Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton.

The Bell in the Fog and Other Stories online

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Ignace like his poor wife's arms, and we saw him no more? We clasped
each other's hands, for we believed that we should follow, but we lived
and went again and again to the _grande pêche_, and died in our beds.
_Grâce à Dieu_!"

"Why dost thou think of that now - here in the grave where it matters
not, even to the living?"

"I know not; but it was of that night when Ignace went down that I
thought as the living breath went out of me. Of what didst thou think as
thou layest dying?"

"Of the money I owed to Dominique and could not pay. I sought to ask my
son to pay it, but death had come suddenly and I could not speak. God
knows how they treat my name to-day in the village of St. Hilaire."

"Thou art forgotten," murmured another voice. "I died forty years after
thee and men remember not so long in Finisterre. But thy son was my
friend and I remember that he paid the money."

"And my son, what of him? Is he, too, here?"

"Nay; he lies deep in the northern sea. It was his second voyage, and
he had returned with a purse for the young wife, the first time. But he
returned no more, and she washed in the river for the dames of Croisac,
and by-and-by she died. I would have married her, but she said it was
enough to lose one husband. I married another, and she grew ten years in
every three that I went to the _grande pêche_. Alas for Brittany, she
has no youth!"

"And thou? Wert thou an old man when thou camest here?"

"Sixty. My wife came first, like many wives. She lies here. Jeanne!"

"Is't thy voice, my husband? Not the Lord Jesus Christ's? What miracle
is this? I thought that terrible sound was the trump of doom."

"It could not be, old Jeanne, for we are still in our graves. When the
trump sounds we shall have wings and robes of light, and fly straight up
to heaven. Hast thou slept well?"

"Ay! But why are we awakened? Is it time for purgatory? Or have we been

"The good God knows. I remember nothing. Art frightened? Would that I
could hold thy hand, as when thou didst slip from life into that long
sleep thou didst fear, yet welcome."

"I am frightened, my husband. But it is sweet to hear thy voice, hoarse
and hollow as it is from the mould of the grave. Thank the good God thou
didst bury me with the rosary in my hands," and she began telling the
beads rapidly.

"If God is good," cried François, harshly, and his voice came plainly to
the priest's ears, as if the lid of the coffin had rotted, "why are we
awakened before our time? What foul fiend was it that thundered and
screamed through the frozen avenues of my brain? Has God, perchance,
been vanquished and does the Evil One reign in His stead?"

"Tut, tut! Thou blasphemest! God reigns, now and always. It is but a
punishment He has laid upon us for the sins of earth."

"Truly, we were punished enough before we descended to the peace of this
narrow house. Ah, but it is dark and cold! Shall we lie like this for an
eternity, perhaps? On earth we longed for death, but feared the grave. I
would that I were alive again, poor and old and alone and in pain. It
were better than this. Curse the foul fiend that woke us!"

"Curse not, my son," said a soft voice, and the priest stood up and
uncovered and crossed himself, for it was the voice of his aged
predecessor. "I cannot tell thee what this is that has rudely shaken us
in our graves and freed our spirits of their blessed thraldom, and I
like not the consciousness of this narrow house, this load of earth on
my tired heart. But it is right, it must be right, or it would not be at
all - ah, me!"

For a baby cried softly, hopelessly, and from a grave beyond came a
mother's anguished attempt to still it.

"Ah, the good God!" she cried. "I, too, thought it was the great call,
and that in a moment I should rise and find my child and go to my
Ignace, my Ignace whose bones lie white on the floor of the sea. Will he
find them, my father, when the dead shall rise again? To lie here and
doubt! - that were worse than life."

"Yes, yes," said the priest; "all will be well, my daughter."

"But all is not well, my father, for my baby cries and is alone in a
little box in the ground. If I could claw my way to her with my
hands - but my old mother lies between us."

"Tell your beads!" commanded the priest, sternly - "tell your beads, all
of you. All ye that have not your beads, say the 'Hail Mary!' one
hundred times."

