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A short story by John Kendrick Bangs

The Exorcism That Failed

Title:     The Exorcism That Failed
Author: John Kendrick Bangs [More Titles by Bangs]


It has happened again. I have been haunted once more, and this time by the most obnoxious spook I have ever had the bliss of meeting. He is homely, squat, and excessively vulgar in his dress and manner. I have met cockneys in my day, and some of the most offensive varieties at that, but this spook absolutely outcocknifies them all, and the worst of it is I can't seem to rid myself of him. He has pursued me like an avenging angel for quite six months, and every plan of exorcism that I have tried so far has failed, including the receipt given me by my friend Peters, who, next to myself, knows more about ghosts that any man living. It was in London that I first encountered the vulgar little creature who has made my life a sore trial ever since, and with whom I am still coping to the best of my powers.

Starting out early in the morning of June 21, last summer, to witness the pageant of her Majesty Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, I secured a good place on the corner of Northumberland Avenue and Trafalgar Square. There were two rows of people ahead of me, but I did not mind that. Those directly before me were short, and I could easily see over their heads, and, furthermore, I was protected from the police, who in London are the most dangerous people I have ever encountered, not having the genial ways of the Irish bobbies who keep the New York crowds smiling; who, when you are pushed into the line of march, merely punch you in a ticklish spot with the end of their clubs, instead of smashing your hair down into your larynx with their sticks, as do their London prototypes.

It was very comforting to me, having witnessed the pageant of 1887, when the Queen celebrated her fiftieth anniversary as a potentate, and thereby learned the English police system of dealing with crowds, to know that there were at least two rows of heads to be split open before my turn came, and I had formed the good resolution to depart as soon as the first row had been thus treated, whether I missed seeing the procession or not.

I had not been long at my post when the crowds concentrating on the line of march, coming up the avenue from the Embankment, began to shove intolerably from the rear, and it was as much as I could do to keep my place, particularly in view of the fact that the undersized cockney who stood in front of me appeared to offer no resistance to the pressure of my waistcoat against his narrow little back. It seemed strange that it should be so, but I appeared, despite his presence, to have nothing of a material nature ahead of me, and I found myself bent at an angle of seventy-five degrees, my feet firmly planted before me like those of a balky horse, restraining the onward tendency of the mob back of me.

Strong as I am, however, and stubborn, I am not a stone wall ten feet thick at the base, and the pressure brought to bear upon my poor self was soon too great for my strength, and I gradually encroached upon my unresisting friend. He turned and hurled a few remarks at me that are not printable, yet he was of no more assistance in withstanding the pressure than a marrowfat pea well cooked would have been.

"I'm sorry," I said, apologetically, "but I can't help it. If these policemen would run around to the rear and massacre some of the populace who are pushing me, I shouldn't have to shove you."

"Well, all I've got to say," he retorted, "is that if you don't keep your carcass out of my ribs I'll haunt you to your dying day."

"If you'd only put up a little backbone yourself you'd make it easier for me," I replied, quite hotly. "What are you, anyhow, a jelly-fish or an India-rubber man?" He hadn't time to answer, for just as I spoke an irresistible shove from the crowd pushed me slap up against the man in the front row, and I was appalled to find the little fellow between us bulging out on both sides of me, crushed longitudinally from top to toe, so that he resembled a paper doll before the crease is removed from its middle, three-quarters open. "Great heavens!" I muttered. "What have I struck?"

[Illustration: "'L LUL LET ME OUT!' HE GASPED "]

"L-lul-let me out!" he gasped. "Don't you see you are squ-queezing my figure out of shape? Get bub-back, blank it!"

"I can't," I panted. "I'm sorry, but--"

"Sorry be hanged!" he roared. "This is my place, you idiot--"

This was too much for me, and in my inability to kick him with my foot I did it with my knee, and then, if I had not been excited, I should have learned the unhappy truth. My knee went straight through him and shoved the man ahead into the coat-tails of the bobbie in front. It was fortunate for me that it happened as it did, for the front-row man was wrathful enough to have struck me; but the police took care of him; and as he was carried away on a stretcher, the little jelly-fish came back into his normal proportions, like an inflated India-rubber toy.

"What the deuce are you, anyhow?" I cried, aghast at the spectacle.

"You'll find out before you are a year older!" he wrathfully answered. "I'll show you a shoving trick or two that you won't like, you blooming Yank!"

It made me excessively angry to be called a blooming Yank. I am a Yankee, and I have been known to bloom, but I can't stand having a low-class Britisher apply that term to me as if it were an opprobrious thing to be, so I tried once more to kick him with my knee. Again my knee passed through him, and this time took the policeman himself in the vicinity of his pistol-pocket. The irate officer turned quickly, raised his club, and struck viciously, not at the little creature, but at me. He didn't seem to see the jelly -fish. And then the horrid truth flashed across my mind. The thing in front of me was a ghost--a miserable relic of some bygone pageant, and visible only to myself, who have an eye to that sort of thing. Luckily the bobbie missed his stroke, and as I apologized, telling him I had St. Vitus's dance and could not control my unhappy leg, accompanying the apology with a half sovereign--both of which were accepted--peace reigned, and I shortly had the bliss of seeing the whole sovereign ride by--that is, I was told that the lady behind the parasol, which obscured everything but her elbow, was her Majesty the Queen.

