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Ghosts I have Met and Some Others

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« Reply #105 on: November 03, 2009, 02:19:17 am »

"Fool!" it said, "how can you hesitate? Here is your position: you
have made a contract which must be filled; you are already behind,
and in a hopeless mental state. Even granting that between this and
to-morrow morning you could put together the necessary number of
words to fill the space allotted to you, what kind of a thing do you
think that story would make? It would be a mere raving like that
other precious effort of August. The public, if by some odd chance
it ever reached them, would think your mind was utterly gone; your
reputation would go with that verdict. On the other hand, if you do
not have the story ready by to-morrow, your hold on the _Idler_ will
be destroyed. They have their announcements printed, and your name
and portrait appear among those of the prominent contributors. Do
you suppose the editor and publisher will look leniently upon your
failure?"

"Considering my past record, yes," I replied. "I have never yet
broken a promise to them."

"Which is precisely the reason why they will be severe with you.
You, who have been regarded as one of the few men who can do almost
any kind of literary work at will--you, of whom it is said that your
'brains are on tap'--will they be lenient with _you?_ Bah! Can't you
see that the very fact of your invariable readiness heretofore is
going to make your present unreadiness a thing incomprehensible?"

"Then what shall I do?" I asked. "If I can't, I can't, that is all."

"You can. There is the story in your hands. Think what it will do
for you. It is one of the immortal stories--"

"You have read it, then?" I asked.

"Haven't you?"

"Yes--but--"
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« Reply #106 on: November 03, 2009, 02:19:48 am »

"It is the same," it said, with a leer and a contemptuous shrug.
"You and I are inseparable. Aren't you glad?" it added, with a laugh
that grated on every fibre of my being. I was too overwhelmed to
reply, and it resumed: "It is one of the immortal stories. We agree
to that. Published over your name, your name will live. The stuff
you write yourself will give you present glory; but when you have
been dead ten years people won't remember your name even--unless I
get control of you, and in that case there is a very pretty though
hardly a literary record in store for you."

Again it laughed harshly, and I buried my face in the pillows of my
couch, hoping to find relief there from this dreadful vision.

"Curious," it said. "What you call your decent self doesn't dare
look me in the eye! What a mistake people make who say that the man
who won't look you in the eye is not to be trusted! As if mere
brazenness were a sign of honesty; really, the theory of decency is
the most amusing thing in the world. But come, time is growing
short. Take that story. The writer gave it to you. Begged you to use
it as your own. It is yours. It will make your reputation, and save
you with your publishers. How can you hesitate?"

"I shall not use it!" I cried, desperately.

"You must--consider your children. Suppose you lose your connection
with these publishers of yours?"

"But it would be a crime."

"Not a bit of it. Whom do you rob? A man who voluntarily came to
you, and gave you that of which you rob him. Think of it as it is--
and act, only act quickly. It is now midnight."

The tempter rose up and walked to the other end of the room, whence,
while he pretended to be looking over a few of my books and
pictures, I was aware he was eyeing me closely, and gradually
compelling me by sheer force of will to do a thing which I abhorred.
And I--I struggled weakly against the temptation, but gradually,
little by little, I yielded, and finally succumbed altogether.
Springing to my feet, I rushed to the table, seized my pen, and
signed my name to the story.

"There!" I said. "It is done. I have saved my position and made my
reputation, and am now a thief!"

[Illustration: "DOESN'T DARE TO LOOK ME IN THE EYE"]

"As well as a fool," said the other, calmly. "You don't mean to say
you are going to send that manuscript in as it is?"

"Good Lord!" I cried. "What under heaven have you been trying to
make me do for the last half hour?"

"Act like a sane being," said the demon. "If you send that
manuscript to Currier he'll know in a minute it isn't yours. He
knows you haven't an amanuensis, and that handwriting isn't yours.
Copy it."

"True!" I answered. "I haven't much of a mind for details to-night.
I will do as you say."
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« Reply #107 on: November 03, 2009, 02:20:04 am »

I did so. I got out my pad and pen and ink, and for three hours
diligently applied myself to the task of copying the story. When it
was finished I went over it carefully, made a few minor corrections,
signed it, put it in an envelope, addressed it to you, stamped it,
and went out to the mail-box on the corner, where I dropped it into
the slot, and returned home. When I had returned to my library my
visitor was still there.

"Well," it said, "I wish you'd hurry and complete this affair. I am
tired, and wish to go."

"You can't go too soon to please me," said I, gathering up the
original manuscripts of the story and preparing to put them away in
my desk.

