We never thought of Finster St. Mabyn’s being haunted. We really never did.
This may seem strange, but it is absolutely true. It was such an extremely interesting and curious place in many ways that it required nothing extraneous to add to its attractions. Perhaps this was the reason.
Now-a-days, immediately that you hear of a house being „very old,“ the next remark is sure to be „I hope it is“—or „is not“—that depends on the taste of the speaker—“haunted“.
But Finster was more than very old; it was ancient and, in a modest way, historical. I will not take up time by relating its history, however, or by referring my readers to the chronicles in which mention of it may be found. Nor shall I yield to the temptation of describing the room in which a certain royalty spent one night, if not two or three nights, four centuries ago, or the tower, now in ruins, where an even more renowned personage was imprisoned for several months. All these facts—or legends—have nothing to do with what I have to tell. Nor, strictly speaking, has Finster itself, except as a sort of prologue to my narrative.
We heard of the house through friends living in the same county, though some distance farther inland. They—Mr. and Miss Miles, it is convenient to give their name at once—knew that we had been ordered to leave our own home for some months, to get over the effects of a very trying visitation of influenza, and that sea-air was specially desirable.
We grumbled at this. Seaside places are often so dull and commonplace. But when we heard of Finster we grumbled no longer.
„Dull“ in a sense it might be, but assuredly not „commonplace“. Janet Miles’s description of it, though she was not particularly clever at description, read like a fairy tale, or one of Longfellow’s poems.
„A castle by the sea—how perfect!“ we all exclaimed. „Do, oh, do fix for it, mother!“
The objections were quickly over-ruled. It was rather isolated, said Miss Miles, standing, as was not difficult to trace in its name, on a point of land—a corner rather—with sea on two sides. It had not been lived in, save spasmodically, for some years, for the late owner was one of those happy, or unhappy people, who have more houses than they can use, and the present one was a minor. Eventually it was to be overhauled and some additions and alterations made, but the trustees would be glad to let it at a moderate rent for some months, and had intended putting it into some agents‘ hands when Mr. Miles happened to meet one of them, who mentioned it to him. There was nothing against it; it was absolutely healthy. But the furniture was old and shabby, and there was none too much of it. If we wanted to have visitors we should certainly require to add to it. This, however, could easily be done, our informant went on to say. There was a very good upholsterer and furniture dealer at Raxtrew, the nearest town, who was in the habit of hiring out things to the officers at the fort. „Indeed,“ she added, „we often pick up charming old pieces of furniture from him for next to nothing, so you could both hire and buy.“
Of course, we should have visitors—and our own house would not be the worse for some additional chairs and tables here and there, in place of some excellent monstrosities Phil and Nugent and I had persuaded mother to get rid of.
„If I go down to spy the land with father,“ I said, „I shall certainly go to the furniture dealer’s and have a good look about me.“
I did go with father. I was nineteen—it is four years ago—and a capable sort of girl. Then I was the only one who had not been ill, and mother had been the worst of all, mother and Dormy—poor little chap—for he nearly died.
He is the youngest of us—we are four boys and two girls. Sophy was then fifteen. My own name is Leila.
If I attempted to give any idea of the impression Finster St. Mabyn’s made upon us, I should go on for hours. It simply took our breath away. It really felt like going back a few centuries merely to enter within the walls and gaze round you. And yet we did not see it to any advantage, so at least said the two Miles’s who were our guides. It was a gloomy day, with the feeling of rain not far off, early in April. It might have been November, though it was not cold.
„You can scarcely imagine what it is on a bright day,“ said Janet, eager, as people always are in such circumstances, to show off her trouvaille. „The lights and shadows are so exquisite.“
„I love it as it is,“ I said. „I don’t think I shall ever regret having seen it first on a grey day. It is just perfect.“
She was pleased at my admiration, and did her utmost to facilitate matters. Father was taken with the place, too, I could see, but he hummed and hawed a good deal about the bareness of the rooms—the bedrooms especially. So Janet and I went into it at once in a business-like way, making lists of the actually necessary additions, which did not prove very formidable after all.
„Hunter will manage all that easily,“ said Miss Miles, upon which father gave in—I believe he had meant to do so all the time. The rent was really so low that a little furniture-hire could be afforded, I suggested. And father agreed.
„It is extremely low,“ he said, „for a place possessing so many advantages.“
But even then it did not occur to any of us to suggest „suspiciously low“.
We had the Miles’s guarantee for it all, to begin with. Had there been any objection they must have known it.
We spent the night with them and the next morning at the furniture dealer’s. He was a quick, obliging little man, and took in the situation at a glance. And his terms were so moderate that father said to me amiably: „There are some quaint odds and ends here, Leila. You might choose a few things, to use at Finster in the first place, and then to take home with us.“
I was only too ready to profit by the permission, and with Janet’s help a few charmingly quaint chairs and tables, a three-cornered wall cabinet, and some other trifles were soon put aside for us. We were just leaving, when at one end of the shop some tempting-looking draperies caught my eye.
„What are these?“ I asked the upholsterer. „Curtains! Why, this is real old tapestry!“
The obliging Hunter drew out the material in question.
„They are not exactly curtains, miss,“ he said. „I thought they would make nice portières. You see the tapestry is set into cloth. It was so frail when I got it that it was the only thing to do with it.“
He had managed it very ingeniously. Two panels, so to say, of old tapestry, very charming in tone, had been lined and framed with dull green cloth, making a very good pair of portières indeed.
„Oh, papa!“ I cried, „do let us have these. There are sure to be draughty doors at Finster, and afterwards they would make perfect „portières“ for the two side doors in the hall at home.“
Father eyed the tapestry appreciatively, but first prudently inquired the price. It seemed higher in proportion than Hunter’s other charges.
„You see, sir,“ he said half apologetically, „the panels are real antique work, though so much the worse for wear.“
„Where did they come from?“ asked father.
„To tell you the truth, sir,“ he replied, „I was asked not to name the party that I bought it from. It seems a pity to part with heir-looms, but—it happens sometimes—I bought several things together of a family quite lately. The portières have only come out of the workroom this morning. We hurried on with them to stop them fraying more—you see where they were before, they must have been nailed to the wall.“
Janet Miles, who was something of a connoisseur, had been examining the tapestry.
„It is well worth what he asks,“ she said, in a low voice. „You don’t often come across such tapestry in England.“
So the bargain was struck, and Hunter promised to see all that we had chosen, both purchased and hired, delivered at Finster the week before we proposed to come.
Nothing interfered with our plans. By the end of the month we found ourselves at our temporary home—all of us except Nat, our third brother, who was at school. Dormer, the small boy, still did lessons with Sophy’s governess. The two older „boys,“ as we called them, happened to be at home from different reasons—one, Nugent, on leave from India; Phil, forced to miss a term at college through an attack of the same illness which had treated mother and Dormy so badly.
But now that everybody was well again, and going to be very much better, thanks to Finster air, we thought the ill wind had brought us some very distinct good. It would not have been half such fun had we not been a large family party to start with, and before we had been a week at the place we had added to our numbers by the first detachment of the guests we had invited.
It was not a very large house; besides ourselves we had not room for more than three or four others. For some of the rooms—those on the top story—were really too dilapidated to suit any one but rats—“rats or ghosts,“ said some one laughingly one day, when we had been exploring them.
Afterwards the words returned to my memory.
We had made ourselves very comfortable, thanks to the invaluable Hunter. And every day the weather grew milder and more spring-like. The woods on the inland side were full of primroses. It promised to be a lovely season.
There was a gallery along one side of the house, which soon became a favourite resort; it made a pleasant lounging-place, in the day-time especially, though less so in the evening, as the fireplace at one end warmed it but imperfectly, and besides this it was difficult to light up. It was draughty, too, as there was a superfluity of doors, two of which, one at each end, we at once condemned. They were not needed, as the one led by a very long spiral staircase, to the unused attic rooms, the other to the kitchen and offices. And when we did have afternoon tea in the gallery, it was easy to bring it through the dining or drawing-rooms, long rooms, lighted at their extreme ends, which ran parallel to the gallery lengthways, both of which had a door opening on to it as well as from the hall on the other side. For all the principal rooms at Finster were on the first-floor, not on the ground-floor.
The closing of these doors got rid of a great deal of draught, and, as I have said, the weather was really mild and calm.
One afternoon—I am trying to begin at the beginning of our strange experiences; even at the risk of long-windedness it seems better to do so—we were all assembled in the gallery at tea-time. The „children,“ as we called Sophy and Dormer, much to Sophy’s disgust, and their governess, were with us, for rules were relaxed at Finster, and Miss Larpent was a great favourite with us all.
Suddenly Sophy gave an exclamation of annoyance.
„Mamma,“ she said, „I wish you would speak to Dormer. He has thrown over my tea-cup—only look at my frock!“ „If you cannot sit still,“ she added, turning herself to the boy, „I don’t think you should be allowed to come to tea here.“
„What is the matter, Dormy?“ said mother.
Dormer was standing beside Sophy, looking very guilty, and rather white.
„Mamma,“ he said, „I was only drawing a chair out. It got so dreadfully cold where I was sitting, I really could not stay there,“ and he shivered slightly.
He had been sitting with his back to one of the locked-up doors. Phil, who was nearest, moved his hand slowly across the spot.
„You are fanciful, Dormy,“ he said, „there is really no draught whatever.“
This did not satisfy mother.
„He must have got a chill, then,“ she said, and she went on to question the child as to what he had been doing all day, for, as I have said, he was still delicate.
But he persisted that he was quite well, and no longer cold.
„It wasn’t exactly a draught,“ he said, „it was—oh! just icy, all of a sudden. I’ve felt it before—sitting in that chair.“
Mother said no more, and Dormer went on with his tea, and when bed-time came he seemed just as usual, so that her anxiety faded. But she made thorough investigation as to the possibility of any draught coming up from the back stairs, with which this door communicated. None was to be discovered—the door fitted fairly well, and beside this, Hunter had tacked felt round the edges—furthermore, one of the thick heavy portières had been hung in front.
An evening or two later we were sitting in the drawing room after dinner, when a cousin who was staying with us suddenly missed her fan.
„Run and fetch Muriel’s fan, Dormy,“ I said, for Muriel felt sure it had slipped under the dinner table. None of the men had as yet joined us.
„Why, where are you going, child?“ as he turned towards the farther door. „It is much quicker by the gallery.“
He said nothing, but went out, walking rather slowly, by the gallery door. And in a few minutes he returned, fan in hand, but by the other door.
He was a sensitive child, and though I wondered what he had got into his head against the gallery, I did not say anything before the others. But when, soon after, Dormy said „Good night,“ and went off to bed, I followed him.
„What do you want, Leila?“ he said rather crossly.
„Don’t be vexed, child,“ I said. „I can see there is something the matter. Why do you not like the gallery?“
He hesitated, but I had laid my hand on his shoulder, and he knew I meant to be kind.
„Leila,“ he said, with a glance round, to be sure that no one was within hearing—we were standing, he and I, near the inner dining-room door, which was open—“you’ll laugh at me, but—there’s something queer there—sometimes!“
„What? And how do you mean ’sometimes‘?“ I asked, with a slight thrill at his tone.
„I mean not always, I’ve felt it several times—there was the cold the day before yesterday, and besides that, I’ve felt a—a sort of breaving„—Dormy was not perfect in his „th’s“—“like somebody very unhappy.“
„Sighing?“ I suggested.
