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Ghosts I have Met and Some Others

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« Reply #90 on: November 03, 2009, 02:05:02 am »

Of course it was not the conductor of the first train who, under
cover of the darkness, had led me astray, but the pursuing spirit,
as I found out when, bewildered, I sat upon the platform of the
station at Homosassa, wondering how the deuce I had got there. He
turned up at that moment, and frankly gloated over the success of
what he called shove the seventh, and twist the first.

"Nice place, this," said he, with a nauseating smirk. "So close to
Lake Worth--eh? Only two days' ride on the choo-choo, if you make
connections, and when changing take the right trains."

I pretended not to see him, and began to whistle the intermezzo from
"Cavalleria Rusticana," to show how little I cared.

"Good plan, old chap," said he; "but it won't work. I know you are
put out, in spite of the tunefulness of your soul. But wait for my
second twist. You'll wish you'd struck a cyclone instead when that
turn comes."

It was, as he suggested, at least two days before I was able to get
to Wilkins at Lake Worth; but after I got there the sense of
annoyance and the deep dejection into which I was plunged wore away,
as well it might, for the test which I was invited to witness was
most interesting. The dynamic Lone Fisherman was wonderful enough,
but the electric sail-boat was a marvel. The former was very simple.
It consisted of a reel operated by electricity, which, the moment a
blue-fish struck the skid at the end of the line, reeled the fish
in, and flopped it into a basket as easily and as surely as you
please; but the principle of the sailboat was new.
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« Reply #91 on: November 03, 2009, 02:05:31 am »

"I don't need a breeze to sail anywhere," said Wilkins, as he hauled
up the mainsail, which flapped idly in the still air. "For you see,"
he added, touching a button alongside of the tiller, "this button
sets that big electric fan in the stern revolving, and the result is
an artificial breeze which distends the sail, and there you are."

It was even as he said. A huge fan with a dozen flanges in the stern
began to revolve with wonderful rapidity; in an instant the sails
bellied out, and the _Horace J._, as his boat was named, was
speeding through the waters before the breeze thus created in
record-breaking fashion.

"By Jove, Billie," I said, "this is a dandy!"

"Isn't it!" cried an old familiar voice at my elbow.

I turned as if stung. The spirit was with me again, prepared, I
doubted not, for his second twist. I sprang from my seat, a sudden
inspiration flashing upon me, jumped back of the revolving fan, and
turning the full force of the wind it created upon my vindictive
visitant, blew him fairly and squarely into the bulging sail.

"There, blast your cockney eyes!" I cried; "take that."

He tried to retort, but without avail. The wind that emanated from
the fan fairly rammed his words back into his throat every time he
opened his mouth to speak, and there he lay, flat against the
canvas, fluttering like a leaf, powerless to escape.
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« Reply #92 on: November 03, 2009, 02:06:02 am »

"Hot air doesn't affect you much, you transparent jackass!" I
roared. "Let me see how a stiff nor'easter suits your style of
beauty."

I will not bore the reader with any further details of the Lake
Worth experience. Suffice it to say that for five hours I kept the
miserable thing a pneumatic prisoner in the concave surface of the
sail. Try as he would, he could not escape, and finally, when
Wilkins and I went ashore for the night, and the cockney ghost was
released, he vanished, using unutterable language, and an idea came
to me, putting which into operation, I at last secured immunity from
his persecutions.

Returning to New York three days later, I leased a small office in a
fire-proof power building not far from Madison Square, fitted it up
as if for my own use, and had placed in the concealment of a closet
at its easterly end the largest electric fan I could get. It was ten
feet in diameter, and was provided with sixteen flanges. When it was
in motion not a thing could withstand the blast that came from it.
Tables, chairs, even a cut-glass inkstand weighing two pounds, were
blown with a crash against the solid stone and iron construction
back of the plaster of my walls. And then I awaited his coming
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« Reply #93 on: November 03, 2009, 02:06:46 am »

Suffice it to say that he came, sat down calmly and unsuspecting in
the chair I had had made for his especial benefit, and then the
moment he began to revile me I turned on the power, the fan began to
revolve, the devastating wind rushed down upon him with a roar,
pinned him to the wall like a butterfly on a cork, and he was at
last my prisoner--and he is my prisoner still. For three weeks has
that wheel been revolving night and day, and despite all his cunning
he cannot creep beyond its blustering influence, nor shall he ever
creep therefrom while I have six hundred dollars per annum to pay
for the rent and cost of power necessary to keep the fan going.
Every once in a while I return and gloat over him; and I can tell by
the movement of his lips that he is trying to curse me, but he
cannot, for, even as Wilkins's fan blew his words of remonstrance
back into his throat, so does my wheel, twice as powerful, keep his
torrent of invective from greeting my ear.

