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A Haunted Island

Scary Books: The Empty House And Other Ghost Stories

The following events occurred on a small island of isolated position in

a large Canadian lake, to whose cool waters the inhabitants of Montreal

and Toronto flee for rest and recreation in the hot months. It is only

to be regretted that events of such peculiar interest to the genuine

student of the psychical should be entirely uncorroborated. Such

unfortunately, however, is the case.

Our own party of nearl
twenty had returned to Montreal that very day,

and I was left in solitary possession for a week or two longer, in order

to accomplish some important "reading" for the law which I had foolishly

neglected during the summer.

It was late in September, and the big trout and maskinonge were stirring

themselves in the depths of the lake, and beginning slowly to move up to

the surface waters as the north winds and early frosts lowered their

temperature. Already the maples were crimson and gold, and the wild

laughter of the loons echoed in sheltered bays that never knew their

strange cry in the summer.

With a whole island to oneself, a two-storey cottage, a canoe, and only

the chipmunks, and the farmer's weekly visit with eggs and bread, to

disturb one, the opportunities for hard reading might be very great. It

all depends!

The rest of the party had gone off with many warnings to beware of

Indians, and not to stay late enough to be the victim of a frost that

thinks nothing of forty below zero. After they had gone, the loneliness

of the situation made itself unpleasantly felt. There were no other

islands within six or seven miles, and though the mainland forests lay a

couple of miles behind me, they stretched for a very great distance

unbroken by any signs of human habitation. But, though the island was

completely deserted and silent, the rocks and trees that had echoed

human laughter and voices almost every hour of the day for two months

could not fail to retain some memories of it all; and I was not

surprised to fancy I heard a shout or a cry as I passed from rock to

rock, and more than once to imagine that I heard my own name called


In the cottage there were six tiny little bedrooms divided from one

another by plain unvarnished partitions of pine. A wooden bedstead, a

mattress, and a chair, stood in each room, but I only found two mirrors,

and one of these was broken.

The boards creaked a good deal as I moved about, and the signs of

occupation were so recent that I could hardly believe I was alone. I

half expected to find someone left behind, still trying to crowd into a

box more than it would hold. The door of one room was stiff, and refused

for a moment to open, and it required very little persuasion to imagine

someone was holding the handle on the inside, and that when it opened I

should meet a pair of human eyes.

A thorough search of the floor led me to select as my own sleeping

quarters a little room with a diminutive balcony over the verandah roof.

The room was very small, but the bed was large, and had the best

mattress of them all. It was situated directly over the sitting-room

where I should live and do my "reading," and the miniature window looked

out to the rising sun. With the exception of a narrow path which led

from the front door and verandah through the trees to the boat-landing,

the island was densely covered with maples, hemlocks, and cedars. The

trees gathered in round the cottage so closely that the slightest wind

made the branches scrape the roof and tap the wooden walls. A few

moments after sunset the darkness became impenetrable, and ten yards

beyond the glare of the lamps that shone through the sitting-room

windows--of which there were four--you could not see an inch before your

nose, nor move a step without running up against a tree.

The rest of that day I spent moving my belongings from my tent to the

sitting-room, taking stock of the contents of the larder, and chopping

enough wood for the stove to last me for a week. After that, just before

sunset, I went round the island a couple of times in my canoe for

precaution's sake. I had never dreamed of doing this before, but when a

man is alone he does things that never occur to him when he is one of a

large party.

How lonely the island seemed when I landed again! The sun was down, and

twilight is unknown in these northern regions. The darkness comes up at

once. The canoe safely pulled up and turned over on her face, I groped

my way up the little narrow pathway to the verandah. The six lamps were

soon burning merrily in the front room; but in the kitchen, where I

"dined," the shadows were so gloomy, and the lamplight was so

inadequate, that the stars could be seen peeping through the cracks

between the rafters.

I turned in early that night. Though it was calm and there was no wind,

the creaking of my bedstead and the musical gurgle of the water over the

rocks below were not the only sounds that reached my ears. As I lay

awake, the appalling emptiness of the house grew upon me. The corridors

and vacant rooms seemed to echo innumerable footsteps, shufflings, the

rustle of skirts, and a constant undertone of whispering. When sleep at

length overtook me, the breathings and noises, however, passed gently to

mingle with the voices of my dreams.

A week passed by, and the "reading" progressed favourably. On the tenth

day of my solitude, a strange thing happened. I awoke after a good

night's sleep to find myself possessed with a marked repugnance for my

room. The air seemed to stifle me. The more I tried to define the cause

of this dislike, the more unreasonable it appeared. There was something

about the room that made me afraid. Absurd as it seems, this feeling

clung to me obstinately while dressing, and more than once I caught

myself shivering, and conscious of an inclination to get out of the room

as quickly as possible. The more I tried to laugh it away, the more real

it became; and when at last I was dressed, and went out into the

passage, and downstairs into the kitchen, it was with feelings of

relief, such as I might imagine would accompany one's escape from the

presence of a dangerous contagious disease.

