''I suppose this is my last walk in London. Thank you for all the care you have taken of me. And when I am gone home -- mind, oh mind, Edmond, that you take special care of Dorothy.'
'These words, and the tone in which they were spoken, fixed themselves on my mind -- first, from gratitude, not unmingled with regret, as if I had not been so considerate to her as she to me; afterwards -- But we often err, my dear, in dwelling too much on that word. We finite creatures have only to deal with 'now' -- nothing whatever to do with 'afterwards'. In this case, I have ceased to blame myself or others. Whatever was, being past, was right to be, and could not have been otherwise.
'My mother went home next morning, alone. We were to follow in a few days, though she would not allow us to fix any time. Her departure was so hurried that I remember nothing about it, save her answer to my father's urgent desire -- almost command -- that if anything was amiss she would immediately let him know.
''Under all circumstances, wife,' he reiterated, 'this you promise?'
'Though when she was gone he declared she need not have said it so earnestly, since we should be at home almost as soon as the slow Bath coach could take her and bring us a letter. And besides, there was nothing likely to happen. But he fidgeted a good deal, being unused to her absence in their happy wedded life. He was, like most men, glad to blame anybody but himself; and the whole day, and the next, was cross at intervals with both Edmond and me; but we bore it -- and patiently.
''It will be all right when we get him to the theatre. He has no real cause for anxiety about her. What a dear woman she is, and a precious -- your mother, Dorothy!'
'I rejoiced to hear my lover speak thus, and thought there hardly ever was young gentlewoman so blessed as I.
'We went to the play. Ah, you know nothing of what a play is, now-a-days. You never saw John Kemble and Mrs Siddons. Though in dresses and shows it was far inferior to the Hamlet you took me to see last week, my dear -- and though I perfectly well remember being on the point of laughing when in the most solemn scene, it became clearly evident that the Ghost had been drinking. Strangely enough, no after events connected therewith -- nothing subsequent ever drove from my mind the vivid impression of this my first play. Strange, also, that the play should have been Hamlet. Do you think that Shakespeare believed in -- in what people call 'ghosts'?'
I could not say; but I thought Mrs MacArthur's ghost very long in coming.
'Don't, my dear -- don't; do anything but laugh at it.'
She was visibly affected, and it was not without an effort that she proceeded in her story.
'I wish you to understand exactly my position that night -- a young girl, her head full of the enchantment of the stage -- her heart of something not less engrossing. Mr Everest had supped with us, leaving us both in the best of spirits; indeed my father had gone to bed, laughing heartily at the remembrance of the antics of Mr Grimaldi, which had almost obliterated the queen and Hamlet from his memory, on which the ridiculous always took a far stronger hold than the awful or sublime.
'I was sitting -- let me see -- at the window, chatting with my maid Patty, who was brushing the powder out of my hair. The window was open half-way, and looking out on the Thames; and the summer night being very warm and starry, made it almost like sitting out of doors. There was none of the awe given by the solitude of a midnight closed room, when every sound is magnified, and every shadow seems alive.
'As I said, we had been chatting and laughing; for Patty and I were both very young, and she had a sweetheart, too. She, like every one of our household, was a warm admirer of Mr Everest. I had just been half scolding, half smiling at her praises of him, when St Paul's great clock came booming over the silent river.
''Eleven,' counted Patty. 'Terrible late we be, Mistress Dorothy: not like Bath hours, I reckon.'
''Mother will have been in bed an hour ago,' said I, with a little self-reproach at not having thought of her till now.
'The next minute my maid and I both started up with a simultaneous exclamation.
''Did you hear that?'
''Yes, a bat flying against the window.'
''But the lattices are open, Mistress Dorothy.'
'So they were; and there was no bird or bat or living thing about -- only the quiet summer night, the river, and the stars.
''I be certain sure I heard it. And I think it was like -- just a bit like -- somebody tapping.'
''Nonsense, Patty!' But it had struck me thus -- though I said it was a bat. It was exactly like the sound of fingers against a pane -- very soft, gentle fingers, such as, in passing into her flower-garden, my mother used often to tap outside the school-room casement at home.