a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
Title: The Shadows Around Us: Authentic Tales of the Supernatural Author: Arthur Morrison * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1500011h.html Language: English Date first posted: Jan 2015 Most recent update: Jan 2015 This eBook was produced by Colin Choat from a text donated by Tim Prasil. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE
Credit and thanks for making this rare book available for publication at Project Gutenberg Australia and in Roy Glashan's Library go to Tim Prasil, author of Help for the Haunted: A Decade of Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mysteries (1899-1909), who donated the PDF image file used to create this e-book. Click here to visit Tim's web site.
"Is not this something more than fantasy?
What think you on't?" —Hamlet.
THE narratives here set down are among the most fully attested of the many modern records of those phenomena which appear to be independent of known natural laws. It has been fashionable among the semi-informed outwardly to pooh-pooh at any suggestion of the presence about us of unseen existences and influences, or, indeed, of any thing not yet recognised, analysed, and labelled by science. Fifty years ago, persons of narrow capacity would have sneered at the suggested possibility of the telephone and the phonograph, just as they did not very long before at that of the steam engine. Men of science, whose researches teach them how comparatively little the greatest among them knows of the scheme of the universe, are more modest. There is, of course, no need, because it may be admitted—as it must be—that things have happened, and are happening, of a character which is called supernatural, for an immediate and unreserved return to the vulgar old belief in fairies and witches, with their accompanying trap-doors and blue fire. Our acquaintance with the matters in question is, however, much too slight to warrant the formulation of anything like fixed doctrines, and it is quite possible that with only our material senses to guide us we may never arrive at a stage of knowledge justifying any such formulation.
The incidents set forth in the ensuing pages are as completely testified to as written facts well may be—that is to say, infinitely more care has been taken to verify and substantiate them than is taken to authenticate the matter-of-fact news published in a daily newspaper and accepted by everybody without question. For several of the cases the compiler is indebted to the investigations of the Society for Psychical Research.
OESEL is a small and irregularly-shaped island in the Baltic Sea, on the Russian coast, almost shutting in the Gulf of Riga, and converting it into an immense harbour. The total population of the island is now nearly 50,000, but at the time at which the events here set down occurred it could not have been much more than half as great. The capital town, and, indeed, the only town, is Ahrensburg, and the local government is carried on by a town corporation, with the burgomeister at its head, and by an ecclesiastical court, called the Consistory.
At the time at which this story opens (in the year 1844) one of the oldest and most powerful families living in Oesel was the Buxhoewden family, originally—some hundred years before—coming from Bremen. Enmity of the most intense and unnatural kind existed between two brothers of this kinship, whose mutual hatred led them to war, secretly and openly, against each other's every interest and sympathy.
What the final and immediate cause was no one could ever distinctly say, but when, one morning in the spring of the year, Carl Buxhoewden, was found weltering in blood, with his throat cut from ear to ear, and with a razor tightly clenched in his right hand, the whole family ascribed what was, of course, assumed to be suicide, to some development of the quarrel with his brother Otto.
The strongest efforts were made to hush the matter up, the death was given out as having been due to apoplexy, and the funeral took place as soon as possible. But the actual facts soon got abroad, and when the body was interred, in its thick oak coffin, in the family vault under the private chapel in the cemetery of Ahrensburg, there were few spectators but knew what a ghastly mutilation that heavy oak coffin covered.
A few weeks after this, on Monday, June 22nd, 1844, a singular occurrence took place. It should be understood that the Ahrensburg cemetery abuts on the public road, and that the largest of the private chapels standing in it—it being customary for every family of distinction on the island to have its own chapel by way of a family vault—is, or was, the chapel of the Buxhoewdens. This chapel is in full view of the road, and as the cemetery path led beside it, visitors to the graves and others who had business in the neighbourhood were accustomed to fasten their horses in the front of the chapel, between it and the road.
On the day in question, a woman of the name of Dullmann, wife of a tailor in the town, and a most respectable person, employed as a sempstress in the family of Baron de Guldenstubbé, president of the Consistory, arrived at the cemetery with her children. She had with her a horse and small cart, and intended to visit the grave of her mother, and afterwards to proceed to the house of some friends at a distance. She fastened the horse, as usual, in front of the chapel, and, with the children, proceeded to the interior part of the cemetery, on the opposite side of the chapel to that on which her horse and cart stood, and knelt at her mother's grave. She afterwards stated that while thus engaged she had an indistinct perception of noises from the direction of the chapel, but, being absorbed in her own thoughts, paid no attention. When she rose to go away, however, she found her children clinging very uneasily to her skirts, and attempting to explain, as well as they could, that some noise from the chapel had frightened them; and on reaching the horse—always an extremely quiet animal—she found it in a state of most abject terror, covered with sweat and foam and trembling in every joint. When led towards the road, the poor animal could scarcely walk, and had to be taken home at once and attended by a veterinary surgeon, whose opinion was that it had been in some way most excessively terrified.
At her next visit to the house of Baron de Guldenstubbé the woman Dullmann detailed these circumstances to the baron, who, however, thought little of the matter at the time. But soon other incidents of the sort occurred, and began to be common talk in the neighbourhood.
On Sunday, June 28th, several persons having fastened their horses in the usual place, returned to find them in a similar condition to that in which the sempstress had found hers on the previous Monday, and people in the neighbourhood testified to having heard singular rumbling noises, seemingly proceeding from the vaults under the Buxhoewden chapel.
These disturbances increased in frequency, although they were still irregular. One day, a week or two afterwards (rather early in July), eleven horses happened to be fastened by the chapel, when some people passing heard loud noises from the vaults. These people immediately called the owners of the horses, who found their animals in a most pitiable condition, apparently even more distressed than the others had been. Many, in their frantic efforts to escape, had fallen, and were struggling on the ground, and all were almost powerless with fright. Three or four of these horses died within the following day or two from the effects of their adventure, and the owners thereupon laid a formal complaint before the Consistory.
While this complaint was under consideration another member of the Buxhoewden family—the brother Otto—died, and the usual preparations were made for an elaborate funeral, which was duly carried out, with no unusual incident until the arrival at the chapel. The coffin was being carried with great solemnity into the building when, suddenly and distinctly, there came the sound of the dragging of some heavy body across the floor of the vault beneath, accompanied by a prolonged groan. The effect of this upon the coffin-bearers and mourners may be imagined, and some few minutes elapsed before the service was proceeded with. Throughout its whole progress the service was interrupted by sounds as of rolling, dragging, bumping, and falling from the vaults below, intermingled with groans and, occasionally, horrible peals of laughter. The horses attached to the funeral carriages had to be led away.
When the service was concluded a hurried consultation took place between the leading members of the family, and it was decided to descend into the vault and, if possible, ascertain the cause of the disturbance. The coffin was not then taken, it being customary to leave it in the chapel for some days, or even weeks, before carrying it below. The doors at the top of the steps leading to the vault were therefore unlocked and opened, the steps were descended, and the doors at the bottom leading into the vault itself, were unlocked and opened also.
No sound now; but what a sight! The coffins taken from their places in the regular rows elevated on bars round the walls of the vault, and piled in a confused heap in the middle of the chamber; overset and stood upside down and on end, as though demons had played some unholy game of skittles with them. All—all except three. The visitors crossed to these three coffins to see whose remains had been spared the general indignities. The coffins were those of the grandmother of the then head of the family, an old lady who had been revered as a saint in Oesel for her charity and piety, and who had died at a considerable age in 1839; and of two little children—the only little children, it was believed, buried in that vault.
The disturbed coffins were reverently replaced and the vault locked up once more. How could the disturbance have occurred? The doors had always been kept fastened, the keys were in the possession of the chief of the family, and the locks, which were of very strong workmanship, had not been tampered with.
Now, when horses were left near the chapel, children were set to watch them. But when the noises returned the children scampered away, and the complaints and excitement became greater than ever. Some of the children, indeed, insisted that they saw dark spectres about the chapel, but this was probably only a delusion of their terrified fancies, and, at any rate, is a circumstance without the indisputable corroboration which the rest of the story has.
The excitement now reached an extremely high pitch, and an official inquiry was demanded. To this demand the Buxhoewden family were disinclined to accede, preferring to set down the phenomena to trickery. Two of the family, however, with Baron de Guldenstubbé, again visited the vault. They found the coffins in the same disorder as before, all piled up confusedly, with the exception of the same three. This convinced them of the desirability of an investigation of some kind, and every coffin having been carefully put into its proper place, the doors were again locked, and the keys placed in the hands of the Baron de Guldenstubbé, with a view to an official inquiry.
A court or committee was then formed, consisting of the Baron de Guldenstubbé as president, the Bishop of the Province of Livonia (to which Oesel belongs) as vice-president, M. Luce, a physician (who was, it may be observed, a professed atheist), M. Schmidt, the burgomeister of Ahrensburg, two members of the Consistory, one of the syndics, and a secretary. These went in a body to the chapel to make a complete examination of the vault and everything appertaining to it.
Again were the coffins found all displaced, all excepting the same three as before. There they stood or lay in a grotesque heap. The lightest of these coffins was of extremely thick oak, and would require the exertions of two men to lift it, while others were much heavier. But here they were, more than simply lifted—they had been stood on end, rolled to and fro, and tossed about like boxes of pasteboard.
The first impression of the committee was that the outrage might have been perpetrated for purposes of robbery. Another chapel vault in the same cemetery had some time before been broken into, and the heavy gold fringe decorating the coffin sides had been cut off. But here no gold fringe was missing, and the coffins had evidently not been opened. To be perfectly certain, however, they had a few of the lids lifted, but found in every case all the jewellery, rings, etc., which it was the practice in Oesel to bury with the corpse. Where the bodies had long since crumbled to dust, there were still trinkets at the bottom of the coffin. The lids were refastened, and the coffins replaced in their proper positions.
Then it occurred to a member of the committee that perhaps the Buxhoewdens had some wealthy enemies, whose pitiful spite had prompted insult to the dead, and had led them to invade the chapel by subterraneous passages under the foundation of the vault. Workmen were therefore sent for, and the whole pavement of the vault was taken up, the foundations of the chapel laid bare, and every crevice minutely examined by practised eyes; still, however, with no result. No secret entrance, no passage, no solitary crack existed.
Then everything was put back, the vault pavement was replaced, and all made secure. The coffins having been put in their places, exact notes were taken of the position of each one. Further, an ingenious expedient was adopted to detect any future disturbance of the vault from below in case any undiscovered subterraneous inlet existed. A quantity of fine wood ashes, in the form of almost impalpable powder, was procured and carefully spread over the whole of the floor of the vault, working backward toward the door. This was laid thick and perfectly smooth, so as to show distinctly any footmark, while it would be obviously impossible for anybody to enter from below, and replace the floor after him without leaving the ashes in a disturbed state. When the floor had been covered and they had arrived—still working backward—at the door of the vault, that door was closed, locked, and doubly sealed, first with the Consistory seal and then with the seal of the city. Then the fine wood ashes were strewed over the steps ascending to the chapel, and the door at the top of the steps was locked and doubly sealed, just as the other had been. After this the whole of the chapel floor itself was covered with the fine ashes—always working backward toward the door—and finally the outer chapel door was carefully locked and double sealed in the same way as the others. Then guards were selected from the garrison of Ahrensburg, and set to watch for three days and nights around the chapel, being relieved at very short intervals to prevent any possibility of complicity on their part with unauthorised interference.
During these three days and nights the noises were louder and more terrifying than ever, and at the end of the time the investigating body approached the chapel with the full expectation of making an important discovery.
The outside chapel door was first examined; it was just as it had been left, with the seals unbroken. It was then opened, and the chapel was inspected. The wood ashes remained undisturbed and unmarked upon the floor. The door at the top of the staircase was reached—fastened still, and the seals unbroken. The steps were still covered with the wood ash, undisturbed. They approached the door of the vault itself, and had ascertained that the seals were intact, as upon the other doors, when a singular low, half-choking sound from the interior of the vault was heard. With no delay they broke the seals, unlocked the door, and looked in.
No living or moving soul there, and no sound. But in the middle of the vault, again what a sight! The coffins piled in more grotesque fashion than ever; many stood on end, head downward; and one, in the middle, standing on end, but head uppermost, had the lid partially forced off the upper part, and protruding through the opening was a ghastly, shrivelled arm and hand, pointing upward!
With fear and anxiety they entered the vault and examined the lid of this horrible coffin. The inscription showed it to be that of Carl de Buxhoewden, and there stuck out his arm, holding aloft the hand which had been found grasping the razor in death!
But, more singular than all, there lay the ash powder, a smooth and unruffled coating, without a single mark upon it, excepting the footprints of those of the committee who had entered the vault, and which each had carefully noted when he made them.
There was no trace of robbery. Not an inch of the surface of floor, walls, or roof bore the mark of a touch; and everything but the ghastly pile of-coffins remained as they had left it. And there, undisturbed, side by side, in the places where loving hands had placed them years before; lay the coffins of the saintly woman and the two little children, hallowed through all this hellish riot.
The coffins were all taken out and buried separately. Then no more noises were heard. The investigating body drew up a full and detailed report, giving all the particulars of the case and of the examinations which had been made, and this report was signed by each member. The document is still in existence, and is deposited in the archives of the Consistory of Oesel. It can be inspected by visitors upon the production of satisfactory credentials, and, of course, has all the weight, as evidence, of a careful judicial report, drawn up by a responsible body of men of superior education and occupying a recognised official status, who record simply their own observations after a most thorough and complete investigation.
It is, perhaps, worthy of observation that one of the investigators, M. Luce, a physician and scientist of high abilities, who had before his experience in this matter professed atheism, immediately afterward made open declaration of an entire change in his religious views, and admitted it to have been brought about by what he saw in the vault of the chapel of the Buxhoewdens.
THERE are many anecdotes extant of practical jokers who, in the attempt to practise upon the superstitious fears of their friends and neighbours, have had the tables very severely turned upon themselves. One of the saddest of these, and one which is fairy well known and said to be perfectly authentic, tells of a wager made between two young lieutenants in an English Line regiment, who were very close friends. They were stationed at a town, the churchyard of which had a ghostly reputation, and the subject of ghosts occurred one day at mess, when one defied the other, by a bet, to remain in a particular part of the churchyard all night. The bet was readily accepted, and, armed with his sword and pistols, the intended victim of a practical joke took up his position at the place agreed upon, and waited. Meanwhile, the bullets had been surreptitiously withdrawn from his pistols, and his friend, enveloped in a sheet, and carrying a bullet in each hand, concealed himself behind a neighbouring tombstone, while sundry members of the mess ensconced themselves in the vicinity to enjoy the fun.
Twelve o'clock having struck from the neighbouring church tower, the sham ghost rose and moved slowly in the direction of the young lieutenant. The latter, nothing daunted, and never suspecting a trick on the part of his friends; promptly fired a pistol at it; whereupon it slowly extended one hand in the moonlight, with a bullet between the finger and thumb, as though the projectile had been arrested in mid-air. Promptly was the other pistol seized and fired, with the same result; whereupon, drawing his sword, the young man rushed forward, and, lunging violently, ran his friend through the body, killing him on the spot. The remorse of the intended victim and of the abettors of the real victim may, perhaps, be imagined.
In the following case, however, the punishment of a somewhat similar practical joke was accomplished by means more strange and terrible. The facts can, no doubt, at the present day, be easily verified upon the spot where they took place.
In the county of Forfar, Scotland, by the mouth of the Tay, near Broughty Ferry, stands the village of Monifieth. Monifieth parish comprises, beside the village which gives it its name, the villages of Banhill and Drumsturdymoor and the larger part of the post town of Broughty Ferry. Monifieth village proper contains some thousand or more inhabitants, but was a smaller place at the time at which the event below recorded took place.
The parish schools now standing at Monifieth were erected in 1822, and took the place of the old building in which, towards the end of the last century, Mr. William Craighead presided as schoolmaster. This was the Mr. William Craighead whose popular handbook of arithmetic was, some time after the occurrence's here set down, in such great request for school purposes. Mr. Craighead was, at the time referred to, a young man, and one of much livelier tendencies than, no doubt, many of the sober bodies of Monifieth considered strictly consistent with the dignity of a parish schoolmaster. Practical jokes of a pronounced character were frequently played at Monifieth, and popular suspicion was not always wrong in ascribing them to Craighead.
The custom of the "lich-wake," corresponding largely with the surviving Irish custom of waking the dead, had not then died out in Scotland, and in Monifieth was frequently practised. Scholars tell us that these ceremonies were of Saxon origin, the name being derived from the Saxon words lic, a corpse, and waeccan, to sit awake.
Now, it chanced that upon the death of a substantial farmer in the neighbourhood, a large number of his late acquaintances were invited to the lich-wake, and among them were Craighead and Andrew Saunders, an intimate companion of his, and his confederate in more than one youthful frolic. The similarity in the personal appearance of this Andrew Saunders and that of the dead farmer had more than once been noticed, and this suggested to Craighead a practical joke of rather a grim nature, which, after consultation between the two friends, was ultimately agreed upon.
A shroud was to be procured, and Saunders was to don it; then, after means had been found to attract the company temporarily into another room, the corpse was to be removed to an outhouse, and Saunders was to take its place. Then, when all had returned and the opportunity seemed fitting, Craighead was to sneeze twice, and, at the signal, the supposed corpse was to rise, and the fun was to consist in the enjoyment by the jokers of the terror which their friends would exhibit.