"Probably not," it sneered. "I'll be glad to go too, but I can't go
until that manuscript is destroyed. As long as it exists there is
evidence of your having appropriated the work of another. Why, can't
you see that? Burn it!"

"I can't see my way clear in crime!" I retorted. "It is not in my
line."

Nevertheless, realizing the value of his advice, I thrust the pages
one by one into the blazing log fire, and watched them as they
flared and flamed and grew to ashes. As the last page disappeared in
the embers the demon vanished. I was alone, and throwing myself down
for a moment's reflection upon my couch, was soon lost in sleep.

It was noon when I again opened my eyes, and, ten minutes after I
awakened, your telegraphic summons reached me.

"Come down at once," was what you said, and I went; and then came
the terrible _dénouement,_ and yet a _dénouement_ which was pleasing
to me since it relieved my conscience. You handed me the envelope
containing the story.

"Did you send that?" was your question.
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« Reply #108 on: November 03, 2009, 02:20:17 am »

"I did--last night, or rather early this morning. I mailed it about
three o'clock," I replied.

"I demand an explanation of your conduct," said you.

"Of what?" I asked.

"Look at your so-called story and see. If this is a practical joke,
Thurlow, it's a damned poor one."

I opened the envelope and took from it the sheets I had sent you--
twenty-four of them.

_They were every one of them as blank as when they left the paper
-mill!_

You know the rest. You know that I tried to speak; that my utterance
failed me; and that, finding myself unable at the time to control my
emotions, I turned and rushed madly from the office, leaving the
mystery unexplained. You know that you wrote demanding a
satisfactory explanation of the situation or my resignation from
your staff.

This, Currier, is my explanation. It is all I have. It is absolute
truth. I beg you to believe it, for if you do not, then is my
condition a hopeless one. You will ask me perhaps for a _résumé_ of
the story which I thought I had sent you.

It is my crowning misfortune that upon that point my mind is an
absolute blank. I cannot remember it in form or in substance. I have
racked my brains for some recollection of some small portion of it
to help to make my explanation more credible, but, alas! it will not
come back to me. If I were dishonest I might fake up a story to suit
the purpose, but I am not dishonest. I came near to doing an
unworthy act; I did do an unworthy thing, but by some mysterious
provision of fate my conscience is cleared of that.

Be sympathetic Currier, or, if you cannot, be lenient with me this
time. _Believe, believe, believe_, I implore you. Pray let me hear
from you at once.

(Signed) HENRY THURLOW.

[Illustration: "'LOOK AT YOUR SO CALLED STORY AND SEE'"]
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« Reply #109 on: November 03, 2009, 02:21:14 am »

II


(_Being a Note from George Currier, Editor of the "Idler" to Henry
Thurlow, Author_.)

Your explanation has come to hand. As an explanation it isn't worth
the paper it is written on, but we are all agreed here that it is
probably the best bit of fiction you ever wrote. It is accepted for
the Christmas issue. Enclosed please find check for one hundred
dollars.

Dawson suggests that you take another month up in the Adirondacks.
You might put in your time writing up some account of that dream
-life you are leading while you are there. It seems to me there are
possibilities in the idea. The concern will pay all expenses. What
do you say?

(Signed) Yours ever, G. C. THE DAMPMERE MYSTERY

Dawson wished to be alone; he had a tremendous bit of writing to do,
which could not be done in New York, where his friends were
constantly interrupting him, and that is why he had taken the little
cottage at Dampmere for the early spring months. The cottage just
suited him. It was remote from the village of Dampmere, and the
rental was suspiciously reasonable; he could have had a ninety-nine
years' lease of it for nothing, had he chosen to ask for it, and
would promise to keep the premises in repair; but he was not aware
of that fact when he made his arrangements with the agent. Indeed,
there was a great deal that Dawson was not aware of when he took the
place. If there hadn't been he never would have thought of going
there, and this story would not have been written.

It was late in March when, with his Chinese servant and his mastiff,
he entered into possession and began the writing of the story he had
in mind. It was to be the effort of his life. People reading it
would forget Thackeray and everybody else, and would, furthermore,
never wish to see another book. It was to be the literature of all
time--past and present and future; in it all previous work was to be
forgotten, all future work was to be rendered unnecessary.

