The Haunted House
by Charles Dickens
THE GHOST IN MASTER B.'S ROOM
I established myself in the triangular garret which had gained so
distinguished a reputation, my thoughts naturally turned to Master B. My
speculations about him were uneasy and manifold. Whether his Christian
name was Benjamin, Bissextile (from his having been born in Leap Year),
Bartholomew, or Bill. Whether the initial letter belonged to his family
name, and that was Baxter, Black, Brown, Barker, Buggins, Baker, or Bird.
Whether he was a foundling, and had been baptized B. Whether he was a
lion-hearted boy, and B. was short for Briton, or for Bull. Whether he
could possibly have been kith and kin to an illustrious lady who
brightened my own childhood, and had come of the blood of the brilliant
these profitless meditations I tormented myself much. I also carried the
mysterious letter into the appearance and pursuits of the deceased;
wondering whether he dressed in Blue, wore Boots (he couldn't have been
Bald), was a boy of Brains, liked Books, was good at Bowling, had any
skill as a Boxer, even in his Buoyant Boyhood Bathed from a
Bathing-machine at Bognor, Bangor, Bournemouth, Brighton, or Broadstairs,
like a Bounding Billiard Ball?
from the first, I was haunted by the letter B.
was not long before I remarked that I never by any hazard had a dream of
Master B., or of anything belonging to him. But, the instant I awoke from
sleep, at whatever hour of the night, my thoughts took him up, and roamed
away, trying to attach his initial letter to something that would fit it
and keep it quiet.
six nights, I had been worried this in Master B.'s room, when I began to
perceive that things were going wrong.
first appearance that presented itself was early in the morning when it
was but just daylight and no more. I was standing shaving at my glass,
when I suddenly discovered, to my consternation and amazement, that I was
shaving--not myself--I am fifty--but a boy. Apparently Master B.!
trembled and looked over my shoulder; nothing there. I looked again in the
glass, and distinctly saw the features and expression of a boy, who was
shaving, not to get rid of a beard, but to get one. Extremely troubled in
my mind, I took a few turns in the room, and went back to the
looking-glass, resolved to steady my hand and complete the operation in
which I had been disturbed. Opening my eyes, which I had shut while
recovering my firmness, I now met in the glass, looking straight at me,
the eyes of a young man of four or five and twenty. Terrified by this new
ghost, I closed my eyes, and made a strong effort to recover myself.
Opening them again, I saw, shaving his cheek in the glass, my father, who
has long been dead. Nay, I even saw my grandfather too, whom I never did
see in my life.
naturally much affected by these remarkable visitations, I determined to
keep my secret, until the time agreed upon for the present general
disclosure. Agitated by a multitude of curious thoughts, I retired to my
room, that night, prepared to encounter some new experience of a spectral
character. Nor was my preparation needless, for, waking from an uneasy
sleep at exactly two o'clock in the morning, what were my feelings to find
that I was sharing my bed with the skeleton of Master B.!
sprang up, and the skeleton sprang up also. I then heard a plaintive voice
saying, "Where am I? What is become of me?" and, looking hard in
that direction, perceived the ghost of Master B.
young spectre was dressed in an obsolete fashion: or rather, was not so
much dressed as put into a case of inferior pepper-and- salt cloth, made
horrible by means of shining buttons. I observed that these buttons went,
in a double row, over each shoulder of the young ghost, and appeared to
descend his back. He wore a frill round his neck. His right hand (which I
distinctly noticed to be inky) was laid upon his stomach; connecting this
action with some feeble pimples on his countenance, and his general air of
nausea, I concluded this ghost to be the ghost of a boy who had habitually
taken a great deal too much medicine.
am I?" said the little spectre, in a pathetic voice. "And why
was I born in the Calomel days, and why did I have all that Calomel given
replied, with sincere earnestness, that upon my soul I couldn't tell him.
is my little sister," said the ghost, "and where my angelic
little wife, and where is the boy I went to school with?"
