It is not worth telling, this story of mine - at least, not worth writing.
Told, indeed, as I have sometimes been called upon to tell it, to a circle
of intelligent and eager faces, lighted up by a good after-dinner fire on a
winter's evening, with a cold wind rising and wailing outside, and all snug
and cosy within, it has gone off - though I say it, who should not -
indifferent well. But it is a venture to do as you would have me. Pen, ink,
and paper are cold vehicles for the marvellous, and a 'reader' decidedly a
more critical animal than a 'listener'. If, however, you can induce your
friends to read it after nightfall, and when the fireside talk has run for a
while on thrilling tales of shapeless terror; in short, if you will secure
me the mollia tempora fandi, I will go to my work, and say my say, with
better heart. Well, then, these conditions presupposed, I shall waste no
more words, but tell you simply how it all happened.
My cousin (Tom Ludlow) and I studied medicine together. I think he would
have succeeded, had he stuck to the profession; but he preferred the Church,
poor fellow, and died early, a sacrifice to contagion, contracted in the
noble discharge of his duties. For my present purpose, I say enough of his
character when I mention that he was of a sedate but frank and cheerful
nature; very exact in his observance of truth, and not by any means like
myself - of an excitable or nervous temperament.
My Uncle Ludlow - Tom's father - while we were attending lectures, purchased
three or four old houses in Aungier Street, one of which was unoccupied. He
resided in the country, and Tom proposed that we should take up our abode in
the untenanted house, so long as it should continue unlet; a move which
would accomplish the double end of settling us nearer alike to our
lecture-rooms and to our amusements, and of relieving us from the weekly
charge of rent for our lodgings.
Our furniture was very scant - our whole equipage remarkably modest and
primitive; and, in short, our arrangements pretty nearly as simple as those
of a bivouac. Our new plan was, therefore, executed almost as soon as
conceived. The front drawing-room was our sitting-room. I had the bedroom
over it, and Tom the back bedroom on the same floor, which nothing could
have induced me to occupy.
The house, to begin with, was a very old one. It had been, I believe, newly
fronted about fifty years before; but this exception, it had nothing modern
about it. The agent who bought it and looked into the titles for my uncle,
told me that it was sold, along with much other forfeited property, at
Chichester House, I think, in 1702; and had belonged to Sir Thomas Hacket,
who was Lord Mayor of Dublin in James II's time. How old it was then, I
can't say; but, at all events, it had seen years and changes enough to have
contracted all that mysterious and saddened air, at once exciting and
depressing, which belongs to most old mansions.
There had been very little done in the way of modernizing details; and,
perhaps, it was better so; for there was something queer and by-gone in the
very walls and ceilings - in the shape of doors and windows - in the odd
diagonal site of the chimney-pieces - in the beams and ponderous cornices -
not to mention the singular solidity of all the woodwork, from the banisters
to the window-frames, which hopelessly defied disguise, and would have
emphatically proclaimed their antiquity through any conceivable amount of
modern finery and varnish.
An effort had, indeed, been made, to the extent of papering the
drawing-rooms; but somehow, the paper looked raw and out of keeping; and the
old woman, who kept a little dirt-pie of a shop in the lane, and whose
daughter - a girl of two and fifty - was our solitary handmaid, coming in at
sunrise, and chastely receding again as soon as she had made all ready for
tea in our state apartment; - this woman, I say, remembered it, when old
Judge Horrocks (who, having earned the reputation of a particularly 'hanging
judge', ended by hanging himself, as the coroner's jury found, under an
impulse of 'temporary insanity', with a child's skipping rope, over the
massive old banisters) resided there, entertaining good company, with fine
venison and rare old port. In those halcyon days, the drawing-rooms were
hung with gilded leather, and, I dare say, cut a good figure, for they were
really spacious rooms.
The bedrooms were wainscoted, but the front one was not gloomy; and in it
the cosiness of antiquity quite overcame its sombre associations. But the
back bedroom, with its two queerly-placed melancholy windows, staring
vacantly at the foot of the bed, and with the shadowy recess to be found in
most old houses in Dublin, like a large ghostly closet, which, from
congeniality of temperament, had amalgamated with the bedchamber, and
dissolved the partition. At night-time, this 'alcove' - as our 'maid' was
wont to call it - had, in my eyes, a specially sinister and suggestive
character. Tom's distant and solitary candle glimmered vainly into its
darkness. There it was always overlooking him - always itself impenetrable.
But this was only part of the effect. The whole room was, I can't tell how,
repulsive to me. There was, I suppose, in its proportions and features, a
latent discord - a certain mysterious and indescribable relation, which
jarred indistinctly upon some secret sense of the fitting and the safe, and
raised indefinable suspicions and apprehensions of the imagination. On the
whole, as I began by saying, nothing could have induced me to pass a night
alone in it.
I had never pretended to conceal from poor Tom my superstitious weakness;
and he, on the other hand, most unaffectly ridiculed my tremors. The sceptic
was, however, destined to receive a lesson, as you shall hear.
We had not been very long in occupation of our respective dormitories, when
I began to complain of uneasy nights and disturbed sleep. I was, I suppose,
the more impatient under this annoyance, as I was usually a sound sleeper,
and by no means prone to nightmares. It was now, however, my destiny,
instead of enjoying my customary repose, every night to 'sup full of
horrors'. After a preliminary course of disagreeable and frightful dreams,
my troubles took a definite form, and the same vision, without an
appreciable variation in a single detail, visited me at least (on an
average) every second night in the week.
Now, this dream, nightmare, or infernal illusion - which you please - of
which I was the miserable sport, was on this wise:
I saw, or thought I saw, with the most abominable distinctness, although at
the time in profound darkness, every article of furniture and accidental
arrangement of the chamber in which I lay. This, as you know, is incidental
to ordinary nightmare. Well, while in this clairvoyant condition, which
seemed but the lighting up of the theatre in which was to be exhibited the
monotonous tableau of horror, which made my nights insupportable, my
attention invariably became, I know not why, fixed upon the windows opposite
the foot of my bed; and, uniformly with the same effect, a sense of dreadful
anticipation always took slow but sure possession of me. I became somehow
conscious of a sort of horrid but undefined preparation going forward in
some unknown quarter, and by some unknown agency, for my torment; and, after
an interval, which always seemed to me of the same length, a picture
suddenly flew up to the window, where it remained fixed, as if by an
electrical attraction, and my discipline of horror then commenced, to last
perhaps for hours. The picture thus mysteriously glued to the window-panes,
was the portrait of an old man, in a crimson flowered silk dressing-gown,
the folds of which I could now describe, with a countenance embodying a
strange mixture of intellect, sensuality, and power, but withal sinister and
full of malignant omen. His nose was hooked, like the beak of a vulture; his
eyes large, grey, and prominent, and lighted up with a more than mortal
cruelty and coldness. These features were surmounted by a crimson velvet
cap, the hair that peeped from under which was white with age, while the
eyebrows retained their original blackness. Well I remember every line, hue,
and shadow of that stony countenance, and well I may! The gaze of this
hellish visage was fixed upon me, and mine returned it with the inexplicable
fascination of nightmare, for what appeared to me to be hours of agony. At
The cock he crew, away then flew
the fiend who had enslaved me through the awful watches of the night; and,
harassed and nervous, I rose to the duties of the day.
I had - I can't say exactly why, but it may have been from the exquisite
anguish and profound impressions of unearthly horror, with which this
strange phantasmagoria was associated - an insurmountable antipathy to
describing the exact nature of my nightly troubles to my friend and comrade.
Generally, however, I told him that I was haunted by abominable dreams; and,
true to the imputed materialism of medicine, we put our heads together to
dispel my horrors, not by exorcism, but by a tonic.
I will do this tonic justice, and frankly admit that the accursed portrait
began to intermit its visits under its influence. What of that? Was this
singular apparition - as full of character as of terror - therefore the
creature of my fancy, or the invention of my poor stomach? Was it, in short,
subjective (to borrow the technical slang of the day) and not the palpable
aggression and intrusion of an external agent? That, good friend, as we will
both admit, by no means follows. The evil spirit, who enthralled my senses
in the shape of that portrait, may have been just as near me, just as
energetic, just as malignant, though I saw him not. What means the whole
moral code of revealed religion regarding the due keeping of our own bodies,
soberness, temperance, etc.? here is an obvious connection between the
material and the invisible; the healthy tone of the system, and its
unimpaired energy, may, for aught we can tell, guard us against influences
which would otherwise render life itself terrific. The mesmerist and the
electro-biologist will fail upon an average with nine patients out of ten -
so may the evil spirit. Special conditions of the corporeal system are
indispensable to the production of certain spiritual phenomena. The
operation succeeds sometimes - sometimes fails - that is all.
I found afterwards that my would-be sceptical companion had his troubles
too. But of these I knew nothing yet. One night, for a wonder, I was
sleeping soundly, when I was roused by a step on the lobby outside my room,
followed by the loud clang of what turned out to be a large brass
candlestick, flung with all his force by poor Tom Ludlow over the banisters,
and rattling with a rebound down the second flight of stairs; and almost
concurrently with this, Tom burst open my door, and bounced into my room
backwards, in a state of extraordinary agitation.
I had jumped out of bed and clutched him by the arm before I had any
distinct idea of my own whereabouts. There we were - in our shirts -
standing before the open door - staring through the great old banister
opposite, at the lobby window, through which the sickly light of a clouded
moon was gleaming.
'What's the matter, Tom? What's the matter with you? What the devil's the
matter with you, Tom?' I demanded shaking him with nervous impatience.
He took a long breath before he answered me, and then it was not very
'It's nothing, nothing at all - did I speak? - what did I say? - Where's the
candle, Richard? It's dark; I - I had a candle!'
'Yes, dark enough,' I said; 'but what's the matter? - what is it? - why
don't you speak, Tom? - have you lost your wits? - what is the matter?'
'The matter? - oh, it is all over. It must have been a dream - nothing at
all but a dream - don't you think so? It could not be anything more than a
'Of course,' said I, feeling uncommonly nervous, 'it was a dream.'
'I thought,' he said, 'there was a man in my room, and - and I jumped out of
bed; and - and - where's the candle - '
'In your room, most likely,' I said, 'shall I go and bring it - '
'No; stay here - don't go; it's no matter - don't, I tell you; it was all a
dream. Bolt the door, Dick; I'll stay here with you - I feel nervous. So,
Dick, like a good fellow, light your candle and open the window - I am in a
I did as he asked me, and robing himself like Granuaile in one of my
blankets, he seated himself close beside my bed.
Everybody knows how contagious is fear of all sorts, but more especially
that particular kind of fear under which poor Tom was at that moment
labouring. I would not have heard, nor I believe would he have
recapitulated, just at that moment, for half the world, the details of the
hideous vision which had so unmanned him.
'Don't mind telling me anything about your nonsensical dream, Tom,' said I,
affecting contempt, really in a panic; 'let us talk about something else;
but it is quite plain that this dirty old house disagrees with us both, and
hang me if I stay here longer, to be pestered with indigestion and - and -
bad nights, so we may as well look out for lodgings - don't you think so? -
Tom agreed, and, after an interval, said -
'I have been thinking, Richard, that it is a long time since I saw my
father, and I have made up my mind to go down tomorrow and return in a day
or two, and you can take rooms for us in the meantime.'
I fancied that this resolution, obviously the result of the vision which had
so profoundly scared him, would probably vanish next morning with the damps
and shadows of night. But I was mistaken. Off went Tom at peep of day to the
country, having agreed that so soon as I had secured suitable lodgings, I
was to recall him by letter from his visit to my Uncle Ludlow.
Now, anxious as I was to change my quarters, it so happened, owing to a
series of petty procrastinations and accidents, that nearly a week elapsed
before my bargain was made and my letter of recall on the wing to Tom; and,
in the meantime, a trifling adventure or two had occurred to your humble
servant, which, absurd as they now appear, diminished by distance, did
certainly at the time serve to whet my appetite for change considerably.
A night or two after the departure of my comrade, I was sitting by my
bedroom fire, the door locked, and the ingredients of a tumbler of hot
whisky-punch upon the crazy spider-table; for, as the best mode of keeping
Black spirits and white,
Blue spirits and grey,
with which I was environed, at bay, I had adopted the practice recommended
by the wisdom of my ancestors, and 'kept my spirits up by pouring spirits
down'. I had thrown aside my volume of Anatomy, and was treating myself by
way of a tonic, preparatory to my punch and bed, to half-a-dozen pages of
the Spectator, when I heard a step on the flight of stairs descending from
the attics. It was two o'clock, and the streets were as silent as a
churchyard - the sounds were, therefore, perfectly distinct. There was a
slow, heavy tread, characterized by the emphasis and deliberation of age,
descending by the narrow staircase from above; and, what made the sound more
singular, it was plain that the feet which produced it were perfectly bare,
measuring the descent with something between a pound and a flop, very ugly
I knew quite well that my attendant had gone away many hours before, and
that nobody but myself had any business in the house. It was quite plain
also that the person who was coming down stairs had no intention whatever of
concealing his movements; but, on the contrary, appeared disposed to make
even more noise, and proceed even more deliberately, than was at all
necessary. When the step reached the foot of the stairs outside my room, it
seemed to stop; and I expected every moment to see my door open
spontaneously, and give admission to the original of my detested portrait. I
was, however, relieved in a few seconds by hearing the descent renewed, just
in the same manner, upon the staircase leading down to the drawing-rooms,
and thence, after another pause, down the next flight, and so on to the
hall, whence I heard no more.
Now, by the time the sound had ceased, I was wound up, as they say, to a
very unpleasant pitch of excitement. I listened, but there was not a stir. I
screwed up my courage to a decisive experiment - opened my door, and in a
stentorian voice bawled over the banisters, 'Who's there - ' There was no
answer but the ringing of my own voice through the empty old house - no
renewal of the movement; nothing, in short, to give my unpleasant sensations
a definite direction. There is, I think, something most disagreeably
disenchanting in the sound of one's own voice under such circumstances,
exerted in solitude, and in vain. It redoubled my sense of isolation, and my
misgivings increased on perceiving that the door, which I certainly thought
I had left open, was closed behind me; in a vague alarm, lest my retreat
should be cut off, I got again into my room as quickly as I could, where I
remained in a state of imaginary blockade, and very uncomfortable indeed,
Next night brought no return of my barefooted fellow-lodger; but the night
following, being in my bed, and in the dark - somewhere, I suppose, about
the same hour as before, I distinctly heard the old fellow again descending
from the garrets.
This time I had had my punch, and the morale of the garrison was
consequently excellent. I jumped out of bed, clutched the poker as I passed
the expiring fire, and in a moment was upon the lobby. The sound had ceased
by this time - the dark and chill were discouraging; and, guess my horror,
when I saw, or thought I saw, a black monster, whether in the shape of a man
or a bear I could not say, standing, with its back to the wall, on the
lobby, facing me, with a pair of great greenish eyes shining dimly out. Now,
I must be frank, and confess that the cupboard which displayed our plates
and cups stood just there, though at the moment I did not recollect it. At
the same time I must honestly say, that making every allowance for an
excited imagination, I never could satisfy myself that I was made the dupe
of my own fancy in this matter; for this apparition, after one or two
shiftings of shape, as if in the act of incipient transformation, began, as
it seemed on second thoughts, to advance upon me in its original form. From
an instinct of terror rather than of courage, I hurled the poker, with all
my force, at its head; and to the music of a horrid crash made my way into
my room, and double-locked the door. Then, in a minute more, I heard the
horrid bare feet walk down the stairs, till the sound ceased in the hall, as
on the former occasion.
If the apparition of the night before was an ocular delusion of my fancy
sporting with the dark outlines of our cupboard, and if its horrid eyes were
nothing but a pair of inverted teacups, I had, at all events, the
satisfaction of having launched the poker with admirable effect, and in true
'fancy' phrase, 'knocked its two daylights into one', as the commingled
fragments of my tea-service testified. I did my best to gather comfort and
courage from these evidences; but it would not do. And then what could I say
of those horrid bare feet, and the regular tramp, tramp, tramp, which
measured the distance of the entire staircase through the solitude of my
haunted dwelling, and at an hour when no good influence was stirring?
Confound it! - the whole affair was abominable. I was out of spirits, and
dreaded the approach of night.
It came, ushered ominously in with a thunderstorm and dull torrents of
depressing rain. Earlier than usual the streets grew silent; and by twelve
o'clock nothing but the comfortless pattering of the rain was to be heard.
I made myself as snug as I could. I lighted two candles instead of one. I
forswore bed, and held myself in readiness for a sally, candle in hand; for,
coute qui coute, I was resolved to see the being, if visible at all, who
troubled the nightly stillness of my mansion. I was fidgety and nervous and,
tried in vain to interest myself with my books. I walked up and down my
room, whistling in turn martial and hilarious music, and listening ever and
anon for the dreaded noise. I sate down and stared at the square label on
the solemn and reserved-looking black bottle, until 'FLANAGAN & CO.'S BEST
OLD MALT WHISKY' grew into a sort of subdued accompaniment to all the
fantastic and horrible speculations which chased one another through my
Silence, meanwhile, grew more silent, and darkness darker. I listened in
vain for the rumble of a vehicle, or the dull clamour of a distant row.
There was nothing but the sound of a rising wind, which had succeeded the
thunderstorm that had travelled over the Dublin mountains quite out of
hearing. In the middle of this great city I began to feel myself alone with
nature, and Heaven knows what beside. My courage was ebbing. Punch, however,
which makes beasts of so many, made a man of me again - just in time to hear
with tolerable nerve and firmness the lumpy, flabby, naked feet deliberately
descending the stairs again.
I took a candle, not without a tremor. As I crossed the floor I tried to
extemporize a prayer, but stopped short to listen, and never finished it.
The steps continued. I confess I hesitated for some seconds at the door
before I took heart of grace and opened it. When I peeped out the lobby was
perfectly empty - there was no monster standing on the staircase; and as the
detested sound ceased, I was reassured enough to venture forward nearly to
the banisters. Horror of horrors! Within a stair or two beneath the spot
where I stood the unearthly tread smote the floor. My eye caught something
in motion; it was about the size of Goliath's foot - it was grey, heavy, and
flapped with a dead weight from one step to another. As I am alive, it was
the most monstrous grey rat I ever beheld or imagined.
Shakespeare says - 'Some men there are cannot abide a gaping pig, and some
that are mad if they behold a cat.' I went well-nigh out of my wits when I
beheld this rat; for, laugh at me as you may, it fixed upon me, I thought, a
perfectly human expression of malice; and, as it shuffled about and looked
up into my face almost from between my feet, I saw, I could swear it - I
felt it then, and know it now, the infernal gaze and the accursed
countenance of my old friend in the portrait, transfused into the visage of
the bloated vermin before me.
I bounced into my room again with a feeling of loathing and horror I cannot
describe, and locked and bolted my door as if a lion had been at the other
side. D----n him or it; curse the portrait and its original! I felt in my
soul that the rat - yes, the rat, the RAT I had just seen, was that evil
being in masquerade, and rambling through the house upon some infernal night
Next morning I was early trudging through the miry streets; and, among other
transactions, posted a peremptory note recalling Tom. On my return, however,
I found a note from my absent 'chum', announcing his intended return next
day. I was doubly rejoiced at this, because I had succeeded in getting
rooms; and because the change of scene and return of my comrade were
rendered specially pleasant by the last night's half ridiculous half
I slept extemporaneously in my new quarters in Digges' Street that night,
and next morning returned for breakfast to the haunted mansion, where I was
certain Tom would call immediately on his arrival.
I was quite right - he came; and almost his first question referred to the
primary object of our change of residence.
'Thank God,' he said with genuine fervour, on hearing that all was arranged.
'On your account I am delighted. As to myself, I assure you that no earthly
consideration could have induced me ever again to pass a night in this
disastrous old house.'
'Confound the house!' I ejaculated, with a genuine mixture of fear and
detestation, 'we have not had a pleasant hour since we came to live here';
and so I went on, and related incidentally my adventure with the plethoric
'Well, if that were all,' said my cousin, affecting to make light of the
matter, 'I don't think I should have minded it very much.'
'Ay, but its eye - its countenance, my dear Tom,' urged I; 'if you had seen
that, you would have felt it might be anything but what it seemed.'
'I inclined to think the best conjurer in such a case would be an
able-bodied cat,' he said, with a provoking chuckle.
'But let us hear of your own adventure,' I said tartly.
At this challenge he looked uneasily round him. I had poked up a very
'You shall hear it, Dick; I'll tell it to you,' he said. 'Begad, sir, I
should feel quite queer, though, telling it here, though we are too strong a
body for ghosts to meddle with just now.'
Though he spoke this like a joke, I think it was serious calculation. Our
Hebe was in a corner of the room, packing our cracked delft tea and
dinner-services in a basket. She soon suspended operations, and with mouth
and eyes wide open became an absorbed listener. Tom's experiences were told
nearly in these words:
'I saw it three times, Dick - three distinct times; and I am perfectly
certain it meant me some infernal harm. I was, I say, in danger - in extreme
danger; for, if nothing else had happened, my reason would most certainly
have failed me, unless I had escaped so soon. Thank God. I did escape.
'The first night of this hateful disturbance, I was lying in the attitude of
sleep, in that lumbering old bed. I hate to think of it. I was really wide
awake, though I had put out my candle, and was lying as quietly as I had
been asleep; and although accidentally restless, my thoughts were running in
a cheerful and agreeable channel.
'I think it must have been two o'clock at least when I thought I heard a
sound in that - that odious dark recess at the far end of the bedroom. It
was as if someone was drawing a piece of cord slowly along the floor,
lifting it up, and dropping it softly down again in coils. I sat up once or
twice in my bed, but could see nothing, so I concluded it must be mice in
the wainscot. I felt no emotion graver than curiosity, and after a few
minutes ceased to observe it.
'While lying in this state, strange to say; without at first a suspicion of
anything supernatural, on a sudden I saw an old man, rather stout and
square, in a sort of roan-red dressing-gown, and with a black cap on his
head, moving stiffly and slowly in a diagonal direction, from the recess,
across the floor of the bedroom, passing my bed at the foot, and entering
the lumber-closet at the left. He had something under his arm; his head hung
a little to one side; and merciful God! when I saw his face.'
Tom stopped for a while, and then said -
'That awful countenance, which living or dying I never can forget, disclosed
what he was. Without turning to the right or left, he passed beside me, and
entered the closet by the bed's head.
'While this fearful and indescribable type of death and guilt was 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
'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 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 a 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.
'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
'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 laught 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
occurred 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 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 stood 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
loathe 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 Horrocks'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
'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 the 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
'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 of 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
'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 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.