''The Two Ghosts'' Short Story By Richard Le Gallienne

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The Two Ghosts Short Story By Richard Le Gallienne
  • Story Name : The Two Ghosts
  • Author Name : Amelie Rives Chanler (1866–1947)
  • Author Country : England
  • Published Year : 1904
  • Story Type : Short Story

Two people who had once.loved —or thought they loved—had been dead and buried for three years—that is, to each other. To the rest of the world they seemed vigorously and even gaily above ground, and, at all events, had retained sufficient life in them to get engaged to be married to two other people.

The man, it should be explained, was already engaged when he first met the woman, and had never, during the whole course of his relations with her, the smallest intention of breaking his engagement. But the woman did not know that—and there is, of course, no possible justification for his wicked Don Juan-like attitude, except that, as boys will be boys, men will be men.

Now it chanced that one spring afternoon, when these three years had gone by, the ghosts of these two lovers met in a New York drawing-room, and were both very much disturbed at the sight of each other. Nothing upsets a ghost so much as the apparition of another ghost. Though they were both clever ghosts, they were unable to conceal from each other their excitement at meeting, and, indeed, less able to conceal it from the eyes of the lookers-on, who, knowing something of their story when they had been alive, were hardly less excited than themselves.

"The two ghosts have met," went a whisper round the room. "What is going to happen?"

Meanwhile the two ghosts were looking at each other, without saying a word.

Presently, "Is it you?" "Is it you?" they said together; and each answered, "It is I."

"Let us draw away from the others and look at each other," said the two ghosts, and they found a corner apart from the inquisitive eyes, and looked and looked at each other, and never said a word; till at last the time came when the woman-ghost must go and meet the man to whom she was engaged up there in the real world, and with whom she dined every evening as, it is well known, is the custom of all engaged couples!

"This cannot be our last meeting," said the two ghosts. "There is so much to say."

"I will meet you in the same dear spot at three tomorrow," said the woman-ghost, and thereupon she vanished; and the man-ghost smiled.

The same dear spot was a certain café full of quiet corners, where in the days when they were alive the two ghosts had been wont to drink through straws to the eternity of their love for each other.

Remembering each other's habits, both ghosts were late, the man half an hour, the woman forty minutes.

"What shall we drink?" said the man-ghost.

"You know," answered the woman-ghost.

The waiter, who was an old friend, was quite startled to see them.

"Why, I thought you were dead!" he exclaimed.

"We have been," said the woman-ghost, looking fondly at the man-ghost and surreptitiously pressing his hand.

The waiter didn't, of course, understand, so, to relieve his embarrassment —with that extraordinary memory for the tastes of their customers which good waiters possess—"Shall I bring you the same as in the old days?" he asked, with a fatherly smile on their re-arisen happiness.

"Do you really remember?" asked the woman-ghost.

"You shall see, miss," answered the waiter, and presently returned with the sacramental drink he had made for them so often three years ago.

"Fancy you remembering—how dear of you, John!" said the woman-ghost. "Why, I believe he is quite happy to see us again," she added, when he had left them alone.

"The whole world is happy with us," said the man-ghost; "the very cars outside seem to be singing a happy song. And they have sounded so lonely for ever so long—such a sad, lost moaning they made. Do you remember our old spring song?

Oh, the gay, gay people
Out in the sun, in the sun,
For today the winter is ended,
Today the spring is begun.

And the open cars are running.
And the brooks are running, too,
And there's a bird, dear, singing.
Singing all of you."

"I love you," said the woman-ghost, laying her hand on his.

"How dear of you to say it first again—as you did long ago," laughed the man-ghost, perhaps a little ambiguously.

Then they took up their straws.

"Who are we to drink to?" asked the man-ghost.

"Us!" answered the woman-ghost.

"Us!" said the man-ghost.

And then with their eyes upon each other they drank through the straws.

They had a very great deal to say to each other, many things out of the past to explain, many old misunderstandings to discuss. They had, despite their great love, lied no little to each other in the old days—the man, perforce, because, as I have said, he loved another woman, too, and loved her most; the woman for no particular reason except that she was intrigante by nature, and couldn't help it. Both had found the other out, the man the woman's little mean lies, the woman the man's great big lies. And so they had become ghosts to each other. Yet they had both cared a great deal, both had suffered, and both were happy to forget each other's faults for the purpose of spending a few hours together in a fool's paradise.

