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Page 1


At the West End of Boston is a quarter of some fifty streets, more or
less, commonly known as Beacon Hill.

It is a rich and respectable quarter, sacred to the abodes of Our First
Citizens. The very houses have become sentient of its prevailing
character of riches and respectability; and, when the twilight deepens
on the place, or at high noon, if your vision is gifted, you may see
them as long rows of Our First Giants, with very corpulent or very broad
fronts, with solid-set feet of sidewalk ending in square-toed
curbstone, with an air about them as if they had thrust their hard hands
into their wealthy pockets forever, with a character of arctic reserve,
and portly dignity, and a well-dressed, full-fed, self-satisfied,
opulent, stony, repellent aspect to each, which says plainly, "I belong
to a rich family, of the very highest respectability."

History, having much to say of Beacon Hill generally, has, on the
present occasion, something to say particularly of a certain street
which bends over the eminence, sloping steeply down to its base. It
is an old street,--quaint, quiet, and somewhat picturesque. It was
young once, though,--having been born before the Revolution, and was
then given to the city by its father, Mr. Middlecott, who died without
heirs, and did this much for posterity. Posterity has not been grateful
to Mr. Middlecott. The street bore his name till he was dust, and then
got the more aristocratic epithet of Bowdoin. Posterity has paid him
by effacing what would have been his noblest epitaph. We may expect,
after this, to see Faneuil Hall robbed of its name, and called Smith
Hall! Republics are proverbially ungrateful. What safer claim to
public remembrance has the old Huguenot, Peter Faneuil, than the old
Englishman, Mr. Middlecott? Ghosts, it is said, have risen from the
grave to reveal wrongs done them by the living; but it needs no ghost
from the grave to prove the proverb about republics.

Bowdoin Street only differs from its kindred, in a certain shady, grave,
old-fogy, fossil aspect, just touched with a pensive solemnity, as if
it thought to itself, "I'm getting old, but I'm highly respectable;
that's a comfort." It has, moreover, a dejected, injured air, as if
it brooded solemnly on the wrong done to it by taking away its original
name and calling it Bowdoin; but as if, being a very conservative street,
it was resolved to keep a cautious silence on the subject, lest the
Union should go to pieces. Sometimes it wears a profound and mysterious
look, as if it could tell something if it had a mind to, but thought
it best not. Something of the ghost of its father--it was the only child
he ever had!--walking there all the night, pausing at the corners to
look up at the signs, which bear a strange name, and wringing his
ghostly hands in lamentation at the wrong done his memory! Rumor told
it in a whisper, many years ago. Perhaps it was believed by a few of
the oldest inhabitants of the city; but the highly respectable quarter
never heard of it, and, if it had, would not have been bribed to believe
it, by any sum. Some one had said that some very old person had seen
a phantom there. Nobody knew who some one was. Nobody knew who the very
old person was. Nobody knew who had seen it, nor when, nor how. The
very rumor was spectral.

All this was many years ago. Since then it has been reported that a
ghost was seen there one bitter Christmas eve, two or three years back.
The twilight was already in the street; but the evening lamps were not
yet lighted in the windows, and the roofs and chimney-tops were still
distinct in the last clear light of the dropping day. It was light
enough, however, for one to read easily, from the opposite sidewalk,
"Dr. C. Renton," in black letters, on the silver plate of a door, not
far from the Gothic portal of the Swedenborgian church. Near this door
stood a misty figure, whose sad, spectral eyes floated on vacancy, and
whose long, shadowy white hair lifted like an airy weft in the streaming
wind. That was the ghost! It stood near the door a long time, without
any other than a shuddering motion, as though it felt the searching
blast, which swept furiously from the north up the declivity of the
street, rattling the shutters in its headlong passage. Once or twice,
when a passer-by, muffled warmly from the bitter air, hurried past,
the phantom shrank closer to the wall, till he was gone. Its vague,
mournful face seemed to watch for some one. The twilight darkened
gradually, but it did not flit away. Patiently it kept its piteous look
fixed in one direction,--watching,--watching; and, while the howling
wind swept frantically through the chill air, it still seemed to
shudder in the piercing cold.

A light suddenly kindled in an opposite window. As if touched by a gleam
from the lamp, or as if by some subtle interior illumination, the
spectre became faintly luminous, and a thin smile seemed to quiver over
its features. At the same moment, a strong, energetic figure--Dr.
Renton himself--came in sight, striding down the slope of the pavement
to his own door, his overcoat thrown back, as if the icy air were a
tropical warmth to him, his hat set on the back of his head, and the
loose ends of a 'kerchief about his throat, streaming in the nor'wester.
The wind set up a howl the moment he came in sight, and swept upon him;
and a curious agitation began on the part of the phantom. It glided
rapidly to and fro, and moved in circles, and then, with the same swift,
silent motion, sailed toward him, as if blown thither by the gale. Its
long, thin arms, with something like a pale flame spiring from the tips
of the slender fingers, were stretched out, as in greeting, while the
wan smile played over its face; and when he rushed by, unheedingly,
it made a futile effort to grasp the swinging arms with which he
appeared to buffet back the buffeting gale. Then it glided on by his
side, looking earnestly into his countenance, and moving its pallid
lips with agonized rapidity, as if it said, "Look at me--speak to
me--speak to me--see me!" But he kept his course with unconscious eyes,
and a vexed frown on his forehead betokening an irritated mind. The
light that had shone in the figure of the phantom darkened slowly, till
the form was only a pale shadow. The wind had suddenly lulled, and no
longer lifted its white hair. It still glided on with him, its head
drooping on its breast, and its long arms hanging by its side; but when
he reached the door, it suddenly sprang before him, gazing fixedly into
his eyes, while a convulsive motion flashed over its grief-worn
features, as if it had shrieked out a word. He had his foot on the step
at the moment. With a start, he put his gloved hand to his forehead,
while the vexed look went out quickly on his face. The ghost watched
him breathlessly. But the irritated expression came back to his
countenance more resolutely than before, and he began to fumble in his
pocket for a latch-key, muttering petulantly, "What the devil is the
matter with me now?" It seemed to him that a voice had cried clearly,
yet as from afar, "Charles Renton!"--his own name. He had heard it in
his startled mind; but then, he knew he was in a highly wrought state
of nervous excitement, and his medical science, with that knowledge
for a basis, could have reared a formidable fortress of explanation
against any phenomenon, were it even more wonderful than this.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Thu 22nd Aug 2019, 3:00