I took a walk on Spaulding's Farm the other afternoon. I saw the
setting sun lighting up the opposite side of a stately pine wood.
Its golden rays straggled into the aisles of the wood as into some
noble hall. I was impressed as if some ancient and altogether
admirable and shining family had settled there in that part of the
land called Concord unknown to me--to whom the sun was servant--
who had not gone into society in the village--who had not been
called on. I saw their park their pleasure-ground beyond through
the wood in Spaulding's cranberry-meadow. The pines furnished them
with gables as they grew. Their house was not obvious to vision;
their trees grew through it. I do not know whether I heard the sounds
of a suppressed hilarity or not. They seemed to recline on the
sunbeams. They have sons and daughters. They are quite well. The
farmer's cart-path which leads directly through their hall does not
in the least put them out--as the muddy bottom of a pool is sometimes
seen through the reflected skies. They never heard of Spaulding
and do not know that he is their neighbor--notwithstanding I heard
him whistle as he drove his team through the house. Nothing can equal
the serenity of their lives. Their coat of arms is simply a lichen.
I saw it painted on the pines and oaks. Their attics were in the tops
of the trees. They are of no politics. There was no noise of labor.
I did not perceive that they were weaving or spinning. Yet I did
detect when the wind lulled and hearing was done away the finest
imaginable sweet musical hum--as of a distant hive in May which
perchance was the sound of their thinking. They had no idle thoughts
and no one without could see their work for their industry was not
as in knots and excrescences embayed.
But I find it difficult to remember them. They fade irrevocably
out of my mind even now while I speak and endeavor to recall them
and recollect myself. It is only after a long and serious effort
to recollect my best thoughts that I become again aware of their
cohabitancy. If it were not for such families as this I think I
should move out of Concord.
I had just finished my studies at Oxford and was taking a brief
holiday from work before assuming definitely the management of the
estate. My father died when I was yet a child; my mother followed
him within a year; and I was nearly as much alone in the world as a
man might find himself.
I had made little acquaintance with the history of my ancestors.
Almost the only thing I knew concerning them was that a notable
number of them had been given to study. I had myself so far
inherited the tendency as to devote a good deal of my time though
I confess after a somewhat desultory fashion to the physical
sciences. It was chiefly the wonder they woke that drew me. I was
constantly seeing and on the outlook to see strange analogies not
only between the facts of different sciences of the same order
or between physical and metaphysical facts but between physical
hypotheses and suggestions glimmering out of the metaphysical dreams
into which I was in the habit of falling. I was at the same time
much given to a premature indulgence of the impulse to turn
hypothesis into theory. Of my mental peculiarities there is no
occasion to say more.
The house as well as the family was of some antiquity but no
description of it is necessary to the understanding of my narrative.
It contained a fine library whose growth began before the invention
of printing and had continued to my own time greatly influenced
of course by changes of taste and pursuit. Nothing surely can more
impress upon a man the transitory nature of possession than his
succeeding to an ancient property! Like a moving panorama mine has
passed from before many eyes and is now slowly flitting from before
The library although duly considered in many alterations of the
house and additions to it had nevertheless like an encroaching
state absorbed one room after another until it occupied the greater
part of the ground floor. Its chief room was large and the walls
of it were covered with books almost to the ceiling; the rooms
into which it overflowed were of various sizes and shapes and
communicated in modes as various--by doors by open arches by short
passages by steps up and steps down.
In the great room I mainly spent my time reading books of science
old as well as new; for the history of the human mind in relation
to supposed knowledge was what most of all interested me. Ptolemy
Dante the two Bacons and Boyle were even more to me than Darwin or
Maxwell as so much nearer the vanished van breaking into the dark
In the evening of a gloomy day of August I was sitting in my usual
place my back to one of the windows reading. It had rained the
greater part of the morning and afternoon but just as the sun was
setting the clouds parted in front of him and he shone into the
room. I rose and looked out of the window. In the centre of the
great lawn the feathering top of the fountain column was filled with
his red glory. I turned to resume my seat when my eye was caught
by the same glory on the one picture in the room--a portrait in a
sort of niche or little shrine sunk for it in the expanse of
book-filled shelves. I knew it as the likeness of one of my
ancestors but had never even wondered why it hung there alone
and not in the gallery or one of the great rooms among the other
family portraits. The direct sunlight brought out the painting
wonderfully; for the first time I seemed to see it and for the
first time it seemed to respond to my look. With my eyes full of
the light reflected from it something I cannot tell what made me
turn and cast a glance to the farther end of the room when I saw
or seemed to see a tall figure reaching up a hand to a bookshelf.
