Saturday, December 3, 2016

Was It a Dream by Guy de Maupassant - Scary Short Story 18 in Andrew Barger's Countdown

Henri Guy de Maupassant
(1850-1893)

Frenchman, Henri Guy de Maupassant, is best known today for his short stories. He penned over 300 of them and they range from the romantic to the supernatural, though most the latter were merely fictions of the protagonists' minds.

Was It a Dream? is Maupassant's best ghost short story given its longing writing style and graveyard setting. The scary story is gothic and haunting and written in the shadow of Poe as it involves the longing for a lost love reminiscent of a common theme in Edgar Allan Poe's short stories. Maupassant was influential in the last half of the nineteenth century. His stories even drew the attention of Leo Tolstoy who penned an essay called "The Works of Guy de Maupassant." Tolstoy's short stories continue to grow in popularity as do Maupassant's. He died at the young age of 43.

I pick Was It a Dream? as best ghost short story 18  in my countdown of the twenty best from 1850-1899. Enjoy this haunting little tale!


Was It a Dream?

“I had loved her madly! Why does one love? Why does one love? How queer it is to see only one being in the world, to have only one thought in one’s mind, only one desire in the heart, and only one name on the lips; a name which comes up continually, which rises like the water in a spring, from the depths of the soul, which rises to the lips, and which one repeats over and over again which one whispers ceaselessly, everywhere, like a prayer.

“I am going to tell you our story, for love only has one, which is always the same. I met her and loved her; that is all. And for a whole year I have lived on her tenderness, on her caresses, in her arms, in her dresses, on her words, so completely wrapped up, bound, imprisoned in everything which came from her, that I no longer knew whether it was day or night, if I was dead or alive, on this old earth of ours, or elsewhere.

“And then she died. How? I do not know. I no longer know; but one evening she came home wet, for it was raining heavily, and the next day she coughed, and she coughed for about a week, and took to her bed. What happened I do not remember now, but doctors came, wrote and went away. Medicines were brought, and some women made her drink them. Her hands were hot, her forehead was burning, and her eyes bright and sad. When I spoke to her, she answered me, but I do not remember what we said. I have forgotten everything, everything, everything! She died, and I very well remember her slight, feeble sigh. The nurse said: ‘Ah! and I understood, I understood!’

“I knew nothing more, nothing. I saw a priest, who said: ‘Your mistress?’ and it seemed to me as if he were insulting her. As she was dead, nobody had the right to know that any longer, and I turned him out. Another came who was very kind and tender, and I shed tears when he spoke to me about her.

“They consulted me about the funeral, but I do not remember anything that they said, though I recollected the coffin, and the sound of the hammer when they nailed her down in it. Oh! God, God!
“She was buried! Buried! She! In that hole! Some people came — female friends. I made my escape, and ran away; I ran, and then I walked through the streets, and went home, and the next day I started on a journey.”

“Yesterday I returned to Paris, and when I saw my room again — our room, our bed, our furniture, everything that remains of the life of a human being after death, I was seized by such a violent attack of fresh grief, that I was very near opening the window and throwing myself out into the street. As I could not remain any longer among these things, between these walls which had enclosed and sheltered her, and which retained a thousand atoms of her, of her skin and of her breath in their imperceptible crevices, I took up my hat to make my escape, and just as I reached the door, I passed the large glass in the hall, which she had put there so that she might be able to look at herself every day from head to foot as she went out, to see if her toilet looked well, and was correct and pretty, from her little boots to her bonnet.

“And I stopped short in front of that looking-glass in which she had so often been reflected. So often, so often, that it also must have retained her reflection. I was standing there, trembling, with my eyes fixed on the glass — on that flat, profound, empty glass — which had contained her entirely, and had possessed her as much as I had, as my passionate looks had. I felt as if I loved that glass. I touched it, it was cold. Oh! the recollection! sorrowful mirror, burning mirror, horrible mirror, which makes us suffer such torments! Happy are the men whose hearts forget everything that it has contained, everything that has passed before it, everything that has looked at itself in it, that has been reflected in its affection, in its love! How I suffer!

“I went on without knowing it, without wishing it; I went towards the cemetery. I found her simple grave, a white marble cross, with these few words:
“‘She loved, was loved, and died.’

“She is there, below, decayed! How horrible! I sobbed with my forehead on the ground, and I stopped there for a long time, a long time. Then I saw that it was getting dark, and a strange, a mad wish, the wish of a despairing lover seized me. I wished to pass the night, the last night in weeping on her grave. But I should be seen and driven out. How was I to manage? I was cunning, and got up, and began to roam about in that city of the dead. I walked and walked. How small this city is, in comparison with the other, the city in which we live: And yet, how much more numerous the dead are than the living. We want high houses, wide streets, and much room for the four generations who see the daylight at the same time, drink water from the spring, and wine from the vines, and eat the bread from the plains.

“And for all the generations of the dead, for all that ladder of humanity that has descended down to us, there is scarcely anything afield, scarcely anything! The earth takes them back, oblivion effaces them. Adieu!

“At the end of the abandoned cemetery, I suddenly perceived that the one where those who have been dead a long time finish mingling with the soil, where the crosses themselves decay, where the last comers will be put tomorrow. It is full of untended roses, of strong and dark cypress trees, a sad and beautiful garden, nourished on human flesh.

“I was alone, perfectly alone, and so I crouched in a green tree, and hid myself there completely among the thick and somber branches, and I waited, clinging to the stem, like a shipwrecked man does to a plank.

“When it was quite dark, I left my refuge and began to walk softly, slowly, inaudibly, through that ground full of dead people, and I wandered about for a long time, but could not find her again. I went on with extended arms, knocking against the tombs with my hands, my feet, my knees, my chest, even with my head, without being able to find her. I touched and felt about like a blind man groping his way, I felt the stones, the crosses, the iron railings, the metal wreaths, and the wreaths of faded flowers! I read the names with my fingers, by passing them over the letters. What a night! What a night! I could not find her again!

"Graves! graves! graves! nothing but graves!
“There was no moon. What a night! I am frightened, horribly frightened in these narrow paths, between two rows of graves. Graves! graves! graves! nothing but graves! On my right, on my left, in front of me, around me, everywhere there were graves! I sat down on one of them, for I could not walk any longer, my knees were so weak. I could hear my heart beat! And I could hear something else as well. What? A confused, nameless noise. Was the noise in my head in the impenetrable night, or beneath the mysterious earth, the earth sown with human corpses? I looked all around me, but I cannot say how long I remained there; I was paralyzed with terror, drunk with fright, ready to shout out, ready to die.

“Suddenly, it seemed to me as if the slab of marble on which I was sitting, was moving. Certainly, it was moving, as if it were being raised. With a bound, I sprang on to the neighboring tomb, and I saw, yes, I distinctly saw the stone which I had just quitted, rise upright, and the dead person appeared, a naked skeleton, which was pushing the stone back with its bent back. I saw it quite clearly, although the night was so dark. On the cross I could read:
“‘Here lies Jacques Olivant, who died at the age of fifty-one. He loved his family, was kind and honorable, and died in the grace of the Lord.’

“The dead man also read what was inscribed on his tombstone; then he picked up a stone off the path, a little, pointed stone, and began to scrape the letters carefully. He slowly effaced them altogether, and with the hollows of his eyes he looked at the places where they had been engraved, and, with the tip of the bone, that had been his forefinger, he wrote in luminous letters, like those lines which one traces on walls with the tip of a lucifer match:
“‘Here reposes Jacques Olivant, who died at the age of fifty-one. He hastened his father’s death by his unkindness, as he wished to inherit his fortune, he tortured his wife, tormented his children, deceived his neighbors, robbed everyone he could, and died wretched.’

“When he had finished writing, the dead man stood motionless, looking at his work, and on turning round I saw that all the graves were open, that all the dead bodies had emerged from them, and that all had effaced the lies inscribed on the gravestones by their relations, and had substituted the truth instead. And I saw that all had been tormentors of their neighbors — malicious, dishonest, hypocrites, liars, rogues, calumniators, envious; that they had stolen, deceived, performed every disgraceful, every abominable action, these good fathers, these faithful wives, these devoted sons, these chaste daughters, these honest tradesmen, these men and women who were called irreproachable, and they were called irreproachable, and they were all writing at the same time, on the threshold of their eternal abode, the truth, the terrible and the holy truth which everybody is ignorant of, or pretends to be ignorant of, while the others are alive.

“I thought that she also must have written something on her tombstone, and now, running without any fear among the half-open coffins, among the corpses and skeletons, I went towards her, sure that I should find her immediately. I recognized her at once, without seeing her face, which was covered by the winding-sheet, and on the marble cross, where shortly before I had read: ‘She loved, was loved, and died,’ I now saw: ‘Having gone out one day, in order to deceive her lover, she caught cold in the rain and died.’”

“It appears that they found me at daybreak, lying on the grave unconscious.”

#WasItaDream #BestGhostShortStories

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Score 30% Off Andrew Barger's Books at Barnes & Noble This Weekend!



Thanksgiving Day through November 27th you get 30% off my books at Barnes & Noble using coupon code: BNBFRIDAY16 online. Plus bag free shipping on orders over $25. Happy Thanksgiving weekend for those of you in the States. Check out these great choices to use your 30% off B&N coupon:



"Anna Karenina" and "War and Peace" branded Tolstoy as one of the greatest writers in modern history. Few, however, have read his wonderful short stories. Now, in one collection, are the 20 greatest short stories of Leo Tolstoy, which give a snapshot of Russia and its people in the late nineteenth century. A fine introduction is given by Andrew Barger. Annotations are included of difficult Russian terms. There is also a Tolstoy biography at the start of the book with photos of Tolstoy's relatives.


Best Ghost Short Stories 1850-1899: A Phantasmal Ghost Anthology contains the annotated best ghost stories from the last half of the 19th century. Published in August of 2016, it includes scary short stories from popular American and Victorian authors including: Bram Stoker, M. R. James, Joseph Le Fanu, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Nesbit, and Francis Marion Crawford. The ghost story anthology is annotated and includes story backgrounds and author photos by none other than Andrew Barger. Boo!



Thanks to Edgar Allan Poe, Honore de Balzac, Nathaniel Hawthorne and others, the half century from 1800-1849 is the cradle of all modern horror short stories. Andrew Barger, the editor of this book as well as Edgar Allan Poe Annotated and Illustrated Entire Stories and Poems, read over 300 horror short stories to compile the 12 best. At the back of the book he includes a list of all short stories he considered along with their dates of publication and author, when available. He even includes background for each of the stories, author photos and annotations for difficult terminology. A number of the scary short stories were published in leading periodicals of the day such as Blackwood's and Atkinson's Casket. Read The Best Horror Short Stories 1800-1849 today!



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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Madame Crowl's Ghost by Joseph Le Fanu - Best Scary Short Story 19 in Andrew Barger's Classic Countdown


Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
(1814-1873)

For lovers of a good scary short story, let’s all tip our top hats to Charles Dickens, the author of "A Christmas Carol." He was so fixated with ghost stories that he wrote nearly twenty of them among his short stories and novels. His “No. 1 Branch Line, The Signal Man” of 1866 rises to the level of the Top Ten stories found in Best Ghost Short Stories 1850-1899: A Phantasmal Ghost Anthology. As if his many ghost stories weren’t enough for the genre, Dickens fostered the literary careers of many talented supernatural authors by publishing them in his weekly magazine—All the Year Round, including supernatural authors Wilkie Collins, Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Elizabeth Gaskell.

The best ghost story writer Dickens took under his wing, however, was Joseph Le Fanu. To say that Le Fanu was a fantastic ghost story writer is an understatement. No author had a bigger impact during the middle part of the 19th century on supernatural fiction than Irishman Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu. His female vampire story “Carmilla” (1872) highly influenced Bram Stoker when chiseling the foundations of Dracula and it is still a literary force to be reckoned with today.

His ghost stories influenced M. R. James who unabashedly placed Le Fanu “in the first rank as a writer of ghost stories.”  James acknowledged how well Le Fanu set the scene of the story, which is a key component of any frightening ghost story.

Montague Summers called Le Fanu “the supreme master of the supernatural.”

He was such an excellent supernatural story writer that Le Fanu is the only author to have stories in four of the best supernatural collections during the nineteenth century: A “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter” (1839) in BlooDeath: The Best Vampire Short Stories 1800-1849,  “Green Tea” (1872) in Best Horror Short Stories 1850-1899: A 6a66le Horror Anthology,  “Camilla” (1872), and “The Familiar” (1872) in Best Ghost Short Stories 1850-1899: A Phantasmal Ghost Anthology. Although the latter is his best ghost story, "Madame Crowl's Ghost" is, perhaps, his second best due to its chilling narrative and characters. That's why I've picked it has best ghost story 19 in my countdown.

Dickens published it anonymously on New Year's Eve, 1870 in All the Year Round. He certainly knew it was another excellent scary story by Le Fanu.



Madame Crowl's Ghost
1870

Twenty years have passed since you last saw Mrs. Jolliffe's tall slim figure. She is now past seventy, and can't have many mile-stones more to count on the journey that will bring her to her long home. The hair has grown white as snow, that is parted under her cap, over her shrewd, but kindly face. But her figure is still straight, and her step light and active.

She has taken of late years to the care of adult invalids, having surrendered to younger hands the little people who inhabit cradles, and crawl on all-fours. Those who remember that good-natured face among the earliest that emerge from the darkness of non-entity, and who owe to their first lessons in the accomplishment of walking, and a delighted appreciation of their first babblings and earliest teeth, have "spired up" into tall lads and lasses, now. Some of them shew streaks of white by this time, in brown locks, "the bonny gouden" hair, that she was so proud to brush and shew to admiring mothers, who are seen no more on the green of Golden Friars, and whose names are traced now on the flat grey stones in the church-yard.

So the time is ripening some, and searing others; and the saddening and tender sunset hour has come; and it is evening with the kind old north-country dame, who nursed pretty Laura Mildmay, who now stepping into the room, smiles so gladly, and throws her arms round the old woman's neck, and kisses her twice.

"Now, this is so lucky!" said Mrs. Jenner, "you have just come in time to hear a story."

"Really! That's delightful."

"Na, na, od wite it! no story, ouer true for that, I sid it a wi my aan eyen. But the barn here, would not like, at these hours, just goin' to her bed, to hear tell of freets and boggarts."

"Ghosts? The very thing of all others I should most likely to hear of."

