Following on from my last post, I thought it might be a nice idea to type up one of B. M. Croker's ghost stories, so you can get an idea of the style and content of her tales. You can read it here on this site, or you can read the pdf by clicking here. Enjoy!
By B. M. Croker
First published in Chapman's Magazine of Fiction, December 1895
‘To let furnished, for a term of years, at a very low rental, a large old-fashioned family residence, comprising eleven bed-rooms, four reception-rooms, dressing-rooms, two stair-cases, complete servants’ offices, ample accommodation for a Gentleman’s establishment, including six-stall stable, coach-house, etc.’
The above advertisement referred to number ninety. For a period extending over some years this notice appeared spasmodically in various daily papers. Occasionally you saw it running for a week or a fortnight at a stretch, as if it were resolved to force itself into consideration by sheer persistency. Sometimes for months I looked for it in vain. Other ignorant folk might possibly fancy that the effort of the house agent had been crowned at last with success — that it was let, and no longer in the market.
I knew better. I knew that it would never, never find a tenant as long as oak and ash endured. I knew that it was passed on as a hopeless case, from house-agent to house-agent. I knew that it would never be occupied, save by rats — and, more than this, I knew the reason why!
I will not say in what square, street, or road number ninety may be found, nor will I divulge to any human being its precise and exact locality, but this I’m prepared to state, that it is positively in existence, is in London, and is still empty.
Twenty years ago, this very Christmas, my friend John Hollyoak (civil engineer) and I were guests at a bachelor’s party; partaking, in company with eight other celibates, of a very recherché little dinner, in the neighbourhood of Piccadilly. Conversation became very brisk, as the champagne circulated, and many topics were started, discussed, and dismissed.
They (I say they advisedly, as I myself am a man of few words) talked on an extraordinary variety of subjects.
I distinctly recollect a long argument on mushrooms — mushrooms, murders, racing, cholera; from cholera we came to sudden death, from sudden death to churchyards, and from churchyards, it was naturally but a step to ghosts.
On this last topic the arguments became fast and furious, for the company was divided into two camps. The larger, ‘the opposition,’ who scoffed, sneered, and snapped their fingers, and laughed with irritating contempt at the very name of ghosts, was headed by John Hollyoak; the smaller party, who were dogged, angry, and prepared to back their opinions to any extent, had for their leader our host, a bald-headed man of business, whom I certainly would have credited (as I mentally remarked) with more sense.
The believers in the supernatural obtained a hearing, so far as to relate one or two blood-curdling, first or second-hand experiences, which, when concluded, instead of being received with an awe-struck and respectful silence, were pooh-poohed, with shouts of laughter, and taunting suggestions that were by no means complimentary to the intelligence, or sobriety, of the victims of superstition. Argument and counter-argument waxed louder and hotter, and there was every prospect of a very stormy conclusion to the evening’s entertainment.
John Hollyoak, who was the most vehement, the most incredulous, the most jocular, and the most derisive of the anti-ghost faction, brought matters to a climax by declaring that nothing would give him greater pleasure than to pass a night in a haunted house — and the worse its character, the better he would be pleased!
His challenge was instantly taken up by our somewhat ruffled host, who warmly assured him that his wishes could be easily satisfied, and that he would be accommodated with a night’s lodging in a haunted house within twenty-four hours — in fact, in a house of such a desperate reputation, that even the adjoining mansions stood vacant.
He then proceeded to give a brief outline of the history of number ninety. It had once been the residence of a well-known country family, but what evil events had happened therein tradition did not relate.
On the death of the last owner — a diabolical looking aged person, much resembling the typical wizard — it had passed into the hands of a kinsman, resident abroad, who had no wish to return to England, and who desired his agents to let it, if they could — a most significant proviso!
Year by year went by, and still this ‘Highly desirable family mansion’ could find no tenant, although the rent was reduced, and reduced, and again reduced, to almost zero!
The most ghastly whispers were afloat — the most terrible experiences were actually proclaimed on the housetops!
No tenant would remain, even gratis; and for the last ten years, this, ‘handsome, desirable town family residence’ had been the abode of rats by day, and something else by night — so said the neighbours.
Of course it was the very thing for John, and he snatched up the gauntlet on the spot. He scoffed at its evil repute, and solemnly promised to rehabilitate its character within a week.
It was in vain that he was solemnly warned — that one of his fellow guests gravely assured him ‘that he would not pass a night in number ninety for ninety thousand pounds — it would be the price of his reason.’
‘You value your reason at a very high figure,’ replied John, with an indulgent smile. ‘I will venture mine for nothing.'