Beyond all measure astonished by the strange occurrences which had passed with so much violence and rapidity, the locksmith gazed upon the shuddering figure in the chair like one half stupefied, and would have gazed much longer, had not his tongue been loosened by compassion and humanity.
You are ill, said Gabriel. Let me call some neighbour in.
Not for the world, she rejoined, motioning to him with her trembling hand, and holding her face averted. It is enough that you have been by, to see this.
Nay, more than enoughor less, said Gabriel.
Be it so, she returned. As you like. Ask me no questions, I entreat you.
Neighbour, said the locksmith, after a pause. Is this fair, or reasonable, or just to yourself? Is it like you, who have known me so long and sought my advice in all matterslike you, who from a girl have had a strong mind and a staunch heart?
I have need of them, she replied. I am growing old, both in years and care. Perhaps that, and too much trial, have made them weaker than they used to be. Do not speak to me.
How can I see what I have seen, and hold my peace! returned the locksmith. Who was that man, and why has his coming made this change in you?
She was silent, but held to the chair as though to save herself from falling on the ground.
I take the licence of an old acquaintance, Mary, said the locksmith, who has ever had a warm regard for you, and maybe has tried to prove it when he could. Who is this ill-favoured man, and what has he to do with you? Who is this ghost, that is only seen in the black nights and bad weather? How does he know, and why does he haunt, this house, whispering through chinks and crevices, as if there was that between him and you, which neither durst so much as speak aloud of? Who is he?
You do well to say he haunts this house, returned the widow, faintly. His shadow has been upon it and me, in light and darkness, at noonday and midnight. And now, at last, he has come in the body!
But he wouldnt have gone in the body, returned the locksmith with some irritation, if you had left my arms and legs at liberty. What riddle is this?
It is one, she answered, rising as she spoke, that must remain for ever as it is. I dare not say more than that.
Dare not! repeated the wondering locksmith.
Do not press me, she replied. I am sick and faint, and every faculty of life seems dead within me.No!Do not touch me, either.
Gabriel, who had stepped forward to render her assistance, fell back as she made this hasty exclamation, and regarded her in silent wonder.
Let me go my way alone, she said in a low voice, and let the hands of no honest man touch mine to- night. When she had tottered to the door, she turned, and added with a stronger effort, This is a secret, which, of necessity, I trust to you. You are a true man. As you have ever been good and kind to me,keep it. If any noise was heard above, make some excusesay anything but what you really saw, and never let a word or look between us, recall this circumstance. I trust to you. Mind, I trust to you. How much I trust, you never can conceive.
Casting her eyes upon him for an instant, she withdrew, and left him there alone.
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