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 Haunted Houses by Charles G. Harper (1907)

But, nevertheless, the era of the haunted house has long been on the wane. There is too much intellectual priggishness prevalent nowadays for the fine old crusted tales of the Moated Grange and its spectral inhabitants to attract more than an amused tolerance, as things only fitting for children. To an age which knows so much more than was known fifty years ago, and therefore presumes that it has arrived at a complete knowledge of all there is to know in heaven and earth, talk of spirits is foolishness.

 

In times such as these, when the traditional robin on his snow-clad spray of holly has been banished from the Christmas card, and such un-Christmassy things as roses and tropical flowers are pictured instead, the time-honoured tales of Christmas parties are outworn and disregarded, and hair-raising stories of ghosts, told by the flickering fire before the as dinner; nor, later, send the guests to bed with raw nerves that jump at every shadow.

 

That kind of thing was worn threadbare in Christmas numbers m any years ago, but the time is already circling round to the old convention again. Only, it is a little unfortunate that much of the appropriate setting of ghost stories been destroyed. There are many blood-curdling legends, but their native homes have largely been demolished, and in some cases rebuilt; and ghosts do not very appropriately haunt houses less than a hundred years old. Ghosts and newly completed even newly furnished houses are antipathic things.

 

You require, for a moderately complete installation, a manor house , with wine-cellars, a butler, old family portraits (not necessarily those of your own family), and if you can manage old oak panelling and tapestry hangings (let them, if possible, be arras so much the better. Such is a moderate specification of requirements; but the ideal appointments, now that in these days the typical country house is warmed with hot water pipes and lighted by electricity, and has telephones, and is in every way up to date, are difficult to find. In the ideal haunted house, or Christmas scene of ghost stories, the guest, primed with ancestral horrors, went to bed with apprehension, leaving the warm dining room for some vast woe-be-gone chamber, with a bed like a catafalque and hangings of a bygone age; with mysterious cupboards in which a dozen family skeletons might reside, and with a floor whose every board had a separate and distinctive squeak. It would nowadays be difficult to secure a house-party on such terms.

 

Manor houses we have still with us, but their number, as compared with the myriads of newly built villas in the suburbs, is woefully small. You cannot hope to find a White Lady on the staircase of a 30 house down Wandsworth way, or a Radiant Boy domiciled in a Brompton flat; and an ancestral drummer who parades the premises, prophetically drumming disaster, is not to be expected within hail of Finsbury Park.

 

This is very sad, for a family ghost is a possession that in these times, when antiquities are prized, would be greatly welcomed by many estimable folk. The Uncanny and the Inexplicable, seated invisible (but yet making their presence felt) by the hearthstone, would themselves give a cachet of respectability, or, at least, of long descent, to a domestic circle; and so long as they did not play their ghostly parts so earnestly as to send the servants into hysterics and render the house uninhabitable, would thus be prized possessions. There would be nothing, for example, to fear from the gentle spook or spooks who, on the impeccable authority of Henry Kingsley, used to share residence of Barnack Rectory, Northamptonshire, with the Kingsley family, and only make its, or their presence known by stertorous breathings, rustlings, and scratchings, and by stroking the heads of the children, who at last grew quite familiar with, and unafraid of, it and used to call it pet names! Ghosts of this kind are the low comedians of the spirit world.

 

It is much better to read of the breath of the bogey in your hair, as Robert Louis Stevenson phrases it, than to f eel that chilling breath in some mouldy corridor. Cold and gruesome gusts that may indicate open easements or a broken window pane, but stir the hair of the nervous and make it bristle as though the phantasmal hands of some Whit e Lady had been run through their looks, are not liked when personally experienced; and up-to-date visitors nurse an odd prejudice against the dark staircase of the goblin hall, hung with the sombre portraits of ancestors who, afflicted with a Family Curse, step out of their frames at the sound of the midnight bell.



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