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Castle Ichabod






'When you saw the dog, my dear,' said my uncle, the Rector, to his wife,
'almost exactly, if I remember right, a year ago this month of November,
what sort of size and colour was it, again? I remember it growled
terribly on the top of the wall by the mausoleum, and I thought it must
have been a retriever, from your description of it, but it ought really
as a wraith to have been a collie,' and here my uncle slightly
contracted his left eye in my direction.

'I think it must have been a retriever, John,' replied my aunt gravely,
yet I thought a waft from her eye stole towards me as she spoke, 'for
"Geordie" swears it was a tarrible great savage durg; but it may be, of
course, that he had forgotten himself and your exhortations, at the
King's Head last night, and mistaken a collie for a retriever.' I found
it difficult not to smile, for, if my uncle had been 'pulling my aunt's
leg' she was certainly twitching his cassock. This was a 'parlour game'
at the Rectory, as I discovered later, and one in which my aunt always
came off the winner.

My uncle now addressed himself to me. 'You must know, Charles,' said he,
'that the northern part of the Castle Park, between the burn and the
ring wall, is supposed to be haunted by the wraiths of a shepherd and
his collie dog. He was taking a short cut home from our village to the
big moor farm beyond the common, and was probably suffering from the old
disease of the north; he tried to cross the swollen burn by the
stepping-stones, it seems, fell in, and was drowned. The faithful collie
had tried to save him, for he was found with him, his teeth fast in his
master's plaid.'

'I love that collie,' said my aunt; 'he ought to have had a headstone
with "Faithful unto Death" engraved on it.'

'So he should have had, my dear,' my uncle assented, 'had we been here
at the time. Well, Charles, the point is that several people have
thought----' Here my aunt moved a little impatiently in her chair. 'Have
been quite sure,' corrected my uncle, 'that they have seen the dog or
its wraith, but no one has yet seen the shepherd, I believe. Your aunt
last autumn saw the dog on the top of the wall that surrounds the
mausoleum, jumping up and down and growling dreadfully, and last night
our stableman--"Geordie"--a disabled pitman, was chivvied by him across
the park from close beside the mausoleum. What can you make of that?'
questioned my uncle, the humorous look again in his eye.

'Did Geordie run away?' I inquired magisterially.

'He ran,' replied my uncle, smiling, 'as he expressed it himself, "like
a whippet or a hunted hare."'

'Did you run, Aunt Mary?' I inquired next.

'I daren't, Charlie, to tell you the truth. If I had begun to run I
should have screamed, so I just walked on as fast as ever I could.'

'Then it didn't follow you?' I inquired.

'No,' said my aunt, shaking her head; 'it seemed to me like one of those
savage, tied-up mongrels that guard the carts of carriers in the town on
market days.'

'The curious thing,' interrupted my uncle, who was a keen antiquary, 'is
that the dog should haunt the mausoleum, since it contains not his
master, but "Hell-fire Dick," the last of the Norman Fitzalans--and so
named not only because he belonged to the famous club, but also, as I
gather from tradition, because of his language and complexion.

'Had he been alive no shepherd had dared trespass in his park, and no
dog would have come out alive. So it is curious they should forgather
after death.'

My aunt here interposed.

'Are you not afraid for your uncle's orthodoxy?' she asked of me, 'when
he shows himself so sceptical?'

My uncle, discovering that he had put himself at a disadvantage, now
suggested that I should--as a lawyer--investigate the matter and give my
opinion upon it.

'Willingly,' I replied, laughing. 'The chief witness, I take it, will be
your henchman, the redoubtable "Geordie," aunt being prosecutor, the
wraith the defendant, and you, uncle, the sceptical public.'

This being arranged, the subject was dropped, and my uncle gave me
further information about the Fitzalans.

'Undoubtedly they were Normans,' said he, 'but descent has been so
frequently in the female line that when my Lord Richard--"Hell-fire
Dick"--died, he had perhaps no more Norman blood in him than you have.
There was this one virtue about him, that he loved the old abode and
possessions of his ancestors passionately, and when he died he left
directions that he should be buried in the mausoleum on the knoll in
the park whence the sea stands out clearly behind the castle.

He had daughters--wild and high-spirited like their father--who divided
up the property between them, and the present owner of the Castle--the
representative of the eldest daughter--cares only for his rents and
royalties, would sell if he could, and comes here about twice a year for
what partridge and pheasant shooting there may be. The coal pits are
extending their shafts and workings northward, his park will soon be
undermined, and the "amenities"--to use the auctioneers' phrase--will
soon no longer exist. I think we may truthfully call the great pile of
building Castle Ichabod, for its glory has certainly departed.'

My uncle thus concluded his tale, then knocked out the ashes of his
pipe, and conducted me to my bedroom.

The next morning after breakfast I went in search of 'Geordie,' my chief
witness, concerning whom my uncle had already given me a little
information.

