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The effect upon Frederick Langdale was most dreadful: it was supposed that he would never recover from a shock so great, and at the moment so unexpected; for although the delicacy of her constitution was a perpetual source of uneasiness and solicitude, still the immediate symptoms had taken rather a favorable turn during the last few days of her life, and had re-invigorated the hopes which those who so dearly loved her entertained of her eventual recovery. Of this distressed young man I never indeed heard any thing, till about three years after, when I saw it announced in the papers that he was just married to the only daughter of a rich west-country baronet.
The death of poor Maria, and the dread which her father entertained of the third visitation of Martha, made a complete change in the affairs of the family. By the exertion of powerful interest, he obtained an appointment for his son to act as his deputy in the office which he held; and having achieved this desired object, resolved on leaving England for a time, and quitting a neighborhood in which he must be perpetually exposed to the danger which he was now perfectly convinced was inseparable from his next interview with the weird woman.
George, of course, thus checked in classical pursuits, left Oxford, and at the early age of nineteen commenced active official life, not certainly in the particular department which his mother had selected for his debut; and it was somewhat observable that the Langdales, after the death of Maria, not only abstained from frequent intercourse with the Hardings during their stay in England, but that the mighty professions of the purse-proud citizen dwindled by degrees into an absolute forgetfulness of any promise, even conditional, to exert an interest for their son.
Seeing this, Mr. Harding felt that he should act prudentially by endeavoring to place his son where, in the course of time, he might perhaps attain to that situation, from whose honorable revenue he could live like a gentleman, and "settle comfortably."
All the arrangements which the kind father had proposed being made, the mourning couple proceeded on a lengthened tour of the continent: and it was evident that his spirits mended rapidly when he felt conscious that his liability to encounter Martha had decreased. The sorrow of mourning was soothed and softened in the common course of nature, and the quiet domesticated couple sat themselves down at Lausanne, the world forgetting, by the world forgot," except by their excel
lent and exemplary son, whose good qualities, it seems, had captivated a remarkably pretty girl, a neighbor of his, whose mother seemed to be equally charmed with the goodness of his income.
There appeared, strange to say, in this love affair, no difficulties to be surmounted, no obstacles to be overcome, and the consent of the Hardings (requested in a letter, which also begged them to be present at the ceremony, if they were willing it should take place), was presently obtained by George; and at the close of the second year, which had passed since their departure, the parents and son were again assembled in that house, the sight of which recalled to their recollection their unhappy daughter and her melancholy fate, and which was still associated most painfully in the mind of Mr. Harding with the hated Gypsy.
The charm however had, no doubt, been broken. In the two past years Martha was probably either dead, or gone from the neighborhood. Gypsies were a wandering tribe-and why should she be an exception to a general rule?—and thus Mrs. Harding checked the rising apprehensions and renewed uneasiness of her husband; and so well did she succeed, that when the wedding day came, and the bells rang, and the favors fluttered in the air, his countenance was lighted up with smiles, and he kissed the glowing cheek of his new daughter-in-law with warmth, and something like happiness.
The wedding took place at that season of the year when friends and families meet jovially and harmoniously, when all little bickerings are forgotten, and when the cheerful fire and the teeming board announce that Christmas is come, and mirth and gratulation are the order of the day.
It unfortunately happened, however, that to the account of Miss Wilkinson's marriage with George Harding, I am not permitted, in truth, to add that they left town in a travellingcarriage and four to spend the honey-moon. Three or four days' permitted absence from his office alone were devoted to the celebration of the nuptials, and it was agreed that the whole party, together with the younger branches of the Wilkinsons, their cousins and second cousins, etc., should meet on Twelfthnight, to celebrate in a juvenile party the return of the bride and bridegroom to their home.
When that night came, it was delightful to see the happy faces of the smiling youngsters: it was a pleasure to behold them pleased. And merry was the jest, and gayly did the
evening pass; and Mr. Harding, surrounded by his youthful guests, smiled and for a season forgot his care; yet, as he glanced round the room, he could not suppress a sigh, when he recollected that in that very room his darling Maria had entertained her little parties on the anniversary of the same day in former years.
Supper was announced early, and the gay throng bounded down stairs to the parlor, where an abundance of the luxuries of middling life crowded the board. In the centre appeared the great object of the feast a huge Twelfth-cake, and gilded kings and queens stood lingering over circles of scarlet sweetmeats, and hearts of sugar lay enshrined with warlike trophies of the same material.