Immediately a rapid, monotonous muttering arose from every lonely
chamber of that desecrated ground. All obeyed but the baby, who still
moaned with the hopeless grief of deserted children. The living priest
knew that they would talk no more that night, and went into the church
to pray till dawn. He was sick with horror and terror, but not for
himself. When the sky was pink and the air full of the sweet scents of
morning, and a piercing scream tore a rent in the early silences, he
hastened out and sprinkled his graves with a double allowance of
holy-water. The train rattled by with two short derisive shrieks, and
before the earth had ceased to tremble the priest laid his ear to the
ground. Alas, they were still awake!

"The fiend is on the wing again," said Jean-Marie; "but as he passed I
felt as if the finger of God touched my brow. It can do us no harm."

"I, too, felt that heavenly caress!" exclaimed the old priest. "And I!"
"And I!" "And I!" came from every grave but the baby's.

The priest of earth, deeply thankful that his simple device had
comforted them, went rapidly down the road to the castle. He forgot that
he had not broken his fast nor slept. The count was one of the directors
of the railroad, and to him he would make a final appeal.

It was early, but no one slept at Croisac. The young countess was dead.
A great bishop had arrived in the night and administered extreme
unction. The priest hopefully asked if he might venture into the
presence of the bishop. After a long wait in the kitchen, he was told
that he could speak with _Monsieur l'Évêque_. He followed the servant up
the wide spiral stair of the tower, and from its twenty-eighth step
entered a room hung with purple cloth stamped with golden fleurs-de-lis.
The bishop lay six feet above the floor on one of the splendid carved
cabinet beds that are built against the walls in Brittany. Heavy
curtains shaded his cold white face. The priest, who was small and
bowed, felt immeasurably below that august presence, and sought for

"What is it, my son?" asked the bishop, in his cold weary voice. "Is the
matter so pressing? I am very tired."

Brokenly, nervously, the priest told his story, and as he strove to
convey the tragedy of the tormented dead he not only felt the poverty of
his expression - for he was little used to narrative - but the torturing
thought assailed him that what he said sounded wild and unnatural, real
as it was to him. But he was not prepared for its effect on the bishop.
He was standing in the middle of the room, whose gloom was softened and
gilded by the waxen lights of a huge candelabra; his eyes, which had
wandered unseeingly from one massive piece of carved furniture to
another, suddenly lit on the bed, and he stopped abruptly, his tongue
rolling out. The bishop was sitting up, livid with wrath.

"And this was thy matter of life and death, thou prating madman!" he
thundered. "For this string of foolish lies I am kept from my rest, as
if I were another old lunatic like thyself! Thou art not fit to be a
priest and have the care of souls. To-morrow - "

But the priest had fled, wringing his hands.

As he stumbled down the winding stair he ran straight into the arms of
the count. Monsieur de Croisac had just closed a door behind him. He
opened it, and, leading the priest into the room, pointed to his dead
countess, who lay high up against the wall, her hands clasped, unmindful
for evermore of the six feet of carved cupids and lilies that upheld
her. On high pedestals at head and foot of her magnificent couch the
pale flames rose from tarnished golden candlesticks. The blue hangings
of the room, with their white fleurs-de-lis, were faded, like the rugs
on the old dim floor; for the splendor of the Croisacs had departed with
the Bourbons. The count lived in the old château because he must; but he
reflected bitterly to-night that if he had made the mistake of bringing
a young girl to it, there were several things he might have done to save
her from despair and death.

"Pray for her," he said to the priest. "And you will bury her in the
old cemetery. It was her last request."

He went out, and the priest sank on his knees and mumbled his prayers
for the dead. But his eyes wandered to the high narrow windows through
which the countess had stared for hours and days, stared at the
fishermen sailing north for the _grande pêche_, followed along the shore
of the river by wives and mothers, until their boats were caught in the
great waves of the ocean beyond; often at naught more animate than the
dark flood, the wooded banks, the ruins, the rain driving like needles
through the water. The priest had eaten nothing since his meagre
breakfast at twelve the day before, and his imagination was active. He
wondered if the soul up there rejoiced in the death of the beautiful
restless body, the passionate brooding mind. He could not see her face
from where he knelt, only the waxen hands clasping a crucifix. He
wondered if the face were peaceful in death, or peevish and angry as
when he had seen it last. If the great change had smoothed and sealed
it, then perhaps the soul would sink deep under the dark waters,
grateful for oblivion, and that cursed train could not awaken it for
years to come. Curiosity succeeded wonder. He cut his prayers short,
got to his weary swollen feet and pushed a chair to the bed. He mounted
it and his face was close to the dead woman's. Alas! it was not
peaceful. It was stamped with the tragedy of a bitter renunciation.
After all, she had been young, and at the last had died unwillingly.
There was still a fierce tenseness about the nostrils, and her upper lip
was curled as if her last word had been an imprecation. But she was very
beautiful, despite the emaciation of her features. Her black hair nearly
covered the bed, and her lashes looked too heavy for the sunken cheeks.