"Well, dear," said Mrs. Jenner, "if you are not afraid, sit ye down here, with us."

"She was just going to tell me all about her first engagement to attend a dying old woman," says Mrs. Jenner, "and of the ghost she saw there. Now, Mrs. Jolliffe, make your tea first, and then begin."

The good woman obeyed, and having prepared a cup of that companionable nectar, she sipped a little, drew her brows slightly together to collect her thoughts, and then looked up with a wondrous solemn face to begin.

Good Mrs. Jenner, and the pretty girl, each gazed with eyes of solemn expectation in the face of the old woman, who seemed to gather awe from the recollections she was summoning.

The old room was a good scene for such a narrative, with the oak-wainscoting, quaint, and clumsy furniture, the heavy beams that crossed its ceiling, and the tall four-post bed, with dark curtains, within which you might imagine what shadows you please.

Mrs. Jolliffe cleared her voice, rolled her eyes slowly round, and began her tale in these words:--

MADAM CROWL'S GHOST

"I'm an ald woman now, and I was but thirteen, my last birthday, the night I came to Applewale House. My aunt was the housekeeper there, and a sort o' one-horse carriage was down at Lexhoe waitin' to take me and my box up to Applewale.

"I was a bit frightened by the time I got to Lexhoe, and when I saw the carriage and horse, I wished myself back again with my mother at Hazelden. I was crying when I got into the 'shay'--that's what we used to call it--and old John Mulbery that drove it, and was a good-natured fellow, bought me a handful of apples at the Golden Lion to cheer me up a bit; and he told me that there was a currant-cake, and tea, and pork-chops, waiting for me, all hot, in my aunt's room at the great house. It was a fine moonlight night, and I eat the apples, lookin' out o' the shay winda.

"It's a shame for gentlemen to frighten a poor foolish child like I was. I sometimes think it might be tricks. There was two on 'em on the tap o' the coach beside me. And they began to question me after nightfall, when the moon rose, where I was going to. Well, I told them it was to wait on Dame Arabella Crowl, of Applewale House, near by Lexhoe.

"'Ho, then,' says one of them, 'you'll not be long there!'

"And I looked at him as much as to say 'Why not?' for I had spoken out when I told them where I was goin', as if 'twas something clever I hed to say.

"'Because,' says he, 'and don't you for your life tell no one, only watch her and see--she's possessed by the devil, and more an half a ghost. Have you got a Bible?'

"'Yes, sir,' says I. For my mother put my little Bible in my box, and I knew it was there: and by the same token, though the print's too small for my ald eyes, I have it in my press to this hour.

"As I looked up at him saying 'Yes, sir,' I thought I saw him winkin' at his friend; but I could not be sure.

"'Well,' says he, 'be sure you put it under your bolster every night, it will keep the ald girl's claws aff ye.'

"And I got such a fright when he said that, you wouldn't fancy! And I'd a liked to ask him a lot about the ald lady, but I was too shy, and he and his friend began talkin' together about their own consarns, and dowly enough I got down, as I told ye, at Lexhoe. My heart sank as I drove into the dark avenue. The trees stand very thick and big, as ald as the ald house almost, and four people, with their arms out and finger-tips touchin', barely girds round some of them.

"Well my neck was stretched out o' the winda, looking for the first view o' the great house; and all at once we pulled up in front of it.

"A great white-and-black house it is, wi' great black beams across and right up it, and gables lookin' out, as white as a sheet, to the moon, and the shadows o' the trees, two or three up and down in front, you could count the leaves on them, and all the little diamond-shaped winda-panes, glimmering on the great hall winda, and great shutters, in the old fashion, hinged on the wall outside, boulted across all the rest o' the windas in front, for there was but three or four servants, and the old lady in the house, and most o' t' rooms was locked up.

"My heart was in my mouth when I sid the journey was over, and this the great house afoore me, and I sa near my aunt that I never sid till noo, and Dame Crowl, that I was come to wait upon, and was afeard on already.

"My aunt kissed me in the hall, and brought me to her room. She was tall and thin, wi' a pale face and black eyes, and long thin hands wi' black mittins on. She was past fifty, and her word was short; but her word was law. I hev no complaints to make of her; but she was a hard woman, and I think she would hev bin kinder to me if I had bin her sister's child in place of her brother's. But all that's o' no consequence noo.

"The squire--his name was Mr. Chevenix Crowl, he was Dame Crowl's grandson--came down there, by way of seeing that the old lady was well treated, about twice or thrice in the year. I sid him but twice all the time I was at Applewale House.

"I can't say but she was well taken care of, notwithstanding; but that was because my aunt and Meg Wyvern, that was her maid, had a conscience, and did their duty by her.

"Mrs. Wyvern--Meg Wyvern my aunt called her to herself, and Mrs. Wyvern to me--was a fat, jolly lass of fifty, a good height and a good breadth, always good-humoured and walked slow. She had fine wages, but she was a bit stingy, and kept all her fine clothes under lock and key, and wore, mostly, a twilled chocolate cotton, wi' red, and yellow, and green sprigs and balls on it, and it lasted wonderful.

"She never gave me nout, not the vally o' a brass thimble, all the time I was there; but she was good-humoured, and always laughin', and she talked no end o' proas over her tea; and, seeing me sa sackless and dowly, she roused me up wi' her laughin' and stories; and I think I liked her better than my aunt--children is so taken wi' a bit o' fun or a story--though my aunt was very good to me, but a hard woman about some things, and silent always.

"My aunt took me into her bed-chamber, that I might rest myself a bit while she was settin' the tea in her room. But first, she patted me on the shouther, and said I was a tall lass o' my years, and had spired up well, and asked me if I could do plain work and stitchin'; and she looked in my face, and said I was like my father, her brother, that was dead and gone, and she hoped I was a better Christian, and wad na du a' that lids (would not do anything of that sort).

"It was a hard sayin' the first time I set foot in her room, I thought.

"When I went into the next room, the housekeeper's room--very comfortable, yak (oak) all round--there was a fine fire blazin' away, wi' coal, and peat, and wood, all in a low together, and tea on the table, and hot cake, and smokin' meat; and there was Mrs. Wyvern, fat, jolly, and talkin' away, more in an hour than my aunt would in a year.

"While I was still at my tea my aunt went up-stairs to see Madam Crowl.

"'She's agone up to see that old Judith Squailes is awake,' says Mrs. Wyvern. 'Judith sits with Madam Crowl when me and Mrs. Shutters'--that was my aunt's name--'is away. She's a troublesome old lady. Ye'll hev to be sharp wi' her, or she'll be into the fire, or out o' t' winda. She goes on wires, she does, old though she be.'

"'How old, ma'am?' says I.

"'Ninety-three her last birthday, and that's eight months gone,' says she; and she laughed. 'And don't be askin' questions about her before your aunt--mind, I tell ye; just take her as you find her, and that's all.'

"'And what's to be my business about her, please, ma'am?' says I.

"'About the old lady? Well,' says she, 'your aunt, Mrs. Shutters, will tell you that; but I suppose you'll hev to sit in the room with your work, and see she's at no mischief, and let her amuse herself with her things on the table, and get her her food or drink as she calls for it, and keep her out o' mischief, and ring the bell hard if she's troublesome.'

"'Is she deaf, ma'am?'

"'No, nor blind,' says she; 'as sharp as a needle, but she's gone quite aupy, and can't remember nout rightly; and Jack the Giant Killer, or Goody Twoshoes will please her as well as the king's court, or the affairs of the nation.'

"'And what did the little girl go away for, ma'am, that went on Friday last? My aunt wrote to my mother she was to go.'

"'Yes; she's gone.'

"'What for?' says I again.

"'She didn't answer Mrs. Shutters, I do suppose,' says she. 'I don't know. Don't be talkin'; your aunt can't abide a talkin' child.'

"'And please, ma'am, is the old lady well in health?' says I.

"'It ain't no harm to ask that,' says she. 'She's torflin a bit lately, but better this week past, and I dare say she'll last out her hundred years yet. Hish! Here's your aunt coming down the passage.'

"In comes my aunt, and begins talkin' to Mrs. Wyvern, and I, beginnin' to feel more comfortable and at home like, was walkin' about the room lookin' at this thing and at that. There was pretty old china things on the cupboard, and pictures again the wall; and there was a door open in the wainscot, and I sees a queer old leathern jacket, wi' straps and buckles to it, and sleeves as long as the bed-post hangin' up inside.

"'What's that you're at, child?' says my aunt, sharp enough, turning about when I thought she least minded. 'What's that in your hand?'

"'This, ma'am?' says I, turning about with the leathern jacket. 'I don't know what it is, ma'am.'

"Pale as she was, the red came up in her cheeks, and her eyes flashed wi' anger, and I think only she had half a dozen steps to take, between her and me, she'd a gev me a sizzup. But she did gie me a shake by the shouther, and she plucked the thing out o' my hand, and says she, 'While ever you stay here, don't ye meddle wi' nout that don't belong to ye', and she hung it up on the pin that was there, and shut the door wi' a bang and locked it fast.

"Mrs. Wyvern was liftin' up her hands and laughin' all this time, quietly, in her chair, rolling herself a bit in it, as she used when she was kinkin'.

"The tears was in my eyes, and she winked at my aunt, and says she, dryin' her own eyes that was wet wi' the laughin', 'Tut, the child meant no harm--come here to me, child. It's only a pair o' crutches for lame ducks, and ask us no questions mind, and we'll tell ye no lies; and come here and sit down, and drink a mug o' beer before ye go to your bed.'

"My room, mind ye, was upstairs, next to the old lady's, and Mrs. Wyvern's bed was near hers in her room, and I was to be ready at call, if need should be.

"The old lady was in one of her tantrums that night and part of the day before. She used to take fits o' the sulks. Sometimes she would not let them dress her, and at other times she would not let them take her clothes off. She was a great beauty, they said, in her day. But there was no one about Applewale that remembered her in her prime. And she was dreadful fond o' dress, and had thick silks, and stiff satins, and velvets, and laces, and all sorts, enough to set up seven shops at the least. All her dresses was old-fashioned and queer, but worth a fortune.

"Well, I went to my bed. I lay for a while awake; for a' things was new to me; and I think the tea was in my nerves, too, for I wasn't used to it, except now and then on a holiday, or the like. And I heard Mrs. Wyvern talkin', and I listened with my hand to my ear; but I could not hear Mrs. Crowl, and I don't think she said a word.

"There was great care took of her. The people at Applewale knew that when she died they would every one get the sack; and their situations was well paid and easy.

"The doctor came twice a week to see the old lady, and you may be sure they all did as he bid them. One thing was the same every time; they were never to cross or frump her, any way, but to humour and please her in everything.

"So she lay in her clothes all that night, and next day, not a word she said, and I was at my needlework all that day, in my own room, except when I went down to my dinner.

"I would a liked to see the ald lady, and even to hear her speak. But she might as well a' bin in Lunnon a' the time for me.

"When I had my dinner my aunt sent me out for a walk for an hour. I was glad when I came back, the trees was so big, and the place so dark and lonesome, and 'twas a cloudy day, and I cried a deal, thinkin' of home, while I was walkin' alone there. That evening, the candles bein' alight, I was sittin' in my room, and the door was open into Madam Crowl's chamber, where my aunt was. It was, then, for the first time I heard what I suppose was the ald lady talking.

"It was a queer noise like, I couldn't well say which, a bird, or a beast, only it had a bleatin' sound in it, and was very small.

"I pricked my ears to hear all I could. But I could not make out one word she said. And my aunt answered:

"'The evil one can't hurt no one, ma'am, bout the Lord permits.'

"Then the same queer voice from the bed says something more that I couldn't make head nor tail on.

"And my aunt med answer again: 'Let them pull faces, ma'am, and say what they will; if the Lord be for us, who can be against us?'

"I kept listenin' with my ear turned to the door, holdin' my breath, but not another word or sound came in from the room. In about twenty minutes, as I was sittin' by the table, lookin' at the pictures in the old Aesop's Fables, I was aware o' something moving at the door, and lookin' up I sid my aunt's face lookin' in at the door, and her hand raised.

"'Hish!' says she, very soft, and comes over to me on tiptoe, and she says in a whisper: 'Thank God, she's asleep at last, and don't ye make no noise till I come back, for I'm goin' down to take my cup o' tea, and I'll be back i' noo--me and Mrs. Wyvern, and she'll be sleepin' in the room, and you can run down when we come up, and Judith will gie ye yaur supper in my room.'

"And with that she goes.

"I kep' looking at the picture-book, as before, listenin' every noo and then, but there was no sound, not a breath, that I could hear; an' I began whisperin' to the pictures and talkin' to myself to keep my heart up, for I was growin' feared in that big room.

"And at last up I got, and began walkin' about the room, lookin' at this and peepin' at that, to amuse my mind, ye'll understand. And at last what sud I do but peeps into Madam Crowl's bedchamber.

"A grand chamber it was, wi' a great four-poster, wi' flowered silk curtains as tall as the ceilin', and foldin' down on the floor, and drawn close all round. There was a lookin'-glass, the biggest I ever sid before, and the room was a blaze o' light. I counted twenty-two wax candles, all alight. Such was her fancy, and no one dared say her nay.

"I listened at the door, and gaped and wondered all round. When I heard there was not a breath, and did not see so much as a stir in the curtains, I took heart, and walked into the room on tiptoe, and looked round again. Then I takes a keek at myself in the big glass; and at last it came in my head, 'Why couldn't I ha' a keek at the ald lady herself in the bed?

"Ye'd think me a fule if ye knew half how I longed to see Dame Crowl, and I thought to myself if I didn't peep now I might wait many a day before I got so gude a chance again.

"Well, my dear, I came to the side o' the bed, the curtains bein' close, and my heart a'most failed me. But I took courage, and I slips my finger in between the thick curtains, and then my hand. So I waits a bit, but all was still as death. So, softly, softly I draws the curtain, and there, sure enough, I sid before me, stretched out like the painted lady on the tomb-stean in Lexhoe Church, the famous Dame Crowl, of Applewale House. There she was, dressed out. You never sid the like in they days. Satin and silk, and scarlet and green, and gold and pint lace; by Jen! 'twas a sight! A big powdered wig, half as high as herself, was a-top o' her head, and, wow!--was ever such wrinkles?--and her old baggy throat all powdered white, and her cheeks rouged, and mouse-skin eyebrows, that Mrs. Wyvern used to stick on, and there she lay proud and stark, wi' a pair o' clocked silk hose on, and heels to her shoon as tall as nine-pins. Lawk! But her nose was crooked and thin, and half the whites o' her eyes was open. She used to stand, dressed as she was, gigglin' and dribblin' before the lookin'-glass, wi' a fan in her hand and a big nosegay in her bodice. Her wrinkled little hands was stretched down by her sides, and such long nails, all cut into points, I never sid in my days. Could it even a bin the fashion for grit fowk to wear their fingernails so?

