Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Laying a ghost

Illustrated by George John Pinwell.

LAYING A GHOST.

Deathbed Confession (Pinwell).png

I am not superstitious. I may have a soft place in my head like the greater part of man and woman kind, but I am not so weak as to believe in witchcraft, or in omens, or warnings. I never did believe in them, nor in dreams (generally speaking), though as to these latter phenomena I will not speak positively, for reasons which I could give, though I shall not just now. Nor do I believe in apparitions, most of which may be easily accounted for by the state of the seer’s health, or of his nerves, or by the state of the atmosphere, or a hundred other circumstances. But I will say, without fear of contradiction from any reasonable person, that some things are quite unaccountable, though they cannot either be denied or explained away.

For example, noises! Dreadfully unaccountable are the noises that a person, sitting up late at night, and alone, “and when a’ the weary world to rest are gone,” may hear in some houses. I say alone, because it is not to be supposed that when several persons are together, some talking and laughing, some moving about, some occupied one way and some another, that they should pay any attention to the mysterious noises of which I am speaking. I am not nervous, but really I could not live in a house that was so afflicted—no, not if I might have it rent free, and, moreover, be paid a rent for living in it.

And, again, there are still worse things than mere noises that make some houses very undesirable habitations for the living; such things, for instance, as shadowy figures to be seen flitting by, when there is apparently no substance to cause them; or a trembling to be felt in the air which makes the bellwires vibrate, or even the bells to ring at unseasonable hours. I cannot say that I ever actually saw these things myself, but I confess that once, just at midnight,—no, I will not say what it was now. I do not wish to make my friends either nervous or uncomfortable; still more unwilling am I to give them any cause for distrusting my veracity, so I will pass over that strange affair for the present at least, and merely give a true and faithful account of what happened in a house that I was well acquainted with, and then they must judge for themselves whether or not that house was ——.

The house in question is a large and substantially-built mansion, standing in a beautiful, sheltered spot, although scarcely more than a furlong from the sea, and on the eastern coast of England. I know no other such spot on the whole line of coast from Berwick-on-Tweed to Dover. You already imagine that it is a stately edifice with gables, and turrets, partly clad with ivy, with deep-set, narrow-pointed windows, and winding-stairs complete? No such thing—neither is it a great staring modern house, standing stark naked with neither an evergreen shrub outside, nor a superstitious legend inside, to enliven it. On the contrary, the garden can boast of fig-trees of a magnitude seldom attained in our island except upon the southern coast, and the myrtle, which, farther inland, can only be kept alive through the winter months in a green-house, covers the walls with its shining dark-green leaves and fragrant silvery blossoms, to a height far above the drawing-room windows. The house may be a hundred years old—it may be more, or it may be less, though I should not think it. Who lives there now is no matter; our business is with the “good old Squire,” as he was commonly called in the neighbourhood, who lived there five-and-twenty years ago. I knew him well, and a hearty, hospitable old trump he was, too. He was a widower, and had no family; but as his means were ample, his house large and well appointed, and, moreover, his disposition somewhat jovial, it seldom happened that he was without visitors. Of all the places I ever knew, it was the most pleasant to stay in: there was no trying to be cheerful or gay, it all came naturally; it seemed to be in the very air of the place. There was plenty of shooting in the autumn; in the winter, hunting with two or three packs of harriers that were kept in the neighbourhood; in the summer an endless variety of amusements on sea or land, and for wet days there was a billiard-table and a good library for those who were inclined to be studious, or quiet, or lazy—everybody did as he liked—Liberty Hall it was.

And yet—I had heard, certainly, for I remembered it afterwards, though I paid very little attention to the matter at the time—I had heard that the house once had the reputation for being—for not being quite pleasant in all respects; but such things are said of so many country houses, that I looked upon this as mere idle gossip. Besides, the house had no appearance of the kind to warrant such reports. If such things had been said of Cranberry Hall, which was only two miles distant, inland, I should not so much wonder; its gloomy battlements, its windows divided by heavy stone mullions, its stacks of twisted and fretted chimneys, and, above all, that great dismal pine wood at the back, whose spiry tops by moonlight always looked to me like an enormous army of giants with their javelins piercing the sky—these might justify such a popular belief, but I never heard that there was even any suspicion of the kind attached to that melancholy-looking place. This, however, is an idle digression.

