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THE DOOMED HOUSE.
BY MRS. BUSH BY. “ The house near Christianshavn's canal is again for sale—your worthy uncle's house, Johanna ! And now upon very reasonable terms,” said the young joiner and cabinet-maker, Frants, one morning to his pretty wife, as he laid the advertisement sheet of the newspaper upon the cradle, and glanced at his little boy, an infant of about three months old, who was sleeping sweetly, and seemed to be sporting with heavenly cherubs in his innocent dreams.
“ Let us on no account think of the dear old house," replied his wife, taking up the newspaper and placing it on the table, without even looking at the advertisement. “We have a roof over our heads as long as Mr. Stork will have patience about the rent. If we have bread enough for ourselves, and for yon little angel, who will soon begin to want some, we may well rest contented. Notwithstanding our poverty, we are, perhaps, the happiest married couple in the whole town,” she added gently, and with an affectionate smile," and we ought to thank our God that he did not let the wide world separate us from each other, but permitted you to return from your distant journey healthy and cheerful, and that he has granted us love and strength to bear our little cross with patience.”
“You are ever the same amiable and pious Johanna," said Frants, embracing the lovely young mother, who reminded him of an exquisite picture of the Madonna he had seen abroad, “and you have made me better and more patient than I was, either by nature or habit. But I really cannot remain longer in this miserable garret; I have neither room nor spirits to work here; and if I am to make anything by my handicraft, I must have a proper workshop and space to breathe and move in. Your good uncle's house, near the canal, is just the place for me; how many jovial songs my old master and I have sung there together over our joiner's bench! Ah! there I shall feel comfortable and at home. It was there, also, that I first saw you ; there that I used to sit every evening with you in the nice little parlour with the cheerful green wainscoting, when I came from the workshop with old Mr. Flok. I remember how, on Sundays and on holidays, he used to take his silver goblet from the cupboard in the alcove, and drink with me in such a sociable way. And when my piece of trial-work as a journeyman was finished, and the large handsome coffin was put out in state in the workshop, do you remember how glad the old man was, and how you sank into my arms when he placed your hand in mine over the coffin, and said : " Take her, Frants, and be worthy of her! My house shall be your home and hers, and everything it contains shall be your property when I am sleeping in this coffin, awaiting a blessed resurrection.'"
“ Ah! but all that never came to pass,” sighed Johanna.. “ The coffin
lies empty up in yonder loft, and frightens children in the dark; the dear old house is under the ban of evil report, and no one will buy it, or even hire it now, so many strange, unfortunate deaths have taken place there."
“ These very circumstances are in our favour, Johanna; on account of this state of things Mr. Stork will sell it a great bargain, and give a half-year's credit for the purchase-money. In the course of six months, surely, the long-protracted settlement of your uncle's affairs will be brought to a close, and we shall at least have as much as will pay what we owe. The house will then be our own, and you will see how happy and prosperous we shall be. Surely it is not the fault of the poor house that three children died there of measles, and two people of old age, in the course of a few months; and none but silly old women can be frightened because the idle children in the street choose to scratch upon the walls · THE DOOMED HOUSE. The house is, and always will be, liked by me, and if Mr. Stork will accept of my offer for it, without any other security than my own word, that dwelling shall be mine to-day, and we can move into it to-morrow.”
“Oh! my dear Frants ! you cannot think how reluctant I am to increase our debt to this Mr. Stork ; believe me, he is not a good man, however friendly and courteous he may seem to be. Even my uncle could not always tolerate him, though it was not in his nature to dislike any of God's creatures. Whenever Mr. Stork came and began to talk about business and bills, my uncle became silent and gloomy, and always gave me a wink to retire to my chamber.”
“I knew very well Mr. Stork was looking after you then,” said Frants, with a smile of self-satisfaction, “but I was a more fortunate suitor. It was a piece of folly on the part of the old bachelor; all that, however, is forgotten now, and he has transferred the regard he once had for you to me. He never duns me for my rent; he lent me money at the time of the child's baptism, and he shows me more kindness than any one else does.”
“But I cannot endure the way in which he looks at me, Frants, and I put no faith either in his friendship or his rectitude. The very house that he is now about to sell he scarcely came so honestly by as he gives out; and I cannot understand how he has so large a claim upon the property my uncle left. I never heard my uncle speak of it. God only knows what will remain for us when all these heavy claims that have been brought forward are satisfied ; yet my uncle was considered a rich man.”