"Well, I think ye'd a-bin frightened yourself if ye'd a sid such a sight. I couldn't let go the curtain, nor move an inch, nor take my eyes off her; my very heart stood still. And in an instant she opens her eyes and up she sits, and spins herself round, and down wi' her, wi' a clack on her two tall heels on the floor, facin' me, ogglin' in my face wi' her two great glassy eyes, and a wicked simper wi' her wrinkled lips, and lang fause teeth.

"Well, a corpse is a natural thing; but this was the dreadfullest sight I ever sid. She had her fingers straight out pointin' at me, and her back was crooked, round again wi' age. Says she:

"'Ye little limb! what for did ye say I killed the boy? I'll tickle ye till ye're stiff!'

"If I'd a thought an instant, I'd a turned about and run. But I couldn't take my eyes off her, and I backed from her as soon as I could; and she came clatterin' after like a thing on wires, with her fingers pointing to my throat, and she makin' all the time a sound with her tongue like zizz-zizz-zizz.

"I kept backin' and backin' as quick as I could, and her fingers was only a few inches away from my throat, and I felt I'd lose my wits if she touched me.

"I went back this way, right into the corner, and I gev a yellock, ye'd think saul and body was partin', and that minute my aunt, from the door, calls out wi' a blare, and the ald lady turns round on her, and I turns about, and ran through my room, and down the stairs, as hard as my legs could carry me.

"I cried hearty, I can tell you, when I got down to the housekeeper's room. Mrs. Wyvern laughed a deal when I told her what happened. But she changed her key when she heard the ald lady's words.

"'Say them again,' says she.

"So I told her.

"'Ye little limb! What for did ye say I killed the boy? I'll tickle ye till ye're stiff.'

"'And did ye say she killed a boy?' says she.

"'Not I, ma'am,' says I.

"Judith was always up with me, after that, when the two elder women was away from her. I would a jumped out at winda, rather than stay alone in the same room wi' her.

"It was about a week after, as well as I can remember, Mrs. Wyvern, one day when me and her was alone, told me a thing about Madam Crowl that I did not know before.

"She being young and a great beauty, full seventy year before, had married Squire Crowl, of Applewale. But he was a widower, and had a son about nine years old.

"There never was tale or tidings of this boy after one mornin'. No one could say where he went to. He was allowed too much liberty, and used to be off in the morning, one day, to the keeper's cottage and breakfast wi' him, and away to the warren, and not home, mayhap, till evening; and another time down to the lake, and bathe there, and spend the day fishin' there, or paddlin' about in the boat. Well, no one could say what was gone wi' him; only this, that his hat was found by the lake, under a haathorn that grows thar to this day, and 'twas thought he was drowned bathin'. And the squire's son, by his second marriage, with this Madam Crowl that lived sa dreadful lang, came in far the estates. It was his son, the ald lady's grandson, Squire Chevenix Crowl, that owned the estates at the time I came to Applewale.

"There was a deal o' talk lang before my aunt's time about it; and 'twas said the step-mother knew more than she was like to let out. And she managed her husband, the ald squire, wi' her white-heft and flatteries. And as the boy was never seen more, in course of time the thing died out of fowks' minds.

"I'm goin' to tell ye noo about what I sid wi' my own een.

"I was not there six months, and it was winter time, when the ald lady took her last sickness.

"The doctor was afeard she might a took a fit o' madness, as she did fifteen years befoore, and was buckled up, many a time, in a strait-waistcoat, which was the very leathern jerkin I sid in the closet, off my aunt's room.

"Well, she didn't. She pined, and windered, and went off, torflin', torflin', quiet enough, till a day or two before her flittin', and then she took to rabblin', and sometimes skirlin' in the bed, ye'd think a robber had a knife to her throat, and she used to work out o' the bed, and not being strong enough, then, to walk or stand, she'd fall on the flure, wi' her ald wizened hands stretched before her face, and skirlin' still for mercy.

"Ye may guess I didn't go into the room, and I used to be shiverin' in my bed wi' fear, at her skirlin' and scrafflin' on the flure, and blarin' out words that id make your skin turn blue.

"My aunt, and Mrs. Wyvern, and Judith Squailes, and a woman from Lexhoe, was always about her. At last she took fits, and they wore her out.

"T' sir was there, and prayed for her; but she was past praying with. I suppose it was right, but none could think there was much good in it, and sa at lang last she made her flittin', and a' was over, and old Dame Crowl was shrouded and coffined, and Squire Chevenix was wrote for. But he was away in France, and the delay was sa lang, that t' sir and doctor both agreed it would not du to keep her langer out o' her place, and no one cared but just them two, and my aunt and the rest o' us, from Applewale, to go to the buryin'. So the old lady of Applewale was laid in the vault under Lexhoe Church; and we lived up at the great house till such time as the squire should come to tell his will about us, and pay off such as he chose to discharge.

"I was put into another room, two doors away from what was Dame Crowl's chamber, after her death, and this thing happened the night before Squire Chevenix came to Applewale.

"The room I was in now was a large square chamber, covered wi' yak pannels, but unfurnished except for my bed, which had no curtains to it, and a chair and a table, or so, that looked nothing at all in such a big room. And the big looking-glass, that the old lady used to keek into and admire herself from head to heel, now that there was na mair o' that wark, was put out of the way, and stood against the wall in my room, for there was shiftin' o' many things in her chamber ye may suppose, when she came to be coffined.

"The news had come that day that the squire was to be down next morning at Applewale; and not sorry was I, for I thought I was sure to be sent home again to my mother. And right glad was I, and I was thinkin' of a' at hame, and my sister Janet, and the kitten and the pymag, and Trimmer the tike, and all the rest, and I got sa fidgetty, I couldn't sleep, and the clock struck twelve, and me wide awake, and the room as dark as pick. My back was turned to the door, and my eyes toward the wall opposite.

"Well, it could na be a full quarter past twelve, when I sees a lightin' on the wall befoore me, as if something took fire behind, and the shadas o' the bed, and the chair, and my gown, that was hangin' from the wall, was dancin' up and down on the ceilin' beams and the yak pannels; and I turns my head ower my shouther quick, thinkin' something must a gone a' fire.

"And what sud I see, by Jen! but the likeness o' the ald beldame, bedizened out in her satins and velvets, on her dead body, simperin', wi' her eyes as wide as saucers, and her face like the fiend himself. 'Twas a red light that rose about her in a fuffin low, as if her dress round her feet was blazin'. She was drivin' on right for me, wi' her ald shrivelled hands crooked as if she was goin' to claw me. I could not stir, but she passed me straight by, wi' a blast o' cald air, and I sid her, at the wall, in the alcove as my aunt used to call it, which was a recess where the state bed used to stand in ald times wi' a door open wide, and her hands gropin' in at somethin' was there. I never sid that door befoore. And she turned round to me, like a thing on a pivot, flyrin', and all at once the room was dark, and I standin' at the far side o' the bed; I don't know how I got there, and I found my tongue at last, and if I did na blare a yellock, rennin' down the gallery and almost pulled Mrs. Wyvern's door off t' hooks, and frighted her half out o' wits.

"Ye may guess I did na sleep that night; and wi' the first light, down wi' me to my aunt, as fast as my two legs cud carry me.

"Well my aunt did na frump or flite me, as I thought she would, but she held me by the hand, and looked hard in my face all the time. And she telt me not to be feared; and says she:

"'Hed the appearance a key in its hand?'

"'Yes,' says I, bringin' it to mind, 'a big key in a queer brass handle.'

"'Stop a bit,' says she, lettin' go ma hand, and openin' the cupboard-door. 'Was it like this?' says she, takin' one out in her fingers, and showing it to me, with a dark look in my face.

"'That was it,' says I, quick enough.

"'Are ye sure?' she says, turnin' it round.

"'Sart,' says I, and I felt like I was gain' to faint when I sid it.

"'Well, that will do, child,' says she, saftly thinkin', and she locked it up again.

"'The squire himself will be here today, before twelve o'clock, and ye must tell him all about it,' says she, thinkin', 'and I suppose I'll be leavin' soon, and so the best thing for the present is, that ye should go home this afternoon, and I'll look out another place for you when I can.'

"Fain was I, ye may guess, at that word.

"My aunt packed up my things for me, and the three pounds that was due to me, to bring home, and Squire Crowl himself came down to Applewale that day, a handsome man, about thirty years ald. It was the second time I sid him. But this was the first time he spoke to me.

"My aunt talked wi' him in the housekeeper's room, and I don't know what they said. I was a bit feared on the squire, he bein' a great gentleman down in Lexhoe, and I darn't go near till I was called. And says he, smilin':

"'What's a' this ye a sen, child? it mun be a dream, for ye know there's na sic a thing as a bo or a freet in a' the world. But whatever it was, ma little maid, sit ye down and tell all about it from first to last.'

"Well, so soon as I made an end, he thought a bit, and says he to my aunt:

"'I mind the place well. In old Sir Olivur's time lame Wyndel told me there was a door in that recess, to the left, where the lassie dreamed she saw my grandmother open it. He was past eighty when he told me that, and I but a boy. It's twenty year sen. The plate and jewels used to be kept there, long ago, before the iron closet was made in the arras chamber, and he told me the key had a brass handle, and this ye say was found in the bottom o' the kist where she kept her old fans. Now, would not it be a queer thing if we found some spoons or diamonds forgot there? Ye mun come up wi' us, lassie, and point to the very spot.'

"Loth was I, and my heart in my mouth, and fast I held by my aunt's hand as I stept into that awsome room, and showed them both how she came and passed me by, and the spot where she stood, and where the door seemed to open.

"There was an ald empty press against the wall then, and shoving it aside, sure enough there was the tracing of a door in the wainscot, and a keyhole stopped with wood, and planed across as smooth as the rest, and the joining of the door all stopped wi' putty the colour o' yak, and, but for the hinges that showed a bit when the press was shoved aside, ye would not consayt there was a door there at all.

"'Ha!' says he, wi' a queer smile, 'this looks like it.'

"It took some minutes wi' a small chisel and hammer to pick the bit o' wood out o' the keyhole. The key fitted, sure enough, and, wi' a strang twist and a lang skreak, the boult went back and he pulled the door open.

"There was another door inside, stranger than the first, but the lacks was gone, and it opened easy. Inside was a narrow floor and walls and vault o' brick; we could not see what was in it, for 'twas dark as pick.

"When my aunt had lighted the candle, the squire held it up and stept in.

"My aunt stood on tiptoe tryin' to look over his shouther, and I did na see nout.

"'Ha! ha!' says the squire, steppin' backward. 'What's that? Gi' ma the poker--quick!' says he to my aunt. And as she went to the hearth I peeps beside his arm, and I sid squat down in the far corner a monkey or a flayin' on the chest, or else the maist shrivelled up, wizzened ald wife that ever was sen on yearth.

"'By Jen!' says my aunt, as puttin' the poker in his hand, she keeked by his shouther, and sid the ill-favoured thing, 'hae a care, sir, what ye're doin'. Back wi' ye, and shut to the door!'

"But in place o' that he steps in saftly, wi' the poker pointed like a swoord, and he gies it a poke, and down it a' tumbles together, head and a', in a heap o' bayans and dust, little meyar an' a hatful.

"'Twas the bayans o' a child; a' the rest went to dust at a touch. They said nout for a while, but he turns round the skull, as it lay on the floor.

"Young as I was, I consayted I knew well enough what they was thinkin' on.

"'A dead cat!' says he, pushin' back and blowin' out the can'le, and shuttin' to the door. 'We'll come back, you and me, Mrs. Shutters, and look on the shelves by-and-bye. I've other matters first to speak to ye about; and this little girl's goin' hame, ye say. She has her wages, and I mun mak' her a present,' says he, pattin' my shouther wi' his hand.

"And he did gimma a goud pound and I went aff to Lexhoe about an hour after, and sa hame by the stage-coach, and fain was I to be at hame again; and I never sid Dame Crowl o' Applewale, God be thanked, either in appearance or in dream, at-efter. But when I was grown to be a woman, my aunt spent a day and night wi' me at Littleham, and she telt me there was no doubt it was the poor little boy that was missing sa lang sen, that was shut up to die thar in the dark by that wicked beldame, whar his skirls, or his prayers, or his thumpin' cud na be heard, and his hat was left by the water's edge, whoever did it, to mak' belief he was drowned. The clothes, at the first touch, a' ran into a snuff o' dust in the cell whar the bayans was found. But there was a handful o' jet buttons, and a knife with a green heft, together wi' a couple o' pennies the poor little fella had in his pocket, I suppose, when he was decoyed in thar, and sid his last o' the light. And there was, amang the squire's papers, a copy o' the notice that was prented after he was lost, when the ald squire thought he might 'a run away, or bin took by gipsies, and it said he had a green-hefted knife wi' him, and that his buttons were o' cut jet. Sa that is a' I hev to say consarnin' ald Dame Crowl, o' Applewale House."

http://www.AndrewBarger.com


#MadameCrowlsGhost #JosephLeFanu

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Roll-Call of the Reef by A. T. Quiller-Couch, Best Ghost Short Story #20 from 1850-1899

Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
(1863-1944)

A. T. Quiller-Couch was born of Cornwall intellectuals in Cornwall (the proboscis of England). He was a folklorist and historian just like his sisters Lilian and Florence, and his physician father before him. Quiller-Couch, however, became the most famous of them all by using his pen. The Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 contained the collected poems of Britain's most famous poets and sold over 500,000 copies. It was his most popular work, unless you consider the ghost short story genre.

His "Roll-Call of the Reef" was published five years before The Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900, in 1895. The scary short story appeared in the July issue of McClure Magazine. It was his best ghost story and works in elements from the sea to great effect. I'm picking it as #20 in my countdown of the best ghost short stories from 1850-1899 with the top ten in my new anthology Best Ghost Short Stories 1850-1899: A Phantasmal Ghost Anthology.