It was the last week in September, the weather was remarkably fine, we were a large party at the Squire’s, and he was in the best possible spirits, for he expected a visit from an old schoolfellow whom he had not seen for many years, but who had just written to say that he would come and give the pheasants a benefit on the first of October, as he had done some twenty years before. The Major, as I now learned from my host, was born and had spent his early youth in this neighbourhood; the two boys had gone to Eton together, and had always kept up a friendly correspondence, though their way in life had been so different that they had not met for twenty years.

On the last day of the month, just as we were sitting down to breakfast, the Squire evidently a little disappointed at not finding a letter in the post-bag from the Major, to our great surprise, in the old soldier walked. He had come down from London the day before, slept at the inn of the little market-town of Sandiland, where the coach stopped in the evening, had risen betimes, and now walked over to his old friend’s house.

After the first hearty salutations had passed between the two friends, and sundry rough schoolboyish jokes on the alteration that time had wrought in their personal appearance had been exchanged, it was decided that when breakfast was over, the rest of this day should be spent in reconnoitring certain favourite old haunts of their youth, and in paying visits to some half-dozen aged labourers and fishermen, whom the Major’s kind heart had not suffered him to forget. The next day was to be dedicated to the slaughter of partridges and pheasants. Well, there is no need to dwell upon the unimportant events of the day. We dispersed in small parties, according to our different tastes and inclinations, and assembled again when dinner-time approached. The evening came, and the time had passed away very quickly, we all thought, when some prudent person, the old grey-headed clergyman, I believe it was, reminded the company that it was drawing close upon midnight. Knowing our host’s dislike to late hours, we arose to take our candles and depart.

“And where am I to perch?” demanded the Major, as we were shaking hands and bidding each other good night.

“Oh, you are to go into your own room; you recollect it, don’t you, Charles? I fancied you would like it best.”

“To be sure I do—recollect it, indeed! I’m not likely to forget your almost blowing me up with gunpowder, one New Year’s night, in that room—singed half the hair off my head! ’Tis a wonder that I recovered my beauty as I did. Yes, I remember it; the third door on the right hand side, opposite—ah, by the by, who sleeps there? The old housekeeper, in your good father’s time, used to try to frighten us boys about that room: she declared that nobody—”

“Foolish old woman!” interrupted our host rather hastily; “he was obliged to threaten her with instant dismissal if she spread such absurd reports; why, you would hardly believe it, but I assure you, at one time, my father could scarcely get a servant to live in the house—you know how superstitious most of our rural population is; however, the thing is forgotten now.”

I was struck with the hurried manner in which these words were uttered, and still more with the uneasiness which the Squire betrayed when several of the younger part of the company, whose curiosity had naturally been roused by the foregoing conversation, began eagerly asking questions as to what the housekeeper had related. It was in vain that he tried to put an end to the conversation, or to turn it to some other subject; our curiosity was excited, and we were not satisfied till we heard all that the Major could tell us about the matter. It was not much, certainly.

“Mrs. Lofty—that was her name—used to tell us that nobody could sleep in that room; there was something so very dreadful to be seen, or to be heard, or both perhaps; for the old dame never would tell us all that she knew, or pretended to know; she declared, too, that no one had ever dared to pass a second night in it—was not that the story, Squire? We boys used to laugh at her superstition, but, to confess the truth, I believe at that time neither of us would have been very willing to spend a night in that room by himself.”

We took up our several candlesticks, and proceeded upstairs to bed.

“Let us take a look at this mysterious apartment,” said I, as we were about to pass the door, which was closed, but not locked; “let us see what is to be seen,” and several of us walked in. It was a large, comfortable-looking room. The windows looked towards the east, catching a glimpse of the restless ocean at the end of the fine old avenue which led up to that side of the house. It was a still night; the moon, which was near the full, had but just risen, throwing a bright path of light across the rippling water, and causing the massy foliage of the elms to look black against the sky. For a night view, I thought I had never seen anything more lovely.

