An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
It is not worth telling, this story of
mine--at least, not worth writing. Told, indeed, as I have sometimes been
called upon to tell it, to a circle of intelligent and eager faces, lighted up
by a good after-dinner fire on a winter's evening, with a cold wind rising and wailing
outside, and all snug and cosy within, it has gone off--though I say it, who
should not--indifferent well. But it is a venture to do as you would have me.
Pen, ink, and paper are cold vehicles for the marvellous, and a
"reader" decidedly a more critical animal than a "listener."
If, however, you can induce your friends to read it after nightfall, and when
the fireside talk has run for a while on thrilling tales of shapeless terror;
in short, if you will secure me the _mollia tempora fandi_, I will go to my
work, and say my say, with better heart. Well, then, these conditions
presupposed, I shall waste no more words, but tell you simply how it all
My cousin (Tom Ludlow)
and I studied medicine together. I think he would have succeeded, had he stuck
to the profession; but he preferred the Church, poor fellow, and died early, a
sacrifice to contagion, contracted in the noble discharge of his duties. For my
present purpose, I say enough of his character when I mention that he was of a
sedate but frank and cheerful nature; very exact in his observance of truth,
and not by any means like myself--of an excitable or nervous temperament.
My Uncle Ludlow--Tom's
father--while we were attending lectures, purchased three or four old houses in
Aungier Street, one of which was unoccupied. _He_ resided in the country, and
Tom proposed that we should take up our abode in the untenanted house, so long
as it should continue unlet; a move which would accomplish the double end of
settling us nearer alike to our lecture-rooms and to our amusements, and of relieving
us from the weekly charge of rent for our lodgings.
Our furniture was very
scant--our whole equipage remarkably modest and primitive; and, in short, our
arrangements pretty nearly as simple as those of a bivouac. Our new plan was,
therefore, executed almost as soon as conceived. The front drawing-room was our
sitting-room. I had the bedroom over it, and Tom the back bedroom on the same
floor, which nothing could have induced me to occupy.
The house, to begin
with, was a very old one. It had been, I believe, newly fronted about fifty
years before; but with this exception, it had nothing modern about it. The
agent who bought it and looked into the titles for my uncle, told me that it
was sold, along with much other forfeited property, at Chichester House, I
think, in 1702; and had belonged to Sir Thomas Hacket, who was Lord Mayor of
Dublin in James II.'s time. How old it was _then_, I can't say; but, at all
events, it had seen years and changes enough to have contracted all that
mysterious and saddened air, at once exciting and depressing, which belongs to
most old mansions.
There had been very
little done in the way of modernising details; and, perhaps, it was better so;
for there was something queer and by-gone in the very walls and ceilings--in
the shape of doors and windows--in the odd diagonal site of the
chimney-pieces--in the beams and ponderous cornices--not to mention the
singular solidity of all the woodwork, from the banisters to the window-frames,
which hopelessly defied disguise, and would have emphatically proclaimed their
antiquity through any conceivable amount of modern finery and varnish.
An effort had, indeed,
been made, to the extent of papering the drawing-rooms; but somehow, the paper
looked raw and out of keeping; and the old woman, who kept a little dirt-pie of
a shop in the lane, and whose daughter--a girl of two and fifty--was our
solitary handmaid, coming in at sunrise, and chastely receding again as soon as
she had made all ready for tea in our state apartment;--this woman, I say, remembered
it, when old Judge Horrocks (who, having earned the reputation of a
particularly "hanging judge," ended by hanging himself, as the
coroner's jury found, under an impulse of "temporary insanity," with
a child's skipping-rope, over the massive old bannisters) resided there,
entertaining good company, with fine venison and rare old port. In those
halcyon days, the drawing-rooms were hung with gilded leather, and, I dare say,
cut a good figure, for they were really spacious rooms.
The bedrooms were
wainscoted, but the front one was not gloomy; and in it the cosiness of
antiquity quite overcame its sombre associations. But the back bedroom, with
its two queerly-placed melancholy windows, staring vacantly at the foot of the
bed, and with the shadowy recess to be found in most old houses in Dublin, like
a large ghostly closet, which, from congeniality of temperament, had
amalgamated with the bedchamber, and dissolved the partition. At night-time,
this "alcove"--as our "maid" was wont to call it--had, in
my eyes, a specially sinister and suggestive character. Tom's distant and
solitary candle glimmered vainly into its darkness. _There_ it was always overlooking
him--always itself impenetrable. But this was only part of the effect. The
whole room was, I can't tell how, repulsive to me. There was, I suppose, in its
proportions and features, a latent discord--a certain mysterious and
indescribable relation, which jarred indistinctly upon some secret sense of the
fitting and the safe, and raised indefinable suspicions and apprehensions of
the imagination. On the whole, as I began by saying, nothing could have induced
me to pass a night alone in it.
I had never pretended
to conceal from poor Tom my superstitious weakness; and he, on the other hand,
most unaffectedly ridiculed my tremors. The sceptic was, however, destined to
receive a lesson, as you shall hear.
