—The Ghost of Eskindale
The Ghost of Eskindale
There has been quite a revival of interest in ghost stories recently. Of course the public does not believe in ghosts, but from time to time some people come forward with the assertion that they have actually seen them. And in many cases seeing is believing. There is a ghost in this story, as the title would indicate, but it’s a genial, beneficent ghost—the creation of Alan Sullivan, the popular Canadian writer, whose work is always a delight to readers.
ESKINDALE MANOR is in Kent and not far from Maidstone. You reach it by a hedge-bordered road that goes over two brooks and then climbs a long ridge that meanders lazily through this most delightful part of the garden of England. On the side of the ridge sits the manor smiling contentedly at the velvet country below. It has two towers, a big banqueting room lined with old portraits and armor, from each end of which long wings ramble off to the north, and on a stone in the west tower is carved “Eskyndale fecit A. D. 1692.”
The unfortunate part of it was that shortly after Eskyndale fecit in 1692 the family wealth practically disappeared. The armor and pictures remained intact, the smooth lawns still spread their carpet around the old house, but it was only by virtue of extraordinary efforts on the part of the builders’ descendants. The burden descended to John Eskindale, the present owner, when he moved from the side of the table to the end of it, and that burden now hung suspended over the head of David. It had always been that way it the family, a David followed a John.
The manor was at its best in June. The reflection came simultaneously to father and son as they looked out through the long morning room winc
flows and watched the rabbits hop across the sparkling lawn, scattering the dew. David was on furlough from service in Egypt. Five years of drought and sand and parching sun had given him a strange appetite for the sweet mistiness of an English summer morning, and, both early risers, they met here through a common and unspoken impulse. So now they felt very near each other, these two to whom the old place meant so much.
Standing a moment in silence, David felt his father’s hand on his shoulder. Tie did not move, he had almost expected it. But there followed his father’s voice and in it a note that was new to David. “It’s good, old chap, it’s very good, but—” he hesitated—“it can’t last.”
David turned suddenly. “Can’t last, sir?”
“I put off telling you as long as possible,” he spoke quietly but with a thin uncertain thread of feeling. “I put it off, because I didn’t want to spoil your holiday—but now you should know. Eskindale must go.”
David’s face whitened underneath its coat of tan. “Why, Dad, what has happened?” he said quickly.
“Only what began to happen two hundred years ago. We are land poor.
We always have been. I have spun it out as long as possible, and can’t go any further. I wanted to turn the place over to you, David—but—”
The young soldier was staring at his father; then he put his own hand firmly on the one that still rested on his shoulder. “What about mother, sir?”
“‘That’s it. I knew you would ask that. She must not know—must never kiiow. You’ll help me, David. It’s going to be a hard pull. We’ll talk of it again, when—”
A door opened and Mrs. Eskindale entered. She was one of those frail and delicately perfect creatures who seem to secure the affection of all by the mere act and effort of keeping alive. Dainty as a bit of her own china, she was the centre of the world for the two men who advanced quickly to meet her. Then breakfast was brought in.
A week later an advertisement appeared in The Field below a photograph of Eskindale Manor, and curiously enough the Eskindale subscription to that most interesting journal terminated on the same day. But it is to the wanderings of one particular copy .of that issue that your attention is invited.
This copy appeared on the smoking room table of the S.S. Hunstanton, Liverpool to New York. It suffered the usual fate of such papers, being left regularly on the floor at night and as regularly replaced by the steward next morning. On the third day out the eye of Benson fell upon an illuminating article on bulldogs. Benson was an owner and breeder of bulldogs, he also was European traveller for the Standard Sewing Machine Company of Newburg, New York. Now whatever touched bulldogs also touched Benson. He read the article carefully twice, and, on the termination of the second reading, looked stealthily around the smoking room. It was empty. A minute later he walked quickly to his cabin, and The Field went with him. You have now the first links of the chain. Eskindale—poverty —Field—bulldogs—Benson—Standard Sewing Machine Company.
Just about thirty years before a lean
New England mechanic had an idea, which was nothing unusual for a New England mechanic. After a good deal of filing and hammering and welding this idea took shape in the form of the famous balanced shuttle on which the Standard Sewing Machine Company was subsequently floated and on which also Hiram Langdon, the lean mechanic, grew with, the growing enterprise, till he filled the president’s chair. Prosperity came and he grew used to it, independence sauntered ¡along and he grew used to it, so with responsibility and all the other things of advancing position. But there were just two things he had never had time to get used to— his wife and daughter.
