The date is between twenty and
thirty years ago. The place is
an English sea-port. The time
is night. And the business of
The Mayor and Corporation of
the town are giving a grand ball,
in celebration of the departure
of an Arctic expedition from
their port. The ships of the
expedition are two in number--the
_Wanderer_ and the _Sea-mew_.
They are to sail (in search of
the Northwest Passage) on the
next day, with the morning tide.
Honor to the Mayor and Corporation!
It is a brilliant ball. The band
is complete. The room is spacious.
The large conservatory opening
out of it is pleasantly lighted
with Chinese lanterns, and beautifully
decorated with shrubs and flowers.
All officers of the army and
navy who are present wear their
uniforms in honor of the occasion.
Among the ladies, the display
of dresses (a subject which the
men don't understand) is bewildering--and
the average of beauty (a subject
which the men do understand)
is the highest average attainable,
in all parts of the room.
For the moment, the dance which
is in progress is a quadrille.
General admiration selects two
of the ladies who are dancing
as its favorite objects. One
is a dark beauty in the prime
of womanhood--the wife of First
Lieutenant Crayford, of the _Wanderer_.
The other is a young girl, pale
and delicate; dressed simply
in white; with no ornament on
her head but her own lovely brown
hair. This is Miss Clara Burnham--an
orphan. She is Mrs. Crayford's
dearest friend, and she is to
stay with Mrs. Crayford during
the lieutenant's absence in the
Arctic regions. She is now dancing,
with the lieutenant himself for
partner, and with Mrs. Crayford
and Captain Helding (commanding
officer of the _Wanderer_) for
vis-a-vis--in plain English,
for opposite couple.
The conversation between Captain
Helding and Mrs. Crayford, in
one of the intervals of the dance,
turns on Miss Burnham. The captain
is greatly interested in Clara.
He admires her beauty; but he
thinks her manner--for a young
girl--strangely serious and subdued.
Is she in delicate health?
Mrs. Crayford shakes her head;
sighs mysteriously; and answers,
delicate health, Captain Helding."
"Not in the
"I am glad
to hear that. She is a charming
Crayford. She interests me indescribably.
If I was only twenty years younger--perhaps
(as I am not twenty years younger)
I had better not finish the sentence?
Is it indiscreet, my dear lady,
to inquire what _is_ the matter
"It might be indiscreet, on
the part of a stranger," said
Mrs. Crayford. "An old friend
like you may make any inquiries.
I wish I could tell you what
is the matter with Clara. It
is a mystery to the doctors themselves.
Some of the mischief is due,
in my humble opinion, to the
manner in which she has been
"Ay! ay! A
bad school, I suppose."
Captain Helding. But not the
sort of school which
you have in your mind at this
moment. Clara's early years were
spent in a lonely old house in
the Highlands of Scotland. The
ignorant people about her were
the people who did the mischief
which I have just been speaking
of. They filled her mind with
the superstitions which are still
respected as truths in the wild
North--especially the superstition
called the Second Sight."
"God bless me!" cried the captain, "you
don't mean to say she believes
in such stuff as that? In these
enlightened times too!"
Mrs. Crayford looked at her
partner with a satirical smile.
"In these enlightened times,
Captain Helding, we only believe
in dancing tables, and in messages
sent from the other world by
spirits who can't spell! By comparison
with such superstitions as these,
even the Second Sight has something--in
the shape of poetry--to recommend
it, surely? Estimate for yourself," she
continued seriously, "the effect
of such surroundings as I have
described on a delicate, sensitive
young creature--a girl with a
naturally imaginative temperament
leading a lonely, neglected life.
Is it so very surprising that
she should catch the infection
of the superstition about her?
And is it quite incomprehensible
that her nervous system should
suffer accordingly, at a very
critical period of her life?"
"Not at all,
Mrs. Crayford--not at all,
ma'am, as you put it.
Still it is a little startling,
to a commonplace man like me,
to meet a young lady at a ball
who believes in the Second Sight.
Does she really profess to see
into the future? Am I to understand
that she positively falls into
a trance, and sees people in
distant countries, and foretells
events to come? That is the Second
Sight, is it not?"
"That is the
Second Sight, captain. And
that is, really
and positively, what she does."
lady who is dancing opposite
lady who is dancing opposite
The captain waited a little--letting
the new flood of information
which had poured in on him settle
itself steadily in his mind.
This process accomplished, the
Arctic explorer proceeded resolutely
on his way to further discoveries.
"May I ask, ma'am, if you have
ever seen her in a state of trance
with your own eyes?" he inquired.
"My sister and I both saw her
in the trance, little more than
a month since," Mrs. Crayford
replied. "She had been nervous
and irritable all the morning;
and we took her out into the
garden to breathe the fresh air.
Suddenly, without any reason
for it, the color left her face.
She stood between us, insensible
to touch, insensible to sound;
motionless as stone, and cold
as death in a moment. The first
change we noticed came after
a lapse of some minutes. Her
hands began to move slowly, as
if she was groping in the dark.
