The House and the Brain

Bulwer Lytton

20 Mar, 2014 09:41 AM

A friend of mine, who is a man of letters and a philosopher, said
to me one day, as if between jest and earnest, "Fancy! since we
last met I have discovered a haunted house in the midst of London."

"Really haunted,--and by what?--ghosts?"

"Well, I can't answer that question; all I know is this: six weeks
ago my wife and I were in search of a furnished apartment. Passing
a quiet street, we saw on the window of one of the houses a bill,
'Apartments, Furnished.' The situation suited us; we entered the
house, liked the rooms, engaged them by the week,--and left them
the third day. No power on earth could have reconciled my wife to
stay longer; and I don't wonder at it."

"What did you see?"

"Excuse me; I have no desire to be ridiculed as a superstitious
dreamer,--nor, on the other hand, could I ask you to accept on my
affirmation what you would hold to be incredible without the
evidence of your own senses. Let me only say this, it was not so
much what we saw or heard (in which you might fairly suppose that
we were the dupes of our own excited fancy, or the victims of
imposture in others) that drove us away, as it was an indefinable
terror which seized both of us whenever we passed by the door of a
certain unfurnished room, in which we neither saw nor heard
anything. And the strangest marvel of all was, that for once in my
life I agreed with my wife, silly woman though she be,--and
allowed, after the third night, that it was impossible to stay a
fourth in that house. Accordingly, on the fourth morning I
summoned the woman who kept the house and attended on us, and told
her that the rooms did not quite suit us, and we would not stay out
our week. She said dryly, 'I know why; you have stayed longer than
any other lodger. Few ever stayed a second night; none before you
a third. But I take it they have been very kind to you.'

"'They,--who?' I asked, affecting to smile.

"'Why, they who haunt the house, whoever they are. I don't mind
them. I remember them many years ago, when I lived in this house,
not as a servant; but I know they will be the death of me some day.
I don't care,--I'm old, and must die soon anyhow; and then I shall
be with them, and in this house still.' The woman spoke with so
dreary a calmness that really it was a sort of awe that prevented
my conversing with her further. I paid for my week, and too happy
were my wife and I to get off so cheaply."

"You excite my curiosity," said I; "nothing I should like better
than to sleep in a haunted house. Pray give me the address of the
one which you left so ignominiously."

My friend gave me the address; and when we parted, I walked
straight toward the house thus indicated.

It is situated on the north side of Oxford Street, in a dull but
respectable thoroughfare. I found the house shut up,--no bill at
the window, and no response to my knock. As I was turning away, a
beer-boy, collecting pewter pots at the neighboring areas, said to
me, "Do you want any one at that house, sir?"

"Yes, I heard it was to be let."

"Let!--why, the woman who kept it is dead,--has been dead these
three weeks, and no one can be found to stay there, though Mr. J----
offered ever so much. He offered mother, who chars for him, one
pound a week just to open and shut the windows, and she would not."

"Would not!--and why?"

"The house is haunted; and the old woman who kept it was found dead
in her bed, with her eyes wide open. They say the devil strangled

"Pooh! You speak of Mr. J----. Is he the owner of the house?"


"Where does he live?"

"In G---- Street, No. --."

"What is he? In any business?"

"No, sir,--nothing particular; a single gentleman."

I gave the potboy the gratuity earned by his liberal information,
and proceeded to Mr. J---- , in G---- Street, which was close by
the street that boasted the haunted house. I was lucky enough to
find Mr. J---- at home,--an elderly man with intelligent
countenance and prepossessing manners.

I communicated my name and my business frankly. I said I heard the
house was considered to be haunted, that I had a strong desire to
examine a house with so equivocal a reputation; that I should be
greatly obliged if he would allow me to hire it, though only for a
night. I was willing to pay for that privilege whatever he might
be inclined to ask. "Sir," said Mr. J----, with great courtesy,
"the house is at your service, for as short or as long a time as
you please. Rent is out of the question,--the obligation will be
on my side should you be able to discover the cause of the strange
phenomena which at present deprive it of all value. I cannot let
it, for I cannot even get a servant to keep it in order or answer
the door. Unluckily the house is haunted, if I may use that
expression, not only by night, but by day; though at night the
disturbances are of a more unpleasant and sometimes of a more
alarming character. The poor old woman who died in it three weeks
ago was a pauper whom I took out of a workhouse; for in her
childhood she had been known to some of my family, and had once
been in such good circumstances that she had rented that house of
my uncle. She was a woman of superior education and strong mind,
and was the only person I could ever induce to remain in the house.
Indeed, since her death, which was sudden, and the coroner's
inquest, which gave it a notoriety in the neighborhood, I have so
despaired of finding any person to take charge of the house, much
more a tenant, that I would willingly let it rent free for a year
to anyone who would pay its rates and taxes."

"How long is it since the house acquired this sinister character?"

"That I can scarcely tell you, but very many years since. The old
woman I spoke of, said it was haunted when she rented it between
thirty and forty years ago. The fact is, that my life has been
spent in the East Indies, and in the civil service of the Company.
I returned to England last year, on inheriting the fortune of an
uncle, among whose possessions was the house in question. I found
it shut up and uninhabited. I was told that it was haunted, that
no one would inhabit it. I smiled at what seemed to me so idle a
story. I spent some money in repairing it, added to its old-
fashioned furniture a few modern articles,--advertised it, and
obtained a lodger for a year. He was a colonel on half pay. He
came in with his family, a son and a daughter, and four or five
servants: they all left the house the next day; and, although each
of them declared that he had seen something different from that
which had scared the others, a something still was equally terrible
to all. I really could not in conscience sue, nor even blame, the
colonel for breach of agreement. Then I put in the old woman I
have spoken of, and she was empowered to let the house in
apartments. I never had one lodger who stayed more than three
days. I do not tell you their stories,--to no two lodgers have
there been exactly the same phenomena repeated. It is better that
you should judge for yourself, than enter the house with an
imagination influenced by previous narratives; only be prepared to
see and to hear something or other, and take whatever precautions
you yourself please."

