Tis sorry that you’ll be to hear that ould Denny Callan is dead, sir,” said the station-master—he was, strictly speaking, the junction-master—at Mallow, to whom I had confided my hopes of eventually reaching my destination at St Barter’s, in the same county. He had been courteously voluble, and sometimes even explicit, in giving me advice on this subject; he also took an optimistic view of the situation. All things considered, and with a moderate share of good luck, I might reasonably hope to reach St Barter’s House within a couple of hours. That point, which was becoming one of great interest to me, being settled, he thought that he was entitled to assume that I should be grieved to hear of the death of “ould Denny Callan.” He assumed too much. I had never heard the name of the lamented Mr Callan. I could not pretend to be overwhelmed with grief at the news that some one was dead whom I had never heard of being alive.

“Tubbe sure, you’re a stranger, sir—what am I thinking of at all—or you’d know all about the road to St Barter’s,” said the official. “Oh, but you’d have liked ould Denny, sir, if you’d but have known him. A more harmless crayture you couldn’t find, search high or low. ‘Tis a great favourite that he was with the gentlemen—ay, and for that matter, the ladies—though I wouldn’t like to say a word against him that’s gone. Oh, they all come away from St Barter’s with a good word for Denny. Well, well, he’s at rest, and I don’t expect that you’ll have to wait much longer for your train, sir.”

When I had got out of my compartment in the express from Dublin an hour before, I was told that I should only have to wait for ten minutes to make the connection that would take me on to Blarney—the station for St Barter’s—but the train which was reputed to be able to perform this service for me had not yet been signalled. After the lapse of another twenty minutes I began to think that the stationmaster had taken too roseate a view of my future. It did not seem likely that I should, in the language of the ‘Manual,’ “attain my objective” that day.

I had reached a stage of bewildering doubt, which was not mitigated by the arrival at the junction of a long train, and the announcement of the guard to the passengers, “Change here for Ameriky,”—it was explained to me that the train was full of emigrants bound for America via Queenstown,—when the station-master bustled up to tell me that the Blarney special had just been signalled from Kilmallock—the Blarney special was getting on very well, and with good luck should be available for passengers from Mallow within half an hour.

The good luck on which this estimate was founded was not lacking. My train crawled alongside the platform only five minutes over the half-hour, and the official wished me a continuance of good luck, adding—

“It wouldn’t be like going back to the same place now that poor ould Denny is gone, if you had ever been there before, sir. Best his sowl! ‘Tis the harmless crayture that he was. You’ll be sorry that you didn’t know him, sir, when you find the place a bit lonesome.”

I was half-way to Blarney before my sluggish mind was able to appreciate the contingencies suggested by the station-master. I had never before been to St Barter’s, but if I had ever been there I should regret my returning to the place now that a certain person, of whose existence I had been unaware, was gone. That was how I worked out the matter, and before I had concluded the operation I had become quite emotional in regard to the demise of Denny. I shook my head mournfully at the thought that I should never see him—that I had come too late—too late! I had no idea that the local colour, which is associated by tradition with this neighbourhood, was so potent; but, indeed, when the obliging station-master at Blarney, who entered into conversation with me while the porter was looking after my luggage, remarked—

“So poor ould Denny is gone at last, sir!” I shook my head sadly.

“Poor old Denny! poor old Denny!” I said with a sigh. “Ah, we’ll all miss poor old Denny. He was the most harmless man—St Barter’s will not be the same without him.”

The station-master did his best to comfort me for half an hour—that was the exact space that I had to wait for the car which was to carry me to St Barter’s. When it did arrive, the excuse given by the red-haired boy who had charge of the “wee mare” was that it was a grand wake entirely that Denny had last night.

He told me more about it (with statistics of certain comestibles, mostly liquid) when driving along one of the loveliest roads possible to imagine, past the grey square tower of Blarney Castle, embowered among its trees, and on by the side of the greenest slopes I had ever seen, beneath the branches of one of the groves renowned in history and in song. A broad stream flowed parallel with the road, and every glimpse that I had through the trees on both sides was of emerald hills—some in the distance, others apparently sending their soft ridges athwart the road. I felt that at last I was in Ireland.

