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A TALE FOR TWILIGHT.
As far as I am myself concerned with the following facts, I am fully prepared to youch for their authenticity; but the reliance to be placed on the other parts of the recital must be at the option of the reader, or his conviction of their apparent truth.
It is now nearly thirty years since I was a partial witness to the circumstance, at my father's house in Edinburgh; and though, during that period, time and foreign climates may have thinned my locks and furrowed my brow a little, they have neither effaced one item of its details from my memoyy, nor warped the vivid impression which it left upon my recollection. It was in the winter of 1798 the occurrence took place. There was an old retainer of our house, who used at that time to be very frequently about us; she had pursed my younger brother and myself, and the family felt for ber all the attachment due to an old and faithful inmate. I remember her appearance distinctly; her neatly plaited cap and scarlet ribband, her white fringed apron and purple quilted petticoat, are all as fresh in my memory as yesterday; and though nearly sixty, she retained all the activity and good humour of sixteen. Her strength was but little impaired; and as she was but slightly affected by fatigue or watching, she was in the habit of engaging herself as a nurse-tender in numerous respectable families.
The winter was drawing near a close, when, one evening, old Nurse came to tell us of an engagement she had got to attend a young gentleman, who was lying dangerously ill in one of the streets of the Old Town. She mentioned that a physician, who had always been very kind to her, had recommended her to this duty; but, as the patient was in a most critical state, the manner of her attendance was to be very particular, she was to go every evening at eight o'clock, to relieve another who remained during the day; and to be extremely cautious not to speak to the young man, unless it was urgently necessary, nor make any motion which might in the slightest degree disturb the few intervals of rest which he was enabled to enjoy ; but she knew neither the name nor residence of the person she was to wait on. There seemed to be something past the common in all this, and my mother desired her to call soon and let her know how she was coming on; but nearly six weeks had elapsed, and we had never once seen or heard of her, when my mother sent to say she was longing to see her again. The seryant, on his return, informed us that poor Nurse had been dangerously ill, and confined to her bed almost erer since she had been with us ; but she was now some little better, and had purposed coming to see us the following day. She came accordingly; but oh, so altered in so short a time, no one would have believed
NO, XŁYI, YOL, IV,
it! She was almost double, and could not walk with. out support; her flesh and cheeks were all shrunk away, and her dim lustreless eyes almost lost in their sockets. We were all startled at seeing her ; it seemed that those six weeks had produced greater changes in her than years of disease in others : but our surprise at the effect was nothing, when compared to that which her recital of the cause excited, when she informed us of it ; and as we had never known her to tell a false hood, we could not avoid placing implicit confidence in her words
She told us that in the evening, according to appointment, the physician had conducted her to the resi: dence of her charge, in one of the narrow streets near the abbey. It was one of those extensive old houses, which seein built for eternity rather than time, and in the constructing of which the founder had consulted convenience and comfort more than show or situation. A flight of high stone steps brought them to the door and a dark staircase of immense width, fenced with balusters a foot broad, and supported by railing of massy dimensions, led to the chamber of the patient: This was a lofty wainscoted room, with a window sunk a yard deep in the wall, and looking out upon what was once a garden at the rear, but now grown so wild that the weeds and rank grass almost reached the level of the wall which inclosed it. At one end stood an old-fashioned square bed, where the young gentleman lay. It was hung with faded Venetian tapestry, and seened itself as large as a moderate-sized room. At the other end, and opposite to the foot of the bed, was a fire-place, supported by ponderous stone buttresses, but with no grate, and a few smouldering turf ashes were merely piled on the spacious hearth.
There was no door, except that by which she had entered, and no other furniture than a few low chairs, and a table covered with medicines and draughts beside the window. The oak which covered the walls and formed the pannels of the ceiling, was as black as time could make it, and the whole apartment, which was kept dark at the suggestion of the physician, was so gloomy, that the glimmering of the single candle in the shade of the fire-place could not penetrate it, and cast a faint gleam around, not sad, but absolutely sickening. Whilst the doctor was speaking in a low tone to the invalid, Nurse tried to find out some further particalars from the other attendant, who was tying on her bonnet, and preparing to muffle herself in her plaid before going away ; for, as I said before, it was winter and bitterly cold. She could gain no information from her, however, although she had been in the situation for a considerable time. She could not tell the name of the gentleman ; she only knew that he was an Oxford stu. dent; but no one, save herself and the Doctor, had ever crossed the threshold to inquire after him, nor had she ever seen any one in the rest of the house, which
she believed to be uninhabited. The Doctor and she soon went away, after leaving a few unimportant directions : Nurse closed the door behind them, and shivering with the cold frosty gust of air from the spacious lobby, hastened to her duty, wrapped her cloak about her, drew her seat close to the hearth, replenished the fire, and commenced reading a volume of Mr. Alexander Peden's Prophecies, which she had brought in her pocket. There was no sound to disturb her, except now and then a blast of wind which shook the withering trees in the garden below, or the “ death watch, which ticked incessantly in the wainscot of the room. In this manner an hour or two elapsed ; when concluding, from the motionless posture of the patient, that he must be asleep, she rose, and taking the light in her hand, moved on tiptoe across the polished oaken floor, to take a survey of his features and appearance. She gently opened the curtains, and, bringing the light to bear upon him, started to find that he was still awake : she attempted to apologise for her curiosity by an awkward tender of her services, but apology and offer were equally useless ; he moved neither limb