Sunday, 6 October 2019

Spook Sightings Of Yester Year - No.12 - Three Haunted Houses


(From The Liverpool Mercury, Saturday, December 26th, 1868)

Without at all desiring to commit myself to the existence of apparitions, I may be permitted to say that I have not a very profound opinion of the intellectual powers of the man or woman who ignores the possibility of the existence of that which he himself oe she herself has never seen. If, half a century ago, a man had openly asserted the day would come when persons then living would be able to tell in London the price of gold in Wall-street, New York, five minutes after the opening of the Exchange on the same morning, he would have been put down as a lunatic, and, if rich enough, his friends would have carried him off to the Forbes Winslow of that day.

I shall not, therefore, presume to contend that apparitions, or what are vulgarly called "ghosts," are imposible ; and I will add that I do not agree with those who attribute them to morbid imagination or bad digestion.

I had ventured one evening, in the winter 186- , to express with much diffidence sentiments similar to the above, when my host said, as he pushed the claret towards me, and threw an additional log of wood on the fire, " You say you want to find someone who has actually seen a ghost? Well, if that be so, I'm your man ; I have seen a ghost, and so has the parson here."

Before I narrate the story, however, I may as well premise that I was at the moment the guest of a friend residing in a cathedral town in the east of England. He was a man who had risen almost to the highest rank in the military profession ; was under fire at the Alma, and held an important command in the Crimea. Subsequently he took part in subduing the mutiny in India, and eventually returned to his native country, where his family had been settled for many generations. His estate was situate a few miles from the county town, and he was, in the language of many rural tombstones, "beloved and respected by all who knew him." If it cannot be said that a hundred banners deck with gloomy grace the last and longest dwelling place of  those of his family who have preceded him, I may say with truth that the walls of the village church are covered with monuments to their memory. Having stated thus much of my host to prove his bona fides, I may add that he is incapable of willfully decieving any one, and he is the last person of all of my aquaintance whom I should suspect of allowing his imagination to get the better of his judgement.

When my friend assured me that not only had he himself seen a ghost, but that the parson whose legs were under the same mahogany at the same moment with my own had also seen it, I asured him he was just the person I had long wished to get face to face with, and that I should be greatly pleased to learn his story even to its most minute details.

"Well, you must know," said my friend, "that our old house at C----, which is now in the occupation of a farmer, was in possession of our family for many more years than I can tell. There is a date (1632) on one of the chimney stacks, and my great-great-grandfather was born in it, and died in it. When I was a child I remember hearing that an apparition used to be seen whenever the death of the head of the family occurred. I can also remember that one night, when my grandfather lay ill, an old retainer of the family asserted that she had seen it - that she heard the rustling of its clothes, and that the doors of several rooms opened of their own accord as the apparition drew near them."

"But what was the apparition like? I inquired.
"Oh," replied my friend,"I ought to have told you that before ; it was the figure of a woman of dininitve stature, wearing a rather high white cap, with a mantle or cloak of a red colour about the shoulders. There was nothing repulsive or alarming in its appearance, and at one time it was seen so frequently that the family grew accustommed to it, and ceased to be frightened."
"But did no one speak to or try to stop it?"
"Not that I ever heard of ; but I am informed that it was never visible save for a few seconds, and then seemed to fade into thin air. My mother has told me that she has been frequently seated alone when she heard the rustle of a dress close to her, and on looking up has seen the figure move across the room towards the door, which opened as it approached, and then closed noiselessly behind it."

"Did you ever see it on those occasions?"
"No, I only saw it once, and the the parson was with me, and he saw it too."
"But did anyone else see it?"
"Oh yes, rejoined my friend ; "I should say it was seen by 20 people. The circumstances were these. My eldest brother having died in the house, and the village churchyard being, as you know, but a few fields distant, and on his property, the coffin was carried by his tenantry on their shoulders to the place of interment. There is a broad gravel space before the hall door, and the funeral procession was about to start, when I heard an exclamation, 'Oh, there she is!' and looking up I saw at the open window of the room where my brother died the apparition of which we had spoken often. It was the figure of what seemed to be a little woman, with a high white cap and a red cloak or mantle round the shoulders. We all kept our eyes on it for a second or two ; then it vanished."