“ The lawyers and the proper court must settle that,” replied Frants, “I only know this, that I should be a fool if I did not buy the house now.”
“But, to say the truth, dear Frants," urged Johanna, in a supplicating tone, “I am almost afraid to go back to that house, dear as every corner of it has been to me from my childhood. I cannot reconcile myself to the reality of the painful circumstances said to have attended my poor uncle's death. And whenever I pass over Long Bridge, and near the dead-house for the drowned, with its low windows, I always feel an irresistible impulse to look in and see if he is not there still, waiting to be placed in his proper coffin, and decently buried in a churchyard.”
“Ah! your brain is conjuring up a parcel of old nursery tales, my Johanna! We have nothing to fear from your good, kind uncle. If, indeed, his spirit could be near us here on earth, it would only bring us blessings and happiness. I am quite easy on that score; he was a pious, God-fearing man, and there was nothing in his life to disturb his repose after death. Report said that he had drowned himself; but I am quite convinced that was not true. If I had not unluckily been away on my travels as a journeyman, and you with your dying aunt—your mother's sister-we would most likely have had him with us now. How often I have warned him against sailing about alone in Kalleboe Bay. But he would go every Sunday. As long as I was in his employ I always made a point of accompanying him; and when I went away, he promised me never to go without a boatman."
" Alas! that was an unfortunate Christmas !" sighed Johanna. “It was not until he had been advertised in the newspapers as missing, and Mr. Stork had recognised his corpse at the dead-house for the drowned, and had caused him to be secretly buried as a suicide, it was not until all this was over, that I knew he had not been put into his own coffin, and laid in consecrated ground.”
“Let us not grieve longer, dear Johanna, for what it was not in our power to prevent. But let us rather, in respect to the memory of our kind benefactor, put the house which he occupied, and where he worked for us, in order, inhabit it cheerfully, and rescue it from mysterious accusations and evil reports. Our welfare was all he thought of and laboured for.”
“ As you will, then, dear Frants,” said Johanna, yielding to his arguments. She hastened at the same moment to take up from its cradle the child who had just awoke, and holding it out to its young father, she added, “ May God protect this innocent infant, and spare it to us!"
Frants kissed the mother and the child, smoothed his brown hair, and taking his hat down from its peg, he hurried off to conclude the purchase on which he had set his heart. He returned in great spirits; and the next day the little family removed to the house which had belonged to Mr. Flok. Frants was rejoiced to see his old master's furniture, which he had bought at an auction, restored to its former place; and he felt almost as if the easy-chair and the bureau, formerly in the immediate use of the old man, must share in his gladness.
But the baker's wife at the corner of the street shrugged her shoulders and pitied the handsome young couple, whom she considered doomed to sickness and misfortune, because five corpses within the last six months had been carried out of that house, and because there was an inscription on its walls, that, however often it had been effaced, had always re-appeared : “ THE DOOMED HOUSE" stood there, written in red characters, and all the old crones in the neighbourhood affirmed that the words were written in blood.
“Mark my words," said the baker's wife at the corner of the street to her daughter,“ before the year is at an end we shall have another coffin carried out of that house."
Frants the joiner had bestirred himself to set all to rights in the longneglected workshop, and Johanna had put the house in nice order, and arranged everything as it used to be in days gone by. The little parlour with the green wainscoting, and the old-fashioned alcove, had its former chairs and tables replaced in it. The bureau occupied its ancient corner, and the easy-chair again stood near the stove, and seemed to await its master's return. Often, as the young couple sat together in the twilight, whilst the blaze of the fire in the stove cast a cheerful glare through its little grated door on the hearth beneath, they missed the old man, and talked of him with sadness and affection. But Johanna would some times glance timidly at the empty leather arm-chair; and when the moon shone in through the small window-panes, she would at times even fancy that she saw her uncle sitting there, but pale and bloody, and with dripping wet hair. She would then exclaim, “Let us have lights--the baby seems restless; I must see what is the matter with it.”
One evening there were no candles down stairs-she had to go for them up to the storeroom in the garret. She lighted a small taper that was in the lantern, and went out of the room, while Frants rocked the infant's cradle to lull it to sleep. But she had only been a few minutes gone when he heard a noise as if of some one having fallen down in the loft above, and he also thought he heard Johanna scream. He quitted the cradle instantly, and rushing up-stairs after her he found her lying in a swoon near the coffin, with the lantern in her hand, though its light was extinguished. Exceedingly alarmed, he carried her down stairs, relighted the taper, and used every effort to recover her from her fainting fit. When she was better, and somewhat composed, he asked, in much anxiety, what had happened.
