The Story of Baelbrow by E. and H. Heron
It is a matter for regret that so many of Mr Flaxman Low's
reminiscences should deal with the darker episodes of his
experiences. Yet this is almost unavoidable, as the more purely
scientific and less strongly marked cases would not, perhaps, contain
the same elements of interest for the general public, however
valuable and instructive they might be to the expert student. It has
also been considered better to choose the completer cases, those that
ended in something like satisfactory proof, rather than the many
instances where the thread broke off abruptly amongst surmisings,
which it was never possible to subject to convincing tests.
North of a low-lying strip of country on the East Anglian coast,
the promontory of Bael Ness thrusts out a blunt nose into the sea. On
the Ness, backed by pinewoods, stands a square, comfortable stone
mansion, known to the countryside as Baelbrow. It has faced the east
winds for close upon three hundred years, and during the whole period
has been the home of the Swaffam family, who were never in anywise
put out of conceit of their ancestral dwelling by the fact that it
had always been haunted. Indeed, the Swaffams were proud of the
Baelbrow Ghost, which enjoyed a wide notoriety, and no one dreamt of
complaining of its behaviour until Professor Van der Voort of Louvain
laid information against it, and sent an urgent appeal for help to Mr
The Professor, who was well acquainted with Mr Low, detailed the
circumstances of his tenancy of Baelbrow, and the unpleasant events
that had followed thereupon.
It appeared that Mr Swaffam, senior, who spent a large portion of
his time abroad, had offered to lend his house to the Professor for
the summer season. When the Van der Voorts arrived at Baelbrow, they
were charmed with the place. The prospect, though not very varied,
was at least extensive, and the air exhilarating. Also the
Professor's daughter enjoyed frequent visits from her
betrothed--Harold Swaffam--and the Professor was delightfully
employed in overhauling the Swaffam library.
The Van der Voorts had been duly told of the ghost, which lent
distinction to the old house, but never in any way interfered with
the comfort of the inmates. For some time they found this description
to be strictly true, but with the beginning of October came a change.
Up to this time and as far back as the Swaffam annals reached, the
ghost had been a shadow, a rustle, a passing sigh--nothing definite
or troublesome. But early in October strange things began to occur,
and the terror culminated when a housemaid was found dead in a
corridor three weeks later. Upon this the Professor felt that it was
time to send for Flaxman Low.
Mr Low arrived upon a chilly evening when the house was already
beginning to blur in the purple twilight, and the resinous scent of
the pines came sweetly on the land breeze. Van der Voort welcomed him
in the spacious, fire-lit hall. He was a stout man with a quantity of
white hair, round eyes emphasised by spectacles, and a kindly, dreamy
face. His life-study was philology, and his two relaxations chess and
the smoking of a big bowled meerschaum.
'Now, Professor,' said Mr Low when they had settled themselves in
the smoking-room, 'how did it all begin?'
'I will tell you,' replied Van der Voort, thrusting out his chin,
and tapping his broad chest, and speaking as if an unwarrantable
liberty had been taken with him. 'First of all, it has shown itself
to me!' Mr Flaxman Low smiled and assured him that nothing could be
'But not at all satisfactory!' exclaimed the Professor. 'I was
sitting here alone, it might have been midnight--when I hear
something come creeping like a little dog with its nails, tick-tick,
upon the oak flooring of the hall. I whistle, for I think it is the
little "Rags" of my daughter, and afterwards opened the door, and I
saw'--he hesitated and looked hard at Low through his spectacles,
'something that was just disappearing into the passage which connects
the two wings of the house. It was a figure, not unlike the human
figure, but narrow and straight. I fancied I saw a bunch of black
hair, and a flutter of something detached, which may have been a
I was overcome by a feeling of repulsion. I heard a few clicking
steps, then it stopped, as I thought, at the museum door. Come, I
will show you the spot.'
