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 wa
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
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
"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
"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
"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-
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
"See what?" whispered one tiny boy.
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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,
That was years ago, but there has been
silence since. Elsbeth was always an obe-
dient little thing.