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The Shape of Fear
Elia W Peattie



THE SHAPE OF FEAR
And Other Ghostly Tales
BY
ELIA WILKINSON PEATTIE




CONTENTS

THE SHAPE OF FEAR
ON THE NORTHERN ICE
THEIR DEAR LITTLE GHOST
A SPECTRAL COLLIE
THE HOUSE THAT WAS NOT
STORY OF AN OBSTINATE CORPSE
A CHILD OF THE RAIN
THE ROOM OF THE EVIL THOUGHT
STORY OF THE VANISHING PATIENT
THE PIANO NEXT DOOR
AN ASTRAL ONION
FROM THE LOOM OF THE DEAD
A GRAMMATICAL GHOST



THE SHAPE OF FEAR

TIM O'CONNOR--who was de-scended from the O'Conors with one N--
started life as a poet and an enthusiast. His mother had designed him
for the priesthood, and at the age of fifteen, most of his verses had an
ecclesiastical tinge, but, somehow or other, he got into the newspaper
business instead, and became a pessimistic gentleman, with a literary
style of great beauty and an income of modest proportions. He fell in
with men who talked of art for art's sake,--though what right they had
to speak of art at all nobody knew,--and little by little his view of
life and love became more or less pro-fane. He met a woman who sucked
his heart's blood, and he knew it and made no protest; nay, to the great
amusement of the fellows who talked of art for art's sake, he went the
length of marrying her. He could not in decency explain that he had the
tra-ditions of fine gentlemen behind him and so had to do as he did,
because his friends might not have understood. He laughed at the days
when he had thought of the priest-hood, blushed when he ran across any
of those tender and exquisite old verses he had written in his youth,
and became addicted to absinthe and other less peculiar drinks, and to
gaming a little to escape a madness of ennui.

As the years went by he avoided, with more and more scorn, that part of
the world which he denominated Philistine, and con-sorted only with the
fellows who flocked about Jim O'Malley's saloon. He was pleased with
solitude, or with these convivial wits, and with not very much else
beside. Jim O'Malley was a sort of Irish poem, set to inspiring measure.
He was, in fact, a Hibernian Maecenas, who knew better than to put
bad whiskey before a man of talent, or tell a trite tale in the presence
of a wit. The recountal of his disquisitions on politics and other
cur-rent matters had enabled no less than three men to acquire national
reputations; and a number of wretches, having gone the way of men who
talk of art for art's sake, and dying in foreign lands, or hospitals, or
asylums, having no one else to be homesick for, had been homesick for
Jim O'Malley, and wept for the sound of his voice and the grasp of his
hearty hand.

When Tim O'Connor turned his back upon most of the things he was born to
and took up with the life which he consistently lived till the
unspeakable end, he was unable to get rid of certain peculiarities. For
example, in spite of all his debauchery, he continued to look like the
Beloved Apostle. Notwith-standing abject friendships he wrote limpid and
noble English. Purity seemed to dog his heels, no matter how violently
he attempted to escape from her. He was never so drunk that he was not
an exquisite, and even his creditors, who had become inured to his
deceptions, confessed it was a privilege to meet so perfect a gentleman.
The creature who held him in bondage, body and soul, actually came to
love him for his gentleness, and for some quality which baffled her, and
made her ache with a strange longing which she could not define. Not
that she ever de-fined anything, poor little beast! She had skin the
color of pale gold, and yellow eyes with brown lights in them, and great
plaits of straw-colored hair. About her lips was a fatal and sensuous
smile, which, when it got hold of a man's imagination, would not let it
go, but held to it, and mocked it till the day of his death. She was the
incarnation of the Eternal Feminine, with all the wifeli-ness and the
maternity left out--she was ancient, yet ever young, and familiar as
joy or tears or sin.

She took good care of Tim in some ways: fed him well, nursed him back to
reason after a period of hard drinking, saw that he put on overshoes
when the walks were wet, and looked after his money. She even prized his
brain, for she discovered that it was a delicate little machine which
produced gold. By association with him and his friends, she learned that
a number of apparently useless things had value in the eyes of certain
con-venient fools, and so she treasured the auto-graphs of distinguished
persons who wrote to him--autographs which he disdainfully tossed in
the waste basket. She was careful with presentation copies from authors,
and she went the length of urging Tim to write a book himself. But at
that he balked.

"Write a book!" he cried to her, his gentle face suddenly white with
passion. "Who am I to commit such a profanation?"

She didn't know what he meant, but she had a theory that it was
dangerous to excite him, and so she sat up till midnight to cook a chop
for him when he came home that night.

He preferred to have her sitting up for him, and he wanted every
electric light in their apartments turned to the full. If, by any
chance, they returned together to a dark house, he would not enter till
she touched the button in the hall, and illuminated the room. Or if it
so happened that the lights were turned off in the night time, and he
awoke to find himself in darkness, he shrieked till the woman came
running to his relief, and, with derisive laughter, turned them on
again. But when she found that after these frights he lay trembling and
white in his bed, she began to be alarmed for the clever, gold-making
little machine, and to renew her assiduities, and to horde more
tenaciously than ever, those valu-able curios on which she some day
expected to realize when he was out of the way, and no longer in a
position to object to their barter.

O'Connor's idiosyncrasy of fear was a source of much amusement among the
boys at the office where he worked. They made open sport of it, and yet,
recognizing him for a sensitive plant, and granting that genius was
entitled to whimsicalities, it was their custom when they called for him
after work hours, to permit him to reach the lighted cor-ridor before
they turned out the gas over his desk. This, they reasoned, was but a
slight service to perform for the most enchanting beggar in the world.

"Dear fellow," said Rick Dodson, who loved him, "is it the Devil you
expect to see? And if so, why are you averse? Surely the Devil is not
such a bad old chap."

"You haven't found him so?"

"Tim, by heaven, you know, you ought to explain to me. A citizen of the
world and a student of its purlieus, like myself, ought to know what
there is to know! Now you're a man of sense, in spite of a few bad
habits--such as myself, for example. Is this fad of yours madness?--
which would be quite to your credit,--for gadzooks, I like a lunatic!
Or is it the complaint of a man who has gath-ered too much data on the
subject of Old Rye? Or is it, as I suspect, something more occult, and
therefore more interesting?"

"Rick, boy," said Tim, "you're too--in-quiring!" And he turned to his
desk with a look of delicate hauteur.

It was the very next night that these two tippling pessimists spent
together talking about certain disgruntled but immortal gentlemen, who,
having said their say and made the world quite uncomfortable, had now
journeyed on to inquire into the nothingness which they postulated. The
dawn was breaking in the muggy east; the bottles were empty, the cigars
burnt out. Tim turned toward his friend with a sharp breaking of
sociable silence.

"Rick," he said, "do you know that Fear has a Shape?"

"And so has my nose!"

"You asked me the other night what I feared. Holy father, I make my
confession to you. What I fear is Fear."

"That's because you've drunk too much--or not enough.

"'Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your winter garment of repentance fling--'"

"My costume then would be too nebulous for this weather, dear boy. But
it's true what I was saying. I am afraid of ghosts."

"For an agnostic that seems a bit--"

"Agnostic! Yes, so completely an agnostic that I do not even know that I
do not know! God, man, do you mean you have no ghosts--no--no things
which shape themselves? Why, there are things I have done--"

"Don't think of them, my boy! See, 'night's candles are burnt out, and
jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain top.'"

Tim looked about him with a sickly smile. He looked behind him and there
was nothing there; stared at the blank window, where the smoky dawn
showed its offensive face, and there was nothing there. He pushed away
the moist hair from his haggard face--that face which would look like
the blessed St. John, and leaned heavily back in his chair.

"'Yon light is not daylight, I know it, I,'" he murmured drowsily, "'it
is some meteor which the sun exhales, to be to thee this night--'"

The words floated off in languid nothing-ness, and he slept. Dodson
arose preparatory to stretching himself on his couch. But first he bent
over his friend with a sense of tragic appreciation.

"Damned by the skin of his teeth!" he mut-tered. "A little more, and he
would have gone right, and the Devil would have lost a good fellow. As
it is"--he smiled with his usual conceited delight in his own sayings,
even when they were uttered in soliloquy--"he is merely one of those
splendid gentlemen one will meet with in hell." Then Dodson had a
momentary nostalgia for goodness himself, but he soon overcame it, and
stretching him-self on his sofa, he, too, slept.

That night he and O'Connor went together to hear "Faust" sung, and
returning to the office, Dodson prepared to write his criti-cism. Except
for the distant clatter of tele-graph instruments, or the peremptory
cries of "copy" from an upper room, the office was still. Dodson wrote
and smoked his inter-minable cigarettes; O' Connor rested his head in
his hands on the desk, and sat in perfect silence. He did not know when
Dodson fin-ished, or when, arising, and absent-mindedly extinguishing
the lights, he moved to the door with his copy in his hands. Dodson
gathered up the hats and coats as he passed them where they lay on a
chair, and called:

"It is done, Tim. Come, let's get out of this."

There was no answer, and he thought Tim was following, but after he had
handed his criticism to the city editor, he saw he was still alone, and
returned to the room for his friend. He advanced no further than the
doorway, for, as he stood in the dusky cor-ridor and looked within the
darkened room, he saw before his friend a Shape, white, of perfect
loveliness, divinely delicate and pure and ethereal, which seemed as the
embodi-ment of all goodness. From it came a soft radiance and a perfume
softer than the wind when "it breathes upon a bank of violets stealing
and giving odor." Staring at it, with eyes immovable, sat his friend.

It was strange that at sight of a thing so unspeakably fair, a coldness
like that which comes from the jewel-blue lips of a Muir crevasse should
have fallen upon Dodson, or that it was only by summoning all the
man-hood that was left in him, that he was able to restore light to the
room, and to rush to his friend. When he reached poor Tim he was
stone-still with paralysis. They took him home to the woman, who nursed
him out of that attack--and later on worried him into another.

When he was able to sit up and jeer at things a little again, and help
himself to the quail the woman broiled for him, Dodson, sitting beside
him, said:

"Did you call that little exhibition of yours legerdemain, Tim, you
sweep? Or are you really the Devil's bairn?"

"It was the Shape of Fear," said Tim, quite seriously.

"But it seemed mild as mother's milk."

"It was compounded of the good I might have done. It is that which I
fear."

He would explain no more. Later--many months later--he died
patiently and sweetly in the madhouse, praying for rest. The little
beast with the yellow eyes had high mass cele-brated for him, which, all
things considered, was almost as pathetic as it was amusing.

Dodson was in Vienna when he heard of it.

"Sa, sa!" cried he. "I wish it wasn't so dark in the tomb! What do you
suppose Tim is looking at?"

As for Jim O'Malley, he was with diffi-culty kept from illuminating the
grave with electricity.




ON THE NORTHERN ICE


THE winter nights up at Sault Ste. Marie are as white and luminous as
the Milky Way. The silence which rests upon the solitude appears to be
white also. Even sound has been included in Nature's arrestment, for,
indeed, save the still white frost, all things seem to be oblit-erated.
The stars have a poignant brightness, but they belong to heaven and not
to earth, and between their immeasurable height and the still ice rolls
the ebon ether in vast, liquid billows.

In such a place it is difficult to believe that the world is actually
peopled. It seems as if it might be the dark of the day after Cain
killed Abel, and as if all of humanity's re-mainder was huddled in
affright away from the awful spaciousness of Creation.

The night Ralph Hagadorn started out for Echo Bay--bent on a pleasant
duty--he laughed to himself, and said that he did not at all object to
being the only man in the world, so long as the world remained as
un-speakably beautiful as it was when he buckled on his skates and shot
away into the solitude. He was bent on reaching his best friend in time
to act as groomsman, and business had delayed him till time was at its
briefest. So he journeyed by night and journeyed alone, and when the
tang of the frost got at his blood, he felt as a spirited horse feels
when it gets free of bit and bridle. The ice was as glass, his skates
were keen, his frame fit, and his venture to his taste! So he laughed,
and cut through the air as a sharp stone cleaves the water. He could
hear the whistling of the air as he cleft it.

As he went on and on in the black stillness, he began to have fancies.
He imagined him-self enormously tall--a great Viking of the Northland,
hastening over icy fiords to his love. And that reminded him that he had
a love--though, indeed, that thought was always present with him as a
background for other thoughts. To be sure, he had not told her that she
was his love, for he had seen her only a few times, and the auspicious
occasion had not yet presented itself. She lived at Echo Bay also, and
was to be the maid of honor to his friend's bride--which was one more
reason why he skated almost as swiftly as the wind, and why, now and
then, he let out a shout of exultation.

The one cloud that crossed Hagadorn's sun of expectancy was the
knowledge that Marie Beaujeu's father had money, and that Marie lived in
a house with two stories to it, and wore otter skin about her throat and
little satin-lined mink boots on her feet when she went sledding.
Moreover, in the locket in which she treasured a bit of her dead
mother's hair, there was a black pearl as big as a pea. These things
made it difficult--perhaps im-possible--for Ralph Hagadorn to say
more than, "I love you." But that much he meant to say though he were
scourged with chagrin for his temerity.

This determination grew upon him as he swept along the ice under the
starlight. Venus made a glowing path toward the west and seemed eager to
reassure him. He was sorry he could not skim down that avenue of light
which flowed from the love-star, but he was forced to turn his back upon
it and face the black northeast.

