Three Ghost Stories, by Charles Dickens
The Trial For Murder
"Halloa! Below there!"
When he heard a voice thus calling to him, he was standing at the
door of his box, with a flag in his hand, furled round its short
pole. One would have thought, considering the nature of the ground,
that he could not have doubted from what quarter the voice came; but
instead of looking up to where I stood on the top of the steep
cutting nearly over his head, he turned himself about, and looked
down the Line. There was something remarkable in his manner of
doing so, though I could not have said for my life what. But I know
it was remarkable enough to attract my notice, even though his
figure was foreshortened and shadowed, down in the deep trench, and
mine was high above him, so steeped in the glow of an angry sunset,
that I had shaded my eyes with my hand before I saw him at all.
From looking down the Line, he turned himself about again, and,
raising his eyes, saw my figure high above him.
"Is there any path by which I can come down and speak to you?"
He looked up at me without replying, and I looked down at him
without pressing him too soon with a repetition of my idle question.
Just then there came a vague vibration in the earth and air, quickly
changing into a violent pulsation, and an oncoming rush that caused
me to start back, as though it had force to draw me down. When such
vapour as rose to my height from this rapid train had passed me, and
was skimming away over the landscape, I looked down again, and saw
him refurling the flag he had shown while the train went by.
I repeated my inquiry. After a pause, during which he seemed to
regard me with fixed attention, he motioned with his rolled-up flag
towards a point on my level, some two or three hundred yards
distant. I called down to him, "All right!" and made for that
point. There, by dint of looking closely about me, I found a rough
zigzag descending path notched out, which I followed.
The cutting was extremely deep, and unusually precipitate. It was
made through a clammy stone, that became oozier and wetter as I went
down. For these reasons, I found the way long enough to give me
time to recall a singular air of reluctance or compulsion with which
he had pointed out the path.
When I came down low enough upon the zigzag descent to see him
again, I saw that he was standing between the rails on the way by
which the train had lately passed, in an attitude as if he were
waiting for me to appear. He had his left hand at his chin, and
that left elbow rested on his right hand, crossed over his breast.
His attitude was one of such expectation and watchfulness that I
stopped a moment, wondering at it.
I resumed my downward way, and stepping out upon the level of the
railroad, and drawing nearer to him, saw that he was a dark sallow
man, with a dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows. His post was in
as solitary and dismal a place as ever I saw. On either side, a
dripping-wet wall of jagged stone, excluding all view but a strip of
sky; the perspective one way only a crooked prolongation of this
great dungeon; the shorter perspective in the other direction
terminating in a gloomy red light, and the gloomier entrance to a
black tunnel, in whose massive architecture there was a barbarous,
depressing, and forbidding air. So little sunlight ever found its
way to this spot, that it had an earthy, deadly smell; and so much
cold wind rushed through it, that it struck chill to me, as if I had
left the natural world.
Before he stirred, I was near enough to him to have touched him.
Not even then removing his eyes from mine, he stepped back one step,
and lifted his hand.
This was a lonesome post to occupy (I said), and it had riveted my
attention when I looked down from up yonder. A visitor was a
rarity, I should suppose; not an unwelcome rarity, I hoped? In me,
he merely saw a man who had been shut up within narrow limits all
his life, and who, being at last set free, had a newly-awakened
interest in these great works. To such purpose I spoke to him; but
I am far from sure of the terms I used; for, besides that I am not
happy in opening any conversation, there was something in the man
that daunted me.
He directed a most curious look towards the red light near the
tunnel's mouth, and looked all about it, as if something were
missing from it, and then looked it me.
That light was part of his charge? Was it not?
He answered in a low voice,--"Don't you know it is?"
The monstrous thought came into my mind, as I perused the fixed eyes
and the saturnine face, that this was a spirit, not a man. I have
speculated since, whether there may have been infection in his mind.
In my turn, I stepped back. But in making the action, I detected in
his eyes some latent fear of me. This put the monstrous thought to
"You look at me," I said, forcing a smile, "as if you had a dread of
"I was doubtful," he returned, "whether I had seen you before."
He pointed to the red light he had looked at.
"There?" I said.
Intently watchful of me, he replied (but without sound), "Yes."
"My good fellow, what should I do there? However, be that as it
may, I never was there, you may swear."
"I think I may," he rejoined. "Yes; I am sure I may."
His manner cleared, like my own. He replied to my remarks with
readiness, and in well-chosen words. Had he much to do there? Yes;
that was to say, he had enough responsibility to bear; but exactness
and watchfulness were what was required of him, and of actual work--
manual labour--he had next to none. To change that signal, to trim
those lights, and to turn this iron handle now and then, was all he
had to do under that head. Regarding those many long and lonely
hours of which I seemed to make so much, he could only say that the
routine of his life had shaped itself into that form, and he had
grown used to it. He had taught himself a language down here,--if
only to know it by sight, and to have formed his own crude ideas of
its pronunciation, could be called learning it. He had also worked
at fractions and decimals, and tried a little algebra; but he was,
and had been as a boy, a poor hand at figures. Was it necessary for
him when on duty always to remain in that channel of damp air, and
could he never rise into the sunshine from between those high stone
walls? Why, that depended upon times and circumstances. Under some
conditions there would be less upon the Line than under others, and
the same held good as to certain hours of the day and night. In
bright weather, he did choose occasions for getting a little above
these lower shadows; but, being at all times liable to be called by
his electric bell, and at such times listening for it with redoubled
anxiety, the relief was less than I would suppose.
He took me into his box, where there was a fire, a desk for an
official book in which he had to make certain entries, a telegraphic
instrument with its dial, face, and needles, and the little bell of
which he had spoken. On my trusting that he would excuse the remark
that he had been well educated, and (I hoped I might say without
offence) perhaps educated above that station, he observed that
instances of slight incongruity in such wise would rarely be found
wanting among large bodies of men; that he had heard it was so in
workhouses, in the police force, even in that last desperate
resource, the army; and that he knew it was so, more or less, in any
great railway staff. He had been, when young (if I could believe
it, sitting in that hut,--he scarcely could), a student of natural
philosophy, and had attended lectures; but he had run wild, misused
his opportunities, gone down, and never risen again. He had no
complaint to offer about that. He had made his bed, and he lay upon
it. It was far too late to make another.
All that I have here condensed he said in a quiet manner, with his
grave dark regards divided between me and the fire. He threw in the
word, "Sir," from time to time, and especially when he referred to
his youth,--as though to request me to understand that he claimed to
be nothing but what I found him. He was several times interrupted
by the little bell, and had to read off messages, and send replies.
Once he had to stand without the door, and display a flag as a train
passed, and make some verbal communication to the driver. In the
discharge of his duties, I observed him to be remarkably exact and
vigilant, breaking off his discourse at a syllable, and remaining
silent until what he had to do was done.
In a word, I should have set this man down as one of the safest of
men to be employed in that capacity, but for the circumstance that
while he was speaking to me he twice broke off with a fallen colour,
turned his face towards the little bell when it did NOT ring, opened
the door of the hut (which was kept shut to exclude the unhealthy
damp), and looked out towards the red light near the mouth of the
tunnel. On both of those occasions, he came back to the fire with
the inexplicable air upon him which I had remarked, without being
able to define, when we were so far asunder.
Said I, when I rose to leave him, "You almost make me think that I
have met with a contented man."
(I am afraid I must acknowledge that I said it to lead him on.)
"I believe I used to be so," he rejoined, in the low voice in which
he had first spoken; "but I am troubled, sir, I am troubled."
He would have recalled the words if he could. He had said them,
however, and I took them up quickly.
"With what? What is your trouble?"
"It is very difficult to impart, sir. It is very, very difficult to
speak of. If ever you make me another visit, I will try to tell
"But I expressly intend to make you another visit. Say, when shall
"I go off early in the morning, and I shall be on again at ten to-
morrow night, sir."
"I will come at eleven."
He thanked me, and went out at the door with me. "I'll show my
white light, sir," he said, in his peculiar low voice, "till you
have found the way up. When you have found it, don't call out! And
when you are at the top, don't call out!"
His manner seemed to make the place strike colder to me, but I said
no more than, "Very well."
"And when you come down to-morrow night, don't call out! Let me ask
you a parting question. What made you cry, 'Halloa! Below there!'
"Heaven knows," said I. "I cried something to that effect--"
"Not to that effect, sir. Those were the very words. I know them
"Admit those were the very words. I said them, no doubt, because I
saw you below."
"For no other reason?"
"What other reason could I possibly have?"
"You had no feeling that they were conveyed to you in any
He wished me good-night, and held up his light. I walked by the
side of the down Line of rails (with a very disagreeable sensation
of a train coming behind me) until I found the path. It was easier
to mount than to descend, and I got back to my inn without any
Punctual to my appointment, I placed my foot on the first notch of
the zigzag next night, as the distant clocks were striking eleven.
He was waiting for me at the bottom, with his white light on. "I
have not called out," I said, when we came close together; "may I
speak now?" "By all means, sir." "Good-night, then, and here's my
hand." "Good-night, sir, and here's mine." With that we walked
side by side to his box, entered it, closed the door, and sat down
by the fire.
"I have made up my mind, sir," he began, bending forward as soon as
we were seated, and speaking in a tone but a little above a whisper,
"that you shall not have to ask me twice what troubles me. I took
you for some one else yesterday evening. That troubles me."
"No. That some one else."
"Who is it?"
"I don't know."
"I don't know. I never saw the face. The left arm is across the
face, and the right arm is waved,--violently waved. This way."
I followed his action with my eyes, and it was the action of an arm
gesticulating, with the utmost passion and vehemence, "For God's
sake, clear the way!"
"One moonlight night," said the man, "I was sitting here, when I
heard a voice cry, 'Halloa! Below there!' I started up, looked
from that door, and saw this Some one else standing by the red light
near the tunnel, waving as I just now showed you. The voice seemed
hoarse with shouting, and it cried, 'Look out! Look out!' And then
attain, 'Halloa! Below there! Look out!' I caught up my lamp,
turned it on red, and ran towards the figure, calling, 'What's
wrong? What has happened? Where?' It stood just outside the
blackness of the tunnel. I advanced so close upon it that I
wondered at its keeping the sleeve across its eyes. I ran right up
at it, and had my hand stretched out to pull the sleeve away, when
it was gone."
"Into the tunnel?" said I.
"No. I ran on into the tunnel, five hundred yards. I stopped, and
held my lamp above my head, and saw the figures of the measured
distance, and saw the wet stains stealing down the walls and
trickling through the arch. I ran out again faster than I had run
in (for I had a mortal abhorrence of the place upon me), and I
looked all round the red light with my own red light, and I went up
the iron ladder to the gallery atop of it, and I came down again,
and ran back here. I telegraphed both ways, 'An alarm has been
given. Is anything wrong?' The answer came back, both ways, 'All
Resisting the slow touch of a frozen finger tracing out my spine, I
showed him how that this figure must be a deception of his sense of
sight; and how that figures, originating in disease of the delicate
nerves that minister to the functions of the eye, were known to have
often troubled patients, some of whom had become conscious of the
nature of their affliction, and had even proved it by experiments
upon themselves. "As to an imaginary cry," said I, "do but listen
for a moment to the wind in this unnatural valley while we speak so
low, and to the wild harp it makes of the telegraph wires."
That was all very well, he returned, after we had sat listening for
a while, and he ought to know something of the wind and the wires,--
he who so often passed long winter nights there, alone and watching.
But he would beg to remark that he had not finished.
I asked his pardon, and he slowly added these words, touching my
"Within six hours after the Appearance, the memorable accident on
this Line happened, and within ten hours the dead and wounded were
brought along through the tunnel over the spot where the figure had
A disagreeable shudder crept over me, but I did my best against it.
It was not to be denied, I rejoined, that this was a remarkable
coincidence, calculated deeply to impress his mind. But it was
unquestionable that remarkable coincidences did continually occur,
and they must be taken into account in dealing with such a subject.
