On The Leads





Having realised a competence in Australia, and having a hankering after

country life for the remainder of my days in the old home, on my return

to England I went to an agent with the object of renting a house with

shooting attached, over at least three thousand acres, with the option

of a purchase should the place suit me. I was no more intending to buy a

country seat without having tried what it was like, than is a king

disposed to go to war without knowing something of the force that can be

brought against him. I was rather taken with photographs of a manor

called Fernwood, and I was still further engaged when I saw the place

itself on a beautiful October day, when St. Luke's summer was turning

the country into a world of rainbow tints under a warm sun, and a soft

vaporous blue haze tinted all shadows cobalt, and gave to the hills a

stateliness that made them look like mountains. Fernwood was an old

house, built in the shape of the letter H, and therefore, presumably,

dating from the time of the early Tudor monarchs. The porch opened into

the hall which was on the left of the cross-stroke, and the drawing-room

was on the right. There was one inconvenience about the house; it had a

staircase at each extremity of the cross-stroke, and there was no

upstair communication between the two wings of the mansion. But, as a

practical man, I saw how this might be remedied. The front door faced

the south, and the hall was windowless on the north. Nothing easier than

to run a corridor along at the back, giving communication both upstairs

and downstairs, without passing through the hall. The whole thing could

be done for, at the outside, two hundred pounds, and would be no

disfigurement to the place. I agreed to become tenant of Fernwood for a

twelvemonth, in which time I should be able to judge whether the place

would suit me, the neighbours be pleasant, and the climate agree with my

wife. We went down to Fernwood at once, and settled ourselves

comfortably in by the first week in November.



The house was furnished; it was the property of an elderly gentleman, a

bachelor named Framett, who lived in rooms in town, and spent most of

his time at the club. He was supposed to have been jilted by his

intended, after which he eschewed female society, and remained

unmarried.



I called on him before taking up our residence at Fernwood, and found

him a somewhat blase, languid, cold-blooded creature, not at all proud

of having a noble manor-house that had belonged to his family for four

centuries; very willing to sell it, so as to spite a cousin who

calculated on coming in for the estate, and whom Mr. Framett, with the

malignity that is sometimes found in old people, was particularly

desirous of disappointing.



"The house has been let before, I suppose?" said I.



"Oh, yes," he replied indifferently, "I believe so, several times."



"For long?"



"No--o. I believe, not for long."



"Have the tenants had any particular reasons for not remaining on

there--if I may be so bold as to inquire?"



"All people have reasons to offer, but what they offer you are not

supposed to receive as genuine."



I could get no more from him than this. "I think, sir, if I were you I

would not go down to Fernwood till after November was out."



"But," said I, "I want the shooting."



"Ah, to be sure--the shooting, ah! I should have preferred if you could

have waited till December began."



"That would not suit me," I said, and so the matter ended.



When we were settled in, we occupied the right wing of the house. The

left or west wing was but scantily furnished and looked cheerless, as

though rarely tenanted. We were not a large family, my wife and myself

alone; there was consequently ample accommodation in the east wing for

us. The servants were placed above the kitchen, in a portion of the

house I have not yet described. It was a half-wing, if I may so describe

it, built on the north side parallel with the upper arm of the western

limb of the hall and the [Symbol: H]. This block had a gable to the

north like the wings, and a broad lead valley was between them, that, as

I learned from the agent, had to be attended to after the fall of the

leaf, and in times of snow, to clear it.



Access to this valley could be had from within by means of a little

window in the roof, formed as a dormer. A short ladder allowed anyone to

ascend from the passage to this window and open or shut it. The western

staircase gave access to this passage, from which the servants' rooms in

the new block were reached, as also the untenanted apartments in the old

wing. And as there were no windows in the extremities of this passage

that ran due north and south, it derived all its light from the

aforementioned dormer window.



One night, after we had been in the house about a week, I was sitting up

smoking, with a little whisky-and-water at my elbow, reading a review of

an absurd, ignorantly written book on New South Wales, when I heard a

tap at the door, and the parlourmaid came in, and said in a nervous tone

of voice: "Beg your pardon, sir, but cook nor I, nor none of us dare go

to bed."



