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The Water Ghost Of Harrowby Hall






BY JOHN KENDRICK BANGS


The trouble with Harrowby Hall was that it was haunted, and, what was
worse, the ghost did not content itself with merely appearing at the
bedside of the afflicted person who saw it, but persisted in remaining
there for one mortal hour before it would disappear.

It never appeared except on Christmas Eve, and then as the clock was
striking twelve, in which respect alone was it lacking in that
originality which in these days is a sine qua non of success in
spectral life. The owners of Harrowby Hall had done their utmost to rid
themselves of the damp and dewy lady who rose up out of the best bedroom
floor at midnight, but without avail. They had tried stopping the clock,
so that the ghost would not know when it was midnight; but she made her
appearance just the same, with that fearful miasmatic personality of
hers, and there she would stand until everything about her was
thoroughly saturated.

Then the owners of Harrowby Hall caulked up every crack in the floor
with the very best quality of hemp, and over this were placed layers of
tar and canvas; the walls were made waterproof, and the doors and
windows likewise, the proprietors having conceived the notion that the
unexorcised lady would find it difficult to leak into the room after
these precautions had been taken; but even this did not suffice. The
following Christmas Eve she appeared as promptly as before, and
frightened the occupant of the room quite out of his senses by sitting
down alongside of him and gazing with her cavernous blue eyes into his;
and he noticed, too, that in her long, aqueously bony fingers bits of
dripping seaweed were entwined, the ends hanging down, and these ends
she drew across his forehead until he became like one insane. And then
he swooned away, and was found unconscious in his bed the next morning
by his host, simply saturated with sea-water and fright, from the
combined effects of which he never recovered, dying four years later of
pneumonia and nervous prostration at the age of seventy-eight.

The next year the master of Harrowby Hall decided not to have the best
spare bedroom opened at all, thinking that perhaps the ghost's thirst
for making herself disagreeable would be satisfied by haunting the
furniture, but the plan was as unavailing as the many that had preceded
it.

The ghost appeared as usual in the room--that is, it was supposed she
did, for the hangings were dripping wet the next morning, and in the
parlor below the haunted room a great damp spot appeared on the
ceiling. Finding no one there, she immediately set out to learn the
reason why, and she chose none other to haunt than the owner of the
Harrowby himself. She found him in his own cosey room drinking
whiskey--whiskey undiluted--and felicitating himself upon having foiled
her ghost-ship, when all of a sudden the curl went out of his hair, his
whiskey bottle filled and overflowed, and he was himself in a condition
similar to that of a man who has fallen into a water-butt. When he
recovered from the shock, which was a painful one, he saw before him the
lady of the cavernous eyes and seaweed fingers. The sight was so
unexpected and so terrifying that he fainted, but immediately came to,
because of the vast amount of water in his hair, which, trickling down
over his face, restored his consciousness.

Now it so happened that the master of Harrowby was a brave man, and
while he was not particularly fond of interviewing ghosts, especially
such quenching ghosts as the one before him, he was not to be daunted by
an apparition. He had paid the lady the compliment of fainting from the
effects of his first surprise, and now that he had come to he intended
to find out a few things he felt he had a right to know. He would have
liked to put on a dry suit of clothes first, but the apparition declined
to leave him for an instant until her hour was up, and he was forced to
deny himself that pleasure. Every time he would move she would follow
him, with the result that everything she came in contact with got a
ducking. In an effort to warm himself up he approached the fire, an
unfortunate move as it turned out, because it brought the ghost directly
over the fire, which immediately was extinguished. The whiskey became
utterly valueless as a comforter to his chilled system, because it was
by this time diluted to a proportion of ninety per cent of water. The
only thing he could do to ward off the evil effects of his encounter he
did, and that was to swallow ten two-grain quinine pills, which he
managed to put into his mouth before the ghost had time to interfere.
Having done this, he turned with some asperity to the ghost, and said:

"Far be it from me to be impolite to a woman, madam, but I'm hanged if
it wouldn't please me better if you'd stop these infernal visits of
yours to this house. Go sit out on the lake, if you like that sort of
thing; soak the water-butt, if you wish; but do not, I implore you, come
into a gentleman's house and saturate him and his possessions in this
way. It is damned disagreeable."

