knew, what was in their minds; but the comfort brought by this
understanding was scarcely sufficient to act as antidote to the
keen strain to which my faculties had been brought. Yet nothing
happened, and when a clock somewhere in the house had assured me
by its own clear stroke that the dreaded midnight hour had passed
I rose and stole again to the window. This time both moonlight
and face were gone. Contentment came with the discovery. I
crept back to bed with lightened heart and soon was asleep.
Next morning, however, the first face was again at the window, as
I at once saw on raising the blind. I breakfasted alone. Mrs.
Packard was not yet down and the mayor had already left to fulfil
an early appointment down-town. Old Nixon waited on me. As he,
like every other member of the family, with the possible
exception of the mayor, was still an unknown quantity in the
problem given me to solve, I allowed a few stray glances to
follow him as he moved decorously about the board anticipating my
wants and showing himself an adept in his appointed task. Once I
caught his eye and I half expected him to speak, but he was too
well-trained for that, and the meal proceeded in the same silence
in which it had begun. But this short interchange of looks had
given me an idea. He showed an eager interest in me quite apart
from his duty to me as waiter. He was nearer sixty, than fifty,
but it was not his age which made his hand tremble as he laid
down a plate before me or served me with coffee and bread.
Whether this interest was malevolent or kindly I found it
impossible to judge. He had a stoic's face with but one eloquent
feature - his eyes; and these he kept studiously lowered after
that one quick glance. Would it help matters for me to address
him? Possibly, but I decided not to risk it. Whatever my
immediate loss I must on no account rouse the least distrust in
this evidently watchful household. If knowledge came naturally,
well and good; I must not seem to seek it.
The result proved my discretion. As I was rising from the table
Nixon himself made this remark:
"Mrs. Packard will be glad to see you in her room up-stairs any
time after ten o'clock. Ellen will show you where." Then, as I
was framing a reply, he added in a less formal tone: "I hope you
were not disturbed last night. I told the girls not to be so
Now they had been very quiet, so I perceived that he simply
wanted to open conversation.
"I slept beautifully," I assured him. "Indeed, I'm not easily
kept awake. I don't believe I could keep awake if I knew that a
ghost would stalk through my room at midnight."
His eyes opened, and he did just what I had intended him to do,
- met my glance directly.
"Ghosts!" he repeated, edging uneasily forward, perhaps with the
intention of making audible his whisper: "Do you believe in
I laughed easily and with a ringing merriment, like the
light-hearted girl I should be and am not.
"No," said I, "why should I? But I should like to. I really
should enjoy the experience of coming face to face with a wholly
He stared and now his eyes told nothing. Mechanically I moved to
go, mechanically he stepped aside to give me place. But his
curiosity or his interest would not allow him to see me pass out
without making another attempt to understand me. Stammering in
his effort to seem indifferent, he dropped this quiet observation
just as I reached the door.
"Some people say, or at least I have heard it whispered in the
neighborhood, that this house is haunted. I've never seen
I forced myself to give a tragic start (I was half ashamed of my
arts), and, coming back, turned a purposely excited countenance
"This house!" I cried. "Oh, how lovely! I never thought I
should have the good fortune of passing the night in a house that
is really haunted. What are folks supposed to see? I don't know
much about ghosts out of books."
This nonplussed him. He was entirely out of his element. He
glanced nervously at the door and tried to seem at his ease;
perhaps tried to copy my own manner as he mumbled these words:
"I've not given much attention to the matter, Miss. It's not
long since we came here and Mrs. Packard don't approve of our
gossiping with the neighbors. But I think the people have
mostly been driven away by strange noises and by lights which no
one could explain, flickering up over the ceilings from the halls
below. I don't want to scare you, Miss - "
"Oh, you won't scare me."
"Mrs. Packard wouldn't like me to do that. She never listens to
a word from us about these things, and we don't believe the half
of it ourselves; but the house does have a bad name, and it's the
wonder of everybody that the mayor will live in it."
