The Story of the Spaniards, Hammersmith by E. and H.
HAVE ghosts any existence outside our own fancy and emotions? This
is the question with which the end of the century concerns itself
more and more, for, though a vast amount of evidence with regard to
occult phenomena already exists, the ultimate answer has yet to be
supplied. In this connection it may not generally be known that, as
one of the first steps towards reducing Psychology to the lines of an
exact science, an attempt has been made to classify spirits and
ghosts, with the result that some very bizarre and terrible theories
have been put forward--things undreamt of outside the circle of the
With a view to meeting the widespread interest in these matters,
the following series of ghost stories is laid before the public. They
have been gathered out of a large number of supernatural experiences
with which Mr. Flaxman Low--under the thin disguise of which name
many are sure to recognise one of the leading scientists of the day,
with whose works on Psychology and kindred subjects they are
familiar--has been more or less connected. He is, moreover, the first
student in this field of inquiry who has had the boldness and
originality to break free from old and conventional methods, and to
approach the elucidation of so-called supernatural problems on the
lines of natural law.
The details of these stories have been supplied by the narratives
of those most concerned, supplemented by the clear and ample notes
which Mr. Flaxman Low has had the courtesy to place in our hands.
For obvious reasons, the exact localities where these events are
said to have happened are in every case merely indicated.
No. I.--THE STORY OF THE SPANIARDS, HAMMERSMITH.
LIEUTENANT RODERICK HOUSTON, of H.M.S. Sphinx, had practically
nothing beyond his pay, and he was beginning to be very tired of the
West African station, when he received the pleasant intelligence that
a relative had left him a legacy. This consisted of a satisfactory
sum in ready money and a house in Hammersmith, which was rated at
over £200 a year, and was said in addition to be comfortably
furnished. Houston, therefore, counted on its rental to bring his
income up to a fairly desirable figure. Further information from
home, however, showed him that he had been rather premature in his
expectations, whereupon, being a man of action, he applied for two
months' leave, and came home to look after his affairs himself.
When he had been a week in London he arrived at the conclusion
that he could not possibly hope single-handed to tackle the
difficulties which presented themselves. He accordingly wrote the
following letter to his friend, Flaxman Low:
"The Spaniards, Hammersmith, 23-3-1892.
"DEAR LOW,--Since we parted some three years ago, I have heard
very little of you. It was only yesterday that I met our mutual
friend, Sammy Smith ('Silkworm' of our schooldays) who told me that
your studies have developed in a new direction, and that you are now
a good deal interested in psychical subjects. If this be so, I hope
to induce you to come and stay with me here for a few days by
promising to introduce you to a problem in your own line. I am just
now living at 'The Spaniards,' a house that has lately been left to
me, and which in the first instance was built by an old fellow named
Van Nuysen, who married a great-aunt of mine. It is a good house, but
there is said to be 'something wrong' with it. It lets easily, but
unluckily the tenants cannot be persuaded to remain above a week or
two. They complain that the place is haunted by something--presumably
a ghost--because its vagaries bear just that brand of inconsequence
which stamps the common run of manifestations.
"It occurs to me that you may care to investigate the matter with
me. If so, send me a wire when to expect you.
Houston waited in some anxiety for an answer. Low was the sort of
man one could rely on in almost any emergency. Sammy Smith had told
him a characteristic anecdote of Low's career at Oxford, where,
although his intellectual triumphs may be forgotten, he will always
be remembered by the story that when Sands, of Queen's, fell ill on
the day before the 'Varsity sports, a telegram was sent to Low's
rooms: "Sands ill. You must do the hammer for us." Low's reply was
pithy: "I'll be there." Thereupon he finished the treatise upon which
he was engaged, and next day his strong, lean figure was to be seen
swinging the hammer amidst vociferous cheering, for that was the
occasion on which he not only won the event, but beat the record.