On the side of a gracious slope, gradually approached by broad zigzag drives which follow the swelling curves of long grassy billows, the buildings of St Barter’s stand. They are neither venerable nor imposing—only queer. It seemed to me that everybody must have been concerned in their construction except an architect. But the compiler of a guide-book could, with every desire to be economical of his space, fill half a dozen pages with a description of the landscape which faces the windows of the front. The green terraces below the gardens dip toward the brink of a glen through which a trout stream rushes, and the woods of this sylvan hollow straggle up the farther slope, and spread over it in a blaze of autumnal gold that glows half through the winter. Where the wooded slopes and the range of green hills begin, undulating into a soft distance of pasturages, with here and there a white farmhouse shining out of the shadow of an orchard, and at the dividing line of the low slopes, the turret of Blarney Castle appears above the dark cloud of its own woods.

Before I found myself facing this entrancing landscape, I could not for the life of me understand why my client, who might have lived where she pleased, should spend half the year at St Barter’s. But now I understood, and I took back the words which I had spoken more than once, when in mid-channel the previous night. A family solicitor may be pardoned for occasionally calling a client a fool. I had called several of my most valued clients by this name. I did so for the same reason that Adam gave for calling the fox a fox—because it was a fox. But I had never to retract until now. “Hydros” are horrors as a rule, but St Barter’s is a beatitude.

A couple of hours after lunch—the water which was placed on our table was as exhilarating as champagne—sufficed for the transaction of the business which had brought me to Ireland, and I was free to return by the night train. I had, however, no mind to be so businesslike; for the scenery had clasped me tightly in its embrace, and in addition I found that the resident medico had been in my form at Marlborough, and I was delighted to meet him again. I had lost sight of him for nine or ten years.

It was by the side of Dr Barnett that I strolled about the grounds and learned something of the history of the curious old place.

“Rambling? I should think it is rambling,” he said, acquiescing in my remark. “How could it be anything else, considering the piecemeal way in which it was built? It was begun by a very brilliant and highly practical physician more than fifty years ago. When the house, as it was then, was fully occupied, and he got a letter from a person of quality inquiring for rooms, he simply put the inquirer off for a week, then set to, built on a few more rooms, and had them ready for occupation within the time stated. This went on for several years. If the Lord Lieutenant had written for a suite of apartments he would have had them ready in ten days. That sort of thing produces this style of architecture. St Barter’s is the finest example extant of the pure rambling. But it is the healthiest place in the world. People come here expecting to die within a fortnight, and they live on for thirty years.”

“But now and again there is a death,” said I. “What about poor ould Denny? The most harmless crayture——”

Dr Barnett stared at me.

“Was it in the London papers?” he cried. “Oh, I see; you have been talking to the driver of the car. Poor ould Denny! He was everybody’s friend.”

“And yet quite harmless? The place will never seem the same to me as it would have done if I had not arrived too late to see Denny. Was he your assistant, or what?”

The doctor laughed.

“He was simply ‘poor ould Denny!”’ he said. “That was his profession. It was pretty comprehensive, I can tell you. He was here when the house would be overcrowded with ten guests. He roofed a whole wing with his own hands. Then he dug the pit for the gasometer, thirty years ago, and he lived to dam the trout stream that works the dynamo for the electric light. He was also an accomplished masseur, and set up the hatchery that supplied the stream with trout.”

“His name should have been Crichton, not Callan. Anything else?”

“He could do tricks on the billiard table, and he knew all that there is to be known about hair-cutting.”

“Is that all?”

“That’s all—no, stay! he was a sculptor’s model for some time. I can show you the result of his labours in this direction, if you would care to see it.”

“I certainly should care to see it.”

“Come along, then.”

He led me half-way round the building, from where the two storeys of the centre block dwindled away to the single bedroom sheds of one wing. We passed by the side of the terrace garden, and I made a remark respecting the fine carving on some of the stone vases.

“They were the work of the sculptor who chose Denny for his model,” said the doctor. “Here we are.”

I followed him between two fine cedars, and in another instant we were face to face with a very striking colossal figure of a man holding aloft a goblet. The head and the torso were very powerful, but the latter was joined on to a conventional Greek pedestal, at the foot of which there peeped out four tiny hoofs of satyrs.