"_Pauvre petite_!" thought the priest. "No, she will not rest, nor would
she wish to. I will not sprinkle holy-water on her grave. It is wondrous
that monster can give comfort to any one, but if he can, so be it."

He went into the little oratory adjoining the bedroom and prayed more
fervently. But when the watchers came an hour later they found him in a
stupor, huddled at the foot of the altar.

When he awoke he was in his own bed in his little house beside the
church. But it was four days before they would let him rise to go about
his duties, and by that time the countess was in her grave.

The old housekeeper left him to take care of himself. He waited eagerly
for the night. It was raining thinly, a gray quiet rain that blurred the
landscape and soaked the ground in the Bois d'Amour. It was wet about
the graves, too; but the priest had given little heed to the elements in
his long life of crucified self, and as he heard the remote echo of the
evening train he hastened out with his holy-water and had sprinkled
every grave but one when the train sped by.

Then he knelt and listened eagerly. It was five days since he had knelt
there last. Perhaps they had sunk again to rest. In a moment he wrung
his hands and raised them to heaven. All the earth beneath him was
filled with lamentation. They wailed for mercy, for peace, for rest;
they cursed the foul fiend who had shattered the locks of death; and
among the voices of men and children the priest distinguished the
quavering notes of his aged predecessor; not cursing, but praying with
bitter entreaty. The baby was screaming with the accents of mortal
terror and its mother was too frantic to care.

"Alas," cried the voice of Jean-Marie, "that they never told us what
purgatory was like! What do the priests know? When we were threatened
with punishment of our sins not a hint did we have of this. To sleep for
a few hours, haunted with the moment of awakening! Then a cruel insult
from the earth that is tired of us, and the orchestra of hell. Again!
and again! and again! Oh God! How long? How long?"

The priest stumbled to his feet and ran over graves and paths to the
mound above the countess. There he would hear a voice praising the
monster of night and dawn, a note of content in this terrible chorus of
despair which he believed would drive him mad. He vowed that on the
morrow he would move his dead, if he had to un-bury them with his own
hands and carry them up the hill to graves of his own making.

For a moment he heard no sound. He knelt and laid his ear to the grave,
then pressed it more closely and held his breath. A long rumbling moan
reached it, then another and another. But there were no words.

"Is she moaning in sympathy with my poor friends?" he thought; "or have
they terrified her? Why does she not speak to them? Perhaps they would
forget their plight were she to tell them of the world they have left so
long. But it was not their world. Perhaps that it is which distresses
her, for she will be lonelier here than on earth. Ah!"

A sharp horrified cry pierced to his ears, then a gasping shriek, and
another; all dying away in a dreadful smothered rumble.

The priest rose and wrung his hands, looking to the wet skies for

"Alas!" he sobbed, "she is not content. She has made a terrible mistake.
She would rest in the deep sweet peace of death, and that monster of
iron and fire and the frantic dead about her are tormenting a soul so
tormented in life. There may be rest for her in the vault behind the
castle, but not here. I know, and I shall do my duty - now, at once."

He gathered his robes about him and ran as fast as his old legs and
rheumatic feet would take him towards the château, whose lights gleamed
through the rain. On the bank of the river he met a fisherman and begged
to be taken by boat. The fisherman wondered, but picked the priest up in
his strong arms, lowered him into the boat, and rowed swiftly towards
the château. When they landed he made fast.

"I will wait for you in the kitchen, my father," he said; and the priest
blessed him and hurried up to the castle.

Once more he entered through the door of the great kitchen, with its
blue tiles, its glittering brass and bronze warming-pans which had
comforted nobles and monarchs in the days of Croisac splendor. He sank
into a chair beside the stove while a maid hastened to the count. She
returned while the priest was still shivering, and announced that her
master would see his holy visitor in the library.

