"I never clearly knew why I visited the old cemetery that night. Perhaps it was to see how the work of removing the bodies was getting on, for they were all being taken up and carted away to a more comfortable place where land was less valuable. It was well enough; nobody had buried himself there for years, and the skeletons that were now exposed were old mouldy affairs for which it was difficult to feel any respect. However, I put a few bones in my pocket as souvenirs. The night was one of those black, gusty ones in March, with great inky clouds driving rapidly across the sky, spilling down sudden showers of rain which as suddenly would cease. I could barely see my way between the empty graves, and in blundering about among the coffins I tripped and fell headlong. A peculiar laugh at my side caused me to turn my head, and I saw a singular old gentleman whom I had often noticed hanging about the Coroner's office, sitting cross-legged upon a prostrate tombstone.
"How are you, sir?" said I, rising awkwardly to my feet; "nice night."
"Get off my tail," answered the elderly party, without moving a muscle.
"My eccentric friend," rejoined I, mockingly, "may I be permitted to inquire your street and number?"
"Certainly," he replied, "No. 1, Marle Place, Asphalt Avenue,
"The devil!" sneered I.
"Exactly," said he; "oblige me by getting off my tail."
I was a little staggered, and by way of rallying my somewhat dazed faculties, offered a cigar: "Smoke?"
"Thank you," said the singular old gentleman, putting it under his coat; "after dinner. Drink?"
I was not exactly prepared for this, but did not know if it would be safe to decline, and so putting the proffered flask to my lips pretended to swig elaborately, keeping my mouth tightly closed the while. "Good article," said I, returning it. He simply remarked, "You're a fool," and emptied the bottle at a gulp.
"And now," resumed he, "you will confer a favour I shall highly appreciate by removing your feet from my tail."
There was a slight shock of earthquake, and all the skeletons in sight arose to their feet, stretched themselves and yawned audibly. Without moving from his seat, the old gentleman rapped the nearest one across the skull with his gold-headed cane, and they all curled away to sleep again.
"Sire," I resumed, "indulge me in the impertinence of inquiring your business here at this hour."
"My business is none of yours," retorted he, calmly; "what are you up to yourself?"
"I have been picking up some bones," I replied, carelessly.
"Then you are—"
"My good friend, you do me injustice. You have doubtless read very frequently in the newspapers of the Fiend in Human Shape whose actions and way of life are so generally denounced. Sire, you see before you that maligned party!"
There was a quick jerk under the soles of my feet, which pitched me prone upon the ground. Scrambling up, I saw the old gentleman vanishing behind an adjacent sandhill as if the devil were after him. The Mistake of a Life."