nor muscle ; he made not the faintest reply ; he lay motionless on his back, his bright blue eyes glaring fixedly upon her, his under-lip fallen, and his mouth apart, his cheek a perfect hollow, and his long white teeth projecting fearfully from his shrunken lips, whilst his bony hand, covered with wiry sinews, was stretched upon the bedclothes, and looked more like the claw of a bird than the fingers of a human being. She felt rather uneasy whilst looking at him ; but when a slight motion of the eye-lids, which the light was too strong for, assured her he was still living, which she was half inclined to doubt, she returned to her seat and her book by the fire. As she was directed not to disturb him, and as his medicine was only to be administered in the morning, she had but little to do, and the succeeding two hours passed heavily away; she continued, however, to lighten them by the assistance of Mr. Peden, and by now and then crooning and gazing over the silent flickering progress of her turf fire, till, about midnight, as near as she could guess, the gentleman began to breathe heavily, and appeared very uneasy ;
as, however, he spoke nothing, she thought he was perhaps asleep, and was rising to go towards him, when she was surprised to see a lady seated on a chair near the head of the bed beside him. Though something startled at this, she was by no means alarmed, and, making a curtsey, was moving on as she had inteuded, when the lady raised her arm, and turning the palm of her hand, which was covered with a white glove, towards her, motioned her silently to keep her seat. She accordingly sat down as before, but she now began to wonder within herself how and when this lady came in: it was true she had not been looking towards the door, and it might have been opened without her perceiving it; but then it was so cold a night, and so late an hour-it was this which made it so remarkable. She turned quietly round, and took a second view of her visitor, She wore a black veil over her bonnet, and, as her face was turned towards the bed of the invalid, she could not in that gloomy chamber perceive her features, but she saw that the shape and turn of her head and neck were graceful and elegant in the extreme; the rest of her person she could not so well discern, as it was en
veloped in a green silk gown, and the fashion at that period was not so favourable to a display of figure as
It occurred to her that it must be some intimate female friend who had called in; but then the woman had told her that no visitors had ever come before : altogether, she could not well understand the matter, but she thought she would observe whether she went off as gently as she had entered ; and for that purpose she altered the position of her chair so as to command a view of the door, and fixed herself with her book on her knees; but her eye intently set upon the lady in the green gown.
In this position she remained for a considerable time, but no alteration took place in the room ; the stranger sat evidently gazing on the face of the sick gentleman, whilst he heaved and sighed and breathed in agony as if a night mare were on him. Nurse a second time moved towards him, in order to hold him up in the bed, or give him some temporary relief ; and a second time the mysterious visitant motioned her to remain quiet ; and unwillingly, but by a kind of fascination, she complied, and again commenced her watch. But her position was a painful one, and she sat so long and so quietly that at last her eyes closed for a moment, and when she opened them the lady was gone ; the young man once more composed, and, after taking something to relieve his breathing, he fell into a gentle sleep, from which he had not awakened when her colleague arrived in the morning to take her place; and Nurse returned to her own house about daybreak.
The following night she was again at her duty; she came rather beyond her time, and found her companion already muffled and waiting impatiently to set out. She lighted her to the stairs, and heard her close the halldoor behind her; when, on returning to the room, the wind, as she shut the door, blew out her candle.
She relighted it, however, from the dying embers, roused up the fire, and resumed, as before, her seat and her volume of Prophecies. The night was stormy, the dry crisp sleet hissed on the window, and the wind sighed in heavy gusts down the spacious chimney; whilst the rattling of the shutters, and the occasional clash of a door in some distant part of the house, came with a dim and hollow echo along the dreary silent passages. She did not feel so comfortable as the night before ; the whistling of the wind through the trees made her flesh creep involuntarily; and sometimes the thundering clap of a distant door made her start and drop her book, with a sudden prayer for the protection of Heaven. She was thinking within herself of giving up the engagement, and was half resolved to do so on the more row ; when all at once her ear was struck with the heavy throes and agonized breathing of her charge, and, on raising her head, she saw the same lady in the green gown seated in the same position as the night before. Well, thought she, this is unusually strange ; but it immediately struck her that it must be some inmate of the house, for what human being could venture out in such a dreary night, and at such an hour ? But then her dress : it was neither such as one could wear in the streets on a wintry night, nor yet such as they would be likely to have on in the house at that hour; it was, in fact, the fashionable summer costume of the time. She rose and made her a curtsey, and spoke to her politely, but got no reply save the waying of her hand, by which she had been silenced
before. At length the agitation of the invalid was so ceiling, and start at every triling sound, which was increased, that she could not reconcile it to her duty now doubly audible, as all without was hushed by the to sit still whilst a stranger was attending him. She noiseless snow in which the streets were imbedded. accordingly drew nearer to the bed, in spite of the Again, however, her vigilance was eluded, and repeated beckonings of the lady, who, as she advanced,
as, wearied with thought, she raised her head drew her veil closer across her face, and retired to the with a long drawn sigh and a yawn of fatigue, she table at the window Nurse approached the bed, but encountered the green garments of her unsolicited was terrified on beholding the countenance of the pa- companion. Angry with herself, and at the same time tient: the big drops of cold sweat were rolling down unwilling to accuse herself of remissness, she deterhis pale brow; his livid lips were quivering with agony ; mined once again that she should not escape unnoand, as he motioned her aside, his glaring eyes followed ticed. There hung a feeling of awe around her when. the retreating figure in the green gown.
