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The Haunters and the Haunted edited by Ernest Rhys online
XXVII THE DENTON HALL GHOST
A day or two after my arrival at Denton Hall, when all around was yet new to me, I had accompanied my friends to a ball given in the neighbourhood, and returned heartily fatigued. At this time I need not blush, nor you smile, when I say that on that evening I had met, for the second time, one with whose destinies my own were doomed to become connected.
I think I was sitting upon an antique carved chair, near to the fire, in the room where I slept, busied in arranging my hair, and thinking over some of the events of the day. Whether I had dropped into a half-slumber, I cannot say; but on looking up--for I had my face bent toward the fire--there seemed sitting on a similar highbacked chair, on the other side of the ancient tiled fireplace, an old lady, whose air and dress were so remarkable that to this hour they seem as fresh in my memory as they were the day after the vision. She appeared to be dressed in a flowered satin gown, of a cut then out of date. It was peaked and long-waisted. The fabric of the satin had that extreme of glossy stiffness which old fabrics of this kind exhibit. She wore a stomacher. On her wrinkled fingers appeared some rings of great size and seeming value; but, what was most remarkable, she wore also a satin hood of a peculiar shape. It was glossy like the gown, but seemed to be stiffened either by whalebone or some other material. Her age seemed considerable, and the face, though not unpleasant, was somewhat hard and severe and indented with minute wrinkles. I confess that so entirely was my attention engrossed by what was passing in my mind, that, though I felt mightily confused, I was not startled (in the emphatic sense) by the apparition. In fact, I deemed it to be some old lady, perhaps a housekeeper, or dependent in the family, and, therefore, though rather astonished, was by no means frightened by my visitant, supposing me to be awake, which I am convinced was the case, though few persons believe me on this point.
My own impression is that I stared somewhat rudely, in the wonder of the moment, at the hard, but lady-like features of my aged visitor. But she left me small time to think, addressing me in a familiar half-whisper and with a constant restless motion of the hand which aged persons, when excited, often exhibit in addressing the young. "Well, young lady," said my mysterious companion, "and so you've been at yon hall to-night! and highly ye've been delighted there! Yet if you could see as I can see, or could know as I can know, troth! I guess your pleasure would abate. 'Tis well for you, young lady, peradventure, ye see not with my eyes"--and at the moment, sure enough, her eyes, which were small, grey, and in no way remarkable, twinkled with a light so severe that the effect was unpleasant in the extreme. "'Tis well for you and them," she continued, "that ye cannot count the cost. Time was when hospitality could be kept in England, and the guest not ruin the master of the feast--but that's all vanished now: pride and poverty--pride and poverty, young lady, are an ill-matched pair, Heaven kens!" My tongue, which had at first almost faltered in its office, now found utterance. By a kind of instinct, I addressed my strange visitant in her own manner and humour. "And are we, then, so much poorer than in days of yore?" were the words that I spoke. My visitor seemed half startled at the sound of my voice, as at something unaccustomed, and went on, rather answering my question by implication than directly: "'Twas not all hollowness then," she exclaimed, ceasing somewhat her hollow whisper; "the land was then the lord's, and that which _seemed, was_. The child, young lady, was not then mortgaged in the cradle, and, mark ye, the bride, when she kneeled at the altar, gave not herself up, body and soul, to be the bondswoman of the Jew, but to be the helpmate of the spouse." "The Jew!" I exclaimed in surprise, for then I understood not the allusion. "Ay, young lady! the Jew," was the rejoinder. "'Tis plain ye know not who rules. 'Tis all hollow yonder! all hollow, all hollow! to the very glitter of the side-board, all false! all false! all hollow! Away with such make-believe finery!" And here again the hollow voice rose a little, and the dim grey eye glistened. "Ye mortgage the very oaks of your ancestors--I saw the planting of them; and now 'tis all painting, gilding, varnishing and veneering. Houses call ye them? Whited sepulchres, young lady, whited sepulchres. Trust not all that seems to glisten. Fair though it seems, 'tis but the product of disease--even as is the pearl in your hair, young lady, that glitters in the mirror yonder,--not more specious than is all,--ay, _all_ ye have seen to-night."