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The Haunters and the Haunted edited by Ernest Rhys online

The Haunters and the Haunted edited by Ernest Rhys


As my strange visitor pronounced these words, I instinctively turned my gaze to a large old-fashioned mirror that leaned from the wall of the chamber. 'Twas but for a moment. But when I again turned my head, my visitant was no longer there! I heard plainly, as I turned, the distinct rustle of the silk, as if she had risen and was leaving the room. I seemed distinctly to hear this, together with the quick, short, easy footstep with which females of rank of that period were taught to glide rather than to walk; this I seemed to hear, but of what appeared the antique old lady I saw no more. The suddenness and strangeness of this event for a moment sent the blood back to my heart. Could I have found voice, I should, I think, have screamed, but that was, for a moment, beyond my power. A few seconds recovered me. By a sort of impulse I rushed to the door, outside which I now heard the footsteps of some of the family, when, to my utter astonishment, I found it was--locked! I now recollected that I myself locked it before sitting down.

Though somewhat ashamed to give utterance to what I really believed as to this matter, the strange adventure of the night was made a subject of conversation at the breakfast-table next morning. On the words leaving my lips, I saw my host and hostess exchange looks with each other, and soon found that the tale I had to tell was not received with the air which generally meets such relations. I was not repelled by an angry or ill-bred incredulity, or treated as one of diseased fancy, to whom silence is indirectly recommended as the alternative of being laughed at. In short, it was not attempted to be denied or concealed that I was not the first who had been alarmed in a manner, if not exactly similar, yet just as mysterious; that visitors, like myself, had actually given way to these terrors so far as to quit the house in consequence; and that servants were sometimes not to be prevented from sharing in the same contagion. At the same time they told me this, my host and hostess declared that custom and continued residence had long exempted all regular inmates of the mansion from any alarms or terrors. The visitations, whatever they were, seemed to be confined to newcomers, and to them it was by no means a matter of frequent occurrence.

In the neighbourhood, I found, this strange story was well known; that the house was regularly set down as "haunted" all the country round, and that the spirit, or goblin, or whatever it was that was embodied in these appearances, was familiarly known by the name of "Silky."

At a distance, those to whom I have related my night's adventure have one and all been sceptical, and accounted for the whole by supposing me to have been half asleep, or in a state resembling somnambulism. All I can say is, that my own impressions are directly contrary to this supposition; and that I feel as sure that I saw the figure that sat before me with my bodily eyes, as I am sure I now see you with them. Without affecting to deny that I was somewhat shocked by the adventure, I must repeat that I suffered no unreasonable alarm, nor suffered my fancy to overcome my better spirit of womanhood.

I certainly slept no more in that room, and in that to which I removed I had one of the daughters of my hostess as a companion; but I have never, from that hour to this, been convinced that I did not actually encounter something more than is natural--if not an actual being in some other state of existence. My ears have not been deceived, if my eyes were--which, I repeat, I cannot believe.

The warnings so strongly shadowed forth have been too true. The gentleman at whose house I that night was a guest has long since filled an untimely grave! In that splendid hall, since that time, strangers have lorded it--and I myself have long since ceased to think of such scenes as I partook of that evening--the envied object of the attention of one whose virtues have survived the splendid inheritance to which he seemed destined.

Whether this be a tale of delusion and superstition, or something more than that, it is, at all events, not without a legend for its foundation. There is some obscure and dark rumour of secrets strangely obtained and enviously betrayed by a rival sister, ending in deprivation of reason and death; and that the betrayer still walks by times in the deserted Hall which she rendered tenantless, always prophetic of disaster to those she encounters. So has it been with me, certainly; and more than me, if those who say it say true. It is many, many years since I saw the scene of this adventure; but I have heard that since that time the same mysterious visitings have more than once been renewed; that midnight curtains have been drawn by an arm clothed in rustling silks; and the same form, clad in dark brocade, has been seen gliding along the dark corridors of that ancient, grey, and time-worn mansion, ever prophetic of death or misfortune.

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