Haunted Short Stories – 31 – ‘The Story of the Inexperienced Ghost’ by H.G. Wells (1902)

Courtesy of Mitsu Matsuoka, Nagoya University

'The Story of the Inexperienced Ghost' by H.G. Wells originally appeared in The Strand, 1902

The scene amidst which Clayton told his last story comes back very vividly to my mind. There he sat, for the greater part of the time, in the corner of the authentic settle by the spacious open fire, and Sanderson sat beside him smoking the Broseley clay that bore his name. There was Evans, and that marvel among actors, Wish, who is also a modest man. We had all come down to the Mermaid Club that Saturday morning, except Clayton, who had slept there overnight–which indeed gave him the opening of his story. We had golfed until golfing was invisible; we had dined, and we were in that mood of tranquil kindliness when men will suffer a story. When Clayton began to tell one, we naturally supposed he was lying. It may be that indeed he was lying–of that the reader will speedily be able to judge as well as I. He began, it is true, with an air of matter-of-fact anecdote, but that we thought was only the incurable artifice of the man.

“I say!” he remarked, after a long consideration of the upward rain of sparks from the log that Sanderson had thumped, “you know I was alone here last night?”

“Except for the domestics,” said Wish.

“Who sleep in the other wing,” said Clayton. “Yes. Well–” He pulled at his cigar for some little time as though he still hesitated about his confidence. Then he said, quite quietly, “I caught a ghost!”

“Caught a ghost, did you?” said Sanderson. “Where is it?”

And Evans, who admires Clayton immensely and has been four weeks in America, shouted, “Caught a ghost, did you, Clayton? I’m glad of it! Tell us all about it right now.”

Clayton said he would in a minute, and asked him to shut the door.

He looked apologetically at me. “There’s no eavesdropping of course, but we don’t want to upset our very excellent service with any rumours of ghosts in the place. There’s too much shadow and oak panelling to trifle with that. And this, you know, wasn’t a regular ghost. I don’t think it will come again–ever.”

“You mean to say you didn’t keep it?” said Sanderson.

“I hadn’t the heart to,” said Clayton.

And Sanderson said he was surprised.

We laughed, and Clayton looked aggrieved. “I know,” he said, with the flicker of a smile, “but the fact is it really was a ghost, and I’m as sure of it as I am that I am talking to you now. I’m not joking. I mean what I say.”

Sanderson drew deeply at his pipe, with one reddish eye on Clayton, and then emitted a thin jet of smoke more eloquent than many words.

Clayton ignored the comment. “It is the strangest thing that has ever happened in my life. You know, I never believed in ghosts or anything of the sort, before, ever; and then, you know, I bag one in a corner; and the whole business is in my hands.”

He meditated still more profoundly, and produced and began to pierce a second cigar with a curious little stabber he affected.

“You talked to it?” asked Wish.

“For the space, probably, of an hour.”

“Chatty?” I said, joining the party of the sceptics.

“The poor devil was in trouble,” said Clayton, bowed over his cigar-end and with the very faintest note of reproof.

“Sobbing?” some one asked.

Clayton heaved a realistic sigh at the memory. “Good Lord!” he said; “yes.” And then, “Poor fellow! yes.”

“Where did you strike it?” asked Evans, in his best American accent.

“I never realised,” said Clayton, ignoring him, “the poor sort of thing a ghost might be,” and he hung us up again for a time, while he sought for matches in his pocket and lit and warmed to his cigar.

“I took an advantage,” he reflected at last.

We were none of us in a hurry. “A character,” he said, “remains just the same character for all that it’s been disembodied. That’s a thing we too often forget. People with a certain strength or fixity of purpose may have ghosts of a certain strength and fixity of purpose–most haunting ghosts, you know, must be as one-idea’d as monomaniacs and as obstinate as mules to come back again and again. This poor creature wasn’t.” He suddenly looked up rather queerly, and his eye went round the room. “I say it,” he said, “in all kindliness, but that is the plain truth of the case. Even at the first glance he struck me as weak.”

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October 31, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. Comments off.

Haunted Short Stories – 30 – ‘The Captain of the ‘Pole-Star” by Arthur Conan Doyle

Courtesy of Mitsu Matsuoka, Nagoya University

[Being an extract from the singular journal of JOHN MCALISTER RAY, student of medicine, kept by him during the six months’ voyage in teh Arctic Seas, of the steam-whaler Pole-star, of Dundee, Captain Nicholas Craigie.]

September 11th. – Lat. 81 degrees 40′ N.; long. 2 degrees E. Still lying-to amid enormous ice fields. The one which stretches away to the north of us, and to which our ice-anchor is attached, cannot be smaller than an English county. To the right and left unbroken sheets extend to the horizon. This morning the mate reported that there were signs of pack ice to the southward. Should this form of sufficient thickness to bar our return, we shall be in a position of danger, as the food, I hear, is already running somewhat short. It is late in the season, and the nights are beginning to reappear. This morning I saw a star twinkling just over the fore-yard, the first since the beginning of May. There is considerable discontent among the crew, many of whom are anxious to get back home to be in time for the herring season, when labour always commands a high price upon the Scotch coast. As yet their displeasure is only signified by sullen countenances and black looks, but I heard from the second mate this afternoon that they contemplated sending a deputation to the Captain to explain their grievance. I much doubt how he will receive it, as he is a man of fierce temper, and very sensitive about anything approaching to an infringement of his rights. I shall venture after dinner to say a few words to him upon the subject. I have always found that he will tolerate from me what he would resent from any other member of the crew. Amsterdam Island, at the north-west corner of Spitzbergen, is visible upon our starboard quarter – a rugged line of volcanic rocks, intersected by white seams, which represent glaciers. It is curious to think that at the present moment there is probably no human being nearer to us than the Danish settlements in the south of Greenland – a good nine hundred miles as the crow flies. A captain takes a great responsibility upon himself when he risks his vessel under such circumstances. No whaler has ever remained in these latitudes till so advanced a period of the year.

9 P.M, – I have spoken to Captain Craigie, and though the result has been hardly satisfactory, I am bound to say that he listened to what I had to say very quietly and even deferentially. When I had finished he put on that air of iron determination which I have frequently observed upon his face, and paced rapidly backwards and forwards across the narrow cabin for some minutes. At first I feared that I had seriously offended him, but he dispelled the idea by sitting down again, and putting his hand upon my arm with a gesture which almost amounted to a caress. There was a depth of tenderness too in his wild dark eyes which surprised me considerably. “Look here, Doctor,” he said, “I’m sorry I ever took you – I am indeed – and I would give fifty pounds this minute to see you standing safe upon the Dundee quay. It’s hit or miss with me this time. There are fish to the north of us. How dare you shake your head, sir, when I tell you I saw them blowing from the masthead?” – this in a sudden burst of fury, though I was not conscious of having shown any signs of doubt. “Two-and-twenty fish in as many minutes as I am a living man, and not one under ten foot. Now, Doctor, do you think I can leave the country when there is only one infernal strip of ice between me and my fortune? If it came on to blow from the north to-morrow we could fill the ship and be away before the frost could catch us. If it came on to blow from the south – well, I suppose the men are paid for risking their lives, and as for myself it matters but little to me, for I have more to bind me to the other world than to this one. I confess that I am sorry for you, though. I wish I had old Angus Tait who was with me last voyage, for he was a man that would never be missed, and you – you said once that you were engaged, did you not?”

“Yes,” I answered, snapping the spring of the locket which hung from my watch-chain, and holding up the little vignette of Flora.

“Curse you!” he yelled, springing out of his seat, with his very beard bristling with passion. “What is your happiness to me? What have I to do with her that you must dangle her photograph before my eyes?” I almost thought that he was about to strike me in the frenzy of his rage, but with another imprecation he dashed open the door of the cabin and rushed out upon deck, leaving me considerably astonished at his extraordinary violence. It is the first time that he has ever shown me anything but courtesy and kindness. I can hear him pacing excitedly up and down overhead as I write these lines.

I should like to give a sketch of the character of this man, but it seems presumptuous to attempt such a thing upon paper, when the idea in my own mind is at best a vague and uncertain one. Several times I have thought that I grasped the clue which might explain it, but only to be disappointed by his presenting himself in some new light which would upset all my conclusions. It may be that no human eye but my own shall ever rest upon these lines, yet as a psychological study I shall attempt to leave some record of Captain Nicholas Craigie.

