Author’s note: This vignette is based on a true story that happened to my father, the youngest of seven boys. One Halloween night, one of his brothers and his mother scared all the boys, but especially my father. I grew up hearing this and countless other stories from my dad’s childhood. He was the consummate storyteller.
ALL HALLOW’S EVE
by Jan Hahn
“Oh, Mary, cease your gibberish,” Mamá demanded. “Since you began worshipping with those dissenters, you are beset with the spirit world. Spirits here! Spirits there! Your tattle is driving me to distraction. My nerves cannot tolerate any more.”
Mary opened her mouth to answer, but Jane prevented her by placing her hand on our sister’s arm.
“Where is Hill? I need my salts.” Mamá cried, rising from her chair. “Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, I pray you will pardon me. My daughter’s foolishness gives me such flutterings in my chest and pains in my head that I must withdraw.”
Both Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy murmured their understanding while Mamá departed the room. I glanced at Jane. Although our intendeds were well acquainted with my mother’s parade by then, her exaggerated displays still proved humiliating. I did agree with Mamá about Mary, though. Six or eight months ago, Mary had persuaded our father to allow her to absent herself from attending Sunday services with us. Instead, she walked two miles from Longbourn village to meet with a new group of “dissenters,” as my mother called them, in a small house belonging to Jeremiah Hatfield. He served as pastor for the congregation, and Mary reported that Mr. Hatfield’s lodging overflowed with people every Lord’s Day. They sang hymns with great enthusiasm even though Mr. Hatfield did not own a piano. According to Mary, he was in no great haste to raise funds for an instrument. I could not help but wonder whether rumours of Mary’s talent on the pianoforte provoked his reluctance.
“I still say the house is haunted,” Mary said.
“Mary,” Jane murmured in objection, “the house is old and deserted. No one has lived there for years. In no way does that mean it is haunted.”
“Who was the last to reside in the dwelling?” Mr. Darcy asked.
“George Hull and his wife until her death,” my father said. “He left some fifteen years back, moving to Dorset, if memory serves. The house was literally falling down around him, but he was never one to undertake repairs. No one has cared to restore the place since then. And, if Mary continues to declare his poor wife’s spirit yet lingers about the house, I doubt anyone will ever purchase it.”
Mary nodded forcefully. “She has been seen by more than one person. I am not the only one who says Mrs. Hull inhabits the house.”
I sighed. My sister was speaking nonsense. “Who has seen this spirit, Mary? Surely you have not for if so, I suspect your hair would have turned white from the shock.”
Kitty began to titter, and Papá ducked behind his newspaper. Mr. Bingley could not keep from smiling, but Mr. Darcy rose and walked to the window. I wondered whether he wished to observe the night sky or remove himself from this absurd conversation. Our wedding could not arrive soon enough! Similar visits in the Longbourn parlour might cause Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy to reconsider their proposals of marriage.
“You laugh, Kitty,” Mary said, “but did you not hear Sarah Armstrong say her mother’s maid reported Mr. Hull was suspected of murder when his wife died?
Kitty nodded. “Sarah said Mr. Hull found his wife hanging in the downstairs parlour, but it was well known that Mrs. Hull did not care for the wallpaper in that parlour, so why would she choose to leave this world in a room she disliked? Would you like to gaze upon a pattern you hated as you took your last breath? I would not.”
“Oh, Kitty! For shame. You must not talk of the dead in that manner.” Jane’s tone sounded unusually strong.
Papá peered over his newspaper, shaking his head. He informed the room that Mrs. Hull died from a chill she contracted while walking home late one evening after a visit with the vicar’s wife.
Kitty appeared quite put out. “Then why does half the village declare she died from hanging? And why do they suspect Mr. Hull is the one who put the noose around her neck?”
“Mrs. Brasswell says many in the village believe Mrs. Hull took her own life,” Mary said. “If ‘tis so, no wonder her poor spirit roams the house.”
