Under none of the accredited ghostly circumstances, and environed by none o_he conventional ghostly surroundings, did I first make acquaintance with th_ouse which is the subject of this Christmas piece. I saw it in the daylight, with the sun upon it. There was no wind, no rain, no lightning, no thunder, n_wful or unwonted circumstance, of any kind, to heighten its effect. More tha_hat: I had come to it direct from a railway station: it was not more than _ile distant from the railway station; and, as I stood outside the house, looking back upon the way I had come, I could see the goods train runnin_moothly along the embankment in the valley. I will not say that everythin_as utterly commonplace, because I doubt if anything can be that, except t_tterly commonplace people- -and there my vanity steps in; but, I will take i_n myself to say that anybody might see the house as I saw it, any fine autum_orning.
The manner of my lighting on it was this.
I was travelling towards London out of the North, intending to stop by th_ay, to look at the house. My health required a temporary residence in th_ountry; and a friend of mine who knew that, and who had happened to driv_ast the house, had written to me to suggest it as a likely place. I had go_nto the train at midnight, and had fallen asleep, and had woke up and had sa_ooking out of window at the brilliant Northern Lights in the sky, and ha_allen asleep again, and had woke up again to find the night gone, with th_sual discontented conviction on me that I hadn’t been to sleep at all;—upo_hich question, in the first imbecility of that condition, I am ashamed t_elieve that I would have done wager by battle with the man who sat opposit_e. That opposite man had had, through the night—as that opposite man alway_as—several legs too many, and all of them too long. In addition to thi_nreasonable conduct (which was only to be expected of him), he had had _encil and a pocket-book, and had been perpetually listening and taking notes.
It had appeared to me that these aggravating notes related to the jolts an_umps of the carriage, and I should have resigned myself to his taking them, under a general supposition that he was in the civil-engineering way of life, if he had not sat staring straight over my head whenever he listened. He was _oggle-eyed gentleman of a perplexed aspect, and his demeanour becam_nbearable.
It was a cold, dead morning (the sun not being up yet), and when I had out- watched the paling light of the fires of the iron country, and the curtain o_eavy smoke that hung at once between me and the stars and between me and th_ay, I turned to my fellow-traveller and said:
“I beg your pardon, sir, but do you observe anything particular in me”? For, really, he appeared to be taking down, either my travelling-cap or my hair, with a minuteness that was a liberty.
The goggle-eyed gentleman withdrew his eyes from behind me, as if the back o_he carriage were a hundred miles off, and said, with a lofty look o_ompassion for my insignificance:
“In you, sir?—B.”
“B, sir?” said I, growing warm.
“I have nothing to do with you, sir,” returned the gentleman; “pray let m_isten—O.”
He enunciated this vowel after a pause, and noted it down.
At first I was alarmed, for an Express lunatic and no communication with th_uard, is a serious position. The thought came to my relief that the gentlema_ight be what is popularly called a Rapper: one of a sect for (some of) whom _ave the highest respect, but whom I don’t believe in. I was going to ask hi_he question, when he took the bread out of my mouth.
“You will excuse me,” said the gentleman contemptuously, “if I am too much i_dvance of common humanity to trouble myself at all about it. I have passe_he night—as indeed I pass the whole of my time now—in spiritual intercourse.”
“O!” said I, somewhat snappishly.
“The conferences of the night began,” continued the gentleman, turning severa_eaves of his note-book, “with this message: ‘Evil communications corrupt goo_anners.’”
“Sound,” said I; “but, absolutely new?”
“New from spirits,” returned the gentleman.
I could only repeat my rather snappish “O!” and ask if I might be favoure_ith the last communication.
“‘A bird in the hand,’” said the gentleman, reading his last entry with grea_olemnity, “‘is worth two in the Bosh.’”
“Truly I am of the same opinion,” said I; “but shouldn’t it be Bush?”
“It came to me, Bosh,” returned the gentleman.
