Ghosts I have Met and Some Others
John Kendrick Bangs
Part 2 out of 3
But when, as happened shortly, I suddenly became conscious that my
spectre cockney had materialized, all my fears for the safety of my
house fled, and I surreptitiously turned off the heat, so that once
he got within range of the register I could turn it on again, and
his annihilation would be as instantaneous as what my newspaper
friends call an electrocution. And that was precisely where I made
my mistake, although I must confess that what ensued when I got the
nauseating creature within range was most delightful.
"Didn't expect me back, eh?" he said, as he materialized in my
library. "Missed me, I suppose, eh?"
"I've missed you like the deuce!" I replied, cordially, holding out
my hand as if welcoming him back, whereat he frowned suspiciously.
"Now that I'm reconciled to your system, and know that there is no
possible escape for me, I don't seem to feel so badly. How have you
been, and what have you been doing?"
"Bah!" he retorted. "What's up now? You know mighty well you don't
like me any better than you ever did. What funny little game are you
trying to work on me now, eh?"
"Really, 'Arry," I replied, "you wrong me--and, by-the-way, excuse
me for calling you 'Arry. It is the most appropriate name I can
think of at the moment."
"Call me what you blooming please," he answered. "But remember you
can't soft-soap me into believing you like me. B-r-r-r-r!" he added,
shivering. "It's beastly cold in here. What you been doing--storing
"Well--there's a fire burning over there in the fireplace," said I,
anxious to get him before the open chimney-place; for, by a natural
law, that was directly in the line of the current.
He looked at me suspiciously, and then at the fireplace with equal
mistrust; then he shrugged his shoulders with a mocking laugh that
"Humph!" he said. "What's your scheme? Got some patent explosive
logs, full of chemicals, to destroy me?"
I laughed. "How suspicious you are!" I said.
"Yes--I always am of suspicious characters," he replied, planting
himself immediately in front of the register, desirous no doubt of
acting directly contrary to my suggestion.
My opportunity had come more easily than I expected.
"There isn't any heat here," said he.
"It's turned off. I'll turn it on for you," said I, scarcely able to
contain myself with excitement--and I did.
Well, as I say, the spectacle was pleasing, but it did not work as I
had intended. He was caught in the full current, not in any of the
destroying eddyings of the side upon which I had counted to twist
his legs off and wring his neck. Like the soap-bubble it is true, he
was blown into various odd fantastic shapes, such as crullers
resolve themselves into when not properly looked after, but there
was no dismembering of his body. He struggled hard to free himself,
and such grotesque attitudes as his figure assumed I never saw even
in one of Aubrey Beardsley's finest pictures; and once, as his leg
and right arm verged on the edge of one of the outside eddies, I
hoped to see these members elongated like a piece of elastic until
they snapped off; but, with a superhuman struggle, he got them free,
with the loss only of one of his fingers, by which time the current
had blown him across the room and directly in front of my fender. To
keep from going up the chimney, he tried to brace himself against
this with his feet, but missing the rail, as helpless as a feather,
he floated, toes first, into the fireplace, and thence, kicking,
struggling, and swearing profanely, disappeared into the flue.
It was too exciting a moment for me to laugh over my triumph, but
shortly there came a nervous reaction which made me hysterical as I
thought of his odd appearance; and then following close upon this
came the dashing of my hopes.
An infernal misplaced, uncalled-for back gust, a diversion in which,
thanks to an improper construction, my chimney frequently indulges,
blew the unhappy creature back into the room again, strained,
sprained, panting, minus the finger he had lost, and so angry that
he quivered all over.
What his first words were I shall not repeat. They fairly seethed
out of his turned and twisted soul, hissing like the escape-valve of
an ocean steamer, and his eyes, as they fell upon mine, actually
"This settles it," he hissed, venomously. "I had intended letting
you off with one more shove, but now, after your dastardly attempt
to rend me apart with your damned hot-air furnace, I shall haunt you
to your dying day; I shall haunt you so terribly that years before
your final exit from this world you will pray for death. As a shover
you have found me equal to everything, but since you prefer
twisting, twisting be it. You shall hear from me again!"
He vanished, and, I must confess it, I threw myself upon my couch,
weeping hot tears of despair.
Peters's scheme had failed, and I was in a far worse position than
ever. Shoving I can stand, but the brief exhibition of twisting that
I had had in watching his struggles with that awful cyclonic blast
from below convinced me that there was something in life even more
to be dreaded than the shoving he and I had been indulging in.
But there was a postscript, and now all is well again, because--but
let us reserve the wherefore of the postscript for another,
So hopeless was my estate now become that, dreading more than ever
that which the inscrutable future held for me, I sat down and framed
an advertisement, which I contemplated putting in all the
newspapers, weeklies, and monthly periodicals, offering a handsome
reward for any suggestion which might result in ridding me of the
cockney ghost. The inventive mind of man has been able to cope
successfully with rats and mice and other household pests. Why,
then, should there not be somewhere in the world a person of
sufficient ingenuity to cope with an obnoxious spirit? If rat
-dynamite and rough on June-bugs were possible, why was it not likely
that some as yet unknown person had turned his attention to
spectrology, and evolved something in the nature of rough on ghosts,
spectremelinite, or something else of an effective nature, I asked
myself. It seemed reasonable to suppose that out of the millions of
people in the world there were others than Peters and myself who had
made a study of ghosts and methods of exorcising them, and if these
persons could only be reached I might yet escape. Accordingly, I
penned the advertisement about as follows:
WANTED, by a young and rising author,
who is pursued by a vindictive spirit,
A GHOST CURE.
A liberal reward will be paid to any wizard,
recognized or unrecognized, who will, before
February I, 1898, send to me a detailed statement
of getting rid of
It is agreed that these communications shall
be regarded as strictly confidential until such
a time as through their medium the spirit is
after which time the cure will be exploited
FREE OF CHARGE
in the best advertising mediums of the day.
To this I appended an assumed name and a temporary address, and was
about to send it out, when my friend Wilkins, a millionaire student
of electricity, living in Florida, invited me to spend my Christmas
holidays with him on Lake Worth.
"I've got a grand scheme," he wrote, "which I am going to test, and
I'd like to have you present at the trial. Come down, if you can,
and see my new electric sailboat and all-around dynamic Lone
The idea took hold of me at once. In my nervous state the change of
scene would do me good. Besides, Wilkins was a delightful companion.
So, forgetting my woes for the moment, I packed my trunk and started
South for Wilkins's Island. It was upon this trip that the vengeful
spirit put in his first twist, for at Jacksonville I was awakened in
the middle of the night by a person, whom I took to be the
conductor, who told me to change cars. This I did, and falling
asleep in the car to which I had changed, waked up the next morning
to find myself speeding across the peninsula instead of going
downward towards the Keys, as I should have done, landing eventually
at a small place called Homosassa, on the Gulf coast.
Of course it was not the conductor of the first train who, under
cover of the darkness, had led me astray, but the pursuing spirit,
as I found out when, bewildered, I sat upon the platform of the
station at Homosassa, wondering how the deuce I had got there. He
turned up at that moment, and frankly gloated over the success of
what he called shove the seventh, and twist the first.
"Nice place, this," said he, with a nauseating smirk. "So close to
Lake Worth--eh? Only two days' ride on the choo-choo, if you make
connections, and when changing take the right trains."
I pretended not to see him, and began to whistle the intermezzo from
"Cavalleria Rusticana," to show how little I cared.
"Good plan, old chap," said he; "but it won't work. I know you are
put out, in spite of the tunefulness of your soul. But wait for my
second twist. You'll wish you'd struck a cyclone instead when that
It was, as he suggested, at least two days before I was able to get
to Wilkins at Lake Worth; but after I got there the sense of
annoyance and the deep dejection into which I was plunged wore away,
as well it might, for the test which I was invited to witness was
most interesting. The dynamic Lone Fisherman was wonderful enough,
but the electric sail-boat was a marvel. The former was very simple.
It consisted of a reel operated by electricity, which, the moment a
blue-fish struck the skid at the end of the line, reeled the fish
in, and flopped it into a basket as easily and as surely as you
please; but the principle of the sailboat was new.
"I don't need a breeze to sail anywhere," said Wilkins, as he hauled
up the mainsail, which flapped idly in the still air. "For you see,"
he added, touching a button alongside of the tiller, "this button
sets that big electric fan in the stern revolving, and the result is
an artificial breeze which distends the sail, and there you are."
It was even as he said. A huge fan with a dozen flanges in the stern
began to revolve with wonderful rapidity; in an instant the sails
bellied out, and the _Horace J._, as his boat was named, was
speeding through the waters before the breeze thus created in
"By Jove, Billie," I said, "this is a dandy!"
"Isn't it!" cried an old familiar voice at my elbow.
I turned as if stung. The spirit was with me again, prepared, I
doubted not, for his second twist. I sprang from my seat, a sudden
inspiration flashing upon me, jumped back of the revolving fan, and
turning the full force of the wind it created upon my vindictive
visitant, blew him fairly and squarely into the bulging sail.
"There, blast your cockney eyes!" I cried; "take that."
He tried to retort, but without avail. The wind that emanated from
the fan fairly rammed his words back into his throat every time he
opened his mouth to speak, and there he lay, flat against the
canvas, fluttering like a leaf, powerless to escape.
"Hot air doesn't affect you much, you transparent jackass!" I
roared. "Let me see how a stiff nor'easter suits your style of
I will not bore the reader with any further details of the Lake
Worth experience. Suffice it to say that for five hours I kept the
miserable thing a pneumatic prisoner in the concave surface of the
sail. Try as he would, he could not escape, and finally, when
Wilkins and I went ashore for the night, and the cockney ghost was
released, he vanished, using unutterable language, and an idea came
to me, putting which into operation, I at last secured immunity from
Returning to New York three days later, I leased a small office in a
fire-proof power building not far from Madison Square, fitted it up
as if for my own use, and had placed in the concealment of a closet
at its easterly end the largest electric fan I could get. It was ten
feet in diameter, and was provided with sixteen flanges. When it was
in motion not a thing could withstand the blast that came from it.