A man’s outer case generally gives some indication of the soul within. The Captain is tall and well-formed, with dark, handsome face, and a curious way of twitching his limbs, which may arise from nervousness, or be simply an outcome of his excessive energy. His jaw and whole cast of countenance is manly and resolute, but the eyes are the distinctive feature of his face. They are of the very darkest hazel, bright and eager, with a singular mixture of recklessness in their expression, and of something else which I have sometimes thought was more allied with horror than any other emotion. Generally the former predominated, but on occasions, and more particularly when he was thoughtfully inclined, the look of fear would spread and deepen until it imparted a new character to his whole countenance. It is at these times that he is most subject to tempestuous fits of anger, and he seems to be aware of it, for I have known him lock himself up so that no one might approach him until his dark hour was passed. He sleeps badly, and I have heard him shouting during the night, but his cabin is some little distance from mine, and I could never distinguish the words which he said.

This is one phase of his character, and the most disagreeable one. It is only through my close association with him, thrown together as we are day after day, that I have observed it. Otherwise he is an agreeable companion, well-read and entertaining, and as gallant a seaman as ever trod a deck. I shall not easily forget the way in which he handled the ship when we were caught by a gale among the loose ice at the beginning of April. I have never seen him so cheerful, and even hilarious, as he was that night, as he paced backwards and forwards upon the bridge amid the flashing of the lightning and the howling of the wind. He has told me several times that the thought of death was a pleasant one to him, which is a sad thing for a young man to say; he cannot be much more than thirty, though his hair and moustache are already slightly grizzled. Some great sorrow must have overtaken him and blighted his whole life. Perhaps I should be the same if I lost my Flora – God knows! I think if it were not for her that I should care very little whether the wind blew from the north or the south to-morrow. There, I hear him come down the companion, and he has locked himself up in his room, which shows that he is still in an unamiable mood. And so to bed, as old Pepys would say, for the candle is burning down (we have to use them now since the nights are closing in), and the steward has turned in, so there are no hopes of another one.

September 12th . – Calm, clear day, and still lying in the same position. What wind there is comes from the south-east, but it is very slight. Captain is in a better humour, and apologised to me at breakfast for his rudeness. He still looks somewhat distrait, however, and retains that wild look in his eyes which in a Highlander would mean that he was “fey” – at least so our chief engineer remarked to me, and he has some reputation among the Celtic portion of our crew as a seer and expounder of omens.

It is strange that superstition should have obtained such mastery over this hard-headed and practical race. I could not have believed to what an extent it is carried had I not observed it for myself. We have had a perfect epidemic of it this voyage, until I have felt inclined to serve out rations of sedatives and nerve- tonics with the Saturday allowance of grog. The first symptom of it was that shortly after leaving Shetland the men at the wheel used to complain that they heard plaintive cries and screams in the wake of the ship, as if something were following it and were unable to overtake it. This fiction has been kept up during the whole voyage, and on dark nights at the beginning of the seal-fishing it was only with great difficulty that men could be induced to do their spell. No doubt what they heard was either the creaking of the rudder-chains, or the cry of some passing sea-bird. I have been fetched out of bed several times to listen to it, but I need hardly say that I was never able to distinguish anything unnatural. The men, however, are so absurdly positive upon the subject that it is hopeless to argue with them. I mentioned the matter to the Captain once, but to my surprise he took it very gravely, and indeed appeared to be considerably disturbed by what I told him. I should have thought that he at least would have been above such vulgar delusions.

All this disquisition upon superstition leads me up to the fact that Mr. Manson, our second mate, saw a ghost last night – or, at least, says that he did, which of course is the same thing. It is quite refreshing to have some new topic of conversation after the eternal routine of bears and whales which has served us for so many months. Manson swears the ship is haunted, and that he would not stay in her a day if he had any other place to go to. Indeed the fellow is honestly frightened, and I had to give him some chloral and bromide of potassium this morning to steady him down. He seemed quite indignant when I suggested that he had been having an extra glass the night before, and I was obliged to pacify him by keeping as grave a countenance as possible during his story, which he certainly narrated in a very straight-forward and matter- of-fact way.

“I was on the bridge,” he said, “about four bells in the middle watch, just when the night was at its darkest. There was a bit of a moon, but the clouds were blowing across it so that you couldn’t see far from the ship. John M`Leod, the harpooner, came aft from the foc’sle-head and reported a strange noise on the starboard bow. I went forrard and we both heard it, sometimes like a bairn crying and sometimes like a wench in pain. I’ve been seventeen years to the country and I never heard seal, old or young, make a sound like that. As we were standing there on the foc’sle-head the moon came out from behind a cloud, and we both saw a sort of white figure moving across the ice field in the same direction that we had heard the cries. We lost sight of it for a while, but it came back on the port bow, and we could just make it out like a shadow on the ice. I sent a hand aft for the rifles, and M`Leod and I went down on to the pack, thinking that maybe it might be a bear. When we got on the ice I lost sight of M`Leod, but I pushed on in the direction where I could still hear the cries. I followed them for a mile or maybe more, and then running round a hummock I came right on to the top of it standing and waiting for me seemingly. I don’t know what it was. It wasn’t a bear any way. It was tall and white and straight, and if it wasn’t a man nor a woman, I’ll stake my davy it was something worse. I made for the ship as hard as I could run, and precious glad I was to find myself aboard. I signed articles to do my duty by the ship, and on the ship I’ll stay, but you don’t catch me on the ice again after sundown.”

That is his story, given as far as I can in his own words. I fancy what he saw must, in spite of his denial, have been a young bear erect upon its hind legs, an attitude which they often assume when alarmed. In the uncertain light this would bear a resemblance to a human figure, especially to a man whose nerves were already somewhat shaken. Whatever it may have been, the occurrence is unfortunate, for it has produced a most unpleasant effect upon the crew. Their looks are more sullen than before, and their discontent more open. The double grievance of being debarred from the herring fishing and of being detained in what they choose to call a haunted vessel, may lead them to do something rash. Even the harpooners, who are the oldest and steadiest among them, are joining in the general agitation.

Apart from this absurd outbreak of superstition, things are looking rather more cheerful. The pack which was forming to the south of us has partly cleared away, and the water is so warm as to lead me to believe that we are lying in one of those branches of the gulf- stream which run up between Greenland and Spitzbergen. There are numerous small Medusse and sealemons about the ship, with abundance of shrimps, so that there is every possibility of “fish” being sighted. Indeed one was seen blowing about dinner-time, but in such a position that it was impossible for the boats to follow it.

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October 30, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. Comments off.

Haunted Short Stories – 29 – ‘To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt’ by Charles Dickens (1865)

Courtesy of Mitsu Matsuoka, Nagoya University

I have always noticed a prevalent want of courage, even among persons of superior intelligence and culture, as to imparting their own psychological experiences when those have been of a strange sort. Almost all men are afraid that what they could relate in such wise would find no parallel or response in a listener’s internal life, and might be suspected or laughed at. A truthful traveller who should have seen some extraordinary creature in the likeness of a sea-serpent, would have no fear of mentioning it; but the same traveller having had some singular presentiment, impulse, vagary of thought, vision (so-called), dream, or other remarkable mental impression, would hesitate considerably before he would own to it. To this reticence I attribute much of the obscurity in which such subjects are involved. We do not habitually communicate our experiences of these subjective things, as we do our experiences of objective creation. The consequence is, that the general stock of experience in this regard appears exceptional, and really is so, in respect of being miserably imperfect.

In what I am going to relate I have no intention of setting up, opposing, or supporting, any theory whatever. I know the history of the Bookseller of Berlin, I have studied the case of the wife of a late Astronomer Royal as related by Sir David Brewster, and I have followed the minutest details of a much more remarkable case of Spectral Illusion occurring within my private circle of friends. It may be necessary to state as to this last that the sufferer (a lady) was in no degree, however distant, related to me. A mistaken assumption on that head, might suggest an explanation of a part of my own case – but only a part – which would be wholly without foundation. It cannot be referred to my inheritance of any developed peculiarity, nor had I ever before any at all similar experience, nor have I ever had any at all similar experience since.

It does not signify how many years ago, or how few, a certain Murder was committed in England, which attracted great attention. We hear more than enough of Murderers as they rise in succession to their atrocious eminence, and I would bury the memory of this particular brute, if I could, as his body was buried, in Newgate Jail. I purposely abstain from giving any direct clue to the criminal’s individuality.

When the murder was first discovered, no suspicion fell – or I ought rather to say, for I cannot be too precise in my facts, it was nowhere publicly hinted that any suspicion fell – on the man who was afterwards brought to trial. As no reference was at that time made to him in the newspapers, it is obviously impossible that any description of him can at that time have been given in the newspapers. It is essential that this fact be remembered.

