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A Haunted Island






The following events occurred on a small island of isolated position in
a large Canadian lake, to whose cool waters the inhabitants of Montreal
and Toronto flee for rest and recreation in the hot months. It is only
to be regretted that events of such peculiar interest to the genuine
student of the psychical should be entirely uncorroborated. Such
unfortunately, however, is the case.

Our own party of nearly twenty had returned to Montreal that very day,
and I was left in solitary possession for a week or two longer, in order
to accomplish some important "reading" for the law which I had foolishly
neglected during the summer.

It was late in September, and the big trout and maskinonge were stirring
themselves in the depths of the lake, and beginning slowly to move up to
the surface waters as the north winds and early frosts lowered their
temperature. Already the maples were crimson and gold, and the wild
laughter of the loons echoed in sheltered bays that never knew their
strange cry in the summer.

With a whole island to oneself, a two-storey cottage, a canoe, and only
the chipmunks, and the farmer's weekly visit with eggs and bread, to
disturb one, the opportunities for hard reading might be very great. It
all depends!

The rest of the party had gone off with many warnings to beware of
Indians, and not to stay late enough to be the victim of a frost that
thinks nothing of forty below zero. After they had gone, the loneliness
of the situation made itself unpleasantly felt. There were no other
islands within six or seven miles, and though the mainland forests lay a
couple of miles behind me, they stretched for a very great distance
unbroken by any signs of human habitation. But, though the island was
completely deserted and silent, the rocks and trees that had echoed
human laughter and voices almost every hour of the day for two months
could not fail to retain some memories of it all; and I was not
surprised to fancy I heard a shout or a cry as I passed from rock to
rock, and more than once to imagine that I heard my own name called
aloud.

In the cottage there were six tiny little bedrooms divided from one
another by plain unvarnished partitions of pine. A wooden bedstead, a
mattress, and a chair, stood in each room, but I only found two mirrors,
and one of these was broken.

The boards creaked a good deal as I moved about, and the signs of
occupation were so recent that I could hardly believe I was alone. I
half expected to find someone left behind, still trying to crowd into a
box more than it would hold. The door of one room was stiff, and refused
for a moment to open, and it required very little persuasion to imagine
someone was holding the handle on the inside, and that when it opened I
should meet a pair of human eyes.

A thorough search of the floor led me to select as my own sleeping
quarters a little room with a diminutive balcony over the verandah roof.
The room was very small, but the bed was large, and had the best
mattress of them all. It was situated directly over the sitting-room
where I should live and do my "reading," and the miniature window looked
out to the rising sun. With the exception of a narrow path which led
from the front door and verandah through the trees to the boat-landing,
the island was densely covered with maples, hemlocks, and cedars. The
trees gathered in round the cottage so closely that the slightest wind
made the branches scrape the roof and tap the wooden walls. A few
moments after sunset the darkness became impenetrable, and ten yards
beyond the glare of the lamps that shone through the sitting-room
windows--of which there were four--you could not see an inch before your
nose, nor move a step without running up against a tree.

The rest of that day I spent moving my belongings from my tent to the
sitting-room, taking stock of the contents of the larder, and chopping
enough wood for the stove to last me for a week. After that, just before
sunset, I went round the island a couple of times in my canoe for
precaution's sake. I had never dreamed of doing this before, but when a
man is alone he does things that never occur to him when he is one of a
large party.

How lonely the island seemed when I landed again! The sun was down, and
twilight is unknown in these northern regions. The darkness comes up at
once. The canoe safely pulled up and turned over on her face, I groped
my way up the little narrow pathway to the verandah. The six lamps were
soon burning merrily in the front room; but in the kitchen, where I
"dined," the shadows were so gloomy, and the lamplight was so
inadequate, that the stars could be seen peeping through the cracks
between the rafters.

I turned in early that night. Though it was calm and there was no wind,
the creaking of my bedstead and the musical gurgle of the water over the
rocks below were not the only sounds that reached my ears. As I lay
awake, the appalling emptiness of the house grew upon me. The corridors
and vacant rooms seemed to echo innumerable footsteps, shufflings, the
rustle of skirts, and a constant undertone of whispering. When sleep at
length overtook me, the breathings and noises, however, passed gently to
mingle with the voices of my dreams.

A week passed by, and the "reading" progressed favourably. On the tenth
day of my solitude, a strange thing happened. I awoke after a good
night's sleep to find myself possessed with a marked repugnance for my
room. The air seemed to stifle me. The more I tried to define the cause
of this dislike, the more unreasonable it appeared. There was something
about the room that made me afraid. Absurd as it seems, this feeling
clung to me obstinately while dressing, and more than once I caught
myself shivering, and conscious of an inclination to get out of the room
as quickly as possible. The more I tried to laugh it away, the more real
it became; and when at last I was dressed, and went out into the
passage, and downstairs into the kitchen, it was with feelings of
relief, such as I might imagine would accompany one's escape from the
presence of a dangerous contagious disease.