We had not been very
long in occupation of our respective dormitories, when I began to complain of
uneasy nights and disturbed sleep. I was, I suppose, the more impatient under
this annoyance, as I was usually a sound sleeper, and by no means prone to
nightmares. It was now, however, my destiny, instead of enjoying my customary
repose, every night to "sup full of horrors." After a preliminary
course of disagreeable and frightful dreams, my troubles took a definite form,
and the same vision, without an appreciable variation in a single detail,
visited me at least (on an average) every second night in the week.
Now, this dream,
nightmare, or infernal illusion--which you please--of which I was the miserable
sport, was on this wise:----
I saw, or thought I
saw, with the most abominable distinctness, although at the time in profound
darkness, every article of furniture and accidental arrangement of the chamber
in which I lay. This, as you know, is incidental to ordinary nightmare. Well,
while in this clairvoyant condition, which seemed but the lighting up of the
theatre in which was to be exhibited the monotonous tableau of horror, which
made my nights insupportable, my attention invariably became, I know not why,
fixed upon the windows opposite the foot of my bed; and, uniformly with the same
effect, a sense of dreadful anticipation always took slow but sure possession
of me. I became somehow conscious of a sort of horrid but undefined preparation
going forward in some unknown quarter, and by some unknown agency, for my
torment; and, after an interval, which always seemed to me of the same length,
a picture suddenly flew up to the window, where it remained fixed, as if by an
electrical attraction, and my discipline of horror then commenced, to last
perhaps for hours. The picture thus mysteriously glued to the window-panes, was
the portrait of an old man, in a crimson flowered silk dressing-gown, the folds
of which I could now describe, with a countenance embodying a strange mixture
of intellect, sensuality, and power, but withal sinister and full of malignant
omen. His nose was hooked, like the beak of a vulture; his eyes large, grey,
and prominent, and lighted up with a more than mortal cruelty and coldness.
These features were surmounted by a crimson velvet cap, the hair that peeped
from under which was white with age, while the eyebrows retained their original
blackness. Well I remember every line, hue, and shadow of that stony
countenance, and well I may! The gaze of this hellish visage was fixed upon me,
and mine returned it with the inexplicable fascination of nightmare, for what
appeared to me to be hours of agony. At last----
The cock he crew, away then flew
the fiend who had
enslaved me through the awful watches of the night; and, harassed and nervous,
I rose to the duties of the day.
I had--I can't say
exactly why, but it may have been from the exquisite anguish and profound
impressions of unearthly horror, with which this strange phantasmagoria was
associated--an insurmountable antipathy to describing the exact nature of my
nightly troubles to my friend and comrade. Generally, however, I told him that
I was haunted by abominable dreams; and, true to the imputed materialism of
medicine, we put our heads together to dispel my horrors, not by exorcism, but
by a tonic.
I will do this tonic
justice, and frankly admit that the accursed portrait began to intermit its
visits under its influence. What of that? Was this singular apparition--as full
of character as of terror--therefore the creature of my fancy, or the invention
of my poor stomach? Was it, in short, _subjective_ (to borrow the technical slang
of the day) and not the palpable aggression and intrusion of an external agent?
That, good friend, as we will both admit, by no means follows. The evil spirit,
who enthralled my senses in the shape of that portrait, may have been just as
near me, just as energetic, just as malignant, though I saw him not. What means
the whole moral code of revealed religion regarding the due keeping of our own
bodies, soberness, temperance, etc.? here is an obvious connexion between the
material and the invisible; the healthy tone of the system, and its unimpaired energy,
may, for aught we can tell, guard us against influences which would otherwise
render life itself terrific. The mesmerist and the electro-biologist will fail
upon an average with nine patients out of ten--so may the evil spirit. Special
conditions of the corporeal system are indispensable to the production of
certain spiritual phenomena. The operation succeeds sometimes--sometimes
fails--that is all.
I found afterwards that
my would-be sceptical companion had his troubles too. But of these I knew
nothing yet. One night, for a wonder, I was sleeping soundly, when I was roused
by a step on the lobby outside my room, followed by the loud clang of what
turned out to be a large brass candlestick, flung with all his force by poor
Tom Ludlow over the banisters, and rattling with a rebound down the second
flight of stairs; and almost concurrently with this, Tom burst open my door,
and bounced into my room backwards, in a state of extraordinary agitation.
I had jumped out of bed
and clutched him by the arm before I had any distinct idea of my own
whereabouts. There we were--in our shirts--standing before the open
door--staring through the great old banister opposite, at the lobby window,
through which the sickly light of a clouded moon was gleaming.
matter, Tom? What's the matter with you? What the devil's the matter with you,
Tom?" I demanded shaking him with nervous impatience.
He took a long breath
before he answered me, and then it was not very coherently.
nothing at all--did I speak?--what did I say?--where's the candle, Richard?
