The Threlkeld Ear by Elizabeth Robins

Printed in The Mills of the Gods and Other Stories (1920).

Hypertext edition is copyrighted Joanne E. Gates and is based on the collected edition in The Mills of the Gods and Other Stories (1920). Pages 169-192.

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IN feudal times the peel or border tower of Threlkeld had stood an outpost of defence in one of the wildest valleys of the North of England.

The annals of those times are full of stirring tales of fierce encounter between the barons of the adjoining county and the overlords of Threlkeld.

But that was long ago. To-day not spot more set apart from war and rumours of war, none more wrapped about with "silence and slow Time" than Threlkeld Hall. The sole invaders now, the wind and the wild North Country weather, the stealthy creeping moss, the bold ivy, climbing up to the turret windows--peering through the very loop-holes in the battlements. The warders up there sleep sound, and the Lord of Threlkeld sits listless and unarmed by the great wood fire in the hall.

The peel has been given wide wings, and other additions from generation to generation. Threlkeld is now a rambling country-house falling to decay--whose special feature is the

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continuous suite of high-ceiled communicating rooms that run round the square oak hall of the central tower.

The present owner, old Christopher Threlkeld, was not born here. Indeed the gossip of the scattered tenantry has been saying for many a day that no male child has been born at the hall for over a hundred years.

If you make friends with old Mounsey, the butler, you may hear why--or, to speak by the card, you may be put in the way of divining.

Christopher Threlkeld had been born and educated abroad. At the time of his late marriage three people still stood between him and the Hall. When, an old man, well wearied of his life, he came to the house of his fathers, he had buried his English wife in a foreign land and alienated himself from his only son on account of the young man's perverse and premature marriage.

Christopher Threlkeld had lived six years at the Hall when news came of the sudden death of his son. After much passing of letters it was decided by the spring of the following year that the young widow should bring her little boy of four to make his grandfather's acquaintance, and if all went well to take up life at the Hall.

The old butler shook his head when he heard the arrangement. His opinion was that young Mrs. Threlkeld should "coom by

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hersel on a visit, an she liked--but the Hall wor an ill place for bairns."

The new housemaid said, pertly, that, for her part, she didn't know as she cared about living in a place where everybody was a hundred. She should be "main glad" to hear a child's voice in the lonesome rooms.

"Ye've not been here o' Christmas" said Mounsey darkly-- "or ye'd coom to care less about the sound o' bairns' voices."

"Do ye give a Christmas party?" said the new maid hopefully.

"Na, we doan't--" and Mounsey doddered upstairs with the lamps, mumbling to himself and shaking his old grey head.

In the early summer the young widow came, and saw, and the child conquered. Christopher Threlkeld's pride in his little grandson grew quickly to idolatry. The old house wakened from its long sleep and there was laughter and singing up and down the halls--dead echoes stirred in their graves and faintly answered. Threlkeld seemed minded to come forth from the shadows and the silences and make common cause with the world of to-day.

It was soon apparent that Mounsey, like the rest, had become a devoted vassal of young Christopher. The boy's mother marvelled not a little therefore at the ancient butler's repeated hints, as the autumn waned to winter, of the Hall's being "so ill a

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place for bairns, when the birds went south."

"You are tired of us, Mounsey?" Mrs. Threlkeld said one day, smiling at the liberty the old man took so simply.

"Na, na, ma'am," he said hastily. "But the winter is at the doure."

"Never mind. We'll pile the logs higher, and we won't open the door."

"Aye, if doures was any good--" and he went off shaking his head like one in an ague.

It was early in December when Mrs. Threlkeld spoke to the butler about the Christmas green, and the tree, she meant to have for the child. Even her forbearance was taxed at the old man's ungraciousness. He plainly intimated that Threlkeld was not accustomed to these frivolities. Christmas wasn't kept like that at the Hall, and the "winter wor a bitter time and bairns wor best in the South wi' the swallows."

