The Ghost in the Tower An Episode in Jacobia
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The Ghost in the Tower
The Ghost in the Tower
An Episode in Jacobia
By Earl H. Reed
by Earl H. Reed
The Ghost in the Tower
A GHOST never makes the mistake of appearingbefore more than one person at a time.There may be much logic in this, for the elementof mystery, which is one of the essential attributesto comfortable ghostly existence, would be destroyed ifthat existence should be established at some one timeand place by a preponderance of unimpeachable testimony.
There is a ghost in my friend Jacobs’ water towerover in Michigan, or at least there was one there lastChristmas eve. To me he was visible most of the timeduring a long interview I had with him, and to me hehad all of the elements of reality. Nobody who readsthis narrative will be in a position to dispute his existence,for, so far as I know, he and I were the only occupantsof the tower at the time. If my nebulous friendshould choose to make himself known to somebodyelse, it may furnish material for discussion and comparisonof experiences in the future, but in the meantimecontroversy is quite useless.
To those who do not live in the world of romanceand errant fancy, the winter landscapes along the easternshore of Lake Michigan offer few allurements.The sweeping miles of piled and broken ice, the bleakand desolate bluffs, with their pale brows—fringedwith naked trees—in moody relief against the dullskies, that are flecked with the white forms of the rovingwinter gulls, seem to repel every thought except thatof hoped for creature comforts in some human habitationbeyond. If it were not for these distant aureolesof hope—mirages though they often are—how grayand dreary the world would be.
Notwithstanding a love of Nature in her sternermoods, it was not for this that I journeyed to myfriend’s country retreat in the winter time. I knewthat warm hearted hospitality awaited me in the littlefarm house, nestled among the knolls back of the bluffs.
High up on one of the hills of “Jacobia,” the towerbares its lofty brow to the blasts of the gales. Thehuge structure seems calmly to defy the winter windswhistling through its upper casements and poundingagainst its sturdy sides. The swirling snows envelopits weather scarred top in the darkness, and an atmosphereof loneliness and isolation seems to pervadethe great bulk, silhouetted against the flying legionsof shredded and angry clouds, scudding across thegloomy and storm embattled skies at night.
The storm that had lasted all day subsided duringthe evening, and the skies cleared, although a mournfulwind still moved over the drifted snows. The genialglow of the Yule Tide spirit was in the little farmhouse. The small evergreen tree that stood in thefront room had been cut on the bluffs and broughtthrough the storm during the day. Its candle-lightedbranches had been divested of the conventional gauzebags of popcorn, nuts and candy, much of which wasnow scattered over the floors, and the little ones, inwhose hearts lived the happy illusions of childhood, hadhung long stockings about in places where they thoughtthat the expected Patron Saint would be most apt tofind them. Their melodious saxophone band had becomesilent, and their tired loving mother had gotthem off to bed.
Melancholy reflections, that sometimes creep intoolder minds with Christmas memories of years thatare gone, led me out over the moon-silvered hills for awalk.
There was a weird charm in the cold shadowedforest and the strange stillness of the sheltered hillsides.A subtle witchery brooded over the familiar landscapesin their robes of white. I spent some time in a darknook listening to a sad old owl, located somewhere upamong the grapevine tangles and sassafras trees on ahill about a quarter of a mile away. Periodically hesent forth his loud and dismal wail into the darkness.Like a wild cry of mockery to the world of a soul intorment, the sepulchral notes echoed through the woodsand mingled with the low moanings of the wind rhythmsamong the dead clinging leaves and bare branches.
It was nearly midnight when I approached thetower on my way back. Many times during my visitsthe thought had occurred to me that it was an idealhabitation for a ghost. The maze of timbers, waterpipes, wires, and open winding stairways that led up tovarious landings in the successive octagonal rooms, onthe way to the upper chamber of the tall edifice, seemedto provide a perfect environment for a discriminatingspecter. There was every facility for concealment, andfor sudden and vivid apparition when desired. Theheight of the vast interior would permit of majesticupward sweeps of a wraithy shape into the darknessabove, and dissolution into the overhanging gloom.The arrangement of the stairways would enable aphantom to await the coming of whoever was to behaunted, upon any one of the floors, without beingvisible from the one above or below it.
Architects have probably never studied constructionwith reference to the needs and convenience of ghosts,but if the builder of the tower had considered thesethings carefully he could not have designed arrangementsmore satisfactory from a spectral standpoint.
I found the door leading into the big room on theground floor unfastened and it was creaking sadly onits hinges. I opened it, stepped inside to light mypipe, and had just thrown the match aside when Inoticed a tiny ascending wisp of something that lookedlike smoke at the base of one of the large wall stanchionsnear the first stairway. Thinking that it probablycame from the dropped match I went toward it tomake sure that it was quite extinguished. To my surprisethe little wisp of vapor increased in volume as itascended. There was a patch of moonlight on the floor,and a dim diffused light in the room that enabled me tomake out various objects. The rising vapor seemedfaintly luminous. I could not account for its strangevisibility by the direction of the moonlight enteringthrough the high window. The pale misty wreathswere slowly expanding in wavy convolutions and disappearingthrough the open steps of the stairwayalong the opposite wall that led to the floor above.
There was something uncanny in this and while Ihad often joked with my friend Jacobs about a possibleghost in the tower, and had read many thrilling talesof specters, both benignant and malign, I never had anidea that I would ever be confronted with a situationthat would suggest the actual presence of anything ofthe kind. I had always prided myself upon freedomfrom superstition, but I distinctly felt a cold chillbetween my shoulder blades, as if an icy hand hadsuddenly been placed there, and was conscious of aslight nervous flutter and a clammy feeling. Just thensomething dropped on one of the upper floors and rolledacross it. It had probably been displaced by a gustof wind somewhere far up in the tower but this inferencedid not help matters any, and, although I knew of noreason for it, I concluded that my nerves must have gotinto difficulties among themselves and refused to continuetheir normal functions.
I began to consider the advisability of a cautiousretirement from the scene, thinking that a good night’srest would probably correct the state of mind that madesuch a medley of unpleasant sensations possible.
Just as I was about to leave I distinctly heard thewords, “Good Evening!” uttered in a thin, quietvoice. I looked around the room but could see nobody.“Here I am, up here,” continued the voice. Isaw what appeared to be the face of a very pleasantand dignified old man, who seemed to be sitting onthe stairs near the top of the room, just above thewreaths of disappearing vapor. The smoky wavesapparently continued through the stairway and envelopedall of him except the head—or rather he seemedgradually to materialize out of the wreaths, for thehead was the only part of the apparition that bore anysemblance to reality. There were misty forms suggestingthe shoulders, but they faded off down into thecloudy lines, which now seemed to have ceased risingand were slowly waving to and fro, as if they were suspendedfrom something above and were being gentlyswayed by a current of air.
“Good evening,” I replied, not without some trepidation.“I hope I have not intruded. I had no ideathat there was anybody here when I came in.”
“There isn’t anybody here but you,” continued thestrange voice, “for according to your standards I amnobody at all; I am a ghost, but you needn’t be at allalarmed. If you’ll go over and make yourself comfortableon that empty box near the other wall we canhave a nice little visit. I have not appeared to a mortalfor a long time and it’s a relief to have somebody totalk to. Since I’ve been haunting this tower I’vestayed in a little crypt I have down under it. I oozeup through that small hole that you see near the baseof that stanchion, and I was just coming up when youhappened in. It takes me some little time to getproperly settled up here, or I would have made mypresence known before. I am not quite settled yet, butas you evidently intended to leave I thought I had bettermake myself known before it was too late. OtherwiseI would have had to wait until some other Christmaseve, for that’s the only time I ever visualize. I’lltell you the reason of this later. Just remain quietwhere you are and excuse me. I won’t be gone more thana few minutes.”
With that the nebulous shape above the stairschanged somewhat. It became a little lighter andthe face was more distinct. The wraithy vapor lengthenedout and all of it, with the head at its upper end,drifted silently up through the stairway hole into thegloom above as gently and softly as the smoke from apipe.
Naturally I was now much interested. The clammyand creepy feeling, that had come over me at first,had entirely ceased. I was enmeshed in what seemed asupernatural web that presented fascinating possibilities.I looked at my watch which I held in the brightmoonbeam from the window and saw that it was exactlymidnight. At that moment I heard an unearthlysound that I judged was issuing from the top of thetower. It was a loud prolonged wail that ended ina dismal shriek and a high treble, and was repeatedthree times. I repressed a slight return of the creepyfeeling, resumed my seat on the box, and patientlyawaited further developments. Heavy thumping noisesbecame audible from the big water pipes in the towerand reverberated away through the underground routesof the smaller pipes. It occurred to me that the ghostmight have decided to take a plunge in the large tankin the upper part of the structure, or was preparing topull it all down, or something of that kind, and I did notfeel that I wanted to be among the debris. To use afavorite expression of one of my English friends, allthis was “getting a bit thick.” I was again apprehensiveand was tempted to slip quietly away, but wassomewhat reassured when I saw the vapory wisps stealingback through the stairway opening. I was surprisedto see them trail on down, becoming fainter andthinner, and disappear into the little hole at the baseof the stanchion.
In the course of a few minutes the wraithy wavesreappeared and I soon saw the kindly old face peeringover at me from above the high stairway rail.
There was a sort of indefinable remoteness andaloofness about him—something abstract and far away—thatseemed to discourage any familiarity, and Iwaited for him