While cooking my breakfast, I carefully recalled every night spent in

the room, in the hope that I might in some way connect the dislike I now

felt with some disagreeable incident that had occurred in it. But the

only thing I could recall was one stormy night when I suddenly awoke and

heard the boards creaking so loudly in the corridor that I was convinced

there were people in the house. So certain was I of this, that I had

descended the stairs, gun in hand, only to find the doors and windows

securely fastened, and the mice and black-beetles in sole possession of

the floor. This was certainly not sufficient to account for the strength

of my feelings.

The morning hours I spent in steady reading; and when I broke off in the

middle of the day for a swim and luncheon, I was very much surprised,

if not a little alarmed, to find that my dislike for the room had, if

anything, grown stronger. Going upstairs to get a book, I experienced

the most marked aversion to entering the room, and while within I was

conscious all the time of an uncomfortable feeling that was half

uneasiness and half apprehension. The result of it was that, instead of

reading, I spent the afternoon on the water paddling and fishing, and

when I got home about sundown, brought with me half a dozen delicious

black bass for the supper-table and the larder.

As sleep was an important matter to me at this time, I had decided that

if my aversion to the room was so strongly marked on my return as it had

been before, I would move my bed down into the sitting-room, and sleep

there. This was, I argued, in no sense a concession to an absurd and

fanciful fear, but simply a precaution to ensure a good night's sleep. A

bad night involved the loss of the next day's reading,--a loss I was not

prepared to incur.

I accordingly moved my bed downstairs into a corner of the sitting-room

facing the door, and was moreover uncommonly glad when the operation

was completed, and the door of the bedroom closed finally upon the

shadows, the silence, and the strange _fear_ that shared the room with


The croaking stroke of the kitchen clock sounded the hour of eight as I

finished washing up my few dishes, and closing the kitchen door behind

me, passed into the front room. All the lamps were lit, and their

reflectors, which I had polished up during the day, threw a blaze of

light into the room.

Outside the night was still and warm. Not a breath of air was stirring;

the waves were silent, the trees motionless, and heavy clouds hung like

an oppressive curtain over the heavens. The darkness seemed to have

rolled up with unusual swiftness, and not the faintest glow of colour

remained to show where the sun had set. There was present in the

atmosphere that ominous and overwhelming silence which so often precedes

the most violent storms.

I sat down to my books with my brain unusually clear, and in my heart

the pleasant satisfaction of knowing that five black bass were lying in

the ice-house, and that to-morrow morning the old farmer would arrive

with fresh bread and eggs. I was soon absorbed in my books.

As the night wore on the silence deepened. Even the chipmunks were

still; and the boards of the floors and walls ceased creaking. I read on

steadily till, from the gloomy shadows of the kitchen, came the hoarse

sound of the clock striking nine. How loud the strokes sounded! They

were like blows of a big hammer. I closed one book and opened another,

feeling that I was just warming up to my work.

This, however, did not last long. I presently found that I was reading

the same paragraphs over twice, simple paragraphs that did not require

such effort. Then I noticed that my mind began to wander to other

things, and the effort to recall my thoughts became harder with each

digression. Concentration was growing momentarily more difficult.

Presently I discovered that I had turned over two pages instead of one,

and had not noticed my mistake until I was well down the page. This was

becoming serious. What was the disturbing influence? It could not be

physical fatigue. On the contrary, my mind was unusually alert, and in a

more receptive condition than usual. I made a new and determined effort

to read, and for a short time succeeded in giving my whole attention to

my subject. But in a very few moments again I found myself leaning back

in my chair, staring vacantly into space.

Something was evidently at work in my sub-consciousness. There was

something I had neglected to do. Perhaps the kitchen door and windows

were not fastened. I accordingly went to see, and found that they were!

The fire perhaps needed attention. I went in to see, and found that it

was all right! I looked at the lamps, went upstairs into every bedroom

in turn, and then went round the house, and even into the ice-house.

Nothing was wrong; everything was in its place. Yet something _was_

wrong! The conviction grew stronger and stronger within me.

When I at length settled down to my books again and tried to read, I

became aware, for the first time, that the room seemed growing cold. Yet

the day had been oppressively warm, and evening had brought no relief.

The six big lamps, moreover, gave out heat enough to warm the room

pleasantly. But a chilliness, that perhaps crept up from the lake, made

itself felt in the room, and caused me to get up to close the glass door

opening on to the verandah.

