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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson
THE GHOST by WILLIAM D. O'CONNOR.
"Perhaps she can't find one, pa," answered Netty.
"Humbug!" retorted her father; "I know better."
"Pa, dear, if I were you, I'd turn out that rumseller, and let the poor woman stay a little longer; just a little, pa."
"Sha'n't do it. Hah! that would be scattering money out of both pockets. Sha'n't do it. Out she shall go; and as for him,--well, he'd better turn over a new leaf. There, let us leave the subject, darling. It vexes me. How did we contrive to get into this train? Bah!"
He drew her closer to him, and kissed her forehead. She sat quietly, with her head on his shoulder thinking very gravely.
"I feel queerly to-day, little Netty," he began, after a short pause. "My nerves are all high-strung with the turn matters have taken."
"How is it, papa? The headache?" she answered.
"Y-e-s--n-o--not exactly; I don't know," he said dubiously; then, in an absent way, "it was that letter set me to think of him all day, I suppose."
"Why, pa, I declare," cried Netty, starting up, "if I didn't forget all about it, and I came down expressly to give it to you! Where is it? Oh! here it is."
She drew from her pocket an old letter, faded to a pale yellow, and gave it to him. The ghost started suddenly.
"Why, bless my soul! it's the very letter! Where did you get that, Nathalie?" asked Dr. Renton.
"I found it on the stairs after dinner, pa."
"Yes, I do remember taking it up with me; I must have dropped it," he answered, musingly, gazing at the superscription. The ghost was gazing at it, too, with startled interest.
"What beautiful writing it is, pa," murmured the young girl. "Who wrote it to you? It looks yellow enough to have been written a long time since."
"Fifteen years ago, Netty. When you were a baby. And the hand that wrote it has been cold for all that time."
He spoke with a solemn sadness, as if memory lingered with the heart of fifteen years ago, on an old grave. The dim figure by his side had bowed its head, and all was still.
"It is strange," he resumed, speaking vacantly and slowly, "I have not thought of him for so long a time, and to-day--especially this evening--I have felt as if he were constantly near me. It is a singular feeling."
He put his left hand to his forehead, and mused,--his right clasped his daughter's shoulder. The phantom slowly raised its head, and gazed at him with a look of unutterable tenderness.
"Who was he, father?" she asked with a hushed voice.
"A young man, an author, a poet. He had been my dearest friend, when we were boys; and, though I lost sight of him for years,--he led an erratic life,--we were friends when he died. Poor, poor fellow! Well, he is at peace."
The stern voice had saddened, and was almost tremulous. The spectral form was still.
"How did he die, father?"
"A long story, darling," he replied, gravely, "and a sad one. He was very poor and proud. He was a genius,--that is, a person without an atom of practical talent. His parents died, the last, his mother, when he was near manhood. I was in college then. Thrown upon the world, he picked up a scanty subsistence with his pen, for a time. I could have got him a place in the counting-house, but he would not take it; in fact, he wasn't fit for it. You can't harness Pegasus to the cart, you know. Besides, he despised mercantile life, without reason, of course; but he was always notional. His love of literature was one of the rocks he foundered on. He wasn't successful; his best compositions were too delicate, fanciful, to please the popular taste; and then he was full of the radical and fanatical notions which infected so many people at that time in New England, and infect them now, for that matter; and his sublimated, impracticable ideas and principles, which he kept till his dying day, and which, I confess, alienated me from him, always staved off his chances of success. Consequently, he never rose above the drudgery of some employment on newspapers. Then he was terribly passionate, not without cause, I allow; but it wasn't wise. What I mean is this: if he saw, or if he fancied he saw, any wrong or injury done to any one, it was enough to throw him into a frenzy; he would get black in the face and absolutely shriek out his denunciations of the wrong-doer. I do believe he would have visited his own brother with the most unsparing invective, if that brother had laid a harming finger on a street-beggar, or a colored man, or a poor person of any kind. I don't blame the feeling; though with a man like him it was very apt to be a false or mistaken one; but, at any rate, its exhibition wasn't sensible. Well, as I was saying, he buffeted about in this world a long time, poorly paid, fed, and clad; taking more care of other people than he did of himself. Then mental suffering, physical exposure, and want killed him."