By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 7, 1936.
“I’m hexed,” said Jimmie Frise.
“Which?” said I.
“Hexed,” repeated Jimmie. “It means bewitched. It is a word that comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch. It means somebody has put a hex on me.”
“Explain,” I invited.
“Well, now, this morning,” said Jim, nervously looking around the office, “just before daylight I was waked from a deep sleep by the telephone ringing loudly.”
“A nasty experience,” I admitted.
“I jumped out of bed,” said Jim, “half asleep. I had dropped my shoes beside the bed on retiring. As I leaped from bed I trod on one of my shoes. It rolled. I twisted my leg and fell in a loud heap all over the cold floor.”
“The telephone still ringing?” I inquired.
“Shrilly,” said Jim. “I scrambled to my feet, tried to get out the bedroom door to the hall and collided violently with a chair that someone had put there out of its place, fair in the middle of the room.”
“There is always a chair in a place like that,” I commented.
“Oh, no, there isn’t,” said Jim, again glancing cautiously around him. “So I picked myself up again, shoved the chair aside. And by this time I was angry. I knew the door was likely to be ajar. And I knew the chances were that I would bump into it. So, despite my hurry, and the fact that the telephone was still jangling fiercely…”
“Why didn’t you switch on the light?” I suggested.
“With the phone ringing, and the switch away across the room,” said Jim, angrily, “what else would I do but what I was doing? So I extended both my arms ahead of me. I felt my way towards the door. You have guessed it? Yes, the door was exactly between my extended arms, and I banged my nose and forehead savagely against the door edge.”
“Nothing more could happen,” I laughed heartily.
“Yes, it could,” said Jim. “For when I did reach the phone, whoever had wanted me was gone. All I heard was a buzz. I yelled hello, hello, and woke all my family up. They turned on lights and came and stood in the hall watching me.”
“Any more?” I inquired.
“Yes, plenty more,” said Jim, in a low voice. “As you know, Lillie has been very ill recently. I was afraid it was them trying to get me. So I dialed Lillie’s number. I heard the phone ringing and ringing. I waited, although I felt relieved that if nobody answered right away, it couldn’t have been Lillie’s folks trying to get us.”
Series of Comic Incidences
“So?” I encouraged, for Jim was growing more husky every second.
“So,” said Jim, with a long breath, “I heard the telephone lifted off the other end and a very sleepy voice said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Is that you, Fred?’ I asked. There was silence for a moment. ‘No,’ shouted the voice, this isn’t Fred!’ And banged the receiver up in my ear.”
“You tried again?” I begged.
“I certainly did,” said Jim, “because now I was anxious. So very carefully I dialed the number again. I heard it ring. To my great anxiety, it rang only four times before the receiver was snatched off and a voice like a mad bull yelled, ‘If it’s Fred you want, will you get the hell off my line!”
“That isn’t hexed,” I choked.
“So I looked up the number,” said Jim, “and dialed it right. And this time, Fred answered after about ten rings, and said no, he hadn’t been calling me and Lillie was fine, thanks.”
“So then,” I said, “your family was free to go back to bed again?”
“Not quite,” said Jim, grimly. “I started back to bed. There are three steps down in the hall between the front level and the back. I have taken those three steps thousands, yes, tens of thousands of times.”
“Don’t forget, you were a little upset,” I offered.
“I missed the lowest, or third, step,” said Jim, “came down heavily on the small rug, which skidded. And for the third time in five minutes landed like a thousand of brick on the floor of my own home.”
“Your family,” I supposed, “was rather tired of you by this time?”
“I lay there for quite a little while,” said Jim, “not swearing or anything, but just with a helpless sort of feeling, as if the inanimate world, the world of chairs, rugs, floors, telephones, were in active league against me. However, helpless and hopeless as I felt. I got up, carefully felt my way through the door, crept with outstretched arms towards my bed; and you can believe this or not, just as you please, but guess what?”
“What?” I asked.
“I again stepped on one of my shoes, it rolled the same as before, and with a final end utterly ridiculous collapse, I floundered right under my bed, and hurt my head on the floor.”
