The Haunted House

 

CHAPTER I—THE MOR­TALS IN THE HOUSE

Un­der none of the ac­cred­ited ghostly cir­cum­stances, and en­vironed by none of the con­ven­tion­al ghostly sur­round­ings, did I first make ac­quaint­ance with the house which is the sub­ject of this Christ­mas piece. I saw it in the day­light, with the sun upon it. There was no wind, no rain, no light­ning, no thun­der, no aw­ful or un­wonted cir­cum­stance, of any kind, to height­en its ef­fect. More than that: I had come to it dir­ect from a rail­way sta­tion: it was not more than a mile dis­tant from the rail­way sta­tion; and, as I stood out­side the house, look­ing back upon the way I had come, I could see the goods train run­ning smoothly along the em­bank­ment in the val­ley. I will not say that everything was ut­terly com­mon­place, be­cause I doubt if any­thing can be that, ex­cept to ut­terly com­mon­place people—and there my van­ity steps in; but, I will take it on my­self to say that any­body might see the house as I saw it, any fine au­tumn morn­ing.

The man­ner of my light­ing on it was this.

I was trav­el­ling to­wards Lon­don out of the North, in­tend­ing to stop by the way, to look at the house. My health re­quired a tem­por­ary res­id­en­ce in the coun­try; and a friend of mine who knew that, and who had happened to drive past the house, had writ­ten to me to sug­gest it as a likely place. I had got in­to the train at mid­night, and had fallen asleep, and had woke up and had sat look­ing out of win­dow at the bril­li­ant North­ern Lights in the sky, and had fallen asleep again, and had woke up again to find the night gone, with the usu­al dis­con­ten­ted con­vic­tion on me that I hadn’t been to sleep at all;—upon which ques­tion, in the first im­be­cil­ity of that con­di­tion, I am ashamed to be­lieve that I would have done wager by battle with the man who sat op­pos­ite me. That op­pos­ite man had had, through the night—as that op­pos­ite man al­ways has—sev­er­al legs too many, and all of them too long. In ad­di­tion to this un­reas­on­able con­duct (which was only to be ex­pec­ted of him), he had had a pen­cil and a pock­et-book, and had been per­petu­ally listen­ing and tak­ing notes. It had ap­peared to me that these ag­grav­at­ing notes re­lated to the jolts and bumps of the car­riage, and I should have resigned my­self to his tak­ing them, un­der a gen­er­al sup­pos­i­tion that he was in the civil-en­gin­eer­ing way of life, if he had not sat star­ing straight over my head whenev­er he listened. He was a goggle-eyed gen­tle­man of a per­plexed as­pect, and his de­mean­our be­came un­bear­able.

It was a cold, dead morn­ing (the sun not be­ing up yet), and when I had out-watched the pal­ing light of the fires of the iron coun­try, and the cur­tain of heavy smoke that hung at once between me and the stars and between me and the day, I turned to my fel­low-trav­el­ler and said:

“I beg your par­don, sir, but do you ob­serve any­thing par­tic­u­lar in me?” For, really, he ap­peared to be tak­ing down, either my trav­el­ling-cap or my hair, with a minute­ness that was a liberty.

The goggle-eyed gen­tle­man with­drew his eyes from be­hind me, as if the back of the car­riage were a hun­dred miles off, and said, with a lofty look of com­pas­sion for my in­sig­ni­fic­ance:

“In you, sir?—B.”

“B, sir?” said I, grow­ing warm.

“I have noth­ing to do with you, sir,” re­turned the gen­tle­man; “pray let me listen—O.”

He enun­ci­ated this vow­el after a pause, and noted it down.

At first I was alarmed, for an Ex­press lun­at­ic and no com­mu­nic­a­tion with the guard, is a ser­i­ous po­s­i­tion. The thought came to my re­lief that the gen­tle­man might be what is pop­ularly called a Rap­per: one of a sect for (some of) whom I have the highest re­spect, but whom I don’t be­lieve in. I was go­ing to ask him the ques­tion, when he took the bread out of my mouth.

“You will ex­cuse me,” said the gen­tle­man con­temp­tu­ously, “if I am too much in ad­vance of com­mon hu­man­ity to trouble my­self at all about it. I have passed the night—as in­deed I pass the whole of my time now—in spir­itu­al in­ter­course.”

“O!” said I, some­what snap­pishly.

“The con­fer­en­ces of the night began,” con­tin­ued the gen­tle­man, turn­ing sev­er­al leaves of his note-book, “with this mes­sage: ‘Evil com­mu­nic­a­tions cor­rupt good man­ners.’ ”

“Sound,” said I; “but, ab­so­lutely new?”

“New from spir­its,” re­turned the gen­tle­man.

I could only re­peat my rather snap­pish “O!” and ask if I might be fa­voured with the last com­mu­nic­a­tion.

“ ‘A bird in the hand,’ ” said the gen­tle­man, read­ing his last entry with great solem­nity, “ ‘is worth two in the Bosh.’ ”

“Truly I am of the same opin­ion,” said I; “but shouldn’t it be Bush?”

“It came to me, Bosh,” re­turned the gen­tle­man.

The gen­tle­man then in­formed me that the spir­it of So­crates had de­livered this spe­cial rev­el­a­tion in the course of the night. “My friend, I hope you are pretty well. There are two in this rail­way car­riage. How do you do? There are sev­en­teen thou­sand four hun­dred and sev­enty-nine spir­its here, but you can­not see them. Py­thagoras is here. He is not at liberty to men­tion it, but hopes you like trav­el­ling.” Ga­lileo like­wise had dropped in, with this sci­en­tif­ic in­tel­li­gence. “I am glad to see you, amico. Come sta? Wa­ter will freeze when it is cold enough. Ad­dio!” In the course of the night, also, the fol­low­ing phe­nom­ena had oc­curred. Bish­op But­ler had in­sis­ted on spelling his name, “Bu­bler,” for which of­fence against or­tho­graphy and good man­ners he had been dis­missed as out of tem­per. John Milton (sus­pec­ted of wil­ful mys­ti­fic­a­tion) had re­pu­di­ated the au­thor­ship of Para­dise Lost, and had in­tro­duced, as joint au­thors of that poem, two Un­known gen­tle­men, re­spect­ively named Grungers and Scadging­tone. And Prince Ar­thur, neph­ew of King John of Eng­land, had de­scribed him­self as tol­er­ably com­fort­able in the sev­enth circle, where he was learn­ing to paint on vel­vet, un­der the dir­ec­tion of Mrs. Trim­mer and Mary Queen of Scots.

If this should meet the eye of the gen­tle­man who fa­voured me with these dis­clos­ures, I trust he will ex­cuse my con­fess­ing that the sight of the rising sun, and the con­tem­pla­tion of the mag­ni­fi­cent Or­der of the vast Uni­verse, made me im­pa­tient of them. In a word, I was so im­pa­tient of them, that I was migh­tily glad to get out at the next sta­tion, and to ex­change these clouds and va­pours for the free air of Heav­en.

By that time it was a beau­ti­ful morn­ing. As I walked away among such leaves as had already fallen from the golden, brown, and rus­set trees; and as I looked around me on the won­ders of Cre­ation, and thought of the steady, un­chan­ging, and har­mo­ni­ous laws by which they are sus­tained; the gen­tle­man’s spir­itu­al in­ter­course seemed to me as poor a piece of jour­ney-work as ever this world saw. In which hea­then state of mind, I came with­in view of the house, and stopped to ex­am­ine it at­tent­ively.

It was a sol­it­ary house, stand­ing in a sadly neg­lec­ted garden: a pretty even square of some two acres. It was a house of about the time of George the Second; as stiff, as cold, as form­al, and in as bad taste, as could pos­sibly be de­sired by the most loy­al ad­mirer of the whole quar­tet of Georges. It was un­in­hab­ited, but had, with­in a year or two, been cheaply re­paired to render it hab­it­able; I say cheaply, be­cause the work had been done in a sur­face man­ner, and was already de­cay­ing as to the paint and plaster, though the col­ours were fresh. A lop-sided board drooped over the garden wall, an­noun­cing that it was “to let on very reas­on­able terms, well fur­nished.” It was much too closely and heav­ily shad­owed by trees, and, in par­tic­u­lar, there were six tall pop­lars be­fore the front win­dows, which were ex­cess­ively mel­an­choly, and the site of which had been ex­tremely ill chosen.

It was easy to see that it was an avoided house—a house that was shunned by the vil­lage, to which my eye was guided by a church spire some half a mile off—a house that nobody would take. And the nat­ur­al in­fer­en­ce was, that it had the re­pu­ta­tion of be­ing a haunted house.