Nothing more of interest happened between this and the end of the procession, although the little spook in front occasionally turned and paid me a compliment which would have cost any material creature his life. But that night something of importance did happen, and it has been going on ever since. The unlovely creature turned up in my lodgings just as I was about to retire, and talked in his rasping voice until long after four o'clock. I ordered him out, and he declined to go. I struck at him, but it was like hitting smoke.

"All right," said I, putting on my clothes. "If you won't get out, I will."

"That's exactly what I intended you to do," he said. "How do you like being shoved, eh? Yesterday was the 21st of June. I shall keep shoving you along, even as you shoved me, for exactly one year."

"Humph!" I retorted. "You called me a blooming Yank yesterday. I am. I shall soon be out of your reach in the great and glorious United States."

"Oh, as for that," he answered, calmly, "I can go to the United States. There are steamers in great plenty. I could even get myself blown across on a gale, if I wanted to--only gales are not always convenient. Some of 'em don't go all the way through, and connections are hard to make. A gale I was riding on once stopped in mid-ocean, and I had to wait a week before another came along, and it landed me in Africa instead of at New York."

"Got aboard the wrong gale, eh?" said I, with a laugh.

"Yes," he answered.

"Didn't you drown?" I cried, somewhat interested.

"Idiot!" he retorted. "Drown? How could I? You can't drown a ghost!"

"See here," said I, "if you call me an idiot again, I'll--I'll--"

"What?" he put in, with a grin. "Now just what will you do? You're clever, but _I'm a ghost!"_


"You wait and see!" said I, rushing angrily from the room. It was a very weak retort, and I frankly admit that I am ashamed of it, but it was the best I had at hand at the moment. My stock of repartee, like most men's vitality, is at its lowest ebb at four o'clock in the morning.

For three or four hours I wandered aimlessly about the city, and then returned to my room, and found it deserted; but in the course of my peregrinations I had acquired a most consuming appetite. Usually I eat very little breakfast, but this morning nothing short of a sixteen-course dinner could satisfy my ravening; so instead of eating my modest boiled egg, I sought the Savoy, and at nine o'clock entered the breakfast-room of that highly favored caravansary. Imagine my delight, upon entering, to see, sitting near one of the windows, my newly made acquaintances of the steamer, the Travises of Boston, Miss Travis looking more beautiful than ever and quite as haughty, by whom I was invited to join them. I accepted with alacrity, and was just about to partake of a particularly nice melon when who should walk in but that vulgar little spectre, hat jauntily placed on one side of his head, check-patterned trousers loud enough to wake the dead, and a green plaid vest about his middle that would be an indictable offence even on an American golf links.

"Thank Heaven they can't see the brute!" I muttered as he approached.

"Hullo, old chappie!" he cried, slapping me on my back. "Introduce me to your charming friends," and with this he gave a horrible low -born smirk at Miss Travis, to whom, to my infinite sorrow, by some accursed miracle, he appeared as plainly visible as he was to me.

"Really," said Mrs. Travis, turning coldly to me, "we--we can't, you know--we--Come, Eleanor. We will leave this _gentleman_ with his _friend_, and have our breakfast sent to our rooms."

And with that they rose up and scornfully departed. The creature then sat down in Miss Travis's chair and began to devour her roll.

"See here," I cried, finally, "what the devil do you mean?"

"Shove number two," he replied, with his unholy smirk. "Very successful, eh? Werl, just you wait for number three. It will be what you Americans call a corker. By-bye."

And with that he vanished, just in time to spare me the humiliation of shying a pot of coffee at his head. Of course my appetite vanished with him, and my main duty now seemed to be to seek out the Travises and explain; so leaving the balance of my breakfast untasted, I sought the office, and sent my card up to Mrs. Travis. The response was immediate.

"The loidy says she's gone out, sir, and ain't likely to be back," remarked the top-lofty buttons, upon his return.

I was so maddened by this slight, and so thoroughly apprehensive of further trouble from the infernal shade, that I resolved without more ado to sneak out of England and back to America before the deadly blighting thing was aware of my intentions. I immediately left the Savoy, and sought the office of the Green Star Line, secured a room on the steamer sailing the next morning--the _Digestic_--from Liverpool, and was about packing up my belongings, when _it_ turned up again.

"Going away, eh?"

"Yes," I replied, shortly, and then I endeavored to deceive him. "I've been invited down to Leamington to spend a week with my old friend Dr. Liverton."

"Oh, indeed!" he observed. "Thanks for the address. I will not neglect you during your stay there. Be prepared for a shove that will turn your hair gray. _Au revoir._"

And he vanished, muttering the address I had given him--"Dr. Liverton, Leamington--Dr. Liverton." To which he added, "I won't forget _that,_ not by a jugful."

I chuckled softly to myself as he disappeared. "He's clever, but-- there are others," I said, delighted at the ease with which I had rid myself of him; and then eating a hearty luncheon, I took the train to Liverpool, where next morning I embarked on the _Digestic_ for New York.


The sense of relief that swept over me when the great anchor of the _Digestic_ came up from the unstrained quality of the Mersey, and I thought of the fact that shortly a vast ocean would roll between me and that fearful spook, was one of the most delightful emotions that it has ever been my good fortune to experience. Now all seemed serene, and I sought my cabin belowstairs, whistling gayly; but, alas! how fleeting is happiness, even to a whistler!