It's dark; I--I had a candle!"
enough," I said; "but what's the matter?--what _is_ it?--why don't
you speak, Tom?--have you lost your wits?--what is the matter?"
it is all over. It must have been a dream--nothing at all but a dream--don't
you think so? It could not be anything more than a dream."
said I, feeling uncommonly nervous, "it _was_ a dream."
he said, "there was a man in my room, and--and I jumped out of bed;
and--and--where's the candle?"
"In your room,
most likely," I said, "shall I go and bring it?"
here--don't go; it's no matter--don't, I tell you; it was all a dream. Bolt the
door, Dick; I'll stay here with you--I feel nervous. So, Dick, like a good
fellow, light your candle and open the window--I am in a _shocking
I did as he asked me,
and robing himself like Granuaile in one of my blankets, he seated himself
close beside my bed.
Every body knows how
contagious is fear of all sorts, but more especially that particular kind of
fear under which poor Tom was at that moment labouring. I would not have heard,
nor I believe would he have recapitulated, just at that moment, for half the
world, the details of the hideous vision which had so unmanned him.
telling me anything about your nonsensical dream, Tom," said I, affecting
contempt, really in a panic; "let us talk about something else; but it is
quite plain that this dirty old house disagrees with us both, and hang me if I
stay here any longer, to be pestered with indigestion and--and--bad nights, so
we may as well look out for lodgings--don't you think so?--at once."
Tom agreed, and, after
an interval, said----
"I have been
thinking, Richard, that it is a long time since I saw my father, and I have
made up my mind to go down to-morrow and return in a day or two, and you can
take rooms for us in the meantime."
I fancied that this
resolution, obviously the result of the vision which had so profoundly scared
him, would probably vanish next morning with the damps and shadows of night.
But I was mistaken. Off went Tom at peep of day to the country, having agreed
that so soon as I had secured suitable lodgings, I was to recall him by letter
from his visit to my Uncle Ludlow.
Now, anxious as I was
to change my quarters, it so happened, owing to a series of petty procrastinations
and accidents, that nearly a week elapsed before my bargain was made and my
letter of recall on the wing to Tom; and, in the meantime, a trifling adventure
or two had occurred to your humble servant, which, absurd as they now appear,
diminished by distance, did certainly at the time serve to whet my appetite for
A night or two after
the departure of my comrade, I was sitting by my bedroom fire, the door locked,
and the ingredients of a tumbler of hot whisky-punch upon the crazy
spider-table; for, as the best mode of keeping the
Black spirits and white, Blue spirits and grey,
with which I was
environed, at bay, I had adopted the practice recommended by the wisdom of my
ancestors, and "kept my spirits up by pouring spirits down." I had
thrown aside my volume of Anatomy, and was treating myself by way of a tonic,
preparatory to my punch and bed, to half-a-dozen pages of the _Spectator_, when
I heard a step on the flight of stairs descending from the attics. It was two
o'clock, and the streets were as silent as a churchyard--the sounds were,
therefore, perfectly distinct. There was a slow, heavy tread, characterised by
the emphasis and deliberation of age, descending by the narrow staircase from
above; and, what made the sound more singular, it was plain that the feet which
produced it were perfectly bare, measuring the descent with something between a
pound and a flop, very ugly to hear.
I knew quite well that
my attendant had gone away many hours before, and that nobody but myself had
any business in the house. It was quite plain also that the person who was
coming down stairs had no intention whatever of concealing his movements; but,
on the contrary, appeared disposed to make even more noise, and proceed more
deliberately, than was at all necessary. When the step reached the foot of the
stairs outside my room, it seemed to stop; and I expected every moment to see my
door open spontaneously, and give admission to the original of my detested
portrait. I was, however, relieved in a few seconds by hearing the descent
renewed, just in the same manner, upon the staircase leading down to the
drawing-rooms, and thence, after another pause, down the next flight, and so on
to the hall, whence I heard no more.
Now, by the time the
sound had ceased, I was wound up, as they say, to a very unpleasant pitch of
excitement. I listened, but there was not a stir. I screwed up my courage to a
decisive experiment--opened my door, and in a stentorian voice bawled over the
banisters, "Who's there?" There was no answer but the ringing of my
own voice through the empty old house,--no renewal of the movement; nothing, in
short, to give my unpleasant sensations a definite direction. There is, I
think, something most disagreeably disenchanting in the sound of one's own
voice under such circumstances, exerted in solitude, and in vain. It redoubled
my sense of isolation, and my misgivings increased on perceiving that the door,
which I certainly thought I had left open, was closed behind me; in a vague
alarm, lest my retreat should be cut off, I got again into my room as quickly
as I could, where I remained in a state of imaginary blockade, and very
uncomfortable indeed, till morning.
Next night brought no
return of my barefooted fellow-lodger; but the night following, being in my
bed, and in the dark--somewhere, I suppose, about the same hour as before, I
distinctly heard the old fellow again descending from the garrets.