Though to be sure I must admit, I added (for I thought I saw that he
was going to bring the objection to bear upon me), men of common
sense did not allow much for coincidences in making the ordinary
calculations of life.
He again begged to remark that he had not finished.
I again begged his pardon for being betrayed into interruptions.
"This," he said, again laying his hand upon my arm, and glancing
over his shoulder with hollow eyes, "was just a year ago. Six or
seven months passed, and I had recovered from the surprise and
shock, when one morning, as the day was breaking, I, standing at the
door, looked towards the red light, and saw the spectre again." He
stopped, with a fixed look at me.
"Did it cry out?"
"No. It was silent."
"Did it wave its arm?"
"No. It leaned against the shaft of the light, with both hands
before the face. Like this."
Once more I followed his action with my eyes. It was an action of
mourning. I have seen such an attitude in stone figures on tombs.
"Did you go up to it?"
"I came in and sat down, partly to collect my thoughts, partly
because it had turned me faint. When I went to the door again,
daylight was above me, and the ghost was gone."
"But nothing followed? Nothing came of this?"
He touched me on the arm with his forefinger twice or thrice giving
a ghastly nod each time:-
"That very day, as a train came out of the tunnel, I noticed, at a
carriage window on my side, what looked like a confusion of hands
and heads, and something waved. I saw it just in time to signal the
driver, Stop! He shut off, and put his brake on, but the train
drifted past here a hundred and fifty yards or more. I ran after
it, and, as I went along, heard terrible screams and cries. A
beautiful young lady had died instantaneously in one of the
compartments, and was brought in here, and laid down on this floor
Involuntarily I pushed my chair back, as I looked from the boards at
which he pointed to himself.
"True, sir. True. Precisely as it happened, so I tell it you."
I could think of nothing to say, to any purpose, and my mouth was
very dry. The wind and the wires took up the story with a long
He resumed. "Now, sir, mark this, and judge how my mind is
troubled. The spectre came back a week ago. Ever since, it has
been there, now and again, by fits and starts."
"At the light?"
"At the Danger-light."
"What does it seem to do?"
He repeated, if possible with increased passion and vehemence, that
former gesticulation of, "For God's sake, clear the way!"
Then he went on. "I have no peace or rest for it. It calls to me,
for many minutes together, in an agonised manner, 'Below there!
Look out! Look out!' It stands waving to me. It rings my little
I caught at that. "Did it ring your bell yesterday evening when I
was here, and you went to the door?"
"Why, see," said I, "how your imagination misleads you. My eyes
were on the bell, and my ears were open to the bell, and if I am a
living man, it did NOT ring at those times. No, nor at any other
time, except when it was rung in the natural course of physical
things by the station communicating with you."
He shook his head. "I have never made a mistake as to that yet, sir.
I have never confused the spectre's ring with the man's. The
ghost's ring is a strange vibration in the bell that it derives from
nothing else, and I have not asserted that the bell stirs to the
eye. I don't wonder that you failed to hear it. But I heard it."
"And did the spectre seem to be there, when you looked out?"
"It WAS there."'
He repeated firmly: "Both times."
"Will you come to the door with me, and look for it now?"
He bit his under lip as though he were somewhat unwilling, but
arose. I opened the door, and stood on the step, while he stood in
the doorway. There was the Danger-light. There was the dismal
mouth of the tunnel. There were the high, wet stone walls of the
cutting. There were the stars above them.
"Do you see it?" I asked him, taking particular note of his face.
His eyes were prominent and strained, but not very much more so,
perhaps, than my own had been when I had directed them earnestly
towards the same spot.
"No," he answered. "It is not there."
"Agreed," said I.
We went in again, shut the door, and resumed our seats. I was
thinking how best to improve this advantage, if it might be called
one, when he took up the conversation in such a matter-of-course
way, so assuming that there could be no serious question of fact
between us, that I felt myself placed in the weakest of positions.
"By this time you will fully understand, sir," he said, "that what
troubles me so dreadfully is the question, What does the spectre
I was not sure, I told him, that I did fully understand.
"What is its warning against?" he said, ruminating, with his eyes on
the fire, and only by times turning them on me. "What is the
danger? Where is the danger? There is danger overhanging somewhere
on the Line. Some dreadful calamity will happen. It is not to be
doubted this third time, after what has gone before. But surely
this is a cruel haunting of me. What can I do?"
He pulled out his handkerchief, and wiped the drops from his heated
"If I telegraph Danger, on either side of me, or on both, I can give
no reason for it," he went on, wiping the palms of his hands. "I
should get into trouble, and do no good. They would think I was
mad. This is the way it would work,--Message: 'Danger! Take
care!' Answer: 'What Danger? Where?' Message: 'Don't know.
But, for God's sake, take care!' They would displace me. What else
could they do?"
His pain of mind was most pitiable to see. It was the mental
torture of a conscientious man, oppressed beyond endurance by an
unintelligible responsibility involving life.
"When it first stood under the Danger-light," he went on, putting
his dark hair back from his head, and drawing his hands outward
across and across his temples in an extremity of feverish distress,
"why not tell me where that accident was to happen,--if it must
happen? Why not tell me how it could be averted,--if it could have
been averted? When on its second coming it hid its face, why not
tell me, instead, 'She is going to die. Let them keep her at home'?
If it came, on those two occasions, only to show me that its
warnings were true, and so to prepare me for the third, why not warn
me plainly now? And I, Lord help me! A mere poor signal-man on
this solitary station! Why not go to somebody with credit to be
believed, and power to act?"
When I saw him in this state, I saw that for the poor man's sake, as
well as for the public safety, what I had to do for the time was to
compose his mind. Therefore, setting aside all question of reality
or unreality between us, I represented to him that whoever
thoroughly discharged his duty must do well, and that at least it
was his comfort that he understood his duty, though he did not
understand these confounding Appearances. In this effort I
succeeded far better than in the attempt to reason him out of his
conviction. He became calm; the occupations incidental to his post
as the night advanced began to make larger demands on his attention:
and I left him at two in the morning. I had offered to stay through
the night, but he would not hear of it.
That I more than once looked back at the red light as I ascended the
pathway, that I did not like the red light, and that I should have
slept but poorly if my bed had been under it, I see no reason to
conceal. Nor did I like the two sequences of the accident and the
dead girl. I see no reason to conceal that either.
But what ran most in my thoughts was the consideration how ought I
to act, having become the recipient of this disclosure? I had
proved the man to be intelligent, vigilant, painstaking, and exact;
but how long might he remain so, in his state of mind? Though in a
subordinate position, still he held a most important trust, and
would I (for instance) like to stake my own life on the chances of
his continuing to execute it with precision?
Unable to overcome a feeling that there would be something
treacherous in my communicating what he had told me to his superiors
in the Company, without first being plain with himself and proposing
a middle course to him, I ultimately resolved to offer to accompany
him (otherwise keeping his secret for the present) to the wisest
medical practitioner we could hear of in those parts, and to take
his opinion. A change in his time of duty would come round next
night, he had apprised me, and he would be off an hour or two after
sunrise, and on again soon after sunset. I had appointed to return
Next evening was a lovely evening, and I walked out early to enjoy
it. The sun was not yet quite down when I traversed the field-path
near the top of the deep cutting. I would extend my walk for an
hour, I said to myself, half an hour on and half an hour back, and
it would then be time to go to my signal-man's box.
Before pursuing my stroll, I stepped to the brink, and mechanically
looked down, from the point from which I had first seen him. I
cannot describe the thrill that seized upon me, when, close at the
mouth of the tunnel, I saw the appearance of a man, with his left
sleeve across his eyes, passionately waving his right arm.
The nameless horror that oppressed me passed in a moment, for in a
moment I saw that this appearance of a man was a man indeed, and
that there was a little group of other men, standing at a short
distance, to whom he seemed to be rehearsing the gesture he made.
The Danger-light was not yet lighted. Against its shaft, a little
low hut, entirely new to me, had been made of some wooden supports
and tarpaulin. It looked no bigger than a bed.
With an irresistible sense that something was wrong,--with a
flashing self-reproachful fear that fatal mischief had come of my
leaving the man there, and causing no one to be sent to overlook or
correct what he did,--I descended the notched path with all the
speed I could make.
"What is the matter?" I asked the men.
"Signal-man killed this morning, sir."
"Not the man belonging to that box?"
"Not the man I know?"
"You will recognise him, sir, if you knew him," said the man who
spoke for the others, solemnly uncovering his own head, and raising
an end of the tarpaulin, "for his face is quite composed."
"O, how did this happen, how did this happen?" I asked, turning from
one to another as the hut closed in again.
"He was cut down by an engine, sir. No man in England knew his work
better. But somehow he was not clear of the outer rail. It was
just at broad day. He had struck the light, and had the lamp in his
hand. As the engine came out of the tunnel, his back was towards
her, and she cut him down. That man drove her, and was showing how
it happened. Show the gentleman, Tom."
The man, who wore a rough dark dress, stepped back to his former
place at the mouth of the tunnel.
"Coming round the curve in the tunnel, sir," he said, "I saw him at
the end, like as if I saw him down a perspective-glass. There was
no time to check speed, and I knew him to be very careful. As he
didn't seem to take heed of the whistle, I shut it off when we were
running down upon him, and called to him as loud as I could call."
"What did you say?"
"I said, 'Below there! Look out! Look out! For God's sake, clear
"Ah! it was a dreadful time, sir. I never left off calling to him.
I put this arm before my eyes not to see, and I waved this arm to
the last; but it was no use."
Without prolonging the narrative to dwell on any one of its curious
circumstances more than on any other, I may, in closing it, point
out the coincidence that the warning of the Engine-Driver included,
not only the words which the unfortunate Signal-man had repeated to
me as haunting him, but also the words which I myself--not he--had
attached, and that only in my own mind, to the gesticulation he had
THE HAUNTED HOUSE
CHAPTER I--THE MORTALS IN THE HOUSE
Under none of the accredited ghostly circumstances, and environed by
none of the conventional ghostly surroundings, did I first make
acquaintance with the house which is the subject of this Christmas
piece. I saw it in the daylight, with the sun upon it. There was
no wind, no rain, no lightning, no thunder, no awful or unwonted
circumstance, of any kind, to heighten its effect. More than that:
I had come to it direct from a railway station: it was not more
than a mile distant from the railway station; and, as I stood
outside the house, looking back upon the way I had come, I could see
the goods train running smoothly along the embankment in the valley.
I will not say that everything was utterly commonplace, because I
doubt if anything can be that, except to utterly commonplace people-
-and there my vanity steps in; but, I will take it on myself to say
that anybody might see the house as I saw it, any fine autumn
The manner of my lighting on it was this.
I was travelling towards London out of the North, intending to stop
by the way, to look at the house. My health required a temporary
residence in the country; and a friend of mine who knew that, and
who had happened to drive past the house, had written to me to
suggest it as a likely place. I had got into the train at midnight,
and had fallen asleep, and had woke up and had sat looking out of
window at the brilliant Northern Lights in the sky, and had fallen
asleep again, and had woke up again to find the night gone, with the
usual discontented conviction on me that I hadn't been to sleep at
all;--upon which question, in the first imbecility of that
condition, I am ashamed to believe that I would have done wager by
battle with the man who sat opposite me. That opposite man had had,
through the night--as that opposite man always has--several legs too
many, and all of them too long. In addition to this unreasonable
conduct (which was only to be expected of him), he had had a pencil
and a pocket-book, and had been perpetually listening and taking
notes. It had appeared to me that these aggravating notes related
to the jolts and bumps of the carriage, and I should have resigned
myself to his taking them, under a general supposition that he was
in the civil-engineering way of life, if he had not sat staring
straight over my head whenever he listened. He was a goggle-eyed
gentleman of a perplexed aspect, and his demeanour became
It was a cold, dead morning (the sun not being up yet), and when I
had out-watched the paling light of the fires of the iron country,
and the curtain of heavy smoke that hung at once between me and the
stars and between me and the day, I turned to my fellow-traveller
"I BEG your pardon, sir, but do you observe anything particular in
me"? For, really, he appeared to be taking down, either my
travelling-cap or my hair, with a minuteness that was a liberty.
