The Rival Ghosts
Scary Books: Humorous Ghost Stories
BY BRANDER MATTHEWS
The good ship sped on her way across the calm Atlantic. It was an
outward passage, according to the little charts which the company had
charily distributed, but most of the passengers were homeward bound,
after a summer of rest and recreation, and they were counting the days
before they might hope to see Fire Island Light. On the lee side of the
boat, comfortably sheltered from the win
, and just by the door of the
captain's room (which was theirs during the day), sat a little group of
returning Americans. The Duchess (she was down on the purser's list as
Mrs. Martin, but her friends and familiars called her the Duchess of
Washington Square) and Baby Van Rensselaer (she was quite old enough to
vote, had her sex been entitled to that duty, but as the younger of two
sisters she was still the baby of the family)--the Duchess and Baby Van
Rensselaer were discussing the pleasant English voice and the not
unpleasant English accent of a manly young lordling who was going to
America for sport. Uncle Larry and Dear Jones were enticing each other
into a bet on the ship's run of the morrow.
"I'll give you two to one she don't make 420," said Dear Jones.
"I'll take it," answered Uncle Larry. "We made 427 the fifth day last
year." It was Uncle Larry's seventeenth visit to Europe, and this was
therefore his thirty-fourth voyage.
"And when did you get in?" asked Baby Van Rensselaer. "I don't care a
bit about the run, so long as we get in soon."
"We crossed the bar Sunday night, just seven days after we left
Queenstown, and we dropped anchor off Quarantine at three o'clock on
"I hope we sha'n't do that this time. I can't seem to sleep any when the
"I can, but I didn't," continued Uncle Larry, "because my stateroom was
the most for'ard in the boat, and the donkey-engine that let down the
anchor was right over my head."
"So you got up and saw the sun rise over the bay," said Dear Jones,
"with the electric lights of the city twinkling in the distance, and the
first faint flush of the dawn in the east just over Fort Lafayette, and
the rosy tinge which spread softly upward, and----"
"Did you both come back together?" asked the Duchess.
"Because he has crossed thirty-four times you must not suppose he has a
monopoly in sunrises," retorted Dear Jones. "No; this was my own
sunrise; and a mighty pretty one it was too."
"I'm not matching sunrises with you," remarked Uncle Larry calmly;
"but I'm willing to back a merry jest called forth by my sunrise against
any two merry jests called forth by yours."
"I confess reluctantly that my sunrise evoked no merry jest at all."
Dear Jones was an honest man, and would scorn to invent a merry jest on
the spur of the moment.
"That's where my sunrise has the call," said Uncle Larry, complacently.
"What was the merry jest?" was Baby Van Rensselaer's inquiry, the
natural result of a feminine curiosity thus artistically excited.
"Well, here it is. I was standing aft, near a patriotic American and a
wandering Irishman, and the patriotic American rashly declared that you
couldn't see a sunrise like that anywhere in Europe, and this gave the
Irishman his chance, and he said, 'Sure ye don't have'm here till we're
through with 'em over there.'"
"It is true," said Dear Jones, thoughtfully, "that they do have some
things over there better than we do; for instance, umbrellas."
"And gowns," added the Duchess.
"And antiquities."--this was Uncle Larry's contribution.
"And we do have some things so much better in America!" protested Baby
Van Rensselaer, as yet uncorrupted by any worship of the effete
monarchies of despotic Europe. "We make lots of things a great deal
nicer than you can get them in Europe--especially ice-cream."
"And pretty girls," added Dear Jones; but he did not look at her.
"And spooks," remarked Uncle Larry, casually.
"Spooks?" queried the Duchess.
"Spooks. I maintain the word. Ghost, if you like that better, or
specters. We turn out the best quality of spook----"
"You forget the lovely ghost stories about the Rhine and the Black
Forest," interrupted Miss Van Rensselaer, with feminine inconsistency.
