Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Yesterday Knocks ~ Noel Boston

Joseph Noel Thomas Boston (1910~1966) was born in Elmdon, Warwickshire, and educated at Wrekin College and Jesus College, Cambridge. He was ordained in 1935, becoming Minor Canon of Norwich Cathedral and eventually the Vicar of Dereham, where he was also responsible, along with Dr Eric Puddy, for founding the Dereham Antiquarian Society.* He was the author of a number of factual books, including The Monasteries of Warwickshire, Solihull and the Surrounding Districts, Dereham: The Biography of a Country Town, and books on musical history.

Yesterday Knocks, was privately published in 1953 by G. Arthur Coleby of Dereham. Boston's only volume of supernatural tales, it was intended for circulation amongst friends. As a result, it is an extremely rare book; I've never seen a copy. A slim book of seventy-one pages, it contained five tales: 'The Half Legs', 'The Bellarmine Jars', 'Lot 629', 'The North Cloister Walk', and 'P Aia Johns Blak'.

Ash-Tree Press published a limited edition jacketed hardcover in 2003, and that is the one shown here on the left. That added a further six tales: 'Right Through My Hair', 'The Audit Chamber', 'Bump in the Night', 'The Face at the Window', 'The Barrier', and 'Scraping the Barrel'.

In his preface to the first edition, Boston explains that whilst his five tales, mostly written during holidays in 1953, are works of fiction, a part of every story is true. 'The fiction has, so to speak, a frame in fact and, in this, is modelled on Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye by the late Arthur Gray, Master of Jesus College, Cambridge.'

Several of the tales involve Thomas Rotrod, 'a scholar who added to a small private income by lecturing and writing on antiquarian and historical subjects. He lived in a large book-filled old house on the outskirts of Queen's Thorpe'.

In 'The Half Legs', Rotrod travels to Monsers Hall, a dilapidated Elizabethan mansion in Worcestershire, at the request of his friend Harry Knockham, to search for a secret room. Upon close inspection of a large cupboard in the dining room, an overhead shaft is discovered, and this leads to a set of small secret rooms. His job done, Rotrod retires to his room for the night, only to be woken in the wee small hours by a pair of ghostly legs. 

'The Bellarmine Jars' is a tale of witchcraft. It opens in the year 1634, with the marriage of Lettice Coton and Sir Henry Robart in the church of Little Gooding by the parson Nicholas Rawl, and the burial of Anne Belton, Robart's old flame, two days later. The tale then moves forward to 1950, when Thomas Rotrod, returning home with his family after seeing Oliver Twist at the pictures, discovers that two seventeenth century Bellarmine jars have appeared in his study. Rotrod's subsequent discussion with his wife serves as an explanation of the events of the first part of the story.

'Lot 629' is listed in a sale catalogue as 'a spinet in mahogany and banded case on fluted legs 5ft 9ins wide'. It turns out, however, to be an eighteenth century square Broadwood piano. The narrator, a musical historian, having bought and restored the instrument, places it in his music room. A year later, he is woken during the night to the sound of an unknown person playing 'The Death of Nelson' on his piano. This tale boasts one of the best character names ever invented by a ghost story writer: Lady Bumfidget.

'The North Cloister Walk' concerns a discussion between Minor Canon Charlie Jogglebury and Mrs Dale, the eighty-year-old widow of a clergyman, and the sighting of a ghost in the cloister of Eastwich Cathedral.

In 'P Aia Johns Blak', Rotrod, a collector of firearms as well as an antiquarian, takes his new acquaintance, Mr Fritzen, to visit Mrs Pears, who is selling her deceased father's collection of weapons. Mrs Pears offers a fifteenth century church brass for sale, the memorial brass of John Blake, and Rotrod purchases it. He then sets about trying to find the place it was originally removed from, and is aided in his search by a vision in Vale Newton church.

Of the extra tales of the 2003 edition, 'Right Through My Hair' is the best. Minor Canon Jogglebury is writing a history of the Choir School of Losingham Cathedral and has been given free roam of the muniment room. One night, realising that he has returned to his lodgings without one of his notebooks, he decides to return to the muniment room for it. In darkness, save for the light of the moon, he makes his way through the cathedral and up to the triforium alone... or is he? It is this story that inspired the dust jacket pictured above, and it's one of my favourites.

Boston's tales, for the most part, have the feel of reports of investigations of actual hauntings. His ghosts are not interactive or malevolent; they simply replay some event or action and seem oblivious to the presence of any observer. They mean no harm to anyone in the present; it is simply the fact of something supernatural occuring that frightens the narrator or some other person in the tale. That said, 'Right Through My Hair' is definitely creepy. Boston's tales are entertaining and informative, and well worth a read.

As I said, the 1953 edition of Yesterday Knocks is very rare, and as I've never seen a copy for sale I have no idea what price tag would be attached to one. The Ash-Tree Press edition costs about forty pounds in fine condition (approx. $65). There is a Kindle version of this edition, and that costs less than a fiver.
______________________
* Dereham Antiquarian Society, founded in 1953, has since incorporated The Arcadian Club, which studies the life and works of the local antiquarian Dr Augustus Jessopp, author of Frivola, which I wrote about a while back.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Goblins who Stole a Sexton ~ Charles Dickens

Is there a person alive who isn't familiar with the storyline of A Christmas Carol? If you haven't read it, you've undoubtedly watched a TV or film adaptation of it. The story of 'The Goblins who Stole a Sexton', taken from The Pickwick Papers, is, like A Christmas Carol, a festive tale of social and spiritual renewal. The goblins who kidnap the sexton, Gabriel Grub, serve the same purpose as Scrooge's Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Like Scrooge, Grub is determined not to make merry during the festive season. Also like Scrooge, he is forced to confront the flaws in his own character in order to emerge from his terrifying ordeal a better man.

In the spirit of Christmas, to avoid being whisked away by ghosts or goblins, I am offering up the story of Gabriel Grub here on this blog.


THE GOBLINS WHO STOLE A SEXTON
by Charles Dickens
The Pickwick Papers, Chapter 29, 1837

IN AN OLD ABBEY TOWN, down in this part of the country, a long, long while ago - so long, that the story must be a true one, because our great-grandfathers implicitly believed it - there officiated as sexton and grave-digger in the churchyard, one Gabriel Grub. It by no means follows that because a man is a sexton, and constantly surrounded by the emblems of mortality, therefore he should be a morose and melancholy man; your undertakers are the merriest fellows in the world; and I once had the honour of being on intimate terms with a mute, who in private life, and off duty, was as comical and jocose a little fellow as ever chirped out a devil-may-care song, without a hitch in his memory, or drained off the contents of a good stiff glass without stopping for breath. But notwithstanding these precedents to the contrary, Gabriel Grub was an ill-conditioned, cross-grained, surly fellow - a morose and lonely man, who consorted with nobody but himself, and an old wicker bottle which fitted into his large deep waistcoat pocket - and who eyed each merry face, as it passed him by, with such a deep scowl of malice and ill-humour, as it was difficult to meet without feeling something the worse for.

A little before twilight, one Christmas Eve, Gabriel shouldered his spade, lighted his lantern, and betook himself towards the old churchyard; for he had got a grave to finish by next morning, and, feeling very low, he thought it might raise his spirits, perhaps, if he went on with his work at once. As he went his way, up the ancient street, he saw the cheerful light of the blazing fires gleam through the old casements, and heard the loud laugh and the cheerful shouts of those who were assembled around them; he marked the bustling preparations for next day’s cheer, and smelt the numerous savoury odours consequent thereupon, as they steamed up from the kitchen windows in clouds. All this was gall and wormwood to the heart of Gabriel Grub; and when groups of children bounded out of the houses, tripped across the road, and were met, before they could knock at the opposite door, by half a dozen curly-headed little rascals who crowded round them as they flocked upstairs to spend the evening in their Christmas games, Gabriel smiled grimly, and clutched the handle of his spade with a firmer grasp, as he thought of measles, scarlet-fever, thrush, whooping-cough, and a good many other sources of consolation besides.

In this happy frame of mind, Gabriel strode along; returning a short, sullen growl to the goodhumoured greetings of such of his neighbours as now and then passed him: until he turned into the dark lane which led to the churchyard. Now, Gabriel had been looking forward to reaching the dark lane, because it was, generally speaking, a nice, gloomy, mournful place, into which the townspeople did not much care to go, except in broad daylight, and when the sun was shining; consequently, he was not a little indignant to hear a young urchin roaring out some jolly song about a merry Christmas, in this very sanctuary, which had been called Coffin Lane ever since the days of the old abbey, and the time of the shaven-headed monks. As Gabriel walked on, and the voice drew nearer, he found it proceeded from a small boy, who was hurrying along, to join one of the little parties in the old street, and who, partly to keep himself company, and partly to prepare himself for the occasion, was shouting out the song at the highest pitch of his lungs. So Gabriel waited until the boy came up, and then dodged him into a corner, and rapped him over the head with his lantern five or six times, to teach him to modulate his voice. And as the boy hurried away, with his hand to his head, singing quite a different sort of tune, Gabriel Grub chuckled very heartily to himself, and entered the churchyard, locking the gate behind him.

He took off his coat, put down his lantern, and getting into the unfinished grave, worked at it for an hour or so, with right good will. But the earth was hardened with the frost, and it was no very easy matter to break it up, and shovel it out; and although there was a moon, it was a very young one, and shed little light upon the grave, which was in the shadow of the church. At any other time, these obstacles would have made Gabriel Grub very moody and miserable, but he was so well pleased with having stopped the small boy’s singing that he took little heed of the scanty progress he had made, and looked down into the grave, when he had finished work for the night, with grim satisfaction: murmuring as he gathered up his things:
‘Brave lodgings for one, brave lodgings for one,
A few feet of cold earth, when life is done;
A stone at the head, a stone at the feet,
A rich, juicy meal for the worms to eat;
Rank grass over head, and damp clay around,
Brave lodgings for one, these, in holy ground!
‘Ho! Ho!’ laughed Gabriel Grub, as he sat himself down on a flat tombstone which was a favourite restingplace of his; and drew forth his wicker bottle. ‘A coffin at Christmas! A Christmas Box. Ho! ho! ho!’

‘Ho! ho! ho!’ repeated a voice which sounded close behind him.

Gabriel paused, in some alarm, in the act of raising the wicker bottle to his lips: and looked round. The bottom of the oldest grave about him was not more still and quiet than the churchyard in the pale moonlight. The cold hoar frost glistened on the tombstones, and sparkled like rows of gems, among the stone carvings of the old church. The snow lay hard and crisp upon the ground; and spread over the thickly-strewn mounds of earth so white and smooth a cover that it seemed as if corpses lay there, hidden only by their winding sheets. Not the faintest rustle broke the profound tranquility of the solemn scene. Sound itself appeared to be frozen up, all was so cold and still.

‘It was the echoes,’ said Gabriel Grub, raising the bottle to his lips again.

‘It was not,’ said a deep voice.

Gabriel started up, and stood rooted to the spot with astonishment and terror; for his eyes rested on a form that made his blood run cold.

Seated on an upright tombstone, close to him, was a strange unearthly figure, whom Gabriel felt at once was no being of this world. His long fantastic legs which might have reached the ground, were cocked up, and crossed after a quaint, fantastic fashion; his sinewy arms were bare; and his hands rested on his knees. On his short round body, he wore a close covering, ornamented with small slashes; a short cloak dangled at his back; the collar was cut into curious peaks, which served the goblin in lieu of ruff or neckerchief, and his shoes curled at his toes into long points. On his head, he wore a broadbrimmed sugar-loaf hat, garnished with a single feather. The hat was covered with the white frost; and the goblin looked as if he had sat on the same tombstone very comfortably for two or three hundred years. He was sitting perfectly still; his tongue was put out, as if in derision; and he was grinning at Gabriel Grub with such a grin as only a goblin could call up.

‘It was not the echoes,’ said the goblin.

Gabriel Grub was paralysed, and could make no reply.

‘What do you do here on Christmas Eve?’ said the goblin sternly.

‘I came to dig a grave, sir,’ stammered Gabriel Grub.

‘What man wanders among graves and churchyards on such a night as this?’ cried the goblin.

‘Gabriel Grub! Gabriel Grub!’ screamed a wild chorus of voices that seemed to fill the churchyard. Gabriel Grub looked fearfully round - nothing was to be seen.

‘What have you got in that bottle?’ said the goblin.

‘Hollands, sir,’ replied the sexton, trembling more than ever; for he had bought it off the smugglers, and he thought that perhaps his questioner might be in the excise department of the goblins.

‘Who drinks Hollands alone, and in a churchyard, on such a night as this?’ said the goblin. ‘Gabriel Grub! Gabriel Grub!’ exclaimed the wild voices again.

The goblin leered maliciously at the terrified sexton, and then raising his voice, exclaimed: ‘And who, then, is our fair and lawful prize?’

To this enquiry the invisible chorus replied, in a strain that sounded like the voices of many choristers singing to the mighty swell of the church organ - a strain that seemed borne to the sexton’s ears upon a wild wind, and to die away as it passed onward; but the burden of the reply was still the same, ‘Gabriel Grub! Gabriel Grub!’

The goblin grinned a broader grin than before, as he said, ‘Well, Gabriel, what do you say to this?’

The sexton gasped for breath.

‘What do you think of this, Gabriel?’ said the goblin, kicking up his feet in the air on either side of the tombstone, and looking at the turned-up points with as much complacency as if he had been contemplating the most fashionable pair of Wellingtons in all Bond Street.

‘It’s - it’s - very curious, sir,’ replied the Sexton, half dead with fright; ‘very curious, and very pretty, but I think I’ll go back and finish my work, sir, if you please.’

‘Work!’ said the goblin, ‘what work?’

‘The grave, sir; making the grave,’ stammered the sexton.

‘Oh, the grave, eh?’ said the goblin. ‘Who makes graves at a time when all other men are merry, and takes a pleasure in it?’

Again the mysterious voices replied, ‘Gabriel Grub! Gabriel Grub!’

‘I’m afraid my friends want you, Gabriel,’ said the goblin, thrusting his tongue further into his cheek than ever - and a most astonishing tongue it was - ‘I’m afraid my friends want you, Gabriel,’ said the goblin.

‘Under favour, sir,’ replied the horror-stricken sexton, ‘I don’t think they can, sir; they don’t know me, sir; I don’t think the gentlemen have ever seen me, sir.’

‘Oh yes they have,’ replied the goblin; ‘we know the man with the sulky face and grim scowl, that came down the street tonight, throwing his evil looks at the children, and grasping his burying spade the tighter. We know the man who struck the boy in the envious malice of his heart, because the boy could be merry, and he could not. We know him, we know him.’

Here the goblin gave a loud shrill laugh, which the echoes returned twenty-fold: and throwing his legs up in the air, stood upon his head, or rather upon the very point of his sugar-loaf hat, on the narrow edge of the tombstone: whence he threw a somerset with extraordinary agility right to the sexton’s feet, at which he planted himself in the attitude in which tailors generally sit upon the shop-board.

‘I - I - am afraid I must leave you, sir,’ said the sexton, making an effort to move.

‘Leave us!’ said the goblin, ‘Gabriel Grub going to leave us? Ho! ho! ho!’

As the goblin laughed, the sexton observed, for one instant, a brilliant illumination within the windows of the church, as if the whole building were lighted up; it disappeared, the organ pealed forth a lively air, and whole troops of goblins, the very counterpart of the first one, poured into the churchyard, and began paying at leap-frog with the tombstones: never stopping for an instant to take breath, but ‘overing’ the highest among them, one after the other, with the most marvellous dexterity. The first goblin was a most astonishing leaper, and none of the others could come near him; even in the extremity of his terror, the sexton could not help observing that while his friends were content to leap over the common-sized gravestones, the first one took the family vaults, iron railings and all, with as much ease as if they had been so many street-posts.

At last the game reached to a most exciting pitch; the organ played quicker and quicker; and the goblins leaped faster and faster, coiling themselves up, rolling head over heels upon the ground, and bounding over the tombstones like footballs. The sexton’s brain whirled round with the rapidity of the motion he beheld, and his legs reeled beneath him, as the spirits flew before his eyes: when the goblin king, suddenly darting towards him, laid his hand upon his collar, and sank with him through the earth.

When Gabriel Grub had had time to catch his breath, which the rapidity of the descent had for the moment taken away, he found himself in what appeared to be a large cavern, surrounded on all sides by crowds of goblins, ugly and grim; in the centre of the room, on an elevated seat, was stationed his friend of the churchyard; and close beside him stood Gabriel Grub himself, without power of motion.

‘Cold tonight,’ said the king of the goblins, ‘very cold. A glass of something warm, here!’

At this command, half a dozen officious goblins, with a perpetual smile upon their faces, whom Gabriel Grub imagined to be courtiers, on that account, hastily disappeared, and presently returned with a goblet of liquid fire, which they presented to the king.

‘Ah!’ cried the goblin, whose cheeks and throat were transparent as he tossed down the flame, ‘This warms one, indeed! Bring a bumper of the same, for Mr Grub.’

It was in vain for the unfortunate sexton to protest that he was not in the habit of taking anything warm at night; one of the goblins held him while another poured the blazing liquid down his throat; the whole assembly screeched with laughter as he coughed and choked, and wiped away the tears which gushed plentifully from his eyes, after swallowing the burning draught.

‘And now,’ said the king, fantastically poking the taper corner of his sugar-loaf hat into the sexton’s eye, and thereby occasioning him the most exquisite pain: ‘And now, show the man of misery and gloom a few of the pictures from our own great storehouse!’

As the goblin said this, a thick cloud which obscured the remoter end of the cavern rolled gradually away and disclosed, apparently at a great distance, a small and scantily furnished, but neat and clean apartment. A crowd of little children were gathered round a bright fire, clinging to their mother’s gown, and gambolling around her chair. The mother occasionally rose, and drew aside the window-curtain, as if to look for some expected object: a frugal meal was placed near the fire. A knock was heard at the door: the mother opened it, and the children crowded round her, and clapped their hands for joy, as their father entered. He was wet and weary, and shook the snow from his garments as his children crowded round him, and seizing his cloak, hat, stick and gloves, with busy zeal, ran with them from the room. Then, as he sat down to his meal before the fire, the children climbed about his knee, and the mother sat by his side, and all seemed happiness and comfort.

But a change came upon the view, almost imperceptibly. The scene was altered to a small bedroom, where the fairest and youngest child was dying; the roses had fled from his cheek, and the light from his eye; and even as the sexton looked upon him with an interest he had never felt or known before, he died. His young brothers and sisters crowded round his little bed, and seized his tiny hand, so cold and heavy, but they shrank back from its touch, and looked with awe on his infant face; for calm and tranquil as it was, and sleeping and rest and peace as the beautiful child seemed to be, they saw that he was dead, and they knew that he was an angel looking down upon, and blessing, them from a bright and happy heaven.

Again the light cloud passed across the picture, and again the subject changed. The father and mother were old and helpless now, and the number of those about them was diminished more than half; but content and cheerfulness sat on every face, and beamed in every eye as they crowded round the fireside, and told and listened to old stories of earlier and bygone days. Slowly and peacefully, the father sank into the grave, and, soon after, the sharer of all his cares and troubles followed him to a place of rest. The few who yet survived them knelt by their tomb, and watered the green turf which covered it with their tears; then rose, and turned away: sadly and mournfully, but not with bitter cries, or despairing lamentation, for they knew that she should one day meet again; and once more they mixed with the busy world, and their content and cheerfulness was restored. The cloud settled upon the picture and concealed it from the sexton’s view

‘What do you think of that?’ said the goblin, turning his large face towards Gabriel Grub.

Gabriel murmured out something about it being very pretty, and looked somewhat ashamed, as the goblin bent his fiery eyes upon him.

‘You a miserable man!’ said the goblin, in a tone of excessive contempt. ‘You!’ He appeared disposed to add more, but indignation choked his utterance, so he lifted up one of his very pliable legs, and flourishing it above his head a little, to insure his aim, administered a good sound kick to Gabriel Grub; immediately after which all the goblins in waiting crowded round the wretched sexton, and kicked him without mercy: according to the established and invariable custom of courtiers upon earth, who kick whom royalty kicks, and hug whom royalty hugs.

‘Show him some more!’ said the king of goblins.

At these words, the cloud was dispelled, and a rich and beautiful landscape was disclosed to view - there is just such another, to this day, within half a mile of the old abbey town. The sun shone from out the clear blue sky, the water sparkled beneath his rays, and the trees looked greener, and the flowers more gay, beneath his cheering influence. The water rippled on, with a pleasant sound; the trees rustled in the light wind that murmured among their leaves; the birds sang upon the boughs; and the lark carolled on high her welcome to the morning. Yes, it was morning; the bright, balmy morning of summer; the minutest leaf, the smallest blade of grass, was instinct with life. The ant crept forth to her daily toil, the butterfly fluttered and basked in the warm rays of the sun; myriads of insects spread their transparent wings, and revelled in their brief but happy existence. Man walked forth, elated with the scene, and all was brightness and splendour.

You a miserable man!’ said the king of the goblins, in a more contemptuous tone than before. And again the king of the goblins gave his leg a flourish; again it descended on the shoulders of the sexton; and again the attendant goblins imitated the example of their chief.

Many a time the cloud went and came, and many a lesson it taught to Gabriel Grub, who, although his shoulders smarted with pain from the frequent applications of the goblins’ feet, looked on with an interest that nothing could diminish. He saw that men who worked hard, and earned their scanty bread with lives of labour, were cheerful and happy; and that to the most ignorant, the sweet face of nature was a never-failing source of cheerfulness and joy. He saw those who had been delicately nurtured, and tenderly brought up, cheerful under privations, and superior to suffering that would have crushed many of a rougher grain, because they bore within their own bosoms the materials of happiness, contentment, and peace. He saw that women, the tenderest and most fragile of all God’s creatures, were the oftenest superior to sorrow, adversity, and distress; and he saw that it was because they bore, in their own hearts, an inexhaustible well-spring of affection and devotion. Above all, he saw that men like himself, who snarled at the mirth and cheerfulness of others, were the foulest weeds on the fair surface of the earth; and setting all the good of the world against the evil, he came to the conclusion that it was a very decent and respectable sort of world after all. No sooner had he formed it, than the cloud which closed over the last picture, seemed to settle on his senses, and lull him to repose. One by one, the goblins faded from his sight; and as the last one disappeared, he sank to sleep.

The day had broken when Gabriel Grub awoke, and found himself lying, at full length, on the flat gravestone in the churchyard, with the wicker bottle lying empty by his side, and his coat, spade and lantern, all well whitened by last night’s frost, scattered on the ground. The stone on which he had first seen the goblin seated, stood bolt upright before him, and the grave at which he had worked, the night before, was not far off. At first, he began to doubt the reality of his adventures, but the acute pain in his shoulders when he attempted to rise, assured him that the kicking of the goblins was certainly not ideal. He was staggered again by observing no traces of footsteps in the snow on which the goblins had played at leapfrog with the gravestones, but he speedily accounted for this circumstance when he remembered that, being spirits, they would leave no visible impression behind them. So Gabriel Grub got on his feet as well as he could for the pain in his back, and brushing the frost off his coat, put it on, and turned his face towards the town.

But he was an altered man, and he could not bear the thought of returning to a place where his repentance would be scoffed at, and his reformation disbelieved. He hesitated for a few moments, and then turned away to wander where he might, and seek his bread elsewhere.

The lantern, the spade and the wicker bottle were found, that day, in the churchyard. There were a great many speculations about the sexton’s fate, at first, but it was speedily determined that he had been carried away by the goblins; and there were not wanting some very credible witnesses who had distinctly seen him whisked through the air on the back of a chestnut horse, blind of one eye, with the hindquarters of a lion and the tail of a bear. At length all this was devoutly believed; and the new sexton used to exhibit to the curious, for a trifling emolument, a goodsized piece of the church weather-cock which had been accidentally picked up by himself in the churchyard a year or two afterwards.

Unfortunately, these stories were somewhat disturbed by the unlooked for reappearance of Gabriel Grub himself, some ten years afterwards, a ragged, contented, rheumatic old man. He told his story to the clergyman, and also to the mayor; and in the course of time it began to be received, as a matter of history, in which form it has continued down to this very day. The believers in the weathercock tale, having misplaced their confidence once, were not easily prevailed upon to part with it again, so they looked as wise as they could, shrugged their shoulders, touched their foreheads, and murmured something about Gabriel Grub having drunk all the Hollands, and then fallen asleep on the flat tombstone; and the affected to explain what he supposed he had witnessed in the goblins’ cavern by saying that he had seen the world and grown wiser. But this opinion, which was by no means a popular one at any time, gradually died off; and be the matter how it may, as Gabriel Grub was afflicted with rheumatism to the end of his days, this story has at least one moral, if it teach no better one - and that is, that if a man turn sulky and drink by himself at Christmas time, he may make up his mind to be not a bit the better for it: let the spirits be never so good, or let them be even as many degrees beyond proof, as those which Gabriel Grub saw in the goblins’ cavern.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Told After Supper ~ Jerome K. Jerome

Jerome Klapka Jerome (1859~1927), author of the comic masterpiece Three Men in a Boat, needs no introduction. But many who admire his humorous classic are unaware that he wrote a number of ghost stories.

Told After Supper was Jerome's only volume comprised entirely of ghost stories. It was published in 1891 by The Leadenhall Press and contains linked tales, interspersed with over ninety wonderful illustrations by Kenneth M. Skeaping, one of which you can see below, all printed on thick pale blue paper. It really is a lovely book, and a funny one; these tales are intended to make you chuckle in amusement, not scream in terror.

The narrator tells us that it is Christmas Eve at his Uncle John's, at no. 47 Laburnum Grove, Tooting. Christmas eve... the only night in the year on which it is considered correct, within the regulations of English society, to tell ghost stories. Indeed, the only night on which most ghosts think it fit that they should appear. Generally speaking, we are told, ghosts do not go frightening people on Christmas Day, mainly because they have worn themselves out haunting people the night before.
'Christmas Eve is the ghosts' great gala night. On Christmas Eve they hold their annual fête. On Christmas Eve everybody in Ghostland who is anybody - or rather, speaking of ghosts, one should say, I suppose, every nobody who is any nobody - comes out to show himself or herself, to see and to be seen, to promenade about and display their winding-sheets and grave-clothes to each other, to criticise one another's style, and sneer at one another's complexion.'
The party consists of the narrator, old Dr Scrubbles, the local curate, Mr Samuel Coombes, Teddy Biffles and Uncle John, all of whom have been at the punch and are much the merrier for it. Somehow or other, they find themselves telling ghost stories.

'Johnson and Emily, or The Faithful Ghost' was Teddy Biffles' story, and it is all about Johnson, the old fellow who haunts Teddy's family's home, 10 pm to 4 am as a rule, and 10 'til 2 on Saturdays. The old ghost is harmless, but the family, being fed up of his consant moaning, which doesn't half interfere with card games and house parties, decides to try to get him out of the house.

Dr Scrubbles goes next, but the narrator can't tell us his story, despite it being the best of the lot, as he can't make any sense of it. So on we go to Mr Coomes' tale: 'The Haunted Mill, or The Ruined Home'. Mr Coombes' brother-in-law, Mr Parkins, takes a lease on a mill in Surrey that is said to contain treasure, hidden long ago by a wicked old miser. The old miser's ghost starts appearing to him, and Parkins sets about knocking holes in things, trying to find the old man's loot.

The local curate's story is a nonsensical epic, containing a cast of thousands, that nobody understands. So Uncle John tells his story, 'The Ghost of the Blue Chamber', which he claims is true. He explains that the house they are in - the Blue Chamber to be precise - is haunted by the ghost of a sinful man, who killed a number of musical performers, including a Christmas wait (a street singer of Christmas carols), who he did in with a lump of coal, just as he opened his mouth for B flat. Every year, the sinful man's ghost does battle with the musicians he did away with. The narrator immediately announces that he will spend a night in the Blue Chamber, and his account of the events of that night follows after 'A Personal Explanation'.

In the narrator's story, the ghost of the sinful man appears and is more than happy to discuss his musician-murdering exploits. He did away with so many and was kept so busy doing it that 'there were few ghosts who could look back upon a life of more sustained usefulness.' He did not just do away with the musically inclined, though; more than one muffin-man had been lured into a passage and muffined to death. This last section is my favourite part of the book.

A very good, sound copy of Told After Supper will set you back anything from thirty pounds upwards (that's about $50), but generally speaking copies turn up in pretty bad shape; the covers are usually soiled and the pages tend to come away, which is a shame because it's such a nicely put together book. There is a free Kindle edition available at Amazon, but I don't know how good it is (I don't suppose it has the illustrations, which are such an important part of the book). 

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Ghosties and Ghoulies ~ Francis C. Prevot

Francis Clare Prevot (1887~1967) was born in France, but he lived most of his life in England. Prevot was educated at Blundell’s School, Tiverton, in Devon. During the First World War, he served in the Royal Naval Air Service and the 15th London Regiment. After the war, he became a barrister and in 1922 was called to the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple.*

Ghosties and Ghoulies, Prevot's second book, was first published in 1923 by Chelsea Publishing Co., in boards with a pictorial cover by A. Wyndham Payne. All of the stories, aside from 'The Three Officers', had previously appeared in the weekly magazine Brighter London, which appears to have imposed a low word limit. All of Prevot's twenty-one tales are very short - no more than around a thousand words in length. And as M. R. James said, 'one very desirable quality in a ghost story is leisureliness', something that Prevot was not allowed by Brighter London.

The 1923 edition of Ghosties and Ghoulies is a very rare book; I've never seen a copy. But Phantasm Press issued a paperback edition in 2013, using the original cover image and interior illustrations (see image above). The tales included in both editions are: 'The Three Officers', 'Where the Dead Man Sleeps', 'The Amber Bead', 'The Skull', 'The Ring', 'The Silence at No. 15', 'The Cup of Sacrifice', 'The Shadow', 'The Mirror', 'The Wardrobe', 'The Watercolour Drawing', 'Out of the Depths', 'The Visitor', 'Nemesis', 'The Empty House', 'The Understudy', 'The Empty Box', 'The Devil's Door', 'The Galloper', 'The Devil Worshipper', 'The Tempter'.

'The Skull' is an entertaining tale. Marston, a surgeon, is bored stiff at dinner by his host's account of finding a skull with his spade whilst making the foundations for a rock garden. Having taken his host's archaeological find to his room, promising a detailed examination in daylight, Marston is almost frightened out of his wits when the skull's owner turns out to have rather more life in him than expected.

Readers of ghost stories are used to creepy sounds: creaking floorboards, the footsteps of persons unseen, bumps and bangs, scrapings at casements, and so on. But it is the absence of sound which haunts poor Miss Amelia in 'The Silence at No. 15'. It is silence that threatens Miss Amelia's sanity... a menacing stillness that hangs about the rooms of the house she rents, 'malevolent, horrible, and implacable'.

In 'The Watercolour Drawing', Bailey, a scholarly middle-aged bachelor writing a book about the Early English Watercolour Painters, discovers that when you purchase a painting you can end up acquiring rather more than you bargained for.

The narrator of 'The Visitor', having discovered a notebook in his lodgings behind Euston Station, tells the story of the previous inhabitant of the room, a medical student who was tormented by nightly visits from a stranger.

In 'The Empty Box', Keith Lovel McKenzie is exploring the library of the Scottish mansion he's just inherited when he discovers the musty old diary of his ancestor, which refers to a 'Power' being buried on an island about a mile from the mainland. Now, as all readers of ghost stories know, when you find an old diary, written by someone reputed to have dabbled in the dark arts, that refers to something being buried for good reason, you shouldn't go digging that something up and letting things loose. But McKenzie, obviously not a reader of ghost stories, goes digging things up and letting them loose to his heart's content... and suffers the consequences.

Although not every one of Prevot's ghosts are malevolent, the majority are, and they can do more than frighten their victims; they can torment them, kill them or steal their mortal bodies. As I said, Brighter London seems to have imposed a low word limit, restricting the length and scope of Prevot's tales considerably, but he did remarkably well all the same. Prevot's tales are enjoyable and entertaining, and it's a shame that he produced only this slim volume of stories. I can't help wondering what the result would have been if he'd been been allowed more space in the magazine or had gone on to produce more books.

The Phantasm Press paperback includes Prevot's article 'A Plea for the Ghost Story', whch was originally published in The Bookman’s Journal & Print Collector in November 1919. Phantasm's little volume of 96 pages costs £7.50 (plus p&p). It's available from places like Amazon's Marketplace or ebay.

You may have heard of Prevot before (although he's all but forgotten now), but you may not know that he was an artist. In 1996, Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre mounted a small exhibition of his work. The sketch above is of Bleeding Heart Yard, (which you may remember from Dickens' Little Dorrit). It was drawn in 1953, when Prevot was living in Red Lion Square.

* According to the Middle Temple Register of Admissions, he was called on the 22nd of January 1922, at which time he was living at 16 Bedford Place, Russell Square, London. He was the only son of Francis Clare Prevot.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A Strange Christmas Game ~ Mrs J. H. Riddell

Mrs J. H. Riddell (1832 ~ 1906) wrote some of the most original ghost stories of the nineteenth century. She was a born story-teller and a prolific writer; so prolific that she lost track of what had been published where. She was the author of over forty novels and numerous short stories, many of which were written under a psuedonym or published anonymously. According to Stuart Marsh Ellis,* 'Mrs. Riddell was an admirable verbal raconteur of ghostly tales around the fireside, for she told such stories with all the added wealth of her Irish imaginativeness and sense of drama and humour.' In Mrs Riddell's tales, a ramshackle old house is often at the centre of the drama, as is the case in 'A Strange Christmas Game', first published in 1868. That is the tale that I am offering up today. 

* Wilkie Collins, Le Fanu and Others by S. M Ellis (Constable & Co., London, 1931).

A STRANGE CHRISTMAS GAME
by Mrs J. H. Riddell
First published in London Society Christmas issue 
and the Broadway Annual, 1868

WHEN, through the death of a distant relative, I, John Lester, succeeded to the Martingdale Estate, there could not have been found in the length and breadth of England a happier pair than myself and my only sister Clare.

We were not such utter hypocrites as to affect sorrow for the loss of our kinsman, Paul Lester, a man whom we had never seen, of whom we had heard but little, and that little unfavourable, at whose hands we had never received a single benefit - who was, in short, as great a stranger to us as the then Prime Minister, the Emperor of Russia, or any other human being utterly removed from our extremely humble sphere of life.

His loss was very certainly our gain. His death represented to us, not a dreary parting from one long loved and highly honoured, but the accession of lands, houses, consideration, wealth, to myself - John Lester, artist and second-floor lodger at 32, Great Smith Street, Bloomsbury.

Not that Martingdale was much of an estate as country properties go. The Lesters who had succeeded to that domain from time to time during the course of a few hundred years, could by no stretch of courtesy have been called prudent men. In regard of their posterity they were, indeed, scarcely honest, for they parted with manors and farms, with common rights and advowsons, in a manner at once so baronial and so unbusiness-like, that Martingdale at length in the hands of Jeremy Lester, the last resident owner, melted to a mere little dot in the map of Bedfordshire.

Concerning this Jeremy Lester there was a mystery. No man could say what had become of him. He was in the oak parlour at Martingdale one Christmas Eve, and before the next morning he had disappeared - to reappear in the flesh no more.

Over night, one Mr Wharley, a great friend and boon companion of Jeremy’s, had sat playing cards with him until after twelve o’clock chimes, then he took leave of his host and rode home under the moonlight. After that no person, as far as could be ascertained, ever saw Jeremy Lester alive.

His ways of life had not been either the most regular, or the most respectable, and it was not until a new year had come in without any tidings of his whereabouts reaching the house, that his servants became seriously alarmed concerning his absence.

Then enquiries were set on foot concerning him - enquiries which grew more urgent as weeks and months passed by without the slightest clue being obtained as to his whereabouts. Rewards were offered, advertisements inserted, but still Jeremy made no sign; and so in course of time the heir-at-law, Paul Lester, took possession of the house, and went down to spend the summer months at Martingdale with his rich wife, and her four children by a first husband. Paul Lester was a barrister - an over-worked barrister, who everyone supposed would be glad enough to leave the bar and settle at Martingdale, where his wife’s money and the fortune he had accumulated could not have failed to give him a good standing even among the neighbouring country families; and perhaps it was with such intention that he went down into Bedfordshire.

If this were so, however, he speedily changed his mind, for with the January snows he returned to London, let off the land surrounding the house, shut up the Hall, put in a caretaker, and never troubled himself further about his ancestral seat.

Time went on, and people began to say the house was haunted, that Paul Lester had ‘seen something’, and so forth - all which stories were duly repeated for our benefit when, forty-one years after the disappearance of Jeremy Lester, Clare and I went down to inspect our inheritance.

I say ‘our’, because Clare had stuck bravely to me in poverty - grinding poverty, and prosperity was not going to part us now. What was mine was hers, and that she knew, God bless her, without my needing to tell her so.

The transition from rigid economy to comparative wealth was in our case the more delightful also, because we had not in the least degree anticipated it. We never expected Paul Lester’s shoes to come to us, and accordingly it was not upon our consciences that we had ever in our dreariest moods wished him dead.

Had he made a will, no doubt we never should have gone to Martingdale, and I, consequently, never written this story; but, luckily for us, he died intestate, and the Bedfordshire property came to me.

As for the fortune, he had spent it in travelling, and in giving great entertainments at his grand house in Portman Square. Concerning his effects, Mrs Lester and I came to a very amicable arrangement, and she did me the honour of inviting me to call upon her occasionally, and, as I heard, spoke of me as a very worthy and presentable young man ‘for my station’, which, of course, coming from so good an authority, was gratifying. Moreover, she asked me if I intended residing at Martingdale, and on my replying in the affirmative, hoped I should like it.

It struck me at the time that there was a certain significance in her tone, and when I went down to Martingdale and heard the absurd stories which were afloat concerning the house being haunted, I felt confident that if Mrs Lester had hoped much, she had feared more.

People said Mr Jeremy ‘walked’ at Martingdale. He had been seen, it was averred, by poachers, by gamekeepers, by children who had come to use the park as a near cut to school, by lovers who kept their tryst under the elms and beeches.

As for the caretaker and his wife, the third in residence since Jeremy Lester’s disappearance, the man gravely shook his head when questioned, while the woman stated that wild horses, or even wealth untold, should not draw her into the red bedroom, nor into the oak parlour, after dark.

‘I have heard my mother tell, sir - it was her as followed old Mrs Reynolds, the first caretaker - how there were things went on in these self same rooms as might make any Christian’s hair stand on end. Such stamping, and swearing, and knocking about on furniture; and then tramp, tramp, up the great staircase; and along the corridor and so into the red bedroom, and then bang, and tramp, tramp again. They do say, sir, Mr Paul Lester met him once, and from that time the oak parlour has never been opened. I never was inside it myself.’

Upon hearing which fact, the first thing I did was to proceed to the oak parlour, open the shutters, and let the August sun stream in upon the haunted chamber. It was an old-fashioned, plainly furnished apartment, with a large table in the centre, a smaller in a recess by the fire-place, chairs ranged against the walls, and a dusty moth-eaten carpet upon the floor. There were dogs on the hearth, broken and rusty; there was a brass fender, tarnished and battered; a picture of some sea-fight over the mantel-piece, while another work of art about equal in merit hung between the windows. Altogether, an utterly prosaic and yet not uncheerful apartment, from out of which the ghosts flitted as soon as daylight was let into it, and which I proposed, as soon as I ‘felt my feet’, to redecorate, refurnish, and convert into a pleasant morning-room. I was still under thirty, but I had learned prudence in that very good school, Necessity; and it was not my intention to spend much money until I had ascertained for certain what were the actual revenues derivable from the lands still belonging to the Martingdale estates, and the charges upon them. In fact, I wanted to know what I was worth before committing myself to any great extravagances, and the place had for so long been neglected, that I experienced some difficulty in arriving at the state of my real income.

But in the meanwhile, Clare and I found great enjoyment in exploring every nook and corner of our domain, in turning over the contents of old chests and cupboards, in examining the faces of our ancestors looking down on us from the walls, in walking through the neglected gardens, full of weeds, overgrown with shrubs and birdweed, where the boxwood was eighteen feet high, and the shoots of the rosetrees yards long. I have put the place in order since then; there is no grass on the paths, there are no trailing brambles over the ground, the hedges have been cut and trimmed, and the trees pruned and the boxwood clipped. But I often say nowadays that in spite of all my improvements, or rather, in consequence of them, Martingdale does not look one half so pretty as it did in its pristine state of uncivilised picturesqueness.

Although I determined not to commence repairing and decorating the house till better informed concerning the rental of Martingdale, still the state of my finances was so far satisfactory that Clare and I decided on going abroad to take our long-talked-of holiday before the fine weather was past. We could not tell what a year might bring forth, as Clare sagely remarked; it was wise to take our pleasure while we could; and accordingly, before the end of August arrived we were wandering about the continent, loitering at Rouen, visiting the galleries at Paris, and talking of extending our one month of enjoyment into three. What decided me on this course was the circumstance of our becoming acquainted with an English family who intended wintering in Rome. We met accidentally, but discovering that we were near neighbours in England - in fact that Mr Cronson’s property lay close beside Martingdale - the slight acquaintance soon ripened into intimacy, and ere long we were travelling in company.

From the first, Clare did not much like this arrangement. There was ‘a little girl’ in England she wanted me to marry, and Mr Cronson had a daughter who certainly was both handsome and attractive. The little girl had not despised John Lester, artist, while Miss Cronson indisputably set her cap at John Lester of Martingdale, and would have turned away her pretty face from a poor man’s admiring glance - all this I can see plainly enough now, but I was blind then and should have proposed for Maybel - that was her name - before the winter was over, had news not suddenly arrived of the illness of Mrs Cronson, senior. In a moment the programme was changed; our pleasant days of foreign travel were at an end. The Cronsons packed up and departed, while Clare and I returned more slowly to England, a little out of humour, it must be confessed, with each other.

It was the middle of November when we arrived at Martingdale, and we found the place anything but romantic or pleasant. The walks were wet and sodden, the trees were leafless, there were no flowers save a few late pink roses blooming in the garden.

It had been a wet season, and the place looked miserable. Clare would not ask Alice down to keep her company in the winter months, as she had intended; and for myself, the Cronsons were still absent in Norfolk, where they meant to spend Christmas with old Mrs Cronson, now recovered.

Altogether, Martingdale seemed dreary enough, and the ghost stories we had laughed at while sunshine flooded the rooms became less unreal when we had nothing but blazing fires and wax candles to dispel the gloom. They became more real also when servant after servant left us to seek situations elsewhere; when ‘noises’ grew frequent in the house; when we ourselves, Clare and I, with our own ears heard the tramp, tramp, the banging and the clattering which had been described to us.

My dear reader, you are doubtless free from superstitious fancies. You pooh-pooh the existence of ghosts, and only ‘wish you could find a haunted house in which to spend a night’, which is all very brave and praiseworthy, but wait till you are left in a dreary, desolate old country mansion, filled with the most unaccountable sounds, without a servant, with no one save an old caretaker and his wife, who, living at the extremest end of the building, heard nothing of the tramp, tramp, bang, bang, going on at all hours of the night.

At first I imagine the noises were produced by some evil-disposed persons who wished, for purposes of their own, to keep the house uninhabited; but by degrees Clare and I came to the conclusion the visitation must be supernatural, and Martingdale by consequence untenantable. Still being practical people, and unlike our predecessors, not having money to live where and how we liked, we decided to watch and see whether we could trace any human influence in the matter. If not, it was agreed we were to pull down the right wing of the house and the principal staircase.

For nights and nights we sat up till two or three o’clock in the morning; but just to test the matter, I determined on Christmas-eve, the anniversary of Mr Jeremy Lester’s disappearance, to keep watch by myself in the red bed-chamber. Even to Clare I never mentioned my intention.

About ten, tired out with our previous vigils, we each retired to rest. Somewhat ostentatiously, perhaps, I noisily shut the door of my room, and when I opened it half an hour afterwards, no mouse could have pursued its way along the corridor with greater silence and caution than myself.

Quite in the dark I sat in the red room. For over an hour I might as well have been in my grave for anything I could see in the apartment; but at the end of that time the moon rose and cast strange lights across the floor and upon the wall of the haunted chamber.

Hitherto I had kept my watch opposite the window; now I changed my place to a corner near the door, where I was shaded from observation by the heavy hangings of the bed, and an antique wardrobe.

Still I sat on, but still no sound broke the silence. I was weary with many nights’ watching; and tired of my solitary vigil, I dropped at last into a slumber from which I was awakened by hearing the door softly opened.

‘John,’ said my sister, almost in a whisper; ‘John, are you here?’

‘Yes, Clare,’ I answered; ‘but what are you doing up at this hour?’

‘Come downstairs,’ she replied; ‘they are in the oak parlour.’

I did not need any explanation as to whom she meant, but crept downstairs, after her, warned by an uplifted hand of the necessity for silence and caution.

By the door - by the open door of the oak parlour, she paused, and we both looked in.

There was the room we left in darkness overnight, with a bright wood fire blazing on the hearth, candles on the chimney-piece, the small table pulled out from its accustomed corner, and two men seated beside it, playing at cribbage.

We could see the face of the younger player; it was that of a man of about five-and-twenty, of a man who had lived hard and wickedly; who had wasted his substance and his health; who had been while in the flesh, Jeremy Lester. It would be difficult for me to say how I knew this, how in a moment I identified the features of the player with those of a man who had been missing for forty-one years - forty-one years that very night. He was dressed in the costume of a bygone period; his hair was powdered, and round his wrists there were ruffles of lace.

He looked like one who, having come from some great party had sat down after his return home to play at cards with an intimate friend. On his little finger there sparkled a ring, in the front of his shirt there gleamed a valuable diamond. There were diamond buckles in his shoes, and, according to the fashion of his time, he wore knee-breeches and silk stockings, which showed off advantageously the shape of a remarkably good leg and ankle.

He sat opposite to the door, but never once lifted his eyes to it. His attention seemed concentrated on the cards.

For a time there was utter silence in the room, broken only by the monotonous counting of the game.

In the doorway we stood, holding our breath, terrified, and yet fascinated by the scene which was being acted before us.

The ashes dropped on the hearth softly and like the snow; we could hear the rustle of the cards as they were dealt out and fell upon the table: we listened to the count - fifteen-one, fifteen-two, and so forth - but there was no other word spoken till at length the player whose face we could not see, exclaimed, ‘I win; the game is mine.’

Then his opponent took up the cards, sorted them over negligently in his hand, put them close together, and flung the whole pack in his guest’s face, exclaiming, ‘Cheat! Liar! Take that!’

There was a bustle and a confusion - a flinging over of chairs, and fierce gesticulation, and such a noise of passionate voices mingling, that we could not hear a sentence which was uttered.

All at once, however, Jeremy Lester strode out of the room in so great a hurry that he almost touched us where we stood; out of the room, and tramp, tramp up the staircase, to the red room, whence he descended in a few minutes with a couple of rapiers under his arm.

When he re-entered the room he gave, as it seemed to us, the other man his choice of the weapons, and then he flung open the window, and after ceremoniously giving place to his opponent to pass out first, he walked forth into the night-air, Clare and I following.

We went through the garden and down a narrow winding walk to a smooth piece of turf sheltered from the north by a plantation of young fir-trees. It was a bright moonlit night by this time, and we could distinctly see Jeremy Lester measuring off the ground.

‘When you say “three”,’ he said to the man whose back was still toward us. They had drawn lots for the ground, and the lot had fallen against Mr Lester. He stood thus with the moonbeams falling full upon him, and a handsomer fellow I would never desire to behold.

‘One,’ began the other; ‘two’, and before our kinsman hd the slightest suspicion of his design, he was upon him, and his rapier through Jeremy Lester’s breast. At the sight of that cowardly treachery, Clare screamed aloud. In a moment the combatants had disappeared, the moon was obscured behind a cloud, and we were standing in the shadow of the fir-plantation, shivering with cold and terror.

But we knew at last what had become of the late owner of Martingdale: that he had fallen, not in fair fight, but foully murdered by a false friend.

When, late on Christmas morning, I awoke, it was to see a white world, to behold the ground, and trees, and shrubs all laden and covered with snow. There was snow everywhere, such snow as no person could remember having fallen for forty-one years.

‘It was on just such a Christmas as this that Mr Jeremy disappeared,’ remarked the old sexton to my sister, who had insisted on dragging me through the snow to church, whereupon Clare fainted away and was carried into the vestry, where I made a full confession to the Vicar of all we had beheld the previous night.

At first that worthy individual rather inclined to treat the matter lightly, but when a fortnight after, the snow melted away and the fir-plantation came to be examined, he confessed there might be more things in heaven and earth than his limited philosophy had dreamed of.

In a little clear space just within the plantation, Jeremy Lester’s body was found. We knew it by the ring and the diamond buckles, and the sparkling breast-pin; and Mr Cronson, who in his capacity as magistrate came over to inspect these relics, was visibly perturbed at my narrative.

‘Pray, Mr Lester, did you in your dream see the face of - of the gentleman - your kinsman’s opponent?’

‘No,’ I answered, ‘he sat and stood with his back to us all the time.’

‘There is nothing more, of course, to be done in the matter,’ observed Mr Cronson.

‘Nothing,’ I replied; and there the affair would doubtless have terminated, but that a few days afterwards when we were dining at Cronson Park, Clare all of a sudden dropped the glass of water she was carrying to her lips, and exclaiming, ‘Look, John, there he is!’ rose from her seat, and with a face as white as the tablecloth, pointed to a portrait hanging on the wall.

‘I saw him for an instant when he turned his head towards the door as Jeremy Lester left it,’ she exclaimed; ‘that is he.’

Of what followed after this identification I have only the vaguest recollection. Servants rushed hither and thither; Mrs Cronson dropped off her chair into hysterics; the young ladies gathered round their mamma; Mr Cronson, trembling like one in an ague fit, attempted some kind of explanation, while Clare kept praying to be taken away - only to be taken away.

I took her away, not merely from Cronson Park, but from Martingdale. Before we left the latter place, however, I had an interview with Mr Cronson, who said the portrait Clare had identified was that of his wife’s father, the last person who saw Jeremy Lester alive.

‘He is an old man now,’ finished Mr Cronson, ‘a man of over eighty, who has confessed everything to me. You won’t bring further sorrow and disgrace upon us by making this matter public?’

I promised him I would keep silence, but the story gradually oozed out, and the Cronsons left the country.

My sister never returned to Martingdale; she married and is living in London. Though I assure her there are no strange noises now in my house, she will not visit Bedfordshire, where the ‘little girl’ she wanted me so long ago to ‘think seriously of’, is now my wife and the mother of my children

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Another Past Lodger Relates His Own Ghost Story

Amelia B. Edwards (1831 ~ 1892) was a frequent contributor to Dickens' All the Year Round during the 1860s, and became one of the select group of writers who contributed ghost stories to his special Christmas numbers. One of Amelia Edwards' most well known ghost stories is 'The Phantom Coach', which was originally published in the Christmas edition of All the Year Round in 1864, under the title 'Another Past Lodger Relates His Own Ghost Story'. Wonderfully atmospheric, it's the perfect tale for a chilly winter evening.

ANOTHER PAST LODGER RELATES
HIS OWN GHOST STORY
by Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards 
Taken from All the Year Round, Volume XII,
Christmas, 1st December 1864

The circumstances I am about to relate to you have truth to recommend them. They happened to myself, and my recollection of them is as vivid as if they had taken place only yesterday. Twenty years, however, have gone by since that night. During those twenty years I have told the story to but one other person. I tell it now with a reluctance which I find it difficult to overcome. All I entreat, meanwhile, is that you will abstain from forcing your own conclusions upon me. I want nothing explained away. I desire no arguments. My mind on this subject is quite made up, and, having the testimony of my own senses to rely upon, I prefer to abide by it.

Well! It was just twenty years ago, and within a day or two of the end of the grouse season. I had been out all day with my gun, and had had no sport to speak of. The wind was due east; the month, December; the place, a bleak wide moor in the far north of England. And I had lost my way. It was not a pleasant place in which to lose one’s way, with the first feathery flakes of a coming snowstorm just fluttering down upon the heather, and the leaden evening closing in all around. I shaded my eyes with my hand, and stalked anxiously into the gathering darkness, where the purple moorland melted into a range of low hills, some ten or twelve miles distant. Not the faintest smoke-wreath, not the tiniest cultivated patch, or fence, or sheep-track, met my eyes in any direction. There was nothing for it but to walk on, and take my chance of finding what shelter I could, by the way. So I shouldered my gun again, and pushed wearily forward; for I had been on foot since an hour after daybreak, and had eaten nothing since breakfast.

Meanwhile, the snow began to come down with ominous steadiness, and the wind fell. After this, the cold became more intense, and the night came rapidly up. As for me, my prospects darkened with the darkening sky, and my heart grew heavy as I thought how my young wife was already watching for me through the window of our little inn parlour, and thought of all the suffering in store for her throughout this weary night. We had been married four months, and, having spent our autumn in the Highlands, were now lodging in a remote little village situated just on the verge of the great English moorlands. We were very much in love, and, of course, very happy. This morning, when we parted, she had implored me to return before dusk, and I had promised her that I would. What would I not have given to have kept my word!

Even now, weary as I was, I felt that with a supper, an hour’s rest, and a guide, I might still get back to her before midnight, if only guide and shelter could be found.

And all this time, the snow fell and the night thickened. I stopped and shouted every now and then, but my shouts seemed only to make the silence deeper. Then a vague sense of uneasiness came upon me, and I began to remember stories of travellers who had walked on and on in the falling snow until, wearied out, they were fain to lie down and sleep their lives away. Would it be possible, I asked myself, to keep on thus through all the long dark night? Would there not come a time when my limbs must fail, and my resolution give way? When I, too, must sleep the sleep of death. Death! I shuddered. How hard to die just now, when life lay all so bright before me! How hard for my darling, whose whole loving heart - but that thought was not to be borne! To banish it, I shouted again, louder and longer, and then listened eagerly. Was my shout answered, or did I only fancy that I heard a far-off cry? I halloed again, and again the echo followed. Then a wavering speck of light came suddenly out of the dark, shifting, disappearing, growing momentarily nearer and brighter. Running towards it at full speed, I found myself, to my great joy, face to face with an old man and a lantern.

“Thank God!” was the exclamation that burst involuntarily from my lips.

Blinking and frowning, he lifted his lantern and peered into my face.

“What for?” growled he, sulkily.

“Well - for you. I began to fear I should be lost in the snow.”

“Eh, then, folks do get cast away hereabouts fra’ time to time, an’ what’s to hinder you from bein’ cast away likewise, if the Lord’s so minded?”

“If the Lord is so minded that you and I shall be lost together, friend, we must submit,” I replied; “but I don’t mean to be lost without you. How far am I now from Dwolding?”

“A gude twenty mile, more or less.”

“And the nearest village?”

“The nearest village is Wyke, an’ that’s twelve mile t’other side.”

“Where do you live, then?”

“Out yonder,” said he, with a vague jerk of the lantern.

“You’re going home, I presume?”

“Maybe I am.”

“Then I’m going with you.”

The old man shook his head, and rubbed his nose reflectively with the handle of the lantern.

“It ain’t o’ no use,” growled he. “He ‘ont let you in - not he.”

“We’ll see about that,” I replied, briskly. “Who is He?”

“The master.”

“Who is the master?”

“That’s nowt to you,” was the unceremonious reply.

“Well, well; you lead the way, and I’ll engage that the master shall give me shelter and a supper to-night.”

“Eh, you can try him!” muttered my reluctant guide; and, still shaking his head, he hobbled, gnome-like, away through the falling snow. A large mass loomed up presently out of the darkness, and a huge dog rushed out, barking furiously.

“Is this the house?” I asked.

“Ay, it’s the house. Down, Bey!” And he fumbled in his pocket for the key.

I drew up close behind him, prepared to lose no chance of entrance, and saw in the little circle of light shed by the lantern that the door was heavily studded with iron nails, like the door of a prison. In another minute he had turned the key and I had pushed past him into the house.

Once inside, I looked round with curiosity, and found myself in a great raftered hall, which served, apparently, a variety of uses. One end was piled to the roof with corn, like a barn. The other was stored with flour-sacks, agricultural implements, casks, and all kinds of miscellaneous lumber; while from the beams overhead hung rows of hams, flitches, and bunches of dried herbs for winter use. In the centre of the floor stood some huge object gauntly dressed in a dingy wrapping-cloth, and reaching half way to the rafters. Lifting a corner of this cloth, I saw, to my surprise, a telescope of very considerable size, mounted on a rude moveable platform, with four small wheels. The tube was made of painted wood, bound round with bands of metal rudely fashioned; the speculum, so far as I could estimate its size in the dim light, measured at least fifteen inches in diameter. While I was yet examining the instrument, and asking myself whether it was not the work of some self-taught optician, a bell rang sharply.

“That’s for you,” said my guide, with a malicious grin. “Yonder’s his room.”

He pointed to a low black door at the opposite side of the hall. I crossed over, rapped somewhat loudly, and went in, without waiting for an invitation. A huge, white-haired old man rose from a table covered with books and papers, and confronted me sternly.

“Who are you?” said he. “How came you here? What do you want?”

“James Murray, barrister-at-law. On foot across the moor. Meat, drink, and sleep.”

He bent his bushy brows into a portentous frown.

“Mine is not a house of entertainment,” he said, haughtily. “Jacob, how dared you admit this stranger?”

“I didn’t admit him,” grumbled the old man. “He followed me over the muir, and shouldered his way in before me. I’m no match for six foot two.”

“And pray, sir, by what right have you forced an entrance into my house?”

“The same by which I should have clung to your boat, if I were drowning. The right of self-preservation.”

“Self-preservation?”

“There’s an inch of snow on the ground already,” I replied, briefly; “and it would be deep enough to cover my body before daybreak.”

He strode to the window, pulled aside a heavy black curtain, and looked out.

“It is true,” he said. “You can stay, if you choose, till morning. Jacob, serve the supper.”

With this he waved me to a seat, resumed his own, and became at once absorbed in the studies from which I had disturbed him.

I placed my gun in a corner, drew a chair to the hearth, and examined my quarters at leisure. Smaller and less incongruous in its arrangements than the hall, this room contained, nevertheless, much to awaken my curiosity. The floor was carpetless. The whitewashed walls were in parts scrawled over with strange diagrams, and in others covered with shelves crowded with philosophical instruments, the uses of many of which were unknown to me. On one side of the fireplace, stood a bookcase filled with dingy folios; on the other, a small organ, fantastically decorated with painted carvings of mediaeval saints and devils. Through the half-opened door of a cupboard at the further end of the room, I saw a long array of geological specimens, surgical preparations, crucibles, retorts, and jars of chemicals; while on the mantelshelf beside me, amid a number of small objects, stood a model of the solar system, a small galvanic battery, and a microscope. Every chair had its burden. Every corner was heaped high with books. The very floor was littered over with maps, casts, papers, tracings, and learned lumber of all conceivable kinds.

I stared about me with an amazement increased by every fresh object upon which my eyes chanced to rest. So strange a room I had never seen; yet seemed it stranger still, to find such a room in a lone farmhouse amid those wild and solitary moors! Over and over again, I looked from my host to his surroundings, and from his surroundings back to my host, asking myself who and what he could be? His head was singularly fine; but it was more the head of a poet than of a philosopher. Broad in the temples, prominent over the eyes, and clothed with a rough profusion of perfectly white hair, it had all the ideality and much of the ruggedness that characterises the head of Louis von Beethoven. There were the same deep lines about the mouth, and the same stern furrows in the brow. There was the same concentration of expression. While I was yet observing him, the door opened, and Jacob brought in the supper. His master then closed his book, rose, and with more courtesy of manner than he had yet shown, invited me to the table.

A dish of ham and eggs, a loaf of brown bread, and a bottle of admirable sherry, were placed before me.

“I have but the homeliest farm-house fare to offer you, sir,” said my entertainer. “Your appetite, I trust, will make up for the deficiencies of our larder.”

I had already fallen upon the viands, and now protested, with the enthusiasm of a starving sportsman, that I had never eaten anything so delicious.

He bowed stiffly, and sat down to his own supper, which consisted, primitively, of a jug of milk and a basin of porridge. We ate in silence, and, when we had done, Jacob removed the tray. I then drew my chair back to the fireside. My host, somewhat to my surprise, did the same, and turning abruptly towards me, said:

“Sir, I have lived here in strict retirement for three-and-twenty years. During that time, I have not seen as many strange faces, and I have not read a single newspaper. You are the first stranger who has crossed my threshold for more than four years. Will you favour me with a few words of information respecting that outer world from which I have parted company so long?”

“Pray interrogate me,” I replied. “I am heartily at your service.”

He bent his head in acknowledgment; leaned forward, with his elbows resting on his knees and his chin supported in the palms of his hands; stared fixedly into the fire; and proceeded to question me.

His inquiries related chiefly to scientific matters, with the later progress of which, as applied to the practical purposes of life, he was almost wholly unacquainted. No student of science myself, I replied as well as my slight information permitted; but the task was far from easy, and I was much relieved when, passing from interrogation to discussion, he began pouring forth his own conclusions upon the facts which I had been attempting to place before him. He talked, and I listened spellbound. He talked till I believe he almost forgot my presence, and only thought aloud. I had never heard anything like it then; I have never heard anything like it since. Familiar with all systems of all philosophies, subtle in analysis, bold in generalisation, he poured forth his thoughts in an uninterrupted stream, and, still leaning forward in the same moody attitude with his eyes fixed upon the fire, wandered from topic to topic, from speculation to speculation, like an inspired dreamer. From practical science to mental philosophy; from electricity in the wire to electricity in the nerve; from Watts to Mesmer, from Mesmer to Reichenbach, from Reichenbach to Swedenborg, Spinoza, Condillac, Descartes, Berkeley, Aristotle, Plato, and the Magi and mystics of the East, were transitions which, however bewildering in their variety and scope, seemed easy and harmonious upon his lips as sequences in music. By-and-by I forget now by what link of conjecture or illustration he passed on to that field which lies beyond the boundary line of even conjectural philosophy, and reaches no man knows whither. He spoke of the soul and its aspirations; of the spirit and its powers; of second sight; of prophecy; of those phenomena which, under the names of ghosts, spectres, and supernatural appearances, have been denied by the sceptics and attested by the credulous, of all ages.

“The world,” he said, “grows hourly more and more sceptical of all that lies beyond its own narrow radius; and our men of science foster the fatal tendency. They condemn as fable all that resists experiment. They reject as false all that cannot be brought to the test of the laboratory or the dissecting-room. Against what superstition have they waged so long and obstinate a war, as against the belief in apparitions? And yet what superstition has maintained its hold upon the minds of men so long and so firmly? Show me any fact in physics, in history, in archaeology, which is supported by testimony so wide and so various. Attested by all races of men, in all ages, and in all climates, by the soberest sages of antiquity, by the rudest savage of to-day, by the Christian, the Pagan, the Pantheist, the Materialist, this phenomenon is treated as a nursery tale by the philosophers of our century. Circumstantial evidence weighs with them as a feather in the balance. The comparison of causes with effects, however valuable in physical science, is put aside as worthless and unreliable. The evidence of competent witnesses, however conclusive in a court of justice, counts for nothing. He who pauses before he pronounces, is condemned as a trier. He who believes, is a dreamer or a fool.”

He spoke with bitterness, and, having said thus, relapsed for some minutes into silence. Presently he raised his head from his hands, and added, with an altered voice and manner,

“I, sir, paused, investigated, believed, and was not ashamed to state my convictions to the world. I, too, was branded as a visionary, held up to ridicule by my contemporaries, and hooted from that field of science in which I had laboured with honour during all the best years of my life. These things happened just three-and-twenty years ago. Since then, I have lived as you see me living now, and the world has forgotten me, as I have forgotten the world. You have my history.”

“It is a very sad one,” I murmured, scarcely knowing what to answer.

“It is a very common one,” he replied. “I have only suffered for the truth, as many a better and wiser man has suffered before me.”

He rose, as if desirous of ending the conversation, and went over to the window.

“It has ceased snowing,” he observed, as he dropped the curtain, and came back to the fireside.

“Ceased!” I exclaimed, starting eagerly to my feet. “Oh, if it were only possible - but no! it is hopeless. Even if I could find my way across the moor, I could not walk twenty miles to-night.”

“Walk twenty miles to-night!” repeated my host. “What are you thinking of?”

“Of my wife,” I replied, impatiently. “Of my young wife, who does not know that I have lost my way, and who is at this moment breaking her heart with suspense and terror.”

“Where is she?”

“At Dwolding, twenty miles away.”

“At Dwolding,” he echoed, thoughtfully. “Yes, the distance, it is true, is twenty miles; but are you so very anxious to save the next six or eight hours?”

“So very, very anxious, that I would give ten guineas at this moment for a guide and a horse.”

“Your wish can be gratified at a less costly rate,” said he, smiling. “The night mail from the north, which changes horses at Dwolding, passes within five miles of this spot, and will be due at a certain cross-road in about an hour and a quarter. If Jacob were to go with you across the moor, and put you into the old coach-road, you could find your way, I suppose, to where it joins the new one?”

“Easily - gladly.”

He smiled again, rang the bell, gave the old servant his directions, and, taking a bottle of whisky and a wine-glass from the cupboard in which he kept his chemicals, said:

“The snow lies deep, and it will be difficult walking to-night on the moor. A glass of usquebaugh before you start?”

I would have declined the spirit, but he pressed it on me, and I drank it. It went down my throat like liquid flame, and almost took my breath away.

“It is strong,” he said; “but it will help to keep out the cold. And now you have no moments to spare. Good night!”

I thanked him for his hospitality, and would have shaken hands, but that he had turned away before I could finish my sentence. In another minute I had traversed the hall, Jacob had locked the outer door behind me, and we were out on the wide white moor.

Although the wind had fallen, it was still bitterly cold. Not a star glimmered in the black vault overhead. Not a sound, save the rapid crunching of the snow beneath our feet, disturbed the heavy stillness of the night. Jacob, not too well pleased with his mission, shambled on before in sullen silence, his lantern in his hand, and his shadow at his feet. I followed, with my gun over my shoulder, as little inclined for conversation as himself. My thoughts were full of my late host. His voice yet rang in my ears. His eloquence yet held my imagination captive. I remember to this day, with surprise, how my over-excited brain retained whole sentences and parts of sentences, troops of brilliant images, and fragments of splendid reasoning, in the very words in which he had uttered them. Musing thus over what I had heard, and striving to recall a lost link here and there, I strode on at the heels of my guide, absorbed and unobservant. Presently - at the end, as it seemed to me, of only a few minute - he came to a sudden halt, and said:

“Yon’s your road. Keep the stone fence to your right hand, and you can’t fail of the way.”

“This, then, is the old coach-road?”

“Ay, ‘tis the old coach-road.”

“And how far do I go, before I reach the crossroads?”

“Nigh upon three mile.”

I pulled out my purse, and he became more communicative.

“The road’s a fair road enough,” said he, “for foot passengers; but ‘twas over steep and narrow for the northern traffic. You’ll mind where the parapet’s broken away, close again the signpost. It’s never been mended since the accident.”

“What accident?”

“Eh, the night mail pitched right over into the valley below - a gude fifty feet an’ more - just at the worst bit o’ road in the whole county.”

“Horrible! Were many lives lost?”

“All. Four were found dead, and t’other two died next morning.”

“How long is it since this happened?”

“Just nine year.”

“Near the sign-post, you say? I will bear it in mind. Good night.”

“Gude night, sir, and thankee.” Jacob pocketed his half-crown, made a faint pretence of touching his hat, and trudged back by the way he had come.

I watched the light of his lantern till it quite disappeared, and then turned to pursue my way alone. This was no longer matter of the slightest difficulty, for, despite the dead darkness overhead, the line of stone fence showed distinctly enough against the pale gleam of the snow. How silent it seemed now, with only my footsteps to listen to; how silent and how solitary! A strange disagreeable sense of loneliness stole over me. I walked faster. I hummed a fragment of a tune. I cast up enormous sums in my head, and accumulated them at compound interest. I did my best, in short, to forget the startling speculations to which I had but just been listening, and, to some extent, I succeeded.

Meanwhile the night air seemed to become colder and colder, and though I walked fast I found it impossible to keep myself warm. My feet were like ice. I lost sensation, in my hands, and grasped my gun mechanically. I even breathed with difficulty, as though, instead of traversing a quiet north country highway, I were scaling the uppermost heights of some gigantic Alp. This last symptom became presently so distressing, that I was forced to stop for a few minutes, and lean against the stone fence. As I did so, I chanced to look back up the road, and there, to my infinite relief, I saw a distant point of light, like the gleam of an approaching lantern. I at first concluded that Jacob had retraced his steps and followed me; but even as the conjecture presented itself, a second light flashed into sight - a light evidently parallel with the first, and approaching at the same rate of motion. It needed no second thought to show me that these must be the carriage-lamps of some private vehicle, though it seemed strange that any private vehicle should take a road professedly disused and dangerous.

There could be no doubt, however, of the fact, for the lamps grew larger and brighter every moment, and I even fancied I could already see the dark outline of the carriage between them. It was coming up very fast, and quite noiselessly, the snow being nearly a foot deep under the wheels.

And now the body of the vehicle became distinctly visible behind the lamps. It looked strangely lofty. A sudden suspicion flashed upon me. Was it possible that I had passed the cross-roads in the dark without observing the sign-post, and could this be the very coach which I had come to meet?

No need to ask myself that question a second time, for here it came round the bend of the road, guard and driver, one outside passenger, and four steaming greys, all wrapped in a soft haze of light, through which the lamps blazed out, like a pair of fiery meteors.

I jumped forward, waved my hat, and shouted. The mail came down at full speed, and passed me. For a moment I feared that I had not been seen or heard, but it was only for a moment. The coachman pulled up; the guard, muffled to the eyes in capes and comforters, and apparently sound asleep in the rumble, neither answered my hail nor made the slightest effort to dismount; the outside passenger did not even turn his head. I opened the door for myself, and looked in. There were but three travellers inside, so I stepped in, shut the door, slipped into the vacant corner, and congratulated myself on. my good fortune.

The atmosphere of the coach seemed, if possible, colder than that of the outer air, and was pervaded by a singularly damp and disagreeable smell. I looked round at my fellow-passengers. They were all three, men, and all silent. They did not seem to be asleep, but each leaned back in his corner of the vehicle, as if absorbed in his own reflections. I attempted to open a conversation.

“How intensely cold it is to-night,” I said, addressing my opposite neighbour.

He lifted his head, looked at me, but made no reply.

“The winter,” I added, “seems to have begun in earnest.”

Although the corner in which he sat was so dim that I could distinguish none of his features very clearly, I saw that his eyes were still turned full upon me. And yet he answered never a word.

At any other time I should have felt, and perhaps expressed, some annoyance, but at the moment I felt too ill to do either. The icy coldness of the night air had struck a chill to my very marrow, and the strange smell inside the coach was affecting me with an intolerable nausea. I shivered from head to foot, and, turning to my left-hand neighbour, asked if he had any objection to an open window?

He neither spoke nor stirred.

I repeated the question somewhat more loudly, but with the same result. Then I lost patience, and let the sash down. As I did so, the leather strap broke in my hand, and I observed that the glass was covered with a thick coat of mildew, the accumulation, apparently, of years. My attention being thus drawn to the condition of the coach, I examined it more narrowly, and saw by the uncertain light of the outer lamps that it was in the last state of dilapidation. Every part of it was not only out of repair, but in a condition of decay. The sashes splintered at a touch. The leather fittings were crusted over with mould, and literally rotting from the woodwork. The floor was almost breaking away beneath my feet. The whole machine, in short, was foul with damp, and had evidently been dragged from some outhouse in which it had been mouldering away for years, to do another day or two of duty on the road.

I turned to the third passenger, whom I had not yet addressed, and hazarded one more remark.

“This coach,” I said, “is in a deplorable condition. The regular mail, I suppose, is under repair?”

He moved his head slowly, and looked me in the face, without speaking a word. I shall never forget that look while I live. I turned cold at heart under it. I turn cold at heart even now when I recall it. His eyes glowed with a fiery unnatural lustre. His face was livid as the face of a corpse. His bloodless lips were drawn back as if in the agony of death, and showed the gleaming teeth between.

The words that I was about to utter died upon my lips, and a strange horror - a dreadful horror - came upon me. My sight had by this time become used to the gloom of the coach, and I could see with tolerable distinctness. I turned to my opposite neighbour. He, too, was looking at me, with the same startling pallor in his face, and the same stony glitter in his eyes. I passed my hand across my brow. I turned to the passenger on the seat beside my own, and saw - oh Heaven! how shall I describe what I saw ? I saw that he was no living man - that none of them were living men, like myself! A pale phosphorescent light - the light of putrefaction - played upon their awful faces; upon their hair, dank with the dews of the grave; upon their clothes, earth-stained and dropping to pieces; upon their hands, which were as the hands of corpses long buried. Only their eyes, their terrible eyes, were living; and those eyes were all turned menacingly upon me!

A shriek of terror, a wild unintelligible cry for help and mercy, burst from my lips as I flung myself against the door, and strove in vain to open it.

In that single instant, brief and vivid as a landscape beheld in the ash of summer lightning, I saw the moon shining down through a rift of stormy cloud - the ghastly sign-post rearing its warning finger by the wayside - the broken parapet - the plunging horses - the black gulf below. Then, the coach reeled like a ship at sea. Then, came a mighty crash - a sense of crushing pain - and then, darkness.

It seemed as if years had gone by when I awoke one morning from a deep sleep, and found my wife watching by my bedside. I will pass over the scene that ensued, and give you, in half a dozen words, the tale she told me with tears of thanksgiving. I had fallen over a precipice, close against the junction of the old coach-road and the new, and had only been saved from certain death by lighting upon a deep snowdrift that had accumulated at the foot of the rock beneath. In this snowdrift I was discovered at daybreak, by a couple of shepherds, who carried me to the nearest shelter, and brought a surgeon to my aid. The surgeon found me in a state of raving delirium, with a broken arm and a compound fracture of the skull. The letters in my pocket-book showed my name and address; my wife was summoned to nurse me; and, thanks to youth and a fine constitution, I came out of danger at last. The place of my fall, I need scarcely say, was precisely that at which a frightful accident had happened to the north mail nine years before.

I never told my wife the fearful events which I have just related to you. I told the surgeon who attended me; but he treated the whole adventure as a mere dream born of the fever in my brain. We discussed the question over and over again, until we found that we could discuss it with temper no longer, and then we dropped it. Others may form what conclusions they please - I know that twenty years ago I was the fourth inside passenger in that Phantom Coach.