Saturday, December 8, 2012

"The Ghost in the Mirror" by Ellen Lynn

Ellen Garth was always a strange child. She was always pretending she was hearing voices. She was only fifteen when I first saw her—and already showing promise of unusual beauty. But she was childlike, quiet, moody and I first came upon her when I was out riding my horse, Letty. She was stretched out prone by the side of the brook, and her slim white hand was dangling in the rushing water. So absorbed was she in this simple pastime that she hadn't even heard my horse's feet on the shrubs as we approached her. It was difficult to get her to talk, but when I dismounted and sat down beside her, remaining silent and watching the moving waters with her, she seemed to gain confidence—and from that time on we were friends.

It was just a week since I had been hired by Mr. Fred Garth as a general overseer on his farm. He knew I had left the agricultural school where I had been studying because my father had suffered financial losses and I wanted to go out and start earning my livelihood. The school had told him that I was a very "promising" student, and the truth is I was keenly disappointed at having to give up my studies in scientific farming.

"Ken Farrell," Mr. Garth approached me, "this may surprise you, but I'm going to make you manager of this farm. Frankly, I'm much impressed with you. That agricultural school must have taught you a lot."

I flushed with pleasure and surprise. "Why—thank you, Mr. Garth. I hope I can measure up to your confidence in me."

Suddenly, Mr. Garth staggered. I had to grab his arm to keep him from falling. He was clutching his chest and his face was ghastly white. After I had helped him into the house and he had sat a while, he was able to talk. "Ken, I have a bad heart. I am lucky you came to this farm when you did. My mind is at peace to have a competent person in charge. You're young—but you're smart. Promise me you'll stay and look out for my wife and daughter, Ellen."

A month later, Fred Garth was dead. Dr. Sidney Allen, a neighbor, called every evening on the widow, Grace. She was a frail, lovely-looking woman—who seemed confused and lost without her husband.

One day Mrs. Garth called me to the house. "Ken," she said, "I am going to remarry. This may shock people—it's only a few months since Fred died—but I'm a helpless creature and I feel that Ellen should have a father. I love my girl dearly—but it was always Fred who saw to her upbringing and I'm afraid of the responsibility." She paused and her eyes were filled with tears. Then—"I'm going to marry Dr. Allen. He was the first to point out that Ellen needs a father."

There was something about Sidney Allen that I did not like. He was too smooth—and underneath there seemed to be a hard core. He had come to live at the Garth Farm and was devoting less and less time to the practice of medicine. Surprisingly, he kept me on as Manager, after he had married Grace Garth, undoubtedly, because he knew less about running it than I did—and the Farm was doing well. But it soon became clear who was "master" of the family. He seemed to rule the household with an iron hand. It was soon obvious that Allen hadn't married for mere love. Poor Mrs. Garth had gone into a decline and kept to her bed a good deal. She would come downstairs only to be near Ellen, to protect her as much as she could. Ellen often sat with her, reading aloud, or just holding her hand. At other times Grace sat for hours before the strange mirror in her boudoir, a gift from Ellen's father.

I found myself growing more and more interested in Ellen. We often rode out together on our horses and I loved to make her laugh, to see her acting young and carefree. Even when I knew I had fallen deeply in love with her, I felt she was not quite ready for such a declaration. I would wait until she had awakened to her feeling for me—and I felt certain that she was beginning to fall in love with me. Then I would be able to take her away from her grasping stepfather, whose only god was greed. So I waited.

As I was being let into the foyer one evening, I could hear Dr. Allen's voice, sharp, angry, coming from the parlor. He had asked me to come at eight o'clock and I decided to sit there and wait till he finished what sounded like a family argument. I had no intention of eavesdropping and was deciding to leave and come back in a half-hour when my own name entered into the discussion. Much to my amazement, I heard Dr. Allen objecting to Ellen's mother that Ellen was getting too "chummy" with that Ken Farrell. "Don't let her get any romantic notions about our farm manager," he said. "She's nearly seventeen and it's time to think of her settling down and marrying. In fact, Ben Anderson and I have talked about Ellen and him. Our farms adjoin and we could combine the two and run a real enterprise. Ben is a smart boy and runs his farm practically singlehanded. That boy, Ken, tries to run our place by books. Ellen must stop seeing him—you know of course what he's after—this farm..."

"Oh no, Sidney, you can't. You must not. Ben is fifty, old enough to be her grandfather. He's a miser. He'll beat her." The gentle Grace was wild, infuriated.

"I married you to protect her," wept Grace. "I vow to you I will save her, even if I have to come back from the dead to do it."

Events moved fast after this. Suddenly there was a thud as though someone had fallen. Throwing caution to the winds, I hurried into the parlor and saw Mrs. Allen crumpled on the floor. Dr. Allen was saying—"It's her heart, poor dear. It's all over. Oh, God, why has this happened to me?"