The evening came, and all the preliminaries to this piece of humour were successfully gone through. A chest was suddenly discovered in another part of the house, standing in its wrong place, in the middle of a room, and apparently so heavy that nobody could move it. The whole company adjourned to the room where this chest was in order to try, one after another, to lift or move it, and the whole company failed; which was not very surprising, considering that it had been carefully screwed to the floor. After a time the lid was burst open and the difficulty discovered, and general opinion at once pointed to the perpetrator of the joke as that daft hempie, Wullie Craighead, without, however, a suspicion that the ruse had any intention beyond its own perpetration.
Everybody returned to the watching room, where, during their absence Andrew Saunders had emerged from another passage, and, after dragging the corpse to his own lurking place, had taken its place on the bed, shrouded.
Craighead made his way round about to where the corpse lay upon the floor of the side passage, and, first carefully reconnoitring to make perfectly sure of not being watched, conveyed it to an outhouse. There was straw in this outhouse, and this Craighead disposed suitably, and stretched the body upon it. Returning, he found the key had been carelessly left in the padlock, so, after locking the door, he pocketed this key in case of inquisitiveness on the part of anybody coming near the spot.
This done, he strolled innocently back into the death-chamber.
There was Saunders in the bed, acting the part of the corpse admirably, and quite unsuspected by the assembly. The assembly, indeed, was devoting itself, with great singleness of purpose, to whisky, and paying small attention to the occasion of the ceremony. Perfect decorum and quietness, however, as was customary, prevailed.
"It's a sad okeeshun, a verra sad okeeshun," said the miller, reaching for the bottle, "and its proper contemplation calls for a speeshal steemulus," and he took it.
"It's no sae sad as't micht be," said another, "wi' neither wife nor bairns to greet."
They forgot the dead man's little sister, who was hidden in her little bedroom, exhausted with weeping.
"Thankee, Mr. Christie; I'll just trouble you for the spiritual stimulus," said Craighead, addressing the miller. "I was reading the other day," he added for the information of the company in general, "a rather singular account of a supposed temporary revivification of a corpse. Corpse got up in bed and reached for whisky."
"It's a sad, a verra sad okeeshun," repeated the miller, gazing sternly at Craighead as he handed him the liquor, "and ill-suited for sic gowk-tales."
"Matter of speecial interest, it seemed to me," replied the schoolmaster; "interesting just now, particularly, and—tichow! tichow!" he sneezed twice with violence.
No sign or movement from the bed.
This was strange. He must have heard. Craighead concluded that the sneezes had sounded too genuine and unintentional. He determined to repeat them presently, less naturally and more expressively.
The guests continued looking at one another.
Presently Craighead sneezed again twice, looking toward the bed as he did so.
No sign, no sound, no movement there.
What could be wrong? Surely, surely, his friend could not have fallen asleep in such a situation as that, in a shroud, lying in the bed from which the corpse he was personating had just been dragged? It was impossible. Yet, there he lay, motionless calm, and pale, like the body itself. Craighead felt indefinably uncomfortable and uneasy as he looked at him. Why didn't he get up?
"Ye've sair fits o' sneezin' the nicht, neebor," remarked the miller, looking at Craighead curiously.
Still gazing at his friend in the bed, Craighead indistinctly murmured something about having a cold.
Then he felt cold, indeed, with a cold perspiration. Surely Andrew was not so pale as that when he last left him in the passage, nor his lips so white? Perhaps he was ill.
Forgetting the plot entirely, be crossed hurriedly to the bed, and laid his hand on his friend's shoulder. Then, suddenly turning paler than the other, he thrust his hand beneath the breast of the shroud.
His companions looked at him and at one another in astonishment. Wullie Craighead, with all his gaiety, had the name of a sober man; but here he was tearing the bed-clothes off a dead body and crying like one demented.
"Bring some water, quick, quick! or whisky, or anything! He's dying, man, I tell ye, or dead! It's Saunders; it's Andy Saunders!"
And there, sure enough, as he tore the shroud away, were seen beneath it the everyday clothes of Andrew Saunders.
"What deil's riggs are ye at noo, Wullie Craighead?" and every man started to his feet and made for the bed.
And there, in his well-known suit of hodden, with the rags of the torn shroud hanging about his neck and shoulders, lay Andrew Saunders, dead!
For some time no word could be got from William Craighead as he sat on the bed dazed and stupid. Then, in response to repeated demands, he explained the ghastly joke in a few words. Meantime the doctor had arrived, and pronounced no doubt of Saunders's death.
Then arose an inquiry as to where the other body had been concealed, and Craighead, whose stupefaction had given way to wild remorse and self-reproach, accompanied the miller to the outhouse to bring it in.
A stable lantern was lit, and the padlock, which worked rather stiffly, was unlocked with difficulty by means of the key which Craighead had retained.
They entered the outhouse, and there found—nothing but straw! The body had gone!
The outhouse had no window and no other outlet whatever beside the door, which they had found securely padlocked. Craighead was certain that this, and no other outhouse, was the one in which the body had been placed; and, indeed, none of the others were provided with a similar lock. And in the corner he recognised the disposition of the straw, which lay just as he had spread it to receive the body.
Entirely overwhelmed, he wandered aimlessly about the premises. The rest of the party made a thorough search, but without discovering a trace of the missing body, and every man most solemnly declared that he knew nothing whatever of the removal.
Presently, in turning into a door of the house, Craighead met the little sister. She had heard vaguely something of what he had done, and fled from him faintly screaming. Crazed and maddened, he rushed from the place.
All that night he wandered over the country side, he knew not where. Rain fell upon his bare head and drenched him through, but he knew it not.
Day broke, the sun rose and declined, and still William Craighead wandered over the adjacent country demented—searching for a corpse, he told them that addressed him; looking for a dead man in his shroud.
Four days and nights he roamed the neighbourhood, an object of pity and fear to the inhabitants, without rest and without sleep. Then a party went after him, and after telling him their news, fetched him with them quietly, and William Craighead returned to his school and his regular duties, and lived ever after a saddened and sober life.
For the body had been found in a field among the brooks of Tealing, six miles or more from Monifieth, lying unruffled and apparently undisturbed in its shroud, just as it had lain upon the bed; and it was carried away and decently buried. But how it came where it was found no man ever knew.
ROBERT BRUCE was born at Torbay, in Devon, of humble parents, in the year 1798. Although his parentage was poor, he was said to be descended from a very old Scotch family. This may or may not have been the fact, in view of the well-known anxiety of everybody of the name of Bruce to claim connection with the family of the great Robert. In any case, the Robert Bruce we have now to deal with showed an early inclination for a seafaring life, and adopted it. His natural intelligence stood him in good stead, and Bruce's promotion was rapid; so rapid, indeed, that he was barely thirty years of age when he became first mate of a barque trading between Liverpool and St. John's, New Brunswick, Canada, of which ship he was subsequently captain. It is with his experiences on one of his voyages as mate, in the year 1828, that this narrative deals.
The vessel had by some means got rather northward of its proper course, and now, being six weeks on its voyage, was somewhere (roughly speaking) about latitude 50 north and longitude 47 west; that is to say, somewhere off the north-east coast of Newfoundland. Much broken ice had been encountered, and in the morning both captain and mate took an observation with a view of working out the exact position of the ship.
The observation having been taken, Bruce descended to his cabin in order to make the reckoning. Now Bruce's cabin was at the foot of and directly facing the companion ladder, the captain's cabin adjoining it, the door, however, being at right angles to that of the mate's cabin, so that in descending or ascending the steps to leave or to reach the latter, the door of the captain's cabin must be passed.
The mate experienced some considerable difficulty with his figures, the result always varying unaccountably largely from the dead reckoning. At length, looking up and seeing through the door, as he supposed, the back of the captain as he leant over a small table in his cabin, Bruce said:
"I can't make it anything but 49.30 latitude by 48.17 longitude. Can't be right, can it? What do you make it, sir?"
There was no reply.
Supposing the other to be deep in his calculations, the mate rose, and looking in at the captain's door, where the figure was still bending over the table and apparently writing upon the slate which the captain used for reckoning, he began again to address it, when it rose and turned slowly round, and, gazing sternly at him, disclosed the face and form of a perfect stranger.
Bruce was not naturally a timid man, but the appearance of a silent stranger on board an isolated ship of which he knew every living occupant, so alarmed him that he immediately ran upon deck and sought the captain.
"Who is the stranger in your cabin?"
"A stranger in my cabin? I don't understand you. What stranger?"
"I don't know, except that as I passed the door just now a perfect stranger was standing there writing on a slate. I took him for yourself at first, but when he turned and looked me full in the face he—he—well he was a stranger."
"But the thing's impossible; we're six weeks out. Where's a stranger to come from?" asked the captain, who began to suspect his mate's sobriety or sanity. "Why didn't you speak to him?"
"To tell the truth, sir, I was too much scared. I scarcely know why, but I was; and I'd rather not go back to the cabin alone, and that's a fact."
The captain immediately strode across the deck, followed by the mate. They descended the companion-ladder, looked into the captain's cabin, and there found—nobody.
"Now, Mr. Bruce," said the captain, "where's your stranger?"
Bruce was dumbfounded. Since leaving the ladder he had never taken his eyes off the companion which surmounted it, and it was impossible for anybody to leave the cabin by any other way. He could only repeat what he had previously said, alluding, of course, to the incident of the slate.
The slate was lying upon the table. The captain picked it up, and there, in a clear and distinct, but very peculiar and strongly characterised hand-writing, were the words, "Steer to the north-west."
"Mr. Bruce," said the captain, "are you playing the fool?"
"I can only say, sir, that I know nothing about what is written on that slate beyond what I have told you."
"Mr. Bruce," said the captain, looking at him searchingly; "take the pencil and write those words again, below the place where they are already written."
The mate did so, and handed the slate to the captain. The closest scrutiny failed to detect the smallest resemblance between the handwritings.
"Mr. Bruce," said the captain, with a look less of suspicion and more of perplexity, "this is a rum go."
"I think so, too, sir," replied the mate.
The captain determined to make every possible investigation. The slate was put carefully by, and another procured. Then every man in the ship was sent for in turn, and every one who could write was made to write the words, "Steer to the north-west" on the new slate, until it was covered with the most extraordinarily diverse set of scrawls ever seen, and the crew were lost in astonishment at the captain's new copy-book freak. But still no man's handwriting resembled, in the least degree, that upon the captain's slate.
Then all hands were assembled on deck, and the captain explained that he had reason to believe that a stranger was hidden somewhere on board. He expressed his intention of making a thorough inquiry, but said that if any man knew of a stowaway and would say so at once, neither should be punished, which would not be the case if he were first put to the trouble of a search.
Nobody came forward. The search was, therefore, begun. From one end of the ship to the other, every corner was ransacked, every inch of space was examined, but no human creature was discovered. The mate's story had got about, and every man, out of sheer curiosity, searched his best, but to no purpose.
Then said the captain, "Mr. Bruce, I mean to get to the bottom of this thing. Now, before I go any further, I want you to tell me, on your honour as a man, whether you still seriously believe what you have told me. Will you bear the responsibility, whatever it brings, of asserting that you saw that man in my cabin, writing on my slate?"
"That," said the mate, "I certainly will, sir."
"Very good then, Mr. Bruce," the captain replied, "I shall steer north-west, and see what comes of it."
The head of the barque was, therefore, put round the necessary number of points, and the vessel proceeded in that direction, with an extra look-out aloft.
Much ice was seen, and soon after three o'clock in the afternoon a large berg was sighted toward the north. A close scrutiny presently revealed the fact that there was a dismantled ship firmly wedged against this berg.
As near an approach was made as was judged safe, when unmistakeable signals of distress were perceived being made from the castaway vessel. Boats were lowered, and after some difficulty the first two boatloads of people were taken off and brought on board the barque. They were an English ship, and had been lost in the ice, they explained, having been frozen up for the last month. Their timbers were stove, their decks were swept, and their water and provisions were nearly exhausted. They had seen no other ship, and had quite given up all hope, being, they were persuaded, entirely out of the regular track of shipping.
By this time the last boatload of the rescued reached the barque and began to ascend the side. As the first man reached the deck, Bruce seized the captain's elbow, and, almost too agitated to speak coherently, pointed to him.
"There he is! The man in your cabin!"
The rest of the rescued crew having reached the deck, the captain immediately sought out the captain of the lost vessel, in order, if possible, to elicit some explanation of the mate's extraordinary adventure.
After receiving a general account of the misfortunes and privations which the castaways had undergone, the captain asked:
"Who is that dark man with a full beard, rather tall, about my own weight and build, who came aboard with you in the last boat, wearing no hat?"
The other thought for a moment, and then asked:
"Do you mean the man who got aboard first?"
"Oh, he's a passenger—we had only three—and a very good fellow, but rather excitable, I think."
"Now my first mate," said the captain, "isn't excitable at all, as a general thing, but he has been extraordinarily excited to-day. Some few hours ago he came and reported a strange man in my cabin—this cabin, in fact—and, singularly enough, although we searched the ship and found nobody, we found that writing on this slate." He handed it across the table.
The rescued captain glanced at it.
"Steer to the north-west," he read. "Well, I can't, for the life of me, remember whose it is but it strikes me I have seen a handwriting like that before."
"I haven't," replied the captain, "nor any one on my ship, seemingly. But the strange thing is that I did steer north-west when I saw this, and found you; and, a stranger thing still, that directly the man I just spoke to you about stepped aboard, my first mate swore he was the man he saw in my cabin!"
The captains stared at one another for a moment, and then the newcomer, slightly changing colour, said:
"This is the most remarkable coincidence I ever heard of, I shouldn't have thought an idle dream worth mentioning if you hadn't told me what you have. That passenger has been all along in a most down-hearted, desponding state until this morning, and till then I don't believe he slept for the last fortnight. This morning he fell into a very deep sleep indeed, with his head against a chest, and, although a man fell over him, he didn't wake. This lasted for, I should say, two hours and a half or three hours, when he woke in the most light-hearted temper imaginable, and began telling every one that we should be picked up by a barque in an hour or two for certain. His manner was so very different from what it had previously been, and he described the barque which was coming with so much exactness, that we feared the poor fellow's head was getting a little out of bearings with his sufferings. When you hove in sight—just the kind of barque he had been describing—I confess I was almost as much startled as I was delighted, but I put it down to coincidence, which I suppose it is. But about that writing?"
"Ah," said the captain, "about that writing. Do you think you could fetch your excitable friend here?"
Yes he could, and he did. The passenger came down the ladder, laughing and chatting volubly like a light-hearted schoolboy.
"Captain, you're a brick. I don't think I need say how glad I was to meet you and your ship, eh? Ha, ha! You're a capital lot of fellows, and I'm sure we can't thank you enough. I don't recollect ever having been aboard your ship before, but everything seems very familiar. Who's your first mate? I believe I've met him somewhere, but he won't have anything to say to me."
"Very glad to have been of service, I'm sure," replied the captain. "By the bye, we were just having a little discussion, which perhaps you can help us to settle. Do you mind writing something on that slate?" And he handed him the slate still bearing the caligraphic efforts of the ship's company.
"Certainly. What a collection of autographs! What shall I write?"
"Well, suppose you write what the others have written: 'Steer to the north-west.'"
The light-hearted passenger did so. Then taking up his own slate, upon which still remained the mysterious message of the morning, the captain placed them side by side. The hand-writings were identical. The sentences were fac-similes of each other, every turn, every twist of every letter the same exactly!
The passenger was as much astonished as the other two. And when the captain related the occurrences of the morning, and was corroborated by his mate, his bewilderment was beyond words. He could offer no explanation whatever, and could only relate that he seemed to have fallen asleep without any previous feeling of drowsiness, and had awoke with the strongest possible conviction, for which he could in no way account, that a rescue would shortly be effected by a barque sailing from the south-east, the very shape and rig of the barque being impressed upon his mind as distinctly as inexplicably.
MANY cases are on record of the appearance, or supposed appearance, at about the time of death, of a person's form to some near friend or relative, and, in some cases, to several. Indeed, there can scarcely be a family in which such an occurrence has not, at some time or another, been said to have taken place.
An explanation of these phenomena is suggested by much of what we know of hypnotism. We know that a man gifted with a peculiar degree of will power can, by exerting it to a full and often exhausting extent, cause varying impressions to be produced upon the brain of another person, with whom he is said to be en rapport. It thereupon suggests itself that a person in the throes of that change of state which we call death, undergoes a certain paroxysm in which the whole powers and faculties of the body are put upon a sudden and momentary tension; and admitting, which it is reasonable to do, that his mind is probably at that time fixed upon some very dear absent friend or relative, it is easy to conceive that the sudden tension of those faculties, among others, with which the hypnotist produces certain effects upon the mind of his subject, might well produce upon the person on whom the mind is fixed the most unstudied and involuntary impression from the dying person which is possible to the senses, namely, the appearance of his form as, according to recollection, it was in times past ordinarily seen; not the presence of that form, it will be understood, but the impression upon the sensorium of such presence, the impression being at times conveyed to the auditory sense, as well as to the sight, just as the hypnotist conveys deceptive impressions to any of the senses.
The birthplace and early residence of William Howitt was at the village (one would, nowadays, considering its growth of population, call it the town) of Heanor, in Derbyshire. Heanor lies about nine miles from Derby town north-easterly, on the road to Mansfield, and about five miles almost due east of Belper. Of Howitt himself it is scarcely necessary to speak. Born of an old Quaker family resident at Heanor for many generations, his life and his writings, as well as those of his wife, are well known; although, perhaps, less so to-day than they were twenty years ago.
