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THE STORY-TELLER. The Spectre House.

Mr. Enoch P. Gerrish's paper on "The Customs and Costumes of Ardent Spirits" had ended at last, amid a babel of applause froan the members of the Physical Research Society. No one had listened, however ; they applauded because he had finished. For an hour and twenty minutes Mr. Gerrish had kept ,them from their annual dinner. They were soiTy they had re-elected him President. The dinner began, but, to Mf. GerrUh's floating fancy, it never reallyj ended. He ate on and on, abstractedly, and from time to time he lifted a glass and drank, without taking off his eyes from the bunch of celery in front of him. Ho -was thinking. It was not the stuffed grouse, nor the liverwust, nor the Welsh rarebit, nor the Burgundy, "nor even the bunch of celery that induced Mr. Gerrish'si hypnosis. To his mind this debauch was out of place at a meeting of such an important and intellectual society. He was thinking of his next paper, which was to be upon the "Materialization and De-materialisa-tion of Inanimate Objects." If the members had known that he was already thinking of another paper ho would hayo been very much put out. At long intervals, his mind, swimming laboriously through the mazes of his forthcoming argument, rose to the suriaco of things, and he heard, as if borne from miles away, a song at the other end. of the table. He was occasionally hit, unaware, by a flying jest, which exploded in laughter. His mind was on other things, though he still passed his plate mechanically for a fourth helping of rarebit. An impressive company of empty bottles assembled beside his plate. He ate and drank like a machine which someone had started and had forgotten to stop. The dinner did not end ; but the- scene changed, somehow, as in a dream, suddenly — much as a woman changes the subject of a conversation, and with even less reason He found himself in the street, walking unsteadily, trying to find his -\ya-y home. He travelled by instinct and a heavy stick, like^a bird feeling for the North. He kept in the middle of the street and counted his steps, skipping hundreds without noticing it. He was well into the millions when he reached No. 45, Taylor- street. He walked upstairs backwards so as not to wake the baby, crawled through the transom into his loom and disiobed. He got into a night-shirt, brittle and polished as an ostrich egg, and went to bod. His shirt creaked when, he breathed. He fancied ho was still walking, so he kept on counting. Suddenly he sat up, and looked about him, for the candle was burning. He was in bed at No. ,45, Taylor-street. But this house had burned down last March ! He was sure of that, for he had escaped down a ladder with great difficulty, carrying a pitcher of cold water carefully. The crowd had laughed at him. How then could he be in No. 45, Taylor-street, if the house had burned down, or had it burned up? There was the hole in the plastering where he had tried to look through the wall after the Last dinner of the society. The pattern of the wall-paper, too, made faces at him, as ft always did after he had overeaten. The house, then, had been Materialized ! He reached' for the pencil and paper ■whichhe always kept at the head of his bed in case an idea or a ghost ever occurred to him. Ho would make a note of this to use as data for his next essay. Bnt the paper and pencil were not there. They had always gone when he needed them. He got up and looked out of the window. It was almost morning. A milk wagon was passing. From, the next cam© tho sound of snoring, and a housemaid rattling at the kitchen stove. Ho turned back to go to bed. There was hardly room enough left to sleep in. The walls had grown translucent, and ns through a mist, he saw in the backyard his dog smelling at the dustbin. Through blurred, jelly-like walls on either side he saw the windows of the ttljoining houses. His own bowse was fast fading away. The whole front wall, bathed in tho rays of the rising sun, had already disappeared! The ceiling had vanished ! With a sudden, access of light the entiro building melted away, and was gone from sight. He could not see tho floor, though he felt the hard boailds still under his feet, and he ran an invisible sliver into his great toe, removing it with great difficulty. He groped his way, as if he were in the dark, feeling for the bed. ' He found it first with his left shin, and lay down, pulling the covers ewer him in tho same futile way that an .ostrich endeavours to hide itself by putting its head in the sand. The blanket was invisible to thtfe naked eye, but they kept hiih warm. Mr. Gcrrish lay in bed, feeling very silly, watching the city awake. He dared not attempt to cross the floor, for fear of falling downstairs, or out of the windftw. Walking had been difficult enough that night when the house was visible ; wnat would it be when the floor was gone? Ib made him giddy to think of it. He was imprisoned in the sky, like a bird in a ca.j*e, sixty feet from the pavement. He felt like a fish in a glass aquarium, except that he could not swim. He consoled himself with the thought that his nightshirt, «lt least, was visible. He had never wished it risible before. The window next door was opened, and the shade drawn. A housemaid put out her hand to see if it were raining. Then she looked up into" the sky and saw Mr. Gerrish. Did 'she think it was raining middle aged gentlemen in nightshirts? For a long time sho could not remove her eyes ; she was fascinated by the sight. She must have thought it was a belated antrcl, who had missed the last train to Paradise. To Mr. Garrish's relief, she vanished ; but soon reappeared with the cook. The two did not leave that window until all ■was over. A policeman nexb entered that theatre of Mr. Gerrish's misery. The mortified but hicth-ininded gentleman watched through his toes a? the officer walked down tho street. When he reached Mr. GcrrHh's great toe, he stopped, and looked up at the cook and the housemaid^ From these his eyes slowly travelled across the intervening space till they reached the figure of a gentleman in scant attire — alone in the air. "I say, you !" yelled I,he noliceman, "come down out of that ! It's agin the law to sleep out of door 1 *!" Mr. Gerrish waved hds hand, feebly, in mild expostulation. What was the use of trying to explain the situation?