"Did it seem to move away as a person in life would do, or did it fade away?" I asked
"Well, I cannot say," he replied ; "all I know is, it vanished, and I have not heard that any one has seen it since. The fact, however, that an apparition such as I have described has been seen occasionally in that house for some generations past is beyond all question."
Our mutual friend, the parson, corroborated this story in every particular, adding that immediate search was made all over the house for any stranger, but without success.

Happening to mention this story on my return to town, in the presence of a lady whose strict veracity is indisputable, she told me the following extraordinary narrative. As a preface to it I may state that my informant is a highly educated, profoundly religious, but by no means imaginative person. She is a single lady of a very certain age, who has long since abandoned all ideas of matrimony (if indeed any age may be said to deter "the sex" from wandering thoughts in that direction), and until the incidents occured which I am about to relate could not tolerate the bare idea of ghosts or apparitions.

Her story was as follows :-  About three years ago she went to sojourn with a family in the north of England whose acquaintance she had but lately made. The family consisted of a lady and two or three grown-up daughters, and they lived in a handsome house standing by itself about a quarter of a mile from the high road, and approached by an avenue. In front of the house was a wide gravel sweep, and the stables lay at some distance behind, concealed by a belt of trees.There were no trees, however, quite close to the house - a circumstance which it may be desirable to bear in mind. The lady retired to rest at her usual hour, and fell asleep. She awoke, she believes, an hour or two afterwards, and heard a noise which she could liken to nothing but drops of water falling from the ceiling to the floor.

 Supposing that a sudden storm of rain was descending, she got up, lit a candle, and searched for the place where she fancied she heard the trickling, but failed to find any moisture on the carpet. On looking out of the window, too, the weather appeared to be fine. She then extinguished the light, and returned to bed. The noise, however, continued, and she arrived at the conclusion that although it was certainly not raining, there was a tank or reservoir overhead (as there often is in the roofs of country houses), and that the water was coming through the ceiling. To prevent mischief, therefore, she placed the hand-basin on the very spot on which the drops appeared to be descending. She then fell asleep, but in the morning on waking the basin was as dry as when she had placed it on the floor. Not wishing to notice the matter to her friends, or to be thought fidgety, she remained silent, and in answer from her hostess, said she had slept "pretty well." The following night no similar noise was heard, but on the third night it was resumed ; she soon, however, became accustomed to it.

At the expiration of a week she was beginning to think that the dripping of the water might be accounted for in many ways, when on waking one night, between one and two o'clock, she heard the noise of a carriage and horses approaching the house. Not having heard that visitors were expected, she listened with some curiosity, and heard the carriage sweep round the gravel drive and then suddenly pull up at the hall door.

The steps were let down with a loud clang, but she heard no voices, nor did any of the inmates of the house appear to be on the alert to receive their vistors. The carriage subsequently drove away, but not at the same speed at which it had arrived. 

At breakfast the following morning my friend said, "You had late visitors last night ; were they expected?" Her hostess looked at her gravely, and exchanging glances with one of her daughters said mildly, but with a somewhat sad expression, "We had no visitors last night ; you must surely be mistaken - what did you hear?" The lady then stated what she had heard, adding it was a bright moonlight night, and that, although she got up and looked out of the window as the carriage seemed to be retiring, she could see nothing.

The following day, and without explanation, my friend was placed in another bedchamber, and during the remainder of her visit she heard no more mysterious sounds. On the morning, however, of her departure, she had the curiosity to ask one of the female servants, who was assisting her to dress, whether she had ever heard any sounds in the house for which she could not account. The reply was, "Oh, yes, ma'am, but my mistress does not like it talked about." The girl then detailed, with more or less exaggeration, no doubt, what she herself had heard and seen. The noise of the drops of water and of the carriage all the domestics had heard, and the girl affirmed that one day while the family were at dinner in broad daylight, and while she was standing in the hall, waiting for another servant to bring her a dish from the kitchen, she saw the figure of a tall lady in a silk dress slowly ascend the stairs and disappear from view at the first landing. She shrieked ; but, to her intense amazement, her mistress came out and quietly said, "Don't be silly, girl ; attend to your business."