"Ah! but I have changed so much since then!" said the woman-ghost. "The little lies have fallen from me. I see now how right you were about me. If only I had known then—but I was little more than a child. ..."

"Yes!" said the man-ghost wickedly in his own heart. "It is true—you were but twenty-eight. ..."

This was, no doubt, a little mean of the man-ghost—but then, if only the reader could know all, he would understand.

"You have changed, too," said the woman-ghost presently. "Your mouth is kinder. You, too, I can see, have grown truer, more sincere. ..."

The man-ghost did his best to look like a reformed character, and pressed her hand impressively. He said nothing, but his whole attitude was designed to convey that, indeed, life had at last purged the dross out of him and taught him the long lesson of the One Woman. As a matter of fact it had, but it was by means of another woman that he had learned it. the woman whom he had always loved—but deceived awhile. He was not deceiving her now, for he had told her of his having met the ghost and the likelihood of his meeting her again. She was so secure in his love that she smiled at his vagaries and left him to go his way. Wise women are not wastefully jealous. They keep their jealousy for really-important occasions.

Both ghosts were very delicate to avoid mention of the status quo, though by every indirect method of which their subtle brains were capable they sought to read each other's minds on the subject—with but little result. The woman-ghost, however, was intuitively aware of a certain stubborn loyalty to the other woman in the man-ghost's carefully chosen words and nimble evasions.

Thus, in retrospective readjustments, stealthy reconnaissances of each other, and withal real joy in each other's recovered presence, the afternoon went by, and presently once more the time approached for the woman-ghost to dine in the real world.

"We cannot part like this," said the two ghosts; "there is so much still to say."

So it was agreed that they should meet again on the morrow, at the same place, at the same hour.

"You had better not come out with me," said the woman-ghost at parting, for ghosts have a great objection to being seen together; so the man-ghost remained behind, and watched her figure through the window, and wondered if he could ever really love her again as he used to do.

Next day the two ghosts were comparatively punctual at the rendezvous. The woman-ghost was twenty minutes late and the man-ghost twenty-five. Again they drank to "Us" through the sacramental straws, again their friend the waiter beamed upon their resurrection, again they talked of the past and tried in vain to wrest from each other the secret of the present, and again they were very happy, and again when the time came round for the engaged couple to dine together nothing seemed to have been said.

So once more it was "Tomorrow—at three"; and the man-ghost watched the woman-ghost through the window, and wondered. But he admired her frock.

Thus many days went by, and the two ghosts continued meeting each other according to their notions of three o'clock; and so much a custom had their meetings become that they had almost forgotten that they were ghosts at all; and certainly anyone seeing them together, seeing their close colloquies and the way their eyes hung upon each other, would have had considerable difficulty in distinguishing them from real lovers. Each day the living blood seemed to be pouring into their shrunken veins, each day they grew less and less like phantoms.

There is no real ghost, I need hardly say, that does not own and haunt some buried treasure. Now both these ghosts possessed their buried treasure—treasure which three years ago they had professed to destroy. One day they had dared to ask each other concerning it.

"You did not really burn them?" said the man-ghost.

"No, I could not bear to, and never meant to; did you?"

And the man-ghost said the same as the woman-ghost. And both told the truth. For, in their way, they had loved each other.

"Oh, come and see my buried treasure!" said the woman-ghost, as the time came for parting.

"But ..." the eyes of the man-ghost queried, "what of the dinner hour in the real world?"

As it chanced the woman-ghost was free this night; and as, day by day, the woman-ghost had been growing more and more daring, they drove in a cab together, the two ghosts, to the place of the buried treasure—trusting perhaps also to the alleged invisibility of ghosts.

To drive in a cab again together was for them a separate bliss—poor, disembodied spirits; and then at length they found themselves at the entrance of the apartment house at which in his carnal life the man-ghost had been so accustomed a presence. It was but natural that he should re-enter these once familiar doors with a thrill of memory. How strange it was to be there again, to find everything the same, the same clerks at the desk, as she went there to inquire for her mail. ... Yes! it was strange, and almost creepy, even for a ghost. When they came to the elevator there was the same good boy David running it who had been so kind—in exchange for dollar bills—in the old times. The good David almost fainted at the sight of the man-ghost.

