The Japanese suggest that ghost stories should be only read in the summer; those chills running up and down your spine will have an agreeable cooling effect. To this end I present a fictional tale of horror in the leisurely, late-Victorian vein, suitable for reading under a beach umbrella. And whatever you do, don’t go on to the beaches at dusk…
I make no endeavour to explain this experience. Explanation of it is impossible. I can conceive no theory upon which to base even the most slender attempt. It baffles me, it has always baffled me and it will continue to baffle me. Yet the impress of the thing loses nothing of its vividness with time. It is as clear before me now, as it was within a few hours of its event. I believe I heard a ghost knocking; I am certain I saw a ghost moving. “Indigestion, fancy, an overwrought and distorted brain,” you will say, no doubt.
I wish I could think it was. But it wasn’t. The sequel to that glimpse of the dead was too terrible, the cause too pertinent to the effect, to permit for one moment of any attribution to disorder, mental or alimentary. No,—What I saw was actual self-existent. I will set down the facts for you as they occurred, and you shall explain them away—if you can. Then, if you remain unconvinced—go to Gartholm, by the German Ocean, and hear what the folk there have to say. They are a stodgy people, incapable utterly of the most insignificant hyperbole. They will tell you this tale plainly as I tell it to you. They believe as I believe.
It was in the summer of ’96. I was travelling in “woollens” for the great Huddersfield firm of Carbury and Crank. Furnished with a gig and a fast-trotting mare, it was my duty to exploit the more scattered parts of the country, where the railroad was still unknown and civilisation, as we use the term, tarried a while.
Gartholm is the name given to a certain wide, low-lying plain, shut in from the North Sea by mile upon mile of sandhills. They are heaped up like hummocks along the coast. It was along a kind of causeway running straight through many miles of grain that I drove that hot July. I had never been in these parts, and I rejoiced at such ample evidence of fertility. It argued prosperity for those around; hence good business for myself and my employers. I made up my mind to remain there for at least a month. I left in less than half that time.
As if the plain itself were not sufficiently damp and low-lying, the village of Gartholm had been built in a kind of central depression, immediately beside the river. In other respects it differed but slightly from the ordinary English village, save that there was no inn. Close by the tower of the rubble-built church there was a pot-house, licensed for the sale of liquor “to be drunk on the premises,” but I failed there to get sleeping room either for myself or Tilly, my weary mare.
Darkness was close upon us and I was worn out with my day’s drive, There seemed little prospect of comfort, even had I gained admittance to this miserable hovel. But that was denied me. The landlord, a bulky monumental lump of indolence, stood in the doorway and effectually blocked all entrance. A dozen or so of idlers collected to admire Tilly and amuse themselves at my expense. And I realised that there were worse fates than that of being cast upon an uninhabited island, even in this England of ours at the close of the nineteenth century.
While I was in this plight, arguing with the landlord and endeavouring to arrive approximately at the sense of his dialect, a being, human by contrast to those around, made his appearance from out the crowd, and approached my gig. He turned out to be the village schoolmaster, and those around called him “Muster Abram.”
“You are looking for a lodging?” he said, in a smooth and (by comparison) strangely civilised voice.
“I am,” I replied, soothing Tilly, who, small blame to her, in no wise appreciated her immediate surroundings. “I’m Dick Trossall, C.T. to Carbury and Crank, if you’ve ever heard of ’em in this forsaken hole.”
“C.T.?” repeated Master Abraham interrogatively, cocking his one eye (he had lost the other) which was as bright as any robin’s.
“Commercial Traveller,” said I in explanation; “or bagman if you like it better. You don’t comprehend Queen’s English I see in these parts.”
“Hardly; when so abbreviated. But if it really be board and lodging you seek, you can get that only from Mrs. Jarzil at the Beach Farm.”
There was a murmur from those at hand, as he said the name, and, I thought, a somewhat dubious express ion upon the faces of one or two. I did not on the whole, feel drawn towards Mrs. Jarzil and her farm, and I looked at the schoolmaster enquiringly. Utterly ignoring this, and vouchsafing me no reply, he proceeded straightway to climb into my gig, without so much as “by your leave.” There was neither modesty nor undue hesitancy about Master Abraham.
