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American Mystery Stories

Adventure Of The Black Fisherman
An Heiress From Redhorse
By The Waters Of Paradise
Horror: A True Tale
Introduction To The Corpus Delicti
My Wife's Tempter
The Corpus Delicti
The Gold-bug
The Golden Ingot
The Man And The Snake
The Minister's Black Veil
The Oblong Box
The Shadows On The Wall
Wieland's Madness
Wolfert Webber Or Golden Dreams

The Lock And Key Library

A Case Of Identity
A Conjurer's Confessions
A Flight Into Texas
A Formidable Weapon
A Mystery With A Moral
A Scandal In Bohemia
A Wish Unexpectedly Gratified
Addressed To The Advocate Who Defended Him At His Trial
Adventure Of The Black Fisherman
Adventures In The Secret Service Of The Post-office Department
An Aspirant For Congress
An Erring Shepherd
An Heiress From Redhorse
An Old Game Revived
Bourgonef
By The Waters Of Paradise
Deception Explained By The Science Of Psychology
Facing The Arab's Pistol
Fact And Fable In Psychology
Fraudulent Spiritualism Unveiled[1]
His Wedded Wife
Horror: A True Tale
How Spirits Materialize
How The Tricks Succeeded
In The House Of Suddhoo
Introduction To A Mystery With A Moral
Introduction To Melmoth The Wanderer
Introduction To The Corpus Delicti
Matter Through Matter
Melmoth The Wanderer
Mind Reading In Public
My Own True Ghost Story
My Wife's Tempter
No 1 Branch Line: The Signal-man
On Being Found Out
Saint-germain The Deathless
Second Sight
Some Famous Exposures
The Avenger
The Baron's Quarry
The Closed Cabinet
The Corpus Delicti
The Dream Woman
The Fortune Of Seth Savage
The Fowl In The Pot
The Gold-bug
The Golden Ingot
The Great Valdez Sapphire
The Haunted And The Haunters Or The House And The Brain
The Hostler's Story Told By Himself
The Incantation
The Lost Duchess
The Magician Who Became An Ambassador
The Man And The Snake
The Man In The Iron Mask
The Methods Of A Doctor Of The Occult
The Minister's Black Veil
The Minor Canon
The Mortals In The House
The Name Of The Dead
The Notch On The Ax - A Story A La Mode
The Oblong Box
The Pavilion On The Links
The Pipe
The Puzzle
The Red-headed League
The Sending Of Dana Da
The Shadows On The Wall
The Story Continued By Percy Fairbank
Wieland's Madness
Wolfert Webber Or Golden Dreams



Horror: A True Tale








I was but nineteen years of age when the incident occurred which
has thrown a shadow over my life; and, ah me! how many and many a
weary year has dragged by since then! Young, happy, and beloved I
was in those long-departed days. They said that I was beautiful.
The mirror now reflects a haggard old woman, with ashen lips and
face of deadly pallor. But do not fancy that you are listening to
a mere puling lament. It is not the flight of years that has
brought me to be this wreck of my former self: had it been so I
could have borne the loss cheerfully, patiently, as the common lot
of all; but it was no natural progress of decay which has robbed me
of bloom, of youth, of the hopes and joys that belong to youth,
snapped the link that bound my heart to another's, and doomed me to
a lone old age. I try to be patient, but my cross has been heavy,
and my heart is empty and weary, and I long for the death that
comes so slowly to those who pray to die.

I will try and relate, exactly as it happened, the event which
blighted my life. Though it occurred many years ago, there is no
fear that I should have forgotten any of the minutest
circumstances: they were stamped on my brain too clearly and
burningly, like the brand of a red-hot iron. I see them written in
the wrinkles of my brow, in the dead whiteness of my hair, which
was a glossy brown once, and has known no gradual change from dark
to gray, from gray to white, as with those happy ones who were the
companions of my girlhood, and whose honored age is soothed by the
love of children and grandchildren. But I must not envy them. I
only meant to say that the difficulty of my task has no connection
with want of memory--I remember but too well. But as I take my pen
my hand trembles, my head swims, the old rushing faintness and
Horror comes over me again, and the well-remembered fear is upon
me. Yet I will go on.

This, briefly, is my story: I was a great heiress, I believe,
though I cared little for the fact; but so it was. My father had
great possessions, and no son to inherit after him. His three
daughters, of whom I was the youngest, were to share the broad
acres among them. I have said, and truly, that I cared little for
the circumstance; and, indeed, I was so rich then in health and
youth and love that I felt myself quite indifferent to all else.
The possession of all the treasures of earth could never have made
up for what I then had--and lost, as I am about to relate. Of
course, we girls knew that we were heiresses, but I do not think
Lucy and Minnie were any the prouder or the happier on that
account. I know I was not. Reginald did not court me for my
money. Of THAT I felt assured. He proved it, Heaven be praised!
when he shrank from my side after the change. Yes, in all my
lonely age, I can still be thankful that he did not keep his word,
as some would have done--did not clasp at the altar a hand he had
learned to loathe and shudder at, because it was full of gold--much
gold! At least he spared me that. And I know that I was loved,
and the knowledge has kept me from going mad through many a weary
day and restless night, when my hot eyeballs had not a tear to
shed, and even to weep was a luxury denied me.