No peri­od with­in the four-and-twenty hours of day and night is so sol­emn to me, as the early morn­ing. In the sum­mer time, I of­ten rise very early, and re­pair to my room to do a day’s work be­fore break­fast, and I am al­ways on those oc­ca­sions deeply im­pressed by the still­ness and solitude around me. Be­sides that there is something aw­ful in the be­ing sur­roun­ded by fa­mil­i­ar faces asleep—in the know­ledge that those who are dearest to us and to whom we are dearest, are pro­foundly un­con­scious of us, in an im­pass­ive state, an­ti­cip­at­ive of that mys­ter­i­ous con­di­tion to which we are all tend­ing—the stopped life, the broken threads of yes­ter­day, the deser­ted seat, the closed book, the un­fin­ished but aban­doned oc­cu­pa­tion, all are im­ages of Death. The tran­quil­lity of the hour is the tran­quil­lity of Death. The col­our and the chill have the same as­so­ci­ation. Even a cer­tain air that fa­mil­i­ar house­hold ob­jects take upon them when they first emerge from the shad­ows of the night in­to the morn­ing, of be­ing new­er, and as they used to be long ago, has its coun­ter­part in the sub­sid­en­ce of the worn face of ma­tur­ity or age, in death, in­to the old youth­ful look. Moreover, I once saw the ap­par­i­tion of my fath­er, at this hour. He was alive and well, and noth­ing ever came of it, but I saw him in the day­light, sit­ting with his back to­wards me, on a seat that stood be­side my bed. His head was rest­ing on his hand, and wheth­er he was slum­ber­ing or griev­ing, I could not dis­cern. Amazed to see him there, I sat up, moved my po­s­i­tion, leaned out of bed, and watched him. As he did not move, I spoke to him more than once. As he did not move then, I be­came alarmed and laid my hand upon his shoulder, as I thought—and there was no such thing.

For all these reas­ons, and for oth­ers less eas­ily and briefly stat­able, I find the early morn­ing to be my most ghostly time. Any house would be more or less haunted, to me, in the early morn­ing; and a haunted house could scarcely ad­dress me to great­er ad­vant­age than then.

I walked on in­to the vil­lage, with the deser­tion of this house upon my mind, and I found the land­lord of the little inn, sand­ing his door-step. I be­spoke break­fast, and broached the sub­ject of the house.

“Is it haunted?” I asked.

The land­lord looked at me, shook his head, and answered, “I say noth­ing.”

“Then it is haunted?”

“Well!” cried the land­lord, in an out­burst of frank­ness that had the ap­pear­ance of des­per­a­tion—“I wouldn’t sleep in it.”

“Why not?”

“If I wanted to have all the bells in a house ring, with nobody to ring ’em; and all the doors in a house bang, with nobody to bang ’em; and all sorts of feet tread­ing about, with no feet there; why, then,” said the land­lord, “I’d sleep in that house.”

“Is any­thing seen there?”

The land­lord looked at me again, and then, with his former ap­pear­ance of des­per­a­tion, called down his stable-yard for “Ikey!”

The call pro­duced a high-shouldered young fel­low, with a round red face, a short crop of sandy hair, a very broad hu­mor­ous mouth, a turned-up nose, and a great sleeved waist­coat of purple bars, with moth­er-of-pearl but­tons, that seemed to be grow­ing upon him, and to be in a fair way—if it were not pruned—of cov­er­ing his head and over­un­ning his boots.

“This gen­tle­man wants to know,” said the land­lord, “if any­thing’s seen at the Pop­lars.”

“ ’Ooded wo­man with a howl,” said Ikey, in a state of great fresh­ness.

“Do you mean a cry?”

“I mean a bird, sir.”

“A hooded wo­man with an owl. Dear me! Did you ever see her?”

“I seen the howl.”

“Nev­er the wo­man?”

“Not so plain as the howl, but they al­ways keeps to­geth­er.”

“Has any­body ever seen the wo­man as plainly as the owl?”

“Lord bless you, sir! Lots.”

“Who?”

“Lord bless you, sir! Lots.”

“The gen­er­al-deal­er op­pos­ite, for in­stance, who is open­ing his shop?”

“Per­kins? Bless you, Per­kins wouldn’t go a-nigh the place. No!” ob­served the young man, with con­sid­er­able feel­ing; “he an’t over­wise, an’t Per­kins, but he an’t such a fool as that.”

(Here, the land­lord mur­mured his con­fid­en­ce in Per­kins’s know­ing bet­ter.)

“Who is—or who was—the hooded wo­man with the owl? Do you know?”

“Well!” said Ikey, hold­ing up his cap with one hand while he scratched his head with the oth­er, “they say, in gen­er­al, that she was murdered, and the howl he ’ooted the while.”

This very con­cise sum­mary of the facts was all I could learn, ex­cept that a young man, as hearty and likely a young man as ever I see, had been took with fits and held down in ’em, after see­ing the hooded wo­man. Also, that a per­son­age, dimly de­scribed as “a hold chap, a sort of one-eyed tramp, an­swer­ing to the name of Joby, un­less you chal­lenged him as Green­wood, and then he said, ‘Why not? and even if so, mind your own busi­ness,’ ” had en­countered the hooded wo­man, a mat­ter of five or six times. But, I was not ma­ter­i­ally as­sis­ted by these wit­nesses: inas­much as the first was in Cali­for­nia, and the last was, as Ikey said (and he was con­firmed by the land­lord), Any­wheres.

Now, al­though I re­gard with a hushed and sol­emn fear, the mys­ter­ies, between which and this state of ex­ist­en­ce is in­ter­posed the bar­ri­er of the great tri­al and change that fall on all the things that live; and al­though I have not the au­da­city to pre­tend that I know any­thing of them; I can no more re­con­cile the mere banging of doors, ringing of bells, creak­ing of boards, and such-like in­sig­ni­fic­ances, with the majest­ic beauty and per­vad­ing ana­logy of all the Di­vine rules that I am per­mit­ted to un­der­stand, than I had been able, a little while be­fore, to yoke the spir­itu­al in­ter­course of my fel­low-trav­el­ler to the chari­ot of the rising sun. Moreover, I had lived in two haunted houses—both abroad. In one of these, an old It­ali­an palace, which bore the re­pu­ta­tion of be­ing very badly haunted in­deed, and which had re­cently been twice aban­doned on that ac­count, I lived eight months, most tran­quilly and pleas­antly: not­with­stand­ing that the house had a score of mys­ter­i­ous bed­rooms, which were nev­er used, and pos­sessed, in one large room in which I sat read­ing, times out of num­ber at all hours, and next to which I slept, a haunted cham­ber of the first pre­ten­sions. I gently hin­ted these con­sid­er­a­tions to the land­lord. And as to this par­tic­u­lar house hav­ing a bad name, I reasoned with him, Why, how many things had bad names un­de­servedly, and how easy it was to give bad names, and did he not think that if he and I were per­sist­ently to whis­per in the vil­lage that any weird-look­ing, old drunk­en tinker of the neigh­bour­hood had sold him­self to the Dev­il, he would come in time to be sus­pec­ted of that com­mer­cial ven­ture! All this wise talk was per­fectly in­ef­fect­ive with the land­lord, I am bound to con­fess, and was as dead a fail­ure as ever I made in my life.

To cut this part of the story short, I was piqued about the haunted house, and was already half re­solved to take it. So, after break­fast, I got the keys from Per­kins’s broth­er-in-law (a whip and har­ness maker, who keeps the Post Of­fice, and is un­der sub­mis­sion to a most rig­or­ous wife of the Doubly Se­ced­ing Little Em­manuel per­sua­sion), and went up to the house, at­ten­ded by my land­lord and by Ikey.

With­in, I found it, as I had ex­pec­ted, tran­scend­ently dis­mal. The slowly chan­ging shad­ows waved on it from the heavy trees, were dole­ful in the last de­gree; the house was ill-placed, ill-built, ill-planned, and ill-fit­ted. It was damp, it was not free from dry rot, there was a fla­vour of rats in it, and it was the gloomy vic­tim of that in­des­crib­able de­cay which settles on all the work of man’s hands whenev­er it’s not turned to man’s ac­count. The kit­chens and of­fices were too large, and too re­mote from each oth­er. Above stairs and be­low, waste tracts of pas­sage in­ter­vened between patches of fer­til­ity rep­res­en­ted by rooms; and there was a mouldy old well with a green growth upon it, hid­ing like a mur­der­ous trap, near the bot­tom of the back-stairs, un­der the double row of bells. One of these bells was la­belled, on a black ground in faded white let­ters, MAS­TER B. This, they told me, was the bell that rang the most.

