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   Chapter 2 GHOST STORIES.

ZigZag Journeys in Northern Lands; By Hezekiah Butterworth Characters: 26873

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The Zigzag Club again.-Some "Ghost" Stories.

HE Academy had opened again. September again colored the leaves of the old elms of Yule. The Blue Hills, as lovely as when the Northmen beheld them nearly nine hundred years ago, were radiant with the autumn tinges of foliage and sky, changing from turquoise to sapphire in the intense twilight, and to purple as the shades of evening fell.

The boys were back again, all except the graduating class, some of whom were at Harvard, Brown, and Yale. Master Lewis was in his old place, and Mr. Beal was again his assistant.

The Zigzag Club was broken by the final departure of the graduating class. But Charlie Leland, William Clifton, and Herman Reed, who made a journey on the Rhine under the direction of Mr. Beal, had returned, and they had been active members of the school society known as the Club.

We should say here, to make the narrative clear to those who have not read "Zigzag Journeys in Classic Lands" and "Zigzag Journeys in the Orient," that the boys of the Academy of Yule had been accustomed each year to form a society for the study of the history, geography, legends, and household stories of some chosen country, and during the long summer vacation as many of the society as could do so, visited, under the direction of their teachers, the lands about which they had studied. This society was called the Zigzag Club, because it aimed to visit historic places without regard to direct routes of travel. It zigzagged in its travels from the associations of one historic story to another, and was influenced by the school text-book or the works of some pleasing author, rather than the guide-book.

The Zigzag books have been kindly received;[1] and we may here remark parenthetically that they do not aim so much to present narratives of travel as the histories, traditions, romances, and stories of places. They seek to tell stories at the places where the events occurred and amid the associations of the events that still remain. The Zigzag Club go seeking what is old rather than what is new, and thus change the past tense of history to the present tense.

[1] More than one hundred thousand volumes have been sold.

Charlie Leland was seated one day on the piazza of the Academy, after school, reading Hawthorne's "Twice-Told Tales." Master Lewis presently took a seat beside him; and "Gentleman Jo," whom we introduced to our readers in "Zigzags in the Occident," was resting on the steps near them.

Gentleman Jo was the janitor. He was a relative of Master Lewis, and a very intelligent man. He had been somewhat disabled in military service in the West, and was thus compelled to accept a situation at Yule that was quite below his intelligence and personal worth. The boys loved and respected him, sought his advice often, and sometimes invited him to meetings of their Society.

"Have you called together the Club yet?" asked Master Lewis of Charlie, when the latter had ceased reading.

"We had an informal meeting in my room last evening."

"What is your plan of study?"


"We have none as yet," said Charlie. "We are to have a meeting next week for the election of officers, and for literary exercises we have agreed to relate historic ghost stories. We asked Tommy Toby to be present, and he promised to give us for the occasion his version of 'St. Dunstan and the Devil and the Six Boy Kings.' I hardly know what the story is about, but the title sounds interesting."

"What made you choose ghost stories?" asked Master Lewis, curiously.

"You gave us Irving and Hawthorne to read in connection with our lessons on American literature. 'Rip Van Winkle,' 'Sleepy Hollow,' and 'Twice-Told Tales' turned our thoughts to popular superstitions; and, as they made me chairman, I thought it an interesting subject just now to present to the Club."

"More interesting than profitable, I am thinking. Still, the subject might be made instructive and useful as well as amusing."

"Did you ever see a ghost?" asked Charlie of Gentleman Jo, after Master Lewis left them.

"We thought we had one in our house, when I was living with my sister in Hingham, before the war. Hingham used to be famous for its ghost stories; an old house without its ghost was thought to lack historic tone and finish."

Gentleman Jo took a story-telling attitude, and a number of the pupils gathered around him.


I shall never forget the scene of excitement, when one morning Biddy, our domestic, entered the sitting-room, her head bobbing, her hair flying, and her cap perched upon the top of her head, and exclaimed: "Wurrah! I have seen a ghoust, and it's lave the hoose I must. Sich a night! I'd niver pass anither the like of it for the gift o' the hoose. Bad kick to ye, an' the hoose is haunted for sure."

"Why, Biddy, what have you seen?" asked my sister, in alarm.

"Seen? An' sure I didn't see nothin'. I jist shet me eyes and hid mesilf under the piller. But it was awful. An' the way it clanked its chain! O murther!"

This last remark was rather startling. Spirits that clank their chains have a very unenviable reputation.

"Pooh!" said my uncle. "What you heard was nothing but rats." Then, turning to me, he asked: "Where is the steel trap?"

