Read CHAPTER XXIII of The Ghost Girl , free online book, by H. De Vere Stacpoole, on ReadCentral.com.

One bright morning three days later, as Phyl was crossing Meeting Street near the Charleston Hotel, whom should she meet but Silas.

Silas in town get up, quite a different looking individual from the Silas of Grangersons, dressed in perfectly fitting light grey tweed, a figure almost condoning one for the use of that old-time, half-discredited word “Elegant.”

“There you are,” said Silas, his face lighting up.  “I thought it wouldn’t be long before I met you.  Meeting Street is like a rabbit run, and I reckon the whole of Charleston passes through it twice a day.”

His manner was genuinely frank and open, and he seemed to have completely forgotten the incident of the kissing.  Phyl said nothing for a moment; she felt put out, angry at having been caught like a rabbit, and not over pleased at being compared to one.

Then she spoke freezingly enough: 

“I don’t know much about the habits of Charleston; you will not find me here every day.  I have only been out twice here alone and ­I’m in a hurry.”

“Why, what’s the matter with you?” cried Silas in a voice of astonishment.

“Nothing.”

“But there is, you’re not angry with me, are you?”

“Not in the least,” replied the other, quite determined to avoid being drawn into explanations.

“Well, that’s all right.  You don’t mind my walking with you a bit?”

“No!”

“I only came here last night, and I’m putting up at the Charleston,” said Silas.  “Of course there are a lot of friends I could stay with but I always prefer being free; one is never quite free in another person’s house; for one thing you can’t order the servants about, though, upon my word, now-a-days one can’t do that, much, anywhere.”

“I suppose not,” said Phyl.

The fact was being borne in upon her that Silas in town was a different person from Silas in the country, or seemed so; more sedate and more conventional.  She also noticed as they walked along that he was saluted by a great many people, and also, before she had done with him that morning, she noticed that the leery, impudent looking, coloured folk seemed to come under a blight as they passed him, giving him the wall and yards to spare.  It was as though the impersonification of the blacksnake whip were walking with her as well as a most notoriously dangerous man, a man who would strike another down, white or coloured, for a glance, not to say a word.

She had come out on business, commissioned by Miss Pinckney to purchase a ball of magenta Berlin wool.  Miss Pinckney still knitted antimacassars, and the construction of antimacassars is impossible without Berlin wool ­that obsolete form of German Frightfulness.

She bestowed the things on poor folk to brighten their homes.

When Phyl went into the store to buy the wool Silas waited outside, and when she came out they walked down the street together.

She had intended returning straight home after making her purchase but they were walking now not towards Vernons but towards the Battery.

“What do you do with yourself all day?” asked Silas, suddenly breaking silence.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she replied, “nothing much ­we go out for drives.”

“In that old basket carriage thing?”

“With Miss Pinckney.”

“I know, I’ve seen her often ­what else do you do?”

“Oh, I read.”

“What do you read?”

“Books.”

“Doesn’t Pinckney ever take you out?”

“No, I don’t go out much with Mr. Pinckney; you see, he’s generally so busy.”

Silas sniffed.  They had reached the Battery and were standing looking over the blue water of the harbour.  The day was perfect, dreamy, heavenly, warm and filled with sea scents and harbour sounds; scarcely a breath of wind stirred across the water where a three-master was being towed to her moorings by a tug.

“She’s coming up to the wharves,” said Silas.  “They steer by the spire of St. Philips, the line between there and Fort Sumpter is all deep water.  How’d you like to be a sailor?”

“Wouldn’t mind,” said Phyl.

“How’d you like to take a boat ­I mean a decent sized fishing yawl and go off round the world, or even down Florida way?  Florida’s fine, you don’t know Florida, it’s got two coasts and it’s hard to tell which is the best.  From Indian River right round and up to Cedar Keys there’s all sorts of fishing, and you can camp out on the reefs; one cooks one’s own food and you can swim all day.  There’s tarpon and barracuda and sword fish, and nights when there’s a moon you could see to read a book.”

“How jolly!”

“Let’s go there?”

“How do you mean?”

“Oh, just you and I. I’m fed up with everything.  We could have a boatman to help sail and steer.”

He spoke lightly and laughingly, and without much enthusiasm and as though he were talking to some one of his own sex, and Phyl, not knowing how to take him, said nothing.

He went on, his tone growing warmer.

“I’m not joking, I’m dead sick of Grangersons and Charleston, and I reckon you are too ­aren’t you?”

“No.”

“You may think so, but you are, all the same, without knowing it.”

“I think you are talking nonsense,” said Phyl hurriedly, fighting against a deadly sort of paralysis of mind such as one may suppose comes upon the mind of a bird under the spell of a serpent.

“No one could be kinder than Miss Pinckney, and so no one could be happier than I am.  I love Vernons.”

“All the same,” said Silas, “you are not really alive there.  It’s the life of a cabbage, must be, there’s only you and Maria and ­Pinckney.  Maria is a decent old sort but she’s only a woman, and as for Pinckney ­he doesn’t care for you.”

