THE GHOST OF THE MAILED HAND. A legend by T.M. O’Reilly recorded in the Kildare Observer of 1906.

by niamh mccabe on January 15, 2007

The Kildare Observer,
          The old servitor, on arousing the younger Fitz-Harris, was surprised to see him fully dressed, after exchanging the fancy dress, reclining on his bed. On the servants summons he sprang, wild and dazed looking, from the couch, and leaning his head against his arm in an angle of the wall seemed almost insensible to his surroundings. At length he rushed to the window, and gazing out at the landscape found the whole country draped with snow to a depth of fully two feet. Apparently relieved by this, he proceeded, followed by the servant, to his father’s apartment. Everything there was much the same as usual. A large octavo bible lay open on the table, with the colonel’s spectacles resting on its pages, whilst the candles in the magnificently carved silver candelabra which adorned the room had burned down to their sockets. The old man observed that except a number of tiger skins spread here and there over the floor, which Fitz-Harris had brought from India, and which had hitherto lain unnoticed in a corner, the room presented its usual appearance. All clue to the missing man was, however, gone, except that a bag containing a large sum of money in notes and gold and the hooded cloak which he wore in his nightly walk were also missing. Inquiries were instituted in every direction, but in vain. The ponds in the neighbourhood were examined, the canal even being frozen, there could be no question of suicide
Fitz-Harris himself accompanied by his forester Fergus visited the nearest railway station, where he learned from the stationmaster that a gentleman wearing a hooded cloak and carrying a black bag had taken a first-class ticket on the early train that morning for Cork. “As far as I could see from the closeness of the hood he wore,” added the stationmaster, “he bore a strong likeness to you.”
“Alas! It must be he, Fergus,” said Fitz-Harris. “My father,” he explained, turning to the stationmaster, “mysteriously disappeared last night, and your intelligence is the first we have got as to his whereabouts. The resemblance to which you refer between my father and myself, in spite of the disparity in our ages was indeed striking.”
“With the arrival of the Cork train, sir,” replied the stationmaster, “we may have some news. It is now almost due.”
Scarcely had he spoken when the train steamed into the station, and judging from the agitated appearance of the guard, as he hurried to the stationmaster, something momentous must have occurred. Fitz-Harris appeared terribly agitated as the guard stated that the gentleman who had taken a first-class ticket there had disappeared, and no trace of him was to be found. At the first station reached the down guard, Forbes, had gone to the carriage to see could he do anything for its occupant, but he was not there. The alarm was immediately given, but there was no indication of how the gentleman had vanished, as both doors of the carriage were closed, and what precluded any supposition of its being an accident was obvious by the fact that the black bag, as well as its owner were both missing. Men were, however, sent back along the line, but in vain, the heavy falling snow had obliterated every trace as to any accident, if there had been one. The guard concluded by stating to the stationmaster that he had been ordered to inform him about the gentleman’s strange disappearance, and to tell him to inform his friends, if any, in the neighbourhood, about the affair.
The stationmaster motioned to Fitz-Harris, who having put a few questions to the guard, which elicited no further particulars, presented him with a sovereign and returned moodily to the castle. Detectives were employed, and neither money nor expense were spared to discover the missing man, but in vain. In the meantime the younger Fitz-Harris had become almost an anchorite. Field sports and other amusements were almost abandoned, even the advances of his friends were politely declined, Fergus alone being his sole companion. Only stirring abroad at night, accompanied by his faithful retainer, his existence became almost forgotten, when a curious incident which occurred on the anniversary of the colonel’s disappearance once again attracted public attention to the strange situation at the castle. A belated sportsman returning home from a hunt dinner by the road passing by the castle was suddenly terrified by the most tearful screams of agony and despair proceeding from it. Glancing at a lighted window, from which the appalling sounds appeared, he saw the shadow of two men apparently in mortal combat. At length one of the combatants seemed to fall, whilst the other disappeared with a shriek so blood-curdling that it almost froze the listener’s blood in his veins, in spite of the wine he had drank, and he never forgot it to his dying day.
Supplement to the Kildare Observer, 13/01/1906
The terrible shrieks which the belated sportsman had heard caused abject terror and dismay to the old couple in charge of the kitchen who hurried to Fitz-Harris’s apartments for safety and protection. What was their horror, however, to discover the sitting-room empty, the young master gone, and Fergus lying either dead or in a swoon on the carpet. On examination it was discovered, however, that the latter was the case, and he was with difficulty removed to a lounge, where the old woman bathed his temples with water, whilst her husband tried to force some brandy down his throat. At length he revived, and passing his hand across his brow gazed in a dazed and horror-stricken manner around.
