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Oldport Days Thomas Wentworth Higginson

The Haunted Window

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Severance seemed to rise in spirits as we approached the house, and I noticed no sign of shrinking, except an occasional lowering of the voice. Seeing this, I ventured to joke him a little on his previous reluctance, and he replied in the same strain. I seated myself at the corner, and began sketching old Fort Louis, while he strolled along the piazza, looking in at the large, vacant windows. As he approached the farther end, I suddenly heard him give a little cry of amazement or dismay, and, looking up, saw him leaning against the wall, with pale face and hands clenched.

A minute sometimes appears a long while; and though I sprang to him instantly, yet I remember that it seemed as if, during that instant, the whole face of things had changed. The breeze had come, the bay was rippled, the sail-boats careened to the wind, fishes and birds were gone, and a dark gray cloud had come between us and the sun. Such sudden changes are not, however, uncommon after an interval of calm; and my only conscious thought at the time was of wonder at the strange aspect of my companion.

"What was that?" asked Severance in a bewildered tone. I looked about me, equally puzzled. "Not there," he said. "In the window."

I looked in at the window, saw nothing, and said so. There was the great empty drawing-room, across which one could see the opposite window, and through this the eastern piazza and the garden beyond. Nothing more was there. With some persuasion, Severance was induced to look in. He admitted that he saw nothing peculiar; but he refused all explanation, and we went home.

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"Never let me go to that house again," he said abruptly, as we entered our own door.

I pointed out to him the absurdity of thus yielding to a nervous delusion, which was already in part conquered, and he finally promised to revisit the scene with me the next day. To clear all possible misgivings from my own mind, I got the key of the house from Paul, explored it thoroughly, and was satisfied that no improper visitor had recently entered the drawing-room at least, as the windows were strongly bolted on the inside, and a large cobweb, heavy with dust, hung across the doorway. This did no great credit to Paul's stewardship, but was, perhaps, a slight relief to me. Nor could I see a trace of anything uncanny outside the house. When Severance went with me, next day, the coast was equally clear, and I was glad to have cured him so easily.

Unfortunately, it did not last. A few days after, there was a brilliant sunset, after a storm, with gorgeous yellow light slanting everywhere, and the sun looking at us between bars of dark purple cloud, edged with gold where they touched the pale blue sky; all this fading at last into a great whirl of gray to the northward, with a cold purple ground. At the height of the show, I climbed the wall to my favorite piazza, and was surprised to find Severance already there.

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Oldport Days
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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