"Sounds?" I repeated. "Lights?" - and laughed again. "I don't
think I shall bother myself about them!" I went gaily out.
It did seem very puerile to me, save as it might possibly account
in some remote way for Mrs. Packard's peculiar mental condition.
Up-stairs I found Ellen. She was in a talkative mood, and this
time I humored her till she had told me all she knew about the
house and its ghostly traditions. This all had come from a
servant, a nurse who had lived in the house before. Ellen herself,
like the butler, Nixon, had had no personal experiences to relate,
though the amount of extra wages she received had quite prepared
her for them. Her story, or rather the nurse's story, was to the
The house had been built and afterward inhabited for a term of
years by one of the city fathers, a well-known and still widely
remembered merchant. No unusual manifestations had marked it
during his occupancy. Not till it had run to seed and been the
home of decaying gentility, and later of actual poverty, did it
acquire a name which made it difficult to rent, though the
neighborhood was a growing one and the house itself well-enough
built to make it a desirable residence. Those who had been
induced to try living within its spacious walls invariably left
at the end of the month. Why, they hesitated to say; yet if
pressed would acknowledge that the rooms were full of terrible
sights and sounds which they could not account for; that a
presence other than their own was felt in the house; and that
once (every tenant seemed to be able to cite one instance) a hand
had touched them or a breath had brushed their cheek which had no
visible human source, and could be traced to no mortal presence.
Not much in all this, but it served after a while to keep the
house empty, while its reputation for mystery did not lie idle.
Sounds were heard to issue from it. At times lights were seen
glimmering through this or that chink or rift in the window
curtain, but by the time the door was unlocked and people were
able to rush in, the interior was still and dark and seemingly
untouched. Finally the police took a hand in the matter. They
were on the scent just then of a party of counterfeiters and were
suspicious of the sounds and lights in this apparently unoccupied
dwelling. But they watched and waited in vain. One of them got
a scare and that was all. The mystery went unsolved and the sign
"To Let" remained indefinitely on the house-front.
At last a family from the West decided to risk the terrors of
this domicile. The nurse, whose story I was listening to, came
with them and entered upon her duties without prejudice or any
sort of belief in ghosts, general or particular. She held this
belief just two weeks. Then her incredulity began to waver. In
fact, she saw the light; almost saw the ghost, certainly saw the
ghost's penumbra. It was one night, or rather very early, one
morning. She had been sitting up with the baby, who had been
suffering from a severe attack of croup. Hot water was wanted,
and she started for the kitchen for the purpose of making a fire
and putting on the kettle. The gas had not been lit in the hall
- they had all been too busy, and she was feeling her way down the
front stairs with a box of matches in her hand, when suddenly she
heard from somewhere below a sound which she could never
describe, and at the same moment saw a light which spread itself
through all the lower hall so that every object stood out
She did not think of the ghost at first, her thoughts were so
full of the child; but when a board creaked in the hall floor, a
board that always creaked when stepped on, she remembered the
reputation and what had been told her about a creaking board and
a light that came and went without human agency. Frightened for
a minute, she stood stock-still, then she rushed down. Whatever
it was, natural or supernatural, she went to see it; but the
light vanished before she passed the lower stair, and only a
long-drawn sigh not far from her ear warned her that the space
between her and the real hall was not the solitude she was
anxious to consider it. A sigh! That meant a person. Striking
a match, she looked eagerly down the hall. Something was moving
between the two walls. But when she tried to determine its
character, it was swallowed up in darkness, - the match had gone
out. Anxious for the child and determined to go her way to the
kitchen, she now felt about for the gas-fixture and succeeded in
lighting up. The whole hall again burst into view but the thing
was no longer there; the space was absolutely empty. And so were
the other rooms, for she went into every one, lighting the gas as
she went; and so was the cellar when she reached it. For she had
to go to its extreme length for wood and wait about the kitchen
till the water boiled, during which time she searched every nook
and cranny. Oh, she was a brave woman, but she did have this
thought as she went upstairs: If the child died she would know
that she had seen a spirit; if the child got well, that she had
been the victim of her own excitement.