While cooking my breakfast, I carefully recalled every night spent in
the room, in the hope that I might in some way connect the dislike I now
felt with some disagreeable incident that had occurred in it. But the
only thing I could recall was one stormy night when I suddenly awoke and
heard the boards creaking so loudly in the corridor that I was convinced
there were people in the house. So certain was I of this, that I had
descended the stairs, gun in hand, only to find the doors and windows
securely fastened, and the mice and black-beetles in sole possession of
the floor. This was certainly not sufficient to account for the strength
of my feelings.

The morning hours I spent in steady reading; and when I broke off in the
middle of the day for a swim and luncheon, I was very much surprised,
if not a little alarmed, to find that my dislike for the room had, if
anything, grown stronger. Going upstairs to get a book, I experienced
the most marked aversion to entering the room, and while within I was
conscious all the time of an uncomfortable feeling that was half
uneasiness and half apprehension. The result of it was that, instead of
reading, I spent the afternoon on the water paddling and fishing, and
when I got home about sundown, brought with me half a dozen delicious
black bass for the supper-table and the larder.

As sleep was an important matter to me at this time, I had decided that
if my aversion to the room was so strongly marked on my return as it had
been before, I would move my bed down into the sitting-room, and sleep
there. This was, I argued, in no sense a concession to an absurd and
fanciful fear, but simply a precaution to ensure a good night's sleep. A
bad night involved the loss of the next day's reading,--a loss I was not
prepared to incur.

I accordingly moved my bed downstairs into a corner of the sitting-room
facing the door, and was moreover uncommonly glad when the operation
was completed, and the door of the bedroom closed finally upon the
shadows, the silence, and the strange _fear_ that shared the room with
them.

The croaking stroke of the kitchen clock sounded the hour of eight as I
finished washing up my few dishes, and closing the kitchen door behind
me, passed into the front room. All the lamps were lit, and their
reflectors, which I had polished up during the day, threw a blaze of
light into the room.

Outside the night was still and warm. Not a breath of air was stirring;
the waves were silent, the trees motionless, and heavy clouds hung like
an oppressive curtain over the heavens. The darkness seemed to have
rolled up with unusual swiftness, and not the faintest glow of colour
remained to show where the sun had set. There was present in the
atmosphere that ominous and overwhelming silence which so often precedes
the most violent storms.

I sat down to my books with my brain unusually clear, and in my heart
the pleasant satisfaction of knowing that five black bass were lying in
the ice-house, and that to-morrow morning the old farmer would arrive
with fresh bread and eggs. I was soon absorbed in my books.

As the night wore on the silence deepened. Even the chipmunks were
still; and the boards of the floors and walls ceased creaking. I read on
steadily till, from the gloomy shadows of the kitchen, came the hoarse
sound of the clock striking nine. How loud the strokes sounded! They
were like blows of a big hammer. I closed one book and opened another,
feeling that I was just warming up to my work.

This, however, did not last long. I presently found that I was reading
the same paragraphs over twice, simple paragraphs that did not require
such effort. Then I noticed that my mind began to wander to other
things, and the effort to recall my thoughts became harder with each
digression. Concentration was growing momentarily more difficult.
Presently I discovered that I had turned over two pages instead of one,
and had not noticed my mistake until I was well down the page. This was
becoming serious. What was the disturbing influence? It could not be
physical fatigue. On the contrary, my mind was unusually alert, and in a
more receptive condition than usual. I made a new and determined effort
to read, and for a short time succeeded in giving my whole attention to
my subject. But in a very few moments again I found myself leaning back
in my chair, staring vacantly into space.

Something was evidently at work in my sub-consciousness. There was
something I had neglected to do. Perhaps the kitchen door and windows
were not fastened. I accordingly went to see, and found that they were!
The fire perhaps needed attention. I went in to see, and found that it
was all right! I looked at the lamps, went upstairs into every bedroom
in turn, and then went round the house, and even into the ice-house.
Nothing was wrong; everything was in its place. Yet something _was_
wrong! The conviction grew stronger and stronger within me.

When I at length settled down to my books again and tried to read, I
became aware, for the first time, that the room seemed growing cold. Yet
the day had been oppressively warm, and evening had brought no relief.
The six big lamps, moreover, gave out heat enough to warm the room
pleasantly. But a chilliness, that perhaps crept up from the lake, made
itself felt in the room, and caused me to get up to close the glass door
opening on to the verandah.