“Well, I’d say you were just a sound sleeper,” I submitted. “You don’t wake very easily. You were only half awake.”
“Awake,” hissed Jim. “Awake. I tell you, I was never more awake in my life. I was hexed, that’s what I was. Bewitched. Some queer, mischievous, wilful spirit, some sort of little goblin, or lesser devil, some evil spirit without any real power for evil, had me on the run.”
“A series of comic coincidences,” I laughed.
“I tell you,” said Jim, “the night is peopled with devils. Not big devils. Maybe the big devils are abroad, too, doing bigger and more evil things. But there are troops of lesser devils, like unseen monkeys, and they haunt the night, seeking out their victims and making them the butt of their jokes.”
“This is a fine build-up.” I declared, “to excuse your own clumsiness and stupidity.”
“I was hexed,” disagreed Jim. “And I assure you those simple Pennsylvania Dutch, in homely communion with the nature and the truth, knew what they were talking about when they worked out the theory of hexing.”
“Of course,” I submitted, “I am not one of those who scoff at all suggestion of the mystical and spiritualistic. But I think you are rather far-fetched in trying to blame your adventures early this morning on spirits.”
“Who else would I blame it on?” demanded Jim angrily. “Do you suppose it is just an ordinary thing for a man to be waked up in the middle of the night by a fake telephone call and then submitted to the most ridiculous persecution, all by accident?”
“I should say so,” I stated, judicially,
“Then,” sighed Jim, “you are a lot more old-fashioned than I thought. You belong to that cold and practical era that began with King George and ended with the big depression. You are a Georgian realist. You don’t believe in anything that can’t be bought or sold.”
“I have my ideals,” I stated.
“But you are most uncomfortable at the thought that there might be something beyond your control. Something you can’t bring to heel either with a machine, or law, or money.”
“It is a good, sound, sane material world,” I agreed.
But Jimmie got up from his chair, walked cautiously around his office, avoiding chairs, picking his feet up carefully and setting them down with equal care, and stood looking out over the city spread far below us.
“I think,” he said, “I will head for home early to-day. It isn’t a day I would want to be abroad after nightfall.”
“Poo-hoo,” I laughed.
When the garage telephoned me in mid-afternoon that my car would not be ready by supper time, I asked Jim if I could ride home with him. His eagerness was pitiable.
“I was thinking of inviting you to ride home with me,” he said. “Or else maybe I could ride home with you.”
“Tut, tut,” I said. “Jimmie, there are times when all of us are a little off our feed.”
But Jim just gave me a long look, as if he were trying to communicate something to me that words could not convey.
We knocked off at four and walked briskly down to Jim’s parking area and got into the big schooner which Jim drives. The day had darkened and nasty low-lying clouds promised snow or sleet.
“This is a night I’ll be settled down beside the grate fire,” said Jim, starting the engine. We drove out into Bay street and down to the water front. Dusty snow whirled off the barren fields, and we got into line with the early home-goers whose cars were already turning on their dim lights. “Brrrrrr!”
Not too fast, and letting scores of cars pass us. Jim drove westward, past the Prince’s Gate, curving out towards the sea wall where a gray lake heaved weirdly, and threw high sprays and spumes against the concrete. Down amidst the shuttered and abandoned amusement devices of Sunnyside we nosed, and a sense of desolation smote even me.
A Rather Eerie Spot
“What’s this ahead?” exclaimed Jim, sharply.
“An accident, it looks like,” I said, as we coasted into a thickening line of cars. “And a nasty one.”
Three cars were messed up in one of those skid confusions, and the highway rapidly filled with other cars coming both ways to effect a solid block in the traffic.
“Here,” said Jim, sharply, “we don’t want to get caught in any mix-up. I’ll drive up through High Park.”
So, looking out his rear window, Jim backed the old schooner to the turn up through High Park and in a moment we were free of the confusion, and turned up the westerly and little-used roadway through the park.
“If you are so leery,” I smiled, “I wouldn’t risk going through High Park on an evening like this.”
“Quickest way home,” said Jim briefly, stepping on the gas.
