Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 4/"Bring me a light!"
"BRING ME A LIGHT!"
A GHOST STORY.
BY THE AUTHOR OF "THE HOUSE OF RABY."
My name is Thomas Whinmore, and when I was a young man I went to spend a college vacation with a gentleman in Westmoreland. He had known my father's family, and had been appointed the trustee of a small estate left me by my great aunt, Lady Jane Whinmore. At the time I speak of I was one-and-twenty, and he was anxious to give up the property into my hands. I accepted his invitation to "come down to the old place and look about me." When I arrived at the nearest point to the said "old place," to which the Carlisle coach would carry me, I and my portmanteau were put into a little cart, which was the only wheeled thing I could get at the little way-side inn.
"How far is it to Whinmore?" I asked of a tall grave-looking lad, who had already informed me 1 could have "t'horse and cairt" for a shilling a mile.
"Twal mile to t'ould Hall gaet—a mile ayont that to Squire Erle's farm."
As I looked at the shaggy wild horse, just caught from the moor for the purpose of drawing "t'cairt," I felt doubtful as to which of us woidd be the master on the road. I had ascertained that the said road lay over moor and mountain—just the sort of ground on which such a steed would gambol away at his own sweet will. I had no desire to be run away with.
"Is there any one here who can drive me to Mr. Erie's?" I asked of the tall grave lad.
I was puzzled; and was about to ask for an explanation, when a tall, strong old man, as like the young one as might be, came out from the door of the house with his hat on, and a whip in his hand. He got up into the cart, and looking at me, said,
"Ye munna stan here, sir. We shan't pass Whinmore Hall afore t'deevil brings a light."
"But I want something to eat before we start," I remonstrated. "I've had no dinner."
"Then ye maun keep your appetite till supper time," replied the old man. "I canna gae past Whinmore lights for na man—nor t'horse neither. Get up wi' ye! Joe, lend t'gentleman a hand."
Joe did as he was desired, and then said—
"Will ye be home the night, fayther?"
"May be yees, may be na, lad; take care of t'place."
In a moment the horse started, and we were rattling over the moor at the rate of eight miles an hour. Surprise, indignation, and hunger possessed me. Was it possible I had been whirled off dinnerless into this wilderness against my own desire?
"I say, my good man," I began.
"My name is Ralph Thirlston."
"Well! Mr. Thirlston, I want something to eat. Is there any inn between this desert and Mr. Erle's house I"
"Nobbut Whinmore Hall," said the old man, with a grin.
"I suppose I can get something to eat there, without being obliged to anybody. It is my own property."
Mr. Thirlston glanced at me sharply.
"Be ye t'maister, lad?"
"I am, Mr. Thirlston," said I. "My name is Whinmore."
"The same. Do you know anything about me and my old house?"
"'Deed do I. You're the heir of t'ould leddy. Mr. Erle is your guardian, and farms your lands."
"I know so much, myself," I replied. "I want you to tell me who lives in Whinmore Hall now, and whether I can get a dinner there, for I'm clem, as you say here."
"Weel, weel. It is a sore trial to a young stomach! You must e'en bear it till we get to Mr. Erle's."
"But surely there is somebody, some old woman or other, who lives in the old house and airs the rooms!"
"'Deed is there. But it's nobbut ghosts and deevil's spawn of that sort."
"I am surprised, Mr. Thirlston, to hear a man like you talk such nonsense."
"What like man do ye happen know that I am, Maister Whinmore? Tho' if I talk nonsense (and I'm no gainsaying what a learned colleger like you can tell about nonsense), yet it's just the things I have heard and seen mysell I am speaking of."
"What have you heard and seen at Whinmore Hall?"
"What a' body hears and sees to Whinmore, 'twixt sunset and moonlight;—and what I used to see times and oft, when I lived there farming-man to t'ould Leddy Jane,—what I'm not curious to see again, now. So get on, Timothy," he added to the horse, "or we may chance to come in for a fright."
I did not trouble myself about the delay, as he did, but watched him.
This man is no fool, I thought. I wonder what strange delusion has got possession of the people about this old house of mine. I remembered that Mr. Erle had told me in one of the very few letters I ever received from him, that it was difficult to find a tenant for Whinmore Hall. Curiosity took precedence of hunger, and I began to think how I could best soothe my irritated companion, and get him to tell me what he believed.
We were back on the road again, and going across the shoulder of a great fell;—the sun had just disappeared behind a distant range of similar fells; it left no rosy clouds, no orange streaks in the sky—black rain-clouds spread all over the great concave, and in a very few minutes they burst upon us. There was a cold, piercing wind in our teeth. I felt my spirits rise. The vast monotonous moor, the threatening sky, and the fierce rushing blast had something for mo sublime and invigorating. I looked round at the new range of moorland which we were gradually commanding, as we rounded the hill.
"I like this wild place, Mr. Thirlston," I said.
"Wild enough!" he grumbled in reply. "'Tis college learning is a deal better than such house and land. Beggars won't live in th' house, and th' land is the poorest in all England."
"Is that the house, yonder, on the right?"