It came to him with a shock that he was not alone. His eyelashes were
frosted and his eyeballs blurred with the cold, so at first he thought
it might be an illusion. But when he had rubbed his eyes hard, he made
sure that not very far in front of him was a long white skater in
fluttering garments who sped over the ice as fast as ever werewolf went.

He called aloud, but there was no answer. He shaped his hands and
trumpeted through them, but the silence was as before--it was
complete. So then he gave chase, setting his teeth hard and putting a
tension on his firm young muscles. But go however he would, the white
skater went faster. After a time, as he glanced at the cold gleam of the
north star, he perceived that he was being led from his direct path. For
a moment he hesitated, wondering if he would not better keep to his
road, but his weird companion seemed to draw him on irresistibly, and
finding it sweet to follow, he followed.

Of course it came to him more than once in that strange pursuit, that
the white skater was no earthly guide. Up in those latitudes men see
curious things when the hoar frost is on the earth. Hagadorn's own
father--to hark no further than that for an instance!--who lived up
there with the Lake Superior Indians, and worked in the copper mines,
had welcomed a woman at his hut one bitter night, who was gone by
morning, leaving wolf tracks on the snow! Yes, it was so, and John
Fontanelle, the half-breed, could tell you about it any day--if he
were alive. (Alack, the snow where the wolf tracks were, is melted now!)

Well, Hagadorn followed the white skater all the night, and when the ice
flushed pink at dawn, and arrows of lovely light shot up into the cold
heavens, she was gone, and Haga-dorn was at his destination. The sun
climbed arrogantly up to his place above all other things, and as
Hagadorn took off his skates and glanced carelessly lakeward, he beheld
a great wind-rift in the ice, and the waves showing blue and hungry
between white fields. Had he rushed along his intended path, watching
the stars to guide him, his glance turned upward, all his body at
magnificent momentum, he must certainly have gone into that cold grave.

How wonderful that it had been sweet to follow the white skater, and
that he followed!

His heart beat hard as he hurried to his friend's house. But he
encountered no wed-ding furore. His friend met him as men meet in houses
of mourning.

"Is this your wedding face?" cried Haga-dorn. "Why, man, starved as I
am, I look more like a bridegroom than you!"

"There's no wedding to-day!"

"No wedding! Why, you're not--"

"Marie Beaujeu died last night--"

"Marie--"

"Died last night. She had been skating in the afternoon, and she came
home chilled and wandering in her mind, as if the frost had got in it
somehow. She grew worse and worse, and all the time she talked of you."

"Of me?"

"We wondered what it meant. No one knew you were lovers."

"I didn't know it myself; more's the pity. At least, I didn't know--"

"She said you were on the ice, and that you didn't know about the big
breaking-up, and she cried to us that the wind was off shore and the
rift widening. She cried over and over again that you could come in by
the old French creek if you only knew--"

"I came in that way."

"But how did you come to do that? It's out of the path. We thought
perhaps--"

But Hagadorn broke in with his story and told him all as it had come to
pass.

That day they watched beside the maiden, who lay with tapers at her head
and at her feet, and in the little church the bride who might have been
at her wedding said prayers for her friend. They buried Marie Beaujeu in
her bridesmaid white, and Hagadorn was before the altar with her, as he
had intended from the first! Then at midnight the lovers who were to wed
whispered their vows in the gloom of the cold church, and walked
together through the snow to lay their bridal wreaths upon a grave.

Three nights later, Hagadorn skated back again to his home. They wanted
him to go by sunlight, but he had his way, and went when Venus made her
bright path on the ice.

The truth was, he had hoped for the com-panionship of the white skater.
But he did not have it. His only companion was the wind. The only voice
he heard was the bay-ing of a wolf on the north shore. The world was as
empty and as white as if God had just created it, and the sun had not
yet colored nor man defiled it.




THEIR DEAR LITTLE GHOST


THE first time one looked at Els-beth, one was not prepossessed. She was
thin and brown, her nose turned slightly upward, her toes went in just a
perceptible degree, and her hair was perfectly straight. But when one
looked longer, one perceived that she was a charming little creature.
The straight hair was as fine as silk, and hung in funny little braids
down her back; there was not a flaw in her soft brown skin, and her
mouth was tender and shapely. But her particular charm lay in a look
which she habitually had, of seeming to know curious things--such as
it is not allotted to ordinary persons to know. One felt tempted to say
to her:

"What are these beautiful things which you know, and of which others are
ignorant? What is it you see with those wise and pel-lucid eyes? Why is
it that everybody loves you?"

Elsbeth was my little godchild, and I knew her better than I knew any
other child in the world. But still I could not truthfully say that I
was familiar with her, for to me her spirit was like a fair and fragrant
road in the midst of which I might walk in peace and joy, but where I
was continually to discover something new. The last time I saw her quite
well and strong was over in the woods where she had gone with her two
little brothers and her nurse to pass the hottest weeks of summer. I
followed her, foolish old creature that I was, just to be near her, for
I needed to dwell where the sweet aroma of her life could reach me.

One morning when I came from my room, limping a little, because I am not
so young as I used to be, and the lake wind works havoc with me, my
little godchild came dancing to me singing:

"Come with me and I'll show you my places, my places, my places!"

Miriam, when she chanted by the Red Sea might have been more exultant,
but she could not have been more bewitching. Of course I knew what
"places" were, because I had once been a little girl myself, but unless
you are acquainted with the real meaning of "places," it would be
useless to try to ex-plain. Either you know "places" or you do not--
just as you understand the meaning of poetry or you do not. There are
things in the world which cannot be taught.

Elsbeth's two tiny brothers were present, and I took one by each hand
and followed her. No sooner had we got out of doors in the woods than a
sort of mystery fell upon the world and upon us. We were cautioned to
move silently, and we did so, avoiding the crunching of dry twigs.

"The fairies hate noise," whispered my little godchild, her eyes
narrowing like a cat's.

"I must get my wand first thing I do," she said in an awed undertone.
"It is useless to try to do anything without a wand."

The tiny boys were profoundly impressed, and, indeed, so was I. I felt
that at last, I should, if I behaved properly, see the fairies, which
had hitherto avoided my materialistic gaze. It was an enchanting moment,
for there appeared, just then, to be nothing commonplace about life.

There was a swale near by, and into this the little girl plunged. I
could see her red straw hat bobbing about among the tall rushes, and I
wondered if there were snakes.

"Do you think there are snakes?" I asked one of the tiny boys.

"If there are," he said with conviction, "they won't dare hurt her."

He convinced me. I feared no more. Presently Elsbeth came out of the
swale. In her hand was a brown "cattail," perfectly full and round. She
carried it as queens carry their sceptres--the beautiful queens we
dream of in our youth.

"Come," she commanded, and waved the sceptre in a fine manner. So we
followed, each tiny boy gripping my hand tight. We were all three a
trifle awed. Elsbeth led us into a dark underbrush. The branches, as
they flew back in our faces, left them wet with dew. A wee path, made by
the girl's dear feet, guided our footsteps. Perfumes of elderberry and
wild cucumber scented the air. A bird, frightened from its nest, made
frantic cries above our heads. The under-brush thickened. Presently the
gloom of the hemlocks was over us, and in the midst of the shadowy green
a tulip tree flaunted its leaves. Waves boomed and broke upon the shore
below. There was a growing dampness as we went on, treading very
lightly. A little green snake ran coquettishly from us. A fat and glossy
squirrel chattered at us from a safe height, stroking his whiskers with
a com-plaisant air.

At length we reached the "place." It was a circle of velvet grass,
bright as the first blades of spring, delicate as fine sea-ferns. The
sunlight, falling down the shaft between the hemlocks, flooded it with a
softened light and made the forest round about look like deep purple
velvet. My little godchild stood in the midst and raised her wand
impressively.

"This is my place," she said, with a sort of wonderful gladness in her
tone. "This is where I come to the fairy balls. Do you see them?"

"See what?" whispered one tiny boy.

"The fairies."

There was a silence. The older boy pulled at my skirt.

"Do YOU see them?" he asked, his voice trembling with expectancy.

"Indeed," I said, "I fear I am too old and wicked to see fairies, and
yet--are their hats red?"

"They are," laughed my little girl. "Their hats are red, and as small--
as small!" She held up the pearly nail of her wee finger to give us the
correct idea.

"And their shoes are very pointed at the toes?"

"Oh, very pointed!"

"And their garments are green?"

"As green as grass."

"And they blow little horns?"

"The sweetest little horns!"

"I think I see them," I cried.

"We think we see them too," said the tiny boys, laughing in perfect
glee.

"And you hear their horns, don't you?" my little godchild asked somewhat
anxiously.

"Don't we hear their horns?" I asked the tiny boys.

"We think we hear their horns," they cried. "Don't you think we do?"

"It must be we do," I said. "Aren't we very, very happy?"

We all laughed softly. Then we kissed each other and Elsbeth led us out,
her wand high in the air.

And so my feet found the lost path to Arcady.

The next day I was called to the Pacific coast, and duty kept me there
till well into December. A few days before the date set for my return to
my home, a letter came from Elsbeth's mother.

"Our little girl is gone into the Unknown," she wrote--"that Unknown
in which she seemed to be forever trying to pry. We knew she was going,
and we told her. She was quite brave, but she begged us to try some way
to keep her till after Christmas. 'My presents are not finished yet,'
she made moan. 'And I did so want to see what I was going to have. You
can't have a very happy Christ-mas without me, I should think. Can you
arrange to keep me somehow till after then?' We could not 'arrange'
either with God in heaven or science upon earth, and she is gone."

She was only my little godchild, and I am an old maid, with no business
fretting over children, but it seemed as if the medium of light and
beauty had been taken from me. Through this crystal soul I had perceived
whatever was loveliest. However, what was, was! I returned to my home
and took up a course of Egyptian history, and determined to concern
myself with nothing this side the Ptolemies.

Her mother has told me how, on Christmas eve, as usual, she and
Elsbeth's father filled the stockings of the little ones, and hung them,
where they had always hung, by the fire-place. They had little heart for
the task, but they had been prodigal that year in their expenditures,
and had heaped upon the two tiny boys all the treasures they thought
would appeal to them. They asked them-selves how they could have been so
insane previously as to exercise economy at Christ-mas time, and what
they meant by not getting Elsbeth the autoharp she had asked for the
year before.

"And now--" began her father, thinking of harps. But he could not
complete this sentence, of course, and the two went on pas-sionately and
almost angrily with their task. There were two stockings and two piles
of toys. Two stockings only, and only two piles of toys! Two is very
little!

They went away and left the darkened room, and after a time they slept
--after a long time. Perhaps that was about the time the tiny boys
awoke, and, putting on their little dressing gowns and bed slippers,
made a dash for the room where the Christmas things were always placed.
The older one carried a candle which gave out a feeble light. The other
followed behind through the silent house. They were very impatient and
eager, but when they reached the door of the sitting-room they stopped,
for they saw that another child was before them.

It was a delicate little creature, sitting in her white night gown, with
two rumpled funny braids falling down her back, and she seemed to be
weeping. As they watched, she arose, and putting out one slender finger
as a child does when she counts, she made sure over and over again--
three sad times--that there were only two stockings and two piles of
toys! Only those and no more.

The little figure looked so familiar that the boys started toward it,
but just then, putting up her arm and bowing her face in it, as Elsbeth
had been used to do when she wept or was offended, the little thing
glided away and went out. That's what the boys said. It went out as a
candle goes out.

They ran and woke their parents with the tale, and all the house was
searched in a wonderment, and disbelief, and hope, and tumult! But
nothing was found. For nights they watched. But there was only the
silent house. Only the empty rooms. They told the boys they must have
been mistaken. But the boys shook their heads.

"We know our Elsbeth," said they. "It was our Elsbeth, cryin' 'cause she
hadn't no stockin' an' no toys, and we would have given her all ours,
only she went out--jus' went out!"

Alack!

The next Christmas I helped with the little festival. It was none of my
affair, but I asked to help, and they let me, and when we were all
through there were three stockings and three piles of toys, and in the
largest one was all the things that I could think of that my dear child
would love. I locked the boys' chamber that night, and I slept on the
divan in the parlor off the sitting-room. I slept but little, and the
night was very still--so wind-less and white and still that I think I
must have heard the slightest noise. Yet I heard none. Had I been in my
grave I think my ears would not have remained more unsaluted.

Yet when daylight came and I went to un-lock the boys' bedchamber door,
I saw that the stocking and all the treasures which I had bought for my
little godchild were gone. There was not a vestige of them remaining!

Of course we told the boys nothing. As for me, after dinner I went home
and buried myself once more in my history, and so inter-ested was I that
midnight came without my knowing it. I should not have looked up at all,
I suppose, to become aware of the time, had it not been for a faint,
sweet sound as of a child striking a stringed instrument. It was so
delicate and remote that I hardly heard it, but so joyous and tender
that I could not but listen, and when I heard it a second time it seemed
as if I caught the echo of a child's laugh. At first I was puzzled. Then
I remembered the little autoharp I had placed among the other things in
that pile of vanished toys. I said aloud:

"Farewell, dear little ghost. Go rest. Rest in joy, dear little ghost.
Farewell, farewell."

That was years ago, but there has been silence since. Elsbeth was always
an obe-dient little thing.



A SPECTRAL COLLIE


WILLIAM PERCY CECIL happened to be a younger son, so he left home--
which was England--and went to Kansas to ranch it. Thousands of
younger sons do the same, only their des-tination is not invariably
Kansas.