The furniture in the room was heavy-looking and old-fashioned, unlike that in the other apartments, which had all been handsomely furnished when the Squire took possession of the place; this remained just as it was in his father’s time. Between the windows was a large oval mirror of the fashion of the last century; the frame, which was white and gold, seemed intended to represent a confusion of deer’s horns, dripping foliage, and icicles intermixed, the effect of which, though the connection between these objects is not very obvious, was undoubtedly pleasing. On each side of the fireplace was a large, high-backed, well-stuffed arm-chair; there were also other chairs of probably the same antiquity, if I may judge from their ample size, the elaborate carvings on the dark mahogany, and the faded worsted work which covered the seats. Besides these there was a table, a large oak chest with brass clasps, such as our great-grandmothers used to keep their linen or their blankets in, and a bedstead, on which, however, there were neither hangings nor bedding of any sort. The walls were of painted wainscot, the floor was well carpeted, and the room had merely the appearance of being disused, not the least of dirt or neglect.

The Major seated himself in one of the large easy chairs, and made a scrutinizing survey of the room.

“So this room is given up to the—”

“Come, come,” interrupted the Squire; “there’s the clock striking twelve, and—”

“Upon my honour, Jack, I believe you know a good deal more about the housekeeper’s story than you choose to tell us—what is it now? Nay, don’t look so grim. I’ve a great mind to take up my quarters here for the night. I wish I may never have a worse berth to sleep in than this great downy chair; it fits me exactly.” And the old boy stretched out his legs, threw his head back into the soft cushions, and yawned as if he had finally settled himself for the night.

“Major, you’ll oblige me by going into your own room,” urged our host.

“Squire, you’ll oblige me by letting me have my own way,” retorted his friend; “and with your leave,” continued he, rising, “I’ll just look into that big chest, too. Oh! empty; then I will keep it so,” and locking it, he put the key into his pocket.

Amongst the guests was an old clergyman, who many years ago had been rector of the parish, which he quitted on being presented to a better living in a distant part of England; he was now on a visit to the Squire, with whom, and with his father before him, he had lived on terms of considerable intimacy. Whilst the Major was making his observations, Mr. Bradley was carefully examining the wainscot, now and then tapping it, as if to ascertain whether it were hollow in any place.

“Is there any closet in this room?” asked Mr. Bradley.

“No—and no other door than the one we came in at. By the by, there once was a plate-closet, just behind the chair next the fireplace, but it was closed up ages ago, when my father had one made for the plate in his own bedroom. The closet now opens into the room at the back of this—my man-servant’s.”

“And formerly the housekeeper’s room; you remember, perhaps, that I came to see her, by her own request, a few days before she died?”

The Major fixed his eyes on Mr. Bradley as he was speaking, as if he were trying to read his thoughts, but it was in vain; if he had any secret, his mild countenance did not betray it.

“What do you say, Mr. Bradley, for I fancy you know something more than we do: tell me now, would you have any objection to sleeping here?”

“None whatever, except that I prefer a bed to a chair to sleep in.”

The Squire said, “The truth is that many years ago the room got a bad name, and it has not been slept in since; in fact, the house is so large that it has not been wanted. As to myself, I never did sleep in it, for I prefer my own room, which has a south aspect.”

“Perhaps,” suggested one of the party, “the rats may have found their way over the ceiling, or a cowl on some chimney top makes a noise—when people go to bed with nonsense of this sort in their heads, the hooting of an owl, or the roaring of the sea, or even the wind in the trees becomes something supernatural in their imagination.”

At length, much to the satisfaction of us young people, who scorned the idea of rats, cowls, or wind, and who had a strong inclination to believe in the supernatural, some of the Major’s traps, as he called them, were removed from the opposite room, as he declared that here, and nowhere else, would he spend the night. Some of the younkers proposed that he should be provided with pistols, but he shook his head, and said that he should be sufficiently armed against all comers with a good stout walking-stick.—“And you had better not attempt to play any tricks, my lads, unless you have a mind to get a broken head,” added he, laughing.

