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THE INN OF WOLFSWALD.
BY THE AUTHOR OF “A WINTER IN THE FAR WEST.
Tramp-tramp on the oaken floor!
Heard ye the spectre's hollow tread ?
And the wainscot cracks beside thy bed
The Yankee Rhymer. My horse had cast a shoe; and, stopping about sunset at a black. smith's cabin in one of the most savage passes of the Alleghanies, a smutty-faced, leather-aproned fellow, was soon engaged in enabling me again to encounter the flinty roads of the mountains, when the opera. tion was interrupted in the manner here related :
“ Pardon me, sir,” cried a middle-aged traveller, riding up to the smithy, and throwing himself from his horse just as the shaggyheaded Vulcan, having taken the heels of my nag in his lap, was proceeding to pare off the hoof preparatory to fitting the shoe, which he had hammered into shape, and thrown on the black soil beside him. "Pardon me, sir," repeated the stranger, raising his broad-brimmed beaver from a head remarkable for what the phrenologist would call the uncommon developement of “ideality,” revealed by the short locks which parted over a pair of melancholy grey eyes, “ matters of moment make it important for me to be a dozen miles hence before nightfall
, and you will place me, sir, under singular obligations by allowing this good fellow to attend to my lame beast instantly."
The confident and not ungraceful manner in which the stranger threw himself upon my courtesy sufficiently marked him as a man of breeding, and I, of course, complied at once with his request by giving the necessary order to the blacksmith. His horse was soon put in travelling trim, and, leaping actively into the saddle, he regained the highway at a bound; checking his course then a moment, he turned in his stirrups to thank me for the slight service I had rendered him, and, giving an address which I have now forgotten, he added that if ever I should enter -'s valley, I might be sure of a cordial welcome from the proprietor.
An hour afterward I was pursuing the same road, and rapidly approaching the end of my day's journey. The immediate district through which I was travelling had been settled by Germans in the early days of Pennsylvania-a scattered community that had been thrown somewhat in advance of the more slowly-extended settlements. In populousness and fertility it could not be compared with the regions on the eastern side of the mountains ; but the immense stone barns, which, though few and far between, occasionally met the eye, not less than the language spoken around me, indicated that the inhabitants were of the same origin with the ignorant but industrious denizens of the lower country.
One of these stone buildings, an enormous and ungainly edifice, stood upon a hill immediately at the back of the Wolfswald Hotel, a miserable wooden hovel, where I expected to pass the night,-and, VOL. II.
while descending the hill in rear of the village, I had leisure to observe that it presented a somewhat different appearance from the other agri. cultural establishments of the kind which I had met with during the day. The massive walls were pierced here and there with narrow windows, which looked like loop-holes, and a clumsy chimney had been fitted up by some unskilful mechanic against one of the gables, with a prodigality of materials which made its jagged top show like some old turret in the growing twilight. The history of this grotesque mansion, as I subsequently learned it, was that of a hundred others scattered over our country, and known generally in the neighbourhood as “Smith's,” or “ Thompson's Folly.” It had been commenced upon an ambitious scale by a person whose means were inadequate to its completion, and had been sacrificed at a public sale when half-finished, in order to liquidate the claims of the mechanics employed upon it. After that it had been used as a granary for a while, and subsequently, being rudely completed without any reference to the original plan, it had been occupied as an hotel for a few years. The ruinous inn had, however, for a long period been abandoned, and now enjoyed the gene. ral reputation in the neighbourhood of being haunted, for ghosts and goblins are always sure to take a big house off a landlord's hands when he can get no other tenant.
“We havt no room pfor mynheer,” said mine host, laying his hand on my bridle as I rode up to the door of a cabaret near this old building; while three or four wagoners, smoking their pipes upon a bench in front of the house, gave a grunt of confirmation to the ungracious avowal of the German landlord. I was too old a stager, however, to be so summarily turned away from an inn at such an hour ; and, throwing myself from my horse without further parley, I told the landlord to get me some supper, and we would talk about lodging afterwards.
It matters not how I got through the evening until the hour of bedtime arrived. I had soon ascertained that every bed in the hostelrie was really taken up, and that unless I chose to share his straw with one of the wagoners, who are accustomed to sleep in their lumbering vehicles, there was no resource for me except to occupy the lonely building which had first caught my eye on entering the hamlet. Upon inquiring as to the accommodation it afforded, I learnt that, though long deserted by any permanent occupants, it was still occasionally, notwithstanding its evil reputation, resorted to by the passing traveller, and that one or two of the rooms were yet in good repair, and partially furnished. The good woman of the house, however, looked very portentous when I expressed my determination to take up my abode for the night in the haunted ruin, though she tried ineffectually to rouse her sleeping husband to guide me thither. Mine host had been luxuriating too freely in some old whiskey brought by a return wagon from the Monongahela to heed the jogging of his spouse, and I was obliged to act as my own gentle. man-usher.
