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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDoctor Grimshawe's Secret: A Romance - Chapter XXI
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Doctor Grimshawe's Secret: A Romance - Chapter XXI Post by :jetnetbiz Category :Long Stories Author :Nathaniel Hawthorne Date :April 2011 Read :2787

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Doctor Grimshawe's Secret: A Romance - Chapter XXI

So Redclyffe left the Hospital, where he had spent many weeks of
strange and not unhappy life, and went to accept the invitation of the
lord of Braithwaite Hall. It was with a thrill of strange delight,
poignant almost to pain, that he found himself driving up to the door
of the Hall, and actually passing the threshold of the house. He
looked, as he stept over it, for the Bloody Footstep, with which the
house had so long been associated in his imagination; but could nowhere
see it. The footman ushered him into a hall, which seemed to be in the
centre of the building, and where, little as the autumn was advanced, a
fire was nevertheless burning and glowing on the hearth; nor was its
effect undesirable in the somewhat gloomy room. The servants had
evidently received orders respecting the guest; for they ushered him at
once to his chamber, which seemed not to be one of those bachelor's
rooms, where, in an English mansion, young and single men are forced to
be entertained with very bare and straitened accommodations; but a
large, well, though antiquely and solemnly furnished room, with a
curtained bed, and all manner of elaborate contrivances for repose; but
the deep embrasures of the windows made it gloomy, with the little
light that they admitted through their small panes. There must have
been English attendance in this department of the household
arrangements, at least; for nothing could exceed the exquisite nicety
and finish of everything in the room, the cleanliness, the attention to
comfort, amid antique aspects of furniture; the rich, deep preparations
for repose.

The servant told Redclyffe that his master had ridden out, and, adding
that luncheon would be on the table at two o'clock, left him; and
Redclyffe sat some time trying to make out and distinguish the feelings
with which he found himself here, and realizing a lifelong dream. He
ran back over all the legends which the Doctor used to tell about this
mansion, and wondered whether this old, rich chamber were the one where
any of them had taken place; whether the shadows of the dead haunted
here. But, indeed, if this were the case, the apartment must have been
very much changed, antique though it looked, with the second, or third,
or whatever other numbered arrangement, since those old days of
tapestry hangings and rush-strewed floor. Otherwise this stately and
gloomy chamber was as likely as any other to have been the one where
his ancestor appeared for the last time in the paternal mansion; here
he might have been the night before that mysterious Bloody Footstep was
left on the threshold, whence had arisen so many wild legends, and
since the impression of which nothing certain had ever been known
respecting that ill-fated man,--nothing certain in England at least,--
and whose story was left so ragged and questionable even by all that he
could add.

Do what he could, Redclyffe still was not conscious of that deep home-
feeling which he had imagined he should experience when, if ever, he
should come back to the old ancestral place; there was strangeness, a
struggle within himself to get hold of something that escaped him, an
effort to impress on his mind the fact that he was, at last,
established at his temporary home in the place that he had so long
looked forward to, and that this was the moment which he would have
thought more interesting than any other in his life. He was strangely
cold and indifferent, frozen up as it were, and fancied that he would
have cared little had he been to leave the mansion without so much as
looking over the remaining part of it.

At last, he became weary of sitting and indulging this fantastic humor
of indifference, and emerged from his chamber with the design of
finding his way about the lower part of the house. The mansion had that
delightful intricacy which can never be contrived; never be attained by
design; but is the happy result of where many builders, many designs,--
many ages, perhaps,--have concurred in a structure, each pursuing his
own design. Thus it was a house that you could go astray in, as in a
city, and come to unexpected places, but never, until after much
accustomance, go where you wished; so Redclyffe, although the great
staircase and wide corridor by which he had been led to his room seemed
easy to find, yet soon discovered that he was involved in an unknown
labyrinth, where strange little bits of staircases led up and down, and
where passages promised much in letting him out, but performed nothing.
To be sure, the old English mansion had not much of the stateliness of
one of Mrs. Radcliffe's castles, with their suites of rooms opening one
into another; but yet its very domesticity--its look as if long ago it
had been lived in--made it only the more ghostly; and so Redclyffe felt
the more as if he were wandering through a homely dream; sensible of
the ludicrousness of his position, he once called aloud; but his voice
echoed along the passages, sounding unwontedly to his ears, but
arousing nobody. It did not seem to him as if he were going afar, but
were bewildered round and round, within a very small compass; a
predicament in which a man feels very foolish usually.