The goggle-eyed gentleman withdrew his eyes from behind me, as if
the back of the carriage were a hundred miles off, and said, with a
lofty look of compassion for my insignificance:
"In you, sir?--B."
"B, sir?" said I, growing warm.
"I have nothing to do with you, sir," returned the gentleman; "pray
let me listen--O."
He enunciated this vowel after a pause, and noted it down.
At first I was alarmed, for an Express lunatic and no communication
with the guard, is a serious position. The thought came to my
relief that the gentleman might be what is popularly called a
Rapper: one of a sect for (some of) whom I have the highest
respect, but whom I don't believe in. I was going to ask him the
question, when he took the bread out of my mouth.
"You will excuse me," said the gentleman contemptuously, "if I am
too much in advance of common humanity to trouble myself at all
about it. I have passed the night--as indeed I pass the whole of my
time now--in spiritual intercourse."
"O!" said I, somewhat snappishly.
"The conferences of the night began," continued the gentleman,
turning several leaves of his note-book, "with this message: 'Evil
communications corrupt good manners.'"
"Sound," said I; "but, absolutely new?"
"New from spirits," returned the gentleman.
I could only repeat my rather snappish "O!" and ask if I might be
favoured with the last communication.
"'A bird in the hand,'" said the gentleman, reading his last entry
with great solemnity, "'is worth two in the Bosh.'"
"Truly I am of the same opinion," said I; "but shouldn't it be
"It came to me, Bosh," returned the gentleman.
The gentleman then informed me that the spirit of Socrates had
delivered this special revelation in the course of the night. "My
friend, I hope you are pretty well. There are two in this railway
carriage. How do you do? There are seventeen thousand four hundred
and seventy-nine spirits here, but you cannot see them. Pythagoras
is here. He is not at liberty to mention it, but hopes you like
travelling." Galileo likewise had dropped in, with this scientific
intelligence. "I am glad to see you, AMICO. COME STA? Water will
freeze when it is cold enough. ADDIO!" In the course of the night,
also, the following phenomena had occurred. Bishop Butler had
insisted on spelling his name, "Bubler," for which offence against
orthography and good manners he had been dismissed as out of temper.
John Milton (suspected of wilful mystification) had repudiated the
authorship of Paradise Lost, and had introduced, as joint authors of
that poem, two Unknown gentlemen, respectively named Grungers and
Scadgingtone. And Prince Arthur, nephew of King John of England,
had described himself as tolerably comfortable in the seventh
circle, where he was learning to paint on velvet, under the
direction of Mrs. Trimmer and Mary Queen of Scots.
If this should meet the eye of the gentleman who favoured me with
these disclosures, I trust he will excuse my confessing that the
sight of the rising sun, and the contemplation of the magnificent
Order of the vast Universe, made me impatient of them. In a word, I
was so impatient of them, that I was mightily glad to get out at the
next station, and to exchange these clouds and vapours for the free
air of Heaven.
By that time it was a beautiful morning. As I walked away among
such leaves as had already fallen from the golden, brown, and russet
trees; and as I looked around me on the wonders of Creation, and
thought of the steady, unchanging, and harmonious laws by which they
are sustained; the gentleman's spiritual intercourse seemed to me as
poor a piece of journey-work as ever this world saw. In which
heathen state of mind, I came within view of the house, and stopped
to examine it attentively.
It was a solitary house, standing in a sadly neglected garden: a
pretty even square of some two acres. It was a house of about the
time of George the Second; as stiff, as cold, as formal, and in as
bad taste, as could possibly be desired by the most loyal admirer of
the whole quartet of Georges. It was uninhabited, but had, within a
year or two, been cheaply repaired to render it habitable; I say
cheaply, because the work had been done in a surface manner, and was
already decaying as to the paint and plaster, though the colours
were fresh. A lop-sided board drooped over the garden wall,
announcing that it was "to let on very reasonable terms, well
furnished." It was much too closely and heavily shadowed by trees,
and, in particular, there were six tall poplars before the front
windows, which were excessively melancholy, and the site of which
had been extremely ill chosen.
It was easy to see that it was an avoided house--a house that was
shunned by the village, to which my eye was guided by a church spire
some half a mile off--a house that nobody would take. And the
natural inference was, that it had the reputation of being a haunted
No period within the four-and-twenty hours of day and night is so
solemn to me, as the early morning. In the summer-time, I often
rise very early, and repair to my room to do a day's work before
breakfast, and I am always on those occasions deeply impressed by
the stillness and solitude around me. Besides that there is
something awful in the being surrounded by familiar faces asleep--in
the knowledge that those who are dearest to us and to whom we are
dearest, are profoundly unconscious of us, in an impassive state,
anticipative of that mysterious condition to which we are all
tending--the stopped life, the broken threads of yesterday, the
deserted seat, the closed book, the unfinished but abandoned
occupation, all are images of Death. The tranquillity of the hour
is the tranquillity of Death. The colour and the chill have the
same association. Even a certain air that familiar household
objects take upon them when they first emerge from the shadows of
the night into the morning, of being newer, and as they used to be
long ago, has its counterpart in the subsidence of the worn face of
maturity or age, in death, into the old youthful look. Moreover, I
once saw the apparition of my father, at this hour. He was alive
and well, and nothing ever came of it, but I saw him in the
daylight, sitting with his back towards me, on a seat that stood
beside my bed. His head was resting on his hand, and whether he was
slumbering or grieving, I could not discern. Amazed to see him
there, I sat up, moved my position, leaned out of bed, and watched
him. As he did not move, I spoke to him more than once. As he did
not move then, I became alarmed and laid my hand upon his shoulder,
as I thought--and there was no such thing.
For all these reasons, and for others less easily and briefly
statable, I find the early morning to be my most ghostly time. Any
house would be more or less haunted, to me, in the early morning;
and a haunted house could scarcely address me to greater advantage
I walked on into the village, with the desertion of this house upon
my mind, and I found the landlord of the little inn, sanding his
door-step. I bespoke breakfast, and broached the subject of the
"Is it haunted?" I asked.
The landlord looked at me, shook his head, and answered, "I say
"Then it IS haunted?"
"Well!" cried the landlord, in an outburst of frankness that had the
appearance of desperation--"I wouldn't sleep in it."
"If I wanted to have all the bells in a house ring, with nobody to
ring 'em; and all the doors in a house bang, with nobody to bang
'em; and all sorts of feet treading about, with no feet there; why,
then," said the landlord, "I'd sleep in that house."
"Is anything seen there?"
The landlord looked at me again, and then, with his former
appearance of desperation, called down his stable-yard for "Ikey!"
The call produced a high-shouldered young fellow, with a round red
face, a short crop of sandy hair, a very broad humorous mouth, a
turned-up nose, and a great sleeved waistcoat of purple bars, with
mother-of-pearl buttons, that seemed to be growing upon him, and to
be in a fair way--if it were not pruned--of covering his head and
overunning his boots.
"This gentleman wants to know," said the landlord, "if anything's
seen at the Poplars."
"'Ooded woman with a howl," said Ikey, in a state of great
"Do you mean a cry?"
"I mean a bird, sir."
"A hooded woman with an owl. Dear me! Did you ever see her?"
"I seen the howl."
"Never the woman?"
"Not so plain as the howl, but they always keeps together."
"Has anybody ever seen the woman as plainly as the owl?"
"Lord bless you, sir! Lots."
"Lord bless you, sir! Lots."
"The general-dealer opposite, for instance, who is opening his
"Perkins? Bless you, Perkins wouldn't go a-nigh the place. No!"
observed the young man, with considerable feeling; "he an't
overwise, an't Perkins, but he an't such a fool as THAT."
(Here, the landlord murmured his confidence in Perkins's knowing
"Who is--or who was--the hooded woman with the owl? Do you know?"
"Well!" said Ikey, holding up his cap with one hand while he
scratched his head with the other, "they say, in general, that she
was murdered, and the howl he 'ooted the while."
This very concise summary of the facts was all I could learn, except
that a young man, as hearty and likely a young man as ever I see,
had been took with fits and held down in 'em, after seeing the
hooded woman. Also, that a personage, dimly described as "a hold
chap, a sort of one-eyed tramp, answering to the name of Joby,
unless you challenged him as Greenwood, and then he said, 'Why not?
and even if so, mind your own business,'" had encountered the hooded
woman, a matter of five or six times. But, I was not materially
assisted by these witnesses: inasmuch as the first was in
California, and the last was, as Ikey said (and he was confirmed by
the landlord), Anywheres.
Now, although I regard with a hushed and solemn fear, the mysteries,
between which and this state of existence is interposed the barrier
of the great trial and change that fall on all the things that live;
and although I have not the audacity to pretend that I know anything
of them; I can no more reconcile the mere banging of doors, ringing
of bells, creaking of boards, and such-like insignificances, with
the majestic beauty and pervading analogy of all the Divine rules
that I am permitted to understand, than I had been able, a little
while before, to yoke the spiritual intercourse of my fellow-
traveller to the chariot of the rising sun. Moreover, I had lived
in two haunted houses--both abroad. In one of these, an old Italian
palace, which bore the reputation of being very badly haunted
indeed, and which had recently been twice abandoned on that account,
I lived eight months, most tranquilly and pleasantly:
notwithstanding that the house had a score of mysterious bedrooms,
which were never used, and possessed, in one large room in which I
sat reading, times out of number at all hours, and next to which I
slept, a haunted chamber of the first pretensions. I gently hinted
these considerations to the landlord. And as to this particular
house having a bad name, I reasoned with him, Why, how many things
had bad names undeservedly, and how easy it was to give bad names,
and did he not think that if he and I were persistently to whisper
in the village that any weird-looking old drunken tinker of the
neighbourhood had sold himself to the Devil, he would come in time
to be suspected of that commercial venture! All this wise talk was
perfectly ineffective with the landlord, I am bound to confess, and
was as dead a failure as ever I made in my life.
To cut this part of the story short, I was piqued about the haunted
house, and was already half resolved to take it. So, after
breakfast, I got the keys from Perkins's brother-in-law (a whip and
harness maker, who keeps the Post Office, and is under submission to
a most rigorous wife of the Doubly Seceding Little Emmanuel
persuasion), and went up to the house, attended by my landlord and
Within, I found it, as I had expected, transcendently dismal. The
slowly changing shadows waved on it from the heavy trees, were
doleful in the last degree; the house was ill-placed, ill-built,
ill-planned, and ill-fitted. It was damp, it was not free from dry
rot, there was a flavour of rats in it, and it was the gloomy victim
of that indescribable decay which settles on all the work of man's
hands whenever it's not turned to man's account. The kitchens and
offices were too large, and too remote from each other. Above
stairs and below, waste tracts of passage intervened between patches
of fertility represented by rooms; and there was a mouldy old well
with a green growth upon it, hiding like a murderous trap, near the
bottom of the back-stairs, under the double row of bells. One of
these bells was labelled, on a black ground in faded white letters,
MASTER B. This, they told me, was the bell that rang the most.
"Who was Master B.?" I asked. "Is it known what he did while the
"Rang the bell," said Ikey.
I was rather struck by the prompt dexterity with which this young
man pitched his fur cap at the bell, and rang it himself. It was a
loud, unpleasant bell, and made a very disagreeable sound. The
other bells were inscribed according to the names of the rooms to
which their wires were conducted: as "Picture Room," "Double Room,"
"Clock Room," and the like. Following Master B.'s bell to its
source I found that young gentleman to have had but indifferent
third-class accommodation in a triangular cabin under the cock-loft,
with a corner fireplace which Master B. must have been exceedingly
small if he were ever able to warm himself at, and a corner chimney-
piece like a pyramidal staircase to the ceiling for Tom Thumb. The
papering of one side of the room had dropped down bodily, with
fragments of plaster adhering to it, and almost blocked up the door.