As I drew near to the room which I had fondly supposed was to be my own exclusively I heard profane remarks issuing therefrom. There was condemnation of the soap; there was perdition for the lighting apparatus; there were maledictions upon the location of the port, and the bedding was excommunicate.

"This is strange," said I to the steward. "I have engaged this room for the passage. I hear somebody in there."

"Not at all, sir," said he, opening the door; "it is empty." And to him it undoubtedly appeared to be so.

"But," I cried, "didn't you hear anything?"

"Yes, I did," he said, candidly; "but I supposed you was a ventriloquist, sir, and was a-puttin' up of a game on me."

Here the steward smiled, and I was too angry to retort. And then-- Well, you have guessed it. _He_ turned up--and more vulgar than ever.

"Hullo!" he said, nonchalantly, fooling with a suit-case. "Going over?"

"Oh no!" I replied, sarcastic. "Just out for a swim. When we get off the Banks I'm going to jump overboard and swim to the Azores on a wager."

"How much?" he asked.

"Five bob," said I, feeling that he could not grasp a larger amount.

"Humph!" he ejaculated. "I'd rather drive a cab--as I used to."

"Ah?" said I. "That's what you were, eh? A cab-driver. Takes a mighty mind to be that, eh? Splendid intellectual effort to drive a cab from the Reform Club to the Bank, eh?"

I had hoped to wither him.

"Oh, I don't know," he answered, suavely. "I'll tell you this, though: I'd rather go from the Club to the Bank on my hansom with me holding the reins than try to do it with Mr. Gladstone or the Prince o' Wiles on the box."

"Prince o' Wiles?" I said, with a withering manner.

"That's what I said," he retorted. "You would call him Prince of Whales, I suppose--like a Yank, a blooming Yank--because you think Britannia rules the waves."

I had to laugh; and then a plan of conciliation suggested itself. I would jolly him, as my political friends have it.

"Have a drink?" I asked.

"No, thanks; I don't indulge," he replied. "Let me offer you a cigar."

I accepted, and he extracted a very fair-looking weed from his box, which he handed me. I tried to bite off the end, succeeding only in biting my tongue, whereat the presence roared with laughter.

"What's the joke now?" I queried, irritated.

"You," he answered. "The idea of any one's being fool enough to try to bite off the end of a spook cigar strikes me as funny."

From that moment all thought of conciliation vanished, and I resorted to abuse.

"You are a low-born thing!" I shouted. "And if you don't get out of here right away I'll break every bone in your body."

"Very well," he answered, coolly, scribbling on a pad close at hand. "There's the address."

"What address?" I asked.

"Of the cemetery where those bones you are going to break are to be found. You go in by the side gate, and ask any of the grave-diggers where--"

"You infernal scoundrel!" I shrieked, "this is my room. I have bought and paid for it, and I intend to have it. Do you hear?"

His response was merely the clapping of his hands together, and in a stage-whisper, leaning towards me, he said:

"Bravo! Bravo! You are great. I think you could do Lear. Say those last words again, will you?"

His calmness was too much for me, and I lost all control of myself. Picking up the water-bottle, I hurled it at him with all the force at my command. It crashed through him and struck the mirror over the wash-stand, and as the shattered glass fell with a loud noise to the floor the door to my state-room opened, and the captain of the ship, flanked by the room steward and the doctor, stood at the opening.

"What's all this about?" said the captain, addressing me.

"I have engaged this room for myself alone," I said, trembling in my rage, "and I object to that person's presence." Here I pointed at the intruder.

"What person's presence?" demanded the captain, looking at the spot where the haunting thing sat grinning indecently.

"What person?" I roared, forgetting the situation for the moment. "Why, him--it--whatever you choose to call it. He's settled down here, and has been black-guarding me for twenty minutes, and, damn it, captain, I won't stand it!"

"It's a clear case," said the captain, with a sigh, turning and addressing the doctor. "Have you a strait-jacket?"

"Thank you, captain," said I, calming down. "It's what he ought to have, but it won't do any good. You see, he's not a material thing. He's buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, and so the strait-jacket won't help us."

Here the doctor stepped into the room and took me gently by the arm. "Take off your clothes," he said, "and lie down. You need quiet."

"I?" I demanded, not as yet realizing my position. "Not by a long shot. Fire _him_ out. That's all I ask."

"Take off your clothes and get into that bed," repeated the doctor, peremptorily. Then he turned to the captain and asked him to detail two of his sailors to help him. "He's going to be troublesome," he added, in a whisper. "Mad as a hatter."

I hesitate, in fact decline, to go through the agony of what followed again by writing of it in detail. Suffice it to say that the doctor persisted in his order that I should undress and go to bed, and I, conscious of the righteousness of my position, fought this determination, until, with the assistance of the steward and the two able-bodied seamen detailed by the captain at the doctor's request, I was forcibly unclad and thrown into the lower berth and strapped down. My wrath knew no bounds, and I spoke my mind as plainly as I knew how. It is a terrible thing to be sane, healthy, fond of deck-walking, full of life, and withal unjustly strapped to a lower berth below the water-line on a hot day because of a little beast of a cockney ghost, and I fairly howled my sentiments.

[Illustration: "I WAS FORCIBLY UNCLAD"]

On the second day from Liverpool two maiden ladies in the room next mine made representations to the captain which resulted in my removal to the steerage. They couldn't consent, they said, to listen to the shrieks of the maniac in the adjoining room.

