The Story Of A Disappearance And An Appearance





The letters which I now publish were sent to me recently by a person

who knows me to be interested in ghost stories. There is no doubt

about their authenticity. The paper on which they are written, the

ink, and the whole external aspect put their date beyond the reach of

question.



The only point which they do not make clear is the identity of the

writer. He signs with initials only, and as none of the envelopes of

the letters are preserved, the surname of his correspondent--obviously

a married brother--is as obscure as his own. No further preliminary

explanation is needed, I think. Luckily the first letter supplies all

that could be expected.





LETTER I



GREAT CHRISHALL, Dec. 22, 1837.



MY DEAR ROBERT,--It is with great regret for the enjoyment I am

losing, and for a reason which you will deplore equally with myself,

that I write to inform you that I am unable to join your circle for

this Christmas: but you will agree with me that it is unavoidable when

I say that I have within these few hours received a letter from Mrs.

Hunt at B----, to the effect that our Uncle Henry has suddenly and

mysteriously disappeared, and begging me to go down there immediately

and join the search that is being made for him. Little as I, or you

either, I think, have ever seen of Uncle, I naturally feel that this

is not a request that can be regarded lightly, and accordingly I

propose to go to B---- by this afternoon's mail, reaching it late in

the evening. I shall not go to the Rectory, but put up at the King's

Head, and to which you may address letters. I enclose a small draft,

which you will please make use of for the benefit of the young people.

I shall write you daily (supposing me to be detained more than a

single day) what goes on, and you may be sure, should the business be

cleared up in time to permit of my coming to the Manor after all, I

shall present myself. I have but a few minutes at disposal. With

cordial greetings to you all, and many regrets, believe me, your

affectionate Bro.,



W. R.





LETTER II



KING'S HEAD, Dec. 23, '37.



MY DEAR ROBERT,--In the first place, there is as yet no news of Uncle

H., and I think you may finally dismiss any idea--I won't say

hope--that I might after all turn up for Xmas. However, my thoughts

will be with you, and you have my best wishes for a really festive

day. Mind that none of my nephews or nieces expend any fraction of

their guineas on presents for me.



Since I got here I have been blaming myself for taking this affair of

Uncle H. too easily. From what people here say, I gather that there is

very little hope that he can still be alive; but whether it is

accident or design that carried him off I cannot judge. The facts are

these. On Friday the 19th, he went as usual shortly before five

o'clock to read evening prayers at the Church; and when they were over

the clerk brought him a message, in response to which he set off to

pay a visit to a sick person at an outlying cottage the better part of

two miles away. He paid the visit, and started on his return journey

at about half-past six. This is the last that is known of him. The

people here are very much grieved at his loss; he had been here many

years, as you know, and though, as you also know, he was not the most

genial of men, and had more than a little of the martinet in his

composition, he seems to have been active in good works, and unsparing

of trouble to himself.



Poor Mrs. Hunt, who has been his housekeeper ever since she left

Woodley, is quite overcome: it seems like the end of the world to her.

I am glad that I did not entertain the idea of taking quarters at the

Rectory; and I have declined several kindly offers of hospitality from

people in the place, preferring as I do to be independent, and finding

myself very comfortable here.



You will, of course, wish to know what has been done in the way of

inquiry and search. First, nothing was to be expected from

investigation at the Rectory; and to be brief, nothing has transpired.

I asked Mrs. Hunt--as others had done before--whether there was either

any unfavourable symptom in her master such as might portend a sudden

stroke, or attack of illness, or whether he had ever had reason to

apprehend any such thing: but both she, and also his medical man, were

clear that this was not the case. He was quite in his usual health.

In the second place, naturally, ponds and streams have been dragged,

and fields in the neighbourhood which he is known to have visited

last, have been searched--without result. I have myself talked to the

parish clerk and--more important--have been to the house where he paid

his visit.



