[August 18, 1860.
ONCE A WEEK.
I replied that I was sorry I could not oblige him, and adding that he had better obtain an exact description of the “thing” from his governor, I recommended him not to keep the cats any longer in the cold.
Mem. I am getting exceedingly tired of my treasure trove. I retire to my room with a view of dressing to go out. I am informed that a lady wishes to see me, and I am afraid my mental ejaculation was not complimentary to the lady in question.
A tall, graceful figure, draped in heavy mourning, rises at my entrance. She opens the negotiation in some confusion, turning away her face. She has come to me in the hope of regaining a ring, carelessly lost, the parting gift of a fond father to her brother and herself.
My eye rests on the crape about her dress, on her pale beautiful face, from which the blush of confusion and timidity has faded. Deferentially I request her to describe it.
“A large diamond, handsome,” she believed, “but valuable to her for far other reasons.”
“But,” I said, gently, “chased on the gold inside the ring there is—”
“A crest, I am aware of it,” she answered, sadly, “but I know nothing of heraldry, and have never given it more than a casual glance. My brother is dying, sir,” she said, lifting up her pale face to mine. “Only this morning he missed the ring from my finger uneasily; we are alone in the world: it is the only relic left of one so lately taken from us, how can I tell him it is lost?”
“I am sorry to pain you,” I said, striving to be firm; “but it would be more satisfactory for all parties, and cause but little delay if you could obtain the description from your brother.”
Without a word she turned away; the mournful resignation of her air and attitude touched me, and, as she turned, I saw a tear roll silently down and fall upon the hand stretched out to the door-handle. I couldn’t stand that.
“Stop!” I exclaimed, “one moment. I am sure—I feel certain—I may trust you. You will tell me—”
I take the ring from its security, I hold it out timidly for the blue eyes to examine.
I see yet the look of delight overspread her fine features—I see the expression of almost childish pleasure in her eyes as she looked up at me, as she clasped her hands, and cried out, “The ring, the ring! Oh, Alfred, my dear brother!”
Her hand was upon it; such a tremulous happy eagerness in her glance; such a caressing fondness in her way of fingering it. How pretty she was.
“My dear child” (I am forty-five) “it gives me sincere pleasure—” Then I stammer, then I spring after her. “At least, you will leave your address with me.”
What a look shades her face now! Wounded integrity mingled with pity for me.
“Ah, sir,” she says, sadly, handing me the card on which she has been pencilling, “some day you will be sorry for this. You do not trust me.”
Certainly, I am a brute. The accent of reproach in her voice haunts me; the sorrowful glance of her eye—how pretty she is! I sit down to my breakfast in the morning, half inclined to call at the address given, and apologise for my heathenish distrust. How delightful to see her in her own peculiar atmosphere, ministering to the sick brother who is all she has in the world, to look upon if one cannot enjoy the beautiful tenderness of a gentle sister to an afflicted brother. But my letters wait, and I toy with them. This is a hand I know. What does Fred want, I wonder? I tear it open: I read:
Dear Jack,—What a queer chance if you have stumbled upon my ring. I was obliged to run down to Romford late last evening, and never missed it till we slackened at Ilford. A pretty taking I’ve been in. If its mine, the crest is inside: you know it,—a mailed hand holding a lance, and the motto “Armed at all points.” Verily, truth is stranger than fiction. Keep it for me. Thine, Fred Vyning.
Idiot! Gull! It is quite useless to call myself names. It is almost superfluous to add, that when I called at a certain address in Eaton Square to inquire for Miss Lucy Hamilton, the lady was not found. Probably, the “dear Alfred” had required speedy change of air; probably, brother and sister were even now embracing in rapturous gratitude over the precious relic of that one lost to them so lately. Was that dear one not lost, but transformed? Had the silver-haired patriarch of the first visit changed to the dashing buck of the third? And was the virtuous teacher of youth only the tender sister in masquerade? On my word, I believe so. I dare say they are enjoying the joke. Possibly it is a dodge often repeated. But what am I to say to Fred?
Are we, or are we not, on the eve of a new Revelation? Are the secrets of the invisible world, concealed for so many thousands of years from mortal ken, now for the first time to be made plain to us through the agency of our household furniture? Are mahogany tables the apostles of the new faith, and brass bells and accordions its missionaries? Will an outlay of ten shillings and sixpence, and the engagement of a celebrated medium, procure for us an interview with the soul of a departed father, mother, husband, wife, in the midst of a London drawing-room, with the Hansom cabs rattling outside, and the servants standing in waiting with the tray of sandwiches and sherry? Can the hand of my dead child be made to grasp me—palpably, as though flesh still covered those decaying bones, and the life-blood were yet coursing through the shrivelled veins? and can it make itself, at other times, visibly patent, floating through the air in a halo of light and glory? Is our friend Newton, after all, but a shabby impostor, and his great discovery of gravitation no discovery at all? Or, in other words, is it possible for a gentleman to ride up to the ceiling on a rosewood chair, just for all the world as in olden times, not so very far bygone, certain old ladies were believed to perform their journeys with the aid of a broom-handle?
Absurd as these and a score of similar questions may appear to the majority of the readers of