An Uncommon Sort of Spectre by Edward Page Mitchell
The ancient castle of Weinstein, on the upper Rhine, was, as
everybody knows, inhabited in the autumn of 1352 by the powerful Baron
Kalbsbraten, better known in those parts as Old Twenty Flasks, a
sobriquet derived from his reputed daily capacity for the product of
the vineyard. The baron had many other admirable qualities. He was a
genial, whole-souled, public-spirited gentleman, and robbed, murdered,
burned, pillaged, and drove up the steep sides of the Weinstein his
neighbors' cattle, wives, and sisters, with a hearty bonhomie that won
for him the unaffected esteem of his contemporaries.
One evening the good baron sat alone in the great hall of Weinstein,
in a particularly happy mood. He had dined well, as was his habit, and
twenty empty bottles stood before him in a row upon the table, like a
train of delightful memories of the recent past. But the baron had
another reason to be satisfied with himself and with the world. The
consciousness that he had that day become a parent lit up his
countenance with a tender glow that mere wine cannot impart.
"What ho! Without! Hi! Seneschal!" he presently shouted, in a tone
that made the twenty empty bottles ring as if they were musical
glasses, while a score of suits of his ancestors' armor hanging around
the walls gave out in accompaniment a deep metallic bass. The seneschal
was speedily at his side.
"Seneschal," said Old Twenty Flasks, "you gave me to understand that
the baroness was doing finely?"
"I am told," replied the seneschal, "that her ladyship is doing as
well as could be expected."
The baron mused in silence for a moment, absently regarding the
empty bottles. "You also gave me to understand," he continued, "that
"Four," said the seneschal, gravely. "I am credibly informed that
there are four, all boys."
"That," exclaimed the baron, with a glow of honest pride, bringing a
brawny fist down upon the table--"That, in these days, when the
abominable doctrines of Malthus are gaining ground among the upper
classes, is what I call creditable--creditable, by Saint Christopher.
If I do say it!" His eyes rested again upon the empty bottles. "I
think, Seneschal," he added, after a brief pause, "that under the
circumstances we may venture--"
"Nothing could be more eminently proper," rejoined the seneschal. "I
will fetch another flask forthwith, and of the best. What says Your
Excellency to the vintage of 1304, the year of the comet?"
"But," hesitated the baron, toying with his mustache, "I understood
you to say that there were four of 'em--four boys?"
"True, my lord," replied the seneschal, snatching the idea with the
readiness of a well-trained domestic. "I will fetch four more
As the excellent retainer deposited four fresh bottles upon the
table within the radius of the baron's reach, he casually remarked, "A
pious old man, a traveler, is in the castle yard, my lord, seeking
shelter and a supper. He comes from beyond the Alps, and fares toward
"I presume," said the baron, with an air of indifference, "that he
has been duly searched for plunder."
"He passed this morning," replied the retainer, "through the domain
of your well-born cousin, Count Conrad of Schwinkenfels. Your lordship
will readily understand that he has nothing now save a few beggarly
Swiss coins of copper."
"My worthy cousin Conrad!" exclaimed the baron, affectionately. "It
is the one great misfortune of my life that I live to the leeward of
Schwinkenfels. But you relieved the pious man of his copper?"
"My lord," said the seneschal, with an apologetic smile, "it was not
worth the taking."
"Now by my soul," roared the baron, "you exasperate me! Coin, and
not worth the taking! Perhaps not for its intrinsic value, but you
should have cleaned him out as a matter of principle, you fool!"
The seneschal hung his head and muttered an explanation. At the same
time he opened the twenty-first bottle.
"Never," continued the baron, less violently but still severely, "if
you value my esteem and your own paltry skin, suffer yourself to be
swerved a hair's breadth from principle by the apparent insignificance
of the loot. A conscientious attention to details is one of the
fundamental elements of a prosperous career--in fact, it underlies all
The withdrawal of the cork from the twenty-second bottle emphasized
"However," the baron went on, somewhat mollified, "this is not a day
on which I can consistently make a fuss over a trifle. Four, and all
boys! This is a glorious day for Weinstein. Open the two remaining
flasks, Seneschal, and show the pious stranger in. I fain would amuse
myself with him."