After some arrangements for the Major’s comfort, which, by the by, he protested against as being quite superfluous, the party dispersed for the night.

The first of October was as fine a morning as any sportsman could wish for. At a little after eight we were all in the breakfast-parlour, except the Squire and Mr. Bradley, who were slowly walking up and down the grass plot before the windows, apparently in earnest conversation.

The Major had already been besieged by a number of questions, which he answered in a joking manner, saying that the morning was not the time for such subjects, that we must keep our nerves steady, and think no more about hobgoblins, or the pheasants would escape us. But when the Squire and Mr. Bradley joined us, and the latter pointedly asked him how he had passed the night, he replied:

“I really am sorry to disappoint you, but I must confess that I slept very well, and I saw nothing worse than myself (after these young chaps left the room, I mean)—what I heard is another affair!”

“What—what did you hear, sir?” from half a dozen of us at once.

“I heard—don’t let me alarm you—I heard the fellow in the room at the back of mine snoring like a pig.”

“Nothing else?”

“No, upon my honour, nothing else; my story is a very short one!”

“It is very satisfactory,” said the old clergyman. “In the evening the Squire and I shall have our stories to tell, but not till then, as there are some matters connected with my story which are not quite clear. While you are out shooting, I am in hopes of finding the missing links in a chain of evidence which will be satisfactory to all parties.”

When breakfast was over, all those amongst us who were sportsmen took their guns, and went out for a day’s shooting. I have seen younger men than the Major knocked up after walking for five or six hours through turnip-fields and underwood, with a double-barrelled gun on their shoulders; but he seemed as full of mirth and jollity as he was the day before, and assured us, when we sat down to dinner, that he felt as fresh after his day’s work, as he should have done twenty years ago.

In the evening we reminded Mr. Bradley of the promise he had made us.

“I had not forgotten it,” he replied; “but it will be best that the Squire should tell his part of the story first.”

The Squire said, “If it had not been for the—what shall I call it?—obstinacy? resolution? firmness? of my old friend, here, who would persist in sleeping in that unlucky room last night, and the fortunate circumstance of Mr. Bradley’s being here, you certainly would never have heard, from me at least, any account of the mystery which has so long perplexed me. I must begin by telling you, that to the best of my knowledge that room was never slept in but twice since I was born, and I am more than forty years old. You heard what the Major said respecting our old housekeeper. She and her husband lived here in my grandfather’s time, they grew old in service, and died within a few weeks of one another. On the day that the old woman was buried, as I was returning from the funeral, I overheard something which, it appeared to me, was spoken purposely for me to hear, though it was addressed by one old village gossip to another. I do not recollect the precise words, but the purport was, that the Squire would have no more evil spirits in his house now. This brought to my mind the strange stories which I used to hear when I was a boy, and without having the slightest idea that my father attached any importance to the matter, for I never in my life had heard him allude to it, I unwittingly asked him what could have induced the housekeeper to tell such terrible stories about one room in his house. You may imagine how much I was astonished at his reply, when he told me that what the housekeeper had said was but too true!

‘For some time past,’ he added, ‘I have intended to speak to you about this painful matter, but having hitherto always endeavoured to drive the subject from my mind, I have not had sufficient resolution to do so.’

“I begged my father to explain himself, and to conceal nothing from me; for, to confess the truth, the more reluctant he appeared to be, the more urgently I pressed him.

“He then told me that, not long after my grandfather’s death, he had ordered this room to be prepared for a friend who was coming to spend a few days with him; that his servant had made difficulties and objections, and had proposed some other room for his guest, but that he did not choose to give way to her whims, and accordingly his friend slept in the room as he desired, but on the following morning he told my father that he must leave him that day, and when pressed to give his reasons for so sudden a determination, he protested that nothing could induce him to stay another night in a house in which his rest had been disturbed by such frightful visions. He refused to tell my father what it was he had seen—he refused to sleep in any other room, and he tried hard to persuade my father never either to sleep in that room himself, or to allow any other person to do so. Fully persuaded, however, that his friend was labouring under some mental delusion, my father, who had no fears whatever about the matter himself, was so far from being deterred from sleeping there, that he immediately resolved to do so that very night, and accordingly, in spite of the evident reluctance of his housekeeper, he did so, thinking, as he told me, that this would be the most effectual means of putting an end to the foolish rumours which had been spread by ignorant and superstitious servants.