Now there comes a period in the life of a thinking man when, after years of labor, he begins to consider the gentler side of life. In this period he sees more clearly than ever the enormous value of the companionship of his family and of those benign influences which every good woman exercises on her husband.
Hiram stood at this particular turn of the road, in fact he had been standing there for the last year or so, and it was entirely due to the office boy, who found The Field on the floor by Benson’s desk the day after his return to head office, that Hiram took the step of which you will now be informed.
Why the office boy should have put it on the president’s table is of course due to the fact that office boys are devoid of the bump of location, and it was a physical impossibility for this one to replace anything in its proper position. So it happened, that, as the roar of his factory dwindled into silence at noon, Hiram Langdon’s eye ran down those most interesting pages devoted to English properties for sale, and adorned with the most charming illustrations imaginable. Presently he halted at the following:
“Gentleman’s residence in Kent. Elizabethan mansion. Twenty rooms and offices. One bathroom. Hot and cold water laid on. Thirty acres. Twelve under cultivation, old world gardens and fruit trees. May be purchased
at low price. Positively must be sold. Unequalled opportunity. Apply Messrs. Woodbridge and Flint, 32 Moorgate St., London, E.C.”
Immediately above this was a photograph of the south front of Eskindale Manor.
You will kindly spare the writer of this perfectly authentic narrative the relation of those details involved in the purchase by Hiram Langdon of Eskindale Manor. His wife, a bright-eyed cylindrical person of unexampled energy, rebelled at the contemplation of one bathroom. His daughter Helen raised her beautiful eyebrows and wondered what offices pertained to a private house. But Hiram had visions of morning cigars while he paced tranquilly across those velvet lawns, and, in the correspondence that followed with Messrs. Woodbridge and Flint, those eminently respectable solicitors exhibited such a readiness to serve the purchaser’s wishes that all minor difficulties disappeared as if by magic.
There are no words in which to express the feelings of John Eskindale when he received the first payment from Hiram Langdon. He walked to a window of the rooms they had taken in Sussex Square and stared out on the smooth gray walls and immaculate doorsteps that surrounded him. It hit him hard that he alone of his long line should have to surrender those ancient acres. Then he looked at his wife. The tears were streaming down her delicate cheeks. She had known for months. All their care had not been able to spare her this. So John, like the brave gentleman he was, rammed the cheque into his pocket and smiled, and kissed her very tenderly. “I think, my dear,” he said, “that we had better run over to Paris for a week.”
The new owners took possession on October the first. The next week two box stalls were thrown into one and a gasoline tank was buried beneath the stable floor. The week following an order went to the principal plumber in Maidstone to equip three bathrooms. About the first of November the weather
turned cold and Hiram had a chill. He retaliated by installing a furnace and hot water heating system with innumerable radiators. Then the Langdons got ready to settle down. As to the manner of this settling there is one thing to be observed. They were impressed by a tremendous respect and rapidly growing affection for the place. Helen especially took to it like a bird to some new and fashionable nest. She was tall and very fair, with a broad white forehead and exquisite complexion and features. It seemed as if her mother’s spirit and her father’s brains had amalgamated to adorn her beautiful person. So there was no difficulty in making friends, and by the end of the month Hiram had begun to think quizzically about the next Quarter Sessions and the annual live stock show in June. The heating system was the wonder of Maidstone, because although Brent Hall, two miles away, had an American furnace it had never been used, while Eskindale Manor was permeated by a soothing warmth which their English visitors considered very enervating but decidedly comfortable.
On the first of December, Lliram sat late in the evening in the long hall. His wife and daughter had retired. Beside him the great fireplace glowed with red embers and behind him a radiator diffused its beneficent emanations. Lie was halfway through his last cigar and in that peculiar placidity of mood which is attributable to a good dinner, excellent whiskey and Havana tobacco. Suddenly he had an undeniable chill. He rose and stalked to the radiator. It was too hot to touch. He sat down again, leaning closer to the chair for his back was cold. The house was absolutely still. Then he heard something. The feeling and hearing were curiously blended, he did not know which sensation was uppermost. It was as if some new faculty of observation were in action. He made out a slight surging in his ears and for the first time in his life the hair on the back of his head began to creep and prick his skin. At the same moment
a cool dampness was noticeable and he looked toward the end of the hall. The door was open. Now Hiram had gone to that door with his wife and shut it carefully behind her. He was sure of that. Then at the other end of the hall he saw something. He was equally sure of that. It was white and soundless. Pie caught it for a moment, then it vanished. There was no door there —just a huge square of panelling that rose to the ceiling beams. He walked quickly, to nothing, nothing but the old brown oak and a picture of an Eskindale. For a moment he stood wondering and trying to shake off a burden of oppressive weight that had enveloped him. Then he dropped the unfinished cigar into the fireplace, looked carefully about the room again and went upstairs.
“You’re late, Hiram,” said his wife drowsily, “what have you been doing?” “Nothing particular, only wondering how much there is here that does not show on the inventory. Go to sleep, Gerty.”
Just three days later, John Eskindale looked at his wife and son across the breakfast table in Sussex Square. He bad a letter in his hand. “I say, my dear, listen to this.”
“Dear Mr. Eskindale:
“I hope you will not take it amiss if we ask yourself and your family to spend Christmas in your old home. We feel somehow that you ought to be here, and it would be a very great pleasure to have you. I hope that you will not stand on the ceremony of short acquaintance, but will add a great deal to the success of our celebration by joining it. Christmas is on Thursday. Could you not join us say a week before. With best regards from us all,
“HIRAM LANGDON.” “P. S.—There is also a matter I would like to discuss with you.—IP. L.” “Upon my word,” he said, “that’s really very decent of them. Will you go, Mary? Can you stand it?”
Mrs. Eskindale turned rather white. She could not overcome the vision of Mrs. Langdon at one end of the table
and the new owner at the other. Then she looked at David. The young man had brightened at the thought. Very soon his leave would be up, he would return to the sands and parching sun of Egypt, and it was hardly fair to David to refuse. “Yes,” she said bravely, but with a quivering lip. “I will be delighted.”
Precisely at nine o’clock on the morning of Friday, the nineteenth of December, Mr. and Mrs. Eskindale and David descended simultaneously to the breakfast room. They had arrived the night before after dinner. Mrs. Eskindale felt that a night under the familiar roof would fortify her. Langdon in his motor had met them. His womenkind had gathered on the steps to welcome them. It was all very hospitable, but she dreaded this first meal.
In the breakfast room, three places were laid. “Mr. and Mrs. Langdon and Miss Pielen would not be down,” they were told. Mrs. Eskindale’s voice trembled at this delicate thought, but presently her courage rose. It was all as if it had never been, with the old familiar things around them, and later in the big hall they found their hosts.
Now you will quite agree that it is not the office of this story to detail the most delightful week which preceded Christmas day, but it is distinctly important to devote some attention to the sentimental development which culminated in the presence of Helen and David in the big hall precisely at midnight on Christmas Eve. Very imprudent of themselves, equally careless of their elders. All perfectly true. But you must be aware that these are matters that have defied time and precedent and everything else since the world began. Also, you will admit, that it was perfectly understandable that they should have suddenly discovered in each other something electrically magnetic and wonderful, and that made it all the worse. David now knew that he loved Helen, but he also knew that he was poor and must not say so. Pielen knew that she loved David, but she was a girl ánd must not
say so. So the two sat in a speechless and divine torture which neither would have interrupted for any reason whatsoever.
They had all been talking before the fire, and gradually their elders had slipped off with an exchange of knowing glances and with the least possible ceremony and disturbance. Helen and David had kept it up bravely for awhile, and then because of that which David could not, would not, say, they sat looking into the blaze, building exactly the same castle in Spain, or it might be in Kent.
Suddenly David heard a gasp and looked up., Helen was leaning forward, her eyes starting, and her face a deadly white. She was staring at the door at the end of the great room. David swung his glance, then his own eyes started. Through the door, which swung noiselessly, came a figure. It came in absolute silence, without rustle or sound of footfall, the figure of a middle-aged man in mediaeval garb. He had a colorless face with pointed beard and a long cloak that seemed to be of coarse satin or silk, through which his sword stuck out jerkily as he walked. Plis legs were encased in white silk stockings, his feet in long black shoes with extraordinarily elongated points and enormous buckles. One hand was slightly extended in front of him, the other, much jewelled, held a small paper scroll. His eyes seemed almost closed, but his step was smooth and certain and his body moved forward almost as if drawn swiftly across the room by some invisible force.
A cold thrill ran through David, but he turned toward the apparition. It glided down the room, stopped at the great oak panel, hesitated a moment and vanished. There was not a sound in the whole house. He rubbed his eyes and looked at Helen. The girl’s face was ghastly. She swayed a moment, then fell sideways across the arm of her chair. In a moment he was at her side, rubbing her hands and cheeks, and then in quick abandonment at the divine sensation of her form in his arms
he kissed her passionately again and again.
Presently she stirred in his embrace, sighed deeply with long shuddering breath, and her eyes gazed up with a terror-stricken question into his own. Then into her face flooded an exquisite color. “What was it?” she said.
“The ghost of Eskindale,” he answered soberly, looking down at her with adoration.
She put his arms gently away, so gently that he could hardly refrain from clasping her again. “What ghost?” she answered, with that divine color still on her cheeks.
“It’s an old story, we hardly believed it ourselves, and I’ve never seen him before. They say he began to walk two hundred years ago ; he is supposed to have built this house. Soon after that he died and the family fortune disappeared and has never been found.” Pielen was staring at him. “What was that in his hand?” she said with a curious expression.
“I don’t know. It looked like a roll of paper. Are you better now?”
But Helen did not answer. She got up so unsteadily that he caught her arm. “Where did he go?”
“NowTtere, that is, he vanished at the end of the room under his own picture. I never knew before whose picture that was.”
“Come,” she put in quickly, and walked to the great oak panel. It wras very old. Its surface was glazed with the polishing of innumerable hands and was carved with strange faces of gnomes and dwarfs. In the centre was a face, a little larger than the rest, a tongue had once protruded, but long since had disappeared
“Can you see anything there?”
David lit a match, stooped, held it close against the panel and peered into the hole. “No,” he said. “Nothing.” “Put a pencil in, anything, and push.”
He looked at her, puzzled, but obeyed. There came a creaking of yielding timber, then the protest of unused
hinges, and, very stiffly, the whole panel swung inwards, exposing a large cupboard burdened with dust. It was empty, save for a piece of yellow paper that lay rolled in one corner.
A change came over Helen’s face, the shadows disappeared from her eyes and her voice grew firm and confident. “Read it,” she said.
Wonderingly, David unrolled the scroll. On its stiff expanse of parchment was a writing of which the old English characters stood out sharply. No age could dim the blackness of their ink. Then he read:
I, of Eskyndaile, ye Lorde,
After warres and conflyct bolde,
By ye sharpnesse of my sworde Gat a mightie eheste of golde;
And, leste those who followe me Turn from armes and valoures waye To reclyne full slothfullie,
I wolde welle ye eheste sholde staye Where I layde it. Till a sonne Of ye anciente famillie Come from warres and dutie donne;
He shalle fynde and he shall see. Where ye pollarde willowes spreade Branches thicke and branches stronge Lette him digge, where dugge ye deade, Till he fynde what layde so longe. Love wille seeke it, love wille keepe, Love wille at ye laste prevayle,
Digge, oh naymelesse one, digge deepe, For ye House of Eskyndaile.
Now, in order to make clear what happened in the next few moments, it is only necessary to ask that you kindly imagine that all this had happened toyourself. Your entire approval being thus secured, you will follow David to the stable, where he found a shovel and a pick axe in the gardener’s box, and a lantern underneath the stairs that led to the loft.
Half-way to the lodge and a stone’s throw from the drive grew four gigantic pollard willows. They were perhaps thirty feet apart and formed the corners of a square that was always shaded by the network of their interlacing boughs. Immediately in the centre of this square David looked up at “ye branches
thick and branches stronge” and struck his pick into the ground. Somewhat naturally he struck a root. Again he swung sturdily and drove deep into the soil.
Llalf an hour later, when he had dug a hole four feet deep, his pick hit metal. Five minutes more and he unearthed a large iron chest, bound with corroded brass and enormously heavy. Between them they dragged it to the surface. David shaking with excitement raised the pick. “Now?” he said questioning.
Helen nodded and it dashed against, the chest. There was a sound of bulging and yielding and the chest lid lay loose, for all its fastenings were eaten away.
For a moment they stopped, stared, leaned toward each other across the chest and something quite natural was exchanged.
“I don’t care now if there is nothing in it,” said David, then he lifted the lid and held the lantern close.
At the sight of what lay there, everything in tbe world seemed to stop. A great pile of doubloons was in one corner; beside them were ingots of yellow metal, cast in queer ungainly forms. Mixed in with these were cabouchon rubies and emeralds, winking with deep light beneath the oil flame. In another corner lay a small uncovered box of greasy feeling, irregular-shaped stones which were diamonds. From the hilt of a sword gleamed the blue eye of a huge sapphire. Wealth enough to buy a dozen manors, the spoil of India and Spain and the New World.
David stared and stared. Then he suddenly found it hard to breathe and his arms went out.
“'Love wille seeke it, love wille keepe
Love wille at ye laste prevayle.” he whispered, as Helen’s lips were lifted to his own.
Silence fell for a moment; then from over Maidstone way came faintly the sound of singing. They listened intently. A rift in the wind let through a fragment of song. The Waits had started on their earliest round. It was Christmas morning.