Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.

J. S. Le Fanu's Ghostly Tales, Volume 1 online

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passing, I felt that I had no more power to speak or stir than if I had
been myself a corpse. For hours after it had disappeared, I was too
terrified and weak to move. As soon as daylight came, I took courage,
and examined the room, and especially the course which the frightful
intruder had seemed to take, but there was not a vestige to indicate
anybody's having passed there; no sign of any disturbing agency visible
among the lumber that strewed the floor of the closet.

"I now began to recover a little. I was fagged and exhausted, and at
last, overpowered by a feverish sleep. I came down late; and finding you
out of spirits, on account of your dreams about the portrait, whose
_original_ I am now certain disclosed himself to me, I did not care to
talk about the infernal vision. In fact, I was trying to persuade myself
that the whole thing was an illusion, and I did not like to revive in
their intensity the hated impressions of the past night - or to risk the
constancy of my scepticism, by recounting the tale of my sufferings.

"It required some nerve, I can tell you, to go to my haunted chamber
next night, and lie down quietly in the same bed," continued Tom. "I did
so with a degree of trepidation, which, I am not ashamed to say, a very
little matter would have sufficed to stimulate to downright panic. This
night, however, passed off quietly enough, as also the next; and so too
did two or three more. I grew more confident, and began to fancy that I
believed in the theories of spectral illusions, with which I had at
first vainly tried to impose upon my convictions.

"The apparition had been, indeed, altogether anomalous. It had crossed
the room without any recognition of my presence: I had not disturbed
_it_, and _it_ had no mission to _me_. What, then, was the imaginable
use of its crossing the room in a visible shape at all? Of course it
might have _been_ in the closet instead of _going_ there, as easily as
it introduced itself into the recess without entering the chamber in a
shape discernible by the senses. Besides, how the deuce _had_ I seen it?
It was a dark night; I had no candle; there was no fire; and yet I saw
it as distinctly, in colouring and outline, as ever I beheld human form!
A cataleptic dream would explain it all; and I was determined that a
dream it should be.

"One of the most remarkable phenomena connected with the practice of
mendacity is the vast number of deliberate lies we tell ourselves, whom,
of all persons, we can least expect to deceive. In all this, I need
hardly tell you, Dick, I was simply lying to myself, and did not believe
one word of the wretched humbug. Yet I went on, as men will do, like
persevering charlatans and impostors, who tire people into credulity by
the mere force of reiteration; so I hoped to win myself over at last to
a comfortable scepticism about the ghost.

"He had not appeared a second time - that certainly was a comfort; and
what, after all, did I care for him, and his queer old toggery and
strange looks? Not a fig! I was nothing the worse for having seen him,
and a good story the better. So I tumbled into bed, put out my candle,
and, cheered by a loud drunken quarrel in the back lane, went fast
asleep.

"From this deep slumber I awoke with a start. I knew I had had a
horrible dream; but what it was I could not remember. My heart was
thumping furiously; I felt bewildered and feverish; I sate up in the bed
and looked about the room. A broad flood of moonlight came in through
the curtainless window; everything was as I had last seen it; and though
the domestic squabble in the back lane was, unhappily for me, allayed, I
yet could hear a pleasant fellow singing, on his way home, the then
popular comic ditty called, 'Murphy Delany.' Taking advantage of this
diversion I lay down again, with my face towards the fireplace, and
closing my eyes, did my best to think of nothing else but the song,
which was every moment growing fainter in the distance: - -

"'Twas Murphy Delany, so funny and frisky,
Stept into a shebeen shop to get his skin full;
He reeled out again pretty well lined with whiskey,
As fresh as a shamrock, as blind as a bull.

"The singer, whose condition I dare say resembled that of his hero, was
soon too far off to regale my ears any more; and as his music died away,
I myself sank into a doze, neither sound nor refreshing. Somehow the
song had got into my head, and I went meandering on through the
adventures of my respectable fellow-countryman, who, on emerging from
the 'shebeen shop,' fell into a river, from which he was fished up to be
'sat upon' by a coroner's jury, who having learned from a 'horse-doctor'
that he was 'dead as a door-nail, so there was an end,' returned their
verdict accordingly, just as he returned to his senses, when an angry
altercation and a pitched battle between the body and the coroner winds
up the lay with due spirit and pleasantry.

