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The Denton Hall Ghost






A day or two after my arrival at Denton Hall, when all around was yet
new to me, I had accompanied my friends to a ball given in the
neighbourhood, and returned heartily fatigued. At this time I need not
blush, nor you smile, when I say that on that evening I had met, for the
second time, one with whose destinies my own were doomed to become
connected.

I think I was sitting upon an antique carved chair, near to the fire, in
the room where I slept, busied in arranging my hair, and thinking over
some of the events of the day. Whether I had dropped into a
half-slumber, I cannot say; but on looking up--for I had my face bent
toward the fire--there seemed sitting on a similar highbacked chair, on
the other side of the ancient tiled fireplace, an old lady, whose air
and dress were so remarkable that to this hour they seem as fresh in my
memory as they were the day after the vision. She appeared to be dressed
in a flowered satin gown, of a cut then out of date. It was peaked and
long-waisted. The fabric of the satin had that extreme of glossy
stiffness which old fabrics of this kind exhibit. She wore a stomacher.
On her wrinkled fingers appeared some rings of great size and seeming
value; but, what was most remarkable, she wore also a satin hood of a
peculiar shape. It was glossy like the gown, but seemed to be stiffened
either by whalebone or some other material. Her age seemed considerable,
and the face, though not unpleasant, was somewhat hard and severe and
indented with minute wrinkles. I confess that so entirely was my
attention engrossed by what was passing in my mind, that, though I felt
mightily confused, I was not startled (in the emphatic sense) by the
apparition. In fact, I deemed it to be some old lady, perhaps a
housekeeper, or dependent in the family, and, therefore, though rather
astonished, was by no means frightened by my visitant, supposing me to
be awake, which I am convinced was the case, though few persons believe
me on this point.

My own impression is that I stared somewhat rudely, in the wonder of the
moment, at the hard, but lady-like features of my aged visitor. But she
left me small time to think, addressing me in a familiar half-whisper
and with a constant restless motion of the hand which aged persons, when
excited, often exhibit in addressing the young. "Well, young lady," said
my mysterious companion, "and so you've been at yon hall to-night! and
highly ye've been delighted there! Yet if you could see as I can see, or
could know as I can know, troth! I guess your pleasure would abate. 'Tis
well for you, young lady, peradventure, ye see not with my eyes"--and at
the moment, sure enough, her eyes, which were small, grey, and in no way
remarkable, twinkled with a light so severe that the effect was
unpleasant in the extreme. "'Tis well for you and them," she continued,
"that ye cannot count the cost. Time was when hospitality could be kept
in England, and the guest not ruin the master of the feast--but that's
all vanished now: pride and poverty--pride and poverty, young lady, are
an ill-matched pair, Heaven kens!" My tongue, which had at first almost
faltered in its office, now found utterance. By a kind of instinct, I
addressed my strange visitant in her own manner and humour. "And are we,
then, so much poorer than in days of yore?" were the words that I spoke.
My visitor seemed half startled at the sound of my voice, as at
something unaccustomed, and went on, rather answering my question by
implication than directly: "'Twas not all hollowness then," she
exclaimed, ceasing somewhat her hollow whisper; "the land was then the
lord's, and that which _seemed, was_. The child, young lady, was not
then mortgaged in the cradle, and, mark ye, the bride, when she kneeled
at the altar, gave not herself up, body and soul, to be the bondswoman
of the Jew, but to be the helpmate of the spouse." "The Jew!" I
exclaimed in surprise, for then I understood not the allusion. "Ay,
young lady! the Jew," was the rejoinder. "'Tis plain ye know not who
rules. 'Tis all hollow yonder! all hollow, all hollow! to the very
glitter of the side-board, all false! all false! all hollow! Away with
such make-believe finery!" And here again the hollow voice rose a
little, and the dim grey eye glistened. "Ye mortgage the very oaks of
your ancestors--I saw the planting of them; and now 'tis all painting,
gilding, varnishing and veneering. Houses call ye them? Whited
sepulchres, young lady, whited sepulchres. Trust not all that seems to
glisten. Fair though it seems, 'tis but the product of disease--even as
is the pearl in your hair, young lady, that glitters in the mirror
yonder,--not more specious than is all,--ay, _all_ ye have seen
to-night."

As my strange visitor pronounced these words, I instinctively turned my
gaze to a large old-fashioned mirror that leaned from the wall of the
chamber. 'Twas but for a moment. But when I again turned my head, my
visitant was no longer there! I heard plainly, as I turned, the distinct
rustle of the silk, as if she had risen and was leaving the room. I
seemed distinctly to hear this, together with the quick, short, easy
footstep with which females of rank of that period were taught to glide
rather than to walk; this I seemed to hear, but of what appeared the
antique old lady I saw no more. The suddenness and strangeness of this
event for a moment sent the blood back to my heart. Could I have found
voice, I should, I think, have screamed, but that was, for a moment,
beyond my power. A few seconds recovered me. By a sort of impulse I
rushed to the door, outside which I now heard the footsteps of some of
the family, when, to my utter astonishment, I found it was--locked! I
now recollected that I myself locked it before sitting down.

Though somewhat ashamed to give utterance to what I really believed as
to this matter, the strange adventure of the night was made a subject of
conversation at the breakfast-table next morning. On the words leaving
my lips, I saw my host and hostess exchange looks with each other, and
soon found that the tale I had to tell was not received with the air
which generally meets such relations. I was not repelled by an angry or
ill-bred incredulity, or treated as one of diseased fancy, to whom
silence is indirectly recommended as the alternative of being laughed
at. In short, it was not attempted to be denied or concealed that I was
not the first who had been alarmed in a manner, if not exactly similar,
yet just as mysterious; that visitors, like myself, had actually given
way to these terrors so far as to quit the house in consequence; and
that servants were sometimes not to be prevented from sharing in the
same contagion. At the same time they told me this, my host and hostess
declared that custom and continued residence had long exempted all
regular inmates of the mansion from any alarms or terrors. The
visitations, whatever they were, seemed to be confined to newcomers, and
to them it was by no means a matter of frequent occurrence.

In the neighbourhood, I found, this strange story was well known; that
the house was regularly set down as "haunted" all the country round, and
that the spirit, or goblin, or whatever it was that was embodied in
these appearances, was familiarly known by the name of "Silky."

At a distance, those to whom I have related my night's adventure have
one and all been sceptical, and accounted for the whole by supposing me
to have been half asleep, or in a state resembling somnambulism. All I
can say is, that my own impressions are directly contrary to this
supposition; and that I feel as sure that I saw the figure that sat
before me with my bodily eyes, as I am sure I now see you with them.
Without affecting to deny that I was somewhat shocked by the adventure,
I must repeat that I suffered no unreasonable alarm, nor suffered my
fancy to overcome my better spirit of womanhood.

I certainly slept no more in that room, and in that to which I removed I
had one of the daughters of my hostess as a companion; but I have never,
from that hour to this, been convinced that I did not actually encounter
something more than is natural--if not an actual being in some other
state of existence. My ears have not been deceived, if my eyes
were--which, I repeat, I cannot believe.

The warnings so strongly shadowed forth have been too true. The
gentleman at whose house I that night was a guest has long since filled
an untimely grave! In that splendid hall, since that time, strangers
have lorded it--and I myself have long since ceased to think of such
scenes as I partook of that evening--the envied object of the attention
of one whose virtues have survived the splendid inheritance to which he
seemed destined.

Whether this be a tale of delusion and superstition, or something more
than that, it is, at all events, not without a legend for its
foundation. There is some obscure and dark rumour of secrets strangely
obtained and enviously betrayed by a rival sister, ending in deprivation
of reason and death; and that the betrayer still walks by times in the
deserted Hall which she rendered tenantless, always prophetic of
disaster to those she encounters. So has it been with me, certainly; and
more than me, if those who say it say true. It is many, many years
since I saw the scene of this adventure; but I have heard that since
that time the same mysterious visitings have more than once been
renewed; that midnight curtains have been drawn by an arm clothed in
rustling silks; and the same form, clad in dark brocade, has been seen
gliding along the dark corridors of that ancient, grey, and time-worn
mansion, ever prophetic of death or misfortune.





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Previous: Pearlin Jean



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