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The Woman in the Black Coat

(From A ### CHAPTER in the History of a Tyrone Family by Joseph Sheridan Le Farm, 1838)

I was born into a rich and important family in Tyrone, Ireland. I was the younger of two daughters and we were the only children. My sister was six years older than me, so we didn’t play much together when I was young and I was only twelve years old when she got married.

I remember the day of her wedding well. Many people came, all of them laughing, singing and happy. But I felt sad when my sister left with her new husband, Mr Carew. She was always very nice to me, nicer than my mother. And so I cried when she went away to her new home in Dublin. My mother and father didn’t love me — they wanted sons and were not very interested in me.

About a year after my sister got married, a letter arrived from Mr Carew. He said that my sister was ill and that she wanted to come home to Tyrone and stay with us, to be with her family. I was sad that she was ill but also very happy about her visit.

‘They’re leaving Dublin on Sunday,’ my father told me, ‘and they’re arriving here on Tuesday evening.’

Tuesday came, and it was a very long day. Hour after hour came and went, and I listened all the time for my sister and her husband. Now the sky was dark and soon it was midnight, but I couldn’t sleep. I listened and waited. Suddenly, at about one o’clock in the morning, I heard a noise far away. I ran out of my bedroom and down to the living-room.

‘They’re here! They’re here!’ I called to my father, and we quickly opened the front door to see better. We waited there for a few minutes and we heard the noise again, somebody crying far away in the night. But we saw nothing. There were no lights and no people there. We went outside, waiting to say hello and to help my sister with her bags. But nobody was there; nobody came. I looked at my father and he looked at me. We didn’t understand.

‘I know I heard a noise,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘I heard it too, father, but where are they?’

We went back into the house without another word. We were suddenly afraid.

The next day a man arrived and told us that my sister was dead. On Sunday she felt very ill, on Monday she was worse and on Tuesday, at about one o’clock in the morning, she died … at the same time that we were outside the house, in the night, waiting for her.

I never forgot that night. For the next two years I was very sad — you could say that I stopped living. I didn’t want to do anything or speak to anyone. Mr Carew soon married another young woman in Dublin and I felt angry that he forgot my sister so quickly.

I was now the only child of a rich and important family, so before I was fourteen years old men started to visit our home. They wanted to meet me and, perhaps, to marry me. But I didn’t like any of these men and I thought I was too young to be married.

When I was sixteen my mother took me to Dublin.

‘Dublin is a big city,’ she said. ‘We’re going to meet richer and more interesting men than the ones back home in Tyrone. We can easily find you a good husband in Dublin.’

In Dublin, I began to be happier. I met a lot of friendly people and I went dancing every evening. A lot of young men came to speak to me and asked me to dance; I liked talking to them.

I started to live and laugh again and I didn’t think about my dead sister all the time.

But my mother was not so happy. She wanted me to find a husband quickly. One night before I went to bed she came into my room and said, ‘Do you know Lord Glenfallen?’

‘Oh yes,’ I answered. ‘He’s that ugly old man from Cahergillagh.’

‘He’s not ugly and he’s not old, Fanny,’ my mother said quickly. ‘He’s from a very rich and important family, too, and … he wants to marry you. He loves you.’

‘Loves me? Wants to marry me? But he’s making a mistake, mother!’ I said. ‘I don’t love him. I can’t marry somebody I don’t love.’

‘Think about it, Fanny,’ my mother answered quietly. ‘He’s a good man and he wants to marry you. You’re a very lucky young woman.’

My mother left the room and I sat quietly for a long time. Lord Glenfallen was a nice, friendly man, I thought. I didn’t love him, no, but I did like him. He always talked about interesting things. I never felt happy at home with my mother and father but I always felt better when I talked to him. The next morning when I saw my mother I said only one word: ‘Yes.’

Lord Glenfallen and I got married the next spring, and two days after our wedding we said goodbye to my family and left Tyrone. Three days later we arrived in Cahergillagh and I saw my husband’s beautiful house for the first time. It was near a river and there were many trees and flowers in the garden. Birds sang in the trees and the sky was blue. I stood next to him and looked at it all and I felt very, very happy.