"Why! I thought, sir ..." he began, and stopped in time.

When they were out of the elevator the woman-ghost explained that David having so often inquired after the gentleman that came no more, she had calmly told him that the gentleman was dead. Hence David's natural surprise.

"It was true, wasn't it?" she added.

"Ye-es," answered the man-ghost, with an inward reflection on that old habit of unveracity.

Then they entered the rooms he had once loved so well—entered them by the same door!—the rooms that had once seemed like the shrine of some pure spirit, the dwelling-place of a fairy-woman. The same rooms, the same furniture; a few more books, a few more photographs, the desk three years untidier—that was the only difference.

When they had closed the door they stood a moment side by side looking at the place where they had both seemed so magically alive. Then they fell into each other's arms and kissed each other, and kissed each other again and again, and, although they were ghosts and engaged ghosts, too, the kisses seemed wonderfully real, and anyone who could have seen them might well have wished to be a ghost—so happy they seemed revisiting thus the glimpses of the moon in each other's company.

Neither of them could believe that they were there—together; yet in a moment the three years seemed to have vanished for both of them—though deep in their hearts they knew they were only ghosts. Still, the sensation was very sweet of seeming to be really alive again together, and who shall blame them if they gave themselves up to it?

After awhile the woman-ghost said: "Come, let us look at our buried treasure," and she turned to a little urn-shaped box of seventeenth century workmanship, made of wood covered with decorative shapes of beaten copper, and a fantastic lock of iron big enough to belong to the gate of a castle.

"I have two keys to this," she said; "here is one of them. Take it and open the box for us, and then keep the key forever. Here is my own key. No one so long as I live shall look inside this box but you and I. It belongs to us. It is our year. No future has any right over it. ..."

Then they placed the box between them on a divan, and the man-ghost set the key to the lock and raised the lid, and the two looked in as into a grave—a grave filled with rose leaves; and, as the man-ghost looked, the tears came into his eyes, and he took the woman-ghost's face in his hands and kissed her very gently, and then they fell into each other's arms over the little grave and cried bitterly.

And anyone looking on would have said that this was the real sorrow of real people. But neither forgot in their hearts that they were ghosts.

When they had recovered themselves, and were drying their eyes and trying to laugh away their foolishness, the man-ghost said:

"You make me believe that you did really love me, after all. ..."

"I loved you all the time," she answered. "It was you that failed."

Then she took up a folded paper from one of the little trays. It made a withered sound when she opened it.

"Do you remember the goldenrod along the road—that morning? Here is a piece of it."

And again she took a folded paper and opened it.

"Do you remember," she said, "that old desk you used to write on? Once, when you were not looking, I took a penknife and cut away a splinter of it. Here it is."

Can you wonder that the man-ghost felt his heart fill with tears?

"Did you really love me so much as that?" he said. "How grateful you make me—how happy!"

And then, one by one, the woman-ghost showed him the hoarded treasures of her heart. It was all too sacred to tell about; but there was nothing that bore the stamp of a moment's memory, however slight, that the woman had not saved, trifles inconceivably trivial, as well as little intimate memorials heartbreakingly intimate. The man-ghost almost forgot the personal relation of it all to himself in his reverence at this revelation of a woman's heart.

"To think," he kept saying over and over, "to think that you loved me like that—and I never knew! How can I ever be grateful enough for this wonderful love that you gave me?"

So, for a long while the two ghosts hung over their buried treasure, and at length placed each little memory back in its place, locked the urn-shaped box, and with a sigh the man-ghost placed his key in his pocket, and the woman-ghost slipped hers into her bosom—and by this the clocks were striking eleven.

"I must go," said the man-ghost, rising, but he lingered still a moment while the woman-ghost held him in her arms and kissed him passionately. When they came out of their kiss, breathless and laughing, the woman-ghost said:

"I am afraid this hardly looks as though we were ghosts."

Yet for all that both knew that they were ghosts.

As the man-ghost walked home, with a curious gravity in his heart, he suddenly thought of one incident of the evening, the significance of which had not struck him at the time. While they were looking over those memories in the little chest, the woman-ghost had held up a piece of paper on which were written some verses.

