A week of silence passed, and then one night St. John himself appeared at Hewson's apartment. Hewson almost knew that it was his ring at the door, and in the tremulous note of his voice asking the man if he were at home, he recognized the great blubbery fellow's most plaintive mood.
"Well, Hewson," he whimpered, without staying for any form of greeting when they stood face to face, "this has been a terrible business for me. You can't imagine how it's broken me up in every direction."
"I—I'm afraid I can, St. John," Hewson began, but St. John cut him off.
"Oh, no, you can't. Look here!" He showed a handful of letters. "All from people who had promised to stay with me, taking it back, since that infernal interview of yours, or from people who hadn't answered before, saying they can't come. Of course they make all sorts of civil excuses. I shouldn't know what to do with these people if any of them came. There isn't a servant left on the place, except the gardener who lives in his own house, and the groom who sleeps in the stable. For the last three days I've had to take my meals at that infernal inn where you got your coffee."
"Is it so bad as that?" Hewson gasped.
"Yes, it is. It's so bad that sometimes I can't realize it. Do you actually mean to tell me, Hewson that you saw a ghost in my house?"
"I never said a ghost. I said an apparition. I don't know what it was. It may have been an optical delusion. I call it an apparition, because that's the shortest way out. You know I'm not a spiritualist."
"Yes, that's the devil of it," said St. John. "That's the very thing that makes people believe it is a ghost. There isn't one of them that don't say to himself and the other fellows that if a cool, clear-headed chap like you saw something queer, it must have been a ghost; and so they go on knocking my house down in price till I don't believe it would fetch fifteen hundred under the hammer to-morrow. It's simply ruin to me."
"Ruin?" Hewson echoed.
"Yes, ruin," St. John repeated. "Before this thing came out I refused twenty-five thousand for the place, because I knew I could get twenty-eight thousand. Now I couldn't get twenty-eight hundred. Couldn't you understand that the reputation of being haunted simply plays the devil with a piece of property?" "Yes; yes, I did understand that, and for that very reason I was always careful—"
"Careful! To tell people that you had seen a ghost in my house?"
"No! Not to tell them where I had seen a ghost. I never—"
"How did it get out then?"
"I," Hewson began, and then he stood with his mouth open, unable to close it for the articulation of the next word, which he at last huskily whispered forth, "can't tell you."
"Can't tell me?" wailed St. John. "Well, I call that pretty rough!"
"It is rough," Hewson admitted; "and Heaven knows that I would make it smooth if I could. I never once—except once only—mentioned your place in connection with the matter. I was scrupulously careful not to do so, for I did imagine something like what has happened. I would do anything—anything—in reparation. But I can't even tell you how the name of your place got out in the connection, though certainly you have a right to ask and to know. The circumstances were—peculiar. The person— was one that I wouldn't have dreamt was capable of repeating it. It was as if I had said the words over to myself."
"Well, I can't understand all that," said St. John, with rueful sulkiness, from which he brisked up to ask, as if by a sudden inspiration, "If it was only to one person, why couldn't you deny it, and throw the onus on the other fellow?" He looked up at Hewson, standing nerveless before him, from where he lay mournfully wallowing in an easy-chair, as if now for the first time, there might be a gleam of hope for them both in some such notion.
Hewson slowly shook his head. "It wouldn't work. The person—isn't that kind of person."
"Why, but see here," St. John urged. "There must be something in the fellow that you can appeal to. If you went and told him how it was playing the very deuce with me pecuniarily, he would see the necessity of letting you deny it, and taking the consequences, if he was anything of a man at all."
"He isn't anything of a man at all," said Hewson, in mechanical and melancholy parody.
"Then in Heaven's name what is he?" demanded St. John, savagely.
"A woman." "Oh!" St. John fell back in his chair. But he pulled himself up again with a sudden renewal of hope. "Why, see here! If she's the right kind of woman, she'll enjoy denying the story, and putting the people in the wrong that have circulated it!"
Hewson shook his head in rejection of the general principle, while, as to the particular instance, he could only say: "She isn't that kind. She's the kind that would rather die herself, and let everybody else die, than be party to any sort of deception."
"She must be a queer woman," St. John bewailed himself, looking at the point of his cigar, and discovering to his surprise that it was out. He did not attempt to light it. "Of course, I can't ask you who she is; but why shouldn't I see her, and try what I can do with her? I'm the one that's the principal sufferer in this matter," he added, perhaps seeing refusal in Hewson's troubled eye.
"Because—for one reason—she's in London."
"Oh Lord!" St. John lamented.
"But if she were here in New York, I couldn't allow it," he continued.
"It was in confidence between us."
"She doesn't seem to have thought so," said St. John, with sarcasm which
Hewson could not resent.