Viewed through the baron's twenty-odd bottles, the stranger appeared
to be an aged man--eighty years, if a day. He wore a shabby gray cloak
and carried a palmer's staff, and seemed an innocuous old fellow, cast
in too commonplace a mold to furnish even a few minutes' diversion. The
baron regretted sending for him, but being a person of unfailing
politeness, when not upon the rampage, he bade his guest be seated and
filled him a beaker of the comet wine.
After an obeisance, profound yet not servile, the pilgrim took the
glass and critically tasted the wine. He held the beaker up athwart the
light with trembling hand, and then tasted again. The trial seemed to
afford him great satisfaction, and he stroked his long white beard.
"Perhaps you are a connoisseur. It pleases your palate, eh?" said
the baron, winking at the full-length portrait of one of his
"Proper well," replied the pilgrim, "though it is a trifle syrupy
from too long keeping. By the bouquet and the tint, I should pronounce
it of the vintage of 1304, grown on the steep slope south southeast of
the castle, in the fork of the two pathways that lead to under the
hill. The sun's rays reflected from the turret give a peculiar
excellence to the growth of that particular spot. But your rascally
varlets have shelved the bottle on the wrong side of the cellar. It
should have been put on the dry side, near where your doughty grandsire
Sigismund von Weinstein, the Hairy Handed, walled up his third wife in
preparation for a fourth."
The baron regarded his guest with a look of amazement. "Upon my
life!" said he, "but you appear to be familiar with the ins and outs of
"If I do," rejoined the stranger, composedly sipping his wine, "'tis
no more than natural, for I lived more than sixty years under this roof
and know its every leak. I happen to be a Von Weinstein myself."
The baron crossed himself and pulled his chair a little further away
from the bottles and the stranger.
"Oh no," said the pilgrim, laughing; "quiet your fears. I am aware
that every well-regulated castle has an ancestral ghost, but my flesh
and blood are honest. I was lord of Weinstein till I went, twelve years
ago, to study metaphysics in the Arabic schools, and the cursed
scriveners wrote me out of the estate. Why, I know this hall from
infancy! Yonder is the fireplace at which I used to warm my baby toes.
There is the identical suit of armor into which I crawled when a boy of
six and hid till my sainted mother--heaven rest her!--nigh died of
fright. It seems but yesterday. There on the wall hangs the sharp
two-handed sword of our ancestor, Franz, the One-Eared, with which I
cut off the mustaches of my tipsy sire as he sat muddled over his
twentieth bottle. There is the very casque--but perhaps these
reminiscences weary you. You must pardon the garrulity of an old man
who has come to revisit the home of his childhood and prime."
The baron pressed his hand to his forehead. "I have lived in this
castle myself for half a century," said he, "and am tolerably familiar
with the history of my immediate progenitors. But I can't say that I
ever had the pleasure of your acquaintance. However, permit me to fill
"It is good wine," said the pilgrim, holding out his glass. "Except,
perhaps, the vintage of 1392, when the grapes--"
The baron stared at his guest. "The grapes of 1392," said he dryly,
"lack forty years of ripening. You are aged, my friend, and your mind
"Excuse me, worthy host," calmly replied the pilgrim. "The vintage
of 1392 has been forty years cellared. You have no memory for
"What call you this year?" demanded the baron.
"By the almanacs, and the stars, and precedent, and common consent,
it is the year of grace 1433."
"By my soul and hope of salvation," ejaculated the baron, "it is the
year of grace 1352."
"There is evidently a misunderstanding somewhere," remarked the
venerable stranger. "I was born here in the year 1352, the year the
Turks invaded Europe."
"No Turk has invaded Europe, thanks be to heaven," replied Old
Twenty Flasks, recovering his self-control. "You are either a magician
or an imposter. In either case I shall order you drawn and quartered as
soon as we have finished this bottle. Pray proceed with your very
interesting reminiscences, and do not spare the wine."
"I never practice magic," quietly replied the pilgrim, "and as to
being an imposter, scan well my face. Don't you recognize the family
nose, thick, short, and generously colored? How about the three lateral
and two diagonal wrinkles on my brow? I see them there on yours. Are
not my chaps Weinstein chaps? Look closely. I court investigation."