It was a dreary room where the count sat waiting for the priest, and it
smelled of musty calf, for the books on the shelves were old. A few
novels and newspapers lay on the heavy table, a fire burned on the
andirons, but the paper on the wall was very dark and the fleurs-de-lis
were tarnished and dull. The count, when at home, divided his time
between this library and the water, when he could not chase the boar or
the stag in the forests. But he often went to Paris, where he could
afford the life of a bachelor in a wing of his great hotel; he had known
too much of the extravagance of women to give his wife the key of the
faded salons. He had loved the beautiful girl when he married her, but
her repinings and bitter discontent had alienated him, and during the
past year he had held himself aloof from her in sullen resentment. Too
late he understood, and dreamed passionately of atonement. She had been
a high-spirited brilliant eager creature, and her unsatisfied mind had
dwelt constantly on the world she had vividly enjoyed for one year. And
he had given her so little in return!

He rose as the priest entered, and bowed low. The visit bored him, but
the good old priest commanded his respect; moreover, he had performed
many offices and rites in his family. He moved a chair towards his
guest, but the old man shook his head and nervously twisted his hands

"Alas, _monsieur le comte_," he said, "it may be that you, too, will
tell me that I am an old lunatic, as did _Monsieur l'Évêque_. Yet I must
speak, even if you tell your servants to fling me out of the château."

The count had started slightly. He recalled certain acid comments of the
bishop, followed by a statement that a young _curé_ should be sent,
gently to supersede the old priest, who was in his dotage. But he
replied suavely:

"You know, my father, that no one in this castle will ever show you
disrespect. Say what you wish; have no fear. But will you not sit down?
I am very tired."

The priest took the chair and fixed his eyes appealingly on the count.

"It is this, monsieur." He spoke rapidly, lest his courage should go.
"That terrible train, with its brute of iron and live coals and foul
smoke and screeching throat, has awakened my dead. I guarded them with
holy-water and they heard it not, until one night when I missed - I was
with madame as the train shrieked by shaking the nails out of the
coffins. I hurried back, but the mischief was done, the dead were awake,
the dear sleep of eternity was shattered. They thought it was the last
trump and wondered why they still were in their graves. But they talked
together and it was not so bad at the first. But now they are frantic.
They are in hell, and I have come to beseech you to see that they are
moved far up on the hill. Ah, think, think, monsieur, what it is to have
the last long sleep of the grave so rudely disturbed - the sleep for
which we live and endure so patiently!"

He stopped abruptly and caught his breath. The count had listened
without change of countenance, convinced that he was facing a madman.
But the farce wearied him, and involuntarily his hand had moved towards
a bell on the table.

"Ah, monsieur, not yet! not yet!" panted the priest. "It is of the
countess I came to speak. I had forgotten. She told me she wished to lie
there and listen to the train go by to Paris, so I sprinkled no
holy-water on her grave. But she, too, is wretched and horror-stricken,
monsieur. She moans and screams. Her coffin is new and strong, and I
cannot hear her words, but I have heard those frightful sounds from her
grave to-night, monsieur; I swear it on the cross. Ah, monsieur, thou
dost believe me at last!"

For the count, as white as the woman had been in her coffin, and shaking
from head to foot, had staggered from his chair and was staring at the
priest as if he saw the ghost of his countess.

"You heard - ?" he gasped.

"She is not at peace, monsieur. She moans and shrieks in a terrible,
smothered way, as if a hand were on her mouth - "

But he had uttered the last of his words. The count had suddenly
recovered himself and dashed from the room. The priest passed his hand
across his forehead and sank slowly to the floor.

"He will see that I spoke the truth," he thought, as he fell asleep,
"and to-morrow he will intercede for my poor friends."

* * * * *

The priest lies high on the hill where no train will ever disturb him,
and his old comrades of the violated cemetery are close about him. For
the Count and Countess of Croisac, who adore his memory, hastened to
give him in death what he most had desired in the last of his life. And
with them all things are well, for a man, too, may be born again, and
without descending into the grave.


