REDCAR – My Redcar Ghost Story.
Accreditation the Redcar and Saltburn-by-the-Sea Gazette 02/06/1871.
MY REDCAR GHOST STORY
The day had been threatening and gloomy. Night fell, and the cold wintry wind swept in fitful gusts up the High Street. The drum had been hoisted at the flag-staff the whole day. No one was stirring in the streets save the groups of sailors and fishermen, who, pacing to and fro beneath the sheltering gables and looking up to the sky and then out to sea, noted at intervals the rapid advancing storm. Whilst ever and anon as the wind fell, the deep role of the breakers on the rocks outside was beginning to be clearly heard.
The withered branches of Jessamine which surrounded the small French window of a house situated about midway up the High Street, wrapped old at intervals with startling vehemence against the panes, and even the poor little spiral would turn him about and give a short querulous chirp as the wind shook the ivy and maul which his nest was built in the corner close by the window. Occasionally too, the heavy sound of the garden door, slammed to buy the violence of the wind, fell upon the ear and aroused in the neighbouring yard the sleeping watch dog, which replied by a long drawn fretful howl.
Two friends were sitting with me in a room in the house just mentioned on such a night, and we were beguiling our leisure with music, recitation, and that can the interchange of thought that binds men of intelligence together. The dismal and weird character of the night was lost upon us, amidst the strains of the joyous music and the comic sketch, and only when the summer when anguish of the “Bell ringer” as the tones of the “Ah me” fell from the singer’s lips, for the Sonata Pathelique imbued the sole with the mystic sympathy for the unseen, on when the reciter called out in the Magic words of Byron
“Hush! Hark! A deep sound strikes like a rising knell,
Did ye not hear it? No. ‘twas but the wind.”
did our thoughts ever revert to the scene outside. The last song, “The heart that once in Tara’s halls,” had been sung, and its melody and pathos still rang in our ears, when we prepared to separate. A deep melancholy seem to have crept into our hearts, and it was observed that the rule was alternately light and dim by turns as the candles flared and then burnt low. Just then, the bells of the church clock chimed out three quarters past midnight. On the threshold we shook hands, and one then sped away across the street and was soon lost in the darkness, and I remained standing alone with my friend the musician. Suddenly, he startled me by the strange ejaculation, “Ord fancies call me tonight I fear the darkness, will you walk with me?” It’s To this I consented, and on we went to the churchyard was gained. We passed along the wall which bounds it from the lane. We reached the next lower wall which skirts the paddock, when suddenly our attention was attracted to the beautiful strains of bird which had been roused from its content in Rowell’s garden. Whether the gloomy character of the night, which always lends enchantment to music, or the startling character of the notes themselves caused us to stop. I know not. Suffice to say, we listened, and as we listened the heavy sound of the bell of both us sounded out “in the drowsy ear of night” the hour of one. The bird ceased. The stillness, for the wind for the moment had lulled, became appalling, and we were on the point of moving on when to my great horror I felt a rush of warm air across my face as of some one breathing upon me. I started, and said, hurriedly to my friend, Did you feel anything? Without replying he seized my hand, crossed himself, and muttered, “Heaven help us! Come away!” This I was preparing to do when involuntarily I turned my head, and oh, horrible to relate, I saw that which nearly froze my blood; but could my eyes deceive me – was either living or dead – had I passed the fatal boundary whilst standing on that haunted spot – a moment I paused, but in such a pause there seemed like an eternity of agony – an instant longer and the hideons fear which had almost frozen out of my life gave way to natural strength of mind. I muttered, and my voice seem unearthly in my own ears, “Look,” but still need hard I for such a word, for even in the darkness of that dreary night I could see his white face turned towards the church where I could still behold, with the courage which rose and fell with the beating of my heart, the southern door of the church all alight. With one vigorous effort to shake off my fear, I determined to cross the churchyard and test the meaning of this mysterious appearance. I scaled the wall, bidding my friend come up after me and remain upon the wall. I stood for an instant on the coping, when, oh, mystery on mystery I distinctly heard the heavy and deadened sound of retreating footsteps. Fainter and fainter that sound fell upon my years and almost paralysed any attempt to go forward. But without looking back, and in sheer desperation, I threw myself into the churchyard. I hesitated for a moment, and then my thoughts became flooded with remembrances of grim German legends of all holy sprites and tales of godless men who had been lured to holy places to be consigned to dismal fate. I thought of Burgers’s Lenore – the fair Lenore and her long and spectral ride – the Banshee’s cry – the ban dog was howl and the witches, warlocks and fien is which danced in Alloway Kirk. At length I moved forward in nervous fear and trepidation, until my haste I stumbled and fell across a grave mound. The icy chill of fear sent a shiver
through my bones. Hurriedly I got on my feet and press forward with eyes downcast to choose my way, until I neared the church door, when on looking up, to my amazement, the light had disappeared. By this time the wind had now risen and was sighing heavily around the gables and crannies of the sacred pile. I took my place in the doorway, and a few drops of rain fell upon my face. But as my eye fell upon the grim upright gravestones which I could dimly perceive standing near me, awful because so still, my ear was startled by a rustling in the ivory and out rushed an owl, which fled away uttering its moaning cry Tu-whit-to-who until the sound died away, and my fears began to seize me. I’d instant I waited, and then called out to my friend. Do you still have the light? A voice faint and timid was born to me upon the wind whispering the words, “I do.” “Am I standing in the light”. I asked. Again the voice in mournful tone replied, “No!” Sorely puzzled and feeling the nervous tremor deepening its hold upon me, I called out to him to come to me. Onward you rushed, and seizing me by the arm said, “Neither of us can interpret these mysteries, do, oh, to come away.” His arm shock as he held me, and “catching fear” augmenting mine, I was on the point of falling down, when with some effort he succeeded in half dragging me all the graves which lay in our way towards our old position. Entranced by the spectre of the dial, which vanished when approached, mechanically my feet retraced their steps, but my face was ever towards the haunted spot. We had nearly reached our old position, when suddenly upon my site there burst the light – the light which we had seen before. The change was so sudden that at first I was dazzled, but at the same instant the truth flashed upon me – a revulsion off feeling took place – hysterical joy possess me, I seized my friend by his huge Bavarian shoulders, I shook him violently, burst out laughing, and ended by singing
Juvenca dum sumus”
My friend started at such a time to hear our well-known student song. I hustled him out of the churchyard, and as we walked upon the coping of the paddock wall I almost fell upon a pony’s back – pool were innocent wretch – the cause of our earliest fears. The pony which was blinded in one eye, Howard, as was his want fallen off into doors with his head over the wall. We had stood near it when we felt its breath upon our faces, and mounting the wall at scared the animal away. Aha! My friend, I laughingly asked, how about the breath, horrible and unaccountable, and the “Mystery of the Retreating Footsteps? Close comments the explanation seemed so far satisfactory to my friend; but yet, said he, I can hardly see what grounds you have for so much mirth whilst that spectral light burns steadily before us. I replied, “My dear fellow, the light is not in the doorway at all. What you fancy to be the doorway is a headstone certainly of the same shape and with the same pointed arch, but still a headstone. It stands as you see just between us and the doorway, and seems therefore from our position to be in the doorway. See further, there is a light at the top of the church lane, which, whether from accident or design has been left burning – this light illuminates the back of the headstone, and presents to us the appearance of the door are light.2 My friend mused a while and then made answer. “How weak and responsive to the call of the mysterious is our pool you nature.” “True,” I replied. “And much of the mysterious in nature admits of the same solution if we could make proper investigation but still beyond that, there is a supernatural which despite signs and sense, defies explanation, and convinces me that there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in man’s philosophy. Adieu. Leben Sie wohl.” So we parted. The church clock chimed a quarter past one.
March 16, 2013 Miscellaneous