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

While the blonde talked she busied herself with her loosely falling locks, which she tried vainly to entrap.

"An' yet you say she ain't classed as crazy? I'd say it of her, sure! An' so old Morris is dead—burned in that old hotel! Well, well! Poor old fellow! Dear old place! What times I've had!"

She spoke through a mouthful of gilt hairpins and her voice was as an AEolian harp.

"An' he burned in it—an' she's a widow yet! Yes, I did hear there'd been a fire, but you never can tell. I thought the chimney might 'a' burned out—an' I was in the thick of bein' engaged to the night clerk at the Singin' Needles Hotel at Pineville at the time—an' there's no regular mail there. I thought the story might be exaggerated. Oh no, I didn't marry the night clerk. I'm a bride now, married to the head steward, same rank as poor old Morris—an' we're just as happy! I used to pleg Morris about her hair, but I'd have to let up on that now. Mine's as red again as hers. No, not my hair—mine's hair. It's as red as a flannen drawer, every bit an' grain!

"But, say," she added, presently, "when she gets better, just tell her never mind about that reci-pe. I copied it out of her reci-pe book whilst she was under the weather, an' dropped a dime in her cash-drawer. I recollect how old Morris used to look forward to her angel-cakes week-ends he'd be goin' home, an' you know there's nothin' like havin' ammunition, in marriage, even if you never need it. Mine's in that frame of mind now that transforms my gingerbread into angel-cake, but the time may come when I'll have to beat my eggs to a fluff even for angel-cake, so's not to have it taste like gingerbread to him.

"Oh no, he's not with me this trip. I just run down for a lark to show my folks my ring an' things, an' let 'em see it's really so. He give me considerable jewelry. His First's taste run that way, an' they ain't no children.

"Yes, this amethyst is the weddin'-ring. I selected that on account of him bein' a widower. It's the nearest I'd come to wearin' second mournin' for a woman I can't exactly grieve after. The year not bein' up is why he stayed home this trip. He didn't like to be seen traversin' the same old haunts with Another till it was up. I wouldn't wait because, tell the truth, I was afraid. He ain't like a married man with me about money yet, an' it's liable to seize him any day. He might say that he couldn't afford the trip, or that we couldn't, which would amount to the same thing. I rather liked him bein' a little ticklish about goin' around with me for a while. It's one thing to do a thing an' another to be brazen about it—it——

"But if she don't get better"—the reversion was to the Widow Morris—"if she don't get her mind poor thing! there's a fine insane asylum just out of Pineville, an' I'd like the best in the world to look out for her. It would make an excuse for me to go in. They say they have high old times there. Some days they let the inmates do 'most any old thing that's harmless. They even give 'em unpoisonous paints an' let 'em paint each other up. One man insisted he was a barber-pole an' ringed himself accordingly, an' then another chased him around for a stick of peppermint candy. Think of all that inside a close fence, an' a town so dull an' news-hungry——

"Yes, they say Thursdays is paint days, an', of course, Fridays, they are scrub days. They pass around turpentine an' hide the matches. But, of course, Mis' Morris may get the better of it. 'Tain' every woman that can stand widowin', an' sometimes them that has got the least out of marriage will seem the most deprived to lose it—so they say."

The blonde was a person of words.

* * * * *

When Mrs. Morris had fully revived and, after a restoring "night's sleep" had got her bearings, and when she realized clearly that her supposed rival had actually shown up in the flesh, she visibly braced up. Her neighbors understood that it must have been a shock "to be suddenly confronted with any souvenir of the hotel fire"—so one had expressed it—and the incident soon passed out of the village mind.

It was not long after this incident that the widow confided to a friend that she was coming to depend upon Morris for advice in her business.

"Standing as he does, in that hotel door—between two worlds, as you might say—why, he sees both ways, and oftentimes he'll detect an event on the way to happening, an' if it don't move too fast, why, I can hustle an' get the better of things." It was as if she had a private wire for advance information—and she declared herself happy.

Indeed, a certain ineffable light such as we sometimes see in the eyes of those newly in love came to shine from the face of the widow, who did not hesitate to affirm, looking into space as she said it:

"Takin' all things into consideration, I can truly say that I have never been so truly and ideely married as since my widowhood." And she smiled as she added:

"Marriage, the earthly way, is vicissitudinous, for everybody knows that anything is liable to happen to a man at large."

There had been a time when she lamented that her picture was not "life-sized" as it would seem so much more natural, but she immediately reflected that that hotel would never have gotten into her little house, and that, after all, the main thing was having "him" under her own roof.

As the months passed Mrs. Morris, albeit she seemed serene and of peaceful mind, grew very white and still. Fire is white in its ultimate intensity. The top, spinning its fastest, is said to "sleep"—and the dancing dervish is "still." So, misleading signs sometimes mark the danger-line.

"Under-eating and over-thinking" was what the doctor said while he felt her translucent wrist and prescribed nails in her drinking-water. If he secretly knew that kind nature was gently letting down the bars so that a waiting spirit might easily pass—well, he was a doctor, not a minister. His business was with the body, and he ordered repairs.

She was only thirty-seven and "well" when she passed painlessly out of life. It seemed to be simply a case of going.

There were several friends at her bedside the night she went, and to them she turned, feeling the time come:

"I just wanted to give out that the first thing I intend to do when I'm relieved is to call by there for Morris"—she lifted her weary eyes to the picture as she spoke—"for Morris—and I want it understood that it'll be a vacant house from the minute I depart. So, if there's any other woman that's calculatin' to have any carryin's-on from them windows—why, she'll be disappointed—she or they. The one obnoxious person I thought was in it wasn't. My imagination was tempted of Satan an' I was misled. So it must be sold for just what it is—just a photographer's photograph. If it's a picture with a past, why, everybody knows what that past is, and will respect it. I have tried to conquer myself enough to bequeath it to the young lady I suspicioned, but human nature is frail, an' I can't quite do it, although doubtless she would like it as a souvenir. Maybe she'd find it a little too souvenirish to suit my wifely taste, and yet—if a person is going to die——

"I suppose I might legate it to her, partly to recompense her for her discretion in leaving that hotel when she did—an' partly for undue suspicion——

"There's a few debts to be paid, but there's eggs an' things that'll pay them, an' there's no need to have the hen settin' in the window showcase any longer. It was a good advertisement, but I've often thought it might be embarrassin' to her." She was growing weaker, but she roused herself to amend:

"Better raffle the picture for a dollar a chance an' let the proceeds go to my funeral—an' I want to be buried in the hotel-fire general grave, commingled with him—an' what's left over after the debts are paid, I bequeath to her—to make amends—an' if she don't care to come for it, let every widow in town draw for it. But she'll come. 'Most any woman'll take any trip, if it's paid for—But look!" she raised her eyes excitedly toward the mantel, "Look! What's that he's wavin'? It looks—oh yes, it is—it's our wings—two pairs—mine a little smaller. I s'pose it'll be the same old story—I'll never be able to keep up—to keep up with him—an' I've been so hap——

"Yes, Morris—I'm comin'——"

And she was gone—into a peaceful sleep from which she easily passed just before dawn.

When all was well over, the sitting women rose with one accord and went to the mantel, where one even lighted an extra candle more clearly to scan the mysterious picture.

Finally one said:

"You may think I'm queer, but it does look different to me already!"

"So it does," said another, taking the candle. "Like a house for rent. I declare, it gives me the cold shivers."

"I'll pay my dollar gladly, and take a chance for it," whispered a third, "but I wouldn't let such a thing as that enter my happy home——"

"Neither would I!"

"Nor me, neither. I've had trouble enough. My husband's first wife's portrait has brought me discord enough—an' it was a straight likeness. I don't want any more pictures to put in the hen-house loft."

So the feeling ran among the wives.

"Well," said she who was blowing out the candle, "I'll draw for it—an' take it if I win it, an' consider it a sort of inheritance. I never inherited anything but indigestion."

The last speaker was a maiden lady, and so was she who answered, chuckling:

"That's what I say! Anything for a change. There'd be some excitement in a picture where a man was liable to show up. It's more than I've got now. I do declare it's just scandalous the way we're gigglin', an' the poor soul hardly out o' hearin'. She had a kind heart, Mis' Morris had, an' she made herself happy with a mighty slim chance——"

"Yes, she did—and I only wish there'd been a better man waitin' for her in that hotel."



THE GHOST THAT GOT THE BUTTON

BY WILL ADAMS

From Collier's Weekly, May 24, 1913. By permission of Collier's Weekly and Will Adams.



The Ghost that Got the Button

BY WILL ADAMS

One autumn evening, when the days were shortening and the darkness fell early on Hotchkiss and the frost was beginning to adorn with its fine glistening lace the carbine barrels of the night sentries as they walked post, Sergeants Hansen and Whitney and Corporal Whitehall had come to Stone's room after supper, feeling the need common to all men in the first cold nights of the year for a cozy room, a good smoke, and congenial companionship.