He had when working as a hewer down the pit been disabled by a fall of
stone; then as he had been a 'handy man' and used to both horses and
flowers the Rector had taken him into his service as groom-gardener.
'Crammed with northern self-sufficiency and a sort of scornful
incivility, he has a keen sense of humour and a heart of gold,' said my
uncle, as he forewarned me as to the character of my witness.

Thus fortified, I went in search of 'Geordie,' and found him busy tying
up chrysanthemums.

Pretending a deep interest in them and a profound admiration of his
skill, I soon found I had established friendly relations. Then I offered
him a cigarette, and plunged boldly into my examination.

'Tell me,' I said, 'about your adventure with the dog or its ghost in
the park two nights ago. My aunt has told me something of her own
experience a year ago, and advised me to compare her account with yours,
for I am much interested in these occurrences.'

'Why,' replied he, nothing loth to talk about himself, 'it happened this
fashion. Aa wes comin' back through the park cannily enough when close
beside the mussulyum oot spangs at us a great ugly brute of a durg
wivoot a sound to his pads. Aa'd heard nowt, but there he was glarin' at
us, an' showin' his great ugly fangs. "By gox, Geordie," I says to
maaself, "it's a mad durg ye have to fettle." Sae I lets oot wiv a kick
that would have shifted a bullock, but aal that happened was that he
seemed to catch haud o' my trousers, for I felt them rip. Gox! I
thinks, 'tis an evil sperrit, sae I set awa like a hare--game leg an'
aal--tearin' towards the park wall like a whippit, followed by the evil
sperrit that made no sound wiv his pads, but was growlin' terrible aal
the time.'

'Then it wasn't a real dog?' I interrupted here.

'Wasn't a real durg?' replied Geordie indignantly, his eyebrows
puckering and his jowl coming forward aggressively.

'It made no noise with its feet, and you called it a spirit,' I
explained hastily.

'Aa's feared o' nowt,' said Geordie, 'that's livin', but when it comes
to evil sperrits 'tis the Priest should tackle them. Aa winnot.'

'So it was an evil spirit in the form of a dog,' I suggested; 'but what
was the precise form--mastiff, retriever, or collie perhaps, for the
Rector says there is a tale of a ghost of a drowned collie that haunts
the Park?'

'Collie be damned!' cried he decisively. 'An' as for what specie o' durg
it was hoo can Aa tell hoo many species there may be in Hell?'

'You had me there,' I acknowledged, smiling. 'Well, tell me how you
escaped from the brute.'

'He chivvied us aboot halfway te the wall, an' then I think he gied it
up; leastways when Aa gied a keek ower my shoulder as Aa drew near it he
wasn't there.'

'You didn't hear the dog dashing on you or galloping after you, and yet
you heard it growling, and felt it take a piece out of your trousers. It
seems half real, half Hell-hound!' I commented.

'It's easy talkin',' replied Geordie contemptuously, 'but if he had had
a hand o' yor breeks ye'd have knawn he was damned real, Aa's warrant
ye,' and he spat on the ground with emphasis.

'My aunt saw the hound a year ago,' I continued, 'but it didn't chase
her; it only growled and frightened her.'

'Mevvies it kenned she was the Priest's wife,' suggested my companion.
Then with a grin, 'Noo, as thoo's his nephew thoo gan and see if it will
chivvy thoo, and, if it does, Aa'l bet thoo thoo'll run from it faster
than thoo's ever run i' your life afore.'

I turned away with a laugh, saying I was going to look about for the
dog's tracks.

'The beggar had ne tracks, Aa warrant thoo,' shouted my informant after
me, but he was wrong, for I soon found tracks in the park here and there
in the soft grass, and an impress of paws which evidently must have
been bandaged--that is, there was a round slot only, no separate pads
were showing. The Hell-hound was evidently club-footed. As I looked at
the imprint a little closer I grew certain that the hound's paws had
been bound round with some soft material--linen, calico, or washleather,
for one of the coverings had come unloosed and I saw a distinct mark of
claws.

I investigated the mausoleum next, and found that there was a wall some
four feet six inches high round about it for the evident purpose of
protection against cattle. Between this and the circular tomb-containing
tower were some yew trees which had thriven well, and now extended their
long fingers above and beyond the encircling wall.

The yew branches were so thick and the dews had been so heavy that
certainty was out of the question, but I thought I had discovered this
at least, that the hound had been lying beneath the bushes, and had
given 'Geordie' his hunt from the mausoleum exactly as he had asserted.

I returned to the Rectory, my mind made up. I would borrow a revolver
from my uncle, and watch beside the mausoleum all that night.

Fortified by tea, encouraged by my aunt, and chaffed by my uncle, I set
off for my sentry post carrying an electric torch, some sticks of
chocolate, and a revolver. I approached the mausoleum very warily; a
soft west wind was blowing, the night was quiet with alternate swathes
of darkness and light as billowy clouds took the moon by storm and
passed beyond her. I stayed in the shadow of the trees, beside the
knoll, and spied out the landscape, and listened for any tell-tale
sound. Beyond the jet-black bastions of Castle Ichabod I could see the
white turmoil of the waking sea half a mile to the eastward; I could
hear her ancient threnody, but saw no sign of life within the park.