Dr. Allen rushed me out of my job and out of the house. My only comfort was the determination that I would come back for Ellen. So grief-stricken was she, and so watched over by her step-father, I couldn't even see her before I left. But I got to know all the details of the occurrences after I left. Strange as they were, I finally returned, just in time.

Mrs. Garth—or Mrs. Allen—had left a will bequeathing all the lands to Dr. Allen with one odd condition: that he never part with the large, brass-framed mirror that hung in her boudoir. Dr. Allen called it a crazy idea—"Poor Grace was getting unbalanced toward the end"—but there was nothing he could do about it—he had to obey the conditions of the will.

The shock of her mother's death and the harshness of her stepfather toward her gentle mother and herself, had a serious affect on Ellen. She retreated more and more into herself. The little resistance she had put up against him while her mother was alive disappeared. She was now meek and obedient to the wishes of Dr. Allen. The only time she seemed happy was when she sat in her mother's boudoir before that large, brass-framed mirror.

"You don't have to sit there admiring yourself, Miss," her step-father sarcastically informed her. "You have an admirer downstairs waiting to see you. Ben Anderson is ready to marry you and the sooner you settle down with him the better."

"It isn't myself I see in that mirror," Ellen replied. "My mother talks to me."

"Ben better marry you soon—before he discovers you're balmy," Dr. Allen laughed. "What does your mother say to you, pray tell?"

"She tells me not to worry—that she can be a better mother to me now than she ever was before... that she is stronger and can protect me from all evil..."

Ellen's stepfather snorted—"So now we believe in ghosts—and this is a haunted house! Enough of this foolishness. Make yourself presentable and go downstairs to see your fiance."

Doing as she was bid, Ellen went down to see Ben Anderson. But Dr. Allen was disturbed by her calm self-assurance, by her contented smile. Truthfully, she didn't seem unbalanced of mind at all. What trickery was going on? Hearing the remote voices of Ellen and Ben downstairs in the parlor, he was about to join them to bring things to a head concerning their marriage, when he stopped at the open door of the boudoir. Was he imagining things? A soft voice, like Grace's, called his name: "Sidney—Sidney—in here... come in here..." It was some kind of hallucination, but Dr. Allen boldly walked into the room. In the dark boudoir, faintly illumined by the moon through the windows, he thought he saw a shadow playing upon the surface of the brass-framed mirror. It was just a train of thought that made him imagine it had the outlines of—Grace. With a sneer he turned to walk out of the room when again he heard that soft voice: "Sidney—come—follow me—you must—follow me..." Wheeling around, he saw the shadow on the mirror fade away. A sudden chill came over him and he hurried downstairs.

Dr. Allen hastened the date of the wedding and it was noted by all that Ellen went about her preparations pleasantly, patiently. Everyone knew she was waiting, waiting for something to happen—something sure to stop the wedding. The atmosphere was charged with tension. It was like racing against Time, with Dr. Allen rushing to get that marriage over before anything could happen. The only composed person was—Ellen.

When the wedding day arrived and the guests started to come, Dr. Allen's face wore a triumphant smile. He even patted his neighbor on the back, "Well, Ben, we're practically partners now. Let's shake on it."

Then he saw me enter the house. I could see the expression of fury on his face. In scarcely suppressed tones of anger, he approached me, saying, "Ken Farrell, only invited guests may come to Ellen's wedding." I answered, "That is why I am here, Dr. Allen. Ellen sent me a letter inviting me here." He appeared highly nervous and I watched him hurry up the stairs. What happened—I learned later. He found Ellen in her bridal attire, sitting before the Mirror. He heard a voice say: "Darling, you will not marry Ben—you may be sure of that. I shall keep my promise." Then he saw the same shadow in the Mirror—"Come, Sidney—follow me—you must, you know..." With a burst of fury and a loud scream, Dr. Allen rushed to the Mirror and hammered it with his fists—"You witch," he yelled, "I don't know what trickery Ellen is up to but here's what I think of your ugly mirror—and this wedding will take care of your Will." There was a resounding crash as Dr. Allen's blows splintered the mirror and the heavy glass came clattering down. Blood was streaming from his pierced wrists and he fell heavily to the floor.

All the guests had rushed upstairs upon hearing the clamor. There I saw my beautiful Ellen, her face horrified—but she rushed to me and I enfolded her in my arms. Her letter had merely told me to come today—there was an urgency about it—but now her eyes told me what for so long I had hoped to see—that she loved me. Ellen had felt that I in some way would save her from her marriage to Ben.

But was it play-acting? Sure it couldn't be, you will say. But there, glistening on the floor near the shattered glass, like a protective amulet, was the gold wedding band which Ellen's mother had worn in death and which was buried with her!

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