I attempted to silence my sister again, only to have Kitty reinforce Mary’s statements. Papá rose to leave the room. “If our neighbours do make such declarations and maintain these ridiculous suspicions, I conclude we have many more village idiots than I previously thought. Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, I am retiring to my study. If either of you can no longer abide this silly conversation, you are welcome to join me.”
I walked across the room to join Mr. Darcy. “Papá is right. Let us speak of other things, please.”
The room grew quiet and no one spoke for a few moments, when suddenly Mr. Bingley made a suggestion I never anticipated.
“It is a lovely evening. What say we take a walk in the moonlight and explore this deserted house?”
Mary and Kitty jumped up, excited at the thought. Jane turned to him with a questioning frown.
“Come, my dear, what better way to celebrate tonight?” he said, taking her hand.
“Celebrate? Why should we celebrate, Charles?”
“Because it is the thirty-first of October, All Hallows Eve! If we were in Ireland, children in disguise would be at the door right now begging for nuts or apples.” Mr. Bingley lowered his voice and spoke in a hush. “And some believe the physical and spiritual worlds are nearest each other tonight. Who knows? Magical things may happen.”
Mary’s eyes grew big while Kitty could not refrain from bouncing up and down with excitement. “Ooh,” she cried. “We must visit the haunted house tonight.”
“Girls!” Jane said. “We may consent to a moonlit walk, but all this superstition must cease.”
“Now you sound like Mamá,” Kitty said with a laugh. “Are your nerves fluttering as well?” She and Mary had risen in search of their coats. Neither of them lingered to hear Jane’s answer or watch her sigh in vexation.
“I apologize for my sisters’ silliness, Mr. Darcy,” Jane said. “But Charles, must you encourage them with talk of magic and the meeting of physical and spiritual worlds?”
Mr. Bingley attempted to look chastened, but his ever-present smile betrayed him. He was in high spirits, and his enjoyment of the evening proved contagious.
“There is no need for an apology,” Mr. Darcy said. “Your sisters’ liveliness is…entertaining, and Bingley is simply repeating beliefs of the ancients.”
“And what else do the ancients profess?” I asked, gazing up at him with one arched brow.
He smiled at me. “On one night every year the souls of the dead return home to be appeased.”
I began to laugh. “Surely, you do not believe that!”
He raised his eyebrows and shrugged. “Since childhood, I have observed bonfires lit on the hills of Derbyshire. Someone holds a pitchfork containing burning straw while others kneel in a circle and pray for the souls of the departed.”
“Lizzy, do not you recall when we were children Papá showing us the vigil bonfires in the pastures near Longbourn?” Jane said.
“I do not remember they occurred on October thirty-first. I do not even know why they burned.”
“Papá said the people were praying for their dead loved ones.”
“I thought most of those traditions were observed on Guy Fawkes Day.”
“Many of the old traditions have been united with that day,” Mr. Darcy said.
Mary and Kitty called from the foyer, urging us to come for they were eager to begin our excursion. Papá, however, emerged from his study, questioning our proposed adventure. Kitty was careful to describe it as a moonlit stroll to get some air. No mention was made of the Hull house. Once Papá was assured that the gentlemen would escort us home, we were free to go.
While my father’s permission was being sought, I made my way to the linen cupboard for a task I hoped to keep hidden. How surprised I was to turn and find Hill standing right behind me! I startled and jumped slightly.
“Can I help you, Miss Elizabeth?”
I assured her that I had what I needed, but she appeared agitated and repeated the question. I was nervous myself for I was busy hiding the object beneath my coat and under my left arm. All the while, I attempted to satisfy Hill’s curiosity without revealing the truth. At last, I heard Mr. Darcy call my name. When we stepped outside, the crisp air cooled my cheeks. Mr. Darcy offered his right arm, but I scurried around him and tucked my right hand into the crook of his other arm. He gave me a quizzical look, but I just smiled. We joined my sisters and Mr. Bingley as they walked up the path, leaving Longbourn behind.