Of his mother Mr. Howitt always retained the kindest memories. Her maiden name had been Tantum, and her family was of good standing in the county. She had two brothers, Richard and Francis. Francis—whose age at the time when the occurrence to be related took place was twenty—was a great favourite of hers. He lived at Heanor Hall, and was on very friendly terms with the family of Mr. E. Miller Mundy, M.P. for the county, and was a frequent visitor at this gentleman's house, Shipley Hall, a mile or two from Heanor.
William Howitt was born in 1789, and it was shortly after this event, and while approaching her convalescence, that Mrs. Howitt's adventure happened.
The afternoon was warm, clear, and sunny, and the patient was enjoying the breath of the new summer air which came in at her open window, and listening dreamily to the busy chirrup of the thousand birds in the trees between the window and the road. For fear of draughts, however, the curtains at her bed-foot had been drawn close, and she could see nothing of the changing tints of the leaves as they rustled in the breeze; could but hear the lazy step of the carrier's horse as he passed on up the village street toward the Admiral Rodney, at the corner of the Shipley Road, without the possibility of inspecting from the window the variety of his load and speculating as to its different destinations. Now and again the sound of footsteps quietly crushing the dust of the road would increase, and again become fainter, as some passenger left or approached the village—the house was the end one—and these sounds, with the occasional addition of the subdued low of the "far kine," were all of the outside world that Mrs. Howitt was conscious of.
The old hall clock below sleepily buzzed out four.
It had occurred to her to send for a book, and she was about to pull the bell-cord for that purpose when she heard dull, muffled footsteps on the landing outside, and at the door a knock of a similarly subdued sound; then the door opened, and the footsteps approached the foot of the bed, where the curtains parted slowly and the face of Francis Tantum, her brother, appeared; wearing an expression, however, very solemn and mournful in contrast to his usual laughing, rollicking air.
"Why, Frank," exclaimed Mrs. Howitt, "you rather startled me. Come round and sit down; I want to talk to you."
Then the curtains closed and the face vanished. Footsteps again, and the door opened and shut. Then all was quiet. He had gone.
"Frank!" cried Mrs. Howitt.
She hastily rang the bell, and her maid, who had been at the foot of the staircase, entered.
"Run after Mr. Tantum, and ask him to come back. He has just gone downstairs."
The maid's eyes widened. "He hasn't gone down stairs lately, ma'am," she said. "I've been at the stairfoot picking up a paper full of pins I dropped, and nobody passed me."
"But I saw him myself; he came in here," replied Mrs. Howitt; "go down and look for him." And the girl went.
Nobody had seen Mr. Frank Tantum. The road lay straight and clear along and from the front of the house, but there was no sign in either direction of his retreating figure. The hall clock had struck four while the maid was looking for the pins, and it was barely five minutes past, so that he could scarcely have got out of sight. No one had opened the door that day to him. The gardener, who was digging at the corner of the garden facing the road, had neither seen him arrive nor leave. The maid returned to the house to inquire further in the kitchen.
Mrs. Howitt was lying in her bed still listening. The merriment of the birds and the whispering of the trees still went on. Then these suddenly became supplemented by others, unusual in quiet Heanor—the noise of men running, news passed quickly from mouth to mouth in breathless snatches, rapid feet hurrying past toward the village. What was it?
A vague, shapeless fear seized her. Sitting up in bed, she pulled violently and long at the bell rope but although women's feet were heard ascending the stairs, they stopped outside the door, and there was whispering. Why didn't they come in? She called.
Presently her nurse entered, wearing a hastily-assumed and ineffectual air of serenity.
"What's the matter? Why didn't you come? What are all the people running for?"
"Nothing, ma'am. Oh no, nothing at all. Now, do lie down again, or you'll be ill. It is only boys playing. Will you have a cup of tea?"
"Tell me what it is! I know something has happened," replied Mrs. Howitt, attempting to rise; "tell me what it is, I tell you!"
"Oh, dear, dear ma'am, do keep quiet," said the agitated nurse, "it isn't—I don't think it's anything very bad. I'll call and fetch some one," and the help of others of the household was enlisted to attempt to soothe the patient's agitation.
But she would not rest content except she were told what had happened; and by degrees the terrible news was broken to her.
Francis Tantum had been murdered in the village street!
This was the manner of the crime. Francis Tantum had dined with Mr. Miller Mundy at Shipley Hall. At that time the fashion of late dinners had not taken hold of the country gentry so far from London as Heanor, and by half-past three Frank Tantum's horse was saddled and waiting for him, and a few minutes later he was riding merrily away. Mr. Mundy's port was good, and his guest had just drunk enough of it to raise his ordinarily high spirits and put him in the humour for fun with everybody. So he joked the porter at the lodge, threw a sixpence for the porter's children to scramble for, and went on his way rejoicing.
He took the direct road for Heanor Hall, which crossed the main Heanor street at right angles in the village, nearly half a mile from the Howitt's residence.
The way was rough and dusty, and as he neared Heanor, whistling and lashing out at an occasional fly as it approached his horse's ears, and came in sight of the Admiral Rodney, standing at the corner of the road, a fancy struck him that a glass of ale would be suitable to the occasion. So, reining up outside the inn, he called for it.
The Admiral Rodney was kept by a respectable and comely widow—Mrs. Horrocks—whose son, Richard, a quiet, and, to all appearances, well-conducted young man of twenty, helped her in the business. The son answered Francis Tantum's call, and the latter, who knew every living creature for ten miles round, and was a universal favourite, greeted him with:
"A glass of ale, Dick, a glass of ale. Come along, Dick! quick, quick!" and laughingly hit him across the shoulders with his riding whip.
Richard Horrocks rushed into the house, and seizing a carving knife, sprang at Tantum and stabbed him dead off his horse.
The villagers ran and caught him as he fell, and, as they raised him, the church clock struck. It was four o'clock.
It was almost by a miracle that Horrocks escaped the crowd, who would have torn him to pieces. He was apprehended and tried at Derby Assizes, but, in view of the circumstances of the case, humanity prevailed in a way only too rare in those days of death for sheep-stealing, and he was convicted of manslaughter only, and served six months' imprisonment. His mother died, and he returned and lived a quiet life at the inn, always, however, remaining an object of aversion to the people of Heanor.
For many years after these occurrences the Heanor bells were tolled on the anniversary of Francis Tantum's death, and always at four o'clock in the afternoon. Who shall imagine the feelings of Richard Horrocks as he listened?
THE narrative here set forth is completely testified to in a manner which puts it as an unvarnished matter of fact beyond all doubt. The prayer book and the original letter referred to are in the possession of Captain G. F. Russell Colt, the younger brother of the late Lieutenant Colt.
On the 28th of March, 1854, war was declared by Great Britain against Russia, and afterward—not at all as soon as should have been the case—troops began to leave our shores for Varna, and later for the Crimea. The succeeding tale of blunder and delay, official incompetence, and nobly endured privation and suffering, is too well known to need more than a passing allusion, as is that of the hard fights of the Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman, and Traktir, which led up to the final bombardment and fall of Sebastopol.
Among the thousands of good soldiers who left England to do their duty in that bloody conflict was Lieutenant Colt, of the 7th Royal Fusiliers, a young man of only nineteen, the eldest son of his family. While lying before Sebastopol he, in common with so many other hardly-spared men, became stricken with illness, and it was noticed that his letters home assumed a rather low-spirited character. His younger brother, Mr. (afterwards Captain) G. F. Russell Colt, was his most frequent correspondent, and in response to one of these letters jocularly told him to cheer up, but that if anything very unpleasant did happen, he had better appear to him somewhere; preferably in the well-known old bedroom at Inveresk House, where they had so often enjoyed a surreptitious pipe and a chat together; because telegraphic communication with the Crimea was not complete, and otherwise the news would be long in reaching Scotland. Inveresk House was their father's residence, near Musselburgh, Midlothian, and Mr. Russell Colt was at this time staying there during his school holidays.
News had arrived slowly from the Crimea through the summer and early autumn of 1855. On the 7th of June the Mamelon had been taken; on the 18th an unsuccessful attack had been made on the Malakhoff and the Redan; on the 28th good Lord Raglan, the British commander, had died of cholera; on the 16th of August, the French and Sardinians had heavily defeated the Russians at the Bridge of Traktir; and toward the end of August there was talk of the final attack.
At Inveresk, the 8th of September, 1855, was a dull, cheerless, rainy day. Mr. Colt went to bed that night at about the usual time. His bed-room, the one he had mentioned in his letter to his brother Oliver (which letter had now been despatched about a fortnight, and was almost forgotten), was a singular old room, long and narrow, with a door at one end, near which was the bed, and a window at the other.
He slept soundly until shortly after two o'clock, when he awoke with a sudden shock. He sat up and looked about him, and there, kneeling at his bed-side, but facing toward the window at the far end of the room, waxily pale and transparent, was the distinct figure of his brother Oliver—his brother Oliver, who was fifteen hundred miles away, fighting in the Crimea. Bright and distinct, although surrounded by what seemed a phosphorescent haze, there it knelt, motionless, looking toward the window.
A feeling of intense awe, not in the least akin to fear, took possession of the younger brother. He attempted to speak, but could not produce a sound. Then he turned and buried his head in the clothes to calm and collect his disturbed mind. The jocular request of his letter never once crossed his brain, and he came to the conclusion that the vision must be merely an effect of fancy, or perhaps the reflection of the moonlight.
Having arrived at this decision, and by this time being, if possible, more thoroughly awake than ever, he looked again.
There still knelt the figure, but now the face was turned from the window and the gaze fixed with an indescribably sad, loving, and piteous expression directly on him.
Again he strove to speak, and again his tongue failed him. Then he sprang out of bed, went to the window, and looked out.
There was no moon, the night was black, and the rain beat heavily against the window-panes. He turned, and there still the figure of his brother knelt, with gaze fixed upon him. He shut his eyes firmly, and walked through it to the door.
He grasped the door-handle and looked back again: The back of the kneeling apparition was now toward him, and as he looked the head slowly turned and once more the eyes cast upon him that loving, mournful gaze, and there upon the temple, on the side which, until now, had been partly turned from him, he saw a red wound, with the blood streaming down over the check and ear.
He forced himself through the door, and shut it. Then he sought the room of a friend who was staying at the house, and explaining to him the reason of his agitation, spent the remainder of the night on a sofa with which the room was supplied.
In the morning he described the event of the night to several persons, and among them to his father, who, however, forbade him to repeat it—more especially to his mother—for fear of exciting groundless alarms.
But he did not know what had been going forward before Sebastopol that day. On the 8th of September the Malakhoff was stormed, and the last attack made on the Redan.
The final bombardment of Sebastopol began at daylight on the 5th of September, the guns of the allies opening with one stupendous crash, belching forth a line of fire three miles long, and pouring into the city and its defences the thickest hail of shot and shell that the war of men had ever seen, crashing through and beating down everything in its path—massive banks of solid granite, earthworks, houses, barracks, churches—everything. With scarcely a cessation to cool the guns, this went on all day, and all night a continual musketry fire was kept up to prevent the Russians repairing the damage done, Renewed in the morning, this fearful bombardment went on almost continuously day and night until the morning of the 8th, when the English and French armies began to form for the assault.
The morning was dull, cold, and cheerless; a cloud of black smoke hung low over the doomed city, and leaping up toward it in many places were the lurid flames from burning buildings. Still the fearful cannonade went on, and its smoke hid from one another the movements of the besiegers.
Thirty-five thousand men were forming up to attack the Malakhoff, the planting of the French flag upon the summit of this great work having been agreed upon as the signal for the assault upon the two Redans—the English to attack the Great and the French the Little Redan.
The company of the 7th Fusiliers to which Lieutenant Colt was attached, was to form part of the attacking party, and recovered as he was, to some extent, from his illness, the prospect of a sharp action thoroughly raised his spirits. Like a devout soldier, he received the sacrament from the chaplain, showing him at the time the letter which had only that morning arrived with news from home and the odd request of his brother. Then he joined his company and advanced to the entrenchments.
The cannonade somewhat slackened as the time for the attack approached. At five minutes to twelve the French rushed from their trenches, scaled the walls of the Malakhoff with loud shouts, and poured through the embrasures, men dropping right and left by scores. At the point of the bayonet they drove the grey Russians before them, and in a few minutes the French standard was fixed on the Korniloff bastion. But again and again the Russians returned to the attack, and it was not until after seven in the evening that they were finally driven out.
Through the dust and black smoke the tricolour was with difficulty seen at Chapman's battery, and rockets were sent up as a signal for the Redan attack. Then, with a rush, a hundred British riflemen, carrying ladders, made for the ditch surrounding the great Redan, followed by the stormers, with a roar of shouts. The Russian shot tore through them, making furrows in their companies, and leaving ridges of dead and wounded in its trail.
Colt's company, with the light division, went for the salient angle of the defence. The ditch here was at its deepest, fifteen feet, and on placing their six or seven ladders they were found to be too short. Scrambling up these, however, and over the parapet, as best they right, the captain of the company fell dead, and Colt, already more than once wounded, took his place before the men, and led them over the parapet within the walls, into a tearing hail of shot which dropped them in heaps.
And that was his end. A bullet crashed through his temple, and he fell among a dozen of his followers.
Still the hard fight went on. Furious flat-capped swarms from the lost Malakhoff poured in to reinforce the defenders at the Redan, and still the English fought in at the openings, falling everywhere in the cross fire of countless guns. Again and again the little band, largely composed of young recruits, and in many places without officers, were driven over the parapet by the sheer weight of the solid Russian masses, and again and again they returned to the struggle, or, lying in the outer ditch, or the slope beyond it, continued firing as long as there were cartridges to fire.
For nearly two hours this unequal struggle went on, when the gabions upon the parapet gave way and fell into the ditch below with all upon them, many being buried in the falling earth; and those who could regained their trenches. Two thousand five hundred Englishmen were killed or wounded that day, but not without a much greater loss to the enemy.
The attack on both the Great and Little Redan (the French also having made only a partial impression upon the latter), was to have been resumed before daybreak the next morning; but the Russians fled during the night, leaving Sebastopol in flames, its magazines blowing up, the ships in its harbour sinking, and the Redan little more than a heap of smoking ruins. Sebastopol was down.
The next day and night was devoted to recovering the bodies of the dead, which lay in heaps, English and Muscovite commingled all over the Redan works. Again and again a red-coated soldier would be found actually still clinging and hanging on to the face of the parapet and glacis, with arms and fingers rigid in death, shot through and through. A captain of rifles was found shot through the breast, firmly gripping a prostrate Russian by the throat, and everything visible gave evidence of the fearful struggle.
Graves were dug, and hour after hour for days the work of burial went on. Among the heaps of slain comrade found comrade, and brother recognised brother, mangled and torn.
In the early morning of the second day after the attack, a party came upon a pile of dead just within the walls, and there, in the middle of it, and kept in the position by the heaped-up slain around him, knelt the body of Lieutenant Colt, his sword still firmly gripped, his face toward the enemy, and on his temple a red wound, with the stain and clot of the dried blood where it had streamed down over his cheek and ear.
Reverently they raised him, and carried him out beyond the trenches. And the chaplain sent home to his brother his prayer-book and the letter, found in his pocket, in which he was bidden to the tryst he so strangely kept.
INSTANCES of what has been called "possession" are not at all uncommon among stories of the unaccountable which may be fairly classed as authentic; that is to say, cases in which a departed spirit enters or seems to enter, the body of a person still living, using it in its own way, speaking with its mouth, hearing with its ears, and so forth. Many of these cases are no doubt nothing but the result of some unusual derangement of mind on the part of the person said to be "possessed," or even impositions in which that person takes the leading, or, perhaps, the sole part. But still there remain many others to which such explanations are quite inapplicable.
The case of Barbara Rieger, of Steinbach, which was carefully investigated and reported upon by several eminent German medical authorities, is one of these. Barbara Rieger was a child of ten years of age, who was subject to fits of trance, in which she remained with her eyes closed, and from which she recovered without the least knowledge of what had happened or what she had been doing or saying in the meantime. At these times two distinct and different male voices proceeded from her, each talking in a different dialect of German. One of these voices declared its possessor to have been, during his lifetime, a mason of Wurzburg, and the other the steward of a monastery. In these characters the voices, each with its own peculiarities, described things which could not possibly have been known to the child and mentioned correctly persons living many miles away and quite unknown at Steinbach. The voice of the mason cried often for brandy, and if this were refused the body of the child became most violently-convulsed and contorted. When the liquor was brought great quantities were swallowed without in the least intoxicating the child, whose consciousness would often return shortly afterwards quite unimpaired by the drink. Brandy, even in its smell, was an object of the greatest aversion to the child in her normal condition. The case of Mary Jobson, of Bishopwearmouth, is another well-known one of the same class, as is also that of Johann Schmidt. The following case is a most striking instance of this extraordinary phenomenon.
In 1853 the F—— family lived at Reading, Massachusetts—a town not to be confounded with Reading, Pennsylvania—and included three sisters, Cecilia, Esther, and Anne. The first of these was married and living at Reading with her husband, Mr. J——, her sister Anne, who was still unmarried, frequently staying with her.
Toward the end of that year's summer Esther's wedding took place. Horace T——, with Esther, his wife, set out almost immediately for California, where he intended seeking his fortune as a settler. Letters reached the sisters remaining in Reading fairly regularly, considering the incomplete postal arrangements of California at that time, and all full of hope and good cheer, until early in November, when a letter became overdue.
