The Black Coat is a classic story of horror by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu. It tells the story of a young girl who marries a much older man and goes to live with him in his large country house. One night she meets a mysterious blind woman who wears a black coat. When she tells her husband about her encounter with the blind woman, he is terrified.
The Black Coat
I was born into a rich and important family in Tyrone, Ireland. I was the younger of two daughters and we were the only children. My sister was six years older than me, we didn’t play much together when I was young and I was only twelve years old when she got married.
I remember the day of her wedding well. Many people came, all of them laughing, singing and happy. But I felt sad when my sister left with her new husband, Mr. Carew.
She was always very nice to me, nicer than my mother. And so I cried when she went away to her new home in Dublin. My mother and father didn’t love me – they wanted son and were not interested in me.
About a year after my sister got married, a letter arrived from Mr. Carew. He said that my sister was ill and that she wanted to come home to Tyrone and stay with us, to be with her family. I was sad that she was ill but also very happy about her visit.
‘They’re leaving Dublin on Sunday,’ my father told me, ‘and they’re arriving here on Tuesday evening.’
Tuesday came, and it was a very long day. Hour after hour came and went, and I listened all the time for my sister and her husband. Now the sky was dark and soon it was midnight, but I couldn’t sleep. I listened and waited. Suddenly, at about one o’clock in the morning, I heard a noise far away. I ran out of my bedroom and down to the living-room.
‘They’re here! They’re here!’ I called to my father, and we quickly opened the front door to see better. We waited there for a few minutes and we heard the noise again, somebody crying far away in the night. But we saw nothing. There were no lights and no people there. We went outside, waiting to say hello and to help my sister with her bags. But nobody was there; nobody came. I looked at my father and he looked at me. We didn’t understand.
‘I know I heard a noise,’ he said.
‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘I heard it too; father, but where are they?’
We went back into the house without another word. We were suddenly afraid.
The next day a man arrived and told us that my sister was dead. On Sunday she felt very ill, on Monday she was worse and on Tuesday, at about one o’clock in the morning, she died… at the same time that we were outside the house, in the night, waiting for her.
I never forgot that night. For the next two years I was very sad- you could say that I stopped living. I didn’t want to do anything or speak to anyone. Mr. Carew soon married another young woman in Dublin and I felt angry that he forgot my sister so quickly.
I was now the only child of a rich and important family, so before I was fourteen years old men started to visit our home. They wanted to meet me and, perhaps, to marry me. But I didn’t like any of these men and I thought I was too young to be married.
When I was sixteen my mother took me to Dublin.
‘Dublin is a big city,’ she said. ‘We’re going to meet richer and more interesting men than the ones back home in Tyrone. We can easily find you a good husband in Dublin.’
In Dublin I began to be happier. I met a lot of friendly people and I went dancing every evening. A lot of young men came to speak to me and asked me to dance; I liked talking to them. I started to live and laugh again and I didn’t think about my dead sister all the time.
But my mother was not so happy. She wanted me to find a husband quickly. One night before I went to bed she came into my room and said, ‘Do you know Lord Glen fallen?’
‘Oh yes,’ I answered. ‘He‘s that ugly old man from Cahergillagh.’
‘He’s not ugly and he’s not old, Fanny,’ my mother said quickly. ‘He’s from a very rich and important family, too, and…he wants to marry you. He loves you.’
‘Loves me? Wants to marry me? But he’s making a mistake, mother!’ I said. ‘I don’t love him. I can’t marry somebody I don’t love.’
‘Think about it, Fanny, ‘my mother answered quietly. ‘He’s a good man and he wants to marry you. You’re a very lucky young woman.’
My mother left the room and I sat quietly for a long time. Lord Glen fallen was a nice, friendly man, I thought. I didn’t love him, no, but I did like him. He always talked about interesting things. I never felt happy at home with my mother and father but I always felt better when I talked to him. The next morning when I saw my mother I said only one word:’ Yes.’
Lord Glen fallen and I got married the next spring, and two days after our wedding we said goodbye to my family and left Tyrone. Three days later we arrived in Cahergillagh and I saw my husband’s beautiful house for the first time. It was near a river and there were many trees and flowers in the garden. Birds sang in the trees and the sky was blue. I stood next to him and looked at it all and I left very, very happy.
‘Come, my love,’ said my husband. ‘You must come in and meet Martha. She cooks and cleans and knows everything about the house.’ So we went into the house and I met Martha, a friendly old woman with smiling blue eyes. She showed me round the house. Suddenly I felt excited to be there: it was a very happy place- women sang in the kitchen, men build fires in the living-room and there were dogs and cats everywhere.
‘Come with me now, madam,’ said Martha, ‘and look at your bedroom. Then we can take up your bags and you can wash before dinner. ‘I followed her and soon we arrived at a big brown door.
‘This is your room,’ she said and she opened the door. I stood and looked, suddenly cold with fear. In front of me stood something big and black; I didn’t know what it was… I thought it was an old coat, but without anybody inside it. I jumped back quickly, very afraid, and moved away from the door.
‘Is something wrong madam?’ Martha asked me.
‘Nothing. Perhaps it’s nothing,’ I answered quickly. ‘But I thought I saw something in there. I thought I saw a big, black coat there when you opened the door.’
Martha’s face went white with fear.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked her. ‘Now you looked frightened.’
‘Something bad is going to happen,’ she said. ‘When someone sees the black coat in this house, we know that something bad is going to happen soon to Glen fallen family. I saw the black coat when I was a child and the next morning old Lord Gela fallen died. Something bad is going to happen now, madam… I know it.’