Mrs. Threlkeld agreed in her heart that a bleaker place it would be hard to find in the dull December weather. Standing in that wind-swept hollow between the rugged hills, with the swift brown river tumbling at its very feet, and the brooding weary look of the ancient of days shrouding it like an impalpable mist--aloof, impregnable, Threlkeld was more like a mediæval prison than the home of modern men. No trace now of its brief summer smiling. The very sun looking down

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upon its battlements grew too chill to shine and only glimmered greyly. 
* * *


After dinner, while his master sat over his wine, it was Mounsey's nightly habit (before bringing the lady's solitary cup of coffee) to come stealing into the oak hall, and shut and lock the doors communicating with the suite that ran round this central room, where the family gathered at all times of the day and the evening. Then solemly he would set the candlesticks on the table by the staircase that wound up opposite the mighty fireplace to the rooms above. To-night he hovered about aimlessly after the work was done, casting now and then a half-apologetic glance at Mrs. Threlkeld. She, unmindful, bent low over the wide hearth, looking deep into the fire caves.

"The Hall is main old, ma'am," said Mounsey at last, as though answereing a question-- "It seems to like havin' old folk aboot. Sin' I wor a bairn meesel' and afeerd to coom nigh t' gates, nobbut old men and old women ha' bided long at Threlkeld. There's no place like it for the old--but it canna put oop mooch wi' yoong things . . . not sin', not sin . . ." his weak voice quavered away into silence, as though breath failed him.

"Yes," Mrs. Threlkeld said absently, "since what?"

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Mounsey sent a shaky look over his shoulder.

"Oh, it wor a long time sin'. My grandfather could just remember. But they ain't forgot."

"They--the family?"

"Aye--them as was the family."

"What haven't they forgotten?"

"It wor a bairn," he looked round again, uneasily, "a bairn that didna get his rights."

The young mistress smiled. "Do you mean that the child was--"

"Na, na, I mean nobbut" --he turned away with a frightened gesture, "nobbut it's an ill place for bairns, sin' that one wor done out of his rights."

"Come here, Mounsey," said the lady, "have you ever seen anything strange hereabouts?"

"Na, na, I've seen the young die and the old grow older."

"That's strange enough." She shivered slightly. It was chill in the draughty hall. Winter had walked in through the bolted doors.

"Doan't ye think it ud do the young master good to be where it's warmer for a bit?"

"Why? Do you think he looks ill?"

"Na, na--" The old man hobbled away.

When he came back with the tray, the lady studied him curiously.

"He has caught his master's trick of intent listening," she thought to herself--reminded

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suddenly of Mr. Threlkeld's frequent air of strained attention to some imperceptible sound. She was impressed by it anew seeing this travesty of the familiar look on the old servant's face.

"What do you hear, Mounsey?" she said as she poured out the coffee.

The old man stared.

"Hear, ma'am?"


"Nothing, ma'am-- Is there something--"

"Yes. You've heard strange things here in you time, now haven't you?"

"Only o' Christmas Eve."

"Ah, what then?"

"Ask t' master. Don't mind me. I'm fair deaf. The Threlkelds have got good ears. They sharpens 'em oop once a year."

"Once a hear?"

"Aye, o' Christmas Eve," and he hobbled out with his tray. 

* * *


That night when Mr. Threlkeld joined his daughter-in-law in the hall he found her playing softly on an old guitar. As he came in he made a sign that she should go on, and sat down without a word on the other side of the shaded lamp. She played with a curious delicacy of touch, subduing the sound, as if she were afraid of waking one who slept. The old man sat motionless, half hidden behind the massive bronze lamp with

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its great drooping shade of silk. The fire burnt low. The room was full of shadows--the lady's eyes were full of dreams. Her thoughts went wandering down the long green alleys of her youth, trailing soft strains after her as she went, like intricate-woven garlands. It was with music she had won her woman's kingdom--all the best of life had reached her through that gate. After long grief and silence she entered in again, trembling at first, uncertain--memory-weighted. Then the old joy came back--came back in floods, pouring through her white fingers, quickening her pulses and the time. In a twinkling she was in Paris. She was seventeen. Young Threlkeld was teaching her and her sister a Moorish dance. But she was the one he loved. It was that night he told her. She struck into the fantastic tune with the old sense of victory tingling in her veins, every nerve answering electrically the barbaric abandon of the air. Suddenly she started. Two great corpse-white hands were held up before her. The crashing music faltered, and died in low discord. The outstretched hands dropped under the lamplight. Old Christopher Threlkeld leaned forward, putting out pale hands again as if fearful she might begin afresh.

"How you frightened me," said his daughter-in-law, "I couldn't see you. Your hands came out of the gloom like an apparition." Then, as he sank back without speaking,

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"What is the matter? Do I play badly?"

