"She has Sylvie's eyes!" I thought to myself, half-doubting whether, even now, I were fairly awake. "And that sweet look of innocent wonder is all Sylvie's too. But Sylvie hasn't got that calm resolute mouth nor that far-away look of dreamy sadness, like one that has had some deep sorrow, very long ago--" And the thick-coming fancies almost prevented my hearing the lady's next words.
"If you had had a 'Shilling Dreadful' in your hand," she proceeded, "something about Ghosts or Dynamite or Midnight Murder--one could understand it: those things aren't worth the shilling, unless they give one a Nightmare. But really--with only a medical treatise, you know--" and she glanced, with a pretty shrug of contempt, at the book over which I had fallen asleep.
Her friendliness, and utter unreserve, took me aback for a moment; yet there was no touch of forwardness, or boldness, about the child for child, almost, she seemed to be: I guessed her at scarcely over twenty--all was the innocent frankness of some angelic visitant, new to the ways of earth and the conventionalisms or, if you will, the barbarisms--of Society. "Even so," I mused, "will Sylvie look and speak, in another ten years."
"You don't care for Ghosts, then," I ventured to suggest, unless they are really terrifying?"
"Quite so," the lady assented. "The regular Railway-Ghosts--I mean the Ghosts of ordinary Railway-literature--are very poor affairs. I feel inclined to say, with Alexander Selkirk, 'Their tameness is shocking to me'! And they never do any Midnight Murders. They couldn't 'welter in gore,' to save their lives!"
"'Weltering in gore' is a very expressive phrase, certainly. Can it be done in any fluid, I wonder?"
"I think not," the lady readily replied--quite as if she had thought it out, long ago. "It has to be something thick. For instance, you might welter in bread-sauce. That, being white, would be more suitable for a Ghost, supposing it wished to welter!"
"You have a real good terrifying Ghost in that book?" I hinted.
"How could you guess?" she exclaimed with the most engaging frankness, and placed the volume in my hands. I opened it eagerly, with a not unpleasant thrill like what a good ghost-story gives one) at the 'uncanny' coincidence of my having so unexpectedly divined the subject of her studies.
It was a book of Domestic Cookery, open at the article Bread Sauce.'
I returned the book, looking, I suppose, a little blank, as the lady laughed merrily at my discomfiture. "It's far more exciting than some of the modern ghosts, I assure you! Now there was a Ghost last month--I don't mean a real Ghost in in Supernature--but in a Magazine. It was a perfectly flavourless Ghost. It wouldn't have frightened a mouse! It wasn't a Ghost that one would even offer a chair to!"
"Three score years and ten, baldness, and spectacles, have their advantages after all!", I said to myself. "Instead of a bashful youth and maiden, gasping out monosyllables at awful intervals, here we have an old man and a child, quite at their ease, talking as if they had known each other for years! Then you think," I continued aloud, "that we ought sometimes to ask a Ghost to sit down? But have we any authority for it? In Shakespeare, for instance--there are plenty of ghosts there--does Shakespeare ever give the stage-direction 'hands chair to Ghost'?"
The lady looked puzzled and thoughtful for a moment: then she almost clapped her hands. "Yes, yes, he does!" she cried. "He makes Hamlet say 'Rest, rest, perturbed Spirit!"'
"And that, I suppose, means an easy-chair?"
"An American rocking-chair, I think--"
"Fayfield Junction, my Lady, change for Elveston!" the guard announced, flinging open the door of the carriage: and we soon found ourselves, with all our portable property around us, on the platform.
The accommodation, provided for passengers waiting at this Junction, was distinctly inadequate--a single wooden bench, apparently intended for three sitters only: and even this was already partially occupied by a very old man, in a smock frock, who sat, with rounded shoulders and drooping head, and with hands clasped on the top of his stick so as to make a sort of pillow for that wrinkled face with its look of patient weariness.