"I remember the Rhine and the Black Forest and all the other haunts of
elves and fairies and hobgoblins; but for good honest spooks there is no
place like home. And what differentiates our spook--spiritus
Americanus--from the ordinary ghost of literature is that it responds
to the American sense of humor. Take Irving's stories, for example. The
'Headless Horseman'--that's a comic ghost story. And Rip Van
Winkle--consider what humor, and what good humor, there is in the
telling of his meeting with the goblin crew of Hendrik Hudson's men! A
still better example of this American way of dealing with legend and
mystery is the marvelous tale of the rival ghosts."
"The rival ghosts!" queried the Duchess and Baby Van Rensselaer
together. "Who were they?"
"Didn't I ever tell you about them?" answered Uncle Larry, a gleam of
approaching joy flashing from his eye.
"Since he is bound to tell us sooner or later, we'd better be resigned
and hear it now," said Dear Jones.
"If you are not more eager, I won't tell it at all."
"Oh, do, Uncle Larry! you know I just dote on ghost stories," pleaded
Baby Van Rensselaer.
"Once upon a time," began Uncle Larry--"in fact, a very few years
ago--there lived in the thriving town of New York a young American
called Duncan--Eliphalet Duncan. Like his name, he was half Yankee and
half Scotch, and naturally he was a lawyer, and had come to New York to
make his way. His father was a Scotchman who had come over and settled
in Boston and married a Salem girl. When Eliphalet Duncan was about
twenty he lost both of his parents. His father left him enough money to
give him a start, and a strong feeling of pride in his Scotch birth; you
see there was a title in the family in Scotland, and although
Eliphalet's father was the younger son of a younger son, yet he always
remembered, and always bade his only son to remember, that this ancestry
was noble. His mother left him her full share of Yankee grit and a
little old house in Salem which had belonged to her family for more than
two hundred years. She was a Hitchcock, and the Hitchcocks had been
settled in Salem since the year 1. It was a great-great-grandfather of
Mr. Eliphalet Hitchcock who was foremost in the time of the Salem
witchcraft craze. And this little old house which she left to my friend,
Eliphalet Duncan, was haunted."
"By the ghost of one of the witches, of course?" interrupted Dear Jones.
"Now how could it be the ghost of a witch, since the witches were all
burned at the stake? You never heard of anybody who was burned having a
ghost, did you?" asked Uncle Larry.
"That's an argument in favor of cremation, at any rate," replied Dear
Jones, evading the direct question.
"It is, if you don't like ghosts. I do," said Baby Van Rensselaer.
"And so do I," added Uncle Larry. "I love a ghost as dearly as an
Englishman loves a lord."
"Go on with your story," said the Duchess, majestically overruling all
"This little old house at Salem was haunted," resumed Uncle Larry. "And
by a very distinguished ghost--or at least by a ghost with very
"What was he like?" asked Baby Van Rensselaer, with a premonitory shiver
of anticipatory delight.
"It had a lot of peculiarities. In the first place, it never appeared to
the master of the house. Mostly it confined its visitations to unwelcome
guests. In the course of the last hundred years it had frightened away
four successive mothers-in-law, while never intruding on the head of the
"I guess that ghost had been one of the boys when he was alive and in
the flesh." This was Dear Jones's contribution to the telling of the
"In the second place," continued Uncle Larry, "it never frightened
anybody the first time it appeared. Only on the second visit were the
ghost-seers scared; but then they were scared enough for twice, and they
rarely mustered up courage enough to risk a third interview. One of the
most curious characteristics of this well-meaning spook was that it had
no face--or at least that nobody ever saw its face."
"Perhaps he kept his countenance veiled?" queried the Duchess, who was
beginning to remember that she never did like ghost stories.
"That was what I was never able to find out. I have asked several people
who saw the ghost, and none of them could tell me anything about its
face, and yet while in its presence they never noticed its features, and
never remarked on their absence or concealment. It was only afterwards
when they tried to recall calmly all the circumstances of meeting with
the mysterious stranger that they became aware that they had not seen
its face. And they could not say whether the features were covered, or
whether they were wanting, or what the trouble was. They knew only that
the face was never seen. And no matter how often they might see it, they
never fathomed this mystery. To this day nobody knows whether the ghost
which used to haunt the little old house in Salem had a face, or what
manner of face it had."
"How awfully weird!" said Baby Van Rensselaer. "And why did the ghost go
"I haven't said it went away," answered Uncle Larry, with much dignity.
