The Mortals In The House

Under none of the accredited ghostly circumstances, and environed

by none of the conventional ghostly surroundings, did I first make

acquaintance with the house which is the subject of this Christmas

piece. I saw it in the daylight, with the sun upon it. There was

no wind, no rain, no lightning, no thunder, no awful or unwonted

circumstance, of any kind, to heighten its effect. More than that:

I had come to it direc
from a railway station: it was not more

than a mile distant from the railway station; and, as I stood

outside the house, looking back upon the way I had come, I could

see the goods train running smoothly along the embankment in the

valley. I will not say that everything was utterly commonplace,

because I doubt if anything can be that, except to utterly

commonplace people--and there my vanity steps in; but, I will take

it on myself to say that anybody might see the house as I saw it,

any fine autumn morning.

The manner of my lighting on it was this.

I was travelling towards London out of the North, intending to stop

by the way, to look at the house. My health required a temporary

residence in the country; and a friend of mine who knew that, and

who had happened to drive past the house, had written to me to

suggest it as a likely place. I had got into the train at

midnight, and had fallen asleep, and had woke up and had sat

looking out of window at the brilliant Northern Lights in the sky,

and had fallen asleep again, and had woke up again to find the

night gone, with the usual discontented conviction on me that I

hadn't been to sleep at all;--upon which question, in the first

imbecility of that condition, I am ashamed to believe that I would

have done wager by battle with the man who sat opposite me. That

opposite man had had, through the night--as that opposite man

always has--several legs too many, and all of them too long. In

addition to this unreasonable conduct (which was only to be

expected of him), he had had a pencil and a pocket-book, and had

been perpetually listening and taking notes. It had appeared to me

that these aggravating notes related to the jolts and bumps of the

carriage, and I should have resigned myself to his taking them,

under a general supposition that he was in the civil-engineering

way of life, if he had not sat staring straight over my head

whenever he listened. He was a goggle-eyed gentleman of a

perplexed aspect, and his demeanor became unbearable.

It was a cold, dead morning (the sun not being up yet), and when I

had out-watched the paling light of the fires of the iron country,

and the curtain of heavy smoke that hung at once between me and the

stars and between me and the day, I turned to my fellow-traveller

and said:

"I BEG your pardon, sir, but do you observe anything particular in

me?" For, really, he appeared to be taking down, either my

travelling-cap or my hair, with a minuteness that was a liberty.

The goggle-eyed gentleman withdrew his eyes from behind me, as if

the back of the carriage were a hundred miles off, and said, with a

lofty look of compassion for my insignificance:

"In you, sir?--B."

"B, sir?" said I, growing warm.

"I have nothing to do with you, sir," returned the gentleman; "pray

let me listen--O."

He enunciated this vowel after a pause, and noted it down.

At first I was alarmed, for an Express lunatic and no communication

with the guard, is a serious position. The thought came to my

relief that the gentleman might be what is popularly called a

Rapper: one of a sect for (some of) whom I have the highest

respect, but whom I don't believe in. I was going to ask him the

question, when he took the bread out of my mouth.

"You will excuse me," said the gentleman contemptuously, "if I am

too much in advance of common humanity to trouble myself at all

about it. I have passed the night--as indeed I pass the whole of

my time now--in spiritual intercourse."

"O!" said I, somewhat snappishly.

"The conferences of the night began," continued the gentleman,

turning several leaves of his note-book, "with this message: 'Evil

communications corrupt good manners.'"

"Sound," said I; "but, absolutely new?"

"New from spirits," returned the gentleman.

I could only repeat my rather snappish "O!" and ask if I might be

favored with the last communication.

"'A bird in the hand,'" said the gentleman, reading his last entry

with great solemnity, "'is worth two in the Bosh.'"

"Truly I am of the same opinion," said I; "but shouldn't it be


"It came to me, Bosh," returned the gentleman.

The gentleman then informed me that the spirit of Socrates had

delivered this special revelation in the course of the night. "My

friend, I hope you are pretty well. There are two in this railway

carriage. How do you do? There are seventeen thousand four

hundred and seventy-nine spirits here, but you cannot see them.

Pythagoras is here. He is not at liberty to mention it, but hopes

you like travelling." Galileo likewise had dropped in, with this

scientific intelligence. "I am glad to see you, amico. Come sta?