And then, when I found myself lying on a cot in the steerage, still strapped down, who should appear but my little spectre.

"Well," he said, sitting on the edge of the cot, "what do you think of it now, eh? Ain't I a shover from Shoverville on the Push?"

"It's all right," I said, contemptuously. "But I'll tell you one thing, Mr. Spook: when I die and have a ghost of my own, that ghost will seek you out, and, by thunder, if it doesn't thrash the life out of you, I'll disown it!"

It seemed to me that he paled a bit at this, but I was too tired to gloat over a little thing like that, so I closed my eyes and went to sleep. A few days later I was so calm and rational that the doctor released me, and for the remainder of my voyage I was as free as any other person on board, except that I found myself constantly under surveillance, and was of course much irritated by the notion that my spacious stateroom was not only out of my reach, but probably in the undisputed possession of the cockney ghost.

After seven days of ocean travel New York was reached, and I was allowed to step ashore without molestation. But my infernal friend turned up on the pier, and added injury to insult by declaring in my behalf certain dutiable articles in my trunks, thereby costing me some dollars which I should much rather have saved. Still, after the incidents of the voyage, I thought it well to say nothing, and accepted the hardships of the experience in the hope that in the far distant future my spook would meet his and thrash the very death out of him.

Well, things went on. The cockney spook left me to my own devices until November, when I had occasion to lecture at a certain college in the Northwest. I travelled from my home to the distant platform, went upon it, was introduced by the proper functionary, and began my lecture. In the middle of the talk, who should appear in a vacant chair well down towards the stage but the cockney ghost, with a guffaw at a strong and not humorous point, which disconcerted me! I broke down and left the platform, and in the small room at the side encountered him.

"Shove the fourth!" he cried, and vanished.

It was then that I consulted Peters as to how best to be rid of him.

"There is no use of talking about it," I said to Peters, "the man is ruining me. Socially with the Travises I am an outcast, and I have no doubt they will tell about it, and my ostracism will extend. On the _Digestic_ my sanity is seriously questioned, and now for the first time in my life, before some two thousand people, I break down in a public lecture which I have delivered dozens of times hitherto without a tremor. The thing cannot go on."

"I should say not," Peters answered. "Maybe I can help you to get rid of him, but I'm not positive about it; my new scheme isn't as yet perfected. Have you tried the fire-extinguisher treatment?"

I will say here, that Peters upon two occasions has completely annihilated unpleasant spectres by turning upon them the colorless and odorless liquids whose chemical action is such that fire cannot live in their presence.

"Fire, the vital spark, is the essential element of all these chaps," said he, "and if you can turn the nozzle of your extinguisher on that spook your ghost simply goes out."

"No, I haven't," I replied; "but I will the first chance I get." And I left him, hopeful if not confident of a successful exorcism.

On my return home I got out two of the extinguishers which were left in my back hall for use in case of an emergency, and tested one of them on the lawn. I merely wished to ascertain if it would work with spirit, and it did; it went off like a sodawater fountain loaded with dynamite, and I felt truly happy for the first time in many days.

"The vulgar little beast would better keep away from me now," I laughed. But my mirth was short-lived. Whether or not the obnoxious little chap had overheard, or from some hidden coign had watched my test of the fire-extinguisher I don't know, but when he came to my den that night he was amply protected against the annihilating effects of the liquid by a flaring plaid mackintosh, with a toque for his head, and the minute I started the thing squirting he turned his back and received the charge harmless on his shoulders. The only effect of the experiment was the drenching and consequent ruin of a pile of MSS. I had been at work on all day, which gave me another grudge against him. When the extinguisher had exhausted itself, the spectre turned about and fairly raised the ceiling with his guffaws, and when he saw my ruined pages upon the desk his mirth became convulsive.

"De-lightful!" he cried. "For an impromptu shove wherein I turn over the shoving to you in my own behalf, I never saw it equalled. Wouldn't be a bad thing if all writers would wet down their MSS. the same way, now would it?"

But I was too indignant to reply, and too chagrined over my failure to remain within-doors, so I rushed out and paced the fields for two hours. When I returned, he had gone.


Three weeks later he turned up once more. "Great Heavens!" I cried; "you back again?"

"Yes," he answered; "and I've come to tell you I'm mighty sorry about those ruined MSS. of yours. It is too bad that your whole day's work had to go for nothing."

[Illustration: "HE WAS AMPLY PROTECTED"]

"I think so myself," I retorted, coldly. "It's rather late in the day for you to be sorry, though. If you'll show your sincerity by going away and never crossing my path again, I may believe in you."

"Ah!" he said, "I've shown it in another way. Indeed I have. You know I have some conscience, though, to tell the truth, I haven't made much use of it. This time, however, as I considered the situation, a little voice rose up within me and said: 'It's all right, old chap, to be rough on this person; make him mad and shove him every which way; but don't destroy his work. His work is what he lives by--'"

"Yes," I interrupted, "and after what I told you on the steamer about what I would do to you when we got on even terms, you are not anxious to have me die. I know just how you feel. No thing likes to contemplate that paralysis that will surely fall upon you when my ghost begins to get in its fine work. I'm putting it in training now."

"You poor droll mortal!" laughed the cockney. "You poor droll mortal! As if I could ever be afraid of that! What is the matter with my going into training myself? Two can train, you know--even three. You almost make me feel sorry I tried to remedy the loss of those MSS."

