Although the Halloween season on the blog is coming to a close, we couldn’t resist posting one more 19th-century ghost story – this time by Charlotte Riddell.
Born in County Antrim in 1832, Charlotte Cowan moved to London with her mother after her father’s death. Much of her early work was published under the pseudonym F.G Trafford and after marriage to Joseph Hadley Riddell in 1857, she used her married title – Mrs. J.H Riddell.
A prolific author with over fifty books to her name, it is perhaps surprising that Riddell’s work is not more widely known today. Lisa Coen and Sarah Davis-Goff offer some explanation for this in their statement that:
“Riddell’s three-volume novels fell out of fashion when the industry retired the practice of serialising long works, and after her death in 1906 her notoriety faded.”
In 2014, the founders of the Irish publishing house, Tramp Press, Coen and Davis-Goff sought to introduce one of Riddell’s neglected works to a new generation of readers by re-issuing her “caustic, funny semi-autobiographical masterpiece” – A Struggle for Fame as part of their “Recovered Voices” series. As they note:
“It is worth asking ourselves why some books are canon and others vanish. Sometimes it’s simply because no one puts forward the money for a reprint while copyright is held; by the time the work is in the public domain, often many decades later, the work may be all but forgotten. This is understandable, but it has in this case led to the neglect of an important Irish writer.”
To give you a flavour of Riddell’s work, we have reproduced the first part of her supernatural tale “The Open Door” below – a story that first appeared as part of her Weird Stories collection in 1882.
THE OPEN DOOR – Charlotte Riddell
Some people do not believe in ghosts. For that matter, some people do not believe in anything. There are persons who even affect incredulity concerning that open
door at Ladlow Hall. They say it did not stand wide open–that they could have shut it; that the whole affair was a delusion; that they are sure it must have been a conspiracy; that they are doubtful whether there is such a place as Ladlow on the face of the earth; that the first time they are in Meadowshire they will look it up.
That is the manner in which this story, hitherto unpublished, has been greeted by my acquaintances. How it will be received by strangers is quite another matter. I am going to tell what happened to me exactly as it happened, and readers can credit or scoff at the tale as it pleases them. It is not necessary for me to find faith and comprehension in addition to a ghost story, for the world at large. If such were the case, I should lay down my pen.
Perhaps, before going further, I ought to premise there was a time when I did not believe in ghosts either. If you had asked me one summer’s morning years ago when you met me on London Bridge if I held such appearances to be probable or possible, you would have received an emphatic ‘No’ for answer.
But, at this rate, the story of the Open Door will never be told; so we will, with your permission, plunge into it immediately.
‘What do you want?’
‘Should you like to earn a sovereign?’
‘Of course I should.’
A somewhat curt dialogue, but we were given to curtness in the office of Messrs Frimpton, Frampton and Fryer, auctioneers and estate agents, St Benet’s Hill, City.
(My name is not Sandy or anything like it, but the other clerks so styled me because of a real or fancied likeness to some character, an ill-looking Scotchman, they had seen at the theatre. From this it may be inferred I was not handsome. Far from it. The only ugly specimen in my family, I knew I was very plain; and it chanced to be no secret to me either that I felt grievously discontented with my lot. I did not like the occupation of clerk in an auctioneer’s office, and I did not like my employers.
We are all of us inconsistent, I suppose, for it was a shock to me to find they entertained a most cordial antipathy to me.)
‘Because,’ went on Parton, a fellow, my senior by many years–a fellow who delighted in chaffing me, ‘I can tell you how to lay hands on one.’
‘How?’ I asked, sulkily enough, for I felt he was having what he called his fun.
‘You know that place we let to Carrison, the tea-dealer?’ Carrison was a merchant in the China trade, possessed of fleets of vessels and towns of warehouses; but I did not correct Parton’s expression, I simply nodded.
‘He took it on a long lease, and he can’t live in it; and our governor said this morning he wouldn’t mind giving anybody who could find out what the deuce is the matter, a couple of sovereigns and his travelling expenses.’
