Humorous Ghost Stories
by Dorothy Scarborough
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

A servant brought candles, and Hobson turned to retire.

"The same blood!" I shouted after him. "What on earth is the name of the ghost?"

"When he was alive his name was—Sir Geoffray de Pierrepont," said Thaddeus Hobson, his figure fading into the dimness beyond.

I followed the servant with the candle aloft through chill and carven corridors, through galleries lined with faded portraits of forgotten lords. "Wheels!" I kept saying to myself. "The old man evidently thinks it takes a live Pierrepont to coax a dead one," and I laughed nervously as I entered the vast brown bedroom. I had to get on a chair in order to climb into the four-poster, a cheerful affair that looked like a royal funeral barge. At my head I noticed a carved device, seven mailed hands snatching at a sword with the motto: "CAVE ADSUM!"

"Beware, I am here!" I translated. Who was here? Ghosts? Fudge! What hideous scenes had this chamber beheld of yore? What might not happen here now? Where, by the way, was old Hobson's daughter, Anita? Might not anything be possible? I covered my head with the bedclothes.

* * * * *

Next morning being mild and bright for December, and Thaddeus Hobson and his mysterious daughter not having showed up for breakfast, I amused myself by inspecting the exterior of the castle. In daylight I could see that Gauntmoor, as now restored, consisted of only a portion of the original structure. On the west side, near a sheer fall of forty or fifty feet, stood the donjon tower, a fine piece of medieval barbarism with a peaked roof. And, sure enough! I saw it all now. Running along the entire west side of the castle was a wonderful wall, stretching above the moat to a dizzy height. It was no difficult matter to mount this wall from the courtyard, above which it rose no more than eight or ten feet. I ascended by a rude sentry's staircase, and once on top I gazed upward at the tall medieval prison-place, which reared above me like a clumsy stone chimney. Just as I stood, at the top of the wall, I was ten or twelve feet below the lowest window of the donjon tower. This, then, was the wall that the ancient Pierrepont had scaled, and yonder was the donjon window that he had planned to plunder on that fatal night so long ago. And this was where Pierrepont the Ghost was supposed to appear!

How the lover of spectral memory had managed to scale that wall from the outside, I could not quite make out. But once on the wall, it was no trick to snatch the damsel from her durance vile. Just drop a long rope ladder from the wall to the moat, then crawl along the narrow ledge—got to be careful with a job like that—then up to the window of the donjon keep, and away with the Lady Fair. Why, that window above the ramparts would be an easy climb for a fellow with strong arms and a little nerve, as the face of the tower from the wall to the window was studded with ancient spikes and the projecting ends of beams.

I counted the feet, one, two, three—and as I looked up at the window, a small, white hand reached out and a pink slip of paper dropped at my feet. It read:

DEAR SIR: I'm Miss Hobson. I'm locked in the donjon tower. Father always locks me here when there's a young man about. It's a horrid, uncomfortable place. Won't you hurry and go?

Yours respectfully,


I knew it was easy. I swung myself aloft on the spikes and stones leading to the donjon window. When I was high enough I gazed in, my chin about even with the sill. And there I saw the prettiest girl I ever beheld, gazing down at a book tranquilly, as though gentlemanly rescuers were common as toads around that tower. She wore something soft and golden; her hair was night-black, and her eyes were that peculiar shade of gray that—but what's the use?

"Pardon," I said, holding on with my right hand, lifting my hat with my left. "Pardon, am I addressing Miss Annie Hobson?"

"You are not," she replied, only half looking up. "You are addressing Miss Anita Hobson. Calling me Annie is another little habit father ought to break himself of." She went on reading.

"Is that a very interesting book?" I asked, because I didn't like to go without saying something more.

"It isn't!" She arose suddenly and hurled the book into a corner. "It's Anthony Hope—and if there's anything I hate it's him. Father always gives me Prisoner of Zenda and Ivanhoe to read when he locks me into this donjon. Says I ought to read up on the situation. Do you think so?"

"There are some other books in the library," I suggested. "Bernard Shaw and Kipling, you know. I'll run over and get you one."

"That's fine—but no!" she besought, reaching out her hand to detain me. "No, don't go! If you went away you'd never come back. They never do."

"Who never do?"

"The young men. The very instant father sees one coming he pops me in the tower and turns the key. You see," she explained, "when I was in Italy I was engaged to a duke—he was a silly little thing and I was glad when he turned out bogus. But father took the deception awfully to heart and swore I should never be married for my money. Yet I don't see what else a young girl can expect," she added quite simply.

I could have mentioned several hundred things.

"He has no right!" I said sternly. "It's barbarous for him to treat a girl that way—especially his daughter."

"Hush!" she said. "Dad's a good sort. But you can't measure him by other people's standards. And yet—oh, it's maddening, this life! Day after day—loneliness. Nothing but stone walls and rusty armor and books. We're rich, but what do we get out of it? I have nobody of my own age to talk to. How the years are passing! After a while—I'll be—an old maid. I'm twenty-one now!" I heard a sob. Her pretty head was bowed in her hands.

Desperately I seized the bars of the window and miraculously they parted. I leaned across the sill and drew her hands gently down.

"Listen to me," I said. "If I break in and steal you away from this, will you go?"

"Go?" she said. "Where?"

"My aunt lives at Seven Oaks, less than an hour from here by train. You can stay there till your father comes to his reason."

"It's quite like father never to come to his reason," she reflected. "Then I should have to be self-supporting. Of course, I should appreciate employment in a candy shop—I think I know all the principal kinds."

"Will you go?" I asked.

"Yes," she replied simply, "I'll go. But how can I get away from here?"

"To-night," I said, "is Christmas Eve, when Pierrepont the Ghost is supposed to walk along the wall—right under this window. You don't believe that fairy story, do you?"


"Neither do I. But can't you see? The haunted wall begins at my window on one end of the castle and ends at your window on the other. The bars of your cell, I see, are nearly all loose."

"Yes," she laughed, "I pried them out with a pair of scissors."

I could hear Hobson's voice across the court giving orders to servants.

"Your father's coming. Remember to-night," I whispered.

"Midnight," she said softly, smiling out at me. I could have faced flocks and flocks of dragons for her at that moment. The old man was coming nearer. I swung to the ground and escaped into a ruined court.

Well, the hours that followed were anxious and busy for me. I worked in the glamour of romance like a soldier about to do some particularly brave and foolish thing. From the window of my room I looked down on the narrow, giddy wall below. It was a brave and foolish thing. Among the rubbish in an old armory I found a coil of stout rope, forty or fifty feet of it. This I smuggled away. From a remote hall I borrowed a Crusader's helmet and spent the balance of the afternoon in my room practicing with a sheet across my shoulders, shroud-fashion.

We dined grandly at eight, the old man and I. He drank thirstily and chatted about the ghost, as you might discuss the chances in a coming athletic event. After what seemed an age he looked at his watch and cried: "Whillikens! Eleven o'clock already! Well, I'll be going up to watch from the haunted room. I think, Jeff, that you'll bring me luck to-night."

"I am sure I shall!" I answered sardonically, as he departed.

Three quarters of an hour later, wearing the Crusader's helmet and swathed in a bedsheet, I let myself down from the window to the haunted wall below. It was moonlight, bitter cold as I crouched on the wall, waiting for the stroke of twelve, when I should act the spook and walk along that precarious ledge to rescue Anita.

The "haunted wall," I observed from where I stood, was shaped like an irregular crescent, being in plain view of Hobson's "haunted room" at the middle, but not so at its north and south ends, where my chamber and Anita's tower were respectively situated. I pulled out my watch from under my winding-sheet. Three minutes of twelve. I drew down the vizor of my helmet and gathered up my cerements preparatory to walking the hundred feet of wall which would bring me in sight of the haunted room where old Hobson kept his vigil. Two minutes, one minute I waited, when—I suddenly realized I was not alone.

A man wearing a long cloak and a feather in his cap was coming toward me along the moonlit masonry. Aha! So I was not the only masquerading swain calling on the captive princess in the prison tower. A jealous pang shot through me as I realized this.

The man was within twenty feet of me, when I noticed something. He was not walking on the wall. He was walking on air, three or four feet above the wall. Nearer and nearer came the man—the Thing—now into the light of the moon, whose beams seemed to strike through his misty tissue like the thrust of a sword. I was horribly scared. My knees loosened under me, and I clutched the vines at my back to save me from falling into the moat below. Now I could see his face, and somehow fear seemed to leave me. His expression was so young and human.

"Ghost of the Pierrepont," I thought, "whether you walk in shadow or in light, you lived among a race of Men!"

His noble, pallid face seemed to burn with its own pale light, but his eyes were in darkness. He was now within two yards of me. I could see the dagger at his belt. I could see the gory cut on his forehead. I attempted to speak, but my voice creaked like a rusty hinge. He neither heeded nor saw me; and when he came to the spot where I stood, he did not turn out for me. He walked through me! And when next I saw him he was a few feet beyond me, standing in mid-air over the moat and gazing up at the high towers like one revisiting old scenes. Again he floated toward me and poised on the wall four feet from where I stood.

