READ ALONG WITH THE STORY BELOW:
Friends decide to investigate a reputedly haunted house with... fatal results.
By THORP McCLUSKY
UNTIL the early spring of 1939
I had never entered a reputedly
"haunted" house, nor had I ever
met anyone who had.
It all came about in rather a rambling sort
of way, starting off with twelve or fifteen of
us driving down to Phipps’ Cove on a Satur-
day afternoon, to spend the weekend with
the Bradley Merrills. How long ago that
I looked forward to a truly delightful
weekend; I already knew, or at least was
acquainted with, several of the guests — Bob
Mansfield, who paints for art’s sake but de-
signs fanciful and expensive' apartments for
the very wealthy for a living; Rebikoff, who
has a marionette show; Gladys Sugden, the
caustic, hoydenish novelist; and three or four
others. Merrill, by the way, was and still is
The afternoon was very casual and de-
lightful; we played a sort of haphazard
tennis on the lawn, swam — those of us with
Polar Bear instincts — in the freezing surf,
and just talked and wandered about. Dinner
was at seven, in a high-ceilinged, creamy-
white room with a huge black marble fire-
place at one end in which a driftwood fire
snapped, showering multicolored sparks
against the heavy screen. The meal was leis-
urely; it was already dark outside as we
finally assembled in the big, gracious living
room for brandies and highballs.
As usual, Bradley and Elsa had prepared
no set routine for the evening; Vladimir
Lessoff started things off by wandering over
to the Chickering and treating us to an
impromptu concert. Then Clevedore put on
some of his magic, and following Clevedore
The evening passed swiftly; it was. with
incredulous surprise that I saw Bradley
glance at the tall walnut clock in the hall
and dramatically raise his hand.
"In ten seconds, my pious friends and I
hope not-too-drunken companions, .it will be
exactly midnight, Eastern Standard Time.”
He had hardly finished speaking when the
old clock whirred and rasped, and bonged
out twelve slow strokes. We all listened
gravely, and immediately the brazen clangor
had ceased Gladys Sugden made the inevi-
"Ghost story! Who’ll tell a ghost story?”
Drily, Bob Mansfield applied the sophis-
ticated squelch. "Why, Gladys! You of all
people! We don’t have to do anything as
tame as that. Not when there’s a haunted
house right here at the Cove!”
I had heard of that house. A few miles
distant along the shore road, it had stood
empty for a half century or more. It was
popularly supposed to have been built by
Jeremiah Phipps, one of New England’s
more successful privateersmen, or, too fre-
Gladys, with just a trifle too much eager-
ness— so it seemed to me — fell in with the
idea. "Perfect. 1 . What could be better for
Saturday nighHiigh jinks? I’ve always had
a sneaking longing to go inside that house.
Let’s snoop over there tonight. There’s a
lovely moon. . !”
Well, we took a vote. The "Ayes” won, of
I think I suspected trickery from the very
start. As a matter of fact, I learned after-
ward that I was right, and who the ring-
leaders were — Bradley, Bob Mansfield, and
a meek-looking little cartoonist named
Gregory. ^Gladys was in it, too.
My certainty that we were in for some
ghostly amateur theatricals was clinched
when I noticed, as we were getting ready to
leave the house, that Mansfield and Gregory
, had unobtrusively disappeared. I suspected
that they were to be the ghosts of the evening.
W E PILED into three or four cars and
drove the six or seven miles to the
Phipps mansion. In the moonlight it looked
even more ancient, more forbidding than in
daylight, with its gaunt exterior chimneys
and its deeply-recessed, many-paned win-
dows. As we swarmed toward its black pile
I looked in the shadows cast by the house,
by the trees, for Mansfield’s car, but there
were a hundred pools of inky shadow where
a car could be hidden.
Bradley did not have to unlock or force
the door; it was unlocked and opened easily.
That seemed significant to me. I was surer
than ever that some one had gone ahead
and was already hidden inside.
When we were all in the hallway, Bradley
closed the door behind us with a creaking
of ponderous hinges, a rusty click of the
wrought iron latch, and turned on a flash-
light. He led the way, with an assurance
that led pie to believe he had been there
before, .into a large room at the front of
the house. I glimpsed briefly a long stair-
case leading up into the darkness at the end
of the hallway; I sensed rather than saw
the ornate mouldings surmounting, cold,
vaultlike spaces, a shrouding of heavy fine
dust over everything. But I noticed too that
Bradley' had been careful to keep the beam
of his flashlight turned upward until we
were all inside that huge parlor, and I felt
sure he had done that to keep us from
noticing the fresh footprints of Mansfield
and Gregory in the dust underfoot.
