The Mystery Of Barney O’rourke by John Kendrick Bangs

Story type: Literature

A very irritating thing has happened. My hired man, a certain Barney O’Rourke, an American citizen of much political influence, a good gardener, and, according to his lights, a gentleman, has got very much the best of me, and all because of certain effusions which from time to time have emanated from my pen. It is not often that one’s literary chickens come home to roost in such a vengeful fashion as some of mine have recently done, and I have no doubt that as this story progresses he who reads will find much sympathy for me rising up in his breast. As the matter stands, I am torn with conflicting emotions. I am very fond of Barney, and I have always found him truthful hitherto, but exactly what to believe now I hardly know.

The main thing to bring my present trouble upon me, I am forced to believe, is the fact that my house has been in the past, and may possibly still be, haunted. Why my house should be haunted at all I do not know, for it has never been the scene of any tragedy that I am aware of. I built it myself, and it is paid for. So far as I am aware, nothing awful of a material nature has ever happened within its walls, and yet it appears to be, for the present at any rate, a sort of club-house for inconsiderate if not strictly horrid things, which is a most unfair dispensation of the fates, for I have not deserved it. If I were in any sense a Bluebeard, and spent my days cutting ladies’ throats as a pastime; if I had a pleasing habit of inviting friends up from town over Sunday, and dropping them into oubliettes connecting my library with dark, dank, and snaky subterranean dungeons; if guests who dine at my house came with a feeling that the chances were, they would never return to their families alive–it might be different. I shouldn’t and couldn’t blame a house for being haunted if it were the dwelling-place of a bloodthirsty ruffian such as I have indicated, but that is just what it is not. It is not the home of a lover of fearful crimes. I would not walk ten feet for the pleasure of killing any man, no matter who he is. On the contrary, I would walk twenty feet to avoid doing it, if the emergency should ever arise, aye, even if it were that fiend who sits next me at the opera and hums the opera through from beginning to end. There have been times, I must confess, when I have wished I might have had the oubliettes to which I have referred constructed beneath my library and leading to the coal-bins or to some long-forgotten well, but that was two or three years ago, when I was in politics for a brief period, and delegations of willing and thirsty voters were daily and nightly swarming in through every one of the sixteen doors on the ground-floor of my house, which my architect, in a riotous moment, smuggled into the plans in the guise of “French windows.” I shouldn’t have minded then if the earth had opened up and swallowed my whole party, so long as I did not have to go with them, but under such provocation as I had I do not feel that my residence is justified in being haunted after its present fashion because such a notion entered my mind. We cannot help our thoughts, much less our notions, and punishment for that which we cannot help is not in strict accord with latter-day ideas of justice. It may occur to some hypercritical person to suggest that the English language has frequently been murdered in my den, and that it is its horrid corse which is playing havoc at my home, crying out to heaven and flaunting its bloody wounds in the face of my conscience, but I can pass such an aspersion as that by with contemptuous silence, for even if it were true it could not be set down as wilful assassination on my part, since no sane person who needs a language as much as I do would ever in cold blood kill any one of the many that lie about us. Furthermore, the English language is not dead. It may not be met with often in these days, but it is still encountered with sufficient frequency in the works of Henry James and Miss Libby to prove that it still lives; and I am told that one or two members of our consular service abroad can speak it–though as for this I cannot write with certainty, for I have never encountered one of these exceptions to the general rule.

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“I don’t know,” said Barney, quietly. “I didn’t t’ink so before.”

“Before? Before what? When?” I asked.

“Whin you was writin’ shtories about ut, sorr,” said Barney, respectfully. “You’ve had a black horse-hair sofy turn white in a single noight, sorr, for the soight of horror ut’s witnessed. You’ve had the hair of your own head shtand on ind loike tinpenny nails at what you’ve seen here in this very room, yourself, sorr. You’ve had ghosts doin’ all sorts of t’ings in the shtories you’ve been writin’ for years, and you’ve always swore they was thrue, sorr. I didn’t believe ’em when I read ’em, but whin I see thim segyars bein’ shmoked up before me eyes by invishible t’ings, I sez to meself, sez I, the boss ain’t such a dommed loiar afther all. I’ve follyd your writin’, sorr, very careful and close loike; an I don’t see how, afther the tales you’ve told about your own experiences right here, you can say consishtently that this wan o’ mine ain’t so!”

“But why, Barney,” I asked, to confuse him, “when a thing like this happened, didn’t you write and tell me?”

Barney chuckled as only one of his species can chuckle.

“Wroite an’ tell ye?” he cried. “Be gorry, sorr, if I could wroite at all at all, ut’s not you oi’d be wroitin’ that tale to, but to the edithor of the paper that you wroite for. A tale loike that is wort’ tin dollars to any man, eshpecially if ut’s thrue. But I niver learned the art!”

And with that Barney left me overwhelmed. Subsequently I gave him the ten dollars which I think his story is worth, but I must confess that I am in a dilemma. After what I have said about my supernatural guests, I cannot discharge Barney for lying, but I’ll be blest if I can quite believe that his story is accurate in every respect.

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If there should happen to be among the readers of this tale any who have made a sufficiently close study of the habits of hired men and ghosts to be able to shed any light upon the situation, nothing would please me more than to hear from them.

I may add, in closing, that Barney has resumed smoking.

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