I TOOK a large room, far up Broadway,
in a huge old building whose upper stories had been wholly unoccupied
for years, until I came. The place had long been given up to dust
and cobwebs, to solitude and silence. I seemed groping among the
tombs and invading the privacy of the dead, that first night I climbed
up to my quarters. For the first time in my life a superstitious
dread came over me; and as I turned a dark angle of the stairway
and an invisible cobweb swung its slazy woof in my face and clung
there, I shuddered as one who had encountered a phantom.
I was glad enough when I reached my room and locked out the mould
and the darkness. A cheery fire was burning in the grate, and
I sat down before it with a comforting sense of relief. For two
hours I sat there, thinking of bygone times; recalling old scenes,
and summoning half-forgotten faces out of the mists of the past;
listening, in fancy, to voices that long ago grew silent for all
time, and to once familiar songs that nobody sings now. And as
my reverie softened down to a sadder and sadder pathos, the shrieking
of the winds outside softened to a wail, the angry beating of
the rain against the panes diminished to a tranquil patter, and
one by one the noises in the street subsided, until the hurrying
foot- steps of the last belated straggler died away in the distance
and left no sound behind.
The fire had burned low. A sense of loneliness crept over me.
I arose and undressed, moving on tiptoe about the room, doing
stealthily what I had to do, as if I were environed by sleeping
enemies whose slumbers it would be fatal to break. I covered up
in bed, and lay listening to the rain and wind and the faint creaking
of distant shutters, till they lulled me to sleep.
I slept profoundly, but how long I do not know. All at once I
found myself awake, and filled with a shuddering expectancy. All
was still. All but my own heart -- I could hear it beat. Presently
the bed- clothes began to slip away slowly toward the foot of
the bed, as if some one were pulling them! I could not stir; I
could not speak. Still the blankets slipped deliberately away,
till my breast was un- covered. Then with a great effort I seized
them and drew them over my head. I waited, listened, waited. Once
more that steady pull began, and once more I lay torpid a century
of dragging seconds till my breast was naked again. At last I
roused my ener- gies and snatched the covers back to their place
and held them with a strong grip. I waited. By and by I felt a
faint tug, and took a fresh grip. The tug strengthened to a steady
strain -- it grew stronger and stronger. My hold parted, and for
the third time the blankets slid away. I groaned. An answering
groan came from the foot of the bed! Beaded drops of sweat stood
upon my forehead. I was more dead than alive. Presently I heard
a heavy footstep in my room -- the step of an ele- phant, it seemed
to me -- it was not like anything human. But it was moving FROM
me -- there was relief in that. I heard it approach the door --
pass out without moving bolt or lock -- and wander away among
the dismal corridors, straining the floors and joists till they
creaked again as it passed -- and then silence reigned once more.
When my excitement had calmed, I said to my- self, "This
is a dream -- simply a hideous dream." And so I lay thinking
it over until I convinced myself that it WAS a dream, and then
a comforting laugh relaxed my lips and I was happy again. I got
up and struck a light; and when I found that the locks and bolts
were just as I had left them, another soothing laugh welled in
my heart and rip- pled from my lips. I took my pipe and lit it,
and was just sitting down before the fire, when -- down went the
pipe out of my nerveless fingers, the blood forsook my cheeks,
and my placid breathing was cut short with a gasp! In the ashes
on the hearth, side by side with my own bare footprint, was another,
so vast that in comparison mine was but an infant's'! Then I had
HAD a visitor, and the elephant tread was explained.
I put out the light and returned to bed, palsied with fear. I
lay a long time, peering into the dark- ness, and listening. Then
I heard a grating noise overhead, like the dragging of a heavy
body across the floor; then the throwing down of the body, and
the shaking of my windows in response to the con- cussion. In
distant parts of the building I heard the muffled slamming of
doors. I heard, at inter- vals, stealthy footsteps creeping in
and out among the corridors, and up and down the stairs. Some-
times these noises approached my door, hesitated, and went away
again. I heard the clanking of chains faintly, in remote passages,
and listened while the clanking grew nearer -- while it wearily
climbed the stairways, marking each move by the loose surplus
of chain that fell with an accented rattle upon each succeeding
step as the goblin that bore it ad- vanced. I heard muttered sentences;
half-uttered screams that seemed smothered violently; and the
swish of invisible garments, the rush of invisible wings. Then
I became conscious that my chamber was invaded -- that I was not
alone. I heard sighs and breathings about my bed, and mysterious
whis- perings. Three little spheres of soft phosphorescent light
appeared on the ceiling directly over my head, clung and glowed
there a moment, and then dropped -- two of them upon my face and
one upon the pillow. They spattered, liquidly, and felt warm.
Intuition told me they had turned to gouts of blood as they fell
-- I needed no light to satisfy myself of that. Then I saw pallid
faces, dimly luminous, and white uplifted hands, floating bodiless
in the air -- floating a moment and then disappearing. The whispering
ceased, and the voices and the sounds, and a solemn stillness
followed. I waited and listened. I felt that I must have light
or die. I was weak with fear. I slowly raised myself toward a
sitting posture, and my face came in contact with a clammy hand!
All strength went from me ap- parently, and I fell back like a
stricken invalid. Then I heard the rustle of a garment -- it seemed
to pass to the door and go out.
When everything was still once more, I crept out of bed, sick
and feeble, and lit the gas with a hand that trembled as if it
were aged with a hundred years. The light brought some little
cheer to my spirits. I sat down and fell into a dreamy contem-
plation of that great footprint in the ashes. By and by its outlines
began to waver and grow dim. I glanced up and the broad gas flame
was slowly wilt- ing away. In the same moment I heard that ele-
phantine tread again. I noted its approach, nearer and nearer,
along the musty halls, and dimmer and dimmer the light waned.