Except for the light from the flashlight,
the parlor was almost totally dark. Heavy
wooden shutters over the windows per-
mitted no moonlight to enter, except through
two or three narrow cracks in the warped
panels. The light was too faint to reveal
more than the presence and position of the
people in the room; certainly it was not
strong enough to permit us to identify each
"Well, Brad, we’re here,’’ Gladys Sugden
chirped perkily. "Bring on your ghosts. Or
shall we go looking for them? Who’s
afraid of the big bad ghosts, anyway?”
Bradley parried that one. "This is sup-
posed to be a haunted house, isn’t it, Gladys?
Can’t a ghost appear in this room as well as
upstairs or in the cellar? T for one am for
staying here and waiting for whatever hap-
pens. I don't want any rotten floors col-
lapsing under me. This place isn’t any
Palace of Mirth.”
I suspected he was afraid that we might
stumble onto' his ghosts before they had a
chance to get into their phosphorous paint.
He won his point; he turned off the flash-
light — to make it seem more „ realistic, he
said — and we waited.
- I don’t know just what I expected to
happen. I admit the uncertainty of waiting
made me feel creepy, and it must have
affected the others who did not suspect any
funny business much more powerfully.
There was unreality in the whole adventure,
there was unreality in the shadowy vague-
ness of our figures, there was unreality in
the cold stillness of the long-shuttered room.
I caught myself wondering how a bunch of
supposedly intelligent adults could act so
Then I began to notice the light. At first,
it was just the faintest, vaguest glow, hardly
more than a lessening of the total blackness
beyond the open hallway door. I seemed to
feel the outlines of the hallway growing
into visibility without actually seeing them
as yet, limned in a sort of purplish absence
of complete darkness. That strange light
was so vague that it might almost have been
But the sudden creeping shriveling down
my spine was real enough! The others felt
it too; I could sense that they were shrink-
ing away from the doorway.
T HE faint light grew strongdr,*ahd tension
gripped me with the certainty that some-
thing was creeping silently down that stair-
case into the hall, invisible to me as yet from
where I stood.
I acknowledged unwillingly, then, that
Bradley was putting on his show with utter
artistry. No hollow groans or clanking
chains, none of those too-theatrical effects
that defeat their own purpose. It was the
very absence of effect that left our imagina-
tions unhampered and built up an eerie ap-
prehension in us. I wondered how Bradley
would produce his ghosts without spoiling
the effect. Perhaps he didn’t intend to actu-
ally produce them at all, perhaps he intended
to get his effect in some other, less obvious
I don’t know how long we stood there in
that empty room — it may have been several
minutes, while no person spoke or changed
position, while we strained our eyes trying
to see in the light that was hardly less than
blackness— the light, I told myself with
admiration of my own cleverness, that must
be made by the slow uncovering of a stained
glass window, letting the moonlight in.
Once or twice I heard someone’s breathing
sharply indrawn, then released in a half-
Then I saw the figures, standing in the
unearthly, purplish gloom.
Again a queer flash of unwilling approba-
tion swept me. Those figures were not
skeletoned in phosphorous paint, or any-
thing as crude as that; they were merely
vague blotches in human shape, standing
silently in the almost non-existent visibility
in the hallway.
I have wondered, since, just how few of
us did not, at that moment, really believe
that they were ghosts!
Gradually, then, in much the same man-
ner as indirect lighting is controlled, the
purplish glow began to brighten. With the
increase in illumination, I began to feel sure
that I recognized those two motionless fig-
The one on the right, tall, slightly
stooped, was certainly Mansfield, The dark
blotch hiding the lower part of his face was
a false beard, those baggy trousers, that hint-
ing of a cutlass at the waist,' were all parts
of the pirate costume Bradley had considered
most appropriate for the occasion. The other
fellow, standing to the left and slightly be-
hind Mansfield was Gregory^allj right. He’d
put a great daub of paint on his breast to
simulate blood; he kept his hands folded
The figures neither moved nor spoke. The
light was too' dim for me to distinguish de-
tails of their features, and as it became
slightly stronger something of a nervous
shock swept over me as I sensed, rather than
saw, that their lips were moving, as though
they were trying to speak, that their hands
were outthrust toward us, as though warning
us back. It was an effect, undeniably; Brad-
ley was putting his show over well, after all!
Splitting the silence, a woman screamed, a
high-pitched, keening note. In an instant the
hypnotic tension that had gripped us all was
broken. Bradley cursed and flipped on the
flashlight; with a quick rushing of anxious
footsteps Gladys Sugden was at the side of
the girl, who was sobbing violently. Brad-
ley’s voice boomed out reassuringly, "That’s
all, that’s enough. It's just been a joke,
folks. For God’s sake, make her understand
that it’s just a joke, Gladys! A joke that
wasn’t in very good taste. I’m sorry.”