The steam heat, newly turned on, wheezed and whined through the radiator: the air was blue and dense with tobacco smoke; the three sergeants reposed in restful, if inelegant attitudes, and Whitehall, his feet on the window sill and his wooden chair tilted back, was holding forth between puffs at a very battered pipe about an old colored woman who kept a little saloon in town.

"So she got mad at those K troop men," he said. "An' nex' day when Turner stopped there for a drink she says: 'You git outer yere! You men fum de Arsenic wid de crossbones on you caps, I ain't lettin' you in; but de Medical Corpses an' de Non-efficient Officers, dey may come.'"

The laugh that followed was interrupted by the approach of a raucous, shrieking noise that rose and fell in lugubrious cadence. "What the deuce!" exclaimed Whitehall, starting up.

"That's Bill," explained Stone. "Bill Sullivan. He thinks he's singin'. Funny you never heard him before, Kid, but then he's not often taken that way, thank the Lord."

"Come in, Bill," he called, "an' tell us what's the matter. Feel sick? Where's the pain?" he asked as big Bill appeared in the doorway.

"Come in, hombre, an' rest yo'self," invited Whitney, and hospitably handed over his tobacco-pouch. "What was that tune yo'all were singin' out yonder?"

"Thanks," responded Bill, settling down. "That there tune was 'I Wonder Where You Are To-night, My Love.'"

"Sounded like 'Sister's Teeth Are Plugged with Zinc,'" commented Whitney.

"Or 'Lookin' Through the Knot Hole in Papa's Wooden Leg,'" said Whitehall.

"Or 'He Won't Buy the Ashman a Manicure Set,'" added Stone.

"No," reiterated Bill solemnly. "It was like I told yer; 'I Wonder Where You Are To-night, My Love,' and it's a corker, too! I seen a feller an' a goil sing it in Kelly's Voddyville Palace out ter Cheyenne onct. Foist he'd sing one voise an' then she'd sing the nex'. He was dressed like a soldier, an' while he sang they was showin' tabloids o' what the goil was a-doin' behind him; an' then when she sang her voise he'd be in the tabloid, an' when it got ter the last voise, an' he was dyin' on a stretcher in a ambulance, everybody in the house was a-cryin' so yer could hardly hear her. It was great! My!" continued Bill, spreading out his great paws over the radiator, "ain't this the snappy evenin'? Real cold. Somehow it 'minds me of the cold we had in China that time of the Boxers, after we'd got ter the Legations; the nights was cold just like this is."

"Why, Bill," said Whitney, "I never knew yo'all were there then. Why did yo' never tell us befo'? What were yo' with?"

"Fourteenth Infantry," responded Bill proudly. "It's a great ol' regiment—don't care if they are doughboys."

"What company was you in?" inquired Hansen, ponderously taking his pipe from his mouth and breaking silence for the first time.

"J Company, same as this."

At this reply Stone opened his mouth abruptly to say something, but thought better of it and shut up again.

"It was blame cold them nights a week or so after we was camped in the Temple of Agriculture (that's what they called it—I dunno why), but say! the heat comin' up from Tientsin was fryin'! It was jus' boilin', bakin', an' bubblin'—worse a heap than anythin' we'd had in the islands. We chucked away mos' every last thing on that hike but canteens an' rifles. It was a darn fool thing ter do—the chuckin' was, o' course—but it come out all right, 'cause extree supplies follered us up on the Pie-ho in junks. Ain't that a funny name fer a river? Pie-ho? Every time I got homesick I'd say that river, an' then I'd see Hogan's Dairy Lunch fer Ladies an' Gents on the ol' Bowery an' hear the kid Mick Hogan yellin': 'Draw one in the dark! White wings—let her flop! Pie-ho!' an' it helped me a heap." Bill settled himself and stretched.

"But what I really wanted to tell youse about," said he, "was somepin' that happened one o' these here cold nights. It gits almighty cold there in September, an' it was sure the spookiest show I ever seen. Even Marm Haggerty's table rappin's in Hester Street never come up to it.

"There was three of us fellers who ran in a bunch them days: me an' Buck Dugan, my bunkie, from the Bowery like me (he was a corporal), an' Ranch Fields—we called him that 'cause he always woiked on a ranch before he come into the Fourteenth. They was great fellers, Buck an' Ranch was. Buck, now—yer couldn't phase him, yer couldn't never phase him, no matter what sort o' job yer put him up against he'd slide through slick as a greased rat. The Cap'n, he knew it, too. Onct when we was fightin' an' hadn't no men to spare, he lef' Buck on guard over about twenty-five Boxer prisoners in a courtyard an' tells him he dassent let one escape. But Buck wants ter git into the fight with the rest of the boys, an' when he finds that if he leaves them Chinos loose in the yard alone they'll git out plenty quick, what does he do but tie 'em tight up by their pigtails to some posts. He knows they can't undo them tight knots backwards, an' no Chink would cut his pigtail if he did have a knife—he'd die foist—an' so Buck skidoos off to the fight, an', sure enough, when the Cap'n wants them Boxers, they're ready, tied up an' waitin'. That was his sort, an', gee, but he was smart!

"We was all right int'rested in them Allies, o' course, an' watched 'em clost; but, 'Bill,' says Buck ter me one night, 'its been woikin in me nut that these here fellers ain't so different from what we know a'ready. Excep' fer their uniform an' outfits, we've met 'em all before but the Japs. Why, look a-here,' says he, 'foist, there's the white men—the English—ain't they jus' like us excep' that they're thicker an' we're longer? An' their Injun niggers—ain't we seen their clothes in the comic op'ras an' them without their clothes in the monkey cage at Central Park? An' their Hong-kong China Regiment an' all the other Chinos is jus' the same as yer meet in the pipe joints in Mott Street. Then,' says he, 'come all the Dagos. These leather necks of Macaroni Dagos we've seen a swarmin' all over Mulberry Bend an' Five Points; the Sauerkraut Dagos looks fer all the woild like they was goin' ter a Schuetzenfest up by High Bridge; the Froggie Dagos you'll find packed in them Frenchy restaraws in the Thirties—where yer git blue wine—and them Vodki Dagos only needs a pushcart ter make yer think yer in Baxter Street.'

"Buck, he could sure talk, but Ranch, he wasn't much on chin-chin. Little an' dark an' quiet he was, an' jus' crazy fer dogs. Any old mutt'd do fer him—jus' so's it was in the shape of a pup. He was fair wild fer 'em. He picked up a yeller cur out there the day after the Yangtsin fight, an' that there no-account, mangy, flea-bitten mutt had ter stay with us the whole time. If the pup didn't stand in me an' Buck an' Ranch, he swore he'd quit too, so we had to let him come, an' he messed an' bunked with our outfit right along. Ranch named him Daggett, after the Colonel, which was right hard on the C. O., but I bet Ranch thought he was complimentin' him. Why, Ranch considered himself honored if any of the pup's fleas hopped off on him. The pup he kep' along with us right through everything; Ranch watchin' him like the apple of his eye, an' he hardly ever was out of our sight, till one night about a week after we quartered in the temple he didn't turn up fer supper. He was always so reg'lar at his chow that Ranch he begin ter git the squirms an' when come taps an' Daggett hadn't reported, Ranch had the razzle-dazzles.

"Nex' mornin' the foist thing he must go hunt that pup, an' went a scoutin' all day, me an' Buck helpin' him—but nary pup; an' come another supper without that miser'ble mutt, an' Ranch was up an alley all right, all right. He was all wore out, an' I made him hit the bunk early an' try ter sleep; but, Lord! No sooner he'd drop off 'n he git ter twitchin' an' hitchin' an' wake up a-yelpin' fer Daggett. Long about taps, Buck, who's been out on a private reconnoissance, comes back an' whispers ter me: 'Ssst, Bill! The cur's found! Don't tell Ranch; the bloke'd die of heart failure. I struck his trail an' follered it—an' say, Bill, what'n thunder do yer think? Them heathen Chinos has et him!' Lord, now, wouldn't that jolt youse? Them Chinos a-eatin' Daggett! It give me an awful jar, an' Buck he felt it, too. That there mutt had acted right decent, an' we knew Ranch would have bats in the belfry fer fair if he hoid tell o' the pup's finish; so says Buck; 'Let's not tell him, 'cause he's takin' on now like he'd lost mother an' father an' best goil an' all, an' if he knew Daggett was providin' chow fer Chinos he'd go clean bug house an' we'd have ter ship him home ter St. Elizabeth.'

"I says O. K. ter that, an' we made it up not ter let on ter Ranch; an' now here comes the spook part yer been a-waitin' fer.

