Ghosts I have Met and Some Others
John Kendrick Bangs
Part 1 out of 3
Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
[Illustration: 'Such grotesque attitudes as his figure assumed I
Ghost I Have Met And Some Others
By John Kendrick Bangs
With Illustrations by
Newell, Frost, and Richards
GHOSTS THAT HAVE HAUNTED ME
THE MYSTERY OF MY GRANDMOTHER'S HAIR SOFA
THE MYSTERY OF BARNEY O'ROURKE
THE EXORCISM THAT FAILED
THURLOW'S CHRISTMAS STORY
THE DAMPMERE MYSTERY
CARLETON BARKER, FIRST AND SECOND
"SUCH GROTESQUE ATTITUDES AS HIS FIGURE ASSUMED I NEVER SAW"
"I TURNED ABOUT, AND THERE, FEARFUL TO SEE, SAT THIS THING GRINNING
"THE FRIENDLY SPECTRE STOOD BY ME"
"HE FLED MADLY THROUGH THE WAINSCOTING OF THE ROOM"
"THEN HE SET ABOUT TELLING ME OF THE BEAUTIFUL GOLD AND SILVER WARE
THEY USE IN THE ELYSIAN FIELDS"
"THERE WAS NO ONE THERE"
"I DRAINED A GLASS OF COOKING-SHERRY TO THE DREGS"
"IT HAD TURNED WHITE"
"IT IS NOT OFTEN THAT ONE'S LITERARY CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST"
"'SIX IMPTY CHAIRS, SORR'"
"'L--LUL--LET ME OUT!' HE GASPED".
"'I SHALL KEEP SHOVING YOU FOR EXACTLY ONE YEAR'"
"I WAS FORCIBLY UNCLAD"
"HE WAS AMPLY PROTECTED"
"PINNED HIM TO THE WALL LIKE A BUTTERFLY ON A CORK"
"FACE TO FACE"
"HE RATTLED ON FOR HALF AN HOUR"
"THE DEMON VANISHED"
"'DOESN'T DARE LOOK ME IN THE EYE!'"
"'LOOK AT YOUR SO-CALLED STORY AND SEE'"
"IT WAS TO BE THE EFFORT OF HIS LIFE"
"WHEN HE ROSE UP IN THE MORNING HE WOULD FIND EVERY SINGLE HAIR ON
HIS HEAD STANDING ERECT"
"'WEARS HIS QUEUE POMPADOUR, I SEE'"
GHOSTS I HAVE MET, AND SOME OTHERS
GHOSTS THAT HAVE HAUNTED ME
A FEW SPIRIT REMINISCENCES
If we could only get used to the idea that ghosts are perfectly
harmless creatures, who are powerless to affect our well-being
unless we assist them by giving way to our fears, we should enjoy
the supernatural exceedingly, it seems to me. Coleridge, I think it
was, was once asked by a lady if he believed in ghosts, and he
replied, "No, madame; I have seen too many of them." Which is my
case exactly. I have seen so many horrid visitants from other worlds
that they hardly affect me at all, so far as the mere inspiration of
terror is concerned. On the other hand, they interest me hugely; and
while I must admit that I do experience all the purely physical
sensations that come from horrific encounters of this nature, I can
truly add in my own behalf that mentally I can rise above the
physical impulse to run away, and, invariably standing my ground, I
have gained much useful information concerning them. I am prepared
to assert that if a thing with flashing green eyes, and clammy
hands, and long, dripping strips of sea-weed in place of hair,
should rise up out of the floor before me at this moment, 2 A.M.,
and nobody in the house but myself, with a fearful, nerve-destroying
storm raging outside, I should without hesitation ask it to sit down
and light a cigar and state its business--or, if it were of the
female persuasion, to join me in a bottle of sarsaparilla--although
every physical manifestation of fear of which my poor body is
capable would be present. I have had experiences in this line which,
if I could get you to believe them, would convince you that I speak
the truth. Knowing weak, suspicious human nature as I do, however, I
do not hope ever to convince you--though it is none the less true--
that on one occasion, in the spring of 1895, there was a spiritual
manifestation in my library which nearly prostrated me physically,
but which mentally I hugely enjoyed, because I was mentally strong
enough to subdue my physical repugnance for the thing which suddenly
and without any apparent reason materialized in my arm-chair.
I'm going to tell you about it briefly, though I warn you in advance
that you will find it a great strain upon your confidence in my
veracity. It may even shatter that confidence beyond repair; but I
cannot help that. I hold that it is a man's duty in this life to
give to the world the benefit of his experience. All that he sees he
should set down exactly as he sees it, and so simply, withal, that
to the dullest comprehension the moral involved shall be perfectly
obvious. If he is a painter, and an auburn-haired maiden appears to
him to have blue hair, he should paint her hair blue, and just so
long as he sticks by his principles and is true to himself, he need
not bother about what you may think of him. So it is with me. My
scheme of living is based upon being true to myself. You may class
me with Baron Munchausen if you choose; I shall not mind so long as
I have the consolation of feeling, deep down in my heart, that I am
a true realist, and diverge not from the paths of truth as truth
manifests itself to me.
This intruder of whom I was just speaking, the one that took
possession of my arm-chair in the spring of 1895, was about as
horrible a spectre as I have ever had the pleasure to have haunt me.
It was worse than grotesque. It grated on every nerve. Alongside of
it the ordinary poster of the present day would seem to be as
accurate in drawing as a bicycle map, and in its coloring it simply
shrieked with discord.
If color had tones which struck the ear, instead of appealing to the
eye, the thing would have deafened me. It was about midnight when
the manifestation first took shape. My family had long before
retired, and I had just finished smoking a cigar--which was one of a
thousand which my wife had bought for me at a Monday sale at one of
the big department stores in New York. I don't remember the brand,
but that is just as well--it was not a cigar to be advertised in a
civilized piece of literature--but I do remember that they came in
bundles of fifty, tied about with blue ribbon. The one I had been
smoking tasted and burned as if it had been rolled by a Cuban
insurrectionist while fleeing from a Spanish regiment through a
morass, gathering its component parts as he ran. It had two distinct
merits, however. No man could possibly smoke too many of them, and
they were economical, which is how the ever-helpful little madame
came to get them for me, and I have no doubt they will some day
prove very useful in removing insects from the rose-bushes. They
cost $3.99 a thousand on five days a week, but at the Monday sale
they were marked down to $1.75, which is why my wife, to whom I had
recently read a little lecture on economy, purchased them for me.
Upon the evening in question I had been at work on this cigar for
about two hours, and had smoked one side of it three-quarters of the
way down to the end, when I concluded that I had smoked enough--for
one day--so I rose up to cast the other side into the fire, which
was flickering fitfully in my spacious fireplace. This done, I
turned about, and there, fearful to see, sat this thing grinning at
me from the depths of my chair. My hair not only stood on end, but
tugged madly in an effort to get away. Four hairs--I can prove the
statement if it be desired--did pull themselves loose from my scalp
in their insane desire to rise above the terrors of the situation,
and, flying upward, stuck like nails into the oak ceiling directly
over my head, whence they had to be pulled the next morning with
nippers by our hired man, who would no doubt testify to the truth of
the occurrence as I have asserted it if he were still living, which,
unfortunately, he is not. Like most hired men, he was subject to
attacks of lethargy, from one of which he died last summer. He sank
into a rest about weed-time, last June, and lingered quietly along
for two months, and after several futile efforts to wake him up, we
finally disposed of him to our town crematory for experimental
purposes. I am told he burned very actively, and I believe it, for
to my certain knowledge he was very dry, and not so green as some
persons who had previously employed him affected to think. A cold
chill came over me as my eye rested upon the horrid visitor and
noted the greenish depths of his eyes and the claw-like formation of
his fingers, and my flesh began to creep like an inch-worm. At one
time I was conscious of eight separate corrugations on my back, and
my arms goose-fleshed until they looked like one of those miniature
plaster casts of the Alps which are so popular in Swiss summer
resorts; but mentally I was not disturbed at all. My repugnance was
entirely physical, and, to come to the point at once, I calmly
offered the spectre a cigar, which it accepted, and demanded a
light. I gave it, nonchalantly lighting the match upon the goose
-fleshing of my wrist.
[Illustration: I TURNED ABOUT, AND THERE, FEARFUL TO SEE, SAT THIS
THING GRINNING AT ME.]
Now I admit that this was extraordinary and hardly credible, yet it
happened exactly as I have set it down, and, furthermore, I enjoyed
the experience. For three hours the thing and I conversed, and not
once during that time did my hair stop pulling away at my scalp, or
the repugnance cease to run in great rolling waves up and down my
back. If I wished to deceive you, I might add that pin-feathers
began to grow from the goose-flesh, but that would be a lie, and
lying and I are not friends, and, furthermore, this paper is not
written to amaze, but to instruct.
Except for its personal appearance, this particular ghost was not
very remarkable, and I do not at this time recall any of the details
of our conversation beyond the point that my share of it was not
particularly coherent, because of the discomfort attendant upon the
fearful hair-pulling process I was going through. I merely cite its
coming to prove that, with all the outward visible signs of fear
manifesting themselves in no uncertain manner, mentally I was cool
enough to cope with the visitant, and sufficiently calm and at ease
to light the match upon my wrist, perceiving for the first time,
with an Edison-like ingenuity, one of the uses to which goose-flesh
might be put, and knowing full well that if I tried to light it on
the sole of my shoe I should have fallen to the ground, my knees
being too shaky to admit of my standing on one leg even for an
instant. Had I been mentally overcome, I should have tried to light
the match on my foot, and fallen ignominiously to the floor then and
There was another ghost that I recall to prove my point, who was of
very great use to me in the summer immediately following the spring
of which I have just told you. You will possibly remember how that
the summer of 1895 had rather more than its fair share of heat, and
that the lovely New Jersey town in which I have the happiness to
dwell appeared to be the headquarters of the temperature. The
thermometers of the nation really seemed to take orders from
Beachdale, and properly enough, for our town is a born leader in
respect to heat. Having no property to sell, I candidly admit that
Beachdale is not of an arctic nature in summer, except socially,
perhaps. Socially, it is the coolest town in the State; but we are
at this moment not discussing cordiality, fraternal love, or the
question raised by the Declaration of Independence as to whether all
men are born equal. The warmth we have in hand is what the old lady
called "Fahrenheat," and, from a thermometric point of view,
Beachdale, if I may be a trifle slangy, as I sometimes am, has heat
to burn. There are mitigations of this heat, it is true, but they
generally come along in winter.