[Illustration: "PINNED HIM TO THE WALL LIKE A BUTTERFLY ON A CORK"]

I should be happy to prove the truth of all this by showing any
curious-minded reader the spectacle which gives me so much joy, but
I fear to do so lest the owners of the building, discovering the
uses to which their office has been put, shall require me to vacate
the premises.
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« Reply #94 on: November 03, 2009, 02:07:04 am »

Of course he may ultimately escape, through some failure of the
machine to operate, but it is guaranteed to run five years without a
break, so for that period at least I am safe, and by that time it
may be that he will be satisfied to call things square. I shall be
satisfied if he is.

Meanwhile, I devote my successful plan to the uses of all who may be
troubled as I was, finding in their assumed gratitude a sufficient
compensation for my ingenuity.

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« Reply #95 on: November 03, 2009, 02:08:17 am »

THURLOW'S CHRISTMAS STORY

I


(_Being the Statement of Henry Thurlow Author, to George Currier,
Editor of the "Idler," a Weekly Journal of Human Interest_.)

I have always maintained, my dear Currier, that if a man wishes to
be considered sane, and has any particular regard for his reputation
as a truth-teller, he would better keep silent as to the singular
experiences that enter into his life. I have had many such
experiences myself; but I have rarely confided them in detail, or
otherwise, to those about me, because I know that even the most
trustful of my friends would regard them merely as the outcome of an
imagination unrestrained by conscience, or of a gradually weakening
mind subject to hallucinations. I know them to be true, but until
Mr. Edison or some other modern wizard has invented a search-light
strong enough to lay bare the secrets of the mind and conscience of
man, I cannot prove to others that they are not pure fabrications,
or at least the conjurings of a diseased fancy. For instance, no man
would believe me if I were to state to him the plain and
indisputable fact that one night last month, on my way up to bed
shortly after midnight, having been neither smoking nor drinking, I
saw confronting me upon the stairs, with the moonlight streaming
through the windows back of me, lighting up its face, a figure in
which I recognized my very self in every form and feature. I might
describe the chill of terror that struck to the very marrow of my
bones, and wellnigh forced me to stagger backward down the stairs,
as I noticed in the face of this confronting figure every indication
of all the bad qualities which I know myself to possess, of every
evil instinct which by no easy effort I have repressed heretofore,
and realized that that _thing_ was, as far as I knew, entirely
independent of my true self, in which I hope at least the moral has
made an honest fight against the immoral always. I might describe
this chill, I say, as vividly as I felt it at that moment, but it
would be of no use to do so, because, however realistic it might
prove as a bit of description, no man would believe that the
incident really happened; and yet it did happen as truly as I write,
and it has happened a dozen times since, and I am certain that it
will happen many times again, though I would give all that I possess
to be assured that never again should that disquieting creation of
mind or matter, whichever it may be, cross my path. The experience
has made me afraid almost to be alone, and I have found myself
unconsciously and uneasily glancing at my face in mirrors, in the
plate-glass of show-windows on the shopping streets of the city,
fearful lest I should find some of those evil traits which I have
struggled to keep under, and have kept under so far, cropping out
there where all the world, all _my_ world, can see and wonder at,
having known me always as a man of right doing and right feeling.
Many a time in the night the thought has come to me with prostrating
force, what if that thing were to be seen and recognized by others,
myself and yet not my whole self, my unworthy self unrestrained and
yet recognizable as Henry Thurlow.
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« Reply #96 on: November 03, 2009, 02:09:40 am »

