“This will be yours,” I said, placing her valise on the floor. “You can feel safe enough there with the door locked—yes, there is a key—and I will be right opposite if you need anything.”
She gave me her hand, but I felt it tremble.
“You are still afraid?”
“Yes, I am—but—but I am not going to be such a fool.”
As her door closed I turned to the mulatto, who still stood there, lamp in hand. I was not sleepy, and I wanted most of all to have an understanding with Coombs. I could not talk with the fellow in the presence of Mrs. Bernard, for he was the kind to be handled roughly for results, but now I was ready to probe him to the bottom. “Is the overseer downstairs?”
“See here, Sallie,” I insisted warmly, “I ’m master of this house and I want some kind of answer besides yes, and no. Where is he?”
“Ah reckon he’s out in one o’ ther cabins, sah—he done don’t sleep in the house nohow.”
“He does n’t sleep here! Why?”
“Ah spect it ’s cause he ’s afeerd too, ’sah,” she replied, her snaky eyes showing. “Ah ‘s a voo-doo, an’ ah don’t care ’bout ’em tall, but good Lor’, dar ain’t no white man wants ter stay in des yere house mor’n one night.”
She laughed, a weird, grating laugh, and started downstairs. I stood still, watching her light disappear. Then, swearing at myself for a coward, stepped back into my own room, and closed the door.
THE DEAD MAN
This revealment of conditions left me thoroughly puzzled. I was not frightened at the situation, for I largely attributed the fear shown by both Pete and Sallie to negro superstition. I could have dismissed their faith in a haunted house with a smile, and gone to sleep myself with an easy conscience, confident that a noisy wind, or a hooting owl, was the sum and substance of all the trouble. But Bill Coombs was a very different proposition. He was of the hard-headed kind, not to be easily alarmed by visionary terrors, and yet he was manifestly afraid to sleep in the house. I was sufficiently acquainted with his type to comprehend there must be some real cause driving him to retreat to the negro cabins for rest. He was a rough of the Southwest, illiterate of course, but a practical fellow, and, without doubt, a gun-fighter. He had been employed because of these very characteristics, and it would require surely a very real ghost to drive him away.
I sat there for some time smoking, endeavoring to think it all over coolly, and listening intently. At first I could distinguish the rattle of dishes downstairs, as Sallie cleared the table, and, a little later, heard Mrs. Bernard moving about uneasily in her room across the hall. But at last these sounds ceased, and the house became still. I removed a portion of my clothing and lay down on the