William Wirt Sikes, newspaperman and novelist, was born in Watertown, New York, November 23, 1836. He was the son of Dr. William Johnson Sikes and his wife Meroe Redfield. He attended the local schools but, being an invalid, was largely self educated. He learned typesetting on a local newspaper, and was thereafter engaged in journalism or other literary work. He was married at the age of 19 to Jeanette Wilcox, and by her had a son and a daughter. In 1856 he worked on the Utica Morning Herald, both as typesetter and contributor, and in 1858 some of his tales and poems were collected in a book under the title, "A Book for the Winter-Evening Fireside." In 1861 he was made State Canal Inspector of Illinois, but two years later was back again in newspaper work on the Chicago Evening Journal. He removed to New York in 1865 and contributed to Harpers New Monthly Magazine, the Youth's Companion, Oliver Optic's Magazine, and the New York Sun. In 1868 he removed to Nyack, New York, and became part owner and editor of the Nyack City and Country and the Rockland County Journal, but at the same time wrote for other periodicals, such as the Toledo Weekly Blade. He was divorced from his first wife in 1870 and on December 19, 1871, was married to Olive Logan (q.v.). He was appointed U.S. consul at Cardiff, Wales, in June, 1876, and published much on the archaeology and history of that region.
His death occurred at Cardiff August 18, 1883. He is said to have used over twenty pen names, among them being "Burton Saxe."
REFERENCES: Allibone, Dict. Eng. Lit., Ill, and Supplement, II; Appleton's Cyc. Amer. Biog.; Scribner's Dict. Amer. Biog., XVII, 1933, 157; Buffalo Sunday News, August 26, 1883; New York Evening Post, August 20, 1883; Robinson, Epitome of Literature, July, 1878.
American Tales. No. 22
Beadle's Monthly. Vol. Ill, Greenblow in Gotham.
Starr's American Novels. No. 158
Half-Dime Library. No. 112
Pocket Library. No. 178
SPECIMEN OF WIRT SIKES' STYLE
"The Cave Secret; or, The Mystery of Night Island." American Tales No. 22, pp. 22-25.
The conversation soon turned on the recent mysterious events, as a matter of course, and from the discussion of the local mystery, it naturally turned upon mysterious things generally.
"Did I ever tell yez, boys, about the ghost me fayther saw in the ould country?" asked Pat.
"No," said Zeke Melton, one of the four. "I never knowed ye had a father. Le's hear it."
"Well, ye must know me fayther lived in Ballykilly. That's a nate little village in the South of Ireland, not many miles from the Lakes of Killarney. Ye've heard o' thim."
"Can't say's I ever did."
"Arrah, ye omadhaun, where have ye been hidin' all yer life, that ye niver heard o' the Lakes o' Killarney— the swatest picthers o' wather this side o' Paradise. But that's little to do wid me shtory, so l'ave it be!
"Wan day me fayther had been to a race at Baugh-skerry, that's beyant, maybe tin mile or so from Ballykilly, on the road to Cork, an' he had fell in wid a lot o' roarin' boys from the back counthry, an' a slashin' time they had had of it all together, wid dhrinkin' an' fightin' an' other ginteel divarsions, an' fer consequence ye may consave that me fayther stepped high an' felt gayly whin night came an' he shtarted for home.
"Well, he walked along his way wid a light hayrt, twirlin' his shillaleh an' howlin' quietly to himself to the tune o' 'The Night before Larry was Stretched;' an' wid walkin' on both sides o' the road to wanst—a notion he had whin he got frisky ye mind—he got over the road but slowly, an' it was midnight whin he kem to the stretch of wood, beyant Ballykilly about two mile. He was walkin' along as bould as a lion, whin to a sudden he heard a quare noise that sounded like a groan whispered like, an' made his hair rise a bit, though he swore he wasn't frightened at all, not he!
"'What's that!' said me fayther. But he got no answer. Ivery thing was so still ye could a' heard his heart a-thumpin' in his waistcoat.
'"Who are ye, ye bloody villain?' cried me fayther at the top of his voice. 'Come out o' that, now!" says he, shpittin' on his fist and crackin' his heel with his shillaleh.
"But nivir a word to answer came up. "'Arrah, thin, whoever ye are,' says me fayther, 'Ye betther kape low or I'll welt ye wid me shtick till ye can't see out o' yer two eyes, as sure as me mother's name was Barney Donnel. Hoo! Come out o' that, now, if yer a man!'
