Stories from the Greek Comedians - Alfred J. Church

The Ghost

[From PHILEMON. Translated by PLAUTUS.]

Philolaches, a young Athenian gentleman, had been left by his father, during the latter's absence on mercantile business in Egypt, with considerably more liberty than was good for him. The business had kept the old man away for as much as three years, and during that time the son had run through no small amount of money, and had committed a variety of follies. His adviser and abettor in these had been a certain slave, Tranio by name.

One evening he was about to sit down to dinner, when a friend, Callidamates by name, came in with some companions. The new arrival had already been drinking deeply at another entertainment, but growing weary of his host, had thought fit to change the scene. "Philolaches," he said, "is always the best of fellows and the pleasantest of hosts. I will go and see him." It was no easy task for his friends to pilot him through the streets, for more than once he manifested a decided inclination to lie down. When at last he arrived, he could do nothing but go to sleep. A few minutes after, the slave Tranio came bustling in with some very alarming news. He had been sent by his master down to the harbour, with instructions to buy some fish. When the young man saw him, he only supposed that the errand had been accomplished. "Ah!" he said, "Tranio at last! Now we shall be able to dine."—"Philolaches!" cried the man, breathlessly, for he had been running as fast as he could.

Philolaches.   "Well, what is it?"

Tranio.   "You and I—"

Phil.   "What about you and me?"

Tra.   "Are undone."

Phil.   "What do you mean?"

Tra.   "Your father has come back."

Phil.   "Where is he?"

Tra.   "At the harbour."

Phil.   "Who saw him?"

Tra.   "I did, with my own eyes."

Phil.   "Well, if that's true, it is all over with me."

Tra.   "True! of course it is true. What should I tell a lie for?"

Phil.   "But what am I to do?"

Tra.   "Get rid of your company here in the first place. Who is that asleep on the couch there?"

Phil.   "That is Callidamates. Wake him," he went on, speaking to another of the guests.

Guest.   "Callidamates, Callidamates, wake up!"

Callidamates.   "I am awake. Give me something to drink."

Guest.   "Wake up, I say. Philolaches's father has come back from abroad."

Cal.   "Bother his father!"

Phil.   "For goodness' sake, wake up! My father has come."

Cal.   "Your father has come? Then make him go away again; what business has he to come bothering here?"

Phil.   "What can I do? My father will be here directly and find pretty goings on. It's a bad business. I can't think what is to be done. It is like beginning to dig a well when one is dying of thirst. And see, that fellow there has dropped asleep again. Wake! I say. Don't you know that my father will be here in a minute?"

Cal.   "Your father, do you say? Give me my shoes and my sword; I'll kill your father."

Tranio now rose to the occasion. He bade his master cheer up. He would keep, he said, the old man from coming into the house. The guests need not go; they might continue to enjoy themselves; only the house must he shut up; there must be no noise, and if there was a knocking at the door, there must be no attempt to reply. To make assurance doubly sure, he would take the precaution of locking the door from the outside. These arrangements had scarcely been made, when the father, whose name was Theopropides, arrived, followed by his slaves. Reaching his house, he stood awhile to return thanks to Poseidon for having allowed him to come back safe. "But," he went on, "I don't trust you again. If I do, I give you leave to do what you please."

Tra. (aside).   "Poseidon, you made a great mistake when you allowed this fellow to come back."

Theopropides.   "Three years have I been away in Egypt, and my household, I hope, will be glad to see me back again. But what is the meaning of this? The door shut in the daytime! Ho, there, open the door!" (Knocks.)

At this point Tranio came up, and was recognized by his master. After mutual greetings, the old man expressed his astonishment that he could not get any one to open the door, or even to make any answer. He had already almost broken in the door. Wasn't there any one at home?"

Tra.   "Have you really touched the house?"

Theo.   "Why shouldn't I touch it? Touched it indeed! I have pretty nearly broken the doors in."

Tra.   "You have actually touched it?"