“What do you think of it? my friend inquired?” I told him that I thought there was a good deal of strength in the modelling of the figure, but I could not understand the satyrs’ hoofs.

“I take it for granted that the sculptor left the hair unfinished,’ I added; for one could not help remarking the roughness of the masses at the top of the head. The sculptor had merely blocked out the heavy locks of hair; he had made no attempt to define them.

“The story of the work is rather a sad one,” said the doctor. “The sculptor was a nephew of the man who built this place. He had worked in a good studio in Italy, and was, I believe, a pupil of the distinguished Irishman, Foley. He was devoted to his profession, and exhibited in some of the London galleries. But every one knows that it is very difficult to make a name—and a profit—as a sculptor, and he realised this truth only when he had spent the greater part of his small patrimony. He came here, and built for himself that cottage which you see at the other side of the terrace, and, in order to keep himself employed, he carved all these vases and urns which you have been admiring. Unfortunately, however, among the doctor’s patients at the house there was a wealthy linen merchant from Ulster—one of that vulgar crowd who had become suddenly prosperous when the American Civil War prevented the export of cotton from the southern ports; and this gentleman, meeting the sculptor daily, and feeling probably that he would like to pose before the world as a patron of Art, gave him a commission to execute a colossal figure to support a lamp at the entrance to the new house which he was building for himself. He made no stipulation as to the design, only the cost was not to exceed a thousand pounds, and the work was to be ready within a year. Of course, the poor sculptor was delighted. He accepted the commission, and, thinking of the artistic rather than the business side of the transaction, never dreamt of drawing up an agreement with his generous patron. Before a month had passed, he had obtained his material and made his clay sketches. Looking about for a model for the figure, he was struck by the fine proportions of Denny, and had no difficulty in inducing him to add to his other occupations the more restful one of a sculptor’s model. For several months the work progressed satisfactorily, and it was very near its completion, when the model contracted a malady which necessitated the shaving of his head and interrupted his sittings. The sculptor was not greatly inconvenienced, however. He turned his attention for some weeks to the carving of the pedestal, and got that completed before his model was able to resume his sittings. But even then the sculptor could only deal with the torso, for Denny’s crown was as bald as an egg. In a couple of months, however, the doctor assured him that he would have as luxuriant a crop as would qualify him to pose for one of the artists who produce the advertisements for hair-restorers. The work was now practically finished. As the model remarked, the edifice only needed the thatch to be put on the roof to make it presentable. Then the proud artist wrote to his patron, telling him that his commission was executed, and inviting him to come and see it. After the lapse of a week or two the patron arrived, and was conducted by the sculptor to view his masterpiece. The patron viewed it in silence for some minutes, and then burst into a fit of laughter. ‘Man, dear!’ he managed at last to gasp in the raucous accent of his native province—‘Man, dear! what’s that thing, anyway? Tell us what it is, if you can. A Greek figure? They must have had funny figures, them Greeks, if they had feet like yon. You must take me for a queer fool if you fancy that I’d let the like o’ yon stand fornenst my house. You may make a fool of yourself as much as you please, but I’ll take good care that you don’t make a fool of me!’ What could a refined man say to a brute like this? Well, he said nothing. He stood there in silence, with his eyes fixed upon the face that he had carved, and the patron left him staring at it. He stared at it all day, and the doctor, walking round the garden that night, saw him staring at it in the moonlight, and led him away to the cottage, and sent him to bed. He never rose from that bed, except once. Two days later, his housemaid entered his room and found him kneeling at his window—the statue could be seen where he had placed it—where it now stands—and he was quite dead.”

I could not speak for some time after the doctor had told me the story, for I felt that it was the saddest I had ever heard.

“His heart was broken,” I said. “But perhaps you will tell me that science has proved that such a rupture is impossible.”

“I will tell you nothing of the sort,” said he. “A broken heart is the best possible way to describe the effect upon a sensitive brain of such a shock as the sculptor sustained. His heart was broken. I am sorry that I hadn’t a livelier story for you. People come to Ireland expecting to be amused; but it seems to me that the history of the island from the earliest times is one prolonged lament. The finest music of the national melodies is to be found in the most mournful.”