“Taking the precaution to lock the door in order to prevent any intrusion in the night, he left a lamp burning on the dressing-table and went to bed; and, undisturbed by any apprehensions, soon fell asleep. My father was always a sound sleeper, and not easily disturbed by noise in the night, and it was not by any noise that he was now awakened, but by feeling the bed-clothes gently moving, as if some one were pulling them towards the foot of the bed. The bed, I should observe, stood just as you saw it last night, facing the fireplace, on each side of which stand those high-backed chairs, and with the left side towards the door. As it was a cold night, my father had drawn the side curtains of his bed, but there were no window-curtains, nor even blinds, and though the moon shone brightly into his room at the time he woke, and the lamp was still burning, he could see nothing but the furniture standing in the usual places. He lay quite still, and hearing no noise, nor perceiving any motion in the bed-clothes, he began to think that he had been dreaming, in consequence of the conversation he had had with his guest in the morning. But hardly had he composed himself to sleep again, when he felt the bed-curtains on both sides of his bed first gently, and then violently shake. Still he saw nothing, and, notwithstanding a certain degree of trepidation which he confessed that he felt, he made a sudden plunge at the curtain with open arms, but whatever was there it eluded his grasp, and again for a minute all was quiet. He now determined to rise, but the moment he began to stir, he beheld two figures slowly and noiselessly gliding from the sides of his bed towards the foot—they stopped for an instant, then moved in the direction of the windows, which were opposite the door, and between which was the table on which the lamp stood. Without again attempting to rise, my father turned to look whether the door was open. No, it was shut, and the key remained in the lock as he had left it. During the few seconds which passed while he was looking at the door, he perceived that the lamp had gone out, or had been extinguished, for instead of the yellow light of the lamp there was now only the pale blue light of the moon, shining through the windows. The two figures were still there, now standing motionless, then slowly retreating backwards in the direction of the fireplace. My father became nervous and extremely uncomfortable, yet he retained sufficient presence of mind to enable him to examine his nocturnal visitors.

“Except that they were of a different height, in all other respects they presented precisely the same horrible aspect, which my father described as that of a death’s head, partially concealed by a sort of cowl or veil, which fell over the shoulders, while the body was loosely wrapped in long white drapery, which, descending to the feet, concealed the whole of the figure except one bony wrist and hand. The idea of being locked in with these two frightful unearthly beings became intolerable, and my father resolved at all hazards to rush out of bed and make his escape. He rose, keeping his eyes fixed on the spectres who were now nodding their ghastly heads, and beckoning him with their skeleton fingers, but making no attempt to approach nearer the bed, or to intercept his retreat towards the door. Though in a state of considerable agitation, my father never for an instant lost his presence of mind, and though, as he told me, his hand shook violently as he unlocked the door, he did not neglect to take out the key and lock it again on the other side as soon as he found himself safely in the passage. This done, he passed on quickly to his own bedroom, and hurrying on his dressing gown, went without a minute’s delay to call up his man-servant. Now I must explain, for the benefit of those here who are not so well acquainted with the geography of the house as Mr. Bradley and the Major, that in order to reach the butler’s room it was necessary first to go down the front stairs, then through the servants’ hall, and up the back stairs which lead to the servants’ rooms. With all the haste, therefore, that my father could make, several minutes must have elapsed between the time of his leaving the room in which he had slept, and his reaching that of his servants.

“He knocked sharply at the door, but receiving no answer he went in, and, as he expected, found the butler and his wife both fast asleep. His first idea was to wake them, and ask if they had heard or seen anything unusual; but, after a few moments’ reflection, he decided that it would be much more discreet to leave them to their repose, which he felt assured had not been disturbed that night.