There can be no question of any foul play on these people's part. The

one man in the house is ill in bed and very weak: the wife and the

children of course could do nothing themselves, nor is there the

shadow of a probability that they or any of them should have agreed to

decoy poor Uncle H. out in order that he might be attacked on the way

back. They had told what they knew to several other inquirers already,

but the woman repeated it to me. The Rector was looking just as usual:

he wasn't very long with the sick man--He ain't, she said, like

some what has a gift in prayer; but there, if we was all that way,

'owever would the chapel people get their living? He left some money

when he went away, and one of the children saw him cross the stile

into the next field. He was dressed as he always was: wore his

bands--I gather he is nearly the last man remaining who does so--at

any rate in this district.



You see I am putting down everything. The fact is that I have nothing

else to do, having brought no business papers with me; and, moreover,

it serves to clear my own mind, and may suggest points which have been

overlooked. So I shall continue to write all that passes, even to

conversations if need be--you may read or not as you please, but pray

keep the letters. I have another reason for writing so fully, but it

is not a very tangible one.



You may ask if I have myself made any search in the fields near the

cottage. Something--a good deal--has been done by others, as I

mentioned; but I hope to go over the ground to-morrow. Bow Street has

now been informed, and will send down by to-night's coach, but I do

not think they will make much of the job. There is no snow, which

might have helped us. The fields are all grass. Of course I was on the

qui vive for any indication to-day both going and returning; but

there was a thick mist on the way back, and I was not in trim for

wandering about unknown pastures, especially on an evening when bushes

looked like men, and a cow lowing in the distance might have been the

last trump. I assure you, if Uncle Henry had stepped out from among

the trees in a little copse which borders the path at one place,

carrying his head under his arm, I should have been very little more

uncomfortable than I was. To tell you the truth, I was rather

expecting something of the kind. But I must drop my pen for the

moment: Mr. Lucas, the curate, is announced.



Later. Mr. Lucas has been, and gone, and there is not much beyond

the decencies of ordinary sentiment to be got from him. I can see that

he has given up any idea that the Rector can be alive, and that, so

far as he can be, he is truly sorry. I can also discern that even in a

more emotional person than Mr. Lucas, Uncle Henry was not likely to

inspire strong attachment.



Besides Mr. Lucas, I have had another visitor in the shape of my

Boniface--mine host of the King's Head--who came to see whether I

had everything I wished, and who really requires the pen of a Boz to

do him justice. He was very solemn and weighty at first. Well, sir,

he said, I suppose we must bow our 'ead beneath the blow, as my poor

wife had used to say. So far as I can gather there's been neither

hide nor yet hair of our late respected incumbent scented out as yet;

not that he was what the Scripture terms a hairy man in any sense of

the word.



I said--as well as I could--that I supposed not, but could not help

adding that I had heard he was sometimes a little difficult to deal

with. Mr. Bowman looked at me sharply for a moment, and then passed in

a flash from solemn sympathy to impassioned declamation. When I

think, he said, of the language that man see fit to employ to me in

this here parlour over no more a matter than a cask of beer--such a

thing as I told him might happen any day of the week to a man with a

family--though as it turned out he was quite under a mistake, and that

I knew at the time, only I was that shocked to hear him I couldn't lay

my tongue to the right expression.



He stopped abruptly and eyed me with some embarrassment. I only said,

Dear me, I'm sorry to hear you had any little differences; I suppose

my uncle will be a good deal missed in the parish? Mr. Bowman drew a

long breath. Ah, yes! he said; your uncle! You'll understand me

when I say that for the moment it had slipped my remembrance that he

was a relative; and natural enough, I must say, as it should, for as

to you bearing any resemblance to--to him, the notion of any such a

thing is clean ridiculous. All the same, 'ad I 'ave bore it in my

mind, you'll be among the first to feel, I'm sure, as I should have

abstained my lips, or rather I should not have abstained my lips

with no such reflections.



I assured him that I quite understood, and was going to have asked him

some further questions, but he was called away to see after some

business. By the way, you need not take it into your head that he has

anything to fear from the inquiry into poor Uncle Henry's

disappearance--though, no doubt, in the watches of the night it will

occur to him that I think he has, and I may expect explanations

to-morrow.



I must close this letter: it has to go by the late coach.





