The House And The Brain
A friend of mine, who is a man of letters and a philosopher, said to me
one day, as if between jest and earnest,--"Fancy! since we last met, I
have discovered a haunted house in the midst of London."
"Really haunted?--and by what? ghosts?"
"Well, I can't answer that question: all I know is this--six weeks ago
my wife and I were in search of a furnished apartment. Passing a quiet
street, we saw on the window of one of the houses a bill, 'Apartments
Furnished.' The situation suited us; we entered the house--liked the
rooms--engaged them by the week--and left them the third day. No power
on earth could have reconciled my wife to stay longer; and I don't
wonder at it."
"What did you see?"
"Excuse me--I have no desire to be ridiculed as a superstitious
dreamer--nor, on the other hand, could I ask you to accept on my
affirmation what you would hold to be incredible without the evidence of
your own senses. Let me only say this, it was not so much what we saw or
heard (in which you might fairly suppose that we were the dupes of our
own excited fancy, or the victims of imposture in others) that drove us
away, as it was an undefinable terror which seized both of us whenever
we passed by the door of a certain unfurnished room, in which we neither
saw nor heard anything. And the strangest marvel of all was, that for
once in my life I agreed with my wife, silly woman though she be--and
allowed, after the third night, that it was impossible to stay a fourth
in that house. Accordingly, on the fourth morning I summoned the woman
who kept the house and attended on us, and told her that the rooms did
not quite suit us, and we would not stay out our week. She said, dryly,
'I know why: you have stayed longer than any other lodger. Few ever
stayed a second night; none before you a third. But I take it they have
been very kind to you.'
"'They--who?' I asked, affecting to smile.
"'Why, they who haunt the house, whoever they are. I don't mind them;
I remember them many years ago, when I lived in this house, not as a
servant; but I know they will be the death of me some day. I don't
care--I'm old, and must die soon anyhow; and then I shall be with them,
and in this house still.' The woman spoke with so dreary a calmness,
that really it was a sort of awe that prevented my conversing with her
further. I paid for my week, and too happy were my wife and I to get off
"You excite my curiosity," said I; "nothing I should like better than to
sleep in a haunted house. Pray give me the address of the one which you
left so ignominiously."
My friend gave me the address; and when we parted, I walked straight
towards the house thus indicated.
It is situated on the North side of Oxford Street (in a dull but
respectable thoroughfare). I found the house shut up--no bill at the
window, and no response to my knock. As I was turning away, a beer-boy,
collecting pewter pots at the neighboring areas, said to me, "Do you
want any one at that house, sir?"
"Yes, I heard it was to be let."
"Let!--why, the woman who kept it is dead--has been dead these three
weeks, and no one can be found to stay there, though Mr. J---- offered
ever so much. He offered mother, who chars for him, L1 a week just to
open and shut the windows, and she would not."
"Would not!--and why?"
"The house is haunted: and the old woman who kept it was found dead in
her bed, with her eyes wide open. They say the devil strangled her."
"Pooh!--you speak of Mr. J----. Is he the owner of the house?"
"Where does he live?"
"In G---- Street, No. --."
"What is he?--in any business?"
"No, sir--nothing particular; a single gentleman."
I gave the pot-boy the gratuity earned by his liberal information, and
proceeded to Mr. J----, in G---- Street, which was close by the street
that boasted the haunted house. I was lucky enough to find Mr. J---- at
home--an elderly man, with intelligent countenance and prepossessing
I communicated my name and my business frankly. I said I heard the house
was considered to be haunted--that I had a strong desire to examine a
house with so equivocal a reputation--that I should be greatly obliged
if he would allow me to hire it, though only for a night. I was willing
to pay for that privilege whatever he might be inclined to ask. "Sir,"
said Mr. J----, with great courtesy, "the house is at your service, for
as short or as long a time as you please. Rent is out of the
question--the obligation will be on my side should you be able to
discover the cause of the strange phenomena which at present deprive it
of all value. I cannot let it, for I cannot even get a servant to keep
it in order or answer the door. Unluckily the house is haunted, if I may
use that expression, not only by night, but by day; though at night the
disturbances are of a more unpleasant and sometimes of a more alarming
character. The poor old woman who died in it three weeks ago was a
pauper whom I took out of a workhouse, for in her childhood she had been
known to some of my family, and had once been in such good circumstances
that she had rented that house of my uncle. She was a woman of superior
education and strong mind, and was the only person I could ever induce
to remain in the house. Indeed, since her death, which was sudden, and
the coroner's inquest, which gave it a notoriety in the neighborhood,
I have so despaired of finding any person to take charge of the house,
much more a tenant, that I would willingly let it rent-free for a year
to any one who would pay its rates and taxes."
"How long is it since the house acquired this sinister character?"
"That I can scarcely tell you, but very many years since. The old woman
I spoke of said it was haunted when she rented it between thirty and
forty years ago. The fact is, that my life has been spent in the East
Indies, and in the civil service of the Company. I returned to England
last year, on inheriting the fortune of an uncle, among whose
possessions was the house in question. I found it shut up and
uninhabited. I was told that it was haunted, that no one would inhabit
it. I smiled at what seemed to me so idle a story. I spent some money in
repairing it--added to its old-fashioned furniture a few modern
articles--advertised it, and obtained a lodger for a year. He was a
colonel retired on half-pay. He came in with his family, a son and a
daughter, and four or five servants: they all left the house the next
day; and, although each of them declared that he had seen something
different from that which had scared the others, a something still was
equally terrible to all. I really could not in conscience sue, nor even
blame, the colonel for breach of agreement. Then I put in the old woman
I have spoken of, and she was empowered to let the house in apartments.
I never had one lodger who stayed more than three days. I do not tell
you their stories--to no two lodgers have there been exactly the same
phenomena repeated. It is better that you should judge for yourself,
than enter the house with an imagination influenced by previous
narratives; only be prepared to see and to hear something or other, and
take whatever precautions you yourself please."
"Have you never had a curiosity yourself to pass a night in that house?"
"Yes. I passed not a night, but three hours in broad daylight alone in
that house. My curiosity is not satisfied but it is quenched. I have no
desire to renew the experiment. You cannot complain, you see, sir, that
I am not sufficiently candid; and unless your interest be exceedingly
eager and your nerves unusually strong, I honestly add, that I advise
you not to pass a night in that house."
