An Account of Some Strange
Disturbances in Aungier Street
by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
It is not worth telling, this story of mine—at least, not worth
writing. Told, indeed, as I have sometimes been called upon to tell it,
to a circle of intelligent and eager faces, lighted up by a good
after-dinner fire on a winter's evening, with a cold wind rising and
wailing outside, and all snug and cosy within, it has gone off—though I
say it, who should not—indifferent well. But it is a venture to do as
you would have me. Pen, ink, and paper are cold vehicles for the
marvellous, and a "reader" decidedly a more critical animal than a
"listener." If, however, you can induce your friends to read it after
nightfall, and when the fireside talk has run for a while on thrilling
tales of shapeless terror; in short, if you will secure me the mollia
tempora fandi, I will go to my work, and say my say, with better heart.
Well, then, these conditions presupposed, I shall waste no more words,
but tell you simply how it all happened.
My cousin (Tom Ludlow) and I studied medicine together. I think he would
have succeeded, had he stuck to the profession; but he preferred the
Church, poor fellow, and died early, a sacrifice to contagion,
contracted in the noble discharge of his duties. For my present purpose,
I say enough of his character when I mention that he was of a sedate but
frank and cheerful nature; very exact in his observance of truth, and
not by any means like myself—of an excitable or nervous temperament.
My Uncle Ludlow—Tom's father—while we were attending lectures,
purchased three or four old houses in Aungier Street, one of which was
unoccupied. He resided in the country, and Tom proposed that we should
take up our abode in the untenanted house, so long as it should continue
unlet; a move which would accomplish the double end of settling us
nearer alike to our lecture-rooms and to our amusements, and of
relieving us from the weekly charge of rent for our lodgings.
Our furniture was very scant—our whole equipage remarkably modest and
primitive; and, in short, our arrangements pretty nearly as simple as
those of a bivouac. Our new plan was, therefore, executed almost as soon
as conceived. The front drawing-room was our sitting-room. I had the
bedroom over it, and Tom the back bedroom on the same floor, which
nothing could have induced me to occupy.
The house, to begin with, was a very old one. It had been, I believe,
newly fronted about fifty years before; but with this exception, it had
nothing modern about it. The agent who bought it and looked into the
titles for my uncle, told me that it was sold, along with much other
forfeited property, at Chichester House, I think, in 1702; and had
belonged to Sir Thomas Hacket, who was Lord Mayor of Dublin in James
II.'s time. How old it was then, I can't say; but, at all events, it
had seen years and changes enough to have contracted all that mysterious
and saddened air, at once exciting and depressing, which belongs to most
There had been very little done in the way of modernising details; and,
perhaps, it was better so; for there was something queer and by-gone in
the very walls and ceilings—in the shape of doors and windows—in the
odd diagonal site of the chimney-pieces—in the beams and ponderous
cornices—not to mention the singular solidity of all the woodwork, from
the banisters to the window-frames, which hopelessly defied disguise,
and would have emphatically proclaimed their antiquity through any
conceivable amount of modern finery and varnish.
An effort had, indeed, been made, to the extent of papering the
drawing-rooms; but somehow, the paper looked raw and out of keeping; and
the old woman, who kept a little dirt-pie of a shop in the lane, and
whose daughter—a girl of two and fifty—was our solitary handmaid,
coming in at sunrise, and chastely receding again as soon as she had
made all ready for tea in our state apartment;—this woman, I say,
remembered it, when old Judge Horrocks (who, having earned the
reputation of a particularly "hanging judge," ended by hanging himself,
as the coroner's jury found, under an impulse of "temporary insanity,"
with a child's skipping-rope, over the massive old bannisters) resided
there, entertaining good company, with fine venison and rare old port.
In those halcyon days, the drawing-rooms were hung with gilded leather,
and, I dare say, cut a good figure, for they were really spacious rooms.
The bedrooms were wainscoted, but the front one was not gloomy; and in
it the cosiness of antiquity quite overcame its sombre associations. But
the back bedroom, with its two queerly-placed melancholy windows,
staring vacantly at the foot of the bed, and with the shadowy recess to
be found in most old houses in Dublin, like a large ghostly closet,
which, from congeniality of temperament, had amalgamated with the
bedchamber, and dissolved the partition. At night-time, this
"alcove"—as our "maid" was wont to call it—had, in my eyes, a
specially sinister and suggestive character. Tom's distant and solitary
candle glimmered vainly into its darkness. There it was always
overlooking him—always itself impenetrable. But this was only part of
the effect. The whole room was, I can't tell how, repulsive to me. There
was, I suppose, in its proportions and features, a latent discord—a
certain mysterious and indescribable relation, which jarred indistinctly
upon some secret sense of the fitting and the safe, and raised
indefinable suspicions and apprehensions of the imagination. On the
whole, as I began by saying, nothing could have induced me to pass a
night alone in it.
