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Colonel Halifax's Ghost Story






I had just come back to England, after having been some years in India,
and was looking forward to meet my friends, among whom there was none I
was more anxious to see than Sir Francis Lynton. We had been at Eton
together, and for the short time I had been at Oxford before entering
the Army we had been at the same college. Then we had been parted. He
came into the title and estates of the family in Yorkshire on the death
of his grandfather--his father had predeceased--and I had been over a
good part of the world. One visit, indeed, I had made him in his
Yorkshire home, before leaving for India, of but a few days.

It will easily be imagined how pleasant it was, two or three days after
my arrival in London, to receive a letter from Lynton saying he had just
seen in the papers that I had arrived, and begging me to come down at
once to Byfield, his place in Yorkshire.

"You are not to tell me," he said, "that you cannot come. I allow you a
week in which to order and try on your clothes, to report yourself at
the War Office, to pay your respects to the Duke, and to see your sister
at Hampton Court; but after that I shall expect you. In fact, you are to
come on Monday. I have a couple of horses which will just suit you; the
carriage shall meet you at Packham, and all you have got to do is to put
yourself in the train which leaves King's Cross at twelve o'clock."

Accordingly, on the day appointed I started; in due time reached
Packham, losing much time on a detestable branch line, and there found
the dogcart of Sir Francis awaiting me. I drove at once to Byfield.

The house I remembered. It was a low, gabled structure of no great size,
with old-fashioned lattice windows, separated from the park, where were
deer, by a charming terraced garden.

No sooner did the wheels crunch the gravel by the principal entrance,
than, almost before the bell was rung, the porch door opened, and there
stood Lynton himself, whom I had not seen for so many years, hardly
altered, and with all the joy of welcome beaming in his face. Taking me
by both hands, he drew me into the house, got rid of my hat and wraps,
looked me all over, and then, in a breath, began to say how glad he was
to see me, what a real delight it was to have got me at last under his
roof, and what a good time we would have together, like the old days
over again.

He had sent my luggage up to my room, which was ready for me, and he
bade me make haste and dress for dinner.

So saying, he took me through a panelled hall up an oak staircase, and
showed me my room, which, hurried as I was, I observed was hung with
tapestry, and had a large fourpost bed, with velvet curtains, opposite
the window.

They had gone into dinner when I came down, despite all the haste I made
in dressing; but a place had been kept for me next Lady Lynton.

Besides my hosts, there were their two daughters, Colonel Lynton, a
brother of Sir Francis, the chaplain, and some others whom I do not
remember distinctly.

After dinner there was some music in the hall, and a game of whist in
the drawing-room, and after the ladies had gone upstairs, Lynton and I
retired to the smoking-room, where we sat up talking the best part of
the night. I think it must have been near three when I retired. Once in
bed, I slept so soundly that my servant's entrance the next morning
failed to arouse me, and it was past nine when I awoke.

After breakfast and the disposal of the newspapers, Lynton retired to
his letters, and I asked Lady Lynton if one of her daughters might show
me the house. Elizabeth, the eldest, was summoned, and seemed in no way
to dislike the task.

The house was, as already intimated, by no means large; it occupied
three sides of a square, the entrance and one end of the stables making
the fourth side. The interior was full of interest--passages, rooms,
galleries, as well as hall, were panelled in dark wood and hung with
pictures. I was shown everything on the ground floor, and then on the
first floor. Then my guide proposed that we should ascend a narrow
twisting staircase that led to a gallery. We did as proposed, and
entered a handsome long room or passage, leading to a small chamber at
one end, in which my guide told me her father kept books and papers.

I asked if anyone slept in this gallery, as I noticed a bed, and
fireplace, and rods, by means of which curtains might be drawn,
enclosing one portion where were bed and fireplace, so as to convert it
into a very cosy chamber.

She answered "No," the place was not really used except as a playroom,
though sometimes, if the house happened to be very full, in her
great-grandfather's time, she had heard that it had been occupied.

By the time we had been over the house, and I had also been shown the
garden and the stables, and introduced to the dogs, it was nearly one
o'clock. We were to have an early luncheon, and to drive afterwards to
see the ruins of one of the grand old Yorkshire abbeys.