“Without betraying his secret to any person in the house, he next morning made a careful examination of the room. The door he found locked as he had left it; the windows were both of them barred. That old-fashioned linen-chest which you saw last night, I should tell you, was not then kept in the room, and if it had been it could never have contained two, or even one being of the size of those whom my father had seen gliding about in the moonlight. It was impossible that they should have been secreted under the bedstead, which was too low to admit of such a supposition. The chimney was much too narrow, and, had it been otherwise, the white garments of the apparitions would have afforded sufficient proof that they did not enter by that means. The sliding panel in the wainscot was immoveable, having been made fast at the time that my father had the plate-closet removed to his own chamber. The thing was inexplicable: the more my father pondered on the matter, the more was he perplexed, and at length, finding no clue to the mystery, he resolved, whether wisely or not I cannot say, to keep it to himself, and comply with his friend’s entreaty never to allow any person to occupy the room again.

“Such was my father’s strange story, which he concluded by begging me, whenever I should take his place as master of the house, to prevent any one’s sleeping in that chamber,—and no one ever has done so till last night, when, you all are aware how much against my wish, the Major persisted in passing the night in a room which for such extraordinary reasons has been disused for so many years. I have nothing more to add, but Mr. Bradley will now tell you, not only what came to his knowledge several years ago, but of the discoveries he made this morning whilst we were out with our guns; and when you have heard his story I think you will agree with me in believing that he has thrown such a strong light on the spectres that they will never again venture to show themselves in this neighbourhood.”

Addressing himself to the Squire, Mr. Bradley said:

“Although I have been in orders almost forty years I never till to-day was called upon to lay a ghost! In former times, I believe, it was considered to be one part of the priest’s duty, and probably a very profitable part, for who would not pay a pretty round sum of money to get rid of such unwelcome visitors as those that you have just described moping and mowing, nodding their brainless skulls, and shaking their skeleton fingers to the terror of all good Christians who would fain sleep in peace; entering his room, too, in spite of locked doors and well-barred windows, and vanishing in the like miraculous manner! ’Tis horrible to think of! What incantations those long-headed old priests used to overcome the powers of darkness I am deplorably ignorant of. Perhaps, like me, they sometimes got a little peep behind the scenes, which is a vast help in these matters, and without which advantage, I confess, I should have been quite unable to fathom this mysterious affair.

“I must tell you, then, that about sixteen years ago, whilst I was still a resident in this parish, I was sent for one day to see Mrs. Lofty, the old housekeeper here, who was dying. I had buried her husband only a few weeks before. The old couple had for a great many years been considered as most trustworthy and conscientious servants of the old Squire, your father (for you were called the young Squire then), but it seems in one particular they had not deserved the confidence which was reposed in them. The woman, it seems, was greatly afraid of her husband, for whilst he was alive she had never had sufficient courage to confess the guilty part she had taken in deceiving her master. After his death, and feeling that her own end was approaching, she determined to relieve her conscience by making a full confession of the deception they had so successfully practised. She told me that in his youth her husband, like a great many men of his class on this coast, had often been actively engaged in smuggling spirits, and that long after he had discontinued going out to sea, and had to all appearance become a steady man, he had kept up a connection with smugglers, and aided them in various ways, but so cunningly that he never had been suspected by his master. You observed,” continued Mr. Bradley, addressing himself to me, “the beautiful view of the sea from the windows of the ‘haunted room,’ as it has been called for many years? Now there are only two bedrooms in the house which command this particular view, looking down the great avenue—the one just mentioned and the adjoining one, occupied by the man-servant. It was well known that a very favourite place for running a cargo of spirits on shore was just that spot opposite the end of the avenue, where it was easy to conceal the kegs amongst the black rocks at low water, and where the proximity of so many trees afforded concealment to the boat’s crew. In order to prevent, if possible, the room from being used at night, they gave it a bad name, and affected to believe that it was haunted, and so long as this scheme answered their purpose they took no other means; but if, in spite of the dark hints that the housekeeper threw out, any person should persist in sleeping there, they were prepared with some frightful disguises with which to terrify him sufficiently to prevent a second attempt at such an indiscretion. Still,” continued Mr. Bradley, again addressing the Squire, “this does not account for the most perplexing part of the business. I have no doubt that it was the belief that there was no other means of entering the room except by the door or windows, which were known to be securely fastened, which caused the terror that was felt both by your late father and by his friend. But there was, and there still is, if I have not been misinformed, a perfectly easy means of access from one of these rooms to the other, which, with your permission, sir, we will now go and examine. I expect that we shall find other proofs of roguery which will leave no doubt as to the character of the monstrous apparitions you have just described.”