“Who was Mas­ter B.?” I asked. “Is it known what he did while the owl hooted?”

“Rang the bell,” said Ikey.

I was rather struck by the prompt dex­ter­ity with which this young man pitched his fur cap at the bell, and rang it him­self. It was a loud, un­pleas­ant bell, and made a very dis­agree­able sound. The oth­er bells were in­scribed ac­cord­ing to the names of the rooms to which their wires were con­duc­ted: as “Pic­ture Room,” “Double Room,” “Clock Room,” and the like. Fol­low­ing Mas­ter B.’s bell to its source I found that young gen­tle­man to have had but in­dif­fer­ent third-class ac­com­mod­a­tion in a tri­an­gu­lar cab­in un­der the cock-loft, with a corner fire­place which Mas­ter B. must have been ex­ceed­ingly small if he were ever able to warm him­self at, and a corner chim­ney-piece like a pyr­am­id­al stair­case to the ceil­ing for Tom Thumb. The pa­per­ing of one side of the room had dropped down bod­ily, with frag­ments of plaster ad­her­ing to it, and al­most blocked up the door. It ap­peared that Mas­ter B., in his spir­itu­al con­di­tion, al­ways made a point of pulling the pa­per down. Neither the land­lord nor Ikey could sug­gest why he made such a fool of him­self.

Ex­cept that the house had an im­mensely large ram­bling loft at top, I made no oth­er dis­cov­er­ies. It was mod­er­ately well fur­nished, but sparely. Some of the fur­niture—say, a third—was as old as the house; the rest was of vari­ous peri­ods with­in the last half cen­tury. I was re­ferred to a corn-chand­ler in the mar­ket-place of the county town to treat for the house. I went that day, and I took it for six months.

It was just the middle of Oc­to­ber when I moved in with my maid­en sis­ter (I ven­ture to call her eight-and-thirty, she is so very hand­some, sens­ible, and en­ga­ging). We took with us, a deaf stable-man, my blood­hound Turk, two wo­men ser­vants, and a young per­son called an Odd Girl. I have reas­on to re­cord of the at­tend­ant last enu­mer­ated, who was one of the Saint Lawrence’s Uni­on Fe­male Orphans, that she was a fatal mis­take and a dis­as­trous en­gage­ment.

The year was dy­ing early, the leaves were fall­ing fast, it was a raw cold day when we took pos­ses­sion, and the gloom of the house was most de­press­ing. The cook (an ami­able wo­man, but of a weak turn of in­tel­lect) burst in­to tears on be­hold­ing the kit­chen, and re­ques­ted that her sil­ver watch might be de­livered over to her sis­ter (2 Tup­pin­tock’s Gar­dens, Liggs’s Walk, Clapham Rise), in the event of any­thing hap­pen­ing to her from the damp. Streak­er, the house­maid, feigned cheer­ful­ness, but was the great­er mar­tyr. The Odd Girl, who had nev­er been in the coun­try, alone was pleased, and made ar­range­ments for sow­ing an acorn in the garden out­side the scull­ery win­dow, and rear­ing an oak.

We went, be­fore dark, through all the nat­ur­al—as op­posed to su­per­nat­ur­al—miser­ies in­cid­ent­al to our state. Dis­pir­it­ing re­ports as­cen­ded (like the smoke) from the base­ment in volumes, and des­cen­ded from the up­per rooms. There was no rolling-pin, there was no sala­man­der (which failed to sur­prise me, for I don’t know what it is), there was noth­ing in the house, what there was, was broken, the last people must have lived like pigs, what could the mean­ing of the land­lord be? Through these dis­tresses, the Odd Girl was cheer­ful and ex­em­plary. But with­in four hours after dark we had got in­to a su­per­nat­ur­al groove, and the Odd Girl had seen “Eyes,” and was in hys­ter­ics.

My sis­ter and I had agreed to keep the haunt­ing strictly to ourselves, and my im­pres­sion was, and still is, that I had not left Ikey, when he helped to un­load the cart, alone with the wo­men, or any one of them, for one minute. Nev­er­the­less, as I say, the Odd Girl had “seen Eyes” (no oth­er ex­plan­a­tion could ever be drawn from her), be­fore nine, and by ten o’clock had had as much vin­eg­ar ap­plied to her as would pickle a hand­some sal­mon.

I leave a dis­cern­ing pub­lic to judge of my feel­ings, when, un­der these un­to­ward cir­cum­stances, at about half-past ten o’clock Mas­ter B.’s bell began to ring in a most in­furi­ated man­ner, and Turk howled un­til the house re­soun­ded with his lam­ent­a­tions!

I hope I may nev­er again be in a state of mind so un­chris­ti­an as the men­tal frame in which I lived for some weeks, re­spect­ing the memory of Mas­ter B. Wheth­er his bell was rung by rats, or mice, or bats, or wind, or what oth­er ac­ci­dent­al vi­bra­tion, or some­times by one cause, some­times an­oth­er, and some­times by col­lu­sion, I don’t know; but, cer­tain it is, that it did ring two nights out of three, un­til I con­ceived the happy idea of twist­ing Mas­ter B.’s neck—in oth­er words, break­ing his bell short off—and si­len­cing that young gen­tle­man, as to my ex­per­i­en­ce and be­lief, for ever.

But, by that time, the Odd Girl had de­ve­loped such im­prov­ing powers of cata­lepsy, that she had be­come a shin­ing ex­ample of that very in­con­veni­ent dis­or­der. She would stiffen, like a Guy Fawkes en­dowed with un­reas­on, on the most ir­rel­ev­ant oc­ca­sions. I would ad­dress the ser­vants in a lu­cid man­ner, point­ing out to them that I had painted Mas­ter B.’s room and balked the pa­per, and taken Mas­ter B.’s bell away and balked the ringing, and if they could sup­pose that that con­foun­ded boy had lived and died, to clothe him­self with no bet­ter be­ha­viour than would most un­ques­tion­ably have brought him and the sharpest particles of a birch-broom in­to close ac­quaint­ance in the present im­per­fect state of ex­ist­en­ce, could they also sup­pose a mere poor hu­man be­ing, such as I was, cap­able by those con­tempt­ible means of coun­ter­act­ing and lim­it­ing the powers of the dis­em­bod­ied spir­its of the dead, or of any spir­its?—I say I would be­come em­phat­ic and co­gent, not to say rather com­pla­cent, in such an ad­dress, when it would all go for noth­ing by reas­on of the Odd Girl’s sud­denly stiff­en­ing from the toes up­ward, and glar­ing among us like a pa­ro­chi­al pet­ri­fac­tion.

Streak­er, the house­maid, too, had an at­trib­ute of a most dis­com­fit­ing nature. I am un­able to say wheth­er she was of an un­usu­ally lymph­at­ic tem­pera­ment, or what else was the mat­ter with her, but this young wo­man be­came a mere Dis­til­lery for the pro­duc­tion of the largest and most trans­par­ent tears I ever met with. Com­bined with these char­ac­ter­ist­ics, was a pe­cu­li­ar tenacity of hold in those spe­ci­mens, so that they didn’t fall, but hung upon her face and nose. In this con­di­tion, and mildly and de­plor­ably shak­ing her head, her si­lence would throw me more heav­ily than the Ad­mir­able Crichton could have done in a verbal dis­pu­ta­tion for a purse of money. Cook, like­wise, al­ways covered me with con­fu­sion as with a gar­ment, by neatly wind­ing up the ses­sion with the protest that the Ouse was wear­ing her out, and by meekly re­peat­ing her last wishes re­gard­ing her sil­ver watch.

As to our nightly life, the con­ta­gion of sus­pi­cion and fear was among us, and there is no such con­ta­gion un­der the sky. Hooded wo­man? Ac­cord­ing to the ac­counts, we were in a per­fect Con­vent of hooded wo­men. Noises? With that con­ta­gion down­stairs, I my­self have sat in the dis­mal par­lour, listen­ing, un­til I have heard so many and such strange noises, that they would have chilled my blood if I had not warmed it by dash­ing out to make dis­cov­er­ies. Try this in bed, in the dead of the night: try this at your own com­fort­able fire-side, in the life of the night. You can fill any house with noises, if you will, un­til you have a noise for every nerve in your nervous sys­tem.