I must claim, in behalf of my town, that never in all my experience
have I known a summer so hot that it was not, sooner or later--by
January, anyhow--followed by a cool spell. But in the summer of 1895
even the real-estate agents confessed that the cold wave announced
by the weather bureau at Washington summered elsewhere--in the
tropics, perhaps, but not at Beachdale. One hardly dared take a bath
in the morning for fear of being scalded by the fluid that flowed
from the cold-water faucet--our reservoir is entirely unprotected by
shade-trees, and in summer a favorite spot for young Waltons who
like to catch bass already boiled--my neighbors and myself lived on
cracked ice, ice-cream, and destructive cold drinks. I do not myself
mind hot weather in the daytime, but hot nights are killing. I can't
sleep. I toss about for hours, and then, for the sake of variety, I
flop, but sleep cometh not. My debts double, and my income seems to
sizzle away under the influence of a hot, sleepless night; and it
was just here that a certain awful thing saved me from the insanity
which is a certain result of parboiled insomnia.
It was about the 16th of July, which, as I remember reading in an
extra edition of the _Evening Bun_, got out to mention the fact, was
the hottest 16th of July known in thirty-eight years. I had retired
at half-past seven, after dining lightly upon a cold salmon and a
gallon of iced tea--not because I was tired, but because I wanted to
get down to first principles at once, and remove my clothing, and
sort of spread myself over all the territory I could, which is a
thing you can't do in a library, or even in a white-and-gold parlor.
If man were constructed like a machine, as he really ought to be, to
be strictly comfortable--a machine that could be taken apart like an
eight-day clock--I should have taken myself apart, putting one
section of myself on the roof, another part in the spare room,
hanging a third on the clothes-line in the yard, and so on, leaving
my head in the ice-box; but unfortunately we have to keep ourselves
together in this life, hence I did the only thing one can do, and
retired, and incidentally spread myself over some freshly baked
bedclothing. There was some relief from the heat, but not much. I
had been roasting, and while my sensations were somewhat like those
which I imagine come to a planked shad when he first finds himself
spread out over the plank, there was a mitigation. My temperature
fell off from 167 to about 163, which is not quite enough to make a
man absolutely content. Suddenly, however, I began to shiver. There
was no breeze, but I began to shiver.
"It is getting cooler," I thought, as the chill came on, and I rose
and looked at the thermometer. It still registered the highest
possible point, and the mercury was rebelliously trying to break
through the top of the glass tube and take a stroll on the roof.
"That's queer," I said to myself. "It's as hot as ever, and yet I'm
shivering. I wonder if my goose is cooked? I've certainly got a
I jumped back into bed and pulled the sheet up over me; but still I
shivered. Then I pulled the blanket up, but the chill continued. I
couldn't seem to get warm again. Then came the counterpane, and
finally I had to put on my bath-robe--a fuzzy woollen affair, which
in midwinter I had sometimes found too warm for comfort. Even then I
was not sufficiently bundled up, so I called for an extra blanket,
two afghans, and the hot-water bag.
Everybody in the house thought I had gone mad, and I wondered myself
if perhaps I hadn't, when all of a sudden I perceived, off in the
corner, the Awful Thing, and perceiving it, I knew all.
I was being haunted, and the physical repugnance of which I have
spoken was on. The cold shiver, the invariable accompaniment of the
ghostly visitant, had come, and I assure you I never was so glad of
anything in my life. It has always been said of me by my critics
that I am raw; I was afraid that after that night they would say I
was half baked, and I would far rather be the one than the other;
and it was the Awful Thing that saved me. Realizing this, I spoke to
"You are a heaven-born gift on a night like this," said I, rising up
and walking to its side.
"I am glad to be of service to you," the Awful Thing replied,
smiling at me so yellowly that I almost wished the author of the
_Blue-Button of Cowardice_ could have seen it.
"It's very good of you," I put in.
"Not at all," replied the Thing; "you are the only man I know who
doesn't think it necessary to prevaricate about ghosts every time he
gets an order for a Christmas story. There have been more lies told
about us than about any other class of things in existence, and we
are getting a trifle tired of it. We may have lost our corporeal
existence, but some of our sensitiveness still remains."
"Well," said I, rising and lighting the gas-logs--for I was on the
very verge of congealment--"I am sure I am pleased if you like my
"Oh, as for that, I don't think much of them," said the Awful Thing,
with a purple display of candor which amused me, although I cannot
say that I relished it; "but you never lie about us. You are not at
all interesting, but you are truthful, and we spooks hate libellers.
Just because one happens to be a thing is no reason why writers
should libel it, and that's why I have always respected you. We
regard you as a sort of spook Boswell. You may be dull and stupid,
but you tell the truth, and when I saw you in imminent danger of
becoming a mere grease spot, owing to the fearful heat, I decided to
help you through. That's why I'm here. Go to sleep now. I'll stay
here and keep you shivering until daylight anyhow. I'd stay longer,
but we are always laid at sunrise."
"Like an egg," I said, sleepily.
"Tutt!" said the ghost. "Go to sleep, If you talk I'll have to go."
And so I dropped off to sleep as softly and as sweetly as a tired
child. In the morning I awoke refreshed. The rest of my family were
prostrated, but I was fresh. The Awful Thing was gone, and the room
was warming up again; and if it had not been for the tinkling ice in
my water-pitcher, I should have suspected it was all a dream. And so
throughout the whole sizzling summer the friendly spectre stood by
me and kept me cool, and I haven't a doubt that it was because of
his good offices in keeping me shivering on those fearful August
nights that I survived the season, and came to my work in the autumn
as fit as a fiddle--so fit, indeed, that I have not written a poem
since that has not struck me as being the very best of its kind, and
if I can find a publisher who will take the risk of putting those
poems out, I shall unequivocally and without hesitation acknowledge,
as I do here, my debt of gratitude to my friends in the spirit
Manifestations of this nature, then, are harmful, as I have already
observed, only when the person who is haunted yields to his physical
impulses. Fought stubbornly inch by inch with the will, they can be
subdued, and often they are a boon. I think I have proved both these
points. It took me a long time to discover the facts, however, and
my discovery came about in this way. It may perhaps interest you to
know how I made it. I encountered at the English home of a wealthy
friend at one time a "presence" of an insulting turn of mind. It was
at my friend Jarley's little baronial hall, which he had rented from
the Earl of Brokedale the year Mrs. Jarley was presented at court.
The Countess of Brokedale's social influence went with the château
for a slightly increased rental, which was why the Jarleys took it.
I was invited to spend a month with them, not so much because Jarley
is fond of me as because Mrs. Jarley had a sort of an idea that, as
a writer, I might say something about their newly acquired glory in
some American Sunday newspaper; and Jarley laughingly assigned to me
the "haunted chamber," without at least one of which no baronial
hall in the old country is considered worthy of the name.
[Illustration: 'THE FRIENDLY SPECTRE STOOD BY ME']
"It will interest you more than any other," Jarley said; "and if it
has a ghost, I imagine you will be able to subdue him."
I gladly accepted the hospitality of my friend, and was delighted at
his consideration in giving me the haunted chamber, where I might
pursue my investigations into the subject of phantoms undisturbed.
Deserting London, then, for a time, I ran down to Brokedale Hall,
and took up my abode there with a half-dozen other guests. Jarley,
as usual since his sudden "gold-fall," as Wilkins called it, did
everything with a lavish hand. I believe a man could have got
diamonds on toast if he had chosen to ask for them. However, this is
apart from my story.
I had occupied the haunted chamber about two weeks before anything
of importance occurred, and then it came--and a more unpleasant,
ill-mannered spook never floated in the ether. He materialized about
3 A.M. and was unpleasantly sulphurous to one's perceptions. He sat
upon the divan in my room, holding his knees in his hands, leering
and scowling upon me as though I were the intruder, and not he.
"Who are you?" I asked, excitedly, as in the dying light of the log
fire he loomed grimly up before me.
"None of your business," he replied, insolently, showing his teeth
as he spoke. "On the other hand, who are you? This is my room, and
not yours, and it is I who have the right to question. If you have
any business here, well and good. If not, you will oblige me by
removing yourself, for your presence is offensive to me."
"I am a guest in the house," I answered, restraining my impulse to
throw the inkstand at him for his impudence. "And this room has been
set apart for my use by my host."
"One of the servant's guests, I presume?" he said, insultingly, his
lividly lavender-like lip upcurling into a haughty sneer, which was
maddening to a self-respecting worm like myself.
I rose up from my bed, and picked up the poker to bat him over the
head, but again I restrained myself. It will not do to quarrel, I
thought. I will be courteous if he is not, thus giving a dead
Englishman a lesson which wouldn't hurt some of the living.
"No," I said, my voice tremulous with wrath--"no; I am the guest of
my friend Mr. Jarley, an American, who--"
"Same thing," observed the intruder, with a yellow sneer. "Race of
low-class animals, those Americans--only fit for gentlemen's
stables, you know."
This was too much. A ghost may insult me with impunity, but when he
tackles my people he must look out for himself. I sprang forward
with an ejaculation of wrath, and with all my strength struck at him
with the poker, which I still held in my hand. If he had been
anything but a ghost, he would have been split vertically from top
to toe; but as it was, the poker passed harmlessly through his misty
make-up, and rent a great gash two feet long in Jarley's divan. The
yellow sneer faded from his lips, and a maddening blue smile took
"Humph!" he observed, nonchalantly. "What a useless ebullition, and
what a vulgar display of temper! Really you are the most humorous
insect I have yet encountered. From what part of the States do you
come? I am truly interested to know in what kind of soil exotics of
your peculiar kind are cultivated. Are you part of the fauna or the
flora of your tropical States--or what?"