LETTER III



Dec. 25, '37.



MY DEAR ROBERT,--This is a curious letter to be writing on Christmas

Day, and yet after all there is nothing much in it. Or there may

be--you shall be the judge. At least, nothing decisive. The Bow

Street men practically say that they have no clue. The length of time

and the weather conditions have made all tracks so faint as to be

quite useless: nothing that belonged to the dead man--I'm afraid no

other word will do--has been picked up.



As I expected, Mr. Bowman was uneasy in his mind this morning; quite

early I heard him holding forth in a very distinct voice--purposely

so, I thought--to the Bow Street officers in the bar, as to the loss

that the town had sustained in their Rector, and as to the necessity

of leaving no stone unturned (he was very great on this phrase) in

order to come at the truth. I suspect him of being an orator of repute

at convivial meetings.



When I was at breakfast he came to wait on me, and took an opportunity

when handing a muffin to say in a low tone, I 'ope, sir, you reconize

as my feelings towards your relative is not actuated by any taint of

what you may call melignity--you can leave the room, Eliza, I will see

the gentleman 'as all he requires with my own hands--I ask your

pardon, sir, but you must be well aware a man is not always master of

himself: and when that man has been 'urt in his mind by the

application of expressions which I will go so far as to say 'ad not

ought to have been made use of (his voice was rising all this time and

his face growing redder); no, sir; and 'ere, if you will permit of it,

I should like to explain to you in a very few words the exact state of

the bone of contention. This cask--I might more truly call it a

firkin--of beer--



I felt it was time to interpose, and said that I did not see that it

would help us very much to go into that matter in detail. Mr. Bowman

acquiesced, and resumed more calmly:



Well, sir, I bow to your ruling, and as you say, be that here or be

it there, it don't contribute a great deal, perhaps, to the present

question. All I wish you to understand is that I am prepared as you

are yourself to lend every hand to the business we have afore us,

and--as I took the opportunity to say as much to the Orficers not

three-quarters of an hour ago--to leave no stone unturned as may throw

even a spark of light on this painful matter.



In fact, Mr. Bowman did accompany us on our exploration, but though I

am sure his genuine wish was to be helpful, I am afraid he did not

contribute to the serious side of it. He appeared to be under the

impression that we were likely to meet either Uncle Henry or the

person responsible for his disappearance, walking about the

fields--and did a great deal of shading his eyes with his hand and

calling our attention, by pointing with his stick, to distant cattle

and labourers. He held several long conversations with old women whom

we met, and was very strict and severe in his manner--but on each

occasion returned to our party saying, Well, I find she don't seem to

'ave no connexion with this sad affair. I think you may take it from

me, sir, as there's little or no light to be looked for from that

quarter; not without she's keeping somethink back intentional.



We gained no appreciable result, as I told you at starting; the Bow

Street men have left the town, whether for London or not, I am not

sure.



This evening I had company in the shape of a bagman, a smartish

fellow. He knew what was going forward, but though he has been on the

roads for some days about here, he had nothing to tell of suspicious

characters--tramps, wandering sailors or gipsies. He was very full of

a capital Punch and Judy Show he had seen this same day at W----, and

asked if it had been here yet, and advised me by no means to miss it

if it does come. The best Punch and the best Toby dog, he said, he had

ever come across. Toby dogs, you know, are the last new thing in the

shows. I have only seen one myself, but before long all the men will

have them.



Now why, you will want to know, do I trouble to write all this to you?

I am obliged to do it, because it has something to do with another

absurd trifle (as you will inevitably say), which in my present state

of rather unquiet fancy--nothing more, perhaps--I have to put down. It

is a dream, sir, which I am going to record, and I must say it is one

of the oddest I have had. Is there anything in it beyond what the

bagman's talk and Uncle Henry's disappearance could have suggested?

You, I repeat, shall judge: I am not in a sufficiently cool and

judicial frame to do so.



