Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.

J. S. Le Fanu's Ghostly Tales, Volume 2 online

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An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House (1862)


Ultor De Lacy: A Legend of Cappercullen (1861)


Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

An Authentic Narrative of
a Haunted House

[The Editor of the UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE submits the following very
remarkable statement, with every detail of which he has been for some
years acquainted, upon the ground that it affords the most authentic and
ample relation of a series of marvellous phenoma, in nowise connected
with what is technically termed "spiritualism," which he has anywhere
met with. All the persons - and there are many of them living - upon whose
separate evidence some parts, and upon whose united testimony others, of
this most singular recital depend, are, in their several walks of life,
respectable, and such as would in any matter of judicial investigation
be deemed wholly unexceptionable witnesses. There is not an incident
here recorded which would not have been distinctly deposed to on oath
had any necessity existed, by the persons who severally, and some of
them in great fear, related their own distinct experiences. The Editor
begs most pointedly to meet _in limine_ the suspicion, that he is
elaborating a trick, or vouching for another ghost of Mrs. Veal. As a
mere story the narrative is valueless: its sole claim to attention is
its absolute truth. For the good faith of its relator he pledges his own
and the character of this Magazine. With the Editor's concurrence, the
name of the watering-place, and some special circumstances in no
essential way bearing upon the peculiar character of the story, but
which might have indicated the locality, and possibly annoyed persons
interested in house property there, have been suppressed by the
narrator. Not the slightest liberty has been taken with the narrative,
which is presented precisely in the terms in which the writer of it, who
employs throughout the first person, would, if need were, fix it in the
form of an affidavit.]

Within the last eight years - the precise date I purposely omit - I I was
ordered by my physician, my health being in an unsatisfactory state, to
change my residence to one upon the sea-coast; and accordingly, I took a
house for a year in a fashionable watering-place, at a moderate distance
from the city in which I had previously resided, and connected with it
by a railway.

Winter was setting in when my removal thither was decided upon; but
there was nothing whatever dismal or depressing in the change. The house
I had taken was to all appearance, and in point of convenience, too,
quite a modern one. It formed one in a cheerful row, with small gardens
in front, facing the sea, and commanding sea air and sea views in
perfection. In the rear it had coach-house and stable, and between them
and the house a considerable grass-plot, with some flower-beds,

Our family consisted of my wife and myself, with three children, the
eldest about nine years old, she and the next in age being girls; and
the youngest, between six and seven, a boy. To these were added six
servants, whom, although for certain reasons I decline giving their real
names, I shall indicate, for the sake of clearness, by arbitrary ones.
There was a nurse, Mrs. Southerland; a nursery-maid, Ellen Page; the
cook, Mrs. Greenwood; and the housemaid, Ellen Faith; a butler, whom I
shall call Smith, and his son, James, about two-and-twenty.

We came out to take possession at about seven o'clock in the evening;
every thing was comfortable and cheery; good fires lighted, the rooms
neat and airy, and a general air of preparation and comfort, highly
conducive to good spirits and pleasant anticipations.

The sitting-rooms were large and cheerful, and they and the bed-rooms
more than ordinarily lofty, the kitchen and servants' rooms, on the same
level, were well and comfortably furnished, and had, like the rest of
the house, an air of recent painting and fitting up, and a completely
modern character, which imparted a very cheerful air of cleanliness and

There had been just enough of the fuss of settling agreeably to occupy
us, and to give a pleasant turn to our thoughts after we had retired to
our rooms. Being an invalid, I had a small bed to myself - resigning the
four-poster to my wife. The candle was extinguished, but a night-light
was burning. I was coming up stairs, and she, already in bed, had just
dismissed her maid, when we were both startled by a wild scream from her
room; I found her in a state of the extremest agitation and terror. She
insisted that she had seen an unnaturally tall figure come beside her
bed and stand there. The light was too faint to enable her to define any
thing respecting this apparition, beyond the fact of her having most
distinctly seen such a shape, colourless from the insufficiency of the
light to disclose more than its dark outline.

