The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde read online

Oscar Wilde. The Canterville Ghost

I

When Mr. Hiram B. Otis, the American Minister, bought Canterville
Chase, every one told him he was doing a very foolish thing, as there was no
doubt at all that the place was haunted. Indeed, Lord Canterville himself,
who was a man of the most punctilious honour, had felt it his duty to
mention the fact to Mr. Otis when they came to discuss terms.
“We have not cared to live in the place ourselves,” said Lord
Canterville, “since my grand-aunt, the Dowager Duches of Bolton, was
frightened into a fit, from which she never really recovered, by two
skeleton hands being placed on her shoulders as she was dressing for dinner,
and I feel bound to tell you, Mr. Otis, that the ghost has been seen by
several living members of my family, as well as by the rector of the parish,
the Rev. Augustus Dampier, who is a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge.
After the unfortunate accident to the Duches, none of our younger servants
would stay with us, and Lady Canterville often got very little sleep at
night, in consequence of the mysterious noises that came from the corridor
and the library.”
“My Lord,” answered the Minister, “I will take the furniture and the
ghost at a valuation. I come from a modern country, where we have everything
that money can buy; and with all our spry young fellows painting the Old
World red, and carrying off your best actors and prima-donnas, I reckon that
if there were such thing as a ghost in Europe, we’d have it at home in a
very short time in one of our public museums, or on the road as a show.”
“I fear that the ghost exists,” said Lord Canterville, smiling, “though
it may have resisted the overtures of your enterprising impresarios. It has
been well known for three centuries, since 1584 in fact, and always makes
its appearance before the death of any member of our family.”
“Well, so does the family doctor for that matter, Lord Canterville. But
there is no such thing, sir, as a ghost, and I guess the laws of Nature are
not going to be suspended for the British aristocracy.”
“You are certainly very natural in America,” answered Lord Canterville,
who did not quite understand Mr. Otis’s last observation, “and if you don’t
mind a ghost in the house, it is all right. Only you must remember I warned
you.”
A few weeks after this, the purchase was concluded, and at the close of
the season the Minister and his family went down to Canterville Chase. Mrs.
Otis, who, as Miss Lucretia R. Tappan, of West 53rd Street, had been a
celebrated New York belle, was now a very handsome, middle-aged woman, with
fine eyes, and a superb profile. Many American ladies on leaving their
native land adopt an appearance of chronic ill-health, under the impression
that it is a form of European refinement, but Mrs. Otis had never fallen
into this error. She had a magnificent constitution, and a really wonderful
amount of animal spirits. Indeed, in many respects, she was quite English,
and was an excellent example of the fact that we have really everything in
common with America nowadays, except, of course, language. Her eldest son,
christened Washington by his parents in a moment of patriotism, which he
never ceased to regret, was a fair-haired, rather good-looking young man,
will known as an excellent dancer. Gardenias and the peerage were his only
weaknesses. Otherwise he was extremely sensible. Miss Virginia E. Otis was a
little girl of fifteen, lithe and lovely as a fawn, and with a fine freedom
in her large blue eyes. She was a wonderful amazon, and had once raced old
Lord Bilton on her pony twice round the park, winning by a length and a
half, just in front of the Achilles statue, to the huge delight of the young
Duke of Cheshire, who proposed for her on the spot, and was sent back to
Eton that very night by his guardians, in floods of tears. After Virginia
came the twins, who were usually called “The Stars and Stripes,” as they
were always getting swished. They were delightful boys, and with the
exception of the worthy Minister the only true republicans of the family.
As Canterville Chase is seven miles from Ascot, the nearest railway
