A Vision or a Dream? by Edmund Leamy

I never had a decided opinion one way or the other on the subject of ghosts—that is to say, I was never able to affirm my belief in them, nor was I willing, on the other hand, to deny that occasionally they visited the glimpses of the moon. Nothing, however, would induce me to spend a night in a churchyard, and indeed, it would cost me a considerable effort to pass by one on a country road after nightfall if I chanced to be alone. The fact is, I suffered for many years, and from my earliest childhood from the effects of a morbid imagination. I had, when little over six years old, received a terrible shock by the suicide of a neighbour. I had often seen him pass by the door of the house in which we lived. He was, as well as I remember, an engineer, and he had a rather peculiar cast of countenance, which had made a deep impression on me. I did not see him lying dead, but I followed a crowd mainly composed of women which attended the coffin, as it was being borne on the shoulders of four men, to the house of the deceased. When the coffin was taken inside the door the crowd remained for a long time outside, and of course the fatal deed formed the sole topic of conversation. I was close to three or four women who were listening to another who was giving a most graphic description of the manner in which the unhappy man had taken his life. The details were probably the offspring of her imagination, but they sank into my mind and the recollection of them cost me hours and nights of the bitterest agony—an agony indeed, impossible to describe. I have not forgotten them yet, though close on half a century has passed away.

I was, as I have mentioned, only about six years old at the time, and I was sent to bed every night about eight o’clock. I slept at the top of the house, and in the same room one of the servants also slept. I have no recollection of having, prior to the time I speak of, felt any fear when left alone in the room in the dark, but the night on which I heard the account of the suicide was to open a new experience for me, and to leave a mark upon my mind and character which has never been wholly effaced.

I remember well, as if it were only last night, hearing the footfalls of the servant as she descended the stairs after having put me to bed. I can remember, too, the noises in the street, the sound of feet and the voices talking, when suddenly in the dark, and close to my face, I saw the face of the dead man! I have purposely omitted the details of the suicide, nor do I wish to describe here the face as I saw it. Let it suffice to say that it was exactly in the condition as described by the woman in the crowd. It was the peculiar face which I had been accustomed to see, only hideously marred by wounds.

I screamed as it came close to me—screamed as if my life was in my throat—screamed and screamed, but no help came. I was at the top of a high house and the door was closed. I covered my head with the clothes until I was almost smothered. I closed my eyes fast to shut out the horrid sight as I hoped, but only to see it more clearly. Sometimes the face, while preserving the likeness to the peculiar face of the engineer, as I was wont to see it when he was alive, seemed to spread itself out and then contract, and every lineament of it seemed to be in convulsive motion. The pressure of the clothes and the suffocating heat forced me at length to lift them up, and again I screamed—screamed like a wild animal in agony. At last I was heard. Someone came quickly up the stairs. The door was flung open, and the candle lighted. It was the servant.

“My God! What’s the matter?” she exclaimed, as she saw me trembling as if I were in a fit and covered with perspiration.

I tried to explain as well as I could, and she endeavoured to soothe me. She remained by my side until I fell into a disturbed sleep. And for months after she, by the doctor’s orders, who was called in next day, sat in the room until I slept. And for many years, until I became almost a man, I never ventured to sleep except in a lighted room.

But whenever I was alone, either at night time, or at day time, I was liable to see the faces such as I have since read in De Quincey’s volume haunt the dreams of opium eaters. I have often started back shuddering from these faces, which have appeared suddenly in front of me when going by myself along a country road, even in the broad noon-day, when the sun was shining. And when people often expressed surprise that I never could be induced to visit a wake-house, they little knew that I could do so only at the price of being haunted for months by what I saw there, whenever I found myself alone.

I have narrated all this chiefly because it may serve in some degree to account for the phenomena which I witnessed under the circumstances I am about to describe.

About twenty years ago I paid a long promised visit to a friend, Gerald F——, who then lived in one of the counties bordering on Dublin, but who has since died.

He was engaged to be married to a very handsome girl, a Miss R——, whom he had met in London, but who was residing with her aunt not many miles from Creeve house, my friend’s residence. The wedding was to take place a few months subsequent to my visit. The marriage promised to be full of happiness. The girl was as gracious as she was beautiful, and my friend Gerald was in every way worthy of her. Both were very well off. The girl, an orphan, had been well provided for by her parents, and had large expectations from her aunt. The young couple were deeply in love with each other, and Gerald was constantly driving over to her aunt’s residence, and often took his fiancée for a drive through the charming country roads.

