Part 3 out of 3
"Oh, it is a sign of death!"
Cordelia's feet were heard as she staggered on the stairs. She
almost fell into the room. She reeled over to Mr. Townsend and
clutched his arm. He cast a sidewise glance, half furious, half
commiserating at her.
"Well, what is it all about?" he asked.
"I don't know. What is it? Oh, what is it? The looking-glass in
the kitchen is broken. All over the floor. Oh, oh! What is it?"
"I don't know any more than you do. I didn't do it."
"Lookin'-glasses broken is a sign of death in the house," said
Cordelia. "If it's me, I hope I'm ready; but I'd rather die than
be so scared as I've been lately."
Mr. Townsend shook himself loose and eyed the two trembling women
with gathering resolution.
"Now, look here, both of you," he said. "This is nonsense. You'll
die sure enough of fright if you keep on this way. I was a fool
myself to be startled. Everything it is is an earthquake."
"Oh, David!" gasped his wife, not much reassured.
"It is nothing but an earthquake," persisted Mr. Townsend. "It
acted just like that. Things always are broken on the walls, and
the middle of the room isn't affected. I've read about it."
Suddenly Mrs. Townsend gave a loud shriek and pointed.
"How do you account for that," she cried, "if it's an earthquake?
Oh, oh, oh!"
She was on the verge of hysterics. Her husband held her firmly by
the arm as his eyes followed the direction of her rigid pointing
finger. Cordelia looked also, her eyes seeming converged to a
bright point of fear. On the floor in front of the broken looking-
glass lay a mass of black stuff in a grewsome long ridge.
"It's something you dropped there," almost shouted Mr. Townsend.
"It ain't. Oh!"
Mr. Townsend dropped his wife's arm and took one stride toward the
object. It was a very long crape veil. He lifted it, and it
floated out from his arm as if imbued with electricity.
"It's yours," he said to his wife.
"Oh, David, I never had one. You know, oh, you know I--shouldn't--
unless you died. How came it there?"
"I'm darned if I know," said David, regarding it. He was deadly
pale, but still resentful rather than afraid.
"Don't hold it; don't!"
"I'd like to know what in thunder all this means?" said David. He
gave the thing an angry toss and it fell on the floor in exactly
the same long heap as before.
Cordelia began to weep with racking sobs. Mrs. Townsend reached
out and caught her husband's hand, clutching it hard with ice-cold
"What's got into this house, anyhow?" he growled.
"You'll have to sell it. Oh, David, we can't live here."
"As for my selling a house I paid only five thousand for when it's
worth twenty-five, for any such nonsense as this, I won't!"
David gave one stride toward the black veil, but it rose from the
floor and moved away before him across the room at exactly the same
height as if suspended from a woman's head. He pursued it,
clutching vainly, all around the room, then he swung himself on his
heel with an exclamation and the thing fell to the floor again in
the long heap. Then were heard hurrying feet on the stairs and
Adrianna burst into the room. She ran straight to her father and
clutched his arm; she tried to speak, but she chattered
unintelligibly; her face was blue. Her father shook her violently.
"Adrianna, do have more sense!" he cried.
"Oh, David, how can you talk so?" sobbed her mother.
"I can't help it. I'm mad!" said he with emphasis. "What has got
into this house and you all, anyhow?"
"What is it, Adrianna, poor child," asked her mother. "Only look
what has happened here."
"It's an earthquake," said her father staunchly; "nothing to be
"How do you account for THAT?" said Mrs. Townsend in an awful
voice, pointing to the veil.
Adrianna did not look--she was too engrossed with her own terrors.
She began to speak in a breathless voice.
"I--was--coming--by the vacant lot," she panted, "and--I--I--had my
new hat in a paper bag and--a parcel of blue ribbon, and--I saw a
crowd, an awful--oh! a whole crowd of people with white faces, as
if--they were dressed all in black."
"Where are they now?"
"I don't know. Oh!" Adrianna sank gasping feebly into a chair.
"Get her some water, David," sobbed her mother.
David rushed with an impatient exclamation out of the room and
returned with a glass of water which he held to his daughter's
"Here, drink this!" he said roughly.
"Oh, David, how can you speak so?" sobbed his wife.
"I can't help it. I'm mad clean through," said David.
Then there was a hard bound upstairs, and George entered. He was
very white, but he grinned at them with an appearance of unconcern.
"Hullo!" he said in a shaking voice, which he tried to control.
"What on earth's to pay in that vacant lot now?"
"Well, what is it?" demanded his father.
"Oh, nothing, only--well, there are lights over it exactly as if
there was a house there, just about where the windows would be. It
looked as if you could walk right in, but when you look close there
are those old dried-up weeds rattling away on the ground the same
as ever. I looked at it and couldn't believe my eyes. A woman saw
it, too. She came along just as I did. She gave one look, then
she screeched and ran. I waited for some one else, but nobody
Mr. Townsend rushed out of the room.
"I daresay it'll be gone when he gets there," began George, then he
stared round the room. "What's to pay here?" he cried.
"Oh, George, the whole house shook all at once, and all the
looking-glasses broke," wailed his mother, and Adrianna and
George whistled with pale lips. Then Mr. Townsend entered.
"Well," asked George, "see anything?"
"I don't want to talk," said his father. "I've stood just about
"We've got to sell out and go back to Townsend Centre," cried his
wife in a wild voice. "Oh, David, say you'll go back."
"I won't go back for any such nonsense as this, and sell a twenty-
five thousand dollar house for five thousand," said he firmly.