I had never pretended to conceal from poor Tom my superstitious
weakness; and he, on the other hand, most unaffectedly ridiculed my
tremors. The sceptic was, however, destined to receive a lesson, as you
We had not been very long in occupation of our respective dormitories,
when I began to complain of uneasy nights and disturbed sleep. I was, I
suppose, the more impatient under this annoyance, as I was usually a
sound sleeper, and by no means prone to nightmares. It was now, however,
my destiny, instead of enjoying my customary repose, every night to "sup
full of horrors." After a preliminary course of disagreeable and
frightful dreams, my troubles took a definite form, and the same vision,
without an appreciable variation in a single detail, visited me at least
(on an average) every second night in the week.
Now, this dream, nightmare, or infernal illusion—which you please—of
which I was the miserable sport, was on this wise:----
I saw, or thought I saw, with the most abominable distinctness, although
at the time in profound darkness, every article of furniture and
accidental arrangement of the chamber in which I lay. This, as you know,
is incidental to ordinary nightmare. Well, while in this clairvoyant
condition, which seemed but the lighting up of the theatre in which was
to be exhibited the monotonous tableau of horror, which made my nights
insupportable, my attention invariably became, I know not why, fixed
upon the windows opposite the foot of my bed; and, uniformly with the
same effect, a sense of dreadful anticipation always took slow but sure
possession of me. I became somehow conscious of a sort of horrid but
undefined preparation going forward in some unknown quarter, and by some
unknown agency, for my torment; and, after an interval, which always
seemed to me of the same length, a picture suddenly flew up to the
window, where it remained fixed, as if by an electrical attraction, and
my discipline of horror then commenced, to last perhaps for hours. The
picture thus mysteriously glued to the window-panes, was the portrait of
an old man, in a crimson flowered silk dressing-gown, the folds of which
I could now describe, with a countenance embodying a strange mixture of
intellect, sensuality, and power, but withal sinister and full of
malignant omen. His nose was hooked, like the beak of a vulture; his
eyes large, grey, and prominent, and lighted up with a more than mortal
cruelty and coldness. These features were surmounted by a crimson velvet
cap, the hair that peeped from under which was white with age, while the
eyebrows retained their original blackness. Well I remember every line,
hue, and shadow of that stony countenance, and well I may! The gaze of
this hellish visage was fixed upon me, and mine returned it with the
inexplicable fascination of nightmare, for what appeared to me to be
hours of agony. At last----
The cock he crew, away then flew
the fiend who had enslaved me through the awful watches of the night;
and, harassed and nervous, I rose to the duties of the day.
I had—I can't say exactly why, but it may have been from the exquisite
anguish and profound impressions of unearthly horror, with which this
strange phantasmagoria was associated—an insurmountable antipathy to
describing the exact nature of my nightly troubles to my friend and
comrade. Generally, however, I told him that I was haunted by abominable
dreams; and, true to the imputed materialism of medicine, we put our
heads together to dispel my horrors, not by exorcism, but by a tonic.
I will do this tonic justice, and frankly admit that the accursed
portrait began to intermit its visits under its influence. What of that?
Was this singular apparition—as full of character as of
terror—therefore the creature of my fancy, or the invention of my poor
stomach? Was it, in short, subjective (to borrow the technical slang
of the day) and not the palpable aggression and intrusion of an external
agent? That, good friend, as we will both admit, by no means follows.
The evil spirit, who enthralled my senses in the shape of that
portrait, may have been just as near me, just as energetic, just as
malignant, though I saw him not. What means the whole moral code of
revealed religion regarding the due keeping of our own bodies,
soberness, temperance, etc.? here is an obvious connexion between the
material and the invisible; the healthy tone of the system, and its
unimpaired energy, may, for aught we can tell, guard us against
influences which would otherwise render life itself terrific. The
mesmerist and the electro-biologist will fail upon an average with nine
patients out of ten—so may the evil spirit. Special conditions of the
corporeal system are indispensable to the production of certain
spiritual phenomena. The operation succeeds sometimes—sometimes
fails—that is all.
I found afterwards that my would-be sceptical companion had his troubles
too. But of these I knew nothing yet. One night, for a wonder, I was
sleeping soundly, when I was roused by a step on the lobby outside my
room, followed by the loud clang of what turned out to be a large brass
candlestick, flung with all his force by poor Tom Ludlow over the
banisters, and rattling with a rebound down the second flight of stairs;
and almost concurrently with this, Tom burst open my door, and bounced
into my room backwards, in a state of extraordinary agitation.
I had jumped out of bed and clutched him by the arm before I had any
distinct idea of my own whereabouts. There we were—in our
shirts—standing before the open door—staring through the great old
banister opposite, at the lobby window, through which the sickly light
of a clouded moon was gleaming.
"What's the matter, Tom? What's the matter with you? What the devil's
the matter with you, Tom?" I demanded shaking him with nervous
He took a long breath before he answered me, and then it was not very
"It's nothing, nothing at all—did I speak?—what did I say?—where's
the candle, Richard? It's dark; I—I had a candle!"
"Yes, dark enough," I said; "but what's the matter?—what is it?—why
don't you speak, Tom?—have you lost your wits?—what is the matter?"
