea. It is a very old
place, and has had a history which it has outlived ages since. It may
once have had two or three thousand inhabitants; it has scarce five or
six hundred to day. Half the houses are in ruins or have disappeared;
many of the remainder are standing empty. All the people are poor, most
of them abjectly so; they saunter about with bare feet and uncovered
heads, the women in quaint black or dark-blue cloaks, the men in such
anomalous attire as only an Irishman knows how to get together, the
children half naked. The only comfortable-looking people are the monks
and the priests, and the soldiers in the fort. For there is a fort
there, constructed on the huge ruins of one which may have done duty in
the reign of Edward the Black Prince, or earlier, in whose mossy
embrasures are mounted a couple of cannon, which occasionally sent a
practice-shot or two at the cliff on the other side of the harbor. The
garrison consists of a dozen men and three or four officers and non-
commissioned officers. I suppose they are relieved occasionally, but
those I saw seemed to have become component parts of their
surroundings.

"I put up at a wonderful little old inn, the only one in the place, and
took my meals in a dining-saloon fifteen feet by nine, with a portrait
of George I (a print varnished to preserve it) hanging over the mantel-
piece. On the second evening after dinner a young gentleman came in--
the dining-saloon being public property of course--and ordered some
bread and cheese and a bottle of Dublin stout. We presently fell into
talk; he turned out to be an officer from the fort, Lieutenant
O'Connor, and a fine young specimen of the Irish soldier he was. After
telling me all he knew about the town, the surrounding country, his
friends, and himself, he intimated a readiness to sympathize with
whatever tale I might choose to pour into his ear; and I had pleasure
in trying to rival his own outspokenness. We became excellent friends;
we had up a half-pint of Kinahan's whisky, and the lieutenant expressed
himself in terms of high praise of my countrymen, my country, and my
own particular cigars. When it became time for him to depart I
accompanied him--for there was a splendid moon abroad--and bade him
farewell at the fort entrance, having promised to come over the next
day and make the acquaintance of the other fellows. 'And mind your eye,
now, going back, my dear boy,' he called out, as I turned my face
homeward. 'Faith, 'tis a spooky place, that graveyard, and you'll as
likely meet the black woman there as anywhere else!'

"The graveyard was a forlorn and barren spot on the hill-side, just the
hither side of the fort: thirty or forty rough head-stones, few of
which retained any semblance of the perpendicular, while many were so
shattered and decayed as to seem nothing more than irregular natural
projections from the ground. Who the black woman might be I knew not,
and did not stay to inquire. I had never been subject to ghostly
apprehensions, and as a matter of fact, though the path I had to follow
was in places very bad going, not to mention a hap-hazard scramble over
a ruined bridge that covered a deep-lying brook, I reached my inn
without any adventure whatever.

"The next day I kept my appointment at the fort, and found no reason to
regret it; and my friendly sentiments were abundantly reciprocated,
thanks more especially, perhaps, to the success of my banjo, which I
carried with me, and which was as novel as it was popular with those
who listened to it. The chief personages in the social circle besides
my friend the lieutenant were Major Molloy, who was in command, a racy
and juicy old campaigner, with a face like a sunset, and the surgeon,
Dr. Dudeen, a long, dry, humorous genius, with a wealth of anecdotical
and traditional lore at his command that I have never seen surpassed.
We had a jolly time of it, and it was the precursor of many more like
it. The remains of October slipped away rapidly, and I was obliged to
remember that I was a traveler in Europe, and not a resident in
Ireland. The major, the surgeon, and the lieutenant all protested
cordially against my proposed departure, but, as there was no help for
it, they arranged a farewell dinner to take place in the fort on All-
halloween.