But that very night his resolution was shaken. The whole family
watched together in the dining-room. They were all afraid to go to
bed--that is, all except possibly Mr. Townsend. Mrs. Townsend
declared firmly that she for one would leave that awful house and
go back to Townsend Centre whether he came or not, unless they all
stayed together and watched, and Mr. Townsend yielded. They chose
the dining-room for the reason that it was nearer the street should
they wish to make their egress hurriedly, and they took up their
station around the dining-table on which Cordelia had placed a
"It looks exactly as if we were watching with a corpse," she said
in a horror-stricken whisper.
"Hold your tongue if you can't talk sense," said Mr. Townsend.
The dining-room was very large, finished in oak, with a dark blue
paper above the wainscotting. The old sign of the tavern, the Blue
Leopard, hung over the mantel-shelf. Mr. Townsend had insisted on
hanging it there. He had a curious pride in it. The family sat
together until after midnight and nothing unusual happened. Mrs.
Townsend began to nod; Mr. Townsend read the paper ostentatiously.
Adrianna and Cordelia stared with roving eyes about the room, then
at each other as if comparing notes on terror. George had a book
which he studied furtively. All at once Adrianna gave a startled
exclamation and Cordelia echoed her. George whistled faintly.
Mrs. Townsend awoke with a start and Mr. Townsend's paper rattled
to the floor.
"Look!" gasped Adrianna.
The sign of the Blue Leopard over the shelf glowed as if a lantern
hung over it. The radiance was thrown from above. It grew
brighter and brighter as they watched. The Blue Leopard seemed to
crouch and spring with life. Then the door into the front hall
opened--the outer door, which had been carefully locked. It
squeaked and they all recognized it. They sat staring. Mr.
Townsend was as transfixed as the rest. They heard the outer door
shut, then the door into the room swung open and slowly that awful
black group of people which they had seen in the afternoon entered.
The Townsends with one accord rose and huddled together in a far
corner; they all held to each other and stared. The people, their
faces gleaming with a whiteness of death, their black robes waving
and folding, crossed the room. They were a trifle above mortal
height, or seemed so to the terrified eyes which saw them. They
reached the mantel-shelf where the sign-board hung, then a black-
draped long arm was seen to rise and make a motion, as if plying a
knocker. Then the whole company passed out of sight, as if through
the wall, and the room was as before. Mrs. Townsend was shaking in
a nervous chill, Adrianna was almost fainting, Cordelia was in
hysterics. David Townsend stood glaring in a curious way at the
sign of the Blue Leopard. George stared at him with a look of
horror. There was something in his father's face which made him
forget everything else. At last he touched his arm timidly.
"Father," he whispered.
David turned and regarded him with a look of rage and fury, then
his face cleared; he passed his hand over his forehead.
"Good Lord! What DID come to me?" he muttered.
"You looked like that awful picture of old Tom Townsend in the
garret in Townsend Centre, father," whimpered the boy, shuddering.
"Should think I might look like 'most any old cuss after such
darned work as this," growled David, but his face was white. "Go
and pour out some hot tea for your mother," he ordered the boy
sharply. He himself shook Cordelia violently. "Stop such
actions!" he shouted in her ears, and shook her again. "Ain't you
a church member?" he demanded; "what be you afraid of? You ain't
done nothin' wrong, have ye?"
Then Cordelia quoted Scripture in a burst of sobs and laughter.
"Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother
conceive me," she cried out. "If I ain't done wrong, mebbe them
that's come before me did, and when the Evil One and the Powers of
Darkness is abroad I'm liable, I'm liable!" Then she laughed loud
and long and shrill.
"If you don't hush up," said David, but still with that white
terror and horror on his own face, "I'll bundle you out in that
vacant lot whether or no. I mean it."
Then Cordelia was quiet, after one wild roll of her eyes at him.
The colour was returning to Adrianna's cheeks; her mother was
drinking hot tea in spasmodic gulps.
"It's after midnight," she gasped, "and I don't believe they'll
come again to-night. Do you, David?"
"No, I don't," said David conclusively.
"Oh, David, we mustn't stay another night in this awful house."
"We won't. To-morrow we'll pack off bag and baggage to Townsend
Centre, if it takes all the fire department to move us," said
Adrianna smiled in the midst of her terror. She thought of Abel
The next day Mr. Townsend went to the real estate agent who had
sold him the house.
"It's no use," he said, "I can't stand it. Sell the house for what
you can get. I'll give it away rather than keep it."
Then he added a few strong words as to his opinion of parties who
sold him such an establishment. But the agent pleaded innocent for
the most part.
"I'll own I suspected something wrong when the owner, who pledged
me to secrecy as to his name, told me to sell that place for what I
could get, and did not limit me. I had never heard anything, but I
began to suspect something was wrong. Then I made a few inquiries
and found out that there was a rumour in the neighbourhood that
there was something out of the usual about that vacant lot. I had
wondered myself why it wasn't built upon. There was a story about
it's being undertaken once, and the contract made, and the
contractor dying; then another man took it and one of the workmen
was killed on his way to dig the cellar, and the others struck. I
didn't pay much attention to it. I never believed much in that
sort of thing anyhow, and then, too, I couldn't find out that there
had ever been anything wrong about the house itself, except as the
people who had lived there were said to have seen and heard queer
things in the vacant lot, so I thought you might be able to get
along, especially as you didn't look like a man who was timid, and
the house was such a bargain as I never handled before. But this
you tell me is beyond belief."
"Do you know the names of the people who formerly owned the vacant
lot?" asked Mr. Townsend.
