Robert Dale Owen.

Footfalls on the boundary of another world : with narrative illustrations online

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was let loose in the room. In her night-dress she rushed
down-stairs, from the top to the bottom. Not a soul in
the house slept another wink that night. This was,
however, the last time I ever heard it.

" Seven or eight days afterward, while chatting with
my ordinary circle of friends, the stroke of eleven o'clock
was followed by a musket-shot, as if fired at one of my
windows. Every one of us heard the report; everyone
of us saw the flash ; but the window had received no
injury. We concluded that it was an attempt on my
Ufe, that for this time it had failed, but that precautions
must be taken for the future. The Intendant hastened


to M. de Marville, then Lieutenant of Police, and a per-
sonal friend of his. Officers were instantly sent to ex-
amine the houses opposite mine. Throughout the fol-
lowing days they were guarded from top to bottom. My
own house, also, was thoroughly examined. The street
was filled with spies. But, in spite of all these precau-
tions, for three entire months, every evening, at the
same hour, the same musket-shot, directed against the
same pane of glass, was heard to explode, was seen; and
yet no one was ever able to discover whence it pro-
ceeded. This fact is attested by its official record on
the registers of the police.

" I gradually became in a measure accustomed to my
ghost, whom I began to consider a good sort of fellow,
since he was content with tricks that produced no
serious injury; and, one warm evening, not noticing the
hour, the Intendant and myself, having opened the
haunted window, were leaning over the balcony. Eleven
o'clock struck; the detonation instantly succeeded; and
it threw both of us, half-dead, into the middle of the
room. When we recovered, and found that neither of
us was hurt, we began to compare notes ; and each ad-
mitted to the other the having received, he on the left
cheek and I on the right, a box on the ear, right sharply
laid on. We both burst out laughing.

" Next day nothing happened. The day after, having
received an invitation from Mademoiselle Dumesnil to
attend a nocturnal fete at her house, near the Barriere
Blanche, I got into a hackney-coach, with my maid, at
eleven o'clock. It was bright moonlight; and our road
was along the Boulevards, which were then beginning to
be built up. We were looking out at the houses they were
building, when my maid said to me, ' Was it not some-
where near here that Monsieur de S died V l From

what they told me/ I replied, it must have boen in one
of these two houses in front of us/ pointing to them


at the same time. At that moment the same musket-
shot that had been pursuing me was fired from one of
the houses, and passed through our carriage.* The
coachman set off at full gallop, thinking he was attacked
by robbers; and we, when we arrived at our destina-
tion, had scarcely recovered our senses. For my own
part, I confess to a degree of terror which it was long
before I could shake off. But this exploit was the last
of its kind. I never again heard any discharge of fire-

" To these shots succeeded a clapping of hands, given
in measured time and repeated at intervals. These
sounds, to which the favor of the public had accustomed
me, gave me but trifling annoyance, and I took little
trouble to trace their origin. My friends did, however.
* We have watched in the most careful manner/ they
would say to me : ' it is under your very door that the
sounds occur. We hear them ; but we see nobody. It
is another phase of the same annoyances that have fol-
lowed you so long/ As these noises had nothing alarm-
ing in them, I did not preserve a record of the period of
their continuance.

" ISTor did I take special note of the melodious sounds
by which, after a time, they were succeeded. It seemed
as if a celestial voice warbled the prelude to some noble
air which it was about to execute. Once the voice com-
menced at the Carrefour de Bussy, and continued all the
way until I reached my own door. In this case, as in
all the preceding, my friends watched, followed the
sounds, heard them as I did, but could never see any

" Finally all the sounds ceased, after having continued,

* Whether a ball passed through the carriage does not clearly appear.
The expression is, " D'une des maisons partit ce uifime coup de fusil qui
jae poursuivait ; il traversa uotre vulture."


with intermissions, a little more than two years and a

Whether the sequel may be regarded as supplying a
sufficient explanation or not, it is proper to give it, as
furnished by Mademoiselle Clairon.