station, Mr. Otis had telegraphed for a waggonette to meet them, and they
started on their drive in high spirits. It was a lovely July evening, and
the air was delicate with the scent of the pine-woods. Now and then they
heard a wood pigeon brooding over its own sweet voice, or saw, deep in the
rustling fern, the burnished breast of the pheasant. Little squirrels peered
at them from the beech-trees as they went by, and the rabbits scudded away
through the brushwood and over the mossy knolls, with their white tails in
the air. As they entered the avenue of Canterville Chase, however, the sky
became suddenly overcast with clouds, a curious stillness seemed to hold the
atmosphere, a great flight of rooks passed silently over their heads, and,
before they reached the house, some big drops of rain had fallen.
Standing on steps to receive them was an old woman, neatly dressed in
black silk, with a white cap and apron. This was Mrs. Umney, the
housekeeper, whom Mrs. Otis, at Lady Canterville’s earnest request, had
consented to keep on in her former position. She made them each a low
curtsey as they alighted, and said in a quaint, old-fashioned manner, “I bid
you welcome to Canterville Chase.” Following her, they passed through the
fine Tudor hall into the library, a long, low room, panelled in black oak,
at the end of which was a large stained-glass window. Here they found tea
laid out for them, and, after taking off their wraps, they sat down and
began to look round, while Mrs. Umney waited on them.
Suddenly Mrs. Otis caught sight of a dull red stain on the floor just
by the fireplace and, quite unconscious of what it really signified, said to
Mrs. Umney, “I am afraid something has been spilt there.”
“Yes, madam,” replied the old housekeeper in a low voice, “blood has
been spilt on that spot.”
“How horrid,” cried Mrs. Otis; “I don’t at all care for blood-stains in
a sitting room. It must be removed.”
The old woman smiled, and answered in the same low, mysterious voice,
“It is the blood of Lady Eleanore de Canterville, who was murdered on that
very spot by her own husband, Sir Simon de Canterville, in 1575. Sir Simon
survived her nine years, and disappeared suddenly under very mysterious
circumstances. His body has never been discovered, but his guilty spirit
still haunts the Chase. The blood-stain has been much admired by tourists
and others, and cannot be removed.”
“That is all nonsense,” cried Washington Otis; “Pinkerton’s Champion
Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent will clean it up in no time,” and before
the terrified housekeeper could interfere he had fallen upon his knees, and
was rapidly scouring the floor with a small stick of what looked liked a
black cosmetic. In a few moments no trace of the blood-stain could be seen.
“I knew Pinkerton would do it,” he exclaimed triumphantly, as he looked
round at his admiring family; but no sooner had he said these words than a
terrible flash of lightning lit up the sombre room, a fearful peal of
thunder made them all start to their feet, and Mrs. Umney fainted.
“What a monstrous climate!” said the American Minister calmly, as he
lit a long cheroot. “I guess the old country is so over-populated that they
have not enough decent weather for everybody. I have always been of opinion
that emigration is the only thing for England.”
“My dear Hiram,” cried Mrs. Otis, “what can we do with a woman who
faints?”
“Charge it to her like breakages,” answered the Minister; “she won’t
faint after that;” and in a few moments Mrs. Umney certainly came to. There
was no doubt, however, that she was extremely upset, and she sternly warned
Mr. Otis to beware of some trouble coming to the house.
“I have seen things with my own eyes, sir,” she said, “that would make
any Christian’s hair stand on end, and many and many a night I have not
closed my eyes in sleep for the awful things that are done here.” Mr. Otis,
however, and his wife warmly assured the honest soul that they were not
afraid of ghosts, and, after invoking the blessings of Providence on her new
master and mistress, and making arrangements for an increase of salary, the
old housekeeper tottered off to her own room.