Water will freeze when it is cold enough. Addio!" In the course

of the night, also, the following phenomena had occurred. Bishop

Butler had insisted on spelling his name, "Bubler," for which

offence against orthography and good manners he had been dismissed

as out of temper. John Milton (suspected of wilful mystification)

had repudiated the authorship of Paradise Lost, and had introduced,

as joint authors of that poem, two Unknown gentlemen, respectively

named Grungers and Scadgingtone. And Prince Arthur, nephew of King

John of England, had described himself as tolerably comfortable in

the seventh circle, where he was learning to paint on velvet, under

the direction of Mrs. Trimmer and Mary Queen of Scots.

If this should meet the eye of the gentleman who favored me with

these disclosures, I trust he will excuse my confessing that the

sight of the rising sun, and the contemplation of the magnificent

Order of the vast Universe, made me impatient of them. In a word,

I was so impatient of them, that I was mightily glad to get out at

the next station, and to exchange these clouds and vapors for the

free air of Heaven.

By that time it was a beautiful morning. As I walked away among

such leaves as had already fallen from the golden, brown, and

russet trees; and as I looked around me on the wonders of Creation,

and thought of the steady, unchanging, and harmonious laws by which

they are sustained; the gentleman's spiritual intercourse seemed to

me as poor a piece of journey-work as ever this world saw. In

which heathen state of mind, I came within view of the house, and

stopped to examine it attentively.

It was a solitary house, standing in a sadly neglected garden: a

pretty even square of some two acres. It was a house of about the

time of George the Second; as stiff, as cold, as formal, and in as

bad taste, as could possibly be desired by the most loyal admirer

of the whole quartet of Georges. It was uninhabited, but had,

within a year or two, been cheaply repaired to render it habitable;

I say cheaply, because the work had been done in a surface manner,

and was already decaying as to the paint and plaster, though the

colors were fresh. A lop-sided board drooped over the garden wall,

announcing that it was "to let on very reasonable terms, well

furnished." It was much too closely and heavily shadowed by trees,

and, in particular, there were six tall poplars before the front

windows, which were excessively melancholy, and the site of which

had been extremely ill chosen.

It was easy to see that it was an avoided house--a house that was

shunned by the village, to which my eye was guided by a church

spire some half a mile off--a house that nobody would take. And

the natural inference was, that it had the reputation of being a

haunted house.

No period within the four-and-twenty hours of day and night is so

solemn to me, as the early morning. In the summer-time, I often

rise very early, and repair to my room to do a day's work before

breakfast, and I am always on those occasions deeply impressed by

the stillness and solitude around me. Besides that there is

something awful in the being surrounded by familiar faces asleep--

in the knowledge that those who are dearest to us and to whom we

are dearest, are profoundly unconscious of us, in an impassive

state, anticipative of that mysterious condition to which we are

all tending--the stopped life, the broken threads of yesterday, the

deserted seat, the closed book, the unfinished but abandoned

occupation, all are images of Death. The tranquillity of the hour

is the tranquillity of Death. The color and the chill have the

same association. Even a certain air that familiar household

objects take upon them when they first emerge from the shadows of

the night into the morning, of being newer, and as they used to be

long ago, has its counterpart in the subsidence of the worn face of

maturity or age, in death, into the old youthful look. Moreover, I

once saw the apparition of my father, at this hour. He was alive

and well, and nothing ever came of it, but I saw him in the

daylight, sitting with his back towards me, on a seat that stood

beside my bed. His head was resting on his hand, and whether he

was slumbering or grieving, I could not discern. Amazed to see him

there, I sat up, moved my position, leaned out of bed, and watched

him. As he did not move, I spoke to him more than once. As he did

not move then, I became alarmed and laid my hand upon his shoulder,

as I thought--and there was no such thing.

For all these reasons, and for others less easily and briefly

statable, I find the early morning to be my most ghostly time. Any

house would be more or less haunted, to me, in the early morning;

and a haunted house could scarcely address me to greater advantage

than then.

I walked on into the village, with the desertion of this house upon

my mind, and I found the landlord of the little inn, sanding his

door-step. I bespoke breakfast, and broached the subject of the


"Is it haunted?" I asked.