This was a pleasant expedition, and we got back just in time for tea,
after which there was some reading aloud. The evening passed much in the
same way as the preceding one, except that Lynton, who had some
business, did not go down to the smoking-room, and I took the
opportunity of retiring early in order to write a letter for the Indian
mail, something having been said as to the prospect of hunting the next
day.

I had finished my letter, which was a long one, together with two or
three others, and had just got into bed when I heard a step overhead as
of someone walking along the gallery, which I now knew ran immediately
above my room. It was a slow, heavy, measured tread which I could hear
getting gradually louder and nearer, and then as gradually fading away
as it retreated into the distance.

I was startled for a moment, having been informed that the gallery was
unused; but the next instant it occurred to me that I had been told it
communicated with a chamber where Sir Francis kept books and papers. I
knew he had some writing to do, and I thought no more on the matter.

I was down the next morning at breakfast in good time. "How late you
were last night!" I said to Lynton, in the middle of breakfast. "I heard
you overhead after one o'clock."

Lynton replied rather shortly, "Indeed you did not, for I was in bed
last night before twelve."

"There was someone certainly moving overhead last night," I answered,
"for I heard his steps as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my
life, going down the gallery."

Upon which Colonel Lynton remarked that he had often fancied he had
heard steps on his staircase, when he knew that no one was about. He was
apparently disposed to say more, when his brother interrupted him
somewhat curtly, as I fancied, and asked me if I should feel inclined
after breakfast to have a horse and go out and look for the hounds. They
met a considerable way off, but if they did not find in the coverts they
should first draw, a thing not improbable, they would come our way, and
we might fall in with them about one o'clock and have a run. I said
there was nothing I should like better. Lynton mounted me on a very
nice chestnut, and the rest of the party having gone out shooting, and
the young ladies being otherwise engaged, he and I started about eleven
o'clock for our ride.

The day was beautiful, soft, with a bright sun, one of those delightful
days which so frequently occur in the early part of November.

On reaching the hilltop where Lynton had expected to meet the hounds no
trace of them was to be discovered. They must have found at once, and
run in a different direction. At three o'clock, after we had eaten our
sandwiches, Lynton reluctantly abandoned all hopes of falling in with
the hounds, and said we would return home by a slightly different route.

We had not descended the hill before we came on an old chalk quarry and
the remains of a disused kiln.

I recollected the spot at once. I had been here with Sir Francis on my
former visit, many years ago. "Why--bless me!" said I. "Do you remember,
Lynton, what happened here when I was with you before? There had been
men engaged removing chalk, and they came on a skeleton under some depth
of rubble. We went together to see it removed, and you said you would
have it preserved till it could be examined by some ethnologist or
anthropologist, one or other of those dry-as-dusts, to decide whether
the remains are dolichocephalous or brachycephalous, whether British,
Danish, or--modern. What was the result?"

Sir Francis hesitated for a moment, and then answered: "It is true, I
had the remains removed."

"Was there an inquest?"

"No. I had been opening some of the tumuli on the Wolds. I had sent a
crouched skeleton and some skulls to the Scarborough Museum. This I was
doubtful about, whether it was a prehistoric interment--in fact, to what
date it belonged. No one thought of an inquest."

On reaching the house, one of the grooms who took the horses, in answer
to a question from Lynton, said that Colonel and Mrs. Hampshire had
arrived about an hour ago, and that, one of the horses being lame, the
carriage in which they had driven over from Castle Frampton was to put
up for the night. In the drawing-room we found Lady Lynton pouring out
tea for her husband's youngest sister and her husband, who, as we came
in, exclaimed: "We have come to beg a night's lodging."

It appeared that they had been on a visit in the neighbourhood, and had
been obliged to leave at a moment's notice in consequence of a sudden
death in the house where they were staying, and that, in the
impossibility of getting a fly, their hosts had sent them over to
Byfield.

"We thought," Mrs. Hampshire went on to say, "that as we were coming
here the end of next week, you would not mind having us a little sooner;
or that, if the house were quite full, you would be willing to put us up
anywhere till Monday, and let us come back later."