‘Where is the place?’ I asked, without turning my head; for the convenience of listening I had put my elbows on the desk and propped up my face with both hands.
‘Away down in Meadowshire, in the heart of the grazing country.’
‘And what is the matter?’ I further enquired.
‘A door that won’t keep shut.’
‘A door that will keep open, if you prefer that way of putting it,’ said Parton.
‘You are jesting.’
‘If I am, Carrison is not, or Fryer either. Carrison came here in a nice passion, and Fryer was in a fine rage; I could see he was, though he kept his temper outwardly. They have had an active correspondence it appears, and Carrison went away to talk to his lawyer. Won’t make much by that move, I fancy.’
‘But tell me,’ I entreated, ‘why the door won’t keep shut?’
‘They say the place is haunted.’
‘What nonsense!’ I exclaimed.
Then you are just the person to take the ghost in hand. I thought so while old Fryer was speaking.’
‘If the door won’t keep shut,’ I remarked, pursuing my own train of thought, ‘why can’t they let it stay open?’
‘I have not the slightest idea. I only know there are two sovereigns to be made, and that I give you a present of the information.’
And having thus spoken, Parton took down his hat and went out, either upon his own business or that of his employers.
There was one thing I can truly say about our office, we were never serious in it. I fancy that is the case in most offices nowadays; at all events, it was the case in ours. We were always chaffing each other, playing practical jokes, telling stupid stories, scamping our
work, looking at the clock, counting the weeks to next St Lubbock’s Day, counting the hours to Saturday.
For all that we were all very earnest in our desire to have our salaries raised, and unanimous in the opinion no fellows ever before received such wretched pay. I had twenty pounds a year, which I was aware did not half provide for what I ate at home. My mother and sisters left me in no doubt on the point, and when new clothes were wanted I always hated to mention the fact to my poor worried father.
We had been better off once, I believe, though I never remember the time. My father owned a small property in the country, but owing to the failure of some bank, I never could understand what bank, it had to be mortgaged; then the interest was not paid, and the mortgages foreclosed, and we had nothing left save the half-pay of a major, and about a hundred a year which my mother brought to the common fund.
We might have managed on our income, I think, if we had not been so painfully genteel; but we were always trying to do something quite beyond our means, and consequently debts accumulated, and creditors ruled us with rods of iron.
Before the final smash came, one of my sisters married the younger son of a distinguished family, and even if they had been disposed to live comfortably and sensibly she would have kept her sisters up to the mark. My only brother, too, was an officer, and of course the family thought it necessary he should see we preserved appearances.
It was all a great trial to my father, I think, who had to bear the brunt of the dunning and harass, and eternal shortness of money; and it would have driven me crazy if I had not found a happy refuge when matters were going wrong at home at my aunt’s. She was my father’s sister, and had married so ‘dreadfully below her’ that my mother refused to acknowledge the relationship at all.
For these reasons and others, Parton’s careless words about the two sovereigns stayed in my memory.
I wanted money badly–I may say I never had sixpence in the world of my own–and I thought if I could earn two sovereigns I might buy some trifles I needed for myself, and present my father with a new umbrella. Fancy is a dangerous little jade to flirt with, as I soon discovered.
She led me on and on. First I thought of the two sovereigns; then I recalled the amount of the rent Mr Carrison agreed to pay for Ladlow Hall; then I decided he would gladly give more than two sovereigns if he could only have the ghost turned out of possession. I fancied I might get ten pounds–twenty pounds. I considered the matter all day, and I dreamed of it all night, and when I dressed myself next morning I was determined to speak to Mr Fryer on the subject.
I did so–I told that gentleman Parton had mentioned the matter to me, and that if Mr Fryer had no objection, I should like to try whether I could not solve the mystery. I told him I had been accustomed to lonely houses, and that I should not feel at all nervous; that I did not believe in ghosts, and as for burglars, I was not afraid of them.
‘I don’t mind your trying,’ he said at last. ‘Of course you understand it is no cure, no pay. Stay in the house for a week; if at the end of that time you can keep the door shut, locked, bolted, or nailed up, telegraph for mc, and I will go down–if not, come back. If you like to take a companion there is no objection.’
