site logo

Half-past One O'clock

Categories: More Ghosts With A Purpose
Scary Books: The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts
: Andrew Lang

In October, 1893, I was staying at a town which we shall call

Rapingham. One night I and some kinsfolk dined with another old

friend of all of us, a Dr. Ferrier. In the course of dinner he asked

a propos de bottes:--

"Have you heard of the ghost in Blake Street?" a sunny, pleasant

street of respectable but uninteresting antiquity in Rapingham.

We had none of us heard of the ghost, and begg
d the doctor to

enlighten our ignorance. His story ran thus--I have it in his own

writing as far as its essence goes:--

"The house," he said, "belongs to my friends, the Applebys, who let

it, as they live elsewhere. A quiet couple took it and lived in it

for five years, when the husband died, and the widow went away. They

made no complaint while tenants. The house stood empty for some time,

and all I know personally about the matter is that I, my wife, and the

children were in the dining-room one Sunday when we heard unusual

noises in the drawing-room overhead. We went through the rooms but

could find no cause or explanation of the disturbance, and thought no

more about it.

"About six or seven years ago I let the house to a Mr. Buckley, who is

still the tenant. He was unmarried, and his family consisted of his

mother and sisters. They preceded him to put the place in order, and

before his arrival came to me in some irritation complaining that I

had let them _a haunted house_! They insisted that there were strange

noises, as if heavy weights were being dragged about, or heavy

footsteps pacing in the rooms and on the stairs. I said that I knew

nothing about the matter. The stairs are of stone, water is only

carried up to the first floor, there is an unused system of hot air

pipes. {177a} Something went wrong with the water-main in the area

once, but the noises lasted after it was mended.

"I think Mr. Buckley when he arrived never heard anything unusual.

But one evening as he walked upstairs carrying an ink-bottle, he found

his hand full of some liquid. Thinking that he had spilt the ink, he

went to a window where he found his hand full of water, to account for

which there was no stain on the ceiling, or anything else that he

could discover. On another occasion one of the young ladies was

kneeling by a trunk in an attic, alone, when water was switched over

her face, as if from a wet brush. {177b} There was a small pool of

water on the floor, and the wall beyond her was sprinkled.

"Time went on, and the disturbances were very rare: in fact ceased

for two years till the present week, when Mrs. Claughton, a widow

accompanied by two of her children, came to stay with the Buckleys.

{177c} She had heard of the disturbances and the theory of hauntings--

I don't know if these things interested her or not.

"Early on Monday, 9th October, Mrs. Claughton came to consult me. Her

story was this: About a quarter past one on Sunday night, or Monday

morning, she was in bed with one of her children, the other sleeping

in the room. She was awakened by footsteps on the stair, and supposed

that a servant was coming to call her to Miss Buckley, who was ill.

The steps stopped at the door, then the noise was repeated. Mrs.

Claughton lit her bedroom candle, opened the door and listened. There

was no one there. The clock on the landing pointed to twenty minutes

past one. Mrs. Claughton went back to bed, read a book, fell asleep,

and woke to find the candle still lit, but low in the socket. She

heard a sigh, and saw a lady, unknown to her, her head swathed in a

soft white shawl, her expression gentle and refined, her features much


"The Appearance said, 'Follow me,' and Mrs. Claughton, taking the

bedroom candle, rose and followed out on to the landing, and so into

the adjacent drawing-room. She cannot remember opening the door,

which the housemaid had locked outside, and she owns that this passage

is dreamlike in her memory. Seeing that her candle was flickering

out, she substituted for it a pink one taken from a chiffonier. The

figure walked nearly to the window, turned three-quarters round, said

'To-morrow!' and was no more seen. Mrs. Claughton went back to her

room, where her eldest child asked:--

"'Who is the lady in white?'

"'Only me, mother, go to sleep,' she thinks she answered. After lying

awake for two hours, with gas burning, she fell asleep. The pink

candle from the drawing-room chiffonier was in her candlestick in the


"After hearing the lady's narrative I told her to try change of air,

which she declined as cowardly. So, as she would stay on at Mr.