Somehow or other a sense of some new misfortune came upon me.

"What?" I said, nervously.

"I say I'm almost sorry I tried to remedy the loss of those manuscripts. Composition, particularly poetry, is devilish hard for me--I admit it--and when I think of how I toiled over my substitutes for your ruined stuff, and see how very ungrateful you are, I grudge the effort."

"I don't understand you," I said, anxiously. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that I have written and sent out to the editors of the papers you write for a half a dozen poems and short stories."

"What has all that got to do with me?" I demanded.

"A great deal," he said. "You'll get the pay. _I signed your name to 'em_."

"Y--you--you--you--did what?" I cried.

"Signed your name to 'em. There was a sonnet to 'A Coal Grab'--that was the longest of the lot. I think it will cover at least six magazine pages--"

"But," I cried, "a sonnet never contains more than fourteen lines-- you--fool!"

"Oh yes, it does," he replied, calmly. "This one of yours had over four hundred. And then I wrote a three-page quatrain on 'Immortality,' which, if I do say it, is the funniest thing I ever read. I sent that to the _Weekly Methodist_."

"Good Lord, good Lord, good Lord!" I moaned. "A three-page quatrain!"

"Yes," he observed, calmly lighting one of his accursed cigars. "And you'll get all the credit."

A ray of hope entered my soul, and it enabled me to laugh hysterically. "They'll know it isn't mine," said I. "They know my handwriting at the office of the _Weekly Methodist_."

"No doubt," said he, dashing all my hopes to the ground. "But--ah-- to remedy that drawback I took pains to find out what type-writer you used, and I had my quatrain copied on one of the same make."

"But the letter--the note with the manuscript?" I put in.

"Oh, I got over that very easily," he said. "I had that written also on the machine, on thin paper, and traced your signature at the bottom. It will be all right, my dear fellow. They'll never suspect."

And then, looking at the spirit-watch which he carried in his spectral fob-pocket, he vanished, leaving me immersed in the deepest misery of my life. Not content with ruining me socially, and as a lecturer; not satisfied with destroying me mentally on the seas, he had now attacked me on my most vulnerable point, my literary aspirations. I could not rest until I had read his "three-page quatrain" on "Immortality." Vulgar as I knew him to be, I felt confident that over my name something had gone out which even in my least self-respecting moods I could not tolerate. The only comfort that came to me was that his verses and his type-writing and his tracings of my autograph would be as spectral to others as to the eye not attuned to the seeing of ghosts. I was soon to be undeceived, however, for the next morning's mail brought to my home a dozen packages from my best "consumers," containing the maudlin frivolings of this--this--this--well, there is no polite word to describe him in any known tongue. I shall have to study the Aryan language--or Kipling--to find an epithet strong enough to apply to this especial case. Every point, every single detail, about these packages was convincing evidence of their contents having been of my own production. The return envelopes were marked at the upper corner with my name and address. The handwriting upon them was manifestly mine, although I never in my life penned those particular superscriptions. Within these envelopes were, I might say, pounds of MSS., apparently from my own typewriting machine, and signed in an autograph which would have deceived even myself.

And the stuff!

Stuff is not the word--in fact, there is no word in any language, however primitive and impolite, that will describe accurately the substance of those pages. And with each came a letter from the editor of the periodical to which the tale or poem had been sent _advising me to stop work for a while_, and one _suggested the Keeley cure!_

Immediately I sat down and wrote to the various editors to whom these productions had been submitted, explaining all--and every one of them came back to me unopened, with the average statement that until I had rested a year they really hadn't the time to read what I wrote; and my best friend among them, the editor of the _Weekly Methodist_, took the trouble to telegraph to my brother the recommendation that I should be looked after. And out of the mistaken kindness of his heart, he printed a personal in his next issue to the effect that his "valued contributor, Mr. Me, the public would regret to hear, was confined to his house by a sudden and severe attack of nervous prostration," following it up with an estimate of my career, which bore every mark of having been saved up to that time for use as an obituary.

And as I read the latter--the obituary--over, with tears in my eyes, what should I hear but the words, spoken at my back, clearly, but in unmistakable cockney accents,

"Shove the fifth!" followed by uproarious laughter. I grabbed up the ink-bottle and threw it with all my strength back of me, and succeeded only in destroying the wall-paper.


The destruction of the wall-paper, not to mention the wiping out in a moment of my means of livelihood, made of the fifth shove an intolerable nuisance. Controlling myself with difficulty, I put on my hat and rushed to the telegraph office, whence I despatched a message, marked "Rush," to Peters.

"For Heaven's sake, complete your exorcism and bring it here at once," I wired him. "Answer collect."

Peters by no means soothed my agitation by his immediate and extremely flippant response.

"I don't know why you wish me to answer collect, but I suppose you do. So I answer as you request: Collect. What is it you are going to collect? Your scattered faculties?" he telegraphed. It was a mean sort of a telegram to send to a man in my unhappy state, and if he hadn't prepaid it I should never have forgiven him. I was mad enough when I received it, and a hot retort was about to go back, when the bothersome spook turned up and drew my mind off to other things.

"Well, what do you think of me?" he said, ensconcing himself calmly on my divan. "Pretty successful shover myself, eh?" Then he turned his eye to the inkspots on the wall. "Novel design in decoration, that. You ought to get employment in some wall-paper house. Given an accurate aim and plenty of ink, you can't be beaten for vigorous spatter-work."

