“You have some very strong reason, I see, for looking upon Mr. Steele as your husband’s enemy rather than friend.”
The appeal was timely. With a start she woke to the realization of her position and of the suggestive words she had just uttered, and with a glance behind her at Letty and another at Nixon and the maids, who by this time had pushed their way to the foot of the stairs, she gathered herself up with a determination born of the necessity of the moment and emphatically replied:
“No; I do not know Mr. Steele well enough for that. My emotion at the unexpected tidings of his possible death springs from another cause.” Here the help, the explanation for which she had been searching, came. “Girls,” she went on, addressing them with an emphasis which drew all eyes, “I am ashamed to tell you what has so deeply disturbed me these last few days. I should blame any one of you for being affected as I was. The great love I bear my husband and child is my excuse—a poor one, I know, but one you will understand. A week ago something happened to me in the library which frightened me very much. I saw—or thought I saw—what some would call an apparition, but what you would call a ghost. Don’t shriek!” (The two girls behind me had begun to scream and make as if to run away.) “It was all imagination, of course—there can not really be any such thing. Ghosts in these days? Pshaw! But I was very, nervous that night and could not help feeling that the mere fact of my thinking of anything so dreadful meant misfortune to some one in this house. Wait!” Her voice was imperious; and the shivering, terrified girls, superstitious to the backbone, stopped in spite of themselves. “You must hear it all, and you, too, Miss Saunders, who have only heard half. I was badly frightened then, especially as the ghost, spirit-man, or whatever it was, wore a look, in the one short moment I stood face to face with it, full of threat and warning. Next day Mr. Packard introduced his new secretary. Girls, he had the face of the Something I had seen, without the threatening look, which had so alarmed me.”
“Bad ’cess to him!” rang in vigorous denunciation from the cook. “Why didn’t ye send him ’mejitly about his business? It’s trouble he’ll bring to us all and no mistake!”
“That was what I feared,” assented her now thoroughly composed mistress. “So when Nixon said just now that Mr. Steele was dead, had fallen in a fit at Hudson Three Corners or something like that—I felt such wicked relief at finding that my experience had not meant danger to ourselves, but to him—wicked, because it was so selfish—that I forgot myself and cried out in the way you all heard. Blame me if you will, but don’t frighten yourselves by talking about it. If Mr. Steele is indeed dead, we have enough to trouble us without that.”
And with a last glance at me, which ended in a wavering half-deprecatory smile, she stepped back and passed into her own room.