“We will get on, then to Mrs. Jarzil’s farm,” said I. A touch from the whip and Tilly was off at a good spanking trot in the direction Master Abraham
had indicated. In a few moments we were out of sight of the hangers-on and driving through the street into another causeway similar to the first. In the distance we could see the house lying under the lee of the sandhills. A dismal sort of place it seemed, and wholly solitary.
“Yes, yonder is the Beach Farm,” said the schoolmaster, “and Mrs. Jarzil—” He stopped suddenly, so that I turned to look at him.
“What on earth is the matter with Mrs. Jarzil?”
“Nothing, nothing—I was merely wondering, not so much if she could, as whether she would, accommodate you. You see Mrs. Jarzil had some trouble with her last lodger. He was a botanist. He called himself Amber—Samuel Amber. Some two years ago it was; he boarded at the Beach Farm, then suddenly he disappeared.”
“Disappeared? Good Lord! what do you mean?”
“Exactly what I say. He walked out of yonder house one night, and never returned.”
We were close to the house now. It loomed up suddenly in the mist, which lay thick and heavy over the sandhills. I felt horribly depressed. Apart from the intense gloominess of the surroundings, the damp and darkness and desolation, all of which had perhaps more than their due effect upon my jaded nerves, I was conscious of an indefinite sense of uneasiness. This one-eyed creature at my elbow made me decidedly uncomfortable. I have not a robust nervous system at the best of times, and he with his sinister innuendoes was fast gaining a hold upon me.
“There was a daughter, you see,” he went on, before I could speak.
“Oh, there was a daughter, was there?” I repeated somewhat relieved. It might be, after all, that he was nothing more than a mere scandal-monger. I fervently hoped so.
“Yes; and Mr. Amber made love to her—at least so it is supposed. At all events she disappeared, too.”
“At the same time as the man?”
“Lottie was her name,” continued Master Abraham, utterly heedless of my query,
“and a pretty pink and white creature she was, with the loveliest golden hair. I used to call her Venus of the Fen. She was at the Farm when Amber first arrived. After a while he left, and she with him. He did not return for a twelvemonth, and then only to—to disappear.”
“What on earth are you telling me all this rigmarole for? I don’t care two pence for any of your Ambers and Lotties or Venuses either, for that matter. If the girl was as pretty as you say, I don’t blame the man for going off with her. I presume she was a willing party to the arrangement.”
“Mrs. Jarzil will have it that Amber forced her daughter to elope with him. You see he returned a year later—alone.”
“Well, what explanation did he make?”
“And what did the lady have to say to that?”
“Nothing. Amber took up his residence at the Farm as before, and remained there until—until he disappeared.”
Upon my soul I was beginning to feel thoroughly scared.
“Do you mean to tell me that Mrs. Jarzil got rid of him by foul play?”
“Oh, dear me, no; nothing of the kind. Mrs. Jarzil is a most religious woman.”
“Then what the—; perhaps you will kindly make yourself clear. For what reason do you retail to me this parcel of rubbish? ”
“Only this—-” He laid his skinny hand upon my arm. We were turning into the drive which led up to the house. He pointed with the other hand towards the sand-ridge.
The man nodded. Then he whispered to me. “The Sand-Walker, you know.”
An elderly woman had come to the door and was standing there. The chief thing I noticed about her was her determinedly masculine appearance. For the rest she was a veritable study in half tone. Her hair, her dress, her complexion, in fact everything about her, was of various shades of grey. Her mouth denoted a vile if not a violent temper.
My reception was anything but cordial; in fact at the outset she refused altogether to take me in, but under the persuasive eloquence of Master Abraham she relented so far as to agree to board me by the week at what to me seemed an exorbitant charge. She was evidently grasping as well as religious—a highly unpleasant combination I thought. But in the circumstances I had no option but to accept the inevitable. It was a case of any port in a storm.
As I proceeded to drive round to the stable to put up Tilly—a thing which I invariably attended to myself—Master Abraham accompanied me. And somehow I was glad of even his company. There was not a living soul about. I asked him why this was.