Unfolding at breakfast my morning paper, containing the account of that first discovery, I found it to be deeply interesting, and I read it with close attention. I read it twice, if not three times. The discovery had been made in a bedroom, and, when I laid down the paper, I was aware of a flash – rush – flow – I do not know what to call it – no word I can find is satisfactorily descriptive – in which I seemed to see that bedroom passing through my room, like a picture impossibly painted on a running river. Though almost instantaneous in its passing, it was perfectly clear; so clear that I distinctly, and with a sense of relief, observed the absence of the dead body from the bed.

It was in no romantic place that I had this curious sensation, but in chambers in Piccadilly, very near to the corner of Saint James’s Street. It was entirely new to me. I was in my easy-chair at the moment, and the sensation was accompanied with a peculiar shiver which started the chair from its position. (But it is to be noted that the chair ran easily on castors.) I went to one of the windows (there are two in the room, and the room is on the second floor) to refresh my eyes with the moving objects down in Piccadilly. It was a bright autumn morning, and the street was sparkling and cheerful. The wind was high. As I looked out, it brought down from the Park a quantity of fallen leaves, which a gust took, and whirled into a spiral pillar. As the pillar fell and the leaves dispersed, I saw two men on the opposite side of the way, going from West to East. They were one behind the other. The foremost man often looked back over his shoulder. The second man followed him, at a distance of some thirty paces, with his right hand menacingly raised. First, the singularity and steadiness of this threatening gesture in so public a thoroughfare, attracted my attention; and next, the more remarkable circumstance that nobody heeded it. Both men threaded their way among the other passengers, with a smoothness hardly consistent even with the action of walking on a pavement, and no single creature that I could see, gave them place, touched them, or looked after them. In passing before my windows, they both stared up at me. I saw their two faces very distinctly, and I knew that I could recognize them anywhere. Not that I had consciously noticed anything very remarkable in either face, except that the man who went first had an unusually lowering appearance, and that the face of the man who followed him was of the colour of impure wax.

I am a bachelor, and my valet and his wife constitute my whole establishment. My occupation is in a certain Branch Bank, and I wish that my duties as head of a Department were as light as they are popularly supposed to be. They kept me in town that autumn, when I stood in need of a change. I was not ill, but I was not well. My reader is to make the most that can be reasonably made of my feeling jaded, having a depressing sense upon me of a monotonous life, and being ‘slightly dyspeptic’. I am assured by my renowned doctor that my real state of health at that time justifies no stronger description, and I quote his own from his written answer to my request for it.

As the circumstances of the Murder, gradually unravelling, took stronger and stronger possession of the public mind, I kept them away from mine, by knowing as little about them as was possible in the midst of the universal excitement. But I knew that a verdict of Wilful Murder had been found against the suspected Murderer, and that he had been committed to Newgate for trial. I also knew that his trial had been postponed over one Sessions of the Central Criminal Court, on the ground of general prejudice and want of time for the preparation of the defence. I may further have known, but I believe I did not, when, or about when, the Sessions to which his trial stood postponed would come on.

My sitting-room, bedroom, and dressing-room, are all on one floor. With the last, there is no communication but through the bedroom. True, there is a door in it, once communicating with the staircase; but a part of the fitting of my bath has been – and had then been for some years – fixed across it. At the same period, and as a part of the same arrangement, the door had been nailed up and canvassed over.

I was standing in my bedroom late one night, giving some directions to my servant before he went to bed. My face was towards the only available door of communication with the dressing-room, and it was closed. My servant’s back was towards that door. While I was speaking to him I saw it open, and a man look in, who very earnestly and mysteriously beckoned to me. That man was the man who had gone second of the two along Piccadilly, and whose face was of the colour of impure wax.

The figure, having beckoned, drew back and closed the door. With no longer pause than was made by my crossing the bedroom, I opened the dressing-room door, and looked in. I had a lighted candle already in my hand. I felt no inward expectation of seeing the figure in the dressing-room, and I did not see it there.

Conscious that my servant stood amazed, I turned round to him, and said: ‘Derrick, could you believe that in my cool senses I fancied I saw a—-‘ As I there laid my hand upon his breast, with a sudden start he trembled violently, and said, ‘O Lord yes sir! A dead man beckoning!’

Now, I do not believe that this John Derrick, my trusty and attached servant for more than twenty years, had any impression whatever of having seen any such figure, until I touched him. The change in him was so startling when I touched him, that I fully believe he derived his impression in some occult manner from me at that instant.

I bade John Derrick bring some brandy, and I gave him a dram, and was glad to take one myself. Of what had proceeded that night’s phenomenon, I told him not a single word. Reflecting on it, I was absolutely certain that I had never seen that face before, except on the one occasion in Piccadilly. Comparing its expression when beckoning at the door, with its expression when it had stared up at me as I stood at my window, I came to the conclusion that on the first occasion it had sought to fasten itself upon my memory, and that on the second occasion it had made sure of being immediately remembered.

I was not very comfortable that night, though I felt a certainty, difficult to explain, that the figure would not return. At daylight, I fell into a heavy sleep, from which I was awakened by John Derrick’s coming to my bedside with a paper in his hand.

This paper, it appeared, had been the subject of an altercation at the door between its bearer and my servant. It was a summons to me to serve upon a Jury at the forthcoming Sessions of the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey. I had never before been summoned on such a Jury, as John Derrick well knew. He believed – I am not certain at this hour whether with reason or otherwise – that that class of Jurors were customarily chosen on a lower qualification than mine, and he had at first refused to accept the summons. The man who served it had taken the matter very coolly. He had said that my attendance or nonattendance was nothing to him; there the summons was; and I should deal with it at my own peril, and not at his.

For a day or two I was undecided whether to respond to this call, or take no notice of it. I was not conscious of the slightest mysterious bias, influence, or attraction, one way or other. Of that I am as strictly sure as of every other statement that I make here. Ultimately I decided, as a break in the monotony of my life, that I would go.

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October 29, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. Comments off.

Haunted Short Stories – 28 – ‘My New Year’s Eve Among the Mummies’ by Grant Allen (1880)

Courtesy of Mitsu Matsuoka, Nagoya University

I have been a wanderer and a vagabond on the face of the earth for a good many years now, and I have certainly had some odd adventures in my time; but I can assure you, I never spent twenty-four queerer hours than those which I passed some twelve months since in the great unopened Pyramid of Abu Yilla.

The way I got there was itself a very strange one. I had come to Egypt for a winter tour with the Fitz-Simkinses, to whose daughter Editha I was at that precise moment engaged. You will probably remember that old Fitz-Simkins belonged originally to the wealthy firm of Simkinson and Stokoe, worshipful vintners; but when the senior partner retired from the business and got his knighthood, the College of Heralds opportunely discovered that his ancestors had changed their fine old Norman name for its English equivalent some time about the reign of King Richard I; and they immediately authorized the old gentleman to resume the patronymic and the armorial bearings of his distinguished forefathers. It’s really quite astonishing how often these curious coincidences crop up at the College of Heralds.

Of course it was a great catch for a landless and briefless barrister like myself — dependent on a small fortune in South American securities, and my precarious earnings as a writer of burlesque — to secure such a valuable prospective property as Editha Fitz-Simkins. To be sure, the girl was undeniably plain; but I have known plainer girls than she was, whom forty thousand pounds converted into My Ladies: and if Editha hadn’t really fallen over head and ears in love with me, I suppose old Fitz-Simkins would never have consented to such a match. As it was, however, we had flirted so openly and so desperately during the Scarborough season, that it would have been difficult for Sir Peter to break it off: and so I had come to Egypt on a tour of insurance to secure my prize, following in the wake of my future mother-in-law, whose lungs were supposed to require a genial climate though in my private opinion they were really as creditable a pair of pulmonary appendages as ever drew breath.

Nevertheless, the course of true love did not run so smoothly as might have been expected. Editha found me less ardent than a devoted squire should be; and on the very last night of the old year she got up a regulation lovers’ quarrel, because I had sneaked away from the boat that afternoon under the guidance of our dragoman, to witness the seductive performances of some fair Ghaw zi, the dancing girls of a neighbouring town. How she found it out heaven only knows, for I gave that rascal Dimitri five piastres to hold his tongue: but she did find it out somehow, and chose to regard it as an offence of the first magnitude: a mortal sin only to be expiated by three days of penance and humiliation.

I went to bed that night, in my hammock on deck, with feelings far from satisfactory. We were moored against the bank at Abu Yilla, the most pestiferous hole between the cataracts and the Delta. The mosquitoes were worse than the ordinary mosquitoes of Egypt, and that is saying a great deal. The heat was oppressive even at night, and the malaria from the lotus beds rose like a palpable mist before my eyes. Above all, I was getting doubtful whether Editha Fitz-Simkins might not after all slip between my fingers. I felt wretched and feverish: and yet I had delightful interlusive recollections, in between, of that lovely little Gh ziyah, who danced that exquisite, marvellous, entrancing, delicious, and awfully oriental dance that I saw in the afternoon.