This time I had had my
punch, and the _morale_ of the garrison was consequently excellent. I jumped
out of bed, clutched the poker as I passed the expiring fire, and in a moment
was upon the lobby. The sound had ceased by this time--the dark and chill were
discouraging; and, guess my horror, when I saw, or thought I saw, a black
monster, whether in the shape of a man or a bear I could not say, standing,
with its back to the wall, on the lobby, facing me, with a pair of great
greenish eyes shining dimly out. Now, I must be frank, and confess that the
cupboard which displayed our plates and cups stood just there, though at the moment
I did not recollect it. At the same time I must honestly say, that making every
allowance for an excited imagination, I never could satisfy myself that I was
made the dupe of my own fancy in this matter; for this apparition, after one or
two shiftings of shape, as if in the act of incipient transformation, began, as
it seemed on second thoughts, to advance upon me in its original form. From an
instinct of terror rather than of courage, I hurled the poker, with all my
force, at its head; and to the music of a horrid crash made my way into my
room, and double-locked the door. Then, in a minute more, I heard the horrid
bare feet walk down the stairs, till the sound ceased in the hall, as on the former
If the apparition of
the night before was an ocular delusion of my fancy sporting with the dark
outlines of our cupboard, and if its horrid eyes were nothing but a pair of
inverted teacups, I had, at all events, the satisfaction of having launched the
poker with admirable effect, and in true "fancy" phrase,
"knocked its two daylights into one," as the commingled fragments of
my tea-service testified. I did my best to gather comfort and courage from these
evidences; but it would not do. And then what could I say of those horrid bare
feet, and the regular tramp, tramp, tramp, which measured the distance of the
entire staircase through the solitude of my haunted dwelling, and at an hour
when no good influence was stirring? Confound it!--the whole affair was
abominable. I was out of spirits, and dreaded the approach of night.
It came, ushered
ominously in with a thunder-storm and dull torrents of depressing rain. Earlier
than usual the streets grew silent; and by twelve o'clock nothing but the
comfortless pattering of the rain was to be heard.
I made myself as snug
as I could. I lighted _two_ candles instead of one. I forswore bed, and held
myself in readiness for a sally, candle in hand; for, _coute qui coute_, I was
resolved to _see_ the being, if visible at all, who troubled the nightly
stillness of my mansion. I was fidgetty and nervous and tried in vain to
interest myself with my books. I walked up and down my room, whistling in turn
martial and hilarious music, and listening ever and anon for the dreaded noise.
I sate down and stared at the square label on the solemn and reserved-looking
black bottle, until "FLANAGAN & CO'S BEST OLD MALT WHISKY" grew
into a sort of subdued accompaniment to all the fantastic and horrible
speculations which chased one another through my brain.
grew more silent, and darkness darker. I listened in vain for the rumble of a
vehicle, or the dull clamour of a distant row. There was nothing but the sound
of a rising wind, which had succeeded the thunder-storm that had travelled over
the Dublin mountains quite out of hearing. In the middle of this great city I
began to feel myself alone with nature, and Heaven knows what beside. My
courage was ebbing. Punch, however, which makes beasts of so many, made a man
of me again--just in time to hear with tolerable nerve and firmness the lumpy, flabby,
naked feet deliberately descending the stairs again.
I took a candle, not
without a tremour. As I crossed the floor I tried to extemporise a prayer, but
stopped short to listen, and never finished it. The steps continued. I confess
I hesitated for some seconds at the door before I took heart of grace and opened
it. When I peeped out the lobby was perfectly empty--there was no monster
standing on the staircase; and as the detested sound ceased, I was reassured
enough to venture forward nearly to the banisters. Horror of horrors! within a stair
or two beneath the spot where I stood the unearthly tread smote the floor. My
eye caught something in motion; it was about the size of Goliah's foot--it was
grey, heavy, and flapped with a dead weight from one step to another. As I am
alive, it was the most monstrous grey rat I ever beheld or imagined.
says--"Some men there are cannot abide a gaping pig, and some that are mad
if they behold a cat." I went well-nigh out of my wits when I beheld this
_rat_; for, laugh at me as you may, it fixed upon me, I thought, a perfectly
human expression of malice; and, as it shuffled about and looked up into my
face almost from between my feet, I saw, I could swear it--I felt it then, and
know it now, the infernal gaze and the accursed countenance of my old friend in
the portrait, transfused into the visage of the bloated vermin before me.
I bounced into my room
again with a feeling of loathing and horror I cannot describe, and locked and
bolted my door as if a lion had been at the other side. D--n him or _it_; curse
the portrait and its original! I felt in my soul that the rat--yes, the _rat_,
the RAT I had just seen, was that evil being in masquerade, and rambling
through the house upon some infernal night lark.
Next morning I was
early trudging through the miry streets; and, among other transactions, posted
a peremptory note recalling Tom. On my return, however, I found a note from my
absent "chum," announcing his intended return next day. I was doubly
rejoiced at this, because I had succeeded in getting rooms; and because the
change of scene and return of my comrade were rendered specially pleasant by
the last night's half ridiculous half horrible adventure.
extemporaneously in my new quarters in Digges' Street that night, and next
morning returned for breakfast to the haunted mansion, where I was certain Tom
would call immediately on his arrival.