“Mrs. Jarzil keeps no servants,” he replied. “She has not kept any since Lottie and Mr. Amber went away; or rather, to be precise, since Mr. Amber disappeared.”
“How is that?”
“She can get none to come here—or to remain if they do come. They are afraid of the Sand-walker.”
I asked him point blank what he meant. But I could get nothing out of him.
“Whatever you do, don’t go on to the beaches at dusk,” was all he said. Then he vanished. I say vanished advisedly, for though I ran after him to the door for the moment I could see no sign of him; I rushed on round the corner of the house, and came plump on to Mrs. Jarzil.
“Master Abraham!” I gasped.
Then Mrs. Jarzil pointed down the road, and I saw a flying figure disappearing into the darkness.
“Why does he run off like that?” I asked. I began to think I was losing my senses.
“Every one runs from Beach F arm,” replied the woman in the coolest manner possible, and with that she left me staring in amazement.
I don’t think anyone could dub me a coward, but this place unnerved me. Both within and without the house all was mysterious, weird, and uncanny. My spirits sank to zero and my nerves were strung up to a tension positively unendurable. Even the bright light from the kitchen fire filled me with apprehension. I could not touch food or drink.
Mrs. Jarzil, gliding about the room, in no wise reassured me. Masculine and ponderous as she was, the deftness and stealthiness of her movements were uncomfortably incongruous. She spoke not a word. She totally ignored my presence. I began to loathe the woman. But I determined that anything was better than the horrible suspense I was enduring. So I went straight for the thing which was making havoc of me.
“What is the Sand-walker, Mrs. Jarzil?”
At the moment she was polishing a dish cover. As I spoke it crashed on the floor. I never saw a woman turn quite so pale as she did then.
“Who has been talking to you about the Sand-walker?”
“Master Abraham,” was my answer. By this time she was visibly shaking.
“ Fool!” she exclaimed. “A triple fool, and dangerous, too. See here, you Mr. Trossall. I am willing to board you, but not to answer your silly questions. And if you don’t like my house and my ways, you can leave them both. I can do without you. God knows I have had enough of boarders.”
Though it was rash, and for all I knew dangerous, willy-nilly the name Amber slipped my tongue. But she had regained her self-possession now, and laughed contemptuously as she picked up the dish cover.
“I see Abraham’s been telling you my story. It is not a very pretty story, is it? Yes, Mr. Amber was a scoundrel. He carried off my daughter Lottie to London. Ay, and he had the boldness, too, to return here after his wickedness. I said nothing. It was my duty to forgive him, like a Christian, and I did. Although a mother, I am a Christian first. Poor Lottie! Poor child! I wonder where she is now.”
“Do you know where Mr. Amber is?”
“Yes, Abraham told you no doubt that he disappeared. One would think he had been caught up into the moon; the way the fools round here talk. Yet the explanation is perfectly simple. The man was accustomed to walk on the Beaches at night. There are quicksands there, and he fell into one.”
“How do you know that? ”
“I found his hat by one of the worst of them. He had sunk. I am glad he did. He ruined my life and Lottie’s. But ‘Vengeance is Mine; I will repay saith the Lord.’”
“And this Sand-walker; who, what is it?”
“That does not concern you. I have told you enough. I am not going to answer all your silly questions,” she reiterated.
Not another word would she say. Still I felt somewhat relieved. Abraham had contrived to surround with an atmosphere of mystery what after all was purely an accident. I saw that now; and I was able to go to bed in a much more tranquil state of mind than I would otherwise have done.
My room was just off the kitchen. I hadn’t been in it more than half an hour when I heard Mrs. Jarzil at her devotional exercises. I could hear her reading aloud certain Biblical extracts of a uniformly comminatory character. Her voice was peculiarly resonant and booming. Her choice seemed to me to range from Deuteronomy to Ezekiel and back again. “And Thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
“And the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up; they and all that appertained to them went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them.”
“The wicked are overthrown and are not.”