"Four or five nights later I was on guard, an' my post was the farthest out we had on the north. There was an ol' road out over that way, an' I'd hoid tell it led ter a ol' graveyard, but I hadn't never been there myself an' hadn't thought much about it till 'long between two an' three o'clock, as I was a-hikin' up an down, when somepin' comes a-zizzin' down the road hell-fer-leather on to me, a-yellin' somepin' fierce. Gee, but I was skeered! I made sure it was a spook, an' there wasn't a bit o' breath left in me. I was all to the bad that time fer sure. Before I had time ter think even, that screamin', streakin' thing was on me an a-grabbin' roun' my knees; an' then I see it was one o' them near-Christian Chinos, an' he's skeered more'n me even. His eyes had popped clean out'n their slits, an' his tongue was hangin' out by the roots, he was that locoed. I raised the long yell fer corporal of the guard, which happened, by good luck, ter be Buck, an' when he come a-runnin', thinkin' from the whoops I give we was bein' rushed by the hole push of Boxers, the two of us began proddin' at the Chink ter find out what was doin'. Took us some time, too, with him bein' in such a flutter an' hardly able ter even hand out his darn ol' pigeon English, that sounds like language comin' out of a sausage machine. When we did savvy his line of chop-suey talk, we found out he'd seen a ghost in the graveyard, an' not only seen it but he knew who the spook was an' all about him. We was gittin' some serious ourselves an' made him tell us.

"Seems it was a mandarin—that's a sort o' Chink police-court judge (till I got ter Tientsin I always thought they was little oranges), an' this tangerine's—I mean mandarin's—name was Wu Ti Ming, an' he'd been a high mucky-muckraker in his day, which was two or three hundred years back. But the Emprer caught him deep in some sort o' graft an' took away his button an' all o' his dough.

"'Lord!' says Buck when we come ter this, 'don't that prove what heathens Chinks is? Only one button ter keep on their clothes with, an' the Emprer he kin take it away! What did this here Judge Ming do then, John? Use string or pins?' This here John didn't seem ter savvy, but he said that the mandarin took on so fer his button an' his loss of pull in the ward that it was sure sad ter see, an' by an' by the Emprer got busy again with him an' had him finished up fer keeps; had him die the 'death of a thousand cuts,' says John. It sounded fierce ter me, but Buck he says:

"'Pshaw! Anybody who's been shaved reg'lar by them lady barbers on Fourth Avenyer would 'a' give the Emprer the merry ha-ha——'

"After Ming was cut up they took the remains of his corpse an' planted him in this here graveyard up the road; but he wouldn't stay planted an' began doin' stunts at night, 'topside walkee-walkee' an' a-huntin' fer his lost button. He'd used ter have the whole country scared up, but fer the last twenty years he'd kep' right quiet an' had hardly ever come out; but now sence the foreign devils come (ain't that a sweet name fer us?) he's up an' at it again worse than ever, an' the heathens is on their ear. Fer four nights now they'd seen him, wrapped in a blue robe, waitin' an' a-huntin' behind tombstones an' walkin' round an' round the graveyard lie a six days' race fer the belt at Madison Square. John had jus' seen him on the wall, an' that was why he come chargin' down the road like forty cats.

"'Will Mr. Ming's sperrit walk till he gits that button back?' Buck asts. John says: 'Sure.'

"'Well,' says Buck, 'why don't yer give him one?'

"'No can give. Only Emplor, only Son of Heaven give.'

"'Well, look here,' says Buck, 'we sand rabbits ain't no sons of Heaven, but I'll be darned if we couldn't spare a button ter lay the ghost of a pore busted police-court judge, who's lost his job an' his tin, if that's all he wants back. What time does he come out at, John? Could we see him ter-morrer night?' 'Sure could we,' says John; 'he'll show us the way, but he won't wait with us; he's bad enough fer his.'

"So Buck takes John an' goes back ter the guard shack, as it's most time fer relief, an' after I got back we told John ter git the hook, an' we talked things over, an' Buck he was just wild ter see if he couldn't lay that Chino ghost. His talents was achin' ter git action on him; anythin' like that got up his spunk. Says I:

"'Maybe Ranch kin help. We'll tell him ter-morrer after guard mount. It'll take his mind off Daggett.'

"'No, yer don't,' says Buck. 'Don't yer dare tell him. He's nervous as a cat over the pup as it is, an' this spook business is awful skeery; I'm feelin' woozy over it meself. I'm all off when it comes ter ghosts—that is, if it's a real ghost. And things here in Pekin' is so funny the odds is all in favor of its bein' the sure thing. I ain't afeard o' no kinds o' people, but I sure git cold feet when I'm up against a ghost. Wouldn't that jar youse? An' me a soldier; when it's a soldier's whole business not ter git cold feet. But I'm bound I'll have a show at that ol' spook even if it does skeer me out o' my growth. Only don't yer dare tell Ranch.'

"Nex' night, right after eleven o'clock rounds, me an' Buck slipped outer our blankets, sneaked out past the guard, an' met John, who was waitin' fer us in the road jus' beyond where the last sentry woulder seen him. It was cold as git out. Jus' the same kind o' early cold as to-night, an' John's teeth was chatterin' like peas in a box—he was some loco with skeer, too, you bet.

"'Which way?' says Buck, an' John spouts a lot o' dope-joint lingo an' takes us up a side alley, where there's a whole bunch o' Chinos waitin' fer us, an' they begun a kowtowin' an' goin' on like we was the whole cheese. Turned out that John had jollied 'em that the Melican soldier mans was big medicine an' would make Judge Ming quit the midnight hike an' cut out scarin' 'em blue. That jus' suited Buck; he was all there when it come ter play commander in chief. He swelled up an' give 'em a bundle o' talk that John put in Chino fer 'em, an' then finished up by showin' 'em a button—a ol' United States Army brass button he'd cut off his blue blouse—an' tol' 'em he was goin' ter bury it in Ming's grave so as ter keep him bedded down.

"An' them simple idiots was pleased ter death, an' the whole outfit escorted us over ter the graveyard, but they shied at the gate (Lord, I hated ter see 'em go—even if they was heathens!), an' let John take us in an' show us where ter wait. He put us in behind a pile o' little rocks in about the middle o' the place near where Judge Ming hung out, an' then retired on the main body at the double, leavin' us two in outpost alone there together. I hadn't never been ter a Chino buryin' ground before, an' night time wasn't extree pleasant fer a foist introduce. There was a new moon that night—a little shavin' of a thing that hardly gave no light, an' from where we was there was a twisty pine tree branch that struck out right acrost it like a picture card—two fer five. The graveyard was all dark an' quiet, with little piles o' rocks an' stone tables ter mark the graves, an' a four- or five-foot wall runnin' all round it; an' somehow, without nothin' stirrin' at all, the whole blame place seemed chock full o' movin' shadders. There wasn't a sound neither; not the least little thing; jus' them shadders; an' the harder yous'd look at 'em the more they seemed ter move. It was cold, too, like I told yer—bitin' cold—an' me an' Buck squatted there tight together an' mos' friz. We waited, an' we waited, an' we waited, an' we got skeerder, an' skeerder, an' skeerder, an', gee! how we shivered! Every minute we thought we'd see Judge Ming, but a long time went by an' he didn't come an' he didn't come. There we set, strung up tight an' ready ter snap like a banjo string, but nothin' ter see but the shakin' shadders an' nothin' ter hear—nothin' but jus' dead, dead silence.

"All of a suddent Buck (he kin hear a pin drop a mile away) nearly nips a piece out'n my arm as he grips me. 'Listen!' says he.

"I listened an' listened, but I didn't hear nothin', an' I told him so.

"'Yes, yer do, yer bloke yer,' he whispers, 'Listen. Strain your years.'

"Then way off I did begin ter hear somepin'. It was a long, funny, waily cry, sort o' like the way cats holler at each other at night. 'Oh-oo-oo, oh-oo-oo!' like that, an' it come nearer an' nearer. Then all of a suddent somepin' popped up on the graveyard wall about a hundred yards away—somepin' all blue-gray against the hook o' the moon—an' began walkin' up an' down an' hollerin'. I knew it was sayin' words, but I was so far to the bad I didn't know nothin' an' couldn't make it out. I never thought a feller's heart could bang so hard against his ribs without bustin' out, an' me hair riz so high me campaign hat was three inches off'n me head. I hope ter the Lord I'll never be so frightened again in all my livin' days. I set there in a transom from fear an' friz ter the spot. I don't know nothin' o' what Buck was doin', as my lamps was glued ter the spook. It jumped down from the wall, callin' an' whistlin' an' begin runnin' round the little stone heaps. I seen it was comin' our way, but I couldn't move or make a sound; I jus' set. All of a suddent Buck he jumps up an' makes a dash an' a leap at the spook, an' there's a terrible yellin' an' they both comes down crash at the foot of a rock pile, rollin' on the little pebbles; but Buck is on top an' the spook underneath an' lettin' off the most awful screeches. Gosh, they jus' ripped the air, them spooks' yells did, an' they turned my spell loose an' I howled fer all I was worth. Then Buck, he commenced a-yawpin' too, but me an' the spook we was both raisin' so much noise I didn't savvy what he said fer some time. Then I found he was cussin' me out.

"'Come here, you forsaken —— ——,' he howls. 'Quit yellin'! I say quit yellin'! Don't yer see who this is? Come here an' help me.'

"'You think I'm goin' ter tech that Ming spook?' I shrieks.

"'You miser'ble loony,' he yells back, 'can't yer see it ain't no Ming? It's Ranch!'