By Jove, she was a beautiful creature. Eyes like two full moons; hair like Milton’s Penseroso; movements like a poem of Swinburne’s set to action. If Editha was only a faint picture of that girl now! Upon my word, I was falling in love with a Gh ziyah!

Then the mosquitoes came again. Buzz — buzz — buzz. I make a lunge at the loudest and biggest, a sort of prima donna in their infernal opera. I kill the prima donna, but ten more shrill performers come in its place. The frogs croak dismally in the reedy shallows. The night grows hotter and hotter still. At last, I can stand it no longer. I rise up, dress myself lightly, and jump ashore to find some way of passing the time.

Yonder, across the flat, lies the great unopened Pyramid of Abu Yilla. We are going to-morrow to climb to the top; but I will take a turn to reconnoitre in that direction now. I walk across the moonlit fields, my soul still divided between Editha and the Gh ziyah, and approach the solemn mass of huge, antiquated granite blocks standing out so grimly against the pale horizon. I feel half awake, half asleep, and altogether feverish: but I poke about the base in an aimless sort of way, with a vague idea that I may perhaps discover by chance the secret of its sealed entrance, which has ere now baffled so many pertinacious explorers and learned Egyptologists.

As I walk along the base, I remember old Herodotus’s story, like a page from the ‘Arabian Nights’, of how King Rhampsinitus built himself a treasury, wherein one stone turned on a pivot like a door; and how the builder availed himself of this his cunning device to steal gold from the king’s storehouse. Suppose the entrance to the unopened Pyramid should be by such a door. It would be curious if I should chance to light upon the very spot.

I stood in the broad moonlight, near the north-east angle of the great pile, at the twelfth stone from the corner. A random fancy struck me, that I might turn this stone by pushing it inward on the left side. I leant against it with all my weight, and tried to move it on the imaginary pivot. Did it give way a fraction of an inch? No, it must have been mere fancy. Let me try again. Surely it is yielding! Gracious Osiris, it has moved an inch or more! My heart beats fast, either with fever or excitement, and I try a third time. The rust of centuries on the pivot wears slowly off, and the stone turned ponderously round, giving access to a low dark passage.

It must have been madness which led me to enter the forgotten corridor, alone, without torch or match, at that hour of the evening; but at any rate I entered. The passage was tall enough for a man to walk erect, and I could feel, as I groped slowly along, that the wall was composed of smooth polished granite, while the floor sloped away downward with a slight but regular descent. I walked with trembling heart and faltering feet for some forty or fifty yards down the mysterious vestibule: and then I felt myself brought suddenly to a standstill by a block of stone placed right across the pathway. I had had nearly enough for one evening, and I was preparing to return to the boat, agog with my new discovery, when my attention was suddenly arrested by an incredible, a perfectly miraculous fact.

The block of stone which barred the passage was faintly visible as a square, by means of a struggling belt of light streaming through the seams. There must be a lamp or other flame burning within. What if this were a door like the outer one, leading into a chamber perhaps inhabited by some dangerous band of outcasts? The light was a sure evidence of human occupation: and yet the outer door swung rustily on its pivot as though it had never been opened for ages. I paused a moment in fear before I ventured to try the stone: and then, urged on once more by some insane impulse, I turned the massive block with all my might to the left. It gave way slowly like its neighbour, and finally opened into the central hall.

Never as long as I live shall I forget the ecstasy of terror, astonishment, and blank dismay which seized upon me when I stepped into that seemingly enchanted chamber. A blaze of light first burst upon my eyes, from jets of gas arranged in regular rows tier above tier, upon the columns and walls of the vast apartment. Huge pillars, richly painted with red, yellow, blue and green decorations, stretched in endless succession down the dazzling aisles. A floor of polished syenite reflected the splendour of the lamps, and afforded a base for red granite sphinxes and dark purple images in porphyry of the cat-faced goddess Pasht, whose form I knew so well at the Louvre and the British Museum. But I had no eyes for any of these lesser marvels, being wholly absorbed in the greatest marvel of all: for there, in royal state and with mitred head, a living Egyptian king, surrounded by his coiffured court, was banqueting in the flesh upon a real throne, before a table laden with Memphian delicacies!

I stood transfixed with awe and amazement, my tongue and my feet alike forgetting their office, and my brain whirling round and round, as I remember it used to whirl when my health broke down utterly at Cambridge after the Classical Tripos. I gazed fixedly at the strange picture before me, taking in all its details in a confused way, yet quite incapable of understanding or realizing any part of its true import. I saw the king in the centre of the hall, raised on a throne of granite inlaid with gold and ivory; his head crowned with the peaked cap of Rameses, and his curled hair flowing down his shoulders in a set and formal frizz. I saw priests and warriors on either side, dressed in the costumes which I had often carefully noted in our great collections; while bronze-skinned maids, with light garments round their waists, and limbs displayed in graceful picturesqueness, waited upon them, half nude, as in the wall paintings which we had lately examined at Karnak and Syene. I saw the ladies, clothed from head to foot in dyed linen garments, sitting apart in the background, banqueting by themselves at a separate table; while dancing girls, like older representatives of my yesternoon friends, the Ghaw zi, tumbled before them in strange attitudes, to the music of four-stringed harps and long straight pipes. In short, I beheld as in a dream the whole drama of everyday Egyptian royal life, playing itself out anew under my eyes, in its real original properties and personages.

Gradually, as I looked, I became aware that my hosts were no less surprised at the appearance of their anachronistic guest than was the guest himself at the strange living panorama which met his eyes. In a moment music and dancing ceased; the banquet paused in its course, and the king and his nobles stood up in undisguised astonishment to survey the strange intruder.

Some minutes passed before any one moved forward on either side. At last a young girl of royal appearance, yet strangely resembling the Gh ziyah of Abu Yilla, and recalling in part the laughing maiden in the foreground of Mr Long’s great canvas at the previous Academy, stepped out before the throng.

‘May I ask you,’ she said in Ancient Egyptian, ‘who you are, and why you come hither to disturb us?’

I was never aware before that I spoke or understood the language of the hieroglyphics: yet I found I had not the slightest difficulty in comprehending or answering her question. To say the truth, Ancient Egyptian, though an extremely tough tongue to decipher in its written form, becomes as easy as love-making when spoken by a pair of lips like that Pharaonic princess’s. It is really very much the same as English, pronounced in a rapid and somewhat indefinite whisper, and with all the vowels left out.

‘I beg ten thousand pardons for my intrusion,’ I answered apologetically: ‘but I did not know that this Pyramid was inhabited, or I should not have entered your residence so rudely. As for the points you wish to know, I am an English tourist, and you will find my name upon this card;’ saying which I handed her one from the case which I had fortunately put into my pocket, with conciliatory politeness. The princess examined it closely, but evidently did not understand its import.

‘In return,’ I continued, ‘may I ask you in what august presence I now find myself by accident?’

A court official stood forth from the throng, and answered in a set heraldic tone: ‘In the presence of the illustrious monarch, Brother of the Sun, Thothmes the Twenty-seventh, king of the Eighteenth Dynasty.’

‘Salute the Lord of the World,’ put in another official in the same regulation drone.

I bowed low to his Majesty, and stepped out into the hall. Apparently my obeisance did not come up to Egyptian standards of courtesy, for a suppressed titter broke audibly from the ranks of bronze-skinned waiting-women. But the king graciously smiled at my attempt, and turning to the nearest nobleman, observed in a voice of great sweetness and self-contained majesty: ‘This stranger, Ombos, is certainly a very curious person. His appearance does not at all resemble that of an Ethiopian or other savage, nor does he look like the pale-faced sailors who come to us from the Achaian land beyond the sea. His features, to be sure, are not very different from theirs; but his extraordinary and singularly inartistic dress shows him to belong to some other barbaric race.’

I glanced down at my waistcoat, and saw that I was wearing my tourist’s check suit, of grey and mud colour, with which a Bond Street tailor had supplied me just before leaving town, as the latest thing out in fancy tweeds. Evidently these Egyptians must have a very curious standard of taste not to admire our pretty and graceful style of male attire.

‘If the dust beneath your Majesty’s feet may venture upon a suggestion,’ put in the officer whom the king had addressed, ‘I would hint that this young man is probably a stray visitor from the utterly uncivilized lands of the North. The headgear which he carries in his hand obviously betrays an Arctic habitat.’

I had instinctively taken off my round felt hat in the first moment of surprise, when I found myself in the midst of this strange throng, and I was standing now in a somewhat embarrassed posture, holding it awkwardly before me like a shield to protect my chest.