For three weeks everything went smoothly enough, and the work upon
the great story progressed to the author's satisfaction; but as
Easter approached something queer seemed to develop in the Dampmere
cottage. It was undefinable, intangible, invisible, but it was
there. Dawson's hair would not stay down. When he rose up in the
morning he would find every single hair on his head standing erect,
and plaster it as he would with his brushes dipped in water, it
could not be induced to lie down again. More inconvenient than this,
his silken mustache was affected in the same way, so that instead of
drooping in a soft fascinating curl over his lip, it also rose up
like a row of bayonets and lay flat against either side of his nose;
and with this singular hirsute affliction there came into Dawson's
heart a feeling of apprehension over something, he knew not what,
that speedily developed into an uncontrollable terror that pervaded
his whole being, and more thoroughly destroyed his ability to work
upon his immortal story than ten inconsiderate New York friends
dropping in on him in his busy hours could possibly have done.

"What the dickens is the matter with me?" he said to himself, as for
the sixteenth time he brushed his rebellious locks. "What has come
over my hair? And what under the sun am I afraid of? The idea of a
man of my size looking under the bed every night for--for something--
burglar, spook, or what I don't know. Waking at midnight shivering
with fear, walking in the broad light of day filled with terror; by
Jove! I almost wish I was Chung Lee down in the kitchen, who goes
about his business undisturbed."

[Illustration: "IT WAS TO BE THE EFFORT OF HIS LIFE"]

Having said this, Dawson looked about him nervously. If he had
expected a dagger to be plunged into his back by an unseen foe he
could not have looked around more anxiously; and then he fled,
actually fled in terror into the kitchen, where Chung Lee was
preparing his dinner. Chung was only a Chinaman, but he was a living
creature, and Dawson was afraid to be alone.

"Well, Chung," he said, as affably as he could, "this is a pleasant
change from New York, eh?"

"Plutty good," replied Chung, with a vacant stare at the pantry
door. "Me likes Noo Lork allee same. Dampeemere kind of flunny,
Mister Dawson."

"Funny, Chung?" queried Dawson, observing for the first time that
the Chinaman's queue stood up as straight as a garden stake, and
almost scraped the ceiling as its owner moved about. "Funny?"

"Yeppee, flunny," returned Chung, with a shiver. "Me no likee. Me
flightened."

"Oh, come!" said Dawson, with an affected lightness. "What are you
afraid of?"

"Slumting," said Chung. "Do' know what. Go to bled; no sleepee;
pigtail no stay down; heart go thump allee night."

"By Jove !" thought Dawson; "he's got it too!"

"Evlyting flunny here," resumed Chung.
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« Reply #110 on: November 03, 2009, 02:21:42 am »

"Jack he no likee too."

Jack was the mastiff.

"What's the matter with Jack?" queried Dawson. "You don't mean to
say Jack's afraid?"

"Do' know if he 'flaid," said Chung, "He growl most time."

Clearly there was no comfort for Dawson here. To rid him of his
fears it was evident that Chung could be of no assistance, and
Chung's feeling that even Jack was affected by the uncanny something
was by no means reassuring. Dawson went out into the yard and
whistled for the dog, and in a moment the magnificent animal came
bounding up. Dawson patted him on the back, but Jack, instead of
rejoicing as was his wont over this token of his master's affection,
gave a yelp of pain, which was quite in accord with Dawson's own
feelings, for gentle though the pat was, his hand after it felt as
though he had pressed it upon a bunch of needles.

"What's the matter, old fellow?" said Dawson, ruefully rubbing the
palm of his hand. "Did I hurt you?"

The dog tried to wag his tail, but unavailingly, and Dawson was
again filled with consternation to observe that even as Chung's
queue stood high, even as his own hair would not lie down, so it was
with Jack's soft furry skin. Every hair on it was erect, from the
tip of the poor beast's nose to the end of his tail, and so stiff
withal that when it was pressed from without it pricked the dog
within.

"There seems to be some starch in the air of Dampmere," said Dawson,
thoughtfully, as he turned and walked slowly into the house. "I
wonder what the deuce it all means?"

And then he sought his desk and tried to write, but he soon found
that he could not possibly concentrate his mind upon his work. He
was continually oppressed by the feeling that he was not alone. At
one moment it seemed as if there were a pair of eyes peering at him
from the northeast corner of the room, but as soon as he turned his
own anxious gaze in that direction the difficulty seemed to lie in
the southwest corner.

"Bah!" he cried, starting up and stamping his foot angrily upon the
floor. "The idea! I, Charles Dawson, a man of the world, scared by--
by--well, by nothing. I don't believe in ghosts--and yet--at times I
do believe that this house is haunted. My hair seems to feel the
same way. It stands up like stubble in a wheat-field, and one might
as well try to brush the one as the other. At this rate nothing'll
get done. I'll go to town and see Dr. Bronson. There's something the
matter with me."