I have also kept silent as to that strange condition of affairs
which has tortured me in my sleep for the past year and a half; no
one but myself has until this writing known that for that period of
time I have had a continuous, logical dream-life; a life so vivid
and so dreadfully real to me that I have found myself at times
wondering which of the two lives I was living and which I was
dreaming; a life in which that other wicked self has dominated, and
forced me to a career of shame and horror; a life which, being taken
up every time I sleep where it ceased with the awakening from a
previous sleep, has made me fear to close my eyes in forgetfulness
when others are near at hand, lest, sleeping, I shall let fall some
speech that, striking on their ears, shall lead them to believe that
in secret there is some wicked mystery connected with my life. It
would be of no use for me to tell these things. It would merely
serve to make my family and my friends uneasy about me if they were
told in their awful detail, and so I have kept silent about them. To
you alone, and now for the first time, have I hinted as to the
troubles which have oppressed me for many days, and to you they are
confided only because of the demand you have made that I explain to
you the extraordinary complication in which the Christmas story sent
you last week has involved me. You know that I am a man of dignity;
that I am not a school-boy and a lover of childish tricks; and
knowing that, your friendship, at least, should have restrained your
tongue and pen when, through the former, on Wednesday, you accused
me of perpetrating a trifling, and to you excessively embarrassing,
practical joke--a charge which, at the moment, I was too overcome to
refute; and through the latter, on Thursday, you reiterated the
accusation, coupled with a demand for an explanation of my conduct
satisfactory to yourself, or my immediate resignation from the staff
of the _Idler_. To explain is difficult, for I am certain that you
will find the explanation too improbable for credence, but explain I
must. The alternative, that of resigning from your staff, affects
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« Reply #97 on: November 03, 2009, 02:10:45 am »

not only my own welfare, but that of my children, who must be
provided for; and if my post with you is taken from me, then are all
resources gone. I have not the courage to face dismissal, for I have
not sufficient confidence in my powers to please elsewhere to make
me easy in my mind, or, if I could please elsewhere, the certainty
of finding the immediate employment of my talents which is necessary
to me, in view of the at present overcrowded condition of the
literary field.

To explain, then, my seeming jest at your expense, hopeless as it
appears to be, is my task; and to do so as completely as I can, let
me go back to the very beginning.

In August you informed me that you would expect me to provide, as I
have heretofore been in the habit of doing, a story for the
Christmas issue of the _Idler_; that a certain position in the make
-up was reserved for me, and that you had already taken steps to
advertise the fact that the story would appear. I undertook the
commission, and upon seven different occasions set about putting the
narrative into shape. I found great difficulty, however, in doing
so. For some reason or other I could not concentrate my mind upon
the work. No sooner would I start in on one story than a better one,
in my estimation, would suggest itself to me; and all the labor
expended on the story already begun would be cast aside, and the new
story set in motion. Ideas were plenty enough, but to put them
properly upon paper seemed beyond my powers. One story, however, I
did finish; but after it had come back to me from my typewriter I
read it, and was filled with consternation to discover that it was
nothing more nor less than a mass of jumbled sentences, conveying no
idea to the mind--a story which had seemed to me in the writing to
be coherent had returned to me as a mere bit of incoherence--
formless, without ideas--a bit of raving. It was then that I went to
you and told you, as you remember, that I was worn out, and needed a
month of absolute rest, which you granted. I left my work wholly,
and went into the wilderness, where I could be entirely free from
everything suggesting labor, and where no summons back to town could
reach me. I fished and hunted. I slept; and although, as I have
already said, in my sleep I found myself leading a life that was not
only not to my taste, but horrible to me in many particulars, I was
able at the end of my vacation to come back to town greatly
refreshed, and, as far as my feelings went, ready to undertake any
amount of work. For two or three days after my return I was busy
with other things. On the fourth day after my arrival you came to
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« Reply #98 on: November 03, 2009, 02:13:28 am »

me, and said that the story must be finished at the very latest by
October 15th, and I assured you that you should have it by that
time. That night I set about it. I mapped it out, incident by
incident, and before starting up to bed had actually written some
twelve or fifteen hundred words of the opening chapter--it was to be
told in four chapters. When I had gone thus far I experienced a
slight return of one of my nervous chills, and, on consulting my
watch, discovered that it was after midnight, which was a sufficient
explanation of my nervousness: I was merely tired. I arranged my
manuscripts on my table so that I might easily take up the work the
following morning. I locked up the windows and doors, turned out the
lights, and proceeded up-stairs to my room.