“My beloved Master! Oh God! speak! Where is he?” he exclaimed, as he wrung the old servitor’s hand in his, with anguish in his face.
“Be calm,” was the reply; “we know nothing about him. But for Heaven’s sake, tell us what has happened?”
The fosterer again dashed his hand across his brow, and said: “I scarcely know. We were sitting on either side of the fire; he as usual in moody silence. I in a sad reverie at his melancholy, when something shadowy appeared to glide by me. I thought I had been dozing, when a fearful shriek from the master brought me to my feet. Shriek succeeded shriek, and on my recovering my bewildered senses I observed an iron gauntlet grasped around his right wrist, which was gradually dragging him from his chair. I sprang to his assistance, and clasped him around the body, but in vain. We were dragged towards the door, which appeared to open of its own volition, and I fell senseless on the floor, and remember no more. But at all costs we must seek him, come what will, and in spite of all the powers of darkness”-and seizing a light he dashed into the corridor, followed by the now panic-stricken old couple. No trace could be discovered in the inhabited part of the castle, but when they came to the deserted hallway they discovered traces of footsteps in the deep dust which had accumulated, as well as imprints resembling those that would be made by the talons of an eagle or of some huge bird of prey. With trembling fingers the old man pointed out those marks to Fergus.
“For the love of God and the Virgin Mother. Fergus,” he implored, “let us return. This is no place for us.”
“Never,” was the fierce rejoinder. “Nothing either in this world or the next shall bar my way to my master.”
Scarcely had he spoken, when the object they sought appeared coming slowly and weakly down the wide staircase. But how changed. His face could scarcely be considered that of a human being, so distorted was it with horror, agony and the most hopeless despair. Handing the light to the old woman, Fergus, accompanied by the old man, hurried to his assistance, and between them he was conveyed to the apartment which he had quitted under such tragic circumstances. Here it was discovered that his right wrist was bruised and torn to such an extent as to be almost unrecognisable. No word escaped the injured man whilst the old woman tenderly dressed the injured limb, and on its completion he motioned the old couple to leave the room. Staggering to his feet, he helped himself to a tumbler of brandy, and again resumed his seat. After a long silence he spoke in a hollow, trembling voice, so hoarse, as to be almost indistinct.
“Fergus, we leave this to-morrow.”
“But it is Christmas Eve to-morrow, sir” expostulated the fosterer.
“No matter,” replied his master, whose face was convulsed with agony. “All eves are alike to me for evermore. Do not leave me, but ring for the old man to pack up and make all necessary arrangements.”
During the night Fitz-Harris dozed in his armchair, tenderly watched over by his fosterer. Occasionally he sprang to his feet with a wild cry, only to be soothed and calmed again by his faithful attendant. Morning came, and with it the conveyance that was to take them to the neighbouring town. Here Fitz-Harris was for a long time closeted with his solicitor, after which, accompanied by Fergus he travelled to Dublin, and from thence to the continent, no words ever passing between them as to the fearsome events of that fated night. Wandering about the continent in a desultory manner from city to city the opportunity he long sought for at length came with the declaration of war between Prussia and Austria. Hastening to Berlin he applied for permission to join a Uhlan regiment. His reputation as a soldier before misfortune had overtaken him on the Indian frontier was well known, and he had no difficulty in obtaining a commission in a crack corps which Fergus, in spite of his master’s protestations also joined. The war was but of short duration. At the famous cavalry charge at the battle of Sotava, led by the Crown Prince of Prussia, afterwards Frederick the noble German Emperor, and which humbled the proud Austrian Empire to the dust, Fitz-Harris fell, shot through the lungs, whilst Fergus was unhorsed by a sabre cut at the same time. When the fierce tide of that desperate charge had passed, Fergus crawled to his master, whom he found dying and unconscious. He supported in his arms, unconscious of his own wound, the expiring man, who at length opened his eyes, glazed with the film of fast approaching dissolution. On looking at Fergus a gleam of joy crossed his features. “Father,” he muttered in the hollow voice of death, “forgive me; I have retrieved my honour as a soldier. Fergus I have deceived you. Oh God, who art infinitely merciful and compassionate, forgive the parra—.” The sentence was never completed. A rush of blood from the mouth, a convulsive straightening of the limbs, and Fitz-Harris had passed away. Later on the parties searching the field for the wounded came on Fergus, wild and delirious, still clasping the dead body of his master to his breast. The remainder of the narrative was found amongst Fergus’ papers, who died a lowly monk at an advanced age in a monastic institution, in the south of Ireland. The papers, after referring to the many incidents already narrated, continue as follows:-