So off Dawson went to town.

"I suppose Bronson will think I'm a fool, but I can prove all I say
by my hair," he said, as he rang the doctor's bell. He was instantly
admitted, and shortly after describing his symptoms he called the
doctor's attention to his hair.

If he had pinned his faith to this, he showed that his faith was
misplaced, for when the doctor came to examine it, Dawson's hair was
lying down as softly as it ever had. The doctor looked at Dawson for
a moment, and then, with a dry cough, he said:

[Illustration: "WHEN HE ROSE UP IN THE MORNING HE WOULD FIND EVERY
SINGLE HAIR ON HIS HEAD STANDING ERECT"]

"Dawson, I can conclude one of two things from what you tell me.
Either Dampmere is haunted, which you and I as sane men can't
believe in these days, or else you are playing a practical joke on
me. Now I don't mind a practical joke at the club, my dear fellow,
but here, in my office hours, I can't afford the time to like
anything of the sort. I speak frankly with you, old fellow. I have
to. I hate to do it, but, after all, you've brought it on yourself."

"Doctor," Dawson rejoined, "I believe I'm a sick man, else this
thing wouldn't have happened. I solemnly assure you that I've come
to you because I wanted a prescription, and because I believe myself
badly off."

"You carry it off well, Dawson," said the doctor, severely, "but
I'll prescribe. Go back to Dampmere right away, and when you've seen
the ghost, telegraph me and I'll come down."
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« Reply #111 on: November 03, 2009, 02:22:02 am »

With this Bronson bowed Dawson out, and the latter, poor fellow,
soon found himself on the street utterly disconsolate. He could not
blame Bronson. He could understand how Bronson could come to believe
that, with his hair as the only witness to his woes, and a witness
that failed him at the crucial moment, Bronson should regard his
visit as the outcome of some club wager, in many of which he had
been involved previously.

"I guess his advice is good," said he, as he walked along. "I'll go
back right away--but meanwhile I'll get Billie Perkins to come out
and spend the night with me, and we'll try it on him. I'll ask him
out for a few days."

Suffice it to say that Perkins accepted, and that night found the
two eating supper together outwardly serene. Perkins was quite
interested when Chung brought in the supper.

"Wears his queue Pompadour, I see," he said, as he glanced at
Chung's extraordinary head-dress.

[Illustration: "'WEARS HIS QUEUE POMPADOUR, I SEE'"]

"Yes," said Dawson, shortly.

"You wear your hair that way yourself," he added, for he was pleased
as well as astonished to note that Perkins's hair was manifesting an
upward tendency.

"Nonsense," said Perkins. "It's flat as a comic paper."

"Look at yourself in the glass," said Dawson.

Perkins obeyed. There was no doubt about it. His hair was rising! He
started back uneasily.

"Dawson," he cried, "what is it? I've felt queer ever since I
entered your front door, and I assure you I've been wondering why
you wore your mustache like a pirate all the evening."

"I can't account for it. I've got the creeps myself," said Dawson,
and then he told Perkins all that I have told you.

"Let's--let's go back to New York," said Perkins.

"Can't," replied Dawson. "No train."

"Then," said Perkins, with a shiver, "let's go to bed."

The two men retired, Dawson to the room directly over the parlor,
Perkins to the apartment back of it. For company they left the gas
burning, and in a short time were fast asleep. An hour later Dawson
awakened with a start. Two things oppressed him to the very core of
his being. First, the gas was out; and second, Perkins had
unmistakably groaned.

He leaped from his bed and hastened into the next room.

"Perkins," he cried, "are you ill?"

"Is that you, Dawson?" came a voice from the darkness.

"Yes. Did--did you put out the gas?"
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« Reply #112 on: November 03, 2009, 02:22:34 am »

"No."

"Are you ill?"

"No; but I'm deuced uncomfortable What's this mattress stuffed with--
needles?"

"Needles? No. It's a hair mattress. Isn't it all right?"

"Not by a great deal. I feel as if I had been sleeping on a
porcupine. Light up the gas and let's see what the trouble is."

Dawson did as he was told, wondering meanwhile why the gas had gone
out. No one had turned it out, and yet the key was unmistakably
turned; and, what was worse, on ripping open Perkins's mattress, a
most disquieting state of affairs was disclosed.

_Every single hair in it was standing on end!_

A half-hour later four figures were to be seen wending their way
northward through the darkness--two men, a huge mastiff, and a
Chinaman. The group was made up of Dawson, his guest, his servant,
and his dog. Dampmere was impossible; there was no train until
morning, but not one of them was willing to remain a moment longer
at Dampmere, and so they had to walk.