„Like sighing in a whisper,“ he replied, „and that’s always near the door. But last week—no, not so long ago, it was on Monday—I went round that way when I was going to bed. I didn’t want to be silly. But it was moonlight—and—Leila, a shadow went all along the wall on that side, and stopped at the door. I saw it waggling about—its hands,“ and here he shivered—“on that funny curtain that hangs up, as if it were feeling for a minute or two, and then——“
„It just went out,“ he said simply. „But it’s moonlight again to-night, sister, and I daren’t see it again. I just daren’t.“
„But you did go to the dining-room that way,“ I reminded him.
„Yes, but I shut my eyes and ran, and even then I felt as if something cold was behind me.“
„Dormy, dear,“ I said, a good deal concerned, „I do think it’s your fancy. You are not quite well yet, you know.“
„Yes, I am,“ he replied sturdily. „I’m not a bit frightened anywhere else. I sleep in a room alone you know. It’s not me, sister, its somefing in the gallery.“
„Would you be frightened to go there with me now? We can run through the dining-room; there’s no one to see us,“ and I turned in that direction as I spoke.
Again my little brother hesitated.
„I’ll go with you if you’ll hold hands,“ he said, „but I’ll shut my eyes. And I won’t open them till you tell me there’s no shadow on the wall. You must tell me truly.“
„But there must be some shadows,“ I said, „in this bright moonlight, trees and branches, or even clouds scudding across—something of that kind is what you must have seen, dear.“
He shook his head.
„No, no, of course I wouldn’t mind that. I know the difference. No—you couldn’t mistake. It goes along, right along, in a creeping way, and then at the door its hands come farther out, and it feels.“
„Is it like a man or a woman?“ I said, beginning to feel rather creepy myself.
„I think it’s most like a rather little man,“ he replied, „but I’m not sure. Its head has got something fuzzy about it—oh, I know, like a sticking out wig. But lower down it seems wrapped up, like in a cloak. Oh, it’s horrid.“
And again he shivered—it was quite time all this nightmare nonsense was put out of his poor little head.
I took his hand and held it firmly; we went through the dining-room. Nothing could have looked more comfortable and less ghostly. For the lights were still burning on the table, and the flowers in their silver bowls, some wine gleaming in the glasses, the fruit and pretty dishes, made a pleasant glow of colour. It certainly seemed a curiously sudden contrast when we found ourselves in the gallery beyond, cold and unillumined, save by the pale moonlight streaming through the unshuttered windows. For the door closed with a bang as we passed through—the gallery was a draughty place.
Dormy’s hold tightened.
„Sister,“ he whispered, „I’ve shut my eyes now. You must stand with your back to the windows—between them, or else you’ll think it’s our own shadows—and watch.“
I did as he said, and I had not long to wait.
It came—from the farther end, the second condemned door, whence the winding stair mounted to the attics—it seemed to begin or at least take form there. Creeping along, just as Dormy said—stealthily but steadily—right down to the other extremity of the long room. And then it grew blacker—more concentrated—and out from the vague outline came two bony hands, and, as the child had said, too, you could see that they were feeling—all over the upper part of the door.
I stood and watched. I wondered afterwards at my own courage, if courage it was. It was the shadow of a small man, I felt sure. The head seemed large in proportion, and—yes—it—the original of the shadow—was evidently covered by an antique wig. Half mechanically I glanced round—as if in search of the material body that must be there. But no; there was nothing, literally nothing, that could throw this extraordinary shadow.
Of this I was instantly convinced; and here I may as well say once for all, that never was it maintained by any one, however previously sceptical, who had fully witnessed the whole, that it could be accounted for by ordinary, or, as people say, „natural“ causes. There was this peculiarity at least about our ghost.
Though I had fast hold of his hand, I had almost forgotten Dormy—I seemed in a trance.
Suddenly he spoke, though in a whisper.
„You see it, sister, I know you do,“ he said.
„Wait, wait a minute, dear,“ I managed to reply in the same tone, though I could not have explained why I waited.
Dormer had said that after a time—after the ghastly and apparently fruitless feeling all over the door—“it“—“went out“.
I think it was this that I was waiting for. It was not quite as he had said. The door was in the extreme corner of the wall, the hinges almost in the angle, and as the shadow began to move on again, it looked as if it disappeared; but no, it was only fainter. My eyes, preternaturally sharpened by my intense gaze, still saw it, working its way round the corner, as assuredly no shadow in the real sense of the word ever did nor could do. I realised this, and the sense of horror grew all but intolerable; yet I stood still, clasping the cold little hand in mine tighter and tighter. And an instinct of protection of the child gave me strength. Besides, it was coming on so quickly—we could not have escaped—it was coming, nay, it was behind us.
„Leila!“ gasped Dormy, „the cold—you feel it now?“
Yes, truly—like no icy breath that I had ever felt before was that momentary but horrible thrill of utter cold. If it had lasted another second I think it would have killed us both. But, mercifully, it passed, in far less time than it has taken me to tell it, and then we seemed in some strange way to be released.
„Open your eyes, Dormy,“ I said, „you won’t see anything, I promise you. I want to rush across to the dining-room.“
He obeyed me. I felt there was time to escape before that awful presence would again have arrived at the dining-room door, though it was coming—ah, yes, it was coming, steadily pursuing its ghastly round. And, alas! the dining-room door was closed. But I kept my nerve to some extent. I turned the handle without over much trembling, and in another moment, the door shut and locked behind us, we stood in safety, looking at each other, in the bright cheerful room we had left so short a time ago.
Was it so short a time? I said to myself. It seemed hours!
And through the door open to the hall came at that moment the sound of cheerful laughing voices from the drawing-room. Some one was coming out. It seemed impossible, incredible, that within a few feet of the matter-of-fact pleasant material life, this horrible inexplicable drama should be going on, as doubtless it still was.
Of the two I was now more upset than my little brother. I was older and „took in“ more. He, boy-like, was in a sense triumphant at having proved himself correct and no coward, and though he was still pale, his eyes shone with excitement and a queer kind of satisfaction.
But before we had done more than look at each other, a figure appeared at the open doorway. It was Sophy.
„Leila,“ she said, „mamma wants to know what you are doing with Dormy? He is to go to bed at once. We saw you go out of the room after him, and then a door banged. Mamma says if you are playing with him it’s very bad for him so late at night.“
Dormy was very quick. He was still holding my hand, and he pinched it to stop my replying.
„Rubbish!“ he said. „I am speaking to Leila quietly, and she is coming up to my room while I undress. Good night, Sophy.“
„Tell mamma Dormy really wants me,“ I added, and then Sophy departed.
„We musn’t tell her, Leila,“ said the boy. „She’d have ’sterics.“
„Whom shall we tell?“ I said, for I was beginning to feel very helpless and upset.
„Nobody, to-night,“ he replied sensibly. „You mustn’t go in there,“ and he shivered a little as he moved his head towards the gallery; „you’re not fit for it, and they’d be wanting you to. Wait till the morning and then I’d—I think I’d tell Philip first. You needn’t be frightened to-night, sister. It won’t stop you sleeping. It didn’t me the time I saw it before.“
He was right. I slept dreamlessly. It was as if the intense nervous strain of those few minutes had utterly exhausted me.
Phil is our soldier brother. And there is nothing fanciful about him! He is a rock of sturdy common-sense and unfailing good nature. He was the very best person to confide our strange secret to, and my respect for Dormy increased.
We did tell him—the very next morning. He listened very attentively, only putting in a question here and there, and though, of course, he was incredulous—had I not been so myself?—he was not mocking.
„I am glad you have told no one else,“ he said, when we had related the whole as circumstantially as possible. „You see mother is not very strong yet, and it would be a pity to bother father, just when he’s taken this place and settled it all. And for goodness‘ sake, don’t let a breath of it get about among the servants; there’d be the—something to pay, if you did.“
„I won’t tell anybody,“ said Dormy.
„Nor shall I,“ I added. „Sophy is far too excitable, and if she knew, she would certainly tell Nannie.“ Nannie is our old nurse.
„If we tell any one,“ Philip went on, „that means,“ with a rather irritating smile of self-confidence, „if by any possibility I do not succeed in making an end of your ghost and we want another opinion about it, the person to tell would be Miss Larpent.“
„Yes,“ I said, „I think so, too.“
I would not risk irritating him by saying how convinced I was that conviction awaited him as surely it had come to myself, and I knew that Miss Larpent, though far from credulous, was equally far from stupid scepticism concerning the mysteries „not dreamt of“ in ordinary „philosophy“.
„What do you mean to do?“ I went on. „You have a theory, I see. Won’t you tell me what it is?“
„I have two,“ said Phil, rolling up a cigarette as he spoke. „It is either some queer optical illusion, partly the effect of some odd reflection outside—or it is a clever trick.“
„A trick!“ I exclaimed; „what possible motive could there be for a trick?“
Phil shook his head.
„Ah,“ he said, „that I cannot at present say.“
„And what are you going to do?“
„I shall sit up to-night in the gallery and see for myself.“
„Alone?“ I exclaimed, with some misgiving. For big, sturdy fellow as he was, I scarcely liked to think of him—of any one—alone with that awful thing.
„I don’t suppose you or Dormy would care to keep me company,“ he replied, „and on the whole I would rather not have you.“
„I wouldn’t do it,“ said the child honestly, „not for—for nothing.“
„I shall keep Tim with me,“ said Philip, „I would rather have him than any one.“
Tim is Phil’s bull-dog, and certainly, I agreed, much better than nobody.
So it was settled.
Dormy and I went to bed unusually early that night, for as the day wore on we both felt exceedingly tired. I pleaded a headache, which was not altogether a fiction, though I repented having complained at all when I found that poor mamma immediately began worrying herself with fears that „after all“ I, too, was to fall a victim to the influenza.
„I shall be all right in the morning,“ I assured her.
I knew no further details of Phil’s arrangements. I fell asleep almost at once. I usually do. And it seemed to me that I had slept a whole night when I was awakened by a glimmering light at my door, and heard Philip’s voice speaking softly.
„Are you awake, Lel?“ he said, as people always say when they awake you in any untimely way. Of course, now I was awake, very much awake indeed.
„What is it?“ I exclaimed eagerly, my heart beginning to beat very fast.
„Oh, nothing, nothing at all,“ said my brother, advancing a little into the room. „I just thought I’d look in on my way to bed to reassure you. I have seen nothing, absolutely nothing.“
I do not know if I was relieved or disappointed.
„Was it moonlight?“ I asked abruptly.
„No,“ he replied, „unluckily the moon did not come out at all, though it is nearly at the full. I carried in a small lamp, which made things less eerie. But I should have preferred the moon.“
I glanced up at him. Was it the reflection of the candle he held, or did he look paler than usual?
„And,“ I added suddenly, „did you feel nothing?“
„It—it was chilly, certainly,“ he said. „I fancy I must have dosed a little, for I did feel pretty cold once or twice.“
„Ah, indeed!“ thought I to myself. „And how about Tim?“
Phil smiled, but not very successfully.
„Well,“ he said, „I must confess Tim did not altogether like it. He started snarling, then he growled, and finished up with whining in a decidedly unhappy way. He’s rather upset—poor old chap!“
And then I saw that the dog was beside him—rubbing up close to Philip’s legs—a very dejected, reproachful Tim—all the starch taken out of him.
„Good-night, Phil,“ I said, turning round on my pillow. „I’m glad you are satisfied. To-morrow morning you must tell me which of your theories holds most water. Good-night, and many thanks.“
He was going to say more, but my manner for the moment stopped him, and he went off.
