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!





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