Ghost in the Parlour
I don't care. I want to go!" stormed Marilyn. "All the other girls in my room have been invited too, and their mothers'll let them go to the slumber party." Tears of self-pity filled her resentful brown eyes and splashed unheeded on her new silk blouse.
"Did your invitation say it was only a slumber party?" mother asked gently. A hurt little frown creased her forehead as she watched her daughter's unusual display of temper.
"O Mother, you know what the invitation said as well as I do," Marilyn exclaimed pettishly. "First we're to have dinner at Jane's house. Then her mother's going to take all of us to a real fortuneteller to have our fortunes told. It'll be perfectly thrilling. She's actually a clair—clair----"
"Clairvoyant?" smiled patient mother.
"I guess that's what she's called. Anyway, Jane's mother says she's a real medium, and she can tell wonderful fortunes. I just can't miss such an exciting Halloween party. Please, Mother. Please let me go," Marilyn begged.
"Why can't Marilyn go to the party?" questioned little Stephen. "Has she been naughty?"
"No, dear, she's been a good girl. But neither daddy nor I approve of school-night slumber parties for these young girls who are just Marilyn's age. If the invitation were for an early dinner hour and a few games afterward I'd be glad to let her go. But it would be unthinkable to permit her to visit a medium, and that trip is to be the evening's entertainment.
"Why not?" sniffed Marilyn, her tearful attention caught by the solemn note in mother's voice. "I can't see any harm in going there for fun. It's just a joke. After all, no one's really going to believe anything she tells us."
Marilyn and Stephen watched as mother sank into a nearby rocker and slowly shook her head.
"No, dear, you must write a nice little note to thank Jane for the invitation. But you must tell her that you cannot come. However, I think that you should know why I feel so strongly on this subject.
"Sit down, both of you. Then I'll tell you this story as it was told to me many years ago by a very talented young woman who was at that time a member of my college music group. She was a real Christian – a young person who was not given to foolish fears. That is why this story of night of terror has always remained so plainly in my mind.
"Elsie was extremely fond of good music and loved to hear the great artists. However, she was working her way through college. She had no money with which to buy tickets for the many fine programs given in the large city nearby," mother began.
"Neither had the young college men of her acquaintance extra money for such entertainments. Consequently, for months Elsie had to try to content herself with reading newspaper notices about the artists who played and sang in the concert series.
"Therefore it wasn't at all strange that, when she was introduced to a nice-appearing young man employed near the school, she began after a time to accept his invitations. She was never disappointed when she spent an evening with him, for not only was he polite and thoughtful but he always took her to a really worthwhile concert or lecture.
"As the months sped rapidly by they became quite good friends. But Elsie could not help noticing that in spite of their friendship he had never invited her to his home. She knew he had a mother, although he rarely spoke of her. In fact, he seemed not to hear Elsie's quite broad hints that she would like to meet this other member of his family.
"But at last something happened that made it possible for Elsie actually to meet Bill's mother. And, when she did, she would have given almost anything in the world to have been thousands of miles away. But by that time it was too late."
"Mother!" gasped Marilyn. "What happened?" She leaned tensely forward, Halloween invitation completely forgotten.
"Don't hurry me," smiled mother, looking at Marilyn's worried face and Stephen's round eyes. "I'll tell you the entire story, but you mustn't interrupt. Just listen until I finish.
"At length Bill invited Elsie to go to a very special concert with him. On this date one of the world's most famous symphony orchestras was going to play. The tickets were very expensive, but he made arrangements for them weeks ahead of time. Elsie thought that she could never wait until the day arrived, but at last it did. And then at noon the blow fell. During the lunch hour Bill telephoned and told Elsie that it was necessary for him to work overtime that night.
"'I'm sorry that I can't get away, Elsie,' he said. 'However, I've made arrangements for you to pick up your ticket at the ticket office. They'll keep it for you until eight-thirty. I'm sure you can get down there by that time if you leave the school by six o'clock.'
"'O Bill, what a shame!' Elsie replied. 'It's very kind of you to go to so much trouble, but I couldn't think of going alone. I don't mind the long streetcar trip early in the evening, but I wouldn't want to come home by myself late at night. I wouldn't get back to my landlady's until about one o'clock in the morning, and that's too late on a winter night. I guess I'll just have to miss the program, after all. But thank you anyway.'