Poor old Phil!
We had it out the next morning. He and I alone. He was not satisfied. Far from it. In the bottom of his heart I believe it was a strange yearning for a breath of human companionship, for the sound of a human voice, that had made him look in on me the night before.
For he had felt the cold passing him.
But he was very plucky.
„I’ll sit up again to-night, Leila,“ he said.
„Not to-night,“ I objected. „This sort of adventure requires one to be at one’s best. If you take my advice you will go to bed early and have a good stretch of sleep, so that you will be quite fresh by to-morrow. There will be a moon for some nights still.“
„Why do you keep harping on the moon?“ said Phil rather crossly, for him.
„Because—I have some idea that it is only in the moonlight that—that anything is to be seen.“
„Bosh!“ said my brother politely—he was certainly rather discomposed—“we are talking at cross-purposes. You are satisfied——“
„Far from satisfied,“ I interpolated.
„Well, convinced, whatever you like to call it—that the whole thing is supernatural, whereas I am equally sure it is a trick; a clever trick I allow, though I haven’t yet got at the motive of it.“
„You need your nerves to be at their best to discover a trick of this kind, if a trick it be,“ I said quietly.
Philip had left his seat, and walked up and down the room; his way of doing so gave me a feeling that he wanted to walk off some unusual consciousness of irritability. I felt half provoked and half sorry for him.
At that moment—we were alone in the drawing-room—the door opened, and Miss Larpent came in.
„I cannot find Sophy,“ she said, peering about through her rather short-sighted eyes, which, nevertheless, see a great deal sometimes; „do you know where she is?“
„I saw her setting off somewhere with Nugent,“ said Philip, stopping his quarter-deck exercise for a moment.
„Ah, then it is hopeless. I suppose I must resign myself to very irregular ways for a little longer,“ Miss Larpent replied with a smile.
She is not young, and not good looking, but she is gifted with a delightful way of smiling, and she is—well, the dearest and almost the wisest of women.
She looked at Philip as he spoke. She had known us nearly since our babyhood.
„Is there anything the matter?“ she said suddenly. „You look fagged, Leila, and Philip seems worried.“
I glanced at Philip. He understood me.
„Yes,“ he replied, „I am irritated, and Leila is——“ he hesitated.
„What?“ asked Miss Larpent.
„Oh, I don’t know—obstinate, I suppose. Sit down, Miss Larpent, and hear our story. Leila, you can tell it.“
I did so—first obtaining a promise of secrecy, and making Phil relate his own experience.
Our new confidante listened attentively, her face very grave. When she had heard all, she said quietly, after a moment’s silence:—
„It’s very strange, very. Philip, if you will wait till to-morrow night, and I quite agree with Leila that you had better do so, I will sit up with you. I have pretty good nerves, and I have always wanted an experience of that kind.“
„Then you don’t think it is a trick?“ I said eagerly. I was like Dormer, divided between my real underlying longing to explain the thing, and get rid of the horror of it, and a half childish wish to prove that I had not exaggerated its ghastliness.
„I will tell you that the day after to-morrow,“ she said. I could not repress a little shiver as she spoke.
She had good nerves, and she was extremely sensible.
But I almost blamed myself afterwards for having acquiesced in the plan. For the effect on her was very great. They never told me exactly what happened; „You know,“ said Miss Larpent. I imagine their experience was almost precisely similar to Dormy’s and mine, intensified, perhaps, by the feeling of loneliness. For it was not till all the rest of the family was in bed that this second vigil began. It was a bright moonlight night—they had the whole thing complete.
It was impossible to throw off the effect; even in the daytime the four of us who had seen and heard, shrank from the gallery, and made any conceivable excuse for avoiding it.
But Phil, however convinced, behaved consistently. He examined the closed door thoroughly, to detect any possible trickery. He explored the attics, he went up and down the staircase leading to the offices, till the servants must have thought he was going crazy. He found nothing—no vaguest hint even as to why the gallery was chosen by the ghostly shadow for its nightly round.
Strange to say, however, as the moon waned, our horror faded, so that we almost began to hope the thing was at an end, and to trust that in time we should forget about it. And we congratulated ourselves that we had kept our own counsel and not disturbed any of the others—even father, who would, no doubt, have hooted at the idea—by the baleful whisper that our charming castle by the sea was haunted!
And the days passed by, growing into weeks. The second detachment of our guests had left, and a third had just arrived, when one morning as I was waiting at what we called „the sea-door“ for some of the others to join me in a walk along the sands, some one touched me on the shoulder. It was Philip.
„Leila,“ he said, „I am not happy about Dormer. He is looking ill again, and——“
„I thought he seemed so much stronger,“ I said, surprised and distressed, „quite rosy, and so much merrier.“
„So he was till a few days ago,“ said Philip. „But if you notice him well you’ll see that he’s getting that white look again. And—I’ve got it into my head—he is an extraordinarily sensitive child, that it has something to do with the moon. It’s getting on to the full.“
For the moment I stupidly forgot the association.
„Really, Phil,“ I said, „you are too absurd! Do you actually—oh,“ as he was beginning to interrupt me, and my face fell, I feel sure—“you don’t mean about the gallery.“
„Yes, I do,“ he said.
„How? Has Dormy told you anything?“ and a sort of sick feeling came over me. „I had begun to hope,“ I went on, „that somehow it had gone; that, perhaps, it only comes once a year at a certain season, or possibly that newcomers see it at the first and not again. Oh, Phil, we can’t stay here, however nice it is, if it is really haunted.“
„Dormy hasn’t said much,“ Philip replied. „He only told me he had felt the cold once or twice, ’since the moon came again,‘ he said. But I can see the fear of more is upon him. And this determined me to speak to you. I have to go to London for ten days or so, to see the doctors about my leave, and a few other things. I don’t like it for you and Miss Larpent if—if this thing is to return—with no one else in your confidence, especially on Dormy’s account. Do you think we must tell father before I go?“
I hesitated. For many reasons I was reluctant to do so. Father would be exaggeratedly sceptical at first, and then, if he were convinced, as I knew he would be, he would go to the other extreme and insist upon leaving Finster, and there would be a regular upset, trying for mother and everybody concerned. And mother liked the place, and was looking so much better!
„After all,“ I said, „it has not hurt any of us. Miss Larpent got a shake, so did I. But it wasn’t as great a shock to us as to you, Phil, to have to believe in a ghost. And we can avoid the gallery while you are away. No, except for Dormy, I would rather keep it to ourselves—after all, we are not going to live here always. Yet it is so nice, it seems such a pity.“
It was such an exquisite morning; the air, faintly breathing of the sea, was like elixir; the heights and shadows on the cliffs, thrown out by the darker woods behind, were indeed, as Janet Miles had said, „wonderful“.
„Yes,“ Phil agreed, „it is an awful nuisance. But as for Dormy,“ he went on, „supposing I get mother to let me take him with me? He’d be as jolly as a sand-boy in London, and my old landlady would look after him like anything if ever I had to be out late. And I’d let my doctor see him—quietly, you know—he might give him a tonic or something.“
I heartily approved of the idea. So did mamma when Phil broached it—she, too, had thought her „baby“ looking quite pale lately. A London doctor’s opinion would be such a satisfaction. So it was settled, and the very next day the two set off. Dormer, in his „old-fashioned,“ reticent way, in the greatest delight, though only by one remark did the brave little fellow hint at what was, no doubt, the principal cause of his satisfaction.
„The moon will be long past the full when we come back,“ he said. „And after that there’ll only be one other time before we go, won’t there, Leila? We’ve only got this house for three months?“
„Yes,“ I said, „father only took it for three,“ though in my heart I knew it was with the option of three more—six in all.
And Miss Larpent and I were left alone, not with the ghost, certainly, but with our fateful knowledge of its unwelcome proximity.
We did not speak of it to each other, but we tacitly avoided the gallery, even, as much as possible, in the daytime. I felt, and so, she has since confessed, did she, that it would be impossible to endure that cold without betraying ourselves.
And I began to breathe more freely, trusting that the dread of the shadow’s possible return was really only due to the child’s overwrought nerves.
Till—one morning—my fool’s paradise was abruptly destroyed.
Father came in late to breakfast—he had been for an early walk, he said, to get rid of a headache. But he did not look altogether as if he had succeeded in doing so.
„Leila,“ he said, as I was leaving the room after pouring out his coffee—mamma was not yet allowed to get up early—“Leila, don’t go. I want to speak to you.“
I stopped short, and turned towards the table. There was something very odd about his manner. He is usually hearty and eager, almost impetuous in his way of speaking.
„Leila,“ he began again, „you are a sensible girl, and your nerves are strong, I fancy. Besides, you have not been ill like the others. Don’t speak of what I am going to tell you.“
I nodded in assent; I could scarcely have spoken. My heart was beginning to thump. Father would not have commended my nerves had he known it.
„Something odd and inexplicable happened last night,“ he went on. „Nugent and I were sitting in the gallery. It was a mild night, and the moon magnificent. We thought the gallery would be pleasanter than the smoking-room, now that Phil and his pipes are away. Well—we were sitting quietly. I had lighted my reading-lamp on the little table at one end of the room, and Nugent was half lying in his chair, doing nothing in particular except admiring the night, when all at once he started violently with an exclamation, and, jumping up, came towards me. Leila, his teeth were chattering, and he was blue with cold. I was very much alarmed—you know how ill he was at college. But in a moment or two he recovered.
„‚What on earth is the matter?‘ I said to him. He tried to laugh.
„‚I really don’t know,‘ he said; ‚I felt as if I had had an electric shock of cold—but I’m all right again now.‘
„I went into the dining-room, and made him take a little brandy and water, and sent him off to bed. Then I came back, still feeling rather uneasy about him, and sat down with my book, when, Leila—you will scarcely credit it—I myself felt the same shock exactly. A perfectly hideous thrill of cold. That was how it began. I started up, and then, Leila, by degrees, in some instinctive way, I seemed to realise what had caused it. My dear child, you will think I have gone crazy when I tell you that there was a shadow—a shadow in the moonlight—chasing me, so to say, round the room, and once again it caught me up, and again came that appalling sensation. I would not give in. I dodged it after that, and set myself to watch it, and then——“
I need not quote my father further; suffice to say his experience matched that of the rest of us entirely—no, I think it surpassed them. It was the worst of all.
Poor father! I shuddered for him. I think a shock of that kind is harder upon a man than upon a woman. Our sex is less sceptical, less entrenched in sturdy matters of fact, more imaginative, or whatever you like to call the readiness to believe what we cannot explain. And it was astounding to me to see how my father at once capitulated—never even alluding to a possibility of trickery. Astounding, yet at the same time not without a certain satisfaction in it. It was almost a relief to find others in the same boat with ourselves.
I told him at once all we had to tell, and how painfully exercised we had been as to the advisability of keeping our secret to ourselves. I never saw father so impressed; he was awfully kind, too, and so sorry for us. He made me fetch Miss Larpent, and we held a council of—I don’t know what to call it!—not „war,“ assuredly, for none of us thought of fighting the ghost. How could one fight a shadow?
We decided to do nothing beyond endeavouring to keep the affair from going further. During the next few days father arranged to have some work done in the gallery which would prevent our sitting there, without raising any suspicions on mamma’s or Sophy’s part.
„And then,“ said father, „we must see. Possibly this extraordinary influence only makes itself felt periodically.“
„I am almost certain it is so,“ said Miss Larpent.