The tread reached my very door and paused -- the light had dwindled
to a sickly blue, and all things about me lay in a spectral twilight.
The door did not open, and yet I felt a faint gust of air fan
my cheek, and presently was conscious of a huge, cloudy presence
before me. I watched it with fascinated eyes. A pale glow stole
over the Thing; gradually its cloudy folds took shape -- an arm
appeared, then legs, then a body, and last a great sad face looked
out of the vapor. Stripped of its filmy housings, naked, muscular
and comely, the majestic Cardiff Giant loomed above me!
All my misery vanished -- for a child might know that no harm
could come with that benignant countenance. My cheerful spirits
returned at once, and in sympathy with them the gas flamed up
brightly again. Never a lonely outcast was so glad to welcome
company as I was to greet the friendly giant. I said:
"Why, is it nobody but you? Do you know, I have been scared
to death for the last two or three hours? I am most honestly glad
to see you. I wish I had a chair -- Here, here, don't try to sit
down in that thing!
But it was too late. He was in it before I could stop him, and
down he went -- I never saw a chair shivered so in my life.
"Stop, stop, You'll ruin ev--"
Too late again. There was another crash, and another chair was
resolved into its original elements.
"Confound it, haven't you got any judgment at all? Do you
want to ruin all the furniture on the place? Here, here, you petrified
But it was no use. Before I could arrest him he had sat down
on the bed, and it was a melancholy ruin.
"Now what sort of a way is that to do? First you come lumbering
about the place bringing a legion of vagabond goblins along with
you to worry me to death, and then when I overlook an indelicacy
of costume which would not be tolerated anywhere by cultivated
people except in a respectable theater, and not even there if
the nudity were of YOUR sex, you repay me by wrecking all the
furniture you can find to sit down on. And why will you? You damage
yourself as much as you do me. You have broken off the end of
your spinal column, and lit- tered up the floor with chips of
your hams till the place looks like a marble yard. You ought to
be ashamed of yourself -- you are big enough to know better."
"Well, I will not break any more furniture. But what am
I to do? I have not had a chance to sit down for a century."
And the tears came into his eyes.
"Poor devil," I said, "I should not have been
so harsh with you. And you are an orphan, too, no doubt. But sit
down on the floor here -- nothing else can stand your weight --
and besides, we cannot be sociable with you away up there above
me; I want you down where I can perch on this high counting-house
stool and gossip with you face to face."
So he sat down on the floor, and lit a pipe which I gave him,
threw one of my red blankets over his shoulders, inverted my sitz-bath
on his head, helmet fashion, and made himself picturesque and
comfort- able. Then he crossed his ankles, while I renewed the
fire, and exposed the flat, honey-combed bot- toms of his prodigious
feet to the grateful warmth.
"What is the matter with the bottom of your feet and the
back of your legs, that they are gouged up so?"
"Infernal chillblains -- I caught them clear up to the back
of my head, roosting out there under Newell's farm. But I love
the place; I love it as one loves his old home. There is no peace
for me like the peace I feel when I am there."
We talked along for half an hour, and then I noticed that he
looked tired, and spoke of it. "Tired?" he said. "Well,
I should think so. And now I will tell you all about it, since
you have treated me so well. I am the spirit of the Petrified
Man that lies across the street there in the Museum. I am the
ghost of the Cardiff Giant. I can have no rest, no peace, till
they have given that poor body burial again. Now what was the
most natural thing for me to do, to make men satisfy this wish?
Terrify them into it! -- haunt the place where the body lay! So
I haunted the museum night after night. I even got other spirits
to help me. But it did no good, for nobody ever came to the museum
at midnight. Then it occurred to me to come over the way and haunt
this place a little. I felt that if I ever got a hearing I must
succeed, for I had the most efficient company that perdition could
furnish. Night after night we have shivered around through these
mildewed halls, dragging chains, groaning, whispering, tramping
up and down stairs, till, to tell you the truth, I am almost worn
out. But when I saw a light in your room to-night I roused my
energies again and went at it with a deal of the old freshness.
But I am tired out -- entirely fagged out. Give me, I beseech
you, give me some hope!"
I lit off my perch in a burst of excitement, and exclaimed:
"This transcends everything -- everything that ever did
occur! Why you poor blundering old fossil, you have had all your
trouble for nothing -- you have been haunting a PLASTER CAST of
your- self -- the real Cardiff Giant is in Albany!
[Footnote by Twain: A fact. The original fraud was ingeniously
and fraudfully duplicated, and exhibited in New York as the "only
genuine" Cardiff Giant (to the unspeakable disgust of the
owners of the real colossus) at the very same time that the latter
was drawing crowds at a museum in Albany.]
Confound it, don't you know your own remains?"
I never saw such an eloquent look of shame, of pitiable humiliation,
overspread a countenance before.
The Petrified Man rose slowly to his feet, and said:
"Honestly, IS that true?"
"As true as I am sitting here."
He took the pipe from his mouth and laid it on the mantel, then
stood irresolute a moment (uncon sciously, from old habit, thrusting
his hands where his pantaloons pockets should have been, and medi-
tatively dropping his chin on his breast), and finally said:
"Well -- I NEVER felt so absurd before. The Petrified Man
has sold everybody else, and now the mean fraud has ended by selling
its own ghost! My son, if there is any charity left in your heart
for a poor friendless phantom like me, don't let this get out.
Think how YOU would feel if you had made such an ass of yourself."
I heard his, stately tramp die away, step by step down the stairs
and out into the deserted street, and felt sorry that he was gone,
poor fellow -- and sorrier still that he had carried off my red
blanket and my bath tub.