The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall
by John Kendrick Bang
The trouble with Harrowby Hall was that it was haunted, and, what was
worse, the ghost did not content itself with merely appearing at the
bedside of the afflicted person who saw it, but persisted in remaining
there for one mortal hour before it would disappear.
It never appeared except on Christmas Eve, and then as the clock was
striking twelve, in which respect alone was it lacking in that originality
which in these days is a sine qua non of success in spectral life. The
owners of Harrowby Hall had done their utmost to rid themselves of the
damp and dewy lady who rose up out of the best bedroom floor at midnight,
but without avail. They had tried stopping the clock, so that the ghost
would not know when it was midnight; but she made her appearance just the
same, with that fearful miasmatic personality of hers, and there she would
stand until everything about her was thoroughly saturated.
Then the owners of Harrowby Hall calked up every crack in the floor with
the very best quality of hemp, and over this was placed layers of tar and
canvas; the walls were made water-proof, and the doors and windows
likewise, the proprietors having conceived the notion that the unexorcised
lady would find it difficult to leak into the room after these precautions
had been taken; but even this did not suffice. The following Christmas Eve
she appeared as promptly as before, and frightened the occupant of the
room quite out of his senses by sitting down alongside of him and gazing
with her cavernous blue eyes into his; and he noticed, too, that in her
long, aqueously bony fingers bits of dripping sea-weed were entwined, the
ends hanging down, and these ends she drew across his forehead until he
became like one insane. And then he swooned away, and was found
unconscious in his bed the next morning by his host, simply saturated with
sea-water and fright, from the combined effects of which he never
recovered, dying four years later of pneumonia and nervous prostration at
the age of seventy-eight.
The next year the master of Harrowby Hall decided not to have the best
spare bedroom opened at all, thinking that perhaps the ghost's thirst for
making herself disagreeable would be satisfied by haunting the furniture,
but the plan was as unavailing as the many that had preceded it.
The ghost appeared as usual in the room—that is, it was supposed she did,
for the hangings were dripping wet the next morning, and in the parlor
below the haunted room a great damp spot appeared on the ceiling. Finding
no one there, she immediately set out to learn the reason why, and she
chose none other to haunt than the owner of the Harrowby himself. She
found him in his own cosey room drinking whiskey—whiskey undiluted—and
felicitating himself upon having foiled her ghostship, when all of a
sudden the curl went out of his hair, his whiskey bottle filled and
overflowed, and he was himself in a condition similar to that of a man who
has fallen into a water-butt. When he recovered from the shock, which was
a painful one, he saw before him the lady of the cavernous eyes and
sea-weed fingers. The sight was so unexpected and so terrifying that he
fainted, but immediately came to, because of the vast amount of water in
his hair, which, trickling down over his face, restored his consciousness.
Now it so happened that the master of Harrowby was a brave man, and while
he was not particularly fond of interviewing ghosts, especially such
quenching ghosts as the one before him, he was not to be daunted by an
apparition. He had paid the lady the compliment of fainting from the
effects of his first surprise, and now that he had come to he intended to
find out a few things he felt he had a right to know. He would have liked
to put on a dry suit of clothes first, but the apparition declined to
leave him for an instant until her hour was up, and he was forced to deny
himself that pleasure. Every time he would move she would follow him, with
the result that everything she came in contact with got a ducking. In an
effort to warm himself up he approached the fire, an unfortunate move as
it turned out, because it brought the ghost directly over the fire, which
immediately was extinguished. The whiskey became utterly valueless as a
comforter to his chilled system, because it was by this time diluted to a
proportion of ninety per cent of water. The only thing he could do to ward
off the evil effects of his encounter he did, and that was to swallow ten
two-grain quinine pills, which he managed to put into his mouth before the
ghost had time to interfere. Having done this, he turned with some
asperity to the ghost, and said:
"Far be it from me to be impolite to a woman, madam, but I'm hanged if it
wouldn't please me better if you'd stop these infernal visits of yours to
this house. Go sit out on the lake, if you like that sort of thing; soak
the water-butt, if you wish; but do not, I implore you, come into a
gentleman's house and saturate him and his possessions in this way. It is
"Henry Hartwick Oglethorpe," said the ghost, in a gurgling voice, "you
don't know what you are talking about."