Theo.   "Yes; touched it and kicked it."

Tra.   "That's a bad business."

Theo.   "What is the matter?"

Tra.   "I can't say what a terrible thing you have done."

Theo.   "What?"

Tra.   "For heaven's sake, come away, come nearer to me. Did you really touch the door?"

Theo.   "Touched it? I tell you I kicked it."

Tra.   "Then you have utterly ruined you and yours. But tell those men to go away, and I'll explain. For seven months past, ever since we left it, no one has set foot inside that house."

Theo.   "But why?"

Tra.   "Listen. But first, can any one hear me?"

Theo.   "No, no. It's all safe."

Tra.   "Look again."

Theo.   "There is no one; go on."

Tra.   "A frightful murder was once done in that house. The crime was committed many years ago, and had been forgotten. We only lately came to know of it."

Theo.   "What was it? Who did it?"

Tra.   "In that house a host murdered his guest,—I fancy it was the man who sold the house to you,— possessed himself of his victim's money, and buried the body somewhere in the house."

Theo.   "What makes you suspect that such a thing happened?"

Tra.   "I'll tell you: listen. One night your son came home after dining out. He went to bed, and so did we all. It so happened that I had forgotten to put out one of the lamps. All of a sudden he cried out—"

Theo.   "Who cried out, my son?"

Tra.   "Hush! don't say a word. He said that the dead man had appeared to him in his sleep."

Theo.   "In his sleep, you say?"

Tra.   "Certainly. How could he have appeared to him when he was awake, seeing that it was sixty years since the man was killed? You are sometimes extraordinarily stupid, my master."

Theo.   "I say no more."

Tra.   "What the dead man said to him was this: 'I am a stranger from over the sea, Diapontius by name. I dwell here. The regions below would not receive me because I was slain before my time. I was treacherously murdered by my host in this house, and within these walls. I was thrust into the earth without due burial rites. All this the villain did for the sake of gain. Depart thou hence. This is a wicked house; it is under a curse.' This is what the ghost said. As for the horrible things that happen here, it would take me a year and more to tell them. Hush!"

At this point a noise was heard from within. The party had forgotten their situation, and were becoming uproarious.

Theo.   "Good heavens! What is it?"

Tra. (speaking to the ghost).   "It was he that knocked, not I."

Theo.   "Oh, dear! the dead man will carry me off alive!"

Tra. (aside).   "These fellows will spoil the whole business with their noise."

Theo.   "What are you talking to yourself about?"

Tra.   "Come away from the door, I implore you. Come to me. I am not afraid. I am on good terms with the dead."

A voice from within cried, "Tranio!"

"Don't call me," said the slave. "I tell you it wasn't I that knocked; it was my master."

Theo.   "Whom are you talking to?"

Tra.   "Was it you that called? On my word, I thought it was the dead man remonstrating with me because I had knocked at the door. But come away. Cover your head and fly."

Theo.   "Why don't you fly?"

Tra.   "I am on good terms with the dead."

Theo.   "I thought you seemed very frightened."

Tra.   "Never mind about me; I can take care of myself."

A new danger now presented itself. A money-lender, who had supplied the young Philolaches with a considerable sum, appeared on the scene, and loudly complained, after the habit of his kind, of the very unlucky year he had had. He loudly demanded his money, while Tranio vainly endeavoured to get rid of him. If he would come back a little later he should have it without fail. The money-lender, however, preferred to stay. He had been put off several times before, and would wait no longer. Meanwhile Theopropides returned. He had been to see the person of whom he had bought the house, and had told him the whole story. He had been met with a flat contradiction, and he now returned to make further inquiries. The clamour made by the money-lender attracted the attention of Theopropides. "Who is this fellow," he said, "that is making all this uproar? He seems to have some complaint against my son."

Tra.   "Oh, throw the money in his face, the horrid wretch!"

Money-Lender.   "Throw away; I don't object to being pelted with silver."

Tra.   "Do you hear what he says? A regular usurer all over."