And then I realized the truth. There is no physical method of
combating a ghost which can result in his discomfiture, so I
resolved to try the intellectual. It was a mind-to-mind contest, and
he was easy prey after I got going. I joined him in his blue smile,
and began to talk about the English aristocracy; for I doubted not,
from the spectre's manner, that he was or had been one of that
class. He had about him that haughty lack of manners which bespoke
the aristocrat. I waxed very eloquent when, as I say, I got my mind
really going. I spoke of kings and queens and their uses in no
uncertain phrases, of divine right, of dukes, earls, marquises--of
all the pompous establishments of British royalty and nobility--with
that contemptuously humorous tolerance of a necessary and somewhat
amusing evil which we find in American comic papers. We had a battle
royal for about one hour, and I must confess he was a foeman worthy
of any man's steel, so long as I was reasonable in my arguments; but
when I finally observed that it wouldn't be ten years before Barnum
and Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth had the whole lot engaged for
the New York circus season, stalking about the Madison Square Garden
arena, with the Prince of Wales at the head beating a tomtom, he
grew iridescent with wrath, and fled madly through the wainscoting
of the room. It was purely a mental victory. All the physical
possibilities of my being would have exhausted themselves futilely
before him; but when I turned upon him the resources of my fancy, my
imagination unrestrained, and held back by no sense of responsibility,
he was as a child in my hands, obstreperous but certain to be subdued.
If it were not for Mrs. Jarley's wrath--which, I admit, she tried to
conceal--over the damage to her divan, I should now look back upon
that visitation as the most agreeable haunting experience of my life; at
any rate, it was at that time that I first learned how to handle ghosts,
and since that time I have been able to overcome them without trouble--
save in one instance, with which I shall close this chapter of my
reminiscences, and which I give only to prove the necessity of
observing strictly one point in dealing with spectres.
[Illustration: "HE FLED MADLY THROUGH THE WAINSCOTING OF THE ROOM"]
It happened last Christmas, in my own home. I had provided as a
little surprise for my wife a complete new solid silver service
marked with her initials. The tree had been prepared for the
children, and all had retired save myself. I had lingered later than
the others to put the silver service under the tree, where its happy
recipient would find it when she went to the tree with the little
ones the next morning. It made a magnificent display: the two dozen
of each kind of spoon, the forks, the knives, the coffee-pot, water
-urn, and all; the salvers, the vegetable-dishes, olive-forks,
cheese-scoops, and other dazzling attributes of a complete service,
not to go into details, presented a fairly scintillating picture
which would have made me gasp if I had not, at the moment when my
own breath began to catch, heard another gasp in the corner
immediately behind me. Turning about quickly to see whence it came,
I observed a dark figure in the pale light of the moon which
streamed in through the window.
"Who are you?" I cried, starting back, the physical symptoms of a
ghostly presence manifesting themselves as usual.
"I am the ghost of one long gone before," was the reply, in
I breathed a sigh of relief, for I had for a moment feared it was a
"Oh!" I said. "You gave me a start at first. I was afraid you were a
material thing come to rob me." Then turning towards the tree, I
observed, with a wave of the hand, "Fine lay out, eh?"
"Beautiful," he said, hollowly. "Yet not so beautiful as things I've
seen in realms beyond your ken."
And then he set about telling me of the beautiful gold and silver
ware they used in the Elysian Fields, and I must confess Monte
Cristo would have had a hard time, with Sindbad the Sailor to help,
to surpass the picture of royal magnificence the spectre drew. I
stood inthralled until, even as he was talking, the clock struck
three, when he rose up, and moving slowly across the floor, barely
visible, murmured regretfully that he must be off, with which he
faded away down the back stairs. I pulled my nerves, which were
getting rather strained, together again, and went to bed.
[Illustration: "THEN HE SAT ABOUT TELLING ME OF THE BEAUTIFUL GOLD
AND SILVER WARE THEY USE IN THE ELYSIAN FIELDS."]
_Next morning every bit of that silver-ware was gone_; and, what is
more, three weeks later I found the ghost's picture in the Rogues'
Gallery in New York as that of the cleverest sneak-thief in the
All of which, let me say to you, dear reader, in conclusion, proves
that when you are dealing with ghosts you mustn't give up all your
physical resources until you have definitely ascertained that the
thing by which you are confronted, horrid or otherwise, is a ghost,
and not an all too material rogue with a light step, and a
commodious jute bag for plunder concealed beneath his coat.
"How to tell a ghost?" you ask.
Well, as an eminent master of fiction frequently observes in his
writings, "that is another story," which I shall hope some day to
tell for your instruction and my own aggrandizement.
THE MYSTERY OF MY GRANDMOTHER'S HAIR SOFA
It happened last Christmas Eve, and precisely as I am about to set
it forth. It has been said by critics that I am a romancer of the
wildest sort, but that is where my critics are wrong. I grant that
the experiences through which I have passed, some of which have
contributed to the gray matter in my hair, however little they may
have augmented that within my cranium--experiences which I have from
time to time set forth to the best of my poor abilities in the
columns of such periodicals as I have at my mercy--have been of an
order so excessively supernatural as to give my critics a basis for
their aspersions; but they do not know, as I do, that that basis is
as uncertain as the shifting sands of the sea, inasmuch as in the
setting forth of these episodes I have narrated them as faithfully
as the most conscientious realist could wish, and am therefore
myself a true and faithful follower of the realistic school. I
cannot be blamed because these things happen to me. If I sat down in
my study to imagine the strange incidents to which I have in the
past called attention, with no other object in view than to make my
readers unwilling to retire for the night, to destroy the peace of
mind of those who are good enough to purchase my literary wares, or
to titillate till tense the nerve tissue of the timid who come to
smile and who depart unstrung, then should I deserve the severest
condemnation; but these things I do not do. I have a mission in life
which I hold as sacred as my good friend Mr. Howells holds his. Such
phases of life as I see I put down faithfully, and if the Fates in
their wisdom have chosen to make of me the Balzac of the
Supernatural, the Shakespeare of the Midnight Visitation, while
elevating Mr. Howells to the high office of the Fielding of
Massachusetts and its adjacent States, the Smollett of Boston, and
the Sterne of Altruria, I can only regret that the powers have dealt
more graciously with him than with me, and walk my little way as
gracefully as I know how. The slings and arrows of outrageous
fortune I am prepared to suffer in all meekness of spirit; I accept
them because it seems to me to be nobler in the mind so to do rather
than by opposing to end them. And so to my story. I have prefaced it
at such length for but one reason, and that is that I am aware that
there will be those who will doubt the veracity of my tale, and I am
anxious at the outset to impress upon all the unquestioned fact that
what I am about to tell is the plain, unvarnished truth, and, as I
have already said, it happened last Christmas Eve.
I regret to have to say so, for it sounds so much like the
description given to other Christmas Eves by writers with a less
conscientious regard for the truth than I possess, but the facts
must be told, and I must therefore state that it was a wild and
stormy night. The winds howled and moaned and made all sorts of
curious noises, soughing through the bare limbs of the trees,
whistling through the chimneys, and, with reckless disregard of my
children's need of rest, slamming doors until my house seemed to be
the centre of a bombardment of no mean order. It is also necessary
to state that the snow, which had been falling all day, had clothed
the lawns and house-tops in a dazzling drapery of white, and, not
content with having done this to the satisfaction of all, was still
falling, and, happily enough, as silently as usual. Were I the "wild
romancer" that I have been called, I might have had the snow fall
with a thunderous roar, but I cannot go to any such length. I love
my fellow-beings, but there is a limit to my philanthropy, and I
shall not have my snow fall noisily just to make a critic happy. I
might do it to save his life, for I should hate to have a man die
for the want of what I could give him with a stroke of my pen, and
without any special effort, but until that emergency arises I shall
not yield a jot in the manner of the falling of my snow.
Occasionally a belated home-comer would pass my house, the sleigh
-bells strung about the ample proportions of his steed jingling loud
above the roaring of the winds. My family had retired, and I sat
alone in the glow of the blazing log--a very satisfactory gas
affair--on the hearth. The flashing jet flames cast the usual
grotesque shadows about the room, and my mind had thereby been
reduced to that sensitive state which had hitherto betokened the
coming of a visitor from other realms--a fact which I greatly
regretted, for I was in no mood to be haunted. My first impulse,
when I recognized the on-coming of that mental state which is
evidenced by the goosing of one's flesh, if I may be allowed the
expression, was to turn out the fire and go to bed. I have always
found this the easiest method of ridding myself of unwelcome ghosts,
and, conversely, I have observed that others who have been haunted
unpleasantly have suffered in proportion to their failure to take
what has always seemed to me to be the most natural course in the
world--to hide their heads beneath the bed-covering. Brutus, when
Caesar's ghost appeared beside his couch, before the battle of
Philippi, sat up and stared upon the horrid apparition, and suffered
correspondingly, when it would have been much easier and more
natural to put his head under his pillow, and so shut out the
unpleasant spectacle. That is the course I have invariably pursued,
and it has never failed me. The most luminous ghost man ever saw is
utterly powerless to shine through a comfortably stuffed pillow, or
the usual Christmas-time quota of woollen blankets. But upon this
occasion I preferred to await developments. The real truth is that I
was about written out in the matter of visitations, and needed a
reinforcement of my uncanny vein, which, far from being varicose,
had become sclerotic, so dry had it been pumped by the demands to
which it had been subjected by a clamorous, mystery-loving public. I
had, I may as well confess it, run out of ghosts, and had come down
to the writing of tales full of the horror of suggestion, leaving my
readers unsatisfied through my failure to describe in detail just
what kind of looking thing it was that had so aroused their
apprehension; and one editor had gone so far as to reject my last
ghost-story because I had worked him up to a fearful pitch of
excitement, and left him there without any reasonable way out. I was
face to face with a condition--which, briefly, was that hereafter
that desirable market was closed to the products of my pen unless my
contributions were accompanied by a diagram which should make my
mysteries so plain that a little child could understand how it all
came to pass. Hence it was that, instead of following my own
convenience and taking refuge in my spectre-proof couch, I stayed
where I was. I had not long to wait. The dial in my fuel-meter
below-stairs had hardly had time to register the consumption of
three thousand feet of gas before the faint sound of a bell reached
my straining ears--which, by-the-way, is an expression I profoundly
hate, but must introduce because the public demands it, and a ghost
-story without straining ears having therefore no chance of
acceptance by a discriminating editor. I started from my chair and
listened intently, but the ringing had stopped, and I settled back
to the delights of a nervous chill, when again the deathly silence
of the night--the wind had quieted in time to allow me the use of
this faithful, overworked phrase--was broken by the tintinnabulation
of the bell. This time I recognized it as the electric bell operated
by a push-button upon the right side of my front door. To rise and
rush to the door was the work of a moment. It always is. In another
instant I had flung it wide. This operation was singularly easy,
considering that it was but a narrow door, and width was the last
thing it could ever be suspected of, however forcible the fling.