An agent at Wichita picked out Cecil's farm for him and sent the deeds
over to Eng-land before Cecil left. He said there was a house on the
place. So Cecil's mother fitted him out for America just as she had
fitted out another superfluous boy for Africa, and parted from him with
an heroic front and big agonies of mother-ache which she kept to
herself.

The boy bore up the way a man of his blood ought, but when he went out
to the kennel to see Nita, his collie, he went to pieces somehow, and
rolled on the grass with her in his arms and wept like a booby. But the
remarkable part of it was that Nita wept too, big, hot dog tears which
her master wiped away. When he went off she howled like a hungry baby,
and had to be switched before she would give any one a night's sleep.

When Cecil got over on his Kansas place he fitted up the shack as cosily
as he could, and learned how to fry bacon and make soda biscuits.
Incidentally, he did farming, and sunk a heap of money, finding out how
not to do things. Meantime, the Americans laughed at him, and were
inclined to turn the cold shoulder, and his compatriots, of whom there
were a number in the county, did not prove to his liking. They consoled
themselves for their exiled state in fashions not in keeping with
Cecil's traditions. His homesickness went deeper than theirs, per-haps,
and American whiskey could not make up for the loss of his English home,
nor flir-tations with the gay American village girls quite compensate
him for the loss of his English mother. So he kept to himself and had
nostalgia as some men have consumption.

At length the loneliness got so bad that he had to see some living thing
from home, or make a flunk of it and go back like a cry baby. He had a
stiff pride still, though he sobbed himself to sleep more than one
night, as many a pioneer has done before him. So he wrote home for Nita,
the collie, and got word that she would be sent. Arrangements were made
for her care all along the line, and she was properly boxed and shipped.

As the time drew near for her arrival, Cecil could hardly eat. He was
too excited to apply himself to anything. The day of her expected
arrival he actually got up at five o'clock to clean the house and make
it look as fine as possible for her inspection. Then he hitched up and
drove fifteen miles to get her. The train pulled out just before he
reached the station, so Nita in her box was waiting for him on the
platform. He could see her in a queer way, as one sees the purple centre
of a revolving circle of light; for, to tell the truth, with the long
ride in the morn-ing sun, and the beating of his heart, Cecil was only
about half-conscious of anything. He wanted to yell, but he didn't. He
kept himself in hand and lifted up the sliding side of the box and
called to Nita, and she came out.

But it wasn't the man who fainted, though he might have done so, being
crazy home-sick as he was, and half-fed and overworked while he was yet
soft from an easy life. No, it was the dog! She looked at her master's
face, gave one cry of inexpressible joy, and fell over in a real
feminine sort of a faint, and had to be brought to like any other lady,
with camphor and water and a few drops of spirit down her throat. Then
Cecil got up on the wagon seat, and she sat beside him with her head on
his arm, and they rode home in absolute silence, each feeling too much
for speech. After they reached home, however, Cecil showed her all over
the place, and she barked out her ideas in glad sociability.

After that Cecil and Nita were inseparable. She walked beside him all
day when he was out with the cultivator, or when he was mow-ing or
reaping. She ate beside him at table and slept across his feet at night.
Evenings when he looked over the Graphic from home, or read the books
his mother sent him, that he might keep in touch with the world, Nita
was beside him, patient, but jealous. Then, when he threw his book or
paper down and took her on his knee and looked into her pretty eyes, or
frolicked with her, she fairly laughed with delight.

In short, she was faithful with that faith of which only a dog is
capable--that unques-tioning faith to which even the most loving women
never quite attain.

However, Fate was annoyed at this perfect friendship. It didn't give her
enough to do, and Fate is a restless thing with a horrible appetite for
variety. So poor Nita died one day mysteriously, and gave her last look
to Cecil as a matter of course; and he held her paws till the last
moment, as a stanch friend should, and laid her away decently in a pine
box in the cornfield, where he could be shielded from public view if he
chose to go there now and then and sit beside her grave.

He went to bed very lonely, indeed, the first night. The shack seemed to
him to be removed endless miles from the other habi-tations of men. He
seemed cut off from the world, and ached to hear the cheerful little
barks which Nita had been in the habit of giving him by way of good
night. Her ami-able eye with its friendly light was missing, the gay wag
of her tail was gone; all her ridiculous ways, at which he was never
tired of laughing, were things of the past.

He lay down, busy with these thoughts, yet so habituated to Nita's
presence, that when her weight rested upon his feet, as usual, he felt
no surprise. But after a mo-ment it came to him that as she was dead the
weight he felt upon his feet could not be hers. And yet, there it was,
warm and com-fortable, cuddling down in the familiar way. He actually
sat up and put his hand down to the foot of the bed to discover what was
there. But there was nothing there, save the weight. And that stayed
with him that night and many nights after.

It happened that Cecil was a fool, as men will be when they are young,
and he worked too hard, and didn't take proper care of him-self; and so
it came about that he fell sick with a low fever. He struggled around
for a few days, trying to work it off, but one morn-ing he awoke only to
the consciousness of absurd dreams. He seemed to be on the sea, sailing
for home, and the boat was tossing and pitching in a weary circle, and
could make no headway. His heart was burning with impatience, but the
boat went round and round in that endless circle till he shrieked out
with agony.

The next neighbors were the Taylors, who lived two miles and a half
away. They were awakened that morning by the howling of a dog before
their door. It was a hideous sound and would give them no peace. So
Charlie Taylor got up and opened the door, discovering there an excited
little collie.

"Why, Tom," he called, "I thought Cecil's collie was dead!"

"She is," called back Tom.

"No, she ain't neither, for here she is, shakin' like an aspin, and a
beggin' me to go with her. Come out, Tom, and see."

It was Nita, no denying, and the men, per-plexed, followed her to
Cecil's shack, where they found him babbling.

But that was the last of her. Cecil said he never felt her on his feet
again. She had performed her final service for him, he said. The
neighbors tried to laugh at the story at first, but they knew the
Taylors wouldn't take the trouble to lie, and as for Cecil, no one would
have ventured to chaff him.



THE HOUSE THAT WAS NOT


BART FLEMING took his bride out to his ranch on the plains when she was
but seventeen years old, and the two set up housekeeping in three
hundred and twenty acres of corn and rye. Off toward the west there was
an unbroken sea of tossing corn at that time of the year when the bride
came out, and as her sewing window was on the side of the house which
faced the sunset, she passed a good part of each day looking into that
great rustling mass, breathing in its succulent odors and listening to
its sibilant melody. It was her picture gallery, her opera, her
spectacle, and, being sensible,--or perhaps, being merely happy,--
she made the most of it.

When harvesting time came and the corn was cut, she had much
entertainment in dis-covering what lay beyond. The town was east, and it
chanced that she had never rid-den west. So, when the rolling hills of
this newly beholden land lifted themselves for her contemplation, and
the harvest sun, all in an angry and sanguinary glow sank in the veiled
horizon, and at noon a scarf of golden vapor wavered up and down along
the earth line, it was as if a new world had been made for her.
Sometimes, at the coming of a storm, a whip-lash of purple cloud, full
of electric agility, snapped along the western horizon.

"Oh, you'll see a lot of queer things on these here plains," her husband
said when she spoke to him of these phenomena. "I guess what you see is
the wind."

"The wind!" cried Flora. "You can't see the wind, Bart."

"Now look here, Flora," returned Bart, with benevolent emphasis, "you're
a smart one, but you don't know all I know about this here country. I've
lived here three mortal years, waitin' for you to git up out of your
mother's arms and come out to keep me company, and I know what there is
to know. Some things out here is queer--so queer folks wouldn't
believe 'em unless they saw. An' some's so pig-headed they don't believe
their own eyes. As for th' wind, if you lay down flat and squint toward
th' west, you can see it blowin' along near th' ground, like a big
ribbon; an' sometimes it's th' color of air, an' sometimes it's silver
an' gold, an' some-times, when a storm is comin', it's purple."

"If you got so tired looking at the wind, why didn't you marry some
other girl, Bart, instead of waiting for me?"

Flora was more interested in the first part of Bart's speech than in the
last.

"Oh, come on!" protested Bart, and he picked her up in his arms and
jumped her toward the ceiling of the low shack as if she were a little
girl--but then, to be sure, she wasn't much more.

Of all the things Flora saw when the corn was cut down, nothing
interested her so much as a low cottage, something like her own, which
lay away in the distance. She could not guess how far it might be,
because dis-tances are deceiving out there, where the alti-tude is high
and the air is as clear as one of those mystic balls of glass in which
the sallow mystics of India see the moving shadows of the future.

She had not known there were neighbors so near, and she wondered for
several days about them before she ventured to say any-thing to Bart on
the subject. Indeed, for some reason which she did not attempt to
ex-plain to herself, she felt shy about broaching the matter. Perhaps
Bart did not want her to know the people. The thought came to her, as
naughty thoughts will come, even to the best of persons, that some
handsome young men might be "baching" it out there by themselves, and
Bart didn't wish her to make their acquaintance. Bart had flattered her
so much that she had actually begun to think herself beautiful, though
as a matter of fact she was only a nice little girl with a lot of
reddish-brown hair, and a bright pair of reddish-brown eyes in a white
face.

"Bart," she ventured one evening, as the sun, at its fiercest, rushed
toward the great black hollow of the west, "who lives over there in that
shack?"

She turned away from the window where she had been looking at the
incarnadined disk, and she thought she saw Bart turn pale. But then, her
eyes were so blurred with the glory she had been gazing at, that she
might easily have been mistaken.

"I say, Bart, why don't you speak? If there's any one around to
associate with, I should think you'd let me have the benefit of their
company. It isn't as funny as you think, staying here alone days and
days."

"You ain't gettin' homesick, be you, sweet-heart?" cried Bart, putting
his arms around her. "You ain't gettin' tired of my society, be yeh?"

It took some time to answer this question in a satisfactory manner, but
at length Flora was able to return to her original topic.

"But the shack, Bart! Who lives there, anyway?"

"I'm not acquainted with 'em," said Bart, sharply. "Ain't them biscuits
done, Flora?"

Then, of course, she grew obstinate.

"Those biscuits will never be done, Bart, till I know about that house,
and why you never spoke of it, and why nobody ever comes down the road
from there. Some one lives there I know, for in the mornings and at
night I see the smoke coming out of the chimney."

"Do you now?" cried Bart, opening his eyes and looking at her with
unfeigned inter-est. "Well, do you know, sometimes I've fancied I seen
that too?"

"Well, why not," cried Flora, in half anger. "Why shouldn't you?"

"See here, Flora, take them biscuits out an' listen to me. There ain't
no house there. Hello! I didn't know you'd go for to drop the biscuits.
Wait, I'll help you pick 'em up. By cracky, they're hot, ain't they?
What you puttin' a towel over 'em for? Well, you set down here on my
knee, so. Now you look over at that there house. You see it, don't yeh?
Well, it ain't there! No! I saw it the first week I was out here. I was
jus' half dyin', thinkin' of you an' wonderin' why you didn't write.
That was the time you was mad at me. So I rode over there one day--
lookin' up company, so t' speak--and there wa'n't no house there. I
spent all one Sunday lookin' for it. Then I spoke to Jim Geary about it.
He laughed an' got a little white about th' gills, an' he said he
guessed I'd have to look a good while before I found it. He said that
there shack was an ole joke."

"Why--what--"

"Well, this here is th' story he tol' me. He said a man an' his wife
come out here t' live an' put up that there little place. An' she was
young, you know, an' kind o' skeery, and she got lonesome. It worked on
her an' worked on her, an' one day she up an' killed the baby an' her
husband an' herself. Th' folks found 'em and buried 'em right there on
their own ground. Well, about two weeks after that, th' house was burned
down. Don't know how. Tramps, maybe. Anyhow, it burned. At least, I
guess it burned!"

"You guess it burned!"

"Well, it ain't there, you know."

"But if it burned the ashes are there."

"All right, girlie, they're there then. Now let's have tea."

This they proceeded to do, and were happy and cheerful all evening, but
that didn't keep Flora from rising at the first flush of dawn and
stealing out of the house. She looked away over west as she went to the
barn and there, dark and firm against the horizon, stood the little
house against the pellucid sky of morn-ing. She got on Ginger's back--
Ginger being her own yellow broncho--and set off at a hard pace for
the house. It didn't appear to come any nearer, but the objects which
had seemed to be beside it came closer into view, and Flora pressed on,
with her mind steeled for anything. But as she approached the poplar
windbreak which stood to the north of the house, the little shack waned
like a shadow before her. It faded and dimmed before her eyes.

She slapped Ginger's flanks and kept him going, and she at last got him
up to the spot. But there was nothing there. The bunch grass grew tall
and rank and in the midst of it lay a baby's shoe. Flora thought of
picking it up, but something cold in her veins withheld her. Then she
grew angry, and set Ginger's head toward the place and tried to drive
him over it. But the yellow broncho gave one snort of fear, gathered
himself in a bunch, and then, all tense, leaping muscles, made for home
as only a broncho can.



STORY OF AN OBSTINATE CORPSE


VIRGIL HOYT is a photographer's assistant up at St. Paul, and enjoys his
work without being consumed by it. He has been in search of the
picturesque all over the West and hundreds of miles to the north, in
Canada, and can speak three or four Indian dialects and put a canoe
through the rapids. That is to say, he is a man of adventure, and no
dreamer. He can fight well and shoot better, and swim so as to put up a
winning race with the Ind-ian boys, and he can sit in the saddle all day
and not worry about it to-morrow.

