“At last” by Bram Stoker

‘When I was young – I’m not very old yet, but I was very young then, and it all seems long ago – I made an ass of myself. It wasn’t very bad, not criminal; but I was pretty well ashamed of it, for my people were of high rank and held a great position in the county. When I came back I was afraid to tell the girl I was engaged to. She was a clever girl, and she knew by a sort of instinct that there was something, and asked me what it was. I denied that there was anything. That did for me, for I knew she was clean grit, and that she would have the truth or nothing, and as I didn’t want to tell her I was a liar as well as an ass, I shoved for Australia. What I did there doesn’t concern you much, and it was pretty tame, anyhow. I only mention this that you may understand something later. I had been a medical student, and liked the work so well that I have had a sneaking fondness for everything connected with it ever since. On the ship I went out on was a nurse, who was going out as an assistant matron to one of the Melbourne hospitals. She was a young woman, but with white hair; and she used to come down to the steerage – where I was – and try to be of service. I had become a kind of volunteer help to the doctor, who recognised that I had been a gentleman – you are not much of a gentleman in a steerage, I can tell you – and made things a little comfortable for me in several ways. By being about with him I met the nurse, and we became very good friends. She was very sympathetic, and knew pretty well that I was sore-hearted about something; and with the natural sweet helpfulness of a woman – God bless ’em! – soon got to know my secret. One night – I shall never forget it, a heavy, still night with the moon a blaze of gold over the silent sea – we sat out late, right over the screw, which ground away beneath us but disturbed us no more than the ticking of a clock. The mystery of the place, and the hunger for sympathy which always gnawed at my soul, got the better of me, and I opened my heart as I have never done before or since. When I stopped I saw that her great eyes were gleaming out over the sea, and the tears were rolling down her cheeks. She turned to me and took my hand between both of hers and said:

‘”Oh! why didn’t you tell her all? She would have forgiven all – everything, and would have loved you better for it all your life long. It is the concealment that hurts! Noble natures feel it most. I know, I know it too well, out of the bitterness of my broken heart!” I saw here a sorrow far greater than my own, and tried to comfort her. It seemed a relief to her, as it had been to me, to speak of her trouble, and I encouraged her confidence. She told me that in her youth she had run away with a man whom she thought she loved; they were married at a registry, but after a while she found out that he was married already. She wanted to leave him then at once, but he terrorised her, threatening to kill her if she tried to leave him. So she had perforce to remain with him till, happily, he met with a fatal accident and she was free. Then her baby was born dead, and she found herself alone.’

Here there was an interruption on the part of the Sewing Woman, who remarked sotto voce:

‘He’s a-tykin’ of my Dead Byby, too!’

‘Hush! hush!’ said the MC. And the Young Man went on:

‘She changed her name, and after trying work of several kinds, found her way on the stage. There she fell in love, in real love, with a man she honoured; and when she found that he loved her too, she was afraid to tell him the dark chapter of her life lest she should lose him. She thought that as it was all past, and as no trace remained, no one need ever know. She was married and was ideally happy, and, after a couple of years, which had brought them a daughter, towards the end of a certain tour was on her way home where she would see her little baby daughter again, when in a time of great peril, when everyone round her was making confession of all they had ever done wrong, she was drawn into the hysterical whirlpool, and told her husband all that had been. He seemed cut to the heart, but said very little – not a word of reproach. Then she, too, felt constrained to silence, and a barrier seemed to grow up between them, so that when they reached England – home was a name only, and not a reality – they did not seem able to speak freely; and it became apparent to both that nothing remained but to separate. He had wished to take the child, and when the subject was mooted, said he wanted to take her far away where she would never know what had been. “Oh, I loved him so,” she wailed, “that I felt that all I could give him was my child. The baby when she grew up would never know her mother’s shame. It was a bitter atonement for my deceit; but it was all I could do. Perhaps God will account it to me and my child and the husband that I love, and somehow turn it to usefulness in His good time.”

‘Well, I comforted her as well as I could, though there was not much comfort to her in the world, poor soul, separated from her husband, whom she still loved, and from their child. We became fast friends, and we often wrote to each other; and in all my wanderings I kept her informed of my whereabouts.

To read the rest of this story visit:
“At Last” at bramstoker.org

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About bramstokerdotorg

I am the managing editor www.bramstoker.org a website dedicated to Bram Stoker the author of Dracula. View all posts by bramstokerdotorg

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