"I don't know for certain," replied the agent, "for the original
owners flourished long before your or my day, but I do know that
the lot goes by the name of the old Gaston lot. What's the matter?
Are you ill?"
"No; it is nothing," replied Mr. Townsend. "Get what you can for
the house; perhaps another family might not be as troubled as we
"I hope you are not going to leave the city?" said the agent,
"I am going back to Townsend Centre as fast as steam can carry me
after we get packed up and out of that cursed house," replied Mr.
He did not tell the agent nor any of his family what had caused him
to start when told the name of the former owners of the lot. He
remembered all at once the story of a ghastly murder which had
taken place in the Blue Leopard. The victim's name was Gaston and
the murderer had never been discovered.
THE LOST GHOST
Mrs. John Emerson, sitting with her needlework beside the window,
looked out and saw Mrs. Rhoda Meserve coming down the street, and
knew at once by the trend of her steps and the cant of her head
that she meditated turning in at her gate. She also knew by a
certain something about her general carriage--a thrusting forward
of the neck, a bustling hitch of the shoulders--that she had
important news. Rhoda Meserve always had the news as soon as the
news was in being, and generally Mrs. John Emerson was the first to
whom she imparted it. The two women had been friends ever since
Mrs. Meserve had married Simon Meserve and come to the village to
Mrs. Meserve was a pretty woman, moving with graceful flirts of
ruffling skirts; her clear-cut, nervous face, as delicately tinted
as a shell, looked brightly from the plumy brim of a black hat at
Mrs. Emerson in the window. Mrs. Emerson was glad to see her
coming. She returned the greeting with enthusiasm, then rose
hurriedly, ran into the cold parlour and brought out one of the
best rocking-chairs. She was just in time, after drawing it up
beside the opposite window, to greet her friend at the door.
"Good-afternoon," said she. "I declare, I'm real glad to see you.
I've been alone all day. John went to the city this morning. I
thought of coming over to your house this afternoon, but I couldn't
bring my sewing very well. I am putting the ruffles on my new
black dress skirt."
"Well, I didn't have a thing on hand except my crochet work,"
responded Mrs. Meserve, "and I thought I'd just run over a few
"I'm real glad you did," repeated Mrs. Emerson. "Take your things
right off. Here, I'll put them on my bed in the bedroom. Take the
Mrs. Meserve settled herself in the parlour rocking-chair, while
Mrs. Emerson carried her shawl and hat into the little adjoining
bedroom. When she returned Mrs. Meserve was rocking peacefully and
was already at work hooking blue wool in and out.
"That's real pretty," said Mrs. Emerson.
"Yes, I think it's pretty," replied Mrs. Meserve.
"I suppose it's for the church fair?"
"Yes. I don't suppose it'll bring enough to pay for the worsted,
let alone the work, but I suppose I've got to make something."
"How much did that one you made for the fair last year bring?"
"It's wicked, ain't it?"
"I rather guess it is. It takes me a week every minute I can get
to make one. I wish those that bought such things for twenty-five
cents had to make them. Guess they'd sing another song. Well, I
suppose I oughtn't to complain as long as it is for the Lord, but
sometimes it does seem as if the Lord didn't get much out of it."
"Well, it's pretty work," said Mrs. Emerson, sitting down at the
opposite window and taking up her dress skirt.
"Yes, it is real pretty work. I just LOVE to crochet."
The two women rocked and sewed and crocheted in silence for two or
three minutes. They were both waiting. Mrs. Meserve waited for
the other's curiosity to develop in order that her news might have,
as it were, a befitting stage entrance. Mrs. Emerson waited for
the news. Finally she could wait no longer.
"Well, what's the news?" said she.
"Well, I don't know as there's anything very particular," hedged
the other woman, prolonging the situation.
"Yes, there is; you can't cheat me," replied Mrs. Emerson.
"Now, how do you know?"
"By the way you look."
Mrs. Meserve laughed consciously and rather vainly.
"Well, Simon says my face is so expressive I can't hide anything
more than five minutes no matter how hard I try," said she. "Well,
there is some news. Simon came home with it this noon. He heard
it in South Dayton. He had some business over there this morning.
The old Sargent place is let."
Mrs. Emerson dropped her sewing and stared.
"You don't say so!"
"Yes, it is."
"Why, some folks from Boston that moved to South Dayton last year.
They haven't been satisfied with the house they had there--it
wasn't large enough. The man has got considerable property and can
afford to live pretty well. He's got a wife and his unmarried
sister in the family. The sister's got money, too. He does
business in Boston and it's just as easy to get to Boston from here
as from South Dayton, and so they're coming here. You know the old
Sargent house is a splendid place."
"Yes, it's the handsomest house in town, but--"
"Oh, Simon said they told him about that and he just laughed. Said
he wasn't afraid and neither was his wife and sister. Said he'd
risk ghosts rather than little tucked-up sleeping-rooms without any
sun, like they've had in the Dayton house. Said he'd rather risk
SEEING ghosts, than risk being ghosts themselves. Simon said they
said he was a great hand to joke."
"Oh, well," said Mrs. Emerson, "it is a beautiful house, and maybe
there isn't anything in those stories. It never seemed to me they
came very straight anyway. I never took much stock in them. All I
thought was--if his wife was nervous."
"Nothing in creation would hire me to go into a house that I'd ever
heard a word against of that kind," declared Mrs. Meserve with
emphasis. "I wouldn't go into that house if they would give me the
rent. I've seen enough of haunted houses to last me as long as I
Mrs. Emerson's face acquired the expression of a hunting hound.
