I invite you to the preliminary scenes of a haunting. It is one as traditional as that told about many houses in old England; ancestral mansions that gloomily cast their shadows upon the land. But unlike my peers, I do not cast ignorant doubt upon all such ghostly occupations for I have witnessed my own; and, in time I have come to listen to the stories of our haunted island with a much more receptive ear.
A carriage has driven its way forth across the Dales and now passes through the streets of Ilkley.
“It is just out of the town, madam,” said the driver of the coach to its occupant. “You will be there in less than half an hour.”
“You are quite sure,” asked the young lady, “you know Denton House?”
“Know the Hall? I should say so!” was the confident reply. “We’ll be there soon enough.”
Miss Barton said no more. She resumed her seat in the vehicle, reassured. Her drive had already lasted some hours; the road was not in first-rate condition. She was only eighteen years of age, and, though not inclined to be timid or nervous, was afraid that the coachman had lost his way.
She was about to visit her friends, relatives of the former owner of the Hall, named Montague.
Pondering upon her reception, and anticipating the ball that was to be given a day or two after her arrival, Miss Barton sat quietly in her coach, and before long was rewarded for her patience by the sight of the house.
It is an old Elizabethan mansion — for it exists still — standing on rising ground and solidly built. It possesses three gables, the walls being much overgrown with ivy. Many of the windows, Miss Barton remarked, looked like embrasures, while the massive appearance of the embattled chimneys seemed to impart to the house the character of a castle. There were and may still, be traces of the moat, the side of which forms the terrace and orchard. The venerable trees were inhabited by a colony of rooks.
Our traveller managed to take in these details before she alighted at the door and was hospitably welcomed by the hosts. They were naturally much sought after in the country, and many friends were invited, and invited them with their guests.
Miss Barton was conducted upstairs by her hostess in person, who was, as every good hostess is, desirous to see that everything had been prepared for her young friend.
“I hope you will like your chamber,” she said, as they ascended the old staircase. “I have given you a very celebrated room. It was formerly occupied by no less a personage than Dr. Johnson.”
“Indeed! I am sure I shall be very pleased to occupy such a fine apartment.”
“It has the prettiest view of all our present guest chambers,” continued her hostess; “but the interior is somewhat dark. You will not mind, I am sure?”
“Of course not,” replied the girl gaily.” The trees shade it a little, but I think it will suit you nicely. You are not nervous, I think?”
“Not the least,” said Miss Barton, with a smile. “I am quite safe, and shall be very comfortable here, thank you.”
The ladies entered the apartment as this was said, and Miss Barton had no reason to change her opinion. She felt it rather an honour to be placed in the room of the great man of whom she had read so much, and she looked down upon the path beneath the trees, known as ‘Doctor Johnson’s Walk,’ with much interest.
Her host pointed out to her the bookcase and writing desk used by the famous doctor, and then left the young girl to prepare for dinner. Miss Barton dressed, and amused herself in examining the apartment, speculating, as was her custom, upon the past and future.
She was recalled to consideration of the present by the dinner bell, which sent a loud resounding summons through the old mansion. Guests came tripping downstairs to the drawing-room, introductions were effected, and a very enjoyable evening was
Miss Barton was interested by her host, who, perceiving that she was fond of history, took pains to inform her how the monks of a local abbey came into possession of it, and how a secret underground passage communicated with the Priory.
“There are many curious incidents connected with the house,” concluded her kindly entertainer. “Someday we will tell you about them. You have had sufficient antiquarianism for one evening.”
A couple of days passed pleasantly, and then the ball occupied attention. This dance was given by a family in the neighbourhood. This was such a delightful incident in the already pleasant entertainment that Miss Barton returned with her friends in a very happy and contented frame of mind. She did not notice the gloom of the apartment. The candles gave her plenty of light, and when she had partly unrobed she seated herself in one of the antique carved chairs near the fire which her thoughtful hostess had provided, and commenced to brush out her hair. The hour was not late. The dance had begun and ended in good time, and two o’clock had not struck as Miss Barton proceeded rather mechanically to brush her hair. Her thoughts were full of the happiness she had experienced.
She was ruminating upon the ball, the splendour of the house at which it had been held, the lavish display of wealth, and the joyful dancing she had partaken of. Miss Barton fell into a reverie, but aroused herself with a start as the fire fell noisily and brought her to earth again.
