Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Halloween Story by W.H. Davenport Adams 1882

A Halloween Story by W.H. Davenport Adams 1882

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A remarkable Halloween story is recorded in Dr. Robert Chambers’s valuable miscellany, “The Book of Days.” Mr. and Mrs. M., we are told, were a happy young couple, who, in the middle of the last century, resided on their own estate, in a pleasant part of the province of Leinster. Possessed of a handsome fortune, they spent their time in various rural avocations, until the birth of a child, a little girl, seemed to crown their felicity. On the Halloween following this notable event, the parents retired to rest at their usual hour, Mrs. M. cradling her infant on her bosom that she might be roused if it showed the least sign of uneasiness. From teething or some other ailment, the child, about midnight, became very restless, and not receiving the usual attention from its mother, woke up Mr. M. by its cries. He at once called his wife, and told her the baby was unwell; she made no answer. She seemed in an uneasy slumber, and in spite of all her husband’s efforts continued to sleep on, until he was compelled to take the child himself and endeavour to soothe it to rest. From sheer exhaustion it at last sank into silence, while the mother slumbered until a much later hour than usual. When she at last awoke, her husband told her of what had happened, and of the extent to which his night’s rest had been disturbed. “I, too,” she replied, “have passed the most miserable night I ever experienced: I now see that sleep and rest are two different things, for I never felt so unrefreshed in my life. How I wish you had been able to awake me—it would have spared me some of my fatigue and anxiety! I thought I was dragged against my will into a strange part of the country, where I had never been before, and, after what appeared to me a long and weary journey on foot, I arrived at a comfortable looking house. I went in longing to rest, but had no power to sit down, although there was a nice supper laid out before a good fire, and every appearance of preparations for an expected visitor. Exhausted as I felt, I was only allowed to stand for a minute or two, and then hurried away by the same road back again; but now it is over, and after all it was only a dream.”

Her husband listened with deep interest to this strange narrative, and then, sighing deeply, said, “My dear Sarah, you will not long have me beside you; whoever is to be your second husband played last night some evil trick, of which you have been the victim.”

Shocked as she naturally was by this assertion, she sought to subdue her own emotion, and to rally her husband’s spirits, hoping that the impression would pass from his mind as soon as he entered into the every-day work of life.

Months passed away, and both husband and wife had almost forgotten the Halloween dream, when Mr. M.’s health began to fail, and to fail so rapidly, that in spite of loving care and the best medical skill, he sank into a premature grave. His wife mourned him sincerely, but her natural energy and activity prevented her from yielding to a hopeless sorrow. She continued to farm her husband’s estate, and in this employment, and in the education of her little girl was able to divert her thoughts. Not less admired for her conspicuous ability, than beloved for her benevolence and amiability, she was more than once solicited to lay aside her widow’s weeds; but she persisted in a calm refusal. Her uncle, a man of much kindness of heart and clearness of judgment, frequently visited her, inspected her farm, and gave her advice and assistance. He had a nephew, whom we will call C., a prudent and energetic young man, in whom he had every confidence, and whenever they met, he would strongly recommend him to take to himself a wife, and “settle.” On one occasion C. replied that it was not his fault he still remained a bachelor, but he had never yet met with any woman whom he would care to call his wife. “Well, C.,” said his uncle, “you seem difficult to please, but I think I know a lady who would approve herself even to your fastidious taste.” After a good-humoured exchange of quip and repartee, the uncle invited the nephew to ride over with him next day, and be introduced to his niece, whom C. had never yet seen.

The invitation was accepted; the two friends set out early on the following morning, and after a pleasant ride drew near their destination. At a short distance they caught sight of Mrs. M. retiring towards her house after her usual daily inspection of her farm. Mr. C. started violently, and displayed a considerable agitation. Pointing towards the lady, he exclaimed, “Uncle, we need go no further, for if ever I am to be married, yonder goes my wife!” “Well, C.,” replied his uncle, “that is fortunate, for yonder lady is my niece, to whom I am about to introduce you. But tell me,” he continued, “is this what you call love at first sight? Or what do you mean by such a sudden decision in favour of a lady with whom you have never exchanged a word?” “Well, sir,” was the reply, “as I have betrayed myself, it is well that I should make full confession. A year or two ago, I was foolish enough to try a Halloween spell,—and sat up all night to watch the result. I declare to you most solemnly that the figure of that lady, as I now see her, entered my room, and looked at me. She stood a minute or two by the fire, and then disappeared as suddenly and as silently as she had entered. I was wide awake, and felt considerable remorse at having thus ventured to tamper with the powers of the Unseen World; but I assure you that every particular of her features, dress, and figure have been so present to my mind ever since, that I could not possibly make a mistake, and the moment I saw your niece I was convinced that she was indeed the woman whose image I saw on that never-forgotten Halloween.”

It is unnecessary to say that the uncle was considerably astonished at this extraordinary narrative, but he forbore to comment upon it, as by this time they had arrived at Mrs. M.’s house. The lady was delighted to see her uncle, and made his friend heartily welcome, discharging the duties of hostess with a simplicity and grace that fascinated her guest.

After her visitors had rested and refreshed themselves, her uncle walked out with her to inspect the farm, and seized the opportunity, in the absence of Mr. C., to bespeak for him his niece’s favourable consideration. Many words were unnecessary, for the impression produced had been mutually agreeable. Before leaving the house Mr. C. obtained Mrs. M.’s permission to visit her in the character of a suitor for her hand,—and after a brief courtship they were married. The story ends, as all such stories should end, with the affirmation that they lived long and happily together, and it was from their daughter that Dr. Chambers’s informant derived his knowledge of the preceding remarkable episode in their career.

Dr. Chambers assures us that the leading incidents of the narrative may be relied on as correct; but we think the reader will exercise a wise incredulity: that at all events his belief will not go beyond the admission of some possible resemblance, entirely accidental, between Mrs. M. and the lady whom the imaginative Mr. C. had seen in his Halloween dream, and whose image he had so carefully treasured in his memory.

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