Haunted house in St Petersburg
Type of Spiritual Experience
If the communication is in words and sentences it is a bodied or disembodied soul. If the communication is symbolic, or uses words as puns, or is simply a ‘thought’ without words – an impression conveyed, communication is with a Spirit being , Spirit helper or Intelligence.
A description of the experience
Marchioness Townshend & Maude Ffoulkes True Ghost Stories
TRUE GHOST STORIES
Contributed by H.H. Princess Marina Chavchavadze
My first ghost story, which provided one of the greatest sensations of pre-war Petersburg, concerns a haunted house situated on the Vassilevsky Island opposite the Nicolaevsky Bridge.
The house had been unoccupied for many years, and externally it lived up to its sinister reputation as “a house under some prodigious ban of excommunication”. However two students, who disbelieved in any kind of superstition, and scoffed at the supernatural manifestations, planned to destroy the legend, by passing the night there holding themselves in readiness to tackle any ghost bold enough to appear.
The owner of the property, anxious to reinstate the house as a selling or letting proposition, gladly gave permission to the ghost seers to stay as long as they liked and he made arrangements to have a good fire lighted in what was known as the “haunted” room, besides supplying two chairs and a table, as the friends proposed having supper before commencing to “watch out”. Everything was soon in readiness. Provisions and wine were sent in, and a goodly supply of candles to lighten the darkness, completed the equipment for the night.
C. (for it is better to describe him as an initial) arrived punctually at the time fixed for the meeting. Apart from his mulish obstinacy where the supernatural was concerned he was a nice young fellow, who entered into the spirit of adventure on this cold rainy autumn evening and, as he like his “comforts”, he was cheered by the thought that the vigil would not take place in a fireless room. He therefore unlocked the front door with pleasurable anticipations, not only of being “thrilled”, but also of being warmed.
The hall was in darkness, and when C.’s electric torch flashed here and there, he understood how different “empty” houses feel at night. During the day they are just empty: at night they become alive, and belong to the unseen – or to the shadows of those who have lived and died within their walls. At night, the complainings of any old house are pathetic especially when its creaking old bones resent the burden of the years and the dry rot which gradually eats into its heart. To suffer like this a house must be old, and few modern buildings possess the capacity either for suffering or for endurance.
Upstairs someone was singing, and C. recognized his friend’s voice in company with a curiously distorted echo.
“Keeping up his spirits,” said C. to himself; but suddenly the Echo set in movement something definitely malignant; the house became a receptacle for an immense resistless power, and C. sensed an imperishable record of Incarnate Evil.
Reproaching himself for possessing imagination, C. went upstairs, and opened the door of the room from whence the voice, and the echo, proceeded.
A fire of ships’ timber blazed on the open hearth, and flames of red, blue, green, and faint lilac danced and pursued each other upwards in a carnivalesque riot of colour. The table was set for supper, and lighted candles in heavy candlesticks stood on a marble side buffet – a relic of the house’s former State. In this aspect, the room had nothing approaching the supernatural about it.
Taking off his heavy overcoat, C. greeted P., and asked him how long he had been waiting.
“I didn’t know you meant to steal a march on me,” he said.
“Merely my fancy,” answered P. “I wanted to get in touch with the Unseen.”
“And – did you?”
“Yes – and no.” And he began to sing in a voice lacking all youth and clearness, the sound cleaving the warm wood-scented air like a meteor. C., hitherto only accustomed to hearing P. sing students’ songs with an occasional excerpt from musical comedy was, by firms, attracted and repelled; he even experienced a vague feeling of panic; for a moment it seemed as if a devil were making music. With something of an effort he said:
"'Well, let's have supper. By the way in what language were you singing? I couldn't understand a word of it."
"Naturally not," and P. smiled at him across the table, a wicked, cynical smile, which perplexed the already perplexed C. This might be P. who sang and smiled, but it certainly was not the familiar light-hearted P. of the daily round. He said nothing, and tried to think, and act, normally, but from time to time he looked at his friend, who was enjoying his supper with a healthy appetite, whilst C. ate sparingly, and only drank a couple of glasses of wine.
At last P. began to talk about the house. "I wonder what we shall see," he said. "Don't you think it is a little presumptuous to disturb well-buried evil by reason of senseless curiosity? Perhaps this house belongs to one who is adored through fear, whose strength lies in destruction, and who might resent our intrusion."
"But you were the first to propose to investigate the hauntings," said C. "Have you by any chance become a convert to the religion whose god is adored through fear?"
P. threw him a dark look. "We won't discuss religion. Better by far to toast midnight in a libation to Evil."
He tossed off the contents of his glass, refilled it, and flung the red wine on to the merry flames. "A Libation to Evil!" he cried. Suddenly his whole personality changed, and with a snarl he turned to C.