"Madam," returned the unhappy householder, "I wish that remark were
strictly truthful. I was talking about you. It would be shillings and
pence—nay, pounds, in my pocket, madam, if I did not know you."
"That is a bit of specious nonsense," returned the ghost, throwing a quart
of indignation into the face of the master of Harrowby. "It may rank high
as repartee, but as a comment upon my statement that you do not know what
you are talking about, it savors of irrelevant impertinence. You do not
know that I am compelled to haunt this place year after year by inexorable
fate. It is no pleasure to me to enter this house, and ruin and mildew
everything I touch. I never aspired to be a shower-bath, but it is my
doom. Do you know who I am?"
"No, I don't," returned the master of Harrowby. "I should say you were the
Lady of the Lake, or Little Sallie Waters."
"You are a witty man for your years," said the ghost.
"Well, my humor is drier than yours ever will be," returned the master.
"No doubt. I'm never dry. I am the Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall, and
dryness is a quality entirely beyond my wildest hope. I have been the
incumbent of this highly unpleasant office for two hundred years
"How the deuce did you ever come to get elected?" asked the master.
"Through a suicide," replied the spectre. "I am the ghost of that fair
maiden whose picture hangs over the mantel-piece in the drawing-room. I
should have been your great-great-great-great-great-aunt if I had lived,
Henry Hartwick Oglethorpe, for I was the own sister of your
"But what induced you to get this house into such a predicament?"
"I was not to blame, sir," returned the lady. "It was my father's fault.
He it was who built Harrowby Hall, and the haunted chamber was to have
been mine. My father had it furnished in pink and yellow, knowing well
that blue and gray formed the only combination of color I could tolerate.
He did it merely to spite me, and, with what I deem a proper spirit, I
declined to live in the room; whereupon my father said I could live there
or on the lawn, he didn't care which. That night I ran from the house and
jumped over the cliff into the sea."
"That was rash," said the master of Harrowby.
"So I've heard," returned the ghost. "If I had known what the consequences
were to be I should not have jumped; but I really never realized what I
was doing until after I was drowned. I had been drowned a week when a
sea-nymph came to me and informed me that I was to be one of her followers
forever afterwards, adding that it should be my doom to haunt Harrowby
Hall for one hour every Christmas Eve throughout the rest of eternity. I
was to haunt that room on such Christmas Eves as I found it inhabited; and
if it should turn out not to be inhabited, I was and am to spend the
allotted hour with the head of the house."
"I'll sell the place."
"That you cannot do, for it is also required of me that I shall appear as
the deeds are to be delivered to any purchaser, and divulge to him the
awful secret of the house."
"Do you mean to tell me that on every Christmas Eve that I don't happen to
have somebody in that guest-chamber, you are going to haunt me wherever I
may be, ruining my whiskey, taking all the curl out of my hair,
extinguishing my fire, and soaking me through to the skin?" demanded the
"You have stated the case, Oglethorpe. And what is more," said the water
ghost, "it doesn't make the slightest difference where you are, if I find
that room empty, wherever you may be I shall douse you with my spectral
Here the clock struck one, and immediately the apparition faded away. It
was perhaps more of a trickle than a fade, but as a disappearance it was
"By St. George and his Dragon!" ejaculated the master of Harrowby,
wringing his hands. "It is guineas to hot-cross buns that next Christmas
there's an occupant of the spare room, or I spend the night in a
But the master of Harrowby would have lost his wager had there been any
one there to take him up, for when Christmas Eve came again he was in his
grave, never having recovered from the cold contracted that awful night.
Harrowby Hall was closed, and the heir to the estate was in London, where
to him in his chambers came the same experience that his father had gone
through, saving only that, being younger and stronger, he survived the
shock. Everything in his rooms was ruined—his clocks were rusted in the
works; a fine collection of water-color drawings was entirely obliterated
by the onslaught of the water ghost; and what was worse, the apartments
below his were drenched with the water soaking through the floors, a
damage for which he was compelled to pay, and which resulted in his being
requested by his landlady to vacate the premises immediately.
The story of the visitation inflicted upon his family had gone abroad, and
no one could be got to invite him out to any function save afternoon teas
and receptions. Fathers of daughters declined to permit him to remain in
their houses later than eight o'clock at night, not knowing but that some
emergency might arise in the supernatural world which would require the
unexpected appearance of the water ghost in this on nights other than
Christmas Eve, and before the mystic hour when weary churchyards, ignoring
the rules which are supposed to govern polite society, begin to yawn. Nor
would the maids themselves have aught to do with him, fearing the
destruction by the sudden incursion of aqueous femininity of the costumes
which they held most dear.
So the heir of Harrowby Hall resolved, as his ancestors for several
generations before him had resolved, that something must be done. His
first thought was to make one of his servants occupy the haunted room at
the crucial moment; but in this he failed, because the servants themselves
knew the history of that room and rebelled. None of his friends would
consent to sacrifice their personal comfort to his, nor was there to be
found in all England a man so poor as to be willing to occupy the doomed
chamber on Christmas Eve for pay.
Then the thought came to the heir to have the fireplace in the room
enlarged, so that he might evaporate the ghost at its first appearance,
and he was felicitating himself upon the ingenuity of his plan, when he
remembered what his father had told him—how that no fire could withstand
the lady's extremely contagious dampness. And then he bethought him of
steam-pipes. These, he remembered, could lie hundreds of feet deep in
water, and still retain sufficient heat to drive the water away in vapor;
and as a result of this thought the haunted room was heated by steam to a
withering degree, and the heir for six months attended daily the Turkish
baths, so that when Christmas Eve came he could himself withstand the
awful temperature of the room.
The scheme was only partially successful. The water ghost appeared at the
specified time, and found the heir of Harrowby prepared; but hot as the
room was, it shortened her visit by no more than five minutes in the hour,
during which time the nervous system of the young master was wellnigh
shattered, and the room itself was cracked and warped to an extent which
required the outlay of a large sum of money to remedy. And worse than
this, as the last drop of the water ghost was slowly sizzling itself out
on the floor, she whispered to her would-be conqueror that his scheme
would avail him nothing, because there was still water in great plenty
where she came from, and that next year would find her rehabilitated and
as exasperatingly saturating as ever.
It was then that the natural action of the mind, in going from one extreme
to the other, suggested to the ingenious heir of Harrowby the means by
which the water ghost was ultimately conquered, and happiness once more
came within the grasp of the house of Oglethorpe.
The heir provided himself with a warm suit of fur under-clothing. Donning
this with the furry side in, he placed over it a rubber garment,
tightfitting, which he wore just as a woman wears a jersey. On top of this
he placed another set of under-clothing, this suit made of wool, and over
this was a second rubber garment like the first. Upon his head he placed a
light and comfortable diving helmet, and so clad, on the following
Christmas Eve he awaited the coming of his tormentor.
It was a bitterly cold night that brought to a close this twenty-fourth
day of December. The air outside was still, but the temperature was below
zero. Within all was quiet, the servants of Harrowby Hall awaiting with
beating hearts the outcome of their master's campaign against his
The master himself was lying on the bed in the haunted room, clad as has
already been indicated, and then—
The clock clanged out the hour of twelve.
There was a sudden banging of doors, a blast of cold air swept through the
halls, the door leading into the haunted chamber flew open, a splash was
heard, and the water ghost was seen standing at the side of the heir of
Harrowby, from whose outer dress there streamed rivulets of water, but
whose own person deep down under the various garments he wore was as dry
and as warm as he could have wished.