"Stolen, I think," said I. "I set it day before yesterday, and when I went to look to it it was gone."

"An' will ye be givin' me the wages?" said Biddy, "afore I bid ye good-marnin'?"

"Going?" asked my sister, in astonishment.

"An' sure I am," answered Biddy. "Ye don't think I'd be afther stayin' in a house that's haunted, do ye?"

In a few minutes I heard the front door bang, and, looking out, saw our late domestic, with a budget on each arm, trudging off as though her ideas were of a very lively character.

A colored woman, recently from the South, took Biddy's place that very day, and was assigned the same room in which the latter had slept.

We had invited company for that evening, and some of the guests remained to a very late hour.

The sound of voices subsided as one after another departed, and we were left quietly chatting with the few who remained. Suddenly there was a mysterious movement at one of the back parlor doors, and we saw two white eyes casting furtive glances into the room.

"What's wanted?" demanded my sister, of the object at the door.


Our new domestic appeared in her night clothes.

"O missus, I've seen de debble, I done have," was her first exclamation.

This, certainly, was not a sight that we should wish any one to see in our house, as desirable as a dignified spectre might have been.

"Pooh!" said my sister. "What a silly creature! Go back to bed and to sleep, and do not shame us by appearing before company in your night clothes."

"I don't keer nothing about my night clothes," she replied, with spirit. "Jes' go to de room and git de things dat belong to me, an' I'll leave, and never disturb you nor dis house any more. It's dreadful enough to be visited by dead folks, any way, but when de spirits comes rattling a chain it's a dreadful bad sign, you may be sure."

"What did you see?" asked I.

"See? I didn't see nothin'. 'Twas bad enough to hear it. I wouldn't hav' seen it for de world. I'll go quick-jest as soon as you gets de things."

We made her a bed on a lounge below stairs. The next morning she took her bundles and made a speedy exit.

We had a maiden aunt who obtained a livelihood by visiting her relations. On the morning when our last domestic left she arrived, bag and baggage, greatly to our annoyance. We said nothing about the disturbances to her, but agreed among ourselves that she should sleep in the haunted chamber.

That night, about twelve o'clock, the household were awakened by a piercing scream above stairs. All was silent for a few minutes, when the house echoed with the startling cry of "Murder! Murder! Murder!" The accent was very strong on the last syllable in the last two words, as though the particular force of the exclamation was therein contained.

I hurried to the chamber and asked at the door what was the matter.

"I have seen an apparatus," exclaimed my aunt. "Murder! Oh, wait a minute. I'm a dead woman."

She unlocked the door in a delirious way and descended to the sitting-room, where she sat sobbing for a long time, declaring that she was a dead woman. She had heard his chain rattle.

And the next morning she likewise left.

We now felt uneasy ourselves, and wondered what marvel the following night would produce. I examined the room carefully during the day, but could discover no traces of anything unusual.

That night we were again awakened by noises that proceeded from the same room. They seemed like the footfalls of a person whose feet were clad in iron. Then followed sounds like a scuffle.

I rose, and, taking a light, went to the chamber with shaky knees and a palpitating heart. I listened before the door. Presently there was a movement in the room as of some one dragging a chain. My courage began to ebb. I was half resolved to retreat at once, and on the morrow advise the family to quit the premises.

But my better judgment at last prevailed, and, opening the door with a nervous hand, I saw an "apparatus" indeed.

Our old cat, that I had left accidentally in the room, had in her claws a large rat, to whose leg was attached the missing trap, and to the trap a short chain.

"I knew the story would end in that way," said Charlie. "But that is not a true colonial ghost story, if it did happen in old Hingham."

The sun was going down beyond the Waltham Hills. The shadows of the maples were lengthening upon the lawns, and the chirp of the crickets was heard in the old walls. Charlie seemed quite dissatisfied with Gentleman Jo's story. The latter noticed it.

"My story does not please you?" said Gentleman Jo.

"No; I am in a different mood to-night."

Master Lewis smiled.

Just then a quiet old lady, who had charge of a part of the rooms in the Academy, appeared, a bunch of keys jingling by her side, much like the wife of a porter of a lodge in an English castle.

"Grandmother Golden," said Charlie,-the boys were accustomed to address the chatty, familiar old lady in this way,-"you have seen ghosts, haven't you? What is the most startling thing that ever happened in your life?"

Grandmother Golden had seated herself in one of the easy piazza chairs. After a few minutes she was induced to follow Gentleman Jo in an old-time story.


