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I The Old Man's Spirits.


I The Old Man's Spirits. The following is a chapter from "The Red J:lUor," a novel written by Lady Betty Lytton, which is at present appearing in Temple Bar. Lady Betty Lytton, who is daughter of Earl Lytton and granddaughter of the famous novelist, is a youug lady not yet out of her teens The drive was long, and they went but slowly ,1 Demount- of tha heavy snow, At last, however, .i,:nn descended from the box, opened two it, /auv,and drove through them. Leoline had .illea asleep in her husband's arms. It was a e;?nr, frosty night. The snow lay deep upon the earth, and the moon shone bright. They were driving: down an avenue of yew-trees, the sombre branches of which were covered with snow. At the end of the avenue the house rose clear and dark in the moonlight. No cheerful light was visible in any of the windows, and the whole building looked black and erim. The carriage stopped and as the coachman rang the bell an owl hooted from a neighbouring tree. Leoline woke with a start. She felt a vague sensation of fear, and instinctively she clung to her husband. After a few minutes, the door (a low one inside a. porch) swung back with a:crepk- ing sound, and an old woman appeared with a lantern in her hand. Her face was wrinkled, her nose was aquiline and crooked and two ugly yellow teeth projected from her thin, colourless lips. She wore a black cap, with long black ribbons dangling from it, and a few grey hairat appeared from underneath it. From her waist hung a large bunch of keys, which rattled whenaver she moved. "Are you the housekeeper?" said Maurice, springing out of the carriage. Yes, sir." mumbled the old woman, looking at him with an ugly leer. I've prepared everything for you, as comfortable as possible. Come in, my lady, out of the cold air. Ah I see the lady is tired she wants to get to a warm fire. Come along, come along." Leoline and Maurice were standing in a large square hall. It was surrounded with figures in armour, and a broad oak staircase led from it to the rooms above. The floor was stone. Through two large windows on each side of the staircase the moonhght streamed into the otherwise dark hall. The old woman led the way upstairs, and Lord Maurice and his wife followed. On the first landing was a small latticed window in the wall, and as they passed it the window was violently tapped. Ob, Maurice!" cried Leoline, "what can that be?" The old woman turued round and said- Don't ye be frightened, ma'am. That's an old owl, as always comes and beats agin that window. It's a tiresome old bird, but ye'll soon get accus- tomed to it." 11 Well, go on," said Lord Maurice, sharply; we don't want to stand here any longer in the cold." 4 Softly, softly. I'll go as quick as my old bones will carry me. This way, gen'elman." The old woman now turned into a long, narrow passage, and,opening a door richly carved, showed them into a large, low room, hung with tapestry so old and worn that it seemed only held to the wall by one or two threads. There was a four- post bed in this room, a heavy oak table, a few hard, high-backed chairs, a moth-eaten sofa, a washstand, and a chest of drawers-the two last- mentioned articles having evidently been recently put there. Opposite the table was a large chimney- piece, reaching to the ceiling, and a warm tire was blazing up the chimney. There was a window facing the bed, and the curtains of it were drawn. "You have not selected the most cheerful room for us," said Lord Maurice. Oh indeed, sir, this is far the warmest room in the house; others haven't been used for ever so long, and we hadn't time to do 'em up for ye. I am sure ye'll be at your ease here, and I can answer for the bed being well aired, for I and my husband have slept here for the last three nights." The other two did not seem to relish this re- assuring information, but the old woman con- tinued- "This is the bedroom, and the sitting-room leads out of it." Here she opened a door opposite the fireplace, and ushered Lord Maurice and his wife into a smaller room of the same character. It had but one window, opposite to which was a bookcase, filled with old books, all in a torn and tattered condition and facing the fireplace was a large picture, reaching nearly from the ceiling to the floor. It was the life-size portrait of a man, dressed in a loose dressing-gown, and seated in a chair. Long grey hair hung down over his shoulders, and his countenance, a strange but noble one, wore an expression of the deepest melancholy. Leoline could not repress an ex- clamation as the picture caught her eye. Who is that ?" she said. "That picture, ma'am?" answered the old woman. That was the grandfather of my late master. He was a wonderful man. I was with him three years before he died. These are the rooms he always lived in. Will you have your supper downstairs or would you like it up here, ma'am ?" Leoline said she would prefer having it in the sitting-room. My man will bring up your lugguage. And, now, is there anything more I can do for you ?" They replied that they required nothing but rest and quiet, and the old woman withdrew. When she was gone, Leoline dropped into a chair and sighed. "Leoline," cried Maurice, "does the place seem very lonely? Ah! I ought uot to have brought you here before everything was made fit to receive you more comfortably." No, no, Maurice. I am enchanted with the place, and it will look cheerful enough when we have been here a short time. Indeed, 1 am only a little tired." The caress which answered her was interrupted by a knock at the door. It opened, and an old man looked in. He was short, and his back was bent with age. His face had a malicious expression, and a large wart at the end of his nose did not improve his appear- ance. After (watching the lovers for some seconds in silence, he pulled his forelock, and in an indistinct, stuttering voice Good-od evening, 1-1-lady and