„And in this case,“ he continued, „we may manage to evade it. But I do not feel disposed to continue my tenancy here after three months are over. If once the servants get hold of the story, and they are sure to do so sooner or later, it would be unendurable—the worry and annoyance would do your mother far more harm than any good effect the air and change have had upon her.“
I was glad to hear this decision. Honestly, I did not feel as if I could stand the strain for long, and it might kill poor little Dormy.
But where should we go? Our own home would be quite uninhabitable till the autumn, for extensive alterations and repairs were going on there. I said this to father.
„Yes,“ he agreed, „it is not convenient,“—and he hesitated. „I cannot make it out,“ he went on, „Miles would have been sure to know if the house had a bad name in any way. I think I will go over and see him to-day, and tell him all about it—at least I shall inquire about some other house in the neighbourhood—and perhaps I will tell him our reason for leaving this.“
He did so—he went over to Raxtrew that very afternoon, and, as I quite anticipated would be the case, he told me on his return that he had taken both our friends into his confidence.
„They are extremely concerned about it,“ he said, „and very sympathising, though, naturally, inclined to think us a parcel of very weak-minded folk indeed. But I am glad of one thing—the Rectory there, is to be let from the first of July for three months. Miles took me to see it. I think it will do very well—it is quite out of the village, for you really can’t call it a town—and a nice little place in its way. Quite modern, and as unghost-like as you could wish, bright and cheery.“
„And what will mamma think of our leaving so soon?“ I asked.
But as to this father reassured me. He had already spoken of it to her, and somehow she did not seem disappointed. She had got it into her head that Finster did not suit Dormy, and was quite disposed to think that three months of such strong air were enough at a time.
„Then have you decided upon Raxtrew Rectory?“ I asked.
„I have the refusal of it,“ said my father. „But you will be almost amused to hear that Miles begged me not to fix absolutely for a few days. He is coming to us to-morrow, to spend the night.“
„You mean to see for himself?“
„Poor Mr. Miles!“ I ejaculated. „You won’t sit up with him, I hope, father?“
„I offered to do so, but he won’t hear of it,“ was the reply. „He is bringing one of his keepers with him—a sturdy, trustworthy young fellow, and they two with their revolvers are going to nab the ghost, so he says. We shall see. We must manage to prevent our servants suspecting anything.“
This was managed. I need not go into particulars. Suffice to say that the sturdy keeper reached his own home before dawn on the night of the vigil, no endeavours of his master having succeeded in persuading him to stay another moment at Finster, and that Mr. Miles himself looked so ill the next morning when he joined us at the breakfast-table that we, the initiated, could scarcely repress our exclamations, when Sophy, with the curious instinct of touching a sore place which some people have, told him that he looked exactly „as if he had seen a ghost“.
His experience had been precisely similar to ours. After that we heard no more from him—about the pity it was to leave a place that suited us so well, etc., etc. On the contrary, before he left, he told my father and myself that he thought us uncommonly plucky for staying out the three months, though at the same time he confessed to feeling completely nonplussed.
„I have lived near Finster St. Mabyn’s all my life,“ he said, „and my people before me, and never, do I honestly assure you, have I heard one breath of the old place being haunted. And in a shut-up neighbourhood like this, such a thing would have leaked out.“
We shook our heads, but what could we say?
We left Finster St. Mabyn’s towards the middle of July.
Nothing worth recording happened during the last few weeks. If the ghostly drama were still re-enacted night after night, or only during some portion of each month, we took care not to assist at the performance. I believe Phil and Nugent planned another vigil, but gave it up by my father’s expressed wish, and on one pretext or another he managed to keep the gallery locked off without arousing any suspicion in my mother or Sophy, or any of our visitors.
It was a cold summer,—those early months of it at least—and that made it easier to avoid the room.
Somehow none of us were sorry to go. This was natural, so far as several were concerned, but rather curious as regarded those of the family who knew no drawback to the charms of the place. I suppose it was due to some instinctive consciousness of the influence which so many of the party had felt it impossible to resist or explain.
And the Rectory at Raxtrew was really a dear little place. It was so bright and open and sunny. Dormy’s pale face was rosy with pleasure the first afternoon when he came rushing in to tell us that there were tame rabbits and a pair of guinea-pigs in an otherwise empty loose box in the stable-yard.
„Do come and look at them,“ he begged, and I went with him, pleased to see him so happy.
I did not care for the rabbits, but I always think guinea-pigs rather fascinating, and we stayed playing with them some little time.
„I’ll show you another way back into the house,“ said Dormy, and he led me through a conservatory into a large, almost unfurnished room, opening again into a tiled passage leading to the offices.
„This is the Warden boys‘ playroom,“ he said. „They keep their cricket and football things here, you see, and their tricycle. I wonder if I might use it?“
„We must write and ask them,“ I said. „But what are all these big packages?“ I went on. „Oh, I see, its our heavy luggage from Finster. There is not room in this house for our odds and ends of furniture, I suppose. It’s rather a pity they have put it in here, for we could have had some nice games in this big room on a wet day, and see, Dormy, here are several pairs of roller skates! Oh, we must have this place cleared.“
We spoke to father about it—he came and looked at the room and agreed with us that it would be a pity not to have the full use of it. Roller skating would be good exercise for Dormy, he said, and even for Nat, who would be joining us before long for his holidays.
So our big cases, and the chairs and tables we had bought from Hunter, in their careful swathings of wisps and matting, were carried out to an empty barn—a perfectly dry and weather-tight barn—for everything at the Rectory was in excellent repair. In this, as in all other details, our new quarters were a complete contrast to the picturesque abode we had just quitted.
The weather was charming for the first two or three weeks—much warmer and sunnier than at Finster. We all enjoyed it, and seemed to breathe more freely. Miss Larpent, who was staying through the holidays this year, and I congratulated each other more than once, when sure of not being overheard, on the cheerful, wholesome atmosphere in which we found ourselves.
„I do not think I shall ever wish to live in a very old house again,“ she said one day. We were in the play-room, and I had been persuading her to try her hand—or feet—at roller skating. „Even now,“ she went on, „I own to you, Leila, though it may sound very weak-minded, I cannot think of that horrible night without a shiver. Indeed, I could fancy I feel that thrill of indescribable cold at the present moment.“
She was shivering—and, extraordinary to relate, as she spoke, her tremor communicated itself to me. Again, I could swear to it, again I felt that blast of unutterable, unearthly cold.
I started up. We were seated on a bench against the wall—a bench belonging to the play-room, and which we had not thought of removing, as a few seats were a convenience.
Miss Larpent caught sight of my face. Her own, which was very white, grew distressed in expression. She grasped my arm.
„My dearest child,“ she exclaimed, „you look blue, and your teeth are chattering! I do wish I had not alluded to that fright we had. I had no idea you were so nervous.“
„I did not know it myself,“ I replied. „I often think of the Finster ghost quite calmly, even in the middle of the night. But just then, Miss Larpent, do you know, I really felt that horrid cold again!“
„So did I—or rather my imagination did,“ she replied, trying to talk in a matter-of-fact way. She got up as she spoke, and went to the window. „It can’t be all imagination,“ she added. „See, Leila, what a gusty, stormy day it is—not like the beginning of August. It really is cold.“
„And this play-room seems nearly as draughty as the gallery at Finster,“ I said. „Don’t let us stay here—come into the drawing-room and play some duets. I wish we could quite forget about Finster.“
„Dormy has done so, I hope,“ said Miss Larpent.
That chilly morning was the commencement of the real break-up in the weather. We women would not have minded it so much, as there are always plenty of indoor things we can find to do. And my two grown-up brothers were away. Raxtrew held no particular attractions for them, and Phil wanted to see some of our numerous relations before he returned to India. So he and Nugent started on a round of visits. But, unluckily, it was the beginning of the public school holidays, and poor Nat—the fifteen-year-old boy—had just joined us. It was very disappointing for him in more ways than one. He had set his heart on seeing Finster, impressed by our enthusiastic description of it when we first went there, and now his anticipations had to come down to a comparatively tame and uninteresting village, and every probability—so said the wise—of a stretch of rainy, unsummerlike weather.
Nat is a good-natured, cheery fellow, however—not nearly as clever or as impressionable as Dormy, but with the same common sense. So he wisely determined to make the best of things, and as we were really sorry for him, he did not, after all, come off very badly.
His principal amusement was roller-skating in the play-room. Dormy had not taken to it in the same way—the greater part of his time was spent with the rabbits and guinea-pigs, where Nat, when he himself had had skating enough, was pretty sure to find him.
I suppose it is with being the eldest sister that it always seems my fate to receive the confidences of the rest of the family, and it was about this time, a fortnight or so after his arrival, that it began to strike me that Nat looked as if he had something on his mind.
„He is sure to tell me what it is, sooner or later,“ I said to myself. „Probably he has left some small debts behind him at school—only he did not look worried or anxious when he first came home.“
The confidence was given. One afternoon Nat followed me into the library, where I was going to write some letters, and said he wanted to speak to me. I put my paper aside and waited.
„Leila,“ he began, „you must promise not to laugh at me.“
This was not what I expected.
„Laugh at you—no, certainly not,“ I replied, „especially if you are in any trouble. And I have thought you were looking worried, Nat.“
„Well, yes,“ he said, „I don’t know if there is anything coming over me—I feel quite well, but—Leila,“ he broke off, „do you believe in ghosts?“
„Has any one——“ I was beginning rashly, but the boy interrupted me.
„No, no,“ he said eagerly, „no one has put anything of the kind into my head—no one. It is my own senses that have seen—felt it—or else, if it is fancy, I must be going out of my mind, Leila—I do believe there is a ghost here in the play-room.“
I sat silent, an awful dread creeping over me, which, as he went on, grew worse and worse. Had the thing—the Finster shadow—attached itself to us—I had read of such cases—had it journeyed with us to this peaceful, healthful house? The remembrance of the cold thrill experienced by Miss Larpent and myself flashed back upon me. And Nat went on.
Yes, the cold was the first thing he had been startled by, followed, just as in the gallery of our old castle, by the consciousness of the terrible shadow-like presence, gradually taking form in the moonlight. For there had been moonlight the last night or two, and Nat, in his skating ardour, had amused himself alone in the play-room after Dormy had gone to bed.
„The night before last was the worst,“ he said. „It stopped raining, you remember, Leila, and the moon was very bright—I noticed how it glistened on the wet leaves outside. It was by the moonlight I saw the—the shadow. I wouldn’t have thought of skating in the evening but for the light, for we’ve never had a lamp in there. It came round the walls, Leila, and then it seemed to stop and fumble away in one corner—at the end where there is a bench, you know.“
Indeed I did know; it was where our governess and I had been sitting.
„I got so awfully frightened,“ said Nat honestly, „that I ran off. Then yesterday I was ashamed of myself, and went back there in the evening with a candle. But I saw nothing: the moon did not come out. Only—I felt the cold again. I believe it was there—though I could not see it. Leila, what can it be? If only I could make you understand! It is so much worse than it sounds to tell.“
I said what I could to soothe him. I spoke of odd shadows thrown by the trees outside swaying in the wind, for the weather was still stormy. I repeated the time-worn argument about optical illusions, etc., etc., and in the end he gave in a little. It might have been his fancy. And he promised me most faithfully to breathe no hint—not the very faintest—of the fright he had had, to Sophy or Dormy, or any one.