II

The storm raged fiercely all that night, but nothing of particular note
occurred. The next morning, however, when they came down to breakfast, they
found the terrible stain of blood once again on the floor. “I don’t
think it can be the fault of the Paragon Detergent,” said Washington,
“for I have tried it with everything. It must be the ghost.” He
accordingly rubbed out the stain a second time, but the second morning it
appeared again. The third morning also it was there, though the library had
been locked up at night by Mr. Otis himself, and the key carried upstairs.
The whole family were now quite interested; Mr. Otis began to suspect that
he had been to dogmatic in his denial of the existence of ghosts, Mrs. Otis
expressed her intention of joining the Psychical Society, and Washington
prepared a long letter to Messrs. Myers and Podmore on the subject of the
Permanence of Sanguineous Stains when connected with Crime. That night all
doubts about the objective existence of phantasmata were removed for ever.
The day had been warm and sunny; and in the cool of the evening, the
whole family went out to drive. They did not return home till nine o’clock,
when they had a light supper. The conversation in no way turned upon ghosts,
so there were not even those primary conditions of receptive expectation
which so often precede the presentation of psychical phenomena. The subjects
discussed, as I have since learned from Mr. Otis, were merely such a form
the ordinary conversation of cultured Americans of the better class, such as
the immense superiority of Miss Fanny Davenport over Sara Bernhardt as an
actress; the difficulty of obtaining green corn, buckwheat cakes, and
hominy, even in the best English houses; the importance of Boston in the
development of the world-soul; the advantages of the baggage check system in
railway travelling; and the sweetness of the New York accent as compared to
the London drawl. No mention at all was made of the supernatural, nor was
Sir Simon de Canterville alluded to in any way. At eleven o’clock the family
retired, and by half-past all the lights were out. Some time after, Mr. Otis
was awakened by a curious noise in the corridor, outside his room. It
sounded like the clank of metal, and seemed to be coming nearer every
moment. He got up at once, struck a match, and looked at the time. It was
exactly one o’clock. He was quite calm, and felt his pulse, which was not at
all feverish. The strange noise still continued, and with it he heard
distinctly the sound of footsteps. He put on his slippers, took a small
oblong phial out of his dressing-case, and opened the door. Right in front
of him he saw, in the wan moonlight, an old man of terrible aspect. His eyes
were as red burning coals; long grey hair fell over his shoulders in matted
coils; his garments, which were of antique cut, were soiled and ragged, and
from his wrists and ankles hung heavy manacles and rusty gyves.
“My dear sir,” said Mr. Otis, “I really must insist on
your oiling those chains, and have brought you for that purpose a small
bottle of the Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator. It is said to be completely
efficacious upon one application, and there are several testimonials to that
effect on the wrapper from some of our most eminent native divines. I shall
leave it here for you by the bedroom candles, and will be happy to supply
you with more should you require it.” With these words the United
States Minister laid the bottle down on a marble table, and, closing his
door, retired to rest.
For a moment the Canterville ghost stood quite motionless in natural
indignation; then, dashing the bottle violently upon the polished floor, he
fled down the corridor, uttering hollow groans, and emitting a ghastly green
light. Just, however, as he reached the top of the great oak staircase, a
door was flung open, two little white-robed figures appeared, and a large
pillow whizzed past his head! There was evidently no time to be lost, so,
hastily adopting the Fourth Dimension of Space as a means of escape, he
vanished through the wainscoting, and the house became quite quiet.
On reaching a small secret chamber in the left wing, he leaned up
against a moonbeam to recover his breath, and began to try and realise his
position. Never, in a brilliant and uninterrupted career of three hundred
years, has he been so grossly insulted. He thought of the Dowager Duchess,
whom he had frightened into a fit as she stood before the glass in her lace
and diamonds; of the four housemaids, who had gone off into hysterics when
he merely grinned at them through the curtains of one of the spare bedrooms;
of the rector of the parish, whose candle he has blown out as he was coming
late one night from the library, and who had been under the care of Sir
William Gull ever since, a perfect martyr to nervous disorders; and of old
Madame de Tremouillac, who, having wakened up one morning early and seen a
skeleton seated in an armchair by the fire reading her diary, had been
confined to her bed for six weeks with an attack of brain fever, and, in her
recovery, had become reconciled to the Church, and broken off her connection
with that Notorious sceptic Monsieur de Voltaire. He remembered the terrible
night when the wicked Lord Canterville was found choking in his
dressing-room, with the knave of diamonds half-way down his throat, and
confessed, just before he died, that he had cheated Charles James Fox out of
L50,000 at Crockford’s by means of that very card, and swore that the ghost
had made him swallow it. All his great achievements came back to him again,
from the butler who had shot himself in the pantry because he had seen a
green hand tapping at the window pane, to the beautiful Lady Stutfield, who
was always obliged to wear a black velvet band round her throat to hide the
mark of five fingers burnt upon her white skin, and who drowned herself at
last in the carp-pond at the end of the King’s Walk. With the enthusiastic
egoism of the true artist he went over his most celebrated performances, and
smiled bitterly to himself as he recalled to mind his last appearance as
“Red Reuben, or the Strangled Babe,” his

