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two-storey main building, with a huge, clustered chimney by its side. A crowd of negroes, of both sexes, coarsely in the midst, and long, low, rambling wings on either side. and uncouthly clad, were busily filling odd, shallow
The whole place had a deserted and melancholy baskets from this heap, which they then poised on their appearance. The moss on the live-oaks swayed slowly heads, and bore off down the slope to some unseen goal. to and fro in the evening breeze, with a wonderfully There were two regular, silent files, the one coming, the sombre and funereal effect; and the mansion was dark other going; and the heap of grain steadily and even and silent as any ruin. Not a light shone from the closed swiftly diminished. Near the mill, stood the only white windows; not a sound came from the deep, shadowy person visible,-a large, powerfully-framed man, caredoorway; and the unsteady stone steps, slippery with lessly and even shabbily dressed, yet with the unmisdamp and green with moss, gave the impression of a takable air of ownership about him. At his left hand, a spot where no human foot had left its print for many half-naked, impish looking negro boy was holding a years.
blazing pitch-pine torch, by the light of which he seemed The young man halted at a little distance from the to be jotting down some sort of memoranda in a small dark building, and surveyed it moodily. Can this be book. Bergan Hall ?” he murmured. “Can this gloomy old The scene was even more strange and weird than ruin be the open, cheery, hospitable mansion, full of light picturesque. The dark figures of the negroes, filing and life, that my mother has so often described to me? noiselessly up the shadowed slope, suddenly grew distinct, It looks a habitation for ghosts—and for ghosts only! I wild, and fantastic, within the circle of enchantment wonder if any living being
made by the flaring light of the torch, only to become Breaking off abruptly, he ascended the moss-grown dim and spectral again when received back into the dusk. steps, only to find that the vines which so heavily draped They might have passed for embodiments of those vagaries the portico, had woven a thick network across the door. of the mind, which come from no one knows whither, It was plain that it had not been opened for months, play their fitful parts within the illuminated circle of the perhaps years. Nevertheless, not to be easily daunted, he imagination, and vanish as they came. The young man found and lifted the knocker. It fell with a dull, lifeless would almost have taken it as a matter of course, had the sound, that smote the young man's heart like a sudden whole spectacle suddenly melted into thin air. chill. A dreary reverberation came from within, and Yet, even in that case, he would have expected the then died away into silence. He knocked again, and, masterful personage aforementioned to have remained, as listening intently, he fancied that he heard the sound of the one tangible link between the phantasms and the stealthy footsteps within, and a slight creaking of the earth. In truth, a single glance at his massive figure, floor. But so dead a silence followed upon these ima- which seemed to have been hewn out of the rock, rather ginary sounds, that he soon became convinced of his than moulded from any softer material, went far to disinvoluntary self-deception.
enchant the scene. Here was a touch of the actual, the Turning from the door, he now noticed a little foot- substantial, and the dogmatic, not to be mistaken ; and path running round the end of one of the long wings. serving as a clue to the reality of everything else. Committing himself to this timely guide, he soon came Toward this personage, after a moment's scrutiny, the in sight of the rear of the mansion, which looked upon a young man unhesitatingly made his way, with the air of sort of court; where a few ornamental shrubs still held one who has found something certain amid much that is an uncertain tenure against the encroachments of divers confused, illusory, and perplexing. He was immediately sorts of lawless and vagrant vegetation. At a little spied by the negroes, and followed by their curious gaze; distance, was a long range of dilapidated offices, showing albeit, they ventured not to intermit their labour for an upon what an almost princely scale the housekeeping had instant, but contented themselves with slowly and stiffy once been administered. But this part of the premises turning their burdened heads toward him as they marched was not less dark, silent, and deserted than the other. on, and keeping their shining black eyes fixed on him to
The footpath still held on, however, past the court the last, in such wise that the heads of the retreating file and the offices, towards a bright light at a considerable seamed to have been set on backwards. The boy with distance. “ The negro quarter !” muttered the young the torch was perhaps the most wondering, open-mouthed man, recognizing the whereabout of one of the most
gazer of them all. salient features of his mother's well-remembered descrip- As yet, the master of the premises had not been made tions. “ At least, 1 may learn there what it all means." aware of the stranger's approach; but, looking up to And, quickening his steps, he soon came upon a busy and
reprimand his torch-bearer for inattention, he observed picturesque scene.
the imp's dumbfounded gaze, and turned to see what had In the midst of a large, quadrangular space, flanked
caused it. on three sides by double rows of negro-cabins, and on the “My uncle, Mr. Bergan, I presume," said the young fourth apparently sloping down to a water-course, was a man, taking off his hat, and bowing low: “I am Bergan rough sort of threshing-mill, now idle, but showing satis- Arling." And he added, after a moment, seeing that the factory results of its day's labour in a large heap of rice other did not speak, “I bring you a letter from my mother."
