dezembro 09, 2012

Northern Lights and other psychic stories by E. D'Espérance 8

Northern Lights and other psychic stories
by E. D'Espérance.

Author of Shadowland

London
George Redway
1899



Harald Arnhult

Chapter I

"Then Fraulein does not believe in ghosts?"

No, the Fraulein did not, and said so. Moreover, she had a distinct opinion hat the subject was not one suitable to the occasion.

They were standing in a recess, shaded by flowering shrubs and palms, from the other side of which came the murmur of voices.

She had chosen to sit out this dance for two reasons, the first being that she had caught an intelligent gleam in a pair of honest dark eyes, as she had whirled by on the arm of her partner, in the last waltz, and the interpretation thereof brought an answering light to her own grey orbs, and a flush to her cheek.

The second reason was, that the man whose name was written against the next dance did not please her fastidious taste, so she had pleaded fatigue begged to be excused. "I will sit here," she said, "and rest; but you, Herr Lieutenant, must not lose this dance, I shall be quite well alone."

To her chagrin the Herr Lieutenant seemed as pleased to sit out the dance as she herself, and with a bow took a seat beside her. Fraulein Naumann's face clouded with illconcealed vexation, which her partner must have perceived, had not his senses been dulled by the copious draughts of wine in which he had indulged. He did not notice that her gaze was turned expectantly in the direction of the doorway, as she answered his platitudes absently, with an air of boredom.

The murmur of voices on the other side of the palms grew more distinct as the music of the band died away. A little group of persons were discussing some subject, in which belief or non-belief in ghosts and supernatural agencies figured largely, and the two lapsed into silence and listened.

She was wishing with all her heart that he would go and leave her, but the interest he took in their neighbours' conversation made him blind to the coolness of her attitude towards him. Moreover, there was something about her - a sense of calm steadiness and strength - which gave him and odd feeling of security. He felt himself safer and stronger in her presence, and he was glad of an excuse to remain beside her.

"It's queer how these stories of ghosts crop up now and again!" he remarked. Then seeing she did not reply, he continued, "Of course nobody really believes in them, but they have a sort of hold on one somehow. One finds one's self interested in spite of one's disbelief. Is it not so with you, Fraulein?"

"Not al all," she replied coldly. "It is a subject that has no interest for me." Then feeling she had answered a little rudely she added, "You see, Herr Lieutenant, I have been educated in too sensible a school, and kept too busily occupied with my work, to have time to spend over so unprofitable a subject as ghost lore."

"That one might expect of the clever daughter of Professor Naumann; still my Fraulein, there are many clever men who do not think the study of ghost lore unprofitable, if one can believe what one reads."

"That is not saying much for their common sense, in spite of their reputation. I know there are many stories of supernatural appearances believed in, but in my opinion they are founded on some easily explained occurrence, and added to by the imaginations of the various narrators. I feel sure if one had time and inclination to look into, and get to the root of these stories they would be found to have no real foundation."

"Perhaps you are right with respect to many of the stories, but so many really sensible folks believe in the possibility of spirit return, that one does not know what to think."

"That is just it," she retorted scornfully. "It is less trouble to believe in other peoples' belief instead of thinking for one's self. If a man is reputed clever, he will find any number of others ready to adopt his fantasies, and swear to them as proven facts."

"On the principle of one fool makes many you think?"

"Yes, if you like to put it in that way. But do you believe in ghosts, Herr Lieutentant?" she asked abruptly, turning her eyes a little contemptuously on his face. It was evident, even to him, that her opinion of his common sense was not a high one.

"I - no - that is - I've neve seen one, but I fancy I should believe in them if ever I did."

"If ever you did. Yes, but you never will, Herr Lieutenant."

"It would give you a creepy sensation to turn a corner and come suddenly on some one you knew was dead; don't you think so?"

"It might act so on some people," she rejoined with some impatience, "but I have no superstitious fears to begin with, and should know at once that some one was playing a trick on me, or that my eyes deceived me."

"And you would not be afraid?"

"No! why should I? Our conversation is a curious one -let us talk of something else; or you can get me an ice or something."

