“Oh, dear!” Miss Macroyd whispered. “What is that strange simpleton going to do, I wonder?”
Verrian did not feel obliged to answer a question not addressed to him, but he, too, wondered and doubted.
The girl, having got her courage together, fluttered with it from her place round to the ghost’s in a haste that expressed a fear that it might escape her if she delayed to put it to the test. The phantom was already there, as if it had waited her in the curiosity that followed her. They were taking each other seriously, the girl and the ghost, and if the ghost had been a veridical phantom, in which she could have believed with her whole soul, the girl could not have entreated it more earnestly, more simply.
She bent forward, in her slim, tall figure, with her hands outstretched, and with her tender voice breaking at times in her entreaty. “Oh, I don’t know how to begin,” she said, quite as if she and the phantom were alone together, and she had forgotten its supernatural awfulness in a sense of its human quality. “But you will understand, won’t you! You’ll think it very strange, and it is very unlike the others; but if I’m going to be serious—”
The white figure stood motionless; but Verrian interpreted its quiet as a kindly intelligence, and the girl made a fresh start in a note a little more piteous than before. “It’s about the—the truth. Do you think if sometimes we don’t tell it exactly, but we wish we had very, very much, it will come round somehow the same as if we had told it?”
“I don’t understand,” the phantom answered. “Say it again—or differently.”
“Can our repentance undo it, or make the falsehood over into the truth?”
“Never!” the ghost answered, with a passion that thrilled to Verrian’s heart.
“Oh, dear!” the girl said; and then, as if she had been going to continue, she stopped.
“You’ve still got your half-question, Miss Andrews,” Bushwick interposed.
“Even if we didn’t mean it to deceive harmfully?” the girl pursued. “If it was just on impulse, something we couldn’t seem to help, and we didn’t see it in its true light at the time—”
The ghost made no answer. It stood motionless.
“It is offended,” Bushwick said, without
knowing the Shakespearian words.
“You’ve asked it three times half a question, Miss Andrews. Now, Mr.
Verrian, it’s your turn. You can ask it just one-quarter of a question.
Miss Andrews has used up the rest of your share.”