"What do you suppose it was?" asked Perkins, as they left the third
mile behind them.

"I don't know," said Dawson; "but it must be something terrible. I
don't mind a ghost that will make the hair of living beings stand on
end, but a nameless invisible something that affects a mattress that
way has a terrible potency that I have no desire to combat. It's a
mystery, and, as a rule, I like mysteries, but the mystery of
Dampmere I'd rather let alone."

"Don't say a word about the--ah--the mattress, Charlie," said
Perkins, after awhile. "The fellows'll never believe it."

"No. I was thinking that very same thing," said Dawson.

And they were both true to Dawson's resolve, which is possibly why
the mystery of Dampmere has never been solved.

If any of my readers can furnish a solution, I wish they would do
so, for I am very much interested in the case, and I truly hate to
leave a story of this kind in so unsatisfactory a condition.

A ghost story without any solution strikes me as being about as
useful as a house without a roof.




CARLETON BARKER, FIRST AND SECOND


My first meeting with Carleton Barker was a singular one. A friend
and I, in August, 18--, were doing the English Lake District on
foot, when, on nearing the base of the famous Mount Skiddaw, we
observed on the road, some distance ahead of us, limping along and
apparently in great pain, the man whose subsequent career so sorely
puzzled us. Noting his very evident distress, Parton and I quickened
our pace and soon caught up with the stranger, who, as we reached
his side, fell forward upon his face in a fainting condition--as
well he might, for not only must he have suffered great agony from a
sprained ankle, but inspection of his person disclosed a most
extraordinary gash in his right arm, made apparently with a sharp
knife, and which was bleeding most profusely. To stanch the flow of
blood was our first care, and Parton, having recently been graduated
in medicine, made short work of relieving the sufferer's pain from
his ankle, bandaging it about and applying such soothing properties
as he had in his knapsack--properties, by the way, with which,
knowing the small perils to which pedestrians everywhere are liable,
he was always provided.
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« Reply #113 on: November 03, 2009, 02:23:29 am »

Our patient soon recovered his senses and evinced no little
gratitude for the service we had rendered him, insisting upon our
accepting at his hands, merely, he said, as a souvenir of our good
-Samaritanship, and as a token of his appreciation of the same, a
small pocket-flask and an odd diamond-shaped stone pierced in the
centre, which had hung from the end of his watch-chain, held in
place by a minute gold ring. The flask became the property of
Parton, and to me fell the stone, the exact hue of which I was never
able to determine, since it was chameleonic in its properties. When
it was placed in my hands by our "grateful patient" it was blood
-red; when I looked upon it on the following morning it was of a
livid, indescribable hue, yet lustrous as an opal. To-day it is
colorless and dull, as though some animating quality that it had
once possessed had forever passed from it.

"You seem to have met with an accident," said Parton, when the
injured man had recovered sufficiently to speak.

"Yes," he said, wincing with pain, "I have. I set out for Saddleback
this morning--I wished to visit the Scales Tarn and get a glimpse of
those noonday stars that are said to make its waters lustrous, and--"

"And to catch the immortal fish?" I queried.

"No," he replied, with a laugh. "I should have been satisfied to see
the stars--and I did see the stars, but not the ones I set out to
see. I have always been more or less careless of my safety, walking
with my head in the clouds and letting my feet look out for
themselves. The result was that I slipped on a moss-covered stone
and fell over a very picturesque bit of scenery on to some more
stones that, unfortunately, were not moss-covered."

"But the cut in your arm?" said Parton, suspiciously. "That looks as
if somebody else had given it to you."

The stranger's face flushed as red as could be considering the
amount of blood he had lost, and a look of absolute devilishness
that made my flesh creep came into his eyes. For a moment he did not
speak, and then, covering the delay in his answer with a groan of
anguish, he said:

"Oh, that! Yes--I--I did manage to cut myself rather badly and--"

"I don't see how you could, though," insisted Parton. "You couldn't
reach that part of yourself with a knife, if you tried."
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« Reply #114 on: November 03, 2009, 02:24:03 am »

"That's just the reason why you should see for yourself that it was
caused by my falling on my knife. I had it grasped in my right hand,
intending to cut myself a stick, when I slipped. As I slipped it
flew from my hand and I landed on it, fortunately on the edge and
not on the point," he explained, his manner far from convincing,
though the explanation seemed so simple that to doubt it were
useless.

"Did you recover the knife?" asked Parton. "It must have been a
mighty sharp one, and rather larger than most people carry about
with them on excursions like yours."