The custom in old times, when a person died, was for some one to sit in the room and watch with the dead body in the night, as long as it remained in the house. A good, pious custom it was, in my way of thinking, though it is not common now.

Jemmy Robbin was a poor old man. They used to call him "Auld Robin Gray," after the song, and he lived and died alone. His sister Dorothea-Dorothy she was commonly called-took charge of the house after his death, and she sent for Grandfather Golden to watch one night with the corpse.

We were just married, grandfather and I, and he wanted I should watch with him, for company; and as I could not bear that he should be out of my sight a minute when I could help it, I consented. I was young and foolish then, and very fond of grandfather,-we were in our honeymoon, you know.

We didn't go to the house at a very early hour of the evening; it wasn't customary for the watchers to go until it was nearly time for the family to retire.


In the course of the evening there came to the house a traveller,-a poor Irishman,-an old man, evidently honest, but rather simple, who asked Dorothy for a lodging.

He said he had travelled far, was hungry, weary, and footsore, and if turned away, knew not where he could go.

It was a stormy night, and the good heart of Dorothy was touched at the story of the stranger, so she told him that he might stay.

After he had warmed himself and eaten the food she prepared for him, she asked him to retire, saying that she expected company. Instead of going with him to show where he was to sleep, as she ought to have done, she directed him to his room, furnished him with a light, and bade him good-night.

The Irishman, as I have said, was an old man and not very clear-headed. Forgetting his directions, and mistaking the room, he entered the chamber where lay the body of poor Jemmy Robbin. In closing the door the light was blown out. He found there was what seemed to be some other person in the bed, and, supposing him a live bedfellow, quietly lay down, covered himself with a counterpane, and soon fell asleep.

About ten o'clock grandfather and I entered the room. We just glanced at the bed. What seemed to be the corpse lay there, as it should. Then grandfather sat down in an easy-chair, and I, like a silly hussy, sat down in his lap.

We were having a nice time, talking about what we would do and how happy we should be when we went to housekeeping, when, all at once, I heard a snore. It came from the bed.

"What's that?" said I.

"That?" said grandfather. "Mercy! that was Jemmy Robbin."

We listened nervously, but heard nothing more, and at last concluded that it was the wind that had startled us. I gave grandfather a generous kiss, a

nd it calmed his agitation wonderfully.

We grew cheerful, laughed at our fright, and were chatting away again as briskly as before, when there was a noise in bed. We were silent in a moment. The counterpane certainly moved. Grandfather's eyes almost started from his head. The next instant there was a violent sneeze.

I jumped as if shot. Grandfather seemed petrified. He attempted to ejaculate something, but was scared by the sound of his own voice.

"Mercy!" says I.

"What was it?" said grandfather.

"Let's go and call Dorothy," said I.

"She would be frightened out of her senses."

"I shall die with fright if I hear anything more," I said, half dead already with fear.

Just then a figure started up in the bed.

"And wha-and wha-and wha-" mumbled the object, gesticulating.

I sprang for the door, grandfather after me, and, reaching the bottom of the stairs at one bound, gave vent to my terrors by a scream, that, for aught I know, could have been heard a mile distant.

Both of us ran for Dorothy's room. There was a sound of feet and a loud ejaculation of "Holy Peter! The man is dead!"

"It's comin'," shouted grandfather, and, sure enough, there were footsteps on the stairs.

"Dorothy! Dorothy!" I screamed. Dorothy, startled from her sleep, came rushing to the entry in her night-dress.

"I have seen a ghost, Dorothy," said I.

"A what?"

"I have seen the awfullest-"

"It's comin'," said grandfather.

"Holy Peter!" said an object in the darkness. "There's a dead man in the bed!"

"Why, it's that Irishman," said Dorothy, as she heard the voice.

"What Irishman?" asked I. "A murdered one?"

"No; he-there-I suspect that he mistook his room and went to bed with poor Jemmy."

The mystery now became quite clear. Grandfather looked anything but pleased, and declared that he would rather have seen a ghost than to have been so foolishly frightened.

"Is that all?" asked Charlie.

"That is all," said Grandmother Golden. "Just hear the crickets chirp. Sounds dreadful mournful."

"I have been twice disappointed," said Charlie. "Perhaps, Master Lewis, you can tell us a story before we go in. Something fine and historic."

"In harmony with books you are reading?"

"And the spirit of Nature," added Charlie.

"How fine that there boy talks," said Grandmother Golden. "Get to be a minister some day, I reckon."

"How would the True Story of Macbeth answer?" asked Master Lewis.

"That would be excellent: Shakspeare. The greatest ghost story ever written."

