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Mrs. John Emerson, sitting with her needlework beside the window, looked out and saw Mrs. Rhoda Meserve coming down the street, and knew at once by the trend of her steps and the cant of her head that she meditated turning in at her gate. She also knew by a certain something about her general carriage--a thrusting forward of the neck, a bustling hitch of the shoulders--that she had important news. Rhoda Meserve always had the news as soon as the news was in being, and generally Mrs. John Emerson was the first to whom she imparted it. The two women had been friends ever since Mrs. Meserve had married Simon Meserve and come to the village to live.
Mrs. Meserve was a pretty woman, moving with graceful flirts of ruffling skirts; her clear-cut, nervous face, as delicately tinted as a shell, looked brightly from the plumy brim of a black hat at Mrs. Emerson in the window. Mrs. Emerson was glad to see her coming. She returned the greeting with enthusiasm, then rose hurriedly, ran into the cold parlour and brought out one of the best rocking-chairs. She was just in time, after drawing it up beside the opposite window, to greet her friend at the door.
"Good-afternoon," said she. "I declare, I'm real glad to see you. I've been alone all day. John went to the city this morning. I thought of coming over to your house this afternoon, but I couldn't bring my sewing very well. I am putting the ruffles on my new black dress skirt."
"Well, I didn't have a thing on hand except my crochet work," responded Mrs. Meserve, "and I thought I'd just run over a few minutes."
"I'm real glad you did," repeated Mrs. Emerson. "Take your things right off. Here, I'll put them on my bed in the bedroom. Take the rocking-chair."
Mrs. Meserve settled herself in the parlour rocking-chair, while Mrs. Emerson carried her shawl and hat into the little adjoining bedroom. When she returned Mrs. Meserve was rocking peacefully and was already at work hooking blue wool in and out.
"That's real pretty," said Mrs. Emerson.
"Yes, I think it's pretty," replied Mrs. Meserve.
"I suppose it's for the church fair?"
"Yes. I don't suppose it'll bring enough to pay for the worsted, let alone the work, but I suppose I've got to make something."
"How much did that one you made for the fair last year bring?"
"It's wicked, ain't it?"
"I rather guess it is. It takes me a week every minute I can get to make one. I wish those that bought such things for twenty-five cents had to make them. Guess they'd sing another song. Well, I suppose I oughtn't to complain as long as it is for the Lord, but sometimes it does seem as if the Lord didn't get much out of it."
"Well, it's pretty work," said Mrs. Emerson, sitting down at the opposite window and taking up her dress skirt.
"Yes, it is real pretty work. I just LOVE to crochet."
The two women rocked and sewed and crocheted in silence for two or three minutes. They were both waiting. Mrs. Meserve waited for the other's curiosity to develop in order that her news might have, as it were, a befitting stage entrance. Mrs. Emerson waited for the news. Finally she could wait no longer.
"Well, what's the news?" said she.
"Well, I don't know as there's anything very particular," hedged the other woman, prolonging the situation.
"Yes, there is; you can't cheat me," replied Mrs. Emerson.
"Now, how do you know?"
"By the way you look."
Mrs. Meserve laughed consciously and rather vainly.
"Well, Simon says my face is so expressive I can't hide anything more than five minutes no matter how hard I try," said she. "Well, there is some news. Simon came home with it this noon. He heard it in South Dayton. He had some business over there this morning. The old Sargent place is let."
Mrs. Emerson dropped her sewing and stared.
"You don't say so!"
"Yes, it is."
"Why, some folks from Boston that moved to South Dayton last year. They haven't been satisfied with the house they had there--it wasn't large enough. The man has got considerable property and can afford to live pretty well. He's got a wife and his unmarried sister in the family. The sister's got money, too. He does business in Boston and it's just as easy to get to Boston from here as from South Dayton, and so they're coming here. You know the old Sargent house is a splendid place."
"Yes, it's the handsomest house in town, but--"
"Oh, Simon said they told him about that and he just laughed. Said he wasn't afraid and neither was his wife and sister. Said he'd risk ghosts rather than little tucked-up sleeping-rooms without any sun, like they've had in the Dayton house. Said he'd rather risk SEEING ghosts, than risk being ghosts themselves. Simon said they said he was a great hand to joke."
"Oh, well," said Mrs. Emerson, "it is a beautiful house, and maybe there isn't anything in those stories. It never seemed to me they came very straight anyway. I never took much stock in them. All I thought was--if his wife was nervous."
"Nothing in creation would hire me to go into a house that I'd ever heard a word against of that kind," declared Mrs. Meserve with emphasis. "I wouldn't go into that house if they would give me the rent. I've seen enough of haunted houses to last me as long as I live."
Mrs. Emerson's face acquired the expression of a hunting hound.
"Have you?" she asked in an intense whisper.
"Yes, I have. I don't want any more of it."
"Before you came here?"
"Yes; before I was married--when I was quite a girl."
Mrs. Meserve had not married young. Mrs. Emerson had mental calculations when she heard that.
"Did you really live in a house that was--" she whispered fearfully.
Mrs. Meserve nodded solemnly.
"Did you really ever--see--anything--"
Mrs. Meserve nodded.
"You didn't see anything that did you any harm?"
"No, I didn't see anything that did me harm looking at it in one way, but it don't do anybody in this world any good to see things that haven't any business to be seen in it. You never get over it."
There was a moment's silence. Mrs. Emerson's features seemed to sharpen.
"Well, of course I don't want to urge you," said she, "if you don't feel like talking about it; but maybe it might do you good to tell it out, if it's on your mind, worrying you."
"I try to put it out of my mind," said Mrs. Meserve.
"Well, it's just as you feel."
"I never told anybody but Simon," said Mrs. Meserve. "I never felt as if it was wise perhaps. I didn't know what folks might think. So many don't believe in anything they can't understand, that they might think my mind wasn't right. Simon advised me not to talk about it. He said he didn't believe it was anything supernatural, but he had to own up that he couldn't give any explanation for it to save his life. He had to own up that he didn't believe anybody could. Then he said he wouldn't talk about it. He said lots of folks would sooner tell folks my head wasn't right than to own up they couldn't see through it."
"I'm sure I wouldn't say so," returned Mrs. Emerson reproachfully. "You know better than that, I hope."
"Yes, I do," replied Mrs. Meserve. "I know you wouldn't say so."
"And I wouldn't tell it to a soul if you didn't want me to."
"Well, I'd rather you wouldn't."
"I won't speak of it even to Mr. Emerson."
"I'd rather you wouldn't even to him."
Mrs. Emerson took up her dress skirt again; Mrs. Meserve hooked up another loop of blue wool. Then she begun:
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Stories Of The Supernatural -by- Mary Wilkins