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.





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