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Charley Bennet's Ghost Story by Mrs. Margaret Eytinge

 

"It is a sin to steal a pin,
As well as any greater thing,"

sang little Al Smith, in a loud, shrill voice.

"Very good sentiment, but very poor rhyme," drawled Hen Rowe (whose father was a poet), patting the singer's flaxen head in a patronizing manner.

"Talking of stealing," said Charley Bennet, dropping the pumpkin he was turning into a lantern, "did I ever tell you fellers about the time I went down to old Pop Robins's to steal apples, and came back past the barn where the horse-thief hung himself years and years ago, 'cause he knew the constables—they called 'em constables in those times—were after him, and that he'd be hung by somebody else if he didn't? No? Here's a ghost story for you, then, and I hope it will be a warning to you all never to take anything that doesn't belong to you, 'specially apples.

"You see, Billy Evans and I were staying with our folks at the hotel in Bramblewood that summer, and about two miles away was Pop Robins's farm. He used to bring eggs and chickens and vegetables and fruit to the hotel; and, oh my! wasn't he stingy?—you'd better believe it. He wouldn't even give you two or three blackberries, and if you asked him for an apple, he'd tremble all over. A reg'lar old miser he was, with lots of money, and a bully apple orchard. 'Let's go there some night and help ourselves,' says Billy Evans, one day. 'Dogs,' says I. 'Only one,' says he; 'I know him, and so do you—old Snaggletooth; I gave him almost all the meat we took for crab bait the day we didn't catch any.' 'All right,' says I.

"But when the night we'd agreed on came, Billy had cousins—girls—down from New York, and he had to stay home and entertain them. I don't care much for girls myself, and I was afraid they might want me to help entertain them too, so I made up my mind to go down to Pop Robins's alone. It was a splendid night; the moon shone so bright that it was almost as light as day. I scudded along, whistling away, until I got within half a mile of the orchard, and then I stopped my noise and walked as softly as possible, till I came to the first apple-tree. I shinned up that tree in a jiffy (old Snaggletooth didn't put in an appearance), filled my bag with jolly fat apples, and slid down again. But when I came to lift the bag up on my shoulder, I found it was awful heavy to carry so far, and I was just agoing to dump some of the apples out, when I remembered all of a sudden that if I cut across the meadow to the plank-road, I could get back to the hotel in a little more than half the time it would take to go the way I came.

"So I shouldered my load, and was nearly across the meadow before I thought of the haunted barn at the end of it. It wasn't a nice thing to remember; but I wasn't agoing to turn back, ghost or no ghost, and I tried to whistle again, when all at once that thing Al Smith was singing just now popped into my head, and says I to myself, 'That's so, Charles F. Bennet; you and your chums may think it's great fun to help yourselves to other people's apples and water-melons and such things, but it's just as much stealing as though you went into a man's house and stole his coat.' It doesn't seem as bad when you're going for 'em; but when you're coming back, up a lonely road, all alone, at ten o'clock at night, a lot of stolen apples on your back, and a haunted barn not far off, it seems worse.

"'THERE IT IS,' SAYS BARNEY." "'THERE IT IS,' SAYS BARNEY."

"All the same, I held on to the apples. And when I faced the barn I determined I'd whistle if I died in the attempt; but, boys, I don't believe anybody could have told that 'Yankee Doodle' from 'Auld Lang Syne.' I tell you my heart jumped when I passed the tumble-down old place; but it stood still when, as I marched up the plank-road, I heard a step behind me. I wheeled around in an instant, but there was nothing to be seen. The moon shone as bright as ever, but there was nothing to be seen! 'I must have imagined it,' says I to myself, and I walked a little faster, listening with all my might, and sure enough pat, pat, pat, came the step after me. Again I wheeled round. Not a thing did I see. And again I started on, the apples growing heavier and heavier. Pat, pat, pat, came the step. It wasn't like a human step. That made it more dreadful. 'It must be the ghost,' I thought; and I don't mind telling you, fellers, I never was so frightened in my life. The time I fell overboard was nothing to it. I made up my mind, when I reached the bridge that crossed a little brook near our hotel, I'd streak it (I hadn't exactly run yet, for I was saving my strength till the last). But before I got to the bridge, says I to myself—and I must have said it out loud, though I didn't mean to—'Perhaps he wants the apples.'

"'Apples!' repeated a hoarse voice, with a horrid laugh.

"I tell you, boys, those apples flew, and I flew too. Over the bridge I went like lightning, and ran right into Barney Reardon, one of the stable-men, who was coming to look for me. 'Something has followed me,' I gasped, 'from the haunted barn—the ghost!' 'Did you see it?' says he. 'No,' says I, 'though I turned round a dozen times to look for it. But I heard it pat, pat, pat, behind me all the way.' 'And it's behind you now,' says Barney, bursting into a loud laugh. I jumped about six feet. 'There it is,' says Barney, roaring again, and pointing to—Pop Robins's tame raven! The sly old thing looked up at me, nodded its shining black head, croaked 'Apples!' and walked off. It had followed me from the barn, and every time I wheeled quickly round, it hopped just as quickly behind me, and so of course I saw nothing but the long road and the moonlight on it. But I never want to be so scared again, and if ever any of you boys go for anything belonging to other people, don't you count me in."

"What became of the apples?" asked Jerry O'Neil.

"If you'd 'a been there I could have told you," said Charley.