"Do you remember this?" she asked.

He remembered well, "But where," he added, "is the letter that came with it? You seem to have torn it off," and he pointed to the top of the paper which had evidently been cut with a pair of scissors.

"Oh, that is down there among the other letters," she answered. "I wanted to have the poem by itself."

It was a slight incident, and at the moment he had given it no thought; but, as he walked home, his memory went back to it and suddenly recalled what the letter had been which accompanied the verses. It had been a very tender letter, memorial of an occasion very sacred to both of them; but it had been for that very reason the kind of letter one would not care to see in an auction-room or an autograph dealer's catalogue. Therefore the woman-ghost had—destroyed it. Perhaps not unnaturally, but why had she not said so? Why had she said it was there with the other letters?

And so once more that shadow of unveracity stole over the man-ghost's thoughts and vitiated the sincerity of that afternoon.

For all these meetings the two ghosts still felt that they had more to say to each other, so still they continued meeting, and still each evening the woman-ghost returned to dinner in the real world. And so the beautiful days went by.

One day as they sat together in their café the woman-ghost said:

"Do you remember what day Monday will be?"

"The eighteenth of April," answered the man-ghost promptly. So much indeed the waiter could have told him, but as men-ghosts have exceedingly bad memories for anniversaries, he immediately set to work trying to recall the significance of the eighteenth of April.

"Yes! but you remember what it means—what it once meant?"

"Do you really think that I could possibly forget?" answered the man-ghost, with a certain reverential reticence of manner, as though, while the occasion was perfectly clear in his mind, it was one almost too sacred to recall in words. By such dumb show of feeling he succeeded in convincing the woman-ghost that the date was indeed green in his memory; the more so as she herself had her own reasons for not putting the date into words.

"Do you think we might spend the day in the country, as we did three years ago?" said the woman-ghost. "It would be doing no wrong to—anybody, would it?"

"Of course it wouldn't. Ghosts cannot harm the living," said the man-ghost; "the worst they can do is to haunt them. Let us go."

"The spring is early this year," said the woman-ghost; "one feels it breathing already in the town. Even here the buds are thickening on the trees; but the country must already be leaf and blossom and birds."

"Let us go and teach the birds to sing," said the man-ghost.

"We might even teach them to fly," said the woman-ghost, laughing over the two straws daintily held in her lips, like pipes of some frail forgotten music.

"Oh, winter of my heart—when comes the spring ..."

the man-ghost began to recite in a low voice, half to himself—

I am sore weary of these death-like days,
This shroud unheaving of eternal snow—
Oh, winter of my heart—when comes the spring!"

"Who did you write that to?" asked the woman-ghost jealously. "It was not to me. ..."

"No, it was not to you, dear ghost," smiled the man-ghost; "it was to a living woman."

"Don't think of the living today," said the woman-ghost. "It is ungallant, at the very least."

"You are right," answered the other; "it was but a passing thought, and it is past. Now, dear ghost, I am your own ghost again. ..."

"I wonder if you really love me?" asked the woman-ghost.

"As much as one ghost can love another ghost," the man-ghost answered.

And then, looking at the clock, they saw that it was already the hour of the betrothed.

"Before you go, tell me in return if you really love me?" asked the man-ghost.

"As much as a living woman can love a ghost," she answered half sadly, half laughingly, and her skirts rustled away to leave the man-ghost pondering on the enigmatic reply. Suppose he should cease to be a ghost! Suppose she were really a living woman!

He watched her through the café window as she caught the car. One thing was certain—her new spring hat was quite pretty.

On the morning of the eighteenth of April the two ghosts met very early at their café, and, after first drinking through the straws very solemnly to the anniversary they were about to celebrate—which, shame upon him! the man-ghost had in vain tried to place—they discussed their plans for the day.

"Shall we go—there?" said the woman-ghost.

The word "there" only deepened the mystery for the man-ghost, but he was able to say an appropriate thing.

"Do you think we dare?" he asked. "It is always such a terrible risk revisiting places where one has been so happy."

"Do you think we shall run any risk today?" asked the woman, looking at once fondly and searchingly into his face.

