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There is no place in the kingdom one would deem more likely to be haunted than that strange conglomeration of rooms, castles, and dungeons, known as the Tower of London. For many centuries it has been the scene of numberless deaths by violence, some by public execution and others by private murder, until it is scarcely metaphorical language to declare that its walls have been built out of human bones and cemented by human blood. That ghosts and spectres have haunted its weird precincts no believer in the supernatural can doubt; and, if we may credit all that has been told of it of late years, its apparitions are not yet quite beings of the past. In Notes and Queries for 1860, the late Edmund Lenthal Swifte, Keeper of the Crown Jewels, published a remarkable account of a spectral illusion witnessed by himself in the time-honoured fortress; and his account, together with such additions and explanations as a subsequent correspondence invoked, shall now be presented to the reader:—-
"I have often purposed to leave behind me a faithful record of all that I personally know of this strange story," writes Mr. Swifte, in response to an inquiry as to particulars of the ghost in the Tower of London. "Forty-three years have passed, and its impression is as vividly before me as on the moment of its occurrence . . . but there are yet survivors who can testify;
that I have not at any time either amplified or abridged my ghostly experiences."
"In 1814 I was appointed Keeper of the Crown Jewels in the Tower, where I resided with my family till my retirement in 1852. One Saturday night in October, 1817, about 'the witching hour,' I was at supper with my wife, her sister, and our little boy, in the sitting-room of the Jewel House, which—-then comparatively modernised—-is said to have been the 'doleful prison' of Anne Boleyn, and of the ten bishops whom Oliver Cromwell piously accommodated therein. . . .
"The room was-—as it still is—-irregularly shaped, having three doors and two windows, which last are cut nearly nine feet deep into the outer wall; between these is a chimney-piece, projecting far into the room, and (then) surmounted with a large oil-painting. On the night in question the doors were all closed, heavy and dark cloth curtains were let down over the windows, and the only light in the room was that of two candles on the table; I sate at the foot of the table, my son on my right hand, his mother fronting the chimney-piece, and her sister on the opposite side. I had offered a glass of wine and water to my wife, when, on putting it to her lips, she paused, and exclaimed, 'Good God! what is that?' I looked up, and saw a cylindrical figure, like a glass-tube, seemingly about the thickness of my arm, and hovering between the ceiling and the table; its contents appeared to be a dense fluid, white and pale azure, like to the gathering of a summer-cloud, and incessantly mingling within the cylinder This lasted about two minutes, when it began slowly to move before my sister-in-law; then, following the oblong-shape of the table, before my son and myself; passing behind my wife, it paused for a moment over her right shoulder [observe, there was no mirror opposite to her in which she could there behold it]. Instantly she crouched down, and with both hands covering her shoulder, she shrieked out, '0 Christ! It has seized me!' Even now, while writing, I feel the fresh horror of that moment. I caught up my chair, struck at the wainscot behind her, rushed up-stairs to the other children's room, and told the terrified nurse what I had seen. Meanwhile, the other domestics had hurried into the parlour, where their mistress recounted to them the scene, even as I was detailing it above stairs.
"The marvel," adds Mr. Swifte, "of all this is enhanced by the fact that neither my sister-in-law nor my son beheld this 'appearance.' When I the next morning related the night's horror to our chaplain, after the service in the Tower church, he asked me, might not one person have his natural senses deceived? And if one, why might not two? My answer was, if two, why not two thousand? an argument which would reduce history, secular or sacred, to a fable."
"Our chaplain," remarked Mr. Swifte in a subsequent communication to Notes and Queries, "suggested the possibilities of some foolery having been intromitted at my windows, and proposed the visit of a scientific friend, who minutely inspected the parlour, and made the closest investigation, but could not in any way solve the mystery."
In reply to further communications later on, the Jewel-Keeper stated that his wife did not perceive any form in the cylindrical tube, but only the cloud or vapour which both of them at once described. Her health was not affected, nor was her life terminated, as had been suggested, by the apparition which both had seen; nor could it have been, as Mr. Swifte pertinently pointed out, a fog or vapour that seized his wife by the shoulder. Finally, replying to the suggestion of "phantasmagoric agency," Mr. Swifte not only made it clear that no optical action from outside could have produced any manifestation within, through the thick curtains, but also, that the most skilful operator could not produce an appearance visible to only half the persons present, and that could bodily lay hold of one individual among them. The mystery remains unsolved.
A more tragical incident, following hard on the visitation to his own habitation, is thus alluded to by Mr. Swifte; and although the tale has been told by many, and in many different ways, as he was so closely connected with it, it is but just that the Keeper's version should be the one accepted.
"One of the night-sentries at the Jewel Office," records our authority, "was alarmed by a figure like a huge bear issuing from underneath the jewel-room door,"-—as ghostly a door as ever was opened to or closed on a doomed man. "He thrust at it with his bayonet, which stuck in the door, even as my chair dinted the wainscot; he dropped in a fit, and was carried senseless to the guard-room.
"When on the morrow I saw the unfortunate soldier in the main guard-room," continues Mr. Swifte, "his fellow-sentinel was also there, and testified to having seen him on his post just before the alarm, awake and alert, and even spoken to him. Moreover, I then heard the poor man tell his own story. ... I saw him once again on the following day, but changed beyond my recognition; in another day or two the brave and steady soldier, who would have mounted a breach or led a forlorn hope with unshaken nerves, died at the presence of a shadow."
Mr. George Offor, referring to this tragedy, speaks of strange noises having also been heard when the figure resembling a bear was seen by the doomed soldier.