I was quite right--he
came; and almost his first question referred to the primary object of our
change of residence.
he said with genuine fervour, on hearing that all was arranged. "On _your_
account I am delighted. As to myself, I assure you that no earthly
consideration could have induced me ever again to pass a night in this
disastrous old house."
house!" I ejaculated, with a genuine mixture of fear and detestation,
"we have not had a pleasant hour since we came to live here"; and so
I went on, and related incidentally my adventure with the plethoric old rat.
"Well, if that
were _all_," said my cousin, affecting to make light of the matter,
"I don't think I should have minded it very much."
"Ay, but its
eye--its countenance, my dear Tom," urged I; "if you had seen _that_,
you would have felt it might be _anything_ but what it seemed."
"I inclined to
think the best conjurer in such a case would be an able-bodied cat," he
said, with a provoking chuckle.
"But let us hear
your own adventure," I said tartly.
At this challenge he
looked uneasily round him. I had poked up a very unpleasant recollection.
"You shall hear
it, Dick; I'll tell it to you," he said. "Begad, sir, I should feel
quite queer, though, telling it _here_, though we are too strong a body for
ghosts to meddle with just now."
Though he spoke this
like a joke, I think it was serious calculation. Our Hebe was in a corner of
the room, packing our cracked delft tea and dinner-services in a basket. She
soon suspended operations, and with mouth and eyes wide open became an absorbed
listener. Tom's experiences were told nearly in these words:----
"I saw it three
times, Dick--three distinct times; and I am perfectly certain it meant me some
infernal harm. I was, I say, in danger--in _extreme_ danger; for, if nothing
else had happened, my reason would most certainly have failed me, unless I had
escaped so soon. Thank God. I _did_ escape.
"The first night
of this hateful disturbance, I was lying in the attitude of sleep, in that
lumbering old bed. I hate to think of it. I was really wide awake, though I had
put out my candle, and was lying as quietly as if I had been asleep; and
although accidentally restless, my thoughts were running in a cheerful and
"I think it must
have been two o'clock at least when I thought I heard a sound in that--that
odious dark recess at the far end of the bedroom. It was as if someone was
drawing a piece of cord slowly along the floor, lifting it up, and dropping it
softly down again in coils. I sate up once or twice in my bed, but could see
nothing, so I concluded it must be mice in the wainscot. I felt no emotion
graver than curiosity, and after a few minutes ceased to observe it.
"While lying in
this state, strange to say; without at first a suspicion of anything supernatural,
on a sudden I saw an old man, rather stout and square, in a sort of roan-red
dressing-gown, and with a black cap on his head, moving stiffly and slowly in a
diagonal direction, from the recess, across the floor of the bedroom, passing
my bed at the foot, and entering the lumber-closet at the left. He had
something under his arm; his head hung a little at one side; and, merciful God!
when I saw his face."
Tom stopped for a
while, and then said----
countenance, which living or dying I never can forget, disclosed what he was.
Without turning to the right or left, he passed beside me, and entered the
closet by the bed's head.
fearful and indescribable type of death and guilt was passing, I felt that I
had no more power to speak or stir than if I had been myself a corpse. For
hours after it had disappeared, I was too terrified and weak to move. As soon
as daylight came, I took courage, and examined the room, and especially the
course which the frightful intruder had seemed to take, but there was not a
vestige to indicate anybody's having passed there; no sign of any disturbing
agency visible among the lumber that strewed the floor of the closet.
"I now began to
recover a little. I was fagged and exhausted, and at last, overpowered by a
feverish sleep. I came down late; and finding you out of spirits, on account of
your dreams about the portrait, whose _original_ I am now certain disclosed
himself to me, I did not care to talk about the infernal vision. In fact, I was
trying to persuade myself that the whole thing was an illusion, and I did not
like to revive in their intensity the hated impressions of the past night--or
to risk the constancy of my scepticism, by recounting the tale of my
"It required some
nerve, I can tell you, to go to my haunted chamber next night, and lie down
quietly in the same bed," continued Tom. "I did so with a degree of
trepidation, which, I am not ashamed to say, a very little matter would have
sufficed to stimulate to downright panic. This night, however, passed off
quietly enough, as also the next; and so too did two or three more. I grew more
confident, and began to fancy that I believed in the theories of spectral
illusions, with which I had at first vainly tried to impose upon my
had been, indeed, altogether anomalous. It had crossed the room without any
recognition of my presence: I had not disturbed _it_, and _it_ had no mission
to _me_. What, then, was the imaginable use of its crossing the room in a
visible shape at all? Of course it might have _been_ in the closet instead of
_going_ there, as easily as it introduced itself into the recess without
entering the chamber in a shape discernible by the senses. Besides, how the
deuce _had_ I seen it? It was a dark night; I had no candle; there was no fire;
and yet I saw it as distinctly, in colouring and outline, as ever I beheld
human form! A cataleptic dream would explain it all; and I was determined that
a dream it should be.
