“But you know it is a thing absolutely impossible,” urged Mr. Bourne. “I think you must have dreamt this, Matthew.”
Old Matthew shook his head. “I wouldn’t have told you a dream, sir. It turned me all in a maze. I never felt the fatigue of a step all the way home after it. When I got in, I couldn’t eat my supper; I couldn’t go to bed. I sat up thinking, and the wife, she came in and asked what ailed me that I didn’t go to rest. I had got no sleep in my eyes, I told her, which was true; for, when I did get to bed, it was hours afore I could close ’em.”
“But, Matthew, I tell you that it is impossible. You must have been mistaken.”
“Sir, until last night, had anybody told me such a thing, I should have said it was impossible. You know, sir, I have never been given to such fancies. There’s no doubt, sir; there’s no doubt that it was the spirit of Mr. Frederick Massingbird.”
Matthew’s clear, intelligent eye was fixed firmly on Mr. Bourne’s—his face, as usual, bending a little forward. Mr. Bourne had never believed in “spirits”; clergymen, as a rule, do not. A half smile crossed his lips.
“Were you frightened?” he asked.
“I was not frightened, sir, in the sense that you, perhaps, put the question. I was surprised, startled. As I might have been surprised and startled at seeing anybody I least expected to see—somebody that I had thought was miles away. Since poor Rachel’s death, sir, I have lived, so to say, in communion with spirits. What with Robin’s talking of his hope to see hers, and my constantly thinking of her; knowing also that it can’t be long, in the course of nature, before I am one myself, I have grown to be, as it were, familiar with the dead in my mind. Thus, sir, in that sense, no fear came upon me last night. I don’t think, sir, I should feel fear at meeting or being alone with a spirit, any more than I should at meeting a man. But I was startled and disturbed.”
“Matthew,” cried Mr. Bourne, in some perplexity, “I had always believed you superior to these foolish things. Ghosts might do well enough for the old days, but the world has grown older and wiser. At any rate, the greater portion of it has.”
“If you mean, sir, that I was superior to the belief in ghosts, you are right. I never had a grain of faith in such superstition in my life; and I have tried all means to convince my son what folly it was of him to hover round about the Willow Pond, with any thought that Rachel might ‘come again.’ No, sir, I have never been given to it.”
“And yet you deliberately assure me, Matthew, that you saw a ghost last night!”
“Sir, that it was Mr. Frederick Massingbird, dead or alive, that I saw, I must hold to. We know that he is dead, sir, his wife buried him in that far land; so what am I to believe? The face looked ghastly white, not like a person’s living.”
Mr. Bourne mused. That Frederick Massingbird was dead and buried, there could not be the slightest doubt. He hardly knew what to make of old Matthew. The latter resumed.