For a brief moment I stood looking out at the shaft of light that fell
from the windows and shone some little distance down the pathway, and
out for a few feet into the lake.

As I looked, I saw a canoe glide into the pathway of light, and
immediately crossing it, pass out of sight again into the darkness. It
was perhaps a hundred feet from the shore, and it moved swiftly.

I was surprised that a canoe should pass the island at that time of
night, for all the summer visitors from the other side of the lake had
gone home weeks before, and the island was a long way out of any line of
water traffic.

My reading from this moment did not make very good progress, for somehow
the picture of that canoe, gliding so dimly and swiftly across the
narrow track of light on the black waters, silhouetted itself against
the background of my mind with singular vividness. It kept coming
between my eyes and the printed page. The more I thought about it the
more surprised I became. It was of larger build than any I had seen
during the past summer months, and was more like the old Indian war
canoes with the high curving bows and stern and wide beam. The more I
tried to read, the less success attended my efforts; and finally I
closed my books and went out on the verandah to walk up and down a bit,
and shake the chilliness out of my bones.

The night was perfectly still, and as dark as imaginable. I stumbled
down the path to the little landing wharf, where the water made the very
faintest of gurgling under the timbers. The sound of a big tree falling
in the mainland forest, far across the lake, stirred echoes in the heavy
air, like the first guns of a distant night attack. No other sound
disturbed the stillness that reigned supreme.

As I stood upon the wharf in the broad splash of light that followed me
from the sitting-room windows, I saw another canoe cross the pathway of
uncertain light upon the water, and disappear at once into the
impenetrable gloom that lay beyond. This time I saw more distinctly than
before. It was like the former canoe, a big birch-bark, with
high-crested bows and stern and broad beam. It was paddled by two
Indians, of whom the one in the stern--the steerer--appeared to be a
very large man. I could see this very plainly; and though the second
canoe was much nearer the island than the first, I judged that they were
both on their way home to the Government Reservation, which was situated
some fifteen miles away upon the mainland.

I was wondering in my mind what could possibly bring any Indians down to
this part of the lake at such an hour of the night, when a third canoe,
of precisely similar build, and also occupied by two Indians, passed
silently round the end of the wharf. This time the canoe was very much
nearer shore, and it suddenly flashed into my mind that the three canoes
were in reality one and the same, and that only one canoe was circling
the island!

This was by no means a pleasant reflection, because, if it were the
correct solution of the unusual appearance of the three canoes in this
lonely part of the lake at so late an hour, the purpose of the two men
could only reasonably be considered to be in some way connected with
myself. I had never known of the Indians attempting any violence upon
the settlers who shared the wild, inhospitable country with them; at the
same time, it was not beyond the region of possibility to suppose. . . .
But then I did not care even to think of such hideous possibilities, and
my imagination immediately sought relief in all manner of other
solutions to the problem, which indeed came readily enough to my mind,
but did not succeed in recommending themselves to my reason.

Meanwhile, by a sort of instinct, I stepped back out of the bright light
in which I had hitherto been standing, and waited in the deep shadow of
a rock to see if the canoe would again make its appearance. Here I could
see, without being seen, and the precaution seemed a wise one.

After less than five minutes the canoe, as I had anticipated, made its
fourth appearance. This time it was not twenty yards from the wharf, and
I saw that the Indians meant to land. I recognised the two men as those
who had passed before, and the steerer was certainly an immense fellow.
It was unquestionably the same canoe. There could be no longer any doubt
that for some purpose of their own the men had been going round and
round the island for some time, waiting for an opportunity to land. I
strained my eyes to follow them in the darkness, but the night had
completely swallowed them up, and not even the faintest swish of the
paddles reached my ears as the Indians plied their long and powerful
strokes. The canoe would be round again in a few moments, and this time
it was possible that the men might land. It was well to be prepared. I
knew nothing of their intentions, and two to one (when the two are big
Indians!) late at night on a lonely island was not exactly my idea of
pleasant intercourse.

In a corner of the sitting-room, leaning up against the back wall, stood
my Marlin rifle, with ten cartridges in the magazine and one lying
snugly in the greased breech. There was just time to get up to the house
and take up a position of defence in that corner. Without an instant's
hesitation I ran up to the verandah, carefully picking my way among the
trees, so as to avoid being seen in the light. Entering the room, I shut
the door leading to the verandah, and as quickly as possible turned out
every one of the six lamps. To be in a room so brilliantly lighted,
where my every movement could be observed from outside, while I could
see nothing but impenetrable darkness at every window, was by all laws
of warfare an unnecessary concession to the enemy. And this enemy, if
enemy it was to be, was far too wily and dangerous to be granted any
such advantages.