Our house was an old Tudor mansion. My father was very particular
in keeping the smallest peculiarities of his home unaltered. Thus
the many peaks and gables, the numerous turrets, and the mullioned
windows with their quaint lozenge panes set in lead, remained very
nearly as they had been three centuries back. Over and above the
quaint melancholy of our dwelling, with the deep woods of its park
and the sullen waters of the mere, our neighborhood was thinly
peopled and primitive, and the people round us were ignorant, and
tenacious of ancient ideas and traditions. Thus it was a
superstitious atmosphere that we children were reared in, and we
heard, from our infancy, countless tales of horror, some mere
fables doubtless, others legends of dark deeds of the olden time,
exaggerated by credulity and the love of the marvelous. Our mother
had died when we were young, and our other parent being, though a
kind father, much absorbed in affairs of various kinds, as an
active magistrate and landlord, there was no one to check the
unwholesome stream of tradition with which our plastic minds were
inundated in the company of nurses and servants. As years went on,
however, the old ghostly tales partially lost their effects, and
our undisciplined minds were turned more towards balls, dress, and
partners, and other matters airy and trivial, more welcome to our
riper age. It was at a county assembly that Reginald and I first
met--met and loved. Yes, I am sure that he loved me with all his
heart. It was not as deep a heart as some, I have thought in my
grief and anger; but I never doubted its truth and honesty.
Reginald's father and mine approved of our growing attachment; and
as for myself, I know I was so happy then, that I look back upon
those fleeting moments as on some delicious dream. I now come to
the change. I have lingered on my childish reminiscences, my
bright and happy youth, and now I must tell the rest--the blight
and the sorrow.

It was Christmas, always a joyful and a hospitable time in the
country, especially in such an old hall as our home, where quaint
customs and frolics were much clung to, as part and parcel of the
very dwelling itself. The hall was full of guests--so full,
indeed, that there was great difficulty in providing sleeping
accommodation for all. Several narrow and dark chambers in the
turrets--mere pigeon-holes, as we irreverently called what had been
thought good enough for the stately gentlemen of Elizabeth's reign--
were now allotted to bachelor visitors, after having been empty
for a century. All the spare rooms in the body and wings of the
hall were occupied, of course; and the servants who had been
brought down were lodged at the farm and at the keeper's, so great
was the demand for space. At last the unexpected arrival of an
elderly relative, who had been asked months before, but scarcely
expected, caused great commotion. My aunts went about wringing
their hands distractedly. Lady Speldhurst was a personage of some
consequence; she was a distant cousin, and had been for years on
cool terms with us all, on account of some fancied affront or
slight when she had paid her LAST visit, about the time of my
christening. She was seventy years old; she was infirm, rich, and
testy; moreover, she was my godmother, though I had forgotten the
fact; but it seems that though I had formed no expectations of a
legacy in my favor, my aunts had done so for me. Aunt Margaret was
especially eloquent on the subject. "There isn't a room left," she
said; "was ever anything so unfortunate! We cannot put Lady
Speldhurst into the turrets, and yet where IS she to sleep? And
Rosa's godmother, too! Poor, dear child, how dreadful! After all
these years of estrangement, and with a hundred thousand in the
funds, and no comfortable, warm room at her own unlimited disposal--
and Christmas, of all times in the year!" What WAS to be done?
My aunts could not resign their own chambers to Lady Speldhurst,
because they had already given them up to some of the married
guests. My father was the most hospitable of men, but he was
rheumatic, gouty, and methodical. His sisters-in-law dared not
propose to shift his quarters; and, indeed, he would have far
sooner dined on prison fare than have been translated to a strange
bed. The matter ended in my giving up my room. I had a strange
reluctance to making the offer, which surprised myself. Was it a
boding of evil to come? I cannot say. We are strangely and
wonderfully made. It MAY have been. At any rate, I do not think
it was any selfish unwillingness to make an old and infirm lady
comfortable by a trifling sacrifice. I was perfectly healthy and
strong. The weather was not cold for the time of the year. It was
a dark, moist Yule--not a snowy one, though snow brooded overhead
in the darkling clouds. I DID make the offer, which became me, I
said with a laugh, as the youngest. My sisters laughed too, and
made a jest of my evident wish to propitiate my godmother. "She is
a fairy godmother, Rosa," said Minnie; "and you know she was
affronted at your christening, and went away muttering vengeance.
Here she is coming back to see you; I hope she brings golden gifts
with her."

I thought little of Lady Speldhurst and her possible golden gifts.
I cared nothing for the wonderful fortune in the funds that my
aunts whispered and nodded about so mysteriously. But since then I
have wondered whether, had I then showed myself peevish or
obstinate--had I refused to give up my room for the expected
kinswoman--it would not have altered the whole of my life? But
then Lucy or Minnie would have offered in my stead, and been
sacrificed--what do I say?--better that the blow should have fallen
as it did than on those dear ones.

The chamber to which I removed was a dim little triangular room in
the western wing, and was only to be reached by traversing the
picture-gallery, or by mounting a little flight of stone stairs
which led directly upward from the low-browed arch of a door that
opened into the garden. There was one more room on the same
landing-place, and this was a mere receptacle for broken furniture,
shattered toys, and all the lumber that WILL accumulate in a
country-house. The room I was to inhabit for a few nights was a
tapestry-hung apartment, with faded green curtains of some costly
stuff, contrasting oddly with a new carpet and the bright, fresh
hangings of the bed, which had been hurriedly erected. The
furniture was half old, half new; and on the dressing-table stood a
very quaint oval mirror, in a frame of black wood--unpolished
ebony, I think. I can remember the very pattern of the carpet, the
number of chairs, the situation of the bed, the figures on the
tapestry. Nay, I can recollect not only the color of the dress I
wore on that fated evening, but the arrangement of every scrap of
lace and ribbon, of every flower, every jewel, with a memory but
too perfect.