Lady Lynton interposed with the remark that it was all settled; and
then, turning to her husband, added: "But I want to speak to you for a
moment."

They both left the room together.

Lynton came back almost immediately, and, making an excuse to show me on
a map in the hall the point to which we had ridden, said as soon as we
were alone, with a look of considerable annoyance: "I am afraid we must
ask you to change your room. Shall you mind very much? I think we can
make you quite comfortable upstairs in the gallery, which is the only
room available. Lady Lynton has had a good fire lit; the place is really
not cold, and it will be for only a night or two. Your servant has been
told to put your things together, but Lady Lynton did not like to give
orders to have them actually moved before my speaking to you."

I assured him that I did not mind in the very least, that I should be
quite as comfortable upstairs, but that I did mind very much their
making such a fuss about a matter of that sort with an old friend like
myself.

Certainly nothing could look more comfortable than my new lodging when I
went upstairs to dress. There was a bright fire in the large grate, an
armchair had been drawn up beside it, and all my books and writing
things had been put in, with a reading-lamp in the central position, and
the heavy tapestry curtains were drawn, converting this part of the
gallery into a room to itself. Indeed, I felt somewhat inclined to
congratulate myself on the change. The spiral staircase had been one
reason against this place having been given to the Hampshires. No lady's
long dress trunk could have mounted it.

Sir Francis was necessarily a good deal occupied in the evening with his
sister and her husband, whom he had not seen for some time. Colonel
Hampshire had also just heard that he was likely to be ordered to Egypt,
and when Lynton and he retired to the smoking-room, instead of going
there I went upstairs to my own room to finish a book in which I was
interested. I did not, however, sit up long, and very soon went to bed.

Before doing so, I drew back the curtains on the rod, partly because I
like plenty of air where I sleep, and partly also because I thought I
might like to see the play of the moonlight on the floor in the portion
of the gallery beyond where I lay, and where the blinds had not been
drawn.

I must have been asleep for some time, for the fire, which I had left in
full blaze, was gone to a few sparks wandering among the ashes, when I
suddenly awoke with the impression of having heard a latch click at the
further extremity of the gallery, where was the chamber containing books
and papers.

I had always been a light sleeper, but on the present occasion I woke at
once to complete and acute consciousness, and with a sense of stretched
attention which seemed to intensify all my faculties. The wind had
risen, and was blowing in fitful gusts round the house.

A minute or two passed, and I began almost to fancy I must have been
mistaken, when I distinctly heard the creak of the door, and then the
click of the latch falling back into its place. Then I heard a sound on
the boards as of one moving in the gallery. I sat up to listen, and as I
did so I distinctly heard steps coming down the gallery. I heard them
approach and pass my bed. I could see nothing, all was dark; but I heard
the tread proceeding towards the further portion of the gallery where
were the uncurtained and unshuttered windows, two in number; but the
moon shone through only one of these, the nearer; the other was dark,
shadowed by the chapel or some other building at right angles. The tread
seemed to me to pause now and again, and then continue as before.

I now fixed my eyes intently on the one illumined window, and it
appeared to me as if some dark body passed across it: but what? I
listened intently, and heard the step proceed to the end of the gallery
and then return.

I again watched the lighted window, and immediately that the sound
reached that portion of the long passage it ceased momentarily, and I
saw, as distinctly as I ever saw anything in my life, by moonlight, a
figure of a man with marked features, in what appeared to be a fur cap
drawn over the brows.

It stood in the embrasure of the window, and the outline of the face was
in silhouette; then it moved on, and as it moved I again heard the
tread. I was as certain as I could be that the thing, whatever it was,
or the person, whoever he was, was approaching my bed.

I threw myself back in the bed, and as I did so a mass of charred wood
on the hearth fell down and sent up a flash of--I fancy sparks, that
gave out a glare in the darkness, and by that--red as blood--I saw a
face near me.

With a cry, over which I had as little control as the scream uttered by
a sleeper in the agony of a nightmare, I called: "Who are you?"

