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Uncle Cornelius His Story
by [?]

A solitary gleam of humour shone through the great eyes of the spectacles as he spoke.

“Oh, uncle! how can you believe such nonsense!” said Janet.

“I did not say I believed it–did I? But why not? The story has at least a touch of imagination in it.”

“That is a strange reason for believing a thing, uncle,” said Harry.

“You might have a worse, Harry. I grant it is not sufficient; but it is better than that commonplace aspect which is the ground of most faith. I believe I did say that the story puzzled me.”

“But how can you give it any quarter at all, uncle?”

“It does me no harm. There it is–between the boards of an old German book. There let it remain.”

“Well, you will never persuade me to believe such things,” said Janet.

“Wait till I ask you, Janet,” returned her uncle, gravely. “I have not the slightest desire to convince you. How did we get into this unprofitable current of talk? We will change it at once. How are consols, Harry?”

“Oh, uncle!” said Kate, “we were longing for a story, and just as I thought you were coming to one, off you go to consols!”

“I thought a ghost story at least was coming,” said Janet.

“You did your best to stop it, Janet,” said Harry.

Janet began an angry retort, but Cornelius interrupted her. “You never heard me tell a ghost story, Janet.”

“You have just told one about a drinking ghost, uncle,” said Janet–in such a tone that Cornelius replied–

“Well, take that for your story, and let us talk of something else.”

Janet apparently saw that she had been rude, and said as sweetly as she might–“Ah! but you didn’t make that one, uncle. You got it out of a German book.”

“Make it!–Make a ghost story!” repeated Cornelius. “No; that I never did.”

“Such things are not to be trifled with, are they?” said Janet.

“I at least have no inclination to trifle with them.”

“But, really and truly, uncle,” persisted Janet, “you don’t believe in such things?”

“Why should I either believe or disbelieve in them? They are not essential to salvation, I presume.”

“You must do the one or the other, I suppose.”

“I beg your pardon. You suppose wrong. It would take twice the proof I have ever had to make me believe in them; and exactly your prejudice, and allow me to say ignorance, to make me disbelieve in them. Neither is within my reach. I postpone judgment. But you, young people, of course, are wiser, and know all about the question.”

“Oh, uncle! I’m so sorry!” said Kate. “I’m sure I did not mean to vex you.”

“Not at all, not at all, my dear.–It wasn’t you.”

“Do you know,” Kate went on, anxious to prevent anything unpleasant, for there was something very black perched on Janet’s forehead, “I have taken to reading about that kind of thing.”

“I beg you will give it up at once. You will bewilder your brains till you are ready to believe anything, if only it be absurd enough. Nay, you may come to find the element of vulgarity essential to belief. I should be sorry to the heart to believe concerning a horse or dog what they tell you nowadays about Shakespeare and Burns. What have you been reading, my girl?”

“Don’t be alarmed, uncle. Only some Highland legends, which are too absurd either for my belief or for your theories.”

“I don’t know that, Kate.”

“Why, what could you do with such shapeless creatures as haunt their fords and pools for instance? They are as featureless as the faces of the mountains.”

“And so much the more terrible.”

“But that does not make it easier to believe in them,” said Harry.

“I only said,” returned his uncle, “that their shapelessness adds to their horror.”

“But you allowed–almost, at least, uncle,” said Kate, “that you could find a place in your theories even for those shapeless creatures.”

Cornelius sat silent for a moment; then, having first doubled the length of his face, and restored it to its natural condition, said thoughtfully, “I suspect, Katey, if you were to come upon an ichthyosaurus or a pterodactyl asleep in the shubbery, you would hardly expect your report of it to be believed all at once either by Harry or Janet.”