Wherever he goes, he carries a camera.

"The world," Hoyt is in the habit of say-ing to those who sit with him
when he smokes his pipe, "was created in six days to be pho-tographed.
Man--and particularly woman--was made for the same purpose. Clouds
are not made to give moisture nor trees to cast shade. They have been
created in order to give the camera obscura something to do."

In short, Virgil Hoyt's view of the world is whimsical, and he likes to
be bothered neither with the disagreeable nor the mysteri-ous. That is
the reason he loathes and detests going to a house of mourning to
photograph a corpse. The bad taste of it offends him, but above all, he
doesn't like the necessity of shouldering, even for a few moments, a
part of the burden of sorrow which belongs to some one else. He dislikes
sorrow, and would willingly canoe five hundred miles up the cold
Canadian rivers to get rid of it. Nevertheless, as assistant
photographer, it is often his duty to do this very kind of thing.

Not long ago he was sent for by a rich Jew-ish family to photograph the
remains of the mother, who had just died. He was put out, but he was
only an assistant, and he went. He was taken to the front parlor, where
the dead woman lay in her coffin. It was evident to him that there was
some excitement in the household, and that a discussion was going on.
But Hoyt said to himself that it didn't con-cern him, and he therefore
paid no attention to it.

The daughter wanted the coffin turned on end in order that the corpse
might face the camera properly, but Hoyt said he could over-come the
recumbent attitude and make it ap-pear that the face was taken in the
position it would naturally hold in life, and so they went out and left
him alone with the dead.

The face of the deceased was a strong and positive one, such as may
often be seen among Jewish matrons. Hoyt regarded it with some
admiration, thinking to himself that she was a woman who had known what
she wanted, and who, once having made up her mind, would prove
immovable. Such a character appealed to Hoyt. He reflected that he might
have married if only he could have found a woman with strength of
character sufficient to disagree with him. There was a strand of hair
out of place on the dead woman's brow, and he gently pushed it back. A
bud lifted its head too high from among the roses on her breast and
spoiled the contour of the chin, so he broke it off. He remembered these
things later with keen distinctness, and that his hand touched her chill
face two or three times in the making of his arrangements.

Then he took the impression, and left the house.

He was busy at the time with some railroad work, and several days passed
before he found opportunity to develop the plates. He took them from the
bath in which they had lain with a number of others, and went
energeti-cally to work upon them, whistling some very saucy songs he had
learned of the guide in the Red River country, and trying to forget that
the face which was presently to appear was that of a dead woman. He had
used three plates as a precaution against accident, and they came up
well. But as they devel-oped, he became aware of the existence of
something in the photograph which had not been apparent to his eye in
the subject. He was irritated, and without attempting to face the
mystery, he made a few prints and laid them aside, ardently hoping that
by some chance they would never be called for.

However, as luck would have it,--and Hoyt's luck never had been good,
--his em-ployer asked one day what had become of those photographs.
Hoyt tried to evade making an answer, but the effort was futile, and he
had to get out the finished prints and exhibit them. The older man sat
staring at them a long time.

"Hoyt," he said, "you're a young man, and very likely you have never
seen anything like this before. But I have. Not exactly the same thing,
perhaps, but similar phenomena have come my way a number of times since
I went in the business, and I want to tell you there are things in
heaven and earth not dreamt of--"

"Oh, I know all that tommy-rot," cried Hoyt, angrily, "but when anything
happens I want to know the reason why and how it is done."

"All right," answered his employer, "then you might explain why and how
the sun rises."

But he humored the young man sufficiently to examine with him the baths
in which the plates were submerged, and the plates them-selves. All was
as it should be; but the mys-tery was there, and could not be done away
with.

Hoyt hoped against hope that the friends of the dead woman would somehow
forget about the photographs; but the idea was un-reasonable, and one
day, as a matter of course, the daughter appeared and asked to see the
pictures of her mother.

"Well, to tell the truth," stammered Hoyt, "they didn't come out quite
--quite as well as we could wish."

"But let me see them," persisted the lady. "I'd like to look at them
anyhow."

"Well, now," said Hoyt, trying to be soothing, as he believed it was
always best to be with women,--to tell the truth he was an ignoramus
where women were concerned,--"I think it would be better if you didn't
look at them. There are reasons why--" he ambled on like this, stupid
man that he was, till the lady naturally insisted upon see-ing the
pictures without a moment's delay.

So poor Hoyt brought them out and placed them in her hand, and then ran
for the water pitcher, and had to be at the bother of bath-ing her
forehead to keep her from fainting.

For what the lady saw was this: Over face and flowers and the head of
the coffin fell a thick veil, the edges of which touched the floor in
some places. It covered the feat-ures so well that not a hint of them
was visible.

"There was nothing over mother's face!" cried the lady at length.

"Not a thing," acquiesced Hoyt. "I know, because I had occasion to touch
her face just before I took the picture. I put some of her hair back
from her brow."

"What does it mean, then?" asked the lady.

"You know better than I. There is no ex-planation in science. Perhaps
there is some in--in psychology."

"Well," said the young woman, stammer-ing a little and coloring, "mother
was a good woman, but she always wanted her own way, and she always had
it, too."

"Yes."

"And she never would have her picture taken. She didn't admire her own
appear-ance. She said no one should ever see a picture of her."

"So?" said Hoyt, meditatively. "Well, she's kept her word, hasn't she?"

The two stood looking at the photographs for a time. Then Hoyt pointed
to the open blaze in the grate.

"Throw them in," he commanded. "Don't let your father see them--don't
keep them yourself. They wouldn't be agreeable things to keep."

"That's true enough," admitted the lady. And she threw them in the fire.
Then Vir-gil Hoyt brought out the plates and broke them before her eyes.

And that was the end of it--except that Hoyt sometimes tells the story
to those who sit beside him when his pipe is lighted.




A CHILD OF THE RAIN


IT was the night that Mona Meeks, the dressmaker, told him she didn't
love him. He couldn't believe it at first, because he had so long been
accustomed to the idea that she did, and no matter how rough the weather
or how irascible the passengers, he felt a song in his heart as he
punched transfers, and rang his bell punch, and signalled the driver
when to let people off and on.

Now, suddenly, with no reason except a woman's, she had changed her
mind. He dropped in to see her at five o'clock, just before time for the
night shift, and to give her two red apples he had been saving for her.
She looked at the apples as if they were in-visible and she could not
see them, and stand-ing in her disorderly little dressmaking parlor,
with its cuttings and scraps and litter of fab-rics, she said:

"It is no use, John. I shall have to work here like this all my life--
work here alone. For I don't love you, John. No, I don't. I thought I
did, but it is a mistake."

"You mean it?" asked John, bringing up the words in a great gasp.

"Yes," she said, white and trembling and putting out her hands as if to
beg for his mercy. And then--big, lumbering fool--he turned around
and strode down the stairs and stood at the corner in the beating rain
waiting for his car. It came along at length, spluttering on the wet
rails and spitting out blue fire, and he took his shift after a gruff
"Good night" to Johnson, the man he relieved.

He was glad the rain was bitter cold and drove in his face fiercely. He
rejoiced at the cruelty of the wind, and when it hustled pedestrians
before it, lashing them, twisting their clothes, and threatening their
equilib-rium, he felt amused. He was pleased at the chill in his bones
and at the hunger that tortured him. At least, at first he thought it
was hunger till he remembered that he had just eaten. The hours passed
confusedly. He had no consciousness of time. But it must have been late,
--near midnight,--judging by the fact that there were few per-sons
visible anywhere in the black storm, when he noticed a little figure
sitting at the far end of the car. He had not seen the child when she
got on, but all was so curious and wild to him that evening--he
himself seemed to himself the most curious and the wildest of all things
--that it was not surpris-ing that he should not have observed the
little creature.

She was wrapped in a coat so much too large that it had become frayed at
the bottom from dragging on the pavement. Her hair hung in unkempt
stringiness about her bent shoulders, and her feet were covered with old
arctics, many sizes too big, from which the soles hung loose.

Beside the little figure was a chest of dark wood, with curiously
wrought hasps. From this depended a stout strap by which it could be
carried over the shoulders. John Billings stared in, fascinated by the
poor little thing with its head sadly drooping upon its breast, its thin
blue hands relaxed upon its lap, and its whole attitude so suggestive of
hunger, loneliness, and fatigue, that he made up his mind he would
collect no fare from it.

"It will need its nickel for breakfast," he said to himself. "The
company can stand this for once. Or, come to think of it, I might
celebrate my hard luck. Here's to the brotherhood of failures!" And he
took a nickel from one pocket of his great-coat and dropped it in
another, ringing his bell punch to record the transfer.

The car plunged along in the darkness, and the rain beat more viciously
than ever in his face. The night was full of the rushing sound of the
storm. Owing to some change of tem-perature the glass of the car became
obscured so that the young conductor could no longer see the little
figure distinctly, and he grew anxious about the child.

"I wonder if it's all right," he said to him-self. "I never saw living
creature sit so still."

He opened the car door, intending to speak with the child, but just then
something went wrong with the lights. There was a blue and green
flickering, then darkness, a sudden halt-ing of the car, and a great
sweep of wind and rain in at the door. When, after a moment, light and
motion reasserted themselves, and Billings had got the door together, he
turned to look at the little passenger. But the car was empty.

It was a fact. There was no child there--not even moisture on the seat
where she had been sitting.

"Bill," said he, going to the front door and addressing the driver,
"what became of that little kid in the old cloak?"

"I didn't see no kid," said Bill, crossly. "For Gawd's sake, close the
door, John, and git that draught off my back."

"Draught!" said John, indignantly, "where's the draught?"

"You've left the hind door open," growled Bill, and John saw him
shivering as a blast struck him and ruffled the fur on his bear-skin
coat. But the door was not open, and yet John had to admit to himself
that the car seemed filled with wind and a strange coldness.

However, it didn't matter. Nothing mat-tered! Still, it was as well no
doubt to look under the seats just to make sure no little crouching
figure was there, and so he did. But there was nothing. In fact, John
said to himself, he seemed to be getting expert in finding nothing where
there ought to be some-thing.

He might have stayed in the car, for there was no likelihood of more
passengers that evening, but somehow he preferred going out where the
rain could drench him and the wind pommel him. How horribly tired he
was! If there were only some still place away from the blare of the city
where a man could lie down and listen to the sound of the sea or the
storm--or if one could grow suddenly old and get through with the
bother of living--or if--

The car gave a sudden lurch as it rounded a curve, and for a moment it
seemed to be a mere chance whether Conductor Billings would stay on his
platform or go off under those fire-spitting wheels. He caught
in-stinctively at his brake, saved himself, and stood still for a
moment, panting.

"I must have dozed," he said to himself.

Just then, dimly, through the blurred win-dow, he saw again the little
figure of the child, its head on its breast as before, its blue hands
lying in its lap and the curious box beside it. John Billings felt a
coldness beyond the coldness of the night run through his blood. Then,
with a half-stifled cry, he threw back the door, and made a desperate
spring at the corner where the eerie thing sat.

And he touched the green carpeting on the seat, which was quite dry and
warm, as if no dripping, miserable little wretch had ever crouched
there.

He rushed to the front door.

"Bill," he roared, "I want to know about that kid."

"What kid?"

"The same kid! The wet one with the old coat and the box with iron
hasps! The one that's been sitting here in the car!"

Bill turned his surly face to confront the young conductor.

"You've been drinking, you fool," said he. "Fust thing you know you'll
be reported."

The conductor said not a word. He went slowly and weakly back to his
post and stood there the rest of the way leaning against the end of the
car for support. Once or twice he muttered:

"The poor little brat!" And again he said, "So you didn't love me after
all!"

He never knew how he reached home, but he sank to sleep as dying men
sink to death. All the same, being a hearty young man, he was on duty
again next day but one, and again the night was rainy and cold.

It was the last run, and the car was spin-ning along at its limit, when
there came a sudden soft shock. John Billings knew what that meant. He
had felt something of the kind once before. He turned sick for a moment,
and held on to the brake. Then he summoned his courage and went around
to the side of the car, which had stopped. Bill, the driver, was before
him, and had a limp little figure in his arms, and was carry-ing it to
the gaslight. John gave one look and cried:

"It's the same kid, Bill! The one I told you of!"

True as truth were the ragged coat dangling from the pitiful body, the
little blue hands, the thin shoulders, the stringy hair, the big arctics
on the feet. And in the road not far off was the curious chest of dark
wood with iron hasps.

"She ran under the car deliberate!" cried Bill. "I yelled to her, but
she looked at me and ran straight on!"

He was white in spite of his weather-beaten skin.

"I guess you wasn't drunk last night after all, John," said he.

"You--you are sure the kid is--is there?" gasped John.

"Not so damned sure!" said Bill.

But a few minutes later it was taken away in a patrol wagon, and with it
the little box with iron hasps.




THE ROOM OF THE EVIL THOUGHT


THEY called it the room of the Evil Thought. It was really the
pleas-antest room in the house, and when the place had been used as the
rectory, was the minister's study. It looked out on a mournful clump of
larches, such as may often be seen in the old-fash-ioned yards in
Michigan, and these threw a tender gloom over the apartment.

