The Haunted Chamber

Clark Ashton Smith

Several years ago, I shall not give the exact date, I received an invitation from a second cousin of mine, one Charles Burleigh, to visit him at his home near London for a few weeks in the winter. As Charles and I are stout friends, and I had no business at the time to detain me, I made haste to answer the note in the affirmative.

Three days later found me at the railway station of my cousin's native town. The village, tho it can scarce be called one, of X. Some snow has already fallen, and when I stepped from the train I found the ground to be white with it. The weather was bitterly cold, so I found it expedient to don a heavy overcoat.

I stood for some time on the platform, gazing about for the man who, I had been informed, would be there to meet me. At last I perceived himan old servant of my cousin's, bronzed with the hue of a tropic clime. As I knew that he had served in the great mutiny, this was not perplexing to me. But I had cause, in the light of later events, to remember he fact.

Charles' house was on the very outskirts of the [village,] at distance of about a half a mile from the station. It was a stately old building, dating from the time of King James the First. The walls [were] ivy-grown in many places. There was an isin-garden, in which the house was buried, enclosed by a high stonewall.

The place had originally, before our family came into possessing it, belonged to a certain family, whose names are well-known to my readers, but which, I shall not, for certain reasons of my own, mention.

Charles I found anxiously awaiting me. He is a man about thirty-five years of age. His countenance is pleasant, but there is on it a tinge of sadness, as of a man who has known trouble.

His early days were soured by certain events; these, however, I cannot tell now, as they have little or no bearing on this story.

The greetings over, we went within. Dinner was served in a great hall, a few hours after my arrival. It was a lonely-looking apartment, lonely because of its vastness and a certain air about it, as of sadness. It affected me in much the same manner as the [tone?] of the house, that is, with a melancholy feeling, synonymous with that described by an American poet in the following manner:

     —A feeling of sadness and longing,
     That is not akin to pain,
     And resembles sorrow only
     As the mist resembles rain.

We sat after dinner for several hours, talking of various subjects. Most of them have escaped my memory, but there is one that will stick in my mind as long as I live. I shall never forget it.

We had reached the subject of ghosts and spirits, and were exchanging opinions and reminiscences. I pooh-poohed the idea of the supernatural from the very moment that we took it up.

"There is no such thing as a ghost," I said.

"How can you know that?" he said.

"Because men have always been able to explain satisfactorily to themselves and others how their only foundation is some optical illusion or else there is a human agency behind it all."

"I don't know anything about the 'human agency' in this case" said my cousin in reply, "but I know that I have seen and heard things in this house with my own eyes and ears that cannot be explained under such a heading."

"How long past have you seen them?" I asked, my curiosity leaping up within me on the moment.

"For three months", said Charles, "On every occasion that I have slept in a certain room in this house I have seen and heard strange things."

"For only three months?" I asked.

"Yes, before that there was nothing the matter with the chamber. It was as good and comfortable an apartment as any man might wish. I keep it open even now, except at night, there is nothing there that seems out of the ordinary. It is my private bed-chamber and I am loath to give it up on account of the things that take place there. Up to a few days ago I had used it but was, on account of what occurred unable to sleep. Last week I abandoned it and keep it locked."

"What have you seen", I asked.

"Stranger things than you think. I am loath to tell you of them."

"And why?" I asked, "Should you not impart the secret to me?"

He hesitated—"You are so incredulous," was his answer.

"I would like to occupy this haunted chamber for a few nights," said I.

"I am curious to see for myself the things that you have beheld. Therefore, you need not tell me now. I like to be surprised."

"I know your nature well, Robert," said he, "but I do not wish you to expose yourself to unnecessary danger. Strong as my nerves are, they have been shaken by the strange occurrences within that triply accursed room. I firmly believe that it is haunted by something."

I sternly pooh-poohed this idea, and after more persuading, wrung from my cousin a reluctant promise to allow me to occupy the haunted chamber for the night at least.

By now his fear had worked on me a little so I announced my intention of retiring for the night. I provided myself with a stout Irish shillelagh, picked up during my residence a few years ago in the Emerald Isle. As I was well skilled in its use, I held myself to be a match for any ghost or spirit that might choose to disturb me.