[Illustration: "FACE TO FACE"]

_It was then that I first came face to face with myself--that other
self, in which I recognized, developed to the full, every bit of my
capacity for an evil life._

Conceive of the situation if you can. Imagine the horror of it, and
then ask yourself if it was likely that when next morning came I
could by any possibility bring myself to my work-table in fit
condition to prepare for you anything at all worthy of publication
in the _Idler._ I tried. I implore you to believe that I did not
hold lightly the responsibilities of the commission you had
intrusted to my hands. You must know that if any of your writers has
a full appreciation of the difficulties which are strewn along the
path of an editor, _I_, who have myself had an editorial experience,
have it, and so would not, in the nature of things, do anything to
add to your troubles. You cannot but believe that I have made an
honest effort to fulfil my promise to you. But it was useless, and
for a week after that visitation was it useless for me to attempt
the work. At the end of the week I felt better, and again I started
in, and the story developed satisfactorily until--_it_ came again.
That figure which was my own figure, that face which was the evil
counterpart of my own countenance, again rose up before me, and once
more was I plunged into hopelessness.
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« Reply #99 on: November 03, 2009, 02:14:10 am »

Thus matters went on until the 14th day of October, when I received
your peremptory message that the story must be forthcoming the
following day. Needless to tell you that it was not forthcoming; but
what I must tell you, since you do not know it, is that on the
evening of the 15th day of October a strange thing happened to me,
and in the narration of that incident, which I almost despair of
your believing, lies my explanation of the discovery of October
16th, which has placed my position with you in peril.

At half-past seven o'clock on the evening of October 15th I was
sitting in my library trying to write. I was alone. My wife and
children had gone away on a visit to Massachusetts for a week. I had
just finished my cigar, and had taken my pen in hand, when my front
-door bell rang. Our maid, who is usually prompt in answering
summonses of this nature, apparently did not hear the bell, for she
did not respond to its clanging. Again the bell rang, and still did
it remain unanswered, until finally, at the third ringing, I went to
the door myself. On opening it I saw standing before me a man of, I
should say, fifty odd years of age, tall, slender, pale-faced, and
clad in sombre black. He was entirely unknown to me. I had never
seen him before, but he had about him such an air of pleasantness
and wholesomeness that I instinctively felt glad to see him, without
knowing why or whence he had come.

"Does Mr. Thurlow live here?" he asked.

You must excuse me for going into what may seem to you to be petty
details, but by a perfectly circumstantial account of all that
happened that evening alone can I hope to give a semblance of truth
to my story, and that it must be truthful I realize as painfully as
you do.

"I am Mr. Thurlow," I replied.
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« Reply #100 on: November 03, 2009, 02:15:23 am »

"Henry Thurlow, the author?" he said, with a surprised look upon his
face.

"Yes," said I; and then, impelled by the strange appearance of
surprise on the man's countenance, I added, "don't I look like an
author?"

He laughed, and candidly admitted that I was not the kind of looking
man he had expected to find from reading my books, and then he
entered the house in response to my invitation that he do so. I
ushered him into my library, and, after asking him to be seated,
inquired as to his business with me.

His answer was gratifying at least He replied that he had been a
reader of my writings for a number of years, and that for some time
past he had had a great desire, not to say curiosity, to meet me and
tell me how much he had enjoyed certain of my stories.

"I'm a great devourer of books, Mr. Thurlow," he said, "and I have
taken the keenest delight in reading your verses and humorous
sketches. I may go further, and say to you that you have helped me
over many a hard place in my life by your work. At times when I have
felt myself worn out with my business, or face to face with some
knotty problem in my career, I have found much relief in picking up
and reading your books at random. They have helped me to forget my
weariness or my knotty problems for the time being; and to-day,
finding myself in this town, I resolved to call upon you this
evening and thank you for all that you have done for me."
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« Reply #101 on: November 03, 2009, 02:15:54 am »