"I wish you could have been at that dinner with me! It was the essence
of Irish good-fellowship. Dr. Dudeen was in great force; the major was
better than the best of Lever's novels; the lieutenant was overflowing
with hearty good-humor, merry chaff, and sentimental rhapsodies anent
this or the other pretty girl of the neighborhood. For my part I made
the banjo ring as it had never rung before, and the others joined in
the chorus with a mellow strength of lungs such as you don't often hear
outside of Ireland. Among the stories that Dr. Dudeen regaled us with
was one about the Kern of Querin and his wife, Ethelind Fionguala--
which being interpreted signifies 'the white-shouldered.' The lady, it
appears, was originally betrothed to one O'Connor (here the lieutenant
smacked his lips), but was stolen away on the wedding night by a party
of vampires, who, it would seem, were at that period a prominent
feature among the troubles of Ireland. But as they were bearing her
along--she being unconscious--to that supper where she was not to eat
but to be eaten, the young Kern of Querin, who happened to be out duck-
shooting, met the party, and emptied his gun at it. The vampires fled,
and the Kern carried the fair lady, still in a state of insensibility,
to his house. 'And by the same token, Mr. Keningale,' observed the
doctor, knocking the ashes out of his pipe, 'ye're after passing that
very house on your way here. The one with the dark archway underneath
it, and the big mullioned window at the corner, ye recollect, hanging
over the street as I might say--'

"'Go 'long wid the house, Dr. Dudeen, dear,' interrupted the
lieutenant; 'sure can't you see we're all dying to know what happened
to sweet Miss Fionguala, God be good to her, when I was after getting
her safe up-stairs--'

"'Faith, then, I can tell ye that myself, Mr. O'Connor,' exclaimed the
major, imparting a rotary motion to the remnants of whisky in his
tumbler. ''Tis a question to be solved on general principles, as
Colonel O'Halloran said that time he was asked what he'd do if he'd
been the Book o' Wellington, and the Prussians hadn't come up in the
nick o' time at Waterloo. 'Faith,' says the colonel, 'I'll tell ye--'

"'Arrah, then, major, why would ye be interruptin' the doctor, and Mr.
Keningale there lettin' his glass stay empty till he hears--The Lord
save us! the bottle's empty!'

"In the excitement consequent upon this discovery, the thread of the
doctor's story was lost; and before it could be recovered the evening
had advanced so far that I felt obliged to withdraw. It took some time
to make my proposition heard and comprehended; and a still longer time
to put it in execution; so that it was fully midnight before I found
myself standing in the cool pure air outside the fort, with the
farewells of my boon companions ringing in my ears.

"Considering that it had been rather a wet evening in-doors, I was in a
remarkably good state of preservation, and I therefore ascribed it
rather to the roughness of the road than to the smoothness of the
liquor, when, after advancing a few rods, I stumbled and fell. As I
picked myself up I fancied I had heard a laugh, and supposed that the
lieutenant, who had accompanied me to the gate, was making merry over
my mishap; but on looking round I saw that the gate was closed and no
one was visible. The laugh, moreover, had seemed to be close at hand,
and to be even pitched in a key that was rather feminine than
masculine. Of course I must have been deceived; nobody was near me: my
imagination had played me a trick, or else there was more truth than
poetry in the tradition that Halloween is the carnival-time of
disembodied spirits. It did not occur to me at the time that a stumble
is held by the superstitious Irish to be an evil omen, and had I
remembered it it would only have been to laugh at it. At all events, I
was physically none the worse for my fall, and I resumed my way
immediately.