"'Wait a minute. Don't hang up,' Bill urged. 'You haven't given me time to finish. Of course, I know it's very informal; you should have a written invitation from mother. But, lacking time to do all that, she told me to invite you to come to our house to spend the night after the concert. Since we live only twelve blocks from the auditorium, you can get there in a couple of minutes by taxi. Mother said it would be very foolish for you to make a long trip across the city on a cold snowy night when you could stay with her.'
"Almost before she knew what she was doing, Elsie had accepted the informal invitation. The hours whirled by until at last the wonderful, wonderful concert was over. Then she was one of the hurrying crowd carried out of the emptying concert hall. Quickly she called a taxicab, and in a few minutes found herself in front of a brown house on a quiet, tree-lined street.
"Elsie's heart beat more quickly as she ran up the icy steps and rang the doorbell. She jumped as the door swung noiselessly open and a soft voice greeted her.
"'Good evening, my dear. Of course you're Elsie. Do come right on in. We've been expecting you!' A small, white-haired lady motioned her into the lonely dimly lighted hall.
"'G---good evening. Is Bill here already? Did you say, "We've been expecting you?"' Elsie stammered, suddenly and strangely ill-at-ease.
"'Oh dear me! Did I? No, Bill won't be home until after twelve. His employer was taken to the hospital today, so that Bill has had to take full charge of the overtime work tonight. He'll be tired when he gets home. But come into the parlor, my dear child. I don't know what I'm thinking of to keep you standing here!
"'Take off your coat,' Mrs. Gray said. 'I know you must be tired and anxious to get to bed. I'm only sorry that I can't offer you a guest room, but our sofa-bed will have to do. However, it's really very soft and comfortable, and I've spread an extra wool blanket over the foot, in case you're chilly.'
"'Thank you so much, Mrs. Gray,' Elsie said. 'I know that I'll sleep well. And I'm very grateful for your invitation to stay here. Without it I couldn't have gone to the program.'
"'I'm also very glad that you could come,' said her hostess. 'As I mentioned before, one would think that such a large house would have a guest room. But I've had to remodel several of the former upstairs bedrooms into an apartment for my business.
"'Now let me show you the way to the washroom. I've hung your towels on the rack by the mirror. I'll give you my flashlight too, so that you can slip it under your pillow. I know how confusing it is to get up at night in a strange place and try to find the light switch.'
"'Oh, I'm sure I'll rest well,' Elsie answered, eyeing the neatly made bed all ready and waiting for its overnight guest. 'Of course, I probably won't go to sleep right away; I'll be thinking of tonight's program and hearing it all again.'
"'Wouldn't you like a cup of hot milk?' Mrs. Gray asked. 'I'd be glad to bring it to you. Bill usually likes a bite when he comes home late, so I'm used to preparing midnight snacks. However, we won't wait for him. He won't be home for another hour. It's just eleven o'clock now, and I don't expect him until twelve.
"'By the way, Elsie, he'll have to go through this room to get to the kitchen, for our other hallway is being painted. But he'll tiptoe through very quietly so that he won't rouse you. He won't need a light; he could find his way blindfolded, I'm sure. Now shall I bring a hot drink?"
"'Please do, Mrs. Gray,' Elsie answered. 'It's very kind of you. I'm sure that some hot milk would taste good.'
"'Fine! Now get ready for bed. Then when I return you can slip under your quilts and get warm. You'll be able to go to sleep very quickly, I'm sure.'
"Soon Elsie was alone in the big old-fashioned parlor. She leaned back against the plump bed pillows as she gratefully sipped a delicious hot drink from a thin Blue Willow cup. Then she read her evening chapter from her little purse-size Bible and for some unknown reason put the Holy Book at the edge of her pillow instead of back in its leather case.
"'Now I'm going to try to go right to sleep,' Elsie thought as she slipped across the room and clicked off the light switch. 'But somehow I'm not one bit sleepy. I guess the concert was too exciting. Anyhow, I'll lie as snug as can be in my soft bed and think back over the program. Ouch!'
"She stumbled as a round object loomed out of the darkness and she bumped full force against its hard surface.
"'Oh dear,' she wailed. 'I should have used that flashlight. I'm all turned around; I forgot all about that little table Mrs. Gray moved away from the bed.
