“Yes,” said Miss Le Petyt, gazing into the deep fireplace and letting her hands and her knitting lie for the moment idle in her lap. “Oh, yes, I have seen a ghost. In fact I have lived in a house with one for quite a long time.”
“How you could–” began one of my host’s daughters; and “You, Aunt Emily?” cried the other at the same moment.
Miss Le Petyt, gentle soul, withdrew her eyes from the fireplace and protested with a gay little smile. “Well, my dears, I am not quite the coward you take me for. And, as it happens, mine was the most harmless ghost in the world. In fact”–and here she looked at the fire again– “I was quite sorry to lose her.”
“It was a woman, then? Now I think,” said Miss Blanche, “that female ghosts are the horridest of all. They wear little shoes with high red heels, and go about tap, tap, wringing their hands.”
“This one wrung her hands, certainly. But I don’t know about the high red heels, for I never saw her feet. Perhaps she was like the Queen of Spain, and hadn’t any. And as for the hands, it all depends how you wring them. There’s an elderly shop-walker at Knightsbridge, for instance–“
“Don’t be prosy, dear, when you know that we’re just dying to hear the story.”
Miss Le Petyt turned to me with a small deprecating laugh. “It’s such a little one.”
“The story, or the ghost?”
And this was Miss Le Petyt’s story:–
“It happened when I lived down in Cornwall, at Tresillack on the south coast. Tresillack was the name of the house, which stood quite alone at the head of a coombe, within sound of the sea but without sight of it; for though the coombe led down to a wide open beach, it wound and twisted half a dozen times on its way, and its overlapping sides closed the view from the house, which was advertised as ‘secluded.’ I was very poor in those days. Your father and all of us were poor then, as I trust, my dears, you will never be; but I was young enough to be romantic and wise enough to like independence, and this word ‘secluded’ took my fancy.
“The misfortune was that it had taken the fancy, or just suited the requirements, of several previous tenants. You know, I dare say, the kind of person who rents a secluded house in the country? Well, yes, there are several kinds; but they seem to agree in being odious. No one knows where they come from, though they soon remove all doubt about where they’re ‘going to,’ as the children say. ‘Shady’ is the word, is it not? Well, the previous tenants of Tresillack (from first to last a bewildering series) had been shady with a vengeance.
“I knew nothing of this when I first made application to the landlord, a solid yeoman inhabiting a farm at the foot of the coombe, on a cliff overlooking the beach. To him I presented myself fearlessly as a spinster of decent family and small but assured income, intending a rural life of combined seemliness and economy. He met my advances politely enough, but with an air of suspicion which offended me. I began by disliking him for it: afterwards I set it down as an unpleasant feature in the local character. I was doubly mistaken. Farmer Hosking was slow-witted, but as honest a man as ever stood up against hard times; and a more open and hospitable race than the people on that coast I never wish to meet. It was the caution of a child who had burnt his fingers, not once but many times. Had I known what I afterwards learned of Farmer Hosking’s tribulations as landlord of a ‘secluded country residence,’ I should have approached him with the bashfulness proper to my suit and faltered as I undertook to prove the bright exception in a long line of painful experiences. He had bought the Tresillack estate twenty years before–on mortgage, I fancy–because the land adjoined his own and would pay him for tillage. But the house was a nuisance, an incubus; and had been so from the beginning.