THE ROLL-CALL OF THE REEF


"Yes, sir," said my host, the quarryman, reaching down the relics from
their hook in the wall over the chimneypiece; "they've hung here all my
time, and most of my father's. The women won't touch 'em; they're afraid
of the story. So here they'll dangle, and gather dust and smoke, till
another tenant comes and tosses 'em out o' doors for rubbish. Whew! 'tis
coarse weather, surely."

He went to the door, opened it, and stood studying the gale that beat
upon his cottage-front, straight from the Manacle Reef. The rain drove
past him into the kitchen, aslant like threads of gold silk in the shine
of the wreck-wood fire. Meanwhile, by the same firelight, I examined the
relics on my knee. The metal of each was tarnished out of knowledge. But
the trumpet was evidently an old cavalry trumpet, and the threads of
its party-colored sling, though fretted and dusty, still hung together.
Around the side-drum, beneath its cracked brown varnish. I could
hardly trace a royal coat-of-arms and a legend running, "Per Mare Per
Terrain"--the motto of the marines. Its parchment, though black and
scented with wood-smoke, was limp and mildewed; and I began to tighten
up the straps--under which the drumsticks had been loosely thrust--with
the idle purpose of trying if some music might be got out of the old
drum yet.

But as I turned it on my knee, I found the drum attached to the
trumpet-sling by a curious barrel-shaped padlock, and paused to examine
this. The body of the lock was composed of half a dozen brass rings,
set accurately edge to edge; and, rubbing the brass with my thumb, I saw
that each of the six had a series of letters engraved around it.

I knew the trick of it, I thought. Here was one of those word padlocks,
once so common; only to be opened by getting the rings to spell a
certain word, which the dealer confides to you.

My host shut and barred the door, and came back to the hearth.

"'Twas just such a wind--east by south--that brought in what you've got
between your hands. Back in the year 'nine, it was; my father has told
me the tale a score o' times. You're twisting round the rings, I see.
But you'll never guess the word. Parson Kendall, he made the word, and
he locked down a couple o' ghosts in their graves with it; and when his
time came he went to his own grave and took the word with him."

"Whose ghosts, Matthew?"

"You want the story, I see, sir. My father could tell it better than I
can. He was a young man in the year 'nine, unmarried at the time, and
living in this very cottage, just as I be. That's how he came to get
mixed up with the tale."

He took a chair, lighted a short pipe, and went on, with his eyes fixed
on the dancing violet flames:

"Yes, he'd ha' been about thirty year old in January, eighteen 'nine.
The storm got up in the night o' the twenty-first o' that month. My
father was dressed and out long before daylight; he never was one to
bide in bed, let be that the gale by this time was pretty near lifting
the thatch over his head. Besides which, he'd fenced a small 'taty-patch
that winter, down by Lowland Point, and he wanted to see if it stood the
night's work. He took the path across Gunner's Meadow--where they buried
most of the bodies afterward. The wind was right in his teeth at the
time, and once on the way (he's told me this often) a great strip of
oarweed came flying through the darkness and fetched him a slap on the
cheek like a cold hand. But he made shift pretty well till he got to
Lowland, and then had to drop upon hands and knees and crawl, digging
his fingers every now and then into the shingle to hold on, for he
declared to me that the stones, some of them as big as a man's head,
kept rolling and driving past till it seemed the whole foreshore was
moving westward under him. The fence was gone, of course; not a stick
left to show where it stood; so that, when first he came to the place,
he thought he must have missed his bearings. My father, sir, was a
very religious man; and if he reckoned the end of the world was at
hand--there in the great wind and night, among the moving stones--you
may believe he was certain of it when he heard a gun fired, and, with
the same, saw a flame shoot up out of the darkness to windward, making
a sudden fierce light in all the place about. All he could find to
think or say was, 'The Second Coming! The Second Coming! The Bridegroom
cometh, and the wicked He will toss like a ball into a large country';
and being already upon his knees, he just bowed his head and 'bided,
saying this over and over.

"But by'm by, between two squalls, he made bold to lift his head and
look, and then by the light--a bluish color 'twas--he saw all the coast
clear away to Manacle Point, and off the Manacles in the thick of the
weather, a sloop-of-war with topgallants housed, driving stern foremost
toward the reef. It was she, of course, that was burning the flare. My
father could see the white streak and the ports of her quite plain
as she rose to it, a little outside the breakers, and he guessed easy
enough that her captain had just managed to wear ship and was trying to
force her nose to the sea with the help of her small bower anchor and
the scrap or two of canvas that hadn't yet been blown out of her. But
while he looked, she fell off, giving her broadside to it foot by foot,
and drifting back on the breakers around Cam Du and the Varses. The
rocks lie so thick thereabout that 'twas a toss up which she struck
first; at any rate, my father could'nt tell at the time, for just then
the flare died down and went out.

"Well, sir, he turned then in the dark and started back for Coverack to
cry the dismal tidings--though well knowing ship and crew to be past any
hope, and as he turned the wind lifted him and tossed him forward 'like
a ball,' as he'd been saying, and homeward along the foreshore. As
you know, 'tis ugly work, even by daylight, picking your way among the
stones there, and my father was prettily knocked about at first in
the dark. But by this 'twas nearer seven than six o'clock, and the day
spreading. By the time he reached North Corner, a man could see to read
print; hows'ever, he looked neither out to sea nor toward Coverack, but
headed straight for the first cottage--the same that stands above North
Corner to-day. A man named Billy Ede lived there then, and when my
father burst into the kitchen bawling, 'Wreck! wreck!' he saw Billy
Ede's wife, Ann, standing there in her clogs with a shawl over her head,
and her clothes wringing wet.

"'Save the chap!' says Billy Ede's wife, Ann.

"'What d'ee mean by crying stale fish at that rate?'

"'But 'tis a wreck, I tell 'ee.'

"'Ive a-zeed 'n, too; and so has every one with an eye in his head.'

"And with that she pointed straight over my father's shoulder, and he
turned; and there, close under Dolor Point, at the end of Coverack town,
he saw another wreck washing, and the point black with people, like
emmets, running to and fro in the morning light. While he stood staring
at her, he heard a trumpet sounded on board, the notes coming in little
jerks, like a bird rising against the wind; but faintly, of course,
because of the distance and the gale blowing--though this had dropped a
little.

"'She's a transport,' said Billy Ede's wife, Ann, 'and full of
horse-soldiers, fine long men. When she struck they must ha' pitched the
horses over first to lighten the ship, for a score of dead horses had
washed in afore I left, half an hour back. An' three or four soldiers,
too--fine long corpses in white breeches and jackets of blue and gold. I
held the lantern to one. Such a straight young man!'

"My father asked her about the trumpeting.

"'That's the queerest bit of all. She was burnin' a light when me an'
my man joined the crowd down there. All her masts had gone; whether they
carried away, or were cut away to ease her, I don't rightly know. Her
keelson was broke under her and her bottom sagged and stove, and she
had just settled down like a sitting hen--just the leastest list to
starboard; but a man could stand there easy. They had rigged up ropes
across her, from bulwark to bulwark, an' besides these the men were
mustered, holding on like grim death whenever the sea made a clean
breach over them, an' standing up like heroes as soon as it passed. The
captain an' the officers were clinging to the rail of the quarterdeck,
all in their golden uniforms, waiting for the end as if 'twas King
George they expected. There was no way to help, for she lay right beyond
cast of line, though our folk tried it fifty times. And beside them
clung a trumpeter, a whacking big man, an' between the heavy seas he
would lift his trumpet with one hand, and blow a call; and every time he
blew the men gave a cheer. There [she says]--hark 'ee now--there he
goes agen! But you won't hear no cheering any more, for few are left to
cheer, and their voices weak. Bitter cold the wind is, and I reckon
it numbs their grip o' the ropes, for they were dropping off fast with
every sea when my man sent me home to get his breakfast. Another
wreck, you say? Well, there's no hope for the tender dears, if 'tis the
Manacles. You'd better run down and help yonder; though 'tis little help
any man can give. Not one came in alive while I was there. The tide's
flowing, an' she won't hold together another hour, they say.'

"Well, sure enough, the end was coming fast when my father got down to
the point. Six men had been cast up alive, or just breathing--a seaman
and five troopers. The seaman was the only one that had breath to speak;
and while they were carrying him into the town, the word went round
that the ship's name was the 'Despatch,' transport, homeward-bound
from Corunna, with a detachment of the Seventh Hussars, that had been
fighting out there with Sir John Moore. The seas had rolled her further
over by this time, and given her decks a pretty sharp slope; but a dozen
men still held on, seven by the ropes near the ship's waist, a couple
near the break of the poop, and three on the quarterdeck. Of these three
my father made out one to be the skipper; close by him clung an
officer in full regimentals--his name, they heard after, was Captain
Dun-canfield; and last came the tall trumpeter; and if you'll believe
me, the fellow was making shift there, at the very last, to blow 'God
Save the King.' What's more, he got to 'Send us victorious,' before an
extra big sea came bursting across and washed them off the deck--every
man but one of the pair beneath the poop--and he dropped his hold before
the next wave; being stunned, I reckon. The others went out of sight at
once, but the trumpeter--being, as I said, a powerful man as well as a
tough swimmer--rose like a duck, rode out a couple of breakers, and came
in on the crest of the third. The folks looked to see him broke like
an egg at their very feet; but when the smother cleared, there he was,
lying face downward on a ledge below them; and one of the men that
happened to have a rope round him--I forgot the fellow's name, if I ever
heard it--jumped down and grabbed him by the ankle as he began to slip
back. Before the next big sea, the pair were hauled high enough to be
out of harm, and another heave brought them up to grass. Quick work, but
master trumpeter wasn't quite dead; nothing worse than a cracked head
and three staved ribs. In twenty minutes or so they had him in bed, with
the doctor to tend him.

"Now was the time--nothing being left alive upon the transport--for my
father to tell of the sloop he'd seen driving upon the Manacles. And
when he got a hearing, though the most were set upon salvage, and
believed a wreck in the hand, so to say, to be worth half a dozen they
couldn't see, a good few volunteered to start off with him and have a
look. They crossed Lowland Point; no ship to be seen on the Manacles
nor anywhere upon the sea. One or two was for calling my father a liar.
'Wait till we come to Dean Point,' said he. Sure enough, on the far side
of Dean Pont they found the sloop's mainmast washing about with half a
dozen men lashed to it, men in red jackets, every mother's son drowned
and staring; and a little further on, just under the Dean, three or four
bodies cast up on the shore, one of them a small drummer-boy, side-drum
and all; and near by part of a ship's gig, with 'H.M.S. Primrose' cut
on the stern-board. From this point on the shore was littered thick with
wreckage and dead bodies--the most of them marines in uniform--and in
Godrevy Cove, in particular, a heap of furniture from the captain's
cabin, and among it a water-tight box, not much damaged, and full of
papers, by which, when it came to be examined, next day, the wreck was
easily made out to be the 'Primrose,' of eighteen guns, outward bound
from Portsmouth, with a fleet of transports for the Spanish war--thirty
sail, I've heard, but I've never heard what became of them. Being
handled by merchant skippers, no doubt they rode out the gale, and
reached the Tagus safe and sound. Not but what the captain of the
'Primrose'--Mein was his name--did quite right to try and club-haul his
vessel when he found himself under the land; only he never ought to have
got there, if he took proper soundings. But it's easy talking.

"The 'Primrose,' sir, was a handsome vessel--for her size one of the
handsomest in the King's service'--and newly fitted out at Plymouth
Dock. So the boys had brave pickings from her in the way of brass-work,
ship's instruments, and the like, let alone some barrels of stores not
much spoiled. They loaded themselves with as much as they could carry,
and started for home, meaning to make a second journey before the
preventive men got wind of their doings, and came to spoil the fun.
'Hullo!' says my father, and dropped his gear, 'I do believe there's
a leg moving?' and running fore, he stooped over the small drummer-boy
that I told you about. The poor little chap was lying there, with his
face a mass of bruises, and his eyes closed; but he had shifted one
leg an inch or two, and was still breathing. So my father pulled out a
knife, and cut him free from his drum--that was lashed on to him with a
double turn of Manila rope--and took him up and carried him along here
to this very room that we're sitting in. He lost a good deal by this;
for when he went back to fetch the bundle he'd dropped, the preventive
men had got hold of it, and were thick as thieves along the foreshore;
so that 'twas only by paying one or two to look the other way that he
picked up anything worth carrying off: which you'll allow to be hard,
seeing that he was the first man to give news of the Wreck.

"Well, the inquiry was held, of course, and my father gave evidence, and
for the rest they had to trust to the sloop's papers, for not a soul was
saved besides the drummer-boy, and he was raving in a fever, brought on
by the cold and the fright. And the seaman and the five troopers gave
evidence about the loss of the 'Despatch,' The tall trumpeter, too,
whose ribs were healing, came forward and kissed the book; but somehow
his head had been hurt in coming ashore, and he talked foolish-like, and
'twas easy seen he would never be a proper man again. The others were
taken up to Plymouth, and so went their ways; but the trumpeter stayed
on in Coverack; and King George, finding he was fit for nothing, sent
him down a trifle of a pension after a while-enough to keep him in board
and lodging, with a bit of tobacco over.

"Now the first time that this man--William Tallifer he called
himself--met with the drummer-boy, was about a fortnight after the
little chap had bettered enough to be allowed a short walk out of doors,
which he took, if you please, in full regimentals. There never was a
soldier so proud of his dress. His own suit had shrunk a brave bit with
the salt water; but into ordinary frock an' corduroys he declared he
would not get, not if he had to go naked the rest of his life; so my
father--being a good-natured man, and handy with the needle--turned to
and repaired damages with a piece or two of scarlet cloth cut from the
jacket of one of the drowned Marines. Well, the poor little chap chanced
to be standing, in this rig out, down by the gate of Gunner's Meadow,
where they had buried two score and over of his comrades. The morning
was a fine one, early in March month; and along came the cracked
trumpeter, likewise taking a stroll.

"'Hullo!' says he; 'good mornin'! And what might you be doin' here?'

"'I was a-wishin',' says the boy, 'I had a pair o' drumsticks. Our lads
were buried yonder without so much as a drum tapped or a musket fired;
and that's not Christian burial for British soldiers.'

"'Phut!' says the trumpeter, and spat on the ground; 'a parcel of
Marines!'

"The boy eyed him a second or so, and answered up: 'If I'd a tav of turf
handy, I'd bung it at your mouth, you greasy cavalryman, and learn you
to speak respectful of your betters. The Marines are the handiest body
o' men in the service.'