"My interest _is_ exceedingly keen," said I, "and though only a coward
will boast of his nerves in situations wholly unfamiliar to him, yet my
nerves have been seasoned in such variety of danger that I have the
right to rely on them--even in a haunted house."
Mr. J---- said very little more; he took the keys of the house out of
his bureau, gave them to me--and, thanking him cordially for his
frankness, and his urbane concession to my wish, I carried off my prize.
Impatient for the experiment, as soon as I reached home, I summoned my
confidential servant--a young man of gay spirits, fearless temper, and
as free from superstitious prejudices as any one I could think of.
"F----," said I, "you remember in Germany how disappointed we were at
not finding a ghost in that old castle, which was said to be haunted by
a headless apparition? Well, I have heard of a house in London which,
I have reason to hope, is decidedly haunted. I mean to sleep there
to-night. From what I hear, there is no doubt that something will allow
itself to be seen or to be heard--something, perhaps, excessively
horrible. Do you think if I take you with me, I may rely on your
presence of mind, whatever may happen?"
"Oh, sir! pray trust me," answered F----, grinning with delight.
"Very well; then here are the keys of the house--this is the address. Go
now--select for me any bedroom you please; and since the house has not
been inhabited for weeks, make up a good fire--air the bed well--see, of
course, that there are candles as well as fuel. Take with you my
revolver and my dagger--so much for my weapons--arm yourself equally
well; and if we are not a match for a dozen ghosts, we shall be but a
sorry couple of Englishmen."
I was engaged for the rest of the day on business so urgent that I had
not leisure to think much on the nocturnal adventure to which I had
plighted my honor. I dined alone, and very late, and while dining, read,
as is my habit. I selected one of the volumes of Macaulay's Essays.
I thought to myself that I would take the book with me; there was so
much of the healthfulness in the style, and practical life in the
subjects, that it would serve as an antidote against the influence of
Accordingly, about half-past nine, I put the book into my pocket, and
strolled leisurely towards the haunted house. I took with me a favorite
dog--an exceedingly sharp, bold and vigilant bull-terrier--a dog fond of
prowling about strange ghostly corners and passages at night in search
of rats--a dog of dogs for a ghost.
It was a summer night, but chilly, the sky somewhat gloomy and overcast.
Still there was a moon--faint and sickly, but still a moon--and if the
clouds permitted, after midnight it would be brighter.
I reached the house, knocked, and my servant opened with a cheerful
"All right, sir, and very comfortable."
"Oh!" said I, rather disappointed; "have you not seen nor heard anything
"Well, sir, I must own I have heard something queer."
"The sound of feet pattering behind me; and once or twice small noises
like whispers close at my ear--nothing more."
"You are not at all frightened?"
"I! not a bit of it, sir," and the man's bold look reassured me on one
point--viz., that happen what might, he would not desert me.
We were in the hall, the street-door closed, and my attention was now
drawn to my dog. He had at first run in eagerly enough, but had sneaked
back to the door, and was scratching and whining to get out. After
patting him on the head, and encouraging him gently, the dog seemed to
reconcile himself to the situation, and followed me and F---- through
the house, but keeping close at my heels instead of hurrying
inquisitively in advance, which was his usual and normal habit in all
strange places. We first visited the subterranean apartments, the
kitchen and other offices, and especially the cellars, in which last
there were two or three bottles of wine still left in a bin, covered
with cobwebs, and evidently, by their appearance, undisturbed for many
years. It was clear that the ghosts were not wine-bibbers. For the rest
we discovered nothing of interest. There was a gloomy little backyard
with very high walls. The stones of this yard were very damp; and what
with the damp, and what with the dust and smoke-grime on the pavement,
our feet left a slight impression where we passed.
And now appeared the first strange phenomenon witnessed by myself in
this strange abode. I saw, just before me, the print of a foot suddenly
form itself, as it were. I stopped, caught hold of my servant, and
pointed to it. In advance of that footprint as suddenly dropped another.
We both saw it. I advanced quickly to the place; the footprint kept
advancing before me, a small footprint--the foot of a child; the
impression was too faint thoroughly to distinguish the shape, but it
seemed to us both that it was the print of a naked foot. This phenomenon
ceased when we arrived at the opposite wall, nor did it repeat itself on
returning. We remounted the stairs, and entered the rooms on the ground
floor, a dining-parlor, a small back parlor, and a still smaller third
room that had been probably appropriated to a footman--all still as
death. We then visited the drawing-rooms, which seemed fresh and new. In
the front room I seated myself in an armchair. F---- placed on the table
the candlestick with which he had lighted us. I told him to shut the
door. As he turned to do so, a chair opposite to me moved from the wall
quickly and noiselessly, and dropped itself about a yard from my own
chair, immediately fronting it.
"Why, this is better than the turning tables," said I, with a
half-laugh; and as I laughed, my dog put back his head and howled.
F----, coming back, had not observed the movement of the chair. He
employed himself now in stilling the dog. I continued to gaze on the
chair, and fancied I saw on it a pale blue misty outline of a human
figure, but an outline so indistinct that I could only distrust my own
vision. The dog now was quiet.
"Put back that chair opposite me," said I to F----; "put it back to the
F---- obeyed. "Was that you, sir?" said he, turning abruptly.
"Why, something struck me. I felt it sharply on the shoulder--just
"No," said I. "But we have jugglers present, and though we may not
discover their tricks, we shall catch _them_ before they frighten _us_."
We did not stay long in the drawing-rooms--in fact, they felt so damp
and so chilly that I was glad to get to the fire upstairs. We locked the
doors of the drawing-rooms--a precaution which, I should observe, we had
taken with all the rooms we had searched below. The bedroom my servant
had selected for me was the best on the floor--a large one, with two
windows fronting the street. The four-posted bed, which took up no
inconsiderable space, was opposite to the fire, which burnt clear and
bright; a door in the wall to the left, between the bed and the window,
communicated with the room which my servant appropriated to himself.