There was a wide fireplace in the room, and it had been the young
minister's habit to sit there hours and hours, staring ahead of him at
the fire, and smoking moodily. The replenishing of the fire and of his
pipe, it was said, would afford him occupation all the day long, and
that was how it came about that his parochial duties were neglected so
that, little by little, the people became dis-satisfied with him, though
he was an eloquent young man, who could send his congregation away drunk
on his influence. However, the calmer pulsed among his parish began to
whisper that it was indeed the influence of the young minister and not
that of the Holy Ghost which they felt, and it was finally decided that
neither animal magnetism nor hypnotism were good substitutes for
religion. And so they let him go.

The new rector moved into a smart brick house on the other side of the
church, and gave receptions and dinner parties, and was punctilious
about making his calls. The people therefore liked him very much--so
much that they raised the debt on the church and bought a chime of
bells, in their enthu-siasm. Every one was lighter of heart than under
the ministration of the previous rector. A burden appeared to be lifted
from the com-munity. True, there were a few who con-fessed the new man
did not give them the food for thought which the old one had done, but,
then, the former rector had made them uncomfortable! He had not only
made them conscious of the sins of which they were already guilty, but
also of those for which they had the latent capacity. A strange and
fatal man, whom women loved to their sor-row, and whom simple men could
not under-stand! It was generally agreed that the parish was well rid of
him.

"He was a genius," said the people in commiseration. The word was an
uncom-plimentary epithet with them.

When the Hanscoms moved in the house which had been the old rectory,
they gave Grandma Hanscom the room with the fire-place. Grandma was well
pleased. The roaring fire warmed her heart as well as her chill old
body, and she wept with weak joy when she looked at the larches, because
they reminded her of the house she had lived in when she was first
married. All the forenoon of the first day she was busy putting things
away in bureau drawers and closets, but by afternoon she was ready to
sit down in her high-backed rocker and enjoy the comforts of her room.

She nodded a bit before the fire, as she usually did after luncheon, and
then she awoke with an awful start and sat staring before her with such
a look in her gentle, filmy old eyes as had never been there before. She
did not move, except to rock slightly, and the Thought grew and grew
till her face was disguised as by some hideous mask of tragedy.

By and by the children came pounding at the door.

"Oh, grandma, let us in, please. We want to see your new room, and mamma
gave us some ginger cookies on a plate, and we want to give some to
you."

The door gave way under their assaults, and the three little ones stood
peeping in, wait-ing for permission to enter. But it did not seem to be
their grandma--their own dear grandma--who arose and tottered toward
them in fierce haste, crying:

"Away, away! Out of my sight! Out of my sight before I do the thing I
want to do! Such a terrible thing! Send some one to me quick, children,
children! Send some one quick!"

They fled with feet shod with fear, and their mother came, and Grandma
Hanscom sank down and clung about her skirts and sobbed:

"Tie me, Miranda. Make me fast to the bed or the wall. Get some one to
watch me. For I want to do an awful thing!"

They put the trembling old creature in bed, and she raved there all the
night long and cried out to be held, and to be kept from doing the
fearful thing, whatever it was--for she never said what it was.

The next morning some one suggested tak-ing her in the sitting-room
where she would be with the family. So they laid her on the sofa, hemmed
around with cushions, and before long she was her quiet self again,
though exhausted, naturally, with the tumult of the previous night. Now
and then, as the children played about her, a shadow crept over her face
--a shadow as of cold remem-brance--and then the perplexed tears
followed.

When she seemed as well as ever they put her back in her room. But
though the fire glowed and the lamp burned, as soon as ever she was
alone they heard her shrill cries ring-ing to them that the Evil Thought
had come again. So Hal, who was home from col-lege, carried her up to
his room, which she seemed to like very well. Then he went down to have
a smoke before grandma's fire.

The next morning he was absent from break-fast. They thought he might
have gone for an early walk, and waited for him a few min-utes. Then his
sister went to the room that looked upon the larches, and found him
dressed and pacing the floor with a face set and stern. He had not been
in bed at all, as she saw at once. His eyes were bloodshot, his face
stricken as if with old age or sin or--but she could not make it out.
When he saw her he sank in a chair and covered his face with his hands,
and between the trembling fingers she could see drops of perspiration on
his forehead.

"Hal!" she cried, "Hal, what is it?"

But for answer he threw his arms about the little table and clung to it,
and looked at her with tortured eyes, in which she fancied she saw a
gleam of hate. She ran, screaming, from the room, and her father came
and went up to him and laid his hands on the boy's shoulders. And then a
fearful thing hap-pened. All the family saw it. There could be no
mistake. Hal's hands found their way with frantic eagerness toward his
father's throat as if they would choke him, and the look in his eyes was
so like a madman's that his father raised his fist and felled him as he
used to fell men years before in the college fights, and then dragged
him into the sitting-room and wept over him.

By evening, however, Hal was all right, and the family said it must have
been a fever,--perhaps from overstudy,--at which Hal cov-ertly
smiled. But his father was still too anxious about him to let him out of
his sight, so he put him on a cot in his room, and thus it chanced that
the mother and Grace con-cluded to sleep together downstairs.

The two women made a sort of festival of it, and drank little cups of
chocolate before the fire, and undid and brushed their brown braids, and
smiled at each other, understand-ingly, with that sweet intuitive
sympathy which women have, and Grace told her mother a number of things
which she had been waiting for just such an auspicious oc-casion to
confide.

But the larches were noisy and cried out with wild voices, and the flame
of the fire grew blue and swirled about in the draught sinuously, so
that a chill crept upon the two. Something cold appeared to envelop them
--such a chill as pleasure voyagers feel when a berg steals beyond
Newfoundland and glows blue and threatening upon their ocean path.

Then came something else which was not cold, but hot as the flames of
hell--and they saw red, and stared at each other with mad-dened eyes,
and then ran together from the room and clasped in close embrace safe
beyond the fatal place, and thanked God they had not done the thing that
they dared not speak of--the thing which suddenly came to them to do.

So they called it the room of the Evil Thought. They could not account
for it. They avoided the thought of it, being healthy and happy folk.
But none entered it more. The door was locked.

One day, Hal, reading the paper, came across a paragraph concerning the
young min-ister who had once lived there, and who had thought and
written there and so influenced the lives of those about him that they
remem-bered him even while they disapproved.

"He cut a man's throat on board ship for Australia," said he, "and then
he cut his own, without fatal effect--and jumped overboard, and so
ended it. What a strange thing!"

Then they all looked at one another with subtle looks, and a shadow fell
upon them and stayed the blood at their hearts.

The next week the room of the Evil Thought was pulled down to make way
for a pansy bed, which is quite gay and innocent, and blooms all the
better because the larches, with their eternal murmuring, have been laid
low and carted away to the sawmill.




STORY OF THE VANISHING PATIENT


THERE had always been strange stories about the house, but it was a
sensible, comfortable sort of a neighborhood, and people took pains to
say to one another that there was nothing in these tales--of course
not! Absolutely nothing! How could there be? It was a matter of common
remark, however, that considering the amount of money the Nethertons had
spent on the place, it was curious they lived there so little. They were
nearly always away,--up North in the sum-mer and down South in the
winter, and over to Paris or London now and then,--and when they did
come home it was only to entertain a number of guests from the city. The
place was either plunged in gloom or gayety. The old gardener who kept
house by himself in the cottage at the back of the yard had things much
his own way by far the greater part of the time.

Dr. Block and his wife lived next door to the Nethertons, and he and his
wife, who were so absurd as to be very happy in each other's company,
had the benefit of the beau-tiful yard. They walked there mornings when
the leaves were silvered with dew, and even-ings they sat beside the
lily pond and listened for the whip-poor-will. The doctor's wife moved
her room over to that side of the house which commanded a view of the
yard, and thus made the honeysuckles and laurel and clematis and all the
masses of tossing greenery her own. Sitting there day after day with her
sewing, she speculated about the mystery which hung impalpably yet
undeniably over the house.

It happened one night when she and her husband had gone to their room,
and were congratulating themselves on the fact that he had no very sick
patients and was likely to enjoy a good night's rest, that a ring came
at the door.

"If it's any one wanting you to leave home," warned his wife, "you must
tell them you are all worn out. You've been disturbed every night this
week, and it's too much!"

The young physician went downstairs. At the door stood a man whom he had
never seen before.

"My wife is lying very ill next door," said the stranger, "so ill that I
fear she will not live till morning. Will you please come to her at
once?"

"Next door?" cried the physician. "I didn't know the Nethertons were
home!"

"Please hasten," begged the man. "I must go back to her. Follow as
quickly as you can."

The doctor went back upstairs to complete his toilet.

"How absurd," protested his wife when she heard the story. "There is no
one at the Nethertons'. I sit where I can see the front door, and no one
can enter without my know-ing it, and I have been sewing by the window
all day. If there were any one in the house, the gardener would have the
porch lantern lighted. It is some plot. Some one has designs on you. You
must not go."

But he went. As he left the room his wife placed a revolver in his
pocket.

The great porch of the mansion was dark, but the physician made out that
the door was open, and he entered. A feeble light came from the bronze
lamp at the turn of the stairs, and by it he found his way, his feet
sinking noiselessly in the rich carpets. At the head of the stairs the
man met him. The doctor thought himself a tall man, but the stranger
topped him by half a head. He motioned the physician to follow him, and
the two went down the hall to the front room. The place was flushed with
a rose-colored glow from several lamps. On a silken couch, in the midst
of pillows, lay a woman dying with consumption. She was like a lily,
white, shapely, graceful, with feeble yet charming movements. She looked
at the doctor ap-pealingly, then, seeing in his eyes the in-voluntary
verdict that her hour was at hand, she turned toward her companion with
a glance of anguish. Dr. Block asked a few questions. The man answered
them, the woman remaining silent. The physician ad-ministered something
stimulating, and then wrote a prescription which he placed on the
mantel-shelf.

"The drug store is closed to-night," he said, "and I fear the druggist
has gone home. You can have the prescription filled the first thing in
the morning, and I will be over before breakfast."

After that, there was no reason why he should not have gone home. Yet,
oddly enough, he preferred to stay. Nor was it professional anxiety that
prompted this delay. He longed to watch those mysterious per-sons, who,
almost oblivious of his presence, were speaking their mortal farewells
in their glances, which were impassioned and of un-utterable sadness.

He sat as if fascinated. He watched the glitter of rings on the woman's
long, white hands, he noted the waving of light hair about her temples,
he observed the details of her gown of soft white silk which fell about
her in voluminous folds. Now and then the man gave her of the stimulant
which the doc-tor had provided; sometimes he bathed her face with water.
Once he paced the floor for a moment till a motion of her hand quieted
him.

After a time, feeling that it would be more sensible and considerate of
him to leave, the doctor made his way home. His wife was awake,
impatient to hear of his experiences. She listened to his tale in
silence, and when he had finished she turned her face to the wall and
made no comment.

"You seem to be ill, my dear," he said. "You have a chill. You are
shivering."

"I have no chill," she replied sharply. "But I--well, you may leave
the light burning."

The next morning before breakfast the doc-tor crossed the dewy sward to
the Netherton house. The front door was locked, and no one answered to
his repeated ringings. The old gardener chanced to be cutting the grass
near at hand, and he came running up.

"What you ringin' that door-bell for, doc-tor?" said he. "The folks
ain't come home yet. There ain't nobody there."

"Yes, there is, Jim. I was called here last night. A man came for me to
attend his wife. They must both have fallen asleep that the bell is not
answered. I wouldn't be sur-prised to find her dead, as a matter of
fact. She was a desperately sick woman. Perhaps she is dead and
something has happened to him. You have the key to the door, Jim. Let me
in."

But the old man was shaking in every limb, and refused to do as he was
bid.

"Don't you never go in there, doctor," whispered he, with chattering
teeth. "Don't you go for to 'tend no one. You jus' come tell me when you
sent for that way. No, I ain't goin' in, doctor, nohow. It ain't part of
my duties to go in. That's been stipulated by Mr. Netherton. It's my
business to look after the garden."

Argument was useless. Dr. Block took the bunch of keys from the old
man's pocket and himself unlocked the front door and entered. He mounted
the steps and made his way to the upper room. There was no evidence of
occupancy. The place was silent, and, so far as living creature went,
vacant. The dust lay over everything. It covered the delicate damask of
the sofa where he had seen the dying woman. It rested on the pillows.
The place smelled musty and evil, as if it had not been used for a long
time. The lamps of the room held not a drop of oil.

But on the mantel-shelf was the prescrip-tion which the doctor had
written the night before. He read it, folded it, and put it in his
pocket.

As he locked the outside door the old gar-dener came running to him.

"Don't you never go up there again, will you?" he pleaded, "not unless
you see all the Nethertons home and I come for you myself. You won't,
doctor?"

"No," said the doctor.

When he told his wife she kissed him, and said:

"Next time when I tell you to stay at home, you must stay!"




THE PIANO NEXT DOOR


BABETTE had gone away for the summer; the furniture was in its summer
linens; the curtains were down, and Babette's husband, John Boyce, was
alone in the house. It was the first year of his marriage, and he missed
Babette. But then, as he often said to him-self, he ought never to have
married her. He did it from pure selfishness, and because he was
determined to possess the most illusive, tantalizing, elegant, and
utterly unmoral little creature that the sun shone upon. He wanted her
because she reminded him of birds, and flowers, and summer winds, and
other exqui-site things created for the delectation of mankind. He
neither expected nor desired her to think. He had half-frightened her
into marrying him, had taken her to a poor man's home, provided her with
no society such as she had been accustomed to, and he had no reasonable
cause of complaint when she answered the call of summer and flitted
away, like a butterfly in the morning sunshine, to the place where the
flowers grew.

