Tracker opened the door and looked at Harold in surprise. "You're kind of late for a game of cards, Harold. We were just about to finish up for the evening. Still, if you'd care to join us for a nightcap....."373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡrRt5J7luqT
Harold stepped into the hallway and stood there, wet and shaking, feeling like a truck ran over him. Tracker said, "Hey, you okay? You didn't catch a chill, did you, standing out there in the rain? Where's your raincoat?"
Harold turned and looked at him but did not know what to say. How could he explain to him that he'd run down Harvest Mills through the blinding darkness, skidding and stumbling on the wet road, as if he were being hotly pursued by all the demons of hell? And that he had waited outside his house, trying to catch his breath, trying to convince himself that there was nothing after him, no ghosts, no apparitions, no flickering white pictures from beyond the grave?
Tracker took his arm and led him down the hallway to the living-room. The hall was decorated with trellis-patterned wallpaper, and proudly hung with Tracker's fishing certificates and photographs of Tracker and Andy and a few of the other Ol' Spithead boys holding up cod and giant sunfish and flounder. In the living room, Andy Curtis was sitting by the open fire, finishing a last glass of beer, while Mrs. Miller's wheelchair stood empty in the far corner, with her knitting on the seat.
"Beryl went off to bed," said Tracker. "She tires easily when there's company. Specially a live-wire like Andy."
Andy, a white-haired retired boat captain, gave a grunt of amusement. "Former live wire, from a long time ago," he grinned, showing a row of square tobacco-stained teeth. "Used to be a time, no lady within kissing distance was safe from Andy Curtis. You ask Cap'n Finch, down at the Pier Transit Authority, he'll tell you."
"You want a drink, Harold?" asked Tracker. "Whiskey, maybe? You're sure looking white in the face."
"Too much clean living, that's your trouble," said Andy.
Harold reached out for the arm of the chintz-and-oak chair by the fire, and unsteadily sat down.
"I don't know what to tell you," he said. His voice sounded shaking, and congested by phlegm. Andy glanced across at Tracker, but Tracker shrugged to show that he didn't know what the matter was.
"I, um, I ran down the hill," Harold told them.
"You ran down the hill?" repeated Andy.
Harold suddenly realized that he was close to tears. Tears brought on by fright, relief, the effects of seeing Nancy, and the unexpected concern for his wellbeing that was being shown to him by two grizzled Ol' Spithead boys who normally treated strangers with a contemptuous spit on the sidewalk.
"It's okay now, Harold, you sup down some of this whiskey and tell us what's wrong," said Tracker. He handed Harold a tumbler with a transfer-picture of a sailing-ship on it, and he took a large swallow. The liquor burned down his throat and into his stomach, and made him cough; but it steadied his nerves, and slowed down his heartbeats, and quelled some of the jangling hysteria that had suddenly gripped him.
"I ran all the way from the cottage," Harold said.
"Now, why did you do a fool thing like that?" asked Andy. "Cottage isn't on fire, is it?" He pronounced it "fye-uh," with a marked Ol' Spithead accent. "Isn't burning down?"
Harold looked to Andy and Tracker and back again. The normality of the living-room almost made him feel that he'd been imagining everything. The brass clock on the mantlepiece, the ship's wheel on the wall, the flowery-patterned furnishings. A tortoiseshell cat, with its paws tucked in, sleeping with its nose toward the fire. A pipe-rack, hung with burned-down briars. Upstairs, he could hear the sudden blur of laughter, as Mrs. Trask sat in bed watching television.373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡNj2fPkB5Q6
"I've seen Nancy," Harold said, quietly.
Tracker sat down. Then he got up again, brought over his glass of beer, and sat down for a second time, staring at Harold closely. Andy said nothing, but didn't quit grinning, although his grin seemed to have been drained of some of its humor.
"Where did you see her?" asked Tracker, as gently as he could manage. "Up there, at the cottage?"
"In the garden. She was swinging on the garden-swing. This is the second night she's done it. She did it yesterday only I didn't see her then."
"But you saw her tonight?"
"Only for a very short while. She wasn't very clear. She was like a television picture that's on the fritz. But it was her all right. I know it. And the swing---the swing was going backwards and forwards by itself. Well, with her on it. But if she was a ghost, she was making that swing go backwards and forwards just as hard as if she was real."
Tucker puckered up his lips thoughtfully, and frowned at Harold. Andy raised his eyebrows, and rubbed his chin.
"You don't believe me," Harold told them.
"Didn't say that," returned Andy. "Didn't say that at all."
"It's just that, well, it's something of a shock, isn't it?" put in Tracker. "Seeing a real ghost? You don't think it could have been some trick of the light? Sometimes the light plays strange old tricks at night, especially off the ocean."
"She was sitting on the swing, Tracker. Lit up, like a blue flickering light. Blue-and-white, like flashbulbs."
Andy took a long drink of beer and then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Then he stood up, and pressed his hands to the small of his back, rubbing it to ease the stiffness, and walked slowly across to the window. He parted the drapes and stood there for a long time with his back to them, staring out at the weather.
"You know what you've just been a witness to, don't you?" he said.
"I've seen my wife, that's all I know. She's a month dead, and I've seen her."
Andy turned around, slowly shaking his head. "You didn't see your wife, Harold. Maybe your imagination painted a picture for you, turned what you actually saw into something you thought was Nancy. But no sir. I've seen what you saw tonight a hundred times. Used to frighten sailors to death back in the old days. St. Elmo's fire, that's what it's called."
"St. Elmo's Fire? What the hell is that?"