I stood with my eyes fixed upon the statue.

“Strange, isn’t it, that I should arrive here to be told that pitiful story within an hour or two of the death of the model?” said I. “The poor artist! I am sure that he felt that he was immortalising Denny; and yet—I suppose that in a year or two no one will know anything either of the sculptor or his model. Perhaps the vulgarity of the Ulster patron is, after all, the most enduring of all the qualities that went to the production of this work.”

“The patron eventually became one of the most distinguished bankrupts of his generation,” said Dr Barnett. “He died a few years ago, but vulgarity did not die with him. Yes, I think you are right—vulgarity is immortal.”

“I wonder if our friend Denny was proud to be reproduced in the stone, or was he mortified at the result of his first connection with art?” I remarked, while we were strolling back to the house.

“He took an interest in the thing up to the very last,” replied the doctor. “I have often seen him take a surreptitious glance at it, and pass away from it, stroking his head mournfully. He confided in me once that his sorrow was that the sculptor had not lived to reproduce his fine head of hair; and I know that he believed that it was the unfinished state of the crown of the figure that brought about its rejection. His widow told me only yesterday that this was the greatest trouble of his last hours. You see, the figure was a record of his early manhood, but the pride that he had in looking at it must have been chastened by the feeling that it did not do justice to his curls—his one vanity was his curly head. He was nicknamed in Irish ‘The curly-headed boy.’ It was pathetic to hear his widow repeat the phrase over his body when I visited her in her trouble yesterday. ‘He was my curly-headed boy—my curly-headed boy will never know the touch of my comb again!’ she wailed in Irish.”

“Poor old Denny!” said I.

“That seems by one consent to be his most appropriate epitaph,” said the doctor.

After dinner that night I played a very pleasant rubber of whist with my client, and the doctor and his wife. When the party separated I went to the billiard-room with Barnett, and we played a hundred up. Lighting a cigar then, I strolled out alone upon the terrace, the doctor having gone to his room. The night was a brilliant one, and the landscape lay bare and white beneath the moonlight, which flooded the far-off hills and spread a garment of filigree over the foliage of the glen and of the slope beyond. Beneath its brilliance the trout stream, whose voice came fitfully through the brooding silence of the night, flashed here and there among the trees. The square tower of the Castle shone like marble in the distance. From one of the farms of the hillside the faint sound of a dog’s bark reached my ears.

I seated myself on one of the terrace chairs, languidly smoking my cigar and breathing the strong perfume of the stocks of the garden. I confess that my mind was dwelling upon the story of that queer piece of sculpture before which I had stood in the afternoon. It was as sad a story as that of the poet Keats, only the brutal criticism of the sculptor’s patron was more savage than the ‘Quarterly Review’ which had bludgeoned the fine poet to the death. But my sympathy was not given to the artist so fully as to leave no pity to bestow upon his model, who had lived on for thirty or forty years with his humble grievance. I could appreciate the feelings of poor old Denny all the years that he had laboured beneath the burden of being handed down in effigy to coming generations shorn of his greatest glory. The one who was known to all men as the curly-haired hoy was doomed to stand before the eyes of all comers as the possessor of shapeless, matted locks that were not locks at all!

He was not made of the same fibre as the artist; he had not broken down beneath the weight of that reflection; but I knew it must have been a heaviness to him all his days.

I remained seated in the moonlight for a long time, and just as I thought that I should turn in, I noticed a figure crossing the little grassy slope toward the garden. It was, I perceived, the figure of a man, and he was wearing what I took at first to be an ordinary night suit of light silk; but before he had gone a dozen steps I perceived that his garment was a painter’s blouse. He moved silently over the grass, and I could not help feeling, as I had often done before, how a glance of moonlight on a figure may produce such an effect of mystery as can never be gained in daylight. I assumed that the object which was passing away among the flower-beds was one of the household staff on duty—a watchman, it might be, or a gardener going to regulate the heating apparatus in a greenhouse. And yet, looking at him from my seat, he seemed as weird and unsubstantial as a whiff of mountain mist.