This last was a small room with a sofa-bed, and had no communication
with the landing-place--no other door but that which conducted to the
bedroom I was to occupy. On either side of my fireplace was a cupboard,
without locks, flush with the wall and covered with the same dull-brown
paper. We examined these cupboards--only hooks to suspend female
dresses--nothing else; we sounded the walls--evidently solid--the outer
walls of the building. Having finished the survey of these apartments,
warmed myself a few moments, and lighted my cigar, I then, still
accompanied by F----, went forth to complete my reconnoiter. In the
landing-place there was another door; it was closed firmly. "Sir," said
my servant, in surprise, "I unlocked this door with all the others when
I first came; it cannot have got locked from the inside, for----"
Before he had finished his sentence, the door, which neither of us then
was touching, opened quietly of itself. We looked at each other a single
instant. The same thought seized both--some human agency might be
detected here. I rushed in first, my servant followed. A small blank
dreary room without furniture--few empty boxes and hampers in a
corner--a small window--the shutters closed--not even a fireplace--no
other door than that by which we had entered--no carpet on the floor,
and the floor seemed very old, uneven, worm-eaten, mended here and
there, as was shown by the whiter patches on the wood; but no living
being, and no visible place in which a living being could have hidden.
As we stood gazing round, the door by which we had entered closed as
quietly as it had before opened: we were imprisoned.
For the first time I felt a creep of undefinable horror. Not so my
servant. "Why, they don't think to trap us, sir; I could break the
trumpery door with a kick of my foot."
"Try first if it will open to your hand," said I, shaking off the vague
apprehension that had seized me, "while I unclose the shutters and see
what is without."
I unbarred the shutters--the window looked on the little back yard I
have before described; there was no ledge without--nothing to break the
sheer descent of the wall. No man getting out of that window would have
found any footing till he had fallen on the stones below.
F----, meanwhile, was vainly attempting to open the door. He now turned
round to me and asked my permission to use force. And I should here
state, in justice to the servant, that, far from evincing any
superstitious terrors, his nerve, composure, and even gayety amidst
circumstances so extraordinary, compelled my admiration, and made me
congratulate myself on having secured a companion in every way fitted to
the occasion. I willingly gave him the permission he required. But
though he was a remarkably strong man, his force was as idle as his
milder efforts; the door did not even shake to his stoutest kick.
Breathless and panting, he desisted. I then tried the door myself,
equally in vain. As I ceased from the effort, again that creep of horror
came over me; but this time it was more cold and stubborn. I felt as if
some strange and ghastly exhalation were rising up from the chinks of
that rugged floor, and filling the atmosphere with a venomous influence
hostile to human life. The door now very slowly and quietly opened as
of its own accord. We precipitated ourselves into the landing-place. We
both saw a large pale light--as large as the human figure but shapeless
and unsubstantial--move before us, and ascend the stairs that led from
the landing into the attics. I followed the light, and my servant
followed me. It entered, to the right of the landing, a small garret, of
which the door stood open. I entered in the same instant. The light then
collapsed into a small globule, exceedingly brilliant and vivid; rested
a moment on a bed in the corner, quivered, and vanished.
We approached the bed and examined it--a half-tester, such as is
commonly found in attics devoted to servants. On the drawers that stood
near it we perceived an old faded silk kerchief, with the needle still
left in a rent half repaired. The kerchief was covered with dust;
probably it had belonged to the old woman who had last died in that
house, and this might have been her sleeping room. I had sufficient
curiosity to open the drawers: there were a few odds and ends of female
dress, and two letters tied round with a narrow ribbon of faded yellow.
I took the liberty to possess myself of the letters. We found nothing
else in the room worth noticing--nor did the light reappear; but we
distinctly heard, as we turned to go, a pattering footfall on the
floor--just before us. We went through the other attics (in all four),
the footfall still preceding us. Nothing to be seen--nothing but the
footfall heard. I had the letters in my hand: just as I was descending
the stairs I distinctly felt my wrist seized, and a faint soft effort
made to draw the letters from my clasp. I only held them the more
tightly, and the effort ceased.
We regained the bedchamber appropriated to myself, and I then remarked
that my dog had not followed us when we had left it. He was thrusting
himself close to the fire, and trembling. I was impatient to examine the
letters; and while I read them, my servant opened a little box in which
he had deposited the weapons I had ordered him to bring; took them out,
placed them on a table close at my bed-head, and then occupied himself
in soothing the dog, who, however, seemed to heed him very little.
The letters were short--they were dated; the dates exactly thirty-five
years ago. They were evidently from a lover to his mistress, or a
husband to some young wife. Not only the terms of expression, but a
distinct reference to a former voyage, indicated the writer to have been
a seafarer. The spelling and handwriting were those of a man imperfectly
educated, but still the language itself was forcible. In the expressions
of endearment there was a kind of rough wild love; but here and there
were dark and unintelligible hints at some secret not of love--some
secret that seemed of crime. "We ought to love each other," was one of
the sentences I remember, "for how every one else would execrate us if
all was known." Again: "Don't let any one be in the same room with you
at night--you talk in your sleep." And again: "What's done can't be
undone; and I tell you there's nothing against us unless the dead could
come to life." Here there was underlined in a better handwriting (a
female's), "They do!" At the end of the letter latest in date the same
female hand had written these words: "Lost at sea the 4th of June, the
same day as ----."
I put down the letters, and began to muse over their contents.
Fearing, however, that the train of thought into which I fell might
unsteady my nerves, I fully determined to keep my mind in a fit state to
cope with whatever of marvelous the advancing night might bring forth.
I roused myself--laid the letters on the table--stirred up the fire,
which was still bright and cheering--and opened my volume of Macaulay.
I read quietly enough till about half-past eleven. I then threw myself
dressed upon the bed, and told my servant he might retire to his own
room, but must keep himself awake. I bade him leave open the door between
the two rooms. Thus alone, I kept two candles burning on the table by my
bed-head. I placed my watch beside the weapons, and calmly resumed my
Macaulay. Opposite to me the fire burned clear; and on the hearthrug,
seemingly asleep, lay the dog. In about twenty minutes I felt an
exceedingly cold air pass by my cheek, like a sudden draught. I fancied
the door to my right, communicating with the landing-place, must have
got open; but no--it was closed. I then turned my glance to my left, and
saw the flame of the candles violently swayed as by a wind. At the same
moment the watch beside the revolver softly slid from the table--softly,
softly--no visible hand--it was gone. I sprang up, seizing the revolver
with the one hand, the dagger with other: I was not willing that my
weapons should share the fate of the watch. Thus armed, I looked round
the floor--no sign of the watch. Three slow, loud, distinct knocks were
now heard at the bed-head; my servant called out, "Is that you, sir?"