"'And Bill won't know about it either. He'll probably stumble against it and bump his shins too. If I'm still awake when he gets home, I'll call out and warn him to be careful. But I hope I'm asleep by that time.'
"However, try as she would, Elsie could not get to sleep. The bed was soft, the sheets and pillowcases were snowy white and faintly perfumed with lavender, and the woolen coverings were light and warm. But Elsie felt as though something – some unknown danger – was lurking near, drawing closer and closer.
"Just as the clock chimed twelve Elsie was glad to hear the front door open. She was glad to feel the blast of cold night air that blew in and followed the echoing footsteps along the hallway and into the musty parlor. She heard them pause for a moment. Then on they came, steadily, heavily, toward the center of the room.
"'Wait, Bill,' Elsie called softly, fearful of waking her hostess in the room above. 'Your mother has pulled the sofa out from the wall and put the little table in the middle of the room. Watch out for it. I bruised my knee when I bumped into it awhile ago.'
"The heavy footsteps came on and on. At last they stopped. Elsie's heart throbbed heavily at the sound of silence.
"'Bill, where are you?' she demanded, half afraid and half angry. 'Don't try to scare me. I know you're there. Your mother told me you'd be home at midnight. Now go on into the kitchen and get your midnight lunch. You won't keep me awake, for I haven't been able to go to sleep.'
"Elsie heard no voice in reply, but again she heard the heavy tread on the carpet. The footsteps moved on, around the table, directly to the edge of her bed.
"'Bill!' Elsie half-screamed. 'What are you doing? Say something to me!'
"But no human sound broke the night stillness in answer to her terrified cry. Elsie heard only the eerie sighing of the winter wind as it moaned around the corners of the house, high above the heaving gasps of her own frightened breathing.
"With cold, trembling fingers she reached under the pillow and grabbed frantically for the little flashlight. Quickly she pulled it out, sat up, and snapped the button. She turned its bright beam squarely upon the exact spot where stood her midnight visitor.
"Elsie's eyes stared unbelievingly as the flashlight trembled in her hand. 'It – it isn't true! It can't be true,' she thought. 'If I pinch myself, I'll find I'm dreaming.'
"For Elsie saw there was no one there – no one at all! The bright flashlight beam revealed only the empty room – only the old-fashioned, quiet room, and nothing more.
"With a terrified moan Elsie dropped the flashlight and fell back upon the pillow. Frantically she pulled the covers over her head and curled under them, shaking and shivering, for what seemed an endless time. She thrust her fingers into her ears to try to shut out the sound of the footsteps as they walked round and round the room.
"Then for a time there was utter silence. Elsie unclenched her stiffened fingers and rubbed them together. She was thankful for even a moment's rest from the awful sound of those tramping footsteps.
"'Why did I ever come to this strange place?' she wailed. 'Oh, how I wish I were safe at home in my own bed.' Elsie felt two salty, burning tears trickle down her cheeks as she choked back a racking sob. 'Dear Father,' she prayed, 'protect me and deliver me from evil – from whatever this awful thing is that can be heard but not seen.'
"Then once again Elsie heard the front door open and close. Again she felt the sharp blast of cold night air that blew through the hallway and followed the footsteps into the room where she lay, almost frozen with fear. Again she heard the footsteps slowly advance into the blackness. But this time Elsie heard a thud as the unknown object struck against the table and a very well-known voice exclaimed, 'Ouch!'
"'Bill!' she exclaimed. Anger swept through her. Quickly she turned the flashlight's shining rays upon a frowning Bill. She saw that he hopped storklike upon one foot while he grasped the injured one in his hands.
"'It serves you right!' she exploded. 'How could you frighten me so! Why, I was almost scared out of my wits. I tried and tried to warn you about that table, but of course your wouldn't listen to me. Of course you wouldn't! You were too busy playing your cruel joke.'
"'A joke? Warn me? What on earth are you talking about, Elsie!' Bill stammered. 'You must have had a nightmare. Why, I just now came in the front door. I had to work an extra half hour before the relief operator came on duty. That's why I couldn't get home by midnight. But you sound really frightened. What has happened?'
"'What's happened!' Elsie gasped, holding the bed covers tight around her neck. 'I – well, I don't know what happened, but something did, Bill. If you didn't come in that front door at the stroke of twelve, I don't know who did, but someone did. Maybe you think I've been dreaming, but someone came in that door before you got home.'
"'You're quite right, my dear. Of course someone came in that door.' said a soft voice from the hallway. 'There. Let's have a little light while we talk.' Mrs. Gray spoke calmly.
"'Now, first of all I must tell you that I'm so sorry you were frightened, Elsie. But no harm would have befallen you. I supposed that Bill long ago had told you that many of my 'friends' come here regularly to see me and to visit with me. In fact, sometimes he visits with them too. They walk through the entire house, but most often they come upstairs, where I hold small meetings. Then at times they come in here on evenings when I am tired and lie down on that davenport.'
"'Your friends?' Elsie asked fearfully. 'What friends do you mean, Mrs. Gray? This couldn't have been one of them, for I saw no one at all.'
"'You probably wouldn't see my friends, Elsie,' Mrs. Gray said. As she spoke Elsie saw her hostess' eyes glance toward the little Bible. 'You see, they wouldn't be visible to you unless you were in close contact with the spirit world as I am. Since I am a spiritualist medium, I can visit with these friends from the other world.'
"'But we've talked enough for now. Lie down and go to sleep. We can visit in the morning when I will tell you more about my work. I've had some wonderful messages from departed ones who have gone on before us – not only from my own loved ones but from strangers who wish to contact their own living relatives and friends.'
"'Sleep!' Elsie felt that she would never be able to sleep in that haunted room. Every time she opened her eyes she was sure she would see a ghost in the parlor. Elsie's face was as white as the snowy pillowcase that framed it; her hands felt almost too nerveless to pick up even as light a weight as the little Bible on the edge of the bed. But as she held the Blessed Book in her hands she felt a comforting returning glow of warmth and security. And then she finally fell asleep for a few brief hours of rest.
"No one was stirring when Elsie roused early the next morning. Quietly she slipped out of bed, dressed rapidly, and repacked her overnight bag. But before closing it she took out her leather writing case and fountain pen. Sitting down, she hastily wrote a note of thanks to her hostess and to Bill.
"'I wonder if any other girl ever wrote a thank-you note for the most terrifying night of her life,' Elsie thought grimly as she signed her name and propped the envelope on the fireplace mantel. 'But I've no one to blame but myself for coming here. The least I can do is to thank them for the concert and for my parlor bedroom, even if it did have a ghost in it.'
"Quickly Elsie put her Bible in her purse, picked up her small handbag and tiptoed down the hallway. Quietly she opened the front door and gently she closed it behind her. Then, on winged feet, she flew down the steps, down the deserted street, and at the nearest stop swung aboard a streetcar.
"Just as the car rounded the corner Elsie turned for a last glimpse of the house she hoped never to see again. As the early morning sunlight sparkled frostily against the big upstairs window something white flickered there. And though after one startled glance Elsie knew that it was only the lace window curtain flapping in the chilly breeze, she turned her head hastily away.
"She talked to Bill only once after that. Then she thanked him for his many kindnesses to her. But I guess she made it plain that because of his interest in spiritualism she could never really enjoy going anywhere with him again!"
"Oh, what a ghost story!" cried Stephen. "But why was Elsie afraid to see Bill again, Mother. He'd been nice to her. And those old spirits or whatever they were wouldn't have hurt her, would they?"
"Elsie was very wise to tell Bill good-by, Stephen," mother soberly replied. "According to her belief she felt it wrong to have anything to do with a medium. As she told me the story she quoted Bible verses that proved her position.
"'And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God?'
"'The dead know not any thing,' 'Man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.'
"In Bible days, the spiritualistic activity of mediums was condemned, and since Mrs. Gray was a medium Elsie wanted to stay far, far way from her séances. She did not want to have anything to do with what she called 'the spirits of devils.' "
Mother turned toward Marilyn, who sat strangely quiet. "Now do you begin to see why I have asked you not to go to this Halloween fortune-telling party, dear? It might be just a harmless prank, but again it might prove to be something far more dangerous. I have always remembered Elsie's story. I hope you children will always remember it too."
"Thank you, Mother," said Marilyn. "I'm glad you told us the story. And I'm sorry I was so cross about insisting on going to Jane's party. Of course, I wanted to go, but I don't now.
"I'll hurry and write that note this very minute. In fact, I'll hurry almost as much as Elsie did when she wrote her note to Bill and his mother. But at least I'll be safe afterward. I'm glad there's no ghost in our parlor."