My visit was made in compliance with a promise which I had made long before the engagement took place, and which Gerald had frequently reminded me of. I came down to him not knowing of the engagement, and so when I heard the news I could not help remarking to him that my visit was rather ill-timed. But Gerald replied that he was delighted to see his old friend and to be able to talk over his own good fortune with him, and talk he did, I must say, to his heart’s content. But one day he said he feared he was boring me when we were together, and that I must, on the other hand, find it rather dull to be left alone, as I often was, when he was away in the company of his fiancée.

I interrupted him by saying that I rejoiced in his happiness and to hear him speak of it, and that as I loved the country and was fond of books I was able to pass my time very pleasantly in the glorious summer weather we were having.

And the time undoubtedly slipped away very agreeably, until one evening, about three weeks after my arrival, I was reclining on the lawn in front of the house under the shadow of a fine ash that flung its branches over the little rippling stream that wound through the lawn, and thinking myself as happy as Horace used to be in a similar situation, when the sound of a very fast galloping horse came suddenly down the avenue.

I had barely time to turn round when the horse pulled up before the hall-door, and I saw it was Gerald’s trap, and that he, white as a sheet, had one arm twined round Miss R——’s waist, with her head resting against his breast. I rushed up, and the look of unutterable agony in Gerald’s eyes satisfied me, without even the sight of the blood upon Miss R——’s face, that a terrible tragedy had occurred.

Of course the first thing to be done was to remove the lady into the house. This was done, and the doctor was at once sent for, although the slightest observation satisfied us all that his services were of no avail. The poor girl was dead!

Gerald was at first too distracted to be able to give a coherent account of what had happened; but when he was calm enough to speak the story was soon told.

He and Miss R—— were driving together past Creveen Wood when a shot was fired. The lady was on the side from which it was fired, and she was struck and killed instantly. The horse, frightened by the report, had galloped on frantically making for home. Gerald made no attempt to stay it, as his sole thought was the wounded girl who had fallen beside him. Fortunately the gate leading into the avenue was open, and it was a pretty wide one, and the horse galloped through it without coming in contact with the piers.

The doctor arrived, and he was followed by the police, word having been sent to the neighbouring barrack. The former was, of course, no use, and the latter, after having heard what Gerald had to say went off to the plantation, but were unable to find any trace that would help them in the discovery of the assassin.

I need not dwell upon the details of the funeral, or upon Gerald’s condition of mind, or the terrible sad nights which followed that of the tragedy. I remained up for several nights with Gerald, and indeed, nearly exhausted myself. The doctor, however, at last insisted that I should have some rest, and about a week after the dreadful occurrence I withdrew to my own room for the night.

I tried to sleep the moment I got into bed, but sleep kept away from me. I had put out the light and was tossing from side to side, when right in the dark in front of me was outlined a face! The strain upon my nerves had brought back the old haunting visions! The suddenness with which it appeared and its closeness startled me and brought the old dread back to me, although it was many years since I had suffered and I had become very strong.

There was nothing objectionable in the face. It was that of a young man about eight and twenty, and it bore something more than a faint resemblance to that of my friend Gerald. I tried instinctively the trick of closing my eyes, but only to see it, if possible more clearly, but as I looked at it, it began to recede from me, and to fall back towards the wall. Then I perceived that it was no longer only a face that presented itself; there was the figure of a man. He was dressed in dark grey tweed, rather the worse of wear, and looked like one who had received a military training. I had never seen the face before, but this did not surprise me, as my imagination had been wont to play me curious tricks in this way.

I began to think of other men whom I had known, and to bring their faces before me in the hope of blotting this one out, which, as I have said, caused me to feel as in the old nights of terror I was wont to feel, but just as I appeared to be on the point of succeeding the vision became more vivid, and again advanced up to the bedside, and then I noticed that in its right hand it carried a gun. Soon after it vanished, and I fell into a tolerably sound sleep, and slept late into the next day.

In about a fortnight after, Gerald, whom I had scarcely ever left except at bedtime, was coming to himself, and I found I could go out for an occasional stroll. And one day my steps involuntarily turned in the direction of Creveen Wood. Nothing had in the meantime turned up to elucidate the mystery. A reward had been offered, but no information was forthcoming, and all hope of discovery was abandoned.

I had come close to the plantation without being aware of it, but on recognising it I made an effort to turn back, but I was prevented doing so by an irresistible impulse which drove me forward. I entered the plantation, and after straying through it for some time my foot knocked against something hard, which emitted a peculiar sound. This caused me to look down to see what it was that I had struck against. I found it was a piece of metal. I picked it up and examined it carefully, and it seemed to be the portion of the lock of a gun.

Swift as a lightning flash came the recollection of what at the time had made no perceptible impression on my mind. The lock of the gun in the hand of the figure which I had seen in the vision was imperfect!

A strange excitement took possession of me, and I felt that if I could only find the original, if he existed, of that vision I should find the assassin of Miss R——.

Gerald’s heart was bent on his discovery, and in one of our talks together he made me promise to help him in the search. I gave the promise to soothe him, believing at the time I made it that there was little or no likelihood that I could assist him.

I put the piece of metal in my pocket and returned to Creeve House.

Gerald, who had been able to leave his room, had come down to the study, and as I entered it I found him turning over the pages of an album of portraits.

I went over and sat down beside him, and congratulated him on his improved appearance. He shook his head sadly, and then, hoping to turn his thoughts from their object, which I had no doubt of, I put my finger on the album.

“Who is this?” said I.

It was the figure of an old lady.

“She was an aunt of mine.”

I turned over the leaf, and the next portrait was that of the man I had seen in the vision! For a moment I held my breath; then bending down over the album, that my face might not betray me, I asked:

“Who is this?”

“A half-brother, Frank L——,” he answered. “He was my mother’s son by her first husband. Mother was a widow when she married father.”

I burned to ask another question, but feared I might betray myself.

“She was very fond of him,” he went on, “as fond as she was of me—fonder, I sometimes think, because he did not turn out too well. He was a soldier, and left his regiment under rather cloudy circumstances; but I don’t know the particulars.”

“He looks somewhat like you,” I ventured to observe.

“More like mother, I should say,” he replied.

“And where is he now?”

“I don’t know. He was, when I last heard of him, lodging in Kingstown or Blackrock. I don’t know much about him. We were never friends. He always resented mother’s second marriage, and, I fear, hated me in consequence.”

Then Gerald spoke of some other indifferent subject, and I did not desire to bring him back to the one uppermost in my mind. But as he talked the question shaped itself—“Was Frank L—— the assassin, and if so what could have been his motive?”

A few days after I left Creeve House as Gerald was nearly himself again. I found, however that the strain of attending him, and the anxiety, and the vision, and the haunting question ever putting itself to me, had taxed me more than I had thought, and I determined to spend a few days at the sea-side, and I found a couple of rooms that suited me in one of the houses on the Bray Esplanade not far from the “Head.”

I took the rooms, put in my luggage, and went to Dublin for a few hours to transact some private business. It was near ten at night when I returned. I found my landlady very much perturbed. The gentleman who had occupied the rooms I had taken had, as she thought, gone away finally, but two or three days of his tenancy were unexpired, and he returned unexpectedly that evening. If I did not mind, she said, I could have for the night the room of another gentleman who was and would be absent for three or four days.

Of course I assented, and in a few minutes I was told the room was ready.

Being rather tired I went up to it on receiving this information. I glanced around it, and was satisfied. I sat on a chair facing the chimney-piece, in order to take off my boots; and this done, I gazed about more leisurely, and observed that over the mantle-place, in a rack, was suspended a gun. I went over towards it to examine it, as I am curious in firearms, and discovered with a sharp surprise that the lock of the gun was broken.

I hastily put my hand in my pocket, drew out the piece of metal which I had picked up in Creeveen Wood. It fitted the fracture perfectly!

For a moment I felt like one dazed, and then I began to look around the room as if in search of something, I knew not what. My eyes lighted on a portmanteau, bearing the initials “F.L.” “Frank L——, by all that’s wonderful,” said I to myself.

I flung myself undressed upon the bed. I couldn’t sleep. There was gas in the room, and I kept it burning all night.

When I met the landlady next morning I asked her, as if casually, who was the tenant of my room.

“Oh, Mr. L——,” she answered; “he’s been absent for some weeks, and may not return for some time. He often stays away for over a month.”

What was I to do? I had no doubt whatever I had found the assassin!

Was I to tell Gerald F——? Would he believe in my visions? Would he regard the piece of metal as a proof, and if he did believe it would he thank me for convicting his mother’s son of the crime?

No. I wouldn’t tell, at least until I had pursued the matter further. So the next day I determined to cause some privately conducted investigations to be made concerning the recent career of Frank L——, but before I had well set them on foot, and within a few days of my discovery in the seaside lodgings, came the news through the morning papers that the body of a man was found on the line between Salthill and Kingstown, and from papers on him it turned out that he was a Mr. Francis L——!

Gerald F——, I know, attended the funeral. A week subsequent to it came the information from the private inquiry office which I had set in motion that L—— had been paying attentions to Miss R—— in London, and her maid had stated that she believed he had made a proposal and had been rejected.

L—— was dead and gone. There was no use in pushing the matter any further. Nothing could be gained by any disclosure I could make, and the only question that troubled me, and sometimes troubles me now, is, was what I saw in Creeve House a vision or a dream?