"No, no," the words came low and hurriedly. "I see now you had not only your beauty, madam, you have another gift no Threlkeld can withstand."

"Why did you stop my playing?"

"That last air--it takes one by the throat," he shivered slightly-- "don't play that again."

"Your son liked it."

"I can easily believe it wrought upon him. It is like strong drink."

They sat silent for a time.

"Since you have a Threlkeld to bring up," said the old man presenstly, "you should know that the perception of sound in my family is preternaturally acute and sensitive. A certain kind of music is a passion with us--but much of our keenest suffering comes to us through our ears. The dullness of other people in the matter of sound is almost incredible to a Threlkeld. The delicate sounds others cannot hear--the harsh sounds others so easily endure--are to us a life-long marvel. You may have noticed how your son, who is brave enough before other ideas of danger, shrinks at a harsh or uncouth noise as if he had been struck."

"Yes, I've come to realize his over-sensitiveness. I hope he will outgrow it."

"He will carry it to his grave. It lies as deep as the roots of race. There's an old saying that a Threlkeld can hear the blast

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the carved angels on the battlements are blowing though their pipes of stone."

The lady smiled.

"You remind me how I've often tried in vain to catch the sounds my boy says he hears. Faint bird-notes I think, and the drone of insects. Specially since we came here into the country he--"

"Yes, yes, it comes back to us, it grows upon us in the quiet here. There is not doubt the world has much to learn of the power and the subtleties of sound. The enormous nerve-stimulus it could be made!"

"I should have thought the great composers had discovered that--and even the bulgers in a battle."

"Quite true--and the devil who invented your Moorish dance! He realized that rhythmical motion, combined with certain audacious and bewildering sounds, would make the sober drunk, and the sane mad. But, apart from what is called musical composition," he dropped his voice, "there's an undiscovered country."

"The Undiscovered Country?" she asked suddenly.

"The old man looked away.

"It is only the dullness in men's ears," he said half to himself, "that mades them think--'the rest is silence.'"

"You have heard--?" she began uncertainly.

Christopher Thelkeld rose.

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"If you were blind, madam, I could not show you the sun." He walked away into the shadow. He came back and stood before her.

"The man who sleeps by a mill or a cataract grows deaf to the roar. Whoever lives in the turmoil of a town must overcome his sensitiveness to sound, or he would go mad. So is a dull eared race evolved. I've sometimes thought the evil noises of the modern world are its most hideous curse. The effect is the hopeless blunting of the sound-sense. None but savages and dwellers in the wilderness are left to-day with hearing unimpaired. And then men wonder that--H'm." Again he walked away.

"Any aurist will tell you," he went on presently, "that deafness, so rare in the elder world--so almost unknown among the uncivilized--is steadily on the increase. Among those too, not in the least deaf within a certain range, some cannot hear a sound above the top A of the piano, many more cannot hear a single note of the octave beyond. There are those who can hear nothing below the bottom A, and many more for whom the lower octave does not exist. There are poeple who have never heard the cricket, and others who have never heard the dove. Yet all these limitations are as nothing to the growing inaccuracy of the world's perception of sound. The great problem in the casting of bells is the finding an ear true enough to detect the

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slight flatness or sharpness of the note. Not one ear in a thousand can be trusted. Yet the true pitch must be mathematically demonstrable. You know of course that every musical note has its corresponding geometrical figure."

She shook her head.

"How does anyone know that?"

"You've heard of 'Chladni's figures'?"


"Merely a little object-lesson on the mathematical basis of music. Chladni found, by sprinkling fine sand on a metal plate and then rubbing it with a violin bow, that a musical sound was produced which made the sand dance about and collect in a pattern on certain straight or curved lines. These lines indicated the 'nodes' or places where the vibratory movement did not exist. The designs are as intricate and beautiful as they are mathematically exact. They gave the world the first ocular proof that to each determinate note belongs a determinate figure, and that the higher the note the more complicated is the design which is its equivalent expression. A Threlkeld perceives the harmony in these high whistling notes. To him 'the quarter tone' is not of necessity discordant. But where the sound pattern is smudged and rudely broken up--wrenched violently out of grace and order, as in your Moorish dance--a Threlkeld's nerves are torn and tortured--they suffer with the writhing

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murdered sound--his brain reels--night and chaos seem fallen on the earth." He drew his hand across his eyes. "But these things are far from most men's comprehension--happily, happily!"