The Greatest Good of the
Greatest Number

Morton Blaine returned to New York from his brief vacation to find
awaiting him a frantic note from John Schuyler, the man nearer to him
than any save himself, imploring him to "come at once." The appeal was
supplemented with the usual intimation that the service was to be
rendered to God rather than to man.

The note was twenty-four hours old. Blaine, without changing his
travelling clothes, rang for a cab and was driven rapidly up the Avenue.
He was a man of science, not of enthusiasms, cold, unerring, brilliant;
a superb intellectual machine, which never showed a fleck of rust,
unremittingly polished, and enlarged with every improvement. But for one
man he cherished an abiding sympathy; to that man he hastened on the
slightest summons, as he hastened now. They had been intimate in
boyhood; then in later years through mutual respect for each other's
high abilities and ambitions.

As the cab rolled over the asphalt of the Avenue, Blaine glanced idly at
the stream of carriages returning from the Park, lifting his hat to many
of the languid pretty women. He owed his minor fame to his guardianship
of fashionable nerves. He could calm hysteria with a pressure of his
cool flexible hand or a sudden modulation of his harsh voice. And women
dreaded his wrath. There were those who averred that his eyes could

He leaned forward and raised his hat with sudden interest. She who
returned his bow was as cold in her coloring as a winter night, but
possessed a strength of line and depth of eye which suggested to the
analyst her power to give the world a shock did Circumstance cease to
run abreast of her. She was leaning back indolently in the open
carriage, the sun slanting into her luminous skin and eyes, her face
locked for the benefit of the chance observer, although she conversed
with the faded individual at her side. As her eyes met those of the
doctor her mouth convulsed suddenly, and a glance of mutual
understanding passed between them. Then she raised her head with a
defiant, almost reckless movement.

Blaine reached his friend's house in a moment. The man who had summoned
him was walking aimlessly up and down his library. He was unshaven; his
hair and his clothing were disordered. His face had the modern beauty of
strength and intellect and passion and weakness. A flash of relief
illuminated it as Blaine entered.

"She has been terrible!" he said. "Terrible! I have not had the courage
to call in any one else, and I am worn out. She is asleep now, and I got
out of the room for half an hour. The nurse is exhausted too. Do stay

"I will stay. Let us go up-stairs."

As they reached the second landing two handsome children romped across
the hall and flung themselves upon their father.

"Where have you been?" they demanded. "Why do you shut yourself up on
the third floor with mamma all the time? When will she get well?"

Schuyler kissed them and bade them return to the nursery.

"How long can I keep it from them?" he asked bitterly. "What an
atmosphere for children - my children! - to grow up in!"

"If you would do as I wish, and send her where she belongs - "

"I shall not. She is my wife. Moreover, concealment would then be

They had reached the third floor. He inserted a key in a door, hesitated
a moment, then said abruptly: "I saw in a paper that _she_ had returned.
Can it be possible?"

"I saw her on the Avenue a few moments ago."

Was it the doctor's imagination, or did the goaded man at his side flash
him a glance of appeal?

They entered a room whose doors and windows were muffled. The furniture
was solid, too solid to be moved except by muscular arms. There were no
mirrors nor breakable articles of any sort.

On the bed lay a woman with ragged hair and sunken yellow face, but even
in her ruin indefinably elegant. Her parted lips were black and
blistered within; her shapely skinny hands clutched the quilt with the
tenacious suggestion of the eagle - that long-lived defiant bird. At the
bedside sat a vigorous woman, the pallor of fatigue on her face.

The creature on the bed opened her eyes. They had once been what are
vaguely known as fine eyes; now they looked like blots of ink on

"Give me a drink," she said feverishly. "Water! water! water!" She
panted, and her tongue protruded slightly. Her husband turned away, his
shoulders twitching. The nurse held a silver goblet to the woman's lips.
She drank greedily, then scowled up at the doctor.

"You missed it," she said. "I should be glad, for I hate you, only you
give me more relief than they. They are afraid. They tried to fool me,
the idiots! But they didn't try it twice. I bit."

She laughed and threw her arms above her head. The loose sleeves of her
gown fell back and disclosed arms speckled as if from an explosion of

"Just an ordinary morphine fiend," thought the doctor. "And she is the
wife of John Schuyler!"

An hour after dinner he told the husband and nurse to go to bed. For a

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