debut

as “Gaunt
Gibeon, the Blood-sucker of Bexley Moor,” and the

furore

he had excited
one lovely June evening by merely playing ninepins with his own bones upon
the law-tennis ground. And after all this, some wretched modern Americans
were to come and offer him the Rising Sun Lubricator, and throw pillows at
his head! It was quite unbearable. Besides, no ghost in history had ever
been treated in this manner. Accordingly, he determined to have vengeance,
and remained till daylight in an attitude of deep thought.

III

The next morning, when the Otis family met at breakfast, they discussed
the ghost at some length. The United States Minister was naturally a little
annoyed to find that his present had not been accepted. “I have no
wish,” he said, “to do the ghost any personal injury, and I must
say that, considering the length of time he has been in the house, I don’t
think it is at all polite to throw pillows at him” – a very just
remark, at which, I am sorry to say, the twins burst into shouts of
laughter. “Upon the other hand,” he continued, “if he really
declines to use the Rising Sun Lubricator, we shall have to take his chains
from him. It would be quite impossible to sleep, with such a noise going on
outside the bedrooms.”
For the rest of the week, however, they were undisturbed, the only
thing that excited any attention being the continual renewal of the
blood-stain on the library floor. This certainly was very strange, as the
door was always locked at night by Mr. Otis, and the windows kept closely
barred. The chameleon-like colour, also, of the stain excited a good deal of
comment. Some mornings it was a dull (almost Indian) red, then it would be
vermilion, then a rich purple, and once when they came down for family
prayers, according to the simple rites of the Free American Reformed
Episcopalian Church, they found it a bright emerald-green. These
kaleidoscopic changes naturally amused the party very much, and bets on the
subject were freely made every evening. The only person who did not enter
into the joke was little Virginia, who, for some unexplained reason, was
always a good deal distressed at the sight of the blood-stain, and very
nearly cried the morning it was emerald-green.
The second appearance of the ghost was on Sunday night. Shortly after
they had gone to bed they were suddenly alarmed by a fearful crash in the
hall. Rushing downstairs, they found that a large suit of old armour had
become detached from its stand, and had fallen on the stone floor, while,
seated in a high-backed chair, was the Canterville ghost, rubbing his knees
with an expression of acute agony on his face. The twins, having brought
their pea-shooters with them, at once discharged two pellets on him, with
that accuracy of aim which can only be attained by long and careful practice
on a writing-master, while the United States Minister covered him with his
revolver, and called upon him, in accordance with Californian etiquette, to
hold up his hands! The ghost started up with a wild shriek of rage, and
swept through them like a mist, extinguishing Washington Otis’s candle as he
passed, and so leaving them all in total darkness. On reaching the top of
the staircase he recovered himself, and determined to give his celebrated
peal of demoniac laughter. This he had on more than one occasion found
extremely useful. It was said to have turned Lord Raker’s wig grey in a
single night, and had certainly made three of Lady Canterville’s French
governesses give warning before their month was up. He accordingly laughed
his most terrible laugh, till the old vaulted roof rang and rang again, but
hardly had the fearful echo died away when a door opened, and Mrs. Otis came
out in a light blue dressing-gown. “I am afraid you are far from
well,” she said, ” and have brought you a bottle of Dr. Dobell’s
tincture. If it is indigestion, you will find it a most excellent
remedy.” The ghost glared at her in fury, and began at once to make
preparations for turning himself into a large black dog, an accomplishment
for which he was justly renowned, and to which the family doctor always
attributed the permanent idiocy of Lord Canterville’s uncle, the Hon. Thomas
Horton. The sounds of approaching footsteps, however, made him hesitate in
his fell purpose, so he contented himself with becoming faintly
phosphorescent, and vanished with a deep churchyard groan, just as the twins
had come up to him.
On reaching his room he entirely broke down, and became a prey to the
most violent agitation. The vulgarity of the twins, and the gross
materialism of Mrs. Otis, were naturally extremely annoying, but what really
distressed him most was, that he had been unable to wear the suite of mail.
He had hoped that even modern Americans would be thrilled by the sight of a
Spectre In Armour, if for no more sensible reason, at least out of respect
for their national poet Longfellow, over whose graceful and attractive
poetry he himself had whiled away many a weary hour when the Cantervilles
were up in town. Besides, it was his own suite. He had worn it with great
success at the Kenilworth tournament, and had been highly complimented on it
by no less person than the Virgin Queen herself. Yet when he had put it on,
he had been completely overpowered by the weight of the huge breastplate and
steel casque, and had fallen heavily on the stone pavement, barking both his
knees severely, and bruising the knuckles of his right hand.
For some days after this he was extremely ill, and hardly stirred out
of his room at all, except to keep the blood-stain in proper repair.
However, by taking great care of himself, he recovered, and relsoved to make
a third attempt to frighten the United States Minister and his family. He
selected Friday, the 17

