The Story of Yand Manor House by E. and H. Heron
By Looking through the notes of Mr. Flaxman Low, one sometimes
catches through the steel-blue hardness of facts, the pink flush of
romance, or more often the black corner of a horror unnameable. The
following story may serve as an instance of the latter. Mr. Low not
only unravelled the mystery at Yand, but at the same time justified
his life-work to M. Thierry, the well-known French critic and
At the end of a long conversation, M. Thierry, arguing from his
own standpoint as a materialist, had said:
"The factor in the human economy which you call 'soul' cannot be
"I admit that," replied Low. "Yet, when a man dies, is there not
one factor unaccounted for in the change that comes upon him? Yes!
For though his body still exists, it rapidly falls to pieces, which
proves that that has gone which held it together."
The Frenchman laughed, and shifted his ground.
"Well, for my part, I don't believe in ghosts! Spirit
manifestations, occult phenomena--is not this the ashbin into which a
certain clique shoot everything they cannot understand, or for which
they fail to account?"
"Then what should you say to me, Monsieur, if I told you that I
have passed a good portion of my life in investigating this
particular ashbin, and have been lucky enough to sort a small part of
its contents with tolerable success?" replied Flaxman Low.
"The subject is doubtless interesting--but I should like to have
some personal experience in the matter," said Thierry dubiously.
"I am at present investigating a most singular case," said Low.
"Have you a day or two to spare?"
Thierry thought for a minute or more.
"I am grateful," he replied. "But, forgive me, is it a convincing
"Come with me to Yand and see. I have been there once already, and
came away for the purpose of procuring information from MSS. to which
I have the privilege of access, for I confess that the phenomena at
Yand lie altogether outside any former experience of mine."
Low sank back into his chair with his hands clasped behind his
head--a favourite position of his--and the smoke of his long pipe
curled up lazily into the golden face of an Isis, which stood behind
him on a bracket. Thierry, glancing across, was struck by the strange
likeness between the faces of the Egyptian goddess and this scientist
of the nineteenth century. On both rested the calm, mysterious
abstraction of some unfathomable thought. As he looked, he
"I have three days to place at your disposal."
"I thank you heartily," replied Low. "To be associated with so
brilliant a logician as yourself in an inquiry of this nature is more
than I could have hoped for! The material with which I have to deal
is so elusive, the whole subject is wrapped in such obscurity and
hampered by so much prejudice, that I can find few really qualified
persons who care to approach these investigations seriously. I go
down to Yand this evening, and hope not to leave without clearing up
"You will accompany me?"
"Most certainly. Meanwhile pray tell me something of the
"Briefly the story is as follows. Some weeks ago I went to Yand
Manor House at the request of the owner, Sir George Blackburton, to
see what I could make of the events which took place there. All they
complain of is the impossibility of remaining in one room--the
"What then is he like, this M. le Spook?" asked the Frenchman,
"No one has ever seen him, or for that matter heard him."
"You can't see him, nor hear him, nor smell him," went on Low,
"but you can feel him and---taste him!"
"Mon Dieu! But this is singular! Is he then of so bad a.
"You shall taste for yourself," answered Flaxman Low smiling.
"After a certain hour no one can remain in the room, they are simply
"But who crowds them out?" asked Thierry.
"That is just what I hope we may discover to-night or
The last train that night dropped Mr. Flaxman Low and his
companion at a little station near Yand. It was late, but a trap in
waiting soon carried them to the Manor House. The big bulk of the
building stood up in absolute blackness before them.
"Blackburton was to have met us, but I suppose he has not yet
arrived," said Low. "Hullo! the door is open," he added as he stepped
into the hall.
Beyond a dividing curtain they now perceived a light. Passing
behind this curtain they found themselves at the end of the long
hall, the wide staircase opening up in front of them.
"But who is this?" exclaimed Thierry.
Swaying and stumbling at every step, there tottered slowly down
the stairs the figure of a man.
