“Yes, governor, it’s all very well to ask a nervous fellow to Antwerp and amuse him and make him ever so jolly and comfortable—But why, when the bleak November wind sobs against the lattice and disturbs the dead ashes in the grate, when everything is damned queer and dark, and that sort of thing, you know—why should you make nervous fellows’ flesh creep by talk about mesmerism, and dead fellows coming to see live fellows before dying, and the Lord knows what else? Why, Gad! it’s horrid!”
[Illustration: THE MIDNIGHT PRESENCE OF THE UNCANNY.]
My rooms in Antwerp were the scene of many a festive gathering. We always spoke of them in the plural; it sounded better, but in reality there was only one room with two small alcoves. Studies and sketches covered the walls or littered the floor, and the genial figure of a skeleton, in very perfect condition, stood in the corner by the piano. At first it came with a view to instructing me in the Science of Anatomy, but soon, putting aside any didactic pretensions, my bony professor became quite a companion and friend; it was thus natural that on those occasions when guests had been convened to my rooms, he would take a leading part, generally appearing gracefully draped and appropriately illuminated, and thus forming a fitting background to the gay proceedings of the evening. We had music, recitation, and acting, mostly of an improvised, homemade character. The sounds thereof were not confined, however, to the narrow limits of home, but spread far beyond it, a fact which the neighbours, I am sure, would have been at any time ready most emphatically to attest.
In justice to myself I may say that I was primarily answerable for the magnitude of the sound waves, but I am bound to add that my example was followed and even improved upon by the more lung-gifted of my companions. Amongst the milder forms of entertainment was my impersonation of Rachel. That grand actress I had often seen in Paris, and had, more than once, shivered in my shoes as she annihilated the Tyrant, pouring forth the vials of her wrath and indignation in the classical language of Racine and Corneille. With those accents still ringing in my ears I came to Antwerp, and there, when surrounded by sympathetic friends, the spirit would sometimes move me, and I would feel—excuse the conceit of youth—as if I too could have been a great female Tragedian, had Fate not otherwise disposed of me. In such moments I would seize the blade of the paper-knife, and use the blood of the beet-root, drape myself in the classical folds of the bed-sheet, and go for the Tyrant, hissing fearful hexameters of scorn and vituperation into his ears, and usually winding up with a pose so magnificently triumphant that it would bring down any house which was not of the most solid construction.
Another time the cushion yonder would be my child—the orthodox long-lost one—“It is!—It is not!—It is!—Let me clasp it to my other cushion!” “Toi mon fils cheri. Ange de mon enfer, douleur de mes loisirs!”