For answer the man-ghost looked at her a long, long look, and presently asked the waiter to order a hansom to take them to the Grand Central. He could remember the Grand Central—but what on earth was the name of the other station! For, you see, they had been so often into the country together, so often that New York State made a kind of Palestine, sown thick for them with holy places. But which was the holy place connected with April the eighteenth? All the way in the cab the man-ghost was cudgeling his brains for the name of the place, but at length they arrived at the depot without his having been able to recall it. As he handed the woman-ghost out of the hansom a desperate expedient occurred to him.

"I have just remembered a telegram I must send," he said; "do you mind getting the tickets while I send it?" and he pressed some money into her hand.

She went off gaily, poor little woman-ghost, and the man-ghost felt the awful wretch that he was—but is it the fault of man that he was not born with a woman's memory for anniversaries?

Presently they met again. She handed him the tickets, and how eagerly he read them! Now, at all events, he knew the name of the station, but as they had been there together at least six times he was still at a loss as to which visit they were about to celebrate. However, that was a mere detail, now that he knew the name of the place; and so they started off, happy as birds—for perhaps the deepest bond between them had always been their mutual love for what is usually called "nature," a love peculiarly their own. They both knew others who loved "nature," but no one quite as they loved it. The purest hours of companionship they had ever known had been out together in the fields and woods; and to be once more in the country together with the perilous intoxication of spring all around them, the vivid fountains of green leaves, piercingly fresh, the balm in the air, and oh, the birds!—was a happiness that made them forget awhile that they were only ghosts. So might two lost spirits escaped awhile from Hades into the upper air scent the sweet earth-smell of the mold, fill their arms with fragrant boughs and passionately feed their eyes on the good sky.

"It is good to be here," said the man-ghost; "let us build two tabernacles!"

"Two!" laughed the woman-ghost.

And, as by this time they were in the ungossiping wilderness, they took hands and ran together over the rocky meadows, for sheer joy in being there together under the sky.

At last they found the very meadow, the very rocks, overshadowed by the very trees, where they had been so happy that eighteenth of April. A stream had been running close by three years before. It was running still. All was just the same. And here they were once more, to complete the punctuality of nature. Only one object was missing from the landscape—a poor old consumptive horse that had neighed mournfully—and sometimes startlingly—far down the meadow on the eighteenth of April, three years ago.

It was the woman-ghost recalling this old horse that suddenly brought back to the man-ghost's mind the whole set of circumstances which beforehand he had been in vain trying to piece together. At last the anniversary was clear to him, and he could enter into its memorial rites without the sense of hypocrisy or the fear of some disastrous blunder.

And, even with a defective memory for sentiment, it surely had been strange if the man-ghost had not responded to the vernal call of resurrection which breathed and piped and fluted and rippled all about them. The whole sunlit world was rising from the dead—might not these two dead ones arise also, and once again be happy together in the sun? All too soon they must die the second death, from which there is no resurrection. Surely this day in the sun might be theirs, the last day they would ever spend in the spring sunshine together. Was it so very much to ask—so very much to steal?

The two ghosts sat side by side on a ledge of rock high up over the world. A great tree overshadowed them, and it was very cozy. Looking down they could see all the colored spring: farmhouses smothered in blossom, plowed fields already vivid with the ascending blade, nooks and comers of meadow embroidered with flowers.

"It looks almost as if it might be the spring," said the man sadly, "the last spring."

"The last?" queried the woman-ghost.

"I mean together," answered the man, not with entire satisfaction to the woman-ghost.

Actually the man-ghost had made beautiful arrangements for all the springs that remained for him. He intended to spend them with the One Woman. But the occasion demanded a certain picturesque pessimism, and he lived up to the occasion.

"I think," presently said the woman-ghost, who loved nothing so much as a literary allusion, "that Persephone must have felt as I do now when she arose each year from the shades. How sweet to breathe again the smell of green leaves and the newly turned mold! How sweet to breathe it with you!"

"Properly speaking," the man-ghost answered slyly, "you oughtn't to be breathing it with me; I mean, of course, in your character of Persephone. You should be breathing it with your mother, Ceres."

"I love you even more than my mother," said the woman-ghost, smiling.

"Your learned allusion," said the man-ghost presently, "reminds me of something I forgot to say the other day when we opened that treasure-chest together. It was obvious enough, of course, and hardly worth mentioning. Indeed, I'm sure you thought of it yourself—thought, I mean, of the famous box of Pandora. ..."

