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....
“As yet it is only an idea, you know,” said Dobbs; “and if you have ever had any experience with ideas, Tenny, you are probably aware that, unless reduced to a practical basis, an idea is of no more value than a theory.”
“True,” Tenafly replied. “I can demonstrate that in five minutes at the Waldoria. For instance, you see, Dobbsy, I have an idea that I am as hungry as a bear, but as yet it is only a theory, from which I derive no substantial benefit. Place a portion of whitebait, a filet Bearnaise, and a quart of Sauterne before me, and—”
“I see,” said Dobbsy. “Come along.”..
Charon, the Ferryman of renown, was cruising slowly along the Styx one pleasant Friday morning not long ago, and as he paddled idly on he chuckled mildly to himself as he thought of the monopoly in ferriage which in the course of years he had managed to build up.
“It’s a great thing,” he said, with a smirk of satisfaction—“it’s a great thing to be the go-between between two states of being; to have the exclusive franchise to export and import shades from one state to the other, and withal to have had as clean a record as mine has been. Valuable as is my franchise, I never corrupted a public official in my life, and—”
Here Charon stopped his soliloquy and his boat simultaneously. As he rounded one of the many turns in the river a singular object met his gaze, and one, too, that filled him with misgiving. It was another craft, and that was a thing not to be tolerated. Had he, Charon, owned the exclusive right of way on the Styx all these years to have it disputed here in the closing decade of the Nineteenth Century? Had not he dealt satisfactorily with all, whether it was in the line of ferriage or in the providing of boats for pleasure-trips up the river? Had he not received expressions of satisfaction, indeed, from the most exclusive families of Hades with the very select series of picnics he had given at Charon’s Glen Island? No wonder, then, that the queer-looking boat that met his gaze, moored in a shady nook on the dark side of the river, filled him with dismay.
“Blow me for a landlubber if I like that!” he said, in a hardly audible whisper. “And shiver my timbers if I don’t find out what she’s there for. If anybody thinks he can run an opposition line to mine on this river he’s mightily mistaken. If it comes to competition, I can carry shades for nothing and still quaff the B. & G. yellow-label benzine three times a day without experiencing a financial panic. I’ll show ’em a thing or two if they attempt to rival me. And what a boat! It looks for all the world like a Florentine barn on a canal-boat.”...
It had been a long and trying day to Jimmieboy, as December 24th usually is to children of his age, who have great expectations, and are more or less impatient to have them fulfilled. He had been positively cross at supper-time because his father had said that Santa Claus had written to say that a much-desired velocipede could not be got down through the chimney, and that he thought Jimmieboy would have to wait until the chimneys had been enlarged, or his papa had built a new house with more commodious flues.
"I think it's just too bad," said Jimmieboy, as he climbed into bed an hour later. "Just because those chimneys are small, I can't have a philocipede, and I've been gooder than ever for two weeks, just to get it."
Then, as his nurse extinguished the lamp and went into the adjoining room to sew, Jimmieboy threw himself back upon his pillow and shed a tear. The tear crept slowly down over his cheek, and was about to disappear between his lips and go back again to where it had started from, when a voice was heard over by the fire-place.
"Can you get it down?" it said.
Jimmieboy sat up and peered over toward the spot whence the voice came, but could see nothing.
"No. The hind wheels won't go through the chimney-pot, and even if they would, it wouldn't do any good. The front wheel is twice as big as the hind ones," said another voice, this one apparently belonging to some one on the roof. "Can't you get it in through the front door?"
"What do you take me for—an expressman?" cried the voice at the fire-place. "I can't leave things that way. It wouldn't be the proper thing. Can't you get a smaller size through?"...
The guests at Mrs. Smithers's high-class boarding-house for gentlemen had assembled as usual for breakfast, and in a few moments Mary, the dainty waitress, entered with the steaming coffee, the mush, and the rolls.
The School-master, who, by-the-way, was suspected by Mrs. Smithers of having intentions, and who for that reason occupied the chair nearest the lady's heart, folded up the morning paper, and placing it under him so that no one else could get it, observed, quite genially for him, "It was very wet yesterday."
"I didn't find it so," observed a young man seated half-way down the table, who was by common consent called the Idiot, because of his "views." "In fact, I was very dry. Curious thing, I'm always dry on rainy days. I am one of the kind of men who know that it is the part of wisdom to stay in when it rains, or to carry an umbrella when it is not possible to stay at home, or, having no home, like ourselves, to remain cooped up in stalls, or stalled up in coops, as you may prefer."
"You carried an umbrella, then?" queried the landlady, ignoring the Idiot's shaft at the size of her "elegant and airy apartments" with an ease born of experience.