He wrote to her every evening, sitting in the stifling, ugly house, and
poured out his soul as if it were a libation to a goddess. She sometimes
answered by telegraph, some-times by a perfumed note. He schooled
him-self not to feel hurt. Why should Babette write? Does a goldfinch
indict epistles; or a humming-bird study composition; or a glancing,
red-scaled fish in summer shallows consider the meaning of words?

He knew at the beginning what Babette was--guessed her limitations--
trembled when he buttoned her tiny glove--kissed her dainty slipper
when he found it in the closet after she was gone--thrilled at the
sound of her laugh, or the memory of it! That was all. A mere case of
love. He was in bonds. Babette was not. Therefore he was in the city,
working overhours to pay for Babette's pretty follies down at the
seaside. It was quite right and proper. He was a grub in the furrow; she
a lark in the blue. Those had always been and always must be their
relative positions.

Having attained a mood of philosophic calm, in which he was prepared to
spend his evenings alone--as became a grub--and to await with
dignified patience the return of his wife, it was in the nature of an
inconsist-ency that he should have walked the floor of the dull little
drawing-room like a lion in cage. It did not seem in keeping with the
position of superior serenity which he had assumed, that, reading
Babette's notes, he should have raged with jealousy, or that, in the
loneliness of his unkempt chamber, he should have stretched out arms of
longing. Even if Babette had been present, she would only have smiled
her gay little smile and co-quetted with him. She could not understand.
He had known, of course, from the first mo-ment, that she could not
understand! And so, why the ache, ache, ache of the heart! Or WAS it the
heart, or the brain, or the soul?

Sometimes, when the evenings were so hot that he could not endure the
close air of the house, he sat on the narrow, dusty front porch and
looked about him at his neighbors. The street had once been smart and
aspiring, but it had fallen into decay and dejection. Pale young men,
with flurried-looking wives, seemed to Boyce to occupy most of the
houses. Some-times three or four couples would live in one house. Most
of these appeared to be child-less. The women made a pretence at
fashion-able dressing, and wore their hair elaborately in fashions which
somehow suggested board-ing-houses to Boyce, though he could not have
told why. Every house in the block needed fresh paint. Lacking this
renovation, the householders tried to make up for it by a display of
lace curtains which, at every window, swayed in the smoke-weighted
breeze. Strips of carpeting were laid down the front steps of the houses
where the communities of young couples lived, and here, evenings, the
inmates of the houses gathered, committing mild extravagances such as
the treating of each other to ginger ale, or beer, or ice-cream.

Boyce watched these tawdry makeshifts at sociability with bitterness and
loathing. He wondered how he could have been such a fool as to bring his
exquisite Babette to this neighborhood. How could he expect that she
would return to him? It was not reason-able. He ought to go down on his
knees with gratitude that she even condescended to write him.

Sitting one night till late,--so late that the fashionable young wives
with their husbands had retired from the strips of stair carpeting,--
and raging at the loneliness which ate at his heart like a cancer, he
heard, softly creep-ing through the windows of the house adjoin-ing his
own, the sound of comfortable mel-ody.

It breathed upon his ear like a spirit of consolation, speaking of
peace, of love which needs no reward save its own sweetness, of
aspiration which looks forever beyond the thing of the hour to find
attainment in that which is eternal. So insidiously did it whis-per
these things, so delicately did the simple and perfect melodies creep
upon the spirit--that Boyce felt no resentment, but from the first
listened as one who listens to learn, or as one who, fainting on the hot
road, hears, far in the ferny deeps below, the gurgle of a spring.

Then came harmonies more intricate: fair fabrics of woven sound, in the
midst of which gleamed golden threads of joy; a tapestry of sound,
multi-tinted, gallant with story and achievement, and beautiful things.
Boyce, sitting on his absurd piazza, with his knees jambed against the
balustrade, and his chair back against the dun-colored wall of his
house, seemed to be walking in the cathedral of the redwood forest, with
blue above him, a vast hymn in his ears, pungent perfume in his
nostrils, and mighty shafts of trees lifting themselves to heaven, proud
and erect as pure men before their Judge. He stood on a mountain at
sunrise, and saw the marvels of the amethystine clouds below his feet,
heard an eternal and white silence, such as broods among the everlasting
snows, and saw an eagle winging for the sun. He was in a city, and away
from him, diverging like the spokes of a wheel, ran thronging streets,
and to his sense came the beat, beat, beat of the city's heart. He saw
the golden alchemy of a chosen race; saw greed transmitted to progress;
saw that which had enslaved men, work at last to their liberation; heard
the roar of mighty mills, and on the streets all the peoples of earth
walking with common purpose, in fealty and understanding. And then, from
the swelling of this concourse of great sounds, came a diminuendo, calm
as philosophy, and from that, nothingness.

Boyce sat still for a long time, listening to the echoes which this
music had awakened in his soul. He retired, at length, content, but
determined that upon the morrow he would watch--the day being Sunday
--for the musician who had so moved and taught him.

He arose early, therefore, and having pre-pared his own simple breakfast
of fruit and coffee, took his station by the window to watch for the
man. For he felt convinced that the exposition he had heard was that of
a masculine mind. The long, hot hours of the morning went by, but the
front door of the house next to his did not open.

"These artists sleep late," he complained. Still he watched. He was too
much afraid of losing him to go out for dinner. By three in the
afternoon he had grown impatient. He went to the house next door and
rang the bell. There was no response. He thun-dered another appeal. An
old woman with a cloth about her head answered the door. She was very
deaf, and Boyce had difficulty in making himself understood.

"The family is in the country," was all she would say. "The family will
not be home till September."

"But there is some one living here?" shouted Boyce.

"_I_ live here," she said with dignity, put-ting back a wisp of dirty
gray hair behind her ear. "It is my house. I sublet to the family."

"What family?"

But the old creature was not communica-tive.

"The family that lives here," she said.

"Then who plays the piano in this house?" roared Boyce. "Do you?"

He thought a shade of pallor showed itself on her ash-colored cheeks.
Yet she smiled a little at the idea of her playing.

"There is no piano," she said, and she put an enigmatical emphasis to
the words.

"Nonsense," cried Boyce, indignantly. "I heard a piano being played in
this very house for hours last night!"

"You may enter," said the old woman, with an accent more vicious than
hospitable.

Boyce almost burst into the drawing-room. It was a dusty and forbidding
place, with ugly furniture and gaudy walls. No piano nor any other
musical instrument stood in it. The intruder turned an angry and baffled
face to the old woman, who was smiling with ill-concealed exultation.

"I shall see the other rooms," he an-nounced. The old woman did not
appear to be surprised at his impertinence.

"As you please," she said.

So, with the hobbling creature, with her bandaged head, for a guide, he
explored every room of the house, which being identical with his own, he
could do without fear of leaving any apartment unentered. But no piano
did he find!

"Explain," roared Boyce at length, turning upon the leering old hag
beside him. "Ex-plain! For surely I heard music more beau-tiful than I
can tell."

"I know nothing," she said. "But it is true I once had a lodger who
rented the front room, and that he played upon the piano. I am poor at
hearing, but he must have played well, for all the neighbors used to
come in front of the house to listen, and sometimes they applauded him,
and some-times they were still. I could tell by watching their hands.
Sometimes little chil-dren came and danced. Other times young men and
women came and listened. But the young man died. The neighbors were
angry. They came to look at him and said he had starved to death. It was
no fault of mine. I sold his piano to pay his funeral ex-penses--and
it took every cent to pay for them too, I'd have you know. But since
then, sometimes--still, it must be non-sense, for I never heard it--
folks say that he plays the piano in my room. It has kept me out of the
letting of it more than once. But the family doesn't seem to mind--the
family that lives here, you know. They will be back in September. Yes."

Boyce left her nodding her thanks at what he had placed in her hand, and
went home to write it all to Babette--Babette who would laugh so
merrily when she read it!




AN ASTRAL ONION


WHEN Tig Braddock came to Nora Finnegan he was red-headed and freckled,
and, truth to tell, he re-mained with these features to the end of his
life--a life prolonged by a lucky, if somewhat improbable, incident,
as you shall hear.

Tig had shuffled off his parents as saurians, of some sorts, do their
skins. During the temporary absence from home of his mother, who was at
the bridewell, and the more ex-tended vacation of his father, who, like
Vil-lon, loved the open road and the life of it, Tig, who was not a
well-domesticated animal, wandered away. The humane society never heard
of him, the neighbors did not miss him, and the law took no cognizance
of this detached citizen--this lost pleiad. Tig would have sunk into
that melancholy which is attendant upon hunger,--the only form of
despair which babyhood knows,--if he had not wandered across the path
of Nora Finne-gan. Now Nora shone with steady brightness in her orbit,
and no sooner had Tig entered her atmosphere, than he was warmed and
com-forted. Hunger could not live where Nora was. The basement room
where she kept house was redolent with savory smells; and in the stove
in her front room--which was also her bedroom--there was a bright
fire glowing when fire was needed.

Nora went out washing for a living. But she was not a poor washerwoman.
Not at all. She was a washerwoman triumphant. She had perfect health, an
enormous frame, an abounding enthusiasm for life, and a rich abundance
of professional pride. She be-lieved herself to be the best washer of
white clothes she had ever had the pleasure of knowing, and the value
placed upon her ser-vices, and her long connection with certain families
with large weekly washings, bore out this estimate of herself--an
estimate which she never endeavored to conceal.

Nora had buried two husbands without being unduly depressed by the fact.
The first hus-band had been a disappointment, and Nora winked at
Providence when an accident in a tunnel carried him off--that is to
say, carried the husband off. The second husband was not so much of a
disappointment as a sur-prise. He developed ability of a literary order,
and wrote songs which sold and made him a small fortune. Then he ran
away with another woman. The woman spent his fort-une, drove him to
dissipation, and when he was dying he came back to Nora, who re-ceived
him cordially, attended him to the end, and cheered his last hours by
singing his own songs to him. Then she raised a headstone recounting his
virtues, which were quite numerous, and refraining from any reference to
those peculiarities which had caused him to be such a surprise.

Only one actual chagrin had ever nibbled at the sound heart of Nora
Finnegan--a cruel chagrin, with long, white teeth, such as rodents
have! She had never held a child to her breast, nor laughed in its eyes;
never bathed the pink form of a little son or daughter; never felt a
tugging of tiny hands at her voluminous calico skirts! Nora had burnt
many candles before the statue of the blessed Virgin without remedying
this deplor-able condition. She had sent up unavailing prayers--she
had, at times, wept hot tears of longing and loneliness. Sometimes in
her sleep she dreamed that a wee form, warm and exquisitely soft, was
pressed against her firm body, and that a hand with tiniest pink nails
crept within her bosom. But as she reached out to snatch this delicious
little creature closer, she woke to realize a barren woman's grief, and
turned herself in anguish on her lonely pillow.

So when Tig came along, accompanied by two curs, who had faithfully
followed him from his home, and when she learned the details of his
story, she took him in, curs and all, and, having bathed the three of
them, made them part and parcel of her home. This was after the demise
of the second husband, and at a time when Nora felt that she had done
all a woman could be expected to do for Hymen.

Tig was a preposterous baby. The curs were preposterous curs. Nora had
always been afflicted with a surplus amount of laughter--laughter
which had difficulty in attaching itself to anything, owing to the lack
of the really comic in the surroundings of the poor. But with a
red-headed and freckled baby boy and two trick dogs in the house, she
found a good and sufficient excuse for her hilarity, and would have torn
the cave where echo lies with her mirth, had that cave not been at such
an immeasurable dis-tance from the crowded neighborhood where she lived.

At the age of four Tig went to free kinder-garten; at the age of six he
was in school, and made three grades the first year and two the next. At
fifteen he was graduated from the high school and went to work as errand
boy in a newspaper office, with the fixed de-termination to make a
journalist of himself.

Nora was a trifle worried about his morals when she discovered his
intellect, but as time went on, and Tig showed no devotion for any woman
save herself, and no consciousness that there were such things as bad
boys or saloons in the world, she began to have con-fidence. All of his
earnings were brought to her. Every holiday was spent with her. He told
her his secrets and his aspirations. He admitted that he expected to
become a great man, and, though he had not quite decided upon the nature
of his career,--saving, of course, the makeshift of journalism,--it
was not unlikely that he would elect to be a novelist like--well,
probably like Thackeray.

Hope, always a charming creature, put on her most alluring smiles for
Tig, and he made her his mistress, and feasted on the light of her eyes.
Moreover, he was chap-eroned, so to speak, by Nora Finnegan, who
listened to every line Tig wrote, and made a mighty applause, and filled
him up with good Irish stew, many colored as the coat of Joseph, and
pungent with the inimitable perfume of "the rose of the cellar." Nora
Finnegan understood the onion, and used it lovingly. She perceived the
difference between the use and abuse of this pleasant and obvious friend
of hungry man, and employed it with enthu-siasm, but discretion. Thus it
came about that whoever ate of her dinners, found the meals of other
cooks strangely lacking in savor, and remembered with regret the soups
and stews, the broiled steaks, and stuffed chickens of the woman who
appreciated the onion.