entreated the phantom to be comforted, and above all things to take heart
respecting the loss of the boy he went to school with. I represented to
him that probably that boy never did, within human experience, come out
well, when discovered. I urged that I myself had, in later life, turned up
several boys whom I went to school with, and none of them had at all
answered. I expressed my humble belief that that boy never did answer. I
represented that he was a mythic character, a delusion, and a snare. I
recounted how, the last time I found him, I found him at a dinner party
behind a wall of white cravat, with an inconclusive opinion on every
possible subject, and a power of silent boredom absolutely Titanic. I
related how, on the strength of our having been together at "Old
Doylance's," he had asked himself to breakfast with me (a social
offence of the largest magnitude); how, fanning my weak embers of belief
in Doylance's boys, I had let him in; and how, he had proved to be a
fearful wanderer about the earth, pursuing the race of Adam with
inexplicable notions concerning the currency, and with a proposition that
the Bank of England should, on pain of being abolished, instantly strike
off and circulate, God knows how many thousand millions of
ghost heard me in silence, and with a fixed stare. "Barber!" it
apostrophised me when I had finished.
I repeated--for I am not of that profession.
said the ghost, "to shave a constant change of customers--now,
me--now, a young man--now, thyself as thou art--now, thy father--now, thy
grandfather; condemned, too, to lie down with a skeleton every night, and
to rise with it every morning--"
shuddered on hearing this dismal announcement.)
had felt, even before the words were uttered, that I was under a spell to
pursue the phantom. I immediately did so, and was in Master B.'s room no
people know what long and fatiguing night journeys had been forced upon
the witches who used to confess, and who, no doubt, told the exact
truth--particularly as they were always assisted with leading questions,
and the Torture was always ready. I asseverate that, during my occupation
of Master B.'s room, I was taken by the ghost that haunted it, on
expeditions fully as long and wild as any of those. Assuredly, I was
presented to no shabby old man with a goat's horns and tail (something
between Pan and an old clothesman), holding conventional receptions, as
stupid as those of real life and less decent; but, I came upon other
things which appeared to me to have more meaning.
that I speak the truth and shall be believed, I declare without hesitation
that I followed the ghost, in the first instance on a broom-stick, and
afterwards on a rocking-horse. The very smell of the animal's
paint--especially when I brought it out, by making him warm--I am ready to
swear to. I followed the ghost, afterwards, in a hackney coach; an
institution with the peculiar smell of which, the present generation is
unacquainted, but to which I am again ready to swear as a combination of
stable, dog with the mange, and very old bellows. (In this, I appeal to
previous generations to confirm or refute me.) I pursued the phantom, on a
headless donkey: at least, upon a donkey who was so interested in the
state of his stomach that his head was always down there, investigating
it; on ponies, expressly born to kick up behind; on roundabouts and
swings, from fairs; in the first cab--another forgotten institution where
the fare regularly got into bed, and was tucked up with the driver.
to trouble you with a detailed account of all my travels in pursuit of the
ghost of Master B., which were longer and more wonderful than those of
Sinbad the Sailor, I will confine myself to one experience from which you
may judge of many.
was marvellously changed. I was myself, yet not myself. I was conscious of
something within me, which has been the same all through my life, and
which I have always recognised under all its phases and varieties as never
altering, and yet I was not the I who had gone to bed in Master B.'s room.
I had the smoothest of faces and the shortest of legs, and I had taken
another creature like myself, also with the smoothest of faces and the
shortest of legs, behind a door, and was confiding to him a proposition of
the most astounding nature.
proposition was, that we should have a Seraglio.
other creature assented warmly. He had no notion of respectability,
neither had I. It was the custom of the East, it was the way of the good
Caliph Haroun Alraschid (let me have the corrupted name again for once, it
is so scented with sweet memories!), the usage was highly laudable, and
most worthy of imitation. "O, yes! Let us," said the other
creature with a jump, "have a Seraglio."
was not because we entertained the faintest doubts of the meritorious
character of the Oriental establishment we proposed to import, that we
perceived it must be kept a secret from Miss Griffin. It was because we
knew Miss Griffin to be bereft of human sympathies, and incapable of
appreciating the greatness of the great Haroun. Mystery impenetrably
shrouded from Miss Griffin then, let us entrust it to Miss Bule.
were ten in Miss Griffin's establishment by Hampstead Ponds; eight ladies
and two gentlemen. Miss Bule, whom I judge to have attained the ripe age
of eight or nine, took the lead in society. I opened the subject to her in
the course of the day, and proposed that she should become the Favourite.
