A GHOST STORY.
BY MAY MANNERING.
in Oliver Optic's Magazine, August 10, 1867: 399-401
"An elm grew close by the cottage eaves;
So he plucked him a twig well clothed with leaves,
And sallying forth with the supple arm, _
To serve as a talisman parrying harm, -
He felt that, though his heart was so big,
'Twas even the stouter for having a twig.
For this, he thought, would serve to switch
The horrors away, as he crossed the ditch,
The meadow and copse, wherein, perchance,
Will-o'-the-wisp might wickedly dance;
And wielding it, keep him from feeling a chill
At the menacing sound of ' Whip-poor-will ' !
And his flesh from creeping, beside the bog,
At the harsh, bass voice of the viewless frog."
THIS stout young farmer, who "plucked him a twig" for protection, was on his way, late one dark night, from the "cheerful home of a smiling maid," where he had been "a courtin'." The poor fellow had a stout body, but a very faint heart, which even the frogs and birds could frighten.
He must have been something like that man who stopped one night at a small western hotel. Happening to look under his bed before retiring, he became terribly frightened at what he thought was a brawny negro stowed away in the farthest corner under there, waiting until the room should be quiet, so that he could creep out and murder and rob the traveller. The man, in a fit of alarm, drew his pistol and fired at the negro's head, when it instantly cracked, scattering its fragments in all directions. The landlord, hearing the report, rushed to the room, followed by a crowd of bar-room loafers. Removing the bedstead, they drew from its hiding-place the remains of a bronzed plaster cast of the bust of Daniel Webster, the mammoth head of which had caused the terror of the cowardly traveller.
Courage and presence of mind are two excellent qualities, which can be cultivated with much advantage. The miss who wakes in the night, and sees the moonlight shining into her room and resting upon some object so as to give it an uncouth and perhaps frightful appearance, if, instead of hiding her head in terror under the bedclothes, she would brace her nerves to the ordeal of getting up, and going to the hideous image, she would find it some simple thing, perhaps her own dress or skirt, which she had thrown over a chair on going to bed.
Imaginary ghosts and goblins will haunt some people all their lives, unless they, once for all, bring their courage to the "sticking point," and thoroughly investigate the matter which has given them alarm.
There was once a ghost which had haunted a castle for a long time, and caused many supposed stout hearts to quail, when one night a fair young lady arrived, who expressed her determination to investigate the ghostly apparition, and, if possible, divest him of his power to frighten silly people.
This happened in France, several years ago. The brave lady was Madame Deshoulieres, the celebrated French poetess. She went for a visit to the chateau of the Count and Countess de Luneville. The castle was thrown open for her entertainment, and her friends gave her the choice of all the bedrooms save one, which no one was permitted to enter, because it was haunted; for every night, for many years, strange and horrible noises were heard in it.
No sooner did the poetess hear this, than she told her surprised and terrified friends that she would occupy that haunted chamber in preference to any other in the castle.
The count, in a tremulous voice, begged her not to do a thing so foolish ; for although she might be curious to know how a ghost looked, she would never leave that room alive, or else she would be injured for life.
The countess also begged her not to do it, for the "bravest man," said she, "would shrink from such a dreadful thing." The count's mother, being the last one who had died in the castle, was supposed to haunt that dreaded room ; and if any person should dare oppose the spirit of one who had been so proud and haughty in her lifetime, that bold interferer must suffer some terrible consequences.
In spite of all these cautions, Madame Deshoulieres, who did not believe in departed spirits haunting their earthly abodes, determined to sleep in that room, and, if possible, find out something which would change the weak minds of the people of the chateau.
When bedtime came around, the brave lady, accompanied by her femme-de-chambre, repaired to the haunted chamber. It was a grand and spacious room, with a deep, antique chimney hearth, and high, narrow, dark windows, hung with heavy damask draperies.
As soon as madame was undressed, she stepped into bed, and after dismissing her maid, telling her to close the door securely, she lay for a while reading, as was her custom. By the bedside was a stand with a bracket in it, which held a long candle lighted; but as soon as the lady had finished reading, she blew out the light, and quickly fell asleep.
Not long did she sleep, however, for she was soon aroused by the opening of the door, and the sound of footsteps about the room. Supposing that the ghost had come, madame spoke, and told it, that it need not expect to frighten her, for she occupied that room on purpose to make its acquaintance. The ghost did not deign an answer; so the remark was repeated, and again received no reply.
The light footsteps still went about the room, until, coming in contact with a large screen, the heavy piece of furniture fell over so near the bed that it became entangled in the bed-curtains, which played loosely on rings, and sent out a sound so sharp, as they ran quickly over the wires which held them up, that the noise might have been taken for the shrill scream of an unquiet spirit.
Madame Deshoulieres, however, remained perfectly calm, and questioned the visitor, who, she suspected, was one of the servants. It did not speak, though its movements were anything but silent, for it soon ran against the heavy oaken stand by the bedside, and threw it over, with the candle and candlestick, making a great noise. At last it got tired of these exertions, and came to the foot of the bed to rest itself. The lady courageously put out her hands, and said, -
" Ah, now I shall ascertain what thou art! " Her hands came in contact with two ears, soft as velvet, which she firmly grasped, and determined to hold until morning. Several hours passed before daylight came to relieve her from her painful position; and when at last it did stream in through the high windows, madame perceived her ghost to be Gros Blanc, a large, faithful, honest dog, which belonged to the chateau. The poor fellow, who had been held so long, seemed rather to be pleased with his bondage, and licked the lady's hands with thanks; while she laughed heartily at this ludicrous end of an adventure for which fearful encounter she had braced every nerve.
The count and countess had not closed their eyes that night, suffering with the thought of the terrible ordeal their talented guest must be enduring. They were much surprised when she early made her appearance, and paid them the compliments of the morning. With great solemnity she related all that had passed; and when their curiosity was intensely aroused to know the end, Madame Deshoulieres turned to the count, and said, "Monsieur, you shall no longer continue in an illusion which long indulgence has endeared to you. There," pointing to the dog, "is the nocturnal visitor whom you have so long taken for the ghost of your mother."
The dog, finding the old wooden latch out of repair, and the room consequently easy of access, had selected it for his sleeping apartment in preference to remaining out of doors. That night, perhaps being hungry, he smelt the candle, and trying to get it, had made so many blunders, and caused the noises which alarmed the people down stairs.
So, by courage and presence of mind, Madame Deshoulieres had braved the dangers of the haunted chamber, thoroughly investigated the ghostly apparition, and proved to the family of the chateau, that good common sense, and a little pluck, will divest even ghosts of their terrors, and smooth away many of the anxieties of life.
"A Ghost Story" appears courtesy of J. Randolph Cox.
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