"What do you here to-night?" suddenly spoke, or seemed to speak, a voice that was like the echo of a silence.

No answer came from my frozen tongue. Yet I would gladly have spoken, because somehow I felt a great sympathy for this boyish spirit.

"It has been many earth-years," he said, "since I have walked these towers. And ah, cousin, it has been many miles that I have been called to-night to answer the summons of my race. And this fortress—what power has moved it overseas to this mad kingdom? Magic!"

His eyes seemed suddenly to blaze through the shadows.

"Cousin," he again spoke, "it is to you that I come from my far-off English tomb. It was your need called me. It is no pious deed brings you to this wall to-night. You are planning to pillage these towers unworthily, even as I did yesterday. Death was my portion, and broken hearts to the father I wronged and the girl I sought."

"But it is the father wrongs the girl here," I heard myself saying.

"He who rules these towers to-day is of stern mind but loving heart," said the ghost. "Patience. By the Star that redeems the world, love should not be won to-night by stealth, but by—love."

He raised his hands toward the tower, his countenance radiant with an undying passion.

"She called to me and died," he said, "and her little ghost comes not to earth again for any winter moon or any summer wind."

"But you—you come often?" my voice was saying.

"No," said the ghost, "only on Christmas Eve. Yule is the tide of specters; for then the thoughts of the world are so beautiful that they enter our dreams and call us back."

He turned to go, and a boyish, friendly smile rested a moment on his pale face.

"Farewell, Sir Geoffray de Pierrepont," he called to me.

Into the misty moonlight the ghost floated to that portion of the wall directly opposite the haunted room. From where I stood I could not see this chamber. After a moment I shook my numb senses to life. My first instinct was one of strong human curiosity, which impelled me to follow far enough to see the effect of the apparition on old Hobson, who must be watching at the window.

I tiptoed a hundred feet along the wall and peered around a turret up to a room above, where Hobson's head could easily be seen in a patch of light. The ghost, at that moment, was walking just below, and the effect on the old man, appalling though it was, was ludicrous as well. He was leaning far out of the window, his mouth wide open; and the entire disk of his fat, hairless head was as pallid as the moon itself. The specter, who was now rounding the curve of the wall near the tower, swerved suddenly, and as suddenly seemed to totter headlong into the abyss below. As he dropped, a wild laugh broke through the frosty air. It wasn't from the ghost. It came from above—yes, it emanated from Thaddeus Hobson, who had, apparently, fallen back, leaving the window empty. Lights began breaking out all over the castle. In another moment I should be caught in my foolish disguise. With the courage of a coward, I turned and ran full tilt along the dizzy ledge and back to my window, where I lost no seconds scrambling up the rope that led to my room.

With all possible haste I threw aside my sheet and helmet and started downstairs. I had just wrestled with a ghost; I would now have it out with the old man. The castle seemed ablaze below. I saw the flash of a light skirt in the picture gallery, and Anita, pale as the vision I had so lately beheld, came running toward me.

"Father—saw it!" she panted. "He had some sort of sinking spell—he's better now—isn't it awful!" She clung to me, sobbing hysterically.

Before I realized what I had done, I was holding her close in my arms.

"Don't!" I cried. "It was a good ghost—he had a finer spirit than mine. He came to-night for you, dear, and for me. It was a foolish thing we planned."

"Yes, but I wanted, I wanted to go!" she sobbed now crying frankly on my shoulder.

"You are going with me," I said fiercely, raising her head. "But not over any ghost-ridden breakneck wall. We're going this time through the big front door of this old castle, American fashion, and there'll be an automobile waiting outside and a parson at the other end of the line."

We found Thaddeus Hobson alone, in the vast hall looking blankly at the fire.

"Jeff," he said solemnly, "you sure brought me luck to-night if you can call it such being scared into a human icicle. Br-r-r! Shall I ever get the cold out of my backbone? But somehow, somehow that foggy feller outside sort of changed my look on things. It made me feel kinder toward living folks. Ain't it strange!"

"Mr. Hobson," I said, "I think the ghost has made us all see things differently. In a word, sir, I have a confession to make—if you don't mind."

And I told him briefly of my accidental meeting with Anita in the donjon, of the practical joke we planned, of our sudden meeting with the real ghost on the ramparts. Mr. Hobson listened, his face growing redder and redder. At the finish of my story he suddenly leaped to his feet and brought his fist down on the table with a bang.

"Well, you little devils!" he said admiringly, and burst into loud laughter. "You're a spunky lad, Jeff. And there ain't any doubt that the de Pierreponts are as good stuff as you can get in the ancestry business. The Christmas supper is spread in the banquet hall. Come, de Pierrepont, will you sup with the old Earl?"

* * * * *

The huge oaken banquet hall, lined with rich hangings, shrunk us to dwarfs by its vastness. Golden goblets were at each place. A butler, dressed in antique livery, threw a red cloak over Hobson's fat shoulders. It was a whim of the old man's.

As we took our places, I noticed the table was set for four.

"Whose is the extra place?" I asked.

The old man at first made no reply. At last he turned to me earnestly and said: "Do you believe in ghosts?"

"No," I replied. "Yet how else can I explain that vision I saw on the ramparts?"

"Is the fourth place for him?" Anita almost whispered.

The old man nodded mutely and raised a golden goblet.

"To the Transplanted Ghost!" I said. It was an empty goblet that I touched to my lips.



From Scribner's Magazine. Copyright, 1907, by Charles Scribner's Sons. By permission of the publishers and Nelson Lloyd.

The Last Ghost in Harmony


From his perch on the blacksmith's anvil he spoke between the puffs of his post-prandial pipe. The fire in the forge was out and the day was going slowly, through the open door of the shop and the narrow windows, westward to the mountains. In the advancing shadow, on the pile of broken wheels on the work-bench, on keg and barrel, they sat puffing their post-prandial pipes and listening.

* * * * *

For a partner in business I want a truthful man, but for a companion give me one with imagination. To my mind imagination is the spice of life. There is nothing so uninteresting as a fact, for when you know it that is the end of it. When life becomes nothing but facts it won't be worth living; yet in a few years the race will have no imagination left. It is being educated out. Look at the children. When I was young the bogey man was as real to me as pa and nearly as much to be feared of, but just yesterday I was lectured for merely mentioning him to my neffy. So with ghosts. We was taught to believe in ghosts the same as we was in Adam or Noar. Nowadays nobody believes in them. It is unscientific, and if you are superstitious you are considered ignorant and laughed at. Ghosts are the product of the imagination, but if I imagine I see one he is as real to me as if he actually exists, isn't he? Therefore he does exist. That's logic. You fellows have become scientific and admits only what you see and feel, and don't depend on your imagination for anything. Such being the case, I myself admit that the sperrits no longer ha'nt the burying-ground or play around your houses. I admit it because the same condition exact existed in Harmony when I was there, and because of what was told me by Robert J. Dinkle about two years after he died, and because of what occurred between me and him and the Rev. Mr. Spiegelnail.

Harmony was a highly intellectual town. About the last man there with any imagination or interesting ideas, excepting me, of course, was Robert J. Dinkle. Yet he had an awful reputation, and when he died it was generally stated privately that the last landmark of ignorance and superstition had been providentially removed. You know he had always been seeing things, but we set it down to his fondness for hard cider or his natural prepensity for joshing. With him gone there was no one left to report the doings of the sperrit-world. In fact, so widespread was the light of reason, as the Rev. Mr. Spiegelnail called it, that the burying-ground became a popular place for moonlight strolls. Even I walked through it frequent on my way home from Miss Wheedle's, with whom I was keeping company, and it never occurred to me to go any faster there, or to look back over my shoulder, for I didn't believe in such foolishness. But to the most intellectual there comes times of doubt about things they know nothing of nor understand. Such a time come to me, when the wind was more mournfuller than usual in the trees, and the clouds scudded along overhead, casting peculiar shadders. My imagination got the best of my intellect. I hurried. I looked back over my shoulder. I shivered, kind of. Natural I see nothing in the burying-ground, yet at the end of town I was still uneasy-like, though half laughing at myself. It was so quiet; not a light burned anywhere, and the square seemed lonelier than the cemetery, and the store was so deserted, so ghostly in the moonlight, that I just couldn't keep from peering around at it.

Then, from the empty porch, from the empty bench—empty, I swear, for I could see plain, so clear was the night—from absolute nothing come as pleasant a voice as ever I hear.

"Hello!" it says.

My blood turned icy-like and the chills waved up and down all through me. I couldn't move.

The voice came again, so natural, so familiar, that I warmed some, and rubbed my eyes and stared.

There, sitting on the bench, in his favorite place, was the late Robert J. Dinkle, gleaming in the moonlight, the front door showing right through him.

"I must appear pretty distinct," he says in a proud-like way. "Can't you see me very plain?"

See him plain! I should think so. Even the patches on his coat was visible, and only for the building behind him, he never looked more natural, and hearing him so pleasant, set me thinking. This, says I, is the sperrit of the late Robert J. Dinkle. In life he never did me any harm and in his present misty condition is likely to do less; if he is looking for trouble I'm not afraid of a bit of fog. Such being the case, I says, I shall address him as soon as I am able.