THE HAUNTED CLOSET.
the summer, “a queer, old-fashioned house," away down on the lonely Georgian coast, where the children would have the benefit of the sea-breeze and the surf-bathing prescribed for them after a sickly spring season. And she urged me to come at once and join them in their new abode.
Queer and old-fashioned indeed I found it-a jumble of brick and stone and timber, each room of which had the appearance of having been built separately, by successive owners, with regard only to personal convenience, and in open defiance of all architectural rules. Yet I liked this very irregularity and the odd nooks and corners which were for ever unexpectedly “turning up" in the most improbable places. The halls were large and airy, and the rooms abundantly supplied with closets, windows, and doors—the latter, for the most part, opening upon broad piazzas, or queer little porches stuck here and there, like excrescences upon the walls. Very cold and bleak in winter, no doubt; but for a summer residence delightful.
At the back of the main building projected a sort of long and narrow wooden gallery, consisting of a row of three or four small rooms—last used, it appeared, as store-rooms for grain and vegetables--all opening upon a covered passage-way connecting with a brick office, which had formerly stood separate from the house. These rooms and the office were unused by the family; for the gallery was not in very good repair, and the office-room, as it was called, was quite too remote to be desirable ; besides, there was plenty of room in the main building.
Ye: the first time I visited this little brick office it at once took my fancy. It was a good-sized, comfortable room, with a fire-place on one side, and a queer little triangular closet, or cupboard, in a corner, bearing the marks of books and ink-stains on its shelves. There was a door opening into the gallery, and another upon a quiet and secluded corner of the garden, out of sight of the house; and the two windows, one looking towards the sea, and the other over the large grassy back-yard, were shaded from the sun by vines and the long drooping branches of a weeping-willow, which cast green shadows and breathed fresh odours throughout the apartment. The very place, I thought, for a study; a charming nook in which to lie reading some interesting volume by day, or quietly dreaming by night, away from the noise of the children and the screaming of baby: so I at once chose this little room for my own-bed-room and study in one-and, after giving it a thorough purification and airing, took possession.
It proved quite as pleasant as I had anticipated. Here, awakening in the morning, I would open the windows
and let in the fresh sea-breeze, with the fragrance of the dewy vine-leaves that clustered on the walls without. Here, in the sultry noon-tide, I dozed or dreamed away the hours, lying upon the little lounge near the window, and glancing from the book in my hand upward into the deep, cool recesses of the willow branches above ; and, when evening came, I would sit in my little garden-door, looking upon the neglected wilderness of bowery shrubs and dewy flowers, and rejoice in the quiet and seclusion which I loved so much.
Thus I was sitting, about twilight, a few days after I had moved into my little hermitage, as I called it. The air was very still, scarce a rustle disturbed the branches of the willow, and the surf rippling on the beach made but a low murmur. Suddenly, in the midst of this silence, I became aware of a strange sound near mema faint, uncertain sound, like the whispering of voices and rustling of garments. Fancying that my sister or the children had playfully stolen upon me in my abstraction, I looked around; but, to my surprise, there was no one visible.
It must have been a fancy, of course, I thought, and turned once more to my book ; but hardly had I done so, when again I heard the rustling of drapery, and what sounded like a footfall upon the floor. I was startled, and sat breathless, staring around and listening. Once or twice it was repeated, and then all was still as before.
In order that my story may be fully comprehended and credited, I must inform the reader that I was at this time a woman of four-and-twenty, had never in my life been ill or nervous, was the farthest possible from being superstitiously inclined, and had been accustomed to regard with ridicule all stories concerning ghosts, goblins, and other so-called spiritual manifestations. Such being the case, it is not to be supposed that the circumstance just parrated should have made any deep or lasting impression on me. On the contrary, though regarding it as certainly singular, I set it down as one of those odd and fleeting fancies which do sometimes puzzle and bewilder even the most rational, and, as such, thought no more of it at the time.
But on the following day, and again on the next, the mysterious sounds which I have described were repeated. It was exactly as though some person, or persons, were occupying the room with me-moving with soft footsteps and speaking in low whispers, as if unwilling to be heard. Once it seemed as though some small article were dropped upon
the floor, with a metallic sound dulled by a carpet, though there was none in the room; and then I distinctly distinguished a grating noise, as of a key turned in a lock: after which, for the rest of the day, all was quiet.