"And if you don't mind, I'll just wait and hear that story, too," said good-humored Grandmother Golden.


More than eight hundred years ago, when the Roman wall divided England from Scotland, when the Scots and Picts had become one people, and when the countries of Northern Europe were disquieted by the ships of the Danes, there was a king of the Scots, named Duncan. He was a very old man, and long, long after he was dead, certain writers discovered that he was a very good man. He had two sons, named Malcolm and Donaldbain.

Now, when Duncan was enfeebled by years, a great fleet of Danes, under the command of Suene, King of Denmark and Norway, landed an army on the Scottish coast. Duncan was unable to take the field against the invaders in person, and his sons were too young for such a trust. He had a kinsman, who had proved himself a brave soldier, named Macbeth. He placed this kinsman at the head of his troops; and certain writers, long, long after the event, discovered that this kinsman appointed a relation of his own, named Banquo, to assist him. Macbeth and Banquo defeated the Danes in a hard-fought battle, and then set out for a town called Forres to rest and to make merry over their victory.

A thane was the governor of a province. The father of Macbeth was the thane of Glamis.

There lived at Forres three old women, whom the people believed to be witches. When these old women heard that Macbeth was coming to the place they went out to meet him, and awaited his coming on a great heath. The first old woman saluted him on his approach with these words: "All hail, Macbeth-hail to thee, thane of Glamis!"

And the second: "All hail, Macbeth-hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!"

And the third: "All hail, Macbeth-thou shalt be king of Scotland!"

Macbeth was very much astonished at these salutations; he expected to become thane of Glamis some day, and he aspired to be king of Scotland, but he had never anticipated such a disclosure of his destiny as this. The old women told Banquo that he would become the father of kings, and then they vanished, according to Shakspeare, "into the air."

Macbeth and Banquo rode on very much elevated in spirits, when one met them who informed them that the thane of Glamis was dead. The melancholy event was not unwelcome to Macbeth; his spirits rose to a still higher pitch; one thing that the old women had foretold had speedily come to pass,-he was indeed thane of Glamis.

As Macbeth drew near the town, a glittering court party came out to welcome the army. They hailed Macbeth as thane of Cawdor. He was much surprised at this, and asked the meaning. They told him that the thane of Cawdor had rebelled, and that the king had bestowed the province upon him. Macbeth was immensely delighted at this intelligence, feeling quite sure that the rest of the prophecy would come to pass, and that he would one day wear the diadem.

Now the wife of Macbeth was a very wicked woman, and the prophecy of the witches quite turned her head, so that she could think of nothing but becoming queen. She was much concerned lest the nature of her husband should prove "too full of the milk of human kindness" to come to the "golden round." So she decided that should an opportunity offer itself for an interview with the king, she would somewhat assist in the fulfilment of the last prophecy.

Then Macbeth made a great feast in the grand old castle of Inverness, and invited the king. Lady Macbeth thought this a golden opportunity for accomplishing the decrees of destiny, and when the old king arrived she told Macbeth that the time had come for him to strike boldly for the crown. As Shakspeare says:-

"Macbeth. My dearest love, Duncan comes here to-night.

Lady M. And when goes hence?

Macbeth. To-morrow.

Lady M. O never shall sun that morrow see."

When this dreadful woman had laid her plot for the taking off of Duncan, she went to the banquet-hall and greeted the royal guest with a face all radiant with smiles, and called him sweet names, and told him fine stories, and brimmed his goblet with wine, so that he thought, we doubt not, that she was the most charming creature in all the world.

It was a stormy night, that of the banquet; it rained, it thundered, and the wind made dreadful noises in the forests, which events, we have noticed in the stories of the old writers, were apt to occur in early times when something was about to happen. We are also informed that the owls hooted, which seems probable, as owls were quite plenty in those days.

Duncan was conducted to a chamber, which had been prepared for him in great state, when the feast was done. Before retiring he sent to "his most kind hostess" a large diamond as a present; he then fell asleep "in measureless content."

When all was still in the castle Lady Macbeth told her husband that the hour for the deed had come. He hesitated, and reminded her of the consequences if he should fail. She taunted him as being a coward, and told him to "screw his courage up to the sticking-place, and he would not fail." Then he took his dagger, and, according to Shakspeare, made a long speech over it, a speech which, I am sorry to say, stage-struck boys and girls have been mouthing in a most unearthly manner ever since the days of Queen Bess.

Macbeth "screwed his courage up to the sticking-place" indeed, and then and there was the end of the life of Duncan. When the deed was done, he put his poniard into the hand of a sentinel, who was sleeping in the king's room, under the influence of wine that Lady Macbeth had drugged.