"Well, so it was. It was Ranch skeered stiff an' hollerin' fer dear life at bein' jumped on an' waked up in the middle of a graveyard that-a-way. Pore ol' feller had had Daggett on his mind, an' went sleepwalkin' an' huntin' wrapped in his blanket.

"'An',' says Buck ter me, 'if youse hadn't been in such a dope dream with skeer, you'd 'a' sensed what he was a-yellin'. He was callin' "Oh-oo-oo, oh-oo-oo, here Daggett! Here, boy!" an' then he'd whistle an' call again: "Here, Daggett! Here, Daggett!" That's how I knew it was Ranch; an', besides, he told me onct that he sleepwalked when he got worried. But you, you white livered—' an' then he cussed me out some more.

"'Smarty,' I says, 'if yer knew so blame well it was Ranch, why did yer give him the flyin' tackle like yer done an' git him all woiked up like this?'

"'Well,' says Buck sort o' sheepy, 'I was some woiked up meself, an' time he come along I give him the spook's tackle without thinkin'; I was too skeered ter think. Hush, Ranch. Hush, old boy. It's jus' me'n Bill. Nobody shan't hoit yer.'

"We comforted pore ol' Ranch an' fixed him up, an' then when he felt better told him about things—all but how Daggett was et—an' I wrapped his blanket around him an' took him back ter quarters while Buck went a-lookin' fer John an' his gang.

"He found 'em about half a mile off, in front of a Mott Street joss house, all prayin' an' burnin' punk an' huddled together, skeered green from the yellin's they'd heard. Buck, he give 'em a long chin-chin about layin' the ghost, an' how Judge Ming wouldn't never come back no more; an' then he dragged 'em all back (they pullin' at the halter shanks with years laid back an' eyes rollin'), ter him bury his United States button on Ming's rock pile. He dropped it in solemn, an' said what the Chinks took ter be a prayer; but it was really the oath he said. Buck havin' onct been a recruitin' sergeant, knew it by heart all the way from 'I do solemnly swear' ter 'so help me, Gawd.' Buck says I oughter seen them grateful Chinos then: they'd 'a' give him the whole Chino Umpire if they could. They got down an' squirmed an' kissed his hands an' his feet an' his sleeve. They wanted ter escort him back ter camp, but he bucked at that, an' said no, as he was out without pass an' not itchin' fer his arrival ter be noticed none.

"After that we took toins watchin' Ranch at night, an' got him another mutt ter love, an' he didn't wander any more, so Judge Ming seemed satisfied with his United States button, an' kep' quiet. But them Chinks was the gratefullest gang yer ever seen. They brought us presents; things ter eat—fruit, poultry, eggs, an' all sorts of chow, some of it mighty funny lookin', but it tasted all right; we lived high, we three. The other fellers was wild ter know how we woiked it. An' I tell yer I ain't never been skeered o' ghosts sence—that is, not ter speak of—much!"

Bill, paused, drew a long breath, and looked at the clock. "Gee!" said he, "most nine o'clock. I got ter go over ter K troop ter see Sergeant Keefe a minute—I promised him. Adios, fellers. Thanks fer the smokin'."

"Keep the change, hombre. Thanks for yo' tale," shouted Whitney after him as he disappeared down the hall.

"Well!!" said Stone, and looked at Hansen.

"Well!!" responded Hansen. The big Swede shook with laughter. "Iss he not the finest liar! Yess? I wass in the Fourteenth myselluf. That wass my company—Chay. He wass not even the army in then—in nineteen hund'erd."

"Yes," said Stone, "I knew, but I wasn't goin' to spoil his bloomin' yarn. I happened to see his enlistment card only this mornin', and the only thing he was ever in before was the Twenty-third Infantry after they came back from the Islands. He's never even been out of the States."

"But where did he get it from?" asked Whitney. "His imagination is equal to most anything but gettin' so many facts straight. Of co'se I noticed things yere an' there—but the most of it was O. K."

"I tell you," said Hansen, grinning, "he got it from an old Fourteenth man—Dan Powerss—at practice camp last Chuly. He an' I wass often talking of China. He wuss in my old company an' wass then telling me how he an' the other fellerss all that extra chow got. I tank Bill he hass a goot memory."

"But the nerve of him!" cried Whitehall, "tryin' ter pass that off on us with Hansen sittin' right there."

"It iss one thing he may have forgot," smiled Hansen.

"Well, who cares anyway?" said Stone. "It was a blame good story. An' now clear out, all of you. I want to hit the bunk. Reveille does seem to come so early these cold mornin's. Gee! I wish I knew of some kind of button that would keep me lyin' down when Shorty wants me to get up an' call the roll."



THE SPECTER BRIDEGROOM

BY WASHINGTON IRVING



The Specter Bridegroom

A TRAVELER'S TALE[2]

BY WASHINGTON IRVING

He that supper for is dight, He lyes full cold, I trow, this night! Yestreen to chamber I him led, This night Gray-Steel has made his bed. SIR EGER, SIR GRAHAME, AND SIR GRAY-STEEL.

On the summit of one of the heights of the Odenwald, a wild and romantic tract of Upper Germany, that lies not far from the confluence of the Main and the Rhine, there stood, many, many years since, the Castle of the Baron Von Landshort. It is now quite fallen to decay, and almost buried among beech trees and dark firs; above which, however, its old watch tower may still be seen, struggling, like the former possessor I have mentioned, to carry a high head, and look down upon the neighboring country.

The baron was a dry branch of the great family of Katzenellenbogen,[3] and inherited the relics of the property, and all the pride of his ancestors. Though the warlike disposition of his predecessors had much impaired the family possessions, yet the baron still endeavored to keep up some show of former state. The times were peaceable, and the German nobles, in general, had abandoned their inconvenient old castles, perched like eagles' nests among the mountains, and had built more convenient residences in the valleys; still the baron remained proudly drawn up in his little fortress, cherishing with hereditary inveteracy, all the old family feuds; so that he was on ill terms with some of his nearest neighbors, on account of disputes that had happened between their great-great-grandfathers.

The baron had but one child, a daughter; but nature, when she grants but one child, always compensates by making it a prodigy; and so it was with the daughter of the baron. All the nurses, gossips, and country cousins assured her father that she had not her equal for beauty in all Germany; and who should know better than they? She had, moreover, been brought up with great care under the superintendence of two maiden aunts, who had spent some years of their early life at one of the little German courts, and were skilled in all branches of knowledge necessary to the education of a fine lady. Under their instructions she became a miracle of accomplishments. By the time she was eighteen, she could embroider to admiration, and had worked whole histories of the saints in tapestry, with such strength of expression in their countenances, that they looked like so many souls in purgatory. She could read without great difficulty, and had spelled her way through several church legends, and almost all the chivalric wonders of the Heldenbuch. She had even made considerable proficiency in writing; could sign her own name without missing a letter, and so legibly, that her aunts could read it without spectacles. She excelled in making little elegant good-for-nothing lady-like nicknacks of all kinds; was versed in the most abstruse dancing of the day; played a number of airs on the harp and guitar; and knew all the tender ballads of the Minnelieders by heart.

Her aunts, too, having been great flirts and coquettes in their younger days, were admirably calculated to be vigilant guardians and strict censors of the conduct of their niece; for there is no duenna so rigidly prudent, and inexorably decorous, as a superannuated coquette. She was rarely suffered out of their sight; never went beyond the domains of the castle, unless well attended, or rather well watched; had continual lectures read to her about strict decorum and implicit obedience; and, as to the men—pah!—she was taught to hold them at such a distance, and in such absolute distrust, that, unless properly authorized, she would not have cast a glance upon the handsomest cavalier in the world—no, not if he were even dying at her feet.

The good effects of this system were wonderfully apparent. The young lady was a pattern of docility and correctness. While others were wasting their sweetness in the glare of the world, and liable to be plucked and thrown aside by every hand, she was coyly blooming into fresh and lovely womanhood under the protection of those immaculate spinsters, like a rosebud blushing forth among guardian thorns. Her aunts looked upon her with pride and exultation, and vaunted that though all the other young ladies in the world might go astray, yet, thank Heaven, nothing of the kind could happen to the heiress of Katzenellenbogen.

But, however scantily the Baron Von Landshort might be provided with children, his household was by no means a small one; for Providence had enriched him with abundance of poor relations. They, one and all, possessed the affectionate disposition common to humble relatives; were wonderfully attached to the baron, and took every possible occasion to come in swarms and enliven the castle. All family festivals were commemorated by these good people at the baron's expense; and when they were filled with good cheer, they would declare that there was nothing on earth so delightful as these family meetings, these jubilees of the heart.

The baron, though a small man, had a large soul, and it swelled with satisfaction at the consciousness of being the greatest man in the little world about him. He loved to tell long stories about the dark old warriors whose portraits looked grimly down from the walls around, and he found no listeners equal to those that fed at his expense. He was much given to the marvelous, and a firm believer in all those supernatural tales with which every mountain and valley in Germany abounds. The faith of his guests exceeded even his own: they listened to every tale of wonder with open eyes and mouth, and never failed to be astonished, even though repeated for the hundredth time. Thus lived the Baron Von Landshort, the oracle of his table, the absolute monarch of his little territory, and happy, above all things, in the persuasion that he was the wisest man of the age.