Many and deep were the wounds the mighty heap received, and every guest watched with a deep anxiety the coming portion relatively to the glittering splendor with which its frosted surface was adorned. Character-cards, illustrated with pithy mottoes and smart sayings, were distributed; and by one of those little frauds which, in such societies, are always tolerated, Mr. Harding was announced as king, and the new bride as queen; and there was such charming joking and such harmless merriment abounding, that he looked to his wife with an expression of content, which she had often but vainly sought to find upon his countenance, since the death of his dear child. Supper concluded, the clock struck twelve, and the elders looked as if it were time for the young ones to depart. One half-hour's grace was begged for by the "king" and granted; and Mrs. George Harding on this night was to sing them a song about " "" old maidens poor -an ancient quaintness, which by custom and usage ever since she was a little child she had annually performed upon this anniversary; and, accordingly, the promise being claimed, silence was obtained, and she, with all that show of tucker-heaving diffidence which is so becoming in a pretty, plump, downy-cheeked girl, prepared to commence the venerable chant, when a noise resembling that producible by the falling of an eight-and-forty pound shot echoed through the house. It appeared to descend from the very top of the building down each flight of stairs, rapidly and violently. It passed the room in which they were sitting, and rolled its impetuous course downwards to the basement. it seemed to leave the hall, the parlor door was forced open, as if by a rude gust of wind, and stood ajar.
All the children were in a moment on their feet, huddled
close to their respective mothers in groups. Mrs. Harding rose and rang the bell to inquire the meaning of the uproar. Her daughter-in-law, pale as ashes, looked at George; but there was one of the party who moved not, who stirred not: it was the elder Harding, whose eyes first fixed steadfastly on the half-opened door slowly followed the course of the wall of the apartment to the fire-place ;-there they rested.
When the servants came, they said they had heard the noise, but thought it proceeded from above. Harding looked at his wife, and then turning to the servant, observed carelessly that it must have been some noise in the street, and desiring him to withdraw, entreated the bride to pursue her song. She did; but the children had been too much alarmed to enjoy it, and. the noise had in its character something so strange and so unearthly, that even the elders of the party, although bound not to admit any thing like apprehension before their offspring, felt extremely well pleased when they found themselves at home.
When the guests were gone, and George's wife lighted her candle to retire to rest, her father-in-law kissed her affectionately, and prayed God to bless her. He then took a kind leave of his son, and putting up a fervent prayer for his happiness, pressed him to his heart and bade him adieu with an earnestness, which, under the common-place circumstance of a temporary separation, was inexplicable to the young man.
When Harding reached his bed-room, he spoke to his wife, and entreated her to prepare her mind for some great calamity. "What is it to be," said Harding, "where the blow is to fall, I know not; but it is over us this night!"
'My life!" exclaimed Mrs. Harding, "what new fancy is this?"
"Eliza, love!" answered her husband, in a tone of unspeak able agony, "I have seen her for the third and last time!" "Who?"
"Martha, the Gypsy!"
Impossible!" said Mrs. Harding; "you have not left the house to day!"
"True, my beloved," replied the husband; "but I have seen her. When that tremendous noise was heard at supper, as the door was supernaturally opened, I saw her. She fixed those dreadful eyes of hers upon me; she proceeded to the fire-place, and stood in the midst of the children, and there she remained till the servant came in. "
"My dearest husband," said Mrs. Harding," this is but a disorder of the imagination."
"Be it what it may," said he, "I have seen her. Human or superhuman-natural or supernatural-there she was. shall not strive to argue upon a point where I am likely to meet with little credit; all I ask is, pray fervently, have faith, and we will hope the misfortune, whatever it is, may be averted."
He kissed his wife's cheek tenderly, and after a fitful, feverish hour or two, fell into a slumber.
From that slumber never woke he more—he was found dead in his bed in the morning.
"Whether the force of imagination, coupled with the unexpected noise, produced such an alarm as to rob him of life, I know not," said my communicant; "but he was dead."
This story was told me by my friend Ellis, in walking from the City to Harley-street late in the evening; and when we came to this part of the history, we were in Bedford-square, at the dark and dreary corner of it where Caroline-street joins it.
"And there," said Ellis, pointing downwards, "is the street where the circumstance occurred!"
"Come, come," said I, "you tell the story well, but I suppose you do not expect it to be received as gospel ?
"Faith," said he, "I know so much of it, that I was one of the Twelfth-night party, and heard the noise."
"But you did not see the spectre ?" cried I. "No," replied Ellis, "I certainly did not."
"Nor any body else," said I, "I'll be sworn. A quick footstep was just then heard behind us. I turned half round to let the person pass: and saw a woman enveloped in a red cloak, whose sparkling black eyes, shone upon by the dim lustre of a lamp above her head, dazzled me-I was startled. Pray, remember old Martha, the Gypsy!" said the hag.
It was like a thunder-stroke. I instantly slipped my hand into my pocket, and hastily gave her therefrom a five-shilling piece.
"Thanks, my bonny one," said the woman; and setting up a shout of contemptuous laughter, she bounded down Carolinestreet, toward Russel-street, singing, or rather yelling, a wild air.
I have never passed that dark corner of Bedford-square in the evening since.