"Have you?" she asked in an intense whisper.
"Yes, I have. I don't want any more of it."
"Before you came here?"
"Yes; before I was married--when I was quite a girl."
Mrs. Meserve had not married young. Mrs. Emerson had mental
calculations when she heard that.
"Did you really live in a house that was--" she whispered
Mrs. Meserve nodded solemnly.
"Did you really ever--see--anything--"
Mrs. Meserve nodded.
"You didn't see anything that did you any harm?"
"No, I didn't see anything that did me harm looking at it in one
way, but it don't do anybody in this world any good to see things
that haven't any business to be seen in it. You never get over
There was a moment's silence. Mrs. Emerson's features seemed to
"Well, of course I don't want to urge you," said she, "if you don't
feel like talking about it; but maybe it might do you good to tell
it out, if it's on your mind, worrying you."
"I try to put it out of my mind," said Mrs. Meserve.
"Well, it's just as you feel."
"I never told anybody but Simon," said Mrs. Meserve. "I never felt
as if it was wise perhaps. I didn't know what folks might think.
So many don't believe in anything they can't understand, that they
might think my mind wasn't right. Simon advised me not to talk
about it. He said he didn't believe it was anything supernatural,
but he had to own up that he couldn't give any explanation for it
to save his life. He had to own up that he didn't believe anybody
could. Then he said he wouldn't talk about it. He said lots of
folks would sooner tell folks my head wasn't right than to own up
they couldn't see through it."
"I'm sure I wouldn't say so," returned Mrs. Emerson reproachfully.
"You know better than that, I hope."
"Yes, I do," replied Mrs. Meserve. "I know you wouldn't say so."
"And I wouldn't tell it to a soul if you didn't want me to."
"Well, I'd rather you wouldn't."
"I won't speak of it even to Mr. Emerson."
"I'd rather you wouldn't even to him."
Mrs. Emerson took up her dress skirt again; Mrs. Meserve hooked up
another loop of blue wool. Then she begun:
"Of course," said she, "I ain't going to say positively that I
believe or disbelieve in ghosts, but all I tell you is what I saw.
I can't explain it. I don't pretend I can, for I can't. If you
can, well and good; I shall be glad, for it will stop tormenting me
as it has done and always will otherwise. There hasn't been a day
nor a night since it happened that I haven't thought of it, and
always I have felt the shivers go down my back when I did."
"That's an awful feeling," Mrs. Emerson said.
"Ain't it? Well, it happened before I was married, when I was a
girl and lived in East Wilmington. It was the first year I lived
there. You know my family all died five years before that. I told
Mrs. Emerson nodded.
"Well, I went there to teach school, and I went to board with a
Mrs. Amelia Dennison and her sister, Mrs. Bird. Abby, her name
was--Abby Bird. She was a widow; she had never had any children.
She had a little money--Mrs. Dennison didn't have any--and she had
come to East Wilmington and bought the house they lived in. It was
a real pretty house, though it was very old and run down. It had
cost Mrs. Bird a good deal to put it in order. I guess that was
the reason they took me to board. I guess they thought it would
help along a little. I guess what I paid for my board about kept
us all in victuals. Mrs. Bird had enough to live on if they were
careful, but she had spent so much fixing up the old house that
they must have been a little pinched for awhile.
"Anyhow, they took me to board, and I thought I was pretty lucky to
get in there. I had a nice room, big and sunny and furnished
pretty, the paper and paint all new, and everything as neat as wax.
Mrs. Dennison was one of the best cooks I ever saw, and I had a
little stove in my room, and there was always a nice fire there
when I got home from school. I thought I hadn't been in such a
nice place since I lost my own home, until I had been there about
"I had been there about three weeks before I found it out, though I
guess it had been going on ever since they had been in the house,
and that was most four months. They hadn't said anything about it,
and I didn't wonder, for there they had just bought the house and
been to so much expense and trouble fixing it up.
"Well, I went there in September. I begun my school the first
Monday. I remember it was a real cold fall, there was a frost the
middle of September, and I had to put on my winter coat. I
remember when I came home that night (let me see, I began school on
a Monday, and that was two weeks from the next Thursday), I took
off my coat downstairs and laid it on the table in the front entry.
It was a real nice coat--heavy black broadcloth trimmed with fur; I
had had it the winter before. Mrs. Bird called after me as I went
upstairs that I ought not to leave it in the front entry for fear
somebody might come in and take it, but I only laughed and called
back to her that I wasn't afraid. I never was much afraid of
"Well, though it was hardly the middle of September, it was a real
cold night. I remember my room faced west, and the sun was getting
low, and the sky was a pale yellow and purple, just as you see it
sometimes in the winter when there is going to be a cold snap. I
rather think that was the night the frost came the first time. I
know Mrs. Dennison covered up some flowers she had in the front
yard, anyhow. I remember looking out and seeing an old green plaid
shawl of hers over the verbena bed. There was a fire in my little
wood-stove. Mrs. Bird made it, I know. She was a real motherly
sort of woman; she always seemed to be the happiest when she was
doing something to make other folks happy and comfortable. Mrs.
Dennison told me she had always been so. She said she had coddled
her husband within an inch of his life. 'It's lucky Abby never had
any children,' she said, 'for she would have spoilt them.'