"There's na ither house, good or bad, to be seen from this," he replied: but I observed that he did not turn his head in the direction I had indicated. He kept a look-out straight between the horse's ears; I, on the contrary, never took my eyes off the grey building which we were approaching. Nearer and nearer we came, and I saw that there was a sort of large garden or pleasure-ground enclosed round the house, and that the road ran past a part of this enclosure, and also past a large open-worked iron gate, which was the chief entrance. Very desolate, cold, and inhospitable looked this old house of mine; wild and tangled looked the garden. The tall, smokeless chimneys were numerous, and stood up white against the blackness of the sky; the windows, more numerous still, looked black, in contrast with the whitish-grey stone of the walls. Just as we entered the shadow cast by the trees of the shrubbery, our horse snorted, and sprang several yards from the enclosure.
"Now for it! It is your own fault for running away, and bringing us late," muttered Ralph Thirlston, grasping the reins and standing up to get a better hold of the horse. Timothy now stood still; and to my surprise he was trembling in every limb, and shaking with terror.
"Something has frightened the beast," said I. "I shall just go and see what it was," and was about to jump down, when I felt Balph Thirlston's great hand on my arm: it was a powerful grip.
"For the love of God, lad, stay where ye are!" he said, in a frightened whisper. "It's just here that my brother met his death, for doing what you want to do now."
"What! For walking up to that fence and seeing what trifle frightened a skittish horse?" And I looked at the fence intently. There was nothing to be seen but a straggling bough of an elder bush which had forced its way through a chink in the rotten wood and was waving in the wind.
Finding that the man was really frightened as well as the horse, I humoured him. He still held my arm.
"There is no need for any one to go closer to see the cause of poor Timothy's fear," I said, laughing. "If you will look, Mr. Thirlston, you will see what it was."
"Na! lad, na! I'm not going to turn my face towards the deevil and his works. 'Lord have mercy upon us! Christ have mercy upon us! Our Father which art in heaven—'" and he repeated the whole prayer with emphasis, slowness, and with his eyes closed. I sat still, an amazed witness of his state of mind. When he had said "Amen," he opened his eyes, and looking down at the horse, who seemed to have recovered, as I judged by his putting his head down to graze, he gave a low whistle, and tightening the reins once more, Timothy allowed himself to be driven forward. Thirlston kept his face away from the enclosure on his right hand, and looked steadily at Timothy. I gave another glance towards the innocent elder bough,—but what was my astonishment to see where it had been, or seemed to be, the figure of a man with a drawn sword in his hand.
"Stop, Thirlston! stop!" I cried. "There is somebody there. I see a man with a sword. Look! Turn back, and I'll soon see what he is doing there."
"Na! na! Never turn back to meet the deevil, when ye have once got past him!" And Thirlston drove on rapidly.
"But he may overtake you," I cried, laughing. But as I looked back I saw that a pursuit was not intended, for the figure I had seen was gone.
"I'll pay a visit to that devil to-morrow," I added. "I shall not harbour such game in my preserves."
"Lord's sake, don't talk like that, Maister Whinmore!" whispered Thirlston. "We're just coming to the gaet! May be they may strike Timothy dead!"
"They?—who? Not the ghosts, surely?" I looked through the great gate as we passed, and saw the whole front of the house. "Why, Mr. Thirlston, you said no one lived in the old Hall! Look! There are lights in the windows."
"Ay! ay! I thought you would see them," he said, in a terrified whisper, without turning his head.
"Why, look at them yourself," cried I, pointing to the house.
"God forbid!" he exclaimed; and he gave Timothy a stroke with the whip, that sent him flying past the rest of the garden of the Hall. Our ground rose again, and in a few minutes a good view of the place was obtained. I looked back at it with vivid interest. No lights were to be seen now; no moving thing; the black windows contrasted with the grey walls, and the grey chimneys with the black clouds, as when the place first appeared to me. The moon now rose above a dark hill on our left. Thirlston allowed Timothy to slacken his speed, and, turning round his head, he also looked back at Whinmore Hall.
"We are safe enough now," he said. "The only dangerous time is betwixt sunset and moonrise, when people are passing close to the accursed ould place."
About a mile further, the barking of a housedog indicated that we were approaching Mr. Erle's. The driver stopped at a small wicket-gate leading into a shrubbery, got down, and invited me to do the same. He then fastened Timothy to the gatepost. The garden and the house have nothing to do with my present tale, and are far too dear to me to be flung in as an episodical adornment. They form the scenery of the romantic part of my own life; for Miss Erle became my wife a few years after this first visit to Whinmore. I saw her that evening, and forgot Ralph Thirlston, the old Hall, its ghosts and mysterious lights. However, the next morning I was forced back to this work-a-day world in her father's study. There I heard Mr. Erle's account of my property. All the land was farmed by himself, except the few acres round the Hall, which no one would take because it was not worth tillage, and because of the evil name of the house itself.
"I suppose you know why no tenant can be found for the Hall, since Ralph Thirlston drove you over?"
"Yes," I said, smiling. "But I could get no rational account from him. What is this nonsense about ghosts and lights? Who lives in the Hall?"
"No one, my good fellow. Why, you would not get the stoutest man in the parish, and that's Thirlston, to go into the house after sunset, much less live in it."
"But I have seen lights in some of the windows myself."
"So have I," he replied.
"Do you mean to say that no human beings make use of the house, in virtue of the superstition about it? Tricks of this kind are not uncommon."
"At the risk of seeming foolish in your eyes, I must reply, that I believe no human beings now living have any hand in the operations which go on in Whinmore Hall." Mr. Erle looked perfectly grave as he said this.
"I saw a man with a sword in his hand start from a part of the fence. I think he frightened our horse."