I pretended to ignore his presence, and there was a short pause, after which he began again:

"Sulky, eh? Oh, well, I don't blame you. There's nothing in this world that can so harrow up one's soul as impotent wrath. I've heard of people bursting with it. I've had experiences in the art of irritation before this case. There was a fellow once hired my cab for an hour. Drove him all about London, and then he stopped in at a chop-house, leaving me outside. I waited and waited and waited, but he never came back. Left by the back door, you know. Clever trick, and for a while the laugh was on me; but when I got to the point where I could haunt him, I did it to the Regent's taste. I found him three years after my demise, and through the balance of his life pursued him everywhere with a phantom cab. If he went to church, I'd drive my spectre rig right down the middle aisle after him. If he called on a girl, there was the cab drawn up alongside of him in the parlor all the time, the horse stamping his foot and whinnying like all possessed. Of course no one else saw me or the horse or the cab, but he did--and, Lord! how mad he was, and how hopeless! Finally, in a sudden surge of wrath at his impotence, he burst, just like a soap-bubble. It was most amusing. Even the horse laughed."

"Thanks for the story," said I, wishing to anger him by my nonchalance. "I'll write it up."

"Do," he said. "It will make a clever sixth shove for me. People say your fancies are too wild and extravagant even now. A story like that will finish you at once."

"Again, thanks," said I, very calmly. "This time for the hint. Acting on your advice, I won't write it up."

"Don't," he retorted. "And be forever haunted with the idea. Either way, it suits me."

And he vanished once more.

The next morning Peters arrived at my house.

"I've come," he said, as he entered my den. "The scheme is perfected at last, and possibly you can use it. You need help of some kind. I can see that, just by reading your telegram. You're nervous as a cat. How do you heat your house?"

"What's that got to do with it?" I demanded, irritably. "You can't evaporate the little cuss."

"Don't want to," Peters replied. "That's been tried before, and it doesn't work. My scheme is a better one than that. Did you ever notice, while smoking in a house that is heated by a hot-air furnace, how, when a cloud of smoke gets caught in the current of air from the register, it is mauled and twisted until it gets free, or else is torn entirely apart?"

"Yes, I have," said I. "What of it?"

"Well, what's the matter with being genial with your old cockney until he gets in the habit of coming here every night, and bide your time until, without his knowing it, you can turn a blast from the furnace on him that will simply rend him to pieces?"

"By Jove!" I cried, delightedly. "You are a genius, old chap."

I rose and shook his hand until he remonstrated.

"Save your energy for him," said he. "You'll need it. It won't be a pleasant spectacle to witness when, in his struggles to get away, he is gradually dismembered. It will be something like the drawing and quartering punishment of olden times."

I shuddered as I thought of it, and for a moment was disposed to reject the plan, but my weakness left me as I thought of the ruin that stared me in the face.

"Oh, I don't know," I said, shaking my head. "It will have its pleasurable side, however fearsome it may prove as a sight. This house is just fitted for the operation, particularly on warm days. I have seen times when the blasts of hot air from my furnace have blown one of my poems off my table across the room."

"Great Scott!" cried Peters. "What a cyclone of an air-box you must have!"

Fortunately the winter season was on, and we were able to test the capacity of the furnace, with gratifying results. A soap-bubble was blown, and allowed to float downward until the current was reached, and the novel shapes it took, as it was blown about the room in its struggles to escape before it burst, were truly wonderful. I doubted not for an instant, from what I then saw, that the little cad of a spectre that was ruining my life would soon meet his Nemesis. So convinced was I of the ultimate success of the plan that I could hardly wait patiently for his coming. I became morbidly anxious for the horrid spectacle which I should witness as his body was torn apart and gradually annihilated by the relentless output of my furnace flues. To my great annoyance, it was two weeks before he turned up again, and I was beginning to fear that he had in some wise got wind of my intentions, and was turning my disappointment over his absence into the sixth of his series of "shoves." Finally, however, my anxiety was set at rest by his appearance on a night especially adapted to a successful issue of the conspiracy. It was blowing great guns from the west, and the blasts of air, intermittent in their force, that came up through the flues were such that under other circumstances they would have annoyed me tremendously. Almost everything in the line of the current that issued from the register and passed diagonally across the room to my fireplace, and so on up the chimney, was disturbed. The effect upon particles of paper and the fringes on my chairs was almost that of a pneumatic tube on substances placed within it, and on one or two occasions I was seriously apprehensive of the manner in which the flames on the hearth leaped upward into the sooty heights of my chimney flues.

But when, as happened shortly, I suddenly became conscious that my spectre cockney had materialized, all my fears for the safety of my house fled, and I surreptitiously turned off the heat, so that once he got within range of the register I could turn it on again, and his annihilation would be as instantaneous as what my newspaper friends call an electrocution. And that was precisely where I made my mistake, although I must confess that what ensued when I got the nauseating creature within range was most delightful.

"Didn't expect me back, eh?" he said, as he materialized in my library. "Missed me, I suppose, eh?"

"I've missed you like the deuce!" I replied, cordially, holding out my hand as if welcoming him back, whereat he frowned suspiciously. "Now that I'm reconciled to your system, and know that there is no possible escape for me, I don't seem to feel so badly. How have you been, and what have you been doing?"