The landlord looked at me, shook his head, and answered, "I say


"Then it IS haunted?"

"Well!" cried the landlord, in an outburst of frankness that had

the appearance of desperation--"I wouldn't sleep in it."

"Why not?"

"If I wanted to have all the bells in a house ring, with nobody to

ring 'em; and all the doors in a house bang, with nobody to bang

'em; and all sorts of feet treading about, with no feet there; why,

then," said the landlord, "I'd sleep in that house."

"Is anything seen there?"

The landlord looked at me again, and then, with his former

appearance of desperation, called down his stable-yard for "Ikey!"

The call produced a high-shouldered young fellow, with a round red

face, a short crop of sandy hair, a very broad humorous mouth, a

turned-up nose, and a great sleeved waistcoat of purple bars, with

mother-of-pearl buttons, that seemed to be growing upon him, and to

be in a fair way--if it were not pruned--of covering his head and

overrunning his boots.

"This gentleman wants to know," said the landlord, "if anything's

seen at the Poplars."

"'Ooded woman with a howl," said Ikey, in a state of great


"Do you mean a cry?"

"I mean a bird, sir."

"A hooded woman with an owl. Dear me! Did you ever see her?"

"I seen the howl."

"Never the woman?"

"Not so plain as the howl, but they always keeps together."

"Has anybody ever seen the woman as plainly as the owl?"

"Lord bless you, sir! Lots."


"Lord bless you, sir! Lots."

"The general-dealer opposite, for instance, who is opening his


"Perkins? Bless you, Perkins wouldn't go a-nigh the place. No!"

observed the young man, with considerable feeling; "he an't

overwise, an't Perkins, but he an't such a fool as THAT."

(Here, the landlord murmured his confidence in Perkins's knowing


"Who is--or who was--the hooded woman with the owl? Do you know?"

"Well!" said Ikey, holding up his cap with one hand while he

scratched his head with the other, "they say, in general, that she

was murdered, and the howl he 'ooted the while."

This very concise summary of the facts was all I could learn,

except that a young man, as hearty and likely a young man as ever I

see, had been took with fits and held down in 'em, after seeing the

hooded woman. Also, that a personage, dimly described as "a hold

chap, a sort of one-eyed tramp, answering to the name of Joby,

unless you challenged him as Greenwood, and then he said, 'Why not?

and even if so, mind your own business,'" had encountered the

hooded woman, a matter of five or six times. But, I was not

materially assisted by these witnesses: inasmuch as the first was

in California, and the last was, as Ikey said (and he was confirmed

by the landlord), Anywheres.

Now, although I regard with a hushed and solemn fear, the

mysteries, between which and this state of existence is interposed

the barrier of the great trial and change that fall on all the

things that live; and although I have not the audacity to pretend

that I know anything of them; I can no more reconcile the mere

banging of doors, ringing of bells, creaking of boards, and such-

like insignificances, with the majestic beauty and pervading

analogy of all the Divine rules that I am permitted to understand,

than I had been able, a little while before, to yoke the spiritual

intercourse of my fellow- traveller to the chariot of the rising

sun. Moreover, I had lived in two haunted houses--both abroad. In

one of these, an old Italian palace, which bore the reputation of

being very badly haunted indeed, and which had recently been twice

abandoned on that account, I lived eight months, most tranquilly

and pleasantly: notwithstanding that the house had a score of

mysterious bedrooms, which were never used, and possessed, in one

large room in which I sat reading, times out of number at all

hours, and next to which I slept, a haunted chamber of the first

pretensions. I gently hinted these considerations to the landlord.

And as to this particular house having a bad name, I reasoned with

him, Why, how many things had bad names undeservedly, and how easy

it was to give bad names, and did he not think that if he and I

were persistently to whisper in the village that any weird-looking

old drunken tinker of the neighborhood had sold himself to the

Devil, he would come in time to be suspected of that commercial

venture! All this wise talk was perfectly ineffective with the

landlord, I am bound to confess, and was as dead a failure as ever

I made in my life.

To cut this part of the story short, I was piqued about the haunted

house, and was already half resolved to take it. So, after

breakfast, I got the keys from Perkins's brother-in-law (a whip and

harness maker, who keeps the Post Office, and is under submission

to a most rigorous wife of the Doubly Seceding Little Emmanuel

persuasion), and went up to the house, attended by my landlord and

by Ikey.

Within, I found it, as I had expected, transcendently dismal. The

slowly changing shadows waved on it from the heavy trees, were

doleful in the last degree; the house was ill-placed, ill-built,

ill-planned, and ill-fitted. It was damp, it was not free from dry

rot, there was a flavor of rats in it, and it was the gloomy victim

of that indescribable decay which settles on all the work of man's

hands whenever it's not turned to man's account. The kitchens and

offices were too large, and too remote from each other. Above

stairs and below, waste tracts of passage intervened between

patches of fertility represented by rooms; and there was a mouldy

old well with a green growth upon it, hiding like a murderous trap,

near the bottom of the back-stairs, under the double row of bells.

One of these bells was labelled, on a black ground in faded white

letters, MASTER B. This, they told me, was the bell that rang the


"Who was Master B.?" I asked. "Is it known what he did while the

owl hooted?"

"Rang the bell," said Ikey.

I was rather struck by the prompt dexterity with which this young

man pitched his fur cap at the bell, and rang it himself. It was a

loud, unpleasant bell, and made a very disagreeable sound. The

other bells were inscribed according to the names of the rooms to

which their wires were conducted: as "Picture Room," "Double Room,"

"Clock Room," and the like. Following Master B.'s bell to its

source I found that young gentleman to have had but indifferent

third-class accommodation in a triangular cabin under the cock-

loft, with a corner fireplace which Master B. must have been

exceedingly small if he were ever able to warm himself at, and a

corner chimney-piece like a pyramidal staircase to the ceiling for

Tom Thumb. The papering of one side of the room had dropped down

bodily, with fragments of plaster adhering to it, and almost

blocked up the door. It appeared that Master B., in his spiritual

condition, always made a point of pulling the paper down. Neither

the landlord nor Ikey could suggest why he made such a fool of


Except that the house had an immensely large rambling loft at top,

I made no other discoveries. It was moderately well furnished, but

sparely. Some of the furniture--say, a third--was as old as the

house; the rest was of various periods within the last half-

century. I was referred to a corn-chandler in the market-place of

the county town to treat for the house. I went that day, and I

took it for six months.

It was just the middle of October when I moved in with my maiden

sister (I venture to call her eight-and-thirty, she is so very

handsome, sensible, and engaging). We took with us, a deaf stable-

man, my bloodhound Turk, two women servants, and a young person

called an Odd Girl. I have reason to record of the attendant last

enumerated, who was one of the Saint Lawrence's Union Female

Orphans, that she was a fatal mistake and a disastrous engagement.

The year was dying early, the leaves were falling fast, it was a

raw cold day when we took possession, and the gloom of the house

was most depressing. The cook (an amiable woman, but of a weak

turn of intellect) burst into tears on beholding the kitchen, and

requested that her silver watch might be delivered over to her

sister (2 Tuppintock's Gardens, Liggs's Walk, Clapham Rise), in the

event of anything happening to her from the damp. Streaker, the

housemaid, feigned cheerfulness, but was the greater martyr. The

Odd Girl, who had never been in the country, alone was pleased, and

made arrangements for sowing an acorn in the garden outside the

scullery window, and rearing an oak.

We went, before dark, through all the natural--as opposed to

supernatural--miseries incidental to our state. Dispiriting

reports ascended (like the smoke) from the basement in volumes, and

descended from the upper rooms. There was no rolling-pin, there

was no salamander (which failed to surprise me, for I don't know

what it is), there was nothing in the house; what there was, was

broken, the last people must have lived like pigs, what could the

meaning of the landlord be? Through these distresses, the Odd Girl

was cheerful and exemplary. But within four hours after dark we

had got into a supernatural groove, and the Odd Girl had seen

"Eyes," and was in hysterics.

My sister and I had agreed to keep the haunting strictly to

ourselves, and my impression was, and still is, that I had not left

Ikey, when he helped to unload the cart, alone with the women, or

any one of them, for one minute. Nevertheless, as I say, the Odd

Girl had "seen Eyes" (no other explanation could ever be drawn from

her), before nine, and by ten o'clock had had as much vinegar

applied to her as would pickle a handsome salmon.