"The trumpeter looked down on him from the height of six-foot two, and
asked: 'Did they die well?'

"'They died very well. There was a lot of running to and fro at first,
and some of the men began to cry, and a few to strip off their clothes.
But when the ship fell off for the last time, Captain Mein turned and
said something to Major Griffiths, the commanding officer on board, and
the Major called out to me to beat to quarters. It might have been for a
wedding, he sang it out so cheerful. We'd had word already that 'twas to
be parade order; and the men fell in as trim and decent as if they were
going to church. One or two even tried to shave at the last moment. The
Major wore his medals. One of the seamen, seeing I had work to keep the
drum steady--the sling being a bit loose for me, and the wind what you
remember--lashed it tight with a piece of rope; and that saved my life
afterward, a drum being as good as a cork until it's stove, I kept
beating away until every man was on decks and then the Major formed them
up and told them to die like British soldiers, and the chaplain was in
the middle of a prayer when she struck. In ten minutes she was gone.
That was how they died, cavalryman.'

"'And that was very well done, drummer of the Marines. What's your
name?'

"'John Christian.'

"'Mine's William George Tallifer, trumpeter, of the Seventh Light
Dragoons--the Queen's Own. I played "God Save the King" while our men
were drowning. Captain Duncanfield told me to sound a call or two, to
put them in heart; but that matter of "God Save the King" was a notion
of my own. I won't say anything to hurt the feelings of a Marine, even
if he's not much over five-foot tall; but the Queen's Own Hussars is
a tearin' fine regiment. As between horse and foot, 'tis a question o'
which gets a chance. All the way from Sahagun to Corunna 'twas we that
took and gave the knocks--at Mayorga and Rueda, and Bennyventy.'--The
reason, sir, I can speak the names so pat, is that my father learnt
'em by heart afterward from the trumpeter, who was always talking
about Mayorga and Rueda and Bennyventy.'--We made the rear-guard, under
General Paget; and drove the French every time; and all the infantry did
was to sit about in wine-shops till we whipped 'em out, an' steal an'
straggle an' play the tomfool in general. And when it came to a
stand-up fight at Corunna, 'twas we that had to stay seasick aboard the
transports, an' watch the infantry in the thick o' the caper. Very well
they behaved, too--specially the Fourth Regiment, an' the Forty-Second
Highlanders, an' the Dirty Half-Hundred. Oh, ay; they're decent
regiments, all three. But the Queen's Own Hussars is a tearin' fine
regiment. So you played on your drum when the ship was goin' down?
Drummer John Christian, I'll have to get you a new pair of sticks.'

"The very next day the trumpeter marched into Helston, and got a
carpenter there to turn him a pair of box-wood drumsticks for the boy.
And this was the beginning of one of the most curious friendships you
ever heard tell of. Nothing delighted the pair more than to borrow a
boat off my father and pull out to the rocks where the 'Primrose' and
the 'Despatch' had struck and sunk; and on still days 'twas pretty
to hear them out there off the Manacles, the drummer playing his
tattoo--for they always took their music with them--and the trumpeter
practising calls, and making his trumpet speak like an angel. But if
the weather turned roughish, they'd be walking together and talking;
leastwise the youngster listened while the other discoursed about Sir
John's campaign in Spain and Portugal, telling how each little skirmish
befell; and of Sir John himself, and General Baird, and General Paget,
and Colonel Vivian, his own commanding officer, and what kind of men
they were; and of the last bloody stand-up at Corunna, and so forth, as
if neither could have enough.

"But all this had to come to an end in the late summer, for the boy,
John Christian, being now well and strong again, must go up to Plymouth
to report himself. 'Twas his own wish (for I believe King George had
forgotten all about him), but his friend wouldn't hold him back. As for
the trumpeter, my father had made an arrangement to take him on as
lodger, as soon as the boy left; and on the morning fixed for the start,
he was up at the door here by five o'clock, with his trumpet slung by
his side, and all the rest of his belongings in a small valise. A Monday
morning it was, and after breakfast he had fixed to walk with the boy
some way on the road toward Helston, where the coach started. My father
left them at breakfast together, and went out to meat the pig, and do a
few odd morning jobs of that sort. When he came back, the boy was still
at table, and the trumpeter sat with the rings in his hands, hitched,
together just as they be at this moment.

"'Look at this,' he says to my father, showing him the lock. 'I picked
it up off a starving brass-worker in Lisbon, and it is not one of your
common locks that one word of six letters will open at any time.
There's janius in this lock; for you've only to make the rings spell any
six-letter word you please and snap down the lock upon that, and never
a soul can open it--not the maker, even--until somebody comes along that
knows the word you snapped it on. Now Johnny here's goin', and he leaves
his drum behind him; for, though he can make pretty music on it, the
parchment sags in wet weather, by reason of the sea-water getting at it;
an' if he carries it to Plymouth, they'll only condemn it and give
him another. And, as for me, I shan't have the heart to put lip to the
trumpet any more when Johnny's gone. So we've chosen a word together,
and locked 'em together upon that; and, by your leave, I'll hang 'em
here together on the hook over your fireplace. Maybe Johnny'll come
back; maybe not. Maybe, if he comes, I'll be dead an' gone, and he'll
take 'em apart an' try their music for old sake's sake. But if he never
comes, nobody can separate 'em; for nobody besides knows the word. And
if you marry and have sons, you can tell 'em that here are tied together
the souls of Johnny Christian, drummer of the Marines, and William
George Tallifer, once trumpeter of the Queen's Own Hussars. Amen.'

"With that he hung the two instruments 'pon the hook there; and the boy
stood up and thanked my father and shook hands; and the pair went out of
the door, toward Helston.

"Somewhere on the road they took leave of one another; but nobody saw
the parting, nor heard what was said between them. About three in the
afternoon the trumpeter came walking back over the hill; and by the time
my father came home from the fishing, the cottage was tidied up, and the
tea ready, and the whole place shining like a new pin. From that time
for five years he lodged here with my father, looking after the house
and tilling the garden. And all the while he was steadily failing; the
hurt in his head spreading, in a manner, to his limbs. My father watched
the feebleness growing on him, but said nothing. And from first to last
neither spake a word about the drummer, John Christian; nor did any
letter reach them, nor word of his doings.

"The rest of the tale you're free to believe, sir, or not, as you
please. It stands upon my father's words, and he always declared he was
ready to kiss the Book upon it, before judge and jury. He said, too,
that he never had the wit to make up such a yarn; and he defied any one
to explain about the lock, in particular, by any other tale. But you
shall judge for yourself.

"My father said that about three o'clock in the morning, April
fourteenth, of the year 'fourteen, he and William Tallifer were sitting
here, just as you and I, sir, are sitting now. My father had put on his
clothes a few minutes before, and was mending his spiller by the light
of the horn lantern, meaning to set off before daylight to haul the
trammel. The trumpeter hadn't been to bed at all. Toward the last he
mostly spent his nights (and his days, too) dozing in the elbow-chair
where you sit at this minute. He was dozing then (my father said) with
his chin dropped forward on his chest, when a knock sounded upon the
door, and the door opened, and in walked an upright young man in scarlet
regimentals.

"He had grown a brave bit, and his face the color of wood-ashes; but it
was the drummer, John Christian. Only his uniform was different from
the one he used to wear, and the figures '38' shone in brass upon his
collar.

"The drummer walked past my father as if he never saw him, and stood by
the elbow-chair and said:

"'Trumpeter, trumpeter, are you one with me?'

"And the trumpeter just lifted the lids of his eyes, and answered: 'How
should I not be one with you, drummer Johnny--Johnny boy? If you come, I
count; if you march, I mark time; until the discharge comes.'

"'The discharge has come to-night,' said the drummer; and the word is
Corunna no longer.' And stepping to the chimney-place, he unhooked
the drum and trumpet, and began to twist the brass rings of the lock,
spelling the word aloud, so--'C-O-R-U-N-A.' When he had fixed the last
letter, the padlock opened in his hand.

"'Did you know, trumpeter, that, when I came to Plymouth, they put me
into a line regiment?'

"'The 38th is a good regiment,' answered the old Hussar, still in his
dull voice; 'I went back with them from Sahagun to Corunna. At Corunna
they stood in General Fraser's division, on the right. They behaved
well.

"'But I'd fain see the Marines again,' says the drummer, handing him
the trumpet; 'and you, you shall call once more for the Queen's Own.
Matthew,' he says, suddenly, turning on my father--and when he turned,
my father saw for the first time that his scarlet jacket had a round
hole by the breast-bone, and that the blood was welling there--'Matthew,
we shall want your boat.'

"Then my father rose on his legs like a man in a dream, while they two
slung on, the one his drum, and t'other his trumpet. He took the lantern
and went quaking before them down to the shore, and they breathed
heavily behind him; and they stepped into his boat, and my father pushed
off.

"'Row you first for Dolor Point,' says the drummer. So my father rowed
them past the white houses of Coverack to Dolor Point, and there, at
a word, lay on his oars. And the trumpeter, William Tallifer, put his
trumpet to his mouth and sounded the reveille. The music of it was like
rivers running.

"'They will follow,' said the drummer. Matthew, pull you now for the
Manacles.

"So my father pulled for the Manacles, and came to an easy close outside
Carn Du. And the drummer took his sticks and beat a tattoo, there by the
edge of the reef; and the music of it was like a rolling chariot.

"'That will do,' says he, breaking off; 'they will follow. Pull now for
the shore under Gunner's Meadow.'

"Then my father pulled for the shore and ran his boat in under Gunner's
Meadow. And they stepped out, all three, and walked up to the meadow.
By the gate the drummer halted, and began his tattoo again, looking out
toward the darkness over the sea.

"And while the drum beat, and my father held his breath, there came up
out of the sea and the darkness a troop of many men, horse and foot, and
formed up among the graves; and others rose out of the graves and formed
up--drowned Marines with bleached faces, and pale Hussars, riding
their horses, all lean and shadowy. There was no clatter of hoofs or
accoutrements, my father said, but a soft sound all the while like the
beating of a bird's wing; and a black shadow lay like a pool about the
feet of all. The drummer stood upon a little knoll just inside the
gate, and beside him the tall trumpeter, with hand on hip, watching them
gather; and behind them both my father, clinging to the gate. When no
more came, the drummer stopped playing, and said, 'Call the roll.'

"Then the trumpeter stepped toward the end man of the rank and called,
'Troop Sergeant-Major Thomas Irons,' and the man answered in a thin
voice, 'Here.'

"'Troop Sergeant-Major Thomas Irons, how is it with you?'

"The man answered, 'How should it be with me? When I was young, I
betrayed a girl; and when I was grown, I betrayed a friend, and for
these I must pay. But I died as a man ought. God save the King!'

"The trumpeter called to the next man, 'Trooper Henry Buckingham,' and
the next man answered, 'Here.'

"'Trooper Henry Buckingham, how is it With you?'

"'How should it be with me? I was a drunkard, and I stole, and in Lugo,
in a Wine-shop, I killed a man. But I died as a man should. God save the
King!'

"So the trumpeter went down the line; and when he had finished, the
drummer took it up, hailing the dead Marines in their order. Each man
answered to his name, and each man ended with 'God save the King!' When
all were hailed, the drummer stepped back to his mound, and called:

"'It is well. You are content, and we are content to join you. Wait,
now, a little while.'

"With this he turned and ordered my father to pick up the lantern, and
lead the way back. As my father picked it up, he heard the ranks of the
dead men cheer and call, 'God save the King!' all together, and saw them
waver and fade back into the dark, like a breath fading off a pane.

"But when they came back here to the kitchen, and my father set the
lantern down, it seemed they'd both forgot about him. For the drummer
turned in the lantern-light--and my father could see the blood still
welling out of the hole in his breast--and took the trumpet-sling from
around the other's neck, and locked drum and trumpet together again,
choosing the letters on the lock very carefully. While he did this, he
said.

"'The word is no more Corunna, but Bayonne. As you left out an "n" in
Corunna, so must I leave out an "n" in Bayonne.' And before snapping the
padlock, he spelt out the word slowly--'B-A-Y-O-N-E.' After that, he
used no more speech; but turned and hung the two instruments back on the
hook; and then took the trumpeter by the arm; and the pair walked out
into the darkness, glancing neither to right nor left.

"My father was on the point of following, when he heard a sort of
sigh behind him; and there, sitting in the elbow-chair, was the very
trumpeter he had just seen walk out by the door! If my father's heart
jumped before, you may believe it jumped quicker now. But after a bit,
he went up to the man asleep in the chair and put a hand upon him. It
was the trumpeter in flesh and blood that he touched; but though the
flesh was warm, the trumpeter was dead.

"Well, sir, they buried him three days after; and at first my father was
minded to say nothing about his dream (as he thought it). But the day
after the funeral, he met Parson Kendall coming from Helston market; and
the parson called out: 'Have 'ee heard the news the coach brought down
this mornin'?' 'What news?' says my father. 'Why, that peace is agreed
upon.' 'None too soon,' says my father. 'Not soon enough for our poor
lads at Bayonne,' the parson answered. 'Bayonne!' cries my father, with
a jump. 'Why, yes;' and the parson told him all about a great sally the
French had made on the night of April 13th. 'Do you happen to know
if the 38th Regiment was engaged?' my father asked. 'Come, now,' said
Parson Kendall, 'I didn't know you was so well up in the campaign. But,
as it happens, I do know that the 38th was engaged, for 'twas they that
held a cottage and stopped the French advance.'

"Still my father held his tongue; and when, a week later, he walked
in Helston and bought a 'Mercury' off the Sherborne rider, and got the
landlord of the 'Angel' to spell out the list of killed and wounded,
sure enough, there among the killed was Drummer John Christian, of the
38th Foot.

"After this there was nothing for a religious man but to make a clean
breast. So my father went up to Parson Kendall, and told the whole
story. The parson listened, and put a question or two, and then asked:

"'Have you tried to open the lock since that night?'

"'I haven't dared to touch it,' says my father.

"'Then come along and try.' When the parson came to the cottage here, he
took the things off the hook and tried the lock. 'Did he say "Bayonne?'
The word has seven letters.'

"'Not if you spell it with one "n" as he did,' says my father.

"The parson spelt it out--'B-A-Y-O-N-E' 'Whew!' says he, for the lock
had fallen open in his hand.

