I mentioned it to no one. But I was immensely relieved when the sinister visitor took his departure the morning after, and it was upon this occurrence that my mind was now employed.
Some one said that Dr. Johnson resembled a ghost, who must be spoken to before it will speak. But my father, in whatever else he may have resembled a ghost, did not in that particular; for no one but I in his household—and I very seldom—dared to address him until first addressed by him. I had no notion how singular this was until I began to go out a little among friends and relations, and found no such rule in force anywhere else.
As I leaned back in my chair thinking, this phantasm of my father came, and turned, and vanished with a solemn regularity. It was a peculiar figure, strongly made, thick-set, with a face large, and very stern; he wore a loose, black velvet coat and waistcoat. It was, however, the figure of an elderly rather than an old man—though he was then past seventy—but firm, and with no sign of feebleness.
I remember the start with which, not suspecting that he was close by me, I lifted my eyes, and saw that large, rugged countenance looking fixedly on me, from less than a yard away.
After I saw him, he continued to regard me for a second or two; and then, taking one of the heavy candlesticks in his gnarled hand, he beckoned me to follow him; which, in silence and wondering, I accordingly did.
He led me across the hall, where there were lights burning, and into a lobby by the foot of the back stairs, and so into his library.
It is a long, narrow room, with two tall, slim windows at the far end, now draped in dark curtains. Dusky it was with but one candle; and he paused near the door, at the left-hand side of which stood, in those days, an old-fashioned press or cabinet of carved oak. In front of this he stopped.
He had odd, absent ways, and talked more to himself, I believe, than to all the rest of the world put together.
‘She won’t understand,’ he whispered, looking at me enquiringly. ’No, she won’t. Will she?’
Then there was a pause, during which he brought forth from his breast pocket a small bunch of some half-dozen keys, on one of which he looked frowningly, every now and then balancing it a little before his eyes, between his finger and thumb, as he deliberated.
I knew him too well, of course, to interpose a word.
‘They are easily frightened—ay, they are. I’d better do it another way.’
And pausing, he looked in my face as he might upon a picture.
’They are—yes—I had better do it another way—another way; yes—and she’ll not suspect—she’ll not suppose.’
Then he looked steadfastly upon the key, and from it to me, suddenly lifting it up, and said abruptly, ‘See, child,’ and, after a second or two, ‘Remember this key.’
It was oddly shaped, and unlike others.