On the fifth day Low's answer came from Vienna. As he read it,
Houston recalled the high forehead, long neck--with its accompanying
low collar--and thin moustache of his scholarly, athletic friend, and
smiled. There was so much more in Flaxman Low than anyone gave him
"MY DEAR HOUSTON,--Very glad to hear of you again. In response to
your kind invitation, I thank you for the opportunity of meeting the
ghost, and still more for the pleasure of your companionship. I came
here to inquire into a somewhat similar affair. I hope, however, to
be able to leave to-morrow, and will be with you some time on Friday
"Very sincerely yours.
"P.S.--By the way, will it be convenient to give your servants a
holiday during the term of my visit, as, if my investigations are to
be of any value, not a grain of dust must be disturbed in your house,
excepting by ourselves?--F.L."
"The Spaniards" was within some fifteen minutes' walk of
Hammersmith Bridge. Set in the midst of a fairly respectable
neighbourhood, it presented an odd contrast to the commonplace
dullness of the narrow streets crowded about it. As Flaxman Low drove
up in the evening light, he reflected that the house might have come
from the back of beyond--it gave an impression of something old-world
and something exotic.
It was surrounded by a ten-foot wall, above which the upper storey
was visible, and Low decided that this intensely English house still
gave some curious suggestion of the tropics. The interior of the
house carried out the same idea, with its sense of space and air,
cool tints and wide, matted passages.
"So you have seen something yourself since you came?" Low said, as
they sat at dinner, for Houston had arranged that meals should be
sent in for them from an hotel.
"I've heard tapping up and down the passage upstairs. It is an
uncarpeted landing which runs the whole length of the house. One
night, when I was quicker than usual, I saw what looked like a
bladder disappear into one of the bedrooms--your room it is to be, by
the way--and the door closed behind it," replied Houston
discontentedly. "The usual meaningless antics of a ghost."
"What had the tenants who lived here to say about it?" went on
"Most of the people saw and heard just what I have told you, and
promptly went away. The only one who stood out for a little while was
old Filderg--you know the man? Twenty years ago he made an effort to
cross the Australian deserts--he stopped for eight weeks. When he
left he saw the house-agent, and said he was afraid he had done a
little shooting practice in the upper passage, and he hoped it
wouldn't count against him in the bill, as it was done in defence of
his life. He said something had jumped on to the bed and tried to
strangle him. He described it as cold and glutinous, and he pursued
it down the passage, firing at it. He advised the owner to have the
house pulled down; but, of course, my cousin did nothing of the kind.
It's a very good house, and he did not see the sense of spoiling his
"That's very true," replied Flaxman Low, looking round. "Mr. Van
Nuysen had been in the West Indies, and kept his liking for spacious
"Where did you hear anything about him?" asked Houston in
"I have heard nothing beyond what you told me in your letter; but
I see a couple of bottles of Gulf weed and a lace-plant ornament,
such as people used to bring from the West Indies in former
"Perhaps I should tell you the history of the old man," said
Houston doubtfully; "but we aren't proud of it!"
Flaxman Low considered a moment.
"When was the ghost seen for the first time?"
"When the first tenant took the house. It was let after old Van
"Then it may clear the way if you will tell me something of
"He owned sugar plantations in Trinidad, where he passed the
greater part of his life, while his wife mostly remained in
England--incompatibility of temper it was said. When he came home for
good and built this house they still lived apart, my aunt declaring
that nothing on earth would persuade her to return to him. In course
of time he became a confirmed invalid, and he then insisted on my
aunt joining him. She lived here for perhaps a year, when she was
found dead in bed one morning--in your room."
"What caused her death?"
"She had been in the habit of taking narcotics, and it was
supposed that she smothered herself while under their influence."
"That doesn't sound very satisfactory," remarked Flaxman Low.
"Her husband was satisfied with it anyhow, and it was no one
else's business. The family were only too glad to have the affair
"And what became of Mr. Van Nuysen?"
"That I can't tell you. He disappeared a short time after. Search
was made for him in the usual way, but nobody knows to this day what
became of him."