That lady desiring to change her residence, and the
apartments she occupied being advertised to rent, several
persons called to see them. Among the rest there was
announced a lady advanced in years. She exhibited
much emotion, which communicated itself to Made-
moiselle Clairon. At last she confessed that it was not
to look at the apartments she came, but to converse
with their occupant. She had thought of writing, she
said, but had feared that her motives might be misin-
terpreted. Mademoiselle Clairon begged for an expla-
nation ; and the conversation which ensued is thus re-
ported by herself.

"'I was, mademoiselle/ said the lady, ' the best

friend of Monsieur de S ; indeed, the only one he was

willing to see during the last year of his life. The hours,
the days, of that year were spent by us in talking of
you, sometimes setting you down as an angel, some-
times as a devil. As for me, I urged him constantly to
endeavor to forget you, while he protested that he
would continue to love you even beyond the tomb. You
weep/ she continued, after a pause ; ' and perhaps you
will allow me to ask you why you made him so un-
happy, and why, with your upright and affectionate
character, you refused him, in his last moments, the con-
solation of seeing you once more/

" ' Our affections/ I replied, ' are not within our own

control. Monsieur de S had many meritorious and

estimable qualities; but his character was somber, mis-
anthropic, despotic, so that he caused me to fear alike
his society, his friendship, and his love. To make him
> I should have had to renounce all human inter-


course, even the talent I exercise. I was poor and
proud. It has been my wish and my hope to accept no
favor, to owe every thing to my own exertions. The
friendship I entertained for him caused me to try every
means to bring him back to sentiments more calm and
reasonable. Failing in this, and convinced that his ob-
stinate resolve was due less to the extremity of his pas-
sion than to the violence of his character, I adopted, and
adhered to, the resolution to separate from him forever.
I refused to see him on his death-bed, because the sight
of his distress would have made me miserable, to no
good end. Besides, I might have been placed in the
dilemma of refusing what he might ask me, with seem-
ing barbarity, or acceding to it with certain prospect of
future unhappiness. These, madame, were the motives
which actuated me. I trust you will not consider them
deserving of censure.'

" 'It would be unjust/ she replied, 'to condemn you.
We can be reasonably called upon to make sacrifices
only to fulfill our promises or in discharge of our duty
to relatives or to benefactors. I know that you owed
him no gratitude; he himself felt that all obligation was
on his part; but the state of his mind and the passion
which ruled him were beyond his control; and your re-
fusal to see him hastened his last moments. He counted
the minutes until half-past ten, when his servant re-
turned with the message that most certainly you would
not come. After a moment of silence, he took my hand,
and, in a state of despair which terrified me, he ex-
claimed, " Barbarous creature ! But she shall gain nothing
by it. I will pursue her as long after my death as she has
pursued me during my life" ... I tried to calm him. He
was already a corpse.' "*

* " Mrnoire de Mademoiselle Clairon, Actrice du Theatre Franyait, teritt
far tile-mime," 2d ed., Paris, 1822, pp. 78 to 96. The editors state that


This is the story as Mademoiselle Clairon herself re-
lates it. She adds, " I need not say what effect these
last words produced on me. The coincidence between
them and the disturbances that had haunted me filled
me with terror. ... I do not know what chance really
is; but I am very sure. that what we are in the habit of
calling so has a vast influence upon human affairs."

In the Memoirs of the Duchesse d'Abrantes, written
by herself, and containing so many interesting particu-
lars of the French Revolution and the stirring events
which succeeded it, she states that, during the Con-
sulate, when Mademoiselle Clairon was upward of
seventy years of age, she (the duchess) made her ac-
quaintance, and heard from her own lips the above
story, of which she gives a brief and not very accurate
compendium. In regard to the impression which Made-
moiselle Clairon's mode of relating it produced on the
duchess, that lady remarks,

"I know not whether in al' this there was a little
exaggeration; but she who usually spoke in a tone
savoring of exaltation, when she came to relate this
incident, though she spoke with dignity, laid aside all
affectation and every thing which could be construed
into speaking for effect. Albert, who believed in mag-
netism, wished, after having heard Mademoiselle Clairon,
to persuade me that the thing was possible. I laughed
at him then. Alas ! since that time I have myself
learn.ed a terrible lesson in credulity."*

I kijow not according to what sound principles of
evidence we can refuse credit to a narrative so well
authenticated as this. The phenomena were observed,

tbese Memoirs are published " jy ithout the change of a single word from
the original manuscript."