We both endeavoured to re-assure her. The room once more looked so
cheerful in the candlelight, that we were quite uninfluenced by the
contagion of her terrors. The movements and voices of the servants down
stairs still getting things into their places and completing our
comfortable arrangements, had also their effect in steeling us against
any such influence, and we set the whole thing down as a dream, or an
imperfectly-seen outline of the bed-curtains. When, however, we were
alone, my wife reiterated, still in great agitation, her clear assertion
that she had most positively seen, being at the time as completely awake
as ever she was, precisely what she had described to us. And in this
conviction she continued perfectly firm.

A day or two after this, it came out that our servants were under an
apprehension that, somehow or other, thieves had established a secret
mode of access to the lower part of the house. The butler, Smith, had
seen an ill-looking woman in his room on the first night of our arrival;
and he and other servants constantly saw, for many days subsequently,
glimpses of a retreating figure, which corresponded with that so seen by
him, passing through a passage which led to a back area in which were
some coal-vaults.

This figure was seen always in the act of retreating, its back turned,
generally getting round the corner of the passage into the area, in a
stealthy and hurried way, and, when closely followed, imperfectly seen
again entering one of the coal-vaults, and when pursued into it, nowhere
to be found.

The idea of any thing supernatural in the matter had, strange to say,
not yet entered the mind of any one of the servants. They had heard some
stories of smugglers having secret passages into houses, and using their
means of access for purposes of pillage, or with a view to frighten
superstitious people out of houses which they needed for their own
objects, and a suspicion of similar practices here, caused them extreme
uneasiness. The apparent anxiety also manifested by this retreating
figure to escape observation, and her always appearing to make her
egress at the same point, favoured this romantic hypothesis. The men,
however, made a most careful examination of the back area, and of the
coal-vaults, with a view to discover some mode of egress, but entirely
without success. On the contrary, the result was, so far as it went,
subversive of the theory; solid masonry met them on every hand.

I called the man, Smith, up, to hear from his own lips the particulars
of what he had seen; and certainly his report was very curious. I give
it as literally as my memory enables me: - -

His son slept in the same room, and was sound asleep; but he lay awake,
as men sometimes will on a change of bed, and having many things on his
mind. He was lying with his face towards the wall, but observing a light
and some little stir in the room, he turned round in his bed, and saw
the figure of a woman, squalid, and ragged in dress; her figure rather
low and broad; as well as I recollect, she had something - either a cloak
or shawl - on, and wore a bonnet. Her back was turned, and she appeared
to be searching or rummaging for something on the floor, and, without
appearing to observe him, she turned in doing so towards him. The light,
which was more like the intense glow of a coal, as he described it,
being of a deep red colour, proceeded from the hollow of her hand, which
she held beside her head, and he saw her perfectly distinctly. She
appeared middle-aged, was deeply pitted with the smallpox, and blind of
one eye. His phrase in describing her general appearance was, that she
was "a miserable, poor-looking creature."

He was under the impression that she must be the woman who had been left
by the proprietor in charge of the house, and who had that evening,
after having given up the keys, remained for some little time with the
female servants. He coughed, therefore, to apprize her of his presence,
and turned again towards the wall. When he again looked round she and
the light were gone; and odd as was her method of lighting herself in
her search, the circumstances excited neither uneasiness nor curiosity
in his mind, until he discovered next morning that the woman in question
had left the house long before he had gone to his bed.

I examined the man very closely as to the appearance of the person who
had visited him, and the result was what I have described. It struck me
as an odd thing, that even then, considering how prone to superstition
persons in his rank of life usually are, he did not seem to suspect any
thing supernatural in the occurrence; and, on the contrary, was
thoroughly persuaded that his visitant was a living person, who had got
into the house by some hidden entrance.