As he stood at an old window, stone-mullioned, at the end of a passage
into which he had come twice over, a door near him opened, and a
personage looked out whom he had not before seen. It was a face of
great keenness and intelligence, and not unpleasant to look at, though
dark and sallow. The dress had something which Redclyffe recognized as
clerical, though not exactly pertaining to the Church of England,--a
sort of arrangement of the vest and shirt-collar; and he had knee
breeches of black. He did not seem like an English clerical personage,
however; for even in this little glimpse of him Redclyffe saw a
mildness, gentleness, softness, and asking-of-leave, in his manner,
which he had not observed in persons so well assured of their position
as the Church of England clergy.

He seemed at once to detect Redclyffe's predicament, and came forward
with a pleasant smile, speaking in good English, though with a somewhat
foreign accent.

"Ah, sir, you have lost your way. It is a labyrinthian house for its
size, this old English Hall,--full of perplexity. Shall I show you to
any point?"

"Indeed, sir," said Redclyffe, laughing, "I hardly know whither I want
to go; being a stranger, and yet knowing nothing of the public places
of the house. To the library, perhaps, if you will be good enough to
direct me thither."

"Willingly, my dear sir," said the clerical personage; "the more easily
too, as my own quarters are close adjacent; the library being my
province. Do me the favor to enter here."

So saying, the priest ushered Redclyffe into an austere-looking yet
exceedingly neat study, as it seemed, on one side of which was an
oratory, with a crucifix and other accommodations for Catholic
devotion. Behind a white curtain there were glimpses of a bed, which
seemed arranged on a principle of conventual austerity in respect to
limits and lack of softness; but still there was in the whole austerity
of the premises a certain character of restraint, poise, principle,
which Redclyffe liked. A table was covered with books, many of them
folios in an antique binding of parchment, and others were small,
thick-set volumes, into which antique lore was rammed and compressed.
Through an open door, opposite to the one by which he had entered,
there was a vista of a larger apartment, with alcoves, a rather dreary-
looking room, though a little sunshine came through a window at the
further end, distained with colored glass.

"Will you sit down in my little home?" said the courteous priest. "I
hope we may be better acquainted; so allow me to introduce myself. I am
Father Angelo, domestic chaplain to his Lordship. You, I know, are the
American diplomatic gentleman, from whom his Lordship has been
expecting a visit."

Redclyffe bowed.

"I am most happy to know you," continued the priest. "Ah; you have a
happy country, most catholic, most recipient of all that is outcast on
earth. Men of my religion must ever bless it."

"It certainly ought to be remembered to our credit," replied Redclyffe,
"that we have shown no narrow spirit in this matter, and have not, like
other Protestant countries, rejected the good that is found in any man
on account of his religious faith. American statesmanship comprises
Jew, Catholic, all."

After this pleasant little acknowledgment, there ensued a conversation
having some reference to books; for though Redclyffe, of late years,
had known little of what deserves to be called literature,--having
found political life as much estranged from it as it is apt to be with
politicians,--yet he had early snuffed the musty fragrance of the
Doctor's books, and had learned to love its atmosphere. At the time he
left college, he was just at the point where he might have been a
scholar; but the active tendencies of American life had interfered with
him, as with thousands of others, and drawn him away from pursuits
which might have been better adapted to some of his characteristics
than the one he had adopted. The priest gently felt and touched around
his pursuits, and finding some remains of classic culture, he kept up a
conversation on these points; showing him the possessions of the
library in that department, where, indeed, were some treasures that he
had discovered, and which seemed to have been collected at least a
century ago.

"Generally, however," observed he, as they passed from one dark alcove
to another, "the library is of little worth, except to show how much of
living truth each generation contributes to the botheration of life,
and what a public benefactor a bookworm is, after all. There, now! did
you ever happen to see one? Here is one that I have watched at work,
some time past, and have not thought it worth while to stop him."

Redclyffe looked at the learned little insect, who was eating a strange
sort of circular trench into an old book of scholastic Latin, which
probably only he had ever devoured,--at least ever found to his taste.
The insect seemed in excellent condition, fat with learning, having
doubtless got the essence of the book into himself. But Redclyffe was
still more interested in observing in the corner a great spider, which
really startled him,--not so much for its own terrible aspect, though
that was monstrous, as because he seemed to see in it the very great
spider which he had known in his boyhood; that same monster that had
been the Doctor's familiar, and had been said to have had an influence
in his death. He looked so startled that Father Angelo observed it.