"But the path was singularly difficult to find, or rather the path I
was following did not seem to be the right one. I did not recognize it;
I could have sworn (except I knew the contrary) that I had never seen
it before. The moon had risen, though her light was as yet obscured by
clouds, but neither my immediate surroundings nor the general aspect of
the region appeared familiar. Dark, silent hill-sides mounted up on
either hand, and the road, for the most part, plunged downward, as if
to conduct me into the bowels of the earth. The place was alive with
strange echoes, so that at times I seemed to be walking through the
midst of muttering voices and mysterious whispers, and a wild, faint
sound of laughter seemed ever and anon to reverberate among the passes
of the hills. Currents of colder air sighing up through narrow defiles
and dark crevices touched my face as with airy fingers. A certain
feeling of anxiety and insecurity began to take possession of me,
though there was no definable cause for it, unless that I might be
belated in getting home. With the perverse instinct of those who are
lost I hastened my steps, but was impelled now and then to glance back
over my shoulder, with a sensation of being pursued. But no living
creature was in sight. The moon, however, had now risen higher, and the
clouds that were drifting slowly across the sky flung into the naked
valley dusky shadows, which occasionally assumed shapes that looked
like the vague semblance of gigantic human forms.

"How long I had been hurrying onward I know not, when, with a kind of
suddenness, I found myself approaching a graveyard. It was situated on
the spur of a hill, and there was no fence around it, nor anything to
protect it from the incursions of passers-by. There was something in
the general appearance of this spot that made me half fancy I had seen
it before; and I should have taken it to be the same that I had often
noticed on my way to the fort, but that the latter was only a few
hundred yards distant therefrom, whereas I must have traversed several
miles at least. As I drew near, moreover, I observed that the head-
stones did not appear so ancient and decayed as those of the other. But
what chiefly attracted my attention was the figure that was leaning or
half sitting upon one of the largest of the upright slabs near the
road. It was a female figure draped in black, and a closer inspection--
for I was soon within a few yards of her--showed that she wore the
calla, or long hooded cloak, the most common as well as the most
ancient garment of Irish women, and doubtless of Spanish origin.

"I was a trifle startled by this apparition, so unexpected as it was,
and so strange did it seem that any human creature should be at that
hour of the night in so desolate and sinister a place. Involuntarily I
paused as I came opposite her, and gazed at her intently. But the
moonlight fell behind her, and the deep hood of her cloak so completely
shadowed her face that I was unable to discern anything but the sparkle
of a pair of eyes, which appeared to be returning my gaze with much
vivacity.

"'You seem to be at home here,' I said, at length. 'Can you tell me
where I am?'

"Hereupon the mysterious personage broke into a light laugh, which,
though in itself musical and agreeable, was of a timbre and intonation
that caused my heart to beat rather faster than my late pedestrian
exertions warranted; for it was the identical laugh (or so my
imagination persuaded me) that had echoed in my ears as I arose from my
tumble an hour or two ago. For the rest, it was the laugh of a young
woman, and presumably of a pretty one; and yet it had a wild, airy,
mocking quality, that seemed hardly human at all, or not, at any rate,
characteristic of a being of affections and limitations like unto ours.
But this impression of mine was fostered, no doubt, by the unusual and
uncanny circumstances of the occasion.

"'Sure, sir,' said she, 'you're at the grave of Ethelind Fionguala.'

"As she spoke she rose to her feet, and pointed to the inscription on
the stone. I bent forward, and was able, without much difficulty, to
decipher the name, and a date which indicated that the occupant of the
grave must have entered the disembodied state between two and three
centuries ago.

"'And who are you?' was my next question.

"'I'm called Elsie,' she replied. 'But where would your honor be going
November-eve?'

"I mentioned my destination, and asked her whether she could direct me
thither.

"'Indeed, then, 'tis there I'm going myself,' Elsie replied; 'and if
your honor'll follow me, and play me a tune on the pretty instrument,
'tisn't long we'll be on the road.'

"She pointed to the banjo which I carried wrapped up under my arm. How
she knew that it was a musical instrument I could not imagine;
possibly, I thought, she may have seen me playing on it as I strolled
about the environs of the town. Be that as it may, I offered no
opposition to the bargain, and further intimated that I would reward
her more substantially on our arrival. At that she laughed again, and
made a peculiar gesture with her hand above her head. I uncovered my
banjo, swept my fingers across the strings, and struck into a fantastic
dance-measure, to the music of which we proceeded along the path, Elsie
slightly in advance, her feet keeping time to the airy measure. In
fact, she trod so lightly, with an elastic, undulating movement, that
with a little more it seemed as if she might float onward like a
spirit. The extreme whiteness of her feet attracted my eye, and I was
surprised to find that instead of being bare, as I had supposed, these
were incased in white satin slippers quaintly embroidered with gold
thread.