"Well, that night I sat down beside my nice little fire and ate an
apple. There was a plate of nice apples on my table. Mrs. Bird
put them there. I was always very fond of apples. Well, I sat
down and ate an apple, and was having a beautiful time, and
thinking how lucky I was to have got board in such a place with
such nice folks, when I heard a queer little sound at my door. It
was such a little hesitating sort of sound that it sounded more
like a fumble than a knock, as if some one very timid, with very
little hands, was feeling along the door, not quite daring to
knock. For a minute I thought it was a mouse. But I waited and it
came again, and then I made up my mind it was a knock, but a very
little scared one, so I said, 'Come in.'
"But nobody came in, and then presently I heard the knock again.
Then I got up and opened the door, thinking it was very queer, and
I had a frightened feeling without knowing why.
"Well, I opened the door, and the first thing I noticed was a
draught of cold air, as if the front door downstairs was open, but
there was a strange close smell about the cold draught. It smelled
more like a cellar that had been shut up for years, than out-of-
doors. Then I saw something. I saw my coat first. The thing that
held it was so small that I couldn't see much of anything else.
Then I saw a little white face with eyes so scared and wishful that
they seemed as if they might eat a hole in anybody's heart. It was
a dreadful little face, with something about it which made it
different from any other face on earth, but it was so pitiful that
somehow it did away a good deal with the dreadfulness. And there
were two little hands spotted purple with the cold, holding up my
winter coat, and a strange little far-away voice said: 'I can't
find my mother.'
"'For Heaven's sake,' I said, 'who are you?'
"Then the little voice said again: 'I can't find my mother.'
"All the time I could smell the cold and I saw that it was about
the child; that cold was clinging to her as if she had come out of
some deadly cold place. Well, I took my coat, I did not know what
else to do, and the cold was clinging to that. It was as cold as
if it had come off ice. When I had the coat I could see the child
more plainly. She was dressed in one little white garment made
very simply. It was a nightgown, only very long, quite covering
her feet, and I could see dimly through it her little thin body
mottled purple with the cold. Her face did not look so cold; that
was a clear waxen white. Her hair was dark, but it looked as if it
might be dark only because it was so damp, almost wet, and might
really be light hair. It clung very close to her forehead, which
was round and white. She would have been very beautiful if she had
not been so dreadful.
"'Who are you?' says I again, looking at her.
"She looked at me with her terrible pleading eyes and did not say
"'What are you?' says I. Then she went away. She did not seem to
run or walk like other children. She flitted, like one of those
little filmy white butterflies, that don't seem like real ones they
are so light, and move as if they had no weight. But she looked
back from the head of the stairs. 'I can't find my mother,' said
she, and I never heard such a voice.
"'Who is your mother?' says I, but she was gone.
"Well, I thought for a moment I should faint away. The room got
dark and I heard a singing in my ears. Then I flung my coat onto
the bed. My hands were as cold as ice from holding it, and I stood
in my door, and called first Mrs. Bird and then Mrs. Dennison. I
didn't dare go down over the stairs where that had gone. It seemed
to me I should go mad if I didn't see somebody or something like
other folks on the face of the earth. I thought I should never
make anybody hear, but I could hear them stepping about downstairs,
and I could smell biscuits baking for supper. Somehow the smell of
those biscuits seemed the only natural thing left to keep me in my
right mind. I didn't dare go over those stairs. I just stood
there and called, and finally I heard the entry door open and Mrs.
Bird called back:
"'What is it? Did you call, Miss Arms?'
"'Come up here; come up here as quick as you can, both of you,' I
screamed out; 'quick, quick, quick!'
"I heard Mrs. Bird tell Mrs. Dennison: 'Come quick, Amelia,
something is the matter in Miss Arms' room.' It struck me even
then that she expressed herself rather queerly, and it struck me as
very queer, indeed, when they both got upstairs and I saw that they
knew what had happened, or that they knew of what nature the
"'What is it, dear?' asked Mrs. Bird, and her pretty, loving voice
had a strained sound. I saw her look at Mrs. Dennison and I saw
Mrs. Dennison look back at her.
"'For God's sake,' says I, and I never spoke so before--'for God's
sake, what was it brought my coat upstairs?'
"'What was it like?' asked Mrs. Dennison in a sort of failing
voice, and she looked at her sister again and her sister looked
back at her.
"'It was a child I have never seen here before. It looked like a
child,' says I, 'but I never saw a child so dreadful, and it had on
a nightgown, and said she couldn't find her mother. Who was it?
What was it?'
"I thought for a minute Mrs. Dennison was going to faint, but Mrs.
Bird hung onto her and rubbed her hands, and whispered in her ear
(she had the cooingest kind of voice), and I ran and got her a
glass of cold water. I tell you it took considerable courage to go
downstairs alone, but they had set a lamp on the entry table so I
could see. I don't believe I could have spunked up enough to have
gone downstairs in the dark, thinking every second that child might
be close to me. The lamp and the smell of the biscuits baking
seemed to sort of keep my courage up, but I tell you I didn't waste
much time going down those stairs and out into the kitchen for a
glass of water. I pumped as if the house was afire, and I grabbed
the first thing I came across in the shape of a tumbler: it was a
painted one that Mrs. Dennison's Sunday school class gave her, and
it was meant for a flower vase.
"Well, I filled it and then ran upstairs. I felt every minute as
if something would catch my feet, and I held the glass to Mrs.
Dennison's lips, while Mrs. Bird held her head up, and she took a
good long swallow, then she looked hard at the tumbler.
"'Yes,' says I, 'I know I got this one, but I took the first I came
across, and it isn't hurt a mite.'
"'Don't get the painted flowers wet,' says Mrs. Dennison very
feebly, 'they'll wash off if you do.'