"Ha!" said the young master of Harrowby. "I'm glad to see you."
"You are the most original man I've met, if that is true," returned the
ghost. "May I ask where did you get that hat?"
"Certainly, madam," returned the master, courteously. "It is a little
portable observatory I had made for just such emergencies as this. But,
tell me, is it true that you are doomed to follow me about for one mortal
hour—to stand where I stand, to sit where I sit?"
"That is my delectable fate," returned the lady.
"We'll go out on the lake," said the master, starting up.
"You can't get rid of me that way," returned the ghost. "The water won't
swallow me up; in fact, it will just add to my present bulk."
"Nevertheless," said the master, firmly, "we will go out on the lake."
"But, my dear sir," returned the ghost, with a pale reluctance, "it is
fearfully cold out there. You will be frozen hard before you've been out
"Oh no, I'll not," replied the master. "I am very warmly dressed. Come!"
This last in a tone of command that made the ghost ripple.
And they started.
They had not gone far before the water ghost showed signs of distress.
"You walk too slowly," she said. "I am nearly frozen. My knees are so
stiff now I can hardly move. I beseech you to accelerate your step."
"I should like to oblige a lady," returned the master, courteously, "but
my clothes are rather heavy, and a hundred yards an hour is about my
speed. Indeed, I think we would better sit down here on this snowdrift,
and talk matters over."
"Do not! Do not do so, I beg!" cried the ghost. "Let me move on. I feel
myself growing rigid as it is. If we stop here, I shall be frozen stiff."
"That, madam," said the master slowly, and seating himself on an
ice-cake—"that is why I have brought you here. We have been on this spot
just ten minutes, we have fifty more. Take your time about it, madam, but
freeze, that is all I ask of you."
"I cannot move my right leg now," cried the ghost, in despair, "and my
overskirt is a solid sheet of ice. Oh, good, kind Mr. Oglethorpe, light a
fire, and let me go free from these icy fetters."
"Never, madam. It cannot be. I have you at last."
"Alas!" cried the ghost, a tear trickling down her frozen cheek. "Help me,
I beg. I congeal!"
"Congeal, madam, congeal!" returned Oglethorpe, coldly. "You have drenched
me and mine for two hundred and three years, madam. To-night you have had
your last drench."
"Ah, but I shall thaw out again, and then you'll see. Instead of the
comfortably tepid, genial ghost I have been in my past, sir, I shall be
iced-water," cried the lady, threateningly.
"No, you won't, either," returned Oglethorpe; "for when you are frozen
quite stiff, I shall send you to a cold-storage warehouse, and there shall
you remain an icy work of art forever more."
"But warehouses burn."
"So they do, but this warehouse cannot burn. It is made of asbestos and
surrounding it are fire-proof walls, and within those walls the
temperature is now and shall forever be 416 degrees below the zero point;
low enough to make an icicle of any flame in this world—or the next," the
master added, with an ill-suppressed chuckle.
"For the last time let me beseech you. I would go on my knees to you,
Oglethorpe, were they not already frozen. I beg of you do not doo—"
Here even the words froze on the water ghost's lips and the clock struck
one. There was a momentary tremor throughout the ice-bound form, and the
moon, coming out from behind a cloud, shone down on the rigid figure of a
beautiful woman sculptured in clear, transparent ice. There stood the
ghost of Harrowby Hall, conquered by the cold, a prisoner for all time.
The heir of Harrowby had won at last, and to-day in a large storage house
in London stands the frigid form of one who will never again flood the
house of Oglethorpe with woe and sea-water.
As for the heir of Harrowby, his success in coping with a ghost has made
him famous, a fame that still lingers about him, although his victory took
place some twenty years ago; and so far from being unpopular with the fair
sex, as he was when we first knew him, he has not only been married twice,
but is to lead a third bride to the altar before the year is out.