Miriam's Lover by Lucy Maud Montgomery
I had been reading a ghost story to Mrs. Sefton, and I laid it down at the end with a little shrug of contempt.
"What utter nonsense!" I said.
Mrs. Sefton nodded abstractedly above her fancywork.
"That is. It is a very commonplace story indeed. I don't believe the spirits of the departed trouble themselves to revisit the glimpses of the moon for the purpose of frightening honest mortals--or even for the sake of hanging around the favourite haunts of their existence in the flesh. If they ever appear, it must be for a better reason than that."
"You don't surely think that they ever do appear?" I said incredulously.
"We have no proof that they do not, my dear."
"Surely, Mary," I exclaimed, "you don't mean to say that you believe people ever do or can see spirits--ghosts, as the word goes?"
"I didn't say I believed it. I never saw anything of the sort. I neither believe nor disbelieve. But you know queer things do happen at times--things you can't account for. At least, people who you know wouldn't lie say so. Of course, they may be mistaken. And I don't think that everybody can see spirits either, provided they are to be seen. It requires people of a certain organization--with a spiritual eye, as it were. We haven't all got that--in fact, I think very few of us have. I dare say you think I'm talking nonsense."
"Well, yes, I think you are. You really surprise me, Mary. I always thought you the least likely person in the world to take up with such ideas. Something must have come under your observation to develop such theories in your practical head. Tell me what it was."
"To what purpose? You would remain as sceptical as ever."
"Possibly not. Try me; I may be convinced."
"No," returned Mrs. Sefton calmly. "Nobody ever is convinced by hearsay. When a person has once seen a spirit--or thinks he has--he thenceforth believes it. And when somebody else is intimately associated with that person and knows all the circumstances--well, he admits the possibility, at least. That is my position. But by the time it gets to the third person--the outsider--it loses power. Besides, in this particular instance the story isn't very exciting. But then--it's true."
"You have excited my curiosity. You must tell me the story."
"Well, first tell me what you think of this. Suppose two people, both sensitively organized individuals, loved each other with a love stronger than life. If they were apart, do you think it might be possible for their souls to communicate with each other in some inexplicable way? And if anything happened to one, don't you think that that one could and would let the spirit of the other know?"
"You're getting into too deep waters for me, Mary," I said, shaking my head. "I'm not an authority on telepathy, or whatever you call it. But I've no belief in such theories. In fact, I think they are all nonsense. I'm sure you must think so too in your rational moments."
"I dare say it is all nonsense," said Mrs. Sefton slowly, "but if you had lived a whole year in the same house with Miriam Gordon, you would have been tainted too. Not that she had 'theories'--at least, she never aired them if she had. But there was simply something about the girl herself that gave a person strange impressions. When I first met her I had the most uncanny feeling that she was all spirit--soul--what you will! no flesh, anyhow. That feeling wore off after a while, but she never seemed like other people to me.
"She was Mr. Sefton's niece. Her father had died when she was a child. When Miriam was twenty her mother had married a second time and went to Europe with her husband. Miriam came to live with us while they were away. Upon their return she was herself to be married.
"I had never seen Miriam before. Her arrival was unexpected, and I was absent from home when she came. I returned in the evening, and when I saw her first she was standing under the chandelier in the drawing room. Talk about spirits! For five seconds I thought I had seen one.
"Miriam was a beauty. I had known that before, though I think I hardly expected to see such wonderful loveliness. She was tall and extremely graceful, dark--at least her hair was dark, but her skin was wonderfully fair and clear. Her hair was gathered away from her face, and she had a high, pure, white forehead, and the straightest, finest, blackest brows. Her face was oval, with very large and dark eyes.
"I soon realized that Miriam was in some mysterious fashion different from other people. I think everyone who met her felt the same way. Yet it was a feeling hard to define. For my own part I simply felt as if she belonged to another world, and that part of the time she--her soul, you know--was back there again.
"You must not suppose that Miriam was a disagreeable person to have in the house. On the contrary, it was the very reverse. Everybody liked her. She was one of the sweetest, most winsome girls I ever knew, and I soon grew to love her dearly. As for what Dick called her 'little queernesses'--well, we got used to them in time.
"Miriam was engaged, as I have told you, to a young Harvard man named Sidney Claxton. I knew she loved him very deeply. When she showed me his photograph, I liked his appearance and said so. Then I made some teasing remark about her love-letters--just for a joke, you know. Miriam looked at me with an odd little smile and said quickly:
"'Sidney and I never write to each other.'
"'Why, Miriam!' I exclaimed in astonishment. 'Do you mean to tell me you never hear from him at all?'
"'No, I did not say that. I hear from him every day--every hour. We do not need to write letters. There are better means of communication between two souls that are in perfect accord with each other.'
"'Miriam, you uncanny creature, what do you mean?' I asked.
"But Miriam only gave another queer smile and made no answer at all. Whatever her beliefs or theories were, she would never discuss them.