‘Let the stranger cover himself,’ said the king.

‘Barbarian intruder, cover yourself,’ cried the herald. I noticed throughout that the king never directly addressed anybody save the higher officials around him.

I put on my hat as desired. ‘A most uncomfortable and silly form of tiara indeed,’ said the great Thothmes.

‘Very unlike your noble and awe-spiring mitre, Lion of Egypt,’ answered Ombos.

‘Ask the stranger his name,’ the king continued.

It was useless to offer another card, so I mentioned it in a clear voice.

‘An uncouth and almost unpronounceable designation truly,’ commented his Majesty to the Grand Chamberlain beside him. ‘These savages speak strange languages, widely different from the flowing tongue of Memnon and Sesostris.’

The chamberlain bowed his assent with three low genuflexions. I began to feel a little abashed at these personal remarks, and I almost think (though I shouldn’t like it to be mentioned in the Temple) that a blush rose to my cheek.

The beautiful princess, who had been standing near me meanwhile in an attitude of statuesque repose, now appeared anxious to change the current of the conversation. ‘Dear father,’ she said with a respectful inclination, ‘surely the stranger, barbarian though he be, cannot relish such pointed allusions to his person and costume. We must let him feel the grace and delicacy of Egyptian refinement. Then he may perhaps carry back with him some faint echo of its cultured beauty to his northern wilds.’

‘Nonsense, Hatasou,’ replied Thothmes XXVII testily. ‘Savages have no feelings, and they are as incapable of appreciating Egyptian sensibility as the chattering crow is incapable of attaining the dignified reserve of the sacred crocodile.’

‘Your Majesty is mistaken,’ I said, recovering my self-possession gradually and realizing my position as a freeborn Englishman before the court of a foreign despot — though I must allow that I felt rather less confident than usual, owing to the fact that we were not represented in the Pyramid by a British Consul — ‘I am an English tourist, a visitor from a modern land whose civilization far surpasses the rude culture of early Egypt; and I am accustomed to respectful treatment from all other nationalities, as becomes a citizen of the First Naval Power in the World.’

My answer created a profound impression. ‘He has spoken to the Brother of the Sun,’ cried Ombos in evident perturbation. ‘He must be of the Blood Royal in his own tribe, or he would never have dared to do so!’

‘Otherwise,’ added a person whose dress I recognized as that of a priest, ‘he must be offered up in expiation to Amon-Ra immediately.’

As a rule I am a decent truthful person, but under these alarming circumstances I ventured to tell a slight fib with an air of nonchalant boldness. ‘I am a younger brother of our reigning king,’ I said without a moment’s hesitation; for there was nobody present to gainsay me, and I tried to salve my conscience by reflecting that at any rate I was only claiming consanguinity with an imaginary personage.

‘In that case,’ said King Thothmes, with more geniality in his tone, ‘there can be no impropriety in my addressing you personally. Will you take a place at our table next to myself, and we can converse together without interrupting a banquet which must be brief enough in any circumstances? Hatasou, my dear, you may seat yourself next to the barbarian prince.’

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October 28, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. Comments off.

Haunted Short Stories – 27 – ‘Father Macclesfield’s Tale’ by R. H. Benson (1907)

Courtesy of Project Gutenberg Australia

Monsignor Maxwell announced next day at dinner that he had already
arranged for the evening’s entertainment. A priest, whose acquaintance he
had made on the Palatine, was leaving for England the next morning; and
it was our only chance therefore of hearing his story. That he had a
story had come to the Canon’s knowledge in the course of a conversation
on the previous afternoon.

‘He told me the outline of it,’ he said, ‘I think it very remarkable. But
I had a great deal of difficulty in persuading him to repeat it to the
company this evening. But he promised at last. I trust, gentlemen, you do
not think I have presumed in begging him to do so.’

Father Macclesfield arrived at supper.

He was a little unimposing dry man, with a hooked nose, and grev hair. He
was rather silent at supper; but there was no trace of shyness in his
manner as he took his seat upstairs, and without glancing round once,
began in an even and dispassionate voice:

‘I once knew a Catholic girl that married an old Protestant three times
her own age. I entreated her not to do so; but it was useless. And when
the disillusionment came she used to write to me piteous letters, telling
me that her husband had in reality no religion at all. He was a convinced
infidel; and scouted even the idea of the soul’s immortality.

‘After two years of married life the old man died. He was about sixty
years old; but very hale and hearty till the end.

‘Well, when he took to his bed, the wife sent for me; and I had
half-a-dozen interviews with him; but it was useless. He told me plainly
that lye wanted to believe–in fact he said that the thought of
annihilation was intolerable to him. If he had had a child he would not
have hated death so much; if his flesh and blood in any manner survived
him, he could have fancied that he had a sort of vicarious life left; but
as it was there was no kith or kin of his alive; and he could not bear
that.’

Father Macclesfield sniffed cynically, and folded his hands.

‘I may say that his death-bed was extremely unpleasant. He was a coarse
old fellow, with plenty of strength in him; and he used to make remarks
about the churchyard–and–and in fact the worms, that used to send his
poor child of a wife half fainting out of the room. He had lived an
immoral life too, I gathered.

Just at the last it was–well–disgusting. He had no consideration
(God knows why she married him!). The agony was a very long one; he
caught at the curtains round the bed; calling out; and all his words
were about death, and the dark. It seemed to me that he caught hold of
the curtains as if to hold himself into this world. And at the very end
he raised himself clean up in bed, and stared horribly out of the window
that was open just opposite.

‘I must tell you that straight away beneath the window lay a long walk,
between sheets of dead leaves with laurels on either side, and the
branches meeting overhead, so that it was very dark there even in summer;
and at the end of the walk away from the house was the churchyard gate.’

Father Macclesfield paused and blew his nose. Then he went on still
without looking at us.

‘Well the old man died; and he was carried along this laurel path, and
buried.

‘His wife was in such a state that I simply dared not go away. She was
frightened to death; and, indeed, the whole affair of her husband’s dying
was horrible. But she would not leave the house. She had a fancy that it
would be cruel to him. She used to go down twice a day to pray at the
grave; but she never went along the laurel walk. She would go round by
the garden and in at a lower gate, and come back the same way, or by the
upper garden.

‘This went on for three or four days. The man had died on a Saturday, and
was buried on Monday; it was in July; and he had died about eight o’clock.

‘I made up my mind to go on the Saturday after the funeral. My curate had
managed along very well for a few days; but I did not like to leave him
for a second Sunday.

‘Ben on the Friday at lunch–her sister had come down, by the way, and
was still in the house–on the Friday the widow said something about
never daring to sleep in the room where the old man had died. I told her
it was nonsense, and so on; but you must remember she was in a dreadful
state of nerves, and she persisted. So I said I would sleep in the room
myself. I had no patience with such ideas then.

‘Of course she said all sorts of things, but I had my way; and my things
were moved in on Friday evening.

‘I went to my new room about a quarter before eight to put on my cassock
for dinner. The room was very much as it had been–rather dark because of
the trees at the end of the walk outside. There was the four-poster there
with the damask curtains; the table and chairs, the cupboard where his
clothes were kept, and so on.

‘When I had put my cassock on, I went to the window to look out.

To right and left were the gardens, with the sunlight just off them, but
still very bright and gay, with the geraniums, and exactly opposite was
the laurel walk, like a long green shady tunnel, dividing the upper and
lower lawns.

‘I could see straight down it to the churchyard gate, which was about a
hundred yards away, I suppose. There were limes overhead, and laurels, as
I said, on each side.

‘Well–I saw someone coming up the walk; but it seemed to me at first
that he was drunk. He staggered several times as I watched; I suppose he
would be fifty yards away–and once I saw him catch hold of one of the
trees and cling against it as if he were afraid of falling. Then he left
it, and came on again slowly, going from side to side, with his hands
out. He seemed desperately keen to get to the house.

‘I could see his dress; and it astonished me that a man dressed so should
be drunk; for he was quite plainly a gentleman. He wore a white top hat,
and a grey cut-away coat, and grey trousers, and I could make out his
white spats.

‘Then it struck me he might be ill; and I looked harder than ever,
wondering whether I ought to go down.

‘When he was about twenty yards away he lifted his face; and, it
struck me as very odd, but it seemed to me he was extraordinarily like
the old man we had buried on Monday; but it was darkish where he was, and
the next moment he dropped his face, threw up his hands and fell flat on
his back.

‘Well of course I was startled at that, and I leaned out of the window
and called out something. He was moving his hands I could see, as if he
were in convulsions; and I could hear the dry leaves rustling. ‘Well,
then I turned and ran out and downstairs.’

Father Macclesfield stopped a moment.

