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The Lady And The Ghost






BY ROSE CECIL O'NEILL


It was some moments before the Lady became rationally convinced that
there was something occurring in the corner of the room, and then the
actual nature of the thing was still far from clear.

"To put it as mildly as possible," she murmured, "the thing verges upon
the uncanny"; and, leaning forward upon her silken knees, she attended
upon the phenomenon.

At first it had seemed like some faint and unexplained atmospheric
derangement, occasioned, apparently, neither by an opened window nor by
a door. Some papers fluttered to the floor, the fringes of the hangings
softly waved, and, indeed, it would still have been easy to dismiss the
matter as the effect of a vagrant draft had not the state of things
suddenly grown unmistakably unusual. All the air of the room, it then
appeared, rushed even with violence to the point and there underwent
what impressed her as an aerial convulsion, in the very midst and
well-spring of which, so great was the confusion, there seemed to appear
at intervals almost the semblance of a shape.

The silence of the room was disturbed by a book that flew open with
fluttering leaves, the noise of a vase of violets blown over, from which
the perfumed water dripped to the floor, and soft touchings all around
as of a breeze passing through a chamber full of trifles.

The ringlets of the Lady's hair were swept forward toward the corner
upon which her gaze was fixed, and in which the conditions had now grown
so tense with imminent occurrence and so rent with some inconceivable
throe that she involuntarily rose, and, stepping forward against the
pressure of her petticoats which were blown about her ankles, she
impatiently thrust her hand into the----

She was immediately aware that another hand had received it, though with
a far from substantial envelopment, and for another moment what she saw
before her trembled between something and nothing. Then from the
precarious situation there slowly emerged into dubious view the shape of
a young man dressed in evening clothes over which was flung a mantle of
voluminous folds such as is worn by ghosts of fashion.

"The very deuce was in it!" he complained; "I thought I should never
materialize."

She flung herself into her chair, confounded; yet, even in the shock of
the emergency, true to herself, she did not fail to smooth her ruffled
locks.

Her visitor had been scanning his person in a dissatisfied way, and with
some vexation he now ejaculated: "Beg your pardon, my dear, but are my
feet on the floor, or where in thunder are they?"

It was with a tone of reassurance that she confessed that his
patent-leathers were the trivial matter of two or three inches from the
rug. Whereupon, with still another effort, he brought himself down until
his feet rested decently upon the floor. It was only when he walked
about to examine the bric-a-brac that a suspicious lightness was
discernible in his tread.

When he had composed himself by the survey, effecting it with an air of
great insouciance, which, however, failed to conceal the fact that his
heart was beating somewhat wildly, he approached the Lady.

"Well, here we are again, my love!" he cried, and devoured her hands
with ghostly kisses. "It seems an eternity that I've been struggling
back to you through the outer void and what-not. Sometimes, I confess I
all but despaired. Life is not, I assure you, all beer and skittles for
the disembodied."

He drew a long breath, and his gaze upon her and the entire chamber
seemed to envelop all and cherish it.

"Little room, little room! And so you are thus! Do you know," he
continued, with vivacity, "I have wondered about it in the grave, and I
could hardly sleep for this place unpenetrated. Heigho! What a lot of
things we leave undone! I dashed this off at the time, the literary
passion strong in me, thus:

"Now, when all is done, and I lie so low,
I cannot sleep for this, my only care;
For though of that dim place I could not know;
That where my heart was fain I did not go,
Nor saw you musing there!

"Well, well, these things irk a ghost so. Naturally, as soon as possible
I made my way back--to be satisfied--to be satisfied that you were still
mine." He bent a piercing look upon her.

"I observe by the calendar on your writing-table that some years have
elapsed since my----um----since I expired," he added, with a faint
blush. It appears that the matter of their dissolution is, in
conversation, rather kept in the background by well-bred ghosts.

"Heigho! How time does fly! You'll be joining me soon, my dear."

She drew herself splendidly up, and he was aware of her beauty in the
full of its tenacious excellence--of the delicate insolence of Life
looking upon Death--of the fact that she had forgotten him.

He rose, and confronted this, his trembling hands thrust into his
pockets, then turned away to hide the dismay of his countenance. He was,
however, a spook of considerable spirit, and in a jiffy he met the
occasion. To her blank, indignant gaze he drew a card from his case,
and, taking a pencil from the secretary, wrote, beneath the name:

Quiet to the breast
Wheresoe'er it be,
That gave an hour's rest
To the heart of me.
Quiet to the breast
Till it lieth dead,
And the heart be clay
Where I visited.
Quiet to the breast,
Though forgetting quite
The guest it sheltered once;
To the heart, good night!

Handing her the card he bowed, and, through force of habit, turned to
the door, forgetting that his ghostly pressure would not turn the knob.

As the door did not open, with a sigh of recollection for his spiritual
condition, he prepared to disappear, casting one last look at the
faithless Lady. She was still looking at the card in her hand, and the
tears ran down her face.

"She has remembered," he reflected; "how courteous!" For a moment it
seemed he could contain his disappointment, discreetly removing himself
now at what he felt was the vanishing-point, with the customary
reticence of the dead, but feeling overcame him. In an instant he had
her in his arms, and was pouring out his love, his reproaches, the story
of his longing, his doubts, his discontent, and his desperate journey
back to earth for a sight of her. "And, ah!" cried he, "picture my agony
at finding that you had forgotten. And yet I surmised it in the gloom.
I divined it by my restlessness and my despair. Perhaps some lines that
occurred to me will suggest the thing to you--you recall my old knack
for versification?

"Where the grasses weep
O'er his darkling bed,
And the glow-worms creep,
Lies the weary head
Of one laid deep, who cannot sleep:
The unremembered dead."

He took a chair beside her, and spoke of their old love for each other,
of his fealty through all transmutations; incidentally of her beauty, of
her cruelty, of the light of her face which had illumined his darksome
way to her--and of a lot of other things--and the Lady bowed her head,
and wept.

The hours of the night passed thus: the moon waned, and a pallor began
to tinge the dusky cheek of the east, but the eloquence of the visitor
still flowed on, and the Lady had his misty hands clasped to her
reawakened bosom. At last a suspicion of rosiness touched the curtain.
He abruptly rose.

"I cannot hold out against the morning," he said; "it is time all good
ghosts were in bed."

But she threw herself on her knees before him, clasping his ethereal
waist with a despairing embrace.

"Oh, do not leave me," she cried, "or my love will kill me!"

He bent eagerly above her. "Say it again--convince me!"

"I love you," she cried, again and again and again, with such an anguish
of sincerity as would convince the most skeptical spook that ever
revisited the glimpses of the moon.

"You will forget again," he said.

"I shall never forget!" she cried. "My life will henceforth be one
continual remembrance of you, one long act of devotion to your memory,
one oblation, one unceasing penitence, one agony of waiting!"

He lifted her face, and saw that it was true.

"Well," said he, gracefully wrapping his cloak about him, "well, now I
shall have a little peace."

He kissed her, with a certain jaunty grace, upon her hair, and prepared
to dissolve, while he lightly tapped a tattoo upon his leg with the
dove-colored gloves he carried.

"Good-by, my dear!" he said; "henceforth I shall sleep o' nights; my
heart is quite at rest."

"But mine is breaking," she wailed, madly trying once more to clasp his
vanishing form.

He threw her a kiss from his misty finger-tips, and all that remained
with her, besides her broken heart, was a faint disturbance of the air.





Next: In The Blackfriars Wynd

Previous: A Shady Plot



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