"I, too, have seen the figure you speak of. But I do not think it is a living man."
"What do you suppose it to be?" I asked, in amazement; for Mr. Erle was no ignorant or weak-minded person. He had already impressed me with real respect for his character and intellect.
He smiled at my impetuous tone.
"I live apart from what is called the world," said he. "Grace and I are not polite enough to think everything which we cannot account for either impossible or ridiculous. Ten years ago, I myself was a new resident in this county, and wishing to improve your property, I determined to occupy the old Hall myself. I had it prepared for my family. No mechanic would work about the place after sunset. However, I brought all my servants from a distance; and took care that they should have no intercourse with any neighbour for the first three days. On the third evening they all came to me and said that they must leave the next morning—all but Grace's nurse, who had been her mother's attendant, and was attached to the family. She told me that she did not think it safe for the child to remain another night, and that I must give her permission to take her away."
"What did you do?" said I.
"I asked for some account of the things that had frightened them. Of course, I heard some wild and exaggerated tales; but the main phenomena related were what I myself had seen and heard, and which I was as fully determined as they were not to see and hear again, or to let my child have a chance of encountering. I told them so, candidly; and at the same time declared that it was my belief God's Providence or punishment was at work in that old house, as everywhere else in creation, and not the devil's mischievous hand. Once more I made a rigorous search for secret devices and means for producing the sights and sounds which so many had heard and seen; but without any discovery: and before sunset that afternoon the Hall was cleared of all human occupants. And so it has remained until this day."
"Will you tell me the things you saw and heard?"
"Nay, you had better see and hear them for yourself. We have plenty of time before sunset. I can show you over the whole house, and if your courage holds good, I will leave you there to pass an hour or so between sunset and moon rise. You can come back here when you like; and if you are in a condition to hear, and care to hear, the story which peoples your old Hall with horrors, I will tell it you."
"Thank you," said I. "Will you lend me a gun and pistols to assist me in my investigations?"
"Surely." And taking down the weapons I had pointed out, he began to examine them.
"You want them loaded?"
"Certainly, and with bullets. I am not going to play."
Mr. Erle loaded both gun and pistols. I put the latter into my pocket, and we left the room by the window. Grace Erle met us on the moor, riding a shaggy pony.
"Where are you going, so near dinner time?" she asked.
"Mr. Whinmore is going to look at the old Hall."
"And his gun?" she asked, smiling.
"I want to shoot vermin there."
She looked as if she were about to say something eagerly, but checked herself, and rode slowly away. I looked after her, and wondered what she was going to say. Perhaps she wished to prevent me from going.
Presently we stood before the great iron gate of Whinmore. Mr. Erle took two keys from his pocket. With one he unlocked the gate, with the other the chief door. There were no other fastenings. These were very rusty, and were moved with difficulty.
"People don't get in this way," said I. "That is clear."
The garden was a sad wilderness, and grass grew on the broad steps which led up to the door.
As soon as we had crossed the threshold, I felt the influence of that desolate dwelling creep over my spirits. There was a cold stagnation in the air—a deathly stillness—a murky light in the old rooms that was indescribably depressing. All the lower windows had their pierced shutters fastened, and cobwebs and dust adorned them plentifully.
Yet I could have sworn I saw lights in two, at least, of these lower windows. I said so to my companion. He replied—
"Yes. It was in this very room you saw a light, I dare say. This is one in which I have seen lights myself. But I do not wish to spoil my dinner by seeing anything supernatural now. We will leave it, and I will hasten to the lady's bedchamber and dressing-room, where the apparitions and noises are most numerous."
I followed him, but cast a glance round the room before I shut the door carefully. It was partly furnished like a library, but on one side was a bed, and beside it an easy-chair. "What name is given to this room? It looks ominous of some evil deed," I said.
"It is called 't'ould Squire's Murder Room,' by the people who know the story connected with it."
"Ah!" I said; "then I may look for a ghost there?"
"You will perhaps see one, or more, if you stay long enough," said Mr. Erle, with the utmost composure. "This way."
I followed him along a gallery on the first floor to the door of a room. He opened it, and we entered what had been apparently one of the principal bedrooms. It was a regular lady's chamber, of the seventeenth century, with dark plumes waving on the top of the bed-pillars of black oak. The massy toilette, with its oval looking-glass, set in silver and shrouded in old lace—the carved chairs and lofty mantelpiece—gave an air of quaint elegance to the dignity of the apartment. I had but little time to examine the objects here, for Mr. Erle had passed on to an inner room, which was reached by ascending a short flight of steps.
"Come up here," cried a voice which did not sound like Mr. Erle's. I ran up the stairs and found him alone in a small room which contained little else than an escritoire, a cabinet, and two great chairs. On one side, a large Parisian looking glass, à la Régence, was fixed on the wall. The branches for lights still held some yellow bits of wax-candle covered with dust. I joined Mr. Erle, who was looking through the window over a vast expanse of mountainous moorland. "What a grand prospect!" I exclaimed. "I like these two rooms very much. I shall certainly come and live here."
"You shall tell me your opinion about that to-morrow," said Mr. Erle. "I must go now."
Concealing as much as possible the contempt I felt for his absurd superstition, I accompanied him down-stairs again. "Are these the only rooms worth looking at?" I asked.