"You think I, for instance, could never be taught to perceive these subtleties?"

The old man smiled indulgently as though condescending to the capacity of a child.

"Certain things you could perceive if they were pointed out. You see this brass rod?" he pointed above the door that led to the music room. "That piece of metal has an affinity for E. Strike any other note and it pays no heed. But . . . come here and give me E on the guitar."

The lady joined him and twanged the string.

"Ah!" she exclaimed as the rod distinctly echoed her.

"Now let us try the others." She struck them all in turn. The rod was mute.

"Now E again!" cried the old man.

Once more it caught up the old sound it seemed to care for, clinging to it, letting it go with regret back to silence.

"There is some special sound-affinity in each one of us," said Christopher Threlkeld, as he bade his daughter-in-law good night-- "there's some one note that we needs must answer if it call."

"Unless the roar of life has deafened us, I suppose," said the lady--wondering how far

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the theory applied to her-- "unless we are cut off."

"Aye, the mother of a Threlkeld does wll to remember that. Most men are cut off, stone-deaf above and below the narrowing range of the modern gamut. But not the Threlkelds! They have never let go that fine-spun gossamer, the one tie left between us and . . . " he paused.

"Between us and the undiscovered country?"

He seemed not to hear. He lit his own candle and said good night. 

* * *


Christmas Eve at Threlkeld this year was surely not poor in outward cheer.

"For the child's sake," the young mother had said to herself and to others, again and again; and before this magic phrase barriers and objections one by one went down. Why Mr. Threlkeld at first, and Mounsey to the bitter end, opposed her plan of throwing open and decorating the entire suite of music and reception rooms--she did not understand. She did not even care to try. It was probably part of the dullness and intertia of old age. But "for the child's sake" (and partly because it would make so fair a sight for older eyes) the thing should be done. And it was. From room to room all gay with holly and pine and mistletoe, round the great hall till they reached the music room--mother and child followed Mounsey on Christmas Eve

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and watched him light the candles in the sconces and in the great central chandeliers.

"Now this is as far as we can go!" Mrs. Threlkeld cried, turning back from the closed door of the music room. "Run to the hall and tell grandfather we're ready."

Instead of opening the door behind him communicating with the hall, away ran the excited child unheeding his mother's call--retracing his steps through the whole brilliant suite, flying on and on, dazzled, bewildered, till he reached the forbidden music room, from the other side.

As he opened the door a great blazing Christmas tree confronted him--a tree so tall and grand and shining that the child gave a shrill little cry and stood transfixed. His mother waiting at the other door called Mr. Threlkeld in from the hall.

"The baby lost his way," she explained, "but I think he couldn't be more enraptured if he had come in with you as we planned, from the dim hall."

The ecstatic moments from five till seven, the child's bedtime, were cruelly short. His mother suggested a half-hour's grace, but Mr. Threlkeld opposed the idea so vehemently that it was given up. In a passion of tears, and still trembling with excitement, the little boy was borne off to bed.

At the lady's urgent request they sat in the music room that night--but Mrs. Threlkeld declined to play.

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"Why not? The child is too far away to be kept awake."

"I feel tired to-night," she said. "To-morrow I will play."

They sat there talking. After some time Mr. Threlkeld looked at his watch.

"I won't go to bed just yet," said the lady, as the old man rose.

"You said you were tired," re remonstrated.

"Yes, but not sleepy."

"You won't sit up long?" he half enquired, half commanded.

"Oh no."

"I don't think Mounsey will like staying up late to-night," he said persistently.

"He can leave the lights here and in the hall, I'll put them out." She took up and old song book. Mr. Threlkeld had not been gone five minutes when Mounsey appeared.

"I hope ye'll not tak' it ill, ma'am," he said shakily, "but I don't like to go to bed and leave--leave the lights a burnin'."

"Then why do you go?" she said coldly. "It's earlier than usual."

"We're all abed by this time most Christmas Eves."

"What is it, Mounsey?" she said, idly turning over the yellow leaves of music. "What are you afraid of?"

"Will ye coom into the hall, ma'am," said the old creature, nervously beckoning her to

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the door. Mrs. Threlkeld smiled at herself as she followed him.

"It's t' bairn's night, ma'am," he said in a whisper, "I couldn't tell ye in yon room. That's where it bides--that's where it--"

"It? What--?"

