“Adventures With Ghosts,” by Mrs. Hall (from Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet, May 1850; pp. 226-231)
My friend Mrs. Hall, who knows so well the way to the young heart, has kindly furnished me with two stories about fancied ghosts, which she desires may be presented to my readers; and here they are, in the identical words of this lady’s manuscript:
Many years ago, when I was quite young, I was sitting late one evening, with my mother and sister, by a cheerful fire in the parlor, (it was before stoves and grates were as much used as now,) quietly knitting and reading, as has been my habit from childhood. Out of the parlor opened a large dining-room. Beyond that was a room for cooking, and still farther back, an entry-way and wood room. My mother took a light, and rose to retire. She was passing into the dining-room, when she saw, standing in the door-way of the back room, which was open, a man, holding what appeared at that distance, and by the dim light, to be a knife.
“Job!” said my mother, calling the name of a member of the family, who had been out during the evening.
But Job made no answer.
“Job!” said my mother, a little startled, and raising her voice.
But Job, or whoever else it might be, maintained a rigid silence. My mother was far from being a superstitious woman, but she had a great horror of thieves and robbers, and for aught she knew, this mysterious stranger might be one, or he might be either drunk or crazy. She therefore deemed it prudent to retrace her steps, and call up my father, who had retired, before making any further acquaintance with him. Now, then, we formed quite a procession—my venerable father in the advance, my mother and sister next, and I in the rear; for, though my heart beat violently, I could not think of staying away when there was so much risk.
My father spoke in tones far more commanding than those of my mother. No answer came, but still the person stood, till, as we came cautiously near him, he vanished, and, what was most singular, the door, which we had all seen distinctly to be open, was noiselessly closed. We all marched back; but in turning again toward the door, we saw the apparition standing as before.
“It must have been some shadow,” exclaimed my sister; and she set about searching for the cause of so singular an appearance, which, although there had been a light in the parlor scores of times with the doors all open, had never appeared before. Our light was put out. Still it was there. We thought it must shine from the parlor; but the only lamp left there was far back, and not even a ray of light showed in the dining-room or porch when the one we had been using was extinguished. Again and again we examined the apparition, and it always remained till we approached it nearly with a light, and then it vanished.
This certainly might have answered to many a superstitious person for a ghost, and kept him or her awake all night, dreading some terrible misfortune, of which this dark apparition was the forerunner. I confess to have been considerably frightened myself, but my mother and sister, knowing that the appearance must proceed from some natural cause, did not rest till they ascertained what that cause was. The light did not indeed shine out at the door, but it happened to be placed just where it shone very brightly upon a large glass. The reflection passed through the whole length of the house, and struck upon the farthest door. The person who was passing out produced the dark shadow, and the light held in the hand might easily be mistaken for a knife in the dim distance. The light from the glass was precisely the size of the door, and even after we had ascertained the cause, the illusion was so perfect that we could scarcely believe the evidence of our own senses. My terrors were at an end, and I went to bed with the sage reflection that many a ghost of huge dimensions, if subject to close investigation, might be found to be caused by a reflection.
Some fifty years ago there lived in an old town in the north of Massachusetts, which you would now hardly recognize—for it has changed its name as well as appearance—a clergyman, whose
white head has long since been laid in the grave. He had one little daughter, whom we will call Lilian. When Lily was about seven years old, her parents went to a distant part of the State, to be absent several weeks, taking the younger children with them, and leaving Lily and a brother older in the care of a domestic, to whom many charges were given, to take especial care of the children, and to conduct everything in a quiet and orderly manner.
Jeanette made fair promises; but scarcely were the old chaise and ambling pony, which bore the minister and his wife, out of sight, ere the deceitful girl began to plan, not how to take care of the interests of her employers, and use her time, which belonged to them, to the best advantage, but how she could find the most sport for herself and her giddy companions. The information was soon circulated, (or perhaps had been before,) that Jeanette would now be “at home” to all her young associates; and then such throngs as were coming and going; such dancing of reels and such playing of plays; such shouts of laughter and screams of fun, the quiet old parsonage had never seen before. From morning until evening, and from evening far into the night, the revels were kept up, very much to the annoyance of the staid and discreet little Lilian. She was shocked to see even the tidy “spare room” appropriated to the company, and wild girls, with rude curiosity, peeping into the drawers of her mother’s best bureau. Even her father’s study, which she scarcely dared enter on tiptoe, was not secure from intrusion; and to her the coarse feet of rough young men, and the senseless tittering of giddy girls in this room, seemed like desecration. She saw that the stores of provision left by her careful mother were rapidly disappearing before the keen appetites of Jeanette’s visitors. She saw a great deal that she knew her parents would not approve, and, as she was a reflecting as well as an observing little girl, she strongly suspected that there were worse things done when she was sent away on some trifling pretence, or purposely made angry, that she might absent herself. She was very sure, too, that Jeanette, who was not particularly anxious for her comfort in any other respect, was not quite so careful of her health as she pretended to be, when she sent her so very early to bed.
