The following true story was written down by a Mr. Ralph Hastings who, in October 1891 was living at Broadmeadow, Teignmouth. Further comment seems unnecessary, as the story speaks for itself:
The narrative here set down is taken from notes of occurrences that I recorded faithfully in my diary at the time, and which, if not as sensational and highly coloured as similar narrations often are, possesses at all events the advantages of being a perfectly truthful one.
I was spending some months of the summer of ‘73 at a favourite watering place on the South East coast. One afternoon (it was the 19th of June) I went to visit some friends who had lived many years in an old-fashioned house which stood in a quadrangle, and was approached from the church by a narrow lane on a declivity. Brook House was a commodious red-bricked structure of three stories, faced by a court, and with its ground-floor windows unseen from the outside by reason of the lofty walls that encircled them, and which continued, sloping downwards, till the base of the hill was reached. Local tradition gave it the foremost place for antiquity in a town at that time abounding in old houses, but now, alas, mostly replaced or modernised. The ‘tenants at will’ were an old lady, the widow of a captain in the 79th Highlanders, and her daughter.
On the day in question, as I approached the house from, Church Lane, I happened to glance at the window to the right on the second floor There I saw to my astonishment the apparent figure of Miss B***, standing partially dressed, arranging her hair, and looking intently at me. On entering the house I was at once shown into the drawing-room, which was on the right-hand side of the door, the dining-room being on the left. I found Miss B* * * sitting reading! Some days after (it was July 3rd) I called again. In the course of conversation I asked Miss B* * * whether she had been long in the room when the servant admitted me on my previous visit. ‘More than an hour,’ she replied. Observing my astonishment, she enquired the cause. ‘What did I mean?’ I then told her what I had seen. In a tone of distress she replied, ‘It is useless to conceal from you that strange things do take place here. I have been observed similarly, by others than yourself. I have not been in the room you refer to for weeks, nor has it been occupied for years.’
My curiosity was now aroused; but scouting the idea of anything supernatural, I proposed we should go up into the room in question. On entering I went to the window looking on to the gardens (actually there were three, the third looking on to the hill at the side of the house). Throwing it up—the afternoon being sultry—and sitting on the ledge, I began talking of other subjects than the matter in hand. After some ten minutes I remarked: ‘Nothing happens when you are expecting it.’ The door was open, and the words were scarcely out of my mouth than a fearful sound, as of a raging clash of bells, filled the air around us; it lasted about half a minute. There was formerly a bell in the servant’s room, which divided this from a corresponding one, but it had long been removed, as it used to ring of its own accord.
Another singular circumstance was that about five minutes previously we had, distinctly heard someone come upstairs and go into the adjoining room; then we heard the servant’s voice exclaiming from downstairs: ‘Did you hear those bells, Miss? They aren’t ours!’ The bells! They had literally rung in our ears as if swung near by invisible hands, and then, without even a last tinkling vibration, stopped with a curious suddenness.
What made matters even more mysterious was the fact that when we heard someone come upstairs it must have been something akin to the servant’s double, because Miss B***had called out: ‘Is that you, Liz?’ and it had replied in the affirmative.
Anyway, I had had enough for one day, and shortly after wards left. Before my departure, however, Miss B*** related an extraordinary circumstance which had taken place during the previous night. Having retired to bed—she occupied a room on the first floor—and turning her face towards the wall, she saw a gossamer veil, as it seemed, thrown over her head. Terrified, she turned the other way; then, thinking she had been deceived, turned back to the wall again—when the experience was repeated.
At this point I should like to say something of the former history of the house, in so far as this could be learned. During the year 1815, just before Waterloo, some officers were quartered in the, town, one of them being resident here, at Brook House. Evidently there was a lady with him, young and beautiful, but whether or not she was his wife remained unknown. She used to be, seen pacing up and down the room, with a child in her arms, apparently in great distress. Then suddenly she disappeared, never again being seen. Although anticipating my narrative somewhat, I may say that, one summer afternoon, while in the garden, I saw this lady walking backwards and forwards in the room above mentioned; and, no less distinctly, I saw the child in her arms. More than this—I saw a figure ascend on something in the centre of the room (possibly a small pair of steps), and suspend something from the beam that ran across it.
My curiosity now being fully aroused I returned to the house the next day (July 4) accompanied by a lady who was a mutual friend. We went up to the room in question, threw the window open—it being very hot—and then went downstairs to the drawing-room, where we heard some music. About half an hour later we went upstairs again. Miss F*** would not come with us, but went into the garden. We stayed a few minutes on the first floor, going into a spare room opposite Miss B where she showed me some valuable Indian jewellery which her father had brought her during the year of the suppression of the Indian Mutiny. Then we went up the next flight and into the seemingly haunted room—and the window which we had left open was shut! We threw it with open again, sitting there for some time. When we returned — downstairs Miss F*** said that while she was in the garden and we were in the room on the first floor, looking at the jewellery, she noticed that the window on the second floor was shut. Then a bulky form had come up to it.
