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Colonel Starbottle's Client by Bret Harte

Part 4 out of 4

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"Toime to rouse out, Myryan, and make the foire," said the
mediaeval 'Arry. The custodian smiled with superior toleration.

"But what do 'ee want o' my old lanthorne," asked a yellow-jerkined
stable boy, pointing to an old-fashioned horned lantern, tempus
Edward III., "with this brave loight?"

"You know," said the custodian, with condescending familiarity,
"these mortals worship what they call 'curios' and the 'antique,'
and 'is lordship gave a matter of fifty pounds for that same
lanthern. That's what the modern folk come 'ere to see--like as

"Oi've an old three-legged stool in Whitechapel oi'll let his
lordship 'ave cheap--for five quid," suggested the humorist.

"The 'prentice wight knows not that he speaks truly. For 'ere is a
braver jest than 'is. Good folks, wilt please ye to examine yon
coffer?" pointing to an oaken chest.

"'Tis but poor stuff, marry," said Maudlin.

"'Tis a coffer--the same being made in Wardour Street last year--
'is lordship gave one hundred pounds for it. Look at these would-
be worm-holes,--but they were made with an AUGER. Marry, WE know
what worm-holes are!"

A ghastly grin spread over the faces of the spectral assembly as
they gathered around the chest with silent laughter.

"Wilt walk 'ere and see the phonograph in the libry, made by
Hedison, an Hamerican, which bottles up the voice and preserves it
fresh for a hundred years? 'Tis a rare new fancy."

"Rot," said 'Arry. Then turning to the giggling Maudlin, he
whispered: "Saw it las' toime. 'Is lordship got a piece o' moy
moind that oi reeled off into it about this 'ere swindle. Fawney
that old bloke there charging a tanner apiece to us for chaffin' a
bit of a barrel."

"Have you no last new braveries to show us of the gallants and
their mistresses, as you were wont?" said Maudlin to the Cicerone.
"'Twas a rare show last time--the modish silk gowns and farthingales
in the closets."

"But there be no company this Christmas," said the custodian, "and
'is lordship does not entertain, unless it be the new fool 'is
lordship sent down 'ere to-day, who has been mopin' and moonin' in
the corridors, as is ever the way of these wittol creatures when
they are not heeded. He was 'ere in a rare motley of his own
choosing, with which he thinks to raise a laugh, a moment ago. Ye
see him not--not 'avin' the gift that belongs by right to my dread
office. 'Tis a weird privilege I have--and may not be imparted to

"Save what, good man steward? Prithee, speak?" said Marian

"'Tis ever a shillin' extra."

There was no response. A few of the more bashful ghosts thrust
their hands in their pockets and looked awkwardly another way. The
Barbarian felt a momentary relief followed by a slight pang of
mortified vanity. He was a little afraid of them. The price was
an extortion, certainly, but surely he was worth the extra

"He has brought but little braveries of attire into the Castle,"
continued the Cicerone, "but I 'ave something 'ere which was found
on the top of his portmanteau. I wot ye know not the use of this."
To the Barbarian's intense indignation, the Cicerone produced, from
under his, his (the Barbarian's) own opera hat. "Marry, what
should be this? Read me this riddle! To it--and unyoke!"

A dozen vacant guesses were made as the showman held it aloft.
Then with a conjuror's gesture he suddenly placed his thumbs within
the rim, released the spring and extended the hat. The assembly
laughed again silently as before.

"'Tis a hat," said the Cicerone, with a superior air.

"Nay," said Maudlin, "give it here." She took it curiously,
examined it, and then with a sudden coquettish movement lifted it
towards her own coifed head, as if to try it on. The Cicerone
suddenly sprang forward with a despairing gesture to prevent her.
And here the Barbarian was conscious of a more startling revelation.
How and why he could not tell, but he KNEW that the putting on of
that article of his own dress would affect the young girl as the
assumption of the steel cap and corselet had evidently affected him,
and that he would instantly become as visible to her as she and her
companions had been to him. He attempted to rise, but was too late;
she had evaded the Cicerone by ducking, and, facing in the direction
of the Barbarian, clapped the hat on her head. He saw the swift
light of consciousness, of astonishment, of sudden fear spring into
her eyes! She shrieked, he started, struggled, and awoke!

But what was this! He was alone in the moonlit gallery, certainly;
the ghastly figures in their outlandish garb were gone; he was
awake and in his senses, but, in this first flash of real
consciousness, he could have sworn that something remained!
Something terror-stricken, and retreating even then before him,--
something of the world, modern,--and, even as he gazed, vanishing
through the gallery door with the material flash and rustle of

He walked quietly to the door. It was open. Ah! No doubt he had
forgotten to shut it fast; a current of air or a sudden draught had
opened it. That noise had awakened him. More than that, remembering
the lightning flash of dream consciousness, it had been the CAUSE of
his dream. Yet, for a few moments he listened attentively.

What might have been the dull reverberation of a closing door in
the direction of the housekeeper's room, on the lower story, was
all he heard. He smiled, for even that, natural as it might be,
was less distinct and real than his absurd vision.

Nevertheless the next afternoon he concluded to walk over to Audley
Friars for his Christmas dinner. Its hospitable master greeted him

"But do you know, my dear fellow," he said, when they were alone
for a moment, "if you hadn't come by yourself I'd have sent over
there for you. The fact is that A--- wrote to us that you were
down at Stukeley alone, ghost-hunting or something of that sort,
and I'm afraid it leaked out among the young people of our party.
Two of our girls--I shan't tell you which--stole over there last
night to give you a start of some kind. They didn't see you at
all, but, by Jove, it seems they got the biggest kind of a fright
THEMSELVES, for they declare that something dreadful in armor, you
know, was sitting in the gallery. Awfully good joke, wasn't it?
Of course YOU didn't see anything,--did you?"

"No," said the Barbarian, discreetly.

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