"No; be on your guard."
The dog now roused himself and sat on his haunches, his ears moving
quickly backwards and forwards. He kept his eyes fixed on me with a look
so strange that he concentered all my attention on himself. Slowly he
rose up, all his hair bristling, and stood perfectly rigid, and with the
same wild stare. I had no time, however, to examine the dog. Presently
my servant emerged from his room; and if ever I saw horror in the human
face, it was then. I should not have recognized him had we met in the
street, so altered was every lineament. He passed by me quickly, saying
in a whisper that seemed scarcely to come from his lips, "Run--run! it
is after me!" He gained the door to the landing, pulled it open, and
rushed forth. I followed him into the landing involuntarily, calling him
to stop; but, without heeding me, he bounded down the stairs, clinging
to the balusters, and taking several steps at a time. I heard, where I
stood, the street-door open--heard it again clap to. I was left alone in
the haunted house.
It was but for a moment that I remained undecided whether or not to
follow my servant; pride and curiosity alike forbade so dastardly a
flight. I re-entered my room, closing the door after me, and proceeded
cautiously into the interior chamber. I encountered nothing to justify
my servant's terror. I again carefully examined the walls, to see if
there were any concealed door. I could find no trace of one--not even a
seam in the dull-brown paper with which the room was hung. How, then,
had the THING, whatever it was, which had so scared him, obtained
ingress except through my own chamber?
I returned to my room, shut and locked the door that opened upon the
interior one, and stood on the hearth, expectant and prepared. I now
perceived that the dog had slunk into an angle of the wall, and was
pressing himself close against it, as if literally striving to force his
way into it. I approached the animal and spoke to it; the poor brute was
evidently beside itself with terror. It showed all its teeth, the slaver
dropping from its jaws, and would certainly have bitten me if I had
touched it. It did not seem to recognize me. Whoever has seen at the
Zoological Gardens a rabbit fascinated by a serpent, cowering in a
corner, may form some idea of the anguish which the dog exhibited.
Finding all efforts to soothe the animal in vain, and fearing that his
bite might be as venomous in that state as in the madness of
hydrophobia, I left him alone, placed my weapons on the table beside the
fire, seated myself, and recommenced my Macaulay.
Perhaps, in order not to appear seeking credit for a courage, or rather
a coolness, which the reader may conceive I exaggerate, I may be
pardoned if I pause to indulge in one or two egotistical remarks.
As I hold presence of mind, or what is called courage, to be precisely
proportioned to familiarity with the circumstances that lead to it, so I
should say that I had been long sufficiently familiar with all
experiments that appertain to the Marvelous. I had witnessed many very
extraordinary phenomena in various parts of the world--phenomena that
would be either totally disbelieved if I stated them, or ascribed to
supernatural agencies. Now, my theory is that the Supernatural is the
Impossible, and that what is called supernatural is only a something in
the laws of nature of which we have been hitherto ignorant. Therefore,
if a ghost rise before me, I have not the right to say, "So, then, the
supernatural is possible," but rather, "So, then, the apparition of a
ghost is, contrary to received opinion, within the laws of
nature--_i.e._, not supernatural."
Now, in all that I had hitherto witnessed, and indeed in all the wonders
which the amateurs of mystery in our age record as facts, a material
living agency is always required. On the continent you will find still
magicians who assert that they can raise spirits. Assume for the moment
that they assert truly, still the living material form of the magician
is present; and he is the material agency by which, from some
constitutional peculiarities, certain strange phenomena are represented
to your natural senses.
Accept, again, as truthful, the tales of spirit Manifestation in
America--musical or other sounds--writings on paper, produced by no
discernible hand--articles of furniture moved without apparent human
agency--or the actual sight and touch of hands, to which no bodies seem
to belong--still there must be found the MEDIUM or living being, with
constitutional peculiarities capable of obtaining these signs. In fine,
in all such marvels, supposing even that there is no imposture, there
must be a human being like ourselves by whom, or through whom, the
effects presented to human beings are produced. It is so with the now
familiar phenomena of mesmerism or electro-biology; the mind of the
person operated on is affected through a material living agent. Nor,
supposing it true that a mesmerized patient can respond to the will or
passes of a mesmerizer a hundred miles distant, is the response less
occasioned by a material fluid--call it Electric, call it Odic, call it
what you will--which has the power of traversing space and passing
obstacles, that the material effect is communicated from one to the
other. Hence all that I had hitherto witnessed, or expected to witness,
in this strange house, I believed to be occasioned through some agency
or medium as mortal as myself: and this idea necessarily prevented the
awe with which those who regard as supernatural, things that are not
within the ordinary operations of nature, might have been impressed by
the adventures of that memorable night.
As, then, it was my conjecture that all that was presented, or would be
presented to my senses, must originate in some human being gifted by
constitution with the power so to present them, and having some motive
so to do, I felt an interest in my theory which, in its way, was rather
philosophical than superstitious. And I can sincerely say that I was in
as tranquil a temper for observation as any practical experimentalist
could be in awaiting the effect of some rare, though perhaps perilous,
chemical combination. Of course, the more I kept my mind detached from
fancy, the more the temper fitted for observation would be obtained; and
I therefore riveted eye and thought on the strong daylight sense in the
page of my Macaulay.
I now became aware that something interposed between the page and the
light--the page was over-shadowed: I looked up, and I saw what I shall
find it very difficult, perhaps impossible, to describe.
It was a Darkness shaping itself forth from the air in very undefined
outline. I cannot say it was of a human form, and yet it had more
resemblance to a human form, or rather shadow, than to anything else. As
it stood, wholly apart and distinct from the air and the light around
it, its dimensions seemed gigantic, the summit nearly touching the
ceiling. While I gazed, a feeling of intense cold seized me. An iceberg
before me could not more have chilled me; nor could the cold of an
iceberg have been more purely physical. I feel convinced that it was not
the cold caused by fear. As I continued to gaze, I thought--but this I
cannot say with precision--that I distinguished two eyes looking down on
me from the height. One moment I fancied that I distinguished them
clearly, the next they seemed gone; but still two rays of a pale-blue
light frequently shot through the darkness, as from the height on which
I half believed, half doubted, that I had encountered the eyes.
