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.





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