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October 27, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Faith, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. Comments off.

Haunted Short Stories ~ 26 ~ ‘The Kit Bag’ by Algernon Blackwood (1908)

Courtesy of Project Gutenberg Australia


When the words ‘Not Guilty’ sounded through the crowded courtroom that
dark December afternoon, Arthur Wilbraham, the great criminal KC, and
leader for the triumphant defence, was represented by his junior; but
Johnson, his private secretary, carried the verdict across to his
chambers like lightning.

‘It’s what we expected, I think,’ said the barrister, without emotion;
‘and, personally, I am glad the case is over.’ There was no particular
sign of pleasure that his defence of John Turk, the murderer, on a plea
of insanity, had been successful, for no doubt he felt, as everybody who
had watched the case felt, that no man had ever better deserved the
gallows.

‘I’m glad too,’ said Johnson. He had sat in the court for ten days
watching the face of the man who had carried out with callous detail one
of the most brutal and cold-blooded murders of recent years.

Be counsel glanced up at his secretary. They were more than employer and
employed; for family and other reasons, they were friends. ‘Ah, I
remember; yes,’ he said with a kind smile, ‘and you want to get away for
Christmas? You’re going to skate and ski in the Alps, aren’t you? If I
was your age I’d come with you.’

Johnson laughed shortly. He was a young man of twenty-six, with a
delicate face like a girl’s. ‘I can catch the morning boat now,’ he said;
‘but that’s not the reason I’m glad the trial is over. I’m glad it’s over
because I’ve seen the last of that man’s dreadful face. It positively
haunted me. Bat white skin, with the black hair brushed low over the
forehead, is a thing I shall never forget, and the description of the way
the dismembered body was crammed and packed with lime into that–‘

‘Don’t dwell on it, my dear fellow,’ interrupted the other, looking at
him curiously out of his keen eyes, ‘don’t think about it. Such pictures
have a trick of coming back when one least wants them.’ He paused a
moment. ‘Now go,’ he added presently, ‘and enjoy your holiday. I shall
want all your energy for my Parliamentary work when you get back. And
don’t break your neck skiing.’

Johnson shook hands and took his leave. At the door he turned suddenly.

‘I knew there was something I wanted to ask you,’ he said. ‘Would you
mind lendang me one of your kit-bags? It’s too late to get one tonight,
and I leave in the morning before the shops are open.’

‘Of course; I’ll send Henry over with it to your rooms. You shall have it
the moment I get home.’

‘I promise to take great care of it,’ said Johnson gratefully, delighted
to think that within thirty hours he would be nearing the brilliant
sunshine of the high Alps in winter. Be thought of that criminal court
was like an evil dream in his mind.

He dined at his club and went on to Bloomsbury, where he occupied the top
floor in one of those old, gaunt houses in which the rooms are large and
lofty. The floor below his own was vacant and unfurnished, and below that
were other lodgers whom he did not know. It was cheerless, and he looked
forward heartily to a change. The night was even more cheerless: it was
miserable, and few people were about. A cold, sleety rain was driving
down the streets before the keenest east wind he had ever felt. It howled
dismally among the big, gloomy houses of the great squares, and when he
reached his rooms he heard it whistling and shouting over the world of
black roofs beyond his windows.

In the hall he met his landlady, shading a candle from the draughts with
her thin hand. ‘This come by a man from Mr Wilbr’im’s, sir.’

She pointed to what was evidently the kit-bag, and Johnson thanked her
and took it upstairs with him. ‘I shall be going abroad in the morning
for ten days, Mrs Monks,’ he said. ‘I’ll leave an address for letters.’

‘And I hope you’ll ‘ave a merry Christmas, sir,’ she said, in a raucous,
wheezy voice that suggested spirits, ‘and better weather than this.’

‘I hope so too,’ replied her lodger, shuddering a little as the wind went
roaring down the street outside.

When he got upstairs he heard the sleet volleying against the window
panes. He put his kettle on to make a cup of hot coffee, and then set
about putting a few things in order for his absence. ‘And now I must
pack–such as my packing is,’ he laughed to himself, and set to work at
once.

He liked the packing, for it brought the snow mountains so vividly
before him, and made him forget the unpleasant scenes of the past ten
days. Besides, it was not elaborate in nature. His fraend had lent him
the very thing–a stout canvas kit-bag, sack-shaped, with holes round the
neck for the brass bar and padlock. It was a bit shapeless, true, and not
much to look at, but its capacity was unlimited, and there was no need to
pack carefully. He shoved in his waterproof coat, his fur cap and gloves,
his skates and climbing boots, his sweaters, snow-boots, and ear-caps;
and then on the top of these he piled his woollen shirts and underwear,
his thick socks, puttees, and knickerbockers. The dress suit came next,
in case the hotel people dressed for dinner, and then, thinking of the
best way to pack his white shirts, he paused a moment to reflect. ‘Bat’s
the worst of these kit-bags,’ he mused vaguely, standing in the centre of
the sitting-room, where he had come to fetch some string.

It was after ten o’clock. A furious gust of wind rattled the windows as
though to hurry him up, and he thought with pity of the poor Londoners
whose Christmas would be spent in such a climate, whilst he was skimming
over snowy slopes in bright sunshine, and dancing in the evening with
rosy-checked girls–Ah! that reminded him; he must put in his
dancing-pumps and evening socks. He crossed over from his sitting-room to
the cupboard on the landing where he kept his linen.

And as he did so he heard someone coming softly up the stairs.

He stood still a moment on the landing to listen. It was Mrs Monks’s
step, he thought; she must he coming up with the last post. But then the
steps ceased suddenly, and he heard no more. They were at least two
flights down, and he came to the conclusion they were too heavy to be
those of his bibulous landlady. No doubt they belonged to a late lodger
who had mistaken his floor. He went into his bedroom and packed his pumps
and dress-shirts as best he could.

Be kit-bag by this time was two-thirds full, and stood upright on its own
base like a sack of flour. For the first time he noticed that it was old
and dirty, the canvas faded and worn, and that it had obviously been
subjected to rather rough treatment. It was not a very nice bag to have
sent him–certainly not a new one, or one that his chief valued. He gave
the matter a passing thought, and went on with his packing. Once or
twice, however, he caught himself wondering who it could have been
wandering down below, for Mrs Monks had not come up with letters, and the
floor was empty and unfurnished. From time to time, moreover, he was
almost certain he heard a soft tread of someone padding about over the
bare boards–cautiously, stealthily, as silently as possible–and,
further, that the sounds had been lately coming distinctly nearer.

For the first time in his life he began to feel a little creepy. Then, as
though to emphasize this feeling, an odd thing happened: as he left the
bedroom, having, just packed his recalcitrant white shirts, he noticed
that the top of the kit-bag lopped over towards him with an extraordinary
resemblance to a human face. Be camas fell into a fold like a nose and
forehead, and the brass rings for the padlock just filled the position of
the eyes. A shadow–or was it a travel stain? for he could not tell
exactly–looked like hair. It gave him rather a turn, for it was so
absurdly, so outrageously, like the face of John Turk the murderer.

He laughed, and went into the front room, where the light was stronger.

‘That horrid case has got on my mind,’ he thought; ‘I shall be glad of a
change of scene and air.’ In the sitting-room, however, he was not
pleased to hear again that stealthy tread upon the stairs, and to realize
that it was much closer than before, as well as unmistakably real. And
this time he got up and went out to see who it could be creeping about on
the upper staircase at so late an hour.

But the sound ceased; there was no one visible on the stairs. He went to
the floor below, not without trepidation, and turned on the electric
light to make sure that no one was hiding in the empty rooms of the
unoccupied suite. There was not a stick of furniture large enough to hide
a dog. Then he called over the banisters to Mrs Monks, but there was no
answer, and his voice echoed down into the dark vault of the house, and
was lost in the roar of the gale that howled outside. Everyone was in bed
and asleep–everyone except himself and the owner of this soft and
stealthy tread.

‘My absurd imagination, I suppose,’ he thought. ‘It must have been the
wind after all, although–it seemed so _very_ real and close, I thought.’
He went back to his packing. It was by this time getting on towards
midnight. He drank his coffee up and lit another pipe–the last before
turning in.

It is difficult to say exactly at what point fear begins, when the causes
of that fear are not plainly before the eyes. Impressions gather on the
surface of the mind, film by film, as ice gathers upon the surface of
still water, but often so lightly that they claim no definite recognation
from the consciousness. Then a point is reached where the accumulated
impressions become a definite emotion, and the mind realizes that
something has happened. With something of a start, Johnson suddenly
recognized that he felt nervous–oddly nervous; also, that for some time
past the causes of this feeling had been gathering slowly in has mind,
but that he had only just reached the point where he was forced to
acknowledge them.

