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