Mrs. J—— wondered at this delay, but felt no anxiety beyond a hope that Esther was not so soon, under the influence of her new ties and changed surroundings, beginning to forget her sisters. A week or more had passed beyond the day upon which a letter should have arrived, when Mrs. J—— experienced what she described as a dream.
It was on the night of Monday, 7th November, 1853, that this happened. Mrs. J—— had gone to bed in a perfectly serene frame of mind, nothing having occurred to disturb her brain or nerves during the day. She dreamed that her sister Esther came into the room and stood at her bedside. She was perfectly conscious of being asleep and in bed at the time of this vision, but, in the manner which is usual in dreams, was not struck by any singularity in the presence of Esther, although she had perfectly in her mind the fact that she was living in California, more than two thousand miles away.
"Cissy," her sister seemed to say, "you must get up and come with me to California."
Mrs. J——'s reply was that she could not possibly leave her family for so long a journey, occupying so much time.
"It will not be far for us," was the response of the dream. "You shall be back before the morning."
Whereupon Mrs. J—— arose in her dream, and giving her sister her hand, was led by it out through the house, into an immensity of space in which the two seemed to float. Through this mysterious expanse, peopled only with shadowy, shapeless; moving images, silent, and without the feel of air against their faces, the sisters passed, hand in hand. Of distance and substance she felt and knew nothing until, with a sensation as of descent; there came in view a small rough log-hut, standing in a rugged place. It was such a dwelling as she had never seen before, and she particularly noticed its peculiarities, more especially its possession of a well-polished door-knocker, which presented an odd contrast to the primitive roughness of the structure.
Arriving at the door, they entered. How, she could never explain, for the door was certainly not opened. Indeed, through all her movements while hand in hand with her sister material objects seemed to be passed through without any sensation of contact.
Horace T—— stood inside, dressed in rough clothes. Without looking up he bent sorrowfully over an object laid upon a bench. It was a coffin—a rough one—and in it was visible from amid the white cerements the pale dead face of her sister Esther—her sister Esther, who had brought her there, and who stood at her side, holding her hand! She shrank back and looked questioningly toward her companion.
"Yes, Cissy," said her sister with a sad smile, "that was once my body, but cholera has destroyed it, and I have come to another world. What I have shown you will prepare you for the news. Do not grieve; it will make me less happy."
And still Horace bent sadly over the coffin, and when he looked up did not see them. And the log hut was gone, and again, hand in hand, the sisters passed through the shadowy abyss until Mrs. J—— was again asleep and at her husband's side.
With a start of terror she forced herself to awake. The dream, with all its vividness, in all its circumstances, filled her brain. Her sudden movement aroused Mr. J——, who was concerned to know the cause of her agitation.
A dream, she told him, only a dream, but a terrible dream. He made light of the matter, with some slight reference to late supper, and wished to know why the dream was so fearful. But more she would not tell him, confessing herself foolish and excitable, and settling herself again to sleep. Sleep was, however, impossible again that night.
Mr. J—— thought little more of the matter; and his wife, troubled internally by it as she was, related her dream to nobody, going about her household duties on the following day as usual. Her sister Anne was at the house, and toward the evening the three sat down to a game of whist. Little inclined for amusement as Mrs. J felt, she nevertheless readily embraced the opportunity of diverting her thoughts from gloomy forebodings.
Mr. J—— made the first deal, Mrs. J—— the second. Anne F—— then took the cards, and, after they had been shuffled and cut, was about to deal, when suddenly she sat back rigidly in her chair, her-eyes fixed intently on those of her sister, and her whole body violently convulsed, while the hand which held the cards assumed a rapid gyratory motion scattering them broadcast.
"Anne! What are you doing? Don't be so stupid—you'll lose the cards."
No answer; the spasmodic movement continued.
"Are you ill, Anne? What is it? Come and lie on the sofa," and Mrs. J—— rose to assist her.
Then from Anne's mouth, in a strangely hollow but still a familiar voice—certainly not Anne's—came the words:
"I am not Anne, Cissy. I am Esther!"
A fearful awe seized Cecilia's heart. The remembrance of her dream came to her again like a blow. Still she tried to persuade herself that it was only a sudden fit of hysterical illness which had seized Anne.
'"You are not well, Anne," said the husband. "You must lie down a little while I will go for Doctor S——."
"I am Esther, I am Esther! I say to you that I am Esther!"
Mrs. J—— grasped for support a chair. Her husband's only fear was that Anne had been seized with some kind of temporary insanity.
"Anne cannot hear you—it is I, Esther, who speak; remember what I told you last night, Cissy, and what you saw!"
Mrs. J—— fainted and fell to the floor.
Doctor S—— arrived, and Mrs. J—— was removed from the room. Still Anne remained in a strange state of trance. They attempted to carry her to the sofa, but she remained perfectly rigid and straight from head to heel, no matter in what position she might be placed; and for hours there issued from her mouth at intervals that awfully familiar voice:
"Cissy, Cissy! Where is Cissy? I must tell her something."
Midnight was rapidly approaching, and Mrs. J——, in her bed-room, had become fairly composed after an hour or two's rest. The doctor, who could only attribute Anne's condition to some extraordinary hysterical attack, represented that it might be advisable, since she called for her so earnestly, for Mrs. J—— to go to her sister.
She did so.
There still lay Anne, motionless, save for intermittent twitchings of the limbs.
"Cissy, Cissy, I must whisper!"
Mrs. J——, much agitated, approached her sister and bent down to listen.
For twenty or thirty seconds she stood so, and then, turning away with a look of dazed abstraction, seeing nothing and hearing nothing, she made her way from the room.
Whether she had heard any whisper, and, if so, what it was, nobody but herself ever knew.
Soon Anne lay perfectly motionless, and her breath "came easily and regularly. It was nearly ten minutes more than four hours since her first seizure when she slowly opened her eyes, and, starting up, cried in her natural voice:
"Dear, dear! Have I been asleep? What is it? Is there anything wrong?"
And Dr. S—— could find nothing in her condition indicative of anything but an awakening from a healthy sleep.
The shock and agitation caused by the events of these two nights left their effects upon Mrs. J—— for many days.
On Monday, December 5, a letter arrived, addressed to Mr. J——. It was from California, and it had a heavy black border.
Horace T—— had written to his friend rather than to his sister-in-law, in order that the mournful news might be broken to her gently by those about her. An outbreak of cholera had occurred in California, and one of the first whom it attacked had been his young wife, Esther. Her illness did not last long, and on Monday, the 7th November, she died, leaving her husband hopelessly distracted with grief. He had no heart for more work, the letter went on, among strangers, and could not stay in the place. He should sell up his shanty and his few articles of furniture—everything, in fact, except one or two little treasures of his dead wife's, and come back to Massachusetts; and then—he didn't know what he should do—didn't care.
For Mrs. J—— the first shock of the sad news had been borne nearly a month before, on the night succeeding Esther's death, but her grief was no less deep than that of the rest of the family.
At the end of six weeks Horace T—— returned to Massachusetts and came to Reading. Hlis manner was quiet and subdued, but the early agony of his grief was over. He had brought very little with him—a lock of hair, a small bunch of keys, a little watch, and a locket. There was also a small sketch which had been made by a miner of artistic tastes, representing Horace's little log cabin, with Horace himself and his bride standing in the foreground. It was a rough little cabin, standing in a rugged place, but it had a bright new-looking door knocker, an import from outer civilisation, and without doubt a matter of housewifely pride. All these relics Mrs. J—— knew well, except the sketch, and there was nothing unfamiliar in that, for she had seen the quaint little cabin before in her dreams.
A NUMBER of cases are upon record of a strange kind of prankish haunting, and that here set down is one of the best authenticated among them. Other cases rest upon solid foundations of evidence, notably the case occurring in the Wesley family, that of what was called the "Stockwell ghost," and the Ringcroft case, but few have been so carefully examined—although, indeed, little in the way of explanation has been brought out by the process. These phenomena, so suggestive of the mischief making of some waggish goblin, are said by the German inquirers into the subject to be the work of the Poltergeist.
Signed declarations have been made of the accuracy of the facts as here given.
There lived in the earlier part of the present century, at Ingelfingen, in Germany, one Augustus Hahn, a man of education and some philosophical learning. Johann Gottlieb Fichte had been his tutor, and he had read deeply the writings of the great Kant, becoming, as a result, a strongly-biased materialist. As Councillor Hahn, he entered the service of the Prince of Hohenlohe, and took an active part, in a civil capacity, in the great war between Prussia and France, which ended with the treaty of Tilsit in 1810. In the course of the war after the campaign of 1806, it became necessary for him to stay some time at the Castle of Leignitz, in Silesia. Here he was glad to welcome his old friend and schoolfellow, Charles Kern, who, having been taken prisoner by the French, was allowed to stay at Leignitz upon parole, pending his exchange.
The two friends occupied one room on the first floor of the castle. It was in an angle of the building, with windows looking from each outer wall, north and east, and communicated with only one other room, by a glass door, this room communicating with no others. About these two rooms, thus en suite, there were no openings or other means by which strangers might enter unobserved or which would admit of the mischievous perpetration by human means of any of the remarkable tricks which afterward disturbed the tenants. Prince Hohenlohe's two coachmen and Hahn's own valet were the only other regular occupants of the main building. Hahn and Kern themselves were, it will be easily understood, very unlikely persons to give themselves up to ghostly fancies, and less likely still to allow such fancies to frighten them.
Some few days passed quietly, and the evenings were occupied by chess and reading, until at about half past nine one evening, as they were sitting at the table in the middle of the room, the castle being perfectly quiet, several pieces of plaster struck them about, the head, having apparently fallen or been thrown from above. They examined the ceiling, but it was perfectly smooth and unbroken, the pieces of plaster, on the other hand, being quite cold, as though from out of doors, although the windows were shut. The occurrence was rather singular, but failing to find anything to account for it, they went to bed, forgetting it. On awaking in the morning quite a quantity of lime was upon the floor, although neither walls nor ceiling showed signs of damage.
The next evening more lime was thrown, some of it striking Hahn about the head, and singular sounds, as of drumming and banging, made themselves heard from walls and ceiling. This kept them awake for some time after they were in bed. Each believed a practical joke by the other to be in perpetration, and they were only convinced, by getting out of bed and standing together in the middle of the room, that the noises were caused by some unknown agency. Then a sound as of a distant drum was heard.
These circumstances seemed sufficiently strange to warrant an examination of the adjoining rooms. Accordingly, the keys were procured, and the two friends carefully inspected every part of the apartments—mostly empty and always kept locked—above, below, and about their own room. But the most minute scrutiny failed to detect anything which might account for the noises, and no means were visible by which any unauthorised person could have gained access to the rooms. Mystified, but, upon the whole rather enjoying the joke, and exchanging badinage in regard to the responsibility for the mystery, Hahn and Kern locked the doors and returned to their own quarters.
That night they were for a long while kept from sleep by a sound as of a slippered man walking to and fro in their room, with a heavy stick.
The next evening saw fresh surprises. A pair of slippers belonging to Kern lay on the floor near the fire. Suddenly, without any visible agency, they were flung clean over the table, across the room, and even while the friends were marvelling at this astounding phenomenon, a knife and a pair of snuffers, lying a foot or eighteen inches apart on a shelf, were gathered together, as if by an unseen hand, and flung at Hahn, very narrowly missing his head.
This had scarcely happened when the whole room went into utter confusion—every object apparently acting as a thing of life. Boots, brushes, books, pieces of lime, tin pannikins, and candlesticks with candles in them flew in every direction. The servants, the castle guard, and everybody else in the place were called to witness this manifestation, which lasted for more than an hour, and, of course, no one could offer the slightest explanation.
These events were only the beginning of a long series of the most extraordinary manifestations, extending over nearly three months. For two or three nights the tossing about of articles continued, and then ceased, giving Hahn and Kern three or four nights' rest. Then the disturbances were renewed with redoubled violence and continued incessantly for three weeks, so thoroughly depriving the two friends of all rest that they removed their beds to the room above.
But in this room stranger things happened. The noises continued, and they had scarcely settled comfortably into the room when a heavy padlock, which both knew to have been left in the room below, flew through the air and fell at Hahn's feet. Then other articles were thrown. But the occupants of the room were worn out with want of rest, and determined not to be driven away from this second room.
"Sleep I must and will have," said Hahn, "whatever happens."
Kern began to undress, walking about the room as he did so. Suddenly he stopped, as though petrified, gazing earnestly into the looking-glass which stood upon a table in a corner of the room. He stood so making scarcely a movement, for quite a minute and a half, and then turned towards Hahn with a white face and in a state of trembling agitation.
Hahn took this for an attack of ague or something similar, and hastened to cover his friend with a heavy cloak. But very shortly Kern recovered his nerve and told Hahn what had caused its temporary loss. In passing along the room he had casually glanced at the glass, and had been rooted to the spot by the sight of a white figure looking out of it at him. He was not an easily frightened man, and stood gazing at it for some little time, expecting to detect an illusion. It was a female figure, very old in appearance of feature, all the head excepting the face being wrapped in linen cerements. It seemed to be in front of his own image, which he could see in the glass behind. While he gazed, the figure moved and the eyes turned full on him, and it was then, convinced of the reality of what he saw, that Kern's nerves failed him.
Hahn determined to see this vision for himself, if possible, and with that view stood before the glass for nearly twenty minutes, calling at intervals upon the spectre to show itself. But nothing whatever appeared.
It was now early morning, and anything like sleep was out of the question, so it was decided to take to the lower room again. They went downstairs therefore, and knocked up the three servants. These men they sent to bring down the beds. Presently they returned.
"You have locked the door, Herr Councillor, and we cannot get into the top room."
"Blitzen, but I haven't locked the door!" replied Hahn. "You are not properly awake yet. Go back and try again."
They did so, but returned with the same report. They had set their whole united weight against the door, which refused to budge in the least. It was not as though the door were bolted or locked, in which case the force would have caused it to spring a little in the parts farthest from the fastenings, but the entire door was simply immovable, as though it were a part of the wall.
Then Hahn went up himself; and in the presence of Kern and the servants opened it straightway without the smallest difficulty.
The beds were set back in the lower room, and the annoyance from noises and flinging about of movables went on just as before.
The story of these extraordinary phenomena got abroad, and friends and acquaintances of Hahn and Kern made small jokes about them. Among others, Captain Cornet and Lieutenant Magerle, of the Minuci Regiment of Bavarian Dragoons, expressed a wish to see the thing for themselves, and they were invited to do so. Lieutenant Magerle went into the room alone and shut the door. He had scarcely done so when a handful of lime struck him, and a boojack, a pair of snuffers, and a candlestick came flying in his direction. He looked carefully about him, but could see nobody and could find no possible means of accounting for the incident. Then other missiles came from all sorts of unexpected directions, and Magerle, who was a man of violent temper, flew into a passion, and, whipping out his sabre, slashed about him so madly as to bring his friends in a hurry to find the cause of the disturbance.
Cornet and Magerle stayed during the evening and became convinced. They watched Hahn and Kern narrowly to detect any possible hoax, but without success. Articles were thrown, and table napkins rose, seemingly of their own accord, to the ceiling, then opened out, and fluttered slowly down again.
Two evenings after this Hahn expressed to his friend his intention of shaving. Immediately all the shaving implements—razor, soap, brush, and tin basin—which were kept together on a shelf, flew toward him and fell at his feet. He filled the basin with hot water, and was about to commence to lather his chin, when lo! the basin was quite empty, though still warm.
A man named Dorfel, who acted as a sort of steward to the castle, was himself more than once a victim. His hat was once missing from the place where he had put it on entering the room, and while he was looking for it in other places it returned to its original position.
Hahn made a private resolve to investigate the secret for himself, choosing times when Kern was absent; but all without effect. At this time another feature was added to the manifestations. Hahn was frequently awakened by the feeling of water sprinkled over his face, but could find no moisture there upon feeling with his hand.
Some time toward Christmas Hahn's business took him to Breslau for a few days, and in his absence his servant stayed with Kern in the room. Now occurred, perhaps, the strangest incident of all. One evening Kern lay in his bed chatting with Hahn's man, Johann, who stood near the door. On the table near the centre of the room stood a jug of beer and a glass. There had been no noises and no other disturbance for some time, but suddenly the jug of beer was slowly raised in the air, by no visible means, tilted, and the beer poured into the glass until the latter was more than half full. Then the jug sank back to the table as though carefully set down again. After which the glass was actually lifted, tilted, and emptied, as though by an invisible drinker, and not the smallest quantity of beer was afterward found upon the floor or table.
"Gott in Himmel!" cried Johann, "see, see, it swallows!"
For some time after this the disturbances went on, and it was only at last, when dangerously struck by a flying fork, that Hahn consented to shift his quarters. Kern would have gone long before, but Hahn was anxious to make a discovery, and so stayed. They took to a room in another part of the castle, from which they could frequently hear noises from their old quarters, although they themselves experienced no further annoyance. After a time these noises stopped altogether.
Nothing to reasonably account for these things was ever forthcoming, but some years afterward the castle was struck by lightning and destroyed, when, on pulling down the partly ruined walls of the room which Hahn and Kern had occupied, there was found the coffinless skeleton of a man with the skull split and a sword by its side.