At the time of which my story treats, there was a great family gathering at the castle, on an affair of the utmost importance: it was to receive the destined bridegroom of the baron's daughter. A negotiation had been carried on between the father and an old nobleman of Bavaria, to unite the dignity of their houses by the marriage of their children. The preliminaries had been conducted with proper punctilio. The young people were betrothed without seeing each other, and the time was appointed for the marriage ceremony. The young Count Von Altenburg had been recalled from the army for the purpose, and was actually on his way to the baron's to receive his bride. Missives had even been received from him from Wurtzburg, where he was accidentally detained, mentioning the day and hour when he might be expected to arrive.

The castle was in a tumult of preparation to give him a suitable welcome. The fair bride had been decked out with uncommon care. The two aunts had superintended her toilet, and quarreled the whole morning about every article of her dress. The young lady had taken advantage of their contest to follow the bent of her own taste; and fortunately it was a good one. She looked as lovely as youthful bridegroom could desire; and the flutter of expectation heightened the luster of her charms.

The suffusions that mantled her face and neck, the gentle heaving of the bosom, the eye now and then lost in reverie, all betrayed the soft tumult that was going on in her little heart. The aunts were continually hovering around her; for maiden aunts are apt to take great interest in affairs of this nature. They were giving her a world of staid counsel how to deport herself, what to say, and in what manner to receive the expected lover.

The baron was no less busied in preparations. He had, in truth, nothing exactly to do; but he was naturally a fuming bustling little man, and could not remain passive when all the world was in a hurry. He worried from top to bottom of the castle with an air of infinite anxiety; he continually called the servants from their work to exhort them to be diligent; and buzzed about every hall and chamber, as idly restless and importunate as a blue-bottle fly on a warm summer's day.

In the meantime the fatted calf had been killed; the forests had rung with the clamor of the huntsmen; the kitchen was crowded with good cheer; the cellars had yielded up whole oceans of Rheinwein and Fernewein; and even the great Heidelberg tun had been laid under contribution. Everything was ready to receive the distinguished guest with Saus und Braus in the true spirit of German hospitality—but the guest delayed to make his appearance. Hour rolled after hour. The sun, that had poured his downward rays upon the rich forest of the Odenwald, now just gleamed along the summits of the mountains. The baron mounted the highest tower, and strained his eyes in hope of catching a distant sight of the count and his attendants. Once he thought he beheld them; the sounds of horns came floating from the valley, prolonged by the mountain echoes. A number of horsemen were seen far below, slowly advancing along the road; but when they had nearly reached the foot of the mountain, they suddenly struck off in a different direction. The last ray of sunshine departed—the bats began to flit by in the twilight—the road grew dimmer and dimmer to the view; and nothing appeared stirring in it but now and then a peasant lagging homeward from his labor.

While the old castle at Landshort was in this state of perplexity, a very interesting scene was transacting in a different part of the Odenwald.

The young Count Von Altenburg was tranquilly pursuing his route in that sober jog-trot way in which a man travels toward matrimony when his friends have taken all the trouble and uncertainty of courtship off his hands, and a bride is waiting for him, as certainly as a dinner at the end of his journey. He had encountered at Wurtzburg a youthful companion in arms with whom he had seen some service on the frontiers: Herman Von Starkenfaust, one of the stoutest hands and worthiest hearts of German chivalry, who was now returning from the army. His father's castle was not far distant from the old fortress of Landshort, although an hereditary feud rendered the families hostile, and strangers to each other.

In the warm-hearted moment of recognition, the young friends related all their past adventures and fortunes, and the count gave the whole history of his intended nuptials with a young lady whom he had never seen, but of whose charms he had received the most enrapturing descriptions.

As the route of the friends lay in the same direction, they agreed to perform the rest of their journey together; and, that they might do it the more leisurely, set off from Wurtzburg at an early hour, the count having given directions for his retinue to follow and overtake him.

They beguiled their wayfaring with recollections of their military scenes and adventures; but the count was apt to be a little tedious, now and then, about the reputed charms of his bride and the felicity that awaited him.

In this way they had entered among the mountains of the Odenwald, and were traversing one of its most lonely and thickly wooded passes. It is well known that the forests of Germany have always been as much infested by robbers as its castles by specters; and at this time the former were particularly numerous, from the hordes of disbanded soldiers wandering about the country. It will not appear extraordinary, therefore, that the cavaliers were attacked by a gang of these stragglers, in the midst of the forest. They defended themselves with bravery, but were nearly overpowered, when the count's retinue arrived to their assistance. At sight of them the robbers fled, but not until the count had received a mortal wound. He was slowly and carefully conveyed back to the city of Wurtzburg, and a friar summoned from a neighboring convent who was famous for his skill in administering to both soul and body; but half of his skill was superfluous; the moments of the unfortunate count were numbered.

With his dying breath he entreated his friend to repair instantly to the castle of Landshort, and explain the fatal cause of his not keeping his appointment with his bride. Though not the most ardent of lovers, he was one of the most punctilious of men, and appeared earnestly solicitous that his mission should be speedily and courteously executed. "Unless this is done," said he, "I shall not sleep quietly in my grave!" He repeated these last words with peculiar solemnity. A request, at a moment so impressive, admitted no hesitation. Starkenfaust endeavored to soothe him to calmness; promised faithfully to execute his wish, and gave him his hand in solemn pledge. The dying man pressed it in acknowledgment, but soon lapsed into delirium—raved about his bride—his engagements—his plighted word; ordered his horse, that he might ride to the castle of Landshort; and expired in the fancied act of vaulting into the saddle.

Starkenfaust bestowed a sigh and a soldier's tear on the untimely fate of his comrade, and then pondered on the awkward mission he had undertaken. His heart was heavy, and his head perplexed; for he was to present himself an unbidden guest among hostile people, and to damp their festivity with tidings fatal to their hopes. Still, there were certain whisperings of curiosity in his bosom to see this far-famed beauty of Katzenellenbogen, so cautiously shut up from the world; for he was a passionate admirer of the sex, and there was a dash of eccentricity and enterprise in his character that made him fond of all singular adventure.

Previous to his departure he made all due arrangements with the holy fraternity of the convent for the funeral solemnities of his friend, who was to be buried in the cathedral of Wurtzburg near some of his illustrious relatives; and the mourning retinue of the count took charge of his remains.

It is now high time that we should return to the ancient family of Katzenellenbogen, who were impatient for their guest, and still more for their dinner; and to the worthy little baron, whom we left airing himself on the watch-tower.

Night closed in, but still no guest arrived. The baron descended from the tower in despair. The banquet, which had been delayed from hour to hour, could no longer be postponed. The meats were already overdone; the cook in an agony; and the whole household had the look of a garrison that had been reduced by famine. The baron was obliged reluctantly to give orders for the feast without the presence of the guest. All were seated at table, and just on the point of commencing, when the sound of a horn from without the gate gave notice of the approach of a stranger. Another long blast filled the old courts of the castle with its echoes, and was answered by the warder from the walls. The baron hastened to receive his future son-in-law.

The drawbridge had been let down, and the stranger was before the gate. He was a tall, gallant cavalier mounted on a black steed. His countenance was pale, but he had a beaming, romantic eye, and an air of stately melancholy.

The baron was a little mortified that he should have come in this simple, solitary style. His dignity for a moment was ruffled, and he felt disposed to consider it a want of proper respect for the important occasion, and the important family with which he was to be connected. He pacified himself, however, with the conclusion, that it must have been youthful impatience which had induced him thus to spur on sooner than his attendants.

"I am sorry," said the stranger, "to break in upon you thus unseasonably——"

Here the baron interrupted with a world of compliments and greetings; for, to tell the truth, he prided himself upon his courtesy and eloquence.

The stranger attempted, once or twice, to stem the torrent of words, but in vain, so he bowed his head and suffered it to flow on. By the time the baron had come to a pause, they had reached the inner court of the castle; and the stranger was again about to speak, when he was once more interrupted by the appearance of the female part of the family leading forth the shrinking and blushing bride. He gazed on her for a moment as one entranced; it seemed as if his whole soul beamed forth in the gaze, and rested upon that lovely form. One of the maiden aunts whispered something in her ear; she made an effort to speak; her moist blue eye was timidly raised; gave a shy glance of inquiry on the stranger; and was cast again to the ground. The words died away; but there was a sweet smile playing about her lips, and a soft dimpling of the cheek that showed her glance had not been unsatisfactory. It was impossible for a girl of the fond age of eighteen, highly predisposed for love and matrimony, not to be pleased with so gallant a cavalier.

The late hour at which the guest had arrived left no time for parley. The baron was peremptory, and deferred all particular conversation until the morning, and led the way to the untasted banquet.

It was served up in the great hall of the castle. Around the walls hung the hard-favored portraits of the heroes of the house of Katzenellenbogen, and the trophies which they had gained in the field and in the chase. Hacked corselets, splintered jousting spears, and tattered banners were mingled with the spoils of sylvan warfare; the jaws of the wolf and the tusks of the boar grinned horribly among cross-bows and battle-axes, and a huge pair of antlers branched immediately over the head of the youthful bridegroom.