The Professor conducted Mr Low into the hall. The main staircase,
dark and massive, yawned above them, and directly behind it ran the
passage referred to by the Professor. It was over twenty feet long,
and about midway led past a deep arch containing a door reached by
Van der Voort explained that this door formed the entrance to a
large room called the Museum, in which Mr Swaffam, senior, who was
something of a dilettante, stored the various curios he picked up
during his excursions abroad. The Professor went on to say that he
immediately followed the figure, which he believed had gone into the
museum, but he found nothing there except the cases containing
'I mentioned my experience to no one. I concluded that I had seen
the ghost. But two days after, one of the female servants coming
through the passage, in the dark, declared that a man leapt out at
her from the embrasure of the Museum door, but she released herself
and ran screaming into the servants' hall. We at once made a search
but found nothing to substantiate her story.
'I took no notice of this, though it coincided pretty well with my
own experience. The week after, my daughter Lena came down late one
night for a book. As she was about to cross the hall, something leapt
upon her from behind. Women are of little use in serious
investigations--she fainted! Since then she has been ill and the
doctor says "run down".' Here the Professor spread out his hands. 'So
she leaves for a change tomorrow. Since then other members of the
household have been attacked in much the same manner, with always the
same result, they faint and are weak and useless when they
'But, last Wednesday, the affair became a tragedy. By that time
the servants had refused to come through the passage except in a
crowd of three or four,--most of them preferring to go round by the
terrace to reach this part of the house. But one maid, named Eliza
Freeman, said she was not afraid of the Baelbrow Ghost, and undertook
to put out the lights in the hall one night.
When she had done so, and was returning through the passage past
the Museum door, she appears to have been attacked, or at any rate
frightened. In the grey of the morning they found her lying beside
the steps dead. There was a little blood upon her sleeve but no mark
upon her body except a small raised pustule under the ear. The doctor
said the girl was extraordinarily anæmic, and that she probably
died from fright, her heart being weak. I was surprised at this, for
she had always seemed to be a particularly strong and active young
'Can I see Miss Van der Voort to-morrow before she goes?' asked
Low, as the Professor signified he had nothing more to tell.
The Professor was rather unwilling that his daughter should be
questioned, but he at last gave his permission, and next morning Low
had a short talk with the girl before she left the house. He found
her a very pretty girl, though listless and startlingly pale, and
with a frightened stare in her light brown eyes. Mr Low asked if she
could describe her assailant..'No,' she answered. 'I could not see
him for he was behind me. I only saw a dark, bony hand, with shining
nails, and a bandaged arm pass just under my eyes before I
'Bandaged arm? I have heard nothing of this.'
'Tut--tut, mere fancy!' put in the Professor impatiently.
'I saw the bandages on the arm,' repeated the girl, turning her
head wearily away, 'and I smelt the antiseptics it was dressed
'You have hurt your neck,' remarked Mr Low, who noticed a small
circular patch of pink under her ear.
She flushed and paled, raising her hand to her neck with a nervous
jerk, as she said in a low voice: 'It has almost killed me. Before he
touched me, I knew he was there! I felt it!'
When they left her the Professor apologised for the unreliability
of her evidence, and pointed out the discrepancy between her
statement and his own.
'She says she sees nothing but an arm, yet I tell you it had no
arms! Preposterous! Conceive a wounded man entering this house to
frighten the young women! I do not know what to make of it! Is it a
man, or is it the Baelbrow Ghost?'
During the afternoon when Mr Low and the Professor returned from a
stroll on the shore, they found a dark-browed young man with a bull
neck, and strongly marked features, standing sullenly before the hall
fire. The Professor presented him to Mr Low as Harold Swaffam.
Swaffam seemed to be about thirty, but was already known as a
far-seeing and successful member of the Stock Exchange.
'I am pleased to meet you, Mr Low,' he began, with a keen glance,
'though you don't look sufficiently high-strung for one of your
Mr Low merely bowed.