Then I had to tell my father. I really shrank from doing so, but there seemed no alternative. At first, of course, he pooh-poohed it at once by saying Dormy must have been talking to Nat about the Finster business, or if not Dormy, some one—Miss Larpent even! But when all such explanations were entirely set at nought, I must say poor father looked rather blank. I was sorry for him, and sorry for myself—the idea of being followed by this horrible presence was too sickening.
Father took refuge at last in some brain-wave theory—involuntary impressions had been made on Nat by all of us, whose minds were still full of the strange experience. He said he felt sure, and no doubt he tried to think he did, that this theory explained the whole. I felt glad for him to get any satisfaction out of it, and I did my best to take it up too. But it was no use. I felt that Nat’s experience had been an „objective“ one, as Miss Larpent expressed it—or, as Dormy had said at the first at Finster: „No, no, sister—it’s something there—it’s nothing to do with me.“
And earnestly I longed for the time to come for our return to our own familiar home.
„I don’t think I shall ever wish to leave it again,“ I thought.
But after a week or two the feeling began to fade again. And father very sensibly discovered that it would not do to leave our spare furniture and heavy luggage in the barn—it was getting all dusty and cobwebby. So it was all moved back again to the play-room, and stacked as it had been at first, making it impossible for us to skate or amuse ourselves in any way there, at which Sophy grumbled, but Nat did not.
Father was very good to Nat. He took him about with him as much as he could to get the thought of that horrid thing out of his head. But yet it could not have been half as bad for Nat as for the rest of us, for we took the greatest possible precautions against any whisper of the dreadful and mysterious truth reaching him, that the ghost had followed us from Finster.
Father did not tell Mr. Miles or Jenny about it. They had been worried enough, poor things, by the trouble at Finster, and it would be too bad for them to think that the strange influence was affecting us in the second house we had taken at their recommendation.
„In fact,“ said father with a rather rueful smile, „if we don’t take care, we shall begin to be looked upon askance as a haunted family! Our lives would have been in danger in the good old witchcraft days.“
„It is really a mercy that none of the servants have got hold of the story,“ said Miss Larpent, who was one of our council of three. „We must just hope that no further annoyance will befall us till we are safe at home again.“
Her hopes were fulfilled. Nothing else happened while we remained at the Rectory—it really seemed as if the unhappy shade was limited locally, in one sense. For at Finster, even, it had never been seen or felt save in the one room.
The vividness of the impression of poor Nat’s experience had almost died away when the time came for us to leave. I felt now that I should rather enjoy telling Phil and Nugent about it, and hearing what they could bring forward in the way of explanation.
We left Raxtrew early in October. Our two big brothers were awaiting us at home, having arrived there a few days before us. Nugent was due at Oxford very shortly.
It was very nice to be in our own house again, after several months‘ absence, and it was most interesting to see how the alterations, including a good deal of new papering and painting, had been carried out. And as soon as the heavy luggage arrived we had grand consultations as to the disposal about the rooms of the charming pieces of furniture we had picked up at Hunter’s. Our rooms are large and nicely shaped, most of them. It was not difficult to make a pretty corner here and there with a quaint old chair or two and a delicate spindle-legged table, and when we had arranged them all—Phil, Nugent, and I, were the movers—we summoned mother and Miss Larpent to give their opinion.
They quite approved, mother even saying that she would be glad of a few more odds and ends.
„We might empower Janet Miles,“ she said, „to let us know if she sees anything very tempting. Is that really all we have? They looked so much more important in their swathings.“
The same idea struck me. I glanced round.
„Yes,“ I said, „that’s all, except—oh, yes, there are the tapestry „portières„—the best of all. We can’t have them in the drawing-room, I fear. It is too modern for them. Where shall we hang them?“
„You are forgetting, Leila,“ said mother. „We spoke of having them in the hall. They will do beautifully to hang before the two side doors, which are seldom opened. And in cold weather the hall is draughty, though nothing like the gallery at Finster.“
Why did she say that? It made me shiver, but then, of course, she did not know.
Our hall is a very pleasant one. We sit there a great deal. The side doors mother spoke of are second entrances to the dining-room and library—quite unnecessary, except when we have a large party, a dance or something of that sort. And the „portières“ certainly seemed the very thing, the mellow colouring of the tapestry showing to great advantage. The boys—Phil and Nugent, I mean—set to work at once, and in an hour or two the hangings were placed.
„Of course,“ said Philip, „if ever these doors are to be opened, this precious tapestry must be taken down, or very carefully looped back. It is very worn in some places, and in spite of the thick lining it should be tenderly handled. I am afraid it has suffered a little from being so long rolled up at the Rectory. It should have been hung up!“
Still, it looked very well indeed, and when father, who was away at some magistrates‘ meeting, came home that afternoon, I showed him our arrangements with pride.
He was very pleased.
„Very nice—very nice indeed,“ he said, though it was almost too dusk for him to judge quite fully of the effect of the tapestry. „But, dear me, child, this hall is very cold. We must have a larger fire. Only October! What sort of a winter are we going to have?“
He shivered as he spoke. He was standing close to one of the „portières„—smoothing the tapestry half absently with one hand. I looked at him with concern.
„I hope you have not got a chill, papa,“ I said.
But he seemed all right again when we went into the library, where tea was waiting—an extra late tea for his benefit.
The next day Nugent went to Oxford. Nat had already returned to school. So our home party was reduced to father and mother, Miss Larpent, Phil and I, and the children.
We were very glad to have Phil settled at home for some time. There was little fear of his being tempted away, now that the shooting had begun. We were expecting some of our usual guests at this season; the weather was perfect autumn weather; we had thrown off all remembrance of influenza and other depressing „influences,“ and were feeling bright and cheerful, when again—ah, yes, even now it gives me a faint, sick sensation to recall the horror of that third visitation!
But I must tell it simply, and not give way to painful remembrances.
It was the very day before our first visitors were expected that the blow fell, the awful fear made itself felt. And, as before, the victim was a new one—the one who, for reasons already mentioned, we had specially guarded from any breath of the gruesome terror—poor little Sophy!
What she was doing alone in the hall late that evening I cannot quite recall—yes, I think I remember her saying she had run downstairs when half-way up to bed, to fetch a book she had left there in the afternoon. She had no light, and the one lamp in the hall—we never sat there after dinner—was burning feebly. It was bright moonlight.
I was sitting at the piano, where I had been playing in a rather sleepy way—when a sudden touch on my shoulder made me start, and, looking up, I saw my sister standing beside me, white and trembling.
„Leila,“ she whispered, „come with me quickly. I don’t want mamma to notice.“
For mother was still nervous and delicate.
The drawing-room is very long, and has two or three doors. No-one else was at our end. It was easy to make our way out unperceived. Sophy caught my hand and hurried me upstairs without speaking till we reached my own room, where a bright fire was burning cheerfully.
Then she began.
„Leila,“ she said, „I have had such an awful fright. I did not want to speak until we were safe up here.“
„What was it?“ I exclaimed breathlessly. Did I already suspect the truth? I really do not know, but my nerves were not what they had been.
Sophy gasped and began to tremble. I put my arm round her.
„It does not sound so bad,“ she said. „But—oh, Leila, what could it be? It was in the hall,“ and then I think she explained how she had come to be there. „I was standing near the side door into the library that we never use—and—all of a sudden a sort of darkness came along the wall, and seemed to settle on the door—where the old tapestry is, you know. I thought it was the shadow of something outside, for it was bright moonlight, and the windows were not shuttered. But in a moment I saw it could not be that—there is nothing to throw such a shadow. It seemed to wriggle about—like—like a monstrous spider, or—“ and there she hesitated—“almost like a deformed sort of human being. And all at once, Leila, my breath went and I fell down. I really did. I was choked with cold. I think my senses went away, but I am not sure. The next thing I remember was rushing across the hall and then down the south corridor to the drawing-room, and then I was so thankful to see you there by the piano.“
I drew her down on my knee, poor child.
„It was very good of you, dear,“ I said, „to control yourself, and not startle mamma.“
This pleased her, but her terror was still uppermost.
„Leila,“ she said piteously, „can’t you explain it? I did so hope you could.“
What could I say?
„I—one would need to go to the hall and look well about to see what could cast such a shadow,“ I said vaguely, and I suppose I must involuntarily have moved a little, for Sophy started, and clutched me fast.
„Oh, Leila, don’t go—you don’t mean you are going now?“ she entreated.
Nothing truly was farther from my thoughts, but I took care not to say so.
„I won’t leave you if you’d rather not,“ I said, „and I tell you what, Sophy, if you would like very much to sleep here with me to-night, you shall. I will ring and tell Freake to bring your things down and undress you—on one condition.“
„What?“ she said eagerly. She was much impressed by my amiability.
„That you won’t say one word about this, or give the least shadow of a hint to any one that you have had a fright. You don’t know the trouble it will cause.“
„Of course I will promise to let no one know, if you think it better, for you are so kind to me,“ said Sophy. But there was a touch of reluctance in her tone. „You—you mean to do something about it though, Leila,“ she went on. „I shall never be able to forget it if you don’t.“
„Yes,“ I said, „I shall speak to father and Phil about it to-morrow. If any one has been trying to frighten us,“ I added unguardedly, „by playing tricks, they certainly must be exposed.“
„Not us,“ she corrected, „it was only me,“ and I did not reply. Why I spoke of the possibility of a trick I scarcely know. I had no hope of any such explanation.
But another strange, almost incredible idea was beginning to take shape in my mind, and with it came a faint, very faint touch of relief. Could it be not the houses, nor the rooms, nor, worst of all, we ourselves that were haunted, but something or things among the old furniture we had bought at Raxtrew?
And lying sleepless that night a sudden flash of illumination struck me—could it—whatever the „it“ was—could it have something to do with the tapestry hangings?
The more I thought it over the more striking grew the coincidences. At Finster it had been on one of the closed doors that the shadow seemed to settle, as again here in our own hall. But in both cases the „portières“ had hung in front!
And at the Rectory? The tapestry, as Philip had remarked, had been there rolled up all the time. Was it possible that it had never been taken out to the barn at all? What more probable than that it should have been left, forgotten, under the bench where Miss Larpent and I had felt for the second time that hideous cold? And, stay, something else was returning to my mind in connection with that bench. Yes—I had it—Nat had said „it seemed to stop and fumble away in one corner—at the end where there is a bench, you know.“
And then to my unutterable thankfulness at last I fell asleep.
I told Philip the next morning. There was no need to bespeak his attention. I think he felt nearly as horrified as I had done myself at the idea that our own hitherto bright, cheerful home was to be haunted by this awful thing—influence or presence, call it what you will. And the suggestions which I went on to make struck him, too, with a sense of relief.
He sat in silence for some time after making me recapitulate as precisely as possible every detail of Sophy’s story.
„You are sure it was the door into the library?“ he said at last.
„Quite sure,“ I replied; „and, oh, Philip,“ I went on, „it has just occurred to me that father felt a chill there the other evening.“
For till that moment the little incident in question had escaped my memory.
„Do you remember which of the „portières“ hung in front of the door at Finster?“ said Philip.
I shook my head.
„Dormy would,“ I said, „he used to examine the pictures in the tapestry with great interest. I should not know one from the other. There is an old castle in the distance in each, and a lot of trees, and something meant for a lake.“
But in his turn Philip shook his head.
„No,“ he said, „I won’t speak to Dormy about it if I can possibly help it. Leave it to me, Leila, and try to put it out of your own mind as much as you possibly can, and don’t be surprised at anything you may notice in the next few days. I will tell you, first of any one, whenever I have anything to tell.“
That was all I could get out of him. So I took his advice.