"Henry Hartwick Oglethorpe," said the ghost, in a gurgling voice, "you
don't know what you are talking about."

"Madam," returned the unhappy householder, "I wish that remark were
strictly truthful. I was talking about you. It would be shillings and
pence--nay, pounds, in my pocket, madam, if I did not know you."

"That is a bit of specious nonsense," returned the ghost, throwing a
quart of indignation into the face of the master of Harrowby. "It may
rank high as repartee, but as a comment upon my statement that you do
not know what you are talking about, it savors of irrelevant
impertinence. You do not know that I am compelled to haunt this place
year after year by inexorable fate. It is no pleasure to me to enter
this house, and ruin and mildew everything I touch. I never aspired to
be a shower-bath, but it is my doom. Do you know who I am?"

"No, I don't," returned the master of Harrowby. "I should say you were
the Lady of the Lake, or Little Sallie Waters."

"You are a witty man for your years," said the ghost.

"Well, my humor is drier than yours ever will be," returned the master.

"No doubt. I'm never dry. I am the Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall, and
dryness is a quality entirely beyond my wildest hope. I have been the
incumbent of this highly unpleasant office for two hundred years
to-night."

"How the deuce did you ever come to get elected?" asked the master.

"Through a suicide," replied the specter. "I am the ghost of that fair
maiden whose picture hangs over the mantelpiece in the drawing-room. I
should have been your great-great-great-great-great-aunt if I had lived,
Henry Hartwick Oglethorpe, for I was the own sister of your
great-great-great-great-grandfather."

"But what induced you to get this house into such a predicament?"

"I was not to blame, sir," returned the lady. "It was my father's fault.
He it was who built Harrowby Hall, and the haunted chamber was to have
been mine. My father had it furnished in pink and yellow, knowing well
that blue and gray formed the only combination of color I could
tolerate. He did it merely to spite me, and, with what I deem a proper
spirit, I declined to live in the room; whereupon my father said I could
live there or on the lawn, he didn't care which. That night I ran from
the house and jumped over the cliff into the sea."

"That was rash," said the master of Harrowby.

"So I've heard," returned the ghost. "If I had known what the
consequences were to be I should not have jumped; but I really never
realized what I was doing until after I was drowned. I had been drowned
a week when a sea-nymph came to me and informed me that I was to be one
of her followers forever afterwards, adding that it should be my doom to
haunt Harrowby Hall for one hour every Christmas Eve throughout the rest
of eternity. I was to haunt that room on such Christmas Eves as I found
it inhabited; and if it should turn out not to be inhabited, I was and
am to spend the allotted hour with the head of the house."

"I'll sell the place."

"That you cannot do, for it is also required of me that I shall appear
as the deeds are to be delivered to any purchaser, and divulge to him
the awful secret of the house."

"Do you mean to tell me that on every Christmas Eve that I don't happen
to have somebody in that guest-chamber, you are going to haunt me
wherever I may be, ruining my whiskey, taking all the curl out of my
hair, extinguishing my fire, and soaking me through to the skin?"
demanded the master.

"You have stated the case, Oglethorpe. And what is more," said the water
ghost, "it doesn't make the slightest difference where you are, if I
find that room empty, wherever you may be I shall douse you with my
spectral pres----"

Here the clock struck one, and immediately the apparition faded away. It
was perhaps more of a trickle than a fade, but as a disappearance it was
complete.

"By St. George and his Dragon!" ejaculated the master of Harrowby,
wringing his hands. "It is guineas to hot-cross buns that next Christmas
there's an occupant of the spare room, or I spend the night in a
bathtub."

