The Vampire Maid

by Hume Nisbet

It was the exact kind of abode that I had been looking after for

weeks, for I was in that condition of mind when absolute renunciation

of society was a necessity. I had become diffident of myself, and

wearied of my kind. A strange unrest was in my blood; a barren dearth

in my brains. Familiar objects and faces had grown distasteful to me.

I wanted to be alone.

 

This is the mood which comes upon every sensitive and artistic mind

when the possessor has been overworked or living too long in one

groove. It is Nature's hint for him to seek pastures new; the sign

that a retreat has become needful.

 

If he does not yield, he breaks down and becomes whimsical and

hypochondriacal, as well as hypercritical. It is always a bad sign

when a man becomes over-critical and censorious about his own or other

people's work, for it means that he is losing the vital portions of

work, freshness and enthusiasm.

 

Before I arrived at the dismal stage of criticism I hastily packed up

my knapsack, and taking the train to Westmorland, I began my tramp in

search of solitude, bracing air and romantic surroundings.

 

Many places I came upon during that early summer wandering that

appeared to have almost the required conditions, yet some petty

drawback prevented me from deciding. Sometimes it was the scenery that

I did not take kindly to. At other places I took sudden antipathies to

the landlady or landlord, and felt I would abhor them before a week

was spent under their charge. Other places which might have suited me

I could not have, as they did not want a lodger. Fate was driving me

to this Cottage on the Moor, and no one can resist destiny.

 

One day I found myself on a wide and pathless moor near the sea. I had

slept the night before at a small hamlet, but that was already eight

miles in my rear, and since I had turned my back upon it I had not

seen any signs of humanity; I was alone with a fair sky above me, a

balmy ozone-filled wind blowing over the stony and heather-clad

mounds, and nothing to disturb my meditations.

 

How far the moor stretched I had no knowledge; I only knew that by

keeping in a straight line I would come to the ocean cliffs, then

perhaps after a time arrive at some fishing village.

 

I had provisions in my knapsack, and being young did not fear a night

under the stars. I was inhaling the delicious summer air and once more

getting back the vigour and happiness I had lost; my city-dried brains

were again becoming juicy.

 

Thus hour after hour slid past me, with the paces, until I had covered

about fifteen miles since morning, when I saw before me in the

distance a solitary stone-built cottage with roughly slated roof.

'I'll camp there if possible,' I said to myself as I quickened my

steps towards it.

 

To one in search of a quiet, free life, nothing could have possibly

been more suitable than this cottage. It stood on the edge of lofty

cliffs, with its front door facing the moor and the back-yard wall

overlooking the ocean. The sound of the dancing waves struck upon my

ears like a lullaby as I drew near; how they would thunder when the

autumn gales came on and the seabirds fled shrieking to the shelter of

the sedges.

 

A small garden spread in front, surrounded by a dry-stone wall just

high enough for one to lean lazily upon when inclined. This garden was

a flame of colour, scarlet predominating, with those other soft shades

that cultivated poppies take on in their blooming, for this was all

that the garden grew.

 

As I approached, taking notice of this singular assortment of poppies,

and the orderly cleanness of the windows, the front door opened and a

woman appeared who impressed me at once favourably as she leisurely

came along the pathway to the gate, and drew it back as if to welcome

me.

 

She was of middle age, and when young must have been remarkably good-

looking. She was tall and still shapely, with smooth clear skin,

regular features and a calm expression that at once gave me a

sensation of rest.

 

To my inquiries she said that she could give me both a sitting and

bedroom, and invited me inside to see them. As I looked at her smooth

black hair, and cool brown eyes, I felt that I would not be too

particular about the accomodation. With such a landlady, I was sure to

find what I was after here.

 

The rooms surpassed my expectation, dainty white curtains and bedding

with the perfume of lavender about them, a sitting-room homely yet

cosy without being crowded. With a sigh of infinite relief I flung

down my knapsack and clinched the bargain.

 

She was a widow with one daughter, whom I did not see the first day,

as she was unwell and confined to her own room, but on the next day

she was somewhat better, and then we met.

 

The fare was simple, yet it suited me exactly for the time, delicious

milk and butter with home-made scones, fresh eggs and bacon; after a

hearty tea I went early to bed in a condition of perfect content with

my quarters.

 

Yet happy and tired out as I was I had by no means a comfortable

night. This I put down to the strange bed. I slept certainly, but my

sleep was filled with dreams so that I woke late and unrefreshed; a

good walk on the moor, however, restored me, and I returned with a

fine appetite for breakfast.

 

Certain conditions of mind, with aggravating circumstances, are

required before even a young man can fall in love at first sight, as

Shakespeare has shown in his Romeo and Juliet. In the city, where many

fair faces passed me every hour, I had remained like a stoic, yet no

sooner did I enter the cottage after that morning walk than I

succumbed instantly before the weird charms of my landlady's daughter,

Ariadne Brunnell.

 

She was somewhat better this morning and able to meet me at breakfast,

for we had our meals together while I was their lodger. Ariadne was

not beautiful in the strictly classical sense, her complexion being

too lividly white and her expression too set to be quite pleasant at

first sight; yet, as her mother had informed me, she had been ill for

some time, which accounted for that defect. Her features were not

regular, her hair and eyes seemed too black with that strangely white

skin, and her lips too red for any except the decadent harmonies of an

Aubrey Beardsley.

 

Yet my fantastic dreams of the preceding night, with my morning walk,

had prepared me to be enthralled by this modern poster-like invalid.

 

The loneliness of the moor, with the singing of the ocean, had gripped

my heart with a wistful longing. The incongruity of those flaunting

and evanescent poppy flowers, dashing the giddy tints in the face of

that sober heath, touched me with a shiver as I approached the

cottage, and lastly that weird embodiment of startling contrasts

completed my subjugation.