Scarcely had my maid finished spreading out my various articles of
attire for the evening (when there was to be a great dinner-party)
when the rumble of a carriage announced that Lady Speldhurst had
arrived. The short winter's day drew to a close, and a large
number of guests were gathered together in the ample drawing-room,
around the blaze of the wood-fire, after dinner. My father, I
recollect, was not with us at first. There were some squires of
the old, hard-riding, hard-drinking stamp still lingering over
their port in the dining-room, and the host, of course, could not
leave them. But the ladies and all the younger gentlemen--both
those who slept under our roof, and those who would have a dozen
miles of fog and mire to encounter on their road home--were all
together. Need I say that Reginald was there? He sat near me--my
accepted lover, my plighted future husband. We were to be married
in the spring. My sisters were not far off; they, too, had found
eyes that sparkled and softened in meeting theirs, had found hearts
that beat responsive to their own. And, in their cases, no rude
frost nipped the blossom ere it became the fruit; there was no
canker in their flowerets of young hope, no cloud in their sky.
Innocent and loving, they were beloved by men worthy of their
esteem.

The room--a large and lofty one, with an arched roof--had somewhat
of a somber character, from being wainscoted and ceiled with
polished black oak of a great age. There were mirrors, and there
were pictures on the walls, and handsome furniture, and marble
chimney-pieces, and a gay Tournay carpet; but these merely appeared
as bright spots on the dark background of the Elizabethan woodwork.
Many lights were burning, but the blackness of the walls and roof
seemed absolutely to swallow up their rays, like the mouth of a
cavern. A hundred candles could not have given that apartment the
cheerful lightness of a modern drawing room. But the gloomy
richness of the panels matched well with the ruddy gleam from the
enormous wood-fire, in which, crackling and glowing, now lay the
mighty Yule log. Quite a blood-red luster poured forth from the
fire, and quivered on the walls and the groined roof. We had
gathered round the vast antique hearth in a wide circle. The
quivering light of the fire and candles fell upon us all, but not
equally, for some were in shadow. I remember still how tall and
manly and handsome Reginald looked that night, taller by the head
than any there, and full of high spirits and gayety. I, too, was
in the highest spirits; never had my bosom felt lighter, and I
believe it was my mirth that gradually gained the rest, for I
recollect what a blithe, joyous company we seemed. All save one.
Lady Speldhurst, dressed in gray silk and wearing a quaint head-
dress, sat in her armchair, facing the fire, very silent, with her
hands and her sharp chin propped on a sort of ivory-handled crutch
that she walked with (for she was lame), peering at me with half-
shut eyes. She was a little, spare old woman, with very keen,
delicate features of the French type. Her gray silk dress, her
spotless lace, old-fashioned jewels, and prim neatness of array,
were well suited to the intelligence of her face, with its thin
lips, and eyes of a piercing black, undimmed by age. Those eyes
made me uncomfortable, in spite of my gayety, as they followed my
every movement with curious scrutiny. Still I was very merry and
gay; my sisters even wondered at my ever-ready mirth, which was
almost wild in its excess. I have heard since then of the Scottish
belief that those doomed to some great calamity become fey, and are
never so disposed for merriment and laughter as just before the
blow falls. If ever mortal was fey, then I was so on that evening.
Still, though I strove to shake it off, the pertinacious
observation of old Lady Speldhurst's eyes DID make an impression on
me of a vaguely disagreeable nature. Others, too, noticed her
scrutiny of me, but set it down as a mere eccentricity of a person
always reputed whimsical, to say the least of it.

However, this disagreeable sensation lasted but a few moments.
After a short pause my aunt took her part in the conversation, and
we found ourselves listening to a weird legend, which the old lady
told exceedingly well. One tale led to another. Everyone was
called on in turn to contribute to the public entertainment, and
story after story, always relating to demonology and witchcraft,
succeeded. It was Christmas, the season for such tales; and the
old room, with its dusky walls and pictures, and vaulted roof,
drinking up the light so greedily, seemed just fitted to give
effect to such legendary lore. The huge logs crackled and burned
with glowing warmth; the blood-red glare of the Yule log flashed on
the faces of the listeners and narrator, on the portraits, and the
holly wreathed about their frames, and the upright old dame, in her
antiquated dress and trinkets, like one of the originals of the
pictures, stepped from the canvas to join our circle. It threw a
shimmering luster of an ominously ruddy hue upon the oaken panels.
No wonder that the ghost and goblin stories had a new zest. No
wonder that the blood of the more timid grew chill and curdled,
that their flesh crept, that their hearts beat irregularly, and the
girls peeped fearfully over their shoulders, and huddled close
together like frightened sheep, and half fancied they beheld some
impish and malignant face gibbering at them from the darkling
corners of the old room. By degrees my high spirits died out, and
I felt the childish tremors, long latent, long forgotten, coming
over me. I followed each story with painful interest; I did not
ask myself if I believed the dismal tales. I listened, and fear
grew upon me--the blind, irrational fear of our nursery days. I am
sure most of the other ladies present, young or middle-aged, were
affected by the circumstances under which these traditions were
heard, no less than by the wild and fantastic character of them.
But with them the impression would die out next morning, when the
bright sun should shine on the frosted boughs, and the rime on the
grass, and the scarlet berries and green spikelets of the holly;
and with me--but, ah! what was to happen ere another day dawn?
Before we had made an end of this talk my father and the other
squires came in, and we ceased our ghost stories, ashamed to speak
of such matters before these new-comers--hard-headed, unimaginative
men, who had no sympathy with idle legends. There was now a stir
and bustle.