I said nothing to any one about these noises; though, by this time, I was almost convinced that they were not the effects of my imagination, I yet decided to wait, to watch for their recurrence, and to be thoroughly convinced of their real existence before exposing myself to laughter and ridicule by relating so improbable a story.
It was not long that I was kept in suspense. A day or two after, about four o'clock in the afternoon—a most unghostlike hour, I was reclining on my couch between the door and the window, reading “ The Woman in White," then just out. Suddenly, as I turned a leaf, I heard a faint grating sound, as of a key, just behind me, and then a voice speaking in a low, indistinct murmur, inexpressibly hollow and sepulchral.
• I did not stir. I arrested the hand which was about to turn the page, and, holding my breath, listened with deliberate eagerness. I would now be certain that this was no fancy playing me fantastic tricks.
For an instant only came the indistinct murmur, and then a'silence. The sunlight was streaming down in slender, golden threads through the gently-swaying branches of the willows; out on the lawn I saw the gardener at work, and on the beach heard the merry voices of the children: I felt courageous. Rising, I searched around the room, under the bed and lounge, and in the triangular cupboard in the corner--the only places where a person could be concealed. Not a living thing was to be seen, and I was about closing the closet door when I heard distinctly a low, faint laugh close in my ear, and then a moaning sigh or groan, which seemed to die away into infinite distance.
I confess that at this instant my nerves did fail me, and a cold shiver ran curdling through my veins. I hastily closed the closet door, and, without waiting even to snatch up my book, ran along the gallery to the other part of the house.
Should I tell my sister and brother-in-law ? No; I still shrank from the thought of their laughter. Should I return to the room which appeared haunted by some invisible presence, and sleep there again alone? I must confess that I did not like the idea ; yet what good reason could I give for so suddenly changing my apartment ? Finally—and the reader will credit me with the possession of almost more than feminine courage in so doingI resolved to keep silence for the present, and spend the night, as usual, in my little office-room.
The first few hours passed away quietly, and I was just falling into a doze, when I was aroused by the door of the corner closet slowly creaking. A faint moonlight illumined the room sufficiently to enable me to perceive that this door stood ajar, though I distinctly recollected having closed it before retiring. It had neither lock nor bolt by which it could be secured.
I sat up in bed, watching the closet and looking half fearfully around the room ; and as I looked, with my eyes fixed upon the half-open door, I heard within a jingle of glasses and phials. It was a sound not to be mistaken,
and almost at the same instant a voice said near me, in a hoarse whisper
“Bring a light!"
I started up, trembling, and, with a cold perspiration breaking out on my forehead, reached for a match and the lamp, and tried to strike a light, but in vain. I had but one or two matches left, and as I dropped the last in despair, I heard the voice which had before spoken say, slowly and distinctly—" Poison !"
My first impulse now was to flee from this haunted room ;
but as I arose for that purpose, a feeling such as I had never before known a feeling of superstitious fear and horror-overcame me, and, had my life depended upon it, I could not have passed that closet and sped through that long deserted gallery alone. I sank back upon my pillow and drew the sheets about my head, and remained thus until daybreak.
It was now no longer a question with me as to whether I should or should not inform my relatives of what had occurred. I told them the whole, and, as I expected, was met with laughter and badinage.
“Try it yourself!" was all I could say in answer; and on that night my brother-in-law, Mr. Walton, agreed to occupy the office room, I remaining with my sister.
“ Well, Richard, did you see or hear anything of Louisa's ghost ?" inquired my sister, playfully, on our meeting at the breakfast table in the morning.
"I saw nothing," he answered, rather thoughtfully. “But really, Emma, it did appear as though, more than once during the night, I heard some unaccountable sounds -the turning of a key in a lock; a sort of moaning and sobbing child's voice; and very distinctly the shutting of a small door. And this last sound," he added, decidedly,
certainly came from the closet or cupboard in the corner of the room."
Emma opened her eyes and looked frightened.
“Good gracious, Richard ! you don't really think that you heard these sounds in that room, with no one there but yourself;"
“ It is very unaccountable at present, I admit, but youi know that I do not believe in the supernatural. We must examine more fully into this matter."