Thereupon we became involved in a general discussion of literary men
and their works, and I found that my visitor certainly did have a
pretty thorough knowledge of what has been produced by the writers
of to-day. I was quite won over to him by his simplicity, as well as
attracted to him by his kindly opinion of my own efforts, and I did
my best to entertain him, showing him a few of my little literary
treasures in the way of autograph letters, photographs, and
presentation copies of well-known books from the authors themselves.
From this we drifted naturally and easily into a talk on the methods
of work adopted by literary men. He asked me many questions as to my
own methods; and when I had in a measure outlined to him the manner
of life which I had adopted, telling him of my days at home, how
little detail office-work I had, he seemed much interested with the
picture--indeed, I painted the picture of my daily routine in almost
too perfect colors, for, when I had finished, he observed quietly
that I appeared to him to lead the ideal life, and added that he
supposed I knew very little unhappiness.

The remark recalled to me the dreadful reality, that through some
perversity of fate I was doomed to visitations of an uncanny order
which were practically destroying my usefulness in my profession and
my sole financial resource.

"Well," I replied, as my mind reverted to the unpleasant predicament
in which I found myself, "I can't say that I know little
unhappiness. As a matter of fact, I know a great deal of that
undesirable thing. At the present moment I am very much embarrassed
through my absolute inability to fulfil a contract into which I have
entered, and which should have been filled this morning. I was due
to-day with a Christmas story. The presses are waiting for it, and I
am utterly unable to write it."

He appeared deeply concerned at the confession. I had hoped, indeed,
that he might be sufficiently concerned to take his departure, that
I might make one more effort to write the promised story. His
solicitude, however, showed itself in another way. Instead of
leaving me, he ventured the hope that he might aid me.

"What kind of a story is it to be?" he asked.
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« Reply #102 on: November 03, 2009, 02:16:11 am »

"Oh, the usual ghostly tale," I said, "with a dash of the Christmas
flavor thrown in here and there to make it suitable to the season."

"Ah," he observed. "And you find your vein worked out?"

It was a direct and perhaps an impertinent question; but I thought
it best to answer it, and to answer it as well without giving him
any clew as to the real facts. I could not very well take an entire
stranger into my confidence, and describe to him the extraordinary
encounters I was having with an uncanny other self. He would not
have believed the truth, hence I told him an untruth, and assented
to his proposition.

"Yes," I replied, "the vein is worked out. I have written ghost
stories for years now, serious and comic, and I am to-day at the end
of my tether--compelled to move forward and yet held back."

"That accounts for it," he said, simply. "When I first saw you to
-night at the door I could not believe that the author who had
provided me with so much merriment could be so pale and worn and
seemingly mirthless. Pardon me, Mr. Thurlow, for my lack of
consideration when I told you that you did not appear as I had
expected to find you."

I smiled my forgiveness, and he continued:

"It may be," he said, with a show of hesitation--"it may be that I
have come not altogether inopportunely. Perhaps I can help you."

I smiled again. "I should be most grateful if you could," I said.
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« Reply #103 on: November 03, 2009, 02:17:41 am »

"But you doubt my ability to do so?" he put in. "Oh--well--yes--of
course you do; and why shouldn't you? Nevertheless, I have noticed
this: At times when I have been baffled in my work a mere hint from
another, from one who knew nothing of my work, has carried me on to
a solution of my problem. I have read most of your writings, and I
have thought over some of them many a time, and I have even had
ideas for stories, which, in my own conceit, I have imagined were
good enough for you, and I have wished that I possessed your
facility with the pen that I might make of them myself what I
thought you would make of them had they been ideas of your own."

The old gentleman's pallid face reddened as he said this, and while
I was hopeless as to anything of value resulting from his ideas, I
could not resist the temptation to hear what he had to say further,
his manner was so deliciously simple, and his desire to aid me so
manifest. He rattled on with suggestions for a half-hour. Some of
them were good, but none were new. Some were irresistibly funny, and
did me good because they made me laugh, and I hadn't laughed
naturally for a period so long that it made me shudder to think of
it, fearing lest I should forget how to be mirthful. Finally I grew
tired of his persistence, and, with a very ill-concealed impatience,
told him plainly that I could do nothing with his suggestions,
thanking him, however, for the spirit of kindliness which had
prompted him to offer them. He appeared somewhat hurt, but
immediately desisted, and when nine o'clock came he rose up to go.
As he walked to the door he seemed to be undergoing some mental
struggle, to which, with a sudden resolve, he finally succumbed,
for, after having picked up his hat and stick and donned his
overcoat, he turned to me and said:

"Mr. Thurlow, I don't want to offend you. On the contrary, it is my
dearest wish to assist you. You have helped me, as I have told you.
Why may I not help you?"