However, I did as I have said, and gazed out into the inky blackness
of the night. As I had suspected, there was no one there, and I was
at once convinced that the dreaded moment had come. I was certain
that at the instant of my turning to re-enter my library I should
see something which would make my brain throb madly and my pulses
start. I did not therefore instantly turn, but let the wind blow the
door to with a loud clatter, while I walked quickly into my dining
-room and drained a glass of cooking-sherry to the dregs. I do not
introduce the cooking-sherry here for the purpose of eliciting a
laugh from the reader, but in order to be faithful to life as we
live it. All our other sherry had been used by the queen of the
kitchen for cooking purposes, and this was all we had left for the
table. It is always so in real life, let critics say what they will.
[Illustration: "THERE WAS NO ONE THERE"]
This done, I returned to the library, and sustained my first shock.
The unexpected had happened. There was still no one there. Surely
this ghost was an original, and I began to be interested.
"Perhaps he is a modest ghost," I thought, "and is a little shy
about manifesting his presence. That, indeed, would be original,
seeing how bold the spectres of commerce usually are, intruding
themselves always upon the privacy of those who are not at all
minded to receive them."
Confident that something would happen, and speedily at that, I sat
down to wait, lighting a cigar for company; for burning gas-logs are
not as sociable as their hissing, spluttering originals, the genuine
logs, in a state of ignition. Several times I started up nervously,
feeling as if there was something standing behind me about to place
a clammy hand upon my shoulder, and as many times did I resume my
attitude of comfort, disappointed. Once I seemed to see a minute
spirit floating in the air before me, but investigation showed that
it was nothing more than the fanciful curling of the clouds of smoke
I had blown from my lips. An hour passed and nothing occurred, save
that my heart from throbbing took to leaping in a fashion which
filled me with concern. A few minutes later, however, I heard a
strange sound at the window, and my leaping heart stood still. The
strain upon my tense nerves was becoming unbearable.
[Illustration: "I DRAINED A GLASS OF COOKING SHERRY TO THE DREGS"]
"At last!" I whispered to myself, hoarsely, drawing a deep breath,
and pushing with all my force into the soft upholstered back of my
chair. Then I leaned forward and watched the window, momentarily
expecting to see it raised by unseen hands; but it never budged.
Then I watched the glass anxiously, half hoping, half fearing to see
something pass through it; but nothing came, and I began to get
I looked at my watch, and saw that it was half-past one o'clock.
"Hang you!" I cried, "whatever you are, why don't you appear, and be
done with it? The idea of keeping a man up until this hour of the
Then I listened for a reply; but there was none.
"What do you take me for?" I continued, querulously. "Do you suppose
I have nothing else to do but to wait upon your majesty's pleasure?
Surely, with all the time you've taken to make your début, you must
be something of unusual horror."
Again there was no answer, and I decided that petulance was of no
avail. Some other tack was necessary, and I decided to appeal to his
sympathies--granting that ghosts have sympathies to appeal to, and I
have met some who were so human in this respect that I have found it
hard to believe that they were truly ghosts.
"I say, old chap," I said, as genially as I could, considering the
situation--I was nervous, and the amount of gas consumed by the logs
was beginning to bring up visions of bankruptcy before my eyes--
"hurry up and begin your haunting--there's a good fellow. I'm a
father--please remember that--and this is Christmas Eve. The
children will be up in about three hours, and if you've ever been a
parent yourself you know what that means. I must have some rest, so
come along and show yourself, like the good spectre you are, and let
me go to bed."
I think myself it was a very moving address, but it helped me not a
jot. The thing must have had a heart of stone, for it never made
"What?" said I, pretending to think it had spoken and I had not
heard distinctly; but the visitant was not to be caught napping,
even though I had good reason to believe that he had fallen asleep.
He, she, or it, whatever it was, maintained a silence as deep as it
was aggravating. I smoked furiously on to restrain my growing wrath.
Then it occurred to me that the thing might have some pride, and I
resolved to work on that.
"Of course I should like to write you up," I said, with a sly wink
at myself. "I imagine you'd attract a good deal of attention in the
literary world. Judging from the time it takes you to get ready, you
ought to make a good magazine story--not one of those comic ghost
-tales that can be dashed off in a minute, and ultimately get
published in a book at the author's expense. You stir so little
that, as things go by contraries, you'll make a stirring tale.
You're long enough, I might say, for a three-volume novel--but--ah--
I can't do you unless I see you. You must be seen to be appreciated.
I can't imagine you, you know. Let's see, now, if I can guess what
kind of a ghost you are. Um! You must be terrifying in the extreme--
you'd make a man shiver in mid-August in mid-Africa. Your eyes are
unfathomably green. Your smile would drive the sanest mad. Your
hands are cold and clammy as a--ah--as a hot-water bag four hours
And so I went on for ten minutes, praising him up to the skies, and
ending up with a pathetic appeal that he should manifest his
presence. It may be that I puffed him up so that he burst, but,
however that may be, he would not condescend to reply, and I grew
angry in earnest.
"Very well," I said, savagely, jumping up from my chair and turning
off the gas-log. "Don't! Nobody asked you to come in the first
place, and nobody's going to complain if you sulk in your tent like
Achilles. I don't want to see you. I could fake up a better ghost
than you are anyhow--in fact, I fancy that's what's the matter with
you. You know what a miserable specimen you are--couldn't frighten a
mouse if you were ten times as horrible. You're ashamed to show
yourself--and I don't blame you. I'd be that way too if I were you."
I walked half-way to the door, momentarily expecting to have him
call me back; but he didn't. I had to give him a parting shot.
"You probably belong to a ghost union--don't you? That's your
secret? Ordered out on strike, and won't do any haunting after
sundown unless some other employer of unskilled ghosts pays his
spooks skilled wages."
I had half a notion that the word "spook" would draw him out, for I
have noticed that ghosts do not like to be called spooks any more
than negroes like to be called "niggers." They consider it vulgar.
He never yielded in his reserve, however, and after locking up I
went to bed.
For a time I could not sleep, and I began to wonder if I had been
just, after all. Possibly there was no spirit within miles of me.
The symptoms were all there, but might not that have been due to my
depressed condition--for it does depress a writer to have one of his
best veins become sclerotic--I asked myself, and finally, as I went
off to sleep, I concluded that I had been in the wrong all through,
and had imagined there was something there when there really was
"Very likely the ringing of the bell was due to the wind," I said,
as I dozed off. "Of course it would take a very heavy wind to blow
the button in, but then--" and then I fell asleep, convinced that no
ghost had ventured within a mile of me that night. But when morning
came I was undeceived. Something must have visited us that Christmas
Eve, and something very terrible; for while I was dressing for
breakfast I heard my wife calling loudly from below.
[Illustration: "IT HAD TURNED WHITE"]
"Henry!" she cried. "Please come down here at once."
"I can't. I'm only half shaved," I answered.
"Never mind that," she returned. "Come at once."
So, with the lather on one cheek and a cut on the other, I went
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"Look at that!" she said, pointing to my grandmother's hair-sofa,
which stood in the hall just outside of my library door.
It had been black when we last saw it, but as I looked I saw that a
great change had come over it.
_It had turned white in a single night!_
Now I can't account for this strange incident, nor can any one else,
and I do not intend to try. It is too awful a mystery for me to
attempt to penetrate, but the sofa is there in proof of all that I
have said concerning it, and any one who desires can call and see it
at any time. It is not necessary for them to see me; they need only
ask to see the sofa, and it will be shown.
We have had it removed from the hall to the white-and-gold parlor,
for we cannot bear to have it stand in any of the rooms we use.
THE MYSTERY OF BARNEY O'ROURKE
A very irritating thing has happened. My hired man, a certain Barney
O'Rourke, an American citizen of much political influence, a good
gardener, and, according to his lights, a gentleman, has got very
much the best of me, and all because of certain effusions which from
time to time have emanated from my pen. It is not often that one's
literary chickens come home to roost in such a vengeful fashion as
some of mine have recently done, and I have no doubt that as this
story progresses he who reads will find much sympathy for me rising
up in his breast. As the matter stands, I am torn with conflicting
emotions. I am very fond of Barney, and I have always found him
truthful hitherto, but exactly what to believe now I hardly know.
The main thing to bring my present trouble upon me, I am forced to
believe, is the fact that my house has been in the past, and may
possibly still be, haunted. Why my house should be haunted at all I
do not know, for it has never been the scene of any tragedy that I
am aware of. I built it myself, and it is paid for. So far as I am
aware, nothing awful of a material nature has ever happened within
its walls, and yet it appears to be, for the present at any rate, a
sort of club-house for inconsiderate if not strictly horrid things,
which is a most unfair dispensation of the fates, for I have not
deserved it. If I were in any sense a Bluebeard, and spent my days
cutting ladies' throats as a pastime; if I had a pleasing habit of
inviting friends up from town over Sunday, and dropping them into
oubliettes connecting my library with dark, dank, and snaky
subterranean dungeons; if guests who dine at my house came with a
feeling that the chances were, they would never return to their
families alive--it might be different. I shouldn't and couldn't
blame a house for being haunted if it were the dwelling-place of a
bloodthirsty ruffian such as I have indicated, but that is just what
it is not. It is not the home of a lover of fearful crimes. I would
not walk ten feet for the pleasure of killing any man, no matter who
he is. On the contrary, I would walk twenty feet to avoid doing it,
if the emergency should ever arise, aye, even if it were that fiend
who sits next me at the opera and hums the opera through from
beginning to end. There have been times, I must confess, when I have
wished I might have had the oubliettes to which I have referred
constructed beneath my library and leading to the coal-bins or to
some long-forgotten well, but that was two or three years ago, when
I was in politics for a brief period, and delegations of willing and
thirsty voters were daily and nightly swarming in through every one
of the sixteen doors on the ground-floor of my house, which my
architect, in a riotous moment, smuggled into the plans in the guise
of "French windows." I shouldn't have minded then if the earth had
opened up and swallowed my whole party, so long as I did not have to
go with them, but under such provocation as I had I do not feel that
my residence is justified in being haunted after its present fashion
because such a notion entered my mind. We cannot help our thoughts,
much less our notions, and punishment for that which we cannot help
is not in strict accord with latter-day ideas of justice. It may
occur to some hypercritical person to suggest that the English
language has frequently been murdered in my den, and that it is its
horrid corse which is playing havoc at my home, crying out to heaven
and flaunting its bloody wounds in the face of my conscience, but I
can pass such an aspersion as that by with contemptuous silence, for
even if it were true it could not be set down as wilful
assassination on my part, since no sane person who needs a language
as much as I do would ever in cold blood kill any one of the many
that lie about us. Furthermore, the English language is not dead. It
may not be met with often in these days, but it is still encountered
with sufficient frequency in the works of Henry James and Miss Libby
to prove that it still lives; and I am told that one or two members
of our consular service abroad can speak it--though as for this I
cannot write with certainty, for I have never encountered one of
these exceptions to the general rule.