"He stood considering it a moment, and then he says: 'I tell you what. I
shouldn't blab this all round the parish, if I was you. You won't get no
credit for truth-telling, and a miracle's wasted on a set of fools. But
if you like, I'll shut down the lock again upon a holy word that no one
but me shall know, and neither drummer nor trumpeter, dead or alive,
shall frighten the secret out of me.'

"'I wish to heaven you would, parson,' said my father.

"The parson chose the holy word there and then, and shut the lock back
upon it, and hung the drum and trumpet back in their place. He is gone
long since, taking the word with him. And till the lock is broken by
force nobody will ever separate those two."
______




#RollCalloftheReef #BestGhostShortStories

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Horror: A True Tale by John Harwood - Story 15 in Andrew Barger's Scary Short Story Countdown



Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine was very popular in its day. Edgar Allan Poe even lampooned some of its over-the-top stories in his How to Write a Blackwood's Article. It should be pointed out, however, that Poe was never published in the British magazine.

The magazine was not afraid to publish scary horror short stories. Its January 1861 article was no exception. That issue brought the world "Horror: A True Tale" by John Berwick Harwood (1828-1899), a British author known for his horror and supernatural tales. Harwood was known in popular English writing circles of his day and even collaborated with Charles Dickens on the short story Picking Up a Pocketbook.

"Horror: A True Tale" was published anonymously in Blackwood's perhaps because of its subject matter. It is, after all, Harwood's most horrific story. Given its story backgrounds and character generation, I am placing it at position 15 in my countdown of the best horror short stories from 1850-1899 in the English language. The top ten are contained in my latest classic horror anthology for which the cover is shown below the story.


Horror: A True Tale
by
John Harwood

I WAS BUT nineteen years of age when the incident occurred which has thrown a shadow over my life: and, ah me! how many and many a weary year has dragged by since then! Young, happy, and beloved I was in those long-departed days. They said that I was beautiful. The mirror now reflects a haggard old woman, with ashen lips and face of deadly pallor. But do not fancy that you are listening to a mere puling lament. It is not the flight of years that has brought me to be this wreck of my former self: had it been so, I could have borne the loss cheerfully, patiently, as the common lot of all; but it was no natural progress of decay which has robbed me of bloom? of youth, of the hopes and joys that belong to youth, snapped the link that bound my heart to another's, and doomed me to a lone old age.

I try to be patient, but my cross has been heavy, and my heart is empty and weary, and I long for the death that comes so slowly to those who pray to die. I will try and relate, exactly as it happened, the event which blighted my life. Though it occurred many years ago, there is no fear that I should have forgotten any of the minutest circumstances: they were stamped on my brain too clearly and burningly, like the brand of a red-hot iron. I see them written in the wrinkles of my brow, in the dead whiteness of my hair, which was a glossy brown once, and has known no gradual change from dark to grey, from grey to white, as with those happy ones who were the companions of my girlhood, and whose honoured age is soothed by the love of children and grand-children. But I must not envy them. I only meant to say that the difficulty of my task has no connection with want of memory--I remember but too well. But as I take the pen, by hand trembles, my head swims, the old rushing faintness and Horror comes over me again, and the well-remembered fear is upon me. Yet I will go on.

This, briefly, is my story: I was a great heiress, I believe, though I cared little for the fact, but so it was. My father had great possessions, and no son to inherit after him. His three daughters, of whom I was the youngest, were to share the broad acres among them. I have said, and truly, that I cared little for this circumstance; and, indeed, I was so rich then in health and youth and love, that I felt myself quite indifferent to all else. The possession of all the treasures of earth could never have made up for what I then had--and lost? as I am about to relate.

Of course, we girls knew that we were heiresses, but I do not think Lucy and Minnie were any the prouder or the happier on that account. I know I was not. Reginald did not court me for my money. Of that I felt assured. He proved it, Heaven be praised! when he shrank from my side after the change. Yes, in all my lonely age, I can still be thankful that he did not keep his word, as some would have done, did not clasp at the altar a hand he had learned to loathe and shudder at, because it was full of gold--much gold! At least, he spared me that. And I know that I was loved, and the knowledge has kept me from going mad through many a weary day and restless night, when my hot eyeballs had not a tear to shed and even to weep was a luxury denied me.

Our house was an old Tudor mansion. My father was very particular in keeping the smallest peculiarities of his home unaltered. Thus the many peaks and gables, the numerous turrets, and the mullioned windows with their quaint lozenge panes set in lead, remained very nearly as they had been three centuries back. Over and above the quaint melancholy of our dwelling, with the deep woods of its park and the sullen waters of the mere, our neighbourhood was thinly peopled and primitive, and the people round us were ignorant, and tenacious of ancient ideas and traditions. Thus it was a superstitious atmosphere that we children were reared in, and we heard, from our infancy, countless tales of horror, some mere fables doubtless, others legends of dark deeds of the olden time exaggerated by credulity and the love of the marvellous. Our mother had died when we were young, and our other parent being, though a kind father, much absorbed in affairs of various kinds, as an active magistrate and landlord, there was no one to check the unwholesome stream of tradition with which our plastic minds were inundated in the company of nurses and servants. As years went on, however, the old ghostly tales partially lost their effects, and our undisciplined minds were turned more towards balls dress, and partners, and other matters airy and trivial, more welcome to our riper age.

It was at a county assembly that Reginald and I first met--met and loved. Yes, I am sure that he loved me with all his heart. It was not as deep a heart as some, I have thought in my grief and anger; but I never doubted its truth and honesty. Reginald's father and mine approved of our growing attachment; and as for myself, I know I was so happy then, that I look back upon those fleeting moments as on some delicious dream. I now come to the change. I have lingered on my childish reminiscences, my bright and happy youth, and now I must tell the rest--the blight and the sorrow. It was Christmas, always a joyful and a hospitable time in the country, especially in such an old hall as our home, where quaint customs and frolics were much clung to, as part and parcel of the very dwelling itself. The hall was full of guests--so full, indeed, that there was great difficulty in providing sleeping accommodation for all. Several narrow and dark chambers in the turrets--mere pigeon-holes, as we irreverently called what had been thought good enough for the stately gentlemen of Elizabeth's reign--were now allotted to bachelor visitors, after having been empty for a century. All the spare rooms in the body and wings of the hall were occupied, of course; and the servants who had been brought down were lodged at the farm and at the keeper's, so great was the demand for space. At last the unexpected arrival of an elderly relative, who had been asked months before, but scarcely expected, caused great commotion.

My aunts went about wringing their hands distractedly. Lady Speldhurst was a personage of some consequence; she was a distant cousin, and had been for years on cool terms with us all, on account of some fancied affront or slight when she had paid her last visit, about the time of my christening. She was seventy years old; she was infirm, rich, and testy; moreover, she was my godmother, though I had forgotten the fact, but it seems that though I had formed no expectations of a legacy in my favour, my aunts had done so for me.

Aunt Margaret was especially eloquent on the subject. "There isn't a room left," she said; "was ever anything so unfortunate? We cannot put Lady Speldhurst into the turrets, and yet where is she to sleep? And Rosa's godmother, too! poor dear child! how dreadful! After all these years of estrangement, and with a hundred thousand in the funds, and no comfortable warm room at her own unlimited disposal--and Christmas, of all times in the year!" What was to be done? My aunts could not resign their own chambers to Lady Speldhurst, because they had already given them up to some of the married guests. My father was the most hospitable of men, but he was rheumatic, gouty, and methodical. His sisters-in-law dared not propose to shift his quarters, and indeed he would have far sooner dined on prison fare than have been translated to a strange bed. The matter ended in my giving up my room. I had a strange reluctance to making the offer, which surprised myself. Was it a boding of evil to come? I cannot say.

We are strangely and wonderfully made. It may have been. At any rate, I do not think it was any selfish unwillingness to make an old and infirm lady comfortable by a trifling sacrifice. I was perfectly healthy and strong. The weather was not cold for the time of year. It was a dark moist Yule--not a snowy one, though snow brooded overhead in the darkling clouds. I did make the offer, which became me, I said with a laugh, as youngest. My sisters laughed too, and made a jest of my evident wish to propitiate my godmother. "She is a fairy godmother, Rosa," said Minnie; "and you know she was affronted at your christening, and went away muttering vengeance. Here she is coming back to see you; I hope she brings golden gifts with her." I thought little of Lady Speldhurst and her possible golden gifts. I cared nothing for the wonderful fortune in the funds that my aunts whispered and nodded about so mysteriously. But, since then, I have wondered whether, had I then shown myself peevish or obstinate, had I refused to give up my room for the expected kinswoman, it would not have altered the whole of my life? But then Lucy or Minnie would have offered in my stead, and been sacrificed--what do I say?--better that the blow should have fallen as it did, than on those dear ones.

The chamber to which I removed was a dim little triangular room in the western wing, and was only to be reached by traversing the picture-gallery, or by mounting a little flight of stone stairs which led directly upwards from the low-browed arch of a door that opened into the garden. There was one more room on the same landing-place, and this was a mere receptacle for broken furniture, shattered toys, and all the lumber that will accumulate in a country-house. The room I was to inhabit for a few nights was a tapestry-hung apartment, with faded green curt ins of some costly stuff, contrasting oddly with a new carpet and the bright fresh hangings of the bed, which had been hurriedly erected.

The furniture was half old, half new, and on the dressing-table stood a very quaint oval mirror, in a frame of black wood--unpolished ebony, I think. I can remember the very pattern of the carpet, the number of chairs, the situation of the bed, the figures on the tapestry. Nay, I can recollect not only the colour of the dress I wore on that fatal evening, but the arrangement of every scrap of lace and ribbon, of every flower, every jewel, with a memory but too perfect. Scarcely had my maid finished spreading out my various articles of attire for the evening (when there was to be a great dinner-party), when the rumble of a carriage announced that Lady Speldhurst had arrived. The short winter's day drew to a close, and a large number of guests were gathered together in the ample drawing-room, around the blaze of the wood fire, after dinner. My father, I recollect, was not with us at first. There were some squires of the old hard-riding, hard-drinking stamp still lingering over their port in the dining-room, and the host, of course, could not leave them. But the ladies and all the younger gentlemen--both those who slept under our roof, and those who would have a dozen miles of fog and mire to encounter on their road home--were all together. Need I say that Reginald was there? He sat near me--my accepted lover, my plighted future husband. We were to be married in the spring. My sisters were not far off; they, too, had found eyes that sparkled and softened in meeting theirs, had found hearts that beat responsive to their own. And, in their cases, no rude frost nipped the blossom ere it became the fruit; there was no canker in their flowerets of young hope, no cloud in their sky. Innocent and loving, they were beloved by men worthy their esteem.

 The room, a large and lofty one, with an arched roof, had somewhat of a sombre character from being wainscoted and ceiled with polished black oak of a great age. There were mirrors, and there were pictures on the walls, and handsome furniture, and marble chimney-pieces, and a gay Tournay carpet; but these merely appeared as bright spots on the dark background of the Elizabethan woodwork. Many lights were burning, but the blackness of the walls and roof seemed absolutely to swallow up their rays, like the mouth of a cavern. A hundred candles could not have given that apartment the cheerful lightness of a modern drawing-room. But the gloomy richness of the panels matched well with the ruddy gleam from the enormous wood fire, in which, crackling and glowing, now lay the mighty Yule log. Quite a blood-red lustre poured forth from the fire, and quivered on the walls and the groined roof. We had gathered round the vast antique hearth in a wide circle. The quivering light of the fire and candles fell upon us all, but not equally, for some were in shadow. I remember still how tall and manly and handsome Reginald looked that night, taller by the head than any there, and full of high spirits and gaiety. I, too, was in the highest spirits; never had my bosom felt lighter, and I believe it was my mirth which gradually gained the rest, for I recollect what a blithe, joyous company we seemed. All save one.

Lady Speldhurst, dressed in grey silk and wearing a quaint head-dress, sat in her armchair, facing the fire, very silent, with her hands and her sharp chin propped on a sort of ivory-handled crutch that she walked with (for she was lame), peering at me with half-shut eyes. She was a little spare old woman, with very keen delicate features of the French type. Her grey silk dress, her spotless lace, old-fashioned jewels, and prim neatness of array, were well suited to the intelligence of her face, with its thin lips, and eyes of a piercing black, undimmed by age. Those eyes made me uncomfortable, in spite of my gaiety, as they followed my every movement with curious scrutiny. Still I was very merry and gay; my sisters even wondered at my ever-ready mirth, which was almost wild in its excess. I have heard since then of the Scottish belief that those doomed to some great calamity become fey, and are never so disposed for merriment and laughter as just before the blow falls. If ever mortal was fey, then, I was so on that evening. Still, though I strove to shake it off, the pertinacious observation of old Lady Speldhurst's eyes did make an impression on me of a vaguely disagreeable nature. Others, too, noticed her scrutiny of me, but set it down as a mere eccentricity of a person always reputed whimsical, to say the least of it.

 However, this disagreeable sensation lasted but a few moments. After a short pause my aunt took her part in the conversation, and we found ourselves listening to a weird legend which the old lady told exceedingly well. One tale led to another. Every one was called on in turn to contribute to the public entertainment, and story after story, always relating to demonology and witchcraft, succeeded. It was Christmas, the season for such tales; and the old room, with its dusky walls and pictures, and vaulted roof, drinking up the light so greedily, seemed just fitted to give effect to such legendary lore. The huge logs crackled and burnt with glowing warmth; the blood-red glare of the Yule log flashed on the faces of the listeners and narrator, on the portraits, and the holly wreathed about their frames, and the upright old dame in her antiquated dress and trinkets, like one of the originals of the pictures stepped from the canvas to join our circle. It threw a shimmering lustre of an ominously ruddy hue upon the oaken panels.

No wonder that the ghost and goblin stories had a new zest. No wonder that the blood of the more timid grew chilI and curdled, that their flesh crept, and their hearts beat irregularly, and the girls peeped fearfully over their shoulders, and huddled close together like frightened sheep, and half-fancied they beheld some impish and malignant face gibbering at them from the darkling corners of the old room. By degrees my high spirits died out, and I felt the childish tremors, long latent, long forgotten, coming over me. I followed each story with painful interest; I did not ask myself if I believed the dismal tales. I listened, and fear grew upon me--the blind, irrational fear of our nursery days. I am sure most of the other ladies present, young or middle-aged, were affected by the circumstances under which these traditions were heard, no less than by the wild and fantastic character of them. But with them the impression would die out next morning, when the bright sun should shine on the frosted boughs, and the rime on the grass, and the scarlet berries and green spikelets of the holly; and with me--but, ah! what was to happen ere another day dawn? Before we had made an end of this talk, my father and the other squires came in, and we ceased our ghost stories, ashamed to speak of such matters before these newcomers--hard-headed, unimaginative men, who had no sympathy with idle legends. There was now a stir and bustle.