I re­peat; the con­ta­gion of sus­pi­cion and fear was among us, and there is no such con­ta­gion un­der the sky. The wo­men (their noses in a chron­ic state of ex­cor­i­ation from smelling-salts) were al­ways primed and loaded for a swoon, and ready to go off with hair-trig­gers. The two eld­er de­tached the Odd Girl on all ex­ped­i­tions that were con­sidered doubly haz­ard­ous, and she al­ways es­tab­lished the re­pu­ta­tion of such ad­ven­tures by com­ing back cata­leptic. If Cook or Streak­er went over­head after dark, we knew we should presently hear a bump on the ceil­ing; and this took place so con­stantly, that it was as if a fight­ing man were en­gaged to go about the house, ad­min­is­ter­ing a touch of his art which I be­lieve is called The Auc­tion­eer, to every do­mest­ic he met with.

It was in vain to do any­thing. It was in vain to be frightened, for the mo­ment in one’s own per­son, by a real owl, and then to show the owl. It was in vain to dis­cov­er, by strik­ing an ac­ci­dent­al dis­cord on the pi­ano, that Turk al­ways howled at par­tic­u­lar notes and com­bin­a­tions. It was in vain to be a Rhadam­an­thus with the bells, and if an un­for­tu­nate bell rang without leave, to have it down in­ex­or­ably and si­lence it. It was in vain to fire up chim­neys, let torches down the well, charge furi­ously in­to sus­pec­ted rooms and re­cesses. We changed ser­vants, and it was no bet­ter. The new set ran away, and a third set came, and it was no bet­ter. At last, our com­fort­able house­keep­ing got to be so dis­or­gan­ised and wretched, that I one night de­jec­tedly said to my sis­ter: “Patty, I be­gin to des­pair of our get­ting people to go on with us here, and I think we must give this up.”

My sis­ter, who is a wo­man of im­mense spir­it, replied, “No, John, don’t give it up. Don’t be beaten, John. There is an­oth­er way.”

“And what is that?” said I.

“John,” re­turned my sis­ter, “if we are not to be driv­en out of this house, and that for no reas­on whatever that is ap­par­ent to you or me, we must help ourselves and take the house wholly and solely in­to our own hands.”

“But, the ser­vants,” said I.

“Have no ser­vants,” said my sis­ter, boldly.

Like most people in my grade of life, I had nev­er thought of the pos­sib­il­ity of go­ing on without those faith­ful ob­struc­tions. The no­tion was so new to me when sug­ges­ted, that I looked very doubt­ful.

“We know they come here to be frightened and in­fect one an­oth­er, and we know they are frightened and do in­fect one an­oth­er,” said my sis­ter.

“With the ex­cep­tion of Bottles,” I ob­served, in a med­it­at­ive tone.

(The deaf stable-man. I kept him in my ser­vice, and still keep him, as a phe­no­men­on of mor­ose­ness not to be matched in Eng­land.)

“To be sure, John,” as­sen­ted my sis­ter; “ex­cept Bottles. And what does that go to prove? Bottles talks to nobody, and hears nobody un­less he is ab­so­lutely roared at, and what alarm has Bottles ever giv­en, or taken! None.”

This was per­fectly true; the in­di­vidu­al in ques­tion hav­ing re­tired, every night at ten o’clock, to his bed over the coach-house, with no oth­er com­pany than a pitch­fork and a pail of wa­ter. That the pail of wa­ter would have been over me, and the pitch­fork through me, if I had put my­self without an­nounce­ment in Bottles’s way after that minute, I had de­pos­ited in my own mind as a fact worth re­mem­ber­ing. Neither had Bottles ever taken the least no­tice of any of our many up­roars. An im­per­turb­able and speech­less man, he had sat at his sup­per, with Streak­er present in a swoon, and the Odd Girl marble, and had only put an­oth­er potato in his cheek, or profited by the gen­er­al misery to help him­self to beef­steak pie.

“And so,” con­tin­ued my sis­ter, “I ex­empt Bottles. And con­sid­er­ing, John, that the house is too large, and per­haps too lonely, to be kept well in hand by Bottles, you, and me, I pro­pose that we cast about among our friends for a cer­tain se­lec­ted num­ber of the most re­li­able and will­ing—form a So­ci­ety here for three months—wait upon ourselves and one an­oth­er—live cheer­fully and so­cially—and see what hap­pens.”

I was so charmed with my sis­ter, that I em­braced her on the spot, and went in­to her plan with the greatest ar­dour.

We were then in the third week of Novem­ber; but, we took our meas­ures so vig­or­ously, and were so well seconded by the friends in whom we con­fided, that there was still a week of the month un­ex­pired, when our party all came down to­geth­er mer­rily, and mustered in the haunted house.

I will men­tion, in this place, two small changes that I made while my sis­ter and I were yet alone. It oc­cur­ring to me as not im­prob­able that Turk howled in the house at night, partly be­cause he wanted to get out of it, I sta­tioned him in his ken­nel out­side, but un­chained; and I ser­i­ously warned the vil­lage that any man who came in his way must not ex­pect to leave him without a rip in his own throat. I then cas­u­ally asked Ikey if he were a judge of a gun? On his say­ing, “Yes, sir, I knows a good gun when I sees her,” I begged the fa­vour of his step­ping up to the house and look­ing at mine.

“She’s a true one, sir,” said Ikey, after in­spect­ing a double-bar­relled rifle that I bought in New York a few years ago. “No mis­take about her, sir.”

“Ikey,” said I, “don’t men­tion it; I have seen something in this house.”

“No, sir?” he whispered, greed­ily open­ing his eyes. “ ’Ooded lady, sir?”

“Don’t be frightened,” said I. “It was a fig­ure rather like you.”

“Lord, sir?”

“Ikey!” said I, shak­ing hands with him warmly: I may say af­fec­tion­ately; “if there is any truth in these ghost-stor­ies, the greatest ser­vice I can do you, is, to fire at that fig­ure. And I prom­ise you, by Heav­en and earth, I will do it with this gun if I see it again!”

The young man thanked me, and took his leave with some little pre­cip­it­a­tion, after de­clin­ing a glass of li­quor. I im­par­ted my secret to him, be­cause I had nev­er quite for­got­ten his throw­ing his cap at the bell; be­cause I had, on an­oth­er oc­ca­sion, no­ticed something very like a fur cap, ly­ing not far from the bell, one night when it had burst out ringing; and be­cause I had re­marked that we were at our ghost­li­est whenev­er he came up in the even­ing to com­fort the ser­vants. Let me do Ikey no in­justice. He was afraid of the house, and be­lieved in its be­ing haunted; and yet he would play false on the haunt­ing side, so surely as he got an op­por­tun­ity. The Odd Girl’s case was ex­actly sim­il­ar. She went about the house in a state of real ter­ror, and yet lied mon­strously and wil­fully, and in­ven­ted many of the alarms she spread, and made many of the sounds we heard. I had had my eye on the two, and I know it. It is not ne­ces­sary for me, here, to ac­count for this pre­pos­ter­ous state of mind; I con­tent my­self with re­mark­ing that it is fa­mil­iarly known to every in­tel­li­gent man who has had fair med­ic­al, leg­al, or oth­er watch­ful ex­per­i­en­ce; that it is as well es­tab­lished and as com­mon a state of mind as any with which ob­serv­ers are ac­quain­ted; and that it is one of the first ele­ments, above all oth­ers, ra­tion­ally to be sus­pec­ted in, and strictly looked for, and sep­ar­ated from, any ques­tion of this kind.

To re­turn to our party. The first thing we did when we were all as­sembled, was, to draw lots for bed­rooms. That done, and every bed­room, and, in­deed, the whole house, hav­ing been minutely ex­amined by the whole body, we al­lot­ted the vari­ous house­hold du­ties, as if we had been on a gipsy party, or a yacht­ing party, or a hunt­ing party, or were ship­wrecked. I then re­coun­ted the float­ing ru­mours con­cern­ing the hooded lady, the owl, and Mas­ter B.: with oth­ers, still more filmy, which had floated about dur­ing our oc­cu­pa­tion, re­l­at­ive to some ri­dicu­lous old ghost of the fe­male gender who went up and down, car­ry­ing the ghost of a round ta­ble; and also to an im­palp­able Jack­ass, whom nobody was ever able to catch. Some of these ideas I really be­lieve our people be­low had com­mu­nic­ated to one an­oth­er in some dis­eased way, without con­vey­ing them in words. We then gravely called one an­oth­er to wit­ness, that we were not there to be de­ceived, or to de­ceive—which we con­sidered pretty much the same thing—and that, with a ser­i­ous sense of re­spons­ib­il­ity, we would be strictly true to one an­oth­er, and would strictly fol­low out the truth. The un­der­stand­ing was es­tab­lished, that any one who heard un­usu­al noises in the night, and who wished to trace them, should knock at my door; lastly, that on Twelfth Night, the last night of holy Christ­mas, all our in­di­vidu­al ex­per­i­en­ces since that then present hour of our com­ing to­geth­er in the haunted house, should be brought to light for the good of all; and that we would hold our peace on the sub­ject till then, un­less on some re­mark­able pro­voca­tion to break si­lence.