So for half an hour or more she went on, until I was in a cold perspiration. Then she knelt down and prayed, I was in hopes she had unbosomed herself for the night at all events. But then followed such a prayer as I have never heard. The ban of Jeremiah was a blessing to it. She cursed Amber, dead though he was. She cursed her daughter and called down upon her unfortunate head such visitations that I confess I shuddered. The woman was raving; yet all the time I could hear her sobbing, sobbing bitterly. The .whole thing was ghastly, revolting. I would have given anything to get away. At last she ceased, and, I presume, went to bed; though how she could sleep after such an indulgence was a marvel to me. But perhaps now that she had so assuaged her wrath, exhaustion if not relief would follow. I hoped so. At all events she was quiet. After a while I got up, to make sure that my door was securely fastened. Then I scrambled back to bed, and fell into an uneasy fitful doze. So I got through the long night. I never once slept soundly, and when I awoke in the morning I felt but little refreshed.
With the light came the sense of shame. I was inclined to deal severely with myself for my—as they now appeared to me—absurd apprehensions of the previous night. I made up my mind then and there that I should be a downright coward if I carried out my determination to leave the place. My room was comfortable, and the food was good. And I rated myself roundly for being such an impressionable booby. Besides, I knew enough to make me curious to know more.
Albeit as silent as ever, I found Mrs. Jarzil civil and composed enough at breakfast. So although I had not succeeded in getting rid wholly of my aversion to the place, I started off in quest of business, saying that I would return about five o’clock.
I soon found out that so far as business went, at all events, I had fallen on my feet. The very excellent woollen goods of Messrs. Carbury and Crank appealed to these fen dwellers. They were a rheumatic lot. But that was more the fault of the locality than of themselves. At any rate the local dealers seized upon my samples with avidity, and I booked more orders in the day than I was accustomed to do in a week in some places. I returned therefore that evening to the Beach Farm in the best of spirits, but at the gate I encountered Master Abraham. He soon reduced them to a normal level.
Well, how did you sleep?” he said, I thought with a twinkle in his eye.
“Like a top, of course; I always do.”
“You heard nothing at your window?”
“Of course not. What should I hear?”
“Then you didn’t go on to the Beaches?”
“Certainly not. I was only too glad to get to bed. Besides, were you not at particular pains to advise me against going there?”
“Yes, perhaps I was; and I repeat my advice. If you do, it will come to you at the window.”
“What in heaven’s name do you mean, man?”
“I mean the Sand-walker.”
At that moment Tilly made a bound forward—she hates standing—and there was nothing for it but to let her go. The schoolmaster took himself off, and I drove up to the door.
But I silently swore at that skinny Abraham for bringing back to me the uneasy feelings of the previous night. His warning still rang in my ears. I could not get rid of it. I was determined I would not pass the night in ignorance. I resolved to take the bull by the horns and face whatever there was to face then and there.
After a “high tea ” (that was between six and seven o’clock) I mentioned casually to Mrs. Jarzil that I was going for a stroll. She neither bade me go nor stay; so over the sandhills at the back of the house I scrambled until I found myself on the sea shore.
The beach was very dreary. All was still, save for the gentle swash of the wavelets breaking in upon the ribbed sand. There was but little wind. To right and left of me there stretched an interminable vista of sand, vanishing only to blend itself in the distance with the heavy mists, which even at that season of the year hung around. The little land-locked pools were blood red with reflection of the sun. Through the off-shore of the sea and sun were ablaze with crimson light. I felt an awful sense of desolation as I sat there in the dip of a sand-hill watching the departing sun ring its changes on the spectrum. The crimson merged to amethyst, the amethyst to pearl, until in sombre greyness the light shut down upon the lonely shore.
A mad purposeless impulse seized me. With a whoop I ran down the firm sand to the brink of the water. I stood there for some moments looking out to sea. When I turned, the mists were thick even between me and the sand-hills. Darkness came down fold over fold. Every moment the fog became more damp and clammy, the sense of desolation more intense. I was isolated from all that was human; from God for aught I knew.