"The matter?—oh, it is all over. It must have been a dream—nothing at
all but a dream—don't you think so? It could not be anything more than
"Of course" said I, feeling uncommonly nervous, "it was a dream."
"I thought," he said, "there was a man in my room, and—and I jumped out
of bed; and—and—where's the candle?"
"In your room, most likely," I said, "shall I go and bring it?"
"No; stay here—don't go; it's no matter—don't, I tell you; it was all
a dream. Bolt the door, Dick; I'll stay here with you—I feel nervous.
So, Dick, like a good fellow, light your candle and open the window—I
am in a shocking state."
I did as he asked me, and robing himself like Granuaile in one of my
blankets, he seated himself close beside my bed.
Every body knows how contagious is fear of all sorts, but more
especially that particular kind of fear under which poor Tom was at that
moment labouring. I would not have heard, nor I believe would he have
recapitulated, just at that moment, for half the world, the details of
the hideous vision which had so unmanned him.
"Don't mind telling me anything about your nonsensical dream, Tom," said
I, affecting contempt, really in a panic; "let us talk about something
else; but it is quite plain that this dirty old house disagrees with us
both, and hang me if I stay here any longer, to be pestered with
indigestion and—and—bad nights, so we may as well look out for
lodgings—don't you think so?—at once."
Tom agreed, and, after an interval, said----
"I have been thinking, Richard, that it is a long time since I saw my
father, and I have made up my mind to go down to-morrow and return in a
day or two, and you can take rooms for us in the meantime."
I fancied that this resolution, obviously the result of the vision which
had so profoundly scared him, would probably vanish next morning with
the damps and shadows of night. But I was mistaken. Off went Tom at peep
of day to the country, having agreed that so soon as I had secured
suitable lodgings, I was to recall him by letter from his visit to my
Now, anxious as I was to change my quarters, it so happened, owing to a
series of petty procrastinations and accidents, that nearly a week
elapsed before my bargain was made and my letter of recall on the wing
to Tom; and, in the meantime, a trifling adventure or two had occurred
to your humble servant, which, absurd as they now appear, diminished by
distance, did certainly at the time serve to whet my appetite for change
A night or two after the departure of my comrade, I was sitting by my
bedroom fire, the door locked, and the ingredients of a tumbler of hot
whisky-punch upon the crazy spider-table; for, as the best mode of
Black spirits and white,
Blue spirits and grey,
with which I was environed, at bay, I had adopted the practice
recommended by the wisdom of my ancestors, and "kept my spirits up by
pouring spirits down." I had thrown aside my volume of Anatomy, and was
treating myself by way of a tonic, preparatory to my punch and bed, to
half-a-dozen pages of the Spectator, when I heard a step on the flight
of stairs descending from the attics. It was two o'clock, and the
streets were as silent as a churchyard—the sounds were, therefore,
perfectly distinct. There was a slow, heavy tread, characterised by the
emphasis and deliberation of age, descending by the narrow staircase
from above; and, what made the sound more singular, it was plain that
the feet which produced it were perfectly bare, measuring the descent
with something between a pound and a flop, very ugly to hear.
I knew quite well that my attendant had gone away many hours before, and
that nobody but myself had any business in the house. It was quite plain
also that the person who was coming down stairs had no intention
whatever of concealing his movements; but, on the contrary, appeared
disposed to make even more noise, and proceed more deliberately, than
was at all necessary. When the step reached the foot of the stairs
outside my room, it seemed to stop; and I expected every moment to see
my door open spontaneously, and give admission to the original of my
detested portrait. I was, however, relieved in a few seconds by hearing
the descent renewed, just in the same manner, upon the staircase leading
down to the drawing-rooms, and thence, after another pause, down the
next flight, and so on to the hall, whence I heard no more.
Now, by the time the sound had ceased, I was wound up, as they say, to a
very unpleasant pitch of excitement. I listened, but there was not a
stir. I screwed up my courage to a decisive experiment—opened my door,
and in a stentorian voice bawled over the banisters, "Who's there?"
There was no answer but the ringing of my own voice through the empty
old house,—no renewal of the movement; nothing, in short, to give my
unpleasant sensations a definite direction. There is, I think, something
most disagreeably disenchanting in the sound of one's own voice under
such circumstances, exerted in solitude, and in vain. It redoubled my
sense of isolation, and my misgivings increased on perceiving that the
door, which I certainly thought I had left open, was closed behind me;
in a vague alarm, lest my retreat should be cut off, I got again into my
room as quickly as I could, where I remained in a state of imaginary
blockade, and very uncomfortable indeed, till morning.
Next night brought no return of my barefooted fellow-lodger; but the
night following, being in my bed, and in the dark—somewhere, I
suppose, about the same hour as before, I distinctly heard the old
fellow again descending from the garrets.
