On the crumbling black and white marble floorings the water indeed was trickling into pools. And down in the halls there came to us wandering—strangest thing that ever strayed through deserted grandeur—a brown, broken horse, lean, with a sore flank and a head of tremendous age. It stopped and gazed at us, as though we might be going to give it things to eat, then passed on, stumbling over the ruined marbles. For a moment we had thought him ghost—one of the many. But he was not, since his hoofs sounded. The scrambling clatter of them had died out into silence before we came to that dark, crypt-like chamber whose marble columns were ringed in iron, veritable pillars of foundation. And then we saw that our old guide’s hands were full of newspapers. She struck a match; they caught fire and blazed. Holding high that torch, she said: “See! Up there’s his name, above where he stood. The auctioneer. Oh yes, indeed! Here’s where they sold them!”
Below that name, decaying on the wall, we had the slow, uncanny feeling of some one standing there in the gleam and flicker from that paper torch. For a moment the whole shadowy room seemed full of forms and faces. Then the torch lied out, and our old guide, pointing through an archway with the blackened stump of it, said:
“’Twas here they kept them indeed, yes!”
We saw before us a sort of vault, stone-built, and low, and long. The light there was too dim for us to make out anything but walls and heaps of rusting scrap-iron cast away there and mouldering own. But trying to pierce that darkness we became conscious, as it seemed, of innumerable eyes gazing, not at us, but through the archway where we stood; innumerable white eyeballs gleaming out of blackness. From behind us came a little laugh. It floated past through the archway, toward those eyes. Who was that? Who laughed in there? The old South itself—that incredible, fine, lost soul! That “old-time” thing of old ideals, blindfolded by its own history! That queer proud blend of simple chivalry and tyranny, of piety and the abhorrent thing! Who was it laughed there in the old slave-market—laughed at these white eyeballs glaring from out of the blackness of their dark cattle-pen? What poor departed soul in this House of Melancholy? But there was no ghost when we turned to look—only our old guide with her sweet smile.
“Yes, suh. Here they all came—’twas the finest hotel—before the war-time; old Southern families—buyin’ an’ sellin’ their property. Yes, ma’am, very interesting! This way! And here were the bells to all the rooms. Broken, you see—all broken!”
And rather quickly we passed away, out of that “old-time place”; where something had laughed, and the drip, drip, drip of water down the walls was as the sound of a spirit grieving. 1912.