But Robert got tired waiting, and spoke again in an anxious tone, a little louder, and ruther complaining, "Don't I show up good?" says he.

"I never see you looking better," I answered, for my voice had came back, and the chills were quieter, and I was fairly ca'm and dared even to move a little nearer.

A bright smile showed on his pale face. "It is a relief to be seen at last," he cried, most cheerful. "For years I've been trying to do a little ha'nting around here, and no one would notice me. I used to think mebbe my material was too delicate and gauzy, but I've conceded that, after all, the stuff is not to blame."

He heaved a sigh so natural that I forgot all about his being a ghost. Indeed, taken all in all, I see that he had improved, was solemner, had a sweeter expression and wasn't likely to give in to his old prepensity for joshing.

"Set down and we will talk it over," he went on most winning. "Really, I can't do any harm, but please be a little afraid and then I will show up distincter. I must be getting dim now."

"You are," says I, for though I was on the porch edging nearer him most bold, I could hardly see him.

Without any warning he gave an awful groan that brought the chills waving back most violent. I jumped and stared, and as I stared he stood out plainer and solider in the moonlight.

"That's better," he said with a jolly chuckle; "now you do believe in me, don't you? Well, set there nervous-like, on the edge of the bench and don't be too ca'm-like, or I'll disappear."

The ghost's orders were followed explicit. But with him setting there so natural and pleasant it was hard to be frightened and more than once I forgot. He, seeing me peering like my eyesight was bad, would give a groan that made my blood curdle. Up he would flare again, gleaming in the moonlight full and strong.

"Harmony's getting too scientific, too intellectual," he said, speaking very melancholic. "What can't be explained by arithmetic or geography is put down as impossible. Even the preachers encourage such idees and talk about Adam and Eve being allegories. As a result, the graveyard has become the slowest place in town. You simply can't ha'nt anything around here. A man hears a groan in his room and he gets up and closes the shutters tighter, or throws a shoe at a rat, or swears at the wind in the chimney. A few sperrits were hanging around when I was first dead, but they were complaining very bad about the hard times. There used to be plenty of good society in the burying-ground, they said, but one by one they had to quit. All the old Berrys had left. Mr. Whoople retired when he was taken for a white mule. Mrs. Morris A. Klump, who once oppyrated 'round the deserted house beyond the mill had gave up in disgust just a week before my arrival. I tried to encourage the few remaining, explained how the sperritualists were working down the valley and would strike town any time, but they had lost all hope—kept fading away till only me was left. If things don't turn for the better soon I must go, too. It's awful discouraging. And lonely! Why folks ramble around the graves like even I wasn't there. Just last night my boy Ossy came strolling along with the lady he is keeping company with, and where do you s'pose they set down to rest, and look at the moon and talk about the silliest subjecks? Right on my headstone! I stood in front of them and did the ghostliest things till I was clean tired out and discouraged. They just would not pay the least attention."

The poor old ghost almost broke down and cried. Never in life had I known him so much affected, and it went right to my heart to see him wiping his eyes with his handkercher and snuffling.

"Mebbe you don't make enough noise when you ha'nt," says I most sympathetic.

"I do all the regular acts," says he, a bit het up by my remark. "We always were kind of limited. I float around and groan, and talk foolish, and sometimes I pull off bedclothes or reveal the hiding-place of buried treasure. But what good does it do in a town so intellectual as Harmony?"

I have seen many folks who were down on their luck, but never one who so appealed to me as the late Robert J. Dinkle. It was the way he spoke, the way he looked, his general patheticness, his very helplessness, and deservingness. In life I had known him well, and as he was now I liked him better. So I did want to do something for him. We sat studying for a long time, him smoking very violent, blowing clouds of fog outen his pipe, me thinking up some way to help him. And idees allus comes to them who sets and waits.

"The trouble is partly as you say, Robert," I allowed after a bit, "and again partly because you can't make enough noise to awaken the slumbering imagination of intellectual Harmony. With a little natural help from me though, you might stir things up in this town."

You never saw a gladder smile or a more gratefuller look than that poor sperrit gave me.

"Ah," he says, "with your help I could do wonders. Now who'll we begin on?"

"The Rev. Mr. Spiegelnail," says I, "has about all the imagination left in Harmony—of course excepting me."

Robert's face fell visible. "I have tried him repeated and often," he says, kind of argumentative-like. "All the sign he made was to complain that his wife talked in her sleep."

I wasn't going to argue—not me. I was all for action, and lost no time in starting. Robert J., he followed me like a dog, up through town to our house, where I went in, leaving him outside so as not to disturb mother. There I got me a hammer and nails with the heavy lead sinker offen my fishnet, and it wasn't long before the finest tick-tack you ever saw was working against the Spiegelnails' parlor window, with me in a lilac-bush operating the string that kept the weight a-swinging. Before the house was an open spot where the moon shone full and clear, where Robert J. walked up and down, about two feet off the ground, waving his arms slow-like and making the melancholiest groans. Now I have been to Uncle Tom's Cabin frequent, but in all my life I never see such acting. Yet what was the consequences? Up went the window above, and the Rev. Mr. Spiegelnail showed out plain in the moonlight.

"Who is there?" he called very stern. You had otter see Robert then. It was like tonic to him. He rose up higher and began to beat his arms most violent and to gurgle tremendous. But the preacher never budged.

"You boys otter be ashamed of yourselves," he says in a severe voice.

"Louder, louder," I calls to Robert J., in answering which he began the most awful contortions.

"You can hear me perfectly plain," says the dominie, now kind of sad-like. "It fills my old heart with sorrow to see that yous all have gone so far astray."

Hearing that, so calm, so distinct, so defiant, made Robert J. stop short and stare. To remind him I gave the weight an extra thump, and it was so loud as to bring forth Mrs. Spiegelnail, her head showing plain as she peered out over the preacher's shoulder. The poor discouraged ghost took heart, striking his tragicest attitude, one which he told me afterwards was his pride and had been got out of a book. But what was the result?

"Does you hear anyone in the bushes, dear?" inquires Mr. Spiegelnail, cocking his ears and listening.

"It must be Ossy Dinkle and them bad friends of his," says she, in her sour tone.

Poor Robert! Hearing that, he about gave up hope.

"Don't I show up good?" he asks in an anxious voice.

"I can see you distinct," says I, very sharp. "You never looked better."

Down went the window—so sudden, so unexpected that I did not know what to make of it. Robert J. thought he did, and over me he came floating, most delighted.

"I must have worked," he said, laughing like he'd die, a-doubling up and holding his sides to keep from splitting. "At last I have showed up distinct; at last I am of some use in the world. You don't realize what a pleasure it is to know that you are fulfilling your mission and living up to your reputation."

Poor old ghost! He was for talking it all over then and there and settled down on a soft bunch of lilacs, and fell to smoking fog and chattering. It did me good to see him so happy and I was inclined to puff up a bit at my own success in the ha'nting line. But it was not for long. The rattle of keys warned us. The front door flew open and out bounded the Rev. Mr. Spiegelnail, clearing the steps with a jump, and flying over the lawn. All thought of the late Robert J. Dinkle left me then, for I had only a few feet start of my pastor. You see I shouldn't a-hurried so only I sung bass in the choir and I doubt if I could have convinced him that I was working in the interests of Science and Truth. Fleeing was instinct. Gates didn't matter. They were took on the wing, and down the street I went with the preacher's hot breath on my neck. But I beat him. He tired after the first spurt and was soon left behind, so I could double back home to bed.

Robert, he was for giving up entirely.

"I simply won't work," says he to me, when I met him on the store porch that next night. "A hundred years ago such a bit of ha'nting would have caused the town to be abandoned; to-day it is attributed to natural causes."

"Because," says I, "we left behind such evidences of material manifestations as strings and weights on the parlor window."

"S'pose we work right in the house?" says he, brightening up. "You can hide in the closet and groan while I act."

Now did you ever hear anything innocenter than that? Yet he meant it so well I did not even laugh.

"I'm too fond of my pastor," I says, "to let him catch me in his closet. A far better spot for our work is the short cut he takes home from church after Wednesday evening meeting. We won't be so loud, but more dignified, melancholier, and tragic. You overacted last night, Robert," I says. "Next time pace up and down like you were deep in thought and sigh gentle. Then if he should see you it would be nice to take his arm and walk home with him."