This time I had had my punch, and the morale of the garrison was
consequently excellent. I jumped out of bed, clutched the poker as I
passed the expiring fire, and in a moment was upon the lobby. The sound
had ceased by this time—the dark and chill were discouraging; and,
guess my horror, when I saw, or thought I saw, a black monster, whether
in the shape of a man or a bear I could not say, standing, with its back
to the wall, on the lobby, facing me, with a pair of great greenish eyes
shining dimly out. Now, I must be frank, and confess that the cupboard
which displayed our plates and cups stood just there, though at the
moment I did not recollect it. At the same time I must honestly say,
that making every allowance for an excited imagination, I never could
satisfy myself that I was made the dupe of my own fancy in this matter;
for this apparition, after one or two shiftings of shape, as if in the
act of incipient transformation, began, as it seemed on second thoughts,
to advance upon me in its original form. From an instinct of terror
rather than of courage, I hurled the poker, with all my force, at its
head; and to the music of a horrid crash made my way into my room, and
double-locked the door. Then, in a minute more, I heard the horrid bare
feet walk down the stairs, till the sound ceased in the hall, as on the
If the apparition of the night before was an ocular delusion of my fancy
sporting with the dark outlines of our cupboard, and if its horrid eyes
were nothing but a pair of inverted teacups, I had, at all events, the
satisfaction of having launched the poker with admirable effect, and in
true "fancy" phrase, "knocked its two daylights into one," as the
commingled fragments of my tea-service testified. I did my best to
gather comfort and courage from these evidences; but it would not do.
And then what could I say of those horrid bare feet, and the regular
tramp, tramp, tramp, which measured the distance of the entire staircase
through the solitude of my haunted dwelling, and at an hour when no good
influence was stirring? Confound it!--the whole affair was abominable. I
was out of spirits, and dreaded the approach of night.
It came, ushered ominously in with a thunder-storm and dull torrents of
depressing rain. Earlier than usual the streets grew silent; and by
twelve o'clock nothing but the comfortless pattering of the rain was to
I made myself as snug as I could. I lighted two candles instead of
one. I forswore bed, and held myself in readiness for a sally, candle in
hand; for, coûte qui coûte, I was resolved to see the being, if
visible at all, who troubled the nightly stillness of my mansion. I was
fidgetty and nervous and tried in vain to interest myself with my books.
I walked up and down my room, whistling in turn martial and hilarious
music, and listening ever and anon for the dreaded noise. I sate down
and stared at the square label on the solemn and reserved-looking black
bottle, until "FLANAGAN & CO'S BEST OLD MALT WHISKY" grew into a sort of
subdued accompaniment to all the fantastic and horrible speculations
which chased one another through my brain.
Silence, meanwhile, grew more silent, and darkness darker. I listened in
vain for the rumble of a vehicle, or the dull clamour of a distant row.
There was nothing but the sound of a rising wind, which had succeeded
the thunder-storm that had travelled over the Dublin mountains quite out
of hearing. In the middle of this great city I began to feel myself
alone with nature, and Heaven knows what beside. My courage was ebbing.
Punch, however, which makes beasts of so many, made a man of me
again—just in time to hear with tolerable nerve and firmness the lumpy,
flabby, naked feet deliberately descending the stairs again.
I took a candle, not without a tremour. As I crossed the floor I tried
to extemporise a prayer, but stopped short to listen, and never finished
it. The steps continued. I confess I hesitated for some seconds at the
door before I took heart of grace and opened it. When I peeped out the
lobby was perfectly empty—there was no monster standing on the
staircase; and as the detested sound ceased, I was reassured enough to
venture forward nearly to the banisters. Horror of horrors! within a
stair or two beneath the spot where I stood the unearthly tread smote
the floor. My eye caught something in motion; it was about the size of
Goliah's foot—it was grey, heavy, and flapped with a dead weight from
one step to another. As I am alive, it was the most monstrous grey rat I
ever beheld or imagined.
Shakespeare says—"Some men there are cannot abide a gaping pig, and
some that are mad if they behold a cat." I went well-nigh out of my wits
when I beheld this rat; for, laugh at me as you may, it fixed upon me,
I thought, a perfectly human expression of malice; and, as it shuffled
about and looked up into my face almost from between my feet, I saw, I
could swear it—I felt it then, and know it now, the infernal gaze and
the accursed countenance of my old friend in the portrait, transfused
into the visage of the bloated vermin before me.
I bounced into my room again with a feeling of loathing and horror I
cannot describe, and locked and bolted my door as if a lion had been at
the other side. D—n him or it; curse the portrait and its original! I
felt in my soul that the rat—yes, the rat, the RAT I had just seen,
was that evil being in masquerade, and rambling through the house upon
some infernal night lark.
Next morning I was early trudging through the miry streets; and, among
other transactions, posted a peremptory note recalling Tom. On my
return, however, I found a note from my absent "chum," announcing his
intended return next day. I was doubly rejoiced at this, because I had
succeeded in getting rooms; and because the change of scene and return
of my comrade were rendered specially pleasant by the last night's half
ridiculous half horrible adventure.
