English Literature » Mark Twain » A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story by

I put out the light and returned to bed, palsiedwith fear. I lay a long time, peering into the dark-ness, and listening. Then I heard a grating noiseoverhead, like the dragging of a heavy body acrossthe floor; then the throwing down of the body, andthe shaking of my windows in response to the con-cussion. In distant parts of the building I heardthe muffled slamming of doors. I heard, at inter-vals, stealthy footsteps creeping in and out amongthe corridors, and up and down the stairs. Some-times these noises approached my door, hesitated,and went away again. I heard the clanking ofchains faintly, in remote passages, and listened whilethe clanking grew nearer — while it wearily climbedthe stairways, marking each move by the loosesurplus of chain that fell with an accented rattle uponeach succeeding step as the goblin that bore it ad-vanced. I heard muttered sentences; half-utteredscreams that seemed smothered violently; and theswish of invisible garments, the rush of invisiblewings. Then I became conscious that my chamberwas invaded — that I was not alone. I heard sighsand breathings about my bed, and mysterious whis-perings. Three little spheres of soft phosphorescentlight appeared on the ceiling directly over my head,clung and glowed there a moment, and then dropped– two of them upon my face and one upon thepillow. They spattered, liquidly, and felt warm.Intuition told me they had turned to gouts of bloodas they fell — I needed no light to satisfy myself ofthat. Then I saw pallid faces, dimly luminous, andwhite uplifted hands, floating bodiless in the air –floating a moment and then disappearing. Thewhispering ceased, and the voices and the sounds,and a solemn stillness followed. I waited andlistened. I felt that I must have light or die. Iwas weak with fear. I slowly raised myself towarda sitting posture, and my face came in contact witha clammy hand! All strength went from me ap-parently, and I fell back like a stricken invalid.Then I heard the rustle of a garment — it seemed topass to the door and go out.

When everything was still once more, I crept outof bed, sick and feeble, and lit the gas with a handthat trembled as if it were aged with a hundredyears. The light brought some little cheer to myspirits. I sat down and fell into a dreamy contem-plation of that great footprint in the ashes. By andby its outlines began to waver and grow dim. Iglanced up and the broad gas flame was slowly wilt-ing away. In the same moment I heard that ele-phantine tread again. I noted its approach, nearerand nearer, along the musty halls, and dimmer anddimmer the light waned. The tread reached myvery door and paused — the light had dwindled to asickly blue, and all things about me lay in a spectraltwilight. The door did not open, and yet I felt afaint gust of air fan my cheek, and presently wasconscious of a huge, cloudy presence before me. Iwatched it with fascinated eyes. A pale glow stoleover the Thing; gradually its cloudy folds tookshape — an arm appeared, then legs, then a body,and last a great sad face looked out of the vapor.Stripped of its filmy housings, naked, muscular andcomely, the majestic Cardiff Giant loomed above me!

All my misery vanished — for a child might knowthat no harm could come with that benignantcountenance. My cheerful spirits returned at once,and in sympathy with them the gas flamed upbrightly again. Never a lonely outcast was so gladto welcome company as I was to greet the friendlygiant. I said:

“Why, is it nobody but you? Do you know, Ihave been scared to death for the last two or threehours? I am most honestly glad to see you. Iwish I had a chair — Here, here, don’t try to sitdown in that thing!

But it was too late. He was in it before I couldstop him, and down he went — I never saw a chairshivered so in my life.

“Stop, stop, You’ll ruin ev–”

Too late again. There was another crash, andanother chair was resolved into its original elements.

“Confound it, haven’t you got any judgment atall? Do you want to ruin all the furniture on theplace? Here, here, you petrified fool–”

But it was no use. Before I could arrest him hehad sat down on the bed, and it was a melancholyruin.