Luckily, as it turned out, Mr. Miles, the only outsider, so to say (except the unfortunate keeper), who had witnessed the ghostly drama, was one of the shooting party expected that day. And him Philip at once determined to consult about this new and utterly unexpected manifestation.
He did not tell me this. Indeed, it was not till fully a week later that I heard anything, and then in a letter—a very long letter from my brother, which, I think, will relate the sequel of our strange ghost story better than any narration at second-hand, of my own.
Mr. Miles only stayed two nights with us. The very day after he came he announced that, to his great regret, he was obliged—most unexpectedly—to return to Raxtrew on important business.
„And,“ he continued, „I am afraid you will all feel much more vexed with me when I tell you I am going to carry off Phil with me.“
Father looked very blank indeed.
„Phil!“ he exclaimed, „and how about our shooting?“
„You can easily replace us,“ said my brother, „I have thought of that,“ and he added something in a lower tone to father. He—Phil—was leaving the room at the time. I thought it had reference to the real reason of his accompanying Mr. Miles, but I was mistaken. Father, however, said nothing more in opposition to the plan, and the next morning the two went off.
We happened to be standing at the hall door—several of us—for we were a large party now—when Phil and his friend drove away. As we turned to re-enter the house, I felt some one touch me. It was Sophy. She was going out for a constitutional with Miss Larpent, but had stopped a moment to speak to me.
„Leila,“ she said in a whisper, „why have they—did you know that the tapestry had been taken down?“
She glanced at me with a peculiar expression. I had not observed it. Now, looking up, I saw that the two locked doors were visible in the dark polish of their old mahogany as of yore—no longer shrouded by the ancient portières. I started in surprise.
„No,“ I whispered in return, „I did not know. Never mind, Sophy. I suspect there is a reason for it which we shall know in good time.“
I felt strongly tempted—the moon being still at the full—to visit the hall that night—in hopes of feeling and seeing—nothing. But when the time drew near, my courage failed; besides I had tacitly promised Philip to think as little as I possibly could about the matter, and any vigil of the kind would certainly not have been acting in accordance with the spirit of his advice.
I think I will now copy, as it stands, the letter from Philip which I received a week or so later. It was dated from his club in London.
„My dear Leila,
„I have a long story to tell you and a very extraordinary one. I think it is well that it should be put into writing, so I will devote this evening to the task—especially as I shall not be home for ten days or so.
„You may have suspected that I took Miles into my confidence as soon as he arrived. If you did you were right. He was the best person to speak to for several reasons. He looked, I must say, rather—well ‚blank‘ scarcely expresses it—when I told him of the ghost’s re-appearance, not only at the Rectory, but in our own house, and on both occasions to persons—Nat, and then Sophy—who had not heard a breath of the story. But when I went on to propound your suggestion, Miles cheered up. He had been, I fancy, a trifle touchy about our calling Finster haunted, and it was evidently a satisfaction to him to start another theory. We talked it well over, and we decided to test the thing again—it took some resolution, I own, to do so. We sat up that night—bright moonlight luckily—and—well, I needn’t repeat it all. Sophy was quite correct. It came again—the horrid creeping shadow—poor wretch, I’m rather sorry for it now—just in the old way—quite as much at home in ——shire, apparently, as in the Castle. It stopped at the closed library door, and fumbled away, then started off again—ugh! We watched it closely, but kept well in the middle of the room, so that the cold did not strike us so badly. We both noted the special part of the tapestry where its hands seemed to sprawl, and we meant to stay for another round; but—when it came to the point we funked it, and went to bed.
„Next morning, on pretence of examining the date of the tapestry, we had it down—you were all out—and we found—something. Just where the hands felt about, there had been a cut—three cuts, three sides of a square, as it were, making a sort of door in the stuff, the fourth side having evidently acted as a hinge, for there was a mark where it had been folded back. And just where—treating the thing as a door—you might expect to find a handle to open it by, we found a distinct dint in the tapestry, as if a button or knob had once been there. We looked at each other. The same idea had struck us. The tapestry had been used to conceal a small door in the wall—the door of a secret cupboard probably. The ghostly fingers had been vainly seeking for the spring which in the days of their flesh and bone they had been accustomed to press.
„‚The first thing to do,‘ said Miles, ‚is to look up Hunter and make him tell where he got the tapestry from. Then we shall see.‘
„‚Shall we take the portières with us?‘ I said.
„But Miles shuddered, though he half laughed too.
„‚No, thank you,‘ he said. ‚I’m not going to travel with the evil thing.‘
„‚We can’t hang it up again, though,‘ I said, ‚after this last experience.‘
„In the end we rolled up the two portières, not to attract attention by only moving one, and—well, I thought it just possible the ghost might make a mistake, and I did not want any more scares while I was away—we rolled them up together, first carefully measuring the cut, and its position in the curtain, and then we hid them away in one of the lofts that no one ever enters, where they are at this moment, and where the ghost may have been disporting himself, for all I know, though I fancy he has given it up by this time, for reasons you shall hear.
„Then Miles and I, as you know, set off for Raxtrew. I smoothed my father down about it, by reminding him how good-natured they had been to us, and telling him Miles really needed me. We went straight to Hunter. He hummed and hawed a good deal—he had not distinctly promised not to give the name of the place the tapestry had come from, but he knew the gentleman he had bought it from did not want it known.
„‚Why?‘ said Miles. ‚Is it some family that has come down in the world, and is forced to part with things to get some ready money?‘
„‚Oh, dear no!‘ said Hunter. ‚It is not that, at all. It was only that—I suppose I must give you the name—Captain Devereux—did not want any gossip to get about, as to ——‚
„‚Devereux!‘ repeated Miles, ‚you don’t mean the people at Hallinger?‘
„‚The same,‘ said Hunter. ‚If you know them, sir, you will be careful, I hope, to assure the captain that I did my best to carry out his wishes?‘
„‚Certainly,‘ said Miles, ‚I’ll exonerate you.‘
„And then Hunter told us that Devereux, who only came into the Hallinger property a few years ago, had been much annoyed by stories getting about of the place being haunted, and this had led to his dismantling one wing, and—Hunter thought, but was not quite clear as to this—pulling down some rooms altogether. But he, Devereux, was very touchy on the subject—he did not want to be laughed at.
„‚And the tapestry came from him—you are certain as to that?‘ Miles repeated.
„‚Positive, sir. I took it down with my own hands. It was fitted on to two panels in what they call the round room at Hallinger—there were, oh, I daresay, a dozen of them, with tapestry nailed on, but I only bought these two pieces—the others were sold to a London dealer.‘
„‚The round room,‘ I said. Leila, the expression struck me.
„Miles, it appeared, knew Devereux fairly well. Hallinger is only ten miles off. We drove over there, but found he was in London. So our next move was to follow him there. We called twice at his club, and then Miles made an appointment, saying that he wanted to see him on private business.
„He received us civilly, of course. He is quite a young fellow—in the Guards. But when Miles began to explain to him what we had come about, he stiffened.
„‚I suppose you belong to the Psychical Society?‘ he said. ‚I can only repeat that I have nothing to tell, and I detest the whole subject.‘
„‚Wait a moment,‘ said Miles, and as he went on I saw that Devereux changed. His face grew intent with interest and a queer sort of eagerness, and at last he started to his feet.
„‚Upon my soul,‘ he said, ‚I believe you’ve run him to earth for me—the ghost, I mean, and if so, you shall have my endless gratitude. I’ll go down to Hallinger with you at once—this afternoon, if you like, and see it out.‘
„He was so excited that he spoke almost incoherently, but after a bit he calmed down, and told us all he had to tell—and that was a good deal—which would indeed have been nuts for the Psychical Society. What Hunter had said was but a small part of the whole. It appeared that on succeeding to Hallinger, on the death of an uncle, young Devereux had made considerable changes in the house. He had, among others, opened out a small wing—a sort of round tower—which had been completely dismantled and bricked up for, I think he said, over a hundred years. There was some story about it. An ancestor of his—an awful gambler—had used the principal room in this wing for his orgies. Very queer things went on there, the finish up being the finding of old Devereux dead there one night, when his servants were summoned by the man he had been playing with—with whom he had had an awful quarrel. This man, a low fellow, probably a professional cardsharper, vowed that he had been robbed of a jewel which his host had staked, and it was said that a ring of great value had disappeared. But it was all hushed up—Devereux had really died in a fit—though soon after, for reasons only hinted at, the round tower was shut up, till the present man rashly opened it again.
„Almost at once, he said, the annoyances, to use a mild term, began. First one, then another of the household were terrified out of their wits, just as we were, Leila. Devereux himself had seen it two or three times, the ‚it,‘ of course, being his miserable old ancestor. A small man, with a big wig, and long, thin, claw-like fingers. It all corresponded. Mrs. Devereux is young and nervous. She could not stand it. So in the end the round tower was shut up again, all the furniture and hangings sold, and locally speaking, the ghost laid. That was all Devereux knew.
„We started, the three of us, that very afternoon, as excited as a party of schoolboys. Miles and I kept questioning Devereux, but he had really no more to tell. He had never thought of examining the walls of the haunted room—it was wainscotted, he said—and might be lined all through with secret cupboards, for all he knew. But he could not get over the extraordinariness of the ghost’s sticking to the tapestry—and indeed it does rather lower one’s idea of ghostly intelligence.
„We went at it at once—the tower was not bricked up again, luckily—we got in without difficulty the next morning—Devereux making some excuse to the servants, a new set who had not heard of the ghost, for our eccentric proceedings. It was a tiresome business. There were so many panels in the room, as Hunter had said, and it was impossible to tell in which the tapestry had been fixed. But we had our measures, and we carefully marked a line as near as we could guess at the height from the floor that the cut in the portières must have been. Then we tapped and pummelled and pressed imaginary springs till we were nearly sick of it—there was nothing to guide us. The wainscotting was dark and much shrunk and marked with age, and full of joins in the wood any one of which might have meant a door.
„It was Devereux himself who found it at last. We heard an exclamation from where he was standing by himself at the other side of the room. He was quite white and shaky.
„‚Look here,‘ he said, and we looked.
„Yes—there was a small deep recess, or cupboard in the thickness of the wall, excellently contrived. Devereux had touched the spring at last, and the door, just matching the cut in the tapestry, flew open.
„Inside lay what at first we took for a packet of letters, and I hoped to myself they contained nothing that would bring trouble on poor Devereux. They were not letters, however, but two or three incomplete packs of cards—grey and dust-thick with age—and as Miles spread them out, certain markings on them told their own tale. Devereux did not like it, naturally—their supposed owner had been a member of his house.
„‚The ghost has kept a conscience,‘ he said, with an attempt at a laugh. ‚Is there nothing more?‘
„Yes—a small leather bag—black and grimy, though originally, I fancy, of chamois skin. It drew with strings. Devereux pulled it open, and felt inside.
„‚By George!‘ he exclaimed. And he held out the most magnificent diamond ring I have ever seen—sparkling away as if it had only just come from the polisher’s. ‚This must be the ring,‘ he said.
„And we all stared—too astonished to speak.
„Devereux closed the cupboard again, after carefully examining it to make sure nothing had been left behind. He marked the exact spot where he had pressed the spring so as to find it at any time. Then we all left the round room, locking the door securely after us.