I strove to speak--my voice utterly failed me; I could only think
to myself, "is this fear? it is _not_ fear!" I strove to rise--in
vain; I felt as if weighed down by an irresistible force. Indeed, my
impression was that of an immense and overwhelming Power opposed to any
volition;--that sense of utter inadequacy to cope with a force beyond
man's, which one may feel _physically_ in a storm at sea, in a
conflagration, or when confronting some terrible wild beast, or rather,
perhaps, the shark of the ocean, I felt _morally_. Opposed to my will
was another will, as far superior to its strength as storm, fire, and
shark are superior in material force to the force of man.
And now, as this impression grew on me--now came, at last,
horror--horror to a degree that no words can convey. Still I retained
pride, if not courage; and in my own mind I said, "This is horror, but
it is not fear; unless I fear I cannot be harmed; my reason rejects this
thing, it is an illusion--I do not fear." With a violent effort I
succeeded at last in stretching out my hand towards the weapon on the
table: as I did so, on the arm and shoulder I received a strange shock,
and my arm fell to my side powerless. And now, to add to my horror, the
light began slowly to wane from the candles, they were not, as it were,
extinguished, but their flame seemed very gradually withdrawn: it was
the same with the fire--the light was extracted from the fuel; in a few
minutes the room was in utter darkness.
The dread that came over me, to be thus in the dark with that dark
Thing, whose power was so intensely felt, brought a reaction of nerve.
In fact, terror had reached that climax, that either my senses must have
deserted me, or I must have burst through the spell. I did burst through
it. I found voice, though the voice was a shriek. I remember that I
broke forth with words like these--"I do not fear, my soul does not
fear"; and at the same time I found the strength to rise. Still in that
profound gloom I rushed to one of the windows--tore aside the
curtain--flung open the shutters; my first thought was--LIGHT.--And when
I saw the moon high, clear, and calm, I felt a joy that almost
compensated for the previous terror. There was the moon, there was also
the light from the gas-lamps in the deserted slumberous street. I turned
to look back into the room; the moon penetrated its shadow very palely
and partially--but still there was light. The dark Thing, whatever it
might be, was gone--except that I could yet see a dim shadow, which
seemed the shadow of that shade, against the opposite wall.
My eye now rested on the table, and from under the table (which was
without cloth or cover--an old mahogany round table) there rose a hand,
visible as far as the wrist. It was a hand, seemingly, as much of flesh
and blood as my own, but the hand of an aged person--lean, wrinkled,
small, too--a woman's hand. That hand very softly closed on the two
letters that lay on the table: hand and letters both vanished.
There then came the same three loud measured knocks I heard at the
bed-head before this extraordinary drama had commenced.
As those sounds slowly ceased, I felt the whole room vibrate sensibly;
and at the far end there rose, as from the floor, sparks or globules
like bubbles of light, many-colored--green, yellow, fire-red, azure. Up
and down, to and fro, hither, thither, as tiny Will-o'-the-Wisps the
sparks moved, slow or swift, each at his own caprice. A chair (as in the
drawing-room below) was now advanced from the wall without apparent
agency, and placed at the opposite side of the table. Suddenly as forth
from the chair, there grew a shape--a woman's shape. It was distinct as
a shape of life--ghastly as a shape of death. The face was that of
youth, with a strange mournful beauty: the throat and shoulders were
bare, the rest of the form in a loose robe of cloudy white. It began
sleeking its long yellow hair, which fell over its shoulders; its eyes
were not turned towards me, but to the door; it seemed listening,
watching, waiting. The shadow of the shade in the background grew
darker; and again I thought I beheld the eyes gleaming out from the
summit of the shadow--eyes fixed upon that shape.
As if from the door, though it did not open, there grew out another
shape, equally distinct, equally ghastly--a man's shape--a young man's.
It was in the dress of the last century, or rather in a likeness of such
dress (for both the male shape and the female, though defined, were
evidently unsubstantial, impalpable--simulacra--phantasms); and there
was something incongruous, grotesque, yet fearful, in the contrast
between the elaborate finery, the courtly precision of that
old-fashioned garb, with its ruffles and lace and buckles, and the
corpse-like aspect and ghost-like stillness of the flitting wearer. Just
as the male shape approached the female, the dark shadow started from
the wall, all three for a moment wrapped in darkness. When the pale
light returned, the two phantoms were as in the grasp of the shadow that
towered between them; and there was a blood-stain on the breast of the
female; and the phantom male was leaning on its phantom sword, and blood
seemed trickling fast from the ruffles, from the lace; and the darkness
of the intermediate Shadow swallowed them up--they were gone. And again
the bubbles of light shot, and sailed, and undulated, growing thicker
and thicker and more wildly confused in their movements.
The closet door to the right of the fireplace now opened, and from the
aperture there came the form of an aged woman. In her hand she held
letters,--the very letters over which I had seen _the_ Hand close; and
behind her I heard a footstep. She turned round as if to listen, and
then she opened the letters and seemed to read; and over her shoulder I
saw a livid face, the face as of a man long drowned--bloated, bleached,
seaweed tangled in its dripping hair; and at her feet lay a form as of a
corpse, and beside the corpse there cowered a child, a miserable squalid
child, with famine in its cheeks and fear in its eyes. And as I looked
in the old woman's face, the wrinkles and lines vanished and it became a
face of youth--hard-eyed, stony, but still youth; and the Shadow darted
forth, and darkened over these phantoms as it had darkened over the
Nothing now was left but the Shadow, and on that my eyes were intently
fixed, till again eyes grew out of the Shadow--malignant, serpent eyes.
And the bubbles of light again rose and fell, and in their disorder,
irregular, turbulent maze, mingled with the wan moonlight. And now from
these globules themselves, as from the shell of an egg, monstrous things
burst out; the air grew filled with them; larvae so bloodless and so
hideous that I can in no way describe them except to remind the reader
of the swarming life which the solar microscope brings before his eyes
in a drop of water--things transparent, supple, agile, chasing each
other, devouring each other--forms like nought ever beheld by the naked
eye. As the shapes were without symmetry, so their movements were
without order. In their very vagrancies there was no sport; they came
round me and round, thicker and faster and swifter, swarming over my
head, crawling over my right arm, which was outstretched in involuntary
command against all evil beings. Sometimes I felt myself touched, but
not by them; invisible hands touched me. Once I felt the clutch as of
cold soft fingers at my throat. I was still equally conscious that if I
gave way to fear I should be in bodily peril; and I concentrated all my
faculties in the single focus of resisting, stubborn will. And I turned
my sight from the Shadow--above all, from those strange serpent
eyes--eyes that had now become distinctly visible. For there, though in
nought else round me, I was aware that there was a WILL, and a will of
intense, creative, working evil, which might crush down my own.