  Servants were handing round tea and coffee, and other refreshments. Then there was a little music and singing. I sang a duet with Reginald, who had a fine voice and good musical skill. I remember that my singing was much praised, and indeed I was surprised at the power and pathos of my own voice, doubtless due to my excited nerves and mind. Then I heard some one say to another that I was by far the cleverest of the Squire's daughters, as well as the prettiest. It did not make me vain. I had no rivalry with Lucy and Minnie. But Reginald whispered some soft fond words in my ear, a little before he mounted his horse to set off homewards, which did make me happy and proud. And to think that the next time we met--but I forgave him long ago. Poor Reginald! And now shawls and cloaks were in request, and carriages rolled up to the porch, and the guests gradually departed. At last no one was left but those visitors staying in the house. Then my father, who had been called out to speak with the bailiff of the estate, came back with a look of annoyance on his face. "A strange story I have just been told," said he; "here has been my bailiff to inform me of the loss of four of the choicest ewes out of that little flock of Southdowns I set such store by, and which arrived in the north but two months since. And the poor creatures have been destroyed in so strange a manner, for their carcasses are horribly mangled."

Most of us uttered some expression of pity or surprise, and some suggested that a vicious dog was probably the culprit. "It would seem so," said my father; "it certainly seems the work of a dog; and yet all the men agree that no dog of such habits exists near us, where, indeed, dogs are scarce, excepting the shepherds' collies and the sporting dogs secured in yards. Yet the sheep are gnawed and bitten, for they show the marks of teeth. Something has done this, and has torn their bodies wolfishly; but apparently it has been only to suck the blood, for little or no flesh is gone." "How strange!" cried several voices. Then some of the gentlemen remembered to have heard of cases when dogs addicted to sheep-killing had destroyed whole flocks, as if in sheer wantonness, scarcely deigning to taste a morsel of each slain wether. My father shook his head. "I have heard of such cases, too?" he said; "but in this instance I am tempted to think the malice of some unknown enemy has been at work. The teeth of a dog have been busy no doubt, but the poor sheep have been mutilated in a fantastic manner, as strange as horrible; their hearts, in especial, have been torn out, and left at some paces off, half-gnawed. Also, the men persist that they found the print of a naked human foot in the soft mud of the ditch, and near it--this." And he held up what seemed a broken link of a rusted iron chain.

Many were the ejaculations of wonder and alarm, and many and shrewd the conjectures, but none seemed exactly to suit the bearings of the case. And when my father went on to say that two lambs of the same valuable breed had perished in the same singular manner three days previously, and that they also were found mangled and gore-stained, the amazement reached a higher pitch. Old Lady Speldhurst listened with calm intelligent attention, but joined in none of our exclamations. At length she said to my father, "Try and recollect--have you no enemy among your neighbours?" My father started, and knit his brows. "Not one that I know of," he replied; and indeed he was a popular man and a kind landlord. "The more lucky you," said the old dame, with one of her grim smiles. It was now late, and we retired to rest before long. One by one the guests dropped off. I was the member of the family selected to escort old Lady Speldhurst to her room--the room I had vacated in her favour. I did not much like the office. I felt a remarkable repugnance to my godmother, but my worthy aunts insisted so much that I should ingratiate myself with one who had so much to leave, that I could not but comply. The visitor hobbled up the broad oaken stairs actively enough, propped on my arm and her ivory crutch.

The room never had looked more genial and pretty, with its brisk fire, modern furniture, and the gay French paper on the walls. "A nice room, my dear, and I ought to be much obliged to you for it, since my maid tells me it is yours," said her ladyship; "but I am pretty sure you repent your generosity to me, after all those ghost stories, and tremble to think of a strange bed and chamber, eh?" I made some commonplace reply. The old lady arched her eyebrows. "Where have they put you, child?" she asked; "in some cockloft of the turrets, eh? or in a lumber-room--a regular ghost-trap? I can hear your heart beating with fear this moment. You are not fit to be alone."

I tried to call up my pride, and laugh off the accusation against my courage, all the more, perhaps, because I felt its truth. "Do you want anything more that I can get you, Lady Speldhurst?" I asked, trying to feign a yawn of sleepiness. The old dame's keen eyes were upon me. "I rather like you, my dear," she said, "and I liked your mamma well enough before she treated me so shamefully about the christening dinner. Now, I know you are frightened and fearful, and if an owl should but flap your window tonight, it might drive you into fits. There is a nice little sofa-bed in this dressing-closet--call your maid to arrange it for you, and you can sleep there snugly, under the old witch's protection, and then no goblin dare harm you, and nobody will be a bit the wiser, or quiz you for being afraid."

How little I knew what hung in the balance of my refusal or acceptance of that trivial proffer! Had the veil of the future been lifted for one instant! but that veil is impenetrable to our gaze. Yet, perhaps, she had a glimpse of the dim vista beyond, she who made the offer; for when I declined, with an affected laugh, she said, in a thoughtful, half abstracted manner, "Well, well! we must all take our own way through life. Good night, child--pleasant dreams!"

And I softly closed the door. As I did so, she looked round at me rapidly, with a glance I have never forgotten, half malicious, half sad, as if she had divined the yawning gulf that was to devour my young hopes. It may have been mere eccentricity, the odd phantasy of a crooked mind, the whimsical conduct of a cynical person, triumphant in the power of affrighting youth and beauty. Or, I have since thought, it may have been that this singular guest possessed some such gift as the Highland "second-sight", a gift vague, sad, and useless to the possessor, but still sufficient to convey a dim sense of coming evil and boding doom. And yet, had she really known what was in store for me, what lurked behind the veil of the future, not even that arid heart could have remained impassive to the cry of humanity. She would, she must have snatched me back, even from the edge of the black pit of misery. But, doubtless, she had not the power. Doubtless she had but a shadowy presentiment, at any rate of some harm to happen, and could not see, save darkly, into the viewless void where the wisest stumble. I left her door. As I crossed the landing a bright gleam came from another room, whose door was left ajar; it (the light) fell like a bar of golden sheen across my path. As I approached, the door opened, and my sister Lucy who had been watching for me came out. She was already in a white cashmere wrapper, over which her loosened hair hung darkly and heavily, like tangles of silk. "Rosa, love," she whispered, "Minnie and I can't bear the idea of your sleeping out there, all alone, in that solitary room--the very room, too, nurse Sherrard used to talk about! So, as you know Minnie has given up her room, and come to sleep in mine, still we should so wish you to stop with us tonight at any rate, and I could make up a bed on the sofa for myself, or you--and--" I stopped Lucy's mouth with a kiss. I declined her offer. I would not listen to it. In fact, my pride was up in arms, and I felt I would rather pass the night in the churchyard itself than accept a proposal dictated, I felt sure, by the notion that my nerves were shaken by the ghostly lore we had been raking up, that I was a weak, superstitious creature, unable to pass a night in a strange chamber. So I would not listen to Lucy, but kissed her, bad her good night, and went on my way laughing, to show my light heart. Yet, as I looked back in the dark corridor, and saw the friendly door still ajar, the yellow bar of light still crossing from wall to wall, the sweet kind face still peering after me from amid its clustering curls, I felt a thrill of sympathy, a wish to return, a yearning after human love and companionship. False shame was strongest, and conquered. I waved a gay adieu. I turned the corner, and, peeping over my shoulder, I saw the door close; the bar of yellow light was there no longer in the darkness of the passage. I thought, at that instant, that I heard a heavy sigh. I looked sharply round.

No one was there. No door was open, yet I fancied, and fancied with a wonderful vividness, that I did hear an actual sigh breathed not far off, and plainly distinguishable from the groan of the sycamore branches, as the wind tossed them to and fro in the outer blackness. If ever a mortal's good angel had cause to sigh for sorrow, not sin, mine had cause to mourn that night. But imagination plays us strange tricks, and my nervous system was not over-composed, or very fitted for judicial analysis. I had to go through the picture-gallery. I had never entered this apartment by candle-light before, and I was struck by the gloomy array of the tall portraits, gazing moodily from the canvas on the lozenge-paned or painted windows, which rattled to the blast as it swept howling by. Many of the faces looked stern, and very different from their daylight expression.

In others, a furtive flickering smile seemed to mock me, as my candle illumined them; and in all, the eyes, as usual with artistic portraits, seemed to follow my motions with a scrutiny and an interest the more marked for the apathetic immovability of the other features. I felt ill at ease under this stony gaze, though conscious how absurd were my apprehensions, and I called up a smile and an air of mirth, more as if acting a part under the eyes of human beings, than of their mere shadows on the wall. I even laughed as I confronted them. No echo had my short-lived laughter but from the hollow armour and arching roof, and I continued on my way in silence. I have spoken of the armour. Indeed, there was a fine collection of plate and mail, for my father was an enthusiastic antiquary, In especial there were two suits of black armour, erect, and surmounted by helmets with closed visors, which stood as if two mailed champions were guarding the gallery and its treasures. I had often seen these, of course, but never by night, and never when my whole organization was so over wrought and tremulous as it then was. As I approached the Black Knights, as we had dubbed them, a wild notion seized on me that the figures moved, that men were concealed in the hollow shells which had once been borne in battle and tourney. I knew the idea was childish, yet I approached in irrational alarm, and fancied I absolutely beheld eyes glaring on me from the eyelet-holes in the visors. I passed them by, and then my excited fancy told me that the figures were following me with stealthy strides. I heard a clatter of steel, caused, I am sure, by some more violent gust of wind sweeping the gallery through the crevices of the old windows, and with a smothered shriek I rushed to the door, opened it, darted out, and clapped it to with a bang that re-echoed through the whole wing of the house. Then by a sudden and not uncommon revulsion of feeling, I shook off my aimless terrors, blushed at my weakness, and sought my chamber only too glad that I had been the only witness of my late tremors.

As I entered my chamber, I thought I heard some thing stir in the neglected lumber-room, which was the only neighbouring apartment. But I was determined to have no more panics, and resolutely shut my ears to this slight and transient noise, which had nothing unnatural in it; for surely, between rats and wind, an old manor-house on a stormy night needs no sprites to disturb it. So I entered my room, and rang for my maid. As I did so, I looked around me, and a most unaccountable repugnance to my temporary abode came over me, in spite of my efforts. It was no more to be shaken off than a chill is to be shaken off when we enter some damp cave. And, rely upon it, the feeling of dislike and apprehension with which we regard, at first sight, certain places and people, was not implanted in us without some wholesome purpose. I grant it is irrational--mere animal instinct--but is not instinct God's gift, and is it for us to despise it? It is by instinct that children know their friends from their enemies--that they distinguish with such unerring accuracy between those who like them and those who only flatter and hate them. Dogs do the same; they will fawn on one person, they slink snarling from another. Show me a man whom children and dogs shrink from, and I will show you a false, bad man--lies on his lips, and murder at his heart. No, let none despise the heaven-sent gift of innate antipathy, which makes the horse quail when the lion crouches in the thicket--which makes the cattle scent the shambles from afar, and low in terror and disgust as their nostrils snuff the blood-polluted air.

I felt this antipathy strongly as I looked around me in my new sleeping-room, and yet I could find no reasonable pretext for my dislike. A very good room it was, after all, now that the green damask curtains were drawn, the fire burning bright and clear, candles burning on the mantelpiece, and the various familiar articles of toilet arranged as usual. The bed, too, looked peaceful and inviting--a pretty little white bed, not at all the gaunt funereal sort of couch which haunted apartments generally contain. My maid entered, and assisted me to lay aside the dress and ornaments I had worn, and arranged my hair, as usual, prattling the while, in Abigail fashion. I seldom cared to converse with servants; but on that night a sort of dread of being left alone--a longing to keep some human being near me--possessed me, and I encouraged the girl to gossip, so that her duties took her half an hour longer to get through than usual. At last, however, she had done all that could be done, and all my questions were answered, and my orders for the morrow reiterated and vowed obedience to, and the clock on the turret struck one. Then Mary, yawning to answer No, for very shame's sake; and she went. The shutting of the door, gently as it was closed, affected me unpleasantly. I took a dislike to the curtains, the tapestry, the dingy pictures--everything. I hated the room. I felt a temptation to put on a cloak, run, half-dressed, to my sisters' chamber, and say I had changed my mind, and come for shelter. But they must be asleep, I thought, and I could not be so unkind as to wake them. I said my prayers with unusual earnestness and a heavy heart.

I extinguished the candles, and was just about to lay my head on my pillow, when the idea seized me that I would fasten the door. The candles were extinguished, but the fire-light was amply sufficient to guide me. I gained the door. There was a lock, but it was rusty or hampered; my utmost strength could not turn the key. The bolt was broken and worthless. Baulked of my intention, I consoled myself by remembering that I had never had need of fastenings yet, and returned to my bed. I lay awake for a good while, watching the red glow of the burning coals in the grate. I was quiet now, and more composed. Even the light gossip of the maid, full of petty human cares and joys, had done me good--diverted my thoughts from brooding. I was on the point of dropping asleep, when I was twice disturbed. Once, by an owl, hooting in the ivy outside--no unaccustomed sound, but harsh and melancholy; once, by a long and mournful howling set up by the mastiff, chained in the yard beyond the wing. I occupied. A long-drawn lugubrious howling, was this latter, and much such a note as the vulgar declare to herald a death in the family. This was a fancy I had never shared; but yet I could not help feeling that the dog's mournful moans were sad, and expressive of terror, not at all like his fierce, honest bark of anger, but rather as if something evil and unwonted were abroad. But soon I fell asleep. How long I slept, I never knew. I awoke at once, with that abrupt start which we all know well and which carries us in a second from utter unconsciousness to the full use of our faculties. The fire was still burning but was very low, and half the room or more was in deep shadow. I knew, I felt, that some person or thing was in the room, although nothing unusual was to be seen by the feeble light.