 

She rose from her chair as her mother introduced her, and smiled while

she held out her hand. I clasped that soft snowflake, and as I did so

a faint thrill tingled over me and rested on my heart, stopping for

the moment its beating.

 

This contact seemed also to have affected her as it did me; a clear

flush, like a white flame, lighted up her face, so that it glowed as

if an alabaster lamp had been lit; her black eyes became softer and

more humid as our glances crossed, and her scarlet lips grew moist.

She was a living woman now, while before she had seemed half a corpse.

 

She permitted her white slender hand to remain in mine longer than

most people do at an introduction, and then she slowly withdrew it,

still regarding me with steadfast eyes for a second or two afterwards.

 

Fathomless velvety eyes these were, yet before they were shifted from

mine they appeared to have absorbed all my willpower and made me her

abject slave. They looked like deep dark pools of clear water, yet

they filled me with fire and deprived me of strength. I sank into my

chair almost as languidly as I had risen from my bed that morning.

 

Yet I made a good breakfast, and although she hardly tasted anything,

this strange girl rose much refreshed and with a slight glow of colour

on her cheeks, which improved her so greatly that she appeared younger

and almost beautiful.

 

I had come here seeking solitude, but since I had seen Ariadne it

seemed as if I had come for her only. She was not very lively; indeed,

thinking back, I cannot recall any spontaneous remark of hers; she

answered my questions by monosyllables and left me to lead in words;

yet she was insinuating and appeared to lead my thoughts in her

direction and speak to me with her eyes. I cannot describe her

minutely, I only know that from the first glance and touch she gave me

I was bewitched and could think of nothing else.

 

It was a rapid, distracting, and devouring infatuation that possessed

me; all day long I followed her about like a dog, every night I

dreamed of that white glowing face, those steadfast black eyes, those

moist scarlet lips, and each morning I rose more languid than I had

been the day before. Sometimes I dreamt that she was kissing me with

those red lips, while I shivered at the contact of her silky black

tresses as they covered my throat; sometimes that we were floating in

the air, her arms about me and her long hair enveloping us both like

an inky cloud, while I lay supine and helpless.

 

She went with me after breakfast on that first day to the moor, and

before we came back I had spoken my love and received her assent. I

held her in my arms and had taken her kisses in answer to mine, nor

did I think it strange that all this had happened so quickly. She was

mine, or rather I was hers, without a pause. I told her it was fate

that had sent me to her, for I had no doubts about my love, and she

replied that I had restored her to life.

 

Acting upon Ariadne's advice, and also from a natural shyness, I did

not inform her mother how quickly matters had progressed between us,

yet although we both acted as circumspectly as possible, I had no

doubt Mrs Brunnell could see how engrossed we were in each other.

Lovers are not unlike ostriches in their modes of concealment. I was

not afraid of asking Mrs Brunnell for her daughter, for she already

showed her partiality towards me, and had bestowed upon me some

confidences regarding her own position in life, and I therefore knew

that, so far as social position was concerned, there could be no real

objection to our marriage. They lived in this lonely spot for the sake

of their health, and kept no servant because they could not get any to

take service so far away from other humanity. My coming had been

opportune and welcome to both mother and daughter.

 

For the sake of decorum, however, I resolved to delay my confession

for a week or two and trust to some favourable opportunity of doing it

discreetly.

 

Meantime Ariadne and I passed our time in a thoroughly idle and lotus-

eating style. Each night I retired to bed meditating starting work

next day, each morning I rose languid from those disturbing dreams

with no thought for anything outside my love. She grew stronger every

day, while I appeared to be taking her place as the invalid, yet I was

more frantically in love than ever, and only happy when with her. She

was my lone-star, my only joy--my life.

 

We did not go great distances, for I liked best to lie on the dry

heath and watch her glowing face and intsense eyes while I listened to

the surging of the distant waves. It was love made me lazy, I thought,

for unless a man has all he longs for beside him, he is apt to copy

the domestic cat and bask in the sunshine.

 

I had been enchanted quickly. My disenchantment came as rapidly,

although it was long before the poison left my blood.

 

One night, about a couple of weeks after my coming to the cottage, I

had returned after a delicious moonlight walk with Ariadne. The night

was warm and the moon at the full, therefore I left my bedroom window

open to let in what little air there was.

 

I was more than usually fagged out, so that I had only strength enough

to remove my boots and coat before I flung myself wearily on the

coverlet and fell almost instantly asleep without tasting the nightcap

draught that was constantly placed on the table, and which I had

always drained thirstily.

 

I had a ghastly dream this night. I thought I saw a monster bat, with

the face and tresses of Ariadne, fly into the open window and fasten

its white teeth and scarlet lips on my arm. I tried to beat the horror

away, but could not, for I seemed chained down and thralled also with

drowsy delight as the beast sucked my blood with a gruesome rapture.

 

I looked out dreamily and saw a line of dead bodies of young men lying

on the floor, each with a red mark on their arms, on the same part

where the vampire was then sucking me, and I remembered having seen

and wondered at such a mark on my own arm for the past fortnight. In a

flash I understood the reason for my strange weakness, and at the same

moment a sudden prick of pain roused me from my dreamy pleasure.

 

The vampire in her eagerness had bitten a little too deeply that

night, unaware that I had not tasted the drugged draught. As I woke I

saw her fully revealed by the midnight moon, with her black tresses

flowing loosely, and with her red lips glued to my arm. With a shriek

of horror I dashed her backwards, getting one last glimpse of her

savage eyes, glowing white face and blood-stained red lips; then I

rushed out to the night, moved on by my fear and hatred, nor did I

pause in my mad flight until I had left miles between me and that

accursed Cottage on the Moor.