'Come, you don't defend your craft against my insinuations?' went
on Swaffam. 'And so you have come to rout out our poor old ghost from
Baelbrow? You forget that he is an heirloom, a family possession!
What's this about his having turned rabid, eh, Professor?' he ended,
wheeling round upon Van der Voort in his brusque way.
The Professor told the story over again. It was plain that he
stood rather in awe of his prospective son-in-law.
'I heard much the same from Lena, whom I met at the station,' said
Swaffam. 'It is my opinion that the women in this house are suffering
from an epidemic of hysteria. You agree with me, Mr Low?'
'Possibly. Though hysteria could hardly account for Freeman's
'I can't say as to that until I have looked further into the
particulars. I have not been idle since I arrived. I have examined
the Museum. No one has entered it from the outside, and there is no
other way of entrance except through the passage. The flooring is
laid, I happen to know, on a thick layer of concrete. And there the
case for the ghost stands at present.' After a few moments of dogged
reflection, he swung round on Mr Low, in a manner that seemed
peculiar to him when about to address any person. 'What do you say to
this plan, Mr Low? I propose to drive the Professor over to
Ferryvale, to stop there for a day or two at the hotel, and I will
also dispose of the servants who still remain in the house for, say,
forty-eight hours. Meanwhile you and I can try to go further into the
secret of the ghost's new pranks?'
Flaxman Low replied that this scheme exactly met his views, but
the Professor protested against being sent away. Harold Swaffam,
however, was a man who liked to arrange things in his own fashion,
and within forty-five minutes he and Van der Voort departed in the
dogcart..The evening was lowering, and Baelbrow, like all houses
built in exposed situations, was extremely susceptible to the changes
of the weather. Therefore, before many hours were over, the place was
full of creaking noises as the screaming gale battered at the
shuttered windows, and the tree-branches tapped and groaned against
Harold Swaffam on his way back was caught in the storm and
drenched to the skin. It was, therefore, settled that after he had
changed his clothes he should have a couple of hours' rest on the
smoking-room sofa, while Mr Low kept watch in the hall.
The early part of the night passed over uneventfully. A light
burned faintly in the great wainscotted hall, but the passage was
dark. There was nothing to be heard but the wild moan and whistle of
the wind coming in from the sea, and the squalls of rain dashing
against the windows.
As the hours advanced, Mr Low lit a lantern that lay at hand, and,
carrying it along the passage tried the Museum door. It yeilded, and
the wind came muttering through to meet him. He looked round at the
shutters and behind the big cases which held Mr Swaffam's treasures,
to make sure that the room contained no living occupant but
Suddenly he fancied he heard a scraping noise behind him, and
turned round, but discovered nothing to account for it. Finally, he
laid the lantern on a bench so that its light should fall through the
door into the passage, and returned again to the hall, where he put
out the lamp, and then once more took up his station by the closed
door of the smoking-room.
A long hour passed, during which the wind continued to roar down
the wide hall chimney, and the old boards creaked as if furtive
footsteps were gathering from every corner of the house. But Flaxman
Low heeded none of these; he was awaiting for a certain sound.
After a while, he heard it--the cautious scraping of wood on wood.
He leant forward to watch the Museum door. Click, click, came the
curious dog-like tread upon the tiled floor of the Museum, till the
thing, whatever it was, paused and listened behind the open door. The
wind lulled at the moment, and Low listened also, but no further
sound was to be heard, only slowly across the broad ray of light
falling through the door grew a stealthy shadow.
Again the wind rose, and blew in heavy gusts about the house, till
even the flame in the lantern flickered; but when it steadied once
more, Flaxman Low saw that the silent form had passed through the
door, and was now on the steps outside. He could just make out a dim
shadow in the dark angle of the embrasure.
Presently, from the shapeless shadow came a sound Mr Low was not
prepared to hear. The thing sniffed the air with the strong, audible
inspiration of a bear, or some large animal. At the same moment,
carried on the draughts of the hall, a faint, unfamiliar odour
reached his nostrils.