"Then, my Fraulein, let us make a bargain - you and I." He was very loath to leave her, and ignored her evident attempts to get rid of him.

"A bargain?"

"Yes! It is this! If I should happen to die first, I will come and see you, if you will allow me; then we will see whether you or those friends behind the palms are right."

"You will have to come in some extraordinary and unmistakable fashion then," she laughed; "not in the orthodox white sheet."

"You give me leave to come then, if I can?"

"Oh yes! and welcome; I am not afraid. But you are not thinking of leaving this world yet, Herr Lieutenant?"

"No! oh no! only one never knows, of course, what may happen. War may break out, or a hundred other things occur, any of which might end one's short existence here."

He had her dance programme in his hand, and was busily inscribing something on the back. He did not see the sudden flush and brightening of her face, as the curtain was pushed aside and a young man entered, nor the meaning glance which passed between a pair of dark a pair of grey eyes.

"This is our dance, Fraulein, "said the new-comer; "shall we go?"

The young lady rose, and held out her hand for her programme. The Lieutenant hung it by the silken cord oer her wrist, and bowed.

"Thanks, very much, my Fraulein. I have made a note of the engagement on the back, and I shall not forget." He bowed again, and stood moodily tugging at his moustache, watching the two take their places in the dance, she with a look on her face that somehow caused a feeling of bitterness in his heart, and then with a shrug of the shoulders he turned and sought the refreshment-room.

Chapter II

It was the old story. Betting, billiards, wine, women. A few years of wild excess - feverish pursuit of pleasure, and elusive joys, and then the end - a suicide's grave, a lunatic's straigh jacket, a criminal's cell, or wretched, poverty-stricken, disgraceful old age. Lieutenant Harald Arnhult had chosen the lot of the suicide, and now lay on his bed with a bullet in his brain. The bespattered walls of his room gave evidence of how it had come there.

The local newspaper of Stuttgart had given the news and the manner of his death to the townspeople that morning, affording a subject for conversation among those who had called themselves his friends, or those who had been familiar with the handsome dissipated face of the man who now lay dead in the room, mercifully darkened to hide the dreadful sight from the light of day.

Friends he had but few. There had been plenty who had called themselves his friends, among whom he had daily spent hours of his time, at the card-table, the billiard-room, or at the cafés, where the waitresses were the recipients of their gallantries and wine-soddened admiration.

To-day the friends were to be found in the same haunts, discussing - cue or wine-glass in hand - the news conveyed to them by the daily papers, of the fate of one of their number. They knocked the ivory balls about, emptied their glasses, and told little questionable anecdotes of him. His extravagance was commented on, the amount of his debts calculated, but no word of sorrow or regret for the young life wasted. Apparently there was no thought given to the warning of what the future might hold for themselves.

He was gone! Better both for himself and for them that he had brought down further disgrace upon them all! There might have been another way out of the difficulty; he might have married a rich woman, and with her money have cleared his way; but he was always a fool!

The balls clicked, the scores ran high, stakes were won and lost, glasses were filled, emptied and refilled again and again, and into the still small hours the game went merrily on, on while he, who had the night before played as merrily as the rest and now lay dead, was scoffed at as a fool and a coward.

Yes! he had been a fool, and sooner or later a fool must pay for his folly.

In the house in Kaiser Wilhelms-strasse the dead man lay, waiting his dishonoured grave. In a room on the floor above him - the floor occupied by Professor Naumann and his family - some ladies were sitting drinking afternoon tea, and condoling with the lady of the house on the unpleasant occurence so near to her.

"Such a horrid affair! dear Frau Professor. I felt so sorry for you when I heard the news. That's the worst of these town houses; one is so frequently brought in contact with one's neighbours. One can scarcely avoid meeting them sometimes, and, in such a case as this, it must be most unpleasant for you."

"Yes, it is very sad!" replied the frau Professor, whose kindly face showed traces of tears. "It gave me a great shock. My boys and girls used to know him so well. They were good friends, and he used to be in and out with them, till he got in with that set, and turned so wild. I feel terrible grieved; he was a nice boy even then, but I had my boys to think of, and so -"

The worthy Frau Professor dried a tear that fell upon her plump cheek, and the sentence remained unfinished.