I thanked him, but said I would rather not have a companion.
‘There is only one thing, sir, I should like,’ I ventured.
‘And that–?’ he interrupted.
‘Is a little more money. If I lay the ghost, or find out the ghost, I think I ought to have more than two sovereigns.’
‘How much more do you think you ought to have?’ he asked.
His tone quite threw me off my guard, it was so civil and conciliatory, and I answered boldly:
‘Well, if Mr Carrison cannot now live in the place perhaps he wouldn’t mind giving me a ten-pound note.’
Mr Fryer turned, and opened one of the books lying on his desk. He did not look at or refer to it in any war–I saw that.
‘You have been with us how long, Edlyd?’ he said.
‘Eleven months tomorrow,’ I replied.
‘And our arrangement was, I think, quarterly payments, and one month’s notice on either side?’
‘Yes, sir.’ I heard my voice tremble, though I could not have said what frightened me.
‘Then you will please to take your notice now. Come in before you leave this evening, and I’ll pay you three months’ salary, and then we shall be quits.’
‘I don’t think I quite understand,’ I was beginning, when he broke in:
‘But I understand, and that’s enough. I have had enough of you and your airs, and your indifference, and your insolence here. I never had a clerk I disliked as I do you. Coming and dictating terms, forsooth! No, you shan’t go to Ladlow. Many a poor chap’–(he said ‘devil’) – ‘would have been glad to earn half a guinea, let alone two sovereigns;
and perhaps you may be before you are much older.’
‘Do you mean that you won’t keep me here any longer, sir?’ I asked in despair. I had no intention of offending you. I–‘
‘Now you need not say another word,’ he interrupted, ‘for I won’t bandy words with you.
Since you have been in this place you have never known your position, and you don’t seem able to realize it. When I was foolish enough to take you, I did it on the strength of your connections, but your connections have done nothing for mc. I have never had a penny out of any one of your friends–if you have any. You’ll not do any good in business for yourself or anybody else, and the sooner you go to Australia’–(here he was very emphatic)–and get off these premises, the better I shall be pleased.’
I did not answer him–I could not. He had worked himself to a white heat by this time, and evidently intended I should leave his premises then and there. He counted five pounds out of his cash-box, and, writing a receipt, pushed it and the money across the table, and bade
me sign and be off at once.
My hand trembled So I could scarcely hold the pen, but I had presence of mind enough left to return one pound ten in gold, and three shillings and fourpence I had, quite by the merest good fortune, in my waistcoat pocket.
‘I can’t take wages for work I haven’t done,’ I said, as well as sorrow and passion would let me. ‘Good-morning,’ and I left his office and passed out among the clerks.
I took from my desk the few articles belonging to me, left the papers it contained in order, and then, locking it, asked Parton if he would be so good as to give the key to Mr Fryer.
‘What’s up?’ he asked ‘Are you going?’
I said, ‘Yes, I am going’.
‘Got the sack?’
‘That is exactly what has happened.’
‘Well, I’m–!’ exclaimed Mr Parton.
I did not stop to hear any further commentary on the matter, but bidding my fellow-clerks goodbye, shook the dust of Frimpton’s Estate and Agency Office from off my feet.
I did not like to go home and say I was discharged, so I walked about aimlessly, and at length found myself in Regent Street. There I met my father, looking more worried than usual.
‘Do you think, Phil,’ he said (my name is Theophilus), ‘you could get two or three pounds from your employers?’
Maintaining a discreet silence regarding what had passed, I answered:
‘No doubt I could.’
I shall be glad if you will then, my boy,’ he went on, for we are badly in want of it.’
I did not ask him what was the special trouble. Where would have been the use? There was always something–gas, or water, or poor-rates, or the butcher, or the baker, or the bootmaker.
Well, it did not much matter, for we were well accustomed to the life; but, I thought, ‘if ever I marry, we will keep within our means’. And then there rose up before me a vision of Patty, my cousin–the blithest, prettiest, most useful, most sensible girl that ever made sunshine in poor man’s house.