This statement suddenly brought Phyl to herself.  It went through her like a knife.  She had ceased to think of Richard Pinckney in any way but as a friend.  At one time, during the first couple of days at Vernons, her heart had moved mysteriously towards him; the way he had connected himself through Prue’s message with the love story of Juliet had drawn her towards him, but that spell had snapped; she was conscious only of friendliness towards Richard Pinckney.  Why, then, this sudden pain caused by Silas’s words?

“How do you know?” she flashed out.  “What right have you to dare ­” She stopped.

The blaze of her anger seemed to Silas evidence that she cared for Pinckney.

“You’re in love with him,” said he, flying out.  The bald and brutal statement took Phyl’s breath from her.  She turned on him, saw the anger in his face, and then ­turned away.

His state of mind condoned his words.  To a woman a blow received from the passion she has roused is a rude sort of compliment, unlike other compliments it is absolutely honest.

“I am in love with no one,” said she; “you have no right to say such things ­no right at all ­they are insulting.”

A gull, white as snow, came flitting by and wheeled out away over the harbour; as her eyes followed it he stood looking at her, his anger gone, but his mind only half convinced by her feeble words.

“I didn’t mean to insult you,” he said; “don’t let us quarrel.  When I’m in a temper I don’t know what I say or do ­that’s the truth.  I want to have you all for myself, have ever since the first moment I saw you over there at Grangersons.”

“Don’t,” said Phyl.  “I can’t listen to you if you talk like that ­Please don’t.”

“Very well,” said Silas.

The quick change that was one of his characteristics showed itself in his altered voice.  His was a mind that seemed always in ambush, darting out on predatory expeditions and then vanishing back into obscurity.

They turned away from the sea front and began to retrace their steps, silently at first, and then little by little falling into ordinary conversation again as though nothing had happened.

Silas knew every corner of Charleston, and the history of every corner, and when he chose he could make his knowledge interesting.  In this mood he was a pleasant companion, and Phyl, her recent experience almost forgotten, let herself be led and instructed, not knowing that this armistice was the equivalent of a defeat.

She had already drawn much closer to him in mind, this companionship and quiet conversation was a more sure and deadly thing than any kisses or wild words.  It would linger in her mind warm and quietly.  Put in a woman’s mind a pleasant recollection of yourself and you have established a force whose activity may seem small, but is in reality great, because of its permanency.

They did not take a direct line in the direction of Vernons, and so presently found themselves in front of St. Michael’s.  The gate of the cemetery was open and they wandered in.

The place was deserted, save by the birds, and the air perfumed by all manner of Southern growing things.  Sun, shadow, silence, and that strange peace which hangs over the homes of the dead, all were here, ringed in by the old walls and the faint murmur of the living city beyond.

They walked along the paths, looking at the tombstones, and pausing to read the inscriptions, Phyl gradually entering into that state of mind wherein reality and material things fall out of perspective.  The fragrant elusive poetry of death, which can speak in the songs of birds and the scent of flowers in the sunshine and the shade of trees more clearly than in the voice of man, was speaking to her now.

All these people here lying, all these names here inscribed, all these were the representatives of days once bright and now forgotten, love once sweet and now unknown.

Then, as though something had led or betrayed her to the place, she paused where the graves lay half shadowed by a magnolia, she read the nearest inscription with a little catch of her breath.  Then the further one.  They were the graves of Juliet Mascarene and Rupert Pinckney, the dead lovers who had passed from the world almost together, whose bodies lay side by side in the cold bed of earth.

In a moment the spell of the little arbour was around her again, in a moment the pregnant first impression of Vernons had re-seized her, fresh as though the commonplace touch of everyday life had never spoiled it.

It was as though the spirit of Juliet and the spirit of the old house were saying to her “Have you forgotten us?”

Tears welled to her eyes.  Silas standing beside her was saying something, she did not know what.  She scarcely heard him.

Misinterpreting her silence, unconscious as an animal of her state of mind and the direction of her thoughts, the man at her side moved towards her slightly, seemed to hesitate, and then, suddenly clasping her by the waist kissed her upon the side of the neck.

Phyl straightened like a bow when the string is released.  Then she struck him, struck him open handed in the face, so that the sound of the blow might have been heard beyond the wall.

His face blanched so that the mark on it showed up, he took a step back.  For a moment Phyl thought he was going to spring upon her.  Then he mastered himself, but if murder ever showed itself upon the countenance of man it showed itself in that half second on the countenance of Silas Grangerson.

“You’ll be sorry for that,” said he.

“Don’t speak to me,” said Phyl.  “You are horrible ­bad ­wicked ­I will tell Richard Pinckney.”

“Do,” said Silas.  “Tell him also I’ll be even with him yet.  You’re in love with him, that’s what’s the matter with you ­well, wait.”

He turned on his heel and walked off.  He did not look back once.  As he vanished from sight Phyl clasped her hands together.

It was as though she had suddenly been shown the real Silas ­or rather the something light and evil and dangerous, the something inscrutable and allied to insanity that inhabited his mind.

She was not thinking of herself, she was thinking of Richard Pinckney.  She felt that she had been the unconscious means of releasing against him an evil force.  A force that might injure or destroy him.