For a brief moment I stood looking out at the shaft of light that fell

from the windows and shone some little distance down the pathway, and

out for a few feet into the lake.

As I looked, I saw a canoe glide into the pathway of light, and

immediately crossing it, pass out of sight again into the darkness. It

was perhaps a hundred feet from the shore, and it moved swiftly.

I was surprised that a canoe should pass the island at that time of

night, for all the summer visitors from the other side of the lake had

gone home weeks before, and the island was a long way out of any line of

water traffic.

My reading from this moment did not make very good progress, for somehow

the picture of that canoe, gliding so dimly and swiftly across the

narrow track of light on the black waters, silhouetted itself against

the background of my mind with singular vividness. It kept coming

between my eyes and the printed page. The more I thought about it the

more surprised I became. It was of larger build than any I had seen

during the past summer months, and was more like the old Indian war

canoes with the high curving bows and stern and wide beam. The more I

tried to read, the less success attended my efforts; and finally I

closed my books and went out on the verandah to walk up and down a bit,

and shake the chilliness out of my bones.

The night was perfectly still, and as dark as imaginable. I stumbled

down the path to the little landing wharf, where the water made the very

faintest of gurgling under the timbers. The sound of a big tree falling

in the mainland forest, far across the lake, stirred echoes in the heavy

air, like the first guns of a distant night attack. No other sound

disturbed the stillness that reigned supreme.

As I stood upon the wharf in the broad splash of light that followed me

from the sitting-room windows, I saw another canoe cross the pathway of

uncertain light upon the water, and disappear at once into the

impenetrable gloom that lay beyond. This time I saw more distinctly than

before. It was like the former canoe, a big birch-bark, with

high-crested bows and stern and broad beam. It was paddled by two

Indians, of whom the one in the stern--the steerer--appeared to be a

very large man. I could see this very plainly; and though the second

canoe was much nearer the island than the first, I judged that they were

both on their way home to the Government Reservation, which was situated

some fifteen miles away upon the mainland.

I was wondering in my mind what could possibly bring any Indians down to

this part of the lake at such an hour of the night, when a third canoe,

of precisely similar build, and also occupied by two Indians, passed

silently round the end of the wharf. This time the canoe was very much

nearer shore, and it suddenly flashed into my mind that the three canoes

were in reality one and the same, and that only one canoe was circling

the island!

This was by no means a pleasant reflection, because, if it were the

correct solution of the unusual appearance of the three canoes in this

lonely part of the lake at so late an hour, the purpose of the two men

could only reasonably be considered to be in some way connected with

myself. I had never known of the Indians attempting any violence upon

the settlers who shared the wild, inhospitable country with them; at the

same time, it was not beyond the region of possibility to suppose. . . .

But then I did not care even to think of such hideous possibilities, and

my imagination immediately sought relief in all manner of other

solutions to the problem, which indeed came readily enough to my mind,

but did not succeed in recommending themselves to my reason.

Meanwhile, by a sort of instinct, I stepped back out of the bright light

in which I had hitherto been standing, and waited in the deep shadow of

a rock to see if the canoe would again make its appearance. Here I could

see, without being seen, and the precaution seemed a wise one.

After less than five minutes the canoe, as I had anticipated, made its

fourth appearance. This time it was not twenty yards from the wharf, and

I saw that the Indians meant to land. I recognised the two men as those

who had passed before, and the steerer was certainly an immense fellow.

It was unquestionably the same canoe. There could be no longer any doubt

that for some purpose of their own the men had been going round and

round the island for some time, waiting for an opportunity to land. I

strained my eyes to follow them in the darkness, but the night had

completely swallowed them up, and not even the faintest swish of the

paddles reached my ears as the Indians plied their long and powerful

strokes. The canoe would be round again in a few moments, and this time

it was possible that the men might land. It was well to be prepared. I

knew nothing of their intentions, and two to one (when the two are big

Indians!) late at night on a lonely island was not exactly my idea of

pleasant intercourse.

In a corner of the sitting-room, leaning up against the back wall, stood

my Marlin rifle, with ten cartridges in the magazine and one lying

snugly in the greased breech. There was just time to get up to the house

and take up a position of defence in that corner. Without an instant's

hesitation I ran up to the verandah, carefully picking my way among the

trees, so as to avoid being seen in the light. Entering the room, I shut

the door leading to the verandah, and as quickly as possible turned out

every one of the six lamps. To be in a room so brilliantly lighted,

where my every movement could be observed from outside, while I could

see nothing but impenetrable darkness at every window, was by all laws

of warfare an unnecessary concession to the enemy. And this enemy, if

enemy it was to be, was far too wily and dangerous to be granted any

such advantages.