Theo.   "I don't care who he is, or what he is. I want to know about this money."

Tra.   "Well, if you must know, your son Philolaches owes him something."

Theo.   "How much?"

Tra.   "One hundred and sixty pounds, or there-abouts. You don't think that very much."

Theo.   "A mere trifle, of course."

Tra.   "Then there is a little matter of interest, say ten pounds, or thereabouts. Say that you will pay him, and send him off.

Theo.   "I am to say that I will pay him?"

Tra.   "Yes, you. But listen. It is all right. Say you will."

Theo.   "Tell me this—what has been done with the money?"

Tra.   "It's all safe."

Theo.   "If it's safe, why don't you pay for it yourselves?"

Tra.   "The fact is, your son bought a house."

Theo.   "A house ?"

Tra.   "Yes, a house."

Theo.   "Good, good! He is a chip of the old block; he has an eye to business. You say a house?"

Tra.   "Yes, a house; but what kind of a house, do you think?"

Theo.   "How can I tell?"

Tra.   "Where?"

Theo.   "What do you mean?"

Tra.   "Don't ask me."

Theo.   "Why?"

Tra.   "I tell you it's a perfect picture."

Theo.   "Well done; but what does he give for it?"

Tra.   "Four hundred and eighty pounds, and has paid the hundred by way of deposit. You see, when he found out how it was with the other house, he bought a new one for himself."

Theopropides was so pleased with his son's smartness that he made no difficulty about promising the money-lender that he would pay the debt. "And now," he said, turning to Tranio, "tell me where the house is." The question perplexed Tranio. "A lie," he said to himself, "is best served up hot, I have heard. I must say the first thing that comes uppermost." (To Theopropides)  "It was our next door neighbour's house that he bought."

Theo.   "Really?"

Tra.   "Yes, really, if you are going to pay the money; but not really, if you don't."

Theo.   "Well, I should like to see it."

Tra. (to himself).   "Here is another trouble. I'm no sooner off one shoal than I am on to another."

Theo.   "What are you stopping for? Call some one."

Tra.   "But, sir, there are ladies there; and we ought to find out whether they are willing to have the house seen."

Theo.   "Very good; go and inquire. I will wait for you here."

Tra.   "Confound the old man! how he ruins all my little schemes. But here comes our neighbour Sinio himself. Sinio, my master is very anxious to see your house."

Sinio.   "But it is not for sale."

Tra.   "I am quite aware of that; but the old man wants to build apartments for the women, with a bath and a colonnade."

Sin.   "What is he dreaming about?"

Tra.   "You see he wants his son to marry as soon as may be. So he is anxious to build a new women's apartment. He has heard an architect say that your house is astonishingly well built, and he wants to make his on the same pattern. It is a capital place in summer, he hears."

Sin.   "Oh, indeed! I know the sun is like a dun; we never get rid of him. As for shade, there is none, except you get into the well. However, if he wants to see the house, he is quite welcome, and to copy it, too, if he pleases."

Tranio now went to fetch his master, who had been waiting impatiently for him. The vendor, he explained, had been busy, and he had to wait till he was at leisure. "There he is," he went on, "standing at his door and waiting for us. See how sad he is about having sold his house. He begged me to persuade your son to give up the bargain."—"Give up the bargain!" said Theopropides. "No, no; every man for himself. If he made a bad bargain, we are not going to give it up. If one gets a little bit of advantage, one must keep it."

Sinio received his visitor very politely, begging him to walk over the house as if it were his own. "As if," said Theopropides, half aloud.

"Don't, don't!" interrupted Tranio;" say nothing about having bought the house. Don't you see how gloomy he looks?"

As a matter of fact, Sinio's gloom had been caused by a naturally bad temper and a quarrel with his wife.