Tables, chairs, even a cut-glass inkstand weighing two pounds, were
blown with a crash against the solid stone and iron construction
back of the plaster of my walls. And then I awaited his coming.
Suffice it to say that he came, sat down calmly and unsuspecting in
the chair I had had made for his especial benefit, and then the
moment he began to revile me I turned on the power, the fan began to
revolve, the devastating wind rushed down upon him with a roar,
pinned him to the wall like a butterfly on a cork, and he was at
last my prisoner--and he is my prisoner still. For three weeks has
that wheel been revolving night and day, and despite all his cunning
he cannot creep beyond its blustering influence, nor shall he ever
creep therefrom while I have six hundred dollars per annum to pay
for the rent and cost of power necessary to keep the fan going.
Every once in a while I return and gloat over him; and I can tell by
the movement of his lips that he is trying to curse me, but he
cannot, for, even as Wilkins's fan blew his words of remonstrance
back into his throat, so does my wheel, twice as powerful, keep his
torrent of invective from greeting my ear.
[Illustration: "PINNED HIM TO THE WALL LIKE A BUTTERFLY ON A CORK"]
I should be happy to prove the truth of all this by showing any
curious-minded reader the spectacle which gives me so much joy, but
I fear to do so lest the owners of the building, discovering the
uses to which their office has been put, shall require me to vacate
Of course he may ultimately escape, through some failure of the
machine to operate, but it is guaranteed to run five years without a
break, so for that period at least I am safe, and by that time it
may be that he will be satisfied to call things square. I shall be
satisfied if he is.
Meanwhile, I devote my successful plan to the uses of all who may be
troubled as I was, finding in their assumed gratitude a sufficient
compensation for my ingenuity.
THURLOW'S CHRISTMAS STORY
(_Being the Statement of Henry Thurlow Author, to George Currier,
Editor of the "Idler," a Weekly Journal of Human Interest_.)
I have always maintained, my dear Currier, that if a man wishes to
be considered sane, and has any particular regard for his reputation
as a truth-teller, he would better keep silent as to the singular
experiences that enter into his life. I have had many such
experiences myself; but I have rarely confided them in detail, or
otherwise, to those about me, because I know that even the most
trustful of my friends would regard them merely as the outcome of an
imagination unrestrained by conscience, or of a gradually weakening
mind subject to hallucinations. I know them to be true, but until
Mr. Edison or some other modern wizard has invented a search-light
strong enough to lay bare the secrets of the mind and conscience of
man, I cannot prove to others that they are not pure fabrications,
or at least the conjurings of a diseased fancy. For instance, no man
would believe me if I were to state to him the plain and
indisputable fact that one night last month, on my way up to bed
shortly after midnight, having been neither smoking nor drinking, I
saw confronting me upon the stairs, with the moonlight streaming
through the windows back of me, lighting up its face, a figure in
which I recognized my very self in every form and feature. I might
describe the chill of terror that struck to the very marrow of my
bones, and wellnigh forced me to stagger backward down the stairs,
as I noticed in the face of this confronting figure every indication
of all the bad qualities which I know myself to possess, of every
evil instinct which by no easy effort I have repressed heretofore,
and realized that that _thing_ was, as far as I knew, entirely
independent of my true self, in which I hope at least the moral has
made an honest fight against the immoral always. I might describe
this chill, I say, as vividly as I felt it at that moment, but it
would be of no use to do so, because, however realistic it might
prove as a bit of description, no man would believe that the
incident really happened; and yet it did happen as truly as I write,
and it has happened a dozen times since, and I am certain that it
will happen many times again, though I would give all that I possess
to be assured that never again should that disquieting creation of
mind or matter, whichever it may be, cross my path. The experience
has made me afraid almost to be alone, and I have found myself
unconsciously and uneasily glancing at my face in mirrors, in the
plate-glass of show-windows on the shopping streets of the city,
fearful lest I should find some of those evil traits which I have
struggled to keep under, and have kept under so far, cropping out
there where all the world, all _my_ world, can see and wonder at,
having known me always as a man of right doing and right feeling.
Many a time in the night the thought has come to me with prostrating
force, what if that thing were to be seen and recognized by others,
myself and yet not my whole self, my unworthy self unrestrained and
yet recognizable as Henry Thurlow.
I have also kept silent as to that strange condition of affairs
which has tortured me in my sleep for the past year and a half; no
one but myself has until this writing known that for that period of
time I have had a continuous, logical dream-life; a life so vivid
and so dreadfully real to me that I have found myself at times
wondering which of the two lives I was living and which I was
dreaming; a life in which that other wicked self has dominated, and
forced me to a career of shame and horror; a life which, being taken
up every time I sleep where it ceased with the awakening from a
previous sleep, has made me fear to close my eyes in forgetfulness
when others are near at hand, lest, sleeping, I shall let fall some
speech that, striking on their ears, shall lead them to believe that
in secret there is some wicked mystery connected with my life. It
would be of no use for me to tell these things. It would merely
serve to make my family and my friends uneasy about me if they were
told in their awful detail, and so I have kept silent about them. To
you alone, and now for the first time, have I hinted as to the
troubles which have oppressed me for many days, and to you they are
confided only because of the demand you have made that I explain to
you the extraordinary complication in which the Christmas story sent
you last week has involved me. You know that I am a man of dignity;
that I am not a school-boy and a lover of childish tricks; and
knowing that, your friendship, at least, should have restrained your
tongue and pen when, through the former, on Wednesday, you accused
me of perpetrating a trifling, and to you excessively embarrassing,
practical joke--a charge which, at the moment, I was too overcome to
refute; and through the latter, on Thursday, you reiterated the
accusation, coupled with a demand for an explanation of my conduct
satisfactory to yourself, or my immediate resignation from the staff
of the _Idler_. To explain is difficult, for I am certain that you
will find the explanation too improbable for credence, but explain I
must. The alternative, that of resigning from your staff, affects
not only my own welfare, but that of my children, who must be
provided for; and if my post with you is taken from me, then are all
resources gone. I have not the courage to face dismissal, for I have
not sufficient confidence in my powers to please elsewhere to make
me easy in my mind, or, if I could please elsewhere, the certainty
of finding the immediate employment of my talents which is necessary
to me, in view of the at present overcrowded condition of the
To explain, then, my seeming jest at your expense, hopeless as it
appears to be, is my task; and to do so as completely as I can, let
me go back to the very beginning.
In August you informed me that you would expect me to provide, as I
have heretofore been in the habit of doing, a story for the
Christmas issue of the _Idler_; that a certain position in the make
-up was reserved for me, and that you had already taken steps to
advertise the fact that the story would appear. I undertook the
commission, and upon seven different occasions set about putting the
narrative into shape. I found great difficulty, however, in doing
so. For some reason or other I could not concentrate my mind upon
the work. No sooner would I start in on one story than a better one,
in my estimation, would suggest itself to me; and all the labor
expended on the story already begun would be cast aside, and the new
story set in motion. Ideas were plenty enough, but to put them
properly upon paper seemed beyond my powers. One story, however, I
did finish; but after it had come back to me from my typewriter I
read it, and was filled with consternation to discover that it was
nothing more nor less than a mass of jumbled sentences, conveying no
idea to the mind--a story which had seemed to me in the writing to
be coherent had returned to me as a mere bit of incoherence--
formless, without ideas--a bit of raving. It was then that I went to
you and told you, as you remember, that I was worn out, and needed a
month of absolute rest, which you granted. I left my work wholly,
and went into the wilderness, where I could be entirely free from
everything suggesting labor, and where no summons back to town could
reach me. I fished and hunted. I slept; and although, as I have
already said, in my sleep I found myself leading a life that was not
only not to my taste, but horrible to me in many particulars, I was
able at the end of my vacation to come back to town greatly
refreshed, and, as far as my feelings went, ready to undertake any
amount of work. For two or three days after my return I was busy
with other things. On the fourth day after my arrival you came to
me, and said that the story must be finished at the very latest by
October 15th, and I assured you that you should have it by that
time. That night I set about it. I mapped it out, incident by
incident, and before starting up to bed had actually written some
twelve or fifteen hundred words of the opening chapter--it was to be
told in four chapters. When I had gone thus far I experienced a
slight return of one of my nervous chills, and, on consulting my
watch, discovered that it was after midnight, which was a sufficient
explanation of my nervousness: I was merely tired. I arranged my
manuscripts on my table so that I might easily take up the work the
following morning. I locked up the windows and doors, turned out the
lights, and proceeded up-stairs to my room.
[Illustration: "FACE TO FACE"]
_It was then that I first came face to face with myself--that other
self, in which I recognized, developed to the full, every bit of my
capacity for an evil life._
Conceive of the situation if you can. Imagine the horror of it, and
then ask yourself if it was likely that when next morning came I
could by any possibility bring myself to my work-table in fit
condition to prepare for you anything at all worthy of publication
in the _Idler._ I tried. I implore you to believe that I did not
hold lightly the responsibilities of the commission you had
intrusted to my hands. You must know that if any of your writers has
a full appreciation of the difficulties which are strewn along the
path of an editor, _I_, who have myself had an editorial experience,
have it, and so would not, in the nature of things, do anything to
add to your troubles. You cannot but believe that I have made an
honest effort to fulfil my promise to you. But it was useless, and
for a week after that visitation was it useless for me to attempt
the work. At the end of the week I felt better, and again I started
in, and the story developed satisfactorily until--_it_ came again.
That figure which was my own figure, that face which was the evil
counterpart of my own countenance, again rose up before me, and once
more was I plunged into hopelessness.
Thus matters went on until the 14th day of October, when I received
your peremptory message that the story must be forthcoming the
following day. Needless to tell you that it was not forthcoming; but
what I must tell you, since you do not know it, is that on the
evening of the 15th day of October a strange thing happened to me,
and in the narration of that incident, which I almost despair of
your believing, lies my explanation of the discovery of October
16th, which has placed my position with you in peril.