Bule, after struggling with the diffidence so natural to, and charming in,
her adorable sex, expressed herself as flattered by the idea, but wished
to know how it was proposed to provide for Miss Pipson? Miss Bule--who was
understood to have vowed towards that young lady, a friendship, halves,
and no secrets, until death, on the Church Service and Lessons complete in
two volumes with case and lock--Miss Bule said she could not, as the
friend of Pipson, disguise from herself, or me, that Pipson was not one of
Miss Pipson, having curly hair and blue eyes (which was my idea of
anything mortal and feminine that was called Fair), I promptly replied
that I regarded Miss Pipson in the light of a Fair Circassian.
what then?" Miss Bule pensively asked.
replied that she must be inveigled by a Merchant, brought to me veiled,
and purchased as a slave.
other creature had already fallen into the second male place in the State,
and was set apart for Grand Vizier. He afterwards resisted this disposal
of events, but had his hair pulled until he yielded.]
I not be jealous?" Miss Bule inquired, casting down her eyes.
no," I replied; "you will ever be the favourite Sultana; the
first place in my heart, and on my throne, will be ever yours."
Bule, upon that assurance, consented to propound the idea to her seven
beautiful companions. It occurring to me, in the course of the same day,
that we knew we could trust a grinning and good- natured soul called
Tabby, who was the serving drudge of the house, and had no more figure
than one of the beds, and upon whose face there was always more or less
black-lead, I slipped into Miss Bule's hand after supper, a little note to
that effect; dwelling on the black-lead as being in a manner deposited by
the finger of Providence, pointing Tabby out for Mesrour, the celebrated
chief of the Blacks of the Hareem.
were difficulties in the formation of the desired institution, as there
are in all combinations. The other creature showed himself of a low
character, and, when defeated in aspiring to the throne, pretended to have
conscientious scruples about prostrating himself before the Caliph;
wouldn't call him Commander of the Faithful; spoke of him slightingly and
inconsistently as a mere "chap;" said he, the other creature,
"wouldn't play"--Play!--and was otherwise coarse and offensive.
This meanness of disposition was, however, put down by the general
indignation of an united Seraglio, and I became blessed in the smiles of
eight of the fairest of the daughters of men.
smiles could only be bestowed when Miss Griffin was looking another way,
and only then in a very wary manner, for there was a legend among the
followers of the Prophet that she saw with a little round ornament in the
middle of the pattern on the back of her shawl. But every day after
dinner, for an hour, we were all together, and then the Favourite and the
rest of the Royal Hareem competed who should most beguile the leisure of
the Serene Haroun reposing from the cares of State--which were generally,
as in most affairs of State, of an arithmetical character, the Commander
of the Faithful being a fearful boggler at a sum.
these occasions, the devoted Mesrour, chief of the Blacks of the Hareem,
was always in attendance (Miss Griffin usually ringing for that officer,
at the same time, with great vehemence), but never acquitted himself in a
manner worthy of his historical reputation. In the first place, his
bringing a broom into the Divan of the Caliph, even when Haroun wore on
his shoulders the red robe of anger (Miss Pipson's pelisse), though it
might be got over for the moment, was never to be quite satisfactorily
accounted for. In the second place, his breaking out into grinning
exclamations of "Lork you pretties!" was neither Eastern nor
respectful. In the third place, when specially instructed to say "Bismillah!"
he always said "Hallelujah!" This officer, unlike his class, was
too good-humoured altogether, kept his mouth open far too wide, expressed
approbation to an incongruous extent, and even once--it was on the
occasion of the purchase of the Fair Circassian for five hundred thousand
purses of gold, and cheap, too--embraced the Slave, the Favourite, and the
Caliph, all round. (Parenthetically let me say God bless Mesrour, and may
there have been sons and daughters on that tender bosom, softening many a
hard day since!)