We ascended a long oaken staircase to the upper floor of the building. There are two stories to this house, and a large attic in the very top. It was on the upper floor that the haunted chamber was situated. We went thru two rooms, and found ourselves before a heavy oaken door. My cousin unlocked it and we entered. The apartment was little different from any other, save that it was furnished with rare and antique furniture. There was a large tapestried bedstead of the time of Charles the first, and a few heavy chairs of the same kind, with a large bureau, and various other articles.

There was but one window to the room—a lattice of the Queen Anne style.

The moonlight strained, dim shining made a streak of white light on the floor, and a slight breeze entering, cold and frosty, made the tapestries on the walls of the apartment waft slightly. I made haste to close the window, as it was very cold with the breeze coming in. My cousin then bade me farewell, after giving me some words of advice, and then went out, locking the door behind him as I had requested.

There was a strange, eerie feeling in the cold air, by no means pleasant. I presently found my teeth chattering and my eyes roving about in a nervous manner. I laughed at myself and made haste to disrobe. Once within the bed my feelings changed. I drew the curtains together, clutched my cudgel, and prepared myself for sleep.

But sleep would not come to me. I lay for a long time with my ears strained for the slightest sound. My eyes vainly trying to pierce the Stygian darkness. I finally cursed myself for a fool, turned about, shut my eyes and began to count the sheep leaping over the stone wall. But my sheep were singularly unusual. No sooner were they thru than they began again and soon were so numerous I lost all count of them. I should have given up as the effort caused me to strain every sense and nerve.

The hours dragged by like aeons. There was apparently no end to them. Half-past ten, eleven, half past eleven—then came the deep strokes of twelve. I sat up, startled at the sound, but finding out what it was, was about to lay down again.

Suddenly, as I sat there, every muscle rigid, the curtains slowly parted, seemingly by no human agency. With sickly swiftness they swept back, letting in a broad band of moonlight across the bed. And in the very centre of that band, its hands upon the bed—shall I ever forget the horror of that sight!—a ghostly figure, the figure, apparently of a Hindu, clothed in white. It was very distinct, tho to my disordered mind it seemed to be misty in outline. It was a dark, scarce human face that peered down upon me with fanatic eyes, and wild, leering, demoniac expression. The figure was clothed in white, close-clinging trousers and Indian jacket, with a white turban on the head. The figure seemed to me at the moment, to be beyond nature. I sat frozen with horror for a few moments, possibly fascinated by the baleful eyes of the apparition. Then my skepticism on the question of the existence of ghosts stirred and I swung my cudgel at the unlucky apparition.

Whack! Whack! Whack! went the shillelagh, landing on something more substantial than air. The erstwhile spirit yelled and shrieked, and begged for mercy in a voice that I seemed sometime to have heard before.

I soon secured my prisoner, and tearing off his Oriental guise, disclosed the features of my cousin's old servant, the Indian soldier of whom I spoke in an earlier part of this story.

Hardly had I unmasked the captive when the door opened and my Charles rushed in with a lighted taper in his hand. He found me standing over the ghost with shillelagh in hand, delivering a lecture punctuated by sundry flourishes of the stick, on the subject of deceiving.

Burleigh's astonishment was beyond bounds when he saw his servant. He scarcely knew what to say. At last he managed to stammer out, addressing the ghost.

"What does this mean, Ruggles?"

He was silent, and though threatened, sat there refusing to answer, eyeing us sullenly. Neither would he afterwards explain, tho we pestered him with questions the remainder of the night.

"What do you think of it?" I asked my cousin.

"I am greatly puzzled," replied Charles. "What reason could the man possibly have for playing such a trick on me."

I could only shrug my shoulders.

In the morning the servant was gone. He had been confined by his master in one of the upper rooms of the house; a bruised and broken ivy vine testified to the manner of his escape.

On the table was found a badly written note, which, stripped of bad spelling and phrasing, was substantially as follows:

"Mr. Burleigh:
"I have cherished a grudge against you for many years, but showed no sign of it. Within the last few months I have endeavored to be revenged by trying to drive the people from this house by playing ghost at night in your bed-chamber. I have failed. You shall never see nor hear of me again.
         "Sampson Ruggles"

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