“‘The Haunted Man’ by Ch_r__s D_i_ck_n_s: A Christmas Story” — Bret Harte

“‘The Haunted Man’

by Ch_r__s D_i_ck_n_s

A Christmas Story”

by

Bret Harte


 

 

PART I

THE FIRST PHANTOM

Don’t tell me that it wasn’t a knocker. I had seen it often enough, and I ought to know. So ought the three-o’clock beer, in dirty high-lows, swinging himself over the railing, or executing a demoniacal jig upon the doorstep; so ought the butcher, although butchers as a general thing are scornful of such trifles; so ought the postman, to whom knockers of the most extravagant description were merely human weaknesses, that were to be pitied and used. And so ought for the matter of that, etc., etc., etc.

But then it was such a knocker. A wild, extravagant, and utterly incomprehensible knocker. A knocker so mysterious and suspicious that policeman X 37, first coming upon it, felt inclined to take it instantly in custody, but compromised with his professional instincts by sharply and sternly noting it with an eye that admitted of no nonsense, but confidently expected to detect its secret yet. An ugly knocker; a knocker with a hard human face, that was a type of the harder human face within. A human face that held between its teeth a brazen rod. So hereafter, in the mysterious future should be held, etc., etc. Continue reading ““‘The Haunted Man’ by Ch_r__s D_i_ck_n_s: A Christmas Story” — Bret Harte”

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Read “Fantine,” Bret Harte’s Victor Hugo parody

Fantine (after the French of Victor Hugo)

by

Bret Harte


 

Prologue

As long as there shall exist three paradoxes, a moral Frenchman, a
religious atheist, and a believing skeptic; so long, in fact, as
booksellers shall wait—say twenty-live years—for a new gospel;
so long as paper shall remain cheap and ink three sous a bottle, I
have no hesitation in saying that such books as these are not
utterly profitless. VICTOR HUGO.

To be good is to be queer. What is a good man? Bishop Myriel.

My friend, you will possibly object to this. You will say you know what a good man is. Perhaps you will say your clergyman is a good man, for instance. Bah! you are mistaken; you are an Englishman, and an Englishman is a beast.

Englishmen think they are moral when they are only serious. These Englishmen also wear ill-shaped hats, and dress horribly!

Bah! they are canaille.

Still, Bishop Myriel was a good man,—quite as good as you. Better than you, in fact.

One day M. Myriel was in Paris. This angel used to walk about the streets like any other man. He was not proud, though fine-looking. Well, three gamins de Paris called him bad names. Says one,—

“Ah, mon Dieu! there goes a priest; look out for your eggs and chickens!” What did this good man do? He called to them kindly.

“My children,” said he, “this is clearly not your fault. I recognize in this insult and irreverence only the fault of your immediate progenitors. Let us pray for your immediate progenitors.”

They knelt down and prayed for their immediate progenitors.

The effect was touching.

The Bishop looked calmly around.

“On reflection,” said he gravely, “I was mistaken; this is clearly the fault of Society. Let us pray for Society.”

They knelt down and prayed for Society.

The effect was sublimer yet. What do you think of that? You, I mean.

Everybody remembers the story of the Bishop and Mother Nez Retrousse. Old Mother Nez Retrousse sold asparagus. She was poor; there’s a great deal of meaning in that word, my friend. Some people say “poor but honest.” I say, Bah!

Bishop Myriel bought six bunches of asparagus. This good man had one charming failing: he was fond of asparagus. He gave her a franc, and received three sous change.

The sous were bad,—counterfeit. What did this good Bishop do? He said: “I should not have taken change from a poor woman.”

Then afterwards, to his housekeeper: “Never take change from a poor woman.”

Then he added to himself: “For the sous will probably be bad.”

II

When a man commits a crime, Society claps him in prison. A prison is one of the worst hotels imaginable.

The people there are low and vulgar. The butter is bad, the coffee is green. Ah, it is horrible!

In prison, as in a bad hotel, a man soon loses, not only his morals, but what is much worse to a Frenchman, his sense of refinement and delicacy.

Jean Valjean came from prison with confused notions of Society. He forgot the modern peculiarities of hospitality. So he walked off with the Bishop’s candlesticks.

Let us consider. Candlesticks were stolen; that was evident. Society put Jean Valjean in prison; that was evident, too. In prison, Society took away his refinement; that is evident, likewise.

Who is Society?

You and I are Society.

My friend, you and I stole those candlesticks!

