(1824 -- 1889)
Collins was an extremely popular author during
Victorian times. Collins wrote 30 novels, 14 plays and over 60 short
Miss Jéromette and the Clergyman was
first published in
1875 in The
The story was then reprinted in Collins' collection Little Novels (1877).
Horror Stories (public domain)
List of classic horror
stories available to read on this site
Jéromette and the Clergyman
by Wilkie Collins
brother, the clergyman, looked over my
shoulder before I was aware of him,
and discovered that the
which completely absorbed my attention was a collection of famous
Trials, published in a new edition and in a popular form.
He laid his finger on the Trial which I happened to be reading at the
moment. I looked up at him; his face startled me. He had turned pale.
His eyes were fixed on the open page of the book with an expression
which puzzled and alarmed me.
"My dear fellow," I said, "what in the world is the matter with you?"
He answered in an odd absent manner, still keeping his finger on the
"I had almost forgotten," he said. "And this reminds me."
"Reminds you of what?" I asked. "You don't mean to say you know
anything about the Trial?"
"I know this," he said. "The prisoner was guilty."
"Guilty?" I repeated. "Why, the man was acquitted by the jury, with the
full approval of the judge! What call you possibly mean?"
"There are circumstances connected with that Trial," my brother
answered, "which were never communicated to the judge or the
jury--which were never so much as hinted or whispered in court. I know
them--of my own knowledge, by my own personal experience. They are very
sad, very strange, very terrible. I have mentioned them to no mortal
creature. I have done my best to forget them. You--quite
innocently--have brought them back to my mind. They oppress, they
distress me. I wish I had found you reading any book in your library,
except that book!"
My curiosity was now strongly excited. I spoke out plainly.
"Surely," I suggested, "you might tell your brother what you are
unwilling to mention to persons less nearly related to you. We have
followed different professions, and have lived in different countries,
since we were boys at school. But you know you can trust me."
He considered a little with himself.
"Yes," he said. "I know I can trust you." He waited a moment, and then
he surprised me by a strange question.
"Do you believe," he asked, "that the spirits of the dead can return to
earth, and show themselves to the living?"
I answered cautiously--adopting as my own the words of a great English
writer, touching the subject of ghosts.
"You ask me a question," I said, "which, after five thousand years, is
yet undecided. On that account alone, it is a question not to be
My reply seemed to satisfy him.
"Promise me," he resumed, "that you will keep what I tell you a secret
as long as I live. After my death I care little what happens. Let the
story of my strange experience be added to the published experience of
those other men who have seen what I have seen, and who believe what I
believe. The world will not be the worse, and may be the better, for
knowing one day what I am now about to trust to your ear alone."
My brother never again alluded to the narrative which he had confided
to me, until the later time when I was sitting by his deathbed. He
asked if I still remembered the story of Jeromette. "Tell it to
others," he said, "as I have told it to you."
I repeat it after his death--as nearly as I can in his own words.
On a fine summer evening, many years since, I left my chambers in the
Temple, to meet a fellow-student, who had proposed to me a night's
amusement in the public gardens at Cremorne.
You were then on your way to India; and I had taken my degree at
Oxford. I had sadly disappointed my father by choosing the Law as my
profession, in preference to the Church. At that time, to own the
truth, I had no serious intention of following any special vocation. I
simply wanted an excuse for enjoying the pleasures of a London life.
The study of the Law supplied me with that excuse. And I chose the Law
as my profession accordingly.
On reaching the place at which we had arranged to meet, I found that my
friend had not kept his appointment. After waiting vainly for ten
minutes, my patience gave way and I went into the Gardens by myself.
I took two or three turns round the platform devoted to the dancers
without discovering my fellow-student, and without seeing any other
person with whom I happened to be acquainted at that time.
For some reason which I cannot now remember, I was not in my usual good
spirits that evening. The noisy music jarred on my nerves, the sight of
the gaping crowd round the platform irritated me, the blandishments of
the painted ladies of the profession of pleasure saddened and disgusted
me. I opened my cigar-case, and turned aside into one of the quiet
by-walks of the Gardens.
A man who is habitually careful in choosing his cigar has this
advantage over a man who is habitually careless. He can always count on
smoking the best cigar in his case, down to the last. I was still
absorbed in choosing my cigar, when I heard these words behind
me--spoken in a foreign accent and in a woman's voice:
"Leave me directly, sir! I wish to have nothing to say to you."
I turned round and discovered a little lady very simply and tastefully
dressed, who looked both angry and alarmed as she rapidly passed me on
her way to the more frequented part of the Gardens. A man (evidently
the worse for the wine he had drunk in the course of the evening) was
following her, and was pressing his tipsy attentions on her with the
coarsest insolence of speech and manner. She was young and pretty, and
she cast one entreating look at me as she went by, which it was not in
manhood--perhaps I ought to say, in young-manhood--to resist.
I instantly stepped forward to protect her, careless whether I involved
myself in a discreditable quarrel with a blackguard or not. As a matter
of course, the fellow resented my interference, and my temper gave way.