[Illustration: "IT IS NOT OFTEN THAT ONE'S LITERARY CHICKENS COME
HOME TO ROOST"]
The episode with which this narrative has to deal is interesting in
some ways, though I doubt not some readers will prove sceptical as
to its realism. There are suspicious minds in the world, and with
these every man who writes of truth must reckon. To such I have only
to say that it is my desire and intention to tell the truth as
simply as it can be told by James, and as truthfully as Sylvanus
Cobb ever wrote!
Now, then, the facts of my story are these:
In the latter part of last July, expecting a meeting of friends at
my house in connection with a question of the good government of the
city in which I honestly try to pay my taxes, I ordered one hundred
cigars to be delivered at my residence. I ordered several other
things at the same time, but they have nothing whatever to do with
this story, because they were all--every single bottle of them--
consumed at the meeting; but of the cigars, about which the strange
facts of my story cluster, at the close of the meeting a goodly two
dozen remained. This is surprising, considering that there were
quite six of us present, but it is true. Twenty-four by actual count
remained when the last guest left me. The next morning I and my
family took our departure for a month's rest in the mountains. In
the hurry of leaving home, and the worry of looking after three
children and four times as many trunks, I neglected to include the
cigars in my impedimenta, leaving them in the opened box upon my
library table. It was careless of me, no doubt, but it was an
important incident, as the sequel shows. The incidents of the stay
in the hills were commonplace, but during my absence from home
strange things were going on there, as I learned upon my return.
The place had been left in charge of Barney O'Rourke, who, upon my
arrival, assured me that everything was all right, and I thanked and
"Wait a minute, Barney," I said, as he turned to leave me; "I've got
a cigar for you." I may mention incidentally that in the past I had
kept Barney on very good terms with his work by treating him in a
friendly, sociable way, but, to my great surprise, upon this
occasion he declined advances.
His face flushed very red as he observed that he had given up
"Well, wait a minute, anyhow," said I. "There are one or two things
I want to speak to you about." And I went to the table to get a
cigar for myself.
_The box was empty!_
Instantly the suspicion which has doubtless flashed through the mind
of the reader flashed through my own--Barney had been tempted, and
had fallen. I recalled his blush, and on the moment realized that in
all my vast experience with hired men in the past I had never seen
one blush before. The case was clear. My cigars had gone to help
Barney through the hot summer.
"Well, I declare!" I cried, turning suddenly upon him. "I left a lot
of cigars here when I went away, Barney."
"I know ye did, sorr," said Barney, who had now grown white and
rigid. "I saw them meself, sorr. There was twinty-foor of 'em."
"You counted them, eh?" I asked, with an elevation of my eyebrows
which to those who know me conveys the idea of suspicion.
"I did, sorr. In your absence I was responsible for everyt'ing here,
and the mornin' ye wint awaa I took a quick invintery, sorr, of the
removables," he answered, fingering his cap nervously. "That's how
it was, sorr, and thim twinty-foor segyars was lyin' there in the
box forninst me eyes."
"And how do you account for the removal of these removables, as you
call them, Barney?" I asked, looking coldly at him. He saw he was
under suspicion, and he winced, but pulled himself together in an
"I expected the question, sorr," he said, calmly, "and I have me
answer ready. Thim segyars was shmoked, sorr."
"Doubtless," said I, with an ill-suppressed sneer. "And by whom?
Cats?" I added, with a contemptuous shrug of my shoulders.
His answer overpowered me, it was so simple, direct, and unexpected.
"Shpooks," he replied, laconically.
I gasped in astonishment, and sat down. My knees simply collapsed
under me, and I could no more have continued to stand up than fly.
"What?" I cried, as soon as I had recovered sufficiently to gasp out
"Shpooks," replied Barney. "Ut came about like this, sorr. It was
the Froiday two wakes afther you left, I became un'asy loike along
about nine o'clock in the avenin', and I fought I'd come around here
and see if everything was sthraight. Me wife sez ut's foolish of me,
sorr, and I sez maybe so, but I can't get ut out o' me head thot
"'Ye locked everything up safe whin ye left?' sez she.
"'I always does,' sez I.
"'Thin ut's a phwhim,' sez she.
"'No,' sez I. 'Ut's a sinsation. If ut was a phwim, ut'd be youse as
would hov' it'; that's what I sez, sevarely loike, sorr, and out I
shtarts. It was tin o'clock whin I got here. The noight was dark and
blow-in' loike March, rainin' and t'underin' till ye couldn't hear
"I walked down the walk, sorr, an' barrin' the t'under everyt'ing
was quiet. I troid the dures. All toight as a politician. Shtill,
t'inks I, I'll go insoide. Quiet as a lamb ut was, sorr; but on a
suddent, as I was about to go back home again, I shmelt shmoke!"
"Fire?" I cried, excitedly.
"I said shmoke, sorr," said Barney, whose calmness was now beautiful
to look upon, he was so serenely confident of his position.
"Doesn't smoke involve a fire?" I demanded.
"Sometimes," said Barney. "I t'ought ye meant a conflagrashun, sorr.
The shmoke I shmelt was segyars."
"Ah," I observed. "I am glad you are coming to the point. Go on.
There _is_ a difference."
"There is thot," said Barney, pleasantly, he was getting along so
swimmingly. "This shmoke, as I say, was segyar shmoke, so I gropes
me way cautious loike up the back sthairs and listens by the library
dure. All quiet as a lamb. Thin, bold loike, I shteps into the room,
and nearly drops wid the shcare I have on me in a minute. The room
was dark as a b'aver hat, sorr, but in different shpots ranged round
in the chairs was six little red balls of foire!"
"Barney!" I cried.
"Thrue, sorr," said he. "And tobacky shmoke rollin' out till you'd
'a' t'ought there was a foire in a segyar-store! Ut queered me,
sorr, for a minute, and me impulse is to run; but I gets me courage
up, springs across the room, touches the electhric button, an' bzt!
every gas-jet on the flure loights up!"
"That was rash, Barney," I put in, sarcastically.
"It was in your intherest, sorr," said he, impressively.
"And you saw what?" I queried, growing very impatient.
"What I hope niver to see again, sorr," said Barney, compressing his
lips solemnly. "_Six impty chairs,_ sorr, wid six segyars as hoigh
up from the flure as a man's mout', puffin' and a-blowin' out shmoke
loike a chimbley! An' ivery oncet in a whoile the segyars would go
down kind of an' be tapped loike as if wid a finger of a shmoker,
and the ashes would fall off onto the flure!"
"Well?" said I. "Go on. What next?"
"I wanted to run awaa, sorr, but I shtood rutted to the shpot wid
th' surproise I had on me, until foinally ivery segyar was burnt to
a shtub and trun into the foireplace, where I found 'em the nixt
mornin' when I came to clane up, provin' ut wasn't ony dhrame I'd
I arose from my chair and paced the room for two or three minutes,
wondering what I could say. Of course the man was lying, I thought.
Then I pulled myself together.
"Barney," I said, severely, "what's the use? Do you expect me to
believe any such cock-and-bull story as that?"
"No, sorr," said he. "But thim's the facts."
"Do you mean to say that this house of mine is haunted?" I cried.
[Illustration: "'SIX IMPTY CHAIRS, SORR'"]
"I don't know," said Barney, quietly. "I didn't t'ink so before."
"Before? Before what? When?" I asked.
"Whin you was writin' shtories about ut, sorr," said Barney,
respectfully. "You've had a black horse-hair sofy turn white in a
single noight, sorr, for the soight of horror ut's witnessed. You've
had the hair of your own head shtand on ind loike tinpenny nails at
what you've seen here in this very room, yourself, sorr. You've had
ghosts doin' all sorts of t'ings in the shtories you've been writin'
for years, and _you've always swore they was thrue, sorr_. I didn't
believe 'em when I read 'em, but whin I see thim segyars bein'
shmoked up before me eyes by invishible t'ings, I sez to meself, sez
I, the boss ain't such a dommed loiar afther all. I've follyd your
writin', sorr, very careful and close loike; an I don't see how,
afther the tales you've told about your own experiences right here,
you can say consishtently that this wan o' mine ain't so!"
"But why, Barney," I asked, to confuse him, "when a thing like this
happened, didn't you write and tell me?"
Barney chuckled as only one of his species can chuckle.
"Wroite an' tell ye?" he cried. "Be gorry, sorr, if I could wroite
at all at all, ut's not you oi'd be wroitin' that tale to, but to
the edithor of the paper that you wroite for. A tale loike that is
wort' tin dollars to any man, eshpecially if ut's thrue. But I niver
learned the art!"
And with that Barney left me overwhelmed. Subsequently I gave him
the ten dollars which I think his story is worth, but I must confess
that I am in a dilemma. After what I have said about my supernatural
guests, I cannot discharge Barney for lying, but I'll be blest if I
can quite believe that his story is accurate in every respect.
If there should happen to be among the readers of this tale any who
have made a sufficiently close study of the habits of hired men and
ghosts to be able to shed any light upon the situation, nothing
would please me more than to hear from them.
I may add, in closing, that Barney has resumed smoking.
THE EXORCISM THAT FAILED
I--A JUBILEE EXPERIENCE
It has happened again. I have been haunted once more, and this time
by the most obnoxious spook I have ever had the bliss of meeting. He
is homely, squat, and excessively vulgar in his dress and manner. I
have met cockneys in my day, and some of the most offensive
varieties at that, but this spook absolutely outcocknifies them all,
and the worst of it is I can't seem to rid myself of him. He has
pursued me like an avenging angel for quite six months, and every
plan of exorcism that I have tried so far has failed, including the
receipt given me by my friend Peters, who, next to myself, knows
more about ghosts that any man living. It was in London that I first
encountered the vulgar little creature who has made my life a sore
trial ever since, and with whom I am still coping to the best of my
Starting out early in the morning of June 21, last summer, to
witness the pageant of her Majesty Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee,
I secured a good place on the corner of Northumberland Avenue and
Trafalgar Square. There were two rows of people ahead of me, but I
did not mind that. Those directly before me were short, and I could
easily see over their heads, and, furthermore, I was protected from
the police, who in London are the most dangerous people I have ever
encountered, not having the genial ways of the Irish bobbies who
keep the New York crowds smiling; who, when you are pushed into the
line of march, merely punch you in a ticklish spot with the end of
their clubs, instead of smashing your hair down into your larynx
with their sticks, as do their London prototypes.
