The Shadow of A Midnight,
A Ghost Story by Maurice Baring
It was nine o'clock in the evening. Sasha, the maid, had brought in the
samovar and placed it at the head of the long table. Marie Nikolaevna, our
hostess, poured out the tea. Her husband was playing Vindt with his
daughter, the doctor, and his son-in-law in another corner of the room.
And Jameson, who had just finished his Russian lesson—he was working
for the Civil Service examination—was reading the last number of the
"Have you found anything interesting, Frantz Frantzovitch?" said Marie
Nikolaevna to Jameson, as she handed him a glass of tea.
"Yes, I have," answered the Englishman, looking up. His eyes had a clear
dreaminess about them, which generally belongs only to fanatics or
visionaries, and I had no reason to believe that Jameson, who seemed to be
common sense personified, was either one or the other. "At least," he
continued, "it interests me. And it's odd—very odd."
"What is it?" asked Marie Nikolaevna.
"Well, to tell you what it is would mean a long story which you wouldn't
believe," said Jameson; "only it's odd—very odd."
"Tell us the story," I said.
"As you won't believe a word of it," Jameson repeated, "it's not much use
my telling it."
We insisted on hearing the story, so Jameson lit a cigarette, and began:—
"Two years ago," he said, "I was at Heidelberg, at the University, and I
made friends with a young fellow called Braun. His parents were German,
but he had lived five or six years in America, and he was practically an
American. I made his acquaintance by chance at a lecture, when I first
arrived, and he helped me in a number of ways. He was an energetic and
kind-hearted fellow, and we became great friends. He was a student, but he
did not belong to any Korps or Bursenschaft, he was working
hard then. Afterwards he became an engineer. When the summer Semester
came to an end, we both stayed on at Heidelberg. One day Braun suggested
that we should go for a walking tour and explore the country. I was only
too pleased, and we started. It was glorious weather, and we enjoyed
ourselves hugely. On the third night after we had started we arrived at a
village called Salzheim. It was a picturesque little place, and there was
a curious old church in it with some interesting tombs and relics of the
Thirty Years War. But the inn where we put up for the night was even more
picturesque than the church. It had been a convent for nuns, only the
greater part of it had been burnt, and only a quaint gabled house, and a
kind of tower covered with ivy, which I suppose had once been the belfry,
remained. We had an excellent supper and went to bed early. We had been
given two bedrooms, which were airy and clean, and altogether we were
satisfied. My bedroom opened into Braun's, which was beyond it, and had no
other door of its own. It was a hot night in July, and Braun asked me to
leave the door open. I did—we opened both the windows. Braun went to
bed and fell asleep almost directly, for very soon I heard his snores.
"I had imagined that I was longing for sleep, but no sooner had I got into
bed than all my sleepiness left me. This was odd, because we had walked a
good many miles, and it had been a blazing hot day, and up till then I had
slept like a log the moment I got into bed. I lit a candle and began
reading a small volume of Heine I carried with me. I heard the clock
strike ten, and then eleven, and still I felt that sleep was out of the
question. I said to myself: 'I will read till twelve and then I will
stop.' My watch was on a chair by my bedside, and when the clock struck
eleven I noticed that it was five minutes slow, and set it right. I could
see the church tower from my window, and every time the clock struck—and
it struck the quarters—the noise boomed through the room.
"When the clock struck a quarter to twelve I yawned for the first time,
and I felt thankful that sleep seemed at last to be coming to me. I left
off reading, and taking my watch in my hand I waited for midnight to
strike. This quarter of an hour seemed an eternity. At last the hands of
my watch showed that it was one minute to twelve. I put out my candle and
began counting sixty, waiting for the clock to strike. I had counted a
hundred and sixty, and still the clock had not struck. I counted up to
four hundred; then I thought I must have made a mistake. I lit my candle
again, and looked at my watch: it was two minutes past twelve. And still
the clock had not struck!
"A curious uncomfortable feeling came over me, and I sat up in bed with my
watch in my hand and longed to call Braun, who was peacefully snoring, but
I did not like to. I sat like this till a quarter past twelve; the clock
struck the quarter as usual. I made up my mind that the clock must have
struck twelve, and that I must have slept for a minute—at the same
time I knew I had not slept—and I put out my candle. I must have
fallen asleep almost directly.
"The next thing I remember was waking with a start. It seemed to me that
some one had shut the door between my room and Braun's. I felt for the
matches. The match-box was empty. Up to that moment—I cannot tell
why—something—an unaccountable dread—had prevented me
looking at the door. I made an effort and looked. It was shut, and through
the cracks and through the keyhole I saw the glimmer of a light. Braun had
lit his candle. I called him, not very loudly: there was no answer. I
called again more loudly: there was still no answer.
"Then I got out of bed and walked to the door. As I went, it was gently
and slightly opened, just enough to show me a thin streak of light. At
that moment I felt that some one was looking at me. Then it was instantly
shut once more, as softly as it had been opened. There was not a sound to
be heard. I walked on tiptoe towards the door, but it seemed to me that I
had taken a hundred years to cross the room. And when at last I reached
the door I felt I could not open it. I was simply paralysed with fear. And
still I saw the glimmer through the key-hole and the cracks.
"Suddenly, as I was standing transfixed with fright in front of the door,
I heard sounds coming from Braun's room, a shuffle of footsteps, and
voices talking low but distinctly in a language I could not understand. It
was not Italian, Spanish, nor French. The voices grew all at once louder;
I heard the noise of a struggle and a cry which ended in a stifled groan,
very painful and horrible to hear. Then, whether I regained my
self-control, or whether it was excess of fright which prompted me, I
don't know, but I flew to the door and tried to open it. Some one or
something was pressing with all its might against it. Then I screamed at
the top of my voice, and as I screamed I heard the cock crow.
"The door gave, and I almost fell into Braun's room. It was quite dark.
But Braun was waked by my screams and quietly lit a match. He asked me
gently what on earth was the matter. The room was empty and everything was
in its place. Outside the first greyness of dawn was in the sky.
"I said I had had a nightmare, and asked him if he had not had one as
well; but Braun said he had never slept better in his life.
"The next day we went on with our walking tour, and when we got back to
Heidelberg Braun sailed for America. I never saw him again, although we
corresponded frequently, and only last week I had a letter from him, dated
Nijni Novgorod, saying he would be at Moscow before the end of the month.
"And now I suppose you are all wondering what this can have to do with
anything that's in the newspaper. Well, listen," and he read out the
following paragraph from the Rouskoe Slovo:—
"Samara, II, ix. In the centre of the town, in the Hotel —,
a band of armed swindlers attacked a German engineer
named Braun and demanded money. On his refusal one of the
robbers stabbed Braun with a knife. The robbers, taking the
money which was on him, amounting to 500 roubles, got away.
Braun called for assistance, but died of his wounds in the
night. It appears that he had met the swindlers at a
"Since I have been in Russia," Jameson added, "I have often thought that I
knew what language it was that was talked behind the door that night in
the inn at Salzheim, but now I know it was Russian."