I leave a discerning public to judge of my feelings, when, under

these untoward circumstances, at about half-past ten o'clock Master

B.'s bell began to ring in a most infuriated manner, and Turk

howled until the house resounded with his lamentations!

I hope I may never again be in a state of mind so unchristian as

the mental frame in which I lived for some weeks, respecting the

memory of Master B. Whether his bell was rung by rats, or mice, or

bats, or wind, or what other accidental vibration, or sometimes by

one cause, sometimes another, and sometimes by collusion, I don't

know; but, certain it is, that it did ring two nights out of three,

until I conceived the happy idea of twisting Master B.'s neck--in

other words, breaking his bell short off--and silencing that young

gentleman, as to my experience and belief, for ever.

But, by that time, the Odd Girl had developed such improving powers

of catalepsy, that she had become a shining example of that very

inconvenient disorder. She would stiffen, like a Guy Fawkes

endowed with unreason, on the most irrelevant occasions. I would

address the servants in a lucid manner, pointing out to them that I

had painted Master B.'s room and balked the paper, and taken Master

B.'s bell away and balked the ringing, and if they could suppose

that that confounded boy had lived and died, to clothe himself with

no better behavior than would most unquestionably have brought him

and the sharpest particles of a birch-broom into close acquaintance

in the present imperfect state of existence, could they also

suppose a mere poor human being, such as I was, capable by those

contemptible means of counteracting and limiting the powers of the

disembodied spirits of the dead, or of any spirits?--I say I would

become emphatic and cogent, not to say rather complacent, in such

an address, when it would all go for nothing by reason of the Odd

Girl's suddenly stiffening from the toes upward, and glaring among

us like a parochial petrifaction.

Streaker, the housemaid, too, had an attribute of a most

discomfiting nature. I am unable to say whether she was of an

usually lymphatic temperament, or what else was the matter with

her, but this young woman became a mere Distillery for the

production of the largest and most transparent tears I ever met

with. Combined with these characteristics, was a peculiar tenacity

of hold in those specimens, so that they didn't fall, but hung upon

her face and nose. In this condition, and mildly and deplorably

shaking her head, her silence would throw me more heavily than the

Admirable Crichton could have done in a verbal disputation for a

purse of money. Cook, likewise, always covered me with confusion

as with a garment, by neatly winding up the session with the

protest that the Ouse was wearing her out, and by meekly repeating

her last wishes regarding her silver watch.

As to our nightly life, the contagion of suspicion and fear was

among us, and there is no such contagion under the sky. Hooded

woman? According to the accounts, we were in a perfect Convent of

hooded women. Noises? With that contagion downstairs, I myself

have sat in the dismal parlor, listening, until I have heard so

many and such strange noises, that they would have chilled my blood

if I had not warmed it by dashing out to make discoveries. Try

this in bed, in the dead of the night: try this at your own

comfortable fire-side, in the life of the night. You can fill any

house with noises, if you will, until you have a noise for every

nerve in your nervous system.

I repeat; the contagion of suspicion and fear was among us, and

there is no such contagion under the sky. The women (their noses

in a chronic state of excoriation from smelling-salts) were always

primed and loaded for a swoon, and ready to go off with hair-

triggers. The two elder detached the Odd Girl on all expeditions

that were considered doubly hazardous, and she always established

the reputation of such adventures by coming back cataleptic. If

Cook or Streaker went overhead after dark, we knew we should

presently hear a bump on the ceiling; and this took place so

constantly, that it was as if a fighting man were engaged to go

about the house, administering a touch of his art which I believe

is called The Auctioneer, to every domestic he met with.

It was in vain to do anything. It was in vain to be frightened,

for the moment in one's own person, by a real owl, and then to show

the owl. It was in vain to discover, by striking an accidental

discord on the piano, that Turk always howled at particular notes

and combinations. It was in vain to be a Rhadamanthus with the

bells, and if an unfortunate bell rang without leave, to have it

down inexorably and silence it. It was in vain to fire up

chimneys, let torches down the well, charge furiously into

suspected rooms and recesses. We changed servants, and it was no

better. The new set ran away, and a third set came, and it was no

better. At last, our comfortable housekeeping got to be so

disorganised and wretched, that I one night dejectedly said to my

sister: "Patty, I begin to despair of our getting people to go on

with us here, and I think we must give this up."

My sister, who is a woman of immense spirit, replied, "No, John,

don't give it up. Don't be beaten, John. There is another way."

"And what is that?" said I.

"John," returned my sister, "if we are not to be driven out of this

house, and that for no reason whatever, that is apparent to you or

me, we must help ourselves and take the house wholly and solely

into our own hands."

"But, the servants," said I.

"Have no servants," said my sister, boldly.

Like most people in my grade of life, I had never thought of the

possibility of going on without those faithful obstructions. The

notion was so new to me when suggested, that I looked very


"We know they come here to be frightened and infect one another,

and we know they are frightened and do infect one another," said my


"With the exception of Bottles," I observed, in a meditative tone.

(The deaf stable-man. I kept him in my service, and still keep

him, as a phenomenon of moroseness not to be matched in England.)

"To be sure, John," assented my sister; "except Bottles. And what

does that go to prove? Bottles talks to nobody, and hears nobody

unless he is absolutely roared at, and what alarm has Bottles ever

given, or taken? None."

This was perfectly true; the individual in question having retired,

every night at ten o'clock, to his bed over the coach-house, with

no other company than a pitchfork and a pail of water. That the

pail of water would have been over me, and the pitchfork through

me, if I had put myself without announcement in Bottles's way after

that minute, I had deposited in my own mind as a fact worth

remembering. Neither had Bottles ever taken the least notice of

any of our many uproars. An imperturbable and speechless man, he

had sat at his supper, with Streaker present in a swoon, and the

Odd Girl marble, and had only put another potato in his cheek, or

profited by the general misery to help himself to beefsteak pie.

"And so," continued my sister, "I exempt Bottles. And considering,

John, that the house is too large, and perhaps too lonely, to be

kept well in hand by Bottles, you, and me, I propose that we cast

about among our friends for a certain selected number of the most

reliable and willing--form a Society here for three months--wait

upon ourselves and one another--live cheerfully and socially--and

see what happens."

I was so charmed with my sister, that I embraced her on the spot,

and went into her plan with the greatest ardor.

We were then in the third week of November; but, we took our

measures so vigorously, and were so well seconded by the friends in

whom we confided, that there was still a week of the month

unexpired, when our party all came down together merrily, and

mustered in the haunted house.

I will mention, in this place, two small changes that I made while

my sister and I were yet alone. It occurring to me as not

improbable that Turk howled in the house at night, partly because

he wanted to get out of it, I stationed him in his kennel outside,

but unchained; and I seriously warned the village that any man who

came in his way must not expect to leave him without a rip in his

own throat. I then casually asked Ikey if he were a judge of a

gun? On his saying, "Yes, sir, I knows a good gun when I sees

her," I begged the favor of his stepping up to the house and

looking at mine.

"SHE'S a true one, sir," said Ikey, after inspecting a double-

barrelled rifle that I bought in New York a few years ago. "No

mistake about HER, sir."

"Ikey," said I, "don't mention it; I have seen something in this


"No, sir?" he whispered, greedily opening his eyes. "'Ooded lady,


"Don't be frightened," said I. "It was a figure rather like you."

"Lord, sir?"

"Ikey!" said I, shaking hands with him warmly, I may say

affectionately; "if there is any truth in these ghost-stories, the

greatest service I can do you, is, to fire at that figure. And I

promise you, by Heaven and earth, I will do it with this gun if I

see it again!"

The young man thanked me, and took his leave with some little

precipitation, after declining a glass of liquor. I imparted my

secret to him, because I had never quite forgotten his throwing his

cap at the bell; because I had, on another occasion, noticed

something very like a fur cap, lying not far from the bell, one

night when it had burst out ringing; and because I had remarked

that we were at our ghostliest whenever he came up in the evening

to comfort the servants. Let me do Ikey no injustice. He was

afraid of the house, and believed in its being haunted; and yet he

would play false on the haunting side, so surely as he got an

opportunity. The Odd Girl's case was exactly similar. She went

about the house in a state of real terror, and yet lied monstrously

and wilfully, and invented many of the alarms she spread, and made

many of the sounds we heard. I had had my eye on the two, and I

know it. It is not necessary for me, here, to account for this

preposterous state of mind; I content myself with remarking that it

is familiarly known to every intelligent man who has had fair

medical, legal, or other watchful experience; that it is as well

established and as common a state of mind as any with which

observers are acquainted; and that it is one of the first elements,

above all others, rationally to be suspected in, and strictly

looked for, and separated from, any question of this kind.