"'I'll be real careful,' says I. I knew she set a sight by that
"The water seemed to do Mrs. Dennison good, for presently she
pushed Mrs. Bird away and sat up. She had been laying down on my
"'I'm all over it now,' says she, but she was terribly white, and
her eyes looked as if they saw something outside things. Mrs. Bird
wasn't much better, but she always had a sort of settled sweet,
good look that nothing could disturb to any great extent. I knew I
looked dreadful, for I caught a glimpse of myself in the glass, and
I would hardly have known who it was.
"Mrs. Dennison, she slid off the bed and walked sort of tottery to
a chair. 'I was silly to give way so,' says she.
"'No, you wasn't silly, sister,' says Mrs. Bird. 'I don't know
what this means any more than you do, but whatever it is, no one
ought to be called silly for being overcome by anything so
different from other things which we have known all our lives.'
"Mrs. Dennison looked at her sister, then she looked at me, then
back at her sister again, and Mrs. Bird spoke as if she had been
asked a question.
"'Yes,' says she, 'I do think Miss Arms ought to be told--that is,
I think she ought to be told all we know ourselves.'
"'That isn't much,' said Mrs. Dennison with a dying-away sort of
sigh. She looked as if she might faint away again any minute. She
was a real delicate-looking woman, but it turned out she was a good
deal stronger than poor Mrs. Bird.
"'No, there isn't much we do know,' says Mrs. Bird, 'but what
little there is she ought to know. I felt as if she ought to when
she first came here.'
"'Well, I didn't feel quite right about it,' said Mrs. Dennison,
'but I kept hoping it might stop, and any way, that it might never
trouble her, and you had put so much in the house, and we needed
the money, and I didn't know but she might be nervous and think she
couldn't come, and I didn't want to take a man boarder.'
"'And aside from the money, we were very anxious to have you come,
my dear,' says Mrs. Bird.
"'Yes,' says Mrs. Dennison, 'we wanted the young company in the
house; we were lonesome, and we both of us took a great liking to
you the minute we set eyes on you.'
"And I guess they meant what they said, both of them. They were
beautiful women, and nobody could be any kinder to me than they
were, and I never blamed them for not telling me before, and, as
they said, there wasn't really much to tell.
"They hadn't any sooner fairly bought the house, and moved into it,
than they began to see and hear things. Mrs. Bird said they were
sitting together in the sitting-room one evening when they heard it
the first time. She said her sister was knitting lace (Mrs.
Dennison made beautiful knitted lace) and she was reading the
Missionary Herald (Mrs. Bird was very much interested in mission
work), when all of a sudden they heard something. She heard it
first and she laid down her Missionary Herald and listened, and
then Mrs. Dennison she saw her listening and she drops her lace.
'What is it you are listening to, Abby?' says she. Then it came
again and they both heard, and the cold shivers went down their
backs to hear it, though they didn't know why. 'It's the cat,
isn't it?' says Mrs. Bird.
"'It isn't any cat,' says Mrs. Dennison.
"'Oh, I guess it MUST be the cat; maybe she's got a mouse,' says
Mrs. Bird, real cheerful, to calm down Mrs. Dennison, for she saw
she was 'most scared to death, and she was always afraid of her
fainting away. Then she opens the door and calls, 'Kitty, kitty,
kitty!' They had brought their cat with them in a basket when they
came to East Wilmington to live. It was a real handsome tiger cat,
a tommy, and he knew a lot.
"Well, she called 'Kitty, kitty, kitty!' and sure enough the kitty
came, and when he came in the door he gave a big yawl that didn't
sound unlike what they had heard.
"'There, sister, here he is; you see it was the cat,' says Mrs.
Bird. 'Poor kitty!'
"But Mrs. Dennison she eyed the cat, and she give a great screech.
"'What's that? What's that?' says she.
"'What's what?' says Mrs. Bird, pretending to herself that she
didn't see what her sister meant.
"'Somethin's got hold of that cat's tail,' says Mrs. Dennison.
'Somethin's got hold of his tail. It's pulled straight out, an' he
can't get away. Just hear him yawl!'
"'It isn't anything,' says Mrs. Bird, but even as she said that she
could see a little hand holding fast to that cat's tail, and then
the child seemed to sort of clear out of the dimness behind the
hand, and the child was sort of laughing then, instead of looking
sad, and she said that was a great deal worse. She said that laugh
was the most awful and the saddest thing she ever heard.
"Well, she was so dumfounded that she didn't know what to do, and
she couldn't sense at first that it was anything supernatural. She
thought it must be one of the neighbour's children who had run away
and was making free of their house, and was teasing their cat, and
that they must be just nervous to feel so upset by it. So she
speaks up sort of sharp.
"'Don't you know that you mustn't pull the kitty's tail?' says she.
'Don't you know you hurt the poor kitty, and she'll scratch you if
you don't take care. Poor kitty, you mustn't hurt her.'
"And with that she said the child stopped pulling that cat's tail
and went to stroking her just as soft and pitiful, and the cat put
his back up and rubbed and purred as if he liked it. The cat never
seemed a mite afraid, and that seemed queer, for I had always heard
that animals were dreadfully afraid of ghosts; but then, that was a
pretty harmless little sort of ghost.
"Well, Mrs. Bird said the child stroked that cat, while she and
Mrs. Dennison stood watching it, and holding onto each other, for,
no matter how hard they tried to think it was all right, it didn't
look right. Finally Mrs. Dennison she spoke.
"'What's your name, little girl?' says she.
"Then the child looks up and stops stroking the cat, and says she
can't find her mother, just the way she said it to me. Then Mrs.