"Shtill niver a word did the answer come to him, an' wid that me fayther thinks he was dhramin' perhaps, an' had heard nothin' after all, or maybe it wor the whiskey at the race that had got into his head an' was bodderin' him. So wid that he shtarted off ag'in, singin' the 'Bould Soldier Boy,' wid a bit of lung that made the ould woods ring again wid it.
"But no sooner had he put his fut for home whin he heard the bastely noise ag'in, an' this time he knowed it wasn't the whisky fer sure.
"'Hurroo!' says me fayther, jumpin' up an' kickin' his two heels together, 'ye're there ag'in, air ye?'
"But bedad afore he could put two words to that, there kem a blow in his face that knocked him flat, an' a voice cried out in hollow tones, 'Rise, Michael Donnel, and behold yer gran'fayther's shpirit!'
"Wid that me fayther turned about, an' lookin' up there shtood behind him a ghost tin yards high, all in white, an' wid two great red eyes all on fire an' glowin' like wan o' thim coals that I sot down on a while ago, bad 'cess to 'em. Whin he said that, ye may be sure me fayther got sober in a twinklin'. The whisky went out of his head in no time, an' left him as sober as an owl in the early mornin'. So down on his marrybones me fayther dropped, an' began to say his prayers as fast as he could fer the chatterin' of his teeth in his head.
"'Quit that, ye gossoon!' says the ghost. 'I'm not a praste. Git off yer knees an' shtand on yer two legs like a Donnel born. What wud ye muddy yer corduroys fer, an' nobody by to hurt ye but yer gran'fayther?'
"Wid that ye know me fayther plucked up his courage again, fer he knowed that shpirit meant no harrum to him whin he shpoke like that.
"'Arrah,' says me fayther, 'ye'll excuse me fer bein' frighted a bit; ye see I didn't recognize ye at first. Ye've changed a dale since ye wor buried in the churchyard at Ballykilly.'
"'Ye're right,' says the ghost. 'It's a great counthry fer changin' a man's luks, that I kem from.'
"'An' how is things in 'tother world?' says me fayther, growin' boulder every minute as he see the sphirit was inclined to be sociable wid him. 'An' is me gran'mother hearty over there?' "'I know not how yer gran'mother is,' says the ghost; "she don't live where I do. I haven't seen her since the ight I died.' "'D'ye say so?' said my fayther. 'An' where might it be now, this place yer sphakin' of—this place where ye live? I'm hopin' it's agreeable livin' theyre.'
"'That it's not,' says the ghost; 'that it's not—as ye'll find whin ye go theyre yerself. Faix, yer on the road!'
"Me fayther was struck a bit back be that, d'ye mind, for he knowed there wor but one place that the ghost would shpake of in thim terms. But to make sure of it he put another question, wid his teeth bodderin' a thrifle at the time.
"'Musha, thin,' says me fayther, 'I'm hopin' it's cool weather where ye live, for if I'm goin' there meself I'd not be favorable to it if it's a warm counthry, ye mind.'
"'Warm?' says the ghost. 'Warm is it? Bedad, ye may think it's warm. It's hot, ye spalpeen—bilin' an' roastin' an' fryin' hot from wan day's ind to another. Oh, ye'll fale the comfort of it whin ye come to thry it.'
"Wurra! wurra!' cried me dad at that, 'what is yer rayson for thinkin' I'll be goin' there at all? Sure I'm rigular at the church, an' the praste has no call to talk to me this way. I'm thinkin' ye're hard on me, grandad, or is it jokin' ye air? Say ye're jokin' now, an' l'ave me to go home in p'ace to Molly. She'll be lukkin' for me the while an' it's comin' on late.'
"'Wud ye prate to me about yer Molly?' says the ghost. 'What's yer Molly, ye gossoon, to the rest of yer immortal sowl? Sure you don't see me that often that ye need be in a hurry to 1'ave me.'
"'No,' says me fayther, 'that's true; but I was hopin' now ye'd found the way to me ye'd be callin' often, ye see; though faith ye'd not be plisint company to me friends, I'm thinkin'.'
"'No matther,' says the shpirit, 'it's all wan. Ye'll see me no more after to-night. I've got pertickler permission to visit ye the night, and warn ye, but it's not able I'll be to 1'ave home ag'in.'
"'Ah, that's it?' says me fayther.
"'Ay, it is,' says the ghost.
"'An' what can I do to pi'ase ye?" says me fayther.
"'Have ye any money?' says the ghost.
"'Arrah,' says me fayther, 'I've a thrifle that I won at the races, doublin' an' more what I took from home this mornin'.'
"'How much have ye?' says the ghost, an' me fayther tould him to a farthin'.