gentleman. I'm Will Crotchet, the husband of the worthy dame who has just left you. I've brought up your box, and, if you wish it, I'll now bring up your supper." The old man withdrew, and shortly reappeared with the dinner cooked by his wife to the best of her abilities, which were not great. When they bad finished their meal and were alone again, Maurice and Leoline examined the room more carefully. He opened the bookcase, and attempted to take out one of the books, but as soon as he let go the glass frame he had just opened it shut with a snap, and he narrowly escaped pinching his finger. All his efforts to reopen the bookcase were in vain. How very strange," he said. "It opened so easily before." It is probably a spring door," said Leoline. Maurice sat down musingly. I cannot under- stand this place at all," he said, after a pause, and taking Leoline's hand in his own the cold- ness of it startled him, and he then noticed that she was trembling. Leoline, dearest, what is it ?" I don't know," shssaid. "But I thought I heard a low moan, as if some one were in pain I close beside me." They both listened, and after a time the moan I was repeated. There must be someone outside," said Maurice, and be sprang up, opened the window, and called out, Who's thereA gust of cold blew into the room. It must have been the wind, after all, he said. "Shut the window, dear Maurice, and come and talk to me. Everything is so still, and that "Shut the window, dear Maurice, and come and talk to me. Everything is so still, and that picture opposite haunts me, and that moan—for I am sure it was a moaii-niate me so frightened." Maurice drew his fair young wife to him. She nestled herself upon his knee; and they began to talk of what is always the most interesting thing t,) young lovers—themselves and in the pleasant discussion of that congenial subject they soon forgot every other. The night was far advanced, and the houses as still as death. Maurice and Leoline had fallen ¡ asleep in each other's arms. Suddenly a shrill scream echoed through the house. The sleepers were awaked by it. The scream was repeated. Maurice tried to speak, tried to move, but some invisible power held him back, and he could not utter a sound. His wife clung to him, her eyes wild with terror. The fire had died down upon hearth. The window bad been blown open, and the candle blown out. The moonlight streamed into the room. The scream ceased. The attention of both Maurice and Leoline was now involuntarily attracted by the large portrait opposite them. Tte head of the portrait slowly moved; the mournful eyes turned with a look of supplication towards them. The whole portrait moved the hands were lifted from the arms, of the chair, on which they had been resting in the picture; the figure of the old man rose, straightened itself, stepped out of the frame, and disappeared. The picture frame was empty. The blank wall behind it was distinctly visible in the moonlight.. At this blank wall the terrified owners of the Red Manor were still staring mechanically, when they became conscious of a dusky space in the centre of it, which appeared to be a wooden panel. The panel, as they watched it, slid noisely into the wall. The aperture it revealed was impenetrably dark; but out of the darkness of it a horrible image now emerged. This imagaUad the abearance of an old hag, in a loose, black garment, the hood of which was drawn over her head, completely concealing all her features except the mouth. The expres- sion of that one feature, however, was ghastly in the extreme. The lips seemed shrivelled away from the igumles, aud projecting teeth, which glittered in the moonlight, tightly clenched as if in a contortion of pain or passion. The apparition in its place, and the human beings in theirs, thus stood confronting each other all three for a while silent and im- moveable. Presently, however, a long black sleeve was lifted and stretched through the empty picture-frame a bunch of bony fingers, long nnr?. sharp as the claws of a bird of prey, protruded fro the black sleeve, and slowly opened and shut, as if clutching at some invisible prey. A low chuckling sound was audible underjthe black hood, and the apparition was no longer in the picture- frame. It was now in the room itself. The hag ap- proached the lovers. Again the silence was broken by a shrill scream. This time, however, it was a I human scretm-tlit scream of Leoline for the hag was stooping over her. She seemed, to whisper something (something which to Maurice was inaudible) into the ear of the senseless form he now held in his arms. Then the hooded face turned towards him. He saw the glittering teeth a sensation of intense cold seized him, and I he too lost consciousness. How lone: Lord Maurice Chistlewood remained insensible he knew not. It was still dark when he recovered from the swoon into which he had fallen. The moon was setting. The dawn had not yet broken, and only a dim grey light came from the uncurtained window. He awoke with a sensation of numbness, as one who had been stunned by a heavy blow or a severe fall. His wife was lying beside him on the floor. She was still insensible. He spokL-Ito her she made no answer, but she was breathing heavily. Not dead, thank God!" he exclaimed, as he lifted her gently in his arms, and, with his precious burden groped his way to the door of the bedroom. The door was shut. but a dull light was shining through the chinks of it, and as he opened it Maurice per- ceived, to his surprise, that the bedroom fire was burning brightly. It lit up the whole room with a cheerful ruddy glow, and the flickering gleam of it played warmly among the crimson folds of the heavy bed-curtains, which were closely drawn. Maurice felt his strength and spirits rapidly reviving in the warm atmosphere and comfortable aspect of the room. He bent over the face cf his beautiful wife, who still lay insensible'in his arms. Her eyes were closed, and the look of pain and terror