"I am not on the witness-stand, sir," returned the other, somewhat
petulantly, "and so I fail to see why you should question me so
closely in regard to so simple a matter--as though you suspected me
of some wrongdoing."

"My friend is a doctor," I explained; for while I was quite as much
interested in the incident, its whys and wherefores, as was Parton,
I had myself noticed that he was suspicious of his chance patient,
and seemingly not so sympathetic as he would otherwise have been.
"He regards you as a case."

"Not at all," returned Parton. "I am simply interested to know how
you hurt yourself--that is all. I mean no offence, I am sure, and if
anything I have said has hurt your feelings I apologize."

"Don't mention it, doctor," replied the other, with an uneasy smile,
holding his left hand out towards Parton as he spoke. "I am in great
pain, as you know, and perhaps I seem irritable. I'm not an amiable
man at best; as for the knife, in my agony I never thought to look
for it again, though I suppose if I had looked I should not have
found it, since it doubtless fell into the underbrush out of sight.
Let it rest there. It has not done me a friendly service to-day and
I shall waste no tears over it."

With which effort at pleasantry he rose with some difficulty to his
feet, and with the assistance of Parton and myself walked on and
into Keswick, where we stopped for the night. The stranger
registered directly ahead of Parton and myself, writing the words,
"Carleton Barker, Calcutta," in the book, and immediately retired to
his room, nor did we see him again that night. After supper we
looked for him, but as he was nowhere to be seen, we concluded that
he had gone to bed to seek the recuperation of rest. Parton and I
lit our cigars and, though somewhat fatigued by our exertions,
strolled quietly about the more or less somnolent burg in which we
were, discussing the events of the day, and chiefly our new
acquaintance.
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« Reply #115 on: November 03, 2009, 02:24:42 am »

"I don't half like that fellow," said Parton, with a dubious shake
of the head. "If a dead body should turn up near or on Skiddaw
to-morrow morning, I wouldn't like to wager that Mr. Carleton Barker
hadn't put it there. He acted to me like a man who had something to
conceal, and if I could have done it without seeming ungracious, I'd
have flung his old flask as far into the fields as I could. I've
half a mind to show my contempt for it now by filling it with some
of that beastly claret they have at the _table d'hôte_ here, and
chucking the whole thing into the lake. It was an insult to offer
those things to us."

"I think you are unjust, Parton," I said. "He certainly did look as
if he had been in a maul with somebody. There was a nasty scratch on
his face, and that cut on the arm was suspicious; but I can't see
but that his explanation was clear enough. Your manner was too
irritating. I think if I had met with an accident and was assisted
by an utter stranger who, after placing me under obligations to him,
acted towards me as though I were an unconvicted criminal, I'd be as
mad as he was; and as for the insult of his offering, in my eyes
that was the only way he could soothe his injured feelings. He was
angry at your suspicions, and to be entirely your debtor for
services didn't please him. His gift to me was made simply because
he did not wish to pay you in substance and me in thanks."

"I don't go so far as to call him an unconvicted criminal, but I'll
swear his record isn't clear as daylight, and I'm morally convinced
that if men's deeds were written on their foreheads Carleton Barker,
esquire, would wear his hat down over his eyes. I don't like him. I
instinctively dislike him. Did you see the look in his eyes when I
mentioned the knife?"

"I did," I replied. "And it made me shudder."
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« Reply #116 on: November 03, 2009, 02:25:01 am »

"It turned every drop of blood in my veins cold," said Parton. "It
made me feel that if he had had that knife within reach he would
have trampled it to powder, even if every stamp of his foot cut his
flesh through to the bone. Malignant is the word to describe that
glance, and I'd rather encounter a rattle-snake than see it again."

Parton spoke with such evident earnestness that I took refuge in
silence. I could see just where a man of Parton's temperament--which
was cold and eminently judicial even when his affections were
concerned--could find that in Barker at which to cavil, but, for all
that, I could not sympathize with the extreme view he took of his
character. I have known many a man upon whose face nature has set
the stamp of the villain much more deeply than it was impressed upon
Barker's countenance, who has lived a life most irreproachable,
whose every act has been one of unselfishness and for the good of
mankind; and I have also seen outward appearing saints whose every
instinct was base; and it seemed to me that the physiognomy of the
unfortunate victim of the moss-covered rock and vindictive knife was
just enough of a medium between that of the irredeemable sinner and
the sterling saint to indicate that its owner was the average man in
the matter of vices and virtues. In fact, the malignancy of his
expression when the knife was mentioned was to me the sole point
against him, and had I been in his position I do not think I should
have acted very differently, though I must add that if I thought
myself capable of freezing any person's blood with an expression of
my eyes I should be strongly tempted to wear blue glasses when in
company or before a mirror.