"Why not?" I asked, looking up in surprise.



"Please, sir, we dursn't go into the passage to get to our rooms."



"Whatever is the matter with the passage?"



"Oh, nothing, sir, with the passage. Would you mind, sir, just coming to

see? We don't know what to make of it."



I put down my review with a grunt of dissatisfaction, laid my pipe

aside, and followed the maid.



She led me through the hall, and up the staircase at the western

extremity.



On reaching the upper landing I saw all the maids there in a cluster,

and all evidently much scared.



"Whatever is all this nonsense about?" I asked.



"Please, sir, will you look? We can't say."



The parlourmaid pointed to an oblong patch of moonlight on the wall of

the passage. The night was cloudless, and the full moon shone slanting

in through the dormer and painted a brilliant silver strip on the wall

opposite. The window being on the side of the roof to the east, we could

not see that, but did see the light thrown through it against the wall.

This patch of reflected light was about seven feet above the floor.



The window itself was some ten feet up, and the passage was but four

feet wide. I enter into these particulars for reasons that will

presently appear.



The window was divided into three parts by wooden mullions, and was

composed of four panes of glass in each compartment.



Now I could distinctly see the reflection of the moon through the window

with the black bars up and down, and the division of the panes. But I

saw more than that: I saw the shadow of a lean arm with a hand and thin,

lengthy fingers across a portion of the window, apparently groping at

where was the latch by which the casement could be opened.



My impression at the moment was that there was a burglar on the leads

trying to enter the house by means of this dormer.



Without a minute's hesitation I ran into the passage and looked up at

the window, but could see only a portion of it, as in shape it was low,

though broad, and, as already stated, was set at a great height. But at

that moment something fluttered past it, like a rush of flapping

draperies obscuring the light.



I had placed the ladder, which I found hooked up to the wall, in

position, and planted my foot on the lowest rung, when my wife arrived.

She had been alarmed by the housemaid, and now she clung to me, and

protested that I was not to ascend without my pistol.



To satisfy her I got my Colt's revolver that I always kept loaded, and

then, but only hesitatingly, did she allow me to mount. I ascended to

the casement, unhasped it, and looked out. I could see nothing. The

ladder was over-short, and it required an effort to heave oneself from

it through the casement on to the leads. I am stout, and not so nimble

as I was when younger. After one or two efforts, and after presenting

from below an appearance that would have provoked laughter at any other

time, I succeeded in getting through and upon the leads.



I looked up and down the valley--there was absolutely nothing to be seen

except an accumulation of leaves carried there from the trees that were

shedding their foliage.



The situation was vastly puzzling. As far as I could judge there was no

way off the roof, no other window opening into the valley; I did not go

along upon the leads, as it was night, and moonlight is treacherous.

Moreover, I was wholly unacquainted with the arrangement of the roof,

and had no wish to risk a fall.



I descended from the window with my feet groping for the upper rung of

the ladder in a manner even more grotesque than my ascent through the

casement, but neither my wife--usually extremely alive to anything

ridiculous in my appearance--nor the domestics were in a mood to make

merry. I fastened the window after me, and had hardly reached the

bottom of the ladder before again a shadow flickered across the patch of

moonlight.



I was fairly perplexed, and stood musing. Then I recalled that

immediately behind the house the ground rose; that, in fact, the house

lay under a considerable hill. It was just possible by ascending the

slope to reach the level of the gutter and rake the leads from one

extremity to the other with my eye.



I mentioned this to my wife, and at once the whole set of maids trailed

down the stairs after us. They were afraid to remain in the passage, and

they were curious to see if there was really some person on the leads.



We went out at the back of the house, and ascended the bank till we were

on a level with the broad gutter between the gables. I now saw that this

gutter did not run through, but stopped against the hall roof;

consequently, unless there were some opening of which I knew nothing,

the person on the leads could not leave the place, save by the dormer

window, when open, or by swarming down the fall pipe.



It at once occurred to me that if what I had seen were the shadow of a

burglar, he might have mounted by means of the rain-water pipe. But if

so--how had he vanished the moment my head was protruded through the

window? and how was it that I had seen the shadow flicker past the light

immediately after I had descended the ladder? It was conceivable that

the man had concealed himself in the shadow of the hall roof, and had

taken advantage of my withdrawal to run past the window so as to reach

the fall pipe, and let himself down by that.