I rose from my place, and was about to walk round to the entrance to the house and get to bed, when I became aware of another figure moving through the moonlight along the grassy terrace. I gave an exclamation of surprise when I saw that this one was half nude and white—white as the stone of the statue beyond the trees—there, it moved—the statue itself—-I saw it—the figure of the man with his hands held aloft—the features were the same—the proportions of the body—only this one was more perfect than the other, for he had a mass of curly locks clustering over his head like the curls of the Herakles of the Vatican.

And even while I stood there watching him, the figure passed away among the trees.

I waited in such a state of amazement as I had never experienced before. I had the sensation of being newly awakened; but I knew that I had not fallen asleep for a moment. I was not afraid; only, finding myself in a situation to which I was unaccustomed, I did not know what I should do. It took me some minutes to collect myself.

Through the stillness I became aware of a curious dull tapping sound—there it went, tap, tap, tap; then a slight pause, and again tap, tap, tap, tap.

A dog behind the house gave a prolonged howl, and along the path below me a fox-terrier, which I had seen during the day, scurried, its tail between its legs, and every limb trembling.

“Tap, tap, tap”—a pause—“tap, tap, tap, tap.”

My mind was made up. I went cautiously along the terrace in the direction of the garden. I found myself walking stealthily on my toes, as though I was anxious not to disturb someone who was desirous of quiet; and as I went on, the sounds of the tapping became more distinct. Almost before I knew it, I reached that part of the grassy terrace which commanded a view of the garden; and in an instant I was standing still. I could hear the beating of my own heart as I saw, under my very eyes, not twenty yards away, three figures, equally white and shadowy.

The nearest to me was of the half-naked man with the head of curls; the one in the middle was in exactly the same posture—it was the figure of the statue; and the third was the one which I had seen wearing the long white blouse, and this was the only one of the three that moved. He was standing, as it seemed, on the ledge of the pedestal, and a sculptor’s chisel was in one hand and a mallet in the other. He was working at the head of the statue, every now and again glancing at the head of the model, pausing while he did so, and beginning to work again after the lapse of a second or two.

I stood there on the terrace watching this strange scene, and the curious part of it was that it did not seem in the least degree curious to me while it was being enacted. On the contrary, I had a distinct sense of harmony—of artistic finish—the pleasurable sensation of which one is conscious on the completion of the leit motif of a symphony,—that is how I can best express what my feelings were at the time. During the hour that I remained there it never occurred to me that I should draw any nearer to the shadowy group. As a matter of fact, I believe that there was uppermost in my mind an apprehension that it was necessary for me to keep very still, lest I should interfere with the work. I have had precisely the same feeling when in the studio of a painter while he was at work and I was watching him. But I could not leave the place where I stood, so long as that scene was being enacted in the silence, and the three figures were equally silent. The night knew no sound except that caused by the chiselling of the stone.

An hour must have passed—perhaps more than an hour—and then, still in silence, the sculptor threw his chisel and his mallet to the ground. I heard the little thud which each gave on the turf. Then he sprang to the ground; but his feet made no sound in alighting. I stood on the terrace and watched him and his model move away across the garden as silently as they had come, and disappear among the trees at the entrance to the glen.

The next morning when I had breakfasted I sought my friend Dr Barnett, and told him my experience of the night. He did not smile. But he was strictly scientific. We were smoking together on one of the paths bordered by laurels, and when I had told him all that I had to tell, he put his hand on my arm, saying—

“My dear boy, the phenomena of ghosts are invariably interesting, and, on the whole, not more perplexing than other natural phenomena. Sometimes they are due to one cause, sometimes to another. Most frequently they must be attributed to the projection of an image upon the eye from within, not from without. Now, in your case—but we had better stroll round to the scene of your illusion.”

We went together across the lawn in the direction of the companion cedars, and he continued his discourse.

“All that you have told me interests me greatly, showing as it does how, under certain conditions, the most admirably balanced brain may become what I may call sensitised—susceptible as a photographic plate to an image——”

At this point his speech was arrested. We had passed between the cedars, and the statue was facing us. The doctor was gazing up at it.

“Good heavens!” he said in a whisper; “he has finished it!”

I looked up and saw that the head of the figure was covered with curls.

“He has finished it—he has finished it,” the doctor whispered again.

“Yes,” I said, “he has finished it. I saw him do it.”

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook