Looking back now at the events of my life that one dreadful night looms out like some great landmark. Even now, after the lapse of so many years, I cannot think of it without a shudder. All minor incidents and events I mentally classify as occurring before or after the time when I saw a Ghost.
Yes, saw a ghost. Don’t be incredulous, reader, don’t sneer at the phrase; though I can’t blame you for I was incredulous enough myself once. However hear the facts of my story before you pass a judgment.
The old Grange used to stand on my estate of Goresthorpe in Norfolk. It has been pulled down now, but it stood there when Tom Hulton came to visit me in 184-. It was a tumbledown old pile at the meeting of the Morsely and Alton roads where the new turn-pike stands now. The garden round had long been choked up by a rank growth of weeds, while pools of stagnant water and the accumulated garbage of the whole village poisoned the air around. It was a dreary place by day and an eerie one by night, for strange stories were told of the Grange, sounds were said to have come from those weather-beaten walls, such as mortal lips never uttered, and the elders of the village still spoke of one, Job Garston by name, who thirty years before had had the temerity to sleep inside, and who had been led out in the morning, a whitehaired broken man.
I used, I remember, to ascribe all this to the influence of the weird gaunt old building upon their untutored minds, and moralized upon the effects of a liberal education in removing such mental weaknesses. I alone knew however that the Grange had certainly, as far as foul crime was concerned, as orthodox a title to be haunted as any building on record. The last tenant as I discovered from my family papers was a certain Godfrey Marsden, a villain of the first water. He lived there about the middle of last century and was a byeword of ferocity and brutality throughout the whole countryside. Finally he consummated his many crimes by horribly hacking his two young children to death and strangling their mother. In the confusion of the Pretender’s march into England, justice was laxly administered, and Marsden succeeded in escaping to the continent where all trace of him was lost. There was a rumour indeed among his creditors, the only ones who regretted him, that remorse had led him to commit suicide, and that his body had been washed up on the French Coast, but those who knew him best laughed at the idea of anything so intangible having an effect upon so hardened a ruffian. Since his day the Grange had been untenanted and had been suffered to fall into the state of disrepair in which it then was.
Tom Hulton was an old college chum of mine, and right glad I was to see his honest face beneath my roof. He brightened the whole house, Tom did, for a more good humoured hearty reckless fellow never breathed. His only fault was that he had acquired a strange speculative way of thinking from his German education, and this led to continual arguments between us, for I had been trained as a medical student and looked at things therefore from an eminently practical point of view. That evening, I remember, the first after his arrival, we glided from one argument into another but all with the greatest good humour and invariably without coming to any conclusion.
I forget how the question of ghosts arose; at any rate there we were, Tom Hulton and I, at midnight in the depths of a debate about spirits and spiritualism. Tom, when he argued was wont to produce a certain large briar root pipe of his, and by this time he was surrounded by a dense wreath of smoke, from the midst of which his voice issued like the oracle of Delphi, while his stalwart figure loomed through the haze.
‘I tell you, Jack,’ he was saying, ‘that mankind may be divided into two classes, the men who profess not to believe in Ghosts and are mortally afraid of them, and the men who admit at least the possibility of their existence and would go out of their way to see one. Now I don’t scruple to acknowledge that I am one of the latter school. Of course, Jack, I know that you are one of these “credo-quod-tango” medicals, who walk in the narrow path of certain fact, and quite right too in such a profession as yours; but I have always had a strange leaning towards the unseen and supernatural, especially in this matter of the existence of ghosts. Don’t think though that I am such a fool as to believe in the orthodox spectre with his curse, and his chain warranted to rattle, and his shady retreat down some back stairs, or in the cellar; no, nothing of that sort.’
‘Well, Tom, let’s hear your idea of a creditable ghost.’
‘It’s not such an easy matter, you see, to explain it to another, even though I can define it in my own mind well enough. You and I both hold, Jack, that when a man dies he has done with all the cares and troubles of this world, and is for the future, be it one of joy or sorrow, a pure and ethereal spirit. Well now, what I feel is that it is possible for a man to be hurried out of this world with a soul as impregnated with some one all-absorbing passion, that it clings to him even after he has passed the portals of the grave. Now,’ continued Tom, impressively waving his pipe from side to side through the cloud that surrounded him, ‘love or patriotism or some other pure and elevating passion, might well be entertained by one who is but a spirit, but it is different, I fancy, with such grosser feelings as hatred or revenge. These one could imagine, even after death, clogging the poor soul so that it must still inhabit that coarse clay which is most fitted to the coarse passions which absorb it; and thus I would account for the unexplained and unexplainable things which have happened even in our own time, and for the deeply rooted belief in Ghosts which exists, smother it as we may, in every breast, and which has existed in every age.’
‘You may be right, Tom,’ said I, ‘but as you say “quod tango credo” and as I never saw any of your “impregnated spirits” I must beg leave to doubt their existence.’
‘It’s very easy to laugh at the matter,’ answered Tom, ‘but there are few facts in this world which have not been laughed at, sometime or another. Tell me this, Jack, did you ever try to see a ghost? Did you ever go upon a ghost hunt, my boy?’
‘Well I can’t say I ever did,’ said I, ‘did you?’
‘I’m on one just now, Jack,’ said he, and then sat puffing at his pipe for some time. ‘Look here,’ he continued, ‘I’ve heard you talk of some old manor or Grange you have down here, which is said to be haunted. Now I want you to lend me the key of that, and I’ll take up my quarters there tomorrow night. How long is it since anyone slept in it, Jack?’
‘For heaven’s sake, don’t think of doing such a foolhardy thing,’ I exclaimed. ‘Why only one man has slept in Goresthorpe Grange during a hundred years, and he went mad to my certain knowledge!’
‘Ha! that sounds promising, very promising,’ cried Tom in high delight. ‘Now just observe the thick headedness of the British public, yourself included, Jack. You won’t believe in ghosts, and you won’t go and look where a ghost is said to be found. Now suppose there was said to be white crows or some other natural curiosity in Yorkshire, and someone assured you that there was not, because he had been all through Wales without seeing one, you would naturally consider the man an idiot. Well, doesn’t the same apply to you if you refuse to go to the Grange and settle the question for yourself once for all?’
‘If you go tomorrow, I shall certainly go too,’ I returned, ‘if only to prevent your coming home with some cock and bull story about an impregnated spirit, so good night, Tom,’ and with that we separated.
I confess that in the morning I began to feel that I had been slightly imprudent in aiding and abetting Tom in his ridiculous expedition. ‘It’s that confounded Irish whisky,’ thought I. ‘I always put my foot into it after the third glass, however perhaps Tom has thought better of it too by this time.’ In that expectation however I was woefully disappointed, for Tom swore he had been awake all night planning and preparing everything for the evening.
‘We’re bound to take pistols you know, old boy; those are always taken; then there are our pipes and a couple of ounces of bird’s-eye, and our rugs, and a bottle of whisky, nothing else, I think. By Jove, I do believe we’ll unearth a ghost tonight!’
‘Heaven forbid!’ I mentally ejaculated but as there was no way out of it I pretended to be as enthusiastic in the business as Tom himself.
All day Tom was in a state of the wildest excitement, and as evening fell we both walked over to the old Grange of Goresthorpe. There it stood cold, bleak and desolate as ever with the wind howling past it. Great strips of ivy which had lost their hold upon the walls swayed and tossed in the wind like the plumes of a hearse. How comfortable the lights in the village seemed to my eyes as we turned the key in the rusty lock, and having lit a candle began to walk down the stoneflagged dusty hall!
‘Here we are!’ said Tom, throwing a door open and disclosing a large dingy room.
‘Not there for Goodness’ sake,’ said I, ‘let’s find a small room where we can light a fire and be sure at a glance that we are the only people in it.’
‘All right, old fellow,’ answered Tom laughing. ‘I did a little exploring today on my own hook and know the place pretty well. I’ve got just the article to suit you at the other end of the house.’
He took up the candle again as he spoke and having shut the door he led me from one passage to another through the rambling old building. We came at last to a long corridor running the whole length of one wing of the house, which certainly had a very ghostly appearance. One wall was entirely solid, while the other had openings for windows let in at every three or four paces, so that when the moon shone in the dark passage was flecked every here and there with patches of white light. Near the end of it was a door which led into a small room, cleaner and more modern looking than the rest of the house, and with a large fireplace opposite the entrance. It was hung with dark red curtains, and when we had got our fire ablaze it certainly looked more comfortable than I had ever dared to expect. Tom seemed unutterably disgusted and discontented by the result; ‘Call this a haunted house,’ he said, ‘why we might as well sit up in a hotel and expect to see a ghost! This isn’t by any means the sort of thing I have been looking forward to.’ It was not until the briar had been twice replenished that he began to recover his usual equanimity of temper.
Perhaps it was our curious surroundings which flavoured the bird’s-eye and mellowed the whisky, and our own suppressed excitement which gave zest to the conversation. Certainly a pleasanter evening neither of us ever spent.
Outside the wind was howling and screaming, tossing the trailing ivy in the air. The moon shone out fitfully from between the dark clouds which drifted across the sky, and the measured patter of the rain was heard upon the slates above us.
‘The roof may leak, but it can’t get at us,’ said Tom, ‘for there’s a little bedroom above our heads with a very good floor too. Shouldn’t be surprised if it’s the very room where those youngsters were cut up by that model father of theirs. Well it’s nearly twelve o’clock, and if we are going to see anything at all, we ought to see it before very long. By Jove, what a chill wind comes through that door! I remember feeling like this when I was waiting outside before going in for my oral exam at college. You look excited too, old boy.’
‘Hush, Tom, didn’t you hear a noise in the corridor?’
‘Hang the noise,’ said Tom, ‘pass me over a fusee old boy.’
‘I’ll swear I heard a heavy door slamming,’ I insisted. ‘I’ll tell you what, Tom, I feel as if your ambition was going to be realized tonight and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m heartily sorry I came with you on such a foolhardy errand.’
‘Dash it all,’ said Tom, ‘it’s no use funking it now — By Jove, what’s that?’
It was a gentle pit pat pit pat in the room and close to Tom’s elbow. We both sprang to our feet, and then Tom burst into a roar of laughter. ‘Why, Jack,’ he said, ‘you’re making a regular old woman of me; it’s only the rain that has got in after all and is dropping on that bit of loose paper on the wall yonder. What fools we were to be frightened! Why here’s the very place it dropped-‘
‘Good God!’ I cried, ‘what is the matter with you, Tom?’ His face had changed to a livid hue, his eyes were fixed and staring, and his lips parted in horror and astonishment.
‘Look!’ he almost screamed, ‘look!’ and he held up the piece of paper which had been hanging from the mildewed wall. Great heaven! it was all freckled and spotted with gouts of still liquid blood. Even as we stood gazing at it, another drop fell upon the floor with a dull splash. Both our pale faces were turned upwards tracing the course of this horrible shower. We could discern a small crack in the cornice, and through this as through a wound in human flesh the blood seemed to well. Another drop fell, and yet another, as we stood gazing spellbound.
‘Come away, Tom, come away!’ I cried at last, unable to bear it longer. ‘Come! God’s curse is on the place.’ I seized him by the shoulder as I spoke and turned towards the door.
‘By God, I won’t,’ cried Tom fiercely, shaking off my grasp, ‘come up with me, Jack, and get to the bottom of the matter. There may be some villainy here. Hang it, man, don’t be cowed by a drop or two of blood! Don’t try to stop me! I shall go’; and he pushed past me and dashed into the corridor.
What a moment that was! If I should live to be a hundred I could never shake off my vivid remembrance of it. Outside the wind was still howling past the windows, while an occasional flash of lightning illuminated the old Grange. Within there was no sound save the creaking of the door as it was thrown back and the gentle pit pat of that ghastly shower from above. Then Tom tottered back into the room and grasped me by the arm. ‘Let us stick together, Jack,’ he said in an awestruck whisper. ‘There’s something coming up the corridor!’
A horrible fascination led us to the door, and we peered together down the long and dark passage. One side was, as I have said, pierced by numerous openings through which the moonlight streamed throwing little patches of light upon the dark floor. Far down the passage we could see that something was obscuring first one of these bright spots, then the next, then another. It vanished in the gloom, then it reappeared where the next window cast its light, then it vanished again. It was coming rapidly towards us. Now it was only four windows from us, now three, now two, one, and then the figure of a man emerged into the glare of light which burst from our open door. He was running rapidly and vanished into the gloom on the other side of us. His dress was old fashioned and dishevelled, what seemed to be long dark ribbons hung down among his hair, on each side of his swarthy face. But that face itself — when shall I ever forget it? As he ran he kept it half turned back, as if expecting some pursuer, and his countenance expressed such a degree of hopeless despair, and of dreadful fear, that, frightened as I was, my heart bled for him. As we followed the direction of his horror stricken gaze we saw that he had indeed a pursuer. As before we could trace the dark shadow flitting over the white flecks of moonlight, as before it emerged into the circle of light thrown by our candles and fire. It was a beautiful and stately lady, a woman perhaps eight and twenty years of age, with the low dress and gorgeous train of last century. Beneath her lovely chin we both remarked upon one side of the neck four small dark spots, and on the other side one larger one. She swept by us, looking neither to the right nor left, but with her stony gaze bent upon the spot where the fugitive had vanished. Then she too was lost in the darkness. A minute later as we stood there, still gazing, a horrible shriek, a scream of awful agony, rang out high above the wind and the thunder, and then all was still inside the house.
I don’t know how long we both stood there, spellbound, holding on to each other’s arms. It must have been some time for the fresh candle was flickering in the socket when Tom, with a shudder, walked rapidly down the passage, still grasping my hand. Without a word we passed out through the mouldering hall door, out into the storm and the rain, over the garden wall, through the silent village and up the avenue. It was not until we were in my comfortable little smoking room, and Tom from sheer force of habit had lit a cigar, that he seemed to recover his equanimity at all.
‘Well, Jack,’ were the first words he said, ‘what do you think of ghosts now?’ His next remark was ‘Confound it, I’ve lost the best briar root pipe I ever had, for I’ll be hanged before I go back there to fetch it.’
‘We have seen a horrible sight,’ said I. ‘What a face he had, Tom! And those ghastly ribbons hanging from his hair, what were those, Tom?’
‘Ribbons! Why, Jack, don’t you know seaweed when you see it? And I’ve seen those dark marks that were on the woman’s neck before now, and so have you in your medical studies I have little doubt.’
‘Yes,’ said I, ‘those were the marks of four fingers and a thumb. It was the strangled woman, Tom. God preserve us from ever seeing such a sight again!’
‘Amen,’ said Tom, and those were the last words we interchanged that night.
In the morning Tom, his mission ended, went down to London, and soon afterwards set sail for the coffee estates of his father in Ceylon. Since then I have lost sight of him. I do not know whether he is alive or dead, but of one thing I am very sure, that if alive he never thinks without a shudder of our terrible night in the haunted Grange of Goresthorpe.