There was an instant during which my hair bristled on my head, as in the
horror of the darkness I prepared to grapple with the being at my side;
when a board creaked as if someone had moved, and I heard the footsteps
retreat, and again the click of the latch.

The next instant there was a rush on the stairs and Lynton burst into
the room, just as he had sprung out of bed, crying: "For God's sake,
what is the matter? Are you ill?"

I could not answer. Lynton struck a light and leant over the bed. Then I
seized him by the arm, and said without moving: "There has been
something in this room--gone in thither."

The words were hardly out of my mouth when Lynton, following the
direction of my eyes, had sprung to the end of the corridor and thrown
open the door there.

He went into the room beyond, looked round it, returned, and said: "You
must have been dreaming."

By this time I was out of bed.

"Look for yourself," said he, and he led me into the little room. It was
bare, with cupboards and boxes, a sort of lumber-place. "There is
nothing beyond this," said he, "no door, no staircase. It is a
cul-de-sac." Then he added: "Now pull on your dressing-gown and come
downstairs to my sanctum."

I followed him, and after he had spoken to Lady Lynton, who was standing
with the door of her room ajar in a state of great agitation, he turned
to me and said: "No one can have been in your room. You see my and my
wife's apartments are close below, and no one could come up the spiral
staircase without passing my door. You must have had a nightmare.
Directly you screamed I rushed up the steps, and met no one descending;
and there is no place of concealment in the lumber-room at the end of
the gallery."

Then he took me into his private snuggery, blew up the fire, lighted a
lamp, and said: "I shall be really grateful if you will say nothing
about this. There are some in the house and neighbourhood who are silly
enough as it is. You stay here, and if you do not feel inclined to go to
bed, read--here are books. I must go to Lady Lynton, who is a good deal
frightened, and does not like to be left alone."

He then went to his bedroom.

Sleep, as far as I was concerned, was out of the question, nor do I
think that Sir Francis or his wife slept much either.

I made up the fire, and after a time took up a book, and tried to read,
but it was useless.

I sat absorbed in thoughts and questionings till I heard the servants
stirring in the morning. I then went to my own room, left the candle
burning, and got into bed. I had just fallen asleep when my servant
brought me a cup of tea at eight o'clock.

At breakfast Colonel Hampshire and his wife asked if anything had
happened in the night, as they had been much disturbed by noises
overhead, to which Lynton replied that I had not been very well, and had
an attack of cramp, and that he had been upstairs to look after me. From
his manner I could see that he wished me to be silent, and I said
nothing accordingly.

In the afternoon, when everyone had gone out, Sir Francis took me into
his snuggery and said: "Halifax, I am very sorry about that matter last
night. It is quite true, as my brother said, that steps have been heard
about this house, but I never gave heed to such things, putting all
noises down to rats. But after your experiences I feel that it is due to
you to tell you something, and also to make to you an explanation. There
is--there was--no one in the room at the end of the corridor, except the
skeleton that was discovered in the chalk-pit when you were here many
years ago. I confess I had not paid much heed to it. My archaeological
fancies passed; I had no visits from anthropologists; the bones and
skull were never shown to experts, but remained packed in a chest in
that lumber-room. I confess I ought to have buried them, having no more
scientific use for them, but I did not--on my word, I forgot all about
them, or, at least, gave no heed to them. However, what you have gone
through, and have described to me, has made me uneasy, and has also
given me a suspicion that I can account for that body in a manner that
had never occurred to me before."

After a pause, he added: "What I am going to tell you is known to no one
else, and must not be mentioned by you--anyhow, in my lifetime, You know
now that, owing to the death of my father when quite young, I and my
brother and sister were brought up here with our grandfather, Sir
Richard. He was an old, imperious, short-tempered man. I will tell you
what I have made out of a matter that was a mystery for long, and I will
tell you afterwards how I came to unravel it. My grandfather was in the
habit of going out at night with a young under-keeper, of whom he was
very fond, to look after the game and see if any poachers, whom he
regarded as his natural enemies, were about.

