Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 3

  • The next morning, when the Otis family met at breakfast, they discussed th_host at some length. The United States Minister was naturally a littl_nnoyed to find that his present had not been accepted. “I have no wish,” h_aid, “to do the ghost any personal injury, and I must say that, considerin_he length of time he has been in the house, I don’t think it is at all polit_o throw pillows at him”—a very just remark, at which, I am sorry to say, th_wins burst into shouts of laughter. “Upon the other hand,” he continued, “i_e really declines to use the Rising Sun Lubricator, we shall have to take hi_hains from him. It would be quite impossible to sleep, with such a nois_oing on outside the bedrooms.”
  • For the rest of the week, however, they were undisturbed, the only thing tha_xcited any attention being the continual renewal of the blood-stain on th_ibrary floor. This certainly was very strange, as the door was always locke_t night by Mr. Otis, and the windows kept closely barred. The chameleon-lik_olour, also, of the stain excited a good deal of comment. Some mornings i_as a dull (almost Indian) red, then it would be vermilion, then a ric_urple, and once when they came down for family prayers, according to th_imple rites of the Free American Reformed Episcopalian Church, they found i_ bright emerald-green. These kaleidoscopic changes naturally amused the part_ery much, and bets on the subject were freely made every evening. The onl_erson who did not enter into the joke was little Virginia, who, for som_nexplained reason, was always a good deal distressed at the sight of th_lood-stain, and very nearly cried the morning it was emerald-green.
  • The second appearance of the ghost was on Sunday night. Shortly after they ha_one to bed they were suddenly alarmed by a fearful crash in the hall. Rushin_ownstairs, they found that a large suit of old armour had become detache_rom 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 expressio_f acute agony on his face. The twins, having brought their pea-shooters wit_hem, at once discharged two pellets on him, with that accuracy of aim whic_an only be attained by long and careful practice on a writing-master, whil_he 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 _ist, extinguishing Washington Otis’s candle as he passed, and so leaving the_ll in total darkness. On reaching the top of the staircase he recovere_imself, and determined to give his celebrated peal of demoniac laughter. Thi_e had on more than one occasion found extremely useful. It was said to hav_urned Lord Raker’s wig grey in a single night, and had certainly made thre_f Lady Canterville’s French governesses give warning before their month wa_p. He accordingly laughed his most horrible laugh, till the old vaulted roo_ang and rang again, but hardly had the fearful echo died away when a doo_pened, and Mrs. Otis came out in a light blue dressing-gown. “I am afraid yo_re far from well,” she said, “and have brought you a bottle of Dr. Dobell’_incture. If it is indigestion, you will find it a most excellent remedy.” Th_host glared at her in fury, and began at once to make preparations fo_urning himself into a large black dog, an accomplishment for which he wa_ustly renowned, and to which the family doctor always attributed th_ermanent idiocy of Lord Canterville’s uncle, the Hon. Thomas Horton. Th_ound of approaching footsteps, however, made him hesitate in his fel_urpose, so he contented himself with becoming faintly phosphorescent, an_anished 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 mos_iolent agitation. The vulgarity of the twins, and the gross materialism o_rs. Otis, were naturally extremely annoying, but what really distressed hi_ost was, that he had been unable to wear the suit of mail. He had hoped tha_ven 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 nationa_oet Longfellow, over whose graceful and attractive poetry he himself ha_hiled away many a weary hour when the Cantervilles were up in town. Besides,
  • it was his own suit. He had worn it with great success at the Kenilwort_ournament, and had been highly complimented on it by no less a person tha_he Virgin Queen herself. Yet when he had put it on, he had been completel_verpowered by the weight of the huge breastplate and steel casque, and ha_allen heavily on the stone pavement, barking both his knees severely, an_ruising the knuckles of his right hand.
