:
GHOST OF A CHANCE
Category: Love Letters
"Actually, a _hod_!" repeated Mrs. Kinsolving, pathetically.

Mrs. Bellamy Bellmore arched a sympathetic eyebrow. Thus she expressed
condolence and a generous amount of apparent surprise.

"Fancy her telling everywhere," recapitulated Mrs. Kinsolving, "that
she saw a ghost in the apartment she occupied here--our choicest
guest-room--a ghost, carrying a hod on its shoulder--the ghost of
an old man in overalls, smoking a pipe and carrying a hod! The very
absurdity of the thing shows her malicious intent. There never was a
Kinsolving that carried a hod. Every one knows that Mr. Kinsolving's
father accumulated his money by large building contracts, but he never
worked a day with his own hands. He had this house built from his own
plans; but--oh, a hod! Why need she have been so cruel and malicious?"

"It is really too bad," murmured Mrs. Bellmore, with an approving
glance of her fine eyes about the vast chamber done in lilac and old
gold. "And it was in this room she saw it! Oh, no, I'm not afraid of
ghosts. Don't have the least fear on my account. I'm glad you put me
in here. I think family ghosts so interesting! But, really, the story
does sound a little inconsistent. I should have expected something
better from Mrs. Fischer-Suympkins. Don't they carry bricks in hods?
Why should a ghost bring bricks into a villa built of marble and
stone? I'm so sorry, but it makes me think that age is beginning to
tell upon Mrs. Fischer-Suympkins."

"This house," continued Mrs. Kinsolving, "was built upon the site of
an old one used by the family during the Revolution. There wouldn't
be anything strange in its having a ghost. And there was a Captain
Kinsolving who fought in General Greene's army, though we've never
been able to secure any papers to vouch for it. If there is to be a
family ghost, why couldn't it have been his, instead of a
bricklayer's?"

"The ghost of a Revolutionary ancestor wouldn't be a bad idea," agreed
Mrs. Bellmore; "but you know how arbitrary and inconsiderate ghosts
can be. Maybe, like love, they are 'engendered in the eye.' One
advantage of those who see ghosts is that their stories can't be
disproved. By a spiteful eye, a Revolutionary knapsack might easily be
construed to be a hod. Dear Mrs. Kinsolving, think no more of it. I am
sure it was a knapsack."

"But she told everybody!" mourned Mrs. Kinsolving, inconsolable. "She
insisted upon the details. There is the pipe. And how are you going to
get out of the overalls?"

"Shan't get into them," said Mrs. Bellmore, with a prettily suppressed
yawn; "too stiff and wrinkly. Is that you, Felice? Prepare my bath,
please. Do you dine at seven at Clifftop, Mrs. Kinsolving? So kind of
you to run in for a chat before dinner! I love those little touches of
informality with a guest. They give such a home flavour to a visit. So
sorry; I must be dressing. I am so indolent I always postpone it until
the last moment."

Mrs. Fischer-Suympkins had been the first large plum that the
Kinsolvings had drawn from the social pie. For a long time, the
pie itself had been out of reach on a top shelf. But the purse and
the pursuit had at last lowered it. Mrs. Fischer-Suympkins was the
heliograph of the smart society parading corps. The glitter of her wit
and actions passed along the line, transmitting whatever was latest
and most daring in the game of peep-show. Formerly, her fame and
leadership had been secure enough not to need the support of such
artifices as handing around live frogs for favours at a cotillon. But,
now, these things were necessary to the holding of her throne. Beside,
middle age had come to preside, incongruous, at her capers. The
sensational papers had cut her space from a page to two columns.
Her wit developed a sting; her manners became more rough and
inconsiderate, as if she felt the royal necessity of establishing
her autocracy by scorning the conventionalities that bound lesser
potentates.

To some pressure at the command of the Kinsolvings, she had yielded
so far as to honour their house by her presence, for an evening and
night. She had her revenge upon her hostess by relating, with grim
enjoyment and sarcastic humour, her story of the vision carrying
the hod. To that lady, in raptures at having penetrated thus far
toward the coveted inner circle, the result came as a crushing
disappointment. Everybody either sympathized or laughed, and there
was little to choose between the two modes of expression.

But, later on, Mrs. Kinsolving's hopes and spirits were revived by the
capture of a second and greater prize.

Mrs. Bellamy Bellmore had accepted an invitation to visit at Clifftop,
and would remain for three days. Mrs. Bellmore was one of the younger
matrons, whose beauty, descent, and wealth gave her a reserved seat
in the holy of holies that required no strenuous bolstering. She was
generous enough thus to give Mrs. Kinsolving the accolade that was so
poignantly desired; and, at the same time, she thought how much it
would please Terence. Perhaps it would end by solving him.