"I think I'll send my card up to him, Jack," I said to Parton, when
we had returned to the hotel, "just to ask how he is. Wouldn't you?"

"No!" snapped Parton. "But then I'm not you. You can do as you
please. Don't let me influence you against him--if he's to your
taste."

"He isn't at all to my taste," I retorted. "I don't care for him
particularly, but it seems to me courtesy requires that we show a
little interest in his welfare."

"Be courteous, then, and show your interest," said Parton. "I don't
care as long as I am not dragged into it."

I sent my card up by the boy, who, returning in a moment, said that
the door was locked, adding that when he had knocked upon it there
came no answer, from which he presumed that Mr. Barker had gone to
sleep.

"He seemed all right when you took his supper to his room?" I
queried.

"He said he wouldn't have any supper. Just wanted to be left alone,"
said the boy.

"Sulking over the knife still, I imagine," sneered Parton; and then
he and I retired to our room and prepared for bed.

I do not suppose I had slept for more than an hour when I was
awakened by Parton, who was pacing the floor like a caged tiger, his
eyes all ablaze, and laboring under an intense nervous excitement.

"What's the matter, Jack?" I asked, sitting up in bed.

"That d--ned Barker has upset my nerves," he replied. "I can't get
him out of my mind."
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« Reply #117 on: November 03, 2009, 02:27:15 am »

"Oh, pshaw!" I replied. "Don't be silly. Forget him."

"Silly?" he retorted, angrily. "Silly? Forget him? Hang it, I would
forget him if he'd let me--but he won't."

"What has he got to do with it?"

"More than is decent," ejaculated Parton. "More than is decent. He
has just been peering in through that window there, and he means no
good."

"Why, you're mad," I remonstrated. "He couldn't peer in at the
window--we are on the fourth floor, and there is no possible way in
which he could reach the window, much less peer in at it."

"Nevertheless," insisted Parton, "Carleton Barker for ten minutes
previous to your waking was peering in at me through that window
there, and in his glance was that same malignant, hateful quality
that so set me against him to-day--and another thing, Bob," added
Parton, stopping his nervous walk for a moment and shaking his
finger impressively at me--"another thing which I did not tell you
before because I thought it would fill you with that same awful
dread that has come to me since meeting Barker--the blood from that
man's arm, the blood that stained his shirt-sleeve crimson, that
besmeared his clothes, spurted out upon my cuff and coat-sleeve when
I strove to stanch its flow!"

"Yes, I remember that," said I.

"And now look at my cuff and sleeve!" whispered Parton, his face
grown white.

I looked.

There was no stain of any sort whatsoever upon either!

Certainly there must have been something wrong about Carleton
Barker.
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« Reply #118 on: November 03, 2009, 02:27:31 am »

II


The mystery of Carleton Barker was by no means lessened when next
morning it was found that his room not only was empty, but that, as
far as one could judge from the aspect of things therein, it had not
been occupied at all. Furthermore, our chance acquaintance had
vanished, leaving no more trace of his whereabouts than if he had
never existed.

"Good riddance," said Parton. "I am afraid he and I would have come
to blows sooner or later, because the mere thought of him was
beginning to inspire me with a desire to thrash him. I'm sure he
deserves a trouncing, whoever he is."

I, too, was glad the fellow had passed out of our ken, but not for
the reason advanced by Parton. Since the discovery of the stainless
cuff, where marks of blood ought by nature to have been, I goose
-fleshed at the mention of his name. There was something so
inexpressibly uncanny about a creature having a fluid of that sort
in his veins. In fact, so unpleasantly was I impressed by that
episode that I was unwilling even to join in a search for the
mysteriously missing Barker, and by common consent Parton and I
dropped him entirely as a subject for conversation.

We spent the balance of our week at Keswick, using it as our head
-quarters for little trips about the surrounding country, which is
most charmingly adapted to the wants of those inclined to
pedestrianism, and on Sunday evening began preparations for our
departure, discarding our knickerbockers and resuming the
habiliments of urban life, intending on Monday morning to run up to
Edinburgh, there to while away a few days before starting for a
short trip through the Trossachs.

While engaged in packing our portmanteaux there came a sharp knock
at the door, and upon opening it I found upon the hall floor an
envelope addressed to myself. There was no one anywhere in the hall,
and, so quickly had I opened the door after the knock, that fact
mystified me. It would hardly have been possible for any person,
however nimble of foot, to have passed out of sight in the period
which had elapsed between the summons and my response.

