The Haunted House - The Mortals In The House
Scary Books: Three Ghost Stories
: Charles Dickens
Under none of the accredited ghostly circumstances, and environed by
none of the conventional ghostly surroundings, did I first make
acquaintance with the house which is the subject of this Christmas
piece. I saw it in the daylight, with the sun upon it. There was
no wind, no rain, no lightning, no thunder, no awful or unwonted
circumstance, of any kind, to heighten its effect. More than that:
I had come to it direc
from a railway station: it was not more
than a mile distant from the railway station; and, as I stood
outside the house, looking back upon the way I had come, I could see
the goods train running smoothly along the embankment in the valley.
I will not say that everything was utterly commonplace, because I
doubt if anything can be that, except to utterly commonplace people-
-and there my vanity steps in; but, I will take it on myself to say
that anybody might see the house as I saw it, any fine autumn
The manner of my lighting on it was this.
I was travelling towards London out of the North, intending to stop
by the way, to look at the house. My health required a temporary
residence in the country; and a friend of mine who knew that, and
who had happened to drive past the house, had written to me to
suggest it as a likely place. I had got into the train at midnight,
and had fallen asleep, and had woke up and had sat looking out of
window at the brilliant Northern Lights in the sky, and had fallen
asleep again, and had woke up again to find the night gone, with the
usual discontented conviction on me that I hadn't been to sleep at
all;--upon which question, in the first imbecility of that
condition, I am ashamed to believe that I would have done wager by
battle with the man who sat opposite me. That opposite man had had,
through the night--as that opposite man always has--several legs too
many, and all of them too long. In addition to this unreasonable
conduct (which was only to be expected of him), he had had a pencil
and a pocket-book, and had been perpetually listening and taking
notes. It had appeared to me that these aggravating notes related
to the jolts and bumps of the carriage, and I should have resigned
myself to his taking them, under a general supposition that he was
in the civil-engineering way of life, if he had not sat staring
straight over my head whenever he listened. He was a goggle-eyed
gentleman of a perplexed aspect, and his demeanour became
It was a cold, dead morning (the sun not being up yet), and when I
had out-watched the paling light of the fires of the iron country,
and the curtain of heavy smoke that hung at once between me and the
stars and between me and the day, I turned to my fellow-traveller
"I BEG your pardon, sir, but do you observe anything particular in
me"? For, really, he appeared to be taking down, either my
travelling-cap or my hair, with a minuteness that was a liberty.
The goggle-eyed gentleman withdrew his eyes from behind me, as if
the back of the carriage were a hundred miles off, and said, with a
lofty look of compassion for my insignificance:
"In you, sir?--B."
"B, sir?" said I, growing warm.
"I have nothing to do with you, sir," returned the gentleman; "pray
let me listen--O."
He enunciated this vowel after a pause, and noted it down.
At first I was alarmed, for an Express lunatic and no communication
with the guard, is a serious position. The thought came to my
relief that the gentleman might be what is popularly called a
Rapper: one of a sect for (some of) whom I have the highest
respect, but whom I don't believe in. I was going to ask him the
question, when he took the bread out of my mouth.
"You will excuse me," said the gentleman contemptuously, "if I am
too much in advance of common humanity to trouble myself at all
about it. I have passed the night--as indeed I pass the whole of my
time now--in spiritual intercourse."
"O!" said I, somewhat snappishly.
"The conferences of the night began," continued the gentleman,
turning several leaves of his note-book, "with this message: 'Evil
communications corrupt good manners.'"
"Sound," said I; "but, absolutely new?"
"New from spirits," returned the gentleman.
I could only repeat my rather snappish "O!" and ask if I might be
favoured with the last communication.
"'A bird in the hand,'" said the gentleman, reading his last entry
with great solemnity, "'is worth two in the Bosh.'"
"Truly I am of the same opinion," said I; "but shouldn't it be
"It came to me, Bosh," returned the gentleman.
The gentleman then informed me that the spirit of Socrates had
delivered this special revelation in the course of the night. "My
friend, I hope you are pretty well. There are two in this railway
carriage. How do you do? There are seventeen thousand four hundred
and seventy-nine spirits here, but you cannot see them. Pythagoras
is here. He is not at liberty to mention it, but hopes you like
travelling." Galileo likewise had dropped in, with this scientific
intelligence. "I am glad to see you, AMICO. COME STA? Water will
freeze when it is cold enough. ADDIO!" In the course of the night,
also, the following phenomena had occurred. Bishop Butler had
insisted on spelling his name, "Bubler," for which offence against
orthography and good manners he had been dismissed as out of temper.
John Milton (suspected of wilful mystification) had repudiated the
authorship of Paradise Lost, and had introduced, as joint authors of
that poem, two Unknown gentlemen, respectively named Grungers and
Scadgingtone. And Prince Arthur, nephew of King John of England,
had described himself as tolerably comfortable in the seventh
circle, where he was learning to paint on velvet, under the
direction of Mrs. Trimmer and Mary Queen of Scots.
If this should meet the eye of the gentleman who favoured me with
these disclosures, I trust he will excuse my confessing that the
sight of the rising sun, and the contemplation of the magnificent
Order of the vast Universe, made me impatient of them. In a word, I
was so impatient of them, that I was mightily glad to get out at the
next station, and to exchange these clouds and vapours for the free
air of Heaven.
By that time it was a beautiful morning. As I walked away among
such leaves as had already fallen from the golden, brown, and russet
trees; and as I looked around me on the wonders of Creation, and
thought of the steady, unchanging, and harmonious laws by which they
are sustained; the gentleman's spiritual intercourse seemed to me as
poor a piece of journey-work as ever this world saw. In which
heathen state of mind, I came within view of the house, and stopped
to examine it attentively.
It was a solitary house, standing in a sadly neglected garden: a
pretty even square of some two acres. It was a house of about the
time of George the Second; as stiff, as cold, as formal, and in as
bad taste, as could possibly be desired by the most loyal admirer of
the whole quartet of Georges. It was uninhabited, but had, within a
year or two, been cheaply repaired to render it habitable; I say
cheaply, because the work had been done in a surface manner, and was
already decaying as to the paint and plaster, though the colours
were fresh. A lop-sided board drooped over the garden wall,
announcing that it was "to let on very reasonable terms, well
furnished." It was much too closely and heavily shadowed by trees,
and, in particular, there were six tall poplars before the front
windows, which were excessively melancholy, and the site of which
had been extremely ill chosen.