upon her countenance vividly recalled to him the ghastly experiences of the room he had just left. He shut the door behind him, but was unable to lock it. The lar;} brass box-lock attached to the door, could it have been used, would have been stout enough to withstand the heaviest pressure, but there was no key in it, and the old-fashioned door-bolt, which seemed to have been added as an extra precaution, had been removed from the brass sockets. Maurice hastened to the bed, and, still support- ing Leoline on one arm,with tha otirer drew aside the heavy curtain. As he drew it the warm fire- light fell brightly over the coverlet, and, to his amazement and horror, he beheld the old man sitting up in the bed, wide awake, and looking steadily at him. At this sight his indignation and anger was even greater than his horror. Miserable and impudent impostor he exclaimed—but again, as before, his utterance was stifled by a sudden and mysterious paralysis of power. All the nerves of sensation remained acutely, and, indeed, preternatuially active, but the nerve of motion seemed to have suddenly lost their function, and no longer responded to the will. The old man's face was the same as that of the portrait in the sitting-room. His eyes had an expression of intense and painful expecta- tion, as if he were watching for some- thing, and the full blaze of the fire illuminated his face, which was deeply wrinkled and very hairy. Maurice could not avert his own eyes from this singular figure. The two men (if two men they were) gazed steadily and silently at each other but the old man seemed to be gazing not so much at Maurice as through him, and at something behind, or behond him. The next moment Maurice was again conscious of a sudden sensation of cold, similar to what he had ex- perienced in the adjoining room at the approach of the old hag. The light between the fire-place and the bed was slowly darkened by a faint, form- less, indefinite shadow.iThe old man's eyes were fixed upon it with a dilating glare of intense animosity, mingled with extreme fear like the look in the eyes of u savage animal at the approach of a savage master. The shadow strengthened, I as it were, in substance, but not in form that is to say, it grew darker and denser, and at last completely > paque but all its outlines seemed blurred and fluctuating, as if from the quickness of some strong inside motion, confined within a narrow space like the spokes of a wheel when it turns swiftly, or the figures on a banner violently agitated by the wind. Then the old man stretched out, towards the approaching shadow, a long hairy arm, as if to repel it. Again that low chuckling sound, which Maurice recalled with a shudder; and in the central darkness of the shadow there was a momementary sinister gleam of white teeth, and a quick clutching movement as of dusky prongs or fingers convul- sively opening and shutting. The shadow was now close to the bed. The old man sank back upon the pillow. The shadow was upon him, and then between the palpable, human form, and the impalpable, inhuman formlessness, there seemed to be a terrible struggle, all the more terrible because it was absolutely noiseless. No description of a nightmare, however vividly the details of it may be recalled by the awakened dreamer, can convey to others, or even to his own waking senses, any adequate idea of the abject and impotent horror of its sensation during sleep; nor can any description of this noiseless struggle represent the sensations with which it was watched by Maurice Chistlewood; till at last the increasing: terror of it become intolerable, and he fairly screamed aloud at the pitch of his voice. The sound of his own scream at once dis- solved the spell which had been upon him, Panting and gasping, as if he himself had been in conflict with some impalpable but tremendous power, ho passed, with a desperate effort of the will, and a confused but deliciously, thankful sense of escape, from an unnatural in a natural condition of consciousness. The apparitions that had haunted him were no more and, if the fire- light were the element in which they lived, it, too, had gone out. The dawn, grey and cold, but clear, was in the wintry sky. He looked around him, the bed was empty, the bed clothes undisturbed. He placed Leoline upon it, drew her hands in his, sank down by the bedside, laid his head upon the hand he clasped, and exclaimed, Thank God!" Deeply seated in the human nature is the instinct of prayer and thanksgiving, and, whatever his race, his creed, or his language, man's first impulse in the moment of escape from some awful peril, or some awful fear, is to exclaim —" Thank God Maurice was still in this posture when he heard steps in the passage, and some one opening, not the door he had closed, but the one leading to the staircase. Maurice's nerves were still so upset that he shrank from ascertaining the cause of these sounds, and did not lift his head, though he heard two people enter the room and|approach;the bed. A hand was laid upon him, and he felt it stroking him all over, with a doubtful, inquisitive touch. "Jim," said the voico 'of Mrs Crotchet in a tone of grim satisfaction, he's dead; she's dead: they're both dead-dead as two stones. Hi' hi! hi!" Maurice sprang to his feet. "You wretched old people," he exclaimed, "what are you doing here ?" The old woman screamed, but her hus- band said, with a malicious grin, "Bless, yer, sir, we only thought ye was both dead." "Dead? And why should you think so, vil- lain, eh?" Only, sir, because people who come to visit this house Sometimes do die; can't tell why, to be sure but I've seen strange things here myself." "You wretch," cried Maurice, attempting to seize him, but the old man evaded his grasp. "You wretch? what infamous tricks have you and that villainous old hag presumed to play upon mp and my wife this night 7" Will Crochet laughed. "So you've been frightened by the old man's spirit, have ye ?" n