"One of the most
remarkable phenomena connected with the practice of mendacity is the vast
number of deliberate lies we tell ourselves, whom, of all persons, we can least
expect to deceive. In all this, I need hardly tell you, Dick, I was simply
lying to myself, and did not believe one word of the wretched humbug. Yet I
went on, as men will do, like persevering charlatans and impostors, who tire
people into credulity by the mere force of reiteration; so I hoped to win
myself over at last to a comfortable scepticism about the ghost.
"He had not
appeared a second time--that certainly was a comfort; and what, after all, did
I care for him, and his queer old toggery and strange looks? Not a fig! I was
nothing the worse for having seen him, and a good story the better. So I
tumbled into bed, put out my candle, and, cheered by a loud drunken quarrel in
the back lane, went fast asleep.
"From this deep
slumber I awoke with a start. I knew I had had a horrible dream; but what it
was I could not remember. My heart was thumping furiously; I felt bewildered
and feverish; I sate up in the bed and looked about the room. A broad flood of
moonlight came in through the curtainless window; everything was as I had last
seen it; and though the domestic squabble in the back lane was, unhappily for
me, allayed, I yet could hear a pleasant fellow singing, on his way home, the
then popular comic ditty called, 'Murphy Delany.' Taking advantage of this diversion
I lay down again, with my face towards the fireplace, and closing my eyes, did
my best to think of nothing else but the song, which was every moment growing
fainter in the distance:----
"'Twas Murphy Delany, so funny and
frisky, Stept into a shebeen shop to
get his skin full; He reeled out again
pretty well lined with whiskey, As
fresh as a shamrock, as blind as a bull.
"The singer, whose
condition I dare say resembled that of his hero, was soon too far off to regale
my ears any more; and as his music died away, I myself sank into a doze,
neither sound nor refreshing. Somehow the song had got into my head, and I went
meandering on through the adventures of my respectable fellow-countryman, who,
on emerging from the 'shebeen shop,' fell into a river, from which he was
fished up to be 'sat upon' by a coroner's jury, who having learned from a
'horse-doctor' that he was 'dead as a door-nail, so there was an end,' returned
their verdict accordingly, just as he returned to his senses, when an angry altercation
and a pitched battle between the body and the coroner winds up the lay with due
spirit and pleasantry.
ballad I continued with a weary monotony to plod, down to the very last line,
and then _da capo_, and so on, in my uncomfortable half-sleep, for how long, I
can't conjecture. I found myself at last, however, muttering, '_dead_ as a
door-nail, so there was an end'; and something like another voice within me,
seemed to say, very faintly, but sharply, 'dead! dead! _dead_! and may the Lord
have mercy on your soul!' and instantaneously I was wide awake, and staring
right before me from the pillow.
believe it, Dick?--I saw the same accursed figure standing full front, and
gazing at me with its stony and fiendish countenance, not two yards from the
Tom stopped here, and
wiped the perspiration from his face. I felt very queer. The girl was as pale
as Tom; and, assembled as we were in the very scene of these adventures, we were
all, I dare say, equally grateful for the clear daylight and the resuming
bustle out of doors.
"For about three
seconds only I saw it plainly; then it grew indistinct; but, for a long time,
there was something like a column of dark vapour where it had been standing,
between me and the wall; and I felt sure that he was still there. After a good
while, this appearance went too. I took my clothes downstairs to the hall, and
dressed there, with the door half open; then went out into the street, and
walked about the town till morning, when I came back, in a miserable state of
nervousness and exhaustion. I was such a fool, Dick, as to be ashamed to tell
you how I came to be so upset. I thought you would laugh at me; especially as I
had always talked philosophy, and treated _your_ ghosts with contempt. I concluded
you would give me no quarter; and so kept my tale of horror to myself.
"Now, Dick, you
will hardly believe me, when I assure you, that for many nights after this last
experience, I did not go to my room at all. I used to sit up for a while in the
drawing-room after you had gone up to your bed; and then steal down softly to
the hall-door, let myself out, and sit in the 'Robin Hood' tavern until the
last guest went off; and then I got through the night like a sentry, pacing the
streets till morning.
"For more than a
week I never slept in bed. I sometimes had a snooze on a form in the 'Robin
Hood,' and sometimes a nap in a chair during the day; but regular sleep I had
"I was quite
resolved that we should get into another house; but I could not bring myself to
tell you the reason, and I somehow put it off from day to day, although my life
was, during every hour of this procrastination, rendered as miserable as that
of a felon with the constables on his track. I was growing absolutely ill from
this wretched mode of life.
"One afternoon I
determined to enjoy an hour's sleep upon your bed. I hated mine; so that I had
never, except in a stealthy visit every day to unmake it, lest Martha should
discover the secret of my nightly absence, entered the ill-omened chamber.