Fortunately for me, just as I lifted my hand to knock him down, at
policeman appeared who had noticed that he was drunk, and who settled
the dispute officially by turning him out of the Gardens.
I led her away from the crowd that had collected. She was evidently
frightened--I felt her hand trembling on my arm--but she had one great
merit; she made no fuss about it.
"If I can sit down for a few minutes," she said in her pretty foreign
accent, "I shall soon be myself again, and I shall not trespass any
further on your kindness. I thank you very much, sir, for taking care
We sat down on a bench in a retired par t of the Gardens, near a little
fountain. A row of lighted lamps ran round the outer rim of the basin.
I could see her plainly.
I have said that she was "a little lady." I could not have described
her more correctly in three words.
Her figure was slight and small: she was a well-made miniature of a
woman from head to foot. Her hair and her eyes were both dark. The hair
curled naturally; the expression of the eyes was quiet, and rather sad;
the complexion, as I then saw it, very pale; the little mouth perfectly
charming. I was especially attracted, I remembered, by the carriage of
her head; it was strikingly graceful and spirited; it distinguished
her, little as she was and quiet as she was, among the thousands of
other women in the Gardens, as a creature apart. Even the one marked
defect in her--a slight "cast" in the left eye--seemed to add, in some
strange way, to the quaint attractiveness of her face. I have already
spoken of the tasteful simplicity of her dress. I ought now to add that
it was not made of any costly material, and that she wore no jewels or
ornaments of any sort. My little lady was not rich; even a man's eye
could see that.
She was perfectly unembarrassed and unaffected. We fell as easily into
talk as if we had been friends instead of strangers.
I asked how it was that she had no companion to take care of her. "You
are too young and too pretty," I said in my blunt English way, "to
trust yourself alone in such a place as this."
She took no notice of the compliment. She calmly put it away from her
as if it had not reached her ears.
"I have no friend to take care of me," she said simply. "I was sad and
sorry this evening, all by myself, and I thought I would go to the
Gardens and hear the music, just to amuse me. It is not much to pay at
the gate; only a shilling."
"No friend to take care of you?" I repeated. "Surely there must be one
happy man who might have been here with you to-night?"
"What man do you mean?" she asked.
"The man," I answered thoughtlessly, "whom we call, in England, a
I would have given worlds to have recalled those foolish words the
moment they passed my lips. I felt that I had taken a vulgar liberty
with her. Her face saddened; her eyes dropped to the ground. I begged
"There is no need to beg my pardon," she said. "If you wish to know,
sir--yes, I had once a sweetheart, as you call it in England. He has
gone away and left me. No more of him, if you please. I am rested now.
I will thank you again, and go home."
She rose to leave me.
I was determined not to part with her in that way. I begged to be
allowed to see her safely back to her own door. She hesitated. I took a
man's unfair advantage of her, by appealing to her fears. I said,
"Suppose the blackguard who annoyed you should be waiting outside the
gates?" That decided her. She took my arm. We went away together by the
bank of the Thames, in the balmy summer night.
A walk of half an hour brought us to the house in which she lodged--a
shabby little house in a by-street, inhabited evidently by very poor
She held out her hand at the door, and wished me good-night. I was too
much interested in her to consent to leave my little foreign lady
without the hope of seeing her again. I asked permission to call on her
the next day. We were standing under the light of the street-lamp. She
studied my face with a grave and steady attention before she made any
"Yes," she said at last. "I think I do know a gentleman when I see him.
You may come, sir, if you please, and call upon me to-morrow."
So we parted. So I entered--doubting nothing, foreboding nothing--on a
scene in my life which I now look back on with unfeigned repentance and
I am speaking at this later time in the position of a clergyman, and in
the character of a man of mature age. Remember that; and you will
understand why I pass as rapidly as possible over the events of the
next year of my life--why I say as little as I can of the errors and
the delusions of my youth.
I called on her the next day. I repeated my visits during the days and
weeks that followed, until the shabby little house in the by-street had
become a second and (I say it with shame and self-reproach) a dearer
home to me.
All of herself and her story which she thought fit to confide to me
under these circumstances may be repeated to you in few words.
The name by which letters were addressed to her was "Mademoiselle
Jeromette." Among the ignorant people of the house and the small
tradesmen of the neighborhood--who found her name not easy of
pronunciation by the average English tongue--she was known by the
friendly nickname of "The French Miss." When I knew her, she was
resigned to her lonely life among strangers. Some years had elapsed
since she had lost her parents, and had left France. Possessing a
small, very small, income of her own, she added to it by coloring
miniatures for the photographers. She had relatives still living in
France; but she had long since ceased to correspond with them. "Ask me
nothing more about my family," she used to say. "I am as good as dead
in my own country and among my own people."
This was all--literally all--that she told me of herself. I have never
discovered more of her sad story from that day to this.
She never mentioned her family name--never even told me what part of
France she came from or how long she had lived in England. That she was
by birth and breeding a lady, I could entertain no doubt; her manners,
her accomplishments, her ways of thinking and speaking, all proved it.