"Bah!" he retorted. "What's up now? You know mighty well you don't like me any better than you ever did. What funny little game are you trying to work on me now, eh?"

"Really, 'Arry," I replied, "you wrong me--and, by-the-way, excuse me for calling you 'Arry. It is the most appropriate name I can think of at the moment."

"Call me what you blooming please," he answered. "But remember you can't soft-soap me into believing you like me. B-r-r-r-r!" he added, shivering. "It's beastly cold in here. What you been doing--storing ice?"

"Well--there's a fire burning over there in the fireplace," said I, anxious to get him before the open chimney-place; for, by a natural law, that was directly in the line of the current.

He looked at me suspiciously, and then at the fireplace with equal mistrust; then he shrugged his shoulders with a mocking laugh that jarred.

"Humph!" he said. "What's your scheme? Got some patent explosive logs, full of chemicals, to destroy me?"

I laughed. "How suspicious you are!" I said.

"Yes--I always am of suspicious characters," he replied, planting himself immediately in front of the register, desirous no doubt of acting directly contrary to my suggestion.

My opportunity had come more easily than I expected.

"There isn't any heat here," said he.

"It's turned off. I'll turn it on for you," said I, scarcely able to contain myself with excitement--and I did.

Well, as I say, the spectacle was pleasing, but it did not work as I had intended. He was caught in the full current, not in any of the destroying eddyings of the side upon which I had counted to twist his legs off and wring his neck. Like the soap-bubble it is true, he was blown into various odd fantastic shapes, such as crullers resolve themselves into when not properly looked after, but there was no dismembering of his body. He struggled hard to free himself, and such grotesque attitudes as his figure assumed I never saw even in one of Aubrey Beardsley's finest pictures; and once, as his leg and right arm verged on the edge of one of the outside eddies, I hoped to see these members elongated like a piece of elastic until they snapped off; but, with a superhuman struggle, he got them free, with the loss only of one of his fingers, by which time the current had blown him across the room and directly in front of my fender. To keep from going up the chimney, he tried to brace himself against this with his feet, but missing the rail, as helpless as a feather, he floated, toes first, into the fireplace, and thence, kicking, struggling, and swearing profanely, disappeared into the flue.

It was too exciting a moment for me to laugh over my triumph, but shortly there came a nervous reaction which made me hysterical as I thought of his odd appearance; and then following close upon this came the dashing of my hopes.

An infernal misplaced, uncalled-for back gust, a diversion in which, thanks to an improper construction, my chimney frequently indulges, blew the unhappy creature back into the room again, strained, sprained, panting, minus the finger he had lost, and so angry that he quivered all over.

What his first words were I shall not repeat. They fairly seethed out of his turned and twisted soul, hissing like the escape-valve of an ocean steamer, and his eyes, as they fell upon mine, actually burned me.

"This settles it," he hissed, venomously. "I had intended letting you off with one more shove, but now, after your dastardly attempt to rend me apart with your damned hot-air furnace, I shall haunt you to your dying day; I shall haunt you so terribly that years before your final exit from this world you will pray for death. As a shover you have found me equal to everything, but since you prefer twisting, twisting be it. You shall hear from me again!"

He vanished, and, I must confess it, I threw myself upon my couch, weeping hot tears of despair.

Peters's scheme had failed, and I was in a far worse position than ever. Shoving I can stand, but the brief exhibition of twisting that I had had in watching his struggles with that awful cyclonic blast from below convinced me that there was something in life even more to be dreaded than the shoving he and I had been indulging in.

But there was a postscript, and now all is well again, because--but let us reserve the wherefore of the postscript for another, concluding chapter.


So hopeless was my estate now become that, dreading more than ever that which the inscrutable future held for me, I sat down and framed an advertisement, which I contemplated putting in all the newspapers, weeklies, and monthly periodicals, offering a handsome reward for any suggestion which might result in ridding me of the cockney ghost. The inventive mind of man has been able to cope successfully with rats and mice and other household pests. Why, then, should there not be somewhere in the world a person of sufficient ingenuity to cope with an obnoxious spirit? If rat -dynamite and rough on June-bugs were possible, why was it not likely that some as yet unknown person had turned his attention to spectrology, and evolved something in the nature of rough on ghosts, spectremelinite, or something else of an effective nature, I asked myself. It seemed reasonable to suppose that out of the millions of people in the world there were others than Peters and myself who had made a study of ghosts and methods of exorcising them, and if these persons could only be reached I might yet escape. Accordingly, I penned the advertisement about as follows:

WANTED, by a young and rising author,
who is pursued by a vindictive spirit,


A liberal reward will be paid to any wizard,
recognized or unrecognized, who will, before
February I, 1898, send to me a detailed statement
of a


of getting rid of


It is agreed that these communications shall
be regarded as strictly confidential until such
a time as through their medium the spirit is


after which time the cure will be exploited


in the best advertising mediums of the day.

To this I appended an assumed name and a temporary address, and was about to send it out, when my friend Wilkins, a millionaire student of electricity, living in Florida, invited me to spend my Christmas holidays with him on Lake Worth.

"I've got a grand scheme," he wrote, "which I am going to test, and I'd like to have you present at the trial. Come down, if you can, and see my new electric sailboat and all-around dynamic Lone Fisherman."

The idea took hold of me at once. In my nervous state the change of scene would do me good. Besides, Wilkins was a delightful companion.

