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The Man with Two Shadows


{from The Shadow of a Shade, Tom Hood, 1869)


My sister Lettie had lived with me ever since I got married. She is my wife's best friend and my children all love her, but her face is always sad. Many men have asked her to marry them but she has always said no, since she lost her first real love.

George Mason was my wife's cousin, a sailor. He and Lettie met at our wedding and fell in love immediately. George was a brave man, who loved the sea, and I was not surprised when he decided to travel to the Arctic on a ship called the Pioneer. Lettie was afraid when he told her, but she could not stop him. I knew that she was worried because, for the first time in her life, she began to look sad sometimes.

My younger brother Harry liked painting, so he decided to paint a picture of George before he left. It was quite a good picture. I thought the face was too white but Lettie was very pleased with it and she put it on the wall in our sitting-room.

Before the ship sailed, George met the ship's doctor, a Scotsman called Vincent Grieve. He brought him to dinner with us and I disliked him immediately. He was a tall, thin man with fair hair and cold, grey eyes. His face looked hard and I felt sure that he was not honest. He sat too close to Lettie and seemed more like her lover than George. At first George did not notice, but Lettie did and she was unhappy about it. The strangest thing was when he saw the picture of George on the wall. He sat down opposite it, but stood up as soon as he saw it. 'I'm sorry,' he said, 'but I cannot look at that picture.'

'Well, I know it's not very good ...' I began.

'It's not that it's either good or bad. I know nothing about painting,' he said. 'It's the eyes ... they seem to follow me everywhere.'

I thought that perhaps he just wanted to move closer to Lettie, but when I saw his face, he looked really quite frightened.

At the end of the evening I quietly asked George about Vincent Grieve. 'Do you want to bring him to dinner again?' I whispered.

'No,' he answered. 'He's a good friend on the ship, but I don't like the way he is with ladies.'

We were all surprised when Vincent came again the next day. He brought a note for Lettie from George and after that he came almost every day. George was busier than him and did not have so much time to see Lettie. On the last day before the ship sailed, Vincent said to Lettie, 'If anything happens to George, I wiU still love you and you can marry me.'

Lettie was very angry and told him to leave the house at once. She did not tell George about it because she wanted him to leave happily. The time came for George and Lettie to say goodbye and, when he left, Lettie cried for hours. I went in and put my arm around her. As I looked up, I noticed the picture of George on the wall. The face looked very, very white and I thought there was water on it. Perhaps it's just the light, I thought to myself and tried to forget about it.

The Pioneer sailed. George sent two letters, and then a year passed before we heard anything. We once read about the ship in the newspaper, but that was all. Spring-time came, and one beautiful warm evening we were all at home. The children were playing outside and Harry was watching them from the window. Suddenly the room felt very cold. Lettie looked up. 'How strange,' she said. 'Do you feel how cold it is?'

'Just like the weather in the Arctic,' I said. As I spoke, I looked at the picture on the wall and what I saw made me terribly afraid. His face suddenly looked like a dead man's, with no eyes. Without thinking, I said 'Poor George.'

'What do you mean?' asked Lettie, looking frightened. 'Have you heard something about George?'

'No, no,' I said quickly. 'I was just thinking about the cold weather where he is.'

At this moment, Harry put his head back into the room. 'Cold?' he said. 'Who's cold?'

'Did you not feel cold just then?' asked Lettie. 'We both


'Not at all,' he said happily. 'How can you feel cold on a beautiful spring evening like this?'

I followed him out of the room. 'Harry,' I said, 'what's the date today?'

'It's Tuesday, February the 23rd. Look, here's the newspaper.'

I told him about the change in the picture and the cold feeling and asked him to write it down. I was sure that George was in some kind of trouble and I wanted to remember everything about that evening.

Later Lettie went to bed with a terrible cold and was ill all through the night. My wife was angry with me for sitting with the windows open and making my sister ill.

Early the next morning there was a knock at the door. It was Harry, looking white and frightened. I knew immediately why he was there.

'Have you seen the newspaper?' he asked.

On the front page was the news that George was dead. One sentence from the newspaper stayed in my mind: 'Lieutenant George Mason was out shooting with the ship's doctor, Vincent Grieve, when he died.'

When I told my wife about George, she began to cry. 'How can we tell poor Lettie?' she said.

'Ssssshh,' said Harry, but it was too late. Lettie was at the door and we had to tell her everything. She fell to the floor, her face as white as paper. We called the doctor immediately, but she was ill for many months.

About two months later, I read about the arrival of the Pioneer, George's ship, in Britain. I did not tell Lettie about it as she was only just getting better. A day or two after this there was a knock at the door and, as I got up to open it, I noticed George's picture once again. This time, to my surprise, he held one finger up and seemed to be warning me. I looked harder at George's face and was almost sure that I could see blood on it. I walked closer and saw that the warning finger was really a small moth, sitting on the picture. I picked up the sleepy moth and put it under a wineglass. As I did this, the servant came in and said, Dr Vincent Grieve is here to see you, sir.'

As the doctor came in, I saw his face turn white. 'Please, cover that picture of George,' he said. 'It is even harder for me to look at it now that he is dead.'

I covered the picture and Grieve sat down. He looked very thin and white and, again, I felt a strong dislike for him. I asked him about the day George died and he told me the story.

'We were out shooting on the ice,' he said. 'It was not easy to walk. Suddenly, George fell. I tried to catch him ... I threw my coat for him ... I wanted to pull him up, but it was impossible. He fell into the ice-cold sea and slowly his head went under. His last words were "Say goodbye to her".'

As he finished his story, Grieve looked up. He screamed loudly and jumped up, pointing behind me. I looked round. The picture was uncovered again and George's white face looked down on us. I covered it again and Grieve seemed to feel better.

'I'm so sorry,' he said,'I've been ill.' He stood up.'I'm sorry,' he said again. Then he noticed the little white moth, which was still under the wineglass. 'Has someone else from the Pioneer been here?' he asked.

'No,' I answered. 'You are the first.'

'Then how did this moth get here? It only lives in the Arctic. That's very strange .. .Well, look after it. It's very unusual.'

He left a few minutes later and Harry and I watched him walk down the street. 'There's something I don't like about that man,' I said.

You're right,' Harry said. 'Do you know he has two shadows? There's someone or something always standing at his side. That explains why he's always so frightened.'

We decided not to tell Lettie about his visit.

Two days later, I arrived home and found my sister very angry. Grieve came here today and asked me to marry him. He said that George wanted it. I couldn't believe it. We were in the sitting-room and he was standing by the wall. As he was speaking, there was a sound of something breaking, and George's picture fell on his head and cut it open. We had to carry him upstairs and call the doctor.'

I went angrily upstairs but, when I saw Grieve, it was clear that he could understand nothing. We could not move him and a nurse came to stay with him during the night. At about midnight, the nurse felt something was wrong in the room. She saw his two shadows on the wall and, frightened, went to get Lettie to sit with her. As soon as my sister came into the room, Grieve sat up and started to talk. 'I could not stop myself/ he said. 'I hit you with my gun because I loved her and now she'll never forgive me. I murdered you, George, because I loved her. Don't you see? Can't you understand? Please, please leave me alone.'As he shouted the last words, he got out of bed and walked backwards slowly, all the time looking at something following him, his eyes wide and afraid. He came to the window and suddenly seemed to decide something. Very quickly, he turned round, and Lettie could not stop him. Two days later, the police found his body in the river.

Now the picture of George is always covered. It has not changed again. Only Lettie s face has changed - she never laughs or smiles now.

Date: 2015-04-20; view: 691

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