"As ill-luck would
have it, you had locked your bedroom, and taken away the key. I went into my
own to unsettle the bedclothes, as usual, and give the bed the appearance of
having been slept in. Now, a variety of circumstances concurred to bring about
the dreadful scene through which I was that night to pass. In the first place,
I was literally overpowered with fatigue, and longing for sleep; in the next
place, the effect of this extreme exhaustion upon my nerves resembled that of a
narcotic, and rendered me less susceptible than, perhaps, I should in any other
condition have been, of the exciting fears which had become habitual to me.
Then again, a little bit of the window was open, a pleasant freshness pervaded
the room, and, to crown all, the cheerful sun of day was making the room quite
pleasant. What was to prevent my enjoying an hour's nap _here_? The whole air
was resonant with the cheerful hum of life, and the broad matter-of-fact light
of day filled every corner of the room.
yielded--stifling my qualms--to the almost overpowering temptation; and merely
throwing off my coat, and loosening my cravat, I lay down, limiting myself to
_half_-an-hour's doze in the unwonted enjoyment of a feather bed, a coverlet,
and a bolster.
"It was horribly
insidious; and the demon, no doubt, marked my infatuated preparations. Dolt
that I was, I fancied, with mind and body worn out for want of sleep, and an
arrear of a full week's rest to my credit, that such measure as
_half_-an-hour's sleep, in such a situation, was possible. My sleep was
death-like, long, and dreamless.
"Without a start
or fearful sensation of any kind, I waked gently, but completely. It was, as
you have good reason to remember, long past midnight--I believe, about two
o'clock. When sleep has been deep and long enough to satisfy nature thoroughly,
one often wakens in this way, suddenly, tranquilly, and completely.
"There was a
figure seated in that lumbering, old sofa-chair, near the fireplace. Its back
was rather towards me, but I could not be mistaken; it turned slowly round,
and, merciful heavens! there was the stony face, with its infernal lineaments
of malignity and despair, gloating on me. There was now no doubt as to its
consciousness of my presence, and the hellish malice with which it was
animated, for it arose, and drew close to the bedside. There was a rope about
its neck, and the other end, coiled up, it held stiffly in its hand.
"My good angel
nerved me for this horrible crisis. I remained for some seconds transfixed by
the gaze of this tremendous phantom. He came close to the bed, and appeared on
the point of mounting upon it. The next instant I was upon the floor at the far
side, and in a moment more was, I don't know how, upon the lobby.
"But the spell was
not yet broken; the valley of the shadow of death was not yet traversed. The
abhorred phantom was before me there; it was standing near the banisters,
stooping a little, and with one end of the rope round its own neck, was poising
a noose at the other, as if to throw over mine; and while engaged in this
baleful pantomime, it wore a smile so sensual, so unspeakably dreadful, that my
senses were nearly overpowered. I saw and remember nothing more, until I found
myself in your room.
"I had a wonderful
escape, Dick--there is no disputing _that_--an escape for which, while I live,
I shall bless the mercy of heaven. No one can conceive or imagine what it is
for flesh and blood to stand in the presence of such a thing, but one who has
had the terrific experience. Dick, Dick, a shadow has passed over me--a chill
has crossed my blood and marrow, and I will never be the same again--never,
Our handmaid, a mature
girl of two-and-fifty, as I have said, stayed her hand, as Tom's story
proceeded, and by little and little drew near to us, with open mouth, and her
brows contracted over her little, beady black eyes, till stealing a glance over
her shoulder now and then, she established herself close behind us. During the
relation, she had made various earnest comments, in an undertone; but these and
her ejaculations, for the sake of brevity and simplicity, I have omitted in my
"It's often I
heard tell of it," she now said, "but I never believed it rightly
till now--though, indeed, why should not I? Does not my mother, down there in
the lane, know quare stories, God bless us, beyant telling about it? But you
ought not to have slept in the back bedroom. She was loath to let me be going
in and out of that room even in the day time, let alone for any Christian to
spend the night in it; for sure she says it was his own bedroom."
bedroom?" we asked, in a breath.
ould Judge's--Judge Horrock's, to be sure, God rest his sowl"; and she
looked fearfully round.
muttered. "But did he die there?"
"Die there! No,
not quite _there_," she said. "Shure, was not it over the banisters
he hung himself, the ould sinner, God be merciful to us all? and was not it in
the alcove they found the handles of the skipping-rope cut off, and the knife
where he was settling the cord, God bless us, to hang himself with? It was his
housekeeper's daughter owned the rope, my mother often told me, and the child
never throve after, and used to be starting up out of her sleep, and screeching
in the night time, wid dhrames and frights that cum an her; and they said how
it was the speerit of the ould Judge that was tormentin' her; and she used to be
roaring and yelling out to hould back the big ould fellow with the crooked
neck; and then she'd screech 'Oh, the master! the master! he's stampin' at me,
and beckoning to me! Mother, darling, don't let me go!' And so the poor
crathure died at last, and the docthers said it was wather on the brain, for it
was all they could say."
"How long ago was
all this?" I asked.
