Thurlow's Christmas Story by John Kendrick Bangs

I

(Being the Statement of Henry Thurlow Author, to George Currier, Editor of the "Idler," a Weekly Journal of Human Interest.)

I have always maintained, my dear Currier, that if a man wishes to be considered sane, and has any particular regard for his reputation as a truth-teller, he would better keep silent as to the singular experiences that enter into his life. I have had many such experiences myself; but I have rarely confided them in detail, or otherwise, to those about me, because I know that even the most trustful of my friends would regard them merely as the outcome of an imagination unrestrained by conscience, or of a gradually weakening mind subject to hallucinations. I know them to be true, but until Mr. Edison or some other modern wizard has invented a search-light strong enough to lay bare the secrets of the mind and conscience of man, I cannot prove to others that they are not pure fabrications, or at least the conjurings of a diseased fancy. For instance, no man would believe me if I were to state to him the plain and indisputable fact that one night last month, on my way up to bed shortly after midnight, having been neither smoking nor drinking, I saw confronting me upon the stairs, with the moonlight streaming through the windows back of me, lighting up its face, a figure in which I recognized my very self in every form and feature. I might describe the chill of terror that struck to the very marrow of my bones, and wellnigh forced me to stagger backward down the stairs, as I noticed in the face of this confronting figure every indication of all the bad qualities which I know myself to possess, of every evil instinct which by no easy effort I have repressed heretofore, and realized that that thing was, as far as I knew, entirely independent of my true self, in which I hope at least the moral has made an honest fight against the immoral always. I might describe this chill, I say, as vividly as I felt it at that moment, but it would be of no use to do so, because, however realistic it might prove as a bit of description, no man would believe that the incident really happened; and yet it did happen as truly as I write, and it has happened a dozen times since, and I am certain that it will happen many times again, though I would give all that I possess to be assured that never again should that disquieting creation of mind or matter, whichever it may be, cross my path. The experience has made me afraid almost to be alone, and I have found myself unconsciously and uneasily glancing at my face in mirrors, in the plate-glass of show-windows on the shopping streets of the city, fearful lest I should find some of those evil traits which I have struggled to keep under, and have kept under so far, cropping out there where all the world, all my world, can see and wonder at, having known me always as a man of right doing and right feeling. Many a time in the night the thought has come to me with prostrating force, what if that thing were to be seen and recognized by others, myself and yet not my whole self, my unworthy self unrestrained and yet recognizable as Henry Thurlow.

I have also kept silent as to that strange condition of affairs which has tortured me in my sleep for the past year and a half; no one but myself has until this writing known that for that period of time I have had a continuous, logical dream-life; a life so vivid and so dreadfully real to me that I have found myself at times wondering which of the two lives I was living and which I was dreaming; a life in which that other wicked self has dominated, and forced me to a career of shame and horror; a life which, being taken up every time I sleep where it ceased with the awakening from a previous sleep, has made me fear to close my eyes in forgetfulness when others are near at hand, lest, sleeping, I shall let fall some speech that, striking on their ears, shall lead them to believe that in secret there is some wicked mystery connected with my life. It would be of no use for me to tell these things. It would merely serve to make my family and my friends uneasy about me if they were told in their awful detail, and so I have kept silent about them. To you alone, and now for the first time, have I hinted as to the troubles which have oppressed me for many days, and to you they are confided only because of the demand you have made that I explain to you the extraordinary complication in which the Christmas story sent you last week has involved me. You know that I am a man of dignity; that I am not a school-boy and a lover of childish tricks; and knowing that, your friendship, at least, should have restrained your tongue and pen when, through the former, on Wednesday, you accused me of perpetrating a trifling, and to you excessively embarrassing, practical joke?a charge which, at the moment, I was too overcome to refute; and through the latter, on Thursday, you reiterated the accusation, coupled with a demand for an explanation of my conduct satisfactory to yourself, or my immediate resignation from the staff of the Idler. To explain is difficult, for I am certain that you will find the explanation too improbable for credence, but explain I must. The alternative, that of resigning from your staff, affects not only my own welfare, but that of my children, who must be provided for; and if my post with you is taken from me, then are all resources gone. I have not the courage to face dismissal, for I have not sufficient confidence in my powers to please elsewhere to make me easy in my mind, or, if I could please elsewhere, the certainty of finding the immediate employment of my talents which is necessary to me, in view of the at present overcrowded condition of the literary field.

To explain, then, my seeming jest at your expense, hopeless as it appears to be, is my task; and to do so as completely as I can, let me go back to the very beginning.

In August you informed me that you would expect me to provide, as I have heretofore been in the habit of doing, a story for the Christmas issue of the Idler; that a certain position in the make -up was reserved for me, and that you had already taken steps to advertise the fact that the story would appear. I undertook the commission, and upon seven different occasions set about putting the narrative into shape. I found great difficulty, however, in doing so. For some reason or other I could not concentrate my mind upon the work. No sooner would I start in on one story than a better one, in my estimation, would suggest itself to me; and all the labor expended on the story already begun would be cast aside, and the new story set in motion. Ideas were plenty enough, but to put them properly upon paper seemed beyond my powers. One story, however, I did finish; but after it had come back to me from my typewriter I read it, and was filled with consternation to discover that it was nothing more nor less than a mass of jumbled sentences, conveying no idea to the mind?a story which had seemed to me in the writing to be coherent had returned to me as a mere bit of incoherence? formless, without ideas?a bit of raving. It was then that I went to you and told you, as you remember, that I was worn out, and needed a month of absolute rest, which you granted. I left my work wholly, and went into the wilderness, where I could be entirely free from everything suggesting labor, and where no summons back to town could reach me. I fished and hunted. I slept; and although, as I have already said, in my sleep I found myself leading a life that was not only not to my taste, but horrible to me in many particulars, I was able at the end of my vacation to come back to town greatly refreshed, and, as far as my feelings went, ready to undertake any amount of work. For two or three days after my return I was busy with other things. On the fourth day after my arrival you came to me, and said that the story must be finished at the very latest by October 15th, and I assured you that you should have it by that time. That night I set about it. I mapped it out, incident by incident, and before starting up to bed had actually written some twelve or fifteen hundred words of the opening chapter?it was to be told in four chapters. When I had gone thus far I experienced a slight return of one of my nervous chills, and, on consulting my watch, discovered that it was after midnight, which was a sufficient explanation of my nervousness: I was merely tired. I arranged my manuscripts on my table so that I might easily take up the work the following morning. I locked up the windows and doors, turned out the lights, and proceeded up-stairs to my room.

[Illustration: "FACE TO FACE"]

It was then that I first came face to face with myself?that other self, in which I recognized, developed to the full, every bit of my capacity for an evil life.

Conceive of the situation if you can. Imagine the horror of it, and then ask yourself if it was likely that when next morning came I could by any possibility bring myself to my work-table in fit condition to prepare for you anything at all worthy of publication in the Idler. I tried. I implore you to believe that I did not hold lightly the responsibilities of the commission you had intrusted to my hands. You must know that if any of your writers has a full appreciation of the difficulties which are strewn along the path of an editor, I, who have myself had an editorial experience, have it, and so would not, in the nature of things, do anything to add to your troubles. You cannot but believe that I have made an honest effort to fulfil my promise to you. But it was useless, and for a week after that visitation was it useless for me to attempt the work. At the end of the week I felt better, and again I started in, and the story developed satisfactorily until?it came again. That figure which was my own figure, that face which was the evil counterpart of my own countenance, again rose up before me, and once more was I plunged into hopelessness.

Thus matters went on until the 14th day of October, when I received your peremptory message that the story must be forthcoming the following day. Needless to tell you that it was not forthcoming; but what I must tell you, since you do not know it, is that on the evening of the 15th day of October a strange thing happened to me, and in the narration of that incident, which I almost despair of your believing, lies my explanation of the discovery of October 16th, which has placed my position with you in peril.

At half-past seven o'clock on the evening of October 15th I was sitting in my library trying to write. I was alone. My wife and children had gone away on a visit to Massachusetts for a week. I had just finished my cigar, and had taken my pen in hand, when my front -door bell rang. Our maid, who is usually prompt in answering summonses of this nature, apparently did not hear the bell, for she did not respond to its clanging. Again the bell rang, and still did it remain unanswered, until finally, at the third ringing, I went to the door myself. On opening it I saw standing before me a man of, I should say, fifty odd years of age, tall, slender, pale-faced, and clad in sombre black. He was entirely unknown to me. I had never seen him before, but he had about him such an air of pleasantness and wholesomeness that I instinctively felt glad to see him, without knowing why or whence he had come.

"Does Mr. Thurlow live here?" he asked.

You must excuse me for going into what may seem to you to be petty details, but by a perfectly circumstantial account of all that happened that evening alone can I hope to give a semblance of truth to my story, and that it must be truthful I realize as painfully as you do.

"I am Mr. Thurlow," I replied.

"Henry Thurlow, the author?" he said, with a surprised look upon his face.

"Yes," said I; and then, impelled by the strange appearance of surprise on the man's countenance, I added, "don't I look like an author?"

He laughed, and candidly admitted that I was not the kind of looking man he had expected to find from reading my books, and then he entered the house in response to my invitation that he do so. I ushered him into my library, and, after asking him to be seated, inquired as to his business with me.

His answer was gratifying at least He replied that he had been a reader of my writings for a number of years, and that for some time past he had had a great desire, not to say curiosity, to meet me and tell me how much he had enjoyed certain of my stories.

"I'm a great devourer of books, Mr. Thurlow," he said, "and I have taken the keenest delight in reading your verses and humorous sketches. I may go further, and say to you that you have helped me over many a hard place in my life by your work. At times when I have felt myself worn out with my business, or face to face with some knotty problem in my career, I have found much relief in picking up and reading your books at random. They have helped me to forget my weariness or my knotty problems for the time being; and to-day, finding myself in this town, I resolved to call upon you this evening and thank you for all that you have done for me."

Thereupon we became involved in a general discussion of literary men and their works, and I found that my visitor certainly did have a pretty thorough knowledge of what has been produced by the writers of to-day. I was quite won over to him by his simplicity, as well as attracted to him by his kindly opinion of my own efforts, and I did my best to entertain him, showing him a few of my little literary treasures in the way of autograph letters, photographs, and presentation copies of well-known books from the authors themselves. From this we drifted naturally and easily into a talk on the methods of work adopted by literary men. He asked me many questions as to my own methods; and when I had in a measure outlined to him the manner of life which I had adopted, telling him of my days at home, how little detail office-work I had, he seemed much interested with the picture?indeed, I painted the picture of my daily routine in almost too perfect colors, for, when I had finished, he observed quietly that I appeared to him to lead the ideal life, and added that he supposed I knew very little unhappiness.

The remark recalled to me the dreadful reality, that through some perversity of fate I was doomed to visitations of an uncanny order which were practically destroying my usefulness in my profession and my sole financial resource.

"Well," I replied, as my mind reverted to the unpleasant predicament in which I found myself, "I can't say that I know little unhappiness. As a matter of fact, I know a great deal of that undesirable thing. At the present moment I am very much embarrassed through my absolute inability to fulfil a contract into which I have entered, and which should have been filled this morning. I was due to-day with a Christmas story. The presses are waiting for it, and I am utterly unable to write it."

He appeared deeply concerned at the confession. I had hoped, indeed, that he might be sufficiently concerned to take his departure, that I might make one more effort to write the promised story. His solicitude, however, showed itself in another way. Instead of leaving me, he ventured the hope that he might aid me.

"What kind of a story is it to be?" he asked.

"Oh, the usual ghostly tale," I said, "with a dash of the Christmas flavor thrown in here and there to make it suitable to the season."

"Ah," he observed. "And you find your vein worked out?"

It was a direct and perhaps an impertinent question; but I thought it best to answer it, and to answer it as well without giving him any clew as to the real facts. I could not very well take an entire stranger into my confidence, and describe to him the extraordinary encounters I was having with an uncanny other self. He would not have believed the truth, hence I told him an untruth, and assented to his proposition.

"Yes," I replied, "the vein is worked out. I have written ghost stories for years now, serious and comic, and I am to-day at the end of my tether?compelled to move forward and yet held back."

"That accounts for it," he said, simply. "When I first saw you to -night at the door I could not believe that the author who had provided me with so much merriment could be so pale and worn and seemingly mirthless. Pardon me, Mr. Thurlow, for my lack of consideration when I told you that you did not appear as I had expected to find you."

I smiled my forgiveness, and he continued:

"It may be," he said, with a show of hesitation?"it may be that I have come not altogether inopportunely. Perhaps I can help you."

I smiled again. "I should be most grateful if you could," I said.

"But you doubt my ability to do so?" he put in. "Oh?well?yes?of course you do; and why shouldn't you? Nevertheless, I have noticed this: At times when I have been baffled in my work a mere hint from another, from one who knew nothing of my work, has carried me on to a solution of my problem. I have read most of your writings, and I have thought over some of them many a time, and I have even had ideas for stories, which, in my own conceit, I have imagined were good enough for you, and I have wished that I possessed your facility with the pen that I might make of them myself what I thought you would make of them had they been ideas of your own."

The old gentleman's pallid face reddened as he said this, and while I was hopeless as to anything of value resulting from his ideas, I could not resist the temptation to hear what he had to say further, his manner was so deliciously simple, and his desire to aid me so manifest. He rattled on with suggestions for a half-hour. Some of them were good, but none were new. Some were irresistibly funny, and did me good because they made me laugh, and I hadn't laughed naturally for a period so long that it made me shudder to think of it, fearing lest I should forget how to be mirthful. Finally I grew tired of his persistence, and, with a very ill-concealed impatience, told him plainly that I could do nothing with his suggestions, thanking him, however, for the spirit of kindliness which had prompted him to offer them. He appeared somewhat hurt, but immediately desisted, and when nine o'clock came he rose up to go. As he walked to the door he seemed to be undergoing some mental struggle, to which, with a sudden resolve, he finally succumbed, for, after having picked up his hat and stick and donned his overcoat, he turned to me and said:

"Mr. Thurlow, I don't want to offend you. On the contrary, it is my dearest wish to assist you. You have helped me, as I have told you. Why may I not help you?"

[Illustration: "HE RATTLED ON FOR HALF AN HOUR"]

"I assure you, sir?" I began, when he interrupted me.

"One moment, please," he said, putting his hand into the inside pocket of his black coat and extracting from it an envelope addressed to me. "Let me finish: it is the whim of one who has an affection for you. For ten years I have secretly been at work myself on a story. It is a short one, but it has seemed good to me. I had a double object in seeking you out to-night. I wanted not only to see you, but to read my story to you. No one knows that I have written it; I had intended it as a surprise to my?to my friends. I had hoped to have it published somewhere, and I had come here to seek your advice in the matter. It is a story which I have written and rewritten and rewritten time and time again in my leisure moments during the ten years past, as I have told you. It is not likely that I shall ever write another. I am proud of having done it, but I should be prouder yet if it?if it could in some way help you. I leave it with you, sir, to print or to destroy; and if you print it, to see it in type will be enough for me; to see your name signed to it will be a matter of pride to me. No one will ever be the wiser, for, as I say, no one knows I have written it, and I promise you that no one shall know of it if you decide to do as I not only suggest but ask you to do. No one would believe me after it has appeared as yours, even if I should forget my promise and claim it as my own. Take it. It is yours. You are entitled to it as a slight measure of repayment for the debt of gratitude I owe you."

He pressed the manuscript into my hands, and before I could reply had opened the door and disappeared into the darkness of the street. I rushed to the sidewalk and shouted out to him to return, but I might as well have saved my breath and spared the neighborhood, for there was no answer. Holding his story in my hand, I re-entered the house and walked back into my library, where, sitting and reflecting upon the curious interview, I realized for the first time that I was in entire ignorance as to my visitor's name and address.

[Illustration: "THE DEMON VANISHED"]

I opened the envelope hoping to find them, but they were not there. The envelope contained merely a finely written manuscript of thirty odd pages, unsigned.

And then I read the story. When I began it was with a half-smile upon my lips, and with a feeling that I was wasting my time. The smile soon faded, however; after reading the first paragraph there was no question of wasted time. The story was a masterpiece. It is needless to say to you that I am not a man of enthusiasms. It is difficult to arouse that emotion in my breast, but upon this occasion I yielded to a force too great for me to resist. I have read the tales of Hoffmann and of Poe, the wondrous romances of De La Motte Fouque, the unfortunately little-known tales of the lamented Fitz-James O'Brien, the weird tales of writers of all tongues have been thoroughly sifted by me in the course of my reading, and I say to you now that in the whole of my life I never read one story, one paragraph, one line, that could approach in vivid delineation, in weirdness of conception, in anything, in any quality which goes to make up the truly great story, that story which came into my hands as I have told you. I read it once and was amazed. I read it a second time and was?tempted. It was mine. The writer himself had authorized me to treat it as if it were my own; had voluntarily sacrificed his own claim to its authorship that he might relieve me of my very pressing embarrassment. Not only this; he had almost intimated that in putting my name to his work I should be doing him a favor. Why not do so, then, I asked myself; and immediately my better self rejected the idea as impossible. How could I put out as my own another man's work and retain my self -respect? I resolved on another and better course?to send you the story in lieu of my own with a full statement of the circumstances under which it had come into my possession, when that demon rose up out of the floor at my side, this time more evil of aspect than before, more commanding in its manner. With a groan I shrank back into the cushions of my chair, and by passing my hands over my eyes tried to obliterate forever the offending sight; but it was useless. The uncanny thing approached me, and as truly as I write sat upon the edge of my couch, where for the first time it addressed me.

"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?"

"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."

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 d?ouement, and yet a d?ouement 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.

"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 r?um?/i> 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'"]

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.

"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."

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?"

"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.