I think I had the right idea of ha'nting, and had I been able to keep up Robert J. Dinkle's sperrits and to train him regular I could have aroused the slumbering imagination of Harmony, and brought life to the burying-ground. But he was too easy discouraged. He lacked perseverance. For if ever Mr. Spiegelnail was on the point of seeing things it was that night as he stepped out of the woods. He had walked slow and meditating till he come opposite where I was. Now I didn't howl or groan or say anything particular. What I did was to make a noise that wasn't animal, neither was it human, nor was it regulation ghostly. As I had stated to the late Robert J. Dinkle, what was needed for ha'nting was something new and original. And it certainly ketched Mr. Spiegelnail's attention. I see him stop. I see his lantern shake. It appeared like he was going to dive into the bushes for me, but he changed his mind. On he went, quicker, kind as if he wasn't afraid, yet was, on to the open, where the moon brought out Robert beautiful as he paced slowly up and down, his head bowed like he was studying. Still the preacher never saw him, stepped right through him, in fact. I give the dreadful sound again. That stopped him. He turned, raised the lantern before him, put his hand to his ear, and seemed to be looking intense and listening. Hardly ten feet away stood Robert, all a-trembling with excitement, but the light that showed through him was as steady as a rock, as the dominie watched and listened, so quiet and ca'm. He lowered the lantern, rubbed his hands across his eyes, stepped forward and looked again. The ghost was perfect. As I have stated, he was excited and his sigh shook a little, but he was full of dignity and sadity. He shouldn't have lost heart so soon. I was sure then that he almost showed up plain to the preacher and he would have grown on Mr. Spiegelnail had he kept on ha'nting him instead of giving in because that one night the pastor walked on to the house fairly cool. He did walk quicker, I know, and he did peer over his shoulder twicet and I did hear the kitchen door bang in a relieved way. But when we consider the stuff that ghosts are made of we hadn't otter expect them to be heroes. They are too foggy and gauzy to have much perseverance—judging at least from Robert J.

"I simply can't work any more," says he, when I came up to him, as he sat there in the path, his elbows on his knees, his head on his hands, his eyes studying the ground most mournful.

"But Robert——" I began, thinking to cheer him up.

He didn't hear; he wouldn't listen—just faded away.

Had he only held out there is no telling what he might have done in his line. Often, since then, have I thought of him and figgered on his tremendous possibilities. That he had possibilities I am sure. Had I only realized it that last night we went out ha'nting, he never would have got away from me. But the realization came too late. It came in church the very next Sunday, with the usual announcements after the long prayer, as Mr. Spiegelnail was leaning over the pulpit eying the congregation through big smoked glasses.

Says he in a voice that was full of sadness: "I regret to announce that for the first time in twenty years union services will be held in this town next Sabbath." Setting in the choir, reading my music marks, I heard the preacher's words and started, for I saw at once that something unusual was happening, or had happened, or was about to happen. "Unfortunately," said Mr. Spiegelnail, continuing, "I shall have to turn my pulpit over to Brother Spiker of the Baptist Church, for my failing eyesight renders it necessary that I go at once to Philadelphia, to consult an oculist. Some of my dear brethren may think this an unusual step, but I should not desert them without cause. They may think, perhaps, that I am making much ado about nothing and could be treated just as well in Harrisburg. To such let me explain that I am suffering from astigmatism. It is not so much that I cannot see, but that I sees things which I know are not there—a defect in sight which I feel needs the most expert attention. Sunday-school at half-past nine; divine service at eleven. I take for my text 'And the old men shall see visions.'"

How I did wish the late Robert J. Dinkle could have been in church that morning. It would have so gladdened his heart to hear that he had partly worked, for if he worked partly, then surely, in time, he would have worked complete. For me, I was just wild with excitement, and was so busy thinking of him and how glad he would be, that I didn't hear the sermon at all, and in planning new ways of ha'nting I forgot to sing in the last anthem. You see, I figgered lively times ahead for Harmony—a general return to the good old times when folks had imagination and had something more in their heads than facts. I had only to get Robert again, and with him working it would not be long till all the old Berrys and Mrs. Klump showed up distinct and plain. But I wasn't well posted in the weak characters of shades, for I thought, of course, I could find my sperrit friend easy when night came. Yet I didn't. I set on the store porch shivering till the moon was high up over the ridge. He just wouldn't come. I called for him soft-like and got no answer. Down to the burying-ground I went and set on his headstone. It was the quietest place you ever see. The clouds was scudding overhead; the wind was sighing among the leaves; and through the trees the moon was gleaming so clear and distinct you could almost read the monnyments. It was just a night when things should have been lively there—a perfect night for ha'nting. I called for Robert. I listened. He never answered. I heard only a bull-frog a-bellering in the pond, a whippoor-will whistling in the grove, and a dog howling at the moon.



From Tales of the Tenements, by Eden Phillpotts. Published in America by John Lane Company, and in England by John Murray. By permission of the publishers and Eden Phillpotts.

The Ghost of Miser Brimpson



Penniless and proud he was; and that pair don't draw a man to pleasant places when they be in double harness. There's only one thing can stop 'em if they take the bit between their teeth, and that's a woman. So there, you might say, lies the text of the tale of Jonathan Drake, of Dunnabridge Farm, a tenement in the Forest of Dartymoor. 'Twas Naboth's vineyard to Duchy, and the greedy thing would have given a very fair price for it, without a doubt; but the Drake folk held their land, and wouldn't part with it, and boasted a freehold of fifty acres in the very midst of the Forest. They did well, too, and moved with the times, and kept their heads high for more generations than I can call home; and then they comed to what all families, whether gentle or simple, always come to soon or late. And that's a black sheep for bell-wether. Bad uns there'll be in every generation of a race; but the trouble begins when a bad un chances to be up top; and if the head of the family is a drunkard, or a spendthrift, or built on too free and flowing a pattern for this work-a-day shop, then the next generation may look out for squalls, as the sailor-men say.

'Twas Jonathan's grandfather that did the harm at Dunnabridge. He had sport in his blood, on his mother's side, and 'twas horses ran him into trouble. He backed 'em, and was ruined; and then his son bred 'em, and didn't do very much better. So, when the pair of 'em dropped out of the hunt, and died with their backs to the wall, one after t'other, it looked as if the game was up for them to follow. By good chance, however, Tom Drake had but one child—a boy—the Jonathan as I be telling about; and when his father and grandfather passed away, within a year of each other, Dunnabridge was left to Tom's widow and her son, him then being twenty-two. She was for selling Dunnabridge and getting away from Dartymoor, because the place had used her bad, and she hated the sight of it; but Jonathan, a proud chap even then, got the lawyers to look into the matter, and they told him that 'twasn't vital for Dunnabridge to be sold, though it might ease his pocket, and smooth his future to do so, 'specially as Duchy wanted the place rather bad, and had offered the value of it. And Jonathan's mother was on the side of Duchy, too, and went on her knees to the man to sell; but he wouldn't. He had a bee in his bonnet sometimes, and he said that all the Drakes would rise out of their graves to Widecombe churchyard, and haunt his rising up and going down if he were to do such a thing, just to suit his own convenience, and be rid of the place. So he made a plan with the creditors. It figured out that his father and grandfather had owed near a thousand pound between them; and Jonathan actually set himself to pay it off to the last penny. 'Twas the labor of years; but by the time he was thirty-three he done it—at what cost of scrimping and screwing, only his mother might have told. She never did tell, however, for she died two year before the last item was paid. Some went as far as to declare that 'twas her son's miserly ways hurried her into her grave; and, for all I know, they may have done so, for 'tis certain, in her husband's life, she had a better time. Tom was the large-hearted, juicy, easy sort, as liked meat on the table, and plenty to wash it down; and he loved Mercy Jane Drake very well; and, when he died, the only thought that troubled him was leaving her; and the last thing he advised his son was to sell Dunnabridge, and take his mother off the Moor down to the "in country" where she'd come from.

But Jonathan was made of different stuff, and 'twas rumored by old people that had known the family for several generations that he favored an ancient forefather by name of Brimpson Drake. This bygone man was a miser and the richest of the race. He'd lived in the days when we were at war with France and America, and when Princetown sprang up, and a gert war-prison was built there to cage all the chaps we got on our hands through winning such a lot o' sea battles. And Miser Brimpson was said to have made thousands by helping rich fellows to escape from the prison. Truth and falsehood mixed made up his story as 'twas handed down. But one thing appeared to be fairly true about it; which was, that when the miser died, and Dunnabridge went to his cousin, the horseracer, not a penny of his fortune ever came into the sight of living men. So some said 'twas all nonsense, and he never had no money at all, but only pretended to it; and others again, declared that he knew too well who'd follow in his shoes at Dunnabridge, and hid his money accordingly, so that no Drake should have it. For he hated his heirs as only a miser can hate 'em.

So things stood when Mercy Jane died and Jonathan was left alone. He paid all his relations' debts, and he had his trouble and the honor of being honorable for his pains. Everybody respected him something wonderful; but, all the same, a few of his mother's friends always did say that 'twas a pity he put his dead father's good name afore his living mother's life. However, we'm not built in the pattern of our fellow-creatures, and 'tis only fools that waste time blaming a man for being himself.

Jonathan went his stern way; and then, in the lonely days after his parent was taken, when he lived at Dunnabridge, with nought but two hinds and a brace of sheep-dogs, 'twas suddenly borne in upon his narrow sight that there might be other women still in the world, though his mother had gone out of it. And he also discovered, doubtless, that a home without a woman therein be merely the cruel mockery of what a home should be.

A good few folk watched Jonathan to see what he'd do about it, and no doubt a maiden here and there was interested too; because, though a terrible poor man, he wasn't bad to look at, though rather hard about the edge of the jaw, and rather short and stern in his manners to human creatures and beasts alike.

