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The Haunters and the Haunted edited by Ernest Rhys online
XXX THE IRON CAGE
From Mrs CROWE'S "Night Side of Nature"
[As you express a wish to know what credit is to be attached to a tale sent forth after a lapse of between thirty and forty years, I will state the facts as they were recalled last year by a daughter of Sir William A. C----.]
Sir James, my mother, with myself and my brother Charles, went abroad towards the end of the year 1786. After trying several different places, we determined to settle at Lille, where we had letters of introduction to several of the best French families. There Sir James left us, and after passing a few days in an uncomfortable lodging, we engaged a nice large family house, which we liked much, and which we obtained at a very low rent, even for that part of the world.
About three weeks after we were established there, I walked one day with my mother to the bankers, for the purpose of delivering our letter of credit from Sir Robert Herries and drawing some money, which being paid in heavy five-frank pieces, we found we could not carry, and therefore requested the banker to send, saying, "We live in the Place du Lion d'Or." Whereupon he looked surprised, and observed that he knew of no house there fit for us, "except, indeed," he added, "the one that has been long uninhabited on account of the _revenant_ that walks about it."
He said this quite seriously, and in a natural tone of voice; in spite of which we laughed, and were quite entertained at the idea of a ghost; but, at the same time, we begged him not to mention the thing to our servants, lest they should take any fancies into their heads; and my mother and I resolved to say nothing about the matter to anyone. "I suppose it is the ghost," said my mother, laughing, "that wakes us so often by walking over our heads." We had, in fact, been awakened several nights by a heavy foot, which we supposed to be that of one of the men-servants, of whom we had three English and four French. The English ones, men and women, every one of them, returned ultimately to England with us.
A night or two afterwards, being again awakened by the step, my mother asked Creswell: "Who slept in the room above us?" "No one, my lady," she replied, "it is a large empty garret."
About a week or ten days after this, Creswell came to my mother, one morning, and told her that all the French servants talked of going away, because there was a _revenant_ in the house; adding, that there seemed to be a strange story attached to the place, which was said, together with some other property, to have belonged to a young man, whose guardian, who was also his uncle, had treated him cruelly, and confined him in an iron cage; and as he had subsequently disappeared, it was conjectured he had been murdered. This uncle, after inheriting the property, had suddenly quitted the house, and sold it to the father of the man of whom we had hired it. Since that period, though it had been several times let, nobody had ever stayed in it above a week or two; and, for a considerable time past, it had had no tenant at all.
"And do you really believe all this nonsense, Creswell?" said my mother.
"Well, I don't know, my lady," answered she, "but there is the iron cage in the garret over your bedroom, where you may see it, if you please."
Of course we rose to go, and just at that moment an old officer, with his Croix de St Louis, called on us, we invited him to accompany us, and we ascended together. We found, as Creswell had said, a large empty garret, with bare brick walls, and in the further corner of it stood an iron cage, such as wild beasts are kept in, only higher; it was about four feet square, and eight in height, and there was an iron ring in the wall at the back, to which was attached an old rusty chain, with a collar fixed to the end of it! I confess it made my blood creep, when I thought of the possibility of any human being having inhabited it! And our old friend expressed as much horror as ourselves, assuring us that it must certainly have been constructed for some such dreadful purpose. As, however, we were no believer in ghosts, we all agreed that the noises must proceed from somebody who had an interest in keeping the house empty; and since it was very disagreeable to imagine that there were secret means of entering it by night, we resolved, as soon as possible, to look out for another residence, and, in the meantime, to say nothing about the matter to anybody. About ten days after this determination, my mother, observing one morning that Creswell, when she came to dress her, looked exceedingly pale and ill, inquired if anything was the matter with her? "Indeed, my lady," answered she, "we have been frightened to death; and neither I nor Mrs Marsh can sleep again in the room we are now in."