"No; most of the rooms are good enough for a gentleman's household. The rooms I have shown you, and the passages and staircase which lead from one to the other, are the only portions of the house in which you are subjected to annoyance. I have slept in both the rooms, and advise no one else to do so."
"You had bad dreams?" I asked, with an involuntary smile, as I took my gun from the hall-table, where I had left it.
"As you please," said Mr. Erle, smiling also. I stretched out my hand to him when we stood at the gate together.
"Good night!" said I. "I think I shall sleep in one of those rooms, and return to you in the morning."
Mr. Erle shook his head. "You will be back at my house within three hours, Tom Whinmore; so, au revoir!"
He strode away over the moor. His fine figure appeared almost gigantic as it moved between me and the setting sun.
"That does not look like a man who should be a prey to weak superstition, any more than good Ralph Thirlston, who drove home alone willingly enough past this same gate and fence at nine o'clock last night! The witching hour, it seems, is just after sunset. Well, it wants a quarter of an hour of that now," I continued, thinking silently. "There will be time enough for me to explore the garden a little, before I return to the house and wait for my evening's entertainment."
As I walked through the shrubbery, I recollected the figure I had seen outside the fence on the previous evening. I must find out how that trick is managed, thought I, and if I get a chance I will certainly wing that ghost, pour encourager les autres.
Ascertaining, as well as I was able, the part of the shrubbery near which I saw the man, I began to search for footsteps or marks of human ingenuity. I soon discovered the elder bush that had sent some of its branches through a hole in the fence. I crept round it, and examined the fence. No plank was loose, though some boughs had grown through the hole. I could see no footstep except my own on the moist, dank leafy mould. I got over the fence and saw no marks outside. Baffled, and yet suspicious, I went back and continued my walk, in the course of which I came upon sundry broken and decayed summer-houses and seats. In the tangled flower-garden, on the south-west side, were a few rich blossoms, growing amicably with the vilest weeds. I tore up a great root of hemlock to get at a branch of Provence rose, and then seeing that the sun had disappeared below the opposite fell, I pursued my course and arrived again at the broad gravel path leading from the gate to the hall-door.
Both stood open, as I had left them. I lingered on the grass-grown steps to look at the last rays of the sun, reddening the heather on the distant fell. As I leaned on my gun enjoying the profound stillness of this place, far from all sounds of village, or wood, or sea—a stillness that seemed to deepen and deepen into unearthly intensity— the charm was broken by a human voice speaking near me—the tone was hollow and full of agony—"Bring me a light! Bring me a light!" it cried. It was like a sick or dying man. The voice came, I thought, from the room next to me on the right hand of the Hall. I rushed into the house and to the door of that room; it was the first which Mr. Erle had shown me. I remembered shutting the door—it now stood wide open; and there was a sound of hurrying footsteps within.
"Who is there?" I shouted. No answer came. But there passed by me, as it were, in the very doorway, the figure of a young and, as I could see at a glance, very beautiful woman.
When she moved onwards I could not choose but follow, trembling with an indefinable fear, yet borne on by a mystic attraction. At the foot of the stairs she turned on me again, and smiled, and beckoned me with an upraised arm, whereon great jewels flashed in the gloom. I followed her quickly, but could not overtake her. My limbs—I am not ashamed to say it—shook with strange fear; yet I could not turn back from following that fair form. Onward she led me—up the stairs and through the gallery to the door of the lady's chamber. There she paused a moment, and again turned her bewitching face, radiant with smiles, upon me before she disappeared within the dark doorway. I followed into the room, and saw her stand before the antique toilette and arrange in her bosom a spray of roses—the very spray that I had so lately pulled in the garden, it seemed—then she kissed her hand to me and glided to the narrow stairs that led to the little room above. Then came a loud haughty voice—the voice of a woman accustomed to command. It sounded from the little room above, and it could not be the voice of that fair girl, I felt sure. It said:
"Bring me a light! Bring me a light!"
I shuddered at the sound; I knew not why, but I stood there still. I then saw the figure of an old female servant, rise from a chair by one of the windows. She approached the toilette, and there I saw her light two tapers, with her breath, it seemed.
"Bring me a light!" was repeated in an angry tone from the upper room.
The old woman passed rapidly to the stairs. Thither I followed in obedience to a sign from her; and, mounting to the top, saw into the room.
That beautiful girl stood in the centre, with her costly lace gown sweeping the floor, and her bright curls drooping to the waist. Her back was towards me, but I could see her innocent, sweet face in the great glass. What a lovely, happy face it was!
Behind her stood another lady, taller, and more majestic. She pretended to caress her, but her proud eyes, unseen by the young lady, brightened with trinmphant malice. They danced gladly in the light of the taper which she took from the maid. "God of heaven! can a woman look so wicked?" I thought.
"Watch her!" whispered a voice in my ear—a voice that stirred my hair.
I did watch her. Would to God I could forget that vision! She—the woman, the fiend—bent carefully to the floor, as though to set right something amiss in the border of the fair bride's robe. I saw her lower the flame of the candle, and set fire to the dress of the smiling, trusting girl. Ere I could move she was enveloped in flames, and I heard her wild shrieks mingling with the low demoniac laughter of her murderess.
I remember suddenly raising the gun in my hand and firing at the horrid apparition. But still she laughed and pointed with mocking gestures to the flames and the writhing figure they enveloped. I ran forward to extinguish them ;— my arms struck against the wall, and I fell down insensible.