"Have you never had a curiosity yourself to pass a night in that

"Yes. I passed not a night, but three hours in broad daylight
alone in that house. My curiosity is not satisfied, but it is
quenched. I have no desire to renew the experiment. You cannot
complain, you see, sir, that I am not sufficiently candid; and
unless your interest be exceedingly eager and your nerves unusually
strong, I honestly add, that I advise you NOT to pass a night in
that house.

"My interest IS exceedingly keen," said I; "and though only a
coward will boast of his nerves in situations wholly unfamiliar to
him, yet my nerves have been seasoned in such variety of danger
that I have the right to rely on them,--even in a haunted house."

Mr. J---- said very little more; he took the keys of the house out
of his bureau, gave them to me,--and, thanking him cordially for
his frankness, and his urbane concession to my wish, I carried off
my prize.

Impatient for the experiment, as soon as I reached home, I summoned
my confidential servant,--a young man of gay spirits, fearless
temper, and as free from superstitious prejudice as anyone I could
think of.

F----," said I, "you remember in Germany how disappointed we were
at not finding a ghost in that old castle, which was said to be
haunted by a headless apparition? Well, I have heard of a house in
London which, I have reason to hope, is decidedly haunted. I mean
to sleep there to-night. From what I hear, there is no doubt that
something will allow itself to be seen or to be heard,--something,
perhaps, excessively horrible. Do you think if I take you with me,
I may rely on your presence of mind, whatever may happen?"

"Oh, sir, pray trust me," answered F----, grinning with delight.

"Very well; then here are the keys of the house,--this is the
address. Go now,--select for me any bedroom you please; and since
the house has not been inhabited for weeks, make up a good fire,
air the bed well,--see, of course, that there are candles as well
as fuel. Take with you my revolver and my dagger,--so much for my
weapons; arm yourself equally well; and if we are not a match for a
dozen ghosts, we shall be but a sorry couple of Englishmen.

I was engaged for the rest of the day on business so urgent that I
had not leisure to think much on the nocturnal adventure to which I
had plighted my honor. I dined alone, and very late, and while
dining, read, as is my habit. I selected one of the volumes of
Macaulay's Essays. I thought to myself that I would take the book
with me; there was so much of healthfulness in the style, and
practical life in the subjects, that it would serve as an antidote
against the influences of superstitious fancy.

Accordingly, about half-past nine, I put the book into my pocket,
and strolled leisurely toward the haunted house. I took with me a
favorite dog: an exceedingly sharp, bold, and vigilant bull
terrier,--a dog fond of prowling about strange, ghostly corners and
passages at night in search of rats; a dog of dogs for a ghost.

I reached the house, knocked, and my servant opened with a cheerful

We did not stay long in the drawing-rooms,--in fact, they felt so
damp and so chilly that I was glad to get to the fire upstairs. We
locked the doors of the drawing-rooms,--a precaution which, I
should observe, we had taken with all the rooms we had searched
below. The bedroom my servant had selected for me was the best on
the floor,--a large one, with two windows fronting the street. The
four-posted bed, which took up no inconsiderable space, was
opposite to the fire, which burned clear and bright; a door in the
wall to the left, between the bed and the window, communicated with
the room which my servant appropriated to himself. This last was a
small room with a sofa bed, and had no communication with the
landing place,--no other door but that which conducted to the
bedroom I was to occupy. On either side of my fireplace was a
cupboard without locks, flush with the wall, and covered with the
same dull-brown paper. We examined these cupboards,--only hooks to
suspend female dresses, nothing else; we sounded the walls,--
evidently solid, the outer walls of the building. Having finished
the survey of these apartments, warmed myself a few moments, and
lighted my cigar, I then, still accompanied by F----, went forth to
complete my reconnoiter. In the landing place there was another
door; it was closed firmly. "Sir," said my servant, in surprise,
"I unlocked this door with all the others when I first came; it
cannot have got locked from the inside, for--"

Before he had finished his sentence, the door, which neither of us
then was touching, opened quietly of itself. We looked at each
other a single instant. The same thought seized both,--some human
agency might be detected here. I rushed in first, my servant
followed. A small, blank, dreary room without furniture; a few
empty boxes and hampers in a corner; a small window; the shutters
closed; not even a fireplace; no other door but that by which we
had entered; no carpet on the floor, and the floor seemed very old,
uneven, worm-eaten, mended here and there, as was shown by the
whiter patches on the wood; but no living being, and no visible
place in which a living being could have hidden. As we stood
gazing round, the door by which we had entered closed as quietly as
it had before opened; we were imprisoned.

For the first time I felt a creep of indefinable horror. Not so my
servant. "Why, they don't think to trap us, sir; I could break
that trumpery door with a kick of my foot."

"Try first if it will open to your hand," said I, shaking off the
vague apprehension that had seized me, "while I unclose the
shutters and see what is without."

I unbarred the shutters,--the window looked on the little back yard
I have before described; there was no ledge without,--nothing to
break the sheer descent of the wall. No man getting out of that
window would have found any footing till he had fallen on the
stones below.

F----, meanwhile, was vainly attempting to open the door. He now
turned round to me and asked my permission to use force. And I
should here state, in justice to the servant, that, far from
evincing any superstitious terrors, his nerve, composure, and even
gayety amidst circumstances so extraordinary, compelled my
admiration, and made me congratulate myself on having secured a
companion in every way fitted to the occasion. I willingly gave
him the permission he required. But though he was a remarkably
strong man, his force was as idle as his milder efforts; the door
did not even shake to his stoutest kick. Breathless and panting,
he desisted. I then tried the door myself, equally in vain. As I
ceased from the effort, again that creep of horror came over me;
but this time it was more cold and stubborn. I felt as if some
strange and ghastly exhalation were rising up from the chinks of
that rugged floor, and filling the atmosphere with a venomous
influence hostile to human life. The door now very slowly and
quietly opened as of its own accord. We precipitated ourselves
into the landing place. We both saw a large, pale light--as large
as the human figure, but shapeless and unsubstantial--move before
us, and ascend the stairs that led from the landing into the
attics. I followed the light, and my servant followed me. It
entered, to the right of the landing, a small garret, of which the
door stood open. I entered in the same instant. The light then
collapsed into a small globule, exceedingly brilliant and vivid,
rested a moment on a bed in the corner, quivered, and vanished. We
approached the bed and examined it,--a half-tester, such as is
commonly found in attics devoted to servants. On the drawers that
stood near it we perceived an old faded silk kerchief, with the
needle still left in a rent half repaired. The kerchief was
covered with dust; probably it had belonged to the old woman who
had last died in that house, and this might have been her sleeping
room. I had sufficient curiosity to open the drawers: there were a
few odds and ends of female dress, and two letters tied round with
a narrow ribbon of faded yellow. I took the liberty to possess
myself of the letters. We found nothing else in the room worth
noticing,--nor did the light reappear; but we distinctly heard, as
we turned to go, a pattering footfall on the floor, just before us.
We went through the other attics (in all four), the footfall still
preceding us. Nothing to be seen,--nothing but the footfall heard.
I had the letters in my hand; just as I was descending the stairs I
distinctly felt my wrist seized, and a faint, soft effort made to
draw the letters from my clasp. I only held them the more tightly,
and the effort ceased.

We regained the bedchamber appropriated to myself, and I then
remarked that my dog had not followed us when we had left it. He
was thrusting himself close to the fire, and trembling. I was
impatient to examine the letters; and while I read them, my servant
opened a little box in which he had deposited the weapons I had
ordered him to bring, took them out, placed them on a table close
at my bed head, and then occupied himself in soothing the dog, who,
however, seemed to heed him very little.

The letters were short,--they were dated; the dates exactly thirty-
five years ago. They were evidently from a lover to his mistress,
or a husband to some young wife. Not only the terms of expression,
but a distinct reference to a former voyage, indicated the writer
to have been a seafarer. The spelling and handwriting were those
of a man imperfectly educated, but still the language itself was
forcible. In the expressions of endearment there was a kind of
rough, wild love; but here and there were dark unintelligible hints
at some secret not of love,--some secret that seemed of crime. "We
ought to love each other," was one of the sentences I remember,
"for how everyone else would execrate us if all was known." Again:
"Don't let anyone be in the same room with you at night,--you talk
in your sleep." And again: "What's done can't be undone; and I
tell you there's nothing against us unless the dead could come to
life." Here there was underlined in a better handwriting (a
female's), "They do!" At the end of the letter latest in date the
same female hand had written these words: "Lost at sea the 4th of
June, the same day as--"

I put down the letters, and began to muse over their contents.

Fearing, however, that the train of thought into which I fell might
unsteady my nerves, I fully determined to keep my mind in a fit
state to cope with whatever of marvelous the advancing night might
bring forth. I roused myself; laid the letters on the table;
stirred up the fire, which was still bright and cheering; and
opened my volume of Macaulay. I read quietly enough till about
half past eleven. I then threw myself dressed upon the bed, and
told my servant he might retire to his own room, but must keep
himself awake. I bade him leave open the door between the two
rooms. Thus alone, I kept two candles burning on the table by my
bed head. I placed my watch beside the weapons, and calmly resumed
my Macaulay. Opposite to me the fire burned clear; and on the
hearth rug, seemingly asleep, lay the dog. In about twenty minutes
I felt an exceedingly cold air pass by my cheek, like a sudden
draught. I fancied the door to my right, communicating with the
landing place, must have got open; but no,--it was closed. I then
turned my glance to my left, and saw the flame of the candles
violently swayed as by a wind. At the same moment the watch beside
the revolver softly slid from the table,--softly, softly; no
visible hand,--it was gone. I sprang up, seizing the revolver with
the one hand, the dagger with the other; I was not willing that my
weapons should share the fate of the watch. Thus armed, I looked
round the floor,--no sign of the watch. Three slow, loud, distinct
knocks were now heard at the bed head; my servant called out, "Is
that you, sir?"

"No; be on your guard."

The dog now roused himself and sat on his haunches, his ears moving
quickly backward and forward. He kept his eyes fixed on me with a
look so strange that he concentered all my attention on himself.
Slowly he rose up, all his hair bristling, and stood perfectly
rigid, and with the same wild stare. I had no time, however, to
examine the dog. Presently my servant emerged from his room; and
if ever I saw horror in the human face, it was then. I should not
have recognized him had we met in the street, so altered was every
lineament. He passed by me quickly, saying, in a whisper that
seemed scarcely to come from his lips, "Run, run! it is after me!"
He gained the door to the landing, pulled it open, and rushed
forth. I followed him into the landing involuntarily, calling him
to stop; but, without heeding me, he bounded down the stairs,
clinging to the balusters, and taking several steps at a time. I
heard, where I stood, the street door open,--heard it again clap
to. I was left alone in the haunted house.

It was but for a moment that I remained undecided whether or not to
follow my servant; pride and curiosity alike forbade so dastardly a
flight. I re-entered my room, closing the door after me, and
proceeded cautiously into the interior chamber. I encountered
nothing to justify my servant's terror. I again carefully examined
the walls, to see if there were any concealed door. I could find
no trace of one,--not even a seam in the dull-brown paper with
which the room was hung. How, then, had the THING, whatever it
was, which had so scared him, obtained ingress except though my own

I returned to my room, shut and locked the door that opened upon
the interior one, and stood on the hearth, expectant and prepared.
I now perceived that the dog had slunk into an angle of the wall,
and was pressing himself close against it, as if literally striving
to force his way into it. I approached the animal and spoke to it;
the poor brute was evidently beside itself with terror. It showed
all its teeth, the slaver dropping from its jaws, and would
certainly have bitten me if I had touched it. It did not seem to
recognize me. Whoever has seen at the Zoological Gardens a rabbit,
fascinated by a serpent, cowering in a corner, may form some idea
of the anguish which the dog exhibited. Finding all efforts to
soothe the animal in vain, and fearing that his bite might be as
venomous in that state as in the madness of hydrophobia, I left him
alone, placed my weapons on the table beside the fire, seated
myself, and recommenced my Macaulay.

Perhaps, in order not to appear seeking credit for a courage, or
rather a coolness, which the reader may conceive I exaggerate, I
may be pardoned if I pause to indulge in one or two egotistical

As I hold presence of mind, or what is called courage, to be
precisely proportioned to familiarity with the circumstances that
lead to it, so I should say that I had been long sufficiently
familiar with all experiments that appertain to the marvelous. I
had witnessed many very extraordinary phenomena in various parts of
the world,--phenomena that would be either totally disbelieved if I
stated them, or ascribed to supernatural agencies. Now, my theory
is that the supernatural is the impossible, and that what is called
supernatural is only a something in the laws of Nature of which we
have been hitherto ignorant. Therefore, if a ghost rise before me,
I have not the right to say, "So, then, the supernatural is
possible;" but rather, "So, then, the apparition of a ghost is,
contrary to received opinion, within the laws of Nature,--that is,
not supernatural."

Now, in all that I had hitherto witnessed, and indeed in all the
wonders which the amateurs of mystery in our age record as facts, a
material living agency is always required. On the Continent you
will find still magicians who assert that they can raise spirits.
Assume for the moment that they assert truly, still the living
material form of the magician is present; and he is the material
agency by which, from some constitutional peculiarities, certain
strange phenomena are represented to your natural senses.

Accept, again, as truthful, the tales of spirit manifestation in
America,--musical or other sounds; writings on paper, produced by
no discernible hand; articles of furniture moved without apparent
human agency; or the actual sight and touch of hands, to which no
bodies seem to belong,--still there must be found the MEDIUM, or
living being, with constitutional peculiarities capable of
obtaining these signs. In fine, in all such marvels, supposing
even that there is no imposture, there must be a human being like
ourselves by whom, or through whom, the effects presented to human
beings are produced. It is so with the now familiar phenomena of
mesmerism or electro-biology; the mind of the person operated on is
affected through a material living agent. Nor, supposing it true
that a mesmerized patient can respond to the will or passes of a
mesmerizer a hundred miles distant, is the response less occasioned
by a material being; it may be through a material fluid--call it
Electric, call it Odic, call it what you will--which has the power
of traversing space and passing obstacles, that the material effect
is communicated from one to the other. Hence, all that I had
hitherto witnessed, or expected to witness, in this strange house,
I believed to be occasioned through some agency or medium as mortal
as myself; and this idea necessarily prevented the awe with which
those who regard as supernatural things that are not within the
ordinary operations of Nature, might have been impressed by the
adventures of that memorable night.

As, then, it was my conjecture that all that was presented, or
would be presented to my senses, must originate in some human being
gifted by constitution with the power so to present them, and
having some motive so to do, I felt an interest in my theory which,
in its way, was rather philosophical than superstitious. And I can
sincerely say that I was in as tranquil a temper for observation as
any practical experimentalist could be in awaiting the effects of
some rare, though perhaps perilous, chemical combination. Of
course, the more I kept my mind detached from fancy, the more the
temper fitted for observation would be obtained; and I therefore
riveted eye and thought on the strong daylight sense in the page of
my Macaulay.

I now became aware that something interposed between the page and
the light,--the page was overshadowed. I looked up, and I saw what
I shall find it very difficult, perhaps impossible, to describe.

It was a Darkness shaping itself forth from the air in very
undefined outline. I cannot say it was of a human form, and yet it
had more resemblance to a human form, or rather shadow, than to
anything else. As it stood, wholly apart and distinct from the air
and the light around it, its dimensions seemed gigantic, the summit
nearly touching the ceiling. While I gazed, a feeling of intense
cold seized me. An iceberg before me could not more have chilled
me; nor could the cold of an iceberg have been more purely
physical. I feel convinced that it was not the cold caused by
fear. As I continued to gaze, I thought--but this I cannot say
with precision--that I distinguished two eyes looking down on me
from the height. One moment I fancied that I distinguished them
clearly, the next they seemed gone; but still two rays of a pale-
blue light frequently shot through the darkness, as from the height
on which I half believed, half doubted, that I had encountered the

I strove to speak,--my voice utterly failed me; I could only think
to myself, "Is this fear? It is NOT fear!" I strove to rise,--in
vain; I felt as if weighed down by an irresistible force. Indeed,
my impression was that of an immense and overwhelming Power opposed
to my volition,--that sense of utter inadequacy to cope with a
force beyond man's, which one may feel PHYSICALLY in a storm at
sea, in a conflagration, or when confronting some terrible wild
beast, or rather, perhaps, the shark of the ocean, I felt MORALLY.
Opposed to my will was another will, as far superior to its
strength as storm, fire, and shark are superior in material force
to the force of man.

And now, as this impression grew on me,--now came, at last, horror,
horror to a degree that no words can convey. Still I retained
pride, if not courage; and in my own mind I said, "This is horror;
but it is not fear; unless I fear I cannot be harmed; my reason
rejects this thing; it is an illusion,--I do not fear." With a
violent effort I succeeded at last in stretching out my hand toward
the weapon on the table; as I did so, on the arm and shoulder I
received a strange shock, and my arm fell to my side powerless.
And now, to add to my horror, the light began slowly to wane from
the candles,--they were not, as it were, extinguished, but their
flame seemed very gradually withdrawn; it was the same with the
fire,--the light was extracted from the fuel; in a few minutes the
room was in utter darkness. The dread that came over me, to be
thus in the dark with that dark Thing, whose power was so intensely
felt, brought a reaction of nerve. In fact, terror had reached
that climax, that either my senses must have deserted me, or I must
have burst through the spell. I did burst through it. I found
voice, though the voice was a shriek. I remember that I broke
forth with words like these, "I do not fear, my soul does not
fear"; and at the same time I found strength to rise. Still in
that profound gloom I rushed to one of the windows; tore aside the
curtain; flung open the shutters; my first thought was--LIGHT. And
when I saw the moon high, clear, and calm, I felt a joy that almost
compensated for the previous terror. There was the moon, there was
also the light from the gas lamps in the deserted slumberous
street. I turned to look back into the room; the moon penetrated
its shadow very palely and partially--but still there was light.
The dark Thing, whatever it might be, was gone,--except that I
could yet see a dim shadow, which seemed the shadow of that shade,
against the opposite wall.

My eye now rested on the table, and from under the table (which was
without cloth or cover,--an old mahogany round table) there rose a
hand, visible as far as the wrist. It was a hand, seemingly, as
much of flesh and blood as my own, but the hand of an aged person,
lean, wrinkled, small too,--a woman's hand. That hand very softly
closed on the two letters that lay on the table; hand and letters
both vanished. There then came the same three loud, measured
knocks I had heard at the bed head before this extraordinary drama
had commenced.

As those sounds slowly ceased, I felt the whole room vibrate
sensibly; and at the far end there rose, as from the floor, sparks
or globules like bubbles of light, many colored,--green, yellow,
fire-red, azure. Up and down, to and fro, hither, thither as tiny
Will-o'-the-Wisps, the sparks moved, slow or swift, each at its own
caprice. A chair (as in the drawing-room below) was now advanced
from the wall without apparent agency, and placed at the opposite
side of the table. Suddenly, as forth from the chair, there grew a
shape,--a woman's shape. It was distinct as a shape of life,--
ghastly as a shape of death. The face was that of youth, with a
strange, mournful beauty; the throat and shoulders were bare, the
rest of the form in a loose robe of cloudy white. It began
sleeking its long, yellow hair, which fell over its shoulders; its
eyes were not turned toward me, but to the door; it seemed
listening, watching, waiting. The shadow of the shade in the
background grew darker; and again I thought I beheld the eyes
gleaming out from the summit of the shadow,--eyes fixed upon that

As if from the door, though it did not open, there grew out another
shape, equally distinct, equally ghastly,--a man's shape, a young
man's. It was in the dress of the last century, or rather in a
likeness of such dress (for both the male shape and the female,
though defined, were evidently unsubstantial, impalpable,--
simulacra, phantasms); and there was something incongruous,
grotesque, yet fearful, in the contrast between the elaborate
finery, the courtly precision of that old-fashioned garb, with its
ruffles and lace and buckles, and the corpselike aspect and
ghostlike stillness of the flitting wearer. Just as the male shape
approached the female, the dark Shadow started from the wall, all
three for a moment wrapped in darkness. When the pale light
returned, the two phantoms were as if in the grasp of the Shadow
that towered between them; and there was a blood stain on the
breast of the female; and the phantom male was leaning on its
phantom sword, and blood seemed trickling fast from the ruffles
from the lace; and the darkness of the intermediate Shadow
swallowed them up,--they were gone. And again the bubbles of light
shot, and sailed, and undulated, growing thicker and thicker and
more wildly confused in their movements.

The closet door to the right of the fireplace now opened, and from
the aperture there came the form of an aged woman. In her hand she
held letters,--the very letters over which I had seen THE Hand
close; and behind her I heard a footstep. She turned round as if
to listen, and then she opened the letters and seemed to read; and
over her shoulder I saw a livid face, the face as of a man long
drowned,--bloated, bleached, seaweed tangled in its dripping hair;
and at her feet lay a form as of a corpse; and beside the corpse
there cowered a child, a miserable, squalid child, with famine in
its cheeks and fear in its eyes. And as I looked in the old
woman's face, the wrinkles and lines vanished, and it became a face
of youth,--hard-eyed, stony, but still youth; and the Shadow darted
forth, and darkened over these phantoms as it had darkened over the

Nothing now was left but the Shadow, and on that my eyes were
intently fixed, till again eyes grew out of the Shadow,--malignant,
serpent eyes. And the bubbles of light again rose and fell, and in
their disordered, irregular, turbulent maze, mingled with the wan
moonlight. And now from these globules themselves, as from the
shell of an egg, monstrous things burst out; the air grew filled
with them: larvae so bloodless and so hideous that I can in no way
describe them except to remind the reader of the swarming life
which the solar microscope brings before his eyes in a drop of
water,--things transparent, supple, agile, chasing each other,
devouring each other; forms like naught ever beheld by the naked
eye. As the shapes were without symmetry, so their movements were
without order. In their very vagrancies there was no sport; they
came round me and round, thicker and faster and swifter, swarming
over my head, crawling over my right arm, which was outstretched in
involuntary command against all evil beings. Sometimes I felt
myself touched, but not by them; invisible hands touched me. Once
I felt the clutch as of cold, soft fingers at my throat. I was
still equally conscious that if I gave way to fear I should be in
bodily peril; and I concentered all my faculties in the single
focus of resisting stubborn will. And I turned my sight from the
Shadow; above all, from those strange serpent eyes,--eyes that had
now become distinctly visible. For there, though in naught else
around me, I was aware that there was a WILL, and will of intense,
creative, working evil, which might crush down my own.

The pale atmosphere in the room began now to redden as if in the
air of some near conflagration. The larvae grew lurid as things
that live in fire. Again the room vibrated; again were heard the
three measured knocks; and again all things were swallowed up in
the darkness of the dark Shadow, as if out of that darkness all had
come, into that darkness all returned.

As the gloom receded, the Shadow was wholly gone. Slowly, as it
had been withdrawn, the flame grew again into the candles on the
table, again into the fuel in the grate. The whole room came once
more calmly, healthfully into sight.