The cavalier took but little notice of the company or the entertainment. He scarcely tasted the banquet, but seemed absorbed in admiration of his bride. He conversed in a low tone that could not be overheard—for the language of love is never loud; but where is the female ear so dull that it cannot catch the softest whisper of the lover? There was a mingled tenderness and gravity in his manner, that appeared to have a powerful effect upon the young lady. Her color came and went as she listened with deep attention. Now and then she made some blushing reply, and when his eye was turned away, she would steal a sidelong glance at his romantic countenance and heave a gentle sigh of tender happiness. It was evident that the young couple were completely enamored. The aunts, who were deeply versed in the mysteries of the heart, declared that they had fallen in love with each other at first sight.

The feast went on merrily, or at least noisily, for the guests were all blessed with those keen appetites that attend upon light purses and mountain air. The baron told his best and longest stories, and never had he told them so well, or with such great effect. If there was anything marvelous, his auditors were lost in astonishment; and if anything facetious, they were sure to laugh exactly in the right place. The baron, it is true, like most great men, was too dignified to utter any joke but a dull one; it was always enforced, however, by a bumper of excellent Hockheimer; and even a dull joke, at one's own table, served up with jolly old wine, is irresistible. Many good things were said by poorer and keener wits that would not bear repeating, except on similar occasions; many sly speeches whispered in ladies' ears, that almost convulsed them with suppressed laughter; and a song or two roared out by a poor, but merry and broad-faced cousin of the baron that absolutely made the maiden aunts hold up their fans.

Amidst all this revelry, the stranger guest maintained a most singular and unseasonable gravity. His countenance assumed a deeper cast of dejection as the evening advanced; and, strange as it may appear, even the baron's jokes seemed only to render him the more melancholy. At times he was lost in thought, and at times there was a perturbed and restless wandering of the eye that bespoke a mind but ill at ease. His conversations with the bride became more and more earnest and mysterious. Lowering clouds began to steal over the fair serenity of her brow, and tremors to run through her tender frame.

All this could not escape the notice of the company. Their gayety was chilled by the unaccountable gloom of the bridegroom; their spirits were infected; whispers and glances were interchanged, accompanied by shrugs and dubious shakes of the head. The song and the laugh grew less and less frequent; there were dreary pauses in the conversation, which were at length succeeded by wild tales and supernatural legends. One dismal story produced another still more dismal, and the baron nearly frightened some of the ladies into hysterics with the history of the goblin horseman that carried away the fair Leonora; a dreadful story which has since been put into excellent verse, and is read and believed by all the world.

The bridegroom listened to this tale with profound attention. He kept his eyes steadily fixed on the baron, and, as the story drew to a close, began gradually to rise from his seat, growing taller and taller, until, in the baron's entranced eye, he seemed almost to tower into a giant. The moment the tale was finished, he heaved a deep sigh and took a solemn farewell of the company. They were all amazement. The baron was perfectly thunder-struck.

"What! going to leave the castle at midnight? Why, everything was prepared for his reception; a chamber was ready for him if he wished to retire."

The stranger shook his head mournfully and mysteriously; "I must lay my head in a different chamber to-night!"

There was something in this reply, and the tone in which it was uttered, that made the baron's heart misgive him; but he rallied his forces and repeated his hospitable entreaties.

The stranger shook his head silently, but positively, at every offer; and, waving his farewell to the company, stalked slowly out of the hall. The maiden aunts were absolutely petrified—the bride hung her head, and a tear stole to her eye.

The baron followed the stranger to the great court of the castle, where the black charger stood pawing the earth and snorting with impatience. When they had reached the portal, whose deep archway was dimly lighted by a cresset, the stranger paused, and addressed the baron in a hollow tone of voice which the vaulted roof rendered still more sepulchral.

"Now that we are alone," said he, "I will impart to you the reason of my going. I have a solemn, an indispensable engagement——"

"Why," said the baron, "cannot you send someone in your place?"

"It admits of no substitute—I must attend it in person—I must away to Wurtzburg cathedral——"

"Ay," said the baron, plucking up spirit, "but not until to-morrow—to-morrow you shall take your bride there."

"No! no!" replied the stranger, with tenfold solemnity, "my engagement is with no bride—the worms! the worms expect me! I am a dead man—I have been slain by robbers—my body lies at Wurtzburg—at midnight I am to be buried—the grave is waiting for me—I must keep my appointment!"

He sprang on his black charger, dashed over the drawbridge, and the clattering of his horses' hoofs was lost in the whistling of the night blast.

The baron returned to the hall in the utmost consternation, and related what had passed. Two ladies fainted outright, others sickened at the idea of having banqueted with a specter. It was the opinion of some, that this might be the wild huntsman, famous in German legend. Some talked of mountain sprites, of wood-demons, and of other supernatural beings, with which the good people of Germany have been so grievously harassed since time immemorial. One of the poor relations ventured to suggest that it might be some sportive evasion of the young cavalier, and that the very gloominess of the caprice seemed to accord with so melancholy a personage. This, however, drew on him the indignation of the whole company, and especially of the baron, who looked upon him as little better than an infidel; so that he was fain to abjure his heresy as speedily as possible, and come into the faith of the true believers.

But whatever may have been the doubts entertained, they were completely put to an end by the arrival, next day, of regular missives confirming the intelligence of the young count's murder, and his interment in Wurtzburg cathedral.

The dismay at the castle may well be imagined. The baron shut himself up in his chamber. The guests, who had come to rejoice with him, could not think of abandoning him in his distress. They wandered about the courts, or collected in groups in the hall, shaking their heads and shrugging their shoulders at the troubles of so good a man; and sat longer than ever at table, and ate and drank more stoutly than ever, by way of keeping up their spirits. But the situation of the widowed bride was the most pitiable. To have lost a husband before she had even embraced him—and such a husband! if the very specter could be so gracious and noble, what must have been the living man! She filled the house with lamentations.

On the night of the second day of her widowhood, she had retired to her chamber, accompanied by one of her aunts who insisted on sleeping with her. The aunt, who was one of the best tellers of ghost stories in all Germany, had just been recounting one of her longest, and had fallen asleep in the very midst of it. The chamber was remote, and overlooked a small garden. The niece lay pensively gazing at the beams of the rising moon, as they trembled on the leaves of an aspen-tree before the lattice. The castle-clock had just tolled midnight, when a soft strain of music stole up from the garden. She rose hastily from her bed, and stepped lightly to the window. A tall figure stood among the shadows of the trees. As it raised its head, a beam of moonlight fell upon the countenance. Heaven and earth! she beheld the Specter Bridegroom! A loud shriek at that moment burst upon her ear, and her aunt, who had been awakened by the music, and had followed her silently to the window, fell into her arms. When she looked again, the specter had disappeared.

Of the two females, the aunt now required the most soothing, for she was perfectly beside herself with terror. As to the young lady, there was something, even in the specter of her lover, that seemed endearing. There was still the semblance of manly beauty; and though the shadow of a man is but little calculated to satisfy the affections of a love-sick girl, yet, where the substance is not to be had, even that is consoling. The aunt declared she would never sleep in that chamber again; the niece, for once, was refractory, and declared as strongly that she would sleep in no other in the castle: the consequence was, that she had to sleep in it alone: but she drew a promise from her aunt not to relate the story of the specter, lest she should be denied the only melancholy pleasure left her on earth—that of inhabiting the chamber over which the guardian shade of her lover kept its nightly vigils.

How long the good old lady would have observed this promise is uncertain, for she dearly loved to talk of the marvelous, and there is a triumph in being the first to tell a frightful story; it is, however, still quoted in the neighborhood, as a memorable instance of female secrecy, that she kept it to herself for a whole week; when she was suddenly absolved from all further restraint, by intelligence, brought to the breakfast table one morning, that the young lady was not to be found. Her room was empty—the bed had not been slept in—the window was open, and the bird had flown!

The astonishment and concern with which the intelligence was received, can only be imagined by those who have witnessed the agitation which the mishaps of a great man cause among his friends. Even the poor relations paused for a moment from the indefatigable labors of the trencher, when the aunt, who had at first been struck speechless, wrung her hands, and shrieked out, "The goblin! the goblin! She's carried away by the goblin!"

In a few words she related the fearful scene of the garden, and concluded that the specter must have carried off his bride. Two of the domestics corroborated the opinion, for they had heard the clattering of a horse's hoofs down the mountain about midnight, and had no doubt that it was the specter on his black charger, bearing her away to the tomb. All present were struck with the direful probability; for events of the kind are extremely common in Germany, as many well-authenticated histories bear witness.

