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scene was extraordinary, but all was pleasing. When I turned from
it and repassed the trapdoor, I could scarcely see my way down the
ladder; the attic seemed black as a vault compared with that arch of
blue air to which I had been looking up, and to that sunlit scene of
grove, pasture, and green hill, of which the hall was the centre, and
over which I had been gazing with delight.
Mrs. Fairfax stayed behind a moment to fasten the trap-door; I, by
dint of groping, found the outlet from the attic, and proceeded to
descend the narrow garret staircase. I lingered in the long passage
to which this led, separating the front and back rooms of the third
storey: narrow, low, and dim, with only one little window at the
far end, and looking, with its two rows of small black doors all
shut, like a corridor in some Bluebeard’s castle.
While I paced softly on, the last sound I expected to hear in so still
a region, a laugh, struck my ear. It was a curious laugh; distinct,
formal, mirthless. I stopped: the sound ceased, only for an instant;
it began again, louder: for at first, though distinct, it was very low.
It passed off in a clamorous peal that seemed to wake an echo in
every lonely chamber; though it originated but in one, and I could
have pointed out the door whence the accents issued.
‘Mrs. Fairfax!’ I called out: for I now heard her descending the
‘Did you hear that loud laugh? Who is it?’ ‘Some of the servants,
very likely,’ she answered: ‘perhaps Grace Poole.’ ‘Did you hear
it?’ I again inquired.
‘Yes, plainly: I often hear her: she sews in one of these rooms.
Sometimes Leah is with her; they are frequently noisy together.’
The laugh was repeated in its low, syllabic tone, and terminated in
an odd murmur.
‘Grace!’ exclaimed Mrs. Fairfax.
I really did not expect any Grace to answer; for the laugh was as
tragic, as preternatural a laugh as any I ever heard; and, but that it
was high noon, and that no circumstance of ghostliness
accompanied the curious cachinnation; but that neither scene nor
season favoured fear, I should have been superstitiously afraid.
However, the event showed me I was a fool for entertaining a
sense even of surprise.
The door nearest me opened, and a servant came out,- a woman of
between thirty and forty; a set, square-made figure, red-haired,
and with a hard, plain face: any apparition less romantic or less
ghostly could scarcely be conceived.
‘Too much noise, Grace,’ said Mrs. Fairfax. ‘Remember directions!’
Grace curtseyed silently and went in.