When I recovered my senses I found myself lying on the floor of that little room, with the bright cold moon looking in on me. I waited without moving, listening for some more of those demon sounds. All was still. I rose—went to the window—the moon was high in heaven, and all the great moor seemed light as day. The air of that room was stilling. I turned and fled. Hastily I ran down those few steps—quicker yet through the great chamber and out into the gallery. As I began to go down the stairs, I saw a figure coming up.
I was now a very coward. Grasping the banister with one hand, and feeling for the unused pistol with the other, I called out—
"Who are you?" and with stupid terror I fired at the thing, without pausing.
There was a slight cry; a very human one. Then a little laugh.
"Don't fire any more pistols at me, Mr. Whinmore. I'm not a ghost."
Something in the voice sent the blood once more coursing through my veins.
"Is it—?" I could not utter another word.
"It is I, Grace Erle."
"What brought you here?" I said, at length, after I had descended the stairs, and had seized her hand that I might feel sure it was of flesh and blood.
"My pony. We began to get uneasy about you. It is nearly midnight. So papa and I set off to see what you were doing."
"What the devil are you firing at, Whinmore?" asked Mr. Erle, coming hurriedly from a search in the lower rooms.
"Only at me, papa!" answered his daughter, archly, glancing up at my face. "But he is a bad shot, for he didn't hit me."
"Thank God!" I ejaculated—"Miss Erle, I was mad."
"No, only very frightened. Look at him, papa!"
Mr. Erle looked at me. He took my arm.
"Why! Whinmore, you don't look the better for seeing the spirits of your ancestors. However, I see it is no longer a joking matter with you. You do not wish to take up your abode here immediately."
I rallied under their kindly badinage.
"Let me get out of this horrible place," said I.
Mr. Erle led me beyond the gate. I leaned against it, in a state of exhaustion.
"Here. Try your hand at my other pocketpistol!" said Mr. Erle, as he put a precious flask of that kind to my lips. After a second application of the remedy I was decidedly better.
Miss Erle mounted her pony, and we set off across the moor. I was very silent, and my companions talked a little with each other. My mind was too confused to recollect just then all that I had experienced during my stay in the house, and I wished to arrange my thoughts and compose my nerves before I conversed with Mr. Erle on the strange visions of that night.
I excused myself to my host and his daughter, in the best way I could, and after taking a slice of bread and a glass of water, I went to bed.
The next day I rose late; butin my right mind. I was much shocked to think of the cowardly fear which had led mc to lire a pistol at Miss Erle. I i began my interview with my host, by uttering some expressions of this feeling. But it was an awkward thing to declare myself a fool and a coward.
"The less we say about that the better," said her father, gravely. "Fear is the strongest human passion, my boy; and will lead us to commit the vilest acts, if we let it get the mastery."
"I acknowledge that I was beside myself with terror at the sights and sounds of that accursed house. I was not sane, at the moment, I saw your daughter! I shall never—"
"Whinmore, she hopes you will never mention it again! We certainly shall not. Now, if you are disposed to hear the story of your ancestor's evil deeds, I am ready to fulfil the promise I made you last night. I see you know too much, now, to think me a fool for believing my own senses, and keeping clear of disagreeable creatures that will not trouble themselves about me. I don't raise the question of what they are, or how they exist—nor even whether they exist at all. It is sufficient that they appear; and that by their appearance they put a stop to normal human life. You may be a philosopher; and may find some means of banishing these supernatural horrors. I shall like you none the less, if you can do what I cannot."
"I will try. Will you tell the story?"
"Yes, if you will take a cigar with me first."
After we had composed ourselves comfortably before the fire in his study, Mr. Erle began.
"How long ago, I can't exactly find out, but some time between the Reformation and the Great Rebellion, the Whinmores settled in this part of the county, and owned a large tract of land. They were of gentle blood, and most ungentle manners; for they quarrelled with every one, and carried themselves in an insolent fashion, to the simple below them, and to the noble above. The Whinmores were iron-handed and iron hearted, staunch Catholics and staunch Jacobites, during the religious and political dissensions of the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries. After the establishment of Protestantism in the reigns of William III. and Anne, the position of the proud house of
Whinmore was materially altered. The cadets went early into foreign service as soldiers and priests, and the first-born remained at home to keep up a blighted dignity. After the establishment of the Hanoverian dynasty, the Whinmores of Whinmore Hall ceased to take any part in public affairs. They were too proud to farm their own land; and putting trust in a nefarious steward, the Whinmore who reigned at the Hall when King George the Second reigned over England was compelled to keep up appearances by selling half the family estate.
"The Whinmore in question, 't'ould squire,' as the people call him, was a melancholy man, not much blest in the matrimonial lottery. His wife, Lady Henrietta Whinmore, was the daughter of a poor Catholic Earl. Tradition says she was equally beautiful and proud; and I believe it.
"To return. This couple had only one child, a son. When Lady Henrietta found that her husband was a gentleman of a moping and unenterprising turn of mind, that she could not persuade him to compromise his principles, and so find favour with the new government, she devoted herself to the education of her son, Graham. As he was a clever boy, with strong health and good looks, she determined that he should retrieve the fortunes of the family. She kept him under her own superintendence till he was ten years of age. She then sent him to Eton, with his cousin the little Earl of ————. He was brought up a Protestant, and thus the civil disabilities of the family would be removed. He was early accustomed to the society of all ranks, to be found in a first-class English public school; and his personal gifts as well as his mental excellence helped to win him the good opinion of others. Graham came home from Oxford in his twenty-third year, a first-class man."
