A Haunted House Indeed!
Dreamed 1887/4/12 by Anna Kingsford
I dreamt that during a tour on the Continent with my friend C. we stayed in a town wherein there was an ancient house of horrible reputation, concerning which we received the following account. At the top of the house was a suite of rooms, from which no one who entered at night ever again emerged. No corpse was ever found; but it was said by some that the victims were absorbed bodily bv the walls; by others that there were in the rooms a number of pictures in frames, one frame however, containing a blank canvas, which had the dreadful power, first, of fascinating the beholder, and next of drawing him towards it, so that he was compelled to approach and gaze at it. Then, by the same hideous enchantment, he was forced to touch it, and the touch was fatal. For the canvas seized him as a devil-fish seizes its prey, and sucked him in, so that he perished without leaving a trace of himself, or of the manner of his death. The legend said further that if any person could succeed in passing a night in these rooms and in resisting their deadly influence, the spell would for ever be broken, and no one would thenceforth be sacrificed.
Hearing all this, and being somewhat of the knight-errant order, C. and I determined to face the danger, and, if possible, deliver the town from the enchantment. We were assured that the attempt would be vain, for that it had already been many times made, and the Devils of the place were always triumphant. They had the power, we were told, of hallucinating the senses of their victims; we should be subjected to some illusion, and be fatally deceived. Nevertheless, we were resolved to try what we could do, and in order to acquaint ourselves with the scene of the ordeal, we visited the place in the daytime.
It was a gloomy-looking building, consisting of several vast rooms, filled with lumber of old furniture, worm-eaten and decaying; scaffoldings, which seemed to have been erected for the sake of making repairs and then left; the windows were curtainless, the floors bare, and rats ran hither and thither among the rubbish accumulated in the corners. Nothing could possibly look more desolate and gruesome. We saw no pictures; but as we did not explore every part of the rooms, they may have been there without our seeing them.
We were further informed by the people of the town that in order to visit the rooms at night it was necessary to wear a special costume, and that without it we should have no chance whatever of issuing from them alive. This costume was of black and white, and each of us was to carry a black stave. So we put on this attire, which somewhat resembled the garb of an ecclesiastical order, and when the appointed time came, repaired to the haunted house, where, after toiling up the great staircase in the darkness, we reached the door of the haunted apartments to find it closed.
But light was plainly visible beneath it, and within was the sound of voices. This greatly surprised us--but after a short conference we knocked. The door was presently opened by a servant, dressed as a modern in-door footman usually is, who civilly asked us to walk in. On entering we found the place altogether different from what we expected to find, and had found on our daylight visit. It was brightly lighted, had decorated walls, pretty ornaments, carpets, and every kind of modern garnishment, and, in short, bore all the appearance of an ordinary well-appointed private "flat." While we stood in the corridor, astonished, a gentleman in evening dress advanced towards us from one of the reception rooms. As he looked interrogatively at us, we thought it best to explain the intrusion, adding that we presumed we had either entered the wrong house, or stopped at the wrong apartment.
He laughed pleasantly at our tale, and said, "I don't know anything about haunted rooms, and, in fact, don't believe in anything of the kind. As for these rooms, they have for a long time been let for two or three nights every week to our Society for the purpose of social reunion. We are members of a musical and literary association, and are in the habit of holding conversaziones in these rooms on certain evenings, during which we entertain ourselves with dancing, singing, charades, and literary gossip. The rooms are spacious and lofty, and exactly adapted to our requirements. As you are here, I may say, in the name of the rest of the members, that we shall be happy if you will join us."
At this I glanced at our dresses in some confusion, which being observed by the gentleman, he hastened to say: "You need be under no anxiety about your appearance, for this is a costume night, and the greater number of our guests are in travesty." As he spoke he threw open the door of a large drawing-room and invited us in.
On entering we found a company of men and women, well-dressed, some in ordinary evening attire and some costumed. The room was brilliantly lighted and beautifully furnished and decorated. At one end was a grand piano, round which several persons were grouped and others were seated on ottomans taking tea or coffee; and others strolled about, talking. Our host, who appeared to be master of the ceremonies, introduced us to several persons, and we soon became deeply interested in a conversation on literary subjects.
So the evening wore on pleasantly, but I never ceased to wonder how we could have mistaken the house or the staircase after the precaution we had taken of visiting it in the daytime in order to avoid the possibility of error.
Presently, being tired of conversation, I wandered away from the group with which C. was still engaged, to look at the beautiful decorations of the great salon, the walls of which were covered with artistic designs in fresco. Between each couple of panels, the whole length of the salon, was a beautiful painting, representing a landscape or a sea-piece. I passed from one to the other, admiring each, till I had reached the extreme end, and was far away from the rest of the company, where the lights were not so many or so bright as in the centre. The last fresco in the series then caught my attention. At first it appeared to me to be unfinished; and then I observed that there was upon its background no picture at all, but only a background of merging tints which seemed to change, and to be now sky, now sea, now green grass. This empty picture had, moreover, an odd metallic colouring which fascinated me; and saying to myself "Is there really any painting on it?" I mechanically put out my hand and touched it.
On this I was instantly seized by a frightful sensation, a shock that ran from the tips of my fingers to my brain, and steeped my whole being. Simultaneously I was aware of an overwhelming sense of sucking and dragging, which, from my hand and arm, and, as it were, through them, seemed to possess and envelop my whole person. Face, hair, eyes, bosom, limbs, every portion of my body was locked in an awful embrace which, like the vortex of a whirlpool, drew me irresistibly towards the picture. I felt the hideous impulse clinging over me and sucking me forwards into the wall. I strove in vain to resist it. My efforts were more futile than the flutter of gossamer wings.
And then there rushed upon my mind the consciousness that all we had been told about the haunted rooms was true; that a strong delusion had been cast over us; that all this brilliant throng of modern ladies and gentlemen were fiends masquerading, prepared beforehand for our coming; that all the beauty and surroundings were mere glamour; and that in reality the rooms were those we had seen in the daytime, filled with lumber and rot and vermin.
As I realised all this, and was thrilled with the certainty of it, a sudden access of strength came to me, and I was impelled, as a last desperate effort, to turn my back on the awful fresco, and at least to save my face from coming into contact with it and being glued to its surface. With a shriek of anguish I wrenched myself round and fell prostrate on the ground, face downwards, with my back to the wall, feeling as though the flesh had been torn from my hand and arm. Whether I was saved or not I knew not.
My whole being was overpowered by the realisation of the deception to which I had succumbed. I had looked for something so different, darkness, vacant, deserted rooms, and perhaps a tall, white, empty canvas in a frame, against which I should have been on my guard. Who could have anticipated or suspected this cheerful welcome, these entertaining literati, these innocent-looking frescoes? Who could have foreseen so deadly a horror in such a guise? Was I doomed? Should I, too, be sucked in and absorbed, and perhaps C. after me, knowing nothing of my fate? I had no voice; I could not warn him; all my force seemed to have been spent on the single shriek I had uttered as I turned my back on the wall. I lay prone upon the floor, and knew that I had swooned.
And thus, on seeking me, C. would doubtless have found me, lying insensible among the rubbish, with the rooms restored to the condition in which we had seen them by day, my success in withdrawing myself having dissolved the spell and destroyed the enchantment. But as it was, I awoke from my swoon only to find that I had been dreaming.
Source: Dreams and Dream-Stories by Anna Kingsford (1888; edited by Edward Maitland). The next dream in the book, A Square in the Hand, happened the same night, and, like Haunted, has a near-death shock at the end.
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