The night was raw and gusty as with my saddle-bags in one hand, and a stable-lantern in the other, I sallied from the door of the cabaret, and struggled up the broken hill in its rear to gain my uninviting place of rest. A rude porch, which seemed to have been long unconscious of a door, admitted me into the building ; and
tracking my way with some difficulty through a long corridor, of which the floor appeared to have been ripped open here and there in order to apply the boards to some other purpose, I came to a steep and narrow staircase without any balusters. Cautiously ascending, I found myself in a large hall which opened on the hill-side, against which the house was built. It appeared to be lighted by a couple of windows only, which were partially glazed in some places, and closed up in others by rough boards nailed across in lieu of shutters. It had evidently, however, judging from two or three ruinous pieces of furniture, been inhabited. A heavy door, whose oaken latch and hinges, being incapable of rust, were still in good repair, admitted me into an adjoining chamber. This had evidently been the dormitory of the establishment, where the guests, after the gregarious and most disagreeable fashion of our country, were wont to be huddled together in one large room. The waning moon, whose bright autumnal crescent was just beginning to rise above the hills, shone through a high circular window full into this apartment, and indicated a comfortable. looking truckle-bed at the further end before the rays of my miserable lantern had shot beyond the threshold.
Upon approaching the pallet I observed some indications of that end of the apartment being still occasionally occupied. The heavy beams which traversed the ceiling appeared to have been recently whitewashed. There was a small piece of carpet on the foor beside the bed ; and a decrepid table, and an arm-chair, whose burly body was precariously supported upon three legs, were holding an innocent tête-à-tête in the corner adjacent.
" I've had a rougher roosting-place than this,” thought I, as I placed my lantern upon the table, and depositing my saddle-bags beneath it, began to prepare myself for rest.
My light having now burned low, I was compelled to expedite the operation of undressing, which prevented me from examining the rest of the apartment; and, indeed, although I had, when first welcoming with some pleasure the idea of sleeping in a haunted house, determined fully to explore it for my own satisfaction before retiring for the night, yet fatigue or caprice made me now readily abandon the intention just when my means for carrying it into execution were being withdrawn ; for the candle expired while I was opening the door of the lantern to throw its light more fully upon a mass of drapery which seemed to be suspended across the further end of the chamber. The total darkness that momentarily ensued blinded me completely; but in the course of a few moments the shadows became more distinct, and gradually, by the light of the moon I was able to make out that the object opposite to me was only a large old-fashioned bedstead prodigally hung with tattered curtains. I gave no farther thought to the subject, but turning over, composed my. self to rest.
Sleep, however, whom Shakspeare alone has had the sense to personify as a woman, was coy in coming to
couch. The old mansion wheezed and groaned like a broken-winded buffalo hard pressed by the hunter. The wind, which had been high, became soon more boisterous than ever, and the clouds hurried so rapidly over the face of the moon that her beams were as broken as the crevices of the ruined building through which they fell.
A sudden gust would every now and then sweep through the long corridor below, and make the ricketty staircase crack as if it yielded to the feet of some portly passenger. Again the blast would die away in a sullen moan, as if baffled on some wild night errand; while anon it would swell in monotonous surges, which came booming upon the ear like the roar of a distant ocean.
I am not easily discomposed ; and perhaps none of these uncouth sounds would have given annoyance if the clanging of a window. shutter had not been added to the general chorus, and effectually kept me from sleeping. My nerves were at last becoming sensibly affected by its ceaseless din, and, wishing to cut short the fit of restlessness which I found growing upon me, I determined to rise, and descend the stairs at the risk of my neck, to try and secure the shutter so as to put an end to the nuisance.
But now, as I rose from my bed for this purpose, I found myself subjected to a new source of annoyance. The mocking wind, which had appeared to me more than once to syllable human sounds, came at length upon my ear distinctly charged with tones which could not be mistaken. It was the hard suppressed breathing of a man. I listened and it ceased with a slight gasp, like that of one labouring under suffocation. I listened still, and it came anew, stronger and more fully upon my ear. It was like the thick suspirations of an apoplectic. Whence it proceeded I knew not ; but that it was near me I was certain. A suspicion of robbery-possibly assassinationflashed upon me ; but was instantly discarded as foreign to the character of the people among whom I was travelling.