"But you said it used to haunt the little old house at Salem, so I
supposed it had moved. Didn't it?" the young lady asked.
"You shall be told in due time. Eliphalet Duncan used to spend most of
his summer vacations at Salem, and the ghost never bothered him at all,
for he was the master of the house--much to his disgust, too, because he
wanted to see for himself the mysterious tenant at will of his property.
But he never saw it, never. He arranged with friends to call him
whenever it might appear, and he slept in the next room with the door
open; and yet when their frightened cries waked him the ghost was gone,
and his only reward was to hear reproachful sighs as soon as he went
back to bed. You see, the ghost thought it was not fair of Eliphalet to
seek an introduction which was plainly unwelcome."
Dear Jones interrupted the story-teller by getting up and tucking a
heavy rug more snugly around Baby Van Rensselaer's feet, for the sky was
now overcast and gray, and the air was damp and penetrating.
"One fine spring morning," pursued Uncle Larry, "Eliphalet Duncan
received great news. I told you that there was a title in the family in
Scotland, and that Eliphalet's father was the younger son of a younger
son. Well, it happened that all Eliphalet's father's brothers and
uncles had died off without male issue except the eldest son of the
eldest son, and he, of course, bore the title, and was Baron Duncan of
Duncan. Now the great news that Eliphalet Duncan received in New York
one fine spring morning was that Baron Duncan and his only son had been
yachting in the Hebrides, and they had been caught in a black squall,
and they were both dead. So my friend Eliphalet Duncan inherited the
title and the estates."
"How romantic!" said the Duchess. "So he was a baron!"
"Well," answered Uncle Larry, "he was a baron if he chose. But he didn't
"More fool he!" said Dear Jones, sententiously.
"Well," answered Uncle Larry, "I'm not so sure of that. You see,
Eliphalet Duncan was half Scotch and half Yankee, and he had two eyes to
the main chance. He held his tongue about his windfall of luck until he
could find out whether the Scotch estates were enough to keep up the
Scotch title. He soon discovered that they were not, and that the late
Lord Duncan, having married money, kept up such state as he could out of
the revenues of the dowry of Lady Duncan. And Eliphalet, he decided that
he would rather be a well-fed lawyer in New York, living comfortably on
his practice, than a starving lord in Scotland, living scantily on his
"But he kept his title?" asked the Duchess.
"Well," answered Uncle Larry, "he kept it quiet. I knew it, and a friend
or two more. But Eliphalet was a sight too smart to put 'Baron Duncan of
Duncan, Attorney and Counselor at Law,' on his shingle."
"What has all this got to do with your ghost?" asked Dear Jones,
"Nothing with that ghost, but a good deal with another ghost. Eliphalet
was very learned in spirit lore--perhaps because he owned the haunted
house at Salem, perhaps because he was a Scotchman by descent. At all
events, he had made a special study of the wraiths and white ladies and
banshees and bogies of all kinds whose sayings and doings and warnings
are recorded in the annals of the Scottish nobility. In fact, he was
acquainted with the habits of every reputable spook in the Scotch
peerage. And he knew that there was a Duncan ghost attached to the
person of the holder of the title of Baron Duncan of Duncan."
"So, besides being the owner of a haunted house in Salem, he was also a
haunted man in Scotland?" asked Baby Van Rensselaer.
"Just so. But the Scotch ghost was not unpleasant, like the Salem ghost,
although it had one peculiarity in common with its transatlantic
fellow-spook. It never appeared to the holder of the title, just as the
other never was visible to the owner of the house. In fact, the Duncan
ghost was never seen at all. It was a guardian angel only. Its sole duty
was to be in personal attendance on Baron Duncan of Duncan, and to warn
him of impending evil. The traditions of the house told that the Barons
of Duncan had again and again felt a premonition of ill fortune. Some of
them had yielded and withdrawn from the venture they had undertaken, and
it had failed dismally. Some had been obstinate, and had hardened their
hearts, and had gone on reckless to defeat and to death. In no case had
a Lord Duncan been exposed to peril without fair warning."
"Then how came it that the father and son were lost in the yacht off the
Hebrides?" asked Dear Jones.