"'Elsie,' said I, lengthening my steps so as to come up with her,
'where do you live, and what do you do for a living?'

"'Sure, I live by myself,' she answered; 'and if you'd be after knowing
how, you must come and see for yourself.'

"'Are you in the habit of walking over the hills at night in shoes like
that?'

"'And why would I not?' she asked, in her turn. 'And where did your
honor get the pretty gold ring on your finger?'

"The ring, which was of no great intrinsic value, had struck my eye in
an old curiosity-shop in Cork. It was an antique of very old-fashioned
design, and might have belonged (as the vender assured me was the case)
to one of the early kings or queens of Ireland.

"'Do you like it?' said I.

"'Will your honor be after making a present of it to Elsie?' she
returned, with an insinuating tone and turn of the head.

"'Maybe I will, Elsie, on one condition. I am an artist; I make
pictures of people. If you will promise to come to my studio and let me
paint your portrait, I'll give you the ring, and some money besides.'

"'And will you give me the ring now?' said Elsie.

"'Yes, if you'll promise.'

"'And will you play the music to me?' she continued.

"'As much as you like.'

"'But maybe I'll not be handsome enough for ye,' said she, with a
glance of her eyes beneath the dark hood.

"'I'll take the risk of that,' I answered, laughing, 'though, all the
same, I don't mind taking a peep beforehand to remember you by.' So
saying, I put forth a hand to draw back the concealing hood. But Elsie
eluded me, I scarce know how, and laughed a third time, with the same
airy, mocking cadence.

"'Give me the ring first, and then you shall see me,' she said,
coaxingly.

"'Stretch out your hand, then,' returned I, removing the ring from my
finger. 'When we are better acquainted, Elsie, you won't be so
suspicious.'

"She held out a slender, delicate hand, on the forefinger of which I
slipped the ring. As I did so, the folds of her cloak fell a little
apart, affording me a glimpse of a white shoulder and of a dress that
seemed in that deceptive semi-darkness to be wrought of rich and costly
material; and I caught, too, or so I fancied, the frosty sparkle of
precious stones.

"'Arrah, mind where ye tread!' said Elsie, in a sudden, sharp tone.

"I looked round, and became aware for the first time that we were
standing near the middle of a ruined bridge which spanned a rapid
stream that flowed at a considerable depth below. The parapet of the
bridge on one side was broken down, and I must have been, in fact, in
imminent danger of stepping over into empty air. I made my way
cautiously across the decaying structure; but, when I turned to assist
Elsie, she was nowhere to be seen.

"What had become of the girl? I called, but no answer came. I gazed
about on every side, but no trace of her was visible. Unless she had
plunged into the narrow abyss at my feet, there was no place where she
could have concealed herself--none at least that I could discover. She
had vanished, nevertheless; and since her disappearance must have been
premeditated, I finally came to the conclusion that it was useless to
attempt to find her. She would present herself again in her own good
time, or not at all. She had given me the slip very cleverly, and I
must make the best of it. The adventure was perhaps worth the ring.

"On resuming my way, I was not a little relieved to find that I once
more knew where I was. The bridge that I had just crossed was none
other than the one I mentioned some time back; I was within a mile of
the town, and my way lay clear before me. The moon, moreover, had now
quite dispersed the clouds, and shone down with exquisite brilliance.
Whatever her other failings, Elsie had been a trustworthy guide; she
had brought me out of the depth of elf-land into the material world
again. It had been a singular adventure, certainly; and I mused over it
with a sense of mysterious pleasure as I sauntered along, humming
snatches of airs, and accompanying myself on the strings. Hark! what
light step was that behind me? It sounded like Elsie's; but no, Elsie
was not there. The same impression or hallucination, however, recurred
several times before I reached the outskirts of the town--the tread of
an airy foot behind or beside my own. The fancy did not make me
nervous; on the contrary, I was pleased with the notion of being thus
haunted, and gave myself up to a romantic and genial vein of reverie.