For some days he kept sole possession of the room, reporting once or twice that he had again heard the mysterious noises, and in especial the grating of a rusty key, as in the lock of the corner cupboard, was very distinctly audible. Three times, he said, he had heard this sound, and yet, as we all knew, there was neither lock nor key to the closet door, only traces of one that had been there. He had examined all the doors and windows, he had searched the whole room minutely, but without discovering the slightest clue to the mystery. There was no room adjoining, no cellar below or garret above, whence the sounds could have proceeded, and the whole thing was most singular and unaccountable. And once he even hesitatingly suggested, “Could it be possible, after all, that there were in reality such things as
and were, moreover, carpetless and sparingly furnished. This was pleasant enough in warm weather, but inexpressibly dreary in this chill and damp spell. The two most comfortable apartments of the house for cool weather were undoubtedly the nursery and the office room, which were situated at opposite extremities of the long building. So, leaving the former to the nurses and children, Mr. Walton proposed that he and Emma and I should make ourselves comfortable for the evening in the haunted room, as he now called it, mauger the ghosts; and, as an inducement, promised us a hot oyster supper. The oysters were to be had fresh out of the water, almost at our very door, just for the trouble of picking
spiritual manifestations?” My own mind echoed the inquiry.
Our nearest neighbour was a farmer who lived about a mile distant, and of himself and his wife we made inquiries in regard to the former occupants of the house.
It had for twenty years within his memory, Mr. Grover said, belonged to a small planter, an illiterate but good sort of man, who had finally sold out in lots and purchased a better place farther south. Then the house, with a part of the land adjoining, had been taken by an Englishman, who was known as Doctor Mather, and was understood to be a very learned man and a writer. Mr. Grover and the rest of the neighbours believed him to be "a little cracked." He used to go about the country gathering sea-weeds, plants, and insects, but would repel all approach to acquaintance, and reply very rudely to any inquiry of the country people as to the use or purpose of his collections. He had a wife, with whom it was said he lived on bad terms, and three sickly children, whose presence he would scarcely tolerate. The wife and two of the children died, and then Doctor Mather went away with the remaining child, leaving the place to an agent for sale. It was then rented for a time by some people, who, for reasons known only to themselves, would not remain their term out; and finally, we had taken it, furnished as it
was, for the summer. This was all that Mr. Grover knew.
Upon hearing this simple account, there instinctively formed in my mind an explanation, if such it can be called, of the mysterious circumstances which had so puzzled and disturbed us. · This Doctor Mather--this morose and unsocial man, and unkind husband and father, as he was described to be—this solitary collector of herbs of what deeds might he not have been guilty here, in the seclusion of this lonely old country house? “They had all three died ;” and my memory reverted with a shudder to the word “ Poison !”' which I had heard uttered by that mysterious voice. Perhaps murder had been committed in this house-even in that very office-room which I had appropriated; and this impression was deepened upon being informed by Mr. Grover, in answer to my inquiries, that that room had in reality been Doctor Mather's study or library, into which no one was ever admitted; and that he would sometimes remain in it whole days and nights together without being interrupted, having his meals brought and deposited outside the door, in the adjoining gallery.
The office and gallery were now carefully shunned by us all
, with the exception of Mr. Walton, who haunted it with a persistency doubtless equal to that of the ghost itself. He was determined, he said, to learn all that could be learned of this mystery, and, if possible, to thoroughly unravel it.
One evening, after a rain, a heavy sea-fog set in upon the coast, and the atmosphere became all at once so damp and chilly as to render a fire indispensable to comfort. As I have said, the rooms were all large and airy,
Certainly the room, as Emma and I rather hesitatingly entered it, looked pleasant and cheerful enough, with its blazing pine-wood fire and the tea-kettle steaming on the hearth. No one made any allusion to the ghost ; Mr. Walton, indeed, seemed to have forgotten the subject in the interest of the supper, though I, and I fancied also Emma, felt a little nervous as we occasionally glanced furtively round the room. One or twice, also, I caught myself instinctively looking over my shoulder toward the corner cupboard behind me.
Supper over, Mr. Walton, who was a fine reader, entertained us with some chapters from Dickens's latest work, and we were soon so much interested as to forget everything else. In the very midst of this, however, I was startled by feeling a faint breath of cold air upon my neck, and at the same instant saw my sister's eyes lifted with a frightened glance toward the corner closet behind me.
1 instinctively started up and crossed over to the opposite side of the fire place.
“What is it, Louisa?" said Emma, nervously ; "I saw the door of the closet open.”
Mr. Walton closed his book and sat looking attentively at the cupboard. And it was whilst we were all thus, perfectly silent and motionless, that a sound broke the stillness,-at first what seemed the jingling of pbials and rattling of chains, and then the faint, uncertain sound of muffled voices which I had heard inore than once before, all coming unmistakably from the little triangular closet in the corner.
Oh, Richard, do you hear ?" gasped Emma, seizing fast hold of her husband's arm. For myself, I came very near screaming outright.