On Sunday, on his return from his place of worship, he told me that,
when the service was ended, and the congregation making their way slowly
out, he saw the very woman in the crowd, and kept his eye upon her for
several minutes, but such was the crush, that all his efforts to reach
her were unavailing, and when he got into the open street she was gone.
He was quite positive as to his having distinctly seen her, however,
for several minutes, and scouted the possibility of any mistake as to
identity; and fully impressed with the substantial and living reality of
his visitant, he was very much provoked at her having escaped him. He
made inquiries also in the neighbourhood, but could procure no
information, nor hear of any other persons having seen any woman
corresponding with his visitant.

The cook and the housemaid occupied a bed-room on the kitchen floor. It
had whitewashed walls, and they were actually terrified by the
appearance of the shadow of a woman passing and repassing across the
side wall opposite to their beds. They suspected that this had been
going on much longer than they were aware, for its presence was
discovered by a sort of accident, its movements happening to take a
direction in distinct contrariety to theirs.

This shadow always moved upon one particular wall, returning after short
intervals, and causing them extreme terror. They placed the candle, as
the most obvious specific, so close to the infested wall, that the flame
all but touched it; and believed for some time that they had effectually
got rid of this annoyance; but one night, notwithstanding this
arrangement of the light, the shadow returned, passing and repassing, as
heretofore, upon the same wall, although their only candle was burning
within an inch of it, and it was obvious that no substance capable of
casting such a shadow could have interposed; and, indeed, as they
described it, the shadow seemed to have no sort of relation to the
position of the light, and appeared, as I have said, in manifest
defiance of the laws of optics.

I ought to mention that the housemaid was a particularly fearless sort
of person, as well as a very honest one; and her companion, the cook, a
scrupulously religious woman, and both agreed in every particular in
their relation of what occurred.

Meanwhile, the nursery was not without its annoyances, though as yet of
a comparatively trivial kind. Sometimes, at night, the handle of the
door was turned hurriedly as if by a person trying to come in, and at
others a knocking was made at it. These sounds occurred after the
children had settled to sleep, and while the nurse still remained awake.
Whenever she called to know "who is there," the sounds ceased; but
several times, and particularly at first, she was under the impression
that they were caused by her mistress, who had come to see the children,
and thus impressed she had got up and opened the door, expecting to see
her, but discovering only darkness, and receiving no answer to her

With respect to this nurse, I must mention that I believe no more
perfectly trustworthy servant was ever employed in her capacity; and, in
addition to her integrity, she was remarkably gifted with sound common

One morning, I think about three or four weeks after our arrival, I was
sitting at the parlour window which looked to the front, when I saw the
little iron door which admitted into the small garden that lay between
the window where I was sitting and the public road, pushed open by a
woman who so exactly answered the description given by Smith of the
woman who had visited his room on the night of his arrival as
instantaneously to impress me with the conviction that she must be the
identical person. She was a square, short woman, dressed in soiled and
tattered clothes, scarred and pitted with small-pox, and blind of an
eye. She stepped hurriedly into the little enclosure, and peered from a
distance of a few yards into the room where I was sitting. I felt that
now was the moment to clear the matter up; but there was something
stealthy in the manner and look of the woman which convinced me that I
must not appear to notice her until her retreat was fairly cut off.
Unfortunately, I was suffering from a lame foot, and could not reach the
bell as quickly as I wished. I made all the haste I could, and rang
violently to bring up the servant Smith. In the short interval that
intervened, I observed the woman from the window, who having in a
leisurely way, and with a kind of scrutiny, looked along the front
windows of the house, passed quickly out again, closing the gate after
her, and followed a lady who was walking along the footpath at a quick
pace, as if with the intention of begging from her. The moment the man
entered I told him - "the blind woman you described to me has this
instant followed a lady in that direction, try to overtake her." He was,
if possible, more eager than I in the chase, but returned in a short
time after a vain pursuit, very hot, and utterly disappointed. And,
thereafter, we saw her face no more.