The gentleman then informed me that the spirit of Socrates had delivered thi_pecial revelation in the course of the night. “My friend, I hope you ar_retty well. There are two in this railway carriage. How do you do? There ar_eventeen thousand four hundred and seventy-nine spirits here, but you canno_ee them. Pythagoras is here. He is not at liberty to mention it, but hope_ou like travelling.” Galileo likewise had dropped in, with this scientifi_ntelligence. “I am glad to see you, amico. Come sta? Water will freeze whe_t is cold enough. Addio!” In the course of the night, also, the followin_henomena had occurred. Bishop Butler had insisted on spelling his name, “Bubler,” for which offence against orthography and good manners he had bee_ismissed as out of temper. John Milton (suspected of wilful mystification) had repudiated the authorship of Paradise Lost, and had introduced, as join_uthors of that poem, two Unknown gentlemen, respectively named Grungers an_cadgingtone. And Prince Arthur, nephew of King John of England, had describe_imself as tolerably comfortable in the seventh circle, where he was learnin_o paint on velvet, under the direction of Mrs. Trimmer and Mary Queen o_cots.
If this should meet the eye of the gentleman who favoured me with thes_isclosures, I trust he will excuse my confessing that the sight of the risin_un, and the contemplation of the magnificent Order of the vast Universe, mad_e impatient of them. In a word, I was so impatient of them, that I wa_ightily glad to get out at the next station, and to exchange these clouds an_apours for the free air of Heaven.
By that time it was a beautiful morning. As I walked away among such leaves a_ad already fallen from the golden, brown, and russet trees; and as I looke_round me on the wonders of Creation, and thought of the steady, unchanging, and harmonious laws by which they are sustained; the gentleman’s spiritua_ntercourse seemed to me as poor a piece of journey-work as ever this worl_aw. In which heathen state of mind, I came within view of the house, an_topped to examine it attentively.
It was a solitary house, standing in a sadly neglected garden: a pretty eve_quare of some two acres. It was a house of about the time of George th_econd; as stiff, as cold, as formal, and in as bad taste, as could possibl_e desired by the most loyal admirer of the whole quartet of Georges. It wa_ninhabited, but had, within a year or two, been cheaply repaired to render i_abitable; I say cheaply, because the work had been done in a surface manner, and was already decaying as to the paint and plaster, though the colours wer_resh. A lop-sided board drooped over the garden wall, announcing that it was “to let on very reasonable terms, well furnished.” It was much too closely an_eavily shadowed by trees, and, in particular, there were six tall poplar_efore the front windows, which were excessively melancholy, and the site o_hich had been extremely ill chosen.
It was easy to see that it was an avoided house—a house that was shunned b_he village, to which my eye was guided by a church spire some half a mil_ff—a house that nobody would take. And the natural inference was, that it ha_he reputation of being a haunted house.
No period within the four-and-twenty hours of day and night is so solemn t_e, as the early morning. In the summer-time, I often rise very early, an_epair to my room to do a day’s work before breakfast, and I am always o_hose occasions deeply impressed by the stillness and solitude around me.
Besides that there is something awful in the being surrounded by familia_aces asleep—in the knowledge that those who are dearest to us and to whom w_re dearest, are profoundly unconscious of us, in an impassive state, anticipative of that mysterious condition to which we are all tending—th_topped life, the broken threads of yesterday, the deserted seat, the close_ook, the unfinished but abandoned occupation, all are images of Death. Th_ranquillity of the hour is the tranquillity of Death. The colour and th_hill have the same association. Even a certain air that familiar househol_bjects take upon them when they first emerge from the shadows of the nigh_nto the morning, of being newer, and as they used to be long ago, has it_ounterpart in the subsidence of the worn face of maturity or age, in death, into the old youthful look. Moreover, I once saw the apparition of my father, at this hour. He was alive and well, and nothing ever came of it, but I sa_im in the daylight, sitting with his back towards me, on a seat that stoo_eside my bed. His head was resting on his hand, and whether he was slumberin_r grieving, I could not discern. Amazed to see him there, I sat up, moved m_osition, leaned out of bed, and watched him. As he did not move, I spoke t_im more than once. As he did not move then, I became alarmed and laid my han_pon his shoulder, as I thought—and there was no such thing.
For all these reasons, and for others less easily and briefly statable, I fin_he early morning to be my most ghostly time. Any house would be more or les_aunted, to me, in the early morning; and a haunted house could scarcel_ddress me to greater advantage than then.
I walked on into the village, with the desertion of this house upon my mind, and I found the landlord of the little inn, sanding his door-step. I bespok_reakfast, and broached the subject of the house.
“Is it haunted?” I asked.
The landlord looked at me, shook his head, and answered, “I say nothing.”
“Then it is haunted?”
“Well!” cried the landlord, in an outburst of frankness that had th_ppearance of desperation—“I wouldn’t sleep in it.”
“If I wanted to have all the bells in a house ring, with nobody to ring ’em; and all the doors in a house bang, with nobody to bang ’em; and all sorts o_eet treading about, with no feet there; why, then,” said the landlord, “I’_leep in that house.”
“Is anything seen there?”
The landlord looked at me again, and then, with his former appearance o_esperation, called down his stable-yard for “Ikey!”
The call produced a high-shouldered young fellow, with a round red face, _hort crop of sandy hair, a very broad humorous mouth, a turned-up nose, and _reat sleeved waistcoat of purple bars, with mother-of-pearl buttons, tha_eemed to be growing upon him, and to be in a fair way—if it were no_runed—of covering his head and overunning his boots.
“This gentleman wants to know,” said the landlord, “if anything’s seen at th_oplars.”
“‘Ooded woman with a howl,” said Ikey, in a state of great freshness.
“Do you mean a cry?”
“I mean a bird, sir.”
“A hooded woman with an owl. Dear me! Did you ever see her?”
“I seen the howl.”
“Never the woman?”
“Not so plain as the howl, but they always keeps together.”
“Has anybody ever seen the woman as plainly as the owl?”
“Lord bless you, sir! Lots.”
“Lord bless you, sir! Lots.”
“The general-dealer opposite, for instance, who is opening his shop?”
“Perkins? Bless you, Perkins wouldn’t go a-nigh the place. No!” observed th_oung man, with considerable feeling; “he an’t overwise, an’t Perkins, but h_n’t such a fool as that.”
(Here, the landlord murmured his confidence in Perkins’s knowing better.)
“Who is—or who was—the hooded woman with the owl? Do you know?”
“Well!” said Ikey, holding up his cap with one hand while he scratched hi_ead with the other, “they say, in general, that she was murdered, and th_owl he ‘ooted the while.”
This very concise summary of the facts was all I could learn, except that _oung man, as hearty and likely a young man as ever I see, had been took wit_its and held down in ’em, after seeing the hooded woman. Also, that _ersonage, dimly described as “a hold chap, a sort of one-eyed tramp, answering to the name of Joby, unless you challenged him as Greenwood, an_hen he said, ‘Why not? and even if so, mind your own business,’” ha_ncountered the hooded woman, a matter of five or six times. But, I was no_aterially assisted by these witnesses: inasmuch as the first was i_alifornia, and the last was, as Ikey said (and he was confirmed by th_andlord), Anywheres.
Now, although I regard with a hushed and solemn fear, the mysteries, betwee_hich and this state of existence is interposed the barrier of the great tria_nd change that fall on all the things that live; and although I have not th_udacity to pretend that I know anything of them; I can no more reconcile th_ere banging of doors, ringing of bells, creaking of boards, and such-lik_nsignificances, with the majestic beauty and pervading analogy of all th_ivine rules that I am permitted to understand, than I had been able, a littl_hile before, to yoke the spiritual intercourse of my fellow- traveller to th_hariot of the rising sun. Moreover, I had lived in two haunted houses—bot_broad. In one of these, an old Italian palace, which bore the reputation o_eing very badly haunted indeed, and which had recently been twice abandone_n that account, I lived eight months, most tranquilly and pleasantly: notwithstanding that the house had a score of mysterious bedrooms, which wer_ever used, and possessed, in one large room in which I sat reading, times ou_f number at all hours, and next to which I slept, a haunted chamber of th_irst pretensions. I gently hinted these considerations to the landlord. An_s to this particular house having a bad name, I reasoned with him, Why, ho_any things had bad names undeservedly, and how easy it was to give bad names, and did he not think that if he and I were persistently to whisper in th_illage that any weird-looking old drunken tinker of the neighbourhood ha_old himself to the Devil, he would come in time to be suspected of tha_ommercial venture! All this wise talk was perfectly ineffective with th_andlord, I am bound to confess, and was as dead a failure as ever I made i_y life.
To cut this part of the story short, I was piqued about the haunted house, an_as already half resolved to take it. So, after breakfast, I got the keys fro_erkins’s brother-in-law (a whip and harness maker, who keeps the Post Office, and is under submission to a most rigorous wife of the Doubly Seceding Littl_mmanuel persuasion), and went up to the house, attended by my landlord and b_key.
Within, I found it, as I had expected, transcendently dismal. The slowl_hanging shadows waved on it from the heavy trees, were doleful in the las_egree; the house was ill-placed, ill-built, ill-planned, and ill-fitted. I_as damp, it was not free from dry rot, there was a flavour of rats in it, an_t was the gloomy victim of that indescribable decay which settles on all th_ork of man’s hands whenever it’s not turned to man’s account. The kitchen_nd offices were too large, and too remote from each other. Above stairs an_elow, waste tracts of passage intervened between patches of fertilit_epresented by rooms; and there was a mouldy old well with a green growth upo_t, hiding like a murderous trap, near the bottom of the back-stairs, unde_he double row of bells. One of these bells was labelled, on a black ground i_aded white letters, Master B. This, they told me, was the bell that rang th_ost.
“Who was Master B.?” I asked. “Is it known what he did while the owl hooted?”
“Rang the bell,” said Ikey.
I was rather struck by the prompt dexterity with which this young man pitche_is fur cap at the bell, and rang it himself. It was a loud, unpleasant bell, and made a very disagreeable sound. The other bells were inscribed accordin_o the names of the rooms to which their wires were conducted: as “Pictur_oom,” “Double Room,” “Clock Room,” and the like. Following Master B.’s bel_o its source I found that young gentleman to have had but indifferent third- class accommodation in a triangular cabin under the cock-loft, with a corne_ireplace which Master B. must have been exceedingly small if he were eve_ble to warm himself at, and a corner chimney- piece like a pyramida_taircase to the ceiling for Tom Thumb. The papering of one side of the roo_ad dropped down bodily, with fragments of plaster adhering to it, and almos_locked up the door. It appeared that Master B., in his spiritual condition, always made a point of pulling the paper down. Neither the landlord nor Ike_ould suggest why he made such a fool of himself.
Except that the house had an immensely large rambling loft at top, I made n_ther discoveries. It was moderately well furnished, but sparely. Some of th_urniture—say, a third—was as old as the house; the rest was of variou_eriods within the last half-century. I was referred to a corn-chandler in th_arket-place of the county town to treat for the house. I went that day, and _ook it for six months.
It was just the middle of October when I moved in with my maiden sister (_enture to call her eight-and-thirty, she is so very handsome, sensible, an_ngaging). We took with us, a deaf stable- man, my bloodhound Turk, two wome_ervants, and a young person called an Odd Girl. I have reason to record o_he attendant last enumerated, who was one of the Saint Lawrence’s Unio_emale Orphans, that she was a fatal mistake and a disastrous engagement.
The year was dying early, the leaves were falling fast, it was a raw cold da_hen we took possession, and the gloom of the house was most depressing. Th_ook (an amiable woman, but of a weak turn of intellect) burst into tears o_eholding the kitchen, and requested that her silver watch might be delivere_ver to her sister (2 Tuppintock’s Gardens, Liggs’s Walk, Clapham Rise), i_he event of anything happening to her from the damp. Streaker, the housemaid, feigned cheerfulness, but was the greater martyr. The Odd Girl, who had neve_een in the country, alone was pleased, and made arrangements for sowing a_corn in the garden outside the scullery window, and rearing an oak.
We went, before dark, through all the natural—as opposed t_upernatural—miseries incidental to our state. Dispiriting reports ascended (like the smoke) from the basement in volumes, and descended from the uppe_ooms. There was no rolling-pin, there was no salamander (which failed t_urprise me, for I don’t know what it is), there was nothing in the house, what there was, was broken, the last people must have lived like pigs, wha_ould the meaning of the landlord be? Through these distresses, the Odd Gir_as cheerful and exemplary. But within four hours after dark we had got into _upernatural groove, and the Odd Girl had seen “Eyes,” and was in hysterics.
My sister and I had agreed to keep the haunting strictly to ourselves, and m_mpression was, and still is, that I had not left Ikey, when he helped t_nload the cart, alone with the women, or any one of them, for one minute.
Nevertheless, as I say, the Odd Girl had “seen Eyes” (no other explanatio_ould ever be drawn from her), before nine, and by ten o’clock had had as muc_inegar applied to her as would pickle a handsome salmon.
I leave a discerning public to judge of my feelings, when, under thes_ntoward circumstances, at about half-past ten o’clock Master B.’s bell bega_o ring in a most infuriated manner, and Turk howled until the house resounde_ith his lamentations!
I hope I may never again be in a state of mind so unchristian as the menta_rame in which I lived for some weeks, respecting the memory of Master B.
Whether his bell was rung by rats, or mice, or bats, or wind, or what othe_ccidental vibration, or sometimes by one cause, sometimes another, an_ometimes by collusion, I don’t know; but, certain it is, that it did ring tw_ights out of three, until I conceived the happy idea of twisting Master B.’_eck—in other words, breaking his bell short off—and silencing that youn_entleman, as to my experience and belief, for ever.
But, by that time, the Odd Girl had developed such improving powers o_atalepsy, that she had become a shining example of that very inconvenien_isorder. She would stiffen, like a Guy Fawkes endowed with unreason, on th_ost irrelevant occasions. I would address the servants in a lucid manner, pointing out to them that I had painted Master B.’s room and balked the paper, and taken Master B.’s bell away and balked the ringing, and if they coul_uppose that that confounded boy had lived and died, to clothe himself with n_etter behaviour than would most unquestionably have brought him and th_harpest particles of a birch-broom into close acquaintance in the presen_mperfect state of existence, could they also suppose a mere poor human being, such as I was, capable by those contemptible means of counteracting an_imiting the powers of the disembodied spirits of the dead, or of an_pirits?—I say I would become emphatic and cogent, not to say rathe_omplacent, in such an address, when it would all go for nothing by reason o_he Odd Girl’s suddenly stiffening from the toes upward, and glaring among u_ike a parochial petrifaction.
Streaker, the housemaid, too, had an attribute of a most discomfiting nature.
I am unable to say whether she was of an usually lymphatic temperament, o_hat else was the matter with her, but this young woman became a mer_istillery for the production of the largest and most transparent tears I eve_et with. Combined with these characteristics, was a peculiar tenacity of hol_n those specimens, so that they didn’t fall, but hung upon her face and nose.
In this condition, and mildly and deplorably shaking her head, her silenc_ould throw me more heavily than the Admirable Crichton could have done in _erbal disputation for a purse of money. Cook, likewise, always covered m_ith confusion as with a garment, by neatly winding up the session with th_rotest that the Ouse was wearing her out, and by meekly repeating her las_ishes regarding her silver watch.
As to our nightly life, the contagion of suspicion and fear was among us, an_here is no such contagion under the sky. Hooded woman? According to th_ccounts, we were in a perfect Convent of hooded women. Noises? With tha_ontagion downstairs, I myself have sat in the dismal parlour, listening, until I have heard so many and such strange noises, that they would hav_hilled my blood if I had not warmed it by dashing out to make discoveries.
Try this in bed, in the dead of the night: try this at your own comfortabl_ire-side, in the life of the night. You can fill any house with noises, i_ou will, until you have a noise for every nerve in your nervous system.
I repeat; the contagion of suspicion and fear was among us, and there is n_uch contagion under the sky. The women (their noses in a chronic state o_xcoriation from smelling-salts) were always primed and loaded for a swoon, and ready to go off with hair- triggers. The two elder detached the Odd Gir_n all expeditions that were considered doubly hazardous, and she alway_stablished the reputation of such adventures by coming back cataleptic. I_ook or Streaker went overhead after dark, we knew we should presently hear _ump on the ceiling; and this took place so constantly, that it was as if _ighting man were engaged to go about the house, administering a touch of hi_rt which I believe is called The Auctioneer, to every domestic he met with.
It was in vain to do anything. It was in vain to be frightened, for the momen_n one’s own person, by a real owl, and then to show the owl. It was in vai_o discover, by striking an accidental discord on the piano, that Turk alway_owled at particular notes and combinations. It was in vain to be _hadamanthus with the bells, and if an unfortunate bell rang without leave, t_ave it down inexorably and silence it. It was in vain to fire up chimneys, let torches down the well, charge furiously into suspected rooms and recesses.
We changed servants, and it was no better. The new set ran away, and a thir_et came, and it was no better. At last, our comfortable housekeeping got t_e so disorganised and wretched, that I one night dejectedly said to m_ister: “Patty, I begin to despair of our getting people to go on with u_ere, and I think we must give this up.”
My sister, who is a woman of immense spirit, replied, “No, John, don’t give i_p. Don’t be beaten, John. There is another way.”
“And what is that?” said I.
“John,” returned my sister, “if we are not to be driven out of this house, an_hat for no reason whatever, that is apparent to you or me, we must hel_urselves and take the house wholly and solely into our own hands.”
“But, the servants,” said I.
“Have no servants,” said my sister, boldly.
Like most people in my grade of life, I had never thought of the possibilit_f going on without those faithful obstructions. The notion was so new to m_hen suggested, that I looked very doubtful. “We know they come here to b_rightened and infect one another, and we know they are frightened and d_nfect one another,” said my sister.
“With the exception of Bottles,” I observed, in a meditative tone.
(The deaf stable-man. I kept him in my service, and still keep him, as _henomenon of moroseness not to be matched in England.)
“To be sure, John,” assented my sister; “except Bottles. And what does that g_o prove? Bottles talks to nobody, and hears nobody unless he is absolutel_oared at, and what alarm has Bottles ever given, or taken! None.”
This was perfectly true; the individual in question having retired, ever_ight at ten o’clock, to his bed over the coach-house, with no other compan_han a pitchfork and a pail of water. That the pail of water would have bee_ver me, and the pitchfork through me, if I had put myself withou_nnouncement in Bottles’s way after that minute, I had deposited in my ow_ind as a fact worth remembering. Neither had Bottles ever taken the leas_otice of any of our many uproars. An imperturbable and speechless man, he ha_at at his supper, with Streaker present in a swoon, and the Odd Girl marble, and had only put another potato in his cheek, or profited by the genera_isery to help himself to beefsteak pie.
“And so,” continued my sister, “I exempt Bottles. And considering, John, tha_he house is too large, and perhaps too lonely, to be kept well in hand b_ottles, you, and me, I propose that we cast about among our friends for _ertain selected number of the most reliable and willing—form a Society her_or three months—wait upon ourselves and one another—live cheerfully an_ocially—and see what happens.”
I was so charmed with my sister, that I embraced her on the spot, and wen_nto her plan with the greatest ardour.
We were then in the third week of November; but, we took our measures s_igorously, and were so well seconded by the friends in whom we confided, tha_here was still a week of the month unexpired, when our party all came dow_ogether merrily, and mustered in the haunted house.
I will mention, in this place, two small changes that I made while my siste_nd I were yet alone. It occurring to me as not improbable that Turk howled i_he house at night, partly because he wanted to get out of it, I stationed hi_n his kennel outside, but unchained; and I seriously warned the village tha_ny man who came in his way must not expect to leave him without a rip in hi_wn throat. I then casually asked Ikey if he were a judge of a gun? On hi_aying, “Yes, sir, I knows a good gun when I sees her,” I begged the favour o_is stepping up to the house and looking at mine.
“She’s a true one, sir,” said Ikey, after inspecting a double- barrelled rifl_hat I bought in New York a few years ago. “No mistake about Her, sir.”
“Ikey,” said I, “don’t mention it; I have seen something in this house.”
“No, sir?” he whispered, greedily opening his eyes. “‘Ooded lady, sir?”
“Don’t be frightened,” said I. “It was a figure rather like you.”
“Ikey!” said I, shaking hands with him warmly: I may say affectionately; “i_here is any truth in these ghost-stories, the greatest service I can do you, is, to fire at that figure. And I promise you, by Heaven and earth, I will d_t with this gun if I see it again!”
The young man thanked me, and took his leave with some little precipitation, after declining a glass of liquor. I imparted my secret to him, because I ha_ever quite forgotten his throwing his cap at the bell; because I had, o_nother occasion, noticed something very like a fur cap, lying not far fro_he bell, one night when it had burst out ringing; and because I had remarke_hat we were at our ghostliest whenever he came up in the evening to comfor_he servants. Let me do Ikey no injustice. He was afraid of the house, an_elieved in its being haunted; and yet he would play false on the hauntin_ide, so surely as he got an opportunity. The Odd Girl’s case was exactl_imilar. She went about the house in a state of real terror, and yet lie_onstrously and wilfully, and invented many of the alarms she spread, and mad_any of the sounds we heard. I had had my eye on the two, and I know it. It i_ot necessary for me, here, to account for this preposterous state of mind; _ontent myself with remarking that it is familiarly known to every intelligen_an who has had fair medical, legal, or other watchful experience; that it i_s well established and as common a state of mind as any with which observer_re acquainted; and that it is one of the first elements, above all others, rationally to be suspected in, and strictly looked for, and separated from, any question of this kind.
To return to our party. The first thing we did when we were all assembled, was, to draw lots for bedrooms. That done, and every bedroom, and, indeed, th_hole house, having been minutely examined by the whole body, we allotted th_arious household duties, as if we had been on a gipsy party, or a yachtin_arty, or a hunting party, or were shipwrecked. I then recounted the floatin_umours concerning the hooded lady, the owl, and Master B.: with others, stil_ore filmy, which had floated about during our occupation, relative to som_idiculous old ghost of the female gender who went up and down, carrying th_host of a round table; and also to an impalpable Jackass, whom nobody wa_ver able to catch. Some of these ideas I really believe our people below ha_ommunicated to one another in some diseased way, without conveying them i_ords. We then gravely called one another to witness, that we were not ther_o be deceived, or to deceive—which we considered pretty much the sam_hing—and that, with a serious sense of responsibility, we would be strictl_rue to one another, and would strictly follow out the truth. Th_nderstanding was established, that any one who heard unusual noises in th_ight, and who wished to trace them, should knock at my door; lastly, that o_welfth Night, the last night of holy Christmas, all our individua_xperiences since that then present hour of our coming together in the haunte_ouse, should be brought to light for the good of all; and that we would hol_ur peace on the subject till then, unless on some remarkable provocation t_reak silence.
We were, in number and in character, as follows:
First—to get my sister and myself out of the way—there were we two. In th_rawing of lots, my sister drew her own room, and I drew Master B.’s. Next, there was our first cousin John Herschel, so called after the grea_stronomer: than whom I suppose a better man at a telescope does not breathe.
With him, was his wife: a charming creature to whom he had been married in th_revious spring. I thought it (under the circumstances) rather imprudent t_ring her, because there is no knowing what even a false alarm may do at suc_ time; but I suppose he knew his own business best, and I must say that i_he had been My wife, I never could have left her endearing and bright fac_ehind. They drew the Clock Room. Alfred Starling, an uncommonly agreeabl_oung fellow of eight-and-twenty for whom I have the greatest liking, was i_he Double Room; mine, usually, and designated by that name from having _ressing-room within it, with two large and cumbersome windows, which n_edges I was ever able to make, would keep from shaking, in any weather, win_r no wind. Alfred is a young fellow who pretends to be “fast” (another wor_or loose, as I understand the term), but who is much too good and sensibl_or that nonsense, and who would have distinguished himself before now, if hi_ather had not unfortunately left him a small independence of two hundred _ear, on the strength of which his only occupation in life has been to spen_ix. I am in hopes, however, that his Banker may break, or that he may ente_nto some speculation guaranteed to pay twenty per cent.; for, I am convince_hat if he could only be ruined, his fortune is made. Belinda Bates, boso_riend of my sister, and a most intellectual, amiable, and delightful girl, got the Picture Room. She has a fine genius for poetry, combined with rea_usiness earnestness, and “goes in”—to use an expression of Alfred’s—fo_oman’s mission, Woman’s rights, Woman’s wrongs, and everything that i_oman’s with a capital W, or is not and ought to be, or is and ought not t_e. “Most praiseworthy, my dear, and Heaven prosper you!” I whispered to he_n the first night of my taking leave of her at the Picture-Room door, “bu_on’t overdo it. And in respect of the great necessity there is, my darling, for more employments being within the reach of Woman than our civilisation ha_s yet assigned to her, don’t fly at the unfortunate men, even those men wh_re at first sight in your way, as if they were the natural oppressors of you_ex; for, trust me, Belinda, they do sometimes spend their wages among wive_nd daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers; and the play is, really, not all Wolf and Red Riding-Hood, but has other parts in it.” However, I digress.
Belinda, as I have mentioned, occupied the Picture Room. We had but thre_ther chambers: the Corner Room, the Cupboard Room, and the Garden Room. M_ld friend, Jack Governor, “slung his hammock,” as he called it, in the Corne_oom. I have always regarded Jack as the finest-looking sailor that eve_ailed. He is gray now, but as handsome as he was a quarter of a centur_go—nay, handsomer. A portly, cheery, well-built figure of a broad-shouldere_an, with a frank smile, a brilliant dark eye, and a rich dark eyebrow. _emember those under darker hair, and they look all the better for thei_ilver setting. He has been wherever his Union namesake flies, has Jack, and _ave met old shipmates of his, away in the Mediterranean and on the other sid_f the Atlantic, who have beamed and brightened at the casual mention of hi_ame, and have cried, “You know Jack Governor? Then you know a prince of men!” That he is! And so unmistakably a naval officer, that if you were to meet hi_oming out of an Esquimaux snow-hut in seal’s skin, you would be vaguel_ersuaded he was in full naval uniform.
Jack once had that bright clear eye of his on my sister; but, it fell out tha_e married another lady and took her to South America, where she died. Thi_as a dozen years ago or more. He brought down with him to our haunted house _ittle cask of salt beef; for, he is always convinced that all salt beef no_f his own pickling, is mere carrion, and invariably, when he goes to London, packs a piece in his portmanteau. He had also volunteered to bring with hi_ne “Nat Beaver,” an old comrade of his, captain of a merchantman. Mr. Beaver, with a thick-set wooden face and figure, and apparently as hard as a block al_ver, proved to be an intelligent man, with a world of watery experiences i_im, and great practical knowledge. At times, there was a curious nervousnes_bout him, apparently the lingering result of some old illness; but, it seldo_asted many minutes. He got the Cupboard Room, and lay there next to Mr.
Undery, my friend and solicitor: who came down, in an amateur capacity, “to g_hrough with it,” as he said, and who plays whist better than the whole La_ist, from the red cover at the beginning to the red cover at the end.
I never was happier in my life, and I believe it was the universal feelin_mong us. Jack Governor, always a man of wonderful resources, was Chief Cook, and made some of the best dishes I ever ate, including unapproachable curries.
My sister was pastrycook and confectioner. Starling and I were Cook’s Mate, turn and turn about, and on special occasions the chief cook “pressed” Mr.
Beaver. We had a great deal of out-door sport and exercise, but nothing wa_eglected within, and there was no ill-humour or misunderstanding among us, and our evenings were so delightful that we had at least one good reason fo_eing reluctant to go to bed.
We had a few night alarms in the beginning. On the first night, I was knocke_p by Jack with a most wonderful ship’s lantern in his hand, like the gills o_ome monster of the deep, who informed me that he “was going aloft to the mai_ruck,” to have the weathercock down. It was a stormy night and _emonstrated; but Jack called my attention to its making a sound like a cry o_espair, and said somebody would be “hailing a ghost” presently, if it wasn’_one. So, up to the top of the house, where I could hardly stand for the wind, we went, accompanied by Mr. Beaver; and there Jack, lantern and all, with Mr.
Beaver after him, swarmed up to the top of a cupola, some two dozen feet abov_he chimneys, and stood upon nothing particular, coolly knocking th_eathercock off, until they both got into such good spirits with the wind an_he height, that I thought they would never come down. Another night, the_urned out again, and had a chimney-cowl off. Another night, they cut _obbing and gulping water-pipe away. Another night, they found out somethin_lse. On several occasions, they both, in the coolest manner, simultaneousl_ropped out of their respective bedroom windows, hand over hand by thei_ounterpanes, to “overhaul” something mysterious in the garden.
The engagement among us was faithfully kept, and nobody revealed anything. Al_e knew was, if any one’s room were haunted, no one looked the worse for it.