"You poor fool," he cried, "to attempt to measure your strength against those whose strength is invincible. You thought to destroy the indestructible, to uproot, as easily as weeds, forces whose roots are older than Time. Do you not think that you deserve punishment?"
As he spoke, P. rose from his chair, still smiling his cruel, mocking smile, and C. stared at him, incapable of thought or movement, conscious only that he was a helpless prisoner of the Powers of Darkness.
The last thing C. remembered was P.'s tiger-like spring. His throat was seized by fingers which burnt like acid into his flesh, then darkness fell.
Next morning C. and P. were absent from the University, and, as they had missed a special noonday lecture important for both, some fellow-students, who knew about the experiment at the haunted house, decided to go and see what had become of the ghost hunters.
To their disappointment, there was nothing "frightening" about the place - the silken curtains spun by successive generations of spiders waved across the windows, and when the door opened to admit the autumn air, at inquisitive ray of watery sunlight dated across the floor and up the broad staircase, followed by the little group.
When they went into the room on the first floor, cold grey ash and burnt-out candles met their eyes; afterwards they noticed an overturned table, and broken plates, and pieces of food strewed the floor, where the spilt wine looked like a stream of congealed blood.
Something lay under the debris. This was C. evidently in a dead faint or worse. There was no sign of P., so whilst two of the young men busied themselves in bringing C. round, the others hurried upstairs to see if P. was anywhere in hiding.
The rooms were empty, save for gigantic bloated spiders scuttling away in the gloom. The dust of years rose like musty incense from cracks in the boards as the searchers hurried over them, and, in the garrets, battalions of bats clung to the worm-eaten beams.
The students concluded that P. had gone suddenly mad and attacked C. in a moment of frenzy. There was nothing else to do but to take C. back to his home (he was now somewhat restored, but incapable of giving them any information), make inquiries at P.'s lodgings, and, if necessary, report the affair to the police.
A closed carriage was fetched, and C., looking as if he had passed the night in Hell, and not in an empty house, was restored to his family, who, although alarmed at his condition, could not resist the chance it give them to repeat the familiar formula, "I told you so", on every possible occasion.
The next halt was at P.'s lodgings a few streets away. The inquiry as to whether he was al home instantly produced a running commentary from the landlady. "Was he at home? Yes, he was, and, judging from his appearance likely to remain at home for the next few days." She didn't know whether too much learning, or too much seeing life, made anyone sleep like the dead. "He came in at two o'clock yesterday afternoon, went straight to bed, and has not got up since. Sleeping all the time." It would be a good thing to rouse him - so far she hadn't been able to do anything with him.
More than ever amazed, the young men went to P.'s room. Sure enough, there he was, sleeping, and snoring heavily.
"And yet she says he went to bed at two o'clock yesterday afternoon" said the leader, and, with another willing helper, he shook the sleeper as one shakes an apple on the topmost bough. P. reluctantly opened his eyes.
"'What on earth are you fellows doing in my room?" he grumbled.
They explained the reason, and, awakened to some purpose, P. sat up, and stared at them uncomprehendingly; at last the gravity of their story gradually dawned on him.
"Then it was yesterday that we planned to go to the house on the island?" He was assured that it was so. "And you come and tell me some cock-and-bull story about finding C. half murdered, and that there were evidences of two people having eaten together.
Are we all mad? I’ve never stirred out of this place - my landlady can prove it. I forgot the appointment, but I remember I felt curiously tired, and had a sort of drugged sensation, when I came back to lunch; in fact I became so drowsy that I went to bed. I never gave a thought to C., or to any haunted house, so if there were two people at supper the second one wasn't me."
There for the moment the matter ended. P.'s twenty-eight hour alibi was provided by his landlady and her servant, as well as by a friend who had called later in the evening.
On the other hand, C.'s incredible story was confirmed by the condition of the room, his own pitiable state, and the statements of eyewitnesses; but, strangest of all, the imprints on his throat could never have been made by the spatulated fingers on P.'s rather pudgy little hand.
The mystery of this authentic story of the supernatural has remained unsolved. It created an immense amount of talk and speculation in Petersburg, but no clue was ever found as to the identity of C.'s supper companion. It was a clear case of like and unlike, with something deeper still, something that made even unimaginative people afraid, and when shortly afterwards the owner of the house on the island decided to pull it down, not one stone was left upon another of the ill-omened place with its evil entities and unsolved mysteries.
The source of the experienceOrdinary person
Concepts, symbols and science items
Activities and commonsteps
OverloadsOverwhelming fear and terror
Townshend, G. & FFoulkes, M., (1936) True Ghost Stories, London:Senate