"She had a habit of dropping into abstracted reveries at any time or place. No matter where she was, this, whatever it was, would come over her. She would sit there, perhaps in the centre of a gay crowd, and gaze right out into space, not hearing or seeing a single thing that went on around her.
"I remember one day in particular; we were sewing in my room. I looked up and saw that Miriam's work had dropped on her knee and she was leaning forward, her lips apart, her eyes gazing upward with an unearthly expression.
"'Don't look like that, Miriam!' I said, with a little shiver. 'You seem to be looking at something a thousand miles away!'
"Miriam came out of her trance or reverie and said, with a little laugh:
"'How do you know but that I was?'
"She bent her head for a minute or two. Then she lifted it again and looked at me with a sudden contraction of her level brows that betokened vexation.
"'I wish you hadn't spoken to me just then,' she said. 'You interrupted the message I was receiving. I shall not get it at all now.'
"'Miriam,' I implored. 'I so wish my dear girl, that you wouldn't talk so. It makes people think there is something queer about you. Who in the world was sending you a message, as you call it?'
"'Sidney,' said Miriam simply.
"'You think it is nonsense because you don't understand it,' was her calm response.
"I recall another event was when some caller dropped in and we had drifted into a discussion about ghosts and the like--and I've no doubt we all talked some delicious nonsense. Miriam said nothing at the time, but when we were alone I asked her what she thought of it.
"'I thought you were all merely talking against time,' she retorted evasively.
"'But, Miriam, do you really think it is possible for ghosts--'
"'I detest that word!'
"'Well, spirits then--to return after death, or to appear to anyone apart from the flesh?'
"'I will tell you what I know. If anything were to happen to Sidney--if he were to die or be killed--he would come to me himself and tell me.'
"One day Miriam came down to lunch looking pale and worried. After Dick went out, I asked her if anything were wrong.
"'Something has happened to Sidney,' she replied, 'some painful accident--I don't know what.'
"'How do you know?' I cried. Then, as she looked at me strangely, I added hastily, 'You haven't been receiving any more unearthly messages, have you? Surely, Miriam, you are not so foolish as to really believe in that!'
"'I know,' she answered quickly. 'Belief or disbelief has nothing to do with it. Yes, I have had a message. I know that some accident has happened to Sidney--painful and inconvenient but not particularly dangerous. I do not know what it is. Sidney will write me that. He writes when it is absolutely necessary.'
"'Aerial communication isn't perfected yet then?' I said mischievously. But, observing how really worried she seemed, I added, 'Don't fret, Miriam. You may be mistaken.'
"Well, two days afterwards she got a note from her lover--the first I had ever known her to receive--in which he said he had been thrown from his horse and had broken his left arm. It had happened the very morning Miriam received her message.
"Miriam had been with us about eight months when one day she came into my room hurriedly. She was very pale.
"'Sidney is ill--dangerously ill. What shall I do?'
"I knew she must have had another of those abominable messages--or thought she had--and really, remembering the incident of the broken arm, I couldn't feel as sceptical as I pretended to. I tried to cheer her, but did not succeed. Two hours later she had a telegram from her lover's college chum, saying that Mr. Claxton was dangerously ill with typhoid fever.
"I was quite alarmed about Miriam in the days that followed. She grieved and fretted continually. One of her troubles was that she received no more messages; she said it was because Sidney was too ill to send them. Anyhow, she had to content herself with the means of communication used by ordinary mortals.
"Sidney's mother, who had gone to nurse him, wrote every day, and at last good news came. The crisis was over and the doctor in attendance thought Sidney would recover. Miriam seemed like a new creature then, and rapidly recovered her spirits.
"For a week reports continued favourable. One night we went to the opera to hear a celebrated prima donna. When we returned home Miriam and I were sitting in her room, chatting over the events of the evening.
"Suddenly she sat straight up with a sort of convulsive shudder, and at the same time--you may laugh if you like--the most horrible feeling came over me. I didn't see anything, but I just felt that there was something or someone in the room besides ourselves.
"Miriam was gazing straight before her. She rose to her feet and held out her hands.
"'Sidney!' she said.
"Then she fell to the floor in a dead faint.
"I screamed for Dick, rang the bell and rushed to her.
"In a few minutes the whole household was aroused, and Dick was off posthaste for the doctor, for we could not revive Miriam from her death-like swoon. She seemed as one dead. We worked over her for hours. She would come out of her faint for a moment, give us an unknowing stare and go shudderingly off again.
"The doctor talked of some fearful shock, but I kept my own counsel. At dawn Miriam came back to life at last. When she and I were left alone, she turned to me.
"'Sidney is dead,' she said quietly. 'I saw him--just before I fainted. I looked up, and he was standing between me and you. He had come to say farewell.'
"What could I say? Almost while we were talking a telegram came. He was dead--he had died at the very hour at which Miriam had seen him."
Mrs. Sefton paused, and the lunch bell rang.
"What do you think of it?" she queried as we rose.
"Honestly, I don't know what I think of it," I answered frankly.