The pale atmosphere in the room began now to redden as if in the air of
some near conflagration. The larvae grew lurid as things that live in
fire. Again the room vibrated; again were heard the three measured
knocks; and again all things were swallowed up in the darkness of the
dark Shadow, as if out of that darkness all had come, into that darkness
As the gloom receded, the Shadow was wholly gone. Slowly as it had been
withdrawn, the flame grew again into the candles on the table, again
into the fuel in the grate. The whole room came once more calmly,
healthfully into sight.
The two doors were still closed, the door communicating with the
servant's room still locked. In the corner of the wall into which he had
so convulsively niched himself, lay the dog. I called to him--no
movement; I approached--the animal was dead; his eyes protruded; his
tongue out of his mouth; the froth gathered round his jaws. I took him
in my arms; I brought him to the fire, I felt acute grief for the loss
of my poor favorite--acute self-reproach; I accused myself of his death;
I imagined he had died of fright. But what was my surprise on finding
that his neck was actually broken. Had this been done in the dark?--must
it not have been by a hand human as mine?--must there not have been
a human agency all the while in that room? Good cause to suspect it.
I cannot tell. I cannot do more than state the fact fairly; the reader
may draw his own inference.
Another surprising circumstance--my watch was restored to the table from
which it had been so mysteriously withdrawn; but it had stopped at the
very moment it was so withdrawn; nor, despite all the skill of the
watchmaker, has it ever gone since--that is, it will go in a strange
erratic way for a few hours, and then come to a dead stop--it is
Nothing more chanced for the rest of the night. Nor, indeed, had I long
to wait before the dawn broke. Nor till it was broad daylight did I quit
the haunted house. Before I did so, I revisited the little blind room in
which my servant and myself had been for a time imprisoned. I had a
strong impression--for which I could not account--that from that room
had originated the mechanism of the phenomena--if I may use the
term--which had been experienced in my chamber. And though I entered it
now in the clear day, with the sun peering through the filmy window I
still felt, as I stood on its floor, the creep of the horror which I had
first there experienced the night before, and which had been so
aggravated by what had passed in my own chamber. I could not, indeed,
bear to stay more than half a minute within those walls. I descended the
stairs, and again I heard the footfall before me; and when I opened the
street door, I thought I could distinguish a very low laugh. I gained my
own home, expecting to find my runaway servant there. But he had not
presented himself; nor did I hear more of him for three days, when I
received a letter from him, dated from Liverpool to this effect:--
"HONORED SIR,--I humbly entreat your pardon,
though I can scarcely hope that you will think I
deserve it, unless--which Heaven forbid--you saw
what I did. I feel that it will be years before
I can recover myself: and as to being fit for
service, it is out of the question. I am therefore
going to my brother-in-law at Melbourne. The ship
sails to-morrow. Perhaps the long voyage may set
me up. I do nothing now but start and tremble, and
fancy IT is behind me. I humbly beg you, honored
sir, to order my clothes, and whatever wages are
due to me, to be sent to my mother's, at
Walworth.--John knows her address."
The letter ended with additional apologies, somewhat incoherent, and
explanatory details as to effects that had been under the writer's
This flight may perhaps warrant a suspicion that the man wished to go to
Australia, and had been somehow or other fraudulently mixed up with the
events of the night. I say nothing in refutation of that conjecture;
rather, I suggest it as one that would seem to many persons the most
probable solution of improbable occurrences. My belief in my own theory
remained unshaken. I returned in the evening to the house, to bring away
in a hack cab the things I had left there, with my poor dog's body. In
this task I was not disturbed, nor did any incident worth note befall
me, except that still, on ascending and descending the stairs, I heard
the same footfall in advance. On leaving the house, I went to Mr. J.'s.
He was at home. I returned him the keys, told him that my curiosity was
sufficiently gratified, and was about to relate quickly what had passed,
when he stopped me, and said, though with much politeness, that he had
no longer any interest in a mystery which none had ever solved.
I determined at least to tell him of the two letters I had read, as well
as of the extraordinary manner in which they had disappeared, and I then
inquired if he thought they had been addressed to the woman who had died
in the house, and if there were anything in her early history which
could possibly confirm the dark suspicions to which the letters gave
rise. Mr. J---- seemed startled, and, after musing a few moments,
answered, "I am but little acquainted with the woman's earlier history,
except, as I before told you, that her family were known to mine. But
you revive some vague reminiscences to her prejudice. I will make
inquiries, and inform you of their result. Still, even if we could admit
the popular superstition that a person who had been either the
perpetrator or the victim of dark crimes in life could revisit, as a
restless spirit, the scene in which those crimes had been committed, I
should observe that the house was infested by strange sights and sounds
before the old woman died--you smile--what would you say?"
"I would say this, that I am convinced, if we could get to the bottom of
these mysteries, we should find a living human agency."
"What! you believe it is all an imposture? for what object?"
"Not an imposture in the ordinary sense of the word. If suddenly I were
to sink into a deep sleep, from which you could not awake me, but in
that sleep could answer questions with an accuracy which I could not
pretend to when awake--tell you what money you had in your pocket--nay,
describe your very thoughts--it is not necessarily an imposture, any
more than it is necessarily supernatural. I should be, unconsciously to
myself, under a mesmeric influence, conveyed to me from a distance by a
human being who had acquired power over me by previous _rapport_."
"But if a mesmerizer could so affect another living being, can you
suppose that a mesmerizer could also affect inanimate objects: move
chairs--open and shut doors?"