It began with what I can only describe as a pulling aside of curtains:

and I found myself seated in a place--I don't know whether in doors or

out. There were people--only a few--on either side of me, but I did

not recognize them, or indeed think much about them. They never spoke,

but, so far as I remember, were all grave and pale-faced and looked

fixedly before them. Facing me there was a Punch and Judy Show,

perhaps rather larger than the ordinary ones, painted with black

figures on a reddish-yellow ground. Behind it and on each side was

only darkness, but in front there was a sufficiency of light. I was

strung up to a high degree of expectation and listened every moment

to hear the panpipes and the Roo-too-too-it. Instead of that there

came suddenly an enormous--I can use no other word--an enormous single

toll of a bell, I don't know from how far off--somewhere behind. The

little curtain flew up and the drama began.



I believe someone once tried to re-write Punch as a serious tragedy;

but whoever he may have been, this performance would have suited him

exactly. There was something Satanic about the hero. He varied his

methods of attack: for some of his victims he lay in wait, and to see

his horrible face--it was yellowish white, I may remark--peering round

the wings made me think of the Vampyre in Fuseli's foul sketch. To

others he was polite and carneying--particularly to the unfortunate

alien who can only say Shallabalah--though what Punch said I never

could catch. But with all of them I came to dread the moment of death.

The crack of the stick on their skulls, which in the ordinary way

delights me, had here a crushing sound as if the bone was giving way,

and the victims quivered and kicked as they lay. The baby--it sounds

more ridiculous as I go on--the baby, I am sure, was alive. Punch

wrung its neck, and if the choke or squeak which it gave were not

real, I know nothing of reality.



The stage got perceptibly darker as each crime was consummated, and at

last there was one murder which was done quite in the dark, so that I

could see nothing of the victim, and took some time to effect. It was

accompanied by hard breathing and horrid muffled sounds, and after it

Punch came and sat on the foot-board and fanned himself and looked at

his shoes, which were bloody, and hung his head on one side, and

sniggered in so deadly a fashion that I saw some of those beside me

cover their faces, and I would gladly have done the same. But in the

meantime the scene behind Punch was clearing, and showed, not the

usual house front, but something more ambitious--a grove of trees and

the gentle slope of a hill, with a very natural--in fact, I should say

a real--moon shining on it. Over this there rose slowly an object

which I soon perceived to be a human figure with something peculiar

about the head--what, I was unable at first to see. It did not stand

on its feet, but began creeping or dragging itself across the middle

distance towards Punch, who still sat back to it; and by this time, I

may remark (though it did not occur to me at the moment) that all

pretence of this being a puppet show had vanished. Punch was still

Punch, it is true, but, like the others, was in some sense a live

creature, and both moved themselves at their own will.



When I next glanced at him he was sitting in malignant reflection; but

in another instant something seemed to attract his attention, and he

first sat up sharply and then turned round, and evidently caught sight

of the person that was approaching him and was in fact now very near.

Then, indeed, did he show unmistakable signs of terror: catching up

his stick, he rushed towards the wood, only just eluding the arm of

his pursuer, which was suddenly flung out to intercept him. It was

with a revulsion which I cannot easily express that I now saw more or

less clearly what this pursuer was like. He was a sturdy figure clad

in black, and, as I thought, wearing bands: his head was covered with

a whitish bag.



The chase which now began lasted I do not know how long, now among the

trees, now along the slope of the field, sometimes both figures

disappearing wholly for a few seconds, and only some uncertain sounds

letting one know that they were still afoot. At length there came a

moment when Punch, evidently exhausted, staggered in from the left and

threw himself down among the trees. His pursuer was not long after

him, and came looking uncertainly from side to side. Then, catching

sight of the figure on the ground, he too threw himself down--his back

was turned to the audience--with a swift motion twitched the covering

from his head, and thrust his face into that of Punch. Everything on

the instant grew dark.



There was one long, loud, shuddering scream, and I awoke to find

myself looking straight into the face of--what in all the world do you

think?--but a large owl, which was seated on my window-sill

immediately opposite my bed-foot, holding up its wings like two

shrouded arms. I caught the fierce glance of its yellow eyes, and then

it was gone. I heard the single enormous bell again--very likely, as

you are saying to yourself, the church clock; but I do not think

so--and then I was broad awake.