"Of course I did; but shall I tell you what I chiefly thought of?"


"That, after all the superficial trouble occasioned by the opening of the box, after all the various plagues and vexations and dilemmas had made their escape, there was still Hope lying at the bottom of the box."

In reply the man-ghost pressed the woman-ghost's hand and looked a long look into her face, which was his way of saying everything, yet saying nothing; and the woman-ghost, who it must have been gathered was no fool, was far from being deceived by this code method of saying nothing. She began to understand.

"I am hungry," she said presently; "suppose we open this Pandora's basket."

They had brought with them a little luncheon-basket packed with dainties, and they laughingly unpacked it together.

"There is, you see, Hope at the bottom of the box," said the man-ghost, lifting out a silver flask of considerable dimensions, which the woman-ghost had given him as a birthday present three years before-"See how faithful I am to you! Wherever I go this goes with me."

"Faithful creature indeed!" laughed the woman-ghost. "I am so glad I chose something useful."

They had no straws with them, so perforce they drank out of that flask together, as indeed they had drunk three years before. Then they turned to the various dainties, and ate heartily and laughed together, and grew happier and happier each hour.

After they had been sitting together in silence for a long time the woman-ghost said:

"Do you remember the day of the marguerites?"

That day the man-ghost did in very truth remember.

"Do you remember the day of the tower?"

That also he remembered.

"Do you remember the poem you wrote me about those two days?"

"I remember that I wrote a poem, but I cannot remember the poem."

"I can," said the woman-ghost, leaning against his shoulder. "Would you like me to say it to you?"

And then the woman-ghost recited as follows:

Of all the days we said that day was good.
When, 'neath the blue publicity of heaven.
Amid the flickering marguerites we stood.
And gave—or thought we gave—what once is given
And only once is taken quite away.
But, child, since then how rich the months that passed
With child-glad hours and many a perfect day,
Nor maybe yet the happiest or the last.

Yet, love, I wonder if the day we went
Up that high tower, and stood up in the sky,
Yet unto earth returned again, was meant
To symbolize our love; nay, even I,
In a dim-lighted, unbelieving hour,
Have wondered if we really climbed the tower!

"You were right," she added, "we never climbed the tower." And after a pause she whispered, "Is it yet too late?"

The man-ghost shook his head sadly. "Who knows?" he said.

"What are we to do?" said the woman-ghost, holding him more tightly in her arms.

"Time will show us what to do," answered the man-ghost evasively.

"I believe in that no longer," she answered; "it is for us to tell Time what to do."

"It will all come right," said the man-ghost cheerfully.

"I have ceased to believe in things coming right," said the woman-ghost, "unless we make them come right."

At that moment the man-ghost, noticing that the sky was becoming overshadowed with the approaching night, involuntarily took out his watch. It was later than he thought.

"My dear," he said thoughtlessly, "I am sorry, but we must go at once or we shall miss your train."

"I care nothing about trains, I care for nothing," the woman-ghost answered. "I love you only. I would rather miss my train than catch it. ..."

For answer the man-ghost took the silver flask by the bottom and held it with the neck downward. It was empty.

"Dear little ghost," he said, "I understand. It has been a wonderful spring day. The spring has turned our heads—but it mustn't turn our hearts. You must catch your train."

In explanation of the conclusion I must add that a ghost, however much it may love another ghost, is anxious above all things to be alive again, alive particularly in the social world. This it can only become by attaching itself to some living person who will give it a simple, undivided love. Now both these ghosts with which this story has dealt alike felt the need of such revivification. The man-ghost, as I have said, had never really been a ghost, for all the time another living woman had been feeding him with her heart's blood. That was why the woman-ghost, when she first met him again, took him for a living man—and hoped to live again through him. And a living man indeed he was for everyone else but her. For her only he was still a ghost.

Therefore, when she came to think over it, she was thankful that he had made her catch her train and so arrive on time for dinner with her betrothed.

As for the man-ghost he went back to the living woman; and she looked up at him and laughed.

"Well, how about the great anniversary?" she said.

"We are finished," he said, laughing. "We have died the second death. The ghosts have laid each other!"

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