Then I thought of the quicksands—of Mr. Amber —of Mr. Amber’s hat found lying there; and I ran back, as I thought, to the sand hills. But I must have moved circuitously, for I could not reach even their friendly shelter. I lost my bearings hopelessly. Where the sea or where the hills I knew not. I rushed first this way, and then that, heedless and without design, intent only on escaping from the enshrouding mists, from the awesome desolation.
Suddenly the sands quaked under me. I stopped. The fate of Korah and his brethren flashed through my mind. My heart drummed loudly in the stillness. The mists grew thicker, the night darker. Then it was I saw It beside me.
At first I thought it was mortal—human—for its shape was that of a man. With an exclamation of thankfulness I endeavoured to approach it. But try as I might, I could not get near it. It did not walk, it did not glide, it did not fly. It simply melted in the mist, yet always visible, always retreating. That was the horror of the Thing.
My flesh creeped. I felt an icy cold through every pore of my skin. With awful insistence it was borne in upon me 1 was in the presence of the dead. Yet I was powerless. I could utter no cry. I could not even stop myself. On, on I went following that melting receding thing, until suddenly my foot stumbled on a sand-hill. Then It became mist with the mist, and I saw It no more. I scrambled up the hill and wept like a child.
How I reached the Beach Farm I cannot tell. I stumbled, blind with terror into the lamplight of the kitchen. I almost fell into Mrs. Jarzil’s arms. She uttered no word of surprise, but sat there staring at my terror-stricken face and quivering limbs, silent and unsympathetic. At last she spoke.
“You have seen the Sand-walker?”
“In God’s name what is it ?”
“God has nothing to do with the Sand-walker,” she replied. “It is wholly of hell.”
I could speak no more that night. By help of some raw spirit I managed to pull myself together sufficiently to scramble into bed. The very sheets were a comfort to me; at all events they were between me and It.
I was utterly exhausted, and for a few hours I slept. I awoke suddenly with every nerve on the stretch, every sense acute almost beyond bearing. Mrs. Jarzil was vociferating in the kitchen, and sobbing between whiles. Then, as surely as I am a man and a Christian, I heard three loud knocks upon the window-pane. Mrs. Jarzil turned her imprecations into prayer. In her deep voice she boomed out verses from the Psalms: “Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.”
I could stand it no longer. I flung myself out of bed, wrapped the coverlet around me, and rushed into the kitchen. Mrs. Jarzil was kneeling. Her face poured with perspiration. She paused as I appeared. There were three loud knocks at the door.
“What—O God, what is it?” I cried.
Then she prayed again: “I will abide in Thy tabernacle for ever. I will trust in the cover of Thy wings.”
I made for the door, but Mrs. Jarzil seized me by the arm.
“Don’t let him in, don’t let him in. He wants me. It is Amber, I tell you. It is Amber.”
“Amber! The Sand-walker!”
“Yes, yes. He is the Sand-walker. He wants me –down on the Beaches. If you open the door I am bound to go. He draws me; he compels me. But the Lord is my strength, and shall prevail against the powers of hell.”
I had to prevent her from unbarring the door. She flung herself upon it and fumbled with the lock in frenzy. I dragged her back fearful lest she should admit the thing outside. Gradually she grew more calm, until at last she stood before me with a composure almost as terrible to behold as had been her frenzy.
“I have resisted the Devil, and he is tied!” she said. “You can go to bed now, Mr. Trossall. You will be disturbed no more. There will be no more knocking, no—more—knocking.” She caught up the candle to go. I detained her till I took a light from it. Then I went to bed. I kept the light burning all night, but there was no more knocking.
Next morning not a word passed between us about what had occurred. I ate my breakfast and drove off to my business. In the main street I met Abraham. I hailed him.
“Is there no other place where I can find a lodging?” I asked him.
“Ah! so you have been on the Beaches?”
“Yes. I was there yesterday evening.”
“You have seen the Sand-walker?”
“For God’s sake don’t speak of it,” I said. For it terrified me even in the open day—here with the sunshine hot upon me.
“And you have heard the knocking?”
“Yes, I have heard everything—seen everything; let that suffice. Can I find another lodging, I ask you?”
“No; there is none other in the district. But why need you fear. It is she-—not you, the Sand-walker wants, ay, and he’ll get her one night.”