So, forgetting my woes for the moment, I packed my trunk and started South for Wilkins's Island. It was upon this trip that the vengeful spirit put in his first twist, for at Jacksonville I was awakened in the middle of the night by a person, whom I took to be the conductor, who told me to change cars. This I did, and falling asleep in the car to which I had changed, waked up the next morning to find myself speeding across the peninsula instead of going downward towards the Keys, as I should have done, landing eventually at a small place called Homosassa, on the Gulf coast.

Of course it was not the conductor of the first train who, under cover of the darkness, had led me astray, but the pursuing spirit, as I found out when, bewildered, I sat upon the platform of the station at Homosassa, wondering how the deuce I had got there. He turned up at that moment, and frankly gloated over the success of what he called shove the seventh, and twist the first.

"Nice place, this," said he, with a nauseating smirk. "So close to Lake Worth--eh? Only two days' ride on the choo-choo, if you make connections, and when changing take the right trains."

I pretended not to see him, and began to whistle the intermezzo from "Cavalleria Rusticana," to show how little I cared.

"Good plan, old chap," said he; "but it won't work. I know you are put out, in spite of the tunefulness of your soul. But wait for my second twist. You'll wish you'd struck a cyclone instead when that turn comes."

It was, as he suggested, at least two days before I was able to get to Wilkins at Lake Worth; but after I got there the sense of annoyance and the deep dejection into which I was plunged wore away, as well it might, for the test which I was invited to witness was most interesting. The dynamic Lone Fisherman was wonderful enough, but the electric sail-boat was a marvel. The former was very simple. It consisted of a reel operated by electricity, which, the moment a blue-fish struck the skid at the end of the line, reeled the fish in, and flopped it into a basket as easily and as surely as you please; but the principle of the sailboat was new.

"I don't need a breeze to sail anywhere," said Wilkins, as he hauled up the mainsail, which flapped idly in the still air. "For you see," he added, touching a button alongside of the tiller, "this button sets that big electric fan in the stern revolving, and the result is an artificial breeze which distends the sail, and there you are."

It was even as he said. A huge fan with a dozen flanges in the stern began to revolve with wonderful rapidity; in an instant the sails bellied out, and the _Horace J._, as his boat was named, was speeding through the waters before the breeze thus created in record-breaking fashion.

"By Jove, Billie," I said, "this is a dandy!"

"Isn't it!" cried an old familiar voice at my elbow.

I turned as if stung. The spirit was with me again, prepared, I doubted not, for his second twist. I sprang from my seat, a sudden inspiration flashing upon me, jumped back of the revolving fan, and turning the full force of the wind it created upon my vindictive visitant, blew him fairly and squarely into the bulging sail.

"There, blast your cockney eyes!" I cried; "take that."

He tried to retort, but without avail. The wind that emanated from the fan fairly rammed his words back into his throat every time he opened his mouth to speak, and there he lay, flat against the canvas, fluttering like a leaf, powerless to escape.

"Hot air doesn't affect you much, you transparent jackass!" I roared. "Let me see how a stiff nor'easter suits your style of beauty."

I will not bore the reader with any further details of the Lake Worth experience. Suffice it to say that for five hours I kept the miserable thing a pneumatic prisoner in the concave surface of the sail. Try as he would, he could not escape, and finally, when Wilkins and I went ashore for the night, and the cockney ghost was released, he vanished, using unutterable language, and an idea came to me, putting which into operation, I at last secured immunity from his persecutions.

Returning to New York three days later, I leased a small office in a fire-proof power building not far from Madison Square, fitted it up as if for my own use, and had placed in the concealment of a closet at its easterly end the largest electric fan I could get. It was ten feet in diameter, and was provided with sixteen flanges. When it was in motion not a thing could withstand the blast that came from it. Tables, chairs, even a cut-glass inkstand weighing two pounds, were blown with a crash against the solid stone and iron construction back of the plaster of my walls. And then I awaited his coming.

Suffice it to say that he came, sat down calmly and unsuspecting in the chair I had had made for his especial benefit, and then the moment he began to revile me I turned on the power, the fan began to revolve, the devastating wind rushed down upon him with a roar, pinned him to the wall like a butterfly on a cork, and he was at last my prisoner--and he is my prisoner still. For three weeks has that wheel been revolving night and day, and despite all his cunning he cannot creep beyond its blustering influence, nor shall he ever creep therefrom while I have six hundred dollars per annum to pay for the rent and cost of power necessary to keep the fan going. Every once in a while I return and gloat over him; and I can tell by the movement of his lips that he is trying to curse me, but he cannot, for, even as Wilkins's fan blew his words of remonstrance back into his throat, so does my wheel, twice as powerful, keep his torrent of invective from greeting my ear.


I should be happy to prove the truth of all this by showing any curious-minded reader the spectacle which gives me so much joy, but I fear to do so lest the owners of the building, discovering the uses to which their office has been put, shall require me to vacate the premises.

Of course he may ultimately escape, through some failure of the machine to operate, but it is guaranteed to run five years without a break, so for that period at least I am safe, and by that time it may be that he will be satisfied to call things square. I shall be satisfied if he is.

Meanwhile, I devote my successful plan to the uses of all who may be troubled as I was, finding in their assumed gratitude a sufficient compensation for my ingenuity.

[The end]
John Kendrick Bangs's short story: The Exorcism That Failed