I could, however, see no one running away, as I must have done, going

outside so soon after his supposed descent.



But the whole affair became more perplexing when, looking towards the

leads, I saw in the moonlight something with fluttering garments running

up and down them.



There could be no mistake--the object was a woman, and her garments were

mere tatters. We could not hear a sound.



I looked round at my wife and the servants,--they saw this weird object

as distinctly as myself. It was more like a gigantic bat than a human

being, and yet, that it was a woman we could not doubt, for the arms

were now and then thrown above the head in wild gesticulation, and at

moments a profile was presented, and then we saw, or thought we saw,

long flapping hair, unbound.



"I must go back to the ladder," said I; "you remain where you are,

watching."



"Oh, Edward! not alone," pleaded my wife.



"My dear, who is to go with me?"



I went. I had left the back door unlocked, and I ascended the staircase

and entered the passage. Again I saw the shadow flicker past the moonlit

patch on the wall opposite the window.



I ascended the ladder and opened the casement.



Then I heard the clock in the hall strike one.



I heaved myself up to the sill with great labour, and I endeavoured to

thrust my short body through the window, when I heard feet on the

stairs, and next moment my wife's voice from below, at the foot of the

ladder. "Oh, Edward, Edward! please do not go out there again. It has

vanished. All at once. There is nothing there now to be seen."



I returned, touched the ladder tentatively with my feet, refastened the

window, and descended--perhaps inelegantly. I then went down with my

wife, and with her returned up the bank, to the spot where stood

clustered our servants.



They had seen nothing further; and although I remained on the spot

watching for half an hour, I also saw nothing more.



The maids were too frightened to go to bed, and so agreed to sit up in

the kitchen for the rest of the night by a good fire, and I gave them a

bottle of sherry to mull, and make themselves comfortable upon, and to

help them to recover their courage.



Although I went to bed, I could not sleep. I was completely baffled by

what I had seen. I could in no way explain what the object was and how

it had left the leads.



Next day I sent for the village mason and asked him to set a long ladder

against the well-head of the fall pipe, and examine the valley between

the gables. At the same time I would mount to the little window and

contemplate proceedings through that.



The man had to send for a ladder sufficiently long, and that occupied

some time. However, at length he had it planted, and then mounted. When

he approached the dormer window--



"Give me a hand," said I, "and haul me up; I would like to satisfy

myself with my own eyes that there is no other means of getting upon or

leaving the leads."



He took me under both shoulders and heaved me out, and I stood with him

in the broad lead gutter.



"There's no other opening whatever," said he, "and, Lord love you, sir,

I believe that what you saw was no more than this," and he pointed to a

branch of a noble cedar that grew hard by the west side of the house.



"I warrant, sir," said he, "that what you saw was this here bough as has

been carried by a storm and thrown here, and the wind last night swept

it up and down the leads."



"But was there any wind?" I asked. "I do not remember that there was."



"I can't say," said he; "before twelve o'clock I was fast asleep, and it

might have blown a gale and I hear nothing of it."



"I suppose there must have been some wind," said I, "and that I was too

surprised and the women too frightened to observe it," I laughed. "So

this marvellous spectral phenomenon receives a very prosaic and natural

explanation. Mason, throw down the bough and we will burn it to-night."



The branch was cast over the edge, and fell at the back of the house. I

left the leads, descended, and going out picked up the cedar branch,

brought it into the hall, summoned the servants, and said derisively:

"Here is an illustration of the way in which weak-minded women get

scared. Now we will burn the burglar or ghost that we saw. It turns out

to be nothing but this branch, blown up and down the leads by the wind."



"But, Edward," said my wife, "there was not a breath stirring."



"There must have been. Only where we were we were sheltered and did not

observe it. Aloft, it blew across the roofs, and formed an eddy that

caught the broken bough, lifted it, carried it first one way, then spun

it round and carried it the reverse way. In fact, the wind between the

two roofs assumed a spiral movement. I hope now you are all satisfied. I

am."