Looking below the surface, her character showed itself in aspects not
common among young women in these days. In her quiet way she was an
incurable fatalist, and a firm believer in the ghostly reality of
apparitions from the dead. Then again in the matter of money, she had
strange views of her own. Whenever my purse was in my hand, she held me
resolutely at a distance from first to last. She refused to move into
better apartments; the shabby little house was clean inside, and the
poor people who lived in it were kind to her--and that was enough. The
most expensive present that she ever permitted me to offer her was a
little enameled ring, the plainest and cheapest thing of the kind in
the jeweler's shop. In all relations with me she was sincerity itself.
On all occasions, and under all circumstances, she spoke her mind (as
the phrase is) with the same uncompromising plainness.
"I like you," she said to me; "I respect you; I shall always be
faithful to you while you are faithful to me. But my love has gone from
me. There is another man who has taken it away with him, I know not
Who was the other man?
She refused to tell me. She kept his rank and his name strict secrets
from me. I never discovered how he had met with her, or why he had left
her, or whether the guilt was his of making of her an exile from her
country and her friends. She despised herself for still loving him; but
the passion was too strong for her--she owned it and lamented it with
the frankness which was so preeminently a part of her character. More
than this, she plainly told me, in the early days of our acquaintance,
that she believed he would return to her. It might be to-morrow, or it
might be years hence. Even if he failed to repent of his own cruel
conduct, the man would still miss her, as something lost out of his
life; and, sooner or later, he would come back.
"And will you receive him if he does come back?" I asked.
"I shall receive him," she replied, "against my own better judgment--in
spite of my own firm persuasion that the day of his return to me will
bring with it the darkest days of my life."
I tried to remonstrate with her.
"You have a will of your own," I said. "Exert it if he attempts to
return to you."
"I have no will of my own," she answered quietly, "where he is
concerned. It is my misfortune to love him." Her eyes rested for a
moment on mine, with the utter self-abandonment of despair. "We have
said enough about this," she added abruptly. "Let us say no more."
From that time we never spoke again of the unknown man. During the year
that followed our first meeting, she heard nothing of him directly or
indirectly. He might be living, or he might be dead. There came no word
of him, or from him. I was fond enough of her to be satisfied with
this--he never disturbed us.
The year passed--and the end came. Not the end as you may have
anticipated it, or as I might have foreboded it.
You remember the time when your letters from home informed you of the
fatal termination of our mother's illness? It is the time of which I am
now speaking. A few hours only before she breathed her last, she called
me to her bedside, and desired that we might be left together alone.
Reminding me that her death was near, she spoke of my prospects in
life; she noticed my want of interest in the studies which were then
supposed to be engaging my attention, and she ended by entreating me to
reconsider my refusal to enter the Church.
"Your father's heart is set upon it," she said. "Do what I ask of you,
my dear, and you will help to comfort him when I am gone."
Her strength failed her: she could say no more. Could I refuse the last
request she would ever make to me? I knelt at the bedside, and took her
wasted hand in mine, and solemnly promised her the respect which a son
owes to his mother's last wishes.
Having bound myself by this sacred engagement, I had no choice but to
accept the sacrifice which it imperatively exacted from me. The time
had come when I must tear myself free from all unworthy associations.
No matter what the effort cost me, I must separate myself at once and
forever from the unhappy woman who was not, who never could be, my wife.
At the close of a dull foggy day I set forth with a heavy heart to say
the words which were to part us forever.
Her lodging was not far from the banks of the Thames. As I drew near
the place the darkness was gathering, and the broad surface of the
river was hidden from me in a chill white mist. I stood for a while,
with my eyes fixed on the vaporous shroud that brooded over the flowing
water--I stood and asked myself in despair the one dreary question:
"What am I to say to her?"
The mist chilled me to the bones. I turned from the river-bank, and
made my way to her lodgings hard by. "It must be done!" I said to
myself, as I took out my key and opened the house door.
She was not at her work, as usual, when I entered her little
sitting-room. She was standing by the fire, with her head down and with
an open letter in her hand.
The instant she turned to meet me, I saw in her face that something was
wrong. Her ordinary manner was the manner of an unusually placid and
self-restrained person. Her temperament had little of the liveliness
which we associate in England with the French nature. She was not ready
with her laugh; and in all my previous experience, I had never yet
known her to cry. Now, for the first time, I saw the quiet face
disturbed; I saw tears in the pretty brown eyes. She ran to meet me,
and laid her head on my breast, and burst into a passionate fit of
weeping that shook her from head to foot.
Could she by any human possibility have heard of the coming change in
my life? Was she aware, before I had opened my lips, of the hard
necessity which had brought me to the house?
It was simply impossible; the thing could not be.
I waited until her first burst of emotion had worn itself out. Then I
asked--with an uneasy conscience, with a sinking heart--what had
happened to distress her.
She drew herself away from me, sighing heavily, and gave me the open
letter which I had seen in her hand.
"Read that," she said. "And remember I told you what might happen when
we first met."
I read the letter.