"Yes, madame," returned the Idiot, quite unconscious of what was coming....
It was perfectly natural in one respect, anyhow. There was really no reason in the world why Tom should not lie upon the great bear-skin rug in front of the library fire those cold winter nights if he wanted to, nor need anyone be surprised that he should want to. It was indeed a most delightful place to lie in. The bear-skin was soft and in every way comfortable and comforting. The fireplace itself was one of those huge hospitable affairs that might pass in some apartment houses in our narrow cooped-up city streets for a butler's pantry or small reception room—in fact in the summer time Tom used to sit in the fireplace and pretend he was in his office transacting business with such of his sister's dolls as could be induced to visit him there; giving orders to imaginary clerks and bookkeepers and keeping an equally fanciful office boy continually on the run. And then apart from the rug and the fireplace it was a beautiful room in which they were. Tom's father was very fond of books, and, although he was a great many years older than Tom, he had not forgotten how to enjoy the very same kind of books that Tom liked. He was not ashamed to have one little niche of his library filled with the stories which had delighted him in his boyhood days, and which still continued to please him, and, of course, this lent an additional charm to the library in Tom's eyes. It held his heroes, and on some of those drowsy nights when the only sounds to break the stillness of the room were the scratching of his father's pen, the soft humming of some little tune by his mother sitting and sewing by the evening lamp, and the fierce crackling of the burning logs, Tom could almost see these heroes stepping down from the shelves and like so many phantoms flitting in and about the room. In fact, upon one occasion, Tom is convinced he did see these very people having a dance upon the great tiled hearth—but of that you shall hear later...
There are moments of supreme embarrassment in the lives of persons given to veracity,—indeed it has been my own unusual experience in life that the truth well stuck to is twice as hard a proposition as a lie so obvious that no one is deceived by it at the outset. I cannot quite agree with my friend, Caddy Barlow, who says that in a tight place it is better to lie at once and be done with it than to tell the truth which will need forty more truths to explain it, but I must confess that in my forty years of absolute and conscientious devotion to truth I have found myself in holes far deeper than any my most mendacious of friends ever got into. I do not propose, however, to desert at this late hour the Goddess I have always worshipped because she leads me over a rough and rocky road, and whatever may be the hardships involved in my wooing I intend to the very end to remain the ever faithful slave of Mademoiselle Veracité. All of which I state here in prefatory mood, and in order, in so far as it is possible for me to do so, to disarm the incredulous and sniffy reader who may be inclined to doubt the truth of my story of how the manuscript of the following pages came into my possession. I am quite aware that to some the tale will appear absolutely and intolerably impossible. I know that if any other than I told it to me I should not believe it. Yet despite these drawbacks the story is in all particulars, essential and otherwise, absolutely truthful.
The facts are briefly these:
It was not, to begin with, a dark and dismal evening. ...
These sufferings involve a loss of appetite for days in advance of the event; a complete derangement of the nervous system, with no chance of recovery for at least ten days preceding the emergent hour, since sleep either refuses to come to one's relief altogether, or coming brings in its train a species of nerve-racking dream which leaves the last estate of the weary slumberer worse than the first. The complication is far more difficult to handle than that involved in the maturity of a promissory note which one is unable to meet; for there are conditions under which a tender-hearted creditor will permit a renewal of the latter sort of obligation, and this thought provides some sort of rift in the cloud of a debtor's despair....
For the purposes of this bit of history, Bangletop Hall stands upon a grassy knoll on the left bank of the River Dee, about eighteen miles from the quaint old city of Chester. It does not in reality stand there, nor has it ever done so, but consideration for the interests of the living compels me to conceal its exact location, and so to befog the public as to its whereabouts that its identity may never be revealed to its disadvantage. It is a rentable property, and were it known that it has had a mystery connected with it of so deep, dark, and eerie a nature as that about to be related, I fear that its usefulness, save as an accessory to romance, would be seriously impaired, and that as an investment it would become practically worthless.
The hall is a fair specimen of the architecture which prevailed at the time of Edward the Confessor; that is to say, the main portion of the structure, erected in Edward's time by the first Baron Bangletop, has that square, substantial, stony aspect which to the eye versed in architecture identifies it at once as a product of that enlightened era. Later owners, the successive Barons Bangletop, have added to its original dimensions, putting Queen Anne wings here, Elizabethan ells there, and an Italian-Renaissance facade on the river front. A Wisconsin water tower, connected with the main building by a low Gothic alleyway, stands to the south; while toward the east is a Greek chapel, used by the present occupant as a store-room for his wife's trunks, she having lately returned from Paris with a wardrobe calculated to last through the first half of the coming London season. Altogether Bangletop Hall is an impressive structure, and at first sight gives rise to various emotions in the aesthetic breast; some cavil, others admire. One leading architect of Berlin travelled all the way from his German home to Bangletop Hall to show that famous structure to his son, a student in the profession which his father adorned; to whom he is said to have observed that...