  • For some days after this he was extremely ill, and hardly stirred out of hi_oom at all, except to keep the blood-stain in proper repair. However, b_aking great care of himself, he recovered, and resolved to make a thir_ttempt to frighten the United States Minister and his family. He selecte_riday, the 17th of August, for his appearance, and spent most of that day i_ooking over his wardrobe, ultimately deciding in favour of a large slouche_at with a red feather, a winding-sheet frilled at the wrists and neck, and _usty dagger. Towards evening a violent storm of rain came on, and the win_as 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. H_as to make his way quietly to Washington Otis’s room, gibber at him from th_oot of the bed, and stab himself three times in the throat to the sound o_ow music. He bore Washington a special grudge, being quite aware that it wa_e who was in the habit of removing the famous Canterville blood-stain, b_eans of Pinkerton’s Paragon Detergent. Having reduced the reckless an_oolhardy youth to a condition of abject terror, he was then to proceed to th_oom occupied by the United States Minister and his wife, and there to place _lammy hand on Mrs. Otis’s forehead, while he hissed into her tremblin_usband’s ear the awful secrets of the charnel-house. With regard to littl_irginia, he had not quite made up his mind. She had never insulted him in an_ay, and was pretty and gentle. A few hollow groans from the wardrobe, h_hought, would be more than sufficient, or, if that failed to wake her, h_ight grabble at the counterpane with palsy-twitching fingers. As for th_wins, he was quite determined to teach them a lesson. The first thing to b_one was, of course, to sit upon their chests, so as to produce the stiflin_ensation of nightmare. Then, as their beds were quite close to each other, t_tand between them in the form of a green, icy-cold corpse, till they becam_aralysed with fear, and finally, to throw off the winding-sheet, and craw_ound the room, with white, bleached bones and one rolling eyeball, in th_haracter of ‘Dumb Daniel, or the Suicide’s Skeleton,’ a rôle in which he ha_n more than one occasion produced a great effect, and which he considere_uite 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 time he wa_isturbed by wild shrieks of laughter from the twins, who, with the light-
  • hearted gaiety of schoolboys, were evidently amusing themselves before the_etired to rest, but at a quarter past eleven all was still, and, as midnigh_ounded, he sallied forth. The owl beat against the window panes, the rave_roaked from the old yew-tree, and the wind wandered moaning round the hous_ike a lost soul; but the Otis family slept unconscious of their doom, an_igh above the rain and storm he could hear the steady snoring of the Ministe_or the United States. He stepped stealthily out of the wainscoting, with a_vil smile on his cruel, wrinkled mouth, and the moon hid her face in a clou_s he stole past the great oriel window, where his own arms and those of hi_urdered wife were blazoned in azure and gold. On and on he glided, like a_vil shadow, the very darkness seeming to loathe him as he passed. Once h_hought he heard something call, and stopped; but it was only the baying of _og from the Red Farm, and he went on, muttering strange sixteenth-centur_urses, 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’_oom. For a moment he paused there, the wind blowing his long grey locks abou_is head, and twisting into grotesque and fantastic folds the nameless horro_f the dead man’s shroud. Then the clock struck the quarter, and he felt th_ime was come. He chuckled to himself, and turned the corner; but no soone_ad he done so, than, with a piteous wail of terror, he fell back, and hid hi_lanched face in his long, bony hands. Right in front of him was standing _orrible spectre, motionless as a carven image, and monstrous as a madman’_ream! 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 o_ire, and a hideous garment, like to his own, swathed with its silent snow_he Titan form. On its breast was a placard with strange writing in antiqu_haracters, some scroll of shame it seemed, some record of wild sins, som_wful calendar of crime, and, with its right hand, it bore aloft a falchion o_leaming 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, an_inally dropping the rusty dagger into the Minister’s jack-boots, where it wa_ound 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 th_lothes. After a time, however, the brave old Canterville spirit asserte_tself, and he determined to go and speak to the other ghost as soon as it wa_aylight. Accordingly, just as the dawn was touching the hills with silver, h_eturned 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 ai_f his new friend, he might safely grapple with the twins. On reaching th_pot, however, a terrible sight met his gaze. Something had evidently happene_o the spectre, for the light had entirely faded from its hollow eyes, th_leaming falchion had fallen from its hand, and it was leaning up against th_all in a strained and uncomfortable attitude. He rushed forward and seized i_n his arms, when, to his horror, the head slipped off and rolled on th_loor, the body assumed a recumbent posture, and he found himself clasping _hite dimity bed-curtain, with a sweeping-brush, a kitchen cleaver, and _ollow turnip lying at his feet! Unable to understand this curiou_ransformation, he clutched the placard with feverish haste, and there, in th_rey morning light, he read these fearful words:—
  • > 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, an_utwitted! The old Canterville look came into his eyes; he ground hi_oothless gums together; and, raising his withered hands high above his head,
  • swore, according to the picturesque phraseology of the antique school, tha_hen Chanticleer had sounded twice his merry horn, deeds of blood would b_rought, and Murder walk abroad with silent feet.
  • Hardly had he finished this awful oath when, from the red-tiled roof of _istant homestead, a cock crew. He laughed a long, low, bitter laugh, an_aited. Hour after hour he waited, but the cock, for some strange reason, di_ot crow again. Finally, at half-past seven, the arrival of the housemaid_ade him give up his fearful vigil, and he stalked back to his room, thinkin_f his vain oath and baffled purpose. There he consulted several books o_ncient chivalry, of which he was exceedingly fond, and found that, on ever_ccasion on which this oath had been used, Chanticleer had always crowed _econd time. “Perdition seize the naughty fowl,” he muttered, “I have seen th_ay when, with my stout spear, I would have run him through the gorge, an_ade him crow for me an ’twere in death!” He then retired to a comfortabl_ead coffin, and stayed there till evening.