My father and I had parted by this time, and I was still walking aimlessly on, when all at once an idea occurred to me. Mr Fryer had not treated me well or fairly. I would hoist him on his own petard. I would go to headquarters, and try to make terms with Mr Carrison direct.
No sooner thought than done. I hailed a passing omnibus, and was ere long in the heart of the city. Like other great men, Mr Carrison was difficult of access–indeed, so difficult of access, that the clerk to whom I applied for an audience told me plainly I could not see him at all. I might send in my message if I liked, he was good enough to add, and no doubt it would be attended to. I said I should not send in a message, and was then asked what I would do. My answer was simple. I meant to wait till I did see him. I was told they could not have people waiting about the office in this way.
I said I supposed I might stay in the street. ‘Carrison didn’t own that,’ I suggested.
The clerk advised me not to try that game, or I might get locked up.
I said I would take my chance of it.
After that we went on arguing the question at some length, and we were in the middle of a heated argument, in which several of Carrison’s ‘young gentlemen’, as they called themselves, were good enough to join, when we were all suddenly silenced by a grave-looking individual, who authoritatively enquired:
‘What is all this noise about?’
Before anyone could answer I spoke up:
‘I want to see Mr Carrison, and they won’t let me.’
‘What do you want with Mr Garrison?’
‘I will tell that to himself only.’
‘Very well, say on–I am Mr Garrison.’
For a moment I felt abashed and almost ashamed of my persistency; next instant, however, what Mr Fryer would have called my ‘native audacity’ came to the rescue, and I said, drawing a step or two nearer to him, and taking off my hat:
‘I wanted to speak to you about Ladlow hall, if you please, sir.’
In an instant the fashion of his face changed, a look of irritation succeeded to that of immobility; an angry contraction of the eyebrows disfigured the expression of his countenance.
‘Ladlow Hall!’ he repeated; ‘and what have you got to say about Ladlow
‘That is what I wanted to tell you, sir,’ I answered, and a dead hush seemed to fall on the office as I spoke.
The silence seemed to attract his attention, for he looked sternly at the clerks, who were not using a pen or moving a finger.
‘Come this way, then,’ he said abruptly; and next minute I was in his private office.
‘Now, what is it?’ he asked, flinging himself into a chair, and addressing me, who stood hat in hand beside the great table in the middle of the room.
I began–I will say he was a patient listener–at the very beginning, and told my story straight trough. I concealed nothing. I enlarged on nothing. A discharged clerk I stood before him, and in the capacity of a discharged clerk I said what I had to say. He heard me to the end, then he sat silent, thinking.
At last he spoke.
‘You have heard a great deal of conversation about Ladlow, I suppose?’ he remarked.
‘No sir; I have heard nothing except what I have told you.’
‘And why do you desire to strive to solve such a mystery?’
‘If there is any money to be made, I should like to make it, sir.’
‘How old are you?’
‘Two-and-twenty last January.’
‘And how much salary had you at Frimpton’s?’
‘Twenty pounds a year.’
‘Humph! More than you are worth, I should say.’
‘Mr Fryer seemed to imagine so, sir, at any rate,’ I agreed,
‘But what do you think?’ he asked, smiling in spite of himself.
‘I think I did quite as much work as the other clerks,’ I answered.
‘That is not saying much, perhaps,’ he observed. I was of his opinion, but I held my peace.
‘You will never make much of a clerk, I am afraid,’ Mr Garrison proceeded, fitting his disparaging remarks upon me as he might on a lay figure. ‘You don’t like desk work?’
‘Not much, sir.’
‘I should judge the best thing you could do would be to emigrate,’ he went on, eyeing me critically.
‘Mr Fryer said I had better go to Australia or–‘ I stopped, remembering the alternative that gentleman had presented.
‘Or where?’ asked Mr Carrison.
‘The—, sir’ I explained, softly and apologetically.
He laughed–he lay back in his chair and laughed–and I laughed myself, though ruefully.