It was very comforting to me, having witnessed the pageant of 1887,
when the Queen celebrated her fiftieth anniversary as a potentate,
and thereby learned the English police system of dealing with
crowds, to know that there were at least two rows of heads to be
split open before my turn came, and I had formed the good resolution
to depart as soon as the first row had been thus treated, whether I
missed seeing the procession or not.
I had not been long at my post when the crowds concentrating on the
line of march, coming up the avenue from the Embankment, began to
shove intolerably from the rear, and it was as much as I could do to
keep my place, particularly in view of the fact that the undersized
cockney who stood in front of me appeared to offer no resistance to
the pressure of my waistcoat against his narrow little back. It
seemed strange that it should be so, but I appeared, despite his
presence, to have nothing of a material nature ahead of me, and I
found myself bent at an angle of seventy-five degrees, my feet
firmly planted before me like those of a balky horse, restraining
the onward tendency of the mob back of me.
Strong as I am, however, and stubborn, I am not a stone wall ten
feet thick at the base, and the pressure brought to bear upon my
poor self was soon too great for my strength, and I gradually
encroached upon my unresisting friend. He turned and hurled a few
remarks at me that are not printable, yet he was of no more
assistance in withstanding the pressure than a marrowfat pea well
cooked would have been.
"I'm sorry," I said, apologetically, "but I can't help it. If these
policemen would run around to the rear and massacre some of the
populace who are pushing me, I shouldn't have to shove you."
"Well, all I've got to say," he retorted, "is that if you don't keep
your carcass out of my ribs I'll haunt you to your dying day."
"If you'd only put up a little backbone yourself you'd make it
easier for me," I replied, quite hotly. "What are you, anyhow, a
jelly-fish or an India-rubber man?" He hadn't time to answer, for
just as I spoke an irresistible shove from the crowd pushed me slap
up against the man in the front row, and I was appalled to find the
little fellow between us bulging out on both sides of me, crushed
longitudinally from top to toe, so that he resembled a paper doll
before the crease is removed from its middle, three-quarters open.
"Great heavens!" I muttered. "What have I struck?"
[Illustration: "'L LUL LET ME OUT!' HE GASPED "]
"L-lul-let me out!" he gasped. "Don't you see you are squ-queezing
my figure out of shape? Get bub-back, blank it!"
"I can't," I panted. "I'm sorry, but--"
"Sorry be hanged!" he roared. "This is my place, you idiot--"
This was too much for me, and in my inability to kick him with my
foot I did it with my knee, and then, if I had not been excited, I
should have learned the unhappy truth. My knee went straight through
him and shoved the man ahead into the coat-tails of the bobbie in
front. It was fortunate for me that it happened as it did, for the
front-row man was wrathful enough to have struck me; but the police
took care of him; and as he was carried away on a stretcher, the
little jelly-fish came back into his normal proportions, like an
inflated India-rubber toy.
"What the deuce are you, anyhow?" I cried, aghast at the spectacle.
"You'll find out before you are a year older!" he wrathfully
answered. "I'll show you a shoving trick or two that you won't like,
you blooming Yank!"
It made me excessively angry to be called a blooming Yank. I am a
Yankee, and I have been known to bloom, but I can't stand having a
low-class Britisher apply that term to me as if it were an
opprobrious thing to be, so I tried once more to kick him with my
knee. Again my knee passed through him, and this time took the
policeman himself in the vicinity of his pistol-pocket. The irate
officer turned quickly, raised his club, and struck viciously, not
at the little creature, but at me. He didn't seem to see the jelly
-fish. And then the horrid truth flashed across my mind. The thing in
front of me was a ghost--a miserable relic of some bygone pageant,
and visible only to myself, who have an eye to that sort of thing.
Luckily the bobbie missed his stroke, and as I apologized, telling
him I had St. Vitus's dance and could not control my unhappy leg,
accompanying the apology with a half sovereign--both of which were
accepted--peace reigned, and I shortly had the bliss of seeing the
whole sovereign ride by--that is, I was told that the lady behind
the parasol, which obscured everything but her elbow, was her
Majesty the Queen.
Nothing more of interest happened between this and the end of the
procession, although the little spook in front occasionally turned
and paid me a compliment which would have cost any material creature
his life. But that night something of importance did happen, and it
has been going on ever since. The unlovely creature turned up in my
lodgings just as I was about to retire, and talked in his rasping
voice until long after four o'clock. I ordered him out, and he
declined to go. I struck at him, but it was like hitting smoke.
"All right," said I, putting on my clothes. "If you won't get out, I
"That's exactly what I intended you to do," he said. "How do you
like being shoved, eh? Yesterday was the 21st of June. I shall keep
shoving you along, even as you shoved me, for exactly one year."
"Humph!" I retorted. "You called me a blooming Yank yesterday. I am.
I shall soon be out of your reach in the great and glorious United
"Oh, as for that," he answered, calmly, "I can go to the United
States. There are steamers in great plenty. I could even get myself
blown across on a gale, if I wanted to--only gales are not always
convenient. Some of 'em don't go all the way through, and
connections are hard to make. A gale I was riding on once stopped in
mid-ocean, and I had to wait a week before another came along, and
it landed me in Africa instead of at New York."
"Got aboard the wrong gale, eh?" said I, with a laugh.
"Yes," he answered.
"Didn't you drown?" I cried, somewhat interested.
"Idiot!" he retorted. "Drown? How could I? You can't drown a ghost!"
"See here," said I, "if you call me an idiot again, I'll--I'll--"
"What?" he put in, with a grin. "Now just what will you do? You're
clever, but _I'm a ghost!"_
[Illustration: "I SHALL KEEP SHOVING YOU FOR EXACTLY ONE YEAR"]
"You wait and see!" said I, rushing angrily from the room. It was a
very weak retort, and I frankly admit that I am ashamed of it, but
it was the best I had at hand at the moment. My stock of repartee,
like most men's vitality, is at its lowest ebb at four o'clock in
For three or four hours I wandered aimlessly about the city, and
then returned to my room, and found it deserted; but in the course
of my peregrinations I had acquired a most consuming appetite.
Usually I eat very little breakfast, but this morning nothing short
of a sixteen-course dinner could satisfy my ravening; so instead of
eating my modest boiled egg, I sought the Savoy, and at nine o'clock
entered the breakfast-room of that highly favored caravansary.
Imagine my delight, upon entering, to see, sitting near one of the
windows, my newly made acquaintances of the steamer, the Travises of
Boston, Miss Travis looking more beautiful than ever and quite as
haughty, by whom I was invited to join them. I accepted with
alacrity, and was just about to partake of a particularly nice melon
when who should walk in but that vulgar little spectre, hat jauntily
placed on one side of his head, check-patterned trousers loud enough
to wake the dead, and a green plaid vest about his middle that would
be an indictable offence even on an American golf links.
"Thank Heaven they can't see the brute!" I muttered as he
"Hullo, old chappie!" he cried, slapping me on my back. "Introduce
me to your charming friends," and with this he gave a horrible low
-born smirk at Miss Travis, to whom, to my infinite sorrow, by some
accursed miracle, he appeared as plainly visible as he was to me.
"Really," said Mrs. Travis, turning coldly to me, "we--we can't, you
know--we--Come, Eleanor. We will leave this _gentleman_ with his
_friend_, and have our breakfast sent to our rooms."
And with that they rose up and scornfully departed. The creature
then sat down in Miss Travis's chair and began to devour her roll.
"See here," I cried, finally, "what the devil do you mean?"
"Shove number two," he replied, with his unholy smirk. "Very
successful, eh? Werl, just you wait for number three. It will be
what you Americans call a corker. By-bye."
And with that he vanished, just in time to spare me the humiliation
of shying a pot of coffee at his head. Of course my appetite
vanished with him, and my main duty now seemed to be to seek out the
Travises and explain; so leaving the balance of my breakfast
untasted, I sought the office, and sent my card up to Mrs. Travis.
The response was immediate.
"The loidy says she's gone out, sir, and ain't likely to be back,"
remarked the top-lofty buttons, upon his return.
I was so maddened by this slight, and so thoroughly apprehensive of
further trouble from the infernal shade, that I resolved without
more ado to sneak out of England and back to America before the
deadly blighting thing was aware of my intentions. I immediately
left the Savoy, and sought the office of the Green Star Line,
secured a room on the steamer sailing the next morning--the
_Digestic_--from Liverpool, and was about packing up my belongings,
when _it_ turned up again.
"Going away, eh?"
"Yes," I replied, shortly, and then I endeavored to deceive him.
"I've been invited down to Leamington to spend a week with my old
friend Dr. Liverton."
"Oh, indeed!" he observed. "Thanks for the address. I will not
neglect you during your stay there. Be prepared for a shove that
will turn your hair gray. _Au revoir._"
And he vanished, muttering the address I had given him--"Dr.
Liverton, Leamington--Dr. Liverton." To which he added, "I won't
forget _that,_ not by a jugful."
I chuckled softly to myself as he disappeared. "He's clever, but--
there are others," I said, delighted at the ease with which I had
rid myself of him; and then eating a hearty luncheon, I took the
train to Liverpool, where next morning I embarked on the _Digestic_
for New York.
II--AN UNHAPPY VOYAGE
The sense of relief that swept over me when the great anchor of the
_Digestic_ came up from the unstrained quality of the Mersey, and I
thought of the fact that shortly a vast ocean would roll between me
and that fearful spook, was one of the most delightful emotions that
it has ever been my good fortune to experience. Now all seemed
serene, and I sought my cabin belowstairs, whistling gayly; but,
alas! how fleeting is happiness, even to a whistler!
As I drew near to the room which I had fondly supposed was to be my
own exclusively I heard profane remarks issuing therefrom. There was
condemnation of the soap; there was perdition for the lighting
apparatus; there were maledictions upon the location of the port,
and the bedding was excommunicate.