I slept extemporaneously in my new quarters in Digges' Street that
night, and next morning returned for breakfast to the haunted mansion,
where I was certain Tom would call immediately on his arrival.
I was quite right—he came; and almost his first question referred to
the primary object of our change of residence.
"Thank God," he said with genuine fervour, on hearing that all was
arranged. "On your account I am delighted. As to myself, I assure you
that no earthly consideration could have induced me ever again to pass a
night in this disastrous old house."
"Confound the house!" I ejaculated, with a genuine mixture of fear and
detestation, "we have not had a pleasant hour since we came to live
here"; and so I went on, and related incidentally my adventure with the
plethoric old rat.
"Well, if that were all," said my cousin, affecting to make light of
the matter, "I don't think I should have minded it very much."
"Ay, but its eye—its countenance, my dear Tom," urged I; "if you had
seen that, you would have felt it might be anything but what it
"I inclined to think the best conjurer in such a case would be an
able-bodied cat," he said, with a provoking chuckle.
"But let us hear your own adventure," I said tartly.
At this challenge he looked uneasily round him. I had poked up a very
"You shall hear it, Dick; I'll tell it to you," he said. "Begad, sir, I
should feel quite queer, though, telling it here, though we are too
strong a body for ghosts to meddle with just now."
Though he spoke this like a joke, I think it was serious calculation.
Our Hebe was in a corner of the room, packing our cracked delft tea and
dinner-services in a basket. She soon suspended operations, and with
mouth and eyes wide open became an absorbed listener. Tom's experiences
were told nearly in these words:----
"I saw it three times, Dick—three distinct times; and I am perfectly
certain it meant me some infernal harm. I was, I say, in danger—in
extreme danger; for, if nothing else had happened, my reason would
most certainly have failed me, unless I had escaped so soon. Thank God.
I did escape.
"The first night of this hateful disturbance, I was lying in the
attitude of sleep, in that lumbering old bed. I hate to think of it. I
was really wide awake, though I had put out my candle, and was lying as
quietly as if I had been asleep; and although accidentally restless, my
thoughts were running in a cheerful and agreeable channel.
"I think it must have been two o'clock at least when I thought I heard a
sound in that—that odious dark recess at the far end of the bedroom. It
was as if someone was drawing a piece of cord slowly along the floor,
lifting it up, and dropping it softly down again in coils. I sate up
once or twice in my bed, but could see nothing, so I concluded it must
be mice in the wainscot. I felt no emotion graver than curiosity, and
after a few minutes ceased to observe it.
"While lying in this state, strange to say; without at first a suspicion
of anything supernatural, on a sudden I saw an old man, rather stout and
square, in a sort of roan-red dressing-gown, and with a black cap on his
head, moving stiffly and slowly in a diagonal direction, from the
recess, across the floor of the bedroom, passing my bed at the foot, and
entering the lumber-closet at the left. He had something under his arm;
his head hung a little at one side; and, merciful God! when I saw his
Tom stopped for a while, and then said----
"That awful countenance, which living or dying I never can forget,
disclosed what he was. Without turning to the right or left, he passed
beside me, and entered the closet by the bed's head.
"While this fearful and indescribable type of death and guilt was
passing, I felt that I had no more power to speak or stir than if I had
been myself a corpse. For hours after it had disappeared, I was too
terrified and weak to move. As soon as daylight came, I took courage,
and examined the room, and especially the course which the frightful
intruder had seemed to take, but there was not a vestige to indicate
anybody's having passed there; no sign of any disturbing agency visible
among the lumber that strewed the floor of the closet.
"I now began to recover a little. I was fagged and exhausted, and at
last, overpowered by a feverish sleep. I came down late; and finding
you out of spirits, on account of your dreams about the portrait, whose
original I am now certain disclosed himself to me, I did not care to
talk about the infernal vision. In fact, I was trying to persuade myself
that the whole thing was an illusion, and I did not like to revive in
their intensity the hated impressions of the past night—or to risk the
constancy of my scepticism, by recounting the tale of my sufferings.
"It required some nerve, I can tell you, to go to my haunted chamber
next night, and lie down quietly in the same bed," continued Tom. "I did
so with a degree of trepidation, which, I am not ashamed to say, a very
little matter would have sufficed to stimulate to downright panic. This
night, however, passed off quietly enough, as also the next; and so too
did two or three more. I grew more confident, and began to fancy that I
believed in the theories of spectral illusions, with which I had at
first vainly tried to impose upon my convictions.
"The apparition had been, indeed, altogether anomalous. It had crossed
the room without any recognition of my presence: I had not disturbed
it, and it had no mission to me. What, then, was the imaginable
use of its crossing the room in a visible shape at all? Of course it
might have been in the closet instead of going there, as easily as
it introduced itself into the recess without entering the chamber in a
shape discernible by the senses. Besides, how the deuce had I seen it?
It was a dark night; I had no candle; there was no fire; and yet I saw
it as distinctly, in colouring and outline, as ever I beheld human form!
A cataleptic dream would explain it all; and I was determined that a
dream it should be.