At half-past seven o'clock on the evening of October 15th I was
sitting in my library trying to write. I was alone. My wife and
children had gone away on a visit to Massachusetts for a week. I had
just finished my cigar, and had taken my pen in hand, when my front
-door bell rang. Our maid, who is usually prompt in answering
summonses of this nature, apparently did not hear the bell, for she
did not respond to its clanging. Again the bell rang, and still did
it remain unanswered, until finally, at the third ringing, I went to
the door myself. On opening it I saw standing before me a man of, I
should say, fifty odd years of age, tall, slender, pale-faced, and
clad in sombre black. He was entirely unknown to me. I had never
seen him before, but he had about him such an air of pleasantness
and wholesomeness that I instinctively felt glad to see him, without
knowing why or whence he had come.
"Does Mr. Thurlow live here?" he asked.
You must excuse me for going into what may seem to you to be petty
details, but by a perfectly circumstantial account of all that
happened that evening alone can I hope to give a semblance of truth
to my story, and that it must be truthful I realize as painfully as
"I am Mr. Thurlow," I replied.
"Henry Thurlow, the author?" he said, with a surprised look upon his
"Yes," said I; and then, impelled by the strange appearance of
surprise on the man's countenance, I added, "don't I look like an
He laughed, and candidly admitted that I was not the kind of looking
man he had expected to find from reading my books, and then he
entered the house in response to my invitation that he do so. I
ushered him into my library, and, after asking him to be seated,
inquired as to his business with me.
His answer was gratifying at least He replied that he had been a
reader of my writings for a number of years, and that for some time
past he had had a great desire, not to say curiosity, to meet me and
tell me how much he had enjoyed certain of my stories.
"I'm a great devourer of books, Mr. Thurlow," he said, "and I have
taken the keenest delight in reading your verses and humorous
sketches. I may go further, and say to you that you have helped me
over many a hard place in my life by your work. At times when I have
felt myself worn out with my business, or face to face with some
knotty problem in my career, I have found much relief in picking up
and reading your books at random. They have helped me to forget my
weariness or my knotty problems for the time being; and to-day,
finding myself in this town, I resolved to call upon you this
evening and thank you for all that you have done for me."
Thereupon we became involved in a general discussion of literary men
and their works, and I found that my visitor certainly did have a
pretty thorough knowledge of what has been produced by the writers
of to-day. I was quite won over to him by his simplicity, as well as
attracted to him by his kindly opinion of my own efforts, and I did
my best to entertain him, showing him a few of my little literary
treasures in the way of autograph letters, photographs, and
presentation copies of well-known books from the authors themselves.
From this we drifted naturally and easily into a talk on the methods
of work adopted by literary men. He asked me many questions as to my
own methods; and when I had in a measure outlined to him the manner
of life which I had adopted, telling him of my days at home, how
little detail office-work I had, he seemed much interested with the
picture--indeed, I painted the picture of my daily routine in almost
too perfect colors, for, when I had finished, he observed quietly
that I appeared to him to lead the ideal life, and added that he
supposed I knew very little unhappiness.
The remark recalled to me the dreadful reality, that through some
perversity of fate I was doomed to visitations of an uncanny order
which were practically destroying my usefulness in my profession and
my sole financial resource.
"Well," I replied, as my mind reverted to the unpleasant predicament
in which I found myself, "I can't say that I know little
unhappiness. As a matter of fact, I know a great deal of that
undesirable thing. At the present moment I am very much embarrassed
through my absolute inability to fulfil a contract into which I have
entered, and which should have been filled this morning. I was due
to-day with a Christmas story. The presses are waiting for it, and I
am utterly unable to write it."
He appeared deeply concerned at the confession. I had hoped, indeed,
that he might be sufficiently concerned to take his departure, that
I might make one more effort to write the promised story. His
solicitude, however, showed itself in another way. Instead of
leaving me, he ventured the hope that he might aid me.
"What kind of a story is it to be?" he asked.
"Oh, the usual ghostly tale," I said, "with a dash of the Christmas
flavor thrown in here and there to make it suitable to the season."
"Ah," he observed. "And you find your vein worked out?"
It was a direct and perhaps an impertinent question; but I thought
it best to answer it, and to answer it as well without giving him
any clew as to the real facts. I could not very well take an entire
stranger into my confidence, and describe to him the extraordinary
encounters I was having with an uncanny other self. He would not
have believed the truth, hence I told him an untruth, and assented
to his proposition.
"Yes," I replied, "the vein is worked out. I have written ghost
stories for years now, serious and comic, and I am to-day at the end
of my tether--compelled to move forward and yet held back."
"That accounts for it," he said, simply. "When I first saw you to
-night at the door I could not believe that the author who had
provided me with so much merriment could be so pale and worn and
seemingly mirthless. Pardon me, Mr. Thurlow, for my lack of
consideration when I told you that you did not appear as I had
expected to find you."
I smiled my forgiveness, and he continued:
"It may be," he said, with a show of hesitation--"it may be that I
have come not altogether inopportunely. Perhaps I can help you."
I smiled again. "I should be most grateful if you could," I said.
"But you doubt my ability to do so?" he put in. "Oh--well--yes--of
course you do; and why shouldn't you? Nevertheless, I have noticed
this: At times when I have been baffled in my work a mere hint from
another, from one who knew nothing of my work, has carried me on to
a solution of my problem. I have read most of your writings, and I
have thought over some of them many a time, and I have even had
ideas for stories, which, in my own conceit, I have imagined were
good enough for you, and I have wished that I possessed your
facility with the pen that I might make of them myself what I
thought you would make of them had they been ideas of your own."
The old gentleman's pallid face reddened as he said this, and while
I was hopeless as to anything of value resulting from his ideas, I
could not resist the temptation to hear what he had to say further,
his manner was so deliciously simple, and his desire to aid me so
manifest. He rattled on with suggestions for a half-hour. Some of
them were good, but none were new. Some were irresistibly funny, and
did me good because they made me laugh, and I hadn't laughed
naturally for a period so long that it made me shudder to think of
it, fearing lest I should forget how to be mirthful. Finally I grew
tired of his persistence, and, with a very ill-concealed impatience,
told him plainly that I could do nothing with his suggestions,
thanking him, however, for the spirit of kindliness which had
prompted him to offer them. He appeared somewhat hurt, but
immediately desisted, and when nine o'clock came he rose up to go.
As he walked to the door he seemed to be undergoing some mental
struggle, to which, with a sudden resolve, he finally succumbed,
for, after having picked up his hat and stick and donned his
overcoat, he turned to me and said:
"Mr. Thurlow, I don't want to offend you. On the contrary, it is my
dearest wish to assist you. You have helped me, as I have told you.
Why may I not help you?"
[Illustration: "HE RATTLED ON FOR HALF AN HOUR"]
"I assure you, sir--" I began, when he interrupted me.
"One moment, please," he said, putting his hand into the inside
pocket of his black coat and extracting from it an envelope
addressed to me. "Let me finish: it is the whim of one who has an
affection for you. For ten years I have secretly been at work myself
on a story. It is a short one, but it has seemed good to me. I had a
double object in seeking you out to-night. I wanted not only to see
you, but to read my story to you. No one knows that I have written
it; I had intended it as a surprise to my--to my friends. I had
hoped to have it published somewhere, and I had come here to seek
your advice in the matter. It is a story which I have written and
rewritten and rewritten time and time again in my leisure moments
during the ten years past, as I have told you. It is not likely that
I shall ever write another. I am proud of having done it, but I
should be prouder yet if it--if it could in some way help you. I
leave it with you, sir, to print or to destroy; and if you print it,
to see it in type will be enough for me; to see your name signed to
it will be a matter of pride to me. No one will ever be the wiser,
for, as I say, no one knows I have written it, and I promise you
that no one shall know of it if you decide to do as I not only
suggest but ask you to do. No one would believe me after it has
appeared as _yours,_ even if I should forget my promise and claim it
as my own. Take it. It is yours. You are entitled to it as a slight
measure of repayment for the debt of gratitude I owe you."
He pressed the manuscript into my hands, and before I could reply
had opened the door and disappeared into the darkness of the street.
I rushed to the sidewalk and shouted out to him to return, but I
might as well have saved my breath and spared the neighborhood, for
there was no answer. Holding his story in my hand, I re-entered the
house and walked back into my library, where, sitting and reflecting
upon the curious interview, I realized for the first time that I was
in entire ignorance as to my visitor's name and address.
[Illustration: "THE DEMON VANISHED"]
I opened the envelope hoping to find them, but they were not there.
The envelope contained merely a finely written manuscript of thirty
odd pages, unsigned.
And then I read the story. When I began it was with a half-smile
upon my lips, and with a feeling that I was wasting my time. The
smile soon faded, however; after reading the first paragraph there
was no question of wasted time. The story was a masterpiece. It is
needless to say to you that I am not a man of enthusiasms. It is
difficult to arouse that emotion in my breast, but upon this
occasion I yielded to a force too great for me to resist. I have
read the tales of Hoffmann and of Poe, the wondrous romances of De
La Motte Fouque, the unfortunately little-known tales of the
lamented Fitz-James O'Brien, the weird tales of writers of all
tongues have been thoroughly sifted by me in the course of my
reading, and I say to you now that in the whole of my life I never
read one story, one paragraph, one line, that could approach in
vivid delineation, in weirdness of conception, in anything, in any
quality which goes to make up the truly great story, that story
which came into my hands as I have told you. I read it once and was
amazed. I read it a second time and was--tempted. It was mine. The
writer himself had authorized me to treat it as if it were my own;
had voluntarily sacrificed his own claim to its authorship that he
might relieve me of my very pressing embarrassment. Not only this;
he had almost intimated that in putting my name to his work I should
be doing him a favor. Why not do so, then, I asked myself; and
immediately my better self rejected the idea as impossible. How
could I put out as my own another man's work and retain my self
-respect? I resolved on another and better course--to send you the
story in lieu of my own with a full statement of the circumstances
under which it had come into my possession, when that demon rose up
out of the floor at my side, this time more evil of aspect than
before, more commanding in its manner. With a groan I shrank back
into the cushions of my chair, and by passing my hands over my eyes
tried to obliterate forever the offending sight; but it was useless.