Dennison she gave such a gasp that Mrs. Bird thought she was going
to faint away, but she didn't. 'Well, who is your mother?' says
she. But the child just says again 'I can't find my mother--I
can't find my mother.'
"'Where do you live, dear?' says Mrs. Bird.
"'I can't find my mother,' says the child.
"Well, that was the way it was. Nothing happened. Those two women
stood there hanging onto each other, and the child stood in front
of them, and they asked her questions, and everything she would say
was: 'I can't find my mother.'
"Then Mrs. Bird tried to catch hold of the child, for she thought
in spite of what she saw that perhaps she was nervous and it was a
real child, only perhaps not quite right in its head, that had run
away in her little nightgown after she had been put to bed.
"She tried to catch the child. She had an idea of putting a shawl
around it and going out--she was such a little thing she could have
carried her easy enough--and trying to find out to which of the
neighbours she belonged. But the minute she moved toward the child
there wasn't any child there; there was only that little voice
seeming to come from nothing, saying 'I can't find my mother,' and
presently that died away.
"Well, that same thing kept happening, or something very much the
same. Once in awhile Mrs. Bird would be washing dishes, and all at
once the child would be standing beside her with the dish-towel,
wiping them. Of course, that was terrible. Mrs. Bird would wash
the dishes all over. Sometimes she didn't tell Mrs. Dennison, it
made her so nervous. Sometimes when they were making cake they
would find the raisins all picked over, and sometimes little sticks
of kindling-wood would be found laying beside the kitchen stove.
They never knew when they would come across that child, and always
she kept saying over and over that she couldn't find her mother.
They never tried talking to her, except once in awhile Mrs. Bird
would get desperate and ask her something, but the child never
seemed to hear it; she always kept right on saying that she
couldn't find her mother.
"After they had told me all they had to tell about their experience
with the child, they told me about the house and the people that
had lived there before they did. It seemed something dreadful had
happened in that house. And the land agent had never let on to
them. I don't think they would have bought it if he had, no matter
how cheap it was, for even if folks aren't really afraid of
anything, they don't want to live in houses where such dreadful
things have happened that you keep thinking about them. I know
after they told me I should never have stayed there another night,
if I hadn't thought so much of them, no matter how comfortable I
was made; and I never was nervous, either. But I stayed. Of
course, it didn't happen in my room. If it had I could not have
"What was it?" asked Mrs. Emerson in an awed voice.
"It was an awful thing. That child had lived in the house with her
father and mother two years before. They had come--or the father
had--from a real good family. He had a good situation: he was a
drummer for a big leather house in the city, and they lived real
pretty, with plenty to do with. But the mother was a real wicked
woman. She was as handsome as a picture, and they said she came
from good sort of people enough in Boston, but she was bad clean
through, though she was real pretty spoken and most everybody liked
her. She used to dress out and make a great show, and she never
seemed to take much interest in the child, and folks began to say
she wasn't treated right.
"The woman had a hard time keeping a girl. For some reason one
wouldn't stay. They would leave and then talk about her awfully,
telling all kinds of things. People didn't believe it at first;
then they began to. They said that the woman made that little
thing, though she wasn't much over five years old, and small and
babyish for her age, do most of the work, what there was done; they
said the house used to look like a pig-sty when she didn't have
help. They said the little thing used to stand on a chair and wash
dishes, and they'd seen her carrying in sticks of wood most as big
as she was many a time, and they'd heard her mother scolding her.
The woman was a fine singer, and had a voice like a screech-owl
when she scolded.
"The father was away most of the time, and when that happened he
had been away out West for some weeks. There had been a married
man hanging about the mother for some time, and folks had talked
some; but they weren't sure there was anything wrong, and he was a
man very high up, with money, so they kept pretty still for fear he
would hear of it and make trouble for them, and of course nobody
was sure, though folks did say afterward that the father of the
child had ought to have been told.
"But that was very easy to say; it wouldn't have been so easy to
find anybody who would have been willing to tell him such a thing
as that, especially when they weren't any too sure. He set his
eyes by his wife, too. They said all he seemed to think of was to
earn money to buy things to deck her out in. And he about
worshiped the child, too. They said he was a real nice man. The
men that are treated so bad mostly are real nice men. I've always
"Well, one morning that man that there had been whispers about was
missing. He had been gone quite a while, though, before they
really knew that he was missing, because he had gone away and told
his wife that he had to go to New York on business and might be
gone a week, and not to worry if he didn't get home, and not to
worry if he didn't write, because he should be thinking from day to
day that he might take the next train home and there would be no
use in writing. So the wife waited, and she tried not to worry
until it was two days over the week, then she run into a
neighbour's and fainted dead away on the floor; and then they made
inquiries and found out that he had skipped--with some money that
didn't belong to him, too.
"Then folks began to ask where was that woman, and they found out
by comparing notes that nobody had seen her since the man went
away; but three or four women remembered that she had told them
that she thought of taking the child and going to Boston to visit
her folks, so when they hadn't seen her around, and the house shut,
they jumped to the conclusion that was where she was. They were
the neighbours that lived right around her, but they didn't have
much to do with her, and she'd gone out of her way to tell them
about her Boston plan, and they didn't make much reply when she
"Well, there was this house shut up, and the man and woman missing
and the child. Then all of a sudden one of the women that lived
the nearest remembered something. She remembered that she had
waked up three nights running, thinking she heard a child crying
somewhere, and once she waked up her husband, but he said it must
be the Bisbees' little girl, and she thought it must be. The child
wasn't well and was always crying. It used to have colic spells,
especially at night. So she didn't think any more about it until
this came up, then all of a sudden she did think of it. She told
what she had heard, and finally folks began to think they had
better enter that house and see if there was anything wrong.