“When I recovered consciousness I found myself lying in a military hospital, where I was told that I had been dangerously ill, not alone from my wound, but from brain fever for over six weeks. My recovery was slow, but eventually I was discharged as cured, and returned to Ireland almost broken-hearted at the loss of my master. On reaching the castle I found that the heir at law, a Captain Weimar, had already taken possession. He was a kindly sort of man, and received me most cordially. He told me that he had heard of all my kindnesses to his kinsman, and that he would be glad if I entered his service, not as a dependent, but rather as a friend. “Of course,” he continued, “you may not be aware that my poor cousin has left you and the other domestics not alone considerable annuities, but also substantial sums of money in hand. I intend travelling abroad, and you would, I am sure make a desirable companion in my wanderings.” I declined his offer, but thanked him all the same for his generous proposal. “But, sir, I thought you would become resident and restore all the honour and prestige of the old house”? “Such was my intention, Fergus,” he replied with some embarrassment. “I have hired several sets of servants, but neither bribes not threats would induce one of them to spend a second night in the castle; so you see I have no option in the matter. They all stated that the terrible shrieks and groans they heard had completely unnerved them. Some of them went so far as to say that they had met something that looked like a steel hand dragging something after it in one of the corridors, and the fact that more than one of the maids being found in a fainting condition in the same corridor deepens the mystery. Strange, however, that neither myself or the old servants have been troubled with those noises. I shrewdly suspect, though, that the old couple could throw some light on the subject if they only wished to do so. Perhaps you can, Fergus”?
Pale as death, I replied that it was a subject that I did not wish to touch.
“Well,” he answered cheerily, “I do not wish to press you, and we wont be the worse friends. I have taken steps to sell the effects in the castle, and the auctioneer’s men will be here to-morrow, and I want you to help me in superintending the removal of the furniture to the best place for its display.”
To this proposition I readily acquiesced, and for the present we parted.
For the next few days everything was bustle at the castle, whilst the various rooms were dismantled of their rich furniture and valuable pictures. The colonel’s rooms were the last to be cleared out. The splendid collection of weapons and many of the articles of vertu were retained by Captain Weimer as heirlooms, and everything had been removed to an adjacent corridor, and nothing now remained but the grotesquely carved oak press already referred to. To the astonishment of everybody, all the efforts of the auctioneer’s men to dislodge it from its position were unavailing, and it had to be abandoned. The captain called me one side, and whispered, “Fergus, there is some mystery here which must be solved. I shall send to Dublin for an expert.” I heard him, whilst some vague and inexplicable terror seemed to congeal my very blood. The next day the expert arrived- a man who had solved the mysteries of many an ancient cabinet. His investigation was conducted in private, only the captain and myself and the old servant being present. After a long and patient investigation amongst the carvings, the man at length exclaimed triumphantly, “I have got the secret, sir; shall I proceed”? The captain nodded, and the expert pressing a small button which formed the eye of a dragon, the press slowly rolled back, disclosing a small closet built in one of the buttresses of the castle, and which was lighted by a small lancet window invisible from the outside. We pressed forward eagerly to examine its contents, but there was nothing there but a mummified body, which I observed with terror and dismay wore a gauntlet on its right hand. Suddenly the old servitor, bursting through us, and throwing himself on his knees beside the corpse, cried out in accents choked with emotion: “My master! My honoured and revered master! have we found thee at last!” Then springing to his feet almost berefit of reason, he pointed to the breast of the dead man. There, sure enough, in the dim light could be seen the gold hilt of a dagger, the blade of which was buried in the dead man’s heart. The younger Fitz-Harris was indeed a parracide, and the secret only known to father and son was used to conceal his crime.
Everything was hushed up, and that night a few confidential friends placed the colonel’s remains in a rough shell and interred it in consecrated ground. From that moment the noises in the castle ceased, though the place was still looked upon as accursed. Perhaps the unhappy father and the still more unhappy parracide may have found rest. Let us hope so.
Only the extinction by death of Captain Weimar of the Fitz-Harris branch would have induced me to write about this curious and saddening family history.


An interesting tale from the Kildare Observer!

[Compiled by Mario Corrigan; typed and edited by Niamh Mc Cabe]

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