"Or impress our senses with the belief in such effects--we never having
been _en rapport_ with the person acting on us? No. What is commonly
called mesmerism could not do this; but there may be a power akin to
mesmerism, and superior to it--the power that in the old days was called
Magic. That such a power may extend to all inanimate objects of matter I
do not say; but if so, it would not be against nature--it would be only
a rare power in nature which might be given to constitutions with
certain peculiarities, and cultivated by practice to an extraordinary
degree. That such a power might extend over the dead--that is, over
certain thoughts and memories that the dead may still retain--and
compel, not that which ought properly to be called the SOUL, and which
is far beyond human reach, but rather a phantom of what has been most
earth-stained on earth, to make itself apparent to our senses--is a very
ancient though obsolete theory, upon which I will hazard no opinion. But
I do not conceive the power would be supernatural. Let me illustrate
what I mean from an experiment which Paracelsus describes as not
difficult, and which the author of the _Curiosities of Literature_ cites
as credible:--A flower perishes; you burn it. Whatever were the elements
of that flower while it lived are gone, dispersed, you know not whither;
you can never discover nor recollect them. But you can, by chemistry,
out of the burnt dust of that flower, raise a spectrum of the flower,
just as it seemed in life. It may be the same with the human being. The
soul has as much escaped you as the essence or elements of the flower.
Still you may make a spectrum of it.
"And this phantom, though in the popular superstition it is held to be
the soul of the departed, must not be confounded with the true soul; it
is but eidolon of the dead form. Hence, like the best attested stories
of ghosts or spirits, the thing that most strikes us is the absence of
what we hold to be soul; that is, of superior emancipated intelligence.
These apparitions come for little or no object--they seldom speak when
they do come; if they speak, they utter no ideas above those of an
ordinary person on earth. American spirit-seers have published volumes
of communications in prose and verse, which they assert to be given in
the names of the most illustrious dead--Shakespeare, Bacon--heaven knows
whom. Those communications, taking the best, are certainly not a whit of
higher order than would be communications from living persons of fair
talent and education; they are wondrously inferior to what Bacon,
Shakespeare, and Plato said and wrote when on earth. Nor, what is more
noticeable, do they ever contain an idea that was not on the earth
before. Wonderful, therefore, as such phenomena may be (granting them to
be truthful), I see much that philosophy may question, nothing that it
is incumbent on philosophy to deny, viz., nothing supernatural. They are
but ideas conveyed somehow or other (we have not yet discovered the
means) from one mortal brain to another. Whether, in so doing, tables
walk of their own accord, or fiend-like shapes appear in a magic circle,
or bodyless hands rise and remove material objects, or a Thing of
Darkness, such as presented itself to me, freeze our blood--still am I
persuaded that these are but agencies conveyed, as if by electric wires,
to my own brain from the brain of another. In some constitutions there
is a natural chemistry, and these constitutions may produce chemic
wonders--in others a natural fluid, call it electricity, and these may
produce electric wonders.
"But the wonders differ from Normal Science in this--they are alike
objectless, purposeless, puerile, frivolous. They lead on to no grand
results; and therefore the world does not heed, and true sages have not
cultivated them. But sure I am, that of all I saw or heard, a man,
human as myself, was the remote originator; and I believe unconsciously
to himself as to the exact effects produced, for this reason: no two
persons, you say, have ever told you that they experienced exactly the
same thing. Well, observe, no two persons ever experience exactly the
same dream. If this were an ordinary imposture, the machinery would be
arranged for results that would but little vary; if it were a
supernatural agency permitted by the Almighty, it would surely be for
some definite end. These phenomena belong to neither class; my
persuasion is, that they originate in some brain now far distant; that
that brain had no distinct volition in anything that occurred; that what
does occur reflects but its devious, motley, ever-shifting, half-formed
thoughts; in short, that it has been but the dreams of such a brain put
into action and invested with a semi-substance. That this brain is of
immense power, that it can set matter into movement, that it is
malignant and destructive, I believe; some material force must have
killed my dog; the same force might, for aught I know, have sufficed to
kill myself, had I been as subjugated by terror as the dog--had my
intellect or my spirit given me no countervailing resistance in my
"It killed your dog! that is fearful! indeed it is strange that no
animal can be induced to stay in that house; not even a cat. Rats and
mice are never found in it."
"The instincts of the brute creation detect influences deadly to their
existence. Man's reason has a sense less subtle, because it has a
resisting power more supreme. But enough; do you comprehend my theory?"
"Yes, though imperfectly--and I accept any crotchet (pardon the word),
however odd, rather than embrace at once the notion of ghosts and
hob-goblins we imbibed in our nurseries. Still, to my unfortunate house
the evil is the same. What on earth can I do with the house?"
"I will tell you what I would do. I am convinced from my own internal
feelings that the small unfurnished room at right angles to the door of
the bedroom which I occupied, forms a starting-point or receptacle for
the influences which haunt the house; and I strongly advise you to have
the walls opened, the floor removed--nay, the whole room pulled down.
I observe that it is detached from the body of the house, built over the
small back-yard, and could be removed without injury to the rest of the
"And you think, if I did that----"
"You would cut off the telegraph wires. Try it. I am so persuaded that I
am right, that I will pay half the expense if you will allow me to
direct the operations."
"Nay, I am well able to afford the cost; for the rest, allow me to write
About ten days afterwards I received a letter from Mr. J----, telling me
that he had visited the house since I had seen him; that he had found
the two letters I had described replaced in the drawer from which I had
taken them; that he had read them with misgivings like my own; that he
had instituted a cautious inquiry about the woman to whom I rightly
conjectured they had been written. It seemed that thirty-six years ago
(a year before the date of the letters) she had married, against the
wish of her relations, an American of very suspicious character, in
fact, he was generally believed to have been a pirate. She herself was
the daughter of very respectable tradespeople, and had served in the
capacity of nursery governess before her marriage. She had a brother, a
widower, who was considered wealthy, and who had one child of about six
years old. A month after the marriage, the body of this brother was
found in the Thames, near London Bridge; there seemed some marks of
violence about his throat, but they were not deemed sufficient to
warrant the inquest in any other verdict than that of "found drowned."