She soon saw
ever she approached this singular being, and when, as that it was in vain to attempt assisting him; he impa- before, the lady retired to another quarter of the room tiently repulsed every proffer of attention, and she as she approached the bed, she had not courage to folagain resumed her seat, while the silent visitor returned low her. Again the same distressing scene of suffering to her place by his bed-side. Rather piqued at being in her unfortunate charge ensued; he gasped and thus baffled in her intentions of kindness, but still put- heaved till the noise of his agony made her heart sicken ting from her the idea of a supernatural being, the old within her; when she drew near his bed, his corpsewoman again determined to watch with attention the like features were convulsed with a feeling which retreat of the lady, and observe whether she resided in seemed to twist their relaxed nerves into the most fearthe house, or took her departure by the main door. She ful expression, while his ghastly eyes were straining almost refrained from winking, in order to secure a from their sunken sockets. She spoke, but he answered serutiny of her motions—but it was all in vain; she not; she touched him, but he was cold with terror, and could not remember to have taken off her glance for a unconscious of any object' save the one mysterious moment, but still the visitant was gone. It seemed as being whom his glance followed with steady, fixed if she had only changed her thoughts for an instant, intensity. Nurse was naturally a woman of very and not her eyes, but that change was enough; when strong feelings, but here she was totally beside hershe again reverted to the object of her anxiety, the self with anxiety. She thought that the young mysterious lady had departed. As on the foregoing gentleman was just expiring, and was preparing to night, her patient now became composed, and enjoyed leave the room, in search of farther assistance, when an uninterrupted slumber till the light of morning, she saw the lady move towards the bed of the dying now reflected from heaps of dazzling snow, brought man; she bent above him for a moment, whilst his with it the female who was to relieve guard at the bed writhings were indescribable; she then moved stately of misery.
towards the door. Now was the moment! Nurse The following morning Nurse went to the house of advanced at the same time, laid her one hand on the the physician who had engaged her, with the determi- latch, whilst with the other she attempted to raise the nation of giving up the task in which she was employ- veil of the stranger, and in the next instant fell lifeless ed. She felt uneasy at the thoughts of retaining it, on the floor. As she glanced on the face of the lady, as she had never been similarly situated before ; she she saw that a lifeless head filled the bonnet; its vaalways had some companion to speak to, or was at cant sockets and ghastly teeth were all that could be least employed in an inhabited house; but besides, she seen beneath the folds of the veil. Daylight was was not by any means comfortable in the visits of the
breaking the following morning, when the other attendnightly stranger. She was disappointed, however, by ant arrived, and found the poor old woman cold and not finding him at home, and was directed to return at benumbed, stretched upon the floor beside the passage ; a certain hour ; but as she lay down to rest in the mean and when she looked upon the bed of the invalid, he time, she did not wake till that hour was long past. lay stiffened and lifeless, as if many hours had elapsed Nothing then remained but to return for another night, since his spirit had shaken off its mortal coil. One and give warning of her intention on the morrow; and hand was thrown across his eyes, as if to shade them with a heavy discontented heart, she repaired to the from some object on which he feared to look; and the gloomy apartment. The Physician was already there other grasped the coverlit with convulsive firmness. when she arrived, and received her notice with regret; The remains of the mysterious student were interred but was rather surprised when she informed him of the in the old Carlton burying ground, and I remember, attentions of the strange lady, and the manner in which before the new road was made through it, to have often she had been prevented from performing her duty; he, seen his grave; but I never could learn his name, however, treated it as a common-place occurrence, and what connexion the spirit had with his story, or how he suggested that it was some affectionate relative or friend
came to be in that melancholy deserted situation in of the patient, of whose connexions he knew nothing. Edinburgh. I have mentioned, at the commencement At last he took his leave, and Nurse arranged her of this narration, that I will vouch for its truth as far chair and seated herself to watch, not merely the de- as regards myself, and that is, merely, as I heard the parture but the arrival of her fair friend. As she had
poor old woman herself tell all the extraordinary cirnot, however, appeared on the former accasions till the cumstances as I have recited them, a very few weeks night was far advanced, she did not expect her sooner, before her death, with a fearful accuracy.
Be it as it and endeavoured to occupy her attention till that time
may, they cost her her life ; as she never recovered by some other means. But it was all in vain; she from the effects of the terror, and pined and wasted could only think of the one mysterious circumstance, away to the hour of her death, which followed in about fiz her dim gaze on the blackened trellis-work of the two moạths after the fearful occurrence. For my part,