“I have had a great many,” said Hester, slowly. “I suppose I have been more ill than I knew. I thought I saw, I really did see, the spirits of the frost and the snow looking in at the window. And I talked to them a long time, and asked them what quarrel they had with me, their sister, that since I was a child they had always been going about to kill me. Aunt Susan always seemed to think they were enemies who gave me bronchitis. And I told them how I loved them and all their works. And they breathed on the pane and wrote beautiful things in frost-work, and I read them all. Now, Rachel, is that an hallucination about the frost-work, because it seems to me still, now that I am better, though I can’t explain it, that I do see the meaning of it at last, and that I shall never be afraid of them again.”
Rachel did not answer.
She had long since realized that Hester, when in her normal condition, saw things which she herself did not see. She had long since realized that Hester always accepted as final the limit of vision of the person she was with, but that that limit changed with every person she met. Rachel had seen her adjust it to persons more short-sighted than herself, with secret self-satisfaction, and then with sudden bewilderment had heard Hester accept as a commonplace from some one else what appeared to Rachel fantastic in the extreme. If Rachel had considered her own mind as the measure of the normal of all other minds, she could not have escaped the conclusion that Hester was a victim of manifold delusions. But, fortunately for herself, she saw that most ladders possessed more than the one rung on which she was standing.
“That is quite different, isn’t it,” said Hester, “from thinking Dr. Brown is a gray wolf?”
“Quite different. That was an hallucination of fever. You see that for yourself now that you have no fever.”
“I see that, of course, now that I have no fever,” repeated Hester, her eyes widening. “But one hallucination quite as foolish as that is always coming back, and I can’t shake it off. The wolf was gone directly, but this is just the same now I am better, only it gets worse and worse. I have never spoken of it to any one, because I know it is so silly. But Rachel—I have no fever now—and yet—I know you’ll laugh at me—I laugh at my own foolish self—and yet all the time I have a horrible feeling that”—Hester’s eyes had in them a terror that was hardly human—“that my book is burned.”
The soul of thy brother is a dark forest. —Russian Proverb.
“A marriage has been arranged, and will shortly
take place, between Hugh
St. John Scarlett, of Kenstone Manor, Shropshire, only son of the late
Lord Henry Scarlett, and Rachel, only child of the late Joshua Hopkins
West, of Birmingham.”
* * * * *