A comic short story by Oscar Wilde, first published on 1891. It tells of how the ghost of Sir Simon de Canterville, having successfully terrified generations of Cantervilles and their guests since 1584, is flummoxed when the present Lord Canterville sells his ancestral home to some very materialist Americans.

Mr Otis and his family take possession on a fine July day, but as they drive up to Canterville Chase itself the weather becomes brooding and ominous; and they are greeted by the aged housekeeper, Mrs Umney. Inside the great gothic hall, Mrs Otis notices a stain on the floor.

'Yes, madam,' replied the old housekeeper in a low voice, 'blood has been spilt on that spot.'

'How horrid,' cried Mrs. Otis; 'I don't at all care for blood-stains in a sitting-room. It must be removed at once.'

The old woman smiled, and answered in the same low, mysterious voice, 'It is the blood of Lady Eleanore de Canterville, who was murdered on that very spot by her own husband, Sir Simon de Canterville, in 1575. Sir Simon survived her nine years, and disappeared suddenly under very mysterious circumstances. His body has never been discovered, but his guilty spirit still haunts the Chase. The blood-stain has been much admired by tourists and others, and cannot be removed.'

'That is all nonsense,' cried Washington Otis; 'Pinkerton's Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent will clean it up in no time,' and before the terrified housekeeper could interfere he had fallen upon his knees, and was rapidly scouring the floor with a small stick of what looked like a black cosmetic. In a few moments no trace of the blood-stain could be seen.

'I knew Pinkerton would do it,' he exclaimed triumphantly, as he looked round at his admiring family; but no sooner had he said these words than a terrible flash of lightning lit up the sombre room, a fearful peal of thunder made them all start to their feet, and Mrs. Umney fainted.

The bloodstain reappears as strong as ever the next day, and so begins the battle of wits between the modern American family and the ancient, terrible ghost. In addition to their elder son Washington, who makes fun of the ghost by setting up a rival, there are terrible twins who set traps for it, and the lovely fifteen-year-old Virginia, who is rather sorry for it.

Mr Otis, disturbed by the ghastly clanking of chains, offers the hideous ragged apparition of Sir Simon the use of a small bottle of the Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator, whose efficacy is vouched for by testimonials from several eminent divines on the wrapper, and goes back to bed. In a later attack, the blood-chilling wraith lets loose with his demoniac laughter, and Mrs Otis comes out of her bedroom to offer him a bottle of Dr Dobell's tincture for his indigestion.

In his centuries, Sir Simon has scared people witless, driven them to suicide and madness and unspeakable deaths, and ruined many lives. Now he is failing in everything he tries, and is utterly miserable about it. He has tried all his most successful roles: headless, or gibbering, or phosphorescent, reeking of the charnel house, to no effect. He goes to earth, and the family think perhaps they have seen the last of him.

One day Virginia walks in on him, in great depression, and taking pity on him she learns the rest of his story: that nine years after the murder he was chained up in a secret compartment by Lady de Canterville's brothers and left to starve to death; and that for three hundred years he has not slept, and will not be able to sleep in the peace of the grave until an innocent girl weeps for him and intercedes with the Angel of Death. This prophecy is painted in crabbed black letters on the window of the library:

When a golden girl can win
Prayer from out the lips of sin,
When the barren almond bears
And a little child gives away its tears,
Then shall all the house be still
And peace come to Canterville.
Virginia goes with him. Her absence is discovered; the others scour the grounds, and the fields, and the county, without finding her. At long last she returns. Oscar Wilde could write magically and heart-rendingly, and such is the story Virginia tells, of the death and resting of Sir Simon de Canterville.


Being public domain, there are numerous copies of it on the Web, but be warned: it seems to be popular for teaching English, and some of them are heavily abridged. The full version I read was at:
http://www.cordula.ws/s-canterville1.html

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