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Uncle Abraham's Romance

by Edith Nesbit

From Grim Tales (1893)

"NO, my dear," my Uncle Abraham answered me, "no — nothing
romantic ever happened to me — unless — but no; that wasn't
romantic either ——"

   I was. To me, I being eighteen, romance was the world. My
Uncle Abraham was old and lame. I followed the gaze of his faded
eyes, and my own rested on a miniature that hung at his elbow-
chair's right hand, a portrait of a women, whose loveliness even
the miniature-painter's art had been powerless to disguise — a
woman with large eyes that shone, and face of that alluring oval
which one hardly sees nowadays.

   I rose to look at it. I had looked at it a hundred times.
Often enough in my baby days I had asked, "Who's that, uncle?"
and always the answer was the same: "A lady who died long ago, my

   As I looked again at the picture, I asked, "Was she like


   "Your — your romance!"

   Uncle Abraham looked hard at me. "Yes," he said at last.
"Very — very like."
   I sat down on the floor by him. "Won't you tell me about her?"

   "There's nothing to tell," he said.  "I think it was fancy
mostly, and folly; but it's the realest thing in my life, my

   A long pause. I kept silent. You should always give people
time, especially old people.

   "I remember," he said in the dreamy tone always promising so
well to the ear that loves a story — "I remember, when I was a
young man, I was very lonely indeed. I never had a sweetheart. I
was always lame, my dear, from quite a boy; and the girls used to
laugh at me."

   Silence again. Presently he went on — 

   "And so I got into the way of mooning off by myself in lonely
places, and one of my favourite walks was up through our
churchyard, which was set on a hill in the middle of the marsh
country. I liked that because I never met anyone there. It's all
over, years ago. I was a silly lad; but I couldn't bear of a
summer evening to hear a rustle and a whisper from the other side
of the hedge, or maybe a kiss, as I went by."

   "Well, I used to go and sit all my myself in the churchyard,
which was always sweet with the thyme and quite light (on account
of it's being so high) long after the marshes were dark. I used
to watch the bats flitting about in the red light, and wonder why
God didn't make everyone's legs straight and strong, and wicked
follies like that. But by the time the light was gone I had
always worked it off, so to speak, and could go home quietly, and
say my prayers without bitterness.

   "Well, one hot night in August, when I had watched the sunset
face and the crescent moon grow golden, I was just stepping over
the low stone wall of the churchyard when I heard a rustle behind
me. I turned around, expecting it to be a rabbit or a bird. It
was a woman."

   He looked at the portrait. So did I.

   "Yes," he said, "that was her very face. I was a bit scared
and said something — I don't know what — she laughed and said, did
I think she was a ghost? and I answered back; and I stayed
talking to her over the churchyard wall till 'twas quite dark,
and the glow-worms were out in the wet grass all along the way

   "Next night, I saw her again; and the next, and the next.
Always at twilight time; and if I passed any lovers leaning on
the stiles in the marshes it was nothing to me now."

   Again my uncle paused. "It was very long ago," he said shyly,
"and I'm an old man; but I know what youth means, and happiness,
though I was always lame, and the girls used to laugh at me. I
don't know how long it went on — you don't measure time in dreams-
-but at last your grandfather said I looked as if I had one foot
in the grave, and he would be sending me to stay with our kin in
Bath, and take the waters. I had to go. I could not tell my
father why I would rather die than go."

   "What was her name, Uncle?" I asked.

   "She never would tell me her name, and why should she?  I had
names enough in my heart to call her by. Marriage? My dear, even
then I knew marriage was not for me. But I met her night after
night, always in our churchyard where the yew-trees were, and the
old crooked gravestones so thick in the grass. It was there we
always met and always parted.  The last time was the night before
i went away. She was very sad, and dearer than life itself.  And
she said — 

   "'If you come back before the new moon, I shall meet you here
just as usual. But if the new moon shines on this grave and you
are not here — you will never see me again any more.'

   "She laid her hand on the tomb against which we had been
leaning. It was an old, lichened, weather-worn stone, and its
inscription was just

                      Susannah Kingsnorth
                           Ob. 1723

   "'I shall be here,' I said.

   "'I mean it," she said, very seriously and slowly, "it is no
fancy. You will be here when the new moon shines?'

   "I promised, and after a while we parted.

   "I had been with my kinsfolk in Bath for nearly a month. I was
to go home on the next day when, turning over a case in the
parlour, I came upon that miniature. I could not speak for a
minute. At last I said, with dry tongue, and heart beating to the
tune of heaven and hell:

   "'Who is this?'

   "'That?' said my aunt. 'Oh! She was betrothed to one of our
family years ago, but she died before the wedding. They say she
was a bit of a witch. A handsome one, wasn't she?'

   "I looked again at the face, the lips, the eyes of my dear
lovely love, whom I was to meet to-morrow night when the new moon
shone on that tomb in our churchyard.

   "'Did you say she was dead?' I asked, and hardly knew my own

   "'Years and years ago! Her name's on the back, and the date ——'

   "I took the portrait out of its case — I remember just the
colour of its faded, red-velvet bed, and read on the back — 
Susannah Kingsnorth, Ob. 1723.

   "That was in 1823."  My uncle stopped short.

   "What happened?" I asked breathlessly.

   "I believe I had a fit," my uncle answered slowly, "at any
rate, I was very ill."

   "And you missed the new moon on the grave?"

   "I missed the new moon on the grave."

   "And you never saw her again?"

   "I never saw her again ——"

   "But, uncle, do you really believe? Can the dead — was she — did
you ——"
   My uncle took his pipe and filled it.

   "It's a long time ago," he said, "a many, many years. Old
man's tales, my dear! Old man's tales. Don't you take any notice
of them."

   He lighted the pipe, and puffed silently a moment or two
before he said: "But I know what youth means, and love and
happiness, though I was always lame, and the girls used to laugh
at me."


Prepared by Robert Champ