But the master of Harrowby would have lost his wager had there been
anyone there to take him up, for when Christmas Eve came again he was in
his grave, never having recovered from the cold contracted that awful
night. Harrowby Hall was closed, and the heir to the estate was in
London, where to him in his chambers came the same experience that his
father had gone through, saving only that, being younger and stronger,
he survived the shock. Everything in his rooms was ruined--his clocks
were rusted in the works; a fine collection of water-color drawings was
entirely obliterated by the onslaught of the water ghost; and what was
worse, the apartments below his were drenched with the water soaking
through the floors, a damage for which he was compelled to pay, and
which resulted in his being requested by his landlady to vacate the
premises immediately.

The story of the visitation inflicted upon his family had gone abroad,
and no one could be got to invite him out to any function save afternoon
teas and receptions. Fathers of daughters declined to permit him to
remain in their houses later than eight o'clock at night, not knowing
but that some emergency might arise in the supernatural world which
would require the unexpected appearance of the water ghost in this on
nights other than Christmas Eve, and before the mystic hour when weary
churchyards, ignoring the rules which are supposed to govern polite
society, begin to yawn. Nor would the maids themselves have aught to do
with him, fearing the destruction by the sudden incursion of aqueous
femininity of the costumes which they held most dear.

So the heir of Harrowby Hall resolved, as his ancestors for several
generations before him had resolved, that something must be done. His
first thought was to make one of his servants occupy the haunted room at
the crucial moment; but in this he failed, because the servants
themselves knew the history of that room and rebelled. None of his
friends would consent to sacrifice their personal comfort to his, nor
was there to be found in all England a man so poor as to be willing to
occupy the doomed chamber on Christmas Eve for pay.

Then the thought came to the heir to have the fireplace in the room
enlarged, so that he might evaporate the ghost at its first appearance,
and he was felicitating himself upon the ingenuity of his plan, when he
remembered what his father had told him--how that no fire could
withstand the lady's extremely contagious dampness. And then he
bethought him of steam-pipes. These, he remembered, could lie hundreds
of feet deep in water, and still retain sufficient heat to drive the
water away in vapor; and as a result of this thought the haunted room
was heated by steam to a withering degree, and the heir for six months
attended daily the Turkish baths, so that when Christmas Eve came he
could himself withstand the awful temperature of the room.

The scheme was only partially successful. The water ghost appeared at
the specified time, and found the heir of Harrowby prepared; but hot as
the room was, it shortened her visit by no more than five minutes in the
hour, during which time the nervous system of the young master was
well-nigh shattered, and the room itself was cracked and warped to an
extent which required the outlay of a large sum of money to remedy. And
worse than this, as the last drop of the water ghost was slowly
sizzling itself out on the floor, she whispered to her would-be
conqueror that his scheme would avail him nothing, because there was
still water in great plenty where she came from, and that next year
would find her rehabilitated and as exasperatingly saturating as ever.

It was then that the natural action of the mind, in going from one
extreme to the other, suggested to the ingenious heir of Harrowby the
means by which the water ghost was ultimately conquered, and happiness
once more came within the grasp of the house of Oglethorpe.

The heir provided himself with a warm suit of fur under-clothing.
Donning this with the furry side in, he placed over it a rubber garment,
tight-fitting, which he wore just as a woman wears a jersey. On top of
this he placed another set of under-clothing, this suit made of wool,
and over this was a second rubber garment like the first. Upon his head
he placed a light and comfortable diving helmet, and so clad, on the
following Christmas Eve he awaited the coming of his tormentor.

It was a bitterly cold night that brought to a close this twenty-fourth
day of December. The air outside was still, but the temperature was
below zero. Within all was quiet, the servants of Harrowby Hall awaiting
with beating hearts the outcome of their master's campaign against his
supernatural visitor.

The master himself was lying on the bed in the haunted room, clad as
has already been indicated, and then----

The clock clanged out the hour of twelve.

There was a sudden banging of doors, a blast of cold air swept through
the halls, the door leading into the haunted chamber flew open, a splash
was heard, and the water ghost was seen standing at the side of the heir
of Harrowby, from whose outer dress there streamed rivulets of water,
but whose own person deep down under the various garments he wore was as
dry and as warm as he could have wished.