The uncanny thing approached me, and as truly as I write sat upon
the edge of my couch, where for the first time it addressed me.
"Fool!" it said, "how can you hesitate? Here is your position: you
have made a contract which must be filled; you are already behind,
and in a hopeless mental state. Even granting that between this and
to-morrow morning you could put together the necessary number of
words to fill the space allotted to you, what kind of a thing do you
think that story would make? It would be a mere raving like that
other precious effort of August. The public, if by some odd chance
it ever reached them, would think your mind was utterly gone; your
reputation would go with that verdict. On the other hand, if you do
not have the story ready by to-morrow, your hold on the _Idler_ will
be destroyed. They have their announcements printed, and your name
and portrait appear among those of the prominent contributors. Do
you suppose the editor and publisher will look leniently upon your
"Considering my past record, yes," I replied. "I have never yet
broken a promise to them."
"Which is precisely the reason why they will be severe with you.
You, who have been regarded as one of the few men who can do almost
any kind of literary work at will--you, of whom it is said that your
'brains are on tap'--will they be lenient with _you?_ Bah! Can't you
see that the very fact of your invariable readiness heretofore is
going to make your present unreadiness a thing incomprehensible?"
"Then what shall I do?" I asked. "If I can't, I can't, that is all."
"You can. There is the story in your hands. Think what it will do
for you. It is one of the immortal stories--"
"You have read it, then?" I asked.
"It is the same," it said, with a leer and a contemptuous shrug.
"You and I are inseparable. Aren't you glad?" it added, with a laugh
that grated on every fibre of my being. I was too overwhelmed to
reply, and it resumed: "It is one of the immortal stories. We agree
to that. Published over your name, your name will live. The stuff
you write yourself will give you present glory; but when you have
been dead ten years people won't remember your name even--unless I
get control of you, and in that case there is a very pretty though
hardly a literary record in store for you."
Again it laughed harshly, and I buried my face in the pillows of my
couch, hoping to find relief there from this dreadful vision.
"Curious," it said. "What you call your decent self doesn't dare
look me in the eye! What a mistake people make who say that the man
who won't look you in the eye is not to be trusted! As if mere
brazenness were a sign of honesty; really, the theory of decency is
the most amusing thing in the world. But come, time is growing
short. Take that story. The writer gave it to you. Begged you to use
it as your own. It is yours. It will make your reputation, and save
you with your publishers. How can you hesitate?"
"I shall not use it!" I cried, desperately.
"You must--consider your children. Suppose you lose your connection
with these publishers of yours?"
"But it would be a crime."
"Not a bit of it. Whom do you rob? A man who voluntarily came to
you, and gave you that of which you rob him. Think of it as it is--
and act, only act quickly. It is now midnight."
The tempter rose up and walked to the other end of the room, whence,
while he pretended to be looking over a few of my books and
pictures, I was aware he was eyeing me closely, and gradually
compelling me by sheer force of will to do a thing which I abhorred.
And I--I struggled weakly against the temptation, but gradually,
little by little, I yielded, and finally succumbed altogether.
Springing to my feet, I rushed to the table, seized my pen, and
signed my name to the story.
"There!" I said. "It is done. I have saved my position and made my
reputation, and am now a thief!"
[Illustration: "DOESN'T DARE TO LOOK ME IN THE EYE"]
"As well as a fool," said the other, calmly. "You don't mean to say
you are going to send that manuscript in as it is?"
"Good Lord!" I cried. "What under heaven have you been trying to
make me do for the last half hour?"
"Act like a sane being," said the demon. "If you send that
manuscript to Currier he'll know in a minute it isn't yours. He
knows you haven't an amanuensis, and that handwriting isn't yours.
"True!" I answered. "I haven't much of a mind for details to-night.
I will do as you say."
I did so. I got out my pad and pen and ink, and for three hours
diligently applied myself to the task of copying the story. When it
was finished I went over it carefully, made a few minor corrections,
signed it, put it in an envelope, addressed it to you, stamped it,
and went out to the mail-box on the corner, where I dropped it into
the slot, and returned home. When I had returned to my library my
visitor was still there.
"Well," it said, "I wish you'd hurry and complete this affair. I am
tired, and wish to go."
"You can't go too soon to please me," said I, gathering up the
original manuscripts of the story and preparing to put them away in
"Probably not," it sneered. "I'll be glad to go too, but I can't go
until that manuscript is destroyed. As long as it exists there is
evidence of your having appropriated the work of another. Why, can't
you see that? Burn it!"
"I can't see my way clear in crime!" I retorted. "It is not in my
Nevertheless, realizing the value of his advice, I thrust the pages
one by one into the blazing log fire, and watched them as they
flared and flamed and grew to ashes. As the last page disappeared in
the embers the demon vanished. I was alone, and throwing myself down
for a moment's reflection upon my couch, was soon lost in sleep.
It was noon when I again opened my eyes, and, ten minutes after I
awakened, your telegraphic summons reached me.
"Come down at once," was what you said, and I went; and then came
the terrible _dénouement,_ and yet a _dénouement_ which was pleasing
to me since it relieved my conscience. You handed me the envelope
containing the story.
"Did you send that?" was your question.
"I did--last night, or rather early this morning. I mailed it about
three o'clock," I replied.
"I demand an explanation of your conduct," said you.
"Of what?" I asked.
"Look at your so-called story and see. If this is a practical joke,
Thurlow, it's a damned poor one."
I opened the envelope and took from it the sheets I had sent you--
twenty-four of them.
_They were every one of them as blank as when they left the paper
You know the rest. You know that I tried to speak; that my utterance
failed me; and that, finding myself unable at the time to control my
emotions, I turned and rushed madly from the office, leaving the
mystery unexplained. You know that you wrote demanding a
satisfactory explanation of the situation or my resignation from
This, Currier, is my explanation. It is all I have. It is absolute
truth. I beg you to believe it, for if you do not, then is my
condition a hopeless one. You will ask me perhaps for a _résumé_ of
the story which I thought I had sent you.
It is my crowning misfortune that upon that point my mind is an
absolute blank. I cannot remember it in form or in substance. I have
racked my brains for some recollection of some small portion of it
to help to make my explanation more credible, but, alas! it will not
come back to me. If I were dishonest I might fake up a story to suit
the purpose, but I am not dishonest. I came near to doing an
unworthy act; I did do an unworthy thing, but by some mysterious
provision of fate my conscience is cleared of that.
Be sympathetic Currier, or, if you cannot, be lenient with me this
time. _Believe, believe, believe_, I implore you. Pray let me hear
from you at once.
(Signed) HENRY THURLOW.
[Illustration: "'LOOK AT YOUR SO CALLED STORY AND SEE'"]
(_Being a Note from George Currier, Editor of the "Idler" to Henry
Your explanation has come to hand. As an explanation it isn't worth
the paper it is written on, but we are all agreed here that it is
probably the best bit of fiction you ever wrote. It is accepted for
the Christmas issue. Enclosed please find check for one hundred
Dawson suggests that you take another month up in the Adirondacks.
You might put in your time writing up some account of that dream
-life you are leading while you are there. It seems to me there are
possibilities in the idea. The concern will pay all expenses. What
do you say?
(Signed) Yours ever, G. C. THE DAMPMERE MYSTERY
Dawson wished to be alone; he had a tremendous bit of writing to do,
which could not be done in New York, where his friends were
constantly interrupting him, and that is why he had taken the little
cottage at Dampmere for the early spring months. The cottage just
suited him. It was remote from the village of Dampmere, and the
rental was suspiciously reasonable; he could have had a ninety-nine
years' lease of it for nothing, had he chosen to ask for it, and
would promise to keep the premises in repair; but he was not aware
of that fact when he made his arrangements with the agent. Indeed,
there was a great deal that Dawson was not aware of when he took the
place. If there hadn't been he never would have thought of going
there, and this story would not have been written.
It was late in March when, with his Chinese servant and his mastiff,
he entered into possession and began the writing of the story he had
in mind. It was to be the effort of his life. People reading it
would forget Thackeray and everybody else, and would, furthermore,
never wish to see another book. It was to be the literature of all
time--past and present and future; in it all previous work was to be
forgotten, all future work was to be rendered unnecessary.
For three weeks everything went smoothly enough, and the work upon
the great story progressed to the author's satisfaction; but as
Easter approached something queer seemed to develop in the Dampmere
cottage. It was undefinable, intangible, invisible, but it was
there. Dawson's hair would not stay down. When he rose up in the
morning he would find every single hair on his head standing erect,
and plaster it as he would with his brushes dipped in water, it
could not be induced to lie down again. More inconvenient than this,
his silken mustache was affected in the same way, so that instead of
drooping in a soft fascinating curl over his lip, it also rose up
like a row of bayonets and lay flat against either side of his nose;
and with this singular hirsute affliction there came into Dawson's
heart a feeling of apprehension over something, he knew not what,
that speedily developed into an uncontrollable terror that pervaded
his whole being, and more thoroughly destroyed his ability to work
upon his immortal story than ten inconsiderate New York friends
dropping in on him in his busy hours could possibly have done.
"What the dickens is the matter with me?" he said to himself, as for
the sixteenth time he brushed his rebellious locks. "What has come
over my hair? And what under the sun am I afraid of? The idea of a
man of my size looking under the bed every night for--for something--
burglar, spook, or what I don't know. Waking at midnight shivering
with fear, walking in the broad light of day filled with terror; by
Jove! I almost wish I was Chung Lee down in the kitchen, who goes
about his business undisturbed."
[Illustration: "IT WAS TO BE THE EFFORT OF HIS LIFE"]
Having said this, Dawson looked about him nervously. If he had
expected a dagger to be plunged into his back by an unseen foe he
could not have looked around more anxiously; and then he fled,
actually fled in terror into the kitchen, where Chung Lee was
preparing his dinner. Chung was only a Chinaman, but he was a living
creature, and Dawson was afraid to be alone.