"L'ave it me,' says the ghost.
"'What for?' says me fayther.
"'For the rest of yer sowl!' says the ghost.
"'Arrah,' says me fayther, 'if I'm goin' to that hot counthry ye shpake of, what'll it matther?"
"'Bad 'cess to ye,' says the ghost, 'that's what I want the money fer. It's tryin' I am to get ye off, an' if ye'll do as I bid ye, ye may be saved after all.'
"'An' what might that be?' says my fayther.
"'Well, in the first place,' says the ghost, 'ye'll 1'ave off gettin' drunk ivery week as ye do now.'
"'I'll do it,' says me fayther.
"'In the next place, ye must bide more at home wid yer old woman an' not be wasthin' yer time wid ructions and fairs an' races and wakes.'
"'Good ag'in,' says me fayther, 'I believe ye.'
"'In the next place, ye'll empty yer pockets on the ground here, an' go home as fast as ye can thravel. I'll take the money down to the place I kem from, an' buy a rel'ase, sure.'
"'An' what does Ould Nick want wid me money?' says me fayther: 'sure it's no good to him, I'm thinkin'.
"'Arrah,' says the ghost, 'don't bodder me, ye spalpeen. Ould Nick loves money better than any thing goin'. He's fonder of it than ye think. Give it me.'
"'Bad luck to ye,' says me fayther, 'I believe it's foolin' me ye air. If ye want me money, ye ould thafe ye, ye'll git it, fer deuce a wan'll I give it ye!'
"An' wid that he up wid his shtick an' flung it wid all the power of his arm sthraight at the ghost's head, and bedad it went through it like it was only moonshine, an' me fayther took to his heels an' run wid all his might, yelling bloody murther at the top of his voice, till ye might have thought he was in th' wilderness here wid a pack o' wolves after him instead o' bein' in the purtiest land under the sun, wid nothin' but his gran'fayther's ghost a throublin' him.
"But, bedad, it was small use runnin', an' that me dad diskivered moighty quick, an' yellin' was no betther, be the same token; fer, as sure as I'm his son alive the day to tell it, me fayther was caught up in the air like a bit o' thistle-down, an' before he knowed it, begor, he was lyin' on his back, in Dennis Flaherty's pigpen at Ballykilly, an' the pigs a-rubbin' his clane face wid their dirthy snouts; and begor, as me fayther luk'd upward, faix, the hivins was wan stretch o' red an' blue fire, an' his gran'fayther's ghost was flyin' aff toward sunrise wid his head downward an' his long gound a sthr'amin' up to the skies twinty mile high an' more. So thin me fayther put his hand in his pocket an' I'm lyin' if his money wasn't all gone—ivery shillin' of it; an' so he faynted away, an' faix we found him in the pig-pen in the mornin' wid his arm around wan of the pigs that he was callin' 'Molly dear, acushia!' fer ye see he had a notion it was me mother, an' him at home shiapin' in his bed.
"Well, whin we tuck him home an' set him by the fire, he was a long while comin' to, fer sure his wits was nearly gone wid what he'd been through, an' no wondher. But by an' by he kem out of his daze, an' thin he towld us the shtory; an' it was aisy seen it wor all true, for sure enough he'd not a pinny o' money about him, an' his body was black an' blue wid the hard thratement he'd had; an' when he towld about the ghost 1'avin' him in Dennis Flaherty's pig-pen it left no bit o' doubt on any sinsible mind, fer in the pig-pen we'd found him sure enough, an' wasn't that proof fit fer a coort wid tin jidges all in bag-wigs?
"Wud ye belave after all that, there was thim in the village—bad 'cess to 'em—who indivered to put a bad consthruction on me fayther's adventures, an' said that he kim home dhrunk afther shpreein' away all his money at the races, an' crawled into Dennis Flaherty's pig-pen in his intoxicashin, an' made up the whole shtory about the ghost of his gran'fayther, jist to bamboozle me mother, fer d'ye mind Mistress Donnel had a bit of a tongue o' her own, an' be the same token she could handle a broomsthick wid the best in Ballykilly; but to prove his shtory thrue, faix, me fayther gev up goin' to races, an' fightin,' and hard dhrinkin' from that day on. He shtayed home wid me mother a good half o' his time, an' saved his alrnlns, an' whin he got dhrunk he'd do it in a quiet, dacent, family way, in his own cabin—an' that no oftener than wan time in a month or more. Arrah, it reformed him quite, an' in a year from the night he saw his gran'fayther's ghost, faix, he was on his way to Ameriky, wid me mother an' me own silt along."