What a lamentable situation was that of the poor baron! What a heart-rending dilemma for a fond father, and a member of the great family of Katzenellenbogen! His only daughter had either been rapt away to the grave, or he was to have some wood-demon for a son-in-law, and, perchance, a troop of goblin grandchildren. As usual, he was completely bewildered and all the castle in an uproar. The men were ordered to take horse, and scour every road and path and glen of the Odenwald. The baron himself had just drawn on his jack-boots, girded on his sword, and was about to mount his steed to sally forth on the doubtful quest, when he was brought to a pause by a new apparition. A lady was seen approaching the castle, mounted on a palfrey, attended by a cavalier on horseback. She galloped up to the gate, sprang from her horse, and falling at the baron's feet, embraced his knees. It was his lost daughter, and her companion—the Specter Bridegroom! The baron was astounded. He looked at his daughter, then at the specter, and almost doubted the evidence of his senses. The latter, too, was wonderfully improved in his appearance since his visit to the world of spirits. His dress was splendid, and set off a noble figure of manly symmetry. He was no longer pale and melancholy. His fine countenance was flushed with the glow of youth, and joy rioted in his large dark eye.

The mystery was soon cleared up. The cavalier (for in truth, as you must have known all the while, he was no goblin) announced himself as Sir Herman Von Starkenfaust. He related his adventure with the young count. He told how he had hastened to the castle to deliver the unwelcome tidings, but that the eloquence of the baron had interrupted him in every attempt to tell his tale. How the sight of the bride had completely captivated him, and that to pass a few hours near her, he had tacitly suffered the mistake to continue. How he had been sorely perplexed in what way to make a decent retreat, until the baron's goblin stories had suggested his eccentric exit. How, fearing the feudal hostility of the family, he had repeated his visits by stealth—had haunted the garden beneath the young lady's window—had wooed—had won—had borne away in triumph—and, in a word, had wedded the fair.

Under any other circumstances the baron would have been inflexible, for he was tenacious of paternal authority, and devoutly obstinate in all family feuds; but he loved his daughter; he had lamented her as lost; he rejoiced to find her still alive; and, though her husband was of a hostile house, yet, thank Heaven, he was not a goblin. There was something, it must be acknowledged, that did not exactly accord with his notions of strict veracity, in the joke the knight had passed upon him of his being a dead man; but several old friends present, who had served in the wars, assured him that every stratagem was excusable in love, and that the cavalier was entitled to especial privilege, having lately served as a trooper.

Matters, therefore, were happily arranged. The baron pardoned the young couple on the spot. The revels at the castle were resumed. The poor relations overwhelmed this new member of the family with loving kindness; he was so gallant, so generous—and so rich. The aunts, it is true, were somewhat scandalized that their system of strict seclusion and passive obedience should be so badly exemplified, but attributed it all to their negligence in not having the windows grated. One of them was particularly mortified at having her marvelous story marred, and that the only specter she had ever seen should turn out a counterfeit; but the niece seemed perfectly happy at having found him substantial flesh and blood—and so the story ends.

FOOTNOTES:

[2] The erudite reader, well versed in good-for-nothing lore, will perceive that the above Tale must have been suggested to the old Swiss by a little French anecdote, a circumstance said to have taken place at Paris.

[3] I. e., CAT'S-ELBOW. The name of a family of those parts very powerful in former times. The appellation, we are told, was given in compliment to a peerless dame of the family, celebrated for her fine arm.



THE SPECTER OF TAPPINGTON

COMPILED BY RICHARD BARHAM



The Specter of Tappington

From The Ingoldsby Legends

COMPILED BY RICHARD BARHAM

"It is very odd, though; what can have become of them?" said Charles Seaforth, as he peeped under the valance of an old-fashioned bedstead, in an old-fashioned apartment of a still more old-fashioned manor-house; "'tis confoundedly odd, and I can't make it out at all. Why, Barney, where are they?—and where the d——l are you?"

No answer was returned to this appeal; and the lieutenant, who was, in the main, a reasonable person—at least as reasonable a person as any young gentleman of twenty-two in "the service" can fairly be expected to be—cooled when he reflected that his servant could scarcely reply extempore to a summons which it was impossible he should hear.

An application to the bell was the considerate result; and the footsteps of as tight a lad as ever put pipe-clay to belt sounded along the gallery.

"Come in!" said his master. An ineffectual attempt upon the door reminded Mr. Seaforth that he had locked himself in. "By Heaven! this is the oddest thing of all," said he, as he turned the key and admitted Mr. Maguire into his dormitory.

"Barney, where are my pantaloons?"

"Is it the breeches?" asked the valet, casting an inquiring eye round the apartment;—"is it the breeches, sir?"

"Yes, what have you done with them?"

"Sure then your honor had them on when you went to bed, and it's hereabouts they'll be, I'll be bail"; and Barney lifted a fashionable tunic from a cane-backed arm-chair, proceeding in his examination. But the search was vain; there was the tunic aforesaid, there was a smart-looking kerseymere waistcoat; but the most important article of all in a gentleman's wardrobe was still wanting.

"Where can they be?" asked the master, with a strong accent on the auxiliary verb.

"Sorrow a know I knows," said the man.

"It must have been the devil, then, after all, who has been here and carried them off!" cried Seaforth, staring full into Barney's face.

Mr. Maguire was not devoid of the superstition of his countrymen, still he looked as if he did not quite subscribe to the sequitur.

His master read incredulity in his countenance. "Why, I tell you, Barney, I put them there, on that arm-chair, when I got into bed; and, by Heaven! I distinctly saw the ghost of the old fellow they told me of, come in at midnight, put on my pantaloons, and walk away with them."

"May be so," was the cautious reply.

"I thought, of course, it was a dream; but then—where the d——l are the breeches?"

The question was more easily asked than answered. Barney renewed his search, while the lieutenant folded his arms, and, leaning against the toilet, sunk into a reverie.

"After all, it must be some trick of my laughter-loving cousins," said Seaforth.

"Ah! then, the ladies!" chimed in Mr. Maguire, though the observation was not addressed to him; "and will it be Miss Caroline or Miss Fanny, that's stole your honor's things?"

"I hardly know what to think of it," pursued the bereaved lieutenant, still speaking in soliloquy, with his eye resting dubiously on the chamber-door. "I locked myself in, that's certain; and—but there must be some other entrance to the room—pooh! I remember—the private staircase; how could I be such a fool?" and he crossed the chamber to where a low oaken doorcase was dimly visible in a distant corner. He paused before it. Nothing now interfered to screen it from observation; but it bore tokens of having been at some earlier period concealed by tapestry, remains of which yet clothed the walls on either side the portal.

"This way they must have come," said Seaforth; "I wish with all my heart I had caught them!"

"Och! the kittens!" sighed Mr. Barney Maguire.

But the mystery was yet as far from being solved as before. True, there was the "other door"; but then that, too, on examination, was even more firmly secured than the one which opened on the gallery—two heavy bolts on the inside effectually prevented any coup de main on the lieutenant's bivouac from that quarter. He was more puzzled than ever; nor did the minutest inspection of the walls and floor throw any light upon the subject: one thing only was clear—the breeches were gone! "It is very singular," said the lieutenant.

* * * * *

Tappington (generally called Tapton) Everard is an antiquated but commodious manor-house in the eastern division of the county of Kent. A former proprietor had been high-sheriff in the days of Elizabeth, and many a dark and dismal tradition was yet extant of the licentiousness of his life, and the enormity of his offenses. The Glen, which the keeper's daughter was seen to enter, but never known to quit, still frowns darkly as of yore; while an ineradicable blood-stain on the oaken stair yet bids defiance to the united energies of soap and sand. But it is with one particular apartment that a deed of more especial atrocity is said to be connected. A stranger guest—so runs the legend—arrived unexpectedly at the mansion of the "Bad Sir Giles." They met in apparent friendship; but the ill-concealed scowl on their master's brow told the domestics that the visit was not a welcome one; the banquet, however, was not spared; the wine-cup circulated freely—too freely, perhaps—for sounds of discord at length reached the ears of even the excluded serving-men, as they were doing their best to imitate their betters in the lower hall. Alarmed, some of them ventured to approach the parlor, one, an old and favored retainer of the house, went so far as to break in upon his master's privacy. Sir Giles, already high in oath, fiercely enjoined his absence, and he retired; not, however, before he had distinctly heard from the stranger's lips a menace that "there was that within his pocket which could disprove the knight's right to issue that or any other command within the walls of Tapton."

The intrusion, though momentary, seemed to have produced a beneficial effect; the voices of the disputants fell, and the conversation was carried on thenceforth in a more subdued tone, till, as evening closed in, the domestics, when summoned to attend with lights, found not only cordiality restored, but that a still deeper carouse was meditated. Fresh stoups, and from the choicest bins, were produced; nor was it till at a late, or rather early hour, that the revelers sought their chambers.

The one allotted to the stranger occupied the first floor of the eastern angle of the building, and had once been the favorite apartment of Sir Giles himself. Scandal ascribed this preference to the facility which a private staircase, communicating with the grounds, had afforded him, in the old knight's time, of following his wicked courses unchecked by parental observation; a consideration which ceased to be of weight when the death of his father left him uncontrolled master of his estate and actions. From that period Sir Giles had established himself in what were called the "state apartments," and the "oaken chamber" was rarely tenanted, save on occasions of extraordinary festivity, or when the yule log drew an unusually large accession of guests around the Christmas hearth.