‘Come, my love,’ said my husband. ‘You must come in and meet Martha. She cooks and cleans and knows everything about the house.

’ So we went into the house and I met Martha, a friendly old woman with smiling blue eyes. She showed me round the house. Suddenly I felt excited to be there: it was a very happy place — women sang in the kitchen, men built fires in the living-rooms and there were dogs and cats everywhere.

‘Come with me now, madam,’ said Martha, ‘and look at your bedroom. Then we can take up your bags and you can wash before dinner.’ I followed her and soon we arrived at a big brown door.

‘This is your room,’ she said and she opened the door. I stood and looked, suddenly cold with fear. In front of me stood something big and black; I didn’t know what it was … I thought it was an old coat, but without anybody inside it. I jumped back quickly, very afraid, and moved away from the door.

‘Is something wrong, madam?’ Martha asked me.

‘Nothing. Perhaps it’s nothing,’ I answered quickly. ‘But I thought I saw something in there. I thought I saw a big, black coat there when you opened the door.’

Martha’s face went white with fear.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked her. ‘Now you look frightened.’

‘Something bad is going to happen,’ she said. ‘When someone sees the black coat in this house, we know that something bad is going to happen soon to the Glenfallen family. I saw the black coat when I was a child and the next morning old Lord Glenfallen died. Something bad is going to happen now, madam … I know it.’

We went down to have dinner. I felt unhappy and afraid, but I didn’t say anything to my husband about the black coat. I wanted to forget about it and be happy again.

The next day, Lord Glenfallen and I went for a walk together to look round the house and gardens because I wanted to know my new home better.

‘I like this house and all the people here,’ I said. ‘And I’m happy to be here with you. It’s much better than Tyrone.’

My husband was quiet for a long time. He walked with his head down, thinking. Then, suddenly, he turned to me, took my hand and said, ‘Fanny, listen to me. Listen carefully. There’s something I must ask you. Please, only go into the rooms in the front of the house. Never go into the rooms at the back of the building or into the little garden by the back door. Never. Do you understand me, Fanny?’ His face was white and unhappy.

I understood his words, but I didn’t understand why he was suddenly a different man. Here at Cahergillagh he never smiled or laughed any more. Perhaps the back of the house was dangerous, I thought. But he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. We went back to the house without speaking and again I tried to forget his words and to be as happy as I was before.

It was about a month later that I met the other woman for the first time. One day I wanted to go for a walk in the gardens — it was a beautiful day and I ran up to my room after lunch to get my hat and coat. But when I opened the door of my room, there was a woman sitting near the fire. She was about forty years old and she wore a black coat. Her face was white and when I looked closely I saw that her eyes were white too — she was blind.

‘Madam,’ I said, ‘this is my room. There is a mistake.’

‘Your room!’ she answered. ‘A mistake? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s a mistake. Where is Lord Glenfallen?’

‘Down in the living-room,’ I said. ‘But who are you and why are you here in my room?’

‘Tell Lord Glenfallen that I want him,’ was all she said.

‘I must tell you that I am Lady Glenfallen and I want you to leave my room now,’ I said.

‘Lady Glenfallen? You are not, you are not!’ she cried and hit my face very hard.

I cried out for help and soon Lord Glenfallen arrived. I ran out of the room as he ran in, and I waited outside to listen at the door. I did not hear every word but I knew that Lord Glenfallen was very angry and the blind woman was very unhappy. When he came out I asked him, ‘Who is that woman and why is she in my bedroom?’

But my husband didn’t answer me. Again his face was white with fear. His only words were, ‘Forget her.’

But I did not forget her and every day it was more and more difficult to talk to my husband. He was always quiet now, always sad and afraid; he sat for hours looking into the fire with his unhappy eyes. But I didn’t know why and he didn’t want to tell me.

One morning after breakfast, Lord Glenfallen suddenly said, ‘I have the answer! We must go away to another country, to France or Spain perhaps. What do you think, Fanny?’