It was easy to see that it was an avoided house--a house that was
shunned by the village, to which my eye was guided by a church spire
some half a mile off--a house that nobody would take. And the
natural inference was, that it had the reputation of being a haunted
No period within the four-and-twenty hours of day and night is so
solemn to me, as the early morning. In the summer-time, I often
rise very early, and repair to my room to do a day's work before
breakfast, and I am always on those occasions deeply impressed by
the stillness and solitude around me. Besides that there is
something awful in the being surrounded by familiar faces asleep--in
the knowledge that those who are dearest to us and to whom we are
dearest, are profoundly unconscious of us, in an impassive state,
anticipative of that mysterious condition to which we are all
tending--the stopped life, the broken threads of yesterday, the
deserted seat, the closed book, the unfinished but abandoned
occupation, all are images of Death. The tranquillity of the hour
is the tranquillity of Death. The colour and the chill have the
same association. Even a certain air that familiar household
objects take upon them when they first emerge from the shadows of
the night into the morning, of being newer, and as they used to be
long ago, has its counterpart in the subsidence of the worn face of
maturity or age, in death, into the old youthful look. Moreover, I
once saw the apparition of my father, at this hour. He was alive
and well, and nothing ever came of it, but I saw him in the
daylight, sitting with his back towards me, on a seat that stood
beside my bed. His head was resting on his hand, and whether he was
slumbering or grieving, I could not discern. Amazed to see him
there, I sat up, moved my position, leaned out of bed, and watched
him. As he did not move, I spoke to him more than once. As he did
not move then, I became alarmed and laid my hand upon his shoulder,
as I thought--and there was no such thing.
For all these reasons, and for others less easily and briefly
statable, I find the early morning to be my most ghostly time. Any
house would be more or less haunted, to me, in the early morning;
and a haunted house could scarcely address me to greater advantage
I walked on into the village, with the desertion of this house upon
my mind, and I found the landlord of the little inn, sanding his
door-step. I bespoke breakfast, and broached the subject of the
"Is it haunted?" I asked.
The landlord looked at me, shook his head, and answered, "I say
"Then it IS haunted?"
"Well!" cried the landlord, in an outburst of frankness that had the
appearance of desperation--"I wouldn't sleep in it."
"If I wanted to have all the bells in a house ring, with nobody to
ring 'em; and all the doors in a house bang, with nobody to bang
'em; and all sorts of feet treading about, with no feet there; why,
then," said the landlord, "I'd sleep in that house."
"Is anything seen there?"
The landlord looked at me again, and then, with his former
appearance of desperation, called down his stable-yard for "Ikey!"
The call produced a high-shouldered young fellow, with a round red
face, a short crop of sandy hair, a very broad humorous mouth, a
turned-up nose, and a great sleeved waistcoat of purple bars, with
mother-of-pearl buttons, that seemed to be growing upon him, and to
be in a fair way--if it were not pruned--of covering his head and
overunning his boots.
"This gentleman wants to know," said the landlord, "if anything's
seen at the Poplars."
"'Ooded woman with a howl," said Ikey, in a state of great
"Do you mean a cry?"
"I mean a bird, sir."
"A hooded woman with an owl. Dear me! Did you ever see her?"
"I seen the howl."
"Never the woman?"
"Not so plain as the howl, but they always keeps together."
"Has anybody ever seen the woman as plainly as the owl?"
"Lord bless you, sir! Lots."
"Lord bless you, sir! Lots."
"The general-dealer opposite, for instance, who is opening his
"Perkins? Bless you, Perkins wouldn't go a-nigh the place. No!"
observed the young man, with considerable feeling; "he an't
overwise, an't Perkins, but he an't such a fool as THAT."
(Here, the landlord murmured his confidence in Perkins's knowing
"Who is--or who was--the hooded woman with the owl? Do you know?"
"Well!" said Ikey, holding up his cap with one hand while he
scratched his head with the other, "they say, in general, that she
was murdered, and the howl he 'ooted the while."
This very concise summary of the facts was all I could learn, except
that a young man, as hearty and likely a young man as ever I see,
had been took with fits and held down in 'em, after seeing the
hooded woman. Also, that a personage, dimly described as "a hold
chap, a sort of one-eyed tramp, answering to the name of Joby,
unless you challenged him as Greenwood, and then he said, 'Why not?
and even if so, mind your own business,'" had encountered the hooded
woman, a matter of five or six times. But, I was not materially
assisted by these witnesses: inasmuch as the first was in
California, and the last was, as Ikey said (and he was confirmed by
the landlord), Anywheres.
Now, although I regard with a hushed and solemn fear, the mysteries,
between which and this state of existence is interposed the barrier
of the great trial and change that fall on all the things that live;
and although I have not the audacity to pretend that I know anything
of them; I can no more reconcile the mere banging of doors, ringing
of bells, creaking of boards, and such-like insignificances, with
the majestic beauty and pervading analogy of all the Divine rules
that I am permitted to understand, than I had been able, a little
while before, to yoke the spiritual intercourse of my fellow-
traveller to the chariot of the rising sun. Moreover, I had lived
in two haunted houses--both abroad. In one of these, an old Italian
palace, which bore the reputation of being very badly haunted
indeed, and which had recently been twice abandoned on that account,
I lived eight months, most tranquilly and pleasantly:
notwithstanding that the house had a score of mysterious bedrooms,
which were never used, and possessed, in one large room in which I
sat reading, times out of number at all hours, and next to which I
slept, a haunted chamber of the first pretensions. I gently hinted
these considerations to the landlord. And as to this particular
house having a bad name, I reasoned with him, Why, how many things
had bad names undeservedly, and how easy it was to give bad names,
and did he not think that if he and I were persistently to whisper
in the village that any weird-looking old drunken tinker of the
neighbourhood had sold himself to the Devil, he would come in time
to be suspected of that commercial venture! All this wise talk was
perfectly ineffective with the landlord, I am bound to confess, and
was as dead a failure as ever I made in my life.
To cut this part of the story short, I was piqued about the haunted
house, and was already half resolved to take it. So, after
breakfast, I got the keys from Perkins's brother-in-law (a whip and
harness maker, who keeps the Post Office, and is under submission to
a most rigorous wife of the Doubly Seceding Little Emmanuel
persuasion), and went up to the house, attended by my landlord and
Within, I found it, as I had expected, transcendently dismal. The
slowly changing shadows waved on it from the heavy trees, were
doleful in the last degree; the house was ill-placed, ill-built,
ill-planned, and ill-fitted. It was damp, it was not free from dry
rot, there was a flavour of rats in it, and it was the gloomy victim
of that indescribable decay which settles on all the work of man's
hands whenever it's not turned to man's account. The kitchens and
offices were too large, and too remote from each other. Above
stairs and below, waste tracts of passage intervened between patches
of fertility represented by rooms; and there was a mouldy old well
with a green growth upon it, hiding like a murderous trap, near the
bottom of the back-stairs, under the double row of bells. One of
these bells was labelled, on a black ground in faded white letters,
MASTER B. This, they told me, was the bell that rang the most.