The road winds through the park. On either side, the gaunt trees stood with wide arms, as if lifting them in attitudes of horror. The curious gray light filled the hollows with rather sinister shadows. And then the tire gave out with a loud, shrill scream.
“Tire,” I said, as Jim collapsed on the steering wheel.
“Funny place for a tire to give out,” said Jim. “Why wouldn’t it give out on the highway?”
So I got out, and, while Jim scrabbled under the seat for tools, I casually pounded the spare.
“Jim,” I said, “your spare is flat, too.”
Jim came and stared at the spare.
“I had it filled yesterday,” he whispered.
“It’s flat now, look,” I demonstrated.
“I have no pump,” said Jim.
“Let’s wait for somebody to come by,” I said, “and get lift out to Bloor St. and send back a mechanic.”
“Wait nothing,” said Jim. “I’m going to do no waiting in this place.”
And indeed, when I came to look around, it was a rather eerie spot, the trees so curiously watchful, the small hills that completely shut us off seeming to raise their shoulders in a kind of glee. The wind made a hushing sound, and a tumble-weed suddenly started to roll along the side of the road so that Jim and I both made a grab for each other.
“If we aren’t going to wait,” I said, “what do you propose?”
“I propose,” said Jim, that we both start walking to Bloor St.”
And I saw him take a wrench and slip it up his coat sleeve. He locked the car. Away we started.
An Unnerving Sight
In the distance we could hear the hum and whir of traffic passing up the other park road, over a distant and concealing hill.
“Let’s walk over the hill and get a lift,” I said. “It’s quite a hike in this wind to Bloor St.”
“Okay,” said Jim, for the fields were more open than the road which skirted a valley filled with trees, bushes and shadows. “The sooner I get home the better.”
Half way across the field we came out on a little hillock and we both saw what we saw at the same instant.
It was a sleigh. A child’s sleigh. All alone in that vast expanse of white with no person, no object, no tree or bush or stump within sight, the little sleigh was slowly moving.
“Hhrrrmmmpphh,” I cleared my throat.
“So,” said Jim in a choked whisper. “So, we don’t get home!”
“It’s the wind, Jim,” I said comfortingly. “Some kid forgot his sleigh and the wind is blowing it.”
“The wind is against it,” whispered Jim.
“Hhhrrrruummpphh,” said I.
We watched the dreadful spectacle. A little sleigh, slowly, jerkily, but steadily crossing the white ground a few yards before us. Beckoning us. Stopping and starting and signalling us to follow. Follow it to some strange place, some nether world where the unseen creatures who were pulling it might have us at their mercy.
“Jim,” I said, “I apologize. I want to apologize right now before whatever happens, happens.”
“Hexed,” gasped Jim.
“I feel an awful desire,” I groaned, “to run and get on that sleigh and see where it would take me.”
“Just stand still,” sighed Jimmie, “as long as we can.”
The sweet sounds of Toronto traffic rattled and hummed over the hill only a little distance away. We could see, sense, feel the presence of the great city all around us. Yet here, in this desolate park, in a small gully, we stood and watched the ghostly sleigh with frozen stares.
It halted. It struggled.
On the far side of the hill appeared two small boys.
“Hey, mister,” they yelled across. “Loosen our sleigh when you come past.”
Jim and I raced to see who would loosen it first. We ran beside it as the little boys hauled it up to the top with the clothes line they were using.
“What’s the idea,” we demanded gaily when we reached the boys, “of hauling a sleigh on a rope that long?”
“It’s an idea,” said the larger small boy, “so we don’t have to drag it back up each time we go down. We slide down, see? Then we just walk up to the top and pick up the rope and we both pull. So it is nobody’s turn to drag it up, see?”
“A swell idea,” I enthused.
“On’y it didn’t work,” said the boy. “We were just dragging it home.”
“Let’s help,” said Jim and I.
So we set both small boys on their sleigh and hauled them up to Bloor St.
Editor’s Notes: Pennsylvania Dutch refers to the early German settlers of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. They referred to themselves as Deutsch (for “German”) later corrupted to “Dutch”.
Spumes are defined as froth or foam, especially found on waves.
This story was repeated on January 15, 1944 as “Bewitched”, where the second illustration comes from.