And did the child die?
"No, it got well, but the family moved out as soon as it was safe
to leave the house. Her employees did not feel as easy about the
matter as she did."
THE STRANGE NEIGHBORS NEXT DOOR
When I joined Mrs. Packard I found her cheerful and in all respects
quite unlike the brooding woman she had seemed when I first met
her. From the toys scattered about her feet I judged that the
child had been with her, and certainly the light in her eyes had
the beaming quality we associate with the happy mother. She was
beautiful thus and my hopes of her restoration to happiness rose.
"I have had a good night," were her first words as she welcomed me
to a seat in her own little nook. "I'm feeling very well this
morning. That is why I have brought out this big piece of work."
She held up a baby's coat she was embroidering. "I can not do it
when I am nervous. Are you ever nervous?"
Delighted to enter into conversation with her, I answered in a way
to lead her to talk about herself, then, seeing she was in a
favorable mood for gossip, was on the point of venturing all in a
leading question, when she suddenly forestalled me by putting one
"Were you ever the prey of an idea?" she asked; "one which you
could not shake off by any ordinary means, one which clung to you
night and day till nothing else seemed real or would rouse the
slightest interest? I mean a religious idea," she stammered with
anxious attempt of to hide her real thought. "One of those doubts
which come to you in the full swing of life to - to frighten and
"Yes," I answered, as naturally and quietly as I knew how; "I have
had such ideas - such doubts."
"And were you able to throw them off? - by your will, I mean."
She was leaning forward, her eyes fixed eagerly on mine. How
unexpected the privilege! I felt that in another moment her secret
would be mine.
"In time, yes," I smiled back. "Everything yields to time and
persistent conscientious work."
"But if you can not wait for time, if you must be relieved at once,
can the will be made to suffice, when the day is dark and one is
alone and not too busy?"
"The will can do much," I insisted. "Dark thoughts can be kept
down by sheer determination. But it is better to fill the mind so
full with what is pleasant that no room is left for gloom. There
is so much to enjoy it must take a real sorrow to disturb a heart
resolved to be happy."
"Yes, resolved to be happy. I am resolved to be happy." And she
laughed merrily for a moment. "Nothing else pays. I will not
dwell on anything but the pleasures which surround me." Here she
took up her work again. "I will forget - I will - " She stopped and
her eyes left her work to flash a rapid and involuntary glance over
her shoulder. Had she heard a step? I had not. Or had she felt
a draft of which I in my bounding health was unconscious?
"Are you cold?" I asked, as her glance stole back to mine. "You
are shivering - "
"Oh, no," she answered coldly, almost proudly. "I'm perfectly
warm. I don't feel slight changes. I thought some one was behind
me. I felt - Is Ellen in the adjoining room?"
I jumped up and moved toward the door she indicated. It was
slightly ajar, but Ellen was not behind it.
"There's no one here," said I.
She did not answer. She was bending again over her work, and gave
no indication of speaking again on that or the more serious topic
we had previously been discussing.
Naturally I felt disappointed. I had hoped much from the
conversation, and now these hopes bade fair to fail me. How could
I restore matters to their former basis? Idly I glanced out of the
side window I was passing, and the view of the adjoining house I
thus gained acted like an inspiration. I would test her on a new
topic, in the hope of reintroducing the old. The glimpse I had
gained into Mrs. Packard's mind must not be lost quite as soon as
"You asked me a moment ago if I were ever nervous," I began, as I
regained my seat at her side. "I replied, 'Sometimes'; but I might
have said if I had not feared being too abrupt, 'Never till I came
into this house.'"
Her surprise partook more of curiosity than I expected.
"You are nervous here," she repeated. "What is the reason of that,
pray? Has Ellen been chattering to you? I thought she knew enough
not to do that. There's nothing to fear here, Miss Saunders;
absolutely nothing for you to fear. I should not have allowed you
to remain here a night if there had been. No ghost will visit
"No, I hear they never wander above the second story," I laughed.