"One of the most remarkable phenomena connected with the practice of
mendacity is the vast number of deliberate lies we tell ourselves, whom,
of all persons, we can least expect to deceive. In all this, I need
hardly tell you, Dick, I was simply lying to myself, and did not believe
one word of the wretched humbug. Yet I went on, as men will do, like
persevering charlatans and impostors, who tire people into credulity by
the mere force of reiteration; so I hoped to win myself over at last to
a comfortable scepticism about the ghost.
"He had not appeared a second time—that certainly was a comfort; and
what, after all, did I care for him, and his queer old toggery and
strange looks? Not a fig! I was nothing the worse for having seen him,
and a good story the better. So I tumbled into bed, put out my candle,
and, cheered by a loud drunken quarrel in the back lane, went fast
"From this deep slumber I awoke with a start. I knew I had had a
horrible dream; but what it was I could not remember. My heart was
thumping furiously; I felt bewildered and feverish; I sate up in the bed
and looked about the room. A broad flood of moonlight came in through
the curtainless window; everything was as I had last seen it; and though
the domestic squabble in the back lane was, unhappily for me, allayed, I
yet could hear a pleasant fellow singing, on his way home, the then
popular comic ditty called, 'Murphy Delany.' Taking advantage of this
diversion I lay down again, with my face towards the fireplace, and
closing my eyes, did my best to think of nothing else but the song,
which was every moment growing fainter in the distance:----
"'Twas Murphy Delany, so funny and frisky,
Stept into a shebeen shop to get his skin full;
He reeled out again pretty well lined with whiskey,
As fresh as a shamrock, as blind as a bull.
"The singer, whose condition I dare say resembled that of his hero, was
soon too far off to regale my ears any more; and as his music died away,
I myself sank into a doze, neither sound nor refreshing. Somehow the
song had got into my head, and I went meandering on through the
adventures of my respectable fellow-countryman, who, on emerging from
the 'shebeen shop,' fell into a river, from which he was fished up to be
'sat upon' by a coroner's jury, who having learned from a 'horse-doctor'
that he was 'dead as a door-nail, so there was an end,' returned their
verdict accordingly, just as he returned to his senses, when an angry
altercation and a pitched battle between the body and the coroner winds
up the lay with due spirit and pleasantry.
"Through this ballad I continued with a weary monotony to plod, down to
the very last line, and then da capo, and so on, in my uncomfortable
half-sleep, for how long, I can't conjecture. I found myself at last,
however, muttering, 'dead as a door-nail, so there was an end'; and
something like another voice within me, seemed to say, very faintly, but
sharply, 'dead! dead! dead! and may the Lord have mercy on your soul!'
and instantaneously I was wide awake, and staring right before me from
"Now—will you believe it, Dick?—I saw the same accursed figure
standing full front, and gazing at me with its stony and fiendish
countenance, not two yards from the bedside."
Tom stopped here, and wiped the perspiration from his face. I felt very
queer. The girl was as pale as Tom; and, assembled as we were in the
very scene of these adventures, we were all, I dare say, equally
grateful for the clear daylight and the resuming bustle out of doors.
"For about three seconds only I saw it plainly; then it grew
indistinct; but, for a long time, there was something like a column of
dark vapour where it had been standing, between me and the wall; and I
felt sure that he was still there. After a good while, this appearance
went too. I took my clothes downstairs to the hall, and dressed there,
with the door half open; then went out into the street, and walked about
the town till morning, when I came back, in a miserable state of
nervousness and exhaustion. I was such a fool, Dick, as to be ashamed to
tell you how I came to be so upset. I thought you would laugh at me;
especially as I had always talked philosophy, and treated your ghosts
with contempt. I concluded you would give me no quarter; and so kept my
tale of horror to myself.
"Now, Dick, you will hardly believe me, when I assure you, that for many
nights after this last experience, I did not go to my room at all. I
used to sit up for a while in the drawing-room after you had gone up to
your bed; and then steal down softly to the hall-door, let myself out,
and sit in the 'Robin Hood' tavern until the last guest went off; and
then I got through the night like a sentry, pacing the streets till
"For more than a week I never slept in bed. I sometimes had a snooze on
a form in the 'Robin Hood,' and sometimes a nap in a chair during the
day; but regular sleep I had absolutely none.
"I was quite resolved that we should get into another house; but I could
not bring myself to tell you the reason, and I somehow put it off from
day to day, although my life was, during every hour of this
procrastination, rendered as miserable as that of a felon with the
constables on his track. I was growing absolutely ill from this wretched
mode of life.
"One afternoon I determined to enjoy an hour's sleep upon your bed. I
hated mine; so that I had never, except in a stealthy visit every day to
unmake it, lest Martha should discover the secret of my nightly absence,
entered the ill-omened chamber.
