I took a large room, far up Broadway,
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
meditatively 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.