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October 26, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. Comments off.

Haunted Short Stories – 25 – ‘The Haunted and The Haunters’ by E. G. E. Bulwer-Lytton (1857)

Courtesy of Mitsu Matsuoka, Nagoya University

A friend of mine, who is a man of letters and a philosopher, said to me one day, as if between jest and earnest, “Fancy! since we last met I have discovered a haunted house in the midst of London.”

“Really haunted,—-and by what?—-ghosts?”

“Well, I can’t answer that question; all I know is this: six weeks ago my wife and I were in search of a furnished apartment. Passing a quiet street, we saw on the window of one of the houses a bill, ‘Apartments, Furnished.’ The situation suited us; we entered the house, liked the rooms, engaged them by the week,—-and left them the third day. No power on earth could have reconciled my wife to stay longer; and I don’t wonder at it.”

“What did you see?”

“Excuse me; I have no desire to be ridiculed as a superstitious dreamer,—-nor, on the other hand, could I ask you to accept on my affirmation what you would hold to be incredible without the evidence of your own senses. Let me only say this, it was not so much what we saw or heard (in which you might fairly suppose that we were the dupes of our own excited fancy, or the victims of imposture in others) that drove us away, as it was an indefinable terror which seized both of us whenever we passed by the door of a certain unfurnished room, in which we neither saw nor heard anything. And the strangest marvel of all was, that for once in my life I agreed with my wife, silly woman though she be,—-and allowed, after the third night, that it was impossible to stay a fourth in that house. Accordingly, on the fourth morning I summoned the woman who kept the house and attended on us, and told her that the rooms did not quite suit us, and we would not stay out our week. She said dryly, ‘I know why; you have stayed longer than any other lodger. Few ever stayed a second night; none before you a third. But I take it they have been very kind to you.’

“‘They,—-who?’ I asked, affecting to smile.

“‘Why, they who haunt the house, whoever they are. I don’t mind them. I remember them many years ago, when I lived in this house, not as a servant; but I know they will be the death of me some day. I don’t care,—-I’m old, and must die soon anyhow; and then I shall be with them, and in this house still.’ The woman spoke with so dreary a calmness that really it was a sort of awe that prevented my conversing with her further. I paid for my week, and too happy were my wife and I to get off so cheaply.”

“You excite my curiosity,” said I; “nothing I should like better than to sleep in a haunted house. Pray give me the address of the one which you left so ignominiously.”

My friend gave me the address; and when we parted, I walked straight toward the house thus indicated.

It is situated on the north side of Oxford Street, in a dull but respectable thoroughfare. I found the house shut up,—-no bill at the window, and no response to my knock. As I was turning away, a beer-boy, collecting pewter pots at the neighboring areas, said to me, “Do you want any one at that house, sir?”

“Yes, I heard it was to be let.”

“Let!—-why, the woman who kept it is dead,—-has been dead these three weeks, and no one can be found to stay there, though Mr. J——– offered ever so much. He offered mother, who chars for him, one pound a week just to open and shut the windows, and she would not.”

“Would not!—-and why?”

“The house is haunted; and the old woman who kept it was found dead in her bed, with her eyes wide open. They say the devil strangled her.”

“Pooh! You speak of Mr. J——–. Is he the owner of the house?”

“Yes.”

“Where does he live?”

“In G——– Street, No. —-.”

“What is he? In any business?”

“No, sir,—-nothing particular; a single gentleman.”

I gave the potboy the gratuity earned by his liberal information, and proceeded to Mr. J——– , in G——– Street, which was close by the street that boasted the haunted house. I was lucky enough to find Mr. J——– at home,—-an elderly man with intelligent countenance and prepossessing manners.

I communicated my name and my business frankly. I said I heard the house was considered to be haunted, that I had a strong desire to examine a house with so equivocal a reputation; that I should be greatly obliged if he would allow me to hire it, though only for a night. I was willing to pay for that privilege whatever he might be inclined to ask. “Sir,” said Mr. J——–, with great courtesy, “the house is at your service, for as short or as long a time as you please. Rent is out of the question,—-the obligation will be on my side should you be able to discover the cause of the strange phenomena which at present deprive it of all value. I cannot let it, for I cannot even get a servant to keep it in order or answer the door. Unluckily the house is haunted, if I may use that expression, not only by night, but by day; though at night the disturbances are of a more unpleasant and sometimes of a more alarming character. The poor old woman who died in it three weeks ago was a pauper whom I took out of a workhouse; for in her childhood she had been known to some of my family, and had once been in such good circumstances that she had rented that house of my uncle. She was a woman of superior education and strong mind, and was the only person I could ever induce to remain in the house. Indeed, since her death, which was sudden, and the coroner’s inquest, which gave it a notoriety in the neighborhood, I have so despaired of finding any person to take charge of the house, much more a tenant, that I would willingly let it rent free for a year to anyone who would pay its rates and taxes.”

“How long is it since the house acquired this sinister character?”

“That I can scarcely tell you, but very many years since. The old woman I spoke of, said it was haunted when she rented it between thirty and forty years ago. The fact is, that my life has been spent in the East Indies, and in the civil service of the Company. I returned to England last year, on inheriting the fortune of an uncle, among whose possessions was the house in question. I found it shut up and uninhabited. I was told that it was haunted, that no one would inhabit it. I smiled at what seemed to me so idle a story. I spent some money in repairing it, added to its old- fashioned furniture a few modern articles,—-advertised it, and obtained a lodger for a year. He was a colonel on half pay. He came in with his family, a son and a daughter, and four or five servants: they all left the house the next day; and, although each of them declared that he had seen something different from that which had scared the others, a something still was equally terrible to all. I really could not in conscience sue, nor even blame, the colonel for breach of agreement. Then I put in the old woman I have spoken of, and she was empowered to let the house in apartments. I never had one lodger who stayed more than three days. I do not tell you their stories,—-to no two lodgers have there been exactly the same phenomena repeated. It is better that you should judge for yourself, than enter the house with an imagination influenced by previous narratives; only be prepared to see and to hear something or other, and take whatever precautions you yourself please.”

“Have you never had a curiosity yourself to pass a night in that house?”

“Yes. I passed not a night, but three hours in broad daylight alone in that house. My curiosity is not satisfied, but it is quenched. I have no desire to renew the experiment. You cannot complain, you see, sir, that I am not sufficiently candid; and unless your interest be exceedingly eager and your nerves unusually strong, I honestly add, that I advise you NOT to pass a night in that house.

“My interest IS exceedingly keen,” said I; “and though only a coward will boast of his nerves in situations wholly unfamiliar to him, yet my nerves have been seasoned in such variety of danger that I have the right to rely on them,—-even in a haunted house.”

Mr. J——– said very little more; he took the keys of the house out of his bureau, gave them to me,—-and, thanking him cordially for his frankness, and his urbane concession to my wish, I carried off my prize.

Impatient for the experiment, as soon as I reached home, I summoned my confidential servant,—-a young man of gay spirits, fearless temper, and as free from superstitious prejudice as anyone I could think of.

F——–,” said I, “you remember in Germany how disappointed we were at not finding a ghost in that old castle, which was said to be haunted by a headless apparition? Well, I have heard of a house in London which, I have reason to hope, is decidedly haunted. I mean to sleep there to-night. From what I hear, there is no doubt that something will allow itself to be seen or to be heard,—-something, perhaps, excessively horrible. Do you think if I take you with me, I may rely on your presence of mind, whatever may happen?”

“Oh, sir, pray trust me,” answered F——–, grinning with delight.

“Very well; then here are the keys of the house,—-this is the address. Go now,—-select for me any bedroom you please; and since the house has not been inhabited for weeks, make up a good fire, air the bed well,—-see, of course, that there are candles as well as fuel. Take with you my revolver and my dagger,—-so much for my weapons; arm yourself equally well; and if we are not a match for a dozen ghosts, we shall be but a sorry couple of Englishmen.

I was engaged for the rest of the day on business so urgent that I had not leisure to think much on the nocturnal adventure to which I had plighted my honor. I dined alone, and very late, and while dining, read, as is my habit. I selected one of the volumes of Macaulay’s Essays. I thought to myself that I would take the book with me; there was so much of healthfulness in the style, and practical life in the subjects, that it would serve as an antidote against the influences of superstitious fancy.

Accordingly, about half-past nine, I put the book into my pocket, and strolled leisurely toward the haunted house. I took with me a favorite dog: an exceedingly sharp, bold, and vigilant bull terrier,—-a dog fond of prowling about strange, ghostly corners and passages at night in search of rats; a dog of dogs for a ghost.

I reached the house, knocked, and my servant opened with a cheerful smile.