Waiting for the next spell of darkness I walked swiftly up to the
protecting wall of the mausoleum, climbed over, and with the torch's aid
found a yew branch on which I could sit and observe--whenever it was
moonlight--the little dell that ran down to the burn wherein the
shepherd and dog had been drowned.

Silence reigned supreme. I could just hear the gentle brushings of the
yew branches as they rose and fell upon the wind--the ghostly sighing of
a ghostly spirit that had once belonged, perhaps, to the former owner of
the Castle.

I was fairly comfortable with my back against the trunk of the yew, and
ate chocolate instead of smoking; hours passed, and I had fits of
drowsiness, and began to think I was wasting my time.

Then on a sudden I woke with a start; some nerve in my subconsciousness
had warned me in time; I was certain some one or something was near that
was uncanny.

The moonlight flooded the little dell, I saw a black shadow advancing
swiftly on all fours, not unlike a big baboon. What in Heaven's name was
it?

A touch of ice slid down my spine--the unknown with its terrors besieged
my brain--the apparition was too big for a dog. I gazed, rooted to my
perch, unable to move a hand or foot.

The creature drew swiftly closer, then on the sudden rose up; I saw the
glint of the moonlight touch on a gun barrel, and discovered that the
bearer was a man.

I breathed more freely, but--what was he doing with the gun? Then I
caught sight of a dog padding swiftly after the newcomer, who was now
close beside the mausoleum, and stood erect beside the wall two yards
away from me. I did not stir, but watched him in a fascinated attention.
Just as the press of cloud again obscured the moon I saw him take a bag
from his back out of which pheasants' tails were distinctly protruding.
I almost laughed aloud, for I recognised that it was only a poacher I
had to deal with. In one hand I held my torch, in the other my revolver.

'Have you had good sport?' I asked, as I covered him with both my
weapons simultaneously. He jumped back in alarm, then, 'Who the devil
are you?' he inquired hoarsely, and in another second recovering
himself, cried to the dog, 'Sick him, Tyke.'

'Call off your damned dog,' I retorted, pulling up my feet, 'or I
shoot.'

He hesitated a moment, pulling his gun round.

'Quick,' I shouted.

'Down, Tyke,' he said sulkily to his dog, that was already growling and
jumping at my trousers. 'What d' ye want, damn ye?' he inquired surlily.

'I wanted to find out about the dog that frightened my aunt up at the
Rectory last year and the gardener two nights ago,' I replied, feeling I
had the upper hand in the encounter. 'There was a tale of a ghost in the
park, and I thought I would investigate it.' The moon had emerged again,
and I could see that my poacher was a strong, burly fellow, with a
rough, resolute face, who was surveying me as thoroughly as I surveyed
him.

'Would you like a brace of pheasants?' he inquired abruptly.

'No, thanks,' I said; 'I'm only here for a day or two.'

'Well,' he continued with a touch of defiance, 'if every yen had their
right I'd mevvies be shuttin' pheasants all day long like aad "Hell-Fire
Dick" i' the monument here, for he was a tarrible favouryte wi' the
women, ye must ken. Why, my grandfether was the very spit image o' the
aad Lord, for I've seen his picture up at the Castle. Ay, an' my name's
Allan as well.'

The man interested me considerably, for he was a splendid
figure--compact, alert, with hair cropped like a poilu, vivid with
life as a sporting terrier--so I inquired what he did for a living when
he wasn't covert shooting.

'I work doon the pit,' he replied, 'an' earns a good wage, but whiles I
tires ov it an' longs for a walk up the hedgerows, to hear the partridge
call and the pheasant shoutin' as he gans up to roost, an' to say to
myself, "Aha, my fine fellow, but thoo'll be i' my bag to-morrow night,
an' in my kite the night after that."' He paused a moment, then asked
suspiciously, 'Thoo'll not blab--thoo'll not tell the police?'

'No,' I replied readily, 'that's no concern of mine, but I shall have to
tell my aunt at the Rectory, for you gave her with your dog a great
fright that night she crossed the park a year ago.

'If it had been aad "Oleomargarine," commented my companion, 'it wud ha'
done him good, for he's sairly wantin' a bit exercise.'

Smothering a smile at his irreverent description of my uncle, I asked my
poacher a final question.

'Have you ever seen the ghost of the man or the collie dog they talk
about here in the park?'

'Not I,' said he, fondling the ears of his savage mongrel retriever, 'I
reckon they're gliffed o' my aad Tyke.'

NOTE.--The individuals described above, and the episode are
imaginary, but a ghost is said to haunt the hall, in the form of a
lady with a child in her arms, who watches from one of the high
windows in 'lofty Seaton Delaval,' for the return of a Delaval
lover.

It has been suggested that the apparition is due to an optical
illusion of light upon the window panes.





Next: The Muniment Room

Previous: The Lord Warden's Tomb



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