He swung the light on the two figures
standing in the doorway.
"All right. Bob, Gregory. Fun’s fun, a
joke's a joke, enough’s enough. Come on in.
Break it up.”
But the two figures did not move. They
still stood there, holding their hands out-
stretched toward us, their lips moving.
Then Bradley swore, viciously, horribly,
without mirth. "You pigheaded fools! Can’t
you see that you’re scaring one of the girls
half to death? Get in here and take off that
S T ILL the figures stood there motionless,
tableauesque. I think that we were all
beginning to be afraid that they had entered
so fully into the spirit of the deception that
they were temporarily crazed; even Bradley
had no knowledge of what they might do
next; what further macabre jest they might
have planned was as unknown to him as to
us. Curiously, though I was watching them
with single-minded attention, I noticed other
things too; I noticed with a sort of detached
interest that there really was, as I had sus-
pected, a stajned glass window high above
the staircase, ^window which dispelled that
unearthly gjfijv over the hallway, now
stronger, now weaker as the moon was
bright or obscured by clouds.
Almost stealthily, Bradley kept' edging
forward. He was within six feet of Mans-
field, his torch shining blindingly in Mans-
field’s face. I was only a pace or two behind,
and I could see Mansfield’s face clearly.
There was an uncanny fixity in his gaze that
gave me, despite myself, a feeling of dis-
comfort that was very close to horror. The
thought came to me abruptly, "Is this
damned place really haunted, after all?
Have these fellows seen something that
drove them out of their minds?”
Bradley cursed again, sharply. The unex-
pected, brutal sound jarred against my ear-
drums with the force of an explosion. With
the curse Bradley leaped forward. His right
hand, furiously outstretched, clutched at
Mansfield and Bradley glided, yes, glided,
back, swiftly, yet effortlessly. The sudden,
relatively violent motion of all three re-
minded me bizarrely of the quick shifting
of scenes thrown on a screen by an old-
fashioned magic lantern. Then the tableau
was resumed, but now Bradley was standing
in the center of the hallway, holding his
right hand out before him, looking at it with
a strange intentness, Mansfield and Gregory
had halted at the foot of the staircase, their
hands still outthrust, thrusting us back.
Bradley spoke like a drunken person.
His shoulders hunched, he shuffled
doggedly, unsteadily forward, and as he ap-
proached Mansfield and Gregory turned and
leaped up the staircase, the light from the
flashlight shining full on them, on the stair-
case and the wall above and behind them.
Then that thing happened which is be-
yond normal human experience. Instan-
taneously, suddenly as a bolt, of lightning,
two strangers were also there at the top of
the staircase, two sun-swarthed, lithe-mus-
cled men, men with flashing teeth beneath
heavy mustaches, with the glint of gold in
their ears and the glitter of cutlasses in their
It was like a silent motion picture, run-
ning at top speed. There was no sound, only
an utter violence of motion. There should
have been the thudding of bare feet on the
staircase, but I heard no such sound; there
should hav.e. been the heavy panting of those
men and the harsh burst of their curses, but
I heard only silence.
Mansfield and Gregory plunged upward
to the head of the staircase. Mansfield was
slightly in the lead; his right arm swung
up in a chopping blow that seemed to go
through one of the men as through a mirage;
his body, tensed to meet resistance that was
not there, spun crazily around and plunged
over the low balustrade; I listened for the
crash of his fall and heard no sound. I saw
Gregory catapult against the other stranger,
hurtle through that man in the instant a cut-
lass flashed, and disappear beyond my range
of vision on the staircase landing.
Abruptly, no one was there, no one at all.
The head of the staircase gaped down at us,
blank, barren, deserted!
I heard Gladys Sugden screaming. She
was trying to call Mansfield’s name, but the
sounds that came from her lips were unrec-
ognizable. My body was trembling violently,
and spasms of hot and cold swept over me.
I think that horror gripped us all then like
a mighty fist, squeezed us until we were in-
capable of thought, until we could only
stand there and feel it engulfing us in beat-
ing waves. . . .
I knew then that those two strangers were
the ghosts — the true ghosts of old Jeremiah
What, in the Name of the Almighty, had
we just seen re-enacted? The experience
through which Mansfield and Gregory had
passed early in the evening — an experience
so mind-shattering thap it had driven them
Where were they?
"Bradley!” My voice was a whispered rat-
tle. "Where are they? Mansfield and
Gregory? Where are they?”
