“There’s a side of him you fellows don’t see. I believe that story about the duel!” he declared; and it was of the very essence of this belief that it should impel him—just as our little party was dispersing—to turn back to our host with the absurd demand: “And now you’ve got to tell us about your ghost!”
The outer door had closed on Murchard and the others; only Frenham and I remained; and the vigilant servant who presided over Culwin’s destinies, having brought a fresh supply of soda-water, had been laconically ordered to bed.
Culwin’s sociability was a night-blooming flower, and we knew that he expected the nucleus of his group to tighten around him after midnight. But Frenham’s appeal seemed to disconcert him comically, and he rose from the chair in which he had just reseated himself after his farewells in the hall.
“My ghost? Do you suppose I’m fool enough to go to the expense of keeping one of my own, when there are so many charming ones in my friends’ closets?—Take another cigar,” he said, revolving toward me with a laugh.
Frenham laughed too, pulling up his slender height before the chimney-piece as he turned to face his short bristling friend.
“Oh,” he said, “you’d never be content to share if you met one you really liked.”
Culwin had dropped back into his armchair, his shock head embedded in its habitual hollow, his little eyes glimmering over a fresh cigar.
“Liked—liked? Good Lord!” he growled.
“Ah, you have, then!” Frenham pounced on him in the same instant, with a sidewise glance of victory at me; but Culwin cowered gnomelike among his cushions, dissembling himself in a protective cloud of smoke.
“What’s the use of denying it? You’ve seen everything, so of course you’ve seen a ghost!” his young friend persisted, talking intrepidly into the cloud. “Or, if you haven’t seen one, it’s only because you’ve seen two!”
The form of the challenge seemed to strike our host. He shot his head out of the mist with a queer tortoise-like motion he sometimes had, and blinked approvingly at Frenham.
“Yes,” he suddenly flung at us on a shrill jerk of laughter; “it’s only because I’ve seen two!”
The words were so unexpected that they dropped down and down into a fathomless silence, while we continued to stare at each other over Culwin’s head, and Culwin stared at his ghosts. At length Frenham, without speaking, threw himself into the chair on the other side of the hearth, and leaned forward with his listening smile ...
“OH, of course they’re not show ghosts—a collector wouldn’t think anything of them ... Don’t let me raise your hopes ... their one merit is their numerical strength: the exceptional fact of their being two. But, as against this, I’m bound to admit that at any moment I could probably have exorcised them both by asking my doctor for a prescription, or my oculist for a pair of spectacles. Only, as I never could make up my mind whether to go to the doctor or the oculist—whether I was afflicted by an optical or a digestive delusion—I left them to pursue their interesting double life, though at times they made mine exceedingly comfortable ...