"Do not be frightened," said he; "though I allow that a brave man may
well be afraid of a spider, and that the bravest of the brave need not
blush to shudder at this one. There is a great mystery about this
spider. No one knows whence he came; nor how long he has been here. The
library was very much shut up during the time of the last inheritor of
the estate, and had not been thoroughly examined for some years when I
opened it, and swept some of the dust away from its old alcoves. I
myself was not aware of this monster until the lapse of some weeks,
when I was startled at seeing him, one day, as I was reading an old
book here. He dangled down from the ceiling, by the cordage of his web,
and positively seemed to look into my face."

"He is of the species Condetas," said Redclyffe,--"a rare spider seldom
seen out of the tropic regions."

"You are learned, then, in spiders," observed the priest, surprised.

"I could almost make oath, at least, that I have known this ugly
specimen of his race," observed Redclyffe. "A very dear friend, now
deceased, to whom I owed the highest obligations, was studious of
spiders, and his chief treasure was one the very image of this."

"How strange!" said the priest. "There has always appeared to me to be
something uncanny in spiders. I should be glad to talk further with you
on this subject. Several times I have fancied a strange intelligence in
this monster; but I have natural horror of him, and therefore refrain
from interviews."

"You do wisely, sir," said Redclyffe. "His powers and purposes are
questionably beneficent, at best."

In truth, the many-legged monster made the old library ghostly to him
by the associations which it summoned up, and by the idea that it was
really the identical one that had seemed so stuffed with poison, in the
lifetime of the Doctor, and at that so distant spot. Yet, on
reflection, it appeared not so strange; for the old Doctor's spider, as
he had heard him say, was one of an ancestral race that he had brought
from beyond the sea. They might have been preserved, for ages possibly,
in this old library, whence the Doctor had perhaps taken his specimen,
and possibly the one now before him was the sole survivor. It hardly,
however, made the monster any the less hideous to suppose that this
might be the case; and to fancy the poison of old times condensed into
this animal, who might have sucked the diseases, moral and physical, of
all this family into him, and to have made himself their demon. He
questioned with himself whether it might not be well to crush him at
once, and so perhaps do away with the evil of which he was the emblem.

"I felt a strange disposition to crush this monster at first," remarked
the priest, as if he knew what Redclyffe was thinking of,--"a feeling
that in so doing I should get rid of a mischief; but then he is such a
curious monster. You cannot long look at him without coming to the
conclusion that he is indestructible."

"Yes; and to think of crushing such a deep-bowelled monster!" said
Redclyffe, shuddering. "It is too great a catastrophe."

During this conversation in which he was so deeply concerned, the
spider withdrew himself, and hand over hand ascended to a remote and
dusky corner, where was his hereditary abode.

"Shall I be likely to meet Lord Braithwaite here in the library?" asked
Redclyffe, when the fiend had withdrawn himself. "I have not yet seen
him since my arrival."

"I trust," said the priest, with great courtesy, "that you are aware of
some peculiarities in his Lordship's habits, which imply nothing in
detriment to the great respect which he pays all his few guests, and
which, I know, he is especially desirous to pay to you. I think that we
shall meet him at lunch, which, though an English institution, his
Lordship has adopted very readily."

"I should hope," said Redclyffe, willing to know how far he might be
expected to comply with the peculiarities--which might prove to be
eccentricities--of his host, "that my presence here will not be too
greatly at variance with his Lordship's habits, whatever they may be. I
came hither, indeed, on the pledge that, as my host would not stand in
my way, so neither would I in his."

"That is the true principle," said the priest, "and here comes his
Lordship in person to begin the practice of it."

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Lord Braithwaite came into the principal door of the library as thepriest was speaking, and stood a moment just upon the threshold,looking keenly out of the stronger light into this dull and darksomeapartment, as if unable to see perfectly what was within; or rather, asRedclyffe fancied, trying to discover what was passing between thosetwo. And, indeed, as when a third person comes suddenly upon two whoare talking of him, the two generally evince in their manner someconsciousness of the fact; so it was in this case, with Redclyffe atleast, although the priest seemed perfectly undisturbed, either throughpractice of concealment, or because
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The guests were now rapidly taking their departure, and the Warden andRedclyffe were soon left alone in the antique hall, which now, in itssolitude, presented an aspect far different from the gay festivity ofan hour before; the duskiness up in the carved oaken beams seemed todescend and fill the hall; and the remembrance of the feast was likeone of those that had taken place centuries ago, with which this wasnow numbered, and growing ghostly, and faded, and sad, even as they hadlong been."Well, my dear friend," said the Warden, stretching himself andyawning, "it is over. Come into my study with me,
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