Lena Van der Voort's words flashed back upon him--this, then, was
the creature with the bandaged arm!
Again, as the storm shrieked and shook the windows, a darkness
passed across the light. The thing had sprung out from the angle of
the door, and Flaxman Low knew that it was making its way towards him
through the illusive blackness of the hall. He hesitated for a
second; then he opened the smoking-room door.
Harold Swaffam sat up on the sofa, dazed with sleep. 'What has
happened? Has it come?'
Low told him what he had just seen. Swaffam listened
'What do you make of it now?' he said.
'I must ask you to defer that question for a little,' replied
'Then you mean me to suppose that you have a theory to fit all
these incongruous items?'
'I have a theory, which may be modified by further knowledge,'
said Low. 'Meantime, am I right in concluding from the name of this
house that it was built on a barrow or burying-place?'
'You are right, though that has nothing to do with the latest
freaks of our ghost,' returned Swaffam decidedly.
'I also gather that Mr Swaffam has lately sent home one of the
many cases now lying in the Museum?' went on Mr Low.
'He sent one, certainly, last September.'
'And you have opened it,' asserted Low.
'Yes; though I flattered myself I had left no trace of my
'I have not examined the cases,' said Low. 'I inferred that you
had done so from other facts.'
'Now, one thing more,' went on Swaffam, still smiling. 'Do you
imagine there is any danger---I mean to men like ourselves?
Hysterical women cannot be taken into serious account.'
'Certainly; the gravest danger to any person who moves about this
part of the house alone after dark,' replied Low.
Harold Swaffam leant back and crossed his legs.
'To go back to the beginning of our conversation, Mr Low, may I
remind you of the various conflicting particulars you will have to
reconcile before you can present any decent theory to the world?'
'I am quite aware of that.'
'First of all, our original ghost was a mere misty presence,
rather guessed at from vague sounds and shadows--now we have a
something that is tangible, and that can, as we have proof, kill with
fright. Next Van der Voort declares the thing was a narrow, long and
distinctly armless object, while Miss Van der Voort has not only seen
the arm and hand of a human being, but saw them clearly enough to
tell us that the nails were gleaming and the arm bandaged. She also
felt its strength. Van der Voort, on the other hand, maintained that
it clicked along like a dog--you bear out this description with the
additional information that it sniffs like a wild beast. Now what can
this thing be? It is capable of being seen, smelt, and felt, yet it
hides itself, successfully in a room where there is no cavity or
space sufficient to afford covert to a cat! You still tell me that
you believe that you can explain?'
'Most certainly,' replied Flaxman Low with conviction.
'I have not the slightest intention or desire to be rude, but as a
mere matter of common sense, I must express my opinion plainly. I
believe the whole thing to be the result of excited imaginations, and
I am about to prove it. Do you think there is any further danger
'Very great danger to-night,' replied Low.
'Very well; as I said, I am going to prove it. I will ask you to
allow me to lock you up in one of the distant rooms, where I can get
no help from you, and I will pass the remainder of the night walking
about the passage and hall in the dark. That should give proof one
way or the other.'
'You can do so if you wish, but I must at least beg to be allowed
to look on. I will leave the house and watch what goes on from the
window in the passage, which I saw opposite the Museum door. You
cannot, in any fairness, refuse to let me be a witness.'
'I cannot, of course,' returned Swaffam. 'Still, the night is too
bad to turn a dog out into, and I warn you that I shall lock you
'That will not matter. Lend me a macintosh, and leave the lantern
lit in the Museum, where I placed it.'