I stood in the corner of the room with my back against the wall, and my
hand on the cold rifle-barrel. The table, covered with my books, lay
between me and the door, but for the first few minutes after the lights
were out the darkness was so intense that nothing could be discerned at
all. Then, very gradually, the outline of the room became visible, and
the framework of the windows began to shape itself dimly before my eyes.

After a few minutes the door (its upper half of glass), and the two
windows that looked out upon the front verandah, became specially
distinct; and I was glad that this was so, because if the Indians came
up to the house I should be able to see their approach, and gather
something of their plans. Nor was I mistaken, for there presently came
to my ears the peculiar hollow sound of a canoe landing and being
carefully dragged up over the rocks. The paddles I distinctly heard
being placed underneath, and the silence that ensued thereupon I rightly
interpreted to mean that the Indians were stealthily approaching the
house. . . .

While it would be absurd to claim that I was not alarmed--even
frightened--at the gravity of the situation and its possible outcome, I
speak the whole truth when I say that I was not overwhelmingly afraid
for myself. I was conscious that even at this stage of the night I was
passing into a psychical condition in which my sensations seemed no
longer normal. Physical fear at no time entered into the nature of my
feelings; and though I kept my hand upon my rifle the greater part of
the night, I was all the time conscious that its assistance could be of
little avail against the terrors that I had to face. More than once I
seemed to feel most curiously that I was in no real sense a part of the
proceedings, nor actually involved in them, but that I was playing the
part of a spectator--a spectator, moreover, on a psychic rather than on
a material plane. Many of my sensations that night were too vague for
definite description and analysis, but the main feeling that will stay
with me to the end of my days is the awful horror of it all, and the
miserable sensation that if the strain had lasted a little longer than
was actually the case my mind must inevitably have given way.

Meanwhile I stood still in my corner, and waited patiently for what was
to come. The house was as still as the grave, but the inarticulate
voices of the night sang in my ears, and I seemed to hear the blood
running in my veins and dancing in my pulses.

If the Indians came to the back of the house, they would find the
kitchen door and window securely fastened. They could not get in there
without making considerable noise, which I was bound to hear. The only
mode of getting in was by means of the door that faced me, and I kept my
eyes glued on that door without taking them off for the smallest
fraction of a second.

My sight adapted itself every minute better to the darkness. I saw the
table that nearly filled the room, and left only a narrow passage on
each side. I could also make out the straight backs of the wooden chairs
pressed up against it, and could even distinguish my papers and inkstand
lying on the white oilcloth covering. I thought of the gay faces that
had gathered round that table during the summer, and I longed for the
sunlight as I had never longed for it before.

Less than three feet to my left the passage-way led to the kitchen, and
the stairs leading to the bedrooms above commenced in this passage-way,
but almost in the sitting-room itself. Through the windows I could see
the dim motionless outlines of the trees: not a leaf stirred, not a
branch moved.

A few moments of this awful silence, and then I was aware of a soft
tread on the boards of the verandah, so stealthy that it seemed an
impression directly on my brain rather than upon the nerves of hearing.
Immediately afterwards a black figure darkened the glass door, and I
perceived that a face was pressed against the upper panes. A shiver ran
down my back, and my hair was conscious of a tendency to rise and stand
at right angles to my head.

It was the figure of an Indian, broad-shouldered and immense; indeed,
the largest figure of a man I have ever seen outside of a circus hall.
By some power of light that seemed to generate itself in the brain, I
saw the strong dark face with the aquiline nose and high cheek-bones
flattened against the glass. The direction of the gaze I could not
determine; but faint gleams of light as the big eyes rolled round and
showed their whites, told me plainly that no corner of the room escaped
their searching.

For what seemed fully five minutes the dark figure stood there, with the
huge shoulders bent forward so as to bring the head down to the level of
the glass; while behind him, though not nearly so large, the shadowy
form of the other Indian swayed to and fro like a bent tree. While I
waited in an agony of suspense and agitation for their next movement
little currents of icy sensation ran up and down my spine and my heart
seemed alternately to stop beating and then start off again with
terrifying rapidity. They must have heard its thumping and the singing
of the blood in my head! Moreover, I was conscious, as I felt a cold
stream of perspiration trickle down my face, of a desire to scream, to
shout, to bang the walls like a child, to make a noise, or do anything
that would relieve the suspense and bring things to a speedy climax.

It was probably this inclination that led me to another discovery, for
when I tried to bring my rifle from behind my back to raise it and have
it pointed at the door ready to fire, I found that I was powerless to
move. The muscles, paralysed by this strange fear, refused to obey the
will. Here indeed was a terrifying complication!





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Previous: The Empty House



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