"Well, Chung," he said, as affably as he could, "this is a pleasant
change from New York, eh?"
"Plutty good," replied Chung, with a vacant stare at the pantry
door. "Me likes Noo Lork allee same. Dampeemere kind of flunny,
"Funny, Chung?" queried Dawson, observing for the first time that
the Chinaman's queue stood up as straight as a garden stake, and
almost scraped the ceiling as its owner moved about. "Funny?"
"Yeppee, flunny," returned Chung, with a shiver. "Me no likee. Me
"Oh, come!" said Dawson, with an affected lightness. "What are you
"Slumting," said Chung. "Do' know what. Go to bled; no sleepee;
pigtail no stay down; heart go thump allee night."
"By Jove !" thought Dawson; "he's got it too!"
"Evlyting flunny here," resumed Chung.
"Jack he no likee too."
Jack was the mastiff.
"What's the matter with Jack?" queried Dawson. "You don't mean to
say Jack's afraid?"
"Do' know if he 'flaid," said Chung, "He growl most time."
Clearly there was no comfort for Dawson here. To rid him of his
fears it was evident that Chung could be of no assistance, and
Chung's feeling that even Jack was affected by the uncanny something
was by no means reassuring. Dawson went out into the yard and
whistled for the dog, and in a moment the magnificent animal came
bounding up. Dawson patted him on the back, but Jack, instead of
rejoicing as was his wont over this token of his master's affection,
gave a yelp of pain, which was quite in accord with Dawson's own
feelings, for gentle though the pat was, his hand after it felt as
though he had pressed it upon a bunch of needles.
"What's the matter, old fellow?" said Dawson, ruefully rubbing the
palm of his hand. "Did I hurt you?"
The dog tried to wag his tail, but unavailingly, and Dawson was
again filled with consternation to observe that even as Chung's
queue stood high, even as his own hair would not lie down, so it was
with Jack's soft furry skin. Every hair on it was erect, from the
tip of the poor beast's nose to the end of his tail, and so stiff
withal that when it was pressed from without it pricked the dog
"There seems to be some starch in the air of Dampmere," said Dawson,
thoughtfully, as he turned and walked slowly into the house. "I
wonder what the deuce it all means?"
And then he sought his desk and tried to write, but he soon found
that he could not possibly concentrate his mind upon his work. He
was continually oppressed by the feeling that he was not alone. At
one moment it seemed as if there were a pair of eyes peering at him
from the northeast corner of the room, but as soon as he turned his
own anxious gaze in that direction the difficulty seemed to lie in
the southwest corner.
"Bah!" he cried, starting up and stamping his foot angrily upon the
floor. "The idea! I, Charles Dawson, a man of the world, scared by--
by--well, by nothing. I don't believe in ghosts--and yet--at times I
do believe that this house is haunted. My hair seems to feel the
same way. It stands up like stubble in a wheat-field, and one might
as well try to brush the one as the other. At this rate nothing'll
get done. I'll go to town and see Dr. Bronson. There's something the
matter with me."
So off Dawson went to town.
"I suppose Bronson will think I'm a fool, but I can prove all I say
by my hair," he said, as he rang the doctor's bell. He was instantly
admitted, and shortly after describing his symptoms he called the
doctor's attention to his hair.
If he had pinned his faith to this, he showed that his faith was
misplaced, for when the doctor came to examine it, Dawson's hair was
lying down as softly as it ever had. The doctor looked at Dawson for
a moment, and then, with a dry cough, he said:
[Illustration: "WHEN HE ROSE UP IN THE MORNING HE WOULD FIND EVERY
SINGLE HAIR ON HIS HEAD STANDING ERECT"]
"Dawson, I can conclude one of two things from what you tell me.
Either Dampmere is haunted, which you and I as sane men can't
believe in these days, or else you are playing a practical joke on
me. Now I don't mind a practical joke at the club, my dear fellow,
but here, in my office hours, I can't afford the time to like
anything of the sort. I speak frankly with you, old fellow. I have
to. I hate to do it, but, after all, you've brought it on yourself."
"Doctor," Dawson rejoined, "I believe I'm a sick man, else this
thing wouldn't have happened. I solemnly assure you that I've come
to you because I wanted a prescription, and because I believe myself
"You carry it off well, Dawson," said the doctor, severely, "but
I'll prescribe. Go back to Dampmere right away, and when you've seen
the ghost, telegraph me and I'll come down."
With this Bronson bowed Dawson out, and the latter, poor fellow,
soon found himself on the street utterly disconsolate. He could not
blame Bronson. He could understand how Bronson could come to believe
that, with his hair as the only witness to his woes, and a witness
that failed him at the crucial moment, Bronson should regard his
visit as the outcome of some club wager, in many of which he had
been involved previously.
"I guess his advice is good," said he, as he walked along. "I'll go
back right away--but meanwhile I'll get Billie Perkins to come out
and spend the night with me, and we'll try it on him. I'll ask him
out for a few days."
Suffice it to say that Perkins accepted, and that night found the
two eating supper together outwardly serene. Perkins was quite
interested when Chung brought in the supper.
"Wears his queue Pompadour, I see," he said, as he glanced at
Chung's extraordinary head-dress.
[Illustration: "'WEARS HIS QUEUE POMPADOUR, I SEE'"]
"Yes," said Dawson, shortly.
"You wear your hair that way yourself," he added, for he was pleased
as well as astonished to note that Perkins's hair was manifesting an
"Nonsense," said Perkins. "It's flat as a comic paper."
"Look at yourself in the glass," said Dawson.
Perkins obeyed. There was no doubt about it. His hair was rising! He
started back uneasily.
"Dawson," he cried, "what is it? I've felt queer ever since I
entered your front door, and I assure you I've been wondering why
you wore your mustache like a pirate all the evening."
"I can't account for it. I've got the creeps myself," said Dawson,
and then he told Perkins all that I have told you.
"Let's--let's go back to New York," said Perkins.
"Can't," replied Dawson. "No train."
"Then," said Perkins, with a shiver, "let's go to bed."
The two men retired, Dawson to the room directly over the parlor,
Perkins to the apartment back of it. For company they left the gas
burning, and in a short time were fast asleep. An hour later Dawson
awakened with a start. Two things oppressed him to the very core of
his being. First, the gas was out; and second, Perkins had
He leaped from his bed and hastened into the next room.
"Perkins," he cried, "are you ill?"
"Is that you, Dawson?" came a voice from the darkness.
"Yes. Did--did you put out the gas?"
"Are you ill?"
"No; but I'm deuced uncomfortable What's this mattress stuffed with--
"Needles? No. It's a hair mattress. Isn't it all right?"
"Not by a great deal. I feel as if I had been sleeping on a
porcupine. Light up the gas and let's see what the trouble is."
Dawson did as he was told, wondering meanwhile why the gas had gone
out. No one had turned it out, and yet the key was unmistakably
turned; and, what was worse, on ripping open Perkins's mattress, a
most disquieting state of affairs was disclosed.
_Every single hair in it was standing on end!_
A half-hour later four figures were to be seen wending their way
northward through the darkness--two men, a huge mastiff, and a
Chinaman. The group was made up of Dawson, his guest, his servant,
and his dog. Dampmere was impossible; there was no train until
morning, but not one of them was willing to remain a moment longer
at Dampmere, and so they had to walk.
"What do you suppose it was?" asked Perkins, as they left the third
mile behind them.
"I don't know," said Dawson; "but it must be something terrible. I
don't mind a ghost that will make the hair of living beings stand on
end, but a nameless invisible something that affects a mattress that
way has a terrible potency that I have no desire to combat. It's a
mystery, and, as a rule, I like mysteries, but the mystery of
Dampmere I'd rather let alone."
"Don't say a word about the--ah--the mattress, Charlie," said
Perkins, after awhile. "The fellows'll never believe it."
"No. I was thinking that very same thing," said Dawson.
And they were both true to Dawson's resolve, which is possibly why
the mystery of Dampmere has never been solved.
If any of my readers can furnish a solution, I wish they would do
so, for I am very much interested in the case, and I truly hate to
leave a story of this kind in so unsatisfactory a condition.
A ghost story without any solution strikes me as being about as
useful as a house without a roof.
CARLETON BARKER, FIRST AND SECOND
My first meeting with Carleton Barker was a singular one. A friend
and I, in August, 18--, were doing the English Lake District on
foot, when, on nearing the base of the famous Mount Skiddaw, we
observed on the road, some distance ahead of us, limping along and
apparently in great pain, the man whose subsequent career so sorely
puzzled us. Noting his very evident distress, Parton and I quickened
our pace and soon caught up with the stranger, who, as we reached
his side, fell forward upon his face in a fainting condition--as
well he might, for not only must he have suffered great agony from a
sprained ankle, but inspection of his person disclosed a most
extraordinary gash in his right arm, made apparently with a sharp
knife, and which was bleeding most profusely. To stanch the flow of
blood was our first care, and Parton, having recently been graduated
in medicine, made short work of relieving the sufferer's pain from
his ankle, bandaging it about and applying such soothing properties
as he had in his knapsack--properties, by the way, with which,
knowing the small perils to which pedestrians everywhere are liable,
he was always provided.
Our patient soon recovered his senses and evinced no little
gratitude for the service we had rendered him, insisting upon our
accepting at his hands, merely, he said, as a souvenir of our good
-Samaritanship, and as a token of his appreciation of the same, a
small pocket-flask and an odd diamond-shaped stone pierced in the
centre, which had hung from the end of his watch-chain, held in
place by a minute gold ring. The flask became the property of
Parton, and to me fell the stone, the exact hue of which I was never
able to determine, since it was chameleonic in its properties. When
it was placed in my hands by our "grateful patient" it was blood
-red; when I looked upon it on the following morning it was of a
livid, indescribable hue, yet lustrous as an opal. To-day it is
colorless and dull, as though some animating quality that it had
once possessed had forever passed from it.
