Rubbish Palace Edit

Stillfleet drew a great key, aimed at the keyhole, and snapped the bolt, all with a mysterious and theatrical air.

“Now,” said he, “how is your pulse?”

“Steady and full. Why shouldn’t it be?”

“Shut your eyes, then! Open sesame! Eyes tight? Enter into Rubbish Palace!”

He led me several steps forward.

“Open!” he commanded.

“Where am I?” I cried, staring about in surprise.

“City of Manhattan, corner of Mannering Place and Ailanthus Square, Chrysalis College Buildings.”

“Harry,” said I, “this is magic, phantasmagoria. Outside was the nineteenth century; here is the fifteenth. When I shut my eyes, I was in a seedy building in a busy modern town; I open them, and here I am in the Palazzo Sforza of an old Italian city, in the great chamber where there was love and hate, passion and despair, revelry and poison, long before Columbus cracked the egg.”

“It is rather a rum old place,” said Stillfleet, twisting his third moustache, and enjoying my surprise.

“Trot out your Bengal tiger. Let me swing him, and measure the dimensions.”

“Tiger and I did that long ago. It is thirty feet square and seventeen high.”

“Built for some grand college purpose, I suppose.”

“As a hall, I believe, for the dons to receive lions on great occasions. But lions and great occasions never come. So I have inherited. It is the old story. ‘Sic vos non vobis ædificatis ædes.’ How do you like it? Not too sombre, eh? with only those two narrow windows opening north?”

“Certainly not too sombre. I don’t want the remorseless day staring in upon my studies. How do I like it? Enormously. The place is a romance.”

“It is Dantesque, Byronic, Victor Hugoish.”

“Yes,” said I, looking up. “I shall be sure of rich old morbid fancies under this ceiling, with its frescoed arabesques, faded and crumbling.”

“You have a taste for the musty, then,” said Harry.

“Anything is better than the raw. The Chuzzlewit has given me enough of that. “Well, Harry, your den is my den, if you say so.”

“Yours to have and to hold while I am gone, and much romance may you find here. Let me show you the whole. Here’s my bath-room, ‘replete,’ as the advertisements say, ‘with every convenience.’ Here, alongside, is my bedroom.”

He opened doors in the wall opposite the windows.

“A gilded bedstead!” said I.

“It was Marshal Soult’s, bought cheap at his sale.”

“A yellow satin coverlet!”

“Louis Philippe’s. Citizen Sabots stole it from the Tuileries in ’48 and sold it to me.”

“But what is this dark cavern, next the bedroom?” I asked. “Where does that door at the back open?”

“Oh! that is my trash room. Those boxes contain ‘Raphaels, Correggios, and stuff.’ I was jockeyed with old masters once, as my compatriots still are. I don’t hang them up and post myself for a greenhorn.”

“But that door at the back?”

“What are you afraid of, Byng?”

“I ask for information.”

“Your voice certainly trembled. No danger. Rachel will never peer through and hiss ‘Le flambeau fume encore.’ No Lady Macbeth will march in, wringing her hands that never will be clean.”

“I hope not, I am sure.”

“It is clear you expect it. Your tone is ominous.”

“Indeed. A Palazzo Sforza style of place inspires Palazzo Sforza fancies, perhaps. But really, Harry, where does the door open?”

“It does not open, and probably will not till doomsday. It is bolted solid on my side, whatever it be on the other. It leads to a dark room.”

“A dark room! that is Otrantoish.”

“A windowless room, properly an appendage to this. But there is another door on the corridor. You may have noticed it, closed with a heavy padlock. The tenant enters there, and asks no right of way of me.”

“The tenant, who is he? I should know my next neighbor.”

“You know him already.”

“Don’t play with my curiosity. Name.”


“Densdeth,” I repeated, aware of a slight uneasiness. “What use has he for a dark room? — here, too, in this public privacy of Chrysalis?”

“The publicity makes privacy. Densdeth says it is his store-room for books and furniture.”

“Well, why not? You speak incredulously.”

“Because there is a faint suspicion that he lies. The last janitor, an ex-servant of Densdeth’s, is dead. None now is allowed to enter there except the owner’s own man, a horrid black creature. He opens the door cautiously, and a curtain appears. He closes the door before he lifts it. Densdeth may pestle poisons, grind stilettos, sweat eagles, revel by gas-light there. What do I know?”

“You are not inquisitive, then, in Chrysalis.”

“No. We have no concierge by the street-door to spy ourselves or our visitors. We can live here in completer privacy than anywhere in Christendom. Daggeroni, De Bogus, or Mademoiselle des Mollets might rendezvous with my neighbor, and I never be the wiser.”

“Well, if Densdeth is well bolted out of my quarters, I will not pry into his. And now I’ll look about a little at your treasures.”

“Do; while I finish packing. I cannot quite decide about taking clean shirts to Washington. In a clean shirt I might abash a Senator.”

“Abash without mercy! the country will thank you,” said I. “But, old fellow, what a wealth of art, virtu, and rococo you have here!”

“I have sampled all the ages of the world. No era has any right to complain of neglect,” says Stillfleet, patronizingly. “You will find specimens of the arts from Tubal Cain’s time down. One does not prowl about Europe ten years without making a fair bag of plunder. How old Churm enjoys my old books, old plates, and old objets!”

“I hope he will not desert the place when its proper master is gone. Where are his quarters in Chrysalis?”

“Story above, southwest corner, with an eye to the sunset. Odd fellow he is! He lurks here in a little hermit cell, when he might live in a gold house with diamond window-panes.”

“Is he so rich?”

“Crœsus was a barefooted pauper to him.”

“Not a miser, — that I know.”

“No; he spends as a prairie gives crops. But always for others. He would be too lavish, if he were not discretion itself. Only his personal habits are ascetic.”

“Perhaps he once had to harden himself sternly against a sorrow, and so asceticism grew a habit.”

“Perhaps. He is a lonely man. Well, here I am, packed, abashing shirts and all! Come down now. I must exhibit you, as my successor, to Locksley, the janitor of Chrysalis, — and a capital good fellow he is.”