"If they did I should hardly anticipate the honor of a visit. It
is not ghosts I fear; it is something quite different which affects
me, - living eyes, living passions, the old ladies next door," I
finished falteringly, for Mrs. Packard was looking at me with a
show of startling alarm. "They stare into my room night and day.
I never look out but I encounter the uncanny glance of one or the
other of them. Are they live women or embodied memories of the
past? They don't seem to belong to the present. I own that they
I had exaggerated my feelings in order to mark their effect upon
her. The result disappointed me; she was not afraid of these two
poor old women. Far from it.
"Draw your curtains," she laughed. "The poor things are crazy and
not really accountable. Their odd ways and manners troubled me at
first, but I soon got over it. I have even been in to see them.
That was to keep them from coming here. I think if you were to
call upon them they would leave you alone after that. They are
very fond of being called on. They are persons of the highest
gentility, you know. They owned this house a few years ago, as
well as the one they are now living in, but misfortunes overtook
them and this one was sold for debt. I am very sorry for them
myself. Sometimes I think they have not enough to eat."
"Tell me about them," I urged. Lightly as she treated the topic I
felt convinced that these strange neighbors of hers were more or
less involved in the mystery of her own peculiar moods and
"It's a great secret," she announced naively. "That is, their
personal history. I have never told it to any one. I have never
told it to my husband. They confided it to me in a sort of
desperation, perhaps because my husband's name inspired them with
confidence. Immediately after, I could see that they regretted the
impulse, and so I have remained silent. But I feel like telling
you; feel as if it would divert me to do so - keep me from thinking
of other things. You won't want to talk about it and the story
will cure your nervousness."
"Do you want me to promise not to talk about it?" I inquired in
"No. You have a good, true face; a face which immediately inspires
confidence. I shall exact no promises. I can rely on your
I thanked her. I was glad not to be obliged to promise secrecy.
It might become my imperative duty to disregard such a promise.
"You have seen both of their faces?" she asked.
"Then you must have observed the difference between them. There is
the same difference in their minds, though both are clouded. One
is weak almost to the point of idiocy, though strong enough where
her one settled idea is concerned. The other was once a notable
character, but her fine traits have almost vanished under the spell
which has been laid upon them by the immense disappointment which
has wrecked both their lives. I heard it all from Miss Thankful
the day after we entered this house. Miss Thankful is the older
and more intellectual one. I had known very little about them
before; no more, in fact, than I have already told you. I was
consequently much astonished when they called, for I had supposed
them to be veritable recluses, but I was still more astonished when
I noted their manner and the agitated and strangely penetrating
looks they cast about them as I ushered them into the library,
which was the only room I had had time to arrange. A few minutes'
further observation of them showed me that neither of them was
quite right. Instead of entering into conversation with me they
continued to cast restless glances at the walls, ceilings, and even
at the floor of the room in which we sat, and when, in the hope of
attracting their attention to myself, I addressed them on some
topic which I thought would be interesting to them, they not only
failed to listen, but turned upon each other with slowly wagging
heads, which not only revealed their condition but awakened me to
its probable cause. They were between walls rendered dear by old
associations. Till their first agitation was over I could not hope
for their attention.
"But their agitation gave no signs of diminishing and I soon saw
that their visit was far from being a ceremonial one; that it was
one of definite purpose. Preparing myself for I knew not what, I
regarded them with such open interest that before I knew it, and
quite before I was ready for any such exhibition, they were both on
their knees before me, holding up their meager arms with beseeching
and babbling words which I did not understand till later.
"I was shocked, as you may believe, and quickly raised them, at
which Miss Thankful told me their story, which I will now tell you.
"There were four of them originally, three sisters and one brother.
The brother early went West and disappeared out of their lives, and
the third sister married. This was years and years ago, when they
were all young. From this marriage sprang all their misfortune.