Swaffam agreed to this. Mr Low gives a graphic account of what
followed. He left the house and was duly locked out, and, after
groping his way round the house, found himself at length outside the
window of the passage, which was almost opposite to the door of the
Museum. The door was still ajar and a thin band of light cut out into
the gloom. Further down the hall gaped black and void. Low,
sheltering himself as well as he could from the rain, waited for
Swaffam 's appearance. Was the terrible yellow watcher balancing
itself upon its lean legs in the dim corner opposite, ready to spring
out with its deadly strength upon the passer-by? Presently Low heard
a door bang inside the house, and the next moment Swaffam appeared
with a candle in his hand, an isolated spread of weak rays against
the vast darkness behind. He advanced steadily down the passage, his
dark face grim and set, and as he came Mr Low experienced that
tingling sensation, which is so often the forerunner of some strange
Swaffam passed on towards the other end of the passage. There was
a quick vibration of the Museum door as a lean shape with a shrunken
head leapt out into the passage after him. Then all together came a
hoarse shout, the noise of a fall and utter darkness.
In an instant, Mr Low had broken the glass, opened the window, and
swung himself into the passage. There he lit a match and as it flared
he saw by its dim light a picture painted for a second upon the
Swaffam's big figure lay with outstretched arms, face downwards,
and as Low looked a crouching shape extricated itself from the fallen
man, raising a narrow vicious head from his shoulder.
The match spluttered feebly and went out, and Low heard a flying
step click on the boards, before he could find the candle Swaffam had
dropped. Lighting it, he stooped over Swaffam and turned him on his
back. The man's strong colour had gone, and the wax-white face looked
whiter still against the blackness of hair and brows, and upon his
neck under the ear was a little raised pustule, from which a thin
line of blood was streaked up to the angle of his cheekbone.
Some instinctive feeling prompted Low to glance up at this moment.
Half extended from the Museum doorway were a face and bony neck--a
high-nosed, dull-eyed, malignant face, the eye-sockets hollow, and
the darkened teeth showing. Low plunged his hand into his pocket, and
a shot rang out in the echoing passage-way and hall. The wind sighed
through the broken panes, a ribbon of stuff fluttered along the
polished flooring, and that was all, as Flaxman Low half dragged,
half carried Swaffam into the smoking-room.
It was some time before Swaffam recovered consciousness. He
listened to Low's story of how he had found him with a red angry
gleam in his sombre eyes.
'The ghost has scored off me,' he said, with an odd, sullen laugh,
'but now I fancy it's my turn! But before we adjourn to the Museum to
examine the place, I will ask you to let me hear your notion of
things. You have been right in saying there was real danger. For
myself I can only tell you that I felt something spring upon me, and
I knew no more. Had this not happened I am afraid I should never have
asked you a second time what your idea of the matter might be,' he
added with a sort of sulky frankness.
'There are two main indications,' replied Low. 'This strip of
yellow bandage, which I have just now picked up from the passage
floor, and the mark on your neck.'
'What's that you say?' Swaffam rose quickly and examined his neck
in a small glass beside the mantelshelf.
'Connect those two, and I think I can leave you to work it out for
yourself,' said Low.
'Pray let us have your theory in full,' requested Swaffam
'Very well,' answered Low good-humouredly--he thought Swaffam's
annoyance natural in the circumstances--'The long, narrow figure
which seemed to the Professor to be armless is developed on the next
occasion. For Miss Van der Voort sees a bandaged arm and a dark hand
with gleaming--which means, of course, gilded--nails. The clicking
sound of the footsteps coincides with these particulars, for we know
that sandals made of strips of leather are not uncommon in company
with gilt nails and bandages. Old and dry leather would naturally
click upon your polished floor.'
'Bravo, Mr Low! So you mean to say that this house is haunted by a
'That is my idea, and all I have seen confirms me in my
'To do you justice, you held this theory before to-night--before,
in fact, you had seen anything for yourself. You gathered that my
father had sent home a mummy, and you went on to conclude that I had
opened the case?'