"Who was Master B.?" I asked. "Is it known what he did while the
"Rang the bell," said Ikey.
I was rather struck by the prompt dexterity with which this young
man pitched his fur cap at the bell, and rang it himself. It was a
loud, unpleasant bell, and made a very disagreeable sound. The
other bells were inscribed according to the names of the rooms to
which their wires were conducted: as "Picture Room," "Double Room,"
"Clock Room," and the like. Following Master B.'s bell to its
source I found that young gentleman to have had but indifferent
third-class accommodation in a triangular cabin under the cock-loft,
with a corner fireplace which Master B. must have been exceedingly
small if he were ever able to warm himself at, and a corner chimney-
piece like a pyramidal staircase to the ceiling for Tom Thumb. The
papering of one side of the room had dropped down bodily, with
fragments of plaster adhering to it, and almost blocked up the door.
It appeared that Master B., in his spiritual condition, always made
a point of pulling the paper down. Neither the landlord nor Ikey
could suggest why he made such a fool of himself.
Except that the house had an immensely large rambling loft at top, I
made no other discoveries. It was moderately well furnished, but
sparely. Some of the furniture--say, a third--was as old as the
house; the rest was of various periods within the last half-century.
I was referred to a corn-chandler in the market-place of the county
town to treat for the house. I went that day, and I took it for six
It was just the middle of October when I moved in with my maiden
sister (I venture to call her eight-and-thirty, she is so very
handsome, sensible, and engaging). We took with us, a deaf stable-
man, my bloodhound Turk, two women servants, and a young person
called an Odd Girl. I have reason to record of the attendant last
enumerated, who was one of the Saint Lawrence's Union Female
Orphans, that she was a fatal mistake and a disastrous engagement.
The year was dying early, the leaves were falling fast, it was a raw
cold day when we took possession, and the gloom of the house was
most depressing. The cook (an amiable woman, but of a weak turn of
intellect) burst into tears on beholding the kitchen, and requested
that her silver watch might be delivered over to her sister (2
Tuppintock's Gardens, Liggs's Walk, Clapham Rise), in the event of
anything happening to her from the damp. Streaker, the housemaid,
feigned cheerfulness, but was the greater martyr. The Odd Girl, who
had never been in the country, alone was pleased, and made
arrangements for sowing an acorn in the garden outside the scullery
window, and rearing an oak.
We went, before dark, through all the natural--as opposed to
supernatural--miseries incidental to our state. Dispiriting reports
ascended (like the smoke) from the basement in volumes, and
descended from the upper rooms. There was no rolling-pin, there was
no salamander (which failed to surprise me, for I don't know what it
is), there was nothing in the house, what there was, was broken, the
last people must have lived like pigs, what could the meaning of the
landlord be? Through these distresses, the Odd Girl was cheerful
and exemplary. But within four hours after dark we had got into a
supernatural groove, and the Odd Girl had seen "Eyes," and was in
My sister and I had agreed to keep the haunting strictly to
ourselves, and my impression was, and still is, that I had not left
Ikey, when he helped to unload the cart, alone with the women, or
any one of them, for one minute. Nevertheless, as I say, the Odd
Girl had "seen Eyes" (no other explanation could ever be drawn from
her), before nine, and by ten o'clock had had as much vinegar
applied to her as would pickle a handsome salmon.
I leave a discerning public to judge of my feelings, when, under
these untoward circumstances, at about half-past ten o'clock Master
B.'s bell began to ring in a most infuriated manner, and Turk howled
until the house resounded with his lamentations!
I hope I may never again be in a state of mind so unchristian as the
mental frame in which I lived for some weeks, respecting the memory
of Master B. Whether his bell was rung by rats, or mice, or bats,
or wind, or what other accidental vibration, or sometimes by one
cause, sometimes another, and sometimes by collusion, I don't know;
but, certain it is, that it did ring two nights out of three, until
I conceived the happy idea of twisting Master B.'s neck--in other
words, breaking his bell short off--and silencing that young
gentleman, as to my experience and belief, for ever.
But, by that time, the Odd Girl had developed such improving powers
of catalepsy, that she had become a shining example of that very
inconvenient disorder. She would stiffen, like a Guy Fawkes endowed
with unreason, on the most irrelevant occasions. I would address
the servants in a lucid manner, pointing out to them that I had
painted Master B.'s room and balked the paper, and taken Master B.'s
bell away and balked the ringing, and if they could suppose that
that confounded boy had lived and died, to clothe himself with no
better behaviour than would most unquestionably have brought him and
the sharpest particles of a birch-broom into close acquaintance in
the present imperfect state of existence, could they also suppose a
mere poor human being, such as I was, capable by those contemptible
means of counteracting and limiting the powers of the disembodied
spirits of the dead, or of any spirits?--I say I would become
emphatic and cogent, not to say rather complacent, in such an
address, when it would all go for nothing by reason of the Odd
Girl's suddenly stiffening from the toes upward, and glaring among
us like a parochial petrifaction.
Streaker, the housemaid, too, had an attribute of a most
discomfiting nature. I am unable to say whether she was of an
usually lymphatic temperament, or what else was the matter with her,
but this young woman became a mere Distillery for the production of
the largest and most transparent tears I ever met with. Combined
with these characteristics, was a peculiar tenacity of hold in those
specimens, so that they didn't fall, but hung upon her face and
nose. In this condition, and mildly and deplorably shaking her
head, her silence would throw me more heavily than the Admirable
Crichton could have done in a verbal disputation for a purse of
money. Cook, likewise, always covered me with confusion as with a
garment, by neatly winding up the session with the protest that the
Ouse was wearing her out, and by meekly repeating her last wishes
regarding her silver watch.
As to our nightly life, the contagion of suspicion and fear was
among us, and there is no such contagion under the sky. Hooded
woman? According to the accounts, we were in a perfect Convent of
hooded women. Noises? With that contagion downstairs, I myself
have sat in the dismal parlour, listening, until I have heard so
many and such strange noises, that they would have chilled my blood
if I had not warmed it by dashing out to make discoveries. Try this
in bed, in the dead of the night: try this at your own comfortable
fire-side, in the life of the night. You can fill any house with
noises, if you will, until you have a noise for every nerve in your
I repeat; the contagion of suspicion and fear was among us, and
there is no such contagion under the sky. The women (their noses in
a chronic state of excoriation from smelling-salts) were always
primed and loaded for a swoon, and ready to go off with hair-
triggers. The two elder detached the Odd Girl on all expeditions
that were considered doubly hazardous, and she always established
the reputation of such adventures by coming back cataleptic. If
Cook or Streaker went overhead after dark, we knew we should
presently hear a bump on the ceiling; and this took place so
constantly, that it was as if a fighting man were engaged to go
about the house, administering a touch of his art which I believe is
called The Auctioneer, to every domestic he met with.
