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The Lady In Black

Categories: Haunted Houses
Scary Books: The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts
: Andrew Lang

A ghost in a haunted house is seldom observed with anything like

scientific precision. The spectre in the following narrative could

not be photographed, attempts being usually made in a light which

required prolonged exposure. Efforts to touch it were failures, nor

did it speak. On the other hand, it did lend itself, perhaps

unconsciously, to one scientific experiment. The story is unromantic;

the names are fictiti
us. {198b}

Bognor House, an eligible family residence near a large town, was

built in 1860, and occupied, till his death in 1876, by Mr. S. He was

twice married, and was not of temperate ways. His second wife adopted

his habits, left him shortly before his death, and died at Clifton in

1878. The pair used to quarrel about some jewels which Mr. S.

concealed in the flooring of a room where the ghost was never seen.

A Mr L. now took the house, but died six months later. Bognor House

stood empty for four years, during which there was vague talk of

hauntings. In April, 1882, the house was taken by Captain Morton.

This was in April; in June Miss Rose Morton, a lady of nineteen

studying medicine (and wearing spectacles), saw the first appearance.

Miss Morton did not mention her experiences to her family, her mother

being an invalid, and her brothers and sisters very young, but she

transmitted accounts to a friend, a lady, in a kind of diary letters.

These are extant, and are quoted.

Phenomena of this kind usually begin with noises, and go on to

apparitions. Miss Morton one night, while preparing to go to bed,

heard a noise outside, thought it was her mother, opened the door, saw

a tall lady in black holding a handkerchief to her face, and followed

the figure till her candle burned out. A widow's white cuff was

visible on each wrist, the whole of the face was never seen. In 1882-

84, Miss Morton saw the figure about six times; it was thrice seen,

once through the window from outside, by other persons, who took it

for a living being. Two boys playing in the garden ran in to ask who

was the weeping lady in black.

On 29th January, 1884, Miss Morton spoke to her inmate, as the lady in

black stood beside a sofa. "She only gave a slight gasp and moved

towards the door. Just by the door I spoke to her again, but she

seemed as if she were quite unable to speak." {199} In May and June

Miss Morton fastened strings at different heights from the stair

railings to the wall, where she attached them with glue, but she twice

saw the lady pass through the cords, leaving them untouched. When

Miss Morton cornered the figure and tried to touch her, or pounce on

her, she dodged, or disappeared. But by a curious contradiction her

steps were often heard by several of the family, and when she heard

the steps, Miss Morton used to go out and follow the figure. There is

really no more to tell. Miss Morton's father never saw the lady, even

when she sat on a sofa for half an hour, Miss Morton watching her.

Other people saw her in the garden crying, and sent messages to ask

what was the matter, and who was the lady in distress. Many members

of the family, boys, girls, married ladies, servants and others often

saw the lady in black. In 1885 loud noises, bumps and turning of door

handles were common, and though the servants were told that the lady

was quite harmless, they did not always stay. The whole establishment

of servants was gradually changed, but the lady still walked. She

appeared more seldom in 1887-1889, and by 1892 even the light

footsteps ceased. Two dogs, a retriever and a Skye terrier, showed

much alarm. "Twice," says Miss Morton, "I saw the terrier suddenly

run up to the mat at the foot of the stairs in the hall, wagging its

tail, and moving its back in the way dogs do when they expect to be

caressed. It jumped up, fawning as it would do if a person had been

standing there, but suddenly slunk away with its tail between its

legs, and retreated, trembling, under a sofa." Miss Morton's own

emotion, at first, was "a feeling of awe at something unknown, mixed

with a strong desire to know more about it". {200}

This is a pretty tame case of haunting, as was conjectured, by an

unhappy revenant, the returned spirit of the second Mrs. S. Here it

may be remarked that apparitions in haunted houses are very seldom

recognised as those of dead persons, and, when recognised, the

recognition is usually dubious. Thus, in February, 1897, Lieutenant

Carr Glyn, of the Grenadiers, while reading in the outer room of the

Queen's Library in Windsor, saw a lady in black in a kind of mantilla

of black lace pass from the inner room into a corner where she was

lost to view. He supposed that she had gone out by a door there, and

asked an attendant later who she was. There was no door round the

corner, and, in the opinion of some, the lady was Queen Elizabeth!

She has a traditional habit, it seems, of haunting the Library. But

surely, of all people, in dress and aspect Queen Elizabeth is most

easily recognised. The seer did not recognise her, and she was

probably a mere casual hallucination. In old houses such traditions

are common, but vague. In this connection Glamis is usually

mentioned. Every one has heard of the Secret Chamber, with its

mystery, and the story was known to Scott, who introduces it in The

Betrothed. But we know when the Secret Chamber was built (under the

Restoration), who built it, what he paid the masons, and where it is:

under the Charter Room. {201} These cold facts rather take the

"weird" effect off the Glamis legend.

The usual process is, given an old house, first a noise, then a

hallucination, actual or pretended, then a myth to account for the

hallucination. There is a castle on the border which has at least

seven or eight distinct ghosts. One is the famous Radiant Boy. He

has been evicted by turning his tapestried chamber into the smoking-

room. For many years not one ghost has been seen except the lady with

the candle, viewed by myself, but, being ignorant of the story, I

thought she was one of the maids. Perhaps she was, but she went into

an empty set of rooms, and did not come out again. Footsteps are apt

to approach the doors of these rooms in mirk midnight, the door handle

turns, and that is all.

So much for supposed hauntings by spirits of the dead.

At the opposite pole are hauntings by agencies whom nobody supposes to

be ghosts of inmates of the house. The following is an extreme

example, as the haunter proceeded to arson. This is not so very

unusual, and, if managed by an impostor, shows insane malevolence.