th

of August, for his appearance, and
spent most of that day in looking over his wardrobe, ultimately deciding in
favor of a large slouched hat with a red feather, a winding-sheet frilled at
the wrists and neck, and a rasty dagger. Towards evening a violent storm of
rain came on, and the wind was so high that all the windows and doors in the
old house shook and rattled. In fact, it was just such weather as he loved.
His plan of action was this. He was to make his way quietly to Washington
Otis’s room, gibber at him from the foot of the bed, and stab himself three
times in the throat to the sound of slow music. He bore Washington a special
grudge, being quite aware that it was he who was in the habit of removing
the famous Canterville blood-stain, by means of Pinkerton’s Paragon
Detergent. Having reduced the reckless and foolhardy youth to a condition of
abject terror, he was then to proceed to the room occupied by the United
States Minister and his wife, and there to place a clammy hand on Mrs. Otis
forehead, while he hissed into her trembling husband’s ear the awful secrets
of the charnel-house. With regard to little Virginia, he had not quite made
up his mind. She had never insulted him in any way, and was pretty and
gentle. A few hollow groans from the wardrobe, he thought, would be more
that sufficient, or, if that failed to wake her, he might grabble at the
counterpane with palsy-twitching fingers. As for the twins, he was quite
determined to teach them a lesson. The first thing to be done was, of
course, to sit upon their chests, so as to produce the stifling sensation of
nightmare. Then, as their beds were quite close to each other, to stand
between them in the form of a green, icy-cold corpse, till they became
paralysed with fear, and finally, to throw off the winding-sheet, and crawl
round the room, with white, bleached bones and one rolling eyeball, in the
character of “Dumb Daniel, or the Suicide’s Skeleton”, a