It was in vain to do anything. It was in vain to be frightened, for
the moment in one's own person, by a real owl, and then to show the
owl. It was in vain to discover, by striking an accidental discord
on the piano, that Turk always howled at particular notes and
combinations. It was in vain to be a Rhadamanthus with the bells,
and if an unfortunate bell rang without leave, to have it down
inexorably and silence it. It was in vain to fire up chimneys, let
torches down the well, charge furiously into suspected rooms and
recesses. We changed servants, and it was no better. The new set
ran away, and a third set came, and it was no better. At last, our
comfortable housekeeping got to be so disorganised and wretched,
that I one night dejectedly said to my sister: "Patty, I begin to
despair of our getting people to go on with us here, and I think we
must give this up."
My sister, who is a woman of immense spirit, replied, "No, John,
don't give it up. Don't be beaten, John. There is another way."
"And what is that?" said I.
"John," returned my sister, "if we are not to be driven out of this
house, and that for no reason whatever, that is apparent to you or
me, we must help ourselves and take the house wholly and solely into
our own hands."
"But, the servants," said I.
"Have no servants," said my sister, boldly.
Like most people in my grade of life, I had never thought of the
possibility of going on without those faithful obstructions. The
notion was so new to me when suggested, that I looked very doubtful.
"We know they come here to be frightened and infect one another, and
we know they are frightened and do infect one another," said my
"With the exception of Bottles," I observed, in a meditative tone.
(The deaf stable-man. I kept him in my service, and still keep him,
as a phenomenon of moroseness not to be matched in England.)
"To be sure, John," assented my sister; "except Bottles. And what
does that go to prove? Bottles talks to nobody, and hears nobody
unless he is absolutely roared at, and what alarm has Bottles ever
given, or taken! None."
This was perfectly true; the individual in question having retired,
every night at ten o'clock, to his bed over the coach-house, with no
other company than a pitchfork and a pail of water. That the pail
of water would have been over me, and the pitchfork through me, if I
had put myself without announcement in Bottles's way after that
minute, I had deposited in my own mind as a fact worth remembering.
Neither had Bottles ever taken the least notice of any of our many
uproars. An imperturbable and speechless man, he had sat at his
supper, with Streaker present in a swoon, and the Odd Girl marble,
and had only put another potato in his cheek, or profited by the
general misery to help himself to beefsteak pie.
"And so," continued my sister, "I exempt Bottles. And considering,
John, that the house is too large, and perhaps too lonely, to be
kept well in hand by Bottles, you, and me, I propose that we cast
about among our friends for a certain selected number of the most
reliable and willing--form a Society here for three months--wait
upon ourselves and one another--live cheerfully and socially--and
see what happens."
I was so charmed with my sister, that I embraced her on the spot,
and went into her plan with the greatest ardour.
We were then in the third week of November; but, we took our
measures so vigorously, and were so well seconded by the friends in
whom we confided, that there was still a week of the month
unexpired, when our party all came down together merrily, and
mustered in the haunted house.
I will mention, in this place, two small changes that I made while
my sister and I were yet alone. It occurring to me as not
improbable that Turk howled in the house at night, partly because he
wanted to get out of it, I stationed him in his kennel outside, but
unchained; and I seriously warned the village that any man who came
in his way must not expect to leave him without a rip in his own
throat. I then casually asked Ikey if he were a judge of a gun? On
his saying, "Yes, sir, I knows a good gun when I sees her," I begged
the favour of his stepping up to the house and looking at mine.
"SHE'S a true one, sir," said Ikey, after inspecting a double-
barrelled rifle that I bought in New York a few years ago. "No
mistake about HER, sir."
"Ikey," said I, "don't mention it; I have seen something in this
"No, sir?" he whispered, greedily opening his eyes. "'Ooded lady,
"Don't be frightened," said I. "It was a figure rather like you."
"Ikey!" said I, shaking hands with him warmly: I may say
affectionately; "if there is any truth in these ghost-stories, the
greatest service I can do you, is, to fire at that figure. And I
promise you, by Heaven and earth, I will do it with this gun if I
see it again!"
The young man thanked me, and took his leave with some little
precipitation, after declining a glass of liquor. I imparted my
secret to him, because I had never quite forgotten his throwing his
cap at the bell; because I had, on another occasion, noticed
something very like a fur cap, lying not far from the bell, one
night when it had burst out ringing; and because I had remarked that
we were at our ghostliest whenever he came up in the evening to
comfort the servants. Let me do Ikey no injustice. He was afraid
of the house, and believed in its being haunted; and yet he would
play false on the haunting side, so surely as he got an opportunity.
The Odd Girl's case was exactly similar. She went about the house
in a state of real terror, and yet lied monstrously and wilfully,
and invented many of the alarms she spread, and made many of the
sounds we heard. I had had my eye on the two, and I know it. It is
not necessary for me, here, to account for this preposterous state
of mind; I content myself with remarking that it is familiarly known
to every intelligent man who has had fair medical, legal, or other
watchful experience; that it is as well established and as common a
state of mind as any with which observers are acquainted; and that
it is one of the first elements, above all others, rationally to be
suspected in, and strictly looked for, and separated from, any
question of this kind.
To return to our party. The first thing we did when we were all
assembled, was, to draw lots for bedrooms. That done, and every
bedroom, and, indeed, the whole house, having been minutely examined
by the whole body, we allotted the various household duties, as if
we had been on a gipsy party, or a yachting party, or a hunting
party, or were shipwrecked. I then recounted the floating rumours
concerning the hooded lady, the owl, and Master B.: with others,
still more filmy, which had floated about during our occupation,
relative to some ridiculous old ghost of the female gender who went
up and down, carrying the ghost of a round table; and also to an
impalpable Jackass, whom nobody was ever able to catch. Some of
these ideas I really believe our people below had communicated to
one another in some diseased way, without conveying them in words.
We then gravely called one another to witness, that we were not
there to be deceived, or to deceive--which we considered pretty much
the same thing--and that, with a serious sense of responsibility, we
would be strictly true to one another, and would strictly follow out
the truth. The understanding was established, that any one who
heard unusual noises in the night, and who wished to trace them,
should knock at my door; lastly, that on Twelfth Night, the last
night of holy Christmas, all our individual experiences since that
then present hour of our coming together in the haunted house,
should be brought to light for the good of all; and that we would
hold our peace on the subject till then, unless on some remarkable
provocation to break silence.