"Indeed!" I exclaimed. "I hope I am descended from him, and that his good luck will be a part of my inheritance. Is there any portrait of this fine young English gentleman of the olden time?"
"A very good one. It is in my daughter's sitting-room. We are both struck by your likeness to your grandfather, Graham Whinmore."
"I shall never take a first-class," I sighed; "but go on."
"When Graham returned home after his success at college, he found his father a hopeless valetudinarian, who had had his bed brought down to his library, because he thought himself too feeble to go up and down stairs. He showed little emotion at sight of his son, and seemed to be fast sinking to idiocy. His mother, on the contrary, was radiant with joy; and had made the old ruined house look its best to welcome the heir. For, at that time, the place was much dilapidated, and only a small portion was habitable, that is the part you saw yesterday, the south front.
"And Graham stayed at home for a month or two in repose, after the fatigues of study. One afternoon as he rode home from a distant town, he paused on the top of Whinmore Hill, which commands a good view of the Hall. The simple bareness of the great hills around, the antique beauty and retirement of the Hall—above all, the sweet impressive stillness of the place, had often charmed Graham, as a boy. Now he gazed with far stronger feeling at it all.
"'It shall not be lost to me and my children,' he vowed, inwardly. '1 will redeem the mortgage on the house, I will win back every acre of the old Whinmore land. Yes, I will work for wealth; but I must lose no time, or my opportunity will be gone.'
"He looked at the ruined part of the house, and began to calculate the cost of rebuilding as he hastened forward. As soon as he entered the house he went to see his father, whom he had not seen that day. He found him in his bed, with the nurse asleep in the easy chair beside it. His father did not recognise him, and to Graham's mind, looked very much changed since the previous day. He left the room in search of his mother; thinking, in spite of his love for her, that she neglected her duty as a wife. 'She should be beside him now,' he thought. Still, he framed the best excuse he could for her then, for he loved and reverenced her. She was so strong-minded, so beautiful. Above all, she loved him with such passionate devotion. He dreaded to tell her the resolution he had formed. She was an aristocrat and a woman. She did not understand the mutation of things in that day; she would not believe that the best way to wealth and power was not through the Court influence, but by commercial enterprise. He went to her bedroom, the Lady's Chamber, in which you were last night. She was not there, and he was about to retreat, when he heard her voice in anger speaking to some one, in the dressing-room or oratory above. Graham went towards the stairs, and was met by an old female servant who was in his mother's confidence, and acted as her maid and head-nurse to his father. She came down in tears, murmuring, ' I cannot bear it. It was you gave me the draught for him. I will send for a doctor.'
"'A doctor, indeed! He wants no doctor,' cried the angry mistress. 'And don't talk any more nonsense, my good woman, if you value your place.'
"In her agitation the woman did not see her young master, and hastily left the room.
"Astonished at the woman's words, he slowly ascended the steps to the dressing-room. He found his mother standing before the long looking-glass arrayed in a rich dress of old point lace, over a brocaded petticoat, with necklace, bracelets, and tiara of diamonds. She looked very handsome as her great eyes still flashed and her cheek was yet crimson with anger. She turned hastily as her son's foot was heard on the topmost stair. When she saw who it was her face softened with a smile.
"' You here, Graham! I have been wanting you. Read that.'
"He could scarcely take his admiring eyes from the brilliant figure before him as he received the letter.
"It was addressed to his mother, and came from his cousin, the Earl, informing her that he had obtained a certain post under government for Graham.
"She kissed him as he sat down after reading the letter.
"' There is your first step on fortune's ladder, my son. You are sure to rise.'
"' I hope so, mother. But where are you going decked out in the family diamonds and lace?'
"'Have you forgotten?—To the ball at the Lord-Lieutenant's. You must dress quickly, or we shall be late. Your cousin will be there, and we must thank him for that letter.'
"'Yes, mother,' he replied, 'but we must refuse the place—I have other views.'
"Lady Henrietta's brow darkened.
" 'Mother! I have vowed to recover the estate of my ancestors. It will require a large fortune to do this. I cannot get a large fortune by dangling about the Court—I am going to turn merchant.'
"Lady Henrietta stared at him in amazement.
"'You?—My son become a merchant?'
"'Why not, mother? Sons of nobler houses have done so; and I have advantages that few have ever had. Listen, dear mother. I saved the life of a college friend, who was drowning. His father is one of the wealthiest merchants in London—in all England. He wrote to tell me that if it suited my views and those of my family, he was ready to receive me, at once, as a junior partner in his firm. He had learned from his son that I wished to become rich that I might buy back my ancestral estate. His offer puts it in my power to become rich in a comparatively short space of time.—I intend to accept his munificent offer.'
"Lady Henrietta's proud bosom swelled; but there was something in her son's tone which made her feel that anger and persuasion were alike vain. After some minutes' silence, she said bitterly:
"'The world is changed indeed, Graham, if men of gentle blood can become traders and not lose their gentility.'
"'They can, mother. And I do not think the world can be much changed in that particular. A man of gentle blood, who is, in very truth, a gentleman, cannot lose that distinction in any occupation. Come, good mother, give me a smile! I am about to go forth to win an inheritance. I shall fight with modern weapons—the pen and the ledger—instead of sword and shield.'