The two doors were still closed, the door communicating with the
servant's room still locked. In the corner of the wall, into which
he had so convulsively niched himself, lay the dog. I called to
him,--no movement; I approached,--the animal was dead: his eyes
protruded; his tongue out of his mouth; the froth gathered round
his jaws. I took him in my arms; I brought him to the fire. I
felt acute grief for the loss of my poor favorite,--acute self-
reproach; I accused myself of his death; I imagined he had died of
fright. But what was my surprise on finding that his neck was
actually broken. Had this been done in the dark? Must it not have
been by a hand human as mine; must there not have been a human
agency all the while in that room? Good cause to suspect it. I
cannot tell. I cannot do more than state the fact fairly; the
reader may draw his own inference.

Another surprising circumstance,--my watch was restored to the
table from which it had been so mysteriously withdrawn; but it had
stopped at the very moment it was so withdrawn, nor, despite all
the skill of the watchmaker, has it ever gone since,--that is, it
will go in a strange, erratic way for a few hours, and then come to
a dead stop; it is worthless.

Nothing more chanced for the rest of the night. Nor, indeed, had I
long to wait before the dawn broke. Not till it was broad daylight
did I quit the haunted house. Before I did so, I revisited the
little blind room in which my servant and myself had been for a
time imprisoned. I had a strong impression--for which I could not
account--that from that room had originated the mechanism of the
phenomena, if I may use the term, which had been experienced in my
chamber. And though I entered it now in the clear day, with the
sun peering through the filmy window, I still felt, as I stood on
its floors, the creep of the horror which I had first there
experienced the night before, and which had been so aggravated by
what had passed in my own chamber. I could not, indeed, bear to
stay more than half a minute within those walls. I descended the
stairs, and again I heard the footfall before me; and when I opened
the street door, I thought I could distinguish a very low laugh. I
gained my own home, expecting to find my runaway servant there; but
he had not presented himself, nor did I hear more of him for three
days, when I received a letter from him, dated from Liverpool to
this effect:--

"HONORED SIR,--I humbly entreat your pardon, though I can scarcely
hope that you will think that I deserve it, unless--which Heaven
forbid!--you saw what I did. I feel that it will be years before I
can recover myself; and as to being fit for service, it is out of
the question. I am therefore going to my brother-in-law at
Melbourne. The ship sails to-morrow. Perhaps the long voyage may
set me up. I do nothing now but start and tremble, and fancy it is
behind me. I humbly beg you, honored sir, to order my clothes, and
whatever wages are due to me, to be sent to my mother's, at
Walworth,--John knows her address."

The letter ended with additional apologies, somewhat incoherent,
and explanatory details as to effects that had been under the
writer's charge.

This flight may perhaps warrant a suspicion that the man wished to
go to Australia, and had been somehow or other fraudulently mixed
up with the events of the night. I say nothing in refutation of
that conjecture; rather, I suggest it as one that would seem to
many persons the most probable solution of improbable occurrences.
My belief in my own theory remained unshaken. I returned in the
evening to the house, to bring away in a hack cab the things I had
left there, with my poor dog's body. In this task I was not
disturbed, nor did any incident worth note befall me, except that
still, on ascending and descending the stairs, I heard the same
footfall in advance. On leaving the house, I went to Mr. J----'s.
He was at home. I returned him the keys, told him that my
curiosity was sufficiently gratified, and was about to relate
quickly what had passed, when he stopped me, and said, though with
much politeness, that he had no longer any interest in a mystery
which none had ever solved.

I determined at least to tell him of the two letters I had read, as
well as of the extraordinary manner in which they had disappeared;
and I then inquired if he thought they had been addressed to the
woman who had died in the house, and if there were anything in her
early history which could possibly confirm the dark suspicions to
which the letters gave rise. Mr. J---- seemed startled, and, after
musing a few moments, answered, "I am but little acquainted with
the woman's earlier history, except as I before told you, that her
family were known to mine. But you revive some vague reminiscences
to her prejudice. I will make inquiries, and inform you of their
result. Still, even if we could admit the popular superstition
that a person who had been either the perpetrator or the victim of
dark crimes in life could revisit, as a restless spirit, the scene
in which those crimes had been committed, I should observe that the
house was infested by strange sights and sounds before the old
woman died--you smile--what would you say?"

"I would say this, that I am convinced, if we could get to the
bottom of these mysteries, we should find a living human agency."

"What! you believe it is all an imposture? For what object?"

"Not an imposture in the ordinary sense of the word. If suddenly I
were to sink into a deep sleep, from which you could not awake me,
but in that sleep could answer questions with an accuracy which I
could not pretend to when awake,--tell you what money you had in
your pocket, nay, describe your very thoughts,--it is not
necessarily an imposture, any more than it is necessarily
supernatural. I should be, unconsciously to myself, under a
mesmeric influence, conveyed to me from a distance by a human being
who had acquired power over me by previous rapport."

"But if a mesmerizer could so affect another living being, can you
suppose that a mesmerizer could also affect inanimate objects: move
chairs,--open and shut doors?"

"Or impress our senses with the belief in such effects,--we never
having been en rapport with the person acting on us? No. What is
commonly called mesmerism could not do this; but there may be a
power akin to mesmerism, and superior to it,--the power that in the
old days was called Magic. That such a power may extend to all
inanimate objects of matter, I do not say; but if so, it would not
be against Nature,--it would be only a rare power in Nature which
might be given to constitutions with certain peculiarities, and
cultivated by practice to an extraordinary degree. That such a
power might extend over the dead,--that is, over certain thoughts
and memories that the dead may still retain,--and compel, not that
which ought properly to be called the SOUL, and which is far beyond
human reach, but rather a phantom of what has been most earth-
stained on earth, to make itself apparent to our senses, is a very
ancient though obsolete theory upon which I will hazard no opinion.
But I do not conceive the power would be supernatural. Let me
illustrate what I mean from an experiment which Paracelsus
describes as not difficult, and which the author of the
'Curiosities of Literature' cites as credible: A flower perishes;
you burn it. Whatever were the elements of that flower while it
lived are gone, dispersed, you know not whither; you can never
discover nor re-collect them. But you can, by chemistry, out of
the burned dust of that flower, raise a spectrum of the flower,
just as it seemed in life. It may be the same with the human
being. The soul has as much escaped you as the essence or elements
of the flower. Still you may make a spectrum of it. And this
phantom, though in the popular superstition it is held to be the
soul of the departed, must not be confounded with the true soul; it
is but the eidolon of the dead form. Hence, like the best-attested
stories of ghosts or spirits, the thing that most strikes us is the
absence of what we hold to be soul,--that is, of superior
emancipated intelligence. These apparitions come for little or no
object,--they seldom speak when they do come; if they speak, they
utter no ideas above those of an ordinary person on earth.
American spirit seers have published volumes of communications, in
prose and verse, which they assert to be given in the names of the
most illustrious dead: Shakespeare, Bacon,--Heaven knows whom.
Those communications, taking the best, are certainly not a whit of
higher order than would be communications from living persons of
fair talent and education; they are wondrously inferior to what
Bacon, Shakespeare, and Plato said and wrote when on earth. Nor,
what is more noticeable, do they ever contain an idea that was not
on the earth before. Wonderful, therefore, as such phenomena may
be (granting them to be truthful), I see much that philosophy may
question, nothing that it is incumbent on philosophy to deny,--
namely, nothing supernatural. They are but ideas conveyed somehow
or other (we have not yet discovered the means) from one mortal
brain to another. Whether, in so doing, tables walk of their own
accord, or fiendlike shapes appear in a magic circle, or bodiless
hands rise and remove material objects, or a Thing of Darkness,
such as presented itself to me, freeze our blood,--still am I
persuaded that these are but agencies conveyed, as by electric
wires, to my own brain from the brain of another. In some
constitutions there is a natural chemistry, and those constitutions
may produce chemic wonders,--in others a natural fluid, call it
electricity, and these may produce electric wonders. But the
wonders differ from Normal Science in this,--they are alike
objectless, purposeless, puerile, frivolous. They lead on to no
grand results; and therefore the world does not heed, and true
sages have not cultivated them. But sure I am, that of all I saw
or heard, a man, human as myself, was the remote originator; and I
believe unconsciously to himself as to the exact effects produced,
for this reason: no two persons, you say, have ever told you that
they experienced exactly the same thing. Well, observe, no two
persons ever experience exactly the same dream. If this were an
ordinary imposture, the machinery would be arranged for results
that would but little vary; if it were a supernatural agency
permitted by the Almighty, it would surely be for some definite
end. These phenomena belong to neither class; my persuasion is,
that they originate in some brain now far distant; that that brain
had no distinct volition in anything that occurred; that what does
occur reflects but its devious, motley, ever-shifting, half-formed
thoughts; in short, that it has been but the dreams of such a brain
put into action and invested with a semisubstance. That this brain
is of immense power, that it can set matter into movement, that it
is malignant and destructive, I believe; some material force must
have killed my dog; the same force might, for aught I know, have
sufficed to kill myself, had I been as subjugated by terror as the
dog,--had my intellect or my spirit given me no countervailing
resistance in my will."

"It killed your dog,--that is fearful! Indeed it is strange that
no animal can be induced to stay in that house; not even a cat.
Rats and mice are never found in it."

"The instincts of the brute creation detect influences deadly to
their existence. Man's reason has a sense less subtle, because it
has a resisting power more supreme. But enough; do you comprehend
my theory?"

"Yes, though imperfectly,--and I accept any crotchet (pardon the
word), however odd, rather than embrace at once the notion of
ghosts and hobgoblins we imbibed in our nurseries. Still, to my
unfortunate house, the evil is the same. What on earth can I do
with the house?"

"I will tell you what I would do. I am convinced from my own
internal feelings that the small, unfurnished room at right angles
to the door of the bedroom which I occupied, forms a starting point
or receptacle for the influences which haunt the house; and I
strongly advise you to have the walls opened, the floor removed,--
nay, the whole room pulled down. I observe that it is detached
from the body of the house, built over the small backyard, and
could be removed without injury to the rest of the building."

"And you think, if I did that--"

"You would cut off the telegraph wires. Try it. I am so persuaded
that I am right, that I will pay half the expense if you will allow
me to direct the operations."

"Nay, I am well able to afford the cost; for the rest allow me to
write to you."

About ten days after I received a letter from Mr. J---- telling me
that he had visited the house since I had seen him; that he had
found the two letters I had described, replaced in the drawer from
which I had taken them; that he had read them with misgivings like
my own; that he had instituted a cautious inquiry about the woman
to whom I rightly conjectured they had been written. It seemed
that thirty-six years ago (a year before the date of the letters)
she had married, against the wish of her relations, an American of
very suspicions character; in fact, he was generally believed to
have been a pirate. She herself was the daughter of very
respectable tradespeople, and had served in the capacity of a
nursery governess before her marriage. She had a brother, a
widower, who was considered wealthy, and who had one child of about
six years old. A month after the marriage the body of this brother
was found in the Thames, near London Bridge; there seemed some
marks of violence about his throat, but they were not deemed
sufficient to warrant the inquest in any other verdict that that of
"found drowned."

The American and his wife took charge of the little boy, the
deceased brother having by his will left his sister the guardian of
his only child,--and in event of the child's death the sister
inherited. The child died about six months afterwards,--it was
supposed to have been neglected and ill-treated. The neighbors
deposed to have heard it shriek at night. The surgeon who had
examined it after death said that it was emaciated as if from want
of nourishment, and the body was covered with livid bruises. It
seemed that one winter night the child had sought to escape; crept
out into the back yard; tried to scale the wall; fallen back
exhausted; and been found at morning on the stones in a dying
state. But though there was some evidence of cruelty, there was
none of murder; and the aunt and her husband had sought to palliate
cruelty by alleging the exceeding stubbornness and perversity of
the child, who was declared to be half-witted. Be that as it may,
at the orphan's death the aunt inherited her brother's fortune.
Before the first wedded year was out, the American quitted England
abruptly, and never returned to it. He obtained a cruising vessel,
which was lost in the Atlantic two years afterwards. The widow was
left in affluence, but reverses of various kinds had befallen her:
a bank broke; an investment failed; she went into a small business
and became insolvent; then she entered into service, sinking lower
and lower, from housekeeper down to maid-of-all-work,--never long
retaining a place, though nothing decided against her character was
ever alleged. She was considered sober, honest, and peculiarly
quiet in her ways; still nothing prospered with her. And so she
had dropped into the workhouse, from which Mr. J---- had taken her,
to be placed in charge of the very house which she had rented as
mistress in the first year of her wedded life.

Mr. J---- added that he had passed an hour alone in the unfurnished
room which I had urged him to destroy, and that his impressions of
dread while there were so great, though he had neither heard nor
seen anything, that he was eager to have the walls bared and the
floors removed as I had suggested. He had engaged persons for the
work, and would commence any day I would name.

The day was accordingly fixed. I repaired to the haunted house,--
we went into the blind, dreary room, took up the skirting, and then
the floors. Under the rafters, covered with rubbish, was found a
trapdoor, quite large enough to admit a man. It was closely nailed
down, with clamps and rivets of iron. On removing these we
descended into a room below, the existence of which had never been
suspected. In this room there had been a window and a flue, but
they had been bricked over, evidently for many years. By the help
of candles we examined this place; it still retained some moldering
furniture,--three chairs, an oak settle, a table,--all of the
fashion of about eighty years ago. There was a chest of drawers
against the wall, in which we found, half rotted away, old-
fashioned articles of a man's dress, such as might have been worn
eighty or a hundred years ago by a gentleman of some rank; costly
steel buckles and buttons, like those yet worn in court dresses, a
handsome court sword; in a waistcoat which had once been rich with
gold lace, but which was now blackened and foul with damp, we found
five guineas, a few silver coins, and an ivory ticket, probably for
some place of entertainment long since passed away. But our main
discovery was in a kind of iron safe fixed to the wall, the lock of
which it cost us much trouble to get picked.

In this safe were three shelves and two small drawers. Ranged on
the shelves were several small bottles of crystal, hermetically
stopped. They contained colorless, volatile essences, of the
nature of which I shall only say that they were not poisons,--
phosphor and ammonia entered into some of them. There were also
some very curious glass tubes, and a small pointed rod of iron,
with a large lump of rock crystal, and another of amber,--also a
loadstone of great power.

In one of the drawers we found a miniature portrait set in gold,
and retaining the freshness of its colors most remarkably,
considering the length of time it had probably been there. The
portrait was that of a man who might be somewhat advanced in middle
life, perhaps forty-seven or forty-eight. It was a remarkable
face,--a most impressive face. If you could fancy some mighty
serpent transformed into man, preserving in the human lineaments
the old serpent type, you would have a better idea of that
countenance than long descriptions can convey: the width and
flatness of frontal; the tapering elegance of contour disguising
the strength of the deadly jaw; the long, large, terrible eye,
glittering and green as the emerald,--and withal a certain ruthless
calm, as if from the consciousness of an immense power.

Mechanically I turned round the miniature to examine the back of
it, and on the back was engraved a pentacle; in the middle of the
pentacle a ladder, and the third step of the ladder was formed by
the date 1765. Examining still more minutely, I detected a spring;
this, on being pressed, opened the back of the miniature as a lid.
Within-side the lid were engraved, "Marianna to thee. Be faithful
in life and in death to ----." Here follows a name that I will not
mention, but it was not unfamiliar to me. I had heard it spoken of
by old men in my childhood as the name borne by a dazzling
charlatan who had made a great sensation in London for a year or
so, and had fled the country on the charge of a double murder
within his own house,--that of his mistress and his rival. I said
nothing of this to Mr. J----, to whom reluctantly I resigned the

We had found no difficulty in opening the first drawer within the
iron safe; we found great difficulty in opening the second: it was
not locked, but it resisted all efforts, till we inserted in the
chinks the edge of a chisel. When we had thus drawn it forth, we
found a very singular apparatus in the nicest order. Upon a small,
thin book, or rather tablet, was placed a saucer of crystal; this
saucer was filled with a clear liquid,--on that liquid floated a
kind of compass, with a needle shifting rapidly round; but instead
of the usual points of a compass were seven strange characters, not
very unlike those used by astrologers to denote the planets. A
peculiar but not strong nor displeasing odor came from this drawer,
which was lined with a wood that we afterwards discovered to be
hazel. Whatever the cause of this odor, it produced a material
effect on the nerves. We all felt it, even the two workmen who
were in the room,--a creeping, tingling sensation from the tips of
the fingers to the roots of the hair. Impatient to examine the
tablet, I removed the saucer. As I did so the needle of the
compass went round and round with exceeding swiftness, and I felt a
shock that ran through my whole frame, so that I dropped the saucer
on the floor. The liquid was spilled; the saucer was broken; the
compass rolled to the end of the room, and at that instant the
walls shook to and fro, as if a giant had swayed and rocked them.

The two workmen were so frightened that they ran up the ladder by
which we had descended from the trapdoor; but seeing that nothing
more happened, they were easily induced to return.

Meanwhile I had opened the tablet: it was bound in plain red
leather, with a silver clasp; it contained but one sheet of thick
vellum, and on that sheet were inscribed, within a double pentacle,
words in old monkish Latin, which are literally to be translated
thus: "On all that it can reach within these walls, sentient or
inanimate, living or dead, as moves the needle, so works my will!
Accursed be the house, and restless be the dwellers therein."

We found no more. Mr. J---- burned the tablet and its anathema.
He razed to the foundations the part of the building containing the
secret room with the chamber over it. He had then the courage to
inhabit the house himself for a month, and a quieter, better-
conditioned house could not be found in all London. Subsequently
he let it to advantage, and his tenant has made no complaints.

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Johnf328 says:
03 Jul, 2014 10:56 AM

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Pride Ed says:
03 Nov, 2014 02:38 PM

A darkly, amusing tale! I've been a fan of Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton since reading his novel "Zanoni." I'm currently reading "The Last Days of Pompeii."

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