Yes; she had had her own sons to think of, and was afraid of the companionship of the lad who had begun to tread the downward path. Afraid of the temptation for her own, but, thank God! her boys were good, and she could afford to shed a pitiful tear for that other mother's son, who lay dead in the room below, the manner of whose death bore witness to the ruined, wasted life.

"I thought at one time he was a little fond of your eldest daughter," remarked the visitor.

"Did you? I don't think so. I never noticed anything. They met now and then - after he had ceased to come in and out as a schoolboy - at dances and such like;  but Gertrude was never inclined for flirting or much gaiety. She was always taken up with her studies, and seldom cared to leave them for such amusements as girls generally love. We were afraid she would never marry, but now that she is betrothed, and her marriage arranged, I hope she will give up her ideas of a profession and independent life."

"When are your daughters returning home?"

"Before the end of the year. There is so much to do before the wedding. Gertrude must give up her studies, and help with the preparations. Mina comes too, so I shall have all my children at home again for a while. The little ones are looking forward  with delight to their sister's homecoming."

So the conversation drifted into other channels. The faults, failings, and fate of the dead man were forgotten in the discussion of the more important topics of wedding presents, wedding gowns, and wedding bells.

A few week later there was great joy in the Naumann household. The professor and his kindly wife were daughter. Nor were the girls themselves less happy to be under the parental roof. In spite of the triumphs scored and honours won at the seat of learning, Gertrude had bidden farewell to her youthful dreams of fame and independence, and was looking forward to a future spent together with one for whom she thought the word, fame, and independence well lost.

It was a warm summer night, when the sister, having repaired to their room, sat near the open window, eagerly discussing and recounting what had passed since last they had been together. They had both been away from home some six months, and there was much to tell and to hear.

The girls lingered long over their preparations for the night, the excitement of homecoming drove sleep from their eyes. A flickering of the candles caused them to look up, and Mina rose to close the window, when her sister uttered a strange, horrified cry. At the same instant she saw a sight which held her rooted to the floor. A man had put aside the fluttering curtains and stepped into the room!

Mina sprang to her sister's side, and together they stood facing the intruder. For an instant they stood looking at each other; then Mina, with a shuddering sob, gasped, "It's Harald Arnhult," and hid her face on her sister's breast.

Gertrude stood still, though with wildly beating heart. Her lips seemed stiff as though turned to stone, but recovering herself with a mighty effort, she said, "Is it you, Harald Arnhult, or is it a trick to frighten us?"

The man seemed to try to speak, his lips moved, but no sound came.

"Whoever you are," said Gertrude, "go now!"

The man bowed his head, and in that gesture was expressed a pitiful submission that brought a pang to the girl's heart.

"It is Harald Arnhult," whispered Mina, raising her head. "Are you not happy?" she asked in trembling tones, still clinging to her sister.

It seemed for a moment that an agonized smiled played over his face - a smile that mad Mina cover her eyes, with a cry. Then he turned slowly towards the still open window, and was gone.

The girls darted to the window and looked down into the quiet street. It was deserted. The moonlight brought out in detail the window and doorways of the houses opposite, the flowers and plants on the small balconies fluttering int the night breeze. But no trace of human form was seen, or sound of steps was heard to break the silence.

For some time the girls stood looking down from the window, till, with a moaning cry, Mina turned to her sister. "O Gertrude! Gertrude! what does it mean?"

Gertrude was silent, but her thoughts had flown back to that conversation in the ballroom nearly a year ago. She had not thought of it again, but now she remembered with almost painful distinctness, every work that had passed between them, her scornful impatience of the subject, and the feeling of almost pitying aversion she had felt for the young man, whose wine and tobacco-laden breath she had tried to avoid. As she remembered, a pang of remorse for this feeling swept over her. He had seemed so much in earnest, and she - well, she had only wanted him to leave her, to make room for that other for whom she waited.

These thoughts crowded into her memory and she replied, Ï think I know what it means."

Her sister looked inquiringly into her face. "Tell me," she whispered.

"You remember the night of the ball at the general's house?"

