There's a staunch old Southern mansion near the broad Potomac River;
How long it has been standing there no mortal seems to know;
But the winds wail through the chimneys, and around the windows shiver,
As if it had belonged to them a century ago.
A look of solid grandeur, and of quiet antique glory,
Marks the quaint peaked attic windows and the wide substantial door;
People say "that house is haunted," but no weird or ghostly story
Pales the sunlight on the threshold, falling brightly as of yore.
Yet within those stately chambers witching memories are thronging,--
Gleams of misty bridal vesture, love-light born of starry eyes,
Shades of coffined brows transfigured, when, with eager, wistful longing,
Patient spirits in their parting had a glimpse of Paradise.
There are waifs of light and shadow from the dusk or sunny tresses
Of ladies gliding gayly to the viol and the flute;
Broken vows and prayerful partings, clinging kisses and caresses,
Left by hearts surcharged with passion, glowing lips now cold and mute.
Changing scenes and changing faces, like a panorama passing,
While the old clock--tall and spectral--points in warning, as of yore,
To the little flying minutes--Time's coral-builders--massing,
As milestones to eternity, the ages on life's shore.
Left alone unto my dreamings, in that mansion old and haunted,
As the midnight hour was sounding came sweet echoes, soft and low,
From the ball-room up above me: it must surely be enchanted,
For footsteps there were gliding,--gliding swiftly to and fro.
On it swept, my senses thrilling, and the solemn silence rifting,
Till my pulses throbbed in rhythm with the pulses of the air,--
A wave of magic melody my very soul uplifting,
Till in fancy's wake I followed up the dark, old-fashioned stair.
I knew they must be spirits,--a gay crowd of spectres dancing
In that now moon-silvered chamber where they'd danced in bygone days,
When it shone a brilliant ball-room, but, as then, bright lights were glancing
'Neath the doors and through the key-holes--lo! the room was in a blaze.
To a key-hole observation then I stooped; it was entrancing.
Oh! ghost-land, thy rich jewels and thy satins and thy gold
Have a marvellous glamour, and thy ladies gayly glancing
Through the minuet, a beauty that is wondrous to behold.
And thy cavaliers too charming, with their spirit-land afflatus,
To meet in nightly revels very often, heaven knows,
Without some queer comparisons, which might affect the status,
And unsettle the proud prestige of earth's self-approving beaux.
All so courtly in their deference to the fair ones, who maintained
Such a queenly pose in waltzing, spite their undulating grace,
And their flowing, powdered tresses, that no tell-tale dust remained
On their partners' dark coats, telling of the ball-room's close embrace.
Growing bolder and more eager, I arose, and, slyly creeping,
All unnoticed by their ghostships, through a partly open door,
And past a lovely lady who, with Lafayette, was sweeping
To a grand and stately measure through the menuet de la cour,
With our own immortal Washington, to lighter measures flying,
I danced a wild fandango, till some woman shrieked,--"Away,--
"Thou art mortal!" I ignored her--even female ghosts are prying--
But felt put out and defeated when the Frenchman cried, "Sortez."
For a single human presence broke the spells of that weird meeting,
They were severed by the throbbing of one restless human heart,
As the rainbow-tinted bubbles, so beautiful and fleeting,
Are all broken by the swiftness of the current whence they start.
I beheld the head of Washington, around about me glancing,
With a thrill of terror noting his silk-stockinged limbs were lost;
Lafayette's head disappearing left his shapely legs still dancing,
And I dreaded the misfitting of somebody's glorious ghost.
For the grand dames fell to pieces in the midst of their revolving,
Jewelled arms and brows and bosoms, starry eyes, soft tresses,--all
In a bright phantasmagoria flashing round me, and dissolving,
As I fled, with cries of terror, from that haunted dancing hall.