It was signed in initials only; but the writer plainly revealed himself
as the man who had deserted her. He had repented; he had returned to
her. In proof of his penitence he was willing to do her the justice
which he had hitherto refused--he was willing to marry her, on the
condition that she would engage to keep the marriage a secret, so long
as his parents lived. Submitting this proposal, he waited to know
whether she would consent, on her side, to forgive and forget.
I gave her back the letter in silence. This unknown rival had done me
the service of paving the way for our separation. In offering her the
atonement of marriage, he had made it, on my part, a matter of duty to
her, as well as to myself, to say the parting words. I felt this
instantly. And yet, I hated him for helping me.
She took my hand, and led me to the sofa. We sat down, side by side.
Her face was composed to a sad tranquillity. She was quiet; she was
"I have refused to see him, she said, "until I had first spoken to you.
You have read his letter. What do you say?"
I could make but one answer. It was my duty to tell her what my own
position was in the plainest terms. I did my duty--leaving her free to
decide on the future for herself. Those sad words said, it was useless
to prolong the wretchedness of our separation. I rose, and took her
hand for the last time.
I see her again now, at that final moment, as plainly as if it had
happened yesterday. She had been suffering from an affection of the
throat; and she had a white silk handkerchief tied loosely round her
neck. She wore a simple dress of purple merino, with a black-silk apron
over it. Her face was deadly pale; her fingers felt icily cold as they
closed round my hand.
"Promise me one thing," I said, "before I go. While I live, I am your
friend--if I am nothing more. If you are ever in trouble, promise that
you will let me know it."
She started, and drew back from me as if I had struck her with a sudden
"Strange!' she said, speaking to herself. "He feels as I feel. He is
afraid of what may happen to me, in my life to come."
I attempted to reassure her. I tried to tell her what was indeed the
truth--that I had only been thinking of the ordinary chances and
changes of life, when I spoke.
She paid no heed to me; she came back and put her hands on my shoulders
and thoughtfully and sadly looked up in my face.
"My mind is not your mind in this matter," she said. "I once owned to
you that I had my forebodings, when we first spoke of this man's
return. I may tell you now, more than I told you then. I believe I
shall die young, and die miserably. If I am right, have you interest
enough still left in me to wish to hear of it?"
She paused, shuddering--and added these startling words:
"You shall hear of it."
The tone of steady conviction in which she spoke alarmed and distressed
me. My face showed her how deeply and how painfully I was affected.
"There, there!" she said, returning to her natural manner; "don't take
what I say too seriously. A poor girl who has led a lonely life like
mine thinks strangely and talks strangely--sometimes. Yes; I give you
my promise. If I am ever in trouble, I will let you know it. God bless
you--you have been very kind to me--good-by!"
A tear dropped on my face as she kissed me. The door closed between us.
The dark street received me.
It was raining heavily. I looked up at her window, through the drifting
shower. The curtains were parted: she was standing in the gap, dimly
lit by the lamp on the table behind her, waiting for our last look at
each other. Slowly lifting her hand, she waved her farewell at the
window, with the unsought native grace which had charmed me on the
night when we first met. The curtain fell again--she
disappeared--nothing was before me, nothing was round me, but the
darkness and the night.
In two years from that time, I had redeemed the promise given to my
mother on her deathbed. I had entered the Church.
My father's interest made my first step in my new profession an easy
one. After serving my preliminary apprenticeship as a curate, I was
appointed, before I was thirty years of age, to a living in the West of
My new benefice offered me every advantage that I could possibly
desire--with the one exception of a sufficient income. Although my
wants were few, and although I was still an unmarried man, I found it
desirable, on many accounts, to add to my resources. Following the
example of other young clergymen in my position, I determined to
receive pupils who might stand in need of preparation for a career at
the Universities. My relatives exerted themselves; and my good fortune
still befriended me. I obtained two pupils to start with. A third would
complete the number which I was at present prepared to receive. In
course of time, this third pupil made his appearance, under
circumstances sufficiently remarkable to merit being mentioned in
It was the summer vacation; and my two pupils had gone home. Thanks to
a neighboring clergyman, who kindly undertook to perform my duties for
me, I too obtained a fortnight's holiday, which I spent at my father's
house in London.
During my sojourn in the metropolis, I was offered an opportunity of
preaching in a church, made famous by the eloquence of one of the
popular pulpit-orators of our time. In accepting the proposal, I felt
naturally anxious to do my best, before the unusually large and
unusually intelligent congregation which would be assembled to hear me.
At the period of which I am now speaking, all England had been startled
by the discovery of a terrible crime, perpetrated under circumstances
of extreme provocation. I chose this crime as the main subject of my
sermon. Admitting that the best among us were frail mortal creatures,
subject to evil promptings and provocations like the worst among us, my
object was to show how a Christian man may find his certain refuge from
temptation in the safeguards of his religion. I dwelt minutely on the
hardship of the Christian's first struggle to resist the evil
influence--on the help which his Christianity inexhaustibly held out to
him in the worst relapses of the weaker and viler part of his
nature--on the steady and certain gain which was the ultimate reward of
his faith and his firmness--and on the blessed sense of peace and
happiness which accompanied the final triumph. Preaching to this
effect, with the fervent conviction which I really felt, I may say for
myself, at least, that I did no discredit to the choice which had
placed me in the pulpit. I held the attention of my congregation, from
the first word to the last.
