Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Haunted House - An American Sketch 1890

THE HAUNTED HOUSE - AN AMERICAN SKETCH 1890 (article in The Guernsey Magazine)

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The small town of Derby, in the northern part of New York, is made up principally of the residences of rich old families whose ancestors lived there generations before them. They have jealously guarded their little hamlet against the entrance of any kind of business enterprise; and although there are a few small shops vending groceries and a general array of poor merchandise, they do not disturb the peaceful quiet of the place.

Derby is located right in the heart of what was once the scene of battle. It has many historical houses; probably the most interesting of which iB an old stono mansion a few miles out from the town, in which General Washington at one time took up his head-quarters.

The house is now so overgrown with ivy and other trailing vines that the windows and doors are completely closed by the interwoven covering of green, rank weeds and moss have covered the yard and obliterated all traces of paths. The trees about it stand thick and dark. The stone fences are broken and crumbling away. The benighted traveller quickens his homeward step when he passes this lonely place. Little wonder that the simple country folk tell so many uncanny tales about it, and always refer to it with awe as the haunted house.

At the time this story opens, my younger brother and I had just returned from college to spend our summer vacation at home. The haunted house just at this time was receiving an unusual number of ghostly visits. Lights were seen glinting ont of windows and through the thick foliage. A spectre appeared in the form of a white-bearded old man, who stalked around the house, uttering unearthly moans and cries, accompanied by the clanking of chains. These wonderful tales aronsed our curiosity.

"Jack," said Arthur one day, "suppose we visit the haunted house and try to discover the ghost?"

"Agreed!" I responded, always ready for an adventure. So we took our afternoon gallop in that direction, and soon arrived at the gloomy old place.

"This seems like the abode of spirits even in bright sunshine," said Arthnr.

"It does indeed. Suppose we go in." "Let us look about the grounds first."

We dismounted, tied our horses to the rust-eaten posts by the roadside, and passed through the creaking gate. On reaching the corner of the house, I noticed what proved to be a well-trodden path leading to the back entrance.

"This ghost seems heavy of foot," I said to Arthur, who was slightly in advance.

Without answering, he cautiously called baek, as if afraid of being overheard— "This way, quick!"

I hurried towards him. He stood holding the thick vines apart, revealing a newly-made wooden door, secured with a heavy iron bar and lock.

"What do you think of that?" he asked.

"Something more material than ghosts are at work here. Let us make a thorough examination, Arthur."

We continned our search, and discovered, here and there, patches of trampled grass; at the extreme end of the house, Arthur picked up a piece of metal about the size of a silver dollar.

"Jack," he said, excitedly, "I rather think our ghosts are a gang of counterfeiters."

"If so, they only work at night. Suppose we try to trap them."

"I should like nothing better."

"Then not a word at home, remember! Father would be sure to spoil the sport if he suspected our purpose."

"Oh, you can rely upon me."

We rode home in great excitement, but managed to keep our secret, and on the evening of the next day went out with our guns for the alleged purpose of shooting crows.

A brisk walk brought us to our destination. There we hid ourselves in a thicket directly in front of the gloomy mansion, and settled ourselves for a tedious wait.

Hours passed. Arthur had long ago fallen asleep, and I nearly followed his example. The night was intensely dark and still. I was about to wake Arthur and give up our vigil, when a gleam of light flashed before our eyes, shining first from one vine-covered window, and then another. In a few minntes the light disappeared, and all was darkness.

I was terribly frightened, but awaited further developments. Soon came a series of blood-curdling groans, accompanied by the clanking of chains. Then a shrill whistle sounded. Straining my eyes through the darkness, I saw three men meet at the front of the house, and then disappear. Each had an odd-shaped bundle. I heard a door open and close, and all was still.

Recovering from my fright, I held a hand over Arthur's mouth to prevent an outcry, and awoke him. In a few words I told him all I had seen, and we decided to follow the men.

We crawled ont of the thicket with great caution, and gained the back of the house unobserved. I noticed a faint ray of light coming from the room in which Arthur had found the new door, and we cautiously approached the window, parted the vines, and peered in. There, in the dimly-lighted room, grouped about a table containing piles of coin and a complete counterfeiting outfit, stood four men busily at work. They were rough, desperate-looking fellows, and armed to the teeth.

"What do you say, Arthur? Shall we tackle them?" I whispered.

For answer my young brother showed a clean pair of heels, and I quickly followed his prudent example. The town clock struck two as we breathlessly entered our home. Father was anxiously waiting for us. We told him what we had seen. He laughed at first, but when he saw our pale, scared faces he believed the story, and promised to act upon it without delay.

Within forty-eight hours the counterfeiters were captured and committed to jail. They were old offenders, and dexterous in evading detection, but this time they were trapped. Of course it was with them that the ghost stories originated; one of their number personating the spectre which had so long and successfully deceived the simple country people.

The haunted house is rapidly crumbling away; but it receives no more spectral visits, and through the curiosity of two college boys the country is rid of a band of dangerous criminals.

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