As for colour, that is always a matter of taste: the Cantervilles have blue blood, for instance, the very bluest in England; but I know you Americans don’t care for things of this kind.’
‘You know nothing about it, and the best thing you can do is to emigrate and improve your mind. My father will be only too happy to give you a free passage, and though there is a heavy duty on spirits of every kind, there will be no difficulty about the Custom House, as the officers are all Democrats. Once in New York, you are sure to be a great success. I know lots of people there who would give a hundred thousand dollars to have a grandfather, and much more than that to have a family Ghost.’
‘I don’t think I should like America.’
‘I suppose because we have no ruins and no curiosities,’ said Virginia satirically.
‘No ruins! no curiosities!’ answered the Ghost; ‘you have your navy and your manners.’
‘Good evening; I will go and ask papa to get the twins an extra week’s holiday.’
‘Please don’t go, Miss Virginia,’ he cried; ‘I am so lonely and so unhappy, and I really don’t know what to do. I want to go to sleep and I cannot.’
‘That’s quite absurd! You have merely to go to bed and blow out the candle. It is very difficult sometimes to keep awake, especially at church, but there is no difficulty at all about sleeping. Why, even babies know how to do that, and they are not very clever.’
‘I have not slept for three hundred years,’ he said sadly, and Virginia’s beautiful blue eyes opened in wonder; ‘for three hundred years I have not slept, and I am so tired.’
Virginia grew quite grave, and her little lips trembled like rose-leaves. She came towards him, and kneeling down at his side, looked up into his old withered face.
‘Poor, poor Ghost,’ she murmured; ‘have you no place where you can sleep?’
‘Far away beyond the pine-woods,’ he answered, in a low dreamy voice, ‘there is a little garden. There the grass grows long and deep, there are the great white stars of the hemlock flower, there the nightingale sings all night long. All night long he sings, and the cold, crystal moon looks down, and the yew-tree spreads out its giant arms over the sleepers.’
Virginia’s eyes grew dim with tears, and she hid her face in her hands.
‘You mean the Garden of Death,’ she whispered.
‘Yes, Death. Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace. You can help me. You can open for me the portals of Death’s house, for Love is always with you, and Love is stronger than Death is.’
Virginia trembled, a cold shudder ran through her, and for a few moments there was silence. She felt as if she was in a terrible dream.
Then the Ghost spoke again, and his voice sounded like the sighing of the wind.
‘Have you ever read the old prophecy on the library window?’
‘Oh, often,’ cried the little girl, looking up; ‘I know it quite well. It is painted in curious black letters, and it is difficult to read. There are only six lines:
When a golden girl can win Prayer from out the lips of sin, When the barren almond bears, And a little child gives away its tears, Then shall all the house be still And peace come to Canterville.
But I don’t know what they mean.