Theopropides now went over the house, criticising this and that detail, but admiring it on the whole, while Tranio pointed out its beauties, and felt not a little relief when the owner, pleading business elsewhere, left the two to inspect the remainder of the house by themselves. The result of this inspection was a thorough satisfaction on the old man's part with the bargain that his son had made. "I would not take fifteen hundred pounds for the place, money down," he said, when he had finished his survey. Tranio promptly claimed credit for his share in the transaction. "I advised it," he said; "I made him borrow the money for the deposit." Theopropides declared his intention of concluding the business the next day by paying up the balance that remained to be paid, and directed Tranio to announce his arrival to his son, who, he had been given to understand, was at his farm outside the city.

A slave of Callidamates now made his appearance. He had come to fetch his master, who would probably be unable by that time to make his way home alone. Theopropides, who was surveying his new possession, as he supposed it to be, from the outside, seeing him knock at the door, and hearing him call for Tranio, asked him his business.

Slave.   "I have come to fetch Callidamates."

Theo.   "But why knock at that door?"

Slave.   "Because my master is drinking inside."

Theo.   "Nonsense, young man. No one lives here."

Slave.   "Doesn't Philolaches live here?"

Theo.   "He used to live here, but he has moved."

Slave.   "You are very much mistaken, my dear sir; unless he moved yesterday or to-day, he certainly lives here. The fact is, that since his father went abroad, he has been keeping it up here with his jolly companions."

Theo.   "Who has been keeping it up, do you say?"

Slave.   "Philolaches."

Theo.   "What Philolaches?"

Slave.   "Why, the Philolaches whose father is named Theopropides."

Theo.   "You say Philolaches has been in the habit of drinking here with your master?"

Slave.   "Just so."

Theo.   "And you are sure that you haven't come to the wrong house?"

Slave.   "I know what I am about. This is the house, and Philolaches is the young gentleman's name. He has been borrowing lately—"

Theo.   "Borrowing what?"

Slave.   "A hundred and sixty pounds."

Theo.   "And you say that he has been keeping it up with your master?"

Slave.   "Just so."

Theo.   "Didn't he buy this next house?"

Slave.   "I never heard of it."

Sinio, who had finished his business, now came back, and Theopropides questioned him about the house. "You received," he said, "a hundred and sixty pounds from my son Philolaches."—"Never a shilling," Sinio replied.—"Well, from Tranio the slave."—"No, nor from him." A few more questions sufficed to show the old man that the whole story was a fiction from beginning to end. "Well," said he to his neighbour, "lend me two stout slaves and a whip or two; that is all you can do for me, for I have been most abominably cheated."

Tranio had succeeded in clearing his master's house of its inconvenient inmates, and was meditating what was best to be done, when he saw his master approach. A brief conversation followed, and Tranio soon understood that his game was up. The slaves were not to be seen, for Theopropides had told them to keep in the background till he should call them, but the culprit was perfectly well aware that a very severe punishment awaited him. His only resource was to flee for protection to the family altar. This he at once did, and no persuasions could induce him to leave it.

Affairs were in this situation when Callidamates, who had by this time slept off his drunkenness, appeared upon the scene. Tranio, impudent to the last, bantered his master on having been cheated so grossly. "A man with white hair ought," he said, "to have known better. If you have a friend among the comedians, you could not do better than tell him the story of how a slave has taken you in." Callidamates here intervened. "You must know that I am your son's closest friend. After what has happened he is ashamed to show himself. Pray pardon his youthful folly. Young men will do such things, and I am just as much in fault as he is. As for the money, I will pay it, capital and interest, out of my own pocket."

"Very good," said Theopropides; "as you are so liberal, I will forgive him. But as to that scoundrel there, I will be the death of him."

"No, no, replied Callidamates; "pardon him, for my sake."

"Pardon him!" cried the old man, "a likely thing indeed!"

"You may as well," said Tranio, from his place of refuge. "You won't lose anything by it. You may be certain that I shall do something as bad to-morrow, and then you can punish me to your heart's content."

Theo.   "Well, well; I'll excuse you this once, but you have to thank my friend Callidamates for your escape."