FIVE miles from Charlottetown, the capital of Prince Edward Island, Canada, stands a large house called Binstead. This house was built before the year 1840 by an Englishman of wealth, who, however, very shortly grew tired of remote colonial life, sold the house, and returned to England. The purchaser was one Reggett, a farmer, a man who bore so bad a name in the island that no respectable citizen would hold any communication with him; his manners were coarse, and his habits were dissipated and immoral. But he understood his business as a farmer, and speedily produced good results from the two hundred acres of land which surrounded the house. He also added a number of rooms at the back for the accommodation of certain resident labourers. These rooms, it should be particularly noted, were erected against the wall of the house, but no doors were cut in the wall, except on the ground floor, and no direct communication whatever existed between the house and the added apartments on the upper floor, where the men's sleeping rooms stood on a level with those in the main building. The only approach was on the ground floor, through the inner kitchen.
Reggett did well, so far as his farming operations went, and in every other way about as badly as possible. No vice was too base, no habit too brutal or too degraded for him. Binstead was shunned by every one with a reputation to lose whom imperative business did not call there. Among the servants attached to the place were two girls—sisters—named Newbury. They were Irish, and their parents lived in a wretched hut about two miles from Charlottetown. Before Reggett had been established at Binstead much more than a year, each of these girls gave birth to a child, of which Reggett was the father. Both children were boys.
Eighteen months or more passed. Then there was a double disappearance at Binstead. One of the sisters was seen no more, and with her vanished one of the children. It was said that on the night of the last day upon which the girl was seen, terrible screams were heard from the direction of the house, as though from some person running round from the back to the front, near the wall. But nightly noises of all kinds, including similar shrieks, were so common at Binstead, where Reggett's drunken license was equalled by his cruelty and brutality to the domestics, that no especial notice was taken of the incident at the time.
The curiosity of some of the residents in the district was aroused as to what had become of the missing girl, but their few and guarded inquiries (for they were very loth to meddle with any matter of Reggett's) met with no definite reply. The girl's own sister, with gloomy stolidity, could not, or would not give any information. Soon what little interest had been felt subsided, and things went on as usual, the ordinary noises, as well as occasional screams, of the sort which had been heard before, going on at Binstead without provoking special comment.
Not very long after this Reggett sold the house and farm, and cleared out of the country. The girl Newbury returned to her parents, taking with her the remaining child. This child, she was careful to explain, was not hers but her sister's, and her own child was dead. Having left it in charge of the old people, she left suddenly and unexpectedly for the United States, her father and mother having been unable to ascertain anything from her before her departure, except that her sister and her own child, as she had said before, were both dead.
The farm was bought by a Mr. Fellowes, an Englishman. Very soon after his occupancy rumours began to circulate that uncanny things were heard and seen at night time at Binstead. The recurrence of the remembered shrieks was talked of, and hints went about of sights added to the sounds. These things, however, diminished in frequency, or were said to do so, during Mr. Fellowes's term of occupation, which was not a very long one, he, before long, letting the place upon agreement.
In 1856, Mr. Pennée, a gentleman of French Canadian descent, entered into possession of Binstead as tenant to Mr. Fellowes, with the intention of eventually purchasing the place. Soon after his arrival there began a series of manifestations which were carefully observed and recorded, principally by Mrs. Pennée. This lady was of English birth, and she was the daughter of the late Mr. William Ward, a member of Parliament.
Soon after taking up his residence, Mr. Pennée engaged as a farm servant one Harry Newbury, a quiet, steady lad, living with his grandfather some three miles away. He was an orphan.
It was about the tenth day after the Pennée family and their servants had been completely installed in their new home that singular noises were heard. This occurred almost every evening, and at times during the day, for several weeks. The sound principally consisted of a heavy rumbling which made the very house shake, and the chief peculiarity of all the noises was that to every person who heard them—and they were generally heard in many parts of the house at the same time—they seemed to be close at hand, and never resounded from a distant part of the house.
This went on over Christmas and into the new year. Then to the rumblings there were added shrieks, and the manner of these shrieks was always the same. At the front of the house there stood a tree, a short distance from the dining-room window. The branches of this tree almost swept the windows of a bed-room on the floor above, and this was the bed-room in or near which strange things were afterwards seen. It was a spare bed-room, and like the others in the main house, on the same level as, but not communicating with, the men's rooms in the added building at the back.
The shrieks, no matter what part of the house they were heard from, always seemed to grow fainter or louder—to approach and recede, in fact, as though proceeding from a person being chased round the house. They always ceased at the tree, ending in a mingled volley of screams, moans, sobs, and broken words, of redoubled loudness. These noises occurred with great frequency, and were of such distinctness and of so human a sound, as to have caused, after it had been ascertained that they could have proceeded from no living creature, very great alarm among the female servants.
Toward the end of February, 1857, two lady visitors, Mrs. M—— and Miss C——, arrived at Binstead and were assigned the spare bed-room. The room was provided with a large grate, and in view of the coldness of the season a good fire was made immediately upon their arrival. This fire, having thoroughly warmed the room, was allowed to burn low as the time arrived for retiring.
At about two o'clock in the morning Mrs. M—— was awakened by the consciousness of a bright light filling the room. She looked toward the grate, and there she saw the figure of a woman with a frilled cap, carrying in her arms a baby. She stooped over the grate, and seemed to be stirring the ashes.
Mrs. M——- had heard nothing of the ghostly reputation of the house, and only felt astonished at the presence of an unknown woman in her bed-room at such a time in the morning, although she could not understand whence came the bright light which illuminated the room. Turning to Miss C—— she woke her, and the two sat up to look at the figure. They had scarcely done so when it stood upright and turned toward them.
The face was the face of a young woman, and bore a sad and pleading look. There was a little check shawl crossed upon the bosom. Miss C——, who had been told that the house was haunted, had barely time to observe these things when the conviction seized her that she saw a spectre, and with a scream she hid beneath the bed-clothes, pulling them at the same time tightly over the head of her friend. When Mrs. M—— ventured to look again the light had gone, the figure had disappeared, and the few dying embers in the grate dimly lit up the ordinary furniture of the room.
A month or two after this Mrs. Pennée began to make preparations for a journey to England to visit her relatives. In course of these preparations she found it convenient to sleep temporarily in the spare room. One evening her little daughter went to bed much out of sorts, and her crying and restlessness gave evidence of her being in some way ailing in health. Mrs. Pennée, therefore, had the little bed wheeled into the spare bed-room, beside her own, in order that she might give the little one her personal care and attention. The child seemed quite unable to sleep, and when, at about midnight, Mrs. Pennée rose to prepare for her a dose of medicine, she found her wide awake.
Mrs. Pennée could not at first find the matches. While she was feeling for them, the little girl, wide awake and observant, cried out:
"Mamma, there's some one with a light on the-staircase. See how bright it is under the door!"
The mother turned about, and there, plainly enough, saw a most brilliant light shining through the crack at the bottom of the door. "It's papa, dear," she said, and opened the door.
She was face to face with the spectre. A young woman with a frilled cap; over her bosom a check shawl, and in her left arm a baby. She stood in the midst of a soft, pleasant light, a light for which there was no flame to account. Her eyes fell on those of Mrs. Pennée with a look of despairing, agonised entreaty, pitiful to see. Then she moved slowly off across the staircase toward the opposite wall, and vanished, apparently into it. It was the wall of the bed-room occupied by Harry Newbury, in the servants' quarters.
The effect upon the nerves of Mrs. Pennée and the little girl was not one of fright. They described their feelings afterwards as being no different from those which they might have experienced after the most ordinary incident of every-day life. Had the mysterious visitor been one of their own domestics their agitation could not have been less.
Soon afterwards Mr. Pennée did really come upstairs. Told of the apparition, he made every possible examination, without result. The wall, the passage, the stairs, the door, the staircase—all were just as usual. It could have have been nothing but what the servants now boldly asserted to be the cause of all the disturbances at Binstead—the apparition of Mary Newbury.
Mrs. Pennée went to England as she had arranged. During her absence the disturbances went on as before, The nightly shrieks became almost a regular thing, and the spectre was seen more than once. But more especially it was said that Harry Newbury was visited night after night by the ghost of his erring mother, for now it was known that the steady young labourer who had lived with his grandfather at a hut a couple of miles from Charlottetown was no other than he who, as a child, had been taken home to her parents by the surviving sister of Mary Newbury.
Mrs. Pennée returned to Binstead in the following year. She heard what was said about the visits of the spectre to Harry Newbury, and questioned him closely. He in other things always open and communicative, could scarcely be induced to break silence on this point. Yes, he admitted reluctantly, he had seen the woman who walked with a baby. Had she come into his room? Yes, she had, and she stood at the foot of his bed. Was this often? Well—more reluctantly than ever—yes, perhaps it was, pretty often. What did she say? Couldn't tell—not at all—would feel obliged at not being asked any more. But had he any notion who the woman was? Couldn't say.
But it was noticed that Harry Newbury always carefully locked his door at night The hinted offer of a fellow labourer to sleep with him was resented almost savagely. And the man in the next room positively affirmed having heard on one particular night, voices and sobs in Harry's room.
Some few months after this the Pennées left Binstead altogether, and Harry Newbury very soon left too, saying he should never return to the place again. He was never seen afterwards.
But the hauntings went on. In 1877, twenty years after Mrs. M—— and Miss C—— had seen the apparition, Mrs. Pennée happened to be upon a visit to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Quebec, when the parish priest brought her a letter which he had received from the then tenant of Binstead, asking him to come and bless the house, with the view of ridding it of the ghost of a woman carrying a child, which the inmates had seen several times.
As late as 1888 Mrs. Pennée revisited Binstead. She found that the room in which the spectre was always seen was empty and entirely unused. The tree from under which the screams had always been heard to reach their highest pitch had been cut down, and the wife of the tenant entreated her visitors not to speak of the subject, and took every means to prevent their inquiring of the servants. Notwithstanding which, one man was heard to say that the woman with the child had lately been seen, once at a window and once at the front door.
VERY numerous are the cases of trance in which the subjects, after a return of bodily consciousness, have described their sensations as those of leaving the body behind and floating away into ethereal space. Mr. Holloway, who was well-known as an engraver in the first half of the century, had a brother, who described in the clearest manner an involuntary experience of his own. Lying in bed one night and unable to sleep, he fixed his attention entirely upon a very bright star which he could see through the window. Gradually his whole mind became absorbed in the contemplation, and, on a sudden, he felt his inner self released from his body, with a sensation as though floating upward toward the star above him. The night was gone, and all was light around him. But suddenly there came the anxious thought that his wife would find an apparently lifeless form beside her, and, seized with that fear, he returned, and, with what seemed a great struggle, re-entered the body once more; and then again it was the night around him, and the bright star was shining in at the window. While the spirit was free he always maintained he felt himself to be now in light and now in the dark, according as his thoughts were with the star or with his wife on earth, But his fear for his wife was so distressing that he always after took the precaution to keep his bedroom window darkened at night.
That there have been Indian fakeers who could voluntarily effect some such translation of their own spirits as this, is a fairly well-known fact. Instances of their allowing their bodies, after certain preparations, to be secured in boxes and securely buried for long periods—many months at a time—are not uncommon, reanimation taking place after the release of the body and the application of certain treatment.
There would seem to be some affinity to these proceedings in a case briefly recorded by Dr. Johann Heinrich Jung (usually called Jung Stilling), the friend of Goethe and Lavater, and the author of the "Theorie der Geisterkunde" and the "Scenen aus dem Geisterreiche."
There resided in a comfortable house not far from Philadelphia, United States, in 1740, a man of somewhat singular habits. He had an independency, and lived entirely alone, seeing little of his neighbours. He had the reputation of piety, and was a regular church-goer, while his unostentatious kindness and benevolence in the neighbourhood was a well-known fact. Even his name was for long a mystery until he received letters with an Indian postmark, when it soon was noised abroad that they were addressed to Mr. Maurice Agra Tulling; from which, and from collateral circumstances, it was immediately assumed that he was born in India, at Agra, and named after his birth-place; that he was perhaps a half-caste; very possibly a Brahmin, or Buddhist, or fire worshipper, or fifty uncanny things, more particularly because the women who periodically assisted his old housekeeper in cleaning the house reported the presence therein of a variety of fearful images and extraordinary weapons and instruments, the use of which they couldn't guess at—unless it was witchcraft. Some of which inferences might possibly have been true, and equally possibly might not. Singular stories also got about as to his sometimes shutting himself up for days and often weeks together, without food or drink, and altogether Mr. Tulling was the object of no little curiosity, and some certain fear to the inhabitants of Philadelphia and the outlying houses.
Among these neighbours was a Mrs. Hackett. Her husband was captain of a merchantman, and, at the time, had been between eighteen months and two years gone on a voyage to the West Coast of Africa and to England, during the latter half of which time she had received no letters from him. She became exceedingly uneasy in consequence of this, and expressed to her friends serious fears of a fatal disaster. Hackett, in all his previous voyages, had always been a punctual correspondent, and, if the original plan of the voyage were being carried out, he should long before this time have arrived home.
Mrs. Hackett was a person of some energy of character, and her position, tortured as she was by anxiety, and at the same time helpless to do anything to relieve it, became almost unbearable. She was not a superstitious woman by any means, but she was reduced to such a state of despair as to willingly clutch at any suggestion, however insane, which might bring her news of her husband. So that when one or two of her ignorant neighbours, impressed by the tales they had heard and had told about the mysterious powers of Mr. Tulling, recommended her to consult him, she, after some hesitation, determined to do so.
Upon her arrival at the house, and in response to her request to the housekeeper to see him, Mr. Tulling himself appeared, evidently not a little surprised at receiving a visit from anybody, more especially from a woman neighbour. He was a spare man of a little over the middle height, well formed and erect, and his short, irregular, white beard offered a strong contrast to his sun-tanned skin.
Mrs. Hackett, with some embarrassment, told him her difficulties. She hinted that she had been told that he had travelled, and probably knew all about the places to which her husband had gone, and would perhaps be able, in consequence of this knowledge, or may be by some other means, to tell her something which might ease her mind.
Mr. Tulling heard her through, and sat in silence, steadfastly regarding her face for some little time after she had spoken. Then he said:
"I don't know—I will do what I can. If you will excuse me for a little time perhaps I may be able to bring you some news. Will you sit down and wait?"
She did so, and her mysterious neighbour passed through a door into an inner room. This door had in its upper panels two elliptical windows, which were, however, hidden by short red curtains.
In the outer room Mrs. Hackett sat waiting. Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour. Another quarter of an hour, and a clock in another part of the house struck three. Another half-hour. Mrs. Hackett began to get impatient. Had he gone away and forgotten her?
Still she waited, and four o'clock struck. She had been an hour and a half in this room without hearing a sound but that of the clock. She felt uneasy. Was he making a fool of her? What was he doing so quietly in the next room, Perhaps the man was mad, and she was in a dangerous position. Perhaps his eye was intently fixed upon her every movement from some cunning hole or cranny. She would take a peep into the inner room, cost what it might.
She rose, and stepped lightly to the door. The curtains were upon her own side. She moved one a little aside at the corner, and peeped through the panel window into the room.
The light there was dull and faint, the one small window being obscured by a drawn blind, but clearly on a sofa there lay Mr. Tulling, stretched out motionless and rigid, as if a corpse. His eyes had the glassy stare of a dead man's, and his features were pale and fixed.
Mrs. Hackett let go the curtain and turned away considerably frightened: What should she do? Call the housekeeper? Not yet. Perhaps, after all, he might not be dead. It might be only a part of some fearful witchcraft or another. She would wait a little longer, and if she heard nothing then she would call the housekeeper.
Again she waited—five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour. Horrible Hindoo images, with distorted faces and many heads and arms, grinned at her from the recesses of the room; inscriptions in strange characters stared from screens and cabinets. It was late winter, and it began to get dusk. Half an hour.
A slight rustle in the inner room, and her heart stood still. Then the door opened, and Tulling appeared pale, and slightly languid, as though from unquiet sleep. Mrs. Hackett gasped and shrank from him. Tulling smiled slightly.
"You may comfort yourself, Mrs. Hackett, I think," he said, in a quiet equable voice; "your husband is quite safe—is at this moment, in fact, in a coffee-house in London. He has had several adventures since he left you. There is war between Spain and the Old country, and his ship was taken by a Spanish war vessel nine months ago. But one of Admiral Vernon's ships took the Spaniard in its turn, and after taking your husband with her for some time, just lately returned to England to refit, and has landed him there. He sent one letter from the man-of-war, but that must have miscarried. He is now on the point of taking ship for home, and will probably arrive as soon as could any letter he might write."
Mrs. Hackett's agitation prevented her replying to or thanking her strange informant for some time; but, some shadow of doubt crossing her face, Tulling resumed:
"You may quite rely on the truth of what I have told you. It seems strange, no doubt, but I have means of becoming acquainted with such things which I cannot explain. But I hope you will set your mind entirely at rest. Believe me, on my honour, what I have told you are the actual facts."
Confused and amazed, Mrs. Hackett thanked him as well as she could, and made the best of her way home. The element of superstitious belief which is present in every human nature, backed by Tulling's evident earnestness and sincerity, prompted her to some confidence in what she had been told, but it was a confidence which she would scarcely confess to herself; and there was a vague fear that she might have been assisting at, or connected with, some unholy rite of witchcraft—witchcraft being a thing believed in and punished by the Pennsylvanians of those days.
Whether she passed the next month or two in a much easier frame of mind than she had enjoyed before her visit to Mr. Tulling she would probably have been puzzled to say; but as the weeks succeeded one another her excitement and suspense increased.
At last her watching and waiting came to an end, for her husband came.
Where had he been? Why had he been so long? Where was his ship? Why hadn't he written? were her questions when the first greetings and tears were over.
