I mounted the stairs slowly, feeling the soft curve of the banister in my hand…
listening to the creaking of the steps, watching the illumination of the candlelight upon the walls, noting the shadows in the recesses that the light did not penetrate.
On the landing I called a thank-you and good-night to Mrs. Jameson, but received no response. I looked down on the hall below for a sign of her, but it was too dark to discern even the middle stair.
I lowered the crate to the floor and removed the candlestick that had been balancing atop it.
I opened the crate, allowing The Admiral, an old black cat I had obtained from my former landlady’s sister, to lumber out and lead the way to the bay room. He stood cautiously on the threshold and watched me explore the vacant space.
Crown molding and wainscoting decorated the walls, and the only piece of furniture was a wardrobe, I discovered, upon removing the cloths that covered it — a wardrobe adorned with carvings of fruit and leaves. It stood next to the hearth.
I folded the cloths and lay them in one of the drawers, for I intended to admire the craftsmanship of the appointment anytime I was not immersed in my manuscript or enthralled by the lake.
Mrs. Jameson had been mistaken: There was no table in the room, but that would be easily remedied by bringing in a table from another chamber. The room was exceptionally cold, but I was hopeful that the fireplace was in good repair and that the windows would stream in the mornings with warm light.
Now rain pattered against the panes and all was thick with fog beyond them. I anticipated an astonishing view of the lake once the storm passed. Presently, however, both the sight and the sound of the rain were soothing.
The Admiral followed me to the sitting room, where the fire was cheery indeed. The meal Mrs. Jameson had laid out was still hot, and I enjoyed a fine repast of roast beef, whipped potatoes, and cake and tea.
After supper I reclined in the armchair with a pipe and watched the flames flicker in the fire.
Periodically I turned my attention to my favorite novel, but my heart was invested in absorbing the atmosphere of the room with its copious bookshelves and the pleasing semicircle of its corner turret.
Soon the meal, the sound of the rain, and the comfort of The Admiral purring in my lap lulled me into a repose that enveloped me like the warmth of the fire.
A roaring peal of thunder awoke me.
The rain sounded like a thousand drums.
The fire had burned low, and the flame of my candle wavered weakly in its pool of melted wax.
I rose, shifting The Admiral from my lap to the chair, and obtained a new candle from the supply on the mantelpiece. I stirred the fire.
Beneath the din of rain I discerned the sound of a dog barking, which seemed to cause The Admiral some distress. His ears turned backward and his eyes widened not at the crashing booms of thunder, but at the piercing eruptions of barks and yelps.
I surmised that the dog was cowering on the porch, seeking relief from the wet and the wind that roared against the panes. I determined to bring the pup inside, give him some meat, and let him dry himself beside the fire.
Thus resolved, I shuffled through the hallway with a solitary candle that provided inadequate light.
The barking swelled as I approached the stairway, but it was surpassed in volume by the nearness of the low, hollow sound of water on wood.
There were banging sounds as well.
I paused in the hall and listened.
Suddenly, on my left, the door to the bay room slammed shut.
Like a slap I felt the gust of wind that blew it closed.
I opened the door and determined that the banging was the sound of the windows slamming against one another. They had blown open in the storm.
I crossed the floorboards to close the windows and my boots were immersed in water.
Then a fresh gust of wind roiled through the room and snuffed out my candle in the same instant that it slammed the door shut again.
The wild rain was flooding the room, and I tried to close the windows, but the wind roared them open again. I considered removing shelves from the wardrobe and using them to barricade the windows shut, but darkness prevented me from ascertaining whether the wardrobe contained shelves.
I stepped cautiously toward the door to seek a candelabra from the sitting room.
Turning the doorknob, I found that it would not budge.
I turned it again, and again — with both hands this time.
The door was locked fast.
With a chill I recalled Mrs. Jameson’s fear of this room.
Then the creaking began.
My imagination fueled my apprehension — until I thought the creaking could have been caused by the age of the floorboards.
But instinct insisted that the noises were caused by a force unseen.
I called for Mrs. Jameson, but received no response. The house was so large, and the storm was so loud, that it was unlikely she could hear me from the kitchen or her quarters, wherever they were.
Periodic peals of thunder pierced my nerves with fear.
Rain pelted through the open windows.
Flashes of lightning lit the room like daylight, and I used the glimmers to gauge my path to the wardrobe.
But when I reached it, there emerged a closer creaking.
Then I felt a strange sensation.
Something grazed against my elbow.
It grazed, I say — like something made of gauze.
It was like being brushed by the wrap of a hurried lady.
A fresh current of cold air followed it, like the breeze that follows a passing person.
It was as if someone had dashed in a path opposite mine toward the door.
This was, of course, impossible. The lightning revealed the presence of no one and nothing other than myself and the wardrobe.
So certain was I of the sensation, however, that weakly I cried, “Mrs. Jameson?”
There was silence, but for the sound of creaking.
“Lumble?” I cried.
There was no answer.
The wind answered this time, with a whine and a gust.
Reminded of my task, I abandoned such futile queries, set aside the unsettling sensation, and put my mind to barricading the windows with the wardrobe itself.
But again the draft that had followed the mysterious passage iced my veins.
The wardrobe was heavy, and wider than the width of my arms, but I succeeded in inching it in the direction of the windows by pushing it and pulling it left and right in increments.
When I got it close enough to the windows, the rain began to cease.
It sounded, now, light as a drizzle yielding to the sun.
Its quieting was like an orchestra letting up after a crescendo.
The contrast brought me physical relief as I became aware of how loud and overwhelming the tempest had become.
I tried to push away the sensation of something having brushed against my elbow as it passed toward the door.
But the feeling was imprinted on my corporeal memory like the fracture of a bone.
I tried to convince myself that I was distressed merely because it was so dark and I was alone.
I tried not to remember Mr. Griffin’s words, “My demons are not yours, Mr. Morgan.”
Fearing that the rainwater would damage the wardrobe, I began inching it back to its place against the north wall. The action engaged my mind and calmed my nerves.
Then I closed the windows, locked them, and turned my attention to coaxing the door open.
But the doorknob turned easily, and I stepped without difficulty into the dark hall.