The marriage was celebrated with great pomp; and in the evening the King, who had been shedding tears at intervals throughout the ceremonies, accompanied his daughter to the haunted house. The Princess was pale. John, on the contrary, who sat facing her father in the state-coach, smiled with a cheerfulness which, under the circumstances, seemed a trifle ill-bred. The wedding-guests followed in twenty-four chariots. Their cards of invitation had said “Two to five-thirty p.m.,” and it was now eight o’clock; but they could not resist the temptation to see the last of “the poor dear thing,” as they agreed to call the bride.
The King sat silent during the drive; he was preparing his farewell speech, which he meant to deliver in the porch. But arriving and perceiving a crowd about it, and also, to his vast astonishment, a red baize carpet on the perron, and a butler bowing in the doorway with two footmen behind him, he coughed down his exordium, and led his daughter into the hall amid showers of rice and confetti. The bridegroom followed; and so did the wedding-guests, since no one opposed them.
The hall and staircase were decorated with palms and pot-plants, flags and emblems of Illyria; and in the great drawing-room—which they entered while John persuaded the King to a seat—they found many rows of morocco-covered chairs, a miniature stage with a drop representing the play-scene in Hamlet, a row of footlights, a boudoir-grand piano, and a man seated at the keyboard whom they recognised as a performer in much demand at suburban dances.
The company had scarcely seated itself, before a strange light began to illuminate that end of the room at which the stage stood, and immediately the curtain rose to the overture of M. Offenbach’s Orphee aux Enfers, the pianist continuing with great spirit until a round of applause greeted the entrance of the two spectral performers.
Its effect upon them was in the highest degree disconcerting. They set down the coffin, and, after a brief and hurried conference in an undertone, the black-mustachioed ghost advanced to the footlights, singled out John from the audience, and with a terrific scowl demanded to know the reason of this extraordinary gathering.
“Come, come, my dear sir,” answered John, “our contract, if you will study it, allows me to invite whom I choose; it merely insists that my bride and I must be present, as you see we are. Pray go on with your part, and assure yourself it is no use to try the high horse with me.”
The dark ghost looked at his partner, who shuffled uneasily.
“I told you,” said he, “we should have trouble with this fellow. I had a presentiment of it when he came to spend the night here without bringing a bull-dog. That frightening of the bull-dog out of his wits has always been our most effective bit of business.”
Hereupon the dark ghost took another tone.