"Ah, that was strange, as he was such an invalid," said Low, and
straightway fell into a long fit of abstraction, from which he was
roused by hearing Houston curse the incurable foolishness and
imbecility of ghostly behaviour. Flaxman woke up at this. He broke a
walnut thoughtfully and began in a gentle voice:
"My dear fellow, we are apt to be hasty in our condemnation of the
general behaviour of ghosts. It may appear incalculably foolish in
our eyes, and I admit there often seems to be a total absence of any
apparent object or intelligent action. But remember that what appears
to us to be foolishness may be wisdom in the spirit world, since our
unready senses can only catch broken glimpses of what is, I have not
the slightest doubt, a coherent whole, if we could trace the
"There may be something in that," replied Houston indifferently.
"People naturally say that this ghost is the ghost of old Van Nuysen.
But what connection can possibly exist between what I have told you
of him and the manifestations--a tapping up and down the passage and
the drawing about of a bladder like a child at play? It sounds
"Certainly. Yet it need not necessarily be so. There are isolated
facts, we must look for the links which lie between. Suppose a saddle
and a horse-shoe were to be shown to a man who had never seen a
horse, I doubt whether he, however intelligent, could evolve the
connecting idea! The ways of spirits are strange to us simply because
we need further data to help us to interpret them."
"It's a new point of view," returned Houston, "but upon my word,
you know, Low, I think you're wasting your time!"
Flaxman Low smiled slowly; his grave, melancholy face
"I have," said he, "gone somewhat deeply into the subject. In
other sciences one reasons by analogy. Psychology is unfortunately a
science with a future but without a past, or more probably it is a
lost science of the ancients. However that may be, we stand to-day on
the frontier of an unknown world, and progress is the result of
individual effort; each solution of difficult phenomena forms a step
towards the solution of the next problem. In this case, for example,
the bladder-like object may be the key to the mystery."
"It all seems pretty senseless, but perhaps you may be able to
read reason into it. If it were anything tangible, anything a man
could meet with his fists, it would be easier."
"I entirely agree with you. But suppose we deal with this affair
as it stands, on similar lines, I mean on prosaic, rational lines, as
we should deal with a purely human mystery."
"My dear fellow," returned Houston, pushing his chair back from
the table wearily, "you shall do just as you like, only get rid of
For some time after Low's arrival nothing very special happened.
The tappings continued, and more than once Low had been in time to
see the bladder disappear into the closing door of his bedroom,
though, unluckily, he never chanced to be inside the room on these
occasions, and however quickly he followed the bladder, he never
succeeded in seeing anything further. He made a thorough examination
of the house, and left no space unaccounted for in his careful
measurement. There were no cellars, and the foundation of the house
consisted of a thick layer of concrete.
At length, on the sixth night, an event took place, which, as
Flaxman Low remarked, came very near to putting an end to the
investigations as far as he was concerned. For the preceding two
nights he and Houston had kept watch in the hope of getting a glimpse
of the person or thing which tapped so persistently up and down the
passage. But they were disappointed, for there were no
manifestations. On the third evening, therefore, Low went off to his
room a little earlier than usual, and fell asleep almost
He says he was awakened by feeling a heavy weight upon his feet,
something that seemed inert and motionless. He recollected that he
had left the gas burning, but the room was now in darkness.
Next he was aware that the thing on the bed had slowly shifted,
and was gradually travelling up towards his chest. How it came on the
bed he had no idea. Had it leaped or climbed? The sensation he
experienced as it moved was of some ponderous, pulpy body, not
crawling or creeping, but spreading! It was horrible! He tried to
move his lower limbs, but could not because of the deadening weight.
A feeling of drowsiness began to overpower him, and a deadly cold,
such as he said he had before felt at sea when in the neighbourhood
of icebergs, chilled upon the air.
With a violent struggle he managed to free his arms, but the thing
grew more irresistible as it spread upwards. Then he became conscious
of a pair of glassy eyes, with livid, everted lids, looking into his
own. Whether they were human eyes or beast eyes, he could not tell,
but they were watery, like the eyes of a dead fish, and gleamed with
a pale, internal lustre.
