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The Haunted House – 1859 – a ghost story
Dickens first published this in ‘All the Year Round‘ at Christmas 1859.
It was later published in 1866 in a collection of ghost stories known as ‘Three Ghost Stories‘, along with ‘Trial for Murder‘ and ‘The Signal-Man‘.
|THE STORY: |
The narrator arrives at the house from the railway station, just a mile away, and he arrived in the daylight, with the sun on the house. There was no wind, no rain, no lightning, no thunder, no awful or unwonted circumstance, of any kind.
He had had a strange encounter on the train. The man opposite him had proclaimed that the carriage contained the two of them, but there were seventeen thousand four hundred and seventy-nine spirits here, but you cannot see them. They included Socrates, Pythagoras, Galileo andMary Queen of Scots. The narrator was pleased to get off at the next station.
The house he had come to see was solitary. It was uninhabited but had been cheaply repaired to make it habitable. It had a sign that announed it was available to let on reasonable terms, well furnished. There were six tall poplars set in front of it, these gave it a melancholy feeling.
It seemed to be an avoided house, at least by the villagers. He went into the village for breakfast at a little inn, he asked the man at the inn if the house was haunted. The man said ‘I say nothing’, so the narrator stated ‘Then it is haunted?’
The man replied, ‘Well I wouldn’t sleep in it’. When pressed he mentions bells ringing, doors slamming and feet treading about, while there was no-one there. The narrator asks is anything seen there, the Innkeeper calls for Ikey.
Ikey is a high-shouldered young fellow, the man says ‘The gentleman wants to know if anything’s seen at the Poplars?’ Okey replies, ‘A ‘ooded woman with a howl’. Then corrects this by saying an owl, and explains he’s only really seen the owl clearly. Others had seen the woman more clearly than he.
Ikey explains that the belief is that she had been murdered. He mentioned a young man who had fits after seeing the old woman, and other person who had seen her five or six times. But no useful information could be gleaned from him.
The narrator was not put off by stories of bells, doors and creaks, he hadl ived in two haunted houses before. He decided to take the house and went with the landlord and Ikey, having obtained the keys.
Inside he found was dismal, thanks to the trees, the house was ill-placed, ill-built, ill-planned, and ill-fitted. The layout was poor, and at the back stairs they found some bells, one lablelled ‘Mr B’. His companions said this was the bell that rang most frequently. Ikey rang it and it made an unpleasant sound. The other bells were labelled for other rooms.
Tracing the Mr B bell to its source hefound an indifferent third-class accommodation in a triangular cabin under the cock-loft. The wall-paper hung from the walls. He found the house had a large rambling loft at the top.
He took the house for six months. He moved in during October, his housheld included his maiden sister, a deaf stable-man, his bloodhound Turk, two women servants, and a young person they called Odd Girl (she was one of the Saint Lawrence’s Union Female Orphans, a mistake and a disastrous engagement!),
The cook disliked the damp in the kitchen and left instructions for passing her watch on to her sister in Clapham if anything happened to her. There were all manner of other natural disurbances about missing features.
As evening drew on the Odd Girl claimed she saw eyes, and descended into hysterics. Then at half-past-ten Mr B’s bell began to ring, the narrator disconnected the bell. But the Odd Girl kept stiffening and disturbing the others, and Streaker the housemaid descended into tears.
At night there were many strange noises and the house proved to be a ‘perfect Convent’ of hooded women. They had to change servants, but the new ones were no better.
The narrator, John, confessed to his sister, Patti, that perhaps they should move, but she suggested they should carry on alone. John agreed but suggested they keep Bottles, his deaf stable-man, who seemed not to be disturbed by the events.
Patti suggested, as they had space, that they invite friends to form a Society that would wait upon themselves and live socially. They had put Turk out in a kennel to minimise his distrurbances. He also consulted Ikey about his gun and he confirmed it was a ‘good gun’. John confides that he has seen something and it looked a lot like Ikey. He underlines that he intends to shoot the figure if it reappeared.
The Society mustered in late November, they drew lots for the bedroooms. John repeated all the intelligence about the house so that everyone was aware. It was agreed that anyone becoming aware of anything should report it to John, but not talk of it to the others. They agreed that on the Twelfth Night of Christmas they would share all of their experiences.
Those there were allocated thus. Patti had drawn her own room and John was in Master Bs. John Herschel, his first cousin, and his newish wife drew the Clock Room. A ‘fast’ young man of twenty-eight, Arnold Starling, drew the Double Room that was usually John’s. Belinda Bates, fried of Patti’s, got the Picture Room. A friend of John’s and a ‘prince of men’, Jack Governor, was in the Corner Room. Nat Beaver a pal of Jack’s and captain of a merchantman, drew the Cupboard Room. Nat shared it with Mr Undery, John’s friend and solicitor.
|Jack became their cook, Pattus was their pastry cook and confectioner. Starling and John took it in turns to be Cook’s mate, and occasionally Beaver was ‘pressed’ too.|
The first disturbance was that Jack knocked on John’s door and proposed to take down the weathercock, It was windy and it was making a noise like a cry of despair. Accompanied by Mr Beaver they took it down. And each night they took down a chimney-cowl, dealt with a noisy water=pipe and on another occasion resolved something mysterious in the garden.
And so they went on with little apparent ghost activity.
John, the narrator
Patti, maiden sister
Streaker, a house maid
THE STORY (cont)
John in Master B’s room took to speculating what the B stood for, and whether it was his forename or surname. He speculated that it stood for Blue colthes, or Boots, perhaps he liked Books or Bowling, or was a Boxer. Or perhaps he was from Bognor, Bangor, Bournemouth, Brighton or Broadstairs?
The first sign of anything wrong was when John was shaving in the morning, and suddenly perceived he was shaving a boy, Master B. He attempted to shake off the impression and then saw a twenty-four or five year old young man shaving, he himself was fifty. He closed his eyes again and saw his father shaving, he was long dead. He looked again and it was his grandfather shaving, someone he had never met.
He kept this secret from the others, determined to wait until Twelfth Night. But retiring the next evening he found he was sharing his bed with a skeleton, that of Master B. The apparition asked ‘Where am I? What is become of me?’ Looking in the mirror he saw Master B dressed in a coat covered in buttons and a frill at his neck, he assumed he looked like a boy who had taken far too much medicine.
The boy asked ‘Why he was born in the Calomel days, why did he have all that Colomel given to him?’ He asked ‘Where his little sister was, where his angelic litlle wife, where was the boy he went to school with?’ John tried to reassure him.
The spectre called him ‘Barber’, a barber condemned to shave a succession of people, that he was also condemned to sleep with a skeleton. John shuddered at the thought.
He called out ‘Barber pursue me’, and John founmd he was no longer in the bedroom he was chasing him elsewhere. He pursued him on other nights through strange places and on a variety of conveyances.
He outlines in some detail one of these occasions, when he and a companion vowed to create a seraglio.
On his return he concludes that this was the ghost of his own childhood, the ghost of his own innocence, the ghost of his own airy belief. He chased after it but never caught it. But he was doomed to wake up and shave a constant change of customers and rose each morning with a skeleton beside him.
He bore all of this cheerfully and thankfully.
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