The American and his wife took charge of the little boy, the deceased
brother having by his will left his sister the guardian of his only
child--and in the event of the child's death, the sister inherited. The
child died about six months afterwards--it was supposed to have been
neglected and ill-treated. The neighbors deposed to have heard it shriek
at night. The surgeon who had examined it after death said that it was
emaciated as if from want of nourishment, and the body was covered with
livid bruises. It seemed that one winter night the child had sought to
escape--crept out into the back-yard--tried to scale the wall--fallen
back exhausted, and been found at morning on the stones in a dying
state. But though there was some evidence of cruelty, there was none of
murder; and the aunt and her husband had sought to palliate cruelty by
alleging the exceeding stubbornness and perversity of the child, who was
declared to be half-witted. Be that is it may, at the orphan's death the
aunt inherited her brother's fortune. Before the first wedded year was
out the American quitted England abruptly, and never returned to it. He
obtained a cruising vessel, which was lost in the Atlantic two years
afterwards. The widow was left in affluence; but reverses of various
kinds had befallen her; a bank broke--an investment failed--she went
into a small business and became insolvent--then she entered into
service, sinking lower and lower, from housekeeper down to maid-of-all
work--never long retaining a place, though nothing decided against her
character was ever alleged. She was considered sober, honest, and
peculiarly quiet in her ways; still nothing prospered with her. And so
she had dropped into the workhouse, from which Mr. J---- had taken her,
to be placed in charge of the very house which she had rented as
mistress in the first year of her wedded life.
Mr. J---- added that he had passed an hour alone in the unfurnished room
which I had urged him to destroy, and that his impressions of dread
while there were so great, though he had neither heard nor seen
anything, that he was eager to have the walls bared and the floors
removed as I had suggested. He had engaged persons for the work, and
would commence any day I would name.
The day was accordingly fixed. I repaired to the haunted house--he went
into the blind dreary room, took up the skirting, and then the floors.
Under the rafters, covered with rubbish, was found a trap-door, quite
large enough to admit a man. It was closely nailed down, with clamps and
rivets of iron. On removing these we descended into a room below, the
existence of which had never been suspected. In this room there had been
a window and a flue, but they had been bricked over, evidently for many
years. By the help of candles we examined this place; it still retained
some mouldering furniture--three chairs, an oak settle, a table--all of
the fashion of about eighty years ago. There was a chest of drawers
against the wall, in which we found, half-rotted away, old-fashioned
articles of a man's dress, such as might have been worn eighty or a
hundred years ago by a gentleman of some rank--costly steel buckles and
buttons, like those yet worn in court-dresses, a handsome court
sword--in a waistcoat which had once been rich with gold-lace, but which
was now blackened and foul with damp, we found five guineas, a few
silver coins, and an ivory ticket, probably for some place of
entertainment long since passed away. But our main discovery was in a
kind of iron safe fixed to the wall, the lock of which it cost us much
trouble to get picked.
In this safe were three shelves, and two small drawers. Ranged on the
shelves were several small bottles of crystal, hermetically stopped.
They contained colorless volatile essences, of the nature of which I
shall only say that they were not poisons--phosphor and ammonia entered
into some of them. There were also some very curious glass tubes, and a
small pointed rod of iron, with a large lump of rock-crystal, and
another of amber--also a loadstone of great power.
In one of the drawers we found a miniature portrait set in gold, and
retaining the freshness of its colors most remarkably, considering the
length of time it had probably been there. The portrait was that of a
man who might be somewhat advanced in middle life, perhaps forty-seven
It was a remarkable face--a most impressive face. If you could fancy
some mighty serpent transformed into a man, preserving in the human
lineaments the old serpent type, you would have a better idea of that
countenance than long descriptions can convey: the width and flatness of
frontal--the tapering elegance of contour disguising the strength of the
deadly jaw--the long, large, terrible eye, glittering and green as the
emerald--and withal a certain ruthless calm, as if from the
consciousness of an immense power.
Mechanically I turned round the miniature to examine the back of it,
and on the back was engraved a pentacle; in the middle of the pentacle a
ladder, and the third step of the ladder was formed by the date 1765.
Examining still more minutely, I detected a spring; this, on being
pressed, opened the back of the miniature as a lid. Withinside the lid
were engraved, "Marianna to thee--be faithful in life and in death
to----." Here follows a name that I will not mention, but it was not
unfamiliar to me. I had heard it spoken of by old men in my childhood as
the name borne by a dazzling charlatan who had made a great sensation in
London for a year or so, and had fled the country on the charge of a
double murder within his own house--that of his mistress and his rival.
I said nothing of this to Mr. J----, to whom reluctantly I resigned the
We had found no difficulty in opening the first drawer within the iron
safe; we found great difficulty in opening the second: it was not
locked, but it resisted all efforts, till we inserted in the clinks the
edge of a chisel. When we had thus drawn it forth we found a very
singular apparatus in the nicest order. Upon a small thin book, or
rather tablet, was placed a saucer of crystal: this saucer was filled
with a clear liquid--on that liquid floated a kind of compass, with a
needle shifting rapidly round; but instead of the usual points of a
compass were seven strange characters, not very unlike those used by
astrologers to denote the planets.
A peculiar, but not strong nor displeasing odor came from this drawer,
which was lined with a wood that we afterwards discovered to be hazel.
Whatever the cause of this odor, it produced a material effect on the
nerves. We all felt it, even the two workmen who were in the room--a
creeping tingling sensation from the tips of the fingers to the roots of
the hair. Impatient to examine the tablet, I removed the saucer. As I
did so the needle of the compass went round and round with exceeding
swiftness, and I felt a shock that ran through my whole frame, so that
I dropped the saucer on the floor. The liquid was spilt--the saucer was
broken--the compass rolled to the end of the room--and at that instant
the walls shook to and fro, as if a giant had swayed and rocked them.
The two workmen were so frightened that they ran up the ladder by which
we had descended from the trap-door; but seeing that nothing more
happened, they were easily induced to return.
Meanwhile I had opened the tablet: it was bound in plain red leather,
with a silver clasp; it contained but one sheet of thick vellum, and on
that sheet were inscribed within a double pentacle, words in old monkish
Latin, which are literally to be translated thus: "On all that it can
reach within these walls--sentient or inanimate, living or dead--as
moves the needle, so work my will! Accursed be the house, and restless
be the dwellers therein."
We found no more. Mr. J---- burnt the tablet and its anathema. He razed
to the foundations the part of the building containing the secret room
with the chamber over it. He had then the courage to inhabit the house
himself for a month, and a quieter, better-conditioned house could not
be found in all London. Subsequently he let it to advantage, and his
tenant has made no complaints.
The Heroic Midshipman Or Church-yard Encounter The Hypochondriac Gentleman And The Jack-ass