The Altar of the Dead HTML version

Chapter 4
Every year, the day he walked back from the great graveyard, he went to church
as he had done the day his idea was born. It was on this occasion, as it
happened, after a year had passed, that he began to observe his altar to be
haunted by a worshipper at least as frequent as himself. Others of the faithful,
and in the rest of the church, came and went, appealing sometimes, when they
disappeared, to a vague or to a particular recognition; but this unfailing presence
was always to be observed when he arrived and still in possession when he
departed. He was surprised, the first time, at the promptitude with which it
assumed an identity for him- -the identity of the lady whom two years before, on
his anniversary, he had seen so intensely bowed, and of whose tragic face he
had had so flitting a vision. Given the time that had passed, his recollection of her
was fresh enough to make him wonder. Of himself she had of course no
impression, or rather had had none at first: the time came when her manner of
transacting her business suggested her having gradually guessed his call to be
of the same order. She used his altar for her own purpose--he could only hope
that sad and solitary as she always struck him, she used it for her own Dead.
There were interruptions, infidelities, all on his part, calls to other associations
and duties; but as the months went on he found her whenever he returned, and
he ended by taking pleasure in the thought that he had given her almost the
contentment he had given himself. They worshipped side by side so often that
there were moments when he wished he might be sure, so straight did their
prospect stretch away of growing old together in their rites. She was younger
than he, but she looked as if her Dead were at least as numerous as his candles.
She had no colour, no sound, no fault, and another of the things about which he
had made up his mind was that she had no fortune. Always black-robed, she
must have had a succession of sorrows. People weren't poor, after all, whom so
many losses could overtake; they were positively rich when they had had so
much to give up. But the air of this devoted and indifferent woman, who always
made, in any attitude, a beautiful accidental line, conveyed somehow to
Stransom that she had known more kinds of trouble than one.
He had a great love of music and little time for the joy of it; but occasionally,
when workaday noises were muffled by Saturday afternoons, it used to come
back to him that there were glories. There were moreover friends who reminded
him of this and side by side with whom he found himself sitting out concerts. On
one of these winter afternoons, in St. James's Hall, he became aware after he
had seated himself that the lady he had so often seen at church was in the place
next him and was evidently alone, as he also this time happened to be. She was
at first too absorbed in the consideration of the programme to heed him, but
when she at last glanced at him he took advantage of the movement to speak to
her, greeting her with the remark that he felt as if he already knew her. She
smiled as she said "Oh yes, I recognise you"; yet in spite of this admission of
long acquaintance it was the first he had seen of her smile. The effect of it was
suddenly to contribute more to that acquaintance than all the previous meetings