The ship had been taken, he said, by the Santa Croce, Spanish frigate, on its way from the Guinea coast. But the Santa Croce soon had its turn, and got in the way of an English line-of-battle ship, who towed her away to Portsmouth, after cruising about a bit, he and his liberated crew in the meantime navigating the captive Spaniard. The only letter he had been able to send had been one from the Santa Croce, after his liberation, by a merchantman under convoy, which had been spoken and boarded for other purposes.
She had never received this letter, she said; and they agreed it must have miscarried.
Hackett concluded his story. He had landed at Portsmouth, and had gone to London to place his owners' agents in possession of the history of the voyage, and had almost immediately after embarked for home. The wife said nothing at first about Tulling and his statements, marvellously fulfilled as they had been; wishing to find, if possible, for herself, where his information came from. And this she shortly found.
Walking out of Philadelphia a day or two after his return, accompanied by his wife, on their way to the house of a friend, Captain Hackett suddenly stood still and hailed a man who was rapidly disappearing up a path near Tulling's house. It was Tulling himself.
"Why, he's running away—don't want to know me again!" observed Captain Hackett, with astonishment. And then he suddenly added, "Why, he must have come over in the same ship with me—it was the first one leaving. But damme if I saw him on board!"
Mrs. Hackett was ten times more astonished than her husband. But she only asked, "Do you know that man?"
"Why, yes, and so do you. He brought me news of you in London; never told me his name, and I forgot to ask you about him yesterday."
"You saw him in London? When? What did he say?"
"Came to me in a coffee-house. He said, 'Aren't you Captain. Hackett?' 'Yes,' says I. 'Then,' says he, 'Mrs. Hackett, in Philadelphia, who is a neighbour of mine, is troubled in her mind about your safety. You are a good deal overdue, and she hasn't seen a letter from you for some months. Are you going to write to her?' 'No,' I said, 'I shan't write now because I am going over by the next ship, but I wrote a month or two ago;' and then I told him about the ship being taken, and everything relative. There were many folk in the coffee-house, and presently, I can't tell how, we got separated, and I never saw any more of him, although I hunted the place inside and out. And now he runs away from me! But how he could have come across, and I never clap eyes on him all the way, is what beats me. Who is he?"
Exactly who or what he was Mrs. Hackett would never venture to guess, but she told her husband that his name was Tulling. Why Captain Hackett had never seen him in the vessel which had just arrived she quite understood, for Mr. Maurice Agra Tulling had never left Pennsylvania, at any rate in the body, since first settling there, shortly after Hackett had last sailed.
MIDWAY between Newcastle-on-Tyne and North Shields lies the town of Willington. It is a much larger town now than it was nearly fifty years ago, when it stood, a mere little hamlet, in a hollow lying between the River Tyne and the line of railway from North Shields to Newcastle, and its one factory was a steam flour mill in the occupation of Messrs. Unthank and Proctor, a Quaker firm. A little way apart from the mill stood a house of residence, inhabited by the family of Mr. Joseph Proctor. This was a plain, substantial brick house, built in the first year of the century; not, in its appearance, at any rate, the sort of house which would seem likely to be the scene of ghostly visitations. Indeed, there was nothing about the house indicative of such a character excepting the fact that during the process of its erection there were vague reports of some crime committed by a workman employed on the building. There would seem to have been no record of exactly what this crime was, but that trouble of some kind took place was beyond dispute. The house stood on the bank of a small watercourse, which ran almost dry at low water, and a bend of which ran round the greater part of three of the walls. The house had no cellars, and the interior was not approachable except through the doors.
It had been for years a matter of common knowledge in the neighbourhood that Mr. Proctor's family had been subjected to much annoyance by mysterious sights and sounds. The servants were frequently changed, most refusing to stay in a house liable to such uncanny visitations. All sorts of rumours were abroad, but Mr. Proctor refused to satisfy the curiosity of neighbours, and declined to allow the circumstances to be made public at the time, naturally neither wishing to advertise his family affairs nor to make a show place of his home.
Among many intelligent people to whose ears these reports came, and who expressed the utmost disbelief in them, was Mr. Drury, of Sunderland. He asked permission of Mr. Proctor to stay a night in the house alone, or with his dog, if possible in the room said to be most subject to spectral visitations. This permission was granted. Mr. Proctor's family were temporarily absent from home, and on July 3rd, 1840, Mr. Drury, accompanied by an equally sceptical friend, Mr. Thomas Hudson, arrived at the house with the purpose of spending the night.
They were first shown over the whole premises by the man left in charge, who at the same time told them that of late the disturbances had been less frequent than had before been usual, and that it was quite possible that they might pass the night without witnessing or hearing anything strange whatsoever.
The house was locked up, and the two investigators satisfied themselves that no person was concealed in any part of the building. Every corner, every nook in the place, was most carefully scrutinised, and the visitors became fully convinced that if anything of a ghostly nature occurred during the night it would not be the work of human beings. The more particularly haunted part of the house was reputed to be the third floor, and the apparition was said to issue from a sort of large closet, which was therefore most carefully examined. It was empty, and much too shallow to serve as a hiding-place for any ordinary person, even if any person had been there to hide.
The inspection over, at less than an hour before midnight, Mr. Drury and Mr. Hudson sat down on the third storey landing, waiting, in very strong unbelief, for whatever sights or noises might ensue, and ready to investigate and scientifically account for them.
After waiting rather more than half-an-hour the two friends suddenly heard the noise of pattering feet—the noise of many bare feet, in fact—upon the floor, although so singular was the sound that it was quite impossible to say exactly whence it proceeded. This went on for some little time and then stopped.
There were some minutes of quietness, and then was heard a sound of tapping on the floor at their feet—in fact, a sound as of a person stooping down and rapping with his knuckles about their heels. Nothing was visible which could possibly have caused this. Mr. Drury took a piece of paper and carefully noted down the fact of both these sounds being heard and the time. Then the rapping upon the floor came again. Then, as the last rap sounded, there came, most clearly and distinctly, from the shallow closet the sound of a hollow cough.
A candle was lit, and the door opened. The closet was as empty as when they before examined it. They shut the door and returned to the landing.
A little before half-past twelve another noise was heard. This time it proceeded from the lower part of the stairs and gradually ascended. It was a brushing, rustling noise, as though caused by a person coming upstairs and rubbing against the wall on the way. The noise came as high as the third-floor landing, where Drury and his friend stood, and then ceased.
About a quarter of an hour after this, nothing having occurred in the meantime, and Hudson having fallen asleep, Drury suggested that perhaps as it was cold it might be well to take a spell in bed, keeping a sharp look-out in the meantime. Hudson, however, whom he awoke in order to make the suggestion, would not hear of leaving the landing and letting out of sight the closet door. He certainly would not go to bed till daylight, he said, and almost immediately fell asleep again.
Drury yawned, looked round, and then picked up his notes, which he glanced over again by the light of the candle. Then he pulled out his watch. It was ten minutes to one, he noticed, and then raised his eyes, which, after another glance round, were suddenly arrested by the slow opening of the closet door.
The door opened wide, and disclosed the greyish figure of a woman. The head hung downward, and the left hand grasped the breast in a manner expressive of intense pain. With the forefinger of the other hand it pointed downward to the floor.
Slowly and with separate, cautious, set steps—not with the glide usually associated with such apparitions—the figure advanced towards the watchers. As it approached the face became more distinctly visible, and Drury saw that it was a face of human lineament except that it had no eyes. It came within a yard, and then, with the hand which had been pointing, reached out toward Drury's sleeping friend.
Seeing this, Drury rushed at the spectre with a loud yell, snatching and beating at it with his hands, feeling nothing, however, and falling between it and Hudson—indeed, partly through it.
For two or three hours after this Drury was in a sort of delirium, and saw and remembered nothing. Hudson, awakened by the cry, saw for a second a misty white form floating away above the stairs, and then nothing else. Drury, with the help of the man in charge of the premises, was carried downstairs in a trembling paroxysm.
The news of the adventure of Messrs. Drury and Hudson was soon spread abroad, and appeared in several newspapers. This brought Mr. Proctor letters from various parts of the country, the writers themselves occupying houses afflicted with similar manifestations, but finding it difficult to make others believe their statements.
Messrs. Drury and Hudson were not the only persons whose disbelief did not survive a visit to the house. Mr. Proctor's brother-in-law, anything but a nervous man, and one of the strongest common sense, slept at the house, resolving that any abnormal sights or sounds should not find him unprepared, and that, if anything of the sort occurred he would speak and demand who caused it.
While in bed one-night he heard, accompanied by a loud banging noise as of a large stick upon the handrail, heavy footsteps ascending the bedroom stairs. As the sound of the steps reached the door he attempted to call out, but, although he had at the time no feeling of fear, he found it quite impossible to utter a sound. He got out of bed and threw open the door. There he could see nothing. But as he stood, the steps were heard again heavily descending the stairs before his eyes, still accompanied by the knocking, although nothing whatever was visible. Going to Mr. Proctor's room he found that he also had heard the sounds, but although lights were at once lit, and a search made, nothing was discovered to account for them. Such occurrences were, indeed, anything but unusual to the regular inmates of the house, who, however, very naturally avoided as much as possible spreading the story abroad.
Two young ladies, sisters, and friends of the family, had a terrifying experience while on a visit at Mr. Proctor's. They slept together in a room on the third floor. Very soon after retiring on the first night they, to their intense fright, felt the bed slowly lifted up from beneath. Naturally assuming that burglars were in hiding, they screamed aloud, and speedily brought the other occupants of the house to the room. But although every examination was made, and although it would have been quite impossible for any person to leave the room unobserved, nobody was found. Nothing further occurred to disturb them that night and, indeed, for several succeeding nights all went well. Then came a night when, as they were in bed, and about to fall asleep, the bed began to rock violently from side to side, and suddenly, before they had time to call out, the bed curtains were pulled up all round to the tester, in the manner of blinds, The sisters clung to one another in fright, and screamed loudly. Then the curtains fell, and were violently pulled up and down again several times. By this time the cries of the terrified girls had brought Mr. Proctor and his family, and the disturbance ceased. Another search was made, as fruitless as the first. For the rest of the night they were not molested.
The less courageous of these two young ladies was for leaving the house in the morning, but her sister persuaded her to stay, on the promise that the curtains should be removed altogether from the bed. She had, she said, a feeling that horrible forms lurked behind those curtains, and that fearful eyes peered from between their folds. The curtains were taken away, and the sisters went to bed that night as usual.
The night was moonlight, and every object in the room was clearly distinguishable. The time at which the previous disturbances had taken place passed without incident, and supposing that they were not to be troubled, the sisters fell asleep. Later in the night, however, they both awoke together, with a feeling of nervous dread, and then witnessed the most alarming manifestation of all. The night was still light and the furniture was clearly visible, but as they looked upward a grey female figure came out of the wall above their heads horizontally, face downward, leaning over them, and the face had no eyes.
Intense terror paralysed their every faculty, and they could only lie speechless, helpless, and half dead with an agony of fear. For a time which they could never afterwards calculate, but which was probably really only a few seconds, the figure remained motionless above their faces and then passed slowly away again into the wall.
Recovering the use of their limbs, the girls, supporting one another as best they might, dragged themselves from the room, and, gaining the neighbourhood of the other bed-rooms, fainted.
The younger sister left the house, and would never return except at daylight and in company. The elder, however, was provided with another bed-room, and completed her stay at the house without further interference.
The younger sister stayed at the house occupied by the foreman of the mill, and it was the foreman's wife who one evening called her, with her own daughter and her husband, to observe an apparition which was frequently seen by the villagers—so frequently, indeed, that familiarity bred contempt, and the spectre—that of a man—was known among them as "old Jeffery," What she saw, and what was often seen by others before and since, was the figure of a bareheaded old man in a long robe, which glided before a second storey window, and disappeared and reappeared into and out of the wall of the house. The figure was most distinct and luminous, and was seen by several persons who had been called by the foreman's wife.
The exact nature of the crime which was said to have been committed when the house was in course of erection was never properly ascertained; and some few years after the experiences narrated above, Mr. Proctor discovered an old record setting forth that, exactly two hundred years before, exactly similar hauntings had afflicted an old house standing upon the same spot, which the newer building had replaced.
Fifteen years altogether was Mr. Proctor in occupation of the place, which, upon his quitting it, was divided into tenements for workpeople, although the third floor was always found uninhabitable.
THE difference which thirty years will make in the appearance of a London street is well exemplified in St. Swithin's Lane. Brand new stone-fronted shops and offices stand where, a generation ago and less, were the old houses once inhabited by city merchants—houses which had stood since the Great Fire of 1666.
The stranger who walks down St. Swithin's Lane to-day from the Bank will find No. 15, if he looks for it, on the right hand side, some little way past New Court and Salter's Hall. It is a substantial stone and glazed-brick fronted new building, and is used as a bank—quite a different structure to the one which it replaced. The old No. 15—or Nos. 14 and 15 as the one building was called at the time of this story—was a very large, dark, old-fashioned place, built after the Great Fire, and having underneath many extensive cellars, as well as, it was rumoured, many secret passages which had remained unexplored for generations.
In the year 1854, before the practice of city men to live in the city had quite died out, the upper floors of this strange old house were occupied by a Mr. John Simpson and his family. Mr. Simpson was a general agent in a fairly extensive way of business, and his family was a large one. Their part of the house was separated from that below by a strong gate of ornamental iron on the stairs. This gave them practically a separate house, for the gate was kept shut, visitors having to ring before being admitted, just as would have happened at an ordinary front door.
On the top floor was a large dining-room facing the street, with three windows. At each end of this room there was a fireplace, and on the side opposite the windows was one door leading to the stairs and another leading into a bed-room. Immediately below the dining-room was the drawing-room, and on this floor also was the kitchen; below these again were Mr. John Simpson's offices, and all this part of the house, including other rooms, bed-rooms, etc.—which are not connected with the story—was cut off from all below by the gate previously alluded to. The rooms below the gate were used as offices, Mr. Marshall, a builder, and Mr. John Scott, a solicitor, being the occupants.
One evening, soon after taking up residence, Mrs. Simpson heard the prolonged cry of a baby proceeding from the kitchen. The servants were out, with the exception of one, who was in the upper part of the house. A visit to the kitchen failed to reveal any baby, although, singularly enough, the noise continued. This was frequently repeated, and the only supposition possible was that it came from some adjoining house, and was magnified by some extraordinary acoustic property of the kitchen. But when, a year or more afterwards, the cries were still continually heard and were still unmistakably those of a new-born child, as weak as ever—and, in fact, were the same cries exactly repeated—it became plain that this was scarcely an adequate explanation.
These noises had been heard once or twice, when, one night, Mrs. Simpson, while in her bed-room, heard clearly and distinctly a voice singing. It was a soft and mournful air, the words not being distinguishable, and it proceeded from a recess close to the bed-room door. Suddenly the singing changed into a long wail, succeeded by a short, sharp scream, as of pain. Then silence.
This occurred time after time, and could not possibly have proceeded from other premises. While the recess—in the middle of the house, and not near an outer wall—was visibly empty, the sounds continued, and the singing always ended with precisely the same scream.
Mrs. Simpson mentioned these things to her husband, but he only laughed at what he supposed to be her nervous fancies. The servants, however, complained of the noises, and more than one testified to having seen strange shadowy things in the house. One servant left in consequence. Inquiries of a neighbour elicited the information that the previous tenants had been driven away by the same disturbances. Of course, nothing whatever was said of these matters to the children, and their innocent behaviour later, when themselves witnessing stranger manifestations, proves that they could have been told nothing of them. Mr. Simpson lost patience with what he had considered the foolish tales of the servants, and refused to believe that the noises which they spoke of were anything but those caused by the wind among the corners and gratings of the old house.
But stranger things were to happen. The narrow, winding staircase had on one side a massive balustrade, with thick square posts at each side of the many landings and turns. The flat tops of these square posts were favourite seats for the children, who would climb upon them and watch what went on on the stairs and landings below.
Two of the children, Mary and Walter, were thus seated one morning, when their play was interrupted in a curious manner. Mary, the elder, was on the lower post of the two, and from both seats the door of the drawing-room on the floor below was visible, Looking down they presently saw a little old lady in black come perfectly noiselessly up the stairs and go slowly into the drawing-room. The bell had not been rung, and, bending further forward, the children saw that the gate on the stairs was fast shut and nobody near it.
Whispering their wonder that the old lady should have got in without opening the gate, and should go into a room where nobody else was, the children slid off the balusters and stole quietly down to the drawing-room to see, and perhaps speak, to their visitor. But nobody was in the room!
It was against orders to go into the drawing-room, so Mary started out again, while Walter stood astonished and stared about the room. Reaching the door Mary gave a loud scream, for there, on the landing above them, near the very spot they had just left, was the old lady coming out of a door that was always kept locked.
Mary ran back into the big drawing-room to fetch Walter and they went together to the landing. There they saw the old lady going downstairs below them, at the other side of the gate, which still stood fast shut. Mr. Simpson, at work in his office below the drawing-room, had been disturbed by Mary's scream, and came out to tell the children to be quiet. He did not receive their story with any great belief, and told them to play quietly and not fancy silly things. But as they went upstairs the children found the door on the landing, out of which the old lady had come, still locked, as it always was kept.
