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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson
THE GHOST by WILLIAM D. O'CONNOR.
She clung to him, sobbing violently, her face buried in his hands.
"Hush, hush! It's all well,--it's all well. Here, sit by me. So. I have--" His voice failed him, and he paused. But sitting by him,--clinging to him,--her face hidden in his bosom,--she heard the strong beating of his disenchanted heart.
"My child, I know your meaning. I will not tear the letter to pieces and trample it under foot. God forgive me my life's slight to those words. But I learned their value last night, in the house where your blank letter had entered before me."
She started, and looked into his face steadfastly, while a bright scarlet shot into her own.
"I know all, Netty,--all. Your secret was well kept, but it is yours and mine now. It was well done, darling, well done. O, I have been through strange mysteries of thought and life since that starving woman sat here! Well--thank God!"
"Father, what have you done?" The flush had failed, but a glad color still brightened her face, while the tears stood trembling in her eyes.
"All that you wished yesterday," he answered. "And all that you ever could have wished, henceforth I will do."
"O father!" She stopped. The bright scarlet shot again into her face, but with an April shower of tears, and the rainbow of a smile.
"Listen to me, Netty, and I will tell you, and only you, what I have done." Then while she mutely listened, sitting by his side, and the dawn of Christmas broadened into Christmas day, he told her all.
And when he had told all, and emotion was stilled, they sat together in silence for a time, she with her innocent head drooped upon his shoulder, and her eyes closed, lost in tender and mystic reveries; and he musing with a contrite heart. Till at last, the stir of daily life began to waken in the quiet dwelling, and without, from steeples in the frosty air, there was a sound of bells.
They rose silently, and stood, clinging to each other, side by side.
"Love, we must part," he said, gravely and tenderly. "Read me, before we go, the closing lines of George Feval's letter. In the spirit of this let me strive to live. Let it be for me the lesson of the day. Let it also be the lesson of my life."
Her face was pale and lit with exaltation as she took the letter from his hand. There was a pause, and then upon the thrilling and tender silver of her voice, the words arose like solemn music:--
"_Farewell--farewell! But, oh! take my counsel into memory on Christmas Day, and forever. Once again, the ancient prophecy of peace and good-will shines on a world of wars and wrongs and woes. Its soft ray shines into the darkness of a land wherein swarm slaves, poor laborers, social pariahs, weeping women, homeless exiles, hunted fugitives, despised aliens, drunkards, convicts, wicked children, and Magdalens unredeemed. These are but the ghastliest figures in that sad army of humanity which advances, by a dreadful road, to the Golden Age of the poets' dream. These are your sisters and your brothers. Love them all. Beware of wronging one of them by word or deed. O friend! strong in wealth for so much good,--take my last counsel. In the name of the Saviour, I charge you, be true and tender to mankind. Come out from Babylon into manhood, and live and labor for the fallen, the neglected, the suffering, and the poor. Lover of arts, customs, laws, institutions, and forms of society, love these things only as they help mankind! With stern love, overturn them, or help to overturn them, when they become cruel to a single--the humblest--human being. In the world's scale, social position, influence, public power, the applause of majorities, heaps of funded gold, services rendered to creeds, codes, sects, parties, or federations--they weigh weight; but in God's scale--remember!--on the day of hope, remember!--your least service to Humanity outweighs them all._"
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