When the meal was prepared on the following morning, Macbeth and his lady pretended to be much surprised that the old king did not get up. Macduff, the thane of Fife, who was one of the royal party, decided at last to go to the king's apartment to see if the king was well. He returned speedily in great excitement, as one may well suppose. As Shakspeare continues the interesting narrative:-

"Macduff. O horror! horror! horror!

Macbeth. What's the matter?

Macd. Confusion now hath made his masterpiece. Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope the Lord's anointed temple and stole thence the life o' the building.

Macb. What is 't you say? the life?"

Macbeth appeared to be greatly shocked by the event, and, with a great show of fury and many hot words, he despatched the sentinels of the king, whom he feigned to believe had done the deed. Lady Macbeth fell upon the floor, pretending, of all things in the world for a woman of such mettle, to faint.

So Macbeth came to the throne. But he remembered that the weird women had foretold that Banquo should become the father of kings, which made him fear for the stability of his throne. He thought to correct the tables of destiny somewhat, and so he induced two desperate men to do by Banquo as he had done by Duncan. The spirit of Banquo was not quiet like Duncan's, but haunted him, and twice appeared to him at a great feast that he gave to the thanes.

Now Banquo had a son named Fleance, whom the murderers were instructed to kill, but who, on the death of his father, eluded his enemies and fled to France. The story-writers say that the line of Stuart was descended from this son.

Macbeth, like all wicked people who accomplish their ends, was very unhappy. He lived in continual fear lest some of his relations should do by him as he had done by Duncan and Banquo. He became so miserable at last that he decided to consult the witches who had foretold his elevation, to hear what they would say of the rest of his life.

He found them in a dark cave, in the middle of which was a caldron boiling. The old women had put into the pot a toad, the toe of a frog, the wool of a bat, an adder's tongue, an owl's wing, and many other things, of which you will find the list in Shakspeare. Now and then they walked around the pot, repeating a very sensible ditty:-

"Double, double, toil and trouble;

Fire, burn; and, caldron, bubble."

They at last called up an apparition, who said that Macbeth should never be overcome by his enemies until Birnam wood should come to the castle of Dunsinane, the royal residence, to attack it.

"Macbeth shall never vanquished be until

Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill

Shall come against him."

Now, Birnam wood was twelve miles from Dunsinane (pronounced Dunsnan), and Macbeth thought that the language was a mystical way of saying that he always would be exempt from danger.

Malcolm, the son of Duncan, the rightful heir to the throne, was a man of spirit, and he went to England to solicit aid of the good King Edward the Confessor against Macbeth. Macduff, having quarrelled with the king, joined Malcolm, and the English king, thinking favorably of their cause, sent a great army into Scotland to discrown Macbeth.

When this army reached Birnam wood, on its way to Dunsinane, Macduff ordered the men each to take the bough of a tree, and to hold it before him as he marched to the attack, that Macbeth might not be able to discover the number and the strength of the assailants. Thus Birnam wood came against Dunsinane. When Macbeth saw the sight his courage failed him, and he saw that his hour had come. A battle ensued, in which he was conquered and killed.

Such is the story, and it seems a pity to spoil so good a story; but I fear that Shakspeare made his wonderful plot of much the same "stuff that dreams are made of."

Duncan was a grandson of Malcolm II. on his father's side, and Macbeth was a grandson of the same king, though on the side of his mother. On the death of Malcolm, in 1033, each claimed the throne. Macbeth, according to rule of Scottish succession, had the best claim, but Duncan obtained the power. Macbeth was naturally dissatisfied, and the insolence of Malcolm, the son of Duncan, who placed himself at the head of an intriguing party in Northumberland, changed his dissatisfaction to resentment, and he slew the king. He once had a dream, which he deemed remarkable, in which three old women met him and hailed him as thane of Cromarty, thane of Moray, and finally as king. Upon this light basis genius has built one of the most powerful tales of superstition in the language.

Duncan was slain near Elgin, and not in the castle of Inverness. Malcolm avenged his father's death, slaying Macbeth at a place called Lumphanan, and not at Dunsinane, as recorded in the play.

And then Sir Walter Scott finds that "Banquo and his son Fleance" never had any real existence, which leaves no material out of which to construct a ghost.

"So there were no witches, after all?" said Charlie.

"No; no witches."

"No Banquo?"

"No Banquo."

"No ghost?"

"No ghost. Banquo never lived."

"Is that all?" asked Grandmother Golden.

"That is all."

* * *

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