On this eventful night it was prepared for the unknown visitor, who sought his couch heated and inflamed from his midnight orgies, and in the morning was found in his bed a swollen and blackened corpse. No marks of violence appeared upon the body; but the livid hue of the lips, and certain dark-colored spots visible on the skin, aroused suspicions which those who entertained them were too timid to express. Apoplexy, induced by the excesses of the preceding night, Sir Giles's confidential leech pronounced to be the cause of his sudden dissolution. The body was buried in peace; and though some shook their heads as they witnessed the haste with which the funeral rites were hurried on, none ventured to murmur. Other events arose to distract the attention of the retainers; men's minds became occupied by the stirring politics of the day; while the near approach of that formidable armada, so vainly arrogating itself a title which the very elements joined with human valor to disprove, soon interfered to weaken, if not obliterate, all remembrance of the nameless stranger who had died within the walls of Tapton Everard.

Years rolled on: the "Bad Sir Giles" had himself long since gone to his account, the last, as it was believed, of his immediate line; though a few of the older tenants were sometimes heard to speak of an elder brother, who had disappeared in early life, and never inherited the estate. Rumors, too, of his having left a son in foreign lands, were at one time rife; but they died away, nothing occurring to support them: the property passed unchallenged to a collateral branch of the family, and the secret, if secret there were, was buried in Denton churchyard, in the lonely grave of the mysterious stranger. One circumstance alone occurred, after a long-intervening period, to revive the memory of these transactions. Some workmen employed in grubbing an old plantation, for the purpose of raising on its site a modern shrubbery, dug up, in the execution of their task, the mildewed remnants of what seemed to have been once a garment. On more minute inspection, enough remained of silken slashes and a coarse embroidery, to identify the relics as having once formed part of a pair of trunk hose; while a few papers which fell from them, altogether illegible from damp and age, were by the unlearned rustics conveyed to the then owner of the estate.

Whether the squire was more successful in deciphering them was never known; he certainly never alluded to their contents; and little would have been thought of the matter but for the inconvenient memory of one old woman, who declared she heard her grandfather say, that when the "strange guest" was poisoned, though all the rest of his clothes were there, his breeches, the supposed repository of the supposed documents, could never be found. The master of Tapton Everard smiled when he heard Dame Jones's hint of deeds which might impeach the validity of his own title in favor of some unknown descendant of some unknown heir; and the story was rarely alluded to, save by one or two miracle-mongers, who had heard that others had seen the ghost of old Sir Giles, in his night-cap, issue from the postern, enter the adjoining copse, and wring his shadowy hands in agony, as he seemed to search vainly for something hidden among the evergreens. The stranger's death-room had, of course, been occasionally haunted from the time of his decease; but the periods of visitation had latterly become very rare—even Mrs. Botherby, the housekeeper, being forced to admit that, during her long sojourn at the manor, she had never "met with anything worse than herself"; though, as the old lady afterwards added upon more mature reflection, "I must say I think I saw the devil once."

Such was the legend attached to Tapton Everard, and such the story which the lively Caroline Ingoldsby detailed to her equally mercurial cousin, Charles Seaforth, lieutenant in the Hon. East India Company's second regiment of Bombay Fencibles, as arm-in-arm they promenaded a gallery decked with some dozen grim-looking ancestral portraits, and, among others, with that of the redoubted Sir Giles himself. The gallant commander had that very morning paid his first visit to the house of his maternal uncle, after an absence of several years passed with his regiment on the arid plains of Hindostan, whence he was now returned on a three years' furlough. He had gone out a boy—he returned a man; but the impression made upon his youthful fancy by his favorite cousin remained unimpaired, and to Tapton he directed his steps, even before he sought the home of his widowed mother—comforting himself in this breach of filial decorum by the reflection that, as the manor was so little out of his way, it would be unkind to pass, as it were, the door of his relatives, without just looking in for a few hours.

But he found his uncle as hospitable, and his cousin more charming than ever; and the looks of one, and the requests of the other, soon precluded the possibility of refusing to lengthen the "few hours" into a few days, though the house was at the moment full of visitors.

The Peterses were from Ramsgate; and Mr., Mrs., and the two Miss Simpkinsons, from Bath, had come to pass a month with the family; and Tom Ingoldsby had brought down his college friend the Honorable Augustus Sucklethumbkin, with his groom and pointers, to take a fortnight's shooting. And then there was Mrs. Ogleton, the rich young widow, with her large black eyes, who, people did say, was setting her cap at the young squire, though Mrs. Botherby did not believe it; and, above all, there was Mademoiselle Pauline, her femme de chambre, who "mon-Dieu'd" everything and everybody, and cried "Quel horreur!" at Mrs. Botherby's cap. In short, to use the last-named and much-respected lady's own expression, the house was "choke-full" to the very attics—all save the "oaken chamber," which, as the lieutenant expressed a most magnanimous disregard of ghosts, was forthwith appropriated to his particular accommodation. Mr. Maguire meanwhile was fain to share the apartment of Oliver Dobbs, the squire's own man; a jocular proposal of joint occupancy having been first indignantly rejected by "Mademoiselle," though preferred with the "laste taste in life" of Mr. Barney's most insinuating brogue.

* * * * *

"Come, Charles, the urn is absolutely getting cold; your breakfast will be quite spoiled: what can have made you so idle?" Such was the morning salutation of Miss Ingoldsby to the militaire as he entered the breakfast-room half an hour after the latest of the party.

"A pretty gentleman, truly, to make an appointment with," chimed in Miss Frances. "What is become of our ramble to the rocks before breakfast?"

"Oh! the young men never think of keeping a promise now," said Mrs. Peters, a little ferret-faced woman with underdone eyes.

"When I was a young man," said Mr. Peters, "I remember I always made a point of——"

"Pray, how long ago was that?" asked Mr. Simpkinson from Bath.

"Why, sir, when I married Mrs. Peters, I was—let me see—I was——"

"Do pray hold your tongue, P., and eat your breakfast!" interrupted his better half, who had a mortal horror of chronological references; "it's very rude to tease people with your family affairs."

The lieutenant had by this time taken his seat in silence—a good-humored nod, and a glance, half-smiling, half-inquisitive, being the extent of his salutation. Smitten as he was, and in the immediate presence of her who had made so large a hole in his heart, his manner was evidently distrait, which the fair Caroline in her secret soul attributed to his being solely occupied by her agremens: how would she have bridled had she known that they only shared his meditations with a pair of breeches!

Charles drank his coffee and spiked some half-dozen eggs, darting occasionally a penetrating glance at the ladies, in hope of detecting the supposed waggery by the evidence of some furtive smile or conscious look. But in vain; not a dimple moved indicative of roguery, nor did the slightest elevation of eyebrow rise confirmative of his suspicions. Hints and insinuations passed unheeded—more particular inquiries were out of the question—the subject was unapproachable.

In the meantime, "patent cords" were just the thing for a morning's ride; and, breakfast ended, away cantered the party over the downs, till, every faculty absorbed by the beauties, animate and inanimate, which surrounded him. Lieutenant Seaforth of the Bombay Fencibles bestowed no more thought upon his breeches than if he had been born on the top of Ben Lomond.

* * * * *

Another night had passed away; the sun rose brilliantly, forming with his level beams a splendid rainbow in the far-off west, whither the heavy cloud, which for the last two hours had been pouring its waters on the earth, was now flying before him.

"Ah! then, and it's little good it'll be the claning of ye," apostrophized Mr. Barney Maguire, as he deposited, in front of his master's toilet, a pair of "bran new" jockey boots, one of Hoby's primest fits, which the lieutenant had purchased in his way through town. On that very morning had they come for the first time under the valet's depurating hand, so little soiled, indeed, from the turfy ride of the preceding day, that a less scrupulous domestic might, perhaps, have considered the application of "Warren's Matchless," or oxalic acid, altogether superfluous. Not so Barney: with the nicest care had he removed the slightest impurity from each polished surface, and there they stood, rejoicing in their sable radiance. No wonder a pang shot across Mr. Maguire's breast as he thought on the work now cut out for them, so different from the light labors of the day before; no wonder he murmured with a sigh, as the scarce dried window-panes disclosed a road now inch deep in mud! "Ah! then, it's little good claning of ye!"—for well had he learned in the hall below that eight miles of a stiff clay soil lay between the manor and Bolsover Abbey, whose picturesque ruins,

"Like ancient Rome, majestic in decay,"

the party had determined to explore. The master had already commenced dressing, and the man was fitting straps upon a light pair of crane-necked spurs, when his hand was arrested by the old question—"Barney, where are the breeches?"

They were nowhere to be found!

* * * * *

Mr. Seaforth descended that morning, whip in hand, and equipped in a handsome green riding-frock, but no "breeches and boots to match" were there: loose jean trousers, surmounting a pair of diminutive Wellingtons, embraced, somewhat incongruously, his nether man, vice the "patent cords," returned, like yesterday's pantaloons, absent without leave. The "top-boots" had a holiday.

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