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  ― 78 ―

Chapter XIX.

THAT night I had three strange prophetic dreams—growing clearer just in proportion as there was the less of previous thought and feeling floating in my mind to engender them. The first vague one might have been suggested by what I had heard of Bella's father; the second, more distinct, by the parting I had witnessed—dimly foreshadowing, as all partings do, the final severance; but how can I account for the sharp-cut historical details of the third? I shudder even now to think how it came true to the last jot and tittle. Who are they that steal with noiseless footfall to the couch, and, in a voice that never woke an echo, whisper of the hidden future—disclose the things that lie beyond the dark, ever moving veil their eyes can pierce, not ours?

VISION THE FIRST.

Melancholy music came floating to me from far away as I rocked upon dim waters. I knew that I was on a shoreless sea, and that I might follow the sad sound for ever, and yet should never find its source. Fainter and fainter the dying notes fell upon my ear, until at last they ceased; and an awful stillness brooded over the dark main, that now no longer heaved.

Light that was, as it were, the moonlight of moonlight, a single ray from some pale orb that never saw the sun, but filled its urn at the fount of earth's pallid satellite in her sickliest phase, glimmered for a moment on the inky ocean. Slowly rising to its surface, slowly swaying as it came, I beheld a corpse—the corpse of a man—the corpse of the younger Maurice, as I was sure, when the ghostly shimmer revealed the features, and I marked a locket, the fellow of one with her mother's hair that I had seen Bella wear, hanging from the neck.

VISION THE SECOND.

A myriad golden dimples danced upon a purple sea. Round quay and mole rose masts gay with the flags of every land. Snow-white houses towered in the distance, glinting back the dazzling sunshine. Suddenly I stood within the quadrangular court of one, and saw an old man in black tottering along a paved walk arched with a trelliswork brown with leafless vine-branches. He entered the house. A funeral procession mustered, and two coffins were borne forth. A little girl, with long golden hair falling over her black mantle, followed them, sobbing as she went. I, too, followed them, and saw the place where they were laid, and a tablet, green with slime, upon the ivied wall above, with this inscription:




  ― 79 ―

image
Image on page 79: Sketch of tablet

I well knew how to fill up the blanks.

VISION THE THIRD.

A playground, within eyeshot of my mother's windows, wherein I am being hunted as of old. Scornful faces peer from the panes upon the dwarf his schoolmates plague, but presently a pale sad little face looks out, and in a few minutes a slight figure stands between me and my tormentors. “What! do you care for him?” exclaims a handsome boy who has been idly watching the sport, “I'll see, then, that no one shall touch him.” And I spurn his protection, and blush with bitter shame that she should have been my defender.

Scenes round Pwldhi, my old school, Bristol, Bath, what I had seen upon my road to London, to Helensburgh, the little that I had been able to make out of Helensburgh itself as I entered it on that dark winter evening, blend in the normal kaleidescope like fantasie of dreams, and then a second picture stands out clear in summer sunlight.

Years have rolled by. Bella no longer wears her mourning garb, but, clad in white, hangs on his arm. They stand at the head of a cataract, gazing down into the sullen depth the falling water is churning into viscous foam. There is a scream, and the flutter of a snowy dress. The coward stands paralysed. It was by his carelessness she fell, and yet he makes no plunge—to save her, or with her enter the Unseen. But there is a second plunge. The trees that droop from the cliff-side fly upwards. There is a ringing in my ears, as the gurgling waters close above me. For a moment there is blackness all around, and then there comes a blank.

I have wandered far and wide when I return to consciousness. My soul is weary. The slanting sunbeams are bathing Vauban's huge mounds in blood-red light, as I enter Lille. The red rays are flashing from the windows and burnishing the old Spanish-built houses of a square I cross.


  ― 80 ―
One points like a finger down a dark archway. I see the man at whom it points, and spring upon him, and haul him from the gloom. Handsome giant though he be, he is, for the moment, as an infant in my hands. I demand my darling back. He calls me madman, and strikes me to the ground.

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