"Ha!" said the young master of Harrowby. "I'm glad to see you."

"You are the most original man I've met, if that is true," returned the
ghost. "May I ask where did you get that hat?"

"Certainly, madam," returned the master, courteously. "It is a little
portable observatory I had made for just such emergencies as this. But,
tell me, is it true that you are doomed to follow me about for one
mortal hour--to stand where I stand, to sit where I sit?"

"That is my delectable fate," returned the lady.

"We'll go out on the lake," said the master, starting up.

"You can't get rid of me that way," returned the ghost. "The water won't
swallow me up; in fact, it will just add to my present bulk."

"Nevertheless," said the master, firmly, "we will go out on the lake."

"But, my dear sir," returned the ghost, with a pale reluctance, "it is
fearfully cold out there. You will be frozen hard before you've been out
ten minutes."

"Oh no, I'll not," replied the master. "I am very warmly dressed. Come!"
This last in a tone of command that made the ghost ripple.

And they started.

They had not gone far before the water ghost showed signs of distress.

"You walk too slowly," she said. "I am nearly frozen. My knees are so
stiff now I can hardly move. I beseech you to accelerate your step."

"I should like to oblige a lady," returned the master, courteously, "but
my clothes are rather heavy, and a hundred yards an hour is about my
speed. Indeed, I think we would better sit down here on this snowdrift,
and talk matters over."

"Do not! Do not do so, I beg!" cried the ghost. "Let me move on. I feel
myself growing rigid as it is. If we stop here, I shall be frozen
stiff."

"That, madam," said the master slowly, and seating himself on an
ice-cake--"that is why I have brought you here. We have been on this
spot just ten minutes; we have fifty more. Take your time about it,
madam, but freeze, that is all I ask of you."

"I cannot move my right leg now," cried the ghost, in despair, "and my
overskirt is a solid sheet of ice. Oh, good, kind Mr. Oglethorpe, light
a fire, and let me go free from these icy fetters."

"Never, madam. It cannot be. I have you at last."

"Alas!" cried the ghost, a tear trickling down her frozen cheek. "Help
me, I beg. I congeal!"

"Congeal, madam, congeal!" returned Oglethorpe, coldly. "You have
drenched me and mine for two hundred and three years, madam. To-night
you have had your last drench."

"Ah, but I shall thaw out again, and then you'll see. Instead of the
comfortably tepid, genial ghost I have been in my past, sir, I shall be
iced-water," cried the lady, threateningly.

"No, you won't, either," returned Oglethorpe; "for when you are frozen
quite stiff, I shall send you to a cold-storage warehouse, and there
shall you remain an icy work of art forever more."

"But warehouses burn."

"So they do, but this warehouse cannot burn. It is made of asbestos and
surrounding it are fireproof walls, and within those walls the
temperature is now and shall forever be 416 degrees below the zero
point; low enough to make an icicle of any flame in this world--or the
next," the master added, with an ill-suppressed chuckle.

"For the last time let me beseech you. I would go on my knees to you,
Oglethorpe, were they not already frozen. I beg of you do not doo----"

Here even the words froze on the water-ghost's lips and the clock struck
one. There was a momentary tremor throughout the ice-bound form, and the
moon, coming out from behind a cloud, shone down on the rigid figure of
a beautiful woman sculptured in clear, transparent ice. There stood the
ghost of Harrowby Hall, conquered by the cold, a prisoner for all time.

The heir of Harrowby had won at last, and to-day in a large storage
house in London stands the frigid form of one who will never again flood
the house of Oglethorpe with woe and sea-water.

As for the heir of Harrowby, his success in coping with a ghost has made
him famous, a fame that still lingers about him, although his victory
took place some twenty years ago; and so far from being unpopular with
the fair sex, as he was when we first knew him, he has not only been
married twice, but is to lead a third bride to the altar before the year
is out.





Next: Back From That Bourne

Previous: The Rival Ghosts



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