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Old Fires and Profitable Ghosts   By: (1863-1944)

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E text prepared by Lionel G. Sear

OLD FIRES AND PROFITABLE GHOSTS.

A Book of Stories

A. T. QUILLER COUCH.

PREFACE

The stories in this book are of revenants : persons who either in spirit or in body revisit old scenes, return upon old selves or old emotions, or relate a message from a world beyond perception. "Which?" was suggested by a passage in Hawthorne's Note books, where he proposes a story or sketch the scene of which is "to be laid within the light of a street lantern; the time, when the lamp is near going out; and the catastrophe to be simultaneous with the last flickering gleam." "The Lady of the Ship" is very nearly historical. "Prisoners of War" rests on the actual adventures of two St. Ives men, Thomas Williams and John Short, in the years 1804 1814. "Frozen Margit" and "The Seventh Man" have if not their originals at least their suggestions in fact.

One of the tales, "Once Aboard the Lugger," is itself a revenant . After writing it in the form here presented, I took advice and gave it another, under the title of "Ia." Yet some whose opinion I value prefer the original, and to satisfy them (though I think them wrong) it is reprinted; not with intent to pad out the volume. But my readers are too generous to need the assurance.

Q.

CONTENTS

I. OCEANUS.

II. THE SEVENTH MAN.

III. THE ROOM OF MIRRORS.

IV. A PAIR OF HANDS.

V. THE LADY OF THE SHIP.

VI. FROZEN MARGIT.

VII. THE SINGULAR ADVENTURE OF A SMALL FREE TRADER.

VIII. THE MYSTERY OF JOSEPH LAQUEDEM.

IX. PRISONERS OF WAR.

X. A TOWN'S MEMORY.

XI. THE LADY OF THE RED ADMIRALS.

XII. THE PENANCE OF JOHN EMMET.

XIII. ELISHA.

XIV. "ONCE ABOARD THE LUGGER".

XV. WHICH?

OCEANUS

I

My Dear Violet, So you "gather from the tone of two or three recent letters that my spirit is creeping back to light and warmth again"? Well, after a fashion you are right. I shall never laugh again as I used to laugh before Harry's death. The taste has gone out of that carelessness, and I turn even from the remembrance of it. But I can be cheerful, with a cheerfulness which has found the centre of gravity. I am myself again, as people say. After months of agitation in what seemed to be chaos the lost atom has dropped back to its place in the scheme of things, and even aspires (poor mite!) to do its infinitesimal business intelligently. So might a mote in a sunbeam feel itself at one with God!

But when you assume that my recovery has been a gradual process, you are wrong. You will think me more than ever deranged; but I assure you that it has been brought about, not by long strivings, but suddenly without preparation of mine and by the immediate hand of our dead brother .

Yes; you shall have the whole tale. The first effect of the news of Harry's death in October last was simply to stun me. You may remember how once, years ago when we were children, we rode home together across the old Racecourse after a long day's skating, our skates swinging at our saddle bows; how Harry challenged us to a gallop; and how, midway, the roan mare slipped down neck over crop on the frozen turf and hurled me clean against the face of a stone dyke. I had been thrown from horseback more than once before, but somehow had always found the earth fairly elastic. So I had griefs before Harry died and took some rebound of hope from each: but that cast repeated in a worse degree the old shock the springless brutal jar of the stone dyke. With him the sun went out of my sky.

I understand that this torpor is quite common with men and women suddenly bereaved. I believe that a whole week passed before my brain recovered any really vital motion; and then such feeble thought as I could exert was wholly occupied with the desperate stupidity of the whole affair. If God were indeed shaping the world to any end, if any design of His underlay the activities of men, what insensate waste to quench such a heart and brain as Harry's! to nip, as it seemed out of mere blundering wantonness, a bud which had begun to open so generously: to sacrifice that youth and strength, that comeliness, that enthusiasm, and all for nothing! Had some campaign claimed him, had he been spent to gain a citadel or defend a flag, I had understood... Continue reading book >>




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