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Chapter 8

VIII.

The general disappointment was evident in the moment of waiting which followed upon his almost contemptuous ending. His audience some of them took their cue from his own ironical manner, and joked; others looked as if they had been trifled with. The psychologist said, "Curious." He did not go back to his position that belief in ghosts should follow from seeing a man who had seen one; he seemed rather annoyed by the encounter. The talk took another turn and distributed itself again between contiguous persons for the brief time that elapsed before the women were to leave the men to their coffee and cigars.

When their hostess rose Hewson offered his arm to Miss Hernshaw. She had not spoken to him since he had told the story of his apparition. Now she said in an undertone so impassioned that every vibration from her voice shook his heart, "If I were you, I would never tell that story again!" and she pressed his arm with unconscious intensity, while she looked away from him.

"You don't believe it happened?" he returned.

"It did."

"Of course it happened! Why shouldn't I believe that? But that's the very reason why I wouldn't have told it. If it happened, it was something sacred—awful! Oh, I don't see how you could bear to speak of it at a dinner, when people were all torpid with—"

She stopped breathlessly, with a break in her voice that sounded just short of a sob.

"Well, I'm sufficiently ashamed of doing it, and not for the first time," he said, in sullen discontent with himself. "And I've been properly punished. You can't think how sick it makes me to realize what a detestable sensation I was seeking."

She did not heed what he was saying. "Was it that morning at St. Johnswort when you got up so early, and went for a cup of coffee at the inn?"

"Yes."

"I thought so! I could follow every instant of it; I could see just how it was. If such a thing had happened to me, I would have died before I spoke of it at such a time as this. Oh, why do you suppose it happened to you?" the girl grieved.

"Me, of all men?" said Hewson, with a self-contemptuous smile.

"I thought you were different," she said absently; then abruptly: "What are you standing here talking to me so long for? You must go back! All the men have gone back," and Hewson perceived that they had arrived in the drawing-room, and were conspicuously parleying in the face of a dozen interested women witnesses.

In the dining-room he took his way toward a vacant place at the table near his host, who was saying behind his cigar to another old fellow: "I used to know her mother; she was rather original too; but nothing to this girl. I don't envy Mrs. Rock her job."

"I don't know what the pay of a chaperon is, but I suppose Hernshaw can make it worth her while, if he's like the rest out there," said the other old fellow. "I imagine he's somewhere in his millions."

The host held up one of his fingers. "Is that all? I thought more.
Mines?"

"Cattle. Ah, Mr. Hewson," said the host, turning to welcome him to the chair on his other side. "Have a cigar. That was a strong story you gave us. It had a good fault, though. It was too short."

William Dean Howells

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