Buckley's, I suggested that an electric alarm communicating with Miss

Buckley's room should be rigged up, and this was done."

Here the doctor paused, and as the events had happened within the

week, we felt that we were at last on the track of a recent ghost.

"Next morning, about one, the Buckleys were aroused by a tremendous

peal of the alarm; Mrs. Claughton they found in a faint. Next morning

{179} she consulted me as to the whereabouts of a certain place, let

me call it 'Meresby'. I suggested the use of a postal directory; we

found Meresby, a place extremely unknown to fame, in an agricultural

district about five hours from London in the opposite direction from

Rapingham. To this place Mrs. Claughton said she must go, in the

interest and by the order of certain ghosts, whom she saw on Monday

night, and whose injunctions she had taken down in a note-book. She

has left Rapingham for London, and there," said the doctor, "my story

ends for the present."

We expected it to end for good and all, but in the course of the week

came a communication to the doctor in writing from Mrs. Claughton's

governess. This lady, on Mrs. Claughton's arrival at her London house

(Friday, 13th October), passed a night perturbed by sounds of weeping,

"loud moans," and "a very odd noise overhead, like some electric

battery gone wrong," in fact, much like the "warning" of a jack

running down, which Old Jeffrey used to give at the Wesley's house in

Epworth. There were also heavy footsteps and thuds, as of moving

weighty bodies. So far the governess.

This curious communication I read at Rapingham on Saturday, 14th

October, or Sunday, 15th October. On Monday I went to town. In the

course of the week I received a letter from my kinsman in Rapingham,

saying that Mrs. Claughton had written to Dr. Ferrier, telling him

that she had gone to Meresby on Saturday; had accomplished the bidding

of the ghosts, and had lodged with one Joseph Wright, the parish

clerk. Her duty had been to examine the Meresby parish registers, and

to compare certain entries with information given by the ghosts and

written by her in her note-book. If the entries in the parish

register tallied with her notes, she was to pass the time between one

o'clock and half-past one, alone, in Meresby Church, and receive a

communication from the spectres. All this she said that she had done,

and in evidence of her journey enclosed her half ticket to Meresby,

which a dream had warned her would not be taken on her arrival. She

also sent a white rose from a grave to Dr. Ferrier, a gentleman in no

sympathy with the Jacobite cause, which, indeed, has no connection

whatever with the matter in hand.

On hearing of this letter from Mrs. Claughton, I confess that, not

knowing the lady, I remained purely sceptical. The railway company,

however, vouched for the ticket. The rector of Meresby, being

appealed to, knew nothing of the matter. He therefore sent for his

curate and parish clerk.

"Did a lady pass part of Sunday night in the church?"

The clerk and the curate admitted that this unusual event _had_

occurred. A lady had arrived from London on Saturday evening; had

lodged with Wright, the parish clerk; had asked for the parish

registers; had compared them with her note-book after morning service

on Sunday, and had begged leave to pass part of the night in the

church. The curate in vain tried to dissuade her, and finally,

washing his hands of it, had left her to Wright the clerk. To him she

described a Mr. George Howard, deceased (one of the ghosts). He

recognised the description, and he accompanied her to the church on a

dark night, starting at one o'clock. She stayed alone, without a

light, in the locked-up church from 1.20 to 1.45, when he let her out.

There now remained no doubt that Mrs. Claughton had really gone to

Meresby, a long and disagreeable journey, and had been locked up in

the church alone at a witching hour.

Beyond this point we have only the statements of Mrs. Claughton, made

to Lord Bute, Mr. Myers and others, and published by the Society for

Psychical Research. She says that after arranging the alarm bell on

Monday night (October 9-10) she fell asleep reading in her dressing-

gown, lying outside her bed. She wakened, and found the lady of the

white shawl bending over her. Mrs. Claughton said: "Am I dreaming,

or is it true?" The figure gave, as testimony to character, a piece

of information. Next Mrs. Claughton saw a male ghost, "tall, dark,

healthy, sixty years old," who named himself as George Howard, buried

in Meresby churchyard, Meresby being a place of which Mrs. Claughton,

like most people, now heard for the first time. He gave the dates of

his marriage and death, which are correct, and have been seen by Mr.

Myers in Mrs. Claughton's note-book. He bade her verify these dates

at Meresby, and wait at 1.15 in the morning at the grave of Richard

Harte (a person, like all of them, unknown to Mrs. Claughton) at the

south-west corner of the south aisle in Meresby Church. This Mr.

Harte died on 15th May, 1745, and missed many events of interest by

doing so. Mr. Howard also named and described Joseph Wright, of

Meresby, as a man who would help her, and he gave minute local

information. Next came a phantom of a man whose name Mrs. Claughton

is not free to give; {182} he seemed to be in great trouble, at first

covering his face with his hands, but later removing them. These

three spectres were to meet Mrs. Claughton in Meresby Church and give

her information of importance on a matter concerning, apparently, the

third and only unhappy appearance. After these promises and

injunctions the phantoms left, and Mrs. Claughton went to the door to

look at the clock. Feeling faint, she rang the alarum, when her

friends came and found her in a swoon on the floor. The hour was


What Mrs. Claughton's children were doing all this time, and whether

they were in the room or not, does not appear.

On Thursday Mrs. Claughton went to town, and her governess was

perturbed, as we have seen.

On Friday night Mrs. Claughton _dreamed_ a number of things connected

with her journey; a page of the notes made from this dream was shown

to Mr. Myers. Thus her half ticket was not to be taken, she was to

find a Mr. Francis, concerned in the private affairs of the ghosts,

which needed rectifying, and so forth. These premonitions, with

others, were all fulfilled. Mrs. Claughton, in the church at night,

continued her conversation with the ghosts whose acquaintance she had

made at Rapingham. She obtained, it seems, all the information

needful to settling the mysterious matters which disturbed the male

ghost who hid his face, and on Monday morning she visited the daughter

of Mr. Howard in her country house in a park, "recognised the strong

likeness to her father, and carried out all things desired by the dead

to the full, as had been requested. . . . The wishes expressed to her

were perfectly rational, reasonable and of natural importance."

The clerk, Wright, attests the accuracy of Mrs. Claughton's

description of Mr. Howard, whom he knew, and the correspondence of her

dates with those in the parish register and on the graves, which he

found for her at her request. Mr. Myers, "from a very partial

knowledge" of what the Meresby ghosts' business was, thinks the

reasons for not revealing this matter "entirely sufficient". The

ghosts' messages to survivors "effected the intended results," says

Mrs. Claughton.

Of this story the only conceivable natural explanation is that Mrs.

Claughton, to serve her private ends, paid secret preliminary visits

to Meresby, "got up" there a number of minute facts, chose a haunted

house at the other end of England as a first scene in her little

drama, and made the rest of the troublesome journeys, not to mention

the uncomfortable visit to a dark church at midnight, and did all this

from a hysterical love of notoriety. This desirable boon she would

probably never have obtained, even as far as it is consistent with a

pseudonym, if I had not chanced to dine with Dr. Ferrier while the

adventure was only beginning. As there seemed to be a chance of

taking a ghost "on the half volley," I at once communicated the first

part of the tale to the Psychical Society (using pseudonyms, as here,

throughout), and two years later Mrs. Claughton consented to tell the

Society as much as she thinks it fair to reveal.

This, it will be confessed, is a round-about way of obtaining fame,

and an ordinary person in Mrs. Claughton's position would have gone to

the Psychical Society at once, as Mark Twain meant to do when he saw

the ghost which turned out to be a very ordinary person.

There I leave these ghosts, my mind being in a just balance of

agnosticism. If ghosts at all, they were ghosts with a purpose. The

species is now very rare.

The purpose of the ghost in the following instance was trivial, but

was successfully accomplished. In place of asking people to do what

it wanted, the ghost did the thing itself. Now the modern theory of

ghosts, namely, that they are delusions of the senses of the seers,

caused somehow by the mental action of dead or distant people, does

not seem to apply in this case. The ghost produced an effect on a

material object.