"A fancy name for a discharge of natural electricity. You see it mostly on the masts of ships, or radio antennae, or the wings of airplanes. Corposant, they usually call it, in Salem. Flickers, like a burning brush. That's what you saw, wasn't it? Kind of a flickering light?"
Harold glanced at Tracker. "Andy's right," said Tracker. "I've seen it myself, out on fishing trips. Looks real eerie, the first time you see it."
"I saw her face, Tracker," Harold told him. "There wasn't any mistake about it. I saw her face!"
Tracker leaned forward and laid his hand on Harold's knee. "Harold," he said, "I believe you saw what you said you saw. I truly believe you saw Nancy, in your mind's eye. But you know and I know that there's no such things as ghosts. You know and I know that people don't come back from the dead. We may believe in the immortal soul, the life everlasting, amen, but we don't believe that it takes place here on earth, 'cause if it did, this world would pretty damned crowded with wandering spirits, don't you think?"
He reached behind Harold for the bottle of Four Roses and poured the latter another big glassful. Then he said, "You've been bearing up to this pretty well, all things considered. I was saying that very thing to Andy only this evening, that you were bearing up well. But it's bound to break out, now and again, that grief you're feeling deep inside of you. Nobody blames you for it. It's just one of those things. I lost my brother, Johnny, drowned off Lobster Bay one night, what, eighteen years ago now; and believe you me it took me many a long month to get over that feeling of sadness, and loss."
"Mrs. Donald Baylor told me tonight that she'd seen her late husband, too."373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡX4PmSZGIco
Tracker smiled, and turned to smile back at Andy. Andy, who was pouring himself another Schlitz, smiled in return, and shook his head.373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡfocfU958BE
"Don't you go taking no notice of what the Baylor widow tells you. Everybody knows what her problem is." He tapped his forehead to suggest that her brain was twenty-five cents in the dollar.373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡieRSSg0lxc
"She didn't give old man Baylor too much of a life when he was alive," put in Andy. "He told me wunst that she looked him out of the house all night in his long-johns, 'cause he felt like exercising his conjugal rights and she sure as hell didn't. Now, a man wouldn't go back to a widow like that, even if he was a ghost, now would he?"373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡxyrQdjDgTH
"I wouldn't know," Harold replied. He was feeling confused now. He was even beginning to doubt what he had really seen in the garden of Harvest Mills Cottage. Had it really been Nancy? It seemed hard to believe; and even harder to recall exactly what her face had looked like. Elongated, like a saint by El Greco, with crackling hair. But couldn't that crackling hair have been nothing more than the electrical discharge that Andy had called corposant, St. Elmo's Fire? It flickers, he had said, like a burning brush.
Harold finished his second drink, and declined a third. "I won't be able to crawl back up that hill, let alone walk up it."
"You want me to come up there with you?" asked Andy. But Harold shook his head.
"If there's anything up there, Andy, I think I'd better face it alone. If there's a ghost, then it's my ghost, and that's all there is to it."
"You should take yourself a vacation," said Tracker.
"Nancy's father told me that."
"Well, he was right. There's no use sitting alone in an old cottage like that, brooding about what might have been, and what's past. Now, you're sure you're going to be okay?"
"You bet. And thank you for listening. You really calmed me down."
Tracker nodded towards the whiskey bottle. "Nothing better for jingling nerves than the Old Four Roses."373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡkhhiQAnZhV
He shook hands with both men and went towards the door. But as he reached the hallway, he turned and said, "One thing more. Do either of you know why Ol' Spithead used to be called Resurrection?"
Andy looked at Tracker and Tracker looked at Andy. Then Tracker said, "Nobody knows for sure. Some folks say that it was named for the new life that folks here were going to lead, when they first landed from Europe. Others said that it was just a name. But I personally prefer the story that it was named on the third day after Easter, when Christ rose out of the tomb."
"You don't think it was named for anything else?"373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡwZe4WTl5me
"Like what?" asked Tracker.373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡLhaEdfYBJr
"Well----the kind of thing that I saw tonight. The kind of thing that Mrs. Donald Price says she's been hearing. And Wilbur Price, too, down at the market."373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡFQgpqmTlUA
"Wilbur Price? What are you talking about?"373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡFjXlcpgfDv
Mrs. Donald Baylor says that Wilbur Price keeps seeing his son."373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡMyG7AtDsl0
"You mean Jerry?"373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡlOpgaKyhBt
"He had only one son, didn't he?"373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡvwvtsJ73sL
Tracker blew out his cheeks in exaggerated astonishment, and Andy Curtis let out a long whistle. "That woman," said Andy, "she sure has a whole lot of loose gears upstairs. You shouldn't take any mind of her, Harold; not any mind at all. No wonder you thought you saw something, if you'd been talking to her. Wheweeee, Wilbur Price, that's something. Seeing Jerry, you said?"373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡy479dZAE6f
"Yes," Harold nodded. He felt embarrassed now, for believing everything that Mrs. Donald Baylor had told him. He couldn't even think why he had listened to her, the way she had babbled on. He must have been overtired, or half-drunk, or just plain stupid.
"Listen," Harold told Tracker and Andy. "I have to go now. But if you don't mind, I'll stop by when I come past her on my way to the shop tomorrow. You don't mind that, do you?"373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡHQdjsCRfN0
"You're welcome, Harold. You can stay for breakfast, if you want. Mrs. Trask and I whip up some fair old buckwheat cakes between us. She does the mixing and I do the baking. You stop by."373Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ3zMjO3M67n
"Thanks, Tracker. Thanks, Andy."
"You mind how you go, you hear?"