"Because they were too enlightened to yield to superstition. There is
extant now a letter of Lord Duncan, written to his wife a few minutes
before he and his son set sail, in which he tells her how hard he has
had to struggle with an almost overmastering desire to give up the trip.
Had he obeyed the friendly warning of the family ghost, the letter would
have been spared a journey across the Atlantic."
"Did the ghost leave Scotland for America as soon as the old baron
died?" asked Baby Van Rensselaer, with much interest.
"How did he come over," queried Dear Jones--"in the steerage, or as a
"I don't know," answered Uncle Larry, calmly, "and Eliphalet didn't
know. For as he was in no danger, and stood in no need of warning, he
couldn't tell whether the ghost was on duty or not. Of course he was on
the watch for it all the time. But he never got any proof of its
presence until he went down to the little old house of Salem, just
before the Fourth of July. He took a friend down with him--a young
fellow who had been in the regular army since the day Fort Sumter was
fired on, and who thought that after four years of the little
unpleasantness down South, including six months in Libby, and after ten
years of fighting the bad Indians on the plains, he wasn't likely to be
much frightened by a ghost. Well, Eliphalet and the officer sat out on
the porch all the evening smoking and talking over points in military
law. A little after twelve o'clock, just as they began to think it was
about time to turn in, they heard the most ghastly noise in the house.
It wasn't a shriek, or a howl, or a yell, or anything they could put a
name to. It was an undeterminate, inexplicable shiver and shudder of
sound, which went wailing out of the window. The officer had been at
Cold Harbor, but he felt himself getting colder this time. Eliphalet
knew it was the ghost who haunted the house. As this weird sound died
away, it was followed by another, sharp, short, blood-curdling in its
intensity. Something in this cry seemed familiar to Eliphalet, and he
felt sure that it proceeded from the family ghost, the warning wraith of
"Do I understand you to intimate that both ghosts were there together?"
inquired the Duchess, anxiously.
"Both of them were there," answered Uncle Larry. "You see, one of them
belonged to the house, and had to be there all the time, and the other
was attached to the person of Baron Duncan, and had to follow him there;
wherever he was, there was that ghost also. But Eliphalet, he had
scarcely time to think this out when he heard both sounds again, not one
after another, but both together, and something told him--some sort of
an instinct he had--that those two ghosts didn't agree, didn't get on
together, didn't exactly hit it off; in fact, that they were
"Quarreling ghosts! Well, I never!" was Baby Van Rensselaer's remark.
"It is a blessed thing to see ghosts dwell together in unity," said Dear
And the Duchess added, "It would certainly be setting a better example."
"You know," resumed Uncle Larry, "that two waves of light or of sound
may interfere and produce darkness or silence. So it was with these
rival spooks. They interfered, but they did not produce silence or
darkness. On the contrary, as soon as Eliphalet and the officer went
into the house, there began at once a series of spiritualistic
manifestations--a regular dark seance. A tambourine was played upon, a
bell was rung, and a flaming banjo went singing around the room."
"Where did they get the banjo?" asked Dear Jones, sceptically.
"I don't know. Materialized it, maybe, just as they did the tambourine.
You don't suppose a quiet New York lawyer kept a stock of musical
instruments large enough to fit out a strolling minstrel troupe just on
the chance of a pair of ghosts coming to give him a surprise party, do
you? Every spook has its own instrument of torture. Angels play on
harps, I'm informed, and spirits delight in banjos and tambourines.
These spooks of Eliphalet Duncan's were ghosts with all modern
improvements, and I guess they were capable of providing their own
musical weapons. At all events, they had them there in the little old
house at Salem the night Eliphalet and his friend came down. And they
played on them, and they rang the bell, and they rapped here, there, and
everywhere. And they kept it up all night."
"All night?" asked the awe-stricken Duchess.
"All night long," said Uncle Larry, solemnly; "and the next night too.
Eliphalet did not get a wink of sleep, neither did his friend. On the
second night the house ghost was seen by the officer; on the third night
it showed itself again; and the next morning the officer packed his
gripsack and took the first train to Boston. He was a New Yorker, but he
said he'd sooner go to Boston than see that ghost again. Eliphalet
wasn't scared at all, partly because he never saw either the domiciliary
or the titular spook, and partly because he felt himself on friendly
terms with the spirit world, and didn't scare easily. But after losing
three nights' sleep and the society of his friend, he began to be a
little impatient, and to think that the thing had gone far enough. You
see, while in a way he was fond of ghosts, yet he liked them best one at
a time. Two ghosts were one too many. He wasn't bent on making a
collection of spooks. He and one ghost were company, but he and two
ghosts were a crowd."
"What did he do?" asked Baby Van Rensselaer.
"Well he couldn't do anything. He waited awhile, hoping they would get
tired; but he got tired out first. You see, it comes natural to a spook
to sleep in the daytime, but a man wants to sleep nights, and they
wouldn't let him sleep nights. They kept on wrangling and quarreling
incessantly; they manifested and they dark-seanced as regularly as the
old clock on the stairs struck twelve; they rapped and they rang bells
and they banged the tambourine and they threw the flaming banjo about
the house, and, worse than all, they swore."
"I did not know that spirits were addicted to bad language," said the
"How did he know they were swearing? Could he hear them?" asked Dear
"That was just it," responded Uncle Larry; "he could not hear them--at
least, not distinctly. There were inarticulate murmurs and stifled
rumblings. But the impression produced on him was that they were
swearing. If they had only sworn right out, he would not have minded it
so much, because he would have known the worst. But the feeling that the
air was full of suppressed profanity was very wearing, and after
standing it for a week he gave up in disgust and went to the White
"Leaving them to fight it out, I suppose," interjected Baby Van
"Not at all," explained Uncle Larry. "They could not quarrel unless he
was present. You see, he could not leave the titular ghost behind him,
and the domiciliary ghost could not leave the house. When he went away
he took the family ghost with him, leaving the house ghost behind. Now
spooks can't quarrel when they are a hundred miles apart any more than
"And what happened afterwards?" asked Baby Van Rensselaer, with a pretty
"A most marvelous thing happened. Eliphalet Duncan went to the White
Mountains, and in the car of the railroad that runs to the top of Mount
Washington he met a classmate whom he had not seen for years, and this
classmate introduced Duncan to his sister, and this sister was a
remarkably pretty girl, and Duncan fell in love with her at first sight,
and by the time he got to the top of Mount Washington he was so deep in
love that he began to consider his own unworthiness, and to wonder
whether she might ever be induced to care for him a little--ever so
"I don't think that is so marvelous a thing," said Dear Jones, glancing
at Baby Van Rensselaer.
"Who was she?" asked the Duchess, who had once lived in Philadelphia.
"She was Miss Kitty Sutton, of San Francisco, and she was a daughter of
old Judge Sutton, of the firm of Pixley & Sutton."
"A very respectable family," assented the Duchess.
"I hope she wasn't a daughter of that loud and vulgar old Mrs. Sutton
whom I met at Saratoga one summer four or five years ago?" said Dear
"Probably she was," Uncle Larry responded.
"She was a horrid old woman. The boys used to call her Mother Gorgon."
"The pretty Kitty Sutton with whom Eliphalet Duncan had fallen in love
was the daughter of Mother Gorgon. But he never saw the mother, who was
in Frisco, or Los Angeles, or Santa Fe, or somewhere out West, and he
saw a great deal of the daughter, who was up in the White Mountains. She
was traveling with her brother and his wife, and as they journeyed from
hotel to hotel Duncan went with them, and filled out the quartette.
Before the end of the summer he began to think about proposing. Of
course he had lots of chances, going on excursions as they were every
day. He made up his mind to seize the first opportunity, and that very
evening he took her out for a moonlight row on Lake Winipiseogee. As he
handed her into the boat he resolved to do it, and he had a glimmer of
suspicion that she knew he was going to do it, too."
"Girls," said Dear Jones, "never go out in a rowboat at night with a
young man unless you mean to accept him."
"Sometimes it's best to refuse him, and get it over once for all," said
Baby Van Rensselaer, impersonally.
"As Eliphalet took the oars he felt a sudden chill. He tried to shake it
off, but in vain. He began to have a growing consciousness of impending
evil. Before he had taken ten strokes--and he was a swift oarsman--he
was aware of a mysterious presence between him and Miss Sutton."
"Was it the guardian-angel ghost warning him off the match?" interrupted
"That's just what it was," said Uncle Larry. "And he yielded to it, and
kept his peace, and rowed Miss Sutton back to the hotel with his
"More fool he," said Dear Jones. "It will take more than one ghost to
keep me from proposing when my mind is made up." And he looked at Baby
"The next morning," continued Uncle Larry, "Eliphalet overslept himself,
and when he went down to a late breakfast he found that the Suttons had
gone to New York by the morning train. He wanted to follow them at once,
and again he felt the mysterious presence overpowering his will. He
struggled two days, and at last he roused himself to do what he wanted
in spite of the spook. When he arrived in New York it was late in the
evening. He dressed himself hastily, and went to the hotel where the
Suttons were, in the hope of seeing at least her brother. The guardian
angel fought every inch of the walk with him, until he began to wonder
whether, if Miss Sutton were to take him, the spook would forbid the
banns. At the hotel he saw no one that night, and he went home
determined to call as early as he could the next afternoon, and make an
end of it. When he left his office about two o'clock the next day to
learn his fate, he had not walked five blocks before he discovered that
the wraith of the Duncans had withdrawn his opposition to the suit.
There was no feeling of impending evil, no resistance, no struggle, no
consciousness of an opposing presence. Eliphalet was greatly encouraged.
He walked briskly to the hotel; he found Miss Sutton alone. He asked her
the question, and got his answer."
"She accepted him, of course?" said Baby Van Rensselaer.
"Of course," said Uncle Larry. "And while they were in the first flush
of joy, swapping confidences and confessions, her brother came into the
parlor with an expression of pain on his face and a telegram in his
hand. The former was caused by the latter, which was from Frisco, and
which announced the sudden death of Mrs. Sutton, their mother."
"And that was why the ghost no longer opposed the match?" questioned
"Exactly. You see, the family ghost knew that Mother Gorgon was an awful
obstacle to Duncan's happiness, so it warned him. But the moment the
obstacle was removed, it gave its consent at once."
The fog was lowering its thick, damp curtain, and it was beginning to be
difficult to see from one end of the boat to the other. Dear Jones
tightened the rug which enwrapped Baby Van Rensselaer, and then withdrew
again into his own substantial coverings.
Uncle Larry paused in his story long enough to light another of the tiny
cigars he always smoked.
"I infer that Lord Duncan"--the Duchess was scrupulous in the bestowal
of titles--"saw no more of the ghosts after he was married."
"He never saw them at all, at any time, either before or since. But they
came very near breaking off the match, and thus breaking two young
"You don't mean to say that they knew any just cause or impediment why
they should not forever after hold their peace?" asked Dear Jones.
"How could a ghost, or even two ghosts, keep a girl from marrying the
man she loved?" This was Baby Van Rensselaer's question.
"It seems curious, doesn't it?" and Uncle Larry tried to warm himself by
two or three sharp pulls at his fiery little cigar. "And the
circumstances are quite as curious as the fact itself. You see, Miss
Sutton wouldn't be married for a year after her mother's death, so she
and Duncan had lots of time to tell each other all they knew. Eliphalet
got to know a good deal about the girls she went to school with; and
Kitty soon learned all about his family. He didn't tell her about the
title for a long time, as he wasn't one to brag. But he described to
her the little old house at Salem. And one evening towards the end of
the summer, the wedding-day having been appointed for early in
September, she told him that she didn't want a bridal tour at all; she
just wanted to go down to the little old house at Salem to spend her
honeymoon in peace and quiet, with nothing to do and nobody to bother
them. Well, Eliphalet jumped at the suggestion: it suited him down to
the ground. All of a sudden he remembered the spooks, and it knocked him
all of a heap. He had told her about the Duncan banshee, and the idea of
having an ancestral ghost in personal attendance on her husband tickled
her immensely. But he had never said anything about the ghost which
haunted the little old house at Salem. He knew she would be frightened
out of her wits if the house ghost revealed itself to her, and he saw at
once that it would be impossible to go to Salem on their wedding trip.
So he told her all about it, and how whenever he went to Salem the two
ghosts interfered, and gave dark seances and manifested and materialized
and made the place absolutely impossible. Kitty listened in silence, and
Eliphalet thought she had changed her mind. But she hadn't done anything
of the kind."
"Just like a man--to think she was going to," remarked Baby Van
"She just told him she could not bear ghosts herself, but she would not
marry a man who was afraid of them."
"Just like a girl--to be so inconsistent," remarked Dear Jones.
Uncle Larry's tiny cigar had long been extinct. He lighted a new one,
and continued: "Eliphalet protested in vain. Kitty said her mind was
made up. She was determined to pass her honeymoon in the little old
house at Salem, and she was equally determined not to go there as long
as there were any ghosts there. Until he could assure her that the
spectral tenant had received notice to quit, and that there was no
danger of manifestations and materializing, she refused to be married at
all. She did not intend to have her honeymoon interrupted by two
wrangling ghosts, and the wedding could be postponed until he had made
ready the house for her."
"She was an unreasonable young woman," said the Duchess.
"Well, that's what Eliphalet thought, much as he was in love with her.
And he believed he could talk her out of her determination. But he
couldn't. She was set. And when a girl is set, there's nothing to do but
to yield to the inevitable. And that's just what Eliphalet did. He saw
he would either have to give her up or to get the ghosts out; and as he
loved her and did not care for the ghosts, he resolved to tackle the
ghosts. He had clear grit, Eliphalet had--he was half Scotch and half
Yankee and neither breed turns tail in a hurry. So he made his plans and
he went down to Salem. As he said good-by to Kitty he had an impression
that she was sorry she had made him go; but she kept up bravely, and
put a bold face on it, and saw him off, and went home and cried for an
hour, and was perfectly miserable until he came back the next day."
"Did he succeed in driving the ghosts away?" asked Baby Van Rensselaer,
with great interest.
"That's just what I'm coming to," said Uncle Larry, pausing at the
critical moment, in the manner of the trained story-teller. "You see,
Eliphalet had got a rather tough job, and he would gladly have had an
extension of time on the contract, but he had to choose between the girl
and the ghosts, and he wanted the girl. He tried to invent or remember
some short and easy way with ghosts, but he couldn't. He wished that
somebody had invented a specific for spooks--something that would make
the ghosts come out of the house and die in the yard. He wondered if he
could not tempt the ghosts to run in debt, so that he might get the
sheriff to help him. He wondered also whether the ghosts could not be
overcome with strong drink--a dissipated spook, a spook with delirium
tremens, might be committed to the inebriate asylum. But none of these
things seemed feasible."
"What did he do?" interrupted Dear Jones. "The learned counsel will
please speak to the point."
"You will regret this unseemly haste," said Uncle Larry, gravely, "when
you know what really happened."
"What was it, Uncle Larry?" asked Baby Van Rensselaer. "I'm all
And Uncle Larry proceeded:
"Eliphalet went down to the little old house at Salem, and as soon as
the clock struck twelve the rival ghosts began wrangling as before. Raps
here, there, and everywhere, ringing bells, banging tambourines,
strumming banjos sailing about the room, and all the other
manifestations and materializations followed one another just as they
had the summer before. The only difference Eliphalet could detect was a
stronger flavor in the spectral profanity; and this, of course, was only
a vague impression, for he did not actually hear a single word. He
waited awhile in patience, listening and watching. Of course he never
saw either of the ghosts, because neither of them could appear to him.
At last he got his dander up, and he thought it was about time to
interfere, so he rapped on the table, and asked for silence. As soon as
he felt that the spooks were listening to him he explained the situation
to them. He told them he was in love, and that he could not marry unless
they vacated the house. He appealed to them as old friends, and he laid
claim to their gratitude. The titular ghost had been sheltered by the
Duncan family for hundreds of years, and the domiciliary ghost had had
free lodging in the little old house at Salem for nearly two centuries.
He implored them to settle their differences, and to get him out of his
difficulty at once. He suggested that they had better fight it out then
and there, and see who was master. He had brought down with him all
needful weapons. And he pulled out his valise, and spread on the table a
pair of navy revolvers, a pair of shotguns, a pair of dueling-swords,
and a couple of bowie knives. He offered to serve as second for both
parties, and to give the word when to begin. He also took out of his
valise a pack of cards and a bottle of poison, telling them that if they
wished to avoid carnage they might cut the cards to see which one should
take the poison. Then he waited anxiously for their reply. For a little
space there was silence. Then he became conscious of a tremulous
shivering in one corner of the room, and he remembered that he had heard
from that direction what sounded like a frightened sigh when he made the
first suggestion of the duel. Something told him that this was the
domiciliary ghost, and that it was badly scared. Then he was impressed
by a certain movement in the opposite corner of the room, as though the
titular ghost were drawing himself up with offended dignity. Eliphalet
couldn't exactly see those things, because he never saw the ghosts, but
he felt them. After a silence of nearly a minute a voice came from the
corner where the family ghost stood--a voice strong and full, but
trembling slightly with suppressed passion. And this voice told
Eliphalet it was plain enough that he had not long been the head of the
Duncans, and that he had never properly considered the characteristics
of his race if now he supposed that one of his blood could draw his
sword against a woman. Eliphalet said he had never suggested that the
Duncan ghost should raise his hand against a woman, and all he wanted
was that the Duncan ghost should fight the other ghost. And then the
voice told Eliphalet that the other ghost was a woman."
"What?" said Dear Jones, sitting up suddenly. "You don't mean to tell me
that the ghost which haunted the house was a woman?"
"Those were the very words Eliphalet Duncan used," said Uncle Larry;
"but he did not need to wait for the answer. All at once he recalled the
traditions about the domiciliary ghost, and he knew that what the
titular ghost said was the fact. He had never thought of the sex of a
spook, but there was no doubt whatever that the house ghost was a woman.
No sooner was this firmly fixed in Eliphalet's mind than he saw his way
out of the difficulty. The ghosts must be married!--for then there would
be no more interference, no more quarreling, no more manifestations and
materializations, no more dark seances, with their raps and bells and
tambourines and banjos. At first the ghosts would not hear of it. The
voice in the corner declared that the Duncan wraith had never thought of
matrimony. But Eliphalet argued with them, and pleaded and pursuaded and
coaxed, and dwelt on the advantages of matrimony. He had to confess, of
course, that he did not know how to get a clergyman to marry them; but
the voice from the corner gravely told him that there need be no
difficulty in regard to that, as there was no lack of spiritual
chaplains. Then, for the first time, the house ghost spoke, a low,
clear, gentle voice, and with a quaint, old-fashioned New England
accent, which contrasted sharply with the broad Scotch speech of the
family ghost. She said that Eliphalet Duncan seemed to have forgotten
that she was married. But this did not upset Eliphalet at all; he
remembered the whole case clearly, and he told her she was not a married
ghost, but a widow, since her husband had been hanged for murdering her.
Then the Duncan ghost drew attention to the great disparity in their
ages, saying that he was nearly four hundred and fifty years old, while
she was barely two hundred. But Eliphalet had not talked to juries for
nothing; he just buckled to, and coaxed those ghosts into matrimony.
Afterwards he came to the conclusion that they were willing to be
coaxed, but at the time he thought he had pretty hard work to convince
them of the advantages of the plan."
"Did he succeed?" asked Baby Van Rensselaer, with a woman's interest in
"He did," said Uncle Larry. "He talked the wraith of the Duncans and the
specter of the little old house at Salem into a matrimonial engagement.
And from the time they were engaged he had no more trouble with them.
They were rival ghosts no longer. They were married by their spiritual
chaplain the very same day that Eliphalet Duncan met Kitty Sutton in
front of the railing of Grace Church. The ghostly bride and bridegroom
went away at once on their bridal tour, and Lord and Lady Duncan went
down to the little old house at Salem to pass their honeymoon."
Uncle Larry stopped. His tiny cigar was out again. The tale of the rival
ghosts was told. A solemn silence fell on the little party on the deck
of the ocean steamer, broken harshly by the hoarse roar of the