We were, in num­ber and in char­ac­ter, as fol­lows:

First—to get my sis­ter and my­self out of the way—there were we two. In the draw­ing of lots, my sis­ter drew her own room, and I drew Mas­ter B.’s. Next, there was our first cous­in John Her­schel, so called after the great as­tro­nomer: than whom I sup­pose a bet­ter man at a tele­scope does not breathe. With him, was his wife: a charm­ing creature to whom he had been mar­ried in the pre­vi­ous spring. I thought it (un­der the cir­cum­stances) rather im­prudent to bring her, be­cause there is no know­ing what even a false alarm may do at such a time; but I sup­pose he knew his own busi­ness best, and I must say that if she had been my wife, I nev­er could have left her en­dear­ing and bright face be­hind. They drew the Clock Room. Al­fred Starling, an un­com­monly agree­able young fel­low of eight-and-twenty for whom I have the greatest lik­ing, was in the Double Room; mine, usu­ally, and des­ig­nated by that name from hav­ing a dress­ing-room with­in it, with two large and cum­ber­some win­dows, which no wedges I was ever able to make, would keep from shak­ing, in any weath­er, wind or no wind. Al­fred is a young fel­low who pre­tends to be “fast” (an­oth­er word for loose, as I un­der­stand the term), but who is much too good and sens­ible for that non­sense, and who would have dis­tin­guished him­self be­fore now, if his fath­er had not un­for­tu­nately left him a small in­de­pend­en­ce of two hun­dred a year, on the strength of which his only oc­cu­pa­tion in life has been to spend six. I am in hopes, however, that his Banker may break, or that he may enter in­to some spec­u­la­tion guar­an­teed to pay twenty per cent.; for, I am con­vinced that if he could only be ruined, his for­tune is made. Belinda Bates, bos­om friend of my sis­ter, and a most in­tel­lec­tu­al, ami­able, and de­light­ful girl, got the Pic­ture Room. She has a fine geni­us for po­etry, com­bined with real busi­ness earn­est­ness, and “goes in”—to use an ex­pres­sion of Al­fred’s—for Wo­man’s mis­sion, Wo­man’s rights, Wo­man’s wrongs, and everything that is wo­man’s with a cap­it­al W, or is not and ought to be, or is and ought not to be. “Most praise­worthy, my dear, and Heav­en prosper you!” I whispered to her on the first night of my tak­ing leave of her at the Pic­ture-Room door, “but don’t overdo it. And in re­spect of the great ne­ces­sity there is, my darling, for more em­ploy­ments be­ing with­in the reach of Wo­man than our civil­isa­tion has as yet as­signed to her, don’t fly at the un­for­tu­nate men, even those men who are at first sight in your way, as if they were the nat­ur­al op­press­ors of your sex; for, trust me, Belinda, they do some­times spend their wages among wives and daugh­ters, sis­ters, moth­ers, aunts, and grand­moth­ers; and the play is, really, not all Wolf and Red Rid­ing-Hood, but has oth­er parts in it.” However, I di­gress.

Belinda, as I have men­tioned, oc­cu­pied the Pic­ture Room. We had but three oth­er cham­bers: the Corner Room, the Cup­board Room, and the Garden Room. My old friend, Jack Gov­ernor, “slung his ham­mock,” as he called it, in the Corner Room. I have al­ways re­garded Jack as the finest-look­ing sail­or that ever sailed. He is gray now, but as hand­some as he was a quarter of a cen­tury ago—nay, hand­somer. A portly, cheery, well-built fig­ure of a broad-shouldered man, with a frank smile, a bril­li­ant dark eye, and a rich dark eye­brow. I re­mem­ber those un­der dark­er hair, and they look all the bet­ter for their sil­ver set­ting. He has been wherever his Uni­on name­sake flies, has Jack, and I have met old ship­mates of his, away in the Medi­ter­ranean and on the oth­er side of the At­lant­ic, who have beamed and brightened at the cas­u­al men­tion of his name, and have cried, “You know Jack Gov­ernor? Then you know a prince of men!” That he is! And so un­mis­tak­ably a nav­al of­ficer, that if you were to meet him com­ing out of an Es­quimaux snow-hut in seal’s skin, you would be vaguely per­suaded he was in full nav­al uni­form.

Jack once had that bright clear eye of his on my sis­ter; but, it fell out that he mar­ried an­oth­er lady and took her to South Amer­ica, where she died. This was a dozen years ago or more. He brought down with him to our haunted house a little cask of salt beef; for, he is al­ways con­vinced that all salt beef not of his own pick­ling, is mere car­ri­on, and in­vari­ably, when he goes to Lon­don, packs a piece in his port­manteau. He had also vo­lun­teered to bring with him one “Nat Beaver,” an old com­rade of his, cap­tain of a mer­chant­man. Mr. Beaver, with a thick-set wooden face and fig­ure, and ap­par­ently as hard as a block all over, proved to be an in­tel­li­gent man, with a world of wa­tery ex­per­i­en­ces in him, and great prac­tic­al know­ledge. At times, there was a curi­ous nervous­ness about him, ap­par­ently the linger­ing res­ult of some old ill­ness; but, it sel­dom las­ted many minutes. He got the Cup­board Room, and lay there next to Mr. Un­dery, my friend and so­li­cit­or: who came down, in an am­a­teur ca­pa­city, “to go through with it,” as he said, and who plays whist bet­ter than the whole Law List, from the red cov­er at the be­gin­ning to the red cov­er at the end.

I nev­er was hap­pi­er in my life, and I be­lieve it was the uni­ver­sal feel­ing among us. Jack Gov­ernor, al­ways a man of won­der­ful re­sources, was Chief Cook, and made some of the best dishes I ever ate, in­clud­ing un­ap­proach­able cur­ries. My sis­ter was pastry­cook and con­fec­tion­er. Starling and I were Cook’s Mate, turn and turn about, and on spe­cial oc­ca­sions the chief cook “pressed” Mr. Beaver. We had a great deal of out-door sport and ex­er­cise, but noth­ing was neg­lec­ted with­in, and there was no ill-hu­mour or mis­un­der­stand­ing among us, and our even­ings were so de­light­ful that we had at least one good reas­on for be­ing re­luct­ant to go to bed.

We had a few night alarms in the be­gin­ning. On the first night, I was knocked up by Jack with a most won­der­ful ship’s lan­tern in his hand, like the gills of some mon­ster of the deep, who in­formed me that he “was go­ing aloft to the main truck,” to have the weath­er­cock down. It was a stormy night and I re­mon­strated; but Jack called my at­ten­tion to its mak­ing a sound like a cry of des­pair, and said some­body would be “hail­ing a ghost” presently, if it wasn’t done. So, up to the top of the house, where I could hardly stand for the wind, we went, ac­com­pan­ied by Mr. Beaver; and there Jack, lan­tern and all, with Mr. Beaver after him, swarmed up to the top of a cu­pola, some two dozen feet above the chim­neys, and stood upon noth­ing par­tic­u­lar, coolly knock­ing the weath­er­cock off, un­til they both got in­to such good spir­its with the wind and the height, that I thought they would nev­er come down. An­oth­er night, they turned out again, and had a chim­ney-cowl off. An­oth­er night, they cut a sob­bing and gulp­ing wa­ter-pipe away. An­oth­er night, they found out something else. On sev­er­al oc­ca­sions, they both, in the coolest man­ner, sim­ul­tan­eously dropped out of their re­spect­ive bed­room win­dows, hand over hand by their coun­ter­panes, to “over­haul” something mys­ter­i­ous in the garden.

The en­gage­ment among us was faith­fully kept, and nobody re­vealed any­thing. All we knew was, if any one’s room were haunted, no one looked the worse for it.

* * *

CHAPTER II—THE GHOST IN MAS­TER B.’S ROOM

WHEN I es­tab­lished my­self in the tri­an­gu­lar gar­ret which had gained so dis­tin­guished a re­pu­ta­tion, my thoughts nat­ur­ally turned to Mas­ter B. My spec­u­la­tions about him were un­easy and man­i­fold. Wheth­er his Chris­ti­an name was Ben­jam­in, Bis­sex­tile (from his hav­ing been born in Leap Year), Bartho­lomew, or Bill. Wheth­er the ini­tial let­ter be­longed to his fam­ily name, and that was Bax­ter, Black, Brown, Bark­er, Bug­gins, Baker, or Bird. Wheth­er he was a found­ling, and had been bap­tized B. Wheth­er he was a li­on-hearted boy, and B. was short for Bri­ton, or for Bull. Wheth­er he could pos­sibly have been kith and kin to an il­lus­tri­ous lady who brightened my own child­hood, and had come of the blood of the bril­li­ant Moth­er Bunch?