* " HSmoirea de Madame la Duchesse d'Abrantit, (crite par e v le-m$me t *
2J ed., Paris, 1835, vol. ii. p. 39.


not by Mademoiselle Clairon only, but by numerous
other witnesses, including the most sharp-eyed and sus-
picious of beings, the police-officers of Paris. The
record of them is still to be found in the archives of
that police. They were not witnessed once, twice, fifty
times only. They were observed throughout more than
two entire years. The shot against a certain pane of
her window was fired, so Mademoiselle Clairon ex-
pressly tells us, every night, at the same hour, for three
months, therefore ninety times in succession. What
theory, what explanation, will account for a trick of
such a character that could for so long a space of time
escape the argus eyes of the French police ? Then the
cry at the moment when, at Rosely's suggestion, the
phantom was evoked; the shot against the carriage from

the house where Monsieur de S had resided : what

imaginable trickery could be at the bottom of these?

The incidents occurred in Mademoiselle Clairou's
3~outh; commencing when she was twenty-two years
and a half old and terminating when she was twenty-
five. Nearly fifty years afterward, toward the close of
her life, in that period of calm reflection which comes
with old age, she still preserved that deep conviction of
the reality of these marvels which imparted to the tone
and manner of her narrative the attesting simplicity
of truth.

Finally, the coincidence to which Mademoiselle Clai-
ron alludes is a double one; first as to the incidents
themselves, then as to the period of their continuance.

Monsieur de S , with his dying breath, declared that

he would haunt her; and this she knew not till the
persecution, commencing within half an hour after his
decease, was ended. He said, further, that she should
be followed by his spirit for as long a period as she had
belt 1 him enthralled. But from the period of his ac-
quaintance with her till his death was two years and a


half, while from this latter event till the close of the
disturbances there elapsed, as the sufferer tells us, two
years and a half more.

Yet even if we admit in this case the reality of ultra-
mundane agency, I do not presume to assert,as a corol-
lary positively proved, that it was the spirit of Monsieur

de S which fulfilled the threat he had made. That

is certainly the most natural explanation which suggests
itself. And if it be not the true one, chance, at least,
is insufficient to account for the exact manner in which
the declaration of the dying man tallies with the suffer-
ings of her who was the object of his unfortunate and
unavailing love.

If we accept this narrative, it bears with it an addi-
tional lesson. Supposing the agency of the disturbances
to be spiritual, we cannot regard it as commissioned
from God, any more than we do the annoyances which
a neighbor, taking unjust offense, may inflict, in this
world, on his offending neighbor in retaliation. Made-
moiselle Clairon's conduct seems to haye been justifi-
able and prudent; certainly not meriting persecution or

Why, then, were these annoyances permitted? When
we can tell why earthly annoyances are often allowed to
overtake the innocent, it will be time enough to insist
upon an answer to the spiritual question.

Natural phenomena occur under general laws, not by
special dispensation. But the disturbances above re-
corded were doubtless natural phenomena.

We may imagine that every thing in the next world
is governed by principles totally different from those which
we see in operation here. But why should we imagine
this? Does not the same Providence preside on the
further as on the hither side of the Dark Eiver ?

An example somewhat more closely resembling punish-


ment really merited and expressly sent is the following,
a narrative which I owe to the kindness of Mrs. S. C.
Hall, the author, and to the truth of which, as will b
seen, she bears personal testimony. But even in this
case can we rationally assert more than that the agency
was permitted, not commissioned?

I give the story in Mrs. Hall's own words. The cir-
cumstances occurred in London.


"All young girls have friendships one with another;
and when I was seventeen my friend, above all others,

was Kate L . She was a young Irish lady, my senior

by three years, a gentle, affectionate, pretty creature,
much devoted to her old mother, and exercising constant
forbearance toward a disagreeable brother who would
persist in playing the flute, though he played both out
of time and tune. This brother was my bete noire; and
whenever I complained of his bad playing, Kate would
say, 'Ah, wait till Robert comes home; he plays and
sings like an angel, and is so handsome I'

"This 'Robert' had been with his regiment for some
years in Canada; and his coming home was to be the
happiness of mother and daughter. For three months
before his return nothing else was talked of. If I had
had any talent for falling in love, I should have done

so, in anticipation, with Robert L ; but that was

not my weakness; and I was much amused with my
friend's speculations as to whether Robert would fall in
love with me, or I with him, first.