All this, I may say, happened within the last half-hour. There was no

probability of my getting to sleep again, so I got up, put on clothes

enough to keep me warm, and am writing this rigmarole in the first

hours of Christmas Day. Have I left out anything? Yes, there was no

Toby dog, and the names over the front of the Punch and Judy booth

were Kidman and Gallop, which were certainly not what the bagman told

me to look out for.



By this time, I feel a little more as if I could sleep, so this shall

be sealed and wafered.





LETTER IV



Dec. 26, '37.



MY DEAR ROBERT,--All is over. The body has been found. I do not make

excuses for not having sent off my news by last night's mail, for the

simple reason that I was incapable of putting pen to paper. The events

that attended the discovery bewildered me so completely that I needed

what I could get of a night's rest to enable me to face the situation

at all. Now I can give you my journal of the day, certainly the

strangest Christmas Day that ever I spent or am likely to spend.



The first incident was not very serious. Mr. Bowman had, I think, been

keeping Christmas Eve, and was a little inclined to be captious: at

least, he was not on foot very early, and to judge from what I could

hear, neither men or maids could do anything to please him. The latter

were certainly reduced to tears; nor am I sure that Mr. Bowman

succeeded in preserving a manly composure. At any rate, when I came

downstairs, it was in a broken voice that he wished me the compliments

of the season, and a little later on, when he paid his visit of

ceremony at breakfast, he was far from cheerful: even Byronic, I might

almost say, in his outlook on life.



I don't know, he said, if you think with me, sir; but every

Christmas as comes round the world seems a hollerer thing to me. Why,

take an example now from what lays under my own eye. There's my

servant Eliza--been with me now for going on fifteen years. I thought

I could have placed my confidence in Elizar, and yet this very

morning--Christmas morning too, of all the blessed days in the

year--with the bells a ringing and--and--all like that--I say, this

very morning, had it not have been for Providence watching over us

all, that girl would have put--indeed I may go so far to say, 'ad put

the cheese on your breakfast table---- He saw I was about to speak,

and waved his hand at me. It's all very well for you to say, 'Yes,

Mr. Bowman, but you took away the cheese and locked it up in the

cupboard,' which I did, and have the key here, or if not the actual

key one very much about the same size. That's true enough, sir, but

what do you think is the effect of that action on me? Why it's no

exaggeration for me to say that the ground is cut from under my feet.

And yet when I said as much to Eliza, not nasty, mind you, but just

firm like, what was my return? 'Oh,' she says: 'Well,' she says,

'there wasn't no bones broke, I suppose.' Well, sir, it 'urt me,

that's all I can say: it 'urt me, and I don't like to think of it

now.



There was an ominous pause here, in which I ventured to say something

like, Yes, very trying, and then asked at what hour the church

service was to be. Eleven o'clock, Mr. Bowman said with a heavy

sigh. Ah, you won't have no such discourse from poor Mr. Lucas as

what you would have done from our late Rector. Him and me may have

had our little differences, and did do, more's the pity.



I could see that a powerful effort was needed to keep him off the

vexed question of the cask of beer, but he made it. But I will say

this, that a better preacher, nor yet one to stand faster by his

rights, or what he considered to be his rights--however, that's not

the question now--I for one, never set under. Some might say, 'Was he

a eloquent man?' and to that my answer would be: 'Well, there you've a

better right per'aps to speak of your own uncle than what I have.'

Others might ask, 'Did he keep a hold of his congregation?' and there

again I should reply, 'That depends.' But as I say--Yes, Eliza, my

girl, I'm coming--eleven o'clock, sir, and you inquire for the King's

Head pew. I believe Eliza had been very near the door, and shall

consider it in my vail.