role

in
which he had on more than one occasion produced a great effect, and which he
considered quite equal to his famous part of “Martin the Maniac, or the
Masked Mystery.”
At half-past ten he heard the family going to bed. For some more time
he was disturbed by wild shrieks of laughter from the twins, who, with the
light-hearted gaiety of schoolboys, were evidently amusing themselves before
they retired to rest, but at a quarter past eleven all was still, and, as
midnight sounded, he sailed forth. The owl beat against the window panes,
the raven croaked from the old yew-tree, and the wind wandered moaning round
the house like a lost soul; but the Otis family slept unconscious of their
doom, and high above the rain and storm he could hear the steady snoring of
the Minister for the United States. He stepped stealthy out of the
wainscoting, with an evil smile on his cruel, wrinkled mouth, and the moon
hid her face in a cloud as he stole past the great oriel window, where his
own arms and those of his murdered wife were blazoned in azure and gold. On
and on he glided, like an evil shadow, the very darkness seeming to loathe
him as he passed. Once he thought he heard something call, and stopped; but
it was only the baying of a dog from the Red Farm, and he went on, muttering
strange sixteenth-century curses, and ever and anon brandishing the rusty
dagger in the midnight air. Finally he reached the corner of the passage
that led to luckless Washington’s room. For a moment he paused there, the
wind blowing his long grey locks about his head, and twisting into grotesque
and fantastic folds the nameless horror of the dead man’s shroud. Then the
clock struck the quarter, and he felt the time was come. He chucked to
himself, and turned the corner; but no sooner had he done so, than, with a
piteous wail of terror, he fell back, and hid his blanched face in his long,
bony hands. Right in front of him was standing a horrible spectre,
motionless as a carven image, and monstrous as a madman’s dream! Its head
was bald and burnished; its face round, and fat, and white; and hideous
laughter seemed to have writhed its features into an eternal grin. From the
eyes streamed rays of scarlet light, the mouth was a wide well of fire, and
a hideous garment, like to his own, swathed with its silent snows the Titan
form. On its breast was a placard with strange writing in antique
characters, some scroll of shame it seemed, some record of wild sins, some
awful calendar of crime, and, with its right hand, it bore aloft a falchion
of gleaming steel.
Never having seen a ghost before, he naturally was terribly frightened,
and, after a second hasty glance at the awful phantom, he fled back to his
room, tripping up in his long winding-sheet as he sped down the corridor,
and finally dropping the rusty dagger into the Minister’s jack-boots, where
it was found in the morning by the butler. Once in the privacy of his own
apartment, he flung himself down on a small pallet-bed, and hid his face
under the clothes. After a time, however, the brave old Canterville spirit
asserted itself, and he determined to go and speak to the other ghost as
soon as it was daylight. Accordingly, just as the dawn was touching the
hills with silver, he returned towards the spot where he had first laid eyes
on the grisly phantom, feeling that, after all, two ghosts were better than
one, and that, by the aid of his new friend, he might safely grapple with
the twins. On reaching the spot, however, a terrible sight met his gaze.
Something had evidently happened to the spectre, for the light had entirely
faded from its hollow eyes, the gleaming falchion had fallen from its hand,
and it was leaning up against the wall in a strained and uncomfortable
attitude. He rushed forward and seized it in his arms, when, to his horror,
the head slipped off and rolled on the floor, the body assumed a recumbent
posture, and he found himself clasping a white dimity bed-curtain, with a
sweeping-brush, a kitchen cleaver, and a hollow turnip lying at his feet!
Unable to understand this curious transformation, he clutched the placard
with feverish haste, and there, in the grey morning light, he read these
fearful words:

YE OTIS GHOSTE.

Ye Onlie True and Originale Spook.
Beware of Ye Imitationes.
All others are Counterfeite.

The whole thing flashed across him. He had been
tricked, foiled, and outwitted! The old Canterville look came into his eyes;
he ground his toothless gums together; and, raising his withered hands high
above his head, swore, according to the picturesque phraseology of the
antique school, that when Chantecleer had sounded twice his merry horn,
deeds of blood would be wrought, and Murder walk abroad with silent feet.
Hardly had he finished this awful oath when, from the red-tiled roof of
a distant homestead, a cock crew. He laughed a long, low, bitter laugh and
waited. Hour after hour he waited, but the cock, for some strange reason,
did not crow again. Finally, at half-past seven, the arrival of the
housemaids made him give up his fearful vigil, and he stalked back to his
room, thinking of his vain oath and baffled purpose. There he consulted
several books of ancient chivalry, of which he was exceedingly fond, and
found that, on every occasion on which this oath had been used, Chanticleer
had always crowed a second time. “Perdition seize the naughty
fowl,” he muttered, “I have seen the day when, with my stout
spear, I would have run him through the gorge, and made him crow for me an
’twere in death!” He then retired to a comfortable lead coffin, and
stayed there till evening.