"When we met, there was, happily, no danger to either.
He told Kate that her friend was always laughing; and
I thougnt I had never looked on a face so beautiful in
outline and yet so haggard and painful. His large blue
.eyes were deeply set, but always seemed looking for
something they could not find. To look at him made



me uncomfortable. But this was not so strange as the
chango which, after a time, was evident in Kate. She
had become, in less than a week, cold and constrained.
I was to have spent a day with her; but she made some
apology, and, in doing so, burst into tears. Something
was evidently Wrong, which I felt satisfied time must

"In about a week more she came to see me by myself,
looking ten years older. She closed the door of my
room, and then said she desired to tell me something
which she felt I could hardly believe, but that, if I was
not afraid, I might come and judge for myself.

" After Robert's return, sbe said, for a week or so
they had been delightfully happy. But very soon
she thought about the tenth day, or rather night they
were alarmed by loud raps and knocks in Robert's
room. It was the back room on the same floor on

which Mrs. L and her daughter slept together in a

large front bed-chamber. They heard him swearing at
the noise, as if it had been at his servant; but the man
did not sleep in the house. At last he threw his boots
at it; and the more violent he became, the more violent
seemed to grow the disturbance.

"At last his mother ventured to knock at his door
and ask what was the matter. He told her to come in.
She brought a lighted candle and set it on the table.
As she entered, her son's favorite pointer rushed out of
the room. 'So/ he said, 'the dog's gone! I have
not been able to keep a dog in my room at night for
years ; but under your roof, mother, I fancied, I hoped,
I might escape a persecution that I see now pursues me
even here. I am sorry for Kate's canary-bird that hung
behind the curtain. I heard it fluttering after the first
round. Of course it is dead !'

*' The old lady got up, all trembling, to look at pool 1


Kate's bird. It was dead, at the bottom of the cage,
all its feathers ruffled.

"<Is there no Bible in the room?' she inquired.
'Yes,' he drew one from under his pillow: 'that, I
think, protects me from blows.' He looked so dread-
fully exhausted that his mother wished to leave the
room, to get him some wine. 'No: stay here: do riot
leave me!' he entreated. Hardly had he ceased speak-
ing, when some huge, heavy substance seemed rolling
down the chimney and flopped on the hearth; but Mrs.

L saw nothing. The next moment, as from a strong

wind, the light was extinguished, while knocks and raps
and a rushing sound passed round the apartment. Robert

L alternately prayed and swore; and the old lady,

usually remarkable for her self-possession, had great
difficulty in preventing herself from fainting. The
noise continued, sometimes seeming like violent thumps,
sometimes the sounds appearing to trickle around the

"At last her other son, roused by the disturbance,
came in, and found his mother on her knees, praying.

"That night she slept in her son's room, or rather at-
tempted to do so; for sleep was impossible, though her
bed was not touched or shaken. Kate remained outside
the open door. It was impossible to see, because, imme-
diately after the first plunge down the chimney, the
lights were extinguished.

"The next morning, Eobert told his family that for
more than ten years he had been the victim of this spirit-
persecution. If he lay in his tent, it was there, disturb-
ing his brother officers, who gradually shunned the so-
ciet} T of * the haunted man,' as they called him, one who
; must have done something to draw down such punish-
ment.' When on leave of absence, he wab ^nerally
free from the visitation for three or four nights; then it
found him out again. He never was suffeiod to remain


in a lodging; being regularly 'warned out' by the house-
holders, who would not endure the noise.

"After breakfast, the next-door neighbors sent in to
complain of the noises of the preceding night. On the
succeeding nights, several friends (two or three of whom
I knew) sat up with Mrs. L , and sought to investi-
gate, according to human means, the cause. In vain !
They verified the fact; the cause remained hidden in

"Kate wished me to hear for myself; but I had not
courage to do so, nor would my dear mother have per-
mitted it.