"At that moment hasty steps were heard in the chamber below, and a voice called:
"'My lady! my lady! come quick! The Squire is dying!'
"Mother and son went fast to Mr. Whinmore's room. They arrived in time to see the old man die. He pointed to her, and cried with his last breath,
"She did it! She did it!'
"Lady Henrietta sat beside his bed and listened to these incoherent words without any outward emotion. She watched the breath leave the body, and then closed the eyes herself. But though she kept up so bravely then, she was dangerously ill for several months after her husband's death, and was lovingly tended by her son and the old servant.
"I must now pass over ten years. Before the end of that time Graham Whinmore had become rich enough to buy back every acre of the land and to build a bran new house, twenty times finer than the old one, if he were so minded. But he was by no means so minded. He restored the old house—made it what it now is. He would not have accepted Chatsworth or Stowe in exchange.
"The Lady Henrietta lived there still; and super intended all the improvements. She had become reconciled to her son's occupation for the sake of the result in wealth. She entered eagerly into all his plans for the improvement of his property, and she had some of her own to propose.
"It was the autumn of the tenth year since her husband's death, and she was expecting Graham shortly for his yearly visit to the Hall. She sat looking over papers of importance in her dressing room; the old servant (who seems to have grown no older) sat sewing in the bedroom below, when a housemaid brought in a letter which the old servant took immediately to her mistress.
"Lady Henrietta opened the letter quickly, for she saw that the handwriting was her son's. 'Perhaps he is coming this week,' she thought with a thrill of delight. 'Yes, he will come to take me to the Lord-Lieutenant's ball. He is proud of his mother yet, and I must look my best.' But she had not read a dozen words before the expression of her face changed. Surprise darkened into contempt and anger—anger deepened into rage and hatred. She uttered a sharp cry of pain. The old servant ran to her in alarm; but her mistress had composed herself, though her cheek was livid.
"'Did your ladyship call me?'
"'Yes. Bring me a light!'
"In this letter Graham announced his return home the following week—with a wife;—a beautiful girl—penniless and without connections of gentility. No words can describe the bitter rage and disappointment of this proud woman. He had a second time thwarted her plans for his welfare, and each time he had outraged her strongest feelings. He had turned merchant, and by his plebeian peddling had bought the land which his ancestors had won at the point of the sword. She had borne that, and had submitted to help him in his schemes. But receive a beggarly, low-born wench for her daughter-in-law?—No! She would never do that. She paced the room with soft, firm steps, like a panther. After a time thought became clearer, and she saw that there was no question of her willingness to receive her daughter-in-law, but of that daughter-in-law's willingness to allow her to remain in the house. Ah! but it was an awful thing to see the proud woman when she looked that fact fully in the face. She hated her unseen daughter with a keen cold hate—a remorseless hate born of that terrible sin, Pride. But she was not a woman to hate passively. She paced to and fro, turning and returning with savage, stealthy quickness. The day waned, and night began. Her servant came to see if she were wanted, and was sent away with a haughty negative. 'She is busy with some wicked thought,' murmured the old woman.
"Graham Whinmore's bride was, as he had said, 'so good and so lovely, that no one ever thought of asking who were her parents.' She was also accomplished and elegant in manner. She was in all respects but birth superior to the Duke's daughter whom Lady Henrietta had selected for her son's wife. The beautiful Lilian's father was a music master, and she had given lessons in singing herself. Lady Henrietta learned this and everything else concerning her young daughter-in-law that could be considered disgraceful in her present station. But she put restraint on her contempt, and received her with an outward show of courtesy and stately kindness. Graham believed that for his sake his mother was determined to forget his wife's low origin, and he became easy about the result of their connection after he had seen his mother caress his wife once or twice. He felt sure that no one could know Lilian and not love her. He was proud and happy to think that two such beautiful women belonged to him.
"The Lord-Lieutenant's ball was expected to be unusually brilliant that year, and Graham was anxious that his wife should be the queen of the assembly.
"'I should like her to wear the old lace and the jewels, mother,' said Graham.
"The Lady Henrietta's eyebrows were contracted for a moment, and she shot forth a furtive glance at Lilian, who sat near, playing with a greyhound.
"If Graham had seen that glance! But her words he believed.
"'Certainly, my son. It is quite proper that your wife should wear such magnificent heirlooms. There is no woman of quality in this county that can match them. I am proud to abdicate my right in her favour.'
"'There, Lilian! Do you hear, you are to eclipse the Duchess herself!'
"I will do so, if you wish it,' said Lilian. 'But I do not think that will amuse me so much as dancing.'
"Balls, in those times, began at a reasonable hour. Ladies who went to a ball early in November, began to dress by daylight.
"Lilian had been dressed by her maid. Owing to a certain sentimental secret between her and her husband, she wore her wedding-dress of white Indian muslin, instead of a rich brocaded silk petticoat, underneath the grand lace robe. The diamonds glittered gaily round her head and her softly rounded throat and arms. She went to the old library, where Graham sat awaiting the ladies. She wanted his opinion concerning her appearance. The legend does not tell how he behaved on this occasion, but leaves it to young husbands to imagine.
"'You must go to my mother, and let her see how lovely you look. Walk first, that I may see how you look behind.' So she took from his hand a spray of roses he had gathered, and preceded him from the room, and up the staircase to his mother's chamber. She was in the dressing room above.