We were, in number and in character, as follows:
First--to get my sister and myself out of the way--there were we
two. In the drawing of lots, my sister drew her own room, and I
drew Master B.'s. Next, there was our first cousin John Herschel,
so called after the great astronomer: than whom I suppose a better
man at a telescope does not breathe. With him, was his wife: a
charming creature to whom he had been married in the previous
spring. I thought it (under the circumstances) rather imprudent to
bring her, because there is no knowing what even a false alarm may
do at such a time; but I suppose he knew his own business best, and
I must say that if she had been MY wife, I never could have left her
endearing and bright face behind. They drew the Clock Room. Alfred
Starling, an uncommonly agreeable young fellow of eight-and-twenty
for whom I have the greatest liking, was in the Double Room; mine,
usually, and designated by that name from having a dressing-room
within it, with two large and cumbersome windows, which no wedges I
was ever able to make, would keep from shaking, in any weather, wind
or no wind. Alfred is a young fellow who pretends to be "fast"
(another word for loose, as I understand the term), but who is much
too good and sensible for that nonsense, and who would have
distinguished himself before now, if his father had not
unfortunately left him a small independence of two hundred a year,
on the strength of which his only occupation in life has been to
spend six. I am in hopes, however, that his Banker may break, or
that he may enter into some speculation guaranteed to pay twenty per
cent.; for, I am convinced that if he could only be ruined, his
fortune is made. Belinda Bates, bosom friend of my sister, and a
most intellectual, amiable, and delightful girl, got the Picture
Room. She has a fine genius for poetry, combined with real business
earnestness, and "goes in"--to use an expression of Alfred's--for
Woman's mission, Woman's rights, Woman's wrongs, and everything that
is woman's with a capital W, or is not and ought to be, or is and
ought not to be. "Most praiseworthy, my dear, and Heaven prosper
you!" I whispered to her on the first night of my taking leave of
her at the Picture-Room door, "but don't overdo it. And in respect
of the great necessity there is, my darling, for more employments
being within the reach of Woman than our civilisation has as yet
assigned to her, don't fly at the unfortunate men, even those men
who are at first sight in your way, as if they were the natural
oppressors of your sex; for, trust me, Belinda, they do sometimes
spend their wages among wives and daughters, sisters, mothers,
aunts, and grandmothers; and the play is, really, not ALL Wolf and
Red Riding-Hood, but has other parts in it." However, I digress.
Belinda, as I have mentioned, occupied the Picture Room. We had but
three other chambers: the Corner Room, the Cupboard Room, and the
Garden Room. My old friend, Jack Governor, "slung his hammock," as
he called it, in the Corner Room. I have always regarded Jack as
the finest-looking sailor that ever sailed. He is gray now, but as
handsome as he was a quarter of a century ago--nay, handsomer. A
portly, cheery, well-built figure of a broad-shouldered man, with a
frank smile, a brilliant dark eye, and a rich dark eyebrow. I
remember those under darker hair, and they look all the better for
their silver setting. He has been wherever his Union namesake
flies, has Jack, and I have met old shipmates of his, away in the
Mediterranean and on the other side of the Atlantic, who have beamed
and brightened at the casual mention of his name, and have cried,
"You know Jack Governor? Then you know a prince of men!" That he
is! And so unmistakably a naval officer, that if you were to meet
him coming out of an Esquimaux snow-hut in seal's skin, you would be
vaguely persuaded he was in full naval uniform.
Jack once had that bright clear eye of his on my sister; but, it
fell out that he married another lady and took her to South America,
where she died. This was a dozen years ago or more. He brought
down with him to our haunted house a little cask of salt beef; for,
he is always convinced that all salt beef not of his own pickling,
is mere carrion, and invariably, when he goes to London, packs a
piece in his portmanteau. He had also volunteered to bring with him
one "Nat Beaver," an old comrade of his, captain of a merchantman.
Mr. Beaver, with a thick-set wooden face and figure, and apparently
as hard as a block all over, proved to be an intelligent man, with a
world of watery experiences in him, and great practical knowledge.
At times, there was a curious nervousness about him, apparently the
lingering result of some old illness; but, it seldom lasted many
minutes. He got the Cupboard Room, and lay there next to Mr.
Undery, my friend and solicitor: who came down, in an amateur
capacity, "to go through with it," as he said, and who plays whist
better than the whole Law List, from the red cover at the beginning
to the red cover at the end.
I never was happier in my life, and I believe it was the universal
feeling among us. Jack Governor, always a man of wonderful
resources, was Chief Cook, and made some of the best dishes I ever
ate, including unapproachable curries. My sister was pastrycook and
confectioner. Starling and I were Cook's Mate, turn and turn about,
and on special occasions the chief cook "pressed" Mr. Beaver. We
had a great deal of out-door sport and exercise, but nothing was
neglected within, and there was no ill-humour or misunderstanding
among us, and our evenings were so delightful that we had at least
one good reason for being reluctant to go to bed.
We had a few night alarms in the beginning. On the first night, I
was knocked up by Jack with a most wonderful ship's lantern in his
hand, like the gills of some monster of the deep, who informed me
that he "was going aloft to the main truck," to have the weathercock
down. It was a stormy night and I remonstrated; but Jack called my
attention to its making a sound like a cry of despair, and said
somebody would be "hailing a ghost" presently, if it wasn't done.
So, up to the top of the house, where I could hardly stand for the
wind, we went, accompanied by Mr. Beaver; and there Jack, lantern
and all, with Mr. Beaver after him, swarmed up to the top of a
cupola, some two dozen feet above the chimneys, and stood upon
nothing particular, coolly knocking the weathercock off, until they
both got into such good spirits with the wind and the height, that I
thought they would never come down. Another night, they turned out
again, and had a chimney-cowl off. Another night, they cut a
sobbing and gulping water-pipe away. Another night, they found out
something else. On several occasions, they both, in the coolest
manner, simultaneously dropped out of their respective bedroom
windows, hand over hand by their counterpanes, to "overhaul"
something mysterious in the garden.
The engagement among us was faithfully kept, and nobody revealed
anything. All we knew was, if any one's room were haunted, no one
looked the worse for it.
CHAPTER II THE GHOST IN MASTER Bedroom ROOM
When I established myself in the triangular garret which had gained
so distinguished a reputation, my thoughts naturally turned to
Master B. My speculations about him were uneasy and manifold.