He didn’t wait for my answer but left the room very quickly. I sat and thought for a long time. Why must we leave Cahergillagh? I didn’t understand. And I didn’t want to go too far away from my mother and father in Tyrone. They were old now and my father was sometimes ill. They didn’t love me very much but I wanted to be near them.

I thought about it all day and I didn’t know what to say to my husband when he arrived back in the evening and came in to dinner. I said nothing. After dinner I was very tired and I went up to my bedroom early. I wanted to have a good night’s sleep and think about it all again the next day. I closed my eyes and went to sleep. But I did not sleep well because I dreamed of the black coat.

Suddenly I woke up. Everything was dark and very quiet, but somebody was at the end of my bed. There was a hand with a light, and behind the light was the blind woman. She had a knife in her other hand. I tried to get out of bed and run to the door, but she stopped me. ‘If you want to live, don’t move,’ she said. ‘Tell me one thing — did Lord Glenfallen marry you?’

‘Yes, he did,’ I answered. ‘He married me in front of a hundred people.’

‘Well, that’s sad,’ she said. ‘Because I don’t think he told you that he had a wife … me. I am his wife, not you, young woman. You must leave this house tomorrow, because if you stay here … you see this knife? I am going to kill you with it.’ Then she left the room without a sound. I didn’t sleep again that night.

When morning came I told my husband everything. ‘Who is the blind woman?’ I asked him. ‘She told me last night that she is your wife, that I am not your wife.’

‘Did you go into the rooms at the back of the house?’ asked my husband angrily. ‘I told you that you must never go there!’

‘But I didn’t,’ I answered. ‘I was in my bed all night. She came to me. Please tell me what is happening.’

My husband’s face was white again and he didn’t speak for a long time. Then he said, ‘No, she is not my wife. You are. Don’t listen to her. She doesn’t know what she is saying. ‘And he left the room.

I ran to find Martha. I didn’t like this house any more. My husband was a difficult man and I didn’t understand him. Who was the blind woman? I wanted to know everything.

‘Don’t cry, madam.’ said Martha when I found her. ‘Sit down and listen to me. What I am going to tell you is not very nice. The blind woman, the woman in the black coat, is dead. You saw her ghost. She was married to your husband and she was Lady Glenfallen. Nobody knows how she died. Her bedroom was at the back of the house. Somebody saw your husband with a knife in his hand on the night she died. But did he kill her? Nobody knows. When we found her, the knife was on the floor next to her and her eyes … somebody cut her eyes out after she died. Perhaps he didn’t want her to see his other women … his next wife … you … ’

I didn’t wait to speak to my husband again. I left that day. I was too afraid to stay another minute at Cahergillagh. I knew that the blind woman was going to come back again and kill me. I said goodbye to Martha, took my bags and told my driver to take me back to Tyrone.

I am happy living here with my mother and father now. The house is quiet, I sleep well each night and they are friendlier to me than they were before. Sometimes my dead sister visits me at night, but I am never afraid. She tells me that the blind woman is trying to find me at Cahergillagh and that she wants to kill me. She is jealous of me; but she can never find me there. She must wait for the next Lady Glenfallen.

Imray Came Back

(From The Return of Imray by Rudyard Kipling, 1891)

One day Imray was there, in the little town in the north of India where he lived and worked, and the next day he was not. He disappeared. One day he was with his friends, having a drink at the bar, laughing with them, friendly, happy, and then the next morning he was not at his office, his house was quiet, and nobody could find him.

‘Where did he go?’ his friends asked each other at the bar. ‘And why so suddenly? Why did he say nothing to us?’

They looked in the rivers near the town, and along the roads, but they found nothing. They telephoned all the hotels in the nearest big city, but nobody there knew anything about Imray. Days went by and Imray did not come back. His friends in the town slowly stopped talking about him at the bar and at the office; they began to forget about him. They sold his old car, his guns and all his other things, and his boss wrote a letter to Imray’s mother, back in England, and told her that her son was dead. Disappeared.