We all went down the garden, and, looking up, beheld the window shut and hasped. Again we went upstairs; a suffocating, hot, dead air, pervaded the room, On our way there Miss B*** had let out a half-stifled cry, and on our enquiring the cause, said she had momentarily felt as though a hand grasped her right ankle. Almost wild with a feverish curiosity, arid in spite of her remonstrances, I unhasped the window, flinging it wide open once more. Quickly we rushed down to the garden, straight to the middle walk, whence we could command a full view of the window. It was still open.
Presently, to our horror, a figure appeared, resembling Miss B***, yet most unlike her. Its fearful eyes were gazing at me without movement, and totally expressionless. The pulsation of my heart seemed to be arrested; and my blood, which the moment before had seemed to burn me as it coursed madly through my veins, was chilled as if by ice. For I was face to face with a spirit, and withered by its contact! Those eyes—I can still see them, still feel them, after the lapse of twenty years—seemed to burn into me, coldly, in a way which I cannot possibly describe.
Miss B*** had incontinently fainted when she saw the shoulders (as she afterwards described it) of the figure. As for myself, I continued gazing, spellbound; like ‘The Wedding Guest’ of the ancient story, I was held by the eye of the apparition, and could not choose but look. The dreadful hands were lifted automatically, coming to rest on the window- sash; they paused a moment, then noiselessly closed the window, and hasped it.
My eyes had not left the figure for one instant. What impressed me strongly was this inexplicable peculiarity: that as soon as the sash had passed the face, the latter vanished- but the hands remained. The unreality of the actual movement of the window as it closed also seemed to contradict me; it suggested the (for want of a better comparison) mechanical passage of stage scenery, or the movement of toys pulled by wires; it made no noise whatever.
Now I distinctly recognised the shape as that of Rhoda, Miss B***’s elder sister, who had been dead some twelve years. I had never seen her during life, but I at once knew her by the resemblance to a portrait hanging in the drawing-room- (let those laugh who will) to the red bow which she always wore.
The following afternoon (July 5) I was at Brook House again, and we- Miss B*** and myself—went up to the room. I threw the window up, and we returned quickly to the garden, where we sat in the summer-house. Presently we looked out and saw two hands at the window. They drew it down a little, then vanished to the right, as if annoyed at our seeing them. After some time we looked again, and saw the backs of two hands, on the outside of the window; but they did not move it.
We purposely returned indoors for a few seconds, coming out again almost immediately, and seeing the window almost closed. Then we hurried upstairs, where I flung the window as wide as it would go, and before leaving set the door open as far as possible, with a heavy chair against it. As we looked up at the window again, after the appearance of the hands, we saw a horrible object come from the right (the apparitions invariably did). The only thing I can liken it to is a large white bundle, called by Miss B***, who had seen it before, ‘the headless woman’. Whatever it was, it came in front of the window, and then began walking backwards and forwards. After the lapse of half an hour we went back upstairs, and found the chair by the window, and the door closed.
Whereupon I wrote a letter to the ghostly visitant, couching it in these terms: ‘Miss B*** and Mr. Hastings present their compliments to the Lady Headless, and request her acceptance of this fruit from their garden. They hope it will please, as she has often been seen admiring it. A reply will oblige, but the bearer does not wait for the answer.’ On looking back I can scarcely credit that I had the temerity to write such a note! Once done, however, we placed the chair against the door, leaving the fruit and the note on it. Two or three times we returned to see what had happened, but everything was unchanged.
We then went and stood outside the summer-house, whence a free view of the window could be obtained. Presently the headless figure came for and quite distinctly bowed to us two or three times; immediately afterwards we heard the almost deafening noise of the door being slammed.
The apex of this figure, which was rotund (by that I mean that it was neckless), seemed to dilate a few times, and we feared seeing something indescribably horrible, though we knew not what. But it vanished without anything further happening in that sense; though just as it did so we saw a beautiful arm come from the curtain and wave to us. Upstairs again, we found the door shut; and on entering found the chair overturned in the middle of the room, the fruit scattered in all directions, and, to our horror, the note, which I had folded cross-wise, was charred at each corner. I picked it up, but lacked courage to open it, terrified of a possible reply. Placing it in a plate, I burnt it. The process was unusually slow, and it disappeared in a dark kind of mucus.
July 6th.—At this period of my life I was a Roman Catholic, and the efficacy of holy water had been duly impressed on me. I procured some from a priest, and, agreeing to acquaint him with the result, went to Brook House. We went up to the room, and, as usual, opened the window. I then set to work exorcising the place, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and sprinkling it with the holy water. Miss B***, on her part, placed more reliance on the protestant Bible, which she placed on the table.