Who would believe that he was in his own house, in his own room, lying on his own bed, and was at heart as modest as a, spinster? Ho would like nothing] better than to be removed or have the ' hou&o returned. I The ,policemnn began to throw stones ! at hian, but only succeeded in breaking i a window. Ho heard the crash, but saw I nothing. It was nob till he had broken ' his own pate against the spectre housu ; that he realised the unique bub illegal ' situation. ■ By this time a .large crowd had gather- j cd s . The 1 cook and. the housemaid had not : onco taken their eyes from Mr. Gerrish ; j he could feel them staring through the ; small of his back. The policeman rang in a fire alarm, and telephoned for the sergeant. After this things went more merrily. Ladders were brought arid leaned against the invisible house, seemingly sup- ! ported by nothing ; no one dared ascend. Men with axes hacked at the walls, for tho door, wherever it was, was locked. A regiment of volunteers was called cut to keep the mob iv check. The Major of tho city appeared and read the Riot Act from the top of a four-wheeled cab. Mr. Gerrish watched all this through halfclosed eyelide; he felt the mortifying situation keenly, and pretended to be asleep to hide his embarrassment. At last, after recklessly mounting a ladder, a fool ,of a policeman rushed in where this angel-in-a-nightshirt had feared to tread. He grabbed Mr. Gerrish in his arms, and after bumping both heads against innumerable obstacles, bore him to the ground amidst the cheers of the now delirious populace. When Mr. Gerrish finally dared to open his eyes and releases his grip from the policeman's neck, every one had .vanished except the cook and the housemaid ; the "house had reappeared as good as new, absolutely opaque in the early dawn. He saw the big black number "45," but it was not like the house from Which he had made a sensational exit. Then ho remembered that No. 45, Tay-lor-street, had been rebuilt after the fire in March. "See here," said the policeman, winking at the housemaid, "you'd better git back to bed, or you'll catch cold ; I caught you. just in time." Mr. Gerrish read 14,000 words on the "Materializaticoi and Dematerialization of Inanimate Objects" at the next dinner of the Psychical Research Society, but no one listened. — Gelett Burgess, in Black and White. ________^__

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19010119.2.63

Bibliographic details

Evening Post, Evening Post, Volume LXI, Issue 16, 19 January 1901

Word Count
1,579

THE STORY-TELLER. The Spectre House. Evening Post, Volume LXI, Issue 16, 19 January 1901

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