"You do look damnably like us," the baron admitted.
"I was the youngest," the stranger went on, "of quadruplets. My
three brothers were puny, sickly things, and did not long survive their
birth. As a child I was the idol of my poor father, who had some traits
worthy of respectful mention, guzzing old toper and unconscionable
thief though he was."
The baron winced.
"They used to call him Old Twenty Flasks. It is my candid opinion,
based on memory, that Old Forty Flasks would have been nearer the
"It's a lie!" shouted the baron, "I rarely exceeded twenty
"And as for his standing in the community," the pilgrim went on,
without taking heed of the interruption, "it must be confessed that
nothing could be worse. He was the terror of honest folk for miles
around. Property rights were extremely insecure in this neighborhood,
for the rapacity of my lamented parent knew no bounds. Yet nobody dared
to complain aloud, for lives were not much safer than sheep or ducats.
How the people hated his shadow, and roundly cursed him behind his
back! I remember well that, when I was about fourteen--it must have
been in '66, the year the Grand Turk occupied Adrianople--tall Hugo,
the miller, called me up to him, and said: 'Boy, thou has a right
pretty nose.' 'It is a pretty nose, Hugo,' said I, straightening up.
'Is it on firm and strong?' asked Hugo, with a sneer. 'Firm enough, and
strong enough, I dare say,' I answered; 'but why ask such a fool's
question?' 'Well, well, boy,' said Hugo, turning away, gook sharp with
thine eyes after thy nose when thy father is unoccupied, for he has
just that conscience to steal the nose off his son's face in lack of
"By St. Christopher!" roared the baron, "tall Hugo, the miller,
shall pay for this. I always suspected him. By St. Christopher's
burden, I'll break every bone in his villainous body."
"'Twould be an ignoble vengeance," replied the pilgrim, quietly,
"for tall Hugo has been in his grave these sixty years."
"True," said the baron, putting both hands to his head, and gazing
at his guest with a look of utter helplessness. "I forget that it is
now next century--that is to say, if you be not a spectre."
"You will excuse me, my respected parent," returned the pilgrim, "if
I subject your hypothesis to the test of logic, for it touches me upon
a very tender spot, impugning, as it does, my physical verity and my
status as an actual individualized ego. Now, what is our relative
position? You acknowledge the date of my birth to have been the year of
grace 1352. That is a matter in which your memory is not likely to be
at fault. On the other hand, with a strange inconsistency, you
maintain, in the face of almanacs, chronologies, and the march of
events, that it is still the year of grace 1352. Were you one of the
seven sleepers, your hallucination [to use no harsher term] might be
pardoned, but you are neither a sleeper nor a saint. Now, every one of
the eighty years that are packed away in the carpet bag of my
experience protests against your extraordinary error. It is I who have
a prima facie right to question your physical existence, not you mine.
Did you ever hear of a ghost, spectre, wraith, apparition, eldolon, or
spook coming out of the future to haunt, annoy, or frighten individuals
of an earlier generation?"
The baron was obliged to admit that he never had.
"But you have heard of instances where apparitions, ghosts, spooks,
call them what you will, have invaded the present from out the limbo of
The baron crossed himself a second time and peered anxiously into
the dark corners of the apartment. "If you are a genuine Von
Weinstein," he whispered, "you already know that this castle is overrun
with spectres of that sort. It is difficult to move about after
nightfall without tumbling over half a dozen of them."
"Then," said the placid logician, "you surrender your case. You
commit what, my revered preceptor in dialectics, the learned Arabian
Ben Dusty, used to style syllogistic suicide. For you allow that, while
ghosts out of the future are unheard of, ghosts from the past are not
infrequently encountered. Now I submit to you as a man, this
proposition: That it is infinitely more probable that you are a ghost
than that I am one!"
The baron turned very red. "Is this filial," he demanded, "to deny
the flesh and blood of your own father?"
"Is it paternal," retorted the pilgrim, not losing his composure,
"to insinuate the unrealness of the son of your own begetting?"
"By all the saints!" growled the baron, growing still redder, "this
question shall be settled, and speedily. Halloo, there, Seneschal!" He
called again and again, but in vain.
"Spare your lungs," calmly suggested the pilgrim. "The best-trained
domestic in the world will not stir from beneath the sod for all your
Twenty Flasks sank back helplessly in his chair. He tried to speak,
but his tongue and throat repudiated their functions. They only
"That is right," said his guest, approvingly. "Conduct yourself as
befits a venerable and respectable ghost from the last century. A
well-behaved apparition neither blusters nor is violent. You can well
afford to be peaceable in your deportment now; you were turbulent
enough before your death."
"My death?" gasped the baron.
"Excuse me," apologized the pilgrim, "for referring to that
"My death!" stammered the baron, his hair standing on end. "I should
like to hear the particulars."
"I was hardly more than fifteen at the time," said the pilgrim
musingly; "but I shall never forget the most trifling circumstances of
the great popular arising that put an end to my worthy sire's career.
Exasperated beyond endurance by your outrageous crimes, the people for
miles around at last rose in a body, and, led by my old friend tall
Hugo, the miller, flocked to Schwinkenfels and appealed to your cousin,
Count Conrad, for protection against yourself, their natural protector.
Von Schwinkenfels heard their complaints with great gravity. He replied
that he had long watched your abominable actions with distress and
consternation; that he had frequently remonstrated with you, but in
vain; that he regarded you as the scourge of the neighborhood; that
your castle was full of blood-stained treasure and shamefully acquired
booty; and that he now regarded it as the personal duty of himself, the
conservator of lawful order and good morals, to march against Weinstein
and exterminate you for the common good."
"The hypocritical pirate!" exclaimed Twenty Flasks.
"Which he proceeded to do," continued the pilgrim, "supported not
only by his retainers but by your own. I must say that you made a
sturdy defense. Had not your rascally seneschal sold you out to
Schwinkenfels and let down the drawbridge one evening when you were as
usual fuddling your brains with your twenty bottles, perhaps Conrad
never would have gained an entrance, and my young eyes would have been
spared the horrid task of watching the body of my venerated parent
dangling at the end of a rope from the topmost turret of the northwest
The baron buried his face in his hands and began to cry like a baby.
"They hanged me, did they?" he faltered.
"I am afraid no other construction can be put on it," said the
pilgrim. "It was the inevitable termination of such a career as yours
had been. They hanged you, they strangled you, they choked you to death
with a rope; and the unanimous verdict of the community was Justifiable
Homicide. You weep! Behold, Father, I also weep for the shame of the
house of Von Weinstein! Come to my arms."
Father and son clasped each other in a long, affectionate embrace
and mingled their tears over the disgrace of Weinstein. When the baron
recovered from his emotion he found himself alone with his conscience
and twenty-four empty bottles. The pilgrim had disappeared.
Meanwhile, in the aparilnents consecrated to the offices of
maternity, all had been confusion, turmoil, and distress. In four huge
armchairs sat four experienced matrons, each holding in her lap a
pillow of swan's-down. On each pillow had reposed an infinitesimal
fraction of humanity, recently added to the sum total of Von Weinstein.
One experienced matron had dozed over her charge; when she awoke the
pillow in her lap was unoccupied. An immediate census taken by the
alarmed attendants disclosed the startling fact that, although there
were still four armchairs, and four sage women, and four pillows of
swan's-down, there were but three infants. The seneschal, as an expert
in mathematics and accounts, was hastily summoned from below. His
reckoning merely confirmed the appalling suspicion. One of the
quadruplets was gone.
Prompt measures were taken in this fearful emergency. The corners of
the rooms were ransacked in vain. Piles of bedclothing and baskets of
linen were searched through and through. The hunt extended to other
parts of the castle. The seneschal even sent out trusted and discreet
retainers on horseback to scour the surrounding country. They returned
with downcast countenances; no trace of the lost Von Weinstein had been
During one terrible hour the wails of the three neglected infants
mingled with the screams of the hysterical mother, to whom the
attention of the four sage women was exclusively directed. At the end
of the hour her ladyship had sufficiently recovered to implore her
attendants to make a last, though hopeless count. On three pillows lay
three babies howling lustily in unison. On the fourth pillow reposed a
fourth infant, with a mysterious smile upon his face, but cheeks that
bore traces of recent tears.