"Through this ballad I continued with a weary monotony to plod, down to
the very last line, and then _da capo_, and so on, in my uncomfortable
half-sleep, for how long, I can't conjecture. I found myself at last,
however, muttering, '_dead_ as a door-nail, so there was an end'; and
something like another voice within me, seemed to say, very faintly, but
sharply, 'dead! dead! _dead_! and may the Lord have mercy on your soul!'
and instantaneously I was wide awake, and staring right before me from
the pillow.

"Now - will you believe it, Dick? - I saw the same accursed figure
standing full front, and gazing at me with its stony and fiendish
countenance, not two yards from the bedside."

Tom stopped here, and wiped the perspiration from his face. I felt very
queer. The girl was as pale as Tom; and, assembled as we were in the
very scene of these adventures, we were all, I dare say, equally
grateful for the clear daylight and the resuming bustle out of doors.

"For about three seconds only I saw it plainly; then it grew indistinct;
but, for a long time, there was something like a column of dark vapour
where it had been standing, between me and the wall; and I felt sure
that he was still there. After a good while, this appearance went too. I
took my clothes downstairs to the hall, and dressed there, with the door
half open; then went out into the street, and walked about the town till
morning, when I came back, in a miserable state of nervousness and
exhaustion. I was such a fool, Dick, as to be ashamed to tell you how I
came to be so upset. I thought you would laugh at me; especially as I
had always talked philosophy, and treated _your_ ghosts with contempt. I
concluded you would give me no quarter; and so kept my tale of horror to
myself.

"Now, Dick, you will hardly believe me, when I assure you, that for many
nights after this last experience, I did not go to my room at all. I
used to sit up for a while in the drawing-room after you had gone up to
your bed; and then steal down softly to the hall-door, let myself out,
and sit in the 'Robin Hood' tavern until the last guest went off; and
then I got through the night like a sentry, pacing the streets till
morning.

"For more than a week I never slept in bed. I sometimes had a snooze on
a form in the 'Robin Hood,' and sometimes a nap in a chair during the
day; but regular sleep I had absolutely none.

"I was quite resolved that we should get into another house; but I could
not bring myself to tell you the reason, and I somehow put it off from
day to day, although my life was, during every hour of this
procrastination, rendered as miserable as that of a felon with the
constables on his track. I was growing absolutely ill from this wretched
mode of life.

"One afternoon I determined to enjoy an hour's sleep upon your bed. I
hated mine; so that I had never, except in a stealthy visit every day to
unmake it, lest Martha should discover the secret of my nightly absence,
entered the ill-omened chamber.

"As ill-luck would have it, you had locked your bedroom, and taken away
the key. I went into my own to unsettle the bedclothes, as usual, and
give the bed the appearance of having been slept in. Now, a variety of
circumstances concurred to bring about the dreadful scene through which
I was that night to pass. In the first place, I was literally
overpowered with fatigue, and longing for sleep; in the next place, the
effect of this extreme exhaustion upon my nerves resembled that of a
narcotic, and rendered me less susceptible than, perhaps, I should in
any other condition have been, of the exciting fears which had become
habitual to me. Then again, a little bit of the window was open, a
pleasant freshness pervaded the room, and, to crown all, the cheerful
sun of day was making the room quite pleasant. What was to prevent my
enjoying an hour's nap _here_? The whole air was resonant with the
cheerful hum of life, and the broad matter-of-fact light of day filled
every corner of the room.

"I yielded - stifling my qualms - to the almost overpowering temptation;
and merely throwing off my coat, and loosening my cravat, I lay down,
limiting myself to _half_-an-hour's doze in the unwonted enjoyment of a
feather bed, a coverlet, and a bolster.

"It was horribly insidious; and the demon, no doubt, marked my
infatuated preparations. Dolt that I was, I fancied, with mind and body
worn out for want of sleep, and an arrear of a full week's rest to my
credit, that such measure as _half_-an-hour's sleep, in such a
situation, was possible. My sleep was death-like, long, and dreamless.

"Without a start or fearful sensation of any kind, I waked gently, but
completely. It was, as you have good reason to remember, long past
midnight - I believe, about two o'clock. When sleep has been deep and
long enough to satisfy nature thoroughly, one often wakens in this way,
suddenly, tranquilly, and completely.

"There was a figure seated in that lumbering, old sofa-chair, near the
fireplace. Its back was rather towards me, but I could not be mistaken;
it turned slowly round, and, merciful heavens! there was the stony face,
with its infernal lineaments of malignity and despair, gloating on me.
There was now no doubt as to its consciousness of my presence, and the
hellish malice with which it was animated, for it arose, and drew close
to the bedside. There was a rope about its neck, and the other end,
coiled up, it held stiffly in its hand.

"My good angel nerved me for this horrible crisis. I remained for some
seconds transfixed by the gaze of this tremendous phantom. He came close
to the bed, and appeared on the point of mounting upon it. The next
instant I was upon the floor at the far side, and in a moment more was,
I don't know how, upon the lobby.

"But the spell was not yet broken; the valley of the shadow of death was
not yet traversed. The abhorred phantom was before me there; it was
standing near the banisters, stooping a little, and with one end of the
rope round its own neck, was poising a noose at the other, as if to
throw over mine; and while engaged in this baleful pantomime, it wore a
smile so sensual, so unspeakably dreadful, that my senses were nearly
overpowered. I saw and remember nothing more, until I found myself in
your room.

"I had a wonderful escape, Dick - there is no disputing _that_ - an escape
for which, while I live, I shall bless the mercy of heaven. No one can
conceive or imagine what it is for flesh and blood to stand in the
presence of such a thing, but one who has had the terrific experience.
Dick, Dick, a shadow has passed over me - a chill has crossed my blood
and marrow, and I will never be the same again - never, Dick - never!"

Our handmaid, a mature girl of two-and-fifty, as I have said, stayed her
hand, as Tom's story proceeded, and by little and little drew near to
us, with open mouth, and her brows contracted over her little, beady
black eyes, till stealing a glance over her shoulder now and then, she
established herself close behind us. During the relation, she had made
various earnest comments, in an undertone; but these and her
ejaculations, for the sake of brevity and simplicity, I have omitted in
my narration.

"It's often I heard tell of it," she now said, "but I never believed it
rightly till now - though, indeed, why should not I? Does not my mother,
down there in the lane, know quare stories, God bless us, beyant telling
about it? But you ought not to have slept in the back bedroom. She was
loath to let me be going in and out of that room even in the day time,
let alone for any Christian to spend the night in it; for sure she says
it was his own bedroom."

"_Whose_ own bedroom?" we asked, in a breath.

"Why, _his_ - the ould Judge's - Judge Horrock's, to be sure, God rest his
sowl"; and she looked fearfully round.

"Amen!" I muttered. "But did he die there?"

"Die there! No, not quite _there_," she said. "Shure, was not it over
the banisters he hung himself, the ould sinner, God be merciful to us
all? and was not it in the alcove they found the handles of the
skipping-rope cut off, and the knife where he was settling the cord, God
bless us, to hang himself with? It was his housekeeper's daughter owned
the rope, my mother often told me, and the child never throve after, and
used to be starting up out of her sleep, and screeching in the night
time, wid dhrames and frights that cum an her; and they said how it was
the speerit of the ould Judge that was tormentin' her; and she used to
be roaring and yelling out to hould back the big ould fellow with the
crooked neck; and then she'd screech 'Oh, the master! the master! he's
stampin' at me, and beckoning to me! Mother, darling, don't let me go!'
And so the poor crathure died at last, and the docthers said it was
wather on the brain, for it was all they could say."

"How long ago was all this?" I asked.

"Oh, then, how would I know?" she answered. "But it must be a wondherful
long time ago, for the housekeeper was an ould woman, with a pipe in her
mouth, and not a tooth left, and better nor eighty years ould when my
mother was first married; and they said she was a rale buxom,
fine-dressed woman when the ould Judge come to his end; an', indeed, my
mother's not far from eighty years ould herself this day; and what made
it worse for the unnatural ould villain, God rest his soul, to frighten
the little girl out of the world the way he did, was what was mostly
thought and believed by every one. My mother says how the poor little
crathure was his own child; for he was by all accounts an ould villain
every way, an' the hangin'est judge that ever was known in Ireland's
ground."

"From what you said about the danger of sleeping in that bedroom," said
I, "I suppose there were stories about the ghost having appeared there
to others."

"Well, there was things said - quare things, surely," she answered, as it
seemed, with some reluctance. "And why would not there? Sure was it not
up in that same room he slept for more than twenty years? and was it not
in the _alcove_ he got the rope ready that done his own business at
last, the way he done many a betther man's in his lifetime? - and was not
the body lying in the same bed after death, and put in the coffin there,
too, and carried out to his grave from it in Pether's churchyard, after
the coroner was done? But there was quare stories - my mother has them
all - about how one Nicholas Spaight got into trouble on the head of it."

"And what did they say of this Nicholas Spaight?" I asked.

"Oh, for that matther, it's soon told," she answered.

And she certainly did relate a very strange story, which so piqued my
curiosity, that I took occasion to visit the ancient lady, her mother,
from whom I learned many very curious particulars. Indeed, I am tempted
to tell the tale, but my fingers are weary, and I must defer it. But if
you wish to hear it another time, I shall do my best.

When we had heard the strange tale I have _not_ told you, we put one or
two further questions to her about the alleged spectral visitations, to
which the house had, ever since the death of the wicked old Judge, been
subjected.

"No one ever had luck in it," she told us. "There was always cross
accidents, sudden deaths, and short times in it. The first that tuck, it
was a family - I forget their name - but at any rate there was two young
ladies and their papa. He was about sixty, and a stout healthy gentleman
as you'd wish to see at that age. Well, he slept in that unlucky back
bedroom; and, God between us an' harm! sure enough he was found dead one
morning, half out of the bed, with his head as black as a sloe, and
swelled like a puddin', hanging down near the floor. It was a fit, they
said. He was as dead as a mackerel, and so _he_ could not say what it
was; but the ould people was all sure that it was nothing at all but the
ould Judge, God bless us! that frightened him out of his senses and his
life together.

"Some time after there was a rich old maiden lady took the house. I
don't know which room _she_ slept in, but she lived alone; and at any
rate, one morning, the servants going down early to their work, found
her sitting on the passage-stairs, shivering and talkin' to herself,
quite mad; and never a word more could any of _them_ or her friends get
from her ever afterwards but, 'Don't ask me to go, for I promised to
wait for him.' They never made out from her who it was she meant by
_him_, but of course those that knew all about the ould house were at no
loss for the meaning of all that happened to her.

"Then afterwards, when the house was let out in lodgings, there was
Micky Byrne that took the same room, with his wife and three little
children; and sure I heard Mrs. Byrne myself telling how the children
used to be lifted up in the bed at night, she could not see by what
mains; and how they were starting and screeching every hour, just all as
one as the housekeeper's little girl that died, till at last one night
poor Micky had a dhrop in him, the way he used now and again; and what
do you think in the middle of the night he thought he heard a noise on
the stairs, and being in liquor, nothing less id do him but out he must
go himself to see what was wrong. Well, after that, all she ever heard
of him was himself sayin', 'Oh, God!' and a tumble that shook the very
house; and there, sure enough, he was lying on the lower stairs, under
the lobby, with his neck smashed double undher him, where he was flung
over the banisters."

Then the handmaiden added - -

"I'll go down to the lane, and send up Joe Gavvey to pack up the rest of
the taythings, and bring all the things across to your new lodgings."

And so we all sallied out together, each of us breathing more freely, I
have no doubt, as we crossed that ill-omened threshold for the last
time.

Now, I may add thus much, in compliance with the immemorial usage of the
realm of fiction, which sees the hero not only through his adventures,
but fairly out of the world. You must have perceived that what the
flesh, blood, and bone hero of romance proper is to the regular
compounder of fiction, this old house of brick, wood, and mortar is to
the humble recorder of this true tale. I, therefore, relate, as in duty
bound, the catastrophe which ultimately befell it, which was simply
this - that about two years subsequently to my story it was taken by a
quack doctor, who called himself Baron Duhlstoerf, and filled the
parlour windows with bottles of indescribable horrors preserved in
brandy, and the newspapers with the usual grandiloquent and mendacious
advertisements. This gentleman among his virtues did not reckon
sobriety, and one night, being overcome with much wine, he set fire to
his bed curtains, partially burned himself, and totally consumed the
house. It was afterwards rebuilt, and for a time an undertaker
established himself in the premises.

I have now told you my own and Tom's adventures, together with some
valuable collateral particulars; and having acquitted myself of my
engagement, I wish you a very good night, and pleasant dreams.



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