"One night, as I suppose, my grandfather had been out with the young man
in question, and, returning by the plantations, where the hill is
steepest, and not far from that chalk-pit you remarked on yesterday,
they came upon a man, who, though not actually belonging to the country,
was well known in it as a sort of travelling tinker of indifferent
character, and a notorious poacher. Mind this, I am not sure it was at
the place I mention; I only now surmise it. On the particular night in
question, my grandfather and the keeper must have caught this man
setting snares; there must have been a tussle, in the course of which as
subsequent circumstances have led me to imagine, the man showed fight
and was knocked down by one or other of the two--my grandfather or the
keeper. I believe that after having made various attempts to restore
him, they found that the man was actually dead.

"They were both in great alarm and concern--my grandfather especially.
He had been prominent in putting down some factory riots, and had acted
as magistrate with promptitude, and had given orders to the military to
fire, whereby a couple of lives had been lost. There was a vast outcry
against him, and a certain political party had denounced him as an
assassin. No man was more vituperated; yet, in my conscience, I believe
that he acted with both discretion and pluck, and arrested a mischievous
movement that might have led to much bloodshed. Be that as it may, my
impression is that he lost his head over this fatal affair with the
tinker, and that he and the keeper together buried the body secretly,
not far from the place where he was killed. I now think it was in the
chalk-pit, and that the skeleton found years after there belonged to
this man."

"Good heavens!" I exclaimed, as at once my mind rushed back to the
figure with the fur cap that I had seen against the window.

Sir Francis went on: "The sudden disappearance of the tramp, in view of
his well-known habits and wandering mode of life, did not for some time
excite surprise; but, later on, one or two circumstances having led to
suspicion, an inquiry was set on foot, and among others, my
grandfather's keepers were examined before the magistrates. It was
remembered afterwards that the under-keeper in question was absent at
the time of the inquiry, my grandfather having sent him with some dogs
to a brother-in-law of his who lived upon the moors; but whether no one
noticed the fact, or if they did, preferred to be silent, I know not, no
observations were made. Nothing came of the investigation, and the whole
subject would have dropped if it had not been that two years later, for
some reasons I do not understand, but at the instigation of a magistrate
recently imported into the division, whom my grandfather greatly
disliked, and who was opposed to him in politics, a fresh inquiry was
instituted. In the course of that inquiry it transpired that, owing to
some unguarded words dropped by the under-keeper, a warrant was about to
be issued for his arrest. My grandfather, who had had a fit of the gout,
was away from home at the time, but on hearing the news he came home at
once. The evening he returned he had a long interview with the young
man, who left the house after he had supped in the servants' hall. It
was observed that he looked much depressed. The warrant was issued the
next day, but in the meantime the keeper had disappeared. My grandfather
gave orders to all his own people to do everything in their power to
assist the authorities in the search that was at once set on foot, but
was unable himself to take any share in it.

"No trace of the keeper was found, although at a subsequent period
rumours circulated that he had been heard of in America. But the man
having been unmarried, he gradually dropped out of remembrance, and as
my grandfather never allowed the subject to be mentioned in his
presence, I should probably never have known anything about it but for
the vague tradition which always attaches to such events, and for this
fact: that after my grandfather's death a letter came addressed to him
from somewhere in the United States from someone--the name different
from that of the keeper--but alluding to the past, and implying the
presence of a common secret, and, of course, with it came a request for
money. I replied, mentioning the death of Sir Richard, and asking for an
explanation. I did get an answer, and it is from that that I am able to
fill in so much of the story. But I never learned where the man had
been killed and buried, and my next letter to the fellow was returned
with 'Deceased' written across it. Somehow, it never occurred to me
till I heard your story that possibly the skeleton in the chalk-pit
might be that of the poaching tinker. I will now most assuredly have it
buried in the churchyard."

"That certainly ought to be done," said I.

"And--" said Sir Francis, after a pause, "I give you my word. After the
burial of the bones, and you are gone, I will sleep for a week in the
bed in the gallery, and report to you if I see or hear anything. If all
be quiet, then--well, you form your own conclusions."

I left a day after. Before long I got a letter from my friend, brief but
to the point: "All quiet, old boy; come again."





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