"'Go up by yourself,' said Graham; 'I will remain on the stairs, and watch you both. I should like to hear what she says, when she does not think I hear; for she never praises you much to me, for fear of increasing my blind adoration, I suppose.'
"Lilian smiled at him, and disappeared up the stairs. It was now becoming dark, and as he approached the stairs, a few minutes afterwards, to hear what was said, his mother's voice, in a strange, eager tone, called from above,
"'Bring me a light! Bring me a light!'
"Then Graham saw his mother's old servant run quickly from her seat by the window, and light a tall taper on the toilette. She carried this up to her mistress, and found Graham on the stair on her return. She grasped his arm, and whispered fearfully,
"'Watch her! Watch her!'
"He did watch, and saw—"
"For God's sake, Mr. Erle," I interrupted, "don't tell me what he saw—for I saw the same dreadful sight!"
"I have no doubt you did, since you say so; and because I have seen it myself."
We were silent for some moments, and then I asked if he knew anything more of these people.
"Yes—the rest is well known to every one who lives within twenty miles. Graham Whinmore vowed not to remain under the same roof with his mother, after he had seen his wife's blackened corpse. His grief and resentment were quiet and enduring. He would not leave the corpse in the house; but before midnight had it carried to a summer-house in the shrubbery, where he watched beside it, and allowed no one to approach, except the old servant who figures in this story. She brought him food, and carried his commands to the household. From the day of Lilian's death till the day of her burial in the family vault at Whinmore Church, Graham guarded the summer-house where his wife lay, with his drawn sword as he walked by night round about. It was known that he would not allow the family jewels to be taken from the body, and that they were to be buried with it. Some say that he finally took them from the body himself, and buried them in the shrubbery, lest the undertakers, tempted by the sight of the jewels on the corpse, might desecrate her tomb afterwards for the sake of stealing them. This opinion is supported by the fact that a portion of the shrubbery is haunted by the apparition of Graham Whinmore, in mourning garments, and with a drawn sword in his hand.
"Would you advise me to institute a search for those old jewels?" I asked smiling.
"I would," said he. "But take no one into your confidence, Tom Whinmore. You may raise a laugh against you, if you are unsuccessful. And if you find them, and take them away—"
"Which I certainly should do," I interrupted.
"You will raise a popular outcry against yon. The superstitious people will believe that you have outraged the ghost of your great-grandfather, who will become mischievous, in consequence."
I saw the prudence of this remark; and it was agreed between us, that we should do all the digging ourselves, unknown to any one. I then asked how it was that I was descended from this unfortunate gentleman.
Mr. Erle's story continued thus:—
"After his wife's funeral, Graham Whinmore did not return to the Hall, but went away to the south, and never came here again, not even to visit his mother on her death-bed, a year after. In a few years he married again, and had sons and daughters. To an unmarried daughter, Jane Whinmore,—always called 'Leddy Jane' by our neighbours,—he left the house and lands. He did not care to keep it in the family, and she might leave it to a stranger, or sell it, if she pleased. It was but a small portion of Graham Whinmore's property, as you must know. She, however—this, 'Leddy Jane'—took a great fancy to the old place. She is said to have lived on terms of familiarity with the ghost of her grandmother, and still more affectionately with her father's first wife. She heard nothing of the buried jewels, and saw nothing of her own father's ghost during his lifetime. That part of the story did not come to light until after the death of Graham Whinmore; when the 'Leddy Jane' herself was startled one evening in the shrubbery, by meeting the apparition of her father. It is said that she left her property to her youngest nephew's youngest son, in obedience to his injunctions during that interview."
"So that though unborn at the time, I may consider myself lord of Whinmore Hall, by the will of my great-grandfather!" I said.
"Precisely so. I think it an indication that the ghostly power is to die out in your time. The i last year of the wicked Lady Henrietta's life was very wretched, as you may suppose. Her besetting and cherished sins brought their own reward—and her crowning crime was avenged without the terror of the law. For it is said that every evening at sunset the apparition of her murdered daughter-in-law came before her, wearing the rich dress which was so dear to the proud woman; and that she was compelled to repeat the cruel act, and to hear her screams and the farewell curses of her adored son. The servants all left the Hall in affright; and no one lived with the wicked Lady except the faithful old servant, Margaret Thirlston, who stayed with her to the last, followed her to the grave, and died soon after.
"Her son and his wife were sought for by Jane Whinmore on her arrival here. She gave them a home and everything they wanted as housekeeper and farm-manager at the Hall. And at the death of Giles Thirlston, his son Ralph became farm-manager in his place. He continued there till 't' Leddy's' death, when he settled at the little wayside inn which you have seen, and which he calls 'Leddy Jane's Gift.'"
I have but little more to say. Mr. Erle and I sought long for the hidden treasure. We found it, after reading a letter secreted in the escritoire, addressed to 'My youngest nephew's youngest son.' In that letter directions were given for recovering the hidden jewels of the family. They were buried outside the garden fence, on the open moor, on the very spot where I can swear I saw the figure of a man with a sword —my great-grandfather, Graham Whinmore.
After I married, we came to live in the south; and I took every means to let my little estate of Whinmore. To my regret the Hall has never found a tenant, and it is still without a tenant after these twenty-five years.
Will any reader of Once A Week make me an offer? They shall have it cheap.
J. M. H.