The next episode was church: I felt Mr. Lucas had a difficult task in

doing justice to Christmas sentiments, and also to the feeling of

disquiet and regret which, whatever Mr. Bowman might say, was clearly

prevalent. I do not think he rose to the occasion. I was

uncomfortable. The organ wolved--you know what I mean: the wind

died--twice in the Christmas Hymn, and the tenor bell, I suppose owing

to some negligence on the part of the ringers, kept sounding faintly

about once in a minute during the sermon. The clerk sent up a man to

see to it, but he seemed unable to do much. I was glad when it was

over. There was an odd incident, too, before the service. I went in

rather early, and came upon two men carrying the parish bier back to

its place under the tower. From what I overheard them saying, it

appeared that it had been put out by mistake, by some one who was not

there. I also saw the clerk busy folding up a moth-eaten velvet

pall--not a sight for Christmas Day.



I dined soon after this, and then, feeling disinclined to go out, took

my seat by the fire in the parlour, with the last number of

Pickwick, which I had been saving up for some days. I thought I

could be sure of keeping awake over this, but I turned out as bad as

our friend Smith. I suppose it was half-past two when I was roused by

a piercing whistle and laughing and talking voices outside in the

market-place. It was a Punch and Judy--I had no doubt the one that my

bagman had seen at W----. I was half delighted, half not--the latter

because my unpleasant dream came back to me so vividly; but, anyhow, I

determined to see it through, and I sent Eliza out with a crown-piece

to the performers and a request that they would face my window if they

could manage it.



The show was a very smart new one; the names of the proprietors, I

need hardly tell you, were Italian, Foresta and Calpigi. The Toby dog

was there, as I had been led to expect. All B---- turned out, but did

not obstruct my view, for I was at the large first-floor window and

not ten yards away.



The play began on the stroke of a quarter to three by the church

clock. Certainly it was very good; and I was soon relieved to find

that the disgust my dream had given me for Punch's onslaughts on his

ill-starred visitors was only transient. I laughed at the demise of

the Turncock, the Foreigner, the Beadle, and even the baby. The only

drawback was the Toby dog's developing a tendency to howl in the wrong

place. Something had occurred, I suppose, to upset him, and something

considerable: for, I forget exactly at what point, he gave a most

lamentable cry, leapt off the foot board, and shot away across the

market-place and down a side street. There was a stage-wait, but only

a brief one. I suppose the men decided that it was no good going after

him, and that he was likely to turn up again at night.



We went on. Punch dealt faithfully with Judy, and in fact with all

comers; and then came the moment when the gallows was erected, and the

great scene with Mr. Ketch was to be enacted. It was now that

something happened of which I can certainly not yet see the import

fully. You have witnessed an execution, and know what the criminal's

head looks like with the cap on. If you are like me, you never wish to

think of it again, and I do not willingly remind you of it. It was

just such a head as that, that I, from my somewhat higher post, saw in

the inside of the show-box; but at first the audience did not see it.

I expected it to emerge into their view, but instead of that there

slowly rose for a few seconds an uncovered face, with an expression of

terror upon it, of which I have never imagined the like. It seemed as

if the man, whoever he was, was being forcibly lifted, with his arms

somehow pinioned or held back, towards the little gibbet on the

stage. I could just see the nightcapped head behind him. Then there

was a cry and a crash. The whole show-box fell over backwards; kicking

legs were seen among the ruins, and then two figures--as some said; I

can only answer for one--were visible running at top speed across the

square and disappearing in a lane which leads to the fields.



Of course everybody gave chase. I followed; but the pace was killing,

and very few were in, literally, at the death. It happened in a chalk

pit: the man went over the edge quite blindly and broke his neck. They

searched everywhere for the other, until it occurred to me to ask

whether he had ever left the market-place. At first everyone was sure

that he had; but when we came to look, he was there, under the

show-box, dead too.



But in the chalk pit it was that poor Uncle Henry's body was found,

with a sack over the head, the throat horribly mangled. It was a

peaked corner of the sack sticking out of the soil that attracted

attention. I cannot bring myself to write in greater detail.



I forgot to say the men's real names were Kidman and Gallop. I feel

sure I have heard them, but no one here seems to know anything about

them.



I am coming to you as soon as I can after the funeral. I must tell you

when we meet what I think of it all.





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