With these profit­less med­it­a­tions I tor­men­ted my­self much. I also car­ried the mys­ter­i­ous let­ter in­to the ap­pear­ance and pur­suits of the de­ceased; won­der­ing wheth­er he dressed in Blue, wore Boots (he couldn’t have been Bald), was a boy of Brains, liked Books, was good at Bowl­ing, had any skill as a Box­er, even in his Buoy­ant Boy­hood Bathed from a Bathing-ma­chine at Bognor, Bangor, Bournemouth, Brighton, or Broad­stairs, like a Bound­ing Bil­liard Ball?

So, from the first, I was haunted by the let­ter B.

It was not long be­fore I re­marked that I nev­er by any haz­ard had a dream of Mas­ter B., or of any­thing be­long­ing to him. But, the in­stant I awoke from sleep, at whatever hour of the night, my thoughts took him up, and roamed away, try­ing to at­tach his ini­tial let­ter to something that would fit it and keep it quiet.

For six nights, I had been wor­ried thus in Mas­ter B.’s room, when I began to per­ceive that things were go­ing wrong.

The first ap­pear­ance that presen­ted it­self was early in the morn­ing when it was but just day­light and no more. I was stand­ing shav­ing at my glass, when I sud­denly dis­covered, to my con­sterna­tion and amazement, that I was shav­ing—not my­self—I am fifty—but a boy. Ap­par­ently Mas­ter B.!

I trembled and looked over my shoulder; noth­ing there. I looked again in the glass, and dis­tinctly saw the fea­tures and ex­pres­sion of a boy, who was shav­ing, not to get rid of a beard, but to get one. Ex­tremely troubled in my mind, I took a few turns in the room, and went back to the look­ing-glass, re­solved to steady my hand and com­plete the op­er­a­tion in which I had been dis­turbed. Open­ing my eyes, which I had shut while re­cov­er­ing my firm­ness, I now met in the glass, look­ing straight at me, the eyes of a young man of four or five and twenty. Ter­ri­fied by this new ghost, I closed my eyes, and made a strong ef­fort to re­cov­er my­self. Open­ing them again, I saw, shav­ing his cheek in the glass, my fath­er, who has long been dead. Nay, I even saw my grand­fath­er too, whom I nev­er did see in my life.

Al­though nat­ur­ally much af­fec­ted by these re­mark­able vis­it­a­tions, I de­term­in­ed to keep my secret, un­til the time agreed upon for the present gen­er­al dis­clos­ure. Agit­ated by a mul­ti­tude of curi­ous thoughts, I re­tired to my room, that night, pre­pared to en­counter some new ex­per­i­en­ce of a spec­tral char­ac­ter. Nor was my pre­par­a­tion need­less, for, wak­ing from an un­easy sleep at ex­actly two o’clock in the morn­ing, what were my feel­ings to find that I was shar­ing my bed with the skel­et­on of Mas­ter B.!

I sprang up, and the skel­et­on sprang up also. I then heard a plaint­ive voice say­ing, “Where am I? What is be­come of me?” and, look­ing hard in that dir­ec­tion, per­ceived the ghost of Mas­ter B.

The young spectre was dressed in an ob­sol­ete fash­ion: or rather, was not so much dressed as put in­to a case of in­feri­or pep­per-and-salt cloth, made hor­rible by means of shin­ing but­tons. I ob­served that these but­tons went, in a double row, over each shoulder of the young ghost, and ap­peared to des­cend his back. He wore a frill round his neck. His right hand (which I dis­tinctly no­ticed to be inky) was laid upon his stom­ach; con­nect­ing this ac­tion with some feeble pimples on his coun­ten­ance, and his gen­er­al air of naus­ea, I con­cluded this ghost to be the ghost of a boy who had ha­bitu­ally taken a great deal too much medi­cine.

“Where am I?” said the little spectre, in a pathet­ic voice. “And why was I born in the Ca­lomel days, and why did I have all that Ca­lomel giv­en me?”

I replied, with sin­cere earn­est­ness, that upon my soul I couldn’t tell him.

“Where is my little sis­ter,” said the ghost, “and where my an­gel­ic little wife, and where is the boy I went to school with?”

I en­treated the phantom to be com­for­ted, and above all things to take heart re­spect­ing the loss of the boy he went to school with. I rep­res­en­ted to him that prob­ably that boy nev­er did, with­in hu­man ex­per­i­en­ce, come out well, when dis­covered. I urged that I my­self had, in later life, turned up sev­er­al boys whom I went to school with, and none of them had at all answered. I ex­pressed my humble be­lief that that boy nev­er did an­swer. I rep­res­en­ted that he was a myth­ic char­ac­ter, a de­lu­sion, and a snare. I re­coun­ted how, the last time I found him, I found him at a din­ner party be­hind a wall of white cravat, with an in­con­clus­ive opin­ion on every pos­sible sub­ject, and a power of si­lent bore­dom ab­so­lutely Ti­tan­ic. I re­lated how, on the strength of our hav­ing been to­geth­er at “Old Doylance’s,” he had asked him­self to break­fast with me (a so­cial of­fence of the largest mag­nitude); how, fan­ning my weak em­bers of be­lief in Doylance’s boys, I had let him in; and how, he had proved to be a fear­ful wan­der­er about the earth, pur­su­ing the race of Adam with in­ex­plic­able no­tions con­cern­ing the cur­rency, and with a pro­pos­i­tion that the Bank of Eng­land should, on pain of be­ing ab­ol­ished, in­stantly strike off and cir­cu­late, God knows how many thou­sand mil­lions of ten-and-six­penny notes.

The ghost heard me in si­lence, and with a fixed stare. “Barber!” it apo­stroph­ised me when I had fin­ished.

“Barber?” I re­peated—for I am not of that pro­fes­sion.

“Con­demned,” said the ghost, “to shave a con­stant change of cus­tom­ers—now, me—now, a young man—now, thy­self as thou art—now, thy fath­er—now, thy grand­fath­er; con­demned, too, to lie down with a skel­et­on every night, and to rise with it every morn­ing—”

(I shuddered on hear­ing this dis­mal an­nounce­ment.)

“Barber! Pur­sue me!”

I had felt, even be­fore the words were uttered, that I was un­der a spell to pur­sue the phantom. I im­me­di­ately did so, and was in Mas­ter B.’s room no longer.

Most people know what long and fa­tiguing night jour­neys had been forced upon the witches who used to con­fess, and who, no doubt, told the ex­act truth—par­tic­u­larly as they were al­ways as­sis­ted with lead­ing ques­tions, and the Tor­ture was al­ways ready. I as­sev­er­ate that, dur­ing my oc­cu­pa­tion of Mas­ter B.’s room, I was taken by the ghost that haunted it, on ex­ped­i­tions fully as long and wild as any of those. As­suredly, I was presen­ted to no shabby old man with a goat’s horns and tail (something between Pan and an old clothes­man), hold­ing con­ven­tion­al re­cep­tions, as stu­pid as those of real life and less de­cent; but, I came upon oth­er things which ap­peared to me to have more mean­ing.

Con­fid­ent that I speak the truth and shall be be­lieved, I de­clare without hes­it­a­tion that I fol­lowed the ghost, in the first in­stance on a broom-stick, and af­ter­wards on a rock­ing-horse. The very smell of the an­im­al’s paint—es­pe­cially when I brought it out, by mak­ing him warm—I am ready to swear to. I fol­lowed the ghost, af­ter­wards, in a hack­ney coach; an in­sti­tu­tion with the pe­cu­li­ar smell of which, the present gen­er­a­tion is un­ac­quain­ted, but to which I am again ready to swear as a com­bin­a­tion of stable, dog with the mange, and very old bel­lows. (In this, I ap­peal to pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions to con­firm or re­fute me.) I pur­sued the phantom, on a head­less don­key: at least, upon a don­key who was so in­ter­es­ted in the state of his stom­ach that his head was al­ways down there, in­vest­ig­at­ing it; on ponies, ex­pressly born to kick up be­hind; on round­abouts and swings, from fairs; in the first cab—an­oth­er for­got­ten in­sti­tu­tion where the fare reg­u­larly got in­to bed, and was tucked up with the driver.