Less than a week after this occurrence the children were in the nursery on the top floor playing at a game of their own invention. They put chairs together to represent a carriage, and, covering the top with a table-cloth by way of roof, sat in their coach and made believe to travel immense distances. Mary happened to snatch at the cover with her hand and pulled it down, and there, in the half-opened door, all three children saw the little old lady as before, in black dress and large bonnet. Her face was perfectly white, and although her eyes stared piercingly, there seemed the indication of a smile about her mouth, which reassured the children; so Mary, thinking the old lady had mistakenly come up too high when looking for the office, went toward her. She immediately turned, and made slowly for the bed-room door—it was the eldest Miss Simpson's bed-room—on the opposite side of the landing. As she entered the room Mary ran round through the dining-room by the other door into the bed-room in order to meet their queer visitor there. But again nobody was in the room; and hastening through and out on to the landing, Mary saw her brother Walter running headlong down the stairs after the old lady, who was gliding along very rapidly some distance below him, not guiding herself, as any ordinary person would have done, by the rail, but keeping close against the wall on the opposite side of the stairs.
Aroused by the clatter, Mr. Simpson came to his office door to stop it, and—there was no old lady anywhere on the staircase!
The children consulted together, and decided to take the opinion of the kitchen on the subject. So they went down, and said Walter:
"Ann, who is that tiny old lady in a black dress who goes up and down the stairs?"
"Only some one who comes to see your mamma—that's all. Now you must run away upstairs again, please—we've got to clean up."
Outside the door of the kitchen Mary said:
"What did they look at one another like that for? I'll ask mamma about it."
And they did, but got little information. Mrs. Simpson, hardly knowing whether to think the thing a delusion or not, put them off as best she could, and they were reduced to discussing the mysterious old lady among themselves.
After this it became quite common for the figure to be seen standing in the doorway of the nursery as the children played, and they, who were not a bit afraid, grew quite familiar with it, although, finding themselves not believed and sometimes reprimanded, they rarely mentioned it to others. But, confident as they were, they secreted a heavy ruler from the office into the nursery, with which they designed to defend themselves in case their visitor's fixed stare should develop into something more formidable. Also, when the coach was brought into operation, it was thought advisable for one always to be an outside passenger, to watch for the coming of the pale old lady.
One evening, at about eleven, Mrs. Simpson was sitting in the drawing-room with her grown-up daughter. The door on to the staircase was left open for air and coolness. Happening to glance at the same time toward the staircase, which was well lighted up by gas, there they clearly saw, peering above the balusters, a man's face—a face of sickly bluish paleness and a sad expression.
They looked at each other, rose, and went quietly towards the landing. In an instant the face was gone!
Who or what was it? A visitor, perhaps, who had come to the wrong house. In her own heart each felt sure that this was not so, but it seemed to be the most rational supposition.
They called the servants. Why had they not locked the iron gate, and why was not the outer door shut? Both had been done, the servants replied, hours before. Accompanied by the two ladies they went down, and, surely enough, both gate and outer door were fast. Not only that, but every other door below, inner and outer, was firmly secured. Moreover, no stranger was in the place. How did that white-faced man get in? How did he get out?
The effect of the relation of this occurrence upon Mr. Simpson was very small. Mrs. Simpson kept a diary at the time, and here is an entry:—
"When my husband came home I told him. He treated it as a good joke, laughed at our bewilderment, and said we must all have been asleep and dreaming. He has supreme contempt for any supposition of the supernatural. Has no belief in spiritual visions, in 'ghosts,' or visions of the night. He is far too practical, and only derides my credulity."
But Mr. Simpson soon had reason to change his views, as we shall see.
Once again Mrs. and Miss. Simpson were sitting in the drawing-room at night, with the door, as usual, open. Mrs. Simpson was reading and her daughter was engaged in needlework. Looking up from her work the younger lady once more saw, over the balustrade, the face. She touched her mother gently on the knee to direct her attention to it, and both darted toward the landing, intending, as they had previously arranged in case of its re-appearance, to-seize the figure.
It was gone!
Again the place was searched, and again with the same result.
It is well to note the courage displayed by these ladies in their attempts to examine the mystery; it is very inconsistent with the production of imaginary images by a nervous and terrified brain. Indeed their whole testimony is positive and unequivocal that, without a doubt, they distinctly saw what they described, and that they never felt any actual alarm. A third time the same apparition was seen and vanished in precisely the same manner as before.
Mr. Simpson, who until now had observed none of the phenomena beyond the cries, was the only person about the place who doubted the possibility of the sights which the others had seen, and he was now to be convinced.
He was sitting very late one evening in his office at work on an accumulation of correspondence. The whole place was shut up, and everybody, excepting his own family and servants, had left the premises long ago. He had shut himself up in his office, and given particular instructions that nobody was to be allowed to enter the room or disturb him on any account; the whole place was perfectly silent, and at about eleven o'clock he was still steadily working away.
Presently, wishing to take a paper from a heap before him, he looked up, and there, standing just inside the door, was a little old lady in black. Her face was pale and her hands were clasped before her; round her face a white frill, and over that a large black bonnet.
So little was he thinking of the stories told by the children and servants, that, without a moment's thought, he assumed her to be a business visitor, forgetting, for the moment, the late hour and the fact that the gate and the outside door were shut. He rose and offered the lady a chair.
No response. There stood the figure, in the full blaze of the gaslight, motionless and noiseless, the eyes still fixed upon him. He approached her slightly.
"Can I do anything for you ma'am?"
No sound—no movement.
He came closer. Still no sign.
Surprised and a little annoyed, he stepped quickly toward her; and—there was no old lady there—nothing, nobody!
He opened the door, and called angrily upstairs to the servants. Who had been letting people in at this time of night?
Suddenly, as he spoke, he remembered that he had locked his door on going in, leaving the key in the hole, and in throwing it open again he had unlocked it.
What old lady could have come through that locked door? More; where was she now?
Nowhere; in no corner of that brightly lighted room. Certainly not outside.
By this time the servants were down, loudly protesting that they had admitted nobody, and, indeed, there stood the gate, locked, and the outer door was locked too. Mr. Simpson sent the servants away and turned from the office in a nervous bewilderment. He never afterwards greeted with derision any talk of the sights and sounds in the old house in St. Swithin's Lane. Another entry in Mrs. Simpson's diary runs thus:—
"As it is, no explanation can do away with the fact, and it is useless to deny what he has once admitted. Either way, he is in a dilemma, from which he cannot escape. He sums it all up by saying 'I have told you exactly what took place. I know what I saw, and am quite aware that it cannot be explained. As it is, so let it rest.' He will never again laugh at us for our absurd notions and experiences of 'ghosts,' I am quite certain. He is touched in a way that he himself cannot comprehend. He does not like it—his own feelings puzzle him. It will be a long time before he loses the novel impression aroused in his mind by that visit of our little old lady, who seems to wander about our house whenever and wheresoever she pleases."
A MOST complete and well attested case of what would seem to be the involuntary projection of the vital principle is that of Emélie Sagée. It differs in many respects from the other known cases. The wraith or double was never seen at any great distance from the agent, and actual trance in no instance took place; it being, however, observable that a state of languor and apparent exhaustion was involved, increasing in proportion to the distance from the agent at which the wraith was seen. Thus it might easily have been possible for this state to have merged into one of coma had the projection ever been to a great distance, as in the case of Maurice Tulling. It will be noticed that the projection, although both involuntary and unconscious, invariably ensued upon a state of mind involving intense attention or anxiety as to something passing at the moment.
In the-province of Livonia stands the small town of Volmar, of some 2,000 inhabitants, some sixty miles from Riga. The inhabitants are almost entirely of German descent, as, indeed, are those of nearly the entire province.
About a mile from Volmar, at Neuwelcke, there lately stood, and probably still stands, a public school for young ladies, under the direction of a Moravian board of management. This institution was called the Neuwelcke Pensionnat, and it bore a high reputation throughout the province as a most efficiently organised college.
The president of the board of management in 1845, was a M. Buch, and among the pupils, of which there were more than forty, was Mdlle. Julia de Guldenstubbé, second daughter of Baron de Guldenstubbé, the same gentleman who was president of the Ahrensburg consistory at the time when the Buxhoewden incident took place. Mdlle. de Guldenstubbé's closest school companion was Mdlle. Antoine de Wrangel, a year or two older than herself.
One of the teachers, having been seriously ill, went home to her parents, and her complaint becoming confirmed, she resigned her appointment, and steps were taken by the directors to suitably fill the vacancy. The most promising applicant seemed to be a young Frenchwoman, about thirty-two years of age, from Dijion, her name being Mdlle. Emélie Sagée. Her testimonials, both as to character and abilities, were of the very highest kind. She had relatives of respectability residing in the province, and her accomplishments were high. She obtained the appointment.
In due course she presented herself before the pupils—a rather tall, slender, fair lady, with light blue eyes and brown hair—and soon gained their goodwill. Her mild, even temper and pleasant ways made them her friends, and her evident anxiety to do her very best in her work pleased the managers. With all her quiet amiability, nevertheless, a certain tendency to nervous anxiety and excitement was often noticeable in her.
She had not been at the Neuwelcke Pensionnat a month before strange whisperings arose among the pupils. Two girls would see Mdlle. Sagée in different parts of the house at the same time. At first the occurrences were looked upon as simple mistakes on the part of observers, but after a while they took place so frequently, and in such circumstances, that it became plain that there was something very unusual about the new teacher. Girls would meet and report having only that moment seen Mdlle. Sagée each in opposite parts of the premises; and Mdlle. de Guldenstubbé affirmed having been frightened, after asking a question of the mysterious governess, and getting no reply, at seeing her vanish where there was no door for her to go out by. Some of the elder girls mentioned these things to the other teachers, and were laughed at.
One day, however, an unmistakable demonstration took place. A class in mathematics numbering thirteen was being taken by Mdlle. Sagée, who, in the course of the lesson, as was her wont, became most earnest and animated in her efforts to impress certain things upon the minds of her pupils. Taking a piece of chalk in her hand, she turned sharply to the blackboard and began eagerly to demonstrate her meaning upon it, when suddenly there was presented to the eyes of the startled girls the sight of two Mdlles. Sagée, side by side, executing precisely the same movements—the real Mdlle. Sagée still animatedly demonstrating with her chalk upon the blackboard, and the unsubstantial apparition at her side dumbly imitating every movement, though with no chalk in its hand.
The agitation caused among the girls by this extraordinary phenomenon may be imagined. Perceiving some disturbance in the class, Mdlle. Sagée turned round and looked about her, and almost immediately the figure at her side disappeared—seemed to approach her, in fact, and lose itself in her own form.
A little while after this a rural fête was arranged to take place near Neuwelcke, and certain of the pupils at the pensionnat were given permission to attend it, among them Mdlle. Antoine de Wrangel. Mdlle. de Wrangel was rather a favourite with Mdlle, Sagée, and, not having witnessed the extraordinary occurrence at the mathematical class, was not so disposed to regard her with that vague fear which was felt by some of the girls who had.
On the morning of the festivities, Mdlle. de Wrangel was dressing for the purpose of taking part in them. She was alone, and having put on her gown had nobody to hook it behind for her. Just at this moment Mdlle. Sagée passed the door.
"Ma'm'selle, if you please, will you help me fasten my gown?"
"Certainly, my dear. It is a pretty gown—a new one, isn't it?" and Mdlle. Sagée bent down to fasten it.
The dress was rather tight, and Mdlle. Sagée, anxious to set it smoothly, took particular pains with it. Mdlle. de Wrangel was standing with her side to a looking-glass. Turning her eyes toward this, she started and glanced over her shoulder. And, as she saw in the glass, there she saw actually behind her—two women were fastening her dress, and both, apparently, Mdlle. Sagée. She fainted.
These manifestations continued for some months, and although they bred a certain indefinite fear among the girls, were not the occasion of so much terror as might perhaps have been expected, although in one or two cases the effects were very noticeable. Several times during this period the wraith appeared standing behind Mdlle. Sage's chair, sometimes a motionless spectre, and at others a moving one, reflecting every action of the real woman. Mdlle. Sagée herself never appeared conscious of its presence, even when, upon one occasion, it took its place in the chair as she vacated it. When it reflected her movements in the act of eating, there was never any appearance of a knife or fork, or of food.
After these few months had passed away Mdlle. Sagée was attacked by influenza—her first indisposition since her arrival at the school. The doctor thought best to order her to keep to her bed, and from time to time, when her school duties permitted, Mdlle. de Wrangel sat by the patient's bedside and read to her. The effects of this young lady's former fright had by this time quite passed away, and having witnessed the extraordinary phenomena which haunted Mdlle. Sagée more than once since, she was able to regard it with something approaching equanimity.
Mdlle. de Wrangel sat by the bedside one afternoon reading. The teacher's double had not been seen for some week or two, and, absorbed as she was in the book, it was a subject quite absent from Mdlle. de Wrangel's mind.
Suddenly Mdlle. Sagée became very pale and stretched out rigidly in the bed. Her eyes dimmed and her whole appearance became such as to alarm Mdlle. de Wrangel, who asked her hastily if she were worse.
"No, no," came the answer, in a slow, feeble, and languid voice.
The stiffness and paleness continued. Presently looking round, the watcher saw behind her the figure of the sick teacher walking steadily up and down the apartment.
She was startled, certainly, and a little frightened; but she kept quiet and said nothing. Still the sick woman lay motionless and pale; and still the silent wraith paced to and fro. Mdlle. de Wrangel stuck to her post. After a little time the moving figure became slimmer and dimmer, and at last faded away altogether. Then the stiffness left the limbs of Mdlle. Sagée, the paleness gave way to a healthier tint, the light came to her eyes, and she turned over and looked up like one awakening from sleep. Staying only long enough to ascertain that she was perfectly comfortable and had no consciousness of having undergone any change of condition, Mdlle. de Wrangel came away from the room to calm the agitation she had so long managed to subdue, and which was very visible to her school-fellows, in her pale face.
Mdlle. Sagée recovered from the influenza and resumed her customary duties; and it was shortly after her return to these that an indubitable manifestation of the phenomenon was witnessed by the entire establishment.
On the first floor of the school building was a very large room with four French windows looking on to the garden. The whole school was assembled in this room, engaged upon needlework, under the guidance of a teacher who sat at the head of the long table. The day was bright and warm, and in the garden before the windows Mdlle. Sagée was walking about attending to the flowers and occasionally plucking one. Flowers had always been a passion with her, and her every spare moment was spent among them. From the French windows all her movements were distinctly visible to every girl, and these being the only windows the room possessed, most eyes were turned from time to time toward the garden.
Presently said a girl to the teacher in charge, "Ma'm'selle, I have used my blue silk. Can I have more?"
There was no more there. "There is some in my own room," observed the teacher, "which you may get. Stay—I will go myself—you won't be able to find it." And she left the room.
From the garden below Mdlle. Sagée glanced up at the windows. The teacher's chair was empty.
The girls above went on with their sewing or idled and chatted as they liked. Suddenly there was a general drawing of breath. There in the chair at the head of the table sat the form of Mdlle. Sagée, while below in the garden, distinctly visible to all, still walked. Mdlle. Sagée herself!
Her gait was slow and languid, and she feebly extended her arms as if for support, like one who is sleepy or physically exhausted. Then she stopped, supporting herself by a large stucco vase.
There still sat the silent figure. Mdlle. de Wrangel had become, to some extent, used to seeing it, and, with the boldest of her companions, impelled by curiosity, advanced, and attempted to touch the phantom. The hands of the two girls passed into the figure, but they afterwards affirmed that they felt some slight resistance, not unlike that which might be opposed by a gauze or muslin garment. Some of the pupils, however, particularly the younger girls, were terribly frightened, and made their way toward the door as the teacher in charge of the sewing class returned. She also saw the apparition, which shortly began to fade, and finally disappeared entirely. At the same time, Mdlle. Sagée, in the garden, was seen to leave the vase, and, walking across the garden-path, resume her work among the flowers as before.
Mdlle. Sagée, who was never conscious of these appearances, excepting by observing the agitation of those about her, afterwards explained that, on looking up and seeing the teacher's chair empty, she felt anxious lest the girls should lose order and waste their time in the absence of a governess; she was, however, only conscious of immediately afterward going on with her garden work.
Rumours of these things now began to get abroad and, reaching the parents' ears, seriously reduced the attendance at the school. Still, the directors were for some time unwilling to dismiss a valuable teacher, whose only fault was an affliction which she was powerless to remedy. But when something like three-quarters of the pupils failed to return after holidays, the removal of the cause of uneasiness became a matter of absolute necessity, and Mdlle. Sagée was told, as delicately as possible, that the directors would be compelled, in the interests of the institution, to dispense with her services.
The poor governess broke down and wept. "Oh, it is the nineteenth time! There is no peace for me in the world. Again, and the nineteenth time! It is cruel, it is cruel!"
Then she confessed that she had already held appointments at eighteen different schools, and had had to leave each one because of the haunting figure of herself which attended her everywhere. She had never found any difficulty in procuring fresh engagements, as her testimonials as to abilities and conduct had always been excellent, but she could never keep one. She knew nothing of the wraith but what had been told her, had never seen it, and could in no way account for its appearance.
She went to her sister-in-law's house, and it was there that she was last heard of; when her little nephews and nieces would often say that they "saw two aunt Emélies."
ON the coast of Banffshire, Scotland, between the town of Banff itself and Portsoy, lies the parish of Boyndie. It is about a mile west of the fishing village of Whitehills, which, in its turn, is about two miles and a half west of Banff. In the parish of Boyndie stands the farmhouse of Upper Dallachy, the situation of grieve, or overseer, upon which became vacant in the early part of 1868.