Dark clouds hid the new moon; thus, the night was quite dark. Mary and Kitty could not have wished for a more foreboding atmosphere in which to seek the spectre of poor Mrs. Hull. Fortunately, Mr. Bingley had secured a lantern before we set out. Mary and Kitty led the way, their excitement in pronounced exhibition. Kitty walked so fast that she soon left us in her wake. Mary continually called for her to wait while Jane and Mr. Bingley hastened to keep up with the girls. Mr. Darcy and I lingered behind, enjoying the opportunity to be alone.
“When you set out this evening, I doubt you envisioned the night would include a ramble through the dark Hertfordshire countryside, did you?” I asked.
“True, but that does not mean I find it displeasing.” He smiled down at me. “I am exceedingly happy whenever I am in your company, Elizabeth.”
“You are patient, sir, to tolerate my sisters and their whims. I am certain you would much rather be reading a good book or be at the billiards table with Mr. Bingley.”
“You are wrong. If I were reading a book, I would want you sitting beside me doing the same. If playing billiards, I would need your adoring admiration of my skill.”
I laughed and squeezed his arm. He leaned down and kissed the top of my head. Oh, how I loved this man! How had I lived before he came into my life? I stopped and turned to him, raising my face expectantly. With a brief glance ahead to make certain our companions were turned away from us, he began to kiss me. With one arm, he pulled me closer, and I gladly leaned against him, careful to keep my left arm close to my side.
“Kissing you is like stealing a taste of honey,” he murmured.
“Those who steal honey are oft-times stung.”
“I would brave the sting any day to claim such a sweet reward.”
I placed my face against his chest, revelling in his warmth. He played with the few curls on my neck that had escaped my hairpins. I wished I might remain in his embrace for the rest of the evening. Within moments, though, Bingley called us to catch up with them.
“Make haste! Mary says the haunted house lies just around the bend.”
True enough, we had only to walk a short way when the outline of the old, deserted house loomed before us. The clouds parted slightly, and a sliver of moonlight illuminated the object of our search. Mr. Bingley held the lantern aloft.
“Do shine your light, Bingley. Mrs. Hull’s spirit may be floating just inside the door,” Mr. Darcy said, his sarcasm evident.
“Oh, yes,” Kitty said in a hushed tone. “Look! Is that not something in the upstairs window?”
“Where?” Mary cried. “Where?” A mixture of apprehension and fascination caused my younger sisters to lean towards the house, their eyes riveted on the upper story. When nothing appeared through the broken panes of glass, they sighed in disappointment.
“Shall we move closer?” Kitty whispered.
“Why not?” Mr. Bingley said, his voice booming in the stillness. “Come, let us look through the windows below stairs. Perchance, one of those spirits will show itself.”
As we walked through the weeds across the unkempt lawn, Mr. Darcy made a startling proposal. “Why content ourselves with peeping through windows? I say we knock on the door.”
“Mr. Darcy!” Mary and Kitty whispered in unison.
“Well, why not?” Mr. Bingley agreed. “Come, Darcy, let us lead the way. I do not fear this poor woman’s ghost.” The men approached the door, and Jane and I followed, but Kitty and Mary hung back in fear.
Jane turned to our sisters. “Girls, is this not what you wanted? Why do you hesitate?”
“Perhaps here they are not as brave as they were in Papá’s drawing room,” I said, laughing.
“I am not afraid,” Mary declared as she marched up to the front door. Kitty could hardly remain behind if all of us were brave enough to enter the house, so she reluctantly followed. Mr. Darcy boldly knocked on the door only to be met with the sound of fluttering wings.
Mary turned and hastened back to Kitty’s side. The girls clutched each other in terror. “Did you hear that?” Mary cried. “We have disturbed the spirits inside.”
“Most likely, we have disturbed birds nesting in the house,” I said.