While I was resting in the vestry on the conclusion of the service, a
note was brought to me written in pencil. A member of my
congregation--a gentleman--wished to see me, on a matter of
considerable importance to himself. He would call on me at any place,
and at any hour, which I might choose to appoint. If I wished to be
satisfied of his respectability, he would beg leave to refer me to his
father, with whose name I might possibly be acquainted.
The name given in the reference was undoubtedly familiar to me, as the
name of a man of some celebrity and influence in the world of London. I
sent back my card, appointing an hour for the visit of my correspondent
on the afternoon of the next day.
The stranger made his appearance punctually. I guessed him to be some
two or three years younger than myself. He was undeniably handsome; his
manners were the manners of a gentleman--and yet, without knowing why,
I felt a strong dislike to him the moment he entered the room.
After the first preliminary words of politeness had been exchanged
between us, my visitor informed me as follows of the object which he
had in view.
"I believe you live in the country, sir?" he began.
"I live in the West of England," I answered.
"Do you make a long stay in London?"
"No. I go back to my rectory to-morrow."
"May I ask if you take pupils?"
"Have you any vacancy?"
"I have one vacancy."
"Would you object to let me go back with you to-morrow, as your pupil?"
The abruptness of the proposal took me by surprise. I hesitated.
In the first place (as I have already said), I disliked him. In the
second place, he was too old to be a fit companion for my other two
pupils--both lads in their teens. In the third place, he had asked me
to receive him at least three weeks before the vacation came to an end.
I had my own pursuits and amusements in prospect during that interval,
and saw no reason why I should inconvenience myself by setting them
He noticed my hesitation, and did not conceal from me that I had
"I have it very much at heart," he said, "to repair without delay the
time that I have lost. My age is against me, I know. The truth is--I
have wasted my opportunities since I left school, and I am anxious,
honestly anxious, to mend my ways, before it is too late. I wish to
prepare myself for one of the Universities--I wish to show, if I can,
that I am not quite unworthy to inherit my father's famous name. You
are the man to help me, if I can only persuade you to do it. I was
struck by your sermon yesterday; and, if I may venture to make the
confession in your presence, I took a strong liking to you. Will you
see my father, before you decide to say No? He will be able to explain
whatever may seem strange in my present application; and he will be
happy to see you this afternoon, if you can spare the time. As to the
question of terms, I am quite sure it can be settled to your entire
He was evidently in earnest--gravely, vehemently in earnest. I
unwillingly consented to see his father.
Our interview was a long one. All my questions were answered fully and
The young man had led an idle and desultory life. He was weary of it,
and ashamed of it. His disposition was a peculiar one. He stood sorely
in need of a guide, a teacher, and a friend, in whom he was disposed to
confide. If I disappointed the hopes which he had centered in me, he
would be discouraged, and he would relapse into the aimless and
indolent existence of which he was now ashamed. Any terms for which I
might stipulate were at my disposal if I would consent to receive him,
for three months to begin with, on trial.
Still hesitating, I consulted my father and my friends.
They were all of opinion (and justly of opinion so far) that the new
connection would be an excellent one for me. They all reproached me for
taking a purely capricious dislike to a well-born and well-bred young
man, and for permitting it to influence me, at the outset of my career,
against my own interests. Pressed by these considerations, I allowed
myself to be persuaded to give the new pupil a fair trial. He
accompanied me, the next day, on my way back to the rectory.
Let me be careful to do justice to a man whom I personally disliked. My
senior pupil began well: he produced a decidedly favorable impression
on the persons attached to my little household.
The women, especially, admired his beautiful light hair, his
crisply-curling beard, his delicate complexion, his clear blue eyes,
and his finely shaped hands and feet. Even the inveterate reserve in
his manner, and the downcast, almost sullen, look which had prejudiced
me against him, aroused a common feeling of romantic enthusiasm in my
servants' hall. It was decided, on the high authority of the
housekeeper herself, that "the new gentleman" was in love--and, more
interesting still, that he was the victim of an unhappy attachment
which had driven him away from his friends and his home.
For myself, I tried hard, and tried vainly, to get over my first
dislike to the senior pupil.
I could find no fault with him. All his habits were quiet and regular;
and he devoted himself conscientiously to his reading. But, little by
little, I became satisfied that his heart was not in his studies. More
than this, I had my reasons for suspecting that he was concealing
something from me, and that he felt painfully the reserve on his own
part which he could not, or dared not, break through. There were
moments when I almost doubted whether he had not chosen my remote
country rectory as a safe place of refuge from some person or persons
of whom he stood in dread.
For example, his ordinary course of proceeding, in the matter of his
correspondence, was, to say the least of it, strange.
He received no letters at my house. They waited for him at the village
post office. He invariably called for them himself, and invariably
forbore to trust any of my servants with his own letters for the post.