Then he owns he grew afraid. But he was still cool enough to
notice one peculiarity about this ghastly visitant--although the head
was within a few inches of his own, he could detect no breathing. It
dawned on him that he was about to be suffocated, for, by the same
method of extension, the thing was now coming over his face! It felt
cold and clammy, like a mass of mucilage or a monstrous snail. And
every instant the weight became greater. He is a powerful man, and he
struck with his fists again and again at the head. Some substance
yielded under the blows with a sickening sensation of bruised
With a lucky twist he raised himself in the bed and battered away
with all the force he was capable of in his cramped position. The
only effect was an occasional shudder or quake that ran through the
mass as his half-arm blows rained upon it. At last, by chance, his
hand knocked against the candle beside him. In a moment he
recollected the matches. He seized the box, and struck a light.
As he did so, the lump slid to the floor. He sprang out of bed,
and lit the candle. He felt a cold touch upon his leg, but when he
looked down there was nothing to be seen. The door, which he had
locked overnight, was now open, and he rushed out into the passage.
All was still and silent with the throbbing vacancy of night
After searching round, he returned to his room. The bed still gave
ample proof of the struggle that had taken place, and by his watch he
saw the hour to be between two and three.
As there seemed nothing more to be done, he put on his
dressing-gown, lit his pipe, and sat down to write an account of the
experience he had just passed through for the Psychical Research
Society--from which paper the above is an abstract.
He is a man of strong nerves, but he could not disguise from
himself that he had been at handgrips with some grotesque form of
death. What might be the nature of his assailant he could not
determine, but his experience was supported by the attack which had
been made on Filderg, and also--it was impossible to avoid the
conclusion--by the manner of Mrs. Van Nuysen's death.
He thought the whole situation over carefully in connection with
the tapping and the disappearing bladder, but, turn these events how
he would, he could make nothing of them. They were entirely
incongruous. A little later he went and made a shakedown in Houston's
"What was the thing?" asked Houston, when Low had ended his story
of the encounter.
Low shrugged his shoulders.
"At least it proves that Filderg did not dream," he said.
"But this is monstrous! We are more in the dark than ever. There's
nothing for it but to have the house pulled down. Let us leave
"Don't be in a hurry, my dear fellow. You would rob me of a very
great pleasure; besides, we may be on the verge of some valuable
discovery. This series of manifestations is even more interesting
than the Vienna mystery I was telling you of."
"Discovery or not," replied the other, "I don't like it."
The first thing next morning Low went out for a quarter of an
hour. Before breakfast a man with a barrowful of sand came into the
garden. Low looked up from his paper, leant out of the window, and
gave some order.
When Houston came down a few minutes later he saw the yellowish
heap on the lawn with some surprise.
"Hullo! What's this?" he asked.
"I ordered it," replied Low.
"All right. What's it for?"
"To help us in our investigations. Our visitor is capable of being
felt, and he or it left a very distinct impression on the bed. Hence
I gather it can also leave an impression on sand. It would be an
immense advance if we could arrive at any correct notion of what sort
of feet the ghost walks on. I propose to spread a layer of this sand
in the upper passage, and the result should be footmarks if the
tapping comes to-night."
That evening the two men made a fire in Houston's bedroom, and sat
there smoking and talking, to leave the ghost "a free run for once,"
as Houston phrased it. The tapping was heard at the usual hour, and
presently the accustomed pause at the other end of the passage and
the quiet closing of the door.
Low heaved a long sigh of satisfaction as he listened.
"That's my bedroom door," he said; "I know the sound of it
perfectly. In the morning, and with the help of daylight, we shall
see what we shall see."
As soon as there was light enough for the purpose of examining the
footprints, Low roused Houston.
Houston was full of excitement as a boy, but his spirits fell by
the time he had passed from end to end of the passage.
"There are marks," he said, "but they are as perplexing as
everything else about this haunting brute, whatever it is. I suppose
you think this is the print left by the thing which attacked you the
night before last?"
"I fancy it is," said Low, who was still bending over the floor
eagerly. "What do you make of it, Houston?"
"The brute has only one leg, to start with," replied Houston, "and
that leaves the mark of a large, clawless pad! It's some animal--some
"On the contrary," said Low, "I think we have now every reason to
conclude that it is a man."
"A man? What man ever left footmarks like these?"
"Look at these hollows and streaks at the sides; they are the
traces of the sticks we have heard tapping."
"You don't convince me," returned Hodgson doggedly.
"Let us wait another twenty-four hours, and to-morrow night, if
nothing further occurs, I will give you my conclusions. Think it
over. The tapping, the bladder, and the fact that Mr. Van Nuysen had
lived in Trinidad. Add to these things this single pad-like print.
Does nothing strike you by way of a solution?"
Houston shook his head.
"Nothing. And I fail to connect any of these things with what
happened both to you and Filderg."
"Ah! now," said Flaxman Low, his face clouding a little, "I
confess you lead me into a somewhat different region, though to me
the connection is perfect."
Houston raised his eyebrows and laughed.
"If you can unravel this tangle of hints and events and diagnose
the ghost, I shall be extremely astonished," he said. "What can you
make of the footless impression?"
"Something, I hope. In fact, that mark may be a clue--an
outrageous one, perhaps, but still a clue."
That evening the weather broke, and by night the storm had risen
to a gale, accompanied by sharp bursts of rain.
"It's a noisy night," remarked Houston; "I don't suppose we'll
hear the ghost, supposing it does turn up."
This was after dinner, as they were about to go into the
smoking-room. Houston, finding the gas low in the hall, stopped to
run it higher; at the same time asking Low to see if the jet on the
upper landing was also alight.
Flaxman Low glanced up and uttered a slight exclamation, which
brought Houston to his side.
Looking down at them from over the banisters was a face--a
blotched, yellowish face, flanked by two swollen, protruding ears,
the whole aspect being strangely leonine. It was but a glimpse, a
clash of meeting glances, as it were, a glare of defiance, and the
face was quickly withdrawn as the two men literally leapt up the
"There's nothing here," exclaimed Houston, after a search had been
carried out through every room above.
"I didn't suppose we'd find anything," returned Low.
"This fairly knots up the thread," said Houston. "You can't
pretend to unravel it now."
"Come down," said Low briefly; "I'm ready to give you my opinion,
such as it is."
Once in the smoking-room, Houston busied himself in turning on all
the light he could procure, then he saw to securing the windows, and
piled up an immense fire, while Flaxman Low, who, as usual, had a
cigarette in his mouth, sat on the edge of the table and watched him
with some amusement.
"You saw that abominable face?" cried Houston, as he threw himself
into a chair. "It was as material as yours or mine. But where did he
go to? He must be somewhere about."
"We saw him clearly. That is sufficient for our purpose."
"You are very good at enumerating points, Low. Now just listen to
my list. The difficulties grow with every fresh discovery. We're at a
deadlock now, I take it? The sticks and the tapping point to an old
man, the playing with a bladder to a child; the footmark might be the
pad of a tiger minus claws, yet the thing that attacked you at night
was cold and pulpy. And, lastly, by way of a wind-up, we see a
lion-like, human face! If you can make all these items square with
each other, I'll be happy to hear what you have got to say."
"You must first allow me to ask you a question. I understood you
to say that no blood relationship existed between you and old Mr. Van
"Certainly not. He was quite an outsider," answered Houston
"In that case you are welcome to my conclusions. All the things
you have mentioned point to one explanation. This house is haunted by
the ghost of Mr. Van Nuysen, and he was a leper."
Houston stood up and stared at his companion.
"What a horrible notion! I must say I fail to see how you have
arrived at such a conclusion."
"Take the chain of evidence in rather different order," said Low.
"Why should a man tap with a stick?"
"Generally because he's blind."
"In cases of blindness, one stick is used for guidance. Here we
have two for support."
"A man who has lost the use of his feet."
"Exactly; a man who has from some cause partially lost the use of
"But the bladder and the lion-like face?" went on Houston.
"The bladder, or what seemed to us to resemble a bladder, was one
of his feet, contorted by the disease and probably swathed in linen,
which foot he dragged rather than used; consequently, in passing
through a door, for example, he would in the habit of drawing it in
after him. Now, as regards the single footmark we saw. In one form of
leprosy, the smaller bones of the extremities frequently fall away.