I may add, as a sequel to this story, that the family to whom the house belonged, and who appeared to be extremely reticent as to its history, have since sold the place, and are now residing on the continent. I often wonder whether its new occupants ever hear the mysterious midnight carriage or encounter the tall lady in silk on the staircase.

As some people are more susceptible to danger than others, and appear to have a foreboding of coming evil, some others may be said to have a presentiment of something supernatural near them. As an illustration of this, in connection with what are called "haunted houses," I purpose to tell a story which I have direct from the narrator, in whose own house the circumstances I am about to describe occurred. My authority is a barrister, well versed in human nature, who, until a few years since, was so sceptical in the matter of ghosts as to be intolerant of the opinions of any one adventurous enough to hazard even the faintest specualation as to the existence of supernatural beings, whether visible or invisible. Accustomed by profession to doubt everything which was not in evidence before his eyes, he looked upon ghosts as either as idle creations of the imagination or vulgar impostures, while he considered ghost stories foolish and mischevious fictions, intended merely to pander to a morbid appetite for the marvellous.

During one day in the hall of the Middle Temple (the same in which Queen Elizabeth condescended to witness a mask in which Shakespeare himself bore a part), one of our "mess" (for we dine in parties of four, under a captain, the fourth man being called "the Junior") drew attention to the fact that a few years ago a man, whose duty it was to trim the lamps, had hanged himself in the gallery from whence the Queen had viewed the play, adding "I always fancy I see the fellow hanging in the corner whenever I go up there." The conversation then branched into the subject of apparitions generally, and my friend, who happened that night to be captain of the mess, remarked "Some people seem to have an instinctive perception of the whereabouts of ghosts - a faculty something like that of the water-finders among the Indian tribes"

"What do you mean?" we asked.
"Well," he continued, "I remember when I lived at P---, in an old house which suited me because it was cheap (briefs weren't quite so plentiful then as they are now), and because it had a pleasnt garden, I asked a man home to dinner with me, who declared, before even he had been under the roof five minutes, that my house was haunted!"
"Deuced sharp chap that," said our Junior, "I hope he don't mean to go my circuit."
"Well," replied the captain, " he does happen to go your circuit, and the next time you meet him you can ask him to tell you how you find a ghost. My house stood in a suburb close to the high road. I should say it was built about the time of Queen Anne, if not earlier. The hall door opened into a square apartment, the walls of which were covered with wainscot from the floor to the ceiling. the staircase was similarly lined, as indeed were all the rooms in the house except those next to the roof, which we never used. There was no basement, the kitchen being on the same level with the drawing, dining, breakfast, and morning rooms.

"Having appointed to meet my friend at chambers on the day I had asked him to dinner, we walked together from the nearest railway station to my home. It was a fine afternoon early in August, and the sun was shining brightly as I opened the door with my latch-key, and we stepped into the hall. In the centre of the apartment was a round table, on which my friend deposited his bat and stick ; but he had scarcely done so when I noticed a strange expression come over his features. Hesitating for a moment, he said to me, 'Now be frank, and answer me a single question ; is not this house what is called haunted?'  The abrubtness of the query, and the candid, almost simple manner of my interrogator, left me no alternative but to reply frankly as he had asked me."

"And what did you say?" we all exclaimed.
"I said, 'It is what is called 'haunted;' and now tell me how you know the fact!"
"I felt that it was haunted," he answered.
"The moment I crossed your threshold something told me I was in a haunted house."

"After dinner he asked me whether I had ever seen an apparition, or had ever heard any noises for which I could not account ; he asked me if I had any objection to his making a minute examination of the house and its surroundings. To this, I readily assented, and we narrowly inspected the whole of the premises, sounded the walls, and endeavoured, without success, to discover a solution of these mysteries connected with it."
"Of these mysteries we as yet know nothing," chimed in our Junior.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you my experiences in the house as detailed to my guest while we were sitting over our dessert, after my wife had left the room. We had not been settled in it more than a week when one night, as we lay reading in bed, we heard the noise of a heavy tread on the stairs. Our bedroom was on the first floor of the house, directly over the hall, and when the door was open we could command a view of the staircase and landing outside.