IV

The next day the ghost was very weak and tired. The terrible excitement
of the last four weeks was beginig to have its effect. His nerves were
completely shattered, and he started at the slightest noise. For five days
he kept his room, and at last made up his mind to give up the point of the
blood-stain on the library floor. If the Otis family did not want it, they
clearly did not deserve it. They were evidently people on a low, material
plane of existence, and quite incapable of appreciating the symbolic value
of sensuous phenomena. The question of phantasmic apparitions, and the
development of astral bodies, was of course quite a different matter, and
really not under his control. It was his solemn duty to appear in the
corridor once a week, and to gibber from the large oriel window on the first
and third Wednesday in every month, and he did not see how he could
honourably escape frim his obligations. It is quite true that his life had
been very evil, but, upon the other hand, he was most conscientious in all
things connected with the supernatural. For the next three Saturdays,
accordingly, he traversed the corridor as usual between midnight and three
o’clock taking every possible precaution against being either heard or seen.
He removed his boots, trod as lightly as possible on the old worm-eaten
boards, wore a large black velvet cloak, and was careful to use the Rising
Sun Lubricator for oiling his chains. I am bound to acknowledge that it was
with a good deal of difficulty that he brought himself to adopt this last
mode of protection. However, one night, while the family were at dinner, he
slipped into Mr.Otis’s bedroom and carried off the bottle. He felt a little
humiliated at first, but afterwards was sensible enough to see that there
was a great deal to be said for the invention, and, to a certain degree, it
served his purpose.
Still, in spite of everything, he was not left unmolested. Strings were
continually being stretched across the corridor, over which he tripped in
the dark, and on one occasion, while dressed for the part of “Black
Isaak, or the Huntsman of Hogley Woods,” he met with a severe fall,
through treading on a butter-slide, which the twins had constructed from the
entrance of the Tapestry Chamber to the top of the oak staircase. This last
insult so enraged him, that he resolved to make one final effort to assest
his dignity and social position, and determined to visit the insolent young
Etonians the next night in his celebrated character of “Reckless
Rupert, or the Headless Earl.”
He had not appeared in this disguise for more than seventy years; in
fact, not since he had so frightened pretty Lady Barbara Modish by means of
it, that she suddenly broke off her engagement with the present Lord
Canterville’s grandfather, and ran away to Gretta Green with handsome Jack
Castleton, declaring that nothing in the world would induce her to marry
into a family that allowed such a horrible phantom to walk up and down the
terrace at twilight. Poor Jack was afterwards shot in a duel by Lord
Canterville on Wandsworth Common, and Lady Barbara died of a broken heart at
Tunbridge Wells before the year was out, so, in every way, it had been a
great success. It was, however, an extremely difficult “make-up”,
if I may use such a theatrical expression in connection with one of the
greatest mysteries of the supernatural, or, to employ a more scientific
term, the higher-natural world, and it took him fully three hours to make
his preparations. At last everything was ready, and he was very pleased with
his appearance. The big leather riding-boots that went with the dress were
just a little too large for him, and he could only find one of the two
horse-pistols, but, on the whole, he was quite satisfied, and at a quarter
past one he glided out of the wainscoting and crept down the corridor. On
reaching the room occupied by twins, which I should mention was called the
Blue Bed Chamber, on account of the colour of its hangings, he found the
door just ajar. Wishing to make an effective entrance, he flung it wide
open, when a heavy jug of water fell right down on him, wetting him to the
skin, and just missing his left shoulder by a couple of inches. At the same
moment he heard stifled shrieks of laughter proceeding from the four-post
bed. The shock to his nervous system was so great that he fled back to his
room as hard as he could go, and the next day he was laid up with a severe
cold. The only thing that at all consoled him in the whole affair was the
fact that he had not brought his head with him, for, had he done so, the
consequences might have been very serious.
He now gave up all hope of ever frightening this rude American family,
and contented himself, as a rule, with creeping about the passages in list
slippers, with a thick red muffler round his throat for fear of draughts,
and a small arquebuse, in case he should be attacked by the twins. The final
blow he received occurred on the 19