„Miles and I spent that night at Hallinger. We sat up late talking it all over. There are some queer inconsistencies about the thing which will probably never be explained. First and foremost—why has the ghost stuck to the tapestry instead of to the actual spot he seemed to have wished to reveal? Secondly, what was the connection between his visits and the full moon—or is it that only by the moonlight the shade becomes perceptible to human sense? Who can say?
„As to the story itself—what was old Devereux’s motive in concealing his own ring? Were the marked cards his, or his opponent’s, of which he had managed to possess himself, and had secreted as testimony against the other fellow?
„I incline, and so does Miles, to this last theory, and when we suggested it to Devereux, I could see it was a relief to him. After all, one likes to think one’s ancestors were gentlemen!
„‚But what, then, has he been worrying about all this century or more?‘ he said. ‚If it were that he wanted the ring returned to its real owner—supposing the fellow had won it—I could understand it, though such a thing would be impossible. There is no record of the man at all—his name was never mentioned in the story.‘
„‚He may want the ring restored to its proper owner all the same,‘ said Miles. ‚You are its owner, as the head of the family, and it has been your ancestor’s fault that it has been hidden all these years. Besides, we cannot take upon ourselves to explain motives in such a case. Perhaps—who knows?—the poor shade could not help himself. His peregrinations may have been of the nature of punishment.‘
„‚I hope they are over now,‘ said Devereux, ‚for his sake and everybody else’s. I should be glad to think he wanted the ring restored to us, but besides that, I should like to do something—something good you know—if it would make him easier, poor old chap. I must consult Lilias.‘ Lilias is Mrs. Devereux.
„This is all I have to tell you at present, Leila. When I come home we’ll have the portières up again and see what happens. I want you now to read all this to my father, and if he has no objection—he and my mother, of course—I should like to invite Captain and Mrs. Devereux to stay a few days with us—as well as Miles, as soon as I come back.“
Philip’s wish was acceded to. It was with no little anxiety and interest that we awaited his return.
The tapestry portières were restored to their place—and on the first moonlight night, my father, Philip, Captain Devereux and Mr. Miles held their vigil.
Nothing—the peaceful rays lighted up the quaint landscape of the tapestry, undisturbed by the poor groping fingers—no gruesome unearthly chill as of worse than death made itself felt to the midnight watchers—the weary, may we not hope repentant, spirit was at rest at last!
And never since has any one been troubled by the shadow in the moonlight.
„I cannot help hoping,“ said Mrs. Devereux, when talking it over, „that what Michael has done may have helped to calm the poor ghost.“
And she told us what it was. Captain Devereux is rich, though not immensely so. He had the ring valued—it represented a very large sum, but Philip says I had better not name the figures—and then he, so to say, bought it from himself. And with this money he—no, again, Phil says I must not enter into particulars beyond saying that with it he did something very good, and very useful, which had long been a pet scheme of his wife’s.
Sophy is grown up now and she knows the whole story. So does our mother. And Dormy too has heard it all. The horror of it has quite gone. We feel rather proud of having been the actual witnesses of a ghostly drama.
„My story will be a very short one,“ said Mrs. M.; „for I must tell you that though, like every body else, I have heard a great many ghost stories, and have met people who assured me they had seen such things, I cannot, for my own part, bring myself to believe in them; but a circumstance occurred when I was abroad, that you may perhaps consider of a ghostly nature, though I cannot.
„I was travelling through Germany, with no one but my maid—it was before the time of railways, and on my road from Leipsic to Dresden, I stopt at an inn that appeared to have been long ago part of an aristocratic residence—a castle in short; for there was a stone wall and battlements, and a tower at one side; while the other was a prosaic-looking, square building that had evidently been added in modern times. The inn stood at one end of a small village, in which some of the houses looked so antique that they might, I thought, be coeval with the castle itself. There were a good many travellers, but the host said he could accommodate me; and when I asked to see my room, he led me up to the towers, and showed me a tolerably comfortable one. There were only two apartments on each floor; so I asked him if I could have the other for my maid, and he said yes, if no other traveller arrived. None came, and she slept there.
„I supped at the table d’hôte, and retired to bed early, as I had an excursion to make on the following day; and I was sufficiently tired with my journey to fall asleep directly.
„I don’t know how long I had slept—but I think some hours, when I awoke quite suddenly, almost with a start, and beheld near the foot of the bed, the most hideous, dreadful-looking old woman, in an antique dress, that imagination can conceive. She seemed to be approaching me—not as if walking, but gliding, with her left arm and hand extended towards me.
„‚Merciful God deliver me!‘ I exclaimed under my first impulse of amazement; and as I said the words she disappeared.“
„Then, though you don’t believe in ghosts, you thought it was one when you saw it,“ said I.
„I don’t know what I thought—I admit I was a good deal frightened, and it was a long time before I fell asleep again.
„In the morning,“ continued Mrs. M., „my maid knocked, and I told her to come in; but the door was locked, and I had to get out of bed to admit her—I thought I might have forgotten to fasten it. As soon as I was up, I examined every part of the room, but I could find nothing to account for this intrusion. There was neither trap or moving panell, or door that I could see, except the one I had locked. However, I made up my mind not to speak of the circumstance, for I fancied I must have been deceived in supposing myself awake, and that it was only a dream; more particularly as there was no light in my room, and I could not comprehend how I could have seen this woman.
„I went out early, and was away the greater part of the day. When I returned I found more travellers had arrived, and that they had given the room next mine to a German lady and her daughter, who were at the table d’hôte. I therefore had a bed made up in my room for my maid; and before I lay down, I searched thoroughly, that I might be sure nobody was concealed there.
„In the middle of the night—I suppose about the same time I had been disturbed on the preceding one—I and my maid were awakened by a piercing scream; and I heard the voice of the German girl in the adjoining room, exclaiming, ‚Ach! meine mutter! meine mutter!‘
„For some time afterwards I heard them talking, and then I fell asleep—wondering, I confess, whether they had had a visit from the frightful old woman. They left me in no doubt the next morning. They came down to breakfast greatly excited—told everybody the cause—described the old woman exactly as I had seen her, and departed from the house incontinently, declaring they would not stay there another hour.“
„What did the host say to it?“ we asked.
„Nothing; he said we must have dreamed it—and I suppose we did.“
„Your story,“ said I, „reminds me of a very interesting letter which I received soon after the publication of ‚The Night side of Nature.‘ It was from a clergyman who gave his name, and said he was chaplain to a nobleman. He related that in a house he inhabited, or had inhabited, a lady had one evening gone up stairs, and seen, to her amazement, in a room, the door of which was open, a lady in an antique dress, standing before a chest of drawers, and apparently examining their contents. She stood still, wondering who this stranger could be, when the figure turned her face towards her, and, to her horror, she saw there were no eyes. Other members of the family saw the same apparition also. I believe there were further particulars; but I unfortunately lost this letter, with some others, in the confusion of changing my residence.
„The absence of eyes I take to be emblematical of moral blindness; for in the world of spirits there is no deceiving each other by false seemings; as we are, so we appear.“
„Then,“ said Mrs. W. C., „the apparition—if it was an apparition—that two of my servants saw lately, must be in a very degraded state.
„There is a road, and on one side of it a path, just beyond my garden wall. Not long ago two of my servants were in the dusk of the evening walking up this path, when they saw a large, dark object coming towards them. At first, they thought it was an animal; and when it got close, one of them stretched out her hand to touch it; but she could feel nothing, and it passed on between her and the garden wall, although there was no space, the path being only wide enough for two; and on looking back, they saw it walking down the hill behind them. Three men were coming up on the path; and as the thing approached, they jumped off into the road.
„‚Good heavens, what is that!‘ cried the women.
„‚I don’t know,‘ replied the men; ‚I never saw such a thing as that before.‘
„The women came home greatly agitated; and we have since heard there is a tradition that the spot is haunted by the ghost of a man who was killed in a quarry close by.“
„I have travelled a great deal,“ said our next speaker, the Chevalier de La C. G.; and, certainly, I have never been in any country where instances of these spiritual appearances were not adduced on apparently credible authority. I have heard numerous stories of the sort, but the one that most readily occurs to me at present, was told to me not long ago, in Paris, by Count P.—the nephew of the celebrated Count P. whose name occurs in the history of the remarkable incidents connected with the death of the Emperor Paul.
„Count P., my authority for the following story, was attached to the Russian embassy; and he told me, one evening, when the conversation turned on the inconveniences of travelling in the East of Europe, that, on one occasion, when in Poland, he found himself about seven o’clock in an autumn evening on a forest road, where there was no possibility of finding a house of public entertainment within many miles. There was a frightful storm; the road, not good at the best, was almost impracticable from the weather, and his horses were completely knocked up. On consulting his people what was best to be done, they said, that to go back was as impossible as to go forward; but that by turning a little out of the main road, they should soon reach a castle where possibly shelter might be procured for the night. The count gladly consented, and it was not long before they found themselves at the gate of what appeared a building on a very splendid scale. The courier quickly alighted and rang at the bell, and while waiting for admission, he enquired who the castle belonged to, and was told that it was Count X’s.
„It was some time before the bell was answered, but at length an elderly man appeared at a wicket, with a lantern, and peeped out. On perceiving the equipage, he came forward and stept up to the carriage, holding the light aloft to discover who was inside. Count P. handed him his card, and explained his distress.
„‚There is no one here, my lord,‘ replied the man, ‚but myself and my family; the castle is not inhabited.‘
„‚That’s bad news,‘ said the count; ‚but nevertheless, you can give me what I am most in need of, and that is—shelter for the night.‘
„‚Willingly,‘ said the man, ‚if your lordship will put up with such accommodation as we can hastily prepare.‘
„‚So,‘ said the count, ‚I alighted and walked in; and the old man unbarred the great gates to admit my carriages and people. We found ourselves in an immense couer, with the castle en face, and stables and offices on each side. As we had a fourgon with us, with provender for the cattle and provisions for ourselves, we wanted nothing but beds and a good fire; and as the only one lighted was in the old man’s apartments, he first took us there. They consisted of a suite of small rooms in the left wing, that had probably been formerly occupied by the upper servants. They were comfortably furnished, and he and his large family appeared to be very well lodged. Besides the wife, there were three sons, with their wives and children, and two nieces; and in a part of the offices, where I saw a light, I was told there were labourers and women servants, for it was a valuable estate, with a fine forest, and the sons acted as gardes chasse.
„‚Is there much game in the forest?‘ I asked.
„‚A great deal of all sorts,‘ they answered.
„‚Then I suppose during the season the family live here?‘
„‚Never,‘ they replied. ‚None of the family ever reside here.‘
„‚Indeed!‘ I said; how is that? It seems a very fine place.‘
„‚Superb,‘ answered the wife of the custodian; ‚but the castle is haunted.‘
„She said this with a simple gravity that made me laugh; upon which they all stared at me with the most edifying amazement.
„‚I beg your pardon,‘ I said; ‚but you know, perhaps, in great cities, such as I usually inhabit, there are no ghosts.‘
„‚Indeed!‘ said they. ‚No ghosts!‘
„‚At least,‘ I said, ‚I never heard of any; and we don’t believe in such things.‘
„They looked at each other with surprise, but said nothing; not appearing to have any desire to convince me. ‚But do you mean to say,‘ said I, ‚that that is the reason the family don’t live here, and that the castle is abandoned on that account?‘
„‚Yes,‘ they replied, ‚that is the reason nobody has resided here for many years.‘
„‚But how can you live here then?‘
„‚We are never troubled in this part of the building,‘ said she. ‚We hear noises, but we are used to that.‘
„‚Well, if there is a ghost, I hope I shall see it,‘ said I.