"Yes, it was the night you became engaged!"

Gertrude nodded. "I was to dance with Harald Arnhult, but excused myself, for I had promised to wait for that dance and sit it out with Max; but Lieutenant Arnhult would not leave me. There were some people behind, talking of ghosts, and he took up the subject. He had been drinking, and could not see that I did not want him. then Max came. Harald Arnhult wrote something on my programme about coming to see me after he was dead. I did not pay any attention to it, for, as I tell you, he had been drinking wine and I thought him stupid. I went away with Max, and I never saw Lieutenant Arnhult again."

While speaking, Miss Naumann had been hastily turning over a little litter in an open drawer. "Ah here it is!" she said, drawing forth a little gilt-edged card with a while silken cord attached, and examining the pencilled lines on the flowered back, she read -

"Mem. Engaged to pay a post-mortem visit to Miss Gertrude Naumann, in such fashion - not orthodox - as will remove her doubts as to the possibility of spirit return. "Signed this 3rd day of October, at 11:30 P.M., in the gall-room of General S.'s house in Stuttgart.
"Harald Arnhult."

The tears blinded the eyes of the frightened, awe-stricken Mina as she read, and sobbed "Poor Harald Arnhult!"

"Poor Harald Arnhult!" repeated Gertrude, as with shaking hands she laid the card back in the drawer.

It was now long before it began to be rumoured abroad that the home of the Naumann family in Kaiser Wilhelms-strasse was haunted by the ghost of the lieutenant who had committed suicide in the rooms below. There were those who said that he not only haunted the house, but was a familiar and expected guest, that he might be seen in drawing-room, diningroom or study, wherever the family were assembled.

"This is terrible," remarked a frightened lady one day to the Frau Professor. "Why do you not remove from the house? Can the clergyman do nothing to rid you of this awful thing? They used to exorcise evil spirits, you know. Why do you not let something of the kind be tried?"

"He is no evil spirit," said Gertrude, answering for her mother; "only poor unhappy Harald Arnhult, sinful  enough, and weak enough, but no worse than he was, only more miserable, more unhappy, because he knows of the terrible mistake he made, and cannot undo. He can, or will not do us any harm, and if it makes him happier to me to us, why should we drive him away?"

"But the children! He will frighten them to death. Your nurse told me how he had come into the nursery and they had screamed themselves almost into fits."

"Yes!" replied the Frau Professor, "they were dreadfully frightened, for they remembered him, of course, but we remonstrated with him, and told not to go into the nursery or frighten the children, and he promised he would not. Since then he has not done so."

"Well, I should have died had such a thing happened in my home. I cannot think how you can take it so calmly."

"W are becoming used to see him, and, in fact, look for him, and he seems pleased and grateful to us for tolerating his presence. I sometimes wish we had been kinder to him when he lived among us He had no mother, you know, and that makes a difference to a young man."

"But, dear Frau Professor, what can it lead to? What can be the end of it? What is the meaning of it?"

"Nay, I cannot tell, but God knows."

Some time later, a party of friends met at the railway station to take leave of the family of the professor, who were intending to make a holiday at the seaside. The children, in wild spirits at the release from the schoolroom, and the prospect of unlimited freedom from books and lessons, laughed and shouted with glee as the train came thundering up to the platform. The guard unlocked the door of the compartment reserved for them, and the youngsters climbed in.

"There's somebody there already," remarked one of the assembled friend, indicating a gentleman seated in the farthest corner.

"Yes, but it's only Lieutenant Arnhult, and we know him," answered the child.

The professor, his wife, and daughters, took their places and waved their adieus to their waiting friends, and the train moved out of the station, leaving the little group standing on the platform staring after it.

"Did you see him?" asked one gentleman at length, turning to his companions.

"Yes, I saw him; there was no mistake - he was plain enough to be seen."

"But what do yo make out of it?"

"I - I can make nothing out of it, but it seems to me that Shakespeare was right when he made that remark about there being more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. I cannot attempt to explain it, but that man in the carriage was Harald Arnhult, and after that I can be satisfied that there is more than mere rumour in the affair in Kaiser Wilhelms-strasse."



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