My sister used to tell me stories, when she was sixteen and enchanted by the weird and romantic and I was eight and loved nearly any tale, even if I did not understand it fully. One December night, when Mom and Dad had gone to a concert, Jenny and I turned on the Christmas tree lights, turned off the lamps, and sat by the fire with our collie dog, and being young and strong of eye, worked on the story-afghan we were knitting for Mom. Jenny, when she was quite bored by the quiet evening, began a story that was ghostly enough for a fire-lit evening, romantic enough for any girl of her age, and fascinating enough for a sleepy child of eight. I remember that tale so very well; it haunted me, it is proper to say....
Once, as many a story is begun, there lived a girl whose beauty and wealth were great. Her manner was quiet and gentle, though her core was as firm as steel, her skin was as fine as could be, and she was graceful, her limbs as slender as a child's.
She had trains of suitors, of course, all of whom were wealthy, and she had flocks of admirers, who were ordinary, common young men, some well-to-do enough and some poor as poor. Even when she had refused a man, he did not fail as her loyal follower, which made some other girls envy her so that they loathed her. Her train was not of her purchase, however; the envious girls ought to have loathed the silly men who chased this Atalanta of sorts, who had already found her love.
Our Alyce Meliot was the betrothed of Edmund Pendergast, who equaled her in status, etc.—who loved her as inexplicably as anyone ever loves another—who admired and respected her intelligence and her nature. In novels, when mutual love is discovered, engagement immediately occurs, but these two knew that time is swifter than a thoroughbred, so they continued, for several months, to live in love as wealthy youth can, before he asked for her hand.
A month before they were to be married, “Lady Alyce” fell ill, so that she could not even sit in a chair but must lie abed; her lovely hands were so weak that maids had to give her her food, when she would eat. Never could she speak unless to Edmund Pendergast, for whom alone she could muster strength. She murmured to him, thankful that she could speak to someone, and he comforted her, soothed her, and gave her cheer enough to smile ever so faintly.
One or two suitors still pursued her, but she disliked their company, one being dull as a century is long and the other rather hotheaded and too adoring. Edmund, who often called on Miss Meliot, saw them at the door, acknowledged the gifts they wished to offer to the sick lady, and sent them away, at which one would sigh and the other would rage.
When she had been ill for some three weeks, Alyce gathered all her waning strength and opened her eyes to look at Edmund. She knew that it would be the death of her, but she preferred a last, sweet exchange to an unconscious lingering; she looked at him, slowly moved her hand to a spot of sunlight on her coverlet, and whispered a farewell: “Edmund, hasten not to follow me to the grave... no Romeo could I love... but—in time—we shall find one another, on that—Other Side.”
He could not allow her to die on her cool, white pillows—he held her across his lap, for she was petite and light, and he faced the window so that the sunshine alighted on her, which gave her cause to smile and to sigh, for Earth was good, in her fortunate, youthful experience. What would there be, if not this sun and those clouds that she sometimes loved?—Edmund's love and embrace?—the cares that made her realize the joys? Even though she did not fear for herself, she must wonder, and she must wonder and fear for Edmund, who would live on and long for he... would she see him?—watch him in his grief? Would she feel sorrow for him...?
And they gave their kiss of au revoir, for they must meet again, and “Lady Alyce” went from her lover's arms, and from this earth.
Edmund departed at midnight, but he returned not five minutes later, having met Cecil Templeton, the hotheaded lover, only paces from the door and having gone back to the house with that caller, to prevent him from paying anything but friendlike respects to the dear form. Naturally, Cecil did request to see the girl whom he imagined was still ailing, to which the other young man responded that he could see her, but she could not speak to him; and he led Cecil to the room from which the body of Miss Meliot had not yet been removed.
Cecil had not interpreted from Edmund's words that “Lady Alyce” had died—oh, what wrath had he now! He shouted at him, giving no words but furious, desperate sounds that frightened the maids and menservants who passed the room. Thinking, because of this dramatic reaction, that Mr. Templeton was something of a menace to the public safety, Edmund turned to leave, in search of a telephone with which to call the police, but his movement was not unobserved by the wroth, jealous lover.
Indeed, the latter left that room alone, and he left the Meliot mansion alone. The half-mad man gone, the courageous and dutiful butler entered the room, and he saw that Edmund had fallen against a vase of white roses, which had by his death been turned red.