"Knowing the servants had long since retired to rest, I called out 'Who's that?' but got no reply. Catching up the lamp, I went out upon the landing. There was no one there, and on repairing to the servants' chamber I found them in their beds. The same noise was heard at intervals during that and many succeeding nights, with the addition of the rustling of female garments. When we had got somewhat used to it the programme changed, and one summer morning, just as there was sufficient light to read in the room, my wife and I being both awake, we heard the usual foot-falls, accompanied, however, by the clanking of spurs, and an occasional sound as of a sword or some other piece of metal bumping agsainst the stairs. Catching up a revolver, which I kept within reach, I softly left my bed, and waited until the steps should reach the landing outside my door. I then sprang out and challenged the intruder, but my appeal was to empty air! The following night, after the household had retired to rest, I tied pieces of black thread across the staircase at frequent intervals, and powdered flour out of a dredger over the steps.

"These precautions were, however, useless. The heavy treads and metallic bumps were heard all the same ; I rushed out to meet the enemy, but could not detect him. The threads were unbroken, and the flour remained without the impression of a foot! I then gave up my experiments, and at last we got so used to the "getting up stairs," and other noises and results - such, for instance, as the apparent smashing of crockery in the kitchen, the real fright of the cat, who used to put up its back and spit and jump as if she saw a dog, and other manifestations equally inexplicable - that we ceased to pay any particular attention to them. At length, however, a circumstance occurred which drove us out of the house. It occurred in this wise.

My younger brother, a little fellow ten years of age, came to visit us for a change of air and scene. He was never very strong, and after a short time he grew so ill that my mother came to nurse him, and took up her temporary abode with us. His illness was protracted and wearying, and what was more deplorable, the physician gave us no hope of his ultimate recovery. he died one summer evening, between eight and nine o'clock, when it was yet quite light. The room in which he lay was lined with wainscot, as were all the others on the same floor, and there was a closet or dressing room adjoining with a door opening into the bedchamber, but without any independent means of communication with the landing outside. We were all standing round the poor little fellow's bed ; the female servants were in an adjoining room, and spoke in whispers ; and the only sound was a stifled sob from my mother, who held the sufferer's tiny wasted hands in hers. At length his spirit passed away, and a sweet smile seemed to settle on his features. We were intently gazing on the instantaneous change that follows dissoulution at the moment the soul quits its earthly temple, when three loud, distinct knocks, as if given with a hammer, were heard on the wainscot close to the bed in which poor little Willie had just expired.

"'Merciful God!' exclaimed my mother, as she sank upon the floor, 'receive his soul.'
"The sounds were as loud as a postman's knock, but with a longer interval between each! No living creature could have given them, for there was, as I have already said, no communication with the closet adjoining from the landing, and there was no one in the chamber of death but ourselves! We listened long, but heard nothing more that night. I raised my mother from the floor and led her out of the room, as with clasped hands and streaming eyes she gazed upon the bed where little Willie lay.

"I am not prepared to say that the noise - patent and unequivocal as it was to all in the room - was caused by any supernatural agency ; but all who were present can affirm that the knocks were heard precisely as I have related. We quitted the house almost immediately afterwards, and I have never seen it since. Taken in conjunction with the other circumstances I have described, the whole affair appears ineplicable, and for my own part all I can say is that after my personal experiences I can no longer undertake to declare offhand that there are no such places as haunted houses and no such things as ghosts."

"So far as the knocks are concerned," observed our junior, glancing at the captain and then at the decanter, to intimate that a glass of wine all round would be desirable, " I can call a witness quite as relaible as our captain's. When I was living in... -"
"That will do for to-night," said the captain ; "for I must go to chambers to draw a declaration."
So we all agreed to form the same "mess" another night to hear the junior's story. - St. Jame's Magazine.


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