Having recently passed into what my great-grandson Shem calls my Anecdotage, it has occurred to me that perhaps some of the recollections of a more or less extended existence upon this globular mass of dust and water that we are pleased to call the earth, may prove of interest to posterity, and I have accordingly, at the earnest solicitation of my grandson, Noah, and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japhet, consented to put them into permanent literary form. In view of the facts that at this writing, ink and paper and pens have not as yet been invented, and that we have no capable stenographers among our village folk, and that because of my advanced years I should find great difficulty in producing my manuscript on a type-writing machine with my gouty fingers—for, of the luscious fluid of the grape have I been a ready, though never over-abundant, consumer—even if I were familiar with the keyboard of such an instrument, or, if indeed, there were any such instrument to facilitate the work—in view of these facts, I say, I have been compelled to make use of the literary methods of the Egyptians, and with hammer and chisel, to gouge out my "Few Remarks" upon such slabs of stone as I can find upon my native heath.
It is quite interesting, in the light of the contentions of history as to man's earliest realization that the earth is round, to find Methuselah speaking in this fashion. It would seem from this that the real facts had dawned upon the Patriarch's mind even at this early period, and one is therefore disposed to regard as less apocryphal the anecdote recorded in Volume III, Chapter 38, of "The Life and Voyages of Noah," wherein Adam, after being ejected from the Garden of Eden, asked by Cain if he believes the world to be round like an orange, replies...
“I don’t recall any other,” said Mr. Whitechoker...
"I can't stand it!" cried Raleigh, desperately, as with his accustomed grace he presided over a special meeting of the club, called on the bank of the inky Stygian stream, at the point where the missing boat had been moored. "Think of it, gentlemen, Elizabeth of England, Calpurnia of Rome, Ophelia of Denmark, and every precious jewel in our social diadem gone, vanished completely; and with whom? Kidd, of all men in the universe! Kidd, the pirate, the ruffian—"
"Don't take on so, my dear Sir Walter," said Socrates, cheerfully. "What's the use of going into hysterics? You are not a woman, and should eschew that luxury. Xanthippe is with them, and I'll warrant you that when that cherished spouse of mine has recovered from the effects of the sea, say the third day out, Kidd and his crew will be walking the plank, and voluntarily at that."
"But the House-boat itself," murmured Noah, sadly. "That was my delight. It reminded me in some respects of the Ark."
"The law of compensation enters in there, my dear Commodore," retorted Socrates. "For me, with Xanthippe abroad I do not need a club to go to; I can stay at home and take my hemlock in peace and straight. Xanthippe always compelled me to dilute it at the rate of one quart of water to the finger."
"Well, we didn't all marry Xanthippe," put in Caesar firmly, "therefore we are not all satisfied with the situation. I, for one, quite agree with Sir Walter that something must be done, and quickly. Are we to sit here and do nothing, allowing that fiend to kidnap our wives with impunity?"
"Not at all," interposed Bonaparte. "The time for action has arrived. All things considered, he is welcome to Marie Louise, but the idea of Josephine going off on a cruise of that kind breaks my heart."
"No question about it," observed Dr. Johnson. "We've got to do something if it is only for the sake of appearances. The question really is, what shall be done first?"
"I am in favor of taking a drink as the first step, and considering the matter of further action afterwards," suggested Shakespeare, and it was this suggestion that made the members unanimous upon the necessity for immediate action, for when the assembled spirits called for their various favorite beverages it was found that there were none to be had, it being Sunday, and all the establishments wherein liquid refreshments were licensed to be sold being closed—for at the time of writing the local government of Hades was in the hands of the reform party.
"What!" cried Socrates. "Nothing but Styx water and vitriol, Sundays? Then the House-boat must be recovered whether Xanthippe comes with it or not. Sir Walter, I am for immediate action, after all. This ruffian should be captured at once and made an example of."
"Excuse me, Socrates," put in Lindley Murray, "but, ah—pray speak in Greek hereafter, will you, please? When you attempt English you have a beastly way of working up to climatic prepositions which are offensive to the ear of a purist."
"This is no time to discuss style, Murray," interposed Sir Walter. "Socrates may speak and spell like Chaucer if he pleases; he may even part his infinitives in the middle, for all I care. We have affairs of greater moment in hand."
"We must ransack the earth," cried Socrates, "until we find that boat. I'm dry as a fish."
"There he goes again!" growled Murray. "Dry as a fish! What fish,
I'd like to know, is dry?"