She had a great many wise reflections in her curly little head; but what could she do? Fifty years since there was not, as now, a post-office in every considerable neighborhood, and a mail nearly every day. Lily did not expect to hear from her parents, or to have an opportunity of sending a message to them, before their return. She knew that she had no authority, and her cautious attempts at advice were received in such a way, that she was sure that to try remonstrance would only draw down the anger of Jeanette upon herself. So she resolved to be quiet, but to watch very closely all that was passing, and if any way was opened by which a little girl like her could effect anything, she would be ready to improve it.
One night the company was unusually large and merry. Lily had been sent to bed at a very early hour, and, as the parsonage was far removed from any neighbors, they felt under no restraint. They ran and danced, shouted and laughed, till the old house rang again, and their loud screams might have been heard a long way on the still night air.
Suddenly every voice was hushed! The tramping of feet was stopped. The hearts of the men beat hurriedly, and the girls grew pale with terror! for, directly above their heads, came a reverberating noise which all heard, even above that of wild revelry.
It was not the wind—it could not be thunder—but it was nearer and more frightful than either. At first it came with loud raps, like a great supernal hammer, as if to fasten the attention of the thoughtless revelers. Then the strokes grew lighter and quicker, and after a succession of these, it closed in a faint “rap, tap, tap,” which seemed to their excited minds like the last solemn warning from the sepulchre. The reverberations died away in the old chamber, and all was still as death. It seemed as if the terrified company could hear their own hearts beat, and even breathing became laborious.
After some minutes, some of the young men began to be ashamed of having been so easily frightened, and proposed going up stairs to see if anything had been jarred down, though the noise was so peculiar that they had little hope of finding that it had been produced by any common cause. Some of the bravest led the way,
and others, taking courage by their example, followed; while the most timid, fearing to stay down stairs alone, followed their companions from sheer cowardice. Every nook was examined. Nothing was in motion, and nothing was removed from its place.
They visited the low bed of little Lily. The child’s blue eyes were closed, and they were soon convinced by her loud breathing that her innocent slumbers had not been disturbed by the terrific noise that had so alarmed their guilty consciences. Had they been close observers, and had they not been frightened, they might perhaps have observed that those long lashes trembled a little as the light was held over her eyelids, and that her breathing was a little louder than betokened healthful sleep. But they were not philosophers, and they crept softly down stairs, talking about the wrong doing of making so free in a minister’s house, and of the fearful presence of spirits; as if wrong doing were not wrong anywhere, and as if any spiritual presence should be half as much to be feared as the presence of that Spirit who made us, and who is constantly with us, and will call us to an account for all our actions.
The mirth was over. Some, with cautious steps, sought their own homes. Others stopped with the affrighted Jeanette, and soon retired to bed,
“Fearful peeping o’er his shoulder,
Each for ghosts but little bolder.”
In the days that remained of the pastor’s absence, there were no more merry-makings. Lilian had accomplished her object, and she kept her own secret. No one suspected that a child of seven years had managed to quiet that large company of thoughtless young men and women. After the little girl retired to bed, she could not have slept, if she had wished, for it seemed to her as if the very house would come down over her head, as she lay revolving the means of producing a quiet. Not till she had her plan well laid did she attempt to execute it. Then she rose softly, took her mother’s large spinning-wheel from its standard, and, placing it upon its rim, she turned it swiftly round, till, when it had acquired
sufficient velocity, she suddenly withdrew her hand, and it went to the floor with tremendous force. Lily did not, as most children of her age would have done, frightened at her own temerity, as the sound rolled repeatedly through the dim old chamber, rush to bed again; but she stood silent and still, till the wheel was motionless; then cautiously taking it up, she tugged it along, placed it upon its standard, put in the pin, held her hand upon it till all jarring had ceased, and then quietly groped her way back to bed.
She had rightly calculated that some time would elapse before the people below would venture up stairs, and before they came she had composed herself, and lay as if sound asleep. Not until years after did Lilian make known her part in the transaction, when far away from the scene where it aoccurred, and doubtless the story of the supernatural noise at the parsonage has been whispered many times, as a veritable and indisputable ghost story.