The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain
CHAPTER I - The Gift Bestowed
EVERYBODY said so.
Far be it from me to assert that what everybody says must be true. Everybody is, often, as
likely to be wrong as right. In the general experience, everybody has been wrong so
often, and it has taken, in most instances, such a weary while to find out how wrong, that
the authority is proved to be fallible. Everybody may sometimes be right; "but THAT'S
no rule," as the ghost of Giles Scroggins says in the ballad.
The dread word, GHOST, recalls me.
Everybody said he looked like a haunted man. The extent of my present claim for
everybody is, that they were so far right. He did.
Who could have seen his hollow cheek; his sunken brilliant eye; his black-attired figure,
indefinably grim, although well-knit and well-proportioned; his grizzled hair hanging,
like tangled sea- weed, about his face, - as if he had been, through his whole life, a lonely
mark for the chafing and beating of the great deep of humanity, - but might have said he
looked like a haunted man?
Who could have observed his manner, taciturn, thoughtful, gloomy, shadowed by
habitual reserve, retiring always and jocund never, with a distraught air of reverting to a
bygone place and time, or of listening to some old echoes in his mind, but might have
said it was the manner of a haunted man?
Who could have heard his voice, slow-speaking, deep, and grave, with a natural fulness
and melody in it which he seemed to set himself against and stop, but might have said it
was the voice of a haunted man?
Who that had seen him in his inner chamber, part library and part laboratory, - for he was,
as the world knew, far and wide, a learned man in chemistry, and a teacher on whose lips
and hands a crowd of aspiring ears and eyes hung daily, - who that had seen him there,
upon a winter night, alone, surrounded by his drugs and instruments and books; the
shadow of his shaded lamp a monstrous beetle on the wall, motionless among a crowd of
spectral shapes raised there by the flickering of the fire upon the quaint objects around
him; some of these phantoms (the reflection of glass vessels that held liquids), trembling
at heart like things that knew his power to uncombine them, and to give back their
component parts to fire and vapour; - who that had seen him then, his work done, and he
pondering in his chair before the rusted grate and red flame, moving his thin mouth as if
in speech, but silent as the dead, would not have said that the man seemed haunted and
the chamber too?