And then beginned his funny courting—if you can call it courting, where a poor man allows hisself the luxury of pride at the wrong time, and makes a show of hisself in consequence. At least that's my view; but you must know that a good few, quite as wise as me, took t'other side, and held that Jonathan covered his name with glory when he changed his mind about Hyssop Burges. That was her bitter name, but a pleasanter girl never walked on shoe-leather. She was Farmer Stonewer's niece to White Works, and he took her in for a charity, and always said that 'twas the best day's work as ever he had done. A straight, hardworking, cheerful sort of a girl, with nothing to name about her very special save a fine shape and a proud way of holding her head in the air and looking her fellow creatures in the eyes. Proud she was for certain, and terrible partickler as to her friends; but there happened to be that about Jonathan that made flint to her steel. He knowed she was penniless, or he'd not have looked at her twice; and when, after a short, fierce sort of courting, she took him, everybody felt pleased about it but Farmer Stonewer, who couldn't abide the thought of losing Hyssop, though his wife had warned him any time this four year that 'twas bound to happen.

Farmer and the girl were sitting waiting for Jonathan one night; and she was a bit nervous, and he was trying for to calm her.

"Jonathan must be told," she says. "It can't go on no longer."

"Then tell him," says her uncle. "Good powers!" he says; "to see you, one would think the news was the worst as could ever fall between a pair o' poor lovers, instead of the best."

"I know him a lot better than you," she tells Farmer; "and I know how plaguey difficult he can be where money's the matter. He very near throwed me over when, in a weak moment, I axed him to let me buy my own tokening-ring. Red as a turkey's wattles did he flame, and said I'd insulted him; and now, when he hears the secret, I can't for the life of me guess how he'll take it."

"'Twas a pity you didn't tell him when he offered for you," declared Hyssop's aunt. "Proud he is as a silly peacock, and terrible frightened of seeming to look after money, or even casting his eye where it bides; but he came to you without any notion of the windfall, and he loved you for yourself, like an honest man; and you loved him the same way; and right well you know that if your old cousin had left you five thousand pound instead of five hundred, Jonathan Drake was the right chap for you. He can't blame himself, for not a soul on Dartymoor but us three has ever heard tell about the money."

"But he'll blame me for having money at all," answered the girl. "He said a dozen times afore he offered for me, that he'd never look at a woman if she'd got more cash than what he had himself. That's why I couldn't bring myself to confess to it—and lose him. And, after we was tokened, it got to be harder still."

"Why not bide till you'm married, then?" asked Mrs. Stonewer. "Since it have gone so long, let it go longer, and surprise him with the news on the wedding-night—eh, James?"

"No," answered Farmer. "'Enough is as good as a feast.' 'Tis squandering blessings to do that at such a time. Keep the news till some rainy day, when he's wondering how to get round a tight corner. That's the moment to tell him; and that's the moment he's least likely to make a face at the news."

But Hyssop wouldn't put it off no more; she said as she'd not have any further peace till the murder was out. And that very night, sure enough when Jonathan comed over from Dunnabridge for his bit of love-making, and the young couple had got the farm parlor to themselves, she plumped it out, finding him in a very kindly mood. They never cuddled much, for he wasn't built that way; but he'd not disdain to sit beside her and put his arm around her now and again, when she picked up his hand and drew it round. Then, off and on, she'd rub her cheek against his mutton-chop whiskers, till he had to kiss her in common politeness.

Well, Hyssop got it out—Lord alone knows how, as she said afterwards. She got it out, and told him that an old, aged cousin had died, and left her a nice little skuat[1] of money; and how she'd never touched a penny but let it goody in the bank; and how she prayed and hoped 'twould help 'em to Dunnabridge; and how, of course, he must have the handling of it, being a man, and so cruel clever in such things. She went on and on, pretty well frightened to stop and hear him. But, after she'd said it over about a dozen times, her breath failed her, and she shut her mouth, and tried to smile, and looked up terrible anxious and pleading at Jonathan.

His hard gray eyes bored into her like a brace of gimlets, and in return for all her talk he axed but one question.

"How long have you had this here money?" he said.

She told the truth, faltering and shaking under his glare.

"Four years and upwards, Jonathan."

"That's years and years afore I axed you to marry me?"

"Yes, Jonathan."

"And you remember what I said about never marrying anybody as had more than what I have?"

"Yes, Jonathan."

"And you full know how many a time I told you that, after I paid off all my father's debts, I had nought left, and 'twould be years afore I could build up anything to call money?"

"Yes, Jonathan."

"Very well, then!" he cried out, and his brow crooked down and his fists clenched. "Very well, you've deceived me deliberate, and if you'd do that in one thing, you would in another. I'm going out of this house this instant moment, and you can tell your relations why 'tis. I'm terrible sorry, Hyssop Burges, for no man will ever love you better than what I did; and so you'd have lived to find out when all this here courting tomfoolery was over, and you'd come to be my wife. But now I'll have none of you, for you've played with me. And so—so I'll bid you good-bye!"

He went straight out without more speech; and she tottered, weeping, to her uncle and aunt. They couldn't believe their senses; and Jimmy Stonewer declared thereon that any man who could make himself such a masterpiece of a fool as Jonathan had done that night, was better out of the marriage state than in it. He told Hyssop as she'd had a marvelous escape from a prize zany; and his wife said the same. But the girl couldn't see it like that. She knowed Jonathan weren't a prize zany, and his raging pride didn't anger her, for she admired it something wonderful, and it only made her feel her loss all the crueller to see what a terrible rare, haughty sort of a chap he was. There were a lot of other men would have had her, and twice as many again, if they'd known about the money; but they all seemed as tame as robins beside her hawk of a Jonathan. She had plenty of devil in her, too, when it came to the fighting pitch; and now, while he merely said that the match was broken off through a difference of opinion, and gave no reason for it, she set to work with all her might to get him back again, and used her love-sharpened wits so well as she knew how, to best him into matrimony.


In truth she made poor speed. Jonathan was always civil afterwards; but you might as soon have tried to thaw an iceberg with a box of matches as to get him round again by gentleness and affection. He was the sort that can't be won with kindness. He felt he'd treated the world better than the world had treated him, and the thought shriveled his heart a bit. Always shy and suspicious, you might say; and yet, underneath it, the most honorable and upright and high-minded man you could wish to meet. Hyssop loved him like her life, and she got a bit poorly in health after their sad quarrel. Then chance willed it that, going down from Princetown to Plymouth by train—to see a chemist, and get something to make her eat—who should be in the selfsame carriage but Mr. Drake and his hind, Thomas Parsons.

There was others there, too; and it fell out that an old fellow as knowed Jonathan's grandfather before him, brought up the yarn about Miser Brimpson, and asked young Drake if he took any stock in it.

Of course the man pooh-poohed such foolery, and told the old chap not to talk nonsense like that in the ear of the nineteenth century; but when Jonathan and Parsons had got out of the train—which they did do at Yelverton station—Hyssop, as knowed the old man, axed him to tell more about the miser; and he explained, so well as he knew how, that Brimpson Drake had made untold thousands out of the French and American prisoners, and that, without doubt, 'twas all hidden even to this day at Dunnabridge.

"Of course Jonathan's too clever to believe such a tale—like his father before him; but his grandfather believed it, and the old blid spent half his time poking about the farm. Only, unfortunately, he didn't have no luck. But 'tis there for sure; and if Jonathan had enough faith he'd come by it—not by digging and wasting time and labor, but by doing what is right and proper when you'm dealing with such matters."

"And what might that be?" axed Miss Burges.

Just then, however, the train for Plymouth ran up, and the old man told her that he'd explain some other time.

"This generation laughs at such things," he said; "but they laugh best who laugh last, and, for all we can say to the contrary, 'tis nought but his conceit and pride be standing between that stiff-necked youth and the wealth of a bank."

Hyssop, she thought a lot upon this; but she hadn't no need to go to the old chap again, as she meant to do, for when she got home, her uncle—Farmer Stonewer—knowed all about the matter, and told her how 'twas a very rooted opinion among the last generation that a miser's spirit never could leave its hidden hoard till the stuff was brought to light, and in human hands once more.

"Millions of good money has been found in that manner, if all we hear is true," declared Farmer Jimmy; "and if one miser has been known to walk, which nobody can deny, then why shouldn't another? Them as believe in such dark things—and I don't say I do, and I don't say I don't—them as know of such mysteries happening in their own recollection, or in the memory of their friends, would doubtless say that Miser Brimpson still creeps around his gold now and again; and if that money be within the four corners of Dunnabridge Farm, and if Jonathan happed to be on the lookout on the rightful night and at the rightful moment, 'tis almost any odds but he might see his forbear sitting over his money-bags like a hen on a clutch of eggs, and so recover the hoard."

"But faith's needed for such a deed," Mrs. Stonewer told her niece; "and that pig-headed creature haven't no faith. Too proud, he is, to believe in anything he don't understand. 'Twas even so with Lucifer afore him. If you told him—Jonathan—this news, he'd rather let the money go than set off ghost-hunting in cold blood. Yet there it is: and a humbler-minded fashion of chap, with the Lord on his side, and a trustful heart in his bosom, might very like recover all them tubs of cash the miser come by."

