YE ANCIENT MYSTERY
Fitz Smythe has got one mysterious goblin on whom he lays all the dark crimes done in the city for which a plausible perpetrator cannot be otherwise drummed up. The first effort of this goblin was the murder and chopping to pieces of several persons in an obscure alley two or three years ago -- on which occasion he carried off some small articles of value. Next, a lonely woman, living in a lonely by-street, was attacked at dead of night and slashed to death with a carpenter's chisel. Fitz Smythe said the goblin did it, and called attention to the startling similarity of the two cases in proof of the theory -- barring of course that the goblin stole something in the first case but did not in the second. After a long interval something else occurred in the mysterious line -- Fitz Smythe laid it on the goblin, as usual -- said it was just after his style of doing business. After another interval the Mayor's clerk was robbed of a large sum of money in the night. "The goblin again!" whispers Fitz Smythe, with a shudder, and goes to work and compares all the ghost's former exploits together and makes out a clear case against him. Then, after another interval, comes the Meyers case in Commercial street, where a youth is slung-shotted at noonday and his father's pawnbroker shop robbed of some jewelry and second-hand meerschaum pipes -- Fitz Smythe instantly recognizes the "peculiar style" of the goblin, and falls down in an agony of distress. He says: "Look at his old original murders where he stole things; look how he chiseled that woman, where he didn't steal things; look how he went through the 'Mayor's clerk, but didn't touch him or mutilate him; look how he beat officer Rose nearly to death and cut his throat with a mysterious penknife, in the ancient Alameda; look how he knocked young Meyers endways with a dreadful slung shot, and took some second-hand pipes and old socks: look at these instances, look at them! -- all out of the common order of things -- all terrible and 'peculiar' -- all so similar, and yet so little alike -- all evidently done by the same cool, shrewd, calculating hand -- Oh, God, it is the goblin!" -- and Fitz Smythe shudders at the bare thought. Poor fellow, he has had a long respite -- so long, indeed, that his fears have gradually become toned down until his items were beginning to lose their wildness and read somewhat coherently, when lo! the mysterious What Cheer robbery suddenly resurrects the terrible goblin again and turns Fitz Smythe's hair gray in a single night! He don't go back over all the goblin's exploits this time. He considers that he has firmly established the goblin's guilt in those things long ago; so he merely tacks the new burglary on to his last feat -- the pawnbroker robbery -- and makes the chain complete from the What Cheer to the mysterious murderers of three years ago. But he overestimates the facility of the public for being "struck at once" with his far-fetched and dissimilar similarities. Hear him; "The similarity of the details of this robbery to those of that which came so near proving fatal to young Meyers, in the Commercial street pawnbroker's shop, over a year since, will strike our readers at once." Fitz Smythe, you won't do. You never come across a pumpkin but you think you have found a mare's nest.
[published in Early Tales & Sketches, Volume 2, 1864-1865,
University of California Press, 1981, pp. 496-97.]
Return to Chronicle index