I stood in the corner of the room with my back against the wall, and my

hand on the cold rifle-barrel. The table, covered with my books, lay

between me and the door, but for the first few minutes after the lights

were out the darkness was so intense that nothing could be discerned at

all. Then, very gradually, the outline of the room became visible, and

the framework of the windows began to shape itself dimly before my eyes.

After a few minutes the door (its upper half of glass), and the two

windows that looked out upon the front verandah, became specially

distinct; and I was glad that this was so, because if the Indians came

up to the house I should be able to see their approach, and gather

something of their plans. Nor was I mistaken, for there presently came

to my ears the peculiar hollow sound of a canoe landing and being

carefully dragged up over the rocks. The paddles I distinctly heard

being placed underneath, and the silence that ensued thereupon I rightly

interpreted to mean that the Indians were stealthily approaching the

house. . . .

While it would be absurd to claim that I was not alarmed--even

frightened--at the gravity of the situation and its possible outcome, I

speak the whole truth when I say that I was not overwhelmingly afraid

for myself. I was conscious that even at this stage of the night I was

passing into a psychical condition in which my sensations seemed no

longer normal. Physical fear at no time entered into the nature of my

feelings; and though I kept my hand upon my rifle the greater part of

the night, I was all the time conscious that its assistance could be of

little avail against the terrors that I had to face. More than once I

seemed to feel most curiously that I was in no real sense a part of the

proceedings, nor actually involved in them, but that I was playing the

part of a spectator--a spectator, moreover, on a psychic rather than on

a material plane. Many of my sensations that night were too vague for

definite description and analysis, but the main feeling that will stay

with me to the end of my days is the awful horror of it all, and the

miserable sensation that if the strain had lasted a little longer than

was actually the case my mind must inevitably have given way.

Meanwhile I stood still in my corner, and waited patiently for what was

to come. The house was as still as the grave, but the inarticulate

voices of the night sang in my ears, and I seemed to hear the blood

running in my veins and dancing in my pulses.

If the Indians came to the back of the house, they would find the

kitchen door and window securely fastened. They could not get in there

without making considerable noise, which I was bound to hear. The only

mode of getting in was by means of the door that faced me, and I kept my

eyes glued on that door without taking them off for the smallest

fraction of a second.

My sight adapted itself every minute better to the darkness. I saw the

table that nearly filled the room, and left only a narrow passage on

each side. I could also make out the straight backs of the wooden chairs

pressed up against it, and could even distinguish my papers and inkstand

lying on the white oilcloth covering. I thought of the gay faces that

had gathered round that table during the summer, and I longed for the

sunlight as I had never longed for it before.

Less than three feet to my left the passage-way led to the kitchen, and

the stairs leading to the bedrooms above commenced in this passage-way,

but almost in the sitting-room itself. Through the windows I could see

the dim motionless outlines of the trees: not a leaf stirred, not a

branch moved.

A few moments of this awful silence, and then I was aware of a soft

tread on the boards of the verandah, so stealthy that it seemed an

impression directly on my brain rather than upon the nerves of hearing.

Immediately afterwards a black figure darkened the glass door, and I

perceived that a face was pressed against the upper panes. A shiver ran

down my back, and my hair was conscious of a tendency to rise and stand

at right angles to my head.

It was the figure of an Indian, broad-shouldered and immense; indeed,

the largest figure of a man I have ever seen outside of a circus hall.

By some power of light that seemed to generate itself in the brain, I

saw the strong dark face with the aquiline nose and high cheek-bones

flattened against the glass. The direction of the gaze I could not

determine; but faint gleams of light as the big eyes rolled round and

showed their whites, told me plainly that no corner of the room escaped

their searching.

For what seemed fully five minutes the dark figure stood there, with the

huge shoulders bent forward so as to bring the head down to the level of

the glass; while behind him, though not nearly so large, the shadowy

form of the other Indian swayed to and fro like a bent tree. While I

waited in an agony of suspense and agitation for their next movement

little currents of icy sensation ran up and down my spine and my heart

seemed alternately to stop beating and then start off again with

terrifying rapidity. They must have heard its thumping and the singing

of the blood in my head! Moreover, I was conscious, as I felt a cold

stream of perspiration trickle down my face, of a desire to scream, to

shout, to bang the walls like a child, to make a noise, or do anything

that would relieve the suspense and bring things to a speedy climax.

It was probably this inclination that led me to another discovery, for

when I tried to bring my rifle from behind my back to raise it and have

it pointed at the door ready to fire, I found that I was powerless to

move. The muscles, paralysed by this strange fear, refused to obey the

will. Here indeed was a terrifying complication!