We did not stay long in the drawing-rooms,—-in fact, they felt so damp and so chilly that I was glad to get to the fire upstairs. We locked the doors of the drawing-rooms,—-a precaution which, I should observe, we had taken with all the rooms we had searched below. The bedroom my servant had selected for me was the best on the floor,—-a large one, with two windows fronting the street. The four-posted bed, which took up no inconsiderable space, was opposite to the fire, which burned clear and bright; a door in the wall to the left, between the bed and the window, communicated with the room which my servant appropriated to himself. This last was a small room with a sofa bed, and had no communication with the landing place,—-no other door but that which conducted to the bedroom I was to occupy. On either side of my fireplace was a cupboard without locks, flush with the wall, and covered with the same dull-brown paper. We examined these cupboards,—-only hooks to suspend female dresses, nothing else; we sounded the walls,—- evidently solid, the outer walls of the building. Having finished the survey of these apartments, warmed myself a few moments, and lighted my cigar, I then, still accompanied by F——–, went forth to complete my reconnoiter. In the landing place there was another door; it was closed firmly. “Sir,” said my servant, in surprise, “I unlocked this door with all the others when I first came; it cannot have got locked from the inside, for—-”

Before he had finished his sentence, the door, which neither of us then was touching, opened quietly of itself. We looked at each other a single instant. The same thought seized both,—-some human agency might be detected here. I rushed in first, my servant followed. A small, blank, dreary room without furniture; a few empty boxes and hampers in a corner; a small window; the shutters closed; not even a fireplace; no other door but that by which we had entered; no carpet on the floor, and the floor seemed very old, uneven, worm-eaten, mended here and there, as was shown by the whiter patches on the wood; but no living being, and no visible place in which a living being could have hidden. As we stood gazing round, the door by which we had entered closed as quietly as it had before opened; we were imprisoned.

For the first time I felt a creep of indefinable horror. Not so my servant. “Why, they don’t think to trap us, sir; I could break that trumpery door with a kick of my foot.”

“Try first if it will open to your hand,” said I, shaking off the vague apprehension that had seized me, “while I unclose the shutters and see what is without.”

I unbarred the shutters,—-the window looked on the little back yard I have before described; there was no ledge without,—-nothing to break the sheer descent of the wall. No man getting out of that window would have found any footing till he had fallen on the stones below.

F——–, meanwhile, was vainly attempting to open the door. He now turned round to me and asked my permission to use force. And I should here state, in justice to the servant, that, far from evincing any superstitious terrors, his nerve, composure, and even gayety amidst circumstances so extraordinary, compelled my admiration, and made me congratulate myself on having secured a companion in every way fitted to the occasion. I willingly gave him the permission he required. But though he was a remarkably strong man, his force was as idle as his milder efforts; the door did not even shake to his stoutest kick. Breathless and panting, he desisted. I then tried the door myself, equally in vain. As I ceased from the effort, again that creep of horror came over me; but this time it was more cold and stubborn. I felt as if some strange and ghastly exhalation were rising up from the chinks of that rugged floor, and filling the atmosphere with a venomous influence hostile to human life. The door now very slowly and quietly opened as of its own accord. We precipitated ourselves into the landing place. We both saw a large, pale light—-as large as the human figure, but shapeless and unsubstantial—-move before us, and ascend the stairs that led from the landing into the attics. I followed the light, and my servant followed me. It entered, to the right of the landing, a small garret, of which the door stood open. I entered in the same instant. The light then collapsed into a small globule, exceedingly brilliant and vivid, rested a moment on a bed in the corner, quivered, and vanished. We approached the bed and examined it,—-a half-tester, such as is commonly found in attics devoted to servants. On the drawers that stood near it we perceived an old faded silk kerchief, with the needle still left in a rent half repaired. The kerchief was covered with dust; probably it had belonged to the old woman who had last died in that house, and this might have been her sleeping room. I had sufficient curiosity to open the drawers: there were a few odds and ends of female dress, and two letters tied round with a narrow ribbon of faded yellow. I took the liberty to possess myself of the letters. We found nothing else in the room worth noticing,—-nor did the light reappear; but we distinctly heard, as we turned to go, a pattering footfall on the floor, just before us. We went through the other attics (in all four), the footfall still preceding us. Nothing to be seen,—-nothing but the footfall heard. I had the letters in my hand; just as I was descending the stairs I distinctly felt my wrist seized, and a faint, soft effort made to draw the letters from my clasp. I only held them the more tightly, and the effort ceased.

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October 25, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. Comments off.

Haunted Short Stories – 24 – ‘The Room in the Tower’ by E.F. Benson (1912)

Courtesy of Gaslight

It is probable that everybody who is at all a constant dreamer has had at least one experience of an event or a sequence of circumstances which have come to his mind in sleep being subsequently realized in the material world. But, in my opinion, so far from this being a strange thing, it would be far odder if this fulfilment did not occasionally happen, since our dreams are, as a rule, concerned with people whom we know and places with which we are familiar, such as might very naturally occur in the awake and daylit world. True, these dreams are often broken into by some absurd and fantastic incident, which puts them out of court in regard to their subsequent fulfilment, but on the mere calculation of chances, it does not appear in the least unlikely that a dream imagined by anyone who dreams constantly should occasionally come true. Not long ago, for instance, I experienced such a fulfilment of a dream which seems to me in no way remarkable and to have no kind of psychical significance. The manner of it was as follows.

A certain friend of mine, living abroad, is amiable enough to write to me about once in a fortnight. Thus, when fourteen days or thereabouts have elapsed since I last heard from him, my mind, probably, either consciously or subconsciously, is expectant of a letter from him. One night last week I dreamed that as I was going upstairs to dress for dinner I heard, as I often heard, the sound of the postman’s knock on my front door, and diverted my direction downstairs instead. There, among other correspondence, was a letter from him. Thereafter the fantastic entered, for on opening it I found inside the ace of diamonds, and scribbled across it in his well-known handwriting, “I am sending you this for safe custody, as you know it is running an unreasonable risk to keep aces in Italy.” The next evening I was just preparing to go upstairs to dress when I heard the postman’s knock, and did precisely as I had done in my dream. There, among other letters, was one from my friend. Only it did not contain the ace of diamonds. Had it done so, I should have attached more weight to the matter, which, as it stands, seems to me a perfectly ordinary coincidence. No doubt I consciously or subconsciously expected a letter from him, and this suggested to me my dream. Similarly, the fact that my friend had not written to me for a fortnight suggested to him that he should do so. But occasionally it is not so easy to find such an explanation, and for the following story I can find no explanation at all. It came out of the dark, and into the dark it has gone again.

All my life I have been a habitual dreamer: the nights are few, that is to say, when I do not find on awaking in the morning that some mental experience has been mine, and sometimes, all night long, apparently, a series of the most dazzling adventures befall me. Almost without exception these adventures are pleasant, though often merely trivial. It is of an exception that I am going to speak.

It was when I was about sixteen that a certain dream first came to me, and this is how it befell. It opened with my being set down at the door of a big red-brick house, where, I understood, I was going to stay. The servant who opened the door told me that tea was being served in the garden, and led me through a low dark-panelled hall, with a large open fireplace, on to a cheerful green lawn set round with flower beds. There were grouped about the tea-table a small party of people, but they were all strangers to me except one, who was a schoolfellow called Jack Stone, clearly the son of the house, and he introduced me to his mother and father and a couple of sisters. I was, I remember, somewhat astonished to find myself here, for the boy in question was scarcely known to me, and I rather disliked what I knew of him; moreover, he had left school nearly a year before. The afternoon was very hot, and an intolerable oppression reigned. On the far side of the lawn ran a red-brick wall, with an iron gate in its center, outside which stood a walnut tree. We sat in the shadow of the house opposite a row of long windows, inside which I could see a table with cloth laid, glimmering with glass and silver. This garden front of the house was very long, and at one end of it stood a tower of three stories, which looked to me much older than the rest of the building.

Before long, Mrs. Stone, who, like the rest of the party, had sat in absolute silence, said to me, “Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower.”

Quite inexplicably my heart sank at her words. I felt as if I had known that I should have the room in the tower, and that it contained something dreadful and significant. Jack instantly got up, and I understood that I had to follow him. In silence we passed through the hall, and mounted a great oak staircase with many corners, and arrived at a small landing with two doors set in it. He pushed one of these open for me to enter, and without coming in himself, closed it after me. Then I knew that my conjecture had been right: there was something awful in the room, and with the terror of nightmare growing swiftly and enveloping me, I awoke in a spasm of terror.

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October 24, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . American Literature, English Literature, Entertainment, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Popular Culture, Supernatural, Suspense. Comments off.

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