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<Inapoi la Cuprins

 Mark Twain

A GHOST STORY

by MARK TWAIN

From "Sketches New and Old", Copyright 1903, Samuel Clemens.
This text is placed in the Public Domain (May 1993).


A Ghost Story

I TOOK a large room, far up Broadway, in a huge
old building whose upper stories had been
wholly unoccupied for years, until I came. The
place had long been given up to dust and cobwebs,
to solitude and silence. I seemed groping among
the tombs and invading the privacy of the dead, that
first night I climbed up to my quarters. For the
first time in my life a superstitious dread came over
me; and as I turned a dark angle of the stairway
and an invisible cobweb swung its slazy woof in my
face and clung there, I shuddered as one who had
encountered a phantom.

I was glad enough when I reached my room and
locked out the mould and the darkness. A cheery
fire was burning in the grate, and I sat down before
it with a comforting sense of relief. For two hours
I sat there, thinking of bygone times; recalling old
scenes, and summoning half-forgotten faces out of
the mists of the past; listening, in fancy, to voices
that long ago grew silent for all time, and to once
familiar songs that nobody sings now. And as my
reverie softened down to a sadder and sadder pathos,
the shrieking of the winds outside softened to a wail,
the angry beating of the rain against the panes
diminished to a tranquil patter, and one by one the
noises in the street subsided, until the hurrying foot-
steps of the last belated straggler died away in the
distance and left no sound behind.

The fire had burned low. A sense of loneliness
crept over me. I arose and undressed, moving on
tiptoe about the room, doing stealthily what I had
to do, as if I were environed by sleeping enemies
whose slumbers it would be fatal to break. I
covered up in bed, and lay listening to the rain and
wind and the faint creaking of distant shutters, till
they lulled me to sleep.

I slept profoundly, but how long I do not know.
All at once I found myself awake, and filled with a
shuddering expectancy. All was still. All but my
own heart -- I could hear it beat. Presently the bed-
clothes began to slip away slowly toward the foot of
the bed, as if some one were pulling them! I could
not stir; I could not speak. Still the blankets
slipped deliberately away, till my breast was un-
covered. Then with a great effort I seized them and
drew them over my head. I waited, listened, waited.
Once more that steady pull began, and once more I
lay torpid a century of dragging seconds till my
breast was naked again. At last I roused my ener-
gies and snatched the covers back to their place and
held them with a strong grip. I waited. By and
by I felt a faint tug, and took a fresh grip. The
tug strengthened to a steady strain -- it grew
stronger and stronger. My hold parted, and for
the third time the blankets slid away. I groaned.
An answering groan came from the foot of the bed!
Beaded drops of sweat stood upon my forehead. I
was more dead than alive. Presently I heard a
heavy footstep in my room -- the step of an ele-
phant, it seemed to me -- it was not like anything
human. But it was moving FROM me -- there was
relief in that. I heard it approach the door -- pass
out without moving bolt or lock -- and wander away
among the dismal corridors, straining the floors and
joists till they creaked again as it passed -- and then
silence reigned once more.

When my excitement had calmed, I said to my-
self, "This is a dream -- simply a hideous dream."
And so I lay thinking it over until I convinced
myself that it WAS a dream, and then a comforting
laugh relaxed my lips and I was happy again. I
got up and struck a light; and when I found that
the locks and bolts were just as I had left them,
another soothing laugh welled in my heart and rip-
pled from my lips. I took my pipe and lit it, and
was just sitting down before the fire, when -- down
went the pipe out of my nerveless fingers, the blood
forsook my cheeks, and my placid breathing was cut
short with a gasp! In the ashes on the hearth, side
by side with my own bare footprint, was another, so
vast that in comparison mine was but an infant's'!
Then I had HAD a visitor, and the elephant tread was
explained.

I put out the light and returned to bed, palsied
with fear. I lay a long time, peering into the dark-
ness, and listening. Then I heard a grating noise
overhead, like the dragging of a heavy body across
the floor; then the throwing down of the body, and
the shaking of my windows in response to the con-
cussion. In distant parts of the building I heard
the muffled slamming of doors. I heard, at inter-
vals, stealthy footsteps creeping in and out among
the corridors, and up and down the stairs. Some-
times these noises approached my door, hesitated,
and went away again. I heard the clanking of
chains faintly, in remote passages, and listened while
the clanking grew nearer -- while it wearily climbed
the stairways, marking each move by the loose
surplus of chain that fell with an accented rattle upon
each succeeding step as the goblin that bore it ad-
vanced. I heard muttered sentences; half-uttered
screams that seemed smothered violently; and the
swish of invisible garments, the rush of invisible
wings. Then I became conscious that my chamber
was invaded -- that I was not alone. I heard sighs
and breathings about my bed, and mysterious whis-
perings. Three little spheres of soft phosphorescent
light 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 the
pillow. They spattered, liquidly, and felt warm.
Intuition told me they had turned to gouts of blood
as they fell -- I needed no light to satisfy myself of
that. Then I saw pallid faces, dimly luminous, and
white uplifted hands, floating bodiless in the air --
floating a moment and then disappearing. The
whispering ceased, and the voices and the sounds,
and a solemn stillness followed. I waited and
listened. I felt that I must have light or die. I
was weak with fear. I slowly raised myself toward
a sitting posture, and my face came in contact with
a 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 to
pass to the door and go out.

