“If I can,” I smiled.
“How long do you expect to stay over there?”
“Oh, that I can’t say.”
“A month? a week?”
“Probably a week.”
“Then you can do what I want. Miss—”
“Saunders,” I put in.
“There is something in that house which belongs to me.”
I started; this was hardly what I expected her to say.
“Something of great importance to me; something which I must have and have very soon. I don’t want to go there for it myself. I hid it in a very safe place one day when my future looked doubtful, and I didn’t know where I might be going or what might happen to me. Mrs. Packard would think it strange if she saw where, and might make it very uncomfortable for me. But you can get what I want without trouble if you are not afraid of going about the house at night. It’s a little box with my name on it; and it is hidden—”
“Behind a brick I loosened in the cellar wall. I can describe the very place. Oh, you think I am asking too much of you—a stranger and a lady.”
“No, I’m willing to do what I can for you. But I think you ought to tell me what’s in the box, so that I shall know exactly what I am doing.”
“I can’t tell; I do not dare to tell till I have it again in my own hand. Then we will look it over together. Do you hesitate? You needn’t; no inconvenience will follow to any one, if you are careful to rely on yourself and not let any other person see or handle this box.”
“How large is it?” I asked, quite as breathless as herself, as I realized the possibilities underlying this remarkable request.
“It is so small that you can conceal it under an apron or in the pocket of your coat. In exchange for it, I will give you all I can afford—ten dollars.”
“No more than that?” I asked, testing her.
“No more at first. Afterward—if it brings me what it ought to, I will give you whatever you think it is worth. Does that satisfy you? Are you willing to risk an encounter with the ghost, for just ten dollars and a promise?”
The smile with which she said this was indescribable. I think it gave me a more thrilling consciousness of human terror in face of the supernatural than anything which I had yet heard in this connection. Surely her motive for remaining in the haunted house had been extraordinarily strong.
“You are afraid,” she declared. “You will shrink, when the time comes, from going into that cellar at night.”
I shook my head; I had already regained both my will-power and the resolution to carry out this adventure to the end.
“I will go,” said I.
“And get me my box?”
“And bring it to me here as early the next day as you can leave Mrs. Packard?”
“Oh, you don’t know what this means to me.”