Again, when we were out walking together, I more than once caught him
looking furtively over his shoulder, as if he suspected some person of
following him, for some evil purpose. Being constitutionally a hater of
mysteries, I determined, at an early stage of our intercourse, on
making an effort to clear matters up. There might be just a chance of
my winning the senior pupil's confidence, if I spoke to him while the
last days of the summer vacation still left us alone together in the
"Excuse me for noticing it," I said to him one morning, while we were
engaged over our books--"I cannot help observing that you appear to
have some trouble on your mind. Is it indiscreet, on my part, to ask if
I can be of any use to you?"
He changed color--looked up at me quickly--looked down again at his
book--struggled hard with some secret fear or secret reluctance that
was in him--and suddenly burst out with this extraordinary question: "I
suppose you were in earnest when you preached that sermon in London?"
"I am astonished that you should doubt it," I replied.
He paused again; struggled with himself again; and startled me by a
second outbreak, even stranger than the first.
"I am one of the people you preached at in your sermon," he said.
"That's the true reason why I asked you to take me for your pupil.
Don't turn me out! When you talked to your congregation of tortured and
tempted people, you talked of Me."
I was so astonished by the confession, that I lost my presence of mind.
For the moment, I was unable to answer him.
"Don't turn me out!" he repeated. "Help me against myself. I am telling
you the truth. As God is my witness, I am telling you the truth!"
"Tell me the whole truth," I said; "and rely on my consoling and
helping you--rely on my being your friend."
In the fervor of the moment, I took his hand. It lay cold and still in
mine; it mutely warned me that I had a sullen and a secret nature to
"There must be no concealment between us," I resumed. "You have entered
my house, by your own confession, under false pretenses. It is your
duty to me, and your duty to yourself, to speak out."
The man's inveterate reserve--cast off for the moment only--renewed its
hold on him. He considered, carefully considered, his next words before
he permitted them to pass his lips.
"A person is in the way of my prospects in life," he began slowly, with
his eyes cast down on his book. "A person provokes me horribly. I feel
dreadful temptations (like the man you spoke of in your sermon) when I
am in the person's company. Teach me to resist temptation. I am afraid
of myself, if I see the person again. You are the only man who can help
me. Do it while you can."
He stopped, and passed his handkerchief over his forehead.
"Will that do?" he asked--still with his eyes on his book.
"It will not do," I answered. "You are so far from really opening your
heart to me, that you won't even let me know whether it is a man or a
woman who stands in the way of your prospects in life. You used the
word 'person,' over and over again--rather than say 'he' or 'she' when
you speak of the provocation which is trying you. How can I help a man
who has so little confidence in me as that?"
My reply evidently found him at the end of his resources. He tried,
tried desperately, to say more than he had said yet. No! The words
seemed to stick in his throat. Not one of them would pass his lips.
"Give me time," he pleaded piteously. "I can't bring myself to it, all
at once. I mean well. Upon my soul, I mean well. But I am slow at this
sort of thing. Wait till to-morrow."
To-morrow came--and again he put it off.
"One more day!" he said. "You don't know how hard it is to speak
plainly. I am half afraid; I am half ashamed. Give me one more day."
I had hitherto only disliked him. Try as I might (and did) to make
merciful allowance for his reserve, I began to despise him now.
The day of the deferred confession came, and brought an event with it,
for which both he and I were alike unprepared. Would he really have
confided in me but for that event? He must either have done it, or have
abandoned the purpose which had led him into my house.
We met as usual at the breakfast-table. My housekeeper brought in my
letters of the morning. To my surprise, instead of leaving the room
again as usual, she walked round to the other side of the table, and
laid a letter before my senior pupil--the first letter, since his
residence with me, which had been delivered to him under my roof.
He started, and took up the letter. He looked at the address. A spasm
of suppressed fury passed across his face; his breath came quickly; his
hand trembled as it held the letter. So far, I said nothing. I waited
to see whether he would open the envelope in my presence or not.
He was afraid to open it in my presence. He got on his feet; he said,
in tones so low that I could barely hear him: "Please excuse me for a
minute"--and left the room.
I waited for half an hour--for a quarter of an hour after that--and
then I sent to ask if he had forgotten his breakfast.
In a minute more, I heard his footstep in the hall. He opened the
breakfast-room door, and stood on the threshold, with a small
traveling-bag in his hand.
"I beg your pardon," he said, still standing at the door. "I must ask
for leave of absence for a day or two. Business in London."
"Can I be of any use?" I asked. "I am afraid your letter has brought
you bad news?"
"Yes," he said shortly. "Bad news. I have no time for breakfast."
"Wait a few minutes," I urged. "Wait long enough to treat me like your
friend--to tell me what your trouble is before you go."
He made no reply. He stepped into the hall and closed the door--then
opened it again a little way, without showing himself.
"Business in London," he repeated--as if he thought it highly important
to inform me of the nature of his errand. The door closed for the
second time. He was gone.
I went into my study, and carefully considered what had happened.