“Oh, I am as timid as a foolish child,” said Johanna. “It was only my poor uncle's coffin up yonder that frightened me. I would have begged you to go and fetch the candles, but I was ashamed to own my silly fears, and when the current of air blew out the light in my lantern up there, it seemed to me as if a spectre's death-cold breathing passed over my face, and I fancied that I saw amidst the gloom the lid of the coffin rising-so I fainted away in my childish terror.”
"That coffin shall not frighten you again,” said Frants ; " I will advertise it to-morrow for sale."
He did so, but ineffectually, for no one bought it. One day Mr. Stork made his appearance, bringing with him the contract and deed of sale. He was a tall, strongly-built man, with a countenance by no means pleasant, though it almost always wore a smile ; but this smile, if narrowly scrutinised, had a sinister expression, and seemed to convulse his features. He sported a gaudy waistcoat, and was dressed like an old bachelor who was going on some matrimonial expedition, and wished to conceal his age. This day he was even more complaisant than usual; praised the beauty of the infant, remarked its likeness to its lovely mother, and offered Frants a loan of money to purchase new furniture, and make any im. provements he might wish in the interior of the house.
Frants thanked him, but declined the offer, assuring him that he was quite satisfied with the house and furniture as they were, and wished everything about him to wear its former aspect. However, he said, he certainly would like to enlarge the workshop by adding to it the old lumber-room at the back of the house, the entrance to which he found was closed.
Mr. Stork then informed him that there was a door on the opposite
side of the lumber-room which opened into the house he occupied, and that he had lately been using this empty place as a cellar for his firewood ; but he readily promised to have it cleared out as speedily as possible, and to have the entrance into his own house stopped up. 5. Yet," he added, in a very gracious manner, “it is hardly necessary to have any separation between the two houses, when I have such respectable and agreeable neighbours as yourselves.”
“ What made you look so crossly at that excellent Mr. Stork, Johanna ?” asked her husband, when their visitor was gone. “ I am sure he is kindness itself. He cannot really help that he has that unfortunate contortion of the mouth, which gives a peculiar expression to his countenance.”
" I sincerely wish we had some other person as our neighbour, and had nothing to do with him !" exclaimed Johanna ; " I do not feel safe with such a man near us."
Frants now worked with equal diligence and pleasure, and often remained until a late hour in the workshop, especially if he had any order to finish. He preferred cabinet-making to the more common branches of his trade, and was always delighted when he had any pretty piece of furniture to construct from one of the finer sorts of wood. But he was best known as a coffin-maker, and necessity compelled him to undertake more of this gloomy kind of work than he liked. Often, when he was finishing a coffin, he would reflect upon all the sorrow, and perhaps calamity, which the work that provided him and his with bread would bring into the house into which it was destined to enter. And when he met people in high health and spirits on the public promenades, he frequently sighed to think how soon he might be engaged in nailing together the last earthly resting-places of these animated forms.
One night he was so much occupied in finishing a large coffin, that he did not remark how late it had become, until he heard the watchman call out “Twelve."
At that moment he fancied he heard a hollow voice behind him say, “ Still hammering! and for whom is that coffin ?" He started, dropped the hammer from his hand, and looked round in terror, but no one was to be seen. “It is the old gloomy thoughts creeping back into my mind and affecting my brain, now, at this ghostly hour of midnight,” said he ; but he put away the hammer and nails, and took up his light to go to his bedroom. Before he reached the door of the workshop, however, the candle, which had burned down very low, quite in the socket of the candlestick, suddenly went out. He was left in the dark, and in vain he groped about to find the door ; at any other time he would have laughed at the circumstance, but now, it rather added to his annoyance that three times he found himself at the door of the lumber-room instead of getting hold of the one which opened into his house. The third time he came to it he stopped and listened, for he fancied he heard something moving within the empty room; a light also glimmered through a chink in the door, which was fastened; and on listening more attentively he thought he distinctly heard a sound as of buckets of water being dashed over the floor, and some one scrubbing it with a brush. “It is an odd time to scour the floor," he thought, and then knocking at the door, and raising his voice, he called out loudly to ask who was there, and what they were