July10th. —To Brook House, and prevailed upon Miss B* * * to take the Bible out of the room. It was now habitually kept there, and assuredly acted as a talisman in contradistinction to the holy water, which proved of no efficacy whatever...
July 21st. —To Brook House in the afternoon. As an experiment we took ‘it’ or ‘them’ some tea in a cup, together with two small slices of bread and butter, and some shrimps on an old saucer. These were all set on a small tray, which was placed in the window recess. I then put a stand in the centre of the window, flanking it with a chair on either side; on one I placed a book, and on the other a small box. In the stand I deposited the Daily Telegraph and a bunch of keys. We left, after removing the Bible and shutting the door.
Suddenly we heard a tremendous crash on the gravel walk, quite close to our heads. We were standing in the portico at the time. A short distance from our feet, what had been the saucer now lay disintegrated; the tray was adjacent, whilst the cup was half-embedded in some loose earth—but was unbroken; the remainder of the articles were strewn all around. On returning to the room we found one of the chairs slightly moved, and my keys on the floor. That was all. It was only then that our eyes strayed to the bed, where we saw what had certainly not been there before: a great impression in the disturbed bed-clothes, as of some huge ‘thing’ having lain there.
On closer inspection we distinctly saw the coverlet gently moving, and the movement resembled the very feeble respiration of a body lying beneath. Yet none was there. Fear got the better of us this time, and we left the unwholesome room.
This kind of thing was repeated time after time, on later occasions, with variations one way and another...
One afternoon Miss B*** turned the handle of the drawing- room door, but it refused to open. Was it locked? Certainly not! Did it give at all? Not an inch! Another push, and yet another, all with a similar result.
Extra strength was invoked. It was insufficient. Additional help was forthcoming, swelling the attacking party to three in number. Suddenly, and surprisingly, the door yielded—or, rather, collapsed inwards, precipitating all of us into the room with such unexpectedness that we almost fell to the floor; and at the same time an unpleasant laugh echoed through the air. I need scarcely add that we fled in confusion!
Yet one more example: One night William B*** went up to his room at 11.30 p.m., when he recollected having left his watch on the mantel downstairs. He returned; but as he went by the half-opened drawing-room door, to his amazement, there, in an armchair drawn close to the fire (it was one which, before leaving, he had replaced against the wall), and gazing intently or vacantly—which ?—at the smouldering embers, sat his dead sister, Rhoda, or, rather, her ‘appearance’. Pulling himself together, he stepped over the threshold and entered. The apparition had gone, but the chair remained to bear witness to what he had seen. It was then that he remembered it was the anniversary of her death.
August 18th.—To Brook House, and up into the room. Almost immediately a heavy sound, as of lumber being rolled about in the attic overhead, warned us that the ‘activities’ had commenced. Then the door of the room opposite closed with a terrific bang. After an interval a friend and I volunteered to go up to the top floor and explore. We had almost reached the top step when the clanging as of a heavy bell filled the air. So, without proceeding, we returned downstairs, and thence to the garden. The white figure appeared, bowed low, and extended its shrouded arms. Then, seizing a chair, it threw it out of the window—after which it danced madly round the room, finally seeming to seat itself in an armchair.
We retraced our steps to the house, passing the chair which still lay on the lawn, and went back to the room on the second floor. The armchair and stand were lying on their sides. A Miss A*** and myself decided to stay in the room, while the others went into the garden. They were to wave their handkerchiefs if they saw anything unusual.
It might be as well, here, to mention the fact that, although f I never saw anything intangible when actually in the room, yet I was always conscious when it was disturbed, of a sense of suffocation, seemingly caused by a peculiar denseness which suffused the chamber and which seemed to pervade every thing. On this occasion I became aware, from the usual symptoms; that something was breathing the same air as ourselves. Almost directly we saw Miss B***’s handkerchief waving down below, and she shouted up to us, imploring us to come down if we wished to escape serious injury. When we had descended, she told us that she had seen a vivid flame poised, or rather hovering, over my head, and between us she had distinguished, though indistinctly, as it was more in the background, the headless lady with the rounded stump in place of a neck.
We tried the same procedure over again, and the same phenomena were repeated.
This ends my personal experiences in this most unusual house. My health became impaired, and for upwards of two years I was an invalid. But, as time wore on and the impressions waned, I gradually recovered my former vigour. And I must admit that I often wander back in imagination, if some times unwillingly, to the many strange mysteries which, during those several weeks, held sway in that inexplicable building called Brook House.
The location of Brook House is too vague for the house to be found, to checked the story is true. No mention was made were it was originally published to check it's sources.