« ZurückWeiter »
expects a slight "tip" or gratuity in return, to the millionnaire grandee of Fifth Avenue or Madison Square, every grade in society is touched and mollified by the amenities of New Year's-day; and, believe me, there are many more gradations in the New York Society than were ever dreamt of in the philosophy of M. de Tocqueville or more recent writers on democracy in America. There is Mrs. Bridget O'Mulligan who receives a complimentary visit from Mr. Barney O'Brallaghan, recently from Tipperary, and passes the "top o' the mornin'" to him in potheen. There is Coal Black Rose, installed in state, receiving the homages of Uncle Ned, and Zip Coon, Esq., and Dandy Jim from Caroline-all "American citizens of African descent." And compliments may pass, you will perceive, in the Five Points as well as in Fifth Avenue.
I prefer to say nothing about the last of Mr. Nast's cartoons representing three jovial souls whose visiting-list has probably been very lengthy, and who are apparently suffering from symptoms of "whiskey in the hair." If " their heads are too big for their hats," 'tis no business of mine. Mr. Nast is, presumably, an American, and has a right to satirize the foibles-if they have any foibles-of his countrymen. For my part, it is almost needless to observe that I saw nothing but sobriety,
and the strictest sobriety, in New York on New Year's-day. If the General of the Mackerel Brigade mentioned in the "Orpheus C. Kerr Papers" did, at an advanced period of the evening, one New Year'sday, address his friends from the interior of the coal-scuttle, it was doubtless his whim, and not whiskey, that led him to choose that resting-place for his gallant head. Why shouldn't we fall into the coal-scuttle if we like? Our heads are our own, I presume.
WHEN, through the death of a distant relative, I, John Lester, succeeded to the Martingdale Estate, there could not have been found in the length and breadth of England a happier pair than myself and my only sister Clare.
We were not such utter hypocrites as to affect sorrow for the loss of our kinsman, Paul Lester, a man we had never seen, of whom we bad heard but little, and that little unfavourable, at whose hands we had never received a single benefit-who was, in short, as great a stranger to us as the then Prime Minister, the Emperor of Russia, or any other human being utterly removed from our extremely humble sphere of life.
His loss was very certainly our gain. His death represented to us, not a dreary parting from one long loved and highly honoured, but the accession of lands, houses, consideration, wealth, to myself-John Lester, Esquire, Martingdale, Bedfordshire: whilom, Jack Lester, artist and second-floor lodger at 32, Great Smith Street, Bloomsbury.
Not that Martingdale was much of an estate as county properties go. The Lesters who had succeeded to that domain from time to time during the course of a few hundred years, could by no stretch of courtesy have been called prudent men. In regard of their posterity they were, indeed, scarcely honest, for they parted with manors and farms, with common rights and advowsons, in a manner at once so baronial and so unbusiness-like, that Martingdale at length in the hands of Jeremy Lester, the last resident owner, melted to a mere little dot in the map of Bedfordshire.
Concerning this Jeremy Lester there was a mystery. No man could say what had become of him. He was in the oak parlour at Martingdale one Christmas-eve, and before the next morning he had disappeared to reappear in the flesh no more.
Over night, one Mr. Warley, a great friend and boon companion of Jeremy's, had sat playing cards with him until after twelve o'clock chimed, then he took leave of his host and rode home under the moonlight. After that, no person, as far as could be ascertained, ever saw Jeremy Lester alive.
His ways of life had not been either the most regular, or the most respectable, and it was not until a new year had come in without any tidings of his whereabouts reaching the house, that his servants became seriously alarmed concerning his absence.
Then inquiries were set on foot concerning him-inquiries which grew more urgent as weeks and months passed by without the slightest clue being obtained as to his whereabouts. Rewards were offered, advertisements inserted, but still Jeremy made no sign; and so in course of time the heir-at-law, Paul Lester, took possession of the house, and went down to spend the summer months at Martingdale with his rich wife, and her four children by a first husband. Paul Lester was a barrister-an over-worked barrister, who, every one supposed would be glad enough to leave the bar and settle at Martingdale, where his wife's money and the fortune he had accumulated could not have failed to give him a good standing even among the neighbouring county families; and perhaps it was with some such intention that he went down into Bedfordshire.
If this were so, however, he speedily changed his mind, for with the January snows he returned to London, let off the land surrounding the house, shut up the Hall, put in a care-taker, and never troubled himself further about his ancestral seat.
Time went on, and people began to say the house was haunted, that Paul Lester had " seen something," and so forth-all which stories were duly repeated for our benefit, when, forty-one years after the disappearance of Jeremy Lester, Clare and I went down to inspect our inheritance.
I say "our," because Clare had stuck bravely to me in povertygrinding poverty, and prosperity was not going to part us now. What was mine was hers, and that she knew, God bless her, without my needing to tell her so.
The transition from rigid economy to comparative wealth, was in our case the more delightful also, because we had not in the least degree anticipated it. We never expected Paul Lester's shoes to come to us, and accordingly it was not upon our consciences that we had ever in our dreariest moods wished him dead.
Had he made a will, no doubt we never should have gone to Martingdale, and I, consequently, never written this story; but, luckily for us, he died intestate, and the Bedfordshire property came to me.
As for his fortune, he had spent it in travelling, and in giving great entertainments at his grand house in Portman Square. Concerning
his effects, Mrs. Lester and I came to a very amicable arrangement, and she did me the honour of inviting me to call upon her occasionally, and, as I heard, spoke of me as a very worthy and presentable young man "for my station," which, of course, coming from so good an authority, was gratifying. Moreover, she asked me if I intended residing at Martingdale, and on my replying in the affirmative, hoped I should like it.
It struck me at the time that there was a certain significance in her tone, and when I went down to Martingdale and heard the absurd stories which were afloat concerning the house being haunted, I felt confident that if Mrs. Lester had hoped much, she feared more. People said Mr. Jeremy "walked "at Martingdale. He had been seen, it was averred, by poachers, by gamekeepers, by children who had come to use the park as a near cut to school, by lovers who kept their tryst under the elms and beeches.
As for the care-taker and his wife, the third in residence since Jeremy Lester's disappearance, the man gravely shook his head when questioned, while the woman stated that wild horses, or even wealth untold, should not draw her into the red bed-room, nor into the oak parlour, after dark.
"I have heard my mother tell, sir-it was her as followed old Mrs. Reynolds, the first care-taker-how there were things went on in those self same rooms as might make any Christian's hair stand on end. Such stamping, and swearing, and knocking about of furniture; and then tramp, tramp, up the great staircase, and along the corridor and so into the red bed-room, and then bang, and tramp, tramp again. They do say, sir, Mr. Paul Lester met him once, and from that time the oak parlour has never been opened. I never was inside it myself."
Upon hearing which fact, the first thing I did was to proceed to the oak parlour, open the shutters, and let the August sun stream in upon the haunted chamber. It was an old-fashioned, plainly furnished apartment, with a large table in the centre, a smaller in a recess by the fire-place, chairs ranged against the walls, and a dusty moth-eaten carpet on the floor. There were dogs on the hearth, broken and rusty ; there was a brass fender, tarnished and battered; a picture of some sea-fight over the mantel-piece, while another work of art about equal in merit hung between the windows. Altogether, an utterly prosaic and yet not uncheerful apartment, from out of which the ghosts flitted as soon as daylight was let into it, and which I proposed, as soon as I "felt my feet," to re-decorate, re-furnish, and convert into a pleasant morning-room. I was still under thirty, but I had learned prudence in