„‚God forbid!‘ said the woman, crossing herself. ‚But we shall guard against that; your seigneurie will sleep not far from this, where you will be quite safe.‘
„‚Oh! but,‘ said I, ‚I am quite serious, if there is a ghost, I should particularly like to see him, and I should be much obliged to you to put me in the apartments he most frequents.‘
„They opposed this proposition earnestly, and begged me not to think of if; besides, they said if any thing was to happen to my lord, how should they answer for it; but as I insisted, the women went to call the members of the family who were lighting fires and preparing beds in some rooms on the same floor as they occupied themselves. When they came they were as earnest against the indulgence of my wishes as the women had been. Still I insisted.
„‚Are you afraid,‘ I said, ‚to go yourselves in the haunted chambers?‘
„‚No,‘ they answered. ‚We are the custodians of the castle and have to keep the rooms clean and well aired lest the furniture be spoiled—my lord talks always of removing it, but it has never been removed yet—but we would not sleep up there for all the world.‘
„‚Then it is the upper floors that are haunted?‘
„‚Yes, especially the long room, no one could pass a night there; the last that did is in a lunatic asylum now at Warsaw,‘ said the custodian.
„‚What happened to him?‘
„‚I don’t know,‘ said the man; ‚he was never able to tell.‘
„‚Who was he?‘ I asked.
„‚He was a lawyer. My lord did business with him; and one day he was speaking of this place, and saying that it was a pity he was not at liberty to pull it down and sell the materials; but he cannot, because it is family property and goes with the title; and the lawyer said he wished it was his, and that no ghost should keep him out of it. My lord said that it was easy for any one to say that who knew nothing about it, and that he must suppose the family had not abandoned such a fine place without good reasons. But the lawyer said it was some trick, and that it was coiners, or robbers, who had got a footing in the castle, and contrived to frighten people away that they might keep it to themselves; so my lord said if he could prove that he should be very much obliged to him, and more than that, he would give him a great sum—I don’t know how much. So the lawyer said, he would; and my lord wrote to me that he was coming to inspect the property, and I was to let him do any thing he liked.
„‚Well, he came, and with him his son, a fine young man and a soldier. They asked me all sorts of questions, and went over the castle and examined every part of it. From what they said, I could see that they thought the ghost was all nonsense, and that I and my family were in collusion with the robbers or coiners. However, I did not care for that, my lord knew that the castle had been haunted before I was born.
„‚I had prepared rooms on this floor for them—the same I am preparing for your lordship, and they slept there, keeping the keys of the upper rooms to themselves, so I did not interfere with them. But one morning, very early, we were awakened by some one knocking at our bedroom door, and when we opened it, we saw Mr. Thaddeus—that was the lawyer’s son—standing there half-drest and as pale as a ghost; and he said his father was very ill and he begged us to go to him; to our surprise he led us up stairs to the haunted chamber, and there we found the poor gentleman speechless, and we thought they had gone up there early and that he had had a stroke. But it was not so; Mr. Thaddeus said, that after we were all in bed, they had gone up there to pass the night. I know they thought that there was no ghost but us, and that’s why they would not let us know their intention. They laid down upon some sofas, wrapt up in their fur cloaks, and resolved to keep awake, and they did so for some time, but at last the young man was overcome by drowsiness, he struggled against it, but could not conquer it, and the last thing he recollects was his father shaking him and saying ‚Thaddeus, Thaddeus, for God’s sake keep awake!‘ But he could not, and he knew no more till he woke and saw that day was breaking, and found his father sitting in a corner of the room speechless, and looking like a corpse; and there he was when we went up. The young man thought he’d been taken ill or had a stroke, as we supposed at first; but when we found they had passed the night in the haunted chambers, we had no doubt what had happened—he had seen some terrible sight and so lost his senses.‘
„‚He lost his senses, I should say, from terror when his son fell asleep,‘ said I, ‚and he felt himself alone. He could have been a man of no nerve. At all events, what you tell me raises my curiosity. Will you take me up stairs and shew me those rooms?‘
„‚Willingly,‘ said the man, and fetching a bunch of keys and a light, and calling one of his sons to follow him with another, he led the way up the great staircase to a suite of apartments on the first floor. The rooms were lofty and large, and the man said the furniture was very handsome, but old. Being all covered with canvas cases, I could not judge of it. ‚Which is the long room?‘ I said.
„Upon which he led me into a long narrow room that might rather have been called a gallery. There were sofas along each side, something like a dais at the upper end; and several large pictures hanging on the walls.
„I had with me a bull dog, of a very fine breed, that had been given me in England by Lord F. She had followed me up stairs—indeed, she followed me every where—and I watched her narrowly as she went smelling about, but there were no indications of her perceiving any thing extraordinary. Beyond this gallery there was only a small octagon room, with a door that led out upon another staircase. When I had examined it all thoroughly, I returned to the long room and told the man, as that was the place especially frequented by the ghost, I should feel much obliged if he would allow me to pass the night there. I could take upon myself to say that Count X., would have no objection.
„‚It is not that,‘ replied the man; ‚but the danger to your lordship,‘ and he conjured me not to insist on such a perilous experiment.
„When he found I was resolved, he gave way, but on condition that I signed a paper, stating that in spite of his representations I had determined to sleep in the long room.
„I confess, the more anxious these people seemed to prevent my sleeping there, the more curious I was; not that I believed in the ghost the least in the world. I thought that the lawyer had been right in his conjecture, but that he hadn’t nerve enough to investigate whatever he saw or heard; and that they had succeeded in frightening him out of his senses. I saw what an excellent place these people had got, and how much it was their interest to maintain the idea that the castle was uninhabitable. Now, I have pretty good nerves—I have been in situations that have tried them severely—and I did not believe that any ghost, if there was such a thing, or any jugglery by which a semblance of one might be contrived, would shake them. As for any real danger, I did not apprehend it; the people knew who I was, and any mischief happening to me would have led to consequences they well understood. So they lighted fires in both the grates of the gallery, and as they had abundance of dry wood, they soon blazed up. I was determined not to leave the room after I was once in it, lest, if my suspicions were correct, they might have time to make their arrangements; so I desired my people to bring up my supper, and I ate it there.
„My courier said he had always heard the castle was haunted, but he dare say there was no ghost but the people below, who had a very comfortable berth of it; and he offered to pass the night with me, but I declined any companion and preferred trusting to myself and my dog. My valet, on the contrary, strongly advised me against the enterprize, assuring me that he had lived with a family in France whose château was haunted, and had left his place in consequence.
„By the time I had finished my supper it was ten o’clock, and every thing was prepared for the night. My bed, though an impromptu, was very comfortable, made of amply stuffed cushions and thick coverlets, placed in front of the fire. I was provided with light and plenty of wood; and I had my regimental cutlass, and a case of excellent pistols, which I carefully primed and loaded in presence of the custodian, saying, you see I am determined to fire at the ghost, so if he cannot stand a bullet, he had better not pay me a visit.
„The old man shook his head calmly, but made no answer. Having desired the courier, who said he should not go to bed, to come up stairs immediately if he heard the report of fire-arms, I dismissed my people and locked the doors, barricading each with a heavy ottoman besides. There was no arras or hangings of any sort behind which a door could be concealed; and I went round the room, the walls of which were pannelled with white and gold, knocking every part, but neither the sound, nor Dido, the dog, gave any indications of there being anything unusual. Then I undressed and lay down with my sword and my pistols beside me; and Dido at the foot of my bed, where she always slept.
„I confess I was in a state of pleasing excitement; my curiosity and my love of adventure were roused; and whether it was ghost, or robber, or coiner, I was to have a visit from, the interview was likely to be equally interesting. It was half-past ten when I lay down; my expectations were too vivid to admit of sleep; and after an attempt at a French novel, I was obliged to give it up; I could not fix my attention to it. Besides, my chief care was not to be surprised. I could not help thinking the custodian and his family had some secret way of getting into the room, and I hoped to detect them in the fact; so I lay with my eyes and ears open in a position that gave me a view of every part of it, till my travelling clock struck twelve, which being pre-eminently the ghostly hour, I thought the critical moment was arrived. But no, no sound, no interruption of any sort to the silence and solitude of the night occurred. When half-past twelve, and one struck, I pretty well made up my mind that I should be disappointed in my expectations, and that the ghost, whoever he was, knew better than to encounter Dido and a brace of well charged pistols; but just as I arrived at this conclusion, an unaccountable frisson came over me, and I saw Dido, who tired with her day’s journey, had lain till now quietly curled up asleep, begin to move, and slowly get upon her feet. I thought she was only going to turn, but, instead of lying down, she stood still with her ears erect and her head towards the dais, uttering a low growl.
„The dais, I should mention, was but the skeleton of a dais, for the draperies were taken off. There was only remaining a canopy covered with crimson velvet, and an arm chair covered with velvet too, but cased in canvas like the rest of the furniture. I had examined this part of the room thoroughly, and had moved the chair aside to ascertain that there was nothing under it.
„Well, I sat up in bed and looked steadily in the same direction as the dog, but I could see nothing at first, though it appeared that she did; but as I looked, I began to perceive something like a cloud in the chair, while at the same time a chill which seemed to pervade the very marrow in my bones crept through me, yet the fire was good; and it was not the chill of fear, for I cocked my pistols with perfect self possession and abstained from giving Dido the signal to advance, because I wished eagerly to see the denouement of the adventure.
„Gradually, this cloud took a form, and assumed the shape of a tall white figure that reached from the ceiling to the floor of the dais, which was raised by two steps. At him, Dido! At him! I said, and away she dashed to the steps, but instantly turned and crept back completely cowed. As her courage was undoubted, I own this astonished me, and I should have fired, but that I was perfectly satisfied that what I saw was not a substantial human form, for I had seen it grow into its present shape and height from the undefined cloud that first appeared in the chair. I laid my hand on the dog who had crept up to my side, and I felt her shaking in her skin. I was about to rise myself and approach the figure, though I confess I was a good deal awe struck, when it stepped majestically from the dais, and seemed to be advancing. ‚At him!‘ I said, ‚At him, Dido!‘ and I gave the dog every encouragement to go forward; she made a sorry attempt, but returned when she had got half way and crouched beside me whining with terror. The figure advanced upon me; the cold became icy; the dog crouched and trembled; and I, as it approached, honestly confess, said Count P., that I hid my head under the bed clothes and did not venture to look up till morning. I know not what it was—as it passed over me I felt a sensation of undefinable horror, that no words can describe—and I can only say that nothing on earth would tempt me to pass another night in that room, and I am sure if Dido could speak, you’d find her of the same opinion.
„I had desired to be called at seven o’clock, and when the custodian, who accompanied my valet, found me safe and in my perfect senses, I must say the poor man appeared greatly relieved; and when I descended the whole family seemed to look upon me as a hero. I thought it only just to them to admit that something had happened in the night that I felt impossible to account for, and that I should not recommend any body who was not very sure of their nerves to repeat the experiment.“
When the Chevalier had concluded this extraordinary story, I suggested that the apparition of the castle very much resembled that mentioned by the late professor Gregory, in his letters on mesmerism, as having appeared in the Tower of London some years ago, and from the alarm it created, having occasioned the death of a lady, the wife of an officer quartered there, and one of the sentries. Every one who had read that very interesting publication was struck by the resemblance.