The young lady was about to turn to her mirror, when, raising her head, she perceived seated opposite to her, on the other side of the tiled fireplace, an elderly lady of remarkable appearance. She occupied another of the high-backed chairs, and was dressed in a flowered satin gown of somewhat ancient fashion. The material was very shiny and stiff. The visitant wore a satin hood of curious shape and sheen — a curious feature which puzzled Miss Barton not a little.
On her wrinkled fingers the old lady wore several costly rings. Her age, of course, could only be conjectured, but it was great. Her face was much wrinkled, and wore a severe expression, but her appearance denoted nothing alarming. She sat perfectly quiet, and Miss Barton, for the moment, fancied that she was the old housekeeper waiting to assist the guest at her toilette.
Miss Barton stared at the old dame with some persistency, and the latter returned the scrutiny, but did not wait to be spoken to. She addressed the girl in the familiar, half-whispered style which many aged people adopt when speaking to young girls. She seemed, to be impatient and annoyed, for her aged fingers twitched and her head frequently moved, which, in the old, indicates excitement.
“Well, young lady,” remarked the mysterious visitor, “so you’ve been to yonder Hall tonight, and mightily you’ve been pleased. Ah! If you could see as I see, and could know as I know, I can tell you your pleasure would abate pretty quickly.”
Miss Barton still stared in surprise at this rather blunt introduction, but made no reply. The old dame resumed in the same strain: “Ah! Let those who know not the past admire the present. ‘Tis well, mayhap, that you see not with my eyes!”
Miss Barton here remarked that her visitor had peculiar eyes, which were small and grey in tone, but which flushed in a strange way as she continued to speak in the same severe manner.
“You enjoyed the bravery there! It’s well for you and for them who count not the cost. There was a time when the master would not be ruined in England by his hospitality and guests; but that’s all vanished now. Pride and Poverty! Pride and Poverty! An ill-matched pair, Heaven Knows!”
She paused, and Miss Barton, taking her courage in both hands, replied in the same tone: “And are we so much poorer than in the olden days?”
The old lady seemed very much startled at the question, or at the sound of the voice. She made no direct answer, but continued in monotonous tones: “Ay, Pride and Poverty I said. It was bad enough when the rush was on the floor, the tapestry on the wall, the table groaning under venison and boar, and the home-brew and red wine in horn and goblet. ‘Twas not all hollowness then, though what seemed was; the land was the lairds. It’s all hollow yonder; false, false, false! All whited sepulchres, young lady. Whited sepulchres! I tell you, you tread on ashes. Beware! Trust not them — they are Dead Sea fruits; your merchant’s aping aristocracy. Fair though it seems, it is but the result of disease, like the pearl in your hair yonder, in the mirror ——”
Miss Barton says that at this peculiar remark, she turned instinctively to look at the glass, and when she again looked at the fire-place, the spectre — if spectre she fancied it — had disappeared.
But as she gazed round the room she plainly heard the rustling of silken or satin robes, as if the old lady were leaving the apartment or had already quitted it. A gentle sound as of footsteps seemed also audible; but the door remained closed, and nothing was visible. Then the possibility of some strange apparition came rushing into Miss Barton’s mind. She uttered a loud scream, and rushed to the door, which she found locked. She felt very faint, and sank down incapable of giving any further alarm.
Nothing more occurred to frighten or to disturb her. The rest of the night passed quietly, but the appearance of the lady and her ominous words prevented sleep for some time after her disappearance. At length repose came, and when Miss Barton awoke next morning she distinctly remembered the events of the night, and made up her mind to communicate them to her host and hostess on the first opportunity.
They listened to her story with the closest attention, but neither smiled nor ridiculed, her. On the contrary, they seemed impressed by the narrative, and when the young lady had finished the relation of her curious experience, her host, glancing at his wife, gravely assured her that this was by no means the first time that the apparition had visited the Hall.
“Some of our guests,” he continued “have actually quitted the house in consequence of the old lady’s visits. Even our servants, who, fortunately, are not often disturbed, have sometimes left us for the same reason. You are not afraid?”
“No,” replied Miss Barton, after a pause. “The figure cannot harm me, can it?”
“Oh, dear not ” said her hostess, reassuringly, “we take no notice of the old lady; we are quite accustomed to her, and even are interested in her movements. Those who have lived here any length of time never see her now.”
“Then she only appears to warn newcomers?” asked Miss Barton.
“Precisely. And then only occasionally. I venture to say that you will not see her again.”
“Yes,” continued her host. “When we first came into this part of the country, we understood that the house was haunted. Everyone knows that it’s no secret. I wonder that you did not hear it. We never think about it. We call her ‘Silky’ because of the rustling noise she makes when she moves.”
“Very well,” replied Miss Barton. “If this be so, I need not be alarmed. But if I changed my room?”
“If you please; but I am fully convinced that you will not see Madam ‘Silky’ again during your stay.”
“But what is the secret of her coming? There is surely some legend attached to the house: some tradition which will in some measure account for the ghost — if it be one.”
“You were not asleep, were you?” asked her hostess.
“No, certainly not. I am as positive as I can be that I did see the old lady. She said much that I cannot remember, but she certainly complained of the style in which your friends were living, and implied that disaster would fall upon them before long. ‘Whited sepulchres’ she called them.”
“Ah, indeed,” remarked the gentleman.
“But please tell me the secret,” said Miss Barton, seeing her host had become very thoughtful. “What is the tale?”
“I cannot tell it all,” he replied. “It is of a nature which you need not fathom. Let it suffice for me to say that there was a story of a young girl whose confidence was betrayed by an elder sister. The result of this conduct was most unfortunate. The younger sister was deceived and betrayed both by her lover and her sister. The result you can imagine! Ruin and disgrace fell upon the young girl, and the old dame who had persecuted her, now under the name of ‘Silky’, is doomed to wander around the old house to warn others.”
During the course of the day the girl was moved into another apartment, in which she had the companionship of one of the daughters of the house. Here there was no disturbance, but the resident of the Hall declared that she had no fear.
“‘Silky’ often came, but never hurt anyone,” she said to Miss Barton “so you may sleep in peace.”
A few years afterwards Miss Barton was married to the husband of her choice. She never again encountered ‘Silky’ but her prophecy came true. The warning came to pass. The host of the grand entertainment that night has long since filled an untimely grave.
After the death of Mr. Montague, Denton Hall remained empty for a while; but years after a new occupation, I am reliably informed that the mysterious guest is fully believed in, not only by the residents of the house, but by those in the neighbourhood. People of position in the county credit the apparition of ‘Silky’, “and some later occurrences would seem to confirm belief in the tradition that ‘Silky’ strangled her sister to avoid family scandal of another kind, and hence she is doomed to wander for ever around the house in which the terrible deed was committed.
This spectre does not only make its presence manifest by night. It is said at times to utter sounds and warnings even to people beyond the precincts of the old Hall. Miners have stated that they have owed their lives in the pits to the old woman (sometimes known as old Barberry, or Barbara), who has appeared and given them warning of impending danger.
But whether this be so or not, there seems no room for doubt but that ‘Silky’ is in the habit of visiting the apartments.
Residents and temporary guests have seen her “flitting” along the passages, up the stone staircases, and outside the house in the shady walks.
An anecdote is related that on one occasion Madam ‘Silky’ alarmed one of the female domestics very much. On this occasion, the apparition glided into a bedroom, and seized the sleeping inmate by the hand. The sleeper was immediately drawn to the side of the bed, and when morning came, the painful clasp was perfectly perceptible to the feelings. The pain did not entirely depart for some days. These or other manifestations have been often succeeded by death, or other misfortune. Sometimes, on the contrary, a piece of good luck comes to pass; but it is remarkable that on every occasion on which the spectre has made her presence felt or apparent, something out of the common has happened.
It is noted that Denton Hall instances have occurred of visitors having been so frightened as never to have returned to the house, a notable instance having occurred about fifty years ago, when two sisters who were guests, came down one morning to breakfast, and requested to be sent from the house at once, declaring that they would never revisit it.
But they could never be persuaded to tell what had alarmed them. That they were terrified there was no doubt; but perhaps ‘Silky’ had threatened them. At any rate, they departed.
Other instances have been deposed to, and, I daresay, other cases besides those already given can be found. I have said enough, however, to interest those who are willing, or, who are admitted to the Hall, to see the haunted chamber or to see the ghost of ‘Silky’.
In conclusion, I draw upon the statement of one previous incumbent of the house: “It is many, many years since I saw the scene of the adventure, but I have heard that since that time the same mysterious visitings have been more than once 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.”