After all, twenty pounds was twenty pounds, though I had not thought much of the salary till I lost it. We went on talking for a long time after that; he asked me all about my father and my early life, and how we lived, and where we lived, and the people we knew; and, in fact, put more questions than I can well remember.
‘It seems a crazy thing to do,’ he said at last; ‘and yet I feel disposed to trust you. The house is standing perfectly empty. I can’t live in it, and I can’t get rid of it; all my own furniture I have removed, and there is nothing in the place except a few old fashioned articles belonging to Lord Ladlow. The place is a loss to me. It is of no use trying to let it, and thus, in fact, matters are at a deadlock. You won’t be able to find out anything, I know, because, of course, have tried to solve the mystery ere now; still, if you like to try you may. I will make this bargain with you.
If you like to go down, I will pay your reasonable expenses for afortnight; and if you do any good for mc, I will give you a ten-pound note for yourself. Of course I must be satisfied that what you have told me is true and tat you are what you represent. Do you know anybody in the city who would speak for you?
‘I could think of no one but my uncle. I hinted to Mr Carrison he was not grand enough or rich enough, perhaps, but I knew nobody else to whom I could refer him.’What!’ he said, ‘Robert Dorland, of Cullum Street. He does business with us. If he will go bail for your good behaviour I shan’t want any further guarantee. Come along.’ And to my intense amazement, he rose, put on his hat, walked me across the outer office and along the pavements till we came to Cullum Street.
‘Do you know this youth, Mr Dorland?’ he said, standing in front of my uncle’s desk, and laying a hand on my shoulder.
‘Of course I do, Mr Carrison,’ answered my uncle, a little apprehensively; for, as he told me afterwards, he could not imagine what mischief I had been up to. ‘He is my nephew.’
‘And what is your opinion of him–do you think he is a young fellow I may safely trust?’
My uncle smiled, and answered, ‘That depends on what you wish to trust him with.’
‘A long column of addition, for instance.’
‘It would be safer to give that task to somebody else.’
‘Oh, uncle!’ I remonstrated; for I had really striven to conquer my natural antipathy to figures–worked hard, and every bit of it against the collar.
My uncle got off his stool, and said, standing with his back to the empty fire-grate: ‘Tell me what you wish the boy to do, Mr Carrison, and I will tell you whether he will suit your purpose or not. I know him, I believe, better than he knows himself.’ In an easy, affable way, for so rich a man, Mr Carrison took possession of the vacant stool, and nursing his right leg over his left knee, answered:
‘He wants to go and shut the open door at Ladlow for me. Do you think he can do that?’
My uncle looked steadily back at the speaker, and said, ‘I thought, Mr Carrison, it was quite settled no one could shut it?’ Mr Carrison shifted a little uneasily on his scat, and replied: I did not set your nephew the task he fancies he would like to undertake.’
‘Have nothing to do with it, Phil,’ advised my uncle, shortly.
‘You don’t believe in ghosts, do you, Mr Dorland?’ asked Mr Carrison, with a slight sneer.
‘Don’t you, Mr Carrison?’ retorted my uncle. There was a pause–an uncomfortable pause–during the course of which I felt the ten pounds, which, in imagination, I had really spent, trembling in the scale. I was not afraid. For ten pounds, or half the money, I would have faced all the inhabitants of spirit land. I longed to tell them so; but something in the way those two men looked at each other stayed my tongue.
‘If you ask me the question here in the heart of the city, Mr Dorland,’ said Mr Carrison, at length, slowly and carefully, ‘I answer”No”; but it you were to put it to me on a dark night at Ladlow, I should beg time to consider. I do not believe in supernatural phenomena myself, and yet–the door at Ladlow is as much beyond my comprehension as the ebbing and flowing of the sea.’
‘And you can’t Live at Ladlow?’ remarked my uncle.
‘I can’t live at Ladlow, and what is more, I can’t get anyone else to live at Ladlow.’
‘And you want to get rid of your lease?’
‘I want so much to get rid of my lease that I told Fryer I would give him a handsome sum if he could induce anyone to solve the mystery. Is there any other information you desire, Mr Dorland? Because if here is, you have only to ask and have. I feel I am not here in a prosaic
office in the city of London, but in the Palace of Truth.’
My uncle took no notice of the implied compliment. When wine is good it needs no bush. If a man is habitually honest in his speech and in his thoughts, he desires no recognition of the fact.
‘I don’t think so,’ he answered; ‘it is for the boy to say what he will do. If he be advised by me he will stick to his ordinary work in his employers’ office, and leave ghost-hunting and spirit-laying
Mr Carrison shot a rapid glance in my direction, a glance which, implying a secret understanding, might have influenced my uncle could I have stooped to deceive my uncle.
‘I can’t stick to my work there any longer,’ I said. ‘I got my marching orders today.’
‘What had you been doing, Phil?’ asked my uncle.
‘I wanted ten pounds to go and lay the ghost!’ I answered, so dejectedly, that both Mr Carrison and my uncle broke out laughing.
‘Ten pounds!’ cried my uncle, almost between laughing and crying. ‘Why, Phil boy, I had rather, poor man though I am, have given thee ten pounds than that thou should’st go ghost-hunting or ghostlaying.’
When he was very much in earnest my uncle went back to thee and thou of his native dialect. I liked the vulgarism, as my mother called it, and I knew my aunt loved to hear him use the caressing words to her. He had risen, not quite from the ranks it is true, but if ever a
gentleman came ready born into the world it was Robert Dorland, upon whom at our home everyone seemed to look down.
‘What will you do, Edlyd?’ asked Mr Carrison; ‘you hear what your uncle says, “Give up the enterprise,” and what I say; I do not want either to bribe or force your inclinations.’
‘I will go, sir,’ I answered quite steadily. I am not afraid, and I should like to show you–‘ I stopped. I had been going to say, ‘I should like to show you I am not such a fool as you all take me for’,
but I felt such an address would be too familiar, and refrained.
Mr Carrison looked at me curiously. I think he supplied the end of the sentence for himself, but he only answered:
‘I should like you to show me that door fast shut; at any rate, if you can stay in the place alone for a fortnight, you shall have your money.’
‘I don’t like it, Phil,’ said my uncle: ‘I don’t like this freak at all.’
‘I am sorry for that, uncle,’ I answered, ‘for I mean to go.
‘When?’ asked Mr Carrison.
‘Tomorrow morning,’ I replied.
‘Give him five pounds, Dorland, please, and I will send you my cheque. You will account to me for that sum, you understand,’ added Mr Garrison, turning to where I stood.
‘A sovereign will be quite enough,’ I said.
‘You will take five pounds, and account to me for it,’ repeated Mr Carrison, firmly; ‘also, you will write to me every day, to my private address, and if at any moment you feel the thing too much for you, throw it up. Good afternoon,’ and without more formal leavetaking he departed.
‘It is of no use talking to you, Phil, I suppose?’ said my uncle.
‘I don’t think it is,’ I replied; ‘you won’t say anything to them at home, will you?’
‘I am not very likely to meet any of them, am I?’ he answered, without a shade of bitterness—merely stating a fact.
‘I suppose I shall not see you again before I start,’ I said, ‘so I will bid you goodbye now.
‘Goodbye, my lad; I wish I could see you a bit wiser and steadier.’
I did not answer him; my heart was very full, and my eyes too. I had tried, but office-work was not in me, and I felt it was just as vain to ask me to sit on a stool and pore over writing and figures as to
think a person born destitute of musical ability could compose an
Of course I went straight to Patty; though we were not then married, though sometimes it seemed to me as if we never should be married, she was my better half then as she is my better half now.
She did not throw cold water on the project; she did not discourage me. What she said, with her dear face aglow with excitement, was, ‘I only wish, Phil, I was going with you.’ Heaven knows, so did I.
Next morning I was up before the milkman. I had told my people overnight I should be going out of town on business. Patty and I settled the whole plan in detail. I was to breakfast and dress there,
for I meant to go down to Ladlow in my volunteer garments. That was a subject upon which my poor father and I never could agree; he called volunteering child’s play, and other things equally hard to bear; whilst my brother, a very carpet warrior to my mind, was never weary
of ridiculing the force, and chaffing me for imagining I was ‘a soldier’.
Patty and I had talked matters over, and settled, as I have said, that I should dress at her father’s.
A young fellow I knew had won a revolver at a raffle, and willingly lent it to me. With that and my rifle I felt I could conquer an army.
It was a lovely afternoon when I found myself walking through leafy lanes in the heart of Meadowshire. With every vein of my heart I loved the country, and the country was looking its best just then: grass ripe for the mower, grain forming in the ear, rippling streams, dreamy
rivers, old orchards, quaint cottages.
‘Oh that I had never to go back to London,’ I thought, for I am one of the few people left on earth who love the country and hate cities. I walked on, I walked a long way, and being uncertain as to my road, asked a gentleman who was slowly riding a powerful roan horse under
arching trees–a gentleman accompanied by a young lady mounted on a
stiff white pony–my way to Ladlow Hall.
‘That is Ladlow Hall,’ he answered, pointing with his whip over the fence to my left hand. I thanked him and was going on, when he said:
‘No one is living there now.’
‘I am aware of that,’ I answered.
He did not say anything more, only courteously bade me good-day, and rode off. The young lady inclined her head in acknowledgement of my uplifted cap, and smiled kindly. Altogether I felt pleased, little things always did please me. It was a good beginning–half-way to a
When I got to the Lodge I showed Mr Garrison’s letter to the woman, and received the key.
‘You are not going to stop up at the Hall alone, are you, sir?’ she asked.
‘Yes, I am,’ I answered, uncompromisingly, so uncompromisingly that she said no more.
The avenue led straight to the house; it was uphill all the way, and bordered by rows of the most magnificent limes I ever beheld. A light iron fence divided the avenue from the park, and between the trunks of the trees I could see the deer browsing and cattle grazing. Ever and anon there came likewise to my ear the sound of a sheep-bell.
It was a long avenue, but at length I stood in front of the Hall–a square, solid-looking, old-fashioned house, three stories high, with no basement; a flight of steps up to the principal entrance; four windows to the right of the door, four windows to the left; the whole building flanked and backed with trees; all the blinds pulled down, a dead silence brooding over the place: the sun westering behind the great trees studding the park. I took all this in as I approached, and
afterwards as I stood for a moment under the ample porch; then, remembering the business which had brought me so far, I fitted the great key in the lock, turned the handle, and entered Ladlow Hall.
For a minute–stepping out of the bright sunlight–the place looked to me so dark that I could scarcely distinguish the objects by which I was surrounded; but my eyes soon grew accustomed to the comparative darkness, and I found I was in an immense hall, lighted from the roof,
a magnificent old oak staircase conducted to the upper rooms.
The floor was of black and white marble. There were two fireplaces, fitted with dogs for burning wood; around the walls hung pictures, antlers, and horns, and in odd niches and corners stood groups of statues, and the figures of men in complete suits of armour.
To look at the place outside, no one would have expected to find such a hall. I stood lost in amazement and admiration, and then I began to glance more particularly around.
Mr Garrison had not given me any instructions by which to identify the ghostly chamber—which I concluded would most probably be found on the first floor.
I knew nothing of the story connected with it–if there were a story. On that point I had left London as badly provided with mental as with actual luggage–worse provided, indeed, for a hamper, packed by Patty, and a small bag were coming over from the station; but regarding the mystery I was perfectly unencumbered. I had not the faintest idea in which apartment it resided.
Well, I should discover that, no doubt, for myself ere long.
I looked around me–doors–doors–doors I had never before seen so many doors together all at once. Two of them stood open–one wide, the other slightly ajar.
‘I’ll just shut them as a beginning,’ I thought, ‘before I go upstairs.’
To read the rest of Riddell’s tale see here .
Coen, Lisa, and Sarah Davis-Goff. “Rediscovering neglected texts and muted voices“, The Irish Times. Fri Dec 19 2014.