Servants were handing round tea and coffee, and other refreshments.
Then there was a little music and singing. I sang a duet with
Reginald, who had a fine voice and good musical skill. I remember
that my singing was much praised, and indeed I was surprised at the
power and pathos of my own voice, doubtless due to my excited
nerves and mind. Then I heard someone say to another that I was by
far the cleverest of the Squire's daughters, as well as the
prettiest. It did not make me vain. I had no rivalry with Lucy
and Minnie. But Reginald whispered some soft, fond words in my ear
a little before he mounted his horse to set off homeward, which DID
make me happy and proud. And to think that the next time we met--
but I forgave him long ago. Poor Reginald! And now shawls and
cloaks were in request, and carriages rolled up to the porch, and
the guests gradually departed. At last no one was left but those
visitors staying in the house. Then my father, who had been called
out to speak with the bailiff of the estate, came back with a look
of annoyance on his face.

"A strange story I have just been told," said he; "here has been my
bailiff to inform me of the loss of four of the choicest ewes out
of that little flock of Southdowns I set such store by, and which
arrived in the north but two months since. And the poor creatures
have been destroyed in so strange a manner, for their carcasses are
horribly mangled."

Most of us uttered some expression of pity or surprise, and some
suggested that a vicious dog was probably the culprit.

"It would seem so," said my father; "it certainly seems the work of
a dog; and yet all the men agree that no dog of such habits exists
near us, where, indeed, dogs are scarce, excepting the shepherds'
collies and the sporting dogs secured in yards. Yet the sheep are
gnawed and bitten, for they show the marks of teeth. Something has
done this, and has torn their bodies wolfishly; but apparently it
has been only to suck the blood, for little or no flesh is gone."

"How strange!" cried several voices. Then some of the gentlemen
remembered to have heard of cases when dogs addicted to sheep-
killing had destroyed whole flocks, as if in sheer wantonness,
scarcely deigning to taste a morsel of each slain wether.

My father shook his head. "I have heard of such cases, too," he
said; "but in this instance I am tempted to think the malice of
some unknown enemy has been at work. The teeth of a dog have been
busy, no doubt, but the poor sheep have been mutilated in a
fantastic manner, as strange as horrible; their hearts, in
especial, have been torn out, and left at some paces off, half-
gnawed. Also, the men persist that they found the print of a naked
human foot in the soft mud of the ditch, and near it--this." And
he held up what seemed a broken link of a rusted iron chain.

Many were the ejaculations of wonder and alarm, and many and shrewd
the conjectures, but none seemed exactly to suit the bearings of
the case. And when my father went on to say that two lambs of the
same valuable breed had perished in the same singular manner three
days previously, and that they also were found mangled and gore-
stained, the amazement reached a higher pitch. Old Lady Speldhurst
listened with calm, intelligent attention, but joined in none of
our exclamations. At length she said to my father, "Try and
recollect--have you no enemy among your neighbors?" My father
started, and knit his brows. "Not one that I know of," he replied;
and indeed he was a popular man and a kind landlord. "The more
lucky you," said the old dame, with one of her grim smiles. It was
now late, and we retired to rest before long. One by one the
guests dropped off. I was the member of the family selected to
escort old Lady Speldhurst to her room--the room I had vacated in
her favor. I did not much like the office. I felt a remarkable
repugnance to my godmother, but my worthy aunts insisted so much
that I should ingratiate myself with one who had so much to leave
that I could not but comply. The visitor hobbled up the broad
oaken stairs actively enough, propped on my arm and her ivory
crutch. The room never had looked more genial and pretty, with its
brisk fire, modern furniture, and the gay French paper on the
walls. "A nice room, my dear, and I ought to be much obliged to
you for it, since my maid tells me it is yours," said her ladyship;
"but I am pretty sure you repent your generosity to me, after all
those ghost stories, and tremble to think of a strange bed and
chamber, eh?" I made some commonplace reply. The old lady arched
her eyebrows. "Where have they put you, child?" she asked; "in
some cock-loft of the turrets, eh? or in a lumber-room--a regular
ghost-trap? I can hear your heart beating with fear this moment.
You are not fit to be alone." I tried to call up my pride, and
laugh off the accusation against my courage, all the more, perhaps,
because I felt its truth. "Do you want anything more that I can
get you, Lady Speldhurst?" I asked, trying to feign a yawn of
sleepiness. The old dame's keen eyes were upon me. "I rather like
you, my dear," she said, "and I liked your mamma well enough before
she treated me so shamefully about the christening dinner. Now, I
know you are frightened and fearful, and if an owl should but flap
your window to-night, it might drive you into fits. There is a
nice little sofa-bed in this dressing closet--call your maid to
arrange it for you, and you can sleep there snugly, under the old
witch's protection, and then no goblin dare harm you, and nobody
will be a bit the wiser, or quiz you for being afraid." How little
I knew what hung in the balance of my refusal or acceptance of that
trivial proffer! Had the veil of the future been lifted for one
instant! but that veil is impenetrable to our gaze.

I left her door. As I crossed the landing a bright gleam came from
another room, whose door was left ajar; it (the light) fell like a
bar of golden sheen across my path. As I approached the door
opened and my sister Lucy, who had been watching for me, came out.
She was already in a white cashmere wrapper, over which her
loosened hair hung darkly and heavily, like tangles of silk.
"Rosa, love," she whispered, "Minnie and I can't bear the idea of
your sleeping out there, all alone, in that solitary room--the very
room too Nurse Sherrard used to talk about! So, as you know Minnie
has given up her room, and come to sleep in mine, still we should
so wish you to stop with us to-night at any rate, and I could make
up a bed on the sofa for myself or you--and--" I stopped Lucy's
mouth with a kiss. I declined her offer. I would not listen to
it. In fact, my pride was up in arms, and I felt I would rather
pass the night in the churchyard itself than accept a proposal
dictated, I felt sure, by the notion that my nerves were shaken by
the ghostly lore we had been raking up, that I was a weak,
superstitious creature, unable to pass a night in a strange
chamber. So I would not listen to Lucy, but kissed her, bade her
good-night, and went on my way laughing, to show my light heart.
Yet, as I looked back in the dark corridor, and saw the friendly
door still ajar, the yellow bar of light still crossing from wall
to wall, the sweet, kind face still peering after me from amidst
its clustering curls, I felt a thrill of sympathy, a wish to
return, a yearning after human love and companionship. False shame
was strongest, and conquered. I waved a gay adieu. I turned the
corner, and peeping over my shoulder, I saw the door close; the bar
of yellow light was there no longer in the darkness of the passage.
I thought at that instant that I heard a heavy sigh. I looked
sharply round. No one was there. No door was open, yet I fancied,
and fancied with a wonderful vividness, that I did hear an actual
sigh breathed not far off, and plainly distinguishable from the
groan of the sycamore branches as the wind tossed them to and fro
in the outer blackness. If ever a mortal's good angel had cause to
sigh for sorrow, not sin, mine had cause to mourn that night. But
imagination plays us strange tricks and my nervous system was not
over-composed or very fitted for judicial analysis. I had to go
through the picture-gallery. I had never entered this apartment by
candle-light before and I was struck by the gloomy array of the
tall portraits, gazing moodily from the canvas on the lozenge-paned
or painted windows, which rattled to the blast as it swept howling
by. Many of the faces looked stern, and very different from their
daylight expression. In others a furtive, flickering smile seemed
to mock me as my candle illumined them; and in all, the eyes, as
usual with artistic portraits, seemed to follow my motions with a
scrutiny and an interest the more marked for the apathetic
immovability of the other features. I felt ill at ease under this
stony gaze, though conscious how absurd were my apprehensions; and
I called up a smile and an air of mirth, more as if acting a part
under the eyes of human beings than of their mere shadows on the
wall. I even laughed as I confronted them. No echo had my short-
lived laughter but from the hollow armor and arching roof, and I
continued on my way in silence.

By a sudden and not uncommon revulsion of feeling I shook off my
aimless terrors, blushed at my weakness, and sought my chamber only
too glad that I had been the only witness of my late tremors. As I
entered my chamber I thought I heard something stir in the
neglected lumber-room, which was the only neighboring apartment.
But I was determined to have no more panics, and resolutely shut my
eyes to this slight and transient noise, which had nothing
unnatural in it; for surely, between rats and wind, an old manor-
house on a stormy night needs no sprites to disturb it. So I
entered my room, and rang for my maid. As I did so I looked around
me, and a most unaccountable repugnance to my temporary abode came
over me, in spite of my efforts. It was no more to be shaken off
than a chill is to be shaken off when we enter some damp cave.
And, rely upon it, the feeling of dislike and apprehension with
which we regard, at first sight, certain places and people, was not
implanted in us without some wholesome purpose. I grant it is
irrational--mere animal instinct--but is not instinct God's gift,
and is it for us to despise it? It is by instinct that children
know their friends from their enemies--that they distinguish with
such unerring accuracy between those who like them and those who
only flatter and hate them. Dogs do the same; they will fawn on
one person, they slink snarling from another. Show me a man whom
children and dogs shrink from, and I will show you a false, bad
man--lies on his lips, and murder at his heart. No; let none
despise the heaven-sent gift of innate antipathy, which makes the
horse quail when the lion crouches in the thicket--which makes the
cattle scent the shambles from afar, and low in terror and disgust
as their nostrils snuff the blood-polluted air. I felt this
antipathy strongly as I looked around me in my new sleeping-room,
and yet I could find no reasonable pretext for my dislike. A very
good room it was, after all, now that the green damask curtains
were drawn, the fire burning bright and clear, candles burning on
the mantel-piece, and the various familiar articles of toilet
arranged as usual. The bed, too, looked peaceful and inviting--a
pretty little white bed, not at all the gaunt funereal sort of
couch which haunted apartments generally contain.

My maid entered, and assisted me to lay aside the dress and
ornaments I had worn, and arranged my hair, as usual, prattling the
while, in Abigail fashion. I seldom cared to converse with
servants; but on that night a sort of dread of being left alone--a
longing to keep some human being near me possessed me--and I
encouraged the girl to gossip, so that her duties took her half an
hour longer to get through than usual. At last, however, she had
done all that could be done, and all my questions were answered,
and my orders for the morrow reiterated and vowed obedience to, and
the clock on the turret struck one. Then Mary, yawning a little,
asked if I wanted anything more, and I was obliged to answer no,
for very shame's sake; and she went. The shutting of the door,
gently as it was closed, affected me unpleasantly. I took a
dislike to the curtains, the tapestry, the dingy pictures--
everything. I hated the room. I felt a temptation to put on a
cloak, run, half-dressed, to my sisters' chamber, and say I had
changed my mind and come for shelter. But they must be asleep, I
thought, and I could not be so unkind as to wake them. I said my
prayers with unusual earnestness and a heavy heart. I extinguished
the candles, and was just about to lay my head on my pillow, when
the idea seized me that I would fasten the door. The candles were
extinguished, but the firelight was amply sufficient to guide me.
I gained the door. There was a lock, but it was rusty or hampered;
my utmost strength could not turn the key. The bolt was broken and
worthless. Balked of my intention, I consoled myself by
remembering that I had never had need of fastenings yet, and
returned to my bed. I lay awake for a good while, watching the red
glow of the burning coals in the grate. I was quiet now, and more
composed. Even the light gossip of the maid, full of petty human
cares and joys, had done me good--diverted my thoughts from
brooding. I was on the point of dropping asleep, when I was twice
disturbed. Once, by an owl, hooting in the ivy outside--no
unaccustomed sound, but harsh and melancholy; once, by a long and
mournful howling set up by the mastiff, chained in the yard beyond
the wing I occupied. A long-drawn, lugubrious howling was this
latter, and much such a note as the vulgar declare to herald a
death in the family. This was a fancy I had never shared; but yet
I could not help feeling that the dog's mournful moans were sad,
and expressive of terror, not at all like his fierce, honest bark
of anger, but rather as if something evil and unwonted were abroad.
But soon I fell asleep.

How long I slept I never knew. I awoke at once with that abrupt
start which we all know well, and which carries us in a second from
utter unconsciousness to the full use of our faculties. The fire
was still burning, but was very low, and half the room or more was
in deep shadow. I knew, I felt, that some person or thing was in
the room, although nothing unusual was to be seen by the feeble
light. Yet it was a sense of danger that had aroused me from
slumber. I experienced, while yet asleep, the chill and shock of
sudden alarm, and I knew, even in the act of throwing off sleep
like a mantle, WHY I awoke, and that some intruder was present.
Yet, though I listened intently, no sound was audible, except the
faint murmur of the fire--the dropping of a cinder from the bars--
the loud, irregular beatings of my own heart. Notwithstanding this
silence, by some intuition I knew that I had not been deceived by a
dream, and felt certain that I was not alone. I waited. My heart
beat on; quicker, more sudden grew its pulsations, as a bird in a
cage might flutter in presence of the hawk. And then I heard a
sound, faint, but quite distinct, the clank of iron, the rattling
of a chain! I ventured to lift my head from the pillow. Dim and
uncertain as the light was, I saw the curtains of my bed shake, and
caught a glimpse of something beyond, a darker spot in the
darkness. This confirmation of my fears did not surprise me so
much as it shocked me. I strove to cry aloud, but could not utter
a word. The chain rattled again, and this time the noise was
louder and clearer. But though I strained my eyes, they could not
penetrate the obscurity that shrouded the other end of the chamber
whence came the sullen clanking. In a moment several distinct
trains of thought, like many-colored strands of thread twining into
one, became palpable to my mental vision. Was it a robber? Could
it be a supernatural visitant? Or was I the victim of a cruel
trick, such as I had heard of, and which some thoughtless persons
love to practice on the timid, reckless of its dangerous results?
And then a new idea, with some ray of comfort in it, suggested
itself. There was a fine young dog of the Newfoundland breed, a
favorite of my father's, which was usually chained by night in an
outhouse. Neptune might have broken loose, found his way to my
room, and, finding the door imperfectly closed, have pushed it open
and entered. I breathed more freely as this harmless
interpretation of the noise forced itself upon me. It was--it must
be--the dog, and I was distressing myself uselessly. I resolved to
call to him; I strove to utter his name--"Neptune, Neptune," but a
secret apprehension restrained me, and I was mute.

Then the chain clanked nearer and nearer to the bed, and presently
I saw a dusky, shapeless mass appear between the curtains on the
opposite side to where I was lying. How I longed to hear the whine
of the poor animal that I hoped might be the cause of my alarm.
But no; I heard no sound save the rustle of the curtains and the
clash of the iron chains. Just then the dying flame of the fire
leaped up, and with one sweeping, hurried glance I saw that the
door was shut, and, horror! it is not the dog! it is the semblance
of a human form that now throws itself heavily on the bed, outside
the clothes, and lies there, huge and swart, in the red gleam that
treacherously died away after showing so much to affright, and
sinks into dull darkness. There was now no light left, though the
red cinders yet glowed with a ruddy gleam like the eyes of wild
beasts. The chain rattled no more. I tried to speak, to scream
wildly for help; my mouth was parched, my tongue refused to obey.
I could not utter a cry, and, indeed, who could have heard me,
alone as I was in that solitary chamber, with no living neighbor,
and the picture-gallery between me and any aid that even the
loudest, most piercing shriek could summon. And the storm that
howled without would have drowned my voice, even if help had been
at hand. To call aloud--to demand who was there--alas! how
useless, how perilous! If the intruder were a robber, my outcries
would but goad him to fury; but what robber would act thus? As for
a trick, that seemed impossible. And yet, WHAT lay by my side, now
wholly unseen? I strove to pray aloud as there rushed on my memory
a flood of weird legends--the dreaded yet fascinating lore of my
childhood. I had heard and read of the spirits of the wicked men
forced to revisit the scenes of their earthly crimes--of demons
that lurked in certain accursed spots--of the ghoul and vampire of
the east, stealing amidst the graves they rifled for their ghostly
banquets; and then I shuddered as I gazed on the blank darkness
where I knew it lay. It stirred--it moaned hoarsely; and again I
heard the chain clank close beside me--so close that it must almost
have touched me. I drew myself from it, shrinking away in loathing
and terror of the evil thing--what, I knew not, but felt that
something malignant was near.

And yet, in the extremity of my fear, I dared not speak; I was
strangely cautious to be silent, even in moving farther off; for I
had a wild hope that it--the phantom, the creature, whichever it
was--had not discovered my presence in the room. And then I
remembered all the events of the night--Lady Speldhurst's ill-
omened vaticinations, her half-warnings, her singular look as we
parted, my sister's persuasions, my terror in the gallery, the
remark that "this was the room nurse Sherrard used to talk of."
And then memory, stimulated by fear, recalled the long-forgotten
past, the ill-repute of this disused chamber, the sins it had
witnessed, the blood spilled, the poison administered by unnatural
hate within its walls, and the tradition which called it haunted.
The green room--I remembered now how fearfully the servants avoided
it--how it was mentioned rarely, and in whispers, when we were
children, and how we had regarded it as a mysterious region, unfit
for mortal habitation. Was It--the dark form with the chain--a
creature of this world, or a specter? And again--more dreadful
still--could it be that the corpses of wicked men were forced to
rise and haunt in the body the places where they had wrought their
evil deeds? And was such as these my grisly neighbor? The chain
faintly rattled. My hair bristled; my eyeballs seemed starting
from their sockets; the damps of a great anguish were on my brow.
My heart labored as if I were crushed beneath some vast weight.
Sometimes it appeared to stop its frenzied beatings, sometimes its
pulsations were fierce and hurried; my breath came short and with
extreme difficulty, and I shivered as if with cold; yet I feared to
stir. IT moved, it moaned, its fetters clanked dismally, the couch
creaked and shook. This was no phantom, then--no air-drawn
specter. But its very solidity, its palpable presence, were a
thousand times more terrible. I felt that I was in the very grasp
of what could not only affright but harm; of something whose
contact sickened the soul with deathly fear. I made a desperate
resolve: I glided from the bed, I seized a warm wrapper, threw it
around me, and tried to grope, with extended hands, my way to the
door. My heart beat high at the hope of escape. But I had
scarcely taken one step before the moaning was renewed--it changed
into a threatening growl that would have suited a wolf's throat,
and a hand clutched at my sleeve. I stood motionless. The
muttering growl sank to a moan again, the chain sounded no more,
but still the hand held its gripe of my garment, and I feared to
move. It knew of my presence, then. My brain reeled, the blood
boiled in my ears, and my knees lost all strength, while my heart
panted like that of a deer in the wolf's jaws. I sank back, and
the benumbing influence of excessive terror reduced me to a state
of stupor.

When my full consciousness returned I was sitting on the edge of
the bed, shivering with cold, and barefooted. All was silent, but
I felt that my sleeve was still clutched by my unearthly visitant.
The silence lasted a long time. Then followed a chuckling laugh
that froze my very marrow, and the gnashing of teeth as in demoniac
frenzy; and then a wailing moan, and this was succeeded by silence.
Hours may have passed--nay, though the tumult of my own heart
prevented my hearing the clock strike, must have passed--but they
seemed ages to me. And how were they passed? Hideous visions
passed before the aching eyes that I dared not close, but which
gazed ever into the dumb darkness where It lay--my dread companion
through the watches of the night. I pictured It in every abhorrent
form which an excited fancy could summon up: now as a skeleton;
with hollow eye-holes and grinning, fleshless jaws; now as a
vampire, with livid face and bloated form, and dripping mouth wet
with blood. Would it never be light! And yet, when day should
dawn I should be forced to see It face to face. I had heard that
specter and fiend were compelled to fade as morning brightened, but
this creature was too real, too foul a thing of earth, to vanish at
cock-crow. No! I should see it--the Horror--face to face! And
then the cold prevailed, and my teeth chattered, and shiverings ran
through me, and yet there was the damp of agony on my bursting
brow. Some instinct made me snatch at a shawl or cloak that lay on
a chair within reach, and wrap it round me. The moan was renewed,
and the chain just stirred. Then I sank into apathy, like an
Indian at the stake, in the intervals of torture. Hours fled by,
and I remained like a statue of ice, rigid and mute. I even slept,
for I remember that I started to find the cold gray light of an
early winter's day was on my face, and stealing around the room
from between the heavy curtains of the window.

Shuddering, but urged by the impulse that rivets the gaze of the
bird upon the snake, I turned to see the Horror of the night. Yes,
it was no fevered dream, no hallucination of sickness, no airy
phantom unable to face the dawn. In the sickly light I saw it
lying on the bed, with its grim head on the pillow. A man? Or a
corpse arisen from its unhallowed grave, and awaiting the demon
that animated it? There it lay--a gaunt, gigantic form, wasted to
a skeleton, half-clad, foul with dust and clotted gore, its huge
limbs flung upon the couch as if at random, its shaggy hair
streaming over the pillows like a lion's mane. His face was toward
me. Oh, the wild hideousness of that face, even in sleep! In
features it was human, even through its horrid mask of mud and
half-dried bloody gouts, but the expression was brutish and
savagely fierce; the white teeth were visible between the parted
lips, in a malignant grin; the tangled hair and beard were mixed in
leonine confusion, and there were scars disfiguring the brow.
Round the creature's waist was a ring of iron, to which was
attached a heavy but broken chain--the chain I had heard clanking.
With a second glance I noted that part of the chain was wrapped in
straw to prevent its galling the wearer. The creature--I cannot
call it a man--had the marks of fetters on its wrists, the bony arm
that protruded through one tattered sleeve was scarred and bruised;
the feet were bare, and lacerated by pebbles and briers, and one of
them was wounded, and wrapped in a morsel of rag. And the lean
hands, one of which held my sleeve, were armed with talons like an
eagle's. In an instant the horrid truth flashed upon me--I was in
the grasp of a madman. Better the phantom that scares the sight
than the wild beast that rends and tears the quivering flesh--the
pitiless human brute that has no heart to be softened, no reason at
whose bar to plead, no compassion, naught of man save the form and
the cunning. I gasped in terror. Ah! the mystery of those
ensanguined fingers, those gory, wolfish jaws! that face, all
besmeared with blackening blood, is revealed!

The slain sheep, so mangled and rent--the fantastic butchery--the
print of the naked foot--all, all were explained; and the chain,
the broken link of which was found near the slaughtered animals--it
came from his broken chain--the chain he had snapped, doubtless, in
his escape from the asylum where his raging frenzy had been
fettered and bound, in vain! in vain! Ah me! how had this grisly
Samson broken manacles and prison bars--how had he eluded guardian
and keeper and a hostile world, and come hither on his wild way,
hunted like a beast of prey, and snatching his hideous banquet like
a beast of prey, too! Yes, through the tatters of his mean and
ragged garb I could see the marks of the seventies, cruel and
foolish, with which men in that time tried to tame the might of
madness. The scourge--its marks were there; and the scars of the
hard iron fetters, and many a cicatrice and welt, that told a
dismal tale of hard usage. But now he was loose, free to play the
brute--the baited, tortured brute that they had made him--now
without the cage, and ready to gloat over the victims his strength
should overpower. Horror! horror! I was the prey--the victim--
already in the tiger's clutch; and a deadly sickness came over me,
and the iron entered into my soul, and I longed to scream, and was
dumb! I died a thousand deaths as that morning wore on. I DARED
NOT faint. But words cannot paint what I suffered as I waited--
waited till the moment when he should open his eyes and be aware of
my presence; for I was assured he knew it not. He had entered the
chamber as a lair, when weary and gorged with his horrid orgy; and
he had flung himself down to sleep without a suspicion that he was
not alone. Even his grasping my sleeve was doubtless an act done
betwixt sleeping and waking, like his unconscious moans and
laughter, in some frightful dream.

Hours went on; then I trembled as I thought that soon the house
would be astir, that my maid would come to call me as usual, and
awake that ghastly sleeper. And might he not have time to tear me,
as he tore the sheep, before any aid could arrive? At last what I
dreaded came to pass--a light footstep on the landing--there is a
tap at the door. A pause succeeds, and then the tapping is
renewed, and this time more loudly. Then the madman stretched his
limbs, and uttered his moaning cry, and his eyes slowly opened--
very slowly opened and met mine. The girl waited a while ere she
knocked for the third time. I trembled lest she should open the
door unbidden--see that grim thing, and bring about the worst.

I saw the wondering surprise in his haggard, bloodshot eyes; I saw
him stare at me half vacantly, then with a crafty yet wondering
look; and then I saw the devil of murder begin to peep forth from
those hideous eyes, and the lips to part as in a sneer, and the
wolfish teeth to bare themselves. But I was not what I had been.
Fear gave me a new and a desperate composure--a courage foreign to
my nature. I had heard of the best method of managing the insane;
I could but try; I DID try. Calmly, wondering at my own feigned
calm, I fronted the glare of those terrible eyes. Steady and
undaunted was my gaze--motionless my attitude. I marveled at
myself, but in that agony of sickening terror I was OUTWARDLY firm.
They sink, they quail, abashed, those dreadful eyes, before the
gaze of a helpless girl; and the shame that is never absent from

insanity bears down the pride of strength, the bloody cravings of
the wild beast. The lunatic moaned and drooped his shaggy head
between his gaunt, squalid hands.

I lost not an instant. I rose, and with one spring reached the
door, tore it open, and, with a shriek, rushed through, caught the
wondering girl by the arm, and crying to her to run for her life,
rushed like the wind along the gallery, down the corridor, down the
stairs. Mary's screams filled the house as she fled beside me. I
heard a long-drawn, raging cry, the roar of a wild animal mocked of
its prey, and I knew what was behind me. I never turned my head--I
flew rather than ran. I was in the hall already; there was a rush
of many feet, an outcry of many voices, a sound of scuffling feet,
and brutal yells, and oaths, and heavy blows, and I fell to the
ground crying, "Save me!" and lay in a swoon. I awoke from a
delirious trance. Kind faces were around my bed, loving looks were
bent on me by all, by my dear father and dear sisters; but I
scarcely saw them before I swooned again.

When I recovered from that long illness, through which I had been
nursed so tenderly, the pitying looks I met made me tremble. I
asked for a looking-glass. It was long denied me, but my
importunity prevailed at last--a mirror was brought. My youth was
gone at one fell swoop. The glass showed me a livid and haggard
face, blanched and bloodless as of one who sees a specter; and in
the ashen lips, and wrinkled brow, and dim eyes, I could trace
nothing of my old self. The hair, too, jetty and rich before, was
now as white as snow; and in one night the ravages of half a
century had passed over my face. Nor have my nerves ever recovered
their tone after that dire shock. Can you wonder that my life was
blighted, that my lover shrank from me, so sad a wreck was I?

I am old now--old and alone. My sisters would have had me to live
with them, but I chose not to sadden their genial homes with my
phantom face and dead eyes. Reginald married another. He has been
dead many years. I never ceased to pray for him, though he left me
when I was bereft of all. The sad weird is nearly over now. I am
old, and near the end, and wishful for it. I have not been bitter
or hard, but I cannot bear to see many people, and am best alone.
I try to do what good I can with the worthless wealth Lady
Speldhurst left me, for, at my wish, my portion was shared between
my sisters. What need had I of inheritance?--I, the shattered
wreck made by that one night of horror!





Next: A Flight Into Texas

Previous: The Minister's Black Veil



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