“You know this Sand-walker, as you call him, is Amber.”
“All Gartholm knows that. He has been walking for a year past now on the Beaches. No one would go there now for any money you could offer them—at least not after sun-down. I warned you, you remember.”
“I know you did. But nevertheless I went, you see. And this Sand-walker saved my life. For he led me back to the sand hills when I had lost myself hopelessly in the fog.”
“It’s not you he wants, I tell you, it’s she.”
“Why does he want her?” I asked.
The man’s tone was very strange.
“Ask of the quicksands!” he replied; and with that disappeared in a hurry. I was getting quite accustomed to this, and would have been surprised had he taken his leave in anything approaching a rational manner.
Now, you may perhaps hardly credit it, but I tossed a shilling then and there to decide my action in the immediate future. “Heads I go, tails I stay.”
The coin spun up in the sunlight. Tails it was.
So I was to remain, and in that devil-haunted house. Well, at all events I was doing a brisk trade. There was some comfort in that.
During the next ten days I drove for miles over the district, and did uncommonly well everywhere. I found that the legend of the Beach Farm was universally familiar, and they all shook their heads very gravely indeed when they learned that I lodged there. In fact, I am not at all sure that this was not of assistance to me rather than otherwise. I became an object of intense interest, and, no doubt, of sympathy had I known it.
After that terrible night, there was a lull in the torment of the Sand-walker. Occasionally it rapped at the door or the window, but that was all. As for me I walked no more on the Beaches.
But the time was near at hand when the Devil would have his own. It came one evening about six o’clock. There had been heavy rain, and the marshy lands were flooded and the mists were thick around.
Overhead all was opaque and grey, and the ground was sodden under foot. I was anxious to get home, and Tilly was doing all she knew.
“On arrival I looked after her as was my wont, first and foremost. When I had made her comfortable for the night I returned to the kitchen. To my surprise I found Mrs. Jarzil in conversation with a girl, in whom from Abraham’s description, meagre though it had been, I had no difficulty in recognising his Venus of the Fen. She was certainly pretty. I agreed with Abraham there. She was crying bitterly, whilst her mother raged at her. They both stopped short as I entered—a sense of delicacy, no doubt.
“Whatever is the matter? ” I asked, surveying the pair of them.
“Oh, sir, you are mother’s new lodger, aren’t you?” said the girl. “Master Abraham told me as she had one. Do please ask her to hear reason, do, I implore you, sir.”
“I will allow no one to interfere with my private affairs,” said Mrs. Jarzil, stamping her foot. “If you are wise you will not seek to make public your disgrace.”
“There is no disgrace. I have done nothing to be ashamed of, I tell you.”
“No disgrace? No disgrace in allowing yourself to be beguiled by that man—to be fooled by his good looks and soft speeches?”
“What do you mean, mother? I have nothing to do with Mr. Amber.”
“Liar, you ran, away with him. What more could you have to do with him, I should like to know?”
Lottie’s spirit rose, and with it the colour to her cheeks. “I ran away with him? Indeed I did nothing of the kind. It was you who made me run away. You treated me so cruelly that I determined to go into service in London. I was sick to death of your scolding, and your preaching and praying, and this dismal house, and these horrible mists, and never a soul to speak to, sick to death of it I tell you. That’s why I went. Mr. Amber indeed!” (this with a toss of her head). “I have more taste than to take up with the likes of him. I met him as he was leaving here. I was walking, and he offered me a lift—.”
“Abr’am saw you; Abr’am saw you both!” interrupted her mother savagely. “He told me you had eloped with the man.”
“That was a lie. I parted from Mr. Amber at the London railway station. From that time to this I have never set eyes upon him. For my own sake I made him promise to hold his tongue.”
“He did—he did!” cried Mrs. Jarzil, wildly. “God help him and me, he did. He returned here, but he said nothing—made no explanation. I believed he had ruined you. Now, oh now, I see it all. And you have ruined me.”
“Oh, mother, what do you mean?”
“Why did you not let him speak? Oh, why did you not write and explain. I believed—I thought he had robbed me of you— and I revenged myself upon him.
“Revenged yourself?” I cried. I began to have an inkling of what was coming. But Mrs. Jarzil paid no heed to me. She shook Lottie furiously.
“Do you know what your silence has cost me?” (She was beside herself now). “It has cost me my soul—my soul, I say. “ Oh, why did you let me believe him guilty? I killed him. I murdered him for your sake. It was not vengeance, it was not justice, it was crime—crime and evil.”
“Yes; I killed him. I swore he should pay for what he had done. His own curiosity did for him. I played upon it. I lured him to the quicksands.”
“The quicksands? ” I repeated, horrified.
“I placed a lantern on the brink of the most dangerous of them,” the woman continued, feverishly. “He used habitually to walk on the Beaches at dark. His curiosity did the rest. He had to see what that light was. I knew he would. It was the last light he ever saw in this world. Yes, you call it murder. It was murder. But it was your fault—your fault. And now he walks, and taps at the door for me. He wants me; he wants me. I thought I had justice on my side—that I was avenging your disgrace; and I fought with my soul; oh, how I fought!
“But now—I see he is right. It is I who must now be punished. I must go. I must go. Oh, God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Lottie lay stretched on the floor. She had fainted. I placed myself between her mother and the door. I dared not let her out.
“Where would you go?” I cried, seizing her by the arm and frustrating a desperate effort to get away. She was fairly demented, and seemed possessed of strength almost demoniacal.
“To the Beaches—to my death. Let me go—let me go. An eye for an eye, I say—a tooth for a tooth. That is the law of God. Hark! He calls—he calls me. Listen!”
(I could hear nothing but the howling of the wind.)
“I must go, I must go, I must…”
She was too quick for me. Before I had time to stop her she was away into the desolate night. I rushed after her. In her present condition there was no knowing what she might do. Clearly her mind was unhinged. I could hardly see for the rain. It was nearly dark too. But on through the mire and the mist I went. I jostled up against a man. It was Abraham. I remembered it was he who had caused all this, and with the thought I lost control of myself. I gripped him by the throat.
“You dog—you liar! Lottie the girl has come back!”
“I—-I—-I know!” he gasped. “I was coming up to see her. Leave, me alone. What do you mean by this?”
“You deserve it, and more, you villain. You know well the girl did not go with Amber. You lied to her mother; you made her think so. You were in love with her yourself. The man’s death lies at your door more than at hers. She has gone to the Beaches—to her death, I tell you—unless she is stopped.”
Then I realised that I was wasting time. I hastened on, regretting deeply that my feelings had so got the better of me just then.
It was blowing half a gale, though it was not till I had crossed the sandhills that I realised it. Then the full blast of the wind struck me. It was as much as I could do to keep my feet. I could not see the woman anywhere, though I peered into the gloom until my head swam. Not a sign of her or any living creature could I see. There was nothing but the roar of the wind and the sea, and the swish of the driving rain.
Then I thought I heard a cry—a faint cry. I ploughed my way down in the direction whence I fancied it came. I became aware that Abraham had followed me. He was close behind me. Together we groped blindly on.
“He’ll get her this time!” shouted the man.
“Come on! Come on!” I roared at him. “Yonder she is.”
“And yonder the Sand-walker.”
The wretch hung back. Then a gust of wind, more concentrated and more fierce than before, seemed to rend an opening in the fog. Two shadows could be seen fluttering along—one a man of unusual height, the other a woman, reeling and swaying. She followed the Thing. As we gazed, a light appeared in the distance, radiant as a star. Its brilliance grew, and spread far and wide through the fog. The tall figure moved up to and past the light—the other following, always following.
She staggered and flung up her arms, and a wild and despairing cry rang out above the elements. And the light gradually died away, and the wind howled on, driving the mists across the sinking figure.
Slowly she sank into the sand, deeper and deeper. One last terrible moan reached us where we were, then she disappeared. For the moment the storm seemed to hush. Then all was darkness.
The Dancer in Red, and Other Stories, Fergus Hume 1906
Any guesses as to the location that inspired “Gartholm?” chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.