A Night in a Haunted House (abridged)

A Night in a Haunted House (abridged)
by Author Unknown

Within a stone's throw of the line of the Richmond and Petersburg rail-road, and not more than half a mile from James river, stand the blackened and roofless walls of a large brick building...It is now many years since I paid the old house a visit. My curiosity was excited by the current tales in regard to it; for I always had rather a taste for superstitious marvels. I found it a large and stately building, finished within in the old aristocratic style of Virginia....
It was a clear, moonlight night in midsummer, and the walk, though long, was not unpleasant. The lonely old building looked particularly grim by moonlight, and I felt an uneasy misgiving as I approached it. But I had gone too far to think of retreating. An old white horse that in the moon's uncertain light had a pale and ghostly appearance, stood a few rods from the front porch. I walked up to him in order to be quite sure that he was a veritable thing of earth...he made no movement to avoid me, but gazed mournfully at me with large hollow eyes, as I patted his shoulder and addressed him in some kind sympathizing words....
The front door was open, just as I had left it in the morning. I paused on the threshold an instant, and then bracing my nerves with a long, deep breath, entered and stood a few feet within the hall. All seemed deserted, and still as a churchyard at midnight. The moon shining through the casements shewed me the staircase leading to the room I had selected, and I commenced ascending. Every step resounded through the great empty house with a prolonged reverberation that was almost appalling. But I kept steadily on, partly groping and partly guided by the moonlight, till I stood safe in my destined apartment. I lost no time in lighting the candle by means of a match, and then looked carefully round to see that no lurking thing of evil lay hidden in the recesses. All was empty and still, and no enemy near....
Suddenly there issued from the next room the most demonic yell I ever heard, which made me bound from the sofa on which I was lying. Again the frightful sound arose; but accompanied this time with certain sputtering noises and lengthened wailing cadences, which I had heard too often to find a difficulty in recognizing. "They are only cats, after all," I mentally exclaimed; "but bless my soul! How much like devils in conflict their voices sound."...On entering the room, immediately two of these animals, one grey and white, the other as black as a demon, rushed out of the opposite door, and down the stair case....
On the whole, it might be better to abandon the enterprise, and late as it was, return to Richmond to pass the night. But then, on the other hand, I was ashamed to confess even to myself that I was afraid of my own imagination, as children fear the dark, and as to ghosts, my reason, I flattered myself, was so well fortified against them, the even if one should actually appear wrapped in its winding sheet, and gliding through the room in the stealthy noiseless way which seems the approved mode among them, I should still have sense enough to despise the spectre as a mere dreaming fancy, or some other illusion quite unreal. I concluded therefore to stay the night out, come what might....
I listened attentively; but all was still, except the commotion among the rats, which still continued, though much abated, and the sighing and whistling of the wind, that had risen while I slept. I was beginning to doubt...when a sound...burst upon the silence and re-echoed through the house. It seemed like hollow, maniac laughter, choked and throttled by sudden strangulation. A second time it resounded from the next room, and a moment after appeared to float upon the air without the building. I was now terribly frightened....
I lay trembling with terror, and covered with a cold sweat; but what was my horror when, a few minutes after, the hideous sounds were heard in the very room I occupied. Starting half erect from the sofa, I saw by the light of the setting moon, which now shown broadly in at the western window, what seemed an enormous spectral head, with horns and great glaring eyes, peering from above the old cupboard in the corner. With a suppressed shriek I fell back upon the sofa; on which the phantom spread its wings, and gliding out of the nearest window, again sent forth a peal of fiendish laughter, as if in derision. It was an owl, the great horned owl of Virginia.
The pattering of the rain, which had begun to fall, was almost the only sound audible...But an indistinct noise of what sounded like irregular tottering footsteps at length reached my ear. I listened with a beating heart and an undefined dread, fearing the sounds were the precursor of something terrible. Nor did my apprehension deceive me. A noise as violent struggling ensued, followed by a dreadful groan, which seemed to roll upon my ear out of the pitchy darkness in which my room was shrouded. And such a groan, so long, deep and agonizing, surely never fell on mortal ears before...Then followed a heavy stamping and struggling, as hoofs on the floor, and again and again those awful groans resounded through the house...All this time I lay half-mad with terror....
At last I began to recover consciousness, and found that the day was perceptibly dawning. My courage in some degree revived; and I ventured to hope I might after all survive the dreadful night. Still, my limbs were twitching convulsively with nervous excitement, and I feared to move, or look around, lest some frightful spectre should blast my view...At length I rose and opened the door, glancing fearfully into the next room as I passed through the passage. But nothing was to be seen that could help to explain the mystery. I then descended the stairs, and reaching the front door, was about to sally forth, too glad to escape from such a pandemonium; when I was startled and shocked to find the old white horse of the night before lying dead on the porch steps...I gazed at him for a moment, with a feeling of pity, not unmoved from terror, and then forcing my way with some difficulty (for his body left but a narrow passage), I hurried from the fatal house.
I returned to the city, not a little humbled and crest-fallen, and reached my place of abode before the family had risen. The night's adventures, I kept a secret from everyone....

The above story was published in the Southern Literary Messenger June of 1855 (Volume XXI, No.6, Richmond).