"What is it?" asked Parton, observing that I was slightly agitated.

"Nothing," I said, desirous of concealing from him the matter that
bothered me, lest I should be laughed at for my pains. "Nothing,
except a letter for me."

"Not by post, is it?" he queried; to which he added, "Can't be.
There is no mail here to-day. Some friend?"

"I don't know," I said, trying, in a somewhat feminine fashion, to
solve the authorship of the letter before opening it by staring at
the superscription. "I don't recognize the handwriting at all."

I then opened the letter, and glancing hastily at the signature was
filled with uneasiness to see who my correspondent was.
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« Reply #119 on: November 03, 2009, 02:27:57 am »

"It's from that fellow Barker," I said.

"Barker!" cried Parton. "What on earth has Barker been writing to
you about?"

"He is in trouble," I replied, as I read the letter.

"Financial, I presume, and wants a lift?" suggested Parton.

"Worse than that," said I, "he is in prison in London."

"Wha-a-at?" ejaculated Parton. "In prison in London? What for?"

"On suspicion of having murdered an innkeeper in the South of
England on Tuesday, August 16th."

"Well, I'm sorry to say that I believe he was guilty," returned
Parton, without reflecting that the 16th day of August was the day
upon which he and I had first encountered Barker.

"That's your prejudice, Jack," said I. "If you'll think a minute
you'll know he was innocent. He was here on August 16th--last
Tuesday. It was then that you and I saw him for the first time
limping along the road and bleeding from a wound in the shoulder."

"Was Tuesday the 16th?" said Parton, counting the days backward on
his fingers. "That's a fact. It was--but it's none of my affair
anyhow. It is too blessed queer for me to mix myself up in it, and I
say let him languish in jail. He deserved it for something, I am
sure-"

"Well, I'm not so confoundedly heartless," I returned, pounding the
table with my fist, indignant that Parton should allow his
prejudices to run away with his sense of justice. "I'm going to
London to do as he asks."

"What does he want you to do? Prove an alibi?"

"Precisely; and I'm going and you're going, and I shall see if the
landlord here won't let me take one of his boys along to support our
testimony--at my own expense if need be."

"You're right, old chap," returned Parton, after a moment of
internal struggle. "I suppose we really ought to help the fellow out
of his scrape; but I'm decidedly averse to getting mixed up in an
affair of any kind with a man like Carleton Barker, much less in an
affair with murder in it. Is he specific about the murder?"

"No. He refers me to the London papers of the 17th and 18th for
details. He hadn't time to write more, because he comes up for
examination on Tuesday morning, and as our presence is essential to
his case he was necessarily hurried."

"It's deucedly hard luck for us," said Parton, ruefully. "It means
no Scotland this trip."

"How about Barker's luck?" I asked. "He isn't fighting for a
Scottish trip--he's fighting for his life."

And so it happened that on Monday morning, instead of starting for
Edinburgh, we boarded the train for London at Car-lisle. We tried to
get copies of the newspapers containing accounts of the crime that
had been committed, but our efforts were unavailing, and it was not
until we arrived in London and were visited by Barker's attorneys
that we obtained any detailed information whatsoever of the murder;
and when we did get it we were more than ever regretful to be mixed
up in it, for it was an unusually brutal murder. Strange to say, the
evidence against Barker was extraordinarily convincing, considering
that at the time of the commission of the crime he was hundreds of
miles from the scene. There was testimony from railway guards,
neighbors of the murdered innkeeper, and others, that it was Barker
and no one else who committed the crime. His identification was
complete, and the wound in his shoulder was shown almost beyond the
possibility of doubt to have been inflicted by the murdered man in
self-defence.

"Our only hope," said the attorney, gravely, "is in proving an
alibi. I do not know what to believe myself, the chain of evidence
against my client is so complete; and yet he asserts his innocence,
and has stated to me that you two gentlemen could assist in proving
it. If you actually encountered Carleton Barker in the neighborhood
of Keswick on the 16th of this month, the whole case against him
falls to the ground. If not, I fear his outlook has the gallows at
the small end of the perspective."

"We certainly did meet a Carleton Barker at Keswick on Tuesday,
August 16th," returned Parton; "and he was wounded in the shoulder,
and his appearance was what might have been expected of one who had
been through just such a frightful murder as we understand this to
have been; but this was explained to us as due to a fall over rocks
in the vicinity of the Scales Tarn--which was plausible enough to
satisfy my friend here."
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