Whether his Christian name was Benjamin, Bissextile (from his having
been born in Leap Year), Bartholomew, or Bill. Whether the initial
letter belonged to his family name, and that was Baxter, Black,
Brown, Barker, Buggins, Baker, or Bird. Whether he was a foundling,
and had been baptized B. Whether he was a lion-hearted boy, and B.
was short for Briton, or for Bull. Whether he could possibly have
been kith and kin to an illustrious lady who brightened my own
childhood, and had come of the blood of the brilliant Mother Bunch?
With these profitless meditations I tormented myself much. I also
carried the mysterious letter into the appearance and pursuits of
the deceased; wondering whether he dressed in Blue, wore Boots (he
couldn't have been Bald), was a boy of Brains, liked Books, was good
at Bowling, had any skill as a Boxer, even in his Buoyant Boyhood
Bathed from a Bathing-machine at Bognor, Bangor, Bournemouth,
Brighton, or Broadstairs, like a Bounding Billiard Ball?
So, from the first, I was haunted by the letter B.
It was not long before I remarked that I never by any hazard had a
dream of Master B., or of anything belonging to him. But, the
instant I awoke from sleep, at whatever hour of the night, my
thoughts took him up, and roamed away, trying to attach his initial
letter to something that would fit it and keep it quiet.
For six nights, I had been worried this in Master B.'s room, when I
began to perceive that things were going wrong.
The first appearance that presented itself was early in the morning
when it was but just daylight and no more. I was standing shaving
at my glass, when I suddenly discovered, to my consternation and
amazement, that I was shaving--not myself--I am fifty--but a boy.
Apparently Master B.!
I trembled and looked over my shoulder; nothing there. I looked
again in the glass, and distinctly saw the features and expression
of a boy, who was shaving, not to get rid of a beard, but to get
one. Extremely troubled in my mind, I took a few turns in the room,
and went back to the looking-glass, resolved to steady my hand and
complete the operation in which I had been disturbed. Opening my
eyes, which I had shut while recovering my firmness, I now met in
the glass, looking straight at me, the eyes of a young man of four
or five and twenty. Terrified by this new ghost, I closed my eyes,
and made a strong effort to recover myself. Opening them again, I
saw, shaving his cheek in the glass, my father, who has long been
dead. Nay, I even saw my grandfather too, whom I never did see in
Although naturally much affected by these remarkable visitations, I
determined to keep my secret, until the time agreed upon for the
present general disclosure. Agitated by a multitude of curious
thoughts, I retired to my room, that night, prepared to encounter
some new experience of a spectral character. Nor was my preparation
needless, for, waking from an uneasy sleep at exactly two o'clock in
the morning, what were my feelings to find that I was sharing my bed
with the skeleton of Master B.!
I sprang up, and the skeleton sprang up also. I then heard a
plaintive voice saying, "Where am I? What is become of me?" and,
looking hard in that direction, perceived the ghost of Master B.
The young spectre was dressed in an obsolete fashion: or rather,
was not so much dressed as put into a case of inferior pepper-and-
salt cloth, made horrible by means of shining buttons. I observed
that these buttons went, in a double row, over each shoulder of the
young ghost, and appeared to descend his back. He wore a frill
round his neck. His right hand (which I distinctly noticed to be
inky) was laid upon his stomach; connecting this action with some
feeble pimples on his countenance, and his general air of nausea, I
concluded this ghost to be the ghost of a boy who had habitually
taken a great deal too much medicine.
"Where am I?" said the little spectre, in a pathetic voice. "And
why was I born in the Calomel days, and why did I have all that
Calomel given me?"
I replied, with sincere earnestness, that upon my soul I couldn't
"Where is my little sister," said the ghost, "and where my angelic
little wife, and where is the boy I went to school with?"
I entreated the phantom to be comforted, and above all things to
take heart respecting the loss of the boy he went to school with. I
represented to him that probably that boy never did, within human
experience, come out well, when discovered. I urged that I myself
had, in later life, turned up several boys whom I went to school
with, and none of them had at all answered. I expressed my humble
belief that that boy never did answer. I represented that he was a
mythic character, a delusion, and a snare. I recounted how, the
last time I found him, I found him at a dinner party behind a wall
of white cravat, with an inconclusive opinion on every possible
subject, and a power of silent boredom absolutely Titanic. I
related how, on the strength of our having been together at "Old
Doylance's," he had asked himself to breakfast with me (a social
offence of the largest magnitude); how, fanning my weak embers of
belief in Doylance's boys, I had let him in; and how, he had proved
to be a fearful wanderer about the earth, pursuing the race of Adam
with inexplicable notions concerning the currency, and with a
proposition that the Bank of England should, on pain of being
abolished, instantly strike off and circulate, God knows how many
thousand millions of ten-and-sixpenny notes.
The ghost heard me in silence, and with a fixed stare. "Barber!" it
apostrophised me when I had finished.
"Barber?" I repeated--for I am not of that profession.
"Condemned," said the ghost, "to shave a constant change of
customers--now, me--now, a young man--now, thyself as thou art--now,
thy father--now, thy grandfather; condemned, too, to lie down with a
skeleton every night, and to rise with it every morning--"
(I shuddered on hearing this dismal announcement.)
"Barber! Pursue me!"
I had felt, even before the words were uttered, that I was under a
spell to pursue the phantom. I immediately did so, and was in
Master B.'s room no longer.
Most people know what long and fatiguing night journeys had been
forced upon the witches who used to confess, and who, no doubt, told
the exact truth--particularly as they were always assisted with
leading questions, and the Torture was always ready. I asseverate
that, during my occupation of Master B.'s room, I was taken by the
ghost that haunted it, on expeditions fully as long and wild as any
of those. Assuredly, I was presented to no shabby old man with a
goat's horns and tail (something between Pan and an old clothesman),
holding conventional receptions, as stupid as those of real life and
less decent; but, I came upon other things which appeared to me to
have more meaning.
Confident that I speak the truth and shall be believed, I declare
without hesitation that I followed the ghost, in the first instance
on a broom-stick, and afterwards on a rocking-horse. The very smell
of the animal's paint--especially when I brought it out, by making
him warm--I am ready to swear to. I followed the ghost, afterwards,
in a hackney coach; an institution with the peculiar smell of which,
the present generation is unacquainted, but to which I am again
ready to swear as a combination of stable, dog with the mange, and
very old bellows. (In this, I appeal to previous generations to
confirm or refute me.) I pursued the phantom, on a headless donkey:
at least, upon a donkey who was so interested in the state of his
stomach that his head was always down there, investigating it; on
ponies, expressly born to kick up behind; on roundabouts and swings,
from fairs; in the first cab--another forgotten institution where
the fare regularly got into bed, and was tucked up with the driver.
Not to trouble you with a detailed account of all my travels in
pursuit of the ghost of Master B., which were longer and more
wonderful than those of Sinbad the Sailor, I will confine myself to
one experience from which you may judge of many.
