I don’t belong to any society, but I take a great interest in what are called occult mysteries. I pursue my investigations in my own way, and not long ago was on the lookout for a haunted house. I had an open mind on the subject of hauntings: all I wanted was to prove the truth one way or another. I heard after some research of a house in the northern outskirts of London — there are many lonely places about there. I arranged with the agent to have the use of the house for a week. He assured me it was quite empty — not even a caretaker was in it. No one, of course, would come near it, as the belief in its being haunted was profound, and the whole neighbourhood shunned it.
This looked eligible. I departed one evening, in high spirits, for my solitary vigil. Of course, there was a murder connected with the house, but the exact nature of the haunting I had never been able to get at. To discover this would be part of my work. It was early autumn, at the moonless part of the month, so that the nights were dark, but not cold, and I needed no fire. I supplied myself with food and light.
The house looked decidedly gruesome — in a melancholy state of dilapidation, windows broken, shutters off their hinges, the doorsteps green with damp; the garden was a wilderness. However, I have a large fund of animal spirits, I am the right side of forty, and my life has been an easy one; I am not, therefore, a person of moods or ready depression. I explored my temporary possession unscared by the rush of rats and mice and the cracking of loose flooring. Fortunately I found some old furniture — useless even to the poorest second-hand dealer — scattered about the house; some of this — a few chairs and a table — I brought down into one of the rooms that seemed best to serve my purpose.
What was I going to do? You — if you are uninitiated — may ask. Why, sit up for a ghost? — or an appearance, hallucination — what you like to call it. It sounds funny; I can quite see that; and you may think that if I saw anything it wouldn’t prove much. Somebody else, of course, would explain it away. But, anyhow, here I was.
It wasn’t my cue to remain in one place. The ghost — or hallucination — might be disporting itself in one part while I waited in the other, and we should thus be dodging each other — a sort of hide and seek. So I roamed about up and down very much as if I had been the perturbed spirit. Everywhere I heard creaks, groanings, flappings — no wonder the place was believed to be haunted. I am certain every plank had the dry rot in it. I had some supper and enjoyed it; a spirit stove supplied me with hot coffee — my only drink.
Then I composed myself on two chairs. I may have dozed; I remember thinking the silence oppressive, and then suddenly starting up at some sound below. What was it?
No doubt I ought to have gone to the door and looked out, and perhaps called out, to see what or who was there; but I stood still. If you shout out rudely to a — well, a ghost, you destroy your own purpose. This may have been my reflection — I don’t say it was. So I waited — as any scientific man would.
Why did I attach any particular importance to this sound? Well, it was different from all I had heard — like somebody groping in the dark. A ghost wouldn’t grope, you object; ghosts are familiar with the dark. Exactly; that’s quite right; but it didn’t occur to me atthe time.
A door closed — I’m sure it did ; and there was a door shutting off the passage leading from my room to the rest of the house. I fancied, too, the key was turned — but this must have been fancy.
What was it — who? A stealthy step came right up to my door, paused — good heavens! a ghost at such close quarters! It came in — it — he — something! I fell back in my chair. Continue reading