It appeared that Master B., in his spiritual condition, always made
a point of pulling the paper down. Neither the landlord nor Ikey
could suggest why he made such a fool of himself.
Except that the house had an immensely large rambling loft at top, I
made no other discoveries. It was moderately well furnished, but
sparely. Some of the furniture--say, a third--was as old as the
house; the rest was of various periods within the last half-century.
I was referred to a corn-chandler in the market-place of the county
town to treat for the house. I went that day, and I took it for six
It was just the middle of October when I moved in with my maiden
sister (I venture to call her eight-and-thirty, she is so very
handsome, sensible, and engaging). We took with us, a deaf stable-
man, my bloodhound Turk, two women servants, and a young person
called an Odd Girl. I have reason to record of the attendant last
enumerated, who was one of the Saint Lawrence's Union Female
Orphans, that she was a fatal mistake and a disastrous engagement.
The year was dying early, the leaves were falling fast, it was a raw
cold day when we took possession, and the gloom of the house was
most depressing. The cook (an amiable woman, but of a weak turn of
intellect) burst into tears on beholding the kitchen, and requested
that her silver watch might be delivered over to her sister (2
Tuppintock's Gardens, Liggs's Walk, Clapham Rise), in the event of
anything happening to her from the damp. Streaker, the housemaid,
feigned cheerfulness, but was the greater martyr. The Odd Girl, who
had never been in the country, alone was pleased, and made
arrangements for sowing an acorn in the garden outside the scullery
window, and rearing an oak.
We went, before dark, through all the natural--as opposed to
supernatural--miseries incidental to our state. Dispiriting reports
ascended (like the smoke) from the basement in volumes, and
descended from the upper rooms. There was no rolling-pin, there was
no salamander (which failed to surprise me, for I don't know what it
is), there was nothing in the house, what there was, was broken, the
last people must have lived like pigs, what could the meaning of the
landlord be? Through these distresses, the Odd Girl was cheerful
and exemplary. But within four hours after dark we had got into a
supernatural groove, and the Odd Girl had seen "Eyes," and was in
My sister and I had agreed to keep the haunting strictly to
ourselves, and my impression was, and still is, that I had not left
Ikey, when he helped to unload the cart, alone with the women, or
any one of them, for one minute. Nevertheless, as I say, the Odd
Girl had "seen Eyes" (no other explanation could ever be drawn from
her), before nine, and by ten o'clock had had as much vinegar
applied to her as would pickle a handsome salmon.
I leave a discerning public to judge of my feelings, when, under
these untoward circumstances, at about half-past ten o'clock Master
B.'s bell began to ring in a most infuriated manner, and Turk howled
until the house resounded with his lamentations!
I hope I may never again be in a state of mind so unchristian as the
mental frame in which I lived for some weeks, respecting the memory
of Master B. Whether his bell was rung by rats, or mice, or bats,
or wind, or what other accidental vibration, or sometimes by one
cause, sometimes another, and sometimes by collusion, I don't know;
but, certain it is, that it did ring two nights out of three, until
I conceived the happy idea of twisting Master B.'s neck--in other
words, breaking his bell short off--and silencing that young
gentleman, as to my experience and belief, for ever.
But, by that time, the Odd Girl had developed such improving powers
of catalepsy, that she had become a shining example of that very
inconvenient disorder. She would stiffen, like a Guy Fawkes endowed
with unreason, on the most irrelevant occasions. I would address
the servants in a lucid manner, pointing out to them that I had
painted Master B.'s room and balked the paper, and taken Master B.'s
bell away and balked the ringing, and if they could suppose that
that confounded boy had lived and died, to clothe himself with no
better behaviour than would most unquestionably have brought him and
the sharpest particles of a birch-broom into close acquaintance in
the present imperfect state of existence, could they also suppose a
mere poor human being, such as I was, capable by those contemptible
means of counteracting and limiting the powers of the disembodied
spirits of the dead, or of any spirits?--I say I would become
emphatic and cogent, not to say rather complacent, in such an
address, when it would all go for nothing by reason of the Odd
Girl's suddenly stiffening from the toes upward, and glaring among
us like a parochial petrifaction.
Streaker, the housemaid, too, had an attribute of a most
discomfiting nature. I am unable to say whether she was of an
usually lymphatic temperament, or what else was the matter with her,
but this young woman became a mere Distillery for the production of
the largest and most transparent tears I ever met with. Combined
with these characteristics, was a peculiar tenacity of hold in those
specimens, so that they didn't fall, but hung upon her face and
nose. In this condition, and mildly and deplorably shaking her
head, her silence would throw me more heavily than the Admirable
Crichton could have done in a verbal disputation for a purse of
money. Cook, likewise, always covered me with confusion as with a
garment, by neatly winding up the session with the protest that the
Ouse was wearing her out, and by meekly repeating her last wishes
regarding her silver watch.
As to our nightly life, the contagion of suspicion and fear was
among us, and there is no such contagion under the sky. Hooded
woman? According to the accounts, we were in a perfect Convent of
hooded women. Noises? With that contagion downstairs, I myself
have sat in the dismal parlour, listening, until I have heard so
many and such strange noises, that they would have chilled my blood
if I had not warmed it by dashing out to make discoveries. Try this
in bed, in the dead of the night: try this at your own comfortable
fire-side, in the life of the night. You can fill any house with
noises, if you will, until you have a noise for every nerve in your
I repeat; the contagion of suspicion and fear was among us, and
there is no such contagion under the sky. The women (their noses in
a chronic state of excoriation from smelling-salts) were always
primed and loaded for a swoon, and ready to go off with hair-
triggers. The two elder detached the Odd Girl on all expeditions
that were considered doubly hazardous, and she always established
the reputation of such adventures by coming back cataleptic. If
Cook or Streaker went overhead after dark, we knew we should
presently hear a bump on the ceiling; and this took place so
constantly, that it was as if a fighting man were engaged to go
about the house, administering a touch of his art which I believe is
called The Auctioneer, to every domestic he met with.
It was in vain to do anything. It was in vain to be frightened, for
the moment in one's own person, by a real owl, and then to show the
owl. It was in vain to discover, by striking an accidental discord
on the piano, that Turk always howled at particular notes and
combinations. It was in vain to be a Rhadamanthus with the bells,
and if an unfortunate bell rang without leave, to have it down
inexorably and silence it. It was in vain to fire up chimneys, let
torches down the well, charge furiously into suspected rooms and
recesses. We changed servants, and it was no better. The new set
ran away, and a third set came, and it was no better. At last, our
comfortable housekeeping got to be so disorganised and wretched,
that I one night dejectedly said to my sister: "Patty, I begin to
despair of our getting people to go on with us here, and I think we
must give this up."
My sister, who is a woman of immense spirit, replied, "No, John,
don't give it up. Don't be beaten, John. There is another way."
"And what is that?" said I.
"John," returned my sister, "if we are not to be driven out of this
house, and that for no reason whatever, that is apparent to you or
me, we must help ourselves and take the house wholly and solely into
our own hands."
"But, the servants," said I.
"Have no servants," said my sister, boldly.
Like most people in my grade of life, I had never thought of the
possibility of going on without those faithful obstructions. The
notion was so new to me when suggested, that I looked very doubtful.
"We know they come here to be frightened and infect one another, and
we know they are frightened and do infect one another," said my
"With the exception of Bottles," I observed, in a meditative tone.
(The deaf stable-man. I kept him in my service, and still keep him,
as a phenomenon of moroseness not to be matched in England.)
"To be sure, John," assented my sister; "except Bottles. And what
does that go to prove? Bottles talks to nobody, and hears nobody
unless he is absolutely roared at, and what alarm has Bottles ever
given, or taken! None."
This was perfectly true; the individual in question having retired,
every night at ten o'clock, to his bed over the coach-house, with no
other company than a pitchfork and a pail of water. That the pail
of water would have been over me, and the pitchfork through me, if I
had put myself without announcement in Bottles's way after that
minute, I had deposited in my own mind as a fact worth remembering.
Neither had Bottles ever taken the least notice of any of our many
uproars. An imperturbable and speechless man, he had sat at his
supper, with Streaker present in a swoon, and the Odd Girl marble,
and had only put another potato in his cheek, or profited by the
general misery to help himself to beefsteak pie.
"And so," continued my sister, "I exempt Bottles. And considering,
John, that the house is too large, and perhaps too lonely, to be
kept well in hand by Bottles, you, and me, I propose that we cast
about among our friends for a certain selected number of the most
reliable and willing--form a Society here for three months--wait
upon ourselves and one another--live cheerfully and socially--and
see what happens."
I was so charmed with my sister, that I embraced her on the spot,
and went into her plan with the greatest ardour.
We were then in the third week of November; but, we took our
measures so vigorously, and were so well seconded by the friends in
whom we confided, that there was still a week of the month
unexpired, when our party all came down together merrily, and
mustered in the haunted house.
I will mention, in this place, two small changes that I made while
my sister and I were yet alone. It occurring to me as not
improbable that Turk howled in the house at night, partly because he
wanted to get out of it, I stationed him in his kennel outside, but
unchained; and I seriously warned the village that any man who came
in his way must not expect to leave him without a rip in his own
throat. I then casually asked Ikey if he were a judge of a gun? On
his saying, "Yes, sir, I knows a good gun when I sees her," I begged
the favour of his stepping up to the house and looking at mine.
"SHE'S a true one, sir," said Ikey, after inspecting a double-
barrelled rifle that I bought in New York a few years ago. "No
mistake about HER, sir."
"Ikey," said I, "don't mention it; I have seen something in this
"No, sir?" he whispered, greedily opening his eyes. "'Ooded lady,
"Don't be frightened," said I. "It was a figure rather like you."
"Ikey!" said I, shaking hands with him warmly: I may say
affectionately; "if there is any truth in these ghost-stories, the
greatest service I can do you, is, to fire at that figure. And I
promise you, by Heaven and earth, I will do it with this gun if I
see it again!"
The young man thanked me, and took his leave with some little
precipitation, after declining a glass of liquor. I imparted my
secret to him, because I had never quite forgotten his throwing his
cap at the bell; because I had, on another occasion, noticed
something very like a fur cap, lying not far from the bell, one
night when it had burst out ringing; and because I had remarked that
we were at our ghostliest whenever he came up in the evening to
comfort the servants. Let me do Ikey no injustice. He was afraid
of the house, and believed in its being haunted; and yet he would
play false on the haunting side, so surely as he got an opportunity.
The Odd Girl's case was exactly similar. She went about the house
in a state of real terror, and yet lied monstrously and wilfully,
and invented many of the alarms she spread, and made many of the
sounds we heard. I had had my eye on the two, and I know it. It is
not necessary for me, here, to account for this preposterous state
of mind; I content myself with remarking that it is familiarly known
to every intelligent man who has had fair medical, legal, or other
watchful experience; that it is as well established and as common a
state of mind as any with which observers are acquainted; and that
it is one of the first elements, above all others, rationally to be
suspected in, and strictly looked for, and separated from, any
question of this kind.
To return to our party. The first thing we did when we were all
assembled, was, to draw lots for bedrooms. That done, and every
bedroom, and, indeed, the whole house, having been minutely examined
by the whole body, we allotted the various household duties, as if
we had been on a gipsy party, or a yachting party, or a hunting
party, or were shipwrecked. I then recounted the floating rumours
concerning the hooded lady, the owl, and Master B.: with others,
still more filmy, which had floated about during our occupation,
relative to some ridiculous old ghost of the female gender who went
up and down, carrying the ghost of a round table; and also to an
impalpable Jackass, whom nobody was ever able to catch. Some of
these ideas I really believe our people below had communicated to
one another in some diseased way, without conveying them in words.
We then gravely called one another to witness, that we were not
there to be deceived, or to deceive--which we considered pretty much
the same thing--and that, with a serious sense of responsibility, we
would be strictly true to one another, and would strictly follow out
the truth. The understanding was established, that any one who
heard unusual noises in the night, and who wished to trace them,
should knock at my door; lastly, that on Twelfth Night, the last
night of holy Christmas, all our individual experiences since that
then present hour of our coming together in the haunted house,
should be brought to light for the good of all; and that we would
hold our peace on the subject till then, unless on some remarkable
provocation to break silence.
We were, in number and in character, as follows:
First--to get my sister and myself out of the way--there were we
two. In the drawing of lots, my sister drew her own room, and I
drew Master B.'s. Next, there was our first cousin John Herschel,
so called after the great astronomer: than whom I suppose a better
man at a telescope does not breathe. With him, was his wife: a
charming creature to whom he had been married in the previous
spring. I thought it (under the circumstances) rather imprudent to
bring her, because there is no knowing what even a false alarm may
do at such a time; but I suppose he knew his own business best, and
I must say that if she had been MY wife, I never could have left her
endearing and bright face behind. They drew the Clock Room. Alfred
Starling, an uncommonly agreeable young fellow of eight-and-twenty
for whom I have the greatest liking, was in the Double Room; mine,
usually, and designated by that name from having a dressing-room
within it, with two large and cumbersome windows, which no wedges I
was ever able to make, would keep from shaking, in any weather, wind
or no wind. Alfred is a young fellow who pretends to be "fast"
(another word for loose, as I understand the term), but who is much
too good and sensible for that nonsense, and who would have
distinguished himself before now, if his father had not
unfortunately left him a small independence of two hundred a year,
on the strength of which his only occupation in life has been to
spend six. I am in hopes, however, that his Banker may break, or
that he may enter into some speculation guaranteed to pay twenty per
cent.; for, I am convinced that if he could only be ruined, his
fortune is made. Belinda Bates, bosom friend of my sister, and a
most intellectual, amiable, and delightful girl, got the Picture
Room. She has a fine genius for poetry, combined with real business
earnestness, and "goes in"--to use an expression of Alfred's--for
Woman's mission, Woman's rights, Woman's wrongs, and everything that
is woman's with a capital W, or is not and ought to be, or is and
ought not to be. "Most praiseworthy, my dear, and Heaven prosper
you!" I whispered to her on the first night of my taking leave of
her at the Picture-Room door, "but don't overdo it. And in respect
of the great necessity there is, my darling, for more employments
being within the reach of Woman than our civilisation has as yet
assigned to her, don't fly at the unfortunate men, even those men
who are at first sight in your way, as if they were the natural
oppressors of your sex; for, trust me, Belinda, they do sometimes
spend their wages among wives and daughters, sisters, mothers,
aunts, and grandmothers; and the play is, really, not ALL Wolf and
Red Riding-Hood, but has other parts in it." However, I digress.
Belinda, as I have mentioned, occupied the Picture Room. We had but
three other chambers: the Corner Room, the Cupboard Room, and the
Garden Room. My old friend, Jack Governor, "slung his hammock," as
he called it, in the Corner Room. I have always regarded Jack as
the finest-looking sailor that ever sailed. He is gray now, but as
handsome as he was a quarter of a century ago--nay, handsomer. A
portly, cheery, well-built figure of a broad-shouldered man, with a
frank smile, a brilliant dark eye, and a rich dark eyebrow. I
remember those under darker hair, and they look all the better for
their silver setting. He has been wherever his Union namesake
flies, has Jack, and I have met old shipmates of his, away in the
Mediterranean and on the other side of the Atlantic, who have beamed
and brightened at the casual mention of his name, and have cried,
"You know Jack Governor? Then you know a prince of men!" That he
is! And so unmistakably a naval officer, that if you were to meet
him coming out of an Esquimaux snow-hut in seal's skin, you would be
vaguely persuaded he was in full naval uniform.
Jack once had that bright clear eye of his on my sister; but, it
fell out that he married another lady and took her to South America,
where she died. This was a dozen years ago or more. He brought
down with him to our haunted house a little cask of salt beef; for,
he is always convinced that all salt beef not of his own pickling,
is mere carrion, and invariably, when he goes to London, packs a
piece in his portmanteau. He had also volunteered to bring with him
one "Nat Beaver," an old comrade of his, captain of a merchantman.
Mr. Beaver, with a thick-set wooden face and figure, and apparently
as hard as a block all over, proved to be an intelligent man, with a
world of watery experiences in him, and great practical knowledge.
At times, there was a curious nervousness about him, apparently the
lingering result of some old illness; but, it seldom lasted many
minutes. He got the Cupboard Room, and lay there next to Mr.
Undery, my friend and solicitor: who came down, in an amateur
capacity, "to go through with it," as he said, and who plays whist
better than the whole Law List, from the red cover at the beginning
to the red cover at the end.
I never was happier in my life, and I believe it was the universal
feeling among us. Jack Governor, always a man of wonderful
resources, was Chief Cook, and made some of the best dishes I ever
ate, including unapproachable curries. My sister was pastrycook and
confectioner. Starling and I were Cook's Mate, turn and turn about,
and on special occasions the chief cook "pressed" Mr. Beaver. We
had a great deal of out-door sport and exercise, but nothing was
neglected within, and there was no ill-humour or misunderstanding
among us, and our evenings were so delightful that we had at least
one good reason for being reluctant to go to bed.
We had a few night alarms in the beginning. On the first night, I
was knocked up by Jack with a most wonderful ship's lantern in his
hand, like the gills of some monster of the deep, who informed me
that he "was going aloft to the main truck," to have the weathercock
down. It was a stormy night and I remonstrated; but Jack called my
attention to its making a sound like a cry of despair, and said
somebody would be "hailing a ghost" presently, if it wasn't done.
So, up to the top of the house, where I could hardly stand for the
wind, we went, accompanied by Mr. Beaver; and there Jack, lantern
and all, with Mr. Beaver after him, swarmed up to the top of a
cupola, some two dozen feet above the chimneys, and stood upon
nothing particular, coolly knocking the weathercock off, until they
both got into such good spirits with the wind and the height, that I
thought they would never come down. Another night, they turned out
again, and had a chimney-cowl off. Another night, they cut a
sobbing and gulping water-pipe away. Another night, they found out
something else. On several occasions, they both, in the coolest
manner, simultaneously dropped out of their respective bedroom
windows, hand over hand by their counterpanes, to "overhaul"
something mysterious in the garden.
The engagement among us was faithfully kept, and nobody revealed
anything. All we knew was, if any one's room were haunted, no one
looked the worse for it.
CHAPTER II--THE GHOST IN MASTER B.'S ROOM
When I established myself in the triangular garret which had gained
so distinguished a reputation, my thoughts naturally turned to
Master B. My speculations about him were uneasy and manifold.
Whether his Christian name was Benjamin, Bissextile (from his having
been born in Leap Year), Bartholomew, or Bill. Whether the initial
letter belonged to his family name, and that was Baxter, Black,
Brown, Barker, Buggins, Baker, or Bird. Whether he was a foundling,
and had been baptized B. Whether he was a lion-hearted boy, and B.
was short for Briton, or for Bull. Whether he could possibly have
been kith and kin to an illustrious lady who brightened my own
childhood, and had come of the blood of the brilliant Mother Bunch?
With these profitless meditations I tormented myself much. I also
carried the mysterious letter into the appearance and pursuits of
the deceased; wondering whether he dressed in Blue, wore Boots (he
couldn't have been Bald), was a boy of Brains, liked Books, was good
at Bowling, had any skill as a Boxer, even in his Buoyant Boyhood
Bathed from a Bathing-machine at Bognor, Bangor, Bournemouth,
Brighton, or Broadstairs, like a Bounding Billiard Ball?
So, from the first, I was haunted by the letter B.
It was not long before I remarked that I never by any hazard had a
dream of Master B., or of anything belonging to him. But, the
instant I awoke from sleep, at whatever hour of the night, my
thoughts took him up, and roamed away, trying to attach his initial
letter to something that would fit it and keep it quiet.
For six nights, I had been worried this in Master B.'s room, when I
began to perceive that things were going wrong.
The first appearance that presented itself was early in the morning
when it was but just daylight and no more. I was standing shaving
at my glass, when I suddenly discovered, to my consternation and
amazement, that I was shaving--not myself--I am fifty--but a boy.
Apparently Master B.!
I trembled and looked over my shoulder; nothing there. I looked
again in the glass, and distinctly saw the features and expression
of a boy, who was shaving, not to get rid of a beard, but to get
one. Extremely troubled in my mind, I took a few turns in the room,
and went back to the looking-glass, resolved to steady my hand and
complete the operation in which I had been disturbed. Opening my
eyes, which I had shut while recovering my firmness, I now met in
the glass, looking straight at me, the eyes of a young man of four
or five and twenty. Terrified by this new ghost, I closed my eyes,
and made a strong effort to recover myself. Opening them again, I
saw, shaving his cheek in the glass, my father, who has long been
dead. Nay, I even saw my grandfather too, whom I never did see in
Although naturally much affected by these remarkable visitations, I
determined to keep my secret, until the time agreed upon for the
present general disclosure. Agitated by a multitude of curious
thoughts, I retired to my room, that night, prepared to encounter
some new experience of a spectral character. Nor was my preparation
needless, for, waking from an uneasy sleep at exactly two o'clock in
the morning, what were my feelings to find that I was sharing my bed
with the skeleton of Master B.!
I sprang up, and the skeleton sprang up also. I then heard a
plaintive voice saying, "Where am I? What is become of me?" and,
looking hard in that direction, perceived the ghost of Master B.
The young spectre was dressed in an obsolete fashion: or rather,
was not so much dressed as put into a case of inferior pepper-and-
salt cloth, made horrible by means of shining buttons. I observed
that these buttons went, in a double row, over each shoulder of the
young ghost, and appeared to descend his back. He wore a frill
round his neck. His right hand (which I distinctly noticed to be
inky) was laid upon his stomach; connecting this action with some
feeble pimples on his countenance, and his general air of nausea, I
concluded this ghost to be the ghost of a boy who had habitually
taken a great deal too much medicine.
"Where am I?" said the little spectre, in a pathetic voice. "And
why was I born in the Calomel days, and why did I have all that
Calomel given me?"
I replied, with sincere earnestness, that upon my soul I couldn't
"Where is my little sister," said the ghost, "and where my angelic
little wife, and where is the boy I went to school with?"
I entreated the phantom to be comforted, and above all things to
take heart respecting the loss of the boy he went to school with. I
represented to him that probably that boy never did, within human
experience, come out well, when discovered. I urged that I myself
had, in later life, turned up several boys whom I went to school
with, and none of them had at all answered. I expressed my humble
belief that that boy never did answer. I represented that he was a
mythic character, a delusion, and a snare. I recounted how, the
last time I found him, I found him at a dinner party behind a wall
of white cravat, with an inconclusive opinion on every possible
subject, and a power of silent boredom absolutely Titanic. I
related how, on the strength of our having been together at "Old
Doylance's," he had asked himself to breakfast with me (a social
offence of the largest magnitude); how, fanning my weak embers of
belief in Doylance's boys, I had let him in; and how, he had proved
to be a fearful wanderer about the earth, pursuing the race of Adam
with inexplicable notions concerning the currency, and with a
proposition that the Bank of England should, on pain of being
abolished, instantly strike off and circulate, God knows how many
thousand millions of ten-and-sixpenny notes.
The ghost heard me in silence, and with a fixed stare. "Barber!" it
apostrophised me when I had finished.
"Barber?" I repeated--for I am not of that profession.
"Condemned," said the ghost, "to shave a constant change of
customers--now, me--now, a young man--now, thyself as thou art--now,
thy father--now, thy grandfather; condemned, too, to lie down with a
skeleton every night, and to rise with it every morning--"
(I shuddered on hearing this dismal announcement.)
"Barber! Pursue me!"
I had felt, even before the words were uttered, that I was under a
spell to pursue the phantom. I immediately did so, and was in
Master B.'s room no longer.
Most people know what long and fatiguing night journeys had been
forced upon the witches who used to confess, and who, no doubt, told
the exact truth--particularly as they were always assisted with
leading questions, and the Torture was always ready. I asseverate
that, during my occupation of Master B.'s room, I was taken by the
ghost that haunted it, on expeditions fully as long and wild as any
of those. Assuredly, I was presented to no shabby old man with a
goat's horns and tail (something between Pan and an old clothesman),
holding conventional receptions, as stupid as those of real life and
less decent; but, I came upon other things which appeared to me to
have more meaning.
Confident that I speak the truth and shall be believed, I declare
without hesitation that I followed the ghost, in the first instance
on a broom-stick, and afterwards on a rocking-horse. The very smell
of the animal's paint--especially when I brought it out, by making
him warm--I am ready to swear to. I followed the ghost, afterwards,
in a hackney coach; an institution with the peculiar smell of which,
the present generation is unacquainted, but to which I am again
ready to swear as a combination of stable, dog with the mange, and
very old bellows. (In this, I appeal to previous generations to
confirm or refute me.) I pursued the phantom, on a headless donkey:
at least, upon a donkey who was so interested in the state of his
stomach that his head was always down there, investigating it; on
ponies, expressly born to kick up behind; on roundabouts and swings,
from fairs; in the first cab--another forgotten institution where
the fare regularly got into bed, and was tucked up with the driver.
Not to trouble you with a detailed account of all my travels in
pursuit of the ghost of Master B., which were longer and more
wonderful than those of Sinbad the Sailor, I will confine myself to
one experience from which you may judge of many.
I was marvellously changed. I was myself, yet not myself. I was
conscious of something within me, which has been the same all
through my life, and which I have always recognised under all its
phases and varieties as never altering, and yet I was not the I who
had gone to bed in Master B.'s room. I had the smoothest of faces
and the shortest of legs, and I had taken another creature like
myself, also with the smoothest of faces and the shortest of legs,
behind a door, and was confiding to him a proposition of the most
This proposition was, that we should have a Seraglio.
The other creature assented warmly. He had no notion of
respectability, neither had I. It was the custom of the East, it
was the way of the good Caliph Haroun Alraschid (let me have the
corrupted name again for once, it is so scented with sweet
memories!), the usage was highly laudable, and most worthy of
imitation. "O, yes! Let us," said the other creature with a jump,
"have a Seraglio."
It was not because we entertained the faintest doubts of the
meritorious character of the Oriental establishment we proposed to
import, that we perceived it must be kept a secret from Miss
Griffin. It was because we knew Miss Griffin to be bereft of human
sympathies, and incapable of appreciating the greatness of the great
Haroun. Mystery impenetrably shrouded from Miss Griffin then, let
us entrust it to Miss Bule.
We were ten in Miss Griffin's establishment by Hampstead Ponds;
eight ladies and two gentlemen. Miss Bule, whom I judge to have
attained the ripe age of eight or nine, took the lead in society. I
opened the subject to her in the course of the day, and proposed
that she should become the Favourite.
Miss Bule, after struggling with the diffidence so natural to, and
charming in, her adorable sex, expressed herself as flattered by the
idea, but wished to know how it was proposed to provide for Miss
Pipson? Miss Bule--who was understood to have vowed towards that
young lady, a friendship, halves, and no secrets, until death, on
the Church Service and Lessons complete in two volumes with case and
lock--Miss Bule said she could not, as the friend of Pipson,
disguise from herself, or me, that Pipson was not one of the common.
Now, Miss Pipson, having curly hair and blue eyes (which was my idea
of anything mortal and feminine that was called Fair), I promptly
replied that I regarded Miss Pipson in the light of a Fair
"And what then?" Miss Bule pensively asked.
I replied that she must be inveigled by a Merchant, brought to me
veiled, and purchased as a slave.
[The other creature had already fallen into the second male place in
the State, and was set apart for Grand Vizier. He afterwards
resisted this disposal of events, but had his hair pulled until he
"Shall I not be jealous?" Miss Bule inquired, casting down her eyes.
"Zobeide, no," I replied; "you will ever be the favourite Sultana;
the first place in my heart, and on my throne, will be ever yours."
Miss Bule, upon that assurance, consented to propound the idea to
her seven beautiful companions. It occurring to me, in the course
of the same day, that we knew we could trust a grinning and good-
natured soul called Tabby, who was the serving drudge of the house,
and had no more figure than one of the beds, and upon whose face
there was always more or less black-lead, I slipped into Miss Bule's
hand after supper, a little note to that effect; dwelling on the
black-lead as being in a manner deposited by the finger of
Providence, pointing Tabby out for Mesrour, the celebrated chief of
the Blacks of the Hareem.
There were difficulties in the formation of the desired institution,
as there are in all combinations. The other creature showed himself
of a low character, and, when defeated in aspiring to the throne,
pretended to have conscientious scruples about prostrating himself
before the Caliph; wouldn't call him Commander of the Faithful;
spoke of him slightingly and inconsistently as a mere "chap;" said
he, the other creature, "wouldn't play"--Play!--and was otherwise
coarse and offensive. This meanness of disposition was, however,
put down by the general indignation of an united Seraglio, and I
became blessed in the smiles of eight of the fairest of the
daughters of men.
The smiles could only be bestowed when Miss Griffin was looking
another way, and only then in a very wary manner, for there was a
legend among the followers of the Prophet that she saw with a little
round ornament in the middle of the pattern on the back of her
shawl. But every day after dinner, for an hour, we were all
together, and then the Favourite and the rest of the Royal Hareem
competed who should most beguile the leisure of the Serene Haroun
reposing from the cares of State--which were generally, as in most
affairs of State, of an arithmetical character, the Commander of the
Faithful being a fearful boggler at a sum.
On these occasions, the devoted Mesrour, chief of the Blacks of the
Hareem, was always in attendance (Miss Griffin usually ringing for
that officer, at the same time, with great vehemence), but never
acquitted himself in a manner worthy of his historical reputation.
In the first place, his bringing a broom into the Divan of the
Caliph, even when Haroun wore on his shoulders the red robe of anger
(Miss Pipson's pelisse), though it might be got over for the moment,
was never to be quite satisfactorily accounted for. In the second
place, his breaking out into grinning exclamations of "Lork you
pretties!" was neither Eastern nor respectful. In the third place,
when specially instructed to say "Bismillah!" he always said
"Hallelujah!" This officer, unlike his class, was too good-humoured
altogether, kept his mouth open far too wide, expressed approbation
to an incongruous extent, and even once--it was on the occasion of
the purchase of the Fair Circassian for five hundred thousand purses
of gold, and cheap, too--embraced the Slave, the Favourite, and the
Caliph, all round. (Parenthetically let me say God bless Mesrour,
and may there have been sons and daughters on that tender bosom,
softening many a hard day since!)
Miss Griffin was a model of propriety, and I am at a loss to imagine
what the feelings of the virtuous woman would have been, if she had
known, when she paraded us down the Hampstead Road two and two, that
she was walking with a stately step at the head of Polygamy and
Mahomedanism. I believe that a mysterious and terrible joy with
which the contemplation of Miss Griffin, in this unconscious state,
inspired us, and a grim sense prevalent among us that there was a
dreadful power in our knowledge of what Miss Griffin (who knew all
things that could be learnt out of book) didn't know, were the main-
spring of the preservation of our secret. It was wonderfully kept,
but was once upon the verge of self-betrayal. The danger and escape
occurred upon a Sunday. We were all ten ranged in a conspicuous
part of the gallery at church, with Miss Griffin at our head--as we
were every Sunday--advertising the establishment in an unsecular
sort of way--when the description of Solomon in his domestic glory
happened to be read. The moment that monarch was thus referred to,
conscience whispered me, "Thou, too, Haroun!" The officiating
minister had a cast in his eye, and it assisted conscience by giving
him the appearance of reading personally at me. A crimson blush,
attended by a fearful perspiration, suffused my features. The Grand
Vizier became more dead than alive, and the whole Seraglio reddened
as if the sunset of Bagdad shone direct upon their lovely faces. At
this portentous time the awful Griffin rose, and balefully surveyed
the children of Islam. My own impression was, that Church and State
had entered into a conspiracy with Miss Griffin to expose us, and
that we should all be put into white sheets, and exhibited in the
centre aisle. But, so Westerly--if I may be allowed the expression
as opposite to Eastern associations--was Miss Griffin's sense of
rectitude, that she merely suspected Apples, and we were saved.
I have called the Seraglio, united. Upon the question, solely,
whether the Commander of the Faithful durst exercise a right of
kissing in that sanctuary of the palace, were its peerless inmates
divided. Zobeide asserted a counter-right in the Favourite to
scratch, and the fair Circassian put her face, for refuge, into a
green baize bag, originally designed for books. On the other hand,
a young antelope of transcendent beauty from the fruitful plains of
Camden Town (whence she had been brought, by traders, in the half-
yearly caravan that crossed the intermediate desert after the
holidays), held more liberal opinions, but stipulated for limiting
the benefit of them to that dog, and son of a dog, the Grand Vizier-
-who had no rights, and was not in question. At length, the
difficulty was compromised by the installation of a very youthful
slave as Deputy. She, raised upon a stool, officially received upon
her cheeks the salutes intended by the gracious Haroun for other
Sultanas, and was privately rewarded from the coffers of the Ladies
of the Hareem.
And now it was, at the full height of enjoyment of my bliss, that I
became heavily troubled. I began to think of my mother, and what
she would say to my taking home at Midsummer eight of the most
beautiful of the daughters of men, but all unexpected. I thought of
the number of beds we made up at our house, of my father's income,
and of the baker, and my despondency redoubled. The Seraglio and
malicious Vizier, divining the cause of their Lord's unhappiness,
did their utmost to augment it. They professed unbounded fidelity,
and declared that they would live and die with him. Reduced to the
utmost wretchedness by these protestations of attachment, I lay
awake, for hours at a time, ruminating on my frightful lot. In my
despair, I think I might have taken an early opportunity of falling
on my knees before Miss Griffin, avowing my resemblance to Solomon,
and praying to be dealt with according to the outraged laws of my
country, if an unthought-of means of escape had not opened before
One day, we were out walking, two and two--on which occasion the
Vizier had his usual instructions to take note of the boy at the
turn-pike, and if he profanely gazed (which he always did) at the
beauties of the Hareem, to have him bowstrung in the course of the
night--and it happened that our hearts were veiled in gloom. An
unaccountable action on the part of the antelope had plunged the
State into disgrace. That charmer, on the representation that the
previous day was her birthday, and that vast treasures had been sent
in a hamper for its celebration (both baseless assertions), had
secretly but most pressingly invited thirty-five neighbouring
princes and princesses to a ball and supper: with a special
stipulation that they were "not to be fetched till twelve." This
wandering of the antelope's fancy, led to the surprising arrival at
Miss Griffin's door, in divers equipages and under various escorts,
of a great company in full dress, who were deposited on the top step
in a flush of high expectancy, and who were dismissed in tears. At
the beginning of the double knocks attendant on these ceremonies,
the antelope had retired to a back attic, and bolted herself in; and
at every new arrival, Miss Griffin had gone so much more and more
distracted, that at last she had been seen to tear her front.
Ultimate capitulation on the part of the offender, had been followed
by solitude in the linen-closet, bread and water and a lecture to
all, of vindictive length, in which Miss Griffin had used
expressions: Firstly, "I believe you all of you knew of it;"
Secondly, "Every one of you is as wicked as another;" Thirdly, "A
pack of little wretches."
Under these circumstances, we were walking drearily along; and I
especially, with my. Moosulmaun responsibilities heavy on me, was
in a very low state of mind; when a strange man accosted Miss
Griffin, and, after walking on at her side for a little while and
talking with her, looked at me. Supposing him to be a minion of the
law, and that my hour was come, I instantly ran away, with the
general purpose of making for Egypt.
The whole Seraglio cried out, when they saw me making off as fast as
my legs would carry me (I had an impression that the first turning
on the left, and round by the public-house, would be the shortest
way to the Pyramids), Miss Griffin screamed after me, the faithless
Vizier ran after me, and the boy at the turnpike dodged me into a
corner, like a sheep, and cut me off. Nobody scolded me when I was
taken and brought back; Miss Griffin only said, with a stunning
gentleness, This was very curious! Why had I run away when the
gentleman looked at me?
If I had had any breath to answer with, I dare say I should have
made no answer; having no breath, I certainly made none. Miss
Griffin and the strange man took me between them, and walked me back
to the palace in a sort of state; but not at all (as I couldn't help
feeling, with astonishment) in culprit state.
When we got there, we went into a room by ourselves, and Miss
Griffin called in to her assistance, Mesrour, chief of the dusky
guards of the Hareem. Mesrour, on being whispered to, began to shed
tears. "Bless you, my precious!" said that officer, turning to me;
"your Pa's took bitter bad!"
I asked, with a fluttered heart, "Is he very ill?"
"Lord temper the wind to you, my lamb!" said the good Mesrour,
kneeling down, that I might have a comforting shoulder for my head
to rest on, "your Pa's dead!"
Haroun Alraschid took to flight at the words; the Seraglio vanished;
from that moment, I never again saw one of the eight of the fairest
of the daughters of men.
I was taken home, and there was Debt at home as well as Death, and
we had a sale there. My own little bed was so superciliously looked
upon by a Power unknown to me, hazily called "The Trade," that a
brass coal-scuttle, a roasting-jack, and a birdcage, were obliged to
be put into it to make a Lot of it, and then it went for a song. So
I heard mentioned, and I wondered what song, and thought what a
dismal song it must have been to sing!
Then, I was sent to a great, cold, bare, school of big boys; where
everything to eat and wear was thick and clumpy, without being
enough; where everybody, largo and small, was cruel; where the boys
knew all about the sale, before I got there, and asked me what I had
fetched, and who had bought me, and hooted at me, "Going, going,
gone!" I never whispered in that wretched place that I had been
Haroun, or had had a Seraglio: for, I knew that if I mentioned my
reverses, I should be so worried, that I should have to drown myself
in the muddy pond near the playground, which looked like the beer.
Ah me, ah me! No other ghost has haunted the boy's room, my
friends, since I have occupied it, than the ghost of my own
childhood, the ghost of my own innocence, the ghost of my own airy
belief. Many a time have I pursued the phantom: never with this
man's stride of mine to come up with it, never with these man's
hands of mine to touch it, never more to this man's heart of mine to
hold it in its purity. And here you see me working out, as
cheerfully and thankfully as I may, my doom of shaving in the glass
a constant change of customers, and of lying down and rising up with
the skeleton allotted to me for my mortal companion.
THE TRIAL FOR MURDER.
I have always noticed a prevalent want of courage, even among
persons of superior intelligence and culture, as to imparting their
own psychological experiences when those have been of a strange
sort. Almost all men are afraid that what they could relate in such
wise would find no parallel or response in a listener's internal
life, and might be suspected or laughed at. A truthful traveller,
who should have seen some extraordinary creature in the likeness of
a sea-serpent, would have no fear of mentioning it; but the same
traveller, having had some singular presentiment, impulse, vagary of
thought, vision (so-called), dream, or other remarkable mental
impression, would hesitate considerably before he would own to it.
To this reticence I attribute much of the obscurity in which such
subjects are involved. We do not habitually communicate our
experiences of these subjective things as we do our experiences of
objective creation. The consequence is, that the general stock of
experience in this regard appears exceptional, and really is so, in
respect of being miserably imperfect.
In what I am going to relate, I have no intention of setting up,
opposing, or supporting, any theory whatever. I know the history of
the Bookseller of Berlin, I have studied the case of the wife of a
late Astronomer Royal as related by Sir David Brewster, and I have
followed the minutest details of a much more remarkable case of
Spectral Illusion occurring within my private circle of friends. It
may be necessary to state as to this last, that the sufferer (a
lady) was in no degree, however distant, related to me. A mistaken
assumption on that head might suggest an explanation of a part of my
own case,--but only a part,--which would be wholly without
foundation. It cannot be referred to my inheritance of any
developed peculiarity, nor had I ever before any at all similar
experience, nor have I ever had any at all similar experience since.
It does not signify how many years ago, or how few, a certain murder
was committed in England, which attracted great attention. We hear
more than enough of murderers as they rise in succession to their
atrocious eminence, and I would bury the memory of this particular
brute, if I could, as his body was buried, in Newgate Jail. I
purposely abstain from giving any direct clue to the criminal's
When the murder was first discovered, no suspicion fell--or I ought
rather to say, for I cannot be too precise in my facts, it was
nowhere publicly hinted that any suspicion fell--on the man who was
afterwards brought to trial. As no reference was at that time made
to him in the newspapers, it is obviously impossible that any
description of him can at that time have been given in the
newspapers. It is essential that this fact be remembered.
Unfolding at breakfast my morning paper, containing the account of
that first discovery, I found it to be deeply interesting, and I
read it with close attention. I read it twice, if not three times.
The discovery had been made in a bedroom, and, when I laid down the
paper, I was aware of a flash--rush--flow--I do not know what to
call it,--no word I can find is satisfactorily descriptive,--in
which I seemed to see that bedroom passing through my room, like a
picture impossibly painted on a running river. Though almost
instantaneous in its passing, it was perfectly clear; so clear that
I distinctly, and with a sense of relief, observed the absence of
the dead body from the bed.
It was in no romantic place that I had this curious sensation, but
in chambers in Piccadilly, very near to the corner of St. James's
Street. It was entirely new to me. I was in my easy-chair at the
moment, and the sensation was accompanied with a peculiar shiver
which started the chair from its position. (But it is to be noted
that the chair ran easily on castors.) I went to one of the windows
(there are two in the room, and the room is on the second floor) to
refresh my eyes with the moving objects down in Piccadilly. It was
a bright autumn morning, and the street was sparkling and cheerful.
The wind was high. As I looked out, it brought down from the Park a
quantity of fallen leaves, which a gust took, and whirled into a
spiral pillar. As the pillar fell and the leaves dispersed, I saw
two men on the opposite side of the way, going from West to East.
They were one behind the other. The foremost man often looked back
over his shoulder. The second man followed him, at a distance of
some thirty paces, with his right hand menacingly raised. First,
the singularity and steadiness of this threatening gesture in so
public a thoroughfare attracted my attention; and next, the more
remarkable circumstance that nobody heeded it. Both men threaded
their way among the other passengers with a smoothness hardly
consistent even with the action of walking on a pavement; and no
single creature, that I could see, gave them place, touched them, or
looked after them. In passing before my windows, they both stared
up at me. I saw their two faces very distinctly, and I knew that I
could recognise them anywhere. Not that I had consciously noticed
anything very remarkable in either face, except that the man who
went first had an unusually lowering appearance, and that the face
of the man who followed him was of the colour of impure wax.
I am a bachelor, and my valet and his wife constitute my whole
establishment. My occupation is in a certain Branch Bank, and I
wish that my duties as head of a Department were as light as they
are popularly supposed to be. They kept me in town that autumn,
when I stood in need of change. I was not ill, but I was not well.
My reader is to make the most that can be reasonably made of my
feeling jaded, having a depressing sense upon me of a monotonous
life, and being "slightly dyspeptic." I am assured by my renowned
doctor that my real state of health at that time justifies no
stronger description, and I quote his own from his written answer to
my request for it.
As the circumstances of the murder, gradually unravelling, took
stronger and stronger possession of the public mind, I kept them
away from mine by knowing as little about them as was possible in
the midst of the universal excitement. But I knew that a verdict of
Wilful Murder had been found against the suspected murderer, and
that he had been committed to Newgate for trial. I also knew that
his trial had been postponed over one Sessions of the Central
Criminal Court, on the ground of general prejudice and want of time
for the preparation of the defence. I may further have known, but I
believe I did not, when, or about when, the Sessions to which his
trial stood postponed would come on.
My sitting-room, bedroom, and dressing-room, are all on one floor.
With the last there is no communication but through the bedroom.
True, there is a door in it, once communicating with the staircase;
but a part of the fitting of my bath has been--and had then been for
some years--fixed across it. At the same period, and as a part of
the same arrangement,--the door had been nailed up and canvased
I was standing in my bedroom late one night, giving some directions
to my servant before he went to bed. My face was towards the only
available door of communication with the dressing-room, and it was
closed. My servant's back was towards that door. While I was
speaking to him, I saw it open, and a man look in, who very
earnestly and mysteriously beckoned to me. That man was the man who
had gone second of the two along Piccadilly, and whose face was of
the colour of impure wax.
The figure, having beckoned, drew back, and closed the door. With
no longer pause than was made by my crossing the bedroom, I opened
the dressing-room door, and looked in. I had a lighted candle
already in my hand. I felt no inward expectation of seeing the
figure in the dressing-room, and I did not see it there.
Conscious that my servant stood amazed, I turned round to him, and
said: "Derrick, could you believe that in my cool senses I fancied
I saw a--" As I there laid my hand upon his breast, with a sudden
start he trembled violently, and said, "O Lord, yes, sir! A dead
Now I do not believe that this John Derrick, my trusty and attached
servant for more than twenty years, had any impression whatever of
having seen any such figure, until I touched him. The change in him
was so startling, when I touched him, that I fully believe he
derived his impression in some occult manner from me at that
I bade John Derrick bring some brandy, and I gave him a dram, and
was glad to take one myself. Of what had preceded that night's
phenomenon, I told him not a single word. Reflecting on it, I was
absolutely certain that I had never seen that face before, except on
the one occasion in Piccadilly. Comparing its expression when
beckoning at the door with its expression when it had stared up at
me as I stood at my window, I came to the conclusion that on the
first occasion it had sought to fasten itself upon my memory, and
that on the second occasion it had made sure of being immediately
I was not very comfortable that night, though I felt a certainty,
difficult to explain, that the figure would not return. At daylight
I fell into a heavy sleep, from which I was awakened by John
Derrick's coming to my bedside with a paper in his hand.
This paper, it appeared, had been the subject of an altercation at
the door between its bearer and my servant. It was a summons to me
to serve upon a Jury at the forthcoming Sessions of the Central
Criminal Court at the Old Bailey. I had never before been summoned
on such a Jury, as John Derrick well knew. He believed--I am not
certain at this hour whether with reason or otherwise--that that
class of Jurors were customarily chosen on a lower qualification
than mine, and he had at first refused to accept the summons. The
man who served it had taken the matter very coolly. He had said
that my attendance or non-attendance was nothing to him; there the
summons was; and I should deal with it at my own peril, and not at
For a day or two I was undecided whether to respond to this call, or
take no notice of it. I was not conscious of the slightest
mysterious bias, influence, or attraction, one way or other. Of
that I am as strictly sure as of every other statement that I make
here. Ultimately I decided, as a break in the monotony of my life,
that I would go.
The appointed morning was a raw morning in the month of November.
There was a dense brown fog in Piccadilly, and it became positively
black and in the last degree oppressive East of Temple Bar. I found
the passages and staircases of the Court-House flaringly lighted
with gas, and the Court itself similarly illuminated. I THINK that,
until I was conducted by officers into the Old Court and saw its
crowded state, I did not know that the Murderer was to be tried that
day. I THINK that, until I was so helped into the Old Court with
considerable difficulty, I did not know into which of the two Courts
sitting my summons would take me. But this must not be received as
a positive assertion, for I am not completely satisfied in my mind
on either point.