All this time, and up to the period of our leaving the house, which was
not for two or three months later, there occurred at intervals the only
phenomenon in the entire series having any resemblance to what we hear
described of "Spiritualism." This was a knocking, like a soft hammering
with a wooden mallet, as it seemed in the timbers between the bedroom
ceilings and the roof. It had this special peculiarity, that it was
always rythmical, and, I think, invariably, the emphasis upon the last
stroke. It would sound rapidly "one, two, three, _four_ - one, two,
three, _four_;" or "one, two, _three_ - one, two, _three_," and sometimes
"one, _two_ - one, _two_," &c., and this, with intervals and
resumptions, monotonously for hours at a time.

At first this caused my wife, who was a good deal confined to her bed,
much annoyance; and we sent to our neighbours to inquire if any
hammering or carpentering was going on in their houses but were informed
that nothing of the sort was taking place. I have myself heard it
frequently, always in the same inaccessible part of the house, and with
the same monotonous emphasis. One odd thing about it was, that on my
wife's calling out, as she used to do when it became more than usually
troublesome, "stop that noise," it was invariably arrested for a longer
or shorter time.

Of course none of these occurrences were ever mentioned in hearing of
the children. They would have been, no doubt, like most children,
greatly terrified had they heard any thing of the matter, and known that
their elders were unable to account for what was passing; and their
fears would have made them wretched and troublesome.

They used to play for some hours every day in the back garden - the house
forming one end of this oblong inclosure, the stable and coach-house the
other, and two parallel walls of considerable height the sides. Here, as
it afforded a perfectly safe playground, they were frequently left quite
to themselves; and in talking over their days' adventures, as children
will, they happened to mention a woman, or rather the woman, for they
had long grown familiar with her appearance, whom they used to see in
the garden while they were at play. They assumed that she came in and
went out at the stable door, but they never actually saw her enter or
depart. They merely saw a figure - that of a very poor woman, soiled and
ragged - near the stable wall, stooping over the ground, and apparently
grubbing in the loose clay in search of something. She did not disturb,
or appear to observe them; and they left her in undisturbed possession
of her nook of ground. When seen it was always in the same spot, and
similarly occupied; and the description they gave of her general
appearance - for they never saw her face - corresponded with that of the
one-eyed woman whom Smith, and subsequently as it seemed, I had seen.

The other man, James, who looked after a mare which I had purchased for
the purpose of riding exercise, had, like every one else in the house,
his little trouble to report, though it was not much. The stall in
which, as the most comfortable, it was decided to place her, she
peremptorily declined to enter. Though a very docile and gentle little
animal, there was no getting her into it. She would snort and rear, and,
in fact, do or suffer any thing rather than set her hoof in it. He was
fain, therefore, to place her in another. And on several occasions he
found her there, exhibiting all the equine symptoms of extreme fear.
Like the rest of us, however, this man was not troubled in the
particular case with any superstitious qualms. The mare had evidently
been frightened; and he was puzzled to find out how, or by whom, for the
stable was well-secured, and had, I am nearly certain, a lock-up yard

One morning I was greeted with the intelligence that robbers had
certainly got into the house in the night; and that one of them had
actually been seen in the nursery. The witness, I found, was my eldest
child, then, as I have said, about nine years of age. Having awoke in
the night, and lain awake for some time in her bed, she heard the handle
of the door turn, and a person whom she distinctly saw - for it was a
light night, and the window-shutters unclosed - but whom she had never
seen before, stepped in on tiptoe, and with an appearance of great
caution. He was a rather small man, with a very red face; he wore an
oddly cut frock coat, the collar of which stood up, and trousers, rough
and wide, like those of a sailor, turned up at the ankles, and either
short boots or clumsy shoes, covered with mud. This man listened beside
the nurse's bed, which stood next the door, as if to satisfy himself
that she was sleeping soundly; and having done so for some seconds, he
began to move cautiously in a diagonal line, across the room to the
chimney-piece, where he stood for a while, and so resumed his tiptoe
walk, skirting the wall, until he reached a chest of drawers, some of
which were open, and into which he looked, and began to rummage in a
hurried way, as the child supposed, making search for something worth
taking away. He then passed on to the window, where was a
dressing-table, at which he also stopped, turning over the things upon
it, and standing for some time at the window as if looking out, and then
resuming his walk by the side wall opposite to that by which he had
moved up to the window, he returned in the same way toward the nurse's
bed, so as to reach it at the foot. With its side to the end wall, in
which was the door, was placed the little bed in which lay my eldest
child, who watched his proceedings with the extremest terror. As he drew
near she instinctively moved herself in the bed, with her head and
shoulders to the wall, drawing up her feet; but he passed by without
appearing to observe, or, at least, to care for her presence.
Immediately after the nurse turned in her bed as if about to waken; and
when the child, who had drawn the clothes about her head, again ventured
to peep out, the man was gone.