Terence was Mrs. Kinsolving's son, aged twenty-nine, quite
good-looking enough, and with two or three attractive and mysterious
traits. For one, he was very devoted to his mother, and that was
sufficiently odd to deserve notice. For others, he talked so little
that it was irritating, and he seemed either very shy or very deep.
Terence interested Mrs. Bellmore, because she was not sure which it
was. She intended to study him a little longer, unless she forgot
the matter. If he was only shy, she would abandon him, for shyness
is a bore. If he was deep, she would also abandon him, for depth is
precarious.

On the afternoon of the third day of her visit, Terence hunted up Mrs.
Bellmore, and found her in a nook actually looking at an album.

"It's so good of you," said he, "to come down here and retrieve the
day for us. I suppose you have heard that Mrs. Fischer-Suympkins
scuttled the ship before she left. She knocked a whole plank out of
the bottom with a hod. My mother is grieving herself ill about it.
Can't you manage to see a ghost for us while you are here, Mrs.
Bellmore--a bang-up, swell ghost, with a coronet on his head and a
cheque book under his arm?"

"That was a naughty old lady, Terence," said Mrs. Bellmore, "to tell
such stories. Perhaps you gave her too much supper. Your mother
doesn't really take it seriously, does she?"

"I think she does," answered Terence. "One would think every brick
in the hod had dropped on her. It's a good mammy, and I don't like
to see her worried. It's to be hoped that the ghost belongs to the
hod-carriers' union, and will go out on a strike. If he doesn't, there
will be no peace in this family."

"I'm sleeping in the ghost-chamber," said Mrs. Bellmore, pensively.
"But it's so nice I wouldn't change it, even if I were afraid,
which I'm not. It wouldn't do for me to submit a counter story of a
desirable, aristocratic shade, would it? I would do so, with pleasure,
but it seems to me it would be too obviously an antidote for the other
narrative to be effective."

"True," said Terence, running two fingers thoughtfully into his crisp,
brown hair; "that would never do. How would it work to see the same
ghost again, minus the overalls, and have gold bricks in the hod? That
would elevate the spectre from degrading toil to a financial plane.
Don't you think that would be respectable enough?"

"There was an ancestor who fought against the Britishers, wasn't
there? Your mother said something to that effect."

"I believe so; one of those old chaps in raglan vests and golf
trousers. I don't care a continental for a Continental, myself. But
the mother has set her heart on pomp and heraldry and pyrotechnics,
and I want her to be happy."

"You are a good boy, Terence," said Mrs. Bellmore, sweeping her silks
close to one side of her, "not to beat your mother. Sit here by me,
and let's look at the album, just as people used to do twenty years
ago. Now, tell me about every one of them. Who is this tall, dignified
gentleman leaning against the horizon, with one arm on the Corinthian
column?"

"That old chap with the big feet?" inquired Terence, craning his neck.
"That's great-uncle O'Brannigan. He used to keep a rathskeller on the
Bowery."

"I asked you to sit down, Terence. If you are not going to amuse, or
obey, me, I shall report in the morning that I saw a ghost wearing an
apron and carrying schooners of beer. Now, that is better. To be shy,
at your age, Terence, is a thing that you should blush to
acknowledge."



At breakfast on the last morning of her visit, Mrs. Bellmore startled
and entranced every one present by announcing positively that she had
seen the ghost.

"Did it have a--a--a--?" Mrs. Kinsolving, in her suspense and
agitation, could not bring out the word.

"No, indeed--far from it."

There was a chorus of questions from others at the table. "Weren't
you frightened?" "What did it do?" "How did it look?" "How was it
dressed?" "Did it say anything?" "Didn't you scream?"

"I'll try to answer everything at once," said Mrs. Bellmore,
heroically, "although I'm frightfully hungry. Something awakened
me--I'm not sure whether it was a noise or a touch--and there stood
the phantom. I never burn a light at night, so the room was quite
dark, but I saw it plainly. I wasn't dreaming. It was a tall man,
all misty white from head to foot. It wore the full dress of the old
Colonial days--powdered hair, baggy coat skirts, lace ruffles, and
a sword. It looked intangible and luminous in the dark, and moved
without a sound. Yes, I was a little frightened at first--or startled,
I should say. It was the first ghost I had ever seen. No, it didn't
say anything. I didn't scream. I raised up on my elbow, and then it
glided silently away, and disappeared when it reached the door."

Mrs. Kinsolving was in the seventh heaven. "The description is that of
Captain Kinsolving, of General Greene's army, one of our ancestors,"
she said, in a voice that trembled with pride and relief. "I really
think I must apologize for our ghostly relative, Mrs. Bellmore. I am
afraid he must have badly disturbed your rest."

Terence sent a smile of pleased congratulation toward his mother.
Attainment was Mrs. Kinsolving's, at last, and he loved to see her
happy.