Griffin was a model of propriety, and I am at a loss to imagine what the
feelings of the virtuous woman would have been, if she had known, when she
paraded us down the Hampstead Road two and two, that she was walking with
a stately step at the head of Polygamy and Mahomedanism. I believe that a
mysterious and terrible joy with which the contemplation of Miss Griffin,
in this unconscious state, inspired us, and a grim sense prevalent among
us that there was a dreadful power in our knowledge of what Miss Griffin
(who knew all things that could be learnt out of book) didn't know, were
the main- spring of the preservation of our secret. It was wonderfully
kept, but was once upon the verge of self-betrayal. The danger and escape
occurred upon a Sunday. We were all ten ranged in a conspicuous part of
the gallery at church, with Miss Griffin at our head--as we were every
Sunday--advertising the establishment in an unsecular sort of way--when
the description of Solomon in his domestic glory happened to be read. The
moment that monarch was thus referred to, conscience whispered me,
"Thou, too, Haroun!" The officiating minister had a cast in his
eye, and it assisted conscience by giving him the appearance of reading
personally at me. A crimson blush, attended by a fearful perspiration,
suffused my features. The Grand Vizier became more dead than alive, and
the whole Seraglio reddened as if the sunset of Bagdad shone direct upon
their lovely faces. At this portentous time the awful Griffin rose, and
balefully surveyed the children of Islam. My own impression was, that
Church and State had entered into a conspiracy with Miss Griffin to expose
us, and that we should all be put into white sheets, and exhibited in the
centre aisle. But, so Westerly--if I may be allowed the expression as
opposite to Eastern associations--was Miss Griffin's sense of rectitude,
that she merely suspected Apples, and we were saved.
have called the Seraglio, united. Upon the question, solely, whether the
Commander of the Faithful durst exercise a right of kissing in that
sanctuary of the palace, were its peerless inmates divided. Zobeide
asserted a counter-right in the Favourite to scratch, and the fair
Circassian put her face, for refuge, into a green baize bag, originally
designed for books. On the other hand, a young antelope of transcendent
beauty from the fruitful plains of Camden Town (whence she had been
brought, by traders, in the half- yearly caravan that crossed the
intermediate desert after the holidays), held more liberal opinions, but
stipulated for limiting the benefit of them to that dog, and son of a dog,
the Grand Vizier- -who had no rights, and was not in question. At length,
the difficulty was compromised by the installation of a very youthful
slave as Deputy. She, raised upon a stool, officially received upon her
cheeks the salutes intended by the gracious Haroun for other Sultanas, and
was privately rewarded from the coffers of the Ladies of the Hareem.
now it was, at the full height of enjoyment of my bliss, that I became
heavily troubled. I began to think of my mother, and what she would say to
my taking home at Midsummer eight of the most beautiful of the daughters
of men, but all unexpected. I thought of the number of beds we made up at
our house, of my father's income, and of the baker, and my despondency
redoubled. The Seraglio and malicious Vizier, divining the cause of their
Lord's unhappiness, did their utmost to augment it. They professed
unbounded fidelity, and declared that they would live and die with him.
Reduced to the utmost wretchedness by these protestations of attachment, I
lay awake, for hours at a time, ruminating on my frightful lot. In my
despair, I think I might have taken an early opportunity of falling on my
knees before Miss Griffin, avowing my resemblance to Solomon, and praying
to be dealt with according to the outraged laws of my country, if an
unthought-of means of escape had not opened before me.