"You seem to have met with an accident," said Parton, when the
injured man had recovered sufficiently to speak.
"Yes," he said, wincing with pain, "I have. I set out for Saddleback
this morning--I wished to visit the Scales Tarn and get a glimpse of
those noonday stars that are said to make its waters lustrous, and--"
"And to catch the immortal fish?" I queried.
"No," he replied, with a laugh. "I should have been satisfied to see
the stars--and I did see the stars, but not the ones I set out to
see. I have always been more or less careless of my safety, walking
with my head in the clouds and letting my feet look out for
themselves. The result was that I slipped on a moss-covered stone
and fell over a very picturesque bit of scenery on to some more
stones that, unfortunately, were not moss-covered."
"But the cut in your arm?" said Parton, suspiciously. "That looks as
if somebody else had given it to you."
The stranger's face flushed as red as could be considering the
amount of blood he had lost, and a look of absolute devilishness
that made my flesh creep came into his eyes. For a moment he did not
speak, and then, covering the delay in his answer with a groan of
anguish, he said:
"Oh, that! Yes--I--I did manage to cut myself rather badly and--"
"I don't see how you could, though," insisted Parton. "You couldn't
reach that part of yourself with a knife, if you tried."
"That's just the reason why you should see for yourself that it was
caused by my falling on my knife. I had it grasped in my right hand,
intending to cut myself a stick, when I slipped. As I slipped it
flew from my hand and I landed on it, fortunately on the edge and
not on the point," he explained, his manner far from convincing,
though the explanation seemed so simple that to doubt it were
"Did you recover the knife?" asked Parton. "It must have been a
mighty sharp one, and rather larger than most people carry about
with them on excursions like yours."
"I am not on the witness-stand, sir," returned the other, somewhat
petulantly, "and so I fail to see why you should question me so
closely in regard to so simple a matter--as though you suspected me
of some wrongdoing."
"My friend is a doctor," I explained; for while I was quite as much
interested in the incident, its whys and wherefores, as was Parton,
I had myself noticed that he was suspicious of his chance patient,
and seemingly not so sympathetic as he would otherwise have been.
"He regards you as a case."
"Not at all," returned Parton. "I am simply interested to know how
you hurt yourself--that is all. I mean no offence, I am sure, and if
anything I have said has hurt your feelings I apologize."
"Don't mention it, doctor," replied the other, with an uneasy smile,
holding his left hand out towards Parton as he spoke. "I am in great
pain, as you know, and perhaps I seem irritable. I'm not an amiable
man at best; as for the knife, in my agony I never thought to look
for it again, though I suppose if I had looked I should not have
found it, since it doubtless fell into the underbrush out of sight.
Let it rest there. It has not done me a friendly service to-day and
I shall waste no tears over it."
With which effort at pleasantry he rose with some difficulty to his
feet, and with the assistance of Parton and myself walked on and
into Keswick, where we stopped for the night. The stranger
registered directly ahead of Parton and myself, writing the words,
"Carleton Barker, Calcutta," in the book, and immediately retired to
his room, nor did we see him again that night. After supper we
looked for him, but as he was nowhere to be seen, we concluded that
he had gone to bed to seek the recuperation of rest. Parton and I
lit our cigars and, though somewhat fatigued by our exertions,
strolled quietly about the more or less somnolent burg in which we
were, discussing the events of the day, and chiefly our new
"I don't half like that fellow," said Parton, with a dubious shake
of the head. "If a dead body should turn up near or on Skiddaw
to-morrow morning, I wouldn't like to wager that Mr. Carleton Barker
hadn't put it there. He acted to me like a man who had something to
conceal, and if I could have done it without seeming ungracious, I'd
have flung his old flask as far into the fields as I could. I've
half a mind to show my contempt for it now by filling it with some
of that beastly claret they have at the _table d'hôte_ here, and
chucking the whole thing into the lake. It was an insult to offer
those things to us."
"I think you are unjust, Parton," I said. "He certainly did look as
if he had been in a maul with somebody. There was a nasty scratch on
his face, and that cut on the arm was suspicious; but I can't see
but that his explanation was clear enough. Your manner was too
irritating. I think if I had met with an accident and was assisted
by an utter stranger who, after placing me under obligations to him,
acted towards me as though I were an unconvicted criminal, I'd be as
mad as he was; and as for the insult of his offering, in my eyes
that was the only way he could soothe his injured feelings. He was
angry at your suspicions, and to be entirely your debtor for
services didn't please him. His gift to me was made simply because
he did not wish to pay you in substance and me in thanks."
"I don't go so far as to call him an unconvicted criminal, but I'll
swear his record isn't clear as daylight, and I'm morally convinced
that if men's deeds were written on their foreheads Carleton Barker,
esquire, would wear his hat down over his eyes. I don't like him. I
instinctively dislike him. Did you see the look in his eyes when I
mentioned the knife?"
"I did," I replied. "And it made me shudder."
"It turned every drop of blood in my veins cold," said Parton. "It
made me feel that if he had had that knife within reach he would
have trampled it to powder, even if every stamp of his foot cut his
flesh through to the bone. Malignant is the word to describe that
glance, and I'd rather encounter a rattle-snake than see it again."
Parton spoke with such evident earnestness that I took refuge in
silence. I could see just where a man of Parton's temperament--which
was cold and eminently judicial even when his affections were
concerned--could find that in Barker at which to cavil, but, for all
that, I could not sympathize with the extreme view he took of his
character. I have known many a man upon whose face nature has set
the stamp of the villain much more deeply than it was impressed upon
Barker's countenance, who has lived a life most irreproachable,
whose every act has been one of unselfishness and for the good of
mankind; and I have also seen outward appearing saints whose every
instinct was base; and it seemed to me that the physiognomy of the
unfortunate victim of the moss-covered rock and vindictive knife was
just enough of a medium between that of the irredeemable sinner and
the sterling saint to indicate that its owner was the average man in
the matter of vices and virtues. In fact, the malignancy of his
expression when the knife was mentioned was to me the sole point
against him, and had I been in his position I do not think I should
have acted very differently, though I must add that if I thought
myself capable of freezing any person's blood with an expression of
my eyes I should be strongly tempted to wear blue glasses when in
company or before a mirror.
"I think I'll send my card up to him, Jack," I said to Parton, when
we had returned to the hotel, "just to ask how he is. Wouldn't you?"
"No!" snapped Parton. "But then I'm not you. You can do as you
please. Don't let me influence you against him--if he's to your
"He isn't at all to my taste," I retorted. "I don't care for him
particularly, but it seems to me courtesy requires that we show a
little interest in his welfare."
"Be courteous, then, and show your interest," said Parton. "I don't
care as long as I am not dragged into it."
I sent my card up by the boy, who, returning in a moment, said that
the door was locked, adding that when he had knocked upon it there
came no answer, from which he presumed that Mr. Barker had gone to
"He seemed all right when you took his supper to his room?" I
"He said he wouldn't have any supper. Just wanted to be left alone,"
said the boy.
"Sulking over the knife still, I imagine," sneered Parton; and then
he and I retired to our room and prepared for bed.
I do not suppose I had slept for more than an hour when I was
awakened by Parton, who was pacing the floor like a caged tiger, his
eyes all ablaze, and laboring under an intense nervous excitement.
"What's the matter, Jack?" I asked, sitting up in bed.
"That d--ned Barker has upset my nerves," he replied. "I can't get
him out of my mind."
"Oh, pshaw!" I replied. "Don't be silly. Forget him."
"Silly?" he retorted, angrily. "Silly? Forget him? Hang it, I would
forget him if he'd let me--but he won't."
"What has he got to do with it?"
"More than is decent," ejaculated Parton. "More than is decent. He
has just been peering in through that window there, and he means no
"Why, you're mad," I remonstrated. "He couldn't peer in at the
window--we are on the fourth floor, and there is no possible way in
which he could reach the window, much less peer in at it."
"Nevertheless," insisted Parton, "Carleton Barker for ten minutes
previous to your waking was peering in at me through that window
there, and in his glance was that same malignant, hateful quality
that so set me against him to-day--and another thing, Bob," added
Parton, stopping his nervous walk for a moment and shaking his
finger impressively at me--"another thing which I did not tell you
before because I thought it would fill you with that same awful
dread that has come to me since meeting Barker--the blood from that
man's arm, the blood that stained his shirt-sleeve crimson, that
besmeared his clothes, spurted out upon my cuff and coat-sleeve when
I strove to stanch its flow!"
"Yes, I remember that," said I.
"And now look at my cuff and sleeve!" whispered Parton, his face
There was no stain of any sort whatsoever upon either!
Certainly there must have been something wrong about Carleton
The mystery of Carleton Barker was by no means lessened when next
morning it was found that his room not only was empty, but that, as
far as one could judge from the aspect of things therein, it had not
been occupied at all. Furthermore, our chance acquaintance had
vanished, leaving no more trace of his whereabouts than if he had
"Good riddance," said Parton. "I am afraid he and I would have come
to blows sooner or later, because the mere thought of him was
beginning to inspire me with a desire to thrash him. I'm sure he
deserves a trouncing, whoever he is."
I, too, was glad the fellow had passed out of our ken, but not for
the reason advanced by Parton. Since the discovery of the stainless
cuff, where marks of blood ought by nature to have been, I goose
-fleshed at the mention of his name. There was something so
inexpressibly uncanny about a creature having a fluid of that sort
in his veins. In fact, so unpleasantly was I impressed by that
episode that I was unwilling even to join in a search for the
mysteriously missing Barker, and by common consent Parton and I
dropped him entirely as a subject for conversation.
We spent the balance of our week at Keswick, using it as our head
-quarters for little trips about the surrounding country, which is
most charmingly adapted to the wants of those inclined to
pedestrianism, and on Sunday evening began preparations for our
departure, discarding our knickerbockers and resuming the
habiliments of urban life, intending on Monday morning to run up to
Edinburgh, there to while away a few days before starting for a
short trip through the Trossachs.