When Nora Finnegan came home with a cold one day, she took it in such a
jocular fashion that Tig felt not the least concern about her, and when,
two days later, she died of pneumonia, he almost thought, at first, that
it must be one of her jokes. She had departed with decision, such as had
charac-terized every act of her life, and had made as little trouble for
others as possible. When she was dead the community had the oppor-tunity
of discovering the number of her friends. Miserable children with faces
which revealed two generations of hunger, homeless boys with vicious
countenances, miserable wrecks of humanity, women with bloated faces,
came to weep over Nora's bier, and to lay a flower there, and to scuttle
away, more abjectly lonely than even sin could make them. If the cats
and the dogs, the sparrows and horses to which she had shown kindness,
could also have attended her funeral, the procession would have been,
from a point of numbers, one of the most imposing the city had ever
known. Tig used up all their sav-ings to bury her, and the next week, by
some peculiar fatality, he had a falling out with the night editor of
his paper, and was discharged. This sank deep into his sensitive soul,
and he swore he would be an underling no longer--which foolish
resolution was directly trace-able to his hair, the color of which, it
will be recollected, was red.

Not being an underling, he was obliged to make himself into something
else, and he recurred passionately to his old idea of be-coming a
novelist. He settled down in Nora's basement rooms, went to work on a
battered type-writer, did his own cooking, and occasionally pawned
something to keep him in food. The environment was calcu-lated to
further impress him with the idea of his genius.

A certain magazine offered an alluring prize for a short story, and Tig
wrote one, and rewrote it, making alterations, revisions, an-notations,
and interlineations which would have reflected credit upon Honore
Balzac himself. Then he wrought all together, with splendid brevity and
dramatic force,--Tig's own words,--and mailed the same. He was
convinced he would get the prize. He was just as much convinced of it as
Nora Finne-gan would have been if she had been with him.

So he went about doing more fiction, tak-ing no especial care of
himself, and wrapt in rosy dreams, which, not being warm enough for the
weather, permitted him to come down with rheumatic fever.

He lay alone in his room and suffered such torments as the condemned and
rheumatic know, depending on one of Nora's former friends to come in
twice a day and keep up the fire for him. This friend was aged ten, and
looked like a sparrow who had been in a cyclone, but somewhere inside
his bones was a wit which had spelled out devotion. He found fuel for
the cracked stove, some-how or other. He brought it in a dirty sack
which he carried on his back, and he kept warmth in Tig's miserable
body. Moreover, he found food of a sort--cold, horrible bits often,
and Tig wept when he saw them, remembering the meals Nora had served
him.

Tig was getting better, though he was con-scious of a weak heart and a
lamenting stomach, when, to his amazement, the Spar-row ceased to visit
him. Not for a moment did Tig suspect desertion. He knew that only
something in the nature of an act of Providence, as the insurance
companies would designate it, could keep the little bundle of bones away
from him. As the days went by, he became convinced of it, for no Sparrow
came, and no coal lay upon the hearth. The basement window fortunately
looked toward the south, and the pale April sunshine was beginning to
make itself felt, so that the tem-perature of the room was not
unbearable. But Tig languished; sank, sank, day by day, and was kept
alive only by the conviction that the letter announcing the award of the
thousand-dollar prize would presently come to him. One night he reached
a place, where, for hunger and dejection, his mind wandered, and he
seemed to be complaining all night to Nora of his woes. When the chill
dawn came, with chittering of little birds on the dirty pavement, and an
agitation of the scrawny willow "pussies," he was not able to lift his
hand to his head. The window before his sight was but "a glimmering
square." He said to himself that the end must be at hand. Yet it was
cruel, cruel, with fame and fortune so near! If only he had some food,
he might summon strength to rally--just for a little while! Impossible
that he should die! And yet without food there was no choice.

Dreaming so of Nora's dinners, thinking how one spoonful of a stew such
as she often compounded would now be his salvation, he became conscious
of the presence of a strong perfume in the room. It was so familiar that
it seemed like a sub-consciousness, yet he found no name for this
friendly odor for a bewildered minute or two. Little by little, however,
it grew upon him, that it was the onion--that fragrant and kindly bulb
which had attained its apotheosis in the cuisine of Nora Finnegan of
sacred memory. He opened his languid eyes, to see if, mayhap, the plant
had not attained some more palpable mate-rialization.

Behold, it was so! Before him, in a brown earthen dish,--a most
familiar dish,--was an onion, pearly white, in placid seas of gravy,
smoking and delectable. With unexpected strength he raised himself, and
reached for the dish, which floated before him in a halo made by its own
steam. It moved toward him, offered a spoon to his hand, and as he ate
he heard about the room the rustle of Nora Finnegan's starched skirts,
and now and then a faint, faint echo of her old-time laugh--such an
echo as one may find of the sea in the heart of a shell.

The noble bulb disappeared little by little before his voracity, and in
contentment greater than virtue can give, he sank back upon his pillow
and slept.

Two hours later the postman knocked at the door, and receiving no
answer, forced his way in. Tig, half awake, saw him enter with no
surprise. He felt no surprise when he put a letter in his hand bearing
the name of the magazine to which he had sent his short story. He was
not even surprised, when, tearing it open with suddenly alert hands, he
found within the check for the first prize--the check he had expected.

All that day, as the April sunlight spread itself upon his floor, he
felt his strength grow. Late in the afternoon the Sparrow came back,
paler, and more bony than ever, and sank, breathing hard, upon the
floor, with his sack of coal.

"I've been sick," he said, trying to smile. "Terrible sick, but I come
as soon as I could."

"Build up the fire," cried Tig, in a voice so strong it made the Sparrow
start as if a stone had struck him. "Build up the fire, and forget you
are sick. For, by the shade of Nora Finnegan, you shall be hungry no
more!"





FROM THE LOOM OF THE DEAD


WHEN Urda Bjarnason tells a tale all the men stop their talking to
lis-ten, for they know her to be wise with the wisdom of the old people,
and that she has more learning than can be got even from the great
schools at Reykjavik. She is especially prized by them here in this new
country where the Icelandmen are settled--this America, so new in
letters, where the people speak foolishly and write unthinking books. So
the men who know that it is given to the mothers of earth to be very
wise, stop their six part singing, or their jangles about the
free-thinkers, and give attentive ear when Urda Bjarnason lights her
pipe and begins her tale.

She is very old. Her daughters and sons are all dead, but her
granddaughter, who is most respectable, and the cousin of a phy-sician,
says that Urda is twenty-four and a hundred, and there are others who
say that she is older still. She watches all that the Iceland people do
in the new land; she knows about the building of the five villages on
the North Dakota plain, and of the founding of the churches and the
schools, and the tilling of the wheat farms. She notes with sus-picion
the actions of the women who bring home webs of cloth from the store,
instead of spinning them as their mothers did before them; and she
shakes her head at the wives who run to the village grocery store every
fortnight, imitating the wasteful American women, who throw butter in
the fire faster than it can be turned from the churn.

She watches yet other things. All winter long the white snows reach
across the gently rolling plains as far as the eye can behold. In the
morning she sees them tinted pink at the east; at noon she notes golden
lights flashing across them; when the sky is gray--which is not often
--she notes that they grow as ashen as a face with the death shadow on
it. Sometimes they glitter with silver-like tips of ocean waves. But at
these things she looks only casually. It is when the blue shadows dance
on the snow that she leaves her corner behind the iron stove, and stands
before the window, resting her two hands on the stout bar of her cane,
and gazing out across the waste with eyes which age has restored after
four decades of decrepitude.

The young Icelandmen say:

"Mother, it is the clouds hurrying across the sky that make the dance of
the shadows."

"There are no clouds," she replies, and points to the jewel-like blue of
the arching sky.

"It is the drifting air," explains Fridrik Halldersson, he who has been
in the North-ern seas. "As the wind buffets the air, it looks blue
against the white of the snow. 'Tis the air that makes the dancing
shadows."

But Urda shakes her head, and points with her dried finger, and those
who stand beside her see figures moving, and airy shapes, and
contortions of strange things, such as are seen in a beryl stone.

"But Urda Bjarnason," says Ingeborg Chris-tianson, the pert young wife
with the blue-eyed twins, "why is it we see these things only when we
stand beside you and you help us to the sight?"

"Because," says the mother, with a steel-blue flash of her old eyes,
"having eyes ye will not see!" Then the men laugh. They like to hear
Ingeborg worsted. For did she not jilt two men from Gardar, and one from
Mountain, and another from Winnipeg?

Not even Ingeborg can deny that Mother Urda tells true things.

"To-day," says Urda, standing by the little window and watching the
dance of the shadows, "a child breathed thrice on a farm at the West,
and then it died."

The next week at the church gathering, when all the sledges stopped at
the house of Urda's granddaughter, they said it was so--that John
Christianson's wife Margaret never heard the voice of her son, but that
he breathed thrice in his nurse's arms and died.

"Three sledges run over the snow toward Milton," says Urda; "all are
laden with wheat, and in one is a stranger. He has with him a strange
engine, but its purpose I do not know."

Six hours later the drivers of three empty sledges stop at the house.

"We have been to Milton with wheat," they say, "and Christian Johnson
here, carried a photographer from St. Paul."

Now it stands to reason that the farmers like to amuse themselves
through the silent and white winters. And they prefer above all things
to talk or to listen, as has been the fashion of their race for a
thousand years. Among all the story-tellers there is none like Urda, for
she is the daughter and the grand-daughter and the great-granddaughter
of story-tellers. It is given to her to talk, as it is given to John
Thorlaksson to sing--he who sings so as his sledge flies over the snow
at night, that the people come out in the bitter air from their doors to
listen, and the dogs put up their noses and howl, not liking music.

In the little cabin of Peter Christianson, the husband of Urda's
granddaughter, it some-times happens that twenty men will gather about
the stove. They hang their bear-skin coats on the wall, put their fur
gauntlets underneath the stove, where they will keep warm, and then
stretch their stout, felt-covered legs to the wood fire. The room is
fetid; the coffee steams eternally on the stove; and from her chair in
the warmest corner Urda speaks out to the listening men, who shake their
heads with joy as they hear the pure old Icelandic flow in sweet rhythm
from between her lips. Among the many, many tales she tells is that of
the dead weaver, and she tells it in the simplest language in all the
world--language so simple that even great scholars could find no
simpler, and the children crawling on the floor can understand.

"Jon and Loa lived with their father and mother far to the north of the
Island of Fire, and when the children looked from their win-dows they
saw only wild scaurs and jagged lava rocks, and a distant, deep gleam of
the sea. They caught the shine of the sea through an eye-shaped opening
in the rocks, and all the long night of winter it gleamed up at them,
like the eye of a dead witch. But when it sparkled and began to laugh,
the children danced about the hut and sang, for they knew the bright
summer time was at hand. Then their father fished, and their mother was
gay. But it is true that even in the winter and the darkness they were
happy, for they made fish-ing nets and baskets and cloth together,--Jon
and Loa and their father and mother,--and the children were taught to
read in the books, and were told the sagas, and given instruction in the
part singing.

"They did not know there was such a thing as sorrow in the world, for no
one had ever mentioned it to them. But one day their mother died. Then
they had to learn how to keep the fire on the hearth, and to smoke the
fish, and make the black coffee. And also they had to learn how to live
when there is sorrow at the heart.

"They wept together at night for lack of their mother's kisses, and in
the morning they were loath to rise because they could not see her face.
The dead cold eye of the sea watching them from among the lava rocks
made them afraid, so they hung a shawl over the window to keep it out.
And the house, try as they would, did not look clean and cheerful as it
had used to do when their mother sang and worked about it.

"One day, when a mist rested over the eye of the sea, like that which
one beholds on the eyes of the blind, a greater sorrow came to them, for
a stepmother crossed the thres-hold. She looked at Jon and Loa, and made
complaint to their father that they were still very small and not likely
to be of much use. After that they had to rise earlier than ever, and to
work as only those who have their growth should work, till their hearts
cracked for weariness and shame. They had not much to eat, for their
stepmother said she would trust to the gratitude of no other woman's
child, and that she believed in lay-ing up against old age. So she put
the few coins that came to the house in a strong box, and bought little
food. Neither did she buy the children clothes, though those which their
dear mother had made for them were so worn that the warp stood apart
from the woof, and there were holes at the elbows and little warmth to
be found in them anywhere.

"Moreover, the quilts on their beds were too short for their growing
length, so that at night either their purple feet or their thin
shoulders were uncovered, and they wept for the cold, and in the
morning, when they crept into the larger room to build the fire, they
were so stiff they could not stand straight, and there was pain at their
joints.

"The wife scolded all the time, and her brow was like a storm sweeping
down from the Northwest. There was no peace to be had in the house. The
children might not repeat to each other the sagas their mother had
taught them, nor try their part singing, nor make little doll cradles of
rushes. Always they had to work, always they were scolded, always their
clothes grew thinner.

"'Stepmother,' cried Loa one day,--she whom her mother had called the
little bird,--'we are a-cold because of our rags. Our mother would
have woven blue cloth for us and made it into garments.'

"'Your mother is where she will weave no cloth!' said the stepmother,
and she laughed many times.

"All in the cold and still of that night, the stepmother wakened, and
she knew not why. She sat up in her bed, and knew not why. She knew not
why, and she looked into the room, and there, by the light of a burning
fish's tail--'twas such a light the folk used in those days--was a
woman, weaving. She had no loom, and shuttle she had none. All with her
hands she wove a wondrous cloth. Stoop-ing and bending, rising and
swaying with motions beautiful as those the Northern Lights make in a
midwinter sky, she wove a cloth. The warp was blue and mystical to see,
the woof was white, and shone with its whiteness, so that of all the
webs the step-mother had ever seen, she had seen none like to this.