day, we were out walking, two and two--on which occasion the Vizier had
his usual instructions to take note of the boy at the turn-pike, and if he
profanely gazed (which he always did) at the beauties of the Hareem, to
have him bowstrung in the course of the night--and it happened that our
hearts were veiled in gloom. An unaccountable action on the part of the
antelope had plunged the State into disgrace. That charmer, on the
representation that the previous day was her birthday, and that vast
treasures had been sent in a hamper for its celebration (both baseless
assertions), had secretly but most pressingly invited thirty-five
neighbouring princes and princesses to a ball and supper: with a special
stipulation that they were "not to be fetched till twelve." This
wandering of the antelope's fancy, led to the surprising arrival at Miss
Griffin's door, in divers equipages and under various escorts, of a great
company in full dress, who were deposited on the top step in a flush of
high expectancy, and who were dismissed in tears. At the beginning of the
double knocks attendant on these ceremonies, the antelope had retired to a
back attic, and bolted herself in; and at every new arrival, Miss Griffin
had gone so much more and more distracted, that at last she had been seen
to tear her front. Ultimate capitulation on the part of the offender, had
been followed by solitude in the linen-closet, bread and water and a
lecture to all, of vindictive length, in which Miss Griffin had used
expressions: Firstly, "I believe you all of you knew of it;"
Secondly, "Every one of you is as wicked as another;" Thirdly,
"A pack of little wretches."
these circumstances, we were walking drearily along; and I especially,
with my. Moosulmaun responsibilities heavy on me, was in a very low state
of mind; when a strange man accosted Miss Griffin, and, after walking on
at her side for a little while and talking with her, looked at me.
Supposing him to be a minion of the law, and that my hour was come, I
instantly ran away, with the general purpose of making for Egypt.
whole Seraglio cried out, when they saw me making off as fast as my legs
would carry me (I had an impression that the first turning on the left,
and round by the public-house, would be the shortest way to the Pyramids),
Miss Griffin screamed after me, the faithless Vizier ran after me, and the
boy at the turnpike dodged me into a corner, like a sheep, and cut me off.
Nobody scolded me when I was taken and brought back; Miss Griffin only
said, with a stunning gentleness, This was very curious! Why had I run
away when the gentleman looked at me?
I had had any breath to answer with, I dare say I should have made no
answer; having no breath, I certainly made none. Miss Griffin and the
strange man took me between them, and walked me back to the palace in a
sort of state; but not at all (as I couldn't help feeling, with
astonishment) in culprit state.
we got there, we went into a room by ourselves, and Miss Griffin called in
to her assistance, Mesrour, chief of the dusky guards of the Hareem.
Mesrour, on being whispered to, began to shed tears. "Bless you, my
precious!" said that officer, turning to me; "your Pa's took
asked, with a fluttered heart, "Is he very ill?"
temper the wind to you, my lamb!" said the good Mesrour, kneeling
down, that I might have a comforting shoulder for my head to rest on,
"your Pa's dead!"
Alraschid took to flight at the words; the Seraglio vanished; from that
moment, I never again saw one of the eight of the fairest of the daughters
was taken home, and there was Debt at home as well as Death, and we had a
sale there. My own little bed was so superciliously looked upon by a Power
unknown to me, hazily called "The Trade," that a brass
coal-scuttle, a roasting-jack, and a birdcage, were obliged to be put into
it to make a Lot of it, and then it went for a song. So I heard mentioned,
and I wondered what song, and thought what a dismal song it must have been
I was sent to a great, cold, bare, school of big boys; where everything to
eat and wear was thick and clumpy, without being enough; where everybody,
largo and small, was cruel; where the boys knew all about the sale, before
I got there, and asked me what I had fetched, and who had bought me, and
hooted at me, "Going, going, gone!" I never whispered in that
wretched place that I had been Haroun, or had had a Seraglio: for, I knew
that if I mentioned my reverses, I should be so worried, that I should
have to drown myself in the muddy pond near the playground, which looked
like the beer.
me, ah me! No other ghost has haunted the boy's room, my friends, since I
have occupied it, than the ghost of my own childhood, the ghost of my own
innocence, the ghost of my own airy belief. Many a time have I pursued the
phantom: never with this man's stride of mine to come up with it, never
with these man's hands of mine to touch it, never more to this man's heart
of mine to hold it in its purity. And here you see me working out, as
cheerfully and thankfully as I may, my doom of shaving in the glass a
constant change of customers, and of lying down and rising up with the
skeleton allotted to me for my mortal companion.
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