To return to our party. The first thing we did when we were all

assembled, was, to draw lots for bedrooms. That done, and every

bedroom, and, indeed, the whole house, having been minutely

examined by the whole body, we allotted the various household

duties, as if we had been on a gipsy party, or a yachting party, or

a hunting party, or were shipwrecked. I then recounted the

floating rumors concerning the hooded lady, the owl, and Master B.:

with others, still more filmy, which had floated about during our

occupation, relative to some ridiculous old ghost of the female

gender who went up and down, carrying the ghost of a round table;

and also to an impalpable Jackass, whom nobody was ever able to

catch. Some of these ideas I really believe our people below had

communicated to one another in some diseased way, without conveying

them in words. We then gravely called one another to witness, that

we were not there to be deceived, or to deceive--which we

considered pretty much the same thing--and that, with a serious

sense of responsibility, we would be strictly true to one another,

and would strictly follow out the truth. The understanding was

established, that any one who heard unusual noises in the night,

and who wished to trace them, should knock at my door; lastly, that

on Twelfth Night, the last night of holy Christmas, all our

individual experiences since that then present hour of our coming

together in the haunted house, should be brought to light for the

good of all; and that we would hold our peace on the subject till

then, unless on some remarkable provocation to break silence.

We were, in number and in character, as follows:

First--to get my sister and myself out of the way--there were we

two. In the drawing of lots, my sister drew her own room, and I

drew Master B.'s. Next, there was our first cousin John Herschel,

so called after the great astronomer: than whom I suppose a better

man at a telescope does not breathe. With him, was his wife: a

charming creature to whom he had been married in the previous

spring. I thought it (under the circumstances) rather imprudent to

bring her, because there is no knowing what even a false alarm may

do at such a time; but I suppose he knew his own business best, and

I must say that if she had been MY wife, I never could have left

her endearing and bright face behind. They drew the Clock Room.

Alfred Starling, an uncommonly agreeable young fellow of eight-and-

twenty for whom I have the greatest liking, was in the Double Room;

mine, usually, and designated by that name from having a dressing-

room within it, with two large and cumbersome windows, which no

wedges I was ever able to make, would keep from shaking, in any

weather, wind or no wind. Alfred is a young fellow who pretends to

be "fast" (another word for loose, as I understand the term), but

who is much too good and sensible for that nonsense, and who would

have distinguished himself before now, if his father had not

unfortunately left him a small independence of two hundred a year,

on the strength of which his only occupation in life has been to

spend six. I am in hopes, however, that his Banker may break, or

that he may enter into some speculation guaranteed to pay twenty

per cent.; for, I am convinced that if he could only be ruined, his

fortune is made. Belinda Bates, bosom friend of my sister, and a

most intellectual, amiable, and delightful girl, got the Picture

Room. She has a fine genius for poetry, combined with real

business earnestness, and "goes in"--to use an expression of

Alfred's--for Woman's mission, Woman's rights, Woman's wrongs, and

everything that is woman's with a capital W, or is not and ought to

be, or is and ought not to be. "Most praiseworthy, my dear, and

Heaven prosper you!" I whispered to her on the first night of my

taking leave of her at the Picture-Room door, "but don't overdo it.

And in respect of the great necessity there is, my darling, for

more employments being within the reach of Woman than our

civilisation has as yet assigned to her, don't fly at the

unfortunate men, even those men who are at first sight in your way,

as if they were the natural oppressors of your sex; for, trust me,

Belinda, they do sometimes spend their wages among wives and

daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers; and the play

is, really, not ALL Wolf and Red Riding-Hood, but has other parts

in it." However, I digress.

Belinda, as I have mentioned, occupied the Picture Room. We had

but three other chambers: the Corner Room, the Cupboard Room, and

the Garden Room. My old friend, Jack Governor, "slung his

hammock," as he called it, in the Corner Room. I have always

regarded Jack as the finest-looking sailor that ever sailed. He is

gray now, but as handsome as he was a quarter of a century ago--

nay, handsomer. A portly, cheery, well-built figure of a broad-

shouldered man, with a frank smile, a brilliant dark eye, and a

rich dark eyebrow. I remember those under darker hair, and they

look all the better for their silver setting. He has been wherever

his Union namesake flies, has Jack, and I have met old shipmates of

his, away in the Mediterranean and on the other side of the

Atlantic, who have beamed and brightened at the casual mention of

his name, and have cried, "You know Jack Governor? Then you know a

prince of men!" That he is! And so unmistakably a naval officer,

that if you were to meet him coming out of an Esquimaux snow-hut in

seal's skin, you would be vaguely persuaded he was in full naval


Jack once had that bright clear eye of his on my sister; but, it

fell out that he married another lady and took her to South

America, where she died. This was a dozen years ago or more. He

brought down with him to our haunted house a little cask of salt

beef; for, he is always convinced that all salt beef not of his own

pickling, is mere carrion, and invariably, when he goes to London,

packs a piece in his portmanteau. He had also volunteered to bring

with him one "Nat Beaver," an old comrade of his, captain of a

merchantman. Mr. Beaver, with a thick-set wooden face and figure,

and apparently as hard as a block all over, proved to be an

intelligent man, with a world of watery experiences in him, and

great practical knowledge. At times, there was a curious

nervousness about him, apparently the lingering result of some old

illness; but, it seldom lasted many minutes. He got the Cupboard

Room, and lay there next to Mr. Undery, my friend and solicitor:

who came down, in an amateur capacity, "to go through with it," as

he said, and who plays whist better than the whole Law List, from

the red cover at the beginning to the red cover at the end.

I never was happier in my life, and I believe it was the universal

feeling among us. Jack Governor, always a man of wonderful

resources, was Chief Cook, and made some of the best dishes I ever

ate, including unapproachable curries. My sister was pastry cook

and confectioner. Starling and I were Cook's Mate, turn and turn

about, and on special occasions the chief cook "pressed" Mr.

Beaver. We had a great deal of outdoor sport and exercise, but

nothing was neglected within, and there was no ill-humor or

misunderstanding among us, and our evenings were so delightful that

we had at least one good reason for being reluctant to go to bed.

We had a few night alarms in the beginning. On the first night, I

was knocked up by Jack with a most wonderful ship's lantern in his

hand, like the gills of some monster of the deep, who informed me

that he "was going aloft to the main truck," to have the

weathercock down. It was a stormy night and I remonstrated; but

Jack called my attention to its making a sound like a cry of

despair, and said somebody would be "hailing a ghost" presently, if

it wasn't done. So, up to the top of the house, where I could

hardly stand for the wind, we went, accompanied by Mr. Beaver; and

there Jack, lantern and all, with Mr. Beaver after him, swarmed up

to the top of a cupola, some two dozen feet above the chimneys, and

stood upon nothing particular, coolly knocking the weathercock off,

until they both got into such good spirits with the wind and the

height, that I thought they would never come down. Another night,

they turned out again, and had a chimney-cowl off. Another night,

they cut a sobbing and gulping water-pipe away. Another night,

they found out something else. On several occasions, they both, in

the coolest manner, simultaneously dropped out of their respective

bedroom windows, hand over hand by their counterpanes, to

"overhaul" something mysterious in the garden.

The engagement among us was faithfully kept, and nobody revealed

anything. All we knew was, if any one's room were haunted, no one

looked the worse for it.

The foregoing story is particularly interesting as illustrating the

leaning of Dickens's mind toward the spiritualistic and mystical

fancies current in his time, and the counterbalance of his common

sense and fun.

"He probably never made up his own mind," Mr. Andrew Lang declares

in a discussion of this Haunted House story. Mr. Lang says he once

took part in a similar quest, and "can recognize the accuracy of

most of Dickens's remarks. Indeed, even to persons not on the

level of the Odd Girl in education, the temptation to produce

'phenomena' for fun is all but overwhelming. That people

communicate hallucinations to each other 'in some diseased way

without words,' is a modern theory perhaps first formulated here by


"The Signal Man's Story," which follows, is likewise, Mr. Lang

believes, "probably based on some real story of the kind, some

anecdote of premonitions. There are scores in the records of the

Society for Psychical Research."--The Editor.