Imray’s house stood unlived-in and quiet for three or four long, hot summer months. The hottest weather was finished when my friend Strickland, a policeman, moved to live in it. People said that Strickland was a very strange man but I always went to see him and have dinner with him when I was in the town working for a day or two. He had one or two other friends too; he liked his guns, he liked fishing and he liked his dog — a very big dog, called Tietjens. Tietjens always went to work with Strickland and often helped him in his police work, so the people of the town were quite afraid of her. Tietjens moved into the house with Strickland and she took the room next to Strickland’s, where she had her food and where she slept.

One day, some weeks after Strickland went to live in Imray’s house, I arrived in the town at about five o’clock one afternoon and found that there were no rooms at the hotel, so I went round to Strickland’s place. Tietjens met me at the door, showing her teeth, not moving. She knew me quite well by this time but she did not want me to go in. She waited for Strickland to come and say a friendly ‘Hello’ to me before she moved away. Strickland was happy to give me a room for two or three days, and I went to get my bag from my car.

It was a nice house, with a big garden. Inside, there were eight rooms, all white and clean. Strickland gave me a good room and at six o’clock his Indian servant, Bahadur Khan, brought us an early dinner.

‘I must go back to the police station for an hour or two after dinner, I’m afraid. My men are questioning a man down there, and I want to know what answers they’re getting,’ Strickland said.

He left me at the house with a good cigar, and with Tietjens, the dog. It was a very hot, late-summer evening. Soon after the sun went down, the rain came. I sat near the window of the living-room, watched the rain and thought about my family and friends back home in England. Tietjens came and sat next to me and put her head on my leg, looking sad. The room was dark behind me and the only noise was the noise of the rain driving down out of the night sky.

Suddenly, without a sound, Strickland’s servant was there, standing next to me. His coat and shirt were wet from the rain.

‘Sorry, sir. There’s a man here, sir. He’s asking to see somebody,’ the servant said.

I asked him to bring a fight and I went to the front door, but when the fight came, there was nobody there. When I turned, I thought I saw a face looking in through one of the windows from the garden. It disappeared quickly.

‘Perhaps he went round to the back door,’ I said to the servant, so we went through the living-room and the quiet, dark kitchen to the back door.

But there was nobody there. I went back to my chair and my thoughts by the window, not very happy with Strickland’s servant and not very happy about the face at the window, the strange visitor in the rain. I took some sugar with me to give to Tietjens, but she was out in the garden, standing in the rain, and did not want to come inside. She looked frightened, I thought.

Sometime later Strickland arrived home, very wet, and the first thing he asked was: ‘Any visitors?’

I told him about the disappearing visitor in the rain. ‘I thought perhaps he had something important to tell you,’ I said, ‘but then he ran away without giving his name.’

Strickland said nothing and his face showed nothing. He took out a cigarette and sat smoking it for a few minutes without a word.

At nine o’clock he said he was tired. I was tired too, so we got up to go to bed. Tietjens was outside in the rain, very wet. Strickland called her again and again, but she did not want to come into the house.

‘She does this every evening now,’ he said sadly. ‘I can’t understand it. She’s got a good, warm room in here, but she doesn’t come inside and sleep in it. She started doing this soon after we came to live in this place. Let’s leave her. She can sleep out there if she wants to.’ But I knew he was not happy to leave her outside in the rain.

The rain started and stopped again all night, but Tietjens stayed outside. She slept near my bedroom window and I heard her moving about. I slept very lightly and I had bad dreams. In my half-sleep I dreamt that somebody was calling to me in the night, asking me to come to them, to help them. Then I woke up, cold with fear, and found there was nobody there. Once in the night I looked out of the window and saw the big dog out there in the rain, with the hair on her neck and back standing up and a frightened, angry look on her face.

I slept again but woke up suddenly when somebody tried to open the door of my room. They did not come in but walked on through the house. Later, I thought I heard the sound of someone crying. I ran through to Strickland’s room, thinking he was ill or that he wanted my help, but he laughed at my fears and told me to go back to bed. I did not sleep again after that. I listened to the rain and waited for the first light of morning.

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