The child had no idea of her having seen any thing more formidable than
a thief. With the prowling, cautious, and noiseless manner of proceeding
common to such marauders, the air and movements of the man whom she had
seen entirely corresponded. And on hearing her perfectly distinct and
consistent account, I could myself arrive at no other conclusion than
that a stranger had actually got into the house. I had, therefore, in
the first instance, a most careful examination made to discover any
traces of an entrance having been made by any window into the house. The
doors had been found barred and locked as usual; but no sign of any
thing of the sort was discernible. I then had the various
articles - plate, wearing apparel, books, &c., counted; and after having
conned over and reckoned up every thing, it became quite clear that
nothing whatever had been removed from the house, nor was there the
slightest indication of any thing having been so much as disturbed
there. I must here state that this child was remarkably clear,
intelligent, and observant; and that her description of the man, and of
all that had occurred, was most exact, and as detailed as the want of
perfect light rendered possible.

I felt assured that an entrance had actually been effected into the
house, though for what purpose was not easily to be conjectured. The
man, Smith, was equally confident upon this point; and his theory was
that the object was simply to frighten us out of the house by making us
believe it haunted; and he was more than ever anxious and on the alert
to discover the conspirators. It often since appeared to me odd. Every
year, indeed, more odd, as this cumulative case of the marvellous
becomes to my mind more and more inexplicable - that underlying my sense
of mystery and puzzle, was all along the quiet assumption that all these
occurrences were one way or another referable to natural causes. I could
not account for them, indeed, myself; but during the whole period I
inhabited that house, I never once felt, though much alone, and often up
very late at night, any of those tremors and thrills which every one has
at times experienced when situation and the hour are favourable. Except
the cook and housemaid, who were plagued with the shadow I mentioned
crossing and recrossing upon the bedroom wall, we all, without
exception, experienced the same strange sense of security, and regarded
these phenomena rather with a perplexed sort of interest and curiosity,
than with any more unpleasant sensations.

The knockings which I have mentioned at the nursery door, preceded
generally by the sound of a step on the lobby, meanwhile continued. At
that time (for my wife, like myself, was an invalid) two eminent
physicians, who came out occasionally by rail, were attending us. These
gentlemen were at first only amused, but ultimately interested, and very
much puzzled by the occurrences which we described. One of them, at
last, recommended that a candle should be kept burning upon the lobby.
It was in fact a recurrence to an old woman's recipe against ghosts - of
course it might be serviceable, too, against impostors; at all events,
seeming, as I have said, very much interested and puzzled, he advised
it, and it was tried. We fancied that it was successful; for there was
an interval of quiet for, I think, three or four nights. But after that,
the noises - the footsteps on the lobby - the knocking at the door, and
the turning of the handle recommenced in full force, notwithstanding the
light upon the table outside; and these particular phenomena became only
more perplexing than ever.

The alarm of robbers and smugglers gradually subsided after a week or
two; but we were again to hear news from the nursery. Our second little

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Online LibraryJoseph Sheridan Le FanuJ. S. Le Fanu's Ghostly Tales, Volume 2 → online text (page 1 of 4)