“Now what sort of a way is that to do? Firstyou come lumbering about the place bringing alegion of vagabond goblins along with you to worryme to death, and then when I overlook an indelicacyof costume which would not be tolerated anywhereby cultivated people except in a respectable theater,and not even there if the nudity were of YOUR sex,you repay me by wrecking all the furniture you canfind to sit down on. And why will you? Youdamage yourself as much as you do me. You havebroken off the end of your spinal column, and lit-tered up the floor with chips of your hams till theplace looks like a marble yard. You ought to beashamed of yourself — you are big enough to knowbetter.”

“Well, I will not break any more furniture. Butwhat am I to do? I have not had a chance to sitdown for a century.” And the tears came into hiseyes.

“Poor devil,” I said, “I should not have been soharsh with you. And you are an orphan, too, nodoubt. But sit down on the floor here — nothingelse can stand your weight — and besides, we cannotbe sociable with you away up there above me; Iwant you down where I can perch on this highcounting-house stool and gossip with you face toface.”

So he sat down on the floor, and lit a pipe whichI gave him, threw one of my red blankets over hisshoulders, inverted my sitz-bath on his head, helmetfashion, and made himself picturesque and comfort-able. Then he crossed his ankles, while I renewedthe fire, and exposed the flat, honey-combed bot-toms of his prodigious feet to the grateful warmth.

“What is the matter with the bottom of your feetand the back of your legs, that they are gouged upso?”

“Infernal chillblains — I caught them clear up tothe back of my head, roosting out there underNewell’s farm. But I love the place; I love it asone loves his old home. There is no peace for melike the peace I feel when I am there.”

We talked along for half an hour, and then Inoticed that he looked tired, and spoke of it.”Tired?” he said. “Well, I should think so.And now I will tell you all about it, since you havetreated me so well. I am the spirit of the PetrifiedMan that lies across the street there in the Museum.I am the ghost of the Cardiff Giant. I can have norest, no peace, till they have given that poor bodyburial again. Now what was the most natural thingfor me to do, to make men satisfy this wish?Terrify them into it! — haunt the place where thebody lay! So I haunted the museum night afternight. I even got other spirits to help me. But itdid no good, for nobody ever came to the museumat midnight. Then it occurred to me to come overthe way and haunt this place a little. I felt that if Iever got a hearing I must succeed, for I had themost efficient company that perdition could furnish.Night after night we have shivered around throughthese mildewed halls, dragging chains, groaning,whispering, tramping up and down stairs, till, to tellyou the truth, I am almost worn out. But when Isaw a light in your room to-night I roused myenergies again and went at it with a deal of the oldfreshness. But I am tired out — entirely faggedout. Give me, I beseech you, give me some hope!”

I lit off my perch in a burst of excitement, andexclaimed:

“This transcends everything — everything thatever did occur! Why you poor blundering oldfossil, you have had all your trouble for nothing– you have been haunting a PLASTER CAST of your-self — the real Cardiff Giant is in Albany!

[Footnote by Twain: A fact. The original fraudwas ingeniously and fraudfully duplicated,and exhibited in New York as the “only genuine”Cardiff Giant (to the unspeakable disgust of theowners of the real colossus) at the very sametime that the latter was drawing crowds at amuseum in Albany.]

Confound it, don’t you know your own remains?”

I never saw such an eloquent look of shame,of pitiable humiliation, overspread a countenancebefore.

The Petrified Man rose slowly to his feet, andsaid:

“Honestly, IS that true?”

“As true as I am sitting here.”

He took the pipe from his mouth and laid it onthe mantel, then stood irresolute a moment (unconsciously, from old habit, thrusting his hands wherehis pantaloons pockets should have been, and medi-tatively dropping his chin on his breast), and finallysaid:

“Well — I NEVER felt so absurd before. ThePetrified Man has sold everybody else, and now themean fraud has ended by selling its own ghost!My son, if there is any charity left in your heart fora poor friendless phantom like me, don’t let this getout. Think how YOU would feel if you had madesuch an ass of yourself.”

I heard his, stately tramp die away, step by stepdown the stairs and out into the deserted street, andfelt sorry that he was gone, poor fellow — andsorrier still that he had carried off my red blanketand my bath tub.

END.

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