While engaged in packing our portmanteaux there came a sharp knock
at the door, and upon opening it I found upon the hall floor an
envelope addressed to myself. There was no one anywhere in the hall,
and, so quickly had I opened the door after the knock, that fact
mystified me. It would hardly have been possible for any person,
however nimble of foot, to have passed out of sight in the period
which had elapsed between the summons and my response.
"What is it?" asked Parton, observing that I was slightly agitated.
"Nothing," I said, desirous of concealing from him the matter that
bothered me, lest I should be laughed at for my pains. "Nothing,
except a letter for me."
"Not by post, is it?" he queried; to which he added, "Can't be.
There is no mail here to-day. Some friend?"
"I don't know," I said, trying, in a somewhat feminine fashion, to
solve the authorship of the letter before opening it by staring at
the superscription. "I don't recognize the handwriting at all."
I then opened the letter, and glancing hastily at the signature was
filled with uneasiness to see who my correspondent was.
"It's from that fellow Barker," I said.
"Barker!" cried Parton. "What on earth has Barker been writing to
"He is in trouble," I replied, as I read the letter.
"Financial, I presume, and wants a lift?" suggested Parton.
"Worse than that," said I, "he is in prison in London."
"Wha-a-at?" ejaculated Parton. "In prison in London? What for?"
"On suspicion of having murdered an innkeeper in the South of
England on Tuesday, August 16th."
"Well, I'm sorry to say that I believe he was guilty," returned
Parton, without reflecting that the 16th day of August was the day
upon which he and I had first encountered Barker.
"That's your prejudice, Jack," said I. "If you'll think a minute
you'll know he was innocent. He was here on August 16th--last
Tuesday. It was then that you and I saw him for the first time
limping along the road and bleeding from a wound in the shoulder."
"Was Tuesday the 16th?" said Parton, counting the days backward on
his fingers. "That's a fact. It was--but it's none of my affair
anyhow. It is too blessed queer for me to mix myself up in it, and I
say let him languish in jail. He deserved it for something, I am
"Well, I'm not so confoundedly heartless," I returned, pounding the
table with my fist, indignant that Parton should allow his
prejudices to run away with his sense of justice. "I'm going to
London to do as he asks."
"What does he want you to do? Prove an alibi?"
"Precisely; and I'm going and you're going, and I shall see if the
landlord here won't let me take one of his boys along to support our
testimony--at my own expense if need be."
"You're right, old chap," returned Parton, after a moment of
internal struggle. "I suppose we really ought to help the fellow out
of his scrape; but I'm decidedly averse to getting mixed up in an
affair of any kind with a man like Carleton Barker, much less in an
affair with murder in it. Is he specific about the murder?"
"No. He refers me to the London papers of the 17th and 18th for
details. He hadn't time to write more, because he comes up for
examination on Tuesday morning, and as our presence is essential to
his case he was necessarily hurried."
"It's deucedly hard luck for us," said Parton, ruefully. "It means
no Scotland this trip."
"How about Barker's luck?" I asked. "He isn't fighting for a
Scottish trip--he's fighting for his life."
And so it happened that on Monday morning, instead of starting for
Edinburgh, we boarded the train for London at Car-lisle. We tried to
get copies of the newspapers containing accounts of the crime that
had been committed, but our efforts were unavailing, and it was not
until we arrived in London and were visited by Barker's attorneys
that we obtained any detailed information whatsoever of the murder;
and when we did get it we were more than ever regretful to be mixed
up in it, for it was an unusually brutal murder. Strange to say, the
evidence against Barker was extraordinarily convincing, considering
that at the time of the commission of the crime he was hundreds of
miles from the scene. There was testimony from railway guards,
neighbors of the murdered innkeeper, and others, that it was Barker
and no one else who committed the crime. His identification was
complete, and the wound in his shoulder was shown almost beyond the
possibility of doubt to have been inflicted by the murdered man in
"Our only hope," said the attorney, gravely, "is in proving an
alibi. I do not know what to believe myself, the chain of evidence
against my client is so complete; and yet he asserts his innocence,
and has stated to me that you two gentlemen could assist in proving
it. If you actually encountered Carleton Barker in the neighborhood
of Keswick on the 16th of this month, the whole case against him
falls to the ground. If not, I fear his outlook has the gallows at
the small end of the perspective."
"We certainly did meet a Carleton Barker at Keswick on Tuesday,
August 16th," returned Parton; "and he was wounded in the shoulder,
and his appearance was what might have been expected of one who had
been through just such a frightful murder as we understand this to
have been; but this was explained to us as due to a fall over rocks
in the vicinity of the Scales Tarn--which was plausible enough to
satisfy my friend here."
"And not yourself?" queried the attorney.
"Well, I don't see what that has to do with it," returned Parton.
"As to the locality there is no question. He was there. We saw him,
and others saw him, and we have taken the trouble to come down here
to state the fact, and have brought with us the call-boy from the
hotel, who can support our testimony if it is not regarded as
sufficient. I advise you, however, as attorney for Barker, not to
inquire too deeply into that matter, because I am convinced that if
he isn't guilty of this crime--as of course he is not--he hasn't the
cleanest record in the world. He has bad written on every line of
his face, and there were one or two things connected with our
meeting with him that mightn't be to his taste to have mentioned in
"I don't need advice, thank you," said the attorney, dryly. "I wish
simply to establish the fact of his presence at Keswick at the hour
of 5 P.M. on Tuesday, August 16th. That was the hour at which the
murder is supposed--in fact, is proved--to have been committed. At
5.30, according to witnesses, my client was seen in the
neighborhood, faint with loss of blood from a knife-wound in the
shoulder. Barker has the knife-wound, but he might have a dozen of
them and be acquitted if he wasn't in Frewenton on the day in
"You may rely upon us to prove that," said I. "We will swear to it.
We can produce tangible objects presented to us on that afternoon by
"I can't produce mine," said Parton. "I threw it into the lake."
"Well, I can produce the stone he gave me," said I, "and I'll do it
if you wish."
"That will be sufficient, I think," returned the attorney. "Barker
spoke especially about that stone, for it was a half of an odd
souvenir of the East, where he was born, and he fortunately has the
other half. The two will fit together at the point where the break
was made, and our case will be complete."
The attorney then left us. The following day we appeared at the
preliminary examination, which proved to be the whole examination as
well, since, despite the damning circumstantial evidence against
Barker, evidence which shook my belief almost in the veracity of my
own eyes, our plain statements, substantiated by the evidence of the
call-boy and the two halves of the oriental pebble, one in my
possession and the other in Barker's, brought about the discharge of
the prisoner from custody; and the "Frewenton Atrocity" became one
of many horrible murders, the mystery of which time alone, if
anything, could unravel.
After Barker was released he came to me and thanked me most
effusively for the service rendered him, and in many ways made
himself agreeable during the balance of our stay in London. Parton,
however, would have nothing to do with him, and to me most of his
attentions were paid. He always had a singularly uneasy way about
him, as though he were afraid of some impending trouble, and finally
after a day spent with him slumming about London--and a more perfect
slummer no one ever saw, for he was apparently familiar with every
one of the worst and lowest resorts in all of London as well as on
intimate terms with leaders in the criminal world--I put a few
questions to him impertinently pertinent to himself. He was
surprisingly frank in his answers. I was quite prepared for a more
or less indignant refusal when I asked him to account for his
intimacy with these dregs of civilization.
"It's a long story," he said, "but I'll tell it to you. Let us run
in here and have a chop, and I'll give you some account of myself
over a mug of ale."
We entered one of the numerous small eating-houses that make London
a delight to the lover of the chop in the fulness of its glory. When
we were seated and the luncheon ordered Barker began.
"I have led a very unhappy life. I was born in India thirty-nine
years ago, and while my every act has been as open and as free of
wrong as are those of an infant, I have constantly been beset by
such untoward affairs as this in which you have rendered such
inestimable service. At the age of five, in Calcutta, I was in peril
of my liberty on the score of depravity, although I never committed
any act that could in any sense be called depraved. The main cause
of my trouble at that time was a small girl of ten whose sight was
partially destroyed by the fiendish act of some one who, according
to her statement, wantonly hurled a piece of broken glass into one
of her eyes. The girl said it was I who did it, although at the time
it was done, according to my mother's testimony, I was playing in
her room and in her plain view. That alone would not have been a
very serious matter for me, because the injured child might have
been herself responsible for her injury, but in a childish spirit of
fear, afraid to say so, and, not realizing the enormity of the
charge, have laid it at the door of any one of her playmates she saw
fit. She stuck to her story, however, and there were many who
believed that she spoke the truth and that my mother, in an endeavor
to keep me out of trouble, had stated what was not true."
"But you were innocent, of course?" I said.
"I am sorry you think it necessary to ask that," he replied, his
pallid face flushing with a not unnatural indignation; "and I
decline to answer it," he added. "I have made a practice of late,
when I am in trouble or in any way under suspicion, to let others do
my pleading and prove my innocence. But you didn't mean to be like
your friend Parton, I know, and I cannot be angry with a man who has
done so much for me as you have--so let it pass. I was saying that
standing alone the accusation of that young girl would not have been
serious in its effects in view of my mother's testimony, had not a
seeming corroboration come three days later, when another child was
reported to have been pushed over an embankment and maimed for life
by no less a person than my poor innocent self. This time I was
again, on my mother's testimony, at her side; but there were
witnesses of the crime, and they every one of them swore to my
guilt, and as a consequence we found it advisable to leave the home
that had been ours since my birth, and to come to England. My father
had contemplated returning to his own country for some time, and the
reputation that I had managed unwittingly to build up for myself in
Calcutta was of a sort that made it easier for him to make up his
mind. He at first swore that he would ferret out the mystery in the
matter, and would go through Calcutta with a drag-net if necessary
to find the possible other boy who so resembled me that his
outrageous acts were put upon my shoulders; but people had be-gun to
make up their minds that there was not only something wrong about
me, but that my mother knew it and had tried to get me out of my
scrapes by lying--so there was nothing for us to do but leave."
"And you never solved the mystery?" I queried.