I was marvellously changed. I was myself, yet not myself. I was
conscious of something within me, which has been the same all
through my life, and which I have always recognised under all its
phases and varieties as never altering, and yet I was not the I who
had gone to bed in Master B.'s room. I had the smoothest of faces
and the shortest of legs, and I had taken another creature like
myself, also with the smoothest of faces and the shortest of legs,
behind a door, and was confiding to him a proposition of the most
This proposition was, that we should have a Seraglio.
The other creature assented warmly. He had no notion of
respectability, neither had I. It was the custom of the East, it
was the way of the good Caliph Haroun Alraschid (let me have the
corrupted name again for once, it is so scented with sweet
memories!), the usage was highly laudable, and most worthy of
imitation. "O, yes! Let us," said the other creature with a jump,
"have a Seraglio."
It was not because we entertained the faintest doubts of the
meritorious character of the Oriental establishment we proposed to
import, that we perceived it must be kept a secret from Miss
Griffin. It was because we knew Miss Griffin to be bereft of human
sympathies, and incapable of appreciating the greatness of the great
Haroun. Mystery impenetrably shrouded from Miss Griffin then, let
us entrust it to Miss Bule.
We were ten in Miss Griffin's establishment by Hampstead Ponds;
eight ladies and two gentlemen. Miss Bule, whom I judge to have
attained the ripe age of eight or nine, took the lead in society. I
opened the subject to her in the course of the day, and proposed
that she should become the Favourite.
Miss Bule, after struggling with the diffidence so natural to, and
charming in, her adorable sex, expressed herself as flattered by the
idea, but wished to know how it was proposed to provide for Miss
Pipson? Miss Bule--who was understood to have vowed towards that
young lady, a friendship, halves, and no secrets, until death, on
the Church Service and Lessons complete in two volumes with case and
lock--Miss Bule said she could not, as the friend of Pipson,
disguise from herself, or me, that Pipson was not one of the common.
Now, Miss Pipson, having curly hair and blue eyes (which was my idea
of anything mortal and feminine that was called Fair), I promptly
replied that I regarded Miss Pipson in the light of a Fair
"And what then?" Miss Bule pensively asked.
I replied that she must be inveigled by a Merchant, brought to me
veiled, and purchased as a slave.
[The other creature had already fallen into the second male place in
the State, and was set apart for Grand Vizier. He afterwards
resisted this disposal of events, but had his hair pulled until he
"Shall I not be jealous?" Miss Bule inquired, casting down her eyes.
"Zobeide, no," I replied; "you will ever be the favourite Sultana;
the first place in my heart, and on my throne, will be ever yours."
Miss Bule, upon that assurance, consented to propound the idea to
her seven beautiful companions. It occurring to me, in the course
of the same day, that we knew we could trust a grinning and good-
natured soul called Tabby, who was the serving drudge of the house,
and had no more figure than one of the beds, and upon whose face
there was always more or less black-lead, I slipped into Miss Bule's
hand after supper, a little note to that effect; dwelling on the
black-lead as being in a manner deposited by the finger of
Providence, pointing Tabby out for Mesrour, the celebrated chief of
the Blacks of the Hareem.
There were difficulties in the formation of the desired institution,
as there are in all combinations. The other creature showed himself
of a low character, and, when defeated in aspiring to the throne,
pretended to have conscientious scruples about prostrating himself
before the Caliph; wouldn't call him Commander of the Faithful;
spoke of him slightingly and inconsistently as a mere "chap;" said
he, the other creature, "wouldn't play"--Play!--and was otherwise
coarse and offensive. This meanness of disposition was, however,
put down by the general indignation of an united Seraglio, and I
became blessed in the smiles of eight of the fairest of the
daughters of men.
The smiles could only be bestowed when Miss Griffin was looking
another way, and only then in a very wary manner, for there was a
legend among the followers of the Prophet that she saw with a little
round ornament in the middle of the pattern on the back of her
shawl. But every day after dinner, for an hour, we were all
together, and then the Favourite and the rest of the Royal Hareem
competed who should most beguile the leisure of the Serene Haroun
reposing from the cares of State--which were generally, as in most
affairs of State, of an arithmetical character, the Commander of the
Faithful being a fearful boggler at a sum.
On these occasions, the devoted Mesrour, chief of the Blacks of the
Hareem, was always in attendance (Miss Griffin usually ringing for
that officer, at the same time, with great vehemence), but never
acquitted himself in a manner worthy of his historical reputation.
In the first place, his bringing a broom into the Divan of the
Caliph, even when Haroun wore on his shoulders the red robe of anger
(Miss Pipson's pelisse), though it might be got over for the moment,
was never to be quite satisfactorily accounted for. In the second
place, his breaking out into grinning exclamations of "Lork you
pretties!" was neither Eastern nor respectful. In the third place,
when specially instructed to say "Bismillah!" he always said
"Hallelujah!" This officer, unlike his class, was too good-humoured
altogether, kept his mouth open far too wide, expressed approbation
to an incongruous extent, and even once--it was on the occasion of
the purchase of the Fair Circassian for five hundred thousand purses
of gold, and cheap, too--embraced the Slave, the Favourite, and the
Caliph, all round. (Parenthetically let me say God bless Mesrour,
and may there have been sons and daughters on that tender bosom,
softening many a hard day since!)
Miss Griffin was a model of propriety, and I am at a loss to imagine
what the feelings of the virtuous woman would have been, if she had
known, when she paraded us down the Hampstead Road two and two, that
she was walking with a stately step at the head of Polygamy and
Mahomedanism. I believe that a mysterious and terrible joy with
which the contemplation of Miss Griffin, in this unconscious state,
inspired us, and a grim sense prevalent among us that there was a
dreadful power in our knowledge of what Miss Griffin (who knew all
things that could be learnt out of book) didn't know, were the main-
spring of the preservation of our secret. It was wonderfully kept,
but was once upon the verge of self-betrayal. The danger and escape
occurred upon a Sunday. We were all ten ranged in a conspicuous
part of the gallery at church, with Miss Griffin at our head--as we
were every Sunday--advertising the establishment in an unsecular
sort of way--when the description of Solomon in his domestic glory
happened to be read. The moment that monarch was thus referred to,
conscience whispered me, "Thou, too, Haroun!" The officiating
minister had a cast in his eye, and it assisted conscience by giving
him the appearance of reading personally at me. A crimson blush,
attended by a fearful perspiration, suffused my features. The Grand
Vizier became more dead than alive, and the whole Seraglio reddened
as if the sunset of Bagdad shone direct upon their lovely faces. At
this portentous time the awful Griffin rose, and balefully surveyed
the children of Islam. My own impression was, that Church and State
had entered into a conspiracy with Miss Griffin to expose us, and
that we should all be put into white sheets, and exhibited in the
centre aisle. But, so Westerly--if I may be allowed the expression
as opposite to Eastern associations--was Miss Griffin's sense of
rectitude, that she merely suspected Apples, and we were saved.