When everything was still once more, I crept out
of bed, sick and feeble, and lit the gas with a hand
that trembled as if it were aged with a hundred
years. The light brought some little cheer to my
spirits. I sat down and fell into a dreamy contem-
plation of that great footprint in the ashes. By and
by its outlines began to waver and grow dim. I
glanced 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, nearer
and nearer, along the musty halls, and dimmer and
dimmer the light waned. The tread reached my
very door and paused -- the light had dwindled to a
sickly blue, and all things about me lay in a spectral
twilight. The door did not open, and yet I felt a
faint gust of air fan my cheek, and presently was
conscious of a huge, cloudy presence before me. I
watched it with fascinated eyes. A pale glow stole
over the Thing; gradually its cloudy folds took
shape -- 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 and
comely, the majestic Cardiff Giant loomed above me!

All my misery vanished -- for a child might know
that no harm could come with that benignant
countenance. My cheerful spirits returned at once,
and in sympathy with them the gas flamed up
brightly again. Never a lonely outcast was so glad
to welcome company as I was to greet the friendly
giant. I said:

"Why, is it nobody but you? Do you know, I
have been scared to death for the last two or three
hours? I am most honestly glad to see you. I
wish I had a chair -- Here, here, don't try to sit
down in that thing!

But it was too late. He was in it before I could
stop him, and down he went -- I never saw a chair
shivered so in my life.

"Stop, stop, You'll ruin ev--"

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

"Confound it, haven't you got any judgment at
all? Do you want to ruin all the furniture on the
place? Here, here, you petrified fool--"

But it was no use. Before I could arrest him he
had sat down on the bed, and it was a melancholy
ruin.

"Now what sort of a way is that to do? First
you come lumbering about the place bringing a
legion of vagabond goblins along with you to worry
me to death, and then when I overlook an indelicacy
of costume which would not be tolerated anywhere
by 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 can
find to sit down on. And why will you? You
damage yourself as much as you do me. You have
broken off the end of your spinal column, and lit-
tered up the floor with chips of your hams till the
place looks like a marble yard. You ought to be
ashamed of yourself -- you are big enough to know
better."

"Well, I will not break any more furniture. But
what am I to do? I have not had a chance to sit
down for a century." And the tears came into his
eyes.

"Poor devil," I said, "I should not have been so
harsh with you. And you are an orphan, too, no
doubt. But sit down on the floor here -- nothing
else can stand your weight -- and besides, we cannot
be sociable with you away up there above me; I
want you down where I can perch on this high
counting-house stool and gossip with you face to
face."

So he sat down on the floor, and lit a pipe which
I gave him, threw one of my red blankets over his
shoulders, inverted my sitz-bath on his head, helmet
fashion, and made himself picturesque and comfort-
able. Then he crossed his ankles, while I renewed
the 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 feet
and the back of your legs, that they are gouged up
so?"

"Infernal chillblains -- I caught them clear up to
the back of my head, roosting out there under
Newell's farm. But I love the place; I love it as
one loves his old home. There is no peace for me
like the peace I feel when I am there."

We talked along for half an hour, and then I
noticed 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 have
treated me so well. I am the spirit of the Petrified
Man that lies across the street there in the Museum.
I am the ghost of the Cardiff Giant. I can have no
rest, no peace, till they have given that poor body
burial again. Now what was the most natural thing
for me to do, to make men satisfy this wish?
Terrify them into it! -- haunt the place where the
body lay! So I haunted the museum night after
night. I even got other spirits to help me. But it
did no good, for nobody ever came to the museum
at midnight. Then it occurred to me to come over
the way and haunt this place a little. I felt that if I
ever got a hearing I must succeed, for I had the
most efficient company that perdition could furnish.
Night after night we have shivered around through
these mildewed halls, dragging chains, groaning,
whispering, tramping up and down stairs, till, to tell
you the truth, I am almost worn out. But when I
saw a light in your room to-night I roused my
energies again and went at it with a deal of the old
freshness. But I am tired out -- entirely fagged
out. Give me, I beseech you, give me some hope!"

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

"This transcends everything -- everything that
ever did occur! Why you poor blundering old
fossil, 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 fraud
was ingeniously and fraudfully duplicated,
and exhibited in New York as the "only genuine"
Cardiff Giant (to the unspeakable disgust of the
owners of the real colossus) at the very same
time that the latter was drawing crowds at a
museum 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 countenance
before.

The Petrified Man rose slowly to his feet, and
said:

"Honestly, IS that true?"

"As true as I am sitting here."

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

"Well -- I NEVER felt so absurd before. The
Petrified Man has sold everybody else, and now the
mean fraud has ended by selling its own ghost!
My son, if there is any charity left in your heart for
a poor friendless phantom like me, don't let this get
out. Think how YOU would feel if you had made
such an ass of yourself."

I heard his, stately tramp die away, step by step
down the stairs and out into the deserted street, and
felt sorry that he was gone, poor fellow -- and
sorrier still that he had carried off my red blanket
and my bath tub.

END.

 

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