"After passing one or two roofless and moss-grown cottages, I entered
the narrow and rambling street which leads through the town. This
street a short distance down widens a little, as if to afford the
wayfarer space to observe a remarkable old house that stands on the
northern side. The house was built of stone, and in a noble style of
architecture; it reminded me somewhat of certain palaces of the old
Italian nobility that I had seen on the Continent, and it may very
probably have been built by one of the Italian or Spanish immigrants of
the sixteenth or seventeenth century. The molding of the projecting
windows and arched doorway was richly carved, and upon the front of the
building was an escutcheon wrought in high relief, though I could not
make out the purport of the device. The moonlight falling upon this
picturesque pile enhanced all its beauties, and at the same time made
it seem like a vision that might dissolve away when the light ceased to
shine. I must often have seen the house before, and yet I retained no
definite recollection of it; I had never until now examined it with my
eyes open, so to speak. Leaning against the wall on the opposite side
of the street, I contemplated it for a long while at my leisure. The
window at the corner was really a very fine and massive affair. It
projected over the pavement below, throwing a heavy shadow aslant; the
frames of the diamond-paned lattices were heavily mullioned. How often
in past ages had that lattice been pushed open by some fair hand,
revealing to a lover waiting beneath in the moonlight the charming
countenance of his high-born mistress! Those were brave days. They had
passed away long since. The great house had stood empty for who could
tell how many years; only bats and vermin were its inhabitants. Where
now were those who had built it? and who were they? Probably the very
name of them was forgotten.

"As I continued to stare upward, however, a conjecture presented itself
to my mind which rapidly ripened into a conviction. Was not this the
house that Dr. Dudeen had described that very evening as having been
formerly the abode of the Kern of Querin and his mysterious bride?
There was the projecting window, the arched doorway. Yes, beyond a
doubt this was the very house. I emitted a low exclamation of renewed
interest and pleasure, and my speculations took a still more
imaginative, but also a more definite turn.

"What had been the fate of that lovely lady after the Kern had brought
her home insensible in his arms? Did she recover, and were they married
and made happy ever after; or had the sequel been a tragic one? I
remembered to have read that the victims of vampires generally became
vampires themselves. Then my thoughts went back to that grave on the
hill-side. Surely that was unconsecrated ground. Why had they buried
her there? Ethelind of the white shoulder! Ah! why had not I lived in
those days; or why might not some magic cause them to live again for
me? Then would I seek this street at midnight, and standing here
beneath her window, I would lightly touch the strings of my bandore
until the casement opened cautiously and she looked down. A sweet
vision indeed! And what prevented my realizing it? Only a matter of a
couple of centuries or so. And was time, then, at which poets and
philosophers sneer, so rigid and real a matter that a little faith and
imagination might not overcome it? At all events, I had my banjo, the
bandore's legitimate and lineal descendant, and the memory of Fionguala
should have the love-ditty.

"Hereupon, having retuned the instrument, I launched forth into an old
Spanish love-song, which I had met with in some moldy library during my
travels, and had set to music of my own. I sang low, for the deserted
street re-echoed the lightest sound, and what I sang must reach only my
lady's ears. The words were warm with the fire of the ancient Spanish
chivalry, and I threw into their expression all the passion of the
lovers of romance. Surely Fionguala, the white-shouldered, would hear,
and awaken from her sleep of centuries, and come to the latticed
casement and look down! Hist! see yonder! What light--what shadow is
that that seems to flit from room to room within the abandoned house,
and now approaches the mullioned window? Are my eyes dazzled by the
play of the moonlight, or does the casement move--does it open? Nay,
this is no delusion; there is no error of the senses here. There is
simply a woman, young, beautiful, and richly attired, bending forward
from the window, and silently beckoning me to approach.