"And then he'd have thousands to my poor tens," said Hyssop. "Not that he'd ever come back to me now, I reckon."

But, all the same, she knowed by the look in Jonathan's eye when they met, that he loved her still, and that his silly, proud heart was hungering after her yet, though he'd rather have been drawn under a harrow than show a spark of what was burning there.

And so, upon this nonsense about a buried treasure she set to work again to use her brains, and see if there might be any road out of the trouble by way of Miser Brimpson's ghost.

What she did, none but them as helped her ever knew, until the story comed round to me; but 'twas the cleverest thing that ever I heard of a maiden doing, and it worked a wonder. In fact, I can't see but a single objection to the plot, though that was a serious thing for the girl. It lay in the fact that there had to be a secret between Hyssop and her husband; and she kept it close as the grave until the grave itself closed over him. Yet 'twas an innocent secret, too; and, when all's said, 'tisn't a wedded pair in five hundred as haven't each their one little cupboard fast locked, with the key throwed away.

Six months passed by, and Jonathan worked as only he knowed how to work, and tried to forget his sad disappointment by dint of toil. Early and late he labored, and got permission to reclaim a bit of moor for a "newtake," and so added a very fair three acres to his farm. He noticed about this time that his hind, Parsons, did oft drag up the subject of Miser Brimpson Drake; and first Jonathan laughed, and then he was angered, and bade Thomas hold his peace. But, though a very obedient and humble sort of man, Parsons would hark back to the subject, and tell how his father had known a man who was own brother to a miser; and how, when the miser died, his own brother had seen him clear as truth in the chimley-corner of his room three nights after they'd buried him; and how they made search, and found, not three feet from where the ghost had stood, a place in the wall with seventeen golden sovereigns hid in it, and a white witch's cure for glanders. Thomas Parsons swore on the Book to this; and he said, as a certain fact, that New Year's Night was the time most misers walked; and he advised Jonathan not to be dead to his own interests.

"At least, as a thinking man, that believes in religion and the powers of the air, in Bible word, you might give it a chance," said Thomas; and then Jonathan told him to shut his mouth, and not shame Dunnabridge by talking such childish nonsense.

The next autumn Jonathan went up beyond Exeter to buy some of they black-faced, horned Scotch sheep, and he wanted for Parsons to go with him; but his man falled ill the night afore, and so young Hacker went instead.

Drake reckoned then that Thomas Parsons would have to leave, for Dunnabridge weren't a place for sick folk; and he'd made up his mind after he came back to turn the old chap off; but Thomas was better when the master got home, so the question of sacking him was let be, and Jonathan contented himself by telling Tom that, if he falled ill again, 'twould be the last time. And Parsons said that was as it should be; but he hoped that at his age—merely sixty-five or thereabout—he wouldn't be troubled with his breathing parts again for half a score o' years at least. He added that he'd done his work as usual while the master was away; but he didn't mention that Hyssop Burges had made so bold as to call at Dunnabridge with a pony and cart, and that she'd spent a tidy long time there, and gone all over the house and farmyard, among other places, afore she drove off again.

And the next chapter of the story was told by Jonathan himself to his two men on the first day of the following year.

There was but little light of morning just then, and the three of 'em were putting down some bread and bacon and a quart of tea by candlelight in the Dunnabridge kitchen, when Thomas saw that his master weren't eating nothing to name. Instead, he went out to the barrel and drawed himself a pint of ale, and got along by the peat fire with it, and stuck his boots so nigh the scads as he dared without burning 'em.

"What's amiss?" said Thomas. "Don't say you'm sick, master. And if you be, I lay no liquor smaller than brandy will fetch you round."

"I ban't sick," answered Jonathan shortly.

He seemed in doubt whether to go on. Then he resolved to do so.

"There was a man in the yard last night," he said; "and, if I thought as either of you chaps knowed anything about it, I'd turn you off this instant, afore you'd got the bacon out of your throats."

"A man? Never!" cried Parsons.

"How was it the dog didn't bark?" asked Hacker.

"How the devil do I know why he didn't bark?" answered Jonathan, dark as night, and staring in the fire. One side of his face was red with the flames, and t'other side blue as steel along of the daylight just beginning to filter in at the window.

"All I can say is this," he added. "I turned in at half-after ten, just after that brace of old fools to Brownberry went off to see the New Year in. I slept till midnight; then something woke me with a start. What 'twas, I can't tell, but some loud sound near at hand, no doubt. I was going off again when I heard more row—a steady sound repeated over and over. And first I thought 'twas owls; and then I heard 'twas not. You might have said 'twas somebody thumping on a barrel; but, at any rate, I woke up, and sat up, and found the noise was in the yard.

"I looked out of my chamber window then, and the moon was bright as day, and the stars sparkling likewise; and there, down by 'the Judge's Table' where the thorn-tree grows, I see a man standing by the old barrel as plain as I see you chaps now."

"The Judge's Table" be a wonnerful curiosity at Dunnabridge, and if you go there you'll do well to ax to see it. 'Tis a gert slab of moorstone said to have come from Crokern Torr, where the tinners held theer parliament in the ancient times. Now it bides over a water-trough with a white-thorn tree rising up above.

Jonathan took his breath when he'd got that far, and fetched his pipe out of his pocket and lighted it. Then he drank off half the beer, and spat in the fire, and went on.

"A man so tall as me, if not taller. He'd got one of them old white beaver hats on his head, and he wore a flowing white beard, so long as my plough-horse's tail, and he walked up and down, up and down over the stones, like a sailor walks up and down on the deck of a ship. I shouted to the chap, but he didn't take no more notice than the moon. Up and down he went; and then I told him, if he wasn't off inside two minutes, I'd get my fowling-piece and let fly. Still he paid no heed; and I don't mind saying to you men that, for half a second, I felt creepy-crawly and goose-flesh down the back. But 'twas only the cold, I reckon, for my window was wide open, and I'd been leaning out of it for a good while into ten degrees of frost.

"After that, I got angry, and went down house and hitched the gun off the hooks over the mantelpiece, and ran out, just as I was, in nought but my boots and my nightshirt. The hour was so still as the grave at first, and the moon shone on the river far below and lit up the eaves and windows; and then, through the silence, I heard Widecombe bells ringing in the New Year. But the old night-bird in his top hat was gone. Not a hair of his beard did he leave behind. I looked about, and then up came the dog, barking like fury, not knowing who I was, dressed that way, till he heard my voice. And that's the tale; and who be that curious old rascal I'd much like to know."

They didn't answer at first, and the daylight gained on 'em. Then old Parsons spoke up, and wagged his head and swore that 'twas no man his master had seen, but a creature from the other world.

"I'll lay my life," he said, "'twas the spectrum of Miser Brimpson as you saw walking; and I'll take oath by the New Year that 'twas his way to show where his stuff be buried. For God's sake," he says, "if you don't want to get into trouble with unknown creatures, go out and pull up the cobblestones, and see if there's anything underneath 'em."

But Jonathan made as though the whole thing was nonsense, and wouldn't let neither Thomas nor Hacker move a pebble. Only, the next day, he went off to a very old chap called Samuel Windeatt, whose father had been a boy at the time of the War Prison, and was said to have seen and known Miser Brimpson in the flesh. And the old man declared that, in his childish days, he'd heard of the miser, and that he certainly wore a beaver hat and had a white beard a yard long. So Jonathan came home again more thoughtful than afore, and finally—though he declared that he was ashamed to do it—he let Tom overpersuade him; and two days after the three men set to work where Drake had seen the spectrum.

They dug and they dug, this way and that; and Jonathan found nought, and Parsons found nought; but Hacker came upon a box, and they dragged it out of the earth, and underneath of it was another box like the first. They was a pair of old rotten wood chests, by the look of them, made of boards nailed together with rusty nails. No locks or keys they had; but that was no matter, for they fell abroad at a touch, and inside of them was a lot of plate—candlesticks, snuffers, tea-kettles, table silver, and the like.

"Thunder!" cried out Jonathan. "'Tis all pewter trash, not worth a five-pound note! Us'll dig again."

And dig they did for a week, till the farmyard in that place was turned over like a trenched kitchen-garden. But not another teaspoon did they find.

Meantime, however, somebody as understood such things explained to young Drake that the stuff unearthed was not pewter, nor yet Britannia metal neither, but old Sheffield plate, and worth plenty of good money at that.

Jonathan felt too mazed with the event to do anything about it for a month; then he went to Plymouth, and took a few pieces of the find in his bag. And the man what he showed 'em to was so terrible interested that nothing would do but he must come up to Dunnabridge and see the lot. He offered two hundred and fifty pound for the things on the nail; so Jonathan saw very clear that they must be worth a good bit more. They haggled for a week, and finally the owner went up to Exeter and got another chap to name a price. In the long run, the dealers halved the things, and Jonathan comed out with a clear three hundred and fifty-four pound.


He wasn't very pleased to talk about his luck, and inquisitive people got but little out of him on the subject; but, of course, Parsons and Hacker spoke free and often on the subject, for 'twas the greatest adventure as had ever come to them in their lives; and, from telling the tale over and over old Parsons got to talk about it as if he'd seen the ghost himself.