I took my seat in the place appropriated to Jurors in waiting, and I
looked about the Court as well as I could through the cloud of fog
and breath that was heavy in it. I noticed the black vapour hanging
like a murky curtain outside the great windows, and I noticed the
stifled sound of wheels on the straw or tan that was littered in the
street; also, the hum of the people gathered there, which a shrill
whistle, or a louder song or hail than the rest, occasionally
pierced. Soon afterwards the Judges, two in number, entered, and
took their seats. The buzz in the Court was awfully hushed. The
direction was given to put the Murderer to the bar. He appeared
there. And in that same instant I recognised in him the first of
the two men who had gone down Piccadilly.
If my name had been called then, I doubt if I could have answered to
it audibly. But it was called about sixth or eighth in the panel,
and I was by that time able to say, "Here!" Now, observe. As I
stepped into the box, the prisoner, who had been looking on
attentively, but with no sign of concern, became violently agitated,
and beckoned to his attorney. The prisoner's wish to challenge me
was so manifest, that it occasioned a pause, during which the
attorney, with his hand upon the dock, whispered with his client,
and shook his head. I afterwards had it from that gentleman, that
the prisoner's first affrighted words to him were, "AT ALL HAZARDS,
CHALLENGE THAT MAN!" But that, as he would give no reason for it,
and admitted that he had not even known my name until he heard it
called and I appeared, it was not done.
Both on the ground already explained, that I wish to avoid reviving
the unwholesome memory of that Murderer, and also because a detailed
account of his long trial is by no means indispensable to my
narrative, I shall confine myself closely to such incidents in the
ten days and nights during which we, the Jury, were kept together,
as directly bear on my own curious personal experience. It is in
that, and not in the Murderer, that I seek to interest my reader.
It is to that, and not to a page of the Newgate Calendar, that I beg
I was chosen Foreman of the Jury. On the second morning of the
trial, after evidence had been taken for two hours (I heard the
church clocks strike), happening to cast my eyes over my brother
jurymen, I found an inexplicable difficulty in counting them. I
counted them several times, yet always with the same difficulty. In
short, I made them one too many.
I touched the brother jurymen whose place was next me, and I
whispered to him, "Oblige me by counting us." He looked surprised
by the request, but turned his head and counted. "Why," says he,
suddenly, "we are Thirt-; but no, it's not possible. No. We are
According to my counting that day, we were always right in detail,
but in the gross we were always one too many. There was no
appearance--no figure--to account for it; but I had now an inward
foreshadowing of the figure that was surely coming.
The Jury were housed at the London Tavern. We all slept in one
large room on separate tables, and we were constantly in the charge
and under the eye of the officer sworn to hold us in safe-keeping.
I see no reason for suppressing the real name of that officer. He
was intelligent, highly polite, and obliging, and (I was glad to
hear) much respected in the City. He had an agreeable presence,
good eyes, enviable black whiskers, and a fine sonorous voice. His
name was Mr. Harker.
When we turned into our twelve beds at night, Mr. Harker's bed was
drawn across the door. On the night of the second day, not being
disposed to lie down, and seeing Mr. Harker sitting on his bed, I
went and sat beside him, and offered him a pinch of snuff. As Mr.
Harker's hand touched mine in taking it from my box, a peculiar
shiver crossed him, and he said, "Who is this?"
Following Mr. Harker's eyes, and looking along the room, I saw again
the figure I expected,--the second of the two men who had gone down
Piccadilly. I rose, and advanced a few steps; then stopped, and
looked round at Mr. Harker. He was quite unconcerned, laughed, and
said in a pleasant way, "I thought for a moment we had a thirteenth
juryman, without a bed. But I see it is the moonlight."
Making no revelation to Mr. Harker, but inviting him to take a walk
with me to the end of the room, I watched what the figure did. It
stood for a few moments by the bedside of each of my eleven brother
jurymen, close to the pillow. It always went to the right-hand side
of the bed, and always passed out crossing the foot of the next bed.
It seemed, from the action of the head, merely to look down
pensively at each recumbent figure. It took no notice of me, or of
my bed, which was that nearest to Mr. Harker's. It seemed to go out
where the moonlight came in, through a high window, as by an aerial
flight of stairs.
Next morning at breakfast, it appeared that everybody present had
dreamed of the murdered man last night, except myself and Mr.
I now felt as convinced that the second man who had gone down
Piccadilly was the murdered man (so to speak), as if it had been
borne into my comprehension by his immediate testimony. But even
this took place, and in a manner for which I was not at all
On the fifth day of the trial, when the case for the prosecution was
drawing to a close, a miniature of the murdered man, missing from
his bedroom upon the discovery of the deed, and afterwards found in
a hiding-place where the Murderer had been seen digging, was put in
evidence. Having been identified by the witness under examination,
it was handed up to the Bench, and thence handed down to be
inspected by the Jury. As an officer in a black gown was making his
way with it across to me, the figure of the second man who had gone
down Piccadilly impetuously started from the crowd, caught the
miniature from the officer, and gave it to me with his own hands, at
the same time saying, in a low and hollow tone,--before I saw the
miniature, which was in a locket,--"I WAS YOUNGER THEN, AND MY FACE
WAS NOT THEN DRAINED OF BLOOD." It also came between me and the
brother juryman to whom I would have given the miniature, and
between him and the brother juryman to whom he would have given it,
and so passed it on through the whole of our number, and back into
my possession. Not one of them, however, detected this.
At table, and generally when we were shut up together in Mr.
Harker's custody, we had from the first naturally discussed the
day's proceedings a good deal. On that fifth day, the case for the
prosecution being closed, and we having that side of the question in
a completed shape before us, our discussion was more animated and
serious. Among our number was a vestryman,--the densest idiot I
have ever seen at large,--who met the plainest evidence with the
most preposterous objections, and who was sided with by two flabby
parochial parasites; all the three impanelled from a district so
delivered over to Fever that they ought to have been upon their own
trial for five hundred Murders. When these mischievous blockheads
were at their loudest, which was towards midnight, while some of us
were already preparing for bed, I again saw the murdered man. He
stood grimly behind them, beckoning to me. On my going towards
them, and striking into the conversation, he immediately retired.
This was the beginning of a separate series of appearances, confined
to that long room in which we were confined. Whenever a knot of my
brother jurymen laid their heads together, I saw the head of the
murdered man among theirs. Whenever their comparison of notes was
going against him, he would solemnly and irresistibly beckon to me.
It will be borne in mind that down to the production of the
miniature, on the fifth day of the trial, I had never seen the
Appearance in Court. Three changes occurred now that we entered on
the case for the defence. Two of them I will mention together,
first. The figure was now in Court continually, and it never there
addressed itself to me, but always to the person who was speaking at
the time. For instance: the throat of the murdered man had been
cut straight across. In the opening speech for the defence, it was
suggested that the deceased might have cut his own throat. At that
very moment, the figure, with its throat in the dreadful condition
referred to (this it had concealed before), stood at the speaker's
elbow, motioning across and across its windpipe, now with the right
hand, now with the left, vigorously suggesting to the speaker
himself the impossibility of such a wound having been self-inflicted
by either hand. For another instance: a witness to character, a
woman, deposed to the prisoner's being the most amiable of mankind.
The figure at that instant stood on the floor before her, looking
her full in the face, and pointing out the prisoner's evil
countenance with an extended arm and an outstretched finger.
The third change now to be added impressed me strongly as the most
marked and striking of all. I do not theorise upon it; I accurately
state it, and there leave it. Although the Appearance was not
itself perceived by those whom it addressed, its coming close to
such persons was invariably attended by some trepidation or
disturbance on their part. It seemed to me as if it were prevented,
by laws to which I was not amenable, from fully revealing itself to
others, and yet as if it could invisibly, dumbly, and darkly
overshadow their minds. When the leading counsel for the defence
suggested that hypothesis of suicide, and the figure stood at the
learned gentleman's elbow, frightfully sawing at its severed throat,
it is undeniable that the counsel faltered in his speech, lost for a
few seconds the thread of his ingenious discourse, wiped his
forehead with his handkerchief, and turned extremely pale. When the
witness to character was confronted by the Appearance, her eyes most
certainly did follow the direction of its pointed finger, and rest
in great hesitation and trouble upon the prisoner's face. Two
additional illustrations will suffice. On the eighth day of the
trial, after the pause which was every day made early in the
afternoon for a few minutes' rest and refreshment, I came back into
Court with the rest of the Jury some little time before the return
of the Judges. Standing up in the box and looking about me, I
thought the figure was not there, until, chancing to raise my eyes
to the gallery, I saw it bending forward, and leaning over a very
decent woman, as if to assure itself whether the Judges had resumed
their seats or not. Immediately afterwards that woman screamed,
fainted, and was carried out. So with the venerable, sagacious, and
patient Judge who conducted the trial. When the case was over, and
he settled himself and his papers to sum up, the murdered man,
entering by the Judges' door, advanced to his Lordship's desk, and
looked eagerly over his shoulder at the pages of his notes which he
was turning. A change came over his Lordship's face; his hand
stopped; the peculiar shiver, that I knew so well, passed over him;
he faltered, "Excuse me, gentlemen, for a few moments. I am
somewhat oppressed by the vitiated air;" and did not recover until
he had drunk a glass of water.
Through all the monotony of six of those interminable ten days,--the
same Judges and others on the bench, the same Murderer in the dock,
the same lawyers at the table, the same tones of question and answer
rising to the roof of the court, the same scratching of the Judge's
pen, the same ushers going in and out, the same lights kindled at
the same hour when there had been any natural light of day, the same
foggy curtain outside the great windows when it was foggy, the same
rain pattering and dripping when it was rainy, the same footmarks of
turnkeys and prisoner day after day on the same sawdust, the same
keys locking and unlocking the same heavy doors,--through all the
wearisome monotony which made me feel as if I had been Foreman of
the Jury for a vast cried of time, and Piccadilly had flourished
coevally with Babylon, the murdered man never lost one trace of his
distinctness in my eyes, nor was he at any moment less distinct than
anybody else. I must not omit, as a matter of fact, that I never
once saw the Appearance which I call by the name of the murdered man
look at the Murderer. Again and again I wondered, "Why does he
not?" But he never did.
Nor did he look at me, after the production of the miniature, until
the last closing minutes of the trial arrived. We retired to
consider, at seven minutes before ten at night. The idiotic
vestryman and his two parochial parasites gave us so much trouble
that we twice returned into Court to beg to have certain extracts
from the Judge's notes re-read. Nine of us had not the smallest
doubt about those passages, neither, I believe, had any one in the
Court; the dunder-headed triumvirate, having no idea but
obstruction, disputed them for that very reason. At length we
prevailed, and finally the Jury returned into Court at ten minutes
The murdered man at that time stood directly opposite the Jury-box,
on the other side of the Court. As I took my place, his eyes rested
on me with great attention; he seemed satisfied, and slowly shook a
great gray veil, which he carried on his arm for the first time,
over his head and whole form. As I gave in our verdict, "Guilty,"
the veil collapsed, all was gone, and his place was empty.
The Murderer, being asked by the Judge, according to usage, whether
he had anything to say before sentence of Death should be passed
upon him, indistinctly muttered something which was described in the
leading newspapers of the following day as "a few rambling,
incoherent, and half-audible words, in which he was understood to
complain that he had not had a fair trial, because the Foreman of
the Jury was prepossessed against him." The remarkable declaration
that he really made was this: "MY LORD, I KNEW I WAS A DOOMED MAN,
WHEN THE FOREMAN OF MY JURY CAME INTO THE BOX. MY LORD, I KNEW HE
WOULD NEVER LET ME OFF, BECAUSE, BEFORE I WAS TAKEN, HE SOMEHOW GOT
TO MY BEDSIDE IN THE NIGHT, WOKE ME, AND PUT A ROPE ROUND MY NECK."
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