So the bough was burned, and our fears--I mean those of the

females--were allayed.



In the evening, after dinner, as I sat with my wife, she said to me:

"Half a bottle would have been enough, Edward. Indeed, I think half a

bottle would be too much; you should not give the girls a liking for

sherry, it may lead to bad results. If it had been elderberry wine, that

would have been different."



"But there is no elderberry wine in the house," I objected.



"Well, I hope no harm will come of it, but I greatly mistrust----"



"Please, sir, it is there again."



The parlourmaid, with a blanched face, was at the door.



"Nonsense," said I, "we burnt it."



"This comes of the sherry," observed my wife. "They will be seeing

ghosts every night."



"But, my dear, you saw it as well as myself!"



I rose, my wife followed, and we went to the landing as before, and,

sure enough, against the patch of moonlight cast through the window in

the roof, was the arm again, and then a flutter of shadows, as if cast

by garments.



"It was not the bough," said my wife. "If this had been seen immediately

after the sherry I should not have been surprised, but--as it is now it

is most extraordinary."



"I'll have this part of the house shut up," said I. Then I bade the

maids once more spend the night in the kitchen, "and make yourselves

lively on tea," I said--for I knew my wife would not allow another

bottle of sherry to be given them. "To-morrow your beds shall be moved

to the east wing."



"Beg pardon," said the cook, "I speaks in the name of all. We don't

think we can remain in the house, but must leave the situation."



"That comes of the tea," said I to my wife. "Now," to the cook, "as you

have had another fright, I will let you have a bottle of mulled port

to-night."



"Sir," said the cook, "if you can get rid of the ghost, we don't want to

leave so good a master. We withdraw the notice."



Next day I had all the servants' goods transferred to the east wing, and

rooms were fitted up for them to sleep in. As their portion of the house

was completely cut off from the west wing, the alarm of the domestics

died away.



A heavy, stormy rain came on next week, the first token of winter

misery.



I then found that, whether caused by the cedar bough, or by the nailed

boots of the mason, I cannot say, but the lead of the valley between the

roofs was torn, and water came in, streaming down the walls, and

threatening to severely damage the ceilings. I had to send for a

plumber as soon as the weather mended. At the same time I started for

town to see Mr. Framett. I had made up my mind that Fernwood was not

suitable, and by the terms of my agreement I might be off my bargain if

I gave notice the first month, and then my tenancy would be for the six

months only. I found the squire at his club.



"Ah!" said he, "I told you not to go there in November. No one likes

Fernwood in November; it is all right at other times."



"What do you mean?"



"There is no bother except in November."



"Why should there be bother, as you term it, then?"



Mr. Framett shrugged his shoulders. "How the deuce can I tell you? I've

never been a spirit, and all that sort of thing. Mme. Blavatsky might

possibly tell you. I can't. But it is a fact."



"What is a fact?"



"Why, that there is no apparition at any other time It is only in

November, when she met with a little misfortune. That is when she is

seen."



"Who is seen?"



"My aunt Eliza--I mean my great-aunt."



"You speak mysteries."



"I don't know much about it, and care less," said Mr. Framett, and

called for a lemon squash. "It was this: I had a great-aunt who was

deranged. The family kept it quiet, and did not send her to an asylum,

but fastened her in a room in the west wing. You see, that part of the

house is partially separated from the rest. I believe she was rather

shabbily treated, but she was difficult to manage, and tore her clothes

to pieces. Somehow, she succeeded in getting out on the roof, and would

race up and down there. They allowed her to do so, as by that means she

obtained fresh air. But one night in November she scrambled up and, I

believe, tumbled over. It was hushed up. Sorry you went there in

November. I should have liked you to buy the place. I am sick of it."



I did buy Fernwood. What decided me was this: the plumbers, in mending

the leads, with that ingenuity to do mischief which they sometimes

display, succeeded in setting fire to the roof, and the result was that

the west wing was burnt down. Happily, a wall so completely separated

the wing from the rest of the house, that the fire was arrested. The

wing was not rebuilt, and I, thinking that with the disappearance of the

leads I should be freed from the apparition that haunted them, purchased

Fernwood. I am happy to say we have been undisturbed since.





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