He looked as if he had been drinking, his face was livid, and his
eyes sunk into his head.
"Thank Heaven you've come! I heard you outside," he said in a weak
"It's Sir George Blackburton," said Low, as the man lurched
forward and pitched into his arms.
They laid him down on the rugs and tried to restore
"He has the air of being drunk, but it is not so," remarked
Thierry. "Monsieur has had a bad shock of the nerves. See the pulses
drumming in his throat."
In a few minutes Blackburton opened his eyes and staggered to his
"Come. I could not remain there alone. Come quickly."
They went rapidly across the hall, Blackburton leading the way
down a wide passage to a double-leaved door, which, after a
perceptible pause, he threw open, and they all entered together.
On the great table in the centre stood an extinguished lamp, some
scattered food, and a big, lighted candle. But the eyes of all three
men passed at once to a dark recess beside the heavy, carved
chimneypiece, where a rigid shape sat perched on the back of a huge,
Flaxman Low snatched up the candle and crossed the room towards
On the top of the chair, with his feet upon the arms, sat a
powerfully-built young man huddled up. His mouth was open, and his
eyes twisted upwards. Nothing further could be seen from below but
the ghastly pallor of cheek and throat.
"Who is this?" cried Low. Then he laid his hand gently on the
At the touch the figure collapsed in a heap upon the floor, the
gaping, set, terrified face turned up to theirs.
"He's dead!" said Low after a hasty examination. "I should say
he's been dead some hours."
"Oh, Lord! Poor Batty!" groaned Sir George, who was entirely
unnerved. "I'm glad you've come."
"Who is he?" said Thierry, "and what was he doing here?"
"He's a gamekeeper of mine. He was always anxious to try
conclusions with the ghost, and last night he begged me to lock him
in here with food for twenty-four hours. I refused at first, but then
I thought if anything happened while he was in here alone, it would
interest you. Who could imagine it would end like this?"
"When did you find him?" asked Low.
"I only got here from my mother's half an hour ago. I turned on
the light in the hall and came in here with a candle. As I entered
the room, the candle went out, and--and--I think I must be going
"Tell us everything you saw," urged Low.
"You will think I am beside myself; but as the light went out and
I sank almost paralysed into an armchair, I saw two barred eyes
looking at me!"
"Barred eyes? What do you mean?"
"Eyes that looked at me through thin vertical bars, like the bars
of a cage. What's that?"
With a smothered yell Sir George sprang back. He had approached
the dead man and declared something had brushed his face.
"You were standing on this spot under the overmantel. I will
remain here. Meantime, my dear Thierry, I feel sure you will help Sir
George to carry this poor fellow to some more suitable place," said
When the dead body of the young gamekeeper had been carried out,
Low passed slowly round and about the room. At length he stood under
the old carved overmantel, which reached to the ceiling and projected
bodily forward in quaint heads of satyrs and animals. One of these on
the side nearest the recess represented a griffin with a flanged
mouth. Sir George had been standing directly below this at the moment
when he felt the touch on his face. Now alone in the dim, wide room,
Flaxman Low stood on the same spot and waited. The candle threw its
dull yellow rays on the shadows which seemed to gather closer and
wait also. Presently a distant door banged, and Low, leaning forward
to listen, distinctly felt something on the back of his neck!
He swung round. There was nothing! He searched carefully on all
sides, then put his hand up to the griffin's head. Again came the
same soft touch, this time upon his hand, as if something had floated
past on the air.
This was definite. The griffin's head located it. Taking the
candle to examine more closely, Low found four long black hairs
depending from the jagged fangs. He was detaching them when Thierry
"We must get Sir George away as soon as possible," he said.
"Yes, we must take him away, I fear," agreed Low. "Our
investigation must be put off till to-morrow."
On the following day they returned to Yand. It was a large
country-house, pretty and old-fashioned, with lattice windows and
deep gables, that looked out between tall shrubs and across lawns set
with beaupots, where peacocks sunned themselves on the velvet turf.
The church spire peered over the trees on one side; and an old wall
covered with ivy and creeping plants, and pierced at intervals with
arches, alone separated the gardens from the churchyard.
The haunted room lay at the back of the house. It was square and
handsome, and furnished in the style of the last century. The oak
overmantel reached to the ceiling, and a wide window, which almost
filled one side of the room, gave a view of the west door of the
Low stood for a moment at the open window looking out at the level
sunlight which flooded the lawns and parterres.
"See that door sunk in the church wall to the left?" said Sir
George's voice at his elbow. "That is the door of the family vault.
Cheerful outlook, isn't it?"
"I should like to walk across there presently," remarked Low.
"What! Into the vault?" asked Sir George, with a harsh laugh.
"I'll take you if you like. Anything else I can show you or tell
"Yes. Last night I found this hanging from the griffin's head,"
said Low, producing the thin wisp of black hair. "It must have
touched your cheek as you stood below. Do you know to whom it can
"It's a woman's hair! No, the only woman who has been in this room
to my knowledge for months is an old servant with grey hair, who
cleans it," returned Blackburton. "I'm sure it was not here when I
locked Batty in."
"It is human hair, exceedingly coarse and long uncut," said Low;
"but it is not necessarily a woman's."
"It is not mine at any rate, for I'm sandy; and poor Batty was
fair. Good-night; I'll come round for you in the morning."
Presently, when the night closed in, Thierry and Low settled down
in the haunted room to await developments. They smoked and talked
deep into the night. A big lamp burned brightly on the table, and the
surroundings looked homely and desirable.
Thierry made a remark to that effect, adding that perhaps the
ghost might see fit to omit his usual visit.
"Experience goes to prove that ghosts have a cunning habit of
choosing persons either credulous or excitable to experiment upon,"
To M. Thierry's surprise, Flaxman Low agreed with him.
"They certainly choose suitable persons," he said, "that is, not
credulous persons, but those whose senses are sufficiently keen to
detect the presence of a spirit. In my own investigations, I try to
eliminate what you would call the supernatural element. I deal with
these mysterious affairs as far as possible on material lines."
"Then what do you say of Batty's death? He died of
"I hardly think so. The manner of his death agrees in a peculiar
manner with what we know of the terrible history of this room. He
died of fright and pressure combined. Did you hear the doctor's
remark? It was significant. He said: 'The indications are precisely
those I have observed in persons who have been crushed and killed in
"That is sufficiently curious, I allow. I see that it is already
past two o'clock. I am thirsty; I will have a little seltzer."
Thierry rose from his chair, and, going to the side-board, drew a
tumblerful from the syphon. "Pah! What an abominable taste!"
"What? The seltzer?"
"Not at all?" returned the Frenchman irritably. "I have not
touched it yet. Some horrible fly has flown into my mouth, I suppose.
"What is it like?" asked Flaxman Low, who was at the moment wiping
his own mouth with his handkerchief.
"Like? As if some repulsive fungus had burst in the mouth."
"Exactly. I perceive it also. I hope you are about to be
"What?" exclaimed Thierry, turning his big figure round and
staring at Low. "You don't mean As he spoke the lamp suddenly went
"Why, then, have you put the lamp out at such a moment?" cried
Thierry, "I have not put it out. Light the candle beside you on the
table.".Low heard the Frenchman's grunt of satisfaction as he found
the candle, then the scratch of a match. It sputtered and went out.
Another match and another behaved in the same manner, while Thierry
swore freely under his breath.
"Let me have your matches, Monsieur Flaxman; mine are, no doubt
damp," he said at last.
Low rose to feel his way across the room. The darkness was
"It is the darkness of Egypt--it may be felt. Where then are you,
my dear friend?" he heard Thierry saying, but the voice seemed a long
"I am coming," he answered, "but it's so hard to get along." After
Low had spoken the words, their meaning struck him.
He paused and tried to realise in what part of the room he was.
The silence was profound, and the growing sense of oppression seemed
like a nightmare. Thierry's voice sounded again, faint and
"I am suffocating, Monsieur Flaxman, where are you? I am near the
A strangling bellow of pain and fear followed, that scarcely
reached Low through the thickening atmosphere.
"Thierry, what is the matter with you?" he shouted. "Open the
But there was no answer. What had become of Thierry in that
hideous, clogging gloom! Was he also dead, crushed in some ghastly
fashion against the wall? What was this? The air had become palpable
to the touch, heavy, repulsive, with the sensation of cold humid
Low pushed out his hands with a mad longing to touch a table, a
chair, anything but this clammy, swelling softness that thrust itself
upon him from every side, baffling him and filling his grasp.
He knew now that he was absolutely alone--struggling against what?
His feet were slipping in his wild efforts to feel the floor--the
dank flesh was creeping upon his neck, his cheek--his breath came
short and labouring as the pressure swung him gently to and fro,
The clammy flesh crowded upon him like the bulk of some fat,
horrible creature; then came a stinging pain on the cheek. Low
clutched at something--there was a crash and a rush of air---The next
sensation of which Mr. Flaxman Low was conscious was one of deathly
sickness. He was lying on wet grass, the wind blowing over him, and
all the clean, wholesome smells of the open air in his nostrils.
He sat up and looked about him. Dawn was breaking windily in the
east, and by its light he saw that he was on the lawn of Yand Manor
House. The latticed window of the haunted room above him was open. He
tried to remember what had happened. He took stock of himself, in
fact, and slowly felt that he still held something clutched in his
right hand--something dark-coloured, slender, and twisted. It might
have been a long shred of bark or the cast skin of an adder--it was
impossible to see in the dim light.
After an interval the recollection of Thierry recurred to him.
Scrambling to his feet, he raised himself to the window-sill and
looked in. Contrary to his expectation, there was no upsetting of
furniture; everything remained in position as when the lamp went out.
His own chair and the one Thierry had occupied were just as when they
had arisen from them. But there was no sign of Thierry.
Low jumped in by the window. There was the tumbler full of
seltzer, and the litter of matches about it. He took up Thierry's box
of matches and struck a light. It flared, and he lit the candle with
ease. In fact, everything about the room was perfectly normal; all
the horrible conditions prevailing but a couple of hours ago had
But where was Thierry? Carrying the lighted candle, he passed out
of the door, and searched in the adjoining rooms. In one of them, to
his relief, he found the Frenchman sleeping profoundly in an
Low touched his arm. Thierry leapt to his feet, fending off an
imaginary blow with his arm.
Then he turned his scared face on Low.
"What! You, Monsieur Flaxman! How have you escaped?"
"I should rather ask you how you escaped," said Low, smiling at
the havoc the night's experiences had worked on his friend's looks
"I was crowded out of the room against the door. That infernal
thing--what was it?--with its damp, swelling flesh, inclosed me!" A
shudder of disgust stopped him. "I was a fly in an aspic. I could not
move. I sank into the stifling pulp. The air grew thick. I called to
you, but your answers became inaudible. Then I was suddenly thrust
against the door by a huge hand--it felt like one, at least. I had a
struggle for my life, I was all but crushed, and then, I do not know
how, I found myself outside the door. I shouted to you in vain.
Therefore, as I could not help you, I came here, and--I will confess
it, my dear friend--I locked and bolted the door. After some time I
went again into the hall and listened; but, as I heard nothing, I
resolved to wait until daylight and the return of Sir George."
"That's all right," said Low. "It was an experience worth
"But, no! Not for me! I do not envy you your researches into
mysteries of this abominable description. I now comprehend perfectly
that Sir George has lost his nerve if he has had to do with this
horror. Besides, it is entirely impossible to explain these
At this moment they heard Sir George's arrival, and went out to
"I could not sleep all night for thinking of you!" exclaimed
Blackburton on seeing them; "and I came along as soon as it was
light. Something has happened."
"But certainly something has happened," cried M. Thierry shaking
his head solemnly; "something of the most bizarre, of the most
horrible! Monsieur Flaxman, you shall tell Sir George this story. You
have been in that accursed room all night, and remain alive to tell
As Low came to the conclusion of the story Sir George suddenly
"You have met with some injury to your face, Mr. Low."
Low turned to the mirror. In the now strong light three parallel
weals from eye to mouth could be seen.
"I remember a stinging pain like a lash on my cheek. What would
you say these marks were caused by, Thierry?" asked Low.
Thierry looked at them and shook his head.
"No one in their senses would venture to offer any explanation of
the occurrences of last night," he replied.
"Something of this sort, do you think?" asked Low again, putting
down the object he held in his hand on the table.
Thierry took it up and described it aloud.
"A long and thin object of a brown and yellow colour and twisted
like a sabre-bladed corkscrew," then he started slightly and glanced
"It's a human nail, I imagine," suggested Low.
"But no human being has talons of this kind--except, perhaps, a
Chinaman of high rank."
"There are no Chinamen about here, nor ever have been, to my
knowledge," said Blackburton shortly. "I'm very much afraid that, in
spite of all you have so bravely faced, we are no nearer to any
"On the contrary, I fancy I begin to see my way. I believe, after
all, that I may be able to convert you, Thierry," said Flaxman
"To a belief in the definite aim of my work. But you shall judge
for yourself. What do you make of it so far? I claim that you know as
much of the matter as I do."
"My dear good friend, I make nothing of it," returned Thierry,
shrugging his shoulders and spreading out his hands. "Here we have a
tissue of unprecedented incidents that can be explained on no theory
"But this is definite," and Flaxman Low held up the blackened
"And how do you propose to connect that nail with the black
hairs--with the eyes that looked through the bars of a cage--the fate
of Batty, with its symptoms of death by pressure and suffocation--our
experience of swelling flesh, that something which filled and filled
the room to the exclusion of all else? How are you going to account
for these things by any kind of connected hypothesis?" asked Thierry,
with a shade of irony.
"I mean to try," replied Low.
At lunch time Thierry inquired how the theory was getting on.
"It progresses," answered Low. "By the way, Sir George, who lived
in this house for some time prior to, say, 1840? He was a man--it may
have been a woman, but, from the nature of his studies, I am inclined
to think it was a man--who was deeply read in ancient necromancy,
Eastern magic, mesmerism, and subjects of a kindred nature. And was
he not buried in the vault you pointed out?"
"Do you know anything more about him?" asked Sir George in
"He was I imagine," went on Flaxman Low reflectively, "hirsute and
swarthy, probably a recluse, and suffered from a morbid and
extravagant fear of death."
"How do you know all this?"
"I only asked about it. Am I right?"
"You have described my cousin, Sir Gilbert Blackburton, in every
particular. I can show you his portrait in another room."
As they stood looking at the painting of Sir Gilbert Blackburton,
with his long, melancholy, olive face and thick, black beard, Sir
George went on. "My grandfather succeeded him at Yand. I have often
heard my father speak of Sir Gilbert, and his strange studies and
extraordinary fear of death. Oddly enough, in the end he died rather
suddenly, while he was still hale and strong. He predicted his own
approaching death, and had a doctor in attendance for a week or two
before he died. He was placed in a coffin he had had made on some
plan of his own and buried in the vault. His death occurred in 1842
or 1843. If you care to see them I can show you some of his papers,
which may interest you."
Mr. Flaxman Low spent the afternoon over the papers. When evening
came, he rose from his work with a sigh of content, stretched
himself, and joined Thierry and Sir George in the garden.