"Well, not exactly," returned Barker, gazing abstractedly before
him. "Not exactly; but I have a theory, based upon the bitterest
kind of experience, that I know what the trouble is."
"You have a double?" I asked.
"You are a good guesser," he replied; "and of all unhanged criminals
he is the very worst."
There was a strange smile on his lips as Carleton Barker said this.
His tone was almost that of one who was boasting--in fact, so
strongly was I impressed with his appearance of conceit when he
estimated the character of his double, that I felt bold enough to
"You seem to be a little proud of it, in spite of all."
"I can't help it, though he has kept me on tenter-hooks for a
lifetime," he said. "We all feel a certain amount of pride in the
success of those to whom we are related, either by family ties or
other shackles like those with which I am bound to my murderous
_alter ego_. I knew an Englishman once who was so impressed with the
notion that he resembled the great Napoleon that he conceived the
most ardent hatred for his own country for having sent the
illustrious Frenchman to St. Helena. The same influence--a very
subtle one--I feel. Here is a man who has maimed and robbed and
murdered for years, and has never yet been apprehended. In his
chosen calling he has been successful, and though I have been put to
my trumps many a time to save my neck from the retribution that
should have been his, I can't help admiring the fellow, though I'd
kill him if he stood before me!"
"And are you making any effort to find him?"
"I am, of course," said Barker; "that has been my life-work. I am
fortunately possessed of means enough to live on, so that I can
devote all my time to unravelling the mystery. It is for this reason
that I have acquainted myself with the element of London with which,
as you have noticed, I am very familiar. The life these criminals
are leading is quite as revolting to me as it is to you, and the
scenes you and I have witnessed together are no more unpleasant to
you than they are to me; but what can I do? The man lives and must
be run down. He is in England, I am certain. This latest diversion
of his has convinced me of that."
"Well," said I, rising, "you certainly have my sympathy, Mr. Barker,
and I hope your efforts will meet with success. I trust you will
have the pleasure of seeing the other gentleman hanged."
"Thank you," he said, with a queer look in his eyes, which, as I
thought it over afterwards, did not seem to be quite as appropriate
to his expression of gratitude as it might have been.
When Barker and I parted that day it was for a longer period than
either of us dreamed, for upon my arrival at my lodgings I found
there a cable message from New York, calling me back to my labors.
Three days later I sailed for home, and five years elapsed before I
was so fortunate as to renew my acquaintance with foreign climes.
Occasionally through these years Parton and I discussed Barker, and
at no time did my companion show anything but an increased animosity
towards our strange Keswick acquaintance. The mention of his name
was sufficient to drive Parton from the height of exuberance to a
state of abject depression.
"I shall not feel easy while that man lives," he said. "I think he
is a minion of Satan. There is nothing earthly about him."
"Nonsense," said I. "Just because a man has a bad face is no reason
for supposing him a villain or a supernatural creature."
"No," Parton answered; "but when a man's veins hold blood that
saturates and leaves no stain, what are we to think?"
I confessed that this was a point beyond me, and, by mutual consent,
we dropped the subject.
One night Parton came to my rooms white as a sheet, and so agitated
that for a few minutes he could not speak. He dropped, shaking like
a leaf, into my reading-chair and buried his face in his hands. His
attitude was that of one frightened to the very core of his being.
When I questioned him first he did not respond. He simply groaned. I
resumed my reading for a few moments, and then looking up observed
that Parton had recovered somewhat and was now gazing abstractedly
into the fire.
"Well," I said, "feeling better?"
"Yes," he answered, slowly. "But it was a shock."
"What was?" I asked. "You've told me nothing as yet."
"I've seen Barker."
"No!" I cried. "Where?"
"In a back alley down-town, where I had to go on a hospital call.
There was a row in a gambling-hell in Hester Street. Two men were
cut and I had to go with the ambulance. Both men will probably die,
and no one can find any trace of the murderer; but I know who he is.
He was Carleton Barker and no one else. I passed him in the alley on
the way in, and I saw him in the crowd when I came out."
"Was he alone in the alley?" I asked. Parton groaned again.
"That's the worst of it," said he. "He was not alone. He was with
"You speak in riddles," said I.
"I saw in riddles," said Parton; "for as truly as I sit here there
were two of them, and they stood side by side as I passed through,
alike as two peas, and crime written on the pallid face of each."
"Did Barker recognize you?"
"I think so, for as I passed he gasped--both of them gasped, and as
I stopped to speak to the one I had first recognized he had vanished
as completely as though he had never been, and as I turned to
address the other he was shambling off into the darkness as fast as
his legs could carry him."
I was stunned. Barker had been mysterious enough in London. In New
York with his double, and again connected with an atrocity, he
became even more so, and I began to feel somewhat towards him as had
Parton from the first. The papers next morning were not very
explicit on the subject of the Hester Street trouble, but they
confirmed Parton's suspicions in his and my own mind as to whom the
assassins were. The accounts published simply stated that the
wounded men, one of whom had died in the night and the other of whom
would doubtless not live through the day, had been set upon and
stabbed by two unknown Englishmen who had charged them with cheating
at cards; that the assailants had disappeared, and that the police
had no clew as to their whereabouts.
Time passed and nothing further came to light concerning the
Barkers, and gradually Parton and I came to forget them. The
following summer I went abroad again, and then came the climax to
the Barker episode, as we called it. I can best tell the story of
that climax by printing here a letter written by myself to Parton.
It was penned within an hour of the supreme moment, and while it
evidences my own mental perturbation in its lack of coherence, it is
none the less an absolutely truthful account of what happened. The
letter is as follows:
"LONDON, July 18, 18--.
"My Dear Parton,--You once said to me that you could not breathe
easily while this world held Carleton Barker living. You may now
draw an easy breath, and many of them, for the Barker episode is
over. Barker is dead, and I flatter myself that I am doing very well
myself to live sanely after the experiences of this morning.
"About a week after my arrival in England a horrible tragedy was
enacted in the Seven Dials district. A woman was the victim, and a
devil in human form the perpetrator of the crime. The poor creature
was literally hacked to pieces in a manner suggesting the hand of
Jack the Ripper, but in this instance the murderer, unlike Jack, was
caught red-handed, and turned out to be no less a person than
Carleton Barker. He was tried and convicted, and sentenced to be
hanged at twelve o'clock to-day.
"When I heard of Barker's trouble I went, as a matter of curiosity
solely, to the trial, and discovered in the dock the man you and I
had encountered at Keswick. That is to say, he resembled our friend
in every possible respect. If he were not Barker he was the most
perfect imitation of Barker conceivable. Not a feature of our Barker
but was reproduced in this one, even to the name. But he failed to
recognize me. He saw me, I know, because I felt his eyes upon me,
but in trying to return his gaze I quailed utterly before him. I
could not look him in the eye without a feeling of the most deadly
horror, but I did see enough of him to note that he regarded me only
as one of a thousand spectators who had flocked into the court-room
during the progress of the trial. If it were our Barker who sat
there his dissemblance was remarkable. So coldly did he look at me
that I began to doubt if he really were the man we had met; but the
events of this morning have changed my mind utterly on that point.
He was the one we had met, and I am now convinced that his story to
me of his double was purely fictitious, and that from beginning to
end there has been but one Barker.
"The trial was a speedy one. There was nothing to be said in behalf
of the prisoner, and within five days of his arraignment he was
convicted and sentenced to the extreme penalty--that of hanging--and
noon to-day was the hour appointed for the execution. I was to have
gone to Richmond to-day by coach, but since Barker's trial I have
been in a measure depressed. I have grown to dislike the man as
thoroughly as did you, and yet I was very much affected by the
thought that he was finally to meet death upon the scaffold. I could
not bring myself to participate in any pleasures on the day of his
execution, and in consequence I gave up my Richmond journey and
remained all morning in my lodgings trying to read. It was a
miserable effort. I could not concentrate my mind upon my book--no
book could have held the slightest part of my attention at that
time. My thoughts were all for Carleton Barker, and I doubt if, when
the clock hands pointed to half after eleven, Barker himself was
more apprehensive over what was to come than I. I found myself
holding my watch in my hand, gazing at the dial and counting the
seconds which must intervene before the last dreadful scene of a
life of crime. I would rise from my chair and pace my room nervously
for a few minutes; then I would throw myself into my chair again and
stare at my watch. This went on nearly all the morning--in fact,
until ten minutes before twelve, when there came a slight knock at
my door. I put aside my nervousness as well as I could, and, walking
to the door, opened it.
"I wonder that I have nerve to write of it, Parton, but there upon
the threshold, clad in the deepest black, his face pallid as the
head of death itself and his hands shaking like those of a palsied
man, stood no less a person than Carleton Barker!
"I staggered back in amazement and he followed me, closing the door
and locking it behind him.
"'What would you do?' I cried, regarding his act with alarm, for,
candidly, I was almost abject with fear.
"'Nothing--to you!' he said. 'You have been as far as you could be
my friend. The other, your companion of Keswick'--meaning you, of
course--'was my enemy.'
"I was glad you were not with us, my dear Parton. I should have
trembled for your safety.
"'How have you managed to escape?' I asked.
"'I have not escaped,' returned Barker. 'But I soon shall be free
from my accursed double.'
"Here he gave an unearthly laugh and pointed to the clock.
"'Ha, ha!' he cried. 'Five minutes more--five minutes more and I
shall be free.'
"'Then the man in the dock was not you?' I asked.
"'The man in the dock,' he answered, slowly, 'is even now mounting
the gallows, whilst I stand here.'
"He trembled a little as he spoke, and lurched forward like a
drunken man; but he soon recovered himself, grasping the back of my
chair convulsively with his long white fingers.
"'In two minutes more,' he whispered, 'the rope will be adjusted
about his neck; the black cap is even now being drawn over his
cursed features, and--'
"Here he shrieked with laughter, and, rushing to the window, thrust
his head out and literally sucked the air into his lungs, as a man
with a parched throat would have drank water. Then he turned and,
tottering back to my side, hoarsely demanded some brandy.
Back to Full Books