The nephew which this marriage introduced to their family became
their bane as well as their delight. From being a careless
spendthrift boy he became a reckless, scheming man, adding
extravagance to extravagance, till, to support him and meet his
debts, these poor aunts gave up first their luxuries, then their
home and finally their very livelihood. Not that they acknowledged
this. The feeling they both cherished for him was more akin to
infatuation than to ordinary family love. They did not miss their
luxuries, they did not mourn their home, they did not even mourn
their privations; but they were broken-hearted and had been so for
a long time, because they could no longer do for him as of old.
Shabby themselves, and evidently ill-nourished, they grieved not
over their own changed lot, but over his. They could not be
reconciled to his lack of luxuries, much less to the difficulties
in which he frequently found himself, who was made to ruffle it
with the best and be the pride of their lives as he was the darling
of their hearts. All this the poor old things made apparent to me,
but their story did not become really interesting till they began
to speak of this house we are in, and of certain events which
followed their removal to the ramshackle dwelling next door. The
sale of this portion of the property had relieved them from their
debts, but they were otherwise penniless, and were just planning
the renting of their rooms at prices which would barely serve to
provide them with a scanty living, when there came a letter from
their graceless nephew, asking for a large amount of money to save
him from complete disgrace. They had no money, and were in the
midst of their sorrow and perplexity, when a carriage drove up to
the door of this house and from it issued an old and very sick man,
their long absent and almost forgotten brother. He had come home
to die, and when told his sisters' circumstances, and how soon the
house next door would be filled with lodgers, insisted upon having
this place of his birth, which was empty at the time, opened for
his use. The owner, after long continued entreaties from the poor
old sisters, finally consented to the arrangement. A bed was made
up in the library, and the old man laid on it."
Mrs. Packard's voice fell, and I cast her a humorous look.
"Were there ghosts in those days?" I lightly asked.
Her answer was calm enough. "Not yet, but the place must have been
desolate enough for one. I have sometimes tried to imagine the
scene surrounding that broken-down old man. There was no furniture
in the room, save what was indispensable to his bare comfort. Miss
Thankful expressly said there was no carpet, - you will presently
see why. Even the windows had no other protection than the bare
shutters. But he was in his old home, and seemed content till Miss
Charity fell sick, and they had to call in a nurse to assist Miss
Thankful, who by this time had a dozen lodgers to look after. Then
he grew very restless. Miss Thankful said he seemed to be afraid
of this nurse, and always had a fever after having been left alone
with her; but he gave no reason for his fears, and she herself was
too straitened in means and in too much trouble otherwise to be
affected by such mere whims, and went on doing her best, sitting
with him whenever the opportunity offered, and making every effort
to conceal the anxiety she felt for her poor nephew from her
equally poor brother. The disease under which the brother labored
was a fatal one, and he had not many days to live. She was
startled when one day her brother greeted her appearance, with an
earnest entreaty for the nurse to be sent out for a little while,
as this was his last day, and he had something of great importance
to communicate to her before he died.
"She had not dreamed of his being so low as this, but when she came
to look at him, she saw, that he had not misstated his case, and
that he was really very near death. She was in a flurry and wanted
to call in the neighbors and rout her sister up from her own sick
bed to care for him. But he wanted nothing and nobody, only to be
left alone with her.
"So she sent the nurse out and sat down on the side of the bed to
hear what he had to say to her, for he looked very eager and was
smiling in a way to make her heart ache.
"You must remember," continued Mrs. Packard, "that at the time Miss
Thankful was telling this story we were in the very room where it
had all happened. As she reached this part of her narration, she
pointed to the wall partitioning off the corridor, and explained
that this was where the bed stood, - an old wooden one brought down
from her own attic.
"'It creaked when I sat down on it,' said she, 'and I remember that
I felt ashamed of its shabby mattress and the poor sheets. But we
had no better,' she moaned, 'and he did not seem to mind.' I tell
you this that you may understand what must have taken place in her