“Hush,-be quiet!” said Mr. Walton. And taking the lamp, he advanced to the cupboard, threw wide open the door, and surveyed it minutely.
It was simply a closet built of deal boards against the naked whitewashed walls of the room. Three rickety shelves, unoccupied and much stained with ink and other liquids, were all it contained. Between the lower and middle shelves was a strip of wood pailed against the wall, as if to cover a place where, as we could see, the plaster had fallen away; and beneath this strip could be
discerned part of what seemed to be a rat-hole. Besides these, not a thing was visible in the closet.
And yet, as I live, while we three stood there gazing into the empty closet, from its recesses came a hollow laugh, and a low, childish voice said, plaintively :
“ Three-all dead-poisoned !"
Emma sank down, half swooning. Even Mr. Walton's face, as I fancied, became a shade pale; and then we heard the voice again :
“Bury them, -grave under the magnolia"
I looked again at my brother-in-law, and saw his lips compress and a kind of desperation appear in his face. He advanced close to the closet, put his head almost within and shouted loudly and distinctly :
“Who are you? Who is it that speaks?
In answer came a shriek, loud and appalling, ringirg in our very ears. Then the same breath of cold air swept past, followed by the violent shutting of a door and grating of a key in a lock. We looked at each other aghast, but before we had time to utter a word, we were again startled by a different sound,—that of children's cries, and footsteps hurrying along the gallery to the room in which we were. The next moment the door burst open, and in rushed Momma Abbey, the coloured nurse, bearing baby in her arms, and followed by her assistant, Chloë, dragging the three elder children after her—all the latter pale and terrified, and, Freddy in particular, shrieking shrilly.
“What is the matter? What has happened?" screamed Emma, forgetting her own recent terror in alarm for her children.
“Oh, marster! oh, missus!” gasped Momma Abbey, piteously, her eyes rolling white in their sockets, “a ghos'! A ghos' in the nursery!"
“In the corner-closet in the nursery! I heerd it! We all heerd it! Marster Freddy was lookin' in dat closet to see if dar was any mice in de trap what he'd set, and sure's I's alive, dis minute, marster, somebody in dat ’are closet hollered out, “Who is you? Who dat talkin' dar?' We all heerd it, we did!”
Mr. Walton turned around and once more looked into the closet. Then, taking the tongs from the hearth, he inserted them behind the bit of board which I have mentioned as nailed to the wall, and wrenched it away, exposing, as he did so, a small aperture surrounded by a metallic ring.
“ I have discovered the mystery at last! he said, turning to us with a smile. “ It is no ghost, but simply
a speaking-tube. Stay here, and when you hear the spirits, place your mouth to this and answer them."
He left the room, and in a few minutes we again heard the mysterious sepulchral voice in the closet, only much more distinct now since the board had been removed. How
you all ?".
Much better!” And then there came a low laugh, ghostly enough, cer. tainly, to have caused our blood to curdle had we been aware of the identity of the apparent ghost.
And so it was all explained, and the mystery of the haunted closet cleared up. There was, as Mr. Walton had said, a speaking-tube communicating between the office-room and the distant nursery-placed there, doubtless, by the eccentric English naturalist, Dr. Mather, for his own convenience; and he, on leaving the house, had simply carelessly boarded over the mouths of the tube, not dreaming of, or indifferent to, the consequences of his negligence. Probably it had been these very mysterious sounds which had driven away the last occupants of the house; and certain it is that, but for the fortunate discovery of their source, we ourselves might have been won over to the ranks of spiritualists and ghost-believers. Such results have, ere now, been produced by slighter causes than these.
The explanation of the various sounds heard by us in the office-room is very simple. The corresponding mouth of the tube was in a closet in the nursery, precisely similar to that in the office. Momma Abbey stored in this closet the various cups, phials, and so forth, used in the nursery, and, to secure these from the children, the closet was generally kept locked. It was the opening and shutting of this closet door, with the grating of the key in the rusty lock, that had so often alarmed me; and when it was open, and a search going on among its contents for some special article, the noises thus made and the words spoken in the closet could be heard more or less distinctly in the office. Also, when the closet-door was suddenly shut to, it would produce a current of air through the tube sufficient to slightly open the looselyhung door of the office cupboard. Master Freddy's idea of setting a mouse-trap in the closet, baited with poisoned food, had added much to the effect of the mystery; and it was little Mary's voice which had pleaded so pathetically for the three victims of her brother's experiment, imploring that they might be buried under the magnolia-tree.
Mr. Walton used to say that it was almost a pity that the secret of the tube should have been discovered, and thereby so capital a ghost-story spoiled.