"Too much amazed to be conscious of amazement, I advanced until I stood
directly beneath the casement, and the lady's face, as she stooped
toward me, was not more than twice a man's height from my own. She
smiled and kissed her finger-tips; something white fluttered in her
hand, then fell through the air to the ground at my feet. The next
moment she had withdrawn, and I heard the lattice close. I picked up
what she had let fall; it was a delicate lace handkerchief,
tied to the handle of an elaborately wrought bronze key. It was
evidently the key of the house, and invited me to enter. I loosened it
from the handkerchief, which bore a faint, delicious perfume, like the
aroma of flowers in an ancient garden, and turned to the arched
doorway. I felt no misgiving, and scarcely any sense of strangeness.
All was as I had wished it to be, and as it should be; the mediaeval
age was alive once more, and as for myself, I almost felt the velvet
cloak hanging from my shoulder and the long rapier dangling at my belt.
Standing in front of the door I thrust the key into the lock, turned
it, and felt the bolt yield. The next instant the door was opened,
apparently from within; I stepped across the threshold, the door closed
again, and I was alone in the house, and in darkness.

"Not alone, however! As I extended my hand to grope my way it was met
by another hand, soft, slender, and cold, which insinuated itself
gently into mine and drew me forward. Forward I went, nothing loath;
the darkness was impenetrable, but I could hear the light rustle of a
dress close to me, and the same delicious perfume that had emanated
from the handkerchief enriched the air that I breathed, while the
little hand that clasped and was clasped by my own alternately
tightened and half relaxed the hold of its soft cold fingers. In this
manner, and treading lightly, we traversed what I presumed to be a
long, irregular passageway, and ascended a staircase. Then another
corridor, until finally we paused, a door opened, emitting a flood of
soft light, into which we entered, still hand in hand. The darkness and
the doubt were at an end.

"The room was of imposing dimensions, and was furnished and decorated
in a style of antique splendor. The walls were draped with mellow hues
of tapestry; clusters of candles burned in polished silver sconces, and
were reflected and multiplied in tall mirrors placed in the four
corners of the room. The heavy beams of the dark oaken ceiling crossed
each other in squares, and were laboriously carved; the curtains and
the drapery of the chairs were of heavy-figured damask. At one end of
the room was a broad ottoman, and in front of it a table, on which was
set forth, in massive silver dishes, a sumptuous repast, with wines in
crystal beakers. At the side was a vast and deep fire-place, with space
enough on the broad hearth to burn whole trunks of trees. No fire,
however, was there, but only a great heap of dead embers; and the room,
for all its magnificence, was cold--cold as a tomb, or as my lady's
hand--and it sent a subtle chill creeping to my heart.

"But my lady! how fair she was! I gave but a passing glance at the
room; my eyes and my thoughts were all for her. She was dressed in
white, like a bride; diamonds sparkled in her dark hair and on her
snowy bosom; her lovely face and slender lips were pale, and all the
paler for the dusky glow of her eyes. She gazed at me with a strange,
elusive smile; and yet there was, in her aspect and bearing, something
familiar in the midst of strangeness, like the burden of a song heard
long ago and recalled among other conditions and surroundings. It
seemed to me that something in me recognized her and knew her, had
known her always. She was the woman of whom I had dreamed, whom I had
beheld in visions, whose voice and face had haunted me from boyhood up.
Whether we had ever met before, as human beings meet, I knew not;
perhaps I had been blindly seeking her all over the world, and she had
been awaiting me in this splendid room, sitting by those dead embers
until all the warmth had gone out of her blood, only to be restored by
the heat with which my love might supply her.