"It wor done out of its rights o' Christmas Eve. It cooms back once a year. An'--" he had lowered his voice so Mrs. Threlkeld could barely hear, "if there's anither bairn in its place it tries to do him an ill."


"It's fair jealous ye mind--jealous o' the bairn in its place."

"But there was no child here for years and years."

"Aye! Then it joost cooms and roons aboot the place--harmless like, playin' soft on a little pipe and cryin' betimes--cryin' pitiful when it's roon down in the music room and smothered."

The lady turned away--a little smile played about her mouth.

"Eh, but ye'll hear it an ye sit oop--" Mounsey warned her. "Ye'd best not make it angry, now there's anither bairn in its place."

"How is it supposed to hurt the other?" she said curiously.

"Eh--it lures the live one out of his bed--lures him wi' a painted pile. Only a bairn can see it, but old and a' can hear."

"Hear what?"

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"The whistlin' --verra soft and low. It blows on the pipe and then holds it oot, and the live bairn roons after it all ower the hoose--roons and roons till he drops doon dead."

"I won't be up long," said Mrs. Threlkeld, turning away with some impatience. "You needn't stay. I'll attend to the lights."

She waited till the old man had gone, and then, lighting a candle, ran swiftly up the great staircase, smiling at her foolish fears, but never stopping till she found herself in the far west wing at the nursery door. She tried it. It was locked. She knocked with soft impatience, but not until she called the nurse by name was the door slowly and unwillingly opened.

"Why is the door locked?" she asked.

The old woman made some muttered excuse and retired to her own room beyond.

Mrs. THrelkeld put down her candle by the night light, and sat on the side of the child's cot. She stayed there a long while, looking at the flushed little face and the chubby hands that even in sleep clutched the glorified penny whistle he had begged off the Christmas tree.

The mother laid her head on the pillow beside him and stroked his yellow hair.

The old nurse had gone to bed--the light in her room was extinguished. When Mrs. Threlkeld went away she closed the nursery door without a sound so no sleeper should be wakened.

She went down to the hall and looked at

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the clock. It was absurdly early--no wonder she didn't feel sleepy. She took up a book and made herself comfortable in Mr. Threlkeld's easy chair.

It was the smoking of the big lamp that roused her. That foolish Mounsey was far too old for careful service. Twice lately had the unfilled lamps given out before the short evening was half done. Faugh! this one smoked vilely. She presently put it out and sat in the pleasant fire glow. What time was it? She turned to see--but the hall clock was too much in the shadow. It was very still in the house. Everybody must have gone to bed, but it couldn't be late. There was not much holiday air about the sombre place for all her pains. Mrs. Threlkeld felt suddenly that her Christmas plans had fallen out rather drearily after all--and yet the rooms had looked superb. She crossed the hall and pushed open the great drawing room door . . . pitch dark, of course. Impulsively she came back, thrust a taper in among the embers and carried the faint little flame into the great room adjoining. She lit a single candle in a low-placed sconce, and looked about. Certainly it was most beautiful. What a place for a ball!

Leaving the one candle to burn demurely in its brazen setting she passed on with her taper to the next room and lit a candle there, and then to the next, and so on, leaving a faint trail of light struggling behind her

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through the open doors--till she reached the music room.

Here the candles burnt low in their sockets. Some were already out. How horribly dreary it looks now! she thought, remembering the brilliant tree and the excited child dancing for joy in the flood of light, earlier in the evening.

"I can't go to bed feeling like this, I should cry my eyes out." She blew out the taper. "The candles won't last much longer--nobody can hear and there'll just be time to-- Is the guitar in tune?" She caught up the instrument and tried it. Out of the stillness, soft and clear, one of the notes was repeated. She started and tightened her nerves to listen. Absolute quiet reigned. She tried the instrument again, and again the distinct whistling answer!

"The bairn with his ghostly pipe" she thought to herself, half afraid. As she struck the same note again she remembered:

"The brass rod over the door." She went forward to hear it more distinctly. As she stood there listening, a wholly unaccustomed dread of the occult in Physical Nature seized upon her strongly.

"How little we know about the soul of things," she thought. Nervously she twanged the same string once again, shivering a little as the inevitable reply came humming back.

"How is it," she waid, looking up to where the brass rod glimmered faintly, "how is it

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that you know this one out of all the voices of earth. How is it that it always sets you thrilling? If I play many notes can you pick out your own?" she thought, beginning a low cadenza. "Yes, yes," she whispered, listening intently, "every time I touch E the queer human thing remembers and cries out."

In a gathering excitement she played on--faster--faster--trying to put the echo off the track, to elude, bewilder it. But faithfully it followed. Half angrily she struck into the Moorish dance. Two candles flickered out. Faster she played and faster. The blood was hot in her body--her sense of hearing strained almost to bursting. Did she actually detect the monotonous ping-g-g! of the brass rod echoing the flying note, or did she fancy it? Had she left the faithful follower far behind? No! No! There--there! it sang again! All her spirit seemed to pass into the act of listening. Breathless she played on. It was like a race. Suddenly, behind the barbaric air, she thought she heard far-off crying, crying in that one monotonous key--children's voices. What madness! It could be only old Mounsey's tales working unconsciously on her senses. She wound up the last wild variation of the dance with feverish energy--the more unnerved to discover how she was trembling, and how persistent was the impression of children crying in the night.

She stood a moment by the open door

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listening. Nearer and nearer, and now quite distinct, came the voice of a little child, sobbing, sobbing. Standing rigid by the door, the woman let the guitar slip slowly out of her nerveless fingers to her feet. As it rang on the oaken floor, the last candle smouldered out. She stood in darkness facing the dim-lit hall. The crying was now so near one could tell the child was running, or would be running, if it were a child at all, and not a crazy fancy. Suddenly a little white figure dashed down the great hall stairs, weeping bitterly and holding out its arms. As it reached the bottom the firelight fell for a moment on the bare feet, twinkling under a white night-gown--on flying yellow hair, on wide glassy eyes. As it ran across the strip of firelight to the drawing-room, Mrs. Threlkeld gave a cry. The sound startled the child. It ran on still more feverishly, sobbing and holding out its arms--on, down the long room where the single candle flickered faintly--on and on still sobbing and still holding out pitiful arms. The noise of footsteps hurrying behind seemed to frighten the child to the pitch of frenzy. Like some hunted creature of the woods, it flew on before its pursuer from one shadowy room to another, not stopping even on the threshold of the pitch-dark music room.

But here the woman paused. The child had vanished, had melted into the dark. Had she been dreaming all the time? No! there

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it was again! The little white figure shot out into the faint light beyond, starting on its frantic round again.

"Is it you, my baby?" cried the woman, "or am I mad?--or am I dreaming? Help! Help!" She rushed into the hall and pulled wildly at the bell. The white vision shot past the nearest door.

"It is my child!" the woman cried again and stumbled after--" or it would be," her dazed thought added, "if any child of flesh and blood would fly from its mother like a white bird in the dark."

Again it was swallowed up in the gloom. The woman paused half fainting as before at the music room door.

"Now in a moment I shall see it darting into the dim light beyond." But the crying, grown weaker and weaker, culminated suddenly in a dull crash, ending with a note like music, and that note was caught up, held and echoed and then reluctantly suffered to die. Silence--absolute. The woman listened at the farther threshold in dumb agony. No more crying, no phantom flying out into the light--nothing.

She crept painfully back into the fire-lit hall. On the stairs a tall figure stood. She shivered as she turned her eyes away. "Shall I see phantoms wherever I look to-night?" she thought.

"Was it you who rang?" said a familiar voice.

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"Oh! Mr. Threlkeld . . . for God's sake come!" She staggered to the foot of the stairs.

The old man came down.

"No servants will answer bells to-night," he whispered. He helped her to a chair and lit two candles. "No need to ask why you rang," he muttered.

"I heard--I thought I heard a child crying."

"Ah! Threlkeld is sharpening your ears."

"But I--I saw the child."


"Yes, I saw it running through these rooms!"

"I've never seen it," said the old man, speaking low.

"But I saw its face I tell you--and O God! it was like--it was like--Come!" she caught up one of the candles, "It was here that it faded away!"

With an evident unwillingness the old man followed, bringing the other light. As Mrs. Threlkeld reached the music room door she stopped short, and the candle fell from her hand.

"It's here!" she whispered. "Oh, don't leave me. It's lying here on the floor!"

Mr. Threlkeld came forward and held up the light. Between the threshold and the Christmas tree lay the body of his little grandson flung across the broken guitar. 

* * *

The doctors talked of undue excitement, of sleepwalking and of failure of the heart. The Threlkelds bow their heads--of what use words?