"As ill-luck would have it, you had locked your bedroom, and taken away
the key. I went into my own to unsettle the bedclothes, as usual, and
give the bed the appearance of having been slept in. Now, a variety of
circumstances concurred to bring about the dreadful scene through which
I was that night to pass. In the first place, I was literally
overpowered with fatigue, and longing for sleep; in the next place, the
effect of this extreme exhaustion upon my nerves resembled that of a
narcotic, and rendered me less susceptible than, perhaps, I should in
any other condition have been, of the exciting fears which had become
habitual to me. Then again, a little bit of the window was open, a
pleasant freshness pervaded the room, and, to crown all, the cheerful
sun of day was making the room quite pleasant. What was to prevent my
enjoying an hour's nap here? The whole air was resonant with the
cheerful hum of life, and the broad matter-of-fact light of day filled
every corner of the room.
"I yielded—stifling my qualms—to the almost overpowering temptation;
and merely throwing off my coat, and loosening my cravat, I lay down,
limiting myself to half-an-hour's doze in the unwonted enjoyment of a
feather bed, a coverlet, and a bolster.
"It was horribly insidious; and the demon, no doubt, marked my
infatuated preparations. Dolt that I was, I fancied, with mind and body
worn out for want of sleep, and an arrear of a full week's rest to my
credit, that such measure as half-an-hour's sleep, in such a
situation, was possible. My sleep was death-like, long, and dreamless.
"Without a start or fearful sensation of any kind, I waked gently, but
completely. It was, as you have good reason to remember, long past
midnight—I believe, about two o'clock. When sleep has been deep and
long enough to satisfy nature thoroughly, one often wakens in this way,
suddenly, tranquilly, and completely.
"There was a figure seated in that lumbering, old sofa-chair, near the
fireplace. Its back was rather towards me, but I could not be mistaken;
it turned slowly round, and, merciful heavens! there was the stony face,
with its infernal lineaments of malignity and despair, gloating on me.
There was now no doubt as to its consciousness of my presence, and the
hellish malice with which it was animated, for it arose, and drew close
to the bedside. There was a rope about its neck, and the other end,
coiled up, it held stiffly in its hand.
"My good angel nerved me for this horrible crisis. I remained for some
seconds transfixed by the gaze of this tremendous phantom. He came close
to the bed, and appeared on the point of mounting upon it. The next
instant I was upon the floor at the far side, and in a moment more was,
I don't know how, upon the lobby.
"But the spell was not yet broken; the valley of the shadow of death was
not yet traversed. The abhorred phantom was before me there; it was
standing near the banisters, stooping a little, and with one end of the
rope round its own neck, was poising a noose at the other, as if to
throw over mine; and while engaged in this baleful pantomime, it wore a
smile so sensual, so unspeakably dreadful, that my senses were nearly
overpowered. I saw and remember nothing more, until I found myself in
"I had a wonderful escape, Dick—there is no disputing that—an escape
for which, while I live, I shall bless the mercy of heaven. No one can
conceive or imagine what it is for flesh and blood to stand in the
presence of such a thing, but one who has had the terrific experience.
Dick, Dick, a shadow has passed over me—a chill has crossed my blood
and marrow, and I will never be the same again—never, Dick—never!"
Our handmaid, a mature girl of two-and-fifty, as I have said, stayed her
hand, as Tom's story proceeded, and by little and little drew near to
us, with open mouth, and her brows contracted over her little, beady
black eyes, till stealing a glance over her shoulder now and then, she
established herself close behind us. During the relation, she had made
various earnest comments, in an undertone; but these and her
ejaculations, for the sake of brevity and simplicity, I have omitted in
"It's often I heard tell of it," she now said, "but I never believed it
rightly till now—though, indeed, why should not I? Does not my mother,
down there in the lane, know quare stories, God bless us, beyant telling
about it? But you ought not to have slept in the back bedroom. She was
loath to let me be going in and out of that room even in the day time,
let alone for any Christian to spend the night in it; for sure she says
it was his own bedroom."
"Whose own bedroom?" we asked, in a breath.
"Why, his—the ould Judge's—Judge Horrock's, to be sure, God rest his
sowl"; and she looked fearfully round.
"Amen!" I muttered. "But did he die there?"
"Die there! No, not quite there," she said. "Shure, was not it over
the banisters he hung himself, the ould sinner, God be merciful to us
all? and was not it in the alcove they found the handles of the
skipping-rope cut off, and the knife where he was settling the cord, God
bless us, to hang himself with? It was his housekeeper's daughter owned
the rope, my mother often told me, and the child never throve after, and
used to be starting up out of her sleep, and screeching in the night
time, wid dhrames and frights that cum an her; and they said how it was
the speerit of the ould Judge that was tormentin' her; and she used to
be roaring and yelling out to hould back the big ould fellow with the
crooked neck; and then she'd screech 'Oh, the master! the master! he's
stampin' at me, and beckoning to me! Mother, darling, don't let me go!'
And so the poor crathure died at last, and the docthers said it was
wather on the brain, for it was all they could say."
"How long ago was all this?" I asked.
