'My dear madam,' said the clergyman. 'This is indeed a happy day.'
'Indeed it is,' replied the beaming mother. 'And what is more, it is my birthday.'
'Of course-I had forgotten. But Jane no doubt had remembered and will bring you a gift
'I want no gift but my son,' she said, looking fondly down at the occupant of the cradle.
'Tell me, do you think I look my age? Has he not waved the wand of youth over me?'
'Whatever age you are, madam,' replied Mr. Jackson gallantly, 'I can assure you that you
do not look it.'
'Well, then,' she said, smiling, 'I am fifty-one years old.'
Mr. Jackson's eyebrows rose. 'Fifty-one?' I had not thought-let me see, I had a discussion
with your mother, many years ago, upon this very point. What was the issue, now? She
declared that you had been born in 1665.'
'That is so. Lord Tyrone and I were almost twins.'
'But I assured her that it was not so,' said Mr. Jackson. 'Indeed, I confirmed it by
consulting the baptismal register, in which it was clearly stated that you were born in 1666. I
remember it well, because it was about the time we had the news of the Great Fire raging in
Mrs. Gorges paled, and her youthful radiance seemed to fade in a moment. 'Then,' she
said tremblingly, 'I am not fifty-one years old, but only fifty.'
'That is the case, madam. Are you not glad to find yourself a year younger then you
Nicola Gorges rose and walked slowly to the window. She stood looking out at the
pleasant garden and the pearly clouds sweeping above the trees, as though she had never seen
them before. After a few moments she turned, and said in a calm voice:
'You have signed my death warrant, Mr. Jackson. I have not much longer to live. No,'-
cutting short his anxious exclamations-'there is nothing you can do to help me, except to send my
son and daughter here to me as soon as you can. And send word to the Archbishop that I shall not
be able to entertain him today.'
Puzzled and alarmed, Mr. Jackson obeyed her orders. The two young people were soon at
their mother's side, distressed to see such a change in her since earlier in the morning. She kissed
her baby, bade the nurse take it away, and, telling her son and daughter to sit down, solemnly
'I have something most important to tell you, my dears, before I die.'
'Die, Mamma!' exclaimed young Sir Marcus. 'Pray don't jest with us.'
'It is no jest, my son. Be patient, and listen to me. You know that as a child I was
brought up with Lord Tyrone like sister and brother-indeed, I doubt if you two, fond though you
are, are as attached as we were. Our guardian was a free-thinking man who held that the beliefs
of the Church were all superstition, and that only a materialistic view of existence could be held
by sensible people. Now, a great many of our friends were shocked by his views, and lost no
opportunity of putting their own to us. Poor confused children that we were, we did not know
what to believe; particularly as regarded a future life. One day, after talking for a long time, we
made a pact, as young people will. Whichever of us died first would, if permitted, appeared to the
other and tell him or her what were the real great truths.
'Years passed. We grew up, and I married your father, Sir Tristram. John-that is, Lord
Tyrone-and I saw little of each other, though we kept up our friendship by letters.
'Now comes the strange and dreadful part of my tale. One night, in October 1693, your
father and I were on a visit to your Aunt Arabella at Gill Hill. We had gone to bed as usual, and
were sleeping soundly, when I suddenly awoke with the consciousness that somebody else was in
the room with us. I sat up-and saw Lord Tyrone, sitting by the side of the bed. I did not know
what to think, but I was very frightened, and screamed out. Your father did not stir, and even
shaking his shoulder could not wake him. Then Lord Tyrone, bending on me a solemn look, said:
''It is myself and no other, Nicola.'
''But why are you here at this time of night, John?' I asked, trembling.
''Have you forgotten our youthful promise to each other? I died on Tuesday, at four
o'clock. I have been permitted to appear to you thus to let you know that the Church's religion is
the true and only one by which we can be saved. You are with child, and will bear a son, who
will marry my daughter.''
'But-' interrupted Sir Marcus.
'Peace, son. You will see it will come true. Then Lord Tyrone told me that Sir Tristram
would not long survive after the child's birth, and that in the course of time I should marry again,
and die as a result of childbirth in my fiftieth year. 'Good Heavens,' I said, 'cannot I prevent
this?' 'Of course you can,' he replied, 'you are a free agent and mat resist any temptation to a
second marriage, but your passions are strong.' 'Oh, tell me-' I began' but he held up his hand
(which was perfectly solid, and could not be seen through) and said: 'More I cannot tell you, but
one thing-that if you persist in your present opinions your fate in the next world will be miserable
indeed.' 'Are you happy, John?' I asked. He smiled. 'Had it been otherwise I would not have
been permitted to appear to you.'
''But now,' I said, 'when morning comes, shall I be convinced that your appearance has
been real, and not a mere phantasm of my imagination?' 'Will not the news of my death be
sufficient to convince you?' he asked. 'No,' I replied. 'I might have had such a dream, and that
dream might accidently have come to pass. I want some stronger proof of your presence.' 'You
shall have it,' he said. He waved his hand, and the crimson velvet bed-curtains were instantly
drawn through a large iron hook by which the oval tested of the bed was suspended. 'Now you
cannot be mistaken,' he said. 'No mortal arm could have done that.' 'True,' I replied, 'but in
sleep we are often far stronger than in waking. Awake, I could not have done it-asleep, I might-
and therefore I shall still doubt.' Then he said: 'You have a pocket-book here in which I shall
write. You know my handwriting?' 'Yes,' I said. He then wrote his signature on one of the
leaves. 'Still,' I objected, 'in the morning I may doubt. When I am awake I cannot imitate your
handwriting, but asleep it's possible that I might.' 'You are hard to convince,' he said with a
smile. 'I might-but I must not touch you, for that would mark you for life.' 'I don't mind a small
blemish,' I replied. 'You are a brave woman, Nicola,' he said, 'hold out your hand.' I did so. He
touched my wrist lightly with his hand, which was as cold as marble, and in a moment the sinews
shrank up and the nerves withered. 'Now,' he cautioned me, 'let no mortal eye that wrist, while
you live.' I looked down at my injured wrist, then back to him-but he had vanished.