Ghost-Laying Stories Legends of old England by Edwin Hartland

SOME years back a clergyman, on taking possession of a living on the confines of Dartmoor, found it necessary to enlarge the house, which was really little better than the peasants' cottages around it. He lengthened the one sitting-room, and made it into a tolerable dining-room, adding a drawing-room and two or three bedrooms. These improvements satisfied his wife and children; but there was one interested party whom he had left out of consideration--the spirit of his predecessor, an old gentleman who had outlived all his family, and passed many solitary years in the remote parsonage.

And ere long the consequences of this neglect appeared. Sounds were soon heard of an evening as though a figure in a dressing-gown were sweeping in and out of the rooms, and treading with a soft yet heavy tread, and this particularly in the dining-room, where the old Vicar had spent the last years of his life, sitting over the fire, or pacing up and down in his dressing-gown and slippers. The eerie sounds began at nightfall, and continued at intervals till morning. Uneasiness pervaded the household. Servants gave warning and went away; no one applied for their vacant places. The daughters fell ill, and were sent away for change of air; then their mother was anxious about them, and went to see how they were going on; and so the Vicar was left alone, at the mercy of his predecessor's ghost. At first he bore up bravely, but one Saturday night, while he was sitting up late, and wearily going over his Sunday sermons, the "pad, pad" of the measured tread struck so painfully upon his nerves that he could bear it no longer. He started up, opened the window, jumped out, and made the best of his way to the nearest farm, where lived his churchwarden, an honest Dartmoor farmer.

There the Vicar found a kind welcome; and when he told his tale, in a hesitating sort of way, owning his dislike to solitude and apologising for the weakness of nerves which made him fancy he heard the sounds so often described to him, his host broke in with a declaration of his belief that the old Vicar was at the bottom of it, just because of the alterations in the house he had lived in so many years. "He never could abide changes," pursued the farmer, "but he's had his day, and you should have yours now. He must be laid, that's certain; and if you'll go away next week to your missis and the young ladies, I'll see to it."

And see to it he did, A jury of seven parsons was convoked, and each sat for half-an-hour with a candle in his hand, and it burned out its time with each, showing plainly that none of them could lay the ghost. Nor was this any wonder, for were they not all old acquaintances of his, so that he knew all their tricks? The spirit could afford to defy them; it was not worth his while to blow their candles out. But the seventh parson was a stranger, and a scholar fresh from Oxford. In his hand the light went out at once. He was clearly the man to lay the ghost, and he did not shrink from his task; he laid it at once, and in a beer barrel.

But now a fresh difficulty arose. What was to be done with the beer-barrel and its mysterious tenant? Where could it be placed secure from the touch of any curious hand, which might be tempted to broach the barrel, and set free the ghost? Nothing occurred to the assembled company but to roll the thing into one corner, and send for the mason to inclose it with stones and mortar. This done, the room looked very odd with one corner cut off. Uniformity would be attained if the other three were filled up as well; and besides, the ghost would be safer if no one knew the very spot in which he was reposing. So the other corners were blocked up, and with success. What matters it if the room be smaller!--the parsonage has never been haunted since.

There lived in the town of-----, in that part of England which lies towards the borders of Wales, a very curious simple kind of a man; though, simple as he seemed, people all said there was more cunning in him than there appeared to be, and that he knew a good deal that other people did not know. Now there was in the same town a certain large and very old house, and one of the rooms was haunted by a ghost, which not only hindered people from making any use of that room, but was also very troublesome to them in other ways. The man whom I have just mentioned was reported to be very clever at dealing with ghosts, and the proprietor of the haunted house, by the advice of some of his friends, sent for him and asked him if he would undertake to make the ghost quit the house. Tommy, for that was the name the man generally went by, agreed to do this, on condition that he should have with him in the room which the ghost frequented three things--an empty bottle, a bottle of brandy with a tumbler, and a pitcher of water. So Tommy had a fine fire in the room, for it was a cold winter evening, and he locked the door safely in the inside, and sat down to pass the night drinking brandy and water. Well, just as the dock struck twelve, he was roused by a slight noise, and looking up, lot there was the ghost standing before him. Says the ghost: "Well, Tommy, how are ye?" "Pretty well, thank ye," says be; "but pray bow did ye know my name?" "Oh, very well indeed," said the ghost. "And bow did ye get in?" "Oh, very easily." "Not through the door, I'm sure." "No, not at all, but through the keyhole." "D'ye say so? None of your tricks upon me; I won't believe you came through the keyhole." "Won't ye? but I did." "I'm sure you can't get through the keyhole." "I'm sure I can." "Well, then," says Tommy, pointing to the empty bottle, which he pretended to have emptied, "if you can come through the keyhole you can get into this bottle, but I won't believe you can do either." Now the ghost began to be very angry that Tommy should doubt his powers of getting into the bottle, so he asserted most confidently that the thing was easy to be done. "No," said Tommy, "I won't believe it till I see you get in." "Here goes then," said the ghost, and sure enough into the bottle he went, and Tommy corked him up quite tight, so that he could not get out, and be took the bottle to the bridge where the river was wide and deep, and he threw the bottle exactly over the keystone of the middle arch into the river, and the ghost was never heard of after.