The result of my reflections is easily described. I determined on
discontinuing my relations with my senior pupil. In writing to his
father (which I did, with all due courtesy and respect, by that day's
post), I mentioned as my reason for arriving at this decision:--First,
that I had found it impossible to win the confidence of his son.
Secondly, that his son had that morning suddenly and mysteriously left
my house for London, and that I must decline accepting any further
responsibility toward him, as the necessary consequence.
I had put my letter in the post-bag, and was beginning to feel a little
easier after having written it, when my housekeeper appeared in the
study, with a very grave face, and with something hidden apparently in
her closed hand.
"Would you please look, sir, at what we have found in the gentleman's
bedroom, since he went away this morning?"
I knew the housekeeper to possess a woman's full share of that amicable
weakness of the sex which goes by the name of "Curiosity." I had also,
in various indirect ways, become aware that my senior pupil's strange
departure had largely increased the disposition among the women of my
household to regard him as the victim of an unhappy attachment. The
time was ripe, as it seemed to me, for checking any further gossip
about him, and any renewed attempts at prying into his affairs in his
"Your only business in my pupil's bedroom," I said to the housekeeper,
"is to see that it is kept clean, and that it is properly aired. There
must be no interference, if you please, with his letters, or his
papers, or with anything else that he has left behind him. Put back
directly whatever you may have found in his room."
The housekeeper had her full share of a woman's temper as well as of a
woman's curiosity. She listened to me with a rising color, and a just
perceptible toss of the head.
"Must I put it back, sir, on the floor, between the bed and the wall?"
she inquired, with an ironical assumption of the humblest deference to
my wishes. "That's where the girl found it when she was sweeping the
room. Anybody can see for themselves," pursued the housekeeper
indignantly, "that the poor gentleman has gone away broken-hearted. And
there, in my opinion, is the hussy who is the cause of it!"
With those words, she made me a low curtsey, and laid a small
photographic portrait on the desk at which I was sitting.
I looked at the photograph.
In an instant, my heart was beating wildly--my head turned giddy--the
housekeeper, the furniture, the walls of the room, all swayed and
whirled round me.
The portrait that had been found in my senior pupil's bedroom was the
portrait of Jeromette!
I had sent the housekeeper out of my study. I was alone, with the
photograph of the Frenchwoman on my desk.
There could surely be little doubt about the discovery that had burst
upon me. The man who had stolen his way into my house, driven by the
terror of a temptation that he dared not reveal, and the man who had
been my unknown rival in the by-gone time, were one and the same!
Recovering self-possession enough to realize this plain truth, the
inferences that followed forced their way into my mind as a matter of
course. The unnamed person who was the obstacle to my pupil's prospects
in life, the unnamed person in whose company he was assailed by
temptations which made him tremble for himself, stood revealed to me
now as being, in all human probability, no other than Jeromette. Had
she bound him in the fetters of the marriage which he had himself
proposed? Had she discovered his place of refuge in my house? And was
the letter that had been delivered to him of her writing? Assuming
these questions to be answered in the affirmative, what, in that case,
was his "business in London"? I remembered how he had spoken to me of
his temptations, I recalled the expression that had crossed his face
when he recognized the handwriting on the letter--and the conclusion
that followed literally shook me to the soul. Ordering my horse to be
saddled, I rode instantly to the railway-station.
The train by which he had traveled to London had reached the terminus
nearly an hour since. The one useful course that I could take, by way
of quieting the dreadful misgivings crowding one after another on my
mind, was to telegraph to Jeromette at the address at which I had last
seen her. I sent the subjoined message--prepaying the reply:
"If you are in any trouble, telegraph to me. I will be with you by the
first train. Answer, in any case."
There was nothing in the way of the immediate dispatch of my message.
And yet the hours passed, and no answer was received. By the advice of
the clerk, I sent a second telegram to the London office, requesting an
explanation. The reply came back in these terms:
"Improvements in street. Houses pulled down. No trace of person named
I mounted my horse, and rode back slowly to the rectory.
"The day of his return to me will bring with it the darkest days of my
life." . . . . . "I shall die young, and die miserably. Have you
interest enough still left in me to wish to hear of it?" ... "You shall
hear of it." Those words were in my memory while I rode home in the
cloudless moonlight night. They were so vividly present to me that I
could hear again her pretty foreign accent, her quiet clear tones, as
she spoke them. For the rest, the emotions of that memorable day had
worn me out. The answer from the telegraph office had struck me with a
strange and stony despair. My mind was a blank. I had no thoughts. I
had no tears.
I was about half-way on my road home, and I had just heard the clock of
a village church strike ten, when I became conscious, little by little,
of a chilly sensation slowly creeping through and through me to the
bones. The warm, balmy air of a summer night was abroad. It was the
month of July. In the month of July, was it possible that any living
creature (in good health) could feel cold? It was not possible--and
yet, the chilly sensation still crept through and through me to the
I looked up. I looked all round me.
My horse was walking along an open highroad. Neither trees nor waters
were near me. On either side, the flat fields stretched away bright and
broad in the moonlight.