Words dropped one by one from
her lips, in a lost, vacant tone,
as if she was talking in her
sleep. Whether what she said
referred to past or future I
cannot tell you. She spoke of
persons in a foreign country--perfect
strangers to my sister and to
me. After a little interval,
she suddenly became silent. A
momentary color appeared in her
face, and left it again. Her
eyes closed--her feet failed
her--and she sank insensible
into our arms."
"Sank insensible into your
arms," repeated the captain,
absorbing his new information. "Most
extraordinary! And--in this state
of health--she goes out to parties,
and dances. More extraordinary
"You are entirely mistaken," said
Mrs. Crayford. "She is only here
to-night to please me; and she
is only dancing to please my
husband. As a rule, she shuns
all society. The doctor recommends
change and amusement for her.
She won't listen to him. Except
on rare occasions like this,
she persists in remaining at
brightened at the allusion
to the doctor.
Something practical might be
got out of the doctor. Scientific
man. Sure to see this very obscure
subject under a new light. "How
does it strike the doctor now?" said
the captain. "Viewed simply as
a Case, ma'am, how does it strike
"He will give no positive opinion," Mrs.
Crayford answered. "He told me
that such cases as Clara's were
by no means unfamiliar to medical
practice. 'We know,' he told
me, 'that certain disordered
conditions of the brain and the
nervous system produce results
quite as extraordinary as any
that you have described--and
there our knowledge ends. Neither
my science nor any man's science
can clear up the mystery in this
case. It is an especially difficult
case to deal with, because Miss
Burnham's early associations
dispose her to attach a superstitious
importance to the malady--the
hysterical malady as some doctors
would call it--from which she
suffers. I can give you instructions
for preserving her general health;
and I can recommend you to try
some change in her life--provided
you first relieve her mind of
any secret anxieties that may
possibly be preying on it.'"
The captain smiled self-approvingly.
The doctor had justified his
anticipations. The doctor had
suggested a practical solution
of the difficulty.
"Ay! ay! At
last we have hit the nail on
the h ead! Secret
anxieties. Yes! yes! Plain enough
now. A disappointment in love--eh,
"I don't know,
Captain Helding; I am quite
in the dark. Clara's
confidence in me--in other matters
unbounded--is, in this matter
of her (supposed) anxieties,
a confidence still withheld.
In all else we are like sisters.
I sometimes fear there may indeed
be some trouble preying secretly
on her mind. I sometimes feel
a little hurt at her incomprehensible
Captain Helding was ready with
his own practical remedy for
is all she wants, ma'am. Take
my word for it, this
matter rests entirely with you.
It's all in a nutshell. Encourage
her to confide in you--and she
"I am waiting
to encourage her, captain,
until she is left
alone with me--after you have
all sailed for the Arctic seas.
In the meantime, will you consider
what I have said to you as intended
for your ear only? And will you
forgive me, if I own that the
turn the subject has taken does
not tempt me to pursue it any
The captain took the hint.
He instantly changed the subject;
choosing, on this occasion, safe
professional topics. He spoke
of ships that were ordered on
foreign service; and, finding
that these as subjects failed
to interest Mrs. Crayford, he
spoke next of ships that were
ordered home again. This last
experiment produced its effect--an
effect which the captain had
not bargained for.
"Do you know," he began, "that
the _Atalanta_ is expected back
from the West Coast of Africa
every day? Have you any acquaintances
among the officers of that ship?"
As it so happened, he put those
questions to Mrs. Crayford while
they were engaged in one of the
figures of the dance which brought
them within hearing of the opposite
couple. At the same moment--to
the astonishment of her friends
and admirers--Miss Clara Burnham
threw the quadrille into confusion
by making a mistake! Everybody
waited to see her set the mistake
right. She made no attempt to
set it right--she turned deadly
pale and caught her partner by
"The heat!" she said, faintly. "Take
me away--take me into the air!"
Lieutenant Crayford instantly
led her out of the dance, and
took her into the cool and empty
conservatory, at the end of the
room. As a matter of course,
Captain Helding and Mrs. Crayford
left the quadrille at the same
time. The captain saw his way
to a joke.
"Is this the trance coming
on?" he whispered. "If it is,
as commander of the Arctic expedition,
I have a particular request to
make. Will the Second Sight oblige
me by seeing the shortest way
to the Northwest Passage, before
we leave England?"
declined to humor the joke. "If you will excuse
my leaving you," she said quietly, "I
will try and find out what is
the matter with Miss Burnham."
At the entrance to the conservatory,
Mrs. Crayford encountered her
husband. The lieutenant was of
middle age, tall and comely.
A man with a winning simplicity
and gentleness in his manner,
and an irresistible kindness
in his brave blue eyes. In one
word, a man whom everybody loved--including
"Don't be alarmed," said the
lieutenant. "The heat has overcome
Mrs. Crayford shook her head,
and looked at her husband, half
satirically, half fondly.
"You dear old innocent!" she
exclaimed, "that excuse may do
for _you_. For my part, I don't
believe a word of it. Go and
get another partner, and leave
Clara to me."
She entered the conservatory
and seated herself by Clara's