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- The Old Stone House - 10/41 -


"Done! madam, at your service," said Hugh with a low bow. "The muses visited me in a body, and I had hard work to choose between the numerous gifts they offered."

"Very well," said Bessie, "I see I am entirely behind you all. I shall shut myself into the studio this afternoon, and my ghost will come out at tea-time, deliver a manuscript written in blood, and vanish into thin air. Farewell, my friends, farewell!"

Evening came, and found Sibyl seated on the piazza looking like a lily in her white draperies. Tom and Gem were in the parlor, in their best attire, trying to look grown-up and dignified; Tom's collar was especially imposing. The guests assembled slowly; Hugh received their folded papers as they entered, and placed them in a covered basket. Nine o'clock struck, and the merry party seated themselves in the parlor, Sibyl by the side of Graham Marr, and Rose Saxon on the opposite side of the room with Mr. Leslie. When they were all in place, the door opened and Hugh appeared, carrying the basket. His entrance was greeted with applause; an arm-chair by the table, and a shaded light were ready, and, with much solemnity, the reader took his seat. Placing the basket on the floor before him, he coughed, unfolded a pocket-handkerchief, and laid it on the table at his elbow, brought out a box of troches and placed them in position by the handkerchief, gravely asked for a glass of water, which was also ranged in order, and then, putting on a pair of green spectacles, bowed to the company and began his preliminary speech:--

"Ladies and gentlemen; the humble individual who now addresses you asks in advance for your kind sympathy for his present embarrassing position. Of a gentle nature, timid as the wild rabbit, blushing as the rosy dawn, he yet finds himself called upon to address the public,--and such a public! (applause ). Ladies and gentlemen,--his feelings are too much for him, and, withdrawing to the basket, he hides his own personality in the following no doubt brilliant effusions taken at random from this intellectual vortex. Ladies and gentlemen,--I beg your attention to the story of:--

'THE UNSEEN VISITOR

"'While I was still a school-girl, I paid a visit to a young lady friend in the pleasant city of C------. We occupied a room together in the second story, and were the only persons on that floor, as the other members of the family slept down-stairs, the house being large, with irregular one-story wings on each side in the old-fashioned style. C------ is a city of a hundred-thousand inhabitants, the streets closely built up, lighted, paved, and guarded by a well-regulated police force. It is a new town also, with no old associations, old legends, or old people to cast a veil of mystery over its new houses and young history; thus, it, would seem to be the last place for anything mysterious, and yet it was there that a singular incident occurred which I have never been able to explain. One night I had been asleep perhaps two hours, when suddenly I awoke,--it was about half-past ten when Kate and I went to our room,--and soon after I awoke, I heard the clock strike one. The street lamps were not lighted, in accordance with the almanac which predicted a fine moon without any regard for the possibility, now a certainty, of heavy clouds; not a gleam, therefore, came in through the blinds to lighten the dark, still house. Our room was large, opening into the hall which was long and broad, extending from one end of the house to the other; the stairs from below came up into this hall, and there was no way of getting to the back part of the house, where the servants slept, without going entirely through it to the west end.