Then, after he'd chewed over the matter for a space of three or four months, and spring was come again, Jonathan Drake went off one night to White Works, just the same as he used to do when he was courting Hyssop Burges; and there was the little party as usual, with Mrs. Stonewer knitting, and Farmer reading yesterday's newspaper, and Hyssop sewing in her place by her aunt.

"Well!" says Farmer Jimmy, "wonders never cease! And to see you again here be almost so big a wonder as that they tell about of the old miser's tea-things. I'm sure we all give you joy, Jonathan; and I needn't tell you as we was cruel pleased to hear about it."

The young man thanked them very civilly, and said how 'twas a coorious come-along-of-it, and he didn't hardly know what to think of the matter even to that day.

"I should reckon 'twas a bit of nonsense what I'd dreamed," he said; "but money's money, as who should know better than me? And, by the same token, I want a few words with Hyssop if she'm willing to give me ten minutes of her time."

"You'm welcome, Mr. Drake," she said.

He started at the surname; but she got up, and they went off just in the usual way to the parlor; and when they was there, she sat down in her old corner of the horsehair sofa and looked at him. But he didn't sit down—not at first. He walked about fierce and talked fierce.

"I'll ax one question afore I go on, and, if the answer's what I fear, I'll trouble you no more," he said. "In a word, be you tokened again? I suppose you be, for you're not the sort to go begging. Say it quick if 'tis so, and I'll be off and trouble you no further."

"No, Mr. Drake. I'm free as the day you—you throwed me over," she answered, in a very quiet little voice.

He snorted at that, but was too mighty thankful to quarrel with the words. She could see he began to grow terrible excited now; and he walked up and down, taking shorter and shorter strides this way and that, like a hungry caged tiger as knows his bit of horse-flesh be on the way.

At last he bursts out again.

"There was a lot of lies told about that old plate us found at Dunnabridge. But the truth of the matter is, that I sold it for three hundred and fifty-four pounds."

"So Tom Parsons told uncle. A wonderful thing; and we sat up all night talking about it, Mr. Drake."

"For God's sake call me 'Jonathan'!" he cried out; "and tell me—tell me what the figure of your legacy was. You must tell me—you can't withhold it. 'Tis life or death—to me."

She'd never seen him so excited, but very well knowed what was in his mind.

"If you must know, you must," she answered. "I thought I told you when—when——"

"No, you didn't. I wouldn't bide to hear. Whatever 'twas, you'd got more than me, and that was all I cared about; but now, if by good fortune 'tis less than mine, you understand——"

"Of course 'tis less. A hundred and eighty pound and the interest—a little over two hundred in all—is what I've gotten."

"Thank God!" he said.

Then he axed her if she could marry him still, or if she knew too much about his ways and his ideas to care about doing so.

And she took him again.

* * * * *

You see, Hyssop Burges was my mother, and when father died I had the rights of the story from her. By that time the old people at White Works and Tom Parsons was all gone home, and the secret remained safe enough with Hyssop herself.

The great difficulty was to put half her money and more, slap into Jonathan's hands without his knowing how it got there; and, even when the game with the ghost was hit upon, 'twas hard to know how to do it clever. Hyssop wanted to hide golden sovereigns at Dunnabridge; but her uncle, with wonnerful wit, pointed out that they'd all be dated; and to get three hundred sovereigns and more a hundred years old could never have been managed. Then old Thomas, who was in the secret, of course, and played the part of Miser Brimpson, and got five pounds for doing it so clever, and another five after from his master, when the stuff was found—he thought upon trinkums and jewels; and finally Mrs. Stonewer, as had a friend in the business, said that Sheffield plate would do the trick. And she was right. The plate was bought for three hundred and eighty pound, and kept close at White Works till 'twas known that Jonathan meant to go away and bide away some days. Then my mother drove across with it; and Thomas made the cases wi' old rotten boards, and they drove a slant hole under the cobbles, and got all vitty again long afore young Drake came back home.

"Me and Jonathan was wedded in the fall of that year," said my mother to me when she told the tale. "And, come the next New Year's Night, he was at our chamber window as the clock struck twelve, and bided there looking out into the yard for an hour, keen as the hawk that he was. He thought I must be asleep; but well I knowed he was seeking for an old man in a beaver hat wi' a long white beard, and well I knowed he'd never see him again. Of course your father took good care not to tell me the next morning that he'd been on the lookout for the ghost."

And my mother, in her own last days, oft dwelt on that trick; and sometimes she'd say, as the time for meeting father got nearer and nearer, "I wonder if 'twill make any difference in heaven, where no secrets be hid?" And, knowing father so well as I had, I felt very sure as it might make a mighty lot of difference. So, in my crafty way, I hedged, and told mother that, for my part, I felt sartain there were some secrets that wouldn't even be allowed to come out at Judgment Day, for fear of turning heaven into t'other place; and that this was one of 'em. She always used to fret at that, however.

"I want for it to come out," she'd say. "And, if Jonathan don't know, I shall certainly tell him. I've kept it in long enough, and I can't trust myself to do it no more. He've got to know, and, with all eternity to get over it and forgive me in, I have a right to be hopeful that he will."

Hyssop Drake died in that fixed resolve; and I'm sure I trust that, when 'tis my turn to join my parents again, I shall find no shadow between 'em. But there's a lot of doubt about it—knowing father.


[1] Skuat, windfall.



From Harper's Bazar, June, 1909. By permission of Harper's Bazar.

The Haunted Photograph


To the ordinary observer it was just a common photograph of a cheap summer hotel. It hung sumptuously framed in plush, over the Widow Morris's mantel, the one resplendent note in an otherwise modest home, in a characteristic Queen Anne village.

One had only to see the rapt face of its owner as she sat in her weeds before the picture, which she tearfully pronounced "a strikin' likeness," to sympathize with the townsfolk who looked askance at the bereaved woman, even while they bore with her delusion, feeling sure that her sudden sorrow had set her mind agog.

When she had received the picture through the mail, some months before the fire which consumed the hotel—a fire through which she had not passed, but out of which she had come a widow—she proudly passed it around among the friends waiting with her at the post-office, replying to their questions as they admired it:

"Oh, yes! That's where he works—if you can call it work. He's the head steward in it. All that row o' winders where you see the awnin's down, they're his—an' them that ain't down, they're his, too—that is to say, it's his jurisdiction.

"You see, he's got the whip hand over the cook an' the sto'eroom, an' that key don't go out o' his belt unless he knows who's gettin' what—an' he's firm. Morris always was. He's like the iron law of the Ephesians."

"What key?"

It was an old lady who held the picture at arm's length, the more closely to scan it, who asked the question. She asked it partly to know, as neither man nor key appeared in the photograph, and partly to parry the "historic allusion"—a disturbing sort of fire for which Mrs. Morris was rather noted and which made some of her most loyal townsfolk a bit shy of her.

"Oh, I ain't referrin' to the picture," she hastened to explain. "I mean the keys thet he always carries in his belt. The reg'lar joke there is to call him 'St. Peter,' an' he takes it in good part, for, he declares, if there is such a thing as a similitude to the kingdom o' Heaven in a hotel, why, it's in the providential supply department which, in a manner, hangs to his belt. He always humors a joke—'specially on himself."

No one will ever know through what painful periods of unrequited longing the Widow Morris had sought solace in this, her only cherished "relic," after the "half hour of sky-works" which had made her, in her own vernacular, "a lonely, conflagrated widow, with a heart full of ashes," before the glad moment when it was given her to discern in it an unsuspected and novel value. First had come, as a faint gleam of comfort, the reflection that although her dear lost one was not in evidence in the picture, he had really been inside the building when the photograph was taken, and so, of course, he must be in there yet!

At first she experienced a slight disappointment that her man was not visible, at door or window. But it was only a passing regret. It was really better to feel him surely and broadly within—at large in the great house, free to pass at will from one room to another. To have had him fixed, no matter how effectively, would have been a limitation. As it was, she pressed the picture to her bosom as she wondered if, perchance, he would not some day come out of his hiding to meet her.

It was a muffled pleasure and tremulously entertained at first, but the very whimsicality of it was an appeal to her sensitized imagination, and so, when finally the thing did really happen, it is small wonder that it came somewhat as a shock.

It appears that one day, feeling particularly lonely and forlorn, and having no other comfort, she was pressing her tear-stained face against the row of window-shutters in the room without awnings, this being her nearest approach to the alleged occupant's bosom, when she was suddenly startled by a peculiar swishing sound, as of wind-blown rain, whereupon she lifted her face to perceive that it was indeed raining, and then, glancing back at the photograph, she distinctly saw her husband rushing from one window to another, drawing down the sashes on the side of the house that would have been exposed to the real shower whose music was in her ears.

This was a great discovery, and, naturally enough, it set her weeping, for, she sobbed, it made her feel, for a minute, that she had lost her widowhood and that, after the shower, he'd be coming home.

It might well make any one cry to suddenly lose the pivot upon which his emotions are swung. At any rate, Mrs. Morris cried. She said that she cried all night, first because it seemed so spooky to see him whose remains she had so recently buried on faith, waiving recognition in the debris, dashing about now in so matter-of-fact a way.

