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A Fruitless Assignment

Scary Books: Present At A Hanging

Henry Saylor, who was killed in Covington, in a quarrel with Antonio

Finch, was a reporter on the Cincinnati Commercial. In the year

1859 a vacant dwelling in Vine street, in Cincinnati, became the

center of a local excitement because of the strange sights and

sounds said to be observed in it nightly. According to the

testimony of many reputable residents of the vicinity these were

inconsistent with any other hypothe
is than that the house was

haunted. Figures with something singularly unfamiliar about them

were seen by crowds on the sidewalk to pass in and out. No one

could say just where they appeared upon the open lawn on their way

to the front door by which they entered, nor at exactly what point

they vanished as they came out; or, rather, while each spectator was

positive enough about these matters, no two agreed. They were all

similarly at variance in their descriptions of the figures

themselves. Some of the bolder of the curious throng ventured on

several evenings to stand upon the doorsteps to intercept them, or

failing in this, get a nearer look at them. These courageous men,

it was said, were unable to force the door by their united strength,

and always were hurled from the steps by some invisible agency and

severely injured; the door immediately afterward opening, apparently

of its own volition, to admit or free some ghostly guest. The

dwelling was known as the Roscoe house, a family of that name having

lived there for some years, and then, one by one, disappeared, the

last to leave being an old woman. Stories of foul play and

successive murders had always been rife, but never were


One day during the prevalence of the excitement Saylor presented

himself at the office of the Commercial for orders. He received a

note from the city editor which read as follows: "Go and pass the

night alone in the haunted house in Vine street and if anything

occurs worth while make two columns." Saylor obeyed his superior;

he could not afford to lose his position on the paper.

Apprising the police of his intention, he effected an entrance

through a rear window before dark, walked through the deserted

rooms, bare of furniture, dusty and desolate, and seating himself at

last in the parlor on an old sofa which he had dragged in from

another room watched the deepening of the gloom as night came on.

Before it was altogether dark the curious crowd had collected in the

street, silent, as a rule, and expectant, with here and there a

scoffer uttering his incredulity and courage with scornful remarks

or ribald cries. None knew of the anxious watcher inside. He

feared to make a light; the uncurtained windows would have betrayed

his presence, subjecting him to insult, possibly to injury.

Moreover, he was too conscientious to do anything to enfeeble his

impressions and unwilling to alter any of the customary conditions

under which the manifestations were said to occur.

It was now dark outside, but light from the street faintly

illuminated the part of the room that he was in. He had set open

every door in the whole interior, above and below, but all the outer

ones were locked and bolted. Sudden exclamations from the crowd

caused him to spring to the window and look out. He saw the figure

of a man moving rapidly across the lawn toward the building--saw it

ascend the steps; then a projection of the wall concealed it. There

was a noise as of the opening and closing of the hall door; he heard

quick, heavy footsteps along the passage--heard them ascend the

stairs--heard them on the uncarpeted floor of the chamber

immediately overhead.

Saylor promptly drew his pistol, and groping his way up the stairs

entered the chamber, dimly lighted from the street. No one was

there. He heard footsteps in an adjoining room and entered that.

It was dark and silent. He struck his foot against some object on

the floor, knelt by it, passed his hand over it. It was a human

head--that of a woman. Lifting it by the hair this iron-nerved man

returned to the half-lighted room below, carried it near the window

and attentively examined it. While so engaged he was half conscious

of the rapid opening and closing of the outer door, of footfalls

sounding all about him. He raised his eyes from the ghastly object

of his attention and saw himself the center of a crowd of men and

women dimly seen; the room was thronged with them. He thought the

people had broken in.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, coolly, "you see me under

suspicious circumstances, but"--his voice was drowned in peals of

laughter--such laughter as is heard in asylums for the insane. The

persons about him pointed at the object in his hand and their

merriment increased as he dropped it and it went rolling among their

feet. They danced about it with gestures grotesque and attitudes

obscene and indescribable. They struck it with their feet, urging

it about the room from wall to wall; pushed and overthrew one

another in their struggles to kick it; cursed and screamed and sang

snatches of ribald songs as the battered head bounded about the room

as if in terror and trying to escape. At last it shot out of the

door into the hall, followed by all, with tumultuous haste. That

moment the door closed with a sharp concussion. Saylor was alone,

in dead silence.

Carefully putting away his pistol, which all the time he had held in

his hand, he went to a window and looked out. The street was

deserted and silent; the lamps were extinguished; the roofs and

chimneys of the houses were sharply outlined against the dawn-light

in the east. He left the house, the door yielding easily to his

hand, and walked to the Commercial office. The city editor was

still in his office--asleep. Saylor waked him and said: "I have

been at the haunted house."

The editor stared blankly as if not wholly awake. "Good God!" he

cried, "are you Saylor?"

"Yes--why not?" The editor made no answer, but continued staring.

"I passed the night there--it seems," said Saylor.

"They say that things were uncommonly quiet out there," the editor

said, trifling with a paper-weight upon which he had dropped his

eyes, "did anything occur?"

"Nothing whatever."