"'I thought you had forgotten me,' she said, nodding as if in answer to
my thought. 'The night was so late--our one night of the year! How my
heart rejoiced when I heard your dear voice singing the song I know so
well! Kiss me--my lips are cold!'

"Cold indeed they were--cold as the lips of death. But the warmth of my
own seemed to revive them. They were now tinged with a faint color, and
in her cheeks also appeared a delicate shade of pink. She drew fuller
breath, as one who recovers from a long lethargy. Was it my life that
was feeding her? I was ready to give her all. She drew me to the table
and pointed to the viands and the wine.

"'Eat and drink,' she said. 'You have traveled far, and you need food.'

"'Will you eat and drink with me?' said I, pouring out the wine.

"'You are the only nourishment I want,' was her answer.' This wine is
thin and cold. Give me wine as red as your blood and as warm, and I
will drain a goblet to the dregs.'

"At these words, I know not why, a slight shiver passed through me. She
seemed to gain vitality and strength at every instant, but the chill of
the great room struck into me more and more.

"She broke into a fantastic flow of spirits, clapping her hands, and
dancing about me like a child. Who was she? And was I myself, or was
she mocking mo when she implied that we had belonged to each other of
old? At length she stood still before me, crossing her hands over her
breast. I saw upon the forefinger of her right hand the gleam of an
antique ring.

"'Where did you get that ring?' I demanded.

"She shook her head and laughed. 'Have you been faithful?' she asked.
'It is my ring; it is the ring that unites us; it is the ring you gave
me when you loved me first. It is the ring of the Kern--the fairy ring,
and I am your Ethelind--Ethelind Fionguala.'

"'So be it,' I said, casting aside all doubt and fear, and yielding
myself wholly to the spell of her inscrutable eyes and wooing lips.
'You are mine, and I am yours, and let us be happy while the hours
last.'

"'You are mine, and I am yours,' she repeated, nodding her head with an
elfish smile. 'Come and sit beside me, and sing that sweet song again
that you sang to me so long ago. Ah, now I shall live a hundred years.'

"We seated ourselves on the ottoman, and while she nestled luxuriously
among the cushions, I took my banjo and sang to her. The song and the
music resounded through the lofty room, and came back in throbbing
echoes. And before me as I sang I saw the face and form of Ethelind
Fionguala, in her jeweled bridal dress, gazing at me with burning eyes.
She was pale no longer, but ruddy and warm, and life was like a flame
within her. It was I who had become cold and bloodless, yet with the
last life that was in me I would have sung to her of love that can
never die. But at length my eyes grew dim, the room seemed to darken,
the form of Ethelind alternately brightened and waxed indistinct, like
the last flickerings of a fire; I swayed toward her, and felt myself
lapsing into unconsciousness, with my head resting on her white
shoulder."

Here Keningale paused a few moments in his story, flung a fresh log
upon the fire, and then continued:

"I awoke, I know not how long afterward. I was in a vast, empty room in
a ruined building. Rotten shreds of drapery depended from the walls,
and heavy festoons of spiders' webs gray with dust covered the windows,
which were destitute of glass or sash; they had been boarded up with
rough planks which had themselves become rotten with age, and admitted
through their holes and crevices pallid rays of light and chilly
draughts of air. A bat, disturbed by these rays or by my own movement,
detached himself from his hold on a remnant of moldy tapestry near me,
and after circling dizzily around my head, wheeled the flickering
noiselessness of his flight into a darker corner. As I arose unsteadily
from the heap of miscellaneous rubbish on which I had been lying,
something which had been resting across my knees fell to the floor with
a rattle. I picked it up, and found it to be my banjo--as you see it
now.

"Well, that is all I have to tell. My health was seriously impaired;
all the blood seemed to have been drawn out of my veins; I was pale and
haggard, and the chill--Ah, that chill," murmured Keningale, drawing
nearer to the fire, and spreading out his hands to catch the warmth--"
I shall never get over it; I shall carry it to my grave."

Julian Hawthorne