Walter shivered delightsomely. He loved ghost stories. Their mystery, their dramatic climaxes, their eeriness gave him a fearful, exquisite pleasure. Longfellow instantly grew tame and commonplace. He threw the book aside and stretched himself out, propped upon his elbows to listen whole-heartedly, fixing his great luminous eyes on Mary’s face. Mary wished he wouldn’t look at her so. She felt she could make a better job of the ghost story if Walter were not looking at her. She could put on several frills and invent a few artistic details to enhance the horror. As it was, she had to stick to the bare truth—or what had been told her for the truth.
“Well,” she began, “you know old Tom Bailey and his wife used to live in that house up there thirty years ago. He was an awful old rip, they say, and his wife wasn’t much better. They’d no children of their own, but a sister of old Tom’s died and left a little boy—this Henry Warren—and they took him. He was about twelve when he came to them, and kind of undersized and delicate. They say Tom and his wife used him awful from the start—whipped him and starved him. Folks said they wanted him to die so’s they could get the little bit of money his mother had left for him. Henry didn’t die right off, but he begun having fits—epileps, they called ’em—and he grew up kind of simple, till he was about eighteen. His uncle used to thrash him in that garden up there ’cause it was back of the house where no one could see him. But folks could hear, and they say it was awful sometimes hearing poor Henry plead with his uncle not to kill him. But nobody dared interfere ’cause old Tom was such a reprobate he’d have been sure to get square with ’em some way. He burned the barns of a man at Harbour Head who offended him. At last Henry died and his uncle and aunt give out he died in one of his fits and that was all anybody ever knowed, but everybody said Tom had just up and killed him for keeps at last. And it wasn’t long till it got around that Henry WALKED. That old garden was HA’NTED. He was heard there at nights, moaning and crying. Old Tom and his wife got out—went out West and never came back. The place got such a bad name nobody’d buy or rent it. That’s why it’s all gone to ruin. That was thirty years ago, but Henry Warren’s ghost ha’nts it yet.”
“Do you believe that?” asked Nan scornfully. “I don’t.”
“Well, GOOD people have seen him—and heard him.” retorted Mary. “They say he appears and grovels on the ground and holds you by the legs and gibbers and moans like he did when he was alive. I thought of that as soon as I seen that white thing in the bushes and thought if it caught me like that and moaned I’d drop down dead on the spot. So I cut and run. It MIGHTN’T have been his ghost, but I wasn’t going to take any chances with a ha’nt.”
“It was likely old Mrs. Stimson’s white calf,” laughed Di. “It pastures in that garden—I’ve seen it.”