"Well, they did enter it, and they found that child dead, locked in
one of the rooms. (Mrs. Dennison and Mrs. Bird never used that
room; it was a back bedroom on the second floor.)
"Yes, they found that poor child there, starved to death, and
frozen, though they weren't sure she had frozen to death, for she
was in bed with clothes enough to keep her pretty warm when she was
alive. But she had been there a week, and she was nothing but skin
and bone. It looked as if the mother had locked her into the house
when she went away, and told her not to make any noise for fear the
neighbours would hear her and find out that she herself had gone.
"Mrs. Dennison said she couldn't really believe that the woman had
meant to have her own child starved to death. Probably she thought
the little thing would raise somebody, or folks would try to get in
the house and find her. Well, whatever she thought, there the
child was, dead.
"But that wasn't all. The father came home, right in the midst of
it; the child was just buried, and he was beside himself. And--he
went on the track of his wife, and he found her, and he shot her
dead; it was in all the papers at the time; then he disappeared.
Nothing had been seen of him since. Mrs. Dennison said that she
thought he had either made way with himself or got out of the
country, nobody knew, but they did know there was something wrong
with the house.
"'I knew folks acted queer when they asked me how I liked it when
we first came here,' says Mrs. Dennison, 'but I never dreamed why
till we saw the child that night.'
"I never heard anything like it in my life," said Mrs. Emerson,
staring at the other woman with awestruck eyes.
"I thought you'd say so," said Mrs. Meserve. "You don't wonder
that I ain't disposed to speak light when I hear there is anything
queer about a house, do you?"
"No, I don't, after that," Mrs. Emerson said.
"But that ain't all," said Mrs. Meserve.
"Did you see it again?" Mrs. Emerson asked.
"Yes, I saw it a number of times before the last time. It was
lucky I wasn't nervous, or I never could have stayed there, much as
I liked the place and much as I thought of those two women; they
were beautiful women, and no mistake. I loved those women. I hope
Mrs. Dennison will come and see me sometime.
"Well, I stayed, and I never knew when I'd see that child. I got
so I was very careful to bring everything of mine upstairs, and not
leave any little thing in my room that needed doing, for fear she
would come lugging up my coat or hat or gloves or I'd find things
done when there'd been no live being in the room to do them. I
can't tell you how I dreaded seeing her; and worse than the seeing
her was the hearing her say, 'I can't find my mother.' It was
enough to make your blood run cold. I never heard a living child
cry for its mother that was anything so pitiful as that dead one.
It was enough to break your heart.
"She used to come and say that to Mrs. Bird oftener than to any one
else. Once I heard Mrs. Bird say she wondered if it was possible
that the poor little thing couldn't really find her mother in the
other world, she had been such a wicked woman.
"But Mrs. Dennison told her she didn't think she ought to speak so
nor even think so, and Mrs. Bird said she shouldn't wonder if she
was right. Mrs. Bird was always very easy to put in the wrong.
She was a good woman, and one that couldn't do things enough for
other folks. It seemed as if that was what she lived on. I don't
think she was ever so scared by that poor little ghost, as much as
she pitied it, and she was 'most heartbroken because she couldn't
do anything for it, as she could have done for a live child.
"'It seems to me sometimes as if I should die if I can't get that
awful little white robe off that child and get her in some clothes
and feed her and stop her looking for her mother,' I heard her say
once, and she was in earnest. She cried when she said it. That
wasn't long before she died.
"Now I am coming to the strangest part of it all. Mrs. Bird died
very sudden. One morning--it was Saturday, and there wasn't any
school--I went downstairs to breakfast, and Mrs. Bird wasn't there;
there was nobody but Mrs. Dennison. She was pouring out the coffee
when I came in. 'Why, where's Mrs. Bird?' says I.
"'Abby ain't feeling very well this morning,' says she; 'there
isn't much the matter, I guess, but she didn't sleep very well, and
her head aches, and she's sort of chilly, and I told her I thought
she'd better stay in bed till the house gets warm.' It was a very
"'Maybe she's got cold,' says I.
"'Yes, I guess she has,' says Mrs. Dennison. 'I guess she's got
cold. She'll be up before long. Abby ain't one to stay in bed a
minute longer than she can help.'
"Well, we went on eating our breakfast, and all at once a shadow
flickered across one wall of the room and over the ceiling the way
a shadow will sometimes when somebody passes the window outside.
Mrs. Dennison and I both looked up, then out of the window; then
Mrs. Dennison she gives a scream.
"'Why, Abby's crazy!' says she. 'There she is out this bitter cold
morning, and--and--' She didn't finish, but she meant the child.
For we were both looking out, and we saw, as plain as we ever saw
anything in our lives, Mrs. Abby Bird walking off over the white
snow-path with that child holding fast to her hand, nestling close
to her as if she had found her own mother.
"'She's dead,' says Mrs. Dennison, clutching hold of me hard.
'She's dead; my sister is dead!'
"She was. We hurried upstairs as fast as we could go, and she was
dead in her bed, and smiling as if she was dreaming, and one arm
and hand was stretched out as if something had hold of it; and it
couldn't be straightened even at the last--it lay out over her
casket at the funeral."
"Was the child ever seen again?" asked Mrs. Emerson in a shaking
"No," replied Mrs. Meserve; "that child was never seen again after
she went out of the yard with Mrs. Bird."