I have called the Seraglio, united. Upon the question, solely,
whether the Commander of the Faithful durst exercise a right of
kissing in that sanctuary of the palace, were its peerless inmates
divided. Zobeide asserted a counter-right in the Favourite to
scratch, and the fair Circassian put her face, for refuge, into a
green baize bag, originally designed for books. On the other hand,
a young antelope of transcendent beauty from the fruitful plains of
Camden Town (whence she had been brought, by traders, in the half-
yearly caravan that crossed the intermediate desert after the
holidays), held more liberal opinions, but stipulated for limiting
the benefit of them to that dog, and son of a dog, the Grand Vizier-
-who had no rights, and was not in question. At length, the
difficulty was compromised by the installation of a very youthful
slave as Deputy. She, raised upon a stool, officially received upon
her cheeks the salutes intended by the gracious Haroun for other
Sultanas, and was privately rewarded from the coffers of the Ladies
of the Hareem.
And now it was, at the full height of enjoyment of my bliss, that I
became heavily troubled. I began to think of my mother, and what
she would say to my taking home at Midsummer eight of the most
beautiful of the daughters of men, but all unexpected. I thought of
the number of beds we made up at our house, of my father's income,
and of the baker, and my despondency redoubled. The Seraglio and
malicious Vizier, divining the cause of their Lord's unhappiness,
did their utmost to augment it. They professed unbounded fidelity,
and declared that they would live and die with him. Reduced to the
utmost wretchedness by these protestations of attachment, I lay
awake, for hours at a time, ruminating on my frightful lot. In my
despair, I think I might have taken an early opportunity of falling
on my knees before Miss Griffin, avowing my resemblance to Solomon,
and praying to be dealt with according to the outraged laws of my
country, if an unthought-of means of escape had not opened before
One day, we were out walking, two and two--on which occasion the
Vizier had his usual instructions to take note of the boy at the
turn-pike, and if he profanely gazed (which he always did) at the
beauties of the Hareem, to have him bowstrung in the course of the
night--and it happened that our hearts were veiled in gloom. An
unaccountable action on the part of the antelope had plunged the
State into disgrace. That charmer, on the representation that the
previous day was her birthday, and that vast treasures had been sent
in a hamper for its celebration (both baseless assertions), had
secretly but most pressingly invited thirty-five neighbouring
princes and princesses to a ball and supper: with a special
stipulation that they were "not to be fetched till twelve." This
wandering of the antelope's fancy, led to the surprising arrival at
Miss Griffin's door, in divers equipages and under various escorts,
of a great company in full dress, who were deposited on the top step
in a flush of high expectancy, and who were dismissed in tears. At
the beginning of the double knocks attendant on these ceremonies,
the antelope had retired to a back attic, and bolted herself in; and
at every new arrival, Miss Griffin had gone so much more and more
distracted, that at last she had been seen to tear her front.
Ultimate capitulation on the part of the offender, had been followed
by solitude in the linen-closet, bread and water and a lecture to
all, of vindictive length, in which Miss Griffin had used
expressions: Firstly, "I believe you all of you knew of it;"
Secondly, "Every one of you is as wicked as another;" Thirdly, "A
pack of little wretches."
Under these circumstances, we were walking drearily along; and I
especially, with my. Moosulmaun responsibilities heavy on me, was
in a very low state of mind; when a strange man accosted Miss
Griffin, and, after walking on at her side for a little while and
talking with her, looked at me. Supposing him to be a minion of the
law, and that my hour was come, I instantly ran away, with the
general purpose of making for Egypt.
The whole Seraglio cried out, when they saw me making off as fast as
my legs would carry me (I had an impression that the first turning
on the left, and round by the public-house, would be the shortest
way to the Pyramids), Miss Griffin screamed after me, the faithless
Vizier ran after me, and the boy at the turnpike dodged me into a
corner, like a sheep, and cut me off. Nobody scolded me when I was
taken and brought back; Miss Griffin only said, with a stunning
gentleness, This was very curious! Why had I run away when the
gentleman looked at me?
If I had had any breath to answer with, I dare say I should have
made no answer; having no breath, I certainly made none. Miss
Griffin and the strange man took me between them, and walked me back
to the palace in a sort of state; but not at all (as I couldn't help
feeling, with astonishment) in culprit state.
When we got there, we went into a room by ourselves, and Miss
Griffin called in to her assistance, Mesrour, chief of the dusky
guards of the Hareem. Mesrour, on being whispered to, began to shed
tears. "Bless you, my precious!" said that officer, turning to me;
"your Pa's took bitter bad!"
I asked, with a fluttered heart, "Is he very ill?"
"Lord temper the wind to you, my lamb!" said the good Mesrour,
kneeling down, that I might have a comforting shoulder for my head
to rest on, "your Pa's dead!"
Haroun Alraschid took to flight at the words; the Seraglio vanished;
from that moment, I never again saw one of the eight of the fairest
of the daughters of men.
I was taken home, and there was Debt at home as well as Death, and
we had a sale there. My own little bed was so superciliously looked
upon by a Power unknown to me, hazily called "The Trade," that a
brass coal-scuttle, a roasting-jack, and a birdcage, were obliged to
be put into it to make a Lot of it, and then it went for a song. So
I heard mentioned, and I wondered what song, and thought what a
dismal song it must have been to sing!
Then, I was sent to a great, cold, bare, school of big boys; where
everything to eat and wear was thick and clumpy, without being
enough; where everybody, largo and small, was cruel; where the boys
knew all about the sale, before I got there, and asked me what I had
fetched, and who had bought me, and hooted at me, "Going, going,
gone!" I never whispered in that wretched place that I had been
Haroun, or had had a Seraglio: for, I knew that if I mentioned my
reverses, I should be so worried, that I should have to drown myself
in the muddy pond near the playground, which looked like the beer.
Ah me, ah me! No other ghost has haunted the boy's room, my
friends, since I have occupied it, than the ghost of my own
childhood, the ghost of my own innocence, the ghost of my own airy
belief. Many a time have I pursued the phantom: never with this
man's stride of mine to come up with it, never with these man's
hands of mine to touch it, never more to this man's heart of mine to
hold it in its purity. And here you see me working out, as
cheerfully and thankfully as I may, my doom of shaving in the glass
a constant change of customers, and of lying down and rising up with
the skeleton allotted to me for my mortal companion.