Yet it was a sense of danger that had aroused me from slumber. I experienced, while yet asleep, the chill and shock of sudden alarm, and I knew, even in the act of throwing off sleep like a mantle, why I awoke, and that some intruder was present. Yet, though I listened intently, no sound was audible, except the faint murmur of the fire,--the dropping of a cinder from the bars--the loud irregular beatings of my own heart. Notwithstanding this silence, by some intuition I knew that I had not been deceived by a dream, and felt certain that I was not alone. I waited. My heart beat on; quicker, more sudden grew its pulsations, as a bird in a cage might flutter in presence of the hawk. And then I heard a sound, faint, but quite distinct, the clank of iron, the rattling of a chain! I ventured to lift my head from the pillow. Dim and uncertain as the light was, I saw the curtains of my bed shake, and caught a glimpse of something beyond, a darker spot in the darkness. This confirmation of my fears did not surprise me so much as it shocked me. I strove to cry aloud, but could not utter a word. The chain rattled again, and this time the noise was louder and clearer. But though I strained my eyes, they could not penetrate the obscurity that shrouded the other end of the chamber, whence came the sullen clanking. In a moment several distinct trains of thought, like many-coloured strands of thread twining into one, became palpable to my mental vision. Was it a robber? could it be a supernatural visitant? or was I the victim of a cruel trick, such as I had heard of, and which some thoughtless persons love to practise on the timid, reckless of its dangerous results?

And then a new idea, with some ray of comfort in it, suggested itself. There was a fine young dog of the Newfoundland breed, a favourite of my father's, which was usually chained by night in an outhouse. Neptune might have broken loose, found his way to my room, and, finding the door imperfectly closed, have pushed it open and entered. I breathed more freely as this harmless interpretation of the noise forced itself upon me. It was--it must be--the dog, and I was distressing myself uselessly. I resolved to call to him; I strove to utter his name--"Neptune, Neptune!" but a secret apprehension restrained me, and I was mute. Then the chain clanked nearer and nearer to the bed, and presently I saw a dusky shapeless mass appear between the curtains on the opposite side to where I was lying. How I longed to hear the whine of the poor animal that I hoped might be the cause of my alarm. But no; I heard no sound save the rustle of the curtains and the clash of the iron chain. Just then the dying flame of the fire leaped up, and with one sweeping hurried glance I saw that the door was shut, and, horror! it is not the dog! it is the semblance of a human form that now throws itself heavily on the bed, outside the clothes, and lies there, huge and swart, in the red gleam that treacherously dies away after showing so much to affright, and sinks into dull darkness. There was now no light left, though the red cinders yet glowed with a ruddy gleam, like the eyes of wild beasts. The chain rattled no more.

I tried to speak, to scream wildly for help; my mouth was parched, my tongue refused to obey. I could not utter a cry, and indeed, who could have heard me, alone as I was in that solitary chamber, with no living neighbour, and the picture-gallery between me and any aid that even the loudest, most piercing shriek could summon. And the storm that howled without would have drowned my voice, even if help had been at hand. To call aloud--to demand who was there--alas! how useless, how perilous! If the intruder were a robber, my outcries would but goad him to fury; but what robber would act thus? As for a trick, that seemed impossible. And yet, what lay by my side, now wholly unseen? I strove to pray aloud, as there rushed on my memory a flood of weird legends--the dreaded yet fascinating lore of my childhood. I had heard and read of the spirits of wicked men forced to revisit the scenes of their earthly crimes---of demons that lurked in certain accursed spots--of the ghoul and vampire of the East, stealing amid the graves they rifled for their ghostly banquets; and I shuddered as I gazed on the blank darkness where I knew it lay. It stirred--it moaned hoarsely; and again I heard the chain clank close beside me--so close that it must almost have touched me. I drew myself from it, shrinking away in loathing and terror of the evil thing--what, I knew not, but felt that something malignant was near. And yet, in the extremity of my fear, I dared not speak; I was strangely cautious to be silent, even in moving farther off; for I had a wild hope that it--the phantom, the creature, whichever it was--had not discovered my presence in the room. And then I remembered all the events of the night--Lady Speldhurst's ill-omened vaticinations, her half-warnings, her singular look as we parted, my sister's persuasions, my terror in the gallery, the remark that "this was the room nurse Sherrard used to talk of".

And then memory stimulated by fear, recalled the long forgotten past, the ill-repute of this disused chamber, the sins it had witnessed, the blood spilled, the poison administered by unnatural hate within its walls, and the tradition which called it haunted. The green room--I remembered now how fearfully the servants avoided it--how it was mentioned rarely, and in whispers, when we were children, and how we had regarded it as a mysterious region, unfit for mortal habitation. Was It--the dark form with the chain--a creature of this world, or a spectre? And again--more dreadful still--could it be that the corpses of wicked men were forced to rise, and haunt in the body the places when they had wrought their evil deeds? And was such as these my grisly neighbour? The chain faintly rattled. My hair bristled; my eyeballs seemed starting from their sockets; the damps of a great anguish were on my brow. My heart laboured as if I were crushed beneath some vast weight. Sometimes it appeared to stop its frenzied beatings, sometimes its pulsations were fierce and hurried; my breath came short and with extreme difficulty, and I shivered as if with cold; yet I feared to stir. It moved, it moaned, its fetters clanked dismally, the couch creaked and shook. This was no phantom, then--no air-drawn spectre. But its very solidity, its palpable presence, were a thousand times more terrible. I felt that I was in the very grasp of what could not only affright, but harm; of something whose contact sickened the soul with deathly fear. I made a desperate resolve: I glided from the bed, I seized a warm wrapper, threw it around me, and tried to grope, with extended hands, my way to the door. My heart beat high at the hope of escape. But I had scarcely taken one step, before the moaning was renewed, it changed into a threatening growl that would have suited a wolf's throat, and a hand clutched at my sleeve.

I stood motionless. The muttering growl sank to a moan again, the chain sounded no more, but still the hand held its grip of my garment, and I feared to move. It knew of my presence, then. My brain reeled, the blood boiled in my ears, and my knees lost all strength, while my heart panted like that of a deer in the wolf's jaws. I sank back, and the benumbing influence of excessive terror reduced me to a state of stupor. When my full consciousness returned, I was sitting on the edge of the bed, shivering with cold, and bare-footed. All was silent, but I felt that my sleeve was still clutched by my unearthly visitant. The silence lasted a long time. Then followed a chuckling laugh, that froze my very marrow, and the gnashing of teeth as in demoniac frenzy; and then a wailing moan, and this was succeeded by silence. Hours may have passed--nay, though the tumult of my own heart prevented my hearing the clock strike, must have passed--but they seemed ages to me. And how were they spent? Hideous visions passed before the aching eyes that I dared not close, but which gazed ever into the dumb darkness where It lay--my dread companion through the watches of the night. I pictured It in every abhorrent form which an excited fancy could summon up: now as a skeleton, with hollow eye-holes and grinning fleshless jaws; now as a vampire, with livid face and bloated form, and dripping mouth wet with blood. Would it never be light! And yet, when day should dawn, I should be forced to see It face to face. I had heard that spectre and fiend are compelled to fade as morning brightened, but this creature was too real, too foul a thing of earth, to vanish at cock-crow. No! I should see it--the horror--face to face! And then the cold prevailed, and my teeth chattered, and shiverings ran through me, and yet there was the damp of agony on my bursting brow. Some instinct made me snatch at a shawl or cloak that lay on a chair within reach, and wrap it round me. The moan was renewed, and the chain just stirred. Then I sank into apathy, like an Indian at the stake, in the intervals of torture. Hours fled by, and I remained like a statue of ice, rigid and mute.

I even slept, for I remember that I started to find the cold grey light of an early winter's day was on my face, and stealing around the room from between the heavy curtains of the window. Shuddering, but urged by the impulse that rivets the gaze of the bird upon the snake, I turned to see the Horror of the night. Yes, it was no fevered dream, no hallucination of sickness, no airy phantom unable to face the dawn. In the sickly light I saw it lying on the bed, with its grim head on the pillow. A man? Or a corpse arisen from its unhallowed grave, and awaiting the demon that animated it? There it lay--a gaunt gigantic form, wasted to a skeleton, half clad, foul with dust and clotted gore, its huge limbs flung upon the couch as if at random, its shaggy hair streaming over the pillows like a lion's mane. Its face was towards me.

Oh, the wild hideousness of that face, even in sleep! In features it was human, even through its horrid mask of mud and half-dried bloody gouts, but the expression was brutish and savagely fierce; the white teeth were visible between the parted lips, in a malignant grin; the tangled hair and beard were mixed in leonine confusion, and there were scars disfiguring the brow. Round the creature's waist was a ring of iron, to which was attached a heavy but broken chain--the chain I had heard clanking. With a second glance I noted that part of the chain was wrapped in straw, to prevent its galling the wearer. The creature--I cannot call it a man--had the marks of fetters on its wrists, the bony arm that protruded through one tattered sleeve was scarred and bruised, the feet were bare, and lacerated by pebbles and briers, and one of them was wounded, and wrapped in a morsel of rag. And the lean hands, one of which held my sleeve, were armed with talons like an eagle's. In an instant the horrid truth flashed upon me--I was in the grasp of a madman. Better the phantom that scares the sight than the wild beast that rends and tears the quivering flesh--the pitiless human brute that has no heart to be softened, no reason at whose bar to plead, no compassion, nought of man save the form and the cunning. I gasped in terror. Ah! the mystery of those ensanguined fingers, those gory wolfish jaws! that face, all besmeared with blackening blood, is revealed!

 The slain sheep, so mangled and rent-the fantastic butchery--the print of the naked foot--all, all were explained; and the chain the broken link of which was found near the slaughtered animals--it came from his broken chain--the chain he had snapped, doubtless, in his escape from the asylum where his raging frenzy had been fettered and bound. In vain! in vain! Ah, me! how had this grisly Samson broken manacles and prison bars--how had he eluded guardian and keeper and a hostile world, and come hither on his wild way, hunted like a beast of prey, and snatching his hideous banquet like a beast of prey, too?

Yet, through the tatters of his mean and ragged garb I could see the marks of the severities, cruel and foolish, with which men in that time tried to tame the might of madness. The scourge--its marks were there; and the scars of the hard iron fetters, and many a cicatrice and welt, that told a dismal tale of harsh usage. But now he was loose, free to play the brute--the baited, tortured brute that they had made him--now without the cage, and ready to gloat over the victims his strength should overpower. Horror! Horror! I was the prey--the victim--already in the tiger's clutch; and a deadly sickness came over me, and the iron entered into my soul, and I longed to scream, and was dumb! I died a thousand deaths as that awful morning wore on. I dared not faint. But words cannot paint what I suffered as I waited--waited till the moment when he should open his eyes and be aware of my presence; for I was assured he knew it not. He had entered the chamber as a lair, when weary and gorged with his horrid orgie; and he had flung himself down to sleep without a suspicion that he was not alone. Even his grasping my sleeve was doubtless an act done betwixt sleeping and waking, like his unconscious moans and laughter, in some frightful dream.

Hours went on; then I trembled as I thought that soon the house would be astir, that my maid would come to call me as usual, and awake that ghastly sleeper. And might he not have time to tear me, as he tore the sheep, before any aid could arrive? At last what I dreaded came to pass--a light footstep on the landing--there is a tap at the door. A pause succeeds, and then the tapping is renewed, and this time more loudly. Then the madman stretched his limbs and uttered his moaning cry, and his eyes slowly opened--very slowly opened, and met mine. The girl waited awhile ere she knocked for the third time. I trembled lest she should open the door unbidden--see that grim thing, and by her idle screams and terror bring about the worst. Long before strong men could arrive I knew that I should be dead--and what a death! The maid waited, no doubt surprised at my unusually sound slumbers, for I was in general a light sleeper and an early riser, but reluctant to deviate from habit by entering without permission. I was still alone with the thing in man's shape, but he was awake now. I saw the wondering surprise in his haggard bloodshot eyes; I saw him stare at me half vacantly, then with a crafty yet wondering look; and then I saw the devil of murder begin to peep forth from those hideous eyes, and the lips to part as in a sneer, and the wolfish teeth to bare themselves.

But I was not what I had been. Fear gave me a new and a desperate composure--a courage foreign to my nature. I had heard of the best method of managing the insane; I could but try; I did try. Calmly, wondering at my own feigned calm, I fronted the glare of those terrible eyes. Steady and undaunted was my gaze--motionless my attitude. I marvelled at myself, but in that agony of sickening terror I was outwardly firm. They sink, they quail abashed, those dreadful eyes, before the gaze of a helpless girl; and the shame that is never absent from insanity bears down the pride of strength, the bloody cravings of the wild beast. The lunatic moaned and drooped his shaggy head between his gaunt squalid hands. I lost not an instant. I rose, and with one spring reached the door, tore it open, and, with a shriek, rushed through, caught the wondering girl by the arm, and, crying to her to run for her life, rushed like the wind along the gallery, down the corridor, down the stairs. Mary's screams filled the house as she fled beside me. I heard a long-drawn, raging cry, the roar of a wild animal mocked of its prey, and I knew what was behind me. I never turned my head--I flew rather than ran. I was in the hall already; there was a rush of many feet, an outcry of many voices, a sound of scuffling feet, and brutal yells, and oaths, and heavy blows, and I fell to the ground, crying, "Save me!" and lay in a swoon. I awoke from a delirious trance.

Kind faces were around my bed, loving looks were bent on me by all, by my dear father and dear sisters, but I scarcely saw them before I swooned again.... When I recovered from that long illness, through which I had been nursed so tenderly, the pitying looks I met made me tremble. I asked for a looking-glass. It was long denied me, but my importunity prevailed at last--a mirror was brought. My youth was gone at one fell swoop. The glass showed me a livid and haggard face, blanched and bloodless as of one who sees a spectre; and in the ashen lips, and wrinkled brow, and dim eyes, I could trace nothing of my old self. The hair, too, jetty and rich before, was now as white as snow, and in one night the ravages of half a century had passed over my face. Nor have my nerves ever recovered their tone after that dire shock. Can you wonder that my life was blighted, that my lover shrank from me, so sad a wreck was I? I am old now--old and alone. My sisters would have had me to live with them, but I chose not to sadden their genial homes with my phantom face and dead eyes. Reginald married another.

He has been dead many years. I never ceased to pray for him, though he left me when I was bereft of all. The sad weird is nearly over now. I am old, and near the end, and wishful for it. I have not been bitter or hard, but I cannot bear to see many people, and am best alone. I try to do what good I can with the worthless wealth Lady Speldhurst left me, for at my wish my portion was shared between my sisters.

What need had I of inheritances?--I, the shattered wreck made by that one night of horror!

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Best Horror Short Stories 1850-1899 Annotated
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