"No inducement could prevail on the pointer to return
to his master's room, by day or night. He was a recent
purchase, and, until the first noise in London came, had
appreciated Robert's kindness. After that, he evidently
disliked his master. ' It is the old story over again/
said Robert. ' I could never keep a dog. I thought I
would try again; but I shall never have any thing to
love, and nothing will ever be permitted to love me.'
The animal soon after got out; and they supposed it
ran away, or was stolen.

"The young man, seeing his mother and sister fading
away under anxiety and want of rest, told them he
could bear his affliction better by himself, and would
therefore go to Ireland, his native country, and reside
in some detached country cottage, where he could fish
and shoot.

"He went. Before his departure I once heard the
poor fellow say, ' It is hard to be so punished; but per-
haps I have deserved it.'

" I learned, afterward, that there was more than a
suspicion that he had abandoned an unfortunate girl

' Loved not wisely, but too well ;'


and that she died in America. Be this as it may, iu
Ireland, as elsewhere, the visitation followed him UD-

"This spirit never spoke, never answered questions;
and the mode of communicating now so general was
not then known. If it had been, there might have been
a different result.

"As it was, Robert L 's mode of life in his native

country gave his mother great anxiety. I had no clew,
however, to his ultimate fate; for his sister would not
tell me where in Ireland he had made his miserable

"My friend Kate married immediately after her bro-
ther left. She was a bride, a mother, and a corpse within
a year; and her death really broke her mother's heart:
so that in two years the family seemed to have vanished,
as if I had never known them. I have sometimes
thought, however, that if the dear old lady had not re-
ceived such a shock from her son's spiritual visitor, she
would not have been crushed by the loss of her daugh-
ter; but she told me she had nothing left to bind her to
this world.

"I have often regretted that I had not watched with
my young friend one night; but the facts I have thrown
together were known to certainly twenty persons in

One rarely finds a narrative better authenticated, or
more strongly indicating the reality of an ultramundane
agency, than this. It is attested by the name of a lady
well and favorably known to the literary world. It is
true that, deterred by her fears, she did not personally
witness the disturbances. But if she had, would it have
added materially to the weight of her testimony as it
stands ? Could she doubt the reality of these appalling

* Extracted from Mrs. Hall's letter to me, dated London, March 31, 1859.
2D 38*


demonstrations ? Can we doubt it ? The testimony of
Mie sister and the mother, whose lives this fearful visita-
tion darkened if it did not shorten, to say nothing
of the corroborative evidence furnished by friends who
sat up with them expressly to seek out some explana-
tion, can W e refuse credit to all this? The haggard
and careworn looks of the sufferer, his blighted life,
could these have been simulated ? The confession to his
family, wrung from him by the recurrence, in his mother's
house, of the torment he could no longer conceal, could
that be a lie? Dumb animals attested the contrary.
The death of the canary-bird, the terror of the dog,
could fancy cause the one or create the other? Or shall
we resort to the hypothesis of human agency? Ten
years had the avenging sounds pursued the unfortunate
man. In tent or tavern, in country or city, go where
he would, the terrible Intrusion still dogged his steps.
The maternal home was no city of refuge from the pur-
suer. To the wilds of Ireland it followed the culprit
in his retreat. Even if such human vengeance were
conceivable, would not human ingenuity be powerless to
carry it out ?

But, if we concede the reality and the spiritual cha-
racter of the demonstration, are we to admit also the
explanation hypothetically suggested by the narrator?

Was Eobert L really thus punished, through life,

for one of the worst, because one of the most selfish and
heartless and misery-bringing, in the list of human sins?
He himself seemed to be of that opinion : " Perhaps I
have deserved it" was the verdict of his conscience. It
may be rash, with our present limited knowledge of
ultramundane laws, to assert any thing in the pre-
mises; knowing as we do that tens of thousands of
such offenders pass through life unwhipped of justice.*

* It does not by any means follow, however, that because many similar

Online LibraryRobert Dale OwenFootfalls on the boundary of another world : with narrative illustrations → online text (page 35 of 42)