The next instant my vision apparently rectified by the comparative
dusk I saw no one and concluded that my optic nerves had been
momentarily affected from within.
I resumed my reading and would doubtless have forgotten the vague
evanescent impression had it not been that having occasion a
moment after to consult a certain volume I found but a gap in the
row where it ought to have stood and the same instant remembered
that just there I had seen or fancied I saw the old man in search
of a book. I looked all about the spot but in vain. The next
morning however there it was just where I had thought to find it!
I knew of no one in the house likely to be interested in such a book.
Three days after another and yet odder thing took place.
In one of the walls was the low narrow door of a closet containing
some of the oldest and rarest of the books. It was a very thick
door with a projecting frame and it had been the fancy of some
ancestor to cross it with shallow shelves filled with book-backs
only. The harmless trick may be excused by the fact that the titles
on the sham backs were either humorously original or those of books
lost beyond hope of recovery. I had a great liking for the masked
To complete the illusion of it some inventive workman apparently
had shoved in on the top of one of the rows a part of a volume
thin enough to lie between it and the bottom of the next shelf:
he had cut away diagonally a considerable portion and fixed
the remnant with one of its open corners projecting beyond the
book-backs. The binding of the mutilated volume was limp vellum
and one could open the corner far enough to see that it was
manuscript upon parchment.
Happening as I sat reading to raise my eyes from the page my
glance fell upon this door and at once I saw that the book
described if book it may be called was gone. Angrier than any
worth I knew in it justified I rang the bell and the butler
appeared. When I asked him if he knew what had befallen it he
turned pale and assured me he did not. I could less easily doubt
his word than my own eyes for he had been all his life in the
family and a more faithful servant never lived. He left on me
the impression nevertheless that he could have said something more.
In the afternoon I was again reading in the library and coming to
a point which demanded reflection I lowered the book and let my
eyes go wandering. The same moment I saw the back of a slender
old man in a long dark coat shiny as from much wear in the act
of disappearing through the masked door into the closet beyond. I
darted across the room found the door shut pulled it open looked
into the closet which had no other issue and seeing nobody
concluded not without uneasiness that I had had a recurrence of
my former illusion and sat down again to my reading.
Naturally however I could not help feeling a little nervous and
presently glancing up to assure myself that I was indeed alone
started again to my feet and ran to the masked door--for there was
the mutilated volume in its place! I laid hold of it and pulled: it
was firmly fixed as usual!
I was now utterly bewildered. I rang the bell; the butler came;
I told him all I had seen and he told me all he knew.
He had hoped he said that the old gentleman was going to be
forgotten; it was well no one but myself had seen him. He had
heard a good deal about him when first he served in the house but
by degrees he had ceased to be mentioned and he had been very
careful not to allude to him.
"The place was haunted by an old gentleman was it?" I said.
He answered that at one time everybody believed it but the fact
that I had never heard of it seemed to imply that the thing had
come to an end and was forgotten.
I questioned him as to what he had seen of the old gentleman.
He had never seen him he said although he had been in the house
from the day my father was eight years old. My grandfather would
never hear a word on the matter declaring that whoever alluded to
it should be dismissed without a moment's warning: it was nothing
but a pretext of the maids he said for running into the arms of
the men! but old Sir Ralph believed in nothing he could not see or
lay hold of. Not one of the maids ever said she had seen the
apparition but a footman had left the place because of it.
An ancient woman in the village had told him a legend concerning a
Mr. Raven long time librarian to "that Sir Upward whose portrait
hangs there among the books." Sir Upward was a great reader she
said--not of such books only as were wholesome for men to read but
of strange forbidden and evil books; and in so doing Mr. Raven
who was probably the devil himself encouraged him. Suddenly they
both disappeared and Sir Upward was never after seen or heard of
but Mr. Raven continued to show himself at uncertain intervals in
the library. There were some who believed he was not dead; but both
he and the old woman held it easier to believe that a dead man might
revisit the world he had left than that one who went on living for
hundreds of years should be a man at all.
He had never heard that Mr. Raven meddled with anything in the
house but he might perhaps consider himself privileged in regard
to the books. How the old woman had learned so much about him he
could not tell; but the description she gave of him corresponded
exactly with the figure I had just seen.
"I hope it was but a friendly call on the part of the old gentleman!"
he concluded with a troubled smile.
I told him I had no objection to any number of visits from
Mr. Raven but it would be well he should keep to his resolution
of saying nothing about him to the servants. Then I asked him if
he had ever seen the mutilated volume out of its place; he answered
that he never had and had always thought it a fixture. With that