The pad-like impression was, as I believe, the mark of the other
foot--a toeless foot which he used, because in a more advanced stage
of the disease the maimed hand or foot heals and becomes
"Go on," said Houston; "it sounds as if it might be true. And the
lion-like face I can account for myself. I have been in China, and
have seen it before in lepers."
"Mr. Van Nuysen had been in Trinidad for many years, as we know,
and while there he probably contracted the disease."
"I suppose so. After his return," added Houston, "he shut himself
up almost entirely, and gave out that he was a martyr to rheumatic
gout, this awful thing being the true explanation."
"It also accounts for Mrs. Van Nuysen's determination not to
return to her husband."
Houston appeared much disturbed.
"We can't drop it here, Low," he said, in a constrained voice.
"There is a good deal more to be cleared up yet. Can you tell me
"From this point I find myself on less certain ground," replied
Low unwillingly. "I merely offer a suggestion, remember--I don't ask
you to accept it. I believe Mrs. Van Nuysen was murdered!"
"What?" exclaimed Houston. "By her husband?"
"Indications tend that way."
"But, my good fellow---"
"He suffocated her and then made away with himself. It is a pity
that his body was not recovered. The condition of the remains would
be the only really satisfactory test of my theory. If the skeleton
could even now be found, the fact that he was a leper would be
There was a prolonged pause until Houston put another
"Wait a minute, Low," he said. "Ghosts are admittedly immaterial.
In this instance our spook has an extremely palpable body. Surely
this is rather unusual? You have made everything else more or less
plain. Can you tell me why this dead leper should have tried to
murder you and old Filderg? And also how he came to have the actual
physical power to do so?"
Low removed his cigarette to look thoughtfully at the end of it.
"Now I lapse into the purely theoretical," he answered. "Cases have
been known where the assumption of diabolical agency is apparently
"Diabolical agency?--I don't follow you."
"I will try to make myself clear, though the subject is still in a
stage of vagueness and immaturity. Van Nuysen committed a murder of
exceptional atrocity, and afterwards killed himself. Now, bodies of
suicides are known to be peculiarly susceptible to spiritual
influences, even to the point of arrested corruption. Add to this our
knowledge that the highest aim of an evil spirit is to gain
possession of a material body. If I carried out my theory to its
logical conclusion, I should say that Van Nuysen's body is hidden
somewhere on these premises--that this body is intermittently
animated by some spirit, which at certain points is forced to
re-enact the gruesome tragedy of the Van Nuysens. Should any living
person chance to occupy the position of the first victim, so much the
worse for him!"
For some minutes Houston made no remark on this singular
expression of opinion.
"But have you ever met with anything of the sort before?" he said
"I can recall," replied Flaxman Low thoughtfully, "quite a number
of cases which would seem to bear out this hypothesis. Among them a
curious problem of haunting exhaustively examined by Busner in the
early part of 1888, at which I was myself lucky enough to assist.
Indeed, I may add that the affair which I have recently engaged upon
in Vienna offers some rather similar features. There, however, we had
to stop short of excavation, by which alone any specific results
might have been attained."
"Then you are of the opinion," said Houston, "that pulling the
house to pieces might cast some further light upon this affair?"
"I cannot see any better course," said Mr. Low.
Then Houston closed the discussion by a very definite
"This house shall come down!"
So "The Spaniards" was pulled down.
Such is the story of "The Spaniards," Hammersmith, and it has been
given the first place in this series because, although it may not be
of so strange a nature as some that will follow it, yet it seems to
us to embody in a high degree the peculiar methods by which Mr.
Flaxman Low is wont to approach these cases.
The work of demolition, begun at the earliest possible moment, did
not occupy very long, and during its early stages, under the boarding
at an angle of the landing was found a skeleton. Several of the
phalanges were missing, and other indications also established beyond
a doubt the fact that the remains were the remains of a leper.
The skeleton is now in the museum of one of our city hospitals. It
bears a scientific ticket, and is the only evidence extant of the
correctness of Mr. Flaxman Low's methods and the possible truth of
his extraordinary theories.