"This is strange," said I to the steward. "I have engaged this room
for the passage. I hear somebody in there."
"Not at all, sir," said he, opening the door; "it is empty." And to
him it undoubtedly appeared to be so.
"But," I cried, "didn't you hear anything?"
"Yes, I did," he said, candidly; "but I supposed you was a
ventriloquist, sir, and was a-puttin' up of a game on me."
Here the steward smiled, and I was too angry to retort. And then--
Well, you have guessed it. _He_ turned up--and more vulgar than
"Hullo!" he said, nonchalantly, fooling with a suit-case. "Going
"Oh no!" I replied, sarcastic. "Just out for a swim. When we get off
the Banks I'm going to jump overboard and swim to the Azores on a
"How much?" he asked.
"Five bob," said I, feeling that he could not grasp a larger amount.
"Humph!" he ejaculated. "I'd rather drive a cab--as I used to."
"Ah?" said I. "That's what you were, eh? A cab-driver. Takes a
mighty mind to be that, eh? Splendid intellectual effort to drive a
cab from the Reform Club to the Bank, eh?"
I had hoped to wither him.
"Oh, I don't know," he answered, suavely. "I'll tell you this,
though: I'd rather go from the Club to the Bank on my hansom with me
holding the reins than try to do it with Mr. Gladstone or the Prince
o' Wiles on the box."
"Prince o' Wiles?" I said, with a withering manner.
"That's what I said," he retorted. "You would call him Prince of
Whales, I suppose--like a Yank, a blooming Yank--because you think
Britannia rules the waves."
I had to laugh; and then a plan of conciliation suggested itself. I
would jolly him, as my political friends have it.
"Have a drink?" I asked.
"No, thanks; I don't indulge," he replied. "Let me offer you a
I accepted, and he extracted a very fair-looking weed from his box,
which he handed me. I tried to bite off the end, succeeding only in
biting my tongue, whereat the presence roared with laughter.
"What's the joke now?" I queried, irritated.
"You," he answered. "The idea of any one's being fool enough to try
to bite off the end of a spook cigar strikes me as funny."
From that moment all thought of conciliation vanished, and I
resorted to abuse.
"You are a low-born thing!" I shouted. "And if you don't get out of
here right away I'll break every bone in your body."
"Very well," he answered, coolly, scribbling on a pad close at hand.
"There's the address."
"What address?" I asked.
"Of the cemetery where those bones you are going to break are to be
found. You go in by the side gate, and ask any of the grave-diggers
"You infernal scoundrel!" I shrieked, "this is my room. I have
bought and paid for it, and I intend to have it. Do you hear?"
His response was merely the clapping of his hands together, and in a
stage-whisper, leaning towards me, he said:
"Bravo! Bravo! You are great. I think you could do Lear. Say those
last words again, will you?"
His calmness was too much for me, and I lost all control of myself.
Picking up the water-bottle, I hurled it at him with all the force
at my command. It crashed through him and struck the mirror over the
wash-stand, and as the shattered glass fell with a loud noise to the
floor the door to my state-room opened, and the captain of the ship,
flanked by the room steward and the doctor, stood at the opening.
"What's all this about?" said the captain, addressing me.
"I have engaged this room for myself alone," I said, trembling in my
rage, "and I object to that person's presence." Here I pointed at
"What person's presence?" demanded the captain, looking at the spot
where the haunting thing sat grinning indecently.
"What person?" I roared, forgetting the situation for the moment.
"Why, him--it--whatever you choose to call it. He's settled down
here, and has been black-guarding me for twenty minutes, and, damn
it, captain, I won't stand it!"
"It's a clear case," said the captain, with a sigh, turning and
addressing the doctor. "Have you a strait-jacket?"
"Thank you, captain," said I, calming down. "It's what he ought to
have, but it won't do any good. You see, he's not a material thing.
He's buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, and so the strait-jacket won't
Here the doctor stepped into the room and took me gently by the arm.
"Take off your clothes," he said, "and lie down. You need quiet."
"I?" I demanded, not as yet realizing my position. "Not by a long
shot. Fire _him_ out. That's all I ask."
"Take off your clothes and get into that bed," repeated the doctor,
peremptorily. Then he turned to the captain and asked him to detail
two of his sailors to help him. "He's going to be troublesome," he
added, in a whisper. "Mad as a hatter."
I hesitate, in fact decline, to go through the agony of what
followed again by writing of it in detail. Suffice it to say that
the doctor persisted in his order that I should undress and go to
bed, and I, conscious of the righteousness of my position, fought
this determination, until, with the assistance of the steward and
the two able-bodied seamen detailed by the captain at the doctor's
request, I was forcibly unclad and thrown into the lower berth and
strapped down. My wrath knew no bounds, and I spoke my mind as
plainly as I knew how. It is a terrible thing to be sane, healthy,
fond of deck-walking, full of life, and withal unjustly strapped to
a lower berth below the water-line on a hot day because of a little
beast of a cockney ghost, and I fairly howled my sentiments.
[Illustration: "I WAS FORCIBLY UNCLAD"]
On the second day from Liverpool two maiden ladies in the room next
mine made representations to the captain which resulted in my
removal to the steerage. They couldn't consent, they said, to listen
to the shrieks of the maniac in the adjoining room.
And then, when I found myself lying on a cot in the steerage, still
strapped down, who should appear but my little spectre.
"Well," he said, sitting on the edge of the cot, "what do you think
of it now, eh? Ain't I a shover from Shoverville on the Push?"
"It's all right," I said, contemptuously. "But I'll tell you one
thing, Mr. Spook: when I die and have a ghost of my own, that ghost
will seek you out, and, by thunder, if it doesn't thrash the life
out of you, I'll disown it!"
It seemed to me that he paled a bit at this, but I was too tired to
gloat over a little thing like that, so I closed my eyes and went to
sleep. A few days later I was so calm and rational that the doctor
released me, and for the remainder of my voyage I was as free as any
other person on board, except that I found myself constantly under
surveillance, and was of course much irritated by the notion that my
spacious stateroom was not only out of my reach, but probably in the
undisputed possession of the cockney ghost.
After seven days of ocean travel New York was reached, and I was
allowed to step ashore without molestation. But my infernal friend
turned up on the pier, and added injury to insult by declaring in my
behalf certain dutiable articles in my trunks, thereby costing me
some dollars which I should much rather have saved. Still, after the
incidents of the voyage, I thought it well to say nothing, and
accepted the hardships of the experience in the hope that in the far
distant future my spook would meet his and thrash the very death out
Well, things went on. The cockney spook left me to my own devices
until November, when I had occasion to lecture at a certain college
in the Northwest. I travelled from my home to the distant platform,
went upon it, was introduced by the proper functionary, and began my
lecture. In the middle of the talk, who should appear in a vacant
chair well down towards the stage but the cockney ghost, with a
guffaw at a strong and not humorous point, which disconcerted me! I
broke down and left the platform, and in the small room at the side
"Shove the fourth!" he cried, and vanished.
It was then that I consulted Peters as to how best to be rid of him.
"There is no use of talking about it," I said to Peters, "the man is
ruining me. Socially with the Travises I am an outcast, and I have
no doubt they will tell about it, and my ostracism will extend. On
the _Digestic_ my sanity is seriously questioned, and now for the
first time in my life, before some two thousand people, I break down
in a public lecture which I have delivered dozens of times hitherto
without a tremor. The thing cannot go on."
"I should say not," Peters answered. "Maybe I can help you to get
rid of him, but I'm not positive about it; my new scheme isn't as
yet perfected. Have you tried the fire-extinguisher treatment?"
I will say here, that Peters upon two occasions has completely
annihilated unpleasant spectres by turning upon them the colorless
and odorless liquids whose chemical action is such that fire cannot
live in their presence.
"Fire, the vital spark, is the essential element of all these
chaps," said he, "and if you can turn the nozzle of your
extinguisher on that spook your ghost simply goes out."
"No, I haven't," I replied; "but I will the first chance I get." And
I left him, hopeful if not confident of a successful exorcism.
On my return home I got out two of the extinguishers which were left
in my back hall for use in case of an emergency, and tested one of
them on the lawn. I merely wished to ascertain if it would work with
spirit, and it did; it went off like a sodawater fountain loaded
with dynamite, and I felt truly happy for the first time in many
"The vulgar little beast would better keep away from me now," I
laughed. But my mirth was short-lived. Whether or not the obnoxious
little chap had overheard, or from some hidden coign had watched my
test of the fire-extinguisher I don't know, but when he came to my
den that night he was amply protected against the annihilating
effects of the liquid by a flaring plaid mackintosh, with a toque
for his head, and the minute I started the thing squirting he turned
his back and received the charge harmless on his shoulders. The only
effect of the experiment was the drenching and consequent ruin of a
pile of MSS. I had been at work on all day, which gave me another
grudge against him. When the extinguisher had exhausted itself, the
spectre turned about and fairly raised the ceiling with his guffaws,
and when he saw my ruined pages upon the desk his mirth became
"De-lightful!" he cried. "For an impromptu shove wherein I turn over
the shoving to you in my own behalf, I never saw it equalled.
Wouldn't be a bad thing if all writers would wet down their MSS. the
same way, now would it?"
But I was too indignant to reply, and too chagrined over my failure
to remain within-doors, so I rushed out and paced the fields for two
hours. When I returned, he had gone.
III--THE SPIRIT TRIES TO MAKE REPARATION
Three weeks later he turned up once more. "Great Heavens!" I cried;
"you back again?"
"Yes," he answered; "and I've come to tell you I'm mighty sorry
about those ruined MSS. of yours. It is too bad that your whole
day's work had to go for nothing."
[Illustration: "HE WAS AMPLY PROTECTED"]
"I think so myself," I retorted, coldly. "It's rather late in the
day for you to be sorry, though. If you'll show your sincerity by
going away and never crossing my path again, I may believe in you."
"Ah!" he said, "I've shown it in another way. Indeed I have. You
know I have some conscience, though, to tell the truth, I haven't
made much use of it. This time, however, as I considered the
situation, a little voice rose up within me and said: 'It's all
right, old chap, to be rough on this person; make him mad and shove
him every which way; but don't destroy his work. His work is what he
"Yes," I interrupted, "and after what I told you on the steamer
about what I would do to you when we got on even terms, you are not
anxious to have me die. I know just how you feel. No thing likes to
contemplate that paralysis that will surely fall upon you when my
ghost begins to get in its fine work. I'm putting it in training
"You poor droll mortal!" laughed the cockney. "You poor droll
mortal! As if I could ever be afraid of that! What is the matter
with my going into training myself? Two can train, you know--even
three. You almost make me feel sorry I tried to remedy the loss of
Somehow or other a sense of some new misfortune came upon me.
"What?" I said, nervously.
"I say I'm almost sorry I tried to remedy the loss of those
manuscripts. Composition, particularly poetry, is devilish hard for
me--I admit it--and when I think of how I toiled over my substitutes
for your ruined stuff, and see how very ungrateful you are, I grudge
"I don't understand you," I said, anxiously. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that I have written and sent out to the editors of the
papers you write for a half a dozen poems and short stories."
"What has all that got to do with me?" I demanded.
"A great deal," he said. "You'll get the pay. _I signed your name to
"Y--you--you--you--did what?" I cried.
"Signed your name to 'em. There was a sonnet to 'A Coal Grab'--that
was the longest of the lot. I think it will cover at least six
"But," I cried, "a sonnet never contains more than fourteen lines--
"Oh yes, it does," he replied, calmly. "This one of yours had over
four hundred. And then I wrote a three-page quatrain on
'Immortality,' which, if I do say it, is the funniest thing I ever
read. I sent that to the _Weekly Methodist_."
"Good Lord, good Lord, good Lord!" I moaned. "A three-page
"Yes," he observed, calmly lighting one of his accursed cigars. "And
you'll get all the credit."
A ray of hope entered my soul, and it enabled me to laugh
hysterically. "They'll know it isn't mine," said I. "They know my
handwriting at the office of the _Weekly Methodist_."
"No doubt," said he, dashing all my hopes to the ground. "But--ah--
to remedy that drawback I took pains to find out what type-writer
you used, and I had my quatrain copied on one of the same make."
"But the letter--the note with the manuscript?" I put in.
"Oh, I got over that very easily," he said. "I had that written also
on the machine, on thin paper, and traced your signature at the
bottom. It will be all right, my dear fellow. They'll never
And then, looking at the spirit-watch which he carried in his
spectral fob-pocket, he vanished, leaving me immersed in the deepest
misery of my life. Not content with ruining me socially, and as a
lecturer; not satisfied with destroying me mentally on the seas, he
had now attacked me on my most vulnerable point, my literary
aspirations. I could not rest until I had read his "three-page
quatrain" on "Immortality." Vulgar as I knew him to be, I felt
confident that over my name something had gone out which even in my
least self-respecting moods I could not tolerate. The only comfort
that came to me was that his verses and his type-writing and his
tracings of my autograph would be as spectral to others as to the
eye not attuned to the seeing of ghosts. I was soon to be
undeceived, however, for the next morning's mail brought to my home
a dozen packages from my best "consumers," containing the maudlin
frivolings of this--this--this--well, there is no polite word to
describe him in any known tongue. I shall have to study the Aryan
language--or Kipling--to find an epithet strong enough to apply to
this especial case. Every point, every single detail, about these
packages was convincing evidence of their contents having been of my
own production. The return envelopes were marked at the upper corner
with my name and address. The handwriting upon them was manifestly
mine, although I never in my life penned those particular
superscriptions. Within these envelopes were, I might say, pounds of
MSS., apparently from my own typewriting machine, and signed in an
autograph which would have deceived even myself.
And the stuff!
Stuff is not the word--in fact, there is no word in any language,
however primitive and impolite, that will describe accurately the
substance of those pages. And with each came a letter from the
editor of the periodical to which the tale or poem had been sent
_advising me to stop work for a while_, and one _suggested the
Immediately I sat down and wrote to the various editors to whom
these productions had been submitted, explaining all--and every one
of them came back to me unopened, with the average statement that
until I had rested a year they really hadn't the time to read what I
wrote; and my best friend among them, the editor of the _Weekly
Methodist_, took the trouble to telegraph to my brother the
recommendation that I should be looked after. And out of the
mistaken kindness of his heart, he printed a personal in his next
issue to the effect that his "valued contributor, Mr. Me, the public
would regret to hear, was confined to his house by a sudden and
severe attack of nervous prostration," following it up with an
estimate of my career, which bore every mark of having been saved up
to that time for use as an obituary.
And as I read the latter--the obituary--over, with tears in my eyes,
what should I hear but the words, spoken at my back, clearly, but in
unmistakable cockney accents,
"Shove the fifth!" followed by uproarious laughter. I grabbed up the
ink-bottle and threw it with all my strength back of me, and
succeeded only in destroying the wall-paper.
The destruction of the wall-paper, not to mention the wiping out in
a moment of my means of livelihood, made of the fifth shove an
intolerable nuisance. Controlling myself with difficulty, I put on
my hat and rushed to the telegraph office, whence I despatched a
message, marked "Rush," to Peters.
"For Heaven's sake, complete your exorcism and bring it here at
once," I wired him. "Answer collect."
Peters by no means soothed my agitation by his immediate and
extremely flippant response.
"I don't know why you wish me to answer collect, but I suppose you
do. So I answer as you request: Collect. What is it you are going to
collect? Your scattered faculties?" he telegraphed. It was a mean
sort of a telegram to send to a man in my unhappy state, and if he
hadn't prepaid it I should never have forgiven him. I was mad enough
when I received it, and a hot retort was about to go back, when the
bothersome spook turned up and drew my mind off to other things.
"Well, what do you think of me?" he said, ensconcing himself calmly
on my divan. "Pretty successful shover myself, eh?" Then he turned
his eye to the inkspots on the wall. "Novel design in decoration,
that. You ought to get employment in some wall-paper house. Given an
accurate aim and plenty of ink, you can't be beaten for vigorous
I pretended to ignore his presence, and there was a short pause,
after which he began again:
"Sulky, eh? Oh, well, I don't blame you. There's nothing in this
world that can so harrow up one's soul as impotent wrath. I've heard
of people bursting with it. I've had experiences in the art of
irritation before this case. There was a fellow once hired my cab
for an hour. Drove him all about London, and then he stopped in at a
chop-house, leaving me outside. I waited and waited and waited, but
he never came back. Left by the back door, you know. Clever trick,
and for a while the laugh was on me; but when I got to the point
where I could haunt him, I did it to the Regent's taste. I found him
three years after my demise, and through the balance of his life
pursued him everywhere with a phantom cab. If he went to church, I'd
drive my spectre rig right down the middle aisle after him. If he
called on a girl, there was the cab drawn up alongside of him in the
parlor all the time, the horse stamping his foot and whinnying like
all possessed. Of course no one else saw me or the horse or the cab,
but he did--and, Lord! how mad he was, and how hopeless! Finally, in
a sudden surge of wrath at his impotence, he burst, just like a
soap-bubble. It was most amusing. Even the horse laughed."
"Thanks for the story," said I, wishing to anger him by my
nonchalance. "I'll write it up."
"Do," he said. "It will make a clever sixth shove for me. People say
your fancies are too wild and extravagant even now. A story like
that will finish you at once."
"Again, thanks," said I, very calmly. "This time for the hint.
Acting on your advice, I won't write it up."
"Don't," he retorted. "And be forever haunted with the idea. Either
way, it suits me."
And he vanished once more.
The next morning Peters arrived at my house.
"I've come," he said, as he entered my den. "The scheme is perfected
at last, and possibly you can use it. You need help of some kind. I
can see that, just by reading your telegram. You're nervous as a
cat. How do you heat your house?"
"What's that got to do with it?" I demanded, irritably. "You can't
evaporate the little cuss."
"Don't want to," Peters replied. "That's been tried before, and it
doesn't work. My scheme is a better one than that. Did you ever
notice, while smoking in a house that is heated by a hot-air
furnace, how, when a cloud of smoke gets caught in the current of
air from the register, it is mauled and twisted until it gets free,
or else is torn entirely apart?"
"Yes, I have," said I. "What of it?"
"Well, what's the matter with being genial with your old cockney
until he gets in the habit of coming here every night, and bide your
time until, without his knowing it, you can turn a blast from the
furnace on him that will simply rend him to pieces?"
"By Jove!" I cried, delightedly. "You are a genius, old chap."
I rose and shook his hand until he remonstrated.
"Save your energy for him," said he. "You'll need it. It won't be a
pleasant spectacle to witness when, in his struggles to get away, he
is gradually dismembered. It will be something like the drawing and
quartering punishment of olden times."
I shuddered as I thought of it, and for a moment was disposed to
reject the plan, but my weakness left me as I thought of the ruin
that stared me in the face.
"Oh, I don't know," I said, shaking my head. "It will have its
pleasurable side, however fearsome it may prove as a sight. This
house is just fitted for the operation, particularly on warm days. I
have seen times when the blasts of hot air from my furnace have
blown one of my poems off my table across the room."
"Great Scott!" cried Peters. "What a cyclone of an air-box you must
Fortunately the winter season was on, and we were able to test the
capacity of the furnace, with gratifying results. A soap-bubble was
blown, and allowed to float downward until the current was reached,
and the novel shapes it took, as it was blown about the room in its
struggles to escape before it burst, were truly wonderful. I doubted
not for an instant, from what I then saw, that the little cad of a
spectre that was ruining my life would soon meet his Nemesis. So
convinced was I of the ultimate success of the plan that I could
hardly wait patiently for his coming. I became morbidly anxious for
the horrid spectacle which I should witness as his body was torn
apart and gradually annihilated by the relentless output of my
furnace flues. To my great annoyance, it was two weeks before he
turned up again, and I was beginning to fear that he had in some
wise got wind of my intentions, and was turning my disappointment
over his absence into the sixth of his series of "shoves." Finally,
however, my anxiety was set at rest by his appearance on a night
especially adapted to a successful issue of the conspiracy. It was
blowing great guns from the west, and the blasts of air,
intermittent in their force, that came up through the flues were
such that under other circumstances they would have annoyed me
tremendously. Almost everything in the line of the current that
issued from the register and passed diagonally across the room to my
fireplace, and so on up the chimney, was disturbed. The effect upon
particles of paper and the fringes on my chairs was almost that of a
pneumatic tube on substances placed within it, and on one or two
occasions I was seriously apprehensive of the manner in which the
flames on the hearth leaped upward into the sooty heights of my
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