I stopped my horse, and looked round me again.
Yes: I saw it. With my own eyes I saw it. A pillar of white
mist--between five and six feet high, as well as I could judge--was
moving beside me at the edge of the road, on my left hand. When I
stopped, the white mist stopped. When I went on, the white mist went
on. I pushed my horse to a trot--the pillar of mist was with me. I
urged him to a gallop---the pillar of mist was with me. I stopped him
again--the pillar of mist stood still.
The white color of it was the white color of the fog which I had seen
over the river--on the night when I had gone to bid her farewell. And
the chill which had then crept through me to the bones was the chill
that was creeping through me now.
I went on again slowly. The white mist went on again slowly--with the
clear bright night all round it.
I was awed rather than frightened. There was one moment, and one only,
when the fear came to me that my reason might be shaken. I caught
myself keeping time to the slow tramp of the horse's feet with the slow
utterances of these words, repeated over and over again: "Jeromette is
dead. Jeromette is dead." But my will was still my own: I was able to
control myself, to impose silence on my own muttering lips. And I rode
on quietly. And the pillar of mist went quietly with me.
My groom was waiting for my return at the rectory gate. I pointed to
the mist, passing through the gate with me.
"Do you see anything there?" I said.
The man looked at me in astonishment.
I entered the rectory. The housekeeper met me in the hall. I pointed to
the mist, entering with me.
"Do you see anything at my side?" I asked.
The housekeeper looked at me as the groom had looked at me.
"I am afraid you are not well, sir," she said. "Your color is all
gone--you are shivering. Let me get you a glass of wine. "
I went into my study, on the ground-floor, and took the chair at my
desk. The photograph still lay where I had left it. The pillar of mist
floated round the table, and stopped opposite to me, behind the
The housekeeper brought in the wine. I put the glass to my lips, and
set it down again. The chill of the mist was in the wine. There was no
taste, no reviving spirit in it. The presence of the housekeeper
oppressed me. My dog had followed her into the room. The presence of
the animal oppressed me. I said to the woman: "Leave me by myself, and
take the dog with you."
They went out, and left me alone in the room.
I sat looking at the pillar of mist, hovering opposite to me.
It lengthened slowly, until it reached to the ceiling. As it
lengthened, it grew bright and luminous. A time passed, and a shadowy
appearance showed itself in the center of the light. Little by little,
the shadowy appearance took the outline of a human form. Soft brown
eyes, tender and melancholy, looked at me through the unearthly light
in the mist. The head and the rest of the face broke next slowly on my
view. Then the figure gradually revealed itself, moment by moment,
downward and downward to the feet. She stood before me as I had last
seen her, in her purple-merino dress, with the black-silk apron, with
the white handkerchief tied loosely round her neck. She stood before
me, in the gentle beauty that I remembered so well; and looked at me as
she had looked when she gave me her last kiss--when her tears had
dropped on my cheek.
I fell on my knees at the table. I stretched out my hands to her
imploringly. I said: "Speak to me--O, once again speak to me,
Her eyes rested on me with a divine compassion in them. She lifted her
hand, and pointed to the photograph on my desk, with a gesture which
bade me turn the card. I turned it. The name of the man who had left my
house that morning was inscribed on it, in her own handwriting.
I looked up at her again, when I had read it. She lifted her hand once
more, and pointed to the handkerchief round her neck. As I looked at
it, the fair white silk changed horribly in color--the fair white silk
became darkened and drenched in blood.
A moment more--and the vision of her began to grow dim. By slow
degrees, the figure, then the face, faded back into the shadowy
appearance that I had first seen. The luminous inner light died out in
the white mist. The mist itself dropped slowly downward--floated a
moment in airy circles on the floor--vanished. Nothing was before me
but the familiar wall of the room, and the photograph lying face
downward on my desk.
The next day, the newspapers reported the discovery of a murder in
London. A Frenchwoman was the victim. She had been killed by a wound in
the throat. The crime had been discovered between ten and eleven
o'clock on the previous night.
I leave you to draw your conclusion from what I have related. My own
faith in the reality of the apparition is immovable. I say, and
believe, that Jeromette kept her word with me. She died young, and died
miserably. And I heard of it from herself.
Take up the Trial again, and look at the circumstances that were
revealed during the investigation in court. His motive for murdering
her is there.
You will see that she did indeed marry him privately; that they lived
together contentedly, until the fatal day when she discovered that his
fancy had been caught by another woman; that violent quarrels took
place between them, from that time to the time when my sermon showed
him his own deadly hatred toward her, reflected in the case of another
man; that she discovered his place of retreat in my house, and
threatened him by letter with the public assertion of her conjugal
rights; lastly, that a man, variously described by different witnesses,
was seen leaving the door of her lodgings on the night of the murder.
The Law--advancing no further than this--may have discovered
circumstances of suspicion, but no certainty. The Law, in default of
direct evidence to convict the prisoner, may have rightly decided in
letting him go free.
But I persisted in believing that the man was guilty. I declare that
he, and he
alone, was the murderer of Jeromette. And now, you know why.