Continue reading “Read “Fantine,” Bret Harte’s Victor Hugo parody”

Read Bret Harte’s short story “Miggles”

“Miggles”

by

Bret Harte

We were eight, including the driver. We had not spoken during the passage of the last six miles, since the jolting of the heavy vehicle over the roughening road had spoiled the Judge’s last poetical quotation. The tall man beside the Judge was asleep, his arm passed through the swaying strap and his head resting upon it—altogether a limp, helpless-looking object, as if he had hanged himself and been cut down too late. The French lady on the back seat was asleep, too, yet in a half-conscious propriety of attitude, shown even in the disposition of the handkerchief which she held to her forehead and which partially veiled her face. The lady from Virginia City, traveling with her husband, had long since lost all individuality in a wild confusion of ribbons, veils, furs, and shawls. There was no sound but the rattling of wheels and the dash of rain upon the roof. Suddenly the stage stopped and we became dimly aware of voices. The driver was evidently in the midst of an exciting colloquy with someone in the road—a colloquy of which such fragments as “bridge gone,” “twenty feet of water,” “can’t pass,” were occasionally distinguishable above the storm. Then came a lull, and a mysterious voice from the road shouted the parting adjuration:

“Try Miggles’s.”

We caught a glimpse of our leaders as the vehicle slowly turned, of a horseman vanishing through the rain, and we were evidently on our way to Miggles’s.

Who and where was Miggles? The Judge, our authority, did not remember the name, and he knew the country thoroughly. The Washoe traveler thought Miggles must keep a hotel. We only knew that we were stopped by high water in front and rear, and that Miggles was our rock of refuge. A ten minutes splashing through a tangled by-road, scarcely wide enough for the stage, and we drew up before a barred and boarded gate in a wide stone wall or fence about eight feet high. Evidently Miggles’s, and evidently Miggles did not keep a hotel.

The driver got down and tried the gate. It was securely locked. “Miggles! O Miggles!”

No answer. Continue reading “Read Bret Harte’s short story “Miggles””

“The Right Eye of the Commander” — Bret Harte

“The Right Eye of the Commander” — Bret Harte

The year of grace 1797 passed away on the coast of California in a southwesterly gale. The little bay of San Carlos, albeit sheltered by the headlands of the blessed Trinity, was rough and turbulent; its foam clung quivering to the seaward wall of the Mission garden; the air was filled with flying sand and spume, and as the Senor Commandante, Hermenegildo Salvatierra, looked from the deep embrasured window of the Presidio guardroom, he felt the salt breath of the distant sea buffet a color into his smoke-dried cheeks.

The Commander, I have said, was gazing thoughtfully from the window of the guardroom. He may have been reviewing the events of the year now about to pass away. But, like the garrison at the Presidio, there was little to review; the year, like its predecessors, had been uneventful—the days had slipped by in a delicious monotony of simple duties, unbroken by incident or interruption. The regularly recurring feasts and saints’ days, the half-yearly courier from San Diego, the rare transport ship and rarer foreign vessel, were the mere details of his patriarchal life. If there was no achievement, there was certainly no failure. Abundant harvests and patient industry amply supplied the wants of Presidio and Mission. Isolated from the family of nations, the wars which shook the world concerned them not so much as the last earthquake; the struggle that emancipated their sister colonies on the other side of the continent to them had no suggestiveness. In short, it was that glorious Indian summer of California history around which so much poetical haze still lingers—that bland, indolent autumn of Spanish rule, so soon to be followed by the wintry storms of Mexican independence and the reviving spring of American conquest.

The Commander turned from the window and walked toward the fire that burned brightly on the deep ovenlike hearth. A pile of copybooks, the work of the Presidio school, lay on the table. As he turned over the leaves with a paternal interest, and surveyed the fair round Scripture text—the first pious pothooks of the pupils of San Carlos—an audible commentary fell from his lips: “‘Abimelech took her from Abraham’—ah, little one, excellent!—’Jacob sent to see his brother’—body of Christ! that upstroke of thine, Paquita, is marvelous; the Governor shall see it!” A film of honest pride dimmed the Commander’s left eye—the right, alas! twenty years before had been sealed by an Indian arrow. He rubbed it softly with the sleeve of his leather jacket, and continued: “‘The Ishmaelites having arrived—'”

He stopped, for there was a step in the courtyard, a foot upon the threshold, and a stranger entered. With the instinct of an old soldier, the Commander, after one glance at the intruder, turned quickly toward the wall, where his trusty Toledo hung, or should have been hanging. But it was not there, and as he recalled that the last time he had seen that weapon it was being ridden up and down the gallery by Pepito, the infant son of Bautista, the tortilla-maker, he blushed and then contented himself with frowning upon the intruder. Continue reading ““The Right Eye of the Commander” — Bret Harte”