We went upstairs into the man-servant’s room. Mr. Bradley opened the door of a closet by the side of the fireplace, at the back of which were five or six brass hooks, on which hung the man’s great coat, a waterproof cape, and some other garments.

“I think if we remove these things,” said Mr. Bradley, “we shall discover the entrance into the other room.”

The coats were instantly taken down, but still we could see no signs of any communication with the “haunted room.”

“This closet, you observe, is not eighteen inches in depth, and as there is no recess by the side of the chimney in the other room, there must be plenty of space for another closet of similar dimensions at the back of this—the question is, how is it to be got at?”

“My carpenter can show us that,” said the Squire, “he fitted up the plate closet, and made this for the servants at the same time.”

“And you were absent from home at the time, so I think Mrs. Lofty told me?”

“Yes, she cunningly suggested that the job had better be done when I was out of the way, on account of the dust and other disturbances it would make. I see her reasons now, the old hypocrite!”

“You need not send for the carpenter: ‘a sliding door, like the one her master had ordered to be fastened up,’ that is what she said, and though she was much confused, and at times quite incoherent, repeating these words frequently without any obvious sense, I believe I now understand what she meant. Those pegs, you see, are placed above the panel, and are immoveable, but the panel itself, which in fact forms the partition between the two rooms, I have no doubt is the one she attempted to describe.”

It was probably a great many years since the door had been moved, so that it did not give way immediately when we endeavoured to push it aside. However, after some little impatience, and a good deal of humouring, we at length got it to slide in the groove which had been made for it.

If there were any doubt remaining in our minds as to the nature of the apparitions which had caused so much dismay in the family in gone by times, what we now beheld would have dissipated it, for on the back of the panel which opened into the “haunted room,” hung two pasteboard masks, made closely to represent two death’s heads, and on the floor lay a heap of dusty, yellow-looking linen, which had once been white. On removing these ghostly habiliments, we found two skeleton hands, or the imitations of them, for I cannot say that I examined them sufficiently to know what materials they were made of. Such were the abominable disguises that had been used by the butler and the housekeeper his wife!

There now remained only to remove the partition between the closet and the “haunted room.” This was done without any difficulty, after a small iron hook, or catch, had been raised. The passage between the two rooms was thus easily made, yet quite imperceptible when it was closed.

Some of the company present proposed that the masks and other trumpery should be publicly shown in the village, but the old clergyman suggested that it would be far better they should be burnt, and as the Squire was of the same opinion, we immediately made an auto da fe of all the rubbish.

“There is one thing I don’t quite understand,” said the Squire, speaking to Mr. Bradley, “how was it that you never till now told me of the rascally trick that had been played by Lofty and his wife?”

“You recollect that I left Sandiland just at the time of the old woman’s death. If I had remained here, most likely the subject would have been mentioned, and the discovery which we have just now made, would have been made sixteen years ago. But the fact is I had not any notion that the audacious plan of using frightful disguises had ever been carried into execution, or that your father himself had ever been so insulted by his servants. What was meant about the sliding door I never suspected till last night, when you told us of the secret closet that had formerly been used for plate. I think, sir, that the ghost is now for ever laid, and that this room may very safely be used in future; perhaps it would be the best way of silencing foolish tongues if it were slept in occasionally. Some of these young men—”

Four or five candidates offered themselves immediately.

Before the party at Sandiland broke up, I was obliged to return to my studies. Many years have rolled on since those happy days, bringing their stores of good and of evil, bringing new friends and dearer relations, sweeping away old friends, none more dear to me than my kind-hearted old friend the Squire. The Major, too, is gone, and the fine old house where we met has passed into very different hands, and is no longer . . . . what it was!