"'Waking suddenly in the night always gives me a strange sensation. I feel as though some one must have called me, and, involuntarily, I listen for a second summons. This night I listened as usual, and distinctly heard a step in the hall. Our door stood partly open, but the darkness was intense. At first I thought it might be a member of the family in search of something in the upper story, for there were several unoccupied rooms and a medicine-closet opening into the hall; but, after a moment, I noticed that the step did not pause or enter these chambers, but seemed to keep in the hall, going back and forth, from one end to the other, with perfect regularity and steadiness. Much perplexed, I gently awakened Kate, and, placing my hand over her lips, I whispered in her ear, 'listen!' She obeyed, and, with beating hearts, we heard the footstep pacing back and forth before our door, now at the west end, now at the east, in a measured gait to which we could almost beat time, so regularly came the sound. The hall was carpeted, and the footfalls soft, yet not as though the unseen visitor was trying to deaden the sound. It was a natural step. From the light tread we might have supposed it to be a woman's foot, but from the stride it was more like a man. I do not know how long we lay there motionless. I felt myself growing more and more nervous, and Kate's hand, as it pressed mine, was cold and trembling. I think we would have been relieved if the step had paused, or even entered our room; that, at least, would have been like an ordinary burglar. But this steady march, to and fro, seemed so unaccountable. If the steps, too, had been soft and muffled, if we could have supposed the person was creeping about after booty of some kind, we should have been frightened, no doubt, but not so appalled as we were now at this singular, easy, and apparently aimless promenade. We did not speak, but lay trembling, and scarcely daring to breathe. Our room was long, and the distance to the open door so great that we could not hope to reach it unnoticed in the darkness, before the step would be upon us again. Besides, the lock was out of order, so that even if we could have summoned courage to shut it, it could not be fastened. The stairway, too, was at such a distance beyond our door, that we did not dare to try that way of escape, bringing us, as it would, face to face with our unseen visitor. There was nothing left but silent endurance, and thus we lay counting the footsteps through the long hours. We could not hope, either, that the other members of the family would be aroused, as their sleeping-rooms were not directly below us, but beyond, in the wings. The clock struck two, and half-past, and steadily the step kept on its regular sound, passing and repassing our door. It grew insupportable. It seemed as though I should not be able to keep from shrieking aloud each time it drew near. If we could have spoken to each other we might have regained some courage, but we were paralyzed with nervous fear; our throats were parched, and our muscles rigid with long continued tension, for we dared not move. It was like a spell, and the fact that we did not know what it was we feared, made the fear all the more intense. At length, after what seemed a century of suffering, the strange footsteps paused. Our hearts gave a leap. Was it coming in? Who was it? Would it come and stand by the bedside, and look at us in the darkness? No! Slowly--and steadily it went down the stairs. We counted every step to the bottom. Then a pause. Would it go towards the dining-room, where the silver was, or towards the sleeping-rooms? We almost hoped it would, for that would prove a desire for plunder. Still silence! We dared not move for fear it might have crept softly up the stairs; it might even now be crawling towards us in the darkness. We shuddered; the silence seemed worse than the regular footfalls. Suddenly we heard a distinct snap in the hall below. We instantly recognized the bolt of the front door, and simultaneously we sprang from the bed. _It_--whatever _It_ was,--was going. We ran across the room, hearing, as we went, the sound of the footfalls on the stone walk outside, which led from the door to the street. We rushed down-stairs and alarmed the house. The front-door was found open, but no trace of our unseen visitor remained, although the neighborhood was carefully searched. Investigation showed that entrance had been effected through a dining-room window. But the silver was untouched; nothing had been disturbed, although the house contained many valuables, and it was evident that none of the sleeping-rooms had been visited. It, whatever it was, had entered, passed up the stairs, spent the night pacing to and fro in the upper hall, and then, just before dawn, had departed as strangely as it came.

"'Who or what it was, we never knew. The only possible solution was, that it might have been some somnambulist; and, in that case, it must have been some acquaintance who bad been in the house in his waking moments. But even this solution seemed unsatisfactory, and finally Kate and I gave up trying to solve the enigma, content to let it rest as the mystery of our Unseen Visitor.

SIBYL WARRINGTON.'"

"Oh, Sibyl! you never told us anything about it before!" exclaimed Gem, who had listened with breathless interest. "Is it all really true?"

"Entirely true," replied Sibyl; "it is an exact description of what happened during my visit to C------ last summer."

After a little general conversation upon somnambulism, and the stories connected with it, Hugh took up another paper.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "the next manuscript, which I have taken at random from the basket, seems to be poetical. It is prefaced by the following note:--

"'To the Editor,--Sir: I am a Boston man; I do not deny it, but glory in the title! Some winters ago I was tempted to go west on business, and found myself snowed up in that great Metropolis of the Lakes,--the Pride of the West,--the Garden City,--in a word, Chicago! It was before the great fire; the hotels were crowded; I was in the fifth story, and, need I say it, I was miserable! In addition to my bodily sufferings, my ear was tortured by the various pronunciations given to the city's name. No sooner had I mastered one than I heard another! At last, driven to desperation, I tried to while away the time in composing the following 'Ode,' in which my feelings, and the three different pronunciations are expressed:--

'ODE TO CHICAGO.

The wind is loud, and on the road The snow lays an embargo, While, in his room, a Boston man Sits snow-bound in Chi-CAR-go.

A monkey when he is so sick That he can't make his paw go, Feels better than a Boston man When storm-bound in Chi-CAW-go.

A spinster, when she cannot make Her thin and grayish hair grow, Feels happier than a Boston man When storm-bound in Chi-CARE-go.

A Boston man would sooner lose His credit, cash, and cargo, He'd sooner be a beggar than A dweller in Chi-CAR-go.

A Boston man would sooner far To wigwam with a squaw go, Than to enjoy domestic bliss In the best house in Chi-CAW-go.


The Old Stone House - 10/41

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