[Illustration: "HE RATTLED ON FOR HALF AN HOUR"]

"I assure you, sir--" I began, when he interrupted me.

"One moment, please," he said, putting his hand into the inside
pocket of his black coat and extracting from it an envelope
addressed to me. "Let me finish: it is the whim of one who has an
affection for you. For ten years I have secretly been at work myself
on a story. It is a short one, but it has seemed good to me. I had a
double object in seeking you out to-night. I wanted not only to see
you, but to read my story to you. No one knows that I have written
it; I had intended it as a surprise to my--to my friends. I had
hoped to have it published somewhere, and I had come here to seek
your advice in the matter. It is a story which I have written and
rewritten and rewritten time and time again in my leisure moments
during the ten years past, as I have told you. It is not likely that
I shall ever write another. I am proud of having done it, but I
should be prouder yet if it--if it could in some way help you. I
leave it with you, sir, to print or to destroy; and if you print it,
to see it in type will be enough for me; to see your name signed to
it will be a matter of pride to me. No one will ever be the wiser,
for, as I say, no one knows I have written it, and I promise you
that no one shall know of it if you decide to do as I not only
suggest but ask you to do. No one would believe me after it has
appeared as _yours,_ even if I should forget my promise and claim it
as my own. Take it. It is yours. You are entitled to it as a slight
measure of repayment for the debt of gratitude I owe you."
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« Reply #104 on: November 03, 2009, 02:18:21 am »

He pressed the manuscript into my hands, and before I could reply
had opened the door and disappeared into the darkness of the street.
I rushed to the sidewalk and shouted out to him to return, but I
might as well have saved my breath and spared the neighborhood, for
there was no answer. Holding his story in my hand, I re-entered the
house and walked back into my library, where, sitting and reflecting
upon the curious interview, I realized for the first time that I was
in entire ignorance as to my visitor's name and address.

[Illustration: "THE DEMON VANISHED"]

I opened the envelope hoping to find them, but they were not there.
The envelope contained merely a finely written manuscript of thirty
odd pages, unsigned.

And then I read the story. When I began it was with a half-smile
upon my lips, and with a feeling that I was wasting my time. The
smile soon faded, however; after reading the first paragraph there
was no question of wasted time. The story was a masterpiece. It is
needless to say to you that I am not a man of enthusiasms. It is
difficult to arouse that emotion in my breast, but upon this
occasion I yielded to a force too great for me to resist. I have
read the tales of Hoffmann and of Poe, the wondrous romances of De
La Motte Fouque, the unfortunately little-known tales of the
lamented Fitz-James O'Brien, the weird tales of writers of all
tongues have been thoroughly sifted by me in the course of my
reading, and I say to you now that in the whole of my life I never
read one story, one paragraph, one line, that could approach in
vivid delineation, in weirdness of conception, in anything, in any
quality which goes to make up the truly great story, that story
which came into my hands as I have told you. I read it once and was
amazed. I read it a second time and was--tempted. It was mine. The
writer himself had authorized me to treat it as if it were my own;
had voluntarily sacrificed his own claim to its authorship that he
might relieve me of my very pressing embarrassment. Not only this;
he had almost intimated that in putting my name to his work I should
be doing him a favor. Why not do so, then, I asked myself; and
immediately my better self rejected the idea as impossible. How
could I put out as my own another man's work and retain my self
-respect? I resolved on another and better course--to send you the
story in lieu of my own with a full statement of the circumstances
under which it had come into my possession, when that demon rose up
out of the floor at my side, this time more evil of aspect than
before, more commanding in its manner. With a groan I shrank back
into the cushions of my chair, and by passing my hands over my eyes
tried to obliterate forever the offending sight; but it was useless.
The uncanny thing approached me, and as truly as I write sat upon
the edge of my couch, where for the first time it addressed me.
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