Not to trouble you with a de­tailed ac­count of all my travels in pur­suit of the ghost of Mas­ter B., which were longer and more won­der­ful than those of Sin­bad the Sail­or, I will con­fine my­self to one ex­per­i­en­ce from which you may judge of many.

I was mar­vel­lously changed. I was my­self, yet not my­self. I was con­scious of something with­in me, which has been the same all through my life, and which I have al­ways re­cog­nised un­der all its phases and vari­et­ies as nev­er al­ter­ing, and yet I was not the I who had gone to bed in Mas­ter B.’s room. I had the smoothest of faces and the shortest of legs, and I had taken an­oth­er creature like my­self, also with the smoothest of faces and the shortest of legs, be­hind a door, and was con­fid­ing to him a pro­pos­i­tion of the most astound­ing nature.

This pro­pos­i­tion was, that we should have a Seraglio.

The oth­er creature as­sen­ted warmly. He had no no­tion of re­spect­ab­il­ity, neither had I. It was the cus­tom of the East, it was the way of the good Ca­liph Har­oun Alras­chid (let me have the cor­rup­ted name again for once, it is so scen­ted with sweet memor­ies!), the us­age was highly laud­able, and most worthy of im­it­a­tion. “O, yes! Let us,” said the oth­er creature with a jump, “have a Seraglio.”

It was not be­cause we en­ter­tained the faintest doubts of the mer­it­ori­ous char­ac­ter of the Ori­ent­al es­tab­lish­ment we pro­posed to im­port, that we per­ceived it must be kept a secret from Miss Griffin. It was be­cause we knew Miss Griffin to be bereft of hu­man sym­path­ies, and in­cap­able of ap­pre­ci­at­ing the great­ness of the great Har­oun. Mys­tery im­pen­et­rably shrouded from Miss Griffin then, let us en­trust it to Miss Bule.

We were ten in Miss Griffin’s es­tab­lish­ment by Hamp­stead Ponds; eight ladies and two gen­tle­men. Miss Bule, whom I judge to have at­tained the ripe age of eight or nine, took the lead in so­ci­ety. I opened the sub­ject to her in the course of the day, and pro­posed that she should be­come the Fa­vour­ite.

Miss Bule, after strug­gling with the dif­fid­en­ce so nat­ur­al to, and charm­ing in, her ad­or­able sex, ex­pressed her­self as flattered by the idea, but wished to know how it was pro­posed to provide for Miss Pipson? Miss Bule—who was un­der­stood to have vowed to­wards that young lady, a friend­ship, halves, and no secrets, un­til death, on the Church Ser­vice and Les­sons com­plete in two volumes with case and lock—Miss Bule said she could not, as the friend of Pipson, dis­guise from her­self, or me, that Pipson was not one of the com­mon.

Now, Miss Pipson, hav­ing curly hair and blue eyes (which was my idea of any­thing mor­tal and fem­in­ine that was called Fair), I promptly replied that I re­garded Miss Pipson in the light of a Fair Cir­cas­si­an.

“And what then?” Miss Bule pens­ively asked.

I replied that she must be in­veigled by a Mer­chant, brought to me veiled, and pur­chased as a slave.

[The oth­er creature had already fallen in­to the second male place in the State, and was set apart for Grand Viz­ier. He af­ter­wards res­is­ted this dis­pos­al of events, but had his hair pulled un­til he yiel­ded.]

“Shall I not be jeal­ous?” Miss Bule in­quired, cast­ing down her eyes.

“Zobeide, no,” I replied; “you will ever be the fa­vour­ite Sul­tana; the first place in my heart, and on my throne, will be ever yours.”

Miss Bule, upon that as­sur­ance, con­sen­ted to pro­pound the idea to her sev­en beau­ti­ful com­pan­ions. It oc­cur­ring to me, in the course of the same day, that we knew we could trust a grin­ning and good-natured soul called Tabby, who was the serving drudge of the house, and had no more fig­ure than one of the beds, and upon whose face there was al­ways more or less black-lead, I slipped in­to Miss Bule’s hand after sup­per, a little note to that ef­fect; dwell­ing on the black-lead as be­ing in a man­ner de­pos­ited by the fin­ger of Provid­en­ce, point­ing Tabby out for Mes­rour, the cel­eb­rated chief of the Blacks of the Hareem.

There were dif­fi­culties in the form­a­tion of the de­sired in­sti­tu­tion, as there are in all com­bin­a­tions. The oth­er creature showed him­self of a low char­ac­ter, and, when de­feated in as­pir­ing to the throne, pre­ten­ded to have con­sci­en­tious scruples about pros­trat­ing him­self be­fore the Ca­liph; wouldn’t call him Com­mand­er of the Faith­ful; spoke of him slight­ingly and in­con­sist­ently as a mere “chap;” said he, the oth­er creature, “wouldn’t play”—Play!—and was oth­er­wise coarse and of­fens­ive. This mean­ness of dis­pos­i­tion was, however, put down by the gen­er­al in­dig­na­tion of an united Seraglio, and I be­came blessed in the smiles of eight of the fairest of the daugh­ters of men.

The smiles could only be be­stowed when Miss Griffin was look­ing an­oth­er way, and only then in a very wary man­ner, for there was a le­gend among the fol­low­ers of the Proph­et that she saw with a little round or­na­ment in the middle of the pat­tern on the back of her shawl. But every day after din­ner, for an hour, we were all to­geth­er, and then the Fa­vour­ite and the rest of the Roy­al Hareem com­peted who should most be­guile the leis­ure of the Se­rene Har­oun re­pos­ing from the cares of State—which were gen­er­ally, as in most af­fairs of State, of an arith­met­ic­al char­ac­ter, the Com­mand­er of the Faith­ful be­ing a fear­ful bog­gler at a sum.

On these oc­ca­sions, the de­voted Mes­rour, chief of the Blacks of the Hareem, was al­ways in at­tend­ance (Miss Griffin usu­ally ringing for that of­ficer, at the same time, with great vehe­mence), but nev­er ac­quit­ted him­self in a man­ner worthy of his his­tor­ic­al re­pu­ta­tion. In the first place, his bring­ing a broom in­to the Di­van of the Ca­liph, even when Har­oun wore on his shoulders the red robe of an­ger (Miss Pipson’s pe­lisse), though it might be got over for the mo­ment, was nev­er to be quite sat­is­fact­or­ily ac­coun­ted for. In the second place, his break­ing out in­to grin­ning ex­clam­a­tions of “Lork you pret­ties!” was neither East­ern nor re­spect­ful. In the third place, when spe­cially in­struc­ted to say “Bis­mil­lah!” he al­ways said “Hal­le­lu­jah!” This of­ficer, un­like his class, was too good-hu­moured al­to­geth­er, kept his mouth open far too wide, ex­pressed ap­prob­a­tion to an in­con­gru­ous ex­tent, and even once—it was on the oc­ca­sion of the pur­chase of the Fair Cir­cas­si­an for five hun­dred thou­sand purses of gold, and cheap, too—em­braced the Slave, the Fa­vour­ite, and the Ca­liph, all round. (Par­en­thet­ic­ally let me say God bless Mes­rour, and may there have been sons and daugh­ters on that tender bos­om, soften­ing many a hard day since!)

Miss Griffin was a mod­el of pro­pri­ety, and I am at a loss to ima­gine what the feel­ings of the vir­tu­ous wo­man would have been, if she had known, when she paraded us down the Hamp­stead Road two and two, that she was walk­ing with a stately step at the head of Poly­gamy and Ma­homedan­ism. I be­lieve that a mys­ter­i­ous and ter­rible joy with which the con­tem­pla­tion of Miss Griffin, in this un­con­scious state, in­spired us, and a grim sense pre­val­ent among us that there was a dread­ful power in our know­ledge of what Miss Griffin (who knew all things that could be learnt out of book) didn’t know, were the main-spring of the pre­ser­va­tion of our secret. It was won­der­fully kept, but was once upon the verge of self-be­tray­al. The danger and es­cape oc­curred upon a Sunday. We were all ten ranged in a con­spicu­ous part of the gal­lery at church, with Miss Griffin at our head—as we were every Sunday—ad­vert­ising the es­tab­lish­ment in an un­sec­u­lar sort of way—when the de­scrip­tion of So­lomon in his do­mest­ic glory happened to be read. The mo­ment that mon­arch was thus re­ferred to, con­sci­ence whispered me, “Thou, too, Har­oun!” The of­fi­ci­at­ing min­is­ter had a cast in his eye, and it as­sis­ted con­sci­ence by giv­ing him the ap­pear­ance of read­ing per­son­ally at me. A crim­son blush, at­ten­ded by a fear­ful per­spir­a­tion, suf­fused my fea­tures. The Grand Viz­ier be­came more dead than alive, and the whole Seraglio reddened as if the sun­set of Bag­dad shone dir­ect upon their lovely faces. At this portent­ous time the aw­ful Griffin rose, and bale­fully sur­veyed the chil­dren of Is­lam. My own im­pres­sion was, that Church and State had entered in­to a con­spir­acy with Miss Griffin to ex­pose us, and that we should all be put in­to white sheets, and ex­hib­ited in the centre aisle. But, so West­erly—if I may be al­lowed the ex­pres­sion as op­pos­ite to East­ern as­so­ci­ations—was Miss Griffin’s sense of rectitude, that she merely sus­pec­ted Apples, and we were saved.