th

of September. He had gone
downstairs to the great entrance-hall, feeling sure that there, at any rate,
he would be quite unmolested, and was amusing himself by making satirical
remarks on the large Saroni photographs of the United States Minister and
his wife, which had now taken the place of the Canterville family pictures.
He was simply but neatly clad in a long shroud, spotted with churchyard
mould, had tied up his jaw with a strip of yellow linen, and carried a small
lantern and a sexton’s spade. In fact, he was dressed for the character of
“Jonas the Graveless, or the Corpse-Snatcher of Chertsey Barn,”
one of his most remarkable impersonations, and one which the Cantervilles
had every reason to remember, as it was the real origin of their quarrel
with their neighbour, Lord Rufford. It was about a quarter past two o’clock
in the morning, and, as far as he could ascertain, no one was stirring. As
he was strolling towards the library, however, to see if there were any
traces left of the blood-stain, suddenly there leaped out on him from a dark
corner two figures, who waved their arms wildly above their heads, and
shrieked out “BOO!” in his ear.
Seized with a panic, which, under the circumstances, was only natural,
he rushed for the staircase, but found Washington Otis waitnig for him there
with the big garden syringe; and being thus hemmed in by his enemies on
every side, and driven almost to bay, he vanished into the great iron stove,
which, fortunately for him, was not lit, and had to make his way home
through the flues and chimneys, arriving at his own room in a terrible state
of dirt, disorder and dispair.
After this he was not seen again on any nocturnal expedition. The twins
lay in wait for him on several occasions, and strewed the passages with
nutshells every night to the great annoyance of their parents and the
servants, but it was of no avail. It was quite evident that his feelings
were so wounded that he would not appear. Mr. Otis consequently resumed his
great work on the history of the Democratic Party, on which he had been
engaged for some years; Mrs. Otis organised a wonderful clam-bake, which
amazed the whole country; the boys took to lacrosse, euchre, poker, and
other American national games; and Virginia rode about the lanes on her
pony, accompanied by the young Duke of Cheshire, who had come to spend the
last week of his holidays at Canterville Chase. It was generally assumed
that the ghost had gone away, and, in fact, Mr. Otis wrote a letter to that
effect to Lord Canterville, who, in reply, expressed his great pleasure at
the news, and sent his best congratulations to the Minister’s worthy wife.
The Otises, however, were decieved, for the ghost was still in the
house, and though now almost an invalid, was by no means ready to let
matters rest, particularly as he heard that among the guests was the young
Duke of Cheshire, whose grand-uncle, Lord Francis Stilton, had once bet a
hundred guineas with Colonel Carbury that he would play dice with the
Canterville ghost, and was found the next morning lying on the floor of the
card-room in such a helpless paralytic state, that though he lived on to a
great age, he was never able to say anything again but “Double
Sixes”. The story was well known at the time, though, of course, out of
respect to the feelings of the two noble families, every attempt was made to
hush it up; and a full account of all the circumstances connected with it
will be found in the third volume of Lord Tattle’s

Recollections of the
Prince Regent and his Friends.

The ghost, then, was naturally very anxious
to show that he had not lost his influence over the Stiltons, with whom,
indeed, he was distantly connected, his own first cousin having beed married
en secondes noces to the Sieur de Bulkeley, from whom, as every one knows,
the Dukes of Cheshire are lineally descended. Accordingly, he made
arrangements for appearing to Virginia’s little lover in his celebrated
impersonation of “The Vampire Monk, or, the Bloodless
Benedictine,” a performance so horrible that when old Lady Startup saw
it, which she did on one fatal New Year’s Eve, in the year 1764, she went
off into the most piercing shrieks, which culminated in violent apoplexy,
and died in three days, after disinherting the Cantervilles, who were her
nearest relations, and leaving all her money to her London apothecary. At
the last moment, his terror of the twins prevented his leaving his room, and
the little Duke slept in peace under the great feathered canopy in the Royal
Bedchamber, and dreamed of Virginia.

 

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