And then she wept because, after all, he did not come.

This was the formal beginning of her sense of personal companionship in the picture—companionship, yes, of delight in it, for there is even delight in tears—in some situations in life. Especially is this true of one whose emotions are her only guides, as seems to have been the case with the Widow Morris.

After seeing him draw the window-sashes—and he had drawn them down, ignoring her presence—she sat for hours, waiting for the rain to stop. It seemed to have set in for a long spell, for when she finally fell asleep, "from sheer disappointment, 'long towards morning," it was still raining, but when she awoke the sun shone and all the windows in the picture were up again.

This was a misleading experience, however, for she soon discovered that she could not count upon any line of conduct by the man in the hotel, as the fact that it had one time rained in the photograph at the same time that it rained outside was but a coincidence and she was soon surprised to perceive all quiet along the hotel piazza, not even an awning flapping, while the earth, on her plane, was torn by storms.

On one memorable occasion when her husband had appeared, flapping the window-panes from within with a towel, she had thought for one brief moment that he was beckoning to her, and that she might have to go to him, and she was beginning to experience terror, with shortness of breath and other premonitions of sudden passing, when she discovered that he was merely killing flies, and she flurriedly fanned herself with the asbestos mat which she had seized from the stove beside her, and staggered out to a seat under the mulberries, as she stammered:

"I do declare, Morris'll be the death of me yet. He's 'most as much care to me dead as he was alive—I made sure—made sure he'd come after me!"

Then, feeling her own fidelity challenged, she hastened to add:

"Not that I hadn't rather go to him than to take any trip in the world, but—but I never did fancy that hotel, and since I've got used to seein' him there so constant, I feel sure that's where we'd put up. My belief is, anyway, that if there's hereafters for some things, there's hereafters for all. From what I can gather, I reckon I'm a kind of a cross between a Swedenborgian and a Gates-ajar—that, of course, engrafted on to a Methodist. Now, that hotel, when it was consumed by fire, which to it was the same as mortal death, why, it either ascended into Heaven, in smoke, or it fell, in ashes—to the other place. If it died worthy, like as not it's undergoin' repairs now for a 'mansion,' jasper cupalos, an'—but, of course, such as that could be run up in a twinklin'.

"Still, from what I've heard, it's more likely gone down to its deserts. It would seem hard for a hotel with so many awned-off corridors an' palmed embrasures with teet-a-teet sofas, to live along without sin."

She stood on her step-ladder, wiping the face of the picture as she spoke, and as she began to back down she discovered the cat under her elbow, glaring at the picture.

"Yes, Kitty! Spit away!" she exclaimed. "Like as not you see even more than I do!"

And as she slipped the ladder back into the closet, she remarked—this to herself, strictly:

"If it hadn't 'a' been for poor puss, I'd 'a' had a heap more pleasure out o' this picture than what I have had—or will be likely to have again. The way she's taken on, I've almost come to hate it!"

A serpent had entered her poor little Eden—even the green-eyed monster constrictor, who, if given full swing, would not spare a bone of her meager comfort.

A neighbor who chanced to come in at the time, unobserved overheard the last remark, and Mrs. Morris, seeing that she was there, continued in an unchanged tone, while she gave her a chair:

"Of course, Mis' Withers, you can easy guess who I refer to. I mean that combly-featured wench that kep' the books an' answered the telephone at the hotel—when she found the time from her meddlin'. Somehow, I never thought about her bein' burned in with Morris till puss give her away. Puss never did like the girl when she was alive, an' the first time I see her scratch an' spit at the picture, just the way she used to do whenever she come in sight, why, it just struck me like a clap o' thunder out of a clear sky that puss knew who she was a-spittin' at—an' I switched around sudden—an' glanced up sudden—an'——

"Well, what I seen, I seen! There was that beautied-up typewriter settin' in the window-sill o' Morris's butler's pantry—an' if she didn't wink at me malicious, then I don't know malice when I see it. An' she used her fingers against her nose, too, most defiant and impolite. So I says to puss I says, 'Puss,' I says, 'there's goin's on in that hotel, sure as fate. Annabel Bender has got the better o' me, for once!' An', tell the truth, it did spoil the photograph for me for a while, for, of course, after that, if I didn't see him somewheres on the watch for his faithful spouse, I'd say to myself, 'He's inside there with that pink-featured hussy!'

"You know, a man's a man, Mis' Withers—'specially Morris, an' with his lawful wife cut off an' indefinitely divorced by a longevitied family—an' another burned in with him—well, his faithfulness is put to a trial by fire, as you might say. So, as I say, it spoiled the picture for me, for a while.

"An', to make matters worse, it wasn't any time before I recollected that Campbellite preacher thet was burned in with them, an' with that my imagination run riot, an' I'd think to myself, 'If they're inclined, they cert'n'y have things handy!' Then I'd ketch myself an' say, 'Where's your faith in Scripture, Mary Marthy Matthews, named after two Bible women an' born daughter to an apostle? What's the use?' I'd say, an' so, first an' last, I'd get a sort o' alpha an' omega comfort out o' the passage about no givin' in marriage. Still, there'd be times, pray as I would, when them three would loom up, him an' her—an' the Campbellite preacher. I know his license to marry would run out in time, but for eternity, of course we don't know. Seem like everything would last forever—an' then again, if I've got a widow's freedom, Morris must be classed as a widower, if he's anything.

"Then I'd get some relief in thinkin' about his disposition. Good as he was, Morris was fickle-tasted, not in the long run, but day in an' day out, an' even if he'd be taken up with her he'd get a distaste the minute he reelized she'd be there interminable. That's Morris. Why, didn't he used to get nervous just seein' me around, an' me his own selected? An' didn't I use to make some excuse to send him over to Mame Maddern's ma's ma's—so's he'd be harmlessly diverted? She was full o' talk, and she was ninety-odd an' asthmatic, but he'd come home from them visits an' call me his child wife. I've had my happy moments!

"You know a man'll get tired of himself, even, if he's condemned to it too continual, and think of that blondinetted typewriter for a steady diet—to a man like Morris! Imagine her when her hair dye started to give out—green streaks in that pompadour! So, knowin' my man, I'd take courage an' I'd think, 'Seein' me cut off, he'll soon be wantin' me more than ever'—an' so he does. It's got so now that, glance up at that hotel any time I will, I can generally find him on the lookout, an' many's the time I've stole in an' put on a favoryte apron o' his with blue bows on it, when we'd be alone an' nobody to remark about me breakin' my mournin'. Dear me, how full o' b'oyancy he was—a regular boy at thirty-five, when he passed away!"

Was it any wonder that her friends exchanged glances while Mrs. Morris entertained them in so droll a way? Still, as time passed and she not only brightened in the light of her delusion, but proceeded to meet the conditions of her own life by opening a small shop in her home, and when she exhibited a wholesome sense of profit and loss, her neighbors were quite ready to accept her on terms of mental responsibility.

With occupation and a modest success, emotional disturbance was surely giving place to an even calm, when, one day, something happened.

Mrs. Morris sat behind her counter, sorting notions, puss asleep beside her, when she heard the swish of thin silk, with a breath of familiar perfume, and, looking up, whom did she see but the blond lady of her troubled dreams striding bodily up to the counter, smiling as she swished.

At the sight the good woman first rose to her feet, and then as suddenly dropped—flopped—breathless and white—backward—and had to be revived, so that for the space of some minutes things happened very fast—that is, if we may believe the flurried testimony of the blonde, who, in going over it, two hours later, had more than once to stop for breath.

"Well, say!" she panted. "Did you ever! Such a turn as took her! I hadn't no more 'n stepped in the door when she succumbed, green as the Ganges, into her own egg-basket—an' it full! An' she was on the eve o' floppin' back into the prunin' scizzor points up, when I scrambled over the counter, breakin' my straight-front in two, which she's welcome to, poor thing! Then I loaned her my smellin'-salts, which she held her breath against until it got to be a case of smell or die, an' she smelt! Then it was a case of temporary spasms for a minute, the salts spillin' out over her face, but when the accident evaporated, an' she opened her eyes, rational, I thought to myself, 'Maybe she don't know she's keeled an' would be humiliated if she did,' so I acted callous, an' I says, offhand like, I says, pushin' her apron around behind her over its vice versa, so's to cover up the eggs, which I thought had better be broke to her gently, I says, 'I just called in, Mis' Morris, to borry your recipe for angel-cake—or maybe get you to bake one for us' (I knew she baked on orders). An' with that, what does she do but go over again, limp as wet starch, down an' through every egg in that basket, solid an' fluid!

"Well, by this time, a man who had seen her at her first worst an' run for a doctor, he come in with three, an' whilst they were bowin' to each other an' backin', I giv' 'er stimulus an' d'rectly she turned upon me one rememberable gaze, an' she says, 'Doctors,' says she, 'would you think they'd have the gall to try to get me to cook for 'em? They've ordered angel-ca——' An' with that, over she toppled again, no pulse nor nothin', same as the dead!"

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse