Under none of the accreditedghostly circumstances, and environed by none of the conventionalghostly surroundings, did I first make acquaintance with thehouse which is the subject of this Christmas piece. I sawit in the daylight, with the sun upon it. There was nowind, no rain, no lightning, no thunder, no awful or unwontedcircumstance, of any kind, to heighten its effect. Morethan that: I had come to it direct from a railway station: it wasnot more than a mile distant from the railway station; and, as Istood outside the house, looking back upon the way I had come, Icould see the goods train running smoothly along the embankmentin the valley. I will not say that everything was utterlycommonplace, because I doubt if anything can be that, except toutterly commonplace people — and there my vanity steps in;but, I will take it on myself to say that anybody might see thehouse as I saw it, any fine autumn morning.
The manner of my lighting on it was this.
I was travelling towards London out of the North, intending tostop by the way, to look at the house. My health required atemporary residence in the country; and a friend of mine who knewthat, and who had happened to drive past the house, had writtento me to suggest it as a likely place. I had got into thetrain at midnight, and had fallen asleep, and had woke up and hadsat looking out of window at the brilliant Northern Lights in thesky, and had fallen asleep again, and had woke up again to findthe night gone, with the usual discontented conviction on me thatI hadn’t been to sleep at all; — upon which question,in the first imbecility of that condition, I am ashamed tobelieve that I would have done wager by battle with the man who satopposite me. That opposite man had had, through thenight — as that opposite man always has — several legstoo many, and all of them too long. In addition to thisunreasonable conduct (which was only to be expected of him), hehad had a pencil and a pocket-book, and had been perpetuallylistening and taking notes. It had appeared to me thatthese aggravating notes related to the jolts and bumps of thecarriage, and I should have resigned myself to his taking them,under a general supposition that he was in the civil-engineeringway of life, if he had not sat staring straight over my headwhenever he listened. He was a goggle-eyed gentleman of aperplexed aspect, and his demeanour became unbearable.
It was a cold, dead morning (the sun not being up yet), andwhen I had out-watched the paling light of the fires of the ironcountry, and the curtain of heavy smoke that hung at once betweenme and the stars and between me and the day, I turned to myfellow-traveller and said:
“I beg your pardon, sir, but do you observeanything particular in me?” For, really, he appearedto be taking down, either my travelling-cap or my hair, with aminuteness that was a liberty.
The goggle-eyed gentleman withdrew his eyes from behind me, asif the back of the carriage were a hundred miles off, and said,with a lofty look of compassion for my insignificance:
“In you, sir? — B.”
“B, sir?” said I, growing warm.
“I have nothing to do with you, sir,” returned thegentleman; “pray let me listen — O.”
He enunciated this vowel after a pause, and noted it down.
At first I was alarmed, for an Express lunatic and nocommunication with the guard, is a serious position. Thethought came to my relief that the gentleman might be what ispopularly called a Rapper: one of a sect for (some of) whom Ihave the highest respect, but whom I don’t believein. I was going to ask him the question, when he took thebread out of my mouth.
“You will excuse me,” said the gentlemancontemptuously, “if I am too much in advance of commonhumanity to trouble myself at all about it. I have passedthe night — as indeed I pass the whole of my timenow — in spiritual intercourse.”
“O!” said I, somewhat snappishly.
“The conferences of the night began,” continuedthe gentleman, turning several leaves of his note-book,“with this message: ‘Evil communications corrupt goodmanners.’”