Nightmare: A Tale for an Autumn Evening

After a Print by George Cruikshank

by Amy Lowell
It was a gusty night,
With the wind booming, and swooping,
Looping round corners,
Sliding over the cobble-stones,
Whipping and veering,
And careering over the roofs
Like a thousand clattering horses.
Mr. Spruggins had been dining in the city,
Mr. Spruggins was none too steady in his gait,
And the wind played ball with Mr. Spruggins
And laughed as it whistled past him.
It rolled him along the street,
With his little feet pit-a-patting on the flags of the sidewalk,
And his muffler and his coat-tails blown straight out behind him.
It bumped him against area railings,
And chuckled in his ear when he said "Ouch!"
Sometimes it lifted him clear off his little patting feet
And bore him in triumph over three grey flagstones and a quarter.
The moon dodged in and out of clouds, winking.
It was all very unpleasant for Mr. Spruggins,
And when the wind flung him hard against his own front door
It was a relief,
Although the breath was quite knocked out of him.
The gas-lamp in front of the house flared up,
And the keyhole was as big as a barn door;
The gas-lamp flickered away to a sputtering blue star,
And the keyhole went out with it.
Such a stabbing, and jabbing,
And sticking, and picking,
And poking, and pushing, and prying
With that key;
And there is no denying that Mr. Spruggins rapped out an oath or two,
Rub-a-dub-dubbing them out to a real snare-drum roll.
But the door opened at last,
And Mr. Spruggins blew through it into his own hall
And slammed the door to so hard
That the knocker banged five times before it stopped.
Mr. Spruggins struck a light and lit a candle,
And all the time the moon winked at him through the window.
"Why couldn't you find the keyhole, Spruggins?"
Taunted the wind.
"I can find the keyhole."
And the wind, thin as a wire,
Darted in and seized the candle flame
And knocked it over to one side
And pummelled it down — down — down —!
But Mr. Spruggins held the candle so close that it singed his chin,
And ran and stumbled up the stairs in a surprisingly agile manner,
For the wind through the keyhole kept saying, "Spruggins!  Spruggins!"
  behind him.
The fire in his bedroom burned brightly.
The room with its crimson bed and window curtains
Was as red and glowing as a carbuncle.
It was still and warm.
There was no wind here, for the windows were fastened;
And no moon,
For the curtains were drawn.
The candle flame stood up like a pointed pear
In a wide brass dish.
Mr. Spruggins sighed with content;
He was safe at home.
The fire glowed — red and yellow roses
In the black basket of the grate —
And the bed with its crimson hangings
Seemed a great peony,
Wide open and placid.
Mr. Spruggins slipped off his top-coat and his muffler.
He slipped off his bottle-green coat
And his flowered waistcoat.
He put on a flannel dressing-gown,
And tied a peaked night-cap under his chin.
He wound his large gold watch
And placed it under his pillow.
Then he tiptoed over to the window and pulled back the curtain.
There was the moon dodging in and out of the clouds;
But behind him was his quiet candle.
There was the wind whisking along the street.
The window rattled, but it was fastened.
Did the wind say, "Spruggins"?
All Mr. Spruggins heard was "S-s-s-s-s —"
Dying away down the street.
He dropped the curtain and got into bed.
Martha had been in the last thing with the warming-pan;
The bed was warm,
And Mr. Spruggins sank into feathers,
With the familiar ticking of his watch just under his head.
Mr. Spruggins dozed.
He had forgotten to put out the candle,
But it did not make much difference as the fire was so bright . . .
Too bright!
The red and yellow roses pricked his eyelids,
They scorched him back to consciousness.
He tried to shift his position;
He could not move.
Something weighed him down,
He could not breathe.
He was gasping,
Pinned down and suffocating.
He opened his eyes.
The curtains of the window were flung back,
The fire and the candle were out,
And the room was filled with green moonlight.
And pressed against the window-pane
Was a wide, round face,
Winking — winking —
Solemnly dropping one eyelid after the other.
Tick — tock — went the watch under his pillow,
Wink — wink — went the face at the window.
It was not the fire roses which had pricked him,
It was the winking eyes.
Mr. Spruggins tried to bounce up;
He could not, because —
His heart flapped up into his mouth
And fell back dead.
On his chest was a fat pink pig,
On the pig a blackamoor
With a ten pound weight for a cap.
His mustachios kept curling up and down like angry snakes,
And his eyes rolled round and round,
With the pupils coming into sight, and disappearing,
And appearing again on the other side.
The holsters at his saddle-bow were two port bottles,
And a curved table-knife hung at his belt for a scimitar,
While a fork and a keg of spirits were strapped to the saddle behind.
He dug his spurs into the pig,
Which trampled and snorted,
And stamped its cloven feet deeper into Mr. Spruggins.
Then the green light on the floor began to undulate.
It heaved and hollowed,
It rose like a tide,
Sea-green,
Full of claws and scales
And wriggles.
The air above his bed began to move;
It weighed over him
In a mass of draggled feathers.
Not one lifted to stir the air.
They drooped and dripped
With a smell of port wine and brandy,
Closing down, slowly,
Trickling drops on the bed-quilt.
Suddenly the window fell in with a great scatter of glass,
And the moon burst into the room,
Sizzling — "S-s-s-s-s — Spruggins!  Spruggins!"
It rolled toward him,
A green ball of flame,
With two eyes in the center,
A red eye and a yellow eye,
Dropping their lids slowly,
One after the other.
Mr. Spruggins tried to scream,
But the blackamoor
Leapt off his pig
With a cry,
Drew his scimitar,
And plunged it into Mr. Spruggins's mouth.
Mr. Spruggins got up in the cold dawn
And remade the fire.
Then he crept back to bed
By the light which seeped in under the window curtains,
And lay there, shivering,
While the bells of St. George the Martyr chimed the quarter after seven.