"There's only one thing for me to do," said Hewson, who had been thinking the point over, and saw no other way out for him as a gentleman, or even merely as a just man. He was not rich, and in the face of the mounting accumulations of other men he had grown comparatively poor, without actually losing money, since he had begun to lead the life which had long been his ideal. After carefully ascertaining at the time in question that he had sufficient income from inherited means to live without his profession, he had closed his law-office without shutting many clients out, and had contributed himself to the formation of a leisure class, which he conceived was regrettably lacking in our conditions. He had taste, he had reading, he had a pretty knowledge of the world from travel, he had observed manners, and it seemed to him that he might not immodestly pretend to supply, as far as one man went, a well-recognized want.
Hitherto he had been able to live up to his ideal with, sufficient satisfaction, and in proposing to himself never to marry, but to grow old gradually and gracefully as a bachelor of adequate income, he saw no difficulties in his way for the future, until this affair of the apparition. If now he incurred the chances of an open change in his way of living—the end was simply a question of very little time. He must not only declass, he must depatriate himself, for he would not have the means of living even much more economically than he now lived in New York, if he did what a sense of honor, of just responsibility urged him to do with regard to St. John.
He would have been glad of any interposition of Providence that would have availed him against his obvious duty. He would have liked to recall the words saying that there was only one thing for him to do, but he could not recall them and he was forced to go on. "Will you sell me your place?" he said to St. John, colorlessly.
"Sell you my place? What do you mean?"
"Simply that if you will, I shall be glad to buy it at your own valuation."
"Oh, look here, now, Hewson! I can't let you do this," St. John began, trying to feel a magnanimity which proved impossible to him. "What do you want with my place? You couldn't get anybody to live there with you."
"I couldn't afford to live there in any case," said Hewson; "but I am entirely willing to risk the purchase."
Was it possible that Hewson knew something of the neighborhood or its future, which encouraged him to take the chances of the property appreciating in value? This thought passed through St. John's mind, and he was not the man to let himself be overreached in a deal. "The place ought to be worth thirty thousand," he said, for a bluff.
It was a relief for Hewson to feel ashamed of St. John instead of himself, for a moment. "Very well, I'll give you thirty thousand."
St. John examined himself for a responsive generosity. The most he could say was, "You're doing this because of what I'd said."
"What does it matter? I make you a bonafide offer. I will give you thirty thousand dollars for St. Johnswort," said Hewson, haughtily. "I ask you to sell me that place. I cannot see that it will ever be any good to me, but I can assure you that it would be a far worse burden for me to carry round the sense of having injured you, however unwillingly—God knows I never meant you harm!—than to shoulder the chance of your place remaining worthless on my hands."
St. John caught at the hope which the form of words suggested. "If anything can bring it up, it will be the fact that you have bought it. Such a thing would give the lie to that ridiculous story, as nothing else could. Every one will see that a house can't be very badly haunted, if the man that the ghost appeared to is willing to buy it."
"Perhaps," said Hewson sadly.
"No perhaps about it," St. John retorted, all the more cheerfully because he would have been glad before this incident to take twenty thousand for his place. "It's just on the borders of Lenox, and it's bound to come up when this blows over." He talked on for a time in an encouraging strain, while Hewson, standing with his back against the mantel, looked absently down upon him. St. John was inwardly struggling through all to say that Hewson might have the property for twenty-eight thousand, but he could not. Possibly he made himself believe that he was letting it go a great bargain at thirty; at any rate he ended by saying, "Well, it's yours—if you really mean it."
"I mean it," said Hewson.
St. John floundered up out of his chair with seal-like struggles. "Do you want the furniture?" he panted.
"The furniture? Yes, why not?" said Hewson. He did not seem to know what he was saying, or to care.
"I will put that in for a mere nominal consideration—the rugs alone are worth the money—say a thousand more."
Hewson's man came in with a note. "The messenger is waiting, sir," he said.
Hewson was aware of wondering that he had not heard any ring. "Will you excuse me?" he said, toward St. John.
"By all means," said St. John.
Hewson opened the note, and read it with an expression which can only be described as a radiant frown. He sat down at his desk, and wrote an answer to the note, and gave it to his man, who was still waiting. Then he said to St. John, "What did you say the rugs were worth?"
"I'll take them. And what do you want for the rest of the furniture?"
Clearly he had not understood that the furniture, rugs, and all, had been offered to him for a thousand dollars. But what was a man in St. John's place to do? As it was he was turning himself out of house and home for Hewson, and that was sacrifice enough. He hesitated, sighed deeply, and then said, "Well, I will throw all that in for a couple of thousand more."
"All right," said Hewson, "I will give it. Have the papers made out and
I will have the money ready at once."
"Oh, there's no hurry about that, my dear fellow," said St. John, handsomely.
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