I have called the Seraglio, united. Upon the ques­tion, solely, wheth­er the Com­mand­er of the Faith­ful durst ex­er­cise a right of kiss­ing in that sanc­tu­ary of the palace, were its peer­less in­mates di­vided. Zobeide as­ser­ted a counter-right in the Fa­vour­ite to scratch, and the fair Cir­cas­si­an put her face, for refuge, in­to a green baize bag, ori­gin­ally de­signed for books. On the oth­er hand, a young ante­lope of tran­scend­ent beauty from the fruit­ful plains of Cam­den Town (whence she had been brought, by traders, in the half-yearly cara­van that crossed the in­ter­me­di­ate desert after the hol­i­days), held more lib­er­al opin­ions, but stip­u­lated for lim­it­ing the be­ne­fit of them to that dog, and son of a dog, the Grand Viz­ier—who had no rights, and was not in ques­tion. At length, the dif­fi­culty was com­prom­ised by the in­stall­a­tion of a very youth­ful slave as Deputy. She, raised upon a stool, of­fi­cially re­ceived upon her cheeks the sa­lutes in­ten­ded by the gra­cious Har­oun for oth­er Sul­tanas, and was privately re­war­ded from the cof­fers of the Ladies of the Hareem.

And now it was, at the full height of en­joy­ment of my bliss, that I be­came heav­ily troubled. I began to think of my moth­er, and what she would say to my tak­ing home at Mid­sum­mer eight of the most beau­ti­ful of the daugh­ters of men, but all un­ex­pec­ted. I thought of the num­ber of beds we made up at our house, of my fath­er’s in­come, and of the baker, and my des­pond­en­cy re­doubled. The Seraglio and ma­li­cious Viz­ier, divin­ing the cause of their Lord’s un­hap­pi­ness, did their ut­most to aug­ment it. They pro­fessed un­boun­ded fi­del­ity, and de­clared that they would live and die with him. Re­duced to the ut­most wretched­ness by these prot­est­a­tions of at­tach­ment, I lay awake, for hours at a time, ru­min­at­ing on my fright­ful lot. In my des­pair, I think I might have taken an early op­por­tun­ity of fall­ing on my knees be­fore Miss Griffin, avow­ing my re­semb­lance to So­lomon, and pray­ing to be dealt with ac­cord­ing to the out­raged laws of my coun­try, if an un­thought-of means of es­cape had not opened be­fore me.

One day, we were out walk­ing, two and two—on which oc­ca­sion the Viz­ier had his usu­al in­struc­tions to take note of the boy at the turn­pike, and if he pro­fanely gazed (which he al­ways did) at the beau­ties of the Hareem, to have him bow­strung in the course of the night—and it happened that our hearts were veiled in gloom. An un­ac­count­able ac­tion on the part of the ante­lope had plunged the State in­to dis­grace. That charm­er, on the rep­res­ent­a­tion that the pre­vi­ous day was her birth­day, and that vast treas­ures had been sent in a hamper for its cel­eb­ra­tion (both base­less as­ser­tions), had secretly but most press­ingly in­vited thirty-five neigh­bour­ing princes and prin­cesses to a ball and sup­per: with a spe­cial stip­u­la­tion that they were “not to be fetched till twelve.” This wan­der­ing of the ante­lope’s fancy, led to the sur­pris­ing ar­rival at Miss Griffin’s door, in divers equipages and un­der vari­ous es­corts, of a great com­pany in full dress, who were de­pos­ited on the top step in a flush of high ex­pect­ancy, and who were dis­missed in tears. At the be­gin­ning of the double knocks at­tend­ant on these ce­re­mon­ies, the ante­lope had re­tired to a back at­tic, and bolted her­self in; and at every new ar­rival, Miss Griffin had gone so much more and more dis­trac­ted, that at last she had been seen to tear her front. Ul­ti­mate ca­pit­u­la­tion on the part of the of­fend­er, had been fol­lowed by solitude in the lin­en-closet, bread and wa­ter and a lec­ture to all, of vin­dict­ive length, in which Miss Griffin had used ex­pres­sions: Firstly, “I be­lieve you all of you knew of it;” Secondly, “Every one of you is as wicked as an­oth­er;” Thirdly, “A pack of little wretches.”

Un­der these cir­cum­stances, we were walk­ing drear­ily along; and I es­pe­cially, with my Moo­sul­maun re­spons­ib­il­it­ies heavy on me, was in a very low state of mind; when a strange man ac­cos­ted Miss Griffin, and, after walk­ing on at her side for a little while and talk­ing with her, looked at me. Sup­pos­ing him to be a min­ion of the law, and that my hour was come, I in­stantly ran away, with the gen­er­al pur­pose of mak­ing for Egypt.

The whole Seraglio cried out, when they saw me mak­ing off as fast as my legs would carry me (I had an im­pres­sion that the first turn­ing on the left, and round by the pub­lic-house, would be the shortest way to the Pyr­am­ids), Miss Griffin screamed after me, the faith­less Viz­ier ran after me, and the boy at the turn­pike dodged me in­to a corner, like a sheep, and cut me off. Nobody scol­ded me when I was taken and brought back; Miss Griffin only said, with a stun­ning gen­tle­ness, This was very curi­ous! Why had I run away when the gen­tle­man looked at me?

If I had had any breath to an­swer with, I dare say I should have made no an­swer; hav­ing no breath, I cer­tainly made none. Miss Griffin and the strange man took me between them, and walked me back to the palace in a sort of state; but not at all (as I couldn’t help feel­ing, with as­ton­ish­ment) in cul­prit state.

When we got there, we went in­to a room by ourselves, and Miss Griffin called in to her as­sist­ance, Mes­rour, chief of the dusky guards of the Hareem. Mes­rour, on be­ing whispered to, began to shed tears. “Bless you, my pre­cious!” said that of­ficer, turn­ing to me; “your Pa’s took bit­ter bad!”

I asked, with a fluttered heart, “Is he very ill?”

“Lord tem­per the wind to you, my lamb!” said the good Mes­rour, kneel­ing down, that I might have a com­fort­ing shoulder for my head to rest on, “your Pa’s dead!”

Har­oun Alras­chid took to flight at the words; the Seraglio van­ished; from that mo­ment, I nev­er again saw one of the eight of the fairest of the daugh­ters of men.

I was taken home, and there was Debt at home as well as Death, and we had a sale there. My own little bed was so su­per­cili­ously looked upon by a Power un­known to me, hazily called “The Trade,” that a brass coal-scuttle, a roast­ing-jack, and a bird­cage, were ob­liged to be put in­to it to make a Lot of it, and then it went for a song. So I heard men­tioned, and I wondered what song, and thought what a dis­mal song it must have been to sing!

Then, I was sent to a great, cold, bare, school of big boys; where everything to eat and wear was thick and clumpy, without be­ing enough; where every­body, large and small, was cruel; where the boys knew all about the sale, be­fore I got there, and asked me what I had fetched, and who had bought me, and hooted at me, “Go­ing, go­ing, gone!” I nev­er whispered in that wretched place that I had been Har­oun, or had had a Seraglio: for, I knew that if I men­tioned my re­verses, I should be so wor­ried, that I should have to drown my­self in the muddy pond near the play­ground, which looked like the beer.

Ah me, ah me! No oth­er ghost has haunted the boy’s room, my friends, since I have oc­cu­pied it, than the ghost of my own child­hood, the ghost of my own in­no­cence, the ghost of my own airy be­lief. Many a time have I pur­sued the phantom: nev­er with this man’s stride of mine to come up with it, nev­er with these man’s hands of mine to touch it, nev­er more to this man’s heart of mine to hold it in its pur­ity. And here you see me work­ing out, as cheer­fully and thank­fully as I may, my doom of shav­ing in the glass a con­stant change of cus­tom­ers, and of ly­ing down and rising up with the skel­et­on al­lot­ted to me for my mor­tal com­pan­ion.

* * *

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