'Yes. I imagine you took off most of, or rather all, the outer
bandages, thus leaving the limbs free, wrapped only in the inner
bandages which were swathed round each separate limb. I fancy this
mummy was preserved on the Theban method with aromatic spices, which
left the skin olive-coloured, dry and flexible, like tanned leather,
the features remaining distinct, and the hair, teeth, and eyebrows
'So far, good,' said Swaffam. 'But now, how about the intermittent
vitality? The postule on the neck of those whom it attacks? And where
is our old Baelbrow ghost to come in?'
Swaffam tried to speak in a rallying tone, but his excitement and
lowering temper were visible enough, in spite of the attempts he made
to suppress them.
'To begin at the beginning,' said Flaxman Low, 'everybody who, in
a rational and honest manner, investigates the phenomena of spiritism
will, sooner or later, meet in them some perplexing element, which is
not to be explained by any of the ordinary theories. For reasons into
which I need not now enter, this present case appears to me to be one
of these. I am led to believe that the ghost which has for so many
years given dim and vague manifestations of its existence in this
house is a vampire.'
Swaffam threw back his head with an incredulous gesture.
'We no longer live in the middle ages, Mr Low! And besides, how
could a vampire come here?' he said scoffingly.
'It is held by some authorities on these subjects that under
certain conditions a vampire may be self-created. You tell me that
this house is built upon an ancient barrow, in fact, on a spot where
we might naturally expect to find such an elemental psychic germ. In
those dead human systems were contained all the seeds for good and
evil. The power which causes these psychic seeds or germs to grow is
thought, and from being long dwelt on and indulged, a thought might
finally gain a mysterious vitality, which could go on increasing more
and more by attracting to itself suitable and appropriate elements
from its environment. For a long period this germ remained a helpless
intelligence, awaiting the opportunity to assume some material form,
by means of which to carry out its desires. The invisible is the
real; the material only subserves its manifestation.
The impalpable reality already existed, when you provided for it a
physical medium for action by unwrapping the mummy's form. Now, we
can only judge of the nature of the germ by its manifestation through
matter. Here we have every indication of a vampire intelligence
touching into life and energy the dead human frame. Hence the mark on
the neck of its victims, and their bloodless and anæmic
condition. For a vampire, as you know, sucks blood.'
Swaffam rose, and took up the lamp.
'Now, for proof,' he said bluntly. 'Wait a second, Mr Low. You say
you fired at this appearance?' And he took up the pistol which Low
had laid down on the table.
'Yes, I aimed at a small portion of its foot which I saw on the
Without more words, and with the pistol still in his hand, Swaffam
led the way to the Museum..The wind howled round the house, and the
darkness, which precedes the dawn, lay upon the world, when the two
men looked upon one of the strangest sights it has ever been given to
men to shudder at.
Half in and half out of an oblong wooden box in a corner of the
great room, lay a lean shape in its rotten yellow bandages, the
scraggy neck surmounted by a mop of frizzled hair. The toe strap of a
sandal and a portion of the right foot had been shot away.
Swaffam, with a working face, gazed down at it, then seizing it by
its tearing bandages, he flung it into the box, where it fell into a
life-like posture, its wide, moist-lipped mouth gaping up at
For a moment Swaffam stood over the thing; then with a curse he
raised the revolver and shot into the grinning face again and again
with a deliberate vindictiveness. Finally he rammed the thing down
into the box, and, clubbing the weapon, smashed the head into
fragments with a vicious energy that coloured the whole horrible
scene with a suggestion of murder done.
Then, turning to Low, he said: 'Help me to fasten the cover on
'Are you going to bury it?'
'No, we must rid the earth of it,' he answered savagely. 'I'll put
it into the old canoe and burn it.'
The rain had ceased when in the daybreak they carried the old
canoe down to the shore. In it they placed the mummy case with its
ghastly occupant, and piled faggots about it. The sail was raised and
the pile lighted, and Low and Swaffam watched it creep out on the
ebb-tide, at first a twinkling spark, then a flare and waving fire,
until far out to sea the history of that dead thing ended 3000 years
after the priests of Armen had laid it to rest in its appointed