Bradley looked at me, his eyes enormous,
his lips trembling. ‘
"Where are they?” he repeated slowly.
He moved his hands in an odd, uncontrolled
While he stared at me, I took the flash-
light from him. Somehow, I started up the
staircase, and Bradley followed.
At the top, on the landing where, like
uplifted arms, narrower flights continued
upward into the gloom, we halted.
There, beneath the stained glass window,
huddled far back against the wall and hid-
den from view from below by the pitch of
the staircase, lay the twisted body of a man,
fallen' as if death had come as he had cata-
ulted across the landing from the staircase
Bradley moaned, and I felt the balustrade
shudder as he sagged heavily against it. I
was trembling, uncontrollably.
The body was the body of Gregory!
S OMEHOW we found the courage, after
a moment, to look down. With photo-
graphic clarity our eyes saw, and our. numbed
minds i recorded automatically, the staring
horror in Gregory’s wide-open, glazing eyes,
the smear of crimson paint over his heart.
Without speaking, we turned away and
staggered down that staircase. As though
urged by a Fate beyond human capacity to
resist, I turned .the flashlight beam into the
dark recess behind the staircase, beneath the
balustrade across which Mansfield had
seemed to -plunge.
Without surprise I saw that Mansfield’s
body was there, spreadeagled as though he
had put out his arms to break the fall,
crushed against the naked floor, his neck
I remember little of what else happened
that night. I do*not know if among. us there
were hysterical outbursts or a more terrible,
controlled silence. I- do not remember how
or when we left that house. Memory grows
clearer with the next day, with the begin-
nings of the grinding police investigation,
the certainty with which the police believed
that we had trumped up a fantastic story to
cover a double murder in our "fast set,” the
It was a long time before that night in the
old Phipps house was forgotten by the pub-
lic. But it was forgotten at last, and for years
it remained as no more than an area of night-
mare in the recesses of my memory, until
last summer, when the old house was finally
torn down, to save taxes, somebody told me.
About that time I chanced to meet Brad-
ley in town one day.- He looked more dis-
tinguished than ever, with his prematurely
white hair, and he looked at my graying
temples with wry understanding.
"They’re either too young or too old.” He
softly saog a phrase from the hit song and
made a quick, angry gesture with his right
hand. "We’re too told, and that's that. How
In the quiet, around the comer off the
Avenue restaurant to which he took me, he
told me those things which drew all the
threads together, wrote "Finis” -to the story
of Phipps’ mansion,
"I couldn’t stay away — after (hey started
to raze that house,” he said slowly, quietly.
"I went down there almost every day; I
knew that they would find something — call
it premonition, intuition, what you will. . . .
'I knew that they would find something,
some explanation, in that staircase. I watched
them take up the flooring on that landing,
rip up the rubble, the stone and mortar,
beneath. . . .
"That house was built to endure. Old
Phipps, when he built it, was ready to set-
tle down, all right.
"But first he had to get rid of his past.
He must have had a couple of his men who
wanted to stay on shore with him,- even
though he’d split his bloody plunder with
them, with his crew. But old Phipps knew
that those two fellows we saw at the top
of that staircase weren’t the kind he wanted
around him in his respectability.
"This must have been what happened.
When the masons had just about finished
filling in that staircase, old Phipps just
bashed in the heads of those two sailors of
his and dumped the bodies in the mortar and
covered them up. They found the skeletons
just the other day, you know.”
I picked up my coffee, put it down again.
I read in the paper about the gold ear-
rings and the cutlasses they dug up with
those skeletons,” I said.
Bradley looked at me thoughtfully.
“Funny about those cutlasses. Remember
that Gregory’s body was unmarked, and that
he died of heart failure?”
I picked up my cup again; once again I
put it down.
"Gregory — Mansfield,” I whispered.
"What a horrible way to die! Think of it;
they went up that staircase the second time,
after they had already seen the ghosts! That
was a re-enactment, wasn’t it, Bradley? We
could have saved them then; they were
crazy with fear, but not crazy enough not to
try to yarn us. We should have knocked
them down, tied them up — anything — only
we should have saved them, somehow.”
Slowly Bradley shook his head. A curious,
faraway look — the look of one who gazed
into the depths of the infinite — came into
, "No, my friend. We couldn’t have saved
them. It was too late for that. For they
were already dead when we saw them in that
— yes, it was a re-enactment. They were dead
before we entered the house. We saw, not
two, but jour ghosts that night. When I
tried to grasp Mansfield, there in that hall-
way, my hand went through him as though
through a nothingness — a nothingness that
was cold and empty and terrible as the black
dead space beyond the farthest stars!”