The moonlight now fell full upon the curtained bed opposite to me, and I saw the tattered drapery move, as if the frame upon which it was suspended were agitated. I watched, I confess, with some peculiar feelings of interest. I was not alarmed, but an unaccountable anxiety crept over me. At length the curtain parted, and a naked human leg was protruded through its folds ; the foot came with a numb, dead-like sound to the floor; resting there, it seemed to me at least half a minute before the body to which it belonged was disclosed to my view.
Slowly, then, a pallid and unearthly-looking figure emerged from the couch, and stood with its stark lineaments clearly drawn against the dingy curtain beside it. It appeared to be balancing itself for a moment, and then began to move along from the bed. But there was something horribly unnatural in its motions. Its feet came to the floor with a dull heavy sound, as if there was no vitality in them. Its arms hung, apparently, paralysed by its side, and the only nerve or rigidity in its frame appeared about its head ; the hair, which was thin and scattered, stood out in rigid tufts from its brow, the
eyes were dilated and fixed with an expression of ghastly horror, and the petrified lips moved not, as the hideous moaning which came from the bottom of its chest escaped them.
It began to move across the floor in the direction of my bed, its knees at every step being drawn up with a sudden jerk nearly to its body, and its feet coming to the ground as if they were moved by some mechanical impulse, and were wholly wanting in the elasticity of living members. It approached my bed, and mingled horror and curiosity kept me still. It came and stood beside it, and, child. like, I still clung to my couch, moving only to the farther side. Slowly, and with the same unnatural foot-falls, it pursued me thi.
ther, and again I changed my position. It placed itself then at the foot of my bedstead, and, moved by its piteous groans, I tried to look calmly at it ;-I endeavoured to rally my thoughts, to reason with myself, and even to speculate upon the nature of the object before me. One idea that went through my brain was too extravagant not to remember. I ihought, among other things, that the phantom was a corpse, animated for the moment by some galvanic process in order to terrify me. Then, as I recollected that there was no one in the village to carry such a trick into effect-supposing even the experiment possible-İ rejected the supposition. How, too, could those awful moans be produced from an inanimate being ? And yet it seemed as if everything about it were dead, except the mere capability of moving its feet, and uttering those unearthly expressions of suffering. The spectre, however, if so it may be called, gave me but little opportunity for reflection. Its ghastly limbs were raised anew with the same automaton movement; and, placing one of its feet upon the bottom of my bed, while its glassy eyes were fixed steadfastly upon me, it began stalking towards my pillow.
I confess that I was now in an agony of terror.
I leaped from the couch and fled the apartment. The keen-sighted ness of fear enabled me to discover an open closet upon the other side of the hall. Springing through the threshold, I closed the door quickly after me.
It had neither lock nor bolt, but the closet was so narrow, that by placing my feet upon the opposite wall, I could brace my back against the door so as to hold it against any human assailant who had only his arms for a lever.
The sweat of mortal fear started thick upon my forehead as I heard the supernatural tread of that strange visitant approaching the spot. It seemed an age before his measured steps brought him to the door. He struck ;-the blow was sullen and hollow, as if dealt by the hand of a corpse—it was like the dull sound of his own feet upon the floor. He struck the door again, and the blow was more feeble, and the sound duller than before. Surely, I thought, the hand of no living man could produce such a sound.
I know not whether it struck again, for now its thick breathing be. came so loud, that even the moanings which were mingled with every suspiration became inaudible. At last they subsided entirely, becoming at first gradually weaker, and then audible only in harsh, sudden sobs, whose duration I could not estimate, from their mingling with the blast which still swept the hill-side.
The long, long night had at last an end, and the cheering sounds of the awakening farm-yard told me that the sun was up, and that I might venture from my blind retreat. But if it were still with a slight feeling of trepidation that I opened the door of the closet, what was my horror when a human body fell inward upon me, even as I unclosed it. The weakness, however, left me the moment I had sprung from that hideous embrace. I stood for an instant in the fresh air and reviving light of the hall, and then proceeded to move the body to a place where I could examine its features more favour. ably. Great heaven! what was my horror upon discovering that they were those of the interesting stranger whom I had met on the road the evening before.
The rest of my story is soon told. The household of the inn were rapidly collected, and half the inhabitants of the hamlet identified the