They dined at Lady Blackburton's, and it was late before Sir
George found himself alone with Mr. Flaxman Low and his friend.
"Have you formed any opinion about the thing which haunts the
Manor House?" he asked anxiously.
Thierry elaborated a cigarette, crossed his legs, and added: "If
you have in truth come to any definite conclusion, pray let us hear
it, my dear Monsieur Flaxman."
"I have reached a very definite and satisfactory conclusion,"
replied Low. "The Manor House is haunted by Sir Gilbert Blackburton,
who died, or, rather, who seemed to die, on the 15th of August,
"Nonsense! The nail fifteen inches long at the least--how do you
connect it with Sir Gilbert?" asked Blackburton testily.
"I am convinced that it belonged to Sir Gilbert," Low
"But the long black hair like a woman's?"
"Dissolution in the case of Sir Gilbert was not complete--not
consummated, so to speak--as I hope to show you later. Even in the
case of dead persons the hair and nails have been known to grow. By a
rough calculation as to the growth of nails in such cases, I was
enabled to indicate approximately the date of Sir Gilbert's death.
The hair too grew on his head."
"But the barred eyes? I saw them myself!" exclaimed the young
"The eyelashes grow also. You follow me?"
"You have, I presume, some theory in connection with this?"
observed Thierry. "It must be a very curious one."
"Sir Gilbert in his fear of death appears to have mastered and
elaborated a strange and ancient formula by which the grosser factors
of the body being eliminated, the more ethereal portions continue to
retain the spirit, and the body is thus preserved from absolute
disintegration. In this manner true death may be indefinitely
deferred. Secure from the ordinary chances and changes of existence,
this spiritualised body could retain a modified life practically for
"This is a most extraordinary idea, my dear fellow," remarked
"But why should Sir Gilbert haunt the Manor House, and one special
"The tendency of spirits to return to the old haunts of bodily
life is almost universal. We cannot yet explain the reason of this
attraction of environment."
"But the expansion--the crowding substance which we ourselves
felt? You cannot meet that difficulty," said Thierry
"Not as fully as I could wish, perhaps. But the power of expanding
and contracting to a degree far beyond our comprehension is a
well-known attribute of spiritualised matter."
"Wait one little moment, my dear Monsieur Flaxman," broke in
Thierry's voice after an interval; "this is very clever and ingenious
indeed. As a theory I give it my sincere admiration. But proof--proof
is what we now demand."
Flaxman Low looked steadily at the two incredulous faces.
"This," he said slowly, "is the hair of Sir Gilbert Blackburton,
and this nail is from the little finger of his left hand. You can
prove my assertion by opening the coffin."
Sir George, who was pacing up and down the room impatiently, drew
"I don't like it at all, Mr. Low, I tell you frankly. I don't like
it at all. I see no object in violating the coffin. I am not
concerned to verify this unpleasant theory of yours. I have only one
desire; I want to get rid of this haunting presence, whatever it
"If I am right," replied Low, "the opening of the coffin and
exposure of the remains to strong sunshine for a short time will free
you for ever from this presence."
In the early morning, when the summer sun struck warmly on the
lawns of Yand, the three men carried the coffin from the vault to a
quiet spot among the shrubs where, secure from observation, they
raised the lid.
Within the coffin lay the semblance of Gilbert Blackburton, maned
to the ears with long and coarse black hair. Matted eyelashes swept
the fallen cheeks, and beside the body stretched the bony hands, each
with its dependent sheaf of switch-like nails. Low bent over and
raised the left hand gingerly.
The little finger was without a nail!
Two hours later they came back and looked again. The sun had in
the meantime done its work; nothing remained but a fleshless skeleton
and a few half-rotten shreds of clothing.
The ghost of Yand Manor House has never since been heard of.
When Thiery bade Flaxman Low good-bye, he said:
"In time, my dear Monsieur Flaxman, you will add another to our
sciences. You establish your facts too well for my peace of