We went down to have dinner. I felt unhappy and afraid, but I didn’t say anything to my husband about the black coat. I wanted to forget about it and be happy again. The next day Lord Glen fallen and I went for a walk together to look round the house and gardens because I wanted to know my home better.
‘I like this house and all the people here,’ I said. ‘And I’m happy to be here with you. It’s much better than Tyrone.’ My husband was very quiet for a long time. He walked with his head down, thinking. Then, suddenly, he turned to me, took my hand and said,’ Fanny, listen to me. Listen carefully. There’s something I must ask you. Please, only go into the rooms in the front of the house. Never go into the rooms at the back of the building or into the little garden by the back door. Never. Do you understand me, Fanny?’ His face was white and unhappy.
I understood his words, but I didn’t understand why he was a suddenly different man. Here at Cahergillagh he never smiled or laughed any more. Perhaps the back of the house was dangerous, I thought. But he didn’t want to talk about it any more. We went back to the house without speaking and again I tried to forget his words and to be as happy as I was before.
It was about a month later that I met the other woman for the firs time. One day I wanted to go for a walk in the gardens- it was a beautiful day and I ran up to my room after lunch to get my hat and coat. But when I opened the door of my room, there was a woman sitting near the fire. She was about forty years old and she wore a black coat. Her face was white and when I looked closely I saw that her eyes were white too-she was blind.
‘Madam,’ I said,’ this is my room. There is a mistake.’ ‘Your room!’ she answered. ‘A mistake? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s a mistake. Where is Lord Glen fallen?’
‘Down in the living-room,’ I said. ‘But who are you and why are you here in my room?’
‘Tell Lord Glen fallen that I want him,’ was all she said.
‘I must tell you that I’m Lady Glen fallen and I want you to leave my room now,’ I said.
‘Lady Glen fallen? You are not, you are not!’ she cried and hit my face very hard.
I cried out for help and soon Lord Glen fallen arrived. I ran out of the room as he ran in, and I waited outside to listen at the door. I did not hear every word but I knew that Lord Glen fallen was very angry and blind woman was very unhappy. When ha came out I asked him, ‘Who is that woman and why is she in my bedroom?’
But my husband didn’t answer me. Again his face was white with fear. His only words were, ‘Forgot her.’
But I did not forget her and every day it was more and more difficult to talk to my husband. He was always quiet now, always sad and afraid; he sat hours and looking into the fires with his unhappy eyes. But I didn’t know why and he didn’t want to tell me.
One morning after breakfast, Lord Glen fallen suddenly said, ‘I have the answer! We must go away to another country, to France or Spain perhaps. What do you think, Fanny?’
He didn’t wait for my answer but left the room very quickly. I sat and thought for a long time. Why must we leave Cahergillagh? I didn’t understand. And I didn’t want to go too far away from my mother and father in Tyrone. They were old now and my father was sometimes ill. They didn’t love me very much but I wanted to be near them.
I thought about it all day and I didn’t know what to say to my husband when he arrived back in the evening and came in to dinner. I said nothing. After dinner I was very tired and I went up to my bedroom early. I wanted to have a good night’s sleep and think about it all again the next day. I closed my eyes and went to sleep. But I did not sleep well because I dreamed of the black coat.
Suddenly I woke up. Everything was dark and very quiet, but somebody was at the end of my bed. There was a hand with a light, and behind the light was the blind woman. She had a knife in her other hand. I tried to get out of bed and run to the door, but she stopped me. ‘If you want to live, don’t move,’ she said. ‘Tell me one thing did Lord Glen fallen marry you?’
‘Yes, he did, ‘I answered. ‘He married me in front of a hundred people.’
‘Well that’s sad, ‘she said. ‘Because I don’t think he told you that he had a wife…me. I am his wife, not you, young woman. You must leave this house tomorrow, because if you stay in here…you see this knife? I am going to kill you with it.’ Then she left room without a sound. I didn’t sleep again that night.
When morning came I told my husband everything. ‘Who is the blind woman?’ I asked him. ‘She told me last night that she is your wife, that I’m not your wife.’
‘Did you go into the rooms at the back of the house?’ asked my husband angrily. ‘I told you that you must never go there!’
‘But I didn’t, ‘I answered. ‘I was in my bed all night. She came to me. Please tell me what is happening.’
My husband face was white again now and he didn’t speak for a long time. Then he said, ‘No, she is not my wife. You are. Don’t listen to her. She doesn’t know what is saying.’ And he left the room.
I ran to find Martha. I didn’t like this house any more. My husband was a difficult man and I didn’t understand him. Who was the blind woman? I wanted to know everything.
‘Don’t cry, madam,’ said Martha when I found her. ‘Sit down and listen to me. What I am going to tell you is not very nice. The blind woman, the woman in the black coat, is dead. You saw her ghost. She was married to your husband and she was Lady Glen fallen. Nobody knows how she died. Her bedroom was at the back of the house. Somebody saw your husband with a knife in his hand on the night she died. But did he kill her? Nobody knows. When we found her, the knife was on the floor next to her and her eyes…somebody cut her eyes out after she died. Perhaps he didn’t want her to see his other women…his next wife…you…’
I didn’t wait to speak to my husband again. I left that day. I was too afraid to stay another minute at Cahergillagh. I knew that blind woman was going to comeback again and kill me. I said goodbye to Martha, took my bags and told my driver to take me back to Tyron.
I am happy living here with my mother and father now. The house is quiet, I sleep well each night and they are friendlier to me than they were before. Sometimes my dead sister visits me at night, but I am never afraid. She tells me that the blind woman is trying to find me at Cahergillagh and that she wants to kill me. She is jealous of me; but she can never find me there. She must wait for the next Lady Glenfallen.