Mr. Darcy led us through the door where we had to fight our way through a blanket of cobwebs. Skittering noises could be heard throughout the house which prompted Mary once again to claim there were spirits running about.
“I fear those are not spirits, Miss Mary, but mice,” Mr. Bingley said. That pronouncement provoked squeals from all my sisters and myself. I hated mice!
“I would rather meet up with a ghost,” I said.
We advanced into the room, and Mr. Bingley hoisted the lantern towards the ceiling displaying a host of even more elaborate spiderwebs. He walked into the adjoining apartment which appeared to be the dining room. More skittering noises raced along the hall.
“Shall we explore the second floor?” Mr. Darcy asked. Mr. Bingley nodded in agreement. The men took two or three steps up the staircase when the handrail cracked in two. They wisely decided the stairs were not safe to climb. Mr. Bingley’s cheerful nature, however, would not allow my sisters to be disappointed. He declared they would search every corner on the first floor for spirits, and my sisters timidly followed his directions.
While they were thus engaged, I slipped out the front door and crept around the side of the house. There, I withdrew the folded sheet I had hidden beneath my coat and under my arm. After shaking it out, I found a sharp stick and poked holes in the fabric so that I might see. I threw it over my head and approached the nearest window. I began to moan loudly. Mary was the first to see me. Even in the dim light, I saw her eyes widen before she screamed. Kitty ran to her side as did the others, and she, too, screamed and pointed at me.
“It’s Mrs. Hull’s spirit!” My young sisters clung to each other and shrieked again and again. With the utmost effort, I controlled my laughter and continued to moan. I bent low beneath the window so they could not see me and then popped up with an even louder moan. Jane appeared puzzled; nevertheless, she held onto Mr. Bingley’s arm. Oh, this was such great fun!
I moaned once more when the girls began to scream even louder and frantically point anew. What had I done to stimulate this greater horror? Just then, a low moan sounded in my ear. I turned towards the noise only to find another ghost all in white standing right beside me! I jumped and screamed, gathered up the sheet, and dashed across the lawn. Chancing a quick glance over my shoulder, I saw the thing chasing me. I ran faster and faster, when I felt it touch me, pulling the sheet off my head.
Shaking with fright, I attempted to wrestle away from the thing when it grabbed my hand from behind and pulled me to a stop. I gasped for breath, every nerve alive with fear. I felt hands on my shoulders turning me around. There stood Mr. Darcy, trying his best not to laugh.
“Fitzwilliam!” With relief, I ran into his arms and clung to him so tightly I could hear his heartbeat through his coat. A moment later, I pushed him away, attempting to regain some bit of dignity. “How could you? You are a terrible, terrible man to frighten me in that manner.”
“Indeed. A terrible, terrible man. And what does that make you―dressing up so to scare your poor sisters?”
“It was just a prank, a silly prank.”
He pulled me back into his arms. “It seems we both wished to pull the same foolish joke.”
“But you never do childish things like this.”
“Perhaps, I am learning tricks from you, my playful, mischievous girl. Come now, forgive me, and let us laugh together. And,” he glanced over his shoulder, “I suggest we make our way to Longbourn before your sisters catch up with us. I think they fail to appreciate the humour of our performance.” He smiled and kissed my forehead, and since he smelled delightful, and I loved the feel of his strong arms around me, I began to smile before we hurriedly ran down the path towards home.
Mr. Darcy was correct. Although Mr. Bingley and Jane deemed our actions ludicrous, Mary and Kitty have yet to forgive us.
“No, Lizzy! We will never, ever forgive you,” they declared.
We all agreed with Mr. Bingley, though, when he said, “I predict this is one All Hallow’s Eve we shall not forget.”
Do you have a fun or spooky memory from your childhood or past that you would share with us? What did you think of Jan’s story? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below. Your comments enter you in the giveaway at the end of this month of mystery, haunting tales, and strange happenings!
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