"Yet the sight delighted her not, for beyond the drifting web, and
beyond the weaver she saw the room and furniture--aye, saw them
through the body of the weaver and the drift-ing of the cloth. Then she
knew--as the haunted are made to know--that 'twas the mother of the
children come to show her she could still weave cloth. The heart of the
stepmother was cold as ice, yet she could not move to waken her husband
at her side, for her hands were as fixed as if they were crossed on her
dead breast. The voice in her was silent, and her tongue stood to the
roof of her mouth.

"After a time the wraith of the dead mother moved toward her--the
wraith of the weaver moved her way--and round and about her body was
wound the shining cloth. Wherever it touched the body of the
step-mother, it was as hateful to her as the touch of a monster out of
sea-slime, so that her flesh crept away from it, and her senses swooned.

"In the early morning she awoke to the voices of the children,
whispering in the inner room as they dressed with half-frozen fingers.
Still about her was the hateful, beau-tiful web, filling her soul with
loathing and with fear. She thought she saw the task set for her, and
when the children crept in to light the fire--very purple and thin
were their little bodies, and the rags hung from them--she arose and
held out the shining cloth, and cried:

"'Here is the web your mother wove for you. I will make it into
garments!' But even as she spoke the cloth faded and fell into
nothingness, and the children cried:

"'Stepmother, you have the fever!'

"And then:

"'Stepmother, what makes the strange light in the room?'

"That day the stepmother was too weak to rise from her bed, and the
children thought she must be going to die, for she did not scold as they
cleared the house and braided their baskets, and she did not frown at
them, but looked at them with wistful eyes.

"By fall of night she was as weary as if she had wept all the day, and
so she slept. But again she was awakened and knew not why. And again she
sat up in her bed and knew not why. And again, not knowing why, she
looked and saw a woman weaving cloth. All that had happened the night
before happened this night. Then, when the morning came, and the
children crept in shivering from their beds, she arose and dressed
herself, and from her strong box she took coins, and bade her husband go
with her to the town.

"So that night a web of cloth, woven by one of the best weavers in all
Iceland, was in the house; and on the beds of the children were blankets
of lamb's wool, soft to the touch and fair to the eye. After that the
children slept warm and were at peace; for now, when they told the sagas
their mother had taught them, or tried their part songs as they sat
together on their bench, the stepmother was silent. For she feared to
chide, lest she should wake at night, not knowing why, and see the
mother's wraith."




A GRAMMATICAL GHOST


THERE was only one possible ob-jection to the drawing-room, and that was
the occasional presence of Miss Carew; and only one pos-sible objection
to Miss Carew. And that was, that she was dead.

She had been dead twenty years, as a matter of fact and record, and to
the last of her life sacredly preserved the treasures and traditions of
her family, a family bound up--as it is quite unnecessary to explain
to any one in good society--with all that is most venerable and heroic
in the history of the Republic. Miss Carew never relaxed the proverbial
hos-pitality of her house, even when she remained its sole
representative. She continued to preside at her table with dignity and
state, and to set an example of excessive modesty and gentle decorum to
a generation of restless young women.

It is not likely that having lived a life of such irreproachable
gentility as this, Miss Carew would have the bad taste to die in any way
not pleasant to mention in fastidious society. She could be trusted to
the last, not to outrage those friends who quoted her as an exemplar of
propriety. She died very un-obtrusively of an affection of the heart,
one June morning, while trimming her rose trellis, and her
lavender-colored print was not even rumpled when she fell, nor were more
than the tips of her little bronze slippers visible.

"Isn't it dreadful," said the Philadelphians, "that the property should
go to a very, very distant cousin in Iowa or somewhere else on the
frontier, about whom nobody knows any-thing at all?"

The Carew treasures were packed in boxes and sent away into the Iowa
wilderness; the Carew traditions were preserved by the His-torical
Society; the Carew property, standing in one of the most umbrageous and
aristo-cratic suburbs of Philadelphia, was rented to all manner of folk
--anybody who had money enough to pay the rental--and society entered
its doors no more.

But at last, after twenty years, and when all save the oldest
Philadelphians had forgotten Miss Lydia Carew, the very, very distant
cousin appeared. He was quite in the prime of life, and so agreeable and
unassuming that nothing could be urged against him save his patronymic,
which, being Boggs, did not commend itself to the euphemists. With him
were two maiden sisters, ladies of excellent taste and manners, who
restored the Carew china to its ancient cabinets, and replaced the Carew
pictures upon the walls, with ad-ditions not out of keeping with the
elegance of these heirlooms. Society, with a magna-nimity almost
dramatic, overlooked the name of Boggs--and called.

All was well. At least, to an outsider all seemed to be well. But, in
truth, there was a certain distress in the old mansion, and in the
hearts of the well-behaved Misses Boggs. It came about most
unexpectedly. The sis-ters had been sitting upstairs, looking out at the
beautiful grounds of the old place, and marvelling at the violets, which
lifted their heads from every possible cranny about the house, and
talking over the cordiality which they had been receiving by those upon
whom they had no claim, and they were filled with amiable satisfaction.
Life looked attractive. They had often been grateful to Miss Lydia Carew
for leaving their brother her fortune. Now they felt even more grateful
to her. She had left them a Social Position--one, which even after
twenty years of desuetude, was fit for use.

They descended the stairs together, with arms clasped about each other's
waists, and as they did so presented a placid and pleasing sight. They
entered their drawing-room with the intention of brewing a cup of tea,
and drinking it in calm sociability in the twilight. But as they entered
the room they became aware of the presence of a lady, who was already
seated at their tea-table, regarding their old Wedgewood with the air of
a con-noisseur.

There were a number of peculiarities about this intruder. To begin with,
she was hatless, quite as if she were a habitue of the house, and
was costumed in a prim lilac-colored lawn of the style of two decades
past. But a greater peculiarity was the resemblance this lady bore to a
faded daguerrotype. If looked at one way, she was perfectly
discern-ible; if looked at another, she went out in a sort of blur.
Notwithstanding this compara-tive invisibility, she exhaled a delicate
per-fume of sweet lavender, very pleasing to the nostrils of the Misses
Boggs, who stood look-ing at her in gentle and unprotesting surprise.

"I beg your pardon," began Miss Pru-dence, the younger of the Misses
Boggs, "but--"

But at this moment the Daguerrotype be-came a blur, and Miss Prudence
found her-self addressing space. The Misses Boggs were irritated. They
had never encountered any mysteries in Iowa. They began an im-patient
search behind doors and portieres, and even under sofas, though
it was quite absurd to suppose that a lady recognizing the merits of the
Carew Wedgewood would so far forget herself as to crawl under a sofa.

When they had given up all hope of dis-covering the intruder, they saw
her standing at the far end of the drawing-room critically examining a
water-color marine. The elder Miss Boggs started toward her with stern
decision, but the little Daguerrotype turned with a shadowy smile,
became a blur and an imperceptibility.

Miss Boggs looked at Miss Prudence Boggs.

"If there were ghosts," she said, "this would be one."

"If there were ghosts," said Miss Prudence Boggs, "this would be the
ghost of Lydia Carew."

The twilight was settling into blackness, and Miss Boggs nervously lit
the gas while Miss Prudence ran for other tea-cups, preferring, for
reasons superfluous to mention, not to drink out of the Carew china that
evening.

The next day, on taking up her embroidery frame, Miss Boggs found a
number of old-fashioned cross-stitches added to her Ken-sington.
Prudence, she knew, would never have degraded herself by taking a
cross-stitch, and the parlor-maid was above taking such a liberty. Miss
Boggs mentioned the incident that night at a dinner given by an ancient
friend of the Carews.

"Oh, that's the work of Lydia Carew, with-out a doubt!" cried the
hostess. "She visits every new family that moves to the house, but she
never remains more than a week or two with any one."

"It must be that she disapproves of them," suggested Miss Boggs.

"I think that's it," said the hostess. "She doesn't like their china, or
their fiction."

"I hope she'll disapprove of us," added Miss Prudence.

The hostess belonged to a very old Philadel-phian family, and she shook
her head.

"I should say it was a compliment for even the ghost of Miss Lydia Carew
to approve of one," she said severely.

The next morning, when the sisters entered their drawing-room there were
numerous evi-dences of an occupant during their absence. The sofa
pillows had been rearranged so that the effect of their grouping was
less bizarre than that favored by the Western women; a horrid little
Buddhist idol with its eyes fixed on its abdomen, had been chastely
hidden behind a Dresden shepherdess, as unfit for the scrutiny of polite
eyes; and on the table where Miss Prudence did work in water colors,
after the fashion of the impressionists, lay a prim and impossible
composition representing a moss-rose and a number of heartsease,
col-ored with that caution which modest spinster artists instinctively
exercise.

"Oh, there's no doubt it's the work of Miss Lydia Carew," said Miss
Prudence, contemptu-ously. "There's no mistaking the drawing of that
rigid little rose. Don't you remember those wreaths and bouquets framed,
among the pictures we got when the Carew pictures were sent to us? I
gave some of them to an orphan asylum and burned up the rest."

"Hush!" cried Miss Boggs, involuntarily. "If she heard you, it would
hurt her feelings terribly. Of course, I mean--" and she blushed. "It
might hurt her feelings--but how perfectly ridiculous! It's
impos-sible!"

Miss Prudence held up the sketch of the moss-rose.

"THAT may be impossible in an artistic sense, but it is a palpable
thing."

"Bosh!" cried Miss Boggs.

"But," protested Miss Prudence, "how do you explain it?"

"I don't," said Miss Boggs, and left the room.

That evening the sisters made a point of being in the drawing-room
before the dusk came on, and of lighting the gas at the first hint of
twilight. They didn't believe in Miss Lydia Carew--but still they
meant to be beforehand with her. They talked with un-wonted vivacity and
in a louder tone than was their custom. But as they drank their tea even
their utmost verbosity could not make them oblivious to the fact that
the perfume of sweet lavender was stealing insidiously through the room.
They tacitly refused to recognize this odor and all that it indicated,
when sud-denly, with a sharp crash, one of the old Carew tea-cups fell
from the tea-table to the floor and was broken. The disaster was
fol-lowed by what sounded like a sigh of pain and dismay.

"I didn't suppose Miss Lydia Carew would ever be as awkward as that,"
cried the younger Miss Boggs, petulantly.

"Prudence," said her sister with a stern accent, "please try not to be a
fool. You brushed the cup off with the sleeve of your dress."

"Your theory wouldn't be so bad," said Miss Prudence, half laughing and
half crying, "if there were any sleeves to my dress, but, as you see,
there aren't," and then Miss Prudence had something as near hysterics as
a healthy young woman from the West can have.

"I wouldn't think such a perfect lady as Lydia Carew," she ejaculated
between her sobs, "would make herself so disagreeable! You may talk
about good-breeding all you please, but I call such intrusion
exceedingly bad taste. I have a horrible idea that she likes us and
means to stay with us. She left those other people because she did not
approve of their habits or their grammar. It would be just our luck to
please her."

"Well, I like your egotism," said Miss Boggs.

However, the view Miss Prudence took of the case appeared to be the
right one. Time went by and Miss Lydia Carew still remained. When the
ladies entered their drawing-room they would see the little lady-like
Daguerro-type revolving itself into a blur before one of the family
portraits. Or they noticed that the yellow sofa cushion, toward which
she appeared to feel a peculiar antipathy, had been dropped behind the
sofa upon the floor, or that one of Jane Austen's novels, which none of
the family ever read, had been re-moved from the book shelves and left
open upon the table.

"I cannot become reconciled to it," com-plained Miss Boggs to Miss
Prudence. "I wish we had remained in Iowa where we belong. Of course I
don't believe in the thing! No sensible person would. But still I cannot
become reconciled."

But their liberation was to come, and in a most unexpected manner.

A relative by marriage visited them from the West. He was a friendly man
and had much to say, so he talked all through dinner, and afterward
followed the ladies to the draw-ing-room to finish his gossip. The gas
in the room was turned very low, and as they entered Miss Prudence
caught sight of Miss Carew, in company attire, sitting in upright
propriety in a stiff-backed chair at the extremity of the apartment.

Miss Prudence had a sudden idea.

"We will not turn up the gas," she said, with an emphasis intended to
convey private information to her sister. "It will be more agreeable to
sit here and talk in this soft light."

Neither her brother nor the man from the West made any objection. Miss
Boggs and Miss Prudence, clasping each other's hands, divided their
attention between their corporeal and their incorporeal guests. Miss
Boggs was confident that her sister had an idea, and was willing to
await its development. As the guest from Iowa spoke, Miss Carew bent a
politely attentive ear to what he said.

"Ever since Richards took sick that time," he said briskly, "it seemed
like he shed all responsibility." (The Misses Boggs saw the Daguerrotype
put up her shadowy head with a movement of doubt and apprehension.) "The
fact of the matter was, Richards didn't seem to scarcely get on the way
he might have been expected to." (At this conscienceless split to the
infinitive and misplacing of the preposition, Miss Carew arose trembling
per-ceptibly.) "I saw it wasn't no use for him to count on a quick
recovery--"

The Misses Boggs lost the rest of the sen-tence, for at the utterance of
the double nega-tive Miss Lydia Carew had flashed out, not in a blur,
but with mortal haste, as when life goes out at a pistol shot!

The man from the West wondered why Miss Prudence should have cried at so
pathetic a part of his story:

"Thank Goodness!"

And their brother was amazed to see Miss Boggs kiss Miss Prudence with
passion and energy.

It was the end. Miss Carew returned no more.



THE END





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