"Oh, then, how would I know?" she answered. "But it must be a wondherful
long time ago, for the housekeeper was an ould woman, with a pipe in her
mouth, and not a tooth left, and better nor eighty years ould when my
mother was first married; and they said she was a rale buxom,
fine-dressed woman when the ould Judge come to his end; an', indeed, my
mother's not far from eighty years ould herself this day; and what made
it worse for the unnatural ould villain, God rest his soul, to frighten
the little girl out of the world the way he did, was what was mostly
thought and believed by every one. My mother says how the poor little
crathure was his own child; for he was by all accounts an ould villain
every way, an' the hangin'est judge that ever was known in Ireland's
"From what you said about the danger of sleeping in that bedroom," said
I, "I suppose there were stories about the ghost having appeared there
"Well, there was things said—quare things, surely," she answered, as it
seemed, with some reluctance. "And why would not there? Sure was it not
up in that same room he slept for more than twenty years? and was it not
in the alcove he got the rope ready that done his own business at
last, the way he done many a betther man's in his lifetime?—and was not
the body lying in the same bed after death, and put in the coffin there,
too, and carried out to his grave from it in Pether's churchyard, after
the coroner was done? But there was quare stories—my mother has them
all—about how one Nicholas Spaight got into trouble on the head of it."
"And what did they say of this Nicholas Spaight?" I asked.
"Oh, for that matther, it's soon told," she answered.
And she certainly did relate a very strange story, which so piqued my
curiosity, that I took occasion to visit the ancient lady, her mother,
from whom I learned many very curious particulars. Indeed, I am tempted
to tell the tale, but my fingers are weary, and I must defer it. But if
you wish to hear it another time, I shall do my best.
When we had heard the strange tale I have not told you, we put one or
two further questions to her about the alleged spectral visitations, to
which the house had, ever since the death of the wicked old Judge, been
"No one ever had luck in it," she told us. "There was always cross
accidents, sudden deaths, and short times in it. The first that tuck,
it was a family—I forget their name—but at any rate there was two
young ladies and their papa. He was about sixty, and a stout healthy
gentleman as you'd wish to see at that age. Well, he slept in that
unlucky back bedroom; and, God between us an' harm! sure enough he was
found dead one morning, half out of the bed, with his head as black as a
sloe, and swelled like a puddin', hanging down near the floor. It was a
fit, they said. He was as dead as a mackerel, and so he could not say
what it was; but the ould people was all sure that it was nothing at all
but the ould Judge, God bless us! that frightened him out of his senses
and his life together.
"Some time after there was a rich old maiden lady took the house. I
don't know which room she slept in, but she lived alone; and at any
rate, one morning, the servants going down early to their work, found
her sitting on the passage-stairs, shivering and talkin' to herself,
quite mad; and never a word more could any of them or her friends get
from her ever afterwards but, 'Don't ask me to go, for I promised to
wait for him.' They never made out from her who it was she meant by
him, but of course those that knew all about the ould house were at no
loss for the meaning of all that happened to her.
"Then afterwards, when the house was let out in lodgings, there was
Micky Byrne that took the same room, with his wife and three little
children; and sure I heard Mrs. Byrne myself telling how the children
used to be lifted up in the bed at night, she could not see by what
mains; and how they were starting and screeching every hour, just all as
one as the housekeeper's little girl that died, till at last one night
poor Micky had a dhrop in him, the way he used now and again; and what
do you think in the middle of the night he thought he heard a noise on
the stairs, and being in liquor, nothing less id do him but out he must
go himself to see what was wrong. Well, after that, all she ever heard
of him was himself sayin', 'Oh, God!' and a tumble that shook the very
house; and there, sure enough, he was lying on the lower stairs, under
the lobby, with his neck smashed double undher him, where he was flung
over the banisters."
Then the handmaiden added----
"I'll go down to the lane, and send up Joe Gavvey to pack up the rest of
the taythings, and bring all the things across to your new lodgings."
And so we all sallied out together, each of us breathing more freely, I
have no doubt, as we crossed that ill-omened threshold for the last
Now, I may add thus much, in compliance with the immemorial usage of
the realm of fiction, which sees the hero not only through his
adventures, but fairly out of the world. You must have perceived that
what the flesh, blood, and bone hero of romance proper is to the regular
compounder of fiction, this old house of brick, wood, and mortar is to
the humble recorder of this true tale. I, therefore, relate, as in duty
bound, the catastrophe which ultimately befell it, which was simply
this—that about two years subsequently to my story it was taken by a
quack doctor, who called himself Baron Duhlstoerf, and filled the
parlour windows with bottles of indescribable horrors preserved in
brandy, and the newspapers with the usual grandiloquent and mendacious
advertisements. This gentleman among his virtues did not reckon
sobriety, and one night, being overcome with much wine, he set fire to
his bed curtains, partially burned himself, and totally consumed the
house. It was afterwards rebuilt, and for a time an undertaker
established himself in the premises.
I have now told you my own and Tom's adventures, together with some
valuable collateral particulars; and having acquitted myself of my
engagement, I wish you a very good night, and pleasant dreams.