"Oh, then, how
would I know?" she answered. "But it must be a wondherful long time
ago, for the housekeeper was an ould woman, with a pipe in her mouth, and not a
tooth left, and better nor eighty years ould when my mother was first married;
and they said she was a rale buxom, fine-dressed woman when the ould Judge come
to his end; an', indeed, my mother's not far from eighty years ould herself
this day; and what made it worse for the unnatural ould villain, God rest his
soul, to frighten the little girl out of the world the way he did, was what was
mostly thought and believed by every one. My mother says how the poor little crathure
was his own child; for he was by all accounts an ould villain every way, an'
the hangin'est judge that ever was known in Ireland's ground."
"From what you
said about the danger of sleeping in that bedroom," said I, "I
suppose there were stories about the ghost having appeared there to
"Well, there was
things said--quare things, surely," she answered, as it seemed, with some
reluctance. "And why would not there? Sure was it not up in that same room
he slept for more than twenty years? and was it not in the _alcove_ he got the
rope ready that done his own business at last, the way he done many a betther
man's in his lifetime?--and was not the body lying in the same bed after death,
and put in the coffin there, too, and carried out to his grave from it in
Pether's churchyard, after the coroner was done? But there was quare
stories--my mother has them all--about how one Nicholas Spaight got into
trouble on the head of it."
"And what did they
say of this Nicholas Spaight?" I asked.
"Oh, for that
matther, it's soon told," she answered.
And she certainly did
relate a very strange story, which so piqued my curiosity, that I took occasion
to visit the ancient lady, her mother, from whom I learned many very curious
particulars. Indeed, I am tempted to tell the tale, but my fingers are weary,
and I must defer it. But if you wish to hear it another time, I shall do my
When we had heard the
strange tale I have _not_ told you, we put one or two further questions to her
about the alleged spectral visitations, to which the house had, ever since the
death of the wicked old Judge, been subjected.
"No one ever had
luck in it," she told us. "There was always cross accidents, sudden
deaths, and short times in it. The first that tuck, it was a family--I forget
their name--but at any rate there was two young ladies and their papa. He was
about sixty, and a stout healthy gentleman as you'd wish to see at that age.
Well, he slept in that unlucky back bedroom; and, God between us an' harm! sure
enough he was found dead one morning, half out of the bed, with his head as
black as a sloe, and swelled like a puddin', hanging down near the floor. It
was a fit, they said. He was as dead as a mackerel, and so _he_ could not say
what it was; but the ould people was all sure that it was nothing at all but
the ould Judge, God bless us! that frightened him out of his senses and his life
"Some time after
there was a rich old maiden lady took the house. I don't know which room _she_
slept in, but she lived alone; and at any rate, one morning, the servants going
down early to their work, found her sitting on the passage-stairs, shivering
and talkin' to herself, quite mad; and never a word more could any of _them_ or
her friends get from her ever afterwards but, 'Don't ask me to go, for I
promised to wait for him.' They never made out from her who it was she meant by
_him_, but of course those that knew all about the ould house were at no loss
for the meaning of all that happened to her.
when the house was let out in lodgings, there was Micky Byrne that took the
same room, with his wife and three little children; and sure I heard Mrs. Byrne
myself telling how the children used to be lifted up in the bed at night, she
could not see by what mains; and how they were starting and screeching every
hour, just all as one as the housekeeper's little girl that died, till at last
one night poor Micky had a dhrop in him, the way he used now and again; and
what do you think in the middle of the night he thought he heard a noise on the
stairs, and being in liquor, nothing less id do him but out he must go himself
to see what was wrong. Well, after that, all she ever heard of him was himself
sayin', 'Oh, God!' and a tumble that shook the very house; and there, sure
enough, he was lying on the lower stairs, under the lobby, with his neck
smashed double undher him, where he was flung over the banisters."
Then the handmaiden
"I'll go down to
the lane, and send up Joe Gavvey to pack up the rest of the taythings, and
bring all the things across to your new lodgings."
And so we all sallied
out together, each of us breathing more freely, I have no doubt, as we crossed
that ill-omened threshold for the last time.
Now, I may add thus
much, in compliance with the immemorial usage of the realm of fiction, which
sees the hero not only through his adventures, but fairly out of the world. You
must have perceived that what the flesh, blood, and bone hero of romance proper
is to the regular compounder of fiction, this old house of brick, wood, and
mortar is to the humble recorder of this true tale. I, therefore, relate, as in
duty bound, the catastrophe which ultimately befell it, which was simply this--that
about two years subsequently to my story it was taken by a quack doctor, who
called himself Baron Duhlstoerf, and filled the parlour windows with bottles of
indescribable horrors preserved in brandy, and the newspapers with the usual
grandiloquent and mendacious advertisements. This gentleman among his virtues
did not reckon sobriety, and one night, being overcome with much wine, he set
fire to his bed curtains, partially burned himself, and totally consumed the house.
It was afterwards rebuilt, and for a time an undertaker established himself in
I have now told you my
own and Tom's adventures, together with some valuable collateral particulars;
and having acquitted myself of my engagement, I wish you a very good night, and