"I suppose I ought to be ashamed to confess," said Mrs. Bellmore, who
was now enjoying her breakfast, "that I wasn't very much disturbed.
I presume it would have been the customary thing to scream and faint,
and have all of you running about in picturesque costumes. But, after
the first alarm was over, I really couldn't work myself up to a panic.
The ghost retired from the stage quietly and peacefully, after doing
its little turn, and I went to sleep again."

Nearly all listened, politely accepted Mrs. Bellmore s story as a
made-up affair, charitably offered as an offset to the unkind vision
seen by Mrs. Fischer-Suympkins. But one or two present perceived that
her assertions bore the genuine stamp of her own convictions. Truth
and candour seemed to attend upon every word. Even a scoffer at
ghosts--if he were very observant--would have been forced to admit
that she had, at least in a very vivid dream, been honestly aware of
the weird visitor.'

Soon Mrs. Bellmore's maid was packing. In two hours the auto would
come to convey her to the station. As Terence was strolling upon the
east piazza, Mrs. Bellmore came up to him, with a confidential sparkle
in her eye.

"I didn't wish to tell the others all of it," she said, "but I will
tell you. In a way, I think you should be held responsible. Can you
guess in what manner that ghost awakened me last night?"

"Rattled chains," suggested Terence, after some thought, "or groaned?
They usually do one or the other."

"Do you happen to know," continued Mrs. Bellmore, with sudden
irrelevancy, "if I resemble any one of the female relatives of your
restless ancestor, Captain Kinsolving?"

"Don't think so," said Terence, with an extremely puzzled air. "Never
heard of any of them being noted beauties."

"Then, why," said Mrs. Bellmore, looking the young man gravely in the
eye, "should that ghost have kissed me, as I'm sure it did?"

"Heavens!" exclaimed Terence, in wide-eyed amazement; "you don't mean
that, Mrs. Bellmore! Did he actually kiss you?"

"I said _it_," corrected Mrs. Bellmore. "I hope the impersonal pronoun
is correctly used."

"But why did you say I was responsible?"

"Because you are the only living male relative of the ghost."

"I see. 'Unto the third and fourth generation.' But, seriously, did
he--did it--how do you--?"

"Know? How does any one know? I was asleep, and that is what awakened
me, I'm almost certain."

"Almost?"

"Well, I awoke just as--oh, can't you understand what I mean? When
anything arouses you suddenly, you are not positive whether you
dreamed, or--and yet you know that-- Dear me, Terence, must I dissect
the most elementary sensations in order to accommodate your extremely
practical intelligence?"

"But, about kissing ghosts, you know," said Terence, humbly, "I
require the most primary instruction. I never kissed a ghost. Is
it--is it--?"

"The sensation," said Mrs. Bellmore, with deliberate, but slightly
smiling, emphasis, "since you are seeking instruction, is a mingling
of the material and the spiritual."

"Of course," said Terence, suddenly growing serious, "it was a dream
or some kind of an hallucination. Nobody believes in spirits, these
days. If you told the tale out of kindness of heart, Mrs. Bellmore,
I can't express how grateful I am to you. It has made my mother
supremely happy. That Revolutionary ancestor was a stunning idea."

Mrs. Bellmore sighed. "The usual fate of ghost-seers is mine," she
said, resignedly. "My privileged encounter with a spirit is attributed
to lobster salad or mendacity. Well, I have, at least, one memory left
from the wreck--a kiss from the unseen world. Was Captain Kinsolving a
very brave man, do you know, Terence?"

"He was licked at Yorktown, I believe," said Terence, reflecting.
"They say he skedaddled with his company, after the first battle
there."

"I thought he must have been timid," said Mrs. Bellmore, absently. "He
might have had another."

"Another battle?" asked Terence, dully.

"What else could I mean? I must go and get ready now; the auto will
be here in an hour. I've enjoyed Clifftop immensely. Such a lovely
morning, isn't it, Terence?"

On her way to the station, Mrs. Bellmore took from her bag a silk
handkerchief, and looked at it with a little peculiar smile. Then she
tied it in several very hard knots, and threw it, at a convenient
moment, over the edge of the cliff along which the road ran.

In his room, Terence was giving some directions to his man, Brooks.
"Have this stuff done up in a parcel," he said, "and ship it to the
address on that card."

The card was that of a New York costumer. The "stuff" was a
gentleman's costume of the days of '76, made of white satin, with
silver buckles, white silk stockings, and white kid shoes. A powdered
wig and a sword completed the dress.

"And look about, Brooks," added Terence, a little anxiously, "for a
silk handkerchief with my initials in one corner. I must have dropped
it somewhere."

It was a month later when Mrs. Bellmore and one or two others of
the smart crowd were making up a list of names for a coaching trip
through the Catskills. Mrs. Bellmore looked over the list for a final
censoring. The name of Terence Kinsolving was there. Mrs. Bellmore ran
her prohibitive pencil lightly through the name.

"Too shy!" she murmured, sweetly, in explanation.

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