The house was empty for three years, Miss Meliot having been an only child and an orphan of age, but it was eventually bought by a family that was new to the city and ignorant of their great house's tragedies. They moved in and became acquainted with their neighbors and others of their class, and they gave parties and balls, as two Mr. and Mrs. Meliots had before them.
Occasionally, the son and daughters said they heard, when they were in Marjorie Carr's room, a girl's voice saying something—perhaps, “Edmund? Cannot you find your 'Lady,' my Edmund?” Marjorie told Penelope and William, her siblings, that she could at night also hear a man calling, “Where is my love? Dear Alyce!” The voices gave them some fear at first, yet they did not continue to do so, the man's being kind and tender and woman's sweet, and both having some melancholy, sorrowing tone.
At one party, a girl who had been Miss Meliot's friend said to Mrs. Carr, her hostess, “It is so peculiar—I thought I heard Mr. Pendergast speaking.”
“Who was Mr. Pendergast?”
“He was to marry Alyce Meliot, whose house this used to be, but she died; Edmund Pendergast died the evening after her. I believe the police decided, based on the servants' information, that it was a case of a jealous lover after him,” said young Mrs. Warren, with a light addition of, “Perhaps I heard Pendergast's ghost.”
Mrs. Carr and her family did wonder if she had.
Marjorie was sick close to a year later, and she said that, when neither the nurse nor her family was in her room, the “Lady's” voice spoke to her, and someone held her water glass for her, though she did not think there was anyone to do it. Then, at night, someone would lift her up so that whoever could rearrange her pillows for her, but she did not see her mother or her nurse, nor did she see her father, though she heard a man:
“There, my girl—if only it were Alyce!”
Mrs. Carr and her family did believe that Mrs. Warren was correct—both Edmund Pendergast and his beloved Alyce Meliot appeared to haunt the mansion.
Said Marjorie, “We hear her only by day, but him only by night... I suppose that because they perished at those different hours, and they search for each other only during the day or night of their deaths, they cannot meet, separated by the changing light. Are they so attached to each other that neither can rest on the Other Side and wait?”
Penelope sighed over the romantic misfortune.
Miss Meliot and Mr. Pendergast were kindly souls, in both senses of the phrase. Through the years, several accidents never-quite-happened: Mrs. Carr dropped a costly piece of china, but its fall managed to be broken by a shawl that slipped from her arm in an incredible coincidence. A maid's almost heated disagreement with the housekeeper was interrupted by a pet bird that was somehow freed of its cage in a then-unpeopled room, and both servants' heads cooled, so that the maid's position was not in jeopardy. When, years later, Marjorie, her husband, and their children moved into the house, she having inherited it, her little son would have fallen down the stairs, had he not his balance in the opposite direction at the last minute—he reported that he was bumped away from the staircase.
In 1917, Marjorie's grandson went off to the war, though he by no means intended to at first, and though he had not been encouraged by anyone. This Eugene Marriott said a man had, by night, spoken to him of courage, while by day an invisible lady had urged him to think of the people who needed all of what assistance there was and could be.
For decades, those lovers haunted the Meliot-Carr-Marriott mansion, their calls of “My love! My love! Where is my Edmund? Where is my Alyce?” more noticeable on days of weddings and of funerals, and on two particular anniversaries—of their engagement and of their deaths. They protected the household and comforted them, and nursed them, and guided them, and they called for one another, until, one afternoon in 19__, there was an eclipse, and the sun was gone at midday.
Marjorie Marriott, whose skin was now elegantly wrinkled and whose hair was cherry-blossom white, sat in a drawing room with her husband, while their granddaughters, at a window, marveled at the phenomenon. Over their whispers, Mr. and Mrs. Marriott heard a young woman calling, “Edmund? Edmund!” with something of a laughing sob.
A young man replied, “Lady Alyce—dear—the day is both day and night, and... come, my Alyce....”
Said Marjorie, “Ah, it is both day and night; at last, they are not parted by the Time. I think we shall not hear their calls again, Hugh—is it bittersweet?”
“But,” said my sister, “on the happiest of days, I think one might still hear them... perhaps with Edmund calling for 'Lady Alyce' Pendergast, now....”