It was about the middle of February when the new grieve arrived. He was an Aberdeenshire man, from Monymusk; his name was William Moir, he was 31 years of age, and he brought with him a smiling young wife from his own parish. Boyndie and its district were quite strange to the Moirs, neither having left Aberdeenshire before taking up residence at Upper Dallachy.
William Moir was a good farmer, and things went well. Barley, oats, and potatoes the soil took very kindly to, and the crops were satisfactory. Intelligent, hard-working, and steady, the young grieve had the good opinion of everybody, and for some years nothing occurred to disturb his simple content at Dallachy. Had it been remembered that a mysterious murder had been committed fifty years ago at Moir's house, and, indeed, in the very room in which he now slept, the superstitious fancies of the neighbours would, no doubt, have conjured up something to agitate his mind or that of his wife. But the population of the district was sparse, and the affair of half a century ago had faded from the minds of most of its inhabitants. It was, nevertheless, a fact, and the victim was a man named Elder.
One night during Whit week in 1871, however, William Moir had what he described as a very forcible dream. At the outer boundary of the farm the ground sloped away to the seaside, and upon this sloping ground, about five or six yards from high water mark, was a small mound three yards in diameter, enclosed by a circle of stones. It was, in fact, the site and remains of a kiln used for burning seaweed to make kelp. There were other similar places in different parts of the beach. Kelp manufacture had less than a hundred years back been a flourishing industry in the neighbourhood, but since the discovery of processes of producing soda from salt it had declined, and the last kiln in the vicinity had been abandoned fifty years before.
William Moir's dream was this. He was walking from the farm grounds down toward the beach, passing near this mound, as he had done hundreds of times before. But now, as the mound came in sight, he saw lying upon it the body of a man, bareheaded, although clothed in other respects, with a face covered with blood. This dream left an unusual impression upon Moir's mind; he was very little in the habit of dreaming, as a rule, and when he did dream he very seldom remembered the subject matter of the illusion; but on this occasion in his waking hours the recollection of his sleeping fancy took a strong hold on him which he could in no way shake off. The mere coming into his bedroom would bring on, with what seemed increasing force each time, the remembrance of the dead man lying on the mound, and in passing the mound itself it was impossible for him to keep the dream out of his head.
Soon his state of mind became positively painful. The sight of the dead body upon the beach slope was ever in his mind's eye, and do what he would he could never exclude it from his thoughts. Most of his nights were wakeful, and what little sleep he did get was characterised by the most vivid recurrences of the vision. During the day he shunned his bed-room as much as possible, for, although the haunting thought of that dead body with its blood-stained face was now ever with him, it became doubly heightened and intensified whenever he entered that room, even more so than when he passed the mound.
This state of things had lasted, and had become gradually more and more intolerable, for a few months, when a singular coincidence occurred. It was toward the end of July that an unfortunate lunatic, escaping from the custody of his keepers, at the county asylum at Ladysbridge, wandered toward the sea and there either committed suicide or was accidentally drowned.
There was attached to the farm at Upper Dallachy a large old boat, which the men servants occasionally used by way of pastime, rowing to different parts of the coast—usually to Lea—and there fishing. Moir's fits of brooding had so impressed his wife that she one day insisted on his having an afternoon's holiday and taking the old boat out for a little fishing, thinking to provide some diversion for his extraordinarily depressed spirits. Accordingly, with little heart in the proceedings, and more by way of pleasing his wife than otherwise, he took the boat, with one of the hands as companion, and pulled off to Lea. Returning just before evening, the two men observed, tossing about a little way from the shore, the dead body of the drowned lunatic. Pulling toward it, Moir reached over and attached the corpse to the stern of the boat, then pulling ashore. It was now getting rapidly dusk as the two men picked up the corpse between them to carry it up to Whitehills. They carried it up the beach, when suddenly there came upon the consciousness of Moir, with redoubled force, the remembrance of the dream; and looking down, he found himself walking over the very spot on which his sleeping fancy had pictured the dead man's body. This, it struck him, almost in the manner of a physical blow, was the interpretation of his dream; and, as if to complete the parallel, his companion behind stumbled over one of the stones, and letting go his hold of the body, in a moment it was lying exactly as Moir had seen the corpse of his dream lie; more—on taking a further look at the face, there was a broad stain of blood covering one side of the forehead, the eye, and part of the cheek on that side.
Although the face and the dress of the corpse were not altogether those of the dead man in his dream, Moir had no doubt that here, at last, he had arrived at the interpretation. It was a singular thing, this dream, he thought, to be so closely paralleled by fact; but now that he seemed to have got to the end of the matter he was glad; for now, he thought, he might reasonably expect that the haunting presence of the dream would leave him, and his spirits rose accordingly.
The body of the poor lunatic was left at Whitehills, and Moir, with a feeling of hope—though only a vague one—that the incubus might now be lifted from his brain, returned to Dallachy. For some little time he was comparatively cheerful, and Mrs. Moir noted with inward satisfaction the improvement in his spirits. But he had scarcely entered the bedroom when the thought of the dream came again before him with even more than its old impressiveness. All that night he tossed and tumbled in his bed, and to his disordered imagination there seemed a bloody-faced corpse in every corner of the dark room and it was not the bloody-faced corpse which he had that day carried to Whitehills, but that of his dream.
He began to fear—to more than fear—some failure of reason. What was this vision of a dead man that would not leave him? He had wronged no dead man, and why this affliction? Deeper and deeper grew his belief that insanity was creeping upon him. He grew dull, abstracted, and sullen; he no longer seemed the same man. Gradually through the months the circumstances surrounding the subject of his dream became vaguely present in his overwrought mind. He was conscious of an indistinct feeling, as though he were, or had been, himself implicated in, or a witness to, the murder which had laid that gory clay lifeless upon its back. The bedroom began to wear a look of strange familiarity which was not the ordinary familiarity of a man's nightly sleeping apartment, but more as the shadow of another bygone and misty acquaintanceship of unremembered days. He had never in his life, he knew, been to Boyndie, or, indeed, any part of Banffshire, before coming to the farm; still, in addition to the ordinary familiarity which a man has with his house and which he himself had long ere this completely acquired, there now grew upon him a misty conviction of a stranger and earlier familiarity.
Now and again his spirits would be freed from the incubus for some hours together, just as physical pain will leave a sick man for a time and then return. These blessed intervals, however, became fewer and fewer, and were enjoyed as a day's liberty would be enjoyed by a prisoner condemned to incarceration for life. But the mere entry into his bed-room or the sight of the mound was always sufficient to put an end to any such relief, and bring again the dreadful fancies in all their fullness.
Every expedient which suggested itself to his wife she tried in order to win him from his broodings, but all were unsuccessful. What oppressed him he would never tell her nor anybody else—why, he could never have said—he only felt himself powerless to impart his secret to others—he simply could not. There seemed an indefinite horror in the idea of revealing to others the story of that gory corpse. So for a long while nobody knew the reason of William Moir's depression but himself.
This went on for several months—in fact, till the latter part of January, 1872. That he bore up against the fearful conviction of impending insanity so long is in itself some testimony to the strength of Moir's mental faculties.
On Wednesday, 24th January, while working in a remote part of the farm, the trouble, which had by this assumed the character of an actual and perceptible presence, temporarily left him—the first relief he had experienced for a long time. In the evening, however, on his approaching the bed-room, it, as usual, returned, if possible with greater force than before. The next morning, while off the farm premises, he experienced another slight relief. After dinner, he was walking away from the house in the opposite direction to the sea-shore, when, with a shock as of a blow upon the head, back came the fearful idea, this time more an actual presence than ever, and with a sort of mesmeric power over him that compelled him to at once retrace his steps to the house. He entered, and, without speaking to or seeing anybody in the place, took a spade, and went toward the mound. He loosened the turf at the surface, and then drove the spade well in and levered up a large spadeful of earth. Out of this spadeful of earth there fell a human skull.
This did not disturb or surprise him in the least. In his then state of mind it seemed the most natural thing possible—in fact, just what he had expected. He dug again.
First a lower jawbone; then shoulder-blades and ribs with many loose vertebrae; then the humerus of an arm and, after that, the radius and ulna and all the bones of a hand. He was digging up a skeleton.
Moir went to a hillock a little distance off and called to Lorimer, his cattle-man, who was pulling turnips in the next field. Lorimer came to him, and in his presence the grieve proceeded to dig. The other arm, the pelvis, the leg-bones, and those of the feet were turned up, none covered by more than eighteen or twenty inches of soil, and there lay the skeleton complete. They covered it loosely with earth, and Moir set out for Whitehills to consult With Mr. Taylor, a tradesman of that village, in whose judgment he felt he could trust as to what should be done in the matter.
He had scarcely begun his story when Police-inspector McGregor came into the shop. To him Moir described his discovery of the skeleton, and with him returned to where it lay. The inspector examined some of the bones, and, as night was falling, had them covered up. Next morning (Friday) he returned, and had the whole taken up and carried away to be dealt with by the police authorities.
Dr. Hirschfeld and Dr. Mawson examined the skeleton, which was much decomposed, by direction of the police, and came to the conclusion that it must have lain buried for more than forty years. Now it was nearly fifty years ago that Elder was murdered, and collateral circumstances left no doubt that the remains were his.
Moir's mental troubles left him immediately after the removal of the bones, but their effects remained. He could never view the mound without a spasm of horror; and in twenty months from the discovery he died—died of the results of the shock and agitation of the system which he had endured.
The case affords matter for much speculation. What was the cause of Moir's feeling of past familiarity with the scenes of the murder of Elder, twenty years before his own birth? Believers in the metempsychosis would, of course, say that in a former life he had been a party to, or a witness of, the tragedy, and every circumstance would bear out the theory. His dream of the corpse as a result of sleeping in the room may well have been induced by that hypnotic influence of the dead man's mind to which reference has already been made in connection with other manifestations. The coincidence, also, of the placing by Moir of another body upon the same spot is another singular feature, and perhaps not one without its meaning, if these things were to be understood.
THERE formerly stood at the corner of Castle Street and Rating Row, Beaumaris, a draper's shop, in the occupation of a Mr. Owen. Both Mr. and Mrs. Owen were very sharp disciplinarians, and of rather short temper. Consequently, their assistants were as a rule, particularly careful to avoid their displeasure, and made punctuality as much a characteristic of their service as possible. Mr. R. P. Roberts of Cheetham, Manchester, was, some years ago, an apprentice in this establishment. Among the inflexible rules to which he was bound one was that he must leave for his dinner at twelve o'clock noon, each day, and be again in the shop exactly as the clock showed half an hour later. Mr. Roberts was unusually anxious to please his employer, and was never guilty of unpunctuality.
One morning he left the shop in the ordinary way at twelve, and went straight to his aunt's, as usual, to dinner. In the middle of the meal he glanced at the clock and started up. It was half-past twelve and he was not nearly through his meal, although he ought at that moment to be back in the shop. He experienced quite a shock, and sank into his chair again in some agitation. Then he took a second glance at the clock and found that he had made some mistake—it was really only 12.15. How he could have made such a stupid blunder he could not, for the life of him, imagine. But he regained his calmness and went on with his dinner.
It was exactly half-past twelve as he re-entered the shop. Mrs. Owen was behind the counter, and her expression was not one of pleasure.
"Where have you been since you came back from dinner?" she asked.
Roberts told her that he had but that moment returned.
"But you came back and hung up your hat a quarter of an hour ago."
Roberts didn't understand it, and said so. He had left at twelve, had gone straight to his aunt's, had eaten his dinner, and now had returned—at 12.30, the proper time.
Mr. Owen was sent for. He corroborated his wife's statement. A customer had called in Roberts's absence for something which was among the stock in his charge, and consequently could not be got at. Then the customer had gone out. She had scarcely left the door when Roberts was distinctly seen to enter it, closely followed by another customer, a Mrs. Jones, well-known in the shop, and proceed to hang his hat upon its proper peg. Mrs. Owen had observed for the apprentice's information that he had come now that he wasn't wanted, which remark was taken no notice of. Roberts then, staring about him in an absent, preoccupied manner, had taken down his hat again and gone out of the shop, producing a remark from Mrs. Owen to the effect that she "should like to know where he was off to now."
Roberts, of course, could only totally deny all this.
"I couldn't have gone home, eaten my dinner, and got back here in a quarter of an hour. My aunt will tell you I have only just left," he said.
But he was in a decided minority, and in the midst of the discussion, Mrs. Jones, the customer, came in again, and was at once appealed to by both parties.
She had been to the shop before, she said, at a quarter past twelve. She had most certainly distinctly seen Roberts in Rating Row approaching the shop a yard or two in front of her, and she had followed him in. She had seen him hang up his hat, she had heard what Mrs. Owen had said about his coming when not wanted, and she had also seen him replace his hat upon his head and go out again, followed by Mrs. Owen's words as to where he was off to now.
Roberts began to have very serious doubts of everybody's sanity, including his own. He could only most vehemently protest that he certainly had not returned until half-past twelve. But his master and mistress preferred to believe their own eyes. So at last he went home again and fetched his aunt, who corroborated his story entirely, and produced proofs that she could not possibly have been mistaken.
Then everybody stared at everybody else, and all agreed that it was a most singular adventure, and one of those things that nobody could ever understand. Which nobody ever did.
IN a large stone house, which, for America, was an old one, situated upon the banks of the Ohio, in Switzerland County, Indiana, there lived in 1845 Mr. and Mrs. B——. Mrs. B—— was the daughter of a clergyman of some wide celebrity, the father of a fairly numerous family.
On the 15th of September, 1845, Mrs. B——'s youngest sister, Janet, was married to Mr. Hugh N——, and the bride and bridegroom came to the B——'s house for the honeymoon. The third day after their arrival an invitation was received, in response to which the whole family, visitors and all, went to a neighbour's house, about a mile away, to spend the day. During the afternoon, Hugh N——, with two sons of the host, set off for a walk to a neighbouring village, with promise of a speedy return. Their return, however, was not speedy, and after waiting some hours for them, the visitors decided to return home and leave Hugh to follow when he got back, more especially as Mrs. B——'s two small children were betraying very strong signs of the approach of bed-time.
Accordingly in the early evening, just as a beautiful full moon rose, the party set out, and arrived home without any noticeable incident.
"I shall just run upstairs and take off my walking dress," said young Mrs. N——, to her sister. "I shall be down again as soon as you have got the children to bed." And she went upstairs accordingly.
Two verandahs ran along the whole front of the house, one on the top floor and one below, the higher one commanding a very fine view of the river. When Mrs. N—— reached her room and looked through the open French window, she saw her husband sitting on a chair on this verandah, smoking a cigar, in the manner of one enjoying the breeze from the river and the bright moonlight.
He must have come straight home, thought the young wife, and then she said:
"Why, Hugh, how long have you been here? Why didn't you come home with us? What will the W——s think at your coming straight away here without bidding them good-night?"
There was no reply. The figure sat immovable.
Janet stepped out.
"Has anything offended you, dear? What is the matter?"
Still no reply. She approached him, and reached to put her arms about his neck, and—the figure was gone!
She caught the rail and almost swooned. There stood the chair, empty.
"Hugh! Hugh!" she cried, feebly, but there was no response. Then she summoned her remaining strength and staggered downstairs to her sister.
Mrs. B—— was with the children. Janet almost fell into the room, wringing her hands and weeping. "He has gone—he has gone—I have lost him! I know I have lost him! Something fearful has happened to Hugh!" and she broke clown utterly.
After some little time Mrs. B—— coaxed her into sufficient tranquillity to relate what had happened. Mrs. B—— was not a woman of weak nerves, and did her best to persuade her sister that she must have been mistaken. While they were talking, Mrs. B—— looked toward the door of the room, and there stood a boy. It was a lad who worked about the place as a sort of handy factotum. He was a good lad, fond of playing with the children, and always willing to do anything to amuse them. He came in a step or two, in a bashful way customary with him, and looked about the room as though in search of something or somebody.
"Frankie is in bed, Silas," said Mrs. B——, "and asleep."
The boy only smiled and turned away. Mrs. B—— could see him, however, from the window, walk back and forward before the front door of the house. Then she recommenced her attentions to Janet.
Presently Mr. B—— came in. He asked for Silas.
"He must be close by, I think," said Mrs. B——, "he was in here only a minute or two ago."
Mr. B—— went out and called Silas, but got no reply. He went all over the premises, high and low, but there was no Silas. Nobody except Mrs. B—— and her sister had seen him. He had been out all day. So Mr. B—— gave up the search.
It was about two hours after their first return when a familiar step was heard at the door, and in walked Hugh N——; this time the actual man. Nothing extraordinary had happened to him, he said. He certainly had only just returned, direct from the W——s house, after leaving his two friends. Didn't understand what Janet could have seen.
Silas was not seen till breakfast the next day.
"Where have you been since yesterday morning, Silas?" was Mrs. B——'s immediate question.
Silas had been up at the island, a couple of miles away, near his own home, fishing, and he said so.
"But you were here last night?"
"Oh, no. Mr. B—— gave me leave to go fishing all day yesterday, and told me I needn't come back, so I stayed at home last night."
And there was no doubt about it. Mr. B